"So. They, uh… I'm your medical proxy." The man—Foggy. He was Foggy, Matt's friend—stopped talking (hesitated, that was the word, he hesitated). "You know what that is, right? A medical proxy?"
Foggy smelled afraid, a sour overlay to the sweet coffee and…and ink toner and the stuff that smelled sweet and bitter at the same time that he used for his hair. Matt wished Foggy didn't smell afraid. It made Matt feel afraid too, and sad. Matt didn't know who Foggy was, but he hated the idea of Foggy being afraid of him.
But he liked how Foggy smelled under the fear. There was something warm about it, like coffee and sweaters and being home when it was cold. Foggy was wearing a sweater today, Matt could tell by the way it smelled and sounded when Foggy moved. And it made Foggy warm. Matt could feel the warmth from his skin. It was good.
Safe. Like being home when it was cold. Foggy smelled like that. That was why Matt didn't say 'no' when Claire (something sweet under traces of sweat, blood and soap, and she was always so tired) told him he had a visitor.
Foggy felt safe, like Claire and Rain and Illya. Even if Foggy always smelled afraid, like Claire always smelled tired.
Matt checked on them again, because even with Foggy with him he couldn't really feel safe unless he knew they were okay. They were all in the same giant building Matt was in. Claire was on the same floor, sleeping. Illya was somewhere much lower down and farther away. His heartbeat was quick, but like he was moving fast (running), not like he was afraid.
Rain was three floors below Matt's, talking to people Matt didn't know: a woman, a man and another boy. Rain's heartbeat was quick and anxious, but Steve Rogers (wood, copper and ozone; heart steady, calm and slow) and Tony Stark (metal and heat and a sense of constant movement) were with him, so he would be okay.
"I don't know what a medical proxy is," Matt said carefully, because the words had sounded important. They sounded like something he should know too, and he could tell by the way Foggy's breath changed that he'd been expecting Matt to know.
That had happened a lot already. Matt hadn't known he and Foggy were lawyers. He hadn't known what a lawyer even did until Foggy explained it. But Matt couldn't imagine himself in a big room using words to convince anyone of anything, let alone someone's innocence. Foggy had told Matt he was good with words (eloquent), but that hadn't felt right either. Matt didn't feel eloquent. He felt like an animal dressed in a hospital gown, pretending to be a person.
("What kind of animal?" Foggy had asked, because Matt had said it out loud without thinking.
"I don't know. A dog, maybe? Dogs have good smell and hearing, right?"
Foggy had laughed like he'd wanted it to be funny.)
Matt hadn't known he was an Avenger either, until Foggy had explained why Matt was in the tower owned by Tony Stark. The Avengers were a team of people who all had special abilities. They assembled for missions, where they worked together to protect people who couldn't protect themselves. Matt's codename was Daredevil, and he was a hero.
It was kind of Foggy to say, but Matt was no hero. That was one of the few things he was sure of. Devil was the only part that sounded true.
Matt tried, but he barely knew anything anymore. He hated how he kept letting Foggy down. "I'm sorry," he added, even though he knew there was no point. Foggy never accepted it.
"You don't have to apologize, Matt. It's okay," Foggy said, but Matt could tell by the way Foggy breathed that it wasn't. "Well, 'medical proxy' means…" He swallowed, like the words were going to hurt. "It means you're not, um, healthy enough to make decisions about what happens to you. In the hospital, I mean. Or, well, this is called a 'Medical Suite', but it's basically a hospital. So, uh…So, they need me to make decisions here. About, um, what'll happen. To you. But you can make decisions about other things, though!" he added the last part quickly, as if he was already sure Matt would be upset about it.
Matt wasn't upset. How could he be upset about not making decisions when he didn't know what decisions to make? He was only upset about how much he didn't remember, but that wasn't Foggy's fault. It was Matt's.
"Okay," Matt said.
"It's not okay!" Foggy said it so angrily that Matt flinched. "Sorry! sorry," Foggy said quickly, "I'm just…it's not okay, Matt. Hydra fucked with your mind and now you can't even choose what's going to happen to you, and it's not okay. It shouldn't be like this. It's not okay."
"I don't remember," Matt said.
Foggy made a tiny noise that sounded too wet to be a laugh. Matt didn't know what it was called. "I know, buddy. I sure wish you did."
"My name is Matthew," Matt said, because that was one of the very few things he knew.
Foggy blinked. "You're right. Sorry. I won't do that again. I know your name is Matthew."
"Good," Matt said, then tried to sound less angry. Foggy was safe and hadn't hurt him. Matt didn't have to be afraid. "What's going to happen to me here?"
Foggy swallowed again. He was moving his hands together…wringing his hands. He smelled like misery and that ever-present fear. "The docs—the doctors, sorry—want to put you into a…Well, a coma. That's where you sleep for a long time, but it's not real sleep because you don't dream or anything. At least I don't think you dream. I'm not sure. But, I mean, it's a thing doctors do sometimes when someone's brain has been hurt really badly, and it needs to rest so it can heal. So they give you medicine that makes you sleep really, really deeply, so your brain doesn't have to think and can just rest. And that sounded incredibly stupid, didn't it? I'm sorry. I'm way better at this stuff normally. Not that you'd know. God. But, it's you. And you're my friend. My best friend. Even though we had that bad fight which you probably don't even remember anymore and, I don't want…. Ah, fuck."
Tears tasted like salt, Matt hadn't forgotten that either. "It's okay, Foggy," he said, because he could hear Foggy sniffing and wiping his eyes. Matt hesitated, then touched his arm. The sweater felt nice. "I don't remember the fight," he admitted. "But you feel safe to me."
Maybe that was the wrong thing to say (Still dumb as a bag of hammers, Matty) because the salt just got worse. But Foggy gently took Matt's hand and held it in both of his. His hands were warm and soft like his sweater. "I'm glad, Matt," he said quietly. "You feel safe too. Even when I was furious with you, you always felt safe to me."
"Thank you," Matt said.
"You're welcome." Foggy took a breath. Tears still clung to it, but he seemed better now. He didn't let go of Matthew's hand. "They want to put you into a coma for a couple days. Let your brain rest completely so you can heal. Like, your brain and your body healing at the same time. So hopefully when you wake up you'll have all your memories back."
"Grant Ward," Matt said. The words felt hot, like embers in his mouth. "Grant Ward took my memories to train me. Compliance will be rewarded."
He didn't know why he'd said that, just like he didn't know what it meant. Foggy did, though. Matt could tell because Foggy sucked air, like he'd suddenly been injured too. "Yeah, uh. You were saying that a lot, before. Illya—the really big guy who could bench press both of us. Right, of course you remember him—Illya said it was part of some kind of conditioning thing. Like, brainwashing. Ward was trying to make you do what he wanted, like Hydra did to Bucky Barnes. But it didn't work."
Matt titled his head, trying to remember. He wasn't sure what 'conditioning' or 'brainwashing' meant. The embers hadn't felt clean. "I was asleep and awake at the same time. And there were embers in my head. Words, I mean. But they were hot, like embers. I had to follow them." He grimaced. "I mean listen to them. I had to listen to the words."
Foggy made a small, awful noise that wasn't like tears. "Oh, God." He sounded like he was trying not to be sick. "Yeah. I am so glad you were rescued before it worked. You don't…." He hesitated again. "When Claire told me what happened, I was so scared you were…I dunno. Gone. Like, not Matt anymore. My Matt. That you'd never remember me. Or, or Karen or anyone."
"I remember Karen." He did. Karen had smelled like pain and flowers, tension in her voice like the telephone lines in the wind. Her touch had hurt Matt's chest, but not like wounds or violence. And Karen hadn't felt safe. She'd been dangerous, but Matt hadn't known why, what it'd meant.
Matt had hoped she'd come back anyway, but she hadn't. Maybe she hadn't felt safe with Matt either.
"Good. That's good, Matt. I'm glad you remember her. We're all friends." Foggy didn't sound glad. He sounded upset. The scent of tears still lingered, a rasp of salt on Matt's tongue. He hated that he had upset Foggy this much. But wasn't he always doing that? Upsetting the people he cared about? Destroying everything?
That felt true. "I'm sorry."
He could hear Foggy blinking in confusion. "Why are you apologizing?"
"Your tears," Matt said. "You're crying. It's my fault."
"No." Matt felt the air move when Foggy shook his head. "It's not your fault, Matt. I'm not crying because of you. I'm crying because of what Hydra—what that asshole Grant Ward did to you. I'm crying because you got hurt and you can't…you're having trouble remembering stuff. And it's awful and sad."
"You're afraid too," Matt said. "Why are you afraid? I won't hurt you."
It had felt like the right thing to say, but Foggy pulled in another fast, pained breath like Matt really had just hurt him. "I know that." Foggy sounded so upset now Matt wanted to apologize again. "I know you'd never hurt me, Matt. You've never hurt me. I'm not scared because of you. I'm…" He hesitated, sniffing. Then there was a waxy noise of him worrying his bottom lip in his teeth. "I'm scared you won't get better," he said quietly. "I'm scared you won't get your memory back."
"That I'm gone," Matt said.
"Yeah," Foggy said softly. He ran his thumb over the back of Matt's hand. He hadn't let go. "I'm scared that you're gone."
"I'll be okay, Foggy," Matt said. He didn't know why he'd said that either, other than it felt like something he should say. Maybe it was something he would say, normally. Maybe it meant he wasn't gone, that he really would be okay.
He didn't feel okay. Then again, maybe he never did. He couldn't remember.
Foggy laughed a little. "Well, that definitely sounds like you," he said, and Matt smiled, relieved he'd gotten that right.
"I missed you, Foggy," Matt said. It was another thing he didn't really know, but he said it anyway because it felt right. Foggy was safe and Matt would have missed him.
"Oh," Foggy said, very quietly. "You shouldn't say stuff like that, or I'm going to start crying again. And nobody wants that, believe me."
"I'm sorry," Matt said. "I keep upsetting you."
"Really not your fault." Matt liked how Foggy kept holding his hand. It was very warm. There was a tiny, wet slide of Foggy licking his lips. "Do you understand what I was saying before? Abut the coma?"
"I think so," Matt said seriously. "The doctors are going to make me sleep, so my brain can rest. Right?"
"Yeah, that's right." Foggy's nod was fast and eager, almost like he was happy. "That's exactly right. So…that's okay?"
Matt didn't know. He didn't think he'd been in a coma before. Or if he had, he couldn't remember so it didn't matter anyway. But Foggy had already told him what he wanted didn't matter because he wasn't healthy enough. "You said I couldn't choose here," Matt reminded him, in case this time it was Foggy who'd forgotten.
"I know," Foggy said. He still sounded sad. "I know, and I'm sorry. But I don't want to just…do it without any kind of consent, you know? I mean, I want…I need you to tell me if the doctors making you sleep is okay. Or not okay."
Matt still didn't know if it was okay or not, but he wanted to not be gone. He especially didn't want Foggy to be afraid. So, "yeah, Foggy," he said, trying to find a smile that felt real. "That's okay."
He could hear Foggy's mouth move when he smiled back. So that was one other thing Matt got right.
They were going to put Matt into a medically-induced coma. Jughead was on his way to visit him before it happened. He wasn't sure yet if he was also saying 'goodbye', because he wasn't sure if he really wanted to leave.
Captain Rogers said Matt had special abilities, like some of the other Avengers did. Matt had enhanced senses, which sort of explained why he kept talking about how Jughead smelled like rain.
Captain Rogers also said normally he wouldn't have told Jughead that, since it was Matt's secret to tell, not Steve's. But Jughead and Matt had been kidnapped by Grant Ward for the same reason: they both got Hydra's version of the Super Soldier serum when they were children. Grant had the serum too, which was why he called them his brothers. And it was the same serum that Hydra gave Bucky Barnes.
Of course, Grant had called Matt and Jughead his brothers 'cause he was fucking nuts, but Jughead knew that wasn't the point. The point was, Jughead wasn't normal. He'd been right all along.
He didn't know how to feel about that. Happy, he guessed. Sort of happy, anyway. He liked being right, and at least it explained why Grant had taken him in the first place. It was a little less terrifying, somehow, knowing he hadn't been picked at random.
And Jughead guessed it explained why Gladys had said he wasn't her son. He might've started out that way, but the serum had changed him. He didn't look different, not like Steve Rogers, but Jughead still wasn't the same afterwards.
He didn't think it'd changed his soul, or anything, but what did he know? He didn't know who he would've been without the serum, other than dead. And Gladys had apparently thought him being dead was better.
She'd surrendered him to foster care. Given him up completely rather than look after him. If Jughead hadn't been sure how she felt about him before, he sure as hell did now. I love you, but you're not really my son.
Jughead had no parents, now. He wasn't anybody's son anymore.
Archie, Mary and Fred had come to get him and bring him back to Riverdale. Fred Andrews was going to foster him. Archie said everyone in Riverdale felt terrible about F.P. being murdered. Fred especially, since F.P. had been his best friend. But Archie and his dad were excited Jughead was coming to stay with them. Archie kept talking about changing his room, putting in two desks and a bunkbed. Like summer camp.
It was kind of them, but Jughead wasn't sure he bought Fred and Mary being all happy about it. Well Mary had only come to represent Jughead, since she lived in Chicago. That was really nice of her, but it wasn't like she'd have to live with him.
Fred was the one letting Jughead stay in his house, and he didn't have much money and Jughead ate a lot. And now everyone knew he was a Hydra experiment and a freak. Hell, for all Jughead knew he was going to go nuts like Grant Ward. And Jughead's own mother didn't want him. Why would anyone else?
Jughead hadn't gone with the Andrews when they went to dinner. Mr. Stark had put them up in the Tower, but they were on a separate floor from Jughead, who'd mostly stayed in Matt's room in the Medical Suite anyway. Jughead knew Archie had wanted him to come with them to eat, and probably Fred and Mary had too. But Jughead had said he was tired and just wanted to stay home, and then said he had a headache when Archie offered to stay with him.
It was a lie and Jughead was sure the Andrews knew it, but he didn't want to go with them. Not to dinner, not to their suite, and maybe not even back to Riverdale.
The problem was, Jughead didn't know what he actually did want, other than for Matt to be okay and for his dad not to be dead. But F.P. was gone, and nobody knew if Matt was going to be okay, and right then the idea of returning to where Grant had kidnapped him and killed his dad made Jughead want to puke. He didn't feel safe there anymore. He didn't think he'd ever feel safe there again. Even with Archie and Betty there too. Even if he was living in Archie's house.
It wasn't just that he was afraid. In Riverdale he was Forsythe P. 'Jughead' Jones: Loser son of the (dead) Serpent King; weird, geeky loner from the wrong side of the tracks who never had money and was hungry all the time. Jughead the outcast. Jughead the cautionary tale. Jughead the rebel without a cause. Jughead the freak.
Well, he was a freak, turned out. Not that it'd make the stares or whispers hurt any less.
He didn't want to be Jughead anymore, but Riverdale was where Jughead lived.
Tony Stark, Captain Rogers and Sergeant Barnes had sat Jughead down after the Andrews left and told him he could stay at the Tower forever if he wanted to. The three of them had almost gotten into an argument about who would foster him, even: Barnes and Rogers or Stark. Jughead guessed that since all the Avengers were freaks they figured he'd fit right in.
No, that wasn't fair. They wanted him to feel safe. Not only safe, but they wanted to give him a family. Or, at least decent adults with shared life experience to take care of him. His dad had loved him a lot, but Jughead would never pretend Forsythe had been a good father. He didn't know if these three men would be better, but they weren't alcoholics, and the Tower was a far cry from the piece-of-shit mobile home Jughead lived in. Used to live in. 'Til his dad was been shot dead in what passed for the front yard.
And Jughead could have anything he wanted here. He could be anyone he wanted. He could be Forsythe Jr.—No, not Forsythe, not after Grant Ward. But he could be Pendleton Jones. Or Pendleton Stark, maybe. Or Pendleton Rogers-Barnes. He could be Rain.
New York City was full of weird, geeky loners from the wrong places. He didn't know if he could be happy again, after this, but...Maybe he could be okay?
And Matt was in New York City too. Jughead knew he wasn't responsible for Matt, just like he knew he didn't owe Matt for almost dying trying to save him. But, he'd hugged Matt while he wept in pain and begged Jughead to tell him who he was. They'd kept each other warm. And Matt had thrown himself at Grant when he could barely stand, just to give Jughead a chance to escape.
Jughead didn't owe Matt, and he knew that Matt getting tortured and shot wasn't Jughead's fault. But, Grant had called them brothers. And even though Jughead knew they weren't, after what happened it felt kind of like they were. At least to him. Jughead didn't want to just leave Matt, especially when he didn't know if Matt would ever be okay again.
But Betty and Archie lived in Riverdale, just like almost everyone Jughead knew. He wasn't sure he had the strength to make new friends, or if he even remembered how to anymore. Just thinking about it exhausted him. It'd be easier to go back to Riverdale. Everything was familiar there, even if it'd never feel safe again. But when had Jughead's life ever been easy?
He wished Matt could tell him what to do. He wished anyone could.
Jughead didn't tend to get what he wished for.
"Come in, Rain," Matt said, even before Jughead could lift his hand to knock on the door. It was still weird how Matt could do that, even after what Steve had told him.
"Hi," Jughead said as he slipped into the room. Matt looked…not better but, less bad? He was sitting up in the bed at least, and he looked a little more relaxed and alert than the last time Jughead had seen him, even if that'd just been a few hours ago. He was slightly less pale now too, though all the bruises still made him look like a mottled corpse. It was also really unnerving how Matt's eyes kept settling just to Jughead's right. Captain Rogers hadn't said anything about Matt's sight coming back, and Jughead hadn't had the courage to ask. What would Matt do if it didn't? How could he be an Avenger anymore?
"How are you feeling?" he asked, instead of whether Matt was permanently blind.
Matt shrugged, then couldn't hide the tiny grimace. "It's not so bad." His smile was a wry twist at the corner of his bruised mouth. "I've been told I've had worse."
"I hope not."
Jughead had meant it, but Matt laughed a little like it was a joke. "Me too." His smile faded. "What's wrong? Is your elbow hurting? Or your head?"
"No, they're fine," Jughead said. It was true. The dislocation had been minor, so the doctor said he'd only need to have his arm in a sling for about a week, especially since he healed fast. As long as he was careful for a while he wouldn't have any problem using his arm normally again. And he had a bruise on his temple but but he'd been lucky and he didn't have a concussion. Jughead didn't know how Matt could tell he was upset, but it had nothing to do with his injuries.
Jughead came closer. "I, uh, I think I'm going back to Riverdale."
"Oh." Matt looked confused for a moment, and what was left of Jughead's heart broke a bit more for him. "That's…Riverdale is your home, right? Where you live?"
Jughead nodded, then remembered Matt couldn't see him. "Yeah, I live there," he said out loud. "Archie—that's my best friend—his dad wants to foster me. So I'd live with them. It's like being adopted," he added, in case Matt didn't know what the word meant. It was hard to know what words he remembered.
"Archie's father wants to adopt you?" Matt asked.
Jughead winced, because no, that wasn't it and he hated that Matt couldn't understand. But, "yeah, pretty much," he said, because it was close enough and there was no point in maybe making Matt feel bad for nothing. "Archie and Fred, Archie's father, want me to live with them. In their house in Riverdale."
"You don't want to go," Matt said.
Jughead blinked, because he didn't know if he did or not, but right then kind of thought he didn't. But he had no idea how Matt could know that, especially if Matt couldn't see him. "I don't know," he said. "I don't…" He swallowed. "It's where my dad was murdered. And now he's gone, and…" He gritted his teeth, then took a couple deep breaths and wiped his eyes. Jughead really didn't want to start crying again. He'd been okay, mostly, but sometimes the grief still blindsided him. It was easier when he didn't think about it, except he'd kind of had to think about it all day. But he needed to get a grip before he started bawling.
"It'll be hard, being in the same place where it happened," Matt said.
"Yeah," Jughead ground out. He sniffed, then swallowed. "Yeah. It'll be really, really hard. And if I go back there, I'll be Jughead who got kidnapped and whose dad was murdered. And…and I don't know if I want to go back."
Matt looked confused again. "Jughead?"
"Um, yeah." Jughead nodded. "That's, uh, that's my name. My nickname, I mean. My name is…." He forced air out through his teeth. "My name is Forsythe Pendleton Jones the third, which is pretentious as fuck and I think my dad thought it was a big joke, since he was Forsythe Pendleton Jones the second. But I never asked and now I can't and I hate the name Forsythe and Grant Ward called me that and…and I can't stand it and—"
He started to cry, startling himself with the sudden torrent of it. Matt reached for him and Jughead toppled into his arms, weeping like a child while Matt hugged him and said, "Hey, hey, shh. It's all right. You're all right. They're just words, that's all. You don't have to use them."
"I don't want to be Jughead anymore," Jughead sobbed. He meant, I don't want my dad to be dead. I don't want to be grieving. I don't want to have to live with being kidnapped and tortured and knowing what Grant did to you. I want to be someone else. Someone happy.
"I know," Matt said. It was almost funny, because Matt had amnesia; he didn't know anything. But, "I know," he said again. "I know, I know." And maybe he did. Maybe he really did.
"I want to go home. I just want to go home. But it's gone. I don't have a home anymore," Jughead choked out. All he had left was grief, a family he didn't belong in, and a name he'd never wanted.
"Hey, no," Matt said. He pulled back so Jughead could see his bruised, earnest face. "That's not true. Your best friend's family wants you to live with them, in the town where you grew up, right?" His smile was warm, even if it was wry and self-depreciating. "I can't remember much, but that honestly sounds like a home to me."
"My dad was murdered there."
"I know," Matt said again. He took a breath. "My father was murdered right outside our apartment in Hell's Kitchen. It's funny," he went on, though he didn't smile like it was funny. He smiled like it hurt. "I can't remember it happening, but when my friend Foggy told me…I could remember how it felt. Like this…sense memory, I think. For a moment I could feel a body under my hands."
"I'm sorry," Jughead said.
"Thank you," Matt said. His mouth was still crooked in the same painful smile. "I don't remember what happened after that either. I mean, Foggy told me, but I can't remember it at all. But, apparently I was in an orphanage until I was old enough to go to university." He smirked. "Guess nobody wanted a blind kid."
"I would've wanted you."
It was a dumb thing to say. It wasn't like it changed anything, but Matt's smile went a little softer anyway.
"Thanks," he said. "I wish I could offer to take you in, but I can't remember where I live." The possibility that he might never remember went unspoken.
"Oh. Thank you," Jughead said, surprised.
"You don't have to thank me for something I never did," Matt said. He opened his mouth, then closed it and blinked. "What was I talking about?"
"The orphanage," Jughead said quickly, trying to hide his spike of concern. "You were telling me how you were in an orphanage. After your father died."
Matt's eyes moved like he was trying to remember. "I don't…." He shook himself. "It doesn't matter. I think, I think I was trying to say, I know I would've given anything to be with…with a best friend, instead of where I was."
"Oh," Jughead said again. He tried to imagine it: Not being able to walk to school with Archie anymore, or eat dinner at his house, or horse around in his room. No more hanging out with Betty at Pop's, or studying together, or laughing at Reggie and the idiots who admired him.
"People here care about me," he said. He knew they did, even if it was only sympathy. It wasn't the same, though. If he stayed he'd miss his friends.
"Yeah," Matt said. "But probably not as much as someone you grew up with, right?"
Jughead nodded, wiping his eyes. "Yeah." He'd miss his friends a lot. And, he hadn't thought about it, but that would be another kind of grieving, wouldn't it? Jughead didn't want more grieving.
"Yeah, but…He calls me Jughead," he said. He hoped Matt would understand what he meant, 'cause Jughead didn't know how to articulate all the baggage that went with that.
He couldn't tell if Matt did understand, but, "What do you want him to call you?" Matt asked, and maybe that was the only part that mattered.
A name was just a word. It couldn't bring back Jughead's father or make anyone treat him differently. But that didn't mean he had to use one that didn't suit him anymore, and maybe never had.
Jughead had never, ever, felt like Forsythe Pendleton, and Grant had wrecked the name for him anyway. He used 'Jughead' because everyone else did, but he hadn't liked it for a long time.
That left 'Rain'. And maybe 'Rain' didn't suit him any better, but…Matt had given it to him, even unintentionally. And it was a good word. Rain was cold and miserable and could be dangerous, sometimes. But it also helped plants grow and washed things clean, and could make flowers bloom in a desert.
That didn't sound like him—if he was a desert, it was a barren one—but, he wanted something different, and he didn't want more people to mourn. And if he went back to Riverdale he wouldn't have to.
It wasn't much. But it was a direction; a possibility. He had to start somewhere, right?
"Rain," he said. "I want him to call me Rain. I want to be Rain, like you named me."
"Good to meet you, Rain," Matt said.