There's a teenager asleep on Matt's couch.
Peter's curled up under the flannel blanket Karen had given Matt last Christmas, his too-fast heartbeat finally settling into an easy rhythm. A half-drunk bottle of beer lies forgotten on the floor. Footsteps light, he gathers up the bottles and tupperware, setting them along his counter to deal with in the morning. The taste of hops lies heavy on his tongue, intermingled with the acid bite of rain and salt from Peter's sweat and tears. Filling a glass at the kitchen sink, Matt drinks, trying to wash away the memory of finding Spider-Man alone on the rooftop. The faint tinge of iron from his building's pipes do nothing to make the moment melt away.
(He tries not to think about why Peter would have returned to the rooftop where he had first told Matt everything that had happened. After a month of silence, Matt had been ready to hunt Peter down in Queens. If not just to check up on him, but to tell him that he knew about May Parker. And that Peter didn't have to hide away inside of whatever unholy fortress of grief and shame he'd built around himself because of it. One more week, Matt had promised, hesitant to insert himself into a narrative where he might not belong.
But Peter had made the first move, perhaps unconsciously, fleeing into Hell's Kitchen to collapse on the roof of an old tenement building, shaking with terror and soaked in sweat.
He'd been three blocks away when the wind had carried down the song of anguish, a cadence of rough sobs and shouts muffled into fabric. Too far away to catch the heartbeat that had started to grow familiar. Perhaps aside from his panicked flight to Clinton Church, too late to save Father Lantom but not too late to protect Karen, Matt had never run so fast in his life.
And then he'd found Peter, somehow even more alone than Matt had been at his lowest, and Peter had grabbed him. Like a life preserver in a choppy sea. Copper had clung to Peter's suit, saturated and fresh. He'd threaded a hand in Peter's hair, unsure where the mask had gone, and listened to the heartbeat that pounded a heavy staccato.
Matt had promised that Peter didn't have to be alone anymore. He'd tamped down the panic rising in his throat, baring his teeth at the little voice in the back of his head (older than him, jaded, single-minded, and who had died a bloody death so many years ago) telling him that he was being too soft. That the world should choke the life out of weaklings like Peter, who dared to grieve, not offer them kindness.
Peter had come back. Matt hadn't been about to let him slip away again.)
Setting the glass alongside the bottles, Matt sighs, dropping his shoulders. He's not sure what he's doing. It hadn't been much of a decision at all to take Peter back to his apartment-- to give him soft clothes, a meal, and someone to listen. As Peter had said, Matt, unfortunately, knows him better than anyone. And he knows that Spider-Man doesn't kill people.
Careful not to disturb Peter, Matt heads towards his bathroom. A wet heap of spandex, smelling of iron and petrichor, leaks water down his shower drain. Peter had been in no state to deal with it. He pushes up his sleeves. Crouching in front of the shower, Matt gathers the suit into his hands, squeezing rainwater through his fingers. It's cold to the touch, soothing over scarred knuckles, and he wrings out the fabric until it's stiff. He pulls down the showerhead and lets the water run. There's something methodical about listening to blood circle the drain.
He wrings it out twice more, drowning the cloth until he can't taste copper in the air and the only blood he can smell comes from his own suit, which lies in pieces in his bedroom. Hanging Peter's suit to drip-dry, Matt dries his hands before running them down his face.
There's a teenager asleep on his couch. Alone, grieving, and hanging off a ledge with nobody to catch him. Desperate for kindness, but convinced that somebody like him-- somebody who watched someone they loved die-- could never deserve it.
Guilt-ridden and unsure if there's any point left in being Peter Parker.
He's too much like Matt.
("People have bailed on you your whole life," Foggy had said once. "And I'm not going to be one of them."
Although not intentionally, everyone has bailed on Peter too. And Matt... Matt can't just walk away. Peter had met him in a life long gone, sought him out again, and decided that Matt might understand. No matter his panic, he refuses to prove Peter wrong.)
Rain pounds against the windows, rattling the panes. A television hums three floors down, playing an old sitcom. Canned laughter blends with rainfall and, from across the hall, the hiss of Fran's CPAP machine. Added to the mix: a teenager asleep on Matt's couch. He slides under his blankets, skating his fingers over silk sheets. Closing his eyes, Matt adds the music of soft breathing and a too-quick heartbeat to the familiar song of his city.
It's not hard to fall asleep.
The morning goes better.
He jokes about bagels, reassures Peter that he'll find out what he can about the events on Pier 66, and re-extends his job offer. Peter's hands twist in his lap, his breath catching as he fumbles for a response. His muscles tense again like he wants to run. When he speaks, his voice is quiet, even to Matt's senses. "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 replies. He beats down the peculiar urgency bubbling in his chest, not entirely certain why he wants Peter to accept the job so much, but knowing that he has to try. While it would be nice to have extra help, there's not exactly a budget for it. Or a way to really explain to Foggy and Karen why he wants the kid who'd easily found out about his nighttime activities to hang around their office. But those are problems he'll address after he knows Peter will agree. Once he knows he can keep Peter close.
Something clicks. He knows what will make Peter take the job. He swallows a sigh.
I know you're, like, really territorial and everything, but I was wondering if you wanted to network?
It's not fair to offer this. Daredevil isn't the same as Spider-Man. He's not well-loved (though maybe respected) or family friendly. He's a man with a bloody smile that puts grown men into comas. A man so vicious, such a terror to the criminal underworld of Hell's Kitchen, that the city had first called him a devil. While he can stop Peter from going too far, they have different limits. All he'll do to a vigilante like Spider-Man is corrupt him. Drag him down into the earth and then six feet deeper.
But if he's the difference between Spider-Man losing control and taking a life? He'll drag Peter down until they both taste dirt.
Heat curls up like fingertips along his cheeks. "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."
Peter cringes beside him, his teeth grinding as he tightens his jaw. "We don't have to call it that."
Oh, but if the phrasing makes Peter cringe just as much as Matt, then he will definitely keep calling it that. It makes the whole affair seem kinder. Like they're just two players in the same business. "Oh no, we'll call it that. They're your words." He swallows. "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."
Bumping shoulders, Peter makes a callback to last night's conversation. "You'll catch me if I fall."
And he will. Even if he's not the best person for the job. Even if Peter might be better off reaching out to the people who'd loved him before magic had gotten in the way. But he can't do this alone.
("You're not alone, Matt," Karen had once mumbled into his hair, before she'd ever known about Daredevil, her arms wrapped around him tight enough to keep him from floating away. "You never were."
It had taken him years to realize that she'd meant it.)
He reaches a hand up to fidget with his glasses. "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."
Peter's handshake is warm and steady, tight with a self-control Matt can feel in the tendons. Is it hard for Peter to remember his strength or has it become like second nature after all these years? Running his fingers over his watch, Matt rises from the couch. While being his own boss has its perks, he still likes to pretend he can be on time. He plucks his suit jacket off the back of a kitchen chair and swings it over his shoulders.
"Are you going to tell Mr. Nelson and Miss Page about... you know. The other guy?" Peter asks, his fingers scratching at the couch's leather.
"That's not my secret to tell," Matt says, adjusting his collar. "And from what I've gathered, you've lost that secret too many times without me adding to it."
A skip in Peter's heartbeat. "Oh. That's-- that's, uh, really nice, Mr. Murdock."
"Matt." He straightens his collar. "And it's common decency, Peter. You can tell them if you want, but I won't make you. Given your lack of, well, proof of existence, Karen and Foggy already have their own ideas about the kid who asked us to represent Spider-Man. I'm not going to correct them if you don't want me to."
"Won't they be suspicious about you offering me a job?"
"Extremely," Matt concedes, turning his head towards Peter to flash a grin. "But the second you stepped into our office, they wanted to help you. So they won't say no to taking you on."
He's quiet. Although most of their conversations so far have melted into silence, Matt gets the feeling that Peter used to talk a lot. He imagines Peter to have been the kind of person the nuns would have hushed constantly. It hasn't disappeared from Spider-Man, he knows. In between the Daily Bugle's libel and murmurs about suing Spider-Man for property damage, Spider-Man has still been spotted taking photos with tourists, pausing mid-swing to give directions, and cracking jokes as he stops petty crime. Spider-Man is a chatterbox that's well-loved enough to avoid a crackdown from the Accords.
But here, in Matt's apartment, Peter's lost his mask. Without it, there's only uncertain silence. Checking his watch again, Matt settles a hand on the back of the couch. "Are you alright to go home?"
"Oh, um, yeah." Peter's heart flutters. Lie. Maybe the idea of facing Queens is too much right now.
"You can stay here if you need. Have a few bagels. But nothing's starting until tomorrow at the earliest. You're taking a night off."
A thread of uncertainty curls into Peter's voice. "I can't do that. People need Spider-Man."
Matt shakes his head. "I get it. You take a night off, people get hurt. It feels like it's your fault--"
"It would be my fault."
"It's not sustainable, Peter. And you're not in the right headspace for it. I'll find out what I can, but until we know what happened, you should rest." He tries to guess where Peter's face would be. A human-sized bundle of heat and nerves shake the couch, sending vibrations down to the floor. "You're allowed to rest."
"I have a responsibility, Matt. She--" Peter's voice cracks, and Matt has a feeling he knows who she is. Peter swallows. "Great power. Great responsibility. I can't just, what, take a break?"
Matt's going to be late for work. Dr. Basam's first appointment of the day will already be there, and Matt's going to have to walk right past the door, gritting his teeth and flinching at every pop. The carpeted hallway will be swollen with dirty slush and he'll taste smog on his tongue for hours.The stench of burnt coffee will be hanging in the air, swirling like a fog in the kitchenette. (Karen's been stuck on an investigation for the last week. He's certain she'll be too distracted to take the pot off the burner. And while Foggy can escape the smell by closing his office door, Matt will only be able to screw up his nose and stave off a migraine.) Peter's being stubborn, digging his heels in, and Matt makes a silent vow to throw Foggy and Karen a goddamn parade for the amount of times they've had to put up with the same thing from Matt. They're better at this than him. Foggy, especially.
Foggy would just call him a self-righteous idiot, remind him of the last injuries he'd sustained after going out in a bad headspace, and give him two options: a night at Josie's or a night beating the shit out of a punching bag. (Very, very occasionally, Foggy had forced upon Matt a third option that entailed of getting some fucking sleep because we have court tomorrow, Matt, and I'll kill you if you leave me out to dry.)
"Not a break," Matt corrects. "A night off. And as your lawyer, this is official advice. Until we know what's happened, it's better for Spider-Man to be off the street. You said you were studying for your GED?"
"When's the exam?"
"End of the month," Peter says, scratching the back of his neck with blunt fingernails. "I'll be fine."
"Study anyway. And if you don't want to go home to pick up your books, there's a library a few blocks from here." He walks to the hall entrance, picking up his cane from where'd he left it leaning. He twists the grip between his hands. "We have your number on file. If I call you from my personal later, are you going to answer?"
There's a rustling of fabric and hair. "Oh, yeah. I just nodded."
Matt suppresses a smile, slipping on his shoes. "It'll be okay, Peter. I'm at my office if you need me."
There's a murmured assent and Matt nods, turning to leave. He tries not to feel cruel for leaving; he wonders what more he's meant to do. He's not good at this. (He's all Peter has.) But he's messed up before, scaring Peter away and not doing enough to show he still wanted to help. His mistake had snowballed until it had all culminated in a grief-stricken, super-powered teenager punching a hole through someone's chest. Who knows what could happen if he messes up again?
His hand's on the doorknob when he hears a soft, "Thanks."
Safe in the knowledge that Peter can't see him, Matt turns his eyes skyward (for what it's worth) and offers a prayer to Saint Anthony. He crosses himself. "Get studying. We like our office managers to be well-educated."
Before Peter can reply, Matt leaves the apartment. He's out on the street before Peter goes for the bagels on the counter. Blended in with the cacophony of the Kitchen, Matt can just about hear the tail-end of an astonished, "Holy shit."
"And he's only ten minutes late," Foggy says when Matt enters the office. He gestures dramatically to Karen, fanning out his arms with a flourish. "I hope you can feel that dramatic arm wave with your magic senses, Murdock."
"Oh, yeah," Matt says, a smirk tugging on his lips. He tucks his cane against the wall. "You ever think about musical theatre?"
"Only before my voice dropped. I don't think Karen has any faith in my singing." Foggy sidles up in front of Karen's desk, drumming his fingers against the wood. Concentrated in a patch on the desk, Matt smells coffee that is decidedly not burnt. The heat of the drinks are walled in on all sides by paper cups and tucked in a drink carrier. As he draws closer, his nose twitches at the notes of hazelnut and dark chocolate.
Karen leans back in her chair, scoffing. "I refuse to answer." She taps the plastic lid of the closest coffee. "Coffee's still hot."
"And not burnt," Matt adds with a smile, taking the peace offering for what it is. He brings the cup to his lips and tilts his head. "Peter Pan? You're bribing us with Midtown coffee now?"
"How can you even tell where it's from?" Foggy shakes his head, taking the last cup. "You can't tell me their cups are special or something. They don't even have the name of the shop on them."
Hazelnut and dark chocolate roll over Matt's tongue. "Met with clients there before. They don't roast their beans."
"How else are you supposed to do it?" Foggy asks, his palm scratching against polyester as he places a hand on his hip.
"Apparently they toast them."
"Coffee snob! That's the same thing. You know what a synonym is?"
Matt huffs a laugh. "Well, it must make some difference. Do you just plan on debating me or are we going to ask why Karen's trying to win us over with nicer coffee?"
"Hey, you know, that is a good question." Foggy snaps his fingers. His heel squeaks as he spins towards Karen. "What's up?"
"Well, you two have a meeting at ten and another one at two thirty, and then you still need to follow up with Miss O'Breen and make sure she hasn't been in contact with her ex-boyfriend--"
"About the coffee, Karen," Matt says, taking another sip.
Her fingers go up to twirl a strand of hair. It brushes against her shoulders when she shrugs. "I might need some time off the next couple of weeks? Jessica's helping me with this story for the Bulletin and it's getting big. Like, faster than I thought it would. And I've set up all your meetings until the end of April, so everything should be more or less okay without me here to micromanage."
"We'll fall apart without you here." Foggy's voice is neutral, but Matt can sense the laugh lodged in his throat. "But that's cool, Karen. We're not your bosses anymore. If Matt can walk in whenever he damn well pleases, you sure as hell as can do your own thing. Bulletin's important to you."
There's the opening Matt had been waiting for. "Also," he says, feigning thoughtfulness, "it fits well with me asking you both how'd you feel about taking on an intern."
Silence. Cars rev their engines outside. Foggy swirls the cup in his hand before taking a sip. "We have the money for that?"
"We'd find some. An intern could help us out so Karen won't feel the need to bribe us in the future." He lets the idea hang for a beat before adding, "I was thinking Peter."
Foggy pushes away from the desk, all but reeling. He runs a hand through his hair. "Parker? Spider-Man's friend?"
"He hasn't answered any of our calls," Karen says, rising from her chair to circle the desk. "He barely exists. We try to make a connection through May Parker and it's like he's there somewhere, but nobody knows him. I get he needs help, but bringing him here? Matt, he knows you. He knows," she gestures widely, air swishing as her limb cuts through it, "other you."
"This isn't a whole 'keep your enemies closer' kind of thing, is it?" Foggy asks, pacing. His shoes tap in a furious rhythm. "Because like I told you before, I don't really want to get shot again. Sucked the first time, not holding on out on it being better the second go around. Don't get me wrong, I want to help the kid. But he's been avoiding us for a month. What makes you think a job offer is going to change that?"
Matt grimaces. "He came to me last night. We talked."
Karen and Foggy's hearts stutter. Foggy's jaw tightens, his teeth grinding. "He come to you or Daredevil?"
"Do I have to pick one?" Matt tries to joke. He wishes he hadn't set aside his cane. Fidgeting hands and a cup of hot coffee are not the best of friends. Foggy's blocking the path with his pacing and it'd be a mistake right now to get in the way. When neither of them respond, Matt sighs. "He's a good kid, He's whip-smart, he's polite--"
"And he's Spider-Man," Foggy finishes, his coffee-free hand going up to cover his face with a soft smack. His voice is muffled by his palm. "Isn't he?"
Matt freezes, pinching his brow, and apparently that's answer enough. Karen laughs under her breath and leans up on the front desk to bump shoulders with Matt. "Called it. Pay up."
"Damn it, Matt," Foggy complains, his hand rustling in his pants pocket. He pulls out something that smells of worn leather. "Now I'm out twenty bucks because you're a goddamn magnet for superhero shenanigans. Can't believe the Avengers never tried to recruit you."
"I was a little busy keeping you from failing Professor Sylas' class when the Incident happened, Fogs. After that? Well, we didn't exactly see eye-to-eye." He adjusts his glasses, the corner of his lip upturned. The smile quickly fades. "He's alone."
"And I'm guessing Child Protective Services is out of the question?"
It's not really a question. Foggy's voice is on the edge of a relenting sigh. Karen's head is turned towards Matt, and he can practically feel the scrape of her eyes as she looks him over. Matt nods. "He's eighteen. Should have his GED by the end of the month." He pauses, mulling the next words over his tongue with another sip of gloriously-unburnt coffee. "Used to have a Stark internship."
"As Spider-Man?" Karen asks. "The one that cut off four months ago?"
"As himself too. Like I said, kid's smart." Matt drums his fingers on the side of the cup. Across the hall, Dr. Basam's first appointment has just checked in. Joint popping will commence in the next ten minutes and he's eager to hide in his office with headphones turned all the way up. "I might have already offered the job."
Karen sighs, a burst of her vanilla perfume puffing up into a cloud as she shrugs. "Then I guess... why the hell not?"
Stopping his pacing, Foggy matches the sigh. "Guessing we have to play dumb about the whole secret identity thing?"
"He might tell you," Matt relents with a drop of his shoulders. "He knows I trust you two. But that's his secret, and he's had the choice taken away from him before. I don't want to add to it."
"Then we won't," Foggy says.
"Not a word," Karen agrees. "It'll be good practice for the next time we cover for you."
"Like we need practice. After only several years, I can just about convince Brett that you're not Daredevil." Tipping back the rest of his coffee, Foggy lobs his empty cup towards the trash. It skates the rim before falling in. "But, alright. New intern. Guess Karen can't escape paperwork just yet."
A surprised laugh escapes her mouth, half-scoffing. "Don't worry. You'll still be plenty busy today without it."
She circles back around her desk. "Guess we'll find out."
They do find out.
Matt ends up eating lunch at his desk in between meetings and phone calls. All the while he worries if last night's rain will have washed away the events down at Pier 66. He researches potential emergency rooms in the area, listening to the search results with a focus he really should be applying to his current caseload. His best guess? First responders would have taken them to Lenox Health in Greenwich Village.
The flow of clients finally ebb around four. There's more work to be done (there's always more work to be done), but pinpricks needle under his skin. His knee shakes under his desk. He can't put this off any longer. Who knows if Peter has been able to focus at all today? Has he sat by his phone, waiting for Matt's call, and cried himself sick with worry? Did he pace Matt's apartment like a caged animal, rattling the bars and fearing the hurt he'd find outside the unlocked door?
Closing his laptop, Matt rises. Karen's muttering under her breath in the main room, tapping furiously at her keyboard. Foggy's door across the hall is open, and the hardwood floor creaks under his chair as Matt leaves his office. Matt grabs his cane.
"Mind if I head out? We'll call it a late lunch," Matt says with a wry smile.
"Last to arrive, first to leave, huh?" Foggy calls from his office. "Fine, leave me to drown."
His smile shifts to a grin. "Try not to splash too much."
"Oh, if you get in touch with Peter can you ask him to come down here tomorrow?" Karen asks, finally breaking from her reverie. Matt pauses at the door, tilting his face towards her. He raises an eyebrow. She adds, "We'll need him to sign the paperwork to make it all official."
Matt nods. "I'll let him know."
His nerves humming with anticipation, he wants to leave before they trap him in another conversation. The idea of asking for help for something so mundane sets his teeth on edge. It wouldn't have bothered him so much before they'd known about his senses, he thinks. He taps his cane idly against the floor. "Hey, Fogs, could you help me flag down a cab?"
Foggy's chair creaks. "Yeah, sure. I need to stretch my legs anyway."
They leave the office in easy silence. He settles his hand on the crook of Foggy's elbow like second nature, lightly tapping his cane with smooth, practiced motions. On the street, damp April wind carries the smell of gasoline and exhaust, twisting them together like bandages around a fist. The occasional car putters past. They make it about ten seconds before Foggy's breath hitches.
"Headed anywhere fun?"
"Just doing Peter a favour," he says, keeping his face turned away.
"Peter or--? Because, you know, if it's something I can help with, we're kind of both his lawyers." Foggy takes a step toward the curb, a hand outstretched. His shoes scuff the sidewalk.
Shaking his head, Matt replies, "Not that kind of favour."
"What, is this the networking thing? That safe?" A car begins to slow, their wheels crunching on half-melted slush as it approaches the curb. "I mean, Accords-wise."
Foggy leans past Matt to pull open the taxi door. Feeling his way down the curb, Matt skates his fingers along the edge of the cab. "Probably not."
Rattling off an address near Pier 66, Matt reaches out to shut the door. Foggy's hand is on it in a second, and his head is leaning down. "You know you don't have to do all this, right? You'll take of yourself?"
Flashing a trademark smile, Matt collapses his cane. "I always do."
"Yeah, yeah," Foggy scoffs. If he focuses, Matt can just about hear Foggy's ocular muscles shift as he rolls his eyes. He lets the door close shut. Settling back in the seat, he tries his best to ignore the stench of floral perfumes, musty carpet, and industrial cleaner that coat the interior of the taxi.
The trip isn't far. He fumbles for the correct cab fare, running his fingers over his folded bills. The twenties are creased lengthwise and he hands over the bill before unfolding himself from the backseat. As the car peals away, tires squealing and spitting up mud, Matt catches the scent of the Hudson and its sweet, sweet pollution. He walks towards the pier. There's activity near the docks, heavy machinery whirring and dockworkers trading shouts as they unload metal crates that ring when the wind rattles them. He's barely been walking for two minutes when he smells it. Burnt sugar and paint thinner. Salicylic acid and washed out copper. Two men and a woman chat nearby, a fine scent of oil and gunpowder against their hips. A walkie-talkie crackles in short spurts. Matt stops, careful not to be seen.
"You ask me, this is a waste of time," one of the men says, his voice gruff like it's two packs of cigarettes away from lung cancer.
"Can't leave an active crime scene," the woman replies, sounding bored.
"Half of it got washed away in last night's downpour. Other half's useless. If we gotta deal with this, I'd rather be at Lenox."
"Then call in. Not sure what you expect me to do about it, Anders." Her tongue clicks.
The third man chimes in. "They tell you about the vics? Guy came in with his chest split in half. Ex-con, Zach Rogers, or something. Found twenty grams of meth on him. They figure he's the one who beat the shit out of the junkie. Goddamn miracle he survived."
A rush of relief floods through Matt. A weight he hadn't known was there lifts from his chest. (He adds a quick thank-you for showing up when he had. He'd been less than enthusiastic at the idea of having to hunt down the man Peter had hurt like a goddamn bloodhound.)
"Shit," Anders replies, metal clinking at his hip. "We got an ID on the perp?"
"Kid that came in with Rogers said Spider-Man did it. Webs at the scene, but they're fucking gone now. 'sides, don't seem like his style."
The woman makes a note of assent. "He was spotted in Chelsea last night. Guess we'll just have to wait and see what Detective Douchebag thinks."
Matt's heard enough. More than enough, really.
Spider-Man's not a killer.
And if he ever wants to make amends (though as Spider-Man's attorney he'd prefer that Peter not do anything that might suggest his guilt), Matt has a name. He holds his cane close to his chest, not sensing anyone nearby to be suspicious of his oddly-confident steps, and leaves the assault of smells at his back. He fishes for his phone, sorting through his contacts until he finds the saved number. By the time he's on West 26th street, the phone is ringing. Peter picks up after the second ring.
The tinny voice is hesitant, like its owner is steeling himself for the worst. Matt tries his best to let the smile come through on the phone.
"It's okay, Peter," he says, relief still tingling in his chest, "He's alive."
And thank God for that.