Foggy and Matt were in the main lobby of the courthouse, waiting for Karen to return from the restroom and trying to avoid having to go out into the sweltering summer heat in their court clothes. Next to him, Foggy scrolled through his emails on his phone, occasionally tapping on the screen. With his familiar presence beside him, Matt let his senses idly roam over the room, hand still resting at Foggy’s elbow.
It was here that Matt found him.
Foggy turned his hand as he felt Matt’s hand clench on his arm. “Matt? What’s wrong?” His voice dropped down to a whisper. “Do you hear something?”
Matt’s body moved before he even had time to consider it, driving him doggedly forward, toward that elusive smell his nose has locked on, absently dragging Foggy along with the tight grip he had on his jacket. The two of them were brought up short as Matt stopped in front of a woman holding the hand of a young boy, waiting outside one of the courtroom. He hovered just out of Foggy’s reach, his whole body tense like a hunting dog on point. Foggy could see that their clothes were dark and severe, but of a nice quality. Matt could smell that both of them had been crying recently.
“Matt?” Foggy said, truly concerned now. This was odd behavior even by Matt’s very strange standards.
“Describe him. What does he look like?” he whispered urgently, shaking Foggy’s arm a little when his friend doesn’t answer right away. “The boy, Foggy, what does he look like?”
“Uh…kind of medium-brown hair, brown eyes. He’s pretty cute, like five or six years old.” He shifted uncomfortably. “Matt, why did we walk halfway across the building so that I could describe a random child to you?”
His little heart was fast, faster than he’d normally expect, but it was beating out a light steady rhythm. And Foggy’s mouth dropped open when Matt breathed “I think he’s my son.”
Appalled, Foggy hissed “You think, Matt? What. The. FUCK?”
“Keep your voice down, you’ll scare his guardian,” Matt murmured, pulling them both back a little more.
As though he can’t help himself, Foggy said, “Matt. Jesus Christ, Matt.” His hand gripped his shoulder tightly, his heartbeat spiking. His face was still directed toward the little boy and the woman. “He’s got your nose, Matt. And your chin. He’s even got your ears. He…he looks like your old man, Matt.”
He had to swallow down the emotion building in his throat, pausing when he heard the woman speak, with a nasal voice that was slow and loving as she lifted him onto her hip. “Come here, Peter. I’ve got you.”
“To an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you,” Matt murmured.
“How are you this Irish and this bad at Catholicism?” he demanded. “It’s from the Gospel of Peter. My – the boy’s name. His name is Peter.”
“Peter,” Foggy repeated. It sounded so correct, hearing someone else say it. Hearing someone he loved saying the child’s name, gentle and reverent. “Yeah, he looks like a Peter. Do you recognize his mom, buddy?”
“The woman with him isn’t his biological mother. Everyone has a scent signature, an olfactory footprint. But you get your signature from a combination of pheromones from your parents. I’m 90% sure that he’s mine,” Even after saying it, he couldn’t quite get the information to absorb into his brain. “But I’m also 99% sure she isn’t related to him.”
Though the part of Peter’s scent signature that belonged to his biological mother was enticingly familiar, Matt chalked that up to obviously having encountered it before – the only thing he knew for sure was that it wasn’t Karen or Elektra, the two women he was most familiar with by scent, nor was it the woman holding him.
“You’re saying you tracked this kid halfway across a courthouse because he smells like you?” Foggy demanded, incredulous.
“Yes,” Matt said firmly, with a shrug. “A person that smelled like me, Foggy – only three options for that. Either I have a child, Maggie decided to show up at the courthouse, or my dad came back from the dead. I knew which of them was most probable.”
“I dunno man – aliens,” he muttered. He continued to stare at Peter, while Matt did…whatever the hell he did. “Tell me about him.”
“You probably know more than I can see with my plain old human eyes. So…tell me about him?”
“He’s been crying,” Matt said softly. “The woman, too. Their tears smell like grief. I think her husband has died. Oh…May. Her name is Aunt May.”
“He’s tired, and she’s hungry – she didn’t eat lunch.” Foggy watched his hands twist around his cane, one of his biggest nervous tells. “He’ll start crying again soon if he doesn’t get some rest. He’s…overwhelmed. Exhausted. I think his parents…the people who adopted him…I think they’re all dead, Fogs.”
“Jesus, the kid’s had it rough.”
Matt wondered if this was how Jack Murdock felt nearly thirty years ago, this sudden and urgent desperation to do something to stop his son from being upset. You’re a stranger, a complete foreigner to him, he reminded himself. Your presence won’t comfort him, it’ll scare him.
He knew that, logically. But it was still hard.
Foggy seemed to know that, he patted Matt’s arm and said, “You want me to get Karen and we can do some digging?”
“No,” Matt sighed. “We’ve still got work to do, I know that.”
“But…” Foggy trailed off.
“I’ll find him again,” he assured his friend. “Now that I know what I’m looking for, I can find him again.”
“Alright…if you’re sure…”
He was sure, head tilted as he listened to an intern saying, “Would you like a cup of coffee, Mrs. Parker?”
May answered, “No, I’m okay. Just been a long day.”
Parker. Mrs. May Parker.
Matt knew exactly what he was looking for.
His son lived in Queens.
That was…not ideal.
Not just because Peter didn’t belong to Hell’s Kitchen and that irked him, no matter how irrational he knew that was, but also because it made checking up on him extremely difficult at times.
Queens wasn’t exactly far from Manhattan, but Matt had something of a full schedule even with Fisk in prison where he belonged, and New York was a big city. Sometimes, if he was still wired after a night of patrolling, Daredevil would sneak his way across the bridge, hitching rides on top of trains and subways until he could hear his son’s heart beating through the walls of his apartment building and just…listen.
With Karen's help, they’d tried searching adoption records for Peter’s birth mother, but she’d given him away in a closed adoption. Neither Peter nor anyone in his adoptive family was permitted to contact her in any way. Discovering this gave Matt a feeling both strange and familiar – because he’d grown up on the other side of that feeling. Wondering why his mother didn’t want him, wouldn’t come to him. He knew now, of course, that Maggie was both miserable and guilty and felt that she didn’t deserve the right to claim him as her son, but that didn’t change all those years of believing he was unworthy of love, that something was somehow wrong with him that his own mother refused to see him.
Did Peter know? Was he told that his mother gave him away and had no desire to know him? Matt honestly couldn’t linger on that thought, couldn’t linger on the idea that his son already knew the woman who gave birth to him refused him the chance to speak to her or even meet her. Peter wasn’t even allowed to know her name. It filled him with a dark anger he knew was no good for anyone.
The only information given about her was more about Peter’s birth. Matt now knew that she was very local – she’d given birth at Lenox Hill, minutes away from where his apartment. Peter was born on June 1st 2013, via emergency caesarean section. She was twenty-three, Matt’s own age. Her blood type was AB+, and she was recorded as having black hair and hazel eyes, though that obviously didn’t help Matt a wit, except as a confirmation of Foggy’s opinion that Peter’s looks came mostly from him.
“You don’t have any idea who this woman is?” Karen asked, disappointed by the lack of leads. Her reporter’s brain must’ve been frustrated by such a small amount of information to search from.
Matt ran a nervous hand through his hair. “I don’t want to say that I drank a lot in law school, but…”
“We both drank a lot in law school,” Foggy said wryly. “She’s definitely a one night stand though, right, buddy? You don’t think this could be an old girlfriend?”
Matt shook his head, lips pressed together. “I would – the moment his heart started beating, I would’ve-”
“Oh, Matt,” Karen breathed at the utterly crushed look on his face. She squeezed his arm. “Why don’t you-why don’t you take some time off, spend some time with him?”
He immediately began shaking his head. “I can’t – he and his aunt are grieving, I can’t just show up on their doorstep and say…”
He trailed off. He actually had no idea what he would say.
Karen nudged his arm. “I never said you had to talk to them. Just…you know. Do your thing. Check up on them.”
Foggy groaned. “Please don’t encourage Matt’s creepy stalking habits.”
She shrugged. “What? It’s for a good cause.”
Foggy sighed, but did not make any counterargument. Matt threw his hands in the air victoriously. “The prosecution rests!”
Of course, having opened this can of worms, Matt was much too excited to keep all the details of his not-quite-stalking to himself – it helped that Foggy and Karen were just as eager to hear about Peter as Matt was to tell someone. He could tell how much this surprised them, his willingness to open up to them. But this was different.
This was not a terrible secret he was burdening them with – it felt more like a gift. He had a part, however small, in creating something good and innocent. And Peter was – he was good, and innocent, and brave, and smart.
“He has his own Foggy!” he told them one night, grinning widely after his trip across two boroughs. “Another little boy named Ned Leeds – he does all the talking, naturally.”
“Naturally,” Foggy agreed sagely, basking in Matt’s delight. He didn’t even remember the last time he saw his friend this happy. “And I’ll bet our boy Pete is the ideas man.”
Matt’s goofy grin spoke for itself.
Karen leaned forward, small hand navigating the cartons of Chinese takeout to take his hand with a more serious tone. “Are you…do you plan on telling Maggie that she has a grandson?”
From the truly stricken look on Matt’s face, it was clear he hadn’t even thought of that. “I-I don’t know if I can,” he admitted. “I mean…she doesn’t actually have one, does she? It feels cruel to tell her that he exists only to tell her in the next breath that she can’t see him, maybe not ever.”
Quietly, Foggy asked “You don’t plan on telling Peter that you’re his biological father? You don’t want to spend time with him in person?”
“He lost his parents, his uncle… I don’t want to be another person he loses, Fog. I don’t plan on dying any time soon,” he added quickly. Their heartrates were speeding up in a way that couldn’t possibly be comfortable. “But I’m aware that there are risks, and he doesn’t deserve to be the one to absorb it. Guys, he’s-he’s so normal, so happy, even after losing so many people he loves – I don’t-I don’t think I’m the best person for him to be around.”
Watch out for those Murdock boys. They got the Devil in ‘em.
His boy didn’t need to be hanging around with the Devil. Peter wasn’t a Murdock, and maybe if Matt made sure the angry beast inside himself stayed far away from the little boy, Peter might have half a chance of escaping the fate of his father and grandfather. It hurt, he wouldn’t pretend otherwise. But Matt genuinely believed it was safer for his son if he continued to keep his distance.
“Maybe someday,” he said finally, though it was mostly to appease Foggy.
He was idly perched on a balcony, the nights getting a bit chillier with the coming of autumn. Peter was in school again. He was really quiet the first week – had the worst summer any child could possibly have. But Ned, as any good Foggy would, stuck by his side, talking over his silences and filling in the space with himself. But he was young, and children had an amazing ability to adapt to tragedy.
May had him in the park, coaxed him to chat all about his day at school. The chains of the swing creaked and clanked as she pushed him and the breeze carried the scent of Matt’s child, the scent of his own flesh and blood to him, as well as the scent of his mother.
The scent of his mother, getting stronger and stronger by the moment, carried from the opposite direction of the balcony he was sitting on. A woman who walked slowly around the park, never pausing and never approaching more closely than the distance between him and the sidewalk. Heart in his throat, Matt put all his focus onto her. A whiff of liquor. The whisper of her hair sliding across a leather jacket. A terrifying suspicion overcame him and Matt launched himself down, springing back and forth from the fire escapes to land right in front of her.
She goes still and then Jessica Jones drawled “Nobody stays dead in this town anymore.” There an odd note to her voice, hard with an anger so burned out it had turned to ashes. “Nice of you to tell me you’re alive, devil boy. What brings you so far out of Hell?”
“You’re the mother,” he breathed, stunned. His suspicion had turned to certain when he’d heard her voice, her scent imprinted on their son forever.
Jessica reaction was something of a giveaway, coiled with tension, muscles tightening and her spine stretching up straight and tall. “What,” she said flatly, less a question and more a statement of suppressed disbelief.
“You’re-you’re here, you’re watching him,” Matt said, devastated by his own confusion and hurt. Jessica’s heart, pounding frantically when he first walked through the door of an interrogation room. And he’d assumed it was anxiety about being left in the cell with a strange man who claimed to be her lawyer. “You knew, this whole time, and you never said-”
Her voice came back to her. “And say what?!” she barked at him, her tone vibrating with a fury that made Matt flinch as it preyed on his sensitive ears. “You didn’t recognize me the second time we met – what should I have said to you, Murdock? ‘Hey, remember me? You got wasted and fucked me in a supply closet a few years back and I got pregnant! Congratulations, it’s a boy! But – whoops! I gave your son away because a man in a purple suit told me to’!”
“A man in a purple suit told you-Kilgrave?” Matt asked, heart hammering even as Jessica’s skipped at the name. “Kilgrave ordered you to-”
He can hear the grim smile in her voice. “He was a petty, jealous little bitch, you know that?” she said conversationally. “When he met me, I was huge. Ready to pop any day. He hated it. I didn’t just have sex with another man, I was walking around with the result in my body. He was disgusted by it, and it was bliss. Kept his filthy hands off me for two whole days.”
Matt felt sick, swallowing down bile before he choked out “Jessica-”
But he’d set her off now and she wasn’t going to spare him the gruesome ball of horror that she now lived in every day. “He wasn’t patient, though. Wouldn’t wait for me to go into labor. We were standing on the street in the middle of the afternoon when he suddenly just dragged me into the first hospital he saw. Waltzed right up to the nurse’s station and said Cut it out of her.”
“But you weren’t-they can’t just-” His mouth opened and closed soundlessly.
She sounded almost sympathetic – or as close to sympathy as Jessica got. “They never had a choice, Murdock. And I didn’t, either. An hour later, I signed a piece of paper telling the state of New York that I didn’t want him.” Bones shifted together as Jessica’s jaw tightened and she wiped an angry tear from her face. “I never held him. I never saw his face. I didn’t even know if my kid was a boy or a girl until he was almost a year old and I managed to track him down.”
“But you-you could-you could see him, Jessica. Get him back…?” Matt said tentatively. It was different for him – for him, Peter was a happy surprise he stumbled upon one day. Matt wouldn’t dream of taking him away from the people who raised him. But it was different for her. For Jessica, Peter was a gaping wound, her child literally torn from her body before she was ready and then whisked off in the middle of the day to be handed over to strangers.
Her tone goes back to hard and cold, all kindness wiped clean. “Yeah, sue for my kid back by telling the courts an Englishman in a stupid suit told me I should give my son away. So that Peter can spend his life in a one bedroom that doubles as my office, with a mother who needs two bottles of whiskey to get to sleep. I’ve had to replace my front door three times. Someone tried to shoot me through my living room window less than six months ago. I’ve had the shit beat out of me twice in my own house. That sound like where you want your son to live, Murdock? Because I sure as hell don’t want mine living like that.”
They were both silent, Jessica’s head turned back to where May still pushed Peter on the swings, both of his parents silently watching in their own ways, Jessica with her eyes and Matt with his ears.
Jessica never said it, she hated even to think it, but taking Peter away from her might’ve been the one and only favor Kilgrave ever did for her. Even as he broke her mind and used her body as his plaything, he’d saved Peter from any more of his attentions and from growing up in the custody of a mother whose mind had been shattered beyond recognition.
“Maybe I would’ve,” she said finally, as May took Peter’s hand and they began walking home. “If I thought they shouldn’t have a kid, either. But the Parkers were nice people. Good parents. May is, too. She’ll take good care of him.”
“I know,” Matt said after a moment. “I’ve been…I started checking on him, a couple months ago. When I found out.”
“How?” she asked, pushing off from the brick of the building. Without saying a word, they both began following May and Peter back to their apartment. “Your freaky sixth sense tell you your DNA is walking around Queens?”
“Smell him,” Matt admitted. “They were at the trial for the drunk driver who killed Richard, Mary, and Ben. I was in the courthouse that day and I followed the person who smelled like me. It’s how I knew you were his mother.”
“You knew I was his mother because he smells like you?” Jessica asked, almost deliberately stupid.
“Smells like both of us,” Matt grunted. “Every child gets their smell from their parents. I don’t have to see him, or you. I may not remember sleeping with you, but I knew who he belonged to.”
Jessica made a sound, nearly inaudible. A laugh or a sob, choked off before it was given true life. “I check on him, once or twice a month. Make sure he’s…y’know, living a normal life.” Make sure he’s happy and healthy and loved. Jessica didn’t have to say it for Matt to hear her. “Are you gonna, like…meet him?”
“No,” he said firmly. “I think he’d be better off without the Devil at his door.”
She laughed, low and cynical. “Yeah.” She nudged him, almost playfully. “You know, without us there to screw him up, this kid’s got half a chance, Murdock.”
“I hate to say this, Jones, but…I agree with you.”
Her laugh was fuller and truer the second time. “Asshole.”
“You missed me, admit it,” he said, grinning sharply.
“Can I plead insanity?” she asked dryly.
It was a system that worked perfectly – they got to see their son and their son didn’t have to have the burden of a pair of fucked up adults who could barely hold their lives together.
But a couple years later May got sick, sudden and bad. And then she was dead.
Peter was seven years old, but for the third time in his life, he was completely alone.
I didn't mean to write this yet, but this story is coming at me like a freight train so here we go!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Matt knew she was coming from a block away – Jessica Jones had a loud heartbeat that hardly ever wavered, and the smell of whiskey and leather was a constant cloud around her. He immediately went tense and sat up straighter at his desk.
“Matt?” Karen asked uneasily.
“She’s here,” he said, pulling his jacket on and getting up from his chair. “Can you grab Foggy, please?”
“Of course,” Karen said, her voice at its most soothing. She squeezed his shoulder as she passed by.
He had tried hard to hide how badly this was affecting him, but he supposed that they knew him so well it hardly mattered. It didn’t occur to him until later that they were probably almost as invested in the outcome of this as he was. They’d had two years of weekly stories, stolen teacher’s reports and class pictures – Matt wouldn’t ask how Jessica got them but Karen and Foggy were both over the moon to have them. Karen had even offered to copy one and have it framed for Matt’s desk, but he’d refused.
Their clients were friends, neighbors, people who knew them – even if only casually. He didn’t want them to start asking questions about the little boy in the pictures, questions he didn’t have the heart to answer. He didn’t feel right about people in Hell’s Kitchen knowing he was a father when Peter didn’t know it. And that wasn’t even approaching what would happen if Maggie heard someone commenting on ‘that blind lawyer’s new kid’.
(She’d stolen something else for Matt – Peter’s scarf. She’d muttered an excuse about pictures being no good to him. He wanted to tell her he didn’t need it, wanted to say they should put it back. It was a homemade thing, knitted from a high quality wool, maybe even merino, Matt could tell just by the feel. Jessica said it was striped in red and blue and his fingers could feel the ribbed pattern of the stitches. It was wrapped around Peter’s neck every day and somehow she had known it would smell the most like him. No matter how much he told himself that stealing a child’s possession was wrong, Matt couldn’t make himself bring it back to him.
“What if he gets cold?” he’d asked instead.
It was impossible to really meet Matt’s eyes, of course, but whenever she was very emotional, Jessica never even bothered to try. She’d mumbled, “It’s fine, Murdock. I made him another one.”
“You made…? You knit him a scarf?”
“I knit that one, too. When the smell fades, you’ll have to switch them. They’re designed to look the same – he’ll never know.”
Foggy would’ve had words with Jessica about how much she was enabling the inner stalker in him, but Matt could only come up with gratitude, holding the piece of wool to his nose. It smelled like him, like that unique combination of Matt and Jessica that was only Peter's. Like Alisa and Brian and Jack and Maggie before them. Like long days playing in fallen leaves and short nights walking through the snow. It smelled of the happiness of childhood and Matt couldn’t bring himself to part with it until the scents had completely died. Matt didn’t realize until after he made the switch that the scarf Peter now held would smell like him.)
Foggy finished chatting with his client in time to walk into the room as Jessica stormed through the door. Her heart was drumming so hard that Matt was already concerned but it wasn’t relieved at all by the absence of her speech. Instead, Jessica paced around the space, tearing a hand through the tangle of her hair. It took her a moment, before she finally spat “Syracuse, Murdock, fucking Syracuse!”
Matt’s heart slammed against his chest and Karen gasped “I thought they were taking him to New Rochelle?!”
That still wasn’t ideal, but New Rochelle wasn’t that much farther from Manhattan than Queens. Syracuse…Syracuse was hours away, even if you took a car rather than mass transportation, something he knew Jessica avoided like the plague. Forget the weekly and sometimes bi-weekly checks – they’d both be lucky to see him once a month in Syracuse.
“Foster family fell through,” Jessica croaked, tugging her own hair restlessly. “Foster mother wasn’t sure about having a male foster child in the house with her two biological daughters – never mind that Peter’s only seven, for fuck’s sake.”
“Fuck,” Matt hissed, jaw clenched, beginning to pace as well.
She collapsed into a seat. “We’re screwed, Murdock.”
“Not necessarily,” Foggy murmured, fingers tapping mindlessly on the surface of the conference table. “How would…well, hopefully both of you because this could get very messy otherwise – how would you feel about asking the state of New York to give you your child back?”
Matt was speechless. Jessica was not. “Can’t,” she said hoarsely. “Didn’t Murdock tell you?”
Foggy’s face softened, but his eyes still focused on hers intently. “Yeah, Matt told us how Kilgrave forced you to sign the papers. But you did it under duress.”
Low and broken down with emotional exhaustion, Jessica said “I’ve tried telling people the truth, Nelson. They don’t want to believe me. Mind control is way too scary for most people to think about – they’d rather believe I’m crazy.”
Foggy lifted a finger. “I didn’t say we should convince them mind control was real. I said you did it under duress. Would you agree with that statement?”
“Lawyers,” she whispered, for once sounding almost relieved rather than disgusted.
He grinned. “The best in the business, baby. We’re not L & Z, or Hogarth, Chao, and Benowitz – we actually put in the work. You were in the hospital when you signed the papers, was he there with you?”
“Yeah, of course. He rarely left me alone longer than it took to take a piss.”
“Were you afraid for your life?”
“Yes,” she said slowly. Maybe not in the front of her mind where Kilgrave had all the control, but she was very definitely afraid in the tiny corner where her real self was buried.
“Were you afraid for the life of your child? Not even his life – did you think Kilgrave was capable of hurting your baby in any way?”
“YES,” she said, with such vehemence that Foggy jumped. “He hated kids. I met a man who was forced to abandon his toddler on the side of the road so he could give Kilgrave a ride. If they annoyed him enough, he’d forced them to punish themselves. Eat cinnamon, even when they choked. Slam their hands in an oven door. If they were afraid of water, he’d tell them to go swimming. If they were afraid of the dark, he’d lock them in a closet.”
“Jesus Christ,” Matt breathed, and Karen made the low vivid noise of someone forcing down their gag reflex.
“Oh…kay…” Foggy agreed, clearly just as disturbed. “Would you be willing to swear that to a judge, Jessica? Not the mind control, just that when you signed, you were concerned for Peter’s welfare?”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“Would you be willing to swear that Matt didn’t know he had a child and that you never contacted him about Peter?”
“If that would help.”
“Did you know that Peter was Matt’s child or was his paternity uncertain?”
Matt found his voice. “She knew. She always knew I was the father.”
“How the hell did you know that?” Jessica demanded, turning in her seat to glare at him. Matt might be blind but she was sure he could feel the knives in her stare from across the room.
“Your heartbeat, when you saw my face the second time we met. When you saw me your heart started going crazy and at the time, I thought you were nervous about the strange man claiming to be your lawyer. But after less than a day of knowing you, I knew that wouldn’t make you that anxious. Didn’t put the rest together until I realized you were watching Peter in the park.”
“Yeah, I knew,” Jessica agreed with a sigh. “I hope your next girlfriend’s vagina is made of actual titanium because the morning after pill is supposed to be 95% effective, but whatever you got slips past that other 5%, Murdock.”
Foggy laughed, in the loud and hearty way that meant Matt was going to be hearing about this little anecdote for the rest of their goddamn lives. Blushing, he rubbed his hand over his face, coughed and said “Yeah, I’ll take that into consideration. Thanks, Jess. So is that the plan, Fog? We’re gonna say that the state of New York took my son without my consent when the mother signed under duress?”
“That’s basically the plan, yeah,” Foggy said, clearly pleased with himself. “Jessica obviously agreed to give him up under the assumption that Kilgrave would harm her child, mind control or no, and nobody asked you if you were okay with giving him up. Head’s up, they are definitely going to ask for a blood test, but it’s pretty clear they’ll find out what we already know. I’m confident that even if they wouldn’t agree to trash Jessica’s agreement, they’re not going to refuse both of you, especially if Jessica is willing to testify that Matt didn’t know he had a son until years later.”
Jessica grunted and nodded in agreement. “Okay. That’s-that’s great, but that kind of misses a great big question here. What are we going to do with him once we have custody?”
Karen and Foggy both blinked and gave her a blank stare for several long moments before Matt sighed and said “She’s right. We aren’t fit parents – all the reasons we have for not regaining custody before now haven’t gone away.” Thoughtfully, he murmured “Maybe…St. Agnes. He’d be safe there, and Maggie could watch over him…”
Karen was shocked speechless and Foggy responded with “You are absolutely shitting me right now.”
Jessica made a face. “What is St. Agnes, who is Maggie, and why do your friends look like you just shoved a whole stick up their asses?”
“St. Agnes is a Catholic home for children,” Matt explained. “I grew up there. Maggie is my mother, she left when I was a baby and we didn’t regain contact until I was an adult. She’s a nun there, she’d make sure Peter was alright. I have no idea why Foggy and Karen are freaking out. I assume it’s because Foggy is still mad at Maggie for refusing to come forward as my mother twenty years ago and Karen isn’t comfortable with religion.”
“It’s not great,” Jess said, “I’m not crazy about the Catholic part. But it isn’t the dumbest idea you’ve ever had.”
“Let me…get this straight. You want me…to get your son back for you…” Foggy said, enunciating every word so that each syllable was laced through with fury. “…so that you…can dump him in an orphanage…and leave him there.”
“They raised me, they couldn’t have done that bad a job,” Matt argued and Jess gave a thoughtful hum.
“Yes, of course,” Foggy agreed sarcastically. “You’re totally normal except for the almost uncontrollable rage and anxiety and the sense of deep unending sadness you carry with you all the time. I really hope you’re taking steps to make sure Maggie and I never meet, because that Won’t Go Well, Matt. The first thing I plan on asking her is how the fuck she was totally fine with watching her son learn how to starve himself of human affection and basic attention right in front of her own fucking eyes.”
“F-foggy…” Matt was getting the sad, kicked puppy face he had when he was really upset, but Foggy by that point was even more upset and not willing to listen.
“Are you okay with that, too?” he demanded. “Are you going to be chill with watching Peter learn how to shut himself off from basic humans needs, Matt? He needs you, man. Are both of you just gonna walk away from that?”
Grabbing his friend by the arm, Matt dragged him off to one of the inner offices at Nelson, Murdock, and Page, and shut the door. “I know you’re mad at Maggie-”
“Understatement,” he gritted out.
“-but you’re really freaking Jessica out,” Matt said quietly, head cocked as he listened to her short, sharp intakes of air. She already felt guilty about what a terrible mother she’d be – imagining that happening to Peter couldn’t be helpful. “Listen to me, just listen for a minute. I want to be his dad, Fog. I want to take him. But first, and most importantly, the last thing I want to do is force Jessica to do anything, especially force her to become a suitable mother overnight. She isn’t, and she knows that and I’m not going to do this without her – Peter has two parents and he deserves to have attention from both of them, not just the one who’s the least traumatized.”
“Secondly, I know almost nothing about children. I was largely left in relative isolation after the accident. The other kids wanted nothing to do with the blind kid and the blind kid thought they were too fucking loud. And this is a minor complaint, but she and I both have jobs and don’t exactly know any reliable babysitters.”
“Excuse you,” Foggy huffed. “Karen and I would be fantastic babysitters!”
“With jobs. And you work as often as I do. Probably more in a regular work day when you consider my…hobby. Which leads to a whole other world of problems.”
There is a pause long enough for Foggy to realize that Matt has finished talking. “Okay, my turn. You’re going to ask Jessica if she’s okay with you having full-time custody of Peter. Then you’re going to tell her she can take him whenever she’s ready to. Stay with her every weekend, after school visit once a week – whatever she feels like she can handle. I know half the people in the Kitchen, we’ll find you someone reliable to babysit when you need them and we’ll find some audiobooks for you on parenting and child psychology and whatnot. Let you get your research on, Mr Summa Cum Laude.”
“And Daredevil?” Matt asked, brow lifting. Foggy has put serious thought into this.
“Daredevil is gonna have to be a serious emergencies only kind of hero,” he said, sympathetic but unyielding. “I know the city needs Daredevil, I won’t argue that with you anymore. But Peter needs his father more, Matt.”
“Okay. Okay, we’re gonna do it. We’ll file the paperwork first thing tomorrow. Let’s talk to Jessica.”
Out in the main conference room, Jessica pressed the heels of her palms into her eyes and muttered “I don’t think I can do this.”
Karen gave her a reassuring smile. “No one has perfect parents, but both of you always put his best interest first. I think that’s half the battle.” As the men reentered the room and she saw Matt’s face, she gently teased said “Does this mean I get to be a godmother?”
With a reluctant, rather tragic smile, Matt nodded. “That’s the plan.”
She cried gleefully. “I’m a godmother! Shit-I mean, shoot! I’ve missed so many birthdays!”
Jessica sat cross-legged on her desk and surveyed the room around her, running her fingers absent-mindedly through the skeins of yarn next to her hip. Knitting was one of the few activities she did sober. It required concentration, dexterity, and patience, and drinking wasn’t compatible with any of those things.
From the moment Nelson and Murdock revealed their plan, Jessica had been trying to convince herself that Peter would be safe in this apartment and she couldn’t do it. Pryce had tried to shoot Jess and her mom in this room. Simpson had thrown her through a wall in this room. Kilgrave had walked right in and forced Ruben to slit his throat in her own bed.
This was where she worked and she liked her job, but…she couldn’t let her work live with her anymore. She couldn’t bring it home with her, where Peter was supposed to be.
Years ago, she had a room for him, everything carefully picked out by her and Trish. She’s wanted to be surprised, at the time. Jessica wouldn't let them tell her if she was having a boy or a girl. And his birth was a surprise, alright, just in all the wrong ways.
People – mostly Dorothy – had complained at her about the colors. Mint green and cobalt blue were not, according to her, gender neutral. Jessica had blithely informed her that any time she shoved a person through her vagina, she was free to make their room whatever color she liked.
She’d made them herself. The cotton rugs on the floor. The blankets stored in the cupboards. She’d thought it was silly to make a cap and booties for a child that was due in June, but Jessica had still made them. Every thread had passed through her fingers first.
And when he was gone, Jessica couldn’t even make herself go back into that room. Trish had packed it up by herself, bawling furiously the whole time, the unused pile of diapers and bottles and onesies shipped off for donation. Everything from shoes to pacifiers disappeared in a matter of hours.
The only thing Jess had kept for herself was his first blanket, a tiny square of her neatest stitches in chevron stripes of mint green and cobalt blue.
She still had it. It lived on the top shelf of her closet and when she couldn’t hold her son or ask about Peter’s day, Jessica opened its box and stroked the fine cashmere yarn until she could force herself away.
Two days later, Malcolm walked out of the elevator on their floor to the smell of paint fumes and two other apartments left wide open, including Jessica’s at the end of their hall. It was late – Hogarth had a whole team in the office until nearly midnight for a very demanding
asshole client and he was left, overcaffeinated and exhausted, staring into the apartment across the hall from him with uncomprehending surprise.
In the empty apartment directly across from him, Jessica stood in the middle of drop-cloths and paint cans, her black tank top and ripped jeans spattered in three different colors, including the dusty muted copper she was currently coating the living and dining area with.
“Uh…picked up a new hobby?” They didn’t really talk, not like they used to, but Malcolm could probably get her to at least explain this sudden desire for home improvement.
“Something like that,” was all she grunted, stooping down to rest her paint roller after the last spot of white was covered.
“Looks good,” Malcolm said finally. “Warm.”
Jessica paused, standing and doing a full turn around the room to take it in. Above them, the ceiling fan turned lazy circles, the only sound in the room for several seconds. “Yeah,” she said quietly, sounding a little stunned herself, as though she’d done the whole task while sleep-walking. “Yeah, it does.”
Malcolm left her to it, peering into the open office to Alias Investigations – he could see through the open space in the living room that there were boxes packed up all over the kitchen counter. Hm.
As the days went by, Malcolm noticed other odd things happening with his neighbor. Alias’ door stayed in the apartment at the end of the hall, meanwhile Jessica started bringing IKEA furniture into the apartment across from him.
A metal loft bed frame with a built-in desk. Bookshelves. A dresser. A set of chairs.
A week after he watched Jessica finish painting the living room across the hall, he left his apartment for a quick milk run and found her and another familiar face carrying up a secondhand dining room table.
“Don’t keep trying to lift it,” Jessica said impatiently, hefting the table. “I don’t need help carrying it.”
“Then why the hell am I here?” Foggy griped good-naturedly.
“Because it’s an awkward size. I can carry it, it’s just fucking hard to turn corners with it. Besides, I can’t figure out how to get the fridge to stop making that noise. I’m tempted to kick it into a little can and tell the landlord I’ll pay for a new one.”
“Oh god,” he replied. “I’ll look at it, just please don’t do anything else to it. Oh – hey, Ducasse.”
“Nelson,” Malcom greeted. “Hi. How’s private practice?”
“Very glamorous, as you can see,” Foggy said solemnly, helping Jessica turn the table into the doorway. “Still swimming with the sharks at HB&C?”
“Yeah, yeah.” The lowering of the table provided a view of four chairs awaiting its presence in the dining area, with a beautiful antique lamp, also bought secondhand, hanging above them. Jessica had moved the mid-century sofa from the office into the living room. Various plants were scattered around the room.
“Nice to see you, man. Hit me up later, we’ll have a beer!” he said, politely and effectively telling Malcolm to get lost.
With a nod and a wave, he retreated to the elevator.
“Your secretary is a maniac,” Jess grumbled, looking around the room at all the greenery. “What am I gonna do with all these fucking houseplants?”
“You have to admit it makes the room look nicer, though,” Foggy said lightly, helping her to unpack the kitchen items into their new places. “Be grateful Karen is too busy with Matt to spend more time on it – Matt looks more harassed every time she goes over there.”
“What’s wrong with his house?” Jessica asked curiously, walking into the master bedroom so that she could finally clear the last of the personal items from her office.
“A blind guy isn’t exactly the one you ask for decorating tips, Jess. We had to very gently tell him that while he can’t see what it looks like, Peter would be fucking terrified of his living room. It looks like a half-finished warehouse where a homeless man lives.”
Jessica made a vaguely alarmed noise, looking up from shaking out her sheets over the bed. “Uh…”
“Don’t worry, we’re working on it,” he assured her. “Having a kitchen counter that’s not made of plywood will help. Karen’s getting some curtains put up too, so it won’t look like he’s having a rave on that side of the apartment every night.”
“Have you, um, converted the gym yet? Gotten his room ready?” Jessica sounded uncomfortable, as though she were trying to sound like she didn’t care about the answer when she obviously did.
“First thing we did,” he promised with a grin. “Matt wanted to go crazy with the Star Wars, but I convinced him to let Peter make it his own.”
“But he likes Star Wars,” she replied, in a strangely pouty tone.
“You aren’t supposed to know that already.” Foggy said gently. There was an uncomfortable pause as he watched her flip the light on in Peter’s room and carefully examine and re-examine every inch of the space. His gaze was caught by the bed. “Oh my god, Jess, did you make this?”
Jessica shrugged, her voice carefully nonchalant. “He never got the first one I made – he’s outgrown it now. I think blue and red are definitely more his colors anyway.”
A more muted navy blue, for Jessica. A deep stately red, for Matt. Jess never even realized she’d substituted the original colors for the ones most closely associated with the two of them until after the scarves were finished and she admired how well it suited him.
When she made the blanket, she kept the chevron stripes though.
Quietly, Foggy said “He’s gonna love it, Jess.”
He had no idea why Matt and Jess thought they were going to be shitty parents. The obsessive level of detail they put into this just showcased, in Foggy’s opinion, how fantastic they were going to be.
Peter’s mind was completely blank as Miss Marche (“You can call me Kellie, Peter, it’s okay”) walked him into the waiting room. He was going to live with his biological parents.
He’d always known he was adopted, the Parkers had never made that a secret to him. May always told him that his bio mom, whoever she was, had given them a beautiful gift by letting them adopt Peter, even if it was the hardest thing she’d ever had to do. Peter asked many times what she looked like, sounded like. What her name was. But they’d to be honest – they had to tell him they didn’t know.
Never, not in all his wildest imaginings, especially when Miss Marche told him May wasn’t coming back, had he ever thought both of his bio parents were coming back to get him.
Miss Marche opened to door to the waiting room, several people sitting there – all grown-ups.
He saw them first. Peter will always remember that he saw them first, they were the first people his eyes locked on.
No way that’s them, was his thought then, these people are too cool to be my parents.
Peter Parker was a nerd, a geek. Even at seven, he understood that. These people were…not. So very not.
The man was wearing sunglasses indoors, the frames glowing an eerie red around his face, echoing the way the lights made his dark hair shine reddish-brown. Stubble covered his cheeks despite his nice suit and he was sitting very still.
The woman was slouching in her seat, hands tucked into her leather jacket. Like her jacket, her boots were worn black leather and her jeans were ripped and faded. She had dark hair, a sleek blue-black that framed her pale face.
They looked like they belonged on a magazine, not in a child services waiting room.
“Jessica,” the man said, low and warm. His posture was a bit strange, head held slightly tilted. Blind, Peter realized, taking in the white stick at his side. He was blind.
Immediately, the woman’s eyes were on Peter and she sat up from her relaxed pose. “Hello, Peter,” she said, and his eyes widened in disbelief, but she spoke right to him, eyes drinking him in. “I’m Jess. It’s nice to finally meet you.”
Her voice was rough. Sweet. That was his mother’s voice. His mother’s hand, narrow and white, reaching out to shake his. “H-hello…Jess…” His eyes darted between her and the man in the suit. “Um…”
“This is Matt,” she said, using her other hand to nudge the man’s arm and he also held it out for Peter to shake.
Matt smiled at him as their hands touched, slow and warm just like his voice. He didn’t know why, but that made Peter’s heart beat faster, almost as fast as looking into his mother’s eyes had. When Matt shook his hand, it felt rough. It was sort of the opposite of his suit, just like the scruff on his face. Peter liked it. “We’ve been wanting to meet you for a long time, Peter.”
“You have?” he asked, amazed and smiling at them tentatively.
“Of course,” Jess said. She was lost, gone from that moment onward. Kilgrave didn’t have one percent of the power over her that her seven year old son had, looking her in the eyes and smiling at her. She never doubted that she would do anything for him, but today was the first day that she could. “Every day since you were born.”
An odd shiver passed through Peter as each of them took one of his hands, standing up to leave that lonely waiting room. Matt squeezed his hand lightly, as though he could tell. Jess led all three of them out.
These are my parents.
Foggy Nelson is me during that call-out speech.
I lost my entire mind when Maggie admitted that she saw her only child learn to emotionally shut himself down at the age of 10(!!!!!!) and just quietly watched that shit happen.
Peter's first day with Matt and Jess.
We're given an explicit address for the building where Jessica lives (10th Avenue & 46th Street, though it obviously doesn't exist there in real life), but it's never stated where exactly in the Kitchen Matt lives. He did mention that the billboard across the street from him upset the people at Whole Foods, but...there isn't actually a Whole Foods anywhere in Hell's Kitchen. This is just a long way of saying - I made it up!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Even just a week ago, if you told Peter Parker he would be walking through Central Park hanging onto his parents’ hands, the seven-year-old would probably first ask if you were feeling okay. Admittedly, it was somewhat odd calling his mom ‘Jess’ and his dad ‘Matt’ but he had to admit that calling them ‘Mommy and Daddy’ would be…very weird.
(Unbeknownst to him, that was very conscious decision for them, something Matt had insisted on. “We are not making him call us ‘Mom and Dad’.”
“But it’s what we are,” Jessica said, confused and trying to conceal her disappointment.
“Yes and he’s more than smart enough to understand that. But he doesn’t feel it, Jessica. Not yet.” She didn’t understand what the foster system was like, not really. She’d gone straight from having no family to being adopted for Dorothy Walker’s publicity stunt before she even regained consciousness after the accident.
But Matt had been thrown out of houses before with families who tried to insist he relinquish his hold on his father’s memory by calling a strange man whose smell and voice were completely foreign to him ‘dad’. Strange men who, half the time, barely deigned to acknowledge him, never mind touching him or hugging him. Not like Jack Murdock would.
They weren’t ‘Mom and Dad’ yet, but they could be. Someday.
Jessica compromised with him. “Let’s try ‘Matt and Jess’, then. My son is not calling me ‘Jessica’, and I don’t think you want him call you ‘Matthew’.”
He grimaced. “Point taken. No, definitely not. Matt and Jess it is.")
“We can’t wait to show you your rooms, Peter,” Matt told him, listening almost obsessively to every beat and skip of that little heart. He’ll relish describing to Jessica in detail the way it went faster at the sound of her voice, the first touch of Matt’s hand.
“Rooms?” he repeated, puzzled.
Jessica glanced down at him. Though the two had modulated their walking stride to accommodate his shorter legs, she slowed down even more, letting Matt pick up the cue by sound. It was probably good that they were getting this out of the way quickly. “Matt and I don’t live together, Peter. You’ll have your own room in each of our apartments.”
“Oh, but…” A realization dawned on him. “You got divorced? That-that wasn’t why you gave me away, was it?”
He sounded so guilty and that more than anything was what killed her. As soon as the words left his mouth, Peter wanted to take them back, especially when it gave Jess such a sad stricken look.
Guess I’m taking this one, Matt thought, after a moment of her horrified silence. “No, Peter. That was never why. Jess and I have never been married. We became friends years after you were born, but we didn’t really know each other that well when you were a baby.”
That, in Matt’s opinion, was enough detail for a seven-year-old.
Slowly, he sensed Jessica lowering herself to kneel on the grass, heedless of the stains rubbing off onto the front of her jeans. Gently touching the top of Peter’s shoulders, she said “Matt didn’t know, for a long time, that he was a dad. When you were born, there was a very – a very bad man with me. And I thought he was going to hurt you. But I wanted you to be safe, so I made sure the man would never be near you again.”
It was a grossly oversimplified and somewhat misleading version of events, but Matt strongly approved of it. The reality of the situation was too gruesome for a child, especially concerning his own mother. Maybe someday she would tell him a more complete – though probably still edited – version of the story.
“Okay,” Peter agreed, sounding a little teary himself. “But you-you wanted to keep me, right?”
It was the question every adopted child wanted to know.
“More than anything in the world,” she vowed, as serious as if he were an adult. Because Jessica could be achingly sincere at just the right times, but wasn’t good with sustained emotional moments, she stood and said briskly “And anyway, we’re all together now, aren’t we?”
“Yeah. Yeah, we are,” Peter agreed, smiling shyly. A thought occurred to him then, and his face fell a little. “I don’t-um, you guys don’t live in like…different states, do you?”
He had a classmate, Cameron, who spent the first half of every school year in New York and the second half with his mom in California.
Both of them chuckled. “No, Peter,” Matt said, with a small shake of the head. “We both live here.”
“In New York?” he said, confused.
“In Manhattan,” Jess clarified. She pointed to the southwestern corner of the parker. “We live that way, in Hell’s Kitchen.”
“Oh!” Peter said, excited now. “Like Daredevil!”
Jessica darted a quick look over at Matt. They’d had a lot of discussions about the way they planned to raise their son, but somehow Peter actively knowing and asking about Daredevil without knowing that Daredevil equals Dad had not occurred to either of them. Matt seemed a bit stunned, so she said “Yep, but don’t worry. He isn’t scary, I promise. I’ve actually met him before – he’s a bit of a dork.”
Peter nodded eagerly, a wide grin on his face. “I know! Daredevil helps people in trouble, like the Avengers!” She wasn’t great at speeches, couldn’t find the right words like Matt always seemed to, but she swore to herself that she’d find a way to convey the deep admiration shining in Peter’s face to him later. “He’s my second favorite superhero!”
“Really?” Matt drawled, amused and maybe a little jealous. “Who’s your favorite, then?”
Jessica and Matt resolutely Did Not Wince. A spoiled rich boy who’d spent most of his twenties and thirties trying to consume his bodyweight in scotch and coke while working his way through the playboy catalog was not their idea of a person they wanted Peter to emulate.
Better to be like his dad and punch car thieves in ridiculous spandex pajamas, in Jessica’s opinion. Even at moments when Matt was being an absolute dumbass, she’d never doubted his heart was in the right place.
Peter continued on, “I want to be an inventor, too! I saw this article about the energy-saving engine he just built…”
He chattered away, going on long tangents about mechanical and scientific discoveries. They should’ve known – he didn’t care about the money or the glamorous lifestyle. Peter loved the science.
And judging by Matt’s lost expression, the topic was just as over his head as it was hers. Despite their very different educational backgrounds – Jessica had dropped out of community college and Matt graduated Columbia Law summa cum laude – neither of them were slouches in the intelligence department. But their kid was on a whole other planet.
His voice finally died out and Peter glanced nervously between them. “I’m-I’m talking too much, aren’t I?” He stared at his shoes. “People say I do. A lot.”
Jessica had honestly been too awed by his obvious intelligence to mind and Matt found it very relaxing. It was like listening to Foggy and, to a lesser extent, Karen. If he hated chatter, he’d be short two amazing friends.
“Not at all,” Matt said pleasantly. He’d described Peter’s tendency to let his mouth run ahead of his brain but this was the first time Jessica had been there to witness it.
“You get that from my little brother Phil,” she said suddenly, glancing down at him. “He never shut up, either. I’ve sort of missed it, actually.”
“Can I meet him? Do I have more aunts and uncles? Or-or grandparents?! Oh! Do-do I have brothers and sisters?” Each question was rapid-fire with eager excitement – an excitement they both knew they’d have to disappoint.
“No,” Jessica admitted slowly, briefly looking toward Matt. “Neither of us had any other kid but you. Phil and my parents both died in a car accident when I was a teenager – I’m afraid you can’t meet them.”
She had to tamp down the surge of anger that welled in her, directed entirely at Trish. Peter might’ve had both grandmothers, if it weren’t for her. Sure, Alisa would have been in prison for the rest of their lives, but it was better than nothing.
Peter was very pale. “Like my mom and dad?” he asked, then immediately corrected himself. “Like my other mom and dad?”
“Yeah,” she said quietly. “Like the Parkers.”
Softly, Matt said “My mother – your grandmother – is still alive, Peter. I’m sure she’d love to meet you, whenever you’re ready for it.”
Peter nodded, a bit shaky still. “I’d-I’d like that.”
It wasn’t precisely true. Maggie did want very much to meet him, that was very true. When Foggy had been able to confirm that they would be regaining custody of Peter, Matt had screwed up the courage to tell Maggie about his existence, including the circumstances of his conception and the somewhat convoluted path by which he’d discovered him. After a truly horrifying ten-minute lecture about safe sex practices, Matthew Michael!, Maggie had all but demanded that he present her grandson to Clinton Church as soon as possible.
As far as Matt was concerned, ‘as soon as possible’ was whenever Peter was good and ready.
He was sincere in his desire to have a relationship with Maggie and he hoped Peter would have one with her too, but he didn’t owe her special priority in life. She was not second or even third on his list of concerns – Peter was and always would be first, from the moment Matt knew of him. Jessica had become second by necessity, she was his friend and the mother of his child. (And maybe, just a little, he had taken Foggy’s words about Maggie to heart.)
Determined to stay more cheerful, Matt said “I don’t have any brothers or sisters, but you do kind of have an aunt and an uncle.”
“That’s right,” Jess agreed, looking down at him with a faint smile. “Foggy and Karen are probably just dying to meet you.”
“Foggy and Karen?” Peter repeated uncertainly. “Who’s that?”
“They’re my business partners,” he said. “My best friends. Jess is right, they’re very excited. I’m surprised they’re not blowing up my phone to ask when I’m bringing you home.”
It was a poor explanation of what they meant to him, in Matt’s mind. Even in the absolute depths of his deepest despairs, they’d come back to him. Loved him. Believed in him. “It’s not me,” he’d told Ray Nadeem. “It’s them.”
As far as he was concerned, there was no Matt Murdock without Karen Page and Foggy Nelson, and he knew they would love Peter every bit as much. It was one of the very few concerns he didn’t have.
Encountering a familiar smell and sound, Matt gestured in front of them and said “There’s an ice cream cart over there. Let’s have one before we leave the park.”
Jessica watched Peter glance between Matt and the ice cream vendor. “…how did you..?” She could see the great big question mark practically hovering over his head, the silent question that even at seven, he wasn’t rude enough to ask – is he even really blind? “How did you know that?”
Matt, that shithead, gave their son one of his more mysterious smiles. “I have very sharp ears.”
Jessica resisted the urge to glare at him. They’d agreed that they wouldn’t attempt to lie about or directly conceal their abilities from Peter, but that was very different from casually hinting about it all over the place. This was just showing off.
“Ah, that reminds me,” she said suddenly, digging into one of the pockets of her leather jacket.
Matt’s head cocked as the pair of bells jingled softly in her hand. “Are you impersonating a reindeer today?”
Peter giggled quietly, turning Matt’s smile into the ridiculously goofy grin that he only did when he was really happy. Crouching down, she held the long strand of blue yarn out for Peter to see. A little silver bell was tied to each end. “We’re gonna tie this onto your backpack,” she told him, looping the yarn around the top handle of his bag. “Matt does have very good ears – they’re so good you might sometimes forget that he can’t see you, but when you’re both in a crowd, it won’t be as easy for him to find you. Wear these and he’ll always be able to hear where you are.”
Matt was touched that she had thought of it and absolutely knew better than to say so out loud. Jessica knew that Matt used both hearing and smell to determine where objects and people were in the world. He knew Peter’s heartbeat so well by now he could often hear it from two blocks away. But she was right – it wasn’t as much help in a large group of people. His heartbeat would only identify Peter’s general direction in relation to him, not Peter himself. He’d have to think of a way he could show his appreciation for Jessica’s thoughtfulness without running head on into her unwillingness to accept kindness.
Curiously, Peter glanced toward Matt, meeting the blood red lenses of his glasses rather than looking into his eyes. He wondered what color his father’s eyes were, but it felt rude to ask him to take them off, especially right there in public. “Can you really hear me wherever go?”
Jessica watched Matt focus go from her to Peter. “Don’t look at me – you got yourself into this,” she said under her breath. “Show off.”
“From pretty far away, yeah,” Matt said, neatly evading a real answer. “Do you like chocolate or vanilla?”
“Vanilla,” Peter said after a moment.
He beamed. “That’s my favorite, too!”
Because he never learned his lesson the first time, Matt strode confidently over to the vendor while Peter watched, open mouthed. He saw Jess roll her eyes and smile, then she pointed to where Matt stood and said, “See when he pays?”
“He’s just using a credit card, right?” Peter whispers back, feeling a little thrill go through him that his mom would share secrets with him.
“Yep. Matt can’t read the numbers on money, but if you write things down for him nice and clear, he can feel your handwriting on the paper.”
A bit cheekily, because he was the unholy union of a blind vigilante lawyer and an ass-kicking detective, Peter said “Does that mean I should ask you if I need help with my homework?”
“If you don’t want to learn braille, you definitely should,” Matt said as he joined them again, giving Jessica a coffee-flavored cone and handing Peter his ice cream.
“Oh, could I?” Peter asked, brightening. “Will you teach me?”
“Yes, of course,” Matt said, surprised.
They finish their ice cream walking around the lake and then Jess and Matt lead Peter onto the A train. The train was crowded, people rushing home after work to their dinners.
Peter bit back a surprised squeak as Jess picked him up with no effort and pulled him onto her lap, giving him sit down on the crowded train. He let his legs dangle on either side of her knees. She tickled him lightly on the side as they were sitting, raising her brow with a perfectly innocent expression when he glanced up at her. Matt hung onto the rail one-handed as he stood right in front of Peter and Jess, telling stories about the other passages to him in a low voice.
(He thought his father was making them up, was the thing. He never imagined that Matt was simply describing what he was hearing and smelling and sensing, then relating those things to Peter.)
They all got off at 42nd Street and walked together down to 10th Avenue. Peter was disappointed when Jess admitted they would have to part ways now. Lightly, as though she were a little afraid of touching him, she ruffled his hair and said, “I could come over and bring breakfast. Would you like that?”
He nodded eagerly and opened his arms for a hug goodbye without hesitation. Peter was beginning to think that all of his mother’s smiles were that sudden and that brief. Her hug too, was brief but fierce – her hold around him strong, but only for a moment before she stepped back.
“This sucks,” she muttered, only loud enough for Matt to hear.
“You can be the one to take him,” he offered, though Matt would be just as devastated to say goodbye as she was.
“I really can’t,” she replied, and he left it at that. A bit more light and cheerful, she said “I’ll see in the morning, buddy.”
“Bye, Jess!” He waved enthusiastically, all the way until they turned a corner and could longer see her anymore. Matt’s chest ached as he heard Jessica let out a suspiciously wet sigh and began making her way up to 46th.
They had to go down to 11th and over to 41st before making it to his building. Though Matt was given to understand that most children were energetic but tended to tire quickly, Peter didn’t show signs of fatigue until they were about a block away from his house. Matt wasn’t surprised – it was an emotional day for all of them and they’d spent hours walking in the park, even with frequent breaks and they was before walking home from the subway.
“How does spaghetti sound for dinner?” Matt asked him, as they approached the front door.
“That’s my favorite!” the little boy exclaimed. They’d gotten odd looks from people the whole way back – Peter had no way of realizing that most blind people didn’t navigate with that level of ease and more than a few people were scandalized by a blind man leading a child around.
I know, Matt didn’t say. I know all your favorites.
Peter was even more excited by his room. Foggy had talked him out of going with Star Wars from ceiling to floor, but Karen had compromised with a similar theme – space. They’d painted his old gym in midnight blue, Karen painstakingly stenciling on constellations and actual star positions. Foggy had found a set of kid’s sheets that had a beautiful galaxy design and even a little pillow shaped like a rocket.
Peter’s sounds of delights made Matt’s face hurt from grinning. He couldn’t even remember the last time he’d smiled this much.
Making dinner involved another dilemma – remove the glasses or don’t. Partly it was because he often forgot he was actually wearing them – he spent the majority of his day at the office or punching people and his face was covered in various ways for both of those activities – but it was also because he was a little nervous about showing his eyes to Peter.
Most of the children at St. Agnes had been highly uneasy with seeing Matt without something covering his blank eyes and many of them – both covertly and overtly – had said it was very creepy. He didn’t want Peter to find his face creepy, but he knew it wasn’t realistic to walk around the house with the glasses on 24/7.
Foggy admitted that he’d been a bit off balance at first. He said that it was mostly a social cues thing – everything you were taught about interacting with other people relied on nonverbal expressions, gestures, and eye contact. Matt had to mostly guess about facial expressions, more subtle gestures were sometimes lost on him, and as good as he was about guessing where people’s faces were, he couldn’t just force his eyes to focus.
Logically, he knew it was something Peter could only get used to by exposing the reality of it to him early and often. But he didn’t want his own son to be scared or disturbed by him. But they couldn’t get past that unless Matt was willing to let him acclimate to it, and he knew the longer he waited, the more forbidden and scary his uncovered face would seem.
Sighing quietly, Matt pulled them off and folded them onto the counter. “Peter, do you want to help me make dinner?”
“Can I?” Peter asked, turning to look at him. There was a moment when he realized he could see Matt’s whole face, and his heart stuttered and stopped. A soft ‘oh’ came out that wouldn’t have been audible to any other person before Peter’s motormouth rallied up again and he said, “Aunt May…Aunt May used to let me mix the meatballs.”
“Perfect! Let’s wash our hands.” Matt silently promised to light a candle for May Parker the next time he was at Clinton Church. Maybe he would teach Peter how. Matt often found the ritual comforting, perhaps he would, too.
As energetic and enthusiastic Peter had been for most of the day, after wolfing down a plate of spaghetti, it became pretty obvious that his little guy was slowing way down. Peter’s chatter was more of a mumble and he worried a couple of times that he was about to face-plant into his plate.
They finished dinner and Matt was helping him wash marinara sauce off his face when in the living room, his phone called “Foggy. Foggy. Foggy.”
Peter flinched slightly, cowering and hiding his face against Matt’s hip. He’d never displayed such a skittishness before, so he had to assume the unfamiliar location combined with his tiredness was making him a bit jumpy. “It’s okay, that’s just my phone,” Matt soothed, reaching down to card a hand through his hair. “It always tells me who’s calling.”
“That’s your friend?” he asked hesitantly. “Foggy?”
The tiredness also apparently made Peter clingy. He was plastered to him like a limpet, until Matt’s weak will gave into his urge to just pick him up and carry him. Even as he answered the phone, he could tell the little boy was falling asleep on his shoulder. “Hello?”
“Open your door, buddy. We’re celebrating your first day of dad-time with a bottle of craft beer.”
“One beer, Matt. I’m not getting you drunk with your son in the house.”
“You just want to see him so you can brag to Karen,” he accused, even as he walked to the front door.
“You can’t prove anything,” his friend answered with a grin in his voice.
Peter was already half-asleep as Matt opened the door.
Foggy gave a quiet “awww” as he saw them, taking in the little boy clinging to Matt and his friend’s somewhat comedic expression of stupefied adoration. He was going to have to get Jessica to take Peter during the critical points of their next high priority case – Matt looked like his proximity to his son’s cuteness was killing off his brain cells with Frank Castle-esque precision. Not that Foggy could blame him because holy shit, Peter was tooth-achingly adorable!
“Hey, buddy,” he greeted Peter, keeping his voice low in deference to his tired state. “Did I interrupt bedtime?”
“’lo, Uncle Foggy,” Peter yawned, rubbing his eyes, his head crashing right back down to Matt’s shoulder as his eyes slid half closed.
WOW, you are somehow even better at sensing weakness than your dad, he thought, dazed. 911, I’d like to report a theft, this child just stole my fucking heart. “Hey, Pete. Do you like your room?”
“I love-love-love it,” he sighed, struggling his way through another yawn.
“We’re on our way to going there right now,” Matt murmured, gesturing for Foggy to make himself comfortable on the couch with his free hand. Dragging his fingertips along the wall, he made his way back to the room smelling of fresh paint and new fabric.
And promptly almost tripped over Peter’s backpack near his bed – they’d be having a conversation tomorrow about the importance tidying up. He wasn’t quite as impaired as any other blind man, but he couldn’t always put his whole awareness into his environmental surroundings and even if he could, he really didn’t want to do it in his own house.
Pulling back the comforter, Matt lowered Peter’s limp body down onto the bed and prepared to tuck him in.
But he wouldn’t go.
Clinging tightly onto Matt like a little monkey, Peter gripped onto his shirt and clamped his tiny legs around his waist. If he really tried, Matt probably could’ve pried him off and left him in the bed, but Peter was making a soft pathetic noise that seemed biologically engineered to ensure that he couldn’t just put him down and leave him there. Lifting him upright again, he tried to coax him into the bed instead. “It’s time to go to sleep, Peter. Aren’t you tired?”
“Wanna stay with you,” Peter mumbled, turning his face into Matt’s neck. He could feel each individual eyelash brushing his skin.
I am a first-class sucker, Matt thought ruefully. He should set boundaries, be firm, be a good parent. But he didn’t want to say no. He didn’t want to let go of his son.
He dared to give Peter a light kiss to his hair, his fingers still tangled in Matt’s shirt. “Okay, Pete. Let’s go see Fog again.”
After so many years of knowing him, Matt knew all the ways to interpret his silence – this was surprise. Peter was already back to being nearly asleep now that the threat of being left in the bed was over. Matt shrugged. “He didn’t wanna go.”
Foggy kept his voice low, shifting over a little more to give them room to sit. “I’m not surprised.”
Matt made an inquiring sound as he sat down. “He likes his room, though.”
“It’s a new place, Matt. He’s never been here before and this was a really emotional day for him, you know?” He sensed Foggy shrugging. “He wants to feel safe in a strange place.”
Idly rubbing at Peter’s back, he said “But I’m practically a stranger, I’m barely more familiar than the apartment is.”
Very quietly, Foggy said “You’re his dad. That’s not nothing, Matt, not to a seven-year-old.”
Matt hummed thoughtfully. “I – we – both got very lucky,” he said after a moment. “We got him back at an age where he hasn’t really learned how to distrust people. Old enough to understand that the Parkers weren’t his first parents and young enough to still wonder what we’re like and want to know who we are.”
He and Fog talk quietly, drinking their beers so slowly they couldn’t manage a buzz even if they were lightweights – well, more of a lightweight, in Matt’s case. Foggy was nearly ready to call it a night when Peter made another one of those noises that were hardwired to send Matt’s brain into Worried Dad Mode. “Pete? Peter, are you okay?”
(Worried Dad Mode was what Foggy named it and it was a state he and Karen would become intimately familiar with. Matt had acknowledged that Jack almost certainly had some kind of generalized anxiety disorder. Foggy wasn’t sure if Matt also had the same generalized anxiety and becoming a parent had brought it to life or if he was just subconsciously modeling the behavior of the only decent parent he’d ever had.)
“I think he’s having a nightmare, Matt,” Foggy said, watching Peter’s face twist up unhappily and another of those whimpers came out.
The whimper quickly became sniffling and then full-on sobbing. “Okay, okay,” Matt murmured, gently cradling his head closer to his chest – like he might do for a baby, slowly rocking him back and forth. “I’m here, Matt’s here, Peter.”
He continued rocking, trying to work out what he could do to make this feel more familiar to him. Matt had listened to nearly a hundred bedtimes Peter had with Aunt May in the two years since he’d discovered his son was living in Queens. She would usually read or sing to him. He couldn’t read to him – Matt had bought him children’s books, advanced because Peter was already a decent reader on his own. But he hadn’t thought to purchase child-appropriate books in braille.
He could sing…? But…Matt didn’t actually remember any children’s songs. He didn’t remember lullabies or nursery rhymes. Being raised by a single father, before he went blind, Matt’s nightlight and his lullaby was often a television screen. After he had the accident, sleep was a place other people went, until he became old enough and skilled enough to control his senses. At ten, his caretakers generally thought he was too old for that sort of thing.
So he sang the only kind of soothing song that he knew.
“Be thou my vision, o lord of my heart. Naught be all else to me, save that thou art. Thou my best thought, by day or by night. Waking or sleeping, thy presence my light. Be thou my wisdom and thou my true word. I ever with thee and thou with me, lord.” Matt kept up the steady rocking motion, his heart and breathing deliberately calm. “Thou my great father and I, thy true son. Thou in me dwelling, and I with thee one.”
His hand followed the line of Peter’s spine in long firm strokes, listening cautiously for the slow descent of his breathing. Resting his head atop his son’s hair, he murmured “Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise – thou my inheritance, now and always. Thou and thou only, first in my heart. High king of heaven, my treasure thou art.”
Foggy will remember Matt’s expression for the rest of his life, the naked devotion on his best friend’s face.
“High king of heaven my victory won, may I reach heaven’s joys o bright heaven’s sun. Heart of my own heart whatever befall, still be my vision o ruler of all.”
Peter’s breathing and heartbeat were even and steady, soft puffs of air fanning out against his chest. Foggy’s phone gave an electronic ‘click’ that made Matt instantly suspicious. “What are you doing?”
“Sending a video of this to literally everyone we know,” Foggy said, unabashed. “That’s the cutest thing I’ve ever seen, and the world needs to know the joy that I now have.”
“Foggy,” Matt protested, but hushed, barely daring to move his lungs.
“Relax – I’m kidding. I sent it to Jess and Karen, that’s all.” There’s a moment of silence before Foggy said “I know I’m bad at Catholicism, Matt, but I’m pretty sure I know sacrilege when I see it.”
He wasn’t using his jovial tone for it. Foggy was entirely serious. “It’s a proper hymn – the nuns taught it to me,” Matt protested in a whisper. “How is worship music sacrilegious?”
“Matt,” Foggy said very quietly, the utter sincerity of ‘my treasure thou art’ stuck in his mind. “We both know that it wasn’t god you were thinking of just then.”
Fuck I'm tired. Have a thing.
Group Chat – Peter Parker Protection Squad
Video file sent by Foggy-Bear
omg, my ovaries just exploded!
tell matt i’m suing him for my medical expenses!
lol please don’t
we can’t afford ourselves
Jessica didn’t tend to dwell on bad things – a little whiskey served to put the past behind her and when it couldn’t, maybe the guy holding up the liquor store on the day she happened to be there got a few extra punches. Bad things happened and she drank it away. What she couldn’t drink away, she beat into others. What couldn’t be released through her rage was stuffed down and shut away.
But good things…happy memories were worn silky smooth like a pebble polished in the hand. Drawn out in her mind to linger on over and over again.
She had few of those left now. Her childhood home was now forever tainted, however faintly, by the shadow of Kilgrave. Her memories of her picture perfect family had gone just a little askew with her mother’s too loose tongue. The close relationship with her best friend had gone sour with betrayal. There was little left to her that Jessica could use to soothe herself.
This day would be one of those good, treasured memories, Jessica knew it. Even as her body got into the elevator with Vido and Oscar and stood idly waiting for the machine to move, her mind was still on her son.
Peter had Jack Murdock’s smile, and Phil’s chatter. Her own hints of sassiness that bled through, every now and then, a sense of humor always willing to rise to the occasion and a kind of graceless honesty. Matt’s shy but people-friendly attitude, his almost frustrating optimism. It was as though his genetic code had plucked out the very best parts of them and that was what Peter was made of.
“Hold-hold the door!” a voice gasped, and Jessica’s arm shot out and blocked the folding metal doors before her good sense could stop her.
Malcolm leaned against the wall, panting out a weak “…thanks!”
Vido peered at Jessica, corned in the elevator. “Dad says you got a two bedroom,” he said, ignoring his father’s hissed Spanish. “Do you have a roommate now?”
Jessica shoved her hands in her pockets and shrugged. She did not glance at Malcolm to her right. “Yeah, I guess you could say that.”
“Can I meet him? Her?” Vido persisted. “When are they moving in?”
“Him, and yes, you can meet him this weekend.” It was Monday. Matt wanted to give Peter a week to get used to being with them, used to the routine of spending weeknights with him and weekends with her. He’d go back to school next week. “He stays with his dad during the week.”
“No way, you have a kid?!” Vido exclaimed, looking painfully excited by the prospect, practically dancing in place at the idea of having another child in the building to play with - and not just any child. Jessica's child. Jessica could see Malcolm stiffen with surprise from the corner of her vision. “Oh, he isn’t a really little kid, is he? Babies are cute, but they don’t like action figures. Does he like Captain America?”
“He’s not a baby, Vido. He’s seven.” Jessica couldn’t resist a quiet laugh and shook her head. “I hate to disappoint you, but I think he’s more of an Iron Man fan.”
“Oh.” For only a moment, Vido’s face fell before brightening right back up again. “That’s okay – that just means when we play Avengers, he’ll let me be Cap!”
Oscar rolled his eyes and playfully shoved the back of his son’s head. “Please excuse my nosy child.”
Jessica huffed, the faintest smile on her face. “It’s alright, I’m sure that’s something I’m going to become intimately familiar with.”
They left the elevator on their floor, leaving Malcolm and Jessica alone. Malcolm stood very still, as though he could make her forget he was there if he just played dead long enough.
(The night Jessica had saved his life – the first time, at least – she was enormously pregnant. Malcolm’s savior had on combat boots and a skull-print dress, the harsh bluish glow of the streetlamps turning her hair night black and her skin starkly white. Through his head injury, he heard Kilgrave praise her beauty and strength and expressed a fascinated disgust for the swell that her leather jacket could not hide or even attempt to contain.
“Right then, where’s the little bastard’s father?” he’d asked, with a little sneer, looking around as though he could take care of that problem there and then.
“No idea!” Jessica had said, with that eerie, beatific smile that never sat quite naturally on her face. “One night stand. His name was Matt. I never saw him again.”
“Well, that’s alright then,” Kilgrave had drawled, as though Jessica needed some sort of permission to have a partner. Staring with entranced horror at the way her baby squirmed beneath her skin, easily visible beneath the skulls on her dress and the baby inside pressed its hand to her belly, five tiny fingers outlined in her flesh. “Well, that’s absolutely disgusting but I suppose it’s too late to do anything about it now.”
Kilgrave smiled slowly, cupping Jessica’s face. Dazed, she tried to lift her hand and swat him off, but he said “None of that, darling. The parasite is a disappointment, but no one is perfect, I suppose…”)
Hearing her say that she had a son was not a shocking revelation to him – he knew that she’d had a child.
But ‘had’ was the operative word in that sentence. The next time he’d seen her, Jessica was no longer pregnant, but there was no baby with her. She never spoke of it, never referenced her condition the night they first met each other, and met Kilgrave. Malcolm never asked her about it – when he was high, it was part of the background horror that went on in his mind all the time. Sober and free of Kilgrave’s commands, he knew he’d never ask. Because he was afraid. He knew all about the kinds of things Kilgrave was capable of and he was too scared of the answer to ask Jessica what had become of her child.
(He’d had the courage to ask, but only once, while he was with Trish, before she betrayed his trust and Jessica’s love. “Jessica…?” he’d began hesitantly, waiting for Trish to look up and meet his eyes. “…what happened to her baby?”
Pain flashed over Trish’s face. “A boy. She had a boy. And she gave him away. Kilgrave forced her to give him away. He would be…he is…three years old now.” Restlessly tugging on the end of her ponytail, she looked away and said “Don’t ask her about him. There’s no way to bring up the subject without her getting angry at you – believe me, I’ve tried.”)
They left the elevator and as he unlocked his front door, very quietly, Malcolm said “Congratulations, Jess.”
She didn't turn to look at him, but she also sounded subtly pleased, hand stilling on the brass handle. “Thanks.”
He decided to risk a question, now that Jessica had her son back. “Your-your boy, what’s his name?”
She paused, already halfway into her apartment. “Peter. My son’s name is Peter.” She looked over her shoulder to catch Malcolm’s eye. “And if you tell Trish that I have him, I’ll make you wish you’d never heard it.”
And then she closed the door in his face, and Malcolm was left standing there, staring at the wood. “I wouldn’t do that,” he whispered to the empty hallway. “I’d never do that to you.”
Behind the door, Jessica sighed and shook her head.
Whatever anger Malcolm had inspired in her had died years ago – but so had her trust in him, however small that had seemed. And that was much less easy to resurrect than her anger. But nowadays, Jessica had more important concerns.
Filled with nerves, Jessica walked to the liquor cabinet and pulled out a bottle. It wasn’t the bottom shelf booze she had stashed in the office, but it wasn’t anything too extravagant. She forced herself to get a glass, to use ice, to put the bottle back, to drink it slowly like a civilized human being rather than a desperate wino who wants to find out how quickly she can black out.
She’s been to an addiction councilor, gotten some tips for managing the physical symptoms of alcoholism. She knew the psychological shit – she drank because she didn’t want to deal with her broken fucking life.
Jessica made a promise to Peter, six years ago, when she watched another woman push her son down the sidewalk in a stroller, a happy healthy baby boy, with a big smile and rosy cheeks. She promised herself that she would never let any of her problems touch Peter and Jessica kept that promise by completely removing herself from any part of his life.
Matt, to her relief, had agreed with her when he’d uncovered her most dearly kept secret – the secret that rightfully was his, too. But removing themselves from the equation was no longer an option for them.
The drinking was one of those problems. But she’d made a promise to him, and that meant she needed to get a handle on it. When you went into a pigpen, you ended up covered in shit. Jessica was already covered in it and the only thing she could do as a parent was try to make sure it didn’t end up on him, too.
Even now, sitting on her couch in the apartment she finished moving into just three days ago, Jessica thought she might be dreaming. That she had hallucinated eating ice cream in Central Park holding onto her son’s hand, tickling him on a train ride, hugging him goodbye.
The wrenching pain of saying goodbye, that was too vivid for this to be a dream. The pain was a sharp strike of reality in the middle of the haze of joy the rest of the day had been.
Did she hug him too hard? Jessica felt like she probably hugged him too hard.
An emotional reaction was the fastest way for her to lose control of her strength, but she wasn’t used to the trigger being anything but rage – or more rarely, panic. What if she hurt him?
No, Jessica was certain she hadn’t – Peter hadn’t made a scared or hurt sound and a seven year old didn’t know how to hide reactions like that yet. In the future, she knew she would have to control herself better, avoid holding onto him so tightly. He was just a little boy, and she was something between a hero and a monster.
She’d finished her drink, actually taken the time to eat a real meal, and was about to take a shower and call it a night when her phone chimed at her.
Nelson (not an asshole)
Multimedia message received
Jessica was expecting Matt to call her after Peter went to bed, tell her how he was settling in. She wasn’t expecting a text from Nelson. Curious, she swiped the video open and sat, open-mouthed. “…thou in me dwelling, and I with thee one.”
“Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise – thou my inheritance, now and always.” His voice was tinny through a speaker but calm and even. On Matt’s rust-colored sofa, Peter was draped over chest, fingers hanging on hard to his shirt. Slowly, Matt rocked him back and forth, cradling his head like a newborn baby, his other hand stroking his back. Well, hell, his dad instincts were maybe six years behind schedule, but Jessica couldn’t blame him for that. “Thou and thou only, first in my heart. High king of heaven, my treasure thou art.”
Jessica cried silently, rubbing a hand over her eyes even though it didn’t stop the tears from coming or dry her face. This hurt too, but Jessica knew just about every way a person could feel pain, and it was a clean satisfying pain, one that she could live with, and breathe through. It was love, sharp and ruthless. “High king of heaven my victory won, may I reach heaven’s joys o bright heaven’s sun. Heart of my own heart whatever befall, still be my vision o ruler of all.”
Her son slept so innocently in his father’s arms and Matt pressed his mouth to his dark hair before the video ended. Jessica’s thumb found the replay button, and Peter’s lullaby began again.
It was love, and never before had pain been so welcome.
Jessica had no idea how she got to sleep. She wouldn’t let herself use whiskey as a sleep aid anymore and she was so excited to get up and see Peter that it was a miracle she got any rest at all. Still, she was awake before sunrise and venturing out in the city for breakfast.
Since it wasn’t even seven a.m. yet, Jessica opened Matt’s apartment door with one hand, balancing the pastry box and coffees with the other. Hand-eye coordination, it turned out, was much easier for her to manage if she wasn’t either hammered or hungover.
Matt made Jessica her own key, but she was sort of expecting him to already be awake, and Peter to still be in bed. As a kid, all she wanted to do was stay in bed. Instead, as she silently closed the front door behind her, she paused as she heard a tiny voice speaking, the height of its direction hinting that Peter was seated at the breakfast bar in the kitchen. “…stars and everything, Ned!”
Oh. She smirked to herself. Peter was talking to his little friend – face-timing him, if the loud tinny voice on the other end was any indication.
“What about your parents, man? I wanna hear about them, too! Are they nice?” Ned’s voice lowered. “Are they mean to you?”
Jessica froze. How the hell was Matt not awake yet? She was certain her heartbeat was probably clanging like an alarm bell.
“Oh, man,” Peter sighed. “Ned, you have to meet them. I don’t even know how to describe them.”
“Try,” Ned encouraged with a laugh. There were background noises suggesting that Ned was also sitting in his kitchen.
“I’m still not convinced they’re my parents, sometimes,” Peter admitted, and Jessica had to let herself partially collapse against the wall. God, sobriety really blew chunks. She cared more than she wanted to when she was drunk – sober it was agonizing. “I really, really want you to meet them – they do not look like they could be my parents, Ned. I’m not sure anyone’s parents look like them. Matt looks like he could be Batman but cooler, and Jess…I dunno, man, I think my mom might be America’s attempt to make a Black Widow.”
Wow, Jessica thought, stunned. That’s…uncomfortably close to the truth. My kid’s a fucking genius.
“That sounds amazing,” Ned enthused.
“It kind of is.” Peter paused, before his voice got softer. “I’m nervous.”
Ned’s voice got quieter, too. “I know. But they’re your real parents, right? Not like the foster homes.”
“I know and that’s…good. But-but now it matters, right? If they-if they don’t like me, I don’t get a do over,” he said anxiously. “Not this time.”
That’s not even possible, Jessica thought, unaware that Matt was laying in bed, thinking Never gonna happen.
“I don’t think they’d be getting you back if they didn’t like you,” Ned said firmly.
Jessica already liked this kid. “Anyone awake yet?” she called. “I’ll eat these myself!”
Peter whispered “Oh my god, she’s here!”
Excited, Ned hissed “Don’t hang up, I wanna see her!”
“Um, uh, good morning, Jess!” Peter stuttered.
Jess gave him one of those brief, beautiful smiles and set the pastry box and drinks on the counter. “An early riser, I see.” She ruffled his hair lightly. “Well, you don’t get that from me.”
Or your terrible poker face. That’s all your dad’s fault. At least I’ll always know when you’re trying to pull one over on me.
From the tablet resting on the counter, Ned gasped “Wow, Peter, your mom is so pretty!”
Blushing furiously, Peter said “Bye, Ned!” and smashed the ‘end call’ button. Meeting her eyes, he shyly said again “Morning, Jess.”
“Morning, buddy,” she said quietly, resting her hip against the counter. “Sleep well?”
“Like a baby!” Peter chirped and then froze, a horrified expression flashing over his face.
Jessica hid another smile by turning around and finding him a glass of milk and a plate for his breakfast. Apparently, he’d forgotten falling asleep on Matt until just then. And speak of the (dare)devil, Matt shuffled out of his room, rubbing a distracted hand over his five o’clock shadow.
Peter burst into laughter at the sight of him, embarrassment totally forgotten as he tried to smother the noises with a hand over his face.
Matt blinked owlishly, head tilted in confusion. “What’s funny?”
“Your hair,” Jess said dryly. “Law school ain’t enough for you, Murdock, you gotta go to clown college, too?”
Running his hand over the chaos on top of his head (which didn’t help at all), Matt childishly stuck his tongue out at her just to make Peter giggle. “Whatever, Jones, you’re just jealous of my good looks.”
Crossing her arms over her chest and smirking, Jess said “You literally don’t know what either of us look like, Matt. I could be the Marilyn Monroe of the modern world and you’d never know. You could look like…” She internally searched for a reference Matt might remember. “…like Pee Wee Herman, for all you know!”
She gave Peter a wink, and he tried to smother another laugh. It seemed mean to tease Matt for something he couldn't see, but Jess didn't say it in a mean way. She said it like Matt was in on the joke.
If they were not in the room with a minor, Matt probably would’ve countered that by arguing that Jessica would never fuck Pee Wee Herman no matter how wasted she was, but Jessica was trying hard to keep her language kid-friendly and he was going to be the one to destroy that. Instead, he put on his most pathetic, hangdog expression and turned his face in Peter’s direction. “Peter, don’t lie to me. Do I look like Pee Wee Herman?”
Peter giggled again. “No, Jess is kidding!”
No, apparently I look like Batman but cooler, Matt thought gleefully. Whatever the hell that means.
With his usual degree of eerie accuracy, he reached over in a half hug, gently cuffing the side of Peter’s head. “That’s my boy.”
Oh, that was maybe not so good. Peter’s heart slammed forward so hard that Matt nearly flinched. But then he leaned against Matt’s side with surprising strength, narrow shoulders and little spine pressed into his ribs.
Peter’s face must’ve shown something, because Jessica dug through the fridge so that he couldn’t see her lips moving. “Jesus, Murdock, don’t give him a heart attack.” Out loud, she said “Matt, milk or coffee?”
The look he gave her was so appalled even Jessica laughed. “Alright, cool it, Murdock! Don’t send a hit squad."
“What’s that?” Peter asked, as Jess took a big heavy-looking leather book from the bag she’d brought with her.
“Well, uh, it’s sort of a welcome home present,” she said finally, straightening to run a restless hand through her black hair.
Jessica worked with evidence, proof, and photos were just that. Creating the album had been a challenge because even though her interest in photography had started young, she’d never been comfortable being photographed herself. “Do you want to take a look?”
“Yes!” Peter climbed onto the couch beside her, nearly in her lap.
Matt quietly left the room – to shower and get dressed but also to give her some time alone with him.
Jess opened the album with a crack of binding. “So this side is your Grandma Alisa and Grandpa Brian – there’s Phil. Look, he’s even talking in the picture! And this side is your Grandpa Jack and Grandma Maggie. See that little baby in Jack’s arms? That’s Matt.”
Peter seemed to drink in each image, soaking them in like a thirsty sponge, taking in every tiny detail. His mother had added a title to each photo, and she had neat but strangely generic handwriting, each title written with bold block letters. She’d put them together in chronological order, so that his parents grew up together right before his eyes.
Jack and Baby Matt, 1 year old
Alisa and Baby Jess, 1 year old
Matt, 2 years old
Jess and Biscuit the Dog, 2 years old
Matt and Grandma Ruby, 3 years old
Jess, 3 years old
Peter stopped turning the pages when he realized that he had reached the point where his parents were his own age now.
“You look just like Matt,” Jess told him, carefully watching the oddly intense expression filling his small face.
“I…do…” he agreed, sounding stunned. “I do look like him.”
Jess was hoping the photos would help him feel less…alienated. That seeing the image of himself in little Matty would stop the feeling of unreality when he looked at them. She tapped his chin. “But you’ve got Grandpa Brian’s chin, just like me.”
Peter continued looking through the album, his head resting on Jess’s shoulder now. The last two pages were the ones he spent the most time staring at. The left side was the best photo Jessica had managed to find of herself during the end of her pregnancy, sitting in Dorothy’s living room in torn leggings, a big Nirvana smiley face stretched over her huge stomach as she smirked at the camera.
Jess and Peter, eight months.
The right side page was taken six days ago by Foggy on Karen’s sofa when she admitted she needed a picture to finish the album. Jess’s gossamer smile was forever captured, frozen at that moment in time. Beside her, Matt’s eyes were vague, but his smile was wide. He'd lit up when Foggy had said “Your son is gonna keep this, Matty, make it good.”
Matthew and Jessica, 33 years old
“Do you like it?” she asked, after a very long moment of silence, more unsettling because he was so talkative.
“I love it,” he whispered, leaning into her with surprising force, just as he’d done with Matt. He traced the edges of the photobook reverently. “Thank you, Jess.”
“You’re welcome, little man,” she murmured. “You are so welcome.”
Jessica had to leave after lunch – Matt was glad Peter seemed genuinely disappointed that she was leaving. Not glad that Peter was disappointed, but glad that he was already attached enough to feel sad when she wasn’t there.
Matt had primary custody, but he didn’t do that to limit Jessica’s contact with Peter, he did it to make those moments when she knew she couldn’t let herself be around him feel less like she was failing him as a mother. She didn’t have to feel like she was abandoning him all over again when she could leave Peter with his own father and see him whenever she wanted.
But she still had cases to work, and unlike Matt, Jessica didn’t have two coworkers she could temporarily delegate the business’s workload to, especially now that she was paying for the additional cost of a two-bedroom apartment.
(“Are you absolutely sure you can afford this?”
“Look at this way,” Jessica drawled. “It practically pays for itself since I have to cut down on my drinking. Don’t worry, Murdock. I’m not gonna go broke. I just can’t afford to take the time off. The weekend will be his time and I’m not compromising on that, but I can’t put aside my only source of income for over a week.”)
“Will you come over again tomorrow?” Peter asked her eagerly.
“Yes,” she said immediately. “Aunt Karen is having a little party for you.”
“Um, okay…” Peter did not look or sound excited about that.
She reached out to squeeze his shoulder. “There won’t be very many people there, Pete.” Frowning, she added “There won’t be any other kids there for you to play with, though.”
“That’s okay!” Peter said quickly, looking relieved, and both parents understood. Peter probably didn’t get along with other kids as well as he did with adults – Matt and Jessica were the same as children.
Cheerfully, Matt said “Foggy and Danny are basically big kids anyway. Do you like baseball?”
“Yes,” Peter said slowly, as though this were a trick question.
“Excellent,” Matt said, then grimaced. “Just don’t tell your Uncle Foggy if you’re a Yankees fan, buddy. You will break his heart.”
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Group Chat – Peter Parker Protection Squad
Colleen is Fantastic
Save Me, Claire!
how the hell do we change these names?
Nelson, you can go to work with or without a concussion tomorrow
Claire, save me!
Save Me, Claire!:
Not a chance in hell
Mod changed member username
This just makes me sound like a Bond villain
I think it’s cool!
Why does Karen keep sending the heart eyes emoji?
…I think that’s forty of them?
Colleen is Fantastic:
Is Karen having an aneurysm or something?
I have a treat for you
You are about to witness something so cute
That mortal eyeballs turn to actual hearts
Matt is gonna kill you
I died for a good cause
I’ll remember you, my dear comrade
Video file submitted by Foggy-Bear
Colleen is Fantastic:
He’s so good with him!
Matt’s already a great dad!!!
Their little boy is so cute!
As usual, Karen is right
*heart-eyes emoji* *heart-eyes emoji*
Save Me, Claire!:
Oh my god
We get to keep him, right?
Nobody will show up and ask for him back?
Because I would die
I can’t even image how Matt and Jessica would feel
What kind of shitty lawyer do you think I am?!?!
a free one
You’re fired, Karen
my name’s on the plaque now, sucker
maybe a tiny Malcolm/Jess vibe going on, if you squint? whoops! feel free to interpret that however you like, i'm making commitments on absolutely none of this yet. really digging the Matt/Foggy feels so far but the only thing i'm 100% sure of is Jess and Matt were a one time thing (at least in this story)
*FAR FROM HOME SPOILERS PAST THIS POINT*
I finally saw it and had to spend half of the movie trying not to scream "OH MY GOD I WAS RIGHT!! This literal disaster child is the High Chaotic Good son of Matthew Murdock and Jessica Jones."
ghosting Nick fucking Fury?!!!
POWERFUL Jessica Jones energy right there
can't talk to crush + lame-ass excuses?
the Matt Murdock signature collection, darling
grumpy and super stressed-out because everyone wants him to be a Big Damn Hero? filled with guilt and grief that he keeps trying to suppress?
Jessica. Literally, this is Jessica at all times.
When he closed his eyes in the hallway fight, I nearly burst out sobbing "Your dad would be so proud of you, Peter!"
H E L P M E
Because he slept a little better last night, Peter awoke the next morning after Matt, staggering out of the bathroom with toothpaste on his shirt. Peter paused to stare, gaping like a fish at Matt doing push-ups in the middle of the living room, the coffee table shoved against the sofa.
He’d been joking when he told Ned that Matt might be Batman, but he was seriously reconsidering the theory now.
“Good morning,” Matt said serenely, shifting his left arm behind his back and continuing his set. “Ready for breakfast?”
“Um, no, you can finish,” Peter said, mesmerized and maybe a little awed.
Matt turned his head in his direction, so that Peter could see his smile. “That would take a while,” he said, and straightened up from the floor. “Eggs or French toast this morning, buddy?”
“Eggs.” Watching Matt cook was nothing short of fascinating to him. As deeply as he missed Aunt May, he did not miss suffering through her attempts at oatmeal or breakfast burritos. He wondered how it was possible that a blind man managed to be better at cooking than May.
Matt seemed to know where everything was without having the benefit of sight – he did explain how important having the house organized and clean was for him, but it seemed to go beyond that. There were several things – spice bottles, the salt and pepper – had Braille labels affixed to them, but not everything did. When Matt made his coffee, he seemed to just…know which canister it was in.
He went about scrambling the eggs, pouring them into the pan, sprinkling them with salt. He put bread into the toaster and set a jar of strawberry jam right beside Peter’s hand.
“Aren’t you worried that you’re going to burn yourself?” Peter asked, unable to quell his curiosity for the sake of politeness any longer.
While concentrating on tasks, his father’s head tended to tilt downwards, but lifted again at the sound of his voice. “Nope,” Matt said honestly. “I don’t have to see the pan to feel how hot it is.”
He held his hand above the stove demonstratively. “Cold, colder, warm, very warm…” He took his fingers away before he could touch the side of the pan, then sniffed. “And the eggs smell done. Grab some forks, please?”
Hopping down from the breakfast bar – Matt winced at the wobble of the stool and resisted his urge to tell him to slow down – Peter went to the silverware drawer while Matt plated their eggs and retrieved the toast from the toaster. He paused, listening for a moment to the sound of Peter fumbling around in the drawer. “What you doing, bud?”
“Trying to find them without looking?” he said sheepishly.
“And how’s that working out for you?” Matt asked, amused.
“Not great,” Peter admitted.
Gently, he said “It takes time, Pete. Time and lots of practice.” Thoughtfully, he added “I can’t say I recommend it. Not if you can avoid it.”
Alarmed now, Peter said “Wait…is that possible? Could I go blind?”
Chuckling, he said “Very doubtful. I had chemicals splashed into my face, Peter. You can’t inherit what happened to me.”
“That sounds really painful,” Peter said sympathetically.
“It was, for a little while,” Matt said honestly. “But it happened a long, long time ago.”
He gave Peter a boost back up onto the stool, setting his plate directly in front of him. Slowly working through his eggs and toast, Peter said “Um…you guys didn’t have to throw me a party.”
“One of the most important pieces of advice I can ever give you is don’t argue with Aunt Karen when she wants something, Pete.” Matt said, with mock seriousness. “There won’t be too many people there and you’ve already met Foggy now.” Though he was well aware that they would be devastated if Peter were scared of them, he added “Jess and I will be there with you the whole time. You can stay right beside us.”
Karen had set up the party in the office, the weather now too cold to spend too much time outside. Jessica had talked her out of a lot of banners and decorations and now, seeing Peter’s uncertain little face, Karen knew she’d been right.
“Hello,” she said sweetly. Tucking her skirt carefully beneath her knees, she knelt down and held out her hand. “My name is Karen. It’s nice to meet you.”
Swallowing nervously, Peter shook her hand like a polite young gentleman, but heavy against his mother’s legs and did not let go of her hand with his other hand. Karen resisted the urge to coo – even a seven year old had some dignity to offend. “Hello, Aunt Karen.”
Jessica rolled her eyes over Peter’s head but managed not to snort at the infatuated expression on Karen’s face. She was almost as heart-eyed stupid as Matt. It was becoming clear in just these first few days that she was going to be the disciplinarian in this arrangement.
“You already know Foggy, of course,” Karen said, standing up and backing away to give him some more space, gesturing at the man standing next to her.
“Oh, yeah. Me and Pete go way back,” Foggy said, giving the a playful, exaggerated wink. Peter’s shy answering grin looked so much like little Matty that it almost hurt to see. Foggy held out a fist and he gave him a baby fist-bump. He would take a fucking bullet for this child, no hesitation.
“This is Danny and Colleen. They’re usually in China, so you might not see as much of them,” Karen said, thrilled as she watched Peter hesitantly walk forward, still hanging onto Jessica’s hand.
“Hello,” he said a bit timidly, lashes lowered.
“Hello, Peter!” they both chimed, Colleen yanking on the back of Danny’s shirt to prevent him from bounding forward like an excited puppy.
Instead, Danny eagerly asked “Did you like the present I left for you?”
Puzzled, Peter looked up his parents. “Uh…”
“The tablet,” Matt clarified, with a slight smile. “The tablet in your bedroom, Pete. Danny left that for you.”
“Oh! Yes, I love it!” he said brightly. “Thank you – I talk to my friend Ned every single morning!”
“And over here is Claire and Luke.”
Claire could read Luke well enough by now that she knew he was disappointed when Peter took one look at him and backed the hell up, shoving himself against Jessica’s legs, face alarmed by the enormous man standing three feet in front of him. He was surprisingly forceful, too. Matt grunted as Jessica grabbed his arm, nearly tripping over him as Peter tried to put himself farther away from Luke, but he could only get so far, since he also wouldn’t let go of her hand.
“Hey, hey,” she said quietly, putting her arm around him and letting Peter low-key hide against her. “It’s okay. That’s just Luke. Luke is harmless, kiddo.”
“Um…” Peter said, clearly thinking that was a big fat lie and not wanting to call her out on it.
Matt passed his hand gently over the back of his head. “You know we wouldn’t let anything bad happen to you, right buddy?”
Jess crouched down and met his eyes. “I have to tell you a secret,” she told Peter in a whisper, taking his hand. “I really, really wanted you to meet Luke, especially when you told me that Daredevil is your second favorite superhero. Because Luke knows Daredevil pretty well.”
JESSICA. Jessica, what are you doing? Matt thought, inwardly panicking as he was outwardly calm.
“He does?” Peter whispered, looking over his shoulder at the tall, tall, tall man standing beside the pretty lady called Claire.
“Yeah, cuz he’s actually helped Daredevil out a lot.” Matt wanted to protest that Jessica actually helped Daredevil the most – they sort of naturally divided into pairs, and Luke was more Danny’s partner and Jessica was Daredevil’s. But he knew his son was smart enough to put two and two together if Matt started opening up his mouth about all the things he knew about Daredevil and neither of them were ready to have that conversation yet. “Luke is a superhero, too, y’know.”
Jessica suppressed a grin as she heard Danny make an outraged sound behind her. Colleen had threatened him at literal knifepoint to stop him from introducing himself as the Immortal Iron Fist. Peter’s eyes widened, that familiar sparkle of enthusiasm telling her that Luke might never get rid of Peter now. “REALLY?”
“Absolutely,” she said solemnly. “You are standing in a room with a real life superhero.” Oh, the irony of that statement.
“I didn’t hurt his feelings, did I?” Peter whispered, not quite softly enough.
Claire hid a smile and gently bumped Luke’s side. “Maybe a little bit,” Jess acknowledged quietly. “But you could always apologize.”
Matt knew he was still scared – his heart pounded frantically the closer they got to where Luke was standing, but Peter swallowed, tilted chin up to look him in the eye, and said “He-hello, Mister Luke. I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings. You’re-you’re very tall.”
“We can fix that,” his mother said, and then Peter gave a small yelp as he found Jess lifting him up onto her hip, until his eyes were level with Luke’s chin instead of his belt.
“I forgive you, Peter. Sometimes people make us nervous and we don’t know why.” Glancing at Jess, he said “I heard you say you really like Daredevil?”
Claire, Karen, and Foggy watched as Matt’s face flushed redder and redder and they all grinned like Cheshire cats as Peter nodded like a little bobblehead and said, “Yes, he’s my favorite after Iron Man!” Matt felt like someone had walked up and coldcocked him when he added “…because Daredevil beats up bad guys, but he never kills anyone!”
“Yeah, I’ve always admired him for that, too,” Luke said, smiling slightly. “Do you know why he does that?”
“Because killing people is bad?” Peter answered, eyes narrowed suspiciously in a gesture that was so like his mother, Luke could only smile wider.
“It’s because Daredevil believes that everyone deserves to have a second chance. Even if you make bad choices, he believes that you can always choose to make good ones, that anyone can be a good person if they just try.” Luke decided to leave it at that, because he was afraid Matt was going to start bawling if he kept talking.
Peter licked his lips and nodded. “Aunt May…my Aunt May used to say that killing a murderer doesn’t make the world a better place, it just makes another murderer.” Sheepishly, he admitted “She got mad when Ned said that the Punisher was cool. She, um, she didn’t like guns.”
“We’re not big fans, either,” Matt said with a squeeze to his shoulder, cutting off Karen as he heard the intake of air that preceded speech.
He respected the hell out of Frank Castle. Matt would even concede that he made good arguments about his version of vigilantism. They were something between reluctant adversaries and belligerent friends. He was also very certain that he didn’t want Frank Castle anywhere near his son. What he did made enemies and Matt and Jessica made enough of those without outsider assistance.
Luke shrugged. “I don’t have much trouble with them.”
Peter blinked and Jess rolled her eyes at Luke with a wry smile. “Luke has bullet-proof skin, Peter. He can’t be hurt by guns or knives.”
Unless you shoot him in the head at point-blank range, she thought, suppressing a wince.
“That. Is. So. Cool,” Peter said fervently, getting a laugh from all the adults.
They ate Chinese – which Danny fervently insisted was a tradition when they were together – and when Foggy could breathe past the vast quantity of sesame chicken he consumed, he held out a baseball. “You wanna play catch?”
“You’re indoors,” Jess grumbled.
“Aw, Mom, we’ll be careful!” he whined, grinning at her when she glared at him.
When Peter looked unsure and kept staring at her, Jessica realized that he was actually waiting for her explicit permission. “Go ahead, kid,” she said, feeling a bit awkward. “Don’t run around and make yourself sick.”
“I won’t,” he promised, darting off.
Foggy was used to kids, in a general sense. He had a load of nieces, nephews, and little cousins. He also knew that every child was a little different, just like adults. “Oof, he’s got a lotta energy,” he told Matt, flopping down beside him. Danny had taken over the game of catch with great enthusiasm. “Normally it takes three or four of ‘em to wear me down this fast.”
He could see when Matt went from monitoring Peter to focusing on Foggy. He’d actually just been having the same thought. “Oh, good. I thought it was just me. Jessica didn’t really notice.” Jessica’s threshold for fatigue was more comparable to a horse’s than a human’s, so she wasn’t a very good judge of these things. Everybody was physically exhausted before she was, except maybe Luke. Hesitantly, he said “It worries me, a little. The city is dangerous, and I don’t think I could catch him in time if he ran ahead of me.”
“He wouldn’t do that,” Foggy said easily. “Pete’s got energy, sure, but he has more common sense than that.”
Jessica nodded, watching their son as she tried to eat her body mass in lo-mein. “He grew up here, Murdock, and he’s a smart kid. Peter knows he can’t just run into traffic or go wandering away from one of us.”
When Danny sounded like he was starting to slow down a little, too, Matt slowly stood and held his hands out for the ball. Danny did not hesitate to toss it, only reducing the force as he had for Peter because none of them were wearing mitts. He cocked his head, listening to the sound of Peter holding his breath right up until the moment Matt’s palm touched the stitching.
“How did you do that?” he gasped.
Matt gently tossed the ball in a lazy arch in front of him before catching it again. “When I throw it – or you throw it,” he explained, tossing it again even slower this time, to illustrate his point. “The ball moves through the air, and it makes a sound as it displaces the air around it. I can hear that sound and I can make a pretty good guess about where it is.”
It was a simplified explanation, one to slowly get Peter accustomed to the idea of Matt being more capable than he expected – just like cooking breakfast or walking around the city. He didn’t throw it to Peter fast or hard, but he knew right where he was standing, and he caught it easily.
Hesitantly, Peter obliged him by throwing it back, again holding his breath until the moment Matt caught it.
Jessica was a little annoyed that he was so persistent about flaunting his powers, but she also knew that Matt had a very different relationship with his ‘gift’ than she did. She didn’t have to edit her words or actions to appease people around her, mostly men, for fear of retaliation. Jessica was able to act and speak as she pleased because she didn’t have to perform social politeness. She either liked someone or didn’t and didn’t have to feign otherwise.
Her strength was a convenience, a ‘skip’ card in certain areas of her life, but it wasn’t even necessarily a thing she needed to use every day. She was a private detective, not a pro-wrestler or a cop. Jessica sometimes went days without doing anything differently from any other person.
Matt couldn’t live like that – his power gradually became a means to help other people, but it was more personal than that. It was essential to the way he lived, the way he did even basic tasks. He maintained an extraordinary level of independence because he could perceive the world so well beyond the sight that failed him.
If he kept going at this rate, though, they wouldn’t make it a month before having to sit Peter down and explain that his suspicions were correct – his parents were not like anyone else’s. In a way, Jessica would be relieved. But mostly, she knew she would be sad. Honesty was usually the best policy for dealing with someone you loved, but she couldn’t help the feeling that in giving him a truth this large, they were removing a piece of his innocence. Daredevil and the truth of what her job was would be another piece.
Jessica worried that by sheer virtue of being themselves, they were taking that innocence away from him.
Matt didn’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about decorations, for obvious reasons, which was why was a bit startled when Peter asked “That poster…that’s your dad, isn’t it? That’s Grandpa Jack.”
While doing a bit of renovation on Fogwell’s, Karen found what she claimed was ‘an utterly gorgeous’ poster for his last fight versus Carl “the Crusher” Creel. Matt obviously couldn’t see the thing, but he was sentimental and Foggy and Karen both became attached to it, so it had place of pride right there in the office. “It is,” he said after a moment. “He was a boxer, and this was his last fight.”
Peter leaned into him, a gesture Matt was beginning to think came from Peter experiencing more emotion than he had words for, the small hand clutching his shirt becoming a familiar and welcome feeling. “Did he get sick? Like M-May?”
Matt heard the tremble in his voice and quickly lifted him up. “No, baby,” he murmured, weighing the words in his mind. There was no nice or gentle way for it, so he was straightforward but brief. “Somebody shot him.”
A small shudder went through Peter. “Oh.”
He stared hard at this stranger’s face, hungrily trying to absorb his features. “He was a good dad,” Matt told him softly, gently kissing his cheek. “I’m sorry you’ll never get to meet him. He would’ve thought you hung the moon.”
“Can I-can I see Grandma Maggie?” he asked uncertainly. “Is she far away?”
“Not at all. Have you ever been to church before, Peter?” Matt did not intend to ask Peter to attend with him – firstly, because Sunday was supposed to be Jessica’s time and secondly because faith, Matt believed, was a deeply personal thing, a journey Peter could only make himself. He’d only be too happy to help him on that journey, but the decision about it could only be made by him.
“Um…we used to go really, really late on Christmas.” Peter admitted. He remembered, half asleep on May’s lap, walking through the city streets, dazzled by the fairy lights everywhere.
“I’ll ask Jess to visit me at church this Sunday,” he promised. “And then you can meet Grandma Maggie.”
As nervous as she was, Jess thought it was probably best to behave normally. Ish. “Ready for the weekend?”
Peter smiled and nodded up at her, the bells jangling on his backpack. Matt gave a pained grimace at having to say goodbye, but gave him a hug and a kiss. “Hey,” he whispered. “Have fun with Jess, okay? Teach her how to make meatballs.”
“We’ll eat a lot of pizza,” Jess said slyly, with a wink at Peter.
Peter nodded solemnly, before giggling. “Jess, can I take the tablet? To call Ned?”
“Yep, you can. Go grab it, buddy.” As soon as he left the room, Jessica said, “Okay, Murdock. Give me it to me straight. I’ll take the full rundown.”
“He won’t eat his vegetables raw but he loves any fruit, he’s okay with spicy food, leave a light on for him near the bathroom. Um…um…oh! You need to make sure you’ve fixed dinner by six-thirty at the latest, because he won’t take a nap, but he starts crashing somewhere between eight and nine and once that happens, it’s all over. He’ll get nervous and clingy and pretty whiny if you’ve waited too late to get him into bed. You’ll have to stay with him until he falls asleep. If he has a nightmare, sing to him?”
“I don’t have your lovely voice,” she drawled. “But I am impressed, I think you said that all in one breath.”
“I’m ready!” Peter cried, coming back from his room, bells ringing wildly behind him as Jess held open the door and he ran out to the hallway. “Bye, Matt! Love you!”
TKO, Jessica thought, smirking at Matt’s dumbstruck face. Parker, 1. Murdock, 0.
“Love you, buddy!” he called back hoarsely. He shut the door and leaned back against it, dazed. Idly, he wiped at his face, sniffing. Jessica was right – the sound of the bells chiming still reached his ears from blocks away. “Jesus, I love you so much…”
Peter was a bit surprised by how close Jess’ house was to Matt’s. It didn’t take that long to get there. “As much as I’d like to prove Matt wrong, I really don’t know how to make meatballs,” she confessed as they entered the building. “How do you feel about tacos?”
“I like tacos!” he said enthusiastically, staying close to Jess’ side as a man in a nice suit got into the elevator with them.
“Awesome,” Jess said, with a flash of her warm smile. The man did a double-take like a cartoon character. “I can’t make meatballs, but I can make milkshakes. You like those, right?”
“Alright, let’s call Otto’s and we’ll make milkshakes.” Jess paused, glancing at the man. “This is our neighbor. His name is Malcolm.”
“Hello, Malcolm,” he greeted shyly, one hand still hanging onto his mother’s belt-loops. “My name is Peter.”
“Hey, Peter,” the man said softly. Peter wondered why he looked a bit sad. “It’s nice to finally meet you.”
There was a long strange pause, and then Jess said “If there’s an emergency, and you can’t find me, you should knock on Malcolm’s door and ask for his help.”
Peter tilted his head thoughtfully – it was an uncanny reminder of Matt, actually. “Okay. Can we make chocolate milkshakes?”
“You bet,” she agreed easily. “What kind of taco do you want?”
“Bacon?! Do you mean pork?”
“The one that comes from a pig!” he insisted.
She laughed and it was a nice sound. “Yeah, that’s pork, Pete.”
Malcolm nodded at her as he opened his own door and she was ushering Peter through her apartment. That, he knew, was probably the closest he would ever come to hearing Jessica say ‘I’m sorry’. She nodded back and they both closed their doors.
“Do you wanna see your room?”
She watched him run his hand over the afghan, touching the red and blue stripes and feeling the texture of the stitches on his skin. Behind glass, his baby blanket hung above the bed, after Karen talked her into having it framed. (“It’s a beautiful piece of your history with him, and there’s no reason to shut it away in a dusty closet, Jessica.”)
He smiled at her. “It feels warm.”
She cleared her throat and smiled back. “I hope so, that’s why I made it.”
“You made it?!”
“Mhm.” She pointed to the wall hung up in the frame. “I made that for you, too. When you were really little.”
“You…you did?” he asked, faltering. Jess shifted closer and he leaned against her side, reassured by how solid she felt.
Peter glanced down at the blanket on the bed. “How did you know?”
“I can’t ever decide if my favorite color is red or blue. Ned always laughs at me. I used to have this scarf…” Peter cut himself off and sniffed quietly, rubbing at his eyes. “But I lost it.”
“A scarf?” Jess asked quietly, opening one of the dresser drawers. “You mean like this one?”
“How-how did you get that?” he gasped, gazing at the length of knitting reverently.
“I made it,” she said quietly. “Just like I made the other ones, kiddo.”
She sat heavily down on the bed. “I told you, you’ve always been wanted, Pete. It’s just that, for a long time, Matt and I thought your other mom and dad would do a better job than we would.”
“You do a good job,” Peter said, his voice very small, head buried in her shoulder.
KO. Parker, undefeated featherweight champion.
She jumped slightly as her phone vibrated against her hip, startling a giggle from Peter.
TRISH, the caller ID said, and she slid her thumb over the ignore button before hoisting Peter, laughing, over her shoulder. “Alright, let’s get you those bacon tacos.”
Just as Matt promised, Peter was obviously not-quite-there around eight o’clock, but Jessica didn’t rush to make sure he was in bed as quickly as possible. Instead, she let him take a bath. Brush his teeth. Sit on the couch and cuddle with her. Jessica knew she was making decisions that would ensure that Peter would end up attached to her at the hip, but fuck it, she wanted a goddamn hug.
She went into this trying to resist touching him as much as possible, to minimize the risk of hurting him by accident, but Jessica was quickly realizing that would be next to impossible. Even if her long buried, half-dead maternal instincts hadn’t been resurrected like Frankenstein’s monster, Peter was a very physical and clinging child. He needed cuddles and hugs, he reached for their hands automatically out in public, he wanted to hang onto them whenever he could. He would not allow her – allow either of them – to put distance between them. All of those ideas about keeping him at arm’s length for his own safety crumbled into dust.
“Feelin’ tired?” she asked, without paying much attention to the QVC on mute anymore. She wasn’t really watching it, anyway. She never did.
Peter shook his head fiercely, attempting to sit up on his own and look alert. It didn’t help, since his eyelids immediately drooped down as soon as he sat still long enough. She got up to start turning off the lights and found a small child attached to her as she stood up.
“Are you a spider-monkey?” Jess teased, settling him on her hip. He whined wordlessly in exhaustion, turning his face into her shoulder. She sighed quietly. “Alright, little man.”
For Jessica, carrying him around took about as much effort as carrying around a glass of water. She switched off the television, turned off the yellow glow of the antique lamp above the dining room table. On her way to Peter’s bedroom, grabbed a plugin nightlight she’d left on an end table and stopped at the bathroom to plug it into the socket beside the vanity mirror.
Peter giggled quietly as it turned on, illuminating the inside of an aquarium-like scene Jessica had selected because she thought it looked more interesting than an eyeball-searing LED light.
She didn’t even bother pretending to attempt to get Peter to stay in the bed by himself. Instead, she laid down with him, stretching out on the mattress and resting her head on the pillow beside him. Jessica watched his long lashes blink in the darkness. She couldn’t remember any of the words, so she hummed whatever she remember from the melody of ‘Baby Mine’, rubbing a hand in steady circles on his back.
Jessica watched him sleep for a long time. She was not like Matt, she did not believe in a higher power watching over humanity. Or if there was one, that power was either perilously incompetent or brutally indifferent. Nothing could make her happy that her son’s first four caretakers had met an untimely demise. It was a grief that Jessica was intimately familiar with, and while she knew it would never completely leave him, she was hoping that it would become a dull faded pain.
But when she thought of her own experiences, all the horrible things she’d had to see and do, Jessica knew she would choose to do them all over again if it meant that the result was this dark and quiet moment. Outside, the city’s usual rumble of nighttime life carried on, but in that room, there was only her son’s arms around her, Peter’s breaths on her neck.
She closed her eyes, just to rest for a moment.
Peter had to admit that Jess had absolutely no idea how to cook most things and he didn’t really mind – he had vague memories of his other mom making pancakes but he was more used to living with May, who would dine out for every meal of the week if she could.
That being said, Jess made an amazing breakfast.
“What is this?” he asked through a mouthful of food.
Jess laughed as she watched him shoveling it in at a rate that would be alarming if she weren’t just as hungry. “That is a garbage plate,” she said, scooping up the meat mixture with her macaroni salad, a swirl of ketchup and mustard covering the whole glorious mess. “A Jones family specialty.”
A garbage plate had been Jess’ go-to breakfast for many a hangover, though normally she added the traditional white hot and used store bought macaroni salad, her taste buds were currently reminding her how delicious it was homemade.
“It’s amazing,” he sighed, covering his home fries with meat and the ketchup/mustard swirl before shoving the whole bite in his mouth.
“Yes, it is.”
For Jessica, it was incredibly tempting to just say ‘fuck it’ and take him to the movies, the park, the aquarium. To let herself be ‘the fun parent’ and ignore the responsibilities that came with the job. But if she was being honest, she’s never been able to ignore anything that was really important.
Matt didn’t deserve that level of stress and Jessica had worked enough divorce cases to know that it would only come back to bite her in the ass when Peter got old enough to realize she’d been dumping all the real parts of parenting on him. So, while Friday night and most of Saturday morning was devoted to goofing off, Saturday afternoon was dedicated to looking over the schoolwork Peter had been doing while on his week-long break.
Jessica’s memories of school at Peter’s age were admittedly pretty hazy, but she definitely didn’t recall having this much homework. Then again, he was going to a school for nerds – erm, for the academically advanced. Jessica may or may not have thrown around Hogarth’s name without her knowledge when she discovered that May was trying to enroll him in Midtown Academy. She had no idea whether it had helped to get him in or not, but it obviously hadn’t hurt.
Living in Manhattan would now put Peter closer to school than he used to be and his social worker, Kellie Marche, had strongly recommended keeping him in Midtown if they could possibly afford it – he’d gotten in this year on a scholarship, but the scholarship would run out next year.
“We can afford it,” Matt had said firmly, in a tone that told Jessica that Peter would stay in that school if Matt had to starve to get him there. His reaction didn’t surprise her – and not only because Matt was stupidly noble. While his ‘hobby’ would have grieved him, Jack Murdock would’ve been proud as a peacock of Matt’s law degree. Jessica had the distinct feeling that Peter getting into an advanced school solely on his academic abilities was Jack’s dream.
(“Matt can’t do this on his own. I need you know that. No, I need you to internalize it. Memorize it. Embroider it on a pillow,” Foggy said, pouring them both two fingers of decent bourbon. “When Jack Murdock died, he lost the only person who ever took care of him. Who ever loved him unconditionally. And every person who came after that has screwed him over – usually multiple times – when the going got even a little rough.”
Jessica raised her brows pointedly, sipping from her glass.
Foggy sighed. “Yeah, even me, once or twice. Karen, too. We’ve walked away, even when he needed us, because we got pissed at him.” He glanced at her. “He can’t help himself – he’ll create distance, find ways to push people away.”
Jessica nodded silently. Foggy knew she would understand. She and Matt played the same game, just in different ways. Matt’s was ‘come closer, closer, not that close, you’re too close!’. Jessica’s was more of a ‘don’t stand next to me, what are you, an idiot?!’ kind of thing.
“Matt will hold things back, and he’ll tell himself that he’s protecting him, but what he’s really doing is putting up a wall. If that happens, Karen and I will be there, for all of you. I’ll be able to get through to him. But Peter will need you there, too. He’ll need his mother there to tell him that Matt’s issues aren’t his fault.”)
Anyway, his teacher for homeroom had explained that most of Peter’s other teachers were getting his take-home worksheets from the sixth grade courses. The school had even asked them if they wanted Peter bumped up three or four grades. Matt thought it could be a good idea. Jess put her foot down – she didn’t think shoving a shy second-grader into a room of children all four years more developed than him was a good idea. He was already technically a grade higher than he should be. Matt had pouted at her, but Foggy and Karen were on her side and talked him out of that idea.
Jessica was fully expecting to be overwhelmed by Peter’s coursework. Overwhelmed did not even begin to cover it. Peter had to suggest the name of the app May used to check his answers, because half the time, Jessica didn’t even understand what she was looking at. She’d sat in room with actual geniuses and felt less dumb than looking at her son’s homework. Luckily, the few answers he got wrong he managed to correct by himself – he was whip-smart but he had a tendency to rush through things sometimes.
Peter helped her make a vegetarian lasagna with a step-by-step video she found on the internet. It was actually pretty delicious. Jessica had to carry him to bed again, but didn’t fall asleep next to him this time.
Trish called, twice. Jessica didn’t answer either time. She had nothing to say.
Vido came over to play Sunday morning – it turned out, waffles from the freezer were much more delicious covered in strawberries and whipped cream. Her son was a fucking genius. Jessica had no doubt Oscar had forced him to wait all of Saturday, because he was practically vibrating with excitement.
While shy, once Vido went on an enthusiastic Avengers-related tangent, the two of them were off to the races.
“Top five superheroes?” Vido challenged. “Mine are Captain America, yo-uh, the Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, and Daredevil.”
This should be interesting. Jessica appreciated that Vido kept up his promise to her not to tell Peter before she said it was okay. “Iron Man, Daredevil…Luke Cage,” Peter said brightly. Oh, Jess knew what she was putting into the group chat they thought she didn’t know about. “Hm…Thor…and Black Widow.”
Vido made a face. “Black Widow’s got cool moves, but there’s no…” he punched the air. “She doesn’t have any superpowers.”
“But that’s why she’s so awesome. She doesn’t have magic or armor or a fancy weapon, and she still goes out to kick butt.” Peter shrugged. “Besides, spiders are awesome.”
Jessica, for all the joking, wasn’t and couldn’t be Black Widow. She was closer to Captain America, but even that was a sad comparison. She wondered, not for the first or the last time, what Peter would think of his parents being less than ordinary.
She let them tear into the drawer of Legos she’d slipped under the bed and idly checked her work messages and email. There was a surprisingly tricky case Hogarth gave her on Thursday. She knew this banker was fishy, but so far, Jessica had managed to rule out the usual suspects. She found herself enjoying the challenge, actually.
She ignored the message on her phone that said: 2 missed calls, Trish
Hogarth had been both irritated and surprised when Jessica curtly informed her that she was no longer working weekend hours, period. She would check messages and email, but there would be no actual investigating going on. She hadn’t bothered explaining herself – Jessica owed Jeri Hogarth nothing, especially not details on her personal life.
The time was getting away from them, though, and Jessica promised Matt they’d be at Clinton church around three. Vido, grinning like a loon, had promised to return next Sunday – the little liar, he’d probably be bugging her in her office by Tuesday.
They ate lunch sitting on the kitchen counter, because sitting at a table was for squares. Take that, Murdock. He does eat raw vegetables. You just have to know the fine art of spreading peanut butter on celery.
Jessica bundled him in his coat and remembered to bring the cherished scarf along. It was nearly November – she was thinking of making a hat and gloves to match. Before, she wouldn’t have dared. She could get away with sneaking one unknown item into May’s house, but more would’ve been a risk. Now Peter knew where his outer garment came from, though.
“Alright, spider-monkey. Let’s go meet Grandma Maggie.”
Maggie hardly even has to ask if they’ve arrived yet – suddenly Matt sat straight up in the pew, a smiling lighting up his whole face. Even from down the street, he heard the bells on Peter’s backpack ringing with every stride. His chatter was a constant background noise that Matt suspected Jessica would find unbearable in anyone else but for him, she hummed and gave one-word responses in all the right places to show she was paying attention.
He heard the sound of the great mahogany door opening and closing, of Jessica helping Peter unzip his jacket. She led him up the aisle toward them, and the moment he spots Matt sitting there, he takes off, racing through the church, bells ringing madly. He suspected that Maggie probably disapproved of that, but Matt couldn’t care less because he stood up and stepped into the aisle to meet him, catching Peter just in time to stop him from tripping and falling into the pews.
“Hi Matt!” he exclaimed excitedly, the smell of celery and peanut butter infusing the words. If Matt was a bit too forceful with his hug, Peter didn’t seem to mind at all. “I helped Jess make lasagna!”
“He was the perfect sous chef,” she said loyally.
“You did?! Was it good?”
“Uh-huh, but it wasn’t the kind with the red sauce. We made it with the white kind and there wasn’t any meat in it, but Jess put in peppers and mushrooms and bro-broccoli and zu-zu-”
“Zucchini?” Matt suggested helpfully.
“Yeah, that one!”
“That sounds very tasty,” he agreed.
“My goodness, Matthew,” Maggie said, amused. “I don’t think I heard you say this much your whole childhood, never mind all in one go.”
Peter’s mouth closed abruptly with an audible click of teeth and he gulped quietly. “Peter, this is Sister Margaret Grace. She’s one of the nuns for St. Agnes Catholic House, and she’s also my mother. Your grandmother.” He heard Maggie’s skirt twitch. It probably hadn’t escaped her notice that he introduced her as a nun first and his mother second but they both knew what his response would be if she tried to call him out on that. “Sister Maggie, this is your grandson Peter. Sorry it took me seven years to bring him around.”
Maggie’s dark eyes glimmered up at Peter, half-hiding in his father’s shoulder, his tiny fingers clutching Matt’s jacket. What love Matt had for him, his obvious and painful devotion was so clearly returned it was almost heartbreaking to look at. “Hello, Peter,” she said with a slight smile. “I am…so thrilled to meet you.”
To meet him, to know him. To have Matthew and Peter in her life. It meant more to her than words could possibly convey. Thrilled was not even adequate.
“Jessica! Jessica! Come on, you don’t even have to answer the door, just say something so that I know you’re alive, goddamn it!” Trish yelled, pounding on the office door so hard the glass window of ‘Alias Investigations’ rattled. “I will break down the fucking door if you don’t answer me!!”
She whirled around as she heard Malcolm’s apartment open behind her. “Chill out,” he drawled, giving her a weary stare. “Don’t you read?”
“Well, yes, it says her office isn’t open until Monday at ten am, but I’m not here about a case…mostly,” Trish said, raking a frustrated hand through her hair. “I need to talk to her.”
“Well, yeah, but she isn’t there,” Malcolm said, gesturing at the sign. He needed a shave and he was certain he looked fucking exhausted. Silently, he hoped that Jessica had already gone to take Peter back to his dad’s, or they would both be able to hear this entire exchange. Malcolm wasn’t even sure what time it was – he’d spent most of the weekend recovering from a highly sensitive case for Hogarth that involved multiple airplane trips to different time zones. “She leaves early on Friday.”
“Leaves?” Trish repeated, blinking rapidly. “Leaves to go where?”
Malcolm shrugged. “Home? Where else do people go when they’re not at work?” he said dryly. “She doesn’t live in the office anymore, I know that much. I don’t know how often she checks it, but if you need to talk to her before tomorrow morning, you can try her by phone or email.”
“She won’t answer if it’s me,” she said, looking frustrated. “I really need to- I-we- let’s just say that I’ve taken up the family business.”
“Drinking?” he asked, lifting a brow.
“Investigations,” she clarified tartly. More quietly, she said, “But I think-I think I may have gotten in over my head this time.”
Malcolm looked at her sharply. “What did you do, try to play hero again?”
Trish flinched. “There’s a man and he’s bad – like, Kilgrave-level bad, Malcolm. My friend Erik’s sister is already dead because of him.” She swallowed, and through his exhausted haze, Malcolm finally noticed how pale she looked. The dark circles beneath her eyes and her tight, anxious expression. “I-I really messed up, and he knows who I am now.”
“And now you think he’s going to come after your sister,” he said slowly. Malcolm whipped out his phone, typing ‘J-E-S-S’ to pull Jessica’s number up. He had the forethought not to put it on speakerphone.
“If you’re shilling for Hogarth, I’m going to text you all the words I can’t say out loud right now,” Jessica grunted, pulling Peter in front of her so that people will stop trying to knock a seven year old over. “Just as soon as people stop trying to run over my kid. Jesus.”
“Uh…you haven’t gotten any weird calls lately, have you?”
“No,” she said, avoiding the thought of Trish trying to call her more times in the past few days that she has in the previous four weeks. “Why?”
“No strange clients or threatening emails?”
“No,” she said, suspicious now. “What is your deal, Malcolm?”
“H-Hogarth said that a couple of her investigators have been threatened – I haven’t been either, I just thought I’d check,” he said easily. Trish mouthed ‘thank you’. “I’ll let you get back to your weekend.”
As usual, she hung up without saying goodbye. “Thank you,” Trish said again. “But shouldn’t you have warned her? She’s in danger.”
Malcolm pointed at her, slipping his mobile back into his pocket. “You need to not come back here,” he said bluntly. “If this guy knows that Jess is important to you, you aren’t gonna be able to do anything for her that she can’t do for herself. Showing up here isn’t going to do anything but piss her off. If he doesn’t know that she’s important you, you’re gonna lead him right to her.”
“But I need her help!” she pleaded desperately, eyed red-rimmed. “He hunts people with powers, Malcolm, he’ll find her eventually! You know she isn’t good at keeping a low profile! He’s a sick psychopath, a serial killer who targets gifted people. He threatens people that they love, people more vulnerable – but Jess just has me and we can beat him together!”
He threatens the people that they love. The color of Malcolm’s skin prevented Trish from seeing the sudden way he felt the blood draining from his face. Peter. Oh no.
“So you can get her killed, too?!” he barked. “You got some fucking nerve, Patsy. What, she doesn’t have anyone else, so she’s disposable?”
He’d learned a lot, working with Hogarth. Like how to hurt people where they were the most vulnerable.
Trish’s lower lip trembled before she bit it between her teeth. “N-no, that’s not-not what I said,” she stuttered, glassy-eyed. “But we need each other. We’re better together.”
“You need her to fix the mess you got yourself in,” he said, pointing at the office hours sign again. “Doesn’t look to me like she needs you at all.”
Chin wobbling, Trish snapped “Fine!” and whirled away, calling over her shoulder. “Just tell her that she needs to watch her back!”
Jessica was on the verge of just picking Peter up and carrying him back home. She never realized before having a child with her how crowded the city streets were. They had debated about which house he’d been sleep at on Sunday nights, when he had school Monday mornings and eventually agreed that staying with her was the most logical choice – Midtown was technically closer to her apartment anyway, and it meant Matt could have at least one morning where he wouldn’t have to get up at six am to get them both ready. The custody transfer would happen Monday after school, where Matt would pick him up.
She tried cutting down a side-street to get away from all the traffic, but Peter suddenly dug his heels in, yanking at her arm. It was very similar to his reaction to meeting Luke but this felt more urgent, his eyes huge and his face pale in the lamplight. “Come on, Pete, it’s okay,” she soothed. “We’re gonna take a shortcut.”
“I don’t wanna go that way,” he said, voice wobbling in fear but his body language stubbornly resisting her attempts to get him to go forward. “Please, Jess. It’s-it’s really dark down there.”
Jess hesitated. She could make him go, there was no question that she could. But was that really how she wanted to introduce her son to her super strength? Dragging him down a dark street? She didn’t like the idea of forcing him into anything, and this made her especially uneasy. “Alright, Peter. But I’m gonna have to pick you up, okay? I don’t want someone to knock you over.” He lifted his arms readily, immediately hiding his face in her black hair. He was shivering and Jess felt terrible. “Shh, it’s okay. It’s okay. We won’t go that way.”
Ned was eagerly waiting for him on Monday morning. His mom – Jess – was even prettier in person, with shiny black hair and combat boots. “Already, spider-monkey,” she said, smoothing his messy hair back. “Matt will be here to pick you up after school. Learn something cool and tell me about it tonight on the phone.”
“Okay,” he said happily. They were in public, so he said it very quietly, but Jess could still hear him. “Love you, Jess.”
Her embrace was brief and tight. “Me too, Pete. See later you, little man.”
Ned watched him wave until they could no longer see her from the quad and quietly said “So…?”
“So,” Peter repeated, shoulders hunching a little.
He looked around furtively, looking around at their classmates before hissing at his friend. “So, tell me all about it! Do they have cool powers? Flight? Invisibility? Can one of them read minds?”
“No,” Peter said unhappily, staring at the ground, the words painful even to say. “They’re totally normal, Ned. I mean, my-Ma-my dad, his hearing is really, really good, but he says that’s because he’s blind, now all of his other senses have to do the work.”
They darted into an empty classroom and Peter slid down the wall, backpack clutched to his chest. “It’s not the end of the world,” Ned said, though his voice was sympathetic. “And I bet they’ll be really impressed when you tell them you’re a superhero.”
Peter bit his lip and shook his head fiercely, though unshed tears swam in his eyes. “I’m not gonna tell them, Ned.”
His brow furrowed. “But…Peter, they’re your parents.”
“What if they want to lock me up,” he croaked wetly, still hugging his backpack tight as he swiped at his eyes with the back of his hands. “If they-if…what if they think I’m dangerous? What if they think I’m a f-freak? They might not…”
They might not love me anymore, he couldn’t make himself say.
“They wouldn’t do that! They care about you!” Ned protested.
“I promised May that I wouldn’t tell – not anyone, not ever,” Peter said, pulling his knees up to his chest.
But he knew it would be hard to keep his powers a secret, especially from two people he lived with. Just last night, his danger-sense – what May had called his ‘tingle’ had started burning at the back of his neck, a stabbing pain that hit him as Jess tried to lead them down that street.
It had only been that strong once before, when Peter had thrown a tantrum at the hotel they were vacationing in, a tantrum so strong that May was forced to leave. The room they’d been staying in burned to the ground that very night and May told him he had to tell her whenever he felt that ‘tingle’. That had been a promise, too.
But which one was he now supposed to keep?
The promise that he would never, ever tell anyone about his secret abilities? Or the promise that he was supposed to say so whenever he knew he was in danger? Which promise was Peter supposed to keep, and which one should he break?
That probably wouldn’t be the last time his extra sense pushed at him – luckily, Jess had listened to his pleading and didn’t take too much convincing this time. But that might not always be the case. How could he argue with doing something or going somewhere when he couldn’t explain why? And he’d already slipped up, once or twice. When Luke had startled him, he’d nearly knocked Jess over and his first night with his parents, he’d refused to let Matt go.
They were his parents, and they really did seem to care for him. But how long would that be true in the face of what he was? His other parents, the Parkers, hadn’t known. It hadn’t started growing until after they died. May had first been alarmed, and then worried and scared. She said that people who were special were different, and sometimes, the world was afraid of different.
Half the time, Peter could barely explain what he could do to himself. But how long could he really hide it from them?
That got angsty.
You'll die! Good luck!
Jessica was embarrassed to say that the thought had not even crossed her mind until she was wandering through the aisles of the Whole Foods after she’d left Peter at school, the app to Foggy’s group chat open as she looked for something she could eat while holding a camera – it promised to be a busy Monday.
Group Chat – Peter Parker Protection Squad
Mods: Foggy-Bear, Kare-Bear
Colleen is Fantastic
I’m Not Daredevil
Jess for Success
Save Me, Claire!
Stopping in her tracks, she quickly pressed the button for the voice chat feature so that Matt wouldn’t be forced to put the words through a text-to-voice reader. “Oh my god,” she said, staring in horror at the display in front of her. “Murdock, we forgot about Halloween!”
The silence was telling. “…is that important?”
Jessica rolled her eyes. “To a boy who loves Star Wars and the Avengers? Yeah, Halloween is basically the promise land for a little kid, Murdock. Didn’t your dad ever take you trick-or-treating?”
Matt verbally shrugged. “Kind of? When I was really little? But the older I got, the more he went out to work – if I could look after myself, that was money we didn’t have to pay for a babysitter – and if I wanted candy, he’d just buy one of the big bags they sell for people to pass out and let me have it all to myself. Then after the accident, neither of us really saw the point. I couldn’t see the costumes or any of the decorations and processed candies made me really sick for a long time. I still can’t eat it much.”
Over his shoulder, Foggy said “Halloween isn’t about the candy or the costumes, it’s about the event, Matt. The experience of getting to be someone else for a little while.” Wryly, he added “Not that you need that, because for you, every night is Halloween. But for everybody else, it’s a chance to give up your normal life and be supernatural, even if you only do it for a couple of hours.”
There was a soft click as Danny connected his end of the app to the call, so that he could join in verbally instead of just listening to them talk to each other. “Guys, guys – I have such a fantastic idea. It will be amazing, guys.”
“Please, don’t hold us in suspense, Danny,” Matt said dryly, leaning back in his chair. Foggy had gestured Karen into the room and they were now listening from over either shoulder.
Danny talked with all the enthusiasm and speed of an excited child and it abruptly and painfully reminded Matt of Peter. Matt wondered if Danny would be this way, if his excitement would be so intense and child-like if he hadn’t lost both of his parents so early in life. By the time he was finished explaining his idea, Jessica stood in the middle of the grocery store and barked “No. Fucking. Way.” Into her phone, causing several people to pause and stare at her. “Not on your life, Rand.”
“But he’ll love it!” Danny whined “And it will look so cool! C’mon, Jessie!”
“Do not call me ‘Jessie’,” she snarled. “Hey, male parental unit, mind pitching in on this conversation?”
“He would love it, Jess,” Matt sighed, knowing already that he was agreeing to a full night of polyester and nylon. He grimaced at the thought. But it would make Peter so happy.
“Oh my god,” Jessica snorted. “Fine. I’m picking out my own goddamn costume.”
Chiming in, Karen said “Pick yours tonight so that I can coordinate with Colleen and Claire! I already have some ideas, but I don’t want to commit to anything unless I know who you’ve picked.”
Jessica huffed, but they could all hear the small amusement in her voice just before she disconnected the voice chat. “I’ll take care of Peter’s as well. Murdock, get Nelson and Page to help you with yours.”
Matt let out a long-suffering sigh and Foggy laughed, clapping him on the back. “C’mon, buddy, it’ll be fun!”
In the afternoon, Karen got a hug and a kiss on the cheek for reminding Matt that he needed to leave. A bit guiltily, he said “I feel bad leaving you to get through this when we have so much work to do.”
Matt heard the sound of ceramic scraping over the wood of Foggy’s desk just before he swallowed down the last of his cooled coffee. “Don’t get the sad puppy face, Matt. I could use a break and Karen thinks we don’t know she skipped lunch to wrestle with the good folks at the Department of Corrections.”
At the coffee pot, Karen huffed and stuck her tongue out at the back of Foggy’s head. “Go pick up your son so that I can squish and hug him,” she grumbled. “I need someone to cuddle after talking to that horrible man.”
“One cuddle-buddy, coming up!” Matt said with a mock-salute. “Please eat something, Ms. Page.”
He heard Karen’s return salute cutting through the air. “Aye-ate, Captain!”
Not for the first time, Matt sent a silent thanks to Jessica for her ingenious idea of placing the bells upon Peter’s bag. The crowd of children was sort of overwhelming to his senses, but their bright ringing provided a location that he could properly pinpoint and so when Peter ran straight at him, he crouched just in time to lift him up into his arms. “Did you have a good day, Pete?”
“Mhm, we learned about tor-tortoises from the Gal-Galop-Galapagos islands.” Peter sounded a bit congested, like he was coming down with a cold. He supposed that was to be expected – children didn’t know how to prevent illness and they spent all day crammed together in a relatively small space, sharing germs. That didn’t mean Matt was looking forward to it. “Can I call Jess tonight? She said I should tell her when I learned something cool.”
“She’d like that,” he agreed easily, gently placing him back down at his side. “We’re gonna go visit my office for a little bit. I think Aunt Karen could use a hug – she had a rough day.”
They stopped at Mari’s on the way, the smell of vanilla and spices filling the air with their heady scent. Mari herself was standing behind the counter and Peter, having already met her twice on short walks with Foggy, had no problem bounding straight up to her. “Hello, Miss McTiernan.”
According to Foggy, Mari was a buxom Scottish woman with freckles and a long braid of red hair – which might be part of the reason he visited so often. She leaned over the polished marble to meet Peter’s eyes, greeting him in her soft Glaswegian drawl. “If it isn’t my best customer! Hello, my little lad. Did Daddy just get ye from school?”
Matt could hear Peter’s heart jump slightly at the word ‘daddy’, but Peter just held tight to Matt’s hand and pretended not to notice the word she put in that sentence. “Yes, we need an apple pastry to cheer up Aunt Karen, please!”
“Oh aren’t ye a darlin’,” Mari cooed. “Of course. Perhaps a fresh cardamom biscuit fer a good boy too?”
The question was addressed to Matt. He sighed. Mari ground the cardamom herself in-house and he could tell by the smell they hadn’t even been out of the oven longer than an hour. He was a weak man. “We’ll take half a dozen, Mari. I could use a snack and Fogs would never forgive me for coming back empty-handed.”
“That man could keep me in flour all year round,” Mari said with an admiring sigh. “’o course, Matthew. Will ye take a block of butter as well? I’ve got goat’s from Wisconsin, buffalo from Italy, and cow’s from Vermont, Ireland, or Belgium.”
“Surprise me,” Matt replied with a serene smile, knowing that Mari would pick whatever she thought went best with her cardamom scones.
As they were leaving, Peter fell into a quiet thoughtfulness that Matt was learning proceeded some great question that had occupied his mind. As he feared, Peter asked “Are you, um…mad that I call you ‘Matt’?”
Oh my. The poor boy couldn’t even bring himself to say the word ‘dad’. “Why would I be mad?” Matt answered pleasantly. “It’s what I told you to call me.”
“But I-you-yeah…” Peter said lamely, stumbling over each word as it tried to come out. Matt could sense the heat rising in his cheeks. “…”
“Is there something different you’d like to call me?” he said slowly. “Because Jess and I wouldn’t mind you calling us Mom and Dad, but we don’t want you to feel like you have to.”
Not for the first time, he wished he could see what Peter’s face was doing. “Um…oh. Okay.” There was another pause. “Can I think about that for a while?”
“Take all the time you need.”
He wondered if it was circumstances or genetics he could blame for such a serious little boy. If it were grief and loss that made him so pensive and somber or perhaps just the natural result of his intelligence and Matt and Jessica’s admittedly sort of cynical personalities. Matt contemplated that it was almost fated, in a way – as much pleasure as he and Jessica took from Peter’s happiness and delight, they weren’t well-suited to handle a child who was carefree and joyful all the time. As terrible it was to say, these moment felts a little more natural to them.
Excited and talking a mile a minute or gloomy and stuck to him like glue, Matt wouldn’t trade him for the world either way, and he was confident that Jessica felt the same.
The moment they went through the office, Karen and Foggy’s hearts sped up with happiness, both for Mari’s and for Peter. “Here you go, Aunt Karen! Matt said this would cheer you up!”
“Oh, Peter, that’s so sweet of you guys!” she exclaimed, stooping down to give him a tiny squeeze around the middle. “Matt and Foggy have some dusty old files to read. D’you wanna read a book with me?”
Though Foggy gave a sigh of mock-frustration, he could sort of understand why Matt was so distracted. Super-hearing had to have its ups-and-downs, especially when Matt would rather spend time with Peter. Karen had filled the bottom drawer of her desk with all of their favorite books from childhood, even badgering Jessica until she gave her an honest answer.
And in the next room, Matt could hear her slipping off her high-heels and settling onto the squishy sofa normally used for waiting clients. “Come be my cuddle buddy,” she said, getting him settled next to her. “Okay, let’s start with this one. Do you want to read it or should I do it?”
“You can,” Peter said happily, stuffing a biscuit into his mouth.
“Alright, chapter one: There is no lake at Camp Green Late. There was once a very large lake here, the largest lake in Texas. That was over a hundred years ago. Now it is just a dry, flat wasteland…”
Foggy nudged him after watching the dopey, lovesick smile on his face. “Hey, if you’re gonna look that, you could at least explain why.”
“Holes,” Matt said, then shook his head and smiled. “Holes, by Louis Sachar. It was my favorite book as a kid. I must’ve read it a hundred times.”
“Figures. Gypsy curses and combating the criminal justice system,” Foggy said wisely with a nod. “Is that what she started with? Man, I was hoping she was gonna start with one of mine!”
Amused, Matt asked “What did you put in there?”
“Ella Enchanted,” Foggy said, also a bit amused even if there was a hint of unease in his voice. At Matt’s confused look, he clarified “It’s a…very broad take on the classic story of Cinderella.”
Trying to ease him gently into understanding, Foggy said “Ella is a girl cursed from birth to obey every order anyone gives her. Any order, Matt.”
“Oh.” Matt blinked. “OH. My god. Does Jessica know? How are you still alive?”
“Yes, she knows. It really was my favorite book at twelve, but I also thought it was a good sort of jumping off point for when he gets older. He’ll understand the basic concept and he’ll also be able understand that this was a terrible, terrible thing that happened to his mom without anyone going into…graphic detail…” Back to his good humor, Foggy said “And if that wasn’t enough, I know for a fact that Karen put Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and The Golden Compass in there.”
Matt hummed. “I’m okay with Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets, maybe even Prisoner of Azkaban, but the Goblet of Fire might be bit heavy for him. It’s meant for a child twice his age.”
“The good Catholic boy has no problem with the book that kills god?” he teased.
“Hey, you said The Golden Compass, not The Amber Spyglass.”
“If only, if only, the woodpecker sighs, the bark on the trees was as soft as the skies! While the wolf waits hungry and lonely…”
Erik followed her, because Trish told him to. Because she wanted to know for herself that Jessica was okay, and if she wanted to get closer than a block away, she needed someone with a face Jessica wouldn’t recognize.
God knew that Erik didn’t want her to suffer the same way he had – maybe if he’d accepted Trish’s help before, when she asked to team up, Bree would still be alive.
The only information he had on Jessica was her name, her face, and that she was ‘insanely strong’, according to Trish. She had not mentioned that whatever Jessica’s mind was made of, it was the equivalent of aspirin and an ice pack, but Trish couldn’t have known that, and Erik was not about to complain.
Trish had also not mentioned blind suit guy. Blind suit guy was already sitting at an outdoor table by the time Erik had caught up with Jessica and she walked straight to him and sat across to him. Curious, Erik sat at a nearby table and sucked in a sharp breath.
Jesus. What were these people? Alone, Jessica’s mind was a soothing buzz of aspirin to his nerves, a shield that she held out in a radius around her. Whatever could be said about her less than pleasant attitude, Jessica was generally a very well-intentioned person. Together, the two of them were so fantastically, fundamentally good that it was like taking a Vicodin. Erik wanted to follow the two of them around and live pain-free forever.
“Surprised you let yourself get away,” she told the blind stranger, her voice a low wry drawl.
The stranger smiled, a gentle expression that nonetheless contained something oddly sharp. “He was so excited to talk to you. You weren’t in the middle of a case, were you?”
Jessica’s face softened. “I always have time to learn about turtles.”
“Tortoises,” he corrected, with a small laugh.
Her nose wrinkled. “What’s even the difference?”
He smiled again, the corners of his eyes crinkling at her. “I honestly have no idea. We should ask Peter.”
She nodded, smiling at the espresso beside her elbow. It was an unusually sweet expression for her severe face. “Did Nelson help find you a costume already?”
Handsome stranger nodded. “I know you’ve got yours – Karen has spent the whole morning vibrating out of her chair with excitement. She told me Danny is practically having a seizure in the group chat.”
Jessica sighed quietly. Erik had to strain to hear her. “Do you ever feel like you fell asleep and now you’re in a very nice, very strange dream, Matt?”
Matt! That was hot blind guy’s name. Matt folded his hands in front of him, head titled in her direction. “All the time, Jessica. Especially lately.”
The rest of the conversation was a brief consultation on a legal matter – Matt the Blind Man seemed to be an attorney of some kind – but most of their lunch was spent in a comfortable silence. This was not the relationship of two people just getting to know each other. It was the ease of a dedicated couple, but Trish had never mentioned that Jessica had a boyfriend or a husband. In fact, she said that her sister was a fierce and prickly woman who had pushed anyone who had ever loved her away.
And yet…here they were.
They didn’t hug or kiss as they left each other – instead, Jessica murmured “See you on Halloween.”
And Matt replied “We’ll call tonight. Have a good day, Jess.”
“Yeah, Matt. You too.”
Erik found their separation almost painful in itself – Jessica’s inherent altruism was stronger than Matt’s, but she held it very tightly to herself, like a shield between her and the world. Erik had to be nearly on top of her to feel it. Though Matt’s was not as intense up close, he was projecting it outward, as though he were trying to infuse everything and everyone he met with his own pure intentions. It was so blissful Erik could weep.
“Rude of you to show me a picture of your hot sister without telling me she already has a guy,” Erik told Trish as he strolled through the door.
Instantly, Trish looked more awake, despite staying up so late trying to keep an eye on Salinger. “She what? She has a boyfriend?”
“Yep. Blind, dark hair, wears a suit, about this tall,” Erik said, with a gesture at Matt’s height. “His name is Matt. Pretty sure he’s an attorney or something.”
“No way,” she breathed. “The blind lawyer?! Does he wear red glasses with round lenses and have some scruffy facial hair?”
“Yes?” Erik said, a little uneasy now.
“He was supposed to be dead!” she blurted out, eyes wide. “He was…they were all in a…an accident. Years ago. All of us thought he was dead. She’s okay? No threats? Salinger hasn’t been hunting her down?”
“Not as far as I can tell,” Erik admitted. “As far as I can tell, they’re going to a Halloween party and unless that’s code for something, your sister is safe.”
Trish still looked troubled, but nodded in agreement. There was nothing more that she could do – Jessica wouldn’t speak to her, though she now called as often as once a day. It devastated her, but Trish knew that Malcolm had been right. If Salinger had figured out that Jessica was her weak spot, trying to speak to her now wouldn’t accomplish anything but making Jessica’s anger fresh and new, and if he hadn’t, continuing to show up at her office would only direct his eyes toward her.
On Thursday, Matt was not there to pick him up from school. Instead, Ned watched Peter walk up to a very pretty tall blonde lady carrying a brown briefcase. “Where’s m-Matt?” Peter asked, getting a bit concerned. “He-he’s okay, right?”
“He’s just fine, sweetheart!” she assured with a smile, tucking a strand of loosened hair from her bun behind her ear. “But the judge on our case is being a bit of a sh- a-a butthead, so he and Foggy have to stay at the courthouse right now. Who’s your friend, Pete?”
“This is Ned and he’s my best friend! This is my Aunt Karen!” Peter said proudly and Ned shyly waved a pudgy hand at her. “Hello, Aunt Karen! Um…can I stay with you guys for a little bit? My mom needs to finish up at the dentist…”
Karen beamed. “Are you guys hungry? I’m starving and I could really go for some noodles right now!”
Mee’s Noodles were only a block down from their school and it was as they were crossing the street to the shop that it happened.
Sometimes, when something terrible is happening right in front of Peter, the world slows down. His eyes became a pair of cameras that could capture each separate movement around him. He was moving at ordinary speed, but everyone else moved like they were walking through clay. Directly to Karen’s right, on the opposite side of the hand he was holding, a man on a bicycle was looking at his phone, one hand barely steering the handles. He was headed right for Karen, and instinctively, Peter knew that she would be seriously injured. Aunt May had accidentally burned or cut herself several times with him in the room and Matt had nearly tripped on his backpack – like his danger-sense, it only seemed to turn itself on when something really bad was happening.
Already preparing himself for the inevitable consequences, Peter pulled his fingers from Ned’s hand and grabbed the back of Karen’s jacket, yanking her out of the street. “Oh my god!” Karen cried, flailing backward as the cyclist yelped and swerved wildly past them. “Oh sh-oh my god…Are you guys okay?! Peter, sweetheart, that was such quick thinking! You saved my butt back there! Your dad will be so proud of you!”
Peter could barely concentrate on her words. “I’m just glad you’re okay!” he squeaked, flailing for his friend’s hand again. Ned caught his grasping fingers and squeezed.
“I am, thanks to you,” Karen said with another giant smile, kissing his forehead.
He returned the smile as best he could, depending on Ned to keep him from stumbling into something. In front of him, the whole world had gone from a razor-sharp focus moving in slow-motion to a psychedelic kaleidoscope of color, swirling and revolving in front of his eyes.
Safely in the noodle shop, Karen went to order their snack. Under his breath, Ned hissed “Did it happen? Was that it?”
Peter nodded and whispered back, “Help me. Please, Ned. I don’t want her to think there’s something wrong with me.”
“I got you, buddy,” Ned assured quietly.
Peter’s question to Matt about going blind hadn’t been the curiosity of a child. He’d been wondering if his father had once experienced the same chaotic slow-then-fast pace of the world. If maybe his ability to sense and anticipate the danger he was in was not some freakish anomaly. If it would one day lead to Peter permanently losing his sight. On the bright side, that probably wasn’t the case. But it meant Matt wouldn’t understand what was happening to him.
Squeezing his hand, Ned whispered “Does your head hurt yet?”
Peter shook his head, colors spinning wildly around him. “Not yet – but it’s getting a tiny bit easier to see, so it probably won’t take long.”
“Already?” he asked, hand drawing back slightly with surprise. “It usually takes over an hour!”
Shaking his head again, Peter shallowed the sudden burst of nausea he felt. “It’s over faster every time it happens. That time in kindergarten with the monkey bars took nearly the whole day, remember? I had to be out sick the next day. Last time you saw, it took over an hour.”
Ned snuck a quick look at the phone Karen left at the table, checking the time. “I think it’s been maybe ten minutes now.” Glancing at Karen as she approached the table, he said in a hushed tone “Karen is on her way now, dude, try to act normal.”
It wasn’t that hard – Peter had to do it before, at school even, with dozens of kids around him. He could eat well enough as confused as his vision was, he’d had plenty of practice with chopsticks. Halfway through their noodles, Mrs. Leeds texted the limited-use mobile phone Ned had to say that she was on her way, and less than five minutes later, Foggy sent a text to Karen saying that they had (finally) wrapped up their case successfully.
Ned was worried about leaving Peter by himself in that condition, but consoled himself with the fact that his dad wouldn’t let something terrible happen to him, and anyway, he couldn’t think up any excuse to his mom or Karen for him to stay there longer. Peter would have to make it on his own – hopefully, this could force him to confess to his gift and he wouldn’t have to hide it anymore.
He didn’t confess, of course.
(He was his father’s son.)
Matt was surprised when Peter didn’t immediately coming running to him as he stepped into Peter and Karen’s view. He heard Karen cheerfully say, “There they are! Hi, fellas.”
Peter remained hanging around Karen’s side, his heart skipping a tiny beat, but the bells on his bag were silent. Karen quietly said “Oh, Peter. I’ll be okay, I promise. You don’t have to stay and protect me.”
“What happened?” Matt asked, too sharply, and Peter jumped. He tried again, modulating his tone for something less suited to Daredevil and more suited to Matt Murdock. “What happened, buddy?”
When Peter was silent, Karen glanced at his chalky-pale face and admitted “Peter is my little hero. He saved my life just an hour ago.”
“All right, a chip off the old block!” Foggy said with admiration, trying to coax a laugh from Peter’s small, tight expression.
“What happened?” Matt repeated, dropping his case to gently touch Peter’s face.
“A bike,” Peter said, his voice stuffy and congested again. “It was gonna hit her!”
“Oh, Pete.” Abandoning the briefcase entirely, Matt lifted him from the ground to heft him easily on his hip and was absolutely stunned when Peter turned his face in his shoulder and began crying silently. “Baby, Aunt Karen is a-okay, thanks to you. Nothing bad happened.”
“It’s not that,” he sobbed. “My head really hurts!”
“Did you hit it on something?” Karen gasped, even as Matt reached up to check for bumps and bruises. There was nothing there, as far as he could tell.
“N-n-no,” he hiccupped. “Everything is just so bright!”
“A migraine,” Foggy murmured, keeping his voice low in case it was affected by sound as well, as Matt’s headaches often were.
“It’s okay, it’s okay, we’ll go home and get you some medicine,” Matt soothed. Plucking his shades from his nose, he clumsy set them on Peter’s face. They didn’t fit, of course. “Does that help a little?”
“A little,” Peter said in a tiny voice, still cowering into Matt’s shoulder as he squeezed his eyes shut. “Can we please go home?”
Whatever had caused Peter’s migraine on Thursday was gone by the time he woke up on Friday morning. While Peter seemed a little subdued, he swore up and down that his head no longer hurt him and since his heartbeat was unwavering, Matt could only agree with him.
Jessica also noticed he was not quite as energetic as usual on Friday when she picked him up, but since he spent Saturday morning doing the hustle with her, whatever was wrong with him obviously was cleared up by then. Matt informed her that he would happily pay his whole savings account to have his sight back long enough to watch Jessica Jones do the hustle and Jessica responded with a series of text messages that were definitely not safe for children.
Peter was already excited to go trick or treating when Jess showed him his costume and told him to get ready. He was even more awed when his mother was waiting for him in the dining room dressed as Catwoman, perched on the edge of a chair as she texted someone. Her eyes lit up and she smiled that fast sweet smile at him, standing up in a full body suit of black leather. “Hey there, Iron Man! Ready to save New York?”
She was confident they’d done the right thing when Peter hopped up and down eagerly “Yes, yes, yes! Can we leave now?!”
“Yeah, let’s go meet Batman!”
“Batman?!” Peter demanded, hefting his plastic pumpkin, wide-eyed.
“Yep, we’re gonna meet up with Batman,” Jess promised, holding in her laughter at his tiny, excited face. “Hold on – you still have to wear your bells, Iron Man.”
Peter held still for the ordeal of having them tied onto his left wrist, but just barely. He was so keyed up that he nearly crashed out into the hall, barreling down to the elevator as Jess laughed behind him. “He’ll be there, Peter, slow down!”
As promised, outside her building was a dark figure with his upper face covered, the telltale points on his helmet giving his identity away. Awed, Peter gasped and ran for him, bells jingling. “Matt!”
“Shh!” Matt said playfully, finger to his lips. “Don’t give away my secret identity!”
Giggling, Peter said “Sorry, Batman. J-Catwoman said we’re gonna save New York!”
“One Snickers bar at a time,” Matt promised solemnly. “Maybe we’ll spot some friends!”
At ‘friends’, two not-so-menacing figures emerged from the shadows. “Batman, it’s the Joker!”
Foggy didn’t need face paint to widen his smile. He winked at Peter, slinging an arm around Matt/Batman’s shoulders. “Did I hear someone say Snickers?”
Karen pouted theatrically, tilting her pigtails askew. She hadn’t dyed the ends, but the Harley Quinn costume was still spot-on. “I prefer a Milky Way!”
Matt sighed. “Too bad! We’ll just have to find the rest of the Justice League!”
“We have the Justice League?!?!”
They found Superman and Lois Lane (Luke and Claire) on the next block over and Lois Lane shared her Juicy Fruit gum with Peter. Two streets after that, they added Wonder Woman and Green Lantern (Colleen and Danny) to their gang.
New Yorkers and tourists alike stopped to stare and take pictures or recordings of them. Iron Man, the little lone Avenger, leading a parade of superheroes, bouncing up and down as he held onto Batman and Catwoman on either side of him.
Mere blocks away, Pepper Potts found ‘Iron Baby and the Justice League’ on her twitter feed and shoved Tony’s shoulder until he looked at the phone held out in front of her. “Holy Christ on a sweet and salty cracker. Can we keep him?!”
“I’m pretty sure he’s got parents, Tony,” Pepper said, amused.
Sighing regretfully, Tony said “Yeah, I guess I can’t really top Catwoman and Batman, either.”
Peter could not remember a better day than that one, which he told them, yawning against Jess’ shoulder as she carried him back home. “This is the best day I’ve ever had.”
“The first of many,” Matt promised, leaning over to kiss his head. “Sleep tight, Pete. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Night, Dad,” Pete said thoughtlessly, eyes closed. “Night, Mom.”
Matt was so startled he almost tripped in the middle of the street and Jessica had to make a conscious effort to relax her hands so that she didn’t squeeze him tight and accidentally break her son’s ribs. “Jessica…”
“I know…” she hissed. “But he’s tired, he doesn’t know what he’s saying.”
“It’s the first step,” Matt hummed, ever the optimist, despite his cynical nature. “This really is the best day ever.”
Any dialogue you recognize is probably from Jessica Jones.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Zaya stormed out of his front door, nearly plowing into Jessica as she exited the elevator, who shifted out of the way just in time to stop her from knocking both her and Peter onto the ground.
“Sorry,” Zaya said shortly, whirling into the elevator.
Jessica saw Malcolm hanging in the doorway, a pained expression on his face. He had no doubt that Jess heard Zaya screaming at him two weeks ago when he’d confessed to what he’d done with the stripper at Mike’s bachelor party and as embarrassed as he was then, he was even more embarrassed now. “Sorry about that,” he said, unable to meet her gaze and raised eyebrows. His eyes caught her outfit instead. “Hello, Catwoman.”
“Hit a bit of a rough patch?” she said dryly, fishing for her keys and totally ignoring his amused observation.
“Breaking up,” he said with a grimace. “My fault.”
“What, did you bone another member of Hogarth’s staff?” she asked, not at all seriously.
“A stripper,” he admitted grimly. “At another coworker’s bachelor party.”
She looked at him sharply, hazel eyes narrowed to suspicious points. “That’s not like you.”
Simultaneously, Malcolm was…elated? Relieved? Gratified, that she thought so well of his character and felt like the worst sort of pondscum that he admitted his shitty behavior to her face. He shrugged, miserable and disgusted with himself. “Apparently it is, though.”
Jess gave him another appraising stare, this one a bit less harsh as the lock clicked open. She pushed it open with her hip and gestured him inside with a jerk of her head. Hesitantly, he followed as she gently pried Peter’s fingers from around her neck and laid him down on the couch. “There are two kinds of cheaters,” she said without pussy-footing around it, her bluntness oddly soothing. Jess wasn’t like Hogarth, she wouldn’t hide ugly truths and horrible requests in delicate language. “The greedy and the cowardly.”
“Yeah?” Malcolm winced. “Which one am I?”
“The greedy are hopeless – they’ll never learn from their mistakes and they’ll cheat again and again, because they have no impulse control and they do whatever feels good in the moment. In a way, it’s easier, though – you can predict on them being awful, and you’ll always be right. Cowards are harder to catch, but less likely to be repeat offenders. They don’t cheat because they can’t help themselves, they do it because they aren’t satisfied with the way their life looks and they don’t have the guts to admit it. To their partners, maybe even to themselves.”
“They can’t admit that they want something else – not necessarily better,” she added dryly. “Just different. Of course, the worst of all of these are both. Greedy cowards who leave trails of broken people behind them because they promise their love and devotion to one person over and over again, but inevitably screw them over. So you tell me. Which are you?”
“When my choices are no self-control or no guts or both?” he shot back.
“You did the deed,” she replied coolly, sitting Peter’s pumpkin bucket on the dining room table and pulling off his shoes and socks. “Not me.”
Malcolm stared at his bare feet before muttering “You sound like her.”
“Your girlfriend?” Jess asked, wrapping Peter in a blanket and lifting him into her arms again. “She sounds pretty smart. Not surprising, I guess. Hogarth wouldn’t tolerate a moron. You should figure out what you want and try to get her back.”
“No, no, not Zaya,” he said with an embarrassed cough. “The stripper. She told me people see her because there’s something missing at home. She told me to figure out what I want before I made a stupid mistake like asking Zaya to marry me.”
Jessica shrugged, absently swaying on the balls of her feet while holding Peter. “Problem solved then. It’s as simple as that. What do you want?”
It was undoubtedly a rhetorical question, but Malcolm suddenly had to press his teeth down on the inside of his cheek before he could blurt it out.
You, his mouth wanted to say.
It wouldn’t have been a convenient revelation at any time, but somehow it was especially terrible and gut-wrenching to have it standing right in front of her, in Jessica’s brand new living room, while she rocked her sleeping son.
Jessica glanced at him as she cleaned up the living room and blinked. She seemed to have broken Malcolm’s brain.
“It can’t be that bad,” she said, bland and pitiless as she examined his expression – somewhere between constipated stress and like someone had shot his dog in front of him. “At least you didn’t marry her – Zaya or the stripper.”
“Uh-huh,” he said stupidly.
Rolling her eyes at him, Jess wandered into Peter’s room to tuck him in, leaving Malcolm to mull over whatever discovery he’d had. He could stand there with his mouth open to catch flies all night for all she cared – she just wanted to get the hell out of this catsuit now.
A tiny part of her had to admit that she was a little worried. Jessica hadn’t seen him that emotional since the night she’d written him off.
Sitting down hard on Jess’ sofa, Malcolm’s first coherent thought was: When?
When had this happened? How long had he been in love with Jessica?
And it was love. Now that he’d seen it, now that he’d brought light upon something that had always lived in the darkness, there was no way to un-see it. It was taking up all the space in his ribcage, painful and insistent and present.
The answer he found was almost as devastating as the realization itself. The distant image of her, blue-tinged in streetlights, round belly pushing out the line of skulls on her dress.
Kilgrave had so thoroughly wrapped his life around her that Malcolm hadn’t noticed what was lingering beneath the haze of drugs. Beneath the piercing gratitude he felt for her mercy.
And sober, he realized, head hanging between his knees, sober I behaved like a child.
“I’d rather face their pain and their anger than this loneliness I feel around you.”
Whining at her like a little kid – no, worse than a little kid, he thought, abashed. He couldn’t picture Peter throwing that in her face. Whining at her even after Jessica had pushed him away, shoved him aside. Warned him that bad things happened around her. Malcolm hadn’t listened to her warnings and then he’d seen her walking with Luke, and he ran his mouth off at her like an angry child.
With years of hindsight able to assist him now, he could see that rant was ninety percent fueled by jealousy. Then when he’d stayed, he was so eager to impress her, to win the esteem of Jessica the Unimpressable, that he’d conspired with Trish behind her back.
“Oh my god,” he moaned, covering his face with his hands.
Trish was beautiful and allowed herself to be more accessible than Jessica, so he’d convinced himself that it was her Malcolm wanted to pursue. And of course she let him. Trish was using him, and she was smart enough to see how thirsty he was to have Jessica’s approval, even if she hadn’t guessed the reason why.
“Oh my god,” he said again, wishing that the earth would swallow him whole.
“Uh…I didn’t mean to like…break your brain or anything,” Jess said, watching him from the kitchen doorway.
His heart skipped a beat and then started racing madly. His own mortification wouldn’t allow him to absorb it earlier, but now Malcolm couldn’t help but see how beautiful, how healthy she was looking lately. Nobody ever told him that being in love felt like dying. Or maybe that was just the way he felt about Jessica.
“You-you didn’t. This isn’t your fault,” he said, only to mentally repeat that to himself. This isn’t her fault. He met her eyes and felt gutted all over again. Even if he told her, she was never going to say yes to him. He’d given her no reason to. “I’ve just…I’ve just put something off, for a long time.”
Smirking, she said, “You’re a little young for a midlife crisis, Malcolm.”
She pulled a bottle of bourbon from the cabinet – much nicer than he ever remembered her drinking before. He was even more surprised when she poured them both a glass and put the bottle away.
“Nothing like that,” he said wryly, accepting the glass she held out. “I’ve just ignored something I should’ve paid better attention to.”
Or, like, any attention to.
He hesitated – he didn’t want to say anything. In fact, Malcolm told himself that he wouldn’t mentioning it would upset her and maybe even get him throw out of the apartment but conspiring with Trish had got him here in the first place. “I hate to bring this up and if I didn’t know about Peter, I probably wouldn’t,” he said slowly, forcing himself to relax despite the odd look he was getting. “But have you spoken to Trish lately?”
“No,” she said sharply, hands balling into fists. “You didn’t tell her I had him, did you?”
“No, of course not,” he assured quickly. “I promised you I wouldn’t. She came to your office last weekend, while you were out…”
Jess snorted. “She keeps trying to call me. Nearly every day now. Surprised she hasn’t tried for another visit.”
“I told her not to,” he admitted sheepishly. “And I may have said some…not very nice things to get her to leave.”
She lifted her brows at him, an almost approving smirk on her lips. “Is that so? What made you bring it up then?”
“I’m sure you’ve figured out that the blond woman in the mask all over the newspapers is her?” he asked dryly. At Jess’ nod, he added “She confessed that she’s gotten involved with someone who may try to hurt her friends and family. Dude’s already killed her friend’s sister. She keeps trying to call because she’s worried he’s gotten to you, too.”
Jessica snorted again. “I can handle…” Her voice was abruptly cut short and she met his stare with widened eyes. “Peter.”
It was his turn to nod. “Normally, I would’ve just let her talk to you, but I knew you didn’t want her near him, and I understand why. But if it’s already been this long and you haven’t been in danger, I don’t think this dude’s managed to connect the dots between Trish and you.”
Her jaw tightened in anger. “She better hope that he doesn’t.”
Malcolm wouldn’t tell her the other secret he’d been keeping. He was as much a coward as Jessica described. But telling her was at best, an ill-fated and poorly timed disaster. At worst, it was a self-serving confession to convince her to give him a chance that he wasn’t even sure he deserved.
As surprisingly awesome as motherhood made her feel, there was one very specific instance that Jessica could definitely have lived without: Monday morning.
She has no idea how Matt managed to get up and get both of them ready at six am, but she only had to do it one day a week and it was a struggle. “Sorry, buddy,” she said guilty, scooping him up from the sidewalk. “This was my fault, I overslept.”
Peter, her tiny angel, shrugged his little shoulders. “I didn’t wake up on time either. It’s okay, Jess.”
“You’re a trooper, kid.” She sighed and looked around them. “There’s no way we’re gonna make it to the first bell on time – since we’re already late, let’s find you an Egg McMuffin and some orange juice.”
Peter feels the odd sensation beforehand, but he can’t tell where it was coming and it wasn’t urgent…yet. By the time they’re leaving McDonald’s and Peter suddenly felt painful tingling throughout his skin, it was too late. A man walking by bumped into Jess, nearly dislodging her hand from Peter’s. “Hey!” she barked, tucking him closer to her body, putting herself between him and the stranger. “Watch where you’re going, dude!”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” he said pleasantly, turning to look at the two of them. Peter was cowering behind his mother, barely visible behind Jessica’s legs. “Say! Aren’t you Jessica Jones?”
Peter could hardly breath. This man was dangerous. He was so dangerous that his voice made Peter’s skin crawl and his beady, blue-eyed stare made him feel like someone was holding a knife to his throat. Softly, he tried to wheeze through it. He should stop hiding behind Jess. She didn’t know how much danger they were in. Peter should protect her.
Instead, he trembled and gasped, and watched Jess square her shoulders and say, “Yeah, what’s it to you?”
The man blinked, slow and lizard-like. “It’s nice to meet a real life hero. You stopped that psychotic woman who killed a police officer, right?”
Half the reason she was so furious at Trish was the fallout after she killed Alisa. People gave her the credit for the death of an unknown woman, a woman who’d killed a cop, and they celebrated her for it. Celebrated Jessica for killing her own mother, for committing an acted that she hated. Gritting her teeth, she replied “So they tell me.”
Peter couldn’t handle the pressure of remaining in this man’s presence any more. Wheezing with terrified panic, Peter gasped the one word guaranteed to pull Jessica’s attention away from the creepy stranger. “Mom.”
“Oh my god,’ she said, staring at him in horror. “Peter?! Peter, are you choking?!”
“Asthma,” he managed to croak, through the paralyzing fear. It was actually a code word that May gave him for moments like these. It was supposed to mean May get me away from here.
“You have asthma?!” Jessica said a word that May wouldn’t have liked before scooping him up and booking it right back into the McDonald’s behind them. Peter was shocked when she plopped him into a chair and knelt in front of him.
“Sit up straight,” she said, pulling his shoulders back. “Try to take deep breaths with me, Pete. Just like that, yeah.”
It was getting easier to breathe – but only because they were getting farther and farther away from the scary man. Peter sat up straight in the chair, both hands clutching desperately at Jess’ jacket.
“That’s it, buddy, good job,” she praised, rubbing his back. Internally, her brain was screaming HE CALLED ME MOM. AGAIN. HE CALLED ME MOM! “Huh, your files never said that you have asthma.”
“How-how did you know what do you?” he asked, standing shakily from the chair. Silently, he promised that he would be more vigilant, that he would stay more alert. What if the man had tried to hurt his mom?
Jess brushed his bangs from his eyes. “I had it when I was a kid, too. You’re probably gonna grow out of it in a couple years.”
It was even true – no super experiments needed. It did mean she spent a lot of years failing gym class, though. Hm. He was pretty active and it never bothered him before, so it much not be that severe. Maybe he was already growing out it? Matt rarely got ill though, and he had a pretty healthy diet but half of the time he took pretty shitty care of himself otherwise, so maybe Peter got some of his crazy-healthy genes?
More and more, she was thinking of talking to Matt about an appointment with a pediatrician. First migraines and now asthma? What else had Peter’s medical file left out?
And all of these thoughts were honestly just Jessica’s way of distracting herself from the ‘m’ word he said earlier.
Peter was still thinking, and worrying about, the man with the beady eyes. What if he came back again, when Peter wasn’t there to protect Jess? When he couldn’t steer her away from him? What if he tried to hurt her?
He could. Peter was sure of that, sure as he knew his own name. Peter wasn’t exactly sure how strong he’d gotten. May made him practice controlling it constantly, so that he didn’t break doors and dishes and people. It had been a while, months, since he’d tried to do something with all his strength, but he was pretty sure he was stronger than a normal adult.
Blocks away, Salinger pondered his encounter with the abrasive Miss Jones.
Interesting. No one had ever mentioned her having a child, but the boy had certainly addressed her as his mother. He could almost think he’d tracked down the wrong Jessica Jones, but her picture was plastered across the papers, the media’s hoax of a hero. A lying unnatural cheater, just like her meddling sister.
But the child would complicate things a little more.
Jessica had of course called Matt and told him about the mishap that morning and Matt was appropriately worried. He listened hard to Peter’s lungs as he ran to greet Matt…but there was nothing wrong with them. Actually, his breathing sounded clearer than most people’s. Maybe Jessica’s theory was right, maybe he was already growing out of it.
To his surprise, the first thing out of Peter’s mouth was, “Can we call M-Jess?”
Matt smiled, his keen ears catching the slipped consonant. “Right now?”
“Uh-huh.” His smile grew as Peter eagerly held his arms up to be carried, already trying to grab for Matt’s phone as Matt lifted him.
He shouldn’t, he knew that. Matt should try harder to make him walk around on his own – seven was too old for him to be demanding that he be picked up and carried like a toddler. But the parenting books had already said that some regression was common in a child who’d experienced trauma. He couldn’t really regress developmentally, since Peter was already way past potty training and learning to walk and talk. His math and language skills were far above a child his age, but it seemed this was one area where he’d slid back a little and he guiltily enjoyed every minute of it.
Matt was hoping that when Peter felt more secure, he would run ahead of him and refuse to hold his hand like other children his age – even as he dreaded that day.
Peter clung to the front of Matt’s suit. He had a nice, familiar smell that lingered in his memory somewhere – he could never tell where it was from, though. He didn’t quite know how to work his phone – it wasn’t designed for someone who had working vision. “Call Jessica,” Matt told the device. “Speakerphone on.”
“Calling Jessica,” it agreed. “Speaker mode on.”
Peter’s heart beat faster, an odd skipping rhythm that calmed as Jessica answered. “Miss me already, Murdock?”
Matt couldn’t hear Jessica’s heartbeat over the phone, but he did hear the immediate warmth that infused her voice. “Hey, spider-monkey. You’re early!”
“I missed you!” Peter said, and Matt hid a grin. “What are you doing?”
“I am in my office,” she said, melting into goo. “I missed you, too, Pete. What did you learn in school today?”
“Well, my science teacher…”
That night, Peter got tired early. This didn’t surprise Matt at all – he’d spent the whole evening bouncing restlessly around the apartment and using the table to text silly gifs and emojis to Jessica.
Matt was concerned enough that before dinner, he taught him a basic series of meditation exercises. Still, he tired quickly and Matt walked him through bed time nearly an hour earlier than he usually would.
He was thinking of taking an early night himself. Matt was draped over the couch, eyes closed, supposedly listening to a podcast Karen and Danny had been raving about, but he was too sleepy to absorb anything he was hearing. He was perilously close to just falling asleep on the correct, actually.
Then in the bedroom, Peter’s heart suddenly exploded. “DADDY!!!”
Instantly more awake, Matt bolted up from the sofa, nearly knee-capping himself on the coffee table as he scrambled to get to Peter.
Peter had been dreaming, dreaming about trick or treating with Batman and Catwoman. But in his dream, but they weren’t Batman and Catwoman. (They were Mom and Dad.) He was just as excited, just as enthusiastic to walk through the streets holding their hands. But then the man was there. Staring at him. Staring at him so closely that Peter could feel it on his skin, a cold blade sitting below his jaw. He screamed in panic without even knowing what he was saying, just sound that tore out of him until his throat was raw.
Matt could feel how violently Peter was shaking as he lifted him up from the mattress. “Shhh, Daddy’s here, it’s okay. It’s okay, c’mon Petey.” Frantically, Peter scrambled to tuck himself under Matt’s chin, simultaneously trying to attach himself more firmly to his dad and make himself a smaller target. “I’m here, baby. Everything is fine.”
It took a long time for Peter to calm down and Matt didn’t even bother putting him back in his own bed. He slept with Matt that night, the only time he’d ever done that, going into his third week of living with them.
He didn’t have another nightmare that week, but he did crawl into bed next to Matt Wednesday night and sleep in his bed again. He didn’t call Matt ‘Dad’ again, nor did he call Jessica ‘Mom’, and neither of them pestered him about it. Every day after school, his first question was inevitably “Can we call Jess?”
Matt did do some gentle questioning, trying to poke and prod about his schoolwork. His friends. Anything that would hint at the reason Peter’s nightmares had suddenly ratcheted up, but there was nothing he asked about that gave him any clues.
On Friday, Jessica had one eye on the video footage rolling on her laptop and one eye directed at the alarm clock on her phone. Costa had dropped by yesterday with some not-strictly-on-the-books work for her and she had warned him, just like she’d warned Hogarth, that during weekends hours, she would do only minimal investigative work. Desk tasks only.
Hogarth she’d given her guidelines on with no explanation. Costa she actually liked and she needed him to take her conditions seriously, so she told him the truth and he’d looked surprised, which was expected, and congratulated her, which wasn’t.
After another glance at the alarm which would tell her it was time to pick Peter up from school, someone knocked on the office door, a dark shadow standing in front of the door.
“It’s open!” she called, without bothering to look up.
A familiar voice said “Hello, Jess.”
Momentarily startled, Jessica glanced up at her, sneered, and said “Goodbye, Dorothy.”
Dorothy Walker had never been needed, liked, or wanted in Jessica’s life and that was truer now than it ever was. Just having her here set her on edge. Dorothy didn’t know about Peter. Well, of course she knew that Jessica had gotten pregnant eight years ago and given birth to a healthy child, but she was also under the impression that Jessica had given that child up for adoption willingly. She wasn’t close enough to either woman to know more. She would certainly have no idea that Jessica had taken custody of that child back. The only way Dorothy knew how to love someone was to exploit them and Jessica was smart enough to have figured that out years ago. Her uncharming attitude and abrasive manners had kept Dorothy from parading her out in front of cameras at every opportunity the way she’d done to Trish.
Peter on the other hand, was hard not to love. Peter was exceptional in every single way and the only way Dorothy was ever going to sink her hooks into him was over Jessica’s dead body. Trish might allow her mother to pimp her out, but nobody was doing that to Jessica’s son.
Lips pressed into a thin, angry line, Dorothy said “I’m not leaving.”
Jessica glanced up at her again, brows raised to her hairline. “Do you wanna leave down the elevator or out the window?”
“I wanna hire you,” she said impatiently.
“No. Anything else?” Her phone chimed it’s alarm, flashing the time at her.
2:45. Time for her to leave.
“Trish is missing,” she hissed.
“Go find someone who cares,” she drawled, even as her heart skipped a beat. Malcolm said this guy Trish had gotten involved with was really dangerous. Of course, he hadn’t said how he was dangerous, either.
Stomping her foot a little, Dorothy said “I don’t wanna be here any more than you want me here.” She looked around the room with a hint of disgust. “Twenty-four hours ago, she just fell off the map! I should’ve seen it coming…she’d been late for appointments. Distracted. Out all night, she won’t say where. But she’s never missed work, until yesterday. She could using again. In danger, or worse…”
Ordinarily, Jessica would’ve assumed it was Trish’s drug problem come back to rear its ugly head. But with Malcolm’s info, she already had some idea what was probably going on. She shrugged dismissively. “If that’s what Trish wants to do, then that’s her business.”
Dorothy huffed, putting a hand on her hip. She did look genuinely upset. “I will pay you.”
“No,” Jessica said shortly.
“Please,” Dorothy pleaded softly, shoulders slumping. “Something’s wrong.”
“No,” Jessica repeated in an even harder tone, looking up at her to stare her down. “If you’re worried, call the police. Fill out a missing person’s form. It’s been twenty-four hours, they can help you.”
“I can’t!” Dorothy said anxiously. “The publicity…”
Jessica snorted. “Call the police or contact someone else. I’m the best in the business, but any P.I. will be discreet with their clients, or they wouldn’t be in business long.” She grabbed her coat and shut the laptop down. “Either way, I’m closed for the day.”
“Closed?!” Dorothy demanded. “It’s not even three o’clock, Jessica!”
“I know exactly what time it is,” Jessica said, tucking her phone into her pocket and gesturing Dorothy out the door.
Her adoptive mother gaped at her as she watched Jessica lock the office behind them. “You’re actually serious. She’s your sister, she’s your moral compass!”
Jessica didn’t even bother looking at her as she walked away, slipping her keys back into her jacket. “Both of you keep telling me that, but then the two of you want me to bail her out of the shit she lands in. Night, Dorothy.”
If it weren’t for Peter, if she didn’t already know that getting involved in this could hurt him, Jessica silently acknowledged that she probably would’ve gone after her. Even now, part of her worried about what could’ve happened to Trish. But the larger part of her was worried about what this guy could do to a defenseless seven year old.
With this on her mind, nobody could fault Jessica for panicking when Peter didn’t come running for her. The crowds were getting thin – Dorothy had held her up a little – and there was no reason she shouldn’t be able to find him. Some of the buses were already leaving. “Peter?” she called, already feeling sick with fear. “Come on, spider-monkey! It’s time to go home. Peter!”
There were two small shapes sulking at the end of the schoolyard, right around the school garbage bins. The blue-and-red stripes were Jessica’s best clue and she immediately jogged toward him. Her son quickly stood to his full height at her approach, guiltily placing himself between two of the bins. “Hi!”
“What are you doing down here?” she asked suspiciously, stomach still swirling with anxiety. “Why didn’t you come when I called for you?”
There was a gentle, plaintive whining from behind him and a snout covered in blue-gray fur licked at the tips of Peter’s fingers. He giggled, almost despite himself, before realizing that his secret was now out.
Jessica sighed. “Peter…”
“He was so hungry!” Peter said, chin wobbling.
“Strays can be dangerous for people, Peter,” she said, hating to say no to him. “You can’t keep him, little man. You won’t get to see him much at my house and I know some blind people have dogs, but Matt isn’t good with animals, baby.”
Truthfully, she suspected that animals made Matt a little nervous. They were far less predictable than people and Matt was even more reluctant to hurt an animal, even by accident, than he was to hurt people.
He shook his head furiously with loyal certainty. “He’s really gentle, Jess, I promise.” As if to punctuate this point, the dog – geez, it was hardly more than a puppy – sniffed its way over to his other hand to lick that one clean, too. With a helpless gesture, he said “I couldn’t just leave him out here by himself. He could get hurt!”
“She,” Jess corrected absently. “It’s a girl dog, Pete.”
She was a rather beautiful pit bull up with smoky blue gray fur, a stripe of white just below her chin leading to a larger white patch at her chest. And she tilted her head in Jessica’s direction, tongue out in a sweet doggy grin. I couldn’t just leave him out here.
Jessica sighed again, longer and more heavily. Already, she was resigning herself to taking the dog home as she realized why Peter had gotten so attached to the damn thing in the first place.
The fucking dog was blind.
Stay tuned for part two:
"and formed of silk and steel"