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Holding On

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It’s raining. Rain is good, usually. Matt can always ‘see’ certain things better when it rains, can sense the vibrations of a billion drops of water hitting the surface below, dripping over the arch of umbrellas or trailing down the face of some unlucky person who had been caught in the storm without one. He likes passing by those people the best when it rains. It gives him a better idea of how much everybody's noses vary or the way the structure of cheekbones work and other average, human details that he hadn’t given a thought to memorise back when he was a kid.

Right now the rain is torture. Each drop is too cold, hits his skin too hard and he can barely lift an arm to shield his face from the onslaught. There’s too much input, too many surfaces his brain is trying to map out despite feeling like it’s rolling in his skull. There’s no one around him as far as he can tell. But that could change.

Bracing both arms on the ground, he slowly pushes himself up into a sitting position, breath coming out in harsh pants that send sharp stabs of pain through his chest. Broken rib. Maybe two. There’s also the familiar metallic scent of blood that permeates the earthy smell of the rain, mixing into the shallow puddle he sits in as it drips down his side. Unlike the freezing rain, the blood burns. It carries out the heat of his own body from a deep gash below his ribs, thickly slickening his damp, freezing skin.

Blood burns. But he’s used to that.

One hand braces against the coarse stone of a wall while the other presses into the wound. Immediately the blood starts seeping out through the cracks between his fingers, congealing under his nails in less than a minute. It’s… bad. Even by his standards. The mottled line of bruising that he can feel running up from hip to temple doesn’t help. Through the haze of pain he remembers being thrown into something. Hard. Then there was the knife. Knives. Bats. Chains. Too many guys. Somehow he’d gotten away, had gotten the sense to run while his adrenaline still lasted.  

Now it’s gone and he can feel every inch of the injuries he’s accumulated tonight.

He’s bleeding out. He needs to find someone.

He tilts his head a fraction, concentrating as much as he can on what’s around him. The burner he carries lies just a few feet away, somewhere behind him. He barely remembers getting it out before he’d collapsed.

Carefully, he outstretches one arm, intending to crawl backwards and grab it. Immediately, his body locks up, muscles spasming in pain and he has to concentrate on gritting his teeth in order not to scream too loudly. Luckily, he blacks out before his teeth crack under pressure, giving him some small relief - for what he hopes is just a minute, as he doesn’t have time to spare - before he comes to again.

He’s lying on his back now, hand only weakly trying to stem the blood flow. He jerks when a series of splashes rings in his ears, alerting him to the presence of someone running through a puddle in a nearby alley. They can’t be too far away. Just around the corner, he estimates, concentrating again. Which means they have somehow gotten close without him knowing. Maybe the blackout was longer than he’d thought.

There’s no time to run. Whoever it is, they’re in a rush and will be upon him in a matter of seconds depending which way they turn. There’s a faint smell of sweat and he hears the harsh panting of their breath as they run. Matt furrows his brow concentrating on their heartbeat. It’s faint, interrupted by everything else around him, but if he concentrates…

His eyes widen and the panic of being discovered disperses, replaced by an urgency to bring this person closer to him. He opens his mouth to shout, but all that comes out is a pained groan.

There’s a responding shout. “Matt?” He sounds haggard. Desperate.

He tries again, calling weakly. “Here… Bruce...” It’s the best that he can do.

There’s a wet scrape of loose rubble as Bruce seemingly turns on his heel from whatever wrong direction he’d been facing and rushes towards him. Matt sometimes forget that Bruce’s hearing, while nowhere near as acute as his own, is pretty darn good.

“Thank god. I’ve been looking for you all night.”

As he gets closer, his heartbeat becomes more distinct to Matt’s enhanced hearing. It puts a small smile into his grimace to hear the familiar thrumming, strong and calm, even now after apparently running around to look for him for so long.

“I had to figure out a way to track your burner

He goes abruptly silent as soon as he reaches Matt’s side. Matt can only assume it means that it was too dark for him to see the extent of Matt’s injuries until now. It’s not safe to be wandering through the dark corners of Hell’s Kitchen at night. Matt knows that better than anyone. It’s why he does what he does. And Matt feels a little guilty at the thought of Bruce doing it for several hours, and in the pouring rain no less.

But stronger than the guilt is relief. He’s so glad to hear Bruce’s voice, to feel the warmth of his hand as it hovers over Matt’s battered skin.

At this thought the small smile on Matt’s face vanishes. There’s something wrong. Bruce always runs hot but his skin feels like it’s practically radiating fiery heat. Not to mention the way he’s shaking, like every cell in his body is vibrating as he decides where on Matt’s body needs his attention first.

“Are you okay?” Matt asks.

He hears Bruce laugh. It’s disbelieving and unsettlingly hollow. “Am I okay? You -”

Bruce’s hand presses on top of his own, helping to stem the blood flow. Matt hisses in pain but nods, trying to convey that it’s fine without being able to speak. If past experiences have proved anything, it’s that Bruce can feel guilt for everything, even when he’s doing what’s right.

But Bruce doesn’t splutter out apologies or clumsily fuss over hurting Matt. When he finally does speak again, his voice is low and growly and distinctly not quite his own.

Who did this to you?

Something clicks in Matt’s brain.

With an effort, he raises his free hand to hold Bruce’s wrist. It adheres to him slightly, the sticky blood clinging to the hairs on Bruce’s arm.

“Hey,” he says, and his voice cracks.  He coughs (more pain from his cracked ribs, which he registers and dismisses) and tries again, keeping his voice as calm and as steady as he can. “Hey. Bruce.” He readjusts his grip, trying to pull Bruce back from wherever he goes when Hulk starts coming up to the surface. “I need you to stay with me. Okay?”

The response is softer but the growl is still there. “They hurt you —

“And that’s why I need you to stay with me, Bruce. I need you to help me.” He coughs again (pain) and wets his bottom lip, feeling the cracked skin and metallic tang of blood with his tongue. “If you go after them now… I really need you, Bruce. With me. Here. Now.” Every word is pain and by the end of it he’s struggling to get out each word between involuntary gasps. As the pain builds, Matt’s focus shrinks to the two of them, blocking out the rain and the ever constant sounds of the city.

For a tense moment there is only the sound of their breathing, harsh and in tandem, permeated occasionally by the constant dripping of the water from Bruce’s sodden fringe. Then there’s a shift in the air and Matt feels water flick onto his face as Bruce nods.

Without a word he helps Matt to his feet, one hand around his torso and pressed against the gash, the other reaching out to scoop up the burner phone.

Matt hears the tinny dial tone, followed by the equally tinny voice of Foggy coming out of the speaker.

“Matt?”

“No it’s Bruce. I found him.”

Matt focuses on putting one foot in front of the other while Bruce describes where they are. Everything feels like it’s swirling around him; the sound of the water trickling across the ground, the thrumming of someone’s music turned up a little too loud in one of the apartments above them, the too-warm-warmth of Bruce’s hand over his, under his arm, around his waist. Everything is blending in, blending until the senses that usually map out his surroundings from nothing more than misshapen, lumpy walls on all sides, closing in, getting closer… closer...

Everything goes black.

There’s something smooth under his legs and something squishy under his head. Something warm in his hair and something burning all over.

“...you okay?”

Matt hears Foggy’s voice from a distance. He wants to make a joke about asking such an obvious question but all he can do is roll his head to the side and groan, softly.

Then a voice above him answers and Matt no longer understands what’s going on.

“I’m fine.”

“O-kay… Just. Uh. Your eyes —”

Matt can’t tell why Foggy stops talking. He doesn’t even know where he is. But he knows that voice, the other one that isn’t Foggy.

“Br...Bru...ce?”

Bruce shushes him and strokes the pad of his thumb over the back of Matt’s hand. Matt suddenly wishes that he could pick up on fingerprints a bit more distinctly. It’d really help out when he’s out of it and in unknown hands. Plus he wants to know every part of Bruce he can, engrave it into his memory and never let go.

“Shit, is he awake?”

Matt doesn’t hear Bruce’s answer. Which, he supposes when he thinks about it later, is an answer in and of itself.

Bruce hasn’t been in this apartment too many times. Not yet. He wishes that he had, because it would have saved a lot of time in finding the first aid kit. Foggy had assured him on the way that Matt had one fully stocked, left over from a friend who used to patch him up.

He’d also argued that Matt would be more comfortable here than in Bruce’s apartment, to which Bruce had agreed. Bruce’s little apartment doesn’t have the silk sheets he needs or the comfort of a familiar place, because Matt hasn’t been to his apartment too many times either.

Bruce wishes that he had. Wishes they’d done more.

What they have is a complicated, and yet somehow still strong relationship. Bruce knows that Matt would fight tooth and nail to keep him safe. And Matt trusts Bruce. Or at least he seems to. Bruce is one of the few who knows who he truly is, after all.

But that’s also the ‘complicated’ part. To say nothing of Bruce’s own issues that get put into the mix...

He rubs at his tired eyes, trying to banish the memory of almost losing it tonight. He’d been scared when he’d seen the blood. And angry. He’d wanted to find whoever did it and make sure that they’d never hurt Matt again. Matt shouldn’t have been there, bleeding out in a dark, lonely alley, on the brink of death and unable to call for help.

But that kind of situation is also a constant hazard for the kind of work that he does. Bruce has to admit that he knew what he signed up for when they started this. Just as Matt knows what it means to be with Bruce.

Bruce raises his head to study Matt now, taking in the purple under his jaw that vanishes into the white bandages below his collar. It’s been three hours since Bruce had done everything he could for him. Three hours of sitting vigil by his side, in the only chair that would fit through the doorway..

Suddenly, Bruce feels Matt’s fingers twitch in his hand and he sits up straight, alert and watching Matt’s face intently.

“Matt?” he tries, softly.

Matt’s eyelids flutter a few times and his fingers wrap tentatively around Bruce’s own as he comes to.

“...your eyes.” Is the first thing out of Matt’s mouth when his eyes open, still half lidded from exhaustion.

“What?” Bruce asks, genuinely perplexed and shuffling closer incase he misheard.

“Foggy said… something wrong with them. Did- did something happen?” He turns his head to face in Bruce’s direction and the hand pats against empty air, reaching for Bruce’s face.

As he leans forward to press his cheek against Matt’s palm, Bruce’s mouth opens and closes several times in speechless confusion. Finally, he recalls the journey here. Foggy had said something about his eyes, hadn’t he?

And of course Matt, of all people, would pick up on that.

“They’re fine,” he reassures, closing his eyes as Matt’s fingers trace over his eyelids, checking for himself for any signs of damage. “I was just worried about you. They tend to… change colour a bit when I’m worried.”

Matt seems to let out a deep breath, lowering his hand and finally relaxing.

“Green?” he asks after a beat.

“Green.” Bruce confirms automatically, watching Matt for any more signs of distress. “You knew,” he adds, referring to the moment they’d had in the alley. Back then, when he’d been close to the brink of letting Hulk free, Matt had known just what he needed.

Matt nods. “I know Hulk was just trying to protect me. But I needed you, Bruce.” It’s an echo of the calm words spoken while bleeding out in an alley. It’s exactly what had snapped Bruce out of his haze of rage and fear. Matt needed him. And so Bruce had stayed.

“Well.” Bruce clears his throat and blinks, clearing his vision of tears that had briefly formed in his eyes as Matt first spoke. “You’ve got me.” He reaches out and takes Matt’s hand again. “For now. It depends on how long we have before you try to get up and pull all those stitches I worked so hard on,” he jokes, dryly.  

Matt laughs and winces, and Bruce feels guilt and relief all at once. For hours now there’s been a nagging doubt in his mind, a questioning of whether or not he’d done enough to help Matt pull through. Now he has his answer.

“You’ve been talking to Foggy.”

“Well, yes, but I also happen to just know you.”

Matt rolls his eyes.

“Okay. Here’s the deal.” He leans back into the pillows, eyes slipping shut. “I’ll get some rest if you do. You’ve been up all night and you haven’t even given yourself the chance to change out of your wet clothes.”

“I changed my shirt. It’s yours. Thought you wouldn’t mind.”

Matt smiles and squeezes his hand.

“I don’t.”