Daredevil spares a whole two minutes to let Peter talk. And although Peter's breath hitches and falters many times, he can't find any words to say. Matt doesn't deny Peter's accusation, which is confirmation enough, but he doesn't react to it either. The look of conflict had slipped from his face the second the name Matt had fallen from Peter's lips. His fists clench and unclench at his sides. His jaw is set. While Peter's sure he's got Daredevil beat in the strength department, he's not certain he'd win if Matt decides to take a swing. Peter's seen the videos. The second you let the Devil get close, you've already lost. Spider-Man may have brute strength, but Daredevil has skill and zero qualms about fighting dirty.
But Matt's figured out Peter and he has to know how. What is there left to connect Peter Parker with Spider-Man? There's hardly a Peter Parker at all-- not anymore. So he waits for Matt to break the silence just as Matt waits for Peter to do the same.
The wind whistles on the low roof-top, shaking the clotheslines hanging out nearby windows. Peter shivers as a gust blows through him. Matt could be made of stone for all he shifts. He's gone back to his posturing and while Peter doesn't think Matt's going to hurt him, he isn't going to pretend that his skin doesn't prickle from more than just the cold. There's a reason Matt's first moniker was the Devil of Hell's Kitchen, long before he had the horns to match. If Peter hadn't done his research to connect Daredevil to Matt Murdock, there's no way he would have connected the empathetic and kind-hearted lawyer-- who'd agreed to defend a teenaged superhero accused of terrorism for little reason beyond believing in Peter's innocence-- to the dark figure standing before him. There's a tremor of rage that suffuses the air around them. Not directed at Peter, not yet, but simply radiating off the Devil like a warning.
Daredevil-- Matt-- heaves a sigh, dropping his shoulders. He jerks his head to the side and takes off towards the next building. Follow.
Up close, Daredevil's parkour is a sight to behold. He hurls himself off rooftops and onto fire escapes without fear, tucking into rolls to preserve momentum. He doesn't bother to check if Peter is following. At least, he doesn't look back. And why would he? Whether it's through clairvoyance or enhanced senses, Matt is acutely aware of Peter's fumbling swings to keep up, staying in close enough range that even a normal person could spot him. Peter follows with his webs, crawling up the sides of buildings as Matt leads him deeper into Hell's Kitchen. They reach a building that's taller than the others in the neighbourhood, an old tenement building that's seen better days. Scurrying up the crumbling bricks, Peter pulls himself onto the roof. He falls into a crouch and rubs at his web shooters nervously.
It's quieter up here. The sirens that never stop in this part of town, especially so close to Metro General, seem to dampen this high up.
Matt's pacing about ten feet away.
"Wow, this is high. Are you planning on pushing me off here or something?" Peter hears himself ask. "Because like, yeah, it would have been dumb of me to follow you if that happens, but also, um, I got webs if I fall--"
Turning on the ball of his foot, Matt directs a wave of something akin to fury towards Peter. His lip is curled back in a snarl. "How long do I have?"
He jerks to his feet, biting back the urge to flee. "I don't--"
"How long do I have before SWORD or the Avengers or whatever it is these days come to arrest me? I can't hear them."
A sensation like ice water trickles down Peter's spine. This isn't going how he thought it would go. He'd pictured several scenarios after confirming Matt's identity, none quite as pleasant as an amiable agreement to network, but nothing so odd. What reason would Peter have to get a fellow vigilante arrested? And nobody's asked Spider-Man about any connection to his old life since Doctor Strange's spell. Peter had never bothered to check if he still had clearance at Stark Industries. There'd been too much to do, too much to avoid, too much hurt. Spider-Man isn't a hero anymore. He doesn't have the backing of the Avengers or Mr. Stark. That had been the whole reason to reach out to Matt Murdock in the first place.
Under the veneer of a threatened predator, there's a tremble of fear in Matt's voice. Peter licks his lips. "Why would anyone be coming to arrest you?"
He takes a step forward, fist curled tight, and Peter flinches.
"You came to my office, Peter. You asked for help. I thought after Widow's death, if they ever sent someone back into the Kitchen they'd at least have the decency not to play games," Matt says, tension rolling off him in droves. His head lilts to the side. "But they sent you. A kid who doesn't know better. You wouldn't have even been old enough to sign the Accords yourself when they passed. You wouldn't have understood what they wanted you to do or what rights they wanted you to sign away. Tell me, Spider-Man, did they even give you a lawyer?"
Daredevil had never signed the Sokovia Accords.
(Three months alone have made him stupid. And several years as Spider-Man under Mr. Stark's mentorship have muffled his memories of why Mr. Stark sought him out in the first place. For a moment, the cold air and old bricks melt away into an old memory. A memory where Mr. Stark lives and knows he's Peter Parker. Peter's fourteen, stopping buses in a homemade costume, and Tony Stark wants him to help fight Captain America.
He'd stolen Cap's shield and preened under Mr. Stark's praise. It had been exhilarating to go hand to hand against an Avenger.
They'd even exchanged banter like real superheroes.
But before Captain America had slammed a foot against Peter's chest and launched him under a gangway, he'd asked Peter if he'd even understood what they were fighting about. Had told him that there was a lot at play that he didn't understand. Peter had trusted that Mr. Stark had told him enough. Mr. Stark had given him a new suit and the opportunity to become a real superhero, and he hadn't been about to let Captain America play mind games.
"Did Stark tell you anything else?" Cap had asked, glancing up at where Peter had been perched on the roof of the jet bridge.
"That you're wrong. You think you're right. Makes you dangerous," he'd replied. And then he'd fought until Cap left him buckling under the weight of a collapsed bridge, a miniature Atlas bearing a fraction of the sky.
He'd been just a kid repeating what he'd been told. A kid that had been ecstatic for the opportunity to impress his idol and ready to accept Mr. Stark's word as gospel. Although his relationship with Mr. Stark had eventually settled into something kinder-- less reverential-- over the years, Peter had never bothered to concern himself with all the effects of the Sokovia Accords. Mr. Stark had said not to worry.
Even after Mysterio had revealed Peter's identity to the world, the influence of Stark Industries had kept him from being thrown on the Raft without trial. It had given him a lawyer who'd been willing to fight tooth and nail to keep him out of prison despite his violation of the Accords. Peter had never needed to care about the ramifications of the Sokovia Accords, never had to fear that by simply being enhanced and choosing to help others he would give up his rights as a human being. But Matt... why wouldn't he have that fear?)
"I-- I never signed anything," Peter says, because it's a start. His fingers flutter over his web shooters. "I'm sorry, Mr. Murdock, I didn't think... nobody's coming. It's just me. I swear, it's just me. I don't even-- I'm not an Avenger. I mean, I've worked with them, but that was before Myst-- that was before the Blip."
"Stop talking," he snaps and Peter's jaw clicks shut. His heart thrums in his ears and his chest aches like his ribs are cracked. Matt's quiet for a moment, turning his head to the side and frowning in concentration. The horns on his helmet tremble as Matt makes minute adjustments to his head's position. His voice is like car tires over broken glass. "Say that again. And if you lie, trust that I will know."
Peter's fought aliens, men made of sand and electricity, and the father of his homecoming date. A blind ninja with precognition shouldn't be more terrifying than all of those combined. Especially not without throwing a single punch. But Peter's Spider sense is screaming at him, forcing him to focus on the curve of muscles under Daredevil's kevlar, the scent of old blood that's especially condensed over Matt's knuckles, and the billy clubs that glint in their holsters. Even if he doesn't want to lie, Peter's brain offers stomach-twisting images of what could happen to those that make the Devil unhappy. He never wants to have Daredevil's fury directed towards him again.
"Nobody's coming. I... I don't work with the Avengers anymore."
Matt doesn't react beyond a curt nod. "Then why are you here?"
"I really do just want to talk. And, um, for what it's worth? I didn't know you were Daredevil when I went to your office."
Peter brings a hand up to his face, pausing, gauging Matt's reaction, before grabbing a handful of his mask. The cool March air eagerly nips across Peter's bare cheeks. His hair is wild and curling under his ears, unkempt after its time pushed back. He balls up the fabric in his fist. Matt's still tense, but, as the seconds pass, more and more fight leeches out of him. He finally cools it with the posturing until he's somewhere between the Devil that grown men feared and the kind Matt Murdock that had cajoled Peter into taking home a box of pineapple buns because he could tell Peter needed the food.
"This isn't about the Accords?" Matt asks, his voice slipping back into a more familiar register.
"Promise. Honestly? It didn't even come to mind."
Matt scoffs and mutters something under his breath that's too hard to make out. Hesitantly, he raises a hand and pushes back his cowl. Brownish-red hair and unfocused eyes greet Peter, achingly familiar even without those signature red glasses. He jerks his head to the side and walks towards the edge of the roof, settling down to swing his legs over the side. With Matt's anger no longer boiling over, Peter's Spider sense calms down enough to let Peter clamber beside Matt. He dangles his legs in the open air, imagining he's hanging from a swing instead of the edge of a crappy apartment building. Cars hum from far below.
They're quiet. But the silence doesn't feel as dangerous.
"You can ask, you know."
Peter jerks his head to the side. Matt's angled his head towards Peter, though he keeps his face forward. Without the cowl, Matt's expressions are easy to read-- open and surprisingly honest. Frowning, Peter's brows knit together. "Uh, ask what?"
"If I'm really blind. It's always the first thing people ask."
"Actually, I was gonna ask why you made me follow you up here."
Matt huffs a laugh. "Easier to hear if I'm higher up. There're less distractions. Figured I'd be able to hear reinforcements coming."
"I really didn't think about that. And I only said your name because you said mine first. Which, like, how could you even tell it was me? I swear I said maybe two things before you just up and unmasked me." Peter knows it's stupid to feel upset that Matt figured him out just as quickly as Peter had uncovered Daredevil's identity, but for some reason it rankles. He'd made the mistake of thinking he'd been clever. But Matt had made the connection even faster than MJ (he shouldn't think about MJ. She's gone, gone, gone from his life. Just like Ned. Just like... no, not like Aunt May. May might have died because of him, but Peter can be sure that nobody ever will again. Just so long as he stays away.) and doesn't even seem to think it's a big deal.
"Heartbeat," Matt replies, reaching out to lightly tap Peter on the chest. It takes all his willpower not to chase that gentle touch when it pulls away. "And I can't see your costume. You don't hide your voice, so I wouldn't have even guessed you were dressed as Spider-Man if I hadn't already been looking for you."
"Oh. So, not psychic then?"
"Last I checked. But like I told Black Widow, unless you can prove I'm enhanced then I'm the NYPD's problem."
Peter raises an eyebrow. "You just said you recognized me by my heartbeat."
"Conjecture. Anybody can hear a heartbeat if they're close enough. Unless you can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that my ability to recognize a heartbeat is unique to the abilities of an enhanced individual, there's no case there." His lip quirks up in a half-smile before suddenly dropping. "You said you didn't know about all of this before you went to my office. But you knew me before you walked in. How?"
Peter's heart skips like Aunt May's ABBA record. It's a question Peter had been praying they would avoid. Like an idiot, he's gotten too close again. And even if Daredevil can defend himself if he knows the truth, there's no way he'd believe Peter. How could anyone? He's alone and deserves to be alone because he'd failed. Breaths fall from Peter's chest too quickly, heaving in and out in short bursts. He can't breathe. He needs to leave. The past is catching up and he can't be here when it arrives. I just need to catch my breath.
There's a hand on his shoulder. It's warm and smells of old blood and is more than Peter deserves. He should go. People in Queens could be hurt or dying because he's chosen to ignore his great responsibility in favour of not being alone. Somebody could be getting mugged. The girl Peter saw at the library every day could be running for her life, crying out for Spider-Man's help until her throat's hoarse and her face is tight with dried tears. MJ could be falling with nobody there to catch her.
But he's selfish. He doesn't want to be alone.
"You've helped me before," he says, barely able to push the words past a whisper. "After Mysterio told the world that Spider-Man was Peter Parker."
Peter sighs, drawing a knee up to his chest. Tears prick the corners of his eyes. "It's a long story."
"Then start from the beginning." Matt squeezes Peter's shoulder. Without the mask, Matt looks so much more like the lawyer that had fiercely kept Peter off the Raft with a conviction that had been startling to witness. With his face bare, he looks so much more like the man who'd caught a brick flying towards Peter's head and played off the feat by offering a non-answer and moving on like nothing had happened. He looks like someone that will listen.
"This is gonna sound so cliché, but you wouldn't believe me if I told you," Peter says. He's deflecting. Why? Why is he being such a contrary son of a bitch?
Matt smiles warmly. "I'll believe anything that's the truth."
Something bursts in Peter's chest, a loose stone in a dam he'd been building for the last three months, and the story comes pouring out.
Thirty minutes. It takes over thirty minutes for Peter to piece together a timeline from the fragments that exist only in his own memory. Matt doesn't interrupt aside from a clarifying question or to prompt Peter to continue when the flow of words rise and threaten to drown him. He doesn't know where to start. At first, he begins with the spider bite, but that seems too far back. Then it's when Mr. Stark had first appeared and flown him to Germany. And while something deep in Matt's chest rumbles in displeasure when Peter regales him with the adventure, it doesn't seem like the right spot to begin either.
So he starts with Tony Stark dying.
He chokes out a memory of Tony looking at him on the battlefield like a resurrected ghost and how Mr. Stark had hugged him until bones creaked. He stumbles over watching the light fade from Tony's eyes, his skin scorched and crumbling. It had been the first time he'd learned what charred flesh smelled like.
Peter tells Matt about the building that collapsed. How he'd been trapped and alone and begging for help he'd known wouldn't come. When Matt winces, Peter's mind flits to the article about Midland Circle and wonders if Matt knows a thing or two about being buried alive. Do small spaces still make his skin crawl? Does he ever wake up in the middle of the night trying to catch his breath because it feels like a building's lying in pieces across his chest? He doesn't ask, but he hurries over this part of the story like it burns him. It's before Tony died anyways; it shouldn't have even made it into his timeline.
Then there's Mysterio and his promises. His betrayal and Peter's unmasking. There's fear, fear, fear, and a blind lawyer that comes highly recommended by Happy Hogan and the known vigilantes of New York. When he mentions the brick, Matt can't hold back a small smile. He wonders aloud how he'd explained it to his partner once he'd returned to the firm. Despite his fear about the Accords coming back to bite him, Matt thinks it would have been a very funny conversation.
Peter deliberately doesn't mention May when he recounts his first fight with Osborn.
He doesn't want Matt to blame him. And maybe, if he doesn't say anything, Matt will never have to know.
"And then the sky started breaking apart. Doctor Strange couldn't stop it, but I knew I could. Everything had started because of me. Because they knew about Peter Parker. So I figured... if nobody knew Peter Parker, then everything would be okay." His chest is tight. The tears had started sometime after he'd mentioned giving MJ the black dahlia necklace.
"That's why Karen couldn't find a paper trail," Matt says after some thought. "Because there's nothing to find."
"You... you believe me?" Peter asks, sniffling. The wind tickles Peter's hair as if petting him. Matt shrugs.
"Not a fan of magic. It muddies things. But I know you're not lying and after the Blip, there's always just... stranger things, I suppose." He pauses, blinking slowly. His eyes are hazel. "Peter, how old are you?"
Rubbing at his eyes with the heel of his hand, Peter sighs. He's not ready to deal with the whole adult is very concerned that Spider-Man is basically a minor thing right now. But it's not like he can lie. "Eighteen."
To Matt's credit, he doesn't immediately start going insane. He just nods and pushes a hand through his hair. "And you have a place to live? You have a job?"
"Um, yes to the apartment. I'm working on the job part. But it's okay," he's quick to reassure, "I sell pictures to the Daily Bugle sometimes. Not a huge fan of it, but, hey, it pays the bills."
He hums in response. His eyes search for an answer to a question he has yet to voice. "I'm guessing you don't have any references?"
"All gone," Peter agrees softly, tucking his chin atop his knee. "I had a real internship with the R&D department for Mr. Stark, but, um, no way to prove it now."
"Well, if you ever need a job my firm could always use an office manager."
The world stops. What? He's got to have misheard. Only an hour ago Matt had been furious at the idea that Peter had even stepped foot in Nelson, Murdock and Page. He'd kind of assumed that Matt had already mentally dropped Spider-Man as a client. But a job? A job meant not for Spider-Man, but Peter Parker? "I-- I don't-- what about Miss Page?"
Matt offers a wry smile. "Karen splits her time between us and the New York Bulletin. She dropped a lot to join Foggy and I when we came back-- more than she should have. I'm sure she'd feel better about things if she knew she was leaving the office in capable hands."
"Sometimes papers stick to my hands. It's a spider thing."
The smile turns into a grin. "Just don't do that and the job's yours."
It's too much. Everything tonight has been too much. Peter shrugs. It's all he can do. "Can I think about it?"
Nodding, Matt turns his head towards Peter. It's a practiced movement. They both know Matt can't see him, but eye contact (or at least an approximation) is important when speaking seriously. "Of course. And, Peter, I know this won't be a question you'll want to answer. And if you don't, that's okay. But I don't want to just help Spider-Man, I want to help you. You need somebody in your corner. We both know it."
Pushing down a rush of warmth that floods his chest, Peter swallows a lump in his throat. Maybe he'll ask why he doesn't go and make MJ and Ned remember him. Or why he doesn't approach Doctor Strange for help again. They're fair questions and Peter owes Matt answers because he'd sat with him and listened. He doesn't want to answer them, but he knows he can try. If he doesn't want to be alone, he knows he'll have to try.
Matt sighs, his gaze soft and his posture relaxed. It's a perfect mimicry of how he'd first approached Peter to introduce himself. Designed to put him at ease. Peter holds onto that expression and the flush of warmth. A feeling of safety flickers like a candle deep inside his chest.
"What happened to May Parker?"
And just like that, the candle goes out.