The soft glow of a billboard bathes Matt's apartment in pink and purple lights. The door to the roof squeals shut as Peter trails behind Matt, shivering from the downpour that had begun to fall on their way here. His suit sticks to his skin, water dripping in puddles around his feet as he follows numbly. His tears had been lost in the rain and the shaking that had eased under Matt's hold has returned at full force. He wraps his arms across his chest, teeth chattering.
Despite the situation that has brought him here, Peter can't help but gape at the apartment. "Wow. This is, uh, really nice. The billboard's kind of bright, but I guess that's not really a problem for you?"
Matt chuckles, unclasping his helmet. "I've been told that the HOA nearly had a riot when it was put up. Some development oversight. Brightside? Got this place at a hell of a discount."
"The roof access must be nice."
"It has its benefits."
The apartment is sparsely decorated, the furniture old and frayed, but it's nearly three times the size of the place Peter's refused to call home, and the windows stretch from floor to ceiling in faded, multi-colour panes. Rain patters against the windows and a brief flash of lightning illuminates the open space and exposed brick. A crack of thunder swiftly follows. Matt runs a hand through his hair, smoothing out the wild tufts. His voice is soft. "You should get out of that suit before you get sick."
"Yeah," Peter says breathily, pulling at his shoulder to fling his backpack toward him. The mint green has turned dark with water. Biting the inside of his cheek, Peter unzips his bag and sighs. Of course. His clothes are soaked. (What could he expect from a bag he'd found while dumpster diving? The thing is held together by frayed ends and amateur needlework, and the fabric at the base of the pack is so worn it's been a miracle that the bottom hasn't split while he's mid-air. The only consolation, he supposes, is that his phone had been buried inside the bundle before the rain had started and had survived being waterboarded.)
Matt pauses at the sliding door that must lead to his bedroom. His head tilts, eyes searching for a point he can't find. "I'm sure I have something that'll fit. Hang tight."
Keeping his feet off the carpet in the living room, Peter watches Matt disappear into the next room. He wants to feel grateful. For all he's researched and remembered of his lawyer before Doctor Strange's spell, he doesn't really... know Matt. Not personally. He knows Matt Murdock is Daredevil, that Matt and his law firm are willing to represent vigilantes, and that he's a very good listener. Not much else. As the rain begins to fall harder, each droplet turning into a drum beat against the windows, Peter bites his lip and looks back at the door to the roof. It's selfish to be here, isn't it? Is he just using Matt as a means to an end-- a way to stop feeling alone? He has nothing to offer in return for Matt's kindness.
And he's hurt someone. Peter's hands tremble, remembering the crack of bone under his fist, how he'd torn through muscle and viscera with such fury that it had been a miracle Baseball Bat's heart hadn't exploded. Swallowing the growing knot in his throat, Peter turns his back on Matt's living room, flicking his eyes to the top of the stairs. His feet begin moving on its own accord, but only reach the base of the steps before a hand latches onto his wrist.
His Spider sense surprisingly silent, Peter follows the hand up to Matt's face. Matt's brows are pinched, his lips quirked down. "You don't have to go."
Peter's nose burns. Under Matt's earnesty, it's only then he realizes he never retrieved his mask.
(He hadn't even thought about it. There had been only two things running through his mind on that rooftop. The first had been safe, safe, safe as he'd melted into Matt's embrace. The second had been about how uncomfortable the actual hug had felt. The Daredevil costume had been hard and built to bruise, and the scruff on Matt's chin had itched at Peter's scalp. But he hadn't been able to let go, not until rain had started to fall in thick, fat drops. When he'd closed his eyes, he had been able to feel the phantom embrace of Mr. Stark on that scorched battlefield-- that moment of calm before he'd snapped his fingers and his arc reactor had flickered out like a dying candle.
And when he'd made himself smaller, tucking under Matt's chin and digging his fingers into thick leather, he could almost imagine his last hug from Uncle Ben. It had been only weeks after the Spider bite and Uncle Ben had caught Peter sneaking back into the apartment after a night of figuring out his powers. It had been the first time Peter had hurt someone. Not badly, but being the reason a New Yorker would spend the next six to eight weeks in a arm cast had been jarring. The moment Uncle Ben had noticed the look on Peter's face, haunted and upset, all his anger had faded and he'd scooped Peter into the kind of hug he hadn't had since he'd been small. So he hadn't let go of Matt, despite the discomfort.
To let go had meant he would have to face whatever happened next.
And whatever happened next could mean that Peter has become exactly what Osborn wanted-- a killer.)
"I hurt somebody." Peter's voice is barely a whisper. "I-- I don't deserve--"
"To be here? Seeing as how I brought you, I say you do." He thrusts a pile of clothes at Peter's chest. "It'll be okay, Peter."
The clothes are softer than anything Peter owns, fleece-lined and well-loved. He presses the fabric a little closer, ignoring how the water in his suit leeches into the sweatshirt. "You say my name a lot."
Matt offers a thin smile, though it seems more concerned than annoyed. "I can stop if it bothers you."
He's quick to shake his head. Why would he want Matt to stop? "No, no, it's okay. It's-- it's nice. It's like someone remembers me."
A hand moves to squeeze Peter's shoulder. Matt's jaw tightens as he keeps the smile fixed in place. "Bathroom's down the hall. You can leave the suit hanging in the shower to dry."
Retreating back to his bedroom, Matt leaves Peter standing at the staircase. The cold air bites at his skin through the dripping suit. His heart thrums against his chest, punctuating his empty stomach with each beat. Peter spares a brief thought as to whether Matt can hear his heartbeat from across the room before dropping his shoulders. He's light-headed. If he leaves now, there's no doubt in Peter's mind that he'll faint mid-swing before he's even reached the Queens' tunnel.
Peter slips into the bathroom, shedding his suit with little ceremony. It smacks against the back wall of the shower with a wet splat, crumpled in a sopping heap. The water that leaks from the suit is faintly pink. The rain hadn’t washed out everything. His hands grip the edges of the sink as Peter bends over and dry-heaves. That's not his blood.
God, that's not his blood.
Bile burns in his throat, dribbling past his lips in a thick, yellow glob. There's nothing in his stomach to expel. Wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, Peter turns on the sink and ducks down his head, swishing water between his teeth to clean out the taste. He scoops palmfuls of water, splashing at his face in an effort to soothe the angry, blotchy skin. In the mirror, there's a face he doesn't recognize.
If he passed himself in the street, would he know who he was? Is there anything of himself left?
Matt's clothes are comfortable, if a little big, and they wrap Peter up in a cocoon of warmth. The joggers are a deep maroon, tapered at the ankle, and the grey sweatshirt has Columbia University proudly stitched across the front. The sleeves slip just past his fingertips. Pushing them up past his wrists, Peter leaves the bathroom, not bothering to hang up his suit to drip-dry. His skin crawls even thinking about touching it.
Behind the bar that separates the living room from the kitchen, Matt is rooting through his fridge. He doesn't offer any clue that he's heard Peter pad back to the living room, but as he pulls out a tupperware he says, "You can sit on the couch, if you want."
Peter tucks himself in the corner of a worn leather couch, drawing his knees up his chest. Under the mild scent of cleaning products, the couch smells faintly of copper. Glass clinks as Matt pulls out two green bottles and sets them next to the tupperware. Angling his body towards him, Peter watches Matt go through the motions of walking through his kitchen, pulling a bottle opener and a fork from a drawer, his head facing towards Peter instead of tilted down like a sighted person's. For a brief moment, the scene feels vaguely domestic.
"I know you're not old enough," Matt says, raising a bottle, "but I'd say the situation calls for it. Want a beer?"
This isn't how Peter had imagined his first time being offered alcohol (by a relatively-reasonable adult, anyways) would go. In his head, it had always been May, or maybe Mr. Stark, when he was a little older. Maybe he'd be celebrating getting accepted into MIT, or finally figuring out how to use his webs for medical use, or maybe he'd be sharing a drink with Aunt May as they quietly reminicised on Uncle Ben's birthday. Peter nods slowly. "Sure."
His response is met with a soft smile. Matt taps the tupperware. "I don't have a lot of groceries, but I seem to remember telling you that a lot of my firm's clients like to pay us in food. I have an Arroz con Pollo from Mrs. Guerrera that I can heat up for you."
"I'm not hungry," Peter replies, the words falling off his tongue like a familiar script.
Matt raises an eyebrow. "I can hear your stomach from here. Hot or cold?"
Peter flushes and tightens the grip around his knees. "Cold is okay."
Sticking a fork in the tupperware, Matt pops the caps off the beers and walks around the couch, handing off the food and the bottle. The tupperware finds a home further down the seat. He settles himself on a low-backed yellow chair across from Peter, fingers fidgeting along the bottle's label. Hesitantly, Peter brings the beer up to his lips and takes a sip. His face twists at the bitterness fizzing over his tongue. "Ugh."
Matt laughs under his breath. "It's an acquired taste." A beat passes between them before Matt's expression turns serious. "It's been a while. Seeing as how you've been ignoring our calls, I was worried you weren't coming back."
"I'm sorry. I didn't think-- I mean, I didn't know... I panicked."
"You said you hurt someone. If I ask you what happened, are you going to run?"
Peter shakes his head and runs his finger in circles around the lip of the bottle. His voice trembles. "I was at the docks. There were two guys and one had a baseball bat, and there was someone else on the ground. His head was bleeding and all I could smell was, like, some weird mix of burnt sugar and paint thinner over everything."
"Most likely meth," Matt says, nodding along. "Drug deal gone bad?"
"I don't know. One guy was trying to get his friend to take the bat and hit the one on the ground and I stopped it, you know? I did what I'm supposed to do and I tried to help. But I-- I got distracted and Baseball Bat got close and he hit... I couldn't breathe and I couldn't think and I'm strong, Matt. Did you know a spider can lift almost two hundred times their weight? It's like that. Always. And I've always had to pull my punches because if I don't--" his breath catches in his throat. He drops his eyes to the carpet under Matt's feet. "It's my fault. God, it's all my fault."
Rain pounds against the windows, slamming against the panes like bodies striking shipping crates. The wind howls like a young man begging for help. Matt taps his fingers against the glass. Peter waits for Matt to tell him to get out. To leave his apartment and turn himself into the police like the murderer and menace he is. It would be fair. Daredevil doesn't show preferential treatment to monsters like him.
Instead, Matt draws in a slow breath. "Did you want to kill him?"
Peter's chest squeezes. "No. It was an accident. I don't want him to die."
"I-- I ran away when I heard the ambulance. His friend-- Ronny?-- was keeping the guy awake," Peter tries to black out the memory of a kid no older than him screaming He's all I got as he had cried over his friend's shattered chest, "but I hurt him, Matt. He could die because of me and I won't know."
Matt shakes his head. "If you tell me what pier I can figure out what hospital they took him and your other guy to. Meth's not hard to track. I'll find out what I can in the morning."
For the first time in hours, it's a little easier to breathe. The phantom pain of Baseball Bat's punch still thrums in his chest, pulsing out in flickers that make his nerve endings sing. But washed in the lavender glow of the outdoor billboard, the warmth of German pilsner pooling in his empty stomach, he can just about catch his breath. He tells Matt the pier and swallows the rest of his sentence in a mouthful of beer. Matt mirrors the action.
"Have you ever wanted to kill someone?" Matt asks.
The answer to that question sits like a cannon ball in his stomach. "Yeah."
"Did you do it?"
If he closes his eyes, he can still picture his fight with Osborn. How he'd thrown punch after punch on top of the bronze recreation of Captain America's shield, and pulled even those punches because he'd wanted to use the glider. He'd wanted to make the kill personal. Peter had held the Green Goblin's glider up over his head, his ears ringing, blood dripping down the side of his face, his Spider sense screaming about how those blades he'd prepared to thrust into Osborn's chest had been the ones to kill Aunt May--
"Somebody stopped me. I'm glad he did."
Matt leans forwards, elbows pressed against his thighs. "But you could have done it anyways. Now, I'm not going to pretend I know everything about you or what's happened to you, Peter. We don't know each other that well--"
"You know me better than anybody else in the world," Peter tries to joke, choking back tears. He curls tighter into the corner of the couch.
Laughing weakly, Matt takes a long pull from his beer. "I want to make a guess. Feel free to correct me if I stop making sense. You came to my office for Spider-Man at first, but I think you went to Daredevil for yourself. You found out about me and decided... there. There's somebody that might understand."
Peter shrugs, swiping at his eyes. The tupperware continues to lie forgotten beside him. Matt pauses, tilting his head to parse out the movements before he continues.
"I've never killed anyone either. But I've wanted to. God, I wanted to. I don't know if you're too young to know about Wilson Fisk, but I poured my life into bringing him to justice-- both as Matt Murdock and Daredevil. He got out a few years later, this time with the FBI in his back pocket. I was... in a bad place when that happened."
"Midland Circle," Peter guesses. "You got buried."
Matt winces. "And lost someone close to me. I was angry, Peter. I didn't see a point in trying to stop Fisk by sending him back to prison. I'd failed. And the only way I thought I could end it was by killing him." He breathes a bone-weary sigh, pinching the top of the bottle as he swirls the beer around. A miniature cyclone fizzes behind the green glass. "I don't have your strength. But I know how to kill someone. All it takes is a twist and losing yourself just long enough to let it happen."
A flash of lightning arcs through the sky. The next crash of thunder fills the open space. Matt angles his face towards Peter, his gaze just slightly to the left.
"But nobody gets to decide who we are. We're stronger than that, Peter. We have to be."
There are tears coursing down his cheeks. They won't stop no matter how hard he rubs at his eyes. Peter watches the cyclone spinning in Matt's bottle. "What if we're not?"
Matt's lip quirks. "Then we make sure there's somebody to catch us when we fall."
It's not all heavy.
Peter eats the cold yellow rice and spears chicken with his fork as his nerves begin to settle. Guilt simmers low in his gut at the idea of relaxing when there's a man out there that might be dead or dying because of him, but Matt's voice is smooth and nice to listen to. When Peter makes an off-hand comment about wearing Matt's alumni sweater, Matt regales him with the hellish experience that was studying for his classes and preparing for mock-trials. He spends a good ten minutes detailing the great adventure he and Foggy had undertaken in finding accessible materials for his Constitutional Law classes (the irony of this had apparently not been lost on them).
Although Peter doesn't ask, Matt adds, almost like second nature, "And yes, I did really need those materials. My hearing and balance might be spectacular, but I still can't see worth shit. Audio books and text-to-speech are truly man's best friends when he's a tired, sleep-deprived law student."
"They're also good for studying when you're busy on patrol," Peter says softly before starting. The fork hangs suspended near his mouth. For just a moment, talking about something from the past hadn't hurt. Matt pretends not to notice Peter freezing and smiles encouragingly.
"You like to study while you're out? It doesn't split your focus?"
He sets the fork back in the container and pins his shaking hand under his leg. "Mr. Stark gave me a suit with built-in speakers. It filtered noise really well and paused the audio whenever I was helping people. I used it to study for tests. Haven't really tried with my new suit. And 'sides, I don't even think the GED study guide has an audiobook version."
"You're studying for your GED?"
"Yeah. Hard to find jobs that cover rent without an education. And it wasn't like I could go back to school on account of the whole 'nobody remembers me' thing."
"That would make it difficult."
He wants Matt to keep talking. To fill his head with easy conversation and the promise of something akin to friendship. But he's tired. His limbs are weighed down with sandbags and his eyelids are heavy. Moving the mostly-empty container to the floor, Peter stretches out on the couch and curls against the leather. Matt rises, walking over the edge of the couch. Leaning over Peter, he pulls the blanket that hangs off the back and unfolds it. Without a word, he drapes it over Peter. The flannel is almost as soft as Matt's clothes.
He's asleep before he remembers to reply.
Sunlight streams into the apartment, a beam pointed directly over Peter's face as he blearily blinks his eyes open. Matt's somewhere behind him, fabric rustling near his head, and Peter pushes himself to a sitting position. Matt bustles around the kitchen, looping a tie around his neck in practiced movements. He nods his head at Peter, red sunglasses refracting the morning light.
"I have bagels if you want one."
Peter frowns, rubbing sleep from his eyes. "Like, from a grocery store?"
Matt half-scoffs, his lip upturned. "You're from New York, right? It's from a shop a couple streets over. Best bagels in the Kitchen."
His stomach growls at the prospect. Peter leans against the couch, watching Matt go through his morning routine, lost in the remnants of sleep, before the events of last night hit him. He swallows hard. He might have killed someone, then Matt had found him on a rooftop in Hell's Kitchen and brought him back to his apartment, and they'd talked and Peter's still here abusing Matt's kindness and for what--
His head shoots up to look at Matt. His heart pounds in his throat.
"It's alright. I'll find out what I can. You're okay."
It feels like a lie.
Suddenly, Matt's beside him, an awkward hand clasping his shoulder. Tension leaks out of him slowly, succumbing under the pressure like the Darth Vader balloon Ned had kept for a whole year after his ninth birthday. A few minutes pass before Matt removes his hand. Peter resists the urge to follow it. "Thanks."
Matt smiles. "I'm not sure if you remember, but if you're still looking for a job, we're still in desperate need for an office manager. We don't need your references or an interview, the pay's decent, and the hours are flexible. No healthcare, but I know a nurse down in Harlem that just loves patching up vigilantes."
The offer again. It feels as fake as it did the first time. The promise of a steady paycheck is tempting. Peter pulls his hands into his lap and stares at his palms. MJ had been into palm-reading. Maybe she would have seen an answer in the scarred lines that Peter just can't make out. "I'm not sure how much help I'd be."
"Karen would be willing to teach you and I promise she'd appreciate the help," he says. His face shifts into something almost sheepish. "And I remember what you asked me. Maybe if you take me up on my offer I'll take you up on yours. I'm open to... networking."
"We don't have to call it that," Peter says, resisting the urge to cringe at hearing Matt repeat Peter's words back to him. (Maybe adults don't call it networking after all.)
"Oh no, we'll call it that. They're your words. But if you think it'll make your patrols safer, I'd be happy to work with you. I won't let you go too far."
A ghost of a smile dances at the corners of Peter's lips. "You'll catch me if I fall."
"And if you want, Foggy and Karen will too. They don't know about Spider-Man, but I trust them and they'll catch you if I ever can't."
Three more people. Three more chances to not be alone. Peter nods. "Okay. Deal."
They shake on it and, for the first time in months, it feels like there's hope.