A surprising amount of work went into caring for Nelson and Murdock the law firm, but even more went into caring for Matt and Foggy the people. “Sit,” she orders, plopping Matt into a chair facing the window.
“I’ve had it with the doom and gloom in this office. You are going to sit here and absorb sunshine for the next ten minutes or so help me.”
His brow furrows. “I can’t see the sun, so…”
“You don’t have to see it, Matthew,” she sighs. “Just sit there for a bit. It’s good for you.”
“Yeah, Matthew,” Foggy sniggers from what Karen had decided was the break room.
“How many cups of coffee have you had, Franklin Nelson?” she demands.
He hides behind his mug. “Three?”
“Really? Because I count five and it’s not even noon. At this rate you’re going to start smelling colors. Again.” She gives into the temptation and crosses her arms, studiously ignoring Matt’s stifled chuckles.
She never met someone as tortured as Matt Murdock. Perhaps part of it was losing his sight, and some of it must be the weight of Catholicism, the press of a virtuous soul and the stink of blood stained nailbeds he almost—but not quite—manages to wash clean. She thanked whatever forces might be out there that Foggy was a lighthearted man, quick with a joke, slow to anger and generally kind. But even Foggy could sink into despair when the clients failed to fill their doorway, when Daredevil made the papers in a less than flattering light, when clouds obscured the sun too many days in a row. When they both got like that for longer than a week she pulled out the big guns.
Karen rifles through her desk for a moment and comes up with a slim book, paperback, the pages yellowed with age. She marches herself to Foggy’s doorway, flips through the pages until she comes to a likely candidate, and reads. “Hey. Hey, Foggy?” He lifts his head from the nightmare custody case on his desk, mouth puckered in askance. “What’s the difference between an elephant and a daisy?”
“An elephant is gray.”
“Oh my God, Karen.”
“Hey Matt,” she barks, overloud but appearances are, ironically, everything to that man. Matt perks up from behind his desk and peaks around his doorway.
“Yes, Miss Page?”
“How do you get an elephant out of the bath?”
The corner of his mouth twitches. “How do you get an elephant out of the bath?”
Foggy groans dramatically behind her, but a flicker of amusement tugs at Matt’s face, so she counts that as a win.
Karen is painfully aware of security. After awaking in a pool of blood in her own apartment, nearly being hanged in jail, abducted from her doorstep, putting bullets in her abductor, and Ben Urich’s murder, she takes a beginner’s self-defense class that becomes a series of increasingly comprehensive self-defense classes. She keeps mace on her key chain. After Matt’s “car accident” she springs for a first aid and CPR class. After Hell’s Kitchen got the crap bombed out of it, she made sure their office was stocked with the biggest first aid kit she could find, a fire extinguisher, a rope ladder she sneaked into the cupboard above the coffee pot and pushed way in the back. She makes sure the fire detector has fresh batteries regularly. These are the things her educated attorneys never think about, and she wonders if it would ever occur to Foggy to keep a box of bandages under the sink in case of paper cuts. She wonders if it would ever occur to Matt that the insistent chirping from the fire alarm in the hall needs to be checked more than ignored.
An ambulance flies down the street below their window screaming, the Doppler affect making it almost whine against her ears, and she does not miss the way Matt flinches, just a little, like he could hear it coming from miles away but did not dare raise his hands to his ears, only going so far to crowd himself into the windowless break room. Karen finds herself thinking about sound proofing, or at least a reasonable facsimile she and Foggy could cobble together from a DIY website. She boots up her laptop.
On a whim, Karen walks into a teacher supplies store and purchases a tub of googly eyes and three different kinds of stickers.
“You changed your color-coded filing system,” Foggy remarks, surprised and a bit wary, the next week.
She frowns at her laptop, scrolling through the research they needed for a case that would go to court in the next few days. “Yeah. I figured if 33% of the people in the office couldn’t understand the system, we needed a new one.”
“You used scratch-and-sniff stickers.”
“Yeah. And squishy stickers and fuzzy stickers.”
Foggy lifts one file up, scrapes his thumb nail over the sticker there and sniffs. No one mentions the dill pickle sticker on that file and Matt does not go near Karen’s desk most of that day, but he subtly scents the air when he walks by on his way home. They order sandwiches from the deli down the street the next day. Matt requests extra pickles. Karen and Foggy say nothing.
Some days Matt walks with a pronounced limp, and some days his dark shades fail to hide the bruising around his eyes, and some days he seems to rely on his white cane more than usual. These are usually the same days that Foggy’s voice comes out stilted, tense, and he chews at his nails and won’t look Matt in the face. Karen purchases a worry stone that she keeps in her pocket just for these days, and she presses her thumb into that smooth divot and worries the stone whenever Matt and Foggy toe around what they won’t say.
Karen drags Foggy to her gym at least once a week, because if he’s going to eat terribly he might as well get some walkies in. “I’m not a dog, Karen.”
She makes exaggerated kissy noises at him and tugs at the collar of his t-shirt. Somewhere along the way she took up jogging, but she walks the track with Foggy today instead, counting out laps in her head until they make a mile. She’s oddly proud that Foggy completes the circuits without complaint and, passing her little test, she challenges him to audit her self-defense class. By the end of the day he has met her instructor and signed up for his own beginner’s course, and they ruin their workout with tacos afterward. She watches his face, the curve of his smile, the way he flaps his hands when he talks, and he seems brighter somehow, as if getting out of the house and away from the office has given him more verve and vigor.
She mentally chalks another success into her win-column.
A reasonably sharp photo taken of Daredevil’s profile and published in the newspaper allows Karen to make the mental jump from something fishy to…
Well. It still doesn’t make sense.
This is what the amazing Karen Page knows for sure: Matt Murdock is a damn good lawyer, a conscientious Catholic, and a gloomy son of a bitch. He is a decent man.
Matt Murdock is blind. Without his props, without his cane and dark glasses and braille materials, it would be something easy to miss. Even Foggy mentioned that he sometimes forgets that Matt is blind. And Matt goes through his routine: he pats surfaces gingerly when he first sits down at a table, is careful to tap tap tap with his cane down unfamiliar terrain, and he can navigate a phone with little more than voice commands and hope. But it’s the little things he never means to do that confirmed his blindness when Karen started to doubt him. It was in the way he pretends not to panic whenever the braille printer threatens to die mid-document, and how she would come to a pitch black office and Matt would be studiously at his desk in the dark, running his fingers over the latest case, how he failed to comment when Foggy wore his offensively orange socks (with matching tie), and the way he never bothered to look where he was going and still navigated the environment like a champ.
Matt Murdock is blind in that his eyes did not work, but Karen suspects he is more perceptive than he lets on. Something in the roll of his gait draws her focus, a moth to flame. He walks with a lithe grace that reminds her of her self-defense instructor: confident and smooth, like if the floor were to crumble under him he would simply deal with the fall. She buys donuts, half cream and half raspberry jam, knowing full well Matt does not care for raspberry (another texture thing) and she does not miss the way Matt selects a cream donut without any trial and error, as if he could tell (as if he could smell the difference). She cuts their usual coffee with decaf, and pretends to work while she watches the way Matt takes a sip, does a double take, and sets his mug aside (as if he could taste she difference). She scrapes her nails lightly, ever so lightly, against the underside of her desk when he passes by and the sound, nearly silent to her ears even this close, seems to draw his attention briefly.
When he steps out for some air, she pulls out her newspaper and studies Daredevil’s profile: solidly built, lean, a nice costume all in red and black, a strong jawline. She rests her chin in her hand and thinks about the Man in the Mask, the man who saved her life, and how his mask wanted for eyeholes. At the time, she dismissed what she saw—a trick of the shadows, an exhausted mind, nerves from two attempts on her life. Now she isn’t sure, and she wonders if his new outfit has eyeholes.
She sips her coffee (half regular and half decaf; Foggy thinks he’s getting sick and Matt makes a betrayed face every time he pours himself a cup, but he won’t say anything), and she considers confronting Foggy about Matt’s double life, whether he actually is Daredevil or involved in a brutal fight club, but she dismisses that route out of hand. If Foggy knows and he hasn’t said anything yet, it means he isn’t comfortable saying anything. If he doesn’t know anything, it’s not her place to tell him.
Matt returns from getting some air, cane a-tapping on the landing and she sets her newspaper aside. “Matt?”
He smiles pleasantly, but even with his glasses she knows it doesn’t reach his eyes. “Yes, Karen?”
For a mad moment she wonders if he can hear her intake of breath, her heartbeat, if he can sense the way she tips her head when she watches him. “Are you okay?” she asks at last.
His smile tightens. “Everything is fine.”
A lie, and not even a good one. “Okay,” she allows, and makes to turn back to her work.
Karen Page does not let things go, especially when they concern the people she cares about, and she hates letting people get away with things they have no business getting away with. Her previous employer couldn’t get away with murder, James Wesley (God save her) couldn’t get away with threatening her, and Matt Murdock was not going to get away with getting into back alley fights and then acting like he was fine. One afternoon Foggy goes home early for a hot date with Marci, leaving Matt and Karen alone at the office. She finishes her train of thought before setting her work aside. She stacks her papers, rinses her coffee cup in the sink and runs her hands through her hair. Then she positions herself in front of the door, crosses her arms (when did she become her mother?) and commits herself to the plunge.
“Matt.” She does not call for him, exactly. She uses her library voice, saying his name as if he were sharing her space instead of half an office away with a closed door between them. She waits.
After a long moment his door creaks open and he peaks around the corner, looking sheepish. “Did you say my name?”
“You know I did. We’re going to have an argument.”
“You come in to work covered in bruises and scrapes, and don’t even tell me you ran into a door, or you fell down the stairs, because I’ve seen the way you walk, Matthew Murdock, and you’re not clumsy.”
“At first I thought you might be involved with some kind of fight club. Your dad was a boxer, wasn’t he? I thought maybe you got involved with the wrong crowd, maybe you were fighting for money. I don’t know who would willingly fight a blind man, but there’s got to be a reason for the fist-shaped bruises on your face and arms.” She let that sink in for a long moment.
Matt wet his lips. “And what do you think now?”
“I think you fight because you want to fight, or you need to fight. I think you wear a red and black body suit and run around on rooftops in the dead of night.”
“That’s why we’re going to argue about it.”
“Karen, it’s too dangerous for you to get involved.”
She raises an eyebrow at him, knowing it will go unappreciated. “I’ll have you know that I’m dangerous too. I am one tough customer.” Her voice doesn’t even wobble when she says it. Before he can say anything more she goes on. “Does Foggy know?”
He grimaces. “Yes.”
“So you were going to tell me never.” It doesn’t come out as a question, because she knows the answer. “And it never occurred to you that what I don’t know can hurt me? That maybe it would be a good idea for me to be able to look out for danger and know what to look out for than to hope it doesn’t just fall in my lap?”
“I’m sorry.” He means it; he really is sorry, but Karen isn’t looking for apologies.
“Don’t be sorry, Matt! Be smart! What happens when you go out and you don’t come back? What happens to Foggy? To me? Do you even have a will, hot shot attorney, or were you just going to hope for the best?” His mouth falls open and he squirms just a little by the doorway, taken aback, but she is not done with him, not by a long shot. “You don’t, do you! What about funeral arrangements? Do you want to be buried, cremated, donated to science or what? No, you were going to make me and Foggy figure it out on our own, and I would end up doing most of the arranging because I won’t ask your best friend to do that, Matt.
“And for the sake of the argument, what happens if you get injured? Who are you going to call—does Foggy know any first aid? I bet you don’t carry ID when you go out—what if you turn up in an ER somewhere under the name John Doe? What then?”
“I need a drink. You’re buying.”
They go to Josie’s, and he explains in furtive undertones how he does what he does. He tells her about a world on fire, about senses so sharp they cut, about a nurse named Claire and how Foggy found out about the Devil living in the Murdock men. She listens until he doesn’t have anything left to say, and then they sit in relative silence and drink tepid beer.
“Everyone has that,” she says at last, and the words take her by surprise as much as they do Matt. At his questioning head tilt she elaborates the best she can. “Everyone has the Devil in them, Matt. He’s just closer to the surface in some people than in others.” She thinks of a ringing gunshot in a dark room and a dead man’s bewildered face, how startled his eyes were, mouth falling open, making to stand up even when she pulled the trigger again again again again. She knocks back the last of her beer.
Matt scrubs a hand over his tired face. He needs a shave and a night of rest and he needs someone to clean his glasses (seriously, when did she become her mother?) but he also looks like he needs a friend. “I can’t control it,” he tells her, throat working. “It’s going to consume me, if it hasn’t already.”
She regards him for a long moment. The light from the muted television casts his skin with a sickly glow, and how does that old joke go? “The Devil won’t consume you, Mr. Murdock. Professional courtesy isn’t dead.” He pays their tab and she lets him walk her home, and it should bother her that he might go out even tonight, dressed in red and black with horns on his head, but it doesn’t. Perhaps it hasn’t hit her yet; it feels too surreal.
On a rainy Sunday afternoon Karen Page purchases a potted plant to keep on her desk. She brings it to work Monday morning, and even though Matt must detect its presence from the landing she guides his hands to the long, green fronds. He pinches the leaves lightly between the pads of his fingers, a small smile playing along his lips as he tests the lip of the heavy clay pot. When Foggy comes in he declares the spider plant’s name is now Brenda, and it becomes a running joke that when Karen needs to step out of the office, Brenda will take her calls.
On Wednesday an unhappy not-client storms into the office with a loaded gun after Matt and Foggy decided not to take his case. Matt makes it to the hall before Foggy, knuckles white around his cane and lips peeled back from his teeth. He anticipates the click of a trigger, the bang of gunfire, but a heavy clay pot colliding hard with a head is what meets his ears. He tilts his head even while the intruder crumples to the carpet, makes out Karen’s mile a minute distressed heart beat but her breaths come in slow, deep, measured. She lets out a breath and turns slowly to face the attorneys crowding the hallway. “Is he…?”
Matt swallows. “No,” but that didn’t preclude what might happen to the man before he made it to medical attention.
Karen sniffles. “I think, um, I killed Brenda.”
“I know first aid,” Foggy offers. Matt does not realize how far forward he is leaning until Foggy grips the back of his suit, and for a moment Karen’s words from the week previous filter across his mind. Everyone has the Devil in them, Matt. He thought about the heft of the clay pot, so solid under his questioning touch, the weight of the soil inside and the plant itself, how Karen would not have heard the man’s tread on the landing outside (deceptively quiet and calm, how could Matt be so stupid?), how she would have seen him when the door slid open and her first instinct was to lift the heaviest thing in her vicinity and brain him with it. He’s just closer to the surface in some people than in others.
Karen crumples into her desk chair with another sniffle, and Matt can hear her shaky breathing even as her heart rate starts to slow closer to baseline, knows her hands must be pressed to her face. He leaves Foggy to deal with everything and turns away, hunches in on himself for just a moment before he fumbles out his cell phone and dials 911.
Brenda survives her near fatal encounter with an armed reprobate, and such a little thing should not be such a great relief, but it is. Foggy decides Brenda gets to be an honorary partner and, of her own accord, Karen pencils the spider plant into the payroll. Foggy and Karen both apply stickers (fuzzy, squishy and smelly) to Brenda’s new clay pot and, when he thinks they aren’t watching, Matt finds himself running his fingertips over the irregular surface. When he touches upon a round something or other, he unsticks it from the pot, rollls it between his fingers for a moment, holds it to his ear and gives it a little shake. A googly eye, he realizes with a snort, and presses the little round bit of plastic back to the semi-rough clay surface.
Over greasy Chinese takeout during a late night when Karen cannot bring herself to go to her blood drenched apartment, she watches the lamplight play across Matt and Foggy’s features and the fondness she has for their rinky-dink firm swells in her chest. “Not the butcher story again,” Matt whines around his eggroll and Foggy raises his voice to talk over him and Karen hides her grin behind her hand. For Nelson and Murdock, there are no easy answers for life and no silver bullets for their business. The amazing Karen Page and her educated attorneys do not live happily ever after, but instead they pursue most difficult challenge of all: they live.