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Devil's Inferno

Chapter Text


 

 

            The metal of the bars was almost soothing. Blessedly cool and gently rounded to fit the curve of his palm. Just thick enough for his fingers to encircle. He could almost pretend they weren’t shaking if he held on tightly enough. The tiny vibrations zinging through the frame of the cage were almost pleasant, almost melodic in their rhythm. It was just about quiet enough for him to hear his breath mist against the welded steel. It was comforting.

            Almost.

            Matt leant his forehead between two of the bars, letting their inescapable strength harbour his attention to the cool pressure against his matted hair and the almost unheard ring of the steel as his breath ghosted past.

            The paltry peace shattered with the electrifying zing of fresh, close vibrations singing discordantly through the bars. Matt jerked backwards, his hand shocking to his broken ribs, his useless eyes wide as he tried to focus.

            Footsteps. Heavy. Arhythmic. Two sets. One with a telltale squeak from the right shoe that plunged his empty stomach into icy dread.

            The vibrations intensified, the cage screaming at him from all sides as his chest heaved fruitlessly, mocking him, hemming him in even tighter in the already cramped space. They were coming. And he could barely see.

            Please let it not be me, was his first, appalling thought.

            I can take it, came the defiant second as Hugo whimpered in the cage beside his. Take me. I can take it.

            As the footsteps stopped outside his cage, what little courage he had left wavered. The cage door buzzed opened and a childish, shameful part of him quailed away from the promised pain, making his arms come up not in defence, but in a desperate, pitiful plea.

            Not me.

            He couldn’t see them. The cage was too loud and their breathing kept buffeting him from different directions so there seemed to be seven of them. They were talking about something but the words made no sense to his foggy mind. Rough, uncompromising hands wrapped resolutely around his wrists and dragged him into the open. More as a reflex than anything Matt lashed out, aiming for a shin he couldn’t see. He glanced a solidish something but the blow was as weak as his will. Their laughter rained down on him like physical blows as they manhandled him onto the gurney.

            Velcro ripped free with thunderous force and Matt couldn’t breathe, the air sucked away with the silence. Callused hands manipulated his pathetic living corpse into the straps, fastened them too tightly over the barely healed scars from last time. By the time they’d pressed the last strap firmly over his forehead, Matt was shaking hard enough to reopen the wounds and feel fresh, hot blood ooze like a balm over his wrists and ankles.

            Their voices were all wrong. Too big. Too close. He felt tiny between them. Helpless. He tried to speak, to challenge them, to beg them, but he could barely form the thoughts, nevermind the words. And even if he could, they would never listen. They would never care.

            He was focusing too intently on the voices to notice the syringe. If he’d been paying proper attention he might have had a moment to prepare himself for the acidic burn that would slowly, inchingly, consume him. But by the time he felt the jolt of the needle jammed into the catheter on his hand, it was too late to brace himself. He didn’t even feel them attach the monitors. He didn’t feel the gurney move as they took him to the next level of hell. All he felt, all he knew, was a fire so intense it erased all the world and he was left floating in agony with the vague memory of people laughing at his screams.

            This was only the beginning.

            Matt jolted awake more violently than if he’d been electrocuted. He gasped desperately for air and it came willingly, but he did not trust it. He wasn’t tied down but there was something over him, something that didn’t hurt but it was tangled around his legs and he fumbled with it, kicking wildly and gulping down breaths as though he could store them for the next suffocating drought.

            His hand found the edge of the thing on which he lay and he propelled himself off, one foot still trapped in the thing that was cloth. Something exploded a second before he thudded into hard ground and he kept moving, his knee barking a complaint. He scrambled until he was free, safe on his feet, and his searching hands found a familiar door. Sliding it aside, Matt stumbled into his living room, forcing himself to breathe through his nose.

            He could see.

            The tang of blood hung like an avoided thought over the couch, the metallic taste of his suit lending it depth. He staggered forward and tripped, the floorboards biting into his bare knees, but the couch caught him and his fingers landed on the helmet.

            He took it in his hands and tried to breathe normally, running his fingers over the subtly textured surface. He’d been dreaming. Just another nightmare, nothing to get so worked up about. IGH was over now. It was over. He wasn’t there anymore. He was home.

            The horns were like frozen waves about to crest. They fit the curves of his thumbs perfectly.

            Jessica had found him. Claire had healed him. Foggy and Karen had forgiven him.

            Everything was okay.

            Matt slumped against the side of the couch and huffed an exhausted breath, holding the helmet firmly against his bare stomach. Closing his eyes he let his senses roam out, exploring the familiar space that still felt alien to him. Or perhaps he felt alien to it.

            He could still smell the ghost of Foggy’s last visit. Over a day ago. And Karen had only called in the last two days. Matt nodded to no one and tried to smile. He was doing better. Really, he must be. They wouldn’t be giving him so much alone time if they didn’t think he was doing better. And that was good.

            So why was his heart still pounding harder than Fisk’s fists?

            Matt opened his eyes and sighed. He could feel the tangled mess of sheets he’d left in his bed. He’d knocked over the glass of water he should’ve finished earlier. He’d have to clean that up.

            That thought was so heavy it seemed to press Matt down into the floor. He let his head flop onto his shoulder, facing the window through which the billboard hummed in just the same way it had before Midland Circle. He centred his attention on it, letting its shifting warmth paint abstract patterns through the cool night behind his eyes. He had no idea what it was advertising but the tiny buzzing of the hundreds of tiny lights was like a hive of synchronised bees all flying in formation like an air show. It was pretty calming, really.

            For a moment, he felt okay. Maybe not safe, but his heartrate was certainly slowing. And he wasn’t thinking about her. Wasn’t even wondering if Jessica had almost found her yet. If she was the only one to elude Jess for two months.

            A shout jolted him back into reality. He sat up straighter, listening, trying to pick out the pocket of unease from the murmuring thrum of the city’s nocturnal melody.

            There. Only about two blocks away. He couldn’t make out the details – the bees were throwing him off a little. But it was definitely a struggle.

            Pretending he didn’t feel the wave of relief and actively ignoring the answering swell of fear, Matt jumped to his feet and pulled the suit back on, grimacing as his knee twinged grumpily beneath him. There was no point going back to bed. He wouldn’t sleep even if he tried.

            Alert and determined, Matt Murdock pushed the helmet over his head and raced up the stairs to the roof, two at a time, already planning his route into the fray.

            Into Hell. Where he belonged.

 

 

Chapter Text

            Matt paused, his heart in his throat. He tilted his head a few degrees to the left, trying to zero in on his destination. It sounded like an addict and his dealer, both fit to fight. Matt could taste their adrenaline, their desperation. He opened his mouth to better judge the exact direction and the sting of antiseptics lanced over his tongue, laced with medical oxygen and sterile plastics. He gave his head a sharp shake, ignoring his startled heart and tried his ears instead.

            There, the addict was stuttering. He had a slight lisp, too. Matt nodded to no one and darted off across the roof, ignoring his twinging knee as he built up the speed necessary to make the jump across the street. A familiar thrill of exhilaration flamed through him and he grinned around his panting breath. With two last, quick steps, he brought his feet together and pushed off hard from the concrete and flew into space, his arms wide and the unseen eyes of his helmet alight with the reflected fire of Hell’s Kitchen.

            His gut squirmed moments before landing as the dank stench of a bone-riddled cave blasted through his mind, the memory of soft rock crashing against his back a split second before the whistle of the wind brought him back, just in time for him to duck into a clumsy roll. He scrambled to his feet and surged northeast, snapping his focus back to the present. The dealer was shouting and Matt could just taste the tang of a blade in his waving fist. They were just below him, few paces short of the fire escape that stood like a shadow in the wind’s curling cries.

            Planting one hand on the ledge he leapt over, landing squarely on the metal grid. It groaned and shook under his sudden weight but he was already moving, grabbing the rail and half-climbing, half-falling down the seven stories to the burgeoning fight below.

            As he grabbed the last bannister, just thick enough for his gloved hand to encircle, the vibrations thrumming through the structure crescendoed against his palm with a physical force that pummelled him back into the cage. Sterility drenched him. Uncaring voices battered by, incomprehensible and alien as the Chitauri. He fumbled his footing, stumbling into the corner railing of the stairway and it was the very edge of his cage and the cattle prods were snarling closer, their ends like miniature suns, hungry for the fuel of his flesh.

            With a gasp, Matt came back to himself. He sucked in a quick breath and tasted the delicate stench of New York, of concrete and stagnant water and copper and steel, pigeons and urine and electricity and the steadying polyethylene resin coating his own black suit.

            The world reformed around him, and with it, the tension.

            The dealer had the addict up against the brick of the wall with one hand, the knife hovering like a cut in his other fist. Sweat soaked them both into pristine detail.

            They were both looking up at him. So much for stealth.

            With a grunt Matt leapt over the railing, falling the last few feet into a battle crouch, his fists rising in readiness.

            “You’re gonna want to let him go now,” he said quietly, his voice dripping with menace.

            “Aw shit!” The dealer grabbed a fistful of the addict’s shirt and pulled him away from the wall, spun him gracelessly around and pinned him against his own chest. Using him as a shield. Matt dropped his chin, his teeth bared in quiet fury.

            “You come near me, I swear, I’ll kill the son of a bitch!” the dealer almost shouted, his voice laced with near hysteria while the addict whimpered under his arm. “I swear I will! Shit, fuck!”

            “Let. Him. Go.” Each word was as precise as a punch.

            “This is just stupid!” the dealer snapped. “This jackass is short, okay? I sell a good product and he owes me, right? I ain’t done nothin’ wrong and the fuck did you come from anyway, Devil? Shit, you been gone a year and now you come back out? The fuck, dude!”

            Matt was moving before he’d finished his rant. He lashed one hand forward, grabbing the dealer’s knife wrist and pulling it away from the addict’s throat, his body already spinning to turn his momentum into a crushing kick to the dealer’s ribcage.

            This is what living feels like.

            The memory of her voice struck him like lightning, burning away all air and all sense of the world. He was kneeling in the stagnant heat of the cave and the world above him was collapsing but that did not matter because Elektra was in his arms and her lips were against his and her scent filled his mind as the dust fell like snow around them. Her grip on him tightened and he held her closer still and they breathed their last breath as one –

            – and Matt crashed into something solid, blood bursting into his mouth. Gasping, he found his footing just in time for a fist to slam into his left temple, forcing his head back into the wall. Flecks of brick rained onto his shoulder which was snarling angrily as it was pressed ruthlessly into the mortar. Something metallic clattered against wet concrete and was that a scalpel? No, no, a knife, the knife, the drug dealer’s knife. He was in Hell’s Kitchen.

            And he was losing.

            His weak knee gave out as another frantic blow glanced off his helmet and he steadied himself by planting a fist into the ground. Two seconds, all he needed was two seconds, just to get his bearings –

            Get up, Matty.

            Stick’s voice froze him for a moment in a wave of mingled fear and grief, but he obeyed, he always obeyed.

            Focus.

            He heard the whine of wind on skin and threw up his hand to catch the oncoming fist. The dealer cursed and his weight shifted, the angle telling Matt a foot was about to come for his face. He blocked it with his other arm, then adjusted his grip to hold the man’s shin against his ribs. With a grunt he pushed off hard from his weak knee, unbalancing the dealer and slamming him hard onto his back.

            Matt snapped in a breath and scrambled to his feet, stealing half a heartbeat to take in the scene.

            The dealer was groaning on his back, winded and coughing. The knife lay useless a foot away, pointing docilely to the addict’s trembling form, hunched against the side of a dumpster Matt should’ve noticed much earlier.

            The addict was only a kid, Matt doubted older than twenty. He stank of fear, crouched and shaking against the dumpster, rank with need for the powder in the dealer’s pocket. His breathing was a series of whip cracks, fast and brutal.

            Matt took a deliberate breath and relaxed his stance. He stepped away from the dealer. The kid spluttered in terror, barely managing half a coherent word in his rush to plead for mercy, his hands raised in supplication as he pressed himself further into the wall. Matt stopped dead. Memories crashed through him like hurricane waves against the pier. He couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t move. Couldn’t think.

            Which is why he missed the dealer’s clumsy scramble for the knife.

            Before he’d recovered himself the dealer was on him, one hand planted on Matt’s shoulder as the other pushed the knife into his side.

            Matt flinched at exactly the right moment. The blade hit his ribs at an angle, a spark no one else noticed extinguishing as soon as it fired, and the knife skittered along the toughened armour of the suit. The sound was nails on chalkboards and boulders grinding together and a hundred snapping bones, but Melvin’s skill protected him. Matt spun around and whipped his elbow into the side of the dealer’s head and he crumpled to the ground, the knife thunking into stillness moments later.

            Breathing heavily, Matt turned back to the addict, half raising one arm to brace his surely bruised ribs, but he caught himself.

            “You okay?” he grunted.

            The kid didn’t answer. His heart beat fear into the night air with frantic rhythm. Matt took a few steps back, raising his hands in peace.

            “I’m not gonna hurt you, kid. There’s a shelter two blocks from here, they can help you out.”

            The kid was moving. He skirted around Matt to the dealer and sank to his knees. Matt watched, his heart sinking, as the kid searched desperately for his fix. The tiny bags crinkled as he clutched them against his stomach.

            “Don’t,” Matt said quietly. It was almost a plea. “Let me help you. I’ll take you to the –”

            The addict snatched the knife up from beside the unconscious dealer and held it up in a pitiful parody of a threat. Matt shifted his weight and let his hands fall to his sides.

            “That won’t stop me,” he pointed out softly. “Just let me help you, kid. It can get better, I promise.”

            “Nah, man,” the addict stammered. “I’m good. ‘S too late for me anyhow. J-just, let me go, okay? I won’t tell no one. No one’s gotta know.”

            “I’m not letting you take that,” Matt said firmly, taking a slow but resolute step closer. The knife trembled higher and the bags crinkled again as the addict tightened his grip.

            “Stay back! I’ll cut you, I swear to Christ! Dammit, man, why’d you have to beat him up?” He gestured to the dealer, his voice shaking once more. “I’m really in for it now, asshole.”

            “Then let me help you.” Matt took another careful step forward. The kid stumbled backwards, towards the mouth of the alley.

            “Nuh-uh, man, no way. Anyone see me being all buddy-buddy with Daredevil? Hell, you may as well just kill me now.”

            “I’m not –”

            “Why’d you have to come back!” the kid shouted, accusation ringing through the words. “Everything was okay, shit, it was running smooth! Peaceful, like! Then you come back lookin’ like some goth metal head’s wet dream and now everyone’s on edge, everyone’s arming up. A month ago he woulda just let me owe him another week,” he gestured to his dealer with the knife, then quickly trained it back onto Matt. “He would’nt’a threatened me, it woulda been fine! Fucking Devil. Ask me, Hell’s Kitchen gets its name from you!”

            Before Matt could make another move, the addict threw the knife carelessly at him (it missed by a good two feet) and ran into the warmth of the streetlights beyond the mouth of the alley. Matt let him go.

            He stood there for several minutes, absently following the kid’s footsteps through the streets. He stopped running less than a block away. Once Matt heard the snap of the bags and the spice of heroin, he drew his attention back, his stomach churning in disgust.

            The dealer had peed himself. Feeling suddenly exhausted, Matt grabbed him by the collar and pulled him against the wall, dumping him in a sitting position against the indifferent bricks. Usually now he would call the nearest precinct and leave a tip. The thought made his heart sink even lower in his chest. He couldn’t face Brett, nevermind how unlikely it was he answered. Besides, his ribs hurt. Shoulder and knee, too. He didn’t feel like making a hasty getaway. He swept his awareness over the dumpster. Full. Garbage men would be by soon, probably. That would do.

            He turned back to the fire escape. It suddenly felt far higher than it had a moment ago. An unnatural weight dragged at his muscles and he couldn’t summon the energy to heave himself back to the rooftops. With a heavy sigh no one else heard, he followed the addict out of the alley, searching for an easier way back and staying to the cooler pockets of shadows. He needed to walk his streets.

            Same time tomorrow, Matthew?

            His boot scraped slightly as the words halted him. He took a deep breath and tried to banish her voice, her scent, her memory. Her betrayal.

            The ghost of Braille flew past his fingertips, reminding him how much he had been worth to her. How little.

            Swallowing the hundred unanswerable questions, he set off again, ears keen to anything that would distract him a little longer. Maybe he should swing by Jessica’s, listen if she was awake.

            Yeah. Jess always had scotch handy.

 

Chapter Text

            Jessica was getting closer. She could feel it. After weeks of no leads and less patience, she’d finally found a theory worth testing. And judging by the few paltry clues she’d managed to piece together, tonight was her best chance.

            Gao used to get her shipments on the piers so maybe her lackies were still using the old routes. Danny’d been shutting down all the Handies he could find but Jess knew things the kid didn’t. Like shell corps. Like the power of a profit. And if psycho bitch and Matt had somehow survived Midland Circle, then the wrinkled old cow and the Jackie Chan asshole must have too. Find them, and she’d finally have a concrete line on Elektra. She just had to find the right pier.

            Jessica had to admit this case had caught her interest. Maybe because she had a personal reason to want to find (and by ‘find’ she meant ‘punch into oblivion’) Elektra, but she felt more invested in this than she had since Hope. Besides, Matt was paying her well. And, if she knew anything about trauma, he was still having the nightmares, and maybe finding out how he came to be in that hellhole would help.

            Or so she told herself.

            She fiddled with her camera as she skulked through the silent streets. Matt had gotten it for her a few weeks ago. Bashful idiot. Said he felt bad about smashing her last one and now she had a new DSLR worth more than twice the last one. Jess chewed her lip to keep the smile away as she remembered the exchange. How mortified he’d looked when she’d made him explain the five-figure camera he’d just left on her doorstep. Did the guy pay for all the windows he broke and drywall he dented as the Devil too? Talk about a do-gooder.

            But it was a good camera. And her back up one sucked. So she kept it.

            For business.

            Shut up.

            The lap of lazy waves against concrete was weirdly melodic. Might be comforting too, if she didn’t associate the sound with jumping in the slimy water to rip her old neighbour’s head off.

            Jessica gave a shudder that had nothing to do with the chill air.

            She moved quietly, placing her feet carefully through the puddles, her boots far stealthier than they looked. Voices drew her attention. Definitely speaking Chinese. Or Japanese. Whatever, one of the Hand languages, just on the other side of a building-sized stack of freighters. Sticking her camera back in its bag – which she was using because it was an expensive fucker, not because of where it came from, shut up – she bent her knees and leapt. Her hair flew back and her jacket lapels slapped against her shoulders and before you could say ‘impressive’ she landed, with only a slight stumble, on the topmost line of freighters.

            Yup. Definitely illegal shit going on there. About a dozen guys, all wearing typical bad-guy black, were scurrying around, loading boxes of something Misty would love to confiscate from a barge into one of three mid-sized vans, all bearing different logos. Jess pulled the camera free and crouched down to get the shots, snapping the logos and reg plates of the vans and as many unsmiling faces and unmarked boxes as she could. She was just turning her attention to the serial number just visible above the waterline on the barge when icy dread prickled along her spine.

            She wasn’t alone.

            She froze, her index finger poised over the shutter button. Waiting. Listening. Thinking how handy superhearing would be right now.

            The slick, shivering note of steel ringing against steel wove into the night, right behind her. Ignoring the worn-out (but nevertheless effective) intimidation technique, Jess carefully strapped the camera back into its padded bag, hoping it would survive the ass whooping she was about to give.

            That Mura-hoody guy owed her a few good kicks.

            She straightened up and turned around, pulling her hair out of her mouth and readying her most indifferent scowl.

            It wasn’t the Mura-hoody guy. It was the psycho zombie bitch.

            Well. Shit.

            “You shouldn’t be here,” Elektra said, her accented voice smooth and casual, carrying a smile that a lesser woman would’ve found chilling.

            “You can talk,” Jess shot back. “Shouldn’t you be dead? Like, twice?”

            Elektra’s smile broadened and she stepped forward, her black cloak billowing in the sea-swept wind. Two gleaming sai swords spun in her hands as she adjusted her grip.

            Jessica didn’t move. She just pulled the camera bag over her head and set it gently on the freighter by her foot and smiled right back. A deep, hot, powerful rage was burning higher and higher in her chest. For once she wanted to fight. She wanted this smirking asshole to come at her, full throttle. It didn’t matter she’d kicked Jess’s ass in the past. It didn’t matter Jess wasn’t bulletproof, wasn’t a black belt in karate, didn’t matter she was slower and untrained and mildly hungover.

            Elektra was responsible for Matt being held in a cage for months. She was the reason he’d almost died in that damn cave. It was her fault he’d needed to feel someone’s heartbeat to believe he was free from all that horror. This bitch was the reason Matt still held that place in his eyes, still looked haunted, like a dog beaten past all memory of mercy.

            Elektra was hers.

            “I’ve been looking for you,” she said quietly, her tone losing its casual lilt. Elektra paused, one questioning eyebrow quirking upwards. She was still smirking. Still looking like some hunter about to play with her food.

            Well. Let her try.

            “For me? Do I know you?”

            Jessica snorted and took a casual step forward. “You should. I’m the asshole who’s apartment you got covered in John Raymond’s brains. I’m the girl who beat you under Midland Circle.

            “I’m the one who’s going to make you pay for Matt.”

            Elektra frowned and straightened out of her battle crouch. Jessica hesitated.

            “Matthew? Isn’t he back yet?”

            “What?”

            Elektra let her sai swords fall to her sides in exasperation. “Well it’s hardly my fault if Matthew didn’t want to get back in touch with some –” she gestured loosely to Jessica with one of the knives – “homeless woman after St Agnes. Sorry to break it to you, dear, but Matthew’s alive and well, and frankly if he’s not shared that with you then don’t take it out on me. I’m the one who saved him, after all. You’re the one who left him to die.”

            Elektra smiled, innocent as ever, and for one heartbeat the two women stared at each other, silent save the whispers of the wind through the pier and the rev of three engines as the vans started. Then, faster than Jess could track on a completely sober day, Elektra lashed out, running forward with anime speed and before Jessica could do more than gasp, a red hot pain sliced across her arm. She spun away, sending ont fist after the red and black blur but the cut had thrown her off balance and she stumbled.

            “Son of a –”

            “You really shouldn’t have followed me,” Elektra said conversationally from behind her. Jess whipped around just in time to see the flash of silver and she grunted, putting a hand to her temple and backing away. “I left you all alone after the Circle fell. You should’ve appreciated that gift.”

            Okay, maybe this wasn’t gonna be some Inigo Montoya moment. Normal people definitely didn’t move that fast. Ow.

            “You didn’t save him,” Jessica spat back, taking her bloodied hand away and ducking another blow. “You sold him to those monsters, you utter bitch!”

            Moving quickly, Jessica punched into the top of the freighter on which she stood, grabbed hold of the thick, corrugated steel and pulled. With an ear-splitting shriek, the metal screamed free and she brought it up just in time to parry a double-bladed attack. One of the sais stuck in the makeshift shield, its point quivering inches from Jessica’s nose and she twisted the steel hard, breaking Elektra’s grip and walloping her mercilessly. Jessica was pretty sure she heard the crunch of bone.

            Elektra let out a furious snarl and whirled around, too quickly for Jessica to move the unwieldly metal, and kicked it viciously from Jess’s hands. It clattered over the far edge and before Jessica had time to think, Elektra was right in front of her and there was a blistering pain in her side. Instinct sent Jess’s fist powering into Elektra’s face and she gasped as the force of her punch pulled the sai out of her, leaving a ribbon of dark blood falling, as though in slow motion, to splash against the freighters.

            She didn’t hear Elektra’s graceless landing several feet away. Didn’t register that a punch like that should’ve killed her. She looked down at her right side, the blood oozing thick and sluggish over her shirt.

            Shouldn’t that hurt more? She pressed her hand into it, frowning slightly as a dull but intense burn flared against her palm. It must be deep. That was a lot of blood ruining her favourite jeans. Footsteps made her look up. She was on her knees. When did that happen?

            Elektra stood above her, her cheekbone fractured, blood stark and ugly against her dark skin. Her remaining blade was held ready at her side and her face was contorted in fury. Jessica knew she should be more scared, but she felt curiously numb. Like she’d been drugged or something. Her headwound wasn’t that bad, was it?

            “Those monsters are what saved him,” Elektra hissed above her and Jessica looked up, dazed. “Without them, he would be gone. Without me he would have died!”

            “You’re such a bitch,” Jessica murmured, slurring slightly. “You never deserved him. He should’ve let you die alone.”

            Elektra’s jaw tightened and she raised her blade. Jessica’s grin widened.

            “He never broke, you know,” she whispered, burying a wince. “Never. Not even when they fucked up so bad he couldn’t see.”

            Elektra hesitated, her rage flickering into confusion.

            “He was always too strong for you,” Jess said so quietly, the words were almost lost to the night. Elektra leaned forward despite herself, curiosity and something that might even have been fear overcoming her bleeding face. “Too strong for IGH. His only mistake was thinking he could save you.”

            “What are you talking about?” Elektra whispered, leaning forward with dark eyes alight with a pain that had nothing to do with spilled blood.

            Jessica sucked in a breath and gritted her teeth, knowing this was gonna hurt like a bitch, and surged upwards, fists first, side screaming, boots scraping against steel. Both fists powered into Elektra’s chest and she felt bones break against her knuckles. With a grunt, Elektra flew backwards into the night, over the full length of the stack of freighters and into the river with a splash that was lost to the head-ringing clatter as Jessica collapsed against the cold steel.

            Panting, grimacing, she slowly rolled herself onto her side, keeping one arm pressed against the hot blood oozing resolutely from her. Shit. The pain was starting to register and it was really registering. Shit. Ow. Shit. She tried to reach for her phone but a scorching warning ripped along her side and she gasped, the air icy against her throat.

            Damnit. How could it be burning this bad? It was like her blood had been turned to acid. This was bad. And the night was getting darker, too, which was weird, like the streetlights were all going off at once, but that should mean the sun was rising, right? She needed to call someone. She needed to move.

            But the blackness was deepening. Strengthening. The chill air was biting colder than ever and Jessica frowned, her eyes barely open. She really should’ve taken Trish up on those offers for Krav Maga lessons. Damn, if she died Trish was gonna be so mad. Malcolm too. God, she felt heavy. And tired. The stiff ridges of freezing steel pressing into her were almost comfortable.

            She just had time to hope Matt wasn’t on patrol tonight. She didn’t want him to see this. Stupid idiot would just blame himself. Then her arm went slack at her side, the last of the light left the night, and her mind slipped into silence.

Chapter Text

            She wasn’t home. Matt tried not to be too disappointed by that.

            The soft scent of leather and lavender spiked with a bracing note of whiskey had faded from the building, meaning she hadn’t been home in over a day, he guessed. He didn’t linger on her block. Shame coiled and writhed in his gut like a dying snake. He couldn’t just turn up in the middle of the night like this. Even if she had been there, what had he expected? He’d knock on the door and she’d invite him in for a drink?

            He shook his head, frowning at himself. She’d already done far too much for him. He’d bothered her enough. If he was too pathetic to get through one rough night alone then he had no business calling himself a Murdock.

            Get back to work, Matty.

            Matt stood on the roof of an apartment building a few blocks from Jessica’s. A southwesterly breeze was picking up, blowing over the city from the river with a chorus of low, keening moans only he got to hear. It was a beautiful sound. Unearthly. Eerie, even. But it matched the city. It was a steady, melancholy cry that warbled and wailed with every gust, like the buildings themselves were momentarily given voice. Matt forced his shoulders to relax and took a long, slow breath. It was a soothing melody.

            A high, piercing shriek screamed through the night and Matt flinched, his heart shaken from its temporary calm. He turned his head toward the piers, cocking it to better receive the tremulous final echoes of the noise. It almost sounded like metal being ripped apart. He tilted his nose in the direction of the mystery and opened his mouth slightly. He could just detect the tang of ragged steel and fresh blood and –

            An icy fist closed around Matt’s heart. His stomach shrivelled and plummeted down to the street. Panic, hot and suffocating, was already trying to claw its way up his throat. He swallowed hard, forcing himself to stay present, to keep his focus.

            And then he ran.

            He pounded over innumerable rooftops, his boots unnaturally loud in the suddenly silent night, all of the city’s noise drowned by the rushing in his ears. He leapt from ledge to ledge, spun around water tanks and launched himself off pipes. Every move was precise and fluid as he hadn’t known for months, his entire being pristinely centred, utterly concentrated on the warring scents of lotus and lavender. On the hot spice of blood rending the night apart.

            His sawing breath was too loud to hear clearly what was going on on the freighters by the docks. Their footsteps vibrated through the steel with distracting certainty, drowning out anything as subtle as speech. Matt pushed himself faster, still whole minutes away, maybe too far away. If he got there too late …

            He stamped that thought out as he leapt into free space, shooting his grappling hook over his head. It clanged into security around the edge of a fire escape and he swung in a graceful arc, the wind singing past his ears as his shoulder groaned under the strain. He felt the hook give as he completed the swing, releasing him back to gravity at the perfect angle for him to roll back into his stride, the tight metal chord winding itself with a high-pitched whine back into its holster.

            A splash up ahead. Closely followed by something big thudding into the steel, the vibrations distorting its shape. Matt’s stomach shrivelled inside him as the ghost of Jessica Jones exhaled a gusting breath against the metal.

            It took him seconds to scale the freighters, desperation lending him a strength he hadn’t felt in weeks. She was lying on her side, one arm curled against her ribs, her breathing slight and pained against the regimented gullies of the freighters. Only the memory of lotus and embers lingered but it still hit Matt like a truck. He shook himself, forcing himself to ignore it.

            Panting heavily, Matt knelt by Jessica’s side, his every sense honed in on her. She had a bad cut on her temple, the side of her face outlined in blood. A worse wound soaked her side, still bleeding sluggishly but it didn’t sound too wide, or deep. As Matt leant closer a familiar, toxic scent burned in his nostrils. An old terror awoke in his mind, its howl the screams of the woman he could not help but love as unnatural sickness stole through her, dampening the mighty beat of her heart. The same unearthly cold that had once burned through his own blood, every inch a mile in agony as it marched on his doomed heart, was eroding Jessica’s steady warmth.

            The Hand’s poison.

            “Hey, hey, it’s okay,” he muttered, knowing full well Jessica couldn’t hear him and unable to keep all the panic out of his voice. “You’re gonna be okay, Jess, you’re gonna be fine. Just stay with me. Stay with me.”

            He snaked his arms carefully under her shoulders and knees and pulled her to his chest. Her head lolled lifelessly against his shoulder and a wave of whiskey, lavender, and blood broke over him.

            “It’s okay, sweetie, you’re gonna be okay. Just hold on, Jess. Hold on for me.”

            He got to his feet, holding her tight against him. The echo of his boot on the steel reverberated against a block of nylon he hadn’t noticed before. Jessica’s camera case. Knowing her imminent death wouldn’t be a good enough reason for him to leave that behind, he knelt down, scooped one hand under the strap, then straightened up and turned around.

            Elektra’s scent hit him again and his gut coiled and writhed in a storm of doubt and instinct. He could follow her trail from here, maybe even track her through the water, if this concentration stuck. He could track the shipment of heroin that matched the sachet the kid had scavenged from his dealer’s jacket.

            Without hesitating, he set off down the freighters, holding Jess close to his heart with each graceless jump. She stirred as he raced home, pained moans escaping her lips as he kept to the streets and the shadows, running so hard he began to feel the burning wires scorching his feet. The air seemed to thin as they stole back the oxygen, and his lungs ached with every half-breath. He didn’t stop. Twice, he let himself slow to a jog for a few minutes. But the stench of wrongness that was slowly overtaking the beautiful fragrance of Jessica, and that kept Matt on the move. When his senses started to falter and short out, he moved to more familiar routes, barely aware if he passed anyone, keeping up a steady mantra of, Not her, not her, keep moving Matty, not her.

            By the time he stumbled into his apartment, Jessica was writhing in his arms, every breath a wild moan of the pain that was consuming her. He stumbled down the last few steps, lost his footing and fell, twisted on one foot so his back hit the floor, Jess still pinned to his chest. The camera bounced off to the side and he untangled his arm from the strap. Jess’s breath was a sucking rasp, drowning out the faintest shushing of her eyelashes as she blinked mindlessly, disoriented by the poison.

            Winded, his side stabbing hot shards of pain across his awareness, he dragged himself to his knees and pulled Jessica over to the couch. He lay her gently on it, then ripped his gloves and helmet free. He couldn’t breathe. His lungs were shrivelled, charred husks, his energy utterly spent. He allowed himself ten seconds of exhaustion, slumped there against the couch, his head inches from Jessica’s twitching arm. His fingers searched along his chest until he found the fastenings and he ripped the suit free and crawled into the blessedly cool air of his loft. His lungs finally expanded with a full breath and he clambered to his feet, his legs half-numb beneath him.

            What did he need?

            Whiskey – the bottles clinked loudly as he grabbed it clumsily from its stand by the hall wall.

            Baking soda – he fumbled it from the fridge but caught it moments before it hit the floor.

            Toilet cleaner – under the sink and he misjudged the snatch entirely and was rewarded with a stinging pop as his fingers crunched against iron.

            Jessica’s heart was skipping every other beat, her grunting moans far quieter now but each lashed against Matt’s heart, whipping him into sharper focus. He grabbed the pliers and a bowl and poured everything into it. The baking soda hissed greedily and rose like a miniature hurricane, the curve of the bowl echoing back its sibilant rush until it spent its energy and mellowed into the mixture.

            Matt grabbed the bowl and set it by the couch, not stopping as he moved to the old closet that housed his suit. He dug through the chest Foggy had kept for him, past the shelf of photographs he couldn’t see and his father’s soothing robe, and under the unused remains of his black shirt and pants. Nestled in a corner was the half-full vial of pungent something Elektra had left behind her after she’d saved him from the arrow. His fingers closed around it with a heavy wave of relief, and he dashed back to Jessica’s side.

            Anyone else wouldn’t be able to hear her soft groans now. Her heart beat doggedly on, wavering every few seconds but still determined. Still strong. He grabbed the bowl, upturned the vial into it. The mixture thickened instantly, the alien scent of the vial’s liquid overpowering that of the others.

            “Okay, okay, here we go,” he muttered, mixing the concoction with the pliers as he knelt beside Jessica.

            He pulled back her shirt to expose the wound. It really wasn’t that deep but God, there was a lot of blood. Swallowing his fear, Matt laid the pliers along the gash and pulled it open. Jessica winced viciously, a growling cry pulling itself from her unconscious lips. Matt blinked away useless tears and forced himself to steady.

            “I’m sorry, Jess,” he whispered, reaching for the bowl. “I’m so sorry. Just hang on, sweetie, please.” He took a breath. “This is gonna hurt.” And upturned the bowl.

            It hissed as it came in contact with her skin and the moment it did her back arched off the couch, her heart galloped to a frantic pace. She sucked in a drowning breath, and screamed.

            “I’m sorry! Just hold on, Jessica, hold on! You’ll be okay, I promise, I promise, Jess, please. Hold on. Hold on, sweetie.”

            He was babbling. Trying to drown out her pain as it cut right into his soul, her ragged cry worse than whips on his heart. As the last of the cure fizzled into the wound, she slumped into the cushions, utterly silent. For one, paralysing heartbeat, Matt listened. Then the glorious melody of Jessica Jones drawing breath filled his apartment, the beautiful tenor of her heart beating out a steady, strong metronome into the stillness.

            Matt slumped on the floor beside her, gasping as though he’d been choked. He pressed his forehead into her arm, his hand reaching for hers. His lips moved in prayer around his heaving breaths, his eyes closed, shoulders slack.

            He didn’t move for a long time. He just knelt there, holding on to Jessica, knowing she should be fine, scared she might somehow still slip away. The warmth of her skin against his kept him grounded in the aching present, the memories of poison and screams and Stick and everything else battering the edge of his mind like a storm raging just outside.

            Eventually, it all quieted. Along with his breathing.

            He lifted his head. She was breathing evenly now, a steady, slumberous rhythm. Her scent was once again her own, the last hint of the poison slowly being eroded by each beat of her heart.

            She was covered in blood, the cut on her temple still wet and fresh. It wouldn’t need stitches, though the gash in her side certainly would. Not to mention binding. He laid his free hand over her the top of her head for a moment, wondering if she was frowning in her sleep. Leaning back he retrieved his hand, relaxing onto his knees once more.

            She was okay. She would be okay. He brought her hand to his lips and kissed it.

            Thank you, God.

Chapter Text

            Ow. Damnit. Ow.

            A long, petulant groan stretched itself from the very depths of Jessica’s soul, mulishly informing the world that right now it sucked. By the time it had rumbled into silence, awareness had, unfortunately, found her.

            And god-freaking-damn it. She felt hot, almost feverish, and with the heat was the kind of pain you get if you’d spent half your life being a couch potato and then upped and run a marathon. Plus she felt right on the verge of wanting to puke her guts out, which was rare for her, and usually involved several barrels’ worth of cheap whiskey. Her head was spinning.

            Already scowling, she cracked her lids open and peered around a semi-familiar apartment cloaked in quiet shadows.

            “Jessica?”

            She jumped, and a ripple of sharp pain zinged along her whole body from the mildly burning pressure at her side.

            “Shit, Murdock,” she croaked, running a hand over her eyes and feeling a bandage at her temple. That explained the headache. “Make a sound first, weirdo.”

            “Sorry.”

            She grunted and tried to push herself into a sitting position. The burn in her side quickly quashed that idea. She let out a low hiss.

            “How are you feeling?” Matt asked, his tone mostly calm, but there was an undercurrent of nervousness that caught her attention. She gave herself a second to remember how she’d ended up on Murdock’s couch at dark-thirty am on a  … Tuesday?

            She couldn’t.

            “Shit,” she grumbled, reaching one arm behind her to pull up the cushion. Matt was at her side a bit too quickly, fixing it for her so she didn’t have to move and she frowned up at him. “How’d I get here? Can you turn a light on or something, not all of us can see in the dark, dude.”

            He leaned over and flicked on a lamp, then sat on the coffee table, his unfocused eyes aimed at her neck. He looked awful. Like he hadn’t slept in days and there was a colony of nasty bruises blossoming on his bare side, which made all the scars look even worse.

            “I heard you. At the dock. Move slow, okay. Take it easy.”

            Oh, right. The dock. A fresh surge of anger washed over Jessica. That bitch. She glanced at Matt, glad he couldn’t see her expression.

            “Did you see her, then? Or, whatever it is you do.”

            Confusion rippled across his face for the briefest of moments. Then all emotion vanished behind a carefully impassive mask.

            “No. Smelled her, just.”

            Jessica snorted. “Weirdo.” She cleared her throat. “I didn’t get to ask a lot of questions, but –”

            “Jessica, stop,” Matt cut across her, almost irritably, shaking his head  and leaning forward, arms on his knees. “How are you feeling?”

            She frowned at him. What was he expecting her to say?

            “What, I’m fine. She barely got me, Murdock, it’s just a scratch. Relax.”

            Amusement fought a brief battle with frustration over the plains of his exhausted face and he settled for an expression somewhere between the two that made the corner of Jessica’s mouth curl in a smile she was oddly glad he couldn’t see.

            “Since when does ‘just a scratch’ stop Jessica Jones when she’s on the job?” he asked with the air of a movie lawyer laying the perfect trap to nab the guilty in a case-solving lie.

            Jessica scowled at him, her mouth opening to snark back, but she hesitated. Glanced down to her side. The bandaged hidden under her blood-soaked shirt. She laid a hand gingerly over the burning pressure, her frown deepening as she remembered a heaviness pulling her down, sucking her strength away faster than any flesh wound should.

            And she remembered burning. Acid in her blood.

            Her breath caught slightly in her chest and she looked back to Matt.

            “What the hell happened?”

            All trace of smugness drained from his face, leaving it unnervingly serious. His eyes were almost … fearful.

            “There’s a poison. It’s fast-acting, fatal, and can be laced onto a weapon.” He gestured casually to the round, blotchy scar on his right shoulder. “Arrows. And,” he added, his impassive features wavering as he swallowed, “swords. I’ve, uh, I’ve only ever known it to be used by the, uh ... By the Hand.”

            Jessica stared at him. He could probably hear her heart pounding but she kept up a façade of cool and held her voice steady.

            “So then Elektra’s –”

            “Still working with the Hand,” Matt finished, as though this revelation wasn’t painful for him. “Or what’s left of it, anyway.”

            “Well, shit.”

            “Yeah. But seriously. Jessica.”

            She looked back to him. “What?”

            “Are you feeling okay? I know you heal faster than me, but I felt pretty shit the day after I got hit with that stuff.”

            “Well I’m not in the mood to go off picking daisies, but I’ll live.” Which is when the rest of his words finally registered. “Wait a minute.”

            “What?”

            “You said this stuff was fatal.”

            “Yeah?”

            “But I’m not dead.”

            He half-nodded, smiling slightly at her tone. “No, you’re not. Gave it a good shot though. Stick taught me the antidote. When, um, when Elektra was poisoned.”

            Jessica blinked. Moving slowly and ignoring Matt, she pushed herself into a sitting position.

            “You saved my life.” The words felt odd on her tongue. Inadequate.

            Mat shifted uncomfortably. “Well ... I owed you.” He shot her a disarming half-smile, then got quickly to his feet. “I’ll get you some water.”

            She watched him escape to the kitchen and slap on the tap. It was pretty ironic that the Daredevil got all squirrelly at the idea of having saved someone’s life, right? Did he never stay around long enough to be thanked? I mean, she hadn’t either, the two or three times she’d managed to actually do something decent, but still. The guy was a pro at this.

            “Here.” She took the glass of water he held out to her.

            “I’d prefer a little –”

            “Way ahead of you,” he interrupted, smiling that stupid, dopey smile and revealing half a bottle of whiskey in his other hand.

            “Thanks, Devil Boy.”

            He sat down on the other end of the couch and half-turned to her, his gaze stern. Jessica bit back a smile, knowing what he was going to say and knowing it wasn’t going to end well for him.

            “Jessica, listen –”

            “I’m not dropping the case, Matt.”

            His frown deepened.

            “Jess –”

            “No.”

            “Jess!”

            “No.”

            Matt deflated slightly into the couch, his expression falling. He stared at her cheekbone for a long moment while she knocked back the whiskey.

            “Can I at least make my case?” he asked quietly, speaking faster than normal in case she interrupted him again.

            Jess rolled her eyes. “Lemme guess, you think I should drop the case ‘cause I might get hurt again. That about the sum of it?”

            He looked away, smiling humourlessly.

            “You don’t understand, Jess, you don’t –”

            “Are you seriously trying to tell me I don’t understand the stakes here?” she cut across him, appalled. “That I don’t understand the danger? Have you forgotten I was down there in that pit with you? I fought the Hand too, Murdock, and I fought Elektra before. Yeah, she got a lucky hit in tonight, and yeah, I’m lucky you found me, and sure, I’m grateful and shit you saved my life, but Jesus! I know how to take care of myself, Matt! I’m not some helpless chick stumbling about not knowing what they’re getting into. I said I’d take this case and I’m not giving it up until it’s done. I want answers too, okay? And who the hell are you to talk about dropping something in case you get hurt? Have you seen yourself lately?” She sucked in a hissing breath as her side seared in protest to her tirade.

            He turned to face her, his expression shuttered, save a glimmer of dark humour.

            “Not in a couple of decades, no.”

            Jessica snorted.

            “You’re such an asshole.”

            “Does it make any difference to your case if your client withdraws their claim?”

            “No,” she answered curtly.

            “What about their money?”

            “You already gave me five grand. Unless you wanna break into my apartment and repossess the new drywall you’re out of excuses, Murdock.”

            He scowled at her.

            “You almost died tonight, Jess,” he said quietly, his composure cracking ever so slightly and making her heart do an odd sort of quiver. “This case isn’t worth that.”

            Jessica stared at him, her brow furrowing. His tone made it sound like he wasn’t only talking about the case.

            “I’m not giving up on it, Matt.” Or on you.

            He hung his head slightly and nodded, hiding his expression.

            “Just ... be careful?”

            Maybe it was the shadows that made his ribs look so prominent. Maybe the dim light made his skin look paler than it was. Maybe the scars weren’t as painful as they looked.

            But he still looked like shit. And not just physically.

            Jessica let out a long sigh and let herself sink into the cushions, stretching her legs into Matt’s surprised lap.

            “I promise not to intentionally die on this case,” she promised tiredly, resting a hand gingerly over her side. God, she felt like crap.

            Matt snorted and laid his arm over her shins.

            “I appreciate that.”

            Silence stretched between them for a while, warm and comfortable as a blanket. Sleep tugged gently on Jessica’s muscles but her mind was still racing. She’d almost died tonight. Properly died.

            Guilt squirmed inside her. If Matt hadn’t found her Trish would be getting a call in a few hours to identify her corpse. She shuddered.

            “You okay?” Matt’s voice matched the dark quiet of his loft.

            “Yeah. Just ... I’m glad you found me tonight. Pretty sure Trish would’ve killed me otherwise.”

            Matt exhaled around a smile.

            “I’d take the Hand over an angry Trish Walker any day.”

            “Wise.”

            A pause. Then,

            “We should tell Danny. That the Hand’s still active, I mean.”

            Jessica nodded at the ceiling. “Probably. But maybe we should wait a bit, or tell Luke first.”

            “Why?”

            “Doesn’t Rand have his finals coming up?”

            She felt Matt shift under her legs.

            “Jessica Jones,” he said smugly, “you actually remembered something personal about Danny Rand.”

            “Shut up, Murdock.”

            “Careful. People are gonna start thinking you care about him if you keep this up.”

            “Asshole.”

            “Ah, back to the old classic. Nice. Not at all generic.”

            She bounced her heel into his thigh, grinning at his little yelp. She heaved a sigh that twinged her side and sank further into the couch. It was pretty comfortable, really. An immense yawn stretched itself luxuriously from her throat.

            “Do you want to get some sleep? You must be wrecked.” Matt made to shift out from under her. “You can have my bed, you’ll sleep better there.”

            “Nah, too wired.” He settled back into the couch and she glanced over at him. “Matt?”

            “Yeah?”

            “She didn’t sell you to IGH.”

            He blinked. A muscle in his jaw feathered as he clenched his teeth around whatever he was feeling.

            “You’re sure?”

            “Yeah. She didn’t know about it. I’m sure.” She drew in a deep breath. “I know it’s not an answer, not really, but at least she didn’t put you there. She didn’t put you through ... all that.”

            He nodded, a bit spasmodically, swallowing hard and blinking back a vulnerability she pretended not to see.

            “Thank you.”

            She shrugged into the cushion. Tried to ignore how her heart panged at how lost he looked.

            “I’ll find out what happened, Matt. Promise.” To both of us.

            He squeezed her shin and smiled in her direction. She let the silence hang long enough for him to compose himself. Then let her curiosity out.

            “How are you doing? And I mean really,” she said, cutting off the lie his lips were forming, “not just what you tell people.”

            That won her a tired smile. He considered her for a moment, then resolve hardened in his unfocused gaze.

            “Not ... great.”

            “Shocker.”

            He exhaled with slightly more force than usual, which she took as appreciation for her rapier wit.

            “I keep thinking about my life before all this happened,” he continued, waving a hand to encompass their current situation. “Before IGH, before Midland Circle. Before I met you. The life I’m supposed to be getting back to.”

            “And?”

            He hesitated, taking a deep breath. “And I can’t find any reason to want it back.”

            She said nothing, letting him find the words.

            “Back then, I was trying to just be Matt Murdock, just a lawyer. I’d given up the other suit after Elektra died. And it was going shit. It didn’t fix anything, not going out at night. Not with Foggy, or Karen. And now ...”

            “Now?” she prompted, bringing him out of his thoughts.

            “Now I can’t do either,” he admitted quietly. “Foggy’s been trying to get me back into casework. I tried to consult on a couple of his, and I just ... I remember I used to love all that, but now I just don’t ... feel it.”

            “And the Daredeviling?”

            He snorted. “I’m not Daredevil, Jess. Not anymore. Tonight, before I found you? I got jumped by a drug dealer. If it weren’t for the suit I could’ve bled out in an alley. I keep missing things,” he said, his teeth gritted around a tightly furious tone. “One second I’m in a fight and then I’m back in IGH and it takes me too long to get back, I just, get lost there. All the time.”

            He stopped himself, and Jessica stared at him. There was plenty he wasn’t saying. She could see the secrets moving in his eyes, see them curling and clawing at their cages, just like hers did.

            “It’s only been a couple months, Matt,” she said softly, channelling her inner Trish. “No one’s expecting you to be ... okay so soon after all you went through.”

            Matt scoffed. “That’s what you said the week you got me out.”

            “And I mean it just as much now. You’re fucked up. And you’re gonna be fucked up for a long time, most likely. Take it from a pro,” she added with mock cheerfulness, “the sooner you find peace with that, the sooner you find peace.”

            He turned his head in her direction.

            “Have you found peace?” His voice wasn’t mocking. It was gentle. Curious. Equal parts hopeful and sceptical.

            She avoided his pointless gaze, wishing there was a way to avoid his heartbeat-hearing ears. “I’m starting to. I think.”

            If he heard the lie, he ignored it.

            He heaved a sigh and let his head fall onto the back of the couch.

            “I miss feeling strong,” he confessed, his voice barely above a whisper. “It’s like I’ve lost part of myself. Again.”

            A rueful smile twisted Jessica’s lips. She remembered saying almost the exact same thing to Trish in the months after she escaped Kilgrave. Before she’d run away.

            “I get it. And it sucks. But if it helps, it will come back.”

            He rolled his head to look at her, his eyes missing hers by several inches.

            “You think?”

            “I know. Just takes time. And scotch,” she added. “Lots of scotch.”

            He chuckled. Jessica was suddenly very glad he couldn’t see her answering smile.

            “It’s late,” he announced after a comfortable pause, carefully lifting her legs and extricating himself from the couch. “You should get some rest.”

            “I’m already lying down, wow, you really can’t see shit, can you?”

            Huh. Blind people rolled their eyes too. Who knew?

            “Shut up, Jones.”

            He bent over her and, so gently she didn’t feel the need to say something snarky, snaked his arms under her knees and shoulders, then lifted her carefully, holding her securely against his chest.

            “What are you doing?” she asked, hoping to hell he couldn’t tell when people were blushing (and knowing full well he probably could).

            “Getting payback, Princess.”

            She gasped. “You asshole!”

            He chuckled again as he carried her into his bedroom, the deep rumble soothing against her ear. Something warm squirmed in her gut for a moment, but she ignored it.

            He lay her gently on the bed and drew the sheets snugly around her.

            “I could’ve just slept on the couch, you know,” she said, mostly just to break the suddenly awkward silence. Well, it was awkward for her, anyway.

            “Billboard, remember? You can sleep in in here.”

            He hesitated over her and for one bizarre moment, she thought he was about to lean in and kiss her. But then he straightened up and headed for the door.

            “I’m sorry you got hurt, Jess,” he said quietly from the threshold. “But thank you.”

            There was something in her throat. She gave a weird sort of half-cough and said,

            “You’ve nothing to be sorry about. And ... same.”

            With a final smile, he stepped outside and slid the door shut. Jessica lay back on the pillow and stared up at the ceiling, ignoring a passive-aggressive twinge from her side. There were three long cracks running across its length, probably from the not-an-earthquake, all those months ago. She scowled up at them, as though they were the reason she was suddenly so pissed off. Matt could be such an asshole. What, he just casually saves her life and doesn’t even care she never properly thanked him for it? And then just leaves her alone in his huge bed, taking the couch like a fucking gentleman and doesn’t even try to –

            Oh.

            Oh.

            Well, shit.

 

Chapter Text

            Matt moved like a ghost, silent and unseen. He slipped back into the suit as quietly as possible, then climbed the stairs to the roof, careful to avoid the squeakiest steps. Jessica wasn’t asleep yet, her breathing was still too quick, as was her heartrate. But if she noticed him leave the apartment, she didn’t care.

            The night had already turned. Soon the darkness would wane, yielding to the warmth of a new day.

            To Matt, that meant Elektra had only a few hours if she was going to come for him. She had never been one to act by day when night could cloak her footsteps. He would not let himself be caught off guard again. He would not let her touch Jessica again.

            He thought briefly about meditating. Slowing his mind down and expanding his awareness as far as he could, waiting for the earliest signs of trouble. But the thought was quickly dispelled by the agitated energy in his limbs. He had been oddly calm once Jessica woke up, but now she was safe downstairs fear reawoke in his blood, demanding action, retribution, reprieve.

            Matt gave himself three deep breaths to centre his focus. He called Stick’s voice from the depths of his memory and, keeping his eyes closed to hold onto the fragile sense of peace, of direction, he moved through the old forms he hadn’t needed to practice in decades. He moved sinuously from pose to pose, the continuous motion fooling his limbs into forgetting their exhaustion, warming the muscles to a pleasant buzz of carefully controlled energy. Every time he heard something that wasn’t there – the hiss of an oxygen mask being turned on, the angry sizzle of a cattle prod, the screams of those who were begged for death – he quickened his pace until the memories faded, slowly training his body not to freeze when IGH stole his mind away.

            Hell’s Kitchen was hardly quiet, but what cries there were were not dire, and every time Matt’s legs itched to be off in pursuit of a raised heartbeat, he tuned himself back into Jessica’s, now slow and slumberous, below.

            The city had survived just fine without him for months. What would it care if he ignored it for one night?

            What would it care if he simply abandoned it, as it had abandoned him? The heroin addict’s words still rung in his head, Why’d you have to come back? Everything was okay. Matt clenched his teeth as the words lashed against his heart. It was a fair point. The city got on fine before he took up the mantle of Daredevil and it sure as hell did fine while he was wasting away in IGH. Sure, he helped take down Fisk and the Russians’ ring, but what difference did that make, really? There were already whispers about some new power coiling around the city like a snake around a kill. Slow and suffocating. There would always be another battle, another Kingpin. Crime in Hell’s Kitchen was a hydra. Only there was no way to truly kill it: its heart was the heart of the people, the same people who cried out at night for help that never came. He couldn’t stop that heart.

            What difference did he make?

            Matt scowled under his mask. He knew the answer. Zero. Foggy had been telling him since the beginning, since he’d found out. It was like pressing the snooze button on an alarm, just delaying the problem for another few minutes, buying a few extra moments of peace.

            And at what cost? Look what it had done to Foggy, to Karen. To Elektra, to Stick. Even Jessica still bore the weight of her own battles, and she was the victor. She had stopped a monster who destroyed people – for good. Meanwhile Fisk ran the damn cell block Matt and Foggy had sent him to. And if he ever gathered together enough power, the remains of Nelson and Murdock would be the first stones to fall before an avalanche that would raze the very streets of Hell’s Kitchen.

            Foggy didn’t deserve that. But there was nothing Matt could do but wait.

            And listen.

            The chill of the night was slowly stretching itself into the first weak rays of warmth from the west. The sun would rise soon.

            And Elektra had not come.

            Concern stung in Matt’s heart, causing an answering lurch of disgust to curl in his gut. She’d almost killed Jessica, God only knew how many she had hurt before Midland Circle fell, and yet he still could not untangle his heart from hers.

             She didn’t sell you to IGH.

            The relief was so powerful it physically hurt. He felt almost ... hopeful. But for what? That she wasn’t the monster the others believed her to be? Whatever happened that night, however they survived the explosion and escaped, she had still left him. And she had never used the Hand’s poison before now, so she must have joined them, after everything. After standing on this damn roof and promising she’d rather die than be one of them, than be used by them, she still chose them. Over her own freedom. Over him.

            Matt’s arms flopped from his pose to his sides, his head hanging low over his chest as his shoulders slumped under the weight of his unanswerable questions.

            He had stayed in that pit to try and save her. And he had lost her anyway.

            Had anything good come from that godforsaken night?

            Jessica mumbled something in her sleep, the unexpected lilt of her voice startling him out of his reverie. A small smile curled the corner of his mouth, and he raised his fists again, punching at nothing.

            Well, he had helped saved the city, at least. Not that it cared, but. Still. That was something. And he could do this. He could make sure no more harm came to the woman sleeping downstairs.

            Jessica rolled over in the bed, the sheets whispering over her skin, scratching minutely against her clothes. An odd warmth tugged at Matt’s heart, telling him in a voice too easy to ignore that he should go back down to her, that he should soothe himself with the steady, healthy sound of her heart. He spun on one foot and leapt into the air, letting his heel charge into an imagined foe.

            He was being an idiot. Jessica was smart enough to know a hopeless case when she saw one. Unlike him. She deserved better. She deserved someone whole. Besides, he actually felt calm around her. Settled, even. He couldn’t afford to lose that, not now. Even if she wanted –

            He turned to the wall and lashed his fists against it, testing the padding of the gloves and shocking his mind away from such useless thoughts. His breath was a series of growling pants, low and angry and too quiet for anyone else to hear.

            It didn’t matter how fast and cold the fear had been when he smelled her blood –

            He punched the wall again, two sharp jabs that sent pain zinging up his arms to his shoulders.

            It didn’t matter how relieved he was when her heart settled after the antidote took effect –

            He spun around and kicked the wall for good measure, following it up with another savage upper cut.

            It didn’t matter how happy he was when she woke up, how calm and safe he felt when she was calling him an asshole –

            His knuckles were raw but he kept attacking the wall as though it would silence his stupid mind, his damned heart.

            It didn’t matter –

            It didn’t matter.

 

Chapter Text

            Jessica woke up around a contented breath. The warm weight of sheets held her in a cocoon of comfort that smelled familiar and reassuring. Safe, even. A stretch rippled along her body and she grimaced as it pulled on the cut on her side. Pouting, she opened her eyes. She felt like she’d gone ten rounds with the Hulk and her head was weirdly heavy, like a hangover and a headache had a lovechild made of wet cotton. The myriad aches pushed the bliss of the cocoon aside, the peaceful moment shattered.

            She opened her eyes. Sunlight glowed through the room, soft and gentle as a whisper. That’s when she identified the comforting scent and her stomach sank a few inches in her gut. Matt. Well, shit. She rolled over, accidentally (ish) inhaling the pillow as she pried herself from the mattress, which, by the way, was exactly the perfect blend of firm and soft you’d expect from a guy with heightened senses to have. It was a million delicious miles away from her second-hand plank of springs and damn. She did not want to get up.

            But she smelled eggs. And bacon. Heard the quiet tinkering of someone trying not to be noticed. She bit down on a smile and sat up, her legs over the edge of the bed.

            Matt had left clothes for her just inside the sliding door. A grey hoodie, one of his work shirts, and a pair of black trackies. And socks. The thick, squishy kind. Jessica’s heart gave a warning wiggle. That was right on the line between sweet and fucking terrifying. Stupid blind idiot. Why couldn’t be an insensitive jackass? Did he have to be the thoughtful, caring kind, ‘cause she knew how to handle jackasses. Not this.

            Asshole.

            Jessica pulled her shirt off carefully, wincing as the motion tugged on her side. It was gonna be a write-off, no way was she going to try and get all that blood out. She rolled it in a ball and dumped it in the waste paper bin by the bed, then pulled on the hoodie (which was freshly laundered and smelled amazing, because Matt Murdock is an asshole). And the socks, ‘cause. Well, they were the really squishy kind. She was just being polite.

            Shut up.

            She slid the door open and was welcomed with a wave of mouth-watering warmth rolling past her. Matt was in the kitchen, dressed in normal clothes (for once) and flicking a button on the coffee machine. The sacred scent of caffeine joined the plethora of domestic bliss filling the apartment and Jessica took half a second to enjoy it.

            Then Matt looked up, his eyes staring a foot to her left. He smiled. And aw, shit, she was in trouble.

            “Perfect timing,” he said, his chocolate eyes crinkling in a smile that was not fair. “Hungry?”

            She shrugged one shoulder, fighting back a smile herself. “I could eat. Doesn’t smell poisonous, anyway.” She moved gingerly to the little table and sat down, watching Matt move like some sitcom dad around the kitchen, assembling plates and balancing two cups of coffee on one hand while his other arm held the food. He set her plate down in front of her, smiling like he’d just invited her over for brunch to catch up, not as though she would’ve died last night if it weren’t for him.

            Jess looked down at her homemade breakfast. Scrambled eggs with feta cheese, bacon, and those little tiny tomatoes that he’d grilled or something. It looked incredible. And smelled even better.

            “There’s more of everything if you’re still hungry after,” Matt said, a bit self-consciously she thought, taking his own seat and reaching for the coffee. “Foggy’s been stocking my fridge since I got back and he’s still used to shopping for big family feasts, not one guy.” Matt gestured to the food. “He even buys name brand cheese now. Perks of the corner office, I guess.”

            Since I got back. Like it was a holiday? Jessica stared at him for a moment, keeping her face angled towards her food so he wouldn’t notice. This was the same guy who had cut his own arm open alone on a kitchen floor at four in the morning. Her eyes moved to the jagged scar on his right forearm, clearly visible in the daylight, her shoddy stitching making it look as mean and painful as it had that godawful night. She took a sip of coffee and picked up her fork. He was faking it pretty well.

            “Thanks. Can’t remember the last time I had, like, homemade food.” She took a bite and holy shit. This is why people cooked for themselves.

            “Not much of a cook?” he asked lightly, ghosting a hand over his plate and shooing a solitary tomato over a hump of egg to its fellows.

            Jessica snorted. “I’m all about take out. Gotta support local businesses, y’know?”

            He chuckled at that, that stupid dopey grin lighting up his face.

            Hunger woke like a yawn in her gut and she turned her attention to breakfast earnest, scooping up great forkfuls of eggs and chewing only as much as was necessary to swallow without choking before diving back for more. After several minutes of this she looked up. Matt was staring at her, his knife and fork frozen above his plate, his mouth open in a small, mildly horrified smile. He raised his eyebrows at her, his eyes shooting amused judgment past her shoulder.

            “Shut up,” she managed around a mouthful of deliciousness. “’S good.”

            He laughed and shook his head, waving one hand in a gesture of surrender.

            “I said nothing.”

            She mm-hmm’d at him and went back to her feast. Eventually (when she’d blazed through seconds) she sat back with a satisfied groan and pulled her coffee closer.

            “How’re you feeling?” Matt turned his sightless eyes in her direction.

            She shrugged one shoulder. “Pretty good. Considering I almost bit it last night.” She eyed him critically. He looked even more exhausted than he had last night. Not to mention tense. “You get any sleep?”

            He smiled at her and nodded. “Yeah. That couch is comfier than it looks.”

            Liar.

            “How’d you find the bed?”

            “Good. Usually takes me hours to get to sleep.”

            Matt shrugged. “Well, nearly dying can take it out of you.”

            He probably meant it to be funny, but the humour did not reach his eyes, which were quickly turning away from her gaze. He shifted his weight, sitting forward on the pretence of loading up another forkful of bacon and tomato, but Jessica noticed his plate wasn’t looking all that much emptier than it had ten minutes ago. Looked like he’d mostly been cutting it all to ever smaller pieces.

            “Not hungry?” she asked casually, taking another sip of coffee.

            He threw her another distracting grin which she ignored.

            “Not so much. Not much of a breakfast person, really.”

            Jessica raised incredulous eyebrows he didn’t see. “Your cooking begs to differ.”

            “Thanks,” he chuckled, rubbing his hands along his thighs and looking the picture of uncomfortable. “Do you want any more?”

            “No. I’m good.”

            “Here, let me.” He stood and took both their plates back around the counter. Jess frowned as he scraped his uneaten food into the bin.

            “You should probably take it easy today,” he said from behind her, turning the tap on to clean the frying pan. “You must be pretty beat.”

            “I’m good,” she answered lightly, ignoring a passive aggressive throb in her temple as she pushed her hair back. God, she needed a shower.

            “Jess,” he admonished quietly, leaving the pan to drip dry by the sink and turning to her, his expression stern. “You should really –”

            “I’ve got a case to work, Murdock,” she cut in, all business. “I’m not gonna lose the first solid lead in weeks over a little cut.”

            His expression darkened. “It’s not a little cut, Jess, you almost died.”

            “Yeah but I didn’t,” she almost snapped back. “And since I didn’t I’ve gotta work this case.”

            Matt let out a long, heavy breath, hanging his head for a moment before coming back to sit at the table again.

            “Jessica,” he started, his voice low and persuasive and lawyery, “I know you want answers but I –”

            “I’m not dropping the case, Matt,” she cut in tersely.

            “I’m not asking you to!”

            She blinked at the unexpected harshness in his tone. She’d never heard him snap like that before.

            “I just –” He closed his eyes and took a steadying breath. “I just need you to be careful, okay? Elektra was dangerous enough before but now? We don’t even fully understand what she can do. Even Danny couldn’t explain what the Black Sky really is and if she’s back working with the Hand that means she has resources and minions and she proved last night that all it takes is a lucky shot, Jess.” His voice was far softer now. Almost pleading. “I don’t want her to hurt you. Not again.”

            Jessica looked down to the mottled scars around Matt’s wrists, the long, crude line along his forearm. To the deep purple bruising and ragged lines of scar tissue hidden by his tshirt. To the deep brown eyes staring into her shoulder, filled with concern and fear and a pain she knew he would never voice.

            She took a slow breath, trying to quell the sudden tide of fury that rose in her chest. “Are you serious right now?” He blinked at her and opened his mouth to respond but she was already talking, her tone tight with barely controlled anger. “I don’t want her to hurt you again? Really!”

            “Jessica, what –”

            “As though last night was the first time!” she snapped, her voice rising. “As though this is just some case I’m only doing out of mild curiosity or ‘cause I need the cash – are you for real? You don’t want Elektra to hurt me again? Jesus, Murdock, I thought you were smart!”

            “I don’t –”

            “I’m in this, okay! I’m involved! Sorry if that offends your macho hero complex or whatever, but I’m working this case how I work the case, okay? My way. And I’ll be careful if I want to be careful – and don’t you tell me I don’t understand the danger!” she almost shouted, cutting off his next excuse. “I was there, Matt! I was in that pit with you and I saw all the same freaky bullshit you did. Or heard, whatever – and I was the one who pulled you out of that place, or have you forgotten? Because I sure as hell haven’t! And believe me, if you could’ve seen yourself those first few days, you wouldn’t be telling me to be careful, you’d be begging me to hold back and not freaking kill every single fucked up psycho who did that to you! We know Elektra didn’t sell you to IGH but we don’t know how you ended up there and from what she said she was the last person to see you safe before I saw you getting electrocuted on that goddamn table – and if she is back with the Hand then we’ve gotta know what they’re planning. So if I say I’m going to work this lead and find answers then I’m going to find some fucking answers, and in case you haven’t noticed, I’m pretty strong. I can take care of myself. I don’t need some guardian devil to come save me and I sure as hell don’t need some scared little ex-lawyer telling me to be careful with the woman he stayed in a collapsing building for. Jesus,” she sighed, slumping back in her chair and putting a hand to her throbbing side.

            “Just get over yourself, Daredevil. I got this.”

            She glanced over at Matt through her scowl, her anger fading with her voice. His expression was flat, emotionless. A wall had risen behind his eyes, shuttering himself away from her and guilt and regret twisted like dying snakes in her gut.

            “I get it,” he said curtly, his head moving in an odd half-nod. He pulled his cracked ruby glasses from his pocket and fit them carefully over his face as he stood. “It’s your case.”

            She sat forward, watching him return to the dishes. Of the meal he’d made for her.

            “Look, Matt, I’m –”

            “It’s okay. It’s not like you need my help. Go work your case.”

            He shot her a very mechanical smile, leaning on the counter, red lenses glinting subtly in the morning light. With a heavy sigh, Jess got to her feet.

            “Thanks for breakfast. I’ll drop your hoodie back tomorrow.” She headed for the door.

            “Wait.”

            She watched Matt grab something from the far end of the couch and hold it out to her. Her camera bag.

            “Thanks. I, em. I’ll see you.”

            His smile was automatic and distant. “I’m sure you will.”

            Jessica stood there awkwardly for another moment, then turned and walked out the door, ignoring her aching side and falling heart.

            Nice one, Jones. You’re such an asshole.

Chapter Text

            He couldn’t remember the last time he was this excited. Maybe he’d never been this excited. Maybe this was the absolute happiest he had ever been and wow, what a feeling! He was actually going to go out, all alone, on a real mission that only he could do. ‘Cause he was the best. The most trusted. Most loyal. They could depend on him.

            “Are you listening?” Sawyer asked, using that tone he hated that condescending, pretentious tone that made him want to punch Sawyer in his smarmy face. But he wasn’t allowed. So he just chewed his lip and nodded, raising his eyebrows so he looked bored and obedient.

            “Good. Now, we’ve tracked most of the subjects down,” Sawyer continued, handing over a sheet of paper loaded with numbers and addresses. “There’s only one we haven’t been able to find yet, but we’ve got a trail we’re sure you can follow.”

            “Which one’s missing?” he asked, eyeing the narrow blade flashing in his twiddling fingers.

            “Subject Twelve. The blind one.”

            He looked up, beaming. “The blind one!” Oh, he relished even saying it! Twelve had been the most fun to play with. His screams had been so delicious, and he had actually known how to fight. Yes, Twelve was interesting. Interesting enough to be saved till last. Like a treat.

            “He’s what started all of this,” Sawyer said, adjusting his girlie pink tie with one hand as he handed over a big black-and-white photograph with the other. “He’s the reason she was there, we’re sure of it. Find her and you’ll find him.”

            The photograph was smooth and cool in his fingers, not like the blade which was warm now, he’d been fiddling with it so much today. The woman in the photo was very pretty, but she was scowling in a way that ruined her pretty face. Her dress was really nice, it had flowers on it. And her hair was so long he just wanted to pull it all back and cut it off with one of his knives. He smiled. He would like to hear her scream.

            Sawyer shifted his weight uncomfortably and cleared his throat. Rolling his eyes (but with his head down, so he wouldn’t get in trouble), he looked up at the prissy moron in the fancy suit.

            “This is really important, and I need you to pay attention,” Sawyer said, speaking extra slow as though sure he wouldn’t be understood. “Are you listening?”

            He nodded, chewing his cheek and flicking the knife back into his dexterous fingers.

            “I’m listening.”

            “You can’t hurt her,” Sawyer said, real seriously. “I mean it – that’s an order from Stryker’s son himself. We already tried getting her and she has friends – very strong friends. You’re not to engage. That is not your mission. Just use her to find Subject Twelve, and kill him.”

            He pouted, frowning grumpily up at Sawyer. “Why though? She hurt us too, she should pay for it.” A broad, eager grin spread over his face and he twirled the blade quickly around one finger, drawing Sawyer’s attention to it. He loved seeing the spark of fear in the other man’s eyes. “Why can’t I be the one to make her pay?”

            Sawyer cleared his throat again, touching his already perfect tie for the sixth time since the briefing started.

            “Because she is off-limits, that’s why. She’s involved in the lawsuit, and if she gets attacked it’ll only help their case. We need to be discrete, that’s why we’re sending you. This all needs to look accidental, unfortunate. It needs to be done cleverly so no one cops what we’re doing until all the escaped subjects are dead. Do you understand that?”

            He nodded, feeling a little hard done by. He glanced up at Sawyer.

            “But I get to kill all the others? And I get to play with Twelve again?”

            Sawyer smiled indulgently.

            “Yes, you do. But,” he added, his tone getting annoyingly serious and pompous again. “You’ll have to make it a short game. Very short. We can’t risk Subject Twelve surviving, can we? You need to make sure he can’t testify against us. You can’t miss, Bullseye.”

            Bullseye snorted, anticipation swelling in his gut as he smiled up at Sawyer.

            “I never miss.”

Chapter Text

            She used the concealed entrance. She wasn’t in the mood to suffer through the ingratiating platitudinous bullshit from the sellers. Graceless sycophants, all of them. No, they need not know she was there until she wanted them to. And she had answers to find.

            Matthew had been stolen from the mission centre.

            The nun under who’s care she had left him after she’d pulled him from the wreckage had told her all there was to be told. Which was not much. There had been a break in. Matthew was still very weak, but he had fought for them. And the intruder had knocked him unconscious and taken him away.

            Over seven months ago.

            Elektra knew exactly what IGH did to its subjects. Murakami had been almost boastful when he explained their operation. And she had helped them. Willingly. Happily. If that drunken idiot was right about this, then Matthew ...

            But no. It must be a lie. A misunderstanding. Murakami would not dare. Nor would Gao. She owned them. And she had made her terms clear.

            By the time she reached the summit of the mountain of stairs leading to the false bookcase in the CEO’s office, she was out of breath. It intrigued her, that. How some physical activities still caused a response. Others didn’t. She barely bled anymore. No matter how dire the wound. And her bones could break almost inconsequentially now.

            Though her chest did feel rather uncomfortable after that oaf punched her into the river. But nevermind. The girl would be dead by now and ever since Midland Circle fell, Elektra had truly come into herself as the Black Sky. She was not so easily killed these days.

            Or surprised.

            The office was empty, as expected. Elektra had heard something about the old CEO being beaten into a coma. Apparently, he was still in hospital. His son had allegedly taken over the headquarters, but from what Murakami thought of the boy, she doubted he’d maintain the position for long. After all, his father had let all their living subjects escape.

           Something unfamiliar twisted in Elektra’s gut as she woke the computer. She had heard Murakami and Gao mention the attack, but she knew nothing of it, save the inconvenience it had caused. Gao had feared it would lead to interruptions elsewhere in their networks, and with their planned departure only months away, she had ordered every operation to hasten. They would leave America in a matter of weeks.

            Elektra did not have time to be here. Doing this. Which made it all the more fun.

            Each of the patients had every experiment and test carefully catalogued and stored. Every byte of information was kept on these servers, hidden behind encryptions strong enough to deter all but the best hackers. After the invasion, they had been improved yet again.

            But this was the Hand. And Elektra controlled the Hand. The files opened for her in moments.

            She flicked through them, scanning video thumbnails and vital summaries, a sly smile growing across her lips as more and more were discounted. The drunk was wrong. Matthew wasn’t here. She’d been confused. Probably by cheap whiskey.

            Matthew had always appreciated good whiskey. Macallan. Neat.

            She banished the unwanted memory with an impatient shake of her head and clicked into the next file. Subject Ten. No. Subject Eleven. No. Elektra sighed, already feeling foolish wasting her night here. Subject Twelve.

            If her heart was still beating, it would have stopped.

            Matthew.

            She reached out to touch the small, grainy figure on the screen. She clicked on one of the videos. Matthew was in a cage. Bandages covered his lower abdomen and she remembered her sai cutting through his flesh in the pit. Three men pulled him free, tried to strap him down to a gurney, but Matthew was fighting back. Of course he was. Elektra leaned closer, eyes wide and uncomprehending. There was no denying it. No one in the world could fight like her Matthew.

            But he was losing. He was weak. Slow. One of the men rammed a cattle prod into his gut and Matthew spasmed and fell. The others were on him in moments, mostly obscuring the pale flesh and shocking blood with their dark uniforms. One of them grabbed Matthew’s hair and pulled him onto his knees. His mouth was open, his eyes drenched in blood from his temple. The third guard punched him. Hard. Kicked him harder. Matthew jerked horribly to the side, out of the other man’s grip, and collapsed to the floor. He stopped moving.

            The guards didn’t.

            They kept beating him. Kicking, stamping, stabbing with their cattle prods. The first one pulled Matthew’s motionless body off the ground and held him as the others used him as a punching bag. There was almost no skin to see now. Matthew was drenched in red, wearing his blood in a parody of the suit that had given him such solace. Such freedom.

            The video ended. A comment appeared as the window exited full screen.

            Subject Twelve continues to resist. Three officers were forced to resort to drastic measures to subdue Subject. Subject remained in comatose state for eighty-three hours. See attached file for observations on healing capabilities. No extraordinary regenerative abilities observed. Normal testing resumed after five days.

            Elektra half-fell into the chair she had ignored. There was an odd pain in her chest, unlike the dull burn of healing bones. It was acidic. Burning. Roiling through her like an ocean at storm. It slithered down to her gut and became icy and sharp.

            She had not felt anything as intensely as this since Matthew’s arms held her as the world caved in.

            There were dozens more videos. Tens of text files. They had had him for months.

            He never broke, you know, the drunk had said. Never. Not even when they fucked him up so bad he couldn’t see.

            Disgust and horror crashed through with the sort of force that would’ve scared her when she was human. What they had done to him, all that abuse, weeks and weeks of ceaseless pain and solitude and Matthew had the violence in him, but Elektra knew better than him that when that violence was trapped inside it festered. It turned to a poison that attacked its host, and Matthew had never known how to tame that fire. Stick had left before he could teach him.

            She had thought he was safe. All this time. Being in New York, mere hours away, sometimes only minutes. How many times had she worried he would appear before her one night, whole and beautiful and furious she had left him. She had feared he would find the loose threads she and Gao were gathering, would follow the scent of the Hand and find her. She had hoped for it. Every day.

            But he had been here. Alone. In a cage. Subjected to tortures and humiliations she knew would destroy him.

            He never broke. Not even when he couldn’t see.

            The lights were flickering above her. The computer screen wavered around an entry outlining another failed assimilation of Subject Twelve’s serum. The edge of the table buckled in her grip, the metallic screech cut short as she found herself on her feet. The power was coursing through her, stronger than it ever had before. She could feel the blackness inside her, spreading like inky wings from the silence of her heart and stretching out from her skin. Darkness enveloped the office, but she could still see. The fury was icy smoke billowing inside her, purring for release. Nipping along her muscles, eager to taste the air. To taste flesh.

            It took her minutes to permanently erase all trace of Subject Twelve from the IGH servers. But that was not enough, so she introduced a virus that would cripple the entire network and burn through any and all mention of the man she should have saved.

            But the Black Sky would not be sated with such bloodless action. No. No, there was a wergild owed. Pain must be paid for with pain and who better to bring such righteous justice than the dark angel herself?

            Elektra could not see her eyes turn utterly black. Her lips peeled back from her teeth in a heart-stopping smile that would have sent any wise warrior running. She unsheathed her sai swords, relishing their cool pressure in her sure fingers. She turned to the door, which burst open, flying off its hinges. As she walked out into the corridor the computer bank exploded behind her.

            They were peering out of their offices. Curious. Not yet truly afraid. The Black Sky stalked down the hallway, darkness consuming her path like death’s own cloak, and their pitiful screams were lost to the suffocating silence of her power. Many of them ran, the men fumbling and pushing others aside, the women stumbling in expensive heels. She cut them all down with perfect economy, every strike unleashing ribbons of red into the air, decorating the drab hallway with spectacular colour, each move leading sinuously, flawlessly, into the next.

            By the time she reached the elevator, the alarm was wailing through the entire building. Her smile widened. It was nothing to seal the external doors. Less than a thought to trap them all inside with her.

            But she let the alarm screech on. Let them know she was coming. Let them know fear.

            Floor by floor, the Black Sky descended through the building, her cloak of night consuming all traces of the massacre in which she so delighted. When she left and the Black Sky returned to its home inside her, people would see the carnage she had wrought. They would see her justice.

            But she was in no hurry to leave.

            Screams wove like harmonies around the steady beat of the alarm. Reinforced doors leapt gladly from their hinges at her glance, adding beautiful staccato screeches to the melody of death around her. Guards rushed at her, their attempt to overpower her laughable. She danced through their opposition, conducting the symphony of bestial chorus with the expertise of one whose skill is unrivalled and unattainable. It was no challenge, not really. Her body was not her own, not when the Black Sky was unleashed, and any injuries the valiant few may have caused were inconsequential as fallen eyelashes. She kept her mouth open in a smile that ensured every expression ended in terror, and, sweet powers, she had never tasted anything so intoxicating, so delicious, as the blood of those who had hurt her Matthew.

            By the time the last unimportant corpse fell to the bloodied tiles and Elektra drew the blackness back to her, every single person in IGH was dead. Guards, scientists, patients, janitors, interns, managers. Each was worth nothing more than their dying breath and Elektra stood in the basement and breathed a heavy, satisfied sigh. With a flick of thought, the alarm ceased and a cemeterial silence settled oppressively over the building. The only sound was Elektra’s heavy breathing, and the gentle dripping of blood from the tips of her swords.

            Madame Gao had been right. Nothing could rival the ecstasy, the rapture of the Black Sky. None could oppose her. None would stop her.

            And she wasn’t finished yet.

Chapter Text

            Someone with a death wish was banging on her front door. Loudly. Incessantly. Jessica groped for her phone on the bedside table and glowered at the time. Not even ten. The knocker barrelled another barrage of punches into her door and it might as well have been machinegun fire three inches from her ear.

            “Go away!” she hollered, grabbing a pillow and smushing it around her head. They didn’t.

            “Jess, it’s me!”

            A very long, very soulful groan dragged itself from Jessica’s lips to flop lifelessly against the floor. With herculean effort, she dragged herself from the warm comfiness of her bed, staggered to the door, and yanked it open.

            “What, Trish?”

            Trish was already speaking, eyebrows high in disapproval and voice way to loud for the pre-ten portion of the day.

            “I’ve been knocking for five minutes, Jess, we were meant to ...” Her words trailed off into nothing as horror overtook her expression. “Jess ... what the hell happened to you?”

            “What?” She looked down at herself. She wasn’t wearing jeans, but Trish had seen worse than that. Oh, right. The glistening splotch of blood on her tank top. “Aw shit, that’s gonna be a bitch to clean up.”

            She turned back into her apartment, leaving the door open for Trish, who followed her in with the air of an anxious pug.

            “Jessica, what the hell happened? You’re bleeding!”

            “Chill out, Trish, it’s nothing serious.”

            “Bullshit! You’ve bled through your shirt.”

            “And into the mattress,” Jessica noted with a grimace. She couldn’t flip it again, the other side was still black with Ruben’s blood. “Shit.”

            “Jessica.” Trish’s high heels clacked resolutely against the floorboards as she planted herself in front of Jessica, demanding her full (if foggy) attention. “Talk. Now.” Her eyebrows rose in one quick, challenging jump. A move she unknowingly inherited from her mother and looking even more severe with her hair tied back.

            Jessica rolled her eyes and sighed.

            “Can I at least change first? I just woke up, Trish, I need coffee –”

            “No. Talk. Now.”

            Another groan. “Fine. I was out the other night working on a case and I got jumped, okay? She got a lucky shot in and now I’m bleeding. Happy?”

            The corner of Trish’s mouth twitched ever so slightly, but her disapproving countenance prevailed. “No. Sit down and let me look at it.”

            “Trish –”

            “Sit.” She grabbed Jess’s shoulder and pushed her down onto the bed.

            “Hey, abusing the infirm over here!”

            Trish snorted. “Since when have you ever been infirm, Jessica Jones?”

            Jessica grunted and allowed Trish to pull up her tank top and peel away the blood-soaked bandage wrapped around her right side. She let out a low hiss when she spied the wound.

            “Jess, this is –”

            “It’s fine.”

            “It’s deep –”

            “Shallow.”

            “Looks inflamed –”

            “Totally not inflamed.”

            “You’re pale and –”

            “I’m always pale, fake tan’s a scam.”

            Trish exhaled a measured, patient breath and scowled at her. Jessica stared right back, her gaze a challenge and a silent plea for her to just drop it. It was way too early in the morning for this shit.

            “You at least gonna tell me who stitched you up? Looks like you got a professional’s help, and that can’t be a good sign.”

            Jessica rolled her eyes and gestured to her desk in the other room. “Get me the first aid kit, will you? I feel gross.”

            After a moment’s hesitation, Trish acquiesced. The cheap green plastic rattled slightly as it was placed on the bed and Trish sat beside it, flicking it open and pulling out a roll of gauze and a packet of antiseptic wipes. As she cleaned the wound, Jess grudgingly relinquished the details, knowing she would not know peace until Trish’s curiosity was satisfied.

            “I was looking for the zombie bitch – Elektra. Y’know,” she prompted at Trish’s blank stare, “from Midland Circle? God, how many zombies do you know? I tracked her down and we fought and I won, but she got me with her mini pitch fork thing.”

            Trish pursed her lips to hide a smile.

            “Do you mean a sai sword?”

            “Whatever. Wasn’t a bad hit but apparently the thing was laced with this crazy ninja poison the Hand uses –”

            “The Hand!”

            “– Yeah, and I kinda blacked out, but then Murdock found me, took me to his place, gave me the cure – which hurt like a bitch, by the way – and stitched me up. Figures he’d be good at that, guy’s full of scars. I stayed at his for the rest of the night and next morning he made me breakfast.”

            Trish taped the last of the gauze in place and leaned back, her eyes wide. “So you almost died, is what you’re not saying.”

            Jessica shrugged and avoided eye contact. “I guess, but it’s fine. Friendly neighbourhood Daredevil did his hero thing and I feel fine, Trish. Really. Just tired. Bit groggy. But you know me,” she added, wanting to banish that shadow of fear from Trish’s gaze, “this’ll be healed in no time. Won’t even scar.”

            Trish pursed her lips again, considering her.

            “Next time your dying? I want a phone call.”

            “Ugh, fine.”

            “Good. So,” she continued, her perfect posture slouching as confusion twisted her expression, “Matt made you breakfast?”

            Jessica stared at her. “That’s your takeaway?”

            Trish raised a dismissive hand. “Yeah, yeah, yeah, near-death experience, zombie ninja is back and working with the Hand, I get all that, and believe me, we’ll be discussing it, but Matt can cook?”

            Jessica almost laughed at the expression on Trish’s face – and her priorities.

            “Why are you so surprised?”

            “Well, last time I saw him he could barely shave by himself. And now he can cook?”

            Jessica shrugged and looked down at her fingers in her lap. She didn’t like remembering that Matt.

            “Yeah, he can cook.”

            “Was it good?”

            She couldn’t resist the smile this time. “Yeah. Real good.”

            Trish’s hand appeared on her own. “Jess? What’s wrong?”

            With a heavy sigh, Jessica looked up.

            “He even saved my camera,” she explained, frowning at the memory. “And he saves my life and makes me this amazing breakfast and I yell at him and call him a scared ex-lawyer. Like I owed him nothing. I mean,” she added fairly, “he was being a jackass, but still.”

            Trish blinked. “Okay, back up. How was he being a jackass?”

            “He wanted me to drop the case. His case. Said it wasn’t worth me getting hurt, said I needed to be more careful, yadda yadda yadda.”

            “Okay, so far I’m not getting the yelling part.”

            “It was the way he said it. All patronising and condescending. As though I couldn’t do it. As though,” she said haltingly, “as though I didn’t know the stakes. Like I was Danny or some bullshit, not like I was the one who found him in IGH.”

            “Jess.” Trish waited until she’d looked up to meet her gaze. “That is not what he was saying.”

            “He was being a hypocritical asshole. Where does he get off telling me to be careful? He’s got more scars than –”

            “Jess,” Trish cut across her, her tone gentle, “he’s just worried about you, you didn’t have to go nuclear on him like that. He cares about you. And you care about him, it’s obvious.”

            Jessica tried not to squirm at that. She couldn’t exactly deny it, either. Which pissed her off.

            “And come on, he dresses up in a devil suit so he can go save random strangers. If he cares that much about people he doesn’t even know and you saved his life can you really blame him for wanting to keep you safe? He probably feels like he owes you, too.”

            “It wasn’t just that,” she said quietly after a moment.

            “No?”

            She looked up. “He’s doing bad, Trish. Really bad. He’s faking being okay but he’s not and it ...” She heaved a sigh. This admission was going to need extra fuel to leave her lips. “He reminds me of me. After ... him.”

            Trish was silent as she understood. Her hand moved back to Jessica’s, the pressure warm and more comforting than Jessica would ever admit.

            “I get it,” she whispered. “In those first few months ...” She took a deep breath that quelled the slight tremor in her voice. “I was so scared for you. It felt like there was nothing I could do, no way I could really help. I just ... couldn’t understand what you’d been through. But at least I wasn’t flashbacking,” she added, empathy oozing from her tone in a way Jessica had never understood. She didn’t even know how to make her voice do that.

            She shrugged one shoulder, her gaze still directed at her knees.

            “I shouldn’t’ve said what I did. Even if he had some of it coming,” she added belligerently. Then the energy faded from her tone. “I just ... I don’t know how to do what you do, Trish. What Claire does. I don’t know how to be there for someone through something like this. It’s just ... not me.”

            Trish’s laugh caught her off guard and she looked up, perplexed.

            “Jess that’s gotta be one of the stupidest things you’ve ever said! How many times did you sit on a dirty bathroom floor with me helping me ride through withdrawals, or bad highs? You’re the reason Malcolm got clean, you gave him the reason to want to live. And Matt – don’t pretend you don’t know how to help him, Jess. C’mon. When he was stuck in my place you were the only one he relaxed around. Well,” she added, “you and Claire.”

            Jessica considered this for a moment, didn’t like the implications, and stood up to hunt for a clean (or cleaner) top as a distraction.

            “So you’re saying I’m some sort of trauma whisperer?” she accused as she threw a tshirt on and snatched her jeans from the floor, realising as she did so that the cut on her arm was almost healed. She’d completely forgotten it was there. Sting was kinda drowned out by the frickin’ burning in her side. And she was out of aspirin. Of course.

            “Kinda, yeah,” Trish said, unabashed. “You should at least try. I know Karen’s worried about him, and Claire.”

            A flare of anger flashed across Jessica’s chest.

            “You three just meet up and bitch about him, do you?”

            “We bitch about all of you, actually,” Trish said evenly. “We’ve formed a sort of superhero family support group. It’s good,” she added, “great cocktails.”

            Finally clothed, Jessica flopped back down on the bed.

            “You suck.”

            “And you won’t let yourself off the hook if you don’t try and get through to Matt.” Trish let that sink in for a moment before shifting her weight on the bed and leaning forward. “Now – the Hand is back?!”

            Jessica laughed.

            “’Pparently. Murdock said that poison’s only used by the Hand.”

            “Well shit! We should call the guys, we gotta get on this, figure out what they’re planning!”

            Jessica snorted. “Send out the twilight bark?”

            “Yes! What if there’s another Midland Circle somewhere?”

            All humour drained from Jessica’s face. “Don’t say that.”

            Trish blinked, her expression an apology. “You know what I mean.”

            Silence filled the space between them, full of complications neither of them wanted to consider. If the Hand was really back in New York, if the organisation had really survived ...

            She’d been doing so well avoiding all these stupid thoughts.

            “The eh, the old lady made it out too,” she said reluctantly, not meeting Trish’s eye.

            “The old – what, Madam Gao? How do you know?” Jessica didn’t miss the accusation in Trish’s voice.

            “Matt told me. He smelled her and zombie girl when we were in IGH that time.”

            “He smel – Jess that was months ago! You’ve been sitting on this for months!”

            “Yeah well, client privilege,” she shot back, scowling. “We’ve both been keeping an eye out – or ear out, whatever – ever since and this was the first hint either of us’ve gotten.”

            Trish was silent for a long moment, her gaze alight with the intensity only a truly great story could muster.

            “Then we gotta get moving.” She stood up, all business. “I’m gonna call Karen and Danny. We need info. I take it I’m not gonna be able to convince you to drop this case that almost got you killed?”

            “Nope.”

            “Then be careful, Jess. Please.”

            Trish’s sincerity caught her slightly off guard. She nodded, a little uncomfortably.

            “And take backup next time you try to find her. And when you do,” she added, drowning out Jessica’s indignant half-words, “find out what we’re up against. And call me,” she finished with a tone that would probably make a lot of interns shit their pants. Jessica just smirked at her and nodded.

            “Good. Now, go have a shower ‘cause you look gross. I’m going down to the store and getting you soup, and then we’re gonna work this case.”

            “Alright, mom,” Jessica muttered, almost managing to quash her grin as she headed for the bathroom, listening to Trish’s heels clack their way out into the hall.

Chapter Text

            Man it was good to be back. The gloomy, mildly depressed atmosphere shone like a sunny day to Foggy’s eyes, the stale, dank air as bracing as sea foam. He took a deep, happy breath and gazed fondly around his favourite watering hole.

            Josie’s usual crowd was up to its usual shenanigans – which of course meant they were all hunched over their various drinks, only a few braving the horror of social interaction. There was a pleasant hum about the place all the same, the irregular clink of glasses, Josie’s world-weary footsteps, her superficially-bored-but-deep-down-really-caring remarks as people ordered and tried to flirt. Foggy had almost forgotten that warm little glow he got from being the only one – the chosen one, if you will – who could flirt with Josie. Even Matt couldn’t get away with it as often as he did.

            Speaking of that particular handsome devil – his cane clicked slightly on the doorframe as he stepped inside. Foggy was about to call out to him, but then had a more fun idea.

            “And here we see the rare Matt Murdock navigating his natural habitat,” he said under his breath in his best David Attenborough impression. The corner of Matt’s mouth twitched in that way it did when he was stopping himself laughing out loud. “An odd creature, the Murdock, but no less majestic for its goofiness or its proclivity to survive near-lethal quantities of caffeine.”

            He had way more material, but the stupid Murdock was already at the bar, smiling fully now and sliding onto the stool beside Foggy.

            “You drink more coffee than I do, Fog,” he greeted quietly, the smile still gracing his lips. Foggy tried not to notice how rare it was to see one last this long. Most were momentary quirks he was pretty sure were for other people’s benefit, and not truly felt.

            “Need I remind you of the night before our Federal Courts final?” he countered sagely.

            Matt opened his mouth to retort, but hesitated. “Yeah, okay. Touché.”

            “Well, look who decided to show up,” came Josie’s falsely dismissive voice from the other side of the counter. Her eyes were twinkling in that special way only the Nelson and Murdock boys brought out. “Thought you two’d turned too corporate for this place.”

            “Hey Josie,” Matt said warmly, positively beaming now. “Yeah, it’s, um, it’s been a while.”

            “Mm-hm. Heard rumours you’d run off,” she muttered, reaching for two whiskey glasses and pouring something resembling scotch into them, acting totally uninterested. Ah, Josie.

            Foggy chuckled guiltily and glanced at Matt. “Em, would you believe Matt was kidnapped and tortured by evil scientists for months on end until our superpowered, super-crabby friend accidentally found him and busted him out and then told me and Karen he was alive, ‘cause, y’know, we thought he’d kicked it, leading to the single most emotionally charged day of my young life?” He said all this very quickly, ending with his most winning smile.

            Josie snorted and plonked the two whiskeys in front of them, that small, secretive smile erasing years from her face.

            “Uh-huh. Long as you don’t open another tab.” She winked at them, tapped the counter by Matt’s hand (the Josie version of a warm and lengthy hug) and moved down the counter to get Bernie another pint, waving a hand at Matt’s muttered thanks. She’d ‘forgotten’ the bottle of whiskey, too, the old softie.

            Foggy took a long, high-pitched breath and turned to Matt.

            “She winked! Oh my god, we got an actual Josie wink.” He clapped a hand over his heart. “She really does love us. We are so her favourites.”

            Matt chuckled and reached for his glass, sliding his hands over the counter in that I’m-a-real-blind-guy way that sometimes drove Foggy insane. Not tonight though.

            “I’ll drink to that. ‘S good to be back here with you, Foggy.”

            “Hear hear!” He clinked his glass enthusiastically with Matt’s and took a hearty sip. Then coughed. “Ugh, yeah, right, swill. I forgot.”

            “All those uptown bars’ve ruined you to the finer things,” Matt said smugly, taking another sip and acting like it didn’t make his teeth feel furry.

            “Pft. How dare you. I’ll have you know the cheapest bar uptown charges enough that their booze could quite literally be made of heaven nectar.” He threw back another mouthful, idly marvelling at his post-college self who actually thought this stuff was fancy.

            “Karen still coming?” Matt asked, setting his own glass down and twisting on his seat to face Foggy.

            “Yep. Running late I guess. Life of a hot-shot reporter and all.”

            “Did you read her piece on that home invasion in Brooklyn?”

            Suppressing a shiver, Foggy nodded. “Yep. Makes me glad I live ten stories up behind three different failsafes. Okay,” he added at Matt’s disbelieving eyebrow, “one of the failsafes is Stan, but he’s a damn good doorman, Matt! You don’t even know!”

            Matt snorted with laughter and reached for his drink. Under the pretence of finding a comfortable position to lean on the counter, Foggy cast a surreptitiously critical eye over his friend. It was hard to tell in Josie’s lighting, but he thought Matt looked a bit pale. He definitely looked tired, even with the ruby lenses concealing the worst of the bags under his eyes. Did he look thinner? Maybe it was just the coat he was wearing, it was definitely a size too big, which was weird since he didn’t think Matt had been shopping anytime recently and he had an uncanny knack for dressing well. Probably something to do with the scent of fabrics. Maybe it was a present? As Matt’s fingers closed around the glass his arm stretched under his sleeve, giving Foggy a brief but vivid look at the mottled scars that circled his wrist. Foggy’s stomach did a flip as it plummeted to the floor. Well. At least his knuckles weren’t bloody this time.

            “So,” he began, hoping he didn’t sound as tentative as he felt. “How you doing these days?”

            Matt cast him a look that said he saw right through the forced casualness of Foggy’s tone, inoperative eyes be damned.

            “I saw you three days ago, Foggy.”

            “And I wanna know how you’ve been!” he countered, his tone one of mock-offence. “Don’t you want to know all my news? I mean, we are besties, buddy.”

            Matt raised an eyebrow at that and smiled one of his lawyery smiles, which had Foggy instantly on guard. Matt smiled like that whenever he was trying to deflect.

            “I’d love to hear your news, Foggy. How’re things with Marci?”

            “Uh-uh,” he objected, “we’re on you now, Murdock.” He hesitated a moment, then said, more softly, “C’mon, buddy.”

            With a deep sigh, Matt grudgingly relented. “I’m okay. Just ... I dunno, haven’t been sleeping so well. And,” he added, as though struck by a belated memory, “I haven’t made any progress looking over those case files. Sorry, Fog.”

            Foggy waved a hand. “Don’t worry about that, man. I can handle them, I just want you exercising those legal muscles again. It’s been a while. But,” he said quickly as Matt’s expression shuttered, “there’s no rush. If you need more time to ... I dunno, feel settled? Take it. Whenever you want to get back into the suit and tie, I’ll be there to help. With beer and chips,” he added cheerfully. “Like the old days.”

            The corner of Matt’s mouth quirked in a smile that didn’t reach his hidden eyes.

            “As long as it doesn’t include any Punjabi, I’m in.”

            Foggy laughed. “Harsh but fair.”

            They drank in silence for a moment before Matt spoke, almost in a whisper.

            “How’s, um ... how’s the other case going?”

            Foggy set his glass down slowly. He didn’t have to ask what case Matt was talking about.

            “It’s going slow, but steady. We’re still compiling everything we can. Lots of evidence to track down, and since we only have copies, Hogarth’s not feeling confident enough to set up a court date. It’s gonna be a long one.”

            Matt nodded, a muscle in his jaw fluttering.

            “But we’re gonna win,” Foggy said quickly, aiming for bracing and probably landing somewhere around desperate. “I can feel it. We just need to get all the ducks in a row. But it’s just a matter of time, Matt. Really.”

            Foggy really, really hoped Matt wasn't listening to his heart just now.

            “How’s the, eh, suit?” he asked after an awkward pause. “Melvin’s one, I mean. Obviously. Still holding up?”

            Matt glanced at him, surprised. “Um, yeah, it’s, it’s great.”

            “Good. Good. Is that ... helping? Going out at night?”

            A very small and confused smile ghosted past Matt’s lips and for a second he looked like a little kid asked what his favourite dinosaur was by a grown-up he’d written off as a bore.

            “Yeah, it is. Helps to ...” Matt frowned over his glasses. “Helps to, um, feel like I’m helping, I guess.”

            Foggy clapped a hand on Matt’s shoulder. “Well as long as that suit holds up and keeps you in one piece, I’m glad for you, buddy. Just, uh, maybe hold off any big boss battles for a while, yeah?”

            Matt snorted. “Yeah, okay.” He cocked his head to the side for a second, then smiled. “Karen’s here.”

            “You are so creepy,” Foggy muttered, awe-struck, as Karen opened the door at that exact moment. “I should take you on the road, I’m serious. We’d make a killing on the carny circuit.”

            Before Matt could quash the brilliance of that plan, Karen swept over to them, shrugging out of her coat and waving a greeting to Josie, who nodded in approval.

            “Hey guys.” Much to his happy surprise, she greeted them both with a quick kiss on the cheek. Hoping he wasn’t blushing, Foggy dragged a stool around so she could sit between them.

            “What’re we drinking?” she asked cheerfully as she plopped down on the chair, disentangling herself from a handbag that was so big it may as well be a backpack.

            “Something that at one point was probably akin to scotch,” Foggy said, snatching a fresh (well, fresh-ish) glass when Josie wasn’t looking and pouring out a fair measure of the amber liquid.

            “So, you guys know that home invasion I was covering last week?” Karen began as she took a sip of the not-real-whiskey. She pulled a face at the taste and returned her glass to the counter.

            “Yeah, it was great,” Matt said at the same moment Foggy said, “It was horrifying.”

            “Thanks. Well, Ellison had another story about a break in at a sort of care home? Totally different area, demographic, but the MO is the same. I’m starting to think there’s a connection. Of course, Ellison won’t believe that until I’ve proven it, but still.”

            “Any more deaths?” Matt asked, the light glinting briefly off his lenses, sending a shard of bloodred dancing across Foggy’s gaze.

            “Two,” she said, sounding far too excited for Foggy’s taste. “One was stabbed with a pen, right in the neck, and the other got hit in the temple by something small and hard and died instantly. It’s weird, though,” she continued, glancing from one to the other of them with that Karen Page gleam in her eye. “The home had fifteen patients in it, and only those two were targeted. Same in the home invasion, of all the houses, of all the rooms, why go for that victim? It’s like I know the names from somewhere, but I can’t think where. I can’t see the connection and it’s bugging me.”

            “You’ll figure it out,” Matt said confidently, squeezing her shoulder encouragingly. Foggy couldn’t quite supress his smile at that. It was nice seeing Matt being more affectionate. He normally needed some form of invitation to touch someone.

            “And when you do,” Foggy drawled, “you will write another excellent article about it that will definitely give me yet more nightmares and then you’ll be landed with my therapist’s bill.”

            Karen laughed and slapped his knee playfully. “If anyone’s getting dumped with your therapist bill it’s Matt, not me, Counsellor.”

            Foggy nodded. “True, true. Y’know I still have nightmares of him dancing in his underwear in college.” He gave a dramatic shudder. “No one should have to see that.”

            “Never happened,” Matt muttered, smiling wryly as he downed the last of his drink. Foggy sniggered and raised the bottle to refill Matt’s glass but stopped as he waved a hand over it. “Nah, I’m good with one, thanks.”

            “Suit yourself.” He redirected his pour into Karen’s glass, then his own.

            The three of them slipped easily into a banter that brought Foggy right back to the best of the Nelson and Murdock days. It did him good to see his two favourite people laughing so freely, so frequently. It felt, for a short while, like all their problems were held at bay by the shoddy walls of the best worst bar in Hell’s Kitchen.

            But then Matt started getting really quiet. Foggy didn’t notice at first, Matt had always been happy to let him do the talking and just listen to the cadence of his friends’ voices, but then his hands curled into fists against the bar. He rubbed his temple a few times and flinched when someone in the corner got up and their chair scraped along the unwashed floor.

            “Hey, you okay, man?” Foggy asked belatedly, reaching a hand out to steady Matt’s shoulder as he swayed suddenly on his stool after flinching at something no one else heard.

            “Yeah, I’m – I’m fine.”

            “Could you sound more unconvincing? What’s wrong? Shit, Matt, you’re pale.”

            He was curling in on himself and failing to be subtle about it. Karen reached for his arm, clearly sharing Foggy’s fear that he’d fall off the stool.

            “’M fine, j-just, uh – ah, headache.”

            Foggy exchanged a worried glance with Karen as Matt winced and, abandoning his paltry pretence, jerked his hands up to cover his ears. Almost at once, he lowered them, managing to look abashed around his pained grimace.

            “Okay, I’m taking you home,” Foggy announced, grabbing his jacket and pulling it on. “C’mon, buddy.”

            “N-no, I can manage, really, Foggy.”

            Foggy rolled his eyes. “I know you can but I’m helping anyway.”

            “I got this one,” Karen said as she helped Matt to his feet and then into his jacket. “You just get home and get some rest, okay? You need anything, call me.”

            “Th-thanks Karen.”

            God he looked awful. Foggy grabbed his folded cane from the counter and pulled Matt’s arm over his shoulder and wrapped his own around his waist. Bidding Karen a hasty farewell, he steered Matt quickly outside, hoping the fresh air would help.

            It didn’t.

            “This come on fast, bud?” Foggy asked, glad he didn’t sound as alarmed as he felt. Matt was still trying to curl in on himself and he was staggering as though drunk.

            “Yeah,” Matt croaked, clearly trying to walk normally. The fact that he couldn’t, that he was actually leaning some of his weight on Foggy, scared him.

            “Migraine?”

            “Yeah.”

            Shit. “Okay, buddy, you just concentrate on that noggin of yours and leave the getting home to me. I got you.”

            Matt nodded weakly and managed to pull himself up a little straighter. Foggy was running over everything he could remember from the three migraines Matt had had in college. As he did so, he realised none of his supposedly helpful tricks could’ve had any real effect given what he now knew about Matt’s senses. As if using headphones was gonna cut down on the noise! As if not eating in the dorm room had done anything to help whatever stench had overwhelmed him.

            He really hated seeing more of the lie.

            Still. Home would help. Matt’s place was bare and silent as a hitman’s safehouse, and those fancy sheets of his might help with the sensory overload. After bundling Matt into a cab (and assuring the driver he wasn’t about to puke all over his Prius and really hoping Matt wouldn’t make him a liar) and an unsteady walk up the stairs (why were there so many stairs?!) Foggy finally let Matt collapse onto the couch.

            The Daredevil suit lay in a heap on the floor. The tiny first-aid kit was open on the coffee table, and looking pretty empty. Foggy told himself that wasn’t inherently bad news. He didn’t believe himself either.

            “Okay, buddy,” he said quietly, trying to make as little noise as humanly possible, casting a critical eye over Matt’s head as he did so. No sign of injury, which was good. Might just be a headache after all. “Let’s just get you into bed and you can sleep this off, yeah?”

            “Okay, Foggy.” Matt’s voice was still strained, but it sounded far steadier than it had in the bar. The migraine had either eased off some or, more likely, Matt had done some meditation voodoo and ohm’d the pain to a more manageable level. Foggy tried not to find that depressing and failed instantly.

            He helped Matt out of his coat, ignoring the fact that Matt had never let him do this kind of thing before. Sure, he’d helped carry ridiculously massive books in Columbia, and he’d always liked translating people’s non-verbal cues and stuff before he found out about the supersenses, but actually helping Matt with anything other than walking straight when totally sloshed? Nada. Then in the last two months, ever since they got him back, Matt had been letting him in more and more and right now Foggy wasn’t completely sure that was a good thing.

            The fact that Matt didn’t even attempt to decline a couple of offered aspirin? Also worrying.

            “C’mon, buddy, I got you.”

            Foggy pulled Matt’s arm over his shoulder again and heaved him off the couch. And shit, he could absolutely feel Matt’s ribs. Through his shirt. Aw, hell, that wasn’t good.

            As they shuffled past the coffee table, Matt’s shin caught on the corner and he hissed in pain.

            “Ow,” he moaned, and Foggy snorted in amusement. Matt flinched away, then turned his head towards him, the cracked ruby lens cutting one unfocused eye in two. “What?”

            “Nothing, man,” Foggy said, keeping his voice low and steering Matt a little more carefully to his bedroom. “Just, I think that’s the first time I’ve ever actually heard you say that. Which,” he continued, feeling dark laughter bubble up in his chest, “is really funny when you remember I’ve seen you cut to shreds and shot in the head and all beat to shit like a billion times.”

            A weak smile wavered across Matt’s lips and the sight of it eased the knot of tension in Foggy’s chest a little. He hovered unhelpfully as Matt sat himself gingerly on the bed, and reached down to untie his shoes. One hand shot out to the bedside table and he swayed forward alarmingly, letting out a low, quiet groan. Foggy steadied him, pushing him gently but resolutely down onto the pillows.

            “Easy there, Matthew. Here, let me do that.” Much to his surprise, Matt actually did let him untie his shoes. How huge a warning sign was it that the fiercely independent, go-it-alone guy let someone else undress him? Felt pretty huge to Foggy, happy though he was to be of some use.

            Once Matt was stripped down to his boxers and swathed in silk sheets – which he had pulled quickly over himself, clearly hoping Foggy wouldn’t spot the deep purple bruising covering his side, which of course, he did – Matt held out a hand. The filtered light of the street lamps and billboard outside painted the scars along his wrist in a faint, bluish light that only made them look more ragged and painful. The long, uneven scar running the length of Matt’s forearm cast a heavy shadow over his skin and Foggy wondered how the hell he had thought, just a few hours ago, that Matt was doing better.

            “Thanks buddy,” Matt whispered as Foggy took his hand, which he squeezed. “’Ppreciate it. Really.”

            “Anytime, buddy. Just rest okay? Call me if you need anything. I’m putting your phone right here, beside the clock.”

            Matt nodded minutely, withdrawing his arm into the relative comfort of the sheets and burrowing into the pillow, pulling another over his head to shut out as much of the world as he could. Foggy hovered awkwardly for a moment, not sure if he should leave and let the guy rest or hang around in case it got worse. He didn’t remember the college migraines being this bad. And Matt hadn’t had one – far as he knew – in years.

            “’M okay, Foggy,” came Matt’s muffled voice from under the pillows. “Go home. ‘M okay.”

            “Yeah. Yeah, okay, Matt. Feel better.”

            An odd coldness trickled through Foggy as he slid the door shut on Matt’s room and his friend's deliberately even breathing. He stood for a moment, facing the dark loft. The suit that was normally kept hidden in its chest in the hall closet. The first aid kit he hadn’t bothered to clear away. The crusty patch of blood on the couch. The memory of Matt’s ribs pressing like finely corrugated iron against his fingers.

            That same sadness that’d weighed him down for weeks after he found out who the man in the mask was settled over Foggy’s shoulders like a particularly obese bird of prey. He knew Matt was trying. He could see it in those expressive, ever-hidden eyes of his. But Foggy had been a fool to believe everything was as good as it seemed. Again. He’d thought though, maybe that’s what Matt needed right now, to be allowed act like things were better than they were. Fake it ‘til you make it, y’know.

            But that didn’t change the fact that Foggy knew Matt Murdock’s migraines were not normal, even by a superhero’s standards. The first had been on the anniversary of Matt’s dad’s death in their first year, right in the middle of essay season. The second was the right after Elektra had run off on him. The cause of the third was still a mystery, but it had put Matt out of commission for three whole days.

            Foggy’s stomach dove for the street as he stepped forward and picked up Melvin’s suit. The fancy black suit that was meant to keep his best friend safe. Even in the low light, Foggy could see the dozen tiny scratches of near misses. A long grey-white scrape arced brutally along the side, matching Matt’s newest bruises. Melvin had said the resin needed more upkeep than the last suit. But it looked like Matt was happy to let it decay.

            Foggy swallowed hard and draped the suit on the couch. He picked up his jacket and left, closing the door as quietly as he could behind him.

            He’d thought Matt was doing better.

            God, he was such an idiot.

Chapter Text

            The accusation hung in the air like an invisible cloud of anthrax. Gao and Murakami stayed silent, wisely afraid to breathe lest they ingest their permanent deaths. Elektra considered them both with cold eyes, her swords sheathed but no less dangerous. Gao braved the silence first.

            “It was in our agreement to leave the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen alone. You know I have not renounced that agreement.”

            Elektra stared into the dark eyes, as fathomless and secretive as the depths of the ocean. She found no lie in her words. Madam Gao was faithful, if mercurial. She believed in the Black Sky.

            Elektra turned to Murakami. He smirked at her, jutting his chin up defiantly. He shrugged.

            “You ordered us to keep Daredevil neutralised while we finished our business in New York,” he said, his eyes cold and challenging above the amicable smile. “I was following your orders, honourable Black Sky.”

            Fury billowed like a storm cloud under Elektra’s skin, curling and twisting through her muscles with an intense excitement, licking along her arms and twitching in her fingers. Begging to be released. Elektra stayed perfectly still.

            “You stole him.” Her voice was like waiting death.

            Madam Gao took a surreptitious step backwards, her cane silent against the marble floor.

            Murakami shrugged, grinning boyishly for a moment before all humour drained from his face in place of contempt. “You ordered us to keep him neutralised and left him in the care of common heretics. They would have released him into New York as soon as he regained his strength, and he would have searched for you. For us. I could not let that happen. I serve the Hand.”

            “You serve me,” she spat, taking two stalking steps forward and stopping sharply in front of Murakami, her cloak curling excitedly around her legs. “I am the Black Sky, I control the Hand and you betrayed me.”

            Murakami leant forward, his gaze devoid of fear, and whispered,

            “The Black Sky is the weapon of the Hand. It cannot rule us.”

            With a furious cry, Elektra snatched a sai from her waist and struck, but he was already moving, blocking her blow with a punishing fist to her elbow. Had she been human, the force of it would’ve broken her arm. Without wasting time or momentum she whirled and landed a solid kick in the traitor’s gut, sending him flying back to crash gracelessly into the far wall. Madam Gao had disappeared.

            “You accepted me when I saved you from that pit!” Elektra howled, struggling to keep the Black Sky contained. She wanted answers before she crushed him. She wanted to know just how slowly she should kill him. How painfully.

            “You would never have survived without our guidance! You scorn our wisdom and steer us into oblivion for your obsession with the Daredevil! The Hand has ruled New York since the beginning, and you would have us abandon it to spare the feelings of the man you love!”

            Murakami got to his feet with the quiet calm of a predator whose prey has been cornered. He rolled his neck with a loud pop and brushed the plaster from his shoulders, looking almost bored.

            “I did what was needed for us to survive. I do not regret it.” A poisonous smile curled his lips. “I enjoyed it.”

            Elektra trembled as another swell of rage crashed through her, but she kept herself in check. She let her weapons fall docilely to her sides and raised her head, inviting him to continue. Welcoming the strength his betrayal would give her.

            “I followed you the night you left him there,” Murakami said casually, boldly turning away from her as he strode to the window, hands held nonchalantly behind his back. “A true Black Sky would never have allowed such weakness, but then,” he turned to smile coldly at her, “we have known since the beginning you are not a true Black Sky.”

            Elektra tightened her grip on the hilt and felt the binding strain and creak with the pressure.

            “I waited. There is no sport in catching a dying animal. I waited until he could fight.” He snorted. “If you could call that fight. He was weak. Pathetic. But once I harmed his caretaker he found his fury.” Murakami bared his teeth in satisfaction. “But it too, was weak. It was too easy to overpower him.” His reflection smiled wider against the night and Elektra felt something half-forgotten twist uncomfortably in her stomach. “Easy to avenge the pain he caused us.”

            Murakami turned his back on the window, facing Elektra. He kept his hands clasped behind him and leant back on his heels, looking as though he were describing another famed hunt of something rare and powerless.

            “You took him to that place,” Elektra accused, her voice trembling with a fury she could barely contain. She could see the tension in Murakami’s shoulders and jaw, knew that for all his perceived calm, he was a snake coiled to spring.

            He shrugged, raising his eyebrows in an expression of defiant transparency. “I own it. I knew they would contain the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen, but more importantly I knew they could break him. Past all memory of who he was. Past all memory of you.”

            There was a beat of pristine silence.

            “They failed.”

           Elektra launched herself forward, unleashing the entirety of her power on the spot where Murakami stood. He tried to dodge, and against any other foe he would have escaped. But the blackness crashed over him like floodwater and held him hostage, unable to move, unable to speak. Surprise widened his gaze and Elektra rose from the floor on a wave of darkness and stared at him with black eyes. She smiled at the sight of his fear.

           “You say I am not a true Black Sky,” she recounted mildly. “That I am a weapon only, to be used and honed by the Hand.” A low, humourless laugh escaped her lips as Murakami fought vainly against her inky hold. It was the efforts of a fly caught in a fist.

           “I am Elektra Natchios. I bow to no one.”

           With a flick of thought, she let the blackness burn. Let it rip. Tear. Break. Lifetimes of skill and survival meant nothing now. He was trapped, immobile. Blind. Deaf to all but his own shaking screams and Elektra’s thrilled laughter.

           It took him a long time to die. She made sure of that. She waited until his screams became hoarse, and then silent. Until his blood had drained away enough to leave him pale as a corpse. Until he understood.

           Only then did she withdraw the blackness to her, letting his body flop to the floor. With one strike, his head rolled away. Smiling, Elektra stepped forward and kicked it. The window shattered under the force of the projectile and it sailed amid a halo of sparkling glass to splash irreverently into the Hudson.

           “That ... was rash,” came a measured voice from behind her. Elektra turned to see Madam Gao, leaning on her cane with both hands.

           “That was necessary,” she corrected. She stepped forward over the body, tilting her head as she regarded Gao. “He forgot his loyalties. Have you?”

           Gao gave her head a tight shake and fixed her inky eyes on Elektra’s. “You are the one who saved us from the cave. You offered us the chance to extend our lives once more. I pledged my fealty to you and I will not tarnish my word. I,” she added, glancing away with an odd catch to her voice, “I remain hopeful of seeing my home once again.” Her black gaze flicked back to Elektra. “And you are my only chance at that, Elektra.”

           Elektra pursed her lips in a thin smile and nodded.

           “Then we better get back to work.”

Chapter Text

            The weather was turning. A biting chill had crept into the air, chewing through jackets and skin alike and gnawing on bones. Then the wind would relent and warmth would seep back into the marrow, only for the next breeze speed toothily by.

            Jessica was pissed off. She’d spent another whole day poking around the pier and looking into the company logos she’d photographed from the vans and she’d come up with exactly nothing. Except icicle fingers. It made no sense – how could the trail go this cold this quickly? It hadn’t exactly been a run of coals beforehand, but still. She had nothing.

            Except a strong craving for some goddamn whiskey.

            Her phone started buzzing in her back pocket. Goddammit she just got her hands halfway warm. Ugh. Scowling at the world she withdrew her hand from the snug cocoon of her jacket pocket and grabbed her phone.

            “What, Trish?”

            “Jess! You’re not gonna believe this.”

            “Try me.” Dammit. Maybe there was something to be said for gloves with fingers.

            “Karen just called –”

            “Lemme guess, she wants to reschedule your next bitching brunch.”

            “Jess, listen. Someone attacked IGH headquarters last week.”

            Jessica hesitated on her doorstep, keys cutting into her exposed fingers like frozen razors.

            “Someone what?”

            “It wasn’t even so much as an attack,” Trish said quickly, “as a slaughter. Jess, everyone is dead. Everyone. Even the janitors.”

            “You’re kidding.” Jessica unlocked the door and shouldered her way in. Jesus, the hallway was no warmer than outside. “How –”

            “The police have no clue. Even feds are stumped.”

            “What, they didn’t catch anything on their bizillion security cameras?”

            Trish hesitated. When she spoke again, all excitement had drained from her tone.

            “Jess ...” She had that voice people use when they tell you someone you love just died.

            “What?” Jessica jabbed the button for the elevator and accidentally dented it. Just a bit. “What, Trish?”

            “Whoever did it ... they erased all the footage. And not just the footage. Their entire network is just ... gone. All their files, Jess. All their records. Everything’s gone.”

            It took her a moment to realise the elevator doors had opened. Dazed, she slouched in and slumped against the back wall.

            “Shit.”

            “I know, Jess. I’m so sorry.”

            “How do you know they’re gone gone? Maybe we just need a hacker, y’know, someone –”

            “Karen thought that too, figured the feds must’ve tried to recover something. She got an interview with one of them, don’t ask me how, but he showed her pictures of the servers. They were totally fried, from the inside. They’re thinking it was some new kind of virus but they’ve no clue what, from what Karen got. They’ve already pegged it as a homeland security issue. Hell, they’re probably worried about cyber terrorism.”

            Jessica was silent for a moment as the lift brought her up.

            “How much do we trust Page?”

            “A lot. Trust me, Jess, if there were any leads on this, she’d’ve found them. She’s smart.”

            “So, basically,” Jessica sighed, staring down at her scuffed boots. “What you’re saying is any hope of us finding any actual answers on what IGH did to me is ... gone.”

            “I’m so sorry, Jess. But we can look over the file you got one more time, maybe there’s something we missed.”

            “There isn’t.” The doors dinged open. It took her a moment to muster up the motivation to move. “It was a dead end.”

            “Shit.”

            “Yeah.”

            “We’ll think of something, Jess. I promise.”

            “Yeah, sure,” she said, trying to sound convinced. There was a package by Malcolm’s door. She’d seen it there last night as well. He must still be away. She scooped it up under her arm.

            “Maybe,” Trish said, her voice trailing off slightly as Jessica held the phone between her ear and shoulder so she could unlock her door. “Maybe Matt could help? Maybe he knows something, but doesn’t know he knows it?”

            Jessica snorted. “You’re reaching, Patsy.” Elektra’s my only hope now. If she knows something, then maybe ... “But hey, at least everyone who messed with him is dead now. That’s something.”

            “I know, but –”

            Something sharp and hot bit into Jessica’s exposed neck with the force of a punch and she stumbled back with a cry, the phone clattering to the floor at her feet.

            “What the –”

            “You’re much prettier in your photos,” said a warm, friendly voice. Jessica caught a fleeting glimpse of a man dressed in black wearing a baseball cap before he moved and something hard flew into her head and everything went black.

 

 


 

 

            “Jess?” Trish said a bit louder. “Jess, what happened?” A muffled cry and a heavy thump echoed across the line. Ice curled in Trish’s gut. “Jessica! Answer me!”

            Footsteps. An odd scraping. Then a tiny chuckle.

            “I’m sorry, Miss Jones can’t come to the phone right now,” intoned a cheery, helpful voice. “May I take a message, please?”

            Trish froze. Her jaw tightened. Her hands were fists, almost crushing her phone. She spoke through her teeth, summoning every ounce of fury thrumming through her veins.

            “Who the hell is this?”

            “The name’s Bullseye, ma’am,” the man said with a brief and exaggerated southern accent. He sounded like a goddamn retail assistant.

            “What are you doing with Jessica?”

            “Oh, nothing. Right now. But soon I’m gonna play with her. I bet she’ll be real good at it too – I wasn’t supposed to, see they told me to leave her alone. But they’re all dead now, so I’m just gonna have some fun. But don’t worry, I’ll take pictures for you if you want?”

            She wasn’t breathing properly. Her handbag fell from her shoulder, the contents spilling out across the hardwood floor.

            “You listen to me you son of a bitch –”

            “Oh, now,” Bullseye cut across her, sounding aghast. “That’s no way for a lady to talk. Bye now. I’ll be sure an’ give Miss Jones your best.”

            “Don’t you hang up on –”

            But there was another clatter, a high-pitched giggle, and the very faintest crackle of breaking plastic before the line went dead.

            “Shit. Shit, shit, shit.”

            What should she do? Call the cops? Somehow she doubted they’d get there in time. And no matter how fast she drove she wouldn’t be much faster – it was six pm. The streets would be a nightmare right now.

            Trish stood there, frozen in terror for perhaps thirteen seconds, staring into nothing. Then she glanced to the wide windows of the studio foyer. It was almost dark. Nodding once and hoping this would work, she unlocked her phone again and searched frantically through her contacts. He answered on the fourth ring.

            “Hello?”

            “Matt? It’s Trish. I need your help – right now.”

Chapter Text

        Oh, he was so excited. This was better than his birthday and Christmas put together, ‘cause he got to work all alone and he had found the perfect place to play. And Jessie Jones was gonna be the perfect playmate. Until he got Twelve, anyway. Twelve would be better.

        But still, he was really looking forward to this. He’d found one of the boss’s boss’s warehouses just near the river, and the area was too industrial for random people to be walking by. In fact, the whole place was a little run down, certainly from the outside, but that just suited him better. And the rooms were small, so her screams would just bounce from wall to wall and stay trapped inside. Just like her.

        Bullseye had to wait a whole other hour for the drugs to wear off. He guessed that, since she was so strong, she’d need a bigger dose than most people, but he’d clearly overshot it a little. Watching her wake up was delicious though. First her breathing changed, just a little, her boobs rising a little faster than before, a little more noticeably. She started frowning then. Softly at first, like she’d just remembered she forgot her keys, then more intensely, like she was in pain. Her fingers twitched and one arm moved to the side a bit, but of course the heavy white and silver manacles stopped it.

        The shackles really were beautiful. The short chains connecting the cuffs to the reinforced table were the strongest IGH had ever made, and they’d been made for someone even stronger than Jessie Jones. They held her firm and fast on the table, arms at her sides and feet apart – which he tried not to think too much about, yet – as she slowly opened her eyes.

        The restraints clinked loudly as she moved, and oh, how Bullseye enjoyed watching understanding dawn like a horrified sun over her face. She knew she was trapped.

        “You’ve been asleep ages,” he informed her, his tone as light and friendly as ever. “But don’t worry, I waited to start until you were awake.” He grinned at her, then turned back to the case open on the broken filing cabinet.

        “Who the fuck are you, weirdo?”

        Bullseye turned to her slowly, his eyes wide. “You should watch your manners! They’ll punish you if you swear like that, you know.” He hesitated for a moment, remembering. “Well I guess I’ll have to do the punishing now.” He shrugged, merriment reengaged. “Oh well.”

        “What are you talking about?” she said, slowly this time, as though worried he wouldn’t understand. That annoyed him.

        “I’m talking about discipline, Jessie.”

        Her eyes flickered. “Don’t call me that.”

        He grinned at her over his shoulder. “Nah, I like it. It suits you, Jessie.

        The manacles clattered as she tried again to break free. That was so cute. He chuckled.

        “You’re not gonna be able to break them, you know. The guy who designed them made them for that fancy guy, what’s his name? Uh ... Cap ... Captain America, yeah that’s it. The blond guy in the silly suit.” Bullseye glanced down to his own, far cooler attire. He’d just gotten this nice black bomber jacket a week before his mission started, and he hadn’t gotten even a drop of blood on it so far. And his shoes were cool, too. They were white.

        “These restraints were built for Steve Rogers?” Jessie asked, sounding nervous. He glanced back to her.

        “Huh? Oh yeah, ‘cause someone wanted to make sure they could lock him up if they needed to. So, yeah, you won’t be able to break ‘em. Promise.”

        He pulled off his baseball cap and hung it carefully off the handle of the case from which he had taken three vials and one long syringe. She struggled futilely again as he sauntered over to her table. She glanced from the vials in his hands to his face, and her eyes widened.

        “What the hell happened to your face?”

        Bullseye’s expression remained pristinely cordial for another moment as the words registered. Then it froze. Melted. Decayed into something less than human that woke a bright fire of fear in Jessica Jones’ eyes.

        “That’s – not – polite,” he said through gritted teeth, his voice high and catching as he fought for control. “It’s – just – a – SCAR!”

        Restraint forgotten he dropped the vials and syringe, snatched one of the many small blades from his belt, aimed, and threw it through the air like a slap. It cartwheeled perfectly over her chin, her lips, her cheek, drawing a straight line in blood that had her gasping and spluttering in pain.

        “Maybe that will teach you to mind your manners,” he spat. He ignored her pain for a moment, focusing on his breathing. Once he’d settled himself he stooped down and gathered up the fallen tools. “Now,” he said, feeling calm once more, “let’s start.”

        “Fuck you,” she spat, her tone trembling with intended violence as blood and spittle flew vainly at him, only to fall short.

        He giggled.

        “You really do have a mouth on you, don’t you Jessie? But don’t worry. I’ll fix that. Now,” he continued, stepping casually forward and reaching out for her arm. She flinched away from him but there was nowhere to go. He pulled up her sleeve – slowly, now, savour it, Bullseye – until her pale elbow was exposed. It looked too good – he leaned down and licked it. Slowly. A low moan escaped his lips as he straightened.

        “Delicious.”

        “I swear to god, when I get free I am going to kill you.”

        He smiled down at her. “You can try. Lots have.” He leaned in closer, dropping his voice so it sounded even creepier, even more impressive. “But I’m still here. I’m not easy to kill.”

        He reached for the syringe as Jessie spat another mouthful of blood, aiming for his face but he dodged it easily.

        “I need you to answer some questions, Jessie,” he said politely. “Just a few. I know you were the one who broke into IGH and stole Subject Twelve. And I know you came back with more freaks and stole all the other subjects away. Well, I’ve already found most of them. Killed almost all of ‘em already. But see, I can’t seem to find Twelve.”

        He could see the defiance in her dark gaze, could almost feel her stoking a raging fire to hide the fear underneath. Plunging the syringe into the first of the vials – this one filled with a bright green liquid – he filled it to the last gauge. Had to do extra for her. She was special.

        “And I know you love him, Jessie. I saw how you held him when you stole him away. So I know you know where he is. Sooo,” he drawled, rocking his head one way and then another, “once you tell me where, I’ll stop doing this.”

        He stabbed the needle into the crook of her arm and, pressing faster to make it hurt more, he pushed all the serum into her blood.

        For the first few seconds, all she did was breath heavily, her chest heaving enticingly before him. Then, with a shocked gasp, the screaming started.

        And oh. Oh. It was even better than he’d thought. Much, much better. He barely even minded all the curses she was flinging at him – as though they could really hurt him. He wouldn’t even get in trouble if she swore. Everyone who could scold him was dead.

        It was almost a nice feeling, that.

        “I won’t give him up you son of a bitch!” she howled, her body already starting to shake violently against her will. It was fun to watch, how her hands and feet wriggled like that, making the little chains of the manacles dance. It was really pretty.

        Bullseye shrugged. “Well if you don’t I’ll just find him another way and keep playing with you,” he said simply, beaming down at her.

        “You fucked-up, ugly, son of a –”

        He cut her off with a fist to the jaw. Her grunt of pain was a balm to the sting of her words.

        “Where is Twelve, Jessie?”

        “Fuck you!”

        “Where is Twelve, Jessie?”

        “Budapest, asshole!”

        “Where is Twelve, Jessie?”

        Her next words made no sense. They were too twisted by her screaming. This was getting fun. Bullseye decided to make a little song out of it.

        “Where is Twelve, Jessie, where is Twelve? Where is Twelve, Jessie, where is Twelve?”

        “I don’t know!”

        “Yes you do, Jessie, where is Twelve? Where is Twelve, Jessie, where is Twelve?”

        It really was a nice melody. And her painful cries were the perfect harmony as the acid burnt through her blood. It took a long time for the dose to run out, but it was still faster than any of the patients Bullseye had seen. He moved on to the purple vial next.

        That one shut her up. She wasn’t unconscious, her eyes stayed open and she was trembling as though freezing the whole time. Her teeth chattered so much he could hardly understand the words, but that was okay. He wasn’t expecting an answer. Certainly not yet, anyway.

        The little anguished noises she was making were incredible. Delicious. And so tempting he wanted to straddle her right there on the table.

        But he mustn’t. He was working now.

        Once he had what he needed, though ... That thought gave him the tingly-winglies.

        The night was getting colder, slipping through the cracked panes like invisible water filling up a sinking ship. Bullseye hated cold weather. It reminded him of the home. He didn’t like the home. The other kids were mean there.

        He shook himself and sat up on the table beside Jessie’s thigh.

        “I don’t know why you’re trying so hard to keep Twelve away,” he said conversationally. He glanced down at her and she was glaring up at him as though she really wanted to punch him. He liked that. “He should be with us, you know. We’re his family. IGH is where he belongs, Jessie.”

        “Y-y-you’r-re s-s-ick-k,” she whispered, shaking so hard the words didn’t sound like themselves.

        Bullseye looked at her, confused. “Not anymore I’m not. IGH fixed me. And they made me stronger, too. I owe them everything. So does Twelve. He shouldn’t’ve left so soon. They weren’t finished with him. He wasn’t ready to be out in the world.”

        “W-w-w-well s-s-sorr-rry to b-br-break it t-t-to y-you,” she stammered, her eyes narrowing as though she was trying to make lasers shoot out of ‘em, “b-b-but IG-G-G-H is-s-s gone, a-a-asho-ole. D-dead.”

        Bullseye’s shoulders slumped and he let his head droop low on them.

        “I know,” he mumbled, miserably. “They killed so many of them. I should’ve been there.” Tears rushed over his long lashes and jumped. Tiny suicidal droplets. “I could’ve helped them.”

        With a great sniff, he glanced back to Jessie, running his sleeve under his nose. “But I’ve still got my mission and you must always complete the mission, Jessie. Besides, they only attacked the headquarters and I never liked it there anyway. Except,” he added, smiling broadly as he remembered, “when I got to play with the subjects. Twelve was my favourite, Jessie, honest he was. He was so fun. He was blind y’know. But he could still fight. Real well.” He giggled. “But I always won. He was too weak.”

        He leaned over to Jessie and whispered, raising one pedagogical eyebrow.

        “IGH can only make you strong when you decide to stop being weak. They taught me that. They did.”

        She closed her eyes and turned her head away from him, her brow furrowing as a fresh wave of pain flowed through her.

        “Anyway,” Bullseye continued, “there’s still plenty of IGH left. Well, some. My favourite’s still okay. It’s the best, it’s nice and small and I have a little room above the clinic sometimes, if I’m good and if I do all my missions good. I’ll get to stay there when I kill Twelve,” he said matter-of-factly. “That’ll be fun. There’s an Xbox there. And darts. I’m great at darts.”

        He swung his legs over the table while Jessie groaned against the serum’s acid. He was getting bored. He wanted her to talk. Now.

        With a delicate hop he bounced to his feet and skipped over to the case on the filing cabinet. He had plenty more vials, loads and loads. And of course he had his knives, he always had his knives. And he had some guns, for when he got bored or when he got in trouble for taking too long. But no one knew he had Jessie here, so he could take as long as he wanted.

        Maybe it would be fun to do a little drawing? Smiling excitedly, he slipped the finest blade from his belt, holding it as carefully as if it were one of Vincent Van Gogh’s own paintbrushes. Bullseye liked Vincent Van Gogh. He saw the colours right. And he cut off his own ear.

        Bullseye turned back to Jessie, absently rubbing a finger across the mottled scar on his forehead. The drugs had taken full effect now. She wasn’t moving, except for her steady breathing and her eyes wandering as though lost in their sockets. She tensed as he danced forward, twirling the knife in his nimble fingers.

        “Where is Twelve, Jessie, where is Twelve? Where is Twelve, Jessie, where is Twelve? Where is Twelve, Jessie Jessie, where’s Twelve?”

Chapter Text

        He could hear her. He could hear her screaming.

Matt had never run so fast in his life. His feet barely touched the rooftops, he practically flew over Hell’s Kitchen, his entire concentration anchored to that singular heartbeat. Terror ran alongside him with confident strides, matching his desperate pace without tiring.

        “Where is Twelve, Jessie, where is Twelve? Where is Twelve, Jessie Jessie, where’s Twelve?”

        The voice stoked a rage unlike anything Matt had felt in months, burning the memories away. The phantom scent of fresh blood washed over the world and his fear faltered as he dove into space, not caring he was too high, not caring the street was too wide. Not caring.

        He shot through the window like a bullet, ducked into a roll and skidded haphazardly to a standstill, already surging to his feet to face Bullseye, his back to Jessica. She was strapped to a table, blood shocking across her mouth and cheek. It took half a heartbeat for Matt to identify the stench choking her scent. His fury rose like an aura around him and he lowered his head, his teeth bared and his arms held wide and ready, bloodlust dripping from his tongue like saliva.

        “There is a door you know,” Bullseye drawled, flicking shards of glass off his jacket. That smile Matt loathed twisted the end of the sentence and God, there would be blood to match.

        “Bullseye.” The word dribbled from his lips as though avoiding being touched. It was all Matt could do to keep himself still, to wait. The devil was lashing against his muscles, roaring its hunger for revenge, screaming too loudly in his ears for him to hear the high-pitched laughter, the snap of his own bones, the endless sing-song taunts as he was held immobile and wishing to die, the drugs burning through him.

        “Matt, no – get out of here you idiot!” Jessica’s words were hitched in pain, the blood slipping on her lips. He could smell her fear, hear the hoarseness in her voice and it was fuel to the fire waiting to blaze out of him.

        Bullseye sauntered forward, rolling his weight almost to the point of falling over before taking his next step. The chilled night air whistled around his cocked head, ruffling the regimented hair and curling gently past Matt’s nose, whispering secrets about the warehouse, the icy temperature of the Hudson outside.

        “Matt,” Jessica hissed, her voice catching in her desperation to warn him away.

        “Jessie wants me all to herself,” Bullseye said proudly and a creeping shiver rolled up Matt’s back at the nickname. “But you look like fun too. You’re the one who almost killed Stryker.” He stepped casually forward. “You stole our subjects. You’re Daredevil.”

        Matt’s lips pulled back from his teeth in a sinister parody of a smile.

        “You will not touch her again,” he promised, his voice low and dangerous as a mine.

        “Huh.”

        Bullseye moved so quickly Matt almost missed it. One moment he was staring at him, leaning heavily on his right side with his head hanging comically askance, the next he had lashed out and a thin blade was whistling through the air like a tiny jet plane. Matt jerked just enough for it to glance off his armour, but he could feel the hit reverberating through the suit. That didn’t matter though. He was already moving.

        In one sinuous movement his clubs were in his hands and he was charging for Bullseye, one baton whipping out and forcing him to dodge, the other swinging in a punishing arc aimed for his head. Bullseye leapt into the air and twisted, avoiding both blows and landing agilely on one foot, channelled his momentum into another strike that cut through Matt’s cheekbone, right under the brim of his mask and that was it. He was his. With a growling bellow, Matthew Murdock let the devil out.

        A power he had almost forgotten exploded through him on the flames of his rage, and his muscles obeyed its bloody commands eagerly, moving faster than he had since that godforsaken pit, each blow a punishing lesson in vengeance. Bullseye retreated, momentarily pinned against a pillar between the broken window and the next lattice of panes and for the span of seven satisfying strikes, the devil had him.

        But then it went wrong.

        Bullseye jerked, one hand slicing down towards the ground, away from Matt, who was too focused on breaking bones to understand until he felt the rush of air and heard the high-pitched whine – whistling towards Jessica. He spun on one heel, propelling himself around with all the speed his old strength could grant him, leaping into the air and reaching out to snatch the dagger from its flight.

        It soared past him with a mocking whine, missing his outstretched fingers by millimetres, and zooming resolutely into Jessica’s thigh. Her agonized gasp was a whip to his heart and his stomach lurched as though belatedly trying to intercept the blade itself. He rolled out of his dive and snapped to his feet, placing himself firmly between Bullseye and Jessica. Four more daggers and blades were already whizzing towards her, aimed for her head, stomach, legs. It was all he could do to deflect them away and as he was distracted intercepting the last, this one heading straight for Jessica’s throat, his own baton came hurtling into his awareness with impossible speed. He flinched back but not enough, it powered into his right eye socket, the angle deflecting enough of the blow that his eye guard shattered but, rather than passing directly through the reinforced plastic and into his brain, the baton caught on the brow and pushed his helmet clean off, the ridge biting briefly into the nape of his neck as his head was forced back.

        He stumbled backwards into the table Jessica was strapped to, blackness winking through his mind as pain zinged like lightless lightning through his brain, dazzling him and ripping apart the world around him. Shards of plastic bit into his eye and blood spiced into the air. Jessica shouted something but the words arrived as incomprehensible fragments, the air was swirling in impossible patterns, jerking the wrong way, and glass was splintering but it was too loud and there was laughter –

        A high, excited giggle. Impervious to the chaos storming through his mind. It was growing louder, far too loud, and it was coming from all around him and he was being hit, over and over by a dozen tiny fists – but no, he was convulsing, electrocuted, abrading and the restraints kept him paralysed and his muscles were spasming in a vain, desperate attempt to escape the agony that consumed him, and wrists were burning, bleeding, raw against the straps. And he was drowning, the water stinging with chemicals, snaking eagerly down his throat – only he had no throat, only the raw, bloody remains, the useless, silent source of screams no one else ever heard and he was alone, God, so alone and why, God, why had He done this, was he really so horrible that this should be his fate, why here, why them, why Hell? Wasn’t there supposed to be a test? A final chance to beg for forgiveness? Couldn’t he beg – dear, sweet God, please let him beg. Let him pray, let him work, let him fix this. Please, please, just one more chance, one more chance to be better, to make Him proud, to make Dad proud – Dad. Please, God, keep me here if You must but please, please let Dad be somewhere better. Anywhere better.

        Someone else was screaming. It was high, piercing, painful to more than just his ears. And they were still laughing. Giggling. Bullseye was back. He promised next time he played with him he’d make him scream even higher, even longer, even louder.

        Please, God. Let this end. Let me die.

        Something popped and squelched and he was on his knees and he could taste blood and his chest was bucking as though he were being shot over and over again and they were beating the oxygen out of the air. His lungs couldn’t snatch so much as a thimbleful and they were burning and he was only seconds from passing out, surely, and thank you, God, that means they would stop. Just for a while. Metal groaned and screeched and maybe something else happened because the laughter faltered.

        “MATT, get UP! NOW!”

        Matt. Matthew. Matty.

        Murdock.

        With a voiceless cry, Matt lashed out, swinging one arm wildly against the tide of bullets that weren’t bullets. A tinkling of plinks rattled against his armoured arm and fell to clatter against the ground and it was enough. His lungs expanded. The world returned.

        Jessica had dislocated her own thumb and wrenched her hand free of its restraint, then ripped a handful of the table from the whole and thrown it, her sweat lowering the tone of the note the cold air from the shattered window played against the projectile. Bullseye was smiling that wide, toothy grin that only meant Matt was aware enough to endure more playtime – too much more. Blood coated one side of his face, bulging over the scar tissue blazed across his forehead. But his arms were still whipping outwards with dizzying speed, shards of glass flitting across the room and exploding against Matt’s suit. He pushed himself to his feet, away from Jessica. From the tang of her tears.

        Bullseye stooped and snatched and spun and the broken end of a metal bracket barrelled into Matt’s hip and he grunted in pain, listing to the side as his leg shuddered under his weight.

        “Oh now,” Bullseye purred, pausing in his barrage. His hands were painted in blood, a dozen tiny scratches littering his palms. “I know you. You used to be better than this, Twelve.”

        Matt jerked his head, trying to banish the swell of horror that rose at the name, at his name, and he was panting, gasping, suffocating – but no, no, he was Matt, he was Matthew Murdock and he was free and Jessica was there, he could hear her heartbeat, light and fast and terrified and he would do anything to soothe that fear.

        He was almost against the wall. Pretending to steady himself on his uninjured leg he reached backwards to the barb of rust and steel. His gloved fingers wrapped securely around the nail protruding from the drywall.

        “Fuck you,” he growled and whipped his arm around, sending the nail spinning through the air. Distracted by the curse, Bullseye moved too late, still avoiding the nail but dropping his next handful of projectiles and that was all Matt needed. All the devil needed.

        With a roar, he leapt across the room, both fists ramming into Bullseye’s flesh in the same moment, then one knee, fist, fist, knee, heel, elbow, fist, forehead, and God, it was intoxicating. Satisfying. Desperate.

        Bullseye retreated in earnest, trying to buy space to shoot something else at him, at Jessica, but Matt kept his body firmly between the two and never gave him the moment. He abandoned every efficient move Stick had taught him. Ignored every trick he had taught himself. His mind was centred, utterly focused, on the misty memories of his father in the ring. His father, going still under a rainstorm of hits. His father putting away his fear and gaining ground, fists flying faster than anyone could see, dealing blow after crippling blow.

        He was a boxer. And he had the devil inside him.

        And Matt was his father’s son.

        It didn’t matter that his lungs burned. Didn’t matter that his arms were tiring, losing power with every jarring blow. Didn’t matter that the world was pitching and bucking, trying to knock him down. Only two things mattered. The light, frightened heartbeat thrumming behind him, and the heavier one slowing drastically under his fists.

        With a final, brutal uppercut, Bullseye collapsed over scraps of forgotten debris. His face was painted in shades of blood, his breathing a feeble wheeze. He lay still.

        Matt sagged against the wall. He fumbled a hand free of his glove and held it against his eye, trying to stem the dizzying pain through the blood. His hip throbbed and every breath stung with a ferocity that whispered wishes to drag him into blackness.

        He ignored it. Keeping one hand on the wall he staggered over to the filing cabinet knocked to its side. Something small hummed in the wreckage of Bullseye’s torture case and he snatched it up, just managing not to fall over as he did. Then he stumbled over to Jessica.

        “Are you okay?” he panted, wincing as his hip crashed into the edge of the table. He held the gadget against her other wrist and pressed the button on its side. A low buzz and a clatter, and Jessica curled on her side, cradling her injured hand.

        “No,” she grumbled. “You?”

        He just nodded as he unlocked her ankles. His breath quivered over his lips as he turned back to her. “Jess, I’m so sorry.”

        She shook her head minutely and pressed her forehead into the table, a low groan slipping through her clenched teeth. He wrapped an arm around her shoulders, propping her up into a sitting position and she slumped against him.

        “Don’t, Matt. Ow.”

        Her head curled against his shoulder, her breath catching in her throat. He held her to him for a long moment, his own jaw tight to keep his pain silent. He could smell Jessica’s blood pulsing dully against the steel in her thigh, feel the unnatural heat in her thumb. He steadied himself with a sharp breath and snaked his arm gently under her legs, careful not to jostle the knife any more than was unavoidable.

        “We gotta get you out of here.” Retrieving his helmet and glove felt a monumental task, but leaving them behind was not an option. Pain flared warningly as he bent for them, but he was quick, his hands back around Jessica before she could fall over. He could barely understand how she could move at all. He could smell the burning paralytic in her blood.

        “I feel funny,” she slurred, letting herself be lifted off the table.

        “I know,” he whispered, hating himself. “It’s the drugs. We need to get them out of your system.”

        “No hospital.” Her voice was getting quieter, far too quickly. Glass cracked underfoot as he made his way to the stairs, forcing himself to move steadily, ignoring how the world spun and lurched around him, how his hip threatened to buckle with every step.

        “No. I’m taking you to Claire.”

        “What about ... th’ asshole?”

        “I’ll call the cops. They’ll get him. I need to get you safe, sweetie.”

        The tiniest squeak of bloodied skin against his suit as she frowned.

        “D’you jus’ call me ‘sweetie’?”

        Anyone else wouldn’t be able to hear her now. Her heart was too slow, her skin too hot. It was amazing she was still conscious at all. The wrongness in her blood set his own heart to racing and it was all he could do to keep himself focused.

        But her tone still made him want to smile.

        “Yeah. Sorry. Just slipped.”

        She mumbled something he didn’t catch, her tone making him confident it was some form of insult. He hitched her up in his grip and started down the stairs, his breath sawing through him by the end. Jessica’s heart had slowed her into unconsciousness. Her breath whistled ever so slightly against his chest.

        Every step was a war he barely won, but he would be damned if he gave up. A slow, burning panic fuelled his march, the stench of IGH clinging to Jessica’s blood urging him on with every breath. Memories scorched his heels, promising to trap him in unforgotten fires should he stop. Reminding him of the exact flavour of the agony Jessica was feeling, even now. He couldn’t tell how concentrated a dose Bullseye had given her, but he prayed with every step that her strength would protect her.

        He had hoped the open air of the night city would cleanse him. Banish the memories that were soaring through his mind on broken wings, crashing through what was real and solid around him. He’d hoped it would steady his trembling, give him the strength he lacked to run, to get Jess to the clinic faster.

        It didn’t.

Chapter Text

        Claire checked her phone again, knowing it would have nothing new to report. And she was right. No voicemail. No texts. Damn Luke Cage. What was it about these wounded superhero types? Was basic communication too much to ask? Would it be so terrible for his street cred if he just talked to his supposed girlfriend?

        She let out a long, heavy, exasperated breath. He was being such an idiot. And this whole lone wolf act was old, really old. Just because she didn’t have superpowers didn’t mean she couldn’t help fight Mariah.

        Just because he didn’t need her to stitch him up didn’t mean she couldn’t help him.

        God, what a mess. He was the one who punched a hole in the drywall and somehow she felt like the asshole. How was that fair?

        She tapped his contact again and held the phone to her ear. Not that she was expecting him to pick up. Oh no. That would be too easy. Too mature.

        “This is Luke Cage. Leave a message.”

        “You’re an asshole. Call me back.” She stabbed the end call button and shoved the stupid phone back into her scrubs pocket. Maybe it would be worth sticking a punching bag in here. Her fists were itching to pound into something. After three semi-helpful deep breaths, Claire ran her hands through her hair, a finger under her eyes, and left the supply closet.

        It was a weirdly quiet night in the clinic. Which probably meant something dire and/or dramatic was about to happen. But for now, she tried to enjoy the peace and ignore how much she’d rather be run off her feet. Almost every night for the past three weeks had been at least partially hectic, and the one night she’d welcome the distraction it was crickets? She hoped someone was enjoying the joke ‘cause she sure as hell wasn’t.

        She strolled through her mini ER, checking on the three patients. Two were asleep, the third talking quietly with their tía. There were no visiting hours here.

        Angela was chewing gum at the reception desk again, playing something annoying on her phone. She looked up as Claire leaned against the counter.

        “I am so bored.”

        “And I’m on level eighty-eight.”

        Claire shot her a look. “You sound way too proud of that.”

        “What? I’m getting good! You should try it, Claire, it fills up the time.”

        Claire made a non-committal grunt-like sound in her throat, surveying her tiny queendom. “Any admin work I need to catch up on?” she asked hopefully.

        Angela shook her head, her tight curls bouncing against her temples.

        “Nope. You’re irritatingly on top of things. Unless you want to organise the stationary drawer. Again.”

        With a groan, Claire let her head fall onto her forearm.

        “I take it things with Luke aren’t any better,” Angela said shrewdly over the annoying little dings coming from her phone.

        “Why am I in love with an emotionally stunted idiot?”

        She could almost feel Angela shrug. “It’s your type.”

        Claire looked up and scowled.

        “You’re one to talk. Sarah was a paragon of emotional maturity, was she?”

        Angela returned the scowl. “At least she always called.”

        Claire snorted. “She stole your car!”

        “But she always called.”

        Laughing, Claire pushed herself away from the counter. “Gotta love those priorities. I’m gonna go wander aimlessly and pointlessly neaten things that’re already neat. Good luck killing your brain cells with that thing.”

        “Mm-hm.”

        There was a patch of darkness in the hall to the private exam rooms. Maybe she could finally change that light. It’d only been out for a month already. She ducked back into the supply closet at the end of the hall, dug out the long rod-like bulb and a stepladder, and bumped the door open with her hip. She jerked the stepladder open and set it under the dead light, peering up at it and wondering if she needed to hunt down a screwdriver or if her keys and stubbornness would do. Then she glanced back down, caught sight of the figure standing too still in the exam room to her right through the open door, and jumped into one of the stances Colleen had taught her. The lightbulb fell to shatter noisily on the floor at her feet, shards of toughened plastic skittering eagerly in every direction.

        “Claire?” Angela called. “You okay?”

        “F-fine! Just dropped the bulb, I’m good!”

        “’Kay.”

        Taking a deep, pacifying breath, she stepped over the debris and into the exam room.

        “I swear to God, Matt, there is no need to be that dramatic.”

        “We need your help, Claire.”

        Claire’s stomach twisted uneasily as it fell to the floor. His voice was wrong. Rasping and strained and far too like it had been that day he’d woken up terrified of her every touch. As if seeing Jessica Jones cradled unconscious in his arms wasn’t enough of a warning sign.

        “I can see that. Here, put her down.” She gestured to the exam table in the centre of the room and he limped over to it, laying her with extreme gentleness on the cushioned surface, the paper crinkling under her weight. “What happened? Must’ve been bad to get you in here.”

        She flicked the light on, shutting the door with her foot, then locking it for good measure. She caught his nod as she turned back and her sense of unease intensified. His helmet was cracked around his right eye, only a few shards of ruby lens left protruding like fangs in the dark maw. His other cheek was bleeding pretty badly and he kept his weight on his left leg.

        But he was conscious. So he could wait.

        “Tell me what happened, Matt,” she said, an order this time, as she snapped a pair of gloves on and hurried to Jessica, ignoring how Matt flinched at the sound.

        “She, um, she was abducted.”

        She shot him a look. “Who the hell could abduct Jessica Jones?”

        Matt shifted his weight, swallowing hard and licking his lips in that way he did that meant he was filtering out pain he didn’t want her to see.

        “I don’t know his name. But he’s called Bullseye. He, uh, he’s f-from IGH.”

        The knife in Jessica’s thigh wasn’t stuck in too deep, but her jeans were drenched in blood.

        “I thought IGH had left her alone.”

        “Yeah,” he said, his voice less than a whisper. “Yeah, so did I.”

        The cut across Jess’s lips and cheek was shallow, the bleeding already stopped. Her pupils were sluggish under the pen light though.

        “He drugged her,” Matt continued, his voice catching ever so slightly and Claire kept her attention firmly centred on Jessica because if she turned around and saw the expression that went with that voice she wouldn’t be so sure who needed her more. “The same paralytic they used on me. And, um, the burning one, too. You need to get it out of her system. Please, Claire.”

        Oh, shit. The dislocated thumb was gonna have to wait.

        “Get me that IV,” she ordered, pointing to the far side of the room as she half-ran to the cabinet by the door and grabbed a bag of saline. The wheels squeaked as Matt brought the pole to Jessica’s side, the tubing held out in his hand. Which was shaking.

        “Start stitching her leg, I’ll deal with the rest. Thread’s behind the tub of gauze.”

        Matt nodded once as she took the tube. Claire kept an eye on him as she hooked up the bag of saline and strapped the needle to the crook of Jessica’s arm. She checked Jess’s vitals again and was glad to see her stir slightly under the ministrations. Grabbing a brace and some extra gauze she went to stand by Matt, who was cutting Jessica’s jeans away from the stab wound with such care Claire paused to watch. He was moving so slowly, snipping just enough away for him to get at the wound, his hands steadier than they had been a minute ago.

        “You need help with that?” she asked quietly, nodding to the knife jutting out of their friend’s leg.

        “I got it,” he muttered, a thin veneer of purpose obscuring that awful tone that made her stomach squirm.

        She watched, Jess’s injured hand held idly in hers, as Matt wrapped his gloved hand over the hiltless knife and, in one decisive motion, yanked it free. Jessica jerked and mumbled something, her brows twitching together for a moment but she stayed unconscious. Matt was moving with the speed and precision of an ER nurse, a threaded needle already in his other hand, this one free of its glove. He pinched the skin together and began stitching, his head quirked at an angle that probably made it easier for him to hear the wound or something. Satisfied he could handle it, she turned her attention to the hand held in hers.

It was a clean dislocation. If she were in a hospital they’d order at least an X-Ray, mostly just to rack up the price since any halfway competent nurse could feel there was no break. Taking a deep breath and angling herself futilely between Matt’s head and Jess’s hand, Claire wrapped her fingers around the thumb and shoved. Jessica gasped in pain, her eyelids fluttering momentarily, but she stayed out. She heard Matt take a deep breath behind her as she reached for the brace.

“Done,” Matt croaked a few minutes later, smoothing a crisp white bandage over his handiwork. He stood back, swaying worryingly and limping, leaning on his left side again. He cocked his head to the side. “How – how is she?”

Claire glanced up from taking Jessica’s pulse.

“Okay. I’ve taken bloods but it’ll be a little while before I get the results and we can see how much of that stuff they gave her. But she’s holding steady. She’ll be fine.”

Matt nodded, too jerkily. She could hear the relief in his breath.

“We should call, um, call Trish. She should know she’s okay.”

“Good idea.”

He patted his suit uncertainly, turning his head as though looking around the room. “I, uh, I don’t have my ph-phone. Do you have her – her number?”

“Matt.”

“Yeah?”

“Sit down.”

“What? No, no I’m fine, Claire. We need to call Trish, she’s worried. She should be here when Jess w-wakes up, she –”

Claire stepped forward and took his shaking hand in hers.

“I’ll call Trish after you let me look at you. C’mon, let’s go next door. Let Jessica rest.” Let you get some space from her heartbeat. Not that that’ll help.

“Claire, I –”

“Don’t argue,” she sighed, pulling him towards the door. He resisted at first, hesitating, his face turned to Jessica’s sleeping figure. But she tugged his arm and, almost numbly, he followed.

The shards of bulb cracked and popped under their shoes. Angela either didn’t hear or didn’t care. Claire locked the door to the neighbouring exam room after them.

“Suit off.”

With trembling hands, Matt pulled the helmet free.

“Shit,” she breathed, putting a hand on his cheek to turn him more into the light. “Shit, Matt.”

His eye was horribly bloodshot, the entire socket shadowed by a deep purple and black bruise. Tiny scratches leaked droplets of blood over the lid, a deeper cut bisecting his eyebrow.

“What the hell happened tonight?”

As soon as she let his face go to grab supplies, he hung his head, trying to hide his expression. He couldn’t hide that waver in his voice though.

“He ki-kidnapped her to get to me,” he whispered. He spoke as though the words were physically painful, as though they cut his tongue as they were formed. His breathing was too shallow, too quick. “He t-tortured her to f-find out where I w-was. Claire – I – I –”

Abandoning the packet of butterfly stitches, Claire swept back to the table and pulled Matt into a tight hug, holding his head against her chest.

“He hurt her, Claire. Because of me.”

“Do not blame yourself for this,” she said firmly, knowing he wouldn’t listen. “It’s not your fault what those psychopaths do, Matt. It’s not. It was Jessica’s decision to get you out of there, and I know she’d do the same again. Just like you would if it were her.”

His arms shook against her. He held her so gently, as though afraid to hurt her. Or maybe he was afraid to feel her pull away if he held on as tightly as he needed to. Too soon for it to be real, he sucked in a deep breath and pulled away from her.

“Thank you, Claire.”

She could never help smiling at that. No one else could say it so often and still sound so sincere. She snatched a cotton ball and doused it in antiseptic, then angled his head to clean the deep cut on his cheekbone.

“You look like shit, you know.”

His smile was a lie. It didn’t reach his eyes.

“I know.”

“But hey, you got to beat up one of those IGH bastards,” she said brightly. He winced as she turned the cotton ball onto his ruined eye. “That must’ve been satisfying.”

Matt scoffed half-heartedly. “Jessica saved me. I don’t know how she was even conscious. If she hadn’t been there … He called me Twelve and suddenly I was back there, like the last three months never happened.” His tone was dead and bare and far too matter-of-fact.

Claire’s heart trembled and she put her hand on his jaw, gently urging him to look up at her. His bloodshot eye stared right through her.

“You are not a number, Matt.”

He smiled a smile that was nothing but a front. “I know. Just, still lost a step, that’s all. Frustrating.”

“Losing a step, triggered to a severe trauma,” Claire drawled. “Potato potato.”

He exhaled with slightly more force that was necessary. In Matt’s world, a belly laugh.

“Well I’ve got some bad news for you,” she said bracingly, releasing his head and dumping the pink cotton ball aside.

“Oh?”

“Your eye’s looking pretty bad.” She heaved a dramatic sigh, trying to keep her lips straight. “I think you might be blind.”

There was a moment of dead silence. Then Matt snorted, his eyelids drifting briefly shut as the corner of his mouth hitched in a too-short smile.

“Oh no,” he deadpanned. “How will I go on.”

“Oh I’m sure you’ll muddle through somehow. How bad’s your head ringing right now? This’s got to be one hell of a concussion.”

“It’s fine.”

“Liar.”

He shrugged one shoulder and was too slow to hide the wince.

“What?”

“What?”

“Where else are you hurt?” she asked in a tone that murdered any burgeoning lies.

Matt sighed.

“Hip’s a little sore,” he admitted in a whisper.

“Suit off,” she said again, her tone stronger than his resistance. She’d intended to whistle when the torso came off, just to make him smile for a second, but all trace of levity vanished when she caught sight of his chest.

It was peppered with dozens of small, round bruises, and that was weird but none of them were too bad, though a particularly dark one covered half his collarbone. A large blotch of half-healed bruises painted his side and probably concealed at least a cracked rib, if not a broken one. Also not something to really worry about, this was Matt Murdock they were talking about.

What was worrying was the stark, undeniable evidence that Matt Murdock had not eaten anything in days. Jesus, no wonder he was still shaking.

“Matt,” she breathed, her tone caught between horror and admonishment.

“It’s not that bad,” he said quickly, covering the top of a bruise she hadn’t noticed yet on his hip. “Looks worse than it is.”

“Looks like you haven’t eaten since your rebirthday party is what it looks like.”

He stilled, his mouth open around an abandoned excuse.

“When was the last time you ate, Matt?” she asked, her arms folded, her tone inescapable. He deflated in front of her, his shoulders slumping, curling in on himself.

“Just a few days,” he muttered, not looking anywhere near her face.

“A few days,” she repeated dryly. She looked closer at his face, peering past the gory bruise and stubble to the haggard, hollowed truth behind. “And when’d you last sleep?”

“Claire –”

“When, Matt?”

He heaved a sigh, his brow twitching into a frown.

“I got about an hour or so a couple days ago.”

“And before that?”

His frown deepened. “A week?” He jutted his chin upwards defiantly, daring her to shout at him, to tell him he was a reckless idiot.

She didn’t. She just sighed, passing a tired hand through her hair and shifting her weight. She sat down beside him. His expression was still wary, waiting for her reaction.

“You said your hip hurt?” she prompted, her voice flat. Blinking in confusion, he pulled the waistband of his suit down, revealing a colony of burst blood vessels mired in a swamp of angry purple bruises, a shock of blood squatting like an island in the middle, right above the bone. She prodded it gently, frowning.

“Ouch.” He said nothing. “It’s not broken, far as I can tell. Might just be a bone bruise. Need an X-Ray to be sure. I’m guessing you don’t want that?”

He shook his head once, his mouth still firmly closed.

“Best I can give you is painkillers then. For all of ...” she gestured to his whole body, her eyes landing on another mark wherever they fell. “This.”

“Thanks, Claire.”

“Yeah, yeah. I’d also tell you you need to rest, to actually take it easy so your brain doesn’t turn to mush in there, but, like you’d listen, right?”

He frowned, ducking his head to hide his face.

“You know I can’t stop, Claire,” he said quietly, his voice dark as his black eye.

“Did I ask you to? I said rest, Matt, not stop. You can’t keep this up. You’re falling apart.”

That actually made him chuckle.

“I don’t find that funny,” she said coldly, watching the emptiness in his eyes.

“Don’t you?” He turned to her, his bloodshot eye making him look alien. Dangerous, almost. “You can only fall apart if you’re whole, Claire. I think I’m safe.”

        She stared at him, incredulous. Past the smirk, passed the flat, unfocused eyes. There used to be a light there, in those chocolate irises. Now she thought of it, she couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen it.

        She wondered if that made her a worse nurse or friend.

        With a sigh she reached out for him, wrapping an arm around his hunched shoulders, but he slipped off the table at her touch and reached for his suit. Hiding himself.

        “Matt, we can help,” she said quietly, her words a soft plea. “Let us.”

        He threw her an empty smile as he grabbed his helmet. “Jessica’s waking up.” He moved to the door, unable to bury his limp, unlocked it and yanked it open. He hesitated for a moment, half-looking back to her.

        “Thanks for your help, Claire. I’ll transfer some money over tomorrow.”

        She opened her mouth to object, but the door was already swinging closed behind him.

        Jessica wasn’t waking up.

 

Chapter Text

            He changed the lightbulb. Tidied the shards into the bin. It wasn’t enough, but, it was something. Claire checked on Jessica once more, readying a second bag of saline and informing Matt she’d called Trish. Which he’d heard, of course. Her heartbeat was guarded throughout, her tone clipped. He couldn’t blame her. But neither could he find the words to disperse the choking blackness compressing his chest. So he stayed silent. Accepted the ice pack she left for him. Waited for Jessica to stir.

            It was not his place to hold her hand. Hearing her heart beat steadily on should have been enough for him. But Bullseye’s taunts rang through his mind, that simpering giggle raking through him, shaking too many memories loose of their cages and the blackness intensified over Matt’s heart as though he’d been shot and he could. Not. Breathe.

            So he held her hand. Gently. His fingers curled under hers so he could feel the life beat through her, feel that perfect warmth seep into his icy bones and begin to thaw his frozen marrow. He held on lightly, letting the table support the weight of the brace. The tiny pressure of her slender fingers over his shaking ones was his connection to the air. Through her, he could breathe.

            If only a little.

            Mahoney would’ve picked Bullseye up by now. The drugs at the scene should be enough to hold him until Matt could tip Foggy off and ... figure out a way to prosecute him without everyone involved in the case learning of Matt’s abilities. Which was inevitable. As soon as those videos of his agonies were officially submitted into evidence, everyone would know.

            Matt leant into the ice pack pressed against his eye, relishing the biting cold. His head was still spinning, a dull, pulsing throb punching slowly through his mind with every heartbeat. He felt heavy, weighed down, crushed by all the things he couldn’t fix.

            Jessica’s fingers closed around his and he jumped, pulling the ice pack away and focusing back on her.

            “You look like shit,” she mumbled thickly, the words half slurred.

            “You, on the other hand, look better than I’ve ever seen you.” He beamed down at her, sweet relief washing through his every muscle, finally letting him relax.

            “Ha ha,” Jessica said dryly, pushing herself up on the table but keeping her fingers curled around his. “Very funny, Terminator.”

            His levity drained away with her sharp gasp as she moved.

            “How ... are you?” he asked quietly, trying to keep his expression neutral and probably not quite managing it.

            She huffed a breath. “Oh, you know. Alive.”

            Matt shifted uncomfortably on his stool and lay his ice pack over her injured hand. She curled her fingers a mite tighter around his.

            “Head ringing?” he asked, his voice little more than a breath.

            “Oh yeah.”

            “Should stop before long. Nauseous?”

            “Ugh. Check. Ugh.”

            “That’ll hang around a while. Should probably, um, just stay still for a bit. Trish’ll be here soon.”

            Jessica made a noise somewhere between a groan and a whimper.

            “She’s gonna be so pissed.”

            “Yeah. Sorry.”

            Her hair whispered against her shoulder as she turned to face him.

            “What’re you apologising for? Saving me?” She snorted, then winced, growling at her leg. “How’d you even find me?”

            “I heard you.” Screaming.

            “Damn. From your apartment?”

            He shook his head. “Trish called me when you were taken. I’m, uh, I’m sorry it took me so long to find –”

            “Shut up, Matt.” He frowned at her. Why was her tone so soft? “Thanks. That freak was ...” A shudder quivered through her. “I’m glad you found me.”

            He nodded, ducking his chin to hide his no doubt poor attempt at a smile. “Me too.”

            A very awkward silence pushed between them for a minute. Jessica was brave enough to break it.

            “Hey, look, I’m sorry. For what I said in your apartment. I didn’t mean it. Well,” she amended, “I didn’t mean all of it. I shouldn’t have been so harsh.”

            Matt blinked. “Um, you –” he frowned, confused. “You were right, Jess. I was being an asshole, I shouldn’t’ve –”

            “Oh my god, Matt, just accept the damn apology! We were both assholes.”

            “I – sure, Jessica.” He tried another smile. Shyly tightened his grip on her fingers. “We’re good.”

            “Good. Now, when can I get out of here?”

            He knew that was meant to make him smile. It was the perfect out, diffuse the awkwardness of the moment with a quip about the wrath of Claire. But he couldn’t bring himself to play along. He was running out of air again, and he didn’t know why. His muscles were itching, needing to be moving, to be away. To go back and make sure the NYPD got Bullseye, to go back out and find Elektra, to ... not be here, making small talk with the woman who was tortured because of him. Shame boiled through his blood with inescapable ferocity and if he didn’t move now it would leech through his skin and infect Jessica, drag her down into this crushing darkness –

            He stood up, the stool scraping in his haste, whipping his hand away from Jessica’s.

            “Um, I’ll – I’ll ask Claire. Just, uh, hang on a s-sec.”

            He snatched his gloves and helmet as he near-ran for the door, cramming the latter onto his head and breathing a little easier under its cover. Pretending he couldn’t hear Jessica try to stop him. Claire and Trish were in the hall, both startled by his sudden appearance. He gestured awkwardly towards Jessica.

            “She’s asking for you,” he mumbled, hesitating for a moment before stepping past them, heading for the door through which he’d carried Jess.

            “Matt, wait – I want to,” Trish began, but he was already gone. He still heard the quiet “thank you” before she rushed into the exam room, but the words were meaningless.

            He had done nothing but rectify his own damn mistake. He should’ve known IGH wouldn’t leave Jessica alone – they had already attacked her apartment, why in God’s name had he thought that would be the end of it just because they had breached their headquarters? He was such an idiot, he should’ve known they would come for her. That they’d want revenge. They could come for Danny next, he was easy to identify, he was constantly on the news. Luke too. He needed to warn them.

            They had sacrificed so much for him. Risked so much. And for what? To save his life. As though that were worth anything. As though he was worth anything. No. No, he couldn’t keep doing this. Couldn’t keep up this charade of recovery, this lie of acceptance with all that had happened.

He could not entertain his heart’s pointless desire to be around her, to hold her, be held by her. Jessica couldn’t fix him, and worse, he would only hurt her. Again. Worse. He needed to stay away from her. From all of them. None of them could explain any of this.

            No. The one person who could do that was somewhere in the city. He was done waiting. Done hoping. It was time to act. Time to find her.

            Elektra.

Chapter Text

 

            The galaxies were back. Shifting and winking in shades of blackness, unfocused splotches of light twinkling kindly down at him. There was no sound to it, not really, but he could imagine a soft humming, the echo of his favourite memory, the one he wasn’t allowed remember. It was so much easier to breathe in the galaxies.

            It was getting hot. Really hot. Which meant he was waking up. And that was bad. If he was seeing the galaxies, then he was in one of the labs. And if he was in the lab, on a table, seeing galaxies, then that meant he had messed up.

            Badly.

            And when he messed up badly he got hurt. A lot. Because he deserved it. But ... he wanted to stay with the twinkling ghost stars. He clung to them, desperately. The fear was waking in his gut, a huge, black beast with elongated claws that ripped and tore through his insides, its fangs closing around his throat, gnawing on his windpipe so he couldn’t breathe –

            Bullseye opened his eyes. He was strapped down to a reinforced table, a pressurised oxygen mask covering half his face, feeding him a steady, carefully calculated concentration of breathable air. His lungs expanded and contracted with strict regularity. The beast tried to quicken his breathing but the mask would not allow it so his lungs bucked and strained inside him, trying to suck in more air and succinctly denied anything but their regimented ration.

            His arms were shaking, making the needle stuck into his elbow quiver and jiggle in his flesh and that felt almost worse than the burning pressure coursing into his blood. The air stung his face, biting into the open cuts on his forehead, his cheeks, his broken nose, his fractured jaw. Something heavy was on his chest, knives slicing over and over into his ribs and his left wrist was hot and swollen under the manacle. The scars on his ankles rubbed mercilessly against the shackles with every frightened spasm and he could almost feel the old wounds reopen, feel the blood oozing slick and sticky against his skin.

            Unable to stop himself, he let out a low, terrified whimper.

            “So you’re awake, are you?” an unfamiliar voice said moments before an old man with a shadow of grey hair hanging like clouds over his ears leaned over the table, passing into Bullseye’s line of sight. “We thought you’d be out another day at this rate.” The man looked up to talk to someone else. “Record that. Subject One wakes on day three at –” he consulted a watch Bullseye couldn’t see – “five-eighteen AM. Noticeable increase in reaction time to this strain of regenerative hormones.”

            Tears eroded the edges of Bullseye’s vision, then ran away down his cheeks, stinging his wounds as though laughing that they got to be free while he was stuck there.

            He really messed up. Now he had to be punished.

            “Alright, One, I’m going to remove the mask now. Try and hold still for me.”

            Bullseye nodded once and clenched his every muscle, doing his very very best to keep utterly motionless. It didn’t really work because he was shaking but that only made him try harder. The mask jerked as the strap was loosened and anticipation coiled like a spring in his gut. The rim pulled on his cheeks as it was peeled off and beautiful, delicious, warm, fresh air exploded around him. He gulped great eager mouthfuls of it, his throat rasping with his need as his lungs finally took back control. The scientists were saying something but he couldn’t hear them over his own frenzied gasps. Tears were coursing over his cheeks now, stinging the cuts, and, quite abruptly, the removal of the mask had nothing to do with why he couldn’t breathe. He wanted to curl over on his side and hug his legs to his chest, to ground his forehead against his knees, but he couldn’t even turn his head. The strap across his forehead was too tight, the circular metal notch in the centre rubbing against the matching scar on his forehead and that more than anything, forced him back into stillness.

            He didn’t want that scar opening up again. He didn’t want that scar at all.

            The old scientist consulted the file in his hands, his glasses winking light like a camera flash. He glanced up at his captive audience.

            “So, we’ll have a few more tests to run before we can release you, but Dr Batchelder wants to talk to you first.” He glanced back to the file, looking bored. “Guess that means a coffee break.”

            With an absent minded nod, the scientist flipped the file closed and stepped out of sight. Bullseye shifted uncomfortably, straining futilely against the restraints. More tears slid down from the corners of his eyes and he wished he could follow them.

            Hinges squeaked as a door opened. The lock clicked noisily shut. Another man in a whitecoat stepped into view, this one younger, with close-cropped black hair and a matching beard that was too neat. Bullseye blinked his vision clear and tried to keep the whimpers in his chest. He couldn’t.

            “You’ve been very naughty,” Dr Batchelder greeted, disappointment dripping like blood from his tone. “You abandoned your mission.”

            “N-n-no –”

            “Yes. You did. Mr Sawyer told you to stay away from the girl and you went after her anyway.”

            “I didn’t mean –”

            “How many subjects are still at large?”

            “E-e-eight.”

            “Is Subject Twelve one of them?”

            “Yes.” His voice was so slight now, terror choking the sound away so the word ghosted from his lips on the shadow of a breath.

            “Do you know why this mission is so important?” Dr Batchelder asked mildly, but there was an undercurrent to his tone that scared Bullseye. “Why we chose you for it?”

            “B-because I’m the best,” Bullseye said, his voice trembling and uncertain.

            “Because we needed it dealt with quickly,” he corrected. “And neatly. And we thought, clearly mistakenly, that you were up to such a task.”

            “I am! I am, I promise, I j-just –”

            “You disobeyed a direct order and were almost found by the police. If our agent had not intercepted the tip you would be in a hospital now and everything we do would be at risk, wouldn’t it?”

            “Yes, sir.”

            “Did you want to go to a hospital?”

            “N-no, sir.” The tears had entered his voice now, making it thick and warbling.

            “You remember what happened the last time you were in one, don’t you?”

            “Y-y-yes, sir.”

            “And yet you let yourself be beaten. You let yourself be vulnerable.”

            “I’m sorry!” he wailed, “I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean it! I was just playing, I –”

            “Now is not the time for playing!” Batchelder snapped, slapping a hand down on the edge of Bullseye’s table and the vibrations zinging through it made his skin crawl. “You know what happened to the headquarters! Our entire operation is at risk and you would jeopardize us further?” He heaved a sigh, rubbing a hand over his forehead and stepping closer so Bullseye had to strain his eyes to see him. “After everything we have done for you. I thought you would be grateful, truly I did. I thought you cared for us as we do for you. I thought we could rely on you.”

            Bullseye heaved a great sniff and closed his eyes. “You can, I do, I promise. I made a mistake, I’m sorry. I’m sorry!”

            “Who makes mistakes, Subject One?”

            Ice rippled through his entire body, shuddering along his spine, stilling his muscles with freezing certainty. His voice steadied, became lower and lost all lilt of emotion.

            “The imperfected.”

            “Are you imperfected, Subject One?”

            “No. I am perfected.”

            “Who made you perfected, Subject One?”

            “IGH.”

            “Who made you whole, Subject One?”

            “IGH.”

            “Who made you safe, Subject One?”

            “IGH.”

            “Who do you serve, Subject One?”

            “IGH.”

            Batchelder nodded. “Good. Then we will reperfect you. And when we are done, what will you do?”

            “Complete the mission,” Bullseye said, his voice steady and assured once more, the tears drying with the blood on his cheeks.

            “How?”

            “Quickly and efficiently.”

            “Will you play?”

            “No.”

            “Good.” Batchelder’s arm blocked the harsh lights of the ceiling as he reached for the strap anchoring Bullseye’s forehead to the table. “Then we can get back to work.” The strap pulled on his skin as it was peeled away and for a moment the two round scars left by the small metal plate felt as raw as they had the first time he’d thrashed the wound open.

            Batchelder chuckled. “I see why you like to be called Bullseye. That –” he tapped the scar with one finger and Bullseye flinched internally, keeping his expression carefully blank – “looks just like a dart board. I’ll send the boys in for you in a minute.”

            Bullseye didn’t turn his head to watch the doctor leave. He stared directly into the brightest light, the one right above his head. He could see the splintered shafts of strobing whiteness, shadowed with half-seen rainbows, bursting out like the north star.

            He hated being called Bullseye. He hated that scar. He hated being punished. He hated Twelve. This was all his fault. Twelve had gotten him too excited to play, Twelve had made Jessie so much fun, Twelve had tricked him into losing. It was Twelve’s fault he was back here. He should be out killing Thirteen and Eighteen and Nineteen and Twenty-Four and all the others.

            Twelve made him mess up. Twelve made them have to hurt him. To make sure he was still pure. Still loyal. Still Bullseye. Well. He’d make sure Twelve paid for all of that. Even if he had to do it the quick way. The boring way.

            He lay perfectly still on the table, his breathing measured and shallow. A single tear escaped his composure, tickling his ear as it passed.

            He just wanted to play Xbox.

Chapter Text

            Matt Murdock was an asshole. No, check that – Matthew Murdock was the biggest fucking asshole in the whole of New York City, and feel free to take a second to appreciate the magnitude of that achievement. Three days he’d been gone. Three days. And even Jessica freaking Jones – Private Investigator extraordinaire – hadn’t a hope of tracking down the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen if he didn’t want to be found. Which he didn’t. You couldn’t exactly sneak up on a guy who could hear your heartbeat a mile away.

            And that was so fucking annoying.

            He hadn’t been home. Hadn’t returned anyone’s calls, hadn’t so much as texted. Which Jessica assumed he could do since Nelson was bitching about him not doing it. Nelson and Page were going spare – learning the Hand had also survived that damn day was making everything worse. What if they had him? What if that zombie bitch had caught up with him and decided she wasn’t done playing with her favourite toy? What if he’d gone and offed himself and they just had to wait for some jogger to find his corpse washed up on the banks of the Hudson?

            It wasn’t like she didn’t get it. She knew what he was doing. Or she thought she did. He was back on his moronic martyr bullshit, trying to keep everyone safe by throwing himself under whatever bus was oncoming and completely ignoring anyone else’s say in the matter. Or how much it fucking hurt for him to just up and –

            Jessica took a long, slow breath. She reached for the bottle of Jack and poured a few fingers into her glass. Then just filled the damn thing and took a hearty swig.

            “You’ll find him, Jess,” Malcolm said soothingly from the couch. She didn’t look up.

            “Find who?”

            “You know who. Matt’ll turn up.”

            “I don’t care what he does.” Asshole wants to run out on me then I’m not chasing after him.

            “Yes you do.”

            “I’m working, Malcolm.”

 “C’mon Jess, you know him. Where would he go?”

            “It’s not about where he’s gone,” she snapped, returning her attention to the police report Misty had ‘lent’ her. “It doesn’t matter where. He knows this city like no one else – we could look for him for a week on one block and never find him. It’s about him wanting to be gone. So there’s no point even looking!” She slapped her laptop shut, remembering a second too late to be gentle and the case dented where her fingers had made contact. She slumped back in the chair and hoped the screen wasn’t cracked, but she sure as hell wasn’t gonna check that now.

            “Jess,” Malcolm began in that tone he’d used at that stupid support group. That overly patient, compassionate tone that made her want to barf.

            “Don’t say it, Malcolm,” she sighed, but of course, he ignored her.

            “It’s not your fault.”

            “Then who’s fault is it?” she snapped, snatching her glass off the table and relishing the burn as the amber liquid slid down her throat. She managed not to shatter the tumbler as she returned it to the desk but it was a near thing. “The one thing – the one thing that was keeping him on the edge was knowing the rest of us were safe from those bastards! Then that dipshit goes and gets the jump on me and freaking Matt has to save me from the guy who almost killed him like eight times in that place. I’m such an asshole,” she finished quietly, leaning forward on the desk and hating herself.

            “You’re not an asshole, Jess,” Malcolm said softly. “And it wasn’t your fault Bullseye got you. He drugged you, Jess, you couldn’t’ve –”

            “I could’ve gotten myself out of there faster,” she griped, glaring at the brace on her right hand. She probably didn’t even need the damn thing anymore but she couldn’t quite bring herself to take it off. It was her badge of shame. The reason Matt ran away.

            “Jess, you dislocated your own thumb,” Malcolm said, incredulous. “To save Matt. I mean, if you can’t see how badass that is then you’re an asshole.”

            Damnit. She couldn’t quite stop her mouth quirking in a smile at that. It didn’t last.

            “Besides, this is the first day you’ve been out of bed,” Malcolm continued in that irritatingly reasonable tone. “Those serums really messed you up.”

            The storm cloud that was her chest tightened. Another reason Matt’d left. He couldn’t bear the reminder. Why couldn’t Bullseye’ve just used his damn knives on her? Ugh.

            “He’ll turn up, Jess. He just needs time. Probably needs to feel like he’s doing something.”

            “Then he should help Danny track down the Hand, not go off alone with a concussion and a broken helmet!”

            “Hey, I’m not saying he’s being smart. But,” he added, his tone adopting a cautious lilt, “he is acting kinda like you.”

            Jessica threw Malcolm a disgusted glare.

            “Ex-cuse me?”

            “C’mon. You disappeared on Trish, remember?”

            It took a supreme effort of will not to chuck her stapler right into Malcolm’s stupid face.

            “That was not the same. She was actually in danger. Matt’s just being an asshole.”

            To her annoyance, Malcolm chuckled.

            “What?” she snapped, scowling harder at him.

            “Nothing.”

            “Oh just say it, Q-tip.”

            “Nah it’s just – it’s kinda nice. Seeing you like this,” he added, raising a hand to quell her aghast retort. “I just mean it’s nice to see you caring so much about someone, y’know? I haven’t seen you this worried about anyone since ... Huh, I’ve never seen you worry this much. About anyone. Not like this.”

            “Oh god!”

            “Jess, it’s okay,” Malcolm said quickly, getting to his feet and ambling over to lean against the far end of the desk. “You guys work pretty well together. In a ... dysfunctional sort of way,” he added, smiling as though he were actually being funny.

            “You have ten seconds to get out of my apartment before I punch you back into yours.”

            His stupid smile grew. “Hey, I’m just sayin’.”

            “Well just say it somewhere else.” Malcolm raised his hands in mock surrender and grabbed his coat from the couch as he headed for the door.

            “He’ll turn up, Jess,” he called confidently to her as he closed the door.

            “Go to hell!” she shouted back. She reopened her laptop. The screen was still intact. Phew.

            She clicked out of the police report, too pissed off to care about Murdock or his crazy ex-girlfriend. He wanted to disappear then fine. She wasn’t gonna run after him like some teen romcom bimbo. Not like he was even hers to chase.

            That thought really shouldn’t make her heart pang.

            Jessica gave herself a tight shake and opened a new window. She had more important things to worry about anyway. That asshat had given her some fresh leads for her own case, and after two days of digging, it was time to start investigating. IGH’s oldest branch had been the hardest to connect to the shiny new skyscraper currently full of rotting corpses. It was an old clinic downtown, masquerading as a Hail Mary for anyone poor or desperate enough to need medical aid who didn’t have insurance. Kinda like Claire’s place, only with more evil. It was the perfect hunting ground for vulnerable loners no one would miss or look for. She and Trish had dismissed it during their first investigation, assuming it was one of the more legit fronts of the larger conglomerate, but renewed tenacity revealed the entire block was owned by the same company, under different names and shell corps. Everything else on that block was the lie, and it was no coincidence that a garbage disposal service and mortuary shared the same premises. Sacrifices walk in through the shelter, and leave in boxes. Jessica had to admit it was smart. She would never have put it all together if Bullbutt hadn’t let slip about playing Xbox upstairs when he did well.

            She had nearly everything she and Trish needed to finally get some goddamn answers. Excitement coiled around a burning coal of fear in her gut. If she played her cards right, this time next week she might know how she became such a freak. Maybe even why, too.

            No more distractions. No more getting blindsided. She was done waiting. Time to crack this goddamn case already.

Chapter Text

            Matt could barely breathe. His lungs stung with every effort. A compressing weight surrounded them, relentlessly crushing the air from his reach. Searing pain stabbed into his side every time his chest attempted to expand, exploding along the burning fault lines of his broken ribs. Nausea roiled through him like storm waves against the harbour, oscillating in contradiction to his spinning head. Exhaustion clung to him like weighted water, trembling through his muscles and slowing his mind with a dense fog not even his aching hunger could fully dispel.

            His suit wasn’t doing much better. He’d tried patching the ruined eye socket with duct tape, but after two – three? – days in the suit it was starting to peel off and rub against his eye. If he were more alert it would drive him insane, but he was duly distracted by the deep cut bleeding from his side, right over the lowest rib. He couldn’t remember when it’d happened – maybe just a few hours ago. Maybe yesterday. It’d stopped bleeding. Mostly. The swatch of Danny’s shirt he’d stuffed through the split in the armour had soaked up most of it. Although, he wasn’t sure he’d feel it trickling down over his hip anymore.

            God, he was tired. He slumped against the ladder of a water tank, then promptly slid to the ground as his legs gave out. The rungs bit into his back but it was an easy discomfort to ignore. He let his head fall back against the metal, his wheezing breath oddly echoed in his ears.

            He still hadn’t found her. He’d tracked down the heroin the Hand was smuggling, even found a few runners, but not her. She was a ghost. Just the memory of a scent that once filled his mind. Elektra didn’t want to be found. And Elektra always got what she wanted. She took what she wanted.

            He couldn’t keep this up. He needed rest. And stitches. The thought of returning to his loft lost all comfort as he remembered the mess that was waiting for him there. He’d run into Danny in the same warehouse that hid the drugs and he’d made it clear there wasn’t a single person who wasn’t thoroughly pissed off with Matt Murdock. Not that he could blame them. But the idea of dealing with their anger, their disappointment ... It pressed him further into the concrete of the roof, warning him to stay away. Escaping Danny had been hard enough.

            But he couldn’t stay out here forever. Not unless he wanted to make the city his grave. For real, this time. It made him sick how tempting that thought was. How sweet it would be to just sit here, wherever here was, until the coldness took him. Pull out his makeshift bandage and let his blood seep away. It wouldn’t be a bad way to die, not really. He’d just fall asleep. And never wake up. Then everything would be still. Quiet. There might not even be any pain. He couldn’t remember what it was like to not hurt. He wasn’t sure he ever had.

            But he was a Murdock. And he had promises to keep. So he needed to get up. Get home. Stop entertaining stupid ideas.

            Matt heaved a rattling sigh. He was such an idiot. What was he thinking? Four months. He’d spent four months in IGH suffocating under the agony of his solitude, praying to hear his friends’ voices, dreaming of their scents surrounding him. Any moment of solace he had had held the memorised cadence of their heartbeats. How many times had he imagined the warmth of Foggy’s arm around his shoulders? How many hours had he spent struggling to remember the pressure of Karen’s hand on his arm? And by the miracle of Jessica Jones, he had been liberated from his own private Hell. Jessica had brought him back to life. Back to his friends. Back to his city. They hadn’t been angry with him for choosing Elektra. Somehow, they hadn’t even judged him. They never stopped treating him like a person. Like someone worthy of their love.

            And how had he repaid them? By running away. By repeating the same mistake that had started all of this.

            Anger sparked deep inside his chest and he clung to it. This was not who he wanted to be. God, if his father could see him now, weak and pathetic on some roof in Hell’s Kitchen, he’d be sick. Gritting his teeth on his resolve, Matt pulled himself to his feet with a moan, keeping one arm pressed over the cut on his side. He swayed for a moment, one gloved hand clenched around the ladder until the world wavered back into focus.

            Which is why he didn’t instantly register the sudden scent of lotus and embers.

            “Hello, Matthew.”

            He turned slowly, idly wondering if he was hallucinating again. But of course he wasn’t. His memory could not summon such a perfect imitation of that voice. God, when she said his name. It was a caress to his ringing ears, an embrace to his ragged mind.

            “Elektra,” he gasped, the word somehow snaking its way from his lips without pain.

            “It’s good to see you.”

            The taste of Stick’s blood washed over his tongue. He felt his heart waver into stillness once more and the old man’s dying breath came like a punch through his mind. The deafening concussion punched through the miles of stone and her lips were his air and he was going to die but for once he did not feel alone and her hands were holding him together. And this is what living feels like.

            “I’ve been looking for you,” he said, his voice wary. Distant. He felt almost paralysed. Torn between a desperate desire to run to her, to gather her in his arms and let her scent blow away everything that had happened since the bomb went off ... and to turn his back on her forever.

            “I know. You’ve been causing trouble in my drug ring. That’s why I came.”

            “That’s why?” He laughed humourlessly. “Your drug ring. Wow, you really have become the Hand’s puppet, haven’t you?”

            He couldn’t hear her heartbeat, but her breathing changed. He could feel her bristle at his words.

            “I am nobody’s puppet, Matthew.”

            “Like hell you’re not! After everything, everything you said, everything Stick trained you for, you're letting yourself be used by them! Sounds like a puppet to me!”

            “I am using them, Matthew,” she said evenly. “I am the Black Sky. Stick was too much a fool to understand what that meant. There is no going back for me. The Hand is the only place I can belong. I want to be there. They accept me.”

            A sneering smile contorted his lips. “You keep telling yourself that, Elektra.” He half turned away from her, raising one hand in a futile gesture before facing her again. “Why are you here? After all this time, why now?”

            “You fought my men. They told me they stabbed you.”

            He shook his head. “Yeah. So?”

            “So I came to heal you. Of the poison. Although,” she added slowly, “you don’t look –”

            “I don’t need your help, Elektra,” he almost spat. “Danny Rand burnt it away.”

            “The Iron Fist?”

            “Yeah.”

            “He has been ... annoying.”

            “Yeah, well. That’s Danny.”

            There was a pause.

            “I just wanted to make sure you were safe.”

            Matt threw his head back and laughed.

            “Oh, that is such bullshit.”

            She took a step closer, anger spiking her tone. “I didn’t want you to die!”

            “Well that’s rich!” he shouted, any restraint he was clinging to evaporating. He pulled his helmet free and let it fall to the ground, quickly returning his arm to his side as the wound snarled at the movement. “You didn’t give a shit about that under Midland Circle, did you? Or when I was trapped in that place for months!” He stormed towards her until they were face to face, all pain forgotten in his rage. She held her ground as he thundered all his furies into the scented void where her heartbeat should be.

            “How did I get there, Elektra, hm? I was with you – I was safe – and then, what? You left? Or you brought me to their door? Maybe you didn’t sell me to them, but you sure as hell could’ve saved me! Where were you!”

            Her hand appeared on his chest, forcing him back. Her voice was venom and steel and his anger was not a strong enough shield against it.

            “I did save you, Matthew! I dragged you out of that pit and I left you where you would be safe! I made sure of it.”

            “Well that worked out great, didn’t it,” he shot back, his fists trembling almost as violently as his heart. “You still left me, Elektra. If you had stayed – like I did, for you – then none of that would’ve happened.” He heaved a heavy breath that made him wince as his ribs burned. “I chose you,” he whispered, his face angled to the ground. “And you left me. Again.” The last word rode a tired sigh into the night and fell, honest and unimportant, to the cold concrete at her feet.

            His head was ringing too loudly for him to get a clear sense of her. Her breath rushed out of her nose with irritated force. There was no heat to her presence, no heartbeat. He could perceive her only as an absence. A void around which the air curved and sung.

            “I ...”

            He cocked his head to the side, puzzled by the sudden softness of her tone. He raised his eyebrows expectantly, prompting her to continue.

            “You were dead.”

            Matt blinked. His heart faltered in his chest.

            “What?”

            “In the explosion,” she said, almost defensively. “You died. Your heart stopped. The dust of the dragon bones saved me but you ...” Her voice faltered. “You were gone.”

            Matt frowned. “No. No, I couldn’t’ve, I –”

            “You died,” she repeated, her voice firm and steady and Matt felt he should be falling. “One of Shao Lao’s ribs protected us from the worst of the collapse but you were still hurt. Badly.” Her voice splintered for a moment before she wrenched it back under control. “And there was no air down there. Only dust. You suffocated. And you’d lost too much blood. You died, Matthew.”

            His whole body was shaking. This couldn’t be, it couldn’t, she was lying she –

            “I cannot die,” Elektra continued, her voice adopting that odd, emotionless quality she always used when she broke his heart. “I am the Black Sky. And the dragon’s bones were in the air, pulverised. It revived me. And I saw you ...” For the first time, he could almost hear tears in her voice. “You were still reaching out for me. But you didn’t wake up. You were gone.”

            “Then – how – I –?”

            “Madame Gao. She and Murakami survived too – the dust, Matthew,” she added, answering his horrified expression. “She made a deal with me. We were all trapped down there. I was the only one strong enough to get us out, but I had no reason to bring them with me. But she told me she could save you.”

            “No. No, no, no.” How could he still be standing? The world had vanished, he was plummeting through an endless abyss, he was drowning and burning and frozen and –

            Her hand alighted on the side of his face. He took a shaking breath and leaned into the pressure, forcing himself to focus only on the feel of her skin on his, grounding himself in the reality of her warmth against his icy cheek. It was a balm to the storm ripping him apart.

            “I did it, Matthew,” she whispered, stepping closer to him. Close enough to kiss. “She told me how. I brought you back.”

            He shook his head, unable to comprehend this. “I – I’m not – I should be dead, I –”

            “No, sweet Matthew,” she cooed. “No. You should be alive and strong and happy. And free. I couldn’t let you die, Matthew. You didn’t deserve it.”

            He stumbled backwards, away from her. He was going to be sick.

            “I couldn’t heal you fully. You were so broken. So I brought you somewhere you could heal. To your old home, Matthew, the orphanage. Sister Maggie, she took care of you. But I had to leave.”

            He should be dead. He had died. This explained everything. Everything. He was meant to die in that hole. God, forgive me. I didn’t want this.

            “I made a deal with Gao.” Elektra was still talking. As though anything else mattered. As though he could understand a word she said. “She taught me how to bring you back and in exchange I let her live. But she understands the Black Sky, Matthew. There was so much I hadn’t learned yet, and I knew, I knew I could not stay in New York.” She was at his side and he didn’t remember hearing her footsteps. Her hand was on his shoulder, the shoulder the guards in IGH had wrenched from its socket over and over.

            “I could not be with you, Matthew. No matter how much I wanted to. I am not human. Not anymore.”

            “Am I?” he gasped, searching the darkness for any hint of light.

            She took his face in both her hands and he closed his eyes as her scent rolled over him. He could taste her lips, feel the air curve around them as she spoke, her voice as low and tender and fierce as that night in Fogwell’s Gym.

            “Of course, Matthew. You are the most human person I have ever known. The most precious.”

            He shook his head again but she held him fast. “I know it’s a lot to take in, but this changes nothing. You are who you’ve always been, Matthew. What happened under Midland Circle doesn’t change that.”

            “Of course it does! You brought me back from the dead, Elektra, how does that not change everything! That’s why, don’t you see? That’s why I was there!”

            “No.” The fury in the single syllable anchored him. “No, Matthew. That was Murakami. He found out where I’d hidden you and he stole you away. He sent you to IGH, Matthew. And I swear,” she tightened her grip on his face, “I swear I did not know. I would never have allowed anyone to hurt you, Matthew, you must believe that. As soon as I found out what had happened to you, I ... I fixed it.”

            “What?”

            “I killed Murakami. Permanently. And I slaughtered every single person in that godforsaken building. I got your vengeance for you, Matthew.”

            Matt stilled. Even his breath eased. Her voice carried the same irrevocable bite that crippled him that night with Roscoe Sweeney. That same certainty, cold and bloodthirsty. He’d never heard it laid so bare before now.

            “You what?”

            “I killed them, Matthew. Everyone who hurt you. I made sure they suffered.”

            Moving slowly, Matt raised his hands to both of hers and gently pried them from his face. He held her wrists against his chest and did his best to smile down at her.

            “Elektra. No.”

            “No? Matthew, I saw what they did to you! They could never be allowed to live after that!”

            He shook his head. “No.”

            She wrenched her hands from his and stepped back. “I protected you,” she almost hissed. “I erased all their files, you’re safe now. Because of me. They can’t come after you.”

            “They already did,” he said quietly, suddenly too exhausted to be angry. “They sent someone after me and he almost killed my friend. The same woman you left to die by the docks. You didn’t save me, Elektra. She did.”

            This time he caught the tapping of her heels against the concrete as she stalked away.

            “I don’t know what I was expecting,” she said bitterly, her voice turned away from him. “I don’t know why I came here.”

            He did. “To say goodbye.”

            “Yes.”

            “You’re not leaving the Hand.”

            “No. I’m leaving with them. They serve me now.”

            “You’ve become what you always hated.” The words felt like a defeat. They would’ve scored fresh scars along his heart if he could still feel it. “What you died to defy.”

            The air whistled as she whirled back to him. “No! I am what I have always been too afraid to be! Stick, that bastard, he told me to fear it, to hate it! But he was wrong. This power, ha! You’ve no idea. It’s beyond anything I could ever have asked for, Matthew, it’s more than anyone else could withstand. I am the true Black Sky, and that is exactly who I want to be.” The pride in her tone should have hurt, but he couldn’t feel anything anymore. Even his ribs were silent.

            “And I know that is something you will never understand. You still fear the power inside you. You always will.”

            “Some things should be feared,” he whispered, wondering how he was still on his feet.

            “And some shouldn’t.”

            A heavy silence fell between them, pushing their hearts away from each other. For the first time since that night at that fancy party, Matt did not feel that gravitational pull towards her. He felt ... out of orbit. Untethered.

            Lost.

            “We’re leaving New York,” she said matter-of-factly, shattering the silence with supreme indifference. “Another part of my deal with Gao. The Hand lives, but not here.”

            “Why?”

            She hesitated. When she spoke, her voice was softer. “Because some things are worth the sacrifice.”

            He tried to smile at that. Took a step towards her.

            “You did save me once,” he said, his voice low and reverent. “Remember?”

            “Pretty hard to forget, actually.”

            He reached out to where her hand should be and her fingers met his.

            “I never got to thank you for that.”

            “You never had to. I ... It was right. I would never have become me if I hadn’t loved you, Matthew,” she said in a rush, her voice low and fervent. “And I will always love you. For that.”

            He knew he should say it back. Somehow he just didn’t have the energy. So he smiled instead.

            “You gave me back my memories,” Elektra whispered, her lips so close to his now. “I was lost until I found you again.”

            “Losing you was like losing part of myself,” he breathed back, his eyes closed, his fingers tightening around hers. He leaned his head forward until his forehead touched hers. They stood together for a long moment, the space between their hearts filling with all that did not need saying.

            “I think,” she began, her brow furrowing against his. “I think we did it, Matthew. We both ... we died together. In that cave. We lived together. We will always have that.”

            He nodded against her. Returned the pressure as she squeezed his hands. Kissed her back when her lips found his.

            Then she was gone.

            Matthew Murdock stood on a roof in Hell’s Kitchen until all trace of lotus and embers had faded from the night air. Knowing it would never return.

            Then, with a deep breath, he turned his back on Elektra Natchios and headed home, his mind numb, his body throbbing.

            His heart hollow.

Chapter Text

 

            Karen was out of patience. Matt had to come home sometime, and she would be waiting to yell at him when he did. Three freaking days and he hadn’t so much as texted to let them know he was still alive. What an asshole.

            An understandable asshole, though. Claire had told her and Foggy what happened with Jessica and that IGH psycho. Karen couldn’t be so sure that she wouldn’t have run away from it all if it were her. But then, she always ran away. Matt was meant to be the one to stand and fight.

            Which was why she couldn’t stay angry at him for more than a few minutes at a time. Anxiety constantly eroded ire until she was left with a seething gut of worry. Matt tried so hard to be okay for her and Foggy she forgot how deeply he was still suffering. How recently he had been kept in a cage and starved and beaten beyond all memory of kindness. He still tensed sometimes when she touched him, so she’d made it her mission to make up for the months of solitude with as much physical affection as she could coax from her own insecurities. Clearly it hadn’t been helping, at least not as much as she had hoped.

            Her phone rang out for the third time that hour and she slipped it into her pocket under a fresh wave of anger. From what Claire had said he was in no condition to be out on the streets alone. Fighting god knew who. Not to mention a madman had been sent to kill him.

            It took her a minute to dig the spare key out of her handbag. She unlocked the door without bothering to knock, not really believing Matt would be back yet. She latched it behind her out of habit and stopped dead in the hallway.

            There was blood on the wall between the stairs and the bathroom door. Blood that definitely had not been there yesterday when she and Foggy had tried playing one of Matt’s favourite records as loud as it would go to lure him home.

            “Matt?” she called, fear wavering through the word. “Matt, are you there?”

            No answer. Swallowing her trepidation, Karen pulled her keys back out of her bag and wrapped her fingers securely around the cylinder of mace and moved forward. The bathroom door was ajar and she could make out something dark on the floor. Her heart pounding in her throat, she pushed it open, tensed to fight, her lungs ready to scream.

            The black thing on the floor was Matt’s suit. She caught a brief glimpse of blood shining wetly against the dark armour, and of the shattered eye guard in the helmet, a few fine cracks sprawling like a spiderweb from the socket. Then her gaze moved to the side and everything froze.

            Matt was lying in the bath with his eyes closed, wearing nothing but his underwear, his ears under the waterline which was deep crimson with his blood. Wispy tendrils of burgundy hung half curled through the water, their tails just brushing Matt’s skin, anchoring themselves in his pain.

            For one eternal moment, Karen stared. Horrified. She barely registered the heart-wrenching evidence of whatever battles had left him in this state. She didn’t even fully acknowledge how much blood he must have lost to make the whole bath so darkly red. For one horrible second Karen couldn’t see anything past Matt’s closed eyes and the deathly stillness of the water.

            Then a lazy ripple appeared over his chest like a tiny tsunami and his brow twitched minutely. Without fully intending to Karen found herself on her knees by the tub, her hands crashing like bombs through the water to pull Matt up, his name cascading from her lips. He started at the intrusion, his eyes bleary and confused as she dragged him into a sitting position. The water was glacial, gelid, dripping from her hands with bizarre grace, tracing pale ruby rivers over his wintry skin.

            “Matt? Matt talk to me, are you okay? Jesus, what the hell were you thinking! Matt! Answer me!”

            He nodded lethargically, one hand emerging slowly from the water to grip her elbow, trying to calm her. The blood was coming from a long cut on his side, though the bleeding seemed to have stopped. It didn’t make the wound look any better though, especially surrounded by the too-white skin which made his many bruises appear almost black.

            “K-Karen,” he mumbled. He licked his lips and swallowed, turning his head towards her and offering a weak smile, his eyes blinking languidly. “Hey.”

            “Don’t hey me – what the fuck, Matt? You’re freezing!” She looked around frantically for a towel, spotted one folded neatly in an open cabinet by the sink and snatched it. “C’mon, we gotta get you out of there. Can you stand?”

            He nodded, reaching one hand out to her for help. His expression frightened her. The slight smile gave his features a pleasant, sleepy cast as though he’d been up too late working on a case, but his eyes were vacant. Empty.

            Taking most of his weight for him, Karen helped him to his feet. The cascade of water sluicing from his limbs was disproportionately loud in the confined space, crashing like a waterfall into the tub. Matt let out a faint sigh and leaned into her, his hand shaking in hers. Swallowing her terror, Karen helped him step drunkenly out, wrapped the towel around him, and began rubbing hard, more to warm him up than to dry him off. His teeth were chattering in moments.

            “What the hell, Matt?” she half-hissed, half-sighed, his forehead against her shoulder as she massaged warmth into his back. “Talk.”

            “Jus’ wanted some quiet,” he mumbled into her collarbone. “I’s okay.”

            Karen snorted and pushed him back. “The hell it is.” The cut on his side was oozing blood again. “Shit, you’re bleeding. C’mon.”

            “I’m okay Karen,” he promised quietly as she led him to the couch, the towel still draped across his shoulders.

            “Shut up.”

            The first aid kit was in its usual place. Foggy had restocked it a few days ago and she had a needle threaded and clamped in no time. Matt reached for it as she sat down beside him but she swatted his shaking hand aside.

            “Don’t fall asleep,” she ordered darkly.

            “I can do it, Karen,” he offered, his voice still oddly calm. Too quiet, too peaceful for what she had just seen. It made it worse.

            “Just shut up and stay still. And stay awake.”

            He sucked in a breath as she started the first stitch and leant carefully back into the couch. Silence hung between them as she worked, but she kept a steady eye on his face. His eyes stayed open throughout, his breathing regular and steady as the shivers shaking through him.

            Karen had never seen Matt topless before. Any lingering fantasies of muscle were abruptly extinguished by the reality of his thin, scar-littered frame. They were even worse than she’d pictured, standing out all the more for the paleness of his shivering flesh. How had he been hiding all of these under his shirts? How had he come to work and acted normally when these miniature mountain ranges of jagged skin still bled through their stitches? She remembered the not-car crash, the day after Fisk and Nobu had almost killed him. Seeing the remains of that defeat was worse than anything her then-enamoured mind had conjured up. The thick puckered line on his right side was the reason he had walked so gingerly that day. The ragged ridge across his abdomen was his souvenir of Midland Circle. The circular blob on his left shoulder was from a bullet he had taken while saving her from the Hand.

            And that jagged, uneven scar along his trembling forearm was from the last time he had tried to –

            “Didn’t know you could stitch,” he muttered as she tied the last one off, her hands almost steady.

            “Figured I should learn when we got you back,” she said, her voice somewhat clipped. “Been practicing on oranges.”

            She plonked the needle and clamp back into the little tin box and opened an antiseptic wipe. Matt didn’t say anything as she cleaned and bandaged the wound, but once her hands were free of their task he took one gently in his.

            “Thank you,” he whispered, a soft smile warming the words. His eyes were trained on her cheek, the emptiness filled now with sincerity. With a sigh, Karen held his hand in her lap.

            “What the hell was that back there?” she asked, still afraid to hear the answer.

            “I j-just needed a bit of q-quiet. It helps, the water. Amplif-f-fies my heartbeat and b-breathing so it’s pr-pretty much all I can hear.”

            She wished he could see her expression. “You really expect me to believe that?” She let his hand go and pulled the blanket from the back of the couch and wrapped it snugly around him, discarding the towel to the floor. It was covered with slashing pink stains.

            His brow twitched into confusion as she got up and headed for his bedroom. “What d-do you mean?”

            Karen huffed a humourless breath and threw him an incredulous glance through the wall. She let her anger flare briefly as she grabbed him a pair of sweatpants, a tshirt, and his black hoodie. The grey one must be in the wash. She threw them onto the couch – resisting the urge to aim for his face – and tried to keep some of the exasperation out of her voice.

            “I mean you disappear for days and then I find you looking half-dead in a bathtub full of blood. Jesus, Matt! Were you –” The words caught in her throat. She took another breath and forced them out. “I expected your wrists to be slit.”

            He blinked, his hand halting halfway to the pile of clothes. “Oh.”

            “Yeah. Oh.”

            He heaved a heavy sigh, hanging his head and pulling the blanket tighter around himself. He pulled the sweatpants over his damp boxers with trembling hands. “I’m sorry Karen. That’s not, that’s not what was – I wasn’t. I swear.”

            “Could’ve fooled me,” she said, a bit more coldly than she intended, returning to sit beside him.

            “I was tired,” he pleaded, suddenly looking downright haggard. The deep purple bruise surrounding his right eye coupled with his dark hair and stubble made him look deathly pale. “I was just –”

            “Trying to get pneumonia?” she finished pointedly. “You were bleeding. Matt,” she sighed, shifting her weight and taking his hand in hers again, taking a deep breath to quell her anger and fear. “Please don’t lie to me. Please. Let me help, Matt.”

            “I ...” Something in his expression shifted and she couldn’t tell if it was a wall wavering up or crumbling down. “I’ve been a huge asshole.”

            Karen blinked. Not what she’d been expecting him to say, but, well, accurate.

            “I’m sorry I ran away, Karen. I just ... I ...” His brows pulled together and another shiver swept along his spine. He closed his eyes in defeat. “I don’t even know how to say it. I’m sorry, I just, I – I’m sorry.”

            His head fell forward over his shaking hands and Karen’s angry retort died on her tongue. Matt was pale and shivering and more scarred than she had ever imagined he could be, and seeing him hunched before her, the days of worry and irritation washed away under a wave of aching concern that crested into tears she did not allow to fall.

            She sat back down beside him and reached for his hand, squeezing his quivering fingers gently.

            “Matt,” she said softly, her heart aching for his. She laid a hand gently over his cheek, silently urging him to speak. “We had a deal. Remember? You can talk to me. I promise. I’m not going anywhere. You can hear my heartbeat – you know I mean that.”

            For a moment, he didn’t move. Then, with a barely audible sigh he leaned into her palm, his expression tortured.

            “I don’t know if I can keep it,” he breathed, his eyes closed against whatever made his voice sound so strangled.

            “Try,” she whispered back, stroking his cheekbone with her thumb, careful to avoid the angry bruise around his eye.

            He remained silent for a long while. Probably just to prolong the moment before he had to speak again, he pulled the rest of the clothes on, then dragged the blanket back over his shoulders. The shaking was less noticeable now.

            “Elektra found me tonight,” he said, his voice barely above a whisper. Karen hoped her heart didn’t betray her shock as much as her expression did. Elektra was alive?

            “When we were in IGH,” he continued, each word a deliberate effort, “Jess and the others, we, um, we ended up in the CEO’s office. For the files.” He swallowed. “And I smelled her. Elektra. And Madame Gao, the Chinese –”

            “I know,” she cut in softly. He’d known they were alive all this time?

            “Well, um ... When sh-she died, Elektra left me money. A lot, more than I’m ever gonna use. I was giving most of it away. When I got back here, I checked it. The day you and Foggy threw me that rebirthday party, actually.” He heaved a shaking breath. “And she had been withdrawing money since just a few weeks after Midland Circle collapsed. So it wasn’t just, I dunno, wishful thinking or whatever. She was alive.”

            “Wow. That ... must’ve been ...” She couldn’t think what that must’ve been like.

            “That wasn’t all. There’d been a deposit.” Matt pulled the blanket tighter around himself and shifted his weight. It looked like he was trying to make himself as small as possible. “From IGH.”

            “From –? What?”

            He nodded, a humourless smile flashing across his lips. “Fifteen thousand dollars. Dated the same week they started their file on me.”

            A crushing silence pressed down on them for a long moment as Karen digested this.

            “She sold you.”

            “It looked that way. So I asked Jessica to find out.”

            “And?”

            “She didn’t.”

            “Find out?”

            “Sell me. Elektra. Whatever that money was, it wasn’t for me. She, em ...” He stopped. Something flickered in his expression that prompted Karen to reach out for him again, her hand on his forearm. Whatever it was was hidden too quickly for her to identify it, but her heart was beating a little faster in its wake.

            “She saved me. Under Midland Circle. She ... got me out of there. Left me in a – a mission centre to get better. But the Hand found out and they, uh, one of them attacked the centre. I don’t – I don’t remember it, but he’s the one who took me to IGH.”

            “Fuck.”

            “Yeah. She, em, Elektra killed him. She said.”

            “She told you all this tonight?”

            Matt nodded.

            “That’s a lot, Matt.”

            He nodded again, that same flicker of something flashing across his features once more.

            “She’s leaving America,” he continued, his voice trembling with tears he didn’t allow himself to shed. Karen shifted closer and wrapped her other arm around his shoulders, leaning her head into his. “I wo – she’s not gonna come back. She’s gone.”

            His voice cracked a split second before whatever composure he had been clinging to and his shoulders shook under his suddenly ragged breath.

            “Oh, Matt.” She leaned into him, holding him tight. “I’m so sorry.”

            “It must be a record,” he muttered darkly, attempting to inject a note of humour into his voice and succeeding only in sounding more miserable. “To lose someone you love three times. Four. Least it wasn’t so dramatic this time.”

            Karen snorted a brief laugh and squeezed his arm. “Must be a record, forgiving someone you love so many times, after so much pain.”

            His breath hitched against her. “I think, this time,” he said haltingly, “it’s real. Permanent. Whatever we had, it’s ... over.”

            Not knowing what to say, how to begin to mend the brokenness of his tone, Karen just drew him into a proper hug and held on for a long, long moment. Uncharacteristically, Matt did not break the embrace, but curled his arms around her waist, drawing her into the warm cocoon of the blanket and burying his face in her shoulder. His breathing was steady, his shoulders solid and sure, but his hands were fists at her sides.

            “Is that why?” she asked quietly, drawing back and watching his face closely. She hadn’t seen his expression so nakedly vulnerable since the day Jessica brought her and Foggy to Trish’s apartment. “Why you wanted ... quiet?”

            His eyebrows pulled up as his features crumpled into something halfway between a sob and a snarl. His breath hitched and he dipped his chin, angling his face away from her.

            “There’s something wrong with me,” he whispered, sounding as though he were being dragged over a bed of razor coals. He freed a hand from the blanket he had been clenching and stabbed a finger into his temple. “Something – here.” His hand moved to gesture as a claw to his heart. “Something I can’t – it’s not – I can’t breathe around it,” he gasped desperately, turning unseeing, imploring eyes on her. Karen took his hand in both of hers and held on tight.

            “I know, Matt,” she said softly, blinking away tears. “I know.”

            “It’s – I think it’s always been there. But now – IGH, it just, it’s stronger. Bigger. And I can’t – I don’t – I don’t know how to fight it, Karen, I want to, I just – it –” He shook his head, anger furrowing his brow as he sucked in a much needed breath. His hand was a vice around hers.

            “It was stupid of me to run away,” he continued after a moment, a little more calmly. “But it was the only thing that made sense. And tonight – last night, whatever –before Elektra found me, I ... I was hurt and I just ... Sat there. Thought what would happen if I just stayed sitting there all night until I bled to ...”

            Karen put her other hand firmly over her mouth to silence the sob that was rattling through her heart with uncaring violence. She hoped Matt wasn’t listening to it. She had never heard him talk like this before. Ever. She didn’t want to be what made him stop. With a silent, steadying breath, she pushed her own agony down and forced herself to be calm. If he wouldn’t cry then she would do it for him. Later.

            “It’s not right,” Matt said uncertainly. “Thinking that way. This thing, it – it’s dangerous. A-and I don’t know how to fix it. How to fight it. It’s winning, Karen, and it’s not just me it wants, it’ll take all of you if it can and I – I can’t protect you. I can’t even protect myself.”

            “What do you mean?”

            “Jessica.” His voice shook through the syllables and Karen’s heart broke for the fear he couldn’t hide in his face. “Bullseye had her – because of me. And if she hadn’t – I couldn’t save her, Karen. All it took was a laugh – Bullseye laughed and I couldn’t see anything but what he did to me. I was drowning and he could’ve killed us both. And she – she doesn’t deserve that.”

            “Neither do you,” she promised softly. Matt turned tormented eyes on her. When he spoke his voice held all the energy and hope of a dying breath.

            “I’m scared, Karen. And so, so tired.”

            She pulled him against her, tucking his head under her chin and stroking his cheek with one hand, her other arm a protective wall around his shoulders.

            “It feels like poison,” she whispered, her tone unsteady under the weight of unshed tears. “Like it’s burning and choking you and you feel so vile you’re sure if you touch another person they’ll get sick with it too.”

            Matt nodded against her collarbone, pressing himself tighter into her with a shuddering gasp.

            “And it blinds you,” she breathed, “to everything good about yourself. That’s how it works. It tricks you into believing you’re alone and not worth saving. I know, Matt. I know. When Kevin died ... I didn’t feel light again for ... for years. But you and Foggy. You were like a beacon in the dark. You both saved me.”

            She pressed a kiss into the back of his neck. “We can save you too, Matt. Me and Foggy. I promise. We’ll figure this out. We’ll get you through this. You just have to let us, Matt. Please. We’re not going anywhere,” she whispered, the words shaking with sincerity, her heart beating along in emphasis against his bony shoulder. “So you have to stick around for us. You’re worth saving, Matt. We love you so much.”

            His wavering sob was almost inaudible against her chest, but she felt the tension grow in his shoulders, felt him quiver in silent agony for a moment before it washed out of him with a sigh and he slumped against her.

            “I’m proud of you, Matt,” she said quietly, stroking her fingers through his damp hair. “Thank you for talking to me.”

            With a last squeeze, he pulled away, putting a hand to the bandaged wound on his side and grimacing.

            “Thank you, Karen.”

            She beamed at him.

            “I’m always here, Matt. Always.”

            He nodded, an exhausted smile ghosting past his lips. With an almost painful look of relief smoothing his features, he took the first deep breath since she’d pulled him from the icy water.

            “And for the record,” she said, her tone lighter now, a teasing smile playing with her lips. “It’s okay for you to love Jessica you know.”

            His eyebrows shot up. “I didn’t say –”

            “Oh Matt, come on. It’s obvious. You’re allowed to be happy. You should be.”

            Uncertainty contorted his features. “I’ll hurt her,” he whispered. “I already have.”

            Karen made a sound somewhere between a snort and a sigh. “Matt, she’s a superhero. Getting hurt is what you idiots do best. That and saving people,” she added fairly, grinning as the corner of his mouth twitched. “She’s gonna get hurt whether she knows you or not, same as you. Case and point,” she said, putting a hand gently over the hidden cut on his side. “I’m just saying, you both have a life that’s a magnet for Bullseyes. And you could both do a lot worse than having someone who truly understands that, who understands you. You know how much that’s worth. Jessica ... she can get you in a way me and Foggy don’t, maybe never will, no matter how much we want to. She’s in the trench with you. Don’t run away from it because it might end bad. Hold on to it so it won’t.”

            He was silent for a long moment. Then,

            “You were in the trench with me.”

            She almost laughed. “Matt I got dragged into a pit by people who wanted me dead. You chose to be there. I just look down and write about it. You live it.”

            His brow pinched together. “I’m sorry, Karen.”

            She got to her feet and reached for his hand, pulling him gently off the couch. “I know, Matt. It’s okay. I promise. Now come on, you’re exhausted.”

            She dragged him into his bedroom and pulled the sheets into order over the mattress. He hesitated beside her, apprehension shadowing his features.

            “Karen?” he asked, his voice like snapping twigs. “Will – would you ... stay?”

            He sounded so young, in that moment. So lost. She remembered those first weeks back in his apartment, when she and Foggy and made sure he was never alone, especially at night.

            When the nightmares would come for him.

            “Of course I will.”

            He nodded once, his lips twitching in what was meant to be a smile. Karen pulled the pyjamas she had never taken home from the bottom drawer of his closet and went into the bathroom to change.

            She leant against the sink with her head bowed for a long moment, taking slow, deliberate breaths as the bath drained away. A numbing weight was settling over her heart, but it was no heavier than she was used to. She pulled out her phone and sent Foggy a quick text, telling him Matt was home and safe and she was going to stay with him tonight. That he was right.

            Laying the phone on the shelf she considered her reflection. She looked about as tired as she felt. Doubt curled like a worm through her mind and she tried to shake it away. She couldn’t have told Matt about the head found in the Hudson tonight. He could barely breathe right now, the last thing he needed was to know five of his fellow survivors had all been murdered in the past two weeks. And it would be plain stupid to tell him Brett didn’t have Bullseye in custody, that someone had falsified the report and the private hospital with armed guards wherein he was supposed to be recovering was really a veterinary clinic on the other side of town. No. She’d tell Jessica, and Claire and the others. They would handle this. Without Matt.

            Right now, Matt just needed sleep. And a heartbeat to listen to. Everything else could wait.

            He was curled on his side with his back to the door when she came back in. She crawled into bed beside him and he reached one hand out to her. She took it and he relaxed into the pillow.

            “Karen?” he mumbled, his eyes at half-mast, his voice matching the silent cadence of the dark.

            “Mm?”

            “Thank you. For not giving up on me. I don’t know what I did to deserve you in my life, but I’m ... I’m really glad I know you.”

            With a smile, she leaned forward and pressed a delicate kiss into his fingers.

            “I love you too, Matt.” She squeezed his hand and let herself sink into the mattress. “Sweet dreams, Mr Murdock.”

            A small, fragile smile tugged at the corner of his mouth.

            “Sweet dreams, Ms Page.”

Chapter Text

In hindsight, one of the best things about working in Nelson and Murdock was the flexible hours. Granted, the hours had been flexible ‘cause they’d only had a client once every three weeks, but still. It beat the endless soul-numbing grind of interminable cases. And since this was America, Foggy couldn’t exactly take impromptu holiday days. Plus he’d used all allowable personal days when Matt first came back. So he had to drudge through the suddenly inconsequential work day before he could go back Karen up.

Which, honestly? He wasn’t sure was a bad thing.

She’d called him that morning, freakishly early. And speaking so softly he’d barely heard her. But Matt was asleep, which was a rarity, so he’d turned the volume up all the way on his phone and concentrated on her every horrifying whisper.

Matt was suicidal. Actively. If not enthusiastically. Which he supposed was better. On a scale where ‘better’ meant absolutely nothing.

The worst part of it? Worse than Matt not reaching out sooner, worse even than the cloying helplessness dragging Foggy’s heart into a black quagmire of inescapable misery, the absolute worst part was ... he wasn’t surprised. If he was honest with himself, he’d been waiting for something like this to happen since ... maybe since before Midland Circle. After all, Matt had tried before. Hell, Jessica only told him and Karen Matt was alive after he’d tried not to be.

He’d had an excuse, of course. Matt always had an excuse. Keeping the city safe was worth more than his life. A tracking device that might lead torturous psychopaths to Foggy and Karen’s door. Stopping the bleeding with an ice bath.

There was always an excuse. There always would be. And they would never matter. They would never be worth it. Which is what Matt’s serotonin-deprived brain could never understand. Nothing would ever be worth that.

But Foggy couldn’t be angry with him. Even if all this worry was giving him an ulcer. Because he understood. Not all of it – he definitely did not understand all of it. But enough.

He just hoped it was enough to help.

He pitstopped in their favourite Thai place on his way to Matt’s apartment and picked up a smorgasbord so extravagant it needed two separate carrier bags. Which was one of the best things about working for HC&B – he could afford so much more splurging than before. With another bag so loaded with beer it was a miracle the handles survived the walk up the stairs, Foggy finally shouldered his way through Matt’s door, consciously swallowing all trace of trepidation and fear and hitching up his cheeriest façade.

“Oh honey, I’m home!” he called in his best nineteen-thirties husband voice. He rounded the corner to see Matt and Karen on the couch, his legs held captive on her lap by a book she had clearly been reading from. He beamed at them. “Aaww! Wait, don’t move.” Ignoring their moaning he dumped the bags on the kitchen counter, scrambled for his phone, raced to the other side of the couch and snapped a picture before Matt could extricate himself from the adorableness of the scene.

“That’s a keeper,” Foggy announced, looking at the photo fondly. “I’m definitely framing that. Which reminds me!” He flopped down on the armchair with a sigh and pulled his tie free of his neck, feeling about ten pounds lighter.

“Long day?” Matt surmised as he pulled himself – gingerly, Foggy noticed – into a sitting position. One that just happened to allow him to curl in on himself like a freakin’ armadillo.

“If you get me started I will talk for hours,” he promised, chucking his tie on the coffee table. “Anyway, I saw this Buzzfeed video at lunch about a blind pregnant lady at her ultrasound and they 3D-printed out the photo of her little baby so she could see it and,” he added, pausing only briefly to breathe, “you have to agree that’s a good enough reason for me to get a 3D printer, since for some godless reason you weren’t convinced by the need for an army of custom mutant dinosaurs.” They stared at him blankly for a moment. “’Cause we could print out a bunch of our photos and you could see them,” he finished, his tone his patented blend of enthusiastic and obvious.

“That is the sweetest thing I’ve ever heard,” Karen said, leaning forward to leave the book on the table. “And I am so in. We have to do that photo of the three of us from Paddy’s Day.”

“Um, Foggy –”

“Before you contest my brilliance, consider this,” Foggy said persuasively, holding up one finger on each hand to conduct optimal levels of anticipation. “We could also print out a tiny Daredevil and fulfil your lifelong dream of having an action figure of yourself.”

“I have never –!” Matt began, indignant, but Foggy cut across him exasperatedly.

“Fine then, my lifelong dream – just let me live vicariously through you, wouldya? And need I say it again? Tiny. Mutant. Dinosaur. Army.”

Matt stared in his direction for a long moment, his lips pressed together in an expression of saint-like patience, his ruby lenses not quite hiding the healing bruise over his eye. He raised his eyebrows in his I’m-not-going-to-stop-you-fulfilling-your-dream-but-it’s-a-waste-of-money-and-don’t-do-it-for-me-because-I-can’t-handle-grand-affectionate-gestures look.

Foggy slumped in his seat, defeated.

“I just want a tiny giganotosaur for my desk, okay,” he admitted glumly. “I want him to have a little yellow hat and call him Jerry.”

Matt chuckled at that, which made Foggy’s whole world a bit brighter. He exchanged a brilliant smile with Karen.

“I’m sure you can get one online,” Matt said consolingly. “But I’m pretty sure Jeri Hogarth will annihilate you if she finds out you named a dinosaur after her.”

Foggy snorted. “No she won’t. She’ll be flattered. Plus, I’ll get a little toy of that kid from The Iron Giant to ride Jerry and boom, she’s immortalised in plastic. But with more flair. ‘Cause of the hat.” Matt and Karen stared at him, nonplussed. “The kid’s name’s Hogarth? So it’d be Jerry Hogarth, like Jeri – you guys suck. Have you not seen that film?”

He had of course, directed that last part at Karen, but before she could answer, Matt said “No,” in a complete deadpan, and Foggy wasn’t clear enough on the supersenses to be sure Matt fully appreciated the intensity of Foggy’s murderous expression and damn it if that wasn’t the true tragedy of blindness.

“I’m going to ignore that blatant jackassery and get us some food,” Foggy announced, heaving himself to his feet and heading for the kitchen.

“I’ll give you a hand.”

Karen put a hand on his arm as he reached for the bag, her expression asking him to wait. She pulled out her phone and typed. Foggy glanced to Matt, now hunched over on the couch. Feeling they needed cover he set about pulling plates and glasses from the cupboards, taking longer than a normal human would.

Karen held her phone out to him. He read the unsent text on the screen.

 

He won’t talk about any of it. Acting like last night didn’t happen.

 

Foggy rolled his eyes and reached for her phone. Like a trained spy, Karen took over the distracting by releasing the feast from its holders, humming a little tune to boot. The girl was a natural.

 

Shocker. Nightmares?

 

Karen glanced at his message and gave an exaggerated, wide-eyed nod. Frowning, Foggy erased the words and started typing again. Ignoring how unsteady his heart suddenly felt.

 

Let’s get some food into him, then bring it up.

 

Karen nodded, spooning a generous mountain of rice onto the plates. Foggy slid her phone across the counter to her, and she smiled down at the new text.

 

If he makes a run for it I’ll tackle and you sit on him. Go team!

 

“You know I can tell you’re talking about me, right?” Matt called from the couch, his tone not quite reaching the playfulness he was going for.

Foggy snorted and picked up two of the plates and swept out of the kitchen, Karen on his heels.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Murdock. Here.” He set the loaded plate gently in Matt’s lap. “Bon appetit!”

He didn’t miss – or understand – the fear that flashed across Matt’s face as he looked down at the food. Sitting on the chair nearest him, he set his own plate on the coffee table and turned to Matt, his voice low and gentle.

“I’ll make you a deal. I swung by Melvin’s the other day and got a tub of that stanky resin goop you’re meant to rub over your suit to keep it pretty. If you eat, I’ll make that suit look like the goth kid’s dream it’s meant to be. Deal?”

The corner of Matt’s mouth twitched upwards and he nodded once. His eyebrows quirked over his nose in worry, making him look much younger than he was.

“Okay, Foggy.”

“Good. Now, I gotta tell you two of the outrageousness that happened in work yesterday. Like, my bar for drama is pretty high and oh my god.”

He launched into the story, keeping them both engaged and doing his best to distract Matt from his own head. He won a few laughs, but only Karen’s were sincere, and even she couldn’t shake the heavy gloom they were all actively ignoring.

Well, trying to ignore. Watching Matt pick his way around, not through, his plate was more than Foggy’s chirpiness could withstand.

“Y’know,” he said casually, though with a bite to his tone, “you’d think after being starved for four months you’d actually want to, you know, feel full for once.”

There was a clatter as Karen’s fork fell against her plate.

“Foggy!”

“What?” He glanced over at her, his expression a challenge. He shrugged under her glare as Matt carefully placed his plate on the coffee table, keeping his face averted. “I’m sorry but there’s only so much shit I can put up with, Karen.” He turned to Matt. “Honestly, buddy. I’m trying to understand here. You look like death on a diet, dude. If you keep this up your body’s gonna start shutting down and I’m not gonna just sit here and watch that shit happen. C’mon. We gotta talk about this.”

Matt leaned slowly back against the couch, needlessly adjusting his glasses with one hand. He was definitely trying to melt into the cushions.

“I –”

“Do not tell me you don’t want to talk about this, Matt,” Foggy warned. “Don’t say it’s complicated or we won’t understand or any of your usual bullshit. Don’t go back to that.”

Matt nodded to the fingers fidgeting in his lap.

“I’m sorry.”

“You don’t have to be sorry, bud. Just talk to us.”

He nodded again.

“I just ... It keeps me grounded.”

“Starvation?” Karen clarified sceptically.

“The hunger,” Matt corrected, as though semantics made it any better.

“How the hell does that work?”

Matt heaved a sigh. “I’m not saying it makes sense. But it just ... the pain of it helps. I, uh, I keep getting ... brought back there. I’ll hear things that aren’t real,” he muttered. His posture suggested only social niceties were keeping him from curling up into a ball. Or maybe that was his pride.

“You’re hallucinating.” Foggy exchanged a glance with Karen.

“Not like before,” Matt said quickly. “It’s not, em, it’s – I’ll just hear screams or the buzz of a cattle prod, or,” he took a breath, licking his lips and looking like he was describing an amusing anecdote, not revealing a horrifying truth he’d kept from them for months. “Or I’ll feel needles. The, um, c-cage bars.”

“Jesus, Matt.”

“So, um, the hunger, it just ... anchors me, sort of. Knowing this time I can end it whenever I want, it’s like ...” He frowned, searching for the words. “Like that old myth, with the labyrinth? It’s like my golden thread.”

There was a very fraught pause.

“That is so fucked up, Matt,” Foggy sighed, leaning forward on his knees with his head in his hands. “You cannot keep doing that. That is not a coping mechanism. That’s a ... dying mechanism. Shit.”

Matt just shrugged, his face carefully impassive.

“It’s all I’ve got, Foggy.”

“Bullshit,” Karen said immediately. “You’ve got us.”

Matt turned to her, a sad smile softening his features.

“It’s not the same, Karen. You guys can’t be with me all the time and even if you could you shouldn’t.”

“So what, we just stand by while you wither away?”

Matt hung his head, a heavy sigh drawing him further into the couch.

“I don’t know.”

“I do,” Foggy said quickly, straightening up. “No, we don’t do that. We find some way for you to stay grounded without – this. We think of something else, Jesus, anything else.”

“I shouldn’t’ve told you,” Matt said quietly.

“No, you should’ve told us months ago instead of pretending you were getting better,” Foggy countered, his voice a little snappier than was probably wise, given Matt’s twiddling fingers were now shaking.

“I was getting better.” God, it would be funny how much his tone contradicted his words if it weren’t so damn heartbreaking. “Things just ... got worse.”

Another silence weighed the three of them down, squeezing helpless sighs from their suddenly pressured lungs.

“Well at least all those bastards who did this to you are dead,” Karen said bitterly, her tone making Foggy look up at her, startled. She sounded downright dangerous, as though if any of them were still alive she’d see to them herself.

Matt snorted, a humourless smile twisting his lips unnaturally.

“What?”

“They’re all dead because of me.”

“Matt, you cannot blame your–”

“Elektra killed them. She told me. Last night.”

There was a beat of stunned silence.

“Well, shit.”

“Yeah.”

“No offense Matt?” Foggy said apologetically. “But your ex is like, an extremely toxic person.”

Matt chuckled. Well, it would be called a chuckle if it held any semblance to an emotion even peripherally adjacent to happiness. God, he looked worse than haggard. Foggy had seen Matt as beaten down as he’d ever been but his face right now, on that couch, half-concealed as it was by his glasses was just ... scary. His friend should not look like that. Prisoners of war should not look like that.

“I’m starting to get that,” he said dryly. He hesitated, then said, “She erased their files. Everything tying me to them is gone. Except the scars.”

“She – for real? Matt, that’s ... that’s a good thing, isn’t it?” Karen looked from Matt to Foggy, clearly wondering at the bitterness in the former’s tone.

“It, em, it is and it isn’t,” Foggy reluctantly explained. He rubbed his hands over his face as a wave of exhaustion crashed over him like a bucket of icy water. “It means we can’t use any of those files Jessica gave us in the case.” He let his hands flop onto his knees. “They’re copies. Inadmissible. Could’ve been copied from anywhere, and the word of vigilantes isn’t gonna mean jack shit in court. Shit.”

“Meaning,” Matt continued, still smiling that godawful smile, “if we want to take them down legally, I’m going to have to testify. Corroborate the files.” He took a breath and pulled his sleeve back from his wrist, showing them the mottled scars encircling them. “Prove they’re real.”

Karen let out a long, low breath. “Fuck.”

“Yep.”

“What if we –”

“There’s nothing, Karen,” Matt cut across her. “Either I testify or we convince the other survivors to. And I’m not letting that happen. They’ve been through enough.”

“And you haven’t?”

Matt turned to face Foggy, his brow furrowed. “They didn’t ask for what happened to them, Foggy. I’m not gonna force them to relive it in front of a room full of strangers.”

Foggy laughed. “And what, you did ask for it? By what, saving New York? Jesus, Matt, you don’t have to save everyone!”

A muscle in Matt’s jaw feathered as he fought to keep back whatever retort he had sealed behind his clenched teeth.

“Foggy,” he almost growled, “I –”

“No! No, Matt! No more of your twisted excuses for why you should shoulder all this goddamn pain alone! And frankly you can suck it ‘cause I’m the lead lawyer on this case and I decide how we fight it, not you. You’re not the only client here. And if having the others testify works – which it will – then that’s what we’re doing.” He leaned forward, his own voice rivalling Matt’s with its intensity. “I swear to god I will die before I put you on the stand and make you relive all that shit for a jury. You can barely talk about it with us! And we know your secret – you really want to be outed to all of New York? ‘Cause there’ll be reporters there, you idiot, more than just Karen. Word will get out. And someone is gonna put it all together, Matt. I’m not letting that happen. So shut up.”

Foggy got to his feet and gathered up the plates, breathing heavily, not wanting to see Matt’s expressions, hear whatever stupid nihilistic counter argument he was thinking up. Jesus, what a self-destructive asshole. If he wasn’t outright trying to kill himself he was –

Foggy dunked the plates in the sink and braced himself against the counter. There was a distinct lack of air over here. He hung his head and bullied his lungs into working.

His best friend, his chosen brother, was trying to kill himself.

How the fuck was he supposed to fix that?

Once he had his breathing back under control, he went back to the living room. Karen stopped mid-sentence as Matt looked up at him, his expression belligerently composed.

“Foggy, taking down IGH is more important than me. It’s got to come first.”

Foggy huffed a small smile. He edged past Karen and sat down on the coffee table opposite Matt, their knees brushing against each other. When he spoke his voice was as soft and gentle as Matt would never admit he needed.

“No, you handsome bastard. It’s not.  All these years and you still don't understand how important you are to me. You think you're the only one who lucked out being assigned room three-twelve? You're not. And I can't lose you again, buddy. In fact I won't,” he added, his voice brightening with an idea. “I just flat out refuse to. I veto you dying, okay Matthew? Besides, I wasn’t kidding back in Trish’s place. I will kick your ninja ass if you keep scaring me like this. You have been warned. See, you're stuck in this mortal coil with me and Karen and everyone else who loves you for a long, long time. 'Cause we need you to be alive,” he continued, sincere once more. “To be Matt.”

Foggy reached forward and put a hand on the back of Matt’s neck. He pulled him close until their foreheads were touching, because maybe that would help the words get through that ridiculously thick skull of his.

“So you gotta eat, buddy. You gotta take care of yourself. You gotta keep your promise. If you can't do it for you right now then do it for me until you can. Do it for Karen. Do it for that super sassy grouch monster who's been flirting with you ever since she saved your perfect ass. We need you to be alive. Be an asshole, be reckless, be depressed if you have to be, but be alive." He hesitated. "Don't leave me again, buddy. I need you.”

With a final squeeze, he released Matt and leaned back. Tears had escaped the crimson shadows of the red lenses and his mouth was open in a futile attempt to quiet his breathing. Karen scooched closer to them and pulled them both into a tight hug.

“Seconded.”

Foggy sniffed and chuckled. “Oh sure, just tack yourself on to my elegant, heartfelt speech like that. Pft. Plagiariser. She’s a cheeky one, our Page,” he said to Matt, who nodded against them, his breathing still uneven.

“Hey, I’m not a lawyer. I’m only eloquent when I write.”

Foggy snorted and wrapped his arms around his two favourite people and held them tight and secure for a long, long moment, knowing his arms offered only a paltry safety from a world intent on crushing them all.

When Matt’s fist relaxed around his shirt, Foggy drew himself away.

“Okay. I’m gonna go fix your fetish gear.”

God, their laughter. There was no better sound.

Matt reached up before he could leave and took his hand, holding it tightly for a too-brief moment.

“Thank you, Foggy.” His voice was a sighed apology.

He squeezed back. “Always, buddy.”

 

 

The suit was hanging in the shower, a few tardy droplets still plinging to their fallen fellows. Karen had washed it earlier but most of the drops were still tinged pink. Foggy closed the door behind him, knowing it would do nothing to spare Matt the stench of the resin currently sealed in the plastic tub in his hand.

He ran his fingers over the toughened fabric until he found the ragged slash in the side. He poked his fingers through. His whole hand could fit through the gap. Well. Just as well he’d convinced Melvin to give him some fancy armour glue. He’d do a patch job for now, then bully Matt into heading back to the workshop soon. He didn’t have the energy for that right now.

He closed the toilet and sat down on it, pulling the suit over his lap and slipping on the heavy plastic gloves Melvin had made him promise – over a carton of chocolate milk – to use, and set to work. It was a slow process. Made all the slower by the sheer quantity of grey-white scrapes crisscrossing almost the entire length of the thing. Jesus. At least Matt was wearing the damn suit. If he hadn’t he’d’ve died at least eight times by now.

Foggy tried not to think how scarred his friend was these days. How much worse his mind would look if it could be seen.

He spotted the helmet as he hung the suit back up to dry. Long, thin cracks snaked like parched earth away from the shattered eye socket, the shards of which were being kept together with frayed and peeling duct tape. A constellation of scars battered the front, and Matt had somehow managed to chip one of the horns.

Feeling sick, Foggy pulled the useless tape free and wrenched the broken shards out of the mould. He’d taken his shoulder bag into the bathroom with him and now pulled out a plastic spoon he’d stolen from the cafeteria. He broke the handle off and fit the curved base into the socket, then glued it securely in place and held it tightly until it set.

Then, because it looked ridiculous, he fished out his red marker and coloured it in.

It still looked stupid.

But it was the best he could do.

Chapter Text

A quiet knock on her door bounced through the silence like a skipping stone. Jessica didn’t spare it a glance.

“Go away Malcolm.”

There was a pause as she made another note, fully expecting Malcolm to unlock the door and barge in. Pushy idiot still wouldn’t give her key back. That was probably illegal, really. She should sue.

“It’s, um ... it’s not Malcolm.”

Jessica’s fingers froze over her keyboard. She stared at the shadowy figure framed by the opaque glass in her door, sure, for a moment, that she must have misheard the faint voice.

“Jessica?” She was still scowling at the door. The shadow raised an indistinct hand and set it against the glass, the fingertips anchoring the dispersing shadows. The head followed suit, leaving two blurred dots of red shining like embers from the darkness. “Please.”

Jessica gulped down the last of her glass of whiskey and rose to her feet, exhaling in a long gush and pushing her heart as far down as it would go. This was gonna be rich.

The lock unlatched with a resonant clatter. She pulled the door open with enough force to send her hair leaping over her shoulder.

He was wearing a suit, for the first time since ... the precinct, she was pretty sure. It did a better job of making him look normal than his hoodies and tshirts. Except that the shoulders sagged slightly around his frame and his cheekbones were so damn gaunt he looked almost like a zombie. The movie kind, not the sai-wielding murderous kind.

“Hi.”

“What do you want?” she asked flatly, still blocking the doorway. He was alive, big whoop.

He shifted his weight, adjusting his grip on the cane he didn’t need.

“Um, I owe you an apology. A big one.”

“Hm.” She considered his sad smile a moment before relenting and turning back into her apartment. She strode to her desk and refilled her glass as he shut the door quietly behind himself. He stood awkwardly beside the couch, his shoulders hunched over the cane held at his chest.

“I’m listening,” she prompted when he seemed caught in a stare. Which she was pretty sure blind people couldn’t be.

“I’m sorry, Jessica,” he said quietly, speaking to her knees. “I should never have left you there. I’m sorry.”

She took another swig of whiskey to buy time. She couldn’t doubt the sincerity in his tone. Which pissed her off.

“You’re an asshole.”

“Yes.”

“A monumentally stupid, selfish, idiotic asshole.”

“I know.”

“You ran off alone for days. Days.”

“I know.”

“You were injured. You could’ve been dead for all we knew.”

“I’m sorry, Jessica.”

She heaved a sigh and then the glass to her lips, wondering if she had the nerve to say what she knew would crush him. What had been festering in her heart since the clinic.

Turns out she did.

“That bastard tortured me to get to you and you saved me and just disappeared.”

Matt bowed his head, his fists tightening on the grip of the cane. He looked up at her, an aching smile failing to distract from the misery that plagued his features.

“I’m not as strong as you, Jess,” he whispered. “I couldn’t ... Seeing you like that ... When it was my – my fault. I couldn’t breathe. I’m sorry, Jess, I’m so sorry. I ... You deserve better. Much better.”

The anger that had been circling her heart since he ran out slowed and cooled into something far softer, and far more fragile.

“It’s okay, Matt,” she said gently, setting her drink down on the desk and leaning against it.

He shook his head. “No, it’s not. I should’ve been there for you. Like you were for me.” His voice quavered and he plastered another temporary smile over his lips to distract her. “I owe you so much more than what I gave. I was a coward.”

Jessica smiled. “You’re an idiot, is what you are.”

He cocked his head to the side, his brow bunching in confusion at the lightness of her tone. She rolled her eyes.

“You have me on a pedestal, Matt. And I don’t belong up there. I’m a mess too you know. And you clearly don’t remember how many excuses I made to not be around you back in Trish’s place. I was climbing the walls the whole time. Hell, that day Claire started treating you? I swear to god I would’ve run if Danny hadn’t been distracting me so much.” She shrugged. “I get it.”

He gripped the cane a little tighter.

“I don’t understand how you can forgive me so easily. How any of you can.”

Jessica snorted. “You don’t understand? You don’t? How many times did that psycho try to kill you, and you were still willing to die for her. Talk about double standards.”

Something dark and painful flitted across his face, too quickly for her to understand. The corner of his mouth twitched.

“I’m still an asshole.”

“Oh, granted.” This time his smile looked halfway real. She wondered if he could see hers. With a shrug she gestured to the open bottle of whiskey. “Want a drink?”

He nodded, his smile tight and fake once more.

“I have something to tell you. Um, about Elektra.”

Jessica busied herself with poring him a glass and refilling her own. “Oh?”

“Yeah. She, um ... she found me. The other night.”

Jessica turned and stared at him. “She what?”

“Yeah.”

She stepped closer and handed him his drink. He took a hearty gulp and followed her lead as she sat on the couch.

“What did she want?”

“To make sure I was alive.”

Jessica snorted. “That’s rich.”

“That’s what I said.” He was still holding on to his cane, keeping it leaning on his shoulder as he sat on the very edge of the seat. “I was chasing the Hand. She heard I got, um, hit. With the poison.”

Jessica blinked. “Holy shit.”

“Danny was there. Apparently he can cure that with his fist ... thing.”

“So you legit almost died. Again.”

“Technically.”

“Technically,” she repeated darkly, taking another long pull on her drink. “So what, did she explain herself at all? Tell you what happened under there? With IGH?”

Matt nodded slowly, his face guarded. That same dark something flickered behind the red lenses but by the time he spoke it was buried under a careful mask of impassivity.

“Murakami. He found where I was and took me to IGH. She killed him. When she found out.”

Jessica raised her eyebrows. Then her glass. “Well, at least she has some redeeming features.”

Matt’s expression darkened and Jessica remembered the whole religion thing.

“She’s also the one who slaughtered the headquarters, Jess,” he said softly, tilting his face towards her.

Jessica’s lungs expanded around a slow breath, the air tingling against her lips as it was sucked past.

“Right.”

“Yeah.”

“Don’t know why I’m surprised.”

Matt turned to her.

“I’m sorry, Jessica. She didn’t just kill them all, she erased the files. All of them. Anything that might’ve helped you is just ... gone, now.”

Jessica stared at him, the corner of her mouth curling upwards. He was worried about her answers. There is no way in anyone’s hell Saint Matthew here wasn’t blaming himself for his ex’s massacre, no doubt he somehow felt responsible for all that death, no matter how well earned it may be. But here he was, worried about her. And what she wanted.

What an asshole.

“It’s okay, Matt. Trish already told me – heard it from Page. And I got some new leads from that dipshit who attacked us. I’m actually pretty close. Really close. There’re other branches that might be able to explain some things.”

“Really?”

It mildly broke her heart how hopeful, how happy that prospect made him look. God, she did not understand this man. How could someone go through so much shit, so much pain and still care about everyone else so deeply? How was he not locked in his apartment drinking it all away and ignoring everyone? And he thought he wasn’t as strong as her. She didn’t know anyone stronger.

“Yeah, really. So it’s not all bad, her killing all those sons of bitches. Not like they didn’t have it coming, huh?” she said lightly, trying to coax a grin from him. He just looked down at his hands, hiding his face. “What? C’mon, you can’t deny they were evil little shits, Matt. Is it really a bad thing they’re dead?”

Matt heaved a heavy sigh, eyes closed behind his glasses. The bruise around his eye was almost gone now, just a yellowed shadow someone might confuse for a long night. He put a hand to his forehead and rubbed as though scrubbing thoughts from his mind.

“I’m waiting for an answer here, Murdock,” she pressed. “Those fuckers tortured you. For months.”

“I know,” he sighed, letting his hand flop back to his lap. “Despite what you all seem to think I do remember what happened.” She swallowed. “And I’m ... I’m glad they’re dead, Jessica. I hope it hurt. I hope it was slow,” he whispered savagely, his voice rough with an energy she had never felt from him before. “I hope they were scared before she killed them.”

His shoulders slumped, his head falling forward to be caught in his hand. He seemed to deflate in front of her and when he spoke all trace of that manic energy was gone.

“But I’m wrong to feel that way,” he confessed, his tone faint and soft and miserable.

Jessica twisted around and set her glass on the ground beside the couch, then turned back to face Matt, shifting closer to him. Accidentally, of course.

“That is the most bullshit thing you have ever said, and you’re a lawyer.”

He snorted but didn’t look up, instead speaking through his fingers. “If I can be happy – happy, Jess – that people are dead, people I didn’t even know, some of them, then how long before I’m happy killing?”

She let out a low chuckle. “Oh, Matt. You are such an idiot.”

He leaned back enough to look at her, his hands falling to rest against his knees. His expression bypassed her urge to roll her eyes and she smiled at him instead.

“First of all, there is a lot of real estate between taking pleasure in the fact the people who tortured you are dead, and wanting to kill anyone. Hell, you wanted to kill that Fisk guy, didn’t you? From what I know of that asshole if you could stop yourself killing him you’re not gonna kill anyone. And second of all,” she said, her tone a little lighter now as he straightened out of his hunched position. “If you were honest to god sad about all those shitheads biting it then you would be like. Jesus, I don’t even know. That’s a kind of twisted I can’t even get my head around.”

Matt leaned back against the couch, his expression clearer now, his shoulders more relaxed.

Nice one, Jones, she thought proudly. She’d done that.

“How do you always know just what to say to me?” he asked, properly smiling now, soft and serene and beautiful.

She snorted. “Hell if I know. Usually I just make things worse.”

“No you don’t,” he said softly, staring right at her. She couldn’t see where his eyes were pointed so she imagined they were looking right into hers and there was a sudden warmth in her chest that had nothing to do with his words.

“I should go,” he said abruptly, getting to his feet. She followed suit.

“Got more abandoned kittens to save?”

He snorted and turned back to her. “Yeah. Yeah, that’s exactly what I do in my spare time, Jessica. You caught me.”

She stepped closer, looking up into his shrouded eyes. Not quite knowing why, she raised her hands and slid his glasses from his face, folded them and tucked them into his breast pocket while he stayed utterly still. Her hands happened to fit comfortably on his chest, they were so close. His chocolate eyes held a question she didn’t know how to answer. God, they were deep.

“You should take those things off more often,” she said softly, her voice a little lower than usual.

A shy smile wove past his lips. “I, uh, don’t really like to. My eyes, you know.” He gestured vaguely to them.

“Shame,” she said, a small voice in the back of her mind wondering where the hell this was coming from. Another, louder voice knowing full well and telling the other to shut it. “They’re pretty nice, actually.”

Matt’s eyebrows quirked in surprise. A very different smile broke over his face and he leaned forward ever so slightly.

“Really? I always assumed they were pretty gross.”

Jessica huffed a laugh. “Yeah, well, what would you know, blindie.”

He chuckled, his eyes crinkling at the corners under the force of his dopey grin and god, for a moment he looked so damn happy it made her heart skip.

Oh, fuck it.

Jessica slipped her hand around Matt’s lapel and pulled him closer, her other hand reaching for his cheek and guiding his lips to hers, their last gasps a perfect harmony and Jessica forgot everything. She forgot IGH and Kilgrave and Stirling and Luke, she forgot debt and booze and her crappy apartment. All she knew, her entire world, was his lips moving perfectly against hers, warm and gentle and every bit as desperate as hers. His hand on her neck, angling her jaw just so, the other pulling her waist closer to his and his chest heaved under her hand with every panted breath and she held on to his jacket with all her strength because he was not disappearing on her again. Her fingers found his hair and curled themselves through it, holding his head as she kissed him deeper, her own breath a sharp huff that held in its mute syllables all the things she didn’t need to say.

He paused to breathe, his nose pressed against hers, their foreheads touching and she was just as out of breath, almost dizzy, but he was holding her and she matched her ragged chest’s rhythm to his, relishing the beat of his air as it gushed past her chin.

“‘Blindie’?” he challenged, smiling against her.

“Shut up, Murdock,” she whispered.

He laughed. So she kissed him again.

Y’know. To shut him up.

Chapter Text

“I have to say, it’s good to see you, Matthew. It’s been, ah, a while.”

Matt pulled his lips into a smile and fiddled with the handle of his latte. “I’m sorry, Father. I should’ve come sooner.”

“Nonsense. I’m sure you were ... busy.”

A low chuckle tumbled from Matt’s lips onto the untouched foam. “No need to be coy, Father. Say what you need to say.”

Father Lantom shifted his weight on the chair, leaning one elbow on the table and no doubt fixing Matt with the kind of stare that made people confess to extra sins. His heartrate was still slightly elevated, but it had thankfully settled after the initial shock of Matt’s unannounced arrival.

“Well ... Where have you been?”

With a steadying breath, Matt told him. Most of it. Well, some of it. Enough for him to understand why he had been in no rush to return to the church since he got back. Father Lantom made a valiant effort to remain calm as he listened, but he couldn’t control his heart. Matt could feel the pity pulsing out of him, washing over his skin like damp, hot subway air on a cold day and it was all he could do to stop himself shuddering in disgust. There was a long silence after he’d finished his account.

“Matthew ...” Father Lantom began, his voice bearing that same hollowed quality it had had the day he told Matt about the devil he had seen butcher a holy man during his missionary days.

“You don’t need to say anything, Father,” Matt said quickly, already itching to leave. “I didn’t come to talk about that. Not really.”

“No? I must say, it sounds worthy of at least a couple lattes, don’t you think?”

Matt huffed a half-hearted laugh. “I have more pressing worries.”

Lantom’s heart skipped anxiously.

“Go on.”

Matt ran his nail over the curve of the handle, letting the ceramic press gently into the cuticle of his index finger. There was no turning back now. And he’d promised Foggy he’d try.

“Elektra ... I ran into her. The other night.”

Father Lantom’s heart skipped again and stumbled as it returned to its agitated rhythm.

“That must have been ... an experience.”

He shook his head, a humourless smile twisting his lips.

“She told me what happened after the bomb went off. In Midland Circle.” Matt swallowed and tugged on his tie, readjusting how his cane leant against his shoulder. Lantom’s heart was so distracting, a flare he could not escape.

You promised Foggy.

He heaved a breath. “I died, Father. In the collapse. And she ... brought me back.”

There was a brief pause.

“With CPR?”

Matt shook his head, angling his head down to hide his face.

“With the same magic that brought her back. That powered the people who once controlled her.”

There was pigeon on the street outside, pecking at the remnants of gum on the pavement. Matt focused on its jerking movement, trying and failing to drown out Lantom’s damn heart.

“Matthew, that’s ... Well, I was going to say that’s not possible, but I’ve never known you to lie to me about such things. And if you say such magic is real, I suppose ... it must be.”

Matt just nodded, waiting.

“I’m sorry, Matthew. I don’t know what you want me to say.”

His hands were starting to sweat against the cane and he tightened his grip so the tension in his jaw wouldn’t crack his teeth. The boiling pressure in his chest was frothing more intensely than ever, the shadow of the same wrongness that had clung to Elektra’s scent back in Midland Circle burning in his nostrils.

“I want you to tell me I’m –” he cut himself off, anger choking the words in his throat. What did he want him to say? To confirm the rank thoughts that had been gnawing on his mind ever since Elektra vanished? Or to deny them? Matt honestly could not tell which would be worse. Or which would be the lie.

“Everything that happened to me since then,” Matt began, frowning with the effort to condense the pressure bursting through his chest into words. “IGH, Elektra, trying ... wanting to ... to die.” He heaved a painful breath. “It’s all because of that. It’s ... penance.” Matt swallowed the burning pressure encroaching on his eyes and willed his voice to steady. “Because I should have died. God ... He did abandon me. He’s punishing me. I’m not meant to be here.

“She should never have brought me back.”

The whispered confession fell from his lips like the last dead leaves of winter. Dry. Fragile. Landing in silence on the sodden, tattered remains of their fellows.

Father Lantom let out a long, slow sigh and the sickly sympathy of it gusted past Matt, the air cloying, making his skin crawl. The ceramic scrape of the teacup against its saucer as Lantom took a sip of his latte. The clink as the two were reunited.

“Do you remember the parable of the farmer’s seeds, Matthew?” Lantom asked, his tone settling into that steady lecturing cadence that was equal parts comforting and frustrating. Matt took a breath and nodded, which he knew Lantom would ignore, so he leant back in his chair and waited.

“A farmer went to sow his seeds for the coming year, but instead of distributing them carefully, they scattered. Some fell on a path, covered in stones, and crows flew down and ate them. Some fell on barren ground and were baked by the hot sun. Others fell among thorns, who choked it as it grew. And some fell on fertile ground and yielded a hundred fold their grain.”

Matt sighed. “And spread new seed around. I know, Father.”

“What do you understand from that story, Matthew?”

Taking a second to quell his impatience, Matt regurgitated the answer carved into him in the orphanage.

“That God’s love, and His truth, can only flourish when nurtured. And when it is, it’ll fill all the space you have, and spread its value to others.”

“That’s one interpretation.” Matt cocked an eyebrow and leaned forward. “Another,” Lantom continued, “is the environments that promote and inhibit healthy and prosperous personal growth. People, for example, who are born into violent families or war-torn countries, are consumed by that violence until they are trapped into perpetuating it.”

“The crows.”

“Exactly. Others are denied the safety and shelter needed to root themselves – their foundations are too shallow to allow them to grow tall and proud. Or to find their own source of water and nutrients in the soil. They cannot weather the sun without these resources.”

Matt nodded. He’d never thought of the old story this way before.

“And the thorns?”

A rustle of cloth and squeak of leather as the priest leaned forward. His voice lowered slightly, and Matt angled his face to look at him more directly.

“The thorns are, in my view, the most interesting case. Because in order for them to grow to the extent the story suggests, the soil beneath them must be fertile and rich. And there isn’t a plant on this earth that consists only of thorns. They’re a defence mechanism, developed over millennia of trial and error, specifically evolved to ensure that plant survives and reproduces more effectively. And what is the most famous, the most widely known plant with thorns, Matthew?”

It took him a second. He hadn’t thought about flowers since ... the orchids.

“Roses.”

“Roses,” Lantom agreed, his tone lifted by a smile. “Arguably the most beautiful flower. Certainly the one with the most romantic connotations. But to a farmer, worthless. You can’t eat them, couldn’t sell them for much back in Jesus’ time. They could well have been perceived only as a way to prick your finger, stubborn to remove and taking up good land. They don’t even bloom all that long, but the thorns remain year-round.”

“So,” Matt said slowly, feeling mildly lost, “the seed that falls among them?”

“Can grow,” Lantom said fervently. “The parable tells us it gets choked by the thorns, but it must breathe – must live – in order to be choked. We know the soil is rich. Tell me, Matthew. Why would roses choke grain as it grows among them?”

Matt leant back, spinning his cane in his fingers against the floor.

“To stop it spreading. To contain it, so they might live.”

“Exactly.”

There was a pause. “And in this allegory the seed is ...?”

“You,” Lantom said simply.

Matt blinked. “I don’t follow.”

“From everything you’ve told me of your life, Matthew, from everything I remember of when you were a boy ... Everything you have chosen to be. You are the seed that could nourish a village. Sustain them, protect them through a harsh winter. And if you had been sowed in less hostile ground, you would have flourished even more than you already have.”

Matt leaned backwards, chuckling humourlessly. “Father, I-”

“Let me finish. You have been sowed in a hostile environment that only grows more vicious.”

“Father, that’s not – I’m not specia –”

“But you refuse to be choked,” Father Lantom said over him, his voice louder and more commanding that Matt had ever heard it. Reluctantly, he held his tongue.

“God has placed you among many thorns, Matthew,” Lantom continued, calmer now, gentler. “And you insist on seeing them as roses. You see the beauty in them. And you don’t understand how rare that is, and I don’t mean for a blind man. You saw the good in Elektra when no one else did, not even herself. She tried to choke you, turn you into something darker and more twisted than you are, and you did not bend. You withstood her. You withstood the horrors of that laboratory. And even now, lost though you may feel, you have sought help. You feel the thorns tightening around you once more and you are reaching out so that you may survive it. That is no common strength, Matthew.”

Matt frowned. He licked his lips and swallowed the anger itching to twist his tongue to refute the value everyone mistakenly put on this meagre shadow of fight. He was a Murdock. Of course he was fighting this. That didn’t make him special, it made him stubborn. It made him a slightly less terrible friend.

“Even if that were true,” he said slowly after a minute’s careful breathing to calm his ire. “I don’t see how it helps. How it changes anything. If that has been my life all this time, what difference does it make to now? To ... this?”

Lantom inhaled slowly through his nose and Matt felt a momentary flicker of embarrassment for consistently testing the priest’s patience like this.

“It matters because God never burdens us with more than we can handle.”

Matt scoffed. “Tell that to everyone who’s ever killed themselves.”

There was an uncomfortable pause but Matt did not relax his posture. He was sick of that stupid adage. It meant nothing. Just words meant to absolve God of his part in unleashing horrors on the people he supposedly loved, and to further blame the victim for being overwhelmed. What hope did it really offer? What did it matter if God had faith in you when you had no faith in yourself?

“Matthew. God has a plan for each of us. You agree on that much?”

Reluctantly, he nodded.

“Then don’t you think, if He wanted you dead, you would be?”

“I was. I was brought back. By someone else.”

“So is everyone who’s heart stops during surgery or heart attack, who wake up again. That’s why CPR and defibrillators exist, because it is possible to bring people back. Because they are meant to be here longer.”

A wry, humourless smile twisted Matt’s lips. “Say that’s true, Father. Say that’s part of ‘God’s plan’. Then explain to me how He can have someone – someone who’s been lied to her whole life, manipulated, controlled – have her die and be brought back after months, with no heartbeat and powers no one else has. Come back not human. Then explain to me,” he continued, drowning out Lantom’s hitching breath, “how He can justify that person – who by all accounts of His doctrines is unholy – bringing someone else back to life with those powers? Someone who was dead, Father, not just with a stopped heart for a few minutes. Someone who’s soul was ... was ...” He swallowed, unable to put that particular horror into words.

“I can’t, Matthew,” Father Lantom said quietly after a moment. “I’m not qualified to speak for Him like that. All I can offer you is my understanding of the situation. And that is, He needed you back. So He brought you back. You died trying to save the woman you loved, Matthew. To offer her some redemption – some peace – before the end. And you did, from what you’ve told me. There’s no accounting for free will, Matthew. You made a noble choice. You saved your friends. Hell, you saved the whole city. And you were willing to die. For others. Does that not remind you of anyone?”

Matt hung his head, gripping his cane hard enough to hurt. To his dismay, Lantom continued.

“Elektra chose to bring you back because she – like I, like all of your friends, and, in my opinion, like God – believed you deserved to be. She had the means. What does it matter it wasn’t CPR? What makes one method sanctioned and another unholy? This isn’t the Middle Ages, Matthew, there’s more room for ambiguity than there ever has been. God accounts for free will, even one so wild as Elektra’s. Perhaps that was part of the reason you two shared such a profound bond. And as to all you’ve been through since, well ... that would have broken most anyone, Matthew. And yet you’re here. Sane, whole. Scarred, I’m sure, but your mind survived, who you are survived. I’ve heard plenty of stories of the Black Shadow guarding our streets. I know you’re exceptional, Matthew, but surely you can agree this is one of the times were there’s only one set of footprints in the sand.”

It could be so easy, to believe him. Here he was, offering Matt a lifeboat in a storming sea, a foundation on which to build ... but Matt couldn’t bring himself to raise his arms from the waves. Would he truly rather drown than accept solace from the God he had always turned to? The same God who had allowed all of this to happen.

“I hear what you’re saying, Father,” he said tiredly, pushing himself straighter in his chair and not bothering to try and smile. “And I appreciate it.”

“But?” Lantom guessed.

“But I just ... don’t ... feel it.”

To his surprise, Lantom chuckled. “Well I wouldn’t expect you to. No one was ever healed by words alone, Matthew. The mind rarely works like that and the heart certainly never has. I’m telling you this so you can understand that what you’re feeling is not what is. I’m trying to offer you perspective. Because I can’t think of a single reason God would abandon you, Matthew. Or why He’d want to punish you when you are the most human person I have ever known.”

Matt snorted. “The most human?”

The words carried a smile. “You have sympathy for the devil. Even for your own personal Satan. What could be more human than that?”

More to distract himself from the implications of that than because he really wanted any, Matt took a sip of his cold latte. Exhaustion weighed him down like a suffocating blanket. He wanted to go home. He wanted to find Jessica.

The tiniest smile twitched across his lips. Lantom wanted him to see the silver lining on the stormcloud rending him apart. That had always been easy. He never would have gotten so close to Jessica Jones without the terrors that surrounded him. And he never would have had the strength to be so honest with his friends.

“Can I tell you something else?” Father Lantom asked gently. Matt nodded. “The night you were taken from us, do you remember what happened?”

Matt shook his head. “I barely remember anything before IGH. Just a few flashes.”

“Well, that’s understandable. You were barely alive when Elektra brought you to us. I, ah ... I gave you last rites. I was convinced you’d need them.”

Matt’s eyes widened behind his glasses. “Oh. Um, thank you, Father.”

The air swirled as Lantom waved a dismissing hand.

“Sister Maggie knew better. She was in charge of your recovery. You only had a few fleeting moments of consciousness during those first weeks, and when you came out of the coma you were confused. You couldn’t walk either, couldn’t even sit up by yourself. But Maggie helped you. Every day. She cared for you.”

Matt leant forward slightly, his brow twitching into a frown. There was an odd quality to his tone he couldn’t identify.

“And then, one night, a man came for you.”

“Murakami.”

“He would’ve taken you in the night and we never would have known until morning, he was so quiet. But you had a fever. And nightmares. So Maggie was with you. She tried to stop him, but she was no match.”

Matt’s heart quailed in his chest. “She didn’t – she’s not –”

“No, Matthew,” Lantom said kindly. “She’s fine. Because you – somehow – took to your feet on your own for the first time in two months and you saved her life. You ensured she got away. And by the time she came back with help, all that was left of you was blood on the floor.”

“I’m sorry, Father,” Matt said quietly after a pause. “I should’ve thought, should’ve recognised what – what you must’ve – everything you did for me –”

“Matthew please,” Lantom cut in in mild exasperation. “You’ve had far too much in your head to think about us, especially if your memory is having trouble. No, I’m telling you this because even when you were at your lowest, infirm and unable to stay awake for more than a half an hour, even then, you followed your instincts. When someone was in trouble, you helped them. No matter what harm it caused you.”

“Don’t, uh ... don’t tell Sister Maggie what happened to me,” Matt said uncertainly. “Don’t tell her about IGH. It wasn’t her fault.”

Lantom chuckled. “It truly baffles me sometimes, Matthew,” he said fondly, reaching for his cup again, “how you can ever doubt you are a good person.”

The cup clinked back onto its saucer and Matt shifted his weight uncomfortably, unsure how to respond. Lantom spared him the obligation.

“Whatever was going to happen, Matthew, everything that has happened, is no more than God believes you can stand. It’s a test, perhaps, but one I have no doubt you can pass. Our city is better with a man in a devil suit listening out for its people, and all those who’re being attacked by circumstances and foes more powerful than they do need a good, kind-hearted lawyer who can save them. Hell’s Kitchen needs you, Matthew, both sides of you. Even if it doesn’t feel like it now, I truly believe that.” He hesitated. “When life is at its darkest, you must find your own light to follow. And until you can, let your friends be your guide. Talk to them. Let them help you. And ... I will always be here if you need me, Matthew. I can promise that.”

Warmth pushed against the backs of Matt’s eyes, throbbing in time to the pristine stillness stealing through his chest. He let out an easy breath and smiled.

"Thank you, Father.”

Suddenly business-like, Lantom got to his feet, his tone light and bracing. “Now, I don’t know about you but that machine has me thoroughly spoiled. How about another latte? I can’t stand cold coffee.”

Still smiling, Matt nodded.

“I’d like that.”

Chapter Text

This was it. Right here. After all these years. Why she was like this. How it happened. What other violations lurked in her past. All her questions. All her answers.

Right. Here.

Jessica let out a gusting breath. Holy shit. All she had to do was pick up the file and open it. Just raise one hand and she’d know everything.

Just one hand.

“Jess?”

With a start, Jessica looked around at Trish, the torchlight casting her features in sharp relief.

“What?”

Trish raised her eyebrows incredulously. “What’s the hold up? We’ve got less than twenty minutes.”

Jessica looked back to the filing cabinet and her mouth worked soundlessly. The water damage barely even got this drawer, dozens of other files were ruined. But not hers. She had no excuse.

“Jess, what?”

“I can’t do it,” she admitted, feeling pathetic. She looked back to Trish. “What if I’m better off not knowing? I’ve managed fine this long. I’ve repressed it for a reason.”

Trish rolled her eyes with a patient smile and moved away from the open door, coming to stand by Jessica and the untouched file that might change everything. Or nothing.

“Jess. We’ve been through this. You deserve to know. You have a right to. And it can hardly be worse than what you’ve already been through. Or what you saw Matt go through.” She clasped Jessica’s hand, pressing her fingers into the drawer’s metal ridge. “You can do this, Jess.”

Jessica considered Trish’s steady, earnest gaze for a long moment. Trish had never led her wrong. Not with stuff like this. She trusted her.

With a deep breath, she instructed her right hand to complete the journey that had taken almost her entire life.

The file was wrinkled, the spine warped from water damage, the destruction eating through the pages. It smelled old and mouldy and dank and Jessica hoped idly that wasn’t her last warning. She flipped the cover open.

And it was all right there. Perfectly legible in the torchlight. Everything she had never known. Everything that had happened between the moment they crashed into that goddamn truck to the day she woke up to strangers whispering that her whole family was dead.

Jessica’s grip tightened mercilessly on the file as she read. Her heart trembled in her chest, in fury, in sorrow, in crushing guilt. It raged and thrashed against her ribs, pounding so hard she wondered idly if it was trying to dig its way out of her breast, but whether to take vengeance on these sons of bitches or just to wither and die on the damp, cold floor, she could not tell.

Dimly, she knew Trish was saying something. She was reading over her shoulder, which Jessica might have been pissed about, if she could feel anything past her heart’s blistering tantrum. If she could hear anything past the pulsing rush in her ears.

She turned the last page. Half of it was blank. Three and a half pages, that’s all they’d needed. Jessica stared at the joke that was the last comment as ice stole through her, pinning her every muscle and cracking like glaciers along her stilling heart.

Trish gripped her arm, trying to move her, bring her back from the horror of her fourteenth year. Jessica couldn’t refocus her eyes. Then the torchlight fell with a clatter to the ground, Trish cried out and crashed into the filing cabinet, and Jessica came back to herself.

“Trish!” It took her half a heartbeat to see the blood oozing from her hairline, the slack features as she slumped to the floor. Jessica whirled around, all the rage she had never fully understood rising like a tide around her.

Bullseye was standing in the doorway, grinning like a little kid caught stealing cookies. The scar on his forehead was pink against his pale skin, far more noticeable than last time. Two circles, one inside the other, and a horizontal line bisecting them both. For one moment, Jessica just stared at him, distracted by the fact that he should be in fucking jail. Then the asshat moved, flicking something through the air but Jessica raised her arm at exactly the right moment to deflect it, barely registering the sting of broken skin.

“That’s my favourite jacket you asshole!” she screamed, leaping forward, over the desks that stood between them. Bullseye moved, but not fast enough – both her heels slammed into his chest and he was propelled out of the room, crashing into the wall outside with a splintering of drywall. Jessica landed awkwardly, falling backwards into one of the old desks. She rolled with it, grabbing a dinosaur desktop and hurling it right at Bullseye’s stupid, ugly face. He brought his arms up in time to protect his face, but when the computer fell away it left a speckling of shallow cuts over his face and forearms.

There was a moment of stillness as Jessica heaved bloodred breaths and Bullseye shifted dazedly against the wall. Then his eyes flicked from Jessica to Trish, unconscious behind her, and Jessica moved, grabbing a desk, flipping it onto its side and shoving it hard to block his view – just in time for six shards of monitor to thud and quiver into the warped wood in dazzling succession. With a roar, Jessica wrenched one of the legs free of the table and turned back to Bullseye, the world tinted crimson.

He was gone.

She sprinted out into the hall, along the corridor. The echo of escaping footsteps floated mockingly to her from the stairwell. Suddenly exhausted, she let the table leg fall to the ground and slumped against the wall.

That asshole was gonna raise the alarm any second. She hurried back to Trish, her fear cresting into sweet relief as she stirred under her touch. Jessica heaved Trish onto her shoulders and stared down at the file. Hardly any were left, just two cabinets full of hardcopies. Everything else was destroyed courtesy of Elektra. She was lucky to have found answers at all. Feeling numb, Jessica crouched carefully down and picked up her four measly pages, wedged it between Trish and her shoulder, and turned for the door. The alarm shrieked through the silence just as she crossed the threshold.

Which reminded her.

Bullseye was out there. Healed and deadly as ever.

Matt.

Chapter Text

            Matt shouldered the door to his apartment open and kicked it shut without turning around. Dumping his folded cane and glasses on the hall table, he shrugged out of his coat and hung it up, his other hand clawing his tie away from his neck. His coat scraped against the wall as it fell off the hook but he couldn’t bring himself to care. Instead he forced himself out of his blazer, slouching over to the couch and, with supreme effort, kicked of his shoes, wincing as the toes scuffed the heels. He slumped into the couch with a heavy sigh and closed his eyes.

            He had no idea what time it was and moving one hand to feel his watch was far more trouble than it was worth. He could taste the evening outside waning into night, feel the warm buzz of streetlights flicking on. The ache in his gut twinged moodily, prompting a hefty sigh to flop out from his lips, his lungs too exhausted to propel it gracefully through the air.

            He’d probably been with Father Lantom for over two hours. It felt significantly longer. A steady, acidic pressure undulated through his chest with every heartbeat, searing through him with monotonous regularity. Every breath stoked its quiet wrath, his lungs working harder for every dose of insufficient air. His hands curled themselves into fists without his prompting, the muscles along his neck and shoulders tensing as though for battle. A zinging energy thrummed through him, not looking for release but simply careening through his body like an electric shock, leaving each part of him utterly drained before it circled round again.

            A buzzing snarl that wasn’t there blazed into life beside his ear and he flinched, eyes snapping open. Not that that made any difference. He forced a slow breath through his teeth. It wasn’t there. The cattle prods were over. The thick, sickly cloud of drugs burning his nostrils weren’t there either. And neither was the squelching scrape of a scalpel through skin. Or the sceams.

            Keeping a firm hold on his fragile calm, Matt ran his fingers along the jagged scar on his forearm. Then again. The uneven surface rippled against his thumb, the wavering line huge against his fingertips. He repeated the motion again. And again. They couldn’t be there because he got this scar after Jessica saved him. The first time. Jessica had stitched this up. He remembered the passive-aggressive stabs whenever he got too quiet. If he concentrated he could still feel her blood-slicked hand cupping his arm, holding his skin together as she cussed her way through saving his life.

            He could also remember her fingers squirming through his flesh as she sought the tracker. The welcome burn of whiskey down his throat. Her leg pressed against his in accidental comfort.

            Breathing grew steadily easier as his fingers retraced their path on his skin over and over. He couldn’t be in IGH because these memories were real. This scar was real. He was imagining things.

            He was safe.

            Matt only realised he’d managed to doze off when the crash of his door bursting open jolted him awake. He was on his feet, fists up and ready, scrambling to put the world together before he had time to gasp.

            “MATT!”

            Jessica Jones thundered into the living room, her heart beating a frantic rhythm into the returning stillness as the squeak of hinges faded into silence.

            “Jessica! Wh-what is it, what’s wrong?” Matt stepped forward, listening intently, trying to see if she was injured, if anyone else was coming. Her adrenaline was a slash of spice against the familiar scents of his loft.

            She heaved a great, relieved breath and he felt some of the tension drain from her shoulders.

            “Oh shit,” she panted, “you’re safe. Shit. Jesus.”

            “Jess, what the hell is going on?” He lay a hand gently on her shoulder. Dried blood traced the outline of her forearm. “What happened?”

            “Bullseye’s – back,” she gasped, her breath rolling over his face. “He’s back, Matt.”

            The words hit his heart like punches. “But, no, I thought –”

            “Someone doctored the – the file.” Jessica shook her head, her hair whispering over her leather-clad shoulders as she caught her breath. “Misty knew. And Page. And freaking Trish, and they didn’t tell us.”

            “Then how do you know?”

            “’Cause I just kicked his ass. Sorta.”

            Matt gave his head a tight shake. “Jessica, sit down. You want some wate – ah, whiskey?”

            The air swirled in silent eddies as she nodded and moved to flop down on the couch. He grabbed the unopened bottle of whiskey and a glass and joined her. She ignored the glass and took several gulps directly from the bottle. Matt waited semi-patiently as she downed almost half the contents in moments.

            “Jess, you gotta say something. What happened?”

            With a desperate gasp, she let the bottle fall to her lap.

            “Shit. Okay. Trish and I were in this vet clinic thing downtown. One Bullseye mentioned when he had me. Last-ditch to find answers after Elektra. He was there.”

            “Are you okay?”

            She snorted. “No. Trish got hurt. I left her with Claire and Luke and Misty’s sending backup.”

            “Where?”

            “Here, dumbass. Bullseye still wants you dead, if he finds you –”

            “Wait, wait, wait.” Matt put a hand on her injured forearm, avoiding the tang of blood. “Misty is sending cops here?”

            “Chill, they’re just gonna watch the building. Don’t give me that look, Murdock, for all I knew he could’ve been here! Or shit, he might’ve followed me. No,” she added, nodding jerkily. “No, no I practically flew here. Asshole couldn’t keep up.”

            With a heavy sigh she slumped back into the cushions and took another, less frantic mouthful of whiskey. Matt considered her for a long moment, listening to her still-galloping heart. He took her hand.

            “It’s okay, Jessica,” he said softly. “I’m okay. You can relax.”

            “I know, I know. We’re starting a bodyguard rota, though. I guess I’m taking the first shift.”

            Matt’s stomach shrivelled – which was saying something, considering he hadn’t eaten since that morning.

            “No,” he said, his voice flat and firm. “No, I will not –”

            “Just shut up, Matt,” Jessica sighed, her tone suddenly exhausted. He blinked in surprise. Her heart was still hammering.

            “Jess, you can’t –”

            “Shut up.”

            “Karen and Foggy!” he pressed, anger biting through the words. “Don’t you think they’ll need more protection than me? Jesus, Jess, if Bullseye can find me he can find them, and if he took you to lure me out he’ll sure as hell take them!”

            “I already thought of that, dumbass,” she whispered. “Misty put Brett Mahoney on them. They’ll be fine, I promise.”

            Matt hesitated. Jessica seemed utterly spent – she hadn’t even taken another draught and given the fear he could still smell on her skin, she wanted to. And her heart was still panicking. He moved his fingers deftly over the rip in her sleeve, being as gentle as possible. It was a shallow cut, already half healed. Judging by the smell and spread of blood it couldn’t be more than a few hours old though. Matt’s eyebrows quirked in quiet awe. He forgot how amazing this woman was sometimes.

            “I’m fine,” she said quietly. Her heart skipped over the lie.

            “No you’re not,” he said gently, taking her hand again, this time in both of his. “Tell me.”

            “Drop it.” Her heart skipped again, undermining the warning in her tone.

            “Jess.”

            “Matt.”

            “You found answers,” he guessed, and her heart shivered through a double beat, confirming it.

            “Matt, I’m serious. Drop it.”

            He squeezed her hand. “Is Trish okay?”

            A single, weary nod.

            “Are you hurt anywhere else?”

            A vague shake.

            “Want something to eat?”

            An exasperated breath rushed from her lips. “Just shut the fuck up, Matt.” She ripped her hand from his.

            He leant back slightly, startled by the sudden venom in her tone.

            “C’mon, Jess. It’s me.”

            “I said shut up!” Before he had time to react her hands were pounding into his chest and he was sailing through the air and into the closet under the stairs. The old doors buckled and cracked against his back and he fell to a heap on the ground, sawdust sprinkling like snow onto his head and shoulders as he coughed for breath.

            Jessica’s heart beat a frantic rhythm into the stunned silence.

            “Fuck. Shit. I’m sorry Matt, I – I’ve gotta go, I’m sorry.”

            “Jessica, wait!”

            He clambered to his feet and caught her wrist as she fled. They both knew she could break his hold without even trying, but she stopped.

            “Jess, talk to me. Please.”

            He could taste the tang of unshed tears in the air and his heart was trembling in his chest, aching for whatever was doing this to her. He’d never seen her so ... raw.

            “Please let me help you, Jess,” he whispered fervently. He hesitated for half a second. “I’d do anything for you.”

            Before he could understand what was happening Jessica had turned around and grabbed the back of his neck. Her lips were on his with a ferocity he’d never felt from her before, dazzling him with its intensity. Something he had not felt in a long time lurched in his stomach and his hands fell against the small of her back.

            For one moment. Then he gripped her shoulders and pushed her gently back. Again, she could’ve kept him locked in her embrace. But she would never do that.

            “Talk to me,” he pleaded, true fear pulling at the words. She hesitated, her breath hitching on unshed tears and he tightened his grip. “There is nothing you could say, Jessica. Nothing. I’m here. Please, let me help.”

            She snapped his arms away and took a step back, salt dripping into the air as the tears left the shelter of her lashes.

            “What do you want me to say,” she snapped, venom trembling from the words under the weight of her tears, “that I'm fucked up? That I should've died with my family? Because I fucking well did! You wanna know how fucked up I am, Matt? I literally died. I’m technically a freaking zombie. I died in that crash with my whole family, then IG-fucking-H bribed the coroner and they injected all of us with drugs – all of us, Matt. And I came back. Not my kid brother, who never hurt a goddamn fly, no. Me. I came back and I was braindead and they gave more drugs – and you know what stopped them there? How I escaped the hell you went through? The fucking IRS. There was an audit and they had to unload subjects, hide us so they wouldn’t be found out. So I get sent to a hospital and they think I’m in a coma and the next thing I know I’m waking up hearing Trish say my whole family’s dead.

            “And of course I never remember any of this ‘cause on top of everything else they pump me with freaking amnesiac drugs – never mind the fucking brain trauma would freaking take care of that, no! They’ve gotta cover their bases so they can just abduct more people and fuck them up however they want! And I get these stupid powers – it was literally an accident! A freaking side effect, Matt! The only reason they never got me back was they figured I wasn’t fucking worth it – I should have been in their goddamn labs for years but instead I grow up with freaking Patsy! How the fuck is that fair!"

            Matt stayed perfectly still as her furious pain filled the apartment. For the first time, her heartbeat was truly unsteady. For the first time, he heard uncertainty there. Something akin to vulnerability.

            In that moment, Matt would have traded all his senses to take that pain from her. To heal her wounded heart.

            But he couldn’t. So instead he stepped slowly forward, his hands held docilely out to her. Her breathing sawed through the space between them, but she let him approach. She let him take her in his arms and hold her head against his shoulder. She let him run a hand along her back until her breathing eased.

            “None of that,” he said quietly, his voice as steady as hers always was for him. “None of that, Jess, is your fault.”

            “Shut up,” she almost whimpered into his collarbone. She twisted her face towards his neck, burying herself against him.

            “No,” he said firmly. “You need to hear me, Jessica Jones. You need to listen. What was done to you is out of your control. You cannot punish yourself for the decisions of others.” Something twinged uncomfortably in his gut. He could almost feel Foggy roll his eyes. Tightening his hold on Jessica, he kept himself present. Put his mind back to her.

            “Especially when you still turned into such an amazing, good person.” She stiffened against him and he held her tighter still, tasting a fresh wave of salt. “I understand the voice that beats you down, Jess, that promises you’re a piece of shit. But it’s a liar, sweetheart. You are the bravest, strongest person I have ever known. You’re my hero, Jessica. I would be lost without you. Please don’t think you should be anything but who you are.”

            Her shoulders slumped under his arms with a hitching breath. He rested his chin on her shoulder and closed his eyes, listening to her soft sobs, her weeping heartbeat. Wishing, dear God, wishing he could do more.

            She pushed against his chest and he relaxed his arms around her. A wave of tears washed over his tongue as she looked up at him, and before he could do more than smile her hand was on his cheek, her breath ghosting uncertainly over his lips a heartbeat before she pulled him to her.

            This kiss was different. It was no distraction, no desperate need to feel something other than the agony ripping the heart apart. It was softer, gentler. Tender in a way he had never expected Jessica Jones to be. He could feel her gratitude in her lips as they moved delicately against his, in the soft, calming warmth of her palm against his cheek, his jaw, her fingers brushing through his hair.

            It was perfect. She was perfect.

            And a chasm opened in his chest, an immense, fanged maw roaring wide to swallow him whole because he could not do this. He could not be this for her. She needed someone ... whole. Someone who could hold her together.

            Someone stronger than he was.

            Gently, as though pulling gauze from an open wound, he pulled away from her, his head hung low, avoiding eyes he knew must be beautiful.

            “Jessica,” he mumbled, stroking his thumb along her cheek for one blissful moment before stepping back. “We can’t do this.”

            “Why not?” He smiled at the bite in her words. Always so ready to fight.

            “You know why.”

            “No, Matt,” she said defiantly. “I don’t.”

            “Jess ...”

            “Don’t Jess me, Murdock! Tell me why!”

            “You saw me when I could barely understand you were real,” he said quietly, a hardness contorting the words into something almost accusatory. Challenging. “I was pathetic, Jessica. Piteous, weak. I ... I still am. You can’t want that, Jessica. You can’t.”

            “Except I do, idiot.”

            His very heart seemed to hesitate.

            “You can’t.”

            She shifted her weight, drawing closer to him, her scent washing over him anew and God, that wasn’t fair.

            “You are the biggest dumbass I have ever met, Matt. You still think you’re as broken as the first day you asked me if this was real. How are you not seeing how far you’ve come? Everyone else can. Jesus Matt, I know what those drugs did to you. I felt them. Just one dose for one day and fuck. I don’t see how I would’ve survived months of that, never mind all the other shit. But you did. But since you haven’t moved past it like two seconds after it all ended you’re a failure? No, you idiot.”

            “It’s not about taking time, Jess,” he ground out through clenched teeth, his heart quivering with the wish for her words to be true, to believe the steadiness of her pulse. “I’m no good for you. My life is beyond fucked up. I should be dead, Jessica. I died under Midland Circle and Elektra brought me back and I don’t mean with CPR or experimental drugs. The Black Sky brought me back. It’s not like it was with you, you were just a kid, you didn’t – I shouldn’t be here. I’m beyond broken. Beyond damaged. My soul, it ... I’m not whole. You’ve already been through so much, Jessica. I don’t want to hurt you. More than I already have. But believe me, I’ll hurt you. Everyone I love gets hurt. Everyone.”

            All anger had faded from his tone. A cold, numbing weight pulled on his heart, constricting his lungs. A tear escaped down the side of his cheek and he hated himself for it.

            Jessica exhaled in a rush and he couldn’t tell if it was anger or something else that fuelled the abrupt exodus. Silence beat between them amid the pulses of their hearts and he waited for the lash to fall, tensing against it.

            “That is such bullshit, Matt.” He blinked, still tense. He’d been expecting fury, not ... compassion. “You think I’m not every bit as fucked up as you? Every bit as broken? You think I drink three bottles of Jack a day ‘cause I like the taste? I’m a piece of shit but you make me feel like a person. I know you’ve been through hell, but so have I. We walked some of it together. We got each other out. I don’t care that you’ve got scars, I care that you don’t see mine. And not in some blind guy way, I mean you never treat me like I’m scarred. You know this makes sense, you and me. We’d work, I know it, and I’m not into all that sentimental romantic bullshit. Hell, we’re both zombies – who else is gonna know how that feels?” She was smiling and he tried to match it, but couldn’t. Tried to speak, but was too afraid of breaking the spell she was weaving with those perfect, healing words.

            “You get me, Matt,” she said slowly, her voice low and sincere. “Like no one else does. And I get you. And I’ve already been hurt. Kilgrave hurt me, my parents hurt me, IGH fucking hurt me, but you? I’ve already been to your funeral, seen you tortured past what any guy should be able to come back from. What can you do to me?” Her hand was on his cheek again and God, she was so gentle, so tender it was almost painful.

            “How can you possibly break me in any way I’m not already broken? You think I won’t love you because you don’t believe you’re the strongest person I know? Because you get nightmares and panic attacks and flashbacks? Well I get them too, and I don’t know shit about handling them and neither do you so let’s figure it out together. Hell, let’s ignore it – drown it – but let’s do it together. If you don’t want this – if you don’t want me – then say so, but don’t hide behind this self-deprecating bullshit because we both know what it is. If you’re still in love with Page or that psycho zombie bitch, then fine, I’ll back off, but I get you, Matt. And I could be good for you. I’m not like them. You won’t have to protect me. I can take care of myself. I don’t need Daredevil or a blind lawyer. I just want you. You, Matt.”

            “J-Jess, I – I –” He didn’t have the words. He just wanted hers to be as true as her heart believed them to be.

            Her hand was on his chest and she was so close her breath brushed past his lips with all the comfort of a summer breeze. The storm inside his chest had changed. There was a roar to it now and for the first time it felt ... hopeful. But the blackness that had nothing to do with blindness still sucked at his mind, at his world. He couldn’t subject her to that. What if it tried to crush her too? He closed his eyes, helplessness turning his blood cold, and leaned forward until the warmth of her forehead pressed into his own. A beacon in the night.

            Father Lantom had told him to find a light to follow. Jessica Jones was his sun.

            Fuck the darkness.

            “I want you,” he breathed, and something deep inside his heart shifted. Clicked back into place. Filled and eased in a way he had forgotten was possible. He gasped and the air came freely, laced with the sapor of Jessica Jones and God, if she was the reason, if she was the solace, then maybe his luck hadn’t left him after all. Maybe his God had not left him.

            He reached for her face with both his hands and kissed her and the moment their lips touched his mind evaporated, all thought dissolved by the feel of her against him, the taste of her drowning out all else because this. This is what would heal him. She could make him whole again.

            Time left them, then. So did doubt, and fear, and all the reasons this had taken so damn long. Her arms were around his neck and she kissed him every bit as fiercely, with as much need as he kissed her, and then she was in his arms, her legs around his waist and he carried her to the bed. It was not too soon. It couldn’t be. It was exactly right.

            She ripped his shirt open, sending buttons flying to ping in a half-dozen harmonies around the room and she laughed and that melody was so beautiful he joined in. He pulled her jacket off and dumped it aside, and her shirt fell atop it moments later. Then everything else. The whip of his belt as she wrenched it free should have sent him back to IGH, but it didn’t, because Jessica was here.

            Matt pulled her onto the bed and he could not remember the last time breathing had been this easy, this wonderful. She straddled him, her hands tracing the planes of his face, his jaw, his neck. His scars. He closed his eyes under her touch, relishing the feel of her skin and God, he wanted to see her. Raising his hands he traced her hair to her temples and felt for himself just how beautiful she was. The wide curve of her forehead. The sleek arcs of her brows. Her perfectly straight nose, ending in an upturn that surprised and delighted him – he did not even try to hold back his smile. Her cheeks, fitting perfectly into his palm. Full, soft lips, pulled upwards in a smile that stole his breath, for him, because of him. The round, stubborn chin he could pinch to draw her closer so her heavy breaths rolled past his skin.

            He wanted more. So did she.

            She let his hands glide gently down her neck, over her shoulders and collarbone, resting a moment over the drumbeat of her heart, then on to her breasts, her ribs, her stomach. Her hips. Her thighs. Then back, up and along her arms until her fingers were twined in his own and she leaned forward, pinning him against the bed and her hair fell over his face, a curtain past his ears that shut out the entire world and Jessica Jones was his world now, she filled it, she shaped it, and God, this was what living feels like.

            Her heart beat with his in perfect harmony. The air was a cocktail of their desire. He rolled her onto her back and rested his hand over her chest, feeling every moment of every beautiful note. Her tongue flicked playfully against his, her teeth nipping his lower lip with just the right amount of force and for the first time in far too long, Matthew Murdock felt whole. He felt strong. He felt masculine and in control and controlled and God, the melody of her body was a symphony he wanted to listen to forever. She moved against him, with him, like twin swords, like duel clubs. As though each of their broken edges aligned to make a single, fortified whole. There was space for him to weave his own harmony through her song and damnit it sounded like the sky he could barely remember.

            Their orchestra of two rose and fell with perfect pacing, floating through the movements sinuously, flowing from one act to another until Matt couldn’t tell anymore who played what notes and it didn’t matter. They crescendoed as one and Matt’s world became a very different kind of fire. One he wanted to burn in forever.

            Matt Murdock drifted into sleep with Jessica Jones in his arms, her skin pressed against his own. Her breath rolling past the scar her idle fingers traced. Her scent harbouring him in their perfect moment. Her heartbeat in time with his.

            And his heart full.

Chapter Text

            They kept the restraints taught, even though they knew he couldn’t move. He was a body on a table, able only to blink and breathe. It was worse when they unbuckled the straps though. It was salt in the wound of his helplessness, knowing that he could get up and fight his way out of his hellhole if only he could move. If they just miscalculated the dose. He wouldn’t need long. Just a few minutes in between injections.

            But they never miscalculated. The machines wouldn’t let them. Automation had removed the human error and he was nothing but a mildly intriguing variable to them. At best. At worst he was a toy.

            The paralytics were so strong he couldn’t even shudder as the memories ghosted past his skin. He couldn’t shake his head to wrench his focus elsewhere. He couldn’t even take a deep breath to brace himself. The hose strapped to his face dictated every inhale, forcing carefully measured gusts into his lungs every few seconds. He was lucky, though. They weren’t suffocating him yet. Just controlling everything about him.

            Even his mind.

            “Pathetic,” Stick chuckled somewhere above him, his cane rapping aggressively against the linoleum. For one blistering moment, he was relieved. Stick could get him out of here, Stick could help – but then he remembered. And the tube would not let him cry.

            “You know,” Stick drawled, his voice moving closer, the spectre of false warmth brushing against his bare arm. “I really thought you were made of stronger stuff than this, kid. But no. You let yourself get nabbed by these pencil-pushers and now look at you. Can’t even take a shit without someone wiping your ass.” He chuckled again and God, he would pick the whip over that sound any day. “And here I thought you were a warrior. Pathetic.”

            Stick’s voice turned away, the snap of his cane fading and he wanted to shout after him, to beg him to stay, to kill him. But he couldn’t move. And he had no voice. They had taken it away.

            Hours later – or, maybe seconds – a new scent trickled through the stench of sterile air. Lotus and embers. He closed his eyes and wished her away, but of course it did nothing. She would not be denied.

            “It’s ironic, isn’t it Matthew?” Elektra asked casually and his name landed like a brand on his ears. She wasn’t there, he had no name here, but he could feel her finger skating over his breast and he couldn’t react, couldn’t shiver, couldn’t try to pull away. “You finally get your wish, you finally get to do something noble, something brave, something to finally make your father proud, and look. This is what it was worth. What you’re worth. This is how your God has valued you. I guess all those prayers couldn’t make up for the devil, could they, Matthew?”

            He screwed his eyes tight shut, willing himself not to listen, not to hear her. Her fingers scored along his skin, gliding down to trace the thick, tender scar she had left on his abdomen.

            “All because you thought you could save me.” She laughed. He couldn’t remember how that sound had ever been a solace to him, but he knew at one point it had. An instinct surviving only to aggravate his wounds. Her hand slapped flat on his stomach, her painted nails digging into his skin and her lips were millimetres from his ear and it should be comforting, it should be a blessing, but then she spoke.

            “You never saved anyone, Matthew. You never even loved me. I was an excuse to let the devil out and I died for it. For you. Because of you. Twice.”

            The buzz of the lock. The muted whistle as the door swung open. Three footsteps, three heartbeats entering. He focused every ounce of his ruined mind on the newcomers, on his heart beating frantically in his own chest, of the awful, regimented breaths, anything to banish her aching touch.

            He should have learned by then not to make such foolish wishes.

            Metal clinked against metal. Plastic rubbed against itself with grating monotony. Electricity fizzled along carefully maintained wires. He opened his eyes in horror. Electroshock. They’d never done it this soon after the last treatment before and damnit he needed to breathe, to prepare for his world to ignite on his skin and he –

            Something was different. New. The probes were far smaller than usual. He forced himself to listen to the men handling them, but their words refused to make sense. Technical jargon. Meaningless chit chat. The words skipped and danced out of reach, his mind too numb and fractured to catch them.

            They were flanking him before he had time to construct his now-feeble mental wall. They sat on squeaking stools either side of his head and he really thought he had learned all there was to learn about fear here. He thought he knew all its secrets. But a panic such as nothing he had ever known was consuming him, rushing through his every fibre like floodwater down a storm pipe. He wanted to shake, thrash against his bonds until his wrists and ankles bled again, but he was trapped inside his own body, pristinely helpless as the scorching sparks hummed ever closer.

            The last thing he heard before the buzz of electricity erased all sound was the two men laughing.

            Abruptly, he was somewhere else. His body unfettered, responsive, and before he could piece together what had happened he was on his feet, running. He stumbled over something that might’ve been a threshold and tripped, landing gracelessly against a hard floor that bit into his bare knees. One flailing hand caught on something coarse and rough and solid and he knew that texture, that shape.

            Why was his armchair in Hell?

            It took a long, agonising moment before he realised he could hear. The swarm of lights on the billboard outside, the contented hum of the streetlamps. His own gasping half-breaths sawing through his lungs. He curled in on himself, needing the world to make sense, only noticing then that he was naked. Why was he –

            Jessica.

            She strode towards him shining like a comet, a shimmering through the black void in a combination of her fierce heartbeat, the feel of her movement, the aroma that hung around her like a haze. He tried to smile for her but knew it didn’t work. He was shaking hard, his breathing manic. She knelt down by his side and took his hand in hers. She laid it gently over her heart.

            “Matt.”

            Matt. Matthew Murdock. His name. He had a name.

            “What street did you grow up on?”

            Her voice was a rope of calm cast into his raging sea and he took hold of it with everything he had.

            “Tenth and f-forty-first,” he gasped, his voice alien to his own ears.

            IGH. Trish Walker’s apartment. Freeing the others. Elektra.

            Karen. Foggy.

            “The next block over?” She was drawing him in, back to solid ground.

            It was a nightmare. Just another dream. He hadn’t had one that bad in a long time.

            “Dyer Av-Avenue,” he breathed, the air coming a little more gently now.

            “The next intersection?” Her fingers wrapped around his wrist, keeping his hand anchored against the reliable beat of her heart and he nodded.

            “F-fortieth and n-ninth.” He nodded again and for the first time managed to take a slow, full breath. He made another attempt at a smile for her. “I’m – I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

            “Don’t be stupid,” she said softly, and her other hand came to rest against his cheek. “I get them too.” He closed his eyes, relishing the grounding pressure, and leaned into her touch. Finally, his shoulders relaxed.

            They stayed like that for a long moment, until Matt had his air back. Then, without saying a word, Jessica pulled him to his feet and, never breaking contact with his skin, lead him back to bed.

            He climbed in after her and let her guide his head to rest against her chest, his ear almost directly over her heart. She kept one hand resting on his head, her fingers idly twirling locks of his hair. The other traced infinities along the bare skin of his upper arm and all the while her breath rolled past his temple, her heart drumming its steady march. The vibrations of every beat shimmered through their joined skin, thrumming so soothingly through his skull. Gently lulling his fevered thoughts into blissful stillness.

            Jessica’s arms were curled around him in a harbour, holding him safe and wanted against the terrors that plagued their world. The last thing Matt was aware of before he slipped into a kinder sleep was the shy pressure of her lips against his hair.

Chapter Text

            “Why’re you putting on a tie, we’re not going anywhere special.”

            Matt grinned over at her and shrugged, tugging the accessory in question into place. “Just ‘cause I can’t see doesn’t mean I don’t care how I look.”

            Jessica snorted. “Might wanna fix your hair, then, Devil Boy.”

            He reached for his hair uncertainly, smoothing down an imagined horn. Jessica’s fingers wrapped around his wrist and pulled it down.

            “I was kidding,” she said softly, a new kind of smile lilting through the words. “You look great.”

            Matt hoped his blush wasn’t too noticeable. Just in case it was, he said,

            “Did – did you just compliment me?”

            She definitely rolled her eyes, he was sure of it.

            “Don’t get used to it, asshole.”

            He chuckled. “That’s better,” he drawled. “Much more in-character.”

            “Shut up.”

            He leaned closer, until his lips were a breath away from hers.

            “Never.” He drowned her retort with a kiss, adoring how it – how he – made her heart give a little bound in her chest, interrupting her rhythm with a tiny jolt of happiness.

            When he pulled away Jessica held still for a moment, then turned for the door saying in a deadpan,

            “I regret everything.”

            Laughing heartily – for the first time in months – Matt followed, pulling the door open for her. The air was filled with the texture of her hair as she walked past and her scent blew over him. It took him a second to be able to follow her.

            He waited until they were outside to unfurl his cane, reaching automatically for Jess’s elbow as he did. She twisted slightly in his light grip.

            “Why bother?” she asked, indicating the cane, he assumed. “Just take the specs off, no one’s gonna know.”

            “Um,” he started, not sure how much to say. He decided on the truth. “It’s nice not having to concentrate all the time. Being led, um, it’s just easier.”

            “Huh. Fair enough.” She pressed her elbow more firmly into his palm and Matt bit back a smile that warmed his cheeks from the inside.

            He actually felt good today.

            The rustle of cloth filled their private bubble as Jessica pulled out her phone, erasing the sparks of an argument two streets over. Judging by the fluid frequency of her tapping, Matt guessed she was texting.

            “Where’re we meeting them?”

            She jerked her head to the side, flicking her hair from her eyes before she answered.

            “Trish’s. Figured it makes sense.”

            “How’s she doing?”

            Jessica’s heart gave a worried little stumble. “Good, I guess. Says she is.” There was a pause. “I’m texting her we’re on our way.”

            Matt hesitated. “Are you, uh, gonna tell her about, um, about last night?”

            Hair slid against leather as she turned to him, most likely throwing him the sort of look that would make him glad he couldn’t see.

            “Are you insane? She has a concussion, I could kill her.”

            He snorted, but angled his face towards the sidewalk in case the sting showed on his face.

            “Good call.”

            Their footsteps filled the silence for a moment.

            “Then again, she’ll kill me if I keep this kind of gossip to myself,” Jessica said, her tone caught between resigned and amused. “Honestly I think she’s been holding back her inner matchmaker or something,” she finished quickly, a delicate warm painting her cheeks against the drab canvas of the chilly day.

            Matt chewed his lip to curb his smile. He didn’t feel like getting punched just then.

            “So what’s the plan, anyway?” he asked to distract her from her own embarrassment, not really caring about the answer.

            She shrugged under his arm.

            “Figure out how to keep everyone alive until Bullseye’s dealt with.”

            “Don’t you mean how to keep me alive?” he asked dryly. God, today was going to suck. Jessica shifted under his grip and he amended that thought: parts of today were going to suck.

            “Safer to assume everyone’s a target. Trish, Nelson, Page. Maybe Claire. Danny.”

            “Danny?” Matt asked, not following.

            Jess huffed a breath in a way Matt associated with rolled eyes.

            “Everyone wants to kill Danny.”

            Matt laughed. “Oh, come on. Remember that time you said something nice about him?”

            “Nope,” she said shamelessly. She leaned away from him slightly as she hailed a taxi that drove straight by. She stopped. “Asshole. Hang on, here’s another. Hey! Taxi! Asshole!”

            Matt snorted and slid his grip to Jessica’s hand. To his delight, she didn’t pull away. He could smell a third cab pulling around the corner down the street, empty. The driver was hungry but his head was turned in their direction.

            “This next guy’ll stop,” he guessed.

            “He better.”

            Shaking his head with a soft laugh, Matt leant forward and kissed her cheek. Because he could. Jess blushed again, turning away to hide it and his smile grew.

            Then it faltered.

            “Twe-elve, oh Twe-elve!”

            Matt stiffened, tilting his head slightly to locate the sing-song whisper. There. Across the street, on the roof. His stomach plummeted right through the subway lines hurtling beneath them. He could taste the waiting powder and cold plastic of a rifle held in Bullseye’s hands, the tension of the cocked hammer like the silence before a punch.

            “Oh good,” Bullseye purred, his voice as low and sweet as it was every time he wrenched one of Matt’s broken bones aside with a fresh blow. “You can hear me. Then listen close, Twelve. I got a deal for you. Right now,” he said calmly, “I’m looking right at Jessie’s pretty face through my sniper lens. She’s annoying me, Twelve. She’s blocking you.”

            Matt bristled at the nickname and gripped Jessica’s hand tighter. Still focused on nabbing a taxi, she misunderstood and squeezed back.

            “So I’ve got a deal for you, Twelve. You step aside so I can kill you, or I kill your pretty girlfriend. And,” he added thoughtfully, “then I’ll go to Patsy Walker’s apartment and kill everyone who knows you. The fat one, the pretty blond, even that nice little nursey friend.” Bullseye giggled and Matt tensed. “I promise I won’t kill any of them if you die, though. Their lives for yours. Your choice, Twelve. You have until three.”

            Matt’s heart thundered through his ears, pounding through his frozen muscles in a silent, desperate plea to be allowed continue its march.

            “One.”

            His mind was racing – what if he grabbed Jess and hit the ground, shielded her with his body? No, he could feel the power of that rifle, the bullet could rip right through him into her.

            “Two,” Bullseye drawled, his finger stroking the trigger, lending the curve of cool metal a momentary glow of warmth.

            Matt swallowed and let all his fear drain away. With a tiny nod, he tugged Jessica closer, drawing her attention away from the street. He didn’t have time to spare her what she was about to witness. He hoped she’d be able to forgive him that, one day.

            He raised his hand to her cheek and pulled her into their last kiss. Too short, far too short, but he poured into it all he didn’t have the time to say.

            “Tick-tock, Twelve.”

            Matt pulled away and smiled at the miracle in his hand. He was dimly aware of her heart bolting to a frightened, unsure rhythm. But he could barely hear it over the terrified hammering of his own.

            “Keep them safe for me,” he whispered, stroking her cheekbone with his thumb. “I’m so sorry, Jess.”

            He wanted more. More time with her, to hold her, be held by her. Hear her call him an asshole every day for as long as she would let him.

            But this was no choice. And he was out of time.

            Before she could say anything, before she could understand, Matthew Murdock let his hand slide from her skin and took his last step. He let Jessica anchor his mind, let her fill the world so he wouldn’t hear Bullseye’s smile, whatever parting taunts he had ready.

            He still heard the hammer fall, though. Still felt the bullet be spat from the gun.

            He felt it rip through his cane, jerking it in his fingers. Then it ripped through him.

            The pain wasn’t as bad as he had feared. More like a distant storm, way off on the horizon. Weirdly, his head and shoulders ached more. It took him a moment to realise that was because he had fallen onto the hard sidewalk of the city.

            His city.

            Well. It had survived without him before.

            The world was distorted. Echoing. Half of it seemed to be missing.

            Jessica was screaming again, somewhere far away. Worse than when Bullseye had her. Matt knew her hands were on his chest, pressing into the tang of copper he could barely taste, but he couldn’t quite feel it. He was too numb to feel. Too cold. The warmth had vanished with his breath.

            Jessica. He was going to miss her. She deserved better than this.

            He wanted to raise a hand to her cheek again, feel her beauty one last time, but a great, darkening weight was pressing him mercilessly into nothingness. The world was fading. Only fragmented snippets remained.

            Engines roaring. A high-pitched, child-like giggle. A vague layer of cloying, hot copper that should be worse than it was.

            The salt of Jessica’s tears.

            The paltry warmth of her hands on his chest was evaporating along with everything else. The cold was drawing him in, irrevocably, ruthlessly.

            Permanently.

            With a last, valiant effort, Matt forced his lips into a final, farewell smile. He meant to breathe in again, but the air refused to come. Instead, his lungs stilled.

He needed to tell Jessica something. Something important. He tried to open his mouth, but he couldn’t feel it anymore. Wasn’t sure it was still there. All he knew was the cold, and a new blackness far surpassing what he had known for so many years, stealing his world.

            He was out of time.

            His last thought was the dying flicker of a flame quenched by an icy night that would never dawn.

            I love you, Jessica Jones.

Chapter Text

            “This next guy’ll stop,” Matt said, sounding like he knew shit about New York cab drivers.

            “He better.”

            Shaking his head with a soft laugh, Matt leant forward and kissed her cheek. Jessica blushed and his smile widened so she turned back to the street and tried to stop herself grinning like a moron. There was another taxi driving right by, clearly empty, clearly seeing her. She waved her hand. He ignored her.

            For fuck’s sake.

            Matt squeezed her hand and goddamn it if she turned around and he had that dopey grin on his stupid face she wasn’t sure if she’d punch him or drag him into an alley. She kept her attention on the road and hoped he couldn’t tell just how hard she was biting her cheek to keep her face normal. Jesus, who smiled this much?

            She squeezed his hand back though, ‘cause, massive dork though he was, he was also kinda sweet.

            Another cab ignored her – did she look broke or something? – and Matt tugged her arm, pulling her around. She only had a second to take in his expression before his hand was on her cheek and his lips were on hers. For half a moment, she just thought it was a kiss, ‘cause Matt was a complete dope.

            But then she registered his expression. The quiet intensity of the kiss. It was too fierce, too sudden. Too much like a goodbye. He broke away quickly, smiling that dopey grin she loved, but not quite. His eyes were sad behind the ruby lenses, staring into her cheek. Not sure why, fear prickled along her spine, warning her.

            “Keep them safe for me,” he whispered, stroking her cheekbone with his thumb. “I’m sorry, Jess.”

            Before she could do more than frown his fingers trailed away from her skin, the air frigid and stinging without them. He stepped aside with the oddest expression on his face and she opened her mouth to make fun of him, say something smart to break the sudden weird tension of the moment.

            Then his cane exploded. Jessica started, staring at the jagged shards falling from his fingers. She looked up at him, perplexed, and her heart froze.

            A dark red stain was eating through the perfect white shirt, just to the left of the subtly patterned tie. Jessica stared at it, not understanding what it meant. She glanced to Matt’s face and her stomach flipped horribly. He was pale, his expression caught between pain and shock and the death of a smile.

            The red stain grew, its centre almost black and Matt was falling. Collapsing. Dropping like a dead weight. Eyes rolling shut.

            Jessica reached out to catch him, too late, and his head thwacked into the sidewalk. She was by his side in the same instant, her hands hovering frantically for a second before her brain finally caught up.

            Matt was shot. In the chest.

            Her stomach burrowed through the concrete, fleeing the realisation.

            Matt was shot in the heart.

            She wasn’t really aware of the scream that built itself along the scaffolding of her throat. Her mind was momentarily disconnected, her body taking over, operating on some instinct that barely made sense.

            She turned around and looked for the shooter across the street. A flash of sun drew her eye to the roof and she ripped a parking meter out of the ground and threw it blindly at the falsely harmless glimmer. In the same movement she stepped forward, grabbed the car parked by the curb – her knuckles stinging as they manufactured handholds – and heaved it onto its side, dragging it closer with a piercing shriek she hoped didn’t hurt Matt’s stupid ears.

            Matt.

            The car swayed alarmingly as she dropped it, but it stayed on its side. She whirled back around, kneeling by Matt’s side and pressing both hands into the huge lake of burgundy eroding his torso.

            “Matt? Matt! C’mon, speak to me! Answer me you asshole!”

            Her voice was shaking so badly it almost didn’t sound like her. With one hand she wrenched Matt’s glasses free, needing to see his eyes. They were half-open, bleary, blinking slowly. Somehow they looked more unfocused than usual, almost as though they were –

            Emptying.

            “No, no, no, Matt, please, please stay with me, stay with me!” She gripped his cheek, her hand slick in a red glove, while the other pressed harder into his chest.

            His eyes were sliding shut. His awful, wheezing breath became a rattle.

            “No, no, not again, no, Matt, don’t, please don’t leave me, Matt – Matt!”

            His lips, crimson with his own blood, twitched into a shadow of that dopey grin that was her favourite, then his features went completely slack and the faint, subtle rise of his chest stopped. The hand he had been trying to raise to her face flopped into stillness against the pavement.

            “N-no,” Jessica mumbled, blinking fast so she could see. “No, Matt, please. Matthew, don’t. Please don’t.”

            She was dimly aware that she wasn’t breathing properly. But that didn’t matter. Matt wasn’t breathing at all.

            Well fuck that.

            Steeling herself with all her considerable strength, Jessica shifted beside Matt and scowled down at him, placing the heel of one hand on the firm hollow at the base of his breastbone. Then the other over it, fingers interlocking. She pressed down, hard. A tiny voice in the back of her head worried she’d break him, but his chest bucked and rose and she shoved into him again. A horrible thocking squelch filled her ears instead of Matt’s breathing but she clenched her jaw and ignored it. She ignored too the lethargic glug of blood still oozing from his breast with every violent beat of her hands.

            Someone was saying something, but she didn’t bother listening. There was a crowd around her, someone kneeling on Matt’s other side, a phone in one hand. Good. He’d need an ambulance. When she got his heart beating again.

            She’d forgotten to count but when her own lungs felt tight she paused and leant down to Matt, tilting his head back as gently as she could. She pinched his nose and gave him two breaths, then returned to the compressions.

            His expression hadn’t changed at all. He was completely still save the jolt of her desperate attempt to keep him with her. His eyes closed, lips parted ... Blood everywhere.

            If this was a nightmare she wanted to wake up now.

            She didn’t.

            Fuck.

            A dull crack ripped through their private stillness and Jessica felt one of his ribs snap. The violence of it vibrated up through her wrists like an accusation. She flinched, tears crowding her vision, but she did not break her rhythm. Matt Murdock was not dying. Not today. Not now. Not here on this dirty fucking street in Hell’s Kitchen. Not in her arms.

            She couldn’t do that. Not again. She wouldn’t survive losing him.

            Please, she begged anything with the power to fix this, please don’t let him die. Please, he doesn’t deserve it. Give him back to me.

            Jessica only noticed the siren when the ambulance jolted to a halt beside them. The crowd she didn’t give a shit about parted and two paramedics appeared in front of her, the neon strips of their uniforms too bright for the black, white, and red scene.

            God, Matt was so pale. All colour had drained out of the hole and onto her hands.

            Fingers snapped in front of her face and she looked up, startled. One paramedic was talking to her while the other readied a machine she vaguely recognised from TV. Jessica gave her head a tight shake and forced herself to listen.

            “How long has he been unconscious?”

            He wasn’t unconscious. He was dead.

            “I don’t know.”

That didn’t sound like her voice. It sounded like the corpse of her voice. Matt was a corpse now.

            “What happened?”

            I failed him.

            “He got shot.”

            “Did you see who?”

            You should’ve been paying attention.

            “No.”

            “Stop – let me.”

            I can’t help him.

            Not feeling anything, filled with a numbness that should terrify her, Jessica slumped back on her knees, her hands shaking drops of Matt’s blood onto his arm. She watched the paramedic continue CPR, then stop to rip open Matt’s shirt and stick electrodes onto his chest.

            It looked so much worse. The blood. Red, crimson, burgundy, black. A tiny Krakatoa destroying itself on the seas of Matt’s bone-white flesh. She could barely even see his scars.

            She couldn’t touch him – they were about to try and shock the life back into him. But she wanted to run her fingers through his hair, hold his hand, whisper to him that he was going to be okay, it was all going to be okay.

            But she couldn’t move. Couldn’t speak. She wasn’t entirely sure she was breathing. But she must be. Because the nightmare wasn’t ending.

            The shock punched into his chest and Matt bucked and convulsed and God, she shouldn’t’ve let them do that, he was going to get lost in memory again but no, he wasn’t there, he was gone and she couldn’t watch him jerk and shake like that, it was like those godawful videos of what they did to him and –

            A mask obscured half of Matt’s face, pushing air into his dead lungs and it looked just like the hose IGH had used on him. The paramedic pounded into his heart again and the monitor by his thigh beeped unfeelingly.

            They shocked him again. It looked like another seizure.

            The mask again. Compressions. Clear.

            Mask.

            Compressions.

            Clear.

            She had never told him she loved him. She should have.

            Mask.

            I love you, Matt Murdock. Please don’t die.

           

 

            He heard her.

            She didn’t understand how, but he did. The monitor beeped when it shouldn’t have and the paramedics were all over him and Jessica couldn’t keep up but she did know she could touch him now and she took Matt’s hand in hers so tightly she might’ve broken something but that did not fucking matter because she was not letting him leave her again. Not ever.

            The world started shorting. Buffering. She stared at Matt’s empty face for hours while the paramedics readied their stretcher, then she was sitting by his side in the ambulance, keeping his hand steady in the vice of her own as they tore through the streets of the city he wasn’t dying for this time.

            His heart stopped again. She held his hand tighter until the paramedics pushed her back, saying something in a calm, commanding voice that couldn’t get through the cotton in her ears.

            Matt tensed and convulsed again. His back arched and his fingers twitched as though looking for her. He must be so terrified, caught in a flashback worse than those nightmares that woke him with a strangled scream and set him fleeing before he was truly awake.

            They arrived at the hospital before his heart could beat again. Jessica listened, but her ears weren’t as strong as his and she didn’t know if the metronomic notes beating through the chaos was Matt or someone trying to save him. She followed his stretcher until a crowd of scrubs pushed her back, telling her to wait and let them do their job and if she had done her job properly this wouldn’t be happening.

            The last she saw of Matt Murdock as he was wheeled away where she could not follow was a brief glimpse of his face. An oxygen mask covered most of it, the blue-tinged plastic making his skin look even paler than it had on the sidewalk. His eyes were closed, his brow smooth. But he didn’t look peaceful. He just looked dead.

            Then the gap in the chaos closed and the double doors swung shut and he was truly gone. Jessica looked down at her hands. They were shaking. Badly. Completely covered in Matt’s blood. As though she’d dipped them both in paint, up to her wrists. There was more on her shirt. And her jeans.

            That was so much blood. Way too much.

            She was going to throw up. She staggered into the nearest bathroom and heaved into the first empty stall and the breakfast Matt had made her slithered back over her tongue. She dented the toilet with the force of her grip. When her stomach convulsed futilely, she pushed herself to the sink and punched the tap.

            It broke. Water raced out of the broken spigot like a tiny flood, running ruby as she placed her hands under the porous jet. It was getting on her clothes.

            When the water had faded to pink she looked up into the mirror and saw someone with long black hair and blood on their face. She blinked, but it didn’t make the reflection’s eyes any more familiar. They looked dead. Lost. Agonised. Terrified.

            It was weird. She couldn’t feel any of that.

Chapter Text

Matt had been in surgery for three hours. Jessica guessed it would take a doctor a minimum of ten minutes to get cleaned up and come tell them he was dead. Every minute the door to their private waiting room stayed closed was another minute Matt was still alive. Or at worst, a moment she didn’t know for sure he was dead.

It was ironic, wasn’t it? Last night she’d felt more alive than she had in years. Happier than ... maybe ever. Because of him. And now he could die any second. Maybe he already was.

Jessica glanced up to the door for the millionth time that hour. Nothing.

Still alive then.

She returned her head to her hands, her fingers claws in her hair. A hand rubbed her shoulder. Nelson again.

Matt was strong. And he was stubborn as fuck. Healthy, mostly. Weaker ‘cause of the whole anorexia thing, but still healthy – hell, he’d eaten some of the French toast he’d made her that morning. His body knew how to survive. He was a fighter. And he’d ... want to live. Wouldn’t he? Surely, if nothing else, he’d want to live and have more amazing sex, right?

She snorted. If he’d had half the experience she had, it’d be worth telling the Grim Reaper to fuck off for a redo.

Except he was messed up. Scared shitless. Hurting. Badly. She was not so arrogant to really believe anything she could do or say or be was enough to bring him back from ... if he ...

There’d been so much blood. His shirt was ruby by the time the paramedics pulled it off, save one sleeve which had looked far too white and pure in comparison. Her shirt had been so drenched with it she’d thrown it out. Her skin was stained red underneath and she couldn’t even remember how that had happened. Had she hugged his body to her before starting CPR? Must have. She vaguely remembered sort of lying on his chest when she was trying to make him open his eyes again.

Those eyes. Shit. They were so beautiful. They made her feel calm, even though they’d never truly looked at her. She might never see those eyes again. Hear that laugh. See that stupid, heartwarming dopey grin that always, always made her smile.

He might die. Matt might die.

An odd noise escaped her throat. It was somewhere between a sob and a laugh, but a bit strangled.

Last night they had sex and now he might die. The universe wasn’t exactly subtle, was it. As far as cosmic jokes went, this had to be the most cruel. As though she needed reminding why she couldn’t be happy.

Nelson’s hand appeared on her back again. Another fleeting, comforting gesture. The fucker didn’t even blame her. She’d been braced for questions and insults and maybe even a couple of fists when they got there, but he’d just said, Thank god you’re safe.

As if god had anything to do with it. She was alive because Matthew fucking Murdock was a martyr who valued a can of soda over his own damn life. She was alive because of him, she knew it. It wasn’t hard to figure. It’d been Bullseye on that roof. Matt would’ve been able to hear him offer a deal. One foot to the left and that bullet would’ve been for her.

She was alive because Matt Murdock valued her life over his own.

And she had no idea how to handle that. Especially in this room of grief.

They’d all arrived together. Everyone. They’d all been waiting at Trish’s to think up a game plan to keep Matt alive. Jessica wanted to choke on the irony, it’d be less painful than this.

Trish was still rocky, her concussion not yet healed. Claire had brought Jess spare clothes because she was a goddamn angel. Nelson was ... If he had a heart attack or some shit and died Matt was never going to forgive her. He was so pale. Zombie-like, except when he noticed someone else was about to lose it. Then he’d wake up enough to pat her shoulder or pull Page into a hug. All the while he’d have that same dead-eyed gaze staring into nothing. Just like that night in the precinct, when everyone came home except his best friend.

Keep them safe for me.

Damn you, Matt.

Claire and Danny still weren’t back. They were trying to swing some fancy private room for Matt and get Claire on his med team. She expected that blind optimism from the kid and she supposed Claire’s pragmatism might be drowning out her realism, but they genuinely seemed to think Matt might actually make it through this. But they hadn’t seen the blood. They hadn’t seen the way his eyes slid shut, the way that last smile faded into an emptiness Jessica knew from experience meant it would never return. She’d used up all her miracles. No way Matt survived this. No one survived getting shot in the goddamn heart.

Misty and Mahoney were out giving statements and forging files so everyone would think a blind lawyer had been shot to death in the street today. They meant it as a contingency. Make Bullseye think he’d finished his mission, give them breathing room while they figured out their next move. There’d be a press release, too. In The Bulletin. Page was meant to do it, but she ... she looked even worse than Nelson. She hadn’t moved in hours. So Ellison got pulled in.

It’s like they were asking for it to be true.

Fuck this. She couldn’t do this. She couldn’t sit here and wait to be told her boy – her Ma – that Matt was dead. Five steps and she was outside, ignoring Luke’s quiet question.

Once in the hallway she hesitated. It’s not like she had anywhere to go. A sign caught her eye and she was moving before she’d made the decision to. She slipped into the stairwell only to realise it had no air. Her lungs worked but nothing happened. Clenching her jaw against the pain of it she tried to bully herself out of a looming panic but Matt was somewhere in this glorified lab fighting and she couldn’t help him. He needed her backup and she was stuck here, helpless and useless, her stupid powers good for nothing at all.

It took her a second to register the sting in her knuckles. Another long moment to comprehend the source. Her fist was embedded in the wall opposite the door. A spiderweb of cracks splintered away from her accidental crater.

“They’re gonna make you pay for that, Jones.”

Luke. Of course Luke.

Slowly, fully aware it should be hurting far more than it was, she pulled her fist free of the wall, watching as little grey flakes flitted to the ground like ash. Blood peppered her knuckles. Her own blood this time. Weird how much of a relief that was.

“They can bill Danny,” she muttered. She still didn’t sound anything like herself. Her voice wasn’t meant to be that rough.

“You know,” Luke said, his shoes scuffing slightly as he stepped forward and laid his hands gently on her shoulders. “One of these days Danny’s gonna realise how much you mooch off him.”

She meant to snort. Meant to laugh and say something else witty and smart and winning. Embrace the distraction Luke was offering. Instead the tears she had been dreading swelled like floodwater over her lashes and a strangled, jerky sob shocked past her lips.

“Oh, Jessica.” Luke’s voice was soft as a sigh.

He turned her gently to face him and wrapped his big arms around her and for once she didn’t even bother to hesitate. She wrapped her arms around his middle and squeezed as tight as she could, her fists full of his hoodie, her face buried into his chest to stifle the sudden tide of ragged sobs trying to cut themselves free of her chest. Luke held her close, his cheek pressed into her head, his gentle shushing as soothing as the rain. He rocked gently from side to side as she bit back the wails, one hand rubbing comfort into her back and fuck it, fuck superstrength, fuck pushing it down. She couldn’t take this. It kept playing over and over behind her eyes. The look on Matt’s face as he fell. His last smile fading into an emptiness that only resembled the man she loved. His blood. Everywhere.

Matt, ignoring her. Not responding to her frantic cries.

He always heard her. He always came for her.

But he just lay there. He couldn’t save her from his own death.

An old wound, one she thought she had submerged permanently under a sea of alcohol and repression, ripped itself open and the pain flowed out like spilled wine and she could see him again, his head crushed, his hand stretched out as though beseeching her help, and where had she been?

In her mind, Stirling’s blood flowed and merged with Matt’s and she – she couldn’t – not again, not – not him.

“Jessica,” Luke cooed, his voice so gentle it startled her. “Jessica, shh. It’s okay. He’ll pull through, you know he will. Matt’s not gonna let one little bullet stop him. Not after all he’s survived. Shh, honey. It’s okay.”

“No it’s not.” The words ground out of her like gravel, leaving bloody grooves in her throat behind them. “I was meant to protect him I –”

“No, Jess, no. There wasn’t anything you coulda done. Don’t do that to yourself.”

With a great sniff, she pulled back to glare up at him.

“Wouldn’t you?” she accused, a shadow of her old fierceness gracing the words. “If it was Claire?”

He opened his mouth for rebuttal, but closed it, smiling slyly. “Touché, Jones. But if it was, and if I was, would you let me? Would you tell me I should’ve done more?”

She avoided his eye, scowling instead at his chest.

“That’s not fair.”

He chuckled, pulling her back into his arms. “Sure it’s not.”

He didn’t let go of her until her breathing has eased back into a silent rhythm. And even then, it was another while before he drew away and offered his sleeve to mop up the mess of mascara she couldn’t remember putting on. She didn’t know how to thank him for that – for any of it – so she just smiled and let him lead her back to their private hell.

The atmosphere in the waiting room had shifted. Trish and Page were gone and Nelson was breathing again.

“Did he –?”

“Doctors came by,” he said, and his voice was too flat to carry good news. “Matt needs more blood. Karen’s a match, so, she went to help.” He let his head flop down to glare at the ugly carpet. “Stupid B-positive bullshit.”

The momentary lightness in Jessica’s chest slid away faster than it had come.

“Well,” Luke said slowly with the air of someone knowing the straws they were grasping at were well out of reach. “At least he’s still, y’know –”

“Alive?” Nelson supplied dryly.

“Fighting,” Luke amended. “That’s something.”

Nelson’s snort harmonised with Jessica’s.

“Sure. That’s something.”

Jessica slumped into the chair beside him. “This waiting is bullshit.”

Nelson snorted again, this time in agreement. “At least you did something good. It’s like I’m the only idiot who can’t help.” He covered his face in his hands and leaned back in the chair. Jessica stared at him.

“The fuck did I do? Watch him die?”

“Don’t say that, Jess,” Luke said quietly from her other side.

Nelson’s hands flopped to his lap as he looked at her like she was crazy.

“You’re kidding me, right?”

She shook her head, shrugging. “How is standing at his side while he gets shot in the fucking chest helping?”

Anger and disbelief wove past his features and he almost smiled. What the hell?

“No wonder Matt’s got a crush on you. You’re him. Jessica,” he said sternly, shifting his weight to lean towards her over the armrests. “You gave him CPR. If he – that he survives this,” he amended quickly, his expression hardening, “is down to you. You saved him. And,” he added, his voice wavering horribly at exactly the frequency to make Jessica want to bolt, “if ... if Matt ...” He shook his head, giving up on the words. “Then at least he wasn’t alone. You were with him. And that’s ... that’s worth a lot.” He took a breath. “Especially to him.”

He turned bleary, tortured eyes on her. “So thank you, Jessica.”

Before she could catch up with what he’d said he’d pulled her into a hug and her arms were moving of their own accord, wrapping around him and damn it, she understood why Matt would die for this guy. She couldn’t help herself melting into his embrace.

They broke apart before it got weird. Then it was just the three of them. Waiting. In silence. Foggy kept his hands clasped over his knees, his brow furrowed in concentration. It wasn’t long before he snapped, ripping his hands apart and jumping to his feet.

“The fuck am I doing?” he spat, whether to them or himself she wasn’t sure. “I don’t know shit about praying, that’s Matt’s thing. I don’t even – what kind of god would do this? He’s been through enough, he’s suffered enough. It’s not fair! Give him back!” These last, furious words were directed to the floor above them and Jessica kept her gaze fixed on her boots. Which were smeared with Matt’s blood.

Luke shifted in his seat, leaning forward and crossing himself. He closed his eyes and interlocked his fingers.

“Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil.”

The words felt more familiar than they should. Or maybe it was just Luke’s voice, so low and sure and calm. The rhythm of his speech steadying. Foggy deflated, his rage spent. He sat back down by Jessica and bowed his head, adding his own wordless plea to Luke’s prayer.

Jessica copied him. She didn’t know shit about prayers. Or religion, really. She didn’t exactly believe in some ancient white dude with a beard caring about all their shit.

But Matt did.

Listen up, God, she thought, willing herself to be heard. You don’t know me. But if they’re right and you’re in charge of all this bullshit then you should know how much shit you’ve dumped on me. My whole family died because I was being an asshole. I got experimented on and ended up with these stupid powers. Pretty much everyone I’ve ever loved has ended up dead. Or worse. I turned to you once, when everything else went bad. And you ignored me. So, way I see it you owe me one. You owe me Matt. You damn sure owe Foggy and Karen Matt. They’re good people. They don’t deserve this pain again. But it’s more than that.

Somehow, after all the shit you’ve put him through, Matt Murdock still believes in you. Still loves you, I guess. So you owe him. Let him live. Bring him back to us. Let him heal and be happy for once you sadistic son of a bitch, he’s been through enough. He’s done enough. Maybe you don’t owe me shit but you sure as hell owe him. Besides, if you wanted him dead you had your chance. He’s ours now. He’s mine. Give him back to me. Don’t be an asshole.

Bring Matt home.

Chapter Text

            The bullet that was to murder Matthew Michael Murdock performed its job admirably. Like all bullets, it knew its destiny was more likely than not soaked in an enemy’s blood. Who that enemy would be, whether their death was justified or not, were not the concern of a bullet. Every bullet knows its fate is to bring death.

            (Although some might argue it is to bring safety or protection.)

            (It isn’t.)

            Matthew’s bullet was cocked into the ready, recently cleaned chamber of an M24 sniper rifle, with a pristine silencer attached to its snout. The gun knew it was in the hands of a master as soon as the fingers touched its print-resistant finish, though of course the bullet had no way of knowing this. It was too busy waiting in the dark womb of purgatory. Soon. Soon that dot of light would consume it and it would fulfil its purpose.

            But not yet.

            First it must wait.

            Had it understood anything of human speech or behaviour, it might have had a lot to say about the man who had chosen its fate. But it didn’t. So it didn’t.

            The subtle side-to-side motion of the rifle stopped. A stillness such as the bullet had never known encompassed the world, erasing all memory of movement. While there was plenty to be heard for those so inclined, the bullet’s universe was utterly silent. Utterly still.

            The pristine perfection of the final wait.

            The bullet felt the click of the trigger. The shimmer of the hammer before it began its short, decisive journey. Had it been capable, the bullet would have been surprised by the intensity of the kick that sent it into a cacophonous, blinding world of dazzling detail.

            But it wasn’t. So it wasn’t.

            It spun through the air, soaring, flying in a line it knew was perfect from the moment it left the lip of the rifle that had sent it. Now it knew its god had been a master. The bullet already knew it would find its mark. It already knew it would fulfil its destiny.

            It knew it would not miss.

            The air curled around its slim shape, so much lighter now without the cumbersome weight of the shell that had always been so restrictive. The bullet’s elegance was free at last for the world to admire, its flight pure and beautiful.

            It crossed the astronomical distance too quickly for anything so archaic as time to measure. It arrived exactly where it should have been exactly when it was meant to.

            However.

            There was an unforeseen problem.

            An obstruction that had not been accounted for. A break in expectation of fibre and flesh. Instead, as Matthew Murdock took his last step, the cane he carried with him moved, held loosely in his hand. It shouldn’t have been a problem for the bullet.

            Except it was.

            The bullet snapped through the first shell of the hollow cane without any difficulty, but as soon as its pointed nose touched the surprisingly resilient rubber coating the thin plastic, it knew it was in trouble.

            If it had a heart, it might have sank at the realisation.

            But it didn’t. So it didn’t.

            Unbeknownst to the bullet, the cane’s grip was peaked with a loop of plastic fibres. A simple strap, a means to keep its collapsed form pliant. Though the bullet could neither know nor understand it, this blasted loop of cheap elastic was to be its undoing.

            Matthew’s loose grip on the handle of his trusty but often neglected cane, on this sole and unique occasion, just so happened to include the elastic. Normally, though of course the bullet had no idea of any of this, Matthew would avoid trapping the plaited fibres in his grip, as, though the bullet had no concept of this, it was unpleasant to his uniquely sensitive touch. On this singular occasion, however, the elastic was trapped between the palm of his hand and the rubber grip of the cane he never really needed. This break in habit was most likely a simple coincidence, an accident no one would ever have noticed, not even the bullet. It was almost certainly an improbable flicker of extraordinary luck that inclined the oft ignored cane to be held in this way.

            Unless, of course, it wasn’t.

            Unfortunately for the bullet, this stroke of luck for the man spelled doom for the metal.

            As the cane exploded at its arrival, the bullet sped through its otherwise unimportant and unthought of width. Had it not been cheated of its destiny, the bullet would have sailed right through the remnants of the cane, unbothered and uncaring of their fate, and cut easily through the waiting flesh of its mark.

            But Matthew was holding the strap against the grip. Which provided the exact amount of unwanted tension that strengthened the farther side of the cane’s exterior, meaning that when the bullet met the first of the shrapnel, still mostly in its tubular shape, none of them had the common decency to sail aside.

            Instead, the split-second of ruinous tension pitted one such shard of rubber and plastic at exactly the wrong angle for the bullet to deflect. Through no fault of its own, as the bullet began its departure from the cane’s personal space, it was, quite rudely, saddled with a comparatively largeish chunk of plastic onto which was glued an obscene quantity of unnecessarily heavy moulded rubber.

            No bullet could be expected to fulfil its destiny under such horrendous conditions.

            Weighed down by its unintended passenger the bullet slowed considerably, its momentum stolen by the cursed cane. By the time the bullet encountered the first fibres of the mark’s useless armour, it was flying at, quite frankly, a sub-optimal velocity.

            But no self-respecting bullet would give up. No, no. And this particular bullet would have been feeling quite hard done by, quite disgruntled with the whole affair. If it could feel.

            And so it continued on its preordained journey, determined to do itself proud, if no one else.

            The heat of the flesh would have surprised the bullet, had it been capable of such an unhelpful emotion. A new manner of darkness surrounded the bullet as it pushed its way through Matthew Michael Murdock, the damn chunk of ungainly cane, now cracking under pressure, still held resolutely on the bullet’s nose by the rudeness of physics.

            It was then that the bullet realised the profanity-inducing chunk of cane had altered its previously perfect course. Not by much, less than a millimetre. But considering the distance, angle, and speed of the whole affair, ‘not by much’ was still plenty.

            Enough for the bullet to scrape against the rib it was meant to cleanly avoid. Enough to force that thrice-accursed chunk of cane to be momentarily caught between bullet and bone, something the bullet initially found encouraging.

            The moment, like every moment, was short-lived. As the bullet burrowed through muscle and sinew and meat, the unthinkable happened.

            Just as the bullet was entering its final journey, already knowing its necessary speed had been stolen and that it was doomed not to cross its imagined finish line, the hated chunk of cane slid through the bloody river of the bullet’s wake, dragged like an unwanted and unruly trailer by momentum and the habits of vacuums.

            It so happened that, as the bullet slid into the centre of Matthew’s heart, still one full centimetre short of its predestined stopping point, that forsaken chunk of cane had slipped, quite sluggishly, the bullet would like to have noted, right into the neat, circular hole the bullet had so gracefully carved in the wall of the rather crucial muscle.

            To put it simply, the fragment of cane had had the audacity to close the door on the bullet’s would-be masterpiece, denying the excited blood a clear path to freedom and, purely coincidentally, saving Matthew Murdock’s life.

            Which the bullet found unconscionably and unforgivably rude.

Chapter Text

            Foggy had lost track of time. It was dark out, so, it’d been a while since they’d run out of things to do. He thought he’d slept awhile. Wasn’t sure. If he had, then he dreamed about being stuck in this waiting room. Which was lucky. The thought of having his usual Matt nightmares in a tiny room full of superheroes was more than his threshold of embarrassment could handle.

            He should call Marci again. See if her plane had landed yet. Hogarth had sent her to Chicago for a case. Unbelievable timing.

            How long could a surgery be? He vaguely remembered something about double-digit hours spent in an OR in that doctor show Marci used to love but he didn’t know how sound a yardstick that was to go by. Was it good it was taking so long? Or bad? Should he be doing something? Go get Matt an overnight bag or – no, that was a stupid idea. If he didn’t need it, then ...

            Jesus. It was like that moment, staring at that open door. Waiting for him to walk through. Slowly realising he wasn’t going to. Only stretched out, for hours. For a whole day. And this time there’d be no miracle. There was no room for one. No time unaccounted for. There were witnesses. If Matt died, then ... that was it. For real. For good.

            Foggy couldn’t tell if the thought that Matt would finally get what he wanted made it better or a million times worse.

            The door opened. Foggy caught the shock of a white coat in his peripheral vision and was on his feet so fast he almost blacked out. When his vision returned, the doctor was standing in the middle of the room, clearly unsure who she should be addressing and Jessica was holding his arm so he didn’t keel over.

            “Is Matt okay?” she asked before he could, releasing him now he was semi-stable. He couldn’t seem to find his voice. The doctor looked ... He really hoped that was just tiredness and not ... oh god.

            She nodded, scratching her cheek, and smiled.

            “He’s alive.”

            The words hung in the waiting room like ghosts wishing to communicate to their living loves. Hovering. Untouchable. Foggy stared at the doctor, then glanced around at Karen, whose gaze was as confused as his.

            “He’s – what was that?”

            “Matthew’s alive,” the doctor – Goldman, it said on her nametag – said again, a little more slowly this time as though aware she was dealing with a roomful of idiots.

            Danny whooped and hugged Colleen to his side, beaming. His enthusiasm was like a bomb going off across the Hudson, the shockwave whispering past Foggy’s stunned ears.

            “I knew it!” he cried, his happiness not making any sense. “I knew he’d make it!”

            Foggy was dimly aware of multiple people crying slightly around him, but his brain still hadn’t quite caught up.

            “What – he’s al-alive?”

            Dr Goldman met his gaze, her own reassuringly steady. Jessica moved by his side, shifting closer.

            “He’s alive. He’s not out of the woods yet, but he survived the surgery, and that’s very encouraging news.”

            “No shit,” Jessica gasped and he half-glanced to her. She somehow looked even paler than usual. “He’s really –?”

            “He’s resting now, in post-op. You can see him later. Though,” she amended quickly, looking around at them all, “not all of you. The room’s small and it’s vital we keep a calm environment for Matthew for the foreseeable future.”

            “He’s – he’s awake?”

            She turned back to him, her expression wavering into something less certain. “No. It’s unlikely he will be for some time. There was a lot of damage. One of his ribs was splintered by the bullet, and the fragments punctured his lung, which collapsed. And of course, his heart was damaged.”

            “His heart?” It was amazing she heard him, his voice was so small. Karen’s hand slipped into his own and squeezed. He meant to return the pressure but his mind was shorting out.

            “Yes. The bullet was lodged in his right ventricle and was partially sucked into the pulmonary valve. We managed to remove it and repair what we could, but there’s no telling what kind of complications this may lead to. To make things easier for him while he recovers, we had to put him in a medically induced coma. Give him time to heal.”

            “A coma.” That word used to make sense.

            “Yes.” There was a brief, uncomfortable pause as Goldman looked around again. “I’m not gonna pretend everything’s going to be fine,” she continued, dropping the stiffness of her tone and sounding infinitely more human. “It’s incredible Matthew survived the surgery. He should’ve bled to death if nothing else, but a piece of his cane somehow blocked the bullet’s entry wound to the heart. It kept enough pressure for CPR to be effective, though it was a near thing. There’re still a lot of things that could go wrong, which is why we’re going to be keeping a close eye on him. But for now, he’s alive and he’s as far out of danger as someone in his position can be. So I suggest you all go get something to eat, get some real rest, and you can see him tomorrow.”

            Jessica made a weird, snort-like sound, but said nothing. Claire motioned to the doctor and they left together, probably discussing things with too many syllables to be actual English.

            Karen pulled him into a hug before he knew what was going on. He raised his arms numbly to hold her. She was finally crying, her tears soaking into his shoulder. A small, detached voice in the very back of his mind noted he was going to have to get this suit dry cleaned. It was too fancy to postpone stain removal. Cost more than Nelson and Murdock’s rent.

            Murdock. Holy shit. He was alive.

            Son of a bitch had done it again.

            That thought shattered his paralyses and so quickly it barely made sense he was clinging to Karen with everything he had, sobbing like a little kid into her shoulder. Someone put a hand on his arm, and others were speaking, but he couldn’t take any of it in. It was too much. God, he’d been so sure ...

            Thank you.

           

 

            Jessica Jones was a terrible influence. But since her terrible influence was currently enabling Foggy to see his best friend hours before the doctors would let him, he wasn’t complaining. She waited by the door, nodding for him and Karen to enter. He shook his head.

            “After you.”

            Looking surprised – ‘cause she was almost as much of an idiot as Matt – she walked in after Karen. Foggy took a deep breath and followed.

            As soon as he saw Matt, his stomach scrambled to flee the room. His heart seemed to wither in his chest, falling to land in the cavernous emptiness left by his escaped gut.

            Matt was lying in the bed with a blue breathing tube strapped to his face. Dozens of wires snaked around him, connecting him to the banks of machines beeping dully either side of the plastic headboard. Bandages covered most of his chest, which was moving mechanically in time to the monotonous wheeze that rattled through the tube. His skin was as grey as the wires that disappeared into the bandages, which were so white they hurt to look at. A coarse blanket that was once blue covered Matt’s lower half. The blood pressure cuff and oxygen monitor and IVs and everything else making him look like some forgotten clone in a bad sci-fi movie.

            Karen brushed his hair away from his forehead and leaned down to kiss him. He didn’t respond, which was wrong. Matt always shifted his weight or smiled a little or did something when Karen was affectionate. He couldn’t help it. But he stayed so still, only his subtly rising chest breaking the illusion of a corpse abandoned after a dramatic failure to resuscitate. Her shoulders slumping, Karen pulled a spare chair over and sat by his side, laying her hand gently over his arm.

            Jessica was standing stiffly at the end of the bed, just staring at him. Foggy’s feet brought him closer without conscious direction, which was just as well ‘cause his brain was still trying to reconcile the scene before him to the floppy-haired dope he’d gotten drunk with in college. Trying to match the still, empty face to the broad grin that’d always been so contagious. It didn’t make any sense that this was the same guy who’d jumped up and down like a little kid when Foggy’d made an accidental joke about an avocado lying in front of him. That this was also the guy who’d saved his life and broken his heart and made his life so much better just by existing.

            He just ... didn’t look like Matt.

            Foggy reached a trembling hand forward and wrapped his fingers around Matt’s bicep, along one of the only patches of unscarred, unbruised skin. He squeezed, so gently it was more of a suggestion. He didn’t want to hurt him.

            “Hey buddy,” he breathed, tears rushing into his eyes. “It’s me. Foggy.” He sniffed and it was way too loud. “Karen’s here too. And Jessica. We, um ... we’re really glad to see you, buddy. You just ... keep fighting, okay? We’re here for you. Just ...” He squeezed his arm a little tighter. The tears skipped over his cheeks. One of them landed on the sleeve of his outstretched arm, a tiny dot darkening the fabric. A tiny bullet wound bleeding through the fibres.

            It was lucky there was a chair behind him. He sank into it, not letting go of Matt for a second, and leaned forward on the bedrail, careful not to disturb any of the wires. He couldn’t quite tear his eyes away from Matt’s face. He looked awful. Ashen and exhausted and vacant in a way that went far beyond exhaustion. But he was alive. Which made him the most beautiful god damn thing Foggy had ever seen.

            A soft choking sound made him look around. Jessica was crying, silently, at the foot of the bed. Foggy reached out to her, smiling as best he could.

            “C’mon, Jessica,” he whispered. “It’s okay.”

            Moving more unsteadily than he’d ever seen her, she walked the two steps to Matt’s side, her hazel gaze obscured by tears. Her breathing was short and shallow, scared little gasps so slight Foggy wondered how she hadn’t passed out yet. He squeezed her hand and tugged her a little closer, inviting her to sit on the armrest of his chair. He’d get up and offer the whole thing to her if he wasn’t sure he’d konk out himself.

            She didn’t look away from Matt. Her gaze raked over every inch of him and Foggy could see each wound the sight carved into her heart. She reached one uncertain, shaking hand to Matt’s, scooping his fingers into hers so gently it looked like she was afraid he’d shatter in her grip. A deep, desperate breath shocked through her and Foggy’s own lungs expanded with relief as he watched. She slumped onto his armrest, her hand still around Matt’s.

            “Hey Devil Boy,” she breathed, her voice slight and catching. “It’s me. I’m ... I’m so sorry.”

            Aware it could result in him being punched through the wall, Foggy wrapped his arm around Jessica Jones’ waist and hugged her close, his eyes on the man they both loved.

            She didn’t pull away.

Chapter Text

 

            Claire had worked her magic (or maybe, threatened whoever needed threatening) and the doctors had given up trying to get them to leave Matt’s room. Luke had backed her up, making it clear this particular patient was not to be left without a bodyguard under any circumstances. Must’ve been quite the convincing show, especially with Misty flexing her Terminator arm beside him. They had their game plan, at least for now. One of them would always be in the room, they’d take shifts like they had when they first got Matt back from IGH. Only this time there’d be no slacking. If Bullseye got into that room, all he’d need was one shot to finish his mission. They couldn’t depend on any more blind luck. Miracle Matt Murdock was tapped out.

            Jessica was taking the first shift. Maybe the first eight. She was staying however long it took for her to be able to look away from Matt for more than ten seconds. Every time she saw him was another sucker punch to the gut. He shouldn’t look like that, so pliant and pale, hooked up to half a dozen machines – which for all she knew, since Claire refused to dumb down the medical jargon enough for a normal human to understand, were the only things keeping him alive right now – and totally unresponsive to anything. Hell, the heart monitor alone should be enough to wake him. He was the lightest sleeper she’d ever seen.

            And yet, he’d been dead only hours ago. Came way too close to staying that way. Could easily still slip back beyond where she couldn’t save him. And with that in mind, it was hard to complain how wrong this mechanically breathing living corpse looked compared to the bright-eyed ninja with a shit-eating grin she was used to.

            However shit it was seeing him like this it was better than the panic attack she got taking a bathroom break. Feeling his blood burn against her hands, the vibrations of his snapping rib rippling up her arms. Didn’t matter how exhausted she was, she wasn’t leaving him until she knew he was safe, one way or the other. If that took weeks, then, fine. She’d deal.

            Which was easier said than done. Luckily for her, Foggy and Page had the same aversion to leaving. And damn, that guy could talk.

            “So it’s our first mock trial,” Foggy continues, launching into another anecdote as though he needed words to freaking breathe. “Just a short debate in class, really, but we’ve had like, two weeks to prepare. And I’m with Kirstin McDuffie, and she’s awesome – there’s a chance we might actually win. And Matt, oh god, Matt was with this asshole Jimmy Lee and like, Matt never complained. Like, ever. People treated him like shit and he’d just grin and bear it, it was insane. The number of times I wanted to beat people up for him. Which,” he added, smiling at his unconscious bestie, “I now realise is a laughable notion, but at the time I was being all gallant and best-friend-of-the-year-y. Or so I thought. So Matt, he and Jimmy are up, and I know this guy’s been driving Matt insane and he starts taking over the whole debate, to the point where it’s him against the other team and Matt and he just keeps digging! Looking back it was hilarious but at the time, Jesus. My skin was crawling.

            “Anyway, so the other team says something snarky, I can’t even remember what, but some shitty blind joke and Jimmy Lee laughs and I’m seeing red but Matt just smiles and waits for the laughter to die down.” Finally, Foggy paused for breath. No wonder this guy was a lawyer, he never shuts up. “And then Matt goes and he breaks apart the entire joke and reconstructs it to strengthen his argument and he’s smiling the whole time and when he’s done the entire class just goes, ooooooh!” Page snorted at his expression and even Jessica had to bite back a grin. “And then it’s time and Matt just taps his way back to his seat like he hadn’t just annihilated everyone else on stage and, man. It was beautiful.”

            He paused long enough to throw Matt another gooey-eyed glance before perking up yet again and saying,

            “Oh! And that reminds me of this other time when –”

            Jessica had no idea how he did it. Kept up this near-constant stream of positivity and cheer. If he were on uppers that’d explain it, but he seemed way too straight-edged for that. But she couldn’t help marvelling at him. The three of them were sitting around their comatose friend who was only a few hours out of literal heart surgery – who’s heart was being kept together with some glorified freaking string – and this weirdo was actually making them laugh. He was making it feel like they were out at a bar making fun of the guy who’d already passed out. Granted, that illusion was broken whenever Jessica looked at Matt, but even so. People said she had superpowers. She had nothing on Foggy Nelson.

            But it was more than him wanting to make them smile, or lighten the mood or whatever. Jessica could see anxiety flare in his eyes whenever things got too quiet and he’d look over at Matt’s lax face. Every time he launched into a new story tension would ease from his shoulders until he finished, and on and on and around it went until the reason finally clicked. He wasn’t babbling on for their sakes.

            He was doing it for Matt.

            Quite apart from the clusterfuck of IGH, Matt’s senses were bound to make a hospital about the shittiest place a guy who saved strangers from traffickers could be. Hospitals oozed sorrow like an infected wound. Jessica could feel it crawling over her skin even here, isolated in one room with one patient. They say you can still hear things in a coma. If that was true Matt’d be listening to how many deaths a minute? How many people crying over the worst days of their lives, how many more calling out for help?

            So Foggy was trying to drown all that out. Make a harbour of sound to shelter his friend from the horrors he was trapped in. And that ... that explained why Matt only started getting better after she’d gone and brought Foggy to Trish’s place after the tracker fiasco. Foggy Nelson was a balm. Which was exactly what Matt needed right now.

            Even if it made him hoarse.

            “Aw, but no,” Foggy said fondly, leaning forward in his chair to pat Matt’s shoulder – extremely gently – before slumping back once more. “My favourite Matt story’s gotta be Thanksgiving of our first year.” He shook his head, grinning into the air with the kind of smile that got you toothpaste commercials. “I’d invited Matt to my place for it, since he’d, y’know, nowhere else to go. And he said he’d think about it, which I took to mean he’d go, ‘cause, c’mon, I’d told him legendary stories of my mom’s stuffing. So it’s the day of and I’m almost ready to go and Matt’s studying like a nerd and when I ask him if he’s coming or what he looks up at me like I’d said it in Punjabi. Which he knows I can’t, he’d seen me fail to study that death language.

            “So anyway, Matt looks up at me like a cartoon puppy and asks what do I mean. So I tell him I’m looking at him like he’s a moron and say it’s Thanksgiving, we gotta go get the C-train or else we’ll be late for dinner, which means we’ll be murdered and served as dessert.” Foggy sat up a little straighter and looked from Page to Jessica to Matt with the kind of expression Disney Princesses had right before they whistled a bunch of bird in to do the dishes.

            “And Matt just goes,” Foggy cleared his throat and proceeded in an impressively good Matt impression, “‘Oh, um, I didn’t know you were serious about that’.” He paused to chuckle. Jessica joined in. ‘Cause she was sleep deprived. Obviously.

            When Foggy continued, his voice had lost some of its jovial energy. His tone was quieter now, sadder. He was staring at Matt with a crease between his brows, reaching out for him as though he could pull him from his slumber.

            “He genuinely didn’t think some stranger he’d only known a couple months would actually want him over for Thanksgiving dinner. He was gonna order pizza in the dorm.” These words were twisted in a way that wasn’t funny at all. “I think that was the first time he’d had Thanksgiving with a family since ... maybe since his dad. I don’t think the orphanage really counts.”

            “I forget sometimes,” Page said softly from her stolen chair beside Foggy, “how much he’s been through.”

            “Yeah, well, I think he intends that.”

            Jessica shrugged and dropped her gaze to Matt’s hand, held lightly in her own.

            “’Course he does. You can’t survive people always treating you like some tragedy case. You’d go insane.”

            Karen hummed in agreement, her brow twitching in a way that set Jessica’s inner PI bells ringing.

            “But you gave him a good Thanksgiving, right?” she asked quickly, turning to Foggy, who’s face broke into another wide grin.

            “Oh yeah. He was assaulted by the entire clan – he didn’t know I’d told mom about him, but they all loved him already. Pretty sure he ended up hiding food in his napkin, my auntie Aishling kept forcing so much on him. Oh, and somehow – don’t ask me how, I totally did not orchestrate this – but he ended up kinda trapped at the table with my niece on his lap for a good half hour. She was only two at the time and she kept playing with his glasses and it was quite possibly the cutest thing I’d ever seen. I’m pretty sure he was talking to my uncle about rising rent prices or something, but he kept cuddling Ruthie the whole time.”

            Jessica looked over at Matt. It was nice to know – if hard to believe – he’d ever had a life calm enough for something as normal as a Thanksgiving dinner with a friend’s family. She couldn’t help imagining him playing with some random little baby and had to bite back her smile at the thought. She’d never had anything like that, not really. Her life had never felt that ... mundane. Except with Stirling. But even then, there’d been no big extended family welcoming her to seconds of a real, home-cooked meal that had an actual clean-up to do afterwards. She was glad Matt had had those moments.

            Maybe ... they could make those kind of moments together. If he –

            She stopped that thought dead in its tracks. There was no ‘they’, there was no ‘together’, there was no ‘could’. Certainly not until Bullseye was dealt with. They still had to figure out where he was. Hell, they didn’t even know his name.

            She’d find it though. And then she’d find him. And when she did, she wasn’t taking prisoners.

            But until then ... maybe it was okay to imagine a smiling, healthy Matt bouncing some little kid on his knee, not having to worry about anything more than college finals.

            Yeah. It was okay to think about a Matt that was safe. A Matt that was happy.

            Just for tonight.

            Y’know. To keep the nightmares away.

Chapter Text

Claire had broken her promise. She had only made Matt two promises in all the time she had known him and she had broken them both. She hadn’t been there to patch him up after Midland Circle. And now she was letting him be given morphine. Mere months after she had sworn she would never force him into that agony again. Worse than that. She wasn’t just not protecting him from the doctors who didn’t understand. She was actively keeping him trapped. Injecting the damn dose herself. She knew what it was doing to him and she made sure it happened again and again, on the hour. Every hour.

And he couldn’t even beg her to stop. Which she knew he would. If he was awake.

He should be awake by now. They’d lifted the coma days ago. He hadn’t so much as stirred.

Claire told herself that wasn’t unusual. Given the trauma they were talking about, how run down he was already, it wasn’t necessarily a red flag that he’d yet to start the slow journey back to consciousness. It wasn’t uncommon, especially for a patient who’d suffered cardiac arrest. Three times. He just needed time. Rest.

At least, that’s what she told herself. Believing it was another thing. Especially after Dr Goldman had cornered her with Matt’s X-Ray a few hours after his surgery.

“I need you to explain something to me, Temple,” she’d said in a tone that prohibited escape. Then she’d handed the X-Ray over, and Claire had held it up to the light and struggled to keep her expression neutral.

She’d known it’d be a horror show, if she ever convinced Matt to get an X-Ray or a CT. Of course it would be, the guy broke his ribs like normal people broke fingernails. Knowing it was one thing, though. Seeing the evidence for herself was ... was when she truly realised how good Matt was at hiding his agony.

That first night, when Santino found a man in black bleeding to death in a dumpster and had come running for her, and his lung had almost collapsed on her couch. When she listened to this stranger, this guy she’d heard rumours about, suffocate right in front of her. She had heard those desperate, painful gasps a thousand times in the ER but she would never forget Matt’s exhausted groaning. It was the one time in that first meeting he’d given any voice to the pain that would send most people running to the hospital. The night after Nobu and Fisk, when Matt was so delirious with pain and bloodloss his voice had cracked under the force of his strangled screams.

Every other time. Every other time she’d patched him up or checked him out, he never gave more than a hint of how much pain he was truly in. But the honesty of his naked ribcage was enough to break her heart all over again. His bones held more scars than his skin. So many more.

It was like someone had laid a tattered cobweb over his chest. Hairline fractures and breakages scattered his ribs as though Jackson Pollock had used him as a canvas. Shards of gleaming white littered the muted grey-blues of the image in shocking numbers. His right arm had been broken, badly by the look of it, a long time ago. His collarbone had been shattered at some point too. The long, jagged break from the CPR ran diagonally along one of the mid ribs, the bone cleanly sliced in two, with one splintered shard stabbing resolutely into his lung.

Then there was the bullet. A tiny flare of silver-white, over an inch in length. The ghost of death hovering in the shadowed confines of his heart. The nose just nudging its centre, held millimetres from Matthew’s death by a shard of sheer dumb luck.

That shard was dimmer than the bullet, but still plainly visible. A tiny flake of busted cane stuck at exactly the right angle to the edge of Matt’s heart.

Claire had thought, many times, that the worst part of treating Daredevil was not knowing how bad things really were. Turned out, that was the best.

Only her own stubborn pride kept her from crying right there in front of Goldman.

“You wanna tell me how a blind lawyer gets injuries like these? I’ve seen survivors of gang wars in better shape!”

Claire swallowed and frowned at the X-Ray, trying to buy herself time. Tried to think of any other explanation for so much pain to be woven into one man’s bones.

Her mind was frustratingly blank.

“Temple,” Goldman said again, her patience waning to her curiosity. “Come on.”

“It’s a long story,” she hedged, mind racing.

“Does it involve that Jones woman?”

Finally, Claire tore her gaze away from the image to scowl at the doctor.

“No. And frankly, Dr Goldman, I don’t have to tell you shit. Nurse/patient confidentiality. None of these injuries effect why he’s here. You don’t need to know, and I can’t tell you without his okay.”

Goldman met her gaze, stone for stone, for a long minute. The corner of her mouth twitched minutely, hinting at a smile Claire wasn’t sure was born of respect or disdain.

“Blind man comes in,” Goldman said, her voice low and challenging, “shot through the heart. Ripped like a freaking Avenger, covered in scars. Underweight and with a chestful of old breaks, including some that were clearly reset after having healed. Now, his friend tells me he’s been blind since he was a kid, and if that’s true, he can’t be some military cast off who got stuck too long behind enemy lines – which is pretty much the only thing I can think of that makes any sense here, especially with those scars around his wrists and ankles. So if that’s not what he is, then what? C’mon Temple. You might have that rich kid keeping things quiet – and I’m not saying I wanna start screamin’, here. I just wanna treat my patient. To do that, I need to know his history. Like why was he tied down so long he’s still marked?”

Claire considered her a moment. It was a decent speech. Might even have worked on someone who hadn’t spent the last two and half years dealing with New York’s most stubborn idiots.

“You’re asking me to break my oath.” She smiled politely while her gaze threw daggers into the smug face. “Like I said, it doesn’t affect your treatment. Patients have rights, doc.”

Goldman had looked at her for a long moment, evaluating. Claire held her ground, not even blinking. Eventually, Goldman thawed. Pulling something from her pocket, she held it out. Claire took it.

It was a plastic bag containing the half-inch of curved cane that had saved Matt’s life.

“Figured you’d want to keep this.” Without another word, she’d turned, coat whirling, and disappeared through the double doors leading to the OR.

Claire had slipped the piece of cane into her pocket, returned the X-Ray to its envelope, and gone to find Luke. She’d needed somewhere safe to cry.

Over two weeks later, she was back in Matt’s room with her jaw set and her brow furrowed. It was time to see if he could breathe on his own. She’d waited until Luke was on guard duty, since he was the only one who would listen to her and wait outside. This wasn’t going to be pretty. At least Jessica didn’t have to see it. She was still using every spare moment she had hunting down Bullseye. From what Claire could tell, she’d barely slept since Matt was shot.

Claire gave herself a mental shake. She needed to focus. She was head nurse today and she knew the rest of the team didn’t trust her. There was too much secrecy around Matt. The tight security, the gag order Foggy had levelled. Best just get Matt stable enough to transfer him to her clinic, then everything would be easier. For them, at least.

Two weeks of an IV diet left Matt looking worse than he had that first night out of IGH. His cheeks were sunken hollows, his thick stubble too dark against his grey-tinged skin. Foggy would be shaving him again soon. Another few days and Matt’d be ‘full hobo’ as he’d described it last time Claire had caught him contorting around the breathing tube with a razor and a handful of shaving foam.

The machines were cycling down. The tape had been peeled away from Matt’s skin. Claire had tied a strap loosely along his shoulders for good measure. The idea of restraining Matt made her want to puke, but rather a single length of elastic than Luke’s uncompromising strength.

No more reasons to procrastinate. With a quick, decisive breath, Claire wrapped her gloved hand around the hose in Matt’s mouth and unscrewed it from the tube snaking down his throat with a rasping crackle. There. Easy part done.

Now for the bit she didn’t want to see.

She grabbed the nozzle of the tube, braced her other hand against Matt’s mouth to keep it open, and pulled.

It took about four seconds for Matt to react. Almost normal, given how heavily he was sedated. Terrifyingly slow for the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen. His eyes opened for the first time since he’d been rolled into the hospital, but they were utterly vacant. Glassy. Rolling in their sockets under the weight of drugged lids, an automatic, desperate response to the alien material slithering up his throat. The strap strained as his back arched, but he stayed relatively still on the bed. Claire was working from his left side because she knew he wouldn’t be able to raise that arm. His right jerked into the air and swung drunkenly through it, trying vainly to halt the awful sensation, but he could barely find his own mouth, and when his hand gripped hers, it was weaker than a shadow.

“Hold on, Matt,” she said in her best calming nurse voice, knowing it wouldn’t help. He wasn’t there, not really. “Just two minutes, I swear.”

A low, choking moan wove itself around the tube and Matt would never make a noise like that, not willingly. Claire had heard it before but God, it was so different when she knew the man making it. Knew his pride would never allow him to release such an undignified, animalistic noise around someone he knew it would hurt.

His hand fell back to his side, his energy spent. He just shuddered and gurgled under her grip until she finally freed the end of the tube from his lips, eyes barely open now. She dumped it into the hands of the waiting nurse, swapping it for the paper towel he had outstretched. Wiping the drool from his lips and chin, they waited to see if Matt would breathe, or if the damn tube had to go back in.

It only took a few seconds, but it felt years longer. The halting, stumbling rasps of lungs fumbling for their crutch. The sharp half-gasps as they tested their strength. The painful rattle of an independent breath that made Claire realise she had been holding her own.

The oxygen mask was held out to her before she could ask for it. She fitted it quickly over Matt’s nose and mouth, murmuring reassurances as his eyes slid dazedly shut. The mask made him look even paler. Hard plastic and dark green straps should not be the most colourful feature in this picture. Claire looked back to the monitors, flicking the sound back on to hear his weary heart settle back into a healing rhythm. His oxygen levels rose in reliable tandem to the exhausted movement of his chest. Claire snapped off her gloves – remembering too late that sound was a blow to Matt’s mind – and rubbed her forehead. He was breathing. That was good. Really good.

Now if he could just wake up, that’d be great.

Chapter Text

            “So his real name’s Ben Poindexter,” Jessica told Matt, looking at his hand held in hers because she couldn’t quite bear to see his ashen face just then. “I know, fitting, right? Someone’s enjoying the joke. Uh, from what I’ve been able to dig up he was just some orphan making his way until about five years ago. There was an accident and he ended up in hospital, paralysed from the waist down. Didn’t have anyone so IGH got hold of him. They did ... their thing and he was able to walk again. Obviously. And now he’s doing their dirty work. That’s all I’ve been able to find. So ... yeah.”

            She risked a glance at him then. He ‘d regained a bit of colour. She thought. He wasn’t as grey as the oxygen mask anymore, so ... that was something. Maybe that last transfusion had actually done some good. Jessica jumped and looked down to his hand, sure for a moment she’d felt it move. Again. But it looked almost skeletal in hers. Still. She was imagining things. Still. She held him like glass, terrified she’d shatter him if she moved too quickly.

            “I know it’s not much,” she continued, trying to keep her voice steady ‘cause if there was any way Matt was hearing her she didn’t want him beating himself up over her failing him again. Because he would. He’d tell her it wasn’t her fault she still hadn’t found the asshole who almost killed him after three weeks. He’d tell her to drop the case sooner than listen to the self-loathing shaking through her words. So she kept it level. Careful. “But it’s something. Still got some back channels to check out, but ...”

            Like a freaking car crash you can’t help but look at, her gaze flitted back to his closed eyes. His brow seemed tenser than it had a second ago. But that was probably just wishful thinking. She shifted her grip on his hand, her wrists burrowing deeper into the blanket she’d gotten him in the first week. It was the softest one she could find, some stupidly expensive blend of cashmere and merino wool and freaking cotton candy by the feel of it. Almost two hundred goddamn dollars. But it’d be worth it, when he woke up. If she found the hospital sheets rough they were bound to drive Matt insane. So she’d wrapped him in the ridiculously giant blanket like a little devily burrito.

            “It’s kind of good news, when you think about it,” she tried, injecting something akin to optimism into her tone. “That we can’t find him. If he’s gone underground then the fake out worked. He thinks you’re dead. So ... none of us are in danger. You can wake up now.”

            And of course, she paused. Like an idiot. As though that’s all he’d been waiting to hear. Fuck’s sake.

            Needing to distract herself from the molten pressure building inside her chest, she let her fingers skate over his skin as she gently – so gently – turned his hand over on the blanket, the mottled scars on his wrists looking harsher than ever in the stark light. Her fingertips sailed over the jagged line she’d stitched so shoddily. It felt huge. A whole mountain range tearing down his forearm. She matched her tracing to her breath, trying to slow them both to something more manageable.

            Follow the ragged mountains up, breathe in.

            Ride the ragged mountains down, breathe out.

            He would survive this. Her head knew that. He’d made it through Midland Circle and IGH and the stupid tracker and poison arrows and stab wounds and all the other shit that’d been scored into his flesh. The scar from this one wouldn’t even be that impressive. Not next to the crudely stapled monstrosity Elektra had left across his abdomen.

            He’d get better. Worst of it was over, probably. Only threat now were old-timey things like fever and infection. And blood clots. And heart failure.

            But they were in a hospital. There was a nurse at a little desk right outside the door half the time. He’d be fine.

            Her heart would just find all that a lot easier to believe if she could see his eyes again. See him smile and tell her he was fine even though that was utter bullshit.

            She kept waiting for that stupid movie moment when his fingers would twitch and he’d wake up and everything would be fine before the credits rolled. Happily ever after.

            Jessica snorted. Those didn’t exist. Not for people like her.

            She looked to Matt’s pale, exhausted face. They should be real for people like him.

            Fuck, she was tired. She’d give a lot to curl up in this shitty chair and get a few hours’ sleep. But sleep held dreams. And she wanted nothing of those. She relived that godawful day enough when she was awake, thanks. She didn’t need to feel it all again when she couldn’t distract herself by punching something.

            Even in her nightmares, Matt always saved her. Not once, in over three weeks, had she dreamt of him letting her take the bullet. Not once.

            She pushed off from the chair and was in the en suite bathroom in moments, punching the tap on and thankfully remembering to be gentle. Cupping her hands under the ribbon of water she clapped it over her face, around her neck. Ran wet hands through her hair. Slapped her cheeks a little, just for good measure. She couldn’t sleep now. She was on duty. And in four hours Danny would take over and she’d hunt down the name and address of that shrink Bullseye had had in the orphanage. It was almost certainly a dead end, but, better to chase false hope than to stand still and give up.

            She’d told Matt, that night, that none of them get to quit. As long as he kept his heart beating, he was fighting. And she wasn’t going to let him fight alone.

            She dried herself off and returned to the little room. She’d walked back around to continue her pointless vigil before her sluggish brain figured out what was different and her heart lurched into a gallop.

            Matt had moved. His right hand – the one she’d been holding – was resting over the edge of the bed, as though reaching for something. And his head was turned. Towards her.

            What the ever-loving fuck.

            “Matt?” She leaned over him, taking his hand and laying the other on his cheek. “Matt?”

            His breathing was different. Not as calm. He was almost panting. Short, shallow gasps she could actually see misting against the mask. Holy shit.

            “I need help in here!” she hollered in the general direction of the doorway, not taking her eyes off Matt’s face. He was definitely frowning now. Faintly, sure, but there was a tiny crease between his eyebrows that definitely hadn’t been there two seconds ago.

            The door gave a low moan as it opened, catching on the linoleum for the billionth time that day. The nurse came in – Nurse Pritchard, she was semi-sure. Maybe Danes.

            “What’s wrong?” he asked, coming to mirror Jessica on Matt’s other side.

            “I think – he moved. Look!” Matt’s head jerked slightly to the side, as though trying to turn his head but unable to muster the energy. The frown deepened past all doubt that she was hallucinating this. “Is he – is he waking up?”

            Nurse what’s-his-name bent over Matt, pulling his head back to the centre of the pillow and reaching for the penlight in his pocket.

            “He’s blind,” Jessica snapped before he could waste time checking pupils. Fuck’s sake, how hard was that to remember? How many GSW patients with superpowered guards was this guy treating? Luke Cage was a freaking celebrity these days and nurse fuckwit over here couldn’t remember the guy who’d been shot in the chest couldn’t see shit?

            The nurse shot her a semi-civil glare and thumbed Matt’s eyelid open. Jessica looked away. She didn’t want to see his eyes. Not like that.

            “I’m checking for awareness, not perception.”

            Oh. Well, still.

            “And?”

            What was it with medical staff and dramatic pauses? She had to wait for the guy to check three machines and take Matt’s pulse before he even looked at her again.

            “Yep, he’s finally starting to wake up.”

            Holy shit!

            “Seriously?”

            “Looks like.”

            “How – how long?”

            Nurse Bored just shrugged. “Can’t say. Varies from case to case, patient to patient. All his vitals are pretty good, though, so. Nothing new to worry about. Yet, anyway.”

            Jessica decided not to ask about that afterthought. With a vacuous smile, the nurse nodded once and left, making the door squeak again as it closed.

            Okay, Jessica had clearly not been appreciating Claire Temple enough before now.

            She sat back down at Matt’s side and held his hand in both of hers. This time she was sure she felt his fingers flex languidly in her grip. His brow was twitching too, his eyes even starting to move a little under the lids. Holy fuck, it was finally happening. He was waking up. That meant he was gonna be okay. Actually okay.

            Jessica swayed forward on the chair for a moment before she realised she’d forgotten to breathe. Like an idiot. She matched her breathing to Matt’s, taking one for every two of his so she wouldn’t keel over like a moron and miss the moment his eyes opened.

            She had never wished for someone’s eyes to open again and have it come true before. She was smiling so much her cheeks hurt. Miracle Matt Murdock.

            It took over an hour. Almost two. She thought about sending Foggy a text, let him and the others know how good a day this was about to be. But she waited. She’d call them later. Hell, she’d let Matt say hello if he wanted. She wanted this moment for herself.

            Matt started making tiny humming noises. Testing his rusty vocal chords. His hand flexed properly, his fingers closing around hers for several seconds at a time as he pulled himself closer to the surface. She took a leaf out of Foggy’s book and kept up a stream of reassurances. Let him follow her voice back to the light he couldn’t see.

            He pressed his face into the pillow, maybe trying to dislodge the mask. With a slightly deeper breath than usual, his eyes just ... opened.

            Even dazed and bleary as they were, they were easily the most beautiful goddamn eyes Jessica Jones had ever seen.

            “Matt?” she whispered, leaning down so her face was only inches from his. “Matt? Can you hear me?”

            Another hum, this one chased immediately by a cough that made his face contort in pain. He opened his mouth beneath the mask, but didn’t say anything. Jessica understood.

            “Hold on.”

            She grabbed the half empty bottle of water from her bag, opened it, and carefully pulled the oxygen mask away from Matt’s face. His eyes opened again, searching, fighting to resist the weight of his lids. Jessica pretended not to see the naked fear there. He didn’t know where he was. Or, more accurately, he didn’t know where he wasn’t.

            “It’s okay, Matt. It’s me. Jessica. Here, can you drink a little?”

            She slipped a hand behind his neck and raised his head a few inches. He gasped in pain and she cursed, but didn’t stop. She held the bottle to his lips and tilted. He managed three tiny sips before going limp in her grip. She laid him gently back onto the pillow and replaced the mask, chucking the bottle near her bag.

            “Matt? You with me?”

            His eyes were closed in concentration as he breathed. After a few minutes, they opened and swept around the room.

            “You’re safe, Matt. You’re in hospital. You’re safe, I swear.”

            His unsteady gaze found her and the crease reappeared between his eyebrows. His mouth worked but it was a few seconds before anything word-like escaped.

            “Jess’ca.” It was the most feeble little croak she had ever heard but hearing her own name had never made her smile so widely in all her life.

            “Yeah, Matt. It’s me, I’m here. I’m right here.”

            His frown deepened. “Jessi- ... J- ... Jessica ...”

            “I’m here, Matt, I’m right here.”

            He tried to shake his head. The fear in his eyes finally registered through Jessica’s giddy high.

            Oh.

            “She’s safe, Matt,” she said slowly, clearly. “You saved her. Jessica is safe.”

            His eyebrows quirked in a question, then drooped into another frown. She spoke before he had to.

            “Everyone’s safe, Matt. Foggy and Karen are safe. Everything’s okay. You’re okay.”

            His eyes slid shut and for a long moment the only movement in the room was the laboured rise of his bandaged chest. It took him a while to find his tongue again, but when he did he barely knew how to use it.

            “Jessi-Jessica ... she ... there ...” He heaved a deeper breath and the effort snapped his eyes open again. “F’ggy. ‘Aren. My ... my f-, my –”

            Jessica laid a hand on his cheek.

            “They’re safe, Matt. They’re all safe. It’s okay.”

            Another bout of indistinct mumbling. Then,

            “My fa- my fam’ly. I nee – I need ... help.”

            It was one of those rare moments where Jessica was genuinely glad of all her practice shutting her heart into a dark room and locking the door. She swallowed the ache of his words and kept her voice calm and steady.

            “Your family is safe, Matt. You saved them all, you understand? They’re okay.”

            His brow twitched again, exhaustion dragging his lids to half-mast.

            “Jes ... ssica?”

            That tiny note of recognition in his voice almost killed her. She didn’t realise until then she was crying.

            “Yeah, Matt. It’s Jessica. I’m right here.”

            Relief melted across his features. He tried to press his cheek into her hand but didn’t have the strength, so she did it for him, stroking his cheekbone with her thumb, just above the strap of the mask.

            “I’m here, Devil Boy. I’m here.”

            It took him several tries to get the next word out, and by the time he did he looked half asleep. Fresh worry creased his brow and his voice was so faint, the request so achingly simple, no amount of stubborn stoicism could save her heart from breaking.

            “S-stay? Wi ... will you ... stay?”

            She leaned down and kissed his forehead.

            “Of course, Matt. I’m not going anywhere.”

            Moving carefully, still afraid of breaking him, Jessica raised his hand in hers so she could slip onto the bed beside him. There wasn’t quite enough room, but she steadied herself with one foot on the chair behind her. She rested her chin on his shoulder, her nose nudging the mask hiding his, her other arm positioned carefully over his chest so she could continue stroking his cheek without putting any weight on the bandages covering his breast.

            Matt was breathing more easily now. He gave another little hum that might’ve been intended as a word. It sounded calm, though. Contented, even. At least, that’s what her ego wanted to believe, just for now.

            When he started twitching nervously against her, Jessica stretched up to kiss his forehead again, then pressed another to the little wrinkle between his brows until it faded away, her hand keeping a constant rhythm against his skin, through his hair.

            “You’re okay,” she whispered. “Everything’s okay. I got you. You’re safe. You’re safe, Matty. Sleep.”

            She doubted he understood the words. He wasn’t awake enough for that. But her voice must’ve soothed him because after a while he relaxed against her, sinking into her warmth and exhaling with the tiniest of sighs. He slipped into sleep moments later.

            After a few minutes listening to his steady breathing, with his hand still held securely in hers, so did she.

Chapter Text

            Everything was black. He was floating at the centre of a dark infinity. Unsupported. Weightless. Lost. The silence of the expanse pressed against him like a burning pressure – or at least, he thought it should. But he couldn’t feel it. He couldn’t feel anything. The darkness was thick and immense, textureless and flat. There was no shape to it, no impression or hint that anything else existed. He was alone.

            He couldn’t see.

            Tendrils of nothingness crept through his mind whenever that thought tried to wake him with a jolt of fear. They wrapped around him like overlong fingers, dragging him back to the numbness. The emptiness. The void. Where he knew he was afraid, but not why. Knew he was in pain, but not where. Knew he had to leave, but not how.

            There was no time here. He’d forgotten what time felt like until it oozed slowly back to him, measured in steadily increasing increments of pain. He was on fire. The heart of it burned around his own and he couldn’t tell if the suffocating pressure pulsing through him was the flicker of flames or his own heartbeat. He liked to think it was his heartbeat fuelling the inferno scorching through him. That meant he was alive. He couldn’t remember why that was comforting, though. But he thought it was meant to be.

            The nothingness lifted by degrees, so slowly he wasn’t aware of it until he saw a figure leaning over him. The fire gave an especially furious surge as Matt realised he could actually see them. The ghosts of colours whose names he’d forgotten hovered above him in a configuration that was jarring; simultaneously alien and achingly familiar. But he couldn’t make sense of it. The answer was lurking just out of reach. He tried to raise his hands to understand but he couldn’t find them. The colours shifted, changing the layout and Matt’s heart reacted before his brain could. Phantom features pressed against the palms he couldn’t find and suddenly the colours made sense. He remembered.

            His father was smiling at him.

            “D-Dad –!” He didn’t know if the strangled word was spoken or thought, but his dad heard him. He wanted to get up and wrap his arms around his father and hold him so tight he wouldn’t be able to leave ever again. He wanted to bury his face against the broad shoulders and feel those big arms around him and cry all the tears he’d kept locked inside his chest since he was ten years old.

            But he couldn’t find his body. It was lost to the flames of the inferno choking him. It pulsed and throbbed in derision of his desires, making the colours waver, the blackness thicken, the pressureless weight push harder against his absent skin.

            No, he wanted to shout, no, don’t go! Don’t leave me, Dad! Don’t leave me!

            “It’s okay, Matty,” came the calming reply. His memory had lost the rich intricacies of his father’s voice long ago but the sound that filled his ears, filled his heart, was every bit as real and alive as his father wasn’t. The inferno roared in harmony to his heart’s silent wail and tears he couldn’t feel were trickling through the fire in a pointless effort to quench it. A very different pain blossomed acutely in his chest. That voice. That voice was the only home he had ever known. That voice meant he was safe. Meant he was loved.

            “I’m not leaving, Matty,” his daddy continued. “I’ll never leave you, kid. My little smart ass.” The flames parted enough for stubble-guarded lips to press into the top of his head.

            Daddy. Matt wanted to cry, to keen, to reach out his arms and be held forever. Daddy, please.

            The blackness was eroding everything. Numbing it. The voice grew fainter. Distant. Matt wanted to thrash against the nothing, punch it, fight it with everything he had. Except that he had nothing. He was weak. Lost. Alone.

            “Never alone, Matty,” his father’s ghost whispered through the darkness. “I’m always with you. It’s okay. I love you, Matty.”

            Dad I love you! I’m sorry! Dad, take me with you!

            “No, Matty.” The words were so faint he wasn’t sure they were real. “It’s not time yet. You still got work to do. C’mon, Matty. Get up.”

            The world erupted into being with a blaze of lightning firing through his every fibre. The pain was paralysing, stunning. He couldn’t scream or breathe or move. There was nothing but the fiery agony feasting on his flesh.

            An eternity went by before it shifted. Something thick and cool and terrifying oozed through him, banishing the flames to embers that growled and whispered promises of vengeance once they were reawakened. A long time later, sound returned to him in the form of a clanking screech that reverberated along the throat he’d forgotten he had. Something moved inside him, jolting him further into his body just in time to feel a hand inside his mouth, gripping the thing that was stabbing through his lungs. The hand withdrew, pulling the thing with it and Matt gagged. He tried to speak, to command, to beg whoever was doing this to him to please, God, stop, but that was so far beyond him he was amazed he could even conjure the thought. The vibrations of his strangled moan zinged through the thing, making it vibrate horribly and he tried to get up, to roll over, to anything but there was something holding him down that he was far too weak to fight. Eventually he heaved one disobedient arm into the air, reaching blindly for the slithering, scraping horror clicking against his teeth, but he couldn’t find it. He hand landed instead on something firm and warm and familiar. He tried to pull on it, to make it stop, but before he could find a grip what little energy he had was swept from him and his hand flopped uselessly over his stomach.

            The thing finally freed itself from his mouth. Matt only realised then he couldn’t breathe. Panic stoked the embers to sparks and he heaved at his lungs, desperate for the thick smoke crushing his chest to dissipate. It didn’t. It condensed and coalesced into a physical pressure that burned in harmony to the inferno and the weight of it was pushing him away, far away.

            “Breathe, kid,” Stick said, his voice so close and real Matt expected a punishing blow any second. He should’ve heard him coming. “Air is power. Can’t fight shit if you can’t breathe.”

            Matt tried to nod, but couldn’t. He hunted for his lungs, trying to isolate their pain from the hell he was trapped in.

            “Try harder, Matty. Don’t waste my time.”

            Matt focused everything he had on his chest, calling on every meditative trick Stick had ever taught him. With a great, frenzied heave that ripped what was left of him apart, a trickle of icy air wove a path through the smoke.

            Stick hummed in surprise.

            “Not bad, kid. Now do it again.”

            Trying to ignore the tide of despair that rose around him, Matt obeyed. And again. And again.

            And again.

            Time had abandoned him. He couldn’t remember when it had left, but he knew it was a very long time ago. It left him suspended in a haze that wasn’t the blackness, and yet was. Texture returned, flitting around him like hungry birds playing with a beetle. They refused to land long enough to make sense, jabbing at him with confusing flashes of warped impressions. What little he could understand terrified him.

            People were hurting. Crying. Groaning in pain. There was so much agony around him the world seemed made of blood. Harsh, unyielding chemicals hung like razors in the air, slicing through great tidal waves of gore with uncaring brutality, abrading Matt’s nostrils with dry acidity. This was familiar too. It warned Matt to stay down, to hide in the blank void that was always sucking on his mind. Whenever he rose near the surface of wherever he was, his own pain mingled with the torturous miasma filling the air until it was too intense, too huge for him to bear and he submitted gratefully to the terrifying emptiness once more.

            Sometimes, though, he heard voices. He couldn’t be sure they were real, but they were kind. Safe. They wove a harbour through the agony around him that kept it at bay for entire miniature eternities. The words they spoke were beyond him, but he knew those melodies by heart. They were important. He was meant to be a part of the song they were singing. He was meant to be with them.

            Matt tried to call out to them, to tell them he was here, to come find him. To help him. He couldn’t move against the shifting weight pressing down on him but for the first time he wanted to. Knew he must. He tried harder. The effort swept him away from the harbours, out into the raging sea of lonely terror and God, he was so tired. He could not hold back that tide. He could barely keep his head above the waves.

            The loudest, strongest voice rode over the surf like a rescue boat. It found him, struggling against the pull of pain. It reached down and enveloped him, lifting him out of the depths and turning the sea into land as though it was easy. It held Matt there, safe and gasping, listening to the waves lap against fresh, strong storm walls. It took a long time for the name of the voice to come to him, and with it rose the winds of nothingness.

            Foggy.

Matt was lost again before the relief could register.

When he was next able to think, a strange memory found him. He assumed it was a memory. The inferno arriving in a concentrated punch, while someone he loved cried into his blood. He wasn’t sure what it meant, but it reminded him there was something he still needed to do. He just ... couldn’t remember what.

            It might’ve been decades later when the blackness began to fill. Or maybe seconds. Slowly, Matt became aware of his body, not as a furnace but as a chest, arms, legs. He was lying down. Something soft was wrapped around him. Something else was strapped to his face, feeding him freezing, unnatural air with every breath, the stiff weight grating against his skin. A light, coarse fabric was stuck to his chest. Hot dampness oozed between it and his skin, sticky and stinging against the razor wire looped through his breast.

            There was a hand around his. Soft skin stroking trails across his fingers. He focused on the movement, mesmerised. It didn’t hurt at all. The hand became two, turning his over and skating up his forearm, tracing an absence in sensitivity Matt didn’t remember but knew had once been painful. A rhythm beat through the stranger’s skin in a way Matt found soothing long before he realised this wasn’t a stranger. Before he could remember the cadence of the heartbeat that matched those steady breaths, they were gone.

            He’d lost them.

            No. No, he wanted them back. Needed them.

            He needed to wake up.

            Matt fought against the heavy darkness. He pushed against it, probed for weak spots. Fell, exhausted, away from it.

            The hands returned. This time, he concentrated the voice that fit their texture. It was a rope cast down into his pit and Matt grabbed it with all the feeble strength he had and heaved himself up, inch by agonising inch. He wanted to be with that voice. He wanted to wake up.

            His eyes opened. Everything was spinning.

            The voice said his name. The hand was on his cheek, steadying him. Grounding him above the exhaustion waiting to reclaim him to its cavernous depths.

            He tried to say something but the air cracked through his throat like a thunderclap and his grip on the world slipped. The hand vanished, its absence cold and dizzying. Movement and sound danced around him in a chaos he couldn’t tame, but then the hand slid behind his neck and lifted his head. Fire surged down into his chest and the inferno bellowed its anger, erasing all air for a few confusing seconds. Water poured over his tongue and Matt struggled to remember how to swallow. It flowed down his parched throat, soothing the cracks in scorched tissue, blissfully cool and sating. He didn’t have the strength to drink his fill and the hands took the water away when he sagged in their grip.

            With difficulty, Matt found his tongue. There was something very important he was forgetting, something crucial. Something he needed to know. Or maybe do. The voice tried to answer his fumbled questions, but the words were too fast and too loud to make sense, they got tangled with accelerating engines and exposed marrow and footsteps and Matt didn’t know how to ask again. His thoughts were as unstable as the world, careening through a thousand impressions a second, a confusing haze of shifting snippets all wanting his attention.

            Jessica. He needed Jessica. She’d been hurt. Or ... he had.

            The voice understood. Told him she was safe. Told him Foggy and Karen were safe too. Everything was moving too fast for him to keep up. He couldn’t comprehend the chaos, couldn’t shut it out. He needed help.

            A heartbeat loomed through the insanity, anchored to his skin by the hand on his cheek. Relief washed over him. He knew that heartbeat. He loved that heartbeat. Jessica Jones. Thank God for Jessica Jones.

            He tried to ask her to stay with him, to promise he’d stay with her. But he wasn’t sure he thought the words or spoke them.

            She must have understood because suddenly she surrounded him, her heart beating like an orchestra of drums all around him, her warmth bleeding into his numb skin and he could hear her. She was right there.

            Which meant he was safe. He let himself slip back into a far gentler nothingness, this one shaped by the beat of her heart, by the warmth of her skin.

Chapter Text

            It was hard. Seeing the shell of his best friend. Knowing how scared he must be. How hurt. Knowing there wasn’t a damn thing he could do to help him. Except be there. But what good could that really do for someone who was catatonic?

            Catatonic. Another word that had once made sense but lost all meaning when applied to Matt Murdock. It was so unnatural, seeing Matt lie there, eyes open, knowing he was awake, but unable to respond to anything the way he should. His eyes would move around the room, sometimes. Might even look in your direction if you managed to break through the haze that held him captive. His hands would fist themselves in the blanket, worrying its edge as his hands shook from all the shit pumped into his blood.

            Matt was awake, but he wasn’t here. Not really.

            Foggy really needed him here. He needed his best friend back. God, he needed him back. He needed to see that smile again, hear that calm voice tell him everything was gonna be okay, no matter how big a lie that was.

            Right now it felt like nothing would ever be okay again. But Matt wasn’t giving up. So Foggy wouldn’t either. He had a plan of action, and after excessive Googling, four overlong lunches, and a missed delivery pickup, he was ready to execute it.

            The door squealed dully against the floor as it opened, making Danny look up from his computer.

            “Oh hey Foggy!”

            “Greetings, Daniel.” He tried not to look too closely at Matt, staring vacantly into the ceiling. “How’s the essay going?”

            Danny’s shoulders slumped. “I still need three more references. I’m starting to wish there was a way to summon the Iron Fist, but like, in my head. I suck at spelling,” he wailed, hanging his head dramatically and taking a deep, long-suffering breath. “But on the bright side,” he added, instantly cheery again, and honestly, being around this guy would give Foggy emotional whiplash if it weren’t so damn endearing, “Matt’s responding to the benzos. Claire says things are looking up.”

            Relief swept ten pounds off Foggy’s shoulders at that. “For real? That’s excellent.”

            “Mm-hm. D’you want a minute with him? Last I checked the desk outside was clear.”

            Foggy grinned at Danny as he rose to his feet, gathering up his power lead. “Thanks, Danny.” He tapped his satchel conspiratorially. “Pretty sure I’ve cracked it this time. He’s definitely gonna snap out of it.”

            Danny smiled at him, almost managing to conceal his pity. Foggy’d said the same thing every day since Matt woke up and every day he’d failed to pull his best friend out of his stupor. At least it was Danny on guard, not Jessica. She was ... taking it hard.

            “I bet you will, man,” he answered in his usual encouraging tone. “Just remember – don’t open the blinds.”

            Foggy gave a thumbs-up and a nod. No one had opened the blinds since Matt was first wheeled into the room. But Danny was like a little kid playing sheriff these days, with a hefty dose of idolisation thrown in. He took his role as guard so seriously it was like it was his big brother lying in that bed. Foggy hoped Matt could get to enjoy that when he woke up. He doubted he’d ever had it before.

            “Oh and Foggy?” The door was cut off mid squeak as Danny hesitated.

            “Yeah, bud?”

            “I had this idea. Claire’s not so sure about but I know it’ll work if I can find the right ingredients. There was this, uh, healing ritual? We did it in K’un-Lun. I wanna try it with Matt. If you’ll let me.”

            Foggy glanced from Matt – ow – to Danny – aw – and back again. He really was a sweet kid. “Um, why not? It’s not dangerous is it?”

            “Nope!” Danny said, far too brightly. Foggy instantly regretted his abrupt confidence in the idea.

            “Well maybe tell me a little more about it later,” he backtracked. Mystic K’un-Lun magic was how Elektra got sucked back into Matt’s life, wasn’t it?

            Danny nodded – failing spectacularly to hide his disappointment – and slipped outside, the plug of his computer charger skittering along the floor behind him. It avoided getting caught in the door by a millimetre.

            Foggy took Danny’s seat as the door squeaked shut behind him. Matt’s fist tightened on the blanket, rolling his wrist as though opening the throttle on a motorbike. Foggy settled his bag on his knees but didn’t open it. If this didn’t work, then ... he was out of ideas.

            “Y’know,” he said, his tone devoid of the casual lightness he’d been aiming for, “you’re really taking the whole cold shoulder thing a little far, bud. I’m sorry I let you get stuck in a hospital but, honestly, you don’t have to ignore all of us.”

            He looked hopefully at the impassive face. Matt’s eyes were trained just above the door today. He didn’t so much as twitch.

            Well, when guilt and humour fail, try a forced emotional reboot. He opened his bag.

            God, he hoped this’d work.

            “So, I kinda broke into your apartment,” he confessed, keeping his eyes on the photos he’d pilfered. “And snooped through your stuff. Which I know you’d hate, so feel free to wake up and yell at me, I mean, that’d be fine.”

            Another pointlessly hopeful pause.

            “Right. You probably wouldn’t anyway. I found those old photos you keep with your dad’s robe. And I stole them.”

            He pulled the old boxing robe out of his satchel and leant forward to spread it over Matt’s legs. He wasn’t brave enough to try to slip it over Matt’s arms, not with those bandages staring right at him the whole time. Instead he gently extricated Matt’s hands from the blanket and laid them carefully over the silky material. The fingers clenched and unclenched around it a few times. Exactly the kind of repetitive motion Claire had warned him did not mean Matt was snapping out of it.

            Jesus. This sucked so damn much.

            “So, yeah, it’s em, red. A nice bright red, like ... maybe like cayenne pepper tastes? A happy red. And the letters are gold –” he tugged the robe up so Matt’s hands were within easy reach of the raised letters of BATTLIN’ JACK MURDOCK – “and there’s gold around the edges too. Also bright and happy. Like sunlight. Wait, that’s no good, like, um, like orange juice. Yeah. ‘Cause that makes sense.”

            Enough with the colours, idiot. Stop rambling.

            Foggy cleared his throat and turned his attention, somewhat gratefully, to the little stack of photographs that was all Matt had kept of his childhood. He hadn’t seen these since that night after Elektra broke him – the first time – and Matt had asked Foggy in that tiny voice if he could describe them to him.

            “So, uh,” he began unsteadily, clearing his throat again and shoving his own misery far enough down that he could pretend it wasn’t there. “This first one is of you and your dad at your, looks like seventh birthday? Taking a selfie before selfies were cool, you little trend setter.” He shifted his weight and looked closer at the photo, trying to see more than just the image. “You’re pretending to punch your dad in the cheek and his other hand is like two seconds away from shoving a giant piece of cake into your face and you’re both grinning like the giant dorks you are. Uh ... you guys have the same smile, actually. Real big and toothy. In a good way,” he added quickly, glancing up to Matt with a reassuring smile. The sight of him sent a particularly painful pang shimmering along his heart and he turned abruptly back to the photos, remembering why he was doing this.

            “Um, your dad’s got his arm around you, the one that’s holding the camera. He’s got a wicked bruise over his eye and he’s clearly growing out his beard or something. Uuhh ...” He hunted through the image for any details Matt would want, knowing full well what Matt would really want would be to see his father’s face again and acutely aware he had no idea how to describe it enough to make up for that. Well. That was why he’d come up with phase two of this plan. But best get through the pictures first.

            “Apart from having a hand-shaped hole in it, the cake looks nice. Store bought, unless your dad was amazing at baking.” He held the photo closer, trying to make out anything significant in the background. No balloons, no banners, no pile of presents, no friends ... Seven-year-old Foggy wouldn’t’ve recognised the scene as a birthday party without the Happy Birthday! written on the cake. Though the ay! was about to be smushed into little Matt’s face.

            “You were a really cute kid,” Foggy noted. “Shame what’s happened since, huh?” He couldn’t help glancing up again and regretted it. “Just kidding. Your hair’s all long and floppy. Makes you look like some reject from a kiddie boy band and hey, it was their loss, I’ve heard you sing. It’s, uh ... it’s actually kinda weird. You’re looking right into the camera.” He swallowed. “Right at me. This is back when you were just ... an ordinary kid. No superpowers.”

            Foggy slipped the photograph to the back of the tiny pile with shaking hands and cleared his throat again.

            “Um, this next one is you and your dad at Fogwell’s. You’re sitting on the edge of the ring and he’s standing beside you, leaning against it. It’s a candid, your backs are to the camera. Um, you’re wearing a stripey shirt – white and green, if you’re interested – and your dad’s just in a grey tee. You guys are just ... talking. You look pretty serious – maybe you’re telling him about Thurgood Marshall or something.” Foggy raised a fist and brought it down dramatically on the armrest, imitating Matt’s preachiest voice. “We must dissent from the apathy! We must dissent from the fear!”

            Under normal circumstances, that would’ve made Matt smile. His hands were kind of twitching, but, Foggy didn’t know if that meant anything.

            “Dissent from the apathy, bud,” Foggy repeated half-heartedly. “Marshall says so.”

            Matt didn’t budge.

            Right. Onto the last photo then. Foggy tried to ignore how sad it was Matt only had three. There were whole albums of Foggy age nothing to last year back home. Full of family and friends and happy days out. All that was left of the happy part of Matt’s childhood was a gloomy gym and gloomier apartment, and his dad’s smile. Which he hadn’t seen since he was nine ‘cause his life was so fucked up.

            “Um, this one,” he said, his voice shaking, “is another candid, also in Fogwell’s. Your dad’s in the ring with gloves on, and wow, Matt.” He glanced up and didn’t even register at first that Matt had turned his head in Foggy’s direction. His eyes were staring above his head, still looking painfully vacant. “You look so like your dad. But I think you’re even musclier.” Or, you were, before being in a coma for almost a month. “And he’s got that same look in his face you get when you’re about to demolish someone in court. Like you get when you talk about protecting the city. He’s covered in sweat and he’s um, punching one hand forward – don’t hate me, I have no idea what kind of punch that is, apart from that, y’know, it’s effective. The guy he’s fighting has a face full of glove and his neck is at a weird angle so I’m pretty sure your dad won this one. Anyway, you’re in the foreground and you’re watching the match – this must’ve been before the accident, I think I remember you telling me that – and you’re punching one fist too, copying your dad. I guess you’re about nine or so here too. Um ... your dad’s shorts are red. His nose is bleeding. You still have that floppy haircut.”

            Foggy raised his head. Matt was almost looking at him.

            “Matt? Buddy?” He leaned forward and took Matt’s wrist, tried not to shiver as his fingers curled around the scars there. “Can you hear me, dude?”

            Matt blinked. Breathed. His hands worked the robe idly.

            Foggy withdrew before his heart could shatter completely. He dug into his bag for his last hope and pulled it from its box.

            “So this one,” he explained, forcing his tone into cheery territory. “Is a subtle I told you so as well as, I hope, a nice surprise. So you remember me wanting a 3D printer? Yeah, those things are crazy expensive so no, I didn’t get one – but I found this place in Manhattan that lets people use them. So, rather than pay too much money to build my private army of tiny mutant dinosaurs, just ‘cause I love you so much, I had something else printed instead.”

            He scooted forwards in the chair and placed the plastic bust in Matt’s hands. Then realised that wasn’t enough and stood up, sat on the edge of the bed, and carefully took hold of Matt’s right hand. Holding the bust in his other, Foggy, feeling weird as hell, ran Matt’s unresponsive fingers over the three-dimensional portrait of his father’s face.

            “I found a good photo of Jack online,” he continued quietly, helping Matt trace his fingertips over his dad’s nose. “It was from some old site that did profiles on boxers in Hell’s Kitchen. Obviously, your dad wasn’t this small but seriously, 3D printing is not cheap, but he’s smiling? And looking out, um, like straight ahead. And you really do look like him, you know. And –”

            He stopped dead. Matt’s hand was moving, the bones shifting under Foggy’s gentle grip. Holding his breath, he let go and watched in amazement as Matt reached for the block of plastic – with both hands – and explored the contours of the face within with methodical, shaking strokes. Terrified this was another false hope, Foggy turned his gaze slowly to Matt’s face.

            He was frowning, his cheeks twitching minutely under the nasal cannula running under his nose. And there were tears in his eyes.

            “M-Matt?” Foggy whispered, scared to believe what he was seeing.

            Matt shifted his head in that way he did to let you know he was paying attention.

            “Matt, can you hear me? Can you say something, bud?”

            One of the tears winked out of the corner of Matt’s eye and escaped into his hairline as though afraid of being caught.

            “Daddy?”

            Holy shit. It was the tiniest, groggiest little noise ever, and it pulverised his heart, but holy shit it was Matt. Foggy leaned forward, laying his hand on Matt’s forearm.

            “No, buddy, it’s me. It’s Foggy. I’m right here.”

            Matt’s face twitched so it was pointed properly at Foggy now.

            “Foggy? Is – what – Foggy, what’s –”

            “It’s okay, buddy, you’re okay. You’re in hospital. You’ve been ... uh, pretty out of it for a while.”

            Matt’s frown deepened, his hand moving around the little bust with more energy, almost needily.

            “My dad – where’s – I thought – he –?”

            “It’s just a picture, buddy. 3D printed. Yeah, it’s your dad, but, uh, he’s not here, Matt.” God, he was grinning so wide his cheeks were burning from the effort, the ache a shadow of the pain in his heart as he watched his best friend remember.

            Matt’s eyebrows quirked in misery and a few more tears made a run for his hairline.

            “You need anything, buddy?” Foggy asked, too quickly, too loudly. Trying to distract Matt from the fact his father was dead. He hadn’t thought about this. “You thirsty? I, uh, I have no idea what I’m meant to do here. How’re you even feeling?” His voice trailed off into a whispered afterthought as Matt’s face crumpled like Foggy had only ever seen it crumple twice in his life. A tiny, strangled sob shuddered up from under the reddening bandages on Matt’s chest and the tears sent a whole battalion out onto the no man’s land of his cheeks and that did it. Screw the gunshot wound. Foggy pulled Matt carefully into a semi-sitting position and gathered him against his chest, tucking his head against his shoulder and holding him as though scared the force of his muted sobs would shatter him to pieces. He could feel Matt’s arm still moving between them, his hand still tracing his father’s face. Foggy held him as tight as he dared, his own battle with stoicism long lost under the assault of Matt’s exhausted, near-silent cries. Cries which were strangled into uneasy breaths far too quickly, but Matt didn’t pull away so Foggy just ran a hand along his back, over the washboard of his ribs, over the long, thin scars, and kept up a low hum of semi-coherent reassurances.

            Matt slumped against Foggy, his paltry weight only adding another shallow fissure to the cracks along his heart. He heard the quiet thump as the block fell onto the bed. Matt was having trouble breathing now, every exhalation contorted by pain.

            “Breathe with me, buddy,” Foggy whispered, taking an exaggerated breath he actually really needed. “Just breathe with me. Nice and easy. In ... and out. I got you.”

            It took a few painful-sounding attempts for Matt to match the grounding rhythm, the shallow movements of his chest feeble compared to Foggy’s. But he kept his hand rubbing comfort into Matt’s back, kept his arms firmly around him. Kept sniffing back his own tears.

            “Foggy,” Matt sighed, his throat scratching from misuse. “Thank you, Foggy. You fo– ... you found me.”

            A mildly hysterical laugh bubbled up from Foggy’s chest. God, he hadn’t heard that voice in way, way too long.

            “I always will, buddy,” he promised, hugging Matt closer. “I always will.”

Chapter Text

 


 

 

Jessica was leaning against the wall outside Matt’s room. She took two swigs from a bottle half-hidden in a ripped paper bag in the time it took Karen to walk from the elevator to the door. She greeted her with a nod as she swallowed another mouthful. Karen hesitated, one hand resting against the door.

“Do you want to talk?” she offered quietly, her gaze serious. Jessica considered her for a long moment before shrugging and shaking her head.

“I’m good.”

“You don’t look good.”

Jessica snorted. “Yeah, well. He’s having a bad day.”

Karen’s heart slipped inside her chest and fell gracelessly to her feet. If the words hadn’t been enough to raise her tide of misery, Jessica’s tone certainly was. Her voice softened when she spoke about Matt, no matter how resigned or belligerent she sounded, but now she only sounded despairing. A muscle in her jaw feathered as she half-raised the bottle again, hesitated, then took another quick gulp.

“He’s still refusing pain meds?” Karen guessed, her hopeless exhaustion making it sound more like a statement.

"Yup.” Jessica drew the word out so it could better convey the depths of Matt’s idiocy.

Karen shifted her weight and scowled at the situation. “And Claire’s letting him?”

A short, laugh-like cough lifted Jessica’s expression for a moment.

“He pulled out three IVs before he agreed to let her leave a syringe full of something normal people would need after open-heart surgery. She made him promise he’d use it when he needed it, but, it’s Matt. He’s a fucking moron.”

An exasperated sigh unfurled itself from Karen’s lungs and flopped to the floor. “Can’t argue there.”

Jessica laughed properly at that. It was too short, and the mirth didn’t reach her eyes, but it was at least genuine. She jerked her head to the door.

“Go ahead, if you want. I, eh ... I’m taking a break.”

With a small smile, Karen reached out and squeezed Jessica’s arm, leaving her hand there for a moment in silent understanding. Jessica took another, smaller drink and didn’t pull away. With a quick nod, Karen pushed the door open and stepped inside, the squeak of her shoes inaudible over the low wail of the door catching on the linoleum.

She had to remind herself that Matt was looking better. Better than he had a week ago. Much better than two weeks ago. He had his colour back. He was moving. He was awake. He was ... writhing and rigid on the bed, the veins popping out of his arms and neck. What remained of his muscle standing out in sharp relief against the all too prominent ribs rising like a cliff from his hollowed stomach. His hands were fists in the blanket, his head pressed hard into the flimsy pillow, his toes curling in their thick socks as he tried to keep himself from twisting and turning on the bed, sending the wires connecting him to the machines dancing with the strain. His eyes were tight shut, his feathering jaw clamped in heart-wrenching determination.

Karen hurt just looking at him.

She sat by his side and held his hand. Or rather, she laid both of hers over his tightly clenched fist and tried to ignore how much it was shaking.

“Matt?” she asked quietly, hoping her voice sounded steadier than it felt. It never got easier, seeing him like this. “Can you hear me?”

He didn’t react, to her touch or her voice. The pain must be especially bad today. No wonder Jessica had needed a break. Karen shoved her sorrow out of reach of her heart and started talking. It didn’t matter what about, Matt was only there in body. She filled the space between them with her voice, unable to do anything more. After a while, Matt turned his head in her direction and the fist in her hands jerked slightly, but it was less out of recognition and more out of surviving another wave of agony. Still, she pretended she was helping. To keep herself sane.

Then she ran out of things to say. It was hard keeping a coherent train of thought when constantly interrupted by strangled half-groans and exhausted grunts. Matt even whimpered occasionally. He was so far out of himself he couldn’t filter his vulnerability and that, above anything else, hurt Karen. This was a side of himself he never meant anyone to see and yet everyone in his world had a front row seat to his misery.

He didn’t deserve this. He didn’t deserve any of this.

Matt’s every breath was a misted gasp under the oxygen mask – the cannula wasn’t cutting it today – the sharp movement of his chest sounding violent and painful. A memory expanded behind her eyes with intrusive suddenness: Kevin in his room, curled over on himself on his bed, his chest heaving hysterically as tears painted temporary scars across his cheeks. It was three days since mom had died and he’d been studiously stoic until this moment. He was holding one of her sweaters, grief turning his knuckles white. Karen hadn’t said anything. She’d just sat beside him on the rickety old bed, held him close, and sang the song that had always settled him as a baby until he melted against her and his tears dried on his skin.

She blinked, and the hospital rematerialized around her, complete with Matt’s straining hand twitching in hers. Almost fifteen years and every time Kevin slipped past her guard she still cried. Wiping the tears away and taking a shaking breath, Karen smiled and sent a silent thank you to her dead brother. He was still saving her, even now.

She cleared her throat and started to sing. Softly. Gently. Too quietly to really hit the lowest notes, but that didn’t matter. When she couldn’t remember the lyrics, she simply hummed the tune, all the while weaving her fingertips around Matt’s taut knuckles, tracing the peaks and troughs of the bones standing out in sharp relief along the back of his hand.

By the time she started the final verse, Matt had relaxed. His fingers opened to hold hers, turned his head in the direction of her voice and opened his bleary, pain-soaked eyes.

“Karen?” he mumbled, sounding unsure.

“Yeah, Matt. It’s me.”

The mask twitched as he smiled.

“Hi.”

She chuckled and raised his hand enough to kiss. His breathing was a little gentler now too, though still far from calm. “Hi yourself.”

“Nice ... nice song.” His expression spasmed for a moment, his brow furrowing as another assault of agony rippled across his chest.

Karen swallowed the urge to cry and hoped Matt was too out of it to hear her heart falter.

“Thanks. My brother liked it. When he was little.”

Matt gave the tiniest nod, too distracted to respond properly. Clutching his hand a little tighter, Karen hurried to drown out his heavy panting.

“Will you take some pain meds? There’s a dose right here. You need it, Matt,” she added as he opened his mouth.

“I can last ... a little longer,” he sighed.

“But you don’t have to.”

“Rather see than ... than be blind again.”

Karen was spared concealing her heartbreak over that little bomb by Jessica’s abrupt entrance.

“How’s he doing?”

“The same,” Karen sighed at the same moment Matt said, “I’m fine.”

Karen threw him an exasperated glare she wished he could see.

“I’m banning you from saying that. You abuse it.”

A tiny frown wrinkled his brow.

“Objection,” he mumbled stubbornly. “Freedom of sp- ... of speech.”

It was a shadow of the real Matt. The sass, the dogged adherence to his point, it was ... God, it was the first glimmer of hope Karen hadn’t had to conjure herself. He’d made a joke. That had to be a good sign.

It was also why she and Jessica laughed, because, honestly. Matt hadn’t had the energy to be annoying since before he was shot.

“You’re such an asshole,” Jessica said affectionately as she sat herself by Matt’s other side.

Unfortunately, Matt tried to chuckle. He managed one mirthful cough before he was languidly trying to double himself over, gasping for breath around a chestful of fire. His grip on Karen’s hand turned crushing, his muscles straining with the effort to reclaim a lungful of air. She and Jessica were on their feet in moments, pulling him into a sitting position and running comforting hands along his back, speaking in slow, commanding tones. By the time the pain subsided enough for him to coax in a full breath, they were all that were keeping him up. He was barely conscious, limp in their hands. They laid him back against the pillow – Jessica tugging the comforter up to cover his shoulders – but he couldn’t straighten his torso so stayed curled on his side.

He must’ve angered his split rib.

“Matt, I’m getting the drugs,” Karen said, not caring if he could understand her.

“No, Kar’n, n- ...” He had to stop to gather air to fuel his pointless protest. She didn’t wait for him.

“Matt, you can’t heal if you spend all your energy trying to meditate through the pain. For god’s sake, there’s a hole in your heart!”

She snatched the syringe from the stand bearing the heart monitor – which was silently beating out a frantic rhythm – and turned back to him. His expression gave her pause and she leaned forward, putting a hand on his cheek.

“I promise it’ll be okay. Please, trust me. We’ll keep you safe, Matt.”

Closing his eyes in a vain effort to hide his fear, Matt gave a tiny, defeated nod.

Suppressing her relief, Karen uncapped the needle, stuck it into the IV port, and pushed the plunger all the way down.

The effect was almost instant. Matt fell out of his foetal posture, his head flopping into the pillow. His expression cleared and his chest began to rise with gentle reliability. Jessica pulled the blanket around him, tucking him in with an expression that dared Karen to comment. She quickly busied herself with returning the needle to its perch, hiding her grin.

Matt rolled his head in Jessica’s direction, a wide grin dislodging the mask slightly.

“El-lektra?” he mumbled happily. Reaching one hand drunkenly for her.

Jessica froze, her face shuttering. Matt’s hand found her arm and the contact thawed her. She took his hand and heaved a sigh.

“She’s not here, Matt. You’re stuck with me.”

Matt frowned, blinking slowly as the drugs stalled his thoughts. He looked about to say something when he abruptly stiffened, panic flashing behind his eyes.

Shit. Karen almost wished she knew where to track down surviving IGH employees. She could have a fresh clip for each of them and would still force the gun to click.

Jessica leant forward before she could, running her fingers through Matt’s hair, smoothening his brow with her thumb. Karen sat back down, trying to ignore the outdated pang making her heart shudder. She pulled out her phone and checked her emails.

Matt’s hand was searching again, and Jessica caught it, bringing it to her face as she promised him he was safe.

“Oh.” He gave a low hum. “Jessica. Missed you, Jess’ca.” With a contented sigh, the drugs pulled him into a painless sleep, his hand still tangled in her hair.

She held his hand against her chest for a moment before returning it to the blanket – reluctantly, Karen thought – and sat down, studiously avoiding her eye.

“Sorry,” she grunted a while later. “I, uh –”

“It’s fine,” Karen said quickly, no more eager for that conversation that she was.

“I know you two had a thing –”

“Jess, seriously. It was a long time ago and honestly?” She glanced to Matt. “Too much has happened since. We don’t ... fit anymore. Not sure we ever did.” She turned her smiling gaze to Jessica. “You two do though. Really.”

Jessica nodded. Then shook her head. “I’m not so sure about that anymore.”

“No?”

Jess shrugged. “I mean, two seconds after we decided to go for it he gets shot in the chest and spends the next month a vegetable. He still can’t hold up a conversation.” She shrugged again, her eyebrows pinching. “I’m not exactly one for signs but, shit.”

Karen smiled and leant forward, leaning one elbow on the bed by Matt’s thigh and idly playing with his fingers.

“I get that. Believe me, I do. But that sort of thing just doesn’t work with Matt Murdock.”

“How do you figure?”

“Come on, Jessica. You know it wasn’t a choice for him. It’s who he is. Hell, the whole reason he was blinded in the first place was because he was trying to save someone else.”

Jessica’s frown deepened. “He’s such a ...” She gave her head a tight shake. “I don’t get it. This time was different. I’d bet anything Bullseye made him some kind of deal. My life for his. Matt knew he’d die. And he did it anyway.”

“It’s hard, isn’t it?” Karen said quietly, following Jessica’s gaze to Matt. “Realising how much your life can mean to someone else. He got this,” she tugged the blanket back far enough to show Jessica the small blob of scar tissue on Matt’s left shoulder, just visible above the bandages, “saving me and a bunch of others from the Hand. Didn’t even flinch. First thing he did was make sure I was okay.”

She tucked the blanket back around his neck and leaned back. “First night we met he risked his life for me when he knew I was lying to him. Granted, in hindsight he was lying too, but still. He made me feel safe with him when there was still a bounty on my head. Only hours after someone tried to kill me. And he did it like it was no big deal, like anyone would've.” She paused, watching the pieces fall together. “I think he forgets, because of Foggy.”

“Foggy?”

“He has this way with people. He's kind, right down to his core, and he cares about people. Matt's never had someone like that in his life so in his head he can never be as good a person as Foggy, no matter how many lives he saves. And that comparison blinds him to the fact that he stands head and shoulders above the crowd on his own. Just cause Foggy stands taller he assumes he's less than.”

“Foggy doesn’t go out getting stabbed and shit for complete strangers,” Jessica pointed out, a little harshly. Karen laughed.

“I mean with people. I think part of the reason Matt loves being Daredevil so much is that it means he doesn’t have to be a person. He’s a symbol. A body. Yeah, it’s important what he does and that he refuses to kill, but he only ever gets hurt physically, really. Which he knows how to handle. But in the day? Just as Matt? You never really got to know him before IGH, how he was around people. He was ... vulnerable. And I’m still not convinced it was all part of the act. You notice how he never stammers as Daredevil? I think that’s because being the mission is easier than being the man.”

Jessica let out a low chuckle and leaned back, producing another bottle of whiskey out of nowhere and taking a pull. “Were you a shrink in another life or something? Jesus.”

Karen shrugged one shoulder, looking back to the man in question. “I had a lot of time to think when he was, y’know. When we thought he was gone.”

She couldn’t get used to Matt being so still and silent. He was meant to squirm and argue whenever she made a case for him being a good man. He hated hospitals, he should be a giant pain in all their asses now, but instead he was  just ... surviving. Even at his most lucid he was quiet, distant. Embarrassed by every tear and groan. As though they gave a shit about anything but how to make him better.

And if this was him surrounded by friends, how much worse had he been, all alone, in IGH? Karen couldn’t quite supress the shudder that accompanied that thought.

“You okay?”

“Yeah, just ... Every now and then I just get it, you know? He went through so much alone.”

“Yeah, well,” Jessica said with the air someone adjusting their bargepole to keep a threatening conversation at bay. “He’s not alone now.” She reached for the small stack of photos semi-hidden under the bust of Matt’s dad on the bedside table. Her posture was still guarded, unwelcoming, but it melted into vulnerability within seconds of looking at the photos of a kid Matt and his dad. Karen could tell she hadn’t seen these before, her eyes were suddenly bright with unshed tears and the corner of her mouth twitched with the hint of a smile. Softened by the evidence that there had once been a young, happy Matt who could see the love in his doting father’s face and felt safe in his home and watched boxing and was just ... a normal kid from Hell’s Kitchen. Just a little boy with no scars whose greatest fears were trivial and always kept at arm’s length by his father’s steadfast presence. She remembered herself quickly – faster than Karen had when she’d seen them – reshuffling the pictures and shoving them quickly back under the plastic bust, which she subtly replaced facing the wall.

“No. He’s not.” She watched Jessica refit her mask and smiled warmly at her, suddenly very glad she had slouched into their lives. “Thank you for that.”

Predictably, Jessica avoided the gratitude in her gaze, shrinking minutely into her jacket as she shifted her weight. “He’d’ve done the same for me.”

“Yeah but since when has Matt ever expected to be treated the way he treats other people? He wouldn't know how to handle that, how to accept it. He doesn't even understand how special he is. How rare.” She hesitated. “I don’t think you do either. Part of why you guys could work so well together. You’ll remind each other.”

The chair gave a staccato squeak as Jessica pushed back a little in surprise. She shifted her weight uncomfortably and busied herself taking another drink.

“So Danny wants to try some mystic healing bath or something,” she said when she’d swallowed, carefully not looking at her.

Karen took the hint and swallowed the rest of her insight. “Yeah – did I hear he needed dragon blood for it?”

Jessica rolled her eyes. “God, I don’t know, but I damn sure hope not. Maybe he meant some kind of flower, or ... that Komodo thing.”

“Be great if it helps though,” Karen said, suddenly quiet. “He needs a break.”

Jessica cleared her throat. “Danny knows what he’s doing. For once. Matt’ll be fine.” Karen just nodded, her eyes suddenly hot. She bit her lower lip, too tired to cry again.

“Hey. Karen. Come on, you know he’ll be fine. Guy’s too stubborn not to be.”

Karen sniffed and smiled at Jessica, carefully ignoring the memory of Matt lying as though dead in a bathtub full of blood.

“Yeah. You’re right.”

“And in the meantime,” Jessica continued, looking subtly pleased with herself, “all we gotta do is hunt down the son of a bitch who did this.”

Karen groaned and slumped back in her chair. “Please tell me you’ve had more luck with that than me ‘cause I’ve tried every angle I could think of and the best I could put together was an inconsistent profile.”

Jessica mirrored her posture with a sigh. “Don’t tell Super-Ears over here but Luke and I checked out that clinic where Bullseye attacked me and Trish.”

“Oh? Any leads?”

She shrugged. “Found some stuff for Hogarth and Foggy. Nothing on Bullseye though. Still in the wind.”

“Or biding his time ‘til we drop our guard.”

“Exactly.”

“Great.”

“Yup.”

“Gag order seems to be working at least. Seems the staff here aren’t running their mouths about all the, well.” Karen gestured vaguely to Matt and his many hidden scars.

“I’ll sleep easier when we’re out of this hellhole,” Jess grumbled, slumping down in her seat with a heavy sigh. “Every day I think Bullseye’ll show up. All the ways he could find out where Matt is. All the ways he could kill him.”

She trailed off, caught in a stare for a long moment. Then she blinked, seeming to realise what she had said.

“That was dark,” Karen noted quietly.

“Yeah, well. I’m paranoid.”

But she wasn’t wrong. Bullseye was relentless. The only way to stop someone like that was to ... But Matt would never allow it. Not if he knew about it. Which might be why Foggy was so adamant to keep Matt as in the dark as possible as to the world outside his recovery.

Karen heaved a sigh. Protecting Matt from whatever nightmare was waiting for him was like trying to stop the rain. Bullseye wasn’t gonna leave him alive. It wasn’t his MO. He would be back. Everyone else who had been freed from IGH were dead – something Foggy had outright forbidden anyone to mention anywhere near the hospital lest Matt overheard.

Karen nudged her handbag with her shoe, feeling for the solid weight of her gun.

Bullseye would be back. The only question that mattered was, would they be ready when he came?

Chapter Text

            The knives were speaking to him.

            They were being mean.

            You missed. You missed. You MISSED! Yooooooou MI-ISSED! You misssssssssssed!

            With each pass of the whetstone over the small, delicately curved blade came another high, sharp rebuke. Another insult. Another reminder.

            You missed, Bullseye. You missed, Bullseye.

            Normally when he sharpened them, the knives would sing him a song. They’d tell him how much they loved him, loved how he took such good care of him – better than his parents or those cows at the orphanage ever did. They’d tell him how special he was, how incredible. How talented. How skilful. How proud they were to be his knives. To be used by him. Because they knew that in his hands they were far more than just weapons. They were tools of art. Paintbrushes tracing the most beautiful portrait of pain across ripe, rich canvasses, every stroke of their silver bristles a masterful eruption of pristine crimson. In his hands they could paint whole murals with heart-stopping precision. Every line a deliberate act, every colour a shade of blood.

            Twelve is alive, Bullseye. Twelve’s alive.

            Normally.

            There was nothing normal about the song they were singing him now. It was discordant, whiny, jarring. Just noise, as though there was nothing more to the sound than metal on stone when Bullseye knew there was so, so much more.

            They were keeping their melodies to themselves. Instead screeching this awful, mocking chant that bounced around the room until it was filled with the suffocating clamour and Bullseye wanting nothing more than to stop, stop, stop –

            But the first rule of knives is you must take care of them. And they had done a lot of work last night. A lot more last week. And the week before. They were overdue some tender, loving care. So he kept sharpening. Kept oiling. Kept polishing until they all gleamed so brightly you might bleed just looking at them.

            It didn’t make any sense. Twelve didn’t make any sense. Did they give him extra powers back at headquarters? Special abilities? Had they made him stronger and a better healer than Bullseye? Than their number One? Why would they do that? Why give a blind little twig the strength to survive what should kill you and leave Bullseye ... like this? With the mocking of the blades still ringing through his mind like a million angry hornets.

            Why would they treat Twelve better than they had him? He was loyal. He was faithful. He was useful. An asset. That’s why got the special missions. Why he was allowed do them alone.

            Why he was allowed play Xbox.

            What if they had let Twelve play Xbox?

            Bullseye was on his feet before deciding he wanted to be there. He ran his nails along his scalp, scoring through the short, bristly hairs and trying to scratch his thoughts into order. Claw them into making sense. He paced – no, he marched, he was a soldier and soldiers marched – across the tiny room. One, two, three, turn. One, two, three, turn. One, two, three, punch the wall and turn.

            They couldn’t’ve let him play Xbox. He was blind. He was stupid. He was imperfect. They hadn’t had enough time to make him perfect ‘cause he kept resisting ‘cause he never even understood what was really going on. How all that hurt was just weakness leaving him. How lucky he was to have been chosen to hurt at all. Most people – almost everyone – went through their whole lives without ever hurting like that and that was sad. Even fewer people survived the pain of purification. But Bullseye did. And Twelve ran away.

            No. They wouldn’t let him anywhere near the Xbox. And they wouldn’t give him any extra abilities. He wasn’t worth that. No, no. It was something else.

            Bullseye stopped short two-thirds of the way to the other wall, the one full of little dents and slits from when he got bored.

            If IGH hadn’t given Twelve any special treatment and they still wanted him dead, then that just meant that the mission wasn’t over. Bullseye hadn’t done anything wrong. Maybe it wasn’t his fault. Maybe the bullet had been defective.

            But you still missed, Bullseye. Twelve is still breathing. This isn’t the first time you’ve failed, Bullseye.

            It wasn’t fair the knives still got to talk when they were folded into their leather case.

            But they did have a point. Never, in all his years being perfect, had Bullseye ever missed when it mattered. Never. Not once. And now he had. Twice, he’d failed to kill Twelve. He’d thought the first time was just because he’d disobeyed and gone after Jessie, but what if that hadn’t actually been his fault? What if it was Jessie’s fault? And Twelve? It was only when they were together that things went wrong. Bullseye had spent lots and lots of time playing with Twelve back home, he’d gotten to draw in his skin and break his bones and beat him up all he wanted. And it had been easy, especially when they’d made him deaf. Real easy.

            It was just when Jessie was there that Twelve got away.

            The screeching in his head was starting to quiet. And that meant he had figured it out. Jessie was the problem. All he needed to do was get her out of the way, make sure Twelve would be alone. Then he could kill him, once and for all. And he wouldn’t trust it to some bullet, oh no. He’d use his knives. He’d use Jasper, his favourite. Jasper was long and curved and the most beautiful thing Bullseye had ever seen. Jasper was sharp.

            Jasper had never let him down. And he never missed.

            Nodding to no one, Bullseye turned a few times on the spot, planning. His mind kept skipping a little like it always did when he had to concentrate on something that wasn’t not missing, but he was smart. He was perfect. He would figure it out.

            He’d already figured out the article about the blind lawyer being shot dead on the street was a lie. He’d figured out it was Jessie and the bulletproof giant who had wrecked the clinic where he had been staying. He’d figured out where Jessie and the fat man and the nurse kept going every day, even if they tried to lose him on the way to the hospital. He was pretty sure he’d even figured out what floor Twelve was on.

            You missed, Bullseye.

            Well he wasn’t going to miss again. Nope. He was going to kill them all. Soon.

            And once he did, the voices would stop and they’d let him play Xbox and he would be happy again.

Chapter Text

“You don’t have to be here, you know,” Matt said quietly, his useless gaze fixed on the pile of Lego Danny had bought to keep him occupied. Not that he was awake long enough to be bored these days. But it was Matt. Anything to distract him from doing something stupid – like trying to escape during a flashback or pulling the many wires out – was worth it.

Jessica glanced up from the instruction booklet, frowning. Matt’s face was oddly guarded, his jaw too tense as he worked two bricks together with one hand. His left arm couldn’t lift high enough to reach for the pieces strewn over the rolling hospital table so Matt had been half-heartedly assembling a pirate ship with his left hand for the last eight hours. Well, forty-five minutes, but still. It wasn’t exactly gripping entertainment.

Okay, it was good seeing Matt awake enough to be able to concentrate on something past the pain. Great, even. But you know what wasn’t great? Seeing the frustration build behind his eyes as he fumbled his way through a task that wouldn’t bother most three-year-olds. Until he spoke, Jessica had assumed that was what had cast his expression in such dismal shade.

“I know,” she answered, keeping her tone light. “But it’s warmer than my apartment.” She wiggled her fingers at him. “See? No gloves.”

He huffed a laugh that made him grimace and raise a hand to the bandages bulging under his tshirt.

“Can’t actually.”

Oh, shit. Yeah. Supersenses still weren’t firing on all cylinders yet.

“You know what I mean.”

“But I don’t think you do.”

Jessica leaned back in her chair and looked at him properly. He’d been awake and lucid over two hours now – which was pretty long for someone with a hole in their chest. The dark rings under his eyes attested to the toll acting normal was taking, but the fact that Claire had convinced him to experiment with less submersive painkillers at least let him enjoy some of his wakeful hours now. Okay, ‘enjoy’ might be a stretch, but he wasn’t writhing in pain anymore so Jessica was counting it as a win.

“And what’s that supposed to mean?”

He licked his lips and swallowed, a frown settling over his features.

“You don’t have to be here, Jessica.”

She waited for him to elaborate. He didn’t.

“I know ...?”

He shook his head a little, the furrows in his brow deepening.

“I just – I get it. I’m not expecting you to ... y’know, just hang around for my sake. I want you to know it’s fine if – if you’ve changed your mind. I know you hate it here. Besides, you must have cases to work.” He sank a little into the pillows piled behind his shoulders but his expression remained resolute. “What I’m saying is, you don’t owe me anything. I get it. It’s okay to ... check out.”

Jessica stared at him, waiting for a punchline that didn’t come.

“Are you kidding me?” she demanded, torn between wanting to laugh and flat out smack his stupid face. “You saved my life, Murdock.”

“And you saved mine,” he answered fluidly, his eyebrows cocking in a challenge that probably spelled doom for most prosecutors in a court room. “Foggy told me. You kept my heart beating while I couldn't. Until I came back.” He cleared his throat and fought to keep his expression as steady as his voice. “Consider your debt fulfilled.”

Oh. Hell. No.

“My debt?” she repeated. “My debt is fulfilled? Jesus Christ you are an asshole. This wasn’t some buck for buck loan between us Matt – I don’t care if you don’t want to talk about it, I figured out what happened. You took the bullet that asswipe meant for me. Me breaking your ribs ‘til the paramedics got there is not the same thing as you literally taking a bullet for me.”

“It is to me,” he said quietly, still looking all defiant and arrogant and holy shit were these words really coming out of his mouth? “I’d be dead if it weren’t for you, Jess. And I’m grateful for that, really, but you don’t have to be here for me just because you were there when I got hurt.”

Well that right there, that fucking did it.

“Alright, you listen up you little shit, I wasn’t just there when you got hurt I was a foot from you when you got shot in the fucking heart! I held you as you bled to death right in front of me, Matt, I broke your ribs trying to keep your body alive long enough for some miracle to bring you back – and you tell me I don’t need to be here?”

“Jess, I didn’t mean –”

“Do I look finished! Or sound finished, whatever – Matt, how do you of all people not get this? It took me two showers to get your blood off me. You were in surgery for over ten hours – you’ve only been properly lucid, what, three days now? You were basically in a coma for a month and the bastard who did that to you is still out there and I can’t find him so I have been right here, in this shitty chair for weeks, for you. Praying for you to wake up. For you to recognise me. For you to be you. And now, what, you’re telling me to not bother? Jesus, Matt, even for you, that’s low.”

“Jessica, that’s not what I –”

“And while we’re on the subject, Daredevil,” she said over him, only now aware that she was on her feet and the pen she was holding was broken in her palm, bleeding ink onto the floor. “Where the ever-loving fuck do you get off telling me my debt is filled? You are the most selfish dick I have ever met – you didn’t even think what it would do, did you? Taking that bullet? Of course not, you just got a hint of grief and you got scared so you go and fucking sacrifice yourself so you don’t have to deal with it but all the rest of us do. Do you have any idea what all this did to Foggy? To Karen? No. ‘Cause you were fucking unconscious the whole damn time. You didn’t have to be with them in the waiting room, trying to keep it together. You never saw Claire break down crying trying to find a way to keep her promise to you and not leave you in enough pain to literally shut your system down.”

His defiant composure fractured, his face crumpling into a whole new kind of vulnerability and Jessica raised both her arms in a futile gesture, her voice breaking as tears stole over her lashes. This pissed her off. How could he just lie there and let her lay into him for all his bullshit? He wasn’t even trying to fight back or distract her, he was just letting her tear him down. Who the fuck let him learn this? That it’s okay to let someone rip him apart like this? And more importantly, why couldn’t she stop?

“We – all of us, we’ve been trying to keep you alive ever since I found you. And every chance you get you try to throw all that away. Like it’s nothing.” Like you’re nothing.

“I’m sorry, Jessica,” he whispered, his own eyes glistening now too. “You’re right, I didn’t ... I just couldn’t let you get hurt again.”

She almost laughed. Almost.

“Didn’t you think I’d have a better chance surviving a gunshot wound? You know I’m pretty strong, Matt, and I heal a hell of a lot faster than you.”

“No,” he breathed, a tear falling over his cheek. “I didn’t.”

She sniffed. “No. Of course you didn’t. ‘Cause Plan A in the Matt Murdock Manual of Dipshittery is to try the first thing you think of and who the fuck cares if it means you die, huh? Certainly not you.”

“I di-didn’t,” he stammered, sucking in a quick breath that made him wince, “I didn’t want to die, Jessica.”

Jessica flopped back into her seat with an exasperated huff she hoped drowned out her heart’s horrible stumble at his words.

“You’re right,” he continued, another tear carving a shining line down his gaunt face. “Everything you’re saying. I didn’t think what all this would do to you, to all of you. There wasn’t time. It was either die or watch you die – and maybe that makes me a coward, but I couldn’t – I couldn’t do that. Not ... not again.”

These last words were barely audible, but Jessica heard them. She heaved a sigh and covered her face with her hand, hoping he couldn’t sense her tears.

“I know,” she said, calmer now. “I know I’m a huge asshole for saying any of this. I know this was all way harder for you – you couldn’t even breathe for weeks for god’s sake, you still can’t see properly and I know how shit all this must be for you, not even counting all the IGH bullshit you’ve been hiding.” She let her hand flop onto the armrest and looked up at him. He’d started curling in on himself, meaning whatever relief the drugs gave him was fast wearing off. Or maybe her words were just that painful. “But Matt, you don’t get to decide I don’t owe you anything. Because I fucking owe you everything, okay? But if you think that’s the reason I’ve been camped out in this shithole room, out of some bullshitty sense of obligation, then ...” She sighed, unable to finish the sentence.

He blinked slowly, readying himself for another hit.

“Say what you need to say, Jessica.”

She rubbed at the ink staining her palm.

“Then maybe I shouldn’t be.”

There was a pause. She studiously avoided looking at him. Then,

“That’s what I was trying to say,” he said quietly, and she couldn’t tell if the pain in his voice was physical or not. She reached for the waiting syringe and he held his arm out for the dose. That in itself was unsettling. “If you’re here because ... because of that night, because you don’t want to hurt me, or, whatever. I’m just trying to say you’re off the hook. That’s all.”

She froze mid-plunge. Looked up at his downcast face, at his wavering composure, his bottom lip held firmly between his teeth as he waited for the blow to fall.

Did he not get it? Did he not understand why she was so pissed, why she’d spent every day in this goddamn hospital? Did he seriously not get that she loves him, the stupid asshole? Couldn’t he hear it in her heart? It beat differently around him, how did he not know?

His words finally sank in.

If you’ve changed your mind.

It took perhaps ten seconds for it all to make sense. The last few weeks from his perspective. Her, there every day. Drinking, every day. Calling him names for not taking the damn pain meds. Now she thought of it, all those moments, the soft, sweet moments of just Matt, all happened when he was drugged up. Which he couldn’t remember. Or probably thought he’d dreamed up after IGH – and then whenever he’d been lucid she’d just tried talking to him, but not – she’d never – aw, hell.

He didn’t know.

She pushed the rest of the dose into his IV port and set the syringe gently on the table beside the Lego. It was hard to say which of them was the bigger asshole.

“You can’t let me off the hook, Matt,” she said gently, taking his hesitant hand and focusing on it and not his face so she wouldn’t chicken out.

“Why not?”

“Because I love you, you asshole. There is no hook.”

She was watching him out of the corner of her eye and caught the surprised quirk of his eyebrows. Unable to stop herself she turned her head enough to catch something huge flicker in his eyes. His hand moved in hers, two fingers searching for the pulse point on her wrist. She shook her head with a little huff and lifted his hand to rest over her heart, shifting closer so he didn’t have to stretch.

“I’m not saying it again,” she clarified, her tone casual, nonchalant. “But yeah, I meant it. It’s real.”

His palm was warm over her shirt, his own pulse brushing against her fingers held around his wrist. He pressed into her heartbeat for a moment, his expression lifting with what Jess’s ego wanted to call wonder. She watched the tiny, exhausted smile grow into that dopey grin she hadn’t seen in far too long. He twisted his hand under hers and tugged lightly, wanting to pull her closer and lacking the strength. Squirming internally, Jessica leaned forward to hear his quiet words.

“I love you too, Jessica Jones.” He closed his eyes and drew her to him until their foreheads touched. “I love you.”

Something huge expanded in Jessica’s chest, warm and bright and dazzling. She hooked a finger under his chin, tilting it up until his lips found hers. She could feel that dopey grin through the kiss and damn it if that didn’t make it taste so much better.

She only pulled away when she realised it wasn’t exactly sexy for him to be out of breath this time. A wheeze scored his every inhale and she took the oxygen mask from its hook and held it gently in place while he tamed the pain clouding his eyes. He still looked so happy for a second she could almost forget where he was, even with the mask obscuring half his face. She leaned forward again and kissed his forehead, lingering because she could. Because this moment was a good one.

She kept his hand in hers when she finally sat back. He held on to her until his breathing eased enough to discard the mask. He was beaming at her. Like he could see her.

“You prayed for me?” he asked quietly.

Jessica swallowed and shrugged one shoulder. “Wasn’t a big deal. I don’t even believe in all that shi – stuff. I know you do so I just, I dunno, it was worth a try. Wasn’t a lot else we could do.”

“We?”

“Foggy and Luke. Mostly Luke, I mean, he knows actual prayers. We were just, y’know, posing really.” She shrugged again, hoping it was louder than her blush.

He was silent for a long moment, an odd, tiny smile flickering at the corner of his mouth. He angled his eyes toward her and it really wasn’t fair he could still look that charmingly sweet with exhaustion etched onto every line of his face and his lids only half open over his soft, sincere gaze. She could see pain and gratitude in equal measure in the dark irises and, not for the first time, she was relieved he couldn’t make direct eye contact.

“When I went to see my priest,” he began, his voice still bearing a faint rasp, “he told me that some good had come from everything I’d been through. From IGH.”

Jessica’s eyebrows shot up. “Brave of him. I’d’ve punched him for that bullshit.”

Matt huffed a weak laugh and gave his head a little shake. “No. He was right.” His hand tightened over hers. “That night you came over.”

The brightness in her chest darkened quickly, like a cloud passing over the sun and leaving the earth cold and shadowed.

“And the next morning you got shot in the chest,” she stated flatly.

Weirdly, his smile twitched a little wider.

“And the next morning,” he countered, “I survived getting shot in the chest. Chances of that were pretty slim, Jess, especially with Bullseye.” She couldn’t quite suppress her snort. “Slim enough that there had to be a reason.” He gestured vaguely to himself. “I can’t exactly fight for anyone right now. So it can’t be for Daredevil. Or a lawyer.

“It’s you.”

Jessica swallowed against a wave of heat that swept up to her cheeks anyway.

“I thought it was a piece of cane.” She didn’t think she’d quite managed the aloof tone she was going for.

He chuckled, winced, took a steadying breath, and squeezed her hand. God, how could he look so sure? He was talking about cosmic intentions and divine interventions, about her, and that ... That was terrifying.

“I’m just saying,” he said calmly, the tiredness starting to erode the happiness now. “I’m all in, Jess. If you want me.”

Oh. Well, that did make it easier. If not less daunting.

For the first time since he’d come out of the coma, she rose up and settled herself gingerly by his side, her head resting on his shoulder, one arm wrapped around his waist. His lips appeared on her forehead and he breathed in the scent of her, and even Jessica Jones couldn’t deny this felt right.

“Well,” she muttered, snuggling in closer against him. “You do make pretty good eggs.”

Matt laughed. Then flinched, hissing in a breath but still fighting a chuckle.

“Ow.”

“Can you not hurt yourself for five minutes?”

A softer chuckle. “If you insist.”

“Good.” She hugged him closer, burying her face in the smell of him and letting out a contented sigh. “Good.”

Chapter Text

            “I’m not so sure about this, Danny.”

            “It’s gonna work, Luke, just have a little faith!”

            “Faith in what? In goop?”

            “Yes, Luke. Faith in goop.”

            Matt’s smile pulled on the nasal cannula, making his nose twitch.

            “Are you hearing that?” he whispered to her.

            “Yup. And I’m telling you right now, Danny is not converting me to pray to some goop overlord.”

            Matt laughed, bracing one arm around his chest and, despite the ripple of pain that shivered through him, Jessica beamed right along with him. Seeing him smile, make jokes, it was ... Well it was about goddamn time, actually.

            His nose wrinkled. “It smells really strange, whatever it is.”

            “You’re such a weirdo.”

            The shrill squeak of the door opening drowned out Matt’s amused snort. Danny barged in with Luke in tow, who was caring a giant metal tub that looked like the sort of old-timey bath Victorian maids would mope in. He set it down outside the en suite with a disproportionate thunk, then straightened his back with a grimace.

            Matt was not kidding about the smell. It was like sea water and sterile chemicals and something that reminded her of cinnamon but was definitely not cinnamon. She exchanged a glance with Matt – or at least, he turned his head towards her at the same moment she looked up at him.

            “So, you ready for this, Matt?” Danny asked with all the energy of a labradoodle puppy.

            “Uh, sure,” Matt said, not sounding remotely sure. Jessica stood up, peering over the bed to see into the tub. Matt squeezed her hand and she went to investigate properly.

            The tub was filled with a semi-translucent white gel-like substance that held an odd shimmer as she moved towards it. She wrinkled her nose and interrupted the pleasantries going on behind her.

            “What the hell is this stuff, Rand?”

            Danny turned to her, his eyes alight. “It’s from K’un-Lun – well, it’s as close as I could get to what we had at K’un-Lun. Whenever anyone would get hurt bad they’d go soak in the K’ní-seum. It’s a sacred recipe, so old no one even remembers who invented it, but it’s amazing. One time,” he continued, ignoring Jessica’s rolling eyes, “I broke my arm jumping off one of the houses –”

            “Of course you did,” Luke sighed, smiling exasperatedly.

            “– and the monks sent me down to the healing caves and in three days I was good as new.”

            “Three days?” Matt repeated, a spark of energy lighting his unfocused eyes.

            “Yep! Well, I still had to do strengthening exercise for a few weeks after – and you can’t be in the K’ní-seum for more than an hour at a time, if you can handle that long.”

            Jessica caught Luke’s uncertain gaze and took a step towards Matt, leaning against the end of the bed and scowling at Danny.

            “Meaning?”

            He had the sense to look uncomfortable.

            “Well, um, so it’s not exactly a ... painless process? People’s tolerances vary, and the more serious the injury the longer you need to soak and the more it’ll hurt as it heals, but –”

            “Ah, so that’s why you made sure to do this the one day Claire and Foggy aren’t gonna be here.”

            “Hey, I know this is gonna work, and if Matt says he’s up for it then they –”

            “Okay, I’m trying this first.” Jessica grabbed a tongue depressor from a tub on the little counter by the door, snapped it in half, and before the others could do more than say her name, drew the ragged edge sharply across the back of her hand, pressing hard. Her lip curled as blood appeared, pooling quickly in the hollows between the bones and trickling quickly between her knuckles. Ignoring Matt, who was inclining the bed into a sitting position and looking mildly horrified, she stepped over to the tub and laid the back of her bleeding hand on the surface of the white gel.

            “Motherfucker!” She recoiled, snatching her hand back reflexively, a long, thick string of goop trailing like undercooked mozzarella from her fingers. She waved her hand frantically, trying to dislodge the burning string from the cut. It refused to shift so she half-swiped, half-slapped it off with her other hand. Intense pins and needles danced savagely across the cut and she clapped her hand around it, stifling another curse. “What the hell, Danny!”

            “Well I did say –”

            “That was a freaking paper cut, no way is Matt getting in there!”

            “Did it work?” Matt asked from the bed.

            “People have different thresholds –” Danny started, unwisely.

            “Jess can handle pain better than anyone, Danny,” Luke cut in angrily. “If it’s that bad for a flesh wound what’s it gonna do –”

            “Did it work?”

            “We should at least give it a try! It helps revive muscle mass too, so it –”

            “How do we even know you got the recipe right, Firefly?”

            “Hey!”

            They all stopped at the shout, looking to Matt as one. He was scowling, sitting straighter than he had since he woke up, his good arm shaking with the effort of supporting his weight.

            “Did it work?” he repeated, his voice low and serious.

            Jessica opened her mouth to say of course it didn’t, but as she lifted her hand from the cut the words died in her throat. What had been a bleeding, two-inch cut less than a minute ago, was now a thin, pink line across the back of her hand.

            “Well shit,” she said in surprise at the same moment Luke said, “Sweet Christmas.”

            “I told you,” Danny said smugly. Jessica shot him a glare and he schooled his expression.

            “Jessica.” She looked over at Matt. He was holding one hand out to her. “Let me see.”

            She stepped over and placed her hand in his. It was his left, he couldn’t keep it raised long enough to feel the change so he slumped into the bed and lifted his right to investigate. His thumb ran gently over the healed cut, his eyebrows quirking in surprise.

            “That was bleeding a second ago, right?” he clarified.

            “Yeah. Stills stings though.”

            With a squeeze, he let her go and turned his head towards Danny.

            “Let’s do it.”

            “Matt –”

            “Luke, I’m in pain anyway,” he snapped, momentarily a stranger. “It may as well help me get out of this place.”

            Luke shifted his weight, folding his arms as he loomed over Matt.

            “And what if it’s too much, huh? You know you’re still at risk of heart failure. Cardiac arrest. There’s a reason we’ve been trying to keep you calm, Matt.”

            It was hard to say whose scowl was fiercer. Sure, Matt’s was off by a few inches, but no less powerful.

            “I’m getting out of here,” he said after a long pause, his voice low and challenging. “If that stuff helps me out faster, then I’m doing it.”

            Jessica took a moment to beg the ether for patience. “Matt, Luke has a point –”

            “And so do I,” he cut across her. “I’m telling you I can handle it. I’ve had worse.”

            There was a very awkward pause.

            “I wouldn’t be so sure of that,” Danny muttered. “But I do think it’s worth the risk.”

            Jessica threw him a disgusted glare. Worth the risk? Yeah, like he’d seen what that could cost them. It took all of her self-control not to punch his stupid scruffy face off.

            “Jess,” Matt said quietly, reaching for her. She took his hand, feeling like some idiot woodland creature walking right into a trap. “I promise I can do this. Let me try.”

            She heaved a heavy sigh, considering the resolve in his weary eyes. It didn’t so much as tremble.

            “Fine,” she relented. “But if you try and die on me again I’m breaking up with you.”

            He beamed up at her. “Deal.”

            “Wait, you two are together?” Danny said, shocked. Jessica didn’t bother answering as she helped Matt out of his shirt and sweatpants, but Luke let out a low chuckle.

            “Oh, Danny boy.” He clapped a hand on Danny’s oblivious little shoulder.

            Danny pouted up at him. “You guys don’t tell me anything.”

            “Didn’t realise we needed to announce it,” Jessica muttered, taking her jacket off once Matt was stripped to his boxers and leaving it on the bed so her arms were free in her tank top. She levelled Matt with a glare he couldn’t see but sure as hell could feel. “Listen up, Rocky, the second this gets too much you tap out, deal?”

            “Deal.”

            He was a pretty good liar, really. She reached up and began pulling away the bandages covering his chest. Luke let out a low whistle as she dumped them on the table and Danny hissed. Jessica only swallowed, hoping her heart wasn’t as loud as it felt.

            “That bad?” Matt asked, only half-jokingly.

            The gunshot wound itself wasn’t so bad. Just a few ragged inches sliced diagonally across his breast. But the soon-to-be scar from the surgery was enough to make Jess glad she’d had a liquid lunch. A long, unnervingly straight line bisected his chest, black thread like teeth along its length. It was red, angry, the skin around it inflamed and swollen.

            “Nah,” she lied once sure her voice wouldn’t waver. “Not that bad. Alright, let’s do this. C’mon, Princess.” She scooped him up in her arms, probably more gently than she really needed to, and carried him over to the tub. Tried not to be freaked out by how much his ribs pressed against her palm.

            “You suck, Jones,” he muttered on the way, looping his good arm around her neck and smiling for her.

Danny hovered on the far side of the tub, his expression serious for once.

            “Okay Matt, this is gonna be a lot, okay? Even with normal senses the K’ní-seum can be overwhelming. You might pass out, and if you do –”

            “Leave me in there,” Matt said quickly, letting his other arm carefully down so he could touch the gooey surface. He sensed their glares and shrugged against Jessica. “Can’t hurt me if I’m unconscious, may as well be healed, right?”

            “Your logic is just scary sometimes,” she muttered darkly, holding him a little tighter as he rubbed the substance between his fingers, frowning down at it.

            “Has it – are there crystals in this?”

            Danny grinned. “Yeah, but they’re super finely ground, I can’t believe you can feel that. There’s also devil’s claw and St John’s wort and golden sea –”

            “John’s what?” Luke cut in before Jessica could, coming to stand by the head of the tub.

            “It’s a flower,” Matt provided casually. He must’ve felt Danny’s impressed stare because he added, “Stick used it. When, ah, training went a bit far.”

            “The hell does that mean?”

            “Nothing,” he said quickly, his voice too light. “So, we doing this or what?”

            Gritting her teeth against how shit this was gonna be, Jessica lowered Matt slowly into the tub. The white sludge seemed to fizzle against her skin, not painfully, but it was an odd sensation. Like dozens of tiny hammers beating into her.

            Matt tensed as the goop touched him. When it covered his waist she stopped, taking in his taut expression.

            “You okay?”

            He nodded, far too stiffly to mean it. “Yeah, just ... stings a little.”

            That didn’t exactly bode well.

            “You sure you wanna do this?” she asked one last time, keeping her voice low so the others wouldn’t hear.

             He turned his face into hers and gave another, smaller nod.

            “Just don’t let go,” he whispered.

            “Promise.”

            “You ready Matt?” Danny asked, a hand on his shoulder. He nodded again, this time resolutely.

            “I’ve got oxygen ready if you need it,” Luke offered, his big hands making the mask look comically small.

            “I’ll be fine. C’mon, Jess.”

            Hoping she wouldn’t regret this as much as she felt she would, Jessica carefully lowered Matt fully into the tub, until the thick whiteness covered him up to his neck. He hissed when it reached his wound, locking his jaw against a scream, eyes closed. She kept one arm around his shoulders, supporting his head. Her other hand found his knee in the sludge and gripped it tightly as strangled half-groans slithered past gritted teeth.

            “You’re okay, Matt,” Danny coached, kneeling on the other side. “Just concentrate on breathing, okay? Three counts in, four counts out.”

            Matt nodded and managed to gasp in one wheezing breath before his lungs got other ideas. He opened his eyes, searching for something in the ceiling as his spine shook against Jessica’s arm. His chest heaved with short, sharp pants, each one chased by a suppressed moan.

            “Try to breathe a little deeper, Matt,” Danny said firmly.

            “He is trying,” Jessica snapped. Danny opened his mouth to retort in kind but they were both distracted by Matt bucking suddenly in Jess’s arms, a choked yell slipping past his clenched teeth as his eyes rolled back into his head. “Aw shit!”

            She started pulling him out but his hand clenched hers on his knee, the goop squishing sluggishly between them.

            “N-no,” he groaned. “I can t-take it.”

            “Who says you have to!”

            “Jess – don’t.”

            “Fuck you, Murdock.” Against her better judgement – and judging by his glare, Luke’s too – she settled Matt back into the tub, moving her free hand to support his trembling neck.

            “Don’t be a hero, Matt,” Luke cautioned pointlessly. “Tap out if you need.”

            Jessica pulled his right hand free of the goop – which clung jealously to his skin – and laid it on the rim of the tub.

            “Tap. Out.”

            “Not – yet,” he gasped, properly shaking now. He couldn’t keep the whimpering groans quiet anymore and his face was screwed up like it had been in those goddamn videos.

            Jessica wrapped her hand tightly around Matt’s exposed wrist, covering the manacles’ scars.

            “We’re right here, Matt. Right here.”

            He gave a nod that was more of a wince and tensed anew, a hitching half-scream clawing its way along his throat. Jessica screwed her eyes tight shut for a minute, a thousand tinny echoes of that sound clamouring in her mind. Luke’s hand appeared on her shoulder and she opened her eyes, determined. If Matt could bear this then so could she.

            A few seconds later, he was more wheezing that breathing and Luke leaned forward.

            “Mask, Matt?”

            He didn’t respond, too far gone into the pain. Jess tilted Matt’s head back and, swallowing hard, Luke slipped the mask in place and tightened the straps. Danny slipped a hand into the goop to grip Matt’s shoulder.

            “You’re doing great, Matt. Just breathe through it. That’s it.”

            Matt coughed, jerking savagely, and the inside of the oxygen mask erupted in blood.

            “That’s it,” Luke said, “take him out, Jess, this isn’t worth it.”

            “He’d want to stay longer, Luke,”’ Danny said, his tone more resolute than Jess had ever heard it.

            “Do you see this?” Luke shot back, gesturing to the muted heart monitor displaying an army of silent staccato beats marching across the screen. “He can’t take much more!”

            “Yes he can.”

            “Danny, his heart can’t take the strain, he’s gonna –”

            Jessica shut them out, leaning forward to press her forehead against Matt’s sweating temple. Her other hand was still wrapped around his shaking wrist, twitching erratically against the rim of the tub.

            “Tap out, Matt,” she breathed. He coughed again, the sound wet and agonising. “Tap out.”

            His wrist twisted under hers and she looked around. His fist rotated enough to give a trembling thumbs up. She turned back to him, her lips a breath away from his ear.

            “You’re such an asshole.” The words shook with the tears building behind her eyes. Out of the corner of her eye she saw his thumb raise a little higher before slumping back to grip the rim again.

            His every inhale was a rusty saw pulled too slowly across charred wood, grating and hollow and the sound of it was worse than any of the shit IGH had ever done to her. She held him close, hand shaking against his neck. Luke and Danny’s argument was getting louder, the two facing off against each other. Matt jerked in her grip, another hacking cough ripping through him.

            She couldn’t do this.

            “Sorry, Matty,” she whispered, then pulled back, let his wrist fall back into the tub and punched him. His head snapped back in her hand and he was instantly still. She glanced to the heart monitor behind Luke and saw the frantic rhythm ease.

            “Jess did you just –?”

            “What the hell Jones!”

            “How long’s he been in?” she asked over them.

            Danny checked his watch. “Nine minutes.”

            She nodded once. “He’s done at fifteen.”

            They knew better than to argue with her. After a long pause, Luke said,

            “Claire’s gonna kill us when she finds out.”

            “First bath’s always the worst,” Danny offered consolingly. “It’ll get easier the more he does it.”

            Jessica didn’t look up but just leaned into Matt again.

            “Bullshit.”

            They didn’t speak again until Danny quietly said,

            “Fifteen.”

            Exhaling sharply in relief, Jessica pulled Matt out as fast as she could, ripping the oxygen mask off and letting it clatter to the ground, blood spattering as it spun to rest. The goop clung to him, great tendrils snapping and falling back into the tub while the rest slithered across his skin, laying claim to his flesh. The wound itself was now a stark, marble white, the stitches hidden by the gelatinous fluid.

            He was utterly limp in her arms, limbs flopping, head hanging. Just like the day she’d pulled him from the sensory deprivation tank.

            “Jess, you – you need a hand?” Luke asked quietly as she carried Matt to the bathroom. She shook her head, not looking at him or Danny. She kicked the door shut behind her.

            Jessica laid him carefully against the tiled wall of the shower and snatched the head down, turning it on and letting the water gush over her arms until all the now grey-white shit was swept down the drain. When the water was gently warm, she turned the nozzle on Matt. He stirred as the water sluiced over him, tensing, his wheezing breath deepening.

            “You’re okay, Matt,” she said quietly, keeping the tears from her voice. “It’s me. You’re okay. Just relax.” Asshole.

            She angled the head against his collarbone, letting the water run down his chest. He flinched, gasping, and she murmured reassurances and apologies as she brushed her hand lightly over the ugly wound until it the water ran clear. When she looked up, Matt’s eyes were open.

            “Matt?”

            He didn’t react. She put a hand to his cheek and nudged gently.

            “Matt? It’s Jessica. You there?”

            He stared straight through her, eyes vacant.

            She swallowed a sob and pulled him gently to her, resting his head against her shoulder so she could clean his back. The water turned his ribs to rapids as it coursed past. Leaning him carefully back against the wall, she hesitated, her hand still on the side of his neck. Water was seeping into her jeans, dislodging the blobs of gel but she barely noticed. Matt was still staring more blindly than he ever had before. His face turned blurry for a long moment until she blinked the tears away.

            “You’re safe, Matty,” she whispered. Then she leant forward and kissed him.

            He didn’t react. She swallowed her heart’s painful shiver and turned back to the K’ní-seum still covering his arms, stomach, legs. Gripped the shower head a little tighter. Went back to work.

            She ran her hand over him, wiping the stuff away as the water crashed over them both. Slowly, he came back to her. His fingers twitched. His breathing eased, became deeper and more regular. She kept her eyes averted from his face, not strong enough to see that empty stare again. When the last of the now greyish goop had disappeared down the drain she shut off the water and just knelt there. Watching droplets fall from Matt’s arm, running like blood along the scar on his forearm.

            She covered her mouth just in time to stifle the soft sob, closing her eyes against a wave of tears. Her sniff echoed around the small room, sounding far louder than it had any right to. She tried to draw in a steadying breath but it only shook down her throat and she brought her other hand up to stifle the cry that followed, curling in on herself to push it all down far enough that she could feel strong again. Matt needed her.

            Fingers trembled against her shoulder and she started, jerking back. Matt’s hand was still outstretched. His eyes trained on her collarbone, unfocused as always, exhausted and still cloaked by a haze of pain, but he was back. She took his hand and pressed it against her cheek, kissing his palm and shuddering as she fought another wave of violent tears choking up from her chest.

            “Jessica,” he sighed, his gaze drowning in guilt and concern. “Jess, I’m so sorry. I’m sorry, sweetheart.”

            Not trusting herself to talk she scooted close enough to tuck her nose under his jaw and hide against his shoulder like a little kid, too overwhelmed to be embarrassed yet. Her breath hitched as she tried to tame it and she brought her knees up defensively, wrapping her hand around his neck and holding him close. He pressed a kiss into her hair and stroked her back, the movement lethargic but no less comforting. His voice filled the dripping silence, harbouring her in the safety of his presence.

            “I’m sorry, Jess. I won’t do it again. I’m sorry, sweetheart. I love you. I’m sorry.”

            She could only nod mutely against him and hold him close until the tears dried on her cheeks.

Chapter Text

            Screaming woke him. For a moment he didn’t know to cherish, Matt thought he was back in IGH, listening to the others howl for their parents as they begged for death. But the hospital materialised around him, its walls laced with a different suffering. The heart monitor beeped a quickened rhythm that pulsed through the small room, mapping it in his untethered fear. He had just enough time to sigh with relief and sink into the pillows before the scream scorched through the air again and Matt bolted upright, gritting his teeth as his chest fired in protest.

            Karen. But not as he’d ever heard her before. A naked, desperate screech that curdled his blood with its wrongness, the name distorted by her terror. He tried to call out to her but his chest was burning too loudly to breathe and he fell back, weak and useless, against the pillows. Karen screamed again and the heart monitor sped to a near-constant tone and Foggy’s name cut through the air again with even more urgency.

            He had to do something. Anything. Wrenching himself under control, Matt ignored the inferno gnawing on his heart and focused. On Karen. Only Karen.

            She was in the hall outside his room, at the far end. Blood painted her silhouette in horrifying detail. Her breath rasped past broken ribs, each exhalation a fleeting puff spiced with copper. Her heart was beating faster than Matt had ever heard it, faster even than the night Union Allied tried to kill her for a thumb drive. Her pulse was a frenzy fuelled by far more than physical fear and Matt narrowed his awareness, trying to understand while the heart monitor beat out a warning to stop. He followed the scrape of Karen’s pumps, the slick of her hand in a pool of blood that was too cold to be her own. He felt her grip an unresponsive arm – and arm with no pulse that fell limply back to the lake of blood, slipping out of her blood-soaked fingers as she collapsed by the corpse’s side, panting a name that didn’t make sense. That could not make sense.

            “Foggy! Foggy, please – please, Foggy, no. No, no, Foggy, wake up, wake –”

            Fire turned to ice. The air halted halfway to his lungs. The pain of his ruined heart snapped into something immeasurably worse, great serrated fangs made of a coldness Matt knew would never leave him. He could see Foggy’s face in the sound of Karen’s palms tapping his cheek. Could taste the blood that had stopped pouring from the knife in his chest, squelching too quietly for anyone else to hear as Karen shook his shoulders against the floor, sending minute echoes through the still form of Matt’s best friend. There was no denying it. Karen’s tears fell onto his face, tracing his final, horrified expression in burning salt.

            Foggy was dead.

            Before that could make sense, Karen’s breathing changed, giving way to the plod of familiar footsteps. Blood dripped from a long, wicked knife that swung past a leg, held securely in hands that did not so much as tremble.

            Bullseye.

            No.

            No.

            Matt heaved himself onto his elbow, gasping as a jagged claw tightened around his heart, pulling him ruthlessly to his back again while the heart monitor faltered in its frantic rhythm.

            “Karen,” he coughed, trying to shout, his eyes wide as she slipped and fell in Foggy’s blood, the crack of her shin bone resounding through the hospital under Bullseye’s boot. He giggled and Matt felt restraints curl lovingly around his wrists and ankles, tightening maliciously as he fought to do as his father’s voice was shouting, to get up, to help.

            “You’ll never win,” Karen whispered, bravery keeping her voice steady. “You’ll never make him like you.”

            Bullseye laughed. He was standing over her now, one foot pressing into her broken leg. The knife twirled in his fingers and Matt remembered its indifferent bite. The motion flicked Foggy’s blood onto Karen’s face and dear God, that was not how Matt wanted to see her. Please God, help. Not her, not her too.

            “I always win,” Bullseye promised, a smile contorting his words and sending a freezing shiver along Matt’s spine. “But you won’t be around to see it.”

            Matt wrenched his wrists free of the imagined manacles and pulled himself up by the bedrail, his shout ripping something in his chest but he barely felt it.

            “NO!”

            The knife whistled slightly as it spun through the air. Karen jerked backwards, but it was pointless. Bullseye was always too fast, and the foot-long blade buried itself with a sickening, too-loud squelching crunch in Karen’s chest. Matt heard her pained gasp that bore his name. Felt the air leave her with the last hint of the voice he loved. Her heart seemed to beat against his skin, a warmth he shouldn’t be able to feel fading as it faltered, skipped ... and then stopped.

            No. Please, God, no.

            Matt collapsed back on the bed and waited for death to come.

            Bullseye’s footsteps moved closer, light and agile and resolute. For the first time, Matt wished he would hurry.

            Something heavy moaned through the air and collided with Bullseye’s head. He fell gracelessly to the floor and the door to Matt’s room opened, a terrified heartbeat entering in a haze of lavender and stale whiskey.

            “Jessica, no,” he gasped, trying to push himself up as she whirled to his side. “Jess, please, you’ve got to run – run!” He pushed her arm but even at his strongest he could never hope to beat her.

            “I’m not leaving you, dumbass,” Jessica panted, her arms curling around him as Bullseye clambered to his feet outside. “We gotta go.”

            “No – he’s coming – Jess, he’s coming!”

            “He’s he-ere!” The sing-song voice was as effective as the paralytics he had once gleefully injected into Matt’s blood. It buried the tell-tale whistle of a blade that shot through the air to score a deep cut into Jessica’s arm, making her recoil reflexively, dropping Matt onto the bed. The ice in his breast fractured, splintering and piercing every inch of him as Bullseye powered forward, towards Jessica, and he could not move.

            Bullseye dodged Jessica’s elbow, then her fist. A sharp punch to her kidneys stole her breath and then Bullseye was behind her, her arm twisted out of its socket with a snarl, and the knife held firmly at her throat.

            “Say goodbye, Twelve,” Bullseye intoned as Jessica stilled, and she and Matt realised what was about to happen in the same, awful moment.

            “No!”

            “Matt –”

            “Jessica!”

            The knife bit into Jessica’s throat and dragged a flooding line across her neck. Her breath became a gurgle, a wet cough that should have been enough to kill him. Blood burst from the cut, soaking Matt’s outstretched hand and running down his arms, hot and cloying on his chest and Bullseye was laughing as Jessica’s heart grew quieter and quieter until it was drowned out completely by his hysterical giggling, and the body of the woman Matt loved fell to the floor. Into silence.

            He couldn’t see her.

            Bullseye leaned forward, his breath sharp around a vicious smile.

            “Kill me,” Matt rasped, letting his arms fall to his sides.

            “Tut tut,” Bullseye whispered, his face far too close, the blade dripping his friends’ blood onto Matt’s chest as the razor tip scored a pattern through his skin, slipping under the bandages to pry them away. “Kill you? Now where’d the fun be in that? The game’s not over yet, Twelve.”

            Bullseye leapt nimbly onto the bed, straddling him, pinning him, his weight pressing on the arm cutting off Matt’s air as the knife tore through the stitches holding him together. Too quickly for Matt to follow Bullseye flipped the knife in his fingers, aligned its point with the scar left by the bullet and pressed, slowly, inescapably, ruthlessly, and the heart monitor couldn’t drown out Bullseye’s glee, of the stench of his family’s blood, or Matt’s scream –

            “Matt! MATT!”

            His head jerked to the side, the sting of a slap that hadn’t happened sharp on his cheek. His chest was burning, choking him with invisible smoke. He coughed, and someone moved above him. He lashed out, grabbing their throat and squeezing as something small and plastic squeaked in their hand.

            “Matt – it’s me!”

            A hand curled around his wrist, fingers pressing into the mottled skin, the tips just grazing the end of the tracker scar. Matt froze.

            “J-Jessica?” His chest tried to curl in on itself from the effort of speaking, but he held himself still as the heart beating under his palm registered.

            “No shit, Murdock!”

            The thrum of vocal chords against his skin was unmistakable – and inimitable. He ran a thumb along the undrawn line that had spurted blood over his chest. The skin was whole, unblemished. Warm. Safe.

            “Jessica –” He slumped backwards, his searching fingers momentarily adrift until Jessica leant forward and guided his hand to her cheek and she was breathing, she was alive, it was a dream. It was a dream.

            “F-Foggy?” he gasped, wincing as the air sawed through him. “Kar-Karen?”

            “They’re fine, Matt,” Jessica said softly, her fingers leaving his to weave through his hair with soothing rhythm. “Everyone’s fine. You’re okay.”

            Unable to articulate his relief, he just nodded weakly and let the bed take his weight.

            “Here, use this for a bit.” The squeaking plastic thing pressed against his face – the oxygen mask. The straps gave one final squeal as Jessica pulled them taut over his head. He closed his eyes and focused on Jessica’s heartbeat, forcing himself to smell her past the stink of oxygen. She leant over him, her hair tickling his shoulder. The strain on his extended arm eased and he ran his thumb over her cheekbone in time to her every second beat. Her hands never left his face, his hair, stroking the calm back into him.

            It wasn’t until she wiped away his tears that he realised he had been crying.

            “What street, Matt?”

            “Tenth and Forty-First,” he breathed. He couldn’t hear the heart monitor anymore. They kept it muted here. Right. “Dyer Avenue.” The unquiet sorrows of the hospital rose in a chorus he wished he couldn’t hear. “Fortieth and Ninth.” He gave a weak nod. “I’m okay.” His voice trembled. “I-I’m sorry.”

            She chuckled, deep in her throat. “Don’t be stupid. Wanna talk about it?”

            He shook his head quickly, pressing his face into her touch. “Do-don’t make me.”

            “I won’t,” she said softly. “You know I won’t.”

            He nodded again. Forced his left hand up past the pain in his chest to pull the mask away so he could smell her properly.

            “Don’t go,” he whispered, a frown pulling on his closed eyes. He looped a strand of her hair around his finger as though that would keep her with him. As though that could possibly keep her safe.

            “I’m not going anywhere, Matty. You know that.”

            He sniffed. She wiped another tear from his temple. When the pain had receded far enough, Matt took a deep, shaking breath.

            “Jess,” he breathed, keeping his eyes closed and pulling her closer until he felt her forehead against his. “Get me out of here.” He was too busy keeping his thoughts straight to care how pathetic his wavering voice sounded.

            Her breath brushed past his chin, her heartbeat giving the faintest flicker.

            “You know I can’t do that, Matt,” she whispered back.

            He shook his head against her, his frown deepening, forcing another tear through his lashes.

            The single word caught on his desperation.

            “Please.”

            She sniffed, the sound startlingly loud, and held his face tightly in both her hands, her heartbeat truly surrounding him now, erasing the rest of the world.

            “I swear,” she said quietly, her voice shaking with strangled sincerity. “I swear to you the moment Claire says you’re strong enough to leave I’ll take you. I’ll jump out the damn window with you in my arms if you want. But I can’t right now, Matt. I can’t. I’m sorry. You’re not ready.”

            Matt screwed his face against a rising whimper, trying and failing to keep it locked behind his teeth, moving his head slowly, hopelessly against her. He tried to take a breath and it scorched through him and before he could stop it he was shaking to the rhythm of the silent sobs trapped in his throat. He could feel Jessica frown, her strength pressing into him, her breathing steady and even and he forced himself to still, trying to be like her.

            “I’ve got you,” she whispered, her quiet voice surrounding him. “I’ve got you, Matty. I got you.”

            “I can’t,” he moaned, his chest flaring under the pressure of his agony. “I can’t, Jessica, I – I can still – I hear them.”

            “I know, I know, Matt.” She pulled away just enough to press a long, soft kiss into his forehead. “You can do this. I know you can.”

            He opened his eyes and felt hot tears ooze like blood over his cheeks, stinging and sluggish. Jessica’s heart trembled in its rhythm and he blinked, trying to push whatever was showing in his gaze far enough away to spare her.

            “I’m not as strong as you think I am,” he confessed, his voice still ragged, weighed down by the unshed tears. “I ca – even when you’re here, when I can feel you, I – the cage, it – the screams. Hugo – I just, there’s too much –” He gasped for breath and Jessica leaned over him again, half-lying on the bed by his side.

            “Shh, shh, Matt, it’s okay. You don’t have to say it.”

            “They’re all dead, aren’t they?”

            She stilled. “Who?”

            “The others,” Matt whispered, tension leaving him as he finally asked it. “The ones we saved. From there, fr-from IGH.”

            Jessica’s heart beat the truth against him. He nodded, glad to know, hating himself for being right.

            “They ... Yes, Matt. They’re all dead.”

            He tried to smile at her honesty but he suddenly felt so heavy he wasn’t sure it worked.

            “How did you know?” Jessica asked softly, her fingers tracing sanity through his hair, against his cheek, his temple, his jaw.

            “Karen’s articles,” he mumbled. “Danny brought ... my computer. Never knew their real names, but ... Bullseye. Thought I was stupid for thinking it was him bef-before. I’d know his handiwork anywhere. I should’ve said something.”

            She tightened her hold on his head, stopping him hiding his face in the pillow.

            “No, Matt. Don’t even start. It’s not your fault. None of us saw it. None of us. Not until it was too late.”

            He tried another smile, humouring her. It didn’t work either. He turned away from her and forced his breathing to deepen, to steady him. Pulled the oxygen mask back over his head and dumped it on the bed.

            “Did I ever tell you about Hugo?” he asked when his voice was steadier, face still turned away from her.

            Jessica shifted her weight, lying on her side beside him and carefully scooping his head onto her arm, the other resting across his chest, cocooning him in her presence. “No, you didn’t.”

            “He was in the cage next to mine. He was there before me ... I don’t know how long. He could barely speak anymore, but he told me his name. Made me tell him mine. He said it was important to ... to remember.” He trailed off as he remembered the scrawny arm reaching through the bars, the shaking palm filled with water when they took his away.

            “Hugo Sebastian Grey. He’d been a teacher, once, he said. But things went wrong. He was on the streets. IGH found him. And they ruined him.” Tears trembled through his voice but he kept them from his eyes. Focused on Jessica’s heart beating around him. “I was barely awake when they started on me. I didn’t understand what was going on, I thought I’d died and that this was Hell. There were times I could barely remember who I was ... But Hugo did. He’d ... he’d try to reach me. Through the bars, even when they turned the circuit on. And he’d whisper my name. Matthew Michael Murdock. Over and over. Until I could breathe.”

            He felt a tear escaping his defences and turned into Jessica, pressing his nose into her throat so all he could smell was her, all he could feel was her.

            “They broke him,” he whispered. “He stopped talking altogether. Wouldn’t even respond to his own name. Stopped resisting when they came for him. An-and I knew –” he swallowed, forced himself on – “I knew it was a matter of time until that ha-happened to me. I’d forget. I-I’d give up.” He heaved a shaking breath that burned through him. “N-not long before you found me, they – they took him. I thought it was just for, y’know, the usual. I was ... I was glad it wasn’t me.” His fists strained over the sheets, his nails stinging into his palm through the fabric. “But he ne-never came back. He wasn’t there when we freed the others.”

            “Everyone who did that to you,” Jessica growled, fury constricting the words in her throat. “To Hugo. They’re all dead, Matt. They’re dead.”

            Matt shook his head. “Not Bullseye.” He pulled away from her, holding tight to his fury to pull himself out of the nightmares, to ignore the dark chorus of agony wailing from beyond the walls of his prison. “And you don’t know him like I do, Jessica.”

            “I got a pretty good look.”

            He shook his head, smiling humourlessly. “No. You don’t understand what they did to him. What he did to us. He held back with you, Jess – and I’m glad he did – but don’t think you know him. They turned the cameras off when it was his turn.”

            Jessica sat back, looking down at him and swallowing against the fear that tripped her heart.

            “What did he do to you?” she asked, her voice unsteady.

            A choking haze of pain and humiliation crashed over him. He felt again the echoes of snapping bones and flaying skin, the crack of whips and the low whistles of the darts. He felt his body crumple around him, felt his head be pushed into the water again, felt it come alive with acid fire and rush into his lungs. There was no monitoring reaction times or heartrates when Bullseye was let loose. No pretence of edification. Only that taunting, sing-song voice that was changeable as the wind. And the laughter. Always, that high-pitched giggle, like a child indulging their favourite game.

            The ghost of a finger running tenderly along the side of Matt’s face, painting itself in his blood for Bullseye to taste.

            You’re my favourite toy, Twelve. Come on. Stay awake so I can play.

            Matt blinked. Shoved it all deeper inside him. Smiled at Jessica.

            “It doesn’t matter what he did,” he said, his voice carefully level. “It matters what he will do. He’ll come for me, Jessica. And he’ll kill every one of you to get to me.”

            He reached up with his good arm and brushed his fingers against her throat, the spectre of her blood hot on his skin. He trailed his knuckle along her jaw and caressed her cheek.

            “Even if he doesn’t kill me,” he whispered, “I won’t survive that.”

            Jessica’s sigh tickled his scar as it rolled down his arm, her hand rising to hold him there as she leaned into his touch.

            “He’s not getting to you,” she promised, her voice as steady as her heart. “We won’t let him. We’re gonna find him, Matt. I’m getting close. All of us – we’re stronger than him.”

            He wasn’t. If Bullseye came he would be as helpless as he had been in the cage, in the tank. He’d be bait, turned into a tool to kill his friends. Stuck to this goddamn bed while his world bled out around him.

            Matt frowned. He refused to suffer his nightmares to pass. He would not lie there like a cripple, like some disabled little kid.

            He was done being weak.

            It was time to coax the devil out.

            Matt relinquished his hold on Jessica’s cheek and rolled gingerly away from her, grimacing as his chest grumbled under the strain, wrapping his rage around it to shut it the hell up.

            “What are you going?”

            Being a Murdock.

            Concentrating on his breathing, Matt slipped his legs over the edge of the bed and pushed himself slowly into a sitting position. Then paused as the world swayed and pitched around him.

            “Whoa, whoa, whoa, easy there, Rocky!” Jessica dashed around the end of the bed to his side, steadying him with a hand on his shoulder. He nodded, his face set.

            “I’m getting up.”

            “The hell you are!” Jessica almost laughed. “You’ve still got an IV in – Matt, you’re connected to like three different machines!”

            He turned his gaze on her. “Then disconnect me.”

            Her exasperated sigh was punctuated by the decisive slap of frustrated hands against resigned thighs. “Do not move, moron. Give me a minute here.”

            Matt smiled and held on to the edge of the mattress a little harder, keeping his breathing slow and steady. Keeping his mind firmly in the room with Jessica, ignoring the cocktail of blood and death that permeated the building.

“Moron, huh? Not bad. Kinda bland. I give in a B minus.”

            He felt her withering glare and beamed back at her. The squeak of an IV pole rolling closer would’ve drowned out her grumbled retort around anyone else.

            “Smartass son of a bitch.”

            “Points for accuracy,” he allowed as she stepped closer. The wires connecting him to his pyre twitched and he gritted his teeth against the sensation, against the memories.

“Ready yet?” he asked, needing to hear her voice to keep himself grounded. And upright.

            “How ‘bout I just stop and let you rip out your catheters, huh? That sound like fun, dumbass?”

            “Just leave them out, I don’t need them.”

            She snorted. “You’re funny.”

            The IV pole squeaked closer and he groped for it, missing at first as the burn in his chest flared at the movement, momentarily stealing detail from the world. Matt’s head spun and ached but he ignored it.

            He had work to do.

            Jessica clicked something and some of the background whirring slowed into silence. Matt swallowed and gripped the smooth pole a little tighter, digging his nails into his palm around it because that meant it wasn’t a bar of the cage. Too narrow. With a short, quiet breath, he pulled himself slowly to his feet.

            “What the hell –!” Jessica was by his side in moments, her hands hovering anxiously inches from him, but Matt was smiling. Sure, his legs were trembling a little, his shoulder and knee were achingly stiff from inactivity, and he was still waiting for the world to stop lurching like that, but he was standing. Finally.

            “Holy shit, Matt. You’re up.”

            Saving his air, he just nodded. He licked his lips, his left hand gripping the IV pole tightly, his right rising slowly, fingers splayed, to the space before him.

            “Oh no,” Jessica groaned.

Matt grinned. Oh yes.

            He took a step forward. The IV bag swung as he dragged the pole along, the sound shrill and distracting. Jessica’s hand wrapped around his, her other bracing the back of his shoulder. His chest was roaring its displeasure but the rest of him felt ... almost strong. He took another small, shaky step.

            And then another.

            And another.

            “Holy shit, Murdock!” The smile in her words made his own grow and he tightened his grip on her as he wavered further. “Look at you go!”

            He made it to the far wall, leaning his forehead against it when the pole’s wheels would go no farther.

            “You did it!”

            Matt wished he had his phone with him. He doubted anyone would ever believe Jessica Jones could sound so excited without proof. Plus her laughter would make a fantastic ringtone.

            “Not – done yet,” he panted, tilting his head to grin at her. With a deep breath, he leaned his snarling shoulder into the wall and used it to turn himself around, the pole skidding against the skirting board in his wake.

            “You’re kidding me.”

            “Nope.”

            He could hear Jessica’s wide grin in her breath, could feel energy rolling off her as she took her place by his side, her heart beating light and strong against his palm. She felt happy. And that was by far the most effective painkiller he’d tried.

            He pushed off from the wall, keeping a steady shuffling pace and trusting Jessica to guide him past the bed. He was too busy controlling his body to pay attention to the room. Besides, he’d been on so many drugs since he woke up he wasn’t entirely sure if his map of the space was accurate or not.

            When he was almost halfway across, he stopped. Sweat burned on his skin. His lungs were heaving for help. Both his legs were shaking in his sweatpants. The burn in his chest had reignited into a fire that pulsed and pooled in his shoulder and knee.

            You can do it, Matty.

            He nodded to his father’s voice, frowning as he mastered himself.

            “Need me?” Jess asked quietly. He was fairly sure she was still smiling. He nodded again and raised his right arm enough for her to duck under it and take some of his weight on her shoulders. The stitches in his chest snarled as his back straightened, but he was almost there.

            “You got this, Rocky.”

            With a grin that may have looked more like a grimace, Matt dipped his chin and forced himself on.

            His breathing was loud in his ears now, drowning out the beat of Jessica’s heart. The scars on his bare feet pressed into him with every step and he ignored the imagined burn of wires meant to make him hurry.

            A shuffle of cloth caught his attention and he latched onto the mystery. Jessica had pulled her phone from her pocket. He tilted his head, listening. A series of flat taps. Texting?

            The answer filled the room a second later and if Matt had the air to, he would’ve laughed. He huffed in amusement, grinning broadly as Eye of the Tiger unwrapped itself from Jessica’s phone.

            “Y-you – suck, Jones,” he panted, holding her close.

            She laughed, gripping his wrist around her phone and bowing her head briefly against him.

            “I am awesome.”

            “That – too,” he relented, trying to match his tiny steps to the beat of the song.

            “You ever get to see this? Pretty good, but the sequels suck ass.”

            It took him a few steps to gather the air to answer. “Saw – them all. Dad, my dad l-loved it. Sequels – are good, you – uncultured – hippie.”

            Jessica’s laughter rose through the melody, eclipsing it and filling the room, the sound of it lifting Matt up. He could feel the wall was only feet from them.

            “Oh wait, I’ve got it,” Jessica said quickly, hesitating and forcing Matt to stop and catch his breath as she tapped her phone again. “Aw, this is gonna be perfect.”

            Chariots of Fire swelled around them, bouncing off the walls and offering a picture Matt was too tired to decipher. He just listened to the shimmering beats and grinned as Jessica nudged him subtly onwards.

            “And Murdock is coming up the inside,” Jessica narrated in a truly terrible English accent. “Who could have thought this scrawny underdog could ever have beaten the world record for slowest hospital room lap ever –” her accent wavered under the weight of her sass and Matt abandoned the pole to reach out for the far wall – “and he’s done it! He’s done it! And the crowd goes wild!”

            She pretended to cheer as she silenced the music, her tone lighter than Matt had ever heard it. “I can’t believe you just did that. Claire’s gonna cry, I’m calling it.”

            Matt leaned into the wall a moment, gathering his breath. When he could, he straightened and pulled her closer.

            “Come here.”

            He kissed her, gentle and reverent, pouring all his gratitude into the contact. Her hands found his waist and she was smiling and God, there was nothing quite like kissing a smiling Jessica Jones.

            Her hands roamed up to his shoulders and before he could think around the feel of her lips on his she had turned him abruptly, pinning his back against the wall. He gasped, burying a wince as his chest fired.

            “Freaking Daredevil,” Jessica muttered before her lips were back on his, drowning out his grin and his knees were seconds from buckling but that didn’t matter. Jessica was holding him up against the wall and Matt could feel the triumphant set of her jaw and he let himself be lost to her scent, her taste, her warmth. She was the perfect painkiller.

            Unfortunately, his lungs disagreed. Far too soon he was lightheaded for entirely unromantic reasons and he slumped in Jessica’s grip. She broke away from him and his pathetic wheeze filled the air. Suddenly her hands were the only thing keeping him upright.

            “I’m alright. ‘M okay.” He tried a smile that may have been lost to a sudden wave of pain. The world swelled around him and something lurched, but then Jessica was murmuring reassurances above him and his head was against her chest. He missed another moment but the squeak of the IV pole brought him back as Jessica lifted him into her ams.

            “Don – don’t say it,” he mumbled, frowning, knowing she would.

            “Princess,” she said in a loud whisper, relishing every syllable and Matt let out a long moan that had nothing to do with pain. He blinked, only realising then his eyes had fallen shut.

            “You are the worst,” he grumbled back, the corner of his mouth curling slightly as she laid him gently – always so gently – back onto the bed.

            “Hey, it’s the least I could do,” she said lightly, holding the oxygen mask over his mouth and nose but thankfully not bothering with the straps. “I did just kiss you unconscious.”

            He huffed a laugh and reached up to hold her wrist. “Couldn’t’ve ... had anything to – to do with ... the marathon, no?”

            “Pft. ‘Course not. I’m just a phenomenal kisser.”

            He grinned under the mask. “Can’t argue there.”

            She chuckled above him and for a moment everything felt okay. The hospital fell quiet around his ringing ears. The darkness surrounding him shrank under the warmth of Jessica’s presence and Matt relaxed into the pillow, gently tugging her wrist away. She hung the mask back on its hook and sat on the bed by his thigh.

            “That was pretty impressive,” she admitted, a smile he imagined might be proud twisting the words.

            “Owe it all to my coach,” he joked.

            “I’m serious, Matt,” Jessica continued. “Claire made it sound like you’d need a couple weeks of physical therapy before you’d be up for anything as complicated as walking. And yeah, that was totally more hobbling than walking, but still. You feeling okay?”

            He nodded, pretending not to feel as weak and unsteady as he was and resolutely ignoring the aggressive burn that was starting to erase the edges of his awareness.

            “Well that was convincing,” Jessica muttered dryly. “Honestly, though. How’d you just do that? Is stubbornness your superpower?”

            Matt gave a weak chuckle. “You got me. Nah, think it was the K’ní-seum.”

            There was a pause.

            “Danny’s goop tank?”

            “Yeah.”

            Another, slightly longer pause.

            “That actually helped?”

            “Yeah,” Matt said softly, his breathing quieting now. “Yeah, it really did. Been feeling ... stronger, since. Wrecked, but, stronger.”

            “For real?”

            He nodded, raising a hand to find hers. She twined her fingers into his and was silent for a long moment.

            “What’re you thinking?” he asked a minute later.

            She exhaled heavily through her nose.

            “I’m thinking you’re about two seconds away from convincing me to let you into that death goop again.”

            He raised an eyebrow. “Death goop?”

            Her hair rustled against her shoulder as she looked briefly upwards.

            “You want to try it again, don’t you?”

            He frowned slightly. “I promised you I wouldn’t do that again.”

            “Yeah but you want to, don’t you?”

            He directed his gaze at their joined hands and kept his expression carefully neutral.

            “I don’t want to make you cry again,” he said softly. He pretended not to hear the tiny hesitation in her heart’s march as his words reached her.

            A heavy sigh wrenched itself from Jessica’s lungs. Her grip on his hand tightened.

            “If one fifteen-minute session in that bath thing made you strong enough to walk weeks before Claire thought it would be possible ...” She sighed again, her other hand moving to trace idle patterns on his stomach, her fingernails catching slightly on the loose fabric of his tshirt. “The priority has to be getting you out of here.”

            “Jess –”

            “No – it makes sense. You can’t rest here. You’re finally trying to eat again and you haven’t gained so much as a pound. Not to mention you haven’t been able to tolerate any of the drugs for more than a day or two. You need out of here. Hell, we all need out of here.”

            Matt frowned against the hot flare of hope blossoming in his chest, trying to keep it off his face. The memory of her shaking against his chest rose in his mind, the air thick with her tears, her hand a trembling fist on his skin. He shook his head.

            “I don’t want to do that to you again, Jess,” he whispered. “I’ve put you through enough.”

            Jessica huffed a humourless laugh and her hand flopped against his stomach.

            “You have got to be the biggest asshole ever.”

            He smirked. “Probably.”

            “You don’t mind subjecting yourself to the agony of dodgy Iron Fist voodoo but god forbid it makes me cry. Christ, Matt. You’ve gotta admit that’s fucked up.”

            He shrugged one shoulder, keeping his gaze averted. “You could’ve taken me out of there any time and I wouldn’t’ve been able to stop you. But you let me tough it out because you knew I wanted it. It hurt you, but you honoured my choice. How’s that different?”

            “I dunno, maybe the fact that I wasn’t trying not to scream in pain?”

            He raised his gaze to the sound of her agitation. “Pain is everywhere,” he said calmly. “There’s no point trying to avoid it, it will always find you. How we prioritise it is what matters.” He gave her hand a little shake and tried to lighten his tone. “I can handle my pain, Jess. Yours is what really hurts me. I’m not gonna try and guilt you into hurting, I’m not.”

            “But you want out of here.”

            He shrugged. “Yes.”

            “And Danny can get you out of here sooner.”

            “... Yes.”

            “And as long as you’re here you’re in pain. Real pain. Nightmares and flashbacks and the works?”

            He took a slow breath. “Yes.”

            “Then you’re going in the stupid tub again,” she sighed. “I’m not gonna be responsible for holding you back, Matt. I refuse to torture you. I’ll deal.”

            “Jess, I –”

            “I’ll deal. But I do have a condition.”

            He rubbed his thumb along hers, hope spreading slowly through his chest. “Yeah?”

            “Claire’s got to be there. So she can pull the plug if you’re heart’s about to explode or some shit.”

            Her fingers resumed skating gracefully over his stomach.

            “Are you sure?”

            “Yes, dorkus, I’m sure! Jesus, just take the deal already.”

            He smiled. “Thank you, Jessica.”

            Her jacket scraped slightly as she shrugged. He thought he detected a smile around her breath.

            “’Dorkus’?” he repeated after a moment, his eyebrows raised in silent judgement.

            “Oh for fu – I was in the moment, okay? Jackass.”

            “Much better,” he said, nodding approvingly.

            “Asshole.”

            He beamed. “Love you too.”

            “Shut up.”

She was definitely smiling.

            “Can I say one more thing first?”

            “No.”

            “I’m still gonna.”

            “Fine.”

            He chuckled at the sheer concentration of sass in her tone.

            “When I do get out of here? Can I take you to dinner?”

            Her hand stilled mid-spiral.

            “What, like a date?”

            He nodded. “Exactly like a date.”

            She hesitated. “And you’ll eat?”

            His smile faded a little. But he couldn’t blame her having to ask that.

            “Promise.”

            “And you’ll pay?” she asked, more brightly.

            He laughed and nodded. “I’ll pay.”

            “Then sure.”

            Her fingers resumed their invisible masterpiece. She flicked her hair out of her face and Matt didn’t need to listen to her breath to know she was smiling down at him. He beamed back, the wide grin that always made her heart give the sweetest little skip. A blush rose up her neck to blossom in her cheeks, illuminating her beauty with delicate warmth. He basked in the glow of her presence, all memory of his nightmare momentarily held at bay by the comfortable silence stretching between them, by the slight tickle of her fingertips on his stomach. By the ineffable happiness radiating out from her heart, its alto beat pulsing in a shelter around them, keeping the rest of the hospital at bay and soothing a sonic balm into his aching breast.

            “Shut up,” Jessica muttered, a little self-consciously. Matt just grinned more broadly still and directed his gaze away from her face.

            God, he was a lucky man.

Chapter Text


 

            If he concentrated, he could taste the paint. He moved his awareness slowly over the walls, mapping every miniscule bump and stroke. The ceiling tiles were peppered with tiny perforations through which he could just discern the tangle of wires crisscrossing above them. More details revealed themselves with every slow breath. He could trace the eddies swirling through the air from his lips and the draught under the window to his left.

            Matt sat cross-legged in the bed, straight as he could with the mattress still lying flat. A fine burn traced the muscles of his back and abdomen. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been meditating, but it was definitely longer than yesterday. Too deeply focused to smile, he let the warmth of that knowledge patch itself around the ragged edges of his heart.

            Claire had relented her misgivings and let Matt try the K’ní-seum again. He’d had three full sessions now, and an aborted forth he maintained was not as big a deal as everyone (except Danny) had thought. Sure, he’d coughed up a little blood, but he could now do two whole laps of the room on his own.

            Which he chose to see as an achievement, rather than the pathetic reality it was. Everyone else kept a mantra churning whenever he was insufficiently enthused by his progress: you’ll get there, you’re doing great. Just take it slow.

            He’d been missing Stick a lot lately. He would have rapped his cane on Matt’s shins to make him walk faster, called him a cry-baby for spending so much time moping about in bed. Whenever the raspy old voice echoed in his mind, Matt smiled and blinked his eyes dry. For the first time in years Stick was actually being helpful. He needed to push himself, to get the hell out of his damn hospital. Everyone (except Danny) seemed content with his recovery, promising him he was healing faster than anyone in his position had a right to. That made no difference. The fact was he’d been stuck in this tiny room over two months. Listening to all the horror echoing through its walls.

            His focus faltered and a wave of quiet sobbing broke over him – from the paediatric ward, he thought. He tightened his fist around Jessica’s jacket, drawing himself back to the walls with her scent. She’d made a habit of ‘forgetting’ it on her chair when she left. She didn’t fool him, but she did humble him. She loved that jacket, wore it almost every day, but now she left it with him so he could ground himself in the comfort of her scent, draw himself back to the bed from the wailing walls of the hospital or the shrieking rooms and cages of IGH.

            He didn’t know how to thank her for that. But he was determined to figure it out.

            The door clanked open, making him jump. He opened his eyes as it squeaked over the floor and relaxed his posture as he recognised the heartbeat striding in.

            “Hey buddy!”

            “Hey, Foggy,” he said, surprised. He’d thought it was Luke returning from his coffee run.

            The air whirled in a flurry of stimuli as Foggy walked over and pulled Matt into a brief, one-armed hug. Fixing a smile on his face, Matt uncrossed his legs and drew his attention back around himself. He reached for the bed controls. It droned into a more chair-like configuration and he leaned back, careful not to let the relief show.

            “I interrupt you?” Foggy asked as he dragged the chair over, the dull shriek sending a shiver along Matt’s spine.

            “Nah, just meditating a little, you’re good.”

            He could hear Foggy’s wide grin in his voice. “He’s meditating again! That’s gotta be a good sign, huh?”

            Matt shrugged. “Guess so?”

            Foggy snorted. “Could you sound less enthused? Listen, I’ve got a surprise for you. A few actually.”

            “Oh?”

            Matt followed the heat of Foggy’s hands as they reached for something set onto the floor. It crinkled at his touch – a paper bag. He set it in Matt’s lap and shifted his seat closer.

            “Okay, run your feelers over this baby! But don’t take it out of the bag – if some nurse person walks in we’re both screwed.”

            Chuckling, Matt obliged, sneaking the fingers of his right hand into the bag. It took him a moment to recognise the sleek, subtly bulbous texture of his helmet. He opened his mouth slightly, licking his lips to taste what was different about it, a soft blush warming his cheeks. His hand reached further into the bag, his fingers tracing the elegant curve of the horns, his thumb running over the eye guards. Matt’s jaw fell open, his heart lurching sluggishly in his aching chest.

            “Is this –?” he began, his expression caught between a smile and a frown. He couldn’t feel any of the scratched or dents. Both eyes were perfect.

            “Yep! I am the world’s greatest friend.”

            Matt’s fingers investigated the interior. That was definitely new padding, and so thin! He probed it experimentally and to his astonishment felt it return the pressure, the material expanding minutely against his finger. Well that was one way to take the sting out of a concussion.

            “Did you seriously go to Melvin again?”

            “I most certainly did. We’re friends now, it’s a thing.” There was a pause as Matt raised an eyebrow in Foggy’s direction. “Hey, we bonded, shut up. But yeah, I figured you were due a new suit since you took absolutely zero care of the last one to the point that Melvin almost cried when he saw it. You monster,” he added jokingly.

            “It feels different,” Matt mused, still trying to pinpoint the change. “Is it still black?”

            “Yep, looks the same as the old one, pretty much. Melvin found a few shortcuts in the meantime. It shouldn’t need as much upkeep this time around, but you’re only getting the rest of it if you swear to take care of it. And by extension, yourself. Melvin officially appointed me ambassador of suitly care,” he finished with an exaggerated note of pride.

            “No he didn’t,” Matt chuckled.

            “Maybe not with words, Matthew,” Foggy sneered, “but I am now responsible for making sure you’re responsible with his masterpiece of a ninja pyjama.”

            Matt crunched the bag closed over the helmet and handed it back.

            “You’re right.”

            “I usually am.” A pause. “About what?”

            “Being the world’s greatest friend. Thank you, Foggy, that ...” Matt swallowed, keeping himself in check. “That means a lot, buddy. Really. Thank you. And Melvin.”

            The air swirled as Foggy waved a dismissive hand. “It’s no big deal, Matt. Figured you’d need something to look forward to, seeing as how you’re on the mend at last.”

            Matt held out his fist. Foggy bumped it with an obvious grin shaping his breath.

            “Although, as Suit Ambassador Supreme,” Foggy went on in his loftiest voice, “I do have full power to confiscate and otherwise guilt the wearer into compliance with the new Melvin Potter Suit-Care Guidelines.”

            “Meaning?”

            “Meaning if you total this one anytime soon you’re gonna have to explain it to Melvin. I can’t bear to disappoint that beautiful baldie again.”

            Matt nodded dutifully, smiling. “Deal, then. He really made a whole new suit? Where is it?”

            “He’s finishing it up. The helmet was just a carrot to spur you into better sense with the whole death goop thing –”

            “Why must you all call it that –?”

            “Because it is death goop, Matthew, that’s why. Plus annoying Danny is extremely fun, he gets so worked up.” Foggy laughed lightly. “But it will be ready by the time you’re up to get back to the streets. Although,” he added quickly. “To unlock this spanky new attire you must get written approval from the Great and Powerful Claire that has at least two signatures from non-superpowered peoples so you don’t go tearing off into the night too early and landing your shapely Irish ass back in this dump.”

            Matt stared in Foggy’s direction, appalled. “Two signatures plus Claire? Foggy, come on!”

            “No, Matthew, I will not. These are the rules Melvin set out.”

            Matt scoffed. “Sure, with help from his new attorney.”

            He knew Foggy well enough to hear the smugness in his expression before he even spoke.

            “I had some input. But Melvin agreed – no notey, no suity.”

            “Can it at least be in Braille?”

            “Nope ‘cause you’re a wily fox who will attempt to forge signatures. Melvin will expect three different handwritings, none of which look like they’re from a demented child.”

            “Hey,” Matt cut in, “not fair. Demented teenager, at least.”

            “Mm, arguable. So, you accept our terms?”

            Matt grinned. “I could just use the old one, you know.”

            “No you couldn’t ‘cause I stole it and gave it to Melvin for parts.”

            Matt buzzed the bed into a straighter position to better glare down at Foggy. “Thief.”

            “Concerned friend,” he correct, unabashed.

            “Fine,” Matt sighed, unable to fully hide his smile. “I accept.”

            “Then on to phase two!”

Before Matt could worry what the hell that meant, Foggy had dashed from the room. Matt ran his hand once more over the dome of his new helmet through the bag. A new suit. That’s the second time Foggy went to that workshop for him, and the area wasn’t exactly sound. He blinked quickly. How was he supposed to repay that kind of selflessness? He supposed minding himself would have to do.

Foggy returned a minute later, pushing a squeaking wheelchair in front of him. The wheels stuck slightly to the floor as it rolled to a stop by the bed. Matt blinked at it.

“You don’t expect me to use that thing I hope?”

Fabric shushed as Foggy’s shoulder’s slumped. “Aw, c’mon. I’ll make cool race car noises?”

Matt let his silence speak for him.

“Don’t you want out of this room?” He wiggled the chair enticingly, only succeeding in making rubber squeal loudly against linoleum. “I’m offering to take you on a field trip here.”

Matt sat a little straighter.

“You’re serious?”

“Deathly.”

“Where?”

“To find out you’re gonna have to park that booty over here, Murdock.” He slapped the cheap plastic seat.

Matt pretended to think about it. He hadn’t been out of this damn room in months, save a few tests he’d been so sedate for he wasn’t even sure what floor he was on. Cruising in a sitting position was far more appealing to being wheeled around on another goddamn gurney.

“Fine. But if Luke comes back and sees I’m AWOL he’s gonna call in the cavalry.”

“Do not threaten me with your girlfriend, Matthew. It’s impolite.”

Foggy leant down over the chair and two muted groans announced the brakes were engaged. “Need a hand?”

“I got it,” Matt said quickly. He manoeuvred himself carefully, keeping his expression free of the pain growling through his breast. The pain was finally starting to lessen – if he didn’t move. He slipped his legs over the edge of the bed and felt for the arm of the wheelchair, ignoring Foggy’s anxious hovering. He heaved himself into place without difficulty, not even voicing the hiss of pain as his left arm braced against the armrest. His hand brushed against Jessica’s jacket on the way, and a thought occurred to him.

“Hey, Foggy?”

“Yessum?”

“You have to drop the helmet back to Melvin, right?”

Foggy snorted. “Hell yeah I do – can’t have people finding out I’m Daredevil! Think of the paparazzi! People constantly asking how I maintain this vision of Adonis?” The air whistled as he flipped his hair back – a significantly less impressive move since he banished his locks, but no less flamboyant. “Why d’you ask?”

Since Foggy was behind him unbraking the chair, Matt didn’t bother to hide his smirk. “Wondered if you could do me a favour?”

“Anything,” Foggy sang to the tune of that Oliver Twist song that’d once been stuck in his head for a whole week back in college. Matt shuddered at the memory and reached for the jacket while Foggy pulled the comforter off the bed and draped it dramatically around Matt like a barber’s gown.

“Could you bring him this?” He extricated himself from the blanket and handed the jacket over his shoulder. “Melvin wove his armour into Fisk’s suits, maybe he could do something similar. Tell him I’m paying him this time, though.”

Foggy took the leather jacket with uncertain fingers.

“You ... want me to steal Jessica Jones’ favourite jacket.”

“She’ll be fine, she stole my hoodie months ago.”

“And what if she murders me?”

Matt pretended to think about it. “Well I might have to break up with her then.”

Foggy squeaked indignantly as he draped the jacket over the back of the chair and spun Matt around – a little too quickly, the room turned dizzying for a moment – and pushed him out the door.

“Might?” he repeated. “Might? For shame, Matthew. For shame. In all seriousness though will she actually come after us if we cut up her badass bitch blazer? ‘Cause, honestly, there’re better ways to go. I don’t wanna condemn poor Melvin to a slow, sarcastic death.”

Matt chuckled, balling his fists in the familiar texture of the blanket as the world widened. The hall seem to go on for miles compared to his tiny room – there were at least half a dozen more rooms, maybe a closet, a nurse’s station – a vending machine? The vague picture he’d had of the immediate outside of his confined world before was quickly turning out to be a hodgepodge of what Matt could only assume was drug-induced creation and other parts of the hospital. Now he thought about it, it didn’t really make sense for his room to be attached to the OR, but try telling his nose that.

“I’ll keep you safe, Fogs,” he said lightly, turning his head towards the nurse at the desk and finally understanding why he’d smelled chemical ammonia – her hair tasted expertly dyed.

Foggy patted his shoulder – thankfully his right – and hummed happily.

“I know you will, bud. But if your girlfriend kills me I’m totally haunting your ass.”

Matt tried to smile at that and was glad Foggy couldn’t see his face. His nightmares weren’t quite far enough for that thought to be funny.

Foggy whistled a vaguely recognisable tune while they waited for the elevator and Matt used it to anchor himself and deepen his breathing. Hundreds of spectral impressions swept around them, a riot of information Matt was struggling to tune out. Everything felt horribly close and sterile, the remnants of flowers and home-cooked meals warring with more chemicals than he could keep up with. The clinical scents of hospital staff mingling with too many visitors to count. It was more stimuli than he’d had in weeks and his head ached with the effort to tame it all.

At least it was distracting enough to drown out the rest of the hospital.

The elevator felt like an uncleaned test tube. He could barely taste the steel past the layers and layers of sickness and skin that filled it. The air was stale, hot with germs and heavy with memory of countless fabrics and drugs, tears and spittle. Matt tried not to breathe too deeply, shifting uncomfortably in the wheelchair.

“You okay?”

He nodded. “Stuffy in here.”

Foggy squeezed his shoulder, gently. “I know, bud. We’re almost there.”

“Almost where?”

“Quite time, Matthew. Let me actually surprise you for once in my life.”

Matt bit back a quip and closed his eyes, leaning into the chair and letting Foggy steer him out of the elevator. The air was much cooler up here – which prompted Foggy to shudder and tug the blanket more snugly around Matt, which felt weird as hell but thankfully he managed not to squirm. Much. He opened his eyes when they stopped in a whispering draught, his attention caught by the staccato melody of a code being entered into a key pad.

“Uh, Foggy?”

“Quiet time, Matthew.”

“Where the hell are you taking me?”

“Hush.”

The door buzzed and clanked as the lock was disengaged and, with a flurry, Foggy heaved it open and pushed Matt outside. Onto the roof.

Fresh. Air.

Matt breathed Hell’s Kitchen deep into his lungs, a dormant smile creeping over his lips. The air was crisp and chilled, rain-heavy and laden with the weight of looming night. It curled against his skin as it sailed by like an overdue caress, sneaking into the aching crevice in his heart and filling it up with a wordless welcome. It tickled his nose and danced over his lips, tripping over itself to tell him just how much the city had missed him, catching him up on a thousand tiny stories, whispering bliss past his ears.

He was back.

He said nothing as Foggy pushed him forward, away from the softly shrieking cave of the hospital into the wide open field of its roof. Buildings towered all around him, shimmering with heat and wind while their older fellows seemed to stretch up to him to say hello, their silent voices calling out to him through their unique connection. He could feel them all, all thrumming like beehives with energy, with life, with laughter and arguments and tears and forgotten cups of coffee. People shrugged into jackets and out of work shoes, jogged along the streets and stumbled in a whiskey haze, all their voices speaking at once and for one beautiful moment there was no pain, inside his chest or out of it. For one heartbeat, Hell’s Kitchen was alive and safe and happy to see him.

            The feeling was mutual.

            When the shouts and sobs and tang of fresh blood rose on the wind’s tide he pulled his awareness back, his heart wailing in lament and gratitude, and turned his attention back to Foggy. Instead of hearing the man beat his wife in the apartment across the road he listened to his best friend take a deep, untroubled breath through his nose, his presence expanding like a gentle flare at his back. Rather than taste the ghost of heroin overriding blood Matt tuned his tongue to the brakes Foggy slid into place on the wheelchair. Instead of feeling the soul-deep itch to get up and work he let himself exist only in this chair, on this roof, relishing the softness of the blanket wrapped around him and the warm weight of his best friend’s hand on his shoulder.

            “Thank you, Foggy.”

            Foggy chuckled and tightened his grip. “This is one hundred per cent not something you need to thank me for, buddy. Figured you could do with a reminder of all the good stuff waiting for you when you leave this joint.” He took another exaggerated breath through his nose. “You can almost smell the massaman curry from Forty-First street.”

            Matt laughed. He could smell the curry from Forty-First street, not to mention everything else on that menu and countless more. But for once he didn’t want to see the whole world. For once he wanted to just sit with his friend and be.

            Foggy unhooked a bag Matt should’ve noticed was hitched to the back of the wheelchair – tomorrow’s meditation was going to have to work on getting his senses back to their reliable selves – and pulled out two cartons of what smelled like chocolate milk.

            “The finest vintage this side of the Hudson,” Foggy said grandly as he unscrewed the lid and passed the carton to Matt. “Courtesy of our friendly neighbourhood Edna Mode. Which is a reference I know you don’t get but trust me, it’s hilarious, and you should be laughing.”

            Matt obliged, then took a sip and pushed all tastes away but the intended sweetness. Well it was better than hospital water, that was for sure. He took another, heartier swig and snorted, bending over and wincing as his chest growled.

            Foggy’s hands were on his back in seconds. “Shit, what’s wrong? Wrong pipe?” His heartbeat was quickly turning frantic. “Shit, should I get someone? Are you dying? Are you waving your hand yes or no?”

            Still laughing, Matt shook his head. “Do – do you remember that time –” he paused to suck in another painful breath around a fit of giggles – “in first year when you – you took me to the MET?”

            Foggy’s heartrate faltered in its panic as he stood there, hands still hovering. His own carton of chocolate milk let out a low whistle only Matt could hear as the wind blew by and Matt took it as appreciation.

            “The – I – well I thought it was a good idea at the time!”

            Matt threw his head back and laughed. “You took a blind guy to a museum!”

            Foggy’s posture relaxed as he huffed, exasperated. “Well excuse me for trying to bring a little culture into our lives. And I maintain,” he said over Matt’s next wave of mirth, “that my commentary on all the pieces greatly enhanced their value, and honestly Murdock? You were lucky to get a Franklin Nelson Original – TM – tour.”

            There were tears in Matt’s eyes. His chest was firing hotly now, stoking the ache in his stomach and the headache that hadn’t stopped pounding at his temples all day.

            “You called the cherubs uncooked dough balls –”

            “Which I maintain is an accurate description!” He took a swig of his milk and punched Matt gently in the shoulder. His left shoulder. Matt hid his grimace with another drink.

            “We could’ve just gotten their audio tour,” he chuckled a moment later, holding on the easiness of his smile for later.

            Foggy’s hand slapped helplessly to his side. “The point was to bond, Matthew, not learn. We were in college for Christ’s sake!”

            “I thought the point was getting culture?”

            He didn’t need his senses to know Foggy rolled his eyes at that.

            “Don’t be such a lawyer.”

            Silence settled between them as they drank, warm and comfortable as the blanket protecting Matt from the evening’s chill. For the first time in weeks, everything felt ... not okay, but like that wasn’t such a crazy idea. To be okay. To be ... safe. Able to enjoy a real drink with his friend in Josie’s and then go home with Jessica ... Maybe even go patrol the streets with her. He wondered if she’d like that.

            But a cold, barbed thought intruded on his bright moment, plunging him into darkness as suddenly as a summer cloud obscuring the sky.

            “We should get back inside,” he said quickly, turning to Foggy.

            “Hm? What?”

            “We need to get back indoors,” Matt said, more urgently now, reaching back to unbrake the wheelchair and hissing in pain as his chest vetoed that movement almost immediately.

            “Whoa, hold up, why? I thought this was fun?”

            Air was turning elusive. Fear shuddered in his chest alongside his heart. He threw his awareness wide, hoping he wasn’t too late. Stupid, he was stupid to let his guard down.

            “We need to go.”

            “Matt, buddy, talk to me.” Foggy stood over him, his hands on Matt’s shoulders, pinning him in the chair, his back to the city. All those rooftops, so many vantage points. They couldn’t’ve made themselves an easier shot.

            “Foggy, we’ve got to get away – Bullseye’s still out there, we can’t give him the chance to – to –” He had to stop to breathe past the panic. Past the nightmares closing his throat. Foggy’s grip tightened and Matt closed his eyes, taking a moment to wrestle the pain back into its cage.

            “Matthew. Listen to me. You really think I’d take you up here with a mad sniper on the loose? That was supposed to be my last surprise.”

            Matt’s eyes snapped open.

            “What are you talking about?”

            “Look, Matt, Luke isn’t getting coffee right now. And by the way, how zenned out were you you didn’t notice he was gone two hours? Anyway – listen, he and Jessica and Danny found him. They’re going after him right now, they found where he was holed up. It’s gonna be over, Matt. Tonight. We just ... we didn’t want you freaking out – like I see you trying to do now, breathe, buddy, breathe. Good. They’re all gonna be fine, I swear. You’re gonna be free, Matt. Really free.”

            The roof spun slightly as the words tried to contort themselves into making sense. They’d found Bullseye? But how? When? Why had no one told him – he, of all people, had a right to know. Had a right to ... Well. It wasn’t like he could fight like this, but the thought of the others going into battle – his battle – without him ...

            Matt scowled at Foggy’s stomach. “You should’ve told me.”

            “Yeah, we should.” His heart skipped through the lie. “But we still need to keep your heartrate down and I figured that’d be easier if you weren’t wigging out on the bench with me. Claire says you’re almost well enough to be stepped down to her clinic – think of it Matt! I know it’s not home but it’s a far cry from a hospital. Just a few more dunks in the death goop and you’re home free. You’ll be modelling that new suit on the badly lit catwalks of Hell’s Kitchen in no time.”

            Matt tried to smile but wasn’t sure how successful he was. The thought of finally being free of this place was ... dangerous to think about.

            “Okay, Fog. Thanks. I, uh ...”

            “Love me? I know, dude. It’s mutual.” Foggy’s beam resurrected Matt’s grin.

            “When will we know?” That Bullseye is ... what? Did he want Bullseye killed? A thrill of savage joy flared inside him, howling its enthusiasm. But at the same time something solid and sure weighed him down with the certainty that allowing Bullseye to be killed would open a door Matt was terrified he would never be able to close again. Fisk was one thing, but this ...

Fisk wasn’t Bullseye.

            “They’ll be coming by the hospital on their victory lap once it’s all over. Shouldn’t be too much longer, but I can’t act like I’m an expert on hero schedules. Soon, though.”

            Matt nodded at Foggy’s hand on his shoulder. Tentatively withdrew his concentration to the surrounding roofs. Swirled his carton of chocolate milk against the armrest.

            “Then I’m gonna need another drink.”

Chapter Text


 

            Matt jolted awake from a sleep he never intended. The room was still, heavy with night. His heart hammered in his chest, bucking itself free of the fear of an abrupt awakening. He’d dozed off on the roof in the wheelchair, stirring only when the lift doors dinged open on his floor. Foggy had corralled him into bed and Matt had stubbornly kept himself awake chatting for at least another hour. He couldn’t remember the moment he fell asleep, but it had been to the soft cadence of Foggy’s voice as he told him a story that carried into his dreams.

            Awareness brought with it the panic he had kept at bay when Foggy was here. He heaved himself up onto his elbow, sweeping his attention over the room, looking for hints of how the raid had gone.

            He didn’t have to look far to realise what had woken him.

            Jessica was huddled in the far corner, her breath shocking past fists clenched on her knees. The ghost of blood hung at her temple while her own sung with adrenaline. She was whispering so quietly no one else would have heard her.

            “Main Street. B-Birch Street. Higgins Drive. Cobalt Lane. Main Street.”

            Matt slipped carefully out of the bed and padded over to her, bracing a hand on the wall when a wave of dizziness threw the world off its axis. He sank slowly to the ground beside her – not close enough to crowd, but still within reach. As far as he could tell she didn’t look at him, just kept up her quiet mantra. He leaned against the wall and waited.

            She stopped shivering after a few minutes. He lay his hand between them, palm up in case she needed grounding. After another long hesitation, she slipped her hand into his and he held her tightly, stroking his thumb along her skin.

            “Nightmare?” he asked softly when she seemed almost calm. Her hair rustled as she nodded. “Bullseye?” Another nod.

            “He got away, Matt.” The words were clipped and rushed, skipping over the trembling note of tears lying in wait in her throat. “We fucked up. I’m a fucking PI and I finally found the son of a bitch and he fucking got away.”

            Matt took a slow breath, letting the disappointment sink down to his gut like block of concrete.

            “Are you okay?”

            She snorted and a hint of salt entered the air before she blinked it away.

            “We had him right there and he got away. Slipped right out from under us. We were too slow or he got tipped off somehow, it doesn’t matter. We should’ve had him and –”

            She stopped as Matt laid his other hand on her cheek.

            “Are you okay?”

            Salt trembled in the air. She nodded.

            “I’m sorry.”

            He smiled at her. “No need. You’re safe. You’ve nothing to apologise for.”

            “He got away –”

            “This time, maybe. But not the next. Like you keep telling me, Jess, we’re gonna get him. We’re gonna end all of this. I promise.”       

            Her eyes closed over droplets of salt that sprung free of her lashes, painting detailed lines along the planes of her cheeks. He released her hand and drew her to him, curling his arm around her shoulders and tucking her head under his chin. She melted into him, her breathing warm and shivering against his neck.

            “It’s okay sweetheart,” he said softly. “I have you.” He kissed her hair. “I have you.”

            Whatever dream she’d had must have been awful. She let him hold her long after her heart settled into a calm rhythm.

            “I keep having this stupid dream,” she muttered suddenly, her tone deceptively indifferent. “I’m tracking Bullseye through a lab and when I find him Kilgrave’s there. Controlling him. And then I can’t move, ‘cause he told me to stay and watch. And Bullseye wheels you in and starts ...” She swallowed against him. “Those stupid videos we watched when we first got you out of there. That stuff. Only I’m in them and I can’t stop it. And then Kilgrave injects me with this stuff and I hear m-my family ... And I get to leave, but you’re stuck there. With them.” She sighed heavily. “I’m so fucking sick of seeing it every night.”

            “Jessica,” Matt muttered, holding her a little more tightly. “Sweetheart, you’ve already saved my life – more than once. None of what’s happening is your fault, it’s nothing that you’re responsible for. You know that. And Kilgrave? Well ... it makes sense you still have nightmares about him. I sometimes do about Fisk and Nobu.”

            “Who-bu?”

            He chuckled. “Murakami’s second-in-command. Worked with Fisk, almost killed me. Also came back from the dead, like, a lot.”

            “Oh.”

            “My point is,” he said seriously, pulling back enough to level her with a stern glare. “You don’t need to be worrying about me that much. We’ve got a whole army on our side. We’re both gonna be safe. Soon.”

            Jessica took a long breath through her nose and Matt struggled to find something better to say. He wasn’t exactly qualified for this sort of thing. More often than not he was the one freaking out and Jess was the one to snap him out of it.

            “I guess it’s just still ... fresh,” she said slowly. “IGH and me. How I got these stupid powers.”

            “I maintain they’re not stupid,” Matt cut in softly. “The potential for barroom hustling alone makes them awesome.”

            “I know there’re more important things to be worried about, but they made me forget and I guess there’s a part of me that just ... wants to remember.”

            “I get that. The accident, that blinded me? There’s a lot I don’t remember about it anymore. Memories from when I could see are, uh, vague at the best of times but I sometimes wish I could remember the rest of that day. But this is new, for you. It makes sense you need time to get your head around it, and thanks to me you haven’t exactly had a lot of that lately.” He swallowed a rush of guilt – this was not about him.

            She chuckled, brightening his whole world.

            “Yeah. It’s all your fault, Murdock.”

            He grinned, her sarcasm erasing any sting.

“I will make it up to you.”

            She leaned her head back against his shoulder.

            “I know you will.”

            He kissed her cheek.

            “Bed?”

            She nodded and helped him to his feet. They crawled into bed together, cuddling close under the blanket and listening to the fragile quiet of the hospital. Matt kept his senses trained on Jessica.

            “Thanks, Matty,” she whispered suddenly a while later.

            Matt blinked. “For what?”

            “Just ... thanks.”

            He smiled and hugged her closer for a moment. She broke the embrace, reaching into her back pocket and pulling out a flask. Whiskey curled into the air, warm and spicy and making Matt’s mouth water. After taking a long gulp, she held it out to him.

            “Don’t tell Claire,” he whispered as he knocked back a hefty mouthful. Finally, a burn he liked.

            “Pft, I don’t wanna get murdered. Speaking of, where’s my jacket? I thought I left it here.”

            Matt froze. Carefully handed back the flask. “Em ... it’s ... safe.”

            She shifted up on her elbow, the bed dipping sharply. “What did you do, Murdock?”

            “Foggy came by with a new helmet Melvin made me – he’s making a whole new suit.”

            “And what, he stole my jacket ‘cause he’s sick of his monkey suits? Or is this Melvin guy basing the suit of my iconic style?”

            Matt waged a brief battle with his lips but managed not to smile.

            “I asked Foggy to take your jacket to Melvin. So he could, uh, alter it.”

            Jessica’s heartbeat ticked up in anger. “Alter it?”

            Matt took a breath and spoke quickly. “He has this thinner type of armour – Fisk had it sewn into all his suits. I figured it’d be smart for you to, em, for your jacket to be a little, y’know, sturdier.” The sentence trailed into nothingness as he quailed into the bed. She was glaring at him, he could feel it. He might be about to die.

            “You stole my jacket. To put armour inside.”

            “Um, yes.”

            “Without asking.”

            “Um ... yes.”

            The silence was terrifying. He tried his most charming smile.

            Jessica huffed a laugh and kissed his forehead. “You’re such a smartass.”

            Matt blinked. Something ancient and familiar curled in his chest.

            “What?”

            “Uh, nothing. Just ... my dad used to do that.”

            “I bet. You’re really annoying. You stole my jacket.”

            It was Matt’s turn to glare. He reached out and plucked at the hoodie she was wearing – his hoodie.

            “Who’s the thief again?”

            Two roses of delicate warmth bloomed in her cheeks.

            “Shut up.”

            “Let the record show you took that before you were my girlfriend.”

            “You’re such a nerd, just leave it, okay? You can have it back if and when my jacket is returned safely.”

            “Mm-hm.” Matt settled back into the pillows, his arm around Jessica. “Smartass.”

            She hit him. Gently, even for her. It still stung and Matt chuckled.

            “Shut up already, I wanna sleep, I had a shitty day.” She snuggled deeper into his arms, her head nestled against his good shoulder. A very unpainful warmth filled his chest and he smiled into her hair.

            “Want me to help you with that?”

            “How?”

            Matt cleared his throat and rested his chin against her head, relishing the minute tickle of her hair against his stubble. He inhaled deeply through his nose and began to sing softly. Jessica froze as the first notes wove uncertainly into the air, but she soon melted back against him and his quiet voice steadied around another wide grin. It was an old song he remembered his dad singing a few times, and he only knew half the lyrics, but Jess didn’t seem to mind his humming the rest. Some of the notes caught in his throat – he hadn’t exactly been all that vocal lately – but it was soothing. Feeling the rumble of a familiar tune thrum in his neck, making a few wisps of Jessica’s hair tremble against his skin. The plastic bust of his father’s face was hidden away in a drawer – he hadn’t liked everyone seeing it, it felt too personal to share – and the memory of those half-forgotten features brushed briefly against his fingertips as he ran them along Jessica’s arm.

            Jess let out a happy little hum.

            “You’re such a sap, Matty.”

            The melody paused as he chuckled and pressed a kiss into her hair.

            “I like when you call me that,” he whispered, like a secret. “My dad used to. And Stick. Nice hearing it again.”

            “Phil used to call me Jessie,” she mumbled back, holding him a mite tighter. “No one else ever did – I wouldn’t let them. You could probably get away with it though. Being infirm and all.”

            Matt huffed a laugh. “If you say so, Jessie.” He hesitated.

            “Yeah. That’s ... that’s not bad.”

            He grinned and touched the tip of his nose to the top of her head. “Jessie.”

            “Don’t wear it out,” she grumbled, her heartbeat skipping sweetly over her discomfort, thoroughly undermining her complaint.

            “Okay, sweetheart.”

            A pause. “I liked the song.”

            Matt chuckled, touched his lips once more to her hair, and picked up where he left off, closing his eyes to better crystalize this one, perfect moment. He wanted to remember this, for as long as he lived.

Chapter Text

            “I can’t watch this anymore,” Jessica muttered, her voice thick with emotion as she turned away.

            “It’s just masochism,” Luke said, unable to tear his eyes from the gruesome sight. “You don’t have to do this, man. Just stop.”

            Matt’s fist clenched tighter and Claire’s stomach followed suit. No way he was going to stop. They were all going to have to watch this happen.

            You’d think being a nurse for over ten years would’ve prepared her for stuff like this. It hadn’t.

            “That’s five,” Luke breathed, horrified, as Danny closed his smirking lips over yet another dumpling. “How can you – how big is your mouth?”

            “Don’t answer that,” Matt said quickly, grinning broadly as Danny nabbed a sixth pork gyoza with his chopsticks.

            “Not like he can,” Jessica griped, eying Danny’s bulging cheeks out of the corner of her eye, her expression revolted.

            “I swear to god that’s just not human,” Claire said softly as Danny, defying all laws of biology and physics, managed to work a sixth dumpling into his mouth. “You’re gonna choke, I’m calling it.”

            Somehow, Danny managed to grin.

            Luke slapped his knees in excitement, bouncing slightly in his chair as he watched Danny reach for a seventh, his eyes wide like a little kid seeing Iron Man up close. Claire couldn’t fully engage with how adorable he looked since this whole enterprise was entirely his fault. They’d almost made it through a meal like normal, semi-civilised adults and then Luke just had to bet Danny he couldn’t fit three gyoza in his mouth at once, unchewed. And of course, Danny ‘Everlasting Eight-Year-Old’ Rand, had had to prove Luke wrong, and then some.

            Claire sighed. At least they’d had most of a normal meal. It was late, the hospital was quiet and relatively empty: as calm as a hospital could ever be. Her eyes drifted to Matt, whose wide grin erased decades of stress from his tired features. One hand was in Jessica’s, who sat beside him on the bed, the other wrapped idly around the bedrail in what Claire assumed was grounding contact. He’d eaten everything she’d doled onto his paper plate – and even a few bonus prawn crackers. Whether that was a sign of improved outlook or simply fulfilling her conditions to use the K’ní-seum and allay concern she wasn’t sure, but there was no denying he was finally starting to look like himself again.

Danny’s mystic goop tank was having an irrefutable effect on Matt, both physically and mentally. A thin layer of muscle was slowly returning to his narrow frame, making him look, for the first time since the coma, like he wouldn’t shatter at your every touch. Finally having something to do, something to work towards, had done wonders for his emotional state. Despite all the smiles and reassuring words Claire doubted he was half as happy as he pretended to be, but the fact he could summon the energy and motivation for his old composure alone was heartening. Only his eyes betrayed him, the unfocused irises holding a wealth of shrouded anxiety. But at least that fear was, for now, kept at bay by the idiotic banter of these morons.

“Rand, you’re gonna cut off your airway and Claire’s gonna have to save your ass and death by dumpling is easily the stupidest way to die,” Jessica drawled. “So, you know, in character, so go head,” she added.

Danny frowned over his chipmunk cheeks and attempted to say something that was so unintelligible it would be exaggerating to call it a mumble.

But it made Matt laugh. Which made everyone else laugh. (Danny almost died.)

“Okay, okay, okay,” Luke said, his words light with a lingering chuckle. “Seriously, Iron Boy, if you can somehow chew and swallow that mess – without requiring mystic or medical intervention, I will give you fifty bucks.”

“Luke, he’s a billionaire, as if he’s gonna be –” Jessica began, but stopped short at the sight of Danny’s emphatic thumbs up. “Why am I surprised.”

“I’ve heard some truly awful things in my life,” Matt said brightly, his expression caught between amusement and disgust, “but that right there is hands down the grossest.”

Danny paused in his attempt to chew to throw Matt a proud smile, one Claire hoped for Matt’s sake he couldn’t sense. That image would definitely be popping up in her nightmares.

At least she knew where to send her therapist bill.

“Fun though this is,” she said grandly, getting up from her chair to stand at the end of the bed. “I do – shockingly – have more important things to do.” She pinched Matt’s outstretched foot affectionately. “Get this idiot into death goop, for one.”

Matt rolled his eyes and said in time with Danny’s affronted mumble, “Will you stop calling it that?”

“No, it adds much-needed levity.”

Matt shifted himself into a more alert configuration, his thumb sliding consolingly around Jessica’s suddenly tense hand.

“You guys don’t need to be here for it,” he said for the hundredth – thousandth? – time.

Luke and Jessica rolled their eyes in such perfect unison it was creepy.

“We know, Matt,” Luke said, reaching over to fist-bump the hand curled around the bedrail. “We wanna be here.”

Claire snorted. “Speak for yourself, I’m just hear in case his heart explodes.”

Laughter filled the room. How was that funny?

“I did it!” Danny said abruptly, voice thick and arms raised in triumph. “That’s fifty bucks, bucko!”

Bucko?

Luke rolled his head back in despair. “How? How?” He looked imploringly around at the others. “Was anybody watching him? Are we sure he didn’t vanish it with his glow-fist?”

“The Immortal Iron Fist can’t just make stuff vanish, Luke,” Danny said in his finest mystic monk voice. “It’s an ancient and respectable –”

“We need to make sure you won't pull any internal stitches,” Claire said over him, trying vainly to instil some sense of the realism into the buoyant atmosphere. “Your heart'll be more or less healed by now but the strain could damage it further.”

Matt looked up at her, utterly unfazed by the potential proximity of his own demise and grinning like a cheeky teenager. “So I can rip the external ones and I'll be fine?”

A pause. Then to Danny, “She's glaring at me isn't she?”

“Yeah dude. You should be running.”

Claire resisted the urge to throttle them. Stupid Hippocratic oath.

“Let’s get this over with,” she sighed, stepped over to the bed and gesturing to Matt, who scooted to the edge. She pulled the pole over within his reach, the portable heart monitor blinking silently across the small screen.

“I’m okay,” he said quietly, ignoring her outstretched hand, wrapping an idle finger around the pole. She raised her eyebrows, impressed and only mildly exasperated.

“Even for the K’ní-seum,” Danny began, watching Matt step carefully over to the tank, the tiny wheels whirring noisily, “it’s amazing how fast you’re healing, Matt. To be honest I didn’t think you’d be out of bed for another few weeks, but I’m glad I’m wrong.”

A faint blush rose in Matt’s cheeks and he smiled bashfully, looking away.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, we’re all very proud of our little demon prodigy,” Jessica drawled, only her small smile betraying the truth behind the sarcasm.

Danny, who had yet to decode Jessica’s many levels of sass, nodded knowingly. “He’s a Dragon.”

It was adorable how uncomfortable Matt looked.

“Wait, wait, wait,” Luke cut in quickly from his chair, “are dragons really people? That makes so much more sense.”

Danny mimed choking him. “You were in that cave, you saw actual dragon bones with your own eyes, how many times do I have to –”

“Do you smell that?” Matt said abruptly, head jerking up towards the window. He’d reached the tub and was holding tightly to its edge.

“Prob’ly not,” Jessica mumbled without looking up.

Claire humoured him with a curious sniff. All she got was a cloud of leftover Thai and the oddly floral scent of the goop in the tub.

“I got nothing.”

“Danny’s breath?” Luke waved a hand futilely in front of his nose. His joking expression died as he turned to take in Matt’s. Whatever scent he’d picked up was clearly not funny.

“Danny, open the window,” Matt commanded, his voice edged with a seriousness Claire hadn’t heard since the last time she saw him in the suit. When Danny obliged, Matt stiffened, knuckles paling.

“What is it?” Claire eyed the heart monitor to his left, his grip now firm on the pole.

“Smoke.”

She exchanged a worried glance with Luke and Jessica.

“I think ...” Matt continued, frowning as he cocked his head to the side like a dog trying to figure out a command. His brow furrowed deeply, nostrils flaring slightly, tongue darting out to taste the air. He swallowed. His expression turned sick.

“There’s an apartment on fire.”

There was a moment of silence – was it possible to get used to everything he saw? – broken by Luke.

“Okay, let’s call the –”

“No.” Matt’s jaw was set in a way Claire firmly associated with an incoming headache brought on by vigilante idiocy. Unsurprisingly, Matt turned for the door. Jess and Luke had a hand each on his chest and shoulder before he’d made it two steps.

“Matt, you are not running off into a burning apartment,” Jessica clarified, exasperated. “You can’t even run yet, don’t –”

“No, no, we’ve gotta go,” Matt said, trying to break their hold, his movements jerky, his expression descending into something manic. “You don’t understand –”

“Matt, we’ll call the fire department, it’ll be fine –”

“It’s the whole building!”

“What?” Claire moved under the cover of Luke’s concern, quietly plucking a syringe full of sedative from the tray beside the tank. She hadn’t seen Matt this agitated in a long time and the silent beats marching along the monitor’s screen were getting closer and closer together.

“The whole building’s gonna go up,” Matt jabbered. He was actively pulling on Luke’s grip now. “Smoke’s everywhere, they’re – they’re calling out for help, we gotta go!”

“Okay, okay,” Luke said quickly as Danny stuck his head out the window. “We’ll go, okay? You stay.”

“I don’t see anything.”

“It’s – the fire’s there, I can feel it, it’s – shit, they’re trapped. We’ve gotta move!”

Jessica acted before Claire. She picked Matt up over her shoulder and dumped him back onto the bed, her hand staying against his dark tshirt, looking oddly small.

You aren’t going anywhere, idiot. We’ll deal with this and be back. Danny, shut the window.”

“No, Jess, the smoke, it’s – you won’t be able to breathe! They can’t breathe!”

Claire caught Jessica’s eye and nodded. She stepped around Luke and put a hand on Matt’s arm – just below the catheter at his elbow.

“Matt,” she said calmly. He tilted his face in her direction and must have sensed the sedative because he stilled abruptly, his expression guarded.

“Don’t.”

“If you don’t calm down I’ll have to,” she promised, a note of steel resolving the words.

“Claire – don’t.”

“Look, we can’t just wait here if he’s right,” Danny said. All trace of the face-stuffing moron had vanished, replaced with an air of competence and seriousness that was almost jarring.

“‘If’?” Jessica quoted, her tone a challenge. Danny ignored her.

“Where is it, Matt?” Luke asked quietly, gripping Matt’s shoulder to get his attention. Rather than speak, Matt raised a hand and pointed through the wall to the en suite.

“One block over. Hurry.”

With a decisive nod, Luke straightened and whipped his hoodie off the back of the chair, Danny half a step behind him as he made for the door. Claire froze a moment, torn between making sure Matt didn’t try to follow them and wanting to run after Luke at tell him how stupid it was to waltz into a building that was on fire without so much as a rag to breathe through.

“Luke –!”

He paused as he pulled the door open. Claire was dimly aware of Jessica sweeping down to kiss Matt’s forehead and whisper a command not to watch. Luke’s eyes shone with things unsaid.

“We’ll be back,” he promised. Before Claire could respond he had pulled the door open and ducked through it with Danny.

“I’ll make sure they don’t die,” Jessica said offhandedly as she passed, pulling her leather jacket on over her shoulders. “Keep Devil Boy calm, will you?”

The door squeaked as it shut behind her. Claire stood there, trying to keep up, the syringe in one hand, Matt’s arm tensing under the other.

“Shit.” She pocketed the sedative, exchanging it for her phone. Well if no one else was going to do the obvious thing. She kept an eye on Matt as she phoned in the fire, her gut tightening as he squirmed on the bed, both hands fisted and pale. The muted heart monitor was painting a uniform mountain range across the screen. Claire tightened her grip on Matt’s arm.

Once an engine had been dispatched, Claire hung up and slipped her phone back into her scrubs pocket and sat down by Matt’s thigh. The heart monitor was no calmer.

“Matt,” she said slowly, “I need you to calm down, alright? Meditate. Deep breaths, okay?”

Matt nodded spasmodically and pushed himself into a sitting position, accidentally or purposefully drawing his arm out of her reach. He inhaled deeply through his nose and flinched visibly, his eyes snapping open.

“What is it?”

“Burning.” His voice was wrong. Very wrong.

“What’s burning?” she asked, sure she didn’t want to hear the answer.

Matt turned his gaze to her, his expression stoic save a quite terror filling his eyes.

“People.”

Claire raised a hand to cover her mouth. A memory rose from its cage. Her second year of residency. An explosion by the docks. Seven badly burned workers rushed through her ER. It was not a sight that could be forgotten. The only thing worse than seeing the bubbled, molten flesh was the stench of it. Claire hadn’t eaten meat for weeks.

She glanced to the closed window and back to Matt. It really was amazing how much pain he could hide in those deep eyes. His every muscle stood out under his pale skin as he fought to keep himself still. No wonder he spent his nights on the streets. How much trauma did he suffer through, unable to shut out? How could he calm his heartrate when he could hear and smell that?

“Luke and –”

“They’re there,” he said quickly, his jaw so tight it was amazing the words made it through his teeth at all. “The door’s lock – Luke opened it. I think they made masks somehow, they’re breathing’s – they’re inside.”

Claire’s hand fell from her mouth to Matt’s fist. She knew she should tell him to stop listening, distract him with something – as if anything could eclipse this – but she couldn’t bring herself to. He could see Luke. He’d know within seconds if anything went wrong, if she needed to run downstairs and wait for their ambulance. Could Luke’s skin even burn? She suspected not, but Danny and Jessica – when it came to fire, what could they really do? You can’t punch a flame or snark it to embers. They were vulnerable. And none of them had any defence against smoke.

Matt’s expression showed a painful intimacy with that knowledge.

“Are they –?” She was afraid to even say it.

Matt swallowed, as though his own throat was being dried out by the flames.

“They’re still on the first floor,” he said stiffly. “There, uh, there were a lot of people trapped there. They’re out now.” He nodded once. “Choking, but I hear the sirens. I-I think they’re okay.”

He tilted his head again, turning an ear in the direction of the chaos.

“They’re moving up.” He was quiet now, quiet and still as that night they first met, holding himself every bit as tensely as he had when telling her about the man drenched in cheap cologne on the third floor. “Stairs are damaged. Jess gave them a lift up.” A wave of revulsion swept over his face but he schooled it quickly, remembering she was there. Her own stomach pitched horribly in response. “They – the fire, it’s at the end of the hall, and, uh, there’s – there’s a kid. She – she’s already dead.” His voice turned flat. Empty. “She doesn’t know it yet, scre-screaming. Luke’s running for her, he – he’s gonna be too late – jump, Luke – he’s got her, she – she’s on fire but his hoodie, it’s ...” His voice trailed off as he swallowed. It looked painful.

“They’re moving on,” he continued after a minute Claire bet wasn’t uneventful. Luke was going to need her once he got out of there. She refused to think if.

“People are screaming from the top floor,” Matt reported, licking his lips uncomfortably. “Claire, they – they’re –”

She tightened her grip on his fist, the knuckled biting into her palm.

“I’m here, Matt. It’s okay, I swear it’s gonna be okay.”

He nodded once, not believing her. Cocked his head again, frowning.

“There’s something, Danny’s conjured his fist, I can’t see past it it’s – I think he just punched through a wall or something. They’re moving. I think Luke’s carrying people, he’s turning back. I can’t tell if Danny’s hand is the fire or if – watch out Jessica!”

Claire froze as Matt grew – somehow – even tenser. He leaned forward, head turned fully towards the closed window now. His frown was etched so deeply into his face it looked permanent. He tilted his head slightly. Then a little more. Again, in a different direction.

“Matt?” she prompted, afraid to break the silence.

Matt’s eyes widened, his eyebrows almost touching.

“I can’t see her,” he breathed, a fresh horror eroding his sightless gaze. “The floor gave out and I can’t see – Claire, I can’t see her!” Claire leapt to her feet. The heart monitor could barely distinguish between his heartbeats now, his terror consuming the black screen.

“Matt it’s okay, I need you to calm down – Matt, listen to me!” She reached for the syringe, hating herself.

“I can’t see her!” he growled, trembling now. “It’s all flame, it’s all fire, all I can see is fire, it’s – Danny’s calling out to her but she – I can’t hear her heartbeat, Claire, she’s – where is she?”

Claire pulled the cap off the syringe with her teeth, her own heart beating so fiercely it was amazing her hands weren’t shaking. Matt pushed himself away from her and the needle, covering the catheter with his hand and shaking his head.

“I need to find her, Claire, you can’t – she’s there, I know it, she – Danny’s retreating, Luke’s downstairs – it’s –” He flinched away from the window, his mouth open as the words died on his tongue. Too quickly, he was still. Claire froze in response, waiting, heart thudding through her ears. Only the monitor betrayed Matt’s fear. She didn’t register the faint rushing sound that wasn’t traffic.

“Matt?” she asked despite herself, syringe still held poised over him. “What is it? What happened?”

He shook his head, slowly. As though in denial.

“It ... Claire, it ...” He swallowed hard and Claire could see him retreat into himself, saw the old wall waver up behind his eyes. “It exploded.”

For a very long, very painful moment, neither of them moved.

“Can – can you hear them?” Claire whispered, terrified of the answer.

Matt’s brow furrowed in concentration, eyes bright with hidden tears. An eternity later, he shook his head.

The syringe fell from Claire’s fingers, landing soundlessly on the bed beside Matt.

It didn’t mean anything, she told herself stubbornly. Matt’s senses have been off since he was shot, just because he can’t hear the others didn’t mean what she was so scared it meant, they were superheroes for god’s sake, they weren’t gonna be taken down by some random fire, it was gonna be fine, they were going to be fine –

She looked up as Matt started. He tilted his face in a new direction, his expression draining with sickening comprehension.

“Matt? What?”

Moving slowly as though stunned, Matt turned to her. When he spoke, his voice was barely a whisper, the syllables broken and hopeless as his eyes.

“Bullseye. He’s here.”

Chapter Text

            “Run. Claire, run.”

            “Not without you,” she said brusquely, snatching a second syringe from the tray and turning back to Matt, shoving the first into her pocket.

            “Claire, no, just go! He’s coming – don’t sedate me!”

            “It’s not a sedative,” she snapped, grabbing his wrist and forcing his arm to straighten. “It’s a painkiller – non-drowsy.” Matt hesitated then relaxed his arm, revealing the catheter. She threw him a small smile she wasn’t sure he could see. “I’m not dumb enough to think you’re gonna sit this out.” She lined the needle up with the port and pushed the plunger home. “This will at least help you be a dumbass for longer. But,” she added sharply, grabbing his chin and pinning him under her gaze. “You are still at risk of heart failure, you understand me? Your mission now is to run, not fight. Deal?”

            He smiled his liar’s smile and nodded.

            “Deal.”

            Claire rolled her eyes and unhooked the portable heart monitor.

            “Where is he?”

            “Stairwell.”

            “ETA?”

            “Less than two minutes – he’s running.”

            “Right. I’m getting you out of here.”

            “Claire –”

            “Save it, Matt!” She pulled him to the edge of the bed and dragged an arm over her shoulders, taking his weight as he stood.

            “Claire, I can walk, you –”

            “I said save it.”

            She half-pulled, half-walked him to the door and yanked it open. Right. Where could they go? Where was safe? Or, safer?

            “Ninety seconds, Claire.”

            “Shit.”

            She heaved him over the threshold and pushed him to the right. There was no time to get away, but they could delay the fight that was to come. Fear hardened into resolve in her gut. And she could buy Matt some time while the others hauled ass.

            Stupid, to fall for it. A burning apartment right by the hospital where Matt SuperEars Murdock was stuck? Stupid.

            Claire yanked the door of the supply closet open and shoved Matt inside, only remembering at the last second to be gentle and steadying him so he didn’t careen into a metal shelf. She closed the door behind them, one small part of her brain registering the irony of hiding in a closet again. During her internship she (and everyone else, she was pretty sure) would duck into a closet to cry or scream into gauze, feeling like the world was ending each time. Now her life was actually at stake. It’d be funny in hindsight. If she lived that long.

            “He’s reached our floor,” Matt whispered, his voice matching the shadows consuming the tiny room.

            “I’m calling Luke,” Claire breathed back, holding her phone up to her ear. No answer. Swearing under her breath, she tapped furiously and sent a text to all three of them: Bullseye SOS. She flicked it onto silent. She wasn’t going to be one of those idiots.

            “He found my room,” Matt narrated. “I don’t think he has a gun, just –” his voice faltered slightly, “knives.”

            Shit. Shit, shit, shit. She checked her phone. Nothing.

            “He’s in the hallway,” Matt breathed. “Far end.”

            Claire nodded. She’d have to be fast.

            “Listen, Matt,” she all but mouthed, knowing Matt would hear. “Luke and the others are coming,” she lied, willing her heart to believe it enough to deceive him. “But we’re not safe here. I’m gonna go distract –”

            “Like hell you are!” he hissed, startling her with a hand materialising on her knee, his grip firm and unyielding.

            Claire smiled. “Just stay here. Please.”

            She punched him. Really hard.

            Matt flinched away, his hold broken, and Claire surged to her feet, grabbed the handle and was out the door and yanking it shut before he could right himself. She flicked the lock.

            She’d feel guilty about that later.

            The corridor was empty. She stepped quickly away from the door, willing her shoes not to squeak, her hand reaching into her pocked for the sedative. The needle was uncapped, the plunger ready. All she’d need was one lucky moment.

            Memories of Russian hands overwhelming her pawed at her attention and she gave her head a tight shake. Survive now, freak later.

            It was eerily quiet. The nurses’ station was empty. Every door was closed save that to Matt’s room. The entire hallway seemed to hold its breath, waiting for the false calm to break.

            Claire crept forward, hoping she was going in the right direction, terrified that she was. She needed to get as far away from Matt as she could before he did a Murdock and came after her.

            A door she had just passed flew opened with a jarring crash and she jumped, turning round just in time to see a black-clad arm hook into her line of sight. She ducked, the silver of a blade sparkling above her and, with a furious growl, she threw herself forward in a tackle, grabbing Bullseye by the waist.

            Shit, he was strong. He stumbled back, burying her attack and Claire twisted away before the knife could return. She flung an elbow in the direction of his kidneys as she whirled away, feeling a clawed hand scrape along her shoulders. She ducked again before he could get a hold on her, snarling, her fist like stone around the syringe. She straightened up, her other hand ready to bury itself in his throat – and froze.

            The knife quivered at her throat. It was almost a foot long. Held steady against her skin, the edge so sharp she was sure it would cut her if she so much as swallowed. Slowly, flooding her heart with defiance, she looked past its gleaming plane to the small, malicious eyes smiling down at her.

Ice slipped along her spine. Those eyes were cold and brutal as the blade now pressing into her throat. The ugly, raw scars above them filled her vision. She was staring into a sniper’s crosshairs.

“Aren’t you pretty,” Bullseye cooed, stepping closer to tower over her. “You’re Twelve’s nurse friend, aren’t you?”

“His name,” Claire spat through gritted teeth, her voice shaking with fury and fear, “is Matthew.”

“BULLSEYE!”

Claire smiled, jutting out her chin. “Speak of the Devil.”

Bullseye beamed at her, then, too fast for her to resist or understand, he had wrenched her around so her back was pressed against his chest. The blade reappeared with a bite, pinning her arms. The syringe was grabbed from her hand, its point held poised over her neck. A small part of her brain noted the dose was too high for her. Dangerous.

She could see Matt. He couldn’t run, but that wasn’t stopping him. One hand kept him upright against the wall as he forced himself faster, his fear hidden under a rage Claire knew was stronger than any painkiller. Despite his slightly hunched posture, his bare feet and flimsy tshirt, he looked every bit the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen. He didn’t need the black suit or the horned mask to instil fear. He wore menace like an aura. A silent promise that he would not fail. He would not give up.

Claire smiled, a tear leaping from her lashes.

Bullseye pressed his cheek against hers, his voice low and honeyed. “Do you really think he can save you?” The syringe pierced her skin, sinking slowly into her flesh. “He can’t save anyone,” he purred. “Isn’t that right, Twelve?”

“It’s okay, Matt,” she breathed, fear eroding fury. “Love you.”

Matt snarled something as the plunger forced the sedative into her bloodstream. Blackness pulled her down into Bullseye’s arms and the blade slid along her skin. The pain was a distant flicker, unimportant, barely felt. The last thing Claire saw was Matt pushing himself away from the wall and charging towards her. His shout echoed in her ears as the world was extinguished, the terror in his voice her last connection to it before the nothingness rushed in and drowned her.

“CLAIRE!”

Chapter Text

            Claire’s heartbeat plummeted a second before she did. She hit the floor solidly, her head thwacking against the tile and Bullseye’s laughter was too loud and Matt’s bare feet slapped against the floor and he could not hear her heart. Fear fed his rage and it burst from his lips in a vicious roar as he barrelled towards Bullseye. The long knife – Jasper, Bullseye always cooed – scraped as it was sheathed, the sound deadened by Claire’s blood. Before the flat note could fade into silence a high zinging filled the air as a smaller, handleless blade zoomed through the air, quickly followed by five more in shocking succession.

            Matt lurched clumsily to the side, growling as his body refused to react fast enough. He dodged two of the shuriken, managed to bat a third away without sacrificing a finger, but the final three all sliced fresh blood into the air. One bit over his shoulder, missing his neck by inches of pure luck, another ripped through his tshirt and then his skin, slicing effortlessly between two of his lower ribs. The third thudded squarely into his gut and stayed there like a burr, injecting fire through the severed muscle and spilling blood and momentarily holding Matt’s breath hostage. He stumbled, trying not to stretch his left side and aggravate the wound, nearly lost his balance and compensated by pushing off hard from the ground and throwing himself at Bullseye.

            They landed with a resolute thud, the blade wedged between them forcing itself further into Matt’s abdomen as his weight pinned Bullseye down. Pain was coalescing itself into a second opponent but Matt grit his teeth and growled his defiance, unwilling to be beaten, desperate to get Bullseye the hell away from Claire in case he – if she was still –

            He pummelled the agony of those thoughts into Bullseye’s face with his fists, straddling him and unleashing a devil made savage by starvation. Fury swelled in his blood, blotting out the myriad cries from his tearing body, ignoring the warning burn in his chest, the piece of metal still embedded below his ribs. His fists were stone clubs, resolute and unforgiving, pounding into every inch of Bullseye he could reach, determined to beat that godawful smile right off his face. Matt bellowed as Bullseye landed a hit on his wounded side and pulled back just enough to give his next swing more momentum before burying it mercilessly in his face.

            Rage zinged through Matt’s legs as his arms began to falter. He swung himself off of Bullseye and grabbed him by his collar, heaving them both to their feet and ramming his knee into Bullseye’s gut on the way. Steal spiced the air but Matt was too close to dodge; he half-spun enough to level a punishing kick to Bullseye’s ribs, throwing him feet away just as fresh copper painted itself along the side of his arm.

            Matt turned to Claire, knowing Bullseye wouldn’t be distracted long but unable to leave her so exposed. He ducked down and pulled her into his arms, a guttural cry escaping his clenched teeth as fire sparked along his chest as stitches broke against a tsunami of blood. He dragged Claire as quickly as his stinging lungs permitted, hiding her behind the nurses’ station. His own heartbeat was marching too quickly through his skin to feel hers and he could taste a line of blood across her middle and elbow, but he couldn’t tell how deep it was. He laid her gently down, cupping her head with deliberate care. He was just moving two fingers to the pulse point at her neck when Bullseye’s scream rent the air apart, shaking details into a confusing chaos with its intensity.

            “TWELVE!”

            Matt flinched at the sound, a tide of memories lapping at his mind. He didn’t hear the dagger soar through the air over the counter and it was lucky he couldn’t dodge it: it buried itself in the back of his shoulder and had he not been crouched over Claire it would have sunk right into her heart.

            World vanishing under flashes of pain, Matt grabbed blindly at the reception he was hidden behind and found a stapler. Barely pausing to aim he hurled it in the direction of Bullseye’s furious breathing, ducked down to shove Claire under the protection of the counter and threw himself out from the paltry cover. He rolled, dislodging the knife in his clavicle with a silent scream, and letting momentum drag him to his feet.

            The devil was flagging. Rage losing ground to pain. Exhaustion wrapping itself like bindings around his arms, his legs, his lungs. Blood flowed down his back and torso, sticking his tshirt to his skin like hot glue. His heartbeat was warring with the world, shouting in his ears, closing his throat. Begging him to stop. Its march had turned to an eroding presence in his breast, each beat chipping through bone and sinew, hollowing him out so he would cave into himself. He stumbled where he stood, his head bowing as his mind pitched on this drowning tide. He shook himself, willed himself to move. To breathe.

            “TWELVE!” Bullseye howled again, the word contorted in the air by a bleeding smile that sent shivers along Matt’s unstable spine. “Let’s finish this!”

            Matt spat blood and grinned, his teeth coated in copper.

            “You want me, Bullseye?” he said quietly, each word laced with goading contempt, raising his arms to either side. “Take your best shot.”

            With a roar, Bullseye obliged, his silhouette contorting under its haze of blood and sweat, and a metal baton sped like a bullet along the hallway, bouncing once against the tile with a resounding clamour to rear up for Matt’s chest. He spun out of the way a split-second too late and, instead of darting right for his heart, it smashed into his side, snapping two ribs before it glanced off and rattled into irrelevance behind him.

            Air abandoned Matt in a packed exodus as the pain bloomed like an ugly flower and he threw a hand out to the wall to steady himself. Bullseye’s footsteps were heavy and unhurried behind him, his breathing tightly controlled as the familiar steely note sang into the air. Matt swallowed. Jasper. He sucked in a paltry gulp of air, the hand braced against the wall curling into a fist while the other reached for the blade stinging in his gut. This was gonna hurt.

            He waited until Bullseye was close enough, feigning defeat as he slumped against the wall. Jasper twirled through the air, conducting its singular solo that chilled Matt’s blood in his veins. Its tip whirled around and around, the high note unbroken in a sickening rhythm only Matt could hear, ebbing and crescendoing in time to its master’s glee. Matt knew the touch of that blade as intimately as he knew the power of his own fists. He wasn’t going to suffer it again.

            “Finally going to kill you, I’m finally going to kill you, Twe-elve, Twe-elve,” Bullseye sang as he sauntered forward, his own rage held tightly in control. Matt’s stomach clenched as the memory tide swelled to storm but he shut it out. He needed to listen. See.

            “Then I’m gonna kill Jes-sie, and then I’m gonna kill Fog-gy, then I’m gonna kill Ka-ren and Lu-key and Dan-ny.”

            Matt swallowed hard, forcing himself to wait, to stay calm. The wall was cold and solid against his forehead. Grounding.

            “Just like I killed nursey, I killed your nursey!”

            With a vicious snarl Matt whipped around, ripping the shuriken from his flesh to hurl it at Bullseye. It spun through the air, droplets of blood spinning away from it like a Catherine wheel before it drove its way into Bullseye’s chest – right above his heart. Bullseye stumbled backwards, his hideous song faltering as he lost his breath and Matt dove after the projectile, fists ready to break bone.

            But Bullseye recovered quickly. And he’d been expecting an attack. After all, he spent months playing with him. He knew all of Matt’s moves.

            Jasper’s hilt struck Matt’s temple with enough force to erase the entire world but Matt clung to consciousness even as his body collapsed. Bullseye caught him and rammed him back against the wall, pinning him there with an arm pressed firmly against his throat. Matt pulled lethargically on the immovable grip, desperate to breathe, tried to kick out at Bullseye’s legs but he couldn’t find them, and there was no power to the strikes. Bullseye pressed harder and Matt slumped, suffocating, his world reduced to pain and blood and the stench of Bullseye’s smiling breath, saliva-soaked lips inches from his own.

            “You always think you can win, don’t you Twelve?” he hissed, swatting Matt’s feeble punch away like a fly. “You always think you can get back up.”

            He set the tip of the long singing blade against the hole left by the throwing star. Matt clenched his eyes against the raw sting, his jaw working futilely to pull in a thimbleful of air.

            “Bullseye –” he rasped, fighting to pull his damn arm away. “You don’t – have to do this. You don’t – ah – you don’t have to be what they – made you.”

            Bullseye leaned in closer and whispered, his voice like molten velvet,

            “They made me perfect, Twelve. Perfect. They gave me a mission. And today I finish it!”

            Bullseye adjusted his grip, the pressure shifting from Matt’s throat to his collarbone, allowing him to suck in a desperate breath – a split-second before his other hand jerked and the knife shoved itself into his abdomen.

            Matt gasped, eyes wide. His head fell back against the wall and he blinked. Frowned. Willed the pain to take a breath so he could too. Bullseye leaned closer, the heat of his body bombarding Matt’s, trapping him against the wall until he could barely sense the rest of the world.

            “You got off easy, Twelve,” Bullseye snarled, the usual sing-song lilt of his voice replaced with naked hate. “They never even left you a scar!” Bullseye jerked forward, throwing his weight into Matt and thrusting his forehead into his face. “You see this? You see this! I never wanted this! They tied me down and set me on fire, they set every single nerve alight and you think you had it bad? Look at me, Twelve!” He shook Matt, pushing the knife in another slow inch. “Look at me! I’m Bullseye! They marked me forever and now they’re all dead and gone and there’s no one to make a mission and all I’m left with is this anger! They made me perfect but I don’t know how to be perfect alone!”

            He pushed Matt again, knocking more air from his lungs and sliding more steel into his gut. Matt could barely breathe now. All he could see was Bullseye’s hatred. His rage. All he could taste was his own blood. All he knew was the silent shrieks of his body as it slowly broke apart. A thousand echoes splintering his mind, coaxing him back to the labs. To being Bullseye’s toy.

“You ever wonder who gnawed all those marks into the bars of your cage?” Bullseye spat, his arm shifting to pressure Matt’s throat again. “That was me, Twelve. I was strong enough, I survived. You got rescued and I was left there with all of them! Your stupid friends saved you and you weren’t even strong enough to be perfect and you think they were evil? You think they hurt you?” He pulled Matt off the wall and shoved him back against it, his head thwacking, the world buffering. The knife and Bullseye’s arm were all that kept him on his feet. “They did nothing to you, Twelve! Nothing! I taught you what pain is! And the lesson –” he withdrew Jasper and Matt slumped, finally able to almost breathe – “doesn’t –” he slid the great knife back into Matt’s abdomen, deeper this time – “end –” he pulled Jasper out again – “here!”

Bullseye shoved the blade back into Matt’s gut, this time clean through, the joint pressure of the wall at its tip and the hilt at his flesh all that stopped it. Matt sagged. Coughed. His heart shuddered. It felt wrong, somehow. Stumbling. Or maybe seizing.

Bullseye was spitting into his ear, his voice as sharp as the knife skewering him to the wall.

“I told you before, Twelve. I never miss.”

Matt felt the knife shudder slightly as Bullseye tightened his grip, the slight squeak of sweat drowned by the fat drops falling like rain onto Matt’s bare feet. The blood was everywhere, even in his lungs. Drowning him.

            Somewhere above his crumbling form, Bullseye spoke.

            “You were never worth their grace, Twelve. You were never worth anything.

            Matt could feel the tension in Bullseye’s hand through the blade. Knew it was about to be wrenched out of him. Knew he was about to die. He was all out of tricks, and second chances. Out of miracles.

            “I disagree, dipshit!”

            Bullseye disappeared, his grip jerking the knife inside him but not pulling it free. He shouted something, but the sound faded weirdly. Before Matt could figure out what had happened he slumped to the ground, mouth opening in a breathless cry as he crumpled around the slat of steel. He tried to raise his head but it made the world spin and sway. One hand moved lifelessly to the hilt protruding from his stomach. Blood pulsed against his fingers, the rhythm unfamiliar. Erratic. Maybe that was why his chest felt so numb. Maybe his heart was stopping.

            Someone above him shouted something but the words were lost to the hot pressure in his ears. Hands grabbed him roughly, pulled him up in a familiar embrace, his head lolling against a soothing shoulder that smelled of smoke and whiskey.

            Jessica.

            Relief bloomed in his chest and spread a soothing warmth through his whole body, tempering the thunderstorm of pain vying for his attention. He grinned up where he judged her face was and forced his lungs to accept a full breath.

            “Jess,” he croaked, his grin splitting his lip. He barely noticed the fresh tang of blood.

            “Jesus Christ I leave you alone for five fucking minutes!”

            He managed one short laugh before his throat was consumed with hot copper.

            “Jesus, Matt, don’t speak, okay? Just breathe. Shit. Ow. Fuck.”

            She was tilting away from him, maybe looking over her shoulder, maybe limping. Was Bullseye still here? Where was he? Where were they?

            A low whistle broke through the irregular thudding in his ears and Matt opened his mouth to warn Jessica, but he was too slow. Whatever it was hit her – in the leg, he thought – and she fell to the ground. Matt tumbled out of her arms, the knife jerking horribly as he half-rolled to a stop. He spat blood and struggled to fight the blackness wrenching him into a cold embrace.

            “Oooooh!” Bullseye sang, “Jessie’s come back to play!”

            A hand gripped Matt’s arm. Jessica’s fervent whisper was close behind.

            “I swear I won’t let him touch you again, Matt. I’m ending this.”

            He tried to tell her no, to run, to leave him, but he couldn’t find his tongue under all the blood. He wasn’t sure what was happening anymore. It sounded like people were already fighting. There was a high squeal of bending metal and a sun exploded into being far, far away and Matt grinned as Jessica ran toward it.

            He wasn’t alone.

            He pushed himself onto his side and forced himself to see.

            Four heartbeats. One was his enemy, two were friends. The fourth was his lifeline. Over the stench of blood wafted the familiar scents of mahogany and marble, cedar and aftershave, lavender and whiskey. Sweat and pain and a pervasive tang of chemicals.

            Someone crashed into the wall and flakes of plaster reigned down. Someone else converged down on the fallen and pulled them into a hug – no, that was Luke crushing Bullseye? Or Danny pulling Jess to her feet? Shoes squeaked, zips whistled, blades sang. The sun imploded. An ear-splitting shriek offered momentary clarity – just enough for Matt to see Bullseye standing alone, one arm raised around a bloodied knife, Jessica falling to the side in front of him.

            A fresh terror hit Matt like a whip. He pushed himself to his knees, blood falling from his lips, his chest, dripping from the hilt in his abdomen. It was slick under his hands and knees, just waiting to make him fall.

He didn’t. He heaved himself to his feet, steady and straight-backed, his breath like punches. He stood at the end of the hallway and held his arms out to his sides, though they refused to raise fully.

“Bullseye,” he called, and he halted, knife poised over Jessica as Luke rushed behind him. Danny was slumped against the wall, unconscious or dazed Matt wasn’t sure. Someone was bleeding. Bullseye looked up at him and even from this distance Matt could hear the sneer, the waiting giggle.

It was enough. Jessica lashed out with her foot, hitting Bullseye squarely in the groin. He doubled over and before he could recover Luke had his arms wrapped tightly around him. Matt stumbled back a step as Jessica rose to her feet.

“This one’s for Matt you sadistic son of a bitch,” Jessica spat. She drew back her arm and punched Bullseye, who instantly went limp in Luke’s arms.

With a satisfied half-smile, Matt collapsed.

Chapter Text

 

            He came to amid an attack of bloody coughing as Jessica pulled him into her arms. The tip of the knife still in him grated delicately against the tile as she moved him and he made an odd, wet, rasping sound. Jessica swore and cradled him carefully against her chest, keeping him far enough off the ground to offer a paltry relief from the agony snarling in his abdomen.

            “You’re such an asshole,” she sniffed, one hand hovering over him, unsure whether his chest or his gut was bleeding more. Was she crying? “I thought you were dead. Again.”

            “Jessie,” he gasped, smiling up at her. A great weight was pressing into his chest, squeezing his lungs. His heart was trembling under it, unable to escape the crushing pressure. It still felt wrong. Weak. Thready. Stumbling along its unsteady march as though it might falter into stillness at any moment.

            “Don’t speak,” she whispered, her voice rough from coughing. A drop of salty warmth splashed onto his cheek. He tried to raise a hand to wipe her tears away but she grabbed his wrist and held it down before returning to stem the bloodloss. “Just lie still you moron.”

            His grin widened. “S’okay, Jessie. Promise. Be ... be okay.”

            The world faded as she sniffed again. Cold darkness gathered around him, pulling him away from her warm embrace. She shook him and the pain brought him back.

            “Don’t you fucking dare die on me again you asshole!”

            He smirked. “Jus’ kidding.”

            She half-laughed, half-sobbed. “You’re such an asshole, Matt.” Another tear fell onto his forehead.

            He tried to catalogue their surroundings, but his very mind seemed numb. He remembered the snap of Bullseye’s neck under Jessica’s fist and dim panic flared in his chest.

            “Bu-Bullseye,” he panted, eyes searching, ears straining. He couldn’t hear anything past Jessica’s frantic heartbeat. “I-is he –?”

            “He’s alive, Matt. I didn’t kill him.” She shifted her weight slightly, a pained breath hissing past her teeth. “For you.”

            The panic faded, pulling him deeper into Jessica’s hold.

            “Thank you. It c-could’ve been me, Jess. He could’ve been me.”

            “I know, Matty. I know.”

            She held him tighter. Her lips pressed against his forehead. He took a moment to battle the haze of agony from his mind. He wasn’t done yet. He needed to think.

            “Claire,” he breathed. The fresh wave of fear should’ve hurt more. He should hurt more.

            “She’s alive,” Jess said quickly. “Luke’s got her. She’s alive, Matt.”

            He sighed. Melted a little further into Jess’s arms. He felt so heavy. The world kept swaying on a shifting axis, tethered to him only by the sting of his blood and the fire pooling where it swelled. It was so comfortable here, in Jessica’s arms. Cosy. Safe. Despite how tremulously his heart beat. He just wanted to fall asleep here and not worry about nightmares. Maybe not have dreams at all.

            “Matt? Matt, you gotta stay awake for me, okay? Please.”

            He nodded weakly. Opened his eyes. He didn’t remember closing them.

            “It’s over now, Matt. For real. We got him.”

            “So much,” he sighed, “drama ... o-over me.”

            Jessica snorted above him and winced. “Yeah, yeah, it was. But you’re worth it, Matt.” She tightened her grip on his shoulders. “You always were. And you’re safe now.” She sniffed. Coughed. “Finally.”

            Matt made the mistake of chuckling. Something else ripped inside his chest and the world winked into blackness for a moment. Jessica returned with a kiss.

            “Jess?” he mumbled.

            “I’m here, Matty.”

            He smiled. “You’re my h-hero.”

            Her laugh was a breeze that swept the pain away long enough for him to join in.

            “You’re such a sap,” she sighed, her hair tickling the side of his face. For the first time he registered the note of pain in her voice, the slight wheeze chasing the words. Semi-dried blood clung to the stench of smoke that surrounded her.

            “You hurt?”

            “Ugh, I’m fine! Just stop talking, will you? Fuck’s sake where are all the freaking doctors in this place!”

            The corner of his mouth twitched upwards.

“You’re hurt,” he accused.

She shifted her weight, incidentally drawing him closer into her chest.

“I’m alright. Melvin’s fancy jacket upgrade may have saved my life. A bit ... Twice.”

He did his best to smile that wide grin that always made her heart skip.

“Just shut up, Princess.”

He frowned. “Prefer Rocky.”

She snorted. “Princess Rocky, then.”

Matt just smiled and closed his eyes. He wasn’t gonna win this one.

“Okay, Jones.” He nodded weakly. “Okay.”

“Matt?”

“Mm?”

“Stay awake.”

“Mm.”

“Stay awake.”

“I am awake, Jones,” he meant to say, but all that came out was a sleepy mumble. It was so quiet here. Jessica’s heart was beating a harbour around him. He wasn’t even sore anymore. All the pain was just ... flowing away. Or was that his blood?

“Matt! Stay awake!”

He smiled for her, heaved his eyelids open. With immense effort, he dragged his hand up to cover hers around Jasper’s hilt. Blood cooled on her skin. He could just feel her heart thrumming through the contact. He took an oddly unpainful breath and sighed contentedly.

He closed his eyes ...

 

Chapter Text

            Foggy felt heavy. Weighted. As though every muscle and bone were attached to invisible dumbbells hanging off him. Every thought had to beat a track through the bog of his mind and half of them didn’t make sense by the time they were formed. But he was officially no longer behind on work. Granted, he most likely would be by tomorrow afternoon, but for tonight he could rest soundly in the knowledge that his career was temporarily not only safe, but respectable.

            That was, until he made the mistake of flicking through his news app in the taxi on the way home.

            There’d been a fire. An entire apartment block had gone up in roaring flames, with an explosion blowing a chunk of the west face of the façade clean off, injuring dozens of onlookers.

            If it had been anywhere else in Hell’s Kitchen, Foggy would’ve quelled the empathy squirming in his gut and gone home, kissed Marci, and collapsed into bed. If he was lucky he’d managed to hang up his suit because ironing was the worst. But the apartment was barely one block from Metro-General. From Matt. Whose senses were properly on the mend now and so would be unable to shut out all that screaming for a saviour. Plus there were some reports of certain superpowered celebrities. And Jessica. So Foggy had told the cab driver to make a U-turn, sat up straighter in his seat, and tried to wake himself up.

            Walking through the hospital did it. The entire first floor was like the inside of an anthill, a throng of barely coordinated motion with all the complexity and none of the grace of a flock of starlings. Even half a building away from the ER, smoke hung thickly in the air, almost visible, horribly smellable. Foggy’s stomach flipped as a far more barbeque-esque scent clawed at his nostrils. He escaped quickly to the elevator and hit the button for Matt’s floor.

            He was gonna be in a bad way. Foggy hoped he wasn’t bringing the stench of burn victims into the ward on his clothes. He couldn’t remember who was on duty tonight. He thought maybe Luke, which was good. He was a grade-A distractor, and he’d read about as many fancy social books as Matt had – even more, since some of them weren’t available in Braille or as audiobooks ‘cause the world was trash when it came to disabled accessibility. Claire had been in tonight too, he was pretty sure. There’d been a death bath planned, so she might have hung around to help keep Matt calm. Worst (best) case scenario, if Matt hadn’t been able to shut out the fire Claire could’ve sedated him. Which Matt would hate, but, better unconscious than stuck suffering through all of that.

            Foggy rubbed a hand across his face just as the doors dinged open. He stepped over the threshold, let his hand flop to his side – and stopped dead.

            Blood. Everywhere. Splattered on the walls. Great thick smears of it on the floor, like a body had been cut open and dragged.

            Danny was leaning against the wall outside Matt’s room, panting, looking singed and soot-soaked. He was cradling his left arm gingerly, standing over –

            Holy shit.

            Foggy stepped forward, transfixed. That had to be Bullseye. There was no mistaking that godawful scar on his forehead. He was slumped, unconscious, by the wall, his hands held securely behind his back by – what the hell? – an IV pole. It bent in artificial handcuffs around his wrists, then curved up and around his neck, which lolled at an uncomfortable-looking angle. Blood dripped sluggishly from his temple where a massive bruise was forming. More blood marred the white shirt he wore under a black bomber jacket.

            Dazed, Foggy tore his eyes away and saw Luke behind the nurses’ station, crouched over Claire. His stomach dove right down to the basement as he wandered over. Luke’s hoodie was sodden, held firmly against Claire’s torso and she – she looked –

            “Claire, baby, please.” Luke was almost crying. Foggy had never heard him plead before. Never heard him sound desperate. “Wake up. Wake up, Claire. Please.”

            Foggy knelt on her other side. Luke turned wide, brimming eyes on him and he looked away quickly, the raw emotion in his gaze far too real, too tangible, to weather. The sleeve of his tshirt had been burnt away, the edge frayed and charred. Claire looked dead. Her expression was so calm despite the blood staining her scrubs. It made a pool around her, like she’d just fallen in a thick red puddle. Wishing he’d stayed in the goddamn cab, Foggy pressed two fingers into her throat.

            And sagged in relief.

            “She’s alive,” he croaked, looking up at Luke. “She’s breathing.”

            “Why won’t she wake?” Luke asked, sounding nothing like the bulletproof hero he was. He sounded like a little kid meeting death for the first time.

            Foggy shrugged, helpless. A faint shimmer caught his attention. A syringe lay against the skirting board at the end of the giant blood smear that must all be Claire’s. He pointed to it.

            “Maybe she’s sedated?” It looked like the syringes she used on Matt, anyway.

            A tear leaped from Luke’s lashes. He nodded, looked back to Claire. Tightened his grip on his soaked hoodie.

            “I’ll get help,” Foggy muttered distractedly. He stood up. “I’ll find someone, I’ll –”

            “Matt! Stay awake!”

            Foggy’s blood stilled in his veins. Jessica Jones was sobbing.

            Terrified, unable to flee, Foggy walked around the nurses’ station, following a heavy trail of fat red droplets. Jessica was at the end of the hallway with her back to him, kneeling in a red lake, holding Matt in her arms, his legs splayed out from her like a ragdoll.

            Without wanting to, Foggy followed the blood to Jessica. The side of her jacket was ripped, revealing fine armour shining beneath the black fabric. Her skin was grimy with soot, the dark smudges stark against the paleness of her skin. Her leg was bleeding, dripping into the sea of Matt’s –

            There was a knife in Matt. Right through. The hilt trembling slightly. His hand was at its base, wrapped around Jessica’s as thick black blood oozed around them. A darker stain drenched his chest, a brighter red falling forgetfully from his shoulder and side.

            Pain burst in Foggy’s knees as he fell by Matt’s side. His eyes were closed, his mouth slightly open. His brow etched with pain. Foggy reached a shaking hand to smooth the deep lines. Matt’s skin was cold. His hair matted with blood and sweat. Foggy met Jessica’s swimming gaze.

            “H-he’s dead?” he whispered. It was more of a sob than a question.

            Jessica’s expression wavered for a fraction of a second, shaking tears free to carve white lines through the grime. Then she scowled, her expression set and determined.

            “Not on my fucking watch he’s not.”

            Foggy just stared at her, dimly registering he was crying too, as she heaved herself, snarling, to her feet. He followed suit as though in a dream, as though none of this was really happening. It was too awful to be real. Surely. Matt couldn’t handle all this on top of everything else he’d endured. He couldn’t – could he survive this?

            Fat burgundy droplets fell from the tip of the knife to splat resolutely against the tiled floor. Jessica stumbled as she carried Matt back toward the others and Foggy kept his arms out in case she fell. She looked far too angry to fall.

            “Luke! Danny!” she shouted, slipping slightly in all the blood. “Get the tank!”

            Foggy’s hear sank to meet his stomach. “Jessica.” She didn’t turn. “Jessica!” he grabbed her shoulder and she spared him a furious glance. Another tear slipped from the corner of her eye.

            “His heart, Jess,” Foggy whispered helplessly. “He can’t take it.”

            A muscle feathered in her jaw. “He can take it.”

            Claire was limp in Luke’s arms as he brought her into Matt’s room, her hair swinging with a beauty utterly at odds with the horror of the scene.

            “We gotta be quick,” Jessica said, her tone brittle. “Danny, get me the heart monitor thing.”

            He pulled it over, keeping his injured arm cradled against his chest.

            “Are you sure about this, Jess?” he muttered as she laid Matt down beside the tank.

            “You see any doctors?” she snapped. “It’s his only chance.”

            Foggy stood at the door, feeling every bit as paralysed as he had the day Jessica brought him to see his best friend back from the dead in Trish Walker’s apartment. He wanted to step forward and help, hold Matt’s hand but he ... couldn’t.

            The sound of Matt’s tshirt ripping was far too loud. Visceral. Jessica dumped it aside and there was an audible splat. A line of dark droplets arced away from it as though trying to escape. Foggy couldn’t even see the hole in his chest. The blood was too thick. Too dark.

Luke pulled Claire’s scrubs up far more carefully, revealing a neat, clean gash along her ribs, just under the rim of her bra.

            Foggy looked away. He shouldn’t be seeing Claire’s bra.

            Danny helped Jess stick the electrodes to what remained of Matt’s chest. Luke scooped a great handful of goop from the tub and smeared it tenderly across Claire’s cut, smoothening it into the blood until the softly shining white gel turned a delicate pink. The cut extended to her elbow, and Luke added more goop. The bleeding stopped.

            “Danny, I need you to find us some freaking doctors,” Jessica said as she heaved Matt back into her arms. The knife wiggled. Foggy’s stomach squirmed. Matt’s hand hit the rim of the tub as Jessica stepped forward, his knuckle knocking audibly against the moulded edge and god, it sounded painful and somehow, Foggy’s paralysis broke. He was by the tub in moments, Matt’s hand in his, the other hovering uselessly as Jess lowered him slowly into the K’ní-seum.

            As soon as her arms were covered in the white gel, Jessica hissed in pain. Matt trembled in her grip, then shook as the gel sucked above her elbows and Foggy wondered if she’d been burned.

            “I got him,” he said quickly, plunging his own hands into the goop and supporting Matt’s head above it. Intense pins and needles pummelled his arms, occasional stabbing pains shot along his muscles. He grit his teeth and ignored it. It was barely a papercut compared to what the others were enduring.

            Nodding in defeat, Jessica withdrew her arms, desperately shaking the stinging gel from her skin. Matt was completely submerged now, save his head. The very end of the knife’s handle was just visible below the gel line, a small black circle lurking like a shark under surf. Foggy shifted his grip on Matt’s neck and tried not to see how slack, how empty his features were.

            How dead he looked.

            Danny flicked a switch and an high-pitched, erratic beeping lanced into the room. It sounded like something falling down a staircase, haphazard and uncertain. The regular note somehow too quiet, too timid. Arrhythmic. Matt’s head lolled in his grip and Foggy forced his hand to steady. His lungs to breathe.

            The heart monitor was having a fit. Luke whispered encouragement to Claire. Danny hesitated on the threshold, scared to leave, afraid to stay. The hilt shifted as Matt’s body settled into the tub.

            Stillness oozed between them like blood in the hallway. A macabre parody of calm. Deceptive. Untrustworthy.

            Broken as Matt tensed in Foggy’s grip, his mouth opening as he screamed. His eyes were wide and static, staring, unfocused, and utterly vacant. His jaw popped under the strain of his pain and it was all Foggy could do to hold him steady as he seized in the tub, the thick gel sloshing sluggishly against the walls of the bath, the black oval of the hilt shivering and darting just beneath the surface as though baying for escape.

            Jessica’s fists appeared on the edge of the tub. It squealed sharply as her grip warped the metal to the imprint of her hands. Matt’s eyes began wandering, more sightless than they had ever been. His mouth remained open as his scream faded, none of the tension leaving his jaw as his lungs fought for air that wasn’t there. Foggy could feel him shrivelling, suffocating in his hands and all he could do was watch through swimming eyes as his best friend fought to live. Fought alone, when it came down to it.

            Always alone.

            Jessica disappeared in a flurry of raven hair and torn leather, returning seconds later to fit an oxygen mask over Matt’s gaping mouth. His eyes were still wide, eyebrows raised as though every single muscle was seizing.

            “I-it’s okay, Matt,” Foggy stammered, his voice weak and breathy to his own ears. “You can do this. I’m here, buddy. We’re here. You can do this. I’m right here!”

            Like a drowning man breaching the surface, Matt inhaled.

 

~

 

            Luke’s eyes itched. His throat scratched with every breath, sawing down to tickle his lungs in a ceaseless prelude to a cough that refused to come. The hospital was finally quiet again. All the victims of Bullseye’s fire were either dead or drugged into temporary peace.

            It’d been a long night.

            He’d showered while Claire was under the knife. The water had run black. His skin should’ve stung and burned from all it had been through. But he felt none of it. Just the slightest pressure of water sluicing over his back, tumbling down his sides. He remembered showers being a lot more soothing before, but even that memory now was more like that of a dream than the life he had once led.

            He gave his head a shake, determined not to doze off. Relaxed his posture from his prayer and scooped Claire’s hand into his. Ran his thumbs over her soft skin. So delicate, compared to his. Vulnerable.

            He’d almost lost her today. God only knows how close that nightmare came. And he’d been a complete asshole to her, before Matt got shot. Losing himself in his fight against Mariah. Losing her to his own pride. Well. Not anymore.

            Her fingers twitched in his hand. He stared down at them for a minute, his foggy brain taking a long time to add two and two. It wasn’t until her fingers curled around his that he looked up to her face.

            Relief flowed from tension like water escaping a container. Claire was awake. And her eyes had never been so beautiful.

            “Hey,” he whispered, leaning forward and beaming at her, bringing her hand up to his lips to kiss.

            She smiled and the ache in his heart eased. “Hey.” She yawned, stretching slightly in the bed and frowned. “Ow.”

            “You might wanna take it easy. You took quite a hit.”

            She turned her head to him, her expression quizzical. Then memory swept behind her eyes and they widened in fear.

            “Matt,” she breathed, her grip on his hand suddenly fierce.

            He smiled. “He’s okay. He pulled through.” She didn’t need to know he was in surgery now. She’d only worry.

            Claire melted into the mattress. Dragged her other hand over her middle, her brow furrowed in pain. Maybe she needed another dose of morphine.

            “And that psycho?” she mumbled.

            “We got him. Brett and Misty aren’t letting him out of their sight. He’s under guard, somewhere. Foggy’s gonna try have him moved to another hospital. Doesn’t want Matt listening to anything he says.”

            Claire nodded, eyes slipping closed. She snuggled a little deeper into the blankets, not letting go of Luke’s hand.

            “Claire?” he whispered, not sure she was still awake. She hummed. “Claire, I’m ... I’m so sorry I wasn’t there. I should’ve been there.”

            She opened her eyes and considered him. “But you came.”

            He blinked his eyes clear. “Too late.”

            She shook her head slowly against the pillow. “Doesn’t sound like it.”

            “You almost died, Claire.”

            Bizarrely, she chuckled, his favourite smile stretching across her face.

            “What? How is that funny?” He glanced to the banks of machines around her as though he could suddenly understand them. “How much morphine they give you?”

            “Now you know,” she said quietly. He looked back to her, confused. “That’s how it feels.”

            Oh. Oh.

            He kissed her hand again. “I’m sorry.”

            “Me too.” A pause. “How’s Matt?”

 

 

            It took him three days to wake up. Even after all the transfusions he remained pale. Somehow Jess looked even worse than he did, though. She was almost healed herself, physically, but Luke suspected she wouldn’t truly start to recover until she could call Matt an asshole to his face again.

            There was no rota anymore. The need for bodyguards was locked up in a prison hospital, awaiting a trial Foggy said would take months to action. But Luke couldn’t quite bring himself to let a day pass without at least checking in, and not just because he was in the hospital every day for Claire anyway. She had told them what happened, everything she remembered of the fight. CSI had pieced together a little more. Luke didn’t need the evidence to understand, though. He’d seen the thick knife sprouting from the bloody tile where Claire had fallen. He knew Matt had saved his love. And there were no words for that.

            But that doesn’t mean you don’t try.

            Exhaustion hung like an aura around him. When Luke walked in Matt held up a feeble hand in greeting, smiling under the oxygen mask. Luke gripped his hand for a moment before letting it flop back to the bed, and sat down.

            “Claire?” His voice wasn’t getting any stronger. Still carried the rasp of being choked.

            “She’s doing better,” he said quietly. Loud noises gave Matt migraines these days. “Says the doctors here don’t know shit and she’d be home already if they’d just listen to her and sign her release.”

            Matt’s grin widened and he closed his eyes a moment. His version of laughing. He nodded once, his relief obvious.

            “She, uh, also told me what happened. When we were in the fire.”

            Matt turned his head to look at him, the eyes staring past his shoulder impassive. Carefully emotionless.

            “’M sorry, Luke,” he mumbled. “I should’ve –”

            “No, no, no,” Luke said quickly, leaning forward in his chair and fixing Matt with a serious gaze he hoped he could sense. Just in case he couldn’t, he took his hand and pressed two of his fingers into his own wrist. “Matt, we saw the hallway. All the knives and shit Bullseye used. We know you saved her life.”

            The pressure on his wrist increased momentarily, and Luke forced his heartbeat to beat the message loud and clear.

            Matt grinned again. “She saved me first.” His eyes closed. “Always does.”

            Luke stayed by Matt’s side until he had fallen asleep, leaving his hand against his wrist and praying that now, finally, his friend could get some rest.

 

~

 

            Claire had a new-found respect for hospital patients. Being stuck in a bed all day sucked far more than she had ever understood. And she was only on day five when she was finally cleared to go home. Thank God for Luke’s cooking. If she’d been forced to eat the flavoured cardboard that passed for food in Metro-General she would’ve rioted. Today, she was looking forward to escaping back to a room without fluorescent lights where she would be pampered for the next week. At least.

            But first she had a blind vigilante to visit.

            “How you feeling?” she asked, eying him dubiously. His colour was slowly returning. His energy not far behind. It would still be a long while before it would be safe to step him down into her clinic, nevermind releasing him back into the wilds of Hell’s Kitchen.

            “Great,” he lied fluidly, his eyes alight with that special spark Claire couldn’t help but smile at. It was a glimmer of his old self, the pre-Midland Circle Matt who was mischievous and playful as he was stubborn and determined. It was good to know that side of him was still in there. Maybe now Bullseye was in custody it could finally come back out.

            “You know I know that’s bullshit, right?” Claire said as she sank gingerly into the chair by his bedside. “Even without watching your heartbeat lie.” She gestured to the heart monitor on the other side of the bed and smirked. “Even playing field, Mike.”

            His chuckle was low and sounded as drained as he looked, but it was still the best thing she’d heard all day.

            “It’s good to see you,” he whispered, his voice thick with sincerity. Claire reached for his offered hand and held it, her smile softening into something rarer.

            “Back atcha. You really had me worried. Again.”

            “And you scared me half to death,” he countered. “Call it even?”

            Claire snorted. “I wouldn’t say that, but, now you mention it ...” She hesitated, searching for the words to rightfully convey the revelation she had felt that day in the hall under Bullseye’s knife.

            “I think I get it now,” she ventured. “What drives you. I don’t think I really understood it before. Sure, we both want to help people, but I never really understood what made you risk yourself like you have before now. Now I have a better idea.”

            Predictably, Matt avoided her eye, frowning uncomfortably and squirming slightly under the fluffy blanket that had somehow survived all the craziness that had surrounded it. Just as well, Jessica had bitched about the price for hours.

            “Claire,” he said slowly, his frown deepening just as it had all those years ago at his kitchen table when she had first pulled his hand over her heart. The way it did when he was trying to understand something other people grasped easily. “What you did for me –”

            “Was nothing less than you’ve done for me. And God knows how many others.”

            He shook his head once, thick brows pulling together. “No, I need to say this. What you did, I – no one’s ...” He exhaled sharply through his nose, his eyes roaming for the words evading him. “I know it’s not easy,” he tried again, his gaze sweeping back to settle on her shoulder. “Knowing me. I know I’m ... a lot. And I guess I’m still not ... used ... to having, y’know, people. A f-family. But you ... The night we met you saved my life because you’re good. Kind. Capable.”

            Claire hoped her blush wasn’t as obvious to him as it was to her.

            “And that day, with Bullseye ... Claire, you could’ve died.” The next words caught in his throat. “For me. And I – you, ah, damn it.” He took a steadying breath and closed his eyes around a wince, one hand twitching towards the bandages covering his abdomen. “You’re the hero everyone forgets everyone needs. I’d be dead a hundred times over if it weren’t for you, Claire, and when you left me in that closet, when he was out there ... I guess I understand you better now, too. And I don’t ... know ... how to ... deserve that. Or repay it. Except to say I’ll always come for you, when you need me. And,” he gripped her hand more tightly, his eyes bright with sincerity as tears skipped down her cheeks. “Thank you, Claire.”

            The silence following his words held for several heartbeats as something blisteringly bright swelled in Claire’s chest. She broke it with a self-conscious laugh as she wiped her cheeks dry.

            “Jesus, Matt,” she said, her voice hitching slightly. She let her hand fall to her thigh with a slap. “I mean, you practice that or something? Jesus.”

            He beamed. “I may have run it past an imaginary jury once or twice.”

            Laughing pulled on her stitches and Claire braced her hand along the hidden bandage, squeezing Matt’s hand reassuringly at his eyebrows quirked in concern.

            “We need to get you back in court,” she said sagely. “Prosecution’s not gonna stand a chance.”

            Humour simmered into quiet gratitude, anchored by their joined hands. Claire leant forward and kissed his forehead, lingering for a moment because he was a miracle who had transformed her life into something extraordinary. Into something where she got to save the day. Like a superhero.

            “Thank you, Matt,” she whispered as she pulled away. “For saving my life. And for changing it.”

 

~

 

            Jessica flopped face-first onto Trish’s couch with a long, drawn-out groan. One arm draped over the side and Trish laughed at the sight.

            “So is that a no to wine?”

            A very muffled, very menacing grumble rose from the mess of black hair, sounding vaguely like, “Pour or die.” Still chuckling, Trish poured one generous glasses of red wine and grabbed a can of soda for herself. Then she sat slowly down on the couch, forcing a loudly-whining Jessica to move her legs lest they be squished. Once slouched in a semi-vertical position, Jessica downed half the wine in one go and grimaced.

            “Ugh, you got the expensive shit. What’s wrong with cheap stuff?”

            Trish stared at her for a long, trying moment. “Sometimes I can’t believe we’re even friends. We’re celebrating, Jess.”

            Jessica harrumphed. “Yeah. Celebrating.”

            “Don’t give me that,” Trish said, a bite to her tone. “You saved the day and the boy, what else do you want?”

            “How about not having nightmares about people burning alive or falling through flames or me kil–” She stopped herself, a familiar line deepening between her eyebrows. Trish waited while she knocked back another gulp of wine like it was beer. “Or me killing that asshole.”

            A week. It had taken a whole week for her to voice this. By her standards, that was lightning fast.

            “Did you want to?” Trish asked quietly, not looking directly at her. Jessica could be easily spooked by eye contact when attempting emotions.

            “More than anyone but him,” she said simply, but the tension in her jaw betrayed the weight of the words. “I’d thought about it. The whole time Matt was recovering – the first time – that I wanted to kill whoever did that to him. Then Bullseye came on the scene and fucked with me and then went after Matt – twice – and it was like, like a tick. Or an itch. I needed him dead, Trish.”

            “So what stopped you?”

            Jessica threw her a contemptuous glance. “You know.”

            Trish only raised her eyebrows, forcing her to say it.

            “Matt, okay? It’s always Matt. You know that moron felt bad when his psycho ex slaughtered IGH? How was he gonna handle his new girlfriend killing someone right in front of him, no matter how much they deserved it?”

            Trish shifted her weight on the couch and took a sip of soda.

            “He would’ve forgiven you, you know,” she said quietly. “If he can forgive Elektra for everything she put him through – and I’m betting we barely know the half of it – then he’d definitely forgive you. If you had.”

            Jessica shook her head, frowning. “Yeah but he would’ve done it for me, not for himself. I didn’t want to do that to him.”

            Trish couldn’t quite hide her grin behind her can and Jessica scowled at her.

            “What?”

            “Nothing.”

            “What’s with the face?”

            “It’s just,” Trish relented, beaming openly now, “it’s nice. You and him. You’re good for each other. That’s all.”

            Jessica scoffed half-heartedly and busied her lips with her wine glass before they could give away her smile.

            “Least you got to punch Bullseye out though,” Trish said after a comfortable pause. “That must’ve been satisfying.”

            Jess hummed in agreement. “Kicked him in the balls too.”

            “Ooh. Full strength?”

            “Yup.”

            “Ouch. Poor guy.”

            Jess glared at her. “What? I mean, outside of all the awful shit he did. You’re pretty strong, Jess.”

            She grinned, pleased with herself. “Yeah. I am.”

            “And the nightmares?” Trish ventured carefully. The grin faded.

            “I keep seeing Matt in that hallway, standing up with a freaking knife through his gut. For us. Buying us time right when Bullseye was gonna ... He was barely alive and he still saved my ass.”

            “For you, you mean.”

            Jessica shifted uncomfortably. “I know.”

            Trish plucked at a non-existent thread on her blouse. “It’s okay to be in love, Jess,” she said softly, carefully not looking anywhere near her sister. “You’re allowed be happy.”

            The glass winked in the lamplight as Jessica threw back the last of her drink.

            “Any more of this stuff? ‘S not so bad, really.”

            “Yeah,” Trish chuckled, reaching for the bottle and pretending not to see that rare, sweet smile playing at the corner of Jessica’s mouth. A smile that didn’t exist before Matt. “There’s plenty more.”

Chapter Text

             The razor moved smoothly along his cheek, held securely in a steady hand. Matt dunked it in the water-filled basin and repeated the motion, mowing a final line of scruff down to a more respectable stubble. The ache in his abdomen twinged dully as he rinsed the fine blades, but he ignored it. Standing shouldn’t be painful. He ghosted his other hand over his jaw, checking the evenness of the shave. Satisfied, he bent over and cupped fresh water in his hands. It was cool and crisp against his skin, his sensitivity temporarily increased, cheeks zinging quietly with fresh freedom. He dabbed himself dry with a towel and threw it back to its hook.

             It fell off. Matt bent to retrieve it and a sharp sock of pain lanced from his stab wound to the centre of his chest, stilling the world with brief intensity. He steadied himself with a hand on the wall and concentrated on breathing. Slowly, he straightened. The towel lay abandoned on the floor.

             Matt told himself this was to be expected. Even he had to admit he’d been hurt pretty badly this time around. But that knowledge did nothing to quell the frustration that thrummed in his limbs, a parody of the strength that was so slow to return. With a sigh, he grabbed his walking cane from the corner and stepped slowly out of the wet room into his new (temporary) home.

             Claire’s clinic was certainly an upgrade from the hospital. Its walls were thinner, its footprint smaller. The city sang to Matt easily from all sides, the symphony of voices, footsteps, sirens, and wind as vibrant as all the colours he couldn’t see. It was almost like being home, though he still longed for the quiet familiarity of his loft. He’d almost forgotten what it was like to sleep without a haze of chemicals chasing every breath.

             But he was still two signatures down on his release form. Claire said another two weeks, and Angela, her receptionist, would need more charming to add her name to the semi-official document Foggy had printed out for him. In Braille, so Matt could understand every passive-aggressive requirement.

             At least no one was calling the K’ní-seum ‘death goop’ anymore. After saving his and Claire’s lives it had been upgraded to ‘miracle goo’, which wasn’t better but at least negated the argument of him continuing that treatment. He was almost used to the pain.

             The cane clacked dully against the linoleum, wobbling almost imperceptibly in his grip as he shuffled his way to the bed. Another hospital bed. But it didn’t stink of boredom and painkillers, so that helped. Almost without thinking, Matt raised a hand to the trio of stitched, intertwined gashes on his abdomen, the longest of them just anchored to the thick puckered line Elektra had left him. They would scar soon too. He was already past the need for bandages, but the stitches had to stay another three days, according to Claire, who Matt was pretty sure was just messing with him at this point. He’d never had stitches in this long before, save the spikey mess keeping his breast together.

             The looming stomping of an imminent Jessica cut his inspection short. She elbowed the door open, carrying something that smelled of fresh silk under the other arm. Her breath was heavy – with either exertion or exasperation he wasn’t sure – and it caught on half-familiar fibres. He cocked his head, grinning at her, and tried to place it.

             “I know I’m late,” she griped before he could say hello. Exasperation then. “I had to spend a good half hour trying not to punch out the stupid sales assistant, and another ten minutes at least to get my head around how stupidly expensive your stupid shirt was.” She threw a thin package to him and he caught it against his chest, inwardly pleased she wasn’t afraid of him shattering at her touch anymore. Those first days after the last surgery had been ... trying. For both of them.

             “I told you Karen put it on hold and paid for it,” he pointed out as he ripped the package open. “All you had to do was pick it up and you volunteered.”

             “Just shut up and let me complain.”

             Matt chuckled. The rhythm of her voice flowing past her chin finally registered with him and he took an investigatory breath through his nose.

             “What’re you sniffing me for, weirdo?” Jess asked as she flopped down onto his bed.

             “You’re wearing your scarf,” he said lightly, trying not to grin too broadly.

             “So? It’s chilly out.”

             “You haven’t worn it since Midland Circle. Right?”

             There was a pause as she swallowed something she didn’t want him to notice.

             “Yeah, well, I couldn’t exactly wear it when you were dead and it wasn’t that cold since we got you back.”

             He tilted his head in confusion. “Why couldn’t you wear it when I was dead?”

             He sensed a glare. “It reminded me of you now will you shut up and put on the stupid fancy shirt?”

             Hoping for Jessica’s sake that his blush wasn’t noticeable, Matt obliged. The shirt was almost all silk, smooth and delicious to his touch. The stitching was so fine he doubted normal people could feel it without searching, the buttons small and satisfyingly round and smooth. Leaning his cane against the side of the bed, Matt pulled it on.

             “What colour is it?”

             “Black. The collar and cuffs are kinda grey-black. Like smoke, but, y’know, prettier.”

             He smirked up at her. “Are you saying I’m pretty, Miss Jones?”

             “I’m saying your shirt isn’t hideous,” she corrected without hesitation. Matt giggled and fastened the last button.

             “Well how not hideous does it make me look?” he asked, holding his arms out a moment, cuffs loose.

             Jessica hummed, considering. She rolled off the bed and came to stand in front of him. Matt forced a blush down and belatedly wished he’d thought to put his glasses on. Jessica had a way of looking at him that he could just feel, unlike with anyone else.

             “Well,” she began, reaching for a wrist and fixing the cuff. “Pretty un-hideous.”

             “Yeah?” he coaxed, offering his other wrist when the first was done.

             “Yeah. A sap might even say you look handsome.” The tiniest hint of heat glowed on her cheeks and Matt’s heart skipped. Thank God he wasn’t hooked up to a monitor anymore.

             “Thank you,” he muttered, catching her hand and drawing her closer for a kiss. He could feel her smile through the contact and the last of his misgivings about today melted away. Jessica’d be there. He’d be fine.

             She pulled away with an almost tangibly happy aura.

             “Get shoes on, we gotta go get this over with.”

             “It’s not gonna be that bad,” Matt said, trying to convince himself as much as Jessica. He sat down on the bed and reached for the shoebox waiting to be opened. A gift from Foggy. “I mean, at the very least it can’t last too long, right?”

             “I dunno,” Jessica muttered darkly. “Danny brought games.”

             Matt let his new shoe drop to the floor with a hollow thunk. He turned horrified eyes on Jessica’s warm silhouette.

             “Oh God no.”

             “Mm-hmm. We’re doomed. But,” she added brightly, coming to sit by his side and scooping the shoe up so he didn’t have to bend. “We do have a secret weapon.”

             Matt frowned in her direction. “We do?”

             “Yep. This party gets too cringy and we pull the healing-hero card and bail.”

             Matt stared at her, appalled, laces held forgotten in his fingers. “You would use my near-fatal injuries as an excuse to get out of a party?”

             “Got it in one,” she said, without a hint of remorse.

             “You’re awful.”

             “Also smart and pretty.”

             He chuckled. “Moral reprehensibility aside, I’m in. This plan is gold. And you’re perfect.” He turned to his other shoe, giving Jessica a private moment to absorb the praise.

             There was a brief pause. Once properly respectable, Matt pushed himself to his feet and reached for the cane. He expected Jessica to follow suit, but she hesitated.

             “What’s up?”

             “I got you a present. It’s not a big deal,” she added quickly.

             Matt tried not to look too surprised. “You didn’t have to do that.”

             “I know. Shut up. Here.”

             She held out a small felt pouch to him. He opened it and a silver chain slithered into his palm, tinkling beautifully. Something heavy that smelled of lead and plastic fell on top of it. He took it in his fingers, frowning. It was familiar.

             “It’s the bullet that couldn’t kill you,” Jessica said just as he recognised the warped, crumpled texture. A shard of plastic hung beside it. “And the piece of cane that saved you. Claire had ‘em. Figured ... figured you could do with the reminder.”

             He turned the broken bullet and fragment of cane in his fingers. “Reminder?”

             “Of how strong you are. Nothing keeps you down. You survived a bullet to the heart, you’ll survive anything. It’s stupid,” she said quickly, her cheeks warming beautifully, “but I figured it was better than some tie or cufflinks, or –”

             He silenced her with a kiss. He didn’t have the words for the gratitude lapping at his heart, or the soft, warm glow that came from being loved by Jessica Jones, so he let the kiss speak for him.

             “Thank you,” he whispered against her when they broke apart, his fingers still holding gently onto her chin. “I love it. I love you.”

             Her chin shifted under his thumb as she smiled.

             “It’s not a big deal. No need to get all sappy over it.”

             Choosing not to point out which of them was the bigger sap today, Matt pulled the fine chain over his head and tucked the amulet under his shirt. It was cool against his skin, the pressure light and delicate. Just like Jessica at her softest.

“Hey, if I compliment you again are you gonna let it go to your head?” she asked, her voice directed to her scarf.

He looked back to her. Two compliments in one day? “Absolutely.”

“Then nevermind.”

“Aw, c’mon Jessie!” He reached a finger to her cheek in a way he knew she hated and was rewarded with a sharp slap to his hand which only made his smile grow.

“Ugh, fine.” Her voice tilted to face him. “Listen, I just – ‘cause it’s today and all and I’m meant to be nice – you just … I think you’re amazing. Okay?” Matt blinked, his smile faltering at the sincerity in her words. “Nothing ever goes right for you but you always keep going, you never give up. Not even for a second. And that’s … that’s pretty incredible. Inspiring, even.”

It took a moment for Matt to thaw from the shock of such naked honesty. When he did he reached for Jessica and she took his hand, standing to face him.

“Some things do go right for me,” he said quietly, taking her hand and kissing it with a soft smile. “But thank you, Jessica. That … It means more than I can say that you think that about me.”

“Yeah, well,” she muttered uncomfortably, a grin clear in her voice, “just don’t let it go to your head.”

He made a show of looking trustworthy. “Wouldn’t dream of it.” A beat. “I’m too amazing for that.”

She slapped his arm and laughter burst from him.

“I’m kidding, I’m kidding,” he said quickly, following her as she turned for the door, laughter sitting comfortably on his lips. “It’s incredible how modest I am – honestly – inspiring, some would say.”

“I am not above locking you in this dinky room all day,” Jess threatened from the threshold. “I don’t care if it’s your birthday, we’ll go celebrate without you.”

“Is that a threat or mercy? Danny brought games.”

“Shut up and get over here, Murdock.”

Chuckling, he obeyed. Her hand slipped into his and together they faced the short corridor connecting his room to the waiting area. Unmistakable sounds of merriment echoed easily down the narrow space and Jessica tightened her grip on his hand.

“What’re we looking at?” she muttered, stepping closer to him rather than out into the hall.

“Takeout from three different restaurants.”

“Okay, not bad.”

“Party trumpet things and those poppers that always scare the shit outta me.”

“Annoying but overall amusing, can’t wait to see you be terrified by a tiny explosion, sounds great.”

“Balloons,” he warned, matching her sass with a tone of impending doom.

“Aw shit.”

“Streamers.”

“Fuck.”

Cake. With candles.”

She buried her face against his shoulder and he had to fight to keep his face straight. He raised her hand with his into an encouraging punch.

“We can do this, Jones. C’mon. We got this.”

“Please tell me there’s booze,” she mumbled into his new shirt.

Matt made a show of tasting the air. “There may be several crates of beer and at least a couple bottles of whiskey. The good stuff, Trish must’ve bought it.”

“Macallan,” Jessica confirmed as she raised her head with the air of one under true hardship to continue. “I told her you liked it.”

Matt didn’t remember ever telling her that. She must’ve asked Foggy. He looked at her, taking a moment to appreciate how sweet she really was, how lucky he was she had chosen him. He leant forward and pressed a kiss into her hair.

“C’mon, Jess. Let’s do this.”

Jessica nodded resolutely and squeezed his hand.

“Into hell,” she grumbled and, laughing, Matt followed her out to his birthday party, where his entire family was waiting for him.

 

~

 

Detective Sergeant Brett Mahoney loved his job. Most of the time. At least, some of the time. Today, though, Brett didn’t have to pretend. Today his job was sweet and satisfying as a sugared latte. Today, after weeks of silence, Benjamin Pointdexter was ready to talk.

Brett breezed through security with a spring in his step. Prison staff weren’t exactly known for their small talk, even within the world of law enforcement, but Brett wasn’t fazed. He was getting a confession today. Once that was on record, all he’d have to do was give voice to the facts once Nelson called him to the stand. Once they had Bullseye’s testimony, the case would be a slam-dunk.

Which is what Murdock deserved. And Brett was determined to do his part to give it to him.

Pointdexter was cuffed to the bar on the table. The orange jumpsuit suited him. Though it did make the gruesome scar on his forehead even more obviously grotesque.

But Brett had seen worse. He slapped the file down on the desk, a dictaphone on top of it, and sat down with barely-concealed smugness.

             “So,” he said by way of greeting. “Heard you wanna talk. That right, Pointdexter?”

             “Bullseye,” he corrected, his eyes bright and raptorial. Brett had seen worse. Just, not many.

             Brett waited for him to continue. He didn’t.

             “You ready to talk about the hospital?” he prompted, leaning back in his chair and exuding nonchalance.

             Pointdexter remained silent.

             “Or IGH? The labs, maybe?”

             Silence.

             Brett heaved a sigh and leant forward. “You got ten seconds before I get up and leave your ass in this windowless cell.”

             Pointdexter just stared at him. His eyes were so pale. Piercing. It would’ve unsettled Brett as a rookie.

             “Right,” Brett said, slapping his hands on his thighs as he got to his feet. “I’m outta here. Have a nice day, Pointdexter. I’m sure if you’re good they’ll let you play darts in the guard room,” he added sarcastically, relishing the fire flashing in those creepy eyes. The chair squealed as he pushed it back. He gathered up the file and recorder and turned his back on Pointdexter.

             “I want to make a deal,” Pointdexter said just as Brett pressed the handle down. Reluctantly. He allowed it to clank back into place.

             He half-turned around. “You do, huh? And what makes you think I’m gonna make a deal with you?”

             Silence. Pointdexter smiled.

             “You realise to make a deal you gotta have something I want, right?” Brett asked dryly.

             “I do have something you want,” Pointdexter said, the words lilting in a half-sung melody.

             Brett pretended to consider it. Gave the murderer a second to think they had him. A moment to believe they needed anything from him.

             “Nah.” Brett turned to leave, clacking the door open and stepping outside.

             “I know some-thing you don’t know,” Pointdexter sang and damn it all, Brett hesitated. Looked back.

             “Oh yeah? And what’s that?”

             Pointdexter’s smile widened, his teeth flashing, eyes bright and teasing. Something cold lurched in Brett’s stomach. His fist tightened around the file as he waited for Bullseye to speak.

             “I know who Daredevil is.”