Ten minutes. That's how long they avoid bringing up Peter Parker after he's left their office. Matt follows Peter's footsteps out the building and about halfway up the street before a snap from across the hall makes him flinch. Goddamn that chiropractor. The building had been perfect before they set up shop across the hall. No rats scurrying through the walls, no mold propagating under the old wood, and the worst smell had been when Karen tried to brew coffee for them. He still didn't know how she managed to burn it every time without fail. The coffee maker had a timer for fuck's sake.
The office had been a good find, all things considered. After the Blip, people had taken advantage of the new homeless population, snapping up real estate faster than Quicksilver could run. Foggy had disappeared alongside Matt (which Foggy had said proves there is definitely a God. After Midland Circle, neither of them thinks they could have survived being alone again.), so they had worked together to rebuild their rinky dink firm from where they left off. Thankfully, being gone from existence for five years hadn't completely alienated them from their clientele. They still have people coming in for help. People that remember them, as well as people who come across their firm from word of mouth.
People like Peter.
Foggy is the first to break the silence.
"So, we're gonna talk about that, right? I'm not going crazy?" he asks, running a hand through his hair as he paces the front room. He settles his palms on Karen's desk and leans back with a false calm. "We just had a kid come in asking for us to represent Spider-Man?"
"It would seem so," Matt says, following Foggy out of his office. He reaches out for his cane so he has something to do with his hands. They tighten around the grip, pulling at the scarred skin over his knuckles. Karen's busying herself with a pot of coffee, unfortunately, but her heartrate is up. She's twisting a strand of hair through her fingers, the fibers scratching softly against the tip of her manicured nails. Her breath hitches like she's going to speak more than once.
"And that's just, what, good with us?" Foggy's voice has dropped the professional tone it had when he'd spoke with Peter. It's urging, almost-concerned--like it is when he's setting up a killer cross-examination. "Kid walks in here, asks about cases he's way too young to know about, and just tells us he knows Spider-Man? Just like that?"
Matt's lip twists. "Well, Frank's trial was popular, Foggy. And he wasn't lying when he said he was fifteen when it happened."
"But there's no way you can tell me that-- that child was twenty-two," Karen cuts in as the coffee maker beeps. She pours herself a cup of burned coffee, stirring in a spoonful of sugar. Her spoon clinks against the ceramic. (Foggy says Karen's favourite mug has a penguin on it. He insists that its wrapping its flippers around the cup like it's keeping the drink warm through its hugs. Matt wonders if Karen's spoon is hitting the top of the penguin's head as she taps it against the lip of the mug.)
Foggy gestures in Karen's direction, the air shifting around his arm in a flourish. "Kid was eighteen, at most."
"Told me he was Blipped. So if we consider that I'd guess he's probably... seventeen? Young." Matt pushes his fingers into the rubber grip of his cane. A soft-spoken woman is thanking the chiropractor (Dr. Basam, if he remembers correctly. His new archnemesis.) across the hall. At least there shouldn't be any more appointments scheduled today.
"So a minor. Even better," Foggy scoffs. "And sure, we can let him get away with knowing about Castle. Most of New York knew about Castle. But Jessica Jones? You said it yourself that you weren't even on record as her attorney. We're missing something. Did your sixth sense tell you anything was off about the guy?"
Rolling his cane between his hands, Matt's not excited to shrug. Admitting when something is beyond his reach is... irritating, to say the least. At Columbia, he had spent most of his time studying, hunting down accessible versions of readings for his Torts class, and preparing for mock trials. In second year, he'd had to act as defense in a mock trial about an assault case. Nobody had bothered to tell him that the description of the victim's injuries didn't cover everything shown in the pictures taken. It had been a case of two strikes across the face, and a cut over the cheekbone after a disagreement in a bar. Eye witnesses indicated that the victim had taken the first swing and the way the cut had been described had suggested that the defendant wore a ring. So, he'd argued self-defense. Cut and dry. Then his classmate had asked him how a minor disagreement had justified the use of brass knuckles.
Ever since, he's done his best to be prepared for anything. He always has a remark prepped or a smooth explanation at the tip of his tongue. He doesn't like to be caught off guard.
But Peter Parker... there are things about him that don't quite fit.
"All of our clients lie at least once in the first meeting," Matt starts, frowning hesitantly. "Nobody likes telling the truth. He didn't want to tell me how he knew about Jessica. Or why he'd come to us even though Spider-Man mostly works in Queens. But," he shrugs again, "he seemed like he wanted help."
"And I'm all for helping," Foggy says, pushing off the desk towards the kitchenette. "But a kid that age? He doesn't need lawyers. He needs parents. And teachers. And definitely not people who throw themselves head-first into danger without even stopping to see if they'll land on their feet."
Matt smirks. "Well, I wouldn't see it either way."
"Stop that. You know I'm all for jokes at your expense, but now's not the time."
"And we don't even know anything about this Peter besides from what he's told us," Karen adds, handing a hot mug of what has to be burnt charcoal to Foggy. "And he came in like he knew you, Matt. You didn't see his face, but there was this, I don't know, look of recognition. Not like he's seen you from interviews or read about you on a website. Like you've helped him before."
A cold feeling settles in the pit of his stomach. He'd felt that too. Peter had been awkward and, while most of that could have been chalked up to immaturity and inexperience, had danced around his sentences like he was avoiding something important. Nothing sinister, Matt thinks. The kid had smelled of underground (definitely from the D-Train. There had been a thin paper card slipping out of his pocket-- a Metro Card daypass) and salicylic acid (often used in acne medication), and two bracelets in his backpack had hummed faintly with electricity, but there had been nothing that suggested anything but an almost-endearing earnestness. And Peter's heart had beat strangely. Too quick and heavy for such a slim body. Matt knows he would have remembered that heartbeat.
He shakes his head. "I didn't recognize him. Far as I remember, the other guy's never helped him either."
"And you'd remember that?" Foggy presses. His voice is muffled by a raised tongue. He's burnt himself on Karen's killer coffee.
"His heartbeat's strange. Wrong for his size. I think I could tell it apart anywhere."
"Strange, like a bad thing?"
"No, just odd. But you're both right. We don't know enough about him. I've never met Spider-Man so I can't vouch for him, but he's definitely more popular than Daredevil. He's a lot more G-rated. And if Peter claims to know him under the mask, I'd be willing to bet Spider-Man's young too. Normally, I wouldn't have any issue defending him if it came down to it," Matt says, reaching up to take off his glasses. He pinches the bridge of his nose, feeling a migraine beginning to grow. He prays it will fade before he has to resort to medication. Anything stronger than Tylenol makes it difficult to orient himself. Everything becomes so muffled.
"But we don't know enough about Peter," Karen finishes. "Say the word and I'm on it. It can be just like old times."
Foggy laughs, taking another sip of his coffee. "How about safer than old times? I'd rather not get shot at again."
A smirk nudges at the corner of Matt's lip. "Oh come on, you get shot once and you're sworn off it forever? It's always better the second time, Fogs."
"Yeah, I'm just gonna take your word on that."
There's not much to find on Peter Parker. No social media, no articles, nothing in the public domain. There are mentions of other Parkers in Queens. May Parker, a nurse and volunteer for FEAST, had been the sole casualty in an attack just over three months ago. Collateral damage in a face-off between Spider-Man and one of the villains in his rogues' gallery. While a controversial news website spins the event as a result of Spider-Man's negligence, Karen remarks that the New York Bulletin ran it as a tragic accident caused by an unforeseen attack, but that Spider-Man saved the other residents of the apartment complex by drawing fire away. After finding the link between a Parker and Spider-Man, Karen pulls at the thread. Nothing unravels. There's no mention of any surviving relatives in her obituary.
"Maybe he's here on an expired visa? Undocumented?" Foggy suggests, lobbing a baseball up in the air and catching it. He misses the catch on the third toss.
Matt considers this before shaking his head. "It's possible. But I don't think so."
They try other avenues. There's a digital trail that leads to Peter Parker. The paperwork they file with Peter's information clears with no problems. He has an address. He's enrolled in a GED program. But everything disappears if they look too far back. Peter had let slip that he was a Queens native. But there's no birth certificate at any hospital in New York City or the surrounding areas. Karen complains that it's almost like Fisk.
"It's like everything's been erased," she says, shuffling through files with Foggy. "Are you sure he was telling the truth when he told you his name?"
"Yes," Matt replies for the hundredth time. "I would have known if he was lying."
Karen checks both pre and post-Blip. Maybe his records had been destroyed or lost during the initial chaos. She recalls to Foggy and Matt that the first year after half the world disappeared had been the worst. It had been terrifying and isolating and nerve-wracking. For a while, nobody had been sure if they were next. And then they had worried that they were all that was left. The information about those that had been lost was either closely guarded or burned out of grief. However, there's still nothing on either side. The paper trails for Peter Parker only begin three months back.
"He's a minor." Foggy sighs, running a hand down his face. "There's got to be school records, grades, extra-curriculars. Something. Anything."
But the only connection they can make is to a May Parker that died and a record of Peter Parker that begins the very next day. FEAST had boasted Spider-Man's endorsement of their shelter. If Peter had ever helped out, it offers a reason why Peter might know Spider-Man. (Kind of. There's more than one Parker in Queens. Way more than one. They could be going in the completely wrong direction with this. They could be wasting precious time Scooby-doo-ing a lead that goes nowhere. But it's a link. And when it comes to Peter Parker, those are in short supply.) Runaway doesn't fit. Nobody's stupid enough to keep going by their own name. Maybe Spider-Man had been a friend of May Parker. Or maybe Peter had come from a bad home, run away, and taken up the last name of Spider-Man's lost friend.
Nothing quite fits, but there has to be a logical explanation. There always is.
And Peter doesn't seem bad. Just lost. Just... young and in need of help.
After three days, Matt decides the best way to learn more about Peter Parker is to find Spider-Man. Not necessarily to talk to him. Not right away. It would be better to tail him, figure out if he's as a good a person as Peter believes him to be. While the web-slinger's never poked his nose in Hell's Kitchen (Matt likes to think it's because the vigilante knows better), he's gone up as far as Midtown before. If he hangs out on the outskirts of Hell's Kitchen, he think he'll be able to hear the infamous sound of Spider-Man's webs. Who knows? Maybe he'll even be treated to a quip or two.
The wind whips at his face as he jumps across buildings, tucking into rolls to maintain his momentum and cushion his landings. As his feet strike the bricks, his mind drifts to how Spider-Man travels. Foggy and Karen have likened it to swinging on vines like Tarzan, a man who was raised by monkeys (apes? He can never remember) after the death of his parents. While he doesn't like that story, it gives him an idea of how Spider-Man is able to move so fast. It's like he's a slingshot. At that thought, Matt shudders as he lands on the rooftop of an apartment building. He'd be all but useless in the air. He'd be lucky if he could figure out how to land.
Matt reaches a building near the edge of Hell's Kitchen and crouches, extending his senses to listen for signs of Spider-Man. It takes a few hours before he hears Spider-Man. Matt helps civilians nearby while he waits, dealing out his own version of vigilante justice. A mugging here, a robbery there. Petty crimes. Nothing worth beating someone to an inch of their life over. Foggy would be proud.
Spider-Man's webs shoot out with a distinctive thwip. He's stopping a man from breaking into an ATM about a block over, someone Matt had decided to leave alone since the crime wasn't violent, and can't resist rolling his eyes when he hears the vigilante say something about how the ATM must be broken since "crime doesn't pay." Fuck, if there had been any wonders about Spider-Man's youth, there aren't any now.
He waits for Spider-Man to make another move. It would be helpful to get a read on the vigilante before Matt wastes his time following him. He doesn't expect for Spider-Man to swing closer. Nor does he expect for him to stay the course towards Hell's Kitchen. That's new. He follows at a distance, letting Spider-Man fly past him, undetected. In his own territory, it's easy to stay hidden.
Questions build up on Matt's tongue. Why are you in Hell's Kitchen? What do you want? What happened to May Parker? How do you know Peter?
Spider-Man stops up ahead and Matt finally gets close enough to hear heaving breaths. He's close enough to taste copper in the air and smell poorly-washed out blood on the suit. For the first time, he's close enough to hear Spider-Man's heartbeat.
He doesn't like to be caught off guard. But what he hears sends him reeling; however, it does answer one question.
Oh, Matt realizes as he recognizes Peter's heart, It's you.