Chapter 1: You're Gonna Need a Lawyer
It's been three months since the world forgot Peter Parker.
Three months since he said his last goodbye to MJ and Ned. Three months since he lost Aunt May. (Her final words still haunt him. They'd been so soft in that moment of chaos. Even as she bled out her focus had been on him. On making sure he was okay. On making sure that he understood that she didn't blame him for trying to help people, even supervillains. Her only focus had been to emphasize to Peter that with great power came great responsibility. He owed his kindness to more than just those who deserved it.
I just need to catch my breath, she'd said, in a voice feather-light and far away. Now, every time a criminal gets a lucky blow at his chest, knocking the wind out of him, his heart stutters and his lungs refuse to fill. His returning punch is always just a bit too hard.
But he didn't kill Osborn and he doesn't kill them. Even if tears spring in his eyes from more than just the pain.)
In between preparing for his GED, creating a new Spider-Man suit, and finding a job that'll actually cover his rent, Peter's had little time to grieve. Though he'd be loathe to admit it, this is by design. The past can't hurt him if he doesn't let it catch up. So he keeps moving. Keeps swinging. At the very least, the world hasn't forgotten Spider-Man.
He's not exactly sure how that works, but he's grateful all the same.
"Watch out! Coming through!" Peter yells, shooting his webs at the next lamppost. The webs latch onto the curve of the post, throwing him off-course in what is probably a lovely ballerina twirl. New Yorkers honk and curse as Spider-Man swings above Queens traffic. Adjusting his trajectory before he can slam full force into the metal pole, Peter continues his pursuit of the armored truck. It weaves in and out of lanes with little precision, grinding against taxis and minivans as its tires squeal.
The van's stolen. Because of course it is. Peter doesn't really care about what the van's cargo is, though he hazards a guess from the Chase Bank logo that it's valuable. Worth stealing in broad daylight over.
Finally in swinging distance, he shoots a web at the truck and slingshots himself forward. He lands on the roof of the truck with a heavy thud. The driver and his accomplice in the passenger seat shout in alarm and the hairs on the back of Peter's neck rise. He flings himself to the side of the van-- latched on for dear life with sticky fingers-- just in time to avoid the rattle of gunfire bursting through the roof.
"Hey, hey! This thing's supposed to be bulletproof!" Peter flattens himself against the wall of the truck, narrowly avoiding being crushed against a city bus as the driver tries to shake him off. "You're gonna void their warranty! Then how are they gonna get their money back, huh?"
He's shouting into the wind, his voice lost in the angry honks and yelling of civilians. Nobody's even pulling over. At this point, Peter figures that no self-respecting New Yorker will abandon their car unless they're on a collapsing bridge. A truck hijacking in the middle of the day? That's nothing. After all the alien and multiverse attacks, any car owner worth their disdain for Taxi Driver has insurance up to their ears. They can deal with a broken side mirror or some scratched paint. But that doesn't mean they aren't going to bitch about it.
"Get 'em off the road!" The woman's shout is followed by another honk.
"You got this, Spider-Man!" This cheer is further away. Hopefully off-road. "Do a flip!"
How the hell is he supposed to manage that on a moving truck that's determined to crush him like a bug? Peter crawls back up to the roof of the truck, waving in in the direction of the voice. As an afterthought, he flashes a peace sign. Whoops of laughter erupt from the sidewalk, getting further and further away. Wind whips at Peter's face, pushing his mask into the seam of his lips. The cloth doesn't taste good.
Up ahead, Peter spots an intersection. He can't let the truck go barreling through it. Even from here, he can see pedestrians crossing without raising their heads. They don't even look both ways. Really, Peter can only do so much to keep people safe. Shooting down a web, blocking the bullet holes and hoping that they won't try to shoot through again, Peter fixes his hold on the truck.
(They gotta know they're fucked at this point, right? The second they saw Spider-Man it would have just been smarter to pull over and surrender. Sure, Peter still would have webbed them up like Christmas presents for the police, but at least they wouldn't be charged for reckless driving. But giving up is boring, and, really, where's the fun in it?)
"I hope you're wearing your seatbelts!" Peter throws both hands out and fires his web shooters at the upcoming buildings. His webs land just above the awnings of a little café and a flower shop, sticking fast. Gripping the webs in his fists, Peter leans back and pulls. He's held a boat together. He can stop a truck going sixty in a thirty zone.
The two men in the truck cry out in pain as the force throws them against the dash. The driver knocks his head against the steering wheel, eliciting a sharp honk that makes Peter's teeth vibrate. He yanks the truck back until it finally stops, just inches from the intersection. A car that had been tailgating the truck rear-ends them, throwing Peter off-balance. As he tries to regain his footing, his webs pull at the roof of the truck, veering sharply to the right. He pulls for balance as the truck crashes onto its side.
Inside the truck, Peter listens to the sound of glass and pottery breaking, smashing into dust, bunching up his shoulders and cringing. The sounds go on for cartoonishly long, and Peter half-expects to hear the yowl of a cat by the end of it. The two men groan from the front.
There's some blood in the front seat, but mostly from the twin smashed noses that are puffing up into cherry-red tomatoes. After making sure they're not seriously injured, Peter covers their hands in webbing, pinning them to the dashboard. Traffic detours around them and sirens draw closer. He checks on the driver of the car that rear-ended them, a young person with purple hair wearing an NYU sweatshirt, but they wave him off, telling him, "I'm good! But, uh, my insurance is iffy with superheros so you might want to go before they think I staged this."
"Oh, right." Peter nods. "Uh, stay in school?"
"Planning to!" they call out as Peter makes his escape.
"The Spider Menace strikes again!"
Peter sighs, lying back on his lumpy bed and propping up his phone. He knows he shouldn't watch anything the Daily Bugle puts out, knows it only leaves him in a bad mood, but he can't help it. It's like ordering takeout when you know you have food in the fridge. Indulging in the moment and tough on you later. Besides, he likes to know how Jameson uses the photos he sells.
(Hey, we all got to make rent somehow, right?)
J. Jonah Jameson rants in that unique style of his, covering everything about Peter's encounter with the armored truck except for the truth. Eight million dollars in damages. Mostly from the smashed contents of the truck. It'd been transporting nesting eggs and precious pottery and a lot of other rich people things that Peter doesn't really understand the point of. All he knows is that the owners of the items inside are pissed.
One woman calls into Jameson's show, boasting about how she plans to sue Spider-Man for damages. Insurance covers a lot of things, like protection from theft, but it somehow doesn't extend to vigilantes stopping thefts and subsequently destroying everything in transport.
"And why shouldn't Spider-Man get his day in court?" Jameson says, slamming his fist down on his desk. "If he really thinks he's helping this city he'd unmask himself and face consequences for his actions like a real man would!"
Peter scoffs. That would go over well.
Clicking away from the live-stream, Peter scrolls through his phone and listens to the static of the police scanner on his bedside table. He should go back out. It's not like there's much else he can do. And lying here is making him think about things he's not quite ready to think about just yet.
He thinks about how much easier this would all be if he just had pictures with them. Or videos. Or anything that proved he existed and was once part of their lives. He hadn't thought about that part of Doctor Strange's spell. Sure, he'd known (kind of) that the memories would be gone. Plucked from their heads like the world had never known a Peter Parker. But somehow his mind had never made the connection that any physical or digital trace of Peter would disappear too.
It'd been hell to draw up a whole new identity. The first month after he lost everyone had been about recreating a life for himself. A backstory, a past, a social security number. Everything a newly-forgotten boy needed to get back on his feet.
But while he can find photos of his Aunt May online (working at FEAST or from the remnants of a never-deleted Linkedin profile), there's nothing left to prove that he knew her. That he was her nephew. That she and his Uncle Ben took him in after his parents had died, and that she had been the most wonderful person in the world. There's just... nothing. A slate he had never wanted wiped clean.
His eyes are stinging. He should go back out. He should climb out of his mildewy apartment and be a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. But there might be more police against him than for him tonight. Rich people tended to have influence over things like that. If they want to sue him, it will take a few days for things to calm down.
It's easier to think about how someone would go about suing Spider-Man than it is to think about May. So he goes over the process in his head, drawing his memories of his arrest after Mysterio to fill in spaces. He'd needed a lawyer. A good one.
Happy Hogan had recommended Matt Murdock. He'd represented known vigilantes before, Happy had said, and was incredibly good at what he did. He was a shark in the courtroom, but gentle and empathetic outside of it. He'd been essential to getting Peter out of criminal charges then.
His thoughts linger on that. As long as he doesn't get arrested, he doesn't really have a need for a lawyer. But if even something as innocuous as being indirectly responsible for the damages done to a piece of old pottery could lead to Peter being unmasked, maybe it would be a good idea to get a lawyer waiting in the wings. He didn't have to tell him who Spider-Man was. He just had to get someone in his corner.
And Matt Murdock had said that he was a really good lawyer.
Chapter 2: Even Vigilantes Need Legal Representation
Peter meets Matt Murdock (again). It goes over as well as can be expected.
Even though his Spider-Manning often takes him up to Midtown, Peter's always done his best to stay out of Hell's Kitchen. Its reputation is a little too gritty for Spider-Man's image and, after the Blip, Daredevil's been sighted taking up his old post. The Devil of Hell's Kitchen is territorial at the best of times, and him returning to a borough that's flourished with organized crime without him is certainly not the best. Still, Peter makes a mental note to find time to seek out the vigilante.
That's what adults do, right? They network? Yeah, Peter should probably start networking.
He won't do it now, he figures. Daredevil's probably not in the mood to deal with some punk-ass kid from Queens. But Hell's Kitchen is where Matt Murdock lives and operates, so he goes during the day when the Devil won't be prowling. He even goes as a civilian to avoid stirring up gossip. It's the least he can do, he figures. So he takes the train, braving the stenches of rusted metal, phlegm, and over brewed coffees of the New York subway system. The Spider-Man costume sits at the bottom of his backpack, promising a faster and kinder return trip. When he climbs his way back up to ground level, a stray thought crosses Peter's mind that he should have packed some cologne or deodorant or just anything that would mask the smell of New York's underbelly. There's not much to be done now, but he comforts himself with the thought that his own senses are pretty sensitive. He doubts that anyone with a normal sense of smell would even notice.
Double-checking the address on his phone, Peter walks down the street, tucking his collar up against the brisk March air.
Nelson, Murdock and Page is on the second floor of an old brick building, right across the hall from the office of a chiropractor. It's run-down, like most of Hell's Kitchen, but stands proud and defiant.
(Every building that's survived multiple alien invasions has that defiant quality. It carries the attitude of its citizens. Just try and destroy New York, it taunts, New York is a shithole, but it's our shithole.)
Despite the closed door to the chiropractor, Peter's super-hearing can be a curse sometimes. He grits his teeth as he catches the sound of joints popping and cracking from inside, though the sighs of relief that quickly follow help ease some of his tension.
The sign on the door is tiny, but the letters are glossy and neat like it was polished recently (Nelson, Murdock and Page: Attorneys at Law and Investigative Services, it declares.). The bottom of the sign is embossed with braille. There are people talking inside. Two men and a woman. Their conversation halts as Peter knocks on the glass. High heels click against the hardwood towards the door.
A pretty blonde woman greets him, offering a polite smile as she looks him up and down. Over her head, Peter can see a stout-ish man with sandy hair and another man wearing a pair of familiar red glasses. He's not holding his cane.
"Uh, hi, are you open? Is that how you refer to it? I mean, I know you're not a store, but I guess you have business hours and I know that this would be during those hours, so I guess that's kind of a stupid question. Um, can I-- can I come in?" He's rambling. Despite three months with nobody to ramble to, it seems old habits are hard to break.
She tilts her head with a small quirk of her lip. "Sure."
Thanking her, Peter steps inside the dingy office and can't stop the thought about how odd it is that such a well-known defense attorney is situated in this shitty of a space. It's clean and warm, but the paint is peeling and the floors are in desperate need of a shine. But compared to Mr. Stark's modern and high-tech style (thinking about Mr. Stark makes his heart clench), Peter has to admit that this office feels more his speed. More like home.
"Can we help you?" the man that isn't Mr. Murdock asks. Nelson or Page, Peter figures.
Peter tightens his grip on his backpack. "Uh, yeah, hi. My name is Peter Parker. I was wondering if I could talk to Mr. Murdock?"
Both men's faces pinch in confusion, practically in sync. It's uncanny. The blonde woman walks around Peter to stand shoulder to shoulder with her colleagues. She eyes him like he's a loose thread that she just might pull to see if there's a story to unravel. Mr. Murdock clears his throat and gives him a charming smile. "Mr. Nelson and I are partners, Mr. Parker. I'd be happy to talk with you in my office, but it's important I let you know that if you're in need of our services he'll be your attorney as well."
Peter considers this. Matt Murdock had really helped him in dropping charges after Mysterio. He'd caught a brick that had flown through Peter's window before Peter had barely had a chance to react. He'd seemed trustworthy and had come highly recommended, especially by the known-vigilantes of New York. If he trusts Mr. Nelson (and Miss Page, by extension), Peter figures he probably can too.
It's not like I have anyone left to lose if I'm wrong, he decides.
"Oh, okay. I, uh, heard you've represented people like Jessica Jones and the Punisher before?"
Mr. Nelson's frown deepens and his gaze becomes more critical. Matt keeps his smile fixed in place. He chuckles with a forced warmth. "Forgive me, Mr. Parker, those are some odd choices to bring up. Especially considering there's no public record that I've ever represented Miss Jones."
How had Happy known, then? Peter swallows his nerve. Might as well dive head-first. "You represent vigilantes, right? I know Spider-Man."
Matt cocks his head, smile dropping. The office is still. Then, Matt nods. "Okay. Let's go talk in my office."
His hands brush absent-mindedly along the wall and door-frame towards the office on the left, but Matt walks with a confidence that Peter finds surprising for a blind man. Is that ableist? he wonders as he trails behind. Mr. Nelson's and Miss Page's eyes burn into his back. His eyes skate across the red and white cane tucked against the wall. Maybe he just knows his office well enough to not need the aid. Matt gestures to the chair across from a scratched wooden desk, shutting the door behind Peter with a soft click. "Please, take a seat."
Tossing his backpack at his feet, Peter settles into the stiff-backed chair. Matt drags a hand along the edge of the desk, searching for his own chair before sitting. Piles of paperwork are stacked on the edge of the desk, all inkless. The pages Peter can see poking out are raised with dots. A laptop and a refreshable braille display lie closed near Matt's hands. Mr. Murdock clears his throat, leaning forward with his palms facing outward.
"Well, Mr. Parker-- Peter, can I call you Peter?"
Nodding, Matt leans just a little further over his desk. "So, Peter, why are you here?"
Peter frowns. "You-- you've represented vigilantes before, right?"
"Before the Blip, Mr. Nelson-- Foggy-- and I took on the case of Frank Castle, whom you and the media referred to as the Punisher. However, forgive me, you sound a little young, so I'm not sure you would be aware that the failure of that case briefly dissolved the firm. The trial was not a success, Peter. Mr. Castle was found guilty." His voice is gentle, though pressing, and his head is tilted in a way that could be considered sympathetic.
"Oh, no, I was 15 during the Punisher trial. We talked about it in my Civics class at school. I was just, uh, you know... blipped?"
Matt winces in sympathy. "So was I. It's strange coming back to a world that's gone on without you, isn't it?"
That's one way of putting it. Peter had been lucky that Ned and MJ had disappeared when Thanos had snapped his fingers and dusted half the universe. He at least got another year with them before... before... Peter blinks back tears and nods, then blushes because he nodded at a guy who obviously can't see him. "Yeah, it wasn't fun. My aunt and I came back to our stuff in storage, thanks to some of her friends from work, and our apartment being lived in by strangers. I didn't even realize that five years had really passed until hours after I came back; I had so much to do."
"I understand. I was fortunate on the apartment front. With all the empty apartments after half the world vanished, my apartment wasn't the first one people flocked to." He gestures vaguely, wearing a sheepish smile. His glasses glint in the sparse light of the office. "It has terrible lighting. Never was a problem for me, which I suppose is what saved me the stress from having to go hunting."
"Oh, that's good."
Nodding, Matt's smile drops again. "You mentioned my representation of Jessica Jones. She was never charged, so there are no records of my involvement. Is there a reason you know about it?"
Happy told me is not a good answer. He can't prove that he knows a Happy Hogan, not anymore. He's just a kid who met Aunt May through Spider-Man to him. And telling Mr. Murdock about how he mentioned it in an off-hand comment when he'd agreed to take Peter's case three months ago is not a good answer either. Matt's given no indication he remembers Peter. And why would he? Doctor Strange's magic had shown no signs of wearing off before. MJ had looked at him with blank eyes and had offered him a standard customer-service smile and nothing more. Ned had pushed past him in the cafe like he'd been a stranger. Like they hadn't known each other for over half their lives. Like he had never been Peter's guy in the chair. He clenches his hand, digging his fingernails into his palm.
He still can't control his own strength. His nails puncture the skin in bloody half-moons.
Matt's brow furrows. "Mr. Parker?"
The pain shoots a jolt of energy down his spine. "Uh, I asked around. Your name came up. And I, um, remembered the Punisher trial. And I think you and Mr. Nelson helped clear Daredevil's name in 2018 too. So I guess I figured you have a thing for helping out vigilantes?" When Mr. Murdock raises an eyebrow, Peter is quick to add, "On the legal side, obviously."
The air in the office is dry. It's a little hard to breathe. Down the hall, Peter thinks he can catch the sound of more popping joints. Matt's voice is firm. "If you're looking for an attorney for Spider-Man, it's important not to lie to me, Peter."
Peter's heart skips a few beats. His palms are clammy, soaking into the iron-scented blood peeking out of his cuts. He wipes his hands on his jeans. "Right, sorry. I just want to help Spider-Man, you know? He's not in any trouble right now, or anything, but maybe you heard about the truck thing?"
"I have. Eight million in damages? From eye witness accounts, I heard there shouldn't be any criminal ramifications for it. Often times, Good Samaritan law is a godsend for acts of vigilantism," he says, still visibly dissatisfied with Peter's subject change. "But Spider-Man operates in Queens, right? Nelson, Murdock and Page is a little out of your way."
"I just figured you were the right person for the job."
Matt hums in response, so Peter keeps going.
"Um, I can't really pay you and I don't think Spider-Man can afford to either, but I know you do a lot of pro-bono work? And I could find some way to pay you back if Spider-Man ever needs help, I just thought that, you know, it would really help him to have a lawyer, or I guess a law firm, on his side. Just in case something ever happens. He's a good guy, I swear. I think he does a lot to help this city. You know... helping the little guy."
At that, Matt straightens back in his chair and nods. "And how do you know Spider-Man?"
"We work together." Damn it, that sounds like he's saying he's also a vigilante. As if it isn't enough to be one web-slinging vigilante, now he's making it sound like there's two of them. There's no way Mr. Murdock will help him out if he keeps sounding like a tool. Peter splutters, rubbing the back of his neck. Recalling how easily Matt had called Peter out on his bullshit earlier, he tries to think of something that isn't a lie. "Not like that! I, uh, I know who he is? Yeah, I know him under the mask."
Matt sighs, reaching a hand up to adjust his glasses. Surprisingly, he sounds like he believes Peter. "I'm not in the business of turning away people who need help, Peter. But I'll need you to promise me something."
He stills. There's nobody left to protect, but it's not like he's ready to out himself so soon. Eventually, maybe, but within ten minutes of re-meeting Mr. Murdock? The idea makes his heart flutter. "Sure?"
"I assume that meeting with him is out of the question. So I need something I can use to convince Foggy and Karen to take Spider-Man on as a client-- should he ever need an attorney. So tell me one thing. Can you promise me that Spider-Man is a good person?" he asks. His head cocks to the side once more and he's quiet.
(The head-tilting is a mannerism Peter remembers Mr. Murdock having when they met the first time. He always seemed to be able to tell the truth after doing that. He'd caught MJ on an innocuous lie, something about how long she'd known about Peter being Spider-Man, and MJ was-- is-- a great liar. No tells, aside from an uptick of her eyebrow. Which Matt couldn't see.
Maybe it's just a nervous tick, but the more Peter sees that tilt the more he thinks about the other odd things about Matt Murdock. Namely, the way he'd caught a brick hurtling through a window before Peter's senses had told him to raise a hand. Psychic? In a world with super soldiers and mad titans hunting down a pile of colourful rocks it's certainly possible that there's more to the attorney than meets the eye. Maybe he should look into that after this.)
Swallowing slowly, Peter worries his bottom lip between his teeth. Is Spider-Man a good person? He wants to be. But would a good person risk the collapse of the multiverse because he didn't think to just talk to the MIT Admissions Office? Would a good person watch the light leave Mr. Stark's eyes on a scorched battlefield and do nothing to try and revive him? Would a good person ignore his promise to MJ and Ned to come find them and make them remember him just because he decided they were happier and safer without him? It's a question like a loaded bullet with an answer like a shot through the heart.
"He tries to be," Peter says softly, twisting a loose thread on his jacket sleeve. "He told me that when you have powers like his and you don't do anything to stop bad things from happening, then they happen because of you."
"Sounds like a lot of weight to put on yourself."
Peter shrugs. "I guess. But I can promise that he does his best to be good, Mr. Murdock. And that if you or your partners could ever help him, he'd really appreciate it."
The smile that blooms on Matt's face is sincere. He pushes back his chair and rises to his feet, gesturing a hand out to tell Peter to stay seated. "Alright, Peter. Would it be alright if I introduced you to Mr. Nelson? There's a lot of work to do if we're signing Spider-Man on as a client."
Peter returns the smile shyly. It's the first smile that's felt genuine in a long time.
"That would be great."
Hi everyone! The response to the first chapter was overwhelming, to say the least. This fic isn't going to be much more than an imagining of how Peter finds a friend in a fellow vigilante/lawyer, and how it would spin the MCU, so be prepared for that! I just don't want Peter to be all alone, you know? Even if he can't have his old life back, I just want him to have someone who can support him.
(Also, yes, Matt's new office is hell for him. Lots of popping joints and the subway's nearby :) But, hey, it's not like it would be easy to snap up the old office or even one that would be another great fit when people are snapping up real estate left and right post-Blip, right?)
Chapter 3: Out of Place
Matt, Foggy, and Karen try to piece together what a teenager is doing hanging around a web-slinging vigilante.
Ten minutes. That's how long they avoid bringing up Peter Parker after he's left their office. Matt follows Peter's footsteps out the building and about halfway up the street before a snap from across the hall makes him flinch. Goddamn that chiropractor. The building had been perfect before they set up shop across the hall. No rats scurrying through the walls, no mold propagating under the old wood, and the worst smell had been when Karen tried to brew coffee for them. He still didn't know how she managed to burn it every time without fail. The coffee maker had a timer for fuck's sake.
The office had been a good find, all things considered. After the Blip, people had taken advantage of the new homeless population, snapping up real estate faster than Quicksilver could run. Foggy had disappeared alongside Matt (which Foggy had said proves there is definitely a God. After Midland Circle, neither of them thinks they could have survived being alone again.), so they had worked together to rebuild their rinky dink firm from where they left off. Thankfully, being gone from existence for five years hadn't completely alienated them from their clientele. They still have people coming in for help. People that remember them, as well as people who come across their firm from word of mouth.
People like Peter.
Foggy is the first to break the silence.
"So, we're gonna talk about that, right? I'm not going crazy?" he asks, running a hand through his hair as he paces the front room. He settles his palms on Karen's desk and leans back with a false calm. "We just had a kid come in asking for us to represent Spider-Man?"
"It would seem so," Matt says, following Foggy out of his office. He reaches out for his cane so he has something to do with his hands. They tighten around the grip, pulling at the scarred skin over his knuckles. Karen's busying herself with a pot of coffee, unfortunately, but her heartrate is up. She's twisting a strand of hair through her fingers, the fibers scratching softly against the tip of her manicured nails. Her breath hitches like she's going to speak more than once.
"And that's just, what, good with us?" Foggy's voice has dropped the professional tone it had when he'd spoke with Peter. It's urging, almost-concerned--like it is when he's setting up a killer cross-examination. "Kid walks in here, asks about cases he's way too young to know about, and just tells us he knows Spider-Man? Just like that?"
Matt's lip twists. "Well, Frank's trial was popular, Foggy. And he wasn't lying when he said he was fifteen when it happened."
"But there's no way you can tell me that-- that child was twenty-two," Karen cuts in as the coffee maker beeps. She pours herself a cup of burned coffee, stirring in a spoonful of sugar. Her spoon clinks against the ceramic. (Foggy says Karen's favourite mug has a penguin on it. He insists that its wrapping its flippers around the cup like it's keeping the drink warm through its hugs. Matt wonders if Karen's spoon is hitting the top of the penguin's head as she taps it against the lip of the mug.)
Foggy gestures in Karen's direction, the air shifting around his arm in a flourish. "Kid was eighteen, at most."
"Told me he was Blipped. So if we consider that I'd guess he's probably... seventeen? Young." Matt pushes his fingers into the rubber grip of his cane. A soft-spoken woman is thanking the chiropractor (Dr. Basam, if he remembers correctly. His new archnemesis.) across the hall. At least there shouldn't be any more appointments scheduled today.
"So a minor. Even better," Foggy scoffs. "And sure, we can let him get away with knowing about Castle. Most of New York knew about Castle. But Jessica Jones? You said it yourself that you weren't even on record as her attorney. We're missing something. Did your sixth sense tell you anything was off about the guy?"
Rolling his cane between his hands, Matt's not excited to shrug. Admitting when something is beyond his reach is... irritating, to say the least. At Columbia, he had spent most of his time studying, hunting down accessible versions of readings for his Torts class, and preparing for mock trials. In second year, he'd had to act as defense in a mock trial about an assault case. Nobody had bothered to tell him that the description of the victim's injuries didn't cover everything shown in the pictures taken. It had been a case of two strikes across the face, and a cut over the cheekbone after a disagreement in a bar. Eye witnesses indicated that the victim had taken the first swing and the way the cut had been described had suggested that the defendant wore a ring. So, he'd argued self-defense. Cut and dry. Then his classmate had asked him how a minor disagreement had justified the use of brass knuckles.
Ever since, he's done his best to be prepared for anything. He always has a remark prepped or a smooth explanation at the tip of his tongue. He doesn't like to be caught off guard.
But Peter Parker... there are things about him that don't quite fit.
"All of our clients lie at least once in the first meeting," Matt starts, frowning hesitantly. "Nobody likes telling the truth. He didn't want to tell me how he knew about Jessica. Or why he'd come to us even though Spider-Man mostly works in Queens. But," he shrugs again, "he seemed like he wanted help."
"And I'm all for helping," Foggy says, pushing off the desk towards the kitchenette. "But a kid that age? He doesn't need lawyers. He needs parents. And teachers. And definitely not people who throw themselves head-first into danger without even stopping to see if they'll land on their feet."
Matt smirks. "Well, I wouldn't see it either way."
"Stop that. You know I'm all for jokes at your expense, but now's not the time."
"And we don't even know anything about this Peter besides from what he's told us," Karen adds, handing a hot mug of what has to be burnt charcoal to Foggy. "And he came in like he knew you, Matt. You didn't see his face, but there was this, I don't know, look of recognition. Not like he's seen you from interviews or read about you on a website. Like you've helped him before."
A cold feeling settles in the pit of his stomach. He'd felt that too. Peter had been awkward and, while most of that could have been chalked up to immaturity and inexperience, had danced around his sentences like he was avoiding something important. Nothing sinister, Matt thinks. The kid had smelled of underground (definitely from the D-Train. There had been a thin paper card slipping out of his pocket-- a Metro Card daypass) and salicylic acid (often used in acne medication), and two bracelets in his backpack had hummed faintly with electricity, but there had been nothing that suggested anything but an almost-endearing earnestness. And Peter's heart had beat strangely. Too quick and heavy for such a slim body. Matt knows he would have remembered that heartbeat.
He shakes his head. "I didn't recognize him. Far as I remember, the other guy's never helped him either."
"And you'd remember that?" Foggy presses. His voice is muffled by a raised tongue. He's burnt himself on Karen's killer coffee.
"His heartbeat's strange. Wrong for his size. I think I could tell it apart anywhere."
"Strange, like a bad thing?"
"No, just odd. But you're both right. We don't know enough about him. I've never met Spider-Man so I can't vouch for him, but he's definitely more popular than Daredevil. He's a lot more G-rated. And if Peter claims to know him under the mask, I'd be willing to bet Spider-Man's young too. Normally, I wouldn't have any issue defending him if it came down to it," Matt says, reaching up to take off his glasses. He pinches the bridge of his nose, feeling a migraine beginning to grow. He prays it will fade before he has to resort to medication. Anything stronger than Tylenol makes it difficult to orient himself. Everything becomes so muffled.
"But we don't know enough about Peter," Karen finishes. "Say the word and I'm on it. It can be just like old times."
Foggy laughs, taking another sip of his coffee. "How about safer than old times? I'd rather not get shot at again."
A smirk nudges at the corner of Matt's lip. "Oh come on, you get shot once and you're sworn off it forever? It's always better the second time, Fogs."
"Yeah, I'm just gonna take your word on that."
There's not much to find on Peter Parker. No social media, no articles, nothing in the public domain. There are mentions of other Parkers in Queens. May Parker, a nurse and volunteer for FEAST, had been the sole casualty in an attack just over three months ago. Collateral damage in a face-off between Spider-Man and one of the villains in his rogues' gallery. While a controversial news website spins the event as a result of Spider-Man's negligence, Karen remarks that the New York Bulletin ran it as a tragic accident caused by an unforeseen attack, but that Spider-Man saved the other residents of the apartment complex by drawing fire away. After finding the link between a Parker and Spider-Man, Karen pulls at the thread. Nothing unravels. There's no mention of any surviving relatives in her obituary.
"Maybe he's here on an expired visa? Undocumented?" Foggy suggests, lobbing a baseball up in the air and catching it. He misses the catch on the third toss.
Matt considers this before shaking his head. "It's possible. But I don't think so."
They try other avenues. There's a digital trail that leads to Peter Parker. The paperwork they file with Peter's information clears with no problems. He has an address. He's enrolled in a GED program. But everything disappears if they look too far back. Peter had let slip that he was a Queens native. But there's no birth certificate at any hospital in New York City or the surrounding areas. Karen complains that it's almost like Fisk.
"It's like everything's been erased," she says, shuffling through files with Foggy. "Are you sure he was telling the truth when he told you his name?"
"Yes," Matt replies for the hundredth time. "I would have known if he was lying."
Karen checks both pre and post-Blip. Maybe his records had been destroyed or lost during the initial chaos. She recalls to Foggy and Matt that the first year after half the world disappeared had been the worst. It had been terrifying and isolating and nerve-wracking. For a while, nobody had been sure if they were next. And then they had worried that they were all that was left. The information about those that had been lost was either closely guarded or burned out of grief. However, there's still nothing on either side. The paper trails for Peter Parker only begin three months back.
"He's a minor." Foggy sighs, running a hand down his face. "There's got to be school records, grades, extra-curriculars. Something. Anything."
But the only connection they can make is to a May Parker that died and a record of Peter Parker that begins the very next day. FEAST had boasted Spider-Man's endorsement of their shelter. If Peter had ever helped out, it offers a reason why Peter might know Spider-Man. (Kind of. There's more than one Parker in Queens. Way more than one. They could be going in the completely wrong direction with this. They could be wasting precious time Scooby-doo-ing a lead that goes nowhere. But it's a link. And when it comes to Peter Parker, those are in short supply.) Runaway doesn't fit. Nobody's stupid enough to keep going by their own name. Maybe Spider-Man had been a friend of May Parker. Or maybe Peter had come from a bad home, run away, and taken up the last name of Spider-Man's lost friend.
Nothing quite fits, but there has to be a logical explanation. There always is.
And Peter doesn't seem bad. Just lost. Just... young and in need of help.
After three days, Matt decides the best way to learn more about Peter Parker is to find Spider-Man. Not necessarily to talk to him. Not right away. It would be better to tail him, figure out if he's as a good a person as Peter believes him to be. While the web-slinger's never poked his nose in Hell's Kitchen (Matt likes to think it's because the vigilante knows better), he's gone up as far as Midtown before. If he hangs out on the outskirts of Hell's Kitchen, he think he'll be able to hear the infamous sound of Spider-Man's webs. Who knows? Maybe he'll even be treated to a quip or two.
The wind whips at his face as he jumps across buildings, tucking into rolls to maintain his momentum and cushion his landings. As his feet strike the bricks, his mind drifts to how Spider-Man travels. Foggy and Karen have likened it to swinging on vines like Tarzan, a man who was raised by monkeys (apes? He can never remember) after the death of his parents. While he doesn't like that story, it gives him an idea of how Spider-Man is able to move so fast. It's like he's a slingshot. At that thought, Matt shudders as he lands on the rooftop of an apartment building. He'd be all but useless in the air. He'd be lucky if he could figure out how to land.
Matt reaches a building near the edge of Hell's Kitchen and crouches, extending his senses to listen for signs of Spider-Man. It takes a few hours before he hears Spider-Man. Matt helps civilians nearby while he waits, dealing out his own version of vigilante justice. A mugging here, a robbery there. Petty crimes. Nothing worth beating someone to an inch of their life over. Foggy would be proud.
Spider-Man's webs shoot out with a distinctive thwip. He's stopping a man from breaking into an ATM about a block over, someone Matt had decided to leave alone since the crime wasn't violent, and can't resist rolling his eyes when he hears the vigilante say something about how the ATM must be broken since "crime doesn't pay." Fuck, if there had been any wonders about Spider-Man's youth, there aren't any now.
He waits for Spider-Man to make another move. It would be helpful to get a read on the vigilante before Matt wastes his time following him. He doesn't expect for Spider-Man to swing closer. Nor does he expect for him to stay the course towards Hell's Kitchen. That's new. He follows at a distance, letting Spider-Man fly past him, undetected. In his own territory, it's easy to stay hidden.
Questions build up on Matt's tongue. Why are you in Hell's Kitchen? What do you want? What happened to May Parker? How do you know Peter?
Spider-Man stops up ahead and Matt finally gets close enough to hear heaving breaths. He's close enough to taste copper in the air and smell poorly-washed out blood on the suit. For the first time, he's close enough to hear Spider-Man's heartbeat.
He doesn't like to be caught off guard. But what he hears sends him reeling; however, it does answer one question.
Oh, Matt realizes as he recognizes Peter's heart, It's you.
Saw some comments that suggested we could do with a chapter from Matt's perspective. I agree! Matt's always fun to write since you really have to focus on not describing anything by how it looks, but rather by a combination of the other senses. It's fun to try my hand at. :)
(Also I've read all of your lovely comments and they make my heart so full. I'm so glad people are enjoying this!!)
Chapter 4: Vigilantes Don't Have to be Alone
Peter thinks he's figured out why Matt Murdock's so interesting. He's not sure what he expects to happen if he seeks Matt out after his office hours. Confirmation? Advice?
Maybe just someone who understands.
Apologies for the delay! I ended up writing way more than I thought I would for this chapter and suddenly it took me like 3 days.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It's been three days since Peter met with Matt Murdock. Three days to replay that hour he'd spent in a cramped office, shoulders hunched as Mr. Nelson and Mr. Murdock led him through the process of signing on a client. After Mysterio, he's had more than enough experience with lawyers to know they'd kept him there longer than necessary.
It should have bothered him, knowing they were throwing legal jargon around and urging him into conversation just to get a better read off the kid that had come in claiming to know Spider-Man. But truthfully? It had been the longest interaction he'd had in three months. It had been the most anyone had cared to learn about him since he'd fucked up Doctor Strange's spell, and paid a price that sometimes hurt worse than when he'd seen MJ fall and had known, with startling clarity, that he wasn't going to catch her. And Mr. Murdock and Mr. Nelson had been nice. So nice.
He didn't tell them much, not about himself, but he'd felt his limbs loosen the longer he listened to them talk. Muscles he'd long forgotten how to untense had relaxed and the constant pinging of his Spider sense had faded into background noise. Safe, his body had decided. We're safe.
(Peter's long since stopped calling it his "tingle." Ever since Osborn had betrayed Peter's trust, destroyed Happy's apartment, and killed... and killed... ever since Osborn had taken away the only family Peter'd had left, calling it a "tingle" had felt juvenile. And he knows now that it's more than just a tingle. More than just a feeling that pokes at the corners of his mind.
It's the hairs on the back of his neck rising. It's a heat that begins at his collar, flushing his skin. In his first month alone, he'd realized that it didn't distort his world, it snapped it into focus. Brighter colours. Stronger smells. An awareness of his surroundings that felt like a free dose of adrenaline. And there, in that office, Peter had realized he'd been running off adrenaline for a long time.)
They had needled him with questions, though Mr. Murdock ("You can call me Matt, if you prefer, Peter.") had been quick to reassure him that Nelson, Murdock and Page did not need to know Spider-Man's identity. In fact, it would be better if Peter didn't tell them.
"Call it plausible deniability," Mr. Nelson ("And you can call me Foggy.") had said, his shoulder almost bumping against Matt's. Foggy had dragged a chair from the foyer into Matt's office, muttering under his breath about how they really should be investing in better seating arrangements. They'd sat across from Peter, passing documents for him to review and take home.
Matt had smiled. "Aside from the essentials, like your contact information, we don't need much from you right now, Peter. We'll likely put you down as Spider-Man's negotiator rather than as a client, but you're more than welcome to request services for yourself as well. That extends to any friends or family that might need our help should Spider-Man face any legal trouble."
"Oh, that's good," Peter had said, words escaping his lips before he could swallow them. "But, uh, nobody knows him but me. You know, under the mask?"
"That's fine, Peter. The offer still stands." Matt's eyes had been almost visible under the soft lights. They hadn't focused on him, veering off just over Peter's left shoulder and tinted a smoky red from his glasses, but they'd been kind. Reassuring. Like May's had been when he'd talk her ear off about the classes at MIT. Outside, the sun had started to set. Even in March, the sun goes down too early. Peter's counting down the days before Daylight Savings time finally gives him back the hour it's been hoarding all winter. It's easier to still feel like himself in the daytime.
About a half hour into their chat, Peter's stomach had betrayed him with a growl that made his face grow hot. His metabolism still hadn't caught the memo about Peter's financial situation and hunger had become a constant companion. Nothing debilitating. Just a knot in his stomach that had grown tighter each passing day. Almost casually, Matt had paused, leaning back into his chair. "You know, our firm is often paid in baked goods. We still have some paperwork to cover and I wouldn't be opposed to trying Ms. Chen's pineapple buns while we work on it. Foggy?"
"God, yes. I've been waiting all day to try them. Peter?"
It had sounded better than the peanut butter, rice, and frozen veggies Peter had in his apartment. But still, he'd only come to help Spider-Man. He didn't know if he could afford to take this olive branch. Everyone Peter had let into his life up until now had ended up hurt or dead. "Oh, no, that's okay, Mr. Nelson. Thank you. I just, um, don't really like pineapple?"
"Lucky for you, there's no actual pineapple in pineapple buns," Matt had replied with a upturn of his lip. "It's just a sweet bread. Are you sure you wouldn't like one, Peter?"
Peter had caved. Aunt May had instilled in him the importance of being polite, after all, and Matt and Foggy had agreed to help him. Refusing a second time would've just been rude. The buns had been airy and soft and light on his tongue. Foggy had put two on Peter's plate and said nothing more about it.
When they finally had let Peter go, it had been with a small manila folder of documents and a box of Ms. Chen's pineapple buns.
("She gave us two boxes. And with everything else our clients give us, it'll go to waste here," Matt had said, holding the box out. Peter's hands had been shaking when he reached for it, knocking the box out of Matt's grip. Quick as a whip, Matt had caught the box on the top of his foot and kicked it back up to his hand. Foggy and Miss Page hadn't reacted. As if this had just been a normal thing a blind man could do.
"Nice catch," Peter had said, biting back the question of How did you do that? How did you catch that brick? What am I missing here?
Matt had just pushed the box towards Peter, the ghost of a smirk dancing on his lips. "You can bring the papers back whenever we're open. We'll be in touch.")
He'd all but booked it out of the building the second the office door clicked shut. In the interest of avoiding gossip, Peter had waited until he'd left Hell's Kitchen behind to take the Spider suit from his backpack. All the way home, his thoughts had stayed steady on the growing quirks of Matt Murdock.
While Peter doesn't have access to the same resources that he did with Mr. Stark, he's damn smart. He has a phone, an internet connection, and enough free time to research everything there is to know about Spider-Man's new lawyer. Sure, he probably should have done that before he sought out his former attorney, but it hadn't come to mind. For the past three months, he's made a point of avoiding the past. It's already terrifying enough to pretend he doesn't know Matt at all and he's not even sure he succeeded in that. Extra research would have muddied things, given him more reasons to avoid getting close to someone from his former life ever again.
But now that Spider-Man's got a lawyer (two lawyers, even), it can't hurt to know who he's hired, right?
Putting the buns into his almost-empty fridge, Peter pulls out his cellphone. A pineapple bun that's somehow managed to sneak its way out of the box hangs from his mouth. Out of habit, he switches on the police scanner before dropping in a heap on top of his mattress. On his phone's notes app, he marks his first question: psychic?
Peter is sure that Matt's actually blind. His eyes don't track, Peter doesn't think he's seen them react to light, all of Matt's documents are printed in braille, and, above all, Peter just doesn't think the charade would be worth it. After some light digging, Peter even finds an old news article about a nine-year old Matt Murdock being blinded from a chemical spill. He'd pushed an old man out of oncoming traffic and lost his eyesight as a reward. So unless Matt's been faking his blindness for over twenty-five years, he definitely can't see. At least, not in the traditional sense.
That's fine. Hawkeye has hearing aids. Rhodey uses leg braces to walk after shattering his spine in Germany. Both kick ass. So, blindness doesn't exactly preclude Matt Murdock from being more than the persona he puts out.
Psychic could work, Peter figures, stretching out on his bed. It would explain how he caught the brick that had been lovingly thrown by one of Mysterio's supporters last September. If he's enhanced, it would also explain why he has an obvious soft spot for New York's vigilantes, even if he only errs on the legal side of their work. After everything that had gone down with the Sokovia Accords (which Tony had reassured Peter he didn't have to worry about), it makes sense that Matt wouldn't be flaunting anything that could be considered super-human. Not every enhanced person had wanted to be registered as an agent for the United Nations or placed under heavy scrutiny.
Peter finds what he can about Matt Murdock, noting his successes in taking down Wilson Fisk, a notorious crime boss that'd had half of the NYPD in his back pocket, and his work with the disenfranchised around Hell's Kitchen. Digging deeper, like, the third page of Google deep, Peter uncovers a strange gap in Matt's history that spans from mid-2017 to late 2018. There's no court cases that mention him. A week after winning an eleven million dollar personal injury case for Aaron James, there's just... radio silence.
Coincidentally, the timeline matches up for when Matt Murdock had mentioned representing Jessica Jones.
Maybe even more of a coincidence, Jessica Jones had been spotted working alongside Daredevil at the same time. And a website called Hero Watchers confirms that Daredevil hadn't been sighted for almost a year before that. Then... there's another article about Midland Circle. A building that reportedly had caused earthquakes that'd rocked Manhattan a week before its collapse. The building falls. Daredevil disappears again, alongside Matt Murdock. Nothing gets investigated.
Over a year later, a fake Daredevil appears, the Devil of Hell's Kitchen returns to protect his people, and Matt Murdock emerges from hiding to once again bring down Wilson Fisk-- who'd apparently set up Special Agent Benjamin Poindexter to masquerade as the man in red.
Pieces that Peter had figured were from different puzzles fall into place.
There's a lot about Matt Murdock that's out of place with a blind lawyer from Hell's Kitchen, but fits well with a certain horned vigilante. He spends the next three days helping people out in Queens, waiting out rain in the corner of Hunter's Point public library, and doing a deep dive into New York's original vigilante.
The computers at the library are ancient compared to Mr. Stark's tech, but the library is less than a mile from his apartment at Gotham Point, so he spends a lot of time here. It's a good place to study for his GED when he's not busy trying to figure out what his lawyer's deal is.
(His studio apartment is right along the East River. While it's shabby, it had mentioned apartments for low-income tenants online, which he'd desperately needed if he'd wanted to avoid living on the streets. He likes that the windows are easy to open and that it's a little isolated from other high-rises. It makes it easier for Spider-Man to crawl up the side of the building at three in the morning, bleeding and in need of first aid. And it's far enough from his old home that he can almost pretend it doesn't exist anymore. Because it doesn't. Not for him.)
Peter's never used a microfiche before (what does looking at old newspapers have to do with tiny fish?), so he sticks to the articles he can find online. The photos of Daredevil aren't as good as Peter's own pictures he sells to Jameson, but, hey, Daredevil only works at night. Grainy security cam footage shows Daredevil making those same puppy-like head tilts as Matt. They're a lot scarier on a man in a devil suit, but the mannerisms are the same. Online forums debate about Daredevil's power set, arguing things that range from kickass ninja skills, enhanced senses, or clairvoyance. Maybe some combination of the three. Or maybe just a powerless vigilante like the Punisher.
After three days, Peter thinks he's sure.
Matt Murdock is Daredevil.
It's not nice to unmask people. Peter knows that all too well.
But, fuck, it'd be cool if he's right. He already needs to start networking, and Daredevil would be a good ally. He's a little more brutal than Peter, but his moral compass seems to be unwaveringly good and, well, it'd be a little easier to feel comfortable with Matt if he knows he's Daredevil. The people that have died because of Peter... they'd never had superpowers. And the people he'd known with powers who had? He's had time to understand that their deaths don't rest solely on his shoulders. They hadn't been in danger because they'd known Peter Parker was Spider-Man. It's a terrible rationalization, but maybe he'd feel a little better about dragging people into his Spider-Man business again if he knows they can protect themselves.
Even though he knows it's selfish and unfair, Peter doesn't want to be alone. He can't have his old life back. Until MJ and Ned finally leave for Boston, it takes everything in him to avoid going back to Peter Pan Donuts and fulfilling his promises to them. Whenever his feet lead him there, memories of everything that's happened halt his steps. His chest stutters and Aunt May's final words float through his mind, soft and ghostly. I just need to catch my breath.
No, they aren't made for a life steeped in crime. They aren't fighters. His friends deserve happiness, fulfillment, and a life that isn't threatened by super villains looking to get to Spider-Man. Ultimately, tragically, he knows they can't get what they deserve if he tries to be in their life. It isn't fair to drag them back in.
He'd failed to live two different lives. The only point of Peter Parker now is to be the person who pays Spider-Man's bills.
But Matt Murdock is Daredevil, and maybe that means he can tell him Peter Parker is Spider-Man. Maybe that means he doesn't have to be alone anymore.
Peter unlocks his apartment door on the third evening after re-meeting Matt Murdock for the first time. His apartment is cold. With spring almost here, his landlord's adjusted the heating for the building, pretending it's for scheduled maintenance. Shrugging off his jacket, Peter tosses it onto his unmade bed. Scrolling through his phone, he looks for any sightings of Daredevil on Hero Watchers. There's a ping for him from about an hour ago, near the fringes of Hell's Kitchen and Midtown. West 42nd and 10th Avenue. If he's quick, Peter figures he could swing there in about twenty minutes, give or take some time if anybody needs help along the way.
Pulling the suit from his backpack, Peter straightens out the crumpled fabric to slip it on. He likes his new suit. After seeing Peter Two and Peter Three's designs, he'd brightened the colours and mimicked the webbing style. After finding a functional sewing machine while dumpster diving, he'd even learned how to patch it up. He misses the nanotech on Mr. Stark's suit and, more importantly, he misses Karen, but the spandex and polyester Spider suit is something he's proud of. The mask even has a chrome covering over the lenses to stop people from seeing his eyes. It's definitely homemade, but he doesn't think it's a bad thing.
With the Spider suit on, he eases his window open, creeping off the sill like he's still trying to sneak out without Aunt May knowing. Sometimes, when he opens the window, Peter half-hopes he'll hear Aunt May reminding him to be home by midnight. Like every time before, there's no voice behind him. There's nobody left to care if he gets home safe.
He doesn't have any money to pay for the ferry, so he sneaks through the Queens Midtown tunnel. Tourists honk and wave from their cars, snapping photos as Spider-Man tries to swing above the traffic.
"Hey, it's Spider-Man! That's so cool!"
"Spider-Man! Look over here!"
"You can't make me pull over!"
Peter waves as he rushes by, promoting his favourite pizza places in Manhattan (hey, everyone should try Tony's once in their lives), reminding people to stay in school (hypocrite), and telling people to enjoy New York. The tunnel reeks of car exhaust and half-eaten fast food, so Peter's relieved when he finally swings out. From the tunnel, it's easy to keep on the path towards Hell's Kitchen. He takes a moment to stop a purse-snatcher and promises to let them off with a stern warning before shooting back into the sky. He feels like Tarzan as he swings, flying through the city on vines made of synthetic webs. MJ hadn't liked that movie. (Though she'd relented enough to admit that the soundtrack was incredible.)
Near the corner of West 42nd and 10th, Peter spies a man with his face covered at an ATM. He looks like a cartoon thief with his crow bar. All he's missing is the striped shirt.
"Hey, hamburglar!" Peter says, descending on the man. "Is it broken?"
The thief whirls around and Peter can see the whites of his eyes. They dart from side to side in search of an exit. His shoulders are tense. "What?"
"Is it broken?" Peter repeats, raising a wrist.
"Look, man, I'm not hurting nobody. I'm just trying to get some cash--"
A web covers his mouth. The crowbar clatters to the pavement in his alarm, the man's hands shooting up to his face. Peter shrugs. "Yeah, well, crime doesn't pay."
(That's gotta be the worst quip he's made in months. Fucking hell. Whoever thinks up his dialogue-- and Peter refuses to believe the responsibility lies solely on him-- has got to give him something better to work with.)
After telling the guy that the webs should dissolve in two hours, he decides it's not worth it to flag down a cop. He doesn't want to deal with police tonight, not when he's still not sure where the NYPD lies after the armored truck incident. Giving the guy a final reminder not to do that again, he shoots out a web and finally crosses the threshold into Hell's Kitchen. He knows the Devil is out tonight. Given Daredevil's reputation, Peter figures the vigilante will find him rather than the other way around. So, for lack of a better direction, he swings towards Nelson, Murdock and Page.
With the sun long gone, the air is chilly. It bites into his skin, pushing through the fabric of his costume. He can't help but miss Karen's heaters. He'd tinkered with the idea of adding heat packs (the kind you can find at a drug store) or insulation into his suit, but hadn't figured out how to add it without the suit becoming bulky and awkward to move in. So on nights like this, his teeth chatter as he flies through the air. Traffic is lighter in Hell's Kitchen. It's not exactly the part of town you want to be in after dark. Especially not since people had realized Daredevil was back.
He makes it about two blocks before he realizes he's being followed. Peter lands on a low-rise building, spinning around. No shadows are out of place. But still, Peter's Spider sense won't stop screaming. Somebody is watching him. "I know someone's there."
The wind answers back.
Peter huffs, crossing his arms across his chest. "I know, I know. This is your space. But, uh, I was actually looking for you."
The feeling of someone watching him gets closer. Peter can't hear any footsteps, no matter how hard he strains. But he can feel somebody closing in. Unless he's going crazy, only Daredevil can be so quiet. Peter's heard the stories. It's part of why there are rumours that Daredevil isn't human, but something supernatural. A devil in more than just the name. Trying to steady his breathing, Peter takes a step further into the open.
"Daredevil, right? I'm Spider-Man. Hey, if you're not busy, could we talk?"
"I can spare a minute," a deep voice says from behind him.
Peter jumps, spinning on his feet to throw a wild punch. Daredevil catches his wrist mid-swing, less than a foot away. The top half of his face is hidden behind that famous mask. The eye holes on his mask are the inverse of Peter's-- pitch black and definitely impossible to see out of. Daredevil clenches his jaw and cocks his head in a way that's achingly familiar. He slackens his grip on Peter's wrist and lets Peter take a step back. Peter's Spider sense stops going haywire, dampening to a dull hum. "Oh, sorry! Caught me by surprise."
"You wanted to talk?"
Right. All business. Peter debates just coming right out and asking. If he's wrong, no big deal. Even if he's right and Matt Murdock decides to drop Spider-Man as a client, he figures Matt will figure out something's up eventually. Peter's not a great liar. And besides, it isn't like Daredevil will kill him if he's right. He's about the only hero (vigilante?) in New York that's never killed.
"Um, yeah. Just give me a minute. And um, I know I'm not really in a position to be making demands, but could we just, like," he waves a hand over Daredevil, "cool it with the posturing?"
Perhaps a little taken aback, Daredevil takes a step back and relaxes, if only marginally. He's frowning. Peter wants to call the look on his face conflicted. Like he's debating saying something that could scare Peter off that rooftop. Peter takes a deep breath. He starts to ramble.
"So, uh, big fan. You're really cool. I've heard about a lot of the stuff you've done for Hell's Kitchen and I think it's awesome. And I know you're, like, really territorial and everything, but I was wondering if you wanted to network? Do they call it that? I know I stick to my place and you stick to yours for the most part, but, uh, I sometimes find it hard to work alone-- and maybe you do too!-- and I figured I'd swing over here to ask and--"
He freezes. Who's Peter? he wants to ask. Don't know anybody by that name, no way.
But Daredevil's infamous for being a human lie detector. And besides, Peter knows his name too. He looks into Daredevil's dark lenses and swallows.
Past perfect tense (ex. the rehash of the scene at the beginning) makes my brain hurt lmao
I wanted to just write Peter and Matt talking to each other, but the writing demon took control of my brain and made me write too much even though I need to put this out before I go home for the holidays. So, in the interest of providing y'all with at least a crumb of something, I'm splitting it into the next chapter haha
Thank you everyone for your support of this fic, I've been talking about it non-stop to my friends!
Chapter 5: Someone Who Will Listen
After a rocky start, Peter and Matt finally talk. Peter explains what's happened and Matt just... listens.
Apologies for slow-ish updates, but I'm glad so many people are enjoying this! The response has been crazy and I'm having a blast!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Daredevil spares a whole two minutes to let Peter talk. And although Peter's breath hitches and falters many times, he can't find any words to say. Matt doesn't deny Peter's accusation, which is confirmation enough, but he doesn't react to it either. The look of conflict had slipped from his face the second the name Matt had fallen from Peter's lips. His fists clench and unclench at his sides. His jaw is set. While Peter's sure he's got Daredevil beat in the strength department, he's not certain he'd win if Matt decides to take a swing. Peter's seen the videos. The second you let the Devil get close, you've already lost. Spider-Man may have brute strength, but Daredevil has skill and zero qualms about fighting dirty.
But Matt's figured out Peter and he has to know how. What is there left to connect Peter Parker with Spider-Man? There's hardly a Peter Parker at all-- not anymore. So he waits for Matt to break the silence just as Matt waits for Peter to do the same.
The wind whistles on the low roof-top, shaking the clotheslines hanging out nearby windows. Peter shivers as a gust blows through him. Matt could be made of stone for all he shifts. He's gone back to his posturing and while Peter doesn't think Matt's going to hurt him, he isn't going to pretend that his skin doesn't prickle from more than just the cold. There's a reason Matt's first moniker was the Devil of Hell's Kitchen, long before he had the horns to match. If Peter hadn't done his research to connect Daredevil to Matt Murdock, there's no way he would have connected the empathetic and kind-hearted lawyer-- who'd agreed to defend a teenaged superhero accused of terrorism for little reason beyond believing in Peter's innocence-- to the dark figure standing before him. There's a tremor of rage that suffuses the air around them. Not directed at Peter, not yet, but simply radiating off the Devil like a warning.
Daredevil-- Matt-- heaves a sigh, dropping his shoulders. He jerks his head to the side and takes off towards the next building. Follow.
Up close, Daredevil's parkour is a sight to behold. He hurls himself off rooftops and onto fire escapes without fear, tucking into rolls to preserve momentum. He doesn't bother to check if Peter is following. At least, he doesn't look back. And why would he? Whether it's through clairvoyance or enhanced senses, Matt is acutely aware of Peter's fumbling swings to keep up, staying in close enough range that even a normal person could spot him. Peter follows with his webs, crawling up the sides of buildings as Matt leads him deeper into Hell's Kitchen. They reach a building that's taller than the others in the neighbourhood, an old tenement building that's seen better days. Scurrying up the crumbling bricks, Peter pulls himself onto the roof. He falls into a crouch and rubs at his web shooters nervously.
It's quieter up here. The sirens that never stop in this part of town, especially so close to Metro General, seem to dampen this high up.
Matt's pacing about ten feet away.
"Wow, this is high. Are you planning on pushing me off here or something?" Peter hears himself ask. "Because like, yeah, it would have been dumb of me to follow you if that happens, but also, um, I got webs if I fall--"
Turning on the ball of his foot, Matt directs a wave of something akin to fury towards Peter. His lip is curled back in a snarl. "How long do I have?"
He jerks to his feet, biting back the urge to flee. "I don't--"
"How long do I have before SWORD or the Avengers or whatever it is these days come to arrest me? I can't hear them."
A sensation like ice water trickles down Peter's spine. This isn't going how he thought it would go. He'd pictured several scenarios after confirming Matt's identity, none quite as pleasant as an amiable agreement to network, but nothing so odd. What reason would Peter have to get a fellow vigilante arrested? And nobody's asked Spider-Man about any connection to his old life since Doctor Strange's spell. Peter had never bothered to check if he still had clearance at Stark Industries. There'd been too much to do, too much to avoid, too much hurt. Spider-Man isn't a hero anymore. He doesn't have the backing of the Avengers or Mr. Stark. That had been the whole reason to reach out to Matt Murdock in the first place.
Under the veneer of a threatened predator, there's a tremble of fear in Matt's voice. Peter licks his lips. "Why would anyone be coming to arrest you?"
He takes a step forward, fist curled tight, and Peter flinches.
"You came to my office, Peter. You asked for help. I thought after Widow's death, if they ever sent someone back into the Kitchen they'd at least have the decency not to play games," Matt says, tension rolling off him in droves. His head lilts to the side. "But they sent you. A kid who doesn't know better. You wouldn't have even been old enough to sign the Accords yourself when they passed. You wouldn't have understood what they wanted you to do or what rights they wanted you to sign away. Tell me, Spider-Man, did they even give you a lawyer?"
Daredevil had never signed the Sokovia Accords.
(Three months alone have made him stupid. And several years as Spider-Man under Mr. Stark's mentorship have muffled his memories of why Mr. Stark sought him out in the first place. For a moment, the cold air and old bricks melt away into an old memory. A memory where Mr. Stark lives and knows he's Peter Parker. Peter's fourteen, stopping buses in a homemade costume, and Tony Stark wants him to help fight Captain America.
He'd stolen Cap's shield and preened under Mr. Stark's praise. It had been exhilarating to go hand to hand against an Avenger.
They'd even exchanged banter like real superheroes.
But before Captain America had slammed a foot against Peter's chest and launched him under a gangway, he'd asked Peter if he'd even understood what they were fighting about. Had told him that there was a lot at play that he didn't understand. Peter had trusted that Mr. Stark had told him enough. Mr. Stark had given him a new suit and the opportunity to become a real superhero, and he hadn't been about to let Captain America play mind games.
"Did Stark tell you anything else?" Cap had asked, glancing up at where Peter had been perched on the roof of the jet bridge.
"That you're wrong. You think you're right. Makes you dangerous," he'd replied. And then he'd fought until Cap left him buckling under the weight of a collapsed bridge, a miniature Atlas bearing a fraction of the sky.
He'd been just a kid repeating what he'd been told. A kid that had been ecstatic for the opportunity to impress his idol and ready to accept Mr. Stark's word as gospel. Although his relationship with Mr. Stark had eventually settled into something kinder-- less reverential-- over the years, Peter had never bothered to concern himself with all the effects of the Sokovia Accords. Mr. Stark had said not to worry.
Even after Mysterio had revealed Peter's identity to the world, the influence of Stark Industries had kept him from being thrown on the Raft without trial. It had given him a lawyer who'd been willing to fight tooth and nail to keep him out of prison despite his violation of the Accords. Peter had never needed to care about the ramifications of the Sokovia Accords, never had to fear that by simply being enhanced and choosing to help others he would give up his rights as a human being. But Matt... why wouldn't he have that fear?)
"I-- I never signed anything," Peter says, because it's a start. His fingers flutter over his web shooters. "I'm sorry, Mr. Murdock, I didn't think... nobody's coming. It's just me. I swear, it's just me. I don't even-- I'm not an Avenger. I mean, I've worked with them, but that was before Myst-- that was before the Blip."
"Stop talking," he snaps and Peter's jaw clicks shut. His heart thrums in his ears and his chest aches like his ribs are cracked. Matt's quiet for a moment, turning his head to the side and frowning in concentration. The horns on his helmet tremble as Matt makes minute adjustments to his head's position. His voice is like car tires over broken glass. "Say that again. And if you lie, trust that I will know."
Peter's fought aliens, men made of sand and electricity, and the father of his homecoming date. A blind ninja with precognition shouldn't be more terrifying than all of those combined. Especially not without throwing a single punch. But Peter's Spider sense is screaming at him, forcing him to focus on the curve of muscles under Daredevil's kevlar, the scent of old blood that's especially condensed over Matt's knuckles, and the billy clubs that glint in their holsters. Even if he doesn't want to lie, Peter's brain offers stomach-twisting images of what could happen to those that make the Devil unhappy. He never wants to have Daredevil's fury directed towards him again.
"Nobody's coming. I... I don't work with the Avengers anymore."
Matt doesn't react beyond a curt nod. "Then why are you here?"
"I really do just want to talk. And, um, for what it's worth? I didn't know you were Daredevil when I went to your office."
Peter brings a hand up to his face, pausing, gauging Matt's reaction, before grabbing a handful of his mask. The cool March air eagerly nips across Peter's bare cheeks. His hair is wild and curling under his ears, unkempt after its time pushed back. He balls up the fabric in his fist. Matt's still tense, but, as the seconds pass, more and more fight leeches out of him. He finally cools it with the posturing until he's somewhere between the Devil that grown men feared and the kind Matt Murdock that had cajoled Peter into taking home a box of pineapple buns because he could tell Peter needed the food.
"This isn't about the Accords?" Matt asks, his voice slipping back into a more familiar register.
"Promise. Honestly? It didn't even come to mind."
Matt scoffs and mutters something under his breath that's too hard to make out. Hesitantly, he raises a hand and pushes back his cowl. Brownish-red hair and unfocused eyes greet Peter, achingly familiar even without those signature red glasses. He jerks his head to the side and walks towards the edge of the roof, settling down to swing his legs over the side. With Matt's anger no longer boiling over, Peter's Spider sense calms down enough to let Peter clamber beside Matt. He dangles his legs in the open air, imagining he's hanging from a swing instead of the edge of a crappy apartment building. Cars hum from far below.
They're quiet. But the silence doesn't feel as dangerous.
"You can ask, you know."
Peter jerks his head to the side. Matt's angled his head towards Peter, though he keeps his face forward. Without the cowl, Matt's expressions are easy to read-- open and surprisingly honest. Frowning, Peter's brows knit together. "Uh, ask what?"
"If I'm really blind. It's always the first thing people ask."
"Actually, I was gonna ask why you made me follow you up here."
Matt huffs a laugh. "Easier to hear if I'm higher up. There're less distractions. Figured I'd be able to hear reinforcements coming."
"I really didn't think about that. And I only said your name because you said mine first. Which, like, how could you even tell it was me? I swear I said maybe two things before you just up and unmasked me." Peter knows it's stupid to feel upset that Matt figured him out just as quickly as Peter had uncovered Daredevil's identity, but for some reason it rankles. He'd made the mistake of thinking he'd been clever. But Matt had made the connection even faster than MJ (he shouldn't think about MJ. She's gone, gone, gone from his life. Just like Ned. Just like... no, not like Aunt May. May might have died because of him, but Peter can be sure that nobody ever will again. Just so long as he stays away.) and doesn't even seem to think it's a big deal.
"Heartbeat," Matt replies, reaching out to lightly tap Peter on the chest. It takes all his willpower not to chase that gentle touch when it pulls away. "And I can't see your costume. You don't hide your voice, so I wouldn't have even guessed you were dressed as Spider-Man if I hadn't already been looking for you."
"Oh. So, not psychic then?"
"Last I checked. But like I told Black Widow, unless you can prove I'm enhanced then I'm the NYPD's problem."
Peter raises an eyebrow. "You just said you recognized me by my heartbeat."
"Conjecture. Anybody can hear a heartbeat if they're close enough. Unless you can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that my ability to recognize a heartbeat is unique to the abilities of an enhanced individual, there's no case there." His lip quirks up in a half-smile before suddenly dropping. "You said you didn't know about all of this before you went to my office. But you knew me before you walked in. How?"
Peter's heart skips like Aunt May's ABBA record. It's a question Peter had been praying they would avoid. Like an idiot, he's gotten too close again. And even if Daredevil can defend himself if he knows the truth, there's no way he'd believe Peter. How could anyone? He's alone and deserves to be alone because he'd failed. Breaths fall from Peter's chest too quickly, heaving in and out in short bursts. He can't breathe. He needs to leave. The past is catching up and he can't be here when it arrives. I just need to catch my breath.
There's a hand on his shoulder. It's warm and smells of old blood and is more than Peter deserves. He should go. People in Queens could be hurt or dying because he's chosen to ignore his great responsibility in favour of not being alone. Somebody could be getting mugged. The girl Peter saw at the library every day could be running for her life, crying out for Spider-Man's help until her throat's hoarse and her face is tight with dried tears. MJ could be falling with nobody there to catch her.
But he's selfish. He doesn't want to be alone.
"You've helped me before," he says, barely able to push the words past a whisper. "After Mysterio told the world that Spider-Man was Peter Parker."
Peter sighs, drawing a knee up to his chest. Tears prick the corners of his eyes. "It's a long story."
"Then start from the beginning." Matt squeezes Peter's shoulder. Without the mask, Matt looks so much more like the lawyer that had fiercely kept Peter off the Raft with a conviction that had been startling to witness. With his face bare, he looks so much more like the man who'd caught a brick flying towards Peter's head and played off the feat by offering a non-answer and moving on like nothing had happened. He looks like someone that will listen.
"This is gonna sound so cliché, but you wouldn't believe me if I told you," Peter says. He's deflecting. Why? Why is he being such a contrary son of a bitch?
Matt smiles warmly. "I'll believe anything that's the truth."
Something bursts in Peter's chest, a loose stone in a dam he'd been building for the last three months, and the story comes pouring out.
Thirty minutes. It takes over thirty minutes for Peter to piece together a timeline from the fragments that exist only in his own memory. Matt doesn't interrupt aside from a clarifying question or to prompt Peter to continue when the flow of words rise and threaten to drown him. He doesn't know where to start. At first, he begins with the spider bite, but that seems too far back. Then it's when Mr. Stark had first appeared and flown him to Germany. And while something deep in Matt's chest rumbles in displeasure when Peter regales him with the adventure, it doesn't seem like the right spot to begin either.
So he starts with Tony Stark dying.
He chokes out a memory of Tony looking at him on the battlefield like a resurrected ghost and how Mr. Stark had hugged him until bones creaked. He stumbles over watching the light fade from Tony's eyes, his skin scorched and crumbling. It had been the first time he'd learned what charred flesh smelled like.
Peter tells Matt about the building that collapsed. How he'd been trapped and alone and begging for help he'd known wouldn't come. When Matt winces, Peter's mind flits to the article about Midland Circle and wonders if Matt knows a thing or two about being buried alive. Do small spaces still make his skin crawl? Does he ever wake up in the middle of the night trying to catch his breath because it feels like a building's lying in pieces across his chest? He doesn't ask, but he hurries over this part of the story like it burns him. It's before Tony died anyways; it shouldn't have even made it into his timeline.
Then there's Mysterio and his promises. His betrayal and Peter's unmasking. There's fear, fear, fear, and a blind lawyer that comes highly recommended by Happy Hogan and the known vigilantes of New York. When he mentions the brick, Matt can't hold back a small smile. He wonders aloud how he'd explained it to his partner once he'd returned to the firm. Despite his fear about the Accords coming back to bite him, Matt thinks it would have been a very funny conversation.
Peter deliberately doesn't mention May when he recounts his first fight with Osborn.
He doesn't want Matt to blame him. And maybe, if he doesn't say anything, Matt will never have to know.
"And then the sky started breaking apart. Doctor Strange couldn't stop it, but I knew I could. Everything had started because of me. Because they knew about Peter Parker. So I figured... if nobody knew Peter Parker, then everything would be okay." His chest is tight. The tears had started sometime after he'd mentioned giving MJ the black dahlia necklace.
"That's why Karen couldn't find a paper trail," Matt says after some thought. "Because there's nothing to find."
"You... you believe me?" Peter asks, sniffling. The wind tickles Peter's hair as if petting him. Matt shrugs.
"Not a fan of magic. It muddies things. But I know you're not lying and after the Blip, there's always just... stranger things, I suppose." He pauses, blinking slowly. His eyes are hazel. "Peter, how old are you?"
Rubbing at his eyes with the heel of his hand, Peter sighs. He's not ready to deal with the whole adult is very concerned that Spider-Man is basically a minor thing right now. But it's not like he can lie. "Eighteen."
To Matt's credit, he doesn't immediately start going insane. He just nods and pushes a hand through his hair. "And you have a place to live? You have a job?"
"Um, yes to the apartment. I'm working on the job part. But it's okay," he's quick to reassure, "I sell pictures to the Daily Bugle sometimes. Not a huge fan of it, but, hey, it pays the bills."
He hums in response. His eyes search for an answer to a question he has yet to voice. "I'm guessing you don't have any references?"
"All gone," Peter agrees softly, tucking his chin atop his knee. "I had a real internship with the R&D department for Mr. Stark, but, um, no way to prove it now."
"Well, if you ever need a job my firm could always use an office manager."
The world stops. What? He's got to have misheard. Only an hour ago Matt had been furious at the idea that Peter had even stepped foot in Nelson, Murdock and Page. He'd kind of assumed that Matt had already mentally dropped Spider-Man as a client. But a job? A job meant not for Spider-Man, but Peter Parker? "I-- I don't-- what about Miss Page?"
Matt offers a wry smile. "Karen splits her time between us and the New York Bulletin. She dropped a lot to join Foggy and I when we came back-- more than she should have. I'm sure she'd feel better about things if she knew she was leaving the office in capable hands."
"Sometimes papers stick to my hands. It's a spider thing."
The smile turns into a grin. "Just don't do that and the job's yours."
It's too much. Everything tonight has been too much. Peter shrugs. It's all he can do. "Can I think about it?"
Nodding, Matt turns his head towards Peter. It's a practiced movement. They both know Matt can't see him, but eye contact (or at least an approximation) is important when speaking seriously. "Of course. And, Peter, I know this won't be a question you'll want to answer. And if you don't, that's okay. But I don't want to just help Spider-Man, I want to help you. You need somebody in your corner. We both know it."
Pushing down a rush of warmth that floods his chest, Peter swallows a lump in his throat. Maybe he'll ask why he doesn't go and make MJ and Ned remember him. Or why he doesn't approach Doctor Strange for help again. They're fair questions and Peter owes Matt answers because he'd sat with him and listened. He doesn't want to answer them, but he knows he can try. If he doesn't want to be alone, he knows he'll have to try.
Matt sighs, his gaze soft and his posture relaxed. It's a perfect mimicry of how he'd first approached Peter to introduce himself. Designed to put him at ease. Peter holds onto that expression and the flush of warmth. A feeling of safety flickers like a candle deep inside his chest.
"What happened to May Parker?"
And just like that, the candle goes out.
I feel like I should specify that I loved Peter and Tony's dynamic in the MCU, but I'm not gonna pretend like it wasn't messed up for him to recruit a teenager lol
My brain can't figure out if Peter's seventeen or eighteen by this point. I know his birthday's in August, so like, if he's supposed to be in senior year he'd be 17. Idk, timelines are weird.
Chapter 6: What Happened to May Parker?
Matt processes the overload of information Peter gave him, drops a question a little too soon, and has to deal with the fallout.
March has been abnormally cold this year. New Yorkers didn't tend to salt their rooftops or concern themselves with fire escapes coated in a layer of frost and ice, which made Daredevil's nightly activities all the more exciting. Despite the assault to his senses, Matt had fitted the interior of his gloves with a rubber grip after more than one slip had sent him tumbling to the asphalt. Until the city thawed, Matt had accepted that his hands would reek like bloody basketballs, iron-coated and heavy on his tongue. (And, yes, he had memories to associate with that scent. High school and accidental throws aimed at the unsuspecting blind kid had made for a hell of an introduction.)
The rubber had scraped against Peter's shoulder when he'd placed an uncertain hand there. The sweat that had frozen in droplets under Peter's suit had warmed under his touch, shifting the spandex fabric. Although spandex is a quieter fabric, he had still been able to listen to its soft scratches as Peter had told a story that had seemed equal parts thrilling and tragic.
It had been hard to believe, but he'd promised to believe anything that was the truth. Peter's voice still clung onto a note of youth, shaking as he told Matt about his mentor dying in front of him with a blend of shame and resignation. The air had been thick with icy tears as Peter stumbled over stories about his best friend and a first love. As much as Matt had wanted to fight or flee at first, it didn't feel right to leave without hearing Peter out.
But Matt didn’t like surprises. He didn’t like feeling tricked. And when Peter had played his hand, responding to Matt’s Peter with a reply of Matt, he’d been, for lack of a better word, blindsided. His mind had flooded with a fear the public didn't believe he could feel. A scream had built up in his throat, primal and raw, and he'd tamped it down only to listen for the tell-tale signs of reinforcements. They'd sent Black Widow last time to deal with him. Matt hadn't entertained the thought that the (mostly) celebrated defender of Queens would be confronting him alone.
Peter had come to his office. He’d asked for help and Matt had believed him. Of course he'd believed him. As a Catholic, he had a soft spot for hopeless causes. Peter had promised that Spider-Man did his best to be a good person and his heart had beat nothing but truth.
However, Spider-Man had been an Avenger. He’d fought on the side of the Accords and had been heavily associated with Tony Stark. The definition of a good person could be so varied based on what one believes. So what reason did Matt have to think that they hadn’t sent a naïve and immature super-hero to prove Daredevil was enhanced before surrounding him?
Matt had led Peter further into Hell's Kitchen, keeping an ear out for the others that would surely follow. They'd settled on an old tenement building-- one of the highest points in the borough. Sound travels less distance in the winter. In the hotter months, Matt can hear a few miles away if he focuses. But when it's cold, it's better to be higher up, away from the sirens and cars and drunks stumbling home after one too many shots. He'd known what to listen for; he'd planned to flee at the first instance of quinjet engines or riot gear. There had been nothing.
Of course Tony Stark had shielded Spider-Man from the Accords. Of course they would never come to mind for a vigilante who'd rubbed elbows with the elite.
But Peter had wanted to talk, and, more than that, he wanted to network. All Matt had heard when the word left Peter's mouth was a kid trying desperately to sound adult. Lost, confused, and eager to make a friend. It had been like a blow to the chest.
People rarely seek Daredevil out with good intentions.
So he listens. People have left him all his life and he never wants to do that to someone else.
While Peter's story is wild and fantastical, his heart beats truth, truth, truth all the way through it. He's met Peter Parker before. He'd fought viciously to have Peter's criminal charges dropped and apparently he'd succeeded. Even though he can't remember doing this, his chest flushes hot with pride. Listening to Peter talk, it's easy to tell why he would have agreed to take Peter's case despite the risk of public scrutiny. There's a voice in the back of his head, bearing the familiar cadences of Father Lantom, that says, No man should walk alone. If we have the strength, we have a duty to protect one another.
He wants to protect Peter.
There's an unmistakable skip when Peter describes the aftermath of Osborn's betrayal, a slight hitch to his breath that fumbles to keep his voice from cracking. A shudder tears through Peter down to his atoms.
There's no lie there, but something's missing. Something big and obvious that Matt knows exists, shining bright like the billboard outside his apartment window, but he can't read it. His senses tell him a lot, but some expressions are written only on the face. A quivering lip could mean many things. Fear, panic, guilt. A heartbeat can only tell so much. When Peter's story ends, there's silence.
He can't help but ask, "Peter, how old are you?"
The answer isn't surprising, but it pulls at his chest all the same. (He's a kid. He's a child hanging his hopes on a lawyer he'd barely known and a vigilante in a devil costume, and, as much as he knows he's not the kind of person Spider-Man should be putting his trust in, the faith is startling. He can't live up to it. He has to live up to it. Otherwise he's abandoning Peter like Stark did or like Stick did with him. He can't do that. It'd be a sin even confession couldn't absolve him of.)
The roof is cold under him and his legs are heavy as they hang off the ledge. A taxi pulls up down the street, cajoling drunks into the warm and cigarette-stained interior. Even from up here, the scent of menthols and cotton candy vape clouds churn his stomach. Beside him, Peter shivers like his molecules are trying to escape and he's tucked closer to Matt than he remembers him being.
Peter's fingers twitch when Matt offers a job, going back to rub at the humming metal on his wrists. "Can I think about it?"
"Of course." Matt wants to smile, but a thought still bothers him. A May Parker-shaped hole is missing from Peter's story. Karen had been right; the casualty from Spider-Man's fight with his rogues' gallery is important. A mother? A friend? In their first meeting, Peter had mentioned an aunt. His lip twists. "Peter, I know this won't be a question you'll want to answer. And if you don't, that's okay. But I don't want to just help Spider-Man, I want to help you. You need somebody in your corner. We both know it."
The air shifts around Peter's head as he nods. "Okay."
Heaving a sigh, he turns himself towards Peter. Matt blames it on the lawyer brain that urges him to ask this question. This isn't a cross-examination, he knows it isn't, but his ability to help hinges on knowing as much as he can. "What happened to May Parker?"
Peter's not-quite-right heartbeat ramps up and a burst of salt water puffs into the air.
"I--" he starts, voice cracking.
"Peter," Matt says softly, reaching out to touch his shoulder. Rubber scrapes against spandex as Peter jerks back. Peter scrambles backwards, heart thudding against his throat, and rolls to his feet.
"Who- who's May Parker?" Anxiety drips from every word. He's bouncing on the balls of his feet, body coiled and on the cusp of release like a spring in a broken mattress. Even phrased like a question, Matt hears the lie.
Pushing to his feet, Matt keeps his palms open and posture loose. He tries to approximate where Peter's face is and directs his focus there. "It's alright. Peter, you're alright."
"But she's not." His voice is barely a whisper and it's so tight all the words jumble together. "I-- I'm sorry, Mr. Murdock. This was a mistake. I can't... I can't do this."
He reaches out a hand to catch Peter's wrist, his fingers falling through the empty air as Peter turns and leaps from the roof. His webs catch the next building, then the next, and then the next, leaving behind a cloud of salicylic acid and methanol. Although he takes a step forward to follow, Matt knows it'll be impossible to catch up. Sighing, he retrieves his discarded mask and heads toward the fire escape. As he resolves to stay out a little later, just in case Peter comes back, Matt prays he hasn't fucked things up for good.
"So, catch any spiders?" Karen asks the next morning, the air around her arm whistling as she manipulates her fingers.
Matt sighs, tucking his cane against the wall. "I don't know what you're trying to show me."
"She's wiggling her fingers to make a spider, Matty. It's pretty gruesome. I mean, the spider's missing three legs," Foggy says from the kitchenette. He's sipping from a mug of what could either be coffee or hot charcoal.
"Oh, please," she scoffs, high heels tapping across the open space. Papers slide against the wood of her desk. "I got a breakthrough last night on our newest, um, client. Had to do some digging, but it looks like Stark Industries had a claim on Spider-Man's business."
Frowning, Matt walks over to Karen's desk, reaching out a hand for the documents. His fingers run over the braille embossment.
(They'd had a deaf client a couple months back that had approached them about a discrimination lawsuit in their workplace, seething from her company's refusal to write information down or provide her with an interpreter over the span of several months. She'd been written up for yelling at co-workers and managers, despite the fact she couldn't hear her own voice and hadn't been allowed to communicate through text. While Matt and Foggy are defense attorneys first and foremost, they've always welcomed clients with civil suits. After the success of the lawsuit, the client had surprised them with a braille printer for the office. She'd said she hoped it would be useful. It had been.)
"That's not all that surprising," Matt says. "He's been endorsed by Tony Stark."
"Was endorsed by Stark," Karen replies, her fingers brushing against her hair. "Seems all connections were cut off about three months ago."
A sharp intake of breath from Foggy. "And then suddenly, Peter Parker."
In the past, Matt thinks he would have let them keep searching in the wrong direction. There's an urge to keep what Peter had confessed last night to himself-- to bury the secrets close to his chest. But he's learned from then. The only way they'll trust him is if he trusts them back. (That's how it works, Matt, Foggy had said, drowning himself in his second pint as Josie's. You want to keep us safe? You gotta let us know what's going on.)
But he won't tell them Peter and Spider-Man are the same person. That's not his secret to tell.
He extends the papers back to Karen. "I caught a spider last night."
"What happened?" Foggy asks, pushing away from the kitchenette. The rancid coffee wafts closer.
"Well, Karen was right. Kind of. Peter did know me." He rubs a hand on the back of his neck sheepishly. Before they can explode in justifiable concern, Matt continues. "And he'd passed the message along to Spider-Man. Good news? He actually does want us on retainer. It wasn't about the Accords."
"Bad news?" Foggy bumps Matt's shoulder.
"He--" How the hell is he supposed to explain this? "He wanted to network."
The room grows so quiet Matt thinks he could hear a pin drop from across the street.
"I thought you said Spider-Man was G-rated. Like, Avengers grade," Foggy says, his hair swishing as he pivots towards Karen. Matt can only assume they're sharing a look. "Full offense, Matt? You're like, R-rated with a special warning for extreme violence. If you were both movies, kids would be trying to sneak into your movie stacked up in a trench coat while daycares go to see Spider-Man."
He can't shake off a smirk. "Thanks, Fogs."
"But what about Peter?" Karen says, her hand back near her face. Her nails scratch against her hair as she twists a strand around her finger. "If he already knew about Daredevil, why would he bother coming in here first? Why would he even be a part of this if Spider-Man was just going to run into you anyways?"
"I don't think he knew then. You said Peter seemed to recognize me when he first came in. It's possible he's been in the gallery at one of our trials. I don't know. But Spider-Man said Peter did some research after he came here. Took some leaps, made some guesses."
"Damn good guesses." Foggy taps a finger against his mug. A curl of doubt rises from him like steam from his coffee.
Matt nods, a small laugh escaping him. "Yeah. But I talked to him. And... and I think it has to do with May Parker."
"The nurse from that apartment attack?" Karen asks, rounding her desk to open her laptop. "Maybe Spider-Man saved him and now he feels, what, obligated to help him out? Spider-Man's endorsed FEAST, right?"
"To my knowledge," Matt concedes.
"Maybe that's the next lead? Because I'll be honest with you guys, even if Peter's not a bad kid, he's still a kid. And if he needs our help--"
"We might be the only ones who can." He sighs. It's not a fun thought. Two co-dependent lawyers and an investigative journalist with a nose for trouble? They're not exactly the best choices for support.
The three of them stand around for a long, awkward moment. In classic Foggy fashion, it's his best friend that breaks the tension. "So, swapping out drinks at Josie's for a soup kitchen in Queens? Sounds like fun. I'll get us matching aprons and we can offer our serving expertise."
Matt chuckles, reaching up to adjust his glasses. "You're not tricking me again."
"Oh, come on! You loved the matching Kiss me, I'm Irish sweaters! Think about the possibilities if we match aprons next."
"Sorry, you did what?" Karen asks, voice muffled as she suppresses a giggle.
"Columbia. Foggy gave me a sweater for Christmas and said he got a matching one. Didn't bother to tell me I was a walking stereotype." Matt grins, patting Foggy's shoulder as he retreats to his office.
"What Matty's forgetting to tell you is that he loved it," Foggy adds, ducking his head conspiratorially towards Karen's.
"No proof of that, Counselor," he replies before shutting his door.
He's got a lot of paperwork to do before he can learn more about May Parker.
The FEAST shelter and soup kitchen is bursting with so many smells it's disorienting. Matt clings to Foggy's arm after they've exited the cab, tapping his cane along the road. Karen follows alongside. There's a group of people outside, a heady blend of body odour, trash, and perfumes. Shaking hands pass around cigarettes and flick at lighters. People hack, coughing up wads of phlegm that reek of sweet infection, and snore under lumps of nylon. Underneath it all, there are sweet potatoes and roast chicken coming from inside. The meal of the day.
There's a lot of input to take in. Hell's Kitchen has its own special brand of noises and smells that Matt's grown used to over the years. In Queens? He needs a little more time to map the place out. He tightens his grip on Foggy.
They're well-dressed enough that they're drawing attention. Curious onlookers turn their heads as they walk up to the entrance.
Inside, the smells and noises are muted. A rush of warm air rolls over them as they cross the threshold. Foggy flags down the nearest volunteer.
"Hi," he says, a smile in his voice. "I'm Foggy. This is Matt and Karen. Do you have a minute to talk?"
"Cynthia," the volunteer, an older woman with a tired edge to her voice, says. "And unless you're here to help, I don't got time."
"We'll make it quick," Matt says, drawing his cane against his chest. He pulls a business card from his jacket and extends it out for Cynthia to take. "We own a law firm in Hell's Kitchen and recently had a client come in for legal help. We're looking for potential character witnesses and he mentioned May Parker. Our client said she volunteered here. As we've had some trouble contacting her, we thought it'd be helpful to come down and meet her in person."
Cynthia's heart quickens and her jaw quivers. The card shakes between her fingers. "Well, I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but May died in December. Terrible accident. It's not been the same without her here."
Matt pinches his brow in sympathy. "Oh, I'm sorry to hear that. Did she have any next of kin that volunteered here? Our client had suggested there might be."
"No, none that I'm aware of. Her husband died about four years before the Blip. Never had children. Her brother and sister-in law died a long time ago. I could have sworn they had a son, but I'm not sure what happened to him. I don't think she ever mentioned a nephew." A note of confusion tinges her voice, hazy and far-away. Like she's trying to remember a dream she'd once had. At his sides, Karen and Foggy seem to catch it. Their shoulders stiffen. Cynthia's back straightens and the haze is gone. "Sorry I can't be of more help. I hope you can find somebody for your client."
Smiling, Matt nods. "Not a problem. Our condolences about Ms. Parker."
They chat for a few more minutes, but Matt's mind has already drifted away. Though Matt doesn't know much about magic, he knows nothing is infallible. Doctor Strange's spell can't be 100% concrete. There had been an echo there, of a time when the world had known Peter Parker. He'd been a nephew. May Parker's nephew. And May Parker had died in an attack against Spider-Man.
May Parker had died because of Spider-Man.
This is a shorter chapter than the past ones, but I hope it's still good! I feel like the format of this fic is probably gonna be 2/3 Peter POV and 1/3 Matt bc I love writing things in Matt's perspective. It's a fun exercise in not describing the world visually.
ALSO, ty to people in the comments trying to help me figure out if Peter is supposed to 17 or 18 at the end of NWH. I've decided he's 18 and have adjusted the last chapter accordingly lmao
Chapter 7: How (Not) to Deal a Killing Blow
It's been over a month since Peter ran away at the mention of Aunt May. He's afraid to go back. But he isn't getting better on his own and sometimes things can get so much worse.
(I just want to make note that there's some semi-graphic violence in this chapter. It's not too bad, but I think it would be negligent not to let people know. I hope you enjoy!)
The ice is thawing. Peter hasn't dragged slush into his apartment for almost a month now and his shoes have been mercifully dry. He hasn't even had to wring out his Spider-Man suit in the shower after a night of heavy sleet or after taking a tumble into what passes for a New York City snow bank (hint: it's mostly dirt with just a dash of half-melted ice) in days. The NYPD has mostly calmed down since the armored truck incident, reverting back to their usual routine of either telling him to get lost or waving as he swings through Queens. Nobody's even tried to arrest him in two weeks.
He hasn't gone back to Hell's Kitchen since he'd unloaded his whole life story on Daredevil.
Thanks to his choice of setting himself up as Spider-Man's negotiator, Nelson, Murdock and Page have his phone number on file, which they've taken to calling a couple times a week. Sometimes he lets it go to voicemail, turning his phone on silent and pretending that he can't still feel the faint buzz against his thigh, but he hasn't bothered to listen to them. What's the point? He knows what they'll say. Maybe they'll make up some excuse for him to return to their office, or let him know that they're beholden to attorney-client privilege so he doesn't need to worry about his conversation with Matt. Or maybe they'll tell him they know. They know about Aunt May and that it's all his fault. Maybe their voicemails are just letting him know that they've dropped Spider-Man as a client and they never want him to contact them again.
Hi, Peter, it could say. This is Karen Page of Nelson, Murdock and Page. We spoke last week? I'm just calling to let you know that we've decided we can't continue to represent Spider-Man. We know about May Parker. Mr. Murdock and Mr. Nelson don't think they can work with someone so negligent and we hope you can understand. We wish you the best of luck in securing new attorneys.
If he doesn't listen to them, he can still believe that he's allowed to go back. He can still hope that they meant it when they said they wanted to help not just Spider-Man, but Peter Parker too. So, the voicemails stay, ghosts in the machine, a notification that he never clears.
The pineapple buns are gone. Peter's found a couple freelance gigs doing web design and coding, but it's slow going when he doesn't have many examples of his previous work and all the tech bros want to pay him in exposure. He's devoted pretty much all of his earnings to rent and a couple of carb-heavy groceries. Taste is irrelevant when he needs a ridiculous amount of calories to stop his metabolism from eating away at his muscles.
He tells himself this as he sits cross-legged on his bed one Tuesday afternoon, a bowl of white rice and pinto beans balanced precariously on his knee, and listens to an Introduction to Biochemistry lecture on Youtube.
(His chances at MIT disappeared along with the memories of Peter Parker, and, realistically, he knows he doesn't have much of a chance of getting into any university. Especially not without a scholarship. But his GED exam is coming up at the end of April and he's been distracting himself with pipe dreams of applying to community college. It would cut into his Spider-Man time and eat into money he doesn't have, but it's easier to think about a future instead of a past that no longer exists.
So he listens to lectures when the silence becomes too much and only stops when his stupid brain conjures up daydreams of listening to those lectures in person, shoulder-to-shoulder with Ned and MJ.)
A cool breeze flutters through the open window, airing out the pathetic clothesline Peter had strung up across the apartment. The dryer costs a whole dollar for a load down in the basement, which he'd decided could be better spent on salt and the occasional splurge for a pack of noodles. A bonus? The detergent smells clean and fresh, and if he closes his eyes, he can almost imagine Aunt May running in to show off her latest air freshener. She'd always liked the clean linen and ocean breeze scents the best.
The audio on his phone crackles as Professor Hutton leads his lecture through the definition of entropy. "It is, in essence, the measure of uncertainty-- a state of disorder. It's chaos. With work, we can reduce this chaos until it hardly matters. But if we leave entropy unchecked? Everything will eventually fall into disorder." The professor pauses in sync with Peter's hitched breath. "Now, how does this apply to biochemistry?"
His hands are shaking. Setting his bowl on the floor beside him, Peter clicks away from the video. Wind whistles against his window panes. It's just biochem. He should be able to listen to this without feeling his throat close and his chest growing tight. What work has he done to deal with the chaos of Doctor Strange's spell?
He's made a new suit and built a past for Peter Parker from the ground up, but what beyond that? He still can't stop himself from swinging past Midtown Tech or stopping outside Peter Pan coffee on days when MJ's behind the counter. It's not fair to make his loved ones remember him; it's not safe. But the idea of doing more to move on-- whether that be by leaving New York entirely or taking the time to choose which life he wants-- makes his heart squeeze. It lights his nerves on fire like a free dose of Electro's lightning.
He's just wasting time indulging in a future that's long since died a bloody death.
Desperate fingers tap through his phone for a distraction, scrolling through his emails until he comes across a new one from the Daily Bugle. Jameson's assistant is asking for new photos or videos of Spider-Man. (The extra money is certainly tempting. The combinations he's been able to make from peanut butter, rice, and beans have been depleting. There are a few he's been saving from an apartment fire last week. A couple action shots of him pulling civilians from burning wreckage and shielding ash-dusted heads as fire blazes in sunset oranges and blood reds. They make him look a little more heroic than he feels, but Peter's sure Jameson will find a way to spin it in a way that's more than humbling.)
His thumb traces over the screen. Given the quality of your previous submissions, Mr. Jameson has indicated a particular interest in your photos. If you have any photos or videos that may be of some interest, please stop by our offices when you can. We look forward to hearing from you!
It's not a long swing to the Daily Bugle's headquarters in Chelsea. With a sigh, he rolls off his bed and stuffs his suit in his backpack. His head is suffused with static. Things will only get worse if he doesn't get out.
Besides, what good is Peter Parker if he can't pay Spider-Man's bills?
The building is an affront to architecture. It's less of a building and more of a glass box, blinding in the mid-afternoon sun. Peter's pretty sure it could signal airplanes from the way it refracts. Shouldering his backpack, he walks up the pathway to the entrance, pointedly ignoring his reflection in the mirrored doors. His face is gaunt, not much better than the faces he remembers seeing when he'd volunteered at FEAST, and the circles under his eyes are a mess of deep purples. A yet-to-heal bruise pokes up from under his collar. Stopping to fix his hair won't detract from the rest of him, so he doesn't bother.
There's an intern at the front desk, a black headband set neatly over her blonde hair, writing in the notes app on her phone when he approaches. An itch builds at the base of his skull. His footsteps are too loud against the fake marble floors. The room is filled with vanilla perfume and the scent of it makes his nose twitch. Something's wrong. Nothing's wrong. What's wrong?
"Uh, hi," he says, wincing when the intern jumps. She sets the phone down and looks up to shoot him a smile. His Spider sense goes haywire, and it takes a second for him to swallow it down.
He offers a smile of his own to Betty Brant.
"Welcome to the Daily Bugle." Her voice is professional and polite. There's not even a flicker of recognition in her eyes. "Is there anything I can help you with, Mr.--"
"Parker. Peter Parker. I have some Spider-Man photos for Mr. Jameson?" His nose burns like he's about to cry.
"Did you have an appointment?"
"Um, no, but I got an email from his assistant Mr. Buckley this morning? I can show you the email if you want."
Her fingers hover over the keyboard and she leans forward to read the screen. "That's okay, you've sold photos to us before so you're in the system. I don't think he's too busy right now so I can let Mr. Jameson know you're here. You'll just have to spend a little more time down here with me until I get the go-ahead."
She hasn't changed. Her signature white-collared shirt and sweater vest combo have followed her into her internship at the Daily Bugle, which-- if Peter takes a moment to think about it-- he remembers her receiving shortly after Mysterio had outed him as Spider-Man. He hadn't held it against her. An internship with a well-known (if controversial) news site would look as insane on college applications as Peter's Stark internship had. He'd had bigger things to worry about than whether she'd gotten it because she'd known Peter-- and could therefore "expose him as a menace" for Jameson-- or not. After Doctor Strange... well, he somehow hadn't run into her while peddling his photos. If he'd been asked about it, he would have figured Betty's internship would have been just another thing that'd disappeared.
Betty takes Peter's lack of reply as confirmation, picking up the phone to page Jameson. After a minute or so, filled with crackly yelling from the receiver, Betty hangs up and smiles again. "Mr. Buckley should be down in a minute to escort you."
"Awesome," Peter says, and then, because if he stays quiet he thinks he'll cry, he adds, "Thanks, Betty."
She squints, tilting her head. "Sorry, have we met before?"
Peter imagines the floor opening up to swallow him whole, and desperately wishes it into being. His feet stay on too-solid ground. "Oh, sorry, I guess not. I just figured the Daily Bugle doesn't have that many high school interns, you know?"
Alarm flashes in her eyes. "I don't think I told you that."
Mouth, meet foot. He fumbles to reply before she tries to call for security. Does the Daily Bugle even have security? Would Jameson waste money on that kind of thing? "God, this looks so creepy, my bad. I just, like, guessed? I mean, you look like you're around my age," (and you dated my best friend) "so I figured I'd take a stab at it? I like learning people's names-- not like that!-- just so it feels less awkward when I come in. Like, it's usually Miss Patton at the front desk, but I guess she's off today and--"
Betty and Peter turn in sync to see Dan Buckley standing at the elevator door, an eyebrow raised. Peter tries to hide his sigh of relief as he nods. "Hi."
"Jonah's got five minutes for you. Let's not waste them in the lobby," he says, keeping his arm slung over the elevator door to stop it from closing. He tilts his head towards Betty. "Everything alright, Miss Brant?"
"For sure!" she replies, smoothing the front of her shirt. Peter thinks she might have found his rambling endearing, which, all things considered, he supposes is better than terrifying. A small, genuine smile blooms on her face. "It was nice meeting you, Peter."
His chest hurts. "You too."
He follows Mr. Buckley into the elevator, the tingling under his skin finally beginning to settle. On the top floor, Peter walks through the set where Jameson broadcasts his livestreams, carefully stepping over taped-down cords and studio lights. Two camera operators drink coffee dangerously close to their equipment. Jameson is leaning back in his chair, an unlit cigar poking out from the corner of his lips. He fiddles with a lighter, but makes no move to light up. He glances up as Peter approaches and his scowl deepens.
"Uh, yes, sir." His hands itch to pull on his backpack strap, to tug his suit a little closer. (It's always a dangerous game, bringing the suit right under the nose of a journalist like Jameson, but after the smear campaign and how the Daily Bugle blamed him for the attack that killed... that killed... for the attack Osborn and the other supervillains staged at Happy's apartment complex, Peter can't help but give into the temptation. It's almost as satisfying as he imagines waving a giant fuck you sign would be.)
"You got anything for me or are you here to waste my time?"
Peter pulls out his cellphone and finds the Spider-Man album. (Hey, having a specific album is good for organizing.) Jameson snatches the phone out of Peter's lax grip, leaning back to thumb through the photos.
"Crap, crap, crap, not bad, crap, crap, weird angle, decent composition, crap." He rolls his eyes and extends his hand back. "Give you two hundred for them."
"You offered three hundred last time," Peter replies, feeling his cheeks grow hot.
"We overpaid last time," Jameson scoffs. He tucks his lighter back in his pocket and rises to his feet. "You're a no-name freelancer with a decent camera who gets lucky. You should be happy we offer you anything. World's changing, Parker. Getting easier to get decent photos all the time. Some jack-off uploads it to Twitter? Offer to credit them and they're climbing over each other to let us use 'em."
"If there were better photos online then Mr. Buckley wouldn't have said you liked mine." He grits his teeth and resists the urge to clench his fist. Spit that tastes like venom fills his mouth.
Jameson pulls his cigar from his mouth, gesturing towards Peter's face. His eyes flit to Mr. Buckley, who's been standing idle beside Peter and now seems desperate for an escape. The way the lights glint off Jameson's bald head would have been funny under different circumstances.
"You said that? Remind me to fire you next week. I still need you to get a comment from Barton about his new side-kick so you still have a job until Friday. And Parker, your photos are biased. Spider-Man carrying children and little old ladies from a burning building? What are you, his PR team? For all we know the menace set the building on fire himself so he could play hero."
"And for all we know he just wanted to help," Peter snaps.
"Don't be naïve, Parker. Spider-Man's negligence probably causes more death and destruction than he claims to stop. The bank heist last month? I notice you didn't bother taking photos of that. What, don't like to see your hero fuck up?"
"Truck blowing through heavy traffic like that? He stopped a pile-up. But, sure, it must be so hard for the people richer than God to lose some old pottery or an antique doll because Spider-Man was just trying to help." He shouldn't be arguing. This isn't a bridge he can afford to burn. Jameson gets under his skin, sure, but this isn't worth it. His brain is yelling at him to shut up, but his heart is pounding in his ears and there's red at the corners of his vision. "You're a cynic."
"And you're a bleeding-heart idealist," Jameson says, his mustache curling as his lip pulls back. "Give you one fifty and you can get the hell out."
"Same deal as last time. Send the pictures to Buckley and he'll wire you the money. And if you get more photos of Spider-Man, send 'em my way." He turns his back on Peter and walks to where the coffee machine is at the edge of the set. Their conversation is over. Peter's irrelevant, useless, not worth another second of time. He doesn't leave seething like Peter does, stomping towards the elevator. The smooth bossa nova music feels almost ironic as he sends the photos over. The elevator dings and Peter storms through the lobby, unable to even feel bad when his ears catch Betty's hesitant, "Bye, Peter." He just has to get out.
The noise outside is almost as loud as the buzzing in his head.
The sidewalk is rough beneath his shoes, cracked and splitting apart. It probably hasn't been repaired since Peter was born. He kicks at a trash bag as he walks down the street, scrunching his nose as the stench of rotten banana peels puffs in the air like dust from chalkboard erasers. Rent's due in two weeks. He's made a hundred and fifty from the Daily Bugle, two hundred from building a website about shoes for veterans ( Veta-runners, some Canadian kid from Toronto had called it), another fifty from cleaning up some spaghetti code for an indie game, and a couple dollars that a nice lady had insisted on giving him after Spider-Man had helped her move a couch. It's not enough. It's never enough.
He makes it about two blocks before he finds an alley to duck into. Fuck this. Spider-Man doesn't have to think about stupid rent or stupid Jameson or the stupid life Peter's had to build for himself since he messed it all up. He sheds his clothes like a second skin and pulls on the suit. Muscle memory has him throwing his backpack and webbing it behind a dumpster before he pauses. Cursing under his breath, he tears at the synthetic webs like tissue paper. This is his only backpack. If he's not going back home, he's not leaving the thing behind.
(Past Peter had lost at least four backpacks since he'd been bitten, sometimes with library books, sometimes with electronics he'd found while dumpster-diving and had been excited to take apart. Before Aunt May had known the truth, he'd made up stories of forgetting it on a bus or on field trips. Their budget hadn't really accounted for multiple backpacks, but they'd always gotten by. Now? That's money Peter doesn't have. If he has to look like a dork swinging around Manhattan with a mint green backpack, then so be it.)
The sun is starting to set as he scales an apartment building. The red bricks are aglow under his fingertips.
Chelsea isn't his usual turf by any means, but the thought of going back to Queens right now makes his stomach roil. He taps at his webshooters as he perches on the apartment complex, listening for signs of trouble. In a city like New York, it doesn't take long. He stops a purse snatcher on 30th street, sticking the thief's hand to a bike rack, and sports a Prada purse for half a block before he can find its rightful owner. She thanks him and Peter can't bury the thought of how much a pawn shop would pay for a designer handbag like that.
His evening follows a similar pattern: Spider-Man stops a petty theft, clenches his jaw as he returns the stolen items, fumbles to find a quip to make the people like him, and tries not to think about how easy it would be to just... not give back what's stolen.
On 22nd street, a woman yells at her boyfriend outside a hardware store and picks up a hammer from her basket. Spider-Man shoots a web at the hammer, yanking it back into his hand with a sharp pull, and feels darkly satisfied at her cry of pain as he gives the woman a palmful of splinters. He can't find it in himself to feel bad right now. There's only anger, anger, anger pulsing under his skin. There's people doing wrong and he has to stop it.
Evening falls into night. The crimes change from petty to violent as the street lights flicker on and bars bathe the streets in a neon glow. Two men corner a woman in an alley. Her eyeliner is smudged. She's not crying, but her words are slurred and her head lolls against her chest. They're pushing her around like a puppet with its strings cut. Peter gives the men matching black eyes before he webs them to the wall and guides the woman to the bouncers at the bar he assumes she was at. He only waits around until the building is washed in red and blue from a police car and a gaggle of shrieking girls encircle their friend to take her home.
He should feel good about helping. Someone is safe because of him. But there's nothing.
Wind whips his face as he swings between high-rises. The mask pushes against the seam of his lips and it itches, itches, itches. He wants to chew it up and spit the damn thing out.
He takes a moment to breathe on the rooftop of a warehouse. The Hudson shimmers in the shitty lights of Pier 66. It's late now and he's soaked in sweat. His stomach is cleaved to his backbone. Swinging his backpack off his shoulders, Peter retrieves his cellphone to check the time. A little after midnight. Eight hours of Spider-Manning? He can do better. There's no reason he shouldn't be out all night. If somebody gets hurt because he decided sleep was more important? That's on him.
Drawing in a handful of deep breaths, Peter rises. He turns to leave the pier, arm outstretched, when he hears the impact of metal on flesh. A yell follows, echoing against the shipping containers further down. He swings towards the sound, feet pounding against steel as he runs and jumps against the containers. They pick up speed like the world's worst drum roll. Close to the water, Peter spots three figures hidden in the shadows of the crates. One is curled up against the ground, buried under a pile of tattered clothes. A dark liquid glistens near their head.
The other two figures loom over the man on the ground, who, Peter notices as he gets closer, reeks of burnt sugar and paint thinner. The taller figure-- a stocky man with an astonishing lack of eyebrows-- hefts a baseball bat over his shoulder. He's nudging the small man at his side who looks to be Peter's age.
"That's what you gotta do, Ronny," Baseball Bat says, voice rough like he's just chain-smoked an entire pack of cigarettes. He offers the bat to the boy. "Here."
"I-- shouldn't we help him?" the kid, Ronny, asks, wringing his hands.
"Tweaker shit like this? Hell no, you gotta show 'em what happens when they can't pay." He shoves the bat into Ronny's hands.
Bile burns in Peter's throat as he watches from above. The puddle near the man's head seems to be getting bigger. His feet feel like they've been superglued in place. Ronny hefts the bat in his hands, the weapon vibrating in his grip. He bites his lip. When he steals a glance at Baseball Bat, there's nothing in his gaze but expectation. The wind begins to howl. The man on the ground is wheezing, conscious but unable to speak. He can't catch his breath. Ronny, in contrast, breathes in deep, blowing the air out in an even-heavier exhale, and steels himself. He raises the bat over his head and--
Peter can't watch this. His arm whips out, his fingers pushing hard against his web shooters. They latch onto the bat as it begins to swing down and Peter flings it far behind him. The shipping crate rings as it strikes the side and then Peter's a whirlwind.
He flips off the crate, tucking into a roll as he lands, and comes up with both hands out. Webs shoot out in rapid succession, startling the men backwards as they try to evade him. Peter gets closer, his throat too tight to choke out a hello or a warning or a Put your hands up! Ronny ducks out of the way and Peter focuses on him, trying his best to pin him down. That's a mistake. Baseball Bat disappears from his peripheral for just a second too long and suddenly he's in Peter's face, face red with adrenaline and rage. He yells and throws a punch that hits Peter square in the chest. His heart stutters. He can't breathe. The world around him vanishes and all he can see is shades of red.
I just need to catch my breath.
Peter doesn't hold back.
His returning punch lands with a sickening crack and Baseball Bat flies backwards. His legs trip over the man on the ground and he hits the crate behind him hard. For one, terrible moment, there's silence.
Ronny screams and runs toward Baseball Bat, leaving his cover behind because his friend is hurt, his sternum is cracked, he's dying--
"I can't breathe, I can't breathe--" Baseball Bat's breath comes in short, halting gasps. His chest is lopsided, crushed inward and rising in pieces. A bloody halo glistens behind him from where his head hit the crate. Peter's hands shake. No, no, no, no, no.
Ronny's voice is thick with sobs. "Stay with me, man. It'll be alright. You'll be alright, man."
His body knows what to do better than his brain does. Peter climbs to the top of his perch and digs into his backpack for his phone. Trembling fingers dial 911. He can barely choke out the location and what's happened as he tries to tune out the broken wheezing and ugly crying. When they ask for his name, his tongue fumbles over the routine I want to remain anonymous. I was just in the area and heard what happened. Begging them to hurry, Peter jumps down to carefully approach the scene. The man on the ground is still breathing and Peter promises him that help is on the way.
"Help... help is coming," Peter says, trembling from head to toe.
"You killed him," Ronny sobs, his hands fluttering over Baseball Bat's wheezing body. There's nowhere he can touch that won't make things worse. "Oh, God, you fucking killed him. He's all I have, man. Please, he's all I got."
Peter says nothing, staying crouched beside them to listen for the moment when the four heartbeats turn to three and then two. Though he doesn't have Daredevil's ability to hear heartbeats, he knows they're slowing. God, what has he done--
Sirens cut through the air. Peter rises. He can't be here when they arrive. Taking one final look behind him, Peter flees. He flies through the air, swinging and running until the Hudson's far behind him. He runs past people who might need his help as tears blur his vision, almost hoping the next shot he takes with the web shooter is the one he misses. He doesn't know where he's going. He can't go home, not like this, and he can't keep helping people because what if he makes things worse and what if he's just like what Jameson said: a monster in a mask.
He ends up on a familiar rooftop sometime later and collapses in a heap. Peeling it away from his tear-stained skin, Peter hurls his mask across the roof. His fingers dig into his hair, yanking down. Sobs rack his body. He curls up against the side of the rooftop access, away from the door, pulling himself so tight he hopes he'll compact like trash. Peter screams into his arms, pouring all the rage, fear, and loneliness of the last four months into his elbows until his throat is hoarse.
He can't do this. He's tried and tried and he keeps failing. There's no lawyer for Spider-Man and there's nobody for Peter Parker.
His head swims, dehydrated from crying and lack of food. Tears turn to salt in his mouth. His chest still shakes and he can't catch his breath, no matter how hard he tries. Curling up tighter, he trembles so hard he's sure his atoms are trying to escape.
He can't stop crying.
There's somebody kneeling in front of him, a hand curled on his arm. It smells of old blood and leather. "Peter, did something happen?"
Matt's in front of him, smelling of old blood and leather and more than he deserves, and Peter feels something in him crack. Uncoiling, he tackles Matt in a hug, curling up in his arms. With Matt's heart under his ear, he feels it startle before slowing. It's steady and strong. He tries to match his breathing to it. Tentatively, Matt's arms settle over Peter's back and pull him in close. A gloved hand cradles the back of Peter's head, threading through his sweat-soaked curls. Peter burrows deep against his chest until the shaking starts to slow.
"I'm sorry," Peter whispers. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I-- I hurt someone. I didn't mean to. I swear I didn't mean to."
Tightening his grip, Matt lets Peter melt against him. "It's okay, Peter. You're okay. Whatever it is, we'll figure it out together. You don't have to be alone anymore."
hear me out: i originally planned to post an update on like Jan 3, but then I got my booster shot which knocked me out for the rest of the week :))
The trade-off? 5k chapter and hopefully a faster update next time!
Also, according to TheDailyBugle tiktok account, Betty Brant is an intern. So that's hilarious.
Chapter 8: A Pulled Punch
Matt takes Peter back to his apartment. They talk about what it means to pull a punch.
Despite having the rest of the fic mapped out, I got hit with a bout of writer's block that took a hot minute to shake off. Super sorry about the delay, but it's here now!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
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.
Went back to uni this week after a long hiatus, so that's exciting! I'm hoping to keep up a consistent schedule for updating this (at least once a week or so!) and hope to have the fic finished by April/May. Thank you all so much for your support of this fic and inspiring me to branch this out beyond just a simple "What if my favourite heroes worked together and supported each other?" fic.
Also I wrote with this ambience in the background and I love that it exists.
Chapter 9: Someone to Catch You
Matt tries to figure out how to be the kind of person Peter needs. He also considers the risk of working with Spider-Man, both as a more violent vigilante and as a risk to his safety if the Accords come back to bite him.
I have so little self-control when it comes to over-writing scenes! Also, I feel like at this point it's important to note that all of my knowledge of NY law and law firm shenanigans comes from google, tv, and movies. So fingers crossed none of my legal references throughout this fic have been just, like, egregiously wrong lol
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
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.
I'm only three weeks into the semester and I'm already over it lmao, sorry about the delay in updates! <3 I continue to be blown away by the response to this fic and I hope I'm doing these characters and their story justice!
Saint Anthony is the saint of lost people and lost things. :)
Chapter 10: A New Responsibility
"You can't have your old life back, Peter. You could try. But the world's changed and you've changed."
Peter finally has to make a choice.
Happy Purim and happy St Patrick's day to those who celebrate!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Growing up as a city kid, Peter had always figured that it's impossible to see the stars in Queens. Hell, he'd believed that it had been impossible to see the stars from anywhere in New York City, save for the corners of Staten Island or from a perch at the height of the Brooklyn Bridge, until the day of the Incident.
(The sky had cracked in half above Avengers Tower and exposed a jagged scar overflowing with Chitauri and cosmic energy. Aunt May had grabbed him by the collar, hoisting Peter into her arms like he hadn't been almost eleven years old and far too big to be carried. Huddled in the cement laundry room of their apartment building, Peter had thought of the stars-- bright and glittering-- in the chasm far above, Aunt May's murmured prayer hitting his ear in shaky puffs. Into His hand I entrust my spirit, when I sleep and when I wake. And with my soul, my body too, the Lord is with me, I shall not fear.
He and May had never been religious; that had been Uncle Ben's faith. But he hadn't been there to pray for them, so May had prayed for him.
A plea for Uncle Ben, somewhere in Midtown for work that day, while they'd waited for death or salvation to come. Heroes had won that day. No blood had yet stained Peter's hands.)
There's another place he can see the stars now. The end of Hunter's Point, right where Peter's apartment building looms over the East River. It's nice. A new place to get away from it all, when the world and his stuffy apartment becomes too much. It isn't like he can go back to the roof of Midtown High anymore. He's up there an hour after Matt finally calls, his low voice loose with relief, and scratching at the stiff fabric of his Spider-Man suit. He'd found it hanging in the shower, wrinkled and devoid of the tell-tale trickle of pink water. No copper scent had hung in the air. Mentally, he'd filed it under the growing Things to thank Matt for list in his head, and let it hang until he'd worked up the nerve to leave the apartment.
(He hadn't found that nerve until his phone had started vibrating on the coffee table.)
His mask is a crumpled bundle in his hands. It had taken some stealth to sneak back to the tenement building, hiding his face inside a still-damp hoodie from his backpack, but he'd found his mask in a puddle, the dry edges fluttering like candy wrappers in the breeze. Resting his chin on a propped-up knee, Peter watches the stars. Far in the distance, there are sirens. There are always sirens in Queens. After the spider bite, he'd been able to hear them from streets away. His hands tighten into fists. Technically, he hadn't promised Matt that he'd take the night off. Matt had advised it, but Peter hadn't exactly... verbally agreed. Surely his lawyer would know all about loopholes like that. But Matt had given him refuge-- soft clothes, food, and someone to listen-- and spoken like a man who'd understood the weight of what he was asking. And Daredevil would know.
You're allowed to rest.
But is he allowed? Can he afford to? Somewhere in his city, Ned and MJ are at home or work or wherever they'd be on a Wednesday night. But they could be out, walking the streets and talking about Mr. Harrington's final project, and somebody could mug them. Pull a knife and decide that a better payment than some wallets are his best friends' lives. Somebody could hurt them and it'd be Peter's fault for letting his guard down. Even if he can't be a part of their lives anymore, he has a responsibility to keep them safe. He has a responsibility to be Spider-Man.
(He knows that better than ever now. In her final moments, Aunt May had made sure he knew that.
That's not my responsibility, May.
She'd shaken her head, clutching his arms as they stumbled over crumbling concrete.
You have a gift. You have a power. And with great power comes great responsibility. Aunt May had held him as tight as the day of the Incident, but her grip had weakened and weakened until she couldn't even hold herself up. Kneeling among the wreckage of Happy's apartment complex, men with guns threatening to open fire and Jameson's cameras pointed right at him, Peter had told her she'd be okay. Even with her blood on his hands, he'd promised and blinked back tears so his last memories of her alive wouldn't be blurry. I just need to catch my breath.)
He also has a responsibility to be Peter Parker now.
And maybe the first steps to being Peter again can be found in Hell's Kitchen at a rinky-dink law firm. Maybe the way forward is alongside a vigilante with his own share of heartache and regrets-- a superhero who's somehow discovered the impossible balance between two different lives. (Not a superhero. Superheroes save the world from alien invasions and celebrate their victories with adoration from the public and memorials. Vigilantes protect the streets post-invasion and celebrate their victories by bleeding out in their apartments and hiding behind a mask. So, no. Matt's not a superhero. And frankly, Peter isn't one either.)
Tomorrow, he'll take the first step forward. But tonight? Tonight he sits on the roof of his apartment building, crushing his mask between his hands, and watches the stars. And if tears run down his face, blurring the night sky into finger-paint smudges? That's nobody's business but his own.
The subway sucks. It's slower than swinging, costs a whole two dollars, and there's a man in the center of his train car singing opera with an outstretched hat. Peter keeps his gaze carefully focused on the window to his right, watching the tunnel bricks age and sag as the train zips past Bryant Park and through the Garment District. The man's bald head reflects the flickering subway lights, bouncing off the window and into Peter's eyes. The band of light trembles as the man bobs his head like a bird to leap between high notes and low notes. Peter closes his eyes. Nine in the morning is too early for this many Figaros.
The Spider-Man suit sits folded in the bottom of his backpack. He could have swung here. But it's a waste of web fluid and too out-of-character for Spider-Man to be seen outside of Queens twice in the same week. He kind of wishes he'd done it anyways, if only to escape the busker that's slowly inching his way towards Peter, shaking his hat. When the train finally reaches his stop, Peter ducks under the man with a little-more-than necessary flexibility and pushes through the sparse crowds to escape New York's underbelly.
At least this time, he has a small canister of deodorant to mask the stench of stale sweat and breakfast burritos. Matt should thank him.
On the street, Peter tugs at his shirt, pulling the collar of his only nice button-down to rest over his grey pullover. The edges of his sweater are a little moth-eaten, frayed at the wrists and too loose, but it had been three dollars at a local thrift store. A fucking robbery for Merino wool. It's the nicest sweater he owns.
He stops outside of the office building. It stands tall and defiant, like all the buildings in Hell's Kitchen, and all but looms over him. He props his chin up. The windows stare back like a game of chicken. Last chance to back out. Matt can probably hear him from here, setting up his laptop or chatting with his friends, while Peter stands outside bouncing on the balls of his feet. Matt, who knows him better than anyone in the world, and won't judge him if Peter backs out now.
He sucks in a breath and walks inside.
The stairs creak as he climbs to the second floor, telegraphing his every step. He's steeled himself enough for this. His hand pauses on the doorknob, debating whether or not he's supposed to knock, and twists. Miss Page-- Karen-- glances up from her laptop and closes a notebook as Peter lets himself inside the office. She smiles. "Hi, Peter. Good to see you again."
"Um, hi." He glances around the sparse office, breathing in the scent of old wood and lemon oil. Matt's office door is closed. "Is Matt-- sorry, that's kind of rude to ask first thing, isn't it? I mean, it's great to see you again, Miss Page, and I really appreciate being here, so, uh, sorry. Maybe I shouldn't ask where Matt is the second I show up. I guess I'm just a little nervous?"
Karen's smile reaches her eyes, crinkling around the edges. Pen in hand, she gestures to the coat hook behind Peter. A red jacket hangs loosely over it. "Matt and Foggy are in a meeting right now. You're stuck with me."
"Well, maybe that's a plus," Peter tries to joke, pulling on his backpack strap.
"Maybe," Karen says, leaning back in her chair. Under her careful gaze, Peter can tell why she'd choose to split her time between here and the Bulletin. With barely a word, it feels like she's picking him apart. She straightens. "Why don't you grab a chair and we can finish up some paperwork?"
Spinning in a circle, Peter settles on one of the waiting room chairs-- a dark fabric chair with a scraped mesh back-- and hoists it over his arm. When he tries to set it down across from Karen, she shakes her head and taps on the short side of the desk. "So you can see what I'm doing."
His eyes slide over the open laptop and to the closed notebook on her left. It's nothing special, just a spiral book small enough to fit in a jacket pocket, but it sparks the memory of being fourteen and deciding to be a superhero. Of taking his school notebook and filling it with pages upon pages of suit designs and formulas for web fluid. (It's gone now, discarded like ashes in a spent fire sometime during the Blip.)
He blinks. How long has she been talking? "Oh! Sorry."
"I'll just need you to look over some forms for me," she says, tilting her laptop towards him. She tucks a stray strand of hair behind her ear. "You can sign off on us using your client information so we don't have to go through all the same paperwork from before, and then there's the employment contract. Don't worry about signing it today if you need to take it home to read."
Nodding, Peter leans over to read.
They chat as they review the paperwork. It's standard stuff, really. Nothing he hadn't had to sign for the Stark Internship (and a lot less than he had to sign for that internship too). Karen tells him about some of the articles she's written for the New York Bulletin after Peter asks about the photo of her, Foggy, and Matt on her desk, where they pose proudly after winning a major court battle, and Peter tells her about his photography for the Daily Bugle. When she makes a face, Peter's quick to add that it's more about paying the bills than agreeing with Jameson.
"He's like a tabloidist," Karen says, scrolling over another document for Peter to review. "The kind that's still obsessed with the whole 'if it bleeds, it leads' way of reporting."
Peter grimaces. "It must be worth something if he's still in business."
"Times Square rap artists still sell their music to tourists. Take a listen to one and tell me if it's worth anything."
He laughs. It's quiet and dies quickly, but it lifts a weight off his chest. His next breath comes easier, his shoulders finally relax, and while the comment hadn't been all that funny, laughter these last few months has been in short supply.
Checking her watch, Karen sighs around her smile. "Damn, too early to call lunch. I could use a coffee."
Peter glances at the kitchenette.
Following his gaze, she leans back in her chair and laughs. It's as pretty as windchimes. "I've filled my quota for using the coffee maker this week. Matt thinks I burn it."
"Oh, maybe I could--? I could make a pot," Peter says, pushing to his feet. "Part of office management, right? 'sides, I've got a pretty good nose. Maybe I'll catch it before it's too far gone."
She waves a hand. "I think it's just the pot. But, sure, that'd be great."
Tucked next to the fridge, there's a curled bag of Vietnamese coffee beans and a can of Folgers. His hand hovers over the red drum just long enough to hear the phantom scoff of MJ over his shoulder. Right. She'd remember him just long enough to tell him off for even touching the stuff. He scoops the Vietnamese coffee, indulging in the calm tapping of Karen's fingers on her laptop and the low timber of Matt's and Foggy's voices behind the closed office door.
He's careful with the pot, not wanting to mess up on something this easy, and pulls the coffee off the burner the second the maker chimes.
"Milk or sugar?" Peter asks, searching through the overhead cupboards for mugs.
"Milk, please. In the fridge," Karen says, her voice faraway. She's leaning close enough to her laptop screen for her nose to touch the glass. Matt's office door opens just as the first drop of milk swirls into the black.
"Thanks for coming down, Miss O'Breen," Foggy says, shaking the hand of a young, freckled redhead. Her eyes are rimmed red, but she offers a watery smile. "Call us anytime, okay? We'll get you through this."
Peter glances away from the scene, two mugs held tight to his chest, and shifts from foot to foot. Miss O'Breen shakes Matt's hand, wipes at her eyes, and scurries out the door. The moment the door clicks shut, Foggy's attention is on him.
"Um, hi," Peter says, raising a mug in greeting. "Hi, Matt. Nice to see you again, Mr. Nelson."
Two voices overlap: a "Hi, Peter," and an "Oh, God, don't call me Mr. Nelson," reply in disharmony. Foggy picks up the tail end of the false duet with an added, "Mr. Nelson makes me feel ancient. Foggy's fine. Is that fresh coffee?"
Nodding his head, Peter steps to the side. He places Karen's cup into her expectant hands. Behind him, Foggy makes a note of surprise.
"Hey, Matt. You might be able to drink this stuff."
Karen buries her scoff in her cup.
Setting his cane back against the wall, Matt walks to the kitchenette, running his hand over the counter until his fingers hit an empty mug. With some minor direction from Foggy, he fills the mug and takes a sip. Peter's not sure why, but his breath is caught in his throat. Matt smiles and nods towards Peter. "Already better than Karen's."
Peter's lip twitches. He rubs the back of his neck. "I can probably do better. MJ liked to tell me that there's a lot more to making coffee than just pressing a button, you know?"
"Who's MJ?" Foggy asks conversationally. Peter freezes, the sensation of falling dragging his limbs down, down, down to a place where he'd failed to catch her. Where he'd failed to do anything right.
(You don't deserve this," he'd said, face scuffed and heart aching, I ruined your life.
Hey. MJ had taken his face between her hands. She'd made him look her dead in the eyes-- made him see how much love she'd held for him. There'd been a recognition in those eyes that had been lost in the aftermath of Doctor Strange's spell. Look at me. I'm here.)
Matt cocks his head, no doubt concerned at the sudden uptick in Peter's heart and the grip that's tightened around the ceramic mug. Peter shakes his head. He swallows it down. "Just... someone I used to know."
One of the first things Peter learns about his new boss is that he's great with social cues. Foggy nods, takes another sip, and jumps into a story about the espresso machine at his old job. "It was godly, I swear. You wanted a latte?" He snaps his fingers. "Like that. Now I'm back here with a fifteen dollar machine and a partner that treats his work schedule like a suggestion."
Grinning, Matt takes a long pull from his mug. "You want a better coffee maker? Why don't you ask Marci to sneak the machine out of your old firm?"
"As if. She'd sooner feed me to the sharks than steal from that cushy job."
Matt raises an eyebrow. "There are sharks in New York?"
Heart settling back into an easier rhythm, Peter blows ripples across the surface of his coffee. Waves crash against the ceramic shore. "There's like fifteen species of shark at the New York Aquarium in Brooklyn."
Foggy points to Peter, face mock-stern. "And she'd feed me to every one of them. Chum in the water. Since I like being in one piece, I guess I'm stuck up shit creek without an espresso machine." Blowing away the steam curling at the lip of his cup, Foggy adds, "Still, we'll probably add coffee making to your office duties if you take over for Karen. She give you any trouble?"
"Oh! No, uh, no trouble." He rubs the nape of his neck, curling his fingers in his hair. He really needs a haircut. It's starting to make the Spider-Man mask look funny. "I really appreciate this."
Foggy's smile softens. "You're doing us a favour. From what I remember of our last meeting, you'll be a great fit here."
(And doesn't that sound too good to be true.)
"While you're here," Karen says, straightening in her office chair. "I can show you a lot of the work you'll be doing. I won't be here Monday to help out."
"Monday?" Peter asks, his gaze jumping between the three smiling adults.
"Your first day." Matt puts his hand out. "If you want it."
He shakes Matt's hand. His voice comes out at the tail end of a breath he'd long forgotten about, a tension uncurling low in his gut. "Yes! I mean, yeah, that'd be amazing. Monday."
Spider-Man's first night with Daredevil happens Saturday.
They meet on the rooftop of a Chinese restaurant in Hell's Kitchen, surrounded by the scent of fried dough, garlic, and unfiltered cigarettes from line cooks on break in the alley below. He gets there first, about an hour before they'd agreed to meet, his nerves bubbling too close to the surface to stay trapped inside his shitty apartment, surrounded by webs of laundry lines that make the place smell like ocean breeze and old wood. He hadn't taken Matt's advice for an extra night off, spending most of his Friday and a solid chunk of his Saturday out on the streets just a few miles from his old home.
One benefit, he supposes, of the world forgetting Peter Parker, is that it had messed up the Mysterio tapes. He isn't remembered as the vigilante that bombed London, or the one who'd killed Mysterio, and it means that nobody hurls bricks through his window or coats his Spider suit in neon green paint. New Yorkers and tourists wave and shout in varying degrees, asking for photos or help moving a couch. He'd tried his best to stick to petty crime until his meetup with Daredevil. Nothing that would lead to a fist being raised.
Nothing that could end in a hole through someone's chest.
Peter perches on the edge of the restaurant, scanning the streets for reasons to jump into action. The line cooks on the street below fill his head with Cantonese he can't understand and makes it difficult to listen for the telltale sounds of danger. He'd depended on Karen, his old AI, for updates to police feeds, signs of disturbances, and a steady stream of Ned's text messages to keep him awake on patrol. Now, there's no AI in his suit; there's no nanotech to protect him like a suit of armour. It's just polyester, spandex, and a whole lot of blue thread. It's up to him to pay attention.
Which, apparently, he still can't do. Peter's Spider sense doesn't care to warn him until Matt's already breathing down his neck.
He leaps a good two feet, heart skittering like a jackrabbit, and spins towards Matt. "Oh, hey!"
Matt tilts his head, face half-covered by his cowl. "You didn't hear me coming."
A wave of heat burns through Peter's chest. He can feel his cheeks grow hot. He's disappointed Matt already, hasn't he? He has the senses for it. Peter can hear a fly buzzing down a busy hallway, but couldn't track a ninja in a devil costume. Peter shakes his head. "Sorry."
"That's just a compliment for me," Matt says, lip twisting upwards. He jerks his head to the side. "Come on."
"Can you hear something?" Peter asks, chasing after Matt (who's already taken off at a sprint like a parkouring maniac). He flicks his webs out for the first few buildings, catching his footing on unfamiliar rooftops, and nearly eats pavement twice before he stops throwing out his wrists. Cars honk, their headlights speckling the streets below like stars in an inverted sky, and laundry lines flutter in the wind. Matt's fast. Unfairly fast. Peter has to start making use of his barbed fingertips to stick to fire escapes to avoid tumbling all the way down.
They pause for a moment near the Irish Arts Center on the corner of West 51st and 11th. Matt shakes his head. "Not tonight."
"What? Matt, people need us."
"And if I hear someone we'll go," Matt concedes. "But there's something we have to do."
They approach a half-built warehouse near the docks, crumbling and forgotten, and Matt drops down to the road just long to shove his way inside. Rats skitter across the floors, their pattering steps amplified by the vast, empty space. There's evidence of people taking shelter here. A sloppily-rolled sleeping bag and a dented cardboard box rest in a corner where the ceiling has yet to crack, but there's no sounds of human life aside from his and Matt's breathing.
"What is this place?" Peter asks, spinning around on his heels as he follows Matt through the building, marveling at cement walls covered in cosmic-blue spray-paint. There's a mural of the sky cracking open over Stark Tower, splattered stars peering through the ugly tear in the sky's fabric, and the edges of the paint are tinged red like blood.
In a stenciled-scrawl, black against a startling blue, the mural asks one question: Where did you go?
"Part of Fisk's Better Tomorrow act. Was supposed to be a grocery store people could actually afford to shop at. After Fisk went to prison for the first time, it was abandoned." Matt beckons Peter up a set of rusted metal stairs. The iron filings have chipped away over time, dying the staircase in patches of sunset orange. "He could have made a difference if he hadn't been a monster."
The ascent is quiet after that. There's venom in his words, a darkness that threatens to leech out of every pore. The horns on Matt's helmet suddenly look sharp enough to hurt. The darkness passes by the time they've reached the second floor.
"Why are we here?" Peter scans the empty floor, clocking crushed beer cans, grocery bags, and tagged pillars littering the space.
Matt walks up to one of the pillars, pulling off a glove and placing his palm flat against the cement. "We need to know how hard you can hit."
Dread trickles down Peter's spine like he's been shoved under a cold shower. His throat tightens. There's a phantom pressure on his fists, the sensation of bone breaking through viscera as he'd thrown a grown man backwards, his head suffused with static. He shakes his head. Hard. "No. No, no, I can't. I can hold back. I've always held back."
"Spider-Man." Matt cocks his head. The name sounds unnatural coming from Matt's mouth. Everyone knows Spider-Man. But so few people know Peter. "You almost killed someone."
"You-- you said he'd be okay. And," he swallows, his tongue twisting over excuses, "you-- he-- he was hurting someone. I was just stopping a crime."
"Peter." The name echoes off the barren walls. Outside, the wind rattles loose-fitting window panes. Something red-hot and furious begins to burn low in his stomach. Matt should understand. He'd promised to help. How can this help? How can reminding Peter of what he's done, forcing him to confront his own strength, do anything but make things worse? He's strong. He's too strong. Why does Matt need to know for himself? It's not fair. It's not fair.
There's a hand on his shoulder. His Spider sense fails him again.
"Hey," Matt starts again. His expression is deadly serious. "Hiding won't help us. Zachary Rogers might have been a criminal, but what you did to him wasn't right. You know that. All him being a criminal means is that he's unlikely to press charges. It doesn't matter what he did. It wouldn't have been your place to kill him."
He wants to snap an angry retort, tell Matt that it's been a huge mistake messing up both their lives, but the words die on his lips. Peter's selfish. (But he's not. Not as much as his heart wants him to believe.) He wants to catch any shred of hope he can find and bury it under his chest. His voice is weak. "It was an accident."
A squeeze to his shoulder. "I know. That's why we have to make sure it doesn't happen again. Make a fist."
He does. Peter raises his clenched fist for inspection, letting Matt run his fingers along the coiled muscles and adjusting his thumb so it's tucked properly. Taking a step back, Matt taps the pillar beside him.
"It's not a support beam," he assures. "You said you were strong, right? Hit it as hard as you can."
"What if I break my hand?" Peter can't help but ask. Broken fingers are a bitch to set right.
Matt smirks. "I think you might have said something about accelerated healing?"
For a second, Peter misses the ever-expressive eyes of his StarkTech Spider suit. Even if the shocked white eyes would have been lost on Daredevil, it still would have felt more impactful than the scrape of spandex when he raises his eyebrows. He mutters under his breath, angling his stance to point towards the pillar. Bouncing on the balls of his feet, he pulls back his arm. His fist barely makes it past his head before he falters.
Matt's expression is unmoving. "You can. You can't always pull your punches."
"Maybe I could."
"You're going to depend on that?" he asks, folding his arms across his chest. "It takes a second to lose control. A second to get angry. If you don't know how hard you can hit, you won't know how much a person can take. The next time you get angry-- and there will be a next time-- you'll kill someone."
The simmering heat in Peter's gut begins to rise. Is this what networking is? Daredevil telling him off in a gruff voice, no more of a friend than Mysterio had been to Peter? Peter grits his teeth. His fist stays clenched. "Stop."
He keeps going. "Is that what you want to happen? You want to ignore your abilities until they control you? It's your strength, Peter. You have to know what it feels like."
Peter shakes his head. "I don't. I don't."
"You do. Because if you don't, the next punch you throw will be the one that kills."
(Osborn's there, in the ash and ruin of Happy's apartment. Fear makes his heart tremble. And then he's at the Statue of Liberty. He's throwing punch after punch, still holding back, a scream curled tightly in his throat, waiting to shriek its way into the world. Osborn's there and he's laughing.
She was there because of you. I may have struck the blow, but you? You are the one that killed her.)
Peter's fist explodes through the concrete.
The rage sinks to the floor, escaping through his feet, leaving Peter cold and shaking. His chest heaves. Bile scorches his throat, but climbs no further.
Matt's quiet. He places a hand on the smashed pillar, scraping his fingers along the hole left by Peter's fist. His voice is soft. "Did you break all the way through?"
"Yeah," he gasps, shaking out his hand. It barely hurts. Dust flies around his feet. "Sorry."
"Don't be. Just means we need to try something bigger." He pauses. "If that was too much, I'm sorry. I needed you to get angry."
"Otherwise I'd hold back," Peter finishes. He looks down at his hands. The red fabric is coated in a fine layer of dust. He nods to himself. "It's cool. Just... maybe not again?"
Nodding, Matt pulls his glove back on. "Never again. Think you're up for hitting something bigger?"
"I think so."
A rare smile pokes out from under the Daredevil facade. "Then let's go."
By the time Matt hears someone in need of their help, working with Daredevil has become as easy as shooting a web.
The first day as Nelson, Murdock and Page's new office manager is surprisingly hectic.
The phone doesn't stop ringing until mid-morning with potential clients asking about everything from office hours to what kind of fruit they'd like best in a thank-you pie. He taps away at the computer, thanking his 3rd grade teacher for taking the time to teach all of her students typing. (It's a lost art in the days of nanotech and holograms.) The Wi-Fi cuts out almost once an hour, giving him spontaneous five minute breaks that remind him to straighten his back and flex his wrists. Matt and Foggy take clients in one office and then the next, pausing to ask how Peter's doing as they duck into the kitchenette to pour fresh cups of coffee.
"It's good! Busy," Peter replies, hoping it's the right answer. Matt smiles.
"You caught us on an off day. I promise it'll be nothing but case research by tomorrow."
Foggy groans. "You love that stuff, you nerd. Luke Skywalker never defeated the Empire by citing Miranda v. Arizona."
Matt raises an eyebrow, leaning back on the kitchenette counter. "Wouldn't wartime laws apply to Star Wars? I don't remember there being any police that could have read him his rights."
"Would American law even count?" Peter asks, trying not to shrink when the two direct their focus to him. "I mean, it's a galaxy far, far away, after all."
Pulling a face of mock-consideration, Foggy nods thoughtfully. "You like Star Wars?"
Peter's mind flits to the Emperor Palpatine lego figure on his desk at home. "Yeah. Made a Lego Death Star with my friend once."
"Oh, every nerd's dream," Foggy sighs, taking a sip of coffee. "I still can't get Matt to build one with me."
"Well, I'm not sure how much help I'd be," Matt says, sporting a shit-eating grin. He nods towards Foggy's office. "We'll leave you to it, Pete. You're doing great."
They disappear into Foggy's office and the world's quiet again. Across the hall, he can hear a new client knock on the chiropractor's door. Thinking of Matt's super hearing, he can't help but wince in sympathy. It's going to be a crackly afternoon.
He picks the next call up on the first ring. "Nelson, Murdock and Page, Attorneys at Law and Investigative Services."
Humming into the phone, Peter reschedules appointments, making easy conversation as he does so. It's nice to empty his brain of everything but the job at hand. He wishes the client a great day, settling the phone back on its cradle before leaning back in his (Karen's) chair. He's not sure if it's really his job, but he's been spending the better part of his time between calls figuring out the best way to restructure the firm's terrible finances spreadsheet. The more he looks it over, the more he's convinced that none of them have taken a math class since high school. More than that, he can tell they barely have the money to pay Peter's promised salary.
Although he wants to let it bother him, he figures he'll feel better if he can just hunt down the root of their bad financials. (Part of it is the firm's policy of taking on pro bono work and willingness to accept alternative forms of payment. Most notably, food. But there are some payment plans from past clients that he can follow up on, at least.)
While most of their issues seem to come just from poor bookkeeping, Peter finally finds his worst enemy: a misplaced zero.
By the time Matt and Foggy say goodbye to Mr. O'Hara, their latest client, Peter's all but bouncing in his seat. Maybe it's silly to be pleased with something as innocuous as finances. But still, it feels like maybe he's doing something good. Something that Spider-Man couldn't have done. (A reason for Peter Parker to exist.)
"You want to say something," Matt says nonchalantly.
"How can you tell?" Peter asks, half-curious.
"People's, uh, breath tends to catch before they speak. Yours keeps hitching and then kind of," he flutters his hand to demonstrate, "dies off."
"Still weird," Foggy adds, tossing a baseball up and down. He paces the office, under the guise of stretching his legs. His footsteps make the floorboards creak. "What's up? Did you want to say you're absolutely in love with office management? Because, you know, I was picking up that vibe."
Peter's lip curls in a tentative smile. "Actually, I wanted to say that I, um, reorganized your finances? Sorry, the spreadsheet was driving me crazy. I saved a back-up copy if I wasn't supposed to do that."
Foggy eyebrows knit together. "Sorry, you did what?"
His shoulders tense. "Good news? You can officially afford to pay me now."
There's a moment of pause. Matt's first to break the silence, huffing a laugh that makes his face light up. He leans over to nudge Foggy's shoulder. "Told you we'd find the money."
"Oh, are you adding psychic to your list of quirks? Or are you just one lucky bastard?" Foggy turns to Peter, expression faintly bemused. "Can you forward me the spreadsheet? If you've actually made money out of nothing I might have to swap out Matt's name for yours on our sign."
"I think we might get a discount on the next plaque," Matt says. "Since we have a tendency to throw ours away."
"Oh, come on. That was, like, two times!"
Later, when Foggy's reviewed the spreadsheet, he leaves in silence only to return an hour later with the best doughnuts Peter's ever had. All in all, it's more than a fair trade. As he sinks his teeth into soft, maple bacon-coated pastry, he almost admits to himself that his luck might be turning around.
Nights as Spider-Man begin to take two forms.
Since Daredevil doesn't leave Hell's Kitchen and Spider-Man still considers himself the protector of Queens, networking nights happen about three times a week. Although Peter's decently adept at fighting, Matt still teaches the basics and then some. Just enough that if Peter's webshooters fail, he won't panic at close range. On nights with Daredevil, Peter follows Matt's lead, sprinting across rooftops and working to hone his senses as they fight their way through the unsavoury characters of the Kitchen. The day after they're first spotted together, news stations have already picked it up.
(Jameson's assistant had even sent Peter an email requesting any and all photos of the two vigilantes. Double the pay if it showed Spider-Man being corrupted by Daredevil's extreme methods.)
Peter knows Daredevil is calmer on nights with Spider-Man. Less violent, more growly. It had already been surprising to the people on Hero Watchers that Daredevil would even let another vigilante into his city, let alone appear to be working alongside him.
On nights where Spider-Man is flying solo, the people of Queens don't seem to change too much. A couple more concerned faces than usual, but vendors still let him buy hotdogs if he asks politely, so it hasn't been an issue. To his people, he's just Spider-Man with a bit more edge. He'll still do a flip if someone asks him to. He can still perch on the edge of his apartment building without fear, and look up at the stars. He's still Spider-Man.
During a lull on one of his nights patrolling with Daredevil, Peter's mind can't help but drift to the world before. It never really leaves him, but in moments like these, where against all odds Peter feels safe, the memories hit him like blocks of asphalt.
"I think about it sometimes," Peter says, swinging his feet over the edge of the roof. He and Matt have perched on the old tenement building, listening to signs of trouble. Matt cocks his head.
"Going back to Midtown High. Going to MJ's work. Try to make them remember me." Far below, Peter can just make out a couple of drunks stumbling into a cab, all giggles and cheap hairspray. "I'd promised them I would."
Matt hums. "What's stopping you?"
It's not a hard question to answer. He's thought about it, over and over, turned the variables over in his mind, and cried himself to sleep as he'd held the truth tight in his fists. He can't hold back a shrug. "They're safe. I'd just put them in danger."
"Even if you didn't tell them about Spider-Man?"
"I couldn't do that," he admits, fidgeting with his web shooters. He keeps his gaze fixed on the street below and tries not to notice the burst of salt water on his tongue. "They'd have to know. Otherwise it'd be the same as being alone."
Hell's Kitchen is alive with sound. It all melds together: cars honking, people laughing, and staticky televisions playing the same telenovelas over and over and over again. This high up, the city is quieter, but never silent. He wonders if Matt's ever known silence since his accident. In his peripheral, Peter watches Matt pull off his helmet.
"Can I tell you something?" Matt asks.
Peter hates when people ask that. Of course he's going to say yes. But it's always a preface to something he doesn't want to hear. "Go for it."
"You can't have your old life back, Peter."
(And if that isn't a knife to the heart. He's known this for months, but to hear it fall from someone else's lips is heartbreaking. It makes the sentiment true. It's not just a nightmare he'll wake up from one day, soaked in cold sweat and tangled in his sheets. There's nothing to wake up from.)
"Yeah," Peter says, drawing one of his knees up to his chest. He props his chin on it.
"You could try," Matt continues, angling his face towards Peter. "But the world's changed and you've changed. So now, I think you have to make a choice."
Peter tears his eyes from the pavement. He sets his gaze on Matt's gentle expression. Even though Matt's a terrible hugger and the armour digs into his skin, Peter has to bite back to urge to tuck himself under Matt's arm. "Last time I made a choice I almost destroyed the multiverse."
Matt's lip quirks in a soft smile. "Stakes are a little lower here. Right now, you're living like a ghost. Trying to live two different lives. You told me you had a great responsibility, right?"
There's a lump in his throat. "Right."
"You either have a responsibility to try and get your old life back, or a responsibility to do something new. To be someone new. But you can only choose one." Matt closes his eyes and sighs, deep and bone-weary. "And there's no right answer here. You either died when that spell was cast or you chose to live. You have to decide. I'll help you, whatever you choose, but this? It's something you have to decide for yourself."
"I don't want to let them go."
"You don't have to. No matter what you choose, your love for them doesn't stop. It doesn't die with you."
MJ and Ned aren't gone forever. He knows they're there, even if he can't touch them without destruction. He loves them. He'll always love them.
And there's still so much Peter doesn't know about Matt. He doesn't know where Matt finds the words that falter before they've reached Peter's tongue, or how he puts up with the mess that Peter's become over these last four months. But he does know that Matt sought him out just as Peter had sought out Daredevil. He knows there's a future that Strange's spell didn't destroy.
Peter sucks in a breath and makes his choice.
He chooses to live.
Uni is taking a lot out of me! Apologies if any of it feels rushed, I just wanted to get something out before exam season. The good news is I'm almost finished the next chapter haha (though it's not as long as this one!)
Also I have a sneaking suspicion that a couple of my classmates have read this fic bc we talked about No Way Home fics and Daredevil, so hi lmao-- I live in constant fear.
Chapter 11: No Good Deed
Peter finally tells Matt what happened to May.
You know that thing where you end up writing a lot of things that should probably be divided into extra chapters, but you can't divide them bc it would screw with your narrative structure? Anyways, here's a stupid long chapter lmao
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
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 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.
I have so many final papers I should be writing right now :)
(Also I feel like the Josie's bit is super weak, but I needed to get from point A to point B lmao)