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the entire history of human desire

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Generally speaking, Claire doesn't go out much on her nights off duty. She prefers the relative serenity of listening to the sirens through a barrier of flimsy plaster rather than up close and personal. It's a refreshing change of pace after back-to-back night shifts in the ER. Sometimes, when she isn't so exhausted that she passes out, she might even read a book. Catch an episode of SVU on TV. But—you know. If Wilson Fisk's arrest isn't enough to warrant celebration, then really, what is?

Half of Hell's Kitchen seems to feel the same way. The first two places she hits are chrome and slick, loud music pouring out of the open doors. Clearly aimed at clientele falling under the hard-partying undergrad umbrella. The establishments aren't bad, and some of the drinks are even pretty good, but she's dealt with enough college kids and stomach pumps to last several lifetimes. She pulls her phone out after ejecting herself from the second bar, head still a bit woozy from the last cocktail she'd finished before sidestepping some frat bro making a beeline toward her. At the curb, she rolls her wrist. Almost dials Matt's number from memory, thumbs wavering over the keyboard. Funny, how a masked vigilante happens to be the first person her mind goes to for company. Funny and scary and kind of sad, like clowns, or Where Are They Now? specials.

Or maybe not, considering who's probably responsible for all this celebration anyway. Maybe it's only appropriate. She gets the 212 typed out, fingers still hovering over the keys—and then the wind picks up again, chilly for Manhattan in late September. Sweeps the cobwebs right out of her head. Claire pauses at the stoplight, screen blinking up at her, and puts her phone away.

 

 

There's a divey bar three blocks up, across the street from the old movie theater. Above the filthy windows, a neon sign proudly proclaims JOSIE'S in blocky cursive, though the apostrophe's in pretty bad shape and the "I" keeps flickering. Through the entrance, she can hear the dull murmur of conversation, glasses clinking, the smack of billiard balls colliding with each other and the table. No bass, thankfully. "Third time's the charm," she mutters, tucking a hand in her pocket.

The interior's dim. Claire lets her eyes adjust to the darkness, head turning to take in the milieu. She vaguely recognizes one of the guys playing pool in the back, and spends a moment wondering why before she marshals her thoughts and remembers—two weeks ago he'd rushed his daughter into the ER for a humerus fracture. Claire remembers every face she saw the night Fisk bombed the Russians. There's no dawning light of realization when the man looks up from the green felt to meet her gaze, but she smiles anyway.

Isn't until she gets to the bar that she sees him. Figures. Speak of the Devil, and he shall appear. Still, it's almost surreal, sliding onto the stool only to find, one seat down, the Devil of Hell's Kitchen dressed in his Sunday best—or, at least, something more presentable than a bloody mask and a torn up, sweat-soaked muscle shirt. Not that the muscle shirt's all bad. This is just—different. The dress shirt and suit jacket cut his body into crisper lines. He's got a glass of something clear in his left hand, and the cane in his right. Light glints off the lenses of his dark glasses like inverted pupils. He looks, for all intents and purposes, strangely at home in the scummy comfort of this bar. And then he turns and looks straight at her.

"I'd advise against it," comes a rumbling voice from behind the bar. Claire starts, eyes snapping forward. A heavyset woman in her late forties nods over the counter, scrubbing at a glass with the grimy dishrag in her hand. "That one's trouble. Always has been, always will be."

"Thanks, Josie," Matt says, grinning. He opens his mouth again, and closes it. His hand clenches around the cane. A near-imperceptible tilt of the head. Claire raises an eyebrow, breath held in her chest. Maybe he hears it in her heartbeat. "So, if it isn't rude to ask of a stranger, what brings someone like you to a place like this?"

"Here it goes," Josie says, rolling her eyes, and retreats to the far end of the bar. The safer side, all things considered.

Claire props her chin on a palm and leans in. "What do you mean, someone like me?"

"You just don't seem like the type."

"Hmm," Claire says, tapping a finger against her cheek. "What makes you so sure?"

"I can tell," Matt says. He eases out of his stool to sit next to her, swirling the liquid in his glass. "By your voice. The perfume you wear." He smiles again. "That you're even wearing perfume at all."

"It's my night off," Claire says, dry. She glances back at the grizzled guys playing pool and the two shady-looking bouncers hanging back in the eaves. "I thought I could use a drink. To celebrate."

"Celebrate," Matt repeats, shifting in his chair. "What for?"

Claire gestures at the old TV above the bar, and then remembers she isn't supposed to know. "Sorry, I just pointed at the TV," she says, apologetic, and bites back the urge to laugh when the corner of Matt's mouth jumps.

"Josie," he says. "Turn that up, will you?"

Josie grumbles, but pulls the remote out from behind the counter, along with a whiskey sour Claire orders. It's the Fisk news, of course. Been playing all night on repeat, biggest story in Hell's Kitchen since the Union Allied bust. They listen to the newscaster for a minute. Claire turns away when a photo of Mrs. Cardenas flashes on the screen.

"You know, I always thought there was something not quite right about him," Josie's saying, still wiping that ubiquitous glass, but Matt pulls his glasses off and looks at Claire. Seems to, anyway. If it weren't for the angle, slightly off, so that his eyes stare off at a point just above her ear, someone else a little drunker may never have noticed.

She sticks her hand out, for wont of something to do, and slips it in his, cold from the sweating glass. He clasps it, squeezing gently. "I'm Claire," she says, and glances around the bar again. "You're right. This isn't my usual speed. But it isn't bad."

"My name is Matt," he says, like it's the first time. "What do you do, Claire?"

"Work night shifts at the Metropolitan General. And you?"

"I'm a defense attorney by trade," he says, and stops there.

So maybe she's three drinks deep and counting. Maybe that's why she allows it, too loose and unwound to tamp it down. Allows herself to think, for one moment of complete clarity, what it would've been like to meet him here. The first time, instead of dragging him out of a goddamn dumpster. What she might have done if she'd gotten this, the charming, scruffy lawyer with terrible hair and an even more terrible smile—if she would've left with him, brought him home, or gone to his apartment with the rough furniture and pixelated cherry blossoms. If she would've stayed the night. "I see," Claire manages, voice even. "One of those."

"One of those," Matt agrees amiably. His voice swoops low, then. Takes on a rougher quality, one that Claire recognizes from that first night on the roof. "But tonight, I'm just a man enjoying the company of a captivating woman."

She feels her throat tighten, and wonders if he can feel it too, the deepening pressure just above her collarbone. Wonders if he can sense the rest—what desire and need sound like in a human heart, in the way blood rushes up to kiss the skin, the curl of her tongue, the gentle sway of her body toward his. Toward the inevitable conclusion. There are so many things she wants to ask, and any one of them would break the delicate farce playing out between them.

A muscle in his jaw clenches. He's close enough now that she can see the beginnings of a bruise blooming along the arc of his cheekbone. Matt exhales, leans in the rest of the way, and kisses the corner of her mouth. Once, just the barest brush of his lips.

"Get a room, Matty," Josie says, supremely unimpressed.

Claire rears back a little, eyes dropping to his mouth. "Matt," she says, sounding funny even in her own ears. "Your nose is bleeding."

 

 

He wipes the blood off with a crumpled tissue, outside in the alley behind Josie's. Claire slides a hand in his hair and tilts his head back so it rests against the wall. His profile's backlit by the one lamp swinging from the side of the building. "That should make it better," she says, pinching the bridge of his nose. Then, sardonic: "Trust me, I'm a nurse."

Matt chuckles. Claire watches his neck bob. "I'm okay, really."

"You sure?"

"I just had a rough night," he says, and the corner of his mouth jumps again. "Ended well, though."

"Hasn't ended yet, has it?"

Claire grins when she registers the faint flicker of surprise that crosses his face. Good to know not everything's preordained in the beat of her heart. She closes the distance this time, crowding him back against the wall, catching his lower lip. The broad expanse of his chest is warm against hers. Matt tastes like whatever it was he was drinking, vodka maybe, sharp and spicy. If she concentrates, she can still smell the dirt beneath the fresh suit—or maybe it's just the alley they're in, swallowing them up in the low light. She can afford to be stupid once, in this game they're playing. Just two strangers pushing at each other in the dark. Nothing unusual for him.

She feels a big hand come up to settle at her hip, the scrape of his thumb across her skin. The other hand cups her elbow, fingers wrapping around to feel for her pulse.

"Claire," he mumbles, tongue trailing along the edge of her teeth. "Claire. Can I—?"

She doesn't speak. He must hear what he needs in the rapid ticking of her heart, because he flips her over, pins her to the wall, thumbs hooking into the loops of her jeans. It's still chilly out, but Matt's like a fucking furnace. Like fire and brimstone, the devil himself come up to meet her. Her teeth scrape beneath his upper lip and open an old cut, copper mixing in with the taste of alcohol. The world's bloodiest Mary.

She gasps at the first flick of a finger against her clit, more shocked than anything. She feels herself loosen up as Matt kisses her again. The heel of his palm chases his finger, hand cupping her through the fabric of her underwear. She makes a strangled noise in the back of her mouth, can't help the tell-tale roll of her hips. When she spits in her palm and fumbles for the zipper of his pants, he doesn't stop her. He's hard already, straining against his boxer briefs. She reaches in and wraps a hand around his erection. Matt freezes. Claire feels his arms tense. His head falls to her shoulder for a minute, breath hot against the hollow of her collarbone.

"Alright?" she asks, turning her mouth to his ear.

"Just been a while," he says, and groans when she squeezes her hand.

Claire laughs, can't help herself. Yelps when Matt retaliates by pressing firmer against the wet crotch of her panties. "Yeah, yeah. Me too."

He crooks a finger inside her, then, the pad of his thumb worrying at her clit. Claire's knees lock to keep her upright, warmth lurching in her stomach. She smoothes her palm up the length of Matt's dick, once, twice, quick and rhythmic, and if she chokes on her own tongue when he twists three fingers up inside her, neither of them mentions it. She's so fucking wet she's dripping into his hand, grinding down so hard that he's almost supporting her singlehandedly. She wraps her free arm around his shoulders for more leverage, spine arching to press their chests together.

He ducks his head. Bites down on the jut of her collarbone, quick and painful, which is what does it. She throws her head back and comes, thighs shaking, faintly registering the soothing chase of Matt's tongue across her neck. She tingles all the way down to her curling toes. She clenches the fist around Matt's dick and twists her wrist twice, fingers pressing in just beneath the tip. His shoulders tense, power coiled beneath her forearm, the shift of muscles bunching together—and then he comes, too, a quiet sob escaping his mouth, chest heaving.

They stay crushed against the wall for a long moment. Claire slides a hand into Matt's sweaty hair, shoving the fringe back so she can see his face, carefully blank. "I'm sorry—" Matt begins, the entire Catholic Church speaking through its mouthpiece. Claire rolls her eyes and cuts him off with her mouth, the steady swipe of her tongue against his lips.

When she pulls back, she says, simple as anything, "Listen." He stops fidgeting. "No regret, is there?"

He pauses briefly. Tilts his head, listening for something only he can hear. "No," he says at last, lopsided smile emerging through the pensive expression. "But you do want something."

Claire rests her head against the back of the wall. Considers how much she might regret this in the morning, and thinks the excuse of acting stupid under cover of darkness still has a little mileage left. Matt and Claire, punch-drunk and happy. "Yeah," she says, knocking a heel against the back of his knee. "Your real number." She beams at the look on his face. "Who knows when I might need a defense attorney?"

He lets her get away with the lie.