Matt knew before he got out of bed in the morning that it was going to snow that day.
The weather forecasters had been predicting it every day for the last week, making a lot of noise about the polar vortex and a White Christmas, but nothing had come of it, and Matt had started dismissing the weather reports. Today, though—today the pressure in the air had shifted, and there was a kind of heavy moisture hanging around that made the air thick and kind of dank. The joys of living in New York, thought Matt. Now he could get car exhaust and cigarette smoke in a convenient misty form that clung in his nose and mouth.
The snow wasn’t imminent, though—Matt had lived through enough winters to know what it felt like when snow would be falling in the next hour, and this wasn’t it. So, although the idea didn’t really appeal, he pulled himself out of bed, showered, dressed, ate, marked his routine off in his habit-tracking journal, and walked to the office.
Nelson and Murdock: The Sequel, as Foggy called it, was only a couple of blocks away from the original office. It was smaller, but in a newer building with landlords who actually repaired things like faulty wiring and holes in the plaster. It didn’t leak heat through stuck windows and broken radiators, and the warmth hit Matt in the face like a blast when he walked through the door.
Empty. Matt tried to get to the office before Foggy most days, now. He didn’t always succeed, and he knew it didn’t really make up for the times he hadn’t been there before. But Foggy always seemed happy to see him there when he walked in—well, unless Matt was injured—and it gave Matt time to catch up on reading. Things took a little longer without Karen to be a dedicated provider of documents Matt’s laptop could read. There was a lot more time spent explaining to people at the NYPD and the courthouse that no, a scan of a handwritten document was no good to him, and yes, he knew it was an inconvenience, but they really were required to give him papers he could actually read. But Matt had years of experience negotiating for the accommodations he needed, and he was, after all, a lawyer. If coming to the office early to read weirdly formatted Word documents was the price he paid for working with Foggy again, he was glad to pay it.
He was halfway through parsing a particularly confusing witness statement when he heard Foggy coming. Matt smiled. Whistling meant Foggy was in a good mood, and whistling a song from The Muppet Christmas Carol seemed especially auspicious; the peppermint mocha said "Fuck it, I’m treating myself," always a sign of a lighthearted work day; the swing of his briefcase against the side of his leg meant he was feeling a little playful. Matt pushed his wheeled chair away from his desk into the open doorway just as Foggy pushed open the door and wiped his shoes off on the mat.
"Matt!" Foggy hung up his coat. "What’s the story, morning glory?"
Matt smiled. Maybe there would come a time when Foggy’s cheerful greetings would become old hat, something he came to expect rather than something he treasured, but he didn’t think it would be for a long time. "Not a whole hell of a lot," he said. "Still no notice on the Clark appeal. I think I maybe found an expert who can counter the state’s blood-spatter narrative, but you might want to double-check. You’re the one who said there was something hinky with the photos in the first place." Matt was pretty certain that Marina Clark hadn’t actually killed the husband she’d been convicted of murdering, but that opinion sure as hell wasn’t based on the blood-spatter evidence from the scene; it had been Foggy who’d wondered why there didn’t seem to be a space in the spatter for a shooter where one would expect a space to be in the photos from the case files.
"Cool, cool," said Foggy. "In completely unrelated news, I got a text from my mom on the way over here. She and Dad made it to Orlando okay."
"That’s great," Matt said sincerely. Foggy’s older sister and her husband had decided to take their three-year-old to Disney World for Christmas, and Foggy’s parents and younger sister were going along as well. Matt had wondered why Foggy wasn’t going—the whole thing sounded right up his alley—but he couldn’t help but be happy to have Foggy here with him instead, so he didn’t ask. Best not to look a gift horse in the mouth.
Foggy snorted. "Yeah, great," he said. "Get this. While you and I sit here and wait for the Polar Vortex to dump a foot of snow on our heads, it’s apparently 78 degrees in Orlando."
Matt whistled, impressed, and Foggy nodded vigorously. His hair was growing out again, and the hot air from the vent by the door blew it around his ears. "That’s right," he said. "The fine folks at the Disney compound can go swimming outside if they want."
"Technically, you could go swimming outside, too," Matt pointed out. "It would just be really cold."
"Ha ha, Murdock. You’re a laugh riot." He didn’t actually sound irritated about it, though. It was—it was the kind of blustery snappiness he used to have when he and Matt gave each other shit back in the day. Back before they’d ever fought for real. Matt swallowed and smiled and let himself feel grateful to have that lightness back.
Foggy dropped his briefcase in his own office and walked over to lean in the doorway of Matt’s. "So what’s on tap for the day?"
Matt shrugged. "I don’t think we have anything scheduled."
"Didn’t we have something at two today?"
"Yeah," said Matt, throwing his mind back over their agenda, "Sonya Willis, but she canceled because her kids have a snow day and she couldn’t get a sitter."
Foggy parked himself on Matt’s desk and reached for the stress ball Matt kept there, tossing it up and catching it. "That’s right," he said. "All the weather channels today say this is it for the Snowpocalypse." The lightness in his tone seemed less genuine now, more forced, and Matt had to work to keep a casual smile on his own face.
"They’ve said that every day this week," Matt said, trying to keep his tone amused. He hated it when Foggy played at casual. It usually meant there was a serious conversation on the horizon—the personal kind, the kind that could leave tension in the air like electricity afterward. Without Karen around as a buffer, Foggy and Matt could bump around the office in awkward silence for days after a fight.
"Yeah, well, today’s different. The sky’s got that kind of brown cloudy thing going on."
"Which means…snow?" Matt ventured.
"Which means snow."
"Well." Matt wheeled his chair back to his desk. "At least the heaters here work."
"Matt." There it was—all pretense of lightness was gone from Foggy’s voice. "Don’t go out tonight."
"I won’t." It came out a little more sullen than Matt was going for, but still, he thought, sincere.
The sincerity didn’t appear to make it through to Foggy, though, because he dropped the ball on the desk and reached out to grab Matt’s shoulder. "Hey," he said, "I’m serious. The temperature’s already dropping, we’re supposed to get a shitload of snow, and there’s literally no reason for you to…go strike fear into the hearts of evildoers or whatever tonight. Don’t blow me off here, Matt." Matt didn’t think Foggy had intended an or else to be attached to the end of that, but there seemed to be one, nonetheless.
The thing was, Matt had never had any intention of going out. Whether it was the bad weather or crooks going out of town for the holidays or just the Christmas spirit, crime in the city had been down over the last couple of weeks, and even if there’d been some kind of burglary spree, Matt didn’t think he’d have been able to go with a thick snowfall. Between the cold, the muffling effect snow had on sound, and the slipperiness that inevitably followed, Matt was going to have a hell of a time just getting from his apartment to the office and back once the snow started, much less going out as Daredevil.
Unfortunately, though, Matt really, really didn’t like being told what to do. He never had, and he still didn’t, even if he could admit that Foggy was on occasion right about some things, like taking a step back and not going it alone.
His first instinct was to respond to Foggy with a sharply worded rebuttal, about the thousand and one things Foggy didn’t understand and Matt’s own ability to soldier on under any conditions. He swallowed that response. His next instinct was to brush Foggy off with a smile, and he swallowed that one, too. He grabbed the stress ball Foggy had dropped. One breath, one squeeze. In, out. Tense, release. His pulse slowed, the blood pounding less overpoweringly in his ears. "Foggy," he said after a moment, "I’m serious, too. I don’t have any plans to go out tonight."
"Oh," said Foggy, sounding surprised. Relieved. "I, uh. I kind of thought that was going to be harder than it was."
Matt shrugged and tossed the stress ball into his other hand, feeling mildly smug at having taken the wind out of Foggy’s sails. Not that he had much to be smug about. "The snow fucks up my senses pretty bad," he admitted. "It—it absorbs sound, makes it hard to judge distances, and it’s pretty distracting when it blows in my face. I have a hard time getting around it in it, as you might recall from law school." While Foggy processed that, Matt added, "Plus, I think the mob bosses and supervillains of New York are taking the holidays off."
"Well, yeah," Foggy joked. "Generations of organized crime flunkies didn’t struggle for benefits and an eight-hour work day so they could work holidays."
"Technically, it’s only the 22nd," Matt pointed out.
Foggy made a noise that sounded like "Psh," which Matt interpreted as "Details, details," and pushed himself off Matt’s desk. "Well," he said. The tension from their almost-fight having faded almost instantly, the space left behind filled with a new kind of awkwardness. "Guess I’ll go look up your blood-spatter guy," said Foggy, moving toward the door.
"Hey," said Matt quickly, before the weirdness could settle and harden, "you doing anything tonight?"
Foggy paused in the doorway and turned back. "Well, now that you’ve put the kibosh on my crime-fighting plans…." He huffed out a laugh. "Nah. Get myself some takeout, make some hot chocolate, I don’t know."
"You could…." Ideas were taking shape in Matt’s mind, half-formed little bubbles of thought. "You could come over to my place. We could do a sort of pre-holiday dinner. I’ll cook."
"Yeah?" Foggy stood up a little straighter.
"Yeah. Why not?"
"You don’t have to cook," said Foggy. His voice was full of pleased surprise, and Matt knew he’d hit upon a good idea. "We can do carryout, I can bring it over to your place."
"Why, you afraid to try my cooking?" Matt grinned so that Foggy knew he was joking. He’d actually been cooking a fair amount lately, and Foggy knew it. "Nah, buddy, it’s no trouble. In fact, maybe…."
"Maybe I’ll call Karen, see what she’s up to tonight. Or Claire, or, you know, Jess and Luke and Danny." Might be kind of a weird crowd, Matt reflected, but then again, it could be pretty interesting. Just having Karen and Jessica in a room together would probably make for an entertaining evening.
"You want to have the Defenders over for a Christmas party?" Foggy’s tone had turned disbelieving, and Matt felt a twinge of self-consciousness dampen his enthusiasm.
"Not a party, really, just a dinner with friends," he said, only slightly defensively. "Be a good chance to give everyone their Christmas presents." Matt had never really hosted a holiday dinner party, but it seemed like the kind of thing normal adult friends might do on a snowy evening in December. And the idea of having all the people he cared about in one place—or most of them, anyway—appealed to whatever remained of the inner child who’d gotten stuck watching a lot of Hallmark Christmas movies on VHS back during the St. Agnes days.
Foggy hummed and nodded, a back-and-forth rocking motion that seemed aimed more at himself than at Matt. "Well, I do have some presents I could give," he said thoughtfully, and Matt suddenly felt a warm press of sentiment in his chest, like his heart was growing three sizes bigger, Grinch-style. Foggy had gotten him a present. Like old times. Fortunately, before the feeling had time to choke him, Foggy clapped his hands together and said, "Cool, cool. Your place. Snow’s supposed to start around 8 tonight, so we better make the dinner early-ish."
"We?" Matt asked, unable to keep from smiling.
Foggy shrugged. "Well, I assume I’m more or less cohosting this thing. Have you ever hosted a dinner party before?"
"I think I can figure it out," said Matt.
"Famous last words, man." Foggy shook his head. "I better bring some booze, just in case."
Matt laughed. He could do this. If Foggy was onboard, he could do this. He pushed his chair away from his desk and stood up. "Hey," he said, "if it’s okay with you, I might take off a little early to go get some stuff for dinner. It’s not like we have any meetings scheduled today anyway, and I don’t think we have any court dates until after the new year, right?"
Foggy was silent for a long moment. "Dude," he said finally, "I’m just trying to imagine what would have happened at H, B, & C if I’d wanted to take off early to throw a party. Stone-cold mockery, probably. Sharks never sleep."
"I don’t have to," said Matt uncomfortably. "I mean, if you’d rather I stayed." It had been one thing when Foggy had only "I could have been a butcher" stories; now that he had "I could have been on my way to partner in a multimillion-dollar firm" stories, Matt’s weird split life and dreams of using the law as a public service must have seemed even more pathetic in comparison. But Foggy was here now, and whatever Matt had to do to keep him here, the spirit was willing to do it, even if the flesh ultimately proved weak.
"Eh." Foggy blew a raspberry. "One of many reasons I’m glad to be out of there. No party spirit. Like you said, this place is dead until the new year anyway. Let’s close up after lunch, I’ve got some shopping to do."
The morning was ostensibly devoted to the forensic evidence in Marina Clark’s case, but since the blood spatter expert Matt had found was out of the office—and indeed, the country—until January 3rd, and they were still waiting to hear back from a private lab about DNA evidence the state had on file, most of the morning was actually spent with Foggy badgering Matt about what if anything he should bring to dinner that night and with Matt pondering and dismissing possible menu ideas. Now that it was actually happening, Matt was genuinely excited about the prospect of cooking for his friends. He was—he wasn’t the easiest person in the world to be friends with, he knew that, and he knew he fell down on the job a lot, but one area where he knew he didn’t fall short was the sincerity of his feelings. Karen, Claire, Melvin, Jessica, Luke, Danny, and (of course and always) Foggy…they were good people, and Matt loved them, and when he took the time to catch his breath and take stock of how he felt, he was grateful to have them in his life. And he could show that, he knew he could. It was a good time of year for it, anyway.
As it turned out, though, he probably wasn’t going to get a chance to show it to many of them tonight. Luke had promised Bobby Fish that he would help out at a Christmas event at Pop’s, which they’d transformed from a barber shop into a kind of community center for kids in the neighborhood. Luke, he informed Matt with amused resignation, had been roped into announcing the bingo numbers.
"Bingo," said Matt.
"Bingo," said Luke.
"And these are kids, right? Not local retirees or people’s grandmothers?"
"Well, theoretically," said Luke. "It’s a five-buck charge to play and the prizes were all donated by local businesses—it’s a charity thing."
"That sounds really cool," said Matt, and it did. Considering that he was actually from Georgia, Luke was more devoted to making Harlem a safer and more prosperous place than any born New Yorker that Matt knew, and Matt admired him for it.
"Sure, cool," said Luke wryly. "Of course, Misty and Bobby sweet-talked me into wearing a Santa costume, so I think half those kids will probably be there to make fun of me, but yeah, let’s go with cool."
"Wow," Matt said with real feeling, "I’m actually kind of sorry to be missing this."
"And I’m sorry to be missing your dinner. I don’t think I’ve ever seen your place."
Chagrined, Matt had to admit that that was probably right. He didn’t think of himself as antisocial, per se—it was more that he tended to go along with others’ social events rather than initiate them himself, and so most of his socializing with the Defenders happened in bars or somebody’s office or (honestly) abandoned warehouses. "I’ll do a dinner after the holidays," said Matt firmly, as much to convince himself as Luke. "Give you a little more notice."
Danny had some fancy Randcorp holiday reception, "which sucks, man," he told Matt, sounding completely sincere. "I hate these corporate things. I’ve never been to a holiday party with people I actually like before."
"It’s cool," said Matt. "I know it’s short notice. I can give you your present another time."
Danny groaned. "Oh, no, you got me a present? This is terrible."
"Um, sorry?" said Matt, amused despite himself. For all the weirdness that went along with Danny, he tended to make Matt smile more than Matt meant to. "It’s nothing much." It really wasn’t; Matt had no idea what you bought the man who had everything, so pretty much the only thing he’d been able to come up with was a couple of burned mix CDs he thought would be good for meditation or trying to get to sleep at night or just chilling out. Danny had only recently gotten into music, and his collection was still in a state of rapid, eclectic expansion.
"No, no," Danny insisted. "I’m sure it’s great. This party’s going to suck even more knowing I have presents waiting for me at your place, though."
Matt flushed at Danny’s enthusiasm, and he was grateful that no one could see it over the phone. "Well. Like I said, I can give it to you anytime."
"You should send me your schedule for the next couple of weeks, and I’ll host the next dinner party," said Danny decisively before being called away by some executive with a question.
Jessica made an incredulous huff of laughter when Matt got his invitation out. "You shitting me?" she asked. "You’re throwing a Christmas party?"
"Not really a party," Matt explained again. It really wasn’t, since the guest list was shrinking by the minute. "Just a get-together with friends, since the weather’s supposed to be so crappy tonight."
"Yeah, no, I understand the concept, it’s just weird as shit that you’re the one doing it." Before Matt could defend himself and his social skills, she went on, "Who’s going?"
"Um. Me and Foggy, so far?"
Jess snorted again. "Yeah, okay, that’s more like it. Well, not that that doesn’t sound like a blast, but Trish got us tickets for some ballet thing tonight."
Matt could feel his eyebrows creeping up toward his hairline. "Ballet?"
"I know, right?" Jessica sighed. "It’s, like, the Nutcracker or some holiday-appropriate shit like that. I’d try to get out of it, but. You know."
Matt knew. Jessica and Trish’s relationship had had its ups and downs, and Jessica was trying to give a little where she could to keep things okay between them. Matt could sympathize and empathize. "I get it," he said. "So, you smuggling a flask into the theater?"
"Oh God yes," said Jessica. In the background, someone dropped a glass bottle on the floor.
Melvin seemed vaguely confused when he answered the phone. As he and Matt exchanged greetings, Matt could hear people—not just a couple of people, but multiple people in separate groups—having rapid-fire conversations in French.
"Melvin?" he asked. "Where are you?"
"In Paris," said Melvin, still sounding mildly dazed. "Having dinner."
Matt was tempted to ask Paris, France? with incredulity, but the French in the background pretty much answered that for him. "What are you doing in Paris?"
Melvin hummed over the phone. "Hmm. Mmm. This department store maybe wants to buy my coat designs? I designed some coats."
"Hey, that’s great," said Matt, impressed. He and Melvin got along well, but they played such limited parts in each other’s lives, their meetings generally about armor and weapons and whether any of Betsy’s clients or Melvin’s former coworkers under Fisk posed a threat. It was easy to forget that Melvin made good money as a fashion designer in his other life. "How’s it going so far?"
"Haven’t talked about the designs yet," Melvin mumbled. "We’re supposed to talk tomorrow. They had a lady from the department store take me on a tour of the neighborhood. She was nice. This restaurant is weird, though. I don’t think this meat is cooked."
"You should get a salad," said Matt. "I hear the produce over there is really nice." Elektra had had nothing but disdain for the tomatoes Matt got from the neighborhood stores, the bagged salad mixes he kept in his fridge. Someday, she’d always said in rapturous tones, she would take him to farmers’ markets in France, Italy, Greece, buy him fruits and vegetables that would get even his over-perceptive taste buds singing. Matt let himself feel the sweet pain of the memory for a moment and then let it go.
"Maybe," said Melvin dubiously. "I don’t know, I don’t really like salad. What did you call for, anyway? Is everything okay?"
"Sure. It’s nothing, I was just wondering if you wanted to come over for dinner tonight. I’m having some friends over." Friend, he corrected ruefully in his head. "Sorry," he said hurriedly. "I didn’t know you were out of town."
Melvin was silent for a long beat. Then he said, "Oh. That’s nice. People don’t really ask me over for dinner, except Betsy sometimes."
"Well, you should come over when you get back," said Matt. "I’ll make sure to cook the meat."
Matt was demoralized enough by his afternoon of failed phone calls that he had to take a break before tackling Karen and Claire. It wasn’t personal, he knew—it wasn’t a slight on him that they had other plans, and he really had sprung the dinner idea on them at the last moment. That didn’t stop his overdeveloped sense of rejection from stirring up something pained and resentful in his heart, and he went out to take a walk, which had become one of his default non-Daredevil ways of dealing with overpowering emotion.
It probably didn’t help matters, he thought, that his main experience with friendly socialization came from Foggy, who, all through law school and even in the early days of Nelson and Murdock, seemed to operate on an unpredictable 24-7 fun calendar. Even after they’d moved into separate apartments, Matt had never known when Foggy was going to show up on his doorstep unannounced like a neighborhood kid asking if he could play. It had driven Matt nuts, particularly when he had other things going on, but since he and Foggy had just about always had a good time, he thought in retrospect that he’d probably learned the wrong lessons from it. Though Foggy himself managed his social life a lot less spontaneously nowadays, Matt still hadn’t quite mastered the knack of planning to hang out with people ahead of time, or shaken the idea that socializing was best when it came from some spontaneous emotional place.
Of course, as with so many things, that had only ever been true with Foggy.
After burning off some energy in the brisk cold, the snow creeping closer and closer, Matt felt calm enough to call up Claire as he took another circuit around the park. It rang only twice before Claire’s voice, calm and wryly amused and utterly dear, answered the phone. "Hey, you," she said. "Regular phone, this is a treat. What’s up?"
"I know it’s short notice," said Matt, "but I was wondering if you wanted to come over to my place for dinner tonight." It occurred to him almost immediately that she might take this the wrong way, a prod at her boundaries, so he hurriedly added, "With Foggy and me. And maybe Karen? Kind of a little pre-holiday dinner. I know people are busy this time of year, but I thought it might be a nice way to spend a cold night."
On the other end of the phone, he could hear skin shifting on skin; he thought that Claire was probably rubbing her shoulder or neck, something she did a lot when tired. "Huh," she said curiously. "You never struck me like the holiday party kind."
Matt found a loose thread in the inside of his pocket to fiddle with and tried not to feel too embarrassed. He’d always thought he handled social situations all right, but today it felt like his areas of ignorance and awkwardness and habitual self-isolation were written on his head like some glaring sign that everyone but him could see. "First time for everything," he said. "And, you know, it’s a good season for spending time with the people you care about."
Now that had probably been a tactical error—coming on too strong. But to take it back would be even worse. He’d said what he meant, what he thought, and now the only thing to do was to wait and see how she responded.
She was quiet for a moment, and then asked, "You cooking?"
Matt perked up. This wasn’t a refusal. "Yeah," he said, trying not to sound too enthusiastic. "I was thinking maybe chicken, some kind of side dish, steamed vegetables? And alcohol will definitely be provided."
She laughed. "Good to know you have the important things covered. Are you doing presents or anything like that?"
"Well, I do have something for you," said Matt, "but please, don’t feel obligated to bring anything but yourself. Or—I suppose you’re not obligated to bring yourself either. I’m—I think I’m going to stop talking now."
"Matt," she said, still amused. "Chill out. It sounds like fun. Beats the hell out of digging canned soup out of my pantry for dinner. What time should I come over?"
"Five-ish for drinks, dinner at six?" He was certainly coming off like somebody who made a lot of dinner plans, he thought self-deprecatingly, apparently unable to phrase anything except in the form of a question.
But Claire didn’t seem to mind. "Cool," she said. "See you then."
Matt couldn’t seem to stop smiling as he hung up the phone. Claire was coming over for dinner. It would be the first time she’d been over in quite a while that didn’t have to do with Defenders business or patching him up. Which was in and of itself a shame, he thought to himself. He’d have to do this more often, when it wasn’t cold out. Dinners, definitely, and—what other kind of social things did adults do at home? Probably not cocktail parties; he and his friends tended to drink at bars, and not the fancy kind. Game nights, perhaps? Or was that too college? Movie nights, maybe, but it seemed rude to invite people over and then make your guests explain to you what was happening onscreen.
He was, perhaps, getting ahead of himself.
People called him "The Man without Fear." It wasn’t true, obviously, but it was something to shoot for, something to hold onto as he steeled himself to dial Karen’s number.
She picked up almost immediately. "Matt? Is everything all right?" There was a real undercurrent of worry to the words.
Matt didn’t call her all that often—in the wake of their failed little attempt at a romantic relationship and the awkward new foundations of their current friendship, he obsessively worried over whether he was overstepping his bounds. Karen had chewed him out often enough for him to know that it was something he did, frequently without realizing it, but maybe it was time to stop letting her be the one to reach out every time. If she thought that the only reason he’d be contacting her was that something was wrong, well, he clearly needed to contact her more when things were all right.
"Everything’s fine, Karen," he said, as reassuringly as he could. "Claire, Foggy, and I are getting together at my place for dinner tonight, and I wanted to know if you wanted to come."
"Oh." She sounded surprised, maybe unsure. It was harder to make out someone’s pulse over a phone, but Matt thought he heard her breathing speed up. Nervous? Pissed? Excited? Hard to tell, without her saying something else.
"It’s nothing fancy," said Matt, hoping that if he filled the gap in the conversation with enough low-key cheer it would be enough to make this the kind of conversation that normal adult friends had. "I’m cooking, there might be some gifts exchanged, maybe a game or something."
"Oh," said Karen again. "I don’t, um…."
She didn’t have a gift for him. Whatever, Matt didn’t actually care—when it came to material goods, he had everything he needed. "Obviously you don’t have to bring gifts," he said. "That’s totally fine."
"I don’t know, Matt." She sighed. Somewhere on the other end of the line, someone was having a very loud phone conversation. Someone else was calling out different names. Starbucks, Matt thought, trying to keep himself from tensing too much in anticipation at what Karen would say. "I have a lot of work to get done."
Leave it, Matt wanted to say. Take the night off and come have dinner with us. He swallowed. That had never been enough for him when the city was experiencing a crime wave and Matt’s skin felt too small for the roiling emotions inside. There was no reason to believe it would be enough for Karen, whose drive to uncover truths and right wrongs was as forceful as Matt’s. "Okay," he said, trying to sound calm, happy—well, not too happy, he didn’t want her to think he’d just invited her for form’s sake, but he also didn’t want to come across as pushy or manipulative, and Jesus, why did everything Matt knew about achieving his goals with rhetoric and tone fucking disappear as soon the stakes got personal for him? He cleared his throat. "That’s cool. Maybe another time."
He expected her to give him a noncommittal answer and hang up. Instead, she said nothing, and Matt could hear her tapping on the table in front of her. Patience had never really been Matt’s signature virtue, but he waited for what seemed like a long stretch of minutes until she said, "Um. Not to sound like a materialistic vulture, but did you get something for me?"
He didn’t know what answer she wanted, so he went with the truth, or close enough: "I sort of, ah, made something?"
"Huh!" Surprise again, but this time with an undercurrent of interest, maybe pleasure. "That’s…that’s really cool. Did you have a dessert planned for tonight?"
"Not really," Matt admitted.
"Okay," said Karen, her voice firmer now. "I can bring something—I could probably use a good session of stress-baking, anyway."
"You don’t have to—"
"Matt." Her voice didn’t invite further argument. "What time?"
Matt hung up the phone after another minute with a feeling of vaguely stunned gratitude. Karen, Claire, and Foggy would all be coming over. It would be a party after all.
He had lists to make, errands to run, cooking to do, but before he did any of it, he swung back by his place to pick up something and then went over to the church.
Father Lantom was in the confessional, talking to Mrs. Simmons, the choir director for the kids in kindergarten through the third grade. Matt took a seat in a pew and focused on the sound of the buskers one block down to give them some privacy. When Mrs. Simmons finally emerged and headed outside, Matt stood, turning toward where Father Lantom was standing.
"No sense asking if you have an appointment, huh?" Father Lantom asked wryly.
Matt shrugged. "If you have a minute, Father…"
Father sighed. "This the kind of minute we’re both gonna need coffee for?"
Matt laughed at his tone of knowing, affectionate resignation. "No, actually, this is kind of the opposite of our usual." He dug around in his briefcase before pulling out what he’d gone home to retrieve and offering it to Father Lantom. "This time, I thought I’d bring you coffee."
Father Lantom walked over and took the bag from Matt’s hand, examining it. "Wow. Not exactly Folger’s," he noted.
"No," said Matt. "I know you’re kind of a connoisseur. I think you’ll like this." He smiled. It was pricy, for coffee, but deliciously complex; Matt was contemplating buying himself some for Christmas. He’d sampled about two dozen kinds before settling on this one. "It makes a good latte."
"Hmm." Father opened the bag and smelled it, and Matt’s smile widened. This was a man after his own heart. "Well," said Father Lantom, lifting his head from the bag, "I’d tell you this was unnecessary, Matthew, but frankly, I’m sick of that store-brand coffee Sister Adeline keeps bringing in. Thank you."
"You’re welcome." Matt paused, wondering how exactly to best broach his next subject.
He must have been silent for too long, because Father Lantom asked, "Something else on your mind?"
"Yeah, um…" Matt pulled out the checks from his pocket, quickly feeling them to make sure they hadn’t gotten so wrinkled there that the folds he’d put in to tell them apart had become useless. They hadn’t. He held out the first one to Father Lantom. "For the food pantry." When Father had taken that one, Matt offered the next one. "For the children of St. Agnes. I know you talk to Sister Monica over there."
"You don’t want to talk to her yourself?" asked Father Lantom carefully.
It was something Matt had talked about with his therapist, going back to confront some of the parts of his past that still troubled him, but honestly, Matt didn’t have much to say to the nuns there. He was grateful to them, and he resented them, and he didn’t think much about them these days. If they hadn’t always given him what he needed, if they hadn’t noticed the particular ways he was hurt, and had maybe hurt him themselves in different ways, well, they’d done their best by him, and he was figuring out for himself what he needed now, mending his own hurts. He didn’t need anything more from them. "No," he said. "I thought maybe you could explain it better."
"That it sucks to get other kids’ hand-me-downs and dollar store toys for Christmas every year, if you’ll pardon my language. That’s not to badmouth the people who donate. I know the best gifts aren’t material, and I know that they have a lot of other expenses there, medical and accessibility-related things, but I’d really like for each of those kids to get something nice for Christmas this year, something they’d actually like. If Sister Monica doesn’t know what they’d want, tell her to ask Sister Mary Theresa. She’ll know." Sister Mary Theresa was enthusiastic about Christmas, besides being everyone’s favorite English teacher at Sacred Heart—kids would be a lot more willing to tell her what they wanted as a gift than they would most of the other nuns.
"That’s very generous, Matthew," Father Lantom said, with an undercurrent of This is way more money than you usually put in the offering plate, can you even afford this?
Matt shrugged. Elektra had left him…well, a shockingly large amount of money, but spending it on himself made him feel sick to his stomach. She probably wouldn’t have approved of him giving it to church food pantries or orphanages, but she might have at least gotten a laugh out of it. "It’s Christmas," he said, hoping that was a good enough explanation.
Father Lantom reached out to put his hand on Matt’s arm. His hand smelled like coffee, and now Matt’s coat would, too. He didn’t mind. "I’m sure Sister Monica will want to thank you."
Matt shrugged. "She doesn’t have to," he said. "The kids don’t have to, either. I just, ah…." How did someone put this kind of thing without sounding pathetic—that he really would have liked to have a Christmas growing up where he got to feel like a regular kid? That the knowledge that someone, somewhere, might have given a shit about him would have really helped? "I know what it’s like," he settled on. "And a lot of the stuff they need, I can’t give them, but one good day…something to hold onto on bad days…that’s not nothing, right?"
"No, it’s not nothing." Father Lantom cleared his throat. "So does this sudden fit of magnanimity mean I won’t be seeing you on Christmas for mass?"
"That depends, Father," said Matt with a grin.
"On whether we all get snowed in."
"Oh, I fully intend to trek here in snow shoes if I have to," said Father Lantom. "Gotta try to lure in some of those Easter-Christmas Catholics. You have time for a coffee? I want to see how my espresso machine likes your gift."
"Thanks, but I have a lot of errands to run." Matt hesitated, and then reached out to squeeze Father Lantom’s hand. "Merry Christmas, Father."
"Merry Christmas, Matthew."
As Matt turned to leave, Father Lantom called his name. Matt turned. "What is it, Father?"
Father Lantom took a breath and let it out slowly. "You might consider dropping by St. Agnes sometime." Before Matt could object, Father Lantom continued, "Not to speak with the sisters, though I’m sure there are a few who’d love to hear from you. But to talk to some of the children there."
Matt wasn’t sure he managed to hide his shudder. He was no kind of authority for children. "And tell them what?"
"Well, you might tell them a bit about not giving in to despair," Father Lantom said evenly. "Perhaps that no matter how bad their situation seems to them now, that if they continue to fight what’s important to them and what they believe in, they might make things better for all of us. It might sound better coming from someone who, as you say, knows what it’s like. And a listening ear never goes awry."
Matt swallowed. He wasn’t sure he had anything to teach kids about not giving in to despair; God knew he wanted to sometimes. And if the kids now were anything like he had been, they didn’t want to talk to some random guy who had managed to graduate from high school and college, get a job, and live independently and still somehow thought he understood what they were going through, just because he’d been there himself once. But. Perhaps it was only cowardice on his part. After all, it was always easier to give of your money than to give of yourself. And Matt had never been one for taking the easy way.
"I’ll think about it, Father," was what he finally said.
"That’s all I ask."
Before going to run his errands, Matt dropped by the cemetery to say hi to his dad and Elektra, in case the snow really did keep him from church on Christmas. It was…weird, to say the least, to think of them at the same time, and to let them into his heart alongside the determined optimism that gave Matt the energy to get through difficult tasks and would probably be the reason he got through this party. It felt self-indulgent, almost, to let himself touch that bittersweet pain. You’re allowed to hurt, Matt reminded himself. It still sounded like his therapist in his head, sometimes like Foggy, but the refrain was starting to feel familiar at least, even if he didn’t always or even often believe it. You’re allowed to miss them.
The temperature continued to drop as Matt made his away from the graveyard and ran around to gather groceries and other assorted odds and ends. People were stressed this time of year, busy with last-minute shopping and family members to pick up at the airport and figuring out their work shifts over the holidays. Many of Matt’s clients would be spending this Christmas in prison, separated from their loved ones and trapped in overcrowded conditions. The streets of New York were still full of the homeless, the impoverished, the lost. God knew that if the goal was peace on earth and goodwill toward men, they sure as hell weren’t there yet.
But all that holiday cheer wasn’t totally bullshit, either; there were plenty of kids home from college or done with middle or high school for the semester, who were now roving the streets in giggling clusters. There were plenty of families out shopping or visiting museums or just strolling with friends, the parents holding cups of coffee, the children chattering about movies they’d seen and what they’d asked Santa for. Person after person gave a dollar to panhandlers or recommended a charity to a friend who was looking to donate. People were talking on the phone to old friends, reconnecting, sometimes after years apart.
It was hard to find, sometimes, but there was good in the world still.
Matt went home and set up a Christmas music playlist on his laptop while he got things ready. Music, white noise, things like that, they didn’t always work to block out the rest of the world, as Matt had had to explain both to Vivian, his therapist, and Foggy. When Matt was tense, on edge, even if he couldn’t actually hear someone who needed help, he felt like they were out there, like by turning on music or putting in earplugs he was turning his face away from their suffering, selfishly hiding from them. But sometimes, when he was tired enough, or relaxed enough, or he found a happy mood stable enough to last him for a while, music could help distract him from the outside world. And he wasn’t going out tonight, so anything that kept the outside world at bay for a while could only help.
The food prep was easy—he’d picked chicken piccata, pasta, steamed broccoli, things with few ingredients that tasted good and would come together quickly when his guests came. It was getting the gifts together that took a while, since a few of them still had to be made and he had to figure out how and if he was going to wrap some of the others. Maybe the handmade gift idea was stupid, immature, but Matt had always gotten the impression when he was a kid that a gift you made would be read as sincere, at least, if not as cool as something expensive from a store. "By the hands means from the heart," Sister Agatha had used to say. Of course, the misshapen Christmas ornaments and packaged cookies the kids of St. Agnes had made and sold hadn’t been ‘from the heart’ any more than the whole endeavor had been; on the children’s part, their efforts had been from a sense of obligation and a desire not to get nagged and called ungrateful, while as for the nuns, it had probably been from a well-intentioned desire to manipulate parishioners into donating more money to the children’s home. Still, though, people had bought them, and seemed to genuinely like them.
It was the thought that counted, right?
When everything was more or less ready, it was about a quarter after four, and Matt’s apartment smelled. A lot. Some of it wouldn’t go away—the wassail in his crockpot was going to smell the rest of the night—but at least it all smelled good. Christmas-y, maybe, though not like any Christmas Matt had actually ever experienced. He did a quick workout—just some push-ups and pull-ups, enough to get a little of the nerves out—and took a shower.
He was still agonizing over what to wear when Foggy knocked on the door. His heartbeat, as familiar to Matt as his own, was fast with exertion, and he was carrying both a large shopping bag and his briefcase. Gifts, Matt imagined—he’d called earlier to make sure he had a gift for everyone who was coming.
"Hey," he said when Matt opened the door. "You have your fuzzy muppet Grinch socks on!"
Shit. Matt had put the thick novelty socks on to keep his feet from getting cold after he got out of the shower, but he hadn’t actually intended to wear them for the party. When he went to pull them off, though, Foggy said, "No, that wasn’t a criticism! They’re cute. Fuck it, dude, it’s your party, wear whatever socks you want."
"Yeah, okay," said Matt, his face still flushed with embarrassment. "Is that your mom’s hash brown casserole I smell?"
"I object to that statement—my mom’s in Florida, remember? I made this baby all by myself." He shifted his grip on the shopping bag. "Can I put it down somewhere? It’s getting a little heavy."
Matt found a space on the counter for it. "You wanna put your briefcase down?" he asked when Foggy had divested himself of the casserole dish and a bottle of scotch.
"Eh." Foggy hesitated, shifting from foot to foot, and Matt’s inner lie detector perked up. There was something sticking out of Foggy’s briefcase, now that he was listening for it—the clearly defined edges of a box. "Can I stick this in your room, actually?" Foggy asked. "I, uh. I’d kind of just like to keep it out of the way during the party."
Matt was curious, but he didn’t press. "Sure," he said, and he waited while Foggy went to go put the bag and his briefcase down in Matt’s bedroom and closed the door behind him.
His gait was slow as he made his way back toward the living area. "Your place looks great," he said when he reemerged from the back. "I see you got out the Charlie Brown Christmas tree." It was just a little artificial tree Foggy had made him buy a few years back—Matt hadn’t even bothered putting it up last year, when his life was in ruins and he felt about as far away from celebratory as he ever had—but without much of a sense of interior decorating, Matt didn’t know what else to do to make his apartment look festive. The tree, a poinsettia, some pre-lit garlands from Walgreens—that was about the extent of Matt’s design plan for the party.
He shrugged. "Well, you know," he said. "Thought I ought to do something…holiday-like."
"Fair enough," said Foggy. "So what’s for dinner? Obviously, hash brown casserole goes with everything—"
"Obviously." It was a fixture of Nelson family get-togethers. Matt hadn’t had it in…a while.
"—but if we’re gonna have to double-potato it, I’m staying away from the cheese and crackers now. Save some room." Foggy patted his stomach. "Not that I’d complain."
"No need," said Matt with a laugh, and he briefly outlined the menu he had planned.
When he was done, Foggy said, "Hey, that sounds really good, Matt." He sounded surprised, which was mildly annoying, but better pleasant surprise than disappointment. "You made microwave fancy sauce?"
‘Microwave fancy sauce’ was an invention of Matt and Foggy’s law school days, an attempt to liven up their diets under the restrictions of their law student budgets and the fact that their dorm room only had a mini-fridge and a microwave. It was basically basil pesto, which Foggy could get by the boatload from his parents’ local food movement hippie friends, and cottage cheese, mixed together and warmed in the microwave until the cottage cheese melted a little. It probably wouldn’t have been considered fancy by most definitions, but it added a little protein and a different flavor to the ramen packs that had been a staple in those days.
"Well, it’s green, right?" Matt said. "Holiday appropriate."
"Microwave fancy sauce needs no excuses," said Foggy firmly. "Now what’s this in the crockpot?"
"Are you shitting me? Like, ‘here we go a-wassailing’?"
"Sure," said Matt. "I found the recipe online. It’s pretty good, you want a cup?"
"Lay it on me, dude. It smells awesome."
It was kind overpowering, actually, cinnamon and cloves and wine and orange making Matt’s apartment smell like a giant sachet, but at least the smells were pleasant. Matt’s upstairs neighbor had had a pipe burst last week, and the smell of sewage still lay faintly under the intense smells of the wassail and Matt’s gifts for Karen and Claire.
While Matt was ladling some wassail into a mug for Foggy, he heard a familiar footstep enter his building and straightened up. "Karen’s here," he said.
"Like, in the building here, or around the block here?" Foggy’s tone was casual. They made a point of referring to Matt’s senses more often these days, so that Foggy couldn’t ignore them and Matt couldn’t hide them, and it was finally starting to feel less uncomfortable, for both of them, Matt thought.
"In the building here," said Matt. He paused, ladle in hand. "You wanna get the door, or…."
"Hey, you’re the one hosting this shindig." Foggy took his full cup from the counter and inhaled the steam. "Wow. Wassail. You’re going all out for this one, huh?"
"Yeah, I guess." Matt washed his hands and went to open the door; Karen wasn’t there quite yet, but she seemed to be carrying a lot by the heaviness of her gait. "Hey, Karen," he said when he estimated she was close enough to see him.
"Hey, Matt." She sounded casual enough, and Matt stepped out the door to wave at her.
"You need help with…whatever it is you’re carrying?"
"Oh! You can—um, no, that’s okay."
Matt shrugged, and stood to hold open the door while Karen lugged in what appeared to be a paper shopping bag. She set it down when she stepped inside the apartment. "Hey, Foggy!" She sounded pleased—probably as much about avoiding the awkwardness of hanging out with Matt alone as about seeing Foggy, but Matt could hardly blame her, since he felt pretty awkward, too. Once you took the flirtation out of their interactions, the gaps and tense places between them became a lot more obvious.
"Karen!" Foggy walked over, carrying two mugs. "Welcome to the first annual Matt Murdock Holiday Extravaganza! Have a wassail and drink your cares away."
She laughed. "A little early in the day for that, I think." She bent down and pulled something out of the bag, something that smelled of pecans, corn syrup, and honey. "Matt, can I—it’s a pie."
"You want me to take it?" asked Matt.
"Could you?" She handed it to him. "It’s a pecan pie. Nobody here’s gonna be allergic to nuts, right?"
"Not as far as I know," said Matt. "Thanks for this, Karen. It smells delicious." He went over to set it on the counter, listening with half an ear as Foggy set down the wassail mugs and he and Karen hugged. Pouring himself a mug, he took a sip and breathed in and out deeply a couple of times before turning back around to talk with his guests.
"So, how are you, Karen?" he asked once she and Foggy had separated.
"Oh, pretty good," she said. "Busy! Everybody takes off around the holidays, so the Bulletin’s really short-staffed. Plus, low woman on the totem pole, so." She shrugged.
"You don’t have those new interns to push around?" asked Foggy. "I thought you’d put the fear of God into them."
"Off to California for the holidays. Lucky them."
"No shit!" Foggy pulled out his phone and found something on it which he then showed to Karen—presumably a picture. "My parents are down in Florida right now with my sisters, having fun in the sun and rubbing it in my face." To Matt, he said, "It’s a picture of my mom and dad with baby Victoria. They all have Disney tee-shirts and those Mickey Mouse ears."
Karen wrapped her arms around herself and shivered. "Jeez. I’m jealous of all of them. I can’t believe how cold it got today."
"I don’t know," said Matt, feeling mildly puckish. "The whole Disney World thing? Warm weather in December? Sounds fake to me."
Foggy laughed. "What, you think the entirety of Orlando, Florida is a conspiracy?"
"Well, I’ve never been there—I have no empirical evidence that Disney World actually exists."
"Wow," said Karen, "I’ve heard of elitist New Yorkers, but you have to take the cake."
Matt shrugged, not wanting to push the joke farther than it could stand. "Just saying."
Karen leaned forward on the counter, her hair brushing against it. "Speaking of conspiracies! You know anything about this Stilt-Man guy?"
"This what now?" asked Foggy, and Matt straightened up. Stilt-Man had a stupid name, but he’d stolen a lot of money and done a lot of property damage in the process.
"What do you want to know?" he asked. Sharing information with Karen could be a delicate dance sometimes—working with a team, he had a better idea now of what it was to protect others’ secrets, and Karen herself could be an odd mix of truth-seeking and evasive—but he didn’t think there was anything to harm either one of them in discussing Stilt-Man.
"Is he, you know, special, like you and the Defenders, or is he using advanced technology to carry out his robberies?"
"He’s—" Matt began, but Foggy cut him off.
"Hey, you two," he said sharply. "No shop talk. The world’s not going to end if you guys take a break for the holidays. I thought that was what tonight was all about." This last was pointedly addressed at Matt, and he took it for the rebuke it was, taking a moment to digest it. Foggy was right. Tonight wasn’t about catching criminals or defending them—it wasn’t about making the world better, just about making his world better, for himself and the people he loved.
He really had to find better things to talk about with Karen.
"Fair enough," he said. "Sorry, Fog." To Karen, whose breath was held tensely, ready to explode in protest, he said, "Karen, let’s meet up next week and I’ll fill you in on the Stilt-Man stuff. You want any cheese and crackers? I was thinking I’d start on dinner in half an hour or so."
Karen, who hadn’t yet touched her wassail, picked up the cup and sniffed it. "Next week," she said, her tone dissatisfied. "Cheese and crackers sound good." She took a sip and set it down. "Oh my God, Matt, this is really good!" It had come out loud and honest, without forethought—the most open she had sounded since arriving. Matt grinned, and described the recipe for her.
They’d moved off the topic of wassail and on to the topic of winter-appropriate cocktails when Claire approached. Matt met her at the door. "Hi, Claire."
"Matt," she said, and she hugged him. He hadn’t been expecting the hug, but he sank into it, the familiar smell of cocoa butter, antiseptic, and granola bars as comforting as the warmth of her arms.
An overstuffed canvas bag was slung over one shoulder, and he tapped at the strap as he pulled out of her embrace. "What’s this?" he asked.
"Surprise," she said. "You’ll see whenever we do the gifts."
"Well, happy holidays to us," said Matt with a smile. "Can I take your coat?"
"Sure," she said, handing it to him. "Nice socks, by the way. What are those, Grinches?"
"Yeah, Secret Santa gift from back in the day," Foggy broke in. "Claire! You’ve met Karen, right?"
They had, in fact, though as far as Matt knew, their encounters had been largely business—Claire had given Karen an account of her experiences with Diamondback when Karen was writing up Luke’s story to get public support for him outside of Harlem, and Karen had sat in on one of Claire’s experimental sessions—this one with Matt and Jessica—while she took some samples, ran some scans, and generally tried to figure out what made ‘enhanced’ people different. The idea, Claire had explained, was to get some baseline information that could help her treat them, and since she was basically Matt’s primary provider of medical care, he didn’t really object. Karen, of course, had found the whole thing fascinating, but he wasn’t sure that she and Claire had interacted much outside of that context.
"We’ve met," Claire said, shaking hands with Karen. "How are you?"
"Oh, you know, trying to stay warm. The usual. How are you?"
Claire exchanged some small talk with Karen and Foggy while Matt hung up her coat and went to get her a drink. "How’s your arm?" she asked as he fixed her an Irish coffee—wine, she explained, gave her headaches, especially when it was cold out.
"Fine," said Matt. He’d scraped it against the edge of a building in a fight the previous week, but it had only needed a few stitches, the dissolvable kind that had already vanished as the wound scabbed over.
Matt handed her the mug, then unbuttoned his cuff and rolled up his sleeve to show her the scab. "Doesn’t even hurt," he said. "It’s fine."
"Did I know about that one?" asked Foggy, a little on edge.
"Yeah," said Matt. "When I told you I got a few scrapes and bruises last Wednesday. This one was a scrape."
Claire, who had wrapped her fingers around Matt’s arm to get a better look at it, released him. "Well, for once, you’re right. You’re fine. That’s healing up nicely."
"I’m feeling pretty good," said Matt, and it was completely true. "So what are you doing for the holidays, Claire?"
She took a sip of her coffee. "Eh. Not a lot, I guess. The big family party’s at my Aunt Laura’s in Miami, and we kind of missed the boat on that one this year. Luke’s coming over for dinner Christmas Eve—my mom’s doing a kind of scaled-down roast pork thing with all the desserts and stuff, and Uncle Manny’s dragging my mom and me to midnight mass. Christmas day we usually go to the movies."
"Sounds awesome," said Matt. He tried not to get overinvested in Luke and Claire’s relationship, but it really did give him a vicarious sense of…hope, he guessed. That happiness was within reach for all of his friends. "You know you’re missing Luke in a Santa outfit at Pop’s tonight?"
"Yeah," said Claire with a laugh. "The bingo thing? He’s been bitching about it for a week." She shook her head. "I helped with the set-up, but man, I am not sorry to be missing that thing. The place is gonna be a madhouse—they got over a hundred RSVPs."
Matt and Claire explained the bingo thing to Foggy and Karen, then Foggy went into an explanation of his sisters’ and parents’ Disney World trip again. The Mickey Mouse ear pictures were brought out again, and everyone cooed over Victoria, Foggy’s niece. Any lingering tension in the room vanished quickly under the relentless force of Foggy’s cheeriness and Claire’s wry good humor, and Matt’s mood was buoyant.
He started pulling out the pots and pans and ingredients for dinner, and he could sense Karen perking up. "Thought I’d start getting dinner together," he said in explanation. "You guys are doing a number on my cheese and crackers over there."
"I don’t think I’ve ever seen you cook," said Karen, curious. "Can you—is it the heightened senses, or—I mean, you seem really confident about it."
"You do know that plenty of blind people cook," Foggy said irritably, and Matt couldn’t help but smile at the tone, which had become familiar to him after only a few months of knowing Foggy.
Karen swallowed and said, "Oh, sorry."
"No worries," said Matt easily. "I actually didn’t cook a lot until pretty recently, but I pretty much had to be able to do the basics at St. Agnes. At first it was kind of a hassle, but nowadays I really like it. It’s relaxing, and I like being able to control what goes in my food. It helps that I know the space here really well, though—I’d have a much harder time trying to cook in your kitchen."
"You get the big shapes of things, though," said Karen carefully.
"Sure," Matt said, setting a pot of water to boil for the pasta, "but that wouldn’t really help me find your potato peeler, or figure out what buttons to push on your microwave. Foggy, you want me to warm up the hash brown casserole in the oven?"
Karen had more questions, and Claire, growing up with a restauranteur for a mother, had some questions about Matt’s prep techniques. Matt didn’t mind—actually, it was an interesting conversation, and gave him a couple of recipe ideas to try out, and Foggy relaxed after a few minutes and started throwing in anecdotes from his own family’s kitchen.
When it was done, Karen set the table, while Foggy and Claire helped Matt carry out the dishes. It was crowded as hell, Matt’s table having more in common with a folding card table than an actual dining room table, but they made it work. When everyone sat down, Matt cleared his throat.
"Hey, um. I’d like to propose a toast before we get started."
Everyone turned to him, and Foggy said, "Go ahead."
Hesitantly, Matt stood up. He was pretty sure people did that when they were proposing toasts. "It’s been…a year of ups and downs," he said. "An eventful year, for all of us. I can’t say what the future will bring, but I can say this: I’m really glad you’re all here. Here in the sense of at this party, and here in the sense of in my life. I feel really…really honored and grateful to call all of you my friends, and I hope next year will be a good one for everyone. As, uh, as Tiny Tim would say, ‘God bless us, every one.’" He lifted his mug of wassail briefly in the air and then sat down again, feeling like an idiot.
After a moment of silence, Claire said, "Hear hear!" Karen sniffed, and they clinked their cups together.
Foggy said, "Matt, hold your cup up again, we’re toasting," and Matt complied. Foggy, then Claire, then Karen bumped their cups against Matt’s before clinking each other’s, and then Matt took a sip, hoping the mug hid his expression. It generally wasn’t great to get over-emotional and sentimental at a party, he thought.
The dinner went really well. Matt was pretty pleased with how the food had turned out, and Karen, Claire, and Foggy seemed to agree. They talked about Claire’s work at the clinic she’d set up, and Karen’s at the newspaper, and some of Foggy and Matt’s cases, and about Star Wars and All Songs Considered’s best albums of the year lists and a new movie about the ‘inside story’ behind the Sokovia Accords and the breakup of the Avengers. The last they talked around carefully, moving back into the realm of recipes and food blogs when it got too close to home.
When the food was eaten and the leftovers packed away, they got out Karen’s pie. It was delicious, and Matt told her so.
"Yeah?" she asked. "I worried a little, with your taste buds and all."
Matt shrugged. "Honestly, I can’t speak to what other people taste, but I think being able to taste nuance probably made your pie taste better to me. No preservatives, and you used that really nice clover honey from the farmer’s market, didn’t you?"
"I did!" said Karen, sounding pleased. "I wondered if you’d taste that."
"One of these days," Claire said, "I’m sitting you down with my mom, and you can taste-test all her recipe experiments. I just tell her it all tastes good. Drives her nuts."
Something beeped on Karen’s phone, and she pulled it out of her purse. "Hmm," she said.
"Something wrong?" asked Foggy.
"Weather alert. The snow’s supposed to start around 9:00 now."
"We better do presents, then," said Matt, standing up. "I don’t want anybody getting stranded."
"Maybe I should go first." Karen put her phone back in her purse and wandered over to where she’d set the paper grocery bag, bringing it back over to the table. "I don’t really have presents, exactly, just…"
Foggy put up a hand. "Hold up," he said, "if we’re gonna do presents, let’s do presents. I gotta get mine out of the bedroom."
"Yeah, me, too." Matt and Foggy went to get their gifts from the bedroom. Foggy grabbed the shopping bag he’d brought the casserole in but left the briefcase with the large box. Curious. Matt himself had ended up putting all of his gifts in a big cardboard box to keep them all from being immediately visible. Wrapping wasn’t exactly his strong suit.
When they emerged into the living area, Karen and Claire were sitting on the couch, but Karen stood. "Okay, so," she said without fanfare, "I wasn’t really going to do the presents thing this year, but I thought, well, party. So…." She tapped Matt’s hand. "I’m gonna hand you a tin, here."
She did. Now that Matt was paying attention, he could smell cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and molasses through the tin, and he opened it and breathed in deeply. "This smells amazing," he said. "Cookies?"
"Cookies," she confirmed. "Foggy, I did icing designs on yours." She handed a tin to him, and turned to Claire. "Claire, I wasn’t exactly sure what you’d like, so I put some regular and peppermint sugar cookies in yours, too. Everyone likes sugar cookies, right?"
"Sure," said Claire, opening her own tin. "Wow, these look great. Thank you!"
Foggy bit into one of his own cookies and groaned. "Oh, my god, Karen, these are so good. One of your grandma’s recipes?"
Matt could feel a slight increase in warmth radiating from Karen—she was blushing. "I actually improvised this one," she said. "I think they turned out pretty well, right?"
Matt bit into one of his own. They weren’t warm, but they still had the fresh softness of recently made cookies, and the balance of spicy and sweet was a lot nicer than Matt was used to with spiced cookies, a rich blend of ginger and molasses and a little cocoa with a dusting of powdered sugar. "They’re great," he said. "Hope you were writing the ingredients down, ‘cause this one’s definitely a keeper. Thank you, Karen."
"You’re welcome," said Karen, still flushed. "Glad you like them."
Claire set her tin down on the couch and went to sit over by the Charlie Brown tree. "Okay," she said, "I’m going next, since I kind of did something similar."
"Ooh, more cookies?" asked Foggy.
"Ah, not exactly. Gather round, kids." Foggy sat down cross-legged in front of her, pulling Matt down to sit next to him, and Karen kneeled on Foggy’s other side. Claire picked up the overstuffed canvas bag she’d brought and upended it on the floor with a soft thump of fabric hitting the rug.
"Oh, wow," said Karen, and Matt reached out a hand to feel. Claire had brought…sweaters. Piles of sweaters.
"These are so ugly," breathed Foggy, and Matt elbowed him, shocked.
Claire laughed. "No, it’s fine. They’re ugly Christmas sweaters—they’re supposed to be kind of terrible."
Matt wasn’t entirely sure he got the whole "Ugly Christmas sweaters" thing. As a cultural meme, it didn’t make a lot of sense to him, but then again, it was also possible that he just took sweaters too seriously.
"I wasn’t sure what size you all wore," Claire went on, "so I just brought a bunch. You can pick out whatever ones you like, or whichever ones fit, and I’ll hold on to the rest of them."
"How do you have so many sweaters?" asked Karen, running a hand over one of them. "Is there some ugly Christmas sweater store I just don’t know about?"
"Yeah, probably. I knit these, though."
Foggy, who had picked one up and put it down, picked it up again. "Holy shit, are you serious? You made all of these? That must have taken forever!"
Claire shrugged and said, "Not really. I knit pretty fast, and the backs of these don’t have any patterns on them, so they go quickly."
"Jesus." Foggy shook his head. "When my mom taught me how to knit, it took me, like, a year to knit a scarf. A really ugly scarf."
"I used to know how to knit," said Matt thoughtfully. "I wonder if I still remember how." Sister Agatha, of the hand-made gift enthusiasm, had taught a lot of the kids to knit. Matt, who hated the cheap scratchy yarn they worked with, hadn’t stuck with it very long.
"Now there’s a mental image," said Claire, her voice full of humor. She picked up one of the sweaters, setting it halfway on her lap like she wasn’t quite sure where to put it. "Now, Matt, I generally make a bunch of random-ass patterns I can take to parties and family meals and stuff like that, but I actually did make this one for you in particular." She took the sweater off her lap and nudged it toward him. "I figured, super senses and all, I probably needed to find a softer yarn than I usually use for these things."
Matt reached out until he felt the sweater under his fingers. And it was nice. Thick, cushy merino wool, with maybe a touch of—Jesus, was that cashmere? "God, Claire, I hope you didn’t spend too much on this yarn."
Claire snorted. "I spend way too much on yarn, period. As far as vices go, though, I guess there are worse ones than a giant yarn stash. Take the damn sweater, Matt."
He rested his hand on it for a moment longer, pleased and touched, and then put the sweater on over his dress shirt. It was light but warm, the yarn soft and smelling gently of wool oils and Claire. "This is so nice," he said. "Thank you." He straightened up to show the sweater to Karen and Foggy.
Foggy made a noise that could best be described as "chortling." Karen laughed out loud, the hand in front of her mouth barely muffling the sound.
Oh, right. The theme was ‘ugly Christmas sweaters.’ Matt huffed out a laugh. "Okay," he said. "What does it have on it? Like, a mutant reindeer or…a really ugly Christmas tree, or something?"
"Yeah, no, it….." Foggy dissolved into laughter again.
Claire cleared her throat and said, "It’s red, and it has a lot of white star and candy cane patterns, and then it says ‘I’m not Daredevil’ across the front."
Matt blinked. He…didn’t really know what to make of that. "Um….?"
"It’s this viral YouTube video," Karen broke in, her own laughter apparently under control. "It was this guy being interviewed on TV a couple of months ago about the Defenders—it was that time you guys got into it with that Leap-Frog guy and the guy who dressed up like a matador. The interviewer asked why he just hid and didn’t help you guys out or something, and the guy just looked at her and said, ‘Hey, lady, I’m not Daredevil." A giggle escaped. Matt…was still pretty baffled. He sort of remembered both the incident, and the interview, but he didn’t remember it becoming some kind of comedy sensation, and it didn’t seem that funny to him now—of course the guy hadn’t interfered, and Matt was glad that they hadn’t had to look out for him while simultaneously trying to fight Leap-Frog and the Matador. Karen obviously picked up on his confusion and said, "Okay, we’ll have to show you this video later."
"Anyway," said Foggy, "you can actually buy tee-shirts and hoodies that say ‘I’m not Daredevil’ on them. You know, along with your Luke Cage hoodies and your ‘Killgrave is real’ shirts. New York loves its superhero memes."
He had to ponder that one for a moment, but evidently he took too long, because Claire sighed and said, "Hey, man, I thought it would be funny. You don’t have to wear it or anything."
Matt abruptly decided how he felt. "No way. If anybody gets to appreciate Daredevil memes, it ought to be me. Plus I get a really nice sweater out of it. I’m wearing this baby with pride." He sat up straighter and put his hands on his hips, the way he did sometimes when he had a hard case in court and he was trying to look more confident—it was as close to a ‘superhero’ pose as he could think of. Foggy laughed, and Claire snickered, so Matt considered it a job well done. He put his arms down again and said, "Thanks, Claire. I love it."
"No problem, Matt," said Claire warmly, and she turned to Foggy and Karen. "Now what about you two?"
"Where’re your XLs?" asked Foggy, and Claire scooted over to help him sort through a pile of largish sweaters. Matt scooted over to where Karen was fingering another sweater.
"What’s that one have on it?" he asked.
"Dancing presents with arms and legs," said Karen, and he could hear the amusement in her voice.
"I can’t choose between that one and this other one with an angry snowman on it," she said, handing what he assumed was the snowman sweater to Matt.
He ran his fingers over both of them—scratchier wool than his ‘I’m not Daredevil’ sweater, but still nice, and he imagined both of them would be warm. "Don’t know that I’m gonna be much help," he said. "I like them both."
Karen shook out the dancing present sweater. "That’s okay," she said. Matt couldn’t remember the last time he’d heard her so cheerful, so light. "That’s why God made Eenie Meenie Miney Mo."
Matt couldn’t help but laugh at that. "Absolutely," he said.
"Matt!" called Foggy. "Check this out! This sweater has lights on the Christmas tree! Like, actual lights! Battery-powered lights!"
He went over to Foggy to listen to the little hums of electricity coming from his sweater. "Nice," he said. "It’s not gonna set your sweater on fire, is it?"
Claire huffed. "Murdock, I will have you know I’ve been making these sweaters since undergrad and I haven’t set anyone on fire yet. Well," she added thoughtfully, "not with a sweater, anyway."
"I don’t even want to know," said Matt, pushing himself up to his knees. The cold tended to set in these days and make his joints ache, though what with the still-dissipating warmth from cooking earlier and the wassail and being surrounded with his friends, he didn’t feel too chilled now. "Okay, me next, since I mostly did the handmade thing, too."
He grabbed the box of gifts and sat back down among the piles of sweaters with Foggy, Claire, and Karen. "Claire," he said, handing her the bag on top, "this is for you."
Taking it, she carefully pulled out some of the layers of tissue paper Matt had crumpled up on top. Then, "Matt? Are these homemade bath bombs?"
"Yeah." He quickly sniffed the one she was holding. "That one’s, ah, frankincense and pine-scented. They came in the set of essential oils I bought online, and they seemed Christmas appropriate."
"Oh, my God." She set down the bag. "Are you serious right now? You made these?"
"Yeah," said Matt, who was rapidly beginning to sympathize with Karen’s earlier blushing. "I thought—I know you’re under a lot of stress these days, and you mentioned that sometimes you like soaking in a tub after a hard week." In experimenting with the bath bombs, Matt had discovered that he kind of liked the sensation of floating in the water as well, though without all the smells. "Anyway, I found instructions online. I fucked up the first couple, but after you get the hang of it, they’re not so hard to make."
"That is so cool," said Karen. "What other kinds are in there, Claire?"
She dug into the bag, and Matt identified them as she pulled them out of their tissue-paper nests: a citrus-y one with coconut oil, a peppermint one with cocoa butter, a rose-scented one and a lavender-scented one and one that smelled like bergamot and patchouli, because they’d come in the essential oil set and why the hell not? The layers of smell as Karen and Claire unearthed them were making him a little dizzy, but Claire’s genuine pleasure as he explained what each one was made it worth it.
"I hope they look okay," he said. "Dying stuff with food coloring isn’t exactly my forte."
Claire made a considering noise. "They’re very vibrant," she said neutrally, and Matt groaned.
"Shit. The instructions said a few drops, but that didn’t seem like enough. I didn’t add a ton, just—"
"Don’t worry about it, Matt," said Claire. "These are really cool, and they smell awesome. How’d you even deal with making them? I know you have a thing about strong smells."
"I can deal," Matt said. "Also, I keep the essential oils in an airtight container inside an airtight container in my closet."
"And it still smells like a perfume store to you, I bet," said Foggy, and Matt shrugged.
"Kind of. But it beats the place smelling like the overflow from Mr. Lasky’s burst pipes last week." Everyone groaned at that.
Claire reached out to squeeze Matt’s hand. "This is great. I love these things. If you want, I can take the essential oils off your hands when I go home tonight."
"Oh, God, would you?" asked Matt, in not-really-exaggerated relief, and Claire laughed.
"Sure. I’m definitely making you help me figure out how to make these myself."
"I’d like to get in on that," said Karen. "I mean, if that’s okay."
Claire made a gesture of some kind that sent lemon and peppermint-scented air wafting over Matt’s face. "Oh, totally. Do you have my phone number?"
"No," said Karen, "Lemme—"
The two of them exchanged phone numbers. Foggy elbowed Matt gently in the side and said in a low voice, "Those two seem to be getting along like a house on fire."
"Well," said Matt, "I think they have a lot in common."
He waited for Claire and Karen to finish entering their numbers in each other’s phones and examining the bath bombs before saying, "Wow. Now I think I should have made some of those for you, too, Karen."
"Well, I wouldn’t say no to them," she said. "But I’m kind of curious now about what you made for me."
Matt pulled the three bottles out of the box and set them on the floor between himself and Karen. "They’re, um. Essentially, they’re simple syrups. This one’s a lavender honey"—he tapped the tall, skinny bottle—"this one’s kind of a raspberry vanilla"—the round bottle—"and this one’s cranberry ginger. Kind of seasonal." That last one was in the star-shaped bottle.
"And you made them?" asked Karen.
Matt nodded, his face flushed with warmth. He didn’t know why everyone was so amazed that he could make stuff. "It’s not super complicated, just, you know, sugar and water and various other ingredients over the stove, but, uh. I thought you might like them." That last had come out more pathetic and beseeching than Matt had really meant to get during these proceedings, so he hurried on to say, "I’ve been making sodas with them—you just add some sparkling water—but they’re pretty versatile. The lavender honey one’s pretty good with bourbon, if you go for that, or maybe rum, and the raspberry one’s nice with coffee." It seemed a little weak and impersonal as he said it, but, well, Karen hadn’t mentioned anything she particularly wanted, and Matt didn’t want to presume too much. Given how much of their relationship involved drinking either coffee or alcohol, this had seemed like his best bet.
Karen reached out to touch the cranberry ginger bottle, her hand just inches away from Matt’s. "This…this is really sweet, Matt," she said, sounding surprised but sincere. Karen hid a lot, but when she said what she meant, her feelings seemed to radiate out from her in a kind of aura of forthright earnestness, and Matt felt himself relax a little. "I love these bottles—they’re so pretty."
"Craft store," offered Matt.
She picked up the cranberry ginger syrup, unscrewed the top, and sniffed the contents. "Mmm. This smells delicious."
"If you like any of them, let me know, I can make more, or send you the recipes."
"I might take you up on that." She hesitated, and then said, "Can I try this one now?"
"Sure," said Matt. "You want coffee, bourbon, soda….?"
"I should probably sober up a little before I walk home," she said, the smile audible in her voice. "Can I get a sparkling water for it?"
"Of course." Matt pushed himself to his feet and went to get her a glass, a can of sparkling water from the fridge, and some ice. He waited while she mixed the syrup in and took a sip, really more nervous about it than the situation called for.
After a moment, she set the glass down. "This is great," she said, and Matt couldn’t hear a lie in her voice or her heart. "I’m definitely gonna hit you up for the recipe."
He smiled. "Great. I’m glad you like it." So far, he was two for two on gifts, and he couldn’t imagine that the third one would fail, even if Karen and Claire thought it was stupid. He turned to Foggy and said, "The next one doesn’t really fit with the handmade theme, but I couldn’t really resist getting it. It’s not wrapped, you can just pull it out of the box."
"Well, now I’m intrigued." Foggy reached into the big cardboard box to pull out the last package inside, held it up in front of his face, and let out an audible gasp. "Oh my God," he said, his voice full of barely contained, incredulous joy. "You got me a Big Mouth Billy Bass?"
"Eh, you know," said Matt, grinning. "Thought your apartment was missing that special something."
"Um…" Karen’s voice was dubious. "A rubber fish?"
Before Matt could explain, Foggy broke in, saying, "A singing sensation, Karen, jeez!" He picked up the package and turned it over. "Oh, holy fuck, it plays ‘Take Me to the River’! And you can record your own messages on it! This is easily the best present any human being has ever received in the annals of human history."
"Not to exaggerate or anything," said Claire, her voice quivering with amusement. "Wow. That sure is…something, all right."
Karen made a noise of bafflement. "Are you serious right now?"
"I am one hundred percent serious, Miss Page," said Foggy, sounding less serious than emphatically entertained. "You know how much I begged my mom for one of these when I was a kid? I put this sucker on my Christmas list three years in a row, but no joy."
"Can’t imagine why your parents didn’t want a rubber fish singing Al Green in the house," Claire said wryly.
Matt realized that he was bouncing up and down on his heels with happiness and made himself sit still to tell Foggy, "Press play."
"There’s more?" asked Foggy in awe, and pressed the button.
Matt had never been much of a singer. "Tuneless mumbling" was probably the most accurate, if not the kindest, way to describe his vocal stylings.
Fortunately, you didn’t need to be Luciano Pavarotti to get across the essence of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s "Baby Got Back" in nine seconds.
Foggy literally cried with laughter. Matt’s heart felt full to bursting, and he clung fervently when Foggy threw his arms around him, still laughing into his shoulder. "Oh, fuck, Matt," he said. "This is amazing, buddy, where did you even get this?"
"The wonders of eBay," said Matt, smiling so hard it hurt. It had cost more than a rubber wall-mounted fish had any right to, but it was worth it. According to everyone on the internet, a recordable Big Mouth Billy Bass was a genuine collector’s item, and Matt knew of no one who deserved to have one in his collection more than Foggy.
"Thank you," said Foggy, sobering up just a tad. "Seriously. I didn’t even know you remembered me telling you about this—you were drunk off your ass."
"I try to remember the important stuff." And those late-night alcohol-soaked law school conversations with Foggy were as important as any Matt had ever had.
"I think the moral of this story," said Claire, "is that guys are weird."
"That’s generally a pretty safe takeaway," Karen agreed.
Foggy wiped his eyes and pulled away from Matt. "Shit. I don’t know how I could possibly top this. I didn’t even do the handmade thing, but I do in fact have gifts." He reached over to grab the paper shopping bag and pulled out a box, which he handed to Claire. "I might not have gotten you this if I had known you could make all your own knit goods, but, well, it’s the thought that counts?"
"Ooh," said Claire, pulling something long and soft out of the box. To Matt, she said, "It’s a scarf, feel!" Matt reached a hand out and felt a fine-gauge wool-silk blend under his fingers. It certainly felt like a nice scarf.
"What’s it look like?" he asked.
"It’s kind of a black and silver paisley," said Claire. "This is really nice, Foggy. Thank you."
"Like I said, I didn’t know you knit," Foggy began, but Claire cut him off.
"Whatever, you can never have too many nice scarves, and this isn’t something I would have thought to make for myself, but it’s pretty. I like it." "Well, cool." Foggy sat back on his heels and pulled out another package, which he handed to Karen. "This is kind of cornball, but I noticed you didn’t have one, so…."
Karen unwrapped it carefully, and when she was done, Matt could smell the slightly briny scent of tears. "Foggy," she said, "this is so—this is so thoughtful, I didn’t even know you remembered this."
"Hey, you think I’m gonna just forget when my friend writes a front-page news story?"
She turned to Matt. "It’s, it’s my first front-page headline. From when Diamondback escaped. He got it framed, and there’s a little plaque at the bottom that says ‘The first of many.’"
"Ah." Matt had read the story at the time—in fact, as one of Karen’s sources, he’d read it before it was published, since she’d asked him to check if any of the details were missing or incorrect—but he hadn’t realized the significance of it for her. He wasn’t surprised that Foggy had, though. It was the kind of thing that Foggy would notice and remember. "That’s awesome."
Karen and Foggy hugged, and Claire started putting the extra sweaters back in the canvas bag. "I feel like we’re all making out like bandits here," she said, and Matt couldn’t have agreed more.
Foggy and Karen pulled apart again after a minute, and Karen went back to sipping her cranberry soda while Foggy pulled a couple of smallish, heavyish boxes out of his bag. "So, this is kind of a DIY gift, except I didn’t do it myself. Or, well, just take it, you can try to figure out what it is, and I’ll explain later." He shoved the boxes into Matt’s lap.
"Um," said Matt. "Okay."
"Shh, Karen!" Foggy flapped his hand at her. "I want to see if he can guess what it is!"
Matt cocked an eyebrow at them. "Um, you do know I don’t have x-ray vision, right? I don’t actually have any vision at all."
"You got that heat-sensing sonar thing," Claire pointed out. "Come on, Super Senses, do your thing."
"You guys are absurd," Matt said, rolling his eyes and shaking one of the boxes resignedly. He found he didn’t really mind, though. He’d had plenty of conversations about his senses with Foggy, Claire, and Karen, but precious few of them had been this lighthearted.
The box was full of many shifting rectangles of heavy paper, whispering as they shifted against each other and scraped against a folded piece of paper in the top of the box. "Well," said Matt, "it’s a box of cards. What’s on the cards, only you can say." He frowned. "I can tell you already opened it, by the way."
"Had to see if everything shipped all right," Foggy lied blithely. "Keep going."
Matt thought about it. "Some kind of game? I gotta tell you, card games aren’t really my thing."
"Try the other box," Foggy urged.
Shrugging, Matt picked up the other box and shifted it around. This one sounded not entirely dissimilar to the first box, only instead of cards, this one was full of…plastic cards? Not cards, exactly, they seemed to have pockets, with each side of the pocket brushing against its partner and against other little plastic pockets in the box. "Uh. Bunch of little plastic things," he tried. "Little pocket things." He tried to think about what game might involve a box of cards and another box of plastic things, and then what else might involve a box of cards and another box of plastic things, but nothing seemed to spring to mind. "Are the two boxes related somehow?" he asked. Maybe they were totally separate parts of the gift, though that didn’t give Matt any more ideas.
"Yeah," said Foggy. "Okay, buddy, you pretty much got it. It’s, uh, Cards Against Humanity"—he tapped the box full of cards—"and this accessibility kit I found on the Interwebs." This was the box full of plastic pockets. "It comes with transparent sleeves with Braille captions for all the cards, so blind and sighted people can play together. I wanted to get it all set up for you myself, but I realized pretty fast that my Braille knowledge was woefully insufficient to match up all those cards so…" He shrugged. "Merry Christmas, wanna help me put your present together?"
"Foggy," said Matt, touched. The other students in Matt and Foggy’s study group at Columbia had occasionally had Cards Against Humanity games at parties, and Matt had always been on Foggy’s ‘team,’ which basically entailed Foggy taking him aside, telling him what he had in his deck, and letting Matt give him whispered suggestions about what card to play. It had been a ton of fun, but Matt couldn’t deny that it would have been nice to be able to play by himself. "This is great, thank you so much." He reached out and gripped Foggy’s arm, hoping his face was getting across what he meant to say.
Karen sighed impatiently. "Okay, now is anyone going to tell me what Card Against Humanity is?"
Foggy and Claire turned to her simultaneously, like they’d been pulled on strings. "Really?" asked Foggy. "You’ve never played Cards Against Humanity?"
"Um, no, or I wouldn’t be asking about it."
"It’s kind of like—did you ever play Apples to Apples?" Claire offered.
"Wow, okay," said Foggy. "Matty, let’s open this stuff up. We can’t let this shocking state of affairs continue."
After a few minutes, they decided that the most efficient way of introducing Karen to the game would be to explain it while the four of them matched up cards with sleeves—a system in which Karen, Claire, and Foggy read off cards from the original game set while Matt took the box of sleeves and found the sleeve for whichever cards they read out. It wasn’t exactly a fast process, but it was fun. Karen quickly picked up on the jist of the game and alternated between being shocked into laughter by some of the more absurd and vulgar cards and mildly horrified by the more offensive ones.
"We can pull any ones you guys object to," Matt said. "The game’s supposed to be fun."
Claire shrugged. "Eh. I wanna see your playing style first. I reserve the right to pull cards later if you’re obnoxious about it."
"Agreed," said Matt, feeling mildly excited at the implication that Claire would be joining him for a game in the future.
"Yo, Matt," Foggy called after a few minutes. "I found your card."
"You know, your card. The card that speaks to the essence of you."
Matt rolled his eyes. He could hear a joke coming in the restrained amusement in Foggy’s voice. "What card is that, Fog?"
"‘Heartwarming orphans.’" Foggy flicked the card over in Matt’s direction.
Karen gasped and thumped Foggy lightly on the shoulder, but Matt felt…he felt normal. Like those days back in the dorm, when he’d first learned that somebody could actually like him without treating him like he was some fragile consumptive waif in a Victorian novel. "Oh, eat my entire ass," he shot back at Foggy, as he slid the ‘Heartwarming orphans’ card into its sleeve. Feeling around the box, he pulled out another sleeve and threw it at Foggy. "Hey, look, I found your card, too—‘A snapping turtle biting the tip of your penis.’"
Everyone got a laugh out of that, before Claire said, "Besides, the orphan one isn’t Matt’s card. I’ve found Matt’s card."
"Is it ‘Getting so angry you pop a boner’?" asked Foggy eagerly.
"No. Jesus, how much do you play this game that you have that memorized?" Claire took a sip of her drink and then slid a card over to Matt. "It’s ‘The Devil himself.’"
"Ooh," said Matt, grinning at her. "Nice. On the nose, but nice."
"But not good enough," said Karen triumphantly. "Because I’ve actually found the winner here." She waved it back and forth like a fan, or maybe like a winning lottery ticket. She waited until Matt had matched the "Devil himself" card with its sleeve and then announced, "‘Vigilante justice.’ That’s gotta be number one."
Matt slid the card into its sleeve and said, "Well. I have to say, you all are really clever. We have a lot of good contestants this year for the ‘quintessential Matt Murdock Cards Against Humanity card’ prize. But only one can win. So this year, I’m proud to announce that the winner is…."
Foggy set up a drumroll on the floor, and Matt cleared his throat dramatically. "None of you. The card that really speaks best to my essence is, of course, ‘Farting and walking away.’" He held up the winning card sleeve.
Karen snorted, spitting out her drink, and Matt quickly grabbed her a napkin.
There were some 550 cards in the deck, so even after it started to thin a bit and it became quicker to match cards to sleeves, it was still a lengthy process. Even longer because they had to find the quintessential Foggy, Karen, and Claire cards. When they finally finished, Claire pulled out her phone and said, "Jesus, it’s almost nine." She stood and said, "Shit, the snow’s already coming down. I gotta take off."
With vague shock, Matt realized that he hadn’t been paying attention to what was going on outside, he’d been so focused on the card game. But now that he listened, he could hear that Claire was right: the snow was coming down in the kind of soft, wet clusters that were absolutely the worst for trying to navigate by sound.
"Yeah," said Karen, "I should go, too." She stood and stretched, picking up her bag of simple syrups, and Matt walked over to grab their coats and the box of essential oils from the hall closet for Claire.
"Bummer." Foggy’s knees popped as he stood, and Matt could hear him wince. "Guess the party’s over."
Claire shrugged into her coat and shook Foggy’s hand. "Foggy," she said.
"Claire," said Foggy. "Always a pleasure. Thanks for the sweater. It’s a real masterpiece of ‘Ugly Christmas Sweater’ glory—you should be very proud."
Claire laughed. "Yeah, they’re gonna be my legacy—bunch of discoveries in superhero medicine, bunch of ugly Christmas sweaters, they’re gonna put me in the history books."
"Either’s a noteworthy accomplishment," Foggy said with laughter in his voice, and Matt realized with the kind of sudden inspiration that had led him to throw this party that he needed to get Foggy and Claire together in a room more often.
Claire and Foggy exchanged goodbyes, and then Claire set her bath bombs down to pull Matt into a hug. The warmth of her, the smell of her, struck a chord in Matt, and he felt torn between a fervent, melancholy wish that she could stay and an overwhelming gratitude that she had come but would be leaving so that Matt could put himself back together again.
"This was fun," she said when she pulled away again. "You throw a decent party when you put your mind to it, Matt."
Matt pumped a fist in mock triumph. "Mission accomplished," he said, and she laughed.
"We should do this again. Maybe play Cards Against Humanity for real next time."
"Sounds good," said Matt, smiling easily. "Have a good Christmas, Claire."
"You, too," she said warmly. "Stay out of trouble until after New Year’s, okay?"
He grinned at her. "I make no promises." She smacked playfully at his chest.
Next to her, Karen was shifting from foot to foot, suddenly awkward. Matt turned to her with what he hoped was a relaxed smile. "Karen," he said. "Thanks so much for coming."
"Yeah, um. Thanks for having me. And for the syrups!"
"It was no trouble. Thanks for the cookies."
"You’re welcome." She paused and took a breath. "Well. It was really nice. And I had a good time tonight."
"Great." And to think, Matt had had multiple conversations in his life during which he had come off as charming. Ha. Ha ha ha. "I’m glad," he added.
Matt wondered if he should go for the hug, or if that would just make things weird, but lucky for him, Karen made the first move. She stepped up to him, her pulse racing, wrapping her arms around his neck, the way she tended to do when she hugged him, and kissing his cheek. Matt felt warm in every square inch of his body. "I’m really glad I came," she murmured into the side of his face.
Matt lay a hand carefully on her back, feeling her heart beating, the air moving in and out of her lungs. "I’m glad you came, too," he said softly.
She stepped away as quickly as she had approached him for the hug, and Matt could smell salt in the air again. "Ugh," she said. "It’s gonna be so cold walking home."
"Thermos of wassail for the road?" Matt offered.
"Ha, no thanks, Matt," said Karen. "But send me the recipe, okay? And the one for the cranberry syrup."
"Will do," said Matt. He hesitated before making his next request—it had been such a great evening, he didn’t want to end it on a sour note by being overbearing. On the other hand, the snow was coming down harder, and even if most of the muggers and mobsters of the world were inside roasting chestnuts over an open fire or whatever, there were still plenty of cars in the road that could end up slipping onto the sidewalk. He bit the bullet. "Hey, Karen, Claire, would you guys mind texting me when you get home? Just to let me know you made it through the snow okay?"
"Roger that," said Claire, nonchalantly, like it was no big deal, and Matt relaxed. Okay, it seemed like he’d succeeded at hitting the target of ‘normal.’
He felt even better when Karen said, "All right, I will."
Karen and Foggy hugged, and Matt determinedly ignored their whispered conversation, turning instead to Claire to ask about what it looked like outside.
He followed Karen and Claire’s footsteps after they left the apartment until they were lost in the fuzzy blankness of the snow. It was just him and Foggy now.
"Well," said Foggy. "I guess the first annual Matt Murdock Holiday Extravaganza was a success, huh?"
"I think so," Matt said, a mix of forlorn loneliness and warm accomplishment curdling uncomfortably in his gut.
"I hope this doesn’t come off as super condescending, but…" Foggy edged closer to Matt and appeared to consider patting him on the shoulder before eventually deciding against it. "I’m really proud of you, buddy. It was a good party."
Matt let out a tired laugh, feeling a little better. "Mildly condescending, but I’ll take it. Thanks, Fog."
"Sure," said Foggy. "Hey, um. I’ll take off in a minute, but I actually, uh. I had another gift for you."
"Is that the big box still in your briefcase?"
Foggy made a disgruntled noise. "You already know what it is?"
Matt shrugged. "A big box in your briefcase. Remember the part where I don’t actually have x-ray vision?"
"Right," said Foggy with a laugh. "Well. Uh. I kind of held onto this one until we were alone because—well, you’ll see."
"Well, I won’t see see," Matt teased, and Foggy groaned.
"Jesus, you and your blind jokes. Is it okay if I go get it?"
Matt paused, swallowing his courage. He was in that—that weird, half-giddy, half-melancholy state he got after parties sometimes, so maybe it wasn’t the best time for deep, heartfelt conversations—but then again, he’d had many deep, heartfelt conversations with Foggy during law school in worse states, drunk nearly to oblivion or so stressed from final exams he hadn’t slept in four days or suicidally depressed in the days after his rift with Elektra. Maybe this was exactly the time for that kind of conversation. "Sure," he said. "I actually had another gift for you, too."
"Ooh," said Foggy. "Sweet!"
"Let’s do yours first, though," said Matt hurriedly. No sense rushing things.
He waited on the couch while Foggy went back into the bedroom to retrieve his briefcase, twitchy with nerves. From the speed of his pulse as he reappeared with a large box in hand, it seemed that Foggy was just as nervous. He stopped and stood in front of Matt, holding the box. "So, um," he began, "I don’t want you to freak out about this. It’s, uh, it’s kind of a big thing, but not, like frivolous or anything."
"Just for the record," said Matt, "telling me not to freak out about something pretty much never stops me from freaking out about something."
"Right. Noted." He fidgeted. "Okay, then, I’m just going to give it to you, then."
The box was heavy, longer than it was wide and kind of flat. Matt pried it open and pulled out a layer of packing Styrofoam. Underneath was something smooth, made of metal and plastic. He frowned and slowly wiggled it out of its protective foam packing. A…tablet of some kind? It seemed too thick for something like an iPad, the wrong shape for a laptop. It had a smooth screen, and underneath….
Underneath was a forty-cell Braille display.
"Is…" Matt swallowed. "Is this a KimoyoWare Pinnacle 40?"
Foggy shifted his weight awkwardly, slightly off-balance. "Maybe," he said, drawing the word out. "Merry Christmas?"
"Foggy," said Matt, hardly able to believe what he was holding. "These things cost…almost six grand."
The KimoyoWare products were still all manufactured in Wakanda and imported into the US, and they were top of the line. The kind of Braille tablet that Matt occasionally sighed over but never really imagined having. The old refreshable Braille display that the nuns had given him as a high school graduation present still worked fine, despite its age.
"Eh," said Foggy with a shrug. "Little less. Took advantage of Cyber Monday deals, and I had a little extra saved up."
The quick thrum of blood, the shift from foot to foot and the faux-casual tone, all said that Foggy was covering nerves with a layer of lightness. Matt knew he should just take Foggy’s word for it and accept it, but the idea of taking charity from Foggy struck him, as it always did, as unbearable, an affront not to his pride but to the prickly soft part of him that feared being a burden, being eventually left behind as too inconvenient or troublesome. He set the Pinnacle down on the couch. "I can’t accept this."
Foggy’s sigh was a dejected, frustrated gust of air. "Sure you can," he said, not really even trying for the false cheer of earlier. "It’s easy—you just say, ‘Awesome, thanks, Foggy,’ and then we move on."
"I can’t let you spend that kind of money on me," said Matt, still trying to get his head around the fact that Foggy had bought him a KimoyoWare Pinnacle 40.
"Good thing it’s not up to you what I do with my money."
Matt could see the justice in that, but—almost six grand. "Is that why you didn’t go to Disney World with your family?"
Foggy made a disgusted ugh sound in the back of his throat. "Yeah, okay, saving money was part of it. But I honestly would have stayed home anyway."
"Because I knew you wouldn’t come with, no matter how much I asked, and I hated the idea of you just holing up in your apartment alone—or worse, going out Daredevilling while I was in Florida."
"I wouldn’t—" It was hard to muster much of a defense, since he probably would have stayed home alone once the snow started, and Matt had a hard time wrapping his head around the idea of Foggy actually asking him to go to Disney World, and the Nelsons being okay with his going along, so he went back to the heart of the matter. "I don’t need a fancy new tablet—my old display is fine."
"Yeah," said Foggy tartly, "I might grant you the first part of that, but ‘fine’? That thing’s like a million years old. You’re constantly bitching about how it doesn’t get Wi-fi or Blu-tooth and your laptop doesn’t recognize it half the time and it’s got that weird cell that always sticks."
"I don’t constantly bitch about it," said Matt, indignant.
"Okay," Foggy said, and the weariness in his voice pricked Matt with remorse. "Think of it as a business expense, okay? You can get through documents a lot faster, improve productivity, plus we’ll look super professional. You know, to people who’re familiar with the latest in accessibility technology."
A cluster of thoughts hit Matt at once. The first was a kind of desperate, hurt, I’m doing the best I can—I can’t help it that it takes more time to get stuff I can read—I thought I was doing okay. The second was an irked, A business expense? Really? You’ve known me how long now, and you think the best way to convince me to take this is to tell me I can increase my productivity with it? The third was the ever-present I’m sorry I’m such a pain in the ass. Matt took a deep breath. His therapist always said that one of the keys to communicating effectively was to find out what people were actually saying and respond to that, rather than your first assumptions about what they were saying. In what he hoped was a level voice, he asked, "A business expense? Is that…is that actually how you think I should be thinking about this?"
"No, Matt," said Foggy with another sigh. "I didn’t mean—Look, man. I had the money saved from Hogarth, Benowitz, and Chao, okay? Like, ever since we got hammered and played ‘If I had a zillion dollars’ back in 1L and you showed me the KimoyoWare website, I’ve kind of had this fantasy about getting you one. Just, you know, so you could have it, because it was so cool. But obviously I never had the money, and then there was that whole thing where we were fighting, interspersed with that brief but unpleasant period where I thought you were faking being blind, and the whole Punisher thing, and—you know, whatever. But then—but then we got back together, and I had the money saved, and it’s Christmas, and…I don’t know, I thought you’d like it." His voice had been getting louder toward the end of this little speech, but at that point, it dropped down again. Upset but quiet. Fearful of being rejected.
Matt let all of this sink in. He thought about his ancient Braille display, and the sadness in Foggy’s voice, and the money that he had just dropped on a singing rubber fish toy from the nineties. And then he sat down on the couch next to the Pinnacle. He reached out for it, running a hand over its glossy new screen, the forty Braille cells—forty!—laid out across the bottom of the tablet, the hinge connecting the keyboard to the tablet. Slowly, he picked it up and laid in his lap, still feeling dazed, petting the thing like a cat. "The Pinnacle," he said inanely. "Jesus Christ."
"So.…" said Foggy, hope creeping into his voice, "you like it?"
"Like it?" He felt around. "Fuck, it has three USB ports and a camera. I may actually ask for its hand in marriage." Foggy laughed at that, the sound relieved. Matt swallowed, set the Pinnacle on the coffee table, and tentatively stepped forward to hug Foggy, relaxing into it once Foggy started hugging him back. "Awesome," he said. "Thanks, Foggy."
Foggy moved his hand around on Matt’s back in a soothing circle. "You bet, buddy," he said, his voice warm and pleased now.
Matt held on as long as he could without, he felt, things getting too weird, before he pulled back. "Well," he said, "this is gonna make my present for you look stupid as hell."
"Hey, come on," Foggy protested. "I’m sure I’m gonna love it. Does it go along with the ‘homemade gift’ thing you had going on?"
"Yeah, kind of."
"Well, if you made it," said Foggy firmly, "it’s gonna be great."
The genuine faith in Foggy’s voice was enough to make Matt dig up his courage, say, "Wait here," and go back to the bedroom where his other gift for Foggy was tucked into the top drawer in his nightstand.
He ran his hand over it and took a deep breath. This had seemed like such a good idea when he was putting it together. Now that the time had come to actually give it to Foggy, though, doubt worried at the edges of his mind. This wasn’t something he’d bought in a store or found on the Internet—this was a part of himself he was preparing to hand over, and if Foggy didn’t like it—if he thought it was weird, or cheesy, or over the top, or God forbid, if he didn’t like what he learned about Matt from it—
Catastrophizing, Matt reminded himself. Not helpful. If Foggy didn’t like it, they could cross that bridge when they came to it. They’d weathered worse storms than ill-chosen Christmas gifts. He pulled the present out of the drawer and walked back to the living room.
Foggy, who’d taken a seat on the couch, stood up. "Hey," he said. "I was getting a little worried."
"Just took a while to psych myself up," said Matt, finding a smile. It was easier than he’d thought. "Here," he said, holding the gift out to Foggy.
"What is that, a book?" Foggy reached out and took it from Matt’s hands. "‘Find New and Hopeful Things,’" he read, "‘For Foggy Nelson, Christmas 2017.’" Matt could hear him blink as his hands ran over the laminated surface of the book. He lifted his head, presumably to look at Matt. "Wait, I don’t—you wrote me a book?"
Matt shrugged, feeling himself blush at the awe in Foggy’s voice. "Eh," he said. "Calling it a ‘book’ is really giving it too much credit. It’s just, um…."
He couldn’t think of how to finish the sentence, but it didn’t really matter, since Foggy wasn’t listening anyway, but was flipping through the book. "It’s poetry," he said, still sounding almost breathless with disbelief. "Matt, did you write this?"
"You wrote me a book of poetry." Foggy sank back down into the couch; Matt could hear the covers of the book flop over his legs as he laid it in his lap. "Jesus, I didn’t think the Big Mouth Billy Bass could be topped, but you always were an overachiever, man." He flipped through the pages. "It looks great, too—did you do the binding?"
Matt had to laugh at that. "Hell, no. I took it to Kinko’s." That had been…an interesting experience. Sasha, the woman who had helped him put the book together, had been very kind and encouraging and prone to grand romantic imaginings about his relationship with Foggy. She had announced several times during the proceedings that writing a book of poetry for someone was so romantic and that she knew Foggy would want to date him after he read it, and Matt had kind of wanted to shrink into a hole in the ground. He had tried explaining that it wasn’t really like that with him and Foggy, but he somehow suspected he had been less than convincing. "Told ‘em to put it in Comic Sans with some fancy clip art of butts, hope you like it."
"Phht. You’re full of baloney. You don’t even know what Comic Sans looks like."
"Don’t need to." Hesitantly, hoping it didn’t come off like he was fishing for compliments, he asked, "It does look okay? I think Sasha from Kinko’s might have had to do a little proofreading on it, I didn’t exactly have an editor."
Foggy paused for a moment in his perusal. "It looks fine, Matt," he said quietly. "Plus, it’s poetry—you can always claim your typos are in there for artistic reasons." Then, more loudly, "Shit, is this a sonnet? How long have you been writing this stuff?"
"Couple of months?" Matt stood stupidly, mentally debating whether to tell Foggy more. Pro: Foggy valued openness. Con: There was such a thing as TMI. Pro: Maybe it would give the poems a little context. Con: The poems already had tons of personal shit in them, did Foggy really need any more? Con: Maybe this whole thing had been a terrible idea. Con: Maybe Matt was a fucking loser who wrote shitty therapy poetry and made his friend read about his pathetic life for no good reason. His inner voice was starting to sound a lot like Stick. Con—"You know Vivian?"
Nonsensical, but at least he’d gotten the words out.
Slowly, Foggy set the book back down on his lap. "Your therapist, Vivian?" he asked carefully. It had only taken a few cut-off conversations before Foggy had gotten the message that Matt didn’t want to talk about his therapy sessions with him. Matt couldn’t blame him for being a little wary now.
"Yeah. Um…." He moved hesitantly closer to the couch, and Foggy immediately scooted over, making room for him. Matt sat down and let himself bask in the warmth from Foggy’s proximity. Their thighs were almost, but not quite, touching, and if Foggy could have heard Matt’s heart, he would have heard it speed up. Matt moistened his lips and tried again. "So, one of her things is effective strategies for, I guess, communicating how you feel, constructively. Keeping track of where you are emotionally and…I don’t know, figuring out the best way to deal with however you’re feeling."
"Well," said Foggy, "that…sounds like basically the opposite of your jam."
"Yeah, kind of," said Matt, huffing out a laugh. "It was rough going for a while there. So, anyway, we did a lot of different stuff. Music therapy, art—and that was a laugh for all concerned, let me tell you—and so much goddamned writing. Imaginary letters, and questionnaires, and these—these write-ups whenever I had a flashback or a nightmare, and just, like, these lists of various coping strategies I tried when I got stressed."
"Huh." Foggy nodded a little, something he often did when he was processing new information. "So…did it help?"
Matt hummed vaguely, feeling uncomfortably like he was talking too much. "Yeah, I guess. The point is, though, that one of the things that ended up working pretty well is writing poems. So, you know, that’s how I got my start." He smiled, hoping Foggy got what he meant, why he’d said all that—that he understood that Matt wasn’t blowing smoke up his ass here, he was genuinely trying to share something real.
Foggy was silent for a long moment, and then he closed the book. Matt felt his heart leap into his throat. "Matt," said Foggy, "I know I get pushy about the sharing, and I haven’t, like, historically been great about boundaries, but you get that you don’t need to give me the stuff you write for therapy, right? I mean, I get curious, but I also understand that it’s none of my business, so. You know. If I made you feel like you had to share this with me—"
"No. No no no no." This was absolutely not supposed to end with Foggy apologizing. This was absolutely not supposed to end with them rehashing old arguments about the lines between privacy and deception and what friends owed each other. That wasn’t what this was about. "Foggy, no. If I didn’t want to share this with you, I just wouldn’t have told you about it, and I sure as hell wouldn’t have gotten a bunch of my best poems printed up at a Kinko’s for you. Everything in that book is something I wanted you to have. I’m not always great at talking about stuff, and I thought—I thought this was a way I could share things that I can’t always get across in conversations."
"Ah." Foggy reached over to squeeze Matt’s hand, and he felt a little of the panic recede. "So these are the best ones?" asked Foggy, his voice warmer and less serious now.
"Yeah," said Matt with a grin. "See, I realized after a while that I actually really liked writing poetry, even in a non-therapeutic context. It’s a different kind of writing from legal argumentation, but in some sense, the—the same kinds of skills carry over. You know, precise word choice is important for both, in both you’re looking to elicit a particular kind of response from your audience, that kind of thing. When I started out, just about everything I wrote was shitty, but I mean, the point wasn’t exactly to be producing masterpieces, right?"
"Right," said Foggy firmly. "Not like you were reading them at open mic nights, I’m guessing."
They both took a moment to imagine that. Foggy was the first to break, giggling into his sleeve. The sound made laughter rise up through Matt’s chest, too, like bubbles, making him feel light and mildly giddy.
"I’m just, like, imagining you wearing a beret, maybe banging on a bongo drum in some coffee shop—"
"Hey, I happen to be a talented bongo-ist."
"‘Bongo-ist’? What kind of word is that, Shakespeare?"
"Man, Shakespeare invented a ton of words. And you don’t know, with the sunglasses, a nice sweater, maybe I’d fit right in at some coffee shop open mic!"
"Yeah, I can see it now—‘And now, the poetic stylings of Daredevil!’"
The reminder of Matt’s other life sobered them both up a bit, enough for Matt to say, "Anyway, though, after I started getting into it, I actually really did want to not suck, so I read a lot of other poetry and started trying to challenge myself to write in different forms. So, yeah, there are some sonnets in there, couple of sestinas. A villanelle."
"What the fuck is a villanelle?"
"It’s like—you know that Dylan Thomas poem, ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’?"
"‘Rage, rage against the dying of the light,’" Foggy quoted. "Sounds like a very you poem. So that’s a villanelle, and you wrote one?"
"I wrote four or five," Matt admitted. "Most of them sucked, to be honest, but one of them was all right, so I put that one in there." A thought occurred to him, and he added, "Just FYI, some of the ones near the back are kind of intense. Stuff about Daredevilling, my childhood…I don’t know, things I wrote when I was pretty upset. I put them back there so you could avoid them if you wanted. Not that you have to read any of them," he tacked on hurriedly. "Don’t feel obligated."
"Who feels obligated?" Foggy asked. "I feel blown away. You wrote me a book of poetry. Not to boost your ego there, Daredevil, but you’re fucking amazing."
"Well." Matt could feel his ears burning. As much as he hated it when Foggy was angry at him, it was almost easier to deal with than when he got effusive like this. At least he had some idea how to respond then; he wasn’t sure what to say now. Foggy had given Matt a thousand gifts today, even if you didn’t count the card game and the Pinnacle, starting with his greeting in the morning, and the way he’d believed Matt when he said he was staying in tonight, and the hash brown casserole, and the laughter and goodwill he’d brought to the party. When Matt counted his blessings on any given day, Foggy accounted for an easy majority of them. All Matt had done was try to translate the mess in his head onto paper—he didn’t feel great about inflicting it on Foggy, but if Foggy wanted honesty, if Foggy wanted the real Matt Murdock, then Matt owed it to him. He cleared his throat and stood up. "I’m gonna go get some more wassail. You want anything to eat or drink?"
"Nah." Foggy opened the book again. "I’m gonna look for my villanelle."
Matt hurried to busy himself with the slow cooker, though a few extra feet of distance hardly did anything to help him hide from the rasp of paper on paper or the sound of Foggy licking a finger as he turned a page. Abruptly, Foggy’s heartrate spiked, and Matt spilled hot wassail on his hand. He set the mug on the counter and turned back to the living room. "Fog," he asked, wondering what poem Foggy had ended up on, "You okay?"
"Yeah, I, ah—" Foggy swallowed. "Matty, what I’m looking at now kind of looks like a love poem. Did you mean to put this in here?"
Matt supposed it was possible that something for Elektra had ended up in there, but it seemed vanishingly unlikely. Sasha had repeated her favorite lines from what seemed like every poem as she was helping him bind the book, and Matt definitely would have noticed if she’d read something about Elektra. Which meant that Foggy had found something else. Joy. Matt hadn’t known whether to hope for or dread this. "Which one do you mean?" he asked, retrieving his mug and making his way slowly back over to the couch.
"I don’t know, this one about the warmth of homes where you want to live and the beauty in every breath and heartbeat? I mean, I’m not exactly a poetry buff, maybe I’m reading this wrong…."
Courage, thought Matt, and he felt an absurd desire to cross himself and call on the saints for aid, though he was pretty sure saints had better things to do than give Matt’s love life a nudge. He took a deep breath and sat on the couch next to Foggy. "No," he said. "You’re not reading it wrong."
"Okay," said Foggy carefully. "So…who’s it about, if you don’t mind my asking?"
"I don’t mind," said Matt, willing it to be true and for his voice to be steady. "It’s about you."
"Uh-huh." Foggy let out a long breath of air. His heartbeat was racing. "I, ah. Wow. Okay. I didn’t—yeah."
Matt wanted to reach out for Foggy, for his hand if nothing else, but this seemed like a good time to make it clear that Matt respected Foggy’s decisions and his boundaries, that this revelation didn’t entail any obligation on Foggy’s part. "I’m sorry to spring it on you like this," he said hurriedly. "It’s just—it’s just for your information, you don’t have to do anything or say anything about it. We can forget I ever wrote that poem. I just, um. The point of the book was to share parts of myself I haven’t been great about showing you, and I thought that—that would be something you’d want to know."
"That what would?" asked Foggy, sounding baffled, disbelieving, like he didn’t know what to think.
There had actually been a whole speech for this part, if it had come up. Matt had written it out so that he could go over it and tweak it, and he’d read through it so many times he’d more or less learned it by heart. He just had to calm down enough to remember it. He didn’t have a stress ball to squeeze, so he found a seam on the couch to trace with his finger, counting the stitches and feeling his lungs expand and contract with air, listening to his own pulse in his ears. Finally, he said, "Sometime over the last year or so, I realized that what I…what I felt for you went deeper than friendship. I hadn’t had that many friends before for comparison, but what with the Defenders, and Claire and Karen, and talking to Vivian, it became easier to see that…."
Had it always been so warm in this room? "That you’re it for me. The…the love of my life, if you want to put it like that. I know I can’t predict the future, but I have a hard time imagining that I could ever love anybody more than I love you, or want to build a life with someone more than I want that with you. And—and I wish that meant that I would always be what you needed, because you’ve brought such joy to my life, and I wish to God I could return the favor, but we both know that there are always going to be things that’ll pull me away from you, whether it’s—it’s aliens invading the earth or crime bosses or zombie ninjas or—I’m always gonna be me, and I’m gonna make mistakes, and there’s always gonna be stuff that has to come before my personal life."
"Don’t I know it," said Foggy, but the response seemed rote to Matt—there wasn’t bitterness or anger behind it, because Foggy was still listening to Matt. That was…a great feeling, Matt realized. Whatever else happened, he hadn’t scared Foggy off or angered him so badly that they couldn’t even talk about it.
"Yeah," he admitted. "I’m sorry about that. Like I said, I know that—there are always gonna be things that come between us, but I’m gonna try really hard to keep that from happening. And—and that’s true however you feel about me. Seriously, I don’t want to make you uncomfortable, and I’m sorry if I did."
"Uh, I don’t know if uncomfortable is really the word."
"Yeah?" It didn’t sound like ‘delighted’ would be the word, either, but at least Foggy didn’t sound upset.
"Am I missing something? Did you always like dudes?"
For some reason, it hadn’t even occurred to Matt that this might be a question. With everything he’d thought through, all the angles he’d considered, he’d forgotten that this wasn’t something he and Foggy talked about. "I don’t know about always," he said slowly. "Depends on whether you think people are born whatever way they end up being or not. But yeah, since before I met you."
"You never said anything," said Foggy, and Matt could hear the frown in his voice, though he didn’t sound—angry, or betrayed, or anything, which was something of a relief.
Matt shrugged. "I don’t know. I never really thought it was a big enough part of who I was to even bring it up. It’s not like I was deliberately keeping it a secret, I just…I guess it makes me bi, but it took me a while to be okay applying that kind of label to myself." Vivian had probably helped there, as had Claire.
"Huh." Foggy shifted on the couch. "And I guess you knew about me all along."
"I knew you slept with guys, yeah," said Matt. "But I also knew you never talked about it, either, so I thought maybe you weren’t comfortable with it." He twisted his mouth ruefully, remembering his mix of confusion and guilt from those law school days—confusion because Foggy so rarely kept that kind of thing secret, guilt because Matt had no room to criticize others for not being comfortable sharing parts of themselves publicly.
Foggy let out a disbelieving laugh. "And here I thought I was just making it easier on the Catholic roomie."
Now it was Matt’s turn to frown. "Wait, you mean you thought I was homophobic this whole time because I’m Catholic?" He was actually kind of offended. How on earth could Foggy possibly believe that? They’d literally gone out for drinks in celebration of DOMA getting overturned. Matt had given Foggy long, drunken spiels about the extent to which he thought moralists’ preoccupation with sex had more to do with their own hang-ups than it had to do with what God wanted. He cast his mind back over their interactions back earlier in their friendship, searching for what could have given Foggy the idea that he was homophobic, and yeah, maybe he hadn’t been so comfortable with Foggy’s touchy-feely ways back then, but that wasn’t about Foggy being a guy, it was about Matt’s clearly defined sense of personal space.
"No, not like, homophobic, gaybashing and stuff, more like, ‘love the sinner hate the sin,’ and shit, I am not helping myself, am I?" Foggy let out a gust of breath, and his hair brushed over his collar in a way that Matt had learned to associate with him leaning his head forward, like he was bowing his head not in prayer but in contemplation.
"Did…did I say something that made you think I wasn’t okay with gay people?" Matt ventured. "Because for the record, I think God has bigger problems to worry about than relationships between mutually consenting adults."
"Nah, you didn’t say anything, man, I just…." Foggy shook his head. "Sorry. I made stupid assumptions." He huffed out a laugh. "Wow, though. This whole time you and I were playing wingman for each other, we both could have been helping each other pick up dudes and neither one of us said anything. Missed opportunities, man."
"Sure," said Matt with a smile, though it was hard to imagine wanting a man other than Foggy right now.
"So. You like guys." Foggy sounded like he was memorizing new facts, incorporating them into his understanding of the world. "And you like me." His voice rose in uncertainty at this last part, and Matt bumped his shoulder against Foggy’s, gently.
"You don’t have to sound so skeptical about that."
"Eh," said Foggy, "you have to admit I’m not your usual type."
"Well," said Matt, "since my usual type with men is ‘guys who want a quickie in the men’s room,’ that’s actually probably a good thing." He made a face. "Men’s room quickies can be fun, but it’s hard to develop much intimacy, and I always worry about the germs."
"Jesus, you are the biggest dweeb on the face of the earth," said Foggy. "You know what I mean! You always go for these—these supermodel-hot women, and I’m not—well, obviously I’m not a woman, and let’s get real, I’ve been described as ‘adorable’ on more than one occasion, but if you’re looking for, I don’t know, The Rock or something, you’re not gonna get that with me."
Matt wasn’t sure whether Foggy wanted reassurance that he was attractive, confirmation that Matt personally found him attractive, or something else altogether. "I’m not looking for the Rock, though," he offered hesitantly.
"But someone like Elektra?" Foggy’s voice was challenging now, and Matt felt something heavy in his stomach. It had been stupid to think he could avoid this. Foggy had made it clear on more than one occasion, both before and after they had reformed Nelson and Murdock, that he had been hurt by what he saw as Matt’s choosing Elektra over him. Matt wasn’t even sure he was wrong about it, though the reasons for it weren’t what Foggy thought.
"Okay," he said slowly, wanting to clarify. "So it’s not just about me being attracted to you, then."
"No," said Foggy frankly. "It’s about that, too. But the whole love thing is—I mean, I’m thinking about how love generally works with you, and I’m not sure exactly how I fit in there."
That hurt, but it was fair. "Okay," Matt said again. "Let me start with the—the physical attraction thing, because that’s easiest. You’re right, I wasn’t instantly attracted to you when we met—actually, I was kind of put off, since you reeked of pot and you came on kind of strong."
"Ouch, burn," said Foggy, and he did sound—not upset, but surprised, maybe, like this was something he was learning for the first time.
Matt shrugged. "We’re being honest here, right? But first impressions aren’t always right, and when you—when you care about someone the way I care about you, well. The things you didn’t notice before become things you, well, cherish, for lack of a better word. I don’t know when exactly I started being attracted to you, but—your voice, your smell, the sound of your hair—"
"Wait, the sound of my hair?"
"I don’t know," said Matt, "It sounds soft. It’s a thing with me. And the way you whistle or sing when you think no one’s listening, when you do that thing in court where you know you’ve won and you’re just kind of daring the DA to try and land a hit…." He knew he was smiling stupidly, but he couldn’t help it. "Well," he concluded, "the point is, if ‘my type’ is what I like and what…gets me going, as it were, then you’re definitely my type."
Foggy swallowed, hard. "Huh," he said. "I…actually believe that."
"As for the rest of it…." Matt leaned back into the couch with a sigh. He hadn’t prepared this part of the conversation, and he took a moment to compose his thoughts. "I loved Elektra," he started. "You’re right. For me, for a long time, that was what love looked like."
"So, weird and fucked up," said Foggy belligerently, and then, "Sorry. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to say that."
"No, I mean, you’re right, it was…." Matt chewed on his lower lip for a moment. "We had some important things in common. This, this very particular kind of trauma, or darkness, or whatever you want to call it, and it didn’t feel like anyone else could understand." Foggy opened his mouth, taking in a breath to say something, but Matt had finally figured out what he wanted to say, so he went on. "But something I’ve figured out is that that isn’t enough to build a life on. I mean, being blind is an important part of who I am, too, but that doesn’t mean me and Stevie Wonder have what it takes to be in a relationship."
Foggy snorted out a laugh. "Ha, too bad," he said. "I’d go to that wedding."
"Yeah, you could be the flower girl," Matt shot back, then sobered. "The thing with Elektra and me is that we felt like we understood each other, because of all the things we had in common, but the places where we were different…well, in retrospect, I think we both thought that those parts of our lives were unimportant, or things we could change about each other, and…and you can’t do that to people you love. You can’t change them into what you think they should be."
"No," said Foggy quietly. His hand hovered over Matt’s for a moment—Matt could feel the warmth only inches away from his skin—before he put the hand back in his lap. He let out a slow breath. "No, you can’t."
"Right," said Matt. "So. I mean, I’m always going to love Elektra. I’m always going to miss her. But that doesn’t mean—that doesn’t mean I regret not being in a relationship with her. It doesn’t mean I’d be with her right now if she were still alive. Because what I had with her isn’t what I’m looking for now."
"All right." Matt wasn’t sure what to read into that ‘all right.’ They were in unprecedented territory here. Flirting and joking were one thing—they’d been living in each other’s pockets long enough that they could fall into those patterns even when they were fighting. But Matt didn’t know if, when presented with those feelings as something serious, Foggy would be okay with it, if he’d turn Matt down gently, if he’d be into it, if he’d run screaming into the night.
None of them seemed outside the realm of possibility.
"Anyway," said Matt. "That’s where I’m at. In love with you, I mean. But you don’t have to do anything, or feel anything different, or whatever. Your friendship has never been a consolation prize to me. In fact…" He could feel himself getting choked up and swallowed it. He didn’t know why the fuck he always had to get so weepy about these things. "Your friendship’s been a pretty defining aspect of my life. So this is just—full disclosure. I thought that was probably the best thing I could give you this year."
"Yeah," said Foggy. "That’s…okay, yeah." Suddenly, he burst out into laughter—the sound was so unexpected to Matt that his hindbrain processed it as a threat and his whole body came alive as if he were preparing for a fight.
"No, just—wow. I’m getting my head around this now. Wow. You like me."
"Little more than that," Matt murmured, and Foggy stopped laughing.
"Yeah. Hey, is it cool if I—if we hold hands or something?"
Matt took a deep breath and waited as his heartbeat slowed. "Yeah," he said. "I’d like that."
Foggy’s hand was warm in his, grounding. He had a writing bump on his middle finger, and a line of slightly roughened skin from lifting weights, because he exercised too intermittently for it to turn into true calluses. That hand held Matt’s heart between its blunt fingers.
"So, secret time," said Foggy. "So you know, your friendship’s been pretty much the defining aspect of my life, too."
Matt could believe that—unfortunately, though, not in a good way. "Sorry," he said.
"What—no, that’s not something you have to apologize for. You’ve apologized for the things you had to apologize for, this is me telling you…like, I see the world differently because I know you. And sometimes that’s bad, because I see shit like discrimination and, I don’t know, suffering and corruption and stuff where I didn’t see it before. But it’s also good, because I know there are people fighting it. And when I’m with you, I’m one of them."
"I think you would have been anyway," said Matt, squeezing Foggy’s hand, but Foggy shook his head.
"We’ll have to agree to disagree on that one, buddy. ‘Cause I know me, and I know that I am legit a better person with you in my life than without you. Now that I actually have a basis for comparison, I can say that with a fair degree of certainty. You make fighting for what’s right seem like the only possible option, and that makes it easier for me to fight, too."
"Well." Matt’s eyes were burning with tears again, and he wished he’d grabbed his glasses when he’d gone back for the poetry book. "I, um. I’m glad you feel that way."
"Yeah," said Foggy, intertwining their fingers. "So, um. All that stuff you said about wanting to build a life together?"
"I want that, too." Before Matt could let himself feel the impact of those words, Foggy hurried to continue. "And yeah, like, I have no doubt you’re gonna piss me off and scare the shit out of me. But I knew that going back into business with you. I went into Nelson and Murdock: The Sequel with open eyes. And I knew that, that I was gonna piss you off, too, that I wasn’t always going to be what you needed. But I wanted to try, anyway. For better or worse."
Matt was actually crying now, and he wiped the tears away and tried to compose himself. "For better or worse," he repeated.
"Yeah," said Foggy. "Because I love you. And maybe I didn’t think about it that way—I didn’t know you thought about it that way—but I knew I loved you. That wasn’t a question. And also you’re like the best-looking dude I know in real life."
That wasn’t what Matt had expected Foggy to say, and he laughed, surprised. "Well, I try."
"I know." And Foggy didn’t sound like he was joking. "I know you try really hard, at everything. And this whole thing—the party, and the poetry, and all of it—well, I mean, I already knew you were crazy brave. But this is really something else, Matt. So I’m gonna take a leaf out of your book and try something brave."
It wasn’t sudden. Foggy moved slowly, undoubtedly so Matt could back off or stop him if he wanted. But Foggy’s face moving closer, his mouth meeting Matt’s in a kiss, it felt inevitable to Matt. The culmination of something, the end result of so many journeys on both their parts. It was warm, and soft, and passionate, and it felt like coming home.
After a moment, Foggy pulled away. "Wow," he said, vaguely breathless. "That was hot."
Matt laughed out of sheer happiness. "Yeah," he said. "Let’s try it again."
So they did, making out on Matt’s couch like teenagers. Matt had always thought that Foggy would probably be a good kisser—Marci, for one, was not at all shy about expressing her satisfaction with Foggy’s skills in the bedroom—but the reality was better than he could have imagined. He brought his hands to Foggy’s face. "Can I—?" he asked. He didn’t need to map out Foggy’s face with his hands, faces were faces, but he wanted something to ground him, something solid to tell him this was really happening.
"Shit, yeah," Foggy panted, and Matt put his hands on either side of Foggy’s face, feeling the stubble and old faded acne scars and fuzz on his cheekbones, soft as the petal of a rose. He chased that softness with his mouth, brushing kisses over Foggy’s face to the tender skin under his right ear. Foggy shivered, and Matt pulled back.
"Too weird?" he asked.
"Nah," said Foggy. "I’m just sensitive there."
Matt nodded, adding it to the mental profile of Foggy he’d been building for so many years. "I’m kind of ticklish in that spot," he said, in a mood for matching confession with confession.
"No shit!" Foggy laughed, genuine delight in his voice. He stroked a finger behind Matt’s own ear, and Matt squirmed away, a giggle escaping him.
A few blocks away, a siren wailed, and Matt and Foggy both sobered, listening to it pass.
"What’s the story?" asked Foggy.
Matt wrinkled his nose, listening. Nothing—nothing but the siren, vanishing in the direction of Central Park. "Don’t know," he said. "It’s hard to hear things out there."
"Yeah?" Foggy sat back on the couch. "What’s it like for you? With all the snow, I mean?"
"Hmm." Matt thought about it. "It’s like…I don’t know, TV static, but not as harsh. All these soft, muffled noises. It makes the edges of everything harder to make out. Kind of mutable, like, I can pick out the general area where a building stops and the air begins, but the actual border between building and air is hard to pin down, and it seems like it’s moving as the snow blows around." He made a face, feeling like he wasn’t explaining himself well—like he wasn’t really getting across how disorienting it was. "It’s weird. I’ve lived in New York my entire life, and I’d say I know this whole part of Manhattan like the back of my hand, but like this…the city feels really unfamiliar to me. And kind of unreal."
"Well. I gotta say, that’s kind of appropriate for tonight." Foggy was running a finger over the backs of Matt’s knuckles, tracing little scars where he’d injured himself punching something or someone. "You know—seeing something familiar in a new light."
"Ha." Matt shot a grin in Foggy’s direction. "Maybe you ought to try writing poetry."
"Maybe I will." He stretched and then stood, slowly, his knees creaking. "Jesus. It’s really coming down out there. I feel like if I want to make it home in, oh, the next three days, I better haul ass." He sounded reluctant. He didn’t want to go—he just needed Matt to give him a reason to stay.
"You don’t have to," said Matt. "Stay here." And then, lest Foggy get the wrong idea—"I can sleep on the couch, no pressure there. Just, ah. There’s no reason for you to go out wandering in the snow. We can—we can watch something, or I can dig out the chess set, and I have plenty of food for breakfast."
"Jeez, Matty, I’m not gonna kick you out of your own bed," said Foggy, but his voice was light, with none of his earlier reluctance—now he sounded almost excited. "I think maybe I will stick around, though. You know what Christmas classic we haven’t watched this year?"
They hadn’t actually watched any Christmas movies together in about two years, so…any of them could fit that description. "Um. Elf?" Matt offered, picking the first Christmas movie that popped into his head.
"Good guess, but no. We haven’t watched the Santa Claus episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000."
Matt blinked, trying to figure out what Foggy was talking about. Then it hit him. "Uh. Is that the one with the weird international sweatshop of kids, where the devil keeps playing tricks on Santa?"
He could hear the smile in Foggy’s voice when he said, "Seems pretty a propos, for Daredevil’s Christmas party."
"That’s an awful joke, by the way." Matt didn’t object, though. Listening to robots rip apart a trippy imported Christmas movie with Foggy sounded pretty perfect, actually. "You know I don’t actually own that cinematic masterpiece, right?"
"Doesn’t matter—we can just pull it up on YouTube on your laptop. Or, hey, your new tablet! I bet we can get YouTube on that."
"Yeah, okay." Matt stood and stretched. "If we’re gonna stay up watching crappy movies, I’m changing into my PJs and making coffee. You want anything?"
"Something to change into? I still have a tie on. You can’t watch Mystery Science Theater in business casual."
Matt took a moment to savor the—the feeling of warmth in his chest, a kind of happiness different from the fragile giddiness and the doggedly ignorant bliss that were often as close as he got to the feeling. A love that didn’t hurt, if only for tonight, was the best gift Matt could imagine, better than he had had any reason to hope for. If the world outside tonight was a cold, strange place of muffled sound and icy wind, well, here and now, with Foggy by his side, nothing could touch him. "Pretty sure I can find something for you," he told Foggy, and he started back toward the bedroom to hunt for something Foggy could sleep in.
Behind him, he could hear Foggy humming, the occasional lyric mumbled under his breath as stood facing the window. The sound bounced off the glass to Matt.
As long as you love me so, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow…
Matt smiled. Let it snow, indeed.