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The Devil and the Unknown

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The boy doesn’t approach him as Daredevil. Not at first.

Matt doesn’t do Daredevil as much as he used to. It’s not that he doesn’t want to, necessarily, but he’s been injured more than enough times for it to take its toll. Crime rates during the Blip had been more than enough to keep him busy, and now, he’s…

“Hello, Mister Murdock, you don’t remember me, nobody, um, remembers me—no, no, that sounds dumb.”

He’s almost forty.

Younger folks are picking up the slack. Bigger names are showing them the way. The Hawkeyes made waves just weeks ago.

“Hi, Mister Murdock! I’m Peter Parker, and I kind of stopped being a person, a few months ago, and you helped me once and I was hoping you could help me find out if I still have a social security number? No, that’s worse.”

His hearing is just as sharp as ever. He listens every time the boy says his name, and then tries to focus back on his work. He’s still got a shoebox office in Hell’s Kitchen, even if his name is a little more everywhere, nowadays. It means that the rattling air conditioner and coffeeshop downstairs tune the boy out.

“Hi, I’m Peter Parker. You don’t remember me, but you helped me once, and I know you help people who are in… weird situations. There was a wizard involved. I don’t know if I’m legally a citizen anymore, and… no, that doesn’t… heck.”

Matt wants to help, after enough of that. He’s gotten only bits and pieces, but the story is one that he finds interesting. ‘Peter’ sounds incredibly young, and incredibly upset. He leaves without actually coming in to even say hello, but Matt hopes he’ll come back.

The kid sounds familiar.

It takes a few days for Matt to hear it again. It’s been months since the apparent multiverse incident, which is a mess he’s glad to have been uninvolved in. Foggy had talked his ear off about it, but Matt’s plenty content with organized crime and semi-immortal ninjas on a rolling cycle. Spider-Man had spoken, though, recorded himself and broadcast it out to draw in the interdimensional supervillains.

That’s the voice of the young man trying to figure out how to ask Matt for help.

There was a wizard involved, Peter had said. Nobody, um, remembers me.

Spider-Man visits Manhattan a few weeks later, towards the end of the month and drawing into the bitterest part of winter, and he strays far enough into Midtown that he crosses into Hell’s Kitchen.

The Devil goes out on a hunt.

--

He finds Spider-Man webbing up some petty criminals. Young adults, not much older than Spider-Man himself, trying to hit up a bodega.

“—ot call the cops, because you guys would probably get the worst of it, y’know, but if you start doing crimes it’ll just come back around on you, statistically, and that’ll just suck for you and your families. The library can probably hook you up with some job placement stuff, you know?”

“And what would you know about it, bro?” one of them demands.

“Oh, uh, I had to use them a few months ago,” Spider-Man says. There’s a sound of fabric on fabric on hair, like the kid is trying to scratch his head. “Couldn’t make rent and had to find a new job.”

The guys on the ground don’t know how to respond to that.

“What? You thought being Spidey came with a paycheck?” the kid asks. He jumps and lands on the wall, closer to Daredevil’s position on the roof, though he doesn’t know it. “Nah, this is a hobby, guys. Anyway, gotta swing! Stay out of trouble, folks!”

Daredevil waits, and breathes, and turns just as Spider-Man is about to land on the roof. He throws a billy club, just off to the side of Spider-Man’s head upon landing, and snaps it back as soon as he’s sure he’s got attention.

“Um, uh, Mister Devil, sir—”

Cute.

“—I’m so sorry, I didn’t know I was—”

“This isn’t Queens, little spider.”

“I know?” Spider-Man says. “I was, um, chasing a thing involving my old school, and saw these guys causing trouble. I was just on my way home, I swear, I’ll get out of your, uh, horns? I’ll get out of your horns and—”

“Follow me,” Daredevil says. He turns, and doesn’t wait for Spider-Man to take the hint. He starts running, and jumps.

Heartbeats later, Spider-Man follows.

--

“How old are you?”

“Old enough.”

Well, he’s been fighting supers since Matt was barely split from Foggy, so maybe. “Your old school?”

“Uh, I don’t think I’m supposed to tell you that.”

Kid, you thought you might not even have a social security number anymore. Your school won’t help. “College or high school?”

“Um, college?”

He’s lying. “You don’t sound old enough to have graduated college.”

“Oh, uh, I thought you were asking what I was in now.”

Still lying. “You can’t lie in Hell’s Kitchen, not to me.”

Spider-Man fidgets. The gloves are a slightly different material than the rest of his suit, and it’s obvious when he fiddles with his fingers. “Okay, so, I was supposed to go to college. Stuff happened, so now I’m not.”

“Oh?” It’s a truth, Matt thinks, but not the whole one.

“Yeah, just… stuff. The multiverse thing from a few months back, mostly.” Spider-Man fidgets a bit more, and then asks, very quietly, “you know Matt Murdock, right? The lawyer that does a lot of the work with the guys you deliver to the police?”

“I might.”

“I kind of… messed up my life. A lot. First someone else messed mine up, and then that messed up the lives of people I cared about, and then when I tried to fix that, I almost messed up the entire world, and I fixed that, but now my life is just… a mess.” He fidgets more. Matt lets him. “My, um, my aunt died, and I had to drop out of high school so I could get a job to make rent, since I’m not a kid anymore, and I don’t have any other relatives. I can’t go to my friends, either, or… anyone, really.”

This is all true. “Not even the Avengers?”

“Got my codes revoked.” An almost-truth.

“And you think a lawyer could help.”

“…I don’t even know if I can legally work in the country,” Spider-Man admits. “I need to figure that out, and get my GED, and a whole lot of other stuff just to get out of this hole, you know?”

For all that Matt’s life had been one mess after another, he’d always had the church and Fogwell’s to go back to, if he really needed it.

“Are you a religious man, little spider?”

“Well, I uh… haven’t really had a chance to go to shul recently,” Spider-Man says. “Been kinda busy.”

Matt tilts his head. “You’re Jewish?”

“My aunt…” Spider-Man’s voice almost breaks, and then he keeps going. “She, um, wasn’t really religious, and she was the one that raised me, but she wanted me to keep in touch with the culture my parents and uncle had, so she took me in and tried to support me even when she didn’t get it. I want to go back, but… it’s been a busy couple of months, and I’m a bit anxious about starting at a new temple, you know?”

Matt’s been going to the same single church since he was born. His mother is a nun in that very church. He definitely doesn’t get that part, but he’s been the new kid in enough other situations to understand. “I see.”

Metaphorically, of course.

Spider-Man shifts uncomfortably, waiting and hoping for Daredevil to pick a direction for the conversation.

“Something wrong?” Matt asks.

“It’s almost February and I’m in spandex,” Spider-Man admits. “I’m usually moving in the costume so it’s not a huge deal, but it’s really cold and we’re kind of just sitting around.”

Right. Teenager.

Teenager who just dropped out of high school and can’t make rent.

“Can I ask you a question?”

“I will not promise an answer.”

“Cool, cool, um…” Spider-Man trails off. “So like. What are your powers?”

“I’m not answering that.”

“Okay,” Spider-Man says. “Um, if someone threw a brick at you from behind, would you be able to catch it without looking?”

“Would you?”

“Sometimes,” Spider-Man says. “If it’s coming right at me, yeah. If it’s going to miss anyway, then not really.”

“Hm,” Matt grunts. He tilts his head, trying to figure out what’s going on in Spider-Man’s head just by sound. “I could catch it, yes, provided I’m not too distracted.”

Spider-Man nods, just a little. He breathes out heavily. “Okay.”

“Okay?”

“You’re Matt Murdock, aren’t you?”

--

Peter Parker sits on Matt’s couch with a cup of hot chocolate and a shiver that won’t go away. Matt’s already given him a blanket, but it’s late January, and it’s a hellish time for New York City. Matt has tea for himself.

“It’s midmorning on a Tuesday,” Matt says. “You should be in class.”

“I told you,” Peter says, “I had to drop out and get a job to make rent.”

Even Matt managed to get through high school and college and grad school intact. Hells. “What were you studying for?”

“MIT.”

Unfortunate. “You’re a STEM kid?”

“Engineering,” Peter says. “I was… I wasn’t sure exactly what yet. Materials engineering, maybe, I make my own web fluid, but I like mechanical… long shot now, I’m just doing pizza deliveries until I can get that GED and—”

“You’ll work for me,” Matt says.

Peter is probably staring at him. He’s very quiet, and his heart is beating too fast and he smells clammy. “What?”

“I take interns,” Matt says. “I haven’t picked one for the spring semester yet, but that’s fine. I won’t force you to go to school if the rent is actually a problem, but I’ll pay better than pizza does, and you’d know you have a boss that understands going randomly missing for superhero work. Commute’s all the way to my office in Hell’s Kitchen, but I can’t imagine that’s a huge problem for the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.”

Peter laughs, short and uncertain, little more than a breathy heh. Matt imagines he’s probably smiling.

“I also have a nurse friend on speed-dial,” Matt says. “In case one of us gets shot.”

“I haven’t been shot,” Peter says immediately. “Not with bullets. Oh, I’ve been stabbed, though! Does that count?”

Kind of, kid. Kind of.

--

Peter Parker is an incredibly bright eighteen-year-old.

He also knows very little about the legal profession.

Matt can work with that, thankfully. It’s been a while since he’s taken on a high school intern, since most of his are college students, but Peter can use a fax machine and file things and make coffee. He speaks Spanish, if not entirely fluently, which means he can interact with a lot of Matt’s immigrant clients. He can lift heavy boxes and sort papers into order and take phone calls when Matt is in a meeting. When he isn’t working, there’s a scratch of pencil to paper as he studies for his GED, and more rarely, tinkering noises that make the hairs on the back of Matt’s neck stand up.

Peter turns out to still have citizenship, somehow, but he’s still only barely more connected than some of Matt’s clients.

Peter has Matt, and Foggy, and Claire. That’s… about it, right now.

Matt goes out with Peter to Brooklyn one day to visit a client, a Hell’s Kitchen resident who’s staying with a relative in the larger borough while her leg heals. It’s several hours at the house, and then they start on their way back to the subway, and Peter… hesitates.

It takes a few seconds of Peter just standing there before Matt coughs lightly to remind him that he’s currently the guide here.

“It’s um… one of my friends works at a donut shop that’s a few blocks away,” Peter says. “If she’s on shift…”

She doesn’t remember him. Matt knows that much. “Is the coffee good?”

“Not really, but the donuts are,” Peter says. “It’s family owned, if that makes a difference? Polish, I think.”

“Sounds like a good place to get a snack before we head back to Hell’s Kitchen,” Matt says, and Peter relaxes, though he definitely tries not to. “If I smell something that’ll work for me, I’ll let you know and you can tell me what the actual options are.”

“Yes, of—of course, sir!”

“Don’t call me sir.”

This makes Peter sad. Matt does not know why this makes Peter sad, but like many things, it probably has something to do with a friend who no longer remembers he exists.

They get to the shop.

A young woman greets them. “Hello, Peter Parker. Not exactly your usual time.”

She says his name like an inside joke.

“Um—uh—yeah," Peter manages. She flusters him. It's cute. "Hi.”

“In Brooklyn for something in particular?" she asks. "Or is it just the donuts?"

"Not just the donuts," Matt interrupts.

Peter breathes in a touch sharply through his teeth. “Right, right, um… it's good to see you, MJ. Er—this is Mister Murdock, my boss.”

Matt smiles as charmingly as he can, and nods in the young woman’s approximate direction. “Pleasure to meet you, miss…”

“Jones,” she says. “So, uh, you guys getting anything?”

“Coffee, black, and… Boston crème for me?” Peter hazards. “Mister Murdock, what do you usually look for?”

“Well, I smell cinnamon,” Matt says. “I’d rather not get anything too crunchy or with a filling. I don’t suppose you have any suggestions, Miss Jones?”

She does. She lists them off, and he picks two, and then nudges Peter out of the way to pay for both of them, because Matt is almost forty and can absolutely afford to treat his intern to a snack. Peter drinks his coffee and eats his Boston crème, and awkwardly stumbles through something that could almost be flirting with the girl behind the counter.

He asks how preparing for MIT is going for her. She tells him it’s going well enough, and spouts off the kind of small talk anecdote designed for strangers. Matt can almost smell the saltwater tears that Peter’s not letting happen. He can definitely hear the thumping of the boy’s heart.

The trip ends without incident. Matt hopes Peter manages to get this friendship up and running again. It’s breaking the kid apart.

--

“Um, Mister Murdock? I mean, Matt.”

Still working on that. “I’m listening.”

“I just wanted to ask if I could take a week off in April?”

Matt looks up at him. “Should be fine, I think. That’s… Passover’s in April this year, right?”

“Yeah. I’ll probably still be doing Spider-Man things, ‘cause… you know, that’s what Spider-Man does, and if I can help…” Peters shifts, uncomfortable. He coughs. Matt doesn’t comment on it. “I’ve sort of… I’ve been meeting people, at the synagogue near my new apartment. I’m… almost looking forward to it? Aunt May tried, but she never really… it was for me, but it wasn’t hers, you know?”

Matt has always been a Catholic surrounded by more Catholics, except for college. Even in college, he’d been able to go to church. Matt didn’t know how to be himself without the church, and enough of the people who raised him worked there that he was never without someone to go to and fit in with for a holiday.

“I’d like to be able to celebrate with people I know better,” Peter continues, “but… it’ll be nice, I think.”

Matt considers this. “I think Foggy’s going to his sister’s place to celebrate Purim next week. Do you want to take Friday off and celebrate with him, see if you fit in with them?”

Peter’s heart skips a beat. It’s almost funny, except for how it’s sad. “I don’t want to impose, Mister Murdock, I don’t really know Foggy that well.”

“If you don’t want to, that’s fine,” Matt says, “but he already told me he was thinking about offering. He’s got a niece and some nephews, if you like the idea of babysitting.”

Peter gulps. “That… sounds like it could be interesting, yeah.”

“I’ll let him know you said so. He’ll text you the address.”

--

Peter doesn’t need a mentor. Matt is, every day, thankful for this. He’s not sure he’s up to the task of teaching a teenager how to not die in a fight. Peter Parker already knows how to not die.

(Peter Parker has, in fact, already died.)

(He’s not the only one, of course.)

(Matt didn’t get Snapped, nor Foggy, but Claire did. Sister Maggie did. Jessica and Danny and Karen did.)

Peter Parker knows how to throw a punch and dodge a bullet. He’s fought villains with smaller networks than Matt’s, but leagues greater individual power. Matt can spar with him, here and there, but Peter Parker has fought Thanos and futzed about with the multiverse. In hero work, Peter Parker does not need a teacher, a mentor, a parental stand-in.

He does need a better suit.

Apparently, nanobots are not happy when they suddenly reconnect to the internet and are informed by all Stark databases that they are assigned to an error code that should be Spider-Man.

“He’s a friend,” Matt says. “I got him out of jail, and he’s done this for me before. Just trust me, and trust him to make you the best suit.”

“My suit is fine.”

“Your suit is spandex.”

Peter’s probably pouting behind the mask. Matt doesn’t care.

He introduces Peter to Melvin Potter. Peter is defensive and doesn’t want to take off the spandex mask. He’s more than learned his lesson about showing his face and name to too many people. Melvin doesn’t mind, because the spandex is skintight enough that he can get all his measurements without a problem.

Melvin grabs a textile and something clinks, glass bottles full of some liquid that isn’t water, and others filled with what he guesses is either a powder or something immobile like cotton fluff, and Peter asks, “is that terephthaloyl chloride?”

Matt has no idea what that is. Melvin pauses, and answers in the affirmative, curious.

Peter is practically vibrating with excitement.

Melvin asks a question that Matt has no hope of understanding, beyond a reference of some sort to heat reactions. Maybe? He’s a lawyer, not a scientist.

“I’m more of a mechanic but I do materials engineering too, sometimes, I make my own web, and—do you make Kevlar? Is that why you have the terephthaloyl chloride? Only, I’ve been hoping to experiment with making stuff like that but I don’t have the resources anymore, and I don’t really have anyone to go to about the risks, or even a fume hood—”

He keeps going. And going. And going.

Melvin has answers to most of it.

Matt is baffled and somewhat delighted. He’d known Peter was smart. He’d known, in particular, that Peter was smart in the science things. The kid would have gotten into MIT without the identity reveal kerfuffle.

He tells Peter he’s leaving for a few hours, and to have fun with Melvin. He’ll keep an ear out in case Peter needs him while he’s bashing heads.

--

In early May, Peter wanders in to the office in a daze. Matt asks him what’s wrong.

“I got a date with MJ?”

Good for him.