April is the cruelest month.
Poetry has never been Peter's favourite. His brain is hardwired for chemistry and engineering rather than metre and verse, and he remembers the ingredients and measurements for his web fluid better than Uncle Ben's face. Salicylic acid, toulene, methanol... on and on like lines in the world's worst poem. The most he'd been bothered to care about poetry had been to know if MJ would be sitting in English class beside him last September, pulling faces whenever the teacher spoke. Before Doctor Strange's spell, he'd been a STEM kid, through and through.
But the GED doesn't care about the skills Peter's shaped through the legacies of long-dead parents and aspirations to become a superhero like Iron-Man. It wants to see how Peter reacts to the arts as well. It wants to know if Peter can find meaning in situations with no clear answers-- no right and no wrong. So, after another day at Nelson, Murdock and Page, Peter goes to the library to try. (He'd promised Matt he'd try.)
The Wasteland isn't exactly a beginner-friendly place to start, but he isn't able to refuse the excitement of the librarian when he asks for suggestions. After thanking her, he tucks himself in a quiet corner, curling up in an armchair.
April is the cruelest month.
He runs his fingers along the cream-coloured page, etching his nails into the letters. He reads slowly, his lower lip tucked between his teeth, and tries to remember his English class from a lifetime ago. Hidden among the stacks, someone coughs. Peter's hand drums against his leg.
He thinks he gets it. There's hope in April, in the melting of the snow and the promise of new life. And nothing, the poem insists, is crueler than hope. The choice to live again is a risk. Everything could go wrong-- the cold could settle in again and kill the life that tried to begin anew. Winter had been a time of stasis, but April means you have to get back in action. You have to choose to live.
It probably would have been a good idea to bring his GED textbooks to study alongside this. As it stands, they're at home on his kitchen counter, marked up with ink from a really good pen he'd taken from the office. The date's getting closer-- only two weeks away-- and he's not sure if the bowling ball in his stomach is from anticipation or dread. It's not like he's exactly worried, but the chance of him failing is never zero. It would be an embarrassing way to start a new life.
Peter could still work at the firm while waiting to retake the test. Foggy and Matt wouldn't tell him to get lost. The new income from the law firm (which has gone towards covering rent and some sweet thrift store finds so far) has been a godsend. No more working with techbros on their protein shake startups. No more demands to pay Peter in exposure. So, maybe, Peter's just afraid of losing the promise of sweet, sweet income. He doesn't want to do anything to fuck up.
He fucks up.
About halfway into his third week at Nelson, Murdock and Page, Peter's tasks have upgraded from menial office work to joining in on legal research and managing the private information of the firm's clients. It's simultaneously more and less trust than Peter ever had at the Stark internship. Sure, he'd had free-range access to all sorts of insane technology, but it's different somehow to hold sensitive information in his hands.
(He keeps memories of working alongside Mr. Stark buried beneath his chest, his heart trembling at the memory of throwaway praise Tony had let slip when they'd worked on projects that would never made it past the workbench. Once, Mr. Stark had thumped him on the back, grinning as he'd admired Peter's modifications to his nanosuit. "Nice job, kid. Keep it up and you'll be better than me someday.")
Maybe the problem had been the whole "letting Peter hold sensitive information in his hands" thing. His hands can stick to things if he doesn't concentrate. It's a spider thing. Then again, maybe the problem had been the braille printer jamming right after Matt had stepped out for lunch.
The machine whines, clicking like a heavy-duty stapler. The steady stippling Peter had gotten so used to hearing from the embosser stutters, scrunching the details of Miss O'Breen's accessory charges into a bubbled pulp. (Peter had met with Miss O'Breen a couple of times since his first day. She'd been arrested alongside her ex-boyfriend Paddy O'Hanlon on suspicion of accessory to murder. It had taken less than a minute to decide that there was no way she was guilty. When she'd left, Peter had passed his conviction along to Matt, who'd only grinned. "Well, we do make a habit of defending the innocent.")
"Oh no," Peter mutters to himself, leaping to his feet. It's fine. It's totally fine. He's fixed Stark technology-- there's no way he'll be defeated by a braille printer. Sliding his fingers along the top of the printer, he searches for an off switch. When his fingers only find smooth plastic, his face pinches into concern. This thing is made for blind people. It boasts its accessibility features all over the sides. There's no way the manufacturers would make the embosser hard to use? "Don't panic. Oh, shit, don't panic."
The paper continues to crunch into the world's shittiest piece of origami.
Oh, for fuck's sake. Peter crouches down and unplugs the printer. The whirring that had been filling his head slows to a stop. Sighing, Peter straightens, nerves a little shot at the idea of Matt coming in now, knowing that the kid he'd taken a chance on had gone and lost a fight with their printer (their stupidly-expensive printer), and reaches to yank the crumpled page out. The paper sticks to his fingers.
No big deal, this happens. He shakes his hand and the paper wobbles back and forth. So it's a little more stuck than usual. Peter can feel himself spiraling, his mind rushing over the scenarios where Matt comes back from lunch and decides that if Peter can't be trusted to deal with a piece of paper then he shouldn't be tagging along with Daredevil or working in their office. Or, worse, he worries that Matt will come back and just laugh. A true nightmare scenario.
He's just about got the paper loose when his Spider sense tingles across the back of his neck. Foggy's office door swings open. A baseball slaps against his open palm as he tosses it. "I was thinking we should get a subpoena against Stone for the O'Hara case--"
Foggy's words die off when Peter leaps onto the ceiling. The baseball slips from his hand, thudding onto the hardwood. The offending paper flutters to the floor like confetti, torn to sticky shreds.
(Look, this hasn't happened in years. But it's been harder to hide his spider tendencies since the Mysterio tapes. And after the world forgot, well, everything, then there'd been little reason to hide it. It wasn't like he'd spent much time being Peter Parker after Strange's spell.) Hanging upside down, Peter makes reluctant eye contact. His boss just stands there, a single eyebrow raised.
"I'm, uh, a really good acrobat?" Peter tries.
"If that's the story you're going with, sure." Foggy shrugs, leaning down to retrieve his baseball. "Why not?"
There's a moment of pause. Peter frees himself from the ceiling and drops without a sound. The panic he'd thought he'd feel is strangely absent. Matt had promised Peter he could trust Foggy. (He'd also promised that he wouldn't tell Foggy or Karen, but the unperturbed expression Foggy wears makes him worry that he'd lied. But Matt would never lie to him. Would he?)
"You already know."
Foggy scrunches one side of his face, halfway between a wink and a fond smile. He nods. "I already know."
"He'd never," Foggy is quick to reassure. He walks towards the kitchenette and pours himself a cup of coffee from the morning pot. No steam curls from the lip, but Foggy takes a sip anyways. "Karen's just real good at connecting the dots. Is that why there's no record of you online? If only Matt could do that."
Peter rubs the back of his neck. The past isn't allowed to creep in through these walls. "I mean, not exactly. There was also a wizard."
"Right," he scoffs. His sandy hair untucks from behind his ears as he shakes his head. "Why wouldn't there be a wizard?"
"I-- yeah, sorry."
Bouncing on the balls of his feet, Peter squirms under Foggy's stare. It's hard to tell if he's annoyed or just playing it casual. Foggy's been a bright spot in Peter's new life, always ready to include Peter in debates in how to best preserve their clients' interests and stories about the firm's past successes. He'd even gotten Peter a nameplate for his desk and joked about changing the firm's name to Nelson, Murdock, Page, and Parker. ("Since we only have four people in the firm anyways.")
After a few agonizing seconds, Foggy seems to take pity on him, heaving a weary sigh. "Not like you're the first guy to run around in a mask and beat on people. Least your reputation's a little cleaner."
"You're not mad?"
"I stopped being mad about stuff like this years ago. 'sides, you're a good kid and we've already got the files in place to represent you." Raising a hand to his face, Foggy pinches the bridge of his nose. In the low lights of the office, he looks tired. "Look, I'm only gonna ask about this once. I like to leave this stuff on a need-to-know basis. You're working with Matt after hours, right?"
Peter shuffles uncomfortably. "Yeah."
"Idiot's probably far enough away that he can't hear us with his freaky senses, but, just in case, I'll lay this out like I would if you were both in front of me. Is he keeping you safe? Because I'll kick his ass, ninja skills be damned, if he's letting you be as stupid as him."
Peter blinks. A flicker of warmth curls in his chest. He'd been half-expecting a lecture, but concern? That takes him so far aback he might as well be across the street. "He is. I swear, Foggy. Matt, he... he's helping me."
He nods once. "Good. Now, what's with the printer paper confetti? If we dyed it and tossed a couple beads in here, it'd look like Mardi Gras."
"The printer jammed. Guess I got a little, um, panicked." Letting the small barbs in his fingertips push through his skin, Peter presses his hand against a blank sheet of paper. It sticks easily. "You know how spiders stick to things? Same thing happens if I get distracted."
"That happen a lot?"
"No. No way. You can still trust me to use a printer."
"I'd hope so," Foggy says, leaning against the kitchenette with a slight smile. "Pretty crucial to office management." He tips back the rest of coffee. "Hey, what do you think about Matt and I getting that subpoena for the O'Hara case?"
And just like that, the Spider-Man reveal is over. Kind of anti-climatic, if he's being honest, but, after so many dramatic reveals, it's a fucking relief. Spider-Man doesn't get to take this job away from him. At this firm, Peter Parker is more important.
They chat back and forth, settling back into easy conversation. Foggy invites Peter to a bar called Josie's that evening, bemoaning that fact that he's just lost another bet against Karen. Apparently, they'd been betting on when Peter was going to let them in on the Spider-Man secret. Foggy had thought they'd make it to summer before Peter would drop that bombshell. Karen had given it until the end of the month.
Matt strolls in a half hour later, his tie slightly askew. He nods his head in greeting.
"Hey, Matt, you know Peter's actually Spider-Man?" Foggy asks with an air of nonchalance.
Grinning, Matt tucks his cane against the water-stained wall. "You have to stop betting against Karen."
Foggy groans. "God, I know. Josie's tonight?"
He fakes a put-upon sigh. "If I have to. Peter?"
Perched on the edge of his desk, Peter's lip quirks up in a smile. "Foggy's already promised me all the free waters I could ever want. Wouldn't miss it."
"Could even go for a tonic if you're feeling adventurous." His smile softens. "Alright, we've still got things to do. What about the O'Hara case? I was thinking we could get a subpoena--"
"Against Stone?" Foggy jumps in. "Way ahead of you. We'll nail that bastard to the wall."
Matt's grin turns sharp. The Devil curls at its edges. "Oh, we will. Let's get to work."
Josie's is a hole in the wall bar that looks like it hasn't changed since before Peter was born. The air is a mix of spirits and hops, broken up by a patch of sweetness further inside from a spilled rum and coke. Josie herself is behind the bar, a heavyset woman wearing a cut-off plaid shirt, pouring drinks with a scowl that doesn't lighten when the four of them enter.
"Josie!" Foggy calls with a raised hand. Topping off a pint glass, Josie slides a red-tinted beer down the bar to a waiting patron and rolls her eyes.
"Nelson. Didn't know you babysat."
Peter's ears burn pink. He rolls back his shoulders, puffs out his chest, and bites his tongue to hold back a protest. Out of the corner of his eye, Peter catches Matt and Karen suppressing smiles. As they walk towards a table near the bar, the faint tapping of Matt's cane keeping Peter steady, his Spider sense fails to warn him against a thump against his back. Foggy wraps an arm over Peter's shoulders. "Grown adult right here! This is Peter. He does office management for us."
Eyeing him up and down, Josie scoffs. "First soda's on the house. That's all he's ordering."
"Always a pleasure, Josie," Foggy says as they take their seats around a table that's still slightly sticky. The second they're seated, Karen puts her hand in Foggy's face.
Foggy raises an eyebrow. "I haven't even said anything."
"Josie's on a week night? With Matt and Peter? Come on," she insists. "First round's on you."
Groaning, Foggy reaches into his pocket and pulls out a beaten leather wallet. A twenty-dollar bill changes hands. "I want a pint of Smithwick's."
"Got it. Matt? Whiskey neat?"
Nodding his assent, Matt collapses his cane and tucks it in the inner pocket of his jacket. Peter sits with his back straight and tries to pretend like he belongs. As Karen nudges her way through the evening crowd, Foggy leans back in his chair across from Peter and clears his throat. "Okay, I just have one question."
There are so many questions Peter doesn't want to answer. Peter nods. "Yeah, go for it."
"Spider-Man's been on the scene almost as long as Daredevil. You're eighteen. Even given the Blip, you still would have started when you were, what, fourteen? Fifteen?"
"Fourteen," Peter agrees. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Matt's jaw tighten.
"So, fourteen." Foggy pauses to gratefully accept Karen's gifts of booze. Karen passes Peter a glass of coke. "There're other people out there. Plenty of weirdos running around in their underwear. Why you? I mean, why do you have to go risk your life and then, just, go to math class the next day?"
Great power. Uncle Ben. Mr. Stark. May. Peter runs his thumb across the lip of his glass, breathing in the sweet syrup and tickle of carbonation. It's hard to answer.
"We don't need the whole origin story," Karen says with a pointed look to Foggy. "I think Foggy just wants to know if we've got another Matt on our hands."
"Hey," Matt protests with a fond smile.
Peter looks between them all and feels... safe. Their faces are kind and understanding, yet hardened in a way that Ned and MJ's never were. They've seen some of the worst that the vigilante life can offer. They aren't afraid to take care of things themselves. Peter shrugs. "I have these powers for a reason. And if I can help, why shouldn't I?"
Foggy and Karen share a look. Karen takes a sip of her whiskey. "So, another Matt. Alright, just know you have us, okay? I can't do a ninja flip, but I can get stuff done on the ground level."
"And I can hit thugs over the head with a baseball bat," Foggy adds proudly.
She chuckles. "You certainly can, counsellor. And besides, I've got Jessica Jones on my side. I'm invincible."
"How is Jessica?" Matt asks, leaning forward in his seat. His shoulder brushes against Peter's.
"Aside from her apartment smelling like a distillery? Good. She's been helping me investigate the Kitchen Irish. We think O'Rourke didn't kick it and is looking to rebuild." She brushes a stray lock of hair behind her ear. "Could use some help with a potential hotspot. O'Flannigan's been seeing some action recently."
"Peter and I could look into it," Matt promises. "Are we looking for arrests or reconnaissance?"
Peter tries not to marvel at how casual the whole conversation sounds. Though he knows it must have been hard won, their easy acceptance of Matt's alter-ego is startling. How many arguments had there been to get here? How many fights that couldn't be solved through force had it taken for casual mentions of Daredevil to elicit nothing more than a nod in response? (Before the world forgot Peter Parker, the people in his life had always tried to understand. They'd tried to accept that Spider-Man needed to be on the streets and that had meant Peter throwing himself into danger. But, in the end, he'd never truly had the chance for them to accept it all.)
"Arrests, ideally." Karen heaves a sigh. "Jessica and I got the investigation mostly covered. She's having some issues with getting photos since she can't exactly brute force her way in like she'd want to, but we're getting there. I think if some of the Irish get bagged we'll see more movement."
"Well, I've never known Jessica to stop when the story's getting good," he replies.
"I could get photos," Peter says before his brain can catch up with his mouth. Foggy and Karen stare at him. Matt tilts his head in interest. Flustered under the sudden onslaught of attention, Peter adds, "I mean, I get photos for the Daily Bugle. I like it. It's, um, fun to try and get the shots no one else can."
Karen smiles encouragingly. "I'll let Jessica know. We could always use a wall-crawler."
"Cool. I mean, yeah, let me know. I'd love to help, you know?" He's rambling again. God, his embarrassment knows no bounds. Somewhere nearby, pool balls crack against one another, their clacking muffled by thick, green felt. Peter sneaks a glance at the pool tables. Karen follows his gaze.
"You ever played?" she asks, swirling her drink. The amber whiskey laps at the lip of her glass.
"Not really," he admits with a shrug. "Played it on a phone a lot. Mr. Stark-- um, he showed me a couple times."
She muses on this, bringing the mineral-stained glass to her lips. All of the glasses in Josie's seem to be permanently foggy, smudged by whatever minerals meld themselves in the Kitchen's water supply. It's not that they aren't clean (Matt would never drink from them if they weren't, thanks to his way too strong super senses), but their less-than-perfect appearance tells Peter a lot about the kind of bar Josie's is. It's the kind that lets a teenager in on a Thursday night without batting an eye, but would sooner pick a fight than let them drink underage. It's almost... homey.
"You want to try?" Karen jerks her head towards an empty pool table.
"Don't let her bet money on it," Foggy warns with a knowing expression. "It's impossible to win against her."
Peter frowns. "Because she's that good?"
"No." Matt leans back in his seat. "She's that stubborn."
Scoffing, Karen pushes back her chair. The legs scrape against the floor, making Peter's teeth vibrate. He leaps up to join her, his shoes sticking to the floor with every step, and accepts the pool cue as she passes it over. "Game's easy. One of us breaks and tries to sink a ball. Once one of us sinks one, we split it into solids and stripes. You sink one of your own? You keep going. Oh, and don't sink the 8-ball until the end."
Her smile is electric. "Easy, right?"
Nodding slowly, Peter walks up to make the first strike. He leans over the table, tries to hold the cue like he remembers seeing it in the movies, and feels his senses tunnel. There's only the table and the shot Peter's about to take. He jabs. The pool balls crash against one another. Karen whistles low.
"Nice shot," she says. "Wanna put a twenty on it?"
A twenty's all Peter has in his wallet. But with his Spider sense, he thinks he might stand a chance. Ignoring Foggy's warnings, Peter nods and sticks out a hand. "Yeah, you're on."
Despite her skill, Karen's no match for Peter Parker and his cheating Spider sense. Foggy and Matt have been half-paying attention to their competition, knocking back whiskeys and beers in slow succession. Riding the high of his victory, Peter calls out, "Hey, Matt. Wanna play?"
"Might be a little difficult for me," Matt says with a vague gesture to his glasses.
Foggy scoffs. "Oh, come on. I've seen you. The most Peter'll have to do is tell you which ones are solid and which ones are striped."
"Come on," Peter persists. "I've got a twenty to put down."
"Oh, we're betting?" Matt asks, his eyes crinkling behind his glasses. He swallows the rest of his whiskey. "Alright. Winner buys the next round."
Peter reaches out and hovers a tentative hand over Matt’s. The knuckles are scarred, reknit skin pulled tight across bone. He angles Matt’s pool cue towards the 8-ball. “Corner pocket.”
Matt tilts his head and raises an eyebrow. The stick dips onto the green felt, tapping once. A falter? Matt? He shifts his aim to the right and strikes the cue ball, leaning back to listen to it clack against the striped 4 with a stupid fucking smirk. It lands in the corner pocket.
Peter splutters. “You can’t see stripes!”
Behind his glasses, Matt’s eyes crinkle as he throws his head back and laughs. “Don’t need to. I know a lie when I hear one.” He grins. “I believe it’s still my turn.”
He pivots back towards the 8-ball, calls the right corner pocket, and sinks it in one deft movement. Over Matt’s shoulder, Peter can see Foggy raising a glass in sympathy. Accepting defeat, Peter drops his shoulders and shoves a hand in his jeans pocket. Grumbling, he flips open his wallet, half expecting a fly to come whizzing out like in the cartoons, and pulls out the twenty he'd only just won.
"At your three o'clock," Peter says with an overly dramatic sigh. Matt plucks the bill from Peter's pinched fingers, grinning like a goddamn loon. The red tint of his glasses turn smoky in the low-light incandescents. He reaches out and grasps Peter's shoulder, pulling him closer to his side. After a couple drinks, the alcohol has made warmth roll off Matt in waves. (Matt's also a lot more comfortable to lean against when he's in a cuffed dress shirt instead of body armour).
Angling his head towards Karen and Foggy, Matt's grin doesn't waver. "This round's on Peter."
"Do you think Josie knows how to make margaritas?" Karen asks. Her fingers curl around a strand of blonde hair.
"She'll put lime in a shot of tequila if we ask nicely," Foggy replies.
Despite being out twenty bucks, Peter can't hide his grin. Josie passes the shots and lime wedges down the bar along with another soda, and the trio knock them back like they think they're still in college. Cheeks glowing from the buzz, Matt turns back to Peter and makes a show of fumbling for the pool cue. "Come on," he says. "Let's play again. No bets."
Peter grabs another cue, a smile permanently etched on his face. "You're on."
He loses the next three rounds.
It turns out there are better uses for a pool cue than hustling Peter out of a round of drinks.
Wood cracks over the Irishman's head as Matt spins the stick like a bo staff, snapping the cue in two and spraying splinters across the bar. Gunfire rattles off the walls, polka-dotting the wallpaper and turning pint glasses into makeshift glass bombs. Peter slinks along the ceiling, spraying webs as fast as he can to keep up with Daredevil's path of destruction. There're eight men and two women to wrap up like flies in a massive spider web. Rookie numbers. Especially with Daredevil on his side.
Matt's a whirlwind made up of billy clubs, bloody fists, and flips that are frankly unfair.
Scurrying far above everyone's heads, Peter splits his focus between Daredevil and the gangsters, wincing at the sounds of broken bones and snapped ligaments. Peter can't hear anyone's heartbeat, but his ears ring from the barrage of creative curses and gasps for air. Peter's legs twitch, itching to drop down and join the fray. But this is Hell's Kitchen, and that means playing by Matt's rules. Keep your distance. You've got your webs. You keep them busy and let me get close.
Kevin McCarthy, one of the many heads of the Irish mob, ducks behind his men to scamper towards the bar's kitchen. His face is flushed red and marred with freckles. There's a raised pistol in his hand, glinting off sparking light bulbs, and his finger rests on the trigger. The hairs rise on the back of Peter's neck. The world snaps into focus.
"Kitchen's closed!" Peter yells, throwing out his hand. A web extends past his wrist, spindling out like outstretched fingers, and grasps the barrel of the gun. Blood roars in his ears. He flings the pistol away, smashing it along a row of top-shelf liquor behind the bar. The stench of spirits soaks into the air.
McCarthy snarls, spit flying from his lips, and backpedals towards the swinging doors. His head jerks towards Peter, levelling a glare that sets his nerves ablaze.
Three mobsters pinned by webs. Two more crumpled in a heap at the foot of the pool table. Men fall like dominos under Matt's fists. Nobody's getting out, least of all the one in charge. Peter directs his hand towards McCarthy and presses his web shooters.
He pushes harder, shaking out his wrist like it might loosen whatever's just jammed. Nothing, nothing, nothing. McCarthy raises a red brow and his lip quirks up in a jeer. He lifts a hand, waves, and shoulders the door.
Keep your distance.
There's a single, weightless moment before he bowls McCarthy over. They tumble onto the sticky floor, sliding in spilled beers and broken glass. McCarthy knees Peter in the stomach. Nausea floods through him, filling his mouth with acid-drenched spit and for one, shaky moment, Peter's certain he's going to be sick. The room glows too bright, lit up by gunfire that's growing less and less frequent. The slick sound of a switchblade opening slices the air above him. McCarthy whistles low.
For a second, the bar melts away and he’s back on Cap’s shield, watching Osborn’s blade slide out of his wrist. The air is thick with smoke and blood, and he’s all but choking on it. The sun is creeping over the Harbor and lighting the world in bloody pinks and sickly yellows, and there’s four cured supervillains and one Goblin with a blade up his sleeve. The knife never hurts May (she’s already gone), but stabs Peter Three in the side as he pushes back against Osborn’s glider. As he stares down Peter with a look that promises understanding and a lifetime of guilt if the blade sinks through flesh and bone.
But he’s not there. He’s in Hell’s Kitchen, fighting alongside Daredevil, and the knife that catches the light is no bigger than his hand. He’s not going to freeze.
"You're above your pay grade, Spider-Man," McCarthy spits.
As if a two-bit mobster that looks like the unfortunate aftermath of an Ed Sheeran and Steve Buscemi face swap is too much for Peter to handle. Swallowing down the nausea, Peter rises to his feet, hands out in mock-surrender. "Oh, no," he says, shielding his face. "My one weakness! It's small knives!"
McCarthy slashes wildly and as Peter pulls back to kick in the bastard's ankles, he hears the last man behind him fall.
His Spider sense goes haywire. Peter leaps onto the ceiling in time to watch an 8-ball sail past him and clock McCarthy in the teeth. It's a one hit knockout (although it's more like the equivalent of hitting the reset button). The mobster crumples to the floor and the only sounds left are the groans from the webbed gangsters all around and Matt's laboured breathing. Hanging upside down, he watches Matt push his way through the unconscious bodies. Peter cocks his head. "You threw the 8-ball, by the way."
"You got close."
"Webs jammed. You know sinking the 8-ball means you lose, right?"
The exposed part of Matt's face twists up in a smirk. "Not if it's the last shot."
Peter scoffs and drops to the floor. He drinks in the sight of the Devil of Hell's Kitchen, framed in the fallen bodies of his enemies, chest heaving and head cocked, and he can barely recognize Matt underneath the armour. Then the shadow of a beast slips from his face and he's Matt again, his voice a familiar tenor, stepping towards Peter with an upturned palm. He claps a hand on Peter's shoulder.
"Are you hurt?" he asks. A jagged cut bubbles along Matt's cheekbone.
He always asks this at the end of a fight. As if he can't sniff injury out like a bloodhound or know when Peter swings home battered and sore. After she'd found out, Aunt May had done the same thing. Peter swallows a lump in his throat. He shakes his head. "Nah. I could go a couple rounds with the Hulk still."
Matt grins with a mouthful of blood-stained teeth. "There're sirens about a block out. We should go."
They don't talk again until they've slipped out the back (the kitchen hadn't really been closed) and are sprinting in the crisp April air. A light drizzle makes the rooftops gleam. Matt raises a hand a couple blocks later, gesturing for Peter to join him behind a chimney. He crouches in what feels like silence, but must be well within range for Matt to still hear O'Flannigan's Pub. Squeezing his eyes shut, Peter strains to hear, urging his Spider sense to put all its focus towards this one goal.
(Your senses are heightened?
Kind of. Not as good as yours.
Matt had paused, mulling over Peter's words before he'd offered a cautious smile. Maybe you can train them to be.)
He listens. He knows what police sound like; he knows their crackling radios and thick-soled shoes and their whining sirens. The world melts away and Peter's five senses drop down to one. There's Matt's heavy breathing, the scuffle of his feet against the rooftop gravel, and then, finally, the hint of sirens. He swallows a cheer.
Police swarm the bar. They wait another minute before Matt rises. His breath catches. "It's late. My place is closer."
"I should start leaving an overnight bag," Peter says, bumping his shoulder against Matt. The armour is sturdy and much less comfortable than Matt in a suit.
He chuckles. "You're more than welcome. Come on."
It's not really a joke and they both know it. Their feet pound against the brick and Peter runs instead of swinging, his mask pushing against his mouth, and he grins. The fabric is a comfortable weight on his face and it tastes like spandex and ocean breeze air freshener.
When they reach Matt's roof just ten minutes later, Peter thinks he can get the whole appeal of sticking to a few city blocks instead of the entirety of New York. While neither of them are nursing deep wounds right now, it must be helpful to know that there's always an apartment to bleed out in just a couple miles away. The door creaks open and they duck in to escape the light rainfall.
He tugs off the mask.
Matt tosses his helmet onto the coffee table, running his hand through damp hair. He turns off towards his bedroom, ducking out of view. Peter slides on the guardrail down the stairs, dangling his feet above the steps. He leaps onto the landing and feels the old wood groan.
"Hey, where's your first aid kit?" Peter asks, squinting through the neon lights that bathe Matt's living room as though the answer lies somewhere in the shadows.
"Thought you weren't hurt," Matt calls, pieces of armour thudding to the floor. "Top of the fridge."
Peter finds a pathetic kit in the kitchen and unzips the pouch, making a face at its meager contents. "It's for you. This seriously all you got?"
Dressed in sweats and a black t-shirt, Matt pokes his head back into the living room. His head tilts towards Peter, but his eyes drift lazily. (He never really wears his glasses in the apartment. At the office, they're always on when clients are around. And as Daredevil, he has a mask over his eyes. It feels... nice to be close to something so few people see. Even if it's just Matt's eyes. Even if it's just a small sign that he and Matt are actually friends.)
A smile tugs at the corner of his lips. "I keep the good stuff under the stairs. And it's barely a cut, Pete."
"Yeah, a cut that's on your face." He shakes his head. "What about all that 'take of yourself' stuff? Sit down, Matt."
The smile blooms into a grin. The edges of his smile tug at the torn skin. The cut oozes, dying Matt's cheek pink. He obliges, edging around the coffee table to drop onto the couch. Peter joins him a moment later, alcohol-soaked cotton ball in hand.
"Touching your face now," he says, because it feels awkward not to tell that to a blind man.
Matt hums, angling his bloody cheek towards Peter. He doesn't wince as the alcohol leeches into the wound. As he cleans out the cut that will surely scar, Peter can't keep up the serious facade (if he'd even managed it in the first place).
"That was awesome, Matt! You need to show me how you do those flips-- could you imagine people's faces if Spider-Man started doing that stuff?"
"Not really," Matt replies, still grinning. Peter rolls his eyes and drags the cotton ball a little harder over Matt's skin.
"You kind of ruined it by getting this, though. I bet if you'd beaten through everyone without taking a hit the Irish would just leave the Kitchen out of pure shame." Peter drops the cotton ball in his lap to dig for butterfly strips.
Matt shrugs. "No good deed goes unpunished."
And Peter freezes.
No good deed goes unpunished.
(The Goblin's fist is in his hair, forcing his head back as he chokes on a swirling fog of dust and smashed concrete. His throat's exposed and May is there, shaking, a makeshift weapon held high over her head.
I'm going to fix you, the Goblin promises, sounding like he's dragging his vocal cords over hot coals. His grip tightens. He's stronger than Peter. Nobody's been stronger than Peter since Thanos. (His strength had failed him then, and it had left Mr. Stark to do something no normal person could survive-- put on the gauntlet. All that had been left in the silence that had followed was the stench of smoking flesh.)
May, run. Please, Peter begs. He can't move. He can't reach her. One eye is swelling shut, his eyelashes glued together from blood, sticky and hot.
But she doesn't go. She can't leave Peter. They're each other's everything, all the family they have left, and a Parker doesn't run. The glass doors implode, shattering like the Stark plane over Coney Island. He thinks his ears will never stop ringing. The Goblin's glider cuts through the shards and sends Aunt May's body flying through the air.
His hearing returns in time to catch a sickening thud. Her body lies in a crumpled heap. She's small-- so fucking small.
Peter, Peter, Peter. No good deed goes unpunished. The Goblin shoots a glance at May, his face twisted in manic glee. You can thank me later.
There's a pumpkin bomb, a desperate leap, and a terrible, earth-shattering explosion.
The first aid kit falls to the floor.
His heart's in his throat, pounding so hard it might leap out. His nose burns and it feels like all the oxygen has been sucked out of the room from how tight his chest becomes. But he's here. He's in Matt's apartment and, despite everything, he's safe.
He wants to swallow it down. He wants to run away, forget the light leaving Aunt May's eyes, and pretend like his old life still exists somewhere without him. Peter draws his shaking hands into his lap, clenching his fists over and over. Matt's quiet, his head tilted. He's listening. Fuck, he's always listened. He didn't judge him for Zachary Rogers, for almost killing a man while blinded by grief and terror, and he didn't judge him for making mistakes that led to the near collapse of the multiverse. Maybe it's safe to tell Matt. Maybe--
"Do you remember asking me about May Parker?"
Spider-Man has always taken a lot of hits. His world is rough, so Peter's touch has always been gentle. Daredevil hasn't had a moment of quiet since he was nine years old. The world is loud, so Matt's voice has always been soft. It's soft now.
"There's... there's a lot I didn't tell you about what happened last December." He pulls his legs up onto the couch, splaying out his hands to stare at his open palms. "Before that spell, I tried to help the supervillains that crossed over. I wanted to cure them."
Matt hums in acknowledgement. He doesn't try to touch Peter.
A lump builds in his throat. He tries to swallow, choking on tensed muscles and phantom ash. "If they went back to their universes the way they were, they were gonna die. All of them, Matt. So I figured if I took away the part of them that made them villains... I figured they'd go back home with a second chance. Spider-Man helps people. Aunt May, she knew that." His face twists into something ugly.
"They tricked me. I should have seen it coming. I should have known. I even felt it." He runs a cold finger along the back of his neck. "That Spider sense I told you about. But I messed up. I let him--"
His voice breaks. There are track marks running down his face-- and when did he start crying?
"You don't have to tell me, Pete. It's okay." But it's Matt's insistence that this secret can stay buried, that their friendship is not contingent on Peter admitting to the worst mistake of his life, that gives him the strength to continue.
"I guess in his universe they called him the Green Goblin."
"And what did you call him?"
Peter blinks, cold droplets pushing through his eyelashes. "What does it matter?"
"Names have power, Pete." Matt places a hand on Peter's knee, shaking his head. "You call a man by his name and you shrink him down to size. If you hide behind the name other people gave him... well, it makes the fear worse."
Peter hasn't said Osborn's name out loud since he'd plunged a syringe in the man's neck. Osborn has lingered in his thoughts, his nightmares, his replays on how differently that night should have gone, but he's never escaped into the physical world. Saying his name out loud makes what happened real. His hands clench and unclench. "Norman Osborn."
He feels his heart thrum against his ribcage. A bird fluttering for an escape through steel bars. But there's no escape through steel. All Peter can do is finally unlock the cage door.
I just need to catch my breath.
"He killed her. I watched my Aunt May die, and it was my fault."
Rain patters against the windows. Their conversation is doused in splatters of neon red. Peter looks at his trembling hands and he can still feel the warmth of May's blood coating them. He can still see the crimson stains soaking deep into his skin, and hear the wheezing from May's collapsed lung.
Peter knows now that Matt won't turn on him. His face won't turn purple with rage and he won't grab Peter by the arm, snarling, and force him out the door. Matt is good. He's more than Peter deserves and he's okay with that. He's grateful for it.
"It wasn't your fault."
He chokes on a sob. "You weren't there, Matt. Osborn killed her because of me. He wanted to fix me just like I'd tried to fix him. She was the only family I had left."
"He wanted you to become a killer," Matt says, something like recognition on his tongue. His face angles towards Peter's, his eyes trying to approximate where Peter's gaze lies. He shakes his head with resolution. "You're not. God, Peter, you're not. Her death wasn't your fault."
"I wanted to kill him. I was ready to."
"But you didn't. You cured him, right? Gave him a second chance. You’re not what he wanted you to be. Peter, your Aunt might not be here, but I swear to you that she’s damn proud," Matt says with startling conviction. The cut on his cheek still bubbles.
Peter searches Matt's face. There's no surprise written anywhere on it, even underneath the purpling bruises. A shadow crosses over Peter. "You already knew what happened to her."
Matt doesn't try to hide it. He nods. "Since March. And I don't blame you; the thing about this life... we lose people we love."
"He killed her. Aunt May, she-- she told me it wasn't my fault. But he killed her and I couldn't stop it. I was supposed to stop it." He's sobbing now, stumbling over his words, and he's almost glad that Matt can't see his screwed up face and his blotchy skin. His shoulders shake. The only thing grounding him is Matt's hand on his knee. It's the only part of him that isn't trembling.
"It's not fair," Matt agrees, squeezing gently. Broken up by gasps muffled behind Peter's hand and sharp sniffles, they sit together in the quiet that follows. Minutes tick by in tear-scented silence before Matt's breath catches. "I grew up for the better part of my childhood in an orphanage. The closest thing I had to a father for a long time was my priest, Father Lantom. A man in a fake Daredevil costume, Benjamin Poindexter, killed him, trying to draw me out. Trying to paint me as a killer." He shakes his head, laughing mirthlessly. "And I was angry at Father Lantom when he died. I was spiteful. His last words to me were asking me for forgiveness."
Peter swipes at his eyes. "I'm sorry."
"It's been a long time since it happened. But I've never stopped thinking about how I could have stopped it. How I could have saved him if I had just been a little faster." Matt pushes a little closer and grasps at Peter's hand. He covers it with both of his own. "I should have stopped it."
"But," Peter tries, rubbing his tear-stained face on the shoulder of his Spider suit, "it wasn't your fault?"
Matt squeezes reassuringly. "Poindexter killed him. Not me. May Parker didn't die because of you."
(I may have struck the killing blow, but you? You are the one that killed her.)
She did, he wants to say. If I hadn't been so naïve. If I hadn't been so ready to trust supervillains.
But he'd had a responsibility to help them. He never could have let them go back home to die. The Goblin-- Osborn-- had taken advantage of that, and did what a Spider-Man villain was supposed to do: hurt Spider-Man and the people he loved. Even then... he hadn't done enough. He hadn't been enough.
"But I should have stopped it."
Matt nods, his face unwaveringly serious. "We should have stopped it, but we didn't. We couldn't. If we let the guilt of every person we didn't save weigh us down, we'll never get back on our feet. But it wasn't your fault, and we have a responsibility to keep going."
With great power comes great responsibility. The same thing Matt believes in, just repackaged. Peter scrubs his free hand across his face, tasting the salt on his tongue. "How do we do that?"
"We make their deaths mean something," Matt says, like he's spent years struggling to come to this conclusion. "Every person we help, every life we save, we do it for them. And that just has to be enough."
Spider-Man has blood on his hands. He'd turn the oceans red before he could ever be washed clean, soaking the coast in foamy pinks and staining the skin of anyone bold enough to give in to the call of the sea. But blood can be diluted. It may take more than a wine-dark sea to swallow the vision of blood, thick and hot, from Peter's skin, but each person that treads in the water-- and makes it out again-- takes a little bit of that stain away. Not enough to hurt them. Not enough that they couldn't wash it clean from their own bodies. But enough to turn the tide. Enough to make the red wash pink upon the shores.
(Peter Two and Peter Three also have blood on their hands. There are deaths that pushed them to become Spider-Man and deaths that made them question if they could only ever cause more harm than good. But their worlds hadn't stopped for one person. Not forever. So, maybe it's just part of the Spider-Man gig. Maybe it's just a part of being a vigilante.)
"It has to be enough," Peter repeats. He swipes at his eyes. Fuck, he's so sick of crying. He's so goddamn tired of it. "Is it? For you?"
Matt's expression falters. "I lost my dad when I was a kid. He was a fighter. Old-school. Boxer. He never wanted me to fight. He, uh, wanted me to study hard, and, you know, make something of myself."
"You did," Peter can't help but say. You're the one that got me out of criminal charges. You're the one who came out of nowhere, caught a brick aimed for my head, and went back to Hell's Kitchen to be Daredevil. You became a lawyer and accept payment in fucking fruit baskets. You made something of yourself.
Matt's lip twitches, a slight uptick, before settling back into a solemn expression. "Sometimes he threw fights. A guy named Sweeney would rig the betting and give my dad a cut of the winnings in exchange. My dad," he sighs, pulling his hands into his lap, "he saw how much I hated it. I was a kid. I wanted him to be as strong as I knew he was. So he decided to win a game he was supposed to throw-- you know, make me proud to call him my dad-- and," his fingers contort into a mimicry of a gun, "he was killed for it. I was up, waiting for him to come home, when I heard the gunshot."
"Fuck," Peter says.
"Yeah, fuck," he agrees. "I blamed myself for a long time. But I tried to keep his promise. I tried to make him proud. As Matt Murdock, I help people. I try to make up for what happened to him, but, uh..." his voice trails off, his expression going glassy, "As Daredevil, I break that promise. So I don't know, Pete. I want what I do to be enough. I think he'd be proud that I've saved people, but I doubt he'd be thrilled by my methods. But like I said, it has to be enough."
"Because what else is there?"
The glassy expression melts away, replaced with a half-smile. "What else is there."
Silence stretches out between them, thrown over the apartment like a warm blanket. Though he tries not to marvel at it, Peter's hands are no longer shaking. The thought of Osborn does not send him back into a memory. Matt sits next to him, contemplative, and Peter pushes back the thought that their friendship basically just leveled up. Save for Ned and MJ, nobody has ever put their faith in Peter like Matt has. People rarely hand him the knife that could be stabbed so easily in their back.
Peter uncoils himself from the couch. He leans over to retrieve the fallen first aid kit, brushing fistfuls of loose thread and antiseptic wipes back into the cherry-red pack. He shakes a packet of antiseptic out of habit. It slaps against his palm. "I'm sorry about your dad."
"I'm sorry about your aunt."
He tears the packet open and melts into the familiar puff of ethanol that escapes into the air. "We still need to deal with that cut."
Neither of them bring up the fact that Peter's already cleaned it. Matt just nods, lets Peter scrape the wipe across his cheek, and holds still for the butterfly strips. With the scratch finally dealt with, Peter rises from the couch. As he sets the first aid kit back in its rightful place, Matt leans back on the couch.
"The Thai place down the street doesn't close for another hour. You hungry?"
When isn't he? Peter might be eating better since getting a steady paycheck, but his metabolism is ridiculous. "Yeah, I could eat."
"I'll order something in. Got any preferences?"
And for a second, thinking about Aunt May doesn't hurt. "Larb?"
"Chicken or pork?"
"Uh, chicken. I don't really eat pork."
Matt hums. "You can grab something of mine out of my closet. I'll make the order."
"What? Don't like the full costume?" Peter asks, vaulting over the couch towards Matt's bedroom. The leather molds to his touch.
"No, no, it looks great," Matt says. It takes until Peter opens the bedroom's sliding door and steps inside that he pauses. His groan is met with a self-satisfied chuckle. (Does leveling up the friendship come with a higher daily allotment of blind jokes?) Peter finds the Columbia sweatshirt again, drawn in by the soft fabric, and the first pair of sweatpants he can find. They're a little big on him since Matt's built like a fucking machine, boasting a good five inches and thirty pounds of muscle over Peter, but adding a few ugly knots to the drawstrings makes it work. By the time he comes back out, Matt's just hanging up the phone.
Settling into an armchair across from the couch, draping himself over the arms, Peter's limbs go loose. It's a novel experience. His Spider sense is silent, trusting in Matt's ability to detect danger enough that the tingle across the nape of his neck is taking a long overdue break. Safe.
Peter's first to break the silence. "Did I ever tell you about the bank robbery I stopped where all the robbers were dressed like the Avengers?"
"No." Matt leans back into the couch, lying back in a position more relaxed than Peter's ever seen him. He smiles. "Tell me."
And he does. It's a memory from before-- back when nobody knew Peter Parker and Spider-Man were the same person except for Mr. Stark and Happy. But it doesn't hurt. It's a past he can never return to, but, for a brief snapshot of time, it doesn't feel like it matters. Not when Matt's listening, sharing his own stories, and they're eventually surrounded by takeout boxes. Someone knows him. Not just Spider-Man, but Peter Parker. He's real; he's remembered.
He's not alone.