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No More Dominion

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The most important thing, Matt learned, was to make sure that his body was unrecoverable. Otherwise he'd be returning from the dead as one of those sulphur-tinged zombies. Oh, sure, they fought like they were alive, but a good two-thirds of the Hand ninja weren't as fast or skilled as they had been before, and none of them could learn anything new. It wasn't life, but an unending pause on death.

Matt was forced into his first life-or-death fight at fifteen, which he comprehensively won. The man he fought was in his early fifties and not well, his breath sounding strange. Matt snapped his neck in under ten minutes, despite his opponent's wide range of skills and desperate struggle for life. Two days later, Matt was running laps when he heard that distinctive crackling breath again. He was lined up in the ranks of the genin in the training area, following a teacher through kata as if nothing had ever happened. Matt drifted closer on his next lap and picked up that strong undertone of sulphur. He realised then that the man he fought had no longer been of value to the Hand alive— he was of middling rank and had developed lung cancer—and the actual test was not of Matt's skills, but of whether he would kill on command.

"Weak-ass gaijin," said Tōmi, sprinting past, his long hair flowing behind him. Matt caught his breath and kept running, because he didn't want to lose to that asshole. On every lap, he remembered how fluid the man's technique had been yesterday—despite his ill-health, and heard how rigid it was today. He paid more attention to the sulphur smell after that: it was in the food that the dead men cooked, in the clothes that they laundered, in the patches of blood on the training ground, despite the sand thrown over the top. Matt decided right then that he was never going to be brought back to their half-life of obedience and servitude. He wasn't quite arrogant enough to think he would never be beaten, but in that eventuality, he was going to make sure that defeat was the end of it, not the start. First step: finish his training here and make them return him to America. There were Hand soldiers in the States as well, but many fewer, and they didn't have the connections that they did in Japan. If he was killed there, he'd have a chance of escaping them.

It didn't take much work to convince the Hand that having an American lawyer onside would be an asset to their organisation's expansion, but it took much longer to persuade them that Matt could be the lawyer in question. In the end, it was only his main competition, Tōmi, developing one hell of a superpower that made them take a chance on sending Matt off to study. When it was Tōmi and his death gaze rather than Matt and his enhanced senses who was promoted to the higher ranks of the Hand, Matt was deeply furious even though it was what he'd wanted. He had to grit his teeth and think of twenty-seven ways that he could kill Tōmi before he managed to spit out his congratulations. Matt, instead of promotion, received a plane ticket, admission to Empire State University, and a modest monthly stipend.

By the time he finished undergrad, Matt had the gig down: look harmless, make contacts, study hard, never rest. Friends of the Hand in New York occasionally had a side-job for him, which was a nice bonus that kept him in fancy coffee, but he made sure everyone understood that study came first. When he was accepted to law school, the most regular of his employers, Mr Fisk, sent Matt a new laptop and Braille reader, which Matt considered particularly thoughtful. Unfortunately, at the same time, his application for a single room— to which he was certainly entitled, as a disabled graduate student— didn't make it through the system and he ended up with an actual roommate.

Franklin Nelson was the most aggravating person Matt had ever met, and that included Stick and half-a-dozen Hand sensei. He was noisy, he was messy, he snored, he tried to talk to Matt constantly and, worst of all, he had a better LSAT than Matt and didn't even mention it. Once, when Matt brought it up, Franklin shrugged and said that they were all in school now, what did it matter? He tried to get Matt to call him Foggy, invited him to parties, repeatedly proposed that they make an "awesome study group of awesome," and was as relentlessly friendly as an oncoming freight train full of kittens. All the people Matt had been trying for years to cultivate as contacts loved Foggy on sight, and while Matt still had better luck with dates, Foggy's exes came around to loudly watch movies with him, and bring him cookies and lattes and study notes. Two of his exes, Debbie and Liz, even hooked up with each other and came to thank him for introducing them. Matt hated his guts and started haunting the student housing office in case a single suddenly became vacant.

"Hey, Matty, you want to come to a party tonight? Be my plus one?"

Matt turned like a cobra in his desk chair to snap a refusal, but he took a deep breath instead. Control, Matt. Control. "Who's going to be there?"

"You know my friend Glori, from Ireland? She's running an international students party, so there'll be lots of good-looking people brand-new to the city, looking for someone to guide them around."

"Well, that's no use to me, is it? They'd have to guide me around."

"Ah, you're pretty light on your feet. And hey, they won't know about your face-touching routine yet; that's a bonus!"

"It's not a routine, it's— " Matt caught himself. "Yeah, sure, I'd love to go."

"Buddy, when you zero in on the hottest person in the room and end up fondling their face within five minutes, I'm calling it what it is. Should we go around seven? It's not uncoolly early, but they won't have eaten all that tasty international food yet. What do you think?"

Matt put his earbud back in and ignored him, but he was ready on the dot of seven anyway.

The party had plenty of the usual suspects, but Matt's attention was immediately drawn to the slow, even heartbeat of a tall woman over near the drinks table. She was definitely an athlete of some kind, but something about her stance said more: a martial artist.

"Oh my god, less than five seconds and you've already found the hottest woman in the room," Franklin moaned.

"Shut up," Matt told him, distracted, and tapped his way over. A drunk wannabe-MBA was leaning into the woman's personal space and she had given him every possible signal to get out of it. Before Matt got there, she moved —a tiny resettling of her bodyweight— and twisted the guy's thumb up towards his wrist.

"Go. Away." Her voice was deep and accented.

The man stumbled off, clutching his hand, and Matt took advantage of the break in the crowd to slide through and closer to the woman.

"What do you want?" she asked him, but her posture was different. Interested. She'd picked up on him, too.

"I'm Matt Murdock. Law."

"Elektra Natchios. Political Science." She put out a hand and left it there for him to find, a test.

He took her hand and lightly kissed it, her wild long hair brushing his head as he did. She smelled amazing and her skin was soft against his lips, but her knuckles and palms told another story.

"Are you enjoying this party, Elektra?"

"No. Come on." She pulled him close, their bodies fitting together like sparring partners, and they made their way up through the student centre, towards the roof. She kissed him before they even made it there, taking Matt's breath away, then pushed him in the chest, hard, sending him down the stairs. He recovered easily, twisting an arm around the bannister and turning to land neatly on his feet on the landing. He bowed and grinned up at her.

"Who are you?" she asked him, running down to take his hands again. "Where did you train?"

"Japan." He flipped her over his shoulder, but she took advantage of the confined space and kicked off from the wall. The momentum pulled him with her so they both landed in a laughing, tangled heap on the floor.

"My dad is obsessed with my safety— he made me start training under my sensei when I was four. I've won championships. But I've never seen anyone move like you."

Matt ran his fingers through her hair, feeling the warmth of her scalp fading out along the long, thick strands. "My training wasn't as orthodox. Unless you're a seventeenth-century Japanese warrior, I guess." He had no idea why he was telling her this. They had barely met, but his body trusted hers already, and it was so good that his brain couldn't stomp on the brakes.

"Oh, ninjas. They assassinated the Greek ambassador to Japan, you know. Then everyone had to reshuffle and my dad ended up at the consulate here."

"I'm glad he did," Matt said, completely ignoring the part about assassination.

Elektra didn't seem too bothered by it, either. "Me too. Come up to the roof. Let's run."

The next two months were the best of Matt's life. He was ruthless with himself to make sure his grades didn't slip— he couldn't let Franklin Nelson beat him again— but every other moment, he spent with Elektra. She had two bodyguards, installed by her anxious father, but Matt and Elektra made a game of avoiding them. One night, they drove all the way out of the city in Elektra's convertible, onto crazy winding roads. Matt stood up on his seat, the air rushing past him, and kept his balance no matter how Elektra pulled at the wheel trying to topple him. His face was numb with cold, but his heart was beating out of his chest. He'd never felt so alive.

Two days later, he was on his way to a Torts lecture when he heard something about the Greek consulate on a distant TV. He ran to get closer, and heard the news: a radical right-wing group was holding the consulate and its staff hostage and making demands. He texted Elektra— with any luck she'd be at class and not with her father—but there was no reply. The Greek consulate wasn't far from campus, and Matt set off at top speed. Elektra had said that ninjas had been involved in the assassination of a previous ambassador, and it had better not be the Hand there today, or Matt was going to have a hard fight against people with the same training he had.

There were police snipers all around the building, but Matt had no difficulty dropping down into the garden and climbing up into the consulate, when he worked out that wasn't the Hand—though at least one of the hostage-takers had had dealings with them. Matt would never forget that greasy sulphurous smell. It didn't surprise him: the Hand would work for almost anyone if the price was right. Seven armed men, though? He could deal with that, with a little luck, or a little help from Elektra. He tried not to think too hard about whether or not he should be there at all, but let the memory of Elektra fill his mind.

The windows on the lower levels were barred, so Matt kept climbing until he could jiggle the window out of its frame and slip inside to listen carefully. It was a well-fortified building and most of the attackers were packed into a single room on the second floor with their hostages. Matt could hear Elektra down there, offering to stay as a hostage if they let the staff go. He was used to her voice moving around, because she was rarely still, but now it was coming from a fixed point. She must be restrained. Damn. Matt had been hoping that they would dismiss her as a threat and leave her alone.

Easily keeping track of the location of the armed men, Matt sidled through the corridors. Avoiding the cameras was trickier, as it was hard to figure out exactly what angles they covered, but he stayed low and hoped. At least, it didn't sound like the hostages were in immediate danger: the men were calm, in control, and prepared to hold out for a long time. They'd chosen the room to hold the hostages carefully. It was some kind of waiting room outside the consul's office with no windows, only two doors in and an easily-accessible bathroom. Matt pressed his ear to the floor directly above to get a sense of the space and realised that they were more focused on one door than the other, which made sense—the second door led only to the bathroom.

Matt slipped back out the window, quickly climbed across and down to the bathroom window, and wriggled inside. It smelled terrible, of human fear and some kind of fake tropical flower deodorising spray, but Matt could cope for a few minutes. The hostages were all in a group on the far side of the room and the four armed men evenly spaced around the perimeter, so he waited for something to change. One of the hostages, an older man, asked to go to the bathroom and was shoved in Matt's direction by a hostage taker. The door opened and Matt sprang, using the hostage's shoulders as a vaulting horse to leap up and tackle the armed man, two fingers stabbing his eyes, then swung him around to act as a shield. A gun fired, but the bullets hit the ceiling. Matt could hear Elektra in motion too, across the room, bloodied zip ties still binding her wrists but not her ankles. A double-footed kick broke the shooter's arm with a brutal crack, and she followed up with a headbutt that took him out. Matt jabbed his man at the base of the skull with an elbow, sending bone fragments into his brain stem. Elektra had the leader on the ground, her thighs crushing the life out of him, but the last man had taken cover behind a desk and fired before Matt could stop him. Matt wasn't hit, but he heard bullets slam into somebody else before he knocked the man down with a crushing kick to the throat.

"Papa!" Elektra screamed, and Matt realised who had been shot: the short man he had vaulted over. In retrospect, Matt realised that the man had Elektra's scent on him, where she had adjusted his tie and kissed his cheek. Elektra was still strangling the leader, who was not yet unconscious, so Matt dropped his target with a sharp upward blow to the nose, kicked the gun out of reach, and dashed over to Mr Natchios's side. A bullet had lodged in his femur—broken leg but no life-threatening bleeding— but another had torn its way into his abdomen. Matt could hear the massive bleeding, but he didn't know what to do.

"Elektra," Mr. Natchios whispered as he passed out, and Matt couldn't hesitate any longer. He could hear where the bleeding was, so he rolled the wounded man onto his side, stuck his fingers right into the exit wound, and pinched the artery shut. It was, possibly, the most revolting thing he'd ever done. Another long moment, and the other three hostages realised that they were free and ran screaming from the room. Elektra finished with the leader, finally, and dashed over to Matt and her father.

"Save him, you have to save him," she gasped. Someone had hit her; Matt could feel the excess heat and swelling on the left side of her face.

"I'm trying. He's still alive."

A blur of cops and paramedics—Elektra quickly explained Matt as her secret boyfriend whom she'd been hiding in her room— and Mr Natchios was rushed to hospital, the ambulance siren screaming.

"Elektra… " Matt reached out a hand towards her and realised too late that he was still drenched in her father's blood. She shuddered and turned aside. Then cops hurried her away in one direction and Matt in another.

Nobody had a coherent story except the attacker whose arm Elektra had broken, and eventually Elektra, the former under-21 European karate champion, was hailed as the hero of the day. She kept her mouth shut and talked only of her father.

It was another two days before Matt managed to sneak into the hospital to see her. Mr Natchios had survived so far, though news reports said he had lost a kidney, and Matt was torn between desperately wanting to comfort Elektra and desperately wanting her to thank him for his heroism. It was sheer dumb luck that he hadn't been exposed and shipped off to Japan by the Hand or taken out of college to work full time for Fisk. He was really hoping she understood what he had risked for her. A small part of him said that he would risk anything for her, but he tried to squash that. It was irrational, the kind of thing that Franklin would tell him. Much easier to chalk it down to self-interest.

Elektra was wearing clean clothes, but she hadn't bathed and her hair was pulled into a tight braid. There were dressings on her wrists and ankles and the smell of fresh blood where she'd been biting her lip.

"Matt. What are you doing here?" She didn't look up from the floor.

"I wanted to see how you were. And your father."

"He's got an infection but the doctors are still hopeful," she replied flatly. Normally, her body language towards Matt, if no-one else, was inviting, but here it was closed off, her face turned from him.

Matt edged closer, confused. "Are you angry at me?"

He earned a head tilt, at least. "No! I'm not angry at you. I'm just angry."

That was okay. Matt understood angry. "Do you want me to take out the survivors? They'll have to move them for trial. It won't be hard if we wait."

"No!" Her fists clenched. "Stay out of this. Stay out of everything. I need to be with my father."

He took another step closer and she turned to face him, dropping into a fighting stance. She breathed deeply and hissed the breath out again through clenched teeth. "I know you don't have any family, so you don't understand. But he was right after all and I have to be here for him. So, go away, Matt. Go away and don't come back."

Matt went.

Franklin found him lying flat on his bed.

"You okay, Matty? Did you see Elektra today? How's her dad?"

Matt sat up, abruptly. "If you don't shut up right this second, I swear to God I will strangle you to death, cut your body into eight pieces, and dispose of the parts where they will never be found."

Franklin backed off. "That's… specific. Okay."

Miraculously, he shut up.

The next two years, Matt scored a single room, and the lack of Franklin's constant attempts to be friends meant that he had a lot more time to study. That was what he had wanted all along and, without distractions, he graduated summa cum laude, finally beating Franklin Nelson, who had the gall to shake his hand and congratulate him as if he genuinely meant it.

"Mr Murdock." Fisk's voice rumbled through Matt's bones, up through the fine leather soles of his shoes. "I have an assignment for you."

"Of course." Matt was thoroughly enjoying working for Fisk: legal puzzles galore, a crack research team to assist him, and the occasional break to deal out some necessary violence.

"As happens on occasion, I was trialling a new operative, who had come with the highest recommendations."

Matt nodded. Fisk's operatives ranged from idiot street thugs to super-powered assassins, each in their appropriate place. "And did this operative succeed in the task? Should I be looking over my shoulder?" Fisk liked it when Matt made little blind jokes, so he made sure to drop one into conversation every now and then.

"No. This is a clean-up operation. The operative failed utterly and I need you to remove her from the board."

"Understood. Do you need me to finish her original mission as well?"

Fisk shook his head. "The time for that has passed, unfortunately. Thanks to her failure, ADA Nelson has already lodged the papers that we were attempting to waylay."

Matt fiddled with his cane. As an ADA, Franklin Nelson was mildly annoying, but it would be years before he had enough reach to do any real damage. Fisk was right. Unless there was something specific going on, killing Nelson would draw attention. "Send me the details and I'll take care of it. Will you have someone watch the airports, sir?"

"Already done."

Matt silently removed himself from Fisk's office and returned to his own. Temperature controlled, hermetically sealed, acoustically correct, delightfully clean— he loved it. Sometimes he thought of Nelson making his own photocopies in some crowded, dusty corner of the DA's office and snickered.

An intern had left a sealed box on Matt's desk. An intern who had eaten something garlicky for lunch. He spoke into his phone.

"Galaxy, note: remind all interns of my acceptable foodstuffs policy. Forcefully."

His phone beeped, accepting the message, and he moved over to the sofa to examine the contents of the box. The moment he opened it, the memory hit him: Elektra. Inside was part of a silk scarf, ripped and stained with the oil used in the hinges of a car door. A Braille card was included, identifying his target.

Name: Elektra Natchios.
Weapon of choice: sai.
Affiliation: The Hand.

Matt covered his mouth and nose in bemusement—and to stop that scent making its way into his body. Elektra and the Hand? They'd mostly left him alone since he started working directly for Fisk, happy enough to have him in the employ of an ally for now. They occasionally sacrificed a zombie genin or two in ridiculous little tests, but Matt was never going to be relaxed enough to be caught off-guard, let alone by someone who smelled like that. God, had Elektra gone to train with them after the attack on the consulate? Did she think she'd been weak, letting her father get shot? Matt breathed in the scarf again. Now that he was searching for it, there was a tiny trace of sulphur, something he remembered from the fresh laundry in Japan, the oils of human fingerprints transferring the smell to the clean garments. It was true, then. Nobody would know to fake that trace scent for him, not since Stick died. He tried to clear his mind. If Elektra fought with the Hand, she must be ready to die as one of them.

Other trace scents made their way inward on his breath as he put the scarf up to his nose. It wasn't any old car that had ripped the scarf; it was a New York taxi. It had traces of the really bad hot dog stand near the courthouse—Elektra must have stolen a taxi and waited there for Nelson, but she wouldn't be there anymore. What else? He brought the scarf to his lips, tasting it. Mostly the wretched hot dog stand and Elektra herself, but there was also steel and an expensive skin cream with caviar in it, rust, fresh asphalt, and the Hudson River. That was enough of a starting point, especially for an area Matt knew so well.

Out into the night, Matt danced over the rooftops, letting his limbs stretch and his spine unkink from a day at his desk, as he headed for the river. Once he got closer, he could taste the amount of salinity in the air and the exact composition of the pollution. It took him an hour or so to find the right area, but as soon as he scented the asphalt, he was set. Night must have fallen completely, to judge by the absence of the sun's warmth in any direction, and Matt grinned. This was his element.

The scarf's scent led him to a construction site a block away from the river, one of the new residential towers being built over and around the old rail yards. Not a bad place to bring someone to kill them, though he didn't know if that thought applied to Franklin Nelson or to himself. He could hear Elektra nearby, her heartbeat as steady as ever. She didn't smell of sulphur herself, though Matt would bet that if he got close enough, those Hand zombie fingerprints would be on her clothes.

"Hello, Matt. I didn't know if he'd send you after me." She spoke quietly and calmly, but her posture was alert.

"Why didn't you kill Nelson? We could have been working together."


"Oh, so you're not going to hurt me either?" Matt smirked and leapt up to a girder to gain the high ground.

"Nelson was helpless. You're not. I should thank you for directing me to the Hand, though. They've taught me so much."

Matt walked in perfect silence along the girder, then dropped feet first, aiming for her neck for an incapacitating strike. She dodged left and almost caught his foot; only a quick change of direction saved him and he landed a little awkwardly but at a safe distance. "I told you what it was like to train with the Hand. Why would you voluntarily subject yourself to that?"

She turned and Matt could hear the fabric of her clothing swish with the movement: she was wearing traditional Hand clothing, her hair restrained by the rest of the silk scarf that Matt had in his pocket. "Because I needed to know who tried to kill my father… and because I needed to be stronger."

"Did you find out?"

"Yes. Currency speculators paying right-wing groups to attack the Euro at its weakest point: Greece. It was all about money, and your boss Fisk is up to his armpits in it."

Matt shrugged. Honestly, it would have been more surprising to hear that he wasn't involved. "You're here to kill him, aren't you?"

"Him and others. You could stay out of the way, Matt. Inherit Fisk's empire."

Matt feinted right with his cane, blade exposed, to gauge her speed. She had always been fast, but she'd gotten faster. "Don't think I haven't considered it."

"Good. Then all you need to do is stay out of my way."

Matt lashed his cane back in the other direction, letting the heavy weight of the knife flick the light and flexible fibreglass through a dangerous arc. Elektra blocked it with a sai, and twisted, pulling the cane out of his grip and flinging it away to fall by a pile of sand.

Matt let it go. "I'm not ready to take over, yet. If I try now, I'll fail. Can't you put off your revenge?"

"My father never recovered fully and he died four months ago. I was in Japan training, not with him. I don't want to hurt you, Matt, but I won't let anyone stand in my way."

He laughed, coldly. "You've got a long way to go before you even manage that. The Hand training is supposed to teach you to excise emotion, but your emotions are stronger than ever. You can't win this fight."

"Try me."

Elektra lunged at him and he stepped aside, only to catch a hard kick to the side. Emotional or not, she was dangerous and Matt let his memories of her slide away to fully engage with the battle. He went low and swept her feet out from under her; she rolled and ripped his sleeve with a sai. A sharpened sai, he realised—and wasn't that just like the Hand to turn defence into offence?

She punched him in the face, the weight of the sai in her fist snapping his head back and he thought for a moment that she might have broken his jaw, but no. He caught her arm and they rolled over together, giving him the chance to knee her in the throat. Elektra twisted in time and he caught her chin instead, but she was still shaken. Not so shaken that she didn't kick him hard in the upper spine, though, driving him to his knees. He flipped sideways, gasping for air, and got his fingertips on his cane. He swung it upwards and sliced her cheek, but when he tried to follow through, she dropped down and flung him over her head with a double-footed kick.

Matt landed on his feet but staggered to his knees, and Elektra was on him, wrapping her scarf around his neck and pulling tight. Already short of air thanks to the blow to his gut, he scrabbled and scratched at her grip until he could line up his cane to stab backwards, firmly lodging the blade in her thigh muscle. Her stranglehold loosened enough for him to get a desperate breath of air and head-butt her in the face. Elektra went down and Matt, still short on oxygen, turned to finish the fight and threw himself right onto her ready sai.

It slid into his body easily and he gasped.

"Matt!" Elektra tried to pull the sai back. Matt grabbed it in desperation, holding it in place and staggering backwards, somehow staying on his feet.

"No!" It was the only thing stopping him bleeding to death immediately. He couldn't die here. He had promised himself so long ago that he would never be resurrected to be their slave. Elektra would turn him over to her masters. Fisk would turn him over to his allies. He had no-one to protect him and he could no longer protect himself.

Matt dragged himself to his feet and staggered towards the river, clutching the handle of the sai buried in his guts. He had one last chance. He'd been around corpses fished out of the Hudson, and they were in no fit state to serve the Hand again. He could hear Elektra's footsteps behind him and he tried to stumble faster, but his legs were going numb.

"Matt, stop."

"No! They'll bring me back!"


He reached a gate in the chain-link fence and thank God, thank God it was unlocked. Matt pushed through it and he could hear the river ahead. Elektra put an arm around his shoulders and he tried to push her away, but he was too weak and needed the support.

"Talk to me, Matt."

The words came out in a rush. "They can't have me, they can't have my body. I'm sorry I brought you to them and not just because you've killed me, I'm sorry."

"I thought I could destroy them, but they've destroyed me." Her voice faded in and out of his hearing but Matt could clearly smell tears. Huh. He thought it was supposed to be hearing that went last.

"No." He spat blood on the road, still leaning towards the river. "No. Get away. Go and be free. But please, let me be free, too."

"I understand. Matt, I understand."

Matt tripped on the curb and fell to his knees, then on all fours. Elektra caught him and he slumped forward, his head in her lap. He could let go. Elektra knew what to do. The last thing he remembered was wondering if his dad had hurt this much when he died.

Waking up was a tremendous and unwelcome surprise to Matt. He tried to call out but his throat was parched dry. He couldn't smell anything with an oxygen cannula in his nose. He didn't feel like a zombie, but how could he tell? His senses went cloudy at the edges and he fell asleep again.

When he next woke, it was to Fisk's rumbling voice, his heavy tread shaking the frame of the hospital bed.

"Good evening, Matthew."

Matt tried to gasp out, "How?" His throat was still dry. Somebody else scurried forward and put an ice chip in his mouth. There was not a trace of sulphur and it was the most delicious thing he had ever tasted.

"I'm not dead?"

"Thanks to Ms Natchios and a team of highly skilled surgeons, no, though you may not be at your best for some time."

"Elektra? She saved me?"

Fisk laughed and someone brought him a chair to sit by Matt's bed. "I received a call on your phone informing me that I had a choice to make: keep my asset, or curry favour with the Hand. Naturally, I chose to attend to your injuries and keep the second option open, but Ms Natchios decided to make a nuisance of herself by guarding you closely until it was clear that you were going to survive."

Matt laughed, shakily.

"Guarding you with a white phosphorus flare to hand, I should say. She was quite determined to destroy your body, if need be."

"Did you kill her?"

"Eliminate someone who defeated my best operative? Absolutely not! We had a long discussion about my culpability in the attack on the Greek consulate and decided that a truce would be mutually beneficial and allow for the possibility of future collaboration. If you hadn't pulled through, I would have needed to replace you." Fisk settled comfortably in his chair. It sounded like expensive leather. Matt must be in a private hospital somewhere.

Another ice chip. "And now?"

"And now I have added another potential weapon to my arsenal, while losing nothing." He gently placed his huge palm over Matt's abdomen, and even that slight pressure sent a violent twinge of pain running upwards from the healing wound. "And, of course, you are further in my debt, Matthew. Let's not forget that."

He increased the pressure slightly, enough to make Matt gasp and try to curl up, no matter how he tried to control it. Having forced a reaction, Fisk mercifully stopped. "Sleep well, Matthew, and heal. I shall have plenty of work for you the moment the doctors allow it."

Matt forced himself to relax and lie down flat, despite wanting nothing more than to stay curled up, protecting himself. "Thank you, sir. I'll do my best."

The massive footsteps receded down the corridor and Matt finally let himself breathe freely, at least, as freely as he could with a gut wound. So, Fisk had decided that he truly owned Matt. He could deal with that. What really confused him was that Elektra had not simply saved him from the Hand as he had hoped, but had saved his life. Why had she done that? He'd felt the depth of that wound: the odds had not been in his favour and she'd had to allow Fisk to live, after all she'd gone through to defeat him. Like her failure to murder Franklin Nelson, it made no sense.

Later, he woke to feel a kiss on his forehead and thick curls brushing over his arm.

"I heard you were awake."

"Elektra." Matt's mouth was parched dry again and this time, it wasn't because of the oxygen. She had rejected him after he saved her. She couldn't do that and then come back and save his life! "Go away."

"I will. I only wanted to see for myself that you were alive and still yourself. And to tell you that you were right about waiting for Fisk. Something more important came up."

He coughed. "I'm still me." To his embarrassment, words kept coming. It must have been the drugs. "Don't let the Hand take you, Elektra. Whatever you think you're doing, they'll eat you from the inside out."

"Like they did you?" She took his hand and touched his fingers to her lips so that he could feel her smile. There was still a graze on her chin where he had kicked her. "I don't think they were entirely successful."

"Only when it comes to you."

"Perhaps." She gently released him and was gone before he could object. Even though she was gone and he was practically helpless here in this bed, he felt safer than he had in years, the warmth of her smile lingering on his fingertips. He was definitely not in control, and that felt a lot like freedom.