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The Price of War

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Peace without Justice is a low estate,
A coward cringing to an iron Fate!
But Peace through Justice is the great ideal;
We’ll pay the price of war to make it real.
—Henry Van Dyke, “The Price of Peace”

…‘ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide…
—John Milton, “On His Blindness”

Darcy’s fifteen when she gets banned from the local RadioShack for stealing an iPod.

Well, okay. First of all, she’s not technically banned, she’s just never stupid enough to go back there again after everything. Secondarily, it’s more of a “I happened to be in that one RadioShack when that gang of kids from my school decided to hold up the store for all its money and valuables, which I had happened to overhear in the locker room, and I just happened to snag an iPod off the floor when they dropped it” circumstance. It had already been stolen. She just reappropriated it when they were dumb enough to drop the damn thing. She was doing her civic duty as a law-abiding citizen and all-around music-lover.

Also Fred is better off with her than being sold on the black market for Apple products.

Her mom’s fed up with her. It’s not the RadioShack thing, exactly, or the getting-escorted-home-by-the-police thing, or even the iPod thing. No, her mom is sick of Darcy in general. She’s sick of Darcy’s attitude, she says. She’s sick of the fact that Darcy keeps locking Lou, Lorna’s stoner boyfriend, out of the house. She’s sick of Darcy painting her nails black and getting weird piercings and tattoos, and she’s especially sick of how Darcy will lie in wait to dump Lorna’s booze down the toilet at four in the morning. She doesn’t say that last bit, but Darcy knows it’s true, because she throws shit when she can’t find her vodka the next day.

It’s the iPod that’s the clincher, though. (Plus the coming-home-with-cops bit, since Lou has bags of weed stashed all over the house and already has a record.) Lorna slams the door after the cops as they go. Darcy compliments her on the whole being concerned thing. “Not like I was nearly just shot, y’know, it’s your boyfriend that matters.” They get into a fight. It’s shitty. Darcy gets punched in the face by her mother. It’s not the first time she’s ever been punched in the face, but it’s the first time she’s been punched by her mother at all. It kind of sucks and is in no way enjoyable. Darcy waits until Lorna slams out of the house, and then packs up her shit, shoves her new iPod into her pocket, and leaves.

She has a second-cousin in New York City that reminds Darcy of a mousy Helena Bonham Carter. They’ve only met in person once, but since there’s less of an age gap between them than there is with any of Darcy’s other relatives (ten years instead of twenty-five) they’ve been friends on Facebook since Darcy opened an account. They also play World of Warcraft together, so she knows that Jen is more than willing to have Darcy sleep on her floor for a couple of days.

Jen is in her last year of law school, living in a run-down flat in Hell’s Kitchen, and she’s in the process of dyeing her hair a vivid and rather ugly shade of purple when Darcy shows up on her doorstep, looking like she’s had the shit kicked out of her and bearing a please-don’t-hate-me gift of the entirety of her savings. Jen just stares at her for a long moment before stepping out of the way, and letting Darcy in.

“Half and half,” she says, when they’ve finished putting Jen’s hair up in plastic wrap. Jen’s taken a good look at Darcy’s black eye and split lip, and can’t seem to decide whether to look angry or just terribly sad. Jen also stutters, and has rimless glasses that reflect light in a way that hurts Darcy’s eyes. “I-If you stay here, you p-pay half the rent. And get a job,” she adds, surprisingly stern. Darcy nods, and flinches when Jen touches a Q-tip to the cut in her eyebrow.

“I didn’t come here looking to move in.” Her shitty Southern accent always comes out more when she’s nervous. She sounds like a hick. Darcy draws a breath. “I—I just needed somewhere safe to get back on my feet, you know? I can move out as soon as I find another place.”

“Darcy,” says Jen. “You’re fifteen. It would be m-morally d-defunct of me to l-let you wander off. A-And I don’t mind,” Jen adds. “I-It’d be nice. I-I can finally get a cat, since we’ll b-both be here to take care of it.”

A cat does sound nice. Darcy swallows. “But I can’t just—”

“Y-You’re not just.” Jen peels open a Band-Aid. “I’m o-offering. F-for as long as you want.”

Darcy wants to cry. She stops herself, because she has a mighty will and will not cry in front of her cousin, no matter how nice she’s being.

“I’m n-not your legal guardian,” Jen adds, once she’s smoothed the Band-Aid over the eyebrow and started in on the bruises. “Y-You’ll have to t-talk to her eventually.”

“I’ll write her a letter,” says Darcy, and then curses under her breath when her lip splits open again.

“I-I can understand that y-you wouldn’t want to talk about it.” Jen shifts, awkwardly. “But—but if you were…y’know.”

She looks so horrified by the idea that Darcy’s been abused long-term that Darcy can only pat her head affectionately. She gets purple hair dye on her palm.

“Mom and me had a fight,” she says. “One time only dealio. She’s not gonna headhunt you or anything. She’s probably too drunk to even notice I’m gone.” She brightens. “Plus, I used my fake ID to get a bus ticket. So they won’t find me too fast.”

Jen wilts into her chair.

She’s stopped the bleeding in Darcy’s lip and started to put the first aid kit away when she clears her throat again. “T-That’s not what worries me.” Jen tosses a dirty cotton ball into the garbage can at their feet. “I-I just want you to feel safe. Th-that’s all.”

It’s sweet. Unexpectedly so. Darcy clears her throat. “You’ve never had me as a housemate before. Who knows if you’ll feel safe in three days’ time?”

Jen considers that for a moment. Then she nods once, her eyes surprisingly sharp. “I think I can manage.”

Darcy’s so startled by that show of spine that she forgets to mention that she doesn’t eat kosher. Still, it’s kind of awesome to get matzo ball soup delivered at three in the morning. She likes this New York thing.

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She’s eighteen when she finally takes Jen’s advice and starts applying to college.

Darcy’s been working full time at Starbucks since she earned her GED. She makes just enough to cover her half of the rent and cab money, but not much else. Jen is at the district attorney’s office, and keeps muttering in Greek over the files she brings home from work. It’s cute, in a way that is both odd and unsettling. Greek swear-words sound like Satanic chants from hell when you hear them through Metallica.

Lorna has never come after her, and the paperwork Darcy posted to Atlanta—the stuff that helped Darcy become an emancipated minor, on Jen’s advisor’s suggestion—was returned promptly, even if it had all been sloppily signed. And also stained with vodka.

Darcy’s still not sure if that hurts or not.

“I don’t need to go to college, Jen.” Darcy crosses her legs around a pillow, settling a tub of ice cream on her knee. “I’m up for promotion to assistant manager soon. Sort of. I look older than I am because of the boobs, so they’re more likely to promote me than not. Besides, how can I afford to go to college? I have, like, no available cash. Ever.”

“Student loans,” says Jen. She’s been taking lessons in elocution, to work on her stutter. It hasn’t been going very well, but then again, Jen doesn’t seem to care all that much. For someone who has so much social anxiety, Jen Walters cares very little about what people think of her stammer. “A-And grants. I applied for lots of grants.”

“The shop is full of whiny part-timers bitching about student loans.” Darcy whacks the top of the ice cream with the spoon. “I really don’t want to join the herd.”

Jen makes her dismissive noise, which is part exasperation, part kitten-falling-off-a-couch. It’s depressingly cute. “The point isn’t getting loans. The point is getting a higher-paying job through achieving education.”

Darcy makes a farting sound.

“You know I hate it when you do that.”

“Sorry, not sorry.”

“I found the Columbia brochure,” Jen says, and Darcy hears the final nail in the coffin. Jen’s ears are a bit pink. “I d-didn’t know you were looking into law.”

She shovels ice cream into her mouth, and then stares pointedly at the TV. Jen just gives her that squirmy happy puppy look, though. Darcy muffles her face in the pillow. “Vnktd.”

“Untranslatable.” Jen shoves her glasses up her nose and snaps out a T-shirt, folding it neatly in two. Darcy swears under her breath, and throws the pillow at Jon Stewart’s face.

“Doesn’t matter. It’s not like I’m actually gonna get in.”

“It does matter.” Jen folds a pair of jeans. “You’re allowed t-to want things, Darcy.”

“Thank you, Dr. Phil.” Darcy squashes her face into another pillow. It’s safe in pillows. Then she lifts her head, and says, “I wanted to be a lawyer when I was a kid. My grandfather was one. That’s what Babushka said. She talked about him a lot, I dunno. He seemed like a badass.”

Jen looks pleased. “Well. Good.”

“Jen, there’s no way in hell I’m gonna get into law school, let alone Columbia Law.” Darcy wedges her spoon into the carton of ice cream again, trying to lever up a piece of brownie. “They only accept, like, uber-geniuses. I am average. Hot, but average.”

“Your SAT scores are good.” Jen taps her lower lip. “You should at least try. I c-can spot you the application fee so you can pay for your phone bill this month. It shouldn’t make things t-too hard for either of us.”

“Don’t you dare.” Darcy shakes the spoon at her. Darla the cat tries to lick it, and Darcy pets her nose. “I will put earwigs in your bed.”

Jen collects her laundry and shuffles away, humming Around the World by Buddy Greco under her breath. It’s never a good sign when Jen hums Greco. Darcy resolves to keep a close eye on her social security card, in case Jen tries to apply on Darcy’s behalf.

Three weeks later, after much harassment, Darcy applies all on her lonesome. Columbia is the only one she actually submits, and she kind of half-asses the whole thing until Jen gives her one of those looks over the top of her freaky-ass rimless glasses. Darcy is not a fan of those looks. She fixes the application, sends it in, and then forgets about it, because the likelihood of Columbia actually being interested in her is basically nil.

The acceptance letter comes with an offer of a twenty-five thousand dollar scholarship. Darcy eats a whole tub of ice cream by herself again, and then steals some Bailey’s from the corner store and drinks that by herself too, because what the hell. Jen doesn’t approve. Darcy doesn’t give a shit.

“Well,” says Jen, once Darcy’s good and smashed. “You’ve already stolen all my old Columbia hoodies. It’s probably a good thing they accepted you. You don’t have to buy new ones now.”

“Bite me,” says Darcy.

Darla the Vampire Cat bites her instead.

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Her first class of the semester is Intro to Criminal Justice, and she’s really wondering if Jen’s ability to railroad her into doing shit is going to bite her in the ass sooner rather than later. She hasn’t been in a classroom for three years, not since she grabbed her GED and rode it like a bull, and all of these kids are dewy-eyed and earnest-looking. More than half of them look rich. More than half of them are male. Sometimes the two intersect, sometimes they don’t, but it’s enough to make her slightly uncomfortable and tug on the end of her ratty hoodie. (Her Culver hoodie, not her Columbia hoodie. She’s not going to be dorky enough to wear a Columbia hoodie on the first day of school.)

Loans, she thinks, taking a seat against the wall and turning Fred’s volume up to blistering. Seven years of school. That in and of itself sounds nauseous. Then: sexist stoner frat boys.

She nearly books it out the door again at that one, because she cannot deal with another Lou. She will not.

It’s two minutes to nine when someone taps her desk. Darcy looks up from her doodling—she’s been planning a new tattoo for a few months now, something that means Jen; she wants it to go on her shoulder blade—and blinks. The boy standing next to her is tall, and awkwardly skinny, wearing sunglasses and carrying a stick. She tugs one of her earbuds out. “Sorry, what?”

“Is this seat taken?” he asks, and sets his fingertips to the desk in front of her, up against the wall and closest to the door. It’s obviously empty, considering no one is snarling at him for it, but at the same time he wouldn’t be able to tell if someone had left a backpack and just ditched. Darcy yanks out her other earbud.

“No,” she says. “Go ahead.”

The boy with the sunglasses sets his hand to the back of the desk chair, and then settles himself. The glasses are thin and rectangular. He’s using a guiding cane, not a long one; she wonders if the long ones bother him the way they did her babushka. He hesitates, face turned towards her but not really, and then offers one hand. “Matt Murdock.”

Darcy shakes his hand twice. “Darcy Lewis.”

The corners of his mouth lift. “Darcy like Pride and Prejudice?”

“Darcy like Darcy’s law, actually.” She studies him. “But my grandmother was a huge literature nerd so it could have been Mr. Darcy, too.” 

The half-smirk turns into an actual smile, and Darcy thinks, uh-oh. Matt Murdock has a killer smile. It’s not fair. She clicks her piercing against the back of her teeth, and then says, “Am I gonna be the first person to make the ‘justice is blind’ joke or have, like, a million people said that already?”

Matt chokes, and ducks his head. For a second, she thinks she’s overstepped, and hates herself. Usually Darcy’s pretty good at reading people’s humor boundaries—retail, food service, and life as a Lewis have given her an edge—but sometimes she does still fuck up. She thinks she might have, here, until Matt’s shoulders start shaking, and she realizes that he’s trying to stop himself from laughing. “No,” he says. “No, you’re—you’re the first so far. Congratulations.”

Darcy lets out a breath she hopes he won’t hear. “Oh. Awesome. I like being a pioneer.”

He sends that smile at her again, and then the prof comes in and starts handing out syllabi, so they both have to shut up.

Thanks to super-awkward ice-breakers, Darcy learns three things about Matt Murdock by the time the class is over. One: he reads way more philosophy books than is normal for a human being. Two: he gets brain freezes easily, and thus does not eat ice cream except for very special occasions. And three: if he could go anywhere, he would want to go into space, because, and she quotes, “it’s the only place I’ll know for sure I won’t crash into anything, because other than the tether line, there’s nothing in space for me to crash into.”

They get into a dumb argument over space waste, but it’s funny more than anything. Darcy decides Intro to Criminal Justice may not be such an irritating class after all.

Then of course a guy in the front row raises his hand to ask whether or not they get extra credit for having experienced the criminal justice system from the inside, and Darcy has to hide her face in her hands to stop herself from crying.

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Meeting Foggy doesn’t go nearly so smoothly, but that’s only partially her fault.

Darcy’s at work. She’s finagled double-shifts over the weekends with her boss, to make up for all the work she has to miss during the school week, so she’s been here since five in the morning and has already had three guys try to touch her face, which she hates. (She also has a girl give her name as Khaleesi, Mother of Dragons, and so had had a pow-wow over the A Song of Ice and Fire series, but that’s a single bright spot in a sea of general fuckwaddery.) She has a forty-five minute break for each of her shifts today, and she’s expecting Matt to show up at about three o’clock so they can go over some stuff before the test on Monday.

She does not expect a dude with long hair and a round, happy face to bounce up to her counter at two-forty-five, order a coffee, and then say, “Do I know you?”

“Excuse me?” says Darcy, wondering if she ought to call Ben the security guard out of the back room. (Yes, they have a security guard at this Starbucks. They’re special because someone tries to hold them up at least once a month. Apparently, people think coffee shops make All Of The Cash.)

Round Happy Dude is peering at her. He has hair down to his shoulders and a camo jacket, and he looks like he’s semi-hung-over. He frowns. “I swear to god I know you from somewhere.”

“If you say it’s from your dreams, I will destroy you.” She sprays whipped cream into a frappuccino, and passes it on to Zeke. Zeke is giving Round Happy Dude one of his death glares. Zeke has been obnoxiously protective of Darcy ever since Darcy dumped salt into the coffee of Zeke’s ex-boyfriend, who used to smack Zeke around a lot because he’s tiny and trans. (By the time she leaves the Starbucks a few years later, she's also punched the bastard off the clock, which is awesome, but that’s neither here nor there.) Right now, Zeke’s obnoxious protective streak is more than okay by Darcy.

“No—I mean.” Round Happy Dude snaps his fingers a few times. Then, slowly, his eyes widen, and a look of absolute horror comes over his face. He turns around sharply and marches away, and Darcy wonders what the hell Zeke did behind her back to cause that reaction. When she looks around, though, Zeke is preoccupied with the caramel and the chocolate dispensers.

“What the hell was that?” she asks, sliding the frappuccino onto the counter. “Venti strawberries and cream frappuccino with whip for Mirabella!”

“I don’t know,” says Zeke, tugging at his nose ring. “But he looked like he was about to shit himself, so whatever you did, kudos.”

Darcy spends another ten minutes peering at Round Happy Dude over in the corner before memory clicks. She’s been to a handful of parties since the start of the semester, but she’s only been royally trashed at one of them. Her roommate, Nicole, had heaved her out of the fray before she really managed to get herself into trouble, but she does remember a vague image of Round Happy Dude. Also that he’d tasted like really bad beer.

“I think I made out with him at a party once,” she says.

“Awkward,” says Zeke, and adds a vicious-looking smiley face to the froth on someone’s latte.

Thankfully, the rush dies down just before three o’clock, which is when she’s scheduled for a break. Darcy hangs her apron on a hook, undoes her ponytail, and slips into a booth at the back of the shop, dragging her textbook out of her battered backpack and setting to with the highlighter. She’s taken to only putting in one earbud lately, so she can listen for the tap of Matt’s stick. Darcy scrapes her fingernail over a healing burn on the inside of her wrist, where she has a tundra swan tattooed in shades of black. Usually, she wears a wristband to cover it at school, but she’s not allowed to wear bracelets or anything at work, so there you go.

She’s not the first one to greet Matt when he comes in through the door, though. Round Happy Dude pops up out of one of the window seats and scuttles over to him, clasping his elbow without thinking about it. Clearly, she thinks, they know each other.

Well, this isn’t awkward at all.

“Hey,” says Darcy, when they get close enough to the counter for Matt to hear her. “I was wondering when you’d get here. I only have like a forty minute break.”

“Hey,” says Matt. Round Happy Dude looks like he’s about to shit himself again. “Darcy, this is Foggy. Foggy, Darcy.”

She looks at the windows for a moment, where the sun is stabbing people in the face with all the terrible light. Then Round Happy Dude ducks his head, and she realizes it’s his name. “Oh,” she says, and lets the smile that’s been pricking at her lips spread across her face. “We’ve met.”

“You have,” says Matt, slowly. Foggy’s eyes widen.

“Yeah, at a party.” Darcy waits until Matt’s sitting down and Foggy’s halfway there before she says, “He’s not that bad of a kisser, but his motorboating needs work.”

Foggy slips and nearly falls on his ass on the ground. It’s only once he catches himself and settles in the booth that he realizes Darcy’s grinning at him.

“You,” he says. “You suck. I was drunk. And I did not motorboat you.

“So was I, which is what makes it so much more hilarious.” She beams. “And dude, you so did. I don’t blame you. I was in my boob tank. I always get motorboated in my boob tank.”

Matt looks as though Christmas and Hanukkah and Kwanzaa have all come early. He nudges Foggy in the side. “You mean Darcy’s the one with the mouth? You’ve been calling my study partner ‘the one with the mouth?’ Foggy.”

“Oh, god,” says Foggy, and puts his head in his hands. “I am not having this conversation. This is not real life. I have died, and I will wake before the pearly gates having suffered through my worst nightmare so I don’t flip off Peter and go the other direction, because this is what awaits me in hell.

“Hell would be a lot worse,” says Darcy. “Hell would be me being that stripper you banged once while you were drunk, and also being Matt’s study buddy at the same time.” Foggy blanches, and buries his face in his arms this time. She pats his wrist, soothingly. “Did you really call me ‘the one with the mouth?’ I’m disappointed by the lack of creativity.”

“You’re the girl from Matt’s criminal justice class.” He sounds utterly miserable. “I wouldn’t have called you that if I’d known you were the girl from Matt’s criminal justice class!”

“Foggy, be honest with me.” Darcy waits until he lifts his head. “Did you call me Blow Job Lips?”

Matt laughs until he wheezes, and by the end of it, Darcy has extracted a promise from Foggy Nelson to never call any girl Blow Job Lips again. Even if she has blow job lips.

It’s not a bad afternoon, all told. She gets a lot of blackmail out of it. Also, when he’s not drunk and attempting to shove his face in her boobs, Foggy is actually kind of awesome. By the time she has to kick them out (because they stay until ass o’clock alternating between studying and making fun of the way she makes coffee) she’s been enlisted to help Foggy prank Matt at a date in the near-to-distant future. After her shift's over (because they're creepy and wait for her) the three of them make their way back to Jen’s apartment, where Darcy has a load of laundry going, to start up a marathon of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

It’s weird, having friends over. She never did, in Atlanta. She’d skipped school too often and dyed her hair too many weird colors to actually get the hang of making friends. Still, she thinks, when she throws popcorn at the back of Foggy’s head, and Matt folds himself into the corner of the couch to listen to Buffy kick ass on the screen. It’s a nice kind of weird.

She dyes the stripes in her hair red for the occasion, and starts crashing on Matt and Foggy’s floor when she doesn’t want to catch a taxi back to her end of campus.

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Darcy doesn’t really date. Well, no—she dates a lot, but she doesn’t actually have relationships with people very much. She and Matt kind of match that way. Usually she has one night stands that have her doing the walk of shame back up to her sixth-floor apartment carrying stilettos in one hand and rocking some serious sex hair. She only really dates a guy once, during her first year at actual real-person Columbia Law, rather than her bout of criminal justice and political science double-major idiocy.

His name is Eduardo. He’s two years older than her, a grad student majoring in history at NYU, and she meets him through Perdita, the tattoo artist who helped her design the symbol on the back of Darcy’s neck, the one that means Matt and Foggy. He’s a nice guy, for the most part. Sometimes he’s an asshole, but then again, sometimes so is she, so it’s not too bad. She likes him, and he can do seriously amazing things with his tongue. They’ve been together for about four months—which, for Darcy, is a record—when he asks her how many times she had to fuck the blind kid to get his help on tests.

She throws him out of the apartment she’s gone back to sharing with Jen, and then tosses all his clothes out the window, so he has to take the stairs buck-ass naked. Then, once she’s done cursing him out in Spanish, Russian, and what little Greek she’s learned from Jen, she goes down to the corner bodega and buys enough booze to get herself royally wasted. She’s fairly certain that Jen rats her out, because an hour into her pity party Foggy and Matt show up at her door bearing ice cream, more beer, and the newest season of Doctor Who. They cram together on the couch, squashing close as puppies, and if Darcy cries a little neither of them say anything. She falls asleep with Matt on one side and Foggy on the other, tipped sideways to rest her head on Matt’s shoulder. Her hand is tangled with Foggy’s, and Matt is stroking her hair.

She starts calling them “her boys” instead of “the boys” after that. Neither of them comment.

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One night in their last year in undergrad, she borrows Foggy’s bed while he’s out on a date. It’s not uncommon, considering how often Darcy lurks in their building. She actually sleeps in their dorm room more often than her own at this point, because her junior year roommate, Lindsay, is a royal bitch and keeps sexiling her. Still, she doesn’t usually get a bed; she uses the sleeping bag she bought ages ago and kips on their floor. She’s only been asleep for about an hour when she hears the door open, and opens her eyes. Darcy’s always been a very light sleeper, no thanks to her mom’s many boyfriends. She rolls over onto her back, and then leans on her elbow, heaving herself semi-upright. In the door frame, Matt freezes. “Darcy,” he says. “Sorry. Go back to sleep.”

He sounds like shit. Darcy frowns at him. “It’s fine,” she says, her voice rasping. “Bad dreams. What’s wrong?”

“I’m fine,” says Matt, and kicks the door shut behind him.

“You sound like—” She doesn’t know what he sounds like. Like someone’s broken open his voice box, and flipped it backwards and upside-down. “You sound terrible.”

He hesitates. In the dark, she can just barely see his head tip to the side, the way it does when he’s thinking very carefully about what he’s going to say. “It’s nothing,” he says this time, which tells her it’s definitely something. “Don’t worry about it.”

Darcy turns on the light. He looks fine, for the most part. His knuckles are swollen, like he’s been hitting something. It’s the look on his face that bothers her. He’s very pale, and when he takes off his sunglasses, his eyes are red. Darcy slips out of Foggy’s bed and pads across the floor. “Hey,” she says, touching the back of his wrist. He jerks, as if she’s struck him. “Hey. What happened?”

He’s shaking, she realizes. He shoves his hands into the pockets of his hoodie. “Darcy, seriously,” he says. “I’m okay. Stop asking. Please. Just go back to sleep.”

His voice cracks. Darcy swallows. Then she touches his elbow. “I’ll be right back,” she says, and grabs one of Foggy’s sweatshirts, pulling it on over her head. “Get into bed, okay? I’ll be right back.”

Matt opens his mouth, and then closes it again. He nods. Darcy grabs her wallet, and kisses his cheek before slipping out of the dorm room.

She returns with three water bottles, two bags of Cheetos, two Rice Krispy treats, and a wet paper towel. Matt’s changed clothes; he’s sitting on the end of his bed, his hands dangling between his knees as if he’s not entirely sure what to do with them. She uses the paper towel to clean the smears from his face—blood¸ she realizes, her guts clenching, it’s blood—and then pushes the Cheetos into his hands. “Cheetos,” she says. “Eat.”

“If I eat anything I’ll probably be sick.”

Darcy shrugs, and puts the Rice Krispy treats on the desk next to his sunglasses. . “We have a trash can. Eat the Cheetos, Matt. Don’t make me sing Fleetwood Mac." 

He doesn’t smile, but the tension in his face fades a bit. Matt eats the Cheetos. He doesn’t throw up, though he looks as though he wants to. Darcy watches him until he’s finished one of the three water bottles, and then she turns the light out again, and nudges him into lying down. Darcy sits down at the head of the bed, and searches his face. His eyes are wide open, and his hands are clenching against the blanket. She runs her fingers through his hair, which is something she doesn’t usually let herself do. He flinches at the touch.

“Foggy’s gone for the night,” she says, before he can ask. His hands relax infinitesimally against the covers. “He’s dating that girl from his advanced civic law class. Marci, or whatever. I think he’s staying over with her tonight.”

Matt closes his eyes. She hesitates, and then strokes his hair again. This time he doesn’t flinch.

“I won’t ask,” she says, almost in a whisper. It feels like she’s telling him a secret, somehow. “But I’ll stay with you, if you need me to.”

Matt’s silent for a long time. She thinks he might have fallen asleep. Then he slips two fingers into the pocket of Foggy’s hoodie, the heel of his palm resting against her thigh. He doesn’t say anything. Still, Darcy takes off her glasses, nudges the covers aside with her foot, and scoots down until she’s lying flat next to him in the cramped bed. She just looks at him for a time, not wanting to freak him out, too nervous to touch him. Then she reaches out with one hand, and weaves her fingers into the soft fabric of his T-shirt. Matt lets out a long breath, as if she’s given him permission, and slings an arm over her waist. There’s this awkward shuffling moment which ends with her head tucked under his chin, her nose pressed into his collarbone. She’s been this close to him before—Darcy’s huggy, and she’s fallen asleep next to Matt more times than she can count—but never quite like this. Not with his heartbeat under her palm, or her toes curling into the hem of his pajama pants. He smells like dust and grease and something else, very un-Matt, and it’s worrying.

She’s not sure when she falls asleep, only that she must have, because when she wakes up Matt’s nose is tucked into her hair. He’s breathing deeply, his eyes closed, eyelashes dusting his cheek. She’s always hated it in books when the author talks about a sleeping person as ‘vulnerable,’ but Matt is. She’s never noticed, before this moment, that Matt hides so much behind his glasses. Without them, there’s a sort of tiredness in his face that she doesn’t recognize, and it scares her, 

Darcy watches him for a few minutes. Then she extracts herself, slowly, so she doesn’t wake him, and leaves the room. It takes forty minutes in the shower to wash the scent of him from her skin.

Neither of them mention it. It doesn’t happen again.

.

.

.

Their graduation from undergrad is interrupted by the Battle of New York.

Darcy, Foggy, and Matt hide in a subway station until it’s over, ushered there by the emergency services people who had been hanging around the ceremony smoking before a giant fucking hole opened up in the sky and started shitting aliens. Darcy has a panic attack, and nearly faints when she can’t reach Jen. There’s nothing they can do but wait, and when they emerge, the whole of Midtown is forever changed.

The next morning, Darcy wanders down to the civilian-approved wreckage, and starts helping people clean it all up.

.

.

.

“No, Foggy.”

“Come on, Darce.” He only calls her Darce when he really wants her to do something. Darcy wipes out a mug with a wet towel, then sets it upside down so it can dry. “Landman and Zack is basically the best possible place to clerk. Matt’s already gonna fill out an application.”

Matt, who has earbuds in and is running his fingers over one of his braille readers, says, “Mm.”

“It’s super competitive.” Darcy adds caramel to Foggy’s coffee and slides it across the counter to him. “That doesn’t mean that it’s the best place to clerk. I’ve heard weird things about Landman and Zack, Foggy. Jen doesn’t like them much.”

“Jen works in the DA’s office,” says Foggy, as if this is an explanation. “C’mon, it’ll be awesome. We can all do it together. I took the tour yesterday, for prospies, and they have free bagels, Darcy. Every morning, a million different kinds of free bagels. A whole semester of it. Maybe a whole year of them. Think of it.

She gives Matt his coffee too (black, no cream, one sugar) and taps the back of his hand to let him know that it’s on the counter. It still gives her stomach the weird clenchy cramps to have him smile at her, but at least she can manage that. Darcy goes back to spraying out the blender jugs they use for the frappuccinos. “You’re such a bagel whore.”

“I appreciate flawless baked goods.” Foggy shrugs. “Sue me. But don’t, actually. Seriously, though, Darcy, it’d be really good. Awesome résumé credits and everything. And if we’re really lucky they might want to hire one of us once we take the bar.”

It's a year away. The words the bar still make her break out in a cold sweat. “I don’t want to be a lawyer that only works for the rich and famous, Foggy. It seems kinda like taking it from the man.” Someone opens the door to her Starbucks, pauses, looks at them, and then vanishes back out into the rain. She’s pretty sure he’s someone from her thesis class, because he has that look on his face that most people get when they take classes with Darcy: scared shitless and somewhat in awe. “Besides, I found a position with Day By Day, and I—um. I might have an interview with them next week.”

Matt must hear that bit, because he tugs one of his earbuds out, and says, “The domestic violence awareness people?”

“Spousal and intimate partner abuse,” she corrects. Matt makes an ah face. “For people under the age of twenty-four. Zeke told me about them, he went to see them after what happened with Shitty Michael. Yes, I swear at work, and my boss doesn't chastise me for it, deal with it, lady.” The business woman in the Versace suit sniffs loudly and marches out of the Starbucks. Darcy breaks a lot of HR and customer service rules, but Reyna loves her, so she’s basically never getting fired. “They do case management and legal advocacy, and they have a few clerk positions available for legal students. So I thought I’d apply there.”

Foggy’s silent for a moment. Then he says, “Well, now you’ve made me feel shitty for wanting money.”

She pats his wrist. “Honey, I make you feel shitty just by existing, because my boobs are so much bigger than yours.”

“This is true. I have much boob envy.”

Matt pulls his other earbud out, and turns off the machine. “What’s Jen say?” 

“Jen wants me to go to the DA’s office, but I dunno. I don’t really want to be a state defense attorney. Or a public defender, which was her second suggestion. ‘cause, you know. Indigent gangsters.”

“Preach,” says Foggy, and sips at his coffee. “Yet another reason why Landman and Zack is a good idea. We can afford to be picky, if we get into their good graces. We can take jobs with figures. Big figures, on paychecks. With lots of zeros.”

Darcy huffs, and shoves her glasses up her nose. “If I go to Landman and Zack I’ll have to stop dyeing my hair and take out my tongue piercing. You know how fast holes in your tongue grow over? I had to take out my piercing once for an interview, and four hours later, I couldn’t put it back in. They grow over fast, Foggy. I’d have to get my tongue pierced all over again, and that shit hurts.”

Foggy doesn’t have a response for this.

“I think it’s a good idea,” says Matt. Darcy blinks at him, and then turns away so she can hide her smile from Foggy. “If she doesn’t want to apply to Landman and Zack, then she doesn’t have to, Foggy. Besides, we need more legal advocates.”

“Very true, but the point remains that Darcy is ditching the trio.” Foggy gives Matt a black look, and then says, “I’m glaring at you, Matt.”

“I thought you might be,” says Matt.

“I’m not ditching the trio, you dork.” Darcy shakes the excess water out of the blender bits, and then sets them aside too. “I’m just taking a temporary leave of absence while you two sell your souls to the proverbial devil. We’ll still be best broskis.”

“Landman and Zack isn’t the devil.”

“Mephistopheles, maybe,” says Matt, “but not the devil.”

“You are both dead to me.”

“Fine.” Darcy snaps her fingers. “Gimme back your free coffee.”

“Temporarily dead,” says Foggy, and tugs his coffee cup away from her. “For like, three seconds. Like Iron Man.”

“That’s better.” She sighs. “I’ll apply, Foggy, all right? But I reserve the right to refuse. And I’m still going to my interview with Day By Day next week.”

“I never said you shouldn’t.” Foggy says, and reaches across to squeeze her shoulder. She nudges his wrist with her nose, and he lets go. “And if you want to ditch us to be a legal advocate, then you should totally ditch us, because you would be an awesome legal advocate. Just write us letters from time to time.” He pauses. “I’ll read Matt’s aloud to him word for word, don’t worry.”

Matt kicks him in the ankle.

“To indigent gangsters,” says Darcy, lifting the macchiato she’s making for some woman out on the floor. Foggy raises his own cup.

“To Landman and Zack,” he says.

“To the bar," says Matt, and Darcy throws a crumpled napkin in his face.

.

.

.

“Fuck Landman and Zack,” says Foggy.

They’re sitting at their slice of the counter at Josie’s. The bar top is stickier than usual, but Darcy’s pretty sure that’s because Josie lets her cockatoo knock over beer jugs for fun, rather than any more unsettling and/or disgusting reason. On top of the television, Rosa the cockatoo bobs her head as if she can hear Darcy’s thoughts, and says, “Fuck the police!” in a voice that sounds rather like Crazy Tom, who lives in the alleyway.

“You don’t want to fuck Landman and Zack,” says Darcy. “They’ll be uncomfortable. Besides, you were there for the possibility of giant wads of cash, not a good lay.”

“Fuck money,” Foggy says, sounding slightly slurred. He’s had two drinks for every one that Matt and Darcy have been nursing. She’ll start being worried if he starts singing about butcher shops.

“Money wouldn’t be comfortable, either.”

“C’mon, Foggy,” says Matt on Foggy’s other side. “It was the right thing to do, you know that.”

“Fuck the right thing,” says Foggy. “The money, Matt. We could have had convertibles.

“Built on the backs of honest, middle-class Americans being stripped of their rights by the legal machinations of the one percent,” says Darcy. Oppie, her supervisor at Day By Day, may or may not have instilled a healthy dose of social justice warrior into her very marrow. Foggy rests his head on the bar top.

“The money.”

“He’ll be like this for an hour or so,” says Matt, as if she doesn’t already know that. Then she realizes he's talking to Josie, who, no shit, actually looks concerned. “Then he’ll get over it.”

“Cars,” says Foggy. “Expensive wine. Attractive women with flexible virtue. Don’t you say a word,” he adds to Darcy, who’s opened her mouth to talk about the patriarchal asshattery of the virgin/whore dichotomy. She presses her lips tight together for a moment.

“Would you want to date someone who was only in it for the money?” says Matt. “I thought Marci ditched you because you wouldn’t agree to being her partner-in-crime.”

“I broke up with Marci because she is a soulless automaton who kept trying to put me in pinstripes.” Foggy sets his shot glass very carefully on the table, and Josie plonks the tequila bottle down in front of him. Darcy snags it before he can fill his glass to overflowing. “It was awful. Also, I think she was trying to eat my dick. Like…actually physically consume it and imbue its dickly powers.”

“Contrary to popular belief, penises do not actually have superpowers.” She gives Foggy half a shot instead of a full one. He doesn’t seem to notice. “Sorry to break your heart. She might have been trying to eat it to make you feel emasculated and thus permanently tie you to her side, though.” Maybe she’s a little more buzzed than she thought she was. “Ooh, she could have put a collar on you. Can I put a collar on you and take pictures to send her?”

Foggy doesn’t seem to hear. “Marci,” he says again, “is a soulless automaton.”

“We heard that bit, sweetheart.”

“I would look terrible in pinstripes. Matt, say I would look terrible in pinstripes.”

“He would look terrible in pinstripes,” Matt says in a flat voice. Foggy swings around to look at Darcy this time.

“See, Matt agrees.”

“Foggy-bear, you’re well on your way to being wasted, and my phone died like half an hour ago so I can’t film it. No bueno.” She knocks a shot back herself—the tequila burns marvelously going down, almost like battery acid—and then confiscates Foggy’s shot glass.

“Noooo.” Foggy makes grabby hands at his glass. “Give. You’re mean.”

“Drink some water and then we’ll talk.”

“You and your job offers,” says Foggy. “Your dumb, dumb job offer that you’re probably gonna take. You’re gonna take it, aren’t you? You’re going to have a job and me and Matty are gonna live in the gutter.”

Matt swirls his beer in the bottle. “Subway tunnels would be easier.”

“You,” Darcy tells Foggy, “are ridiculous. And you,” she adds to Matt, flinging a bit of popcorn at his head, “need to stop encouraging him. I’m working on getting my own place, and as soon as I do you guys can stay with me if you end up homeless.”

“With all of the money,” says Foggy, “from your job. That you won't reject, because you’re smarter than me and Matt.”

She pats his cheek. “Go to sleep, dear.”

“Don’t tell me what to do. It’s patronizing.”

“Are you going to take it?” Matt tilts his head at her from Foggy’s other side, his glasses reflecting the light from the TV. “The job with Day By Day.”

Darcy sighs, and props her elbows up on the counter. She’ll think about the process of actually removing them from the counter later, when there’s not alcohol to be consumed. “Oppie wants me to,” she says. “Jen thinks it’d be a good place to start, too. I already know how everything works, and what I’d have to do. I just—” She shoves her glasses up her nose. They’re slipping again. “I dunno. We have to pass the bar first. I don't want to make any plans until I know I'm good.”

On top of the TV, Rosa shouts, “Si la belleza fuera delito, yo te hubiera dado cadea perpetua!” and as one, they all duck. The only one who's too drunk or too slow to catch on is Crazy Tom, his bald scalp shining in the light of the TV. Rosa dive-bombs him with a wild shriek, scraping her claws over the top of his head. Crazy Tom shrieks, falling out of his chair, and starts swearing very loudly in Czech. Josie (who's been wiping out glasses with a dirty rag, safe in her spot behind the bar) whistles, and Rosa lands hard on her shoulder, flaring her crest in a dazzling array of yellow. It hurts Darcy’s eyes a little. Foggy steals his shot glass back, and starts eyeing the tequila bottle.

“Doesn’t that say something?” Matt tilts his head to the other side. “If you’re not sure.”

“Probably.” She pours Foggy half a shot. “I’m trying not to think about it. I have nine weeks to decide.” In fact, Oppie hadn't even been allowed to mention the possible job offer to her until they'd heard whether or not Darcy had passed the bar. Then again, Oppie has a "fuck the kyriarchy" mentality that Darcy can definitely get behind. Also, she finishes off at Day By Day on Friday, so she can spend the rest of the nine weeks pre-bar attempting to cram as much information into her head as possible without her brain exploding. So Oppie may have some ground to stand on, bureaucratically. 

“You know what?” says Foggy. “Fuck them. Fuck all of them. We’re awesome. We don’t need their shitty money. We,” he says again, and grabs Darcy’s hand and Matt’s, nearly knocking Matt’s beer over in the process, and shakes them emphatically, “are fucking awesome.”

“Well, that was quick.” Darcy squeezes his hand, and then disentangles herself. “Glad you feel better, sunshine.”

“We are so awesome,” Foggy continues, loud enough that on the other end of the bar, Josie lifts her head to eavesdrop, “that we should fuck all the haters. Seriously, just screw ‘em. We’re badasses.

“Shut up!” squawks Rosa. Foggy ignores her.

“We are in fact too badass for any of them to handle.” He grabs a napkin, steals the pen from behind Darcy’s ear, and starts to doodle. “We are too badass for this whole goddamn legal system.”

“I think Jen would be mad if you said that.”

“Jen loves me.” Actually, Darcy’s pretty sure that Foggy is Jen’s favorite, so she’d probably forgive that from him. She scoffs.

“Suck-up.”

“That’s what she said.” Darcy rolls her eyes. Foggy scratches something deep into the napkin with her pen, enough that he nearly tears the paper. Matt rocks his beer bottle back and forth on the counter, thoughtfully.

“What are you thinking, Foggy?”

“I think he’s had too much tequila to really be thinking at all,” says Josie from behind the counter. Rosa says, “Traffic violations," and then flies away again.

“No, no no no, no, look.” He caps off the pen and settles the napkin between the three of them, mightily pleased with himself. Darcy leans forward. Nelson, Murdock & Lewis, the napkin reads, in a simple rectangular border. Attorneys at Law.

For some stupid reason, her throat closes up. She has to swallow twice before she says to Matt, “He drew a sign for a legal firm.”

Our legal firm,” says Foggy. “Because fuck the haters, we are awesome.”

“I told you Nelson sounded better at the front,” says Matt. Darcy blinks. Then she blinks again.

“You guys have been talking about this?”

“We have enough saved between the pair of us to get an office, even after we pay for the tutoring,” says Matt, as if he’s speaking sense and not utter insanity. “This is what we wanted at the beginning, wasn’t it? Helping the people who can’t help themselves. Fixing Hell’s Kitchen a little bit at a time.”

“Well, yeah, but—” She gapes like a fish. “Oh my god. And you included me?”

“Should we not have?” Foggy looks teary. He’s a weepy drunk. “We can take you out if you want. But it’s kinda funny, because it’s like the alphabet except backwards. NML. Like when people pull you over for drunk driving, and you have to—”

“Foggy,” says Darcy. “I love you, but shut up.”

Foggy shuts up. Matt doesn’t say anything either. Darcy chews at her lip, and then at her fingernails, staring at the little sketched-out sign on the counter. She knows, and has known for a while, that she has the least amount of liquid credit to her name out of the three of them—Matt inherited a lot of money when his dad died, and Foggy’s granddad left him enough to keep him steady for at least six months if he needs it. It’s Darcy who has big loans and second jobs to worry about, and she’s not sure jumping ship at Day By Day to start a fledgling legal firm will keep her on the up-and-up. Or out of the red. At all. And they still have the bar exam to worry about—her stomach is churning just thinking about that

But.

She sticks on that but. But it could be amazing. But she would love it. But she wants it. She’s never mentioned it to them before, but in their first year of law school she’d imagined, fleetingly, what it would be like to be a part of a real firm. Where she could pick and choose her own cases, where she could work with people she cared about and not have to worry about shitty bosses telling her what to do. She loves working at Day By Day, and she’s sure she’d enjoy having a real job there, and that she would be good at it.

“We could kill each other,” she says. “It might not end all that well.”

“Kill me, you cannot,” says Foggy in his Yoda voice. “And Matt would make that face that looks like a lost puppy and you’d lose all fury.”

Something’s bubbling inside her, like good champagne. Darcy bites back a grin. “He does have a good puppy face.”

“We’ll need it to bring in clients. We can use him like that milkshake song. Bring in the ladies.” He nudges at Matt’s elbow. “So. Lewis. You in?”

Darcy swallows. She looks at them, these men she’s known for seven years, who have never once turned their backs on her, who plastered awkward sex-joke bumper stickers all over Eduardo’s car for her, who she’d go up to bat for in an instant. Really, she thinks, it’s been a given that they’d do this since the beginning. Nelson, Murdock, & Lewis, Attorneys at Law.

“Yeah,” she says. “Why the hell not.”

They drink to it, looping their arms together and trying not to hit each other in the face with their elbows. She vaguely remembers stumbling to Matt’s apartment after midnight, and falls asleep drooling on his knee.

She never said they’d be classy. After all, they’re all just avocados at heart. 

Chapter Text

Five months, two weeks, and thirteen days later…

“Yep,” Darcy says, staring out the window of the new offices for Nelson, Murdock & Lewis. There’s a dumpster overflowing with furniture down below, and some random white boy, artfully shabby the way New York rich kids always are, rooting through the pillows and singing Springtime For Hitler at the top of his lungs. When he sees her looking, he makes a crude gesture, and thrusts his hips in the general direction of the building in time with Don’t be stupid, be a smarty, come and join the Nazi party! She flips him the finger, and then pulls the blinds again. “Awesome view we have here. You can see the Statue of Liberty and everything.”

“You’re a shitty liar,” says Matt. He’s standing close to the door, his hands wrapped around the handle of his cane. The blinds are stained yellow with old cigarette smoke. Darcy wipes her fingers on her leggings—the pull-rope is sticky, for some reason—and then shrugs.

“Whatever. I think someone’s sprayed essence of nicotine on everything. Can we open the windows?”

“Pretty sure the windows don’t actually open,” says Foggy from the other room. Darcy wrinkles her nose.

“Great. I’ll send the real estate agent a fuck you card.” She tests the windows anyway, because she’s never been one to say never. They’ve been painted closed. “What does the lease say? Can we make changes? Painting and restoration and stuff?” Something inside her cries at the thought of how much work this place needs. Then she looks back at the desk in the center of the room, and it settles again. Not this place, she tells herself. Their place.

“I don’t know,” says Matt. Darcy jumps back to reality. “But it’s long term, so I would think so.” He sets his fingers against the walls, and then wrinkles his nose. “Probably would improve the smell.”

“That is the smell of independence and impending debt,” Foggy shouts at them. "Don’t knock the smell, Murdock.”

“That explains why I feel so depressed.”

“The stains on the ceiling do give it a certain sort of charm.” Darcy touches his elbow to let him know that she’s passing, and then scoots into the entryway. “Can we haggle them into letting us paint everything? Because the walls are gross. And no matter what, I’m cutting through their shitty paint job on the windows, because we need fresh air in here. Not knocking,” she adds, when Foggy glares. “Just commenting. Pointedly.”

“That hurts, Darcy. In my soul.” Foggy returns to slinking around the room like an angry alley cat. “Besides, if you’re gonna mock anyone, mock Matt. He’s the one that wanted to take it.”

“Bite your tongue, Nelson. I like it too.” Darcy rolls her eyes. “It’s shitty on the outside but we’ll clean it up. Super metaphorical if you think about it. Besides, it’s basically the only thing we can afford, especially if you keep buying Brett’s mom expensive cigars.”

“She is an old lady who likes her pleasures, and it is not in me to deny her.”

Darcy, who has slipped more than a few times on her road to being cigarette free (thanks, bar exam), just huffs and rummages around in her purse for her flick knife. “Matt, you’re quiet today.”

“Hm?” Matt lifts his chin from the top of his guide cane. “What?”

“Case in point.” She snaps the knife open, and sets to on the paint holding the windows together. “What do you think about the walls? Paint? No? I have to tell you, it looks like they haven’t been touched since like…a decade before we were even born. The wallpaper has water stains roughly the size of small elephants.”

Foggy opens his mouth, and then closes it again, because there’s no way he can deny this.

“I can smell mold,” says Matt after a moment. When Darcy sniffs, she catches a hint of dampness under the dust, and realizes he’s right. “We should probably just tear the paper off and repaint it, yeah.”

“Yeah, see, paint means money,” says Foggy. “I feel obliged to mention that getting this place will wipe out whatever meager savings we had in the first place. So, no paint.”

“Foggy, these walls need to be put out of their misery.” She looks out the window again. “And I don’t mean by Hipster AdolF down there. Seriously, they’re sad, sad walls. This whole place feels sad.”

“I think the water stains provide character. And, bright side, it comes with free desks.” Foggy rubs his chin. “Matt, what do you think?”

“I think the mold is going to make me sneeze,” says Matt.

There’s a satisfying pop from the window. Darcy folds her knife up again, digs her nails in—bye-bye, manicure—and heaves. After a moment, Foggy comes to help her, and with a terrible screeching sound the window finally shifts. Probably ten years of dust fly out of the cracks in the lining. Still, the relatively fresher smell of Hipster Adolf and his furniture rustling can’t do much worse to the stink of pre-incident New York and mold inside this room. “I think I have a few cans of paint leftover from when me and Jen redid the apartment,” Darcy says after a moment. “Six maybe? That should be enough for this place.”

Foggy steals her knife and starts on the second window. “In that case, you are more than welcome to take the walls out back and shoot them, because I’m pretty sure that stain will become sentient if we leave it alone.”

“Awesome. We can do it this weekend.”

Matt sneezes.

“Gesundheit,” says Foggy. “Still, we’re going to need more than metaphorical clients if you really want to fix the leaks.”

“Nah, the witch agent said that the leaks were fixed. The stains aren’t fresh, see? Just gross.” She kicks at the wall. It feels a bit stronger than plywood, which is good. She trips a lot, and doesn’t want to put an elbow through her future paint job. “Which is a blessing in disguise, because I’m pretty sure that this place also violates like fifteen fire codes or whatever. More, once we start getting people in here on a hypothetically semi-frequent basis.”

“Stop saying the ‘h’ word, you’ll jinx us.” Foggy wrenches at the second window, and it opens with a shriek like a dying pelican. “Getting clients would be easier if we weren’t trying to rely on the hordes of innocents accused of misdeeds clearly pounding on our door.”

“We should be saving the innocent, Foggy.” Matt taps on the floor with his cane for a moment, until he finds the desk. He wipes dust off of it with one hand. “That’s the whole point of this. It’s why we started in the first place.”

Innocent until proven guilty and pure as driven snow aren’t exactly mutually exclusive, Matt.” Foggy sends her a look. Darcy holds up her hands.

“Uh-uh. You know how I feel about this. I did victims’ counseling. Though, just to put it out there, if I ever have to defend someone accused of rape I might actually vomit on them.”

“Defending the innocent,” says Matt pointedly. Foggy rolls his eyes.

“The innocent rarely have the ability to pay our electric bills, Matt. I’m just saying that until we get on our feet it might be a little easier to take cases that aren’t so clear cut. That’s all.”

Darcy tunes them out. It’s not the first time they’ve squabbled about this, and she’s pretty sure that the argument won’t end unless one of them dies or quits law. Thankfully it’s never come down to anything more than squabbling, otherwise she might have to blast an air horn in their faces. She fixes her lipstick, checks her eyeshadow in a pocket mirror, and then ties her hair back into a ponytail. “Come on, boys,” she says. “The ethics debate can wait until after we’ve put those desks somewhere.”

The previous tenants of their new second-floor offices were bookies. At least, she thinks they were bookies, judging by the fact that she finds a bunch of old betting slips in the bottom drawer of one of the desks. They beg a few brooms, cloths, and polishing rags from the people who manage the restaurant downstairs, and set to on the floor and the three desks that have been abandoned in the wake of whatever bookie-shenanigans drove their predecessors out in such a hurry. Darcy tugs down all the wallpaper from the office without the Hudson view, balling it up in the corner. She can hear Matt and Foggy snarking at each other from the other room as outside, the sun begins to set. It's comforting. 

She's not sure what time it is, but she knows it's late by the time she finally finishes prying the wallpaper off in the conference room. She's tugged off her button-down and is working in her tank top when she hears Foggy muttering behind her. “Three desks,” Foggy says, pausing in his sweeping project. Darcy, wiping the windows down for the fifth time, doesn’t look around. “We’re gonna need another desk, for the secretary.”

“You’re bitching about money we don’t have and you’re thinking about secretaries?”

Foggy huffs. “Semi-distant future secretaries. So semi-distant future desk needs.”

“We should probably at least pretend we have a secretary though.” Darcy drops the cloth back into her water bucket, and prods it down with two fingers. “We can leave one of the desks in here and take secretarial shifts.”

Foggy makes a face. 

“Oh, for god’s sake.” She clambers down off of her chair. “Answering a few phone calls and making a few appointments won’t kill you. We’ll split it, Foggy. All of us,” she adds, and Matt, who’s still smoothing polish onto one of the desks, makes a thumbs up sign without looking at her. “Considering there’s only two offices, technically, one of us would have to be out here all the time anyway. At least until we get someone to sit at the entrance.”

“No, I know.” He blows hair out of his eyes. “Just—we just heard we passed. Y’know? It still doesn’t quite feel real. And now we’re thinking about secretaries.”

Darcy shudders. “Ugh, the bar. Don’t mention the bar. Secretaries are a step up, Foggy, seriously. We’ll work it out.”

“Speaking of working things out.” Matt pours more polish onto his rag. The tang of lemon oil stings at her nose. “When we do have a secretary, we’re going to have to split one of the offices down the middle.”

Foggy looks from Matt to Darcy to Matt again. A fourth desk, Darcy adds to her notebook. Fans. Another chair. Possibly a fake potted plant. Then, Foggy clears his throat. “Matt and me can share, I guess.”

“The view would be lost on me,” says Matt wryly. “I don’t think that’d work.”

Foggy turns to her. “Darce?”

“You spread your shit everywhere, and I sing when I read.” She lifts her hands in a what can you do gesture. “We’d both be dead in a day if we try to share again.”

“I guess we could modify the staff room into an office.” Foggy tugs on his earlobe, considering. “Though it’d be hard to get a desk in there.”

“That’d be ridiculous.” Matt starts in on the inside of the drawers. “Darcy can share with me. If you don’t mind the windows.”

Darcy blinks. “You sure? I know you have your personal space thing.”

Matt blinks. “Personal space thing?”

“Your don’t-touch-me bubble.” He still looks confused. Darcy and Foggy exchange a glance, and then Darcy adds, “Your hamster ball of introversion?”

“You do have a pretty big hamster ball, man.”

“I think at this point that whether or not I have a hamster ball—” Matt wrinkles his nose “—is irrelevant. Besides, I don’t mind the singing, unless it’s—”

“Fleetwood Mac,” say Darcy and Foggy in chorus, and then grin at each other.

“Fleetwood Mac,” Matt repeats. The corner of his mouth twitches. “Exactly.”

“That can be arranged, probably,” Darcy says. Foggy’s phone buzzes. He wipes his hands on the back of Darcy’s jacket—“not cool, asshole”—and then digs it out of his pocket, and wandering into the conference room to answer it. Outside, the street-lights are buzzing; they’ve been cleaning for longer than she thought. Darcy glances back at Matt. “You’re sure you’ll be good with it? My roommates all hated me in college.”

“Jen likes you.” Matt shrugs, and caps off his bottle of polish. “I think I can handle it. Besides, the alternative is me carrying out two dead bodies before the end of today. It’s not that big a sacrifice.”

“True.” Still, she eyes him for a moment or two before reaching out and knocking her fist against his shoulder. “You’re not the bad sort, Murdock.”

“I’d hope not.”

“Hey, guys?” Foggy lifts his eyes from his phone. “Uh, you know how I asked Brett to let us know if anything interesting comes in?”

It takes a second to click. Darcy grabs Matt’s shoulder, and shakes him. “Oh my god.”

“Ow,” says Matt, making a face. Immediately, she lets go.

“Oh, Jesus, sorry—but oh my god.” She rolls her eyes to the ceiling. “God bless expensive cigars.”

“I dunno,” says Foggy, scrolling through his phone for a moment. He taps a link, and then hands his phone to Darcy. Matt heaves himself to his feet, and brushes dust off of his pants. “You might wanna hold off on that thanks until we get the full story.”

“C’mon,” says Darcy. “How bad could it be?”

.

.

.

Brett says Karen Page is suspected of murder. Darcy thinks she looks more like the women who would come into Day By Day. Her eyes are red, she’s fidgeting with the hem of her borrowed NYPD shirt, and she flinches every time someone slams a door. Very young. Their age, maybe even less. Darcy looks back at Brett, who’s watching her as if waiting for something, and says, “If that woman stabbed a man in cold blood, then I’ll eat my shoes.”

“Evidence’s pretty stacked, Darce.” Foggy goes through the folder for the fourth or tenth or millionth time, his eyebrows furrowed. Matt’s cocked his head, listening, his lips pressed into a thin line. “Daniel Fisher, dead in her apartment. No other fingerprints, no defensive wounds, and no alibi.”

Brett spreads his hands. “Badabing, badaboom.”

“She’s maybe a hundred and ten pounds soaking wet, you moron,” says Darcy in disgust. “Besides, I’ve talked to women who’ve committed murder—in self-defense,” she adds, scowling at Brett, “like, ninety-eight-point-two percent of the time. They have a certain look to them. She’s—it’s different, that’s all I’m saying.”

“Hate to break it to you, Lewis, but there is that one-point-eight percent left who just kill for shits and giggles.” Brett turns his I am a sergeant of the law glare on Foggy. “Gimme the file back, I’m not even supposed to be showing you that.”

Foggy gives up the file, watching it longingly as it goes.

“Who were the arresting officers?”

“Blake and Hoffman were on duty, they brought her in.” Brett makes a face. “Blake’s not my favorite guy, but he was by the book on this one. No due process violations. She hasn’t been charged yet, but it’s the weekend.”

“Lemme talk to her,” says Darcy. Foggy makes a noise like a dying hippo. “Oh, for god’s sake, Foggy, stop being so wishy-washy. You want clients, you don’t want clients, you want innocent until proven guilty, you want pure as driven snow, make up your fucking mind already. She needs a goddamn lawyer, and we can do that for her.”

“I know, I know. I just—” He sighs. “Yes. Fine. Okay. We can do this.”

Matt doesn’t say anything.

“What makes you think I’m gonna let you in there?” Brett folds his arms over his chest. “She’s supposed to be getting a lawyer appointed to her by the court.”

“Yeah, but we’re here, and they’re not.” Darcy crosses her arms, too. “Besides, you like us more. And you know we’re good.”

Brett looks pointedly at Darcy’s hair (the stripes of hair newly re-dyed gold in celebration of finishing the bar) to her hands (rings, black fingernail polish, and a curl of a tattoo emerging from under the sleeve of her suit jacket) and then to her feet (high-tops) before cocking an eyebrow.

“Don’t you even start.”

“Fine,” says Brett. “Fine. You can go in and talk to her. Her choice if she wants to take you on or not, I won’t stop her. She’s been using the fifth pretty damn exclusively, so I’d be surprised if you even get a peep out of her, but you can try. No skin off my nose.”

“You’re a peach, Brettmeister,” says Foggy. Brett rolls his eyes.

“Gimme a minute with her?” Darcy grabs her messenger bag, slinging it back over her shoulder. “She might talk to me if it’s not the three of us right off the bat.”

“Yeah, no, of course.” Foggy looks at Matt, and then back at Darcy, before holding out a fist. “Kick ass.”

She knocks his fist with her own, draws a deep breath, and then slips into the interrogation room.

Karen Page looks up from the pattern she’s tracing on the table with her forefinger. Up close, she looks less like a victim, and more like Anne Boleyn on the block, big eyes and shaking hands, waiting for her execution. She frowns, her gaze skipping from Darcy’s hair to her jewelry to her shoes, just like Brett did, before swallowing hard. She licks her lips. “Who are you?” she asks, her voice husky from crying. “Are you from the DA’s office?”

“Sort of.” Darcy looks down at the table, and then at the chairs, before dragging one of them over to Karen’s right so she can sit next to her. Karen flinches at the sound. “Sorry. I’m Darcy Lewis. With Nelson, Murdock, and Lewis? I wanted to ask you a couple of questions, if you don’t mind.”

Karen’s brow furrows. She looks like a half-drowned kitten, desperately alone. “You—you say those names like I’m supposed to know what you’re talking about.”

“In a perfect world you would already and I wouldn’t have to bribe you with the possibility of baked goods, but since it’s not a perfect world…” Darcy shrugs. “Friend of ours told us about your case. Cops been treating you okay? I can call someone in and get them to take the cuffs off you, if you want.”

Karen looks down at her wrist, and then lifts her hand, watching the handcuff shift against her skin as if she hadn’t realized it was there. No dilated pupils, Darcy thinks. She’s not coming off a high, at least. A trip gone wrong would have helped turn the waking-up-next-to-a-dead-body story into something that made the slightest amount of sense. So would sort of psychological problem, but there had been no evidence of that in the police files. Darcy glances down at Karen Page’s hands and wrists again. No bruising, no defensive wounds. That matches her story, anyway. “Oh,” says Karen. She hasn’t noticed Darcy studying her. “No. I mean. Yes, I would like them off. But. No.”

“No, you don’t feel safe without them on?” Darcy props her chin in one hand. “Or no, you don’t trust the cops to take them off you without being assholes?”

That gets her a flicker. A smile dances around the edges of Karen’s mouth. Then it’s gone again, and Darcy wonders if she’d imagined it. “The latter,” she says. “Probably. What do you want?”

“To ask you questions, like I said.” She leans back in her chair. “To represent you, if you want us to. To figure out what happened to you, maybe try to help you put your life back together. I dunno. Take your pick, really.”

Karen’s eyes dart all over the room. They catch on the surveillance camera in the far corner, and then on the two-way mirror set into the wall. She swallows. “Who sent you?”

Darcy shrugs. “We seek where we may.”

All in an instant, Karen shifts. She sits up straighter, puts her shoulders back. Her nails dig into her palms. She glares. Ah, Darcy thinks. Not a kitten. A tigress. “And why,” she says, in a voice like icicles, “would you even give a shit?”

“We need clients,” says Darcy. “You need help. Also, I think you’re innocent, but that’s neither here nor there. Can I let in my partners in, or do you want me to get you some coffee and then take a hike?”

They stare at each other. Then Karen reaches out, and grabs Darcy by the wrist. She drives her fingernails—manicure shot to hell, three of them snapped off at the quick, blood still under the rest—into Darcy’s skin. Darcy doesn’t do anything, just meets her gaze without blinking, wondering what the hell happened in the past twelve hours to make Karen Page look as though she’s frightened by kindness. Karen watches her for a long time, not speaking. Then she lets go. She swallows twice. Licks her lips.

“I don’t know if you’re crazy or if you’re just desperate,” she says, “but I’ll take the coffee. And—and help would be…nice.”

They look at each other. Darcy hooks a strand of hair behind her ear (her last haircut left her with weird, uneven bits that fall out of ponytails) and then holds out one hand. Karen looks at it for a moment, and then takes it.

“In that case,” she says, “we’d be glad to represent you, Miss Page. Do you take milk or sugar?”

Karen’s answer is a smile, shy and half-bitten off, but whole and real at the same time. In that instant, Darcy knows: This woman is innocent, and we will prove it. We have to.

“Both,” she says. “Thank you.”

“My partners will be here to make sure they take the cuffs off you.” Darcy squeezes her hand, and then gets to her feet. “Don’t worry. Their bark is worse than their bite.”

“You’re a very odd sort of lawyer,” says Karen.

“And you’re a very odd sort of murderess, so we’re in good company.” Darcy winks. “We’ll get this fixed, Karen. I promise.”

It doesn’t occur to her, then, that not all promises can really be kept.

.

.

.

It’s nearly three in the morning by the time that they finally detach themselves from the office again, and the only people still out on the streets are either homeless, smoking, or just really daring sex workers. Foggy peels off from them two blocks away, still grumbling about Karen Page—“you two are going to be the death of me, I swear, with your—your undue fascinations with fallen women and making promises that can’t be kept”—as he heads for his apartment over the liquor store. It rained a little while they were in the interrogation room with Karen Page, and the air smells like damp paper. Darcy kicks an empty beer bottle, watching as it rolls to a stop in the gutter. Matt taps at the curb with his cane, and then steps right into a puddle.

“She seems like a nice sort of person.” Darcy hops the ledge, landing on the balls of her feet. Her high-tops are too worn for her to dare puddles anymore. She’d probably get wet socks. “You know, for someone accused of first degree murder.”

Matt shakes water off of his nice shoes. “You know she didn’t do it.”

“Well, I know that, and you know that, but I think Foggy and Brett need some more convincing.” She considers. “Also, you know, a jury. We need a better alternate theory than she woke up next to the body, but she didn’t do it, your honor, I swear.”

“We’ll work something out.” Matt sighs. “She deserves that much.”

“Aww. You like her.”

She can hear him rolling his eyes. “Darcy.”

“Hey, I don’t blame you, she’s hot. Like, smoking. Awesome hair, if I do say so myself.” She tugs her hair out of the ponytail, shoves it back up out of her face. “But Foggy’s right, y’know. You and your women of mystery and danger. They’re your greatest weakness. Keep an eye on it, Murdock. You might end up royally screwed in all senses of the word.”

“Hah.”

“Seriously, though.” Darcy hops over a puddle. “You think she’s innocent, too?”

“Yeah.” Matt shrugs. “She just—she doesn’t sound like she’s lying about Daniel Fisher. I don’t know how else to explain it, but she doesn’t.” He turns his face towards her. “Why do you think she’s innocent?”

“Because she doesn’t act like a woman who just killed someone,” says Darcy. “I know not all psych profiles are the same, but—I dunno. Something about her doesn’t fit, that’s all. Foggy sees it too. He’s just—”

“—a worrywart.” Matt smiles a little. “I know.”

They walk in silence for a little while. There aren’t many taxis out this time of night, especially not in Hell’s Kitchen; otherwise she’d just flag one down. Something about the wind makes her think it’s going to start raining again in a minute.

“Hey,” says Matt. She glances at him sideways. “Can I ask you something?”

“Matt, you have rubbed my back while I was puking into a toilet bowl after a very long night in burlesque clubs,” she says. “You don’t have to ask to ask me things. I thought we had gone over this.”

He snorts, and goes quiet again for a moment. Then he says, “If she had done it, would you still have wanted to take the case?”

“Karen?” Darcy shakes her head. “Obvious culprit, no money to pay? No. The DA’s office can handle stuff like that. I’d rather work the case knowing we’re not going to make money out of it, and make sure someone innocent gets off, rather than take a case with some murderous psychopath who also can’t give us shit for our time.”

They’ve crossed two streets before Matt speaks again.

“I’m glad you didn’t take the job with Day By Day. If it helps.”

Darcy blinks. Then she ducks her head, hiding a smile behind her hair. “Even though you’re stuck with me sharing your office?”

“Even though you sing Fleetwood Mac,” says Matt seriously. Darcy snorts. Then she loops her arm through his, and squeezes.

“I’m glad I stuck around, too.” She pinches the back of his wrist. “And not just because of the tea that Foggy stole from the financial people.”

“I hope not.” Matt wrinkles his nose. “It’s shitty tea.”

“It is, isn’t it? Shitty tea. I feel like we should—ah, shit.”

Her phone’s buzzing. Darcy unhooks herself from Matt, and starts digging through her bag. “Sorry, it’s probably Jen. She must be wondering where I am.”

“No, it’s fine.”

She hates her phone right now. Darcy swipes it open, and puts it to her ear, looping her arm through Matt’s again. There’s a guy sitting on a stoop on the opposite side of the street giving them a look. “Hey, Jen.”

“It’s four in the morning,” says Jen, her voice croaking from lack of sleep. “And you are not home yet.”

“Sorry. We—uh.” She can’t fight her grin. “Had to go to the 15th. We have a case. Sort of. Also, it's only, like, three.”

“Don't be a pedant. How do you have a case, sort of?”

“It’s complicated, I’ll tell you later.” She glances up at the sky, and then at Matt. “I’m fine. Matt’s walking me back. All’s good. I won’t see you before you leave in the morning but, you know. I’ll knock on your door when I come in?”

“You are making my hair turn p-prematurely grey.” Jen harrumphs. “Darla keeps biting my feet.”

“Kick her out of the room, then. She’s your cat.”

“She’s your cat when she bites. We’ve t-talked about this.”

“Just give her some treats or something, I don’t know. Strangle her with a shoelace. We’ll get some peace and quiet.”

Matt twiddles his fingers at her, and then says in a low voice, “My place is closer, just sleep on the couch.”

Darcy covers the phone with her hand for a moment. “Your couch has the billboard of doom.”

Matt gives her a look over the top of his glasses. She’s still not sure how he manages to do it, considering he can’t actually focus on her, but it’s worked since undergrad and it works now. Darcy puts the phone back to her ear. “Actually, I’m just gonna stay with Matt. I’ll see you when you get home tomorrow?”

“I th-thought you said it was impossible to sleep in Matt’s apartment.” There’s a rustling sound. “Son of a b-bitch. Darla, you little shit.”

“We named her after a vampire for a reason, Jen, darling.” She can hear sirens in the distance. “And I’ll manage. I think there are those eye-cover thingies at the CVS at the end of the street. I can even blindfold myself if I have to, I’m sure Matt has something somewhere.”

Matt pinches her in the ribs. Darcy squirms.

“Get out of my room.” A door slams on the other end of the line. “T-text me when you get there.”

“Can do, boss lady.” She smiles. “Good night, Jen.”

Jen grunts, and hangs up.

If she actually stops to think about it (and she does, later, but that later is much, much later, when she’s learned things and seen things and done things that she could never have imagined herself doing, that night stepping over puddles) it seems extraordinarily convenient that Matt’s apartment is only three blocks away from Nelson, Murdock & Lewis. Darcy pries her shoes off her feet, and then peels off her socks, too. She hasn’t escaped the puddles, unfortunately. “God, I hate that goddamn billboard,” she says, as Matt undoes his scarf and hangs it on the peg. “I feel like I should just—I don’t know. Stab the Coors Lite marketing people in the face. Like, constantly.”

“I’ll take your word for it.” He shucks his coat. “You want a beer?”

“Fuck yes.”

She texts Jen (safe, call you tomorrow) and then Foggy (TURN OFF VICIOUS AND GO TO SLEEP) before dropping down onto the couch, turning so her back is against the arm and she’s not being blinded by the ads. There was a kid she knew in her freshman math class who claimed he could hack into the motherboards of automatic billboards; maybe she could reprogram this one to just play the Fruity Oaty Bars commercial, over and over again. At least then it would be something she vaguely enjoys. Matt hands her the beer (or offers it in her general direction, at least) and then finds his way to the chair opposite her. “So. Alternate theories. Lay it on me, legal counsel.”

“Ugh, we’re doing this now?” She cracks the top of the beer, and sets the lid on the coffee table so nobody steps on it. “It’s like three in the morning, Matt.”

He shrugs. “Insomnia.”

“You fall asleep at the drop of a hat.” Still, she kind of gets it. She’s not sure she could fall asleep even if she tried it. Not right now, not with the way her blood is pumping. A case, she thinks. We actually have a goddamn case. “Best case scenario? She’s being set up. Worst case? Head trauma, some kind of drug, maybe. We should probably sweet talk Brett into letting us bring a doctor in, have them check her out. Just in case, y’know? If there is a drug in her system, it’ll be flushed out by the end of the day tomorrow, and then no dice.”

Matt sets his beer on the table, and takes off his glasses. “Drugs like a date rape drug?”

“If I wasn’t so sure she was innocent, then yeah. Date rape drug. He could have doped her, convinced her to take him back to her place while she was out of it. Assaulted her. Sometimes the drugs don’t react well, though. Sometimes people get mad. Sometimes they get crazy. If the circumstances weren’t what they were, if she hadn’t invited him out?” Darcy shrugs. “I would have said unconscious self-defense, protecting herself from a would-be rapist. But that’s not what we have here.” She takes a sip of her beer. “What would Landman and Zack do?”

“Not take it at all.” He sounds more bitter than pissed. “She can’t afford it, so they wouldn’t be interested in the first place.”

“Assholes.” 

He scoffs. “Won’t argue with that one.”

“God, I wouldn’t want to be her right now.” Darcy frowns. “Not because of the murder charge thing, but just—I couldn’t imagine going back to my apartment. Not with something like that hanging over me.” She considers. Maybe Karen Page will need a new place. There’s no harm in helping her look, really. If Karen was crazy enough to let them represent her for free, then maybe she can be crazy enough to help a murder suspect get back on her feet.

God, if she tells anyone that, Jen will kill her.

Matt doesn’t hear her. She can tell by the way he’s staring at the window, listening to the buzz of the billboard. Outside, it starts to rain again. “She hadn’t been charged, had she?”

“Hm? No.” Darcy frowns. “You really think it means something that they haven’t charged her yet?”

“The evidence is pretty damning, don’t you think? Only reason you wouldn’t charge in a situation like that would be if—”

“—you didn’t want a paper trail,” Darcy finishes. Matt nods. “I’ll agree that it’s weird, but for now I kind of want to work with what we have, rather than with theories. It’s our first case, Matt, I don’t want to take a walk on the wild side just yet.”

“No, I get it. I just—” He stops. “I don’t know.”

“You’re making the Matt-has-a-hunch face.” Darcy sighs. “You’re making that face that says you don’t actually get it but you’re saying you are because you want me to stop trying to convince you otherwise, because you have an idea. It’s your hunch face. Usually the hunch face means bad things. And awkward things. Bad and awkward things.”

“Yeah, but usually my hunches are right.”

Bad and awkward things, Matthew. Think of how Foggy and I suffer for your hunches before you, you know. Hunch.”

He lifts an eyebrow. “Suffering, huh.”

“So you’re saying you don’t have a hunch face?”

“I wouldn’t know.” Matt huffs a laugh. “Seeing my own expressions is a bit beyond me.”

“Bullshit. You know you have a hunch face. You just don’t want to admit it.” Darcy drains her beer, and heaves herself up off the couch. Matt drops his head to the back of the chair, closing his eyes. In the kitchen, Darcy rinses the beer bottle, and throws it into the recycling box underneath the sink. “Can I steal a shirt or something? I don’t want to sleep in this.”

Matt waves a hand at her, lazily. Darcy decides that’s permission, and dries her hands. “Cheers. Can I use your Topeka shirt?”

“Wh—no.” He turns his face towards her. “Why do you like that shirt so much?”

“I don’t know. It’s big and comfy and yet somehow makes my boobs look awesome?”

Matt chokes on his swallow of beer.

No part of Matt’s apartment is as spare and undecorated as his room. The bed squats in the middle, a little table on each side, and there’s a closet set into the wall, but other than that, there’s nothing. She opens the closet door and sorts through the clothes for a moment (they’re neatly organized by texture rather than color, though Matt tends to be fairly monochrome by design) and then yanks out one of the oversized Columbia t-shirts that Foggy likes to give as shitty holiday presents, acting like they aren’t cast-offs from his old job in the uni bookstore. Darcy hangs her jacket on one of the closet hooks, and yanks her tank up over her head, draping it over the top of the closet door instead. (Oh. Snoopy tank. Totally classy to wear for the acquisition of their first real case.) The Columbia shirt is clean, aside from one or two paint flecks from when she’d dragged her boys into helping Jen repaint the apartment. It smells like laundry soap. She tugs it on.

“How did that thing go?” Matt calls from the other room.

Her leggings join the shirt. “What thing?”

“The blind date thing.”

“Oh.” Darcy pads to the bathroom, wetting down a washcloth. “Kinda sucked, actually. He was a financial specialist or something, I stopped listening as soon as he mentioned he was temporarily separated from his husband.”

“He actually said that?” She can hear the way he’s rolling his eyes. “Jesus.”

“He said that he wasn’t married, but his phone blew up the whole time with texts from someone marked Hubby and the asshole had his wedding ring in his pocket. I saw it when he yanked his wallet out and it fell on the table.”

He snorts again. Darcy scrubs at her eyes until most of the make-up’s gone, wishing she’d thought to grab remover wipes from the CVS downstairs, and then snags the silk weave blanket off the end of Matt’s bed. He hasn’t moved an inch. Still lolling about like a sleepy cat, she thinks, and perches on the arm of his chair to knock her elbow into his temple affectionately. “So, yeah. Blind date was terrible. Too pathetic to even sexify. I’m gonna kill Zeke for setting it up. How about you? Foggy told me about the violent paralegal.”

“Jesus Christ.” He drapes an arm over his eyes. “Foggy thinks way too much about my sex life.”

“I think he’s trying to live vicariously.” She turns on her perch, and shoves her bare toes under his leg. Matt makes a noise that’s more whimper than squeal, and lets out a long breath through his nose. “You look like hell, seriously.”

“I’ll be fine.” He cracks a smile at her, eyes still closed. “You can use the shower if you want.”

“Nah, I’ll just do it when I get home tomorrow.” She throws the blanket onto the couch. “Go to bed, Matt. I’m gonna try to sleep.”

“Nah. I’ll stay out here. You use the bedroom.”

Darcy frowns at him. “Matt.”

“Billboard, remember?” Matt prods her feet out from underneath his thigh, and then stretches. “Besides, I want to go over the recording from the station one more time. It’d keep you up if you tried to sleep out here.”

“You are such a bullshitter.” Darcy slips off the edge of the chair. “Fine. But this is the last time.”

He flicks his fingers at her in a yeah, yeah sort of motion, and goes to dig the tape recorder out of her bag.

She falls asleep to the burbling murmur of the digital recording, her arms wrapped tightly around the pillow that smells the least like Matt.

.

.

.

The phone blares at barely four am, and Darcy snaps out of a nightmare with her legs all the way off the mattress, and her arms pinwheeling into the sheets. She can smell espresso and leftover Thai food, and it’s so nostalgic that for a moment she could swear she’s late for class. Then she gropes for her phone, and gouges her elbow on the corner of the bedside table. “God fucking dammit!”

“You okay?” Matt sounds depressingly chipper. Darcy wonders how many coffees he’s had already. When she looks around, he’s leaning his shoulder against the door frame, smirking at her as if he can tell that the shirt is half off her shoulder and she’s sitting flat on her ass with a bloody elbow and her hair tangled in front of her eyes. “Sounds like you fell pretty hard.”

“Your furniture wants me dead,” she says sourly, and grabs a Kleenex, folding it up to pad it against her elbow. The phone stops ringing. Matt sips at his coffee, still smirking.

“Be nice to it? I don’t want to find new things. Not this late into our relationship.”

“You’re an asshole.”

“I can neither confirm nor deny.”

Darcy checks her elbow again. Her phone starts shrieking. She hits speaker, and then says, “Foggy, I swear to Christ, I’m going to fucking end you.”

“Get to the police station, someone tried to kill our client.”

Foggy hangs up without another word. Darcy closes her eyes. Jesus. “Lucifer fuck me up the ass with a pitchfork,” she says, and then looks up at Matt. “Help me up.”

“You break your knee?” he asks, but he comes forward and puts a hand down anyway. Darcy has to lean forward to grab it, but grab it she does, and heaves herself to her feet again. “Who was it?”

“Foggy.” She peels the Kleenex away from her elbow, and then tosses it in the trash. “Someone attacked Karen. He said—he said someone tried to kill her. He needs us down at the station.”

Matt presses his lips tight together. One hand clenches into a fist. There are words hanging in the air, unsaid. No charge. No friends. No one to care if she dies. A dead body and an innocent woman. It all screams set-up. More than set-up, it screams cover-up, and no offense to Matt or Foggy but she’s pretty sure that if she stayed at Day By Day, her first real case wouldn’t be like this.

Then she thinks of poor sad Karen Page, and toughens up. Darcy hooks her hair up into a ponytail. “Gimme five minutes to change and then we can go.”

“Coffee’ll be ready by the time you’re out,” Matt says.

“Yeah,” says Darcy. “Thanks.”

They walk into a shouting match.  It’s not hard to find Foggy, even in the crowd of plainclothes cops trying to subtly gawk at Brett reaming out two guys with badges on their belts. Foggy’s placed himself firmly in front of a door marked “interrogation,” eyes fixed on the laptop he’s holding in one arm, jabbering away into the phone he has pressed to his ear. “—don’t care what time it is, Janice, have charges been filed against this woman or not?”

“I would hazard a guess not, considering.” Matt tips his head. “Where is she?”

“Yes, I’ll hold.” Foggy looks up at them through his hair. He’s forgotten to brush it back in his rush to get here, and now it’s scattering everywhere in some Harry Potter shit. “It’s about time you two showed up, I need to get Brett to stop yelling at her arresting officers so we can yell at them instead. She’s in here.”

“One of us should stay with her.” Darcy takes Foggy’s computer and tucks it under her arm. “Matt?”

“I’ll go with Foggy.”

“There’s an officer in there to keep an eye on her, Perez, or something. I tried to get them to just leave her alone and keep an eye on the CCTV but no dice. I haven’t heard any screaming or struggles, so the likelihood of finding a dead body is negligible.” Foggy claps her on the shoulder, seizes Matt by the arm, and disappears into the crowd, his computer forgotten. Darcy knocks twice on the marbled glass inlay, and then sticks her head in.

“I come in peace.”

Karen lifts her head from her arms, and is away from the table in an instant. Her lip is split, her throat is raw and purple, and there’s a faint bruise around her right eye. The officer, Perez, leaves her chair in the corner, dropping a hand to her piece. “What’s your name?”

Darcy rolls her eyes. “I’m her lawyer.” She looks back to Karen. “This is a dumb question, but are you okay?”

She’s right: it is a dumb question. It’s so dumb Karen ignores it. “I thought it was just Mr. Nelson out there.”

Mr. Nelson. Jesus. “We’re all here. Matt and I were just late.” Karen’s shivering. Darcy slides off her jacket and offers it to her, and Karen takes it with one hand, her arm bent away from her body as if to keep the vulnerable parts of herself as far away from Darcy as possible. Darcy doesn’t take it personally. She turns to Perez instead. “Can I have the room with my client, please?”

Officer Perez stiffens. “I’m here on protection.”

“I’m her lawyer,” Darcy says again. “Sergeant Mahoney will vouch for me if you’re really worried. But seriously, this place is locked down. No windows to break through, and there’s no way anybody’s gonna get in here if you guard the door, now is there?”

Karen’s eyes flick back and forth between Darcy and Perez. Darcy keeps the smile wide on her face until Perez can’t hold her gaze anymore; the officer drops her hand away from her gun, and then leaves the room without another word, slamming the door behind her. The noise makes Karen flinch, even under the jacket. Darcy nudges the second chair out of the way, and boosts herself up onto the table, crossing her ankles and setting Foggy’s computer aside. If she remembers right, there’s a recording program on his laptop, and if Karen says anything important, she wants to have it handy.

“Did she do anything to you?”

Karen shakes her head. “She just watched me. Kinda creepy, but she didn’t…” She rubs her arms, and glances up at the CCTV camera for a flicker of a second. She’s not very good at hiding things, is Karen Page. Darcy settles the laptop on her knees. Foggy’s looking up previous police brutality suits, in New York State and elsewhere. He even has something up on Eric Garner. “She didn’t do anything,” Karen says, and Darcy glances at her over the tops of her glasses.

“How’s your throat?”

Her lips curve up into a ghost of the smile. “It hurts,” says Karen. “Like someone tried to choke me.”

Darcy makes a face. “Ask a stupid question. They get a doctor in here to take a look at you?”

Karen snorts. “They’d have to actually give a damn to think of stuff like that.”

It’s sad—horribly, rage-inducingly sad—but it’s true, and that stings. Darcy shifts, pulling up the recording program on Foggy’s computer. “So that’s a no, then.”

“Yeah, that’s a no.”

“Y’know, this is what made Ferguson explode.” Darcy pauses. “Well, if you disregard the whole systemic persecution of a race and just figure in the police abuse, anyway.”

Karen curls into herself, rubbing her throat. “So, what’s the plan now, legal counsel?”

“Foggy and Matt are working on getting you out of here, and I’m on guard duty until they manage it.” Darcy spins the laptop around, and settles it on the table. Karen stares at the screen. “I was gonna ask you if you’d be willing to tell me what happened.”

Karen’s brow furrows. “So you can record it?”

“I want to be able to keep it in evidence.” Darcy shrugs. “Hearsay doesn’t go over well in court. If you don’t want to talk about it right away, that’s fine, but it’s better to do this sooner rather than later. You need to make sure your side of the story gets heard.”

Karen looks at the computer for a minute or two. Then she nods, as if she’s made some sort of decision, and takes her chair again. Her fingers curl into the sleeves of Darcy’s jacket. Darcy hits the record button. “I was asleep,” she says, slowly. “The cop—he put a hand over my mouth. He grabbed the sheets, twisted them around my—around my neck. Tried to choke me.” Her fingers dust over her throat. There’s blood under her nails. “I—I couldn’t—I couldn’t breathe. He kept saying something, apologizing, I think. Over and over. I could barely hear him. I was trying to scream, to breathe. I scratched his eye, I think. I must have hurt him, because he let me go.” She picks at her fingernails. “And then I screamed, and the others showed up.”

“What others?”

“The other guards.”

Darcy rubs a thumb over her lower lip. “How many were there?”

“Two, I think. Three maybe.” Karen shrugs. “I don’t know. I was crying, I couldn’t see very well.”

“You know who they were?”

Karen shrugs again. Then she looks at the computer, and says, “No. I didn’t—I didn’t hear any names.”  

Names, Darcy writes on the inside of her wrist. Dates. If they manage to get this to go to trial, anyway.

“Do you know if you’ve been charged yet?”

Karen shakes her head. “Nobody’s charged me with anything. I don’t—I don’t think they even read me my rights or anything. They just put me in the cell and walked away.”

“Did they ask you anything about Daniel Fisher?”

She shakes her head one last time, and bends her head so her hair falls in front of her face. “She shook her head,” says Darcy. “For the record. What time did they find you in your apartment, Karen?”

“Um.” Karen frowns. “Maybe—maybe three am, I guess? We—I remember it was about nine o’clock in the bar, and by the time I—found Daniel, it was maybe two. Why?”

“Legally, unless you’re charged, they should have released you—what time does the computer say?”

“Three-forty.”

“They should have released you forty minutes ago. If my math’s right, anyway.” Darcy’s hands are trembling a little. She swallows back acid, digging her nails into her palms. “I’m going to pause the recording for a minute,” she says, and then hits the space bar. “Do you want anything?”

“I’m fine.” She stares at the table. “I’m just…I don’t know.”

I hope you took that bastard’s eye out, Darcy thinks, looking at her. She doesn’t say it, because the camera’s watching, but she thinks it. “We’ll get you out of here, all right? Just…hold tight for a minute. We’ll see this through, I promise you.”

Karen jerks, and lifts her head. Her eyes are shiny, her lips white. She swallows. “I wish I could believe that,” she says, and her voice cracks. “I really, really do.”

Darcy looks at her for a long moment. Then she turns on the tabletop, until she’s facing Karen rather than just peering at her sideways. She holds out both hands. Karen looks at them, then up at Darcy, before taking them. Her fingers are bone dry and frigid, and when Darcy squeezes, she has to visibly stop herself from wrenching away.

“You don’t have to believe me right now.” Darcy doesn’t smile. “It doesn’t change the fact that I’m glad you’re alive.”

Karen’s hands go slack. Her lips part. For a second, Darcy thinks she’s going to cry. Then, slowly, she curls her hands into Darcy’s, until she’s squeezing hard enough to turn her knuckles white.

“You can trust us, Karen,” she says.

Karen doesn’t say anything at all.

.

.

.

Of course Matt’s the one who volunteers to put her up for the night. She’d be disgusted, if she hadn’t been half-expecting it. Foggy catches her eye and rolls his, and all Darcy can do is laugh. She trusts Matt not to do something stupid like sleep with a client, but at the same time it’s not the wisest decision that they’ve ever made. And she does include herself and Foggy in that decision-making, because they’re the idiots who let a poor traumatized woman wander off with Matt Murdock.

Okay, that sounds like she thinks he’ll take advantage, which he won’t, because he’s Matt. But it looks bad. It feels like a mistake.

“This feels like a mistake,” says Foggy, as soon as the door is shut behind them, and they’re alone in the office. Darcy scruffs a hand through her hair, and sighs.

“I don’t want to think about it.” She yanks his laptop out of her messenger bag, and shoves it at him. “I’m gonna catch a cab. If I don’t get at least three hours of sleep I’m going to go back to the police station and I’m going to stab that bastard in the dick.”

“I’m so glad I turned off the tape recorder before you said that.” Foggy sets his laptop on the desk. “Sleep on my couch, seriously. Or you could make a nest out of old sheets from the closet down the hall, but that sounds vaguely unsanitary.”

“I was going to sleep on Matt’s couch, until this happened.” Darcy heaves her bag back up onto her shoulder again. “I don’t know if couches are good luck right now.”

“My couch smells like Cheetos and old pizza, it’s like…the least unlucky couch ever.”

Darcy snorts. “I can walk the six blocks back to my apartment, you know.”

“Darcy, we just spent an hour in a police station because our client was nearly murdered in her cell. By a cop, no less. Let me be a worrywart. Okay?”

She huffs. Still, she’s too tired to say no. Darcy nods, and hooks her earbuds around her neck. “Fine. But you better buy doughnuts, because I’m gonna smell like Cheetos and old pizza when I wake up.”

“There is no better smell in the universe,” says Foggy, and she punches him in the arm.

.

.

.

She’s going to kill Karen for wandering off on her own. That’s all she has to say on the matter. Even with the devil of Hell’s Kitchen in the mix, she’s going to murder Karen dead.

.

.

.

“I saw him,” Karen tells her in a whisper, as Darcy helps her unpack her groceries onto the counter in the little staff-room at the office. She blinks, and cocks her head.

“Saw who?”

“The devil of Hell’s Kitchen.” Karen curls a strand of hair around her finger, thoughtfully. She looks—she doesn’t look frightened, exactly. More awed, as if she’s seen a shooting star, or a triple rainbow. “I just—I know I told you, but it doesn’t quite feel real. He saved my life, Darcy.”

“That’s kind of his job, from what I’m gathering.” Darcy drops a handful of forks onto the counter. “What was he like? The devil.”

“Quiet.” Karen shrugs. “He didn’t say anything, really. Well, aside from when he took my flash drive.” Her eyes skip away from Darcy’s as she says it. She’s still guilty about the lie, Darcy realizes, even though it probably saved their lives that first time they came into the police station. Karen Page, you utter darling. “Tall. He had a nice voice.”

“Oh, really.”

“You say that like I’m a teenage girl with a crush,” says Karen, but the tips of her ears are flaming. Darcy very kindly does not point this out, and scrounges the spatula from the bottom of the bag.

“He’s been getting a lot more active lately. According to stuff like The Enquirer, anyway, which I always take with a grain of salt.” She goes to stick her finger into the top of the casserole, and Karen smacks her hand. “Ow. But…I dunno. I thought he was an urban myth, I guess.”

“There was a story from these teenage girls, the ones who were nearly taken for slavery? They saw him, too. And none of them were drugged or anything, it was pretty legitimate so far as I could tell.”

“He just dumped the guy who attacked you on the doorstep of the Bulletin with the USB taped to his chest.” Darcy frowns. “This dude goes around beating the shit out of bad guys. He doesn’t seem to have a plan, really, he just kind of—goes half-cocked. I wonder.”

Karen blinks. “Hm?”

“Does he actually investigate shit? Like…he seems to know when things happen, like with the girls on the docks. Stuff like that takes more than just stumbling across it. Smugglers are secretive, they have their reputation for a reason.” She taps her chin. “Half the guys he throws to the police end up back on the street because of the tainted evidence. I wonder if he knows that.”

“I feel like he would.” Karen presses her lips tight together. “I don’t even know how he knew about me. Union Allied was trying so hard to keep it quiet.”

“Maybe he has moles in the police station. It wouldn’t surprise me.” Darcy laughs. “Maybe I should spray-paint a sign on the wall. Dear Devil, if you need legal counsel, please call this number.

“Somehow, I don’t think a guy like him takes legal counsel.”

“Probably not, but he can’t exactly show up in court to testify that he saw this happen on this day and then punched that asshole in the face.” She heaves the plates up into her arms. “I’m just saying, it might be a good idea for him to stop wandering around solo and start, y’know, building a network. Not with me, obviously, or with the firm, but like…in general. I wonder if he knows that.”

“Well.” Karen checks the casserole again, and then digs salt and pepper shakers out of her purse. “If I see him again, I’ll tell him you said that.”

“I love having someone with a private line to a vigilante, it makes taking vengeance on exes so much easier.”

Karen snorts, and touches the bottom of the casserole dish before nodding. “There. I think we’re okay.”

“I feel like I should object to the fact that we’re the ones in the kitchen while the boys are the ones out waiting for the food.” Darcy collects the forks, and Karen heaves the casserole into her arms. “It feels very stereotypical and Stepford-ish.”

“Thanks, Mrs. Stepford,” says Foggy from the other room, and Darcy resolves to throw a tennis ball at his head at the nearest opportunity. “At least Matt has an excuse, lucky bastard.”

“Matt can carry things same as anyone else. He’s just a shit that likes to pretend otherwise.” Darcy knocks her hip into Matt’s arm as she sets a plate in front of him, and tosses Foggy’s fork at him. He fumbles it, and it hits the table with a clatter. “Oops. Sorry.”

“Welcome to the firm,” says Matt, laughingly. “Population: insanity.”

“I gathered that, believe it or not,” says Karen with a bit of a smile.

“We will still be charging you,” says Foggy, because Foggy’s an idiot, albeit a lovable one. “You know. As soon as we actually. Figure out how to do that. Because we’re fails.”

“Be nice to the lady making us food, Foggy.” Darcy tips into her chair. “Oh, Karen, I wanted to ask you—my cousin and I live a few blocks away from here. She and I talked about it, and if you need somewhere to stay, y’know, while you get your apartment cleaned up and stuff, you can sleep on our couch or something. As long as you’re not allergic to cats.”

Karen jumps. Her wide-eyed look is almost kittenish, it’s so startled. Then she bites her lip, as if she’s trying not to cry. “You—I couldn’t accept that, you barely know me—”

“I feel like our forced companionship in police headquarters has forged a bond, y’know?” Darcy takes a bite of casserole, and then moans a little. “Also, we need you for your food. Literally the only reason why I’m asking. Please, please move in and cook for us forever, because I am foodgasming.”

Behind his glasses, Matt rolls his eyes.

“Well—I mean— ” Karen flutters. “Only if it’s not a bother. I don’t want to make any trouble or anything—”

“Darcy,” says Foggy, pointing his fork in Darcy’s direction, “is the laziest person on the planet. She’s only inviting you to clean up her mess of an apartment. Don’t think she’s being all cute and altruistic here, because she’s a terrible person.”

“Shut up and eat, Foggy,” says Darcy, and Karen covers her mouth with one hand to hide her smile. Her throat is still mottled with bruises, and there’s a bit of a lump on her temple from when the guy at her apartment threw her into the wall, but her eye is much better, and her hands are unmarked. More than that, she looks better; like she’s not carrying the weight of a secret any longer. It brings a flush to her cheeks and a sparkle to her eye that had been missing in the police station, and it’s nice to see.

“I’m not allergic to cats.” Karen serves herself last, like a good hostess. Darcy wonders where she came from, before she moved to the city. She doesn’t have an accent, really, but some of the ways she moves, her mannerisms, scream Midwest or very northern South. “And I wouldn’t—I mean. It’d only be for a few days, until the cleaners are done. If I can afford cleaners. And I don’t mind mess, at all.”

“Well, that’s good, because Darcy and Jen don’t clean at all. Like, ever. Ow!”

Darcy lifts her heel from Foggy’s foot. “It’s not as bad as he makes it sound.”

“Speaking of cleaning.” Karen’s lips twitch. “I noticed you guys are in a bit of a bind. You know, with billing, and things. I—I can’t pay you back, not with money, but maybe I could help you get on your feet? Until you, you know, take off.”

“Are you saying you want to work for us?” Matt tilts his head. “What are your qualifications?”

Darcy waves her fork. “Other than a badass casserole and truly Avenger-like survival instincts.”

“I was a secretary at Union Allied for five years; I’m pretty sure I can get a baby law office up on its feet without much trouble.” Karen winks at Darcy. “Plus there’s the virgin casserole thing.”

“Sounds like we have a secretary,” says Foggy. He lifts his glass of water. “To secretarial duties! Printers and staplers and budgeting and—finding a fourth desk, because I’m pretty sure we’re gonna need one.”

“To secretaries,” says Karen, laughing, and they tap their glasses together.

Later, she thinks it's odd that Matt spent most of the lunch not-staring at the window, rubbing his jaw as if he's deep in thought. But other than that, she doesn't think much of it at all. 

Chapter Text

It takes her an hour and a half to convince herself that she can get out of bed the next morning.

Darcy presses her thumbs into her eyes, hating the little pinches of agony behind her sockets. She hates the light more. She’s pretty sure she’s mashed up in a Foggy Nelson/Karen Page sandwich of some sort, which would bother her if she wasn’t still more than a little drunk. Besides, they’re warm, she can’t remember any shenanigans, and her underwear is still firmly in place, so this in and of itself is made of win.

After about half an hour of staring at the ceiling, though, she gets a little more sober, and she realizes that if she lies here any longer she’s not going to make it in to work. It seems like a shitty precedent to set, not showing up on the third day into their new premises, no matter how tempting it is. In his sleep, Foggy mumbles something that sounds like the word “pancake” and rolls over to squash her. Darcy shoves him away, settles a body pillow between him and Karen—Darcy may have practice waking up with a Nelson, but Karen doesn’t, and Darcy doesn’t want her to panic and run—and then heaves herself up and into the bathroom just in time to puke her guts out.

Today is one of those miracle days when Jen can do all her work from home, and so when Darcy finally creeps her way into the kitchen it’s to a smug-looking Darla picking chicken bits from in between Jen’s fingers. Jen gives Darcy the over-the-top-of-the-reading-glasses look that makes Darcy want to choke something. Darcy eases herself slowly into the chair, lays her head in her arms, and says, “Kfgkd.”

“You’re up early,” says Jen, pinching another bit of chicken off her breakfast burrito and letting Darla lick it off her fingernails. The microwave reads 8:49. “Did you actually sleep at all?”

“Mmfphrgl,” says Darcy, and burps.

“You brought home puppies, too, I noticed.”

“Guh.” Darcy flips her off. “No talking. Coffee.”

“T-two feet to your left,” says Jen, and miracle of miracles there it is, her “this mug is funny because it has cute shit on it” mug, steaming and already waiting. There’s a fairly pointed glass of water on the counter, too, along with a few ibuprofen. Darcy swallows them down, and then curls into the mug, watching Darla lick her evil little teeth and go onto her hind legs to make snatching motions at Jen’s burrito. Jen lifts it higher without looking, and licks a bit of salsa from the paper. It’s from Tito’s food cart, the one at the end of their block, the one who weaves cocaine or something into his tortillas because there’s no natural way they can be that fucking good. Darcy knocks her head against the table.

“Ngh.”

“How was the b-blast from the proverbial past?” Jen shoves Darla off of the table, and puts her burrito down. “You haven’t been that drunk in a long time.”

“It was fucking awesome, thank you.” Darcy takes a very tentative sip of coffee, and then a bolder one when her stomach only flips over once in response. Jen grabs her another glass of water. “Karen was feeling shitty, so alcohol was needed. We went to the fish market.”

“Excellent choice.” Jen pushes a file across the table at her. “You have a two o’clock.”

Darcy looks at the file. Then at Jen. Then at the file again. She frowns. “No handouts.”

“D-don’t be ridiculous.” Jen stirs sugar into her tea. The clink of spoon on ceramic makes Darcy’s head throb. “Nothing wrong with accepting help at the start, Darcy. Besides, this c-case is something you’re good at.”

“Jen.”

“Take it or d-don’t, but you have the two o’clock either way. Coffee shop on 43rd and 10th. She’ll meet you by the windows. She’s a bit fragile.” Jen gives Darcy another look. “You might want to shower before you go, you smell like a d-distillery.”

“Thanks, Jenny.”

Jen rolls her eyes, and presses a kiss to the top of Darcy’s head. Then she slips away towards the living room, Darla trotting along at her heels.

It’s with her darkest sunglasses, her comfiest shoes, and approximately a fuckton of make-up that Darcy breaks off from Foggy and Karen (who head on to the office, grumbling a little and moaning about their headaches) and makes her way to Mug Shots. The file rests against her hip in her college messenger bag (it has the N7 insignia on it, so sue her) as she orders her third coffee of the day and then settles in with her headphones over her ears. It’s not a file from the DA’s office, like she’d thought it would be. Instead, it’s a case report from one of Jen’s contacts at the Central Park Precinct. Truncated, she assumes, and civvie approved, but still.

Nineteen year old girl. Darcy folds the photo back out of the way. Bishop, Katherine Elinor. Report of assault filed two weeks ago against one Richard Goodman, twenty-two, son of Robbie Goodman, of the Goodman and Okamura Trading Group. Katherine Bishop looks like a fighter, Darcy thinks, and turns back to the photo. Two black eyes, a swollen nose, a split lip, and the girl still looks like she’s about to tear the world a new asshole.

Katherine Bishop and Richard Goodman. Both with money, both with means. So why is Jen throwing this at her? Darcy doesn’t have the reputation for a big-name case like this one. The only thing Darcy has a reputation for is hanging a used tampon in the shower—which, by the way, is both unsanitary and completely untrue, because it was her bitchy roommate that did it and then blamed her when people were grossed out by it. But whatever. What the hell is Katherine Bishop doing looking for a lawyer that isn’t on the payroll of Daddy dearest? For that matter, how did Jen manage to get her hands on this at all? It’s not something that ought to be crossing Jen’s desk at the DA, not for a long while yet anyway. It doesn’t look like the investigation has even been closed.

I hate you, she texts Jen. Jen sends her a smiling Hulk emoji.

She’s there hours early, and she uses it. Darcy goes over what few case notes there are for this, and then googles Rich Goodman’s name, Katherine Bishop’s. Goodman’s going to NYU, Bishop to Barnard College.  No previous incidents, not in papers, anyway. Gossip sites talk about Katherine Bishop (‘Kate,’ the rag-mags call her) way more than they do Rich Goodman. Usually, it’s in association with her clothing, or her partying. She seems to party a lot. She also, Darcy notes, won a national archery competition two years ago. Very prestigious, when she looks up the name of the award. Who knew.

Mom dead, she writes. Dad busy. Possible involvement with drugs. (She doesn’t have a record, but who knows with rich kids?) She keeps coming back to the photo, though, the systemic deconstruction of Katherine Bishop’s face, the fury in her eyes. It’s not a mug shot. It’s an evidence photo.

She had the shit kicked out of her.

“Are you Darcy Lewis?”

The voice is low, surprisingly husky. Katherine Bishop’s eyes have a Chinese or Japanese look to them, now that they’re not puffed up to the size of Michigan. Her short skirt looks like a prep school knockoff, and she’s wearing a Misfits’ band t-shirt that’s ripped in one shoulder. Her fingerless gloves are artfully tattered. She looks more like a goth table reject than the daughter of Elton Bishop, international trading mogul. Darcy’s pretty sure that the styling is on purpose. Darcy stands, and offers her hand. “Legally, genetically, and cosmically, much to my mother’s chagrin. You must be Miss Bishop.”

“Kate’s fine.” Her fingernails are painted black. “I don’t like my full name. It was my dad’s idea.”

“Okie-doke. I’m Darcy, then. And no, it’s not because of Jane Austen. Take a seat.”

Kate eases her way into the chair opposite, and stares at the Batman sticker on the back of Darcy’s laptop. Her nose still looks very broken, taped together at the bridge and swollen all the way down. Her lower lip is puffy and uncomfortable-looking, underneath her purple lipstick. Darcy sips at her cold coffee. “You want anything? Coffee, tea, sinfully delicious croissant?”

Kate shrugs. Darcy orders her a black coffee (she looks like that kind of girl) and a pain au chocolat for the pair of them (she’s hungry), and then returns to the table to find Kate picking through the police file. It’s probably illegal. Darcy lets her. What the cops don’t know won’t hurt anyone, in this case.

“This is wrong,” says Kate finally, and tosses the file back onto the table. “Rich Goodman didn’t beat me up, he raped me. I didn’t attack him, he jumped me in Central Park with three of his buddies watching. And the report wasn’t filed by Detective D’Angelo, it was Officer Brigid O’Reilly, and she’s been transferred to a new precinct since then.”

“Jesus.” Darcy drops down hard into her chair. “You don’t pull punches, do you?”

Kate Bishop has one hell of a “cross me and I will rip your tongue out” face. Darcy swallows hard—okay, new angle, come on, girl—and closes the file, tucking the papers back into it to give her hands something to do. “So you’re saying the police are actively covering it all up?”

“Less ‘active cover-up’ than ‘intentional misplacement,’ but yeah. Rich Goodman is an asshole and he likes to get his own way.”

There’s no way she can confirm that, not with what little information she’s managed to glean on Rich Goodman (God, that name drives her crazy) but there’s no way she can disprove it, either, and that’s what matters. Besides, Kate is looking at her like she’s expecting Darcy’s going to call her crazy and walk away, and it reminds her way too much of Day By Day for her to turn her back on this. “Any way you can offer proof of that?”

Kate shrugs. “Officer O’Reilly, if they haven’t bought her off already. Other than that, not really. Aside from the three guys who watched him do it.”

Jesus. Jesus. Okay, then. “They didn’t do a rape kit at the station?”

“They did. They just threw it out as contaminated evidence. Somehow it was mixed up with someone else’s samples and they came up negative.” The look on Kate’s face tells all. “I told you that Rich Goodman already knows how to get what he wants.”

Darcy looks down at the file. Then, deliberately, she puts it into her bag, shuts it, and opens her computer. The sound recorder’s already prepped and waiting. Kate looks from the screen to her and back again, and bites her lip.

“I want you to tell me what happened,” says Darcy. “We don’t have to do it now, but I want to hear it in your own words.”

“I thought this was what the cops did,” says Kate, still looking at Darcy’s computer.

“Clearly, the cops have fucked up.” Kate’s eyes widen, and snap to Darcy. Her kohl is smeared, “It’s not the first time I’ve found cops or cases that have let things slide or intentionally fudged the facts, especially in rape.” Kate doesn’t flinch at the word. She just stares. “I want to be able to help you, Kate, but in order for me to do that I need to know where to start. If you want to hire me, we need to be able to trust each other. We don’t have to stay here if you don’t want, don’t have to do this at all if you don’t want to, but it will help, especially once I get a hold of the people who can help prove that it’s true.”

“Rich Goodman and his friends won’t talk to you.”

“No, but I’m pretty sure Brigid O’Reilly will. And if that fails, I know a really aggressive sergeant down at the 15th that’ll bully her into it for me.”

Kate looks back at the computer. The background rotates to an image of the Flash (Barry Allen, not Wally West), staring off into the distance with speed lines trailing from his back. Darcy waits.

“You’ve never been in court before,” says Kate after a long moment. “I looked you up when that Walters woman mentioned she’d be telling you about me. You don’t know what you’re doing.”

“I worked as a legal consultant for cases like this for a year and a half at the end of law school,” says Darcy. “And I’m starting off clean. I don’t take bribes, I don’t like bullies, and I’m fresh enough not to be bitter. I haven’t been steeped too long yet."

Kate’s lips twitch. She ducks her head, and her hair—it has streaks of purple in it, like Darcy’s has streaks of gold—falls forward to hide her face.

“We’re a very new firm, Kate, but we know what we’re doing, and we don’t scare easy.” Kate shreds some of her croissant, and then looks down in surprise when chocolate smears between her fingers. “I can’t promise you perfect results, because that’s impossible, but I can tell you I’ll do my absolute damndest to help you. I don’t know if that’s enough, but it’s all I have.”

“You talk a good game.”

“That’s a nice way of saying I’m a longwinded asshat.” Kate ducks her head again. “Kate. Will you tell me what happened?”

Kate looks around the coffee shop. It’s just loud enough that nobody who isn’t paying attention to them will hear what she’s saying. Still, she gets to her feet, and nods. “Come on,” she says. “I know somewhere we can go.”

The ‘somewhere’ is an all-ages karaoke joint three blocks from Mug Shots, one with private rooms. Kate puts down enough money for three hours, and then leads the way towards the back in a way that would have made it obvious that she comes here a lot, even if the receptionist hadn’t greeted her by name and asked after her nose. The place is a bit sketchy, but it’s clean, and nobody’s giving them the stink-eye, so Darcy judges it to be pretty safe. Kate still locks the door behind them, and settles down on one of the worn couches. Darcy sets the computer up on the table in the middle of the room, ignoring the mics set up and waiting beside it. She hits the record button. “My name is Darcy Lewis. It’s two-thirty pm on the—it’s the fifteenth, isn’t it? On the fifteenth of September. I’m with Katherine Elinor Bishop, hereafter known as Kate.” She folds her knees up under her. “Kate, if you’d start at the beginning, please.”

Kate licks her lips. Her lipstick has smeared on her teeth, little streaks of purple against the white. “What’s the beginning?”

Darcy thinks for a minute. “How about when you first met Rich Goodman?”

Kate picks at the fraying hem of her tights. “My dad and his kind of run together a little bit, with their jobs and stuff. So I, um, met him once or twice before this month. I never really talked to him, though. I was never old enough for him to be interested in me, and I always thought he was an asshole, so I didn’t really want to spend time with him. Um. He has a reputation at my high school. He used to go there. He sold a lot of drugs, so he was popular. Girls would write notes about him in the locker room, or in the bathrooms. Said not to be alone with him if you could help it.”

“Why?”

“There was a girl, Rebecca. She was a senior when I was a sophomore.” Kate bites her lip. “She said he raped her, but he said it was consensual. She. Um. She killed herself. She was pregnant with his kid.”

Rich Goodman. Darcy wants to snort at the name. “What happened last week?”

“I ran into him at a club.” Kate darts a look at her, and then stares down at her knees again. “Jesus. That sounds terrible. I mean, it was an all-ages club, you needed ID to get drinks. A friend of mine had brought me a cocktail but I wasn’t, like, trashed or anything. My dad started me on alcohol when I was thirteen or so, ‘cause he’s French and he thinks that it’s, y’know, a good idea for us to build a tolerance. I’d only had a few sips of it, and I’d been keeping an eye on it, so I know it wasn’t spiked. I was, um, wearing jeans and a t-shirt, not really club stuff, but Daily Daze is kind of really chill. It’s not a place to put out or shut up, you know?”

“I’ve been there,” says Darcy. “I know.”  

“I ran into Rich towards the back. He was dealing, I think. The guys he was with went really quiet when they saw me, anyway, and hid some stuff in their pockets. I was looking for a friend of mine, I think she was one of his buyers. He—um. He hit on me, him and his buddies. I told them to fuck off.”

She stops. “I had a fight with my friend Callie later,” Kate says, her voice much less steady now. “About the drugs. We were—we were all walking through Central Park, maybe three in the morning. I hadn’t seen anybody, and I—I have a taser, so I thought I would be okay dropping back for a little while. They—they were following us. One of them grabbed me, and—um.”

She’s shaking. Darcy keeps her hands in her lap. There are people who telegraph a need for touch, for comfort, and Kate Bishop isn’t one of them. “Take as long as you need, Kate.”

Kate swallows, twisting her skirt between her hands. Then she swallows again. “One of his friends held my arms,” she says. “He—um. Yeah. There were pictures of the bruises. I don’t know if—if they’re still in the file or not.”

“They’re not.” Darcy drums her fingers on her knees. “I’ll see if I can find them.”

Kate lifts her head in a jerky sort of nod. She closes her eyes. “They were laughing at me,” she says, and it’s a broken sort of whisper that makes it obvious why Jen called her fragile. “They were—they called me a tranny whore. He raped me and they laughed while he was doing it.”

“Tranny?”

“I’m trans,” Kate snaps, her eyes dark. “Did they not mention that bit, in their file? I didn’t think they’d pass up the chance to use it against me. The booking officer sure liked to try.”

Darcy flexes her wrists. “Did they harass you?”

“Not in so many words, but there’s a look some people get.” Kate shrugs. “I transitioned in my first year of high school. Had my surgeries two years ago. Some people still remember reading about it, when the newspapers went nuts. I don’t know. They didn’t say anything, they just—one of the officers had this look on his face. You know, like—well. That look, I guess. That’s all I meant.”

Darcy’s phone buzzes, and they both jump. It’s a text from Karen. Bring back paper? The printer just ate my last piece. She swypes an okay, and then turns her phone off. Kate watches her put it into her bag. “Sorry.” Darcy prods her messenger bag under the table between them with her foot. “Did Goodman know?”

“Are you kidding? Of course he knew. Half the world knows.” Kate wrings her hands in her lap. “I’m not ashamed of it. I am who I am. People think they can give me shit for it, and I don’t let them. That’s why people don’t like me.”

“That and your winning personality.”

Kate bares her teeth at her in a wolfy smile. “There’s that too.”

“Did Goodman try to give you shit that night?”

“Not in the club.” She goes right back to twisting her hands, over and under, digging her nails into the skin over her knuckles. “In—um. In the park, he called me some stuff.”

“You don’t have to talk about it right now.”

“I want to.” Kate draws a breath, and it pours out. It’s not the first time Darcy’s heard the intimate details of a rape, not the first time she’s listened to a woman, or a man, or a child, talk about an assault. She hopes that there’ll never be a day when the stories don’t make her stomach churn, when the bruises don’t make her furious. She lives, she thinks, in the back of her head, in a state of constant fury, and she’s not sure anyone in the world will understand it.

Kate doesn’t cry. Her eyes shine, and tears escape, but she brushes them back and keeps talking. Darcy wonders if it’s the first time she’s actually had a chance to tell all of it, every awful word of it. Somehow she doesn’t think so. In another world, she might never have told anyone at all.

Something about that breaks Darcy’s heart, even though she knows it would be Kate’s choice. Something about that stings deep inside. She lets it.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about it,” Kate says. “I—I’m pretty active in certain online communities. I know, here—” she touches her temple “—that it’s not my fault it happened, and for the most part I know it here, too—” her fingers skip down to her heart “—but what was—what’s really hard is trying to understand why. I’ve been wondering, and I think—I think I have an answer for it, maybe. I think they did it because they thought I’d let them get away with it. Because they think that—they know my dad thinks I’m an embarrassment and wants to hush it up. Because they think that because I’m quiet, because I’m trans and everyone knows I’m trans, that they can get away with saying I wanted it, or I asked for it, or—or they misunderstood. They think that they can make me a victim. And they’re fucking wrong.”  

Kate glares at her. Darcy glares back, and slowly, deliberately, turns off the recording on the computer. “I need you to give me all their names,” says Darcy. “The friends you were out with, the officers you remember, Rich Goodman, anyone you recognized in the club. I want your father’s number, Robbie Goodman’s number, any number you think will help me. And then I want you to steel yourself, because when this hits the media, there’s going to be a shitstorm, and it’s not going to be pretty.”

Kate rakes her hair back from her face. She ties it back with a surprisingly childish band, one with two glittering purple balls attached to the elastic. There are bruises on her neck, too, yellowed, but clearly in the shape of fingerprints. She pulls out her phone.

“I’m not looking for pretty,” she says. “I’m looking to nail Rich Goodman’s balls to the wall.”

Darcy nods. “Let’s build a plan of attack.”

.

.

.

“Well, all I can say is that your case sounds infinitely preferable to Foggy’s and Matt’s.” Karen settles herself on the edge of the couch, careful not to spill her tea, and Darla bounds up after her, mewing. Darcy glares at her (the demon vampire cat, not Karen) and flips the TV to something slightly more palatable than the BBC News. “The guy that came in was seriously unsettling. Psycho killer, qu'est-ce que c’est level of unsettling.”

“Rich Goodman’s getting there.” She flops to the side, lying flat on her back, and props her laptop up on her thighs. Darcy tilts her head so she can peek up at Karen. “So? Work? Good?”

Karen blows out a breath. Her bangs stir against her cheek. “Weird,” she says finally. “I was googling a lot of legal terms. Also the coffee machine is satanic, so I just brought my press from—from home.”

“You went home alone?” Darcy frowns. “You didn’t have to do that. You could have dragged Matt out.”

“Matt fell down his stairs yesterday, he said. He looked terrible and I didn’t want to bother Foggy. Plus, you know.” Karen shrugs. “I’m starting to understand that those two only have two settings, and they’re snark and legal obsession.”

“That sounds about right.” Darcy pulls up Tumblr and starts to scroll. “I’m sorry you had to go alone.”

“It’s okay. I needed to at some point. I feel like if I put it off it’ll just get worse and worse in my head, and then I’d never be able to go back at all.” Karen curls her toes into the edge of the couch. “Can I have the remote?”

“Go for it, cheese.”

Karen plucks it off of Darcy’s collarbone, and flips the channels until she finds a Hitchcock marathon. It’s not necessarily what Darcy would have chosen, if she’d been the one to almost be murdered within the past thirty-six hours, but whatever, people cope in different ways. Besides, Psycho may or may not be one of her primary comfort movies. (She never said she wasn’t fucked up.)

“I never said thank you.” Karen doesn’t take her eyes off the screen as Norman Bates raises his knife, a gleam of silver in the black-and-white. “For coming out with us last night. It was seriously exactly what I needed, y’know? To feel sort of normal again.”

“Getting royally wasted will help with that, always.” Darcy rolls over on her side, resting her computer on the coffee table, and then heaves Darla the cat up onto her lap. Darla mowls, but accedes to the attention for once. “And there’s seriously no better person to get trashed with than Foggy, I swear to god. He’s like…the ultimate wingman. It’s awesome.”

”You guys are all really close.” She smiles a bit. “But—I dunno. You’re close but you’re not insular, I guess. I didn’t feel left out.”

“Hell no you weren’t. We welcome all freaks and geeks to our numbers.” Darcy leans her head back to look at Karen again. “Besides, I’ve been feeling kind of surrounded by testosterone, so it’s nice that you’re here now. I don’t have to bully them into doing things for me anymore.”

“Like what?”

“I say this as someone who usually loathes the term ‘girly’ because of all the awful sexist connotations therein, but despite how well I’ve trained them to acknowledge that activities should not have overtly masculine or feminine perceptions attached, I still can’t get Foggy to get a manicure with me.”

Karen snorts tea up her nose. It’s only once she’s caught her breath, and Darla has driven all her little demon claws into Darcy’s boobs in an effort to get away from the choking hacking thing at the end of the couch, that she says, “I would pay to see that.”

“He’d be awesome, right? Jen won’t go with me either. She thinks it’s facile.” Darcy frowns. “I can usually do Matt, though. Like…he won’t go to a salon with me, but he rocks nail polish. I haven’t trapped him into it lately, I should do that.”

Thankfully, Karen’s not swallowing tea this time. She still hacks a little bit.

“You okay there, bro?”

“Fine.” Her voice warbles. “I usually can’t afford manicures or anything, but when you guys start paying me we can do that, maybe.”

“I thought we weren’t paying you?”

“I do have bills.”

“No, I know. I’m teasing.” Darcy rolls over onto her stomach. “I just didn’t know we had enough money to pay you, I guess.”

“Snake-in-a-suit’s check went through depressingly quickly. And—I dunno. I might be coming into some money soon.” Karen darts a look at her, and then stares down into her tea. “Union Allied offered me a check to never talk about it again.”

“Talk about it?”

“What happened with Danny.”

Jesus. It’s like the universe can’t seem to stop dumping on them. “Are you going to take it?”

“I don’t know.” Karen swirls her tea in the mug. In her sheep pajamas, she looks very young and vulnerable. “I don’t think it’d be right, to do it. But I don’t see what else I can do. I think—I think I want to keep fighting it, though. I just don’t know how I’d do it.”

“How much are they offering you?”

Karen tells her. Darcy can feel her heart seizing up in her chest at the number of zeroes attached. It’s not the biggest payoff she’s ever heard of, especially not for scandals like this one, but it’s definitely more money than she’s ever had in her bank account. Collectively. Over the course of her entire life. “Holy shit, Karen.”

“They’re trying to buy me off.” Karen clenches her fingers around her mug. “I don’t want to let them do it, but I don’t see what else I can do. I just—I don’t know.”

“What do you want to do?”

“I want to tell them to fuck off,” Karen bites out. “I want them to act like they actually did something wrong. I want whoever killed Danny to pay. He died because of me. I don’t want to forget that.”

“And you shouldn’t.” Darcy scoots up, and sets her head on Karen’s knee. Karen flinches, and then relaxes, slowly, like she’s a startled cat. Then she drops a hand to Darcy’s shoulder, squeezing a little. Darcy huffs. “It’s not something that you should ever have to forget.”

Karen watches Psycho with glassy eyes for a minute. “What do you think I should do?”

“Do you want the money?”

“I could use the money.” Karen shuffles. “I don’t want the money. It’s like…I don’t know.”

“Like you’re giving in.”

“Yeah.”

“Then tell them no.”

Karen hums, and doesn’t say anything more. Darcy closes her eyes. “You should pet my hair.”

Karen snorts. But she pets her hair.

.

.

.

Two days later, Darcy leaves the office alone. It’s about nine o’clock; Matt’s already gone off home a long time ago, trying his very best not to limp even though she knows he’s fucked up his leg somehow falling down the stairs like he did. Karen is still working on building their financial programs (bless ladies with degrees in computer science) and Foggy’s probably asleep on his desk trying to deal with this snake in a skin suit that they’ve signed on with. There’s not much left she can do here, though, so Darcy shoves her phone into her pocket and hooks her earbuds into her ears, tucking her sunglasses into the inside pocket of her coat.

She’s just turned down the street towards the apartment when she sees the guy following her. Not a homeless man. A hipster, probably. Wavy hair. Skinny jeans. He's out late, whoever he is. He has a fluro vest on it that reads The Nature Conservancy on it in sharp lettering. She steps into the light of the nearest lamp to let him pass, and pass he does. Slowly, and with a lot of staring, but he passes, and Darcy stares back at him, wondering what the hell is on her face to get him so jumpy. He stops two feet from her, and then turns back to face her, his hands stiff in his pockets.

"I can't donate what I don't have, dude,” she says. “Sorry.”

The guy's mouth twists. Then he lunges forward, and shoves her hard. Darcy shrieks, and stumbles back, because he’s pushed her into an alleyway, and the lights here are dim and uncomfortable. The guy shoves her again, further back into the alley, and she trips over a glass bottle, barely catching herself before she ends up on her ass. “Jesus!”

“Sorry,” says the dude, and then looks over her shoulder. “When do I get paid?”

“Money’s waiting in your backpack,” says a voice, and Darcy’s heart jams into overtime. She can feel her skin prickling. A dark figure slips away from the wall of the alley, all leather jacket and grim eyes, and she can’t help it. She whimpers a little. “Thanks for your help.”

That’s what he starts to say, anyway. Before he can finish it, Darcy whips her purse around, slamming it hard into the guy’s face. He hits the wall with a curse and a bloody nose. Red spatters against her wrist. Arms from nowhere cinch tight around her ribs, pinning her arms to her sides. She hears a crunch as her bag hits the ground. Darcy shrieks. She kicks out with both feet, and catches a kneecap with the heel of her shoe. Someone howls in her ear. Her heart is exploding. She screams again, and then a hand—cigarette smoke and blisters, the smell of motor oil—presses down hard over her mouth, jamming her lips into her teeth. She snaps, and catches skin. She tastes blood. The guy holding her swears in her ear. “Fucking bitch—

“—hold her still—”

“—be quiet, you fucking—”

Darcy arches her back and slams her hips into the guy’s pelvis. She feels something soft against her back. He grunts, loudly, and his arms loosen. She rams her elbow into his ribs, lashes out with her fingernails. Something hot and sticky bursts against her palm. The guy screams. She turns—run, her mind shrieks at her, run, run, run—and then there’s a hand in her hair, twisting tight.

There’s a knife against her throat.

“Stay still,” says a voice in her ear, hissing, “or I’ll kill you, I swear to fucking god.”

Darcy stays still. There’s blood under her fingernails. Her ear is throbbing, for some reason. The back of her head aches, stings. The man in a leather jacket and scars over his ear wipes red off his cheek. She’s gouged him, she realizes. Fuck you, she thinks at him. Her stomach clenches. Her eyes burn. Fuck you. Fuck you.

“The case with Kate Bishop.” The hand holding the knife clenches tight. She can feel his fingers shifting against her throat. “Drop it.”

She swallows. The blade bobs over her windpipe, cold, cold, cold. Her brain is skipping between thoughts like a bad record (how did they—when—why—I can’t—kill me—) but there’s one thing that stands out, playing back clean and clear. Rich Goodman always gets his way, Kate had said. How the hell they’d learned of this so fast? Who knows. Maybe they’re tracking her.

Darcy swallows hard. “Y’know,” she says. Her voice cracks. “Where I come from we ask nice when we want people to do things for us.”

She hears the tear before she feels the sting. The man behind her drops his knife to her arm, and digs in. Darcy screams, but he’s already covered her mouth with his other hand. The scarred man watches, eyes dark in the alley light, as the man with the knife raises his blade three inches and then cuts her again, three sharp slices over her forearm. It burns. Tears roast her cheeks. Oh god oh god oh god. The man lifts the bloody knife to her throat again. “Do you think we’re screwing around? Do you think we’re fucking playing with you?”

Darcy bites her tongue until she tastes blood on her lip. Her knees are trembling. She should be scared, she thinks. She is scared. The scream is building in her throat like a pimple. But her hands are shaking and her heart is snapping and crackling and burning. She’s angry. They’ve used a knife on her, threatened her, and she’s fucking furious.

“I don’t know,” she says. “You don’t seem like the sort of guy to put out on the first date.”

The man with the scars backhands her. Darcy feels her teeth cut into her lip; the piercing in her tongue slams into the roof of her mouth. She swallows blood, and spits more out. Then the man with the scars hits her again, and the fire turns into a meteor, hurtling around her insides.

“Don’t fuck with me, Darcy Lewis.” She goes very still. Behind her, the man with the knife hooks his arm tighter around her waist. “Partner in Nelson, Murdock and Lewis. One of them, he’s blind, isn’t he? Think how easy it’ll be for me to hurt him. Just step up behind him on a street corner and—”

He shoves her hard against the wall. Stars burst in front of her eyes. Before she can do something, grab a rock, scream, he whips her around and puts his knife to her throat again. She can see his face now, she thinks. He’s very blonde, his eyelashes and eyebrows so fair they seem almost invisible. He sounds like he’s from Jersey. “The other one, well. Mugging gone wrong, don’t you think? I saw him putting a dollar in a can the other day. People would believe it. And then the Page woman, Jen Walters—well, they’re the easiest of all.”

Her heart’s in her mouth, a ten-ton weight. Her sleeve is soaked. Her eyes burn. She squeezes them shut. “Leave them out of this,” she says, and her voice comes out funny and slurred, like she’s drunk. “You leave them alone, you son of a fucking bitch.”

“Can’t do that, darlin’.” Her Atlanta accent coming out of his mouth is like a slap. She tastes bile. “You have a choice here. Walk away, or watch them die. One by one, slowly, where you’ll be sure to see it happen. And then when they’re gone, we’ll find you, and you’ll wish we started with you first.”

“Wow,” she says. “This is like a shitty B-movie. Did you write those lines yourself?”

He shoves her against the wall again. And then again. Her ears ring. Then he lifts his knife-free hand, and whips his fist across her mouth. She hits the ground with a crack, her eyes crossing, and she thinks: No. Jen. Matt. Foggy. Karen. No.

“You gonna be smart?” asks the blonde man. Darcy can’t speak. He kicks her in the stomach, and it’s like a lightning-strike—still and silent for a moment, and then an explosion of agony all through her guts, fire and fury in one. “You gonna do the right thing, Darcy Lewis?”

She wants to kill him. She wants to drive her thumbs into his eyes until she feels them burst. She wants to take his stupid knife and cut him with it, over and over and over. She wants to scream.

Behind the blonde man, something flickers.

“Fuck you,” says Darcy, and curls into a ball. She hears something snap and crunch, and the blonde man lets out a shriek. Something clatters against the floor of the alley. It’s the knife, still slick with blood. Darcy grabs it, and scoots away, pressing her back against the wall and folding both hands around the hilt as the man with the scars smashes into a fire escape and drops to the ground. The new man—a man dressed all in black, a man with a ski-mask and gloves and broad shoulders in the dark—ducks low and sweeps the blonde man’s feet out from under him, and Darcy yanks her feet away before he can get a grip on them. The man in black crouches down over him, and hits him once, hard in the face.

Mask, she thinks, looking at him. Then, when the man with scars gets to his feet, gripping an iron pipe: devil. It’s like the masked man has eyes in the back of his head. Before the man with scars can even finish his strike, he’s spinning out of the way, gripping the man’s wrist and snapping it sideways. There’s a wet crack. The man with scars screams, and the iron pipe hits the ground. The masked man kicks it up, catches it, and slams it across the man’s scarred cheek the same way you would a baseball bat. Something spatters against the ground. The scarred man drops and doesn’t get up again, and the masked man, the devil, he twirls the iron pipe twice in his hand before ramming it down against the blonde man’s back.

Darcy stares.

The blonde man is fumbling for something in his belt. For a single, insane moment, Darcy wonders if he’s trying to drop trou. Then there’s the grey gleam of a gun, and she shrieks when it goes off. The sound ricochets against her ears. The masked man snaps to the side, and kicks the gun out of the man’s hand. It skitters to Darcy’s feet, and she grabs that too. In the moment her eyes drop to the gun, the masked man hits the blonde again with the pipe. And then again, so that the blonde man is gagging against the ground. He rolls onto his side, trying to hide his guts, and the masked man hits him one more time, hard in the hip. Something cracks. Pelvis. Then the devil tosses the pipe aside, far out of reach. Darcy looks down at the gun, and turns the safety on with trembling fingers. There’s blood, dark and tacky, under her fingernails.

The masked man crouches down over the blonde, and seizes him by the hair, holding on. He clears his throat. “Who do you work for?” he says, and his voice is deep and husky, as if he’s trying to disguise it. Well, of course he is. He doesn’t want anyone to find him. She wonders if his mask is made of special fabric, how good his eyes are to see, to fight, through the fuzzy world of a ski-mask. Still, Karen’s right: it’s a nice voice. “Think very carefully before you answer. Wouldn’t want something to happen to your windpipe.”

She hears the blonde man swallow. There are soft hiccupping sounds from beneath the devil, as if he’s struggling to hold back sobs. Then he says: “Fuck you, asshole.”

The man in black knocks his head hard into the asphalt. There’s a crunching sound when the blonde man’s nose breaks. Then the devil rolls the man over, and punches him once in the face. The dark part of Darcy, the part that wants to drive her stolen knife into the man’s guts, purrs. “Wrong answer,” says the devil. “Try again.”

“Son of a bitch—

She can’t see what the devil does, but there’s an ugly wet snap, and the blonde man screams. She looks at the scarred man, but he doesn’t even twitch. The devil leans forward, until he and the blonde are nearly nose to nose. “I,” he says, “have had a really shitty few days. Next smartass answer will get you a broken neck.”

“You don’t kill people,” says the blonde, but his voice cracks.

“Not if I can help it. I’ll still break your neck. Best case scenario, you’ll learn to walk again. Maybe. Worst case? You’ll live in a hospital bed for the rest of your life. People will have to help you shit.” The devil straightens, crouching on the balls of his feet. “Or you can tell me what I need to know. Your choice.”

There’s an audible silence. Darcy holds her breath. She thinks the sound of her heartbeat might wreck something, this delicate skein of peace over violence. Then the blonde man licks his lips. “Robbie Goodman,” he says. “Robbie Goodman sent us.”

The devil doesn’t say anything. He just slams the blonde man’s head into the pavement, once, twice, again, until she can see blood shining against his cheeks. The blonde man goes still after the third strike, and for a nauseating second, she thinks he might be dead. Then she sees his chest raise and fall, and realizes that he’s just unconscious. His hair is wet. It’s only then that the devil rolls to his feet, and kicks the iron pole out of his way, setting a hand gingerly to his side as if to cover some hidden injury. He doesn’t look at her. He turns to go.

“Wait,” says Darcy, and the devil of Hell’s Kitchen stops in his tracks. It takes a long time for her to feel like she can stand without throwing up, but stand she does. The gun and knife dangle from her fingers. She can hear her blood dripping to the concrete. “Are you going to go after him?” she asks. “Goodman.”

The devil turns his face away from her. She hears him lick his lips. “He seems like he could use a visit.”

Him and his rat bastard son. Him and all his cronies. Him and his fucking mother. “Let me do it,” Darcy says.

The devil turns to her then. She can barely make out the shape of his face, the edge of his jaw wreathed in shadow. “What?”

“I want to do it.” She drops the gun to the ground, and then covers the cuts on her arm. They’re throbbing with the beat of her heart, pumping her blood into the world. “I want this bastard to suffer. I want him to suffer for what he did. But I want to do it my way.”

The devil crosses his arms over his chest, and waits.

“His son raped my client.” She swallows. Her hands are trembling. She’s going to cry, but she won’t do it yet. She won’t. “His thugs attacked me. They threatened my friends, people that matter to me. I want him gone. But I want him scared of me. I want him to be as frightened of me as he would be of you, and if I’m going to get that, then we’re going to have to do it my way.”

She thinks she might be imagining the smile she sees flickering around his mouth. When a car passes the head of the alley, its headlights shining into this stupid hole, it’s gone again. “You’re nobody,” says the devil. “And he’s not.”

“That’s why I need your help.” Darcy folds her arm close into herself, not caring if she stains anything. “Will you?”

The devil is silent and still for a long moment. Then he takes two steps back, and leaps. Darcy stumbles into the wall, dropping the knife, but he’s just heaving himself up onto the fire escape with about as much effort as it would take for her to lift a kitten. It’s only once he’s crouched two storeys above her head, his hands hooked around the bars, that he looks back down at her and says, “I’ll be in touch.”

Then he’s gone, leaping from fire escape to balcony to rooftop. His footsteps fade. Darcy is hyper-aware of the smell of the street, of blood dripping from her wrist and elbow. Of the way she aches in a million places, and how the blonde man and the scarred one are still lying flat on the ground of the alleyway, broken and bruised but still breathing. She looks at the bodies left behind, and then limps to her purse. It’s only once she’s dialed 911, and she hears the sirens, red and blue flashing against the walls of the alley, that she texts Kate. Her fingers leave smears on the screen.

Let’s nail these bastards to the wall.

Chapter Text

They have her settled in a bed at the ICU and Darcy’s waiting for the okay to check out—they took a few scans of her head, just to make sure she doesn’t have any brain damage from her newfound acquaintance with New York pavements—when she hears the door open at the end of the ward, and Foggy’s familiar quickstep against the tile floors. Her whole body aches—her ribs, which are already a spectacular purple, her neck where the knife gashed her once or twice, but most especially her arm, even with the topical anesthetic they’d stuck her with to get the stitches done—so when Foggy shows up at the end of her bed she holds up both hands. “No glomping. I hurt.”

“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, Darcy.” He’s glue-white and nearly shaking, pupils blown wide. “What the hell happened to you? Brett said someone mugged you—”

“Not exactly.” She heaves herself up against the bed, trying to sit up, and next to her the nurse makes an irritated clucking noise. “Look, lady, either get me to lay down or help me prop up with pillows or something, because my ribs aren’t broken and I’m about ninety percent sure my head’s okay.”

“Far be it from me to give medical advice,” says the nurse, but she helps Darcy sit up anyway, and then stalks off. Probably to complain to the doctor about her. Foggy drops down onto the edge of her bed, and it’s then that Darcy realizes Karen came too. Her lips are pressed paper thin, and her knuckles are white from how hard she’s clutching the straps of her purse. Darcy pats Foggy’s hand vaguely.

“I’m okay,” she says. She lisps through her swollen lip. “Seriously. They just want me to stay for a few more hours for observation and then I can go.”

Jesus.” Just outside the door, a passing nun makes an extraordinarily unhappy noise. “Sorry,” says Foggy. “But Jesus, Darcy, I never want to get a call like that one again. Do you have any idea how terrifying it is for Brett to call you in the middle of the night to tell you that one of your partners had the shit kicked out of her?”

“Aww, Brett called you himself?” She makes herself smile. “Did he say nice things about me?”

“Can you be serious for once in your life, please?” Foggy watches one of the nurses go by the window. Karen settles on Darcy’s other side, still terrifyingly silent, but when Darcy reaches out with her good hand, Karen takes it and squeezes hard. Her cuticles are bloody. (Karen has a habit of biting her nails when she’s stressed.) Darcy holds on. “What the hell happened?”

“Some guys—um.” She wants pain meds. Why haven’t they given her the good meds yet? Oh, yeah. Because she can’t afford it. Fuck you, health insurance. “They wanted me to drop the Bishop case.”

Foggy closes his eyes for a long moment. “This is because of a case?”

“That’s what I assume, considering they kept saying drop the case, drop the case. Unless they were saying drop the bass, but—”

“Are you shitting me right now?” Foggy’s hands flutter, as if he wants to hug her, but also like he thinks she’s going to shatter into pieces if he tries it. Karen scoots higher up on the bed, and leans hard into Darcy’s shoulder. Her hair smells like a vanilla latte. “Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ.

Her eyes burn. Darcy blinks furiously, and lifts her arms. Foggy leans over and pulls her close as he can without bruising her more, and it’s nice. He smells like bagels and printer ink and shampoo, like Foggy, and for the first time since her one and only panic attack in the back of Brett’s cop car, Darcy hiccups. She squeezes her eyes shut, and ignores the way her ribs are pounding. One of them’s fractured, according to the hot doctor who’d done her X-rays; she’s not telling Foggy that. Not yet, anyway. Karen, though—Karen looks like she’s about ready to start going through Darcy’s charts. Curse your efficiency, Page.

“I’m okay.” Her voice cracks. “Seriously. I’ll be okay. They could have done way worse, but they didn’t. Brett already took my statement. I’ll testify against them. They’ll go away, and—and I’ll get better, and then everything will be okay.”

“Somehow it’s really weird for you to be the one comforting me, considering you’re the one in the hospital bed.” Foggy pets her hair for a moment. “You’re okay?”

“I’m okay.”

“You’re sure?”

“As sure as I can be.”

“Want me to represent you?” he says, very seriously, and Darcy smiles into the collar of his shirt.

“I doubt the judge would let you, but—that’d be nice.”

“I’ll charge you later.”

She chokes on a laugh, and pulls back. Karen kicks off her shoes and curls up on the bed next to Darcy, knocking their shoulders together. Karen Page, Darcy’s discovered, is a secret cuddle addict. She can feel the way Foggy’s watching them, and makes a mental note to mock him for jealousy when she doesn’t feel like a piece of roadkill. “Where’s Jen?”

“On her way. She couldn’t find a taxi at first, had to walk some of it.” Foggy cracks his knuckles nervously, looking down at her hands again. “Oh my god, what happened to your arm?”

“He cut me.” Her voice rasps. “What about Matt?”

“He cut you?” She’s never heard Foggy sound quite like that before. “What do you mean, he cut you?”

“I mean he cut me. With a knife. Which is generally how people cut other people.”

Foggy goes stock still for a long, terrifying moment. Then he says, “What room are they in?”

“No.” She leans forward, wraps her arms around his waist. It’s more to keep him in place than anything. “Nope. No. I told you I’m okay. The cops have them. I’ll testify. I’ll kick their asses. Don’t even think about doing anything stupid.”

“I’m not going to do anything stupid,” says Foggy through gritted teeth. “I’m just going to go and punch them. In their faces.”

“That qualifies as stupid.”

“I’ll do it,” Karen says. “I’m good at punching things.”

“Guys, I love you for this, but if you get arrested because of me I will seriously kill you so bad you won’t be able to get up anymore.” Karen shifts, and Darcy seizes her hand without looking, lacing their fingers together to keep her in place. “Seriously, don’t.”

“Darcy, let go.” Foggy wriggles. Darcy clings tighter. “I need to punch them. Or possibly glare them into submission. Make threats—Jesus, Darcy, are you okay? They didn’t—”

He stops.

“If you’re trying to find a PC way to ask if I was raped then you don’t have to worry because I wasn’t.” He doesn’t seem like he’s going to charge off anymore, so Darcy eases back, until she’s just leaning on him more than keeping him still. “They just whacked me and cut me a few times. And then some guy beat the shit out of them and then left.”

Karen swallows. “The devil?”

“I dunno. I didn’t see. I was kind of staring at my own belly button.” She doesn’t want to lie to them, she really, really doesn’t, but she’s pretty sure they’ll be in more danger if she doesn’t. The fact that Robbie Goodman tried to use them against her is one thing. The idea of them learning about her deal with the devil (haha, Darce, very funny)—well, that’s entirely different. “Maybe. They were just—they were hitting me, and then they weren’t.”

Karen swallows. The bruises on her throat flicker in the bright fluros of the hospital room. Then she leans into Darcy a little, tipping her head to knock it against Darcy’s temple. Darcy leans back into it, and flinches when she goes to bite her lip and gets a scab instead. “Whoever it was, I’m glad you’re okay.”

Her smile feels shaky. Tears burn in her eyes. Darcy squeezes them shut, and leans back into Karen. “Does this mean you’ll make me banana bread?”

Karen laughs. “Sure. Banana bread at three am. Can do.”

“—my sister, you asshole!” Someone bellows from the other end of the ward, and as one the three of them look through the window to see Jen Walters—in boxer shorts, a Columbia sweatshirt, and flip-flops—glaring at the nurse at the entrance to the ICU. Darcy’s never seen her so furious; there are bright red patches in her cheeks, and she’s clenching and unclenching her fists as if she’s dying to sink them into someone’s guts. Matt’s right behind her, his hands wrapped tightly around his cane like it's the only thing propping him up. Foggy squeezes Darcy’s hand once, and then gets up to go and meet them, jogging so that they don’t have another assault charge to add to their list. As soon as Jen sees him, all the fight goes out of her, and her eyes dart over Foggy’s shoulder to find Darcy in her hospital bed.

Darcy lifts a hand, and gives her a little wave. “Hey,” she says. “Since when am I your sister?”   

Before Darcy can really even blink, Jen’s bolted into Darcy’s room and engulfed her in warmth and hair and shaking hands. “Oh my g-god,” she says, and to her horror, Darcy realizes that Jen’s shoulders are trembling, as if she’s about to cry. “Oh my g-god, D-Darcy, I’m s-so, so s-sorry, I didn’t—I d-didn’t mean—”

“It’s okay.” Darcy doesn’t know what to do, so she pats Jen’s back. “It’s okay. It’s—I’m okay. I’ll be okay.”

“It is n-not okay,” says Jen, and pulls back. She grips Darcy’s shoulders. “You d-drop that c-case, Darcy Lewis. You d-drop that c-case.

“No,” says Darcy flatly, and covers Jen’s hands with her owns. “They made it personal, now. I’m not going to turn my back on Kate.”

They tried to kill you,” says Foggy in a high-pitched voice from the doorway. At the end of the bed, Matt flinches.

“They threatened me.”

And cut you with a knife.

Jen makes a noise like a deflating bicycle tire, and pulls away from Darcy as though she’s been burned. “Oh god.”

“That counts as a threat.” Darcy glances at Karen, who is still and silent and thoughtful, and then back at Foggy and Jen. “I’m not dropping the case, you guys. I’m not going to do it. Rich Goodman and his dad need to learn that they can’t just threaten people to get what they want. We bite back.”

Foggy lets out a string of swearwords that impresses even Darcy. He’s moved onto anatomically impossible suggestions and Chinese curses from Firefly by the time Matt finds his way around to the edge of the bed that Foggy’s left behind, standing there as if he’s not quite sure what to do. Darcy squeezes Karen’s hand once, and then reaches out to take Matt’s cane. He jumps a little when their fingers touch, and then finds her shoulder, the back of her neck. “Hey,” he says, and Darcy leans forward to rest her head against his belly. Matt strokes her hair. “You okay?”

“I’m okay.”

She feels him huff. Matt bends down and sets his lips hard against the top of her head. “Like I said. You’re shit at lying.”

“Shut your mouth.” She takes his hand, and squeezes. She thinks he might be able to tell that she’s shaking, because he doesn’t let go, even when Darcy pulls away. “Foggy, seriously. I’m not dropping the case.”

“You are currently crazy, and, according to your doctor, might even be suffering from a TBI, so sorry, your opinion’s not valid at the moment.” Foggy frets with the sleeve of his coat. “We’ll call Kate Bishop in the morning, say there are extenuating circumstances—”

“Foggy, seriously, if you do that I will kill you.”

“Emulate your attackers! Yes, very positive career choices, Darcy—”

“And it’s more positive to just let them win?”

“You’re not letting them win, you’re just—” But Foggy has no answer for that. He changes tack. “What if they attack you again and the next time they don’t just stop at knocking you around?”

“Then I’ll start carrying around a taser or something, I don’t know. Take self-defense classes. I’m not backing down on this, Foggy—”

“Darcy—”

“Jen, I love you, but I’m not. That girl needs help and I’m not about to let some bully think he can push me around!”

“Tasers don’t work on guns, Darcy! What if—”

“Foggy,” says Matt, and it cuts through Foggy’s diatribe like a razor blade. “It’s her choice.”

“It’s a stupid choice,” Foggy snaps, and next to him Jen nods. “They could kill her if she keeps going—”

“They can’t kill me.” Darcy shakes her head. “It’s like Union Allied, with Karen. Too much press means they can’t touch me. If we splash this everywhere, then I’m invincible.”

“How can we—”

“She’s right.” Karen knocks her shoulder into Darcy’s. Darcy winces. “Sorry. Foggy, you know she’s right. The more she spreads this, the harder it’ll be for them to—for them to try.” She swallows hard, but the tigress is back in her eyes. “We’ll all just have to be really careful until then.”

“And how do you propose we tell people about this?” Foggy throws up his hands. “The Bulletin only jumped on the Union Allied case because it was Union Allied that was doing evil deeds. A lawyer getting beat up in a dark alley is a story ripped straight out of the eighties pages.”

“Hell’s Kitchen isn’t what it was in the eighties, but it’s not what it was before the incident, either.” Matt runs his thumb over Darcy’s knuckles. She’s pretty sure he’s not aware that he’s even doing it. It feels nice, though, so she doesn’t tell him to stop. “All the gentrification that was happening before the incident kind of went down the toilet when aliens came down out of the sky and blew up half of Midtown. It’s why people like Union Allied nearly managed to get away with their pension fund, because nobody asks around anymore. Because people are scared. It’s why the gangs are coming back. Who knows, the people at the Bulletin might even appreciate the tip that people think it’s okay to beat up lawyers again.”

“Speaking of bullied lawyers—” Darcy tugs on his hand. “What the hell happened to you, anyway?”

Matt shakes his head. “I’m fine. You’re the one who had the shit kicked out of you.”

“You look like you walked into a bar and said ouch.”

“I fell down the stairs to the roof.”

“Oh my god.”

“We’re not talking about how much of a klutz Matt can be.” Foggy crosses his arms tight over his chest. “I just want to make it known that I have very strenuous objections to any of us continuing to work on the Kate Bishop case.”

“Objections noted,” Darcy snaps. “Also, dismissed. Go buy me ice cream, my mouth hurts.”

Foggy’s never been able to win a glaring match. He throws his hands up in the air, and stalks off to the cafeteria to buy ice cream. Jen’s caught between tears and fury; her cheeks are pink, her eyes shining, and she twists her hands together as if she’s trying to tie her fingers into knots. Darcy pulls her hand out of Matt’s, and offers both of them to Jen. It takes a long moment before Jen finally sighs, and takes them.

“I’ve thought about this, Jenny.” Jen scoffs. Darcy squeezes her fingers tight. “I need to do this. Not just for Kate, but for me. I’m not going to let them win. I’m done running away from bullies. All I need is for you to trust me. Okay?”

Jen searches her face. Then she closes her eyes, and nods once. Darcy leans forward and wraps her arms tight around Jen’s waist, hiding her face in the soft fabric of Jen’s sweatshirt. Jen hugs her back, stroking Darcy’s hair back out of her face. “Okay,” she says, in nearly a whisper. “Okay.”  

Matt reaches out, and brushes his fingers against the small of her back.

.

.

.

It’s another six hours before the hospital decides that her MRIs have come back clear, and she’s allowed to go home. Matt and Foggy have one more day before the trial opens for Senor Shark, so after they’ve made sure she’s settled safely into her and Jen’s apartment (Karen ensconced firmly next to her bed with Darla in her lap, Netflix queue at the ready) they head off to do deeds of derring-do on the behalf of the New York legal system. Karen falls asleep halfway through Stardust, Darla still perched on her knee. Darcy grabs her phone (holding the banana bell in one fist to keep it from ringing) and then texts Kate (coffee Friday, 9am?) before closing Netflix down and bringing up Google.

Wikipedia mostly has nice things to say about Robbie Goodman. The profile picture on his official Facebook page is more flattering than most of the paparazzi shots that she can find on Google Images—it shows less of his double-chin, and his hair’s combed over to hide the bald spot—but mostly he just looks like Rush Limbaugh. His son, Richard, must take after his mother. He’s dark where Robbie’s fair, skin pale where Robbie’s blotchy. The eyes are the same, though, a sort of limpid blue that makes her think of bad watercolors.

Kathy Waters, Kate had said. Kathy’s Facebook page puts her somewhere in the Philippines, out of range of whatever legal trouble Darcy could get her into. She marks Kathy off as a no. Rebecca Marquez is dead, but her parents are still alive. She won’t be able to use them as witnesses, not for Kate’s trial, but if they come forward as character witnesses…maybe. She puts a star next to their names in her notebook, and keeps going. Tiahna Marco’s in Jersey, and her page is public. Then there’s Lizbeth Pereggia, still in the city. Chloe Commons is going to college in Albuquerque, but who knows. Out of all of these names, the only one Kate knows for sure had been victimized by Rich Goodman is Rebecca Marquez, but Darcy can reach out to them anyway. Maybe they can pull a Bill Cosby, and hit the Goodmans with a million suits at once.

Karen snaps awake at about three o’clock, kisses her forehead, and then dashes off to meet up with someone she won’t name. Darcy lets her go—it’ll be easier to work without Karen hanging over her shoulder, anyway—and then calls Brett at the 15th. According to his records, Brigid O’Reilly had been shifted from the Central Park precinct to the 34th, about as far away as they can get her from Midtown and the Park without removing her from Manhattan altogether. Darcy leaves a message with the sergeant at the 34th, ignoring the scathing “thanks, sweetcheeks,” from his end, and then starts going through the backlog of sample legal cases from Day By Day for help. PACER helps, too, but by the time she starts going thorugh the third case her eyes are crossing, and she can’t keep track of anything anymore.

She must doze for a while, because she wakes up when the front door shuts. It’s Jen. She knocks twice before poking her head into Darcy’s room, an envelope in one hand.

“Matt said this c-came for you at the office,” she says, and offers it to Darcy. There’s nothing but a D on the front, in a hand she doesn’t know, and the back is unsealed. Darcy takes it, holding it in both hands. Jen settles on the end of Darcy’s bed. “How are y-you doing?”

“Okay.” Darcy shrugs. “I’ve been reading.”

“For K-Kate?”

“Yeah.”

Jen makes a thoughtful noise. “L-Let me know if you need help.”

“Can do.” Her phone buzzes. (Kate Bishop: cool, c u then.) Darcy swypes okay before turning the envelope over in her hands. There’s only a single piece of folded paper inside, the message typed and succinct. St. Patrick’s Cathedral, 2pm tomorrow. Wait in the confessional.

“Darcy?” asks Jen. Darcy crumples the paper up in her hands, and shakes her head.

“It’s nothing. Just a note from Oppie.” She throws the letter and the envelope in the trash. “Wanna watch Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt with me? I feel the need to binge something.”

Jen gives her an unsure-but-game smile that Darcy hasn’t seen since their first few weeks of cohabitation, and goes to make them coffee.

Thankfully, the next day is a Thursday, which means that Jen works late and Karen is out of the apartment. Not only is it a Thursday, though, it’s the Thursday, the Thursday where Matt and Foggy make their opening remarks for the Healy case; no one is going to try and keep her from leaving the house when she really shouldn’t be moving. Which is awesome, because fuck the police.

Darcy showers (her body is a patchwork of bruises and welts in the mirror, her fractured ribs pounding with every breath she takes; she hates it) and then layers her face with make-up as best she can. She has to avoid touching the cuts, which are barely scabbed over, but she can at least cover up most of the bruises, and by the time she’s done she looks almost human again. Rewrapping her ribs is harder, but somehow she manages it. Then she grabs her wig, a blonde monstrosity she’d stolen from Lindsay in their senior year of undergrad, and her biggest pair of sunglasses before slinking out of the apartment.

She looks back over her shoulder every block or so, but she can’t see anyone following her. It doesn’t make her any less nervous.  

St. Patrick’s Cathedral is one that Darcy’s walked by but never entered, mostly because of being more of a synagogue-type person than a Quasimodo. (Even then she only really goes into synagogues at the end of Passover, when there’s awesome foods to be had, because organized religion makes her extraordinarily frustrated. But that’s beside the point.) She’s never understood the Catholic need to make their places of worship as intimidating as possible. Even the fences are spiky-looking, as if you’re supposed to impale yourself upon them in a fit of religious guilt. Darcy waits until the street is mostly clear, and then slips inside, worrying the sleeve of her Colombia hoodie between her fingers.

The cathedral is hauntingly, echoingly empty. There isn’t even a priest to take some of the loneliness away; just rows and rows of empty pews, and color dappling the floor where the sun is shining through the stained glass widow. The confessional is tucked into an alcove to the left of the stage, or the altar, or whatever it is that’s dominating the front of the room. Darcy dips her finger into the holy water (now tainted with Jew) and then checks her phone. 1:57. The devil said two exactly, in the note. If it had even been the devil, and honestly she knows she’s being more than a little crazy for even thinking that this is a legit thing, because how the hell—

“Can I help you?”

Darcy jumps. Then she winces, because jumping hurts, and she should really stop doing that. The priest is older, nearly bald, but there’s a funny sort of mischief in his face that reminds her of some of the lithographs of cherubs in one of her art history textbooks. Darcy adjusts her glasses, and then shakes her head, slowly. “No. I mean—I’m supposed to meet someone here, I think. I just. I’m okay.”

It comes out like a question. I’m okay, right? The priest studies her for a moment, and his mouth thins. Then he smiles. “Don’t mind me. I’m just dusting; people don’t often come in on a weekday.”

“I guess.” 1:59. Go away, please, priest. “Thanks. Um—I’m sorry, I don’t even know what I would actually call you. I’m not really—um.”

“Catholic?”

“Yeah. That.”

The priest turns, and runs a dusty cloth down the back of one of the pews. “Father Lantom is all right. Father Patrick if you plan on meeting your friend here more than once.”

“Patrick like the cathedral?”

His smile’s honest this time. “A lucky coincidence. Or an unhappy one, depending on your point of view. You’re welcome to wait here as long as you need.”

She expects him to say something about how God always welcomes no matter your religion, but he doesn’t. Huh. Maybe he can read his audience. Darcy wipes her hand on her comfy shorts, and then holds it out. “I’m—Lizzy.” Darcy. Lizzy. Haha, it’s funny. But not. “Pretty sure this won’t become a habit, but it’s nice to meet you, Father P.”

He shakes her hand twice (no hesitation, even though she’s hella bruised and wearing tiny shorts in a house of worship) and then collects his bucket. The look he gives her is long and unreadable, almost as though he’s trying to match imagination with reality. Then he shakes his head a little. “Likewise, Lizzy,” he says, and then he turns and vanishes through a door that she hadn’t noticed before, one that leads deeper into the church. Darcy stands there for a good minute, wavering and unsure, before she shakes her head (her mouth hurts) and pinches the inside of her wrist. Get your head in the game, Lewis. It’s 2:01 when she slips into the confessional, shutting the lattice door carefully behind her.

Nothing. Silence.

“Okay,” she says. “Now what?”

“He knows you were meeting me.”

Jesus.” Darcy flinches so violently that her wig goes lopsided. The devil is sitting in the box beside hers, facing forward, his mask pulled low over the bridge of his nose. “Oh. Shit. Wait, I’m in a church. Um. Jeez. Give a girl a little warning, dude.”

The devil doesn’t smile. The structure of his face is broken into pieces through the separating latticework. There’s a smudge of mouth here, a spot of stubble there; she catches a glimpse of the bone in his jaw before she tells herself off for it. He’s dark, with full lips and serious (and, if she’s being honest, some fairly glorious) neckbeard. That’s all she lets herself see before she matches him, turning to stare at the door to the confessional. She won’t try to see his face. She’s already decided it. “No wonder he looked so freaked.” She folds her hands over her thighs. “He owe you a favor or something?”

“Not really.” He doesn’t elaborate. “He doesn’t approve of me working with you.”

“I get the feeling that as a man of the church there’s a lot the good father doesn’t approve of.” Her fingers are sweaty. “This is weird. I don’t like churches.”

“Not a believer?”

He sounds like he’s laughing at her. Darcy scowls. “No, I’m just a seriously bad Jew. Why, are you?”

The silence echoes.

“Just trying to make conversation, jeez.”

“Check under your seat,” says the devil. Darcy frowns at the door to her box, and then bends down, groping under the hard wood bench with one hand. Her fingers scrape along tape, and two awkwardly-shaped lumps underneath. “Burner phone,” says the devil, pressing his shoulder into the dividing wall between their cubicles. “My number’s programmed in. Only use it if you have to.”

“Don’t call the vigilante for a bedtime story. Can do.” Darcy yanks the phone (and the micro USB charger, thank fuck) out from where they've been taped down. It’s fully charged—huh, a polite devil, who knew—and there’s not one, but two numbers programmed in. One is marked with a C; the other, with a D. “I guess you’re D,” she says, and frowns. “But who’s C?”

“Someone who can help you if anyone else gets hurt.” He says it in a way that screams don’t ask me more, but Darcy’s never been very good at following directions.

“Doctor? Nurse?”

“The less you know, the safer the both of you will be.”

Well, that’s clear as it gets. “Okay.” She tucks the phone into the pocket of her shorts. “So if I need to meet you—”

“Call. But only when you’re alone.” He shifts again. She wonders if he’s a fidgeter. “Did you tell anyone you were working with me?”

“No.”

“Not even your friends? Your housemate?”

“How did you—never mind. No. I didn’t say anything.”

“Good. Keep it that way.” He leans away from the wall again. “Talk to your client. Look into sources. If you find anything that you think I need to see, put an X in masking tape on the window in your bedroom. I’ll find you the same day.”

Creepy vigilante dude knows where she lives. Okayyyyyy, so not freaking out about that. “What if you find something out that I need to see?”

“I’ll find you.”

Not freaking out about that, either. She swallows hard. “And if they come after me again?”

The devil goes still. “They won’t,” he says, and for some stupid, insane, godforsaken reason, she almost believes him. “I won’t let them.”

“That is both reassuring and incredibly terrifying.”

“I’m told I’m good at that.” He turns away from her. “You leave first. Wait five minutes in the coffee shop at the end of the block so I can make certain you weren’t followed. Then go back to your apartment.” He pauses. “Don’t look back when you leave.”

“So, Spirited Away style. Can do.” She fixes her wig. “I’ll buy masking tape on the way home, too, just for you. Hopefully—” she stops. Hopefully what? Hopefully she won’t have to use it much? Hopefully she doesn’t get in too deep? What? “Stay safe,” she says instead. “I don’t think you’d rock bruises too well.”

“I’ll keep it in mind.”

Darcy leaves the church without a single backward glance. When she turns on the corner, though, she sees Father Patrick standing in the doorway, watching her go with his hand slightly raised, as if he’s invoking a blessing. It makes the hair on the back of her neck stand on end.

.

.

.

It takes a week before the case with John Healy starts to wrap up, and another three days beyond that before people finally stop fussing long enough for Darcy to make her escape out into the world again. Matt and Foggy are gone most days, but Karen isn’t; aside from her mysterious lunch meetings (she gets fidgety whenever Darcy asks, so Darcy’s pretty sure it has something to do with Union Allied and the Big Payoff of Insanity) they have the offices to themselves. They practice Spanish (Karen’s pretty fluent; Darcy’s terribly rusty); Darcy goes over basic paralegal duties with Karen just in case they get a client that isn’t hugely fake or enormously troublesome or both, and Darcy digs into Bishop v. Goodman with both hands. She still can’t get into contact with Brigid O’Reilly, which is getting more worrying than frustrating. Thankfully, the whiteboard she’d screwed into her bedroom wall at her and Jen’s apartment transfers over well to the newly-painted walls in her and Matt’s office; she can spread out and magnet things to the wall, give herself space to work.

The afternoon before the closing of the Healy case, all four of them are clustered into her and Matt’s office. Her ribs hurts, her back hurts, her face hurts, and most of all her head hurts, and if she has to hear Foggy toss and catch that baseball one more time, she’s going to scream. She gets to her feet. “Anybody want coffee?”

The whole room freezes. On the other side of Matt’s desk, Foggy watches her with a pursed-lips constipated look that he only wears when he’s trying not to shout. Karen is a deer in the headlights, pupils blown wide, and Matt? Matt’s just frowning. She blinks a few times. “What?”

“What, she says.” Foggy pushes his laptop mostly closed, and sighs. “Is the fact that someone threw you in an alley and beat the shit out of you the last time you went walking alone escaping you, or—?”

Darcy scowls. “Okay, I get that you’re trying to keep me safe and everything, but that sounded really shitty, so maybe work on your delivery. How about, Hey, Darcy, I’m worried about you going off alone, why don’t I come with you?

“You’d just say no to that, because you’re stubborn.”

“Yeah, because the coffee place is a block away, and it’s still light outside.” She’s also not entirely sure if Robbie Goodman and his goons are going to try to beat the shit out of her again so soon after they failed so spectacularly, but that’s neither here nor there. “I want to go on my own, Foggy. I can’t hide in the offices or in my apartment my whole life. Besides, they don’t want me dead; they just want to rough me up a little bit to try and get me to back off. So, at most, broken bones.” Karen makes a soft noise in the back of her throat, and Darcy hates herself. “Sorry, Kare.”

“I’m okay.” Karen shakes her head. “You’re sure you’ll be all right?”

“Are you even listening to yourself right now?” Foggy scoffs. “Going somewhere on your own in like five years when we’re absolutely sure nobody’s going to try and kill you, sure, but now? When you’re still—”

“Still what? Still purple?” Darcy shrugs. “I’m not gonna shatter, Foggy. I’m a big girl.”

“You had the shit kicked out of you last week, and I’m still not entirely sure that you don’t have brain damage.” Foggy pushes his chair back from the desk. “I’ll go with you.”

“You will sit right there and wait until I come back. I’m serious, Franklin. I can go on my own.”

Karen’s eyes narrow, and flick between Darcy and Foggy.

“Darcy, seriously—Matt, am I wrong, or—”

“If it were you or Matt would you still be freaking out this much?” Darcy glares. “Don’t be sexist. I’m not broken, Foggy. I can walk a block, buy coffee, and come back, and if you agree with him, Matt Murdock, I will hurt you.”

Matt lifts his hands in a peace gesture. “Both of you are right. Just—can we hold on, just for a second?”

No,” say Darcy and Foggy at once. Darcy glares at the ceiling. Foggy says, “I’m not saying you can’t take care of yourself, I’m saying that it’s maybe not the smartest idea in the world to go wandering off on your own when someone tried to knock your teeth into the back of your throat a week ago. I’d be saying this to Matt, too. Hell, I’d say this to Hulk Hogan. It’s kind of a fucking stupid idea.”

“And I’m saying that it’s my choice and I refuse to act like a victim in my own fucking city!”

“For Christ’s sake, Darcy—”

“Foggy.” Karen’s voice is like a whipcrack. “She’s fine.”

Foggy opens his mouth, and then closes it again. “But—”

“She’s fine,” Karen says again. “If she says she’s fine, then she’s fine.”

For three heartbeats, they all just stare at each other. Then Foggy sinks slowly back down into his chair, like he’s trying to pacify a tiger. “Okay,” he says. “Okay. I don’t get it, but okay.”

Darcy rolls her eyes up to the ceiling. “Thank you. Karen, matcha?”

“Please.”

“Matt?”

Matt shakes his head. So, black coffee with sugar, then. Darcy glances at Foggy. “You want anything?”

“Uh.” Foggy blinks at her. “Maybe a latte, I don’t know.”

Darcy grabs her purse. “I’ll be back in like half an hour, tops. Don’t blow anything up while I’m gone, and if any of you touch my whiteboard, I will destroy everything you love.”

“Half an hour, Lewis.” Foggy makes a menacing gesture with his hands that probably means he’ll tickle her to death or something. “Exactly half an hour, or we come after you.”

“Fine. Be good.”

She’s halfway down the stairs to the street when she hears someone call her name. Darcy turns, and bites back a snarl when she sees Matt, caneless and missing his coat. His fingers are just barely touching the wall, as if he’s trying to orient himself in space. “What part of I’ll be okay—

“Cell phone,” he says, and lifts his other hand. Sure enough, there’s her cell, complete with the obnoxious bell that she’d attached just so Matt would be able to tell where she was in space. (She still hasn’t told him that. She’s pretty sure he thinks that she did it just to drive Foggy crazy, because Foggy hates that banana bell.) She'd taken the lump of her burner phone in her pocket to be her actual real-person phone. Darcy kicks herself. “And you forgot to grab money for the drinks.”

Way to be an asshole, Lewis. She takes the steps two at a time, and stops just shy of the landing. Matt holds out the money and the phone, and she shoves both into her pocket. “Sorry. Shouldn’t have snapped.”

Matt lifts one shoulder in half a shrug. From this angle, she can see most of the fading bruise around his eye, the lingering puffiness of his cheekbone. Darcy thinks of Karen, and snorts.

“What?”

“Nothing.” She shakes her head. “All of us look like shit but Foggy. It’s like…I don’t know. I feel like it’s just a matter of time before someone punches him in the face, too.” She scowls. “Come to think of it, I might be the one to do the punching.”

Matt laughs, and Darcy congratulates herself. Something’s been off in Matt for the past few days; it’s not anything she can put her finger on, not anything overt, but at the same time he just hasn’t been acting much like Matt. Now she’s dragged one of his Kermit the Frog laughs out of him, the ones that are nearly silent, and she hadn’t even had to try that hard. Maybe he’s doing better than I thought. Darcy runs a hand over her sore ribs, and then looks up at Matt again. There’s another bruise under his jaw, and she’d think it was a hickey if not for the rest of his face. “Jesus,” she says, and reaches out, lifting his chin with one finger to get a better look at it. Matt jumps, but doesn’t protest. “Your stairs really hate you, how did this even happen?”

“I think it’s more my feet that are the problem than the stairs.” He catches her wrist, and tugs her hand down. “You okay?”

“I’m fine. Your feet are dumb.” She pulls away, and nudges the back of his wrist with her fingertips. “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.”

“I heard from the doctor about how bad you look. Besides, it’d probably just hurt if I—” He shakes his head. “Not a good idea.”

“Just take your dumb glasses off, Murdock. I’m giving you permission to touch my face. You know how many guys would kill for this chance? And you get it for free.”

Matt runs his hand over his face. “The ICU doctor said the only reason your cheekbone didn’t fracture was because you went with the punch, instead of against it. I don’t want to make anything worse.”

“Matt, seriously. You’re not going to hurt me. You have butterfly hands.” Darcy brushes his shoulder in warning. “And mostly this is an excuse because I still haven’t seen your bruises. So I’m going to steal your glasses, okay?”

He freezes under her fingers. Then, slowly, he relaxes. “Okay.”

“Okay?”

He Kermit-laughs again, just for a second. “Okay.”

Darcy moves slowly. She has to stand quite close to him in order to get the sunglasses off without poking him in the eye, and when she manages it, she hooks the earpiece through the top of her shirt to keep them safe and out of the way. Matt keeps his eyes closed, bending forward just slightly so she can see better, and Darcy hisses. His eye is swollen and fragile looking, not purple like she expected, but a strange vivid yellow-green that makes her stomach churn. There’s another, fresher bruise over his cheekbone, shaped like a triangle, and a scab in his eyebrow from where the skin split. She brushes her finger over it, and then sighs. “Don’t fall down the stairs again, okay? It’s not a good look for you.”

His mouth quirks, but he doesn’t say anything. When Darcy touches his cheek, though, he leans his head into it the way Darla does. She presses her palm full against his jaw. Note to self—Matt Murdock is touch-starved. Maybe she really should start painting his nails again, just to give him an excuse for a hug.

“You okay?” she asks, soft enough that she’s half-certain she’s imagined it. Matt blinks his eyes open, tipping his cheek into her hand until her fingers are knotting in his hair, and seriously, she needs to start hugging Matt more often, because he never does shit like this. He’s never really liked people being able to see his eyes, not like this. He thinks they scare people, the fixed blankness of them. He’d only ever told her that once, and he'd been drunk enough that he probably doesn't even remember doing it, but it’s still stuck in Darcy’s head, the expression on his face as he said it. Like it’s his fault other people find him unsettling.

She wants to hurt the people who made him think that. She always has, and she always will.

“I’m fine,” he says, but the way he curls closer to her, like he’s seeking warmth, speaks the lie. “You’re the one who had the crap kicked out of you.”

“And I have the bruises to show for it.” She smiles in spite of herself, and then flinches when it tugs at her scabbed lip. “Ow.”

“What?”

“It’s nothing.” She catches his hands in hers, and raises them to her shoulders. “Just my lip. See?”

Matt doesn’t move. His eyes are fixed at some point over her head. His mouth twists. “Darcy—”

“Matt.” She squeezes his fingers. “Seriously. Shut up and touch my face.”

“I don’t—”

“I told you, butterfly hands.” She tilts her head. “Besides, I know you. You’ll stress until you know how bad it is, and it’s probably not nearly so terrible as you’re thinking. I don’t bruise all that easy.”

Matt huffs. Still, he doesn’t pull away. He lifts his hands, ghosting his index finger over her collarbone by accident (Darcy holds her breath, because fuck you, Darcy Lewis, don’t you dare freak out) as he traces the line of her neck up to her jaw. His thumb clips her dangly feather earrings. Then he finds the first scab, where the knife coasted through the skin on her throat, and he goes still. “Knife?”

“Yeah.”

He pulls his hands back until his fingertips are a hair’s-breadth from actually touching her skin, and keeps going. He follows the line of her jaw (bruises along the bone, her cheek swollen from where it had split inside) to the shape of her nose (thankfully not nearly as bad as the rest, though it’s still a little bruised and tender). Her face feels swollen and uncomfortable as Matt’s fingers run, moth-light, over the swelling around her eye, the three splits in her eyebrow, the cuts on the bridge of her nose from where her glasses jammed into her face. His mouth tightens when he finds the scabs on her lips, but other than that he doesn’t react at all.

It barely takes a minute, and when it’s over Matt scrubs his hands on his pants as if he’s trying to erase the feel of it from his skin. Darcy swallows. “So, was it as bad as you thought it was?”

“Darcy.” He shakes his head, not at her, but at the world. “Jesus.”

“Hey.” Darcy hops up the last step onto the landing, and then tucks herself into him. She does it gingerly, because a) she’s not sure how far down his bruises go, and b) she’s really not sure how much her ribs are up for at the moment, but she does it. Matt goes absolutely still, just for a second, before he lets out a long breath and relaxes into her, sliding his fingers into her hair. Darcy lays her cheek on his shoulder, closing her eyes. “I’m okay.”

“No, you’re not.”

“I think I get to decide whether I’m okay or not, Murdock. I’m seriously fine. I’m just—” Angry. Darcy bites her tongue, and curls her toes in her shoes so she doesn’t wince. “I don’t like feeling helpless. That’s all.”

“It shouldn’t have happened.” The words dust over her hair, vibrate into her ribs. Darcy laces her fingers together behind his back, and presses closer. “You shouldn’t have had to get hurt.”

“C’est la vie, Matthew.” She sighs. “I’m okay, I really am. So don’t worry about me, all right?”

He doesn’t say anything. He just shakes his head, and then he pulls her close, hard and fast, so that in less than a breath she’s halfway out of her shoes with his nose in her hair and his fingers digging into her hip. It’s like—she doesn’t know, really. Like he’s trying to confirm to himself that she’s actually there, that she exists. Darcy leans up into him and wonders—what the hell is going on with you, Matt?

“Tell me the truth this time.” She turns her face into his throat. “Are you okay?”

Matt’s silent for a long time. Then he sighs. It tickles her ear. “I don’t know,” he says, and the words come out odd, like he has to chisel them out of stone. “I don’t—know.”

“Because of the case with Healy?”

He shakes his head. He smells like Matt, like shampoo and shaving cream and the warmth of his skin all at once, and it’s indescribably comforting. Darcy hooks her fingers through the hair at the nape of his neck, and he sighs again, in a different way, like he’s finally letting go of something painful. “I don’t know,” he says again, and her heart breaks a little. “I don’t think so.”

“Okay.” She closes her eyes. “You don’t have to know. It’s okay to not be okay.”

Matt freezes again. His sunglasses are poking into her breastbone. Then he hides his face in her hair. They stand like that for a time, a century or a minute, she’s not entirely sure, before he lets her go. Darcy takes his hands as he tries to slip away, holding on tight.

“Glasses,” she says, and presses them into his palm. Matt curls his fingers around them.

“Thanks.”

“Matt.” He pauses, halfway gone already. “You don’t have to know. And you don’t have to tell me. But I’m here, if you need me. Okay?”

They’re still standing close enough for her to see the way Matt’s pulse jumps in his throat, like she’s said something terrifying. He wraps his fingers hard around hers, and Darcy squeezes back. Then he lets go, and Darcy hooks her bag up higher over her shoulder. She clears her throat. “I’ll be back in a bit, okay? I’ll call you guys if anything happens.”

She’s halfway down the stairs when she hears Matt take a step. “Darcy.”

“Yeah?”

Matt opens his mouth. Then he shakes his head, and puts his glasses back on. The tiredness is still there, and the oddness, but it’s…she can’t describe it. It’s different, deeply, ineffably different, and there’s no other way to say it. “It’s nothing,” he says. “Never mind.”

He’s gone before Darcy can think of what to say.

Chapter Text

“Holy shit,” says Kate.

Darcy looks up from her computer. She’s back in Mug Shots, her bandaged arm covered with a worn long-sleeved shirt underneath her suit jacket, and for the first time since the hospital she’s gone make-up-less in public. She’d thought her face looked a hell of a lot better, considering the evidence photos she has sitting on her desk. She’s barely even purple anymore, and the swelling has gone down a lot; she’s actually seriously impressed with her body’s ability to heal itself. Apparently, though, she doesn’t look nearly as good as she thought, because Kate looks ready to lose her grip on her coffee cup. Darcy leans forward and plugs the mug from Kate’s fingers before her laptop becomes a latte coffin. Kate jumps, and then looks down at her empty hands. “You weren’t kidding,” she says. “You look fucking terrible, Lewis.”

“I know, right? I think I have bruises on my scalp, even.”

Next to Darcy, Karen makes a disapproving noise. For once, she’s twisted her hair away from her face, up into a high ponytail that shows off her throat (now almost completely bruise-free); her T-shirt says I’m not saying I’m Batman—I’m just saying you’ve never seen him and me in the same place. Darcy’s efforts to get Karen to relax her wardrobe a bit are working, and it’s freaking awesome. “That’s not a good thing, Darcy.”

“Are you kidding? It’s sick and I love it. Don’t be a hater, Page.”

Kate doesn’t laugh. “You weren’t like this on Friday. What happened?’

“Well, I was. I just had a shit-ton of make-up on.” Darcy swirls her coffee in the mug, and licks at the froth on the top of her mocha. “I was mugged last week, didn’t I tell you? Cops grabbed him before he could get away, thankfully, but he still managed to kick the crap out of me first. No big deal. Now sit down and eat a scone before you hurt yourself.”

Darcy has to actually nudge the plate of lavender scones at her before Kate realizes they exist. She’s still watching Darcy through narrowed eyes, as if she’s trying to pick out a lie. Darcy flutters her eyelashes, and then looks down at her computer again. Kate strikes her as the sort of person to freak out if someone else gets hurt for trying to help her, and they’re not going to ever get any work done if Kate learns right away that Robbie Goodman had sent a few gangbangers to rough Darcy up. So, that’s that. She’ll tell Kate later, when she’s in too deep to get away, but until then it’s better to keep it quiet.

Karen, who’d been apprised of this plan approximately fifteen minutes before Kate had come through the door, stares hard at her coffee and says nothing.

“Oh, right.” Darcy waves her hand at Karen. “Kate, this is Karen. Karen, Kate. Karen’s here to observe and take notes, because she’s new to the firm and wants to learn more about law and stuff.”

“Also because she’s buying me coffee,” says Karen, and winks at Kate. To Darcy’s utter astonishment, Kate actually blushes.

“The coffee here is definitely better than the stuff at the office,” Darcy agrees. “No offense to your press, dear.”

“None taken. It’s the beans that are the problem, not my press.”

“Also that Foggy doesn’t wash it out the way he’s supposed to.”

“That, too.”

“So.” Darcy opens up her notes. “I’m still trying to get in touch with Brigid O’Reilly. Her boss won’t give me her contact information, which is super sketch—I think maybe you were right when you said that Robbie Goodman had her reassigned—but I’ve been looking into a few other ways to get into contact with her, and I should be able to get into the 34th and talk to her tomorrow. Also, I’ve been meeting with your friend Callie and her lawyer, and they’ve agreed to testify as long as Callie’s given some kind of immunity for her drug habit. Obviously we can’t get her off completely, but since it’s her first offense—”

Kate snorts.

“—her first official offense, I should be able to bully the district attorney to just shunt her off to an easy judge in the drug courts. She’ll get a few weeks of community service, maybe a little bit of rehab if the judge doesn’t like the cut of her jib, and since she’s seventeen the whole thing will be sealed.”

“Lucky Callie.”

“The glory of the juvenile justice system.” Darcy shrugs. “I talked to the bouncer at the club, and the bartender, and they’re willing to testify too. There was a warrant issued to get the surveillance footage from Daily Daze the night you were there, but somehow it went mysteriously missing, so I’m going to go talk to the judge that issued it and see what’s up. I left a message with her clerk of court, so she should hopefully get back to me in a day or two.” She chews on the lid of her pen for a minute. “If we’re really lucky we might be able to get one of Goodman’s friends to testify, and hang themselves with their own noose.”

Kate makes a disbelieving sound. “He gets their drugs for them. I’m pretty sure that they were all high out of their minds anyway. They might not—they might not even remember.”

“Even Goodman?”

“No. He’s smart enough not to take any of his own shit. He just sells it.”

Dammit. They can’t get him there, anyway—drug possession and sale are on a totally different legal territory than rape and assault, and it’s not Darcy’s case anyway—but she still makes a mental note to ask Brett about it. Maybe, if worst comes to worst, Rich Goodman can swing for his drugs instead of his rapes. But only if worst comes to worst. “Ah, well. Still worth looking into it. I’m frankly more interested in why none of these guys seem to have records, but that’s just me.”

“They’re rich white assholes whose daddies have lots of money?” Kate shrugs. “I don’t know. They’ve just never been arrested, I guess.”

“Hopefully we’ll change that.” Darcy folds her hands on the table. “I do need you to understand that because we’re acting as both the investigators and the prosecutors in this, it’s gonna be weird. Half the stuff I need from the cops hasn’t been done, or has been misplaced, quote unquote, and we really need to decide which case is more important—the procedures against Rich Goodman, or the allegations against the police department in their mishandling of it all. Legally, I can’t be the one to prosecute Rich Goodman for his criminal acts, because of that ruling I told you about, Kamper v. Vonderheide. But hopefully we’ll be able to splash enough of this over the press for the criminal justice system to get their asses in gear and prosecute.”

“Wait,” says Karen. “What?”

Despite the pow-wow last Friday, even Kate still looks confused. Ooh, yay. She gets to explain law. “Criminal law and civil law are different.” Darcy scoots her laptop to the side, and steals Kate’s mug, setting it next to hers on the table. “This is civil law,” she says, pointing at Kate’s latte. “And this is criminal law. What did you order?”

“Um.” She blinks at Darcy. “Just a café latte. Is that important?”

“Sort of.” Darcy turns Kate’s mug until the handle is facing Kate. “Your café latte and my mocha latte are made of the same stuff, but the contents are different. Civil law, and civil courts, deal only with civil suits. Criminal law and criminal courts deal with criminal cases, which are prosecuted by the district attorney’s office. So if I were OJ Simpson—”

“Because you’re totally OJ Simpson. Can I have my coffee back?”

She smacks Kate’s wrist. “Don’t touch the latte.”

“Bitch.”

“Jerk.” Darcy rolls her eyes. “If I were OJ Simpson, then I would be vindicated in criminal court—” she pushes the mocha latte mug “—because of botched evidence and due process issues. But I was sued later in civil court, which doesn’t have anything to do with whether or not I’m guilty or innocent.  Everyone knew OJ had killed Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goodman, and their families wanted restitution. They won a lot of money off him, like…twenty-five million or something.”

Kate’s eyebrows knit together. “So bringing a criminal case against Rich Goodman is gonna be harder than bringing a civil suit?”

“I wouldn’t be the one to do it. You’d have to talk to the DA’s office for that one.” Darcy wrinkles her nose. “Same with the police fuck-ups. We can sue the fuck out of them and claim compensation for the emotional damage that has been done to you in the course of this quite terrible series of events, but I don’t have the legal standing to prosecute the police department—or the Goodmans, by the way—as if I’m part of the DA’s office.”

Karen nods. Kate, though: Kate just crosses her arms over her chest, and scowls at the coffee mugs. “That’s fucking stupid.”

“Didn’t say that the US justice system is flawless, Katie. This is just how it works at the moment.” Darcy takes her mocha back, before Kate can broil it away with the power of her stare. “How’re things going with your dad? You said you were going to talk to him about all of this.”

“He went to Manila.” Kate tears her scone in half. “Which means he’s pissed at me and he doesn’t want to talk about it.”

“Which also means he won’t try to stop you,” Darcy points out, and Kate’s eyebrows stop doing their evil dance of death. “Or, at least, he won’t notice what we’re doing until it’s too late for him to stop us, which is almost as good. Oh, speaking of—Karen, do you want to come with us? We’re on our way to meet with Robbie Goodman.”

Karen chokes on her macchiato. It takes a good ten seconds of back-pounding, shrieking (someone’s mocha had gone flying, and it was only the hair trigger of an archer that had rescued Darcy’s computer from a caffeinated grave), and a truly impressive scowl from the barista before they finally manage to get Karen breathing properly again. In Darcy’s pocket, her phone buzzes.

“Are you crazy?” Karen hisses, when Kate flees to collect more napkins. “The guy has you beaten up in an alley and you organized a meeting with him?”

“His secretary will be there.” Darcy shrugs. “And technically it’s not just with Robbie Goodman, it’s with Rich Goodman, and their lawyer too. Like, the trifecta of bad guys. It’ll be awesome.”

“And you didn’t tell me this because—”

“—because I knew you would freak out? Also because you’re not dressed for a meeting at Goodman and Okumura, and it’s in, like—” she checks her banana phone “—forty minutes. Me and Katie-Kate are barely going to make it if we catch a taxi now.”

“Don’t call me Katie-Kate,” says Kate, and dumps half a box of napkins onto the table. “It’s gross and I don’t like it.”

“But it’s cute.”

Don’t call me Katie-Kate.”

“I was going to go to the Bulletin after if you want to meet us there.” Karen gets shifty-eyed and squirrely, and Darcy thinks, ah-hah. “There are some nice reporters there who might be willing to talk to us about building a story against the Goodmans. I was thinking maybe the same guy who did the story on Union Allied? He seems ballsy.”

“Ben Urich?” Kate actually smiles. It changes her whole face; she goes from rebellious, angry goth warrior to Actual Teenage Girl Kate Bishop, and it’s honestly a little scary. “He’s cool. He did an interview with me and my dad once, when Dad made this huge donation to the Rebuild Midtown fund. He doesn’t take shit.”

“Sounds like good people.” Darcy shoves her laptop into her bag. Her phone buzzes again, and she realizes—her banana phone’s in her hand. It’s her burner phone that’s ringing. Shit. She dips her hand into her pocket, and hits the decline button. “So, Karen, you coming?”

“Um, no.” Karen gets up super-fast. “Well, I mean, not to the Bulletin, and I don’t think they’ll let me past the first floor in this—” the look she gives Darcy is one that says I know what you’re up to, young lady; Darcy bounces her eyebrows in reply. “—but I can wait in a Starbucks or something nearby. If you guys don’t mind, anyway.”

“Why would we mind?” Darcy hooks an arm around Kate’s shoulders, and squeezes. Kate just rolls her eyes. Still—she doesn’t flinch, which is only to the good. “I’ll be sure to record everything, if they let me. And I’ll tell you next time we meet with them; you should come along and see how everything works, y’know?”

Karen smiles. It looks a little vicious. “Of course.”

“I love you, don’t leave salt in my sugar bowl.” She kisses Karen’s cheek (Karen looks surprised, but hugs her anyway) and then glances over at Kate. “Can you go flag us a taxi, Kate? I have to return a call.”

Kate rolls her eyes, and goes off muttering something about PDA and gross girlfriends. Karen and Darcy look at each other.

“I feel like I should stroke your hair or something, just to make her uncomfortable,” says Karen, and Darcy snorts.

“Wait until the next time you meet her, it’ll be even worse then.”

“You’re a terrible human being,” Karen says, but it’s in an appreciative voice. “Text me when you’re done, I’ll let you know where I am.”

“Can do, girlfriend.”

Darcy blows her a kiss, hitches her bag over her shoulder, and waits until she’s out of Karen’s line of sight before digging her burner phone out of her pocket. Sure enough, there it is: one missed call from D, without a follow-up text or even a voicemail. Darcy hits the redial button, and steps out of the way of the crowd, tucking herself between a bench and a potted plant just out of sight of the street corner. Thankfully, she can still see Kate; she wears enough purple to stand out.

The devil picks up on the first ring. “What are you doing right now?”

“Usually we have to go on at least three dates before I give you that kind of information.” Kate’s arguing with a street hustler about something or other. Darcy wonders if she ought to intervene. “I’m on a street corner, waiting for a taxi. I have a meeting with Goodman and his lawyers. Why are you calling me in the daytime? I thought you were more a Batman kind of dude, you know. I am darkness. I am the night.

There’s an odd, smothered cough from the other end of the line. If the devil’s laughing at her, though, he doesn’t say it. “I was going to call last night, but something came up. I have some information for you that you might like to hear.”

“By something, do you mean all those guys who were dumped on the front doorstep of the 15th precinct at four in the morning? Because if you do, that is some hella something.”

“What do you know about Goodman and Okamura?”

“I mean, not a lot.” She plugs her other ear with one finger. His voice is muffled, somehow, as if he’s holding the phone some distance away from his face. Maybe someone punched him? “Trading conglomerate that started up in 2001, right before 9/11. Works with a bunch of different people all over the world, mostly big-name companies. Goodman was some kind of heir to something or other, poured a lot of money into it. Okamura’s a big property owner in—Malaysia, I think?”

“Indonesia. Keep going.”

“They do a lot of property juggling in Southeast Asia, oversee a lot of manufacturing companies and shit. I didn’t look into them too deeply because I was, you know, more interested in the fact that they beat me up to keep me from prosecuting a rape case. Why are you asking?”

The devil’s quiet for a moment. On the corner, Kate finally waves down a taxi. She turns around, and Darcy hisses under her breath. “Fast is good, dude, I have a ride to catch.”

“The Okamura portion of the Goodman-Okamura conglomerate is a front,” says the devil abruptly. “Three years ago it was bought out by a shadow company under the management of a man named Hironobu Kurihara, who, according to my sources, doesn’t actually exist.”

“And who are your sources, exactly?” Darcy presses the phone to her ear with her shoulder, shifting her bag around in an attempt to wade through the crowd without losing it.

“If you apply enough pressure to a crack, the dam fractures.”

“Is that your way of saying you beat some guys up until you found a more important guy to beat up?”

“My way was more poetic.”

“If you say so, dude.” She checks her watch. “Seriously, you have forty-five seconds.”

“Hironobu Kurihara might not actually exist, in Japan or otherwise, but the man that I spoke to—”

“—your crack in the dam—”

“—that the head of the yakuza in Hell’s Kitchen goes by the common alias of Hironobu Orihara while he’s stateside.”

Darcy stops in the middle of the sidewalk. A guy in a sharp suit clips into her shoulder, and sends a bolt of pain through her fractured rib. “Son of a bitch,” she says. “Are you telling me that the Goodman-Okamura Trading Group is a front for the Japanese mafia?”

“There’s evidence that supports it.”

“What the hell am I supposed to do with that information?” Her voice is high and reedy, even to her. “I’m not—I’m not a judge, or a cop, or anything—for god’s sake, my office still smells like a bookie’s ashtray! You take that kind of shit to the DA’s office, not to people like me!”

“Yeah,” says the devil. “But the DA’s office hasn’t been trying to strike bargains with me in dark alleyways, so you’re kind of all I have right now.”

“Jesus.” She pinches the bridge of her nose. A few yards away, Kate makes an impatient noise. (“Come on, Lewis, we’re gonna be late!”) “Jesus—okay. I’ll. Um. I’ll look into it. And—uh. I’ll probably have something for you in a couple hours.”

“Be on your fire escape at midnight,” he says. “I’ll find you.”

He hangs up before she can say goodbye.

The Goodman and Okamura Tower is one of the few ‘scrapers to have survived the incident without a single scratch. The building stands a good twenty storeys higher than anything else in the financial district; all glass and shining chrome, it looks like a monument to the future and the digital era, and the only place that outstrips it at this point has to be Tony Stark’s monument to his own dick.

Sorry. Avengers Tower. She gets confused.

Kate says very little on their way over to the Goodman Tower, hiding behind her sunglasses and her lipstick. Darcy clicks her tongue piercing against the back of her teeth, Googling every imaginable thing about the yakuza that she can manage, and a little bit more thanks to some time spent waiting in line at the front desk. The receptionist fawns over Kate (“Miss Bishop, it’s so nice to see you, your father was just talking about you the last time he was in here—”) and ignores Darcy almost entirely, giving them both visitor’s badges and directing them to the sixtieth floor (“oh, the private elevator is down at the end, Miss Bishop, just tell Oz, the guard, your name and he’ll send you right in”). The muzak in the elevator car makes her teeth ache. Darcy waits until Kate’s jammed the button for the sixtieth floor three times in quick succession before clearing her throat. “If this is too much, you can wait outside of the meeting room. You don’t have to see him if you don’t want to.”

“What I want,” Kate says, through gritted teeth, “is for my father not to have locked my bow in his fucking safe room, so I can put an arrow through Rich Goodman’s fucking eye socket. But barring that, I will settle for scaring the living shit out of him.”

She’s scaring the living shit out of Darcy, to be entirely honest. Darcy catches her elbow in one hand. “Kate,” she says. “Can you do this?

Kate blinks at her over the top of her sunglasses. “What?”

Can you do this, Kate. Tell me now.”

Kate’s quiet for a moment. Then she straightens, until her spine is so taut it could snap at the slightest touch. “Yeah,” she says, clearing her throat. “Yes. I can do this.”

“Good,” Darcy says, and lets Kate go. “Don’t threaten him while we’re in there, okay? It’d look bad.”

“Whatever.”

If the outside of Goodman-Okamura is a wonder of silver and chrome, the inside is like something out of the Jetsons. Everything’s made out of glass and steel, and if she has to see her face reflected that many times for more than an hour she might crack like an egg. Darcy hooks her hair up out of her face and into a ponytail, smooths down the front of her suit (the low-cut one; when in doubt, distract with boobs) and then folds her hands neatly behind her back. Kate, on the other hand, stands with legs spread and arms akimbo, as if she’s about to pick a fight. “Be polite,” Darcy says through her teeth. “It scares them more if you’re nice.”

“That’s what you think.”

She hears a door open, and close. Darcy wipes her suddenly sweaty palms against her skirt, and smiles. Robbie Goodman looks almost exactly like his paparazzi photographs—that is, very Rush Limbaugh—and his suit is probably more expensive than the entirety of Darcy’s student loans combined, but his face is wreathed in smiles as he comes towards them, hands outstretched. “Ah, Katherine! It’s so lovely to see you. It’s been a long time, hasn’t it? Five years, at least.”

“I think seven,” says Kate. She doesn’t remove her hands from her pockets. Robbie Goodman drops his, ignoring Darcy entirely. “Not since you visited my father while we were doing that deal in Switzerland, I think.”

“That sounds right.” Robbie dimples at her. “You look…well.”

“If that’s code for saying ‘you have tits now,’ then, yeah. I look well.” Kate doesn’t smile. “This isn’t a social call, Mr. Goodman. I thought I made that clear to your secretary.”

“She said something or other about you bringing a lawyer for some reason, but I wasn’t sure if she was actually being serious. How’s Barnard, Katherine? Still going well? A little birdie told me you were majoring in art history; there’s a really lovely gallery that just opened in the area recently, I know the proprietor, I’m sure she’d be happy to show you around—”

“Hi,” says Darcy loudly, and shoves her hand into middle of it. Robbie Goodman looks surprised, at first. Then his eyes widen. She has to dig her nails into the back of his plushy marshmallow wrist in order to get him to shake. Her skin crawls at the touch. You wanted me scared? she thinks, staring Robbie Goodman right in the eye. Too bad. I’m pissed, instead. “My name’s Darcy Lewis. With Nelson, Murdock, and Lewis. I’ll be representing Miss Bishop today. I’m afraid we’re on a bit of a timeline today, so I’d appreciate it if we could get right down to business.”

Robbie Goodman blinks at her. Then he blinks again. “My dear,” he says, unctuous as oil, “is that a bruise on your eye?”

“Yeah,” says Darcy, and bares her teeth. She hopes that her blood-red lipstick makes her look stained. “That’s the thing, though. Bruises heal.”

He squeezes her hand once, hard. “They do indeed. I’ll collect the others, then, shall I?”

“Please,” says Darcy, and checks her nails. Kate’s eyes have turned to slits. “I only have one or two things to say, and then we’ll be going. Is your son here, by any chance?”

“Rich?” Robbie’s look of confusion is perfectly rehearsed. “Well, yes—I’ve been grooming him to take a position here, now that he’s wrapping up his years at school, but I’m not sure what he has to do with this.”

“Mr. Goodman, do me a favor? Cut the bullshit.” She checks her phone. “The only reason we’re here is a courtesy call. Frankly, it’d be much easier just to meet with that gentleman at the Bulletin. If you’d prefer that—”

“That’s unnecessary, don’t you think?”

“I don’t know what I think at this point.”

“Mr. Goodman,” says Kate. “Get Rich and your lawyer in here. Please.”

Robbie Goodman wavers. Then he hits a button on his wristwatch—oh, hey, does he have an Apple watch? That’s super intense. He doesn’t say anything more, which is good. Darcy’s not certain she’ll be able to keep herself from punching him if he keeps effusing like an idiot all over the place, and Kate’s clenching and unclenching her fists in a rhythm like a heartbeat.

Robbie Goodman looks exactly like his pictures. Rich Goodman, on the other hand, is almost enhanced in person. It’s like being caught on film erases something about him, something prowling and dark, like honey laced with arsenic. He smiles at Kate when he comes in, and the lawyer at his shoulder—at least, Darcy presumes he’s a lawyer; he dresses like one—pushes his glasses up his nose. “Why, if it isn’t Katie! What a place to run into you.”

Kate clenches her fists so tight that Darcy can hear her fingers protesting. Darcy shoves her hand out again, to the lawyer, not to Rich Goodman. “Darcy Lewis,” she says. “I assume you’re the attorney for the Messrs. Goodman, here.”

“I represent an interested party, yes,” says the man in glasses, and shakes her hand. He looks…the only word she can come up with is efficient, all sharp lines and fresh creases. “You wouldn’t happen to be a part of Nelson, Murdock, and Lewis, now would you?”

Darcy blinks. Then she blinks again. “I very much doubt you’ve heard of us.”

The man in glasses smiles at her. He’s attractive, but more along the lines of a hollow statue than an actual person. His eyes, though—his eyes are flat, and the way he looks at her makes her think that he’s sizing her up, the way a shark does before it eats something. “I had the pleasure of meeting your partners recently. This is an…interesting coincidence.”

Psycho killer, qu’est-ce que c’est, she thinks. The chorus circles around her head, a constant refrain. Run, run, run, run, run, run, run away.

“Yeah,” Darcy says finally. “I’ll say. Small world, huh?”

The man in glasses smiles again, and holds onto her hand for a good three seconds more before releasing it. Darcy has to fight the urge to wipe it clean on her skirt.

“I’ll be brief,” Darcy says, turning away from the psycho in glasses and facing the Goodmans again. Rich Goodman is leaning against the back of the nearest couch, his lips quirked as if this is all fucking hilarious. “In the next three days we intend to file a civil suit against your son, Mr. Goodman, seeking compensation for the fact that he assaulted and raped my client, Katherine Elinor Bishop, on the first of September of this year. We will also,” she says, speaking more loudly, since Robbie Goodman seems ready to interrupt her, “be pursuing a case against the police department, and, one assumes, all relevant parties on either side for their gross misconduct in regard to my client’s assault and its aftermath.” She angles a look at Psycho Glasses Killer at this, and he just smiles “The only reason we’re here today, despite my own instincts and my client’s best interests, is to give you the chance, Mr. Goodman, to do the right thing. You have forty-eight hours to turn yourself into the police. Otherwise, we will bring so much shit down on your head that you’ll be cleaning it out of your ears for the rest of your life. Is that clear?”

The silence hangs in the air, taut. Then Rich scoffs. “You have to be fucking kidding me.” He looks at Kate. “This is the sort of shit you pull? What the fuck, Callum.”

“My name,” says Kate, “is Kate.”

“Whatever the fuck your name is, this is slander, and you and your whore lawyer can fucking try.”

“Hey,” says Darcy. “Be nice.”

“Now, Richard, they do have the right to make allegations if they wish.” Psycho Glasses Killer folds his hands neatly in front of him, like a choir boy would. “May I ask what sort of proof you have, Miss Lewis?”

“You’ll just have to see it in court, I suppose.” Darcy heaves her bag up higher over her shoulder. “So. Your secretary has my card, Mr. Goodman. We’ll be seeing you around. Kate, you ready?”

Kate nods once, and gets to her feet. Her high heels give her three inches on Richard Goodman, and for a split second, she looks like a Valkyrie, like an avenging angel. Then the shadows fade from her face, and she’s just Kate again, hard-eyed and thin-lipped and suddenly very, very tired.

“Kate,” says Rich, but she just turns her back on him. Darcy can see her fingers trembling. Yup. Time to go. She’s pretty sure that three minutes will top Matt and Foggy’s interview with Karen’s arresting officers. They had to have had at least ten.

There’s a chime, and a high-pitched voice—“matte, matte kudasai”—before a door at the back of the room opens. Through the crack, she can see a trio of Asian men, silent and staring. One of them, a little shorter than the other two, with sharp cheekbones and hard eyes, clears his throat. Robbie Goodman freezes.

Doushimashitaka?” Next to Darcy, Kate goes stock still. She tips her head a little, as if she’s listening hard. The man stares at Darcy for a moment, and then looks, not to Goodman like she thinks he will, but to the Psycho Glasses Killer. “Jikan ga nai. Yotei wa daremo matteimasen.

Nandemonaissu yo, Nobu-san.” The dip in pitch in Psycho Glasses Killer’s voice makes Darcy jump. “Gofun gurai matte kudasaimasenka? Kanojotachi wa mou owarimashitanode.”

The Japanese man—Nobu? Hironobu Orihara?—studies the five of them for a long moment. Then he inclines his head once to the man in glasses, and leaves the room. The door shuts behind him with a click, and Goodman relaxes with an audible whoosh of air. Rich Goodman looks unsettled. The man in glasses, though; he’s cool as a cucumber. Darcy clears her throat—because that totally wasn’t sketchy—and hooks her arm through Kate’s. “We should go,” she says. “We have other meetings to attend to.”

“And there’s no way we can clear up this misunderstanding?” asks Robbie Goodman, still a bit white around the mouth. “Kate.”

Kate takes off her sunglasses, and folds them deliberately into her pocket. Her eyes are like obsidian. “Oh, Robbie,” she says, and her curving, vicious smile is a thing of beauty. “Go fuck yourself.”

Robbie Goodman has absolutely nothing to say.

.

.

.

9:21 PM
Okay, if I don’t ask, it’s gonna drive me crazy. Who is this?

1:34 AM
How did you get this number?

1:35 AM
Deal with the devil.

1:38 AM
…don’t tell him I texted you, he’ll be mad.

1:39 AM
Who are you?

1:41 AM
Darcy.

1:41 AM
darcyfuckinglewis

1:42 AM
Who are you?

1:42 AM
Claire.

1:43 AM
And I’m not taking a picture, sorry.

1:43 AM
Psh, it’s fine. Don’t blame you.

1:44 AM
That one’s from law school, not a right-now selfie, but whatever, contacts ftw.

1:44 AM
I have gold streaks now! And a stud. It looks awesome.

1:45 AM
(Hi, my name is Darcy and I babble when I’m nervous.)

1:45 AM
Main question, though: have you seen our mutual friend tonight? Because he was supposed to meet me two hours ago and he hasn’t shown up.

1:46 AM
He left around twenty minutes ago. Should be okay, if he hasn’t managed to get himself stabbed again.

1:47 AM
Well, that explains how you two met.

1:48 AM
Seriously, who the hell are you and how did you get this number?

1:48 AM
You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.

1:49 AM
Try me, because I have had one hell of a night.

.

.

.

The cold concrete of the alleyway tastes like stone and piss against her mouth. Darcy tries to scream—she tries, she knows she does—but her voice is gone. The iron pipe comes down once, again, and she feels her bones breaking, she feels it the same way she feels her nose bleeding, the same way she feels the knife, and oh, god, I’m dying, I’m dying

The knock on her window sends her flailing out of bed and onto the floor with a muffled shriek, her sheets tangled around her legs. Darcy whacks at her bedside table—for her glasses or for the aluminum baseball bat she’s taken to leaning against her bed at night, she’s not sure—and nearly shrieks again when she sees the dark figure crouching outside on her fire escape. Then she recognizes the mask, and crams her glasses onto her face. “You asshole,” she snaps, and yanks her window open. He rocks back onto his heels, and tips his head as if she’s surprised him. “Do you have a fucking watch? You said midnight, you supremely idiotic asshat. I thought you’d ditched. Hell, I thought you’d died.”

“Something happened.” His voice is hoarser than she remembers, and she realizes that the dark smear against his cheek isn’t a bruise, but blood. Fresh, barely dried, still vivid red against his skin, and fuck.

“Jesus Christ.” Darcy heaves herself out onto the fire escape. “It’s three o’clock in the morning. I thought you were dead. I thought someone had killed you and thrown you in a dumpster.”

His mouth quirks a little at that, but only for a second. Darcy only takes a second or two to think about how fucking crazy her life has become—in a very expensive corporate office with rapists and yakuza gangsters in the morning, on a fire escape with the devil of Hell’s Kitchen past midnight—before she shakes her head and leans against the railings. “I bet my day has been worse than your day.”

“Russian mobsters kidnapped and tortured a woman trying to draw me out,” says the devil flatly, and her heart drops down into her guts. “What about you?”

“Holy shit.” One hell of a night? Jesus, Claire. Her fingers itch for her burner phone.“Is she okay?”

“No.” There’s a bite to his voice that reminds her of someone, for some reason. “She’s not. I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Okay.” Darcy raises her hands. “Okay. We won’t. Somehow I don’t think you’re in the mood to talk about, you know, legal shit.”

The devil doesn’t say anything. He just crouches like some sort of awkward vulture, watching her as if he thinks she’s going to bolt. Darcy stares back at the mask—it’s too dark for her to make out anything else—and then leans her head against the bars. “If that happened, why are you even here right now? Shouldn’t you be keeping an eye on your friend?”

“She’s fine, for the moment. Somewhere safe.” His mouth twists again, like he’s remembering something nasty. “I came to tell you that you need to get rid of your phone.”

“What?”

“Throw the phone away.” The devil puts his hands on his knees, still watching her. “Get rid of it. Forget this happened. It was a mistake, and now I’m correcting it. Forget everything I told you about Goodman. You need to stay as far away from this as possible.”

Her heart skips, stumbles, and falls hard in gravel. Then it gets up and starts doing wind sprints. Darcy’s palms are sweating again. “Because you think someone’s going to come after me, too?”

“Because I can’t afford to have two people hurt because of me.”

Darcy rolls that over in her mind for a moment. Then she gets up onto her knees, reaches forward, and shoves the devil hard in the chest. He hits the fire escape with a clang, just barely catching himself on the railing before he falls, and his lips part. He stares at her. “I,” says Darcy, “have had it up to fucking here with this bullshit.”

“D—Lewis—”

“It is my fucking choice. You didn’t drag me into this shit. I asked you. You don’t get to decide when I’m done with this, I do.”

The devil doesn’t speak. His mouth opens, and then closes again.

“Do you think,” Darcy hisses, “that I haven’t thought about shit like this? In, what, the two weeks since you saved me from being murdered in an alleyway? Oh, I asked the devil of Hell’s Kitchen to help me take down the Goodmans, bet nothing bad will ever come of this! Guess what? Even without you I’d be going against Goodman, because Goodman had me attacked, because Goodman is an asshole, because his son is a rapist and putting him away is my fucking job. I am not,” she says, and punches him hard in the leg, because it’s the closest part of him she can reach, “going to fucking run away from this. And don’t you dare tell me I should, because you’re wrong. Do you fucking hear me? I’m not running away.” Her voice cracks. “I’m not.”

Darcy’s chest is heaving, her eyes burning; there’s acid in her throat and fury in her fists, and vigilante or not she’s going to pound the shit out of him if he says anything like that again. Smart or not, stupid or not, she’s not a coward. She’s not weak and she’s not vulnerable and she’s not going to tuck her tail between her legs and keep her mouth shut, because she has done that, and she’s never doing it again. She bites her tongue so hard that it bleeds. Then she swallows it back. “I am sorry that your friend was hurt.” Darcy digs her nails hard into her palms. “It must have been terrible, and I’m not denying that. But I’m sure that it was her choice to help you, the same way it was mine. And if you try to make her decisions for her because you’re scared, then I guarantee you, she will tear you a new asshole.

They stare at each other. Then the devil sits up, slowly, his hand never leaving the railing. “Where,” he says, sounding like he’s caught between wonder and despair, “did you even come from?”

“Georgia,” Darcy snaps. “So don’t you even start this shit with me, buddy, because I can dish it out worse than any Russian mobster you’ve ever seen.”

They sit there until Darcy can catch her breath, until she’s crept away from the edge of tears and is just lurking on the verge of hysteria instead. The devil sits next to her, close enough to touch but far enough away that he’s almost a dream, his face turned towards the front of the alley as if he’s waiting for someone to come for them. In Darcy’s room, Darla noses her way up onto the blankets and curls into a tight ball against the pillow, her fur stained yellow by the shoddy street lamp. Five minutes must go by, ten maybe, by the time Darcy finally clears her throat and says, “Is she going to be okay? Your friend.”

He shrugs once, and says nothing.

“Does she need somewhere to go?”

“She’s not coming here.” He doesn’t look at her. “Putting the pair of you in the same place would be ridiculously dangerous. They’d kill you both.”

“I’m not saying that.” Darcy bites her thumbnail. “Only—I have a friend who has a lot of empty houses, all up and down the coast. Your friend—she could stay at one of those for a while, if she needs to get away. Oppie owes me a favor, no questions asked. It might help.”

The devil’s quiet for a moment. “I’ll ask her.”

Darcy lets out a breath, and says, “Okay.”

Silence hangs between them again for a moment.

“Do you know a man named Wilson Fisk?” the devil asks abruptly. Darcy blinks.

“No. Should I?”

“He’s come up a few times.” He knocks his fist lightly against the railing of her fire escape. “A man on trial for murder mentioned his name. Seems like the Russians are working for him too. The ones who took Cl—my friend. They were his men. But he’s not anywhere I can find. Not on the internet, not in any sort of registry. I’ve looked.”

“You think he’s the one that had your friend hurt?”

“I don’t know. But I’m interested. Whoever he is, he has his fingers in a lot of pies, all across Hell’s Kitchen. It’s….” He gropes for a word. “Unsettling.”

“You think he’s in bed with the yakuza, too?”

“I don’t know. Haven’t heard anything like that. It’s possible, but it seems unlikely.” He tips his head at her. “Tell me what happened with Goodman.”

Darcy does. She speaks in short, clipped sentences: the meeting, the people there, the sudden appearance of a man called Nobu-san. She mentions Psycho Glasses Killer, too, and the devil stiffens, but says nothing. They must know each other. She talks about how Kate had shattered in the taxi on the way to the Bulletin, gone from stiff and still to screaming and sobbing and pounding her fists into her forehead, rocking with the force of her own agony. It had taken four hours before Darcy had even begun to feel comfortable leaving Kate alone, and even then it was only once she’d dropped Kate off at her apartment (and into the capable hands of her housekeeper, Yoko) that Darcy had finally been okay with letting Kate Bishop out of her sight.

“I’ve never seen anybody break like that.” Darcy pulls her knees up against her chest, holding on with both arms. “I worked at a counseling center for victims of abuse, you know? Sexual, physical, psychological. I’ve seen some really bad shit, anxiety wise. Panic attacks, flashbacks, nightmares. Night terrors,” she adds, and rubs the bruise welling up on her wrist. “But nothing like what happened to Kate today. It’s like—it’s like she was only holding herself together by a thread. I don’t know what’s going to happen to her if we don’t win this case. I’m afraid of what she’ll do.”

Put an arrow in Rich Goodman’s fucking eye socket, she thinks, and the thought makes her stomach churn. The vicious part of her, the part buried just under the skin, curls into a ball like Darla has, and hisses, yes.

“I’m scared of what I’ll do if we fail,” Darcy says, and she has no idea why she’s telling him this, this man that she doesn’t know, but she is. She thinks she sees something in the devil that she recognizes, some streak of fury, some deep-seated vein of rage that is so embedded into the core of him that he can’t tell it apart from his own soul. “I bought a gun today. To protect myself. But now I wonder—what if we fail, and I see the gun, and I try to take the law into my own hands? What happens then?”

The devil shifts on the fire escape. Then he reaches out with one hand, and touches his fingertips to her shoulder. It’s barely a brush of glove-on-skin, but it raises goosebumps on her arms. Darcy watches him as he draws his hand away, his mouth curling as if he’s angry at her. Or at himself. “That part isn’t your job, Darcy. It’s mine.”

Darcy stares at him for a long time. She wants to tell him it could be her job, too. But tonight isn’t the night for that; there might not ever be a night for that, not with the way her guts are twisting themselves into knots, tighter and closer and more and more painful until she can’t tell start from end. Fear? Maybe. Or something else. 

“Tell me what I need to do,” says the devil. “Give me something to do. What is it you need for this case? Who do you need to testify?”

“Something to do, huh.” He looks like he’s going to beat the hell out of someone. Oh, if only I could just throw him in a room with Richard Goodman. It’d be so goddamn satisfying. She tugs a strand of hair in front of her eyes, and starts to braid it. “The cops have been messing up; they keep losing shit, misplacing evidence, not calling me back. The arresting officer for the case, Brigid O’Reilly—she’s either been stonewalling me or someone’s been intervening, because I’ve been trying for a week and a half and still haven’t heard a goddamn word from her. I don’t know if she’s in on it or not. And there were two other guys with Goodman when he attacked Kate, Clark Jenson and Matthias Lynch—they witnessed the whole thing. If we can get them to talk, we might be able to do something for a criminal case. But with all the evidence disappearing, there’s not much I can do to bring it to trial.”

“So you need evidence and you need witnesses.”

“Yeah.” Darcy blows her bangs out of her face. “I think they’ll be scrambling a little after seeing us today, which is good, because then we can watch what we do and start cherry-picking what we need, but—where are you going?”

“To get some answers.” He looks down at her, and then holds out his hands. Darcy takes them, and heaves herself to her feet. He steps back before she can do something stupid, like touch him. “I’ll call you when I have something.”

“Wait.” It’s with a sense of extreme déjà vu that Darcy watches him turn on the balls of his feet, glancing at her over his shoulder. “I can’t just—I can’t just keep calling you devil, in my head. And if someone finds the phone, you know, initials are kind of sketchy. I guess—what do I call you?”

The devil thinks for a long time. “Mike,” he says. “You can call me Mike.”

“Mike,” Darcy repeats, and nods. “Okay. Mike.” And Claire, she adds, silently, thinking of her burner phone buzzing on her bedside table. Mike and Claire. But that’s a secret, for now. “Don’t—I need them alive.” She bares her teeth. “Up to you whether or not you want their faces in good shape, though.”

The devil—Mike—nods once, and steps off her fire escape into the dark. Darcy watches the moon for a long, long time before she crawls back through her window, around Darla, and into bed.

.

.

.

5:21 AM
Heard. You need anything?

5:22 AM
Other than a hell of a lot of whiskey and a new place to live? Not really.

5:23 AM
One of those I have in good supply. The other I might be able to manage.

5:23 AM
The good supply is the whiskey, by the way. I have a friend who lives over a liquor store. It’s kind of awesome.

5:28 AM
Seriously, I don’t have the energy to dance around shit right now. What do you want?

5:34 AM
Look

5:34 AM
I’m not a superhero, or a vigilante, or anybody important, really

5:34 AM
But at the same time that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try to do something when shit like this happens

5:35 AM
This is coming out all garbled because it’s dawn and I haven’t slept yet

5:35 AM
Well, for more than an hour anyway, but

5:35 AM
You need help, and I might be able to give it

5:35 AM
I would understand if you don’t trust me and if you don’t believe me, but I have no motive other than that

5:36 AM
And today has just been really fucking terrible, in a lot of different ways, and at the end of it I guess I’m just really sick of people being shit on when all they’ve tried to do is the right thing

5:37 AM
That’s all.

5:45 AM
Claire?

.

.

.

The phone rings.

“Hello?”

“It had better be good whiskey,” says Claire. Her voice is husky in a way that sounds more natural than anything. Still, it cracks on the last word, like she’s holding back tears. “Because the guy I’m staying with only has some really superbly shitty beer, and I need to get wasted.”

In spite of herself, Darcy laughs. To her horror, it comes out more like sobs.

.

.

.

The phone rings.

“Hello?”

“I’m sorry for calling you at such a time, sir. I know that it’s late.”

“There’s no need to apologize. I asked that you call when you have more information, and you have. Besides, I find myself—unable to sleep, tonight.”

“I appreciate your understanding. Still, I should have waited until tomorrow.”

“What have you found?”

“It seems that I’ve made a tactical error in judging Nelson, Murdock, and Lewis to be a firm easily manipulated. Nelson seems to be remaining harmless, content to keep his nose clean, and Murdock—he’s aggressive, unfortunately, but there’s little else you can expect for a blind man with a grudge against the seeing world. The woman, though—the woman troubles me.”

“How so?”

“I’ve told you that she’s been pursuing a case against Richard Goodman, which, to be frank, I have no problem with. The man is grotesque, and ought to be eliminated. If Darcy Lewis had been content with taking him out, we would have been able to continue with the plan without much more than a stumble. It seems, however, that she’s been—poking her nose into matters better left alone.”

Silence for a moment. “Clarify.”

“Among other things? She’s been asking after O’Reilly’s transfer to the 34th Precinct. I told you that she encountered our friend Mr. Nobu during the course of the legal meeting this morning?”

“You said there was nothing to worry about.”

“And at first I didn’t think there was, but upon reviewing the surveillance footage of the incident, it seems that Lewis…reacted to his presence in a way that cannot be merely explained by confusion. Her eyes widened, her posture changed. It’s possible that she may know more about the background of Goodman-Okamura than previously anticipated.”

“…I see. Can she be removed?”

“She indicated that she would be visiting a reporter from the Bulletin later that day. My sources haven’t yet confirmed whether or not the meeting took place, but it would be inadvisable to take her out so conspicuously, especially since she seems to have forged some sort of bond with Katherine Bishop.”

“It was terrible, what happened to Miss Bishop. The Goodmans are becoming less of a necessary evil and more of a stain upon the character of the organization. It’s unfortunate that they have linked themselves so firmly to Nobu’s fortunes and ventures in the city.”

“I’ll look into it, sir.”

“I would appreciate that. What about Darcy Lewis?”

“I’m investigating her further. I should hopefully have a handful of proposals on how to deal with her by late this afternoon.”

“Thank you, Wesley. And the Russian?”

“His body has been placed. It’s only a matter of time until it’s found. Is there anything else I can do for you tonight, sir?”

“No. But thank you. I’ll speak to you in the morning.”

“You are very much welcome, sir. Have a good night.”

“You, too.”

Chapter Text

The hospital calls her just as she’s heading out to the office the next morning. Darcy hasn’t slept; she’d spent the dawn curled up on the fire escape and talking with Claire (“Claire Temple,” Claire tells her sleepily, because by the time it had hit seven o’clock her voice had started to slur with exhaustion. “Don’t tell him I told you.”) so she’s nursing her fourth coffee in three hours and hating the way her head is pounding. She can’t be blamed for treating the nurse like Satan coming for her soul.

“Look, lady,” she snaps, whacking the office door open with her hip and dumping her shit on Karen’s empty desk. “I get that it’s a lot of money, to, you know, stitch my arm up while I was wounded in the defense of truth, justice, and the American way, but I don’t have health insurance. I have told you this like…five million times already.”

“Your sister doesn’t have health insurance?”

“I’ve been an emancipated minor since I was sixteen and never needed it, so no, I’m not on her insurance.” Matt pokes his head out of their shared office, eyebrows lifting behind his round hipster glasses. She knocks her knuckles twice against Karen’s desk to let him know she’s seen him, and then adds, “And no, I do not have twenty-five hundred dollars just lying around. Seriously, you said something about a payment plan earlier, can you just—email me the details or something? I’m at work.”

“Of course, Miss Lewis,” says the nurse, in the sort of voice that actually means stick your head up your own ass and die. Darcy’s worked in food service. She knows these things. “What address should I use?”

Darcy makes an obscene gesture at the air. “The one I gave you earlier, the banana phone one. That is in my file. Like my phone number is.”

“Right,” says the nurse, and then hangs up on her. Darcy screeches between clenched teeth, kicks the desk, and then drops down hard into Karen’s chair, pinching the bridge of her nose. Matt emerges from the office, looking scruffy and uncomfortable.

“You okay?”

“I hate hospitals.” Darcy rests her cheek against the desk, and looks at him. “Matt, I hate hospitals. So much. Why did Goodman have to hire guys to beat me up? Why couldn’t he have just sent a strongly worded letter? Dear Darcy, please drop the case with Kate Bishop or we will have to give you a bad paper cut. You will suffer. It will be glorious.

He smirks at her a little. “Be sure to let them know, the next time you stick your nose into a rapist’s business.”

“You suck.” She flips him off. “I’m flipping you off.”

“Thought you might be.” Matt leans against the edge of Karen’s desk, and Darcy rolls the chair over until she can set her forehead against his knee. He jumps a little, and then drops a hand to her hair, resting it lightly against the back of her head, as if he’s scared to. “You know,” he says, after Darcy lets out a heavy sigh and squeezes her eyes shut, “if you need help with the bill, you can say so. The firm might not have a lot right now, but I could spot you until you figure out a way to get the cash. It’s not a bad thing.”

“It’s like…” Darcy huffs. “I can pay it, eventually. I just need a plan. I can’t do it all at once. Thanks for the offer, though. I’ll keep it in mind, okay?”

“Yeah.”

His pants are creasing against her cheek. Darcy lifts her head, and tucks her hair behind her ears. “You’re here early. Bad night?”

“Didn’t sleep much.” His bruises finally look better, though. Darcy heaves herself up out of Karen’s chair, and collects her travel cup. “What about you?”

“I had like…hella nightmares, for some reason.” For some reason, she says. Like you don’t know exactly why you were having nightmares. “I’m fine, though. I’ll just crash in the afternoon or something, when all of our clients miraculously melt into the ether.”

“Sounds good to me.”

“Oh, hey.” Matt tips his head at her. “Did you ever find out anything about the guy that hired us to defend John Healy? You know, before he slipped in an alley and brained himself. Psycho Glasses Killer.”

“Not really.” Matt shrugs. “He never gave a name, and, I mean. I don’t even really know what he looks like. Foggy looked into it a little, I think, but never found anything. Why?”

“He cropped up again.” She scoots by him and into their shared office, where her whiteboard of glory awaits. Matt trails after her like a puppy, hands in his pockets, the top two buttons of his shirt undone for once. “He was in the meeting I had with the Goodmans yesterday, with Kate. I think he’s representing them or something.”

“If he was an attorney he wouldn’t have had to hire us for Healy, he could have just represented him himself.”

“But think of the awesome speeches you guys made! He never would have topped those.” Out comes her lanyard, covered with all of her keys and keychains and the thumb drive she never lets out of her sight. Darcy sets Fred the iPod in his place of honor on the keyboard (she needs to replace him, but she’s too attached to let go), and then sighs. “I don’t know. He didn’t introduce himself, but. I mean. He knows Goodman, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find out his name, if I try. He just…gives me a weird feeling, I guess. He’s kinda the type to keep the bodies of his victims in the freezer to later carve up and consume at his leisure.” She drops her travel mug. “Shit, fuck—no, not my papers—”

Matt collects napkins from the top of his desk (probably from his Thai place obsession) and offers them in her general direction. Darcy pats at the coffee spill, and wants to cry when she sees how her nice new notebook is now all brown and wet and gross. “Karen bought equipment for the office, we can probably print new stuff. If it stops making weird noises, anyway.”

“She bought aliens, not office supplies.” So much for her paper notes. It’s a good thing Darcy transcribes everything into her computer. She dumps it all in the trash. “I’m glad she was there yesterday, when the meeting with the Goodmans ended. I’m pretty sure it would have been way worse if she hadn’t been there. You know, with Kate.”

“She said it was pretty bad,” Matt says carefully. “With Kate.”

Darcy gives him a shrewd look. “So she lectured you about my choices too, huh?”

“I don’t know if you’d call it a lecture. More of a rant.” He runs a hand over his jaw. “Actually, the best way to describe it would be ‘extended snarling.’”

“So if Hurricane Foggy is a ten, Karen grumbling would be—?”

“Four. Possibly a six, if dropping the box of spare photocopier parts was intentional. I don’t think it was, though.”

Darcy swears under her breath. 

“We would have come with you.” Matt leans against the front of his desk, arms crossed over his chest. “If you’d asked. You didn’t have to go alone.”

“I wasn’t alone. Kate was there.”

“Kate’s a client, Darcy. It’s your job to protect her, not the other way around.”

She opens her mouth to argue, and then closes it again, because technically, he’s right.

“Granted, I probably would have done the same thing,” he adds. “But according to Foggy, I’m not the best role model in the world.”

“Foggy’s just jealous he doesn’t get to use that pouty face on unsuspecting old ladies.”

Matt smiles a little, and takes a sip of his coffee.

“I don’t know, though.” There’s only two gulps of coffee left in her travel mug, now. She finishes it off, and then sets it to the side so she doesn’t spill coffee three times in a twenty-four hour period. Even dregs are suspect at this point. “The guy with the glasses seemed super interested in the firm, so it’s probably a good thing you guys weren’t there. Now all three of us are on his radar, but if you or Foggy or Karen had come along it would have been, like, doubled on you guys. I dunno. At least this way it was just, you know. Me.”

 “I’m about eighty percent sure that radar doesn’t actually work that way.”

“Oh, bite me, Murdock.” She gives her notebook up for a lost cause, and dumps it in the trash, too. Back to the dollar store for her. “I don’t like how we keep running into this guy. It’s like he’s watching us, or something. It’s creepy.”

Matt makes another thoughtful noise. Darcy sighs, and then crosses the space between their desks (maybe three steps, because this room is fucking tiny) to boost herself up into the space between his braille reader and his modified laptop. She knocks her knee against his elbow. Matt nudges her back.

“At least the room smells like coffee, now, instead of nicotine. This is a plus.”

“Darcy.” She cocks her head at him, and then touches his elbow again to let him know she’s listening. “Promise you won’t meet with the Goodmans again without one of us coming with you.”

“I’m not taking Karen into a room with that guy.” She’s been very careful not to mention to anyone how almost all of Robbie Goodman’s female employees are tall, leggy blondes. Karen would be a very bad addition to this mix.

“No, not Karen. Psycho Glasses Killer—” his lips twitch, seemingly in spite of themselves “—singled her out the last time he was here. If he has anything to do with Union Allied—” Darcy makes a disbelieving noise “—I’m not saying he does, just that if he is, then Karen needs to be kept out of the way.”

Karen won’t like that. Darcy grunts noncommittally, and decides to talk about it with her when neither Matt nor Foggy are in the room to interfere. “Well, I’m not taking Foggy, because he’ll freak out. He doesn’t do well with big offices and skyscraper views. I think it’s because he’s afraid of heights.” Darcy knocks his elbow a third time. “Which leaves you, punky. Tell me that’s not what you were planning in the first place.”

“Hey.” Matt spreads his hands, as if to say, Who, me? “What would I be able to do? I’m harmless.”

“See, you say that, but you forget that I was reigning champion of the Nelson-Lewis Tickle Wars until you invaded from the east and destroyed all our armies. It was very sad. A total massacre.” She sniffs. In the main part of the office, she hears the door open and close, and the click of Foggy’s shoes against the floor. “They put up memorials and everything. You missed all the ceremonies.”

Matt grins at her. “I mean, I wasn’t going to bring it up, but—”

She shoves him in the shoulder, and he rocks back into her hands, still smiling.“Smug asshole.”

“What did Matt do now?” asks Foggy, sticking his head through their open door. “Did he breathe again? You should tell him not to breathe. He exhales misplaced superiority.”

“Well, you’re in a good mood.” Matt scoots until his ribs are flush against her leg, turning his face towards Foggy. She’s not sure if he’s doing it because of his natural Matt-ness (inability to breathe without flirting) or his need for hugs (starting to rival Queen Elsa of Arendelle’s at this point), but she presses her thigh against his side, tipping her head a little so that her hair dangles over his shoulder. “Why so pleased?”

“Uh, other than the fact that it’s a beautiful day, I work with some of my favorite people in the world, and the office now smells like coffee instead of cigarettes?” Foggy looks almost in raptures. “Karen bought a fax machine. I am still on the fax machine high.”

Darcy laughs. “You stay on that high, Foggy. That sounds like a good high.”

“You two look cozy.” Foggy waggles his eyebrows, and Darcy throws a paperclip at him. “I’m waggling my eyebrows, Matt. But yeah. What’s with the happy-sad faces so early in the morning?”

“Other than a very long, very difficult day yesterday? I didn’t sleep last night.” Darcy frowns. “Speaking of—Matt, what kept you up until all hours? Don’t tell me it was insomnia again, I caught you sleeping at your desk, like, two days ago.”

“I dunno. I just couldn’t sleep.”

“You,” says Foggy, “are a lying liar who lies. That bastard—” he points at Matt, as if it’s not obvious “—has a second phone for all his ladies. One of them called him yesterday. He has a booty phone.

Darcy’s not entirely certain if she should laugh or cry, so she punches Matt in the shoulder instead. “Ow,” says Matt. “That was unnecessary.”

“You have a booty phone and you didn’t tell me, you rat. That was totally necessary.” She swings her legs. “So, last night. Deets. Was it the violent paralegal?”

Matt rolls his eyes behind his glasses, and steps away from her. At the door, Foggy grins. “Ooh, wait, no, it could be that Greek girl, Elphaba-something.”

“Elektra,” Darcy corrects. “Or, oh, it could be—wait, what was that goth girl’s name, the one that wrote her name on him in sharpie and thought he wouldn’t notice—”

Francesca,” says Foggy with unholy glee. “Matt, tell us the truth. Did you get a booty call from Francesca last night?”

“I’m not listening to any of this,” says Matt, and wades through a sea of ignominy to disappear into the staff room. They follow him, because Darcy has yet to let an opportunity for mocking Matt Murdock pass her by, and because Foggy, as usual, is the one who started it.

“What about Martine?” Darcy says, and Matt’s shoulders hitch up near his ears. “Ooh, or Annabeth? That bitch still owes me a watch for the one she stole.”

Karen, who’s just nudging her way through the door, blinks. She looks from Matt, who’s standing with shoulders hunched over the coffee press, to Foggy, whose shit-eating grin is a mile wide, to Darcy. Darcy beams at her.

“Karen! Perfect timing. We’re talking about Matt’s love life. How many girls’ names do you know?”

“I helped my cousin name her baby. I think I still remember most of the options. Why?”

“Because I guarantee you I can come up with a story for every name on your list. Foggy, who was that girl in the econ class, the one who hit you up for weed because you had long hair?”

“Oh, Jesus. Stephanie Bartlett? That girl was a wreck. Nice boobs, though, which I’m pretty sure was like, ninety percent of the appeal—”

“Oh, it totally was, her boobs were amazing, and I have really high standards, you know this—Jesus, do you remember Cassandra? The one with the nose ring?”

“And the shoplifting problem that nearly had me arrested?”

Darcy chokes. “Holy shit, I forgot about that—”

Karen’s giggling. “What did she do?”

“She snuck a bunch of stuff into Foggy’s backpack and when the security guards caught her she flipped out and said Foggy had paid her to do it. And then—” Darcy strikes a pose “—when the guards went to talk to Foggy she fucking bolted. She nearly knocked me over, she ran by so fast.”

“Oh my god, are you serious?” Karen bites her lower lip, smiling wide. “Where is she now? Did she get caught? Is she in jail?”

“Look at it this way,” says Foggy. “When we say that Matt has a bad history with women, we mean it.”

“Hilarious,” says Matt sourly, and but his lips are twitching. “You guys aren’t any better.”

“Hey, I only dated one asshole, not a million of them.” Darcy glances at Foggy. “Though to be fair, Foggy-bear here has some good stories too—”

“Uh-uh.” Foggy makes a cross with his fingers. “We don’t talk about that at work.”

“Foggy-bear,” Karen whispers. Her shoulders are shuddering. “Foggy-bear.

“Oh, so my love life’s free game, but yours isn’t?” Matt snorts. “Hypocrite.”

“That’s because your love life is hilarious, and mine is just pathetic. You’re like a sexual Rain Man, it’s actually super terrifying.”

“I’m going to go into my office now,” says Matt. “Because I am an adult, and I am going to go and do my job. As an adult.”

“Meaning his booty phone needs organizing,” says Darcy in a loud whisper, and Karen loses it. She laughs until she turns pink, full-on giggle-snorts that are too fucking adorable to actually exist, and so Darcy starts laughing too. Within seconds, they’re all puddles of laughter on the floor, Darcy and Foggy and Karen, and through the open door to their office she can see Matt laughing too.

These are my friends, she thinks, and she hooks one arm around Foggy’s neck, the other around Karen’s shoulders, squishing them close to her. Goodman thinks he’s going to touch them? He’s dead wrong.

The gun in her purse lingers like a viper in the back of her mind.

.

.

.

Elena Cardenas is the take-no-nonsense, leave-no-prisoners type of lady that would have fit in well in Darcy’s Babushka’s quilting club. Babushka, Darcy thinks, had absolutely no patience for fools, and judging by the amount of steel in Mrs. Cardenas’ spine, Elena doesn’t either. She’s lost and crying and furious, and she can see the exact moment Matt’s hero complex trips him up and into accepting the case.

Not that Darcy wasn’t going to, if Matt and Foggy said no—they’re partners, but they’d agreed right at the very beginning that cases could be taken on individually as well as firm-wide—but at the same time she still bites her tongue and sighs a little in the back of her throat.

“Don’t you even look at me right now,” she says to Foggy, as soon as the conference room door shuts behind Karen and Mrs. Cardenas, the soft whirl of Spanish fading behind the glass. “I’m not going to be your bodyguard.”

“But you’re scarier than me. It’d be awesome. Your piercings would make them shit their pants.”

“No, Foggy.”

“Darce.” Foggy’s using puppy eyes. Jesus, Nelson. Who do you think you learned that look from? Not working on me, buddy. “Come on. They’re gonna eat me. Seriously, look at my deliciousness. Landman and Zack is going to eat me alive.”

“You ditched them like six months ago. They can’t possibly remember you well enough to want to eat your flesh and consume your soul.”

Karen, returning from escort duty, stops dead in the doorway. Then she visibly steels herself, and shuts the door behind her. “I’m not even going to ask.”

“Better that you don’t,” Matt says under his breath, and then winces. She’s pretty sure Foggy just kicked him under the table.

“Darcy, seriously. L and Z hold grudges like you’ve never seen. Don’t laugh, it’s not funny. I am legit scared they’re going to drop me in the piranha pit if I cross into their territory.”

“They have a piranha pit?” Darcy asks, and Foggy gives her that look he stole from Jen, the don’t be an asshole, you think it’s cute but it’s not look. Darcy blows him a kiss.

“I’ll go,” says Karen. “I’ve never seen a piranha feeding frenzy before. It’ll be fun.”

Foggy’s ears turn pink. “Laugh it up, fuzzball, you’d miss me if I was dead. You’d no longer have an object at which to cast looks of longing.”

Karen snorts. “Yeah, sure, Foggy. Lemme just go get my stuff.”

Darcy waits until she’s vanished into the staff room before elbowing Foggy in the ribs. “You just called her Chewbacca. Well done.”

“What?” Foggy blinks at her. “Why wouldn’t Chewbacca be a compliment? Chewbacca’s badass.” 

Darcy rolls her eyes. “Matt, mind if I tag along to the precinct? I need to nag Brett about something.”

“Knock yourself out.”

“Awesomesauce.”

Foggy presses a hand to his chest. “Shot through the heart, Lewis. You’re ditching me for a Catholic?”

“Sorry, Foggy-bear, but our love can never be. We discovered this at an unfortunate party in undergrad where you tried to do a tequila shot out of my belly button and ended up biting me.”

Matt swallows his coffee wrong, and gags.

The waiting room in the 15th Precinct smells like cigarette smoke and unwashed hair, most likely because of the gaggle of bikers hanging out in the corner, muttering to themselves in a mix of hick and white trash slang. One of them whistles at her, and Darcy flips him the bird before hooking her arm through Matt’s again. Brett gives them a long, level look, and then says, “My entire house smells like a stogie, Murdock. It’s not appreciated.”

Matt shrugs. “I told Foggy not to do it, if it helps.”

“I didn’t,” Darcy says. “I fully encouraged him in the acquisition of said stogies.”

Brett’s eyes drop to her fingernails (she’s painted them black today, in honor of Mike the Devil) and then flick back up to her face. They’d never been able to get along very well, even before the sudden flare of vodka-induced horniness had descended into a three week period of sex-filled insanity. Still, despite his depressing tendency to act as if he has any right to tell her what to do, Brett is good people about 85% of the time. His odd, aggressively anti-climactic friendship with Foggy is proof enough of that.

Brett heaves a breath. “Why does this not surprise me?”

Darcy gives him a wide smile. “Because I love your mother so very, very much?”

“That explains some things.” Brett tucks his pen behind his ear, and folds his hands on the countertop. “Still. She’d be getting them anyway. At least this way I know I won’t be having to book my own mother for purchasing illegal cigars on the street. What can I do for you, Murdock? Lewis?” he adds after a moment, after Darcy flutters her eyelashes at him.

 “Armand Tully.” Matt cocks his head. “What can you tell us about him?”

“What, the developer?” Brett whistles through his teeth. “You do go for broke, the three of you. Union Allied, then, what, this Bishop case Sergeant Oslo won’t get off my back about, and now this?”

“Go big or go home,” says Darcy, but her heart’s jumped up into her throat. “Sergeant Oslo’s been nagging you?”

“Yeah.” Brett gives her half a glance. “Says that some nosey lawyer won’t stop bugging him about one of his new transfers?”

“More like a buxomly gorgeous, highly intelligent, and extremely dedicated attorney is attempting to get into contact with a possible witness and Sergeant Sexist Asshat won’t cooperate.”

“Sounds like Oslo.” Brett clicks his tongue against his teeth. “You have a case?’

“If I get ahold of Brigid O’Reilly then you bet your ass I have a case.”

“I’ll look into it.” He looks back to Matt. “Tully?”

Behind them, the front door to the precinct slams. Darcy glances over her shoulder just in time to see Detectives Blake and Hoffman, clearing coming in from a cigarette break, meandering their way over to the “employees only” door behind the counter. Blake gives her a lingering top-to-toe look, and drops her a huge, gross wink before they vanish into the precinct proper. Darcy suddenly has the urge to take a bath in acid.

Her phone buzzes, and not with one of her customized ringtones, either. Darcy glances up at Matt and Brett through her hair—too involved with Tully-talk to pay attention—and slinks away to answer the burner, plugging her other ear with one of Fred’s music dispensers. “Well, hey there, lady. I thought you’d be asleep for like…days.”

“I’m bored.” A cabinet slams on Claire’s end. At least, she assumes it’s a cabinet. “You’d better be serious about that whiskey, because I can only find some really bad German lager and I think my taste-buds are shriveling just looking at it.”

Darcy snorts. “I’d offer to help, but, y’know, I’m actually at work. And not hiding from mobsters.”

“Damn. Foiled.” A fridge closes, this time. Claire’s quiet for a moment. “I didn’t mean to bug you. I guess—it’s weird, y’know? It’s just been a weird few days.”

“I hear that. How’s your head? Did you take that Ibuprofen?”

“Ibuprofen doesn’t do much for fractured ribs, and apparently—” she sounds disgruntled “—I have one of those. According to Edward X-Ray Hands.”

“Ugh, tell me about it. Fucking pain meds don’t do shit for ribs.” Darcy closes her eyes against the answering bite of pain underneath her shirt. “Wait. Does that mean Mike can see through my clothes? That’s just dirty. I feel like this should be a plotline for a really bad porno.”

Claire pauses. “Mike?”

“Hm? That’s the name he told me to use. But seriously, X-Ray Hands?”

“That’s…probably more something you should talk to him about, rather than me.” She clears her throat. “But yeah. Sorry. I didn’t—I know you work.”

“Honey, please.” Matt and Brett are still hamming it up, and the cat-calling yodelers in Duck Dynasty’s White Trash Band have filtered out into the world at large. Darcy drops down into one of the least smelly chairs, and crosses her legs at the knee. “You needing someone to talk to after having the shit kicked out of you and—you know, everything else—is not something that’s gonna bother me. Even in the middle of the work day.”

Claire laughs. “Makes you better than my mother. I think if I called her in the middle of the work day she’d flay me alive.”

“Awww, I’m better than your mom. You know how to compliment a lady.” The banana phone goes off. Darcy digs through her purse again, swearing under her breath. “But yeah. I’d bring you booze, but, y’know. Secret hideaway. Hush-hush. I think he’d be mad.”

Him,” says Claire. “It sounds like we’re in middle school. Don’t say his name, ohmigod, he might know.”

“God, middle school.” It’s a text from Foggy. MARCI SIGHTING. BURY ME AT DOVER. “But yeah. Sorry.  The whiskey plots are a bust.”

“Foiled again.”

“We would have gotten away with it, too, if not for those meddling kids.”

“Darcy,” says Matt, turning towards her voice, and Darcy swears under her breath again. On the other end, Claire makes an inquiring noise.

“Sorry, have to go. Persevere. There might be some Jackie D in the back of one of the cabinets.”

“There better be, or I’m going to cry in the corner all day.” Claire hangs up without a goodbye, which is probably for the best because Darcy’s never been good with goodbyes. She leans forward in her chair, and tugs at Matt’s hand until he’s found his way onto the bench next to her.

“Who was that?”

“Hm?” Another text comes in, this time from Karen. (So, apparently Foggy’s ex-girlfriend runs the piranha pit.) “What’s up with your face? You look like someone took a shit in your cornflakes.”

Matt shifts abruptly from angry-and-pretending-not-to-be to hurt-and-not-sure-why and then finally to frustrated-but-ignoring-it. “What do you mean, what’s up with my face?”

“Nothing. Did Brett have bad news?”

“He’s going to get some files.” Matt folds both hands around his guiding cane. Darcy swypes a text to Foggy (oh my god are you fucking kidding me TELL ALL) and then to Karen (Marci Stahl doesn’t *run* the piranha pit, she *is* the piranha pit) before heaving her bag up into her lap. She needs to stitch a secret pocket for her secret phone for her secret friendship with the secret friend of a vigilante. And also her secret alliance with said vigilante. There are a lot of secrets in her life, suddenly. “You’re chatty. New boyfriend?”

“Not even close.” This time when her phone buzzes, it’s Kate. (Meet @ Mug Shots, 3pm? Urich signed on.) “Just some girl I’ve met through work. She’s cool.” Darcy grins at him. “We gon’ drank.”

The corners of his mouth lift into an odd little smile. Darcy looks down at her phone again, and then swears. “Okay, so you know how I said I’d help with all the files?”

“Kate?”

“Kate. I have to beg out at two.”

“How dare you,” says Matt lazily, and leans forward to rest his elbows against his knees. “How on earth will I survive without you? I might walk into the street.”

“Not to mention that the files that we’re getting are going to be very much requiring a seeing person?”

Matt snorts. “Yeah, that.”

Darcy clucks her tongue. “I honestly don’t know how any of you survive without me. It’s a mystery. Foggy would forget to shower, Karen would forget to breathe, and you’d forget to eat.”

Matt points at himself, then at her. “Pot. Kettle.” Then he points in a random direction, unfortunately at a woman who looks like a hooker coming in for a probation officer meeting. “Broiler.”

The hooker bristles.

Lo siento,” says Darcy. “Mi amigo es un idiota. Foggy’s a broiler?”

“I was going for me being the broiler, but okay, yeah, Foggy can be the broiler.”

“Why is Foggy a broiler?”

“First thing I could come up with.” His voice still sounds odd, for some reason, like he’s holding himself back from saying something important. Darcy presses one of her earbuds into his hand, and turns on her police station mix, the one with a lot of screaming and angry noises from early 2000s alternative bands. Matt closes his eyes behind his glasses, holding onto his cane with both hands, and they lapse into a comfortable silence.

She feels Matt’s shoulder tense against hers in the moment before a sharp sound cracks through the precinct, and the world goes to shit.

.

.

.

It takes another hour and a half to get out of the insanity that the 15th becomes, because somehow in spite of the fact of them both being attorneys, and Brett knowing that they’re both attorneys, and the fact that the guy who was shot (Russian mobster in an interrogation room with, of all people, Blake and Hoffman) had been seen or heard by exactly neither of them, both Darcy and Matt have to be interviewed about everything before they get to walk out the front doors again. Matt still wavers on his feet from his fall, as if he’s dizzy, and Darcy makes certain he’s in a cab back to the offices before she catches one of her own for Mug Shots. She’s more than halfway there when Kate calls in a dither to say that she’ll be a few minutes late because of her professor dropping a group project meeting on her head at the absolute last second, and so Darcy resigns herself to an hour or so of awkward conversation with a reporter she’s never met while worrying about hospital bills she can’t pay and hoping that Matt won’t fall and break his head open again.

According to his employment summary online, Ben Urich is an older black man with salt-and-pepper hair and smile lines around his eyes. In reality, Ben Urich is a spry-looking guy in his late fifties, maybe early sixties, with a sharp downward curve to his mouth and a gaze like freshly-sharpened tacks. She likes the way he shakes her hand—firm double-pump, no nonsense—and the way that his gaze never once dips below her chin, even though she’s wearing one of her too-tight Doctor Who T-shirts underneath her jacket. “Good to meet you, Mr. Urich,” Darcy says, and gives him an actual smile. “Thanks for meeting up with us on such short notice.”

“Kate told me a little about you.” Ben Urich nods, as if she’s gained a seal of approval. “Good kid, Kate. Terrible what happened to her.”

“That’s why we’re here.” Darcy takes the chair opposite his. He picked a good spot—out of the way of the main windows, not immediately visible from the front door. If anybody is watching them (doubtful, but whatever) they won’t be easily found back here. She wonders if Kate talked to him, or if he just picked it by instinct.  “You want a coffee? They have good Columbian roast here.”

“Already ordered.”

“What about scones? They make an awesome scone platter, too, and we have a little time before Kate gets here. School stuff, apparently.” She gives him a considering look. “I lay claim to all lavender scones on this table, though. Just FYI.”

His lips twitch. “Well, in that case.”

“Awesome. Orange peel scones? You look like an orange peel kinda guy. I’mma leave my stuff here while I order, okay?”

“In the hands of a journalist?” He lifts his eyebrows at her. “Trusting.”

“Hey, think of it this way—if anything goes missing, I’ll know who to hunt down and destroy.”

She’s already spent her cab ride here Googling as much as she can about Ben Urich, so instead she uses her wait in line to text Oppie about the possibility of her needing a house sitter. (Oppie’s family is old money, and they have to have six or seven or twelve summer houses across the world; Darcy knows for a fact that at least two of them are just a few hours upstate, and most of them are barely used at all. If Claire could go anywhere and not be found, it’d be there.) Oppie won’t respond to her until after five—it’s her one hard-and-fast rule about work, which is no cell phones until it’s over—but at least it’s done, and if Claire does decide to take Darcy up on it, Darcy’ll have an answer for her sooner rather than later. Karen pings her to let her know that Matt’s dropped off the files and wandered away somewhere, supposedly on a reconnaissance mission, though what he could possibly have to reconnoiter she has no idea.

By the time she’s collected her coffee and her plate of scones (four lavender, two orange peel, two cinnamon-clove because Kate has a thing for spices) and returned to the table, Urich has set himself up in style. An old-fashioned hand-held tape recorder is sitting in the middle of the table, in front of a battered laptop that has to be a good five years old. He also has a notebook open next to him, full of scribblings and stained at the edge with coffee. His eyes get a little big at the sight of her heaping plate of scones, but Darcy shrugs.

“Hospital’s giving me a huge bill for a quick stitch job.” She gives him a saucer she’d borrowed from the return counter, and then offers the plate. “I figured I might as well splurge on sweet, sweet foodstuffs before I have to cut them out of my diet for, like, eternity.”

“Which hospital?”

“Metro-General.” Darcy licks crumbs off her fingers. “Can’t blame ‘em, really. Bureaucracy’s a bitch and I don’t have insurance, so, y’know, they have to take what they can get.”

His eyebrows crease. “I’m sorry.”

“Not your fault, Mr. Urich. I’ll figure something out. It’ll just mean no scones and probably very little expensive coffee for a long time, that’s all.” Darcy yanks her laptop from her bag, along with her lanyard, and sets them both up on the table. Now that her notebook’s hit the dust, her laptop is all she has, notes-wise. “Okay, um, one thing. It’s Kate’s interview, so, y’know. I’m only here for moral support and legal advice. But I do have one rule, which I need you to hear, because it’s incredibly important.”

Ben Urich peers at her from over the top of his computer, and then folds his hands together, and stares. He has a very piercing stare. Darcy has to force herself to keep eye contact. “I know a reporter’s job is to question everything, and I know that if/when you publish the article it has to be filled with allegedly and according to and no comment, but do me a favor? Don’t ask her if she imagined it, or if she misunderstood something, or what she was drinking or what she was wearing. It won’t help either of you, and if I think she’s being made uncomfortable in any way, I reserve the right to hit the brakes.”

Ben’s eyes narrow slightly. “I’m not about to treat her with kid gloves just because she’s a victim.”

“That’s not the point. The point is that she is a victim, so don’t you dare act like it’s her fault. Questions, yes. Blaming, no. Otherwise, the Bulletin will turn into another Rolling Stone UVA scandal with Ben Urich at the helm.” She flashes her finger guns. “Sha-zam.”

Urich stares at her for a long time. “You’re very protective, for an attorney.”

“We take the hands-on approach at Nelson, Murdock, and Lewis.” She eyes him, and then takes a sip of her coffee. “I don’t think we’ll have a problem, though.”

“Oh?” He settles his scone on the saucer, not taking his eyes off her. “Why do you say that?”

“I’ve heard good things from a mutual acquaintance.” The door to Mug Shots opens, and here comes Kate, slinky and deadly-looking in dark sunglasses and jeggings. Darcy waves at her, and she nods once before turning to Barista Bob and starting an argument about the hazelnut creamer. “Besides, you called her a victim earlier, which scored you serious points. Keep it up, Urich, we might keep you on retainer.”

Ben coughs, lips twitching, and begins to dissect his scone.  

The interview lasts only a little more than an hour, and though Kate does get bristly at one point, it’s more about the notion that Ben is getting sidelined at his own paper rather than because of anything Ben asks her, so Darcy counts it as a win. They escort Kate out to a cab together, and she’s actually smiling a little as she crawls into the taxi. For the first time since hearing the story about Kate’s rape, Darcy feels like they might actually have a chance at winning this case. Public opinion is everything, she thinks, watching the cab pull out into traffic. Without it, we’re screwed. And as gruff as Ben is, he seems to genuinely like Kate. The fact that he’s here at all says a lot about the sort of person he is.

It’s not a won suit in the bag, but it’s a good thing all the same. Darcy will take it.

“Miss Lewis.” Darcy blinks, and turns. Ben heaves his bag higher up on his shoulder, his eyes needle-sharp behind his glasses. “You said earlier that you’d heard about me through a mutual acquaintance. Who?”

“Hm?” Darcy cocks her head, hooking her headphones around the back of her neck. “I don’t know if you ever met her, actually. A few weeks ago my firm took on Karen Page’s case. We all read your article on Union Allied. You seemed like a straight shooter, no bullshit, no agendas, which is what we need for this. Then Kate said she knew you, and I guess it kind of snowballed from there. Why?”

Something shifts in his face. Ben shakes his head. “Nothing. Doesn’t matter.”

Well, that answers the question of who Karen’s been meeting up with, at least. Karen, what do you think you’re doing?

“About your story.” Darcy snaps to attention. Thankfully, Ben doesn’t seem to have noticed her drifting. “Obviously, it won’t be published until I have a little more background, but it should go up sometime in the next three days. When were you planning on filing?”

“I gave them forty-eight hours yesterday. So, beginning of Friday’s work day.” Darcy kicks an empty Sprite bottle. “Maybe this will get the cops’ collective asses in gear in filing criminal charges. I never wanted to go into the DA’s office, because to be entirely honest I didn’t want to spend half my career babysitting DUIs and drug dealers, but I’ve been cursing Kampfer v. Vonderheide and the Court of Appeals with my every breath the past week or so.”

“That’s a feeling you’re going to have to get used to, if you want to survive.” Ben checks his watch. “I need to go check in with my editor and let him know that he has a story that straddles the metro and society pages. He might just cry.”

“And I’m hearing absolutely no bitterness there, Mr. Urich.”

He makes a face. “Ben’s fine. I’ll email you both a copy of the article once it’s written. My cell phone number’s on the card I gave you; if either of you remember anything you want included, have any questions, call me. I’m a night owl.”

“The one who watches the watchmen?” says Darcy, and Ben actually cracks a smile.

“Be safe, Miss Lewis.”

“Darcy,” she corrects, and shakes his hand one last time. Then he slips into his cab. Darcy hitches her bag higher on her shoulder, puts in one of her earbuds (not the other; she’s not stupid, not anymore) and turns to start her long march back to the apartment.

Jen’s not home, and the aluminum bat is right where she left it, beside the front door. Darla curls around her ankles as Darcy kicks off her shoes and drops her bag onto the kitchen table, stalking from room to room with the bat at the ready. When her search comes up empty, she changes into pajamas and turns on Netflix. She can only ever get her work done in a decent amount of time when she has Arrow on in the background, and her squishy Avengers pajama pants on. She discovered this in law school, and she’s not one to break tradition.

At about eight o’clock, she gets an email from Landman and Zack—hey, figures—to let her know that they’ll be happy to have a meeting at her convenience to discuss the possibility of out-of-court settlement for her client, Miss Bishop. It’s not signed Marci, thank fucking god—Marci has always scared the shit out of her—but it’s still intimidating enough that she has to go down to the bodega and buy more Bailey’s before writing a very polite, very flowery, very go fuck yourselves sort of note to say no, her client won’t be accepting settlement, thank you very much, and if they think that they can trap her that easily then they have another thing coming. Jen gets home at nine, swearing in Greek under her breath, and Darla (lounging on Darcy’s lap in a rare show of affection) promptly abandons her to curl up on Jen’s chest. They’re marathoning Batman Beyond when Darcy’s phone rings.

“Hi ho, hi ho, it’s someone you don’t know; hi ho, hi ho, it’s someone—”

“I h-hate that ring tone.” Jen presses her pillow over her ears. Her voice comes out muffled. “Yrtbp.”

“Untranslatable. Ow, don’t kick me.” She swipes the phone open. “Hello, this is Darcy speaking.”

 “…hi.” The voice on the other end is tinged with a Queens accent, female and growly from cigarette smoke. Darcy mutes Batman Beyond, watching as on the screen Inque melts into the floor and circles around to hit Terry McGinnis in the back. “I’m sorry for calling you so late. My name’s Brigid O’Reilly; I heard from Sergeant Mahoney that you’ve been trying to get in touch with me?”

Holy shit. Brett, you utter darling.

“What?”

Had she said that aloud? “Nothing. Yes, this is Darcy Lewis. Hi. I’m—assuming you haven’t been getting any of my messages, I left a bunch with the sergeant at the 34th.”

“No, I didn’t—I just heard about this an hour ago. I’m so sorry, I don’t know what happened. There have been problems with the phone lines at the station, apparently.”

Yeah, the kind that involve shredded messages and clipped wires. Darcy hits the space bar again, for Jen, and then clambers to her feet. The couple upstairs are arguing again, and Ed next door is hosting his weekly drum session of insanity. Fire escape, then. “No problem. Do you have time right now, or should I call you back in the morning?”

“No, I just came off shift, I’m free for a while.”  

“Gimme a minute.” She grabs a fresh notebook from the pile under her bed, and then heaves her window open. Her phone chimes again. Karen. She declines it. “Okay. Yeah. Um. I wanted to talk to you about Kate Bishop.”

The silence from the other end of the line speaks volumes. Brigid O’Reilly lets out a deep sigh, just loud enough to cause the connection to static out for a second. “I wondered if it might be that.”

“Did you, now.”

“I’m not completely dense. Sudden transfer to a new precinct after my original arrest report mysteriously goes missing? And then apparently all of your missed calls which somehow ended up in the shredder?” It sounds like O’Reilly’s rolling her eyes. “I might not be a detective, but I did put it together that something was up. I assume you’re looking into her case?”

“We’re filing a civil suit, actually.”

“Yes,” says Brigid O’Reilly. “You don’t have to ask. Yes, I will act as a witness, or make a statement, or whatever you need. Yes.”

“That was quick.”

“I’ve been thinking about it.” O’Reilly sighs again. “Look, everyone at the Central Park Precinct has known that D’Angelo’s bad news, for years. There were always rumors, y’know, that he was on the take, but we couldn’t ever confirm it. Most of the old boys—” her voice turns abruptly venomous “—were content to let it lie, because—well, I’m sure you know the culture.”

“Yeah.” And why aren’t you mired in it? “Which is what makes this, y’know, a little confusing for me. I know what cops are like. Hell, the whole world knows what American cops have been like, these past few years.”

“I didn’t turn my back on the Mayor,” says O’Reilly. There’s a flick of a lighter on the other end, and then a rush of air. “Caught a lot of shit for it, but I didn’t. There are times for insubordination and disrespect, same as there’re times for anything, but right now, with this case, with those boys, with everything that’s happening—this isn’t one of those times. I’ve been working in the system for almost two decades, girly-girl, and I know it better than you ever will, peering in from the outside. There are good men and women on the force, same as there are anywhere, but right now they’re outnumbered by the psychos and the asshats and the goddamn vigilantes. So yeah. If you’re asking me to sign on to help weed out the corruption in the organization I’ve devoted fifteen years of my life to, damn fucking straight I’m saying yes. I’ll sign whatever papers you need me to, go to whatever hearings you need, whatever.”

There’s something entrancing about Brigid O’Reilly’s voice, the steady determination of it, the barely-leashed anger. It reminds her, almost, of Mike. “Even meet with a reporter?”

O’Reilly makes a noise like she’s grinding her teeth. “Fine, yes. Even a reporter. Just no asshats.”

“Ben Urich?”

“Better than a punch in the tit,” says O’Reilly, and Darcy laughs.

“I’ll tell him you said that, I think it’ll make him laugh.”

“Fine, whatever. Just—do me a favor, all right?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“Tell the kid I’m sorry,” says O’Reilly. “Kate, I mean. Tell her I’m sorry it had to come to this. It shouldn’t have, but it did, and that’s fucked up, and I’m sorry. Tell her—” she pauses. “Tell her us girls have to stick together. Y’know? Tell her that.”

“I have her cell number,” says Darcy. “You can tell her that yourself.”

“Yer killin’ me, smalls.” O’Reilly blows out air again. “Yeah, fine. Lay it on me. What do we need to do?”

She shoots Ben Urich an email once the fire-escape conference call is done (expect call from B. O’Reilly, 10 AM. She thinks you’re “better than a punch in the tit,” just FYI.) and then clambers back inside to take her place of honor on the end of the couch. Jen sticks her feet in Darcy’s lap—an improvement, definitely, because before the past few days Jen has seemed scared to even touch Darcy, lest she break her further—and lets out a jaw-cracking yawn that has Darla, on Jen’s ribs, mimicking her. “That sounded productive.”

“I think I’m finally getting somewhere, with the Goodmans.” Darcy grabs Jen’s foot and rocks it from side to side, thoughtfully. She’s buzzing with thoughts, now. There’s no way she’s going to get to sleep now. “It’s not, y’know, a conviction or anything—that’s your job—”

Jen jams her heel into Darcy’s lap, but doesn’t deny this.

“—but…I dunno.” Darcy leans over and pets Darla. Sleepy!Darla is the best type of Darla to be petted, because sleepy!Darla doesn’t think about using her teeth. “We’re not putting him away, but we’re giving him an unholy amount of shit. It’s nice.”

Jen gives her a long, considering look. Her eyes are half-closed, as if she’s struggling to stay awake. Darcy pats her ankles, and waits, because when Jen is sleeping (or close to it) she gets more bitey, not less. Finally Jen clears her throat, and tips so she’s lying flat on her back instead of mostly on her side. “Is th-that what you want?”

“What I want?” Darcy rocks Jen’s feet again. “I don’t know if what I want plays into it. It’s what, you know, we can do, within the boundaries of the system. If we’re good enough, if we raise enough of a stink, then the DA’s office can press charges, and everyone can get their asses royally whipped. That has to be enough.”

Jen closes her eyes. “That’s not the same thing.”

What does she want? Darcy bites her lip. Put an arrow in Rich Goodman’s eye socket, Kate had said. She’s not sure what she wants, exactly, but she gets the feeling that that’s closer to it than anything else that’s been said the past few days. She can see it happening, the cool determination, the release of the bowstring. The hollow thunk of the arrow sprouting from his eye. The blood, the shocked expression. Yes. The dark, curling part of her, the part of her that built itself out of fire on a dark night in an Atlanta project, breathes out a slow sigh of relief. Yes, that.

Darcy shies away from it, and swallows hard. She’s not sure if her hands are suddenly shaking from fear, or excitement.

“I don’t know what I want,” she says, and Jen watches her for three terrifying heartbeats before nodding, and closing her eyes.

She feels it, first. There’s a trembling in the floor under her feet, a rattling in her teeth and bones. Then she hears it: the distant, concussive boom that’s unmistakable for anyone who’s lived through an alien invasion. Darla bolts from the room, probably to crawl under Jen’s bed and hide. Darcy, though—Darcy bolts to the window. There’s no way she’ll be able to see anything, not from here, but she wrenches it open anyway, clambering out onto the fire escape. Behind her, she hears Jen call her name, but she ignores it; she takes the steps two at a time, and then three, ignoring the bruised piercing ache in her side from her rib and the sudden catch in her breathing. When she crests the top of the building, she stops, clinging to the railing and heaving fit to puke.

Hell’s Kitchen is on fire. From the roof, she can see it all—a line of vivid rage, a dot-graph of flame. Four separate blasts, scattered but twinned, fingers of red reaching high into the night sky. She can hear the fire trucks starting up, cop cars and ambulances, a whirl of noise and flashing lights in the distance. There’s a clatter as Jen catches up, and out of the corner of her eye she sees Jen’s hands fly to her mouth. Her eyes are mirrors behind her glasses.

“Oh my god.”

“Is it—” she can’t finish. Aliens? No, the fire’s too natural for that, and the flying monsters she remembers from the Battle of New York are nowhere to be seen. Purely human hands, then, and she only realizes she’s stopped breathing when her ribs start to hurt. Darcy gulps a deep breath, and goes through her speed dial with shaking hands. Her first call to Matt goes unanswered, as does her second; she feels sick. She calls Karen instead.

“Hello?” Karen sounds choked. Not holding-back-desperate-sobs choked, but panic-choked, smoke-choked, just-been-punched-in-the-stomach choked. “Darcy. Oh my god.”

“Karen, thank god.” Next to her, Jen’s already on the phone with the DA’s office, pacing back and forth and flinging her hand around as if she’s having a fight with invisible moths. “You’re okay?”

“Shit—yeah, I’m fine.” There’s a thunking sound. “Shit.”

“Karen!”

“I’m fine, just dropped something.”

“Jesus.” She squeezes her eyes shut. Come on, Darcy. Make a plan. You’re good at plans. “Where’s Foggy?”

“We’re—um.” Karen’s voice is shaking but steady. “We were at Mrs. Cardenas’ apartment, and, um. The next building over blew up. So he went to see if there was—if there’s anyone else that needs help. Mrs. Cardenas, eso es bueno, respirar, por favor.

Idiot. Heroic idiot. She’s going to kill him. She’s going to fucking kill him dead. “Foggy’s okay?”

“I think so, he didn’t look like—shit.”

“What?”

“Cut my hand. Mrs. Cardenas, can you sit up for me? Levántate.

“Mrs. Cardenas is hurt?”

“Yeah, um. She hit her head. I have to take her to the hospital.” Karen murmurs something else in Spanish that Darcy doesn’t catch. “You’re okay?”

“Yeah, I’m at home.” She passes her phone from one ear to the other, and then starts back down the fire escape. “I’m going to meet you there, okay? At the hospital. You’re closer to Metro-General, I’ll meet you at the nurse’s station in the emergency room, all right?”

“Yeah—shit.”

“Karen!”

“I’m fine.” At least she’s well enough to snarl. “Metro-General. Nurse’s station.”

“Find Foggy and get him out of there, get Mrs. Cardenas somewhere safe. You promise me?”

“Yeah, I promise.” Karen coughs, and swears again. “Be careful. Okay?”

“You too.” She hangs up. She wants to call Foggy, too, but if he’s picking his way around a damaged, possibly burning, possibly collapsing building—god, please don’t let it be collapsing—then she doesn’t want to scare him and make him fall through a wall or something. So she calls Matt again instead. Then, when he doesn’t pick up, again. And again.  “Pick up the phone.” She’s fraying. Her hands are shaking. She’s going to scream. “Goddammit, Matt, pick up the phone!”

There’s nothing but a dial tone.

Chapter Text

He’s alive. He’s okay. He has to be.

The lobby of Metro-General Hospital is a fucking shitshow, and the emergency room is even worse. Darcy catches up with a woman carrying her sixteen-year-old son on the way in, and slings an arm around his waist, because one of his legs is broken and there’s no way his mother is going to make it inside without dropping him again. Matt’s alive, she tells herself. He’s alive. Just inside the automatic doors, she plasters herself to the wall to get out of the way of two construction workers dragging an unconscious third between them; one of them has a bloody sleeve wrapped around his head. He has to be. And before she gets to the nurses’ station, Darcy finds a twelve-year-old girl with leg braces, full-cuff crutches, and an arm that’s shiny and blistered with burns, crying quietly to herself. She glances at the nurse’s counter—no one available—and then crouches in front of her. “Hi,” she says. “What’s your name?”

The girl blinks at her. She’s black (Darcy’s not sure if she’s African-American or Haitian-American or an immigrant or somewhere in between) and her hair’s done up in dreds. Some of the braids are scorched. She swallows three times, and then throws up in Darcy’s lap. Darcy ignores it. “Sil,” she says after a moment, and Darcy nods.

“Sil what?”

“Sil—Silhouette. Chord,” she adds, when Darcy gives her a look. “Silhouette Chord.”

“Okay, Sil. Are your parents here?”

Sil shakes her head slowly, and starts to draw away. “My—my brother’s somewhere. I don’t know.”

“Okay. That’s okay. Um.” He’s okay. Head in the moment, Lewis. Darcy looks down at her legs (just water and stomach acid, not much to worry about) and then over at the nurse’s station again. “I have to find my friends. Do you want to come with me to look, or do you want to stay here and wait for your brother?”

Sil studies her for a long moment. Then she reaches out with her good arm (her burned one is pressed close into her stomach) and tugs on the edge of Darcy’s sweatshirt. Her eyes are glassy, more with shock than tears. “Sorry,” she says. “I threw up on you.”

“Not my first time being puked on, puppycat. Come on, let’s see if we can get someone to treat your burns.”

By the time she grabs a nurse who will slow down long enough to actually see how swollen and painful Sil’s arm is, she’s steadied herself a little. Darcy heads over to the nurse’s station, volunteering to hand out orange juice to the less-critical blood loss patients. The matron takes one look at her, and then directs her to the cafeteria, where they apparently keep orange juice by the bucketful. She’s paired off with a nurse named Leesa, probably to make sure that she doesn’t steal drugs or anything, but Darcy doesn’t care. Keep moving, she thinks. Keep thinking. She calls Matt every five minutes or so, and the phone just rings out.

Foggy and Karen show up about twenty minutes into her new regime, Mrs. Cardenas propped up between them. A plain-clothes nurse with excellent Spanish whisks Elena away, and Darcy’s moving before she realizes she’s taken a step, crashing into the pair of them with the force of a hurricane. Her orange juice spills down Foggy’s back, and he yelps, but he wraps one arm tight around her waist and holds on. Darcy hooks her free arm around Karen’s neck, and goes up on tiptoe between them, pressing as close as she can. Breathing. Living. Good. “Oh my god.” She feels like she should be babbling. “Oh my god, you guys.”

“You dumped orange juice on me,” says Foggy, but he’s not complaining about it. “It’s cold.”

“Fuck you, I’m being a good samaritan.” She’s also pretty sure that the nurses have more important things to do right now than to make sure people have enough juice, so whatever. “Have either of you heard from Matt?”

“Not yet,” says Foggy, reedy. “You haven’t either?”

It feels as though something’s frozen her insides, like her ribs are snapping into shards of frost. Darcy squeezes her eyes shut for a long moment. “He’s fine,” she tells them. She’s mostly telling herself. “He’ll be home, and the news says—well, the blasts weren’t near there. So he’s fine.” He has to be fine. She pulls back, and her heart breaks. “Karen, your head!”

“What?” Karen touches a hand to her temple, and then blanches. There's more dried blood on the heel of her palm, from a gash in the meat of her hand. Darcy's not sure if Karen's noticed it yet. “No, no. Not me. Um. Mrs. Cardenas—she has a cut on her head. It’s hers, not mine.”

Foggy’s still stuck on this no one knows where Matt is thing. “You looked to see if Matt’s been checked in somewhere?”

“I asked them to tell me if his name crosses their desk.” Darcy steps back, and grabs a thing of paper towels off the back of the nearest janitor’s cart, dumping a handful of them onto the orange juice spill. “Okay, I need to—yeah. I have juice to hand out.”

At the same time Karen says, “Foggy, you’re bleeding!” and all hell breaks loose again. It takes half an hour to get him fixed, and during that time she calls Matt twice, and Jen once (Jen’s fine, still at the apartment, “t-take care of yourself right now, Darcy.”). She thinks about calling Mike, too, but then decides against it. Worst possible time to call a vigilante: when the city’s burning to the ground.

She still shoots him a text, though. Claire, too. Just, y’know. To be a good neighbor.

There’s not any reason for them to wheel Foggy in for X-rays, not when his breathing’s good and he’s just bleeding onto the better of his two work suits, They stitch him up, stick him with a tetanus shot (“god, that’s worse than the glass”) and then Darcy settles him on the bench next to a silent, watchful Sil, forcing orange juice into his hands. ("Drink it or die, Nelson.") The crowding’s getting worse; it seems like a million different types of people are all coming in with burns, broken bones, slit arteries, missing appendages, all the best symptoms of an act of terrorism.

Mrs. Cardenas is set up in a room of her own, because she apparently has much better insurance than anyone expected, and Karen drags Foggy into the relative quiet of Elena's private recovery room just to keep him from freaking out on her every ten minutes. Still, a good hour goes by—maybe two, even—before the plain-clothes nurse who took Mrs. Cardenas away stops next to her, and does a double-take.

“I heard someone was helping,” she says, and Darcy slops orange juice onto herself. One of the nurses had finally noticed Sil’s puke on her pants, and handed over scrubs, so she at least looks semi-legit coming in and out of the juice room. (Leesa had vanished about an hour ago to help in an emergency surgery, and Darcy had long since sent one of the interns out to buy more juice from the cafeteria, loads of different kinds. She has a selection, now, plus chocolate milk.) “But Jesus. I didn’t think it was you.”

Darcy blinks. Then she blinks again, and narrows her eyes. “Claire?” she says, in a low whisper, and Claire nods. She’s beautiful, gorgeous hair and full lips even under all the bruises—and shit, but those are definitely some bruises. Swollen eyes, split lip, cuts, abrasions, everything and then some. Oh, Claire. “Fancy meeting you here,” she says, and her voice cracks. “I think I’m going to faint now.”

“Don’t you dare.” Claire glances back over her shoulder, then grabs Darcy by the elbow and tugs her into the break room. There are two other nurses hiding out in here, and when they see Claire, they abruptly clam up and dart away. Claire kicks the door most of the way shut, and maneuvers Darcy down into a chair, pushing her head between her knees. “You’re okay,” says Claire. It’s not a question. “Nothing broken, bleeding, otherwise incapacitated?”

Darcy gulps air, staring at the linoleum. Brooklyn marble, Foggy calls it. “Um,” she says. “A burned girl threw up on me earlier, but other than that I’m good. I wasn’t close enough to, you know. Get hurt.”

“Common reaction to pain to people who aren’t used to it.” Darcy tries to sit up, but Claire shoves her head back down again. “Breathe. The interns can hand out the juice, that’s technically their job. Do you always take over everywhere you go?”

“I’m a manager,” says Darcy in a faint voice, and Claire snorts.

“You and me both. Five minutes. Sit,” she snaps, and Darcy’s too scared to disobey. “I’ll be back.”

“Okay,” Darcy says, but Claire’s already whirled out the door again. She snaps a few orders at the interns crowding around outside, half in Spanish, half in English, and then she’s gone. Darcy keeps her head between her knees until she’s absolutely certain she’s not going to hyperventilate and/or faint dead away, and then she sits up, slowly. The break room is all plaster and bad paint and Brooklyn marble. Someone’s pasted a “caution: radioactive” sign on the refrigerator. Darcy’s not certain if it’s a joke or not. There’s a moth beating itself to death against the fluorescent bulbs. In the pocket of her borrowed scrubs, her phone chirps to let her know it’s dying, and then falls silent again.

It’s very quiet in here. Outside, she can hear the news still going, the burble of new info and new theories and footage of burning buildings, but in here it’s just…muffled. She can hear voices, but not words. The digital clock on the wall reads 2:49 in the morning. Darcy clenches her hands tight around the legs of her scrub pants, and holds her breath.

She needs to do something. There’s something crackling through her blood like lightning, or sparks. It had been the same right after the incident, when she’d wandered through Midtown and taken stock of the damage done to her adopted city. She’d noticed a group of volunteers in bright green shirts collecting crap off the street, and joined them without a word, because she’d needed to do something, anything, to keep her muscles from twitching. Her hands ache. She can’t just sit here, not like this, not with girls like Sil with no one to look out for them. There’s something building in her throat that feels almost like a scream. Move, don’t think. But Claire will yell at her if she moves, and she’s so tired, all of a sudden, so goddamn bone tired, that she can’t twitch an inch away from this chair. Her eyes pinch and burn. Move, don’t think. Not about any of it. Not about Matt.

Darcy hiccups. She gets to her feet, and starts pacing in tight circles, around and around the shitty old table that’s been set up for people to eat off of. She feels cold. Or hot, she can’t tell, but it’s one of the two, something that’s making her nerves prickle and jump like static. There’s blood and charcoal and dirt smeared on the thighs of her scrubs from where she helped carry someone to a bench for a nurse to work on. Go, her lizard brain hisses, move, don’t think, move, run, fight, but she’s in this room, and Matt’s somewhere else, and he’s not answering his fucking phone.

Abruptly, Darcy drops back into her chair, and bursts into tears.

She’s trying to stop herself from crying and only succeeding in getting snot on every available surface when Claire comes back in, and stops dead. “Oh, Jesus,” says Claire, but not in a for god’s sake kind of way. More in a this is just gonna be one of those nights sort of way. “Darcy, breathe. You’re going to hyperventilate if you keep that up.”

“I’m sorry.” Darcy wipes uselessly at her eyes. “I’m just—I don’t—Jesus Christ, I’m such a spazz, I’m crying in your fucking break room—

Claire drags a chair around to face Darcy’s, and straddles it, wrapping her arms around the back. She pats uselessly at Darcy’s shoulder, but it doesn’t really help. Darcy hates crying; it makes her feel as if her personality is leaking out of her, as if she’s losing something in her spine that keeps her upright the rest of the time. She gulps, and swallows hard—because if she throws up here she will never forgive herself—and hides her face in the sleeves of her hoodie for a minute or two, until the wailing has dropped down to just weird little snorting hiccups that she can mostly swallow back. Claire pets aimlessly at her shoulder until the noise level drops below a six, and then offers a small silver hip flask.

“Here,” she says. “I stole it from Jenna’s locker. I don’t know what it is but it’s fucking powerful.”

Darcy laughs. It sounds damp. The booze is something that might be some sort of bourbon, if it hadn’t been cheap as shit; it makes her eyes water and her nose burn and sets fire to her insides in a very unpleasant way, and even Darcy has to choke for a second or two as she swallows. “Jesus.” She sniffs at it, and recoils. “That’s not booze, that’s paint thinner.”

“I know, right?” Claire steals the flask back, and takes a sip. “God. Shit’s disgusting.”

“You’re telling me.” She makes grabby hands at it, and Claire passes it back to her. “Jesus. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to have a meltdown in your break room.”

“You are by far not the first person to have a breakdown in the break room. That’s why it’s called the break room.” Claire prods at her lip, and hisses a little. “God, that stings.”

Darcy gives her the flask back. “Is it as bad as it looks?”

“Worse,” says Claire flatly, and clears her throat. “Jesus, that shit’s powerful.” She eyes Darcy for a moment. “You look almost exactly like your picture.”

“You look almost nothing like I imagined,” says Darcy honestly, and Claire smirks a little. She leans back, hooking her hair out of her face.

“Way hotter, right?”

“Yeah, it’s like you’re the sun. I’m getting burned.”

Claire snorts. Then she winces. “Ugh, no. No laughing. Ribs hurt.”

“It gets worse before it gets better.” Darcy sets a hand against her side, where her Ace bandages are pinching at her hip. “At least in my experience.”

She makes a face. “Someone beat you up, too?”

“Yeah.” There’s not really much else she can say about it. “It kinda sucked.”

“God, don’t get me started.” She tips the flask back, and then caps it off. It’s not nearly enough to get Darcy even close to buzzed, but she still feels a little better. Is this how alcoholics are made? “So?” Claire asks. “What’s the panic attack for?”

“The fact that four buildings just blew up for no reason isn’t enough?”

“Someone was taking out the Russians,” says Claire. “Fisk, M—our friend said. When I talked to him.”

“You talked to him?” Darcy closes her eyes, and lets out a breath. “Thank god. I didn’t want to call and bother him, but—”

“He had some stuff to do, so it’s probably better that you didn’t.” Claire shoves the flask into the back of her pants, the way action heroes do with guns. “So? Just overwhelmed with shit? It’s okay if you are, I spent most of yesterday night crying.”

“I know,” says Darcy. “I stayed awake and listened to you.”

Claire makes a face at her, and then makes an odd, pained yipping noise. She touches her cheek. “God. Fucking—I never want to get beat up again.”

“Do I have to talk about it?”

“No, but it might help.” She huffs. “Or something, I don’t know. I’m a nurse, not a therapist.”

“You know, I get the feeling you’re kind of an asshole.”

“Psh.” Claire flaps a hand at her. “No more booze for you.”

“Mean.” She can’t meet Claire’s eyes anymore. Darcy stares at her hands for a minute or two, picking at her nail polish in an effort to keep her fingers from shaking. It doesn’t really work. “Um. I don’t know. A few people I know were really close to the blast, I guess. And—and one of them was hurt. And my—my best friend, or one of them, he won’t call me back. So I don’t know if something’s happened, and I can’t…I don’t know.” Her eyes start stinging all over again. “Oh, god.”

“Don’t be sick on the floor,” Claire says, and shoves a wastebasket at her. Darcy swallows hard, and realizes she’s gone right back to crying when she tastes salt on her lips. She gulps, clutching at the wastebasket like it’s a lifeline. “Your friend. Where was he?”

“I d-don’t know.” She’s even fucking stuttering. Darcy scrubs at her face, hating the way her make-up smears, hating the way she’s falling apart. She does not fall apart. She’s Darcy Fucking Lewis. Falling apart is for other people, goddammit. “We split up this afternoon, he said he had some things to do, and I keep calling him but he won’t pick up, and I don’t—oh, god.”

“Breathe. Who are your other friends?”

“Um.” She swallows back bile, and hangs her head, trying to breathe. “The—they’re on the bench across from the nurses’ station, Foggy Nelson and—and Karen Page. With the girl with leg braces, Sil. They brought another woman in with them, Elena Cardenas, they—they said she was hurt too—”

“Elena will be fine.” Claire touches Darcy’s shoulder. “I need you to sit here and breathe for me, okay? Just breathe. Your friend will be fine, I’m certain of it.”

“You can’t know that. Matt, he’s—he’s blind, I don’t know if—oh, god.”

Claire’s quiet for a long, terrible moment. Then she grips Darcy hard at the back of the neck, shaking her a little, as if to wake her. “Darcy, listen to me. Your friend will be fine. The EMTs are out searching for everyone who could have possibly been caught in the blast, and I highly doubt Matt—” her voice cracks a little “—was in range of the explosions. His phone might just be turned on silent. But I need you to focus right now, because those people out there need help, and you need to do something before you break down entirely.”

Darcy squeezes her eyes shut. “Okay.”

“Yeah?”

“Okay.” She digs her fingernails into the wastebasket. “What do I need to do?”

“You already have an army of interns out there. Keep them going. There was a shooting near one of the blast zones, and so it’s possible we might have a riot or two on our hands before the night’s out. We’re all going to be busy, and you seem to have been doing a good job at keeping people calm. So I need you to keep doing that, all right? Can you do that?”

For a second, all she can think of is Kate Bishop’s face in the elevator at Goodman-Okamura, ashen, horrified. Darcy nods. “Yeah. I can do that.”

“Good.” Claire nods. “Wash your face. You look like shit.”

“If people keep telling me that, I’m going to start believing them.”

.

.

.

The phone rings.

“Hello?”

“It’s Claire.”

“…oh.”

“I told myself I wouldn’t talk to you until I have my head on straight. I am really fucking angry that I had to break that promise to myself. In less than a day.”

“I assume that you have a good reason.”

“I ran into a friend of yours tonight. She told me an interesting story, about a friend of hers who’s blind. She was terrified because he wasn’t answering his phone, and she didn’t know if he was dead or not.”

“…I see.”

“Funny thing is, two sentences earlier she’s all relieved that I’ve heard from Mike, that I’ve heard from him, that he’s okay.”

“Claire.”

“So, you know, I’m thinking, as I’m stitching up cuts and treating burns and everything else I had to do tonight, she can’t honestly think that the two of you are different people. But the thing is, she does, and what really surprises me is that you’re letting her.”

“You know why.”

“Yes, of course I know why, Matt, I get why, but for god’s sake, she doesn’t. This isn’t fair, not to her. Actually, no, rewind—it’s fucking cruel. You know how hysterical she was? No, because you left your phone in the apartment. I heard it ringing when I left.”

“Claire—”

“I get it, okay? I get how dangerous it would be, and I get that you don’t want to lie to her, but for Christ’s sake, she’s already involved. You told me, what’s so dangerous about telling her?”

“You don’t understand.”

“What don’t I understand?”

“What do you want me to do, Claire? What is it, exactly, that you want me to do? What, tell her—tell her that the person that rescued her from being brutalized in an alleyway is actually the kid she’s known since freshman year of college? Tell her I’ve been—I’ve been lying to her, to all of them, since the first minute, since the first second when they looked at me and I had to pretend I didn’t realize they were doing it? What do you expect me to do? I can’t tell her that. Not yet. Not right now.”

“…I understand that. Okay? I don’t get it, but I understand it. But Matt, seriously—either you tell her or she’s going to figure it out, because she’s not fucking stupid, and you’re going to have to decide which is worse: having her hate you for a while, but then thank you for telling the truth, or having her work it out on her own, and blame you for the lies?”

“…shit, Claire.”

“I have to go. More patients are coming in.”

“Are they still there?”

“I’m assuming you mean your friends, and no. They were discharged an hour ago. My suggestion?”

“Should I ask?”

“Get your ass home and answer your fucking phone.”

.

.

.

Dawn in Hell’s Kitchen smells like smoke and fog and overcooked Chinese food. Darcy’s not about to let Foggy go home alone ("Christ, Lewis, stop nagging me, I'm fine!" "Foggy, I swear to god, if you try to walk off on me while you're on pain meds I will nail your feet to the goddamn floor."), and Karen is still sleeping on their couch (she hasn’t been able to find an apartment yet that has both running water and working electricity) so when Darcy opens the door, it’s with Karen and Foggy at her heels. Jen’s asleep with her head pillowed on the kitchen table, but she snaps out of it as soon as the door clicks shut, and whacks both her knees on the underside of the table in her effort to get to them.

“Oh my god.” She wraps her arms around Foggy, and then tugs a pleased-looking Karen into it as well. Darcy sighs. Tall person advantage. Neither Foggy nor Karen have to bend over to hug Jen. “You’re all okay. Thank god.”

“Ow,” says Foggy. “I mean, yes. We’re okay.”

Thankfully, Jen doesn’t notice. “How bad is it out there?”

“It’s definitely been worse.” Darcy reaches back, and grips Foggy’s elbow tight when he tries to maneuver himself into the nearest chair. “Nope. No sitting. Bed. Come on.”

“Darcy—”

“Nelson. Bed. Karen, couch.”

“But—”

“Fine. You can shower first, Karen. Foggy. Bed.”

“But Matt—”

Don’t say it again. Don’t. “I’ll find Matt. Don’t worry about that.”

“Darcy.”

“Out of the three of us, who is the only one who hasn’t been caught in an explosion in the past twelve hours?” Darcy pushes them both, gentler than she would have yesterday. “Go to sleep, guys. Matt will be here when you wake up if I have to drag him here myself.”

She doesn’t know if she’s lying, and her mouth tastes sour with it. Karen and Foggy are too tired to even notice the look on her face. Darcy settles Foggy on her bed, throws a blanket over him (he hadn’t even made it under the covers before passing out), and then checks on Karen, already curled up with Darla on the couch. She shuts the kitchen door behind her, so she doesn’t wake either of them, and then sags. Jen starts up out of her chair again, wide-eyed. “Darcy?”

“Jen.” Darcy gives her a vague smile. “I think my guiding line just snapped.”

“Oh, honey.” Jen scoots back from the table, and kisses the top of Darcy’s head, pulling her close. She smells clean, like detergent and coffee and home, and Darcy can’t help the little shudder that runs from the top of her head down to her feet because of it. Jen doesn’t notice. “Now,” she says, pulling back. “Tell me the t-truth. How bad is it?”

“I don’t know.” Darcy drops down into her chair at the table, and Jen starts to bustle around, dumping out old coffee grounds and scraping a new set out of the can. “The hospital wasn’t fun. There was a shooting, too, one of the nurses said. A cop died, or he’s been hospitalized, or something. I don’t know.”

Jen’s eyes flicker. “That vigilante, the news was saying. That’s who they’re blaming for the shootings.”

What?” She nearly shrieks it. Jen makes be quiet gestures with her hands, and Darcy bites her tongue. “But he wouldn’t.”

“We d-don’t know that for sure.”

“But—” but he saved me. “But it’s not his MO. He—he helps people, beats up bad guys with his bare hands, he doesn’t—he doesn’t rig bombs across the city and kill police officers! Seriously, why would he try to kill cops, he’s never gone near them before—”

“It’s not for us to say that, Darcy.” Darcy swallows. “It’s—I g-get it, okay? Just—wait for the evidence. It’s all we can do.”

Because we’re lawyers. That’s what we’re meant for. “Yeah,” she says. There’s a scrape on the inside of her wrist that she can’t remember getting. Darcy picks at it with her fingernails. “I know.”

Jen watches her through half-lidded eyes. Then she sighs, pressing the plunger of the coffee press down in one smooth motion. “I have work at seven-thirty. Mind if I steal the shower?”

She smells like blood and juice and hospital, but Darcy shakes her head. “Go ahead. I’ll be fine out here. I’m—I’m gonna watch the news.”

Jen kisses the top of Darcy’s head again. It feels too much like pity, and doesn’t help at all.

Darcy throws her puked-on pajama pants, her shirt, and her borrowed scrubs into the washing machine, along with her underwear for good measure, and then stalks naked through the apartment to get shit out of her room again. Foggy’s completely dead to the world, even when she opens the door and stubs her toe on her dresser. Darcy shimmies into real-person clothes (well, as real as her comfiest jeans and a sweatshirt are, anyway) and then touches his foot underneath the blankets once. It’s more to reassure herself that he’s there than anything. Foggy doesn’t even twitch.

Clothes, she thinks, looking at him. She has some of his old college shit in her dresser somewhere, and Darcy’s always favored baggy clothes anyway. He’d probably fit in those. Karen needs clothes too, but thankfully she’s moved most of her shit from her old apartment (which is now up for rent again) into the hall closet while she sleeps on the pull-out couch. Darcy’s tempted to just reorganize her room so that they can drag another mattress in; she’s never had so much spending money available in her life, what with Karen insisting that she pay half of Darcy’s rent. Too bad most of it’s going to go right into hospital bills, she thinks. But having another roommate…maybe.

She grabs her purse before slipping back out of her room and shutting the door quietly behind her.

She doesn’t feel better, having the gun within reach, but she does feel safer, which matters more. It’s not much of a thing, a semiautomatic pistol with an old inscription on the base— to L, with love, X—but thanks to a number of misadventures as a teenager in the Atlanta projects, she knows exactly how to use it. It’s also highly illegal, because she bought it in a pawn shop without a license attached, and she has yet to bully Brett out of one for herself. She leaves it in the purse, safety on, and sets the whole thing, bag and all, in the middle of the kitchen table, within easy reach.

She doesn’t call Matt again. She calls Mike, instead—“hey, just wanted to, you know, confirm that you’re alive and stuff. Call me back, okay?”—and then pours herself coffee. The burner phone buzzes with a message from Claire. Sil’s brother picked her up. Stop worrying.

You say that like it’s possible.

STOP WORRYING, Claire texts again. Darcy doesn’t reply.

The news is playing a clip of Mike over and over again, back-to-backing shots of burning buildings and interviews with random bystanders with brutal video of the devil of Hell’s Kitchen beating the living shit out of New York City police officers. Or Russian mobsters, the video’s too grainy for her to be really be able to tell. Darcy flexes her fingers, and sighs. Her bones are melting inside her skin. She’s plastered to her chair and jittering out of it simultaneously, a junkie too tired to move. She needs a jog around the block, or something. She needs—

Someone knocks on the door. Darcy stares hard at the TV, where Hoffman—looking very shaky—is giving an interview again, and then draws the gun from her purse. Jen’s still in the shower; she can hear the water running.

For a second, she can’t make out the face beyond the peephole. There’s just a flash of Columbia sweatshirt and the glint of glasses in the dawn. Then she sees the hair, and it clicks with a surge of fury and relief that makes her whole body go limp. Matt. Bruised, his glasses lopsided, in his worst fucking sweatshirt, but alive. Matt. Her mouth turns bone dry. Darcy shoves the gun into the umbrella stand (Matt won’t be able to see it, but she’s not about to leave it on the coat rack for Jen to find) and fumbles the door open. He lifts his head, lips parting, but before he can say anything, Darcy’s balled up a fist and punched him hard in the shoulder.

Matt yelps. She squeezes her hand tight and hits him again, and one more time, before he manages to get a grip on her arm and hold her still. “Darcy,” he says, and fuck him, fuck his goddamn voice, she’s not going to cry again.

“You prick.” She kicks him in the shin, hard enough for Matt to stagger. “You fucking prick. You didn’t answer your phone, you prick, you asshole, you scared the shit out of me, what the hell—”

“Hey.” Matt covers her hand with his, and the touch makes her breathing hitch. There are new marks on his face, scrapes and bruises she doesn’t recognize, and she can’t breathe, all of a sudden, she can't breathe. “Hey, it’s okay. I’m okay.”

“No you’re not.” Her eyes are blurring. Goddammit. “No, you’re all—you’re all beat up again, why are you all beat up again—”

“It’s nothing. I’m fine.” He catches her other hand, too, closing his fingers over her fist. His voice is very soft. “I’m all right, Darcy.”

“You didn’t answer.” The words crack in her mouth. “God fucking dammit, Matthew. I called and called and you didn’t answer. I thought—I thought something had happened to you, I thought you were in the blast, I thought—”

“I’m sorry.” She can’t work out if he’s talking over her, or she’s talking over him, but either way their voices are overlapping in a way that is putting her back up and settling her hackles all at once. “I’m sorry, my phone was on silent, I fell asleep, I didn’t know—”

“You asshole,” she says again, and then she starts to cry again, because apparently, this is the best day ever. Darcy muffles her face in her hands, trying to stay quiet—Karen, Foggy, I can’t wake them up. She shouldn’t cry, but goddammit, she’s tired, and she’s been having images of a dead Matt every time she’s shut her eyes for hours or days or an eternity, and she’s just so fucking done with everything that she can’t get herself to stop. “You asshole.

Matt skims his hands up her arms to her shoulders and tugs her into him, no question, no hesitation, and Darcy almost chokes from relief. Here’s Matt, and his heart’s beating and his lungs are working, and she’s going to fucking kill him just as soon as she gets a chance to breathe. Darcy unwinds herself from her tangle to wrap her arms around him, digging her fingernails into the back of his shoulders and hiding her face in the collar of his sweatshirt. For some reason his lungs jump into a little hiccup, like she’s scared him or something. Then he cups the back of her head in one hand, pressing her closer, and she starts to shake. His other arm is tight around her waist.

“I’m sorry.” He turns his head, pressing his lips to her temple. She ignores the pinch of his cane against her back, how her glasses are being crushed against the bridge of her nose, because he’s alive, god fucking damn him. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you. I’m sorry.”

“You’re an asshole.

“I know.” His nails scrape against her scalp. “I’m sorry.”

If she opens her eyes, she can see the dip between his collarbones. For a single, insane second, she wants to put her lips to that spot, touch it with her tongue. She concentrates on the feel of his fingers in her hair instead, because that’s safer. That means she knows he’s alive, because he’s still hooking his nails against her scalp the way you would a cat, and it’s soothing enough to make her stupid.

“You’re okay?” Matt pulls back just enough to touch his thumb to her cheek, where the bruises from the fight are just starting to fade. “Everyone’s okay?”

“Foggy’s hurt.” He goes brittle against her, and Darcy clears her throat. “Just a cut, a glass cut. They stitched him up. They say he’ll be okay. Um, Mrs. Cardenas is still in the hospital though. They want to keep her for a while because she has a bad concussion. But the rest of us are fine.”

Matt starts cursing quite vividly under his breath. The words buzz against her ribs like hornets. Darcy closes her eyes and draws a deep breath. Then she pulls away. “Come on,” she says. “No grumbling. Coffee instead. Inside.”

The noise Matt makes at the mention of coffee can only be called obscene. Darcy pretends very hard that her ears aren’t burning.

Jen’s making French toast, which means beating off Darla with a stick—Darla’s obsessed with maple syrup. She drips some of the egg on Darla’s head when she sees Matt come in, but other than clearing her throat loudly, and prodding at the cat, she doesn’t react at all. “Matthew,” she says. “Nice of you to show up.”

Matt’s lips twitch. Darcy lets his hand slip away, or starts to, but his fingers crook and catch at hers again, so she holds on instead. “Jennifer. I assume you look well.”

“Brat,” says Jen, and reaches up to ruffle his hair as she goes by. Judging by the look on Matt’s face, she’s dripped syrup in it. Darcy settles his palm against the back of a nearby chair, and goes to take over the toast.

“Shut the door.” She whacks at Darla with her foot, and hisses at her. “Foggy and Karen need the sleep, and if either of them smell food there’s nothing for it.”

Matt tips his chair back, and knocks the door shut with his elbow. He’s not a big guy, exactly, but he’s taller than Darcy by a lot, and definitely has more weight to him than Jen. Somehow, he doesn’t look awkward or squashed at their tiny kitchen table. He rests his elbows on the table top, and folds his hands together. He hasn’t taken off his glasses, though, and for some reason that stings a little.

“I can’t believe you slept through a terrorist attack.” Darcy flips the toast in the pan, and the hiss just manages to cover up how much her voice shakes. “Jesus, Murdock.”

“Sorry,” says Matt again. Darcy grunts, and turns the news back up. Still all a rehash. Once, she thinks she catches a glimpse of Ben Urich interviewing an EMT in the background, but it doesn’t cycle back, so there’s no way for her to really tell. Darcy shovels toast onto a plate, and turns the TV off in a fit of pique.

“Y’know,” she says. “We have a sign in this kitchen.”

“‘Shit happens?’”

She snorts. “No, but we should have one of those. No, it says, ‘leave your Catholic guilt at the door.’ It’s a very official sign. Has the pope’s seal on it and everything. So take your good Catholic boy act and toss it out the window, okay? Pretty please.”

“Darcy.”

“Nope.”

“I scared you. I think I’m obligated to feel bad for it.” He frowns. “And it’s not Catholic guilt. That’s—I think that’s more about sexual abstinence than anything.”

“Which we all know you’re such a fan of.” He makes a face at her, and Darcy laughs. “Yeah, you scared the shit out of me, but you apologized. Apologies don’t fix things, but they help a lot. Like, a good eighty percent of the time.” She sets a plate of French toast aside for Jen, and starts on the next batch. “I’m totally okay with you making it up to me, possibly with sugary foodstuffs and/or alcohol, but going all doom and gloom about shit you can’t change doesn’t help anyone.”

Matt doesn’t speak. He props his chin in one hand, and if Darcy didn’t know better, she’d say he’s watching her. She’s turned another slice of toast in the pan and dragged the powdered sugar out of the back of the cabinet before he leans his chair back again, balancing the way a kid would. “You don’t like Catholics very much, do you?”

“Nope. Out of my house.” She can see him roll his eyes behind his glasses. Darcy drenches a fresh slice of toast in sugar and cherry syrup, turns off the stove, and thunks down into her chair again, drawing one leg up against her chest. “I’ve never really been much for any kind of religion. You know this.”

“No, I know.” Matt’s fingers curl against the table. “I just—Catholic guilt.”

He says it the same way you’d say fresh strawberries or cheap booze or free computer, like it’s the sort of thing that he can’t imagine someone having a problem with. Coincidentally, all three of the above are things that Darcy has had a great many problems with, starting with the discovery of an unfortunate strawberry allergy at the age of six. She sighs, and cuts into the French toast with her fork. “Yeah. It’s like—I don’t know if it’s all religious people, or all Catholics, or if it’s just you—and it seriously might just be just you—”

“Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.” She catches a dribble of syrup before it hits the sleeve of her hoodie. “It’s just—it’s like you think you need to take the blame for everything. It’s not bad to feel remorse, obviously, especially if you’ve done something wrong—which I’m not saying you have—but…I dunno. It always seemed kind of self-important to me to mea culpa everything. Like—there are billions of people in the world, and that means there are trillions of factors that go into every single thing that happens to everyone on the planet. Nothing is ever all your fault, quantifiably. Saying that it is—is like taking ownership of the universe. Which also seems like identifying yourself with God, if we’re really gonna go down the Catholic route this early in the morning. But you’re punishing yourself for something that’s not your fault, and you do it all the time. It just seems masochistic.”

Matt brushes his thumb over his lower lip. “I don’t know if that’s the point of it. I was taught that everyone has to take responsibility for the effect they have, individually or otherwise. If you hurt someone, you’re responsible for it. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Sort of.”

“But if you do something nice for someone, God’s hand guides you?”

He shrugs. “My grandmother never managed to get to that part, before she died. And the nuns at St. Agnes were more concerned about my mental health than my soul, especially at the start.”

Right after his dad died. Her throat squeezes. She has to clench her hand around her fork to keep from touching him. Darcy takes another bite of toast, and chews it slowly, to give herself time to think. “I guess what I’m trying to say that, y’know, as an atheist, the concept of attributing all my positive actions to God and all my shitty ones to myself is incomprehensible.”

“The way it was explained to me, it’s not that you’re attributing your positive decisions and the results of them to God and God’s influence. It’s more like—you know, through the goodness of your actions, God comes through you.” He pauses. “Of course, you have to do something good for that to happen. If you do something wrong, then it’s—who knows. It’s you, or the Devil, or evil, or the snake, or whatever you want to call it. The Bible contradicts itself a lot.”

“Hmm.” She squashes toast under her fork. “Do you believe that?”

“The exact word of the Bible?” Matt asks, and sticks his finger in a pool of cherry syrup on her plate. “I don’t know. It’s been a while since I read it, and I stopped feeling like I was welcome in a church years ago.”

“Hm.” She’s not really hungry anymore. Darcy pushes her plate at him, and leans back in her chair. “So you still believe in God?”

“Yeah. Same way I believe in the law, or in clouds, or anything else that’s whole and real. Even if I can’t see it.”

Darcy blows hair out of her face. “But the law changes depending on who writes it.”

“Technically, so does God, because there wouldn’t be so many differing versions of Him otherwise.” Matt swipes at the cherry syrup again. “Everyone has a different interpretation, and I’m not the best Catholic anyway. Part of it is ritual, part of it is skepticism, and part of it is belief. I do think that there’s something bigger out there, but whether or not it fits within the scope of any religion is questionable.”

“That sounds downright pagan of you, Matthew.”

“Bite me,” says Matt, and cuts the remainder of her toast in half.

“I mean, I’m for it. I’m only as Jewish as it takes to get me challah, man.” Jen slinks in, collects her plate and her cup of coffee. “But yeah. The technical definition of atheism doesn’t exactly fit with what I am, because I believe in human souls, and I believe that souls are immutable and eternal, but, you know. I don’t believe in a god, quote-unquote. Jenny-Jen, you’re making a face. Don’t make that face.”

Jen doesn’t un-wrinkle her nose. “It is way too early in the morning for theology.”

You had a chance to sleep.”

“Touché. Coffee?”

“Top me up, lady. Matt?”

“I can get it.”

“No, you sit. You’ve been t-tramping around all night too, if I know you.”

“No, he slept through the whole thing.” Darcy kicks him affectionately in the ankle. Matt nudges her foot back to where it was, and knocks his knee against hers. “And I’ve come up with something you can do to start making it up to me.”

Matt tips his head. “That sounds ominous.”

“Psh, it’s nothing bad, I promise.” She props her chin in one hand. “Let me do your nails when you’re done eating.”

For some reason, Jen starts hacking on her coffee. Matt swallows his mouthful of French toast, and then sighs his why am I friends with this person sigh. Still, his knee doesn’t shift away from hers, so Darcy counts that a win.

“Fine,” he says. “No yellow.”

“You’re the bestest.”

Jen shakes her head, cleans her coffee spill, and leaves the room, muttering about “weirdest friends in existence.”  Darcy doesn’t listen. She picks through her small collection of nail polish (in a very convenient little box, sitting on the kitchen counter) instead. “So. Mesmerized Blue or Aqua Lily?”

“I have to choose?”

“Of course you do.”

Matt Kermit-laughs. “Of course I do. Um. The first one?”

“And that’s why you’re my favorite, Matthew.” Darcy grabs one of his hands, spreading his fingers on the table. Matt goes still under her touch, as if startled. Then he smiles, and it’s one of his teasing smiles, the ones he uses on women in bars and in study groups and wherever else he wants.

“I’m your favorite, huh?”

“Don’t let it go to your head. And Jesus, keep your hand flat, I’ve told you this a million times.”  

She’s through three fingers and starting to work up the courage to ask him about his face—and no more ‘I fell down the stairs,’ punky, because it’s not flying anymore—when Matt says, “You’re my favorite too, you know.”

Darcy fumbles the nail brush. Thankfully, the thing falls right onto the paper napkin she’s jury-rigged to catch excess polish, and not on Matt’s hand. He’s doing that dumb ridiculous completely unhelpful thing with his face that makes you think he means every single word he says, and it’s not doing wonders for her heart rate. “Don’t say that near Foggy, he’ll be jealous.”

Something tightens around the edge of his mouth. Matt puts his free hand on the back of her wrist, resting the pads of his fingers over the tattoo of the tundra swan. Darcy looks at his hand, and then up at his face. Her mouth goes dry and her stomach does that weird horrible twisting thing, all at once, and she curses herself, because she’s supposed to have trained that out of herself years ago. “You both mean a lot to me,” he says. “Both you and Foggy. More than I can ever—ever actually say.”

“Matt—”

“And that’s not ever going to change,” he says. Darcy closes her mouth. “No matter what, it’s not going to change. Just—promise me that you’ll remember that. All right?”

Oh, Matt. She covers his polish-free hand with hers, and squeezes. “Yeah.” Her voice breaks again. “Yeah, I promise.”

She finishes his nails in silence, but it’s not awkward at all.

.

.

.

The coffee shop on 43rd and 10th opens at the ungodly hour of four am. Wesley doesn’t arrive until eleven, because his morning meeting goes late, and he has to change shoes after stepping into a puddle of mixed ash and gasoline from the hollow carcass of Veles Taxi headquarters. The Russians, he’s pleased to find, are truly no longer a problem. It’s not that he doubted the effectiveness of Mr. Fisk’s solution—explosives act as both deterrent and exterminator, after all, and he has more than enough experience with both halves of that particular coin—but the speed with which it’s been done impresses him. Caution is always warranted, but decisiveness: that has its place, too.

He orders black coffee, because he refuses to say Americano, and the barista, a girl with hair that sticks up out of her head like a porcupine’s needles, gives him a considering once-over before informing him that the Americano tastes better with the hazelnut creamer, “don’t let that ape over there tell you anything different.” The ape—the other barista—scoffs, but affectionately. It’s nice to see there are still parts in the city, especially in the scattered and cancerous remains of what had been Chelsea, that has some genuine humor and humanity to it. He puts four dollars in the tip jar (hundred-percent tip) and then sets up shop at a table near the back, where he can see those coming in, but can’t be easily found. His files from the Bishop matter are still up on the screen, which annoys him. He should have been careful enough to shut all the documents behind their firewalls before setting his computer on sleep-mode. Lewis’s photo is still open, even. Jesus.

According to his contacts in the 34th, Lewis and Brigid O’Reilly have managed to get in touch. It’s lamentable, especially considering Oslo’s failures in preventing it, but in regards to the Bishop case, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. The key in removing the Goodmans from their operation—and from the Japanese, which is a very close second—is smearing them in the eyes of the public, and this, he’s content to let Lewis do for him. The story will go ahead in the Bulletin, the Bishop and Goodman names will be raked through the mud, and not even the yakuza will be willing to associate with the Goodmans after that. If she manages it, the Bishop case, alongside the Healy matter, will start putting Nelson, Murdock, and Lewis on the map in a much different way than they’ve been placed previously—which, to be quite frank, he’s more than a little interested in seeing.

The Cardenas woman is a different story, but there’s not much to worry about there. One old woman, and the least dangerous of the trio, Nelson, looking into it. He makes a mental note to keep an eye on Page, just in case, but for now, he’ll leave it alone.

No, it’s the fact that Lewis had recognized Nobu—or, at least, recognized his pseudonym—that is the true issue here. He’s not been able to find any evidence that she’s ever had contact with the yakuza, no reason for her to have any knowledge at all on the subject. And yet she knows the name of the shateigashira of that very particular, very secret sect. There’s no evidence she’s one of the mutants that were causing so much trouble a few years ago, even if her father remains unidentified and thus unknowable. Which means either she uncovered something in the course of her investigation into the Bishop case—unlikely, as he’s followed her trail and found nothing—or someone told her.

There’s no one she’s met with who ought to be able to give her that level of intelligence. He’d toyed with Ben Urich as a possibility, but the man’s last article on the yakuza was in 2003; the delicacy of the current patchwork of first- and second-generation Americans and native Japanese that layers through the boroughs right now would be beyond him. She’s met with no moles, run into no young punks looking to show off in front of a beautiful woman. Aside from the incident with Goodman’s hired thugs, she’s clean.

Something pricks at the back of his mind about that. Wesley closes down the graduation photo—he’s been staring at it blankly for the past fifteen minutes, not seeing it at all—and swipes over to the statement. He’d been inclined to take it on face value, at first, but he’s done with Lewis surprising him. The systemic brutality of the wounds inflicted on Goodman’s men had had all the hallmarks of the masked dumbass running around making royal idiots of the Russians, and since the woman had reported that she’d never seen him, he’d dismissed it. But...

He thinks of the meeting, of the flash of teeth from Lewis at the sight of Goodman and his son. He’d expected a breeze, and found a hurricane. A woman like Darcy Lewis would be more than willing to lie to the police about an encounter with a ruthless vigilante.

Wesley taps his pen against the tabletop. Suddenly, he remembers his coffee. It’s still warm. The barista was right; the hazelnut creamer does compliment this bean nicely. He makes a note of it.

He would be inclined to give her surveillance over to the Japanese for investigation, especially considering this new wrinkle, but with the incoming project they have on their hands, they would never be able to give it the usual sort of attention a matter like this requires. Madame Gao might have been willing to look into it, if not for the sudden catch-up game she needs to play now that the Russians are out of the picture. And Leland…well. Best not to consider Leland. To be entirely honest, he wouldn’t trust any of them—the yakuza, Madame Gao, or Leland—with a matter such as this one, especially after the utter failure of Vladimir and Anatoly. No, this requires a personal touch.

He’ll set aside some time, add some manpower to the operation. And who knows—if he plays this right, they might come out of it with another lawyer on their payroll.

Wesley sips his coffee, and nods.

Chapter Text

“So let me get this straight,” says Oppie. She tugs her hair back up out of her face, all the braids tying back neatly with a single hair tie. Darcy wants to kill her. Darcy has maybe half the hair that Oppie has (seeing her without cornrows is a fucking miracle of ‘fro) and she needs three hair ties to keep it from breaking free and taking over the world. More on humid days. “You want me to take in a woman I’ve never met—”

“A nurse. With good references.” Does a suspected terrorist count as a reference? She’s not sure. Somehow she doesn’t think Oppie will approve.

“—and leave her in one of my family’s houses upstate without supervision—”

“She’d be totally supervised. Long-distance supervision is a thing.”

“—because someone kicked the shit out of her, but for some reason you’re not reporting this to the police—”

“You know as well as I do that the police aren’t always the best people to bring into a case of intimate partner abuse.” Oppie doesn’t have a witty retort for that. She blows out air sharply through her nose, and gulps half her cappuccino in one go. “Besides, she doesn’t want to report it. Respect the victim’s choices, Oppie.”

“Don’t parrot my own shit back at me, Darce.”

“Look.” Darcy fights the urge to make faces at the screen. Skype’s never cooperated very well in the office, or Oppie’s for that matter, and the chance that the video feed will freeze on a hella awkward face is too high for her to dare. “She’s a friend, okay? It’d only be for a week or two, until the guy leaves town on his tour with the Peace Corps or whatever the fuck he’s doing. Personally I’m hoping he gets run over on a rainy night in Uganda, but that’s just me.”

“This guy works for the Peace Corps and still beat the shit out of his girlfriend?”

“Oppie, please. You’ve been at this for way longer than me. This sort of thing shouldn’t surprise you anymore.”

“The day humanity ceases to depress me is the day I retire permanently from the world.” Oppie runs her hands over her face, and sighs. “Fine. I’ll talk to my brother, see if he’s okay with it. I should have something for you in a couple of days. Unless she needs to be somewhere sooner.”

“No, she’ll be okay until Friday.” Darcy pops off finger-guns. “You’re awesome, Ophelia. Seriously, you’re the best. They should write sonnets and rhapsodies about you.”

“Spoken word or perish, oh Padawan mine. I have to go, end-of-the-day meetings.” She narrows her eyes. “Those boys doing right by you?”

“Of course they are. They’re my boys.” Darcy waggles her fingers. “I have to make a call of my own anyway. You’re the hostess with the mostest, Oppie.”

Oppie rolls her eyes, and cuts the call. Since that’s typical Oppie, Darcy just smiles as she shuts her computer, and leans away from the desk. Her fractured rib gives an unhappy squeeze, and she yips in spite of herself. On the other side, Matt lifts his head from his arms, sucking in a deep breath as if she’s woken him.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. Just my rib.” She makes herself smile. “They tell you how long it takes for bones to heal, at the hospital, but they don’t tell you how irritating it is. I feel like this should be fixed by now.”

“It’s only been a few weeks. Give it more time.”

Words burn on her lips—you’re one to talk; I haven’t seen you without bruises in months—but she bites her tongue before they can escape. Which, as anyone would have been able to guess, is like…the least Darcy-ish move ever. Matt should appreciate her, goddammit. “Just hurts,” she says finally, and yanks open one of her drawers, searching for the Advil. “Did I wake you up?”

“I wasn’t asleep.” This is such a lie that she doesn’t even bother to call him on it, just drawls out an “uh-huh” that for some reason makes his ears go red under his hair. It’s adorable, and she hates herself. She’d been doing so well with the not-noticing-how-cute-Matt-is thing, up until he’d scared the shit out of her. Also with being able to keep her organ-based gymnastics under control. Apparently, the only thing Matt Murdock needs to do to turn her well-kept promises into dust is tell her she’s his favorite.

Which, admittedly, in a teeny-tiny part of herself which is most certainly not the majority, kind of makes her stupidly happy. But first of all, she’s much too badass to acknowledge that, ever; secondly, she has a sinking feeling that being happy about stuff like that is a betrayal of Foggy and their trio, somehow; and third, she’s kind of mad at herself for it. Also at Matt, for not picking up his goddamn phone.

Mostly at herself, though.

“What was that about?” he asks, and Darcy jolts out of reverie. “It sounded kind of serious.”

“Friend of a friend had her ass kicked last week, and needs somewhere to lay low for a while. Oppie owes me for bailing her out that one time, so I figured I’d collect.”

“I never knew you bailed Oppie out of jail.”

“Technically it wasn’t jail, it was just the drunk tank, and the charges were dismissed when the cops realized that the breathalyzer was freaking out because of mouthwash instead of alcohol consumption. She put herself between a guy and his boyfriend one time, and he pressed charges. Wasn’t pretty.”

Matt makes a considering noise. “I see.”

 “If you’re that tired you should just go home, Mattster.” She presses her hand over her rib again—it’s been bothering her since the night in the hospital—and then takes as deep a breath as she can manage before collecting her papers up. “Seriously.”

Matt tugs his glasses off and rubs at his eyelids with his thumb and forefinger. He’s kept the nail polish, bless him. Out in the main office, Darcy hears the door open. It’s Foggy—she can tell by the rhythm of the steps and the way the door shuts, sharply, because Foggy can never just shut a door, he always has to kick it—but he either doesn’t notice they’re here or doesn’t want to bother them, because in the next few second she hears the door to his office snap shut as well. “I want to finish going over this tonight. We need something for Mrs. Cardenas, we can’t just leave her hanging.”

Darcy crosses around behind his desk, and sets her hand on the back of his chair, leaning forward so she can see his braille reader. She’s tried to teach herself braille once or twice, because the idea of being able to read with your fingers is so fascinating to her, but she’s never really succeeded. “Find anything?”

“No.” How he’s managed to get the Tully files into braille so quickly she has no idea, but Darcy knows better than to ask at this point. “Brett was right, a lot of it is just on the right side of ordinance. Nothing we could actually pursue.” He lifts his hand to his eyes again. “I have a headache.”

“So do I.” And her ribs hurt. And her feet, from her heels. Her brain feels swollen, she’s been thinking so hard. Outside, the sun is just starting to set. “I’m gonna take a walk. I’d tell you to come, but I think it’d be better if you just, y’know. Nap until I get back.”

“No, I can come.”

“I’m fine going on a walk around the block by myself, Matt.” She hesitates, and then drops a kiss on his hair, because even if he can be depressingly Catholic and enormously irritating and she’s still kind of mad at herself for caring so much, he’s still Matt and she does love him. “I just need to be on my own for a bit. I’ll take my phone with me, and stay in full view of passing cars at all times. No alley trips for me, I promise.”

To his credit, Matt doesn’t argue with her. He doesn’t flinch when she touches him, either, which is indescribably awesome. “Okay.”

“I’ll be back.”

“Darcy.”

She hooks her purse over her shoulder. “Hm?”

Matt hesitates. Then he shakes his head. “Nothing,” he says. “I’ll tell you later. Don’t worry about it.”

She frowns, but nods. “Okay. I’ll be back.”

“Be safe.”

Foggy’s door is still closed when she slips out into the main room, and Karen’s desk is depressingly empty. Karen’s been wandering off to more and more secret meetings lately, and Darcy hasn’t yet figured out how to ask her about it. Hey, so I think you’re meeting with Ben Urich after possibly taking an enormous payout from Union Allied to not talk about them, just so you can do the exact opposite of that, how are you doing with that? Because that’s going to get her a straight answer. She’ll talk to her about it tonight, she thinks. After Jen’s asleep, because she really doubts that Karen will say anything if she thinks she could be overheard.

She shoves the gun into the back of her jeans. She still doesn’t have a carry permit for it—somehow, with everything that’s happened over the past few days, it keeps slipping her mind to nag Brett into pushing one of those through the works—but she’s not stupid. If there’s any good time to attack her, it’s when she’s walking alone at twilight. The only time that could possibly be more thematic and clichéd would be if she went walking at midnight. In the rain.

I’m looking at you, Karen Page.

For once, though, the streets around the office are quiet. Sure, she gets panhandled a few times by people left homeless by the incident or the explosions or both, and a taxi cab nearly runs her over when she jaywalks over to the nearest convenience store to pick up Advil and the Times, but that’s just New York. It’s reassuring that people will approach her just to panhandle her, and isn’t that the worst indicator of what her life has become to date.

(She gives them each six bucks and asks if they need anything, and one of them, the one in crumpled fatigues, presses her hand and says “God bless you, darlin’.” Which is wrong on so many levels, but makes her smile anyway.)

She’s sitting on the stoop of a brownstone which she knows for a fact is an ex-crack house and making inroads on a rocket pop when her phone buzzes. The burner, not the banana phone. She leaves the banana phone in her lap, swiping numbers around in a very old game of 2048, and answers without checking the ID. “You’d better have slept in the last twenty-four hours, Claire, because I will be very unhappy with you if I have to peel you off the linoleum in the ER.”

There’s a long pause on the other end of the line, and then Mike says, in a very dry voice, “Well, that answers the first question I had for you.”

She swipes a four the wrong way, and gets a game over screen. “Oh,” she says. “Hi. You’re alive.”

“Why wouldn’t I be alive?”

“Uh, because I left you a message like four days ago and you never responded?” She tucks the phone under her ear, pressing it close with her shoulder so she can restart her game. “Nice clips you have playing on the news, by the way. They’re very, y’know, ninja-chic.”

“I tried,” says Mike, even more dryly. “Things have been busy.”

“I can imagine. Actually, no, I can’t imagine. And I don’t really want to, so don’t explain. Unless you want to, which is totally cool.” She’s babbling. Maybe she’s more tired than she thought she was. “Whatever. What brings you to my neck of the woods? So to speak.”

“Wanted to check to see if you’ve made any progress.” Darcy shuts her banana phone off, and leans back against the next step, biting off some of her rocket pop and pressing it hard against the roof of her mouth with the tip of her tongue. Still, it’s better than I wanted to ream you out for talking to Claire. She’ll take it.

“Not as much as I’d like. I mean, I finally managed to get in contact with Officer O’Reilly, which is awesome, and I’ve been going over her version of events from start to finish, but the whole—” she glances up and down the street once, and then lowers her voice. “—the whole yakuza thing is, like, the worst paper trail I could have ever tried to follow, ever, and I had to collate spousal rape cases from the nineties for a year. So, kudos to you for finding something even more depressing for me to read through.”

There’s a shuffling sound from the other end of the line. “What did you find?”

“Like I said, not much.” It had taken her a good hour to bully Brett out of photocopies of all cases to do with the yakuza in Hell’s Kitchen in the last five years, which according to Google is how long Hironobu Orihara has been part of Goodman and Okamura. “Orihara has been in the States for five years, and in that time there’s been an increase in yakuza activity, especially in the Kitchen. Lots of warfare between the Russian gangs and yakuza gangbangers up until about three years ago, when clashes between the two started stagnating. Mostly what the cops have been finding lately is clashes between individual ‘bangers rather than all-out bust-ups between big-name gangsters, and of course there’s nothing to really tie Orihara or Goodman-Okamura to it at all.”

“Sounds like the Japanese and the Russians have a truce.”

“That’s what I was thinking. The police haven’t noticed yet because there’s been a lot of dust-ups with the Mexican and Columbian drug-runners covering it up, but the yakuza’s been pretty quiet the last few years. You know, so far as over violence goes. They’ve been tied to a lot of kidnappings and missing-person cases, though, not to mention prostitution and drug rings.” She swipes at the base of her popsicle with her tongue before it can drip cherry dye on her hand. “Before Orihara, the main man representing Okamura in Goodman-Okamura was a dude named Satsuki Nobugawa, but he never came over to the States. He did all his work long-distance. So, what I’m thinking is that Orihara and Nobugawa are the same guy, and he came over here in order to do better business.”

“Including a peace treaty with the Russians.”

“That’s what it sounds like. What do you have on your end?”

“There haven’t been many yakuza ‘bangers running around, lately. It feels like they’re preparing for something, but I haven’t been able to find out what.” Mike snarls something under his breath that might be a swearword, and Darcy cocks her head to one side.

“What’d you do?”

“Paper cut.” He curses quietly. “If Orihara has been working with Fisk, then a cease-fire with the Russians makes sense. Don’t piss in your own pool.”

“As bed-wettingly terrifying as that is.” She finishes her popsicle, and catches the stick between her teeth. “I’m going to keep going through the files I have, see if I can find any link with the Goodmans. It won’t help Kate much, but I get the feeling she more than anyone would love to see Goodman-Okamura crash and burn.”

Actually, now that she thinks about it, Kate might be able to help her. She’d had the impression, during the meeting Nobu had so gloriously crashed, that Kate had actually been listening to the Japanese, instead of just hearing it. Darcy knows that Kate’s mom was a Japanese immigrant—she’d died of cancer or something when Kate was ten, before Kate had come out as trans, even—and Kate’s housekeeper is Japanese, too. Maybe Kate speaks Japanese? It would help; she doesn’t get half of the crime scene photos Brett copied for her. Kanji everywhere. So not helpful for someone who took Spanish in college.

“How is Kate?” Mike asks. “I saw that there was a story in the Bulletin yesterday.”

“Yeah, they did a good job with that, didn’t they? Just the right mix of look at these asshats with a healthy dash of the cops have done fucked up. I bought like…six copies of it to keep forever.” She blows out air. “I filed the suit last week, right after the explosions. O’Reilly’s helping me get my hands on all the evidence files that went mysteriously missing. Most of them ended up in digital graveyards, but she keeps all her files on a USB stick, so we have at least a few of her original report drafts, and the names of the people who botched the rape kit. And Kate’s friend, Callie, she filmed part of the night on her cell phone, caught some footage of Kate turning Goodman down when he hit on her. It’s grainy and hard to hear, but it’s way better than nothing.” She chews at her lip. “And, plus side, no threats from Goodman so far. Either of them, which actually surprises me, because Rich Goodman doesn’t seem the type to let things be. But, y’know. It’s a good.”

Mike’s ominously silent for a moment. For some reason, ice creeps down the back of Darcy’s neck. “Mike?”

“There have been a few stragglers.” His voice is so tight she could probably bounce a quarter off it. “I dealt with them before they came within a block.”

“You’re circling my apartment?”

“I keep an ear to the ground,” he corrects, and she’s caught between smiling and feeling slightly invaded. “They seem to have given up the past week or so, though.”

“What does a few stragglers mean, Mike? Like, two? Three?”

“Twelve,” he says. “Fifteen. Maybe a few more.”

Her legs go liquid. “Fifteen people have tried to beat me up in the past month?”

“Fifteen people have decided to investigate your apartment at midnight in the past month,” Mike says, and she bites down hard enough on the popsicle stick that wood gets in between her teeth. “Maybe six more tried to tail you during the evening, but they scared off more easily.”

“So basically what you’re saying is that you’ve been stalking me.”

He laughs. “Stalking is a harsh word, I feel like.”

“Bodyguard?” She leans back against the stoop, trying to ignore the way her hands are shaking. “Protection detail? Benevolent demon?”

“That last one sounds most accurate.”

“It would have been nice if you’d actually, y’know, told me you’d been following me around picking bastards off my trail. People like to know these things, Mike. If you don’t tell them, it gets more than a little creepy.” She brightens. “We should come up with a signal. If you’re following me, knock a trash can over. I’ll know it’s you, and my walks home will be way less freaky. I can actually listen to music again.”

Mike’s laughing. She knows it. “I’m not knocking a garbage can over to let you know I’m there.”

“Well, gimme some sort of sign, otherwise I’ll be constantly looking at rooftops and that’ll give the game away.” Darcy frowns. “Wait, do you use rooftops? Or do you slink from shadow to shadow like some gigantic alley cat?”

“It varies.” They sit in silence for a moment. “I might have some good news for you soon, in regards to Lynch and Jenson. They’ve been out of town for the past week or two, but apparently they’ll be returning to the city in two days.”

“And you’re going to, what, wait on the tarmac for them?”

“No, their apartment building, but close enough.”

She doesn’t envy Jenson and Lynch. “What about Rich Goodman? Have you managed to get a good look at the bastard’s teeth yet?”

“His father’s stuck a bodyguard on him. It wouldn’t be difficult to deal with, but I want to learn more about his drug contacts first. He seems to get pure stuff, heroin right from the source. It’s barely cut, and that sort of drug is difficult to get your hands on without highly-placed contacts.”

“The yakuza?”

“If they’re working with the Russians, possibly. The Russians were working with the Triad, which does a lot of the drug running in the area.” He stops suddenly, and then says, “Why the interest? You’re a private lawyer, not part of the DA.”

“You said it yourself, didn’t you? You can’t exactly go to the DA with this shit. Besides, I’m the one who struck the devil’s bargain. I’ll play Faust to your Mephistopheles, or Ciel to your Sebastian, or whatever other awkward metaphor I can make that doesn’t make us sound like a pair of dudes that most people seem to think were super gay for each other. I’ll come up with something eventually. Why aren’t you lecturing me for talking to Claire?”

Mike goes quiet again. “It’s not my business. Besides, the Russians aren’t after her anymore, so.”

“Well, that’s an about-face if I ever heard one.” She tucks the popsicle stick into the back pocket of her jeans, and then gets to her feet. “You’re really sure they won’t try to hurt her again?”

“They know better.” She’s starting to realize that Mike has different voices. There’s his Vigilante voice, which is dark and husky and growly and basically the stuff that Batman movies are made of; his Near-Human voice, which is still dark and husky and obviously disguised but lighter, somehow, more playful; and then his Don’t Fucking Ask Me That voice, which is basically a Batman that’s smoked for decades and earned some throat cancer in the bargain. This is the Vigilante voice, and it makes the hair on her arms prickle uncomfortably.

“Good. Because if they tried, I’d probably have to go all ninja on them myself.”

The Vigilante voice fractures into pieces. “You should probably find a self-defense instructor. If the Goodmans come after you when I’m distracted by something else, it could be an issue.”

“I told you I bought a gun. Besides, I’ve been being careful. And where in my life do you see room for self-defense courses? The answer is nowhere,” she says, before he has a chance to reply. “Just so you know.”

“Darcy.”

“I’ll be fine, dude. Don’t worry about me, seriously.” Ah, shit. It’s getting darker; she needs to head back to the office. “Anything else for me? I have to get back to work.”

Mike’s quiet for a time. Then he clears his throat, and if she didn’t know better, she’d say he sounds awkward. Like, lost puppy awkward. “You haven’t asked about the bombings.”

“Why would I ask about the bombings?”

He scoffs. “The news has been pretty explicit about what they think I might have done. Just thought you were the type to ask.”

“Mike, you might be one scary-ass motherfucker, but if I thought you’d blown up four buildings and taken potshots at cops the same night, then I wouldn’t have answered the phone in the first place.”

“You thought I was Claire,” says Mike. He’s lighter, now, much closer to the Nearly-Human voice, and it’s…well, it’s nice. No, she doesn’t have the tiniest little bit of a crush on a masked vigilante, shut up, brain. Now at least she can understand why Karen’s ears were red, so long ago. “When you answered.”

“What are you talking about? I have no idea what you’re talking about. You speak lies.”

“I have to go,” he says. “Tell me if you find anything in those files.”

“I’ll masking-tape my window just for you, big guy,” she says, and she swears she hears a door slam in the moment before he hangs up.

.

.

.

She lets Foggy walk her home, so sue her. The idea that people have been following her around and possibly trying to invade her house at ass o’clock at night is highly unsettling, and as awesome as she is (and as little help as she knows Foggy would probably be in a fight) it’s reassuring to have someone walking next to her. He gets a little weirded out by how often she looks over her shoulder (“Lewis, you sure you’re okay? You’re twitchy. Like, rabbit on speed and a cocktail of Tour de France steroids twitchy.”) but he doesn’t push, which is why she loves Foggy. Seriously, she loves Foggy, so, so much, and she doesn’t think she’s ever going to be able to explain how much her boys mean to her. Not in this lifetime, or the hypothetical next.

She gets up on tiptoe and hugs him hard, careful to angle herself away from the deep cut on his side. Foggy hugs her back, and she can see the questions on his face when she pulls away. Still, all he says is, “Tell Jen I said hi,” and all she says is “Don’t tell Karen she’s Chewbacca again,” which breaks the tension nicely. Foggy pinches her in the hip (asshole; he knows that’s basically the only spot she’s ticklish) and then heads back to the staircase.

Jen’s still out. So’s Karen, for that matter; Darcy has a feeling that she’s meeting with Ben Urich, or doing something with Ben Urich anyway. She calls Brigid O’Reilly again, and leaves a message (“Hey, uh, just to let you know, just…be careful, okay? People have been bugging me and I don’t want them to bug you too. Uh, sorry I called while you were on shift. …bye.”) and Jen (“Can we get a pit bull? I like the idea of a pit bull in the house when we come home. Is that a thing that could happen?”) before setting herself up on the couch with her bottle of Bailey’s and her tub of mint chip ice cream, the one she only uses in emergencies.

She’s really not sure why it’s hitting her so hard now, how many people are trying to hurt her. She shouldn’t be surprised, she thinks, staring at the telenovela playing on the TV. She’s doing the right thing, she knows that—Kate needs her, and she wants to see this through, she does, she needs it—but she’s not entirely sure that she’s doing it for the right reasons. It feels like a worm under her skin, the doubt, itching away at her muscles and nibbling on her tendons.

Justice or revenge. Jedi or Sith, she thinks, and chokes on a laugh. Is she doing this, all of it, because she wants to see the Goodmans behind bars, or is she doing it because she wants them to suffer the way Kate did, because she wants them to pay for what they did to her, Gilgamesh’s justice, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth?

Darcy sips at the Bailey’s, and then chokes on it, staring at the bottle. “Jesus.” She looks like her fucking mother. She’s not her mother. She’s not the sort of person who drinks when she’s scared or when she’s depressed or when she doesn’t know what to do. The bottle feels like a snake in her hand, winding tight around her wrist. “I’m not my mother,” she says aloud, because it feels truer when she can hear it. “I’m not Lorna.”

She dumps the Bailey’s down the toilet and throws the bottle through her window and into the alleyway. The noise it makes when it smashes feels like a release.

She doesn’t tape the window. The door opens at about ten o’clock, and it’s kind of sad that she can recognize the sound of Karen’s heels over Jen’s. Karen wears snazzier shoes than Jen does, ones with thinner, higher heels, and the noise is sharper. It’s like she stabs the floor every time she takes a step. Karen’s muttering under her breath when she sticks her head into the living room, her hair swaying around her face. “Hey,” she says. “I’m gonna take a shower, okay?” Then she sees the ice cream, and the telenovela, and her eyebrows go up. “Wait, are you okay?”

Darcy legit has no idea how to answer that, so she shrugs. Karen looks at the half-empty ice cream carton, and then peels her shoes off (she loses four inches when she does it, and somehow she looks strangely human in bare feet) and drops down onto the couch next to Darcy. “Ice cream,” she says, and Darcy hands over her spoon and her carton. Karen wrinkles her nose at how melted the ice cream is getting, but scrapes some up anyway. “So?” she asks, and Darcy looks away from the telenovela. “I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen you in major mope mode. You look like a country song.”

I ran over my dog with my broken pick-up truck after my lady left me and my house was taken by the repo men,” Darcy says, in a twangy voice that’s nothing like hers. Karen’s lips twitch. She takes another bite of ice cream. “Do you ever feel like you’re just—doing something because it’ll make you feel better, and not because it’s right?”

“All the time,” Karen says, without hesitation. “I think that’s how you know that you’re not crazy, thinking that sort of thing. Because if you’re still sane enough to wonder if you’re working for justice or revenge, you know that you have the capacity to differentiate between the two. Because sometimes they’re fucking twins.”

Something that’s been knotted tight in her throat since her conversation with Mike unwinds. Darcy sighs, and tips over to lean her head against Karen’s shoulder. Karen puts the thing of ice cream back on the coffee table and crooks her fingers, tugging them lightly through Darcy’s hair the same way she pets Darla. Darcy closes her eyes for a moment. Then she swallows. “How long have you been working with Ben Urich?”

Karen’s hand goes still against her scalp. She hears her swallow. Then Karen starts finger-combing her hair again, slower this time. “How did you know?”

“Karen, honey, I love you, but you can’t lie worth shit. It’s like watching a baby try to drive a car.” Darcy leans her head back, just a little. She can see the underside of Karen’s jaw, the shadows her hair casts on her throat. “I thought you took money from Union Allied not to talk about it anymore.”

“Technically, I won’t be the one talking about it. Ben will be.” Karen heaves a shaky sigh. “I thought—when I heard you were meeting with Ben, I thought you might have guessed. But I didn’t—I’m sorry I didn’t tell you. I promised I wouldn’t.”

“No, it’s okay.” Darcy lifts her head from Karen’s shoulder, shifting so she can look her in the eye. “Look at me, okay? I am one hundred percent okay with the idea of you driving a stake up Union Allied’s ass, any way you fucking want. What do you think I’m doing with the Goodmans?”

Karen searches her face. There’s the flash of the tigress again, in the back of her eyes where most people can’t see it. Then she nods once, and Darcy settles again, shifting her head so her glasses aren’t digging into her temple. “You’re being safe?”

“As safe as I can be. What about you? I’ve seen all those files you have on your desk, don’t think I haven’t noticed.” Karen’s voice tightens. “Is there something going on with the Goodmans that you haven’t told us?”

“I think they’re part of the yakuza,” Darcy says, and the knot gets looser, puddling in the base of her throat. “I don’t know if they’re associated with Union Allied or not, but I think—there’s something bigger going on with them. I feel like I’m on the right track, but I don’t know where I’m going to end up. It’s really fucking uncomfortable, actually. And the Goodmans are making it worse because I don’t know if they’re going to attack me again, and, y’know, I don’t—” she swallows. “I never told you guys this, but like—they said they’d hurt you, if I kept going. You and Matt and Foggy and Jen. They said—”

Just step up behind him on a street corner and push. The other one, well. Mugging gone wrong, don’t you think? And the Page woman, Jen Walters—well, they’re the easiest of all.

“Darcy,” says Karen, but Darcy shakes her head.

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have told you that. You’ll worry for no good reason now.”

“I feel like this is a very good reason to be worried.” Karen turns on the sofa, crossing her legs and hooking her hair behind her ears. She searches Darcy’s face again. “You’ve kept that quiet this whole time?”

“You think I’d still be investigating if I didn’t think they were bullshitting me? Now that the article’s out they can’t do a damn thing. You saw how TMZ snapped it up. Kate’s going to do an interview with them on Saturday, and, y’know, I’ll go with her so they’ll hear about it all, but I just—” She shakes her head. “It’s okay. I have—a friend, who’s been keeping an eye out. He’s helped me. He’s kept us safe, y’know?”

Karen pitches her voice low. “The devil?”

“He didn’t blow up those buildings, Karen.” Darcy catches Karen’s hands, and holds them. “He’s—I dunno. He’s nice, in a weird way. He’s—” her tongue trips, because she thinks the word familiar, and she can’t think about that right now. She won’t. “He’s been helping a lot.”

“He did save you, then.”

“He’s been helping me look into Goodman-Okamura.”

Karen closes her eyes. “Have you told Foggy?”

“Are you kidding? No. He’d freak out. He thinks the devil blew up Hell’s Kitchen, remember?” She shakes her head. “Have you told Foggy about Ben Urich?”

“No. I didn’t—I didn’t want to get anyone involved.”

“Jesus. I feel like we should institute an honest policy in the office from now on. Post it on the wall and everything. Tell everyone everything, except when it might make Foggy uncomfortable.

Karen laughs. “Right? It’d make things easier.”

“Damn straight.” She leans her shoulder against the couch, and folds her hands in her lap. “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.”

“Done,” says Karen, and when Jen comes home at two am, exhausted and buzzing from too much coffee, she finds them still talking on the couch, the telenovela marathon forgotten in the background.

.

.

.

“I can’t believe it.” Claire sounds almost hollow, as if the shock has scraped her personality out by the roots and dumped it into the East River. “You just…found me a house.”

Darcy shakes her head. Then she remembers Claire can’t actually see her, since she’s on the other side of the city, and makes a noise instead. “No, I didn’t find you a house. I asked a friend, who asked her brother, who is currently teaching in the Czech Republic, to see if there was a house you could babysit while they’re both working. And it turns out there is, up near Albany. It’s on a main street, so you don’t need a car, and they’re used to seeing city people rent places in that area.”

She’s ominously silent. Darcy clears her throat. “I’m not saying it’s a fabulous house. It’s like…way out in the middle of nowhere, so you might need to knock some skulls together to get decent internet. And there’s not a lot to do out there, compared to the city. But, y’know, it’s away. In case you want it.”

“Darcy.” Somehow Claire manages to say you shouldn’t have and I’m going to fucking kill you and what am I supposed to say all at once without saying any of it. “Jesus.”

“Hey, I told you I’d look for a place. Oppie owes me a favor and I cashed it in. Besides, I figured you’d want to, y’know, get away from the city for a while. Even if the Russians are gone.”

Claire sighs, deeply. “You didn’t have to do that.”

“Yes, I did. Now shut up and take the offer before I give it to some other chick I know who’s been kicked in the teeth by the Russian mob in the past month.” Claire huffs. Darcy knocks open the door to Mug Shots with her hip, and sighs. “Shit, she’s late.”

“Who’s late?”

“One of my clients. I was supposed to meet her to go over what’s going to happen when we meet with the judge in a week. I’m late, so it figures that she’s late. God, I didn’t have to run here in three inch heels, fuck. I could have fucking walked.”

“Sucks for you, bro,” says Claire. Darcy covers the mouthpiece of her banana phone (she’s given up using the burner for Claire, after the Mike fiasco) and orders an Americano and a scone. “I still can’t believe you found me a fucking house.”

“Like I said, it’s not a house, it’s a babysitting job for a house in the middle of bumblefuck nowhere. You’ll probably hate it, city girl.” Kimmy, the barista with the spiked hair, waggles her eyebrows. Darcy rolls her eyes back, and steps aside to let the next person in line order. “Plus side, there aren’t any cats for you to turn up your nose at. There might be a dog in the neighborhood though. I don’t know if you’re allergic to dogs.”

“I’m not allergic to dogs.”

“Well, good for me, I found you an allergy-free place to live, then.”

“Shut up,” says Claire, and Darcy laughs. “It’s just so weird. I have somewhere to go. I mean, I don’t need to run off anymore—I went grocery shopping this morning, and it was so trippy. Having perishable food in my fridge again, first of all, because you don’t want to know what happened with the stuff in my fridge when I hid, it was seriously disgusting. But like…having a place to keep food. Being able to go out and buy food. It was really…weird.”

“I mean, considering everything, it sounds like that that would probably be the trippiest thing that would ever happen in your life. Meeting Mike can’t come close.”

“Dragging Mike out of my dumpster to stitch up in the middle of the night doesn’t even compare,” Claire agrees gravely.

“He seriously landed in your dumpster?”

“Russians kicked the crap out of him. Seems to be a trend around here.”

There’s something odd in Claire’s voice, some still-raw hurt, that scrapes unsettlingly close. Darcy passes her phone from one ear to the other, collecting her Americano from the counter. “You okay there?”

“I’m fine. Nothing that a few days binging on Bourne movies won’t fix.” Claire sighs. “I just—there was a moment. And then there was the shattered remains of a moment, which, y’know, cut like a wicked bitch. But cuts heal.”

Darcy turns that over in her head for a moment. Then she says, “What, is he a shitty kisser?”

The noise Claire makes is the most gorgeous, hilarious thing on this side of the century, and Darcy is hella pleased with herself that she managed to get her to make it. “What the hell.”

“I was just wondering, ‘cause, y’know, you never know with those dark and dangerous types, they might be hiding a total virgin interior under all the badassery.”

“Oh my god.” Claire makes the noise again, and then starts to laugh. “Oh my god.

“Seriously, Claire, you can’t leave me hanging with that. Is Mike a kissing virgin? Ugh, is he one of those guys that has like…a prickly cactus tongue? I met one in undergrad and it was seriously the most terrible fucking thing, so uncomfortable, the worst thing to find out in the middle of a very nice bout of sexual tension, it completely takes all the wind out of your sails—”

“It was fine,” Claire says, still laughing. “It was nice.”

“Just nice?”

“I’m so not answering that.”

“So it was awesome. I’ll keep that in mind.”

“You’re the worst.”

“Be glad you never met sixteen-year-old me. I would have totally interrogated you for every single detail.” Cream, sugar, and she’s good. Darcy wades through the masses to her regular table, and sets her stuff down, hooking her coat on the back of the chair. “I should probably get this shit ready before Kate gets here. Tell me if you’re gonna go up to the house, okay? I need to let Oppie know, and if you’re not going I need to do damage control.”

“Yeah. Um. Yeah, I’ll call you.” Claire pauses. “Thanks. It’s—yeah. Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.” She hangs up, and sets her phone on the table, leaning back to stare out the window. There’s any number of things that she should be doing—saving the interview she did with Brigid O’Reilly to the cloud, first of all—but right now she’s comfortable. She actually slept well, for once; she and Karen had dropped by Elena’s to have a real breakfast, the sort that Darcy hasn’t had since before she went into law school, complete with salsa hot enough to make the roof of her mouth melt; she has coffee and a scone, because her first check from Kate came through, so she can start paying off her monumental hospital bill; the first meeting with the judge is in a week, and they actually managed to snag Moustakas for this, which is amazing in a million different ways; and, again, coffee. All in all? It’s a really fucking nice day.

Which is, of course, why she has to turn around and have it ruined.

Psycho Glasses Killer stands beside her table, hands loose by his sides, tipping his head and watching her the way a cat does a dying bird. Darcy chokes on her sip of coffee, and almost spurts it back up all over the tabletop. Thankfully, she manages to swallow before she makes a complete ass of herself. “Miss Lewis,” says Psycho Glasses Killer. “I was wondering if I might run into you. Mind if I sit?”

Darcy looks at the empty chairs around them, then up at Psycho Glasses Killer. Her mouth is made of ash. “Knock yourself out, dude,” she says, and Psycho Glasses Killer takes the chair opposite her, settling himself in a neat little sprawl with his hands folded on the table top. Mug Shots suddenly feels too small, and her gun—in her purse, fuck—is very far away.

“I don’t know if I ever introduced myself,” says Psycho Glasses Killer. “I’m Wesley.”

“I don’t get a last name?”

His eyes crinkle. “That is my last name.”

“Damn. I thought you might have been the Dread Pirate Roberts.” Her heart’s hammering under her breastbone, and her fingers feel shaky. When she grabs her coffee mug, though, they’re perfectly steady. “So, is there a reason you wanted to talk to me, or did you just see me and figure you’d say hi on the behalf of your malevolent overlords?”

“Six of one, half-dozen of the other.” Wesley cocks his eyebrows at her, as if she’s going to fall for it, and then leans back in his chair. “I wanted to speak to you about your investigation into Goodman-Okamura.”

“I don’t see how that’s any of your business.”

“Goodman-Okamura is my employer’s business, which makes it my business.” He gives her a look. “The same way Confederated Global was my business, as your partners might have told you.”

“And the same way Union Allied is your business?” Darcy snaps. It’s a shot in the dark, but when she sees the way his hands flex against the table, she knows she’s hit home. Wesley’s face remains admirably blank, though.

“Conspiracy theorist isn’t a hat you wear well, Miss Lewis. I’d suggest exchanging it for another one as soon as possible.”

“That’s the thing about me, I don’t let other people dictate my fashion choices.” She hooks her foot around the straps of her purse, pulling it closer to her under the table. “Why Goodman-Okamura? Only I thought that you were trying to defend Rich Goodman for raping a girl in Central Park, not covering their corporate asses.”

“I’m not an attorney, Miss Lewis. Whatever the Goodmans decide to do in court, that’s their affair. In fact, I wish you luck in destroying them. I have no liking for Robert or Richard Goodman, but unfortunately duty calls.” His smile reminds her of a shark, all teeth and no humor. “There are two options for you, here, Miss Lewis. The Goodman rape case is yours, free and clear. We have no intention to interfere with that. Neither my employer nor myself relish being associated with a known rapist.”

“If you’re not here for the Goodmans, what are you here for? Did you see the newest episode of Game of Thrones and think, huh, she looks like a lady who knows her Targaryens from her Tyrells?”

“As fascinating as I’m sure that discussion would be, I’m afraid we don’t have enough time.” Wesley looks genuinely disappointed. It makes her skin crawl.  “There are a lot of things I could say, you could be threatened, I would be intimidating, there would be another argument, and so on, but the gist of the matter is that if you don’t cease looking into the inner workings of the Goodman-Okamura Trading Group, things will become very…difficult, for all of us.”

“Define difficult,” Darcy says, and sips at her coffee, ignoring the way it scalds her tongue. Her heart’s pounding in her chest, hard enough to hurt, and it might be because she’s scared and it might be because she’s angry and it might be because of both. It’s probably both. Still, this is fairly unimpressive, considering the last time someone tried to intimidate her.

“Extraordinarily distasteful,” says Wesley eventually. “To a great many people.”

“Meaning, what, you’ll kill me?” Her purse is between her feet, now. She can’t exactly reach down and grab the gun while he’s watching, but she can maybe do something super-spy like and subterfuge-y. Darcy touches the edge of her banana phone, with its bright yellow case, and wonders. “Or you’ll kill someone I care about?”

Wesley actually smiles again. “You underestimate our creativity, Miss Lewis.”

“I don’t even know who your employer is.” Her palms are sweating. She reaches for her coffee cup with shaking hands. “I have no idea whose toes I’m stepping on.”

“You don’t need to know. Settle for stopping the investigation.”

She knocks her phone a little bit closer to the edge, sweeping it sideways accidentally-on-purpose, and then sips her coffee. “Sorry,” she says. “What I do on my own time is my business. Same as what I decide to do with my uterus, or who I decide to have sex with, or whether or not I spend an evening eating like an entire carton of ice cream by myself, which, news to no one, has happened. But yeah. Even if I’ve been looking into your boss’s private stuff—which, you know, since I don’t know who he is, I’d in no way know that—everything I’ve done in this supposed investigation is legal and above-board. So if your employerthe yakuza? Who’s that guy Mike mentioned, Fisk? Someone else? “—wants to object, he can do it himself, in person, rather than sending one of his minions to try and scare me.” She nudges her phone even closer to the edge, under cover of waving her arms around like a maniac. “We’re done here.”

Wesley doesn’t snap or snarl. In fact, he looks rather pleased. “We know that you’re aware of Hironobu Orihara’s less savory associations,” he says, and Darcy goes still. “We know that you meet with the devil of Hell’s Kitchen. We know that he protects you. He seems to have a taste for dark-haired women in distress, this mysterious masked man.  Tell me, if my associates and I escort you from this coffee shop in broad daylight, how long do you think you have before he comes for you? Six hours? Seven? There’s a lot we can do to you in that time, Miss Lewis, and none of it will ever leave a mark.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Darcy says, but her voice is trembling.

Wesley clicks his tongue. “Come on, Miss Lewis, you’re smarter than that. We have it on film, you know. We’ve known where you live since the beginning. Setting up an observer in the apartment across from yours, well, that was more than simple. We have a number of very interesting shots of your fire escape, the night you first met with the Goodmans. The most interesting thing is that he seems to do more than protect you, he seems to trust you. In fact, if I didn’t know better, I’d say you know who he is.”

“Seriously, dude. I have no idea what you’re talking about.

“Don’t bullshit me, Darcy.” Wesley leans forward. “You know the masked man. You know who he is. We can make you talk, in very, very nasty ways, or you could tell us straight out. Only one option leaves you with all your fingers intact. And if you continue trying to create a distraction to draw your gun, I’d like you to know that there’s a sniper set up across the street, and if you move one inch towards your purse you’ll wind up with a bullet in the chest.”

Darcy looks down. There’s a gleaming red spot against her left breast. As she watches, it bounces once, and then vanishes.

“It’s highly unfortunate that you’ve set yourself so firmly against my employer,” he says. “You would be quite an asset, if you decided to switch sides.”

“So you’re either offering to kill me, or offering a job.” Her eyebrows go up, all on their own. “Does being Henchman Number Three get you better dental? Literally the only reason I would consider it.”

Wesley gets to his feet, pushing his chair back to its place beneath the table. “It was worth a shot, I suppose. You have twenty-four hours to reconsider, Miss Lewis. At that point, the instruments I have in play will be set loose, and their methods are very uncomfortable.”

Kate slips into Mug Shots. Darcy can see the moment when she registers Wesley at the table, can see the way her shoulders tense and her hands bunch up into fists. “I’d go, if I were you, Mr. Wesley. My client doesn’t like you very much.”

“Think about what I said.” He takes a card from his pocket, and offers it to her. There’s only a number on it, no other information. Darcy looks at it, and then at him, and grabs her coffee cup instead. Wesley places the card in the spot of honor on the table—right in front of her—and then nods once. “It was nice speaking with you, Miss Lewis.”

“Can’t say I feel the same, minion.”

His eyes crinkle up into an odd little smile. Wesley passes Kate on her way over to the table, dipping his head as if he’s tipping his cap, but thankfully he doesn’t say anything to her. Kate takes the chair he left behind, her hands already in fists, her eyes sharp and dark. “Darcy?”

“Hm?” says Darcy, feeling slightly dizzy. Her rib hurts again. In fact, if I didn’t know better, I’d say you know who he is. “Yeah?”

“Is there a reason that Goodman’s lawyer was here?”

If I didn’t know better, I’d say you know who he is. “He’s not Goodman’s lawyer.”

Kate makes an impatient noise. “What was he doing here?”

Darcy looks down at the card on the table. She picks it up slowly, touching only the barest piece of it. Then she digs into her pocket, where she’s kept a lighter since she’d picked up a cigarette habit in undergrad (she mostly doesn’t smoke anymore, but still) and lights it on fire. Out on the street, she sees Wesley flash a smile at her as he waves down a cab. She waits until it’s all fallen into ash, and then scrapes the ashes into a napkin, and folds the napkin up to be tossed.

You know who he is, Wesley says in her head, and she thinks she might throw up.

I’ll tell you later, don’t worry about it.

“Darcy?”

Darcy gets to her feet. “I’ll be right back,” she says. “I need to make a call.”

Chapter Text

It’s nearly three in the morning and she’s been sitting on her fire escape for a good three hours when she finally hears the clang of hands around the railing. Darcy grabs her gun from where it’s been lying next to her on the grate, holding it tight in one hand, but it’s only Mike; he heaves himself up onto the fire escape and puts up his hands, slowly. “Hey,” he says. “Hey, it’s just me.”

Something about his voice in that moment pricks at her, like it’s something she’s heard before even if he’s cast it low and gravelly. It hurts. If Wesley is right, if Mike is someone she knows, she doesn’t know if she’ll be able to make it through tonight without a full-on breakdown. (Bruises, she thinks, a ski-hat pulled down over his eyes, all those times he fell down stairs.) She has to take two deep breaths and clasp her other hand around the base of her semiautomatic before she can finally lower it again. Darcy tucks it into the back of her pants, thumbing the safety on so she doesn’t accidentally shoot herself in the ass. Mike’s mouth tightens, and he settles himself next to her, crossing his legs and clasping his ankles through his boots. There’s a set to his jaw that makes her think he wants to take the gun from her, but at the same time, he doesn’t. “You called. What happened?”

She shakes her head once. Then she takes a breath, and releases it. “Wesley—Psycho Glasses Killer—offered me a job.”

You know who he is.

I’ll tell you later, don’t worry about it.

Mike doesn’t flinch. He just tips his head at her, and Jesus, it looks so much like how Matt does it that it makes her eyes burn. She can’t talk to Matt about this, though. She can only talk to Mike. “He—he said I could stop looking into Goodman-Okamura and take a job with them, or I could—I don’t know. He had a gun on me. He made weird threats. Like, you have twenty-four hours before something bad happens type threats. You know, B-movie villain stuff. And I kind of spent most of the afternoon hiding in my bathroom throwing up because it was so much worse than the alleyway and I really didn’t enjoy it. Like. At all. Can there be a rule where bad guys stop focusing on me?”

“I’m pretty sure bad guys only stop focusing on you if you stop doing good things,” Mike says. His lip is terribly split, and when he shifts on the fire escape he lets out a tight hiss of breath from between his teeth. "So in a way it’s flattering that they’re so mad.”

All those missed phone calls. “Also, apparently they’ve been watching me from the next building over, so—y’know. There’s that.”

Mike tips his head again. There’s a bruise right underneath his jaw that’s shaped like a fingerprint. “If there were, there’s no one there right now.”

“How would you even know that?”

“Doesn’t matter.”

Well, fine, then. “Jesus, what the hell happened to you?” She lifts a hand, and then lowers it. “Did someone hit you with a semi-truck?”

“Had a disagreement.” He shakes his head, and runs a hand over his jaw. Verbal tics. The fidgeting habit. The way the corners of his mouth twist when he smiles. “It doesn’t matter.”

“It kind of does matter.” She touches the gun again, and then nods. “Hold on. I’m gonna get the first aid kit, I’ll be right back.”

“You don’t need to do that.”

“I do need to do that. Jesus Christ, you look fucking terrible.” He holds himself stiffly, and sets one hand on the grating as if he’s ready to bolt. Darcy sighs. Her heart hurts. Mike can’t be Matt. Matt is blind. And Mike wears a mask that hides his eyes. “I won’t try to take your mask off, though I have absolutely no doubt that your face looks awful. I promise, okay? I won’t take your mask. Just your shirt.”

His lips twitch. Then he winces, because the scab on his lower lip has split, and blood wells up on the cut. “Just my shirt, huh.”

“You think I’m going to pass up the chance to ogle a superhero in the raw? Please.” She wedges her window open, and sticks her feet through onto her bed. “Just wait there, okay? I’ll be back.”

Mike nods once, and turns his face away from her.

I’ll tell you later, she thinks. Don’t worry about it.

Jen’s light is still on underneath her door, so Darcy creeps by it and into the bathroom to grab their first aid kit. (Super-mega-awesome ultra-buffed first aid kit, because both Darcy and Jen like to chop bits off their hands while cutting vegetables, okay, it’s a thing.) She slinks back into her room, prodding Darla out with her foot, and then clambers up onto the bed, poking her head through the window. “Come on,” she says. “I can’t do it out there, there’s no light.”

Mike hesitates. Then he follows her into her room. It’s very, very strange, a vigilante in all-black sitting on her desk chair, but it’s, y’know. What her life is now. Darcy shuts the window and pins her dragon tapestry back over it. Then she drags her footstool over to the desk and sits, cocking her eyebrows at him. “Come on, punky. Shirt, off.”

She says it without thinking, and she flinches when she realizes what she’s just done. She’s only ever called Matt punky. After a long breath, Mike peels his shirt up and over his head, wincing and clenching his teeth as he does it, and she takes the split second when his face is hidden behind his shirt to close her eyes and curse herself. I have to be wrong, she thinks, but Wesley’s voice won’t get out of her head. He can’t be Matt. He can’t.  

I’d say you know who he is.

I’ll tell you later. Don’t worry about it.

Mike is a marvel of muscles and a patchwork of scars. Some of them are still pink and raw, some are older; one still has stitches in it, and she’s pretty sure she recognizes Claire’s neat, clean work even if she’s never seen Claire’s stitches before in her life. She ghosts her fingertips over the top of it, and somehow Mike doesn’t flinch. “What’s this from?”

“Glass cut. Russians.”

“Jesus.” She touches another mark, just below his collarbone. It’s healing, the stitches are gone, but it still looks puckered and painful. “What about this one?”

“Lucky bastard with a knife.”

“You need body armor,” she tells him, trying to keep her voice from shaking. Darcy opens the first aid kit. “Seriously, like…all of the body armor.”

“That’s what Claire said,” says Mike, and leans forward so she doesn’t have to reach to dab at him with cotton balls. “But it’d slow me down. It’s not like I have a magic hammer or a special shield or anything.”

“No,” she says, “just your X-ray hands. Claire said something about that, told me I should ask you.” She eyes the mark on his jaw again, and then presses a cotton ball to the top of the isopropyl alcohol bottle, tipping it just enough to wet the cotton down without spilling it all over her desk. “If you can see through my shirt, we’re done here, dude.”

He laughs, silently. No. “No, it’s not—I don’t have X-ray vision.”

“Then what do you have?” She touches the cotton ball to the fresh cut on his ribcage, one that looks more like the splitting flesh of a rotten fruit than anything, and though he takes a sharp breath, he doesn’t react otherwise. “Because I’ve seen you fight, remember. It’s like—I don’t know. It’s like you know what’s coming. Like you have eyes in the back of your head.”

Mike’s quiet for a long time. Darcy throws the first cotton ball in the trash, and then wets down another one. He licks his lips. “It’s more like—everything’s enhanced, I guess. I can hear things, smell things. I know—I can tell you that there’s a cat three blocks away with kittens, in a cardboard box behind a dumpster near that Indian restaurant. They’re only a few days old. The guy who’s been watching your apartment left four days ago, but the empty apartment he was using still smells like his aftershave and the takeout he was eating. Same thing every day, one of the soups from the Chinese place down the street. It’s…I don’t know.”

“So everything’s in super-hi-def for you, then.” She tugs one of the bigger Band-Aids from the box, and tears off the paper covering. “Is it always like that, or just when you put on the mask?”

He shakes his head a little. “Usually I can push it back, but yeah. It’s always there.” Mike tilts his head again, and that’s Matt all over, enough to break her heart. You can’t be Matt, because that would mean Matt didn’t trust me. It would mean Matt’s been lying, lying for years, and I can’t— “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” Darcy says, but even normal-person no-superpowers her can hear the way her voice snaps, the way dying fires do. “Why wouldn’t I be fine? You’re the one who had your ribs kicked in.”

Mike watches her for a second or two. Then he lets out a breath. “I don’t know. You smell like tears.”

“That’s so—” She doesn’t know what to think. That he’s invasive? That he should keep his damn nose to himself? That he can’t help it, she shouldn’t be angry at him if he can’t help it, but he can help lying to her, god fucking damn it, he could have helped that years ago. “—you can seriously smell that?”

“Yeah.”

Darcy’s hands are shaking as she douses a third cotton ball. “And—and you’ve always been like this?”

“Long enough.” He reaches out, and rests the fingertips of his gloves against the back of her wrist. “Darcy, what’s wrong?”

“I’ve just—I’ve had a really shitty night, okay? Can we drop it? I don’t—”

“Darcy.”

She doesn’t think. Darcy jerks her hand away, and slams the alcohol against her desk, hard enough to spill some of it against the wood. “Matt,” she snaps back at him, “I really don’t want to talk about this right now.

They both freeze. Mike’s—Matt’s lips part. Her cheeks feel hot, and her eyesight is going blurred. Darcy scrapes at her eyes with the back of her hand, and stands up sharply, stalking out of her room. The bathroom is across the hall from Jen’s room, and she shuts the door more carefully there, turning on the sink to the highest heat it can manage before propping herself against the ceramic.

She looks like shit. There are caverns under her eyes the size of the Grand Canyon, her nose is red from holding tears back, and she can’t keep her chin from fucking trembling like a six-year-old’s. She blows her nose hard enough to hurt, and then washes her face three times in quick succession, because she’s not about to fucking cry. She’s not going to cry. She’s just not. She’s spent all afternoon thinking about this, and she’s not going to cry about it.

Her heart tumbles in her ribcage like a jester. She has a feeling that someone somewhere is laughing at her. It’s less than two minutes later when she grabs the spare Ace bandages for her ribs, and leaves the bathroom again.

She’s not sure if she’s surprised or disappointed to find that Matt is still in her room. He’s still wearing the stupid fucking ski-mask, and now that she’s said it, now that she can’t deny it anymore, the sight of the scars makes her hurt all over. “Were you ever going to tell me?” she asks, her voice hard, prodding her door shut with her foot. Darla shoots through the gap before it clicks closed, escaping to Karen and freedom. “Or were you going to just, you know, keep lying for as long as you know me?”

Matt says nothing. His lips are pressed so thin that she can’t even really see them anymore. “Darcy,” he says, and thank god that stupid dip in his voice is gone, thank god he’s decided to just speak normally, because if he’d kept trying to hold up the façade she would have punched him. She really would have. “How did you figure it out?”

“Wesley said something. Not about your identity,” she corrects, when he goes stiff as a board. “More like he’d be surprised if I didn’t know who you were. And—y’know, it made me think.” Mike is Matt. She breathes with it. Her heart beats with it. She’s standing close enough that she can smell the shampoo he uses, and that mouth, Jesus, she should have recognized the mouth. “I’m supposed to be smart,” she says, her voice tight. “I’m supposed to notice things about people. It’s what my job is, I’m supposed to see things. But until he suggested it, it didn’t click. And it’s so fucking obvious I could scream.” She drops a handful of toilet paper onto the alcohol spill. “So, y’know, when I was worried you were dead, you were out, what, beating the shit out of people?”

Matt doesn’t say anything. She looks up at the ski mask, and then down at the bandages again. “You’re the devil of Hell’s Kitchen. How the hell am I supposed to feel about that?”

“I don’t know.” He licks his lips. “I’m sorry.”

“I’m not okay with sorries right now. Explanations are better.” She drops down hard on the stool, and unpins the bandage. “How are your ribs?”

He makes an impatient noise. “My ribs are fine.”

“Don’t give me that, I saw how you flinched.” Darcy judges her moment, and then pokes him hard underneath one of his bruises. The sound Matt makes when she does it breaks her heart and makes her furious, all at once. “Broken rib,” she says, and glares at him. “Lift your arms, asshole.”

He lifts his arms. She has to touch him in order to wrap his ribs, and she does it, but she’s not sure how she’s going to come through it alive. “You didn’t answer my question,” she says. “Were you ever going to tell anyone? Or were you, y’know, planning on ending up dead and us finding out then?”

“Of course not.” There’s his temper, sparking just under the surface. Something dark and serpentine clenches close around her heart. Yeah, be mad, Matt. I promise you I’ll be so much worse. “Darcy, I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want you to be in danger, I wasn’t trying to—”

“Well, I ended up in danger anyway, because apparently I have a nose for that sort of thing.” She tugs the bandage a bit tighter than she needs to. “And it’s not just the fucking vigilantism, Matt. You’re—you can see? Did you—did you lie about that, too? Can you—are you just going around with sunglasses and a cane, just to see how people—”

His hands snap closed around her wrists, squeezing just hard enough to hurt. “No,” he says. “No. I didn’t lie about that.”

“But you can—goddammit, Matt, you can smell me crying. You can hear—Jesus, you said three blocks away, didn’t you? You can hear that far, and smell, and—Jesus Christ.” She’s shaking. “Jesus, Matt, I can’t talk to you with that thing on. Take it off.”

“Darcy—”

Please,” she says, and tears feel like blood against her cheeks. “Just take off the fucking mask.”

He squeezes her wrists again. Then he lets her go. Matt lifts his hands to his face, and pushes the mask up, not slowly, but not quickly either. Her lungs go flat when it’s off, and she can see the way his hair stands up from the sweat, the way his eyes are not-focused on the wall behind her. He’s very pale, and there are bruises everywhere. She wants to touch him, but if she does, she’ll break.

“You’re the devil of Hell’s Kitchen,” she says, and he turns his face towards hers. “You’ve—you’ve been following me around, picking assholes off my tail. You led me to Claire.” She takes a breath. “You’re the one who beat the shit out of those guys in the alley. And you saved my life, and Karen’s. You’ve done all of that, and you never told me.

“I was going to,” he says, his voice low. For some stupid reason, her heart skips. “I was going to tell you. Tomorrow, actually. When—after I dealt with Lynch and Jenson, I was going to tell you.”

She clenches her fingers into fists. “You swear?”

“I wouldn’t lie about that, Darcy.” His eyes are hard and wet. “I don’t—like—keeping secrets.” He licks his lips. “Not from you, anyway.”

“Bullshit.” She’s choking. She can’t breathe. “You’ve kept a million secrets from me, for years. Not—not the devil, but—Jesus. Were you ever going to say anything? About—about what you can do, about who you are? I’ve known you for seven years and you’ve never said anything.

Matt scoffs. “How was I supposed to explain it? Hi, my name’s Matt Murdock, I can smell what you had for breakfast yesterday. How was I supposed to say that?”

“A simple hey, I’m a mutant would have been fucking nice!”

“It’s not like I was born this way!”

“So, what, you’re like an experiment?”

He clenches his teeth. “I don’t know what I am.”

For some reason, that drops gasoline on her temper better than anything else he could have possibly said. “I know what I thought you were,” says Darcy, pinning the bandage and grabbing a handful of Q-tips. “I thought you were one of the only people on the planet that would never, ever lie to me. I thought you were—I thought you were a good man, a good lawyer.” She thinks of that night, so long ago, when they’d lain in the same bed with his swollen knuckles and the smears of blood. “I thought you were my friend, Matt. That’s what I thought.”

In the dim light of her desk lamp, his eyes gleam like shards of glass. She’s never seen him cry. She’s not sure if she’ll be able to say the same, after tonight. “So?” His voice is hoarse. “What do you think now?”

She doesn’t speak for a very long time. Darcy tugs wound tape from the kit, peeling the sterile wrapping away. She wants to hurt him, for lying to her. She wants to cry. She wants to crawl into his lap, wrap her arms and legs around him, and cling on, like twining the two of them together like vines will keep him from getting up and climbing out the window with his mask and his secrets. Like it would stop him from doing whatever he’s going to do. “I think some part of me already knew that it was you,” she says, setting her hand to the back of his neck and tipping his head forward so she can tape the cut on his eyebrow. Matt holds his breath, like he’s suspended over a ravine, and she’s sawing through his ropes. “I think I understand why you didn’t say anything about your—your whatever-it-is that you can do. It hurts, but I think I understand it. And I think you meant what you said, about telling me the truth. Even if I’m really fucking angry with you, that’s not something I’m going to forget.”

He closes his eyes, and the shaky sigh that escapes him tickles the hair on the back of her forearm.

“I’ve been—I’ve been thinking about this all day.” She leans back and checks his face again before pouring a bit of alcohol into a shot glass, dipping a Q-tip into it. “Whether—whether or not I can forgive you for lying.”

“Darcy—”

“Just shut up for a minute.” She blows out a breath. “My brain’s been going in circles for hours. Some—some bad metro detours all up in this. And I was—I was thinking how hypocritical it would be for me to n-not be able to forgive you, because there’s shit I’ve never told you or Foggy. Not ever. And—and I didn’t do it because I didn’t want either of you to th-think less of me.” She’s crying again. She wipes her face with the back of her wrist, and rolls the Q-tip over a cut on his cheek. “And—and Foggy, especially, he wouldn’t—he wouldn’t get it. He’s—he’s one of the gentlest people I’ve ever met, Matt. He’s just genuinely good, and I don’t—I didn’t want to have him hate me.”

“Foggy would never hate you,” Matt says after a moment. “I know I never could.”

She can’t speak for a long time. Darcy throws the first Q-tip away, and grabs a second one, turning his face to the side so she can get at a cut on his temple. It feels like her insides are trembling.

“I told you—I told you that I was done running away, done backing down from shit.” She focuses on the cuts, not on his face, because if she imagines that he’s nothing but wounds, she can talk. “I don’t—I don’t know if you really noticed, considering Claire and—and everything else that was going on that night, but, y’know. I did.”

“You shoved me. I noticed.”

She doesn’t laugh. “When I was nine or ten, I lived in this neighborhood. One of the projects in Atlanta. It was—y’know, it wasn’t as bad as some parts of Hell’s Kitchen, but it was still pretty bad. Lots of gangs, lots of drugs. School was a shithole.” In spite of everything, her lips twitch. “I didn’t care much at the time. I was nine, and we’d never had much money. Trashy neighborhoods ‘r’ us.”

He seems to be holding his breath, as if reminding her that he exists will stop her talking. Darcy doesn’t mention it.

“There was—there was this boy, a few houses down from me. Eli Bletchley.” She clenches one hand into a fist on her knee. Her accent’s coming back out, after years of training it away, and she doesn’t have the energy to stop it. “He was a year older than me, maybe. We were the only white-looking kids in that part of the neighborhood—my dad’s Venezuelan or Puerto Rican or whatever—all my mom ever told me was that he was a South American exchange student, you know that—but I look white, and I looked white then, so we hung out a lot. He was kind of an asshole, but we were kids. Y’know? And—and he was the good kind of asshole. He’d dump mud in my hair one minute and lay a bully out for me the next. My mom let him have free rein of our house. He came in and out a lot, never had to knock.”

She can’t speak for a minute. Matt hesitates, and then tugs off his gloves, setting his fingertips to her kneecap, almost too light to feel. It doesn’t help. Darcy squeezes her eyes shut.

“His dad worked nights, slept during the day.  His mom was gone, I don’t know if she died or—or she left, or whatever. It was just Eli and his dad. I came in one day looking for Eli, I don’t remember why. I know—the first thing that I noticed was the smear on the linoleum. As thick as paint, almost. I—I didn’t know what it was. I touched it, smelled it. Eli had nosebleeds sometimes. I thought that’s what it was.”

She thinks Matt’s hands might be shaking.

“I must have heard something, because—because I went to look in the living room. The TV was on, really loud. It’s why they didn’t notice me. I—I looked around the corner, and I could see the—I could see the belt. I remember that the buckle was silver, or sterling, or something. There was blood on it. Eli had a towel in his mouth so he couldn’t scream.”

“Darcy.”

“I ran away,” says Darcy. Her eyes burn. “I—I didn’t know what to do. I remember—every time I saw Eli after that I’d see bruises on his arms, and legs, and I’d never noticed them before. I started watching for when he’d flinch, when things hurt him. When he couldn’t sit down right, when his back hurt, when sometimes I could—I could see the scars through the back of his t-shirts. Where he’d bitten his lip to stop screaming. I think—I think his dad hit him harder if he screamed.”

Matt clenches his hands so tight that she can see his arms shaking with the tension of it. 

“Jesus Christ.” She grabs the used Q-tips, dumps them in the trash. “I never told anyone, Matt. My mom was a drunk, couldn’t keep a job down half the time, the rest of the time she was—she was usually too depressed to get out of bed. I didn’t trust any of my teachers. Nobody else in the neighborhood cared. And—and it was the sort of place where the police were more dangerous than the druggies, I couldn’t go to them. I should’ve told someone, but I didn’t know who to tell, and I didn’t say anything. Eli—I don’t know if Eli saw me or not, that night, but he never said anything.”

“Darcy,” he says again, but she shakes her head.

“Let me finish. If I don’t—if I don’t finish, you won’t understand.”

He shuts his mouth.

“Eli died,” she says. Her voice is so small that nobody should ever have heard it. Still, she can see Matt shifting around in his chair. “A few months later. His dad beat him up so badly that—that his neck snapped. They found the body a few weeks after, in a garbage bag under the docks. They—” Her breathing catches. “The—the cops said it was because he tried to mess with the local gangs, that one of the ‘bangers did it. His dad—his dad went on the fucking news, asking for his baby boy back. When Eli was missing, presumed deceased.” She crooks her fingers into air quotes. “The—the body was really decomposed when they found it, almost—almost liquid, the reports said. Lots of broken bones for a kid, the ME thought, but—low class neighborhood, full of gang activity, scrappy kid, what would you think?” Her throat starts to sting. “We lived on that street for three more years. The dad changed jobs. Started working days. I used to—” she swallows. “He used to get home around the same time as me. I’d see him drive by every day. And—and every time I saw him, I’d imagine how I’d kill him.”

Matt goes absolutely still.

“I thought about burning his house down,” Darcy says. Her tongue feels swollen, ungainly. “I thought about cutting his brake-lines, so he’d drive right into traffic. I thought about beating him with a baseball bat. I thought about sneaking into his house, poisoning him. I thought about stealing a gun, or buying one from one of the ‘bangers. I thought about cutting his throat while he slept. I thought about shoving him in the way of an oncoming car.” She worries at the hem of her sleeve. “I nearly did it, a few times. I grabbed a knife from the kitchen, once, and hid it in my jacket. I stood at his back door for nearly an hour, at midnight, staring at it. But—but it was locked, when I tried it.”

She can remember the chill of the doorknob, cheap metal leaving a clinging bloody scent on her palm. She’d shaken the door twice, and then fled when she’d seen the light go on in the master bedroom. She’d felt about ready to burst out of her skin, like something was burning inside her, another Darcy, like a fiery chrysalis. She squeezes her knees tighter together.

“We moved when I was fourteen,” she says. “I never—I never told anyone about it. Until now.”

Matt closes his eyes. Darcy’s shaking, her cheeks damp. She swipes at her face with the back of her hand.

“That is the only reason,” she tells him in a hiss, “that I’m not telling you to get out. Because I get it, okay? I get—I get wanting your friends to not know a part of you that—that makes you hate yourself, or makes you scared of yourself, or whatever the fuck your powers are to you. I get that. And that is the only reason why I am not asking you to get the fuck out of my life, right now, for lying to me for seven years. So you’d better fucking appreciate it, Murdock.”

There’s drops of something clinging to Matt’s eyelashes. She’s not sure if it’s sweat or tears. He nods once, and takes a deep breath. “Okay.”

Darcy leans back, and makes herself look at him. “I am really fucking angry at you,” she says.

“I know.”

“And the worst part is I can’t even be all-the-way angry at you, because I’m even angrier with myself.” She lifts her fingers to the bruise on his cheek. “Because someone else I care about was being beaten into the ground every night, and I didn’t see it.”

She pulls back before he can do something like lean into her hand. She can’t deal with it right now. Darcy chokes down a sob, and then says, “So yeah. I’m very, very angry. And I don’t know when I’m not going to be. So there’s that.”

“I know,” he says again. He lifts a hand to his sternum. “I can hear it.”

She can’t help it. “What?”

“You blink a lot when you’re mad.” He takes a shallow breath. “I can hear you clench your fists, your teeth. Your heart rate picks up, not as much as it does when you’re scared, but enough. It’s—it’s pretty distinct.”

“My anger is distinct.” She gets to her feet. “Okay. I’m officially overloading. You, stay here. Sleep, or leave, or do whatever. I’m—I’m gonna go share with Karen.”

“Darcy—”

“Matt, seriously? Don’t. Just don’t, right now. Okay?” She pinches the bridge of her nose. “If—if you’re still gonna be here in the morning, then I have some of your clothes in—in one of my drawers. I’m sure you can smell which one.”

It’s bitchy and it’s mean, but she shuts the door before he can say whatever she can see in his face. It looks like I’m sorry, or please forgive me, or I didn’t mean to hurt you, or I understand, because if there’s anyone who can understand the way the knife felt in her hand that night, like an extension of her soul, it would be the devil. It might be something even more dangerous than that. She doesn’t want to hear it. Darcy pads into the living room, where Karen is curled into a ball on one side of the fold-out couch. The light from the TV is turning her skin grey. Darcy hits the off button on the remote, and then sets her hand to Karen’s bare shoulder, shaking twice. “Karen.”

“Mmm?” She rolls over, blinking slowly. “Whazzit.”

“My roof is leaking.” It’s as good an excuse as any. “Can I share with you?”

“Mmm.”

Karen smells like vanilla shampoo and lotion and the slightest hint of toothpaste. When she realizes Darcy’s shaking, she hooks an arm around her waist, and sighs. “Darcy?”

Darcy shakes her head. “Nothing. Nightmares.”

“C’mere,” says Karen, and Darcy lets Karen draw her into a hug. She strokes Darcy’s hair, mumbling things under her breath in a way that makes Darcy think of soothing a helpless child. Darcy doesn’t protest, squeezing her eyes shut and failing miserably at keeping back the tears.

She’s not sure if knowing that Matt can hear her makes it better, or worse.

.

.

.

Of course she dreams of Eli. She barely dozes for an hour before she’s seeing him coming out of the dark, the flesh melting from his bones, the belt with the sterling-silver buckle dragging in one spattering hand. He might be trying to say her name, but his tongue falls out before he can manage it. She shoots away from Karen, digging her nails into the pillow and covering her face to keep herself from screaming. Karen jolts awake, making blind shushing noises, reaching out with both hands to try and touch her. “Darcy, Darcy, it’s okay, you’re okay—”

She takes a huge gulp of air. Then another. Nausea curls in her throat. Gun, she thinks. She left the gun in the bathroom. Sloppy, sloppy. “Sorry,” she says. “Go—go back to sleep, Karen. I’ll be okay. I’m sorry.” She can see blood under her fingernails. Darcy rubs her arms. “Go back to sleep.”

Karen reaches out for her again, and then stops. “Yeah,” she says, slowly. “You sure?”

“I didn’t mean to wake you.” Darcy makes herself smile. “Go back to sleep, okay? It’s just a nightmare.”

Karen doesn’t believe her—her eyes are too shadowed, her mouth too thin—but she nods, and sinks back into her pillows. Darcy slips off the fold-out couch, and grabs her gun and her Columbia hoodie from off the hook near the front door. Then she filches her last pack of cigarettes out from behind the coat rack before slipping out the tiny balcony door in the kitchen.

The smoke dries out her throat and turns her eyes to sand, so there, at least, it helps. She takes a deep breath of it, and then blows out a smoke ring, leaning her elbows against the railing. She hasn’t smoked in six months, maybe a little more—she’s gifted with one of those metabolisms that doesn’t addict easily—but it feels familiar, still. Like coming home. Darcy flicks her lighter once, twice, three times, staring at the flame, and then drops it over the edge of the balcony like the Bailey’s bottle. It’s her last cigarette, she thinks. She won’t need it again, not after this.

It’s the rosy edge of dawn, now. She can just barely see the first fingers of sunlight arcing over the end of their alleyway. Her toes are already cold. She’d been stupid to think that she’d be able to sleep, after talking about Eli. After learning about Matt, and Mike, and Mike and Matt. She should have just made coffee and toughed it out; the hour will just make her feel worse.

Darcy takes another breath of smoke, and closes her mouth, trapping it in her throat. Maybe if she holds it long enough, it’ll burn. The gun hangs heavy in the pocket of her hoodie, like a parasite. Or a tumor, she thinks, looking down at it. Deadly the way cancer or an infant can be deadly, just through existing, unintentionally and without remorse. 

“So you’re the one.”

There’s a man standing just below her mini-balcony, his head cocked to one side as if he’s listening. It’s just light enough, in the dawn, for her to see the sunglasses, the guiding cane with a strange spatter pattern. Then he leans his head back, and she realizes that the dark smears against his nose and mouth aren’t dirt or bruises, but blood. Her stomach winds itself into knots. “Hey,” she says, slowly. “You okay there, dude? What happened to your face?”

The old man scoffs, dabbing at the blood on his lips. “Little shit. Still needs a good kick in the ass, if you ask me.”

Darcy stubs her cigarette out on the metal railing, and leans to the side so she can drop it into the dumpster. “Uh. Sorry. Do you need me to call someone for you?”

Do you need to call someone for me.” The old man’s mouth twists. “Stupid-ass damn thing to say. Lots of things I need. Coffee that isn’t five bucks a pop. A subway system that actually works. Eminem to stop making music. But mostly what I need is for you to butt your ass out of his life.”

Darcy blinks. “Excuse me?”

“Don’t play coy, it’s not cute,” says the old man. She’s starting to wonder if he’s actually high on crack or something, because he’s definitely making no sense whatsoever. “His whole place stinks of you. Another woman, too, but you’re all over everything. You think I don’t know where he ran to after what happened tonight? He’s in there right now, isn’t he?”

Darcy clenches both fists tight. Of course. Of course it’s about Mike. Or Matt. Or Mike and Matt. “This is really not the time, dude. I’m not having a very good night.”

“Bully for you, neither am I.” Crackhead dude isn’t being noisy, exactly, but he’s not being quiet, either. Oh, Jesus. If Matt wakes up, she’s going to fucking scream. “Worst thing about it is that I don’t even think you’ve slept with him. Still have him wrapped around your pinky like a goddamn toy.”

“Wow, okay.” She sets a hand to her semiautomatic, and then makes herself peel away, forces herself away from it. “Did someone piss in your eye or are you just naturally this sulfuric?”

“Girly-girl, you haven’t even seen me mad yet.”

“Good, because you haven’t seen me mad, either, and I guarantee you I’ll win.” She swipes her hair out of her eyes, hating the cut of it, the way it scrapes at her cheeks like bugs. “Whatever you want, I’m a) way too fucking tired and b) too done with misogynistic old men to even pretend that I care. Hope you trip on a curb and break your nose on your way to the highway, asshole.”

“You think you matter?” He scoffs. “I’ve known that boy since he was ten years old. He knows better than to care about floozies.”

It feels like someone’s just taken a baseball bat to her back. All the air goes out of her lungs. Darcy takes a breath, and says, “Okay. We’re done. You need to go.”

“So scary. You gonna use your popgun on me?” His lip curls. “Kitten, don’t fool yourself. You don’t have the balls.”

“Okay, first of all, if you ever call me kitten again, I will fucking destroy you.” He scoffs again. Darcy ignores him. “Secondly, have you ever actually touched your balls? Take a page out of Betty White’s book on that one. Also, there’s a difference between me shooting you, and shooting at you. I’m more than willing to shoot at you. If you’re the sort of person I think you are, the chances of me hitting you are basically zero anyway. And, y’know, gunshots draw attention, which I have a feeling you really don’t want.” She considers. “I could just shoot straight up in the air. That’d work, too.”

“You’re not even—”

Lorna’s boyfriend before Lou had taught her how to shoot squirrels with a Beretta. Not the safest choice, or the smartest, but Isaiah had been a bit of an idiot, and more than a little drunk most of the time anyway. Still, it’s left her with decent aim and a knowledge of handguns that’s a little more than basic. Darcy draws the gun, flicks the safety off, and fires into the dumpster before she even realizes she’s made the decision. The concussive bang of the shot makes her arm hurt, sets her teeth on edge. The blind guy, though—he stands stock still, lips parted as if she’s surprised him. Darcy blows air out of her nose, and lowers her arm until the gun lies hot against her thigh.

“Yeah,” she says. “That’ll do.”

She hears the window to her room open. Matt sticks his head out, and he’s in one of his old shirts that she stole from him years ago, her largest pair of sweatpants riding low on his hips. His eyes narrow, and he heaves himself out onto the grating. His hands are clenched. “What are you still doing here, Stick?” Matt’s voice is Mike’s, almost, and she thinks it should frighten her. It doesn’t. “Thought I told you to leave.”

“Hey, keep your pants on, Matty. I’m on my way out.” Stick—seriously? His name is Stick?—cocks his head, and Darcy wonders all of a sudden how these two know each other, because it looks exactlylike when Matt does it. Then she sees the bruises again, and she knows. “I just wanted to get a look for myself at what’s keeping you from manning up and doing your goddamn job.”

“We’re not having this conversation again. Get out or I’ll kill you this time, I swear to god.”

“Interrupting Darcy says wow,” says Darcy, and they both turn their faces towards her, Stick scowling, Matt with that seriously pissed off and I don’t care who knows it clench to his jaw. “Okay, first of all, toxic masculinity is choking me. Seriously, I think the sudden flood of misplaced testosterone that just swept through here is gonna, like, drown us all.” It might be her imagination, but she’s fairly certain she just saw Matt’s lips twitch. Darcy shoves the gun back into her hoodie pocket, because she’s pretty sure she can hear Karen in the kitchen, and that is not going to help anything. “Secondarily, Twig, or whatever your name is: thanks, y’know, for coming through and trying to act like you have any control of the situation whatsoever, but kindly fuck yourself on a rusty spike, and then read some Simone du Beauvoir, because I’m not gonna hang around waiting for you to stop being a patriarchal tight-ass fuckwad asshole-face. You have no right to tell me who I am or what I can do, no matter who you might have been to Matt, once upon a time, and guess what? Whoever that might have been, you’re not that now, because I’ve never even heard your goddamn name.” She tugs her hood up over her head, and points at the front to the alley. “You’re dismissed. Get the fuck out of my city, or next time I’ll shoot you in the dick.”

She heads back inside before she can hear whatever Stick has to say in reply, slamming and locking the balcony door behind her. In the kitchen, Karen’s standing with her hands clasped tight together, fretting with her rings. Her toenails, Darcy realizes, are painted Aqua Lily.

“Darcy?” She goes on tiptoe to peer over Darcy’s shoulder, but there’s no way she can see Matt from this angle. Or Stick, for that matter, but Darcy doesn’t care about Karen catching sight of Stick. “Are you okay? What happened?”

“Some drunk asshole took a potshot at the dumpster,” she lies, and hates herself. The gun feels like sin pressed against her stomach. “I called the cops already, don’t worry about it.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.”

She’s pretty sure Karen knows she’s not telling the truth. Still, there’s something closer to understanding than pity in how Karen reaches out, and slips her arm through Darcy’s. She wrinkles her nose. “Ugh, you smell like an old ashtray.”

“Helps me de-stress,” says Darcy. “It’s dawn. Wanna make waffles with me? I think we have an old iron somewhere that we could drag out. I’m sick of frozen waffles anyway.”

Karen yawns, and knuckles her eyes. “Yeah. Sounds good.”

She tucks her gun into her purse when Karen’s not looking, and zips the bag closed. Until she knows exactly what merry hell the Dread Pirate Wesley is going to rain down on her head, she’s not letting the damn thing out of her sight.

.

.

.

It is his personal belief that both Nobu and Madame Gao prefer to play up the perspective that many of their former associates have of them, that of the shadowy Oriental, knives in the dark and poison laced in jasmine tea. Wesley knows for a fact that Madame Gao has a whole wardrobe full of Western clothes, which is all she wears when she does not have to be seen by Russians, Mr. Fisk, or any of their respective underlings. Nobu plays racquetball at the YMCA closest to his high-rise apartment, and focused on Portuguese at a linguistics college in Tokyo before taking his place as shateigashira.

In a way, he admires them both for their duplicity. It makes them seem like stereotypes, like the typical quiet Chinese grandmother and the typical deadly Japanese assassin. It hides their true intentions while highlighting their dangers, and in Madame Gao in particular the act is as fine a piece of art as a van Gogh or a Vermeer. Nobu is slightly rougher, but only because he hasn’t has had as many decades to perfect his image. It’s as if both of them has read Said’s Orientalism, distilled its message into life, and slotted themselves into a role designed to confuse, entice, terrify, and unsettle in equal measure.

He’d be lying if he says he hasn’t adopted some of their techniques himself. Wesley very rarely lies.

The first thing one notices when one is shown into Hironobu Orihara’s penthouse is the mural painted on the wall. It’s graffiti art, or one should call it that, technically, but even though it’s done with spray paint instead of brushes it’s a masterpiece of modernity. There’s a small child with no face placed front and center, the haircut and the clothes making it androgynous rather than overtly masculine or feminine. Nestled in the white paint that shapes out the child’s sack-cloth shirt are the words Don’t trust: Governments, judges, the television, and people over forty. It’s in Portuguese, but Wesley studied three languages over the course of his post-secondary career. Portuguese was his pet project, his side-note, but he can still make out enough of it that the message makes his mouth quirk. The Japanese man beside the door notices the look on his face, but though he sniffs and rolls his shoulder threateningly, he doesn’t mention it. (Nobu doesn’t need bodyguards. The men are here more to keep an eye on him than anything else.)

There’s another message scrawled across the wall, in kanji slashed so violently with lime-green paint that Wesley can barely make it out.  角を矯めて牛を殺す. In English, it means the remedy is worse than the disease. Beneath the phrase is a bloody emoji, its tongue sticking out.

The door to the back room opens, and Nobu (dressed in sweats and a plain T-shirt, freshly colored tattoos lacing up and down his arms and across his shoulderblades) scowls at the sight of him. “What do you want?” he snaps, and Wesley blinks twice before his mouth quirks.

“Done with the linguistic disguise?”

“Your employer sees what he must,” says Nobu, and hits the brew button on his coffee machine. “I do not have the patience to continue the game today. What is it you want?”

Wesley rocks on the balls of his feet. At the door, Nobu’s supervisor makes another angry sound, and mutters under his breath in Korean. Wesley’s research has turned up little about Hironobu Orihara, or whatever his true name is, but he knows from the illicit DNA test he had run on the man (so simple to collect samples, what with the knives Nobu keeps on his person at all times) that Nobu is half-Japanese, half-Korean. He knows from eavesdropping and surveillance that the man can speak both languages fluently, along with Portuguese, some Mandarin, some Cantonese, and, for some obscure reason known only to Nobu himself, Xhosa. So much for the Asian technowizard stereotype. “I wanted to give you a head’s up,” he says, after a moment. “As a matter of courtesy. My employer wishes to show that despite the incident last night, we are still in accord with your organization and its eventual goals, and we wish to assist however we can.”

Nobu angles a look at him, and then opens the fridge. “Ii na,” he says. “Such a benevolent man, your employer.” He spits the word. “Liar though he may be, but he does try to keep up the pretense of formality.”

“There is no better place for etiquette than in the mud,” Wesley replies. He flicks his fingernail against the top of his file, and then places it quite deliberately in the center of Nobu’s kitchen counter. Nobu, orange juice in one hand, shuts the refrigerator and opens the file with his free hand. The top page is a print-out of one of Lewis’s Facebook photos (her page may be set to private, but her profile images are not). Nobu’s eyebrows clench together.

“Who is this?” he asks, and at the door the Korean man mutters something else, as if he’s lecturing.

“I’m surprised your men haven’t noticed her sniffing around your trail, yet.” Wesley folds his hands behind his back. “She’s a lawyer, looking into Goodman’s…matter. In the process, she’s been uncovering evidence about your family and organization better left alone. I thought you would like to know.”

Nobu puts the orange juice down on the cutting board, and turns a page. Then he turns another, and reads through the summary of what Lewis has managed to ferret out into the light. “My men have told me of this woman,” he says. “I saw no point in worrying. She’s found little, has publicized less. She is of little concern.”

“She would be of little concern if she didn’t have her own private hotline to the devil of Hell’s Kitchen,” Wesley says, and flips to the back of the file. There in all its glory is one of the best surveillance shots they’d taken of Lewis and the masked asshole, before the vigilante had dangled their photographer over the edge of a roof and politely encouraged them to leave. The devil (he still wonders if the man called himself that, at the beginning; it seems like the sort of self-aggrandizing bullshit that hoods or vigilantes or superheroes or whatever these idiots call themselves seem most vulnerable to) has his hand resting lightly on Lewis’s shoulder, and her face is turned towards him. Her body language is the sort of soft that comes from long acquaintance or foolish trust, and the devil is the same. It’s not what has interested him the most about Lewis, the past few days, but it’s fascinating in its own right. He knows it’s all Nobu will see.

Sure enough, Nobu looks up at Wesley, his mouth twisting. “What is it you want from me, Wesley?”

“Why would you think I want anything?”

Nobu snorts. “You always want something.”

“This is true.” Wesley clings to the moment for as long as he can, simply because it seems to irritate the mumbling guard by the door. “I want you to give me three men, a gun, and a quiet place for her to be dealt with.”

Nobu’s eyebrows snap together. “You could have done this on your own. Why come to me?”

“Yes, I could have. I was planning to, until last night.” Something dark flashes across Nobu’s face. Wesley raises his hands. “You’re right. I could have done this by myself, but courtesy demanded that I tell you the truth of the matter. I have. Anything this woman does, or has done, casts light on the organization when its place is in the shadows. As I recall, your men seem to operate best there.” He pauses. “It is, of course, up to you. But I would hope you regard it as a gift. A truce, of sorts. In the interest of better work relations.”

The offer sticks in his throat, but there it is. If Nobu and his men are a necessary evil, then he might as well aim them in a more conciliatory direction—or, at the very least, keep them from setting their sites on Wilson Fisk.

“I don’t want her dead,” Wesley says. “It’d be too obvious, and besides, she’s better off left living. At least, until her masked friend comes to call.”

Nobu stares at Wesley for a long time. Then he collects a thumbtack, the file, and a can of spray paint from under the kitchen sink, and pads to his work in progress. Wesley follows, careful to stay out of the line of fire—his suit is new, after all—and watches carefully as Nobu pins the image of Darcy Lewis over the empty face of the androgynous child. Then he tosses the file aside, and draws a line of red through the photograph.

“Dramatic,” says Wesley. “Still, it gets the point across.”

“You won’t need three men,” says Nobu. “One will be enough.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Matt’s gone by the time they finish making breakfast, leaving her window closed and her bed basically untouched. The cotton balls and Q-tips are still in her garbage can, and his gloves are on her desk. She’s not sure if he left them behind on accident or as a message, but she pulls them on anyway. She has big hands for her height, and they almost fit; they’re supple in the fingers from use, stiff around the wrist from dried blood or sweat or whatever else. Darcy flexes her hands inside them, and then decides to wear them to work. If he had meant them as a message, she might as well show she received it, and if it was an accident, well. Maybe she can freak him out a little.

It’s totally not petty revenge. Stop looking at her like that.

Karen doesn’t ask about last night at all, just tucks her arm around Darcy’s waist for a moment and squeezes. Jen doesn’t mention the red rims to her eyes, either, though she does cock her eyebrows at Karen when they both think Darcy isn’t looking. Darcy makes herself smile at them both, and play-fights with Darla over the maple syrup on her waffles. It fools Karen, she thinks, but not Jen. Jen’s known her for too long for shit like that to work, so she makes the executive decision to escape before Jen can pin her to the floor with her eyes. Go wisely, not bravely, young Lewis.

It’s not the devil’s brutality that’s hurt her, Darcy realizes all of a sudden. She knows why Matt beats the shit out of people. She knows it, because she’s thought about it, too. (Atheists and Catholics, on common ground at last.) It’s the fact that he thought he had to lie to her about it. It’s that he’s lied for so long—so long, she’s not even sure that the gash the truth left behind can be healed. The cold rage she keeps quietly burning for Fisk, for Wesley, for the Goodmans and for Bletchley, that doesn’t compare to the flare of temper and the swamp of self-pity she’s found herself in when it comes to the situation with Matt. You can’t mesh ice and fire, but her brain and her guts seem to be trying. Her heart, though—she’s not sure what that’s doing at all.

I’ll tell you later, he’d said. Don’t worry about it.

You both mean a lot to me. You and Foggy. More than I can actually say. Just—promise me that you’ll remember that.

Her promise is carved into her skin, into her bones. She doesn’t know what to do.

They run into Foggy on the way into the office, and he sees it too, instantly, damn him for being so empathic. Fooling Foggy is a completely different ball game than fooling Jen or even fooling Karen, so she doesn’t really try. She says that she and Matt had a bad argument, something she doesn’t want to talk about, “so don’t you dare ask, Foggy-bear, I swear to god I will dye your hair pink in your sleep if you try.” Foggy just looks at her for a moment, in a way that is unsettlingly close to pitying, before slinging an arm around her shoulders and giving her an awkward squeeze. She goes up on tiptoe and kisses his cheek, her lipstick leaving a livid print against his skin. She feels like a bomb, a timer ticking against her skin. She’d spoken with Wesley at one-thirty yesterday afternoon. It’s nine am now. Four hours, thirty minutes until—until who knows. Until nothing. Until the office blows up.

Maybe she could trick Foggy and Karen into working from home today.

“So,” Foggy says, slowly, dragging it out as long as possible. Soooooooooo. “Uh, how about them Dodgers, huh, Page?”

“She knows about Ben, Foggy,” says Karen shortly, and dumps her purse onto her desk. Foggy blinks, then blinks again. He groans.

“Seriously? Am I the last person to hear about anything ever?”

“No, because she didn’t tell me, I guessed,” Darcy says, and boosts herself up onto the edge of Karen’s desk. “I met with Ben a few days ago for Kate, remember? He went all twitchy when I said I heard about him from a mutual friend. Wasn’t too hard to put together after that.”

Foggy makes an unhappy noise, and gives Darcy a beady look. Darcy’s pretty sure that she’s the only one that Karen will let sit on Karen’s desk, mostly because Darcy is the only one who a) tries and b) can manage it without knocking Karen’s financial papers everywhere. Foggy is, of course, jealous, because Foggy is a failboat. She blows him a little kiss when Karen’s back is turned, and then adds, “When did Foggy knowing become a thing?”

“When Karen decided to go visit Mrs. Cardenas after dark yesterday and two guys tried to attack her, that’s when it became a thing.”

“No, when I decided to go and ask her about Tully at sunset and you followed me because you thought I was—” Karen crooks her finger into air quotes. “—acting weird.”

Apparently there’s more than one amateur stalker-in-the-making at Nelson, Murdock and Lewis. It takes a phenomenal amount of effort to keep herself from saying this aloud. “Wow. Creepy, Nelson.”

“She was acting weird! I didn’t—” He stops. “There is literally nothing I can say that makes it sound better. I plead the fifth.”

“Better choice.” Darcy cuts her eyes to Karen, and then says, “In the interest of full exposure, I may have had a serious death threat yesterday. You know. In Mug Shots.”

Karen drops her coffee cup, and it shatters on the floor. Foggy laughs. Then he stops. “Wait, seriously?”

“No, Foggy, I’m making it up. Yes, okay? The Confederated Global guy, Wesley, he, uh. He basically said if I don’t toe the line with the Goodman case he will do bad, nasty things to me in his basement starting in—” She shakes her sleeve back, and checks her watch as Karen ducks into the staff room, swearing under her breath and rattling through trying to find the paper towels. “Approximately four hours, twenty-two minutes. If he keeps to his own timeline, which he might not, just to make me shit my pants all the more.”

“Okay, have either of you mentioned any of this to Matt, because I think he’d probably be flipping so much more of a shit if he knew you—” he points at Karen, who is holding the paper towel roll like a saber “—are secretly meeting up with a reporter and you—” he points at Darcy “—are in the middle of a death—seriously, a death threat? Did you get it on tape?”

“No, Foggy, I wasn’t expecting a death threat, okay!” She should have thought of that, though. She needs to get a voice recorder app for her phone. “I talked to Matt last night. He knows.”

Foggy gets this knowing look on his face, like, ah, that must be it. She really hopes he doesn’t ask about the fight. He comes to stand next to Darcy, as if placing himself between her and the door is going to do anything when the SWAT team or whatever’s going to happen busts in and lights her ass up with grenades. “Jesus. Jesus, okay. So we have four hours to get you on a plane to Thailand.”

“I’m not going to Thailand,” says Darcy. “I’m working something out, okay?”

“But what—”

“Foggy, seriously, until it’s ready I’m not telling you, because I don’t want you—” She pinches her nose, takes a breath. “I want you to stay out of it so there’s as little chance of you getting hurt as possible, okay? Just—trust me. Please.”

“The last time—”

“Foggy.”

“But—”

Foggy.

“Seriously, you’re just going to—”

Franklin Seamus Nelson.

“Fine!” Foggy throws his hands in the air. “Fine, don’t tell me your anti-death plan! You two and your secrets, seriously, K, how long did you think you could keep—”

The door opens.

“—keeeeeeep the fact that you are a fabulous can-can dancer to yourself?” Darcy leans back, catches Karen’s eye, and mouths K? Karen shakes her head, and dumps the shards of coffee mug in the garbage can. Matt slinks through the door, and shuts it carefully behind him. He’s moving like his ribs hurt. Darcy carefully keeps her eyes away. “Seriously, we should take you to burlesque clubs or something, I know this one place with free dance night, it’d be awesome, we’d make a mint—”

“What aren’t you telling me?” Matt says, in a deeply suspicious voice. Karen pokes her head up over the top of the desk, and goes grey.

“Jesus, Matt, what happened to you?”

“Bike messenger,” says Darcy, before Matt can say anything. “Knocked both of us down. I, with my cat-like ninja skills, was unhurt. Matt was less lucky.”

Karen gives Darcy a gurl, I know dat’s bullshit look, but doesn’t say anything.

“Yeah,” says Matt, belatedly. “I’m okay, though. What aren’t you telling me?”

Darcy sighs. “Foggy, seriously, this is why we don’t tell you stuff, you can’t lie, like, at all.”

“Well, excuse me for being so virtuous that sins just show on my face. I can’t help being awesome.” Foggy shoves his hands into his pocket, not moving from his defensive position in front of Darcy. Has she mentioned how much she loves Foggy? Because she loves Foggy a lot. “So, what, we’re telling everyone our super-secret plans now?”

“Matt’s sneaky. I’m pretty sure he’d figure it out eventually even if you don’t tell him.”

“So you’re saying I wouldn’t have?”

She pats his elbow. “I think it’s best if I don’t answer that, Fog.”

Foggy makes a face. He still hooks an arm around her shoulders and hugs her, because he’s Foggy and he’s awesome. Darcy burrows into his side, and squeezes her eyes shut for a long moment before slipping off of Karen’s desk again. “You,” she says to Matt. “Sit, before you fall. I’m going to make coffee.”

“I can do it,” says Karen.

“In the interest of full disclosure,” says Foggy, “I’d—kind of prefer Darcy do it.”

“So you’re saying my coffee is terrible, now?”

“No, I’m saying it’s kind of always been terrible. Please don’t hurt me, oh, god, your eyes, they burn—

They’re still bickering over it as Darcy ducks into the staffroom, and goes through the motions of getting coffee into the press, hitting the button on their electric kettle with hands that are most certainly not shaking, shut up, she’s fine. Matt looks worse in daylight. She’s really not sure what to think, right now. Should she talk to him like everything’s still normal, when there’s still a dragon clawing at her insides, snapping and snarling and spitting acid, burning her up from the inside out? Should she act like she doesn’t know? Can she act like she doesn’t know? (God, if Wesley’s men are watching her right now, and they see Matt with bruises, oh, Jesus, it’s so obvious when you look at it from the right angle and she’s not going to be the one who outs him to Wilson Fisk, she’s not, she’s not—) Can she be normal around him when she’s told him basically the worst thing about herself, the part that reminds her of a scorpion or a snake, curled under a rock, ready to kill?

She can’t, she decides. Matt knows about Eli, now, and she knows about the devil. There’s no changing that. And as furious as she is, she’s not sure if she’s angrier at Matt, or at herself. So she’s just going to fucking deal with it.

Darcy carries the press out into the main room again, leaving it on Karen’s desk while she collects the mugs from various and sundry hidey-holes they each have around the office. She gives Karen her bite me, I’m a vampire mug to use, because Karen’s butchered hers (sorry, Kare). Karen gives her half a smile, and hooks her pinky through Darcy’s for a moment before taking the peace offering. Foggy doesn’t notice. “Seriously, your rules are terrible. You make terrible rules. I’m vetoing your rules, and we’re going to be a democracy, because I thought that was the point in having us all be equal partners.”

Karen makes a face.

“You are also an equal partner,” says Foggy. “Being a secretary doesn’t make you any less of a partner. You control us all from the shadows, very enviable position.”

“Wow,” says Darcy, pressing his Suck a dick, your honor mug into his hand. “For once you didn’t put your foot in your mouth.”

“I aim to please.”

“Fine, it’s a democracy,” Matt snaps. “Any proposal that puts you, Karen, or Darcy in danger is not earning a vote from me, sorry.”

“Same goes for you, dude.” Foggy sips at his coffee, and closes his eyes for a moment, as if he’s just entered some sort of alternate dimension of awesome. “Yes, coffee. But yeah. I’m not for putting any of us in danger, either, because I’ve already had my side stitched up once in my life. I’d rather not know what a shiv feels like. But we can’t exactly learn what we need by locking ourselves in a closet and pretending very hard that we’re telepathic. I learned the hard way at twelve that you can’t develop psychic powers like that. It was very traumatic.”

Darcy gives Matt coffee too. He hesitates before he takes it, as if he’s afraid she’s going to dump it in his lap. When his fingers brush against the gloves (she's dumb and hasn't taken them off yet), his eyebrows climb up into his hairline. Still, he doesn’t comment. Matt clears his throat. “That’s not what we’re doing. We’re keeping out of the line of fire until we know for certain that there’s not snipers waiting on rooftops waiting to take us out.”

“As someone who has had a sniper rifle aimed at them in the past twenty-four hours, I second this.” Darcy ignores the merry hell that the room descends into after that, and shouts to be heard over Foggy’s cursing. “Buddy system. No one goes anywhere alone. No one decides to be a hero and goes off without telling anyone. No one keeps big theories quiet. If there’s something that might be dangerous, then we all know about it. No exceptions,” she says, Not Looking at Matt. She’s Not Looking very hard. “Text, call, post it to Dropbox, whatever. Paper trails are just as important as anything else.”

“Seconded,” Karen says, before Matt or Foggy can intervene. “Ben said being stupid gets you killed. He’d know, he’s been doing this for years.”

Darcy Does Not Look at Matt again. Somehow this time is even harder than the last.

“So, preventing hypocrisy—” Foggy frowns at her over the rim of his mug. “What, exactly, is your anti-death plan? You know, in case it happens in the office. Or it goes wrong. Or, you know, you need to say something about it.

Darcy rolls that over in her mind for a moment. “Hypocrisy acknowledged.” She crosses her arms over her chest, tucking her gloved fingers into her armpits. Her hands feel cold. “I was going to leave a message for the devil.”

Karen makes a soft noise in the back of her throat, almost like a protest, but gentler. Foggy chokes on his sip of coffee, and nearly spills it on his tie. “Yeah,” he says. “Like a terrorist will care. How would you even get in contact with him? It’s not like you’re friends on Facebook.”

Matt, somehow, does not flinch at that. She thinks it takes a lot of effort, though.

“Real-talk, he’s not a terrorist.” She squeezes her ribs, and then winces when she pinches the cracked one. “And, uh. I kind of have his number, maybe. No, you can’t know what it is.”

It’s a miracle they don’t have to pick more porcelain shards out of the floor, considering how fast Foggy drops his coffee.

It takes twenty minutes before she can calm Foggy down enough to get him to see sense, and another half an hour before they work out all their Cardinal Rules of Investigation. She’s pretty sure that Karen’s going to write them all down and post them inside drawers or something, so they can keep track of everything. She’s also fairly certain that all the computer work Karen sets herself up with is going to end up being a comp-sci whiz’s attempt at making their new cloud circle impenetrable by most major hacker tricks. (Seriously. Karen is amazing. She wishes they were paying her more.)  

Thankfully it only takes about ten minutes to bully both Karen and Foggy into letting her go to her meeting with Brigid O’Reilly at ten-thirty. Well, she tells them it’s at ten-thirty, anyway. Slipping off alone is more difficult. “Buddy system,” Foggy says instantly, and starts gathering up his papers. “I’ll go with you.”

“Do you seriously think that they’d try something in broad daylight, three hours before the deadline? No, not their style. And you sit your ass back down, your ribs are still gaping open. It’s like some kind of fucked-up barbeque under your suit jacket. So, vetoed.”

Karen makes a face at her computer screen.

“Democracy.” Foggy shakes his head. “You don’t have sole power to veto.”

“Fine.” Her stomach hurts. “I’ll take Matt.”

“In what universe is that better? No offense, dude.”

“None taken.”

“I was going to drag Matt out later anyway. We have an errand.” Matt thankfully doesn’t contradict her on this, though he does tilt his head just enough that she can see the question on his lips. “And please, Matt has a stick. Think Teddy Roosevelt with hipster sunglasses.”

“Setting aside the fact that I may need to draw that eventually because that sounds like the most hilarious thing ever, I’m really not—”

“Foggy.” She hooks her arm around his waist, leans her head against his shoulder. “We’re okay. Don’t worry.”

Foggy gives Matt a long, considering look. For some reason, it feels like the pair of them are speaking without words, even if Matt can’t technically see Foggy’s signals, and Foggy’s not technically saying anything at all. Darcy wonders, for a moment, if Foggy’s going to make a threat. Then he closes his eyes, and blows air out through his nose. “You two have made me the Harry in a Ron-Hermione spat. It’s not appreciated. I don’t want to take sides.”

“You don’t have to.” She goes on tiptoe, and kisses his cheek again, so that he has lipstick on either side. He doesn’t seem to have noticed. “We’ll be okay. Don’t worry.”

“You say that like it’s possible,” Foggy says, but he kisses the top of her head anyway (a miracle; she can count the number of times he’s done that on two whole fingers) and glances back at Karen. Karen’s eyes look suspiciously shiny, but when she turns back to her computer, the expression vanishes into dust. “Come on, K. We have much research to be done and very little time to do it.”

“Call me K again, and I’ll switch out Darcy’s coffee for mine.”

Foggy casually scoops his mug off the end of Karen’s desk, and holds it as far out of her reach as he can manage. “You can try, Page.”

“You have something on your face,” says Karen sweetly, and flashes a smirk at Darcy as Foggy swipes lipstick away on his fingertips. Darcy forces a smile, and then turns to the door. Matt’s slipped out of his chair, and waiting by the knob, lines of tension etched around his mouth, cracks in a renaissance painting. She swallows hard, and hooks her purse back over her shoulder again.

“Lead on, Macduff,” she says.

“Didn’t Macduff die?” Matt replies, his eyebrows lifting, and she opens the door.

“I don’t actually remember. Macbeth was like a decade ago.” Still, the thought turns her guts frosty. “Who doesn’t die in Macbeth?”

Matt doesn’t answer. She pretends he didn’t hear.

They don’t go to Mug Shots, not right away, anyway. Instead, they walk two blocks further, to an empty lot marked with an old Union Allied Construction sign that’s been spray-painted over with the bloody smiley face from Watchmen. Someone’s dragged a rickety old basketball hoop into the corner. Darcy sets her purse on top of a covered dumpster, and watches Matt out of the corner of her eye.

“Can you actually shoot hoops?” She’s half-joking. It’s the only thing she can think to say. Matt’s mouth twists a little, and he shakes his head.

“Not in public, I can’t.” He takes a breath. “There’s a ball hidden in that garbage can, though. If you want to.”

Sure enough, there’s a freshly-pumped basketball buried under an empty trash bag in the lone garbage can. It’s marked with the name Anjelika in silver Sharpie. Sorry, Anjelika. Darcy bounces the ball twice, and then shoots. The ball bounces off the hoop and rolls to a stop against the chain link next to Matt.

“So you can see through metal now, too?” She waits until he knocks the ball back to her with one foot. “I thought you really were, y’know, blind.”

“I am.” Darcy collects the ball from the ground, and starts bouncing it again. It’s hard to make a jump-shot in three-inch boots. “My eyes, they—there was a chemical accident. They don’t work. I guess my other senses just kind of…fill in the blanks. But I don’t see, technically.” He considers. “I heard the air inside the basketball vibrating every time you took a step. Also, it smells like rubber.”

“Fine, show off, then.” Darcy looks at the ball in her hands, and then at Matt, before bouncing it at him, hard. Matt drops his guiding cane in his effort to catch the thing before it hits him in the stomach, and gives her a dirty look. Darcy shrugs. “Hey, I’m still mad, remember? Besides, even if you can’t play ball, catch is a thing.”

Matt huffs. Then he tucks the ball under one arm, and takes his glasses off, tucking them safely away in the inside pocket of his coat. Darcy bits her lip. The bruises look so much worse in the light of day. “So,” he says, and bounces the ball twice, one hand to the other, before passing it back to her. “Whatever questions you have, you can ask.”

“Wait, seriously?” She presses Anjelika’s ball to her stomach, just for a moment. “It’s that easy?”

“That easy,” says Matt, completely serious. “I told you I don’t like lying.”

“Yeah, you said.” She tosses the ball at him again. “Okay. Question one: did you ever sleep with any of my roommates during college?”

Matt nearly fumbles the catch. Somehow he manages to cling on with the very tips of his fingers. “Are you serious? That’s your first question.”

“You said any question, dude. That’s my first question.”

He Kermit-laughs, and it makes everything hurt. “No, I never slept with any of your roommates. What about you, did you sleep with any of my roommates?”

“I didn’t know this was Twenty Questions.” She wrinkles her nose. “And, um, no. You’ve only ever roomed with Foggy, and I love him, but he is my brother-from-another-mother and that would be very, very incestuous.”

Matt doesn’t answer. Still, there’s a tilt to his mouth that wasn’t there before. She’s not sure if it’s anger or something else entirely that makes her heart jump in her chest. Then she realizes he can hear it, and blushes red. Shit, seriously? Jesus. She’s not going to go down that road, thinking-wise. Her brain would break. “Gimme the ball, Murdock.”

Matt throws the ball back to her. “Is that your only question?”

“Hell no.” She frowns. “What about the masking tape? I can get you being able to feel vibrations in the air or whatever, but glass seems like a problem.”

“I didn’t feel it. I could smell the adhesive. From the tape.” He shrugs. “You usually keep your office supplies in your desk drawer, so if I could smell it more strongly, I knew you had some on the window. Or I could guess, and then check if I flicked the glass right.” He must catch the look on her face, somehow, because Matt shakes his head and says, “It’s simpler than it sounds.”

“I’ll take your word on that.” Darcy runs her thumb over Anjelika’s name. “But yeah. I want the full story, start to finish. I might not be able to smell a lie like you can, but I’ll be able to tell if you’re bullshitting me. I can always tell when you’re bullshitting me, I just never say anything.” She can’t help herself. “Pretty sure that’s my superpower.”

Matt smiles for the first time since—well, since everything. Then the rest of his brain catches up, and he looks pained, instead. “It’s not—no. It’s a difference in heartbeat, not a difference in scent.”

“So with Karen, you knew she was telling the truth because her—her heartbeat never changed?”

“Yeah. Not exactly admissible in court, but I haven’t been wrong yet.”

“Huh.” She drops the ball, and catches it again at the last moment. “So you’re a human polygraph on top of everything else. But yeah. That’s my second question. What happened? Start to finish.”

Matt makes a face. “It’ll take a while.”

“We have—” She throws the ball back to him, and then checks her watch. “An hour before I have to meet with Brigid, and…two and a half before Wesley comes for me, supposedly. So. Time.”

His mouth goes tight again. “He’s not going to come for you, Darcy.”

“Why do you think I’m out here with you?” She flicks her fingers. “Ball. We’re going to have to talk about that, later, but—one thing at a time, I guess.” The absolute last thing she wants is to be the person who outs Matt to Wesley, and, in turn, to Fisk. (Look at it in the right light, and it’s obvious enough to hurt, the bruises and the reflexes and the Catholic hypocrisy, seriously, only a Catholic could pull off being a lawyer and a vigilante at the same time, and oh, god, her brain hurts.) “But yeah. Spill. All of it, start to end. We have time.”

A strange expression flickers across Matt’s face. It’s almost hopeful. Then it vanishes again. She’s not sure if she even saw it in the first place. “Sure,” he says, after a moment. “Seems like we do.”

There’s a whole bunch of meaning in that sentence that she isn’t going to even try to parse out. Damn him for having Deep Thoughts. Darcy flicks her fingers again, and opens her mouth to say, “I’m flicking my fingers, Matt,” but he’s already tossing the ball at her. She barely snags it out of the air before it hits her in the face.

“Sorry.”

“It’s fine.” She raises her eyebrows. “I was promised a story.”

And damn, but she gets a story.

.

.

.

9:09 AM
That house still up for grabs?

9:09 AM
Closer to immediately than not? I kind of had a panic attack in a drug store and I think going somewhere new will help.

11:42 AM
Yeah, totally. I’ll let Oppie know.

11:44 AM
You okay?

11:46 AM
Just embarrassed.

12:15 PM
She said yes, and you can go as soon as you want. I’ll stop by and grab the keys for you when I get off work.

12:16 PM
Oh my god, I owe you.

12:45 PM
Actually, can I ask you a favor?

12:46 PM
Like I said. You found me a house. I think I owe you more than one favor.

12:50 PM
Can you give me a crash course in first aid before you leave?

1:04 PM
I didn’t know if he’d actually tell you.

1:06 PM
You knew?

1:08 PM
I guessed they were the same, more than anything. Are you angry with me?

1:16 PM
No. It was his secret to tell. You were right to keep it quiet.

1:18 PM
So, uh, stitches? And stuff?

1:23 PM
I can’t teach you much. Come over tonight. I’ll send you the address. There’s only so many bits of information I can cram into your head before your brain starts leaking out your ears.

1:25 PM
Please. I took the bar exam. All of your mnemonic devices are belong to me.

1:29 PM
You’re the best, Claire.

1:32 PM
Don’t thank me yet, Lewis. You haven’t had to deal with my teaching style.

1:34 PM
Aw, Temple. You worried about me?

1:37 PM
I feel like you should be more worried about yourself at the moment.

.

.

.

3:04 PM
Kate: what was your plan for the TMZ interview on Saturday? It’s more your arena than mine, so I’d rather follow your lead.

3:17 PM
Are you asking what my plan for the interview is, or what my plan for keeping the sharks off our back is? Because for the second part I was going to bring my bow and arrows. Finally hacked into my dad’s safe room. He uses the same password for fucking everything and then gets pissy when I liberate my possessions from his autocratic grasp.

3:19 PM
Taking political science this semester, are we?

3:22 PM
You knew that.

3:24 PM
No, I did. I majored in poli-sci and crim-just so the fact that someone else is voluntarily taking political science makes me stupidly happy.

3:25 PM
But yeah, TMZ. Plan?

3:27 PM
Doesn’t matter which reporter they send. Just dress vampy but classy, name-drop Columbia once, and tell the truth I guess.

3:31 PM
And if they ask what name you’re wearing just ignore it because I already have an answer for that.

3:34 PM
I mean, I was just going to go with Darcy’s Closet, but what were you going to say?

3:36 PM
‘Not the fucking point.’

3:38 PM
I feel like this is crossing some sort of client-lawyer barrier, but you’re actually the best.

3:39 PM
I know. Aren’t you lucky?

3:41 PM
Don’t you push it.

.

.

.

The meeting with Brigid O’Reilly takes less than half an hour, thank god. She’s not certain she would have been able to pretend to be focused for any longer than it was, because her head is fucking reeling. They return to the office in silence with peace offerings for Foggy and Karen, special coffees and a box of cinnamon buns. Darcy really shouldn’t be buying any of it, considering her money issues at the moment, but fuck it, she might be dead in an hour, whatever floats her boat. (She does not voice this to Matt, who is getting suspiciously twitchier the closer it gets to Wesley’s twenty-four hour deadline. Still, she feels like the principle is the same.)

Lynch and Jenson land today. She glances at Matt out of the corner of her eye, and wonders.

They’re only back at the office for an hour, maybe more (she’s sure to shut all the blinds, just in case another sniper shows their face) when the time limit passes, and the air changes. It’s like it’s scraping over her skin, the knowledge that she’s basically flipped a gigantic finger to Wesley and his goddamn boss. These are the people who tried to kill Karen, she thinks, as she sorts through her papers and pins things to her whiteboard and listens to theories and bad jokes and swearwords. These are the people who have been bullying Elena, funding the Goodmans, beating up Claire, and her, and Matt. These are the people who blew up Hell’s Kitchen.

She’s never thought she could hate someone more than she hated Eli Bletchley’s father. The way her hands keep dropping to the gun in her purse tells the lie.

In a way, the news about Blake waking up is a godsend. It’s something to direct her energy towards, some point of focus that she can use to pretend she’s not going slowly insane. Watching Matt twitch waiting for a chance to sneak away is a game in and of itself, one she doesn’t enjoy in the slightest.

(“I did everything the system says you’re supposed to do,” Matt had said, “and they still let that little girl down. I’ve never slept better than after I broke her father.” She thinks of the way he’d not even stirred when she’d slipped out of the bed, running her fingers one last time through his hair before standing under the showerhead, scrubbing her skin, her hair, trying to get the smell of Matthew Murdock off. Had she been in love with him then? She’s not certain. She doesn’t think so, but somehow she’s stumbled straight into it. Having him lie to her shouldn’t hurt so much, otherwise.)

Twenty minutes before nine, she collects her things, tells them she’s going to stay at a friend’s house for the night, and that they’re not allowed to look for her. Foggy says her rules are even worse than Matt’s and threatens to call her at midnight to make sure this friend doesn’t put on a mask and go prancing around after midnight, which Darcy takes with aplomb. Karen wraps her in a hug that lasts long enough for Darcy to feel the way she’s trembling, and forces her to swear to be careful.

“You’re the ones who have to watch your backs,” Darcy says. She doesn’t even have a joke about it. “If they can’t find me, they’ll go after you.”

“Mace,” says Foggy, pointing at Karen. Then he points at himself. “Badass. We’re good. Matt, you going too?”

“I left some of my stuff at home. I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Walk her to her friend’s and make sure she stays there, Matt,” says Foggy, in what’s supposed to be a whisper. Darcy can hear it anyway. “And call when you get home. Please.”

“Of course.”

“Be careful,” Karen says again, hugging Matt lightly, and then they leave, still silent, standing far enough away from each other that their hands don’t even brush. She’s never notice how close they walk together until she has to consciously hold herself away. Before she’d loop her arm through his and match their steps, be his guiding cane when he was tired of using it. Now she won’t let herself touch, and her muscles ache inside.

“You’re going to go after Blake,” she says, once they’ve turned the corner at the end of the block. “Aren’t you?”

“Fisk likes to work in the dark,” says Matt. “He doesn’t have a lot of time to get rid of Blake before he talks. The guy doesn’t strike me as someone who’ll keep his mouth shut after getting shot in the back.”

“Same as you that way, I guess. Working in the dark.”

Matt shrugs. “I don’t have time during the day. You know that.”

Darcy’s not entirely sure she agrees, considering how many times she’s spoken to “Mike” during the daylight hours, but she doesn’t mention that. She fidgets with her sweatshirt, tugging on a stray string from the hem. He sighs, and pushes his glasses up his nose.

“You want to say something.”

“Your super-senses tell you that?”

“How long have I known you by now?” Matt frowns at her. “I can tell when you want to say something, Darcy. Just tell me.”

“You’re not gonna like it.”

“I don’t like Karen and Foggy getting involved in this either, but it’s not something I can actually change.”

“This is a bit different than that, that’s all I’m saying.”

Darcy,” he says, and they could be at Columbia again. Matt had always been the one she’d had to convince to go along with her crazy shit. Foggy had been easy that way. “Come on.”

“I want to go with you,” she says, all in one breath. “When you go to talk to Blake.”

His mouth goes thin. “Absolutely not.”

“Hey, I know which hospital he’s in, I know what ward he’s in, and I bet you fifty bucks I could get Claire to sneak me in as a nurse. I don’t need you to get in there, Matt, and you know it. Just think about it, though—if I actually do go with you, you can keep on keeping an eye on me. Don’t you even start,” she adds, when Matt’s lips tighten. “Like you weren’t going to be hanging all night anyway like some kind of weird, overly-aggressive bat. I’ve known you just as long as you’ve known me. You’re easy to read.”

“That’s not the first thing people say about me, believe it or not.”

“Yeah, well, they haven’t seen you drunk out of your skull at a burlesque club and getting hit on by a drag queen, so they don’t get a vote.” She flares her fingers at him. “Besides, I kind of need to go. I still have your gloves, and you can’t leave your prints anywhere.”

“I’d noticed,” Matt says, his voice odd. “I thought you’d burn them, or something.”

“Hey, my hands get cold.” It’s a shitty excuse and they both know it. Darcy looks down at her fingers, and then tugs at the edges of the gloves. “Do you want them back yet?”

“I have another pair.” He says it fast, as if he’s been waiting for her to ask about it. “You can keep them.”

Oh, Jesus. Is this a thing? She’s not sure if this is a thing. Darcy shoves her hands in her pockets, unsure what to do. She doesn’t do this with people. She’s either friends with someone or she bangs them, she doesn’t like getting a bunch of messy feelings into it and not knowing what to do with them, because look at what happened with Eduardo. She’s good at no feelings. Why did she have to go and get feelings?“But yeah. I’m coming with you.”

“His room is on the fifth floor and there’s no fire escape on that level.” Matt shakes his head. “It’s going to be a pain in the ass to get myself in there, I’m not taking you too.”

Her voice goes tight. “I can get in on my own power, Matthew.”

“Darcy—”

“Matt.” They stop on the street corner, staring at each other. Well, Darcy stares, anyway. He’s fidgeting. “I need to see this. I need to, okay? And—and no matter how angry I am, we both know that probably the safest place for me to be right now is with you. Do you see any other vigilantes with a vested interest in keeping me safe?”

Matt blinks twice. Then he makes a noise, deep in the back of his throat, like she’s snapped one of his ribs. “I could probably think of a few. If I took the time to do it.”

“I don’t think I know any other vigilantes.”

“If they met you, I’m sure they’d try.” She’s not sure what to say to that, so she just clears her throat and ducks her head. Darcy tucks her thumb into the back pocket of her pants, the fabric of the glove scraping against her knuckles.

“That’s nice of you, but, y’know. I’m not really all that special.” She blows her bangs up out of her face. “So. Do I sneak in by myself, or do I get backup?”

Matt rubs a thumb over his lower lip. Then he closes his eyes. “God forgive me for this.”

“I don’t know if it’s God’s forgiveness you should be looking for, Murdock, but this’ll go a hell of a way to earning some of mine.” She tucks her hair behind her ears. “Come on. I need to let Jen know I’ll be spending the night at Claire’s first.”

She grabs the blonde wig that she wore to visit St. Patrick’s Cathedral, because it seems like a good idea. She has a chest binder from her days in the Columbia theatre department (she’d had to take art courses somewhere, and she’d been a part of the drag show, too) so she shoves that into a duffel bag along with a shirt, a pair of shitty pajama pants that she doesn’t care about, and clean underwear before heaving it all up over her shoulder. Matt and Jen are talking quietly by the door, and she can tell by the look on Jen’s face that Matt’s given at least a little of the game away. Jen doesn’t ask, though. She just wraps her arms tight around Darcy’s neck and holds on for a good minute, a strange hitching in her breathing. “You get rid of those bastards,” she says, “and you c-come right back here. Understand?”

“Yeah.” She pulls away, and kisses Jen’s cheek. “You be careful.”

Jen kisses the top of her head. Her eyes are hard, rather than wet. “I can take whatever they dish out, Darcy. Don’t worry about me.”

And for some reason, she doesn’t. She should, but she doesn’t. Darcy nods, and clings tight to Jen for three more heartbeats before slipping out the door of the apartment.

Heading back to Metro-General is like returning to a disaster zone. Her skin creeps, her stomach churns, and under her wig-cap and her rose-colored glasses (because that’s a thing, apparently) her muscles are twitching. The semiautomatic feels cool against the base of her spine, sapping the warmth away. She says goodbye to Matt near the door to the emergency room, and he slinks off to put on the rest of his uniform (it’s in his briefcase, apparently; she’s not going to think how he’s going to manage it). The scrubs she’d been granted during the night of the bombings are scratching her calves, and she’s pulled a wool cardigan on over a shirt of a similar color and shade. At first glance, nobody’s going to be able to tell that she’s not a nurse.

She filches a name tag from the receptionist’s desk when the woman’s not looking, and pins it to her cardigan. Blake is on the fifth floor, and it’s filled with police officers. Most of them she doesn’t recognize, but of course—of course Brett’s right at the door, of course it has to be Brett, why couldn’t it be one of the cops she doesn’t know, has never met? Of course it’s Brett. She closes her eyes for a moment, grabbing a random clipboard off the counter. Come on, Darcy. Acting.

“Excuse me.” She tugs on the sleeve of the nearest officer, a woman with her cap still on and a hole in the cartilage of her nose from an old piercing. Her nametag says O’Hara. “The guy by the door, is that Sergeant Mahoney?”

Her eyes dart from the top of Darcy’s head down to her tennis shoes. “You new?”

“No, I just—I’ve been off for the past couple days.” She touches her cheek. “I was in a car accident.”

“You and half the ward, it seems like. I was talking to another nurse, that Claire woman. You guys in the same car?”

“Yeah, we were visiting a friend.” Darcy smiles. “But yeah. There’s a guy at the front doors of the hospital asking for a Sergeant Mahoney. I said I’d pass on the message, so, y’know. Message passed. Kind of a sketchy guy to be honest. He was bothering some of the women down in the waiting room. Maybe you guys should check it out?”

“I’ll let him know.” O’Hara tips her hat. “Thanks for the head’s up, Lebowski.”

Lebowski? She waits until O’Hara turns her back, and then looks down at her name tag. Sure enough, it says Cara Lebowski on it in enormous letters. Great. I’m so not going to a bowling alley in this.

Brett doesn’t give her a second glance as he passes her, O’Hara and two other cops on his tail, heading for the elevator. She’s pretty sure it’s because she’s blonde. (Brett’s not a very big fan of blondes in general, which is, you know, all kinds of prejudiced and problematic, but she’s just counting her blessings right now.) Darcy grabs a clipboard off the counter of the empty nurse’s station, and then makes a show of checking her watch before striding right up to the replacement officer, a kid who looks just out of the academy. “Hi,” she says. “I was just gonna go and check on his readings, if that’s okay?”

“Anything in your pockets?” says the boy in a bored tone, and Darcy shakes her head.

“Nah, but you can check if you want, I don’t have anything else to do. After this I’m on break.”

“Lucky girl.” He gives her a top-to-toe look just like O’Hara did, but much more deliberately. I will not punch an officer of the law in the nose. “Careful. Masked man might be in there.”

I’m counting on it, she thinks. “Oh, stop.” She smacks a hand against his chest. “I’m cleared?”

“You’re cleared. Go on in, Nurse Lebowski,” says the kid, and she waits until the door is shut behind her before rolling her eyes. May I never have to deal with the Cohn brothers again.

She blocks the door with a chair, and then takes off her cardigan. Detective Blake is lying unconscious in his bed, his head tipped ever so slightly to the side. The yellow light from the window casts strange dapples over his cheek where it mixes with the fluoro lighting from the hospital ceiling. Darcy prods at the door twice, as quietly as she can, and then heaves the window open. “Matt,” she says, leaning out. “Matt.

“Don’t say my name,” says a voice from above her, and she bites her tongue to keep from screaming. Matt’s crouched on the fire escape outside the window one floor up, scowling a little.

“Fine, Mike. Get in here, I don’t know how long I have before the kid tries the door.”

It’s a truly remarkable (and gut-wrenching) feat of acrobatics and core strength that gets Matt into the hospital room, and it’s not something she ever, ever wants to watch again. They’re on the fifth fucking floor, and he just swings in like it’s no problem. Darcy lingers by the door as Matt tugs his spare glove off, setting his fingertips to the pulse in Blake’s throat (the beeping monitor doesn’t shift, in either tone or speed) and then tips his head as if he’s listening. “Bullet perforated his lung,” he says after a moment. “It’s healing, but slowly. He has a heart murmur and it’s not helping.”

“Can you wake him up?”

“Not without—”

Voices sound outside. Darcy heaves the chair away from the door as quickly as she can, and looks at Matt in a panic. “What do I—”

“Under the bed.”

She drops. The hospital hasn’t been dusting the way they should, and there’s a smear of something uncomfortable-looking on the underside of the mattress, but she’s hidden, and that’s all that matters. Her wig hair is getting in her mouth. She has no idea what Matt does, but when the door opens, there’s no scream of “vigilante!” so he must have done something to hide himself. Whoever came in, they have very shiny shoes.

There’s a rustle of paper, of plastic, and—for some reason—the rich scent of marinara. It tickles at her nose. “I’m sorry,” someone says, and then a popping sound, as if something’s just punctured a tire.

She hears a single footstep before Matt’s boots come into view. There’s a scrabbling, an odd rasping choke, and then the body of Detective Hoffman is laid with great care on the floor. Darcy watches until she’s sure that Hoffman’s still breathing, and then clambers back out from beneath the bed. Matt and Blake are speaking in low voices. Blake is whispering, so soft that she can’t hear it, but Mike—Matt has his ear tipped towards Blake’s lips. The door rattles again, and again.

“Mike,” she says, and Matt nods. He gestures to her.

“Window, come on.”

Are you crazy!” She creeps over to the window. “I can’t make that jump!”

“You won’t have to.” And he slips out into the night air, vanishing up onto the fire escape. Darcy flexes her hands, wishing she’d kept the gloves on, and then clambers up onto the ledge, turning so her back is facing the world. She can see the door shaking.

“Darcy,” he says, and Matt lowers his hands to her. “Come on.”

She doesn’t look down. Darcy grabs his wrists, and pulls. The wind makes her scrubs flap against her legs as together, Darcy and Matt heave the rest of her up onto the fire escape. She hears the door to Blake’s hospital room splinter. As soon as she has her balance again, Matt lets her go.

“Here,” he says, and presses her back against the wall of the hospital. “Don’t move. Don’t breathe.”

She doesn’t breathe. Down below, one of the cops—she thinks it might be Brett—sticks his head out of Blake’s window, and looks down. He doesn’t look up. She’s very conscious of Matt’s arm bracing hers, the way his lips are pressed tight together, how he’s holding himself so absolutely still. He catches her wrist, and squeezes hard. Darcy closes her eyes, and forces herself not to choke. Her chest binder is pinching at her fractured rib, and it hurts. It feels like an eternity before Brett vanishes back into Blake’s room, and shuts the window behind him.

Matt lets out a breath, and releases her wrist. “Come on,” he says. “There’s a ladder on the other side of the hospital that lets out in an alley. They won’t look on that side. Not right away.”

“I’ll take your word for it,” says Darcy, and follows him up the fire escape.

The alley doesn’t really deserve the name, to be entirely honest. It’s more of a smoking nook between Metro-General and the CVS that she’s sure does a roaring business in nicotine of all sorts. The entrance is blocked by an old dumpster, one that stinks of cat urine and rotting meat. Darcy steps out of her scrubs and yanks on a pair of jeggings instead, fumbling with the buttons so she doesn’t have to think about how she’s half naked in an alleyway. Matt doesn’t move, standing with his hands at his sides and his head cocked. She flexes her fingers. They’re trembling. “So, how much will Fisk want to kill me now that I’ve witnessed a murder?”

Matt says nothing. His jaw clenches.

“Don’t you dare say I told you so,” she says, and wonders if she’s going to throw up. Is this what shock feels like? She wants to laugh a little. “At least this way if we try to link Fisk to Blake we have a witness and not just hearsay. Though, y’know, technically I only heard the murder and didn’t see it but I feel like the principle of the thing is the same.”

“Darcy.”

“I don’t know what Blake told you, though, so, y’know, that’s your gig—though I don’t think you can exactly go into court and say yes I heard him out Fisk as the strong-bad nasty without them having arrest you and commit you for life, which I’m not really okay with even though I’m still kind of mad at you—”

Darcy.”

“—but this’d be your moment to get me to like you again, you could buy me coffee or something, I always forgive when coffee’s involved, but I don’t think that’d be a good idea right now because I’m kind of panicking and I don’t—I’d probably explode.” She smooths an invisible wrinkle out of her top. Her voice is shaking. “Matt. Is—Is that how it works? Is that how fast it is? People die that fast?”

Matt twitches. His hands lift, and then lower again. “Yeah,” he says. “Generally that’s how it works.”

She’s going to hyperventilate. Darcy closes her eyes and takes three deep breaths. Not until you’re at Claire’s. “We should probably move,” she says. “Before the police come this way.”

“Where are you going?”

“Where are you going? What did Blake tell you?”

He shrugs. “Things we already knew. I’m tempted to take it to Ben. Karen’s right about one thing—publicity keeps you safe better than anything, and if the three of you are going to keep sticking your noses into Fisk’s business—”

“The four of us,” she corrects, sharply.

“Fine. Yes. Four. All four of us need insurance. Ben might be able to give us that.”

“In that case, I’m going to Claire’s. I’m pretty sure Wesley doesn’t know I know her, and if I put the wig back on, they won’t be able to track me so easy.” She taps her temple. “I grabbed my costume stuff for a reason, remember? Besides, you probably have intimidating devil-things to do, didn’t Lynch and Jenson come back tonight?”

He shakes his head. “They can wait another night. Do you even know how to get from here to Claire’s?”

“Do you?” She can’t help it. She snaps a little. “Sorry. Yeah, I know how to get there. She texted me directions. On the burner, before you freak out. I know they haven’t done anything with that yet, it’s not like they can hack texts.”

“That we know of.”

“Thanks for helping me sleep tonight.” She heaves her duffel bag over her shoulder. “I just—okay. I’m going to go.”

“No, wait.” He tips his head. “They’ve worked out you were a plant. They’re looking for you, too.”

“They’re looking for a blonde woman with no boobs and no glasses. I can fix that in a public restroom.”

“Not as fast as you need to.” Matt clenches his fists, and then turns. “Come on. We can get you into the dumpster, and then I can lead them away.”

“I’m not hiding in a dumpster.”

“And I’m not about to watch you die.”Matt hisses. “Get in the dumpster!”

She can hear boots on concrete, now. Darcy clenches her hand tight around the strap of her duffel bag. Then she tears the wig off. Matt makes a small, panicked sound as she tosses both the bag and the wig to the pavement, out of sight of the main street. Her heart hurts, it’s beating so fast. She can’t think. Her brain’s skipping like a bad record. What the hell—how do we—oh, god, no—Blake—Ben—Matt—Matt—no—

There's a bud of an idea in the back of her head, and it's crazy and impossible and it's probably not going to work and it's definitely going to make everything worse, but they don't have enough time for her to climb into a dumpster, and she's basically dead if the cops track them down, and oh, god, I'm so going to regret this. “Matt,” she says. “Kiss me.”

Matt whips his head around. She’s pretty sure that if she could see his eyes, they’d be falling out of his head right about now. “What?”

“The cops are coming, I’m not blonde, and you look like a vigilante. Shut up and kiss me.

He clenches his hands tight. “I don’t—uh.”

“Oh, for god’s sake,” says Darcy, and before she can talk herself out of it, she goes up on tiptoe and mashes her mouth against his. Their teeth crash together, because he’s surprised and she’s sloppy and she can hear the cops shouting in the next alley over, but it’s not the worst kiss she’s ever had. She hates it in principle, because it’s fake, because it’s a disguise, but she can’t say it’s the worst.

Sorry, Matt, she thinks. Darcy closes her eyes. Then she reaches up with both hands, and pushes his mask back, away from his face. It’d blow their cover, if he keeps the mask. Sorry, me.

Matt still hasn’t managed to get with the program. He’s standing stiff as a railroad spike, his hands out from his sides as if he’s not quite sure what to do with them. She can hear the cops shouting, coming closer. Blindly, Darcy pushes him back, two steps, three, and then there’s a scuffing sound of human on brick. They’ve found the wall. “Darcy,” he says, but she’s already gone up on tiptoe; her mouth coasts over his cheek (stubble and soft skin) before she finds his lips again. Darcy bares her teeth and nips him, hard. Come on, Matt. He makes a shocked little noise that makes her think of a startled cat, and rests his hands light as moths against her waist. Come on, she thinks. Think it through, we’re running out of time.

The cops are getting closer.

Then, all of a sudden, he comes to life under her hands. Matt dips his head and presses his mouth down into hers, carefully, as if he’s afraid he’s going to break something. Darcy makes an impatient noise—sell it, Matt, come on—and digs her nails into the collar of his shirt. It breaks her a little bit when she feels the way his heart is pounding, drumming a tattoo against her palm. 

“Matt,” she says against his mouth, and it’s like she’s flipped a switch. His hands flex and clutch at her hips, and suddenly she’s much, much closer, one of his hands pressed flat against the back of her neck, and his lips are parting against her mouth. His tongue flicks past her teeth, and holy shit, where the fuck does a blind guy learn to kiss the way that Matt Murdock is kissing her right now? Darcy tangles her fingers in his hair and ignores the splash of the flashlight against her eyes. His mouth tastes like coffee and bits of her stolen cinnamon bun, a hint of sugar still caught between them, and when he scrapes his teeth against her bottom lip Darcy actually whines. Matt makes a sound in the back of his throat, and threads his fingers into her hair, which is totally not going on her list of kinks, now, shut up.

Through a faint haze, she hears the cops swear to themselves and run off. The cops, she decides, don’t matter anymore. She hurts, and she’s hurting because he lied, but she’d be lying herself if she said she’d never thought about something like this. Well, considering the vigilantism, not exactly like this, but whatever. She’s pushed away the thought of doing this for years, every time he’s smiled, because for god’s sake, she’s always been a sucker for a pretty smile. But it’s so much more than that, now, and when Matt drops his hands to her hips again and lifts her up onto her tiptoes, just enough that she can fist her hands into his hair without having to reach, she weaves her arms around his neck and holds on. Her heart’s racing and her lungs are squeezing tight and there’s tears pricking at her eyes, but she kisses him anyway, because she loves him (and when did that happen? She’s not even sure) and Matt, for some reason, is kissing her back. Count your blessings, Lewis.

Finally, Matt strokes his fingers up and over her cheekbones, leaning away just enough that she can still feel the touch of his breath against her lips. She feels him swallow, more than hears it. Darcy doesn’t want to open her eyes. If she does, reality will return, and she quite likes the dream. She feels the lightest touch against her jaw, the smooth brush of a glove, and she blinks in spite of herself. Matt’s mouth is swollen, almost bee-stung, and before she realizes what she’s doing, she’s lifted her hand and set her index and middle fingers against his bottom lip.

“Um,” she says, because there’s not much else she can say. She wants to run. She should run. She can’t bring herself to move. “Hi.”

Matt tips his head, and his nose brushes ever so lightly against hers. It’s intimate in a way that she’s never really had before, not since Eduardo, and even then she’d never let him come quite so close. From here, she can only see bits and pieces of the bruises. Mostly it’s his eyelashes, the pores of his nose, the way his hair is tangling over his forehead where she’s mussed it. Then he smiles, and in spite of everything, it feels like sunlight pouring over her skin. She’s never seen that smile before.

“Hi,” he says, his voice cracking as if he’s holding something else back, and suddenly it’s too much. Darcy pulls back, just slightly, and Matt lets her go, letting her slide through his fingers until she’s standing on her own ground, on her own two feet. She’s shaking.

“Um.” She swallows. “Um. Yeah. I have to—I have to go.”

She bolts before Matt can say a word.

Chapter Text

Bless Claire. When Darcy shows up on her doorstep with her chest heaving, her eyes red, her hands shaking, and a big-ass duffel bag hanging over her shoulder, all she says is, “I have booze and bloody cow meat. Which do you want first?”

“Booze,” says Darcy, and drops her bag onto the tile in Claire’s entryway. There’s a pile of shoes beside the door, and she kicks her off. “Please, god, booze, because I just made out with someone I promised myself I never would.”

“Santino,” says Claire, and a teenage boy with a high ponytail and a thin, lovely face pokes his head out of what Darcy presumes is the kitchen, eyebrows raised. “La bolsa, por favor.”

,” says the boy named Santino. He stares at Darcy (she’d taken her contacts out with shaking hands in a subway bathroom, hooking the blonde wig back onto her hair) and then nods once, as if she’s been approved, before collecting her duffel bag, trotting off with it. Darcy opens her mouth, and closes it again.

“Brother?” She asks, once Santino’s out of sight. Claire shakes her head.

“Neighbor. He lives two floors up, but his mom’s away a lot, and when she’s not away she’s drunk, and when she’s not drunk she’s sleeping off being drunk. He’s been twitchy since the Russians, spends most of his time here. I think he likes to make sure that I’m safe, y’know?”

There’s a split second where Darcy swears she can see Lorna’s shadow on the wall. Then she sighs. “Poor kid. I’ve been there.”

Claire gives her a sharp look, but doesn’t comment. “Come on. Alcohol’s this way.”

She sets Darcy up with a tumbler of bourbon (not cheap, but not expensive, exactly the sort of stuff Darcy’s used to) and has her examining, sanitizing, and stitching up angry-looking cuts in fresh meat by the time Santino returns from parts unknown. He looks at the meat, and then at Darcy, before shrugging and settling on the couch, unpausing the Call of Duty game up on the screen and replacing a pair of Turtle Beach headphones on his head. Claire doesn’t react. This seems to be typical.

“So,” she says, when Darcy’s finished the first set of cuts, and moved on to the second. (“No, don’t jab the needle in like that, you’ll puncture an artery and then your patient bleeds out. Not fucking okay.”) “You okay?”

Darcy laughs. “Uh, no. It’s—it’s been a night.”

Blake is dead. Her stomach clenches. She’d heard him die. More than that, she’d heard him being murdered. The popping sound of a syringe being shoved into an IV drip. The strange gagging noises as the poison reached his heart. Detective Blake is dead. She doesn’t even know his first name. She pokes herself in the finger with her wickedly curved needle, and swears. “Fuck.”

“Don’t do that while you’re stitching people. It’s a great way to get HIV.” Claire sips her bourbon. “Our mutual friend?”

“Our mutual friend.” She knots a stitch, ignoring the way her finger is throbbing. “And—and, uh. You heard about Blake?”

Claire’s eyes narrow. “The cop in the hospital?”

Santino’s headphones are on. He’s cursing to himself in a mix of Spanish and English, button-mashing and shouting insults at whoever’s on the other end of his internet connection. Darcy swallows hard. “Um, yeah. He’s—he’s kind of dead.”

Claire clenches her hand tight around her glass of booze, but doesn’t say anything. Darcy bites her tongue before she can babble. “I, uh. I kind of heard all of it. I was under the bed. And then, um, Mike busted me out. And then I kind of, um. Kissed him. In an alley.”

“You kissed him,” says Claire, in a very blank voice. “Because of panic?”

“Because the cops were after us and it was a cover or a ploy or whatever you call super-spy moves like that, and it worked. Which actually still kind of surprises me and says bad things about the NYPD.”

“Oh.”

I kissed him,” Darcy says again, and without warning drops her head onto the table top. She thinks she has beef blood on her forehead now. She doesn’t really care. “I told myself I wouldn’t and I did. I told myself that since freshman fucking year.

“Darcy.”

“I’m an idiot.” She knocks her head against the table again. “I’m an idiot. I’m so mad at him, and I kissed him, and then I had a panic attack in a public restroom because people want to kill me, and there’s someone taking pictures of my bedroom through the window, and I was hanging out of a fifth storey window, and they killed Blake right over me, Claire, and I want to stab Wilson Fisk in the eyeball and then fling myself off of a skyscraper because I said I wouldn’t and I did. I’m so angry right now.

“Drink your bourbon and finish that cut,” Claire orders, and Darcy obeys. Claire has a very scary sergeant-major face. “You’re not going to be able to do much if he comes in with a gunshot wound, but you’ll be able to reseal a laceration, at least.”

Her stomach rolls. “Have bullets happened?”

“Not so far.” Claire waits until Darcy ties off her newest stitch job, and then tugs the meat around to study it with a critical eye. “They’re too far apart. Make them smaller.”

Darcy picks up a butcher knife and rams it down into another piece of beef. The squish of blood and meat under the blade makes her guts clench.

“He told you yesterday,” Claire says, after a moment.

“Yeah.”

“And the next night you tag along after him on one of his hunts?”

“I made him take me.”

Claire lets out a low whistle. “You’re a better man than I, Gunga-Din.”

For some reason, Darcy swears she smells marinara. I’m never having a meatball sub again. “I don’t think it was a bad idea. But, y’know. Um. People are kind of dead. And they’re looking for a blonde nurse named Cara Lebowski, I stole her ID tag, oh, Jesus, Fisk might—”

“She’s out of town on vacation, they’ll leave her alone, don’t worry.” Still, Claire takes a big swig of bourbon before speaking again. “Jesus.”

“Yeah.”

Jesus.

Darcy nods, and snaps the thread. Her hands are shaking.

“When did you last sleep?” Claire says, in a voice that is far too understanding. Darcy scoffs under her breath, and gets a fresh thread through the eye of the needle.

“I don’t know. Not last night. And, uh. I have nightmares.”

“Drink your bourbon,” Claire snaps. “Stitch for another hour. Then go to bed. You can share with me, I have a queen. Santino will lock up when he leaves.”

“I’m not stealing your bed—”

“You’re not stealing the bed, you’re borrowing half of it, and you don’t have to worry because I’m about as far from a sleep cuddler as you can get.” Claire sighs. “Just...we’ll talk about it on the way to the station tomorrow. Or something, I don’t know. Just breathe. Okay?”

She’s not sure she can manage that. But she pretends.

If not for the fact that Claire’s a nurse and knows how bad combining alcohol with a sleeping pill would be, she’d suspect Claire drugged her, because when she wakes up, it’s eight o’clock, the sun is shining, she’s had no dreams, and there’s Claire Temple digging through her dresser, tossing the last few shirts she needs into an open suitcase on the other side of the bed. Darcy blinks, and then drags herself out from under the spare blanket, making a noise like a dying possum.

“Morning, Shrek,” says Claire, and drops a lacy bra into her suitcase. “You kick, did you know that?”

“Generally if I share a bed with someone they’re gone before I fall asleep. So. Uh. No. Never came up.” She watches as Claire sorts through a stack of romance novels on top of her dresser, picking two and leaving the rest behind. She feels kind of hollow inside, and when she catches sight of her reflection in the mirror over Claire’s dresser, she realizes that she looks hollow, too. “Jesus,” she says, and touches her cheek. “I forgot to take my make-up off. I’m a zombie.”

“The pillowcase will survive.” Claire drops to her knees, zipping her suitcase shut. “Y’know, Mike—Matt never really talked about anyone in his real life. Mostly if I saw him he needed stitching up, or—or I guess just someone to confide in, a little. I’m pretty sure that I was the only one who’d ever seen his face, so he felt—I don’t know. He felt safe.”

Darcy’s not sure she wants to hear this. She crosses her legs into the lotus position, and scrapes her knotty hair out of her eyes, wrapping it up with a tie. “That sounds like Matt.”

“When the Russians grabbed me, I hid in his apartment for a little while.” Claire looks at her suitcase, and then grabs a kerchief from the top of the dresser, and knots it on one of the handles. “He doesn’t really have any pictures—you know that, Jesus. But there’s one that I found, on the kitchen counter. College grad photo. You were in the middle. Who was the other guy?”

“Foggy.” Darcy swallows. “Um. He’s the Nelson in Nelson, Murdock, and Lewis.”

Claire makes a considering noise, and rolls the suitcase to the door. Then she turns her back on Darcy and strips her shirt off. Darcy turns to look out the window. “I asked why he had a picture, since, y’know, he can’t see it the way other people do. He said that it was a gift.”

Darcy had given it to him. She squeezes her nails tight into her ankles, and doesn’t say anything. Claire doesn’t notice. She pulls on a muscle tank, and tugs her hair out from underneath the collar. “He didn’t really say anything about it, but I could tell how much you guys mattered to him. So if you’re worried that you coming up with a distraction strategy will make him hate you, or something, you’re kind of off-base.”

“No, that’s not—that’s not it.” She scratches the heel of her foot, hard. “I guess…I dunno.”

Claire touches her ear cuffs, scrapes her hair into a new part (it looks like she had part of her head shaved at one point, which is awesome) and then drops onto the corner of her bed, braiding away the gorgeous. “You dunno?”

Darcy makes a face. “It’s weird, talking about this with you. Considering.”

Claire shrugs. “I’ve had weirder talks.”

“But—”She scrapes her fingernails over her skin again. “I mean, I know you guys had a thing. Like, a thingy-thing. And, like, yeah, down with women hating women over dumb men, but at the same time it’s just—”

“Awkward?”

Darcy laughs. “Yeah, that.”

“Well.” Claire finishes her braid, and ties it off. “Yeah, there might have been a thing, but it kind of died. Still kinda stings, but it’s probably better for me in the long run.” She blows out air. “What it comes down to is that I’m a nurse. I fix people. He breaks them. Matt’s a good man, but that split—I don’t know if it’s morals or character or methods or all of them at once—that split would have destroyed us eventually. So the way I see it, it’s averting a disaster before it starts.”

She’s not sure if she wants to snarl or cry. Maybe both at once. Darcy grabs a pillow, and wraps her arms tight around it, pressing it to her stomach. Her rib whines. “Huh.”

“If you’re not telling me because you don’t trust me, that’s one thing, but if you don’t want to talk about it because you’re afraid you’re going to hurt me or something, get your head out of your ass. I’m a big girl, Darcy. I can take a bit of discomfort.”

It strikes Darcy all of a sudden that Claire is a much better person than she is. She doesn’t feel inadequate, exactly, but more like: damn. I wish I could be that amazing. She knows for a fact that she’d never be able to be that magnanimous, if she’d been in Claire’s position. “I just don’t want to bother you when you’re on your way out.”

“That’s the best time to bother someone,” Claire says, and Darcy hides her nose in the top of the pillow and is silent. Claire sighs. “If you don’t want to talk about it, you can just tell me. I won’t be offended. Like I said, I’m not a therapist.”

“But you’re my friend,” Darcy says, and in that moment she realizes it’s true. Claire blinks once, and then again, before her smile takes a turn for the gentle. She props her chin in one hand.

“Yeah, I guess so.”

Darcy sighs. She presses her face into the pillow (it smells like green apple shampoo and Tide) and swears under her breath. The words churn in the back of her mouth. Claire waits, quietly, tugging her fingers through the tuft of hair at the base of her braid. Finally, Darcy says, “It feels like we’re in a doom loop. Like…he lied to me about—about lots of things. And I’m furious with him. But I kind of lied to him too, about other important things. And I thought—he dates a lot, and I just never mentioned it, but I’m not sure if like…he actually knows. Or not.”

“Knows what?”

Darcy squashes the pillow into her face and screams. Then she lifts her head. “There are feelings,” she says. “They’re uncomfortable and squishy and I don’t like them, but they exist, and he might have noticed because he’s now a human lie detector, and that is a million kinds of not okay, and there, that’s it, no more sharing, I don’t like this sharing thing, can we not—is there booze?”

“It’s eight am.”

“It’s five o’clock somewhere.”

Claire snorts. She tugs her knee up against her chest, and sets her chin on top of it. “Do you want him to know you’re in love with him?”

“I did not say that,” Darcy says. Her voice cracks. “Did I say that? No. I am above such petty human banalities. You’ll never take me alive.”

“You sound Asgardian.”

“Well, maybe they have the right idea.”

“You didn’t answer my question.”

“Yes. No. I don’t know? I don’t want to fuck up our friendship.” She flops back onto the mattress. “This is such a dumb time for this. I can’t freak out about this now. Someone wants to kill me or make me his basement baby or whatever the fuck it is they’re going to do, and I’m freaking out because I kissed a guy and I don’t know if he likes me likes me. I am such a failure as a human being.”

“Considering the amount of shit you have on your plate, I’m not surprised your brain is latching on to the easiest thing to deal with right now.” Claire rolls her eyes. “Get up. I have to make the bed.”

“You think this is easy?”

“No, but it’s easier than death threats.”

She can’t argue with that. Darcy rolls off the bed and onto the floor. Her arms hurt. Fuck that, her core hurts. Though, to be fair, she had just heaved herself up onto a fire escape, like, six hours ago. She flops onto her back, and watches as Claire makes the bed. “I thought you said you weren’t a therapist.”

“I,” says Claire, “have been doing a lot of introspection the past few weeks. Who the fuck knows.”

Darcy makes an unhappy whale noise.

“Look, whatever happens, he’s still one of your best friends. Right?”

“Well, yeah.”

“Then focus on that. Considering everything that’s happening, I feel like that matters more. Unless you’re into those dramatic dying confessions, which are always super-depressing and leave everyone very unhappy and confused. In which case I might come back down to the city and kill you before you do something like that, because seriously, no one needs the dead damsel.”

“I’m feeling so much love in this room right now,” Darcy tells the ceiling. The ceiling is nice. The ceiling has posters on it and doesn’t judge her about dumb feelings.

“I’m super nice to you, shut up.” Claire kicks Darcy lightly in the ankle. “Focusing on life and death and justice matters more at the moment. At least, that’s what I feel. Obviously you can feel differently about it, and that’s okay. But yeah. That’s my thought.” She hesitates. “And there’s one more thing you need to think about.”

Darcy opens her eyes, and cocks a brow.

“You need to seriously consider, if you do care about him that much, whether you can survive being with both Matt Murdock and the devil.” Claire’s mouth hardens. “I know I couldn’t. It’s up to you to find out if you can.”

She vanishes into the hall before Darcy can respond. Darcy takes a deep breath, and lets it out slowly, shaky, her lungs trembling inside her.

“Holy shit.”

.

.

.

They take a cab to Penn Station, and by the end of it Claire has pressed an apartment key into Darcy’s hand and roped her into taking care of her plants. “And keep an eye on Santino,” she says, as she heaves her luggage out of the back of the cab. “He’s allowed in whenever, but if he starts to grow fungus or something from sitting on the couch too long kick him outside. If you need somewhere to lay low, go ahead. I’m pretty sure Fisk’s interest in me died with the Russians.”

Darcy’s not so sure, but she hooks the spare key on to her lanyard anyway, shoving it back into the bottom of her purse. The keys click against her gun.

She’s just waved goodbye to Claire at the doors and turned to hail another cab when she sees the Bulletin. Darcy digs five bucks out of the back pocket of her jeans and tosses them at the nearest newspaper guy, not waiting for her change. Her blonde wig is making her scalp itch like she has fleas. Wilson Fisk’s Promise to the City, says the subheader, and there’s a photo on the front, of a tall, broad man with a shaved head and deep eyes. Behind him stands Wesley, Psycho Glasses Killer, his hands neatly behind his back and his eyes averted from the camera. It makes her guts clench. There’s a woman in the photo, too, right beside Fisk. Goodman, she realizes with a burst of triumphant something, is nowhere to be seen. So Wesley had been serious about them being kicked out of the Rich Kid’s Club.

She texts Karen (why the fuck is he on the front page of Ben’s paper?) and then Foggy (WHAT HAPPENED?) before hailing a cab. For some reason cab drivers have been a lot more willing to pick her up now that she’s “blonde.” She’s not sure what the hell that’s about, but it’s something she’s willing to take advantage of.

She feels heavy, slipping into the back of the first cab who will take her over to Hell’s Kitchen (it’s getting harder to find people who will, especially lately). She feels like something’s crept into her marrow and laced her bones with titanium. A man is dead, and I didn’t even have nightmares. Blake had been one of Fisk’s men. He’d lied for Fisk, tried to hurt Karen for Fisk. He’d probably killed for Fisk. Still, she thinks, as Times Square flickers outside her window. She should feel at least some degree of—regret, maybe, or horror, that he’s dead and she heard it happen. She should care, even a little.

Blake was a bastard, she thinks, and then repeats it aloud. “Blake was a bastard.” The cab driver turns just a little, cocking an eyebrow at her, but then he pulls up the barrier between their seats and she’s cut off. It’s nice to know that people still give a shit.

Blake was a bastard, and she doesn’t care that he’s dead. She feels sick that he was murdered, and she’s probably never going to be able to eat marinara again, but the world is a better place without him in it. He was a crooked cop and a liar and probably a murderer himself, and now he’s gone. He can’t come back.

She props her chin in her hand, and watches the city go by.

Darcy stops in the bathroom that they share with the financial advisors or whoever now works in the office space besides theirs so she can disentangle herself from her wig and her chest binder, shoving them both into a plastic bag that she hides underneath the spare garbage can in the back of the last stall. Disguise? Me? Nahhh, I know not of what you speak. She’s pretty sure, judging by the number of coffee grounds in the sink, that Foggy just slept here. He’s wearing the same tie as yesterday, and his hair’s all messy.

“Hey,” she says, and leans over the back of his chair, peering at his computer screen. “Whatcha doing?”

“Fisk,” Foggy says, “is an asshole. That’s what I’m doing. I’m—I’m reveling in how much of an asshole he is. Look at this!” He scrolls through Google. “Fisk, poor fat kid with family problems! Fisk, abandoned by his father! Fisk, humanitarian! What the fuck is this. This is bullshit.”

“Hey, my dad abandoned me before I was even born, and I didn’t turn out to be some kind of megalomaniacal crime lord.”

“And I was a poor fat kid and look at me now. I have my very own office space. There’s a leak in the corner, but that just adds charm. And that’s not even touching the level of fatphobia in this, like. What the fuck.” He scrolls through the Bulletin article again. “Jesus, this is all such total bullshit.

“Did you sleep at all?”

He makes an oh god why did you ask that face. “What time is it?”

“Nine. Ish.”

“Then no, not at all.” Foggy looks ready to tear out his hair. “This is bullshit.”

“Okay.” She takes his wireless mouse, and shoves it into her pocket when he makes a grab for it. “Nope. We’re done. Come on. You’re leaving the office-cave. Go home and take a shower. Come back in an hour or two.”

Foggy rears back, and looks down his nose at her. “Are you saying I smell funny?”

“I’m saying that there is an aroma in this office and for the first time it’s not because of the mold. Or the nicotine.” She takes his computer for good measure while he’s distracted. “Go, Foggy. I’ll lock the doors while you’re not here if it makes you feel better, but seriously, you’ve passed mildly smelly and hit intense odor of corn chips.

“You’re mean when you’re under threats of death,” says Foggy, but he stumbles off to find his shoes. Darcy locks the door behind him when he goes, and leans against it, letting out a long breath.

Normal. She looks down at her chipping black nail polish, and then opens up her shitty laptop on the top of her desk. There’s a little alert in the corner of the screen, reminding her of the TMZ interview tomorrow morning. Yeah, normal. How do I do normal, again?

The door rattles. She jumps, and she’s about to snatch her gun out of her purse in the instant before she hears the rough sigh. “Jesus, Lewis, I know you’re in there. What’s with the locked door? I thought you guys opened at like…eight-thirty or whatever.”

Darcy blinks. “Kate?”

“The one and only. Let me in, I think the secretaries on this block are all eyeing my shoes.”

It’s not too far out of the realm of possibility. Darcy undoes the padlock and lets Kate in, locking the door up behind her again. Kate gives her a raised-eyebrow look over the top of her sunglasses. Her shoes are, indeed, worth eyeing. Darcy’s never seen anyone able to pull off heels that high without toppling like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. “What’s with the security?”

“It’s been an interesting few days.” Kate’s touched up the purple dye in her hair. The deep plum she remembers is now a vivid, eye-catching shade of heliotrope. Darcy’s really not sure how much bleach Kate had to use to get that color to catch and keep in her black hair, but it was probably very expensive. It looks really good. “Did you text me? I didn’t see it, my phone died last night and I can’t find the charge cord.”

More like she forgot it in her slap-dash rush through the apartment trying to get her shit together before Fisk had Blake killed. But she’s not saying that.

“Nah. Thought I’d drop by.” Kate takes off her glasses, hooking one of the earpieces through the V-neck collar of her shirt. “This place is interesting.”

“If by interesting you mean sketchy.” Darcy tips her head. “You want coffee?”

“God, yes, I had to get up early to get lectured by my dad from the Philippines and my eyes are still rolling in my skull.” Kate slinks after her like some kind of alley cat, watching with sharp eyes as Darcy measures out the grounds and starts the electric kettle. “You look like shit. Like, even more than usual. And I mean that in a nice way.”

“Gee, thanks.” Darcy wrinkles her nose at the number of mugs in the sink (Foggy, I swear to god, if you leave the dishes like this one more time—) and then goes through the cabinets looking for clean ones. “I haven’t slept much the past few days. It’s been interesting.”

“Did Goodman send his goons after you again?” Kate says, and Darcy nearly fumbles the Suck a dick, your honor mug. Kate presses her lips tight together. “Come on. I’m not stupid. I kind of put it together after seeing the way he acted around you, when we visited him. And it wouldn’t surprise me if it’s not the first time he’s done something like that. I’ve been talking with—with a few of the other girls that Rich attacked over the years. Mostly they’re scared because they had guys threatening them into silence. Makes sense.”

“I was going to tell you after the TMZ interview,” Darcy says, and for a second she hears Matt in the back of her head. I was going to tell you. “I didn’t want to freak you out, I guess.”

“I would have freaked out at the beginning, maybe.” Kate tugs on a lock of hair that’s fallen forward over her shoulder. “But I’ve been thinking a lot. I probably would have lied to you, too, if something like that had happened. I wasn’t in a very good place. Actually, I’m still not in a very good place. Like…I smashed a bunch of windows last night sort of place. But, whatever. Now at least I have another million reasons to hate the Goodmans. Y’know?”

Darcy sets the Suck a dick, your honor mug on the countertop. It would be very, very unprofessional to hug the stuffing out of Kate Bishop, she tells herself. So unprofessional. The most unprofessional. Kate eyes her for a moment, and then sighs, loudly.

“If you’re gonna hug me get it over with, I still need to talk to you about TMZ.”

“Wow, I feel so welcome,” says Darcy, but she still wraps her arms around Kate and squeezes her hard. She’s bony and too-skinny, but the muscles in her arms stand out like wire cord, and when Kate hugs her back it makes her fractured rib cry like a baby. Kate, she finds, gives excellent hugs. She thinks she can feel Kate smiling a little behind her hair.

“What about TMZ?” says Darcy, her chin still hooked over Kate’s shoulder. Kate prods her in the collarbone, and she finally lets go, turning to keep an eye on the electric kettle. “I thought we already talked about it.”

“Well, yeah, we did, but like—urgh.” Kate sighs. “I dunno. You’ve never been interviewed before, have you?”

“I have gone twenty-five years without that pleasure, yeah.” Darcy shrugs. “I figure it’s just, y’know, a conversation. With cameras, but it’s still a conversation. Sugar?”

“Gross, no.” Darcy pours boiling water into the press, watching as the grounds swirl into a tiny cyclone of caffeine and darkness. “Yeah, essentially that’s all it is. But—I mean. They might ask some pretty random shit. It’s TMZ, I’d be surprised if we touch on the Goodmans at all before an hour of dumb dating questions. Because they love to ask me about my dating life.”

“And I’m sure you love to answer.” She leans her hips against the counter, crossing her arms over her chest. “I mean, if it’s worrying you, I can promise not to tell them to fuck off on a live feed. I’m pretty sure that part’s your job anyway, so.”

Kate snorts. “No, there’s just—I heard that they’re going to do a follow-up interview with some people from Landman and Zack. You know, Goodman’s lawyers?”

“Believe me, I know who Landman and Zack are.” Oh, god, if they put Marci on TV I think Foggy might melt through his shoes. “When did you hear about this?”

“Yesterday night. I may or may not pay interns at TMZ to tell me things before the big stories drop.” Kate shrugs. “It was like two in the morning, though, so I didn’t want to wake you up.”

Considering last night was the first time she’d slept a full seven hours straight without stirring once, Darcy appreciates that.

“Anyway, I don’t think they’ll actually try to have a double-up interview-wise, because there’s a bunch of legal issues with that and stuff, but I just wanted to give you a head’s up because it seemed kosher.” Kate accepts the mug of liquid energy, and wraps her hands around it, carefully. Her nails are cut short, and painted a vibrant silver. “So yeah. They want us there by nine am tomorrow. You know where we’re going, and everything?”

“Kate.” Darcy pours her own mug of coffee, and adds sugar and cream to it. “It’s in your penthouse. I know exactly where it is, I know how to get there, and I know what time I have to be there. What’s freaking you out so much about this?”

Kate fiddles with the bracelet around her wrist, and breathes in the steam from her coffee. “Nothing. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Kate.”

“Look.” Kate sets her mug on the counter again. “I didn’t tell my dad this is happening. So he might, uh. He might get up in your face about it. I don’t know if he’ll even notice, but I’m pretty sure he has Google Alerts for my name and stuff, so if he does, I just wanna say, y’know. Leave him to me, I guess. That’s all.”

Darcy swallows her mouthful of coffee. Then she reaches out, and squeezes Kate’s elbow affectionately. “Your dad doesn’t scare me, Kate. You don’t have to worry about that.”

Kate’s smile is a bit wobbly, but it’s there. Darcy takes another sip of caffeine, and then says, “Why does he give you so much shit for this, anyway? Because of his image?”

“I don’t know.” Kate huffs. “He never likes it when I draw attention to myself. I think he gets it from his mom, honestly. He wouldn’t pay for my transition meds until I agreed to take his mom’s name. Locked down all my personal accounts until I agreed. I hated my grandmother. She was a massive fucking bitch. Never called me Kate, always insisted I was Callum, even when I wore a skirt or makeup or whatever.” Her mouth thins. “She used to treat my mom like shit, too. Y’know, she was—my dad married my mom without my grandmother’s permission, and she never let either of them forget it. Used to say that the mixing of the races was against what God intended. But soon as my mom died, she started hanging around again. So much fun.”

“Jesus, what an asshole.”

“That’s the nicest thing you could call her.”

Out in the front room, the door rattles again. Darcy freezes, and Kate sees it. Her eyes narrow, and she opens her mouth, but in the instant before she can speak Karen calls out, “Who’s in there? I can hear you moving around.”

“Just me.” Darcy leaves her mug on the counter, and goes to unlock the door again. “Foggy made me promise to keep it locked until someone else was here, and hi, you’re here, so’s Kate, we’re all just—a trio of here-ness.”

By the time the door swings open, Karen’s eyebrows have already clambered up into her hair. It’s actually super impressive. “I see,” she says, slowly, and waves at Kate. Kate’s eyebrows lift too. “How much coffee have you had?”

“Actually not that much. Hi, by the way. You’re wearing another Batman shirt. You should always wear Batman shirts, because they’re awesome.” She shuts the door behind Karen, and fights off the urge to lock it again. “Coffee?”

“Depends. Did they charge you for lacing it with crack, or was that just an extra for shits and giggles?”

Darcy pouts. “Mean.

Karen sets her purse on her desk. “Ben’s coming over in like twenty minutes to talk about—to talk about stuff. Are you guys gonna be very long?”

“Not unless Kate decides she wants to intern here because of our aggregate level of fabulous, and even then she’s gonna have to fill out an application first.”

“Which I feel like I’d have to develop myself, because your copier is definitely older than I am,” Kate says, frowning a little.

“It’s also sentient and angry,” says Karen, and smiles. “How are you doing?”

“I’m fine.” Kate points at Darcy. “She’s crazy.”

“More than usual?”

“More than usual.”

“Everyone is being super mean to me right now and I don’t like it,” Darcy says. “Why did I make you coffee? I was nice to you and made you coffee and everything and you’re being mean.”

Kate shrugs, and sips her coffee, because she’s an asshole. Darcy frowns at her for a moment, and then something clicks in the back of her head. “Oh, right. You speak Japanese, right?”

Kate blinks. Then she blinks again. “Well, yeah, sorta. I mean. I grew up with it, my mom never spoke English very well. And then there’s Yoko, she keeps my grammar straight. Why?”

“Can you read it?”

“Again, sorta. What’s the point?”

Darcy holds up a finger, and then goes into her office. She can hear Karen and Kate muttering to each other outside, probably about how manic she’s totally not being, but she ignores it. All the files Brett had given her were so mixed up and confusing that she’d eventually just resorted them all, marking each page with a case number and a date in the upper right hand corner. All the photos with writing on them, though—she wrenches the biggest folder out from the bottom of the stack—she’d stuck in one file, because it was easier. There are a few on the whiteboard, and she grabs those, too. When she returns, Kate’s eyes widen.

“Wow, okay. You found me photocopies.”

“I need to know what these say,” says Darcy, and turns over two of the photos. Mostly it’s photos of paperwork and graffiti, some of it in English, some of it in romanized Japanese, some of it in kanji all on its own, and all of it is almost completely unintelligible to her. “I’ve been looking on online dictionaries and stuff but I don’t know how to write things out to make it work because apparently Jisho is a terrible website, and I feel like they’re important, sorta, so I just—yeah.”

“Where did you get these?” Kate turns over one of the photos, her forehead puckering. “Are these police photos?”

“I can hire you as an expert if it makes you feel better. I don’t know when I’d actually pay you, because we still haven’t quite broken even, but, y’know, if the legality is worrying you. I just need to know what they say.”

“You,” says Kate, “are very, very weird.” She puts the photos back in the file. “I recognize some of these, but I’ll ask Yoko. If asking Yoko is okay, I mean.”

“We can hire her too,” says Darcy, and behind her, Karen winces. “I mean, eventually. Pro bono is okay for Yoko right now, yeah?”

“From the state of this office, I think it’s gonna have to be. Yoko will survive.” Kate peers at the photos again. “Jesus, where did you get these?”

“I have people who have people who have people.” She claps Kate on the shoulder, and then, on second thought, goes up on tiptoe (because Kate’s heels are very high) and kisses her forehead. Kate blinks at her, and her hand flickers as if she wants to touch the spot, but is consciously stopping herself from doing it. “I’m really sorry to dump that on you and then force you to go but apparently things are happening and I don’t want you to have an even harder time of it. Okay? I’ll be at the penthouse by eight tomorrow, I promise.”

Kate stares at her. Then she meets Karen’s eyes over Darcy’s head. “If she has a heart attack in the near future, call me, okay? I can pay for her hospitalization.”

“We’d appreciate that,” says Karen, who’s still staring at Darcy with a very weird expression on her face. “I’m pretty sure we still don’t have health insurance, either.”

“Both of you suck.” She pushes lightly at Kate’s arm. “Go. I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”

“This is very weird,” Kate says loudly, but she goes. “I am suspicious.”

“I gave you things to do. Go do the things.”

“I’ll figure out what’s going on, y’know.”

“And you’re perfectly free to do so as long as you go.”

“Fine!” says Kate, but she’s half-smiling. “Fine, I’m going. Do you think if I wait on your stoop I could get Ben to tell me?”

“We are talking about the same Ben Urich, right?” Karen rolls her eyes. “You’d have better luck prying a bent nail out of a sunken ship.”

“Go home, Katie-Kate.” Kate makes a face. Darcy ignores it. “Go shoot arrows at things and be awesome and tell me all about Japanese grammar via text, but go home.”

“Fine.” Kate stops in the doorway, and looks down at Darcy from her stilts. “Be safe, okay? I don’t know what’s going on, but—you guys just be careful.”

And she loves Kate for that, she really does. “You too,” she says, and hugs her one last time before shutting the door behind her. The click-click of Kate’s shoes fades down the hall, and it’s only once she hears the door to the street shut that Darcy relaxes.

Karen’s still staring at her.

“What?”

Karen shakes her head. “Nothing. You’re high, I think. That’s all.”

“High on disappointment,” Darcy replies, and goes to wipe down her whiteboard and start over. “Tell me when Ben gets here. We need to figure out how and when we can snipe Fisk without anybody really noticing.”

“Amen to that,” says Karen. Darcy’s not sure if she’s joking or not. The sad thing is, she doesn’t really care.

.

.

.

She decides as soon as Ben leaves that she never, ever wants Ben Urich to be mad at her. Ever. He’s not all that intimidating physically, but at the same time he seems to exude that aura that only belongs to very capable, very confident people that if you fuck with them, you will regret that your egg was ever fertilized, in vitro or otherwise. Pissed? Sure. Grumpy? Yeah, that she can deal with. Anger, though…no. Not ever. Not ever.

In other words, Ben scares her, but it’s in a comfortable, I’ve-got-your-back-bro sort of way, so whatever. She’ll take being scared of Ben Urich over being murdered by Wesley and Wilson Fisk, any day.

She’s given over most of her photo project to Kate, so when Ben the Ray of Sunshine slips out with a promise to text Karen later that afternoon (“I’ll tell you if I find anything. I doubt that I will. Don’t think there’s anything to find. These bastards know what they’re doing. But I’ll let you know.”) she returns to her overview of the Goodman case. Rich and Robbie might technically be out of reach (not out of reach of her favorite paintball gun, but that’s a different matter entirely), but Mathias Lynch and Clark Jenson aren’t. In fact, they’re currently in their apartment a few blocks away from Columbia proper. Or, they should be. It’s possible they’re out drinking and raping other women like Kate, but she prefers to think that they’re having a night in of Sons of Anarchy and spa treatments. She’s pretty sure that’s what Satan does on his days off, too.

Still, as hard as she tries, she can’t think too much about Jenson and Lynch. Darcy’s too involved in Not Looking at Matt. Yes, okay, Claire’s right, it’s better to act normal and concentrate on saving her own life, saving Kate’s case, rather than the fact that last night she made out with her best friend, the devil of Hell’s Kitchen, against a wall in an alley. (There are so many Catholic jokes she can make about this, it’s not even funny.) Still, her brain is being dumb, and won’t let her focus on anything else. Instead, it’s replaying everything in HD 1080p. Like how his breathing had stuttered against her mouth. Her brain won’t let that go at all. Or how he’d pressed his thumb into the sensitive spot on the underside of her jaw, unerringly, as if he’d always known it was there. It won’t let go of that, either. She feels like it shows, like it’s blazing on her face like a spotlight. I kissed Matt Murdock last night. It’s so fucking stupid she could cry.

She only realizes she’s touching her lips thoughtfully when across from her desk, Matt clears his throat, and Foggy asks if his coffee’s too hot. She keeps her hands on her files after that, because she is normal. Absolutely normal. Abnormality can suck her dick.

Okay. She needs to think about other things. Non-Matt-ish things. More rational, reasonable, diabolical things. She can think of Tully, on his fucking deserted island with his terrible volleyball and all of his coconuts and pineapples. She pins the Bulletin onto her whiteboard with a magnet. On one side of Fisk, there’s Wesley: Wesley, the woman named Vanessa. On the other side, the darker side, there’s the Russians, dead now; there’s the Goodmans, who seem content to create their tiny disasters and not affect the rest of the Kitchen; there’s the Triad, with their drugs that they’re funneling to Rich Goodman and his friends. (She draws a line in red marker between the name Rich and the word Triad. Karen makes a startled noise, but nobody else reacts.) And between the two (she centers it on her board, shifting Fisk over to the side) she writes YAKUZA and circles it. Darcy taps the cap of the marker against her lower lip, staring at it.

“Tully’s a dead end,” says Foggy, putting his fifth coffee refill down on the edge of Matt’s desk. She’s pretty sure that he only pretended to nap, just to stay on her good side, but since she’s done that to him before she’s not going to mention it. “We already talked about that.”

“Yeah, I know.” She chews on the lid for a second. No matter what Kate does or doesn’t find in those photos, whatever they can or can’t manage to find about Fisk, the Goodmans are going to have to come first for her. Fisk is important, taking him down is important, she knows that, but Kate—she needs to help Kate. And she can help Kate even without dealing with Fisk.

“Tully’s a dead end,” says Matt, passing a hackey sack from hand to hand. “The Goodmans aren’t.”

Foggy groans, and leans back. His spine cracks. “Matt,” he says. “Jesus.”

“No, he’s right.” Darcy doesn’t look at Matt. “The Goodmans are loose cannons. Wesley—Wesley basically said that they were a necessary evil, because neither he nor his employer—” she crooks her fingers “—wanted to be associated with rapists. But Goodman and Okamura haven’t broken up, so the Goodmans are still in play. They’ve met with Wesley, they’re working with the yakuza, they’ve probably at least seen Fisk. That’s a link we can use.” Her nails dig into her palms. “We need to find something on them before Fisk realizes that too.”

Karen snaps her fingers a few times. “I read something—hand me that file on the execution from October 2012?”

“What, the docks murder?” Darcy tugs the file out of the stack, and passes it over. “Since when have you been reading my files?”

“Since I’m interested and I get bored when I’m here on my own all day.” Karen pages through the file, and then taps the paper. “There, that. Security cameras caught footage of men presumed to be yakuza, from their tattoos, dragging some Russian mobsters into a warehouse on the docks. Gunshots were caught on the audio, but since they weren’t actually seen killing the Russians, their lawyers managed to get them off.”

“Snakes,” says Foggy, and sneaks one of the photos from the file. “These are dudes I would not want to meet in a dark alley.”

“Give me that,” says Karen, and Foggy hands the picture over. “Look at this, though. They were picked up in a stolen vehicle that was later found abandoned. The registration and plates were gone, and they’d tried to score the VIN off with acid, but whoever did it messed up. The police tracked the car back to a travel agency in Chelsea, um, Andromeda Fare.”

“I’m hearing a thought,” says Darcy. “I’m hearing a very important thought.”

“Andromeda Fare.” Foggy’s already pulled it up on his computer. “Subsidiary of Rogue Travelers. Not independent, huh.”

“Yeah, and Rogue Travelers—” Karen spins Foggy’s computer around, types some stuff in, and then flashes the screen at them “—has a Jenson on the board.”

Her mouth turns sticky. “How the fuck didn’t I see that?” She leans forward, stares at the name. Matthew Jenson. When she surfs through Clark Jenson’s (open, unsecured) Facebook page, she finds Matthew listed as uncle. “How the fuck didn’t I see that?”

“To be fair, you’ve kind of had some stuff on your mind,” says Foggy.

Darcy flings her arms around Karen’s shoulders, squeezing her hard. Her blood is jumping in her veins. “Oh my god,” she says. “Oh my god. I love you. You’re perfect.

Karen laughs. “Well, that’s nice to hear.”

“You’re perfect,” says Darcy again, and kisses the top of Karen’s head, hard. “Oh my god you are flawless. Live with me forever, I can’t survive without your awesome.”

“It could be disproven,” says Matt, slowly. “The car was supposedly stolen. Even if it was a gift that they messed with later, it’s a tenuous connection.”

“But it’s still a connection, Matt.” Fuck playing devil’s advocate. She’s on cloud fucking nine thanks to Karen Fucking Page. “If they weren’t already freaked out by what I—what we’ve found, then they wouldn’t be trying to scare me so much. If we push on this—”

“You could end up dead,” Matt snaps. It’s the first time he’s said a direct word to her since he came in. “Like Wesley threatened you. Two days ago.

“Yeah, uh, that is something I am not in favor of,” says Foggy. “Despite Karen’s awesome.”

“Thank you,” says Karen.”

“Yeah, well, when Mrs. Cardenas gets thrown out of her home and I lose the suit against the Goodmans because I don’t have enough evidence, we can talk again about being cautious.”

“There’s a difference between being reckless and being stupid.”

That stings. “And, what, I’m being stupid?”

“That’s not what I said.”

“Yeah, well, sorry, but getting lectured about being reckless by you doesn’t work out so well.” Her voice is getting louder and louder, and she can’t seem to stop it. “This is a good thing, Matt. This is good. I don’t see what the problem is!”

“Guys.” Karen stands, and puts a hand out to Darcy. “Okay. Um. Breathe.”

“It’s too thin a connection!” Matt says, ignoring Karen completely. “If you take this into court they’ll eviscerate you, and then where will that leave Kate? And the investigation into Fisk? And Mrs. Cardenas?”

Foggy’s eyes are getting bigger and bigger. She’s never really fought with Matt before, not like this. Not like the other night, and not like now. Her nails bite into her palms. “Well, if we just sit around, what the hell else are we supposed to find? Or am I supposed to leave that for someone else to do, and get hurt over, and possibly die over? I’m not about to fucking do that!”

“I’m not saying that!” Matt pushes his glasses up against his forehead, pinches the bridge of his nose. “I don’t want you to get in over your head—”

“Guess what? We’re all in over our heads. And you’re not the boss of me, Matt, so you can take your—all of that, and just—”

Hey,” Karen says, in a voice that somehow manages to echo without getting very loud at all. Darcy shuts up. Foggy actually looks frightened. “I don’t know what the fuck you two are fighting about, but this is not the time. I don’t care if I have to lock you in a fucking closet, deal with your shit, because we don’t have the time for this.”

“Karen—” Matt says, probably marshaling his arguments—god, why did I have to be a lawyer?—and then he goes completely quiet. In the next second, they hear a soft knock at the door. Karen brushes her hair back out of her face, and somehow her look of disappointment makes Darcy hurt worse than she has in ages.

“Get over it,” says Karen, and then she stalks out of the room to open the main door. Foggy looks at them both for a long moment, and then sighs.

“Look,” he says. “I don’t know what happened, but—but Karen’s right. We can’t afford to be fighting amongst ourselves right now. Whatever happened, can—you need to work it out.” He wavers, as if he wants to say something else. Then he claps Matt on the shoulder, touches Darcy’s wrist lightly with his fingertips, and follows after Karen. The door shuts behind him, and that, somehow, hurts worse. They’re alone.

“Darcy,” Matt says, but Darcy’s already grabbing her shit, shoving it into her bag. “Where are you going?”

“To talk to Brett.” She snatches her lanyard off of the desktop, and throws it into her purse. It clinks against the flick knife that’s been hanging around in the bottom of her bag, like flotsam, and on second thought, she grabs it and shoves it into the right cup of her bra. At least if she can’t get to her gun super-fast, she’ll have one other weapon on her. “I want to ask him if they looked into the Andromeda angle. If they haven’t, then we might have something.”

“You could call him, y’know.”

He’s right. Darcy squeezes the strap of her purse, hard. Then she settles it over her shoulder. “Yeah, I could. If I stay here any longer, though, I’m going to scream. And that would probably be bad.”

Matt comes around the edge of his desk, and stops. “Because of me,” he says, and Darcy takes a deep breath through her nose.

“Yeah, well, you being a hypocritical dick isn’t helping, I can say that much.”

He huffs. “Yeah. Okay. I’m being a hypocrite. But we all agreed not to go anywhere alone. And walking right into the police station—which we already know is full of Fisk’s men—without backup or much of a plan is kind of suicide.”

God.” She lets go of the doorknob. “I know that, okay? I’m just—” He’s standing too close. He’s an arm’s length away, and he’s still too close. “Could you—um.”

Matt’s eyebrows lift. “Could I what?”

“Never mind.” She shakes her head. “I’ll call Brett. Okay? Just—” Her throat hurts. “—I know you’re, like, a super-badass fighter-dude, apparently, but you telling me I can and can’t do things is—it’s unacceptable. We’ve talked about this before when you were Mike, and we will talk about it again and again until it finally clicks, because I will not be told what to do. I’m not a kid, and even if I can’t, like—do a back-flip from a standing position, I know what I’m doing, and I’m not stupid. And you need to stop being so fucking reckless and going off on your own without telling anyone when you said you wouldn’t. You make us promise, you have to promise too. You go anywhere, you go out—patrolling, or whatever it is you do, you tell me. Okay?”

Matt takes his glasses off, and kneads at his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. Then he nods, once, jerky and quick, and her hands relax. Darcy tucks her hair behind her ears, wishing she didn’t have to wear a wig to go home, wishing that things were still simple, wishing that she’d never left college. But then she wouldn’t know Karen, or Kate, or know the truth about Matt, and she’d not give any of that up. Not for a whole lifetime of peace. “Um.” The words stick in her throat. “Can we not—um. I don’t like fighting with you. Can we not do that?”

Matt blinks at her, and then nods again, fist pressed against his lips. “I don’t like fighting with you, either.”

They’re caught in a stalemate, all at once. Matt stand quite still, leaning back against his desk, rubbing at his jaw mechanically. Darcy holds herself on the balls of her feet, ready to flee if she has to. If the silence stretches any longer, it’s going to get awkward. “Well,” she says. “Um. There’s that, then. I should probably go call Brett.”

I think we need to talk,” says Matt, almost at the same time, his voice very low and devil-ish. It makes the skin creep along her spine. “About what happened last night.”

Darcy lets out a whoosh of air that makes her chest hurt. “You mean Blake? Because I’m already guaranteed like fifty million years of therapy for everything that happened before I turned fifteen, so—”

“Darcy.”

So much for pretending everything’s normal. All good feelings to Claire, she’s not sure if she ever really wanted to try. “If you’re saying we should talk about it here, then that is a very bad idea, for so many reasons, I can’t even—”

“No, not here.” Matt licks his lips. Then his mouth quirks. “I’d say my place, but that sounds like—well. It doesn’t sound very good.”

“No, your place is fine.” The whole place smells of you, Stick had said. To say that the thought of that doesn’t make something deep under her collarbone curl up and purr like a cat would be a very, very bad lie. “After work maybe.” There’s a smile trembling on her lips. “Maybe before you go and act like Mephistopheles, though.”

“Is that what we’re calling it now?”

She snickers. “I reserve full right to mock you about your weird nickname.”

“I didn’t actually pick it, y’know.”

“That’s what makes it so hilarious.” Darcy opens her mouth, and then closes it again. Is she a bad person, a weak person, for—well, not forgiving him, exactly, but being content with him again so quickly? Probably.

She doesn’t want to be angry with Matt. She is, but she doesn’t like being that way. Therapy, Lewis, a little voice says in the back of her head. You should be having it.  

Whatever, little voice.

“You okay?” Matt cocks his head. “You went quiet.”

“Uh.” She coughs. “Yeah. M’fine. We should probably—deal with whatever’s going on out there.”

“It’s Mrs. Cardenas,” says Matt, and straightens. Suddenly he’s a lot closer to her than he was before, and when the hell did he get so fucking tall? She thought guys were supposed to stop growing at twenty-two or whatever. “She’s come to tell us something about Tully.”

“We should—um.” Darcy shuts her eyes. Keep breathing normally, god damn you. “We should go out and see what she has to say.”

“Yeah, probably,” says Matt, but he doesn’t move. No, that’s a lie; he lifts a hand, head bent towards hers, and catches her wrist, gently, so she can pull away without any effort. The hairs on the back of her neck stand at attention. When she doesn’t yank away, he starts swiping his thumb in slow circles against her skin. There are still a few little chips of Mesmerized Blue on his nails.

Fuck breathing normally. Her lungs creak. Darcy clenches her other hand around the straps of her bag until her knuckles hurt.

“This is like…the worst possible time for this, isn’t it,” she says. Matt’s jaw locks, and he starts to pull away, but Darcy turns her hand palm-side up and matches him grip for grip. She can feel his pulse against her skin. He goes still, and even though he’s blind, she’s never been watched more intently than she’s being watched right this moment. Darcy hesitates, and then strokes the knob of bone in his wrist once, twice. “I mean, I’m—I’m still angry with you. And I feel like that should be more important.” She stops. “It should probably be more important, but—I don’t know. Everything is mixed up right now.”

“You have a right to be angry with me,” Matt says quietly, and she nearly kisses him again. Just for that, she nearly kisses him, and oh, god, she really doesn’t like this having-feelings thing. It makes everything so fucking complicated. He pulls away, just a little, but rather than letting her hand drop he catches it, so that suddenly they’re palm to palm, his thumb slotted between her pinky and ring fingers. She wonders how Matt is experiencing it, what with his hi-def everything. It feels like her nerve endings are on fire. Matt ghosts his index finger along her knuckles, and Darcy swallows hard. “If you need more time, then we can wait. I mean it, Darcy. I’m guessing it’s—a lot to process.”

“Not as much as you’d think,” she says. “In a way it makes the picture a lot clearer. Though if I say I haven’t lost any sleep over it I’d be the worst bullshitter ever, and I’m in the legal profession.”

Matt’s mouth knots up. She wishes she could see his eyes. “I’m sorry,” he says again, and she swallows hard. “I don’t know how I can say how sorry I am.”

“I told you that sorries don’t fix things,” she says. “But they help a lot.”

“Yeah, I remember.”

She can’t fight the urge to reach up, and smooth some of the wrinkles out of his forehead with her thumb. Then she traces his eyebrow down to his jaw, because she can. Matt tilts his head into the touch, his eyes half-closed, lashes dusting his cheek. There’s a scab from the fight with Stick against the side of his nose. She wants to press her lips to it. She doesn’t.

“We really need to go and see what they’re talking about,” he says, low and husky and utterly foreign, but in the best possible way. “Because otherwise I’m going to kiss you, and I feel like it’s going to set a bad precedent for office professionalism.”

Her mouth feels like it’s made of paper. Darcy swallows again, and then again, licking her lips. She digs her nails hard into the back of his hand. “That’s mean,” she says, slightly breathless. “That’s mean.”

“I never said I was nice,” says Matt, and the corners of his mouth have turned up. Darcy huffs, and runs her thumb over the line of his cheekbone before drawing back, and trying to gain her balance as subtly as possible. He touches his hand to the small of her spine as they return to the main room, to Foggy and Karen and Mrs. Cardenas and the harshness of reality, and it feels like a secret. Not a bad secret, not a corrosive secret, but a shared secret. A secret full of possibles.

Well. Goodbye, normality.

.

.

.

“So,” says Mrs. Cardenas. “You and Señor Matthew, hm?”

Darcy, who’s fumbling through her purse looking for her burner phone (which for some reason she still has), chokes on her own spit. Since Matt had gone off to investigate Vanessa Marianna, Foggy’s Spanish was actually terrible (biblioteca? Seriously?) and Karen was in major research mode, she’d volunteered to make sure that Mrs. Cardenas made it home all right. She has her gun (which Matt knows) and her knife (which Foggy knows) and besides: it’s still light out, there’s been no hint of anyone watching her all day, and she’s back in her wig, which had made Mrs. Cardenas’ mouth pucker but other than that had engendered no reaction from anyone. They’ve been walking quietly for the past fifteen minutes, mostly because they’re both deep in thought, and it’s been pretty chill, actually. Still, she’s pretty sure she would have left escort duty to Foggy if she’d known that she was going to be subjected to the Foggy-and-Karen treatment. “Me and—no.” That’s so not a lie. Her ears aren’t burning. “Well, not really. I don’t think. Que loco, señora, por que dices eso?”

Mrs. Cardenas gets a funny look on her face. “Your Spanish is—” She frowns. “Acento. Eres puertorriqueña?”

Mi professor en la universidad era puertorriqueño,” says Darcy, and Mrs. Cardenas nods, as if to say, Ah. “Mi padre era Guatemalteca. Eso dicen.

Her face clears. “Your father,” she says, in English. “He—ay, la palabra. He leave?”

“Before I was born.” Mrs. Cardenas’ eyebrows crinkle again, so she translates. “Antes de mi nacimiento.”

Estúpido,” Mrs. Cardenas grunts. They turn down her street, and she pats Darcy’s arm. “Eres una buena chica. Olvídese de su pendejo, cariña.

Darcy smiles. “Gracias, Elena. He’s never really mattered, so I don’t think about him much. Tengo a mi hermana, y amigos. Estoy bien.

Hermana?”

Mi prima. She’s more like my sister, though. Tienes familia?”

Elena shakes her head. “My son, he live—en Portugal. For work. Y mi marido murío, Dios lo bendiga.

Lo siento.”

Está bien.” Mrs. Cardenas pulls her keys from her battered, flowery purse, and unlocks the front door to her building, stepping aside to let Darcy pass. Apparently, she’s getting invited to dinner. Darcy slips through into the flickering hallway, and waits until Elena’s inside before pulling off her wig and shoving it into her bag. “But you avoid my question.”

“What question?”

“Señor Matthew.” She twines her first two fingers together, and Darcy’s caught between laughing hysterically and wanting to run the other direction. “Together?”

“No.” She bites her lip. “Um. Estamos luchando.

“Fighting?” says Mrs. Cardenas. Her eyebrows dance. “Or fighting?

Oh my god. Mrs. Cardenas is the best, but in the worst possible way. “No,” Darcy says, but she’s half-laughing. “Not—no. I don’t know.”

“He is good,” says Mrs. Cardenas, looking pleased. “All of you, good people. Todos ustedes merecen ser feliz.

They mount the stairs to the third floor, and Darcy steps over the druggie at the end of the hallway. He tips his head sideways, watching them pass with eyes like marbles. “Muchas gracias, Elena.

De nada.” Elena smiles. “You come in?”

Darcy glances down the hall again. The druggie’s heaving himself to his feet, slowly, as if he’s half-asleep still. “Yeah,” she says. “I have time, I think.”

Bien,” says Elena, and she fumbles her keys.

It’s like in a horror movie, when the lights flash and everything happens in split-second frames. The wood creaks under her feet. Elena’s keys hit the floor. There’s a tearing sound. Darcy whips her purse around, and hits the druggie in the head. Red wells up on Elena’s forearm. The gun’s in her hand before she can remember grabbing it. The mugger lifts his knife again, and she has a flash of his eyes, huge, pupils blown, hair mussed. She fires, and he screams. Blood spatters the floor.

She’s shot him in the leg, she realizes, as he hits the ground. She can’t bring herself to feel guilty about it.

Time steadies again, and so does her vision. There’s the mugger, on the floor, rocking back and forth with his hands around the hole in his leg. There’s Elena, her arm bleeding, her eyes wide and one hand over her heart. And then there’s Darcy, who clasps her other hand over the base of the gun, and keeps it trained on the mugger’s head.

“You move, I shoot you again,” she says. “Because I’m really fucking done with this shit.”

Madre de Dios,” says Elena, and without taking her eyes off of the mugger, Darcy flicks her fingers at her.

“Go into your apartment, Elena. Llama a la policía, sí?”

“I stay with you,” Elena says, in a firm, very Babushka-like don’t fuck with me, girlie sort of voice. There’s no time to argue about it. Darcy jerks her gun.

“Keep your ass on the floor,” she says, and the mugger freezes halfway to his feet again. “Who sent you here?”

“Jesus Christ.” His teeth are rotting. Heroin addict, maybe, or coke. His skin is grimy, hair stained. “You fucking shot me, you crazy bitch, Jesus—”

Drop the knife,” Darcy snarls, and the druggie scrambles to do as she says. Elena swipes it up, holding it like someone who’s been trained, careful to keep the blade away from her once-pristine shirt. Darcy blinks. “Elena?”

“My father, he was—” she frowns. “En Inglés—freedom fighter? In Dominican Republic. He teach me.”

Against Trujillo? Holy shit. “Mantenga el cuchillo, Elena.”

“Mm,” says Elena, and flips the knife in a dizzying spiral before snatching it out of the air with her good hand. Darcy has to bite her tongue to keep from smiling. So, Elena Cardenas is a badass. Good to know.

“I don’t understand Spanish,” says the druggie. He looks like he’s about to cry. Or possibly piss himself. “Please don’t hurt me, I didn’t want to, please—

“Did someone send you?” Her arms are shaking. She cups the base of her gun in her other hand. “To hurt Elena. Did someone send you?”

“Jesus, it was just a job, okay? They made me—”

He stops. His eyes widen. Something—some twitch or creak or base fucking instinct—has her turning without thinking, squeezing the trigger. The roar of the shot makes Elena yelp. Someone else screams. An arm snaps around her throat, pinching, squeezing, cutting off her air, but she digs her fingernails into the sensitive nerve between the guy’s thumb and forefinger and he lets her go with a roar. The druggie’s vanished, clattering down the stairs, but there’s one man with a gun trained on Elena’s skull, and another, the one who grabbed her, with a blade at the ready. She keeps her gun raised, clasping it with both hands, trying to keep her arms steady.

“Miss Lewis,” says the first. She knows those cheekbones. Holy shit. Hironobu Orihara came to deal with her himself. There’s a tear in his shirt sleeve, blood running down his arm. Her stray shot, she supposes. Her lungs are trembling. “Put the gun down or we shoot her in the head.”

Darcy looks at Elena. Her lips are moving in total silence, as if she’s praying. Her eyes are closed. “How do I know you won’t still shoot her even if I put my gun down?”

Orihara glances at his friend, the one with the knife, and with a sour look he shoves the blade back into his boot sheath.

“Not enough,” Darcy says. Her voice is hard. She glances at Elena again, and then says, “If I promise to go with you quietly, you’ll leave her alone?”

“We have you,” says Orihara. She searches his face. “We no longer have any interest in her.”

“You have me for what?” There’s a knife in her bra and a gun in her hands. She shouldn’t feel like she’s helpless. “For luring him out? He’s smarter than that.”

“The Russians did a very good job in showing that he’s actually really not.” Orihara stares at her, and then turns, slowly, so that he’s pointing a gun at her, and she’s pointing a gun at him, and Elena is left unmarked. “And besides: I wish to speak with you.”

Darcy swallows hard. Her throat prickles.

“Send the old woman away,” he says. “We’re not touching her.”

“You swear?”

“I swear,” he says, and she believes him. Darcy squeezes her gun one last time. Then, slowly, she raises her hands, so that her gun is pointed at the ceiling, and her core is open to attack. Orihara doesn’t do a thing. He presses his lips together, as if to keep himself from smiling.

“Elena,” Darcy says. “Go into your apartment. Lock the door behind you. None of your men are in there?” she asks Orihara, and he shakes his head.

“She’s safe.”

Elena chokes. “Darcy—”

“Do it. Por favor, Elena.” She makes herself smile. “Está bien.”

No mientes bien,” Elena says in a shaking voice, but she does what Darcy says. She unlocks her door with shaking hands, slips inside, and shuts it behind her. Darcy closes her eyes, and lets Orihara’s goon take the gun from her. It goes into his back pocket. When he frisks her, he misses the knife in her bra. God bless underwires.

“Walk,” says Orihara, and Darcy clenches her hands into fists. She should be hysterical, but there’s only some sort of icy knot in the base of her throat, stilling her heartbeat, making her cold. “Down the hall.”

She’s only three steps past them when something hard slams down onto the back of her neck. She doesn’t remember hitting the ground.

Chapter Text

Books are wrong. You don’t dream, when you’re knocked unconscious. There’s the world, and then it’s gone, and when you wake up again it’s impossible to tell just what is real.

The drumbeat that’s settled in behind her eyes, that’s real, she thinks. The bite of plastic around her wrists, that’s real too. When she flexes her fingers, it pinches. Her boots are gone, and her socks are damp and cold. She can taste cloth on her tongue. When she opens her eyes, she can only see fabric. The inside of a pillowcase, maybe.

It doesn’t click, for a moment. Then it’s as if her brain explodes. Fire surges through her veins, searing, consuming. Darcy screams, wrenching at the covering over her face. It’s not tied to her head, so after jabbing herself in the eye once or twice (and where the fuck are her glasses?) she gets it off. She’s flat on her back on a cold concrete floor, a single bulb suspended on a raw cord over her head, swinging slowly back and forth in the damp, chilly air. There’s a table to her right, with papers on top—or she thinks there are papers on top, she can’t really see very well right now. There are wooden stands with canvases on them, too, and when she rolls to get her feet under her, she knocks one to the ground with a crash.

“You’re noisy when you want to be,” says a voice, and when Darcy stumbles around, she can see dark hair and the glint of glasses in the dim light of the bulb. Wesley. He touches something on his chest, and then reaches forward. Darcy rears back so fast that she trips and falls on her ass, a canvas jabbing into her thigh. Her memories are muzzy, and her head is pounding. What the fuck happened? “Calm down,” says Wesley. “It’d be pointless to kill you right now. We have to talk about a few things, first.”

She can’t say anything—there’s a kerchief or shirt or something rolled up and stuffed into her mouth—but she hopes that the look she gives him is eloquent enough. She still jerks away when he crouches in front of her, but Wesley grips her by the back of the head and slides her glasses on with about as much gentleness as a rattlesnake. She wouldn’t be surprised if she bruises. Once it’s done, Wesley claps his hands to his knees, still crouched, watching her. There’s an edge to the smirk on his mouth that makes her want to drive her nails into his eyes.

“You know,” he says, conversationally, as if she’s not zip-tied and gagged, “I would have thought you were smarter than this. Though I do have to say the wig was a nice touch. And the chest binder. It threw the man I set on your tail off for a full seventeen hours. I’m fairly certain that’s some sort of record.” He reaches out, and tugs on a strand of her hair. “You don’t make a very good blonde, though, sorry to say.”

“Fuck you,” Darcy says, but through the gag, it just comes out as “Fg.”

“You’ve been asleep for six hours.” Wesley stands, and rests one hand against the papers on the table before opening a tablet. “Your friends have become quite hysterical. The police are looking for you, too, but you know how well that search must be going. Tell me, should I thank you for killing Blake, or should I thank the devil instead?”

Nice try. She rolls her eyes. Wesley actually laughs.

“Yes, well. The press must have their story. And considering the fact that you’re aiding and abetting a wanted terrorist, well, I don’t think any court would be too inclined to give you a second look.”

Wesley goes quiet for a moment, scrolling through his tablet. Darcy turns her face to the painting she knocked down, the one that’s jamming into her hip like a weapon. It’s oil on canvas, a photo-exact replica of the view from the top of the Empire State Building. There are even tiny people in the windows, dark figures framed in light. She can’t tell, in the dim light, if it’s signed. The zip-ties are cutting off the blood flow to her feet. No, actually—the zip-ties have already cut off all the blood to her feet. They’re just blocks of static and agony at the ends of her legs. She rolls her toes, and draws her knees up against her chest. She’s not stupid enough to try and pick at the ties while the Dread Pirate Wesley (and she’s going to have such a hard time watching The Princess Bride after this; that, more than anything, makes her loathe Wesley more in this moment than she’s ever hated anyone in her life) is standing right there, probably with a gun, ready to stop her. If he turns his back, she could maybe get her fingers on her knife, but her hands are numb, too, so with her luck she’ll probably drop the damn thing. So not helpful.

“It’s Nobu’s,” Wesley says absently, tapping out a message on the screen. “The canvas. It’s unexpected, but the man seems to have a talent with paint.”

Nobu. Memory surges. A gun trained on Elena. Someone’s cracked open her ribs and scooped out her insides. Darcy whacks her feet against the floor twice, and Wesley looks up from his tablet, eyebrows rising. “What is it?”

She shakes her head viciously, and grabs the edge of the table with her cramped hands, trying to pull herself up. She doesn’t quite manage it. The knot of fabric at the back of her head pinches at the lump on her skull. Darcy raises her hands to her mouth, prodding uselessly at the strip of fabric, and Wesley gets it. To her utter astonishment, he sets his tablet on the table, and bends to undo the gag. Before it slips free, though, he fists his hand into the hair at the back of her head, and jerks back hard. Tears rush to her eyes.

“You’re going to be a good girl and stay quiet,” he says, in a conversational tone. “We will have a pleasant discussion about facts, no hysterics, no screaming. Well, unless the occasion warrants. If you can’t manage that, the gag will be replaced, and I will have the gentleman I have waiting outside the doors teach you a lesson you will not enjoy. Do you understand me?”

Darcy nods. Spots spin across her vision. Wesley clenches his hand in her hair, and then releases her, peeling the gag away from her mouth, and removing the kerchief from inside. Darcy gags, and chokes. Her mouth is sticky and dry with something that tastes like oil. Wesley disposes of the rags on the counter—there are paint smears on them—and wipes his hands on his slacks as if she’s stained them. Finally, she works just enough spit up to manage to talk again. “Elena,” she says. “Elena Cardenas. She’s all right?”

“Why on earth would we kill her?” Wesley gives her an incredulous look. “Admittedly, it would have been a good point to make, but it would have given neither my employer—sorry. Old habits. It would have given neither Mr. Fisk nor myself any pleasure to do it. She’s tenacious, of course, but there are less messy ways to deal with the other tenants. Soon, she’ll be the last man standing, and you know what they say about those.”

Darcy has no idea what they say about those, but she’s pretty sure it’s not good. “I want proof.”

“The woman is alive.”

It’s Nobu. He’s wearing nothing but a muscle shirt and a pair of loose red pants, and there’s a fresh white bandage wrapped around his upper arm. Her lucky shot, she remembers. It must have just been a scrape, because he grabs his canvas and the three-legged stand and heaves them upright again without any trouble. He gives Darcy a considering look, and then tips his chin towards his chest. “You came quietly. The old woman was left unharmed.” She thinks he’ll say something like I honor my promises, but instead he says, “It would have drawn too much attention to kill her right now, anyway,” and her heart seizes up inside her chest.

There’s a crease next to Wesley’s mouth, all of a sudden, as if he’s holding back a sneer. “Nobu.”

“Wesley,” says Nobu, and Jesus, you could cut the hate in the air with the tip of her finger. “Here ahead of your master?”

“Mr. Fisk has other things to attend to.” Wesley glances down at Darcy. “Besides, we had a bargain of our own.”

“We did,” says Nobu. He rolls his wrists. She hears a scuff of boot against concrete, and turns to see the second man from Elena’s apartment building, the one with the knife in his boot, take a place beside a pillar with his arms crossed over his chest. “As distasteful as it is.”

“Careful. If you say anything else, I’ll start to think you dislike me.”

Nobu makes a noise. Tch. “You may think what you like.”

Wesley’s phone buzzes. When he unlocks it, a smile spreads over his mouth. “And the mask is finally on the right track,” he says. “Took him long enough. If he’d waited any longer I would have started to think you were actually telling the truth about not knowing him, Miss Lewis.”

If it’s possible for your heart to leap and crash simultaneously, that’s what hers does. Stay away from here. Stay away. It’s such an obvious fucking trap and he’s going to walk right into it, because it’s her, and she’d do the same for him. Goddammit, Matt, don’t be an idiot.

“Ah,” says Wesley. There’s a fourth man in the room, now, white, very military-ish. “Darcy, this is Francis. He’ll be assisting us today.”

Francis gives her a look of great distaste, and then mimics his equivalent, leaning against a pillar and just staring at the scene. Is this what they did to Claire? The tag teaming, the unspoken threats? Probably not. She remembers how Claire looked, after the Russians had finished with her. Or after Matt had finished with the Russians, more accurately. The Russians would have just started beating the shit out of her, not gone through this psychological bullshit. She closes her eyes for a moment, struggling to breathe. Then she says, “I don’t know the mask.”

A bomb goes off inside her mouth. Darcy’s head snaps to the side, and she tastes blood on her tongue. Wesley hasn’t moved. Neither have the goons. It’s Nobu who’s opening and closing his hand, as if hitting her hurt him more than it did her.

“Lie,” he says, and looks to Wesley. “You were correct, it seems.”

“Of course,” Wesley says, as if this is the natural order of the universe. Her lip stings. When she prods at the inside of her cheek, she finds a split about the length of one of her canines. Okay, then. So apparently Nobu’s up for some Russian-style interrogation too. Air snags in her lungs.

“I’m not lying,” she says again. “I don’t know who he is.”

This time the fist catches her eye. Her glasses jam into her face. She feels plastic pop against her temple. Darcy falls sideways, and she can’t get her hands up in time to stop herself from crashing into the concrete.

“Another lie,” says Wesley. He takes off his glasses and cleans off the lenses on his dress shirt. “The fewer lies you tell, the less he’ll hit you. It’s quite simple, really.”

Darcy spits out blood, and gags again. Then she bares her teeth. “Bite me.”

Wesley rolls his eyes up to the ceiling. “How did I know you would say that?”

“Fuck your mother, dickbag.”

Nobu says something in Japanese that makes Wesley actually scowl.

“What he said,” Darcy says, and then curls up to protect her stomach. There’s no blow, no pain, but she still feels safer that way. Nobu’s mouth twitches.

“She does not like you very much,” he tells Wesley. Wesley rolls his eyes again, and returns to his tablet.

“Stellar observation. I thought you said you’d only need one man to collect her. What happened to him?”

“He was me,” says Nobu.

“And your babysitter?”

Nobu bares his teeth. “Remind me why Fisk keeps you alive.”

“I’m very good at wine,” says Wesley, and smiles.

A hand knots up in the back of her shirt. Darcy lets out a noise that’s more animal than human, and lashes out with both feet, but someone—the man from Elena’s hallway, the one she pinched—catches her by the ankles before she can land a blow. They drop her in a chair, and she lands hard enough to knock the breath from her lungs. Before she can lunge away, the man with the knife shoves her shoulders back against the chair, and holds her there.

“So,” says Wesley, as Darcy screams, and Francis fiddles with a thing of duct tape. “It’s clear to me that you know the identity of the man in the mask. It’s also clear that he’ll be coming for you, and quite probably that moment will be soon. Which means—”

Francis hits her in the guts, and Darcy heaves. The world buzzes in her ears for a moment, an out-of-tune radio. When things clear, Wesley’s still talking. “—preferable for you if you simply answer. Of course, I don’t expect you to, at first. Which is why Nobu is here. He has a bit of a grudge against you, you see.”

“I can speak for myself,” Nobu snaps, and then says something in Japanese to the heavy-set man. She thinks it’s Japanese, anyway. The tone of the vowels seems different than the stuff Yoko and Kate say. The heavy-set man makes a face, but nods once, and leaves the room without a second glance. As soon as she’s taped up, Francis claps dust off his hands and follows him, tugging a box of cigarettes from his pocket. They’ve left her ungagged.

“Probably the best way to get me to talk is to pay off my student loans,” Darcy says, her voice high and creaky and fast. “Actually, y’know, that’s a huge untapped resource in bribery, there are loads of college graduates that would probably kill for you if you did that, and I’m not even talking grad school, you could make a mint and get so many people on your side, seriously—”

Nobu fists a hand in her hair, and yanks. Darcy has to bite her tongue to keep from screaming.

“She’s lying,” Nobu says.

“Believe it or not, I’d gathered that.”

“Guess I forgot to tell you I babble when people are going to torture me,” Darcy says, and shuts her eyes. “I sing, too, it really bothers people. And quote things. And—”

Nobu twists her hair tighter into his fist, and she breaks off with a whine. He leans forward. His breath smells like mint, like he’s been chewing gum. “Listen,” he says, in a quiet, careful voice. “I do not care who your man in the mask is. I know who trained him. I know his tricks. Before the night is over, he will be dead. His identity is meaningless. I take no orders from James Wesley.” He lets her hair slip through his fingers, and it lands heavy against her back. Her scalp is screaming. Nobu drops his hands to her wrists, lifting the index finger of her left hand. Darcy hiccups. There are tears on her cheeks, and she can’t remember starting to cry. “Tell me what you have found out about the Black Sky.”

She blinks at him. “What?”

The first thing she feels isn’t pain, but disconnect. Nobu yanks her finger forward and to the side, and with a pop, it dislocates. Then it breaks. It takes a whole second for her nerves to register the difference, and then acid swarms up her arm. She screams, and tries to wrench her hands away, but Nobu’s already seized her by the zip-tie. She can’t pull back.

“The Black Sky,” he says again, and she shakes her head.

I don’t know what that is.”

He cocks his head, like he’s listening, and—why? But he doesn’t break another finger. “I believe you,” he tells her, and she bites her tongue to keep herself from sobbing. “I do.”

She hears a funny, electronic ding. When she looks over, Wesley is playing a game on his tablet.

Nobu breaks her middle finger, and she bites her lip hard enough to split.

“What have you told your friends?” he says, and Darcy’s heart leaps up into her throat. Kate, she thinks. Kate. Yoko. Karen. Foggy. “I doubt that you have not shared your research with your coworkers.”

He lets her hands rest on her knees. Darcy chokes back bile. “You have no idea what I know,” she says. “Do you?”

It’s as if she’s hit a switch. Nobu jerks, like she’s struck him. His eyes are like coals, heat and flame and fury. This time when he grabs her by the wrists, there’s a knife in his free hand. Darcy turns her face away, panting, as he slams her left hand, the one with the broken fingers, down onto the arm of the chair. He holds it still, and pricks the back of it with the very tip of his knife. Her own blade, her flick-knife, is damp and heavy in the cup of her bra.

“You will answer me,” he says, in a low, fierce voice. Her thoughts scatter, and then collect again. “I will hear if you are lying.”

Heartbeats, Matt had said. I know who taught him. Stick. Blind Stick, Stick who shares Matt’s powers, not through radiation but through training, intense training, years of it. Stick and Nobu are the same. Darcy swallows once, twice. She’s going to throw up. Her mouth hurts. Her hand is a wasp’s nest of pain. If she lies, if she tells him one single lie, he’ll know. He’ll hear it, or smell it, or—or whatever the fuck his version of polygraphing is. He’ll know. But if she doesn’t say something she’s going to burst. Or he’ll kill her. Or—or she doesn’t know. But if she doesn’t say something—

“The dissenter’s hope,” she says, in a shaking voice, “is that they are writing not for today, but for tomorrow.”

Nobu grits his teeth, and drives the knife down. She’s not sure if she’s screaming or not. Her mouth is open, and she feels like she should be, but she’s so struck by the sight of the knife through the back of her hand, down to the hilt, the blade emerging from the underside of the chair, that the world has gone silent. He releases the hilt of the knife, and leaves it there, in her hand, like some kind of fucked-up nail. Jesus on the cross, she thinks, and starts to laugh. She can just barely hear it, on the edge of the buzz.

“Ruth Bader Ginsberg,” says Wesley, from very far away. He frowns at her. “Interesting choice.”

Nobu snaps at him, but she can’t make out the words. There’s blood running down her wrist. Her whole arm is screaming.

“You—you gain s-strength,” she says, her voice cracking, hysterical, “c-courage, and—and confidence by every experience where you—you really stop to look fear in the face.”

“Shut up,” Nobu snaps, and yanks the dagger back out of her hand. This time she hears herself shriek, and she tugs her hands tight against her chest, as if by holding them close, she can ease the pain. It doesn’t work. It’s all instinctive, though. Her brain fumbles for the words.

“You—you are able to say to yourself, ‘I-I l-lived through this. I c-can take—”

Nobu grabs her wrists, and tugs them forward again.

“—the next thing that comes—”

Another finger snaps. She forgets what she’s saying.

“—along,’” Wesley finishes. “Eleanor Roosevelt.”

Darcy faints.

She’s soaking wet and hacking when she finally roars back into consciousness, her hand still bloody, her fingers swelling like boils. They’ve been throwing buckets of water in her face. Her hands have been taped to the chair, and the working bits are tingling with blood-rush. The broken ones are dangling and crooked and useless. Her tongue scrapes against her cheek every time she coughs. Wesley’s on the phone, speaking in a language she doesn’t recognize.

“You will tell me what you know,” Nobu says, his mouth tight, his eyes crackling. “Before this is over, you will tell me.”

Darcy swallows. She swallows again. Lightning crackles in her brain. Then she starts to sing, in a low voice. “Oh, the shark, babe, has such teeth, dear, and—and he shows them, pearly white—

He curses under his breath in Japanese, and breaks her pinky.

She faints again about three minutes after he breaks her wrist. When she’s awake, she sings, mostly. Mack the Knife, at first, over and over, and then Fly Me To The Moon. Why Don’t You Do Right—the Jessica Rabbit version, not the Peggy Lee version—has him screaming in her face. It takes a bloody nose and another gash along her forearm (right near where Goodman’s men scratched her) before Wesley finally stands and says something about damaged goods and bad answers and trying again later. “We have time,” he says. “Besides, if you break her completely, you’ll never get your answers, and I feel like the masked idiot will have some things to say about it.”

Nobu blows air out through his nose before stalking off to wash his hands. She hears a door slam somewhere, and then Wesley glances at her hand. He makes a face. There’s blood staining her skirt, dripping from her hand, her arm. She really doesn’t care.

“You truly should tell him what he needs to know,” Wesley says, grabbing a cloth from the tabletop and folding it to press against the back of her hand. She’s still crying, silently now, and she doesn’t jerk away when he presses down hard enough for it to hurt. Pressure stops bleeding, Claire says in her head. She’d rather not be bleeding, even if it means Wesley touching her. “He has a temper.”

“Really,” she says, her voice hoarse. She’s speaking with a bit of a lisp, thanks to her swollen tongue. “I couldn’t tell.”

“He’s an artist,” says Wesley, as if this explains everything. She wants to take a knife to his face. And to all of Nobu’s paintings. “I hear that they have issues.”

She’s starting to wonder if she’s hallucinating all of this. “I hope someone kills you,” she tells Wesley, as he considers her broken wrist. “I hope it’s long, and painful. I hope you suffer. I hope I get to watch.”

“No wonder the devil likes you,” he says, and tugs on one of her broken fingers. Her vision whites out for a moment. “You both have an extraordinarily vicious streak.”

She sniffs, and blood from her nose pours down the back of her throat.

“Why do you protect him?” He seems genuinely curious. He cocks his head like a bird does, like a carrion crow, watching her as if she holds the answer to a question he’s been asking for forever. “Is it because you know his true identity, and care for him? Or is it because you think he’s doing the right thing?”

Darcy licks her lips. Her whole chin is smeared with blood. “Why do you work for Fisk?”

He blinks. Then he laughs. “Trying to become a private investigator now, Darcy?”

“I get Nobu.” She spits blood onto his pants, and he dabs at it with the cuff of his sleeve, nose wrinkling. “Fanatic. I get the Goodmans. Greedy rapists. I get the Russians, and I get Leland Owlsley, the Wall Street sociopath—” Wesley doesn’t react; of course he wouldn’t, Owlsley was in the paper “—but I don’t get you. I don’t get Vanessa Marianna, and I don’t get you.”

Wesley’s phone chirps. He ignores it. “Mr. Fisk has a vision,” he says. “I aim to turn it into reality.”

“He’s a psychotic murderous control-freak with inferiority issues,” she says, and then flinches. He doesn’t hit her, though. When she opens her eyes, he’s still crouched by her chair, fingering the roll of duct tape. She licks her lips again. “And Vanessa—that woman has to be as crazy as he is, if she’s really in love with him.”

She refuses to think about what that means for her. She refuses.

“Miss Marianna is a good person,” says Wesley, in an odd voice. “She sees the truth of what we’re trying to do, and agrees with it.”

“You’re doing something wrong.” She tugs at the duct tape with her still-whole wrist. “You’re killing people. Fisk blew up half of Hell’s Kitchen to make a fucking point.”

“Your devil breaks backs,” Wesley tells her. “He threw a man off a rooftop and put him in the hospital. Turned him into a paraplegic. He leaves behind a trail of disasters, small ones, the kind that build up into a holocaust.”

“As a Jew,” Darcy says, “holocaust is so not the right word.”

Wesley shrugs.

“What the fuck even is my life,” Darcy says, staring at the light bulb above her head. Then she looks at Wesley again, and flexes her wrist. She thinks the duct tape might be slippery, thanks to all her blood. (She’s getting a bit dizzy, now that she thinks about it.) “That’s what you really want to know, isn’t it? Not who he is, but—but why he helps me. Why I protect him.”

He shrugs again. “It doesn’t make sense,” he says. “You’re a lawyer. Defending the law, upholding it, is your profession. Associating with the sort of man who actively lays out his own form of justice is a dissonance in your character.”

“Like Fisk’s not breaking the law?”

“I’m not a lawyer.”

She swallows back more blood. “It’s not that hard,” she says. “Fisk tried to have me killed. The devil saved my life. That’s all.”

Wesley searches her face. His eyes narrow behind his glasses. Then, slowly, he stands, and collects the cloths from the tabletop again. He rolls one into a ball in one hand, and checks his phone with the other.

“Your friend is on his way,” he says, and Darcy .wonders just how long Nobu shouted at her, and how long she was unconscious. It’s too dark outside to tell. “You would have survived longer, if you’d accepted my offer. In fact—” His mouth dips and lifts, oddly. “—I think you would have made yourself quite an asset.”

“You would have had to kill me first,” Darcy says, simple and clear. It might just be the truest thing she’s ever said. Wesley sighs, as if she’s disappointed him. Then he shoves the gag back into her mouth, and ties the second cloth, the one that holds it in place, at the nape of her neck. Darcy lets him. At least if she tastes paint, she can pretend the blood isn’t there.

“Act surprised, when he gets here,” he tells her. “It’s better that way.”

She closes her eyes, and turns her face away.

.

.

.

Wesley had set up the yakuza warehouse with the typical amount of care and consideration, so when he slips down to the basement floor, he finds Mr. Fisk sitting in the chair’d he left behind, chin propped in one hand, considering the trio of computers playing back the surveillance feed. He stands beside the chair, and just behind, folding his hands behind his back. There’s still blood on his slacks. He’s going to have to stop using this suit.

“Was Nobu as angry as he seemed?” Mr. Fisk asks, in a slightly faraway voice. His attention is still focused on the video, on the image of Darcy Lewis with her head tipped close to her shoulder, digging the nails of her working fingers into her palm and then releasing, in the same rhythm as a heartbeat.

“Yes,” Nobu snaps from the doorway. Mr. Fisk stands, and turns, inclining his head to Nobu in a way that other men would have killed for. He’s wearing gloves, now, and there’s a cherry-red traditional jacket on over his muscle tank. The jacket is untied. There are smears of blood on the white fabric of the tank. “The mask and his people have a particular talent for being irritating.”

The more he talks, the more his accent slips away. Wesley’s sure that Mr. Fisk has noticed, but he doesn’t mention it. “He does have a penchant for inducing loyalty in people, which is exactly why he is so troublesome. Where do our men place him, Wesley?”

“He found our heroin addict.” Wesley checks his phone again, but there’s no new information. “I do think it would have been cleaner to just kill the Cardenas woman, follow the original plan.”

“The woman is an innocent,” Mr. Fisk says in a quiet voice. “I would have regretted her death. Besides, as it happens, we did not need to do so. She will count her blessings, and perhaps the attack will inspire her to remove herself from the tenement like nothing else has. Besides, as Nobu has already mentioned, killing Elena Cardenas would have drawn too much attention. The whole point was to lure the mask to us, and clearly, the girl worked just as well.” He considers. “However, if Mrs. Cardenas continues to be a problem, I trust you to handle the matter.”

Wesley nods.

Nobu grunts, and ties off his jacket. He looks at the feed, too, his mouth torqued to one side. “She will not keep silent for long,” he says. “She is not trained to handle extended pain. When the mask is dead, I will remove her to a more suitable location. She will tell me what she knows, and then I will dispose of her. That will be the end of it.”

“Please,” says Mr. Fisk. “She’s a loose end. I dislike loose ends.”

Nobu’s silent for a moment or two. His eyes seem to be slightly unfocused.

“What do you intend?” Mr. Fisk asks.

“When I was a boy my teachers used to cuff me for fidgeting during meditation.” Nobu stares at the wall just to the right of the computer set-up, drumming his thumb against his hip. “There are some who think that Japanese have an innate ability to quiet their minds, to be spiritual—” he spits “—but this is not the case. No one succeeds at meditation, not at first. Possibly not ever.”

What the fuck, Wesley thinks. Mr. Fisk looks startled, too. This is more than either of them have heard from Nobu about—well, about anything, really. For the first time he thinks that he, too, might have underestimated the man.

“I thought of colors instead,” Nobu continues. “They soothed, in a way that my own thoughts did not. Eventually my teachers allowed me a room to myself, and paints. I painted everything I heard.”

Wesley frowns. “Not what you saw?”

“Sight lies.” He cocks his head. “That’s the first thing we learn. Sight can betray you. What you see can be a lie. I painted the colors I heard and it was calming. And once it begun, I could meditate as I wished. The doctors told me that it was a disconnect between my senses, a defect in my brain, but it eases my mind. Seeing sound, hearing colors. It gives me an edge.”

“Synesthesia,” Mr. Fisk says, as if Nobu is a particularly interesting science experiment. “Your people seem to collect those with extraordinary talents.”

Nobu folds his hands into fists, and then releases it again, testing the flexibility of his gloves. “You speak of honor, when you say you keep your promises. I say you are weak. Honor is a lie. Morality is a lie. Guilt, regret, these are falsehoods we tell ourselves to think that we are not animals.” He tugs on his jacket. “The truest feelings are the strongest ones. Rage. Fear. Hate. Passion. The rest are irrelevant. Tradition is a construct which we recite to our children in an effort to pretend we have some sort of worth, as if the world would give a damn at the ending of our species. I follow its idiocies—” he yanks on his jacket again “—because I fear pain if I do not. You follow your own lies because it is simpler than examining your own inadequacies.”

“Is there a point to this?” Mr. Fisk says, his jaw clenching until his teeth crack. “Or are you simply trying to rouse my temper?”

“You think because you have spent time in my country, in Gao’s, that you know us, that you know how we work. You think because you pretend to honor, to decency, that you are infallible.” Nobu’s voice is a whip crack. “It is another lie. You underestimate the woman in the room upstairs, she nearly uncovers the most important part of my work. You underestimate the mask, he forces you to reveal yourself in an effort to get ahead of his investigation. It is time for you to see the world as it is, Mr. Fisk, and not as you would like it to be. Correct your mistakes. I am certain that the rest of us would say the same.”

He’s gone before either of them can speak, slipping out of the room with as much effort as a breeze. Mr. Fisk’s hands are clenched and trembling. Wesley starts calculating how much it will cost to replace the computers. Then, slowly, he relaxes his hands, drawing a breath, and releasing it.

“Wesley,” he says, and Wesley snaps to attention.

“Sir?”

“Remind me later how much I hate that man,” says Mr. Fisk, and turns to watch the video feed again. Nobu is on screen, settling a mask on his face, a hood over his head. Wesley rolls his wrist once, listening to the pop of an old break, and then nods.

“Of course, Mr. Fisk.”

If the mask doesn’t take Nobu out, I’ll do it myself.

.

.

.

It’s very quiet in the warehouse, now.

Darcy twists her good wrist over and over, watching the duct tape twist with it. She’s not sure if it was the shock bath or just a shitty job on the part of Francis the Goon, but it’s loose, and it’s getting looser every time she flexes her hand, every time she shifts her forearm. She does it as subtly as she can, because she knows for a fact that Nobu is in the next room, with his super-hearing and his heartbeat-reading and his terribleness, but she keeps tugging. Every time she does it, the tape gets looser, and she gets closer to being able to grab the end of the tape and yank it free. She’d use her teeth, but the tape on her shoulders is making things somewhat problematic. She tries to keep her left hand still, though, because if she shifts it too much, the pain roars back into her and she has to sit and cry for a little bit before she can manage to get anything done.

Get the knife. Get Matt. Get out.

She wants to seize Matt by the scruff of the neck and shake him, wherever he is. It’s a trap, you idiot. Stay away. They’re going to try and kill him, and he’ll walk right into it because of her. Idiot, idiot, idiot. Even if she’d do the same in a heartbeat, she’s going to kill him herself when he gets here. She’s going to kill him dead, and then have Claire work her healing magic and bring him back to life, and then she’s going to kill him again, because she’s the one that gets to kill him, not Fisk, not Nobu, not anyone, because she knows if she kills Matt he’ll still be alive at the end of it.

She may be slightly hysterical. Also, she might have a concussion. She’s pretty sure she has a concussion.

The tape creaks, and she feels the arm of the chair shift. It’s old, made of wood, and when she rocks it back and forth she feels the legs shifting too. She can use that, probably. Maybe. If she can get it to break. Which she’s really not all that sure how to do. Besides, she almost has the edge of her tape between her fingers.

She hears a door open somewhere, and then it shuts again.

The tape catches in her fingernail. Darcy pinches, and pulls. She can yank harder, now, move her wrist more, but she can’t turn her hand over, and so the tape stops moving a whole three inches away from where it started. Shit. Her eyes ache. Shit. Shit. Okay, new plan. She doesn’t know what the new plan is, exactly, but it sounds like a good idea.

Get the knife. Get Matt. Get out.

She looks at the room Nobu’s in, but she can’t see him anywhere. Which is weird, because his cherry-colored uniform should make him stand out a lot. Hello, Daddy, hello Mom, she thinks, returning to her futzing with the tape. I’m your ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-cherry bomb.

The door opens, and it feels like she explodes. Seriously, it’s the only way she can actually describe the cacophony that her body’s turned into, terror and frustration and so much relief that it actually physically aches as Matt darts across the room, touching his fingers to her cheeks. “Hey,” he says, and his voice breaks. “Hey, breathe. You’re okay.”

Her brain says no, I’m not. The rest of her says, yes, I am. She’s torn between the two, and she chokes on the gag when she tries to swallow back hysterical sobs. Matt fumbles at the back of her head, and undoes the knot, pulling the gag free and throwing it to the side. She’s going to cry, but she needs to get the words out. “—trap, it’s a trap, they’re going to try and kill you, you have to go—”

“Hey, shh.” He finds the loose end to the duct tape, and tears through it. Her hand screams with the blood rushing back into it. “I know. It’s okay.”

“Why don’t you listen to me,” she says, and starts to cry again, groping with her free hand until she can fist it in the collar of his shirt. “You never listen to me, Nobu’s here, Wesley’s here, they want you dead, they u-used me to get to you—” just like I thought they would “—you need to go—

His lips are pale, but he shakes his head once, firmly, and crouches. When he goes to untie her other wrist and sees the state of her hand, even under Wesley’s makeshift patch job, his jaw clenches. “We’re both leaving here,” he says, and finds the end to that tape-handcuff, too. He has to take his gloves off to scrape the end of the tape up with his fingernail, and even that makes her keen high in the back of her throat. Her wrist fucking hurts. “Only option.”

Don’t be a fucking hero right now.” She reaches out with her free hand, and hooks it around the back of his neck, wishing she could shake him, not caring if Nobu sees. “You need to leave. You need to leave. If they kill you then it’s done, it’s all done, we’ll never be able to stop Fisk, you can’t just—I’m not going to let you die just because of me—”

Matt makes a soft sound, as if she’s stabbed him. Then he unwinds the duct tape, and sticks it to the ground. Matt sets his gloveless hand against her cheek, swiping his thumb over the soft skin beneath her eye. He doesn’t say anything, he just touches her, and she leans into his palm and hates herself. Then he stands, presses his lips once to her forehead, and steps away. She whimpers, but he’s out of reach, now, and she still has tape on her shoulders. He says, “Do I have you to thank for this, or Fisk?”

Nobu drops down into the empty storage room, and she shakes her head back and forth. No. She’s not sure if she’s speaking aloud or not, but it doesn’t matter now. No, no, no, no, no. “It seems like even the man in black has a weakness, then,” Nobu says, almost thoughtful, nothing like the funnel of rage she remembers driving a knife into her hand. “It’s nice to know that all maxims hold true.”

Matt doesn’t say anything. Darcy stops listening. She wedges her good hand up under her shirt, and slips the flick-knife out from the underside of her bra, snaking around to needle the blade into the tape holding her to the chair. The wood splinters. Neither of them seem to notice.

“When you get free,” Matt says, “get out of the building. I’ll follow you.”

Not fucking happening, she thinks, but she nods. Her heart must be beating fast enough that he can’t hear the lie, because he doesn’t say anything else. She turns away to look at the tape, and in that moment, they move. It’s like watching rage in motion. That’s the only way she can describe it. She doesn’t know anything about fighting, or fucking sideways flips (because that’s apparently something they can both do?) but she can see how angry Matt is. It actually hurts, and it’s hurting him, too. The iron control she remembers from the alleyway when Goodman’s men attacked her, that’s not there anymore. . She fumbles the knife, and nicks her shoulder with the tip of the blade before realizing she can’t saw and watch at the same time. There’s a scream trapped between her teeth, but she doesn’t dare utter a sound.

She’s frayed through enough of the tape to pick at it with her broken fingernails and peel it off her shoulders when she hears the chain. Her vision’s jumping, and she only sees it in pieces. The blade, the chain, the blood. One of Matt’s sticks rolls to her feet, and when she bends down to slit the zip-ties around her ankles (her toes feel as though they’re on fire) she tucks it under her bad arm. She can’t breathe. Nobu’s good, he wasn’t just blowing smoke, he’s good, and Matt’s outclassed, and she can’t fucking breathe. He hits the table, and she whines. Her feet aren’t working. The table breaks, and there’s blood smeared on a map of Hell’s Kitchen.

The scream finally bursts when Nobu’s chained blade hooks into Matt’s guts. She doesn’t think. Darcy grabs the nearest thing she can find—Matt’s stick—and throws it as hard as she can.

It doesn’t work. Why would it work? She doesn’t know how to throw a fucking baton. Still, it startles Nobu just enough that Matt heaves himself up, and kicks Nobu in the chest. There’s a crash, a clang, and then the sharp smell of gasoline. Then something shatters, and Nobu’s nothing but flames. The baton has vanished under the gasoline canisters. It doesn’t matter, though. Darcy seizes her knife and scrambles across the floor, half-walking, half-crawling, and skids to a stop by Matt. “No,” she says, “no, no no no, no, don’t you dare. Don’t you fucking dare.”

Matt knocks his head against the blood smeared concrete. “Ow.”

One cut below each of his collarbones. One across the muscles in each of his arms. She doesn’t know how close the blade came to severing tendons, and oh, god, she never wants to know. She peels his gloves back from the cut beneath his ribs, and then presses his hand down again to cover it. The blood’s dark, not crimson, and it’s seeping instead of spurting. No arteries torn. She hopes. It feels like lightning is lancing up her legs. “Okay.” Her voice is vibrating. “Okay. Um. We have to go. We have to go.”

“That would be rude,” says Wesley, and her heart stops. Of course they’re there. Wesley, and Francis of the shitty duct-tape job (screw the water, she’ll take ineptitude for $500) and—

Fisk.

Dark eyes, wide shoulders, heavy fists.

Fisk.

She digs her nails into the pale skin of Matt’s wrist, because for the first time in her life, she can’t think of a single word to say.

Fisk glances at the broken table, at the blood on the floor, and then says, “You know, it’s a pity you had to kill Nobu. I’m beginning to realize I may have severely misjudged him.”

“Wouldn’t have mattered,” Matt says, and heaves himself up off the ground. He can barely stand. Darcy follows him, or tries to, but her toes are still so numb she can only manage some kind of bent half-crouch, one knee on the ground. Holy shit. She can’t breathe. Holy shit. It’s Fisk. “You wouldn’t have lived long enough to get to know him very well.”

“Was that a death threat?” Fisk’s eyebrows lift. Wesley orbits him like a planet around a sun. She’s starting to understand why; there’s something magnetic about his voice, about the way he holds himself. Like Rich Goodman, she thinks. But where Rich is poisoned honey, Fisk is—Fisk is the dark of a moon in eclipse. “I was starting to think you didn’t make those. Then, of course, Mr. Nobu discovered this was not the case.”

He gestures to Nobu’s body, and for the first time Darcy realizes she can smell burning meat. Toasted hair and burning meat and scorched cloth, and oh, god. She gags again.

“That was before.” Matt’s voice is dark. She’s never heard him so angry. Not ever. “You had an innocent tortured. To—to what. To get my attention?”

Wesley glances at Matt, and then at Fisk. He shrugs. A gun gleams grey in his right hand. “Well. It worked, didn’t it?”

Matt takes a step. Blood spatters the floor, and his boot skids against it. Darcy grits her teeth and staggers to her feet. The soles of her feet are buzzing like fireworks. She still has her knife, folded and hidden in her palm. Nobody notices when she snaps it open. “She has nothing to do with this.”

“On the contrary.” Fisk doesn’t look at her. It feels as though there’s a Gordian knot in the room, winding tighter and tighter. She can’t breathe for the fear of it. “Your friend seems to have everything to do with this. And—to be fair, Nobu was the one who hurt her so badly. I didn’t agree with his methods, but there we are.”

“I’m going to kill you,” Matt says, and oh, god, up come the guns, Francis and Wesley both. She wraps her fingers tight around the stick. It only takes a gesture from Fisk to have the pistols lowered again, for Wesley to back off.

“No,” she says, but even though she sees Matt’s shoulders twitch, Fisk doesn’t even blink.  

“You choose to die, then,” says Fisk, and holds up his fists.

Darcy takes careful aim, and throws.

Her aim’s true, this time. It hits Fisk right in the center of his broad chest, and then hits the ground with a clatter. She’s torn his suit. Fisk flinches back with a growl that has Francis’s gun back up and Wesley darting forward to check on his master. At the same moment, Matt loses his balance, and Darcy lunges past him, throwing her arms wide. She hears someone shouting, but she’s not sure who it is, Matt or Fisk. The gun goes off once, but there’s no pain, no reverb of a hit. There’s just a scorch on the concrete, a foot to her right. Fisk’s ham-like hand is clenched hard around Francis’s forearm, forcing his gun to the side.

Behind her, she hears Matt moan, low in his throat.

“No,” she says again, and pulls her broken wrist in to her chest. There’s a strange calm spreading through her, the stillness in the air before a storm. She swallows hard. “Don’t hurt him, don’t. I’ll—you can kill me, okay? I’m the one who knows about Nobu and you and the Goodmans, I’m the one that can talk, I’m the problem, not him. Leave him alone.”

Wesley goes to raise his gun, but Fisk shakes his head once. His hand goes up to his sternum, massaging the spot where the knife had landed. There’s no mark. There’s not even blood. Is he invulnerable now? “You’re the lawyer woman,” says Fisk, and frowns. “I must apologize. I’m afraid I’ve forgotten your name.”

She laughs. Panic and terror and fury and hate have all melded, and all she can do is laugh. “Ask your butler. I’m sure he can tell you.”

Fisk angles his eyes at Wesley, and then shakes his head once. “Lewis,” he says, as if he’s pulled a rabbit out of a hat. “Darcy Lewis.”

Blood drips from her fingers and onto the concrete. Her socks are soaked with it. “Four for you, Glen Coco.”

“Darcy,” Matt says behind her, but he can’t quite get to his feet again now that he’s fallen down. She doesn’t look at him. If she looks at him, she’ll break.

“You can kill me,” she says again, her voice steady. “Look at him. You think he can hurt you anymore?”

“He has a tendency to crop up again at the most inconvenient times,” Wesley says, and she touches the makeshift bandage on the back of her broken hand and stares at him. “It would be simpler to cut them both down now.”

“No.” Fisk shakes his head again, and takes one step forward. She’s pretty sure she imagines the way the floor trembles under his feet. “You’d die for this man in the mask?”

She jerks her chin up. “Did I fucking stutter?”

His forehead creases. Her knife has skidded off somewhere under the broken table. Fisk takes another step forward, and Darcy retreats until she feels the heels of her feet clip Matt’s hip. At least, she thinks it’s his hip. She can’t really feel any part of her feet right now. “Why?” Fisk asks, and she’s really done with bad guys questioning her motives, okay? She’s not the one with questionable motives here. She shakes her head.

“Not your business.”

His eyebrows snap together. “Humor me, Miss Lewis.”

Matt clutches a hand around her ankle, and traces a letter against her buzzing skin. W. W what? W Wesley? Then he sketches out an I, and then an N. Darcy clears her throat. “Why do you want to know?”

“You don’t have to answer that, sir,” says Wesley instantly, giving her a look that says I will kill you with my bare hands, but Fisk makes one last gesture, and he falls quiet again.

“She’s about to die, Wesley. I see no point in not answering such a simple question during her last moments.” D, Matt writes, O, and suddenly it clicks. Window. She shifts her foot, and he lets go. “You remind me of someone, Miss Lewis,” Fisk says, and draws a handkerchief from his pocket, wiping the sweat from his wide forehead. “Perhaps through understanding you, I will begin to understand her a little better.”

Vanessa Marianna. She licks her lips. “I’m not here to be your counselor.”

“Sir,” Wesley says again.

“Answer my question, Miss Lewis,” says Fisk. She hears Matt scrape against the concrete, and then he falls still again. Darcy takes a step back, and nearly falls. She looks over her shoulder, and Matt’s hand is knotted into a fist against the hole in his guts, there’s blood soaking his shirt, smeared over his chin, and oh, god. “Do you feel you owe him, for saving you from Goodman’s men? That seems a bit—forgive me, but it seems too altruistic, even for a down-and-out lawyer.”

Matt taps her ankle with three fingers. Then with two.

“Sorry,” she says. “Guess you’re not getting your answers.”

Fisk’s mouth contorts. He bares his teeth, and Wesley raises his gun. Before he can fire, something flies past her cheek. With a sputtering hiss, the last lightbulb goes out. An arm cinches tight around her waist, and then they’re out and falling, glass scraping at her cheeks, knifing down deep into the frigid Hudson River.

.

.

.

Getting back to Matt’s apartment is possibly the worst thing she’s ever had to do in her life.

Darcy peels off her long-sleeved shirt, and has Matt hold it tight to his stomach as they creep through the shadows, from alley to alley to alley until they all start to blend in her head. Maybe they’ve stumbled into a pocket universe, into a Groundhog Day of New York streets. She doesn’t recognize anything, not at this time of night, not slinking through the dark. Aside from clipped directions—“turn here, someone’s coming, there, that way”—Matt doesn’t say a word. Darcy whispers to him as they move, keeping his arm tight around her shoulders in some kind of messed-up three-legged-race where one of them’s useless and the other’s bleeding out. Later, she can’t even remember what she told him. Stories about Eli, she thinks. Things about her mom, the stuff she’s never really mentioned to either Matt or Foggy before. Stuff about Jen, maybe, the sort of thing Jen would kill her for spilling if not for the fact that Matt would never, ever tell anyone. Also that Matt may be dying.

(He’s not dying, he’s not, he’s not, he’s just not—)

They go in through the fire escape. She has to break the window in Matt’s bedroom with her elbow, fumble the lock open, and then help him through. There are broken bits of plastic and wood on the floor of the living room, shattered bottles and the coffee table in pieces between the couch and the armchair. She doesn’t ask. Darcy squeezes his elbow with her good hand. “Matt, I need you to sit. Okay? I’m gonna get the first aid kit and—and I don’t know. Um.” He doesn’t seem to hear her. She plucks at the edge of his sleeve, ignoring the way she’s shivering. It comes in bursts, stronger, weaker, but the tremors never stop. “Matt?”

“Someone’s coming,” he says, and then he topples. He hits the floor with a crash that shakes her down to her marrow, and Darcy nearly gets yanked off her feet.

Matt.” She falls to her knees, pushes him onto his back. He’s still breathing, but when she takes his mask off, his eyes are closed. She touches her fingertips to the pulse in his throat. His heartbeat seems very fast, considering how much blood he’s lost. “Matt, honey, can you hear me?”

Matt makes a noise deep in his chest, and his head lolls towards her. He licks his lips. “You’re loud.”

“I need you to stay awake, okay? Just—I’m gonna call Claire.” Who’s in Albany, too far away to do anything about any of this. Goddammit. If she’d waited two more days. “I’m gonna call Claire.”

“Foggy,” says Matt, and for a second she thinks the blood loss has finally hit him in the face. Then there’s another loud bang on the door, and she hears someone shouting.

“Shit.” Darcy pats his cheek, and then the uninjured part of his chest, because she doesn’t know what else to do. Out in the hallway, she hears Foggy say something like “if you have a paralegal in there and you’re not answering me I’m gonna be very mad, Matt!” “Shit. Um. Matt, I need to let him in.”

He fumbles for her wrist, and misses. “Darcy—”

“I can’t do this on my own, Matt, I can’t, not with only one hand. I can’t—” She touches his cheek. His eyes are only just barely open. “I’ll be right back, okay? I’ll be right back.”

He mouths her name, and then his eyes close all the way, and she has to lay her good hand flat against his chest to make sure he’s still breathing. She can hear footsteps on the roof access stairs, through Matt’s stupidly thin walls. She heaves herself to her feet (her hand’s bleeding again, and there’s river water running down her back from her hair) and heads to the bathroom, grabbing Matt’s cell phone (“four missed calls from Karen,” Sadie the Speaker Lady tells her, “five missed calls from Foggy,”) and dials Claire’s number.

The roof door opens. Foggy peeks through. His eyes widen. Then he’s flying down the stairs, and Darcy lets him crash into her, even though he ends up stepping into the hole in the floor, because this is Foggy, this is Foggy, and he’s babbling nonsense in her ear. He might actually be crying. She hooks one arm tight around him and goes up on tiptoe to hide her face in his neck, and she just breathes for a second or two, because if Foggy’s here, things are going to be okay. It’s been true for seven years, and nothing will change that.

Where the hell have you been, Elena said some guys grabbed you and you’ve been gone all day and holy shit, that’s blood, you’re covered in blood, what the fuck are you doing here, Darcy, oh my god—

“Foggy.” She pulls back. “Foggy, listen to me. Listen to me. I need you to help me with something, okay? And I need you to not—not freak out, not right away, you’re allowed to freak out when it’s done, but I need you to promise me you will not panic, because that is—that is the last thing that needs to happen right now.”

“What—”

“I love you, okay?” she says, and digs her fingernails into the back of his neck. “I need you to remember that. You’re my best friend, you’re like my brother, and I really, really need you to trust me. And you are not allowed to freak out.”

“Darcy, you’re scaring me.”

Yeah, and it’s gonna get worse. “Don’t hate me,” she says, and even though she’s cried herself dry in the past few hours, she can still feel heat pricking at the backs of her eyes. “Please don’t hate me, okay? Don’t hate either of us, but I need you to—I need you to help me get him on the couch.”

“Get who on the—”

He stops. She sees the moment when it clicks, when he sees the body on the floor of Matt’s bedroom, when he looks at her wrist and the blood and the discarded mask on the floor. He goes white, and then red, and then white again, and this time when he turns to look at her, his mouth is set in a hard, thin line.

“Okay,” he says, and with that, just that, nothing is ever going to be the same again.

Chapter Text

Foggy throws up three times, and nearly faints twice, but he doesn’t freak out, which is probably the only highlight of her night.

Her wrist and fingers are something neither of them are anywhere near equipped to deal with. Claire reams her out when Darcy finally mentions it (only after Matt’s stitched up; Darcy never wants Claire to lecture her again) and then she calls a friend of hers who moonlights as a slum doctor on the other end of the city. They meet up with her at a veterinary hospital three blocks from the Bulletin, in a run-down old tenement building that makes her skin crawl. It feels too much like Elena’s building, and the druggie with the knife is lurking in the edge of her vision, lashing out, Nobu on his heels.

CC—it’s the only name the woman gives, and she does it with a look of such deep suspicion that Foggy starts to puff up and get offended—x-rays her arm, declares that her wrist has a closed transverse fracture of both the ulna and radial bones, and pops her index finger back into place with a crack (Foggy has to go throw up again) before setting the damn thing and casting it up. It’s a very awkward cast, too, because of her hand and the big-ass hole in the center. (All tendons still working, apparently. A night of miracles. CC stitches it closed on both sides, wraps it in gauze, and then jury-rigs a cast for her arm that ends just in the center of her palm, so that the gauze can be changed without too much trouble.) “You’re lucky you don’t need surgery,” CC tells her, seriously. “And if Claire hadn’t been the one to refer you to me, I would have told you to call the police. You probably still should.”

“Can’t,” Darcy says, “but thanks. I’ll keep it in mind.”

CC grunts, and jabs her with a tetanus shot. Being systematically stabbed in an old, asbestos-filled warehouse and then floating in the Hudson River for who knows how long with open wounds is not a good combo. “You said you had another friend who was hurt?”

“Yeah. I stitched him up, but—um. I’m not really a nurse. Claire coached me through it.”

CC sighs deeply, and closes her battered medical kit. “Show me.”

She pronounces Matt decent enough for the moment (Matt rouses the moment she steps over the threshold, a fit of terror and paranoia having him halfway off the couch and onto his feet before Darcy can get her hands on him and push him back down) and gives him a multitude of injections that look more painful than the actual stitch job. She draws Darcy aside on her way out. “He gets feverish, starts hallucinating, sweating, gets weird at all, you call me. Same goes for you. Claire will text you my number. I don’t know what you two are doing, but it seems like it’s not the first time this has happened.”

“Probably won’t be the last,” says Darcy with a shaky smile.

She huffs. “You.” Foggy jumps, and snaps to attention. “She has a concussion. Keep an eye on her.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

CC studies them both carefully, hooking her long braids back out of her face. Then she squeezes Darcy’s shoulder, tugs her hood back up over her head, and leaves. Darcy closes the door very quietly behind CC, resting her forehead against it for a moment. The clock on the wall reads 3:17.

“Do I get an explanation now?” Foggy says, his voice wound tight. “Since it seems like I’m the last one to know. Again.”

“He didn’t tell me,” Darcy says. She sounds like hell, like she’s spent hours screaming. Oh, wait. “I figured it out by accident a few days ago.”

She’s not sure if that makes him relax, or get even tenser. “So I’m the last to know by about forty-eight hours. Awesome. Still means you didn’t tell me.”

“Not my secret to tell,” she says, tiredly, and looks at her fingers. They’re puffy and purple and highly uncomfortable, and she can already tell that her cast is going to itch terribly. The cut from Nobu on her left arm mirrors the gash from Robbie Goodman’s goon almost exactly.

“That’s why you were arguing,” Foggy says. He drops down onto the edge of the nearest chair, perching like he’s ready to bolt. She nods once. She’s finally stopped shaking (she’s pretty sure CC’s boosted pain meds had something to do with that) but she feels like she should be throwing up. She hasn’t done it yet, and she wants the Hudson River out of her.

“That’s why we were arguing. Among other reasons.”

“I thought he’d finally asked you out and you weren’t taking it well,” says Foggy. Darcy nearly drops the beer she’s snitching out of Matt’s fridge, because, um, excuse me, what? “This is—um. Not…exactly what I expected.”

“How angry are you with me right now?” she asks, and closes her eyes, keeping her back carefully turned. Foggy lets out a gusty sigh.

“Pretty fucking angry. But I also just heard the intimate details of how you were apparently tortured, so I don’t think I could yell at you if I tried.” The weight of the pause is something that could crush her, if she lets it. “You haven’t, like, started vigilante-ing yourself, have you? Because, yeah. If both of you are running around dressed up in masks and—and Jesus, the bombings, all of that, that wasn’t—”

He stops.

“Do you really think Matt would blow up a building?” She’s so tired. Her voice slurs a little. “Or—or shoot cops? Do you really think he’d do that, Foggy?”

Foggy’s quiet for a moment. He clears his throat. “The Matt we knew wouldn’t,” he says, but the rest of it, the mask might, that’s clear enough in his silence. She shakes her head.

“He didn’t do any of that.” She grabs a beer for Foggy, too, tucking the first under her arm, and nudges the fridge shut with her hip. “If he had, I wouldn’t—I wouldn’t still be in the firm. I wouldn’t have—”

Don’t hurt him, don’t. I’ll—you can kill me, okay? Leave him alone.

“Okay.” Foggy’s voice cracks. “Okay.”

She wipes her cheeks with the back of her hand, pressing the chill glass of the beer against her bruises. “Elena’s really okay?”

“Elena’s okay. She’s staying with Karen and Jen—oh my god. They don’t know you’re alive yet, do they? We need to call them, Jen had like four panic attacks over the course of an hour, and Brett is still out looking for you, actually, so yeah, we’re calling her right now—

“You can’t tell her about Matt,” Darcy blurts, and Foggy gives her such a look that she wants to curl into a ball and hide in the deepest, darkest hole she can find. “It wasn’t my secret to tell you, Fog, it’s not your secret to tell her. I know you like her a lot, and I love Karen, but—but this is Matt’s thing. Okay? We just—I can’t. Please don’t. Please.”

“Darcy.”

“Foggy.” She puts the beers down. “Foggy, please. Please. I’m not saying—I’m not saying never tell them, I’m just—it’s his secret, okay?”

“That’s not the point.” Foggy throws his cell phone onto the makeshift coffee table, which is actually an old carton she found in one of the closets. “The point is you’re asking me to lie to Karen. Darcy, you’re asking me to lie to your cousin. Because of—of this vigilante bullshit. And apparently I can yell at you, because you’re defending Matt’s fuck-ups again, just like you always do, I don’t think you even realize you’re doing it half the time, and it scares me a little because apparently you’re willing to defend him hurting people now!”

“I’m not defending that.” She can’t keep her voice from hitching. “I don’t—what he does, he—the mask saved my life. Tonight, and when the Goodmans had me attacked, he saved me, okay? He saved Karen, he protects people when he does this, Foggy. It’s not just—it’s not like he’s doing this just so he can—so he can pound on people for no reason.

“You’re doing it again!” He shoots to his feet. Somehow, in spite of everything, he’s careful to keep his voice low enough to not wake Matt. Oh, Foggy. “You’re defending this. Why are you defending this?”

Will you listen to me? I’m not defending it! Do you think I’d let him hurt anyone, if that was what he was doing? Is that what you think—” of me? She chokes the words down. “There’s a part of me, too, that wants to—that wants to punish people like Fisk or Goodman or W-Wesley for hurting others, that’s in me too, Foggy, I can’t judge him for that! And I won’t speak for him, it’s his own job to explain to you why he does what he does, so stop asking me!”

They stare at each other. Her fractured rib aches. Finally, Foggy pinches the bridge of his nose, and lets out a low string of swearwords under his breath. He cracks his beer, and drinks half of it in one go. “I’m yelling at a torture victim,” he says. “I’m an asshole.”

“I lied to you about our vigilante best friend,” she says. “I’m an asshole, too.”

He snorts, and swirls his beer in the bottle. “Don’t ask me to lie to Jen and Karen, Darce.” (She’s pretty sure he’s not even aware of using that nickname, but it makes something that feels a little like hope bubble up her throat and into tears.) “I won’t do it. It’s not fair to them and it’s not fair to me for you to ask it of me.”

She doesn’t know what to say to that. Darcy drops down onto the floor, leaning her back against the couch. She can hear Matt breathing from here, if she listens hard enough. She points at her face, at her swollen cheek. “This was for me lying and saying I didn’t know who the mask was,” she says. She touches the bandage over her eyebrow. “This is for lying again when they realized I wasn’t telling them the truth.”

He turns slightly green.

“This is dangerous, okay? The—the more they know, the more vulnerable they get. Do you think I want to lie to them? Jen isn’t—Jen is my sister, Foggy, she’s my sister in all the ways that matter, and I will die before men like Fisk get their hands on her. Do you hear me? I will kill him before he touches Jen. And the same with Karen. She’s been hurt by Fisk before, I don’t want—I don’t want her on his radar for this, too. At least not yet. We’re all in so much danger already, and if—if you add this to it tonight, Foggy, they could both be killed, and we wouldn’t be able to stop it.”

Foggy goes white around the mouth, and shuts his eyes tight. His throat works.

“I’m not saying never tell them. I’m saying that—that we have to wait. Just for a little while, until things are a bit calmer.” She holds her hand out. “I’ll do it. I can lie better than you, anyway.”

“I don’t know if I hate you or not right now,” Foggy says, and snatches the phone before she can. “No. If—if you call them, they’ll freak out. Um. I’ll call, and let them know you’re okay. And I’ll call Brett. Just—just don’t make me regret this, Darcy.”

She watches him walk away, and rests her head against the arm of the couch, watching Matt breathe under his blanket.

Foggy makes the call. She can hear his voice through the wall of the bedroom, hear him telling Jen to stop crying, hear him talking with Karen on and off, the clumsy Spanish with Elena. Foggy cares so much, she thinks, her heart triple its regular size and aching. He cares so much about everyone, and if he cares about someone it’s—she doesn’t know how to describe it. Foggy picks people, and when he picks people, he picks people. They’re his people. He’s like her that way. He knows everyone, he’s nice to everyone, but there are just a few that he chooses, and it takes a hell of a lot to make him regret his choice. She hopes this isn’t that final straw, because she doesn’t know what she’d do without Foggy. Thinking about it makes her feel like a human void, somehow. She shies away from the idea. She’s had too much void in her life tonight to handle that line of thought right now.

He calls Brett, too. That call’s much quieter—there’s a lot of “tomorrow” and “later, okay?” and “she’s gonna have to tell you that herself”—but it’s still loud enough in its own way. Behind her Matt sleeps, too quietly, and Darcy turns so she can touch her fingertips to the back of his hand, to reassure herself that it’s warm, and that he’s breathing still. Foggy slinks back into the living room like a dog that’s just been kicked, his eyes red and his breathing unsteady. She doesn’t smile.

“Thank you,” she says, and it’s so completely inept, but it’s the only thing she can say. He laughs, low and hoarse.

“You owe me for that one, Lewis. That was possibly the worst half an hour of my life.” He looks at her cast. “Which probably doesn’t compare to how your night is going.”

“Yeah, well.” She closes her eyes, leaning her head against the couch again. “It’s a work in progress.”

“What do you need?” asks Foggy seriously, and yeah, okay. That hurts. She swallows twice, and looks at him through a blur of tears.

“I—I need to tell you something that happened to me when I was a kid. And—and maybe it’ll make you hate me, but I don’t—” there’s her Atlanta voice coming back, low and drawling and sad. “—I d-don’t want to lie to you anymore. And, um. That’s the only thing I’ve never really told you about.”

Foggy watches her for a long time. Then he stands, and collects the two beers she’s left on the crate. “Come on,” he says. “I think you’re about to pass out, and I have it on good authority that Matt’s bed is super comfortable. Probably especially so for—” he trips over his tongue “—for torture victims.”

“It is,” she says without thinking. “The bed, I mean.”

Foggy wrinkles his nose. “I’m trying really hardnot to follow that statement down to its conclusion because it will scar me for life. But it’s very difficult.

“I’ve slept in your bed too, y’know,” she says, and reaches out to touch him. Then she hesitates, and pulls back. “It’s not—it wasn’t like that.”

“Well, good, because as much as it seems like you guys like to lie to me, I really would think that I’d be the first to know if you two were doing the nasty. Best friend status and everything.”

Darcy shakes her head. “You’re not—you’re my brother. I told you that earlier. You’re like—I don’t even know. It’s the closest word to it that I can think of, but that’s what you are. Okay? And I know—no matter how furious you are with me, that’s—that’s something I want you to know.”

“You’re not allowed to say stuff like that when I’m mad at you,” Foggy tells her, his voice suspiciously damp. “It’s unfair and makes me weepy.”

“Well, it’s true,” she says, and sniffs, loudly. “So—so yeah.”

(She steals Matt’s Topeka shirt. She’s fucking earned it.)

.

.

.

Foggy does not take the story about Eli well. He paces, and flings his hands, and snarls at walls, and is generally furious, but surprisingly, he’s not angry with her. Or if he is, he’s hiding it very well, considering how well she knows him. She starts crying halfway through his tirade against the Georgia justice system and her mother’s ineptitudes and the uselessness of Atlanta medical examiners, and he clambers up onto Matt’s bed and Darcy curls up with her face hidden in the fabric of his pants, crying until she can’t breathe.

He pets her hair until she falls asleep, and when she wakes shrieking, when her dream Mr. Bletchley turns into Wesley turns into Nobu turns into a dead Eli and a dying Matt, he lets her cling to him until the trembling stops.

“I didn’t want you to hate me,” she says, just as dawn is breaking through the window. Her whole body aches. She thinks Foggy is asleep, but he draws a sharp breath, and cards his fingers through her hair. She hides her face in his leg again, and tries to steady her lungs. “I’m sorry.”

He doesn’t say anything, but she thinks he might forgive her a little, after that. She can’t remember falling asleep, but by the time she does, he hasn’t pulled his hand away.

It all goes to shit when Matt wakes up, of course. But she has that moment.

.

.

.

Darcy wraps her arms in plastic bags and saran wrap, runs a shower, and plays loud music for the whole of their fight. It’s super cowardly, and she hates herself for doing it, but at the same time, it’s their fight—she’s done what she can, and getting in the way of it will make things worse. (“I thought I knew who you were, but apparently I don’t know a damn thing!” “Foggy—”) She knows that already. Matt and Foggy have never fought before, and throwing herself in the middle (“—what I don’t get is why you dragged Darcy into it—” “—I didn’t drag her into this anymore than I dragged myself—”) won’t help at all. She ignores the rumble of voices through the wall, blasting Spinal Tap and shouting along every time they get too loud. (“You’re taking advantage of her!” “She makes her own decisions, Foggy—” “Yeah, well, when it comes to you I’m never really sure about that—”)

She turns up the sound on the laptop after that, and wishes she could stick her fingers in her ears.

It’s only when there’s been quiet out in the living room for a good twenty minutes that she heaves herself out of the now-cold bath, rubs her hair mostly dry with a towel, and puts her borrowed clothes back on. Her mouth tastes like blood and old beer, and she really wishes she had a toothbrush she could use, but whatever. She steals some mouthwash, just to get the worst of the taste out. She’s already texted Kate to let her know that Foggy will be taking Darcy’s place in the TMZ interview. Kate hasn’t texted her back beyond a clipped k, but at least that won’t be completely butchered.

In the dim light through the bathroom window, it all starts to feel like a dream. Or a night terror. She looks at her hand, at the gauze and the splints and the cast, and then leans forward to peer at her face in the mirror. Her glasses are cracked on one side, the earpiece almost entirely broken. She can tape it, but it’ll only do so much for so long. It’s a miracle they stayed on for their Hudson River trip. Darcy turns, peering at her ribs (still gross, but much less so than they were, the fractured one finally steadying out) and then checks her face again. The bruises are bad, but they’re not as terrible as when Goodman’s men jumped her. Nobu had been more interested in breaking her piece by piece than just punching her over and over again.

(—fire and the stench of gasoline and burning cloth and the pop of bone—)

Make-up, she thinks, and leans back. Make-up and some ginger movement. And a sling, for her arm. Also possibly sleeping meds, because she has a feeling she’s going to be waking up screaming for a long time to come.

(—the crack of her wrist breaking, blood burbling up between Matt’s fingers—)

When she finally gathers herself up and forces herself to leave the bathroom, the emptiness of the living room makes her soul hurt. Matt sits on the couch, his face turned towards the blazing windows, eyes closed, his lips pressed thin. She peels the saran wrap off her bandages, and drops it in the trashcan. “Didn’t go well,” she says. It’s not a question.

“No shit,” Matt snaps, and pinches the bridge of his nose. His cheeks are damp. “How much did you hear?”

“Not as much as you.” She bites her lip. He shouldn’t be sitting up. She wants to hit him. She sees the hooked blade in his guts again, and she has to press the back of her hand to her mouth and swallow repeatedly to keep herself from puking. “You’re not taking advantage of me, y’know.”

He shifts on the couch. “You’re not going after him? Foggy.”

“No. I have to go to the 15th and give a statement in a bit.” She pulls the bag of coffee beans out of the refrigerator, and starts a hunt for the grinder. “Jen and Karen are going to come pick me up. And then—I dunno. I was thinking about hiding out at Claire’s. I need to water her plants anyway.”

Matt shakes his head, like he’s brushing away a fly. He doesn’t say anything. She fiddles with the hem of the Topeka shirt.

“You should probably lay back down,” she says. “If you tear my stitches I’m going to be very unhappy.”

He turns to face her then, his eyes wide. “You did these?”

“You don’t remember?” Matt shakes his head again, and she ladles beans into the grinder, not able to quite able to look at him any longer. “I had Claire teach me a little bit. She’s up in Albany, so it’s not like—it’s not like she could have done it. She sent me to a friend of hers to get my wrist patched up a little bit, CC, she checked it. Said I did an okay job. I dunno, though.”

Matt opens his mouth, and then shuts it again. He closes his eyes. “Oh.”

“That sounds like a bad oh.” She hits the button the grinder, holding it so that the utterly normal, utterly reassuring whir of blades on beans stifles whatever he says in reply. She buzzes it a few more times, just because she can, and then goes to boil water.

“You stitched me up before you went to get your wrist fixed?”

His voice is doing something weird again. Darcy lifts one shoulder in a shrug. “I mean, you had a gut wound. I feel like—I felt like that was slightly more important.”

“My intestines were fine,” he says, as if this were obvious to anyone. Suddenly she really wants another beer. 

“See, I didn’t know that, because I don’t have super X-ray hearing.” She swallows. “Foggy helped a little. Well, he. Uh. He kept you from moving too much while I, um, checked to see if anything was torn. Really glad I don’t do it for a living, that’s all I have to say.”

She never wants to do that again. She knows she fumbled it, even if it was only a little, because Matt made a terrible sound while she’d been checking the pieces inside, like she’d been ripping him in half. She never, ever wants to hear him make a noise like that again. Not ever.

“I don’t remember getting here,” he says, all of a sudden. Darcy watches the kettle. “How did we get here?”

“Walking, mostly. Some running. Some hiding, too.” She tugs the half-and-half out of the fridge, and smells it before setting it on the counter. “I had to break one of your windows. Sorry.”

“It’s already a wreck anyway, thanks to Stick.”

Well, that answers more questions than it doesn’t. He swings his legs off the couch again, and Darcy hisses. “Don’t you dare.

“Meditation,” he says, like this makes any sense. “Helps me heal quicker.”

“Meditation doesn’t keep your torn flesh together, stitches do that. And stitches don’t work if you tear them, you idiot.” She’s out of the kitchen and beside the couch before she remembers moving. Darcy sets her good hand flat against his shoulder, and pushes him back to the cushions. “Stay.”

“I’d have to try harder than this to tear them,” he says.

Her stomach churns. “Jesus, don’t tell me that. Now I’ll wonder how you know that. Jesus Christ, Matt.”

“I’m talented,” he says, the corners of his mouth curling into a shapeless smile. He still sits hunched, though, as if to protect himself from a coming blow. She presses the pads of her fingers into the back of his shoulder, and then draws back. “When did you say Jen and Karen are coming?”

“At nine. So, an hour. Ish.”

“And they knows you’re here?”

“Foggy told them. Not that you’re hurt, too, so you’d better come up with a story for that. But yeah. They know I’m here.”

“And Kate?”

“Foggy’s doing the interview for me. I think he wants to distract himself, and he’ll be good. As long as he doesn’t have a panic attack on camera.”

“Hey,” Matt says, when she starts to turn away. “Can you—just.” He holds out a hand, and she looks at it for a long time before she reaches forward and takes it. Matt heaves a breath, and reaches up with his other hand to brush his fingertips over her jaw. She tips her head forward and lets him.

“Foggy’s right.” There’s a bruise on his arm that looks like a handprint. Or a fist. “About me taking advantage of you. It’s unfair of me to drag you into this.”

“There you go again with your martyr complex.” She goes to draw away, and then stops herself. His hand is cool and soothing on her bruised cheek, and if he’s going to kick her out, she’ll take advantage of this for as long as she can. “I dragged myself in, Matt. Jesus.”

She can see it when his throat works. Darcy stands, and waits. Matt swallows again, and then says: “I’m not hurting you?”

“Butterfly hands,” she replies, barely speaking, and for the first time since he woke up, his lips twitch into something closer to an honest smile. He strokes a thumb over her still-aching nose.

“Maybe, if you think about butterflies and chaos theory.”

A butterfly beats its wings, and a hurricane destroys a small city. If the butterfly flaps its wings a millisecond later, the hurricane passes, and the city continues on unharmed. She turns her face into his fingers, letting her lips brush against the heel of his palm. “You’re not chaos, Matt.”

His fingers tighten on hers. Matt closes his eyes, and she thinks she sees a tear on his cheek. Then he tugs her hand, ever so lightly, and Darcy comes around the couch to sit beside him, tucking her hair back behind her ears so that he can really see. He doesn’t touch her bruises again, though. He slides one hand around the back of her neck, and his thumb brushes at the hollow behind her earlobe. A world on fire, she thinks. All of them made of flame, scorching each other until the planet turns to ash.

“I’m sorry,” he says. He keeps his eyes closed as he lifts his other hand, sliding his thumb over the line of her unbruised cheek. Every touch is hesitant, like he’s afraid to hurt her. Or he’s not sure he’s allowed. “That I didn’t get there fast enough.”

“Hey, no.” She reaches out, sets her fingers to his cheek, to the stubble of his jaw. “No. You came as fast as you could, even though it was a stupid idea. There wasn’t anything else you could have done to get there faster. I’m sure of it.”

“You don’t even know what I did,” he says, but she shakes her head. His knuckles catch in her damp hair.

“You came. That’s what matters.” She presses his hand close to her cheek, and then looks at him, full on, for what feels like the first time in days. Yesterday he said he wanted to kiss me, she thinks. It feels like forever ago. “You’re not allowed to say sorry for any of it. I told you, I knew what I was doing, and I knew what the risks were. If you feel guilty for something that I decided, you’re taking away my right to have made the decision in the first place. Don’t do that. We’ve talked about this.”

He rests the pad of his thumb in the dip between her nose and mouth, as if to memorize the angle of it. Then he says, “They hurt you because of me.”

“And they nearly killed you because of me, so we’re even.” She swallows. “And—and I’m sorry that I didn’t help. With Nobu. I don’t—I should have done something. More than what I did. And you—there was so much blood—

Matt draws his fingers through her hair. “No. It’s okay. I’m okay.”

She has to close her eyes and breathe thick and fast through her nose for a minute or two before she can steady out again. Her head aches. Concussions suck some major donkey wang. “You’re not okay.”

“Neither are you.”

“I’m not the one who was dragged along the floor by a dagger in his guts.”

Matt shakes his head. “It’s not the same. I chose to put myself at risk like that, you—”

“Matt, they hurt me because I stuck my nose into their business, knowing they would probably come after me. I feel like that’s the definition of a choice.”

“And I was a part of that.”

“Yeah, well. The fingers were because I didn’t know what he meant by Black Sky, and the wrist—uh. He was kind of pissed because I was singing at him. Random aside, I don’t think I’m ever going to be able to listen to Mack the Knife again.” She turns her face into his hand again, closing her eyes. “The only one who asked me who you are was Wesley, and he—he didn’t touch me. Not really.”

She feels the muscles in his palm tense. His fingernails catch behind her ear. “You told them to kill you,” Matt says, the words turning high and strange at the end. “You told them to kill you in my place.”

“Matt—”

“Don’t do that.” He leans forward, breath catching in his chest. Matt cups her face in his hands and opens his eyes again, and she’s not sure what to do other than stay absolutely still. “Don’t—please don’t do that. Don’t—don’t throw yourself away. Not for me. Please.”

“That’s a double-standard.” She shakes her head. “You were going to—I thought you were dying, Matt. Because of me. And—and ruthless calculus. Hell’s Kitchen needs you more than it needs me. If I die, then—then there will be other people that can do what I do, but you’re—it’s not the same for you.”

His hands are actually shaking. He yanks back, as if she’s burned him. “Stop it.”

“You know it’s true.” He turns his face away from her, swinging his legs off the couch, tangling his hands in his hair and tugging, like he wants to yank it out at the roots. “So don’t—don’t ask me not to sacrifice myself for you, if you plan to do it for me. That’s not fair.”

“You can’t ask me to let you die.”

“Then don’t ask me to let you kill yourself over me!” Her hair stings at her mouth. “Why does it seem so hard for you to understand that someone cares about you enough to want to keep you from doing something really fucking stupid?”

“Because I’m not—” He stops, swallows, starts again. “If you died, I don’t—I don’t know what I would be. I don’t know what I would be, after. You’re—” His throat convulses. “Because I need you to—I just—”

“Matt—”

“Stick told me that—that I have to cut myself off from everyone,” Matt says. He’s fracturing all along the edges. “That—that in order for this to work I need to be alone. A lone soldier, without—without anyone or anything to make me vulnerable. And after tonight I’m half-tempted to think that he’s right.”

“Matt,” she says, but he shakes his head.

“But I can’t—that’s not something I can do. Not with Karen, or with Foggy—” his voice breaks “—or with you. You—you know everything that I do, and you just—you don’t turn away from it, or—god, you should be running screaming and you’re just standing there making coffee in my kitchen like nothing’s happened. And I can’t lose that. I can’t—I can’t lose Karen, or Foggy, but if I lost you, if—if I didn’t get to you in time, if this happens again and they kill you, I don’t—it might actually kill me, and I can’t—”

Of course she’s crying. She can’t do anything without crying, lately. “Matt.

“You make me better,” he says, and her heart stops. “You make me better. Since the beginning you—you make me think, you—you keep me straight. I—I hear you and I remember that there are things that are still good. Not just—not just out there, but in my head, and it sounds—that sounds so messed up, but it’s like—you’re there, and I’m even. I’m—I’m better. I’m a better person, I think better, I am better, and it’s—” He reaches out, and brushes at her cheeks with his fingertips. “God, I just love you so much, and if you died I wouldn’t—”

She kisses him. She leans forward, leaning her good hand into the couch cushions, letting her bad one rest against his shoulder, and she kisses him, because she can’t think of what else to do. Matt draws a deep breath—of air, of her—and then he lifts his hands to her face and kisses her back, a spiraling, dizzying, out-of-control kiss that makes her flush to the tips of her fingers. Her cast feels heavy and ugly and awkward, but he doesn’t seem to notice; he touches her cheeks, her neck, traces his palms over her shoulders and down her arms to the bandages and breaks. They’re both fraying at the seams, she thinks, and weaves her fingers into his hair. They’re both shattered, and maybe, with this, they can start mending again. She curls her tongue past his teeth and fancies she can taste blood, still, but then it’s Matt, only Matt, his hands tangling in her damp curls and her fingernails scraping over his collarbones, teeth and breath and panic and I need you, stay, don’t leave, please, I need you. She feels drunk, or dreamy, or all of the above, and when she presses her lips to the corner of his mouth, and to his jaw, the hollow underneath, he makes a noise like she’s actually physically wounded him, like he can’t breathe. He’s saying her name, over and over, almost like a prayer, and that hurts.

“Matt,” she says, and draws back. He chases her, nose bumping against hers, his mouth catching at the corner of her lips. “Matt, Matthew.”

He hums, and she has to kiss him again, her fingernails digging in behind his ears. Then she pulls back again, just a little, just enough. She lays her good hand flush against his heart. “That’s not going to happen. Okay? I’m done letting them hurt me, and I’m done letting them hurt you. I’m not going to die. Not because of this.”

He can’t seem to decide whether to pull away or kiss her again. “They’re not going to stop trying to kill you because you put your hands on your hips and tell them no.”

“I didn’t think they would.” Her voice quivers, and then steadies. “But that’s why you’re here. And I’m here to make sure they don’t kill you. We’re not doing this alone. Not either of us. Okay?”

She’s never seen him so lost. Matt closes his eyes and breathes, and Darcy curls her hand around the back of his neck and presses her forehead to his. “You’re not alone,” she says. “And I’m not alone. No matter what.”

Matt raises his hands, drawing his thumbs across her cheekbones. Then he closes his eyes. It sounds like he’s about to cry. He nods, just once. She runs her fingers through the hair at the nape of his neck, and just stays there, breathing in the scent of him, familiar and real and here. She’s alive, and he’s alive. There’s something powerful in that.

It could be three minutes or thirty before she clears her throat, and blinks at him. “You love me?”

Matt touches her jaw again. Then he leans forward and ghosts his lips over hers, there, clinging, and then gone. He does it again, and again, just to be a shit. Her toes curl against the pillows. “Does that bother you?”

“Shit.” She leans forward and kisses him, edging her teeth along his bottom lip. “No,” she says. “No, that’s—bother’s not the word I’d use.”

She feels him smile against her mouth, just for an instant. “You sound happy,” he says, and presses his forefinger to the side of her throat, where her pulse is jumping. There’s a hint of wonder to the way he’s touching her that she’s never going to forget.

“Jesus, you’re such an idiot,” she says, and then kisses him again, just beneath the terrible bruise over his eye. He turns at the last possible instant and catches her mouth, and she wonders—how many times has he pretended not to know where she is, bumped into her, into walls, as if he doesn’t know exactly where everything is in space? Then a horrible thought strikes her. She yanks back. “If you’re telling me that because you plan to go off and be a martyr and want me to feel better about you dying then I swear to god I will destroy everything you care about, because I cannot handle that right now, okay? I can’t—“

“Hey.” He strokes his thumb down the line of her jaw. He keeps touching her, a palm against her bare arm, fingertips tracing the edges of her bruises. Matt tips forward, and rests his forehead to her temple. Darcy hiccups, her fingers hooked into the blanket draped across his knee. “I’m not going anywhere. I think martyrdom is a bit beyond me at the moment.”

She closes her eyes. “You love me,” she says again, and he rests his mouth against her skin, not a kiss, just a touch. “What about Claire?”

Matt stills, for a bone-chilling moment. Then he goes back to stroking his fingers down her arm. “I could have fallen for Claire. Someday, maybe. I feel like I could have. But we wouldn’t—she deserves better than me.”

Darcy laughs, sharp. “And I don’t?”

“You definitely deserve better,” he says, “but I’m selfish enough to wish you don’t figure that out for a long time.”

She has no idea what to say to that.

“I know you can’t trust me again yet, but—but I meant it. I mean it.” He brushes his nose against her temple, into her damp hair. “I fell in love with you when I was eighteen, and I never really stopped.”

She’s going to be sobbing really grossly if he keeps saying shit like that. Darcy turns, and presses her hands (well, her good hand; she doesn’t trust her cast on his bruises) to his cheek, kissing the scab from the fight with Stick, the bandaged patch just beneath his eye. “This is either the best ending to the worst night ever or the best start to the best day ever and I can’t figure out which.”

“Both is good,” Matt says, and she can’t help it. She laughs. She tips into him as best she can without hurting either of them more, and she laughs. Her shoulders shake. It might be hysteria, but if it is, she doesn’t care. She laughs until she can’t breathe, and then slowly she eases out again.

“You love me,” she says, a third time. Matt hums again, deep in the back of his throat.

“Hard to believe?”

“Not really.” And it’s not, honestly. “I’m just not sure why.”

He doesn’t say anything. Not for a minute or two. Then he touches his mouth to her temple. “You’re a firework,” he says. “Not a sparkler or a Catherine wheel, but one of the big rosettas, the ones that can be a thousand different colors and swallow half the sky. You’re loud, and bright, and you always take me by surprise. You light up the dark places, and make them look like home. That’s why.”

“Stop. You’re making me cry, and it’s nasty.” She fans her face. “Stop.”

She thinks the catch in his breathing might be a laugh. Matt plays with a strand of half-wet hair at the base of her neck, and just rocks into her, staying there, and she’s going to die from all of these feelings and intensities and just the way he’s there, like he’s not planning on walking away. Darcy closes her eyes and swallows hard. Then she raises her head again, and says, “I love you, Matt.”

It’s easy as breathing, easy as life, but for a second she thinks he doesn’t believe her. Then, slowly, he lifts one hand, sliding his fingers into her hair, cupping the back of her head and drawing her to him again. His mouth clings to hers, and there’s no space between them anymore. She doesn’t want there to be. Matt draws back, slowly, and kisses the side of her nose, pressing his mouth to her cheekbone. When he sighs, she can feel it. “Yeah?

“Yeah.” She leans forward and sets her lips to the place where his neck and shoulder join. He shivers a little. “Yeah. For a long time.”

“Oh,” he says, in a very small voice, and she kisses the question off his mouth. She’s not sure why the thought of telling Matt scared her so much, when she looked at Claire and said I don’t know what I want, because now she has this, and she’ll be damned if she lets it go.

“Would have thought you’d noticed.” She noses the underside of his jaw. “Considering.”

“I guess—” He turns his head, catches the soft spot just in front of her ear with his lower lip. “I guess I told myself that I had to be wrong. Or that it was—something else. I don’t know. You dated a lot.”

“So did you.” She’s very dizzy, and she doesn’t think it’s because of the concussion. “We’re both really dumb. Jesus Christ.”

Matt presses his nose close into her hair, and heaves a breath that she can feel all the way down to her finally-not-numb toes. She curls into him, careful not to touch the torn places. He smells like rubbing alcohol and the Hudson and Matt, underneath, and Darcy rests her broken wrist against his ribs and closes her eyes. She’s feeling too much, and she can’t shake the sense that it’s all going to fall apart.

“Don’t you dare get yourself killed,” she says into his throat. “You’re not allowed to die on me.”

Matt tangles his fingers in her hair, and shakes his head. “Sometimes it doesn’t work like that.”

“The hell it doesn’t. I’ve told you so. You’re not allowed to die if I tell you not to.” Her voice cracks. “It’s a rule of the universe. You do as I say. No questions asked.”

“No questions asked,” Matt repeats solemnly, and she pinches him in the ribs. He shies away from her fingers, and then he’s laughing, and she’s laughing, and when the laughter turns to tears it’s not shameful. It just is.

.

.

.

In all honesty, she’d be perfectly content if the world just burns to the ground while she’s sitting there, on the couch, playing with Matt’s fingers and listening to him breathe. (Okay, not entirely content—she’d have to know that Foggy and Karen and Kate and Jen were safe—but other than that, cool. Bye, world. You suck a lot.) But of course that’s not how life works. She wants to sit there forever, but what she has to do is call Claire to let her know that nobody’s dead; worry about Kate and Foggy and the TMZ interview; change clothes (she uses Matt’s, and that leads to more kissing which is loads of amazing); and then construct a believable enough lie that Fisk’s pet cops don’t go hunting for Matt.

She also has to help him come up with a better story for a) the wreckage that is his apartment, b) the fact that he looks like death warmed over, and c) her miraculous return that is better than a) an orientalistic blind white ninja rip-off, b) a very enthusiastic painter, and c) space wizards. And then, of course, there’s the turning her garbage bag of bloody, crusty, dirty clothes over to the police dealio.

By the time her post-rescue interview is over, she’s pretty sure that Brett never wants to see her face again. She’s also 99.9% certain that he’s not buying the whole “the mask rescued me and took me to get my arm fixed while I was unconscious” story, but half of that is technically true, and since she’s a victim they’re not about to make her take a polygraph test, so there’s not much he can do about it.

He does take the whole yakuza-warehouse-on-the-waterfront thing seriously, though. Same with Nobu being dead, and the devil of Hell’s Kitchen breaking her out. It’s the part where she fainted and woke up in a phone booth with a cast on her arm and all her fingers splinted that Brett’s sticking on, but it’s seriously the only thing she can think of to tell him. Dear Brett: Foggy’s possibly-ex best friend, who is also blind, is actually the vigilante you’ve been looking for, and I took him home instead of calling you to let you know I was alive because I was a bit more worried about the fact that he was possibly bleeding out than reporting to the police for a check-up and possible death at the hand of Fisk’s minions, kthx, xo, D. That’d go over well.

God, this is just been a day of such extremes. By any rights, she should be catatonic in a corner somewhere. She’s still not sure why she isn’t.

Jen waits outside during the interview. Darcy’s certain that if it weren’t for policy, Jen would have bullied her way into the interview room, plonked herself in the chair right next to Darcy’s, and acted as her defense counsel. Jen looks like something’s ripped her apart and stitched her back together badly, and when Darcy had opened Matt’s door, Jen had bent at the waist as if someone had just hit her with a baseball bat. Darcy had darted forward and crashed into her, and Jen had actually lifted her off her feet with the force of her hug, stroking her hair and smearing mascara-y tears against Darcy’s cheek. “Oh my god,” she’d said, over and over. “Oh my god.”

Karen had nearly been worse. Her lips were cracked from biting, her eyes overly red, and as soon as Darcy had been set back on her feet she’d pressed the back of her hand to her mouth, and burst into tears. So of course Darcy had started crying again too, and it had descended into a mess of weeping and threats against the yakuza.

It was almost enough to keep either of them from asking about Matt and Matt’s floor. Almost.

Jen’s quiet now. Her arm is hooked through Darcy’s, as if to pin her down to earth, like if she keeps Darcy right by her side and in her line of sight nothing will happen ever again. Karen had slipped away once she’d made sure that they were safe and the interview was over with, and to be frank, Darcy doesn’t blame her. Karen had nearly died in the 15th Precinct; it’s not the sort of place anyone wants to go back to. Besides, she says she has an appointment, and usually that means she’s meeting with Ben. Life goes on.

When Brett turns her loose, Darcy and Jen leave the precinct without a single word. As soon as they turn down Nott Street, though, Jen says, “This is more than just the Goodmans, isn’t it?”

Darcy shuts her eyes. “You’ve been talking to Karen.”

“I asked,” Jen corrects. “She d-didn’t tell me anything. Said I should ask you instead.”

There’s a bit of an accusation, there. You should have told me yourself. She’s right. God, Darcy just wants to sleep. “Yeah.” That sounds familiar. “There’s—there’s a lot of that going around right now.”

Jen clears her throat. “Look. I—I get that you w-want to protect me, or—or whatever it is. And I know that—that telling me might be a problem, since I work for the D-DA’s office, and all of the rest of it, b-but D-Darcy, I can’t go through that again. I can’t.” Her voice breaks. “You’re my sister. If—if someone’s trying to hurt you—”

“Oh, Jen,” Darcy says, and stops, slipping her arms around Jen’s waist and resting her forehead against Jen’s shoulder. Jen chokes, and hides her face in Darcy’s hair, shaking. “I’m sorry.” She swallows hard. “I’m sorry. I should have warned you. I’m sorry.”

It’s not fair, she thinks. Way to be a fucking hypocrite, Lewis. She lectures Matt for not telling her things, and then she turns around and does it to everyone else, falling into that same fucking trap of thinking she knows better, that she can keep people safe with sheer will. Knowledge is safety, not hope, not acting the martyr. Knowledge puts you at risk and keeps you safe in a double-edged sword.

She hears a bell tolling, and thinks she’s hallucinating for a moment. Then she turns, and sees the high spire of St. Patrick’s Cathedral edging out from behind a brownstone. “Jen,” she says again, and Jen sniffs loudly and squeezes her arms tight around Darcy’s neck before pulling back. “I’ll tell you everything I can. All right?There’s some stuff that’s more—it’s not mine to explain. And it would cause more problems than solving them. But what I can tell you, I will.”

“Good,” Jen says.

“But we have to, uh. Can I make a quick stop first?”

The inside of St. Patrick’s is just as empty and lonely and sad as it was weeks and lifetimes ago. Darcy dips her fingers into the holy water, touching her forehead once (sorry, Father P) and then glances back at Jen. Jen’s eyes are huge, and keep flicking from the hanging cross, complete with dead, sad Jesus, to the stained glass windows, and finally to the confession box at the far back. “Darcy.”

“Yeah?”

“You’re Jewish.”

“I know.”

“No,” Jen says, her voice thready. “No, I’m—I’m pretty sure you’re g-genuinely confused right now. You’re not even a good Jew. You’re a terrible Jew. You wrote your political science thesis on the rise of fundamentalist politics in the Middle East and said that God was actually dead. The only reason you still even identify as J-Jewish is so you don’t get kicked out of that deli near Columbia.”

“And because of challah,” says Darcy. “And, y’know, genetics.”

“And because of challah and genetics.”

“Wait.” Darcy laughs. “No, Jen. I’m not here to worship. I’m just here to see a—” She stops. Does Father Patrick count as a friend, if she’s only met him once? She feels like he does, but who knows? Maybe they’re just allies in the fight against Matt’s insanity. Or whatever. “I’m here to see someone. I’ll be back in a bit.”

“Okay,” says Jen, in the way someone would say “time to commit you.” Still, she just heaves her purse over her shoulder again (Darcy’s not a good Jew, but Jen is, complete with fasting and everything else) and looks highly uncomfortable. She clears her throat. “I’ll—uh. Do you want me to wait in here, or—”

“I mean, it’d probably be safer.” Darcy points. “Sit in a pew. I’ll be back in a bit.”

Jen sits in a pew, and pulls out her phone. Darcy waits until she hears the click of 2048 number blocks before crossing the room, and opening a door marked lounge.

She’s not quite sure what to expect, judging by the word lounge, but what’s beyond the door is most certainly not a lounge. It’s a wide room with a long table, complete with folding chairs and a coffee machine with a milk-steamer attached. On the far side of the room there’s an open closet with a light on inside. She can hear something rustling inside. Darcy knocks on the door twice, and clears her throat. “Um. Is anybody back here?”

Something thunks against the floor. Then Father Lantom pokes his head out of the closet, and his eyebrows march up his forehead. “Hello,” he says, very, very surprised. “Uh. Give me a moment.”

“Are you okay?” Darcy sets her bag on the long table, and crosses the room to peek into the closet. It looks like a bunch of donated stuff, judging by how much of it is broken and/or how many paper bags of canned food there are. There’s a stepladder set up against one wall, and at the base of it there’s a torn cardboard box. She taps a can of peaches with her shoe. “You need help back here, Father P?”

Father Lantom blinks at her. Then his lips part. “You’re that woman,” he says, and she tugs a strand of brown hair forward over her shoulder, curling it around her fingers. “Lizzy. Your hair is—different.”

“It was a wig, last time.” She crouches, and picks up one of the peach cans. “You trying to hurt yourself, here? Because I feel like I read somewhere that that’s kind of a no-no.”

Father P gestures at the torn box in answer. “I didn’t think you’d come back,” he says, and kneels down beside her to start picking up cans. She can see his eyes lingering on her broken wrist, the stitches and the bruises, but he doesn’t say a word. “It’s been a couple weeks.”

“Yeah, well. Things were busy.” She drops a can of prunes (seriously, who the fuck buys prunes for donations? It’s like punishing people for needing donations in the first place.) into her lap. “And I didn’t know if you’d really want to see me again. Considering.”

Father P pulls a folded cardboard box out from underneath a stack of laundry baskets, and produces tape from nowhere. “To be entirely honest, I wasn’t sure if I wanted you to come back, either. Not then, anyway. Now I’m not so sure.”

“Because you’ve had another visit from the guy that the news loves to talk about?” He better not have left the apartment while she was gone. She’ll kill him.

“Because I wasn’t sure if you’d survived,” says Father P, and there’s something, some old ache in his voice that makes her want to hug him. Which is so weird, because she has never in her life before considered hugging a priest. Darcy waits until he tapes the bottom of the box together before passing some of her cans up to him, one at a time.  

“Here I am,” she says, belatedly, when she catches Father P watching her. “With my real hair and my concussion and PTSD and everything. Reporting for clean-up duty.”

Father P sets the box beside her, and she dumps the rest of her cans into it before straightening. He seems to be debating with himself about something, in a way that reminds her very strongly of Ben Urich. Then he says, “Do you want coffee?”

Her lips curve without her permission. Darcy nods once. “Yeah. Coffee would be great.”

The ancient espresso machine makes more demonic noises than seem entirely acceptable in a Catholic church, but it’s good coffee, so the dichotomy’s forgiven. She hums deep in the back of her throat at the taste of it. “This is Kenyan,” she says, and Father P blinks twice before sitting in the chair next to her, stirring sugar into his cup.

“I spent some time in Africa when I was younger. It’s not quite the same, for a lot of reasons, but I still like it better than other kinds of beans. I guess it’s an old habit.”

Darcy tastes it again, and then adds a bit of sugar before leaning back in her chair. Her arm is throbbing. It’s highly uncomfortable. “Well, as someone who worked in a coffee shop for six years, you have earned my seal of approval. Even if it was a Starbucks.”

Father P smiles into his cup.

“I know that this is kind of…weird, I guess. I mean, I’m not exactly here to confess or anything, considering, y’know.” She tugs at her collar. “Well, yeah. I guess—I guess I just wanted to see how you were doing. Considering I’m pretty sure you take confessions from the devil.”

“If I did,” says Father P, placidly, “I wouldn’t be at liberty to tell you.”

“Obviously.” She sips at her coffee, stroking her thumb along the rim of the mug. “I dunno. Things have been kind of hard. For a lot of us, I guess. Everyone that—” everyone that knows? Everyone that’s been changed by it? “There was a thing that happened. And it’s hard. I guess I just wanted to see if this place was still the same.”

Father P glances at her broken wrist again. Then he leans back in his chair, setting his coffee cup aside. “You’re welcome here whenever you want, Lizzy. Even if you’re not exactly religious, we hold bingo competitions on Fridays.”

Darcy snorts. “Technically those are kind of illegal. You know that, right?”

“There’s no official betting. Besides, most of the grandmothers that show up are from cop families. I get by.” He rubs a hand over his jaw. “Do you want to talk about what brought you here? If you don’t, we can go back to talking coffee beans. Though I have the feeling you’ll outclass me on that topic.”

“I dunno. You look like the kind of guy who knows his beans.” Darcy tucks her cast close against her stomach, turning her face to look at the corkboard pinned to the wall. There are a bunch of flyers attached, some about bake sales, others about school concerts, neighborhood events. It’s very normal. “Like I said.” Her throat tightens. “Something happened, and—well. Some people nearly died, including—”

She almost says Matt. Father P watches her quietly, steady and silent, and she shakes her head. “Well, including me. And him. And it scared me. And I guess I saw this place, and I remembered that you know him, and I wanted to just…find somewhere safe. Ish.”

Father P lifts his cup to his lips, taking a breath of steam. Then he says, “I see.”

“Is that weird?”

“A few centuries ago, churches used to grant sanctuary. So no, it’s not strange. Just a bit anachronistic.”

“Smack that on a T-shirt and sell it. You’d probably make a mint. The Catholic Church: We’re not strange, just anachronistic.

His lips twitch.

“I’m a lawyer,” Darcy says, all of a sudden. “I’m—I don’t really look like one, but I am. All my friends are lawyers, or work in the law. Except for one or two,” she adds, thinking of Claire, and of Kate. “There should be a contradiction, there, that I can accept a vigilante. That I can approve of it.”

“Is this a confession?” Father P asks, in a wry voice. She shakes her head.

“I mean, I guess it is if you want it to be. I don’t believe in God. Never have, really. Sorry.”

Father P shrugs. “My beliefs don’t change because of yours. Yours won’t change because of mine. It’s a fact of life, and there are all sorts of people in the world. I’d be a failure as a human being if I couldn’t recognize that much.”

That’s…actually kind of impressive. “Makes you better than my downstairs neighbor. When she heard I was born Jewish she started sticking pamphlets about the Rapture under my door. It took us six months to get her to stop.”

He gets this really pained look on his face. “I can’t speak for others, but on behalf of myself—I’m so sorry.”

She laughs, a little. “Thanks. But yeah. As an atheist, y’know, I’m not exactly—I studied religion in school, same as anybody, and I probably would have minored in it if I hadn’t been double-majoring already, but at the same time I just…I dunno. The leap of faith is beyond me. I need proof for things. I need to see something to believe it, and—and to understand it. So in a weird way, I kind of admire people who are religious, because they can make that leap where I can’t.”

Father P nods once, stirring his coffee absently with his spoon.  

“Charles Dickens had this thing with his books where he said that only human beings are truly capable of evil, because only humans have the concept of morality.” She traces the handle of her cup. “Animals love the same way we do, but that idea that one thing is inherently good, and another thing is inherently bad, they don’t have that. So when a cat tortures a mouse before eating it, or a ladybug eats another ladybug, or—or whatever, that’s not a cruel or evil act, because they don’t know what evil is. Human beings, though, they can be cruel. Wherever morality comes from, whether you think it’s something we learned from some kind of invisible man in the sky, or something that’s naturally in us, or it’s something that we develop through comparison and study and growth, humans can be good, and humans can be evil. And you can be straddle the two, try and stop someone from doing something terrible with whatever methods you can get your hands on, good and bad. Be a chaotic neutral, maybe.” She rubs her nose. “I feel like that might be what he’s trying to balance. Those two different parts of himself. The part that tries to do the right thing, and the part that uses—that uses violence to achieve the same ends. And—I don’t know.”

Father P doesn’t say anything for a long time. He finishes his coffee, and then gets up to start another cup. “Like I said, I can’t talk about confessions, and I can’t tell you what’s been said to me in confidence. I can’t say whether or not you’re right.”

“Of course.”

“And no one person can save another, Lizzy.” He goes to the mini-fridge underneath the table, collecting the milk. “Saving people isn’t something that’s the act of one human being, or even one deity, for that matter. For someone to be saved, they have to want to save themselves just as much as they want to be rescued. Otherwise that rescue doesn’t stick, and all that happens is that they fall right back to where they were, whether it’s drugs or alcohol or whatever issues they’re sorting out. You have to want to help yourself, before you can be helped.”

“Yeah, I know.” She watches him steam the milk for a minute or two. “My best friend was murdered when I was ten. The guy who did it is still—you know. He’s in Atlanta, I think. Nobody ever arrested him. But that’s not the point,” she adds, when Father P looks like he wants to say something. “I just—I think that if that hadn’t happened, if I hadn’t gone through that, experienced that, then I wouldn’t be able to reconcile the parts of him that I know. The devil part, the angry part, the one that drags people into alleys and destroys them, I wouldn’t be able to accept that in the way that I can because of how Eli died. I can’t look at the legal system in the way that other people do, because it fucked up—sorry. It messed up a lot of things, when Eli was killed. I know where it’s broken, and there are some parts of it that we can’t fix. There are loopholes we can’t use and people we want to hurt but we can’t. And I guess, because of that, I can…understand it better.” She gives Father P a considering look, and then says, “And approve of it.”

He doesn’t say I’m sorry or what happened or any of it. He just nods.

“I don’t know how to make other people get that. A friend of mine, he—he thinks it’s horrible, that it’s a betrayal of everything we were working for, and in some ways he’s right, but in others it’s—it’s hard to explain. I want him to understand, but I don’t think he should, because he’s—he’s a much better person than I am, and I don’t want him to lose that, I don’t. Not right now, maybe not ever. And I can’t tell him that sometimes I wish I could do what he—what the devil does, not—not the flipping and the fighting, but the punishment. Because there are people who do so many wrongs that never, ever get punished for it, and it’s not fair, no matter how you look at it.” She runs out of breath, and heaves another. “I want to think that I’m a better person than I am, but I know that I’m not. Because people have hurt me, and I want to hurt them back.”

“It’s a natural human emotion, to want that.” Father P settles back in his chair, and sets his spoon in the saucer. She’s starting to understand what might be so addicting about this confession thing. Not the idea that your sins are absolved, or whatever it is, but just—just talking. Providing an outlet for things that might not otherwise be said. “There’s nothing wrong with wanting it. It’s the doing where the ethics start getting murky.”

“Murky is the nicest word for it.” Darcy takes a deep breath, and sips at the coffee again. It’s soothing, somehow, to just sit and drink coffee, like nothing’s happened, like she didn’t just shoot someone, like she hadn’t just watched someone burn to death, like she hadn’t just stitched up her best friend and told him she loved him and then lied to the police. “People protect themselves, I guess. And sometimes in the process other people get hurt. What makes it good or evil depends on the scale of the destruction.”

“There was a lot of discussion in some of my upper-level psychology classes about that sort of thing.” Father P leans his elbows on his knees, lacing his hands together as if he’s praying. “Where evil comes from, what part of the human mind allows for it. Nature vs. nurture, Jeffrey Dahmer, Fred and Rose West, Ted Bundy, all the big names came into it, but there were littler things, too. What makes one person give money to a homeless veteran on the street, and another pass them by? Is it something in the chemistry of our brains, the construction of our personalities, that makes one person do something benevolent, and another simply remain apathetic? Or go a darker route, even. We could never come up with just one answer, and when I went to seminary I decided that that’s sort of the point. We’re not supposed to have the answer. We take each day as it comes, and each person as they are, and the cosmic nature of good and evil—that’s for higher minds and higher beings than Homo sapiens.”

Darcy shakes her head once. “If that’s the case we wouldn’t even be having this discussion. We can’t theorize about the origins of morality and not be capable of understanding where it comes from.”

“And yet if you put a monkey in a room full of typewriters, someday he’ll rewrite Hamlet. Doesn’t mean he’ll understand it. He just has to put the words in the right order.”

“That’s true, but I feel like it’s kind of beside the point.” She sighs. “I did have something to say, but I don’t really remember what it was.”

Father P gestures her on. “If you sit for a minute it could come back.”

She snorts. “You don’t get many visitors here, do you?”

“I get enough. There aren’t a lot who will argue the origins of evil with me, though.” He shrugs. “I enjoy moral debates probably far more than I should.”

“Isn’t it kind of your job, though?”

“Mostly I just say ‘mm’ a lot and put my master’s in psychology to good use.”

“Yours is a hard-knock life.” She swirls her coffee in the cup. “I don’t think it’s going to come back, sadly. It was something very eloquent about evil and humanity and the ends-justify-the-means question, but it’s gone. Thanks, concussion.”

Father P shrugs. “Maybe you’re just getting old.”

“Hah.” Darcy finishes her coffee. “I guess what I’m trying to say is that even if he’s chaotic neutral in how he does things, it doesn’t keep him from being good. I don’t know how to make him understand it, other than…I don’t know. Being there.”

“Is being there the best thing for you?”

Darcy shrugs. “Who knows. I wouldn’t have had a broken wrist and a knife to my throat if I wasn’t there, but I’m also pretty sure if I wasn’t there things could have been way worse. They could have gone a lot better, too, but there’s no way forme to know that.” She stops. “I am sounding surprisingly self-actualized right now. What is this.”

“Sometimes our subconscious surprises us,” says Father P, and cracks his knuckles, thoughtfully. “How long has it been since you slept?”

“With or without nightmares?”

“There’s your answer right there. Exhaustion can do it, too.”

A laugh bubbles out of her. “Honestly I think it’s probably the concussion. It’s keeping me from second-guessing myself. I’m also probably going to start mixing up words in a minute, because I’m just kind of feelings’d out, but whatever.” She puts her shoulders back. “Anyway. A very wise person told me that if I’m going to be in the position I’m in right now, I have to—I have to decide whether or not I can handle it. Being a part of the people that stands on either side, knowing who he is and who he becomes, and—and staying in spite of that. But I feel like that’s where she and I differ, because she thought of it as staying in spite of the differences. I’m staying because of them. I think it’s obvious that it’s not the best thing for anyone, being in the line of fire the way I am, the way—the way my friends are, but if I’m going to be completely honest with myself, I do better in a fight than I do during peace. I need something to fight for. I’m just—I’m angry at the world, and I can’t flip and kick and punch, but I can fight in different ways. And this is just another way for me to do it. I guess it’s kind of selfish.”

Father P leans back in his chair. “Not from where I’m sitting. It sounds more like the opposite, actually.”

“See, that’s where you lost me. Sorry.” She scrapes a fingernail over her cheek. “Back to our little devil friend. I don’t think I can really help him, exactly, not in—not in the way he needs. We both need a lot of therapy, though neither of us are going to get it. I know him and I know myself, and it’s just…not a thing that we can afford, in a lot of ways. Not to mention that I’m more than a little chaotic neutral myself, so I don’t know how I help. But I can try the best I can, and, y’know. Maybe someday some of it will stick.”

“Speaking of chaotic neutral.” He raises his cup to her. “There’s a Dungeon and Dragons circle that meets in the lounge every other week. We’re looking for another character to add to the group.”

“Shut up,” says Darcy, delighted. “You are not a D&D person.”

“My high elf disagrees.”

“Best priest ever,” she says, and he actually turns a little pink, he’s so pleased. She drains her cup. “As much as I’d love to continue this discussion—and yeah, seriously, I kind of want to stay here all day now, this is awesome—I really need to go. I left my—my sister sitting in the pews out there, and I think she feels like her faithful Jewish butt is going to start combusting. I can feel her getting antsy from here. Sorry for scaring you. And, y’know. Being kind of weird.”

He stands. “Come back soon, Lizzy. If only so I don’t think you’re dead.” 

“Darcy,” she says, and smiles. “My name’s Darcy.”

His mouth quirks. “Might have heard of you. Can’t swear to it, though.”

She snorts. Her ears feel uncomfortably warm. “Hope it wasn’t anything too scarring.”

“Definitely heard worse.”

He puts out a hand, and she shakes it. She’s just collecting her purse when her brain clicks. “I remembered what I was going to say.”

“Oh?” He raises an eyebrow. “What’s that?”

“Evil is a human invention. It exists, same way everything else does, but it’s not some—some untouchable concept. It’s done by people and to people, and forgetting that means you’ve already lost the fight against it.”

Father P’s mulling that over when Darcy goes up on tiptoe, and kisses his cheek. “I’ll see you around, okay? Keep yourself safe.”   

“Same to you,” he says, and for the first time in days, she feels like things might just start being all right again.

Chapter Text

“We do still need to talk, y’know.”

Darcy sighs, and tucks her nose into his collarbone. Really, she’d meant to go and stay in Claire’s empty apartment until she was certain that Fisk’s men weren’t going to come for her, but then she’d come back to get the crap that Jen and Karen had brought for her from Matt’s apartment to find Matt passed out on the couch with three popped stitches, because apparently he just sleeps so hardcore that her stitch job just can’t handle it. So at risk at escalating the whole (very excellent) kissing thing, she’d just told him she was staying here (“to make sure you don’t kill yourself following me around because I know you will, you stalker, you seriously have to start knocking over trash cans or something—” “—that’s a little beside the point if I’m trying to—don’t jab the needle so hard, Jesus—”) and that he’d share the bed with her, because she wasn’t about to wake up to find him dead, first of all, and secondly her hands and feet get cold.

The second part was mostly bullshit, but whatever.

“We’ve been talking a lot. All day, even. Well, most of the day. Unless there’s some other terrible plot that you haven’t told me about yet, in which case, what the hell.”

“You know what I mean,” Matt says. His eyebrows are doing that magnet thing where he’s pretending he’s not worried, but he actually is. “About this.”

“I plead trauma,” she says, when she realizes Matt’s still—not watching her, exactly, but paying attention. It should feel odd to lie there with Matt so close, one arm draped over her waist and close enough that his breath touches her lips every time he exhales, but it’s not. It’s like—it’s an extension of what they were, and are, some natural evolution that makes her toes curl. Or something. She’s not really coherent at the moment, even though so far she has been very sadly unsexified. “I say we should wait until I’ve had extensive therapy.”

“Darcy.”

“Aren’t I supposed to be the one getting you to share your icky mushy feelings?” She rests her broken hand on the pillow between them, and lifts her chin so she can look him in the face. “I feel like this is a role reversal of epic proportions.”

“We may even get our own page on TVTropes,” says Matt gravely, and she’d pinch him for that if not for the fact that he’s still pulling off the Broken Tin Soldier look so superbly. He lifts a hand and traces a line down her arm. “What do you want to do?”

“I mean, there are a number of things I want to do with you while we’re in bed. But I don’t think either of us are up for them at the moment.”

He grins, and kisses the tip of her nose. Then he nips it. Darcy yelps, and squishes her face into the pillow. “Not fair,” she says, but it comes out as “neefee.”

“Untranslatable,” Matt says. Seriously, she’s going to whack him with a pillow, to hell with the Broken Tin Soldier. Then his smile fades a little. “You said something, in the office. You were right about this being bad timing. Fisk, and all the rest of it—and everything that happened last night. It’s—” He clears his throat. “I’d get it if you wanted to hold it off.”

Darcy considers that for a long time. Then she props herself up on her elbows, and looks down at him. “Matt,” she says, “are you pulling a Harry?”

Matt’s eyebrows crease. “Harry Styles?”

“No, you dink.” She prods him in the shoulder. “Are you pulling a Dumbledore’s funeral Harry? I’m sorry, Ginny, but Voldemort loves me too much. The two of us cannot be until I turn him into weird soot-butterflies, thus freeing the playing field for our awkward Quidditch-based love. Because that’s sweet and everything, but you’re not getting rid of me that easy.”

“No, that’s—” He shakes his head. “It’s been a terrible few days. If you—if you wanted to change your mind, after things steady out, I’d—understand. That’s all I’m saying.”

“What happened to being too selfish to letting me go? That was oddly sexy, even if it reveals so many deep-seated issues, you have no idea.”

“Darcy.”

“You can tell if I’m lying,” she says, and hooks hair behind her ear. “Listen to my heart, okay?I’m not—I’m not second-guessing this. Yes, it’s shitty timing, but it’s always gonna be shitty timing. You’re a vigilante, and I’m—I’m good at sticking my nose into holes with bad things at the bottom of them. I’d rather it be bad timing at the start and have it ease out then never have the chance at all. Because you know that’s what it’d turn into, if we let it lie. It’d be super awkward. Like, Arrow-level Oliver-Felicity longing looks awkward. Don’t make me pull that shit, Matt.”

“You’re babbling,” he says, and shifts, as if he’s going to get up. Darcy nudges her nose against his shoulder.

“Fine, we’ll cosplay. Though according to some people, I apparently can’t do blonde well. It’d be interesting to see you try to pull off an Oliver Queen, though, seriously—though you both do have some awesome scruff—”

“Darcy.”

“Sorry.” She lets out a breath. “I mean it when I say it, Matt. It’s not just—I’m not just here because I’m scared. Well, I am scared, because of a lot of reasons—mostly because you’re hot like sriracha and know basically every ridiculous sad thing about me and have this weird ability to make me smile no matter what—but I’m not scared of you. And I’m not scared of being with you, and I’m not gonna get cold feet, or change my mind, or—or any of that.” She rests her hand over his heart. “What scares me is that we’re going to get caught in a doom loop of you trying to rescue me by pushing me away, and me getting righteously angry about it. There are only so many times we can go through that before whatever this is breaks.”

Matt sighs, and his hand flexes on her hip. “I’m not going to promise not to worry about you. Or not to want to keep you safe.”

“And I’m not going to promise those things, either. Worry is fine. Wanting to protect is fine. Taking it all on yourself, not sharing, not—not telling me shit because you’re trying to keep me safe—that’s not okay.” God, why is this so hard? “It’s not you I’m scared of, Matt. And it’s not the devil that frightens me, either. It’s your hero complex.”

He gets a twist to his mouth that she usually only sees when someone’s pissed him off. Darcy just looks at him, though, and slowly, it fades. She can feel his heart under her palm, steady and strong. “I don’t know if I can change that.”

“All I want you to do is try. I may know exactly fuck-all about—whatever this sort of thing is, but like…I know they don’t work without people talking about things. Even people with normal lives who worry about shit like Victoria’s Secret sales and getting promoted at the office.”

His lips twitch. “You’d be bored.”

“Damn straight I’d be bored. Give me the hot angsty vigilante and the nightly walks on the wild side, thank you very much.”

“Hot like sriracha?” he asks, his eyebrows waggling. She hides her face in the pillow again and groans.

“Gnmdu.”

Matt tips her chin up and kisses her, which ends the babbling nicely. Darcy rests her good hand on the curve of his bicep, tugging on his lower lip with her teeth (seriously, she’s surprised she hasn’t managed to try this before now, because his mouth is amazing) before pulling away. “We’re never gonna be able to have sriracha again, are we?”

“I don’t know.” He kisses her mouth. “I like the idea of sriracha around.”

“As soon as you can walk without falling down I’m seriously going to beat the crap out of you, I swear to god.” She frowns. “Wait, if we had sriracha all the time, wouldn’t you just like—lose all sense of smell because of how spicy it is?”

Matt hiccups, and ducks his head to hide his face. His shoulders are shaking. It makes her overwhelmingly sad to realize that she hasn’t seen him so happy in months. Possibly years. And what kind of friend is she, that she never really noticed it until now? “It’s not that spicy,” he says, when he can breathe again. “You just can’t eat spicy things.”

“Excuse you, I have curry on the regular.” She pauses. “Which you would know, because you can apparently smell curry on me, which is…I’m not gonna say it’s weird because your superpowers are kind of cool in a lot of ways—”

Kind of cool,” he repeats, as if she’s just broken his brain.

“—but the fact that you can smell what I had for breakfast yesterday or whatever is just kind of weird.”

“I can also hear when you lie,” Matt says, smiling in a way she hasn’t seen since college, before that night when he’d come in bloody and alone and so very, very lost. He hesitates, and then sets his fingertips to the tundra swan tattooed on the inside of her right wrist. “And I can feel these.”

“I mean, they are raised up a little.” Especially the one on the back of her neck. “Wait. What do I smell like?”

Matt huffs. “Why are you obsessed with this?”

“I mean, as far as senses go, smell is like—the one that a lot of people don’t think of, but it has a lot of bearing on everything we do. Y’know? Half the stuff you taste is actually stuff you’re smelling. Or I don’t remember the statistic, exactly, but like…that’s why you can’t taste things when your nose is all plugged when you have a cold. Because of how much you smell when you’re eating.” She stops. “Or something. Anyway. I’m just—I’m interested. If my—” boyfriend? Sex puppy? She’s not sure “—if you can smell me from like…six blocks away, I want to know what you’re smelling. I have smell rights.”

“You’re so weird,” Matt says, but there’s the sunshine smile from the alley, and it makes her skin prickle all over and her toes curl with how much she just wants him. His eyelashes flutter, and goddamn if he hasn’t picked up on it too, the sudden surge of want that’s making her body wind tight and her heart ache. He pushes his thumb into the hollow of her hip, which is unfair in a million kinds of ways, and brushes his nose against hers. He doesn’t kiss her, though, because he’s an asshole.

“The tattoo,” he says, “on your wrist. The ink was mixed. Two different shades of black. There are different chemical densities in it that don’t match the others.”

“Chemical densities.”

“Two different inks.” He swipes his thumb over her hipbone. “I don’t know what the names would be. They just smell different, that’s all.”

She feels a bit breathless. “I guess I’ll have to take your word for it, skippy.”

He lifts his hand again, then touches the band around her upper left arm. She shifts a little so he can feel the edges of it, moving her forearm to get the cast out of the way. “This one…” He tips his head a little. “It’s multicolored, isn’t it? I can smell red dye.”

“Red and black.” She swallows “For my mom. I’ve had it since I was sixteen.”

“I never knew that.”

She shrugs, and Matt rests his hand on her arm, palm flat against her skin, tracing the crease of her elbow. “I have one for everyone that changed my life somehow. Sometimes it takes me ages to design them, but, y’know. Even the bad people. I’m working on one for Kate right now, along my index finger. For archery.”

He nods. Unerringly, he finds the gray and lavender compass rose on her shoulder blade (Jen); the winged dagger on the back of her neck (him and Foggy); and the chains inked on the inside of her left wrist, hidden beneath the cast (Eli). She doesn’t tell him that she’s planning another one, for Mike/Matt, for the devil. She doesn’t think it’s time to tell him that, yet. He lifts a hand to her cheek, and Darcy leans into it so he can touch each of her ear cuffs, the stud in her nose (she takes it out for official court things, but usually leaves it alone) and the gold streaks in her hair, which apparently still smell like bleach.

“I smell like bleach and ink?” Darcy wrinkles her nose. “Gross.”

“No.” He shakes his head. “I guess—that’s only part of what you smell like, smaller parts. There’s—”

He stops.

“Come on, Matthew,” says Darcy, and stretches. Her feet tangle in the cuffs of his pajama pants. “Tell me what I smell like.”

He Kermit-laughs, and Darcy hooks her foot around his ankle. For a long moment, Matt just breathes. Then he turns his face towards her, his eyes open. “Shampoo,” he says. “The one you used this morning, the honey stuff you left here ages ago. You have other types, but that one’s your favorite.”

It’s dumb, but that makes her heart squeeze. Darcy smiles, and chases it away in the next second, before he can echolocate it or whatever he does. Matt’s lips twitch up, though, so he’s probably already noticed. He doesn’t comment, though.

“Coffee, too. You always smell like coffee. I can usually tell if it’s a good day or a bad one by the type of roast.” He turns his hand, stroking the pulse point on her wrist with his forefinger, and takes another breath. “There’s soap from the bathroom at the office on your hands, still. Stuff from that churro, too, the one you stole from Foggy before Nobu—before. Cinnamon, sugar, flour, spice. Some of it’s still under your fingernails.” Automatically, she looks down at her fingers, but she can’t see anything there. Matt draws a third breath, mouth open, almost cat-like. “Your hand lotion, but that’s fainter. You haven’t used it in a day or two. The river. Laundry soap, from your clothes. Curry from the take-out place near the office. They added too much garam masala, substituted serrano peppers for the Thai chili they were supposed to use. Leftover make-up, make-up remover. Cigarette smoke, but that’s faint, you haven’t smoked since Stick. And your skin, and hair, just on their own.”

“My skin?”

He considers. “Warmth,” he says. “Salt, from sweat. And—I don’t know if it’s something you use, or just you, on your own, but you’re—it’s always a little sweet. It’s…” He gropes for a word. “Metal and bleach and coffee and ink and—and something sweet. Kind of like brown sugar, but not quite.” He opens his eyes, and strokes her cheek with his fingers. “That means Darcy, to me. That’s you.”

Darcy licks her lips. She swallows. Then she says: “That shouldn’t be hot. Why is that hot?”

“Because I’m hot like sriracha,” says Matt, and she finally just gives in. Darcy whacks him in the arm, and then pushes herself up so she can kiss him again, because yeah, okay, even if he said she smells like bleach, he’s also basically memorized her in the weirdest possible way and she can’t help it, all right?

It takes a while before they get back to the original topic, which is boundaries and—whatchamawhosits. She hooks her chin onto Matt’s shoulder, right near one of the pinked-up scars from who-knows-what, and says, “We have to tell Foggy, Matt.”

Matt’s quiet for a long time. “I don’t think he’d appreciate hearing it, right now.”

“I’m not saying tell him right away.” She presses her lips to the skin of his shoulder. “Just like I’m not saying we should drag him out to a birthday party or whatever and pretend that nothing’s happened. But I’m not lying to him about this. He doesn’t deserve that, and we don’t, either. Even if it would be safer. Besides, he’d be—he’d be really hurt. Possibly more hurt than he is right now, and he had to actually physically hold you together while I stitched you up.”

Matt hums, and hides his nose in her hair.

“Karen, too,” she says, thoughtfully. She’s falling asleep, and can’t quite keep her thoughts straight. “Though I wouldn’t be surprised if she figures it out the next time she sees us together. Because you’re so badat hiding things. Ow!”

He moves his fingers away from her hip, and smirks at her.

“You’re a prick,” she says. She wants to kiss him, and it takes her a moment to remember that she can. Darcy sets her lips to the pinkish scar in his shoulder, and then one of the older ones, a thin pale line against his skin. “Why do I like you when you’re such a prick?”

“Mostly because I’m very charming,” Matt says, and she snorts.

“All right, scruffy.” He smells like antiseptic and a bit like the East River, still, but now just mostly like Matt—like warmth, she realizes, and skin, and a hint of aftershave. She should probably feel guilty for being so happy, when Foggy’s hurting so badly and everything’s just going to shit, but she doesn’t. And she refuses to be ashamed of it. “I won’t even have to say anything to Jen. She’ll just know. Because she’s Jen. She might give you the shovel talk, though.”

“Been there, done that. Maybe four years ago.” Matt closes his eyes. “Rather not do it again.”

“Wait.” She lifts her head to look at him. “Jen read you the riot act four years ago?”

“I believe I have the right to remain silent, so I decline to answer the question.”

She’s going to kill Jen. “Four years ago?”

“Fifth Amendment. You can’t make me talk,” Matt says, but he’s laughing. Darcy decides to ambush Jen about this at a later date—Jen, at least, tells her things—and subsides. Her eyelids are drooping, and even though she knows she’s going to wake up screaming with nightmares (it’s a tossup between Eli, Nobu, and dead Matt at the moment; her money’s on Nobu to be entirely honest) she can’t fight it off.

It’s probably because she’s so sleepy that she manages to say, “Realtalk, I have one major rule. If you ever lie to me about shit like this again, I’m gone.”

Matt stills. Then he turns his face towards hers.

“Not ever, Matt.” She sighs. “If I—I don’t even know what I’ll do or where I’ll go, but I’ll be gone. You ever get hurt and lie about it, you ever tell me you’re at home and go out to fight crime, you lie to me about anything, and I’m gone. No exceptions, not even if you think it’ll keep me safer or—or whatever.” She draws a fingertip along the edge of the gauze she’d set over one of the slices from Nobu’s blade. “You promise me?”

He’s quiet for so long that she thinks she’s going to have to go and stay in Claire’s empty apartment. Then he nods, once. “Yeah,” he says. “Yeah. I promise.”

She doesn’t cry. She just kisses his shoulder one last time, and then closes her eyes. “Good,” says Darcy, and then lets herself drift. She’d be embarrassed about how quickly she falls asleep if not for the fact that she needs it so much. Besides, she’s pretty sure half the reason she passes out is because he keeps carding his fingers through her hair, and it’s stupidly soothing.

She thinks she feels a touch of lips against her scalp in the odd, fading moments right before she sleeps.

.

.

.

“Y’know, it’s probably a good thing you’re staying with your super-special masked friend right now, because if we had any more people in this apartment, we’d all probably kill each other.”

Darcy curls deeper into the corner of Matt’s couch, propping her phone between her ear and shoulder, and tries to scratch at the inside of her cast. Next to her, Matt drops his hand on her knee, and digs his fingernails in in warning. She stops. “What makes you think I’m staying with the mask?”

“Uh, because I know you? Please, Darcy.” Karen huffs. “Where else would you go right now? Especially considering everything with Fisk and the yakuza.”

“I am enacting my right to remain silent,” says Darcy, and Karen snorts. “Also, I love you guys, but yeah, I’m kind of glad about that too. How are things going over there?”

Karen lets out a gusty sigh that makes the phone static out for a second. “Mrs. Cardenas wants to go home. I can’t blame her, really. It’s her place, and we’ve all been fighting so hard for it. But until we’re sure that there aren’t gonna be more muggers trying to kill her, it can’t happen. We went back to get some of her things today, and half her neighbors have already taken the settlement. So yeah, it’s been a day and a half and everyone over here is already in a fabulous mood.”

“God, I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t be. I spend most of my time on the kitchen balcony-plank and going over the Goodman paperwork with Jen, so there’s something. I just feel really bad for Mrs. Cardenas, that’s all. All she wants is to go back home, and she can’t, so.”

Darcy still thinks it’s better than being dead, personally, but she doesn’t think she’s up to say that at the moment. “I’m just glad she’s okay.”

“Yeah, so am I. You really think they were trying to kill her?”

“Nobu wasn’t interested in her, exactly, and when I said I’d come quietly—” her throat sticks “—he left her alone, but like…I don’t think he was the one to pay off the mugger. The guy nearly pissed himself when Nobu and his friend showed up. He was scared of them. I don’t think he knew who they were.”

“So, what, you think someone’s going to try again?”

Darcy thinks of Wesley, of the angle to his mouth when he’d said easier to take them both out. He’d meant her and Matt, at the time, but… “I don’t know. Maybe. Until we’re sure she needs to stay out of sight. I’d ask Brett to help, but—”

She stops.

“But Fisk owns the police,” says Karen. “And most of the courts. And newspapers, and news stations, and probably half the goddamn podcasts I listen to on a daily basis. Yes, Jen, I do think he owns a lot of the current New York City court system, that’s the whole point, that’s why we can’t tell anyone yet.”

Darcy hears Jen say something on the other end of the line, but it’s too muffled for her to make out. She recognizes the tone, though, the snippiness of it. She grimaces. “Sorry,” she says to Karen.

“It’s okay.” Karen’s quiet for a minute. Darcy turns so her back is propped up against the arm of the chair and her legs are tossed negligently over Matt’s lap. It’s nothing that they haven’t done since college, except Matt sets a hand on the bare skin just above her knee and draws little circles there with his forefinger. So yeah. Not exactly what they were doing in college. “I actually wanted to talk to you about something. Gimme a sec, I want to go outside.”

“About the court system?”

“No,” says Karen shortly. She hears the sliding door open, and then close again. “No, I—I think I found something out about Fisk. After—after I left you at the precinct yesterday, I went to the county clerk’s office, started going through old files. And I think I, um. I think I found something.”

Darcy pats at Matt’s shoulder, and then presses the phone closer to her ear. He tips his head to listen. “What do you mean, you found something?”

“I was looking through Births, Deaths, and Marriages—I wanted to see if I could find a death certificate for Fisk’s father, see if he really ran away like they said he did or if he died or whatever—and I found a marriage license for Fisk’s mother. Misfiled. One—one that was dated two years after she supposedly died.”

Darcy licks her lips. “Karen, are you saying that Fisk’s mother is alive?”

“I talked to her,” Karen says, all in a rush. Her words are tumbling over each other in her effort to get them out. “Me and Ben, we found her in this old nursing home upstate. Fisk’s biography online, it says he went out to stay with family in the country when he was twelve, after his father left—Darcy, his father didn’t leave, Fisk beat his dad to death with a hammer and his mother helped him hide the body. He killed his dad when he was twelve years old.”

“Holy shit.” Darcy squeezes her eyes shut. “What did Ben say?”

“He thinks it doesn’t help anything, that—that Fisk can spin it in a positive light, like he was a kid that was protecting his mom from getting the tar beaten out of her, and yeah, he can, but like—this is something, Darcy. We found something that proves he’s not the altruistic Jesus Christ Superstar he’s pretending to be, and we can use that.”

“Have you told anyone else this?”

“Other than Ben? I tried to call Foggy, but, uh. He’s not picking up. Josie called to tell me he spent most of the night there last night, so I think he’s—I don’t know. I think he’s getting blasted because he and Matt had a fight. I kind of found the sign in the trash.”

Matt’s hand goes still on her kneecap.

“Wait, sign?” Darcy blinks. “What sign?”

“…shit. It was supposed to be a surprise. Foggy went and had a sign made, for the firm. Nelson, Murdock, and Lewis, Attorneys at Law. I, uh. I found it in the trash when I went in to get some things, this morning. Do you know what they’re fighting about? Because Foggy won’t take my calls and Matt won’t tell me.”

Oh, Foggy. “About—kind of about what happened to me. But also about some other stuff. Which they should tell you about themselves.”

Karen’s quiet for a moment. “Okay,” she says, not hurt, exactly, but…she sounds sore. “Yeah, okay. It’s—y’know. It’s probably private, and you guys have known each other for so long—”

“Stop that train of thought right now, get off, and send it back to the station.” Darcy sits up. “It has nothing to do with how long you’ve known us, honey. It’s Matt and Foggy’s argument. I don’t even know the whole of it. They’re both notoriously closed-lipped about this shit, and until Foggy goes through his wash-rinse-repeat of drinking and bad decisions, I’m probably not going to hear a fucking word either. So it’s not you. Okay? It’s not you.”

On the other end of the line, Karen draws a shaky breath. “Okay,” she says again, but it’s hopeful this time, instead of pained. “Okay.”

“Gimme one second.” She texts Foggy. (I know you probably don’t want to hear from me right now, but don’t take it out on Karen. It’s not fair.) “What are we going to do about Fisk? I assume you have a plan.” 

“I don’t, actually. That’s why I told you. Ben isn’t going to publish anything more about—about what’s going on. At least not right away. His wife is in the hospital and they’re—he said he needs to focus on her right now.”

Darcy, who’s never heard of any of this, closes her eyes. “Ben never mentioned that.”

“He doesn’t like talking about it.” Karen sighs. “God, I need a drink. But yeah, there’s that, and then we have Andromeda Fare. I talked to Brett while you were—well, after we found out you were okay, and he said that nobody ever looked into Andromeda that he knows of, but since it’s an old case it’s gonna be hard to get a warrant to investigate them. But he can try. I asked him to keep it quiet, just in case someone was keeping an eye out for it. I don’t think he believed me, but he agreed.”

Next to Darcy, Matt tips his head back to rest on the edge of the couch, and makes a pained sound.

“Good,” says Darcy, who is now seriously considering just having that No Catholic guilt allowed plaque made in triplicate (one for her and Jen’s place, one for Matt’s wall, and one for the office). In her hand, her phone buzzes with a text. “You’re being safe?”

“As safe as I can be when I’m really fucking pissed,” Karen snaps.

“Hey.” Darcy leans into the side of the couch, and checks the screen of her phone. (Foggy: Matt’s the one I don’t want to hear from. I’m still not sure about you.) “He’s going to pay for what he’s done, Karen.”

“Yeah, because we’re going to be the ones to make him do it.” They both fall quiet for a moment. Then Karen clears her throat. “When are you coming back here?”

“I don’t know.” She swypes out a text. (Does that mean you’re up for talking?) “I want to come back. I just—I don’t know if they’re going to come after me again, and I don’t think putting Mrs. Cardenas and me in the same room right now is a good idea. It’d be too tempting. Even with Fisk and his merry band of assholes in the hospital with food poisoning.” She switches the phone to her other ear. “You could have called me. I would have gone with you.”

“No, I know. I just—you had a hard day already. You needed the sleep.” She can almost see Karen shaking her head. “You should probably just go back to bed, honestly. That’s what you’d be doing if you were in the hospital like you were supposed to be.”

“You know how I sleep. Besides, it’s like—noon. It’s too bright outside for me to sleep right now.” Karen’s quiet for a moment. Darcy grits her teeth. “Karen, don’t go to Andromeda without me. Please? I’m not a complete invalid. Besides, I kind of want to be the one that tugs the thread that has all of Robbie Goodman’s assholery crashing down around his ears.”

“I wouldn’t do that to you,” Karen says, in a very satisfied voice. “I told Brett to call you the instant he gets the okay for the warrant.”

“You know me so well.” She stares at her splinted fingers again, and then looks at the screen of her phone when it vibrates. One new message from: Kate Bishop. “Hey, I have to go. I think Kate wants to talk to me about something. You can always call me, okay? No matter what.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“Let me know if you find anything else. And be careful.”

“You too,” says Karen, and hangs up. Darcy settles her phone on her thighs and starts tapping through it with her good hand as Matt heaves an exasperated breath, squeezing his eyes shut.  

“Why does she let you tell her to be careful, but she gets mad if me or Foggy do it?”

Darcy pats at his shoulder again without looking. “Because you and Foggy are both straight white cisdudes with all the societal privileges contained therein. Don’t take it personally. Even if you both do still have a depressingly paternalistic protective streak, you’re vastly superior to the rest of your species.”

Matt grunts.

“She’s going to be careful, Matt,” Darcy says. “She agreed to the rules, same as the rest of us. If she needs help, she’ll call me. Okay?”

Matt doesn’t say anything. Darcy looks up from her phone (Kate: Have some stuff translated, think u should c) and then sets it aside. “Hey,” she says, swinging her legs down to the ground again. She rests her fingers to his cheek, turns his face towards hers. “Hey. She can do this. She’s smart, and resourceful, and a hell of a lot stronger than I think you or Foggy have actually realized. Don’t worry about Karen.”

He closes his eyes, and breathes in. Then he holds it, just for a moment. “Okay.”

“Okay,” Darcy says, and feathers a kiss on his mouth. He tastes like coffee (which he really shouldn’t be drinking right now), black with a bit of sugar. She loves how he always takes a little breath when she kisses him, like he’s surprised, or like he’s trying memorize the scent of her. His hand comes up, knuckles brushing the underside of her chin, and he leans forward, tugging lightly at her lower lip.

She feels him wince before she realizes what’s even happened, and Darcy leans back. “What?”

“Popped a stitch.” He shakes his head. “It’s fine. I can fix it.”

“Lay back down, you idiot,” she says, fondly, and gets up off the couch. His hand slips off her wrist. “I know I’m an awesome kisser but I don’t think I’ve ever managed to get someone hot and bothered enough to pop a stitch.”

“You’re hilarious,” says Matt. His voice echoes oddly down the hallway. “Your phone is buzzing again.”

“It’s probably Kate. She wants me to look at something she found in the photos I gave her.” Darcy grabs the first aid kit from under the bathroom sink, and returns to the living room to find Matt gingerly peeling his shirt off and lying back on the couch. There’s a series of red spots along the wide strip of gauze and tape that she’d had to use to cover up the worst of the wounds Nobu had left behind, and she curses her broken hand. “You’re gonna have to help me a little, I can’t hold the wound closed and fix the stitches at the same time.”

“I can do that, at least.”

Darcy finagles a glove onto her hand (it takes longer than she wants to admit) and then peels back the gauze. The wound looks about as bad as she remembers it being: almost the length of her hand, crooked on one side where the hooked blade had ripped out, angled viciously over the worst possible places. It could have been very much worse, but to be frank, it’s pretty damn bad right at the moment. It’s not swelling, though, and it’s not red (well, not flaming red, which she’s pretty sure means infection) so she’ll take it. She opens the first aid kit with her good hand, picking through it for the seam needle. Matt has to be the one to thread it (which he somehow does flawlessly, and on the first fucking try) so Darcy tugs her phone back over to herself and swypes out I can come over in an hour? before taking the needle back and wiping it down with a cleansing rag thing in one of those little packets. (She doesn’t know what things are called, okay, she just knows how to use them.)

Thankfully, he’s only managed to undo two stitches, instead of all of them. She still hates that she has to fix him again, though. He doesn’t even twitch as she hooks the needle into him, just keeps his face tipped up towards the ceiling and breathes.

“Kate has something she wants to show me.” She finishes the first stitch, and lets out a slow sigh. “I’d say you’re not allowed to come, but I’m pretty sure you’ll just wander off somewhere and get your ass kicked if I don’t keep an eye on you, so.”

“You have so much faith in me,” says Matt dryly. Darcy finishes the second stitch, and then frowns at the wound before knotting the thing off.

“Yeah, well, you seem to have a talent for heroic idiocy.” She clips the end of the thread, and sets the whole thing aside. “While I have you pinned, I actually wanted to talk to you about something.”

“I’m not going to like this, am I?”

“Please. You love listening to me talk.” She tears a piece of tape off with her teeth, and presses the first piece of gauze down as gingerly as she can over the wound. It’s only once that’s done, and the first side is taped, that she says, “Are you going to tell Karen the truth about the man in the mask?”

Matt hisses, long and low. “I haven’t thought about it.”

“Bullshit,” she says through the next bit of tape. “You’ve totally thought about it. You just don’t want to talk about it.” 

He scoffs. It’s only once the second and third bits of tape are in place that he says, “I’ll consider it.”

“You’d better mean that.” She tapes the last side down, and then throws the roll back into the kit. “She deserves to know, same as the rest of us. And she’s smart enough to figure it out on her own, without you telling her. Especially if we have to keep coming up with shitty excuses like I was hit by a car.”

“Yeah, well.” He eases himself up to something approximating a sitting position, and lets out a squashed little noise when he thinks she’s not paying attention. “It’s conceivable.”

“About as conceivable as you falling down the stairs and actually breaking through the floor, which, y’know, is a thing that we said yesterday. Because that totally works when you’re not being tossed around like a chew toy.”

“Technically it did break because someone fell on it.”

“Whatever you say,” she says, and pats his cheek. Matt catches her hand before she can pull away, and sets his lips to the inside of her wrist. A pleasant sort of heat winds its way through her skin. She scrapes her fingernails lightly over the scruff on his cheek, and then sighs. “No,” she says, flatly.

The corners of his mouth lift. “No?”

“You have stitches,” she says. “Lots of them. Some of which I just fixed because apparently you can’t keep still long enough to let them do their job. So don’t you make that face at me.”

“What face?” he says, his eyebrows lifting.

“You know exactly what face.” She considers, just for a moment. Then she brushes the backs of her fingers down the line of his jaw, and kisses him, resting her hand on his shoulder to keep him from shifting too much. Matt reaches up, pressing his palm flat to the back of her neck, over the feathered dagger. She’s panting a little when she finally tugs back, and eases her lips over his one more time before saying, “That face.”

“I make a face like that?”

“You clearly have not seen the faces you make.”

Matt grins. She can feel it against her mouth. “Huh.”

“Don’t be smug. It’s insufferable.” She presses her lips to his forehead, and slides forward until her knees are knocking into the edge of the sofa, tugging her fingers through his hair. “Let Foggy think, okay? You know how he works, same as I do. He gets angry, and then he gets sad, and then he thinks. He’s not through the angry bit, yet, and it’ll probably take a while. He didn’t have tragic childhood issues to help him understand faster.”

“Not helping,” Matt says, but he relaxes anyway. She sighs.

“There’s—something else. I was thinking about it last night. I think—I think I need to learn how to fight. And I want you to teach me.”

For a long time, he doesn’t say anything at all. He lifts one hand, hooking his thumb into the waistband of her borrowed pajama pants, tracing a circle on the small of her back with his index finger. Then he says, “Okay.”

“I—seriously?”

“I don’t know if I can teach you what I can do, but yeah. Okay.” He tips his head forward, resting his forehead against her stomach. “Let me heal a little, first. I don’t think trying to show you how to punch right now is a very good idea.”

“I also have a broken wrist, so there’s that.” She hooks her fingers into his hair again. “I’m not—I’m not asking to become another badass vigilante. I just—I want to know how to put a guy on the ground, and know he’s not going to get back up. That’s what I want to learn.”

He’s quiet. “I’m not a very good teacher. You’ll probably want to yell at me.”

“You say that like it’s news.” She kisses the top of his head. “I don’t want to be a victim anymore, Matt. I’m done with it. I’m not going to stop, but I’m not going to let them hurt me. Not anymore. And I know you’ll always come for me, but I want to be able to help you, too. More than—more than I did with Nobu. And I want to be able to help myself. ”

His arms hitch around her waist. Then Matt sighs, and nods once. “Yeah,” he says. “I know.”

“So we’re good?”

“We’re good.”

She strokes her fingers down the back of his neck for a few minutes. Then she checks her phone one last time (Foggy: Josie’s, 9pm.) and shoves it into her sweatpants pocket. “I have to go change. We need to go talk to Kate. Are you sure you’re up for this?”

“Come on,” Matt says, and then winces. “It can’t possibly be that bad.”

.

.

.

Brigid O’Reilly is a short, muscular woman in her late twenties, her hair cut close to her head and her sleeves rolled up. She’s taken off her prosthesis, letting it rest on the couch, and she’s been scratching at the base of what’s left of her arm; it’s red around the elbow. Seeing her next to Kate is like looking at a knight defending a princess, or an itty-bitty Brienne of Tarth watching over an Asian Sansa Stark (if Game of Thrones ever actually gets there, which she honestly doubts, at this point; thanks, Ramsay). Darcy’s not sure if seeing them together in the same room is heartening or terrifying, and she gives Kate a long, careful look before saying, “Well, hey there, stranger.”

“Hey,” O’Reilly says. Her voice always startles Darcy, husky and cracking from too many cigarettes. She sounds about thirty years older than she actually is. O’Reilly gives Matt one top-to-toe look (he’s doing an admirable job of looking normal and uninjured when he just stands still, though Darcy can still read lines of pain around his mouth), and then dismisses him as irrelevant, because to O’Reilly, he kind of is. She jerks her chin up at Darcy. “You look like crap. You go to the hospital?”

Darcy flashes her cast. “I’ll be fine. Kate, what’d you find?”

“I invited Brigid to come and help,” says Kate, in the sort of voice that says I’m waiting for you to blow up and you haven’t yet and it’s worrying me. “She can’t speak Japanese, but I gave her things to organize. And she knows more about the yakuza than me, anyway.”

“Awesome.” Darcy eyes O’Reilly again. “You’re not gonna get in trouble for this?”

“I don’t give a shit if I get in trouble with Oslo,” says O’Reilly, and this is why she likes Brigid O’Reilly.  “Oslo’s a dick. Who’s this?”

“This is Matt.” Darcy glances at Matt over her shoulder. “He’s my partner. I don’t think you guys have met, actually—Kate Bishop, Officer Brigid O’Reilly, Matt Murdock.”

Kate stands, wiping sweat off her palm, and shakes the hand Matt puts out. She frowns a little, her eyes flat and suspicious. “You have some calluses there, dude.”

“I can still lift if someone spots me,” says Matt, and curls his fingers around the handle to his cane. Kate darts an odd look at Darcy, but shrugs, and turns back to her spread of photographs.

Kate’s apartment is a high-rise penthouse on the edge of Central Park, stupidly sprawling and full of modern art. Darcy has always had the feeling, considering how many hats and coats are draped over kinetic statues, that Kate doesn’t like the décor very much. One of the mirrors hanging on the wall is shattered, the pieces missing from the frame. They’ve pushed the black leather couches (and seriously, what is it with rich people and leather couches) back up against the wall, and laid the photocopied pictures out in a series of concentric rings on the floor. Darcy hooks her hand into Matt’s elbow and says, “Take off your shoes,” before kicking her own heels off and picking her way through the debris. “So, you said you found something?”

“I’ve been looking at these for a while.” Kate drops down into the center of the rings next to Yoko, crossing her legs. Yoko’s in her early fifties, her hair just starting to gray. When Darcy crouches down next to her, she dips her head and smiles, but lets Kate talk. Yoko has very little English. “Mostly if you look at them they’re just—y’know, territory markers. Things you’d paint on walls to let other gangs know you’re wandering into your territory, that kind of shit.” She chews on her tattered thumbnail. Her cuticles are scabbed over. “Those ones were pretty easy to pick out, so we set those in the outside ring. It’s an asteroid field, sort of. It’s mostly just a bunch of junk that makes intergalactic travel difficult.”

Darcy catches Kate’s hand, and draws it away from her mouth. Kate doesn’t seem to notice. “We’re using space metaphors, now?”

“She hasn’t slept in two days,” O’Reilly grunts. “There’s been a hell of a lot more than space metaphors going on in here. She was playing the Imperial March on repeat for seven straight hours before I took the iPod away.”

Okay, now she’s worried. “Kate.”

“I’m fine.” Kate twitches, as if she’s shaking off a fly. “I’ve gone longer without sleep. Anyway, outer ring planets are photocopies of papers that have been found at different crime scenes that are known to have a yakuza background.” She makes a face when Darcy jumps. “Come on, it’s not that hard to figure out that’s what you’re looking into, especially if you’re talking Goodman-Okamura. Some of the guys my dad has met with from them have always been super sketchy, and it wouldn’t surprise me at this point if they actually also turn out to be demons and/or some sort of bloodthirsty alien, but whatever.” She takes a deep breath. “Some of it is just shipping manifests, y’know, probably with a bunch of code-words since the yakuza do a lot of human trafficking in and out of the city, according to Brigid. I’m pretty sure Okinawan pineapples are actually sex slaves, but that’s neither here nor there.”

Pineapples, Matt mouths, and Darcy doesn’t respond. He looks rather like he’s just been knocked over the head with a tree stump. Considering it’s the first time he’s experienced either Kate or O’Reilly, and he’s getting a double-dose with the pair of them in the same room, she’s not particularly surprised about it. Amused, maybe, but not surprised.

“Most of it isn’t really connected to Goodman-Okamura,” Kate says, “they’re never mentioned by name, but there are a few meteors—” she points at the pages in between the concentric rings, marked up with highlighter “—that talk about boats and trains and planes and shit that have American IDs, affiliated with companies that Goodman-Okamura have contracts with, or shell corporations that GO bought up later, and have turned into other companies, under different names. So there’s those.”

Just like Union Allied. “Holy shit, Kate.”

“Yoko found those,” Kate says, and Yoko ducks her head with a shy smile. Darcy’s never quite been sure where Yoko came from, but she looks similar enough to Kate that they could be mother and daughter. Or, she realizes, aunt and niece. “I didn’t recognize any of the kanji, so I had her look at them, and then she found the rest through going through every single page. I found most of these, though,” she added, leaning forward and touching the second-closest ring. “More papers, but these ones have names that you can Google. A lot of the people in them are in jail or dead, but if you could get the DA to look into it I’m sure they’d be able to scrounge up at least a few people who’d swear to the involvement of Goodman-Okamura. They’re high enough in the network of the gang to know about that sort of thing.”

“Jury wouldn’t like it, but whatever, they can suck my dick.” Darcy knocks Kate in the shoulder. “How many names did you find?”

“Thirty, thirty-five of people that are still alive.” Kate tugs a file out from under her ass, and displays it with a flourish. “And this is our sun, the clincher, that big-ass ball of gas and awesome that gives the whole system life—”

Darcy has the strangest feeling that she’s listening to herself talk, and it’s kind of amazing.

“—this,” says Kate, and she opens the file to display three photos. It’s a series of shots of a dead body, a Russian gangster judging by the Cyrillic tattooed across the man’s knuckles and around his throat. There’s a shot from above, showing how half his head has been taken off in a shotgun blast, and then one from either side. Yoko makes a faintly distressed sound and looks away, but Kate lifts the first photo, and throws the file aside. There’s kanji inked in blood next to the body, a gauchely gory signature that Darcy hadn’t been able to make heads nor tails of.

“This is the docks murder,” she says, and still lurking on the edge of Kate’s solar system, Matt says, “Ah.”

“This,” Kate says, tapping at the kanji with her one unmangled fingernail, “says te wo makenai, which literally means the hand will not lose, or does not lose, something along those lines. It varies with context and it’s probably in code anyway. But the interesting part is here.” She sets the first photo on the white carpet, and rests the tip of her finger against the series of boxes on the right-hand side in the second frame. “These are shipping crates. The men who were killed were known to have been boosting shipments of yakuza drugs back in 2011 and 2012, and the popular theory with the police—” She stops. “Bridge, you said it nicely.”

Bridge? Darcy thinks, but presses her lips tight together and says nothing.

“Shots fired over the prow,” says O’Reilly, grimly pleased. “Letting the Ranskahov brothers that their forays into yakuza territory weren’t appreciated. Vlad and Anatoly must have received the message, ‘cause they backed off sharpish.”

“And the Russians didn’t retaliate?”

“Nope.” O’Reilly’s lips pop on the P. “Not that we could tell.”

She’s tempted to ask how O’Reilly (who worked the Central Park Precinct) knows about theories from the 15th, but she’s a little scared to ask O’Reilly how she does anything, to be honest. She’s so terrifyingly competent that it gives Darcy hives.

“So this was in 2012,” says Darcy. The same year that she and Mike/Matt had theorized that the Japanese and Russians had made a truce under Wilson Fisk.

“Shots fired,” Kate repeats, and then grabs an empty glass from the coffee table. “But if you look, here—” She sets the glass over the top of the photo, and gestures at Darcy. “The crates are unmarked, but if you look close you can see the product that was being loaded into them. Not the drugs, the drugs are obvious, but these.”

They’re tennis balls. Oh, the wily, wily ways of drug dealers. Boxes and boxes and boxes of tennis balls, in neat little crates shaped kind of like egg cartons. The sides are emblazoned with an oddly angular W which Darcy doesn’t recognize. “That,” says Kate, “is the logo of Wexler Sports Equipment, which was dissolved in 2007. All of its unused stock was bought up in a high-ranking auction, ticketed only, the sort of place that people drop millions on utter bullshit. My dad attended,” she adds, and clambers to her feet again to grab a notebook off the couch. “He takes notes about everything everyone buys, so he can figure out when to mess with it later. And Wexler Sports Equipment, complete with all their balls, was purchased by—”

“—Goodman-Okamura,” says Darcy.

“Most of the records of the sale went missing in a mysterious warehouse fire, but like I said. My dad’s a snoopy bastard. I’m pretty sure he had the whole day recorded, because he’s anal as fuck. There should be records somewhere in Goodman and Okamura about the purchase, too, at least to show the chunk of change they dropped to get Wexler’s logo. And then there are the Wexlers, who have decamped to Bermuda since then, but, y’know. Skype is a thing. You can see it better in this picture,” says Kate, slapping the third photo down, and sure enough there’s three boxes, their logos blood-spattered and jarred but there. They’re small—just small enough that you need to peer in order to see them—but they’re there, and they’re clear, and Darcy’s just lost all her breath. “They’re not unloading the drugs, they’re loading them—there was a packaging line in a different part of the warehouse, so these were shipments that were going to be wrapped in paper and then covered with spare sports stuff and then sent to who the hell knows where, but Darcy, look.” She points at the logo. “It’s them. It’s them.

Darcy looks at Kate, and then Kate looks at Darcy. There are deep rings under her eyes, something twisting under the skin. It looks almost like vengeance. Darcy can’t help it. She wraps both her arms tight around Kate, and holds on.

“You did it,” she says, and Kate relaxes into her, slipping her arms around Darcy very, very slowly, as if she’s scared to break her. “You badass queen, you did it.”

“It’s not Rich Goodman in prison, but it’s something.” Kate pulls back. A smile flickers across her face. “We have them by the balls.”

“Don’t ever make that joke again,” says Darcy. “That was terrible. I should sue you for lack of humor.”

Kate flaps a hand. There’s something broken in the set of her mouth. “Pshhhh.”

“So the Japanese get the drugs from the Russians, who get it from the Triad, cut it, and sell it for more money,” Darcy says. “Since the yakuza are affiliated with Goodman-Okamura, Rich Goodman gets free cuts, which he then sells to his buddies. The company itself works in shipping drugs to wherever they have holdings, which is a lot of Indonesia and other parts of southeast Asia. Not to mention the pineapples. I’ll bet that the women the Russians were kidnapping out of the city were being shipped through Goodman-Okamura containers. Or Confederated Global.”

“That’s enough for reasonable doubt,” says O’Reilly, and when Darcy darts a look at Matt, he has his chin resting on the top of his cane and a smile twitching at his lips. “And, on top of the photos of Robbie Goodman and Hironobu Orihara together—which I know still exist, because I saw them yesterday afternoon in evidence—it’s definitely enough to get a judge to put out a warrant for the investigation of Goodman-Okamura. Girly did good.”

Kate blushes. Darcy hugs her again, hard, and then drags her up from the floor to do a little dance. Yoko laughs, clapping her hands a little.

“We give it to the DA,” she says, pulling back. “I—my sister’s a part of the DA, she’ll be more than willing to look over all of this, make sure we have ground to stand on—and Brett will look into it, all of this evidence came from the 15th and we know for a fact he’s not dirty—this could actually happen.” She might actually cry. Holy shit. “Oh my god. Kate, you solved it. I’m so proud of you.”

“I didn’t really do much. It was mostly Yoko and Brigid, they showed me where to look and gave me the background and stuff.” Kate rocks back and forth, still staring at the photos. “Robbie Goodman used the money from his drug trafficking to pay men to bully the women his son raped into not testifying. We take that away, we get to Rich.”

“They’re both going down.” She dabs at her eyes. “They’re all going down. Matt, could you—um, could you call Jen? And tell her about this stuff? I just—”

Matt jumps. “Yeah. Sure. Um.”

Brigid heaves herself to her feet. “Private room’s this way,” she says, and leads Matt off. It’s so weird to see it happen, now that she knows that Matt can probably recite the entirety of the apartment if he tried, but it happens, and Darcy manages not to comment on it. Kate stands in her solar system of papers, the smile fading from around her eyes, and Darcy sighs.

“Okay,” she says. “I love what you’ve done, I really, really do. But I thought you were more interested in making Rich sweat, not Robbie.” She stops. “Bad phrasing, but whatever. I know I asked you to help me, but I was thinking more, y’know. Checking over characters, not…this. What brought this on?”

Kate bites her lip. “You mind if your friend has to wait around up here for a bit? I want to show you something.”

“Uh.” Darcy glances down the hall, then at her watch (two o’clock; she has more than enough time to talk to Matt about meeting up with Foggy, and to get to Josie’s afterwards) and then stands. “Yeah. We have time.”

“My archery range,” says Kate. “Come on.”

They don’t put their shoes back on. Kate leads the way down a short hallway to a shining chrome door, which turns out to be the entrance to an elevator. There’s only one button inside, labeled B, and Kate pushes it with her thumb.

Kate’s dad must have shelled out a lot of money to convert the basement of a high-end penthouse building like this into a private archery range for his daughter. It’s as long as the building is wide, targets painted into the wall—or into a false wall, since she’s pretty sure the walls down here are made of granite and can’t be pierced—like splashes of blood. Kate goes to a cabinet near the door, spinning the padlock this way and that before kicking it open. There are four bows inside, some recurve, some longbow, all of them very expensive-looking. She takes one out, and tests the pull. “There aren’t cameras down here,” Kate says after a moment. Darcy startles, and glances up at the ceiling. “My dad keeps the apartment under surveillance in case someone gets in. At least, that’s what I tell myself. The alternative is he’s keeping an eye on me from Manila, and I’d rather not think about that.”

Darcy sits in a folding chair near the wall, watching as Kate draws the bowstring back to her ear, holds for a moment, and then relaxes it. “Your dad’s a douchebag.”

Kate grabs a handful of arrows from inside the cabinet, and then an actual honest-to-god quiver, which she slings over her shoulder.

“We knew that already though,” Darcy adds. “What’s up?”

Kate nocks an arrow. She takes a breath, and then in one fluid motion, raises the bow, draws the string back to her ear, blows her hair out of her face, and releases. It hits the bull’s eye with a loud thunk, and Kate lowers the bow again. Her forehead creases. “Shit. I’m off.”

Darcy shades her eyes. “Looks fine from here.”

“It’s half an inch too far left,” Kate grunts, and takes another arrow from the holder. Breath, raise, draw, release, and this time when the arrow lands she nods once, sharply, as if she’s satisfied. She turns her head, just a little. “There’s a bucket of tennis balls under that chair. Do me a favor?”

“Sure.”

“Throw them for me? I want to try something.”

Darcy blinks. She blinks again. Then she grabs a handful of tennis balls, tucking them into her sling for safekeeping. Kate gestures her out into the main body of the range, cocking her head just to the side when Darcy obeys her without a word. She draws another arrow. “Throw them away from you,” she says. “I won’t hit you. But throw them hard, if you’re worried.”

“Kate.”

“Just do it, okay?” There’s something odd in Kate’s face, something pleading. “Just throw them. Please?”

Darcy rubs her thumb over the first tennis ball. Then she throws it hard against the floor, so it bounces as high as her head, higher. There’s a whish, and a thunk, and then a tennis ball has been pinned to the wall between two of the targets, the feathers on the arrow still shuddering as if they’re caught in flight. Kate draws another arrow. “Again.”

Darcy’s just thrown her fifth tennis ball (behind her and to the right, and in less than a second it’s stuck, quivering, to the floor) when Kate says, “Robbie Goodman. He’s part of it, isn’t he?”

Darcy throws two balls at once, straight up in the air. Kate moves like lightning, draw, release, draw, release, and the balls are pinned to the ceiling. “What do you mean?”

“The Goodmans.” Her voice cracks. “Both of them—I’m not stupid, Darcy, I can put a few things together. Ben’s article on Union Allied, Karen Page, the dead yakuza man in that warehouse on the water. You getting kidnapped, the cops fucking up my case. That guy who was with the Goodmans, that day we met them—he was in that article with Wilson Fisk. That’s why you’re looking into this. There’s something more going on here, and whatever it is, Robbie Goodman and—and Rich are both a part of it. Aren’t they?”

Oh, god. “Kate.”

“It’s because of him, isn’t it?” Kate says, and draws another arrow. Darcy grabs a tennis ball, and throws it blindly somewhere to the right. It sticks to the floor with a popping sound, a syringe plugged into an IV drip. “That guy, Fisk. He’s running all of it, isn’t he? He works with the yakuza, and with the Goodmans, and—and the Triad and the Russians and all of it. And you’re trying to stop him, and that’s why—that’s why they hurt you. And it looks like they hurt your friend, too. I can see it, how he stands. Like he’s had someone hold him down and hit him.”

Not exactly what happened, but it’s close enough to work. And honestly, it’s probably a better excuse than Matt was hit by a car than anything else. “Yeah,” she says. “That’s—they hurt both of us.”

Kate fires another arrow. It comes so close to Darcy that she can feel the air move as it passes, but it pins another tennis ball to the wall. Darcy doesn’t move. “Was what happened to me a part of it, too?” she asks, in a voice like a blade whittled too thin. “Did—did Fisk organize it to get my dad to do something? Was it a punishment? Did—did Robbie Goodman have his son rape me to—”

“Kate, no.” Darcy steps away from the range, stopping a foot from her, not wanting to touch her without her permission, but wanting so desperately to hug her. “No, honey. No. I wish I could—I wish I could blame it on Fisk, what happened to you, but Rich Goodman is a sick sadistic fuck, and it had nothing to do with that.”

“It just happened, then,” Kate says, and lowers her bow. Her eyes are shining, and her cheeks are wet. “It just happened. There wasn’t any meaning in it, it wasn’t—it wasn’t for a reason, it just—”

She drops her bow in the same moment Darcy steps forward, and hugs her hard. Kate screams, hiding her face in Darcy’s shoulder and wailing. Darcy’s heard of people screaming like banshees, but Kate actually does it, like she can kill with her voice. Like she’s heralding death. She’s not sure which of them hit the floor first, but she lets Kate crawl into her lap, her nails digging into Darcy’s shoulder and the muscles in her shoulders torqueing from how stiff she’s holding herself, heavy with the weight of this thing she’s carrying. Darcy hums quietly, and tugs her fingers through Kate’s hair, letting her cry. She has no idea how long she sits there, an hour, maybe, two, but it feels like forever before Kate finally stills. Darcy rocks her, and Kate lets her.

“We have enough,” Darcy says. Her voice is hoarse. “We have enough to get them, now. We can do it. We have enough.”

Kate’s quiet. Then, agonizingly slowly, she pulls back. Her eyes are red, her make-up smeared. The sharp bones of her face are cast in shadow. Her pelvis is jamming uncomfortably into Darcy’s leg, but Darcy doesn’t move. She just tips her head forward, resting her forehead to Kate’s temple. Kate lets out a shaky breath, and then shifts so she can lean against Darcy’s shoulder without squashing her. There’s a pair of leggings draped over the back of the nearest bench, for some reason. Darcy watches them for a while, just petting Kate’s hair and breathing quietly, because she’s pretty sure that’s all she can do.

“Yeah,” Kate says. The word cracks. “Maybe.”

She’s staring at the tennis balls like they’re bodies.

Chapter Text

He finds her sitting in an empty room in the Museum of Natural History, because apparently that’s where all the fossils live. Leland tugs at the edges of his jacket, wondering if it’s going to snow tonight or what. It’s early for snow, only partway through October, but there’s a bite to the air that can only be explained by frost and ice and frozen rain. The city always looks different covered in snow. It’s like a layer of purity, something that gets trampled underfoot and through the muck and into slush.

He thinks there’s a metaphor somewhere in there, but he doesn’t really want to pursue it. He doesn’t have the time.

Gao looks exactly like she always does, kitted out in her weird jacket and her long skirt and her hair in a neat bun at the back of her head. She keeps her eyes closed, and something in him thinks that she’s been listening for him even though he’s given her no warning for this meeting, set up no appointment. There are two Chinese guys stationed on either door, like security for a queen. One of them stops him with a hand on his chest (rude little shit, but there’s a gleaming gun underneath his suit jacket, so Leland doesn’t protest too loudly) and says something in Chinese that he can’t make out. It must be a question, though, because Gao inclines her head once, and he’s allowed to pass. Leland fixes his coat.

“Jackass,” he says, and the Chinese man’s eyes narrow. So that one speaks English, then. The rest of them don’t react at all. “It’s been a shitty enough night without your men harassing me, Gao. Wesley’s jumped the fucking boat and that damn woman is still alive. Jesus, being near the man is like watching someone skewer a beached whale. It’s pathetic and uncomfortable and I don’t like it.”

Gao says nothing. She does, however, pat the bench next to her. Leland’s knees creak as he sits. It’s been twenty years since he’s done anything similar to training, but he’s not in bad shape for a man his age, even if arthritis is starting to catch up with him. “Well?” he snaps at the man who speaks English. “Are you gonna translate, or what? We don’t have all damn night.”

Gao says something in Chinese. He hates the language, really. He hates Japanese, too, but there’s something about Chinese that gets on his nerves. There’s odd dips and curves that he can’t predict, not like English. Consonants squashed together where they shouldn’t be. He hates the old bat for it, though he knows it’s illogical. Lee calls him racist, and he supposes that he is, but come on: when did American crime get dropped into the hands of the foreigners? What happened to good, old-fashioned gangsters? He wants Al Capone back, not this melting pot shit. “She says that you have to be more patient,” the jackass parrots, and folds his hands behind his back like Wesley does. “The poison can be crippling, even if one seems to improve upon first treatment.”

“That’s not the point of it and you know it,” he snaps at Gao. For a second, he’d give anything to slap that stupid serenity off her face. She’s like a character in a fucking movie. The zen sensei, or sifu, or whatever the hell they’re called. He wants to see her angry. He wants to see her burn like Nobu, if only to make her react to something. Anything at all. “If he finds out it was us—”

“He will not find out,” the jackass translates. Gao opens her eyes and turns to him, her mouth turning up at the edges. “In moments of crisis Mr. Fisk is unable to think beyond himself. Unless you tell him, he won’t know.”

“Tell him.” Leland snorts. “Like hell. I like my head where it is, thank you. ‘course, it wouldn’t matter if he jumped off a goddamn bridge, the way you people keep carrying on. Is it some sort of thing for Chinese to just—keep going? I thought that was the Brits. Keep calm and carry on.

The jackass’s mouth goes thin. Gao ignores the question. “What do you mean, Wesley has vanished?”

Leland waits until the jackass translates, and then says, “One of my boys is a bodyguard for him, tonight. Fisk, not Wesley. Said Wesley went rambling off somewhere because apparently there are better things for him to be doing than waiting for Sleeping Beauty to hurry up and die already.” He tugs at his collar. “Which, y’know, is true for all of us. I’ve had it up to here with this romantic subplot bullshit. Should’ve just hired a sniper. Picked the right moment. Boom, bullet in the head, lots of mess, no problem.”

Her smile widens. He still can’t see any of her teeth.

“She says, what about the mask? Any movement?”

“Much as I’d like to think the bastard’s dead, we’re not that lucky.” He pulls on his collar again. Fuckin’ creepy-ass old hag. “Nobu managed to land a good one on him, or so Francis says. Could be he crawled into a hole and he’s rotting somewhere, which’d make my life a hell of a lot easier. Though he’s a convenient scapegoat, if I have to say it.” Leland sighs through his nose. “I hate having to say things. I’m only here for the damn numbers. I don’t know when I managed to get caught up with Russians that have their heads chopped off in car doors and Japanese ninjas that—that see sound and hear color and catch themselves set on fire. And you,” he adds, a little accusing, and though jackass bristles all over again, Gao just sits and watches him, like a weasel peering out from under a rock. “Because you scare me.”

Gao smiles again, and says something else.

“She says you have nothing to be afraid of,” says the jackass, “so long as you don’t bother her.”

“Crouching tiger, hidden vampire,” Leland mutters under his breath. He thinks, for a moment, he sees a flicker of motion around Gao’s eyes, but then it’s gone. Maybe he imagined it. “So yeah. I’ve delivered the message, done what I was supposed to do before Wesley decided to fuck off, wherever the hell he is.” Maybe he went off to cry in a corner that Fisk has such a devoted lady love. He wouldn’t put it past the two-faced little shit.

“Madame Gao asks if you have heard anything of the woman Nobu was pursuing.”

Leland rolls his eyes. “Jesus, do all of you have a major boner for this woman? Are we in middle school? The way Wesley talks about her it’s like he thinks the sun shines out of her ass or something, and I always thought he was Fisk’s special shower friend. He moons e-damn-nough to be one, anyway.”

Gao just stares at him, and waits. She looks like she’s imagining pulling a knife from under her skirt and flaying him alive with it. I am in armor, he tells himself, but body armor can’t do a damn thing against creepy, staring eyes. “No, I don’t know a goddamn thing about the lawyer woman. She’s pointless. Now that Nobu’s dead, there’s nothing she could really do to us.”

“Madame Gao has heard otherwise.” The bodyguard touches a hand to his ear, as if he’s listening to something. “Goodman is a loose end. There have been policemen sniffing around the travel agency. We’ve managed to offset them for the moment, but if the woman persists in pursuing the case against the Goodmans, then Madame Gao’s product may be compromised. Not to mention the fact that the Japanese still do not have the block they desire. They will lose their tempers sooner rather than later, and with the Vanessa woman near death and Wesley AWOL, Wilson Fisk is not equipped to handle the fallout. This cannot be allowed to happen.”

“No shit that can’t happen, kid,” Leland snaps at the bodyguard. He knows for a fact that the damn squint-eyed bastard wants to hit him. Good. Just try it, snot-nosed immigrant fucker. “We can turn Fisk and the Japanese on each other if we have to, let them duke it out and side with the winner. The lawyer girl, I’m not dealing with her. Bitch hasn’t come near me, yet, and I’m not gonna draw her attention if I can help it. Plus: your product? That’s your problem, Gao, not mine. I just shuffle the numbers.”

“Madame Gao is aware.” She inclines her head, as if he’s just paid her a compliment. Fucking Asians. “She asks if you have any intention of looking for James Wesley.”

“Why the hell should I? He’s a big boy, he can handle himself. Whatever the hell he has the scent of, best that he be left alone. What with Fisk pulling a damsel-in-distress act in that little cesspit of a hospital and the Marianna woman still alive—” he glares daggers at Gao, but she just folds her hands and give him one of those inscrutable looks that he loathes “—there’s nothing else to be done about it.”

“Pull one thread, and the whole knot unravels,” says the jackass. Madame Gao hasn’t said anything at all. Leland scowls.

“Did I ask for your opinion?”

Gao shakes her head at him. Then she says one last thing in Chinese, and turns to stare at the paintings again. They’re old Dutch things, from the seventeenth century, he thinks. Maybe Vermeer, he has no idea. He was never a liberal arts person. The bodyguard looks once at Gao, and then back at Leland, almost curiously. Then he says, “Madame Gao asks me to tell you that the lawyer woman will no longer be a problem. She requests, however, that you look for James Wesley. There is no telling what will happen to Wilson Fisk if his woman and his right-hand man die on the same night.”

Leland swears under his breath. “Don’t fucking guilt-trip me, woman. I had enough of that from the ex-wife.” He stands. “If you’re so worried about James Damn Wesley, look for him yourself. You have enough men for it. Or do they all just stand around and look pretty?”

Gao gives him a look that could cut glass. “The men are preparing for vengeance from the yakuza. You, on the other hand, can operate independently. It’s a division of responsibility.”

“Still feels like you’re dumping it all on me.” He throws his hands in the air. “Fine! I think the kid can handle himself, but god forbid the big guy gets his panties in a knot. Jesus Christ, it’s like I’m the only one that’s not willing to babysit him.”

She says nothing. There’s no reason for him to stay here any longer. Leland gives the translator one last glare, just for the sake of principle, and then turns the collar of his coat up and stalks out of the museum. It’s past closing, and he’s not sure how Gao managed to find her way in here in the first place. He’s not going to ask.

“Fuckin’ conspiracy shit,” he says once he’s outside. He kicks a can someone left on the curb. “Done with this. Should have just moved away from the city when Fisk started talking to you, Leland. Retire. Start a casino. I don’t know. Just get out.”

It’s too late for that now, obviously. But a guy can dream, can’t he? It’s the United States of Fucking America. Of course he can goddamn dream.

.

.

.

Because it’s her life, the light at the end of the tunnel turns out to be an oncoming train.

Darcy’s been Netflix surfing, worrying about Kate, and obsessively checking her phone in case Foggy cancels (Josie’s sounds excellent right now, actually; she needs booze for days) for about an hour when the banana phone goes off. Matt (he says he’s meditating, but she’s pretty sure that’s just code for I’m going to nap, don’t bother me) jolts out of his daze with a noise like a startled kitten, and gives it the Matt Murdock equivalent of a dirty look.

It’s Brett, don’t answer it! It’s Brett, don’t answer it! It’s Brett, don’t—”

“Do you make them that irritating on purpose, or is this just a natural side-effect?”

“I do it just to annoy you,” Darcy says sweetly, and pauses her episode of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. “Hey, Brettany.”

“Please, god, don’t ever call me that again,” says Brett fervently. She can hear the chaos of the precinct behind him, a cacophony of phones and voices and metal and life. “If you’re going to call me anything, just—Mahoney. Or Brett. Not Brettnickel or Brettmeister or whatever it is that you decided is the best name to—I don’t even know. Foggy’s picked it up and it’s phenomenally unsettling.”

“Excuse you. It’s charming because I’m charming.” She sets her computer to the side. “Karen said you were gonna call once you grabbed the warrant. Success?”

“Yeah, no dice on that one.” He has that tone in his voice that she recognizes from the Fortnight of Insanity, or…whatever the three-week equivalent of a fortnight is. It’s that weird, skittering voice that means he knows she’s going to react badly to whatever he has to say and so he’s trying to get the whole thing over with as soon as possible. “So I went looking into the paperwork from the docks murder in 2012. Found your travel agency. Very nice people. Told me that their old location with all their cars was burned to the ground by an environmental rights group taking a stand against the fact that they were offering a deal for a Burma trip. Apparently it’s bad for the orangutans or something. Whole place is gone, no records, nothing left. And your boy, Matthew Jenson—that month he was on a business trip to Fiji. Imagine that.”

“You have to be fucking kidding me,” says Darcy. “He could make a fucking phone call from fucking Fiji.”

“Hey, don’t bite my head off, lady, I’m just the delivery boy.”

“Be right back,” says Darcy, and sets the phone aside so she can grab the nearest pillow in her good hand, shove it into her face, and scream until her throat is raw. Matt doesn’t touch her, which is somehow reassuring. She’s pretty sure if he reached out to her right now she would actually bite his hand off. Darcy grabs the phone again, and clears her throat. “You’re sure it’s all gone?”

“Even took a trip down to the old location, just for you. Absolutely nothing left. There’s a laundromat there now. Chinese couple. Use herbal soaps. I saw Foggy on the TV this morning, by the way. For some reason some of the uniforms like to leave the waiting room screen on TMZ.”

“You saw him on TMZ?” They’d broadcasted it already? Holy shit. “Did he do okay?”

“I don’t know, I can never hear anything over these assholes and we can’t work the caption button. Didn’t faint or anything, though. Made the interviewer laugh, I think. You could ask him yourself.”

“Yeah. I could.” She closes her eyes. “Dammit. I should have expected something like this. Of course the judges would scupper it.”

“Hey, now. I took it to some nice-ass judges. They let me down very nicely.” Brett’s voice switches over from Brett her frenemy to Sergeant Mahoney. “Which reminds me: why the hell are you investigating shit like this when you’re a) not with the DA’s office and b) not a cop?”

“Sorry, Brettowski. Hafta go. I have Thai food calling my name.”

“Lewis—”

She hits the end call button, and stares at the banana phone for a moment. Then she stands, and throws the thing as hard as she can across the room. The screen shatters, the banana bell makes a depressed jingling noise, and it skids to a stop underneath the debris that neither of them have yet removed from the apartment. Matt raises his eyebrows at her, but says nothing.

Fucking Fisk,” Darcy snarls. “People fucking everywhere. God damn it.”

“You murdered your phone,” he says, after a moment.

“Excellent observation,” she snaps, and kicks the wall. “Fuck!”

“So we’ve lost the Andromeda angle.” Matt grabs his glasses off the top of the coffee crate, and slides them onto his face, hooking them behind his ears. Then he heaves himself up onto the couch, trying very hard not to wince. “It’s not the worst thing that could have happened. We still have Tully, and Wexler Sports Equipment.”

“Yeah, but Tully’s in the wind, as you fucking know, and without the link between Jenson and the yakuza and Goodman, the connection to Fisk falls through. They can write it off as—as something that maybe the Wexlers were doing on their own, or whatever. Matthew Jenson is Clark’s uncle, Clark is Rich’s friend, Rich and his dad work directly with the yakuza in shipping Triad smack on behalf of Wilson Fisk. You cut Andromeda out of the chain and it’s just a coincidence. Goodman can plead lack of knowledge.” She kicks the crate this time. “God fucking dammit!”

“So you killed your phone.”

“I have the burner,” says Darcy, and then curses. “Fuck. No, I don’t have the burner. It was in my purse and I don’t know where my purse fucking is.” She drags the mangled banana phone out from underneath the trash pile, and hits the power button. It still wakes up, but the screen is smashed to bits. “Fuck. I still have three months on this thing. I can’t afford a new fucking phone on top of every-fucking-thing else.”

“I’m pretty sure you can blame it on falling out of a fourth story window,” says Matt. “You’ll figure something out.”

Her throat squeezes. She drops the phone onto the crate (which is now three feet further to the right and covered in spilled coffee) and presses the heel of her good hand into her eye. “Fucking—I fucking promised Kate, Matt. I said we had enough.”

“But Kate’s case isn’t Fisk’s, Darcy.” Matt rubs his hand over his jaw. “They’re different things.”

“If we take down Fisk, we can take down the Goodmans.”

“But your suit against Rich Goodman is different,” he says, and Darcy presses her eyes closed and pinches the bridge of her bruised nose. “You can take Rich Goodman down without taking out Fisk.”

“I know that, Matt. I just—” She runs a hand over her face. “I wanted to do it neatly. Fuck. It’s all so interconnected anyway, I wanted something that would nail them both at once. I wanted—” a fairy-tale ending. “Jesus shit a brick.”

“It doesn’t work like that.” Matt leans forward (gingerly, because the trip to Kate’s apartment has made his stitches kind of iffy at best) and tangles his fingers in hers, tugging her back to the couch.

“No, I know it doesn’t work like that. The suits are different, the cases are different. Just—shit.” Darcy kicks the base of the couch. “If I dragged Kate into this for no reason—”

“You didn’t.” And, wow, Matt Murdock being reassuring about people dragging other people into crusades? This is interesting. “We just need to find a new tactic. Okay?”

She closes her eyes, and takes three deep breaths. Finishing it all at once is done. Okay. Toss it aside. She’d told herself, before Nobu had grabbed her, that Kate had to be her priority. She’d repeated it to herself, over and over, but she’d forgotten anyway. Probably because of Nobu, and Fisk, and the dark light of an eclipse. God, I’m such an asshole. “Okay,” she says, and squeezes his fingers. “Okay. Do you have butcher paper?”

“Back of the closet with the pushpins,” says Matt, and when Darcy blinks at him, he just cocks his head. “How long have I known you now?”

“I love you,” says Darcy fervently, and kisses him. She pulls away before he can really do anything more than smile. “Seriously, I love you so much. And I don’t even have to move a fucking poster. Thank Jesus and all his toes that you’re blind and don’t need pictures, I swear to god—”

“I’m sure Jesus appreciates that too,” Matt says in a dry voice, but she’s already rooting in the closet.

It’s not as good as her whiteboard, but it’s damn close. She finds a big black marker in one of the drawers in the kitchen (that one drawer everyone has that is just full of weird shit that has no other place) and writes RICH GOODMAN in capital letters across the center of her wall. (Because apparently this is her wall, now. It’s kind of fitting that she has her back turned on the assholish billboard.) “The Wexler stuff we can still use against Fisk,” she says, and adds a side-list of No Longer Required to the right of her mind map. “But that’s not something for Kate. So, scrapped.”

“Clark Jenson and Mathias Lynch were at the club with Rich Goodman,” says Matt, turning on the sofa so he’s kind of facing her. “You have Callie’s testimony, the girl with the drugs, and the bouncer, and the bartender.”

“I have Kate, too, obviously, and O’Reilly for the cop bits.” She makes an arm for each name. “I have the fucked-up documentation which we know was Fisk’s cronies doing a favor for Goodman because he ships their drugs, but that can’t be brought into this. So yeah. Mysterious misplacement of records and mucking-up of tests.”

“Lynch and Jenson are back in town, which we know.”

“Their lawyers also never called me back, which was something we also knew.” She puts a question mark under their names. “Rich Goodman has a bodyguard, which you oh-so-nicely found out for me, but these two—I don’t know about them.”

Matt’s quiet for a moment. Then he says, “I need to go out tonight anyway. I could stop by and see what they’re doing.”

“Out like—to the corner Thai place?” She chews on the end of her marker. “Or out like—out.”

“Out like out,” says Matt.

“Oh. So, the most intelligent option, then.”

“Fisk—there was something on him that I didn’t recognize. He didn’t bleed when you threw the knife at him, and he should have. There was something. Not—not his clothes, but in his clothes. It shifted when he moved, inside the suit. I think it was some kind of armor. Light, but thin. Nothing I’ve ever found on the streets.”

“I propose a motion to change your nickname from the devil of Hell’s Kitchen to the hellhound. It’s more apt. Also, alliterative.” Her heart’s caught in her throat. “Are you even up for that? You still look like shit from where I’m standing.”

“I’m not going to go and pick a fight with Fisk. I’m just going to ask some people some questions, in a reasonable sort of way.”

“Reasonable by their standards or reasonable by yours?”

Matt gives her a what do you think? expression. Darcy sighs. “I feel like I should be objecting to this, considering I stitched you up for the—what is it, now, third? The third time a little more than seven hours ago. You’re going to run out of skin for me to poke holes in. It’s not gonna be pretty.”

“It’s not like I’m planning to mount a major offensive. And I can’t afford to wait on it. Fisk’s distracted by this—food poisoning thing, whatever it really is. If there’s any time for me to find out what he’s been using, and what his underlings are doing, it’s now.”

“Less than three days after one of said underlings stabbed you in the guts.”

“Darcy.”

“Hey.” She holds up both hands. “I will back you up in whatever you choose to do, Matt. I understand that in order for this to work you’re going to have to be able to go and beat up bad guys whenever you feel like it. I just don’t want you to come back to the apartment, y’know. Dead.”

“Asking a few questions about armor isn’t going to get me killed.” He still turns a bit grey when he heaves himself up off the couch. “Do me a favor. There’s a box, in that locked closet over there. Help me get it out.”

Darcy’s never seen this trunk. Wait, no, that’s not quite true. She has seen this trunk, but only ever under Matt’s dorm bed. She’d always just assumed he’d kept crap he didn’t need anymore in there, never asked. When he opens it, though, she bites her lip, and reaches out to the sleeve of the uniform. It’s clean, a little dusty. The fabric is dangerously soft against her fingertips. “This is all your dad’s stuff?”

“Yeah.” Matt touches the back of the J in Battlin’ Jack. Then he seizes the compartment divider, and sets it aside. Darcy had had to cut his black shirt off him in order to get the wound clean enough to stitch, but in here there are more; no sticks, but pants, shirts, gloves. There’s another box farther back in the closet, and in there are stacked boxes of boots. Darcy whistles low.

“You weren’t kidding when you said you had extra pairs of gloves.”

“I had to order it in bulk so nobody at the company put two and two together.” He presses a hand to the bandage over his stomach, and then grabs another ski-mask out from underneath the pile of uniforms. “It should only take me a few hours to track down the people I need, and then I can look into Lynch and Jenson. Shouldn’t be too hard.”

“Lynch and Jenson live in an apartment building that’s more like a fuckin’ Ritz than anything. It’s probably crawling with security guards.”

“Fire escape.”

“With Nobu’s present and that broken rib that I know you still have? Don’t bullshit me, that shit doesn’t just go away. Even with your super-special meditation.” Darcy draws another shirt out of the trunk, running her fingertips over the seam of the collar. She frowns. “So what’s your plan B?”

“I don’t generally have a plan B.”

“That’s reassuring.”

“I’ve done more with worse,” Matt says shortly, and that right there is something she never really wanted to know. “I already know who I have to talk to. I just have to find him.”

“One of Fisk’s guys?”

“One of the Russians’, actually. Or he used to be. Human trafficker. Higher up in the organization than he acts. Snake in the grass.” Matt tugs a glove on, and clenches his hand into a fist. “Information broker on the side. If anyone knows where Fisk gets his armor—”

“—if he even has any and he’s not some kind of mutant armadillo—”

Matt ignores this. “—then it would be him.”

“Body armor.” Body armor sounds like a good idea. “Okay. So body armor first. Then Lynch and Jenson. They could be out clubbing, it’s the right sort of night for it. Which would be so much easier than just, y’know, climbing millions of stairs.”

Matt turns to her, and his eyebrows snap together. “Darcy.”

She pastes on an innocent face. “What?”

“You’re not coming.”

“I’m not coming just because I want to. I’m sincerely concerned you’re going to hurt yourself.”

His mouth twists. “I’m not going to hurt myself.”

“Oh,” says Darcy, acidly. “So you’re just going to stand around looking intimidating near people in the Russian mafia. Because that works.”

Matt makes a hissing sound that she remembers from studying in undergrad, the one he only made when she’d managed, on very rare occasions, to correct him about the minutiae of criminal procedure law. “If they recognize you, it would be a problem.”

“I have make-up. I can go incognito.”

“You have a broken arm.”

“A broken wrist. And you have a hole in your abdomen.”

Matt makes the hissing sound again. He doesn’t say anything, though. Darcy gets up on her knees and tugs through the box of goodies again, through shirts and pants that are too big for her, and gloves that almost fit. Her fingernails scrape against a cardboard box down at the bottom. “What’s this?”

“I ordered in bulk, remember? It came for free. A promotional thing. There were a few of them, actually. Promotions. That was the biggest.”

Darcy tugs it out. It’s a taser. Protection at a distance, the back of the box reads. With stunning capabilities at close range. (Haha, stunning, get it? Shut up, Lewis.) Hell of a lot of volts, for something shipped into New York State. She tears through the tape holding the box together with her fingernails, and tugs it out onto her lap. It’s heavy and black and there’s even a little holster to go with it, and when she lifts it, it feels right in her hand.

“Hey, Matt,” she says. “Why’d you never use this?”

“Takes too long to reload.” Matt tugs a fresh pair of boots out of the box of shoes. “Doesn’t send the same sort of message.”

“For long-distance shots, sure, you need to reload.” She turns it this way and that, and then nods once. “Can I have it?”

Matt frowns. “They’re not legal in the city.”

“Says the guy who goes around beating the snot out of people in the middle of the night.” She’s tempted to pull the trigger, but that would probably be a bad idea in an enclosed space with a very twitchy semi-invalid in the immediate vicinity. “I think I can survive a concealed weapons charge. If they catch me. I have a few very powerful excuses.”

“I thought you weren’t planning on becoming a vigilante,” Matt says, with a twist to his mouth. She wonders if that’s what they should really call it. Hero sounds better. She grabs the holster for the taser, and fits it around her thigh, thoughtfully. If she tightens it properly, she can drop her hand and touch the grip of the taser without even trying.

“I’m not.” She draws the taser, and aims it at the opposite wall. “Doesn’t mean I can’t scare the shit out of some asshole rapists.”

Matt rocks back on his heels. She can see it in his face, the conflict—protective instincts vs. logic in her arming herself vs. knowledge that she’ll sneak out and do it anyway even if he argues with her, because hell yes she fucking will. She hopes that the knowledge also includes Darcy can and will do things herself in general rather than in specifics. She’s pretty sure it does. Finally, he says, “You’re sure?”

Darcy slides the taser back into the holster. “No,” she says, shortly. “But you need backup, and Kate needs this done. So I’m doing it anyway.”

“You’re breaking the law.”

“The law hasn’t been helping me all that much lately. Considering, y’know. How Fisk owns it.”

He makes an impatient noise. “You could get hurt, they would kill you if they realized—”

“Okay. I’m going to go into the bathroom for a few minutes. When I come back out, this conversation is restarting. And don’t you dare think about sneaking off while I’m in there, because I might not have super-hearing, but you crash a lot when you’re in major pain.”

He slams the lid of the trunk down. “Goddammit, Darcy, this isn’t a joke.

“No, it’s not.” She scrapes at the back of her cast with her nails. “Goodman tried to have me beaten into submission. I heard Blake die. Nobu fucking tortured me. I watched him burn and I didn’t feel anything. So yeah. It’s not a fucking joke. Not to me.” Darcy drops the taser onto the couch, and crosses her arms tight across her chest. “I said you didn’t have to do this by yourself anymore. I meant it, Matt. You don’t have to handle all of this alone. And I’ll be damned if I let you try it for the sake of your goddamn complex.”

She can’t read his face. Not when he’s wearing his glasses. Matt sighs. “I don’t want you coming with me when I track down the information broker. I don’t want him to know that you exist. If what’s left of Vladimir and Anatoly’s people hear about you, then they’ll do to you what they tried to do to Claire, and I can’t—I can’t handle that. At least not until you know more about how to protect yourself. Please.”

It’s a steep compromise, but it’s the only one she’s going to get at the moment. “Fine. You call me every half an hour so I know you’re still alive. Actually, you call me every half an hour and if you need help for any reason, you call me no matter what.”

“Deal.” He frowns. “You’re going to need a turtleneck for when you talk to Jenson and Lynch.”

“Hm?”

“The tattoo.” Matt touches the back of her neck, lightly. “It’s distinctive. And if you have another wig, you should use that. Earrings, piercings, out. They’re unique, they can be recognized.”

She taps her tongue piercing against the back of her teeth, and thinks mournfully of having to get it repierced. “Fine. What else?”

Matt goes silent. Then he rests his fingertips to his jaw. “You’re going to need a mask,” he says, and a shiver of something darts up Darcy’s spine. “Not one like mine. Something else.”

“There’s that costume place near my apartment. I can check it out when I go to meet Foggy.”

His mouth tightens, but he nods once, and draws a pair of pants into his lap. “I’ll go talk to the man I need to while you—while you’re at Josie’s. Take my phone. I’ll use my own burner. I’ll call you every half an hour. Okay?"

“Yeah.” She lets out a breath. “Okay. And if they’re not at the apartment, meet at Daily Daze at midnight. The place is open until five am, and judging from what I found out about Rich Goodman from Kate, it’s their favorite dealing grounds. They must have an arrangement with the management to sell their drugs without getting into too much trouble.” She tastes something sour in her mouth. “Rich kids with Daddy’s money.” 

“Don’t be sexist,” Matt says mildly. “It could be Mom’s money,”

“Setting aside how sexism is societal and not individual, I like to think that if it’s Mom’s money then the kid wouldn’t be out selling drugs on the street in the first place.” Darcy touches a fist to her breast, and then swings it out. “All hail the Many Mothers.”

“Plan?”

“The costume shop. Then home—Jen will be out, and Karen’s probably arguing with Ben. If I go now nobody will notice. Then Foggy—” her heart clenches “—and then I’ll meet you at Daily Daze. Or at Lynch and Jenson’s bedsit. Wherever we need to go.” There’s something scaly curled tightly around her heart, exhaling heat. Like a wyrm. Or a dragon. This is for Kate, she thinks, and looks down at the taser on her hip. This is for the women like her, who’ve been brutalized by these bastards. And most of all, this is for me. Her skin is cool, almost cold. She feels like she should be breathing fire. “I’m going to shower. You’re not going to wander off on your own, are you?”

“And risk you ripping me to pieces when you track me down? No.”

She hums. When she bends down, Matt turns his face up to meet her. Their glasses click until they find the right angle, and then—oh, hello. There’s something greedy and new in the way he’s kissing her, like he’s trying to memorize her in a whole new way. She kneels next to him, to keep her back from hurting, and slides her good hand underneath the soft fabric of his T-shirt, curling her thumb against the skin just above his hip. The noise he makes tangles in her mouth, and something in her chest purrs.

“Okay.” She threads her fingers through his, and eases back. “Down, boy. I’m not stitching you up again.”

He tugs on a strand of hair that’s fallen forward over her shoulder. “Not used to it. That’s all.”

“What, working with someone?”

“That.” His mouth quirks. “And being able to kiss you.”

Well. She didn’t need her heart, anyway. She swallows hard, and grips him by the collar of his shirt, tugging him forward until his mouth crashes into hers again. It’s probably exactly what he planned, to be entirely honest, but she doesn’t really care.

She doesn’t quite get around to taking a shower before scooting out the door, but, y’know. YOLO. The costume place is dim and almost empty, but the Russian woman who’s sitting the counter brightens immensely when Darcy creeps in, and starts to chatter. Darcy doesn’t really remember a lot of Russian (her babushka tried to teach her, but she’d died before Eli did, so it hasn’t stuck) but she can keep up well enough that she can smile and say “da” or “nyet” or ask after Katya’s kids. She’s been coming to this place every Halloween since she moved to the city. Foggy has a theory that the grandmother who lives upstairs works black magic, but that’s only because they always seem to know when Darcy’s coming. They’re nice. It only takes about half an hour for them to find a mask that will work (black on one side, white on the other, a full face mask that doesn’t make her cheeks sweat and a strong strap to keep it from coming off too easy). She buys a wig, too, red hair cropped close to her jaw, and make-up (her bank account is going to hate her) before heading upstairs for a little bit to talk to Katya’s mother. The sun has set and she’s already had one call from Matt by the time Darcy escapes with a paper bag full of still-warm gingerbread, and lots of affectionate patting.

The apartment seems quiet, for the most part. The umbrella’s gone, which means Jen’s still out of the house (probably working late, again, like Darcy has room to talk). Karen’s purse isn’t on the floor near the kitchen door, so she’s out too. Still, Darcy realizes her mistake the instant she smells fresh-cooked tortilla. Mrs. Cardenas is still here. It’s not as though she’s trying to keep the fact that she’s at the apartment a secret or anything, she just—doesn’t really want to deal with a lot of questions about why she’s sneaking out clothes best suited for clubbing when she’s technically supposed to be resting her head and not doing anything that could count as “overexertion.” It’s a bit too late to stop it, though. She pokes her head into the kitchen. “Hola, Elena.”

Elena drops the spatula, and puts a hand to her heart. “Ay, Dios mio. You scare me.” Then she actually looks at Darcy, and her eyes widen. “Darcy, su rostro. ¡Se ve terrible!

Gracias, Elena,” says Darcy, trying not to smile. She sets the bag of gingerbread on the table, and comes around to put her good arm around Elena’s shoulders. Elena’s arm is bandaged up with fresh white gauze, but it makes her fierce instead of fragile. A wounded warrior instead of a frightened old woman. “Solo vine a recoger algunas cosas.

Está bien?” Elena pats at her upper arm, the good one, her eyes not leaving the splints on Darcy’s fingers. “Le dije que usted era una mala mentirosa.

No me ha visto mentir.” Darcy smiles. “Le dije que todo estaría bien, y lo está.

Elena gives her a very sharp look. “Esto? Esto no está bien.”

Esto también sanará. Estaré bien. Cómo está su brazo?

It’s a really bad attempt to change the subject, but it works. Elena blows air out of her nose, and turns back to the skillet she has set up on their shitty stove, the one that Jen’s dad had left with them the one and only time he’d visited (Jen and her dad don’t get along very well). “Está bien. He tenido peores cortes con cuchillos que esto. Solo estoy preocupada que los otros vendan, si me quedo aquí. Pero no hay nada que podamos hacer, hasa que capturen a esos hombres.

Estamos trabanjando en ello, Elena.

“Mm.” Elena folds the fresh tortilla, and sets it on a plate. Then she turns, and pats Darcy’s cheek with one floury hand. “I say before. You are good girl.”

Darcy thinks of the taser in her purse, of Foggy. Put an arrow in Rich Goodman’s eye socket. “Not really. I’m kind of an asshole most of the time.”

Eso,” Elena says, “es una mierda. Esta tratando. Eso es todo lo que se puede pedir. Además.” She gives Darcy a look over the top of her glasses, her eyebrows rising. “Me salvó la vida. El hombre que intentó hacerme daño está muerto, ahora, per usted me salvó de él. Eso la hace buena. No crea nada distinto a eso.

Darcy smiles. At least, she tries to. She clenches her jaw to keep it from shaking, but there’s a hot poker pressing against the backs of her eyes, and when Elena reaches out again, touching her shoulder, she has to gulp back tears.

“This is stupid.” She wipes at her eyes. “I’ve—I have a plan, I know what I’m doing, why am I—shit.

“Is okay.” Elena herds her into a chair, and returns to her tortilla making. She spreads the mix flat over the skillet in a smooth spinning motion, crafting an even circle with a practiced flick of the wrist. “Karen, she tell me. Los chicos tuvieron una pelea, no? Y fue mala?

She chokes on her tongue. Darcy swallows air, and coughs. “Hemos peleado antes,” she says finally, and Elena nods over the stove. “No es como si no lo hubiéramos hecho—hemos tenido desacuerdos. Pero no es—nunca han sido así. Y yo solo

She stops.

“You’re scared,” Elena says quietly. She flips her tortilla. “You think is your fault.”

“No.” She shakes her head. “I know whose fault it is. I—I kept a secret, and there’s nothing wrong in that. But—but I’m scared that it can’t be fixed. That’s what I’m scared of.”

“Ay.” Elena turns off the stove, and peels the last tortilla up off her skillet. Then she puts her hands on her hips. “You wait here,” she says, and before Darcy can blink, she’s gone. Darla creeps into the kitchen and jumps up into Darcy’s lap, smearing her black skirt with cat fur. Darcy scritches behind her ears, and raps Darla’s nose hard when she tries to bite. Only a few minutes have passed by the time Elena returns, holding a battered bag in one hand and a paper package in the other. It’s Darcy’s purse. She sets the purse on the table, and then comes around to Darcy, pressing the papery lump into her good hand. “Is yours. I saved.”

Darcy looks at her for a long moment. Then she tears the edge of the paper. It’s the blonde wig, neatly braided and curled into something approximating a circle, so it can be packaged more easily. She can’t remember seeing it past when Nobu collected her. She looks up. “You grabbed this?”

.” Elena licks her lip, and then tugs a chair around to sit opposite Darcy. She takes the wig from her, and sets it on the table. “Your friends, they love you. I see. No la culpan, por lo que sea. Y si lo hacen, hablaré con ellos.

Darcy laughs. It’s damp, and catches in her throat. “Foggy se moriría si hace eso.

“Darcy, cariña, escúchame.” Elena bites her lower lip. “What you do, I don’t know. Why those men—porque la secuestraron, no lo sé tampoco. But you are good. Their fight, is not your fault. And what you do now—” she gives her a quelling look, and Darcy shuts her mouth “—eso es bueno. Do not forget.”

For some reason, Darcy’s eyes are drawn to the crucifix around Elena’s neck. It’s not particularly expensive-looking, just a sliver of gold with a molded Jesus, but it’s nestled in the hollow of her throat like a precious talisman. The chain is worn, like she tugs on it. Darcy chokes down a sob, closes her eyes, and nods once, and Elena stands and hugs her. She smells like flour and some kind of perfume that is almost like roses.

“I stay here,” she says. “You need help, dígamelo. Y cuando necesite a alquien con quien hablar, estoy aquí.

Darcy honestly can’t imagine telling Elena anything that’s been happening in her life right now, even if she is so goddamn badass and amazing that it makes her cry a little to see it. Still, she wraps her arms around Elena’s waist, and ignores Darla’s unhappy noises from between them. (Stupid cat. Just leave if you’re so uncomfortable.) “Thank you, Elena,” she says, and Elena strokes her hand down Darcy’s hair. “Lamento lo de su hogar.

Ami mi hogar, pero solo es un lugar. If people get hurt, I no need. There are other places.” She considers. “My son, he might have idea. I check.”

“No.” Darcy pulls back. “We’ll get your place back, Elena. We’ll fix it. Lo haremos.”

Elena smiles, and pets Darcy’s hair in silence.

.

.

.

It’s a day with a name that ends in Y, which means that as divey as Josie’s can be, it’s still a pain in the ass to get to the bar without getting her ass grabbed. Darcy rolls her good wrist until it cracks, and goes up on tiptoe (easier to do, in her sex-boots) so she can pick the back of Foggy’s head out of the tumble of truckers at the nearby tables. Foggy’s at the bar, staring at the counter and drawing a pattern in sugar on the bartop. She can smell the alcohol on him from a good three feet off. “Hey,” she says, digging her fingernails into her palm. She bounces up onto the bar stool. Foggy gives her half a glance, and then does a double-take.

“Holy shit, Darcy, what’s with the outfit? Are you trying to look like a vampire?”

“It takes a lot of make-up to cover the bruises. Figured I’d just go the whole hog and pull a Halloween rather than try to bullshit my way through it.” She tugs her braid over her shoulder. “And I’m going to a club after this. Elena helped me pick it.”

Elena helped you—” His eyes nearly cross with how fast he looks away. “Not going to ask.”

“Dude, lady’s a badass. I want to keep her always.” She gives Josie a little wave. “So yeah. A club. Vampier the better.”

“A club,” Foggy repeats. He’s either not as drunk as he smells, or he’s had so much that he’s crossed the line back into sober again (which shouldn’t technically be possible, but she’s seen him do it once or twice, so whatever) because the look he gives her is so sharp she nearly cuts herself. “You have a concussion, a broken wrist, a broken rib, four broken fingers and a thumb, and a hole in your hand, and you’re going to a club. In leather pants. Which Elena Cardenas helped you pick out.”

It is, of course, that moment that Josie crops up. Rosa’s perched on her shoulder, her eyes half-lidded, her crest folded back. “You want anything?” Josie says, and then blinks, and looks closer. “Jesus, Lewis, what’s with the war paint?”

“I’m going into battle. By the end of the night I will smear my face with the blood of my enemies.” She holds her fingers out to Rosa, who nudges at them with her wicked beak. Rosa doesn’t like Darcy, exactly, but she doesn’t dislike her, either, which puts her one over Matt and Foggy. Rosa hates Matt. 99% of the time if she’s divebombing someone, it’s going to be Matt Murdock. Maybe it’s a cat-vs.-bird thing. Because in all honesty, if Matt’s anything, he’s basically just a scruffy, grumpy feral cat. “Can I just get a vodka tonic? Only one, I’m heading out soon and I need to be able to balance in these shoes.”

Josie eyes Darcy’s hand, but she nods once and heads off again. Foggy’s returned to drawing patterns in the sugar. Where he found a sugar bowl in a bar as divey as Josie’s, she has no idea, but he’s Foggy. He can magic up anything, anywhere. “So. I heard from Karen that you’re ignoring her.”

“I’m not ignoring her. I’m ignoring everyone. There’s a difference.”

“You’re not ignoring me.”

“That’s because you guilt me. And you look like a sad puppy.” He pauses. “Well, now you look like a desperate hooker. But before you looked like a sad puppy.”

“Thanks for stereotyping all sex workers everywhere.” Her red wig is peeking out of the top of her purse. She ignores it. “Karen thinks that you’re ignoring her because we don’t know her well enough to tell her shit. Which, obviously, is bull, but since we’re all so chock-full of issues that I’m surprised we don’t have a reality TV show, it doesn’t surprise me that Karen’s the same. How did the TMZ interview go?”

“Kate was angry that I had to come instead of you. Also about the fact that you were kidnapped. The reporter was a bitch and someone made me spit-shine my shoes before going on air. Basically it was everything I expected it to be.” He draws a dead smiley face in the sugar, and then swipes it out. “Remind me to never go on TV again. Or to trash this suit. Or both.”

“Sure, I can remind you.” She pauses. “That is, if you’re still speaking to me in a few days’ time. Which I would understand. If you didn’t want to be.”

Foggy groans, and drapes himself across the counter, hiding his head in his arms. “Darcy, I get that you’re like—trying to help and shit, but it’s kind of doing the opposite of helping.”

“Yeah, I know.”

He lifts his head again. “You lied to me,” he snaps. “Matt lied to me. And I’m supposed to be okay with it, apparently? And, surprise, I’m really actually fucking not.”

“I never said you had to be okay with it.” Darcy crosses her legs at the knee. There’s a 19 Kids and Counting reject eying her legs, and her fingers are itching for the taser in her purse. “What we did to you was shitty and terrible, and I cannot ever say how sorry I am. Not just—not just for Matt’s deal, which you know you would have never believed if I’d told you, and you know you would have never told me if he’d confessed to you first—” Foggy opens his mouth, and then shuts it again “—but because I never, ever wanted to hurt you, or make you lose trust in me, and I’m so sorry that I did, Foggy.”

He rocks his shot glass back and forth, not speaking.

“I don’t expect forgiveness for it, and I don’t expect understanding. The only reason I wanted to talk to you tonight was to tell you that even if you never speak to me again, I am never, ever going to lie to you. Not about any of this. There might be things I can’t tell you, at least not right away. If I can’t talk about something, I’ll say it. But I won’t lie. I can only hope that’s enough.”

She’s halfway off her stool, wondering if she can make it outside without giving in to the tears pressing against her throat, when Foggy says, “How did you figure it out?”

She stops, one foot on the floor, the other still hooked into the leg of the bar stool. “Figure what out?”

“Matt.” He tips his shot glass so far back that it nearly topples. “How did you figure it out?”

Darcy pauses. Then she slides back up onto her stool again. Foggy doesn’t look at her, but he doesn’t jerk away, either. It’s a start. “He didn’t tell me,” she says. “When—when Goodman had me attacked, he must have heard them. He was going to just—he was going to leave, not—not bring me into it, but I asked him to help me take down Goodman.”

“Without knowing it was—” Josie passes, and Foggy shuts his mouth.

“Yeah. Without knowing.” Her vodka tonic arrives. She toasts Josie (and Rosa) and lifts it to her lips. It bites at her throat. “I should have recognized him, I guess. He doesn’t—he changed his voice, a little, but all his mannerisms were the same. That’s probably why Wesley thought I knew who he was. But I didn’t put it together until Wesley—Psycho Glasses Killer—until he threatened to kill me.”

Foggy’s eyes drop to her hand, and stick there.

“I confronted him about it.” She puts her glass back on the counter. “It wasn’t pretty. So yeah. I can kind of get where you are right now. It sucks, and it’s like—I always thought feeling like you’ve been stabbed in the back was a figure of speech, but—but that’s what it feels like. Like there’s something in you that’s been poisoned and you can’t carve it out. Like you don’t know where the ground is anymore. Like—like you’re an idiot, and you should have known better.”

“It’s not even the lying that bothers me, really,” Foggy says. Darcy sips at her drink, and waits. “And—and what you did, yeah, it hurt like a son of a bitch, but I can understand it. You kept a secret for a friend, and that’s—that’s understandable. What I don’t get is the fucking hypocrisy. He’s—he was sitting there telling us to do things by the book and to be safe and then he goes out in the middle of the night and apparently duels with—with fucking ninjas, and he expects us to just accept it. Like it’s normal. Like he’s not lying through his teeth.”

Darcy swirls her drink in the glass. “I think it has something to do with the fact that he’s—you know he has an issue with saving people. Like…like with Karen, and Elena, and all of it.” You make me better, he’d said, and it still hurts, thinking it. “I think it comes from Matt—Matt doesn’t think he’s as good as other people. I don’t know if it’s the Catholicism—” Foggy’s mouth trembles a little into half a smile “—or because it’s just—who he is, or what happened to his dad—” or because of Stick “—or any of it, but he thinks he doesn’t matter as much.” She swallows another mouthful of vodka. “It’s—it’s bullshit, but it’s not—I don’t know how to change his mind about it. I don’t think any of us are ever going to be able to, because it’s something that he has to realize, himself. But to him, because he doesn’t matter in the same way we do, to him, it’s more important to keep us safe than it is to—to realize that we’d want the same thing for him. I don’t think he sees it as hypocrisy, or if he does, he doesn’t like to think about it. To him, it’s a natural progression of what he’s trying to do. And—and if he loses us in the process, then in a weird way, he’ll know for certain that we’re safe. Because we’ll be as far away from him as possible.”

Foggy’s eyes are wet. He rubs at them with one fist, and knocks back his shot of tequila. Darcy blinks furiously to keep her make-up from smearing, and sips at her vodka tonic, not looking at him anymore. He pours himself another shot, and then leans back, staring hard at the fluorescent lighting. “Jesus. What the fuck is wrong with him?”

She snorts, a little. It hurts her throat. “A lot of things. But there’s a lot of things wrong with me, too.”

“Hey, don’t kick me out of your poor-psychotic-me club. I have issues.” Foggy toasts her, and takes the shot. “Admittedly not—not quite on the same scale as living next to a child murderer and insane inferiority complexes, but there’re problems. I can be dark and mysterious, too.”

“The darkest and most mysterious.” She hesitates, and then puts her hand on his forearm. Foggy lets out a sharp breath, and covers her hand with his, squeezing hard. “I’m so sorry, Foggy.”

“You know, you were supposed to come here, and I was going to yell at you, and it was going to make me feel better, and then—and then I’d get absolutely blasted and not remember most of it. This—this putting things in perspective thing? Not part of the plan. You suck.” His gaze drops to her pants again. “You’re going to go help him with something after this, aren’t you?”

“Technically, he’s the one helping me.” She checks her burner phone, and then Matt’s phone. He hasn’t called yet, but it’s still twenty minutes to the mark, and she doesn’t want to call him in case the ringtone alerts anyone to his position. Or something. “I’m working on something for Kate. So he’s backing me up, not the other way around.”

Foggy blinks. “I thought—”

“I can guess what you were thinking.” She doesn’t say it in any way that could come across as confrontational, but he still flinches. “Foggy, I’m not doing this just because—because it’s Matt, or because of how I feel about Matt, which, shut up, don’t even start. I’m doing this because I want to do this. Because I need to be involved in this. Same way Karen needs to be involved in taking down Fisk, or—or Kate needs to be involved in getting rid of Richard Goodman. I need to do this for me. Matt’s just helping me do it.”

He watches her in silence, his eyes still huge. Darcy swallows.

“Does that bother you?”

“I don’t know,” he says, slowly. “Kind of. A little bit. Yeah.” He chokes. “Wait, when you were saying blood of your enemies earlier, did you actually mean—”

“As tempting as that is, no. I’m just going to scare them a little bit.” She pauses. “Though your definition of scaring and mine might be different now.”

“Jesus,” says Foggy again. His eyes are so wide she can see the whites all the way around the iris. “I don’t know which of you is more frightening, you or him.”

“Wow.” That actually hurts. “Ouch.”

“That’s not—that’s not what I meant.” He knocks his knuckles to his forehead. “I guess—he might—might do what he does, and possibly kill people—”

“He doesn’t kill people.”

“Fine. He might make people wish they were dead, but you—I hate to make weird metaphors here, but it’s like you have him on a leash. It’s so weird.” His eyes narrow. “If he’s the devil of Hell’s Kitchen, and you can—not boss him around, exactly, but like…aim him a certain direction, then what does that make you? Lilith?”

“Lilith.” She knocks him in the shoulder with one fist. “Jesus, you comparing me to Adam’s ex-wife? The mother of all demons? Thanks, Foggy.”

“Hey, I know absolutely nothing about religion. My parents are reluctantly Protestant and aside from one or two weddings I’ve never actually been in a church. I just remember you talking about her during undergrad.” He whacks at her, more a pat than a strike, and her lips twitch up. Then he says, “So, does that mean you’re—helping him, from now on? Being his Girl Friday, or—whatever fucked up analogy can be made here.”

“I don’t know. Technically in this circumstance he’s being my Girl Friday, but in future, I don’t…I don’t know.” Fisk’s on the TV again. He’s not talking to reporters, or anything. It’s just a sudden, jostled clip of him getting out of a car and talking in a low voice with James Wesley. The footage has to be a week old, at least. Darcy stares at it until Foggy follows her gaze, and hisses through his teeth. Then she says, “Sometimes I think it’d feel really fucking good to do what he does.”

“Well, yeah, I fantasize about beating people up, too, but I don’t actually do it.”

She smiles, tight and small. “Getting tortured kind of changes your priorities.”

“I think you can keep that particular experience,” Foggy says, but when she gets off her stool, he stands, too. He rubs the palms of his hands against his pants. Then, with a look on his face that she can’t quite define, he opens his arms. Darcy’s lungs squeeze. She steps forward, and hugs him hard, squishing her broken wrist between them until tears spring to her eyes. Foggy heaves a sigh that seems to come from the center of the earth, and holds on. When he pulls back, there are definitely damp spots on his cheeks. “Don’t be an idiot. Don’t get caught. And tell that angsty asshole that if you get hurt again, I’m going to kill him. I’ll drop a fucking anvil on his head like Wile E. Fucking Coyote.”

“I think he knows that already.” Shut up. She doesn’t sound like she’s been crying. You sound like you’ve been crying. Darcy’s never so grateful for her highest heels than she is right now, because it means she can kiss Foggy’s cheek without having to go up on tiptoe. “I’ll call you when I get back to where I’m staying. If that’s okay.”

“Of course that’s okay.” Foggy squeezes her until her ribs ache. “You have CC’s number?”

“Yeah, I have CC’s number. I’m not gonna need it, tonight, but I have it.” She sniffs. “You’re so obnoxious.”

“Big brothers are like that,” he says, and then pushes her away. “Go away. I’m gonna be a man and cry into my shot glass, now. Because you’ve made it hard to be mad at people anymore, and you’re a terrible, terrible person.”

“Technically I’m three months older than you,” she says, but she smiles anyway. “Te amo, hermano.

Mi aerodelizador está lleno de anguilas.

Josie spits up her mouthful of beer.

.

.

.

There’s water dripping close by. That’s the first thing she knows. There’s a funny, sickly sweet smell still hanging around her nose and mouth, making her woozy. And there’s panic, rushing under her skin like a tide, screaming. Wake up, wake up, wake up.

“You know,” says a voice close by, “if I had had to put money on it, back when I was a betting man, I wouldn’t have tapped the women of Nelson, Murdock and Lewis as being the ones who would become such an enormous pain in the ass.”

She wakes in a surge. Karen heaves a breath, and tries to sit up, but it’s all she can do to breathe. Something’s wrong with me. The smell won’t go away. It’s clinging like a sickness, a disease that might kill her eventually. She hears footsteps. Someone touches her shoulder. She clenches her fingernails into her palms, trying to yank, to get away, but she can’t move. She can’t move.

Then the other chair creaks, and she sees him. Union Allied, she thinks first. Then, Fisk. Then, finally: James Wesley. He’s leaning back in his chair with an almost bored expression, cleaning his glasses on the underside of his shirt. He slides them back onto his face. “I was never that good of a gambler,” he continues. “I lost more than I won, mostly because everyone around me cheated. But I was very good at reading tells. I could always tell when to fold, because I always knew when the people around me had a winning hand. But you two—you keep surprising me.”

“Sorry to disappoint,” Karen says, and she hates the way her voice shakes.

“I don’t believe you are, but I’m appreciative of the sentiment.” He sighs. “You’re not going to pass out again, are you? I’d rather not have to sit here for another hour waiting for you to come ‘round.”

She’s not tied. If she wants to, she could bolt. But she can’t move—lead in her bones, in her marrow, terror weighing herdown—and it’s too dark in here to see a door. She’d rather not take that chance. Not yet, anyway. “Where’s—where’s your boss?”

“At the hospital, as he’s been for the past two and a half days.” Wesley considers her the same way someone would consider a bug under a microscope, a faraway sort of curiosity. “I saw no reason to bring him into this. After all, he has more important things to worry about.”

“Is that supposed to make me cry?” Karen snaps. She digs her nails into her chair. “Or—or beg you not to kill me? Sorry, but usually when people expect me to do things, I do the exact opposite.”

“I’ve gathered that.” Wesley gives her a long, exasperated look. “You were supposed to go away, you know. All four of you were, really. And two of you did. Even if Murdock did show an exceptional amount of interest in who I am, where I came from, he seemed to let it go eventually. But you and Lewis—” He shakes his head. “Other people would say it’s because you’re women, that you just don’t know when to let a matter drop. But that’s not it at all, is it?”

“You’re a pig.”

“I voted for Hilary in ’08. I think that gets me a free pass.”

“I’m so proud of you,” Karen spits. “If you’re trying to scare me, it’s not working.”

“That? No, that’s not supposed to scare you.” Wesley leans forward, and draws a gun. He settles it on the table with the same care as another person would an infant, and Karen’s eyes snap to it. Her heart stops in her chest. “This is.”

She stares.

“Now,” says Wesley. “Can we have a chat like civilized people, or do I have to gag you, too?”

Chapter Text

Daily Daze hasn’t changed all that much since undergrad: a basement club with open rafters and strobe lights that make her eyes burst in her skull. It’s only a few blocks away from Central Park, where all the tourists gather, and so the bouncers and the bartenders have crafted a fine art of letting just enough underage kids through into the alcoholic section of the bar to keep it bursting full of people no matter what time of year it is, while simultaneously letting just few enough in that if the cops find any there they can disavow all knowledge of the situation. There’s more dubstep playing than there was the last time she was here, and they’ve repainted the walls the oddest mix of red, black, blue, white, green, and purple. She doesn’t get it until she sees one of the waitresses dressed up like the Black Widow, complete with Widow’s Bite bracelets, and she realizes it must be some kind of cosplay week. It’s sheer good luck that her wig is short, red, and curly. She tugs at the waistband of her leather pants, and glances back over her shoulder at the door.

“This feels really weird,” she says, pushing between a trio of college frat boys dressed as Captain America, Dum-Dum Dugan, and Bucky Barnes respectfully, and signaling to the bartender. The communicator thing in her ear is itchy. “Do you think the Avengers know that clubs in the city have cosplay nights for them?”

“I don’t know if that’s the point,” Matt says. She nearly jumps every time he says something, because it sounds like he’s right next to her, even though she knows for a fact he’s waiting in the alley behind Daily Daze. “Besides, they’re a bit busy saving the world.”

“They’d do better to look in their own backyards,” says Darcy, and smiles at the bartender. It’s a woman tonight, wearing a clinging purple shirt. She has arrowheads dangling from her earlobes. Darcy can’t remember her from the interviews she did with the Daily Daze staff who’d been there the night Kate was raped, which is only to the good. If someone recognizes her, she’s kind of screwed. “Can I just get some vodka, please. No tonic, just straight.”

“Drinking alone?” says the bartender, and in her ear, Matt laughs.

“You could say that,” Darcy says, and smiles until the bartender leaves. Then she scowls. “I don’t know where the fuck you found these things, but this is fucking creepy, Matt.”

“I told you, I ordered in bulk. They added in a few bonuses. This one was kind of shit, though. It wouldn’t work if I weren’t the one using it. Yours only receives, it doesn’t transmit.”

“Thank God for small favors,” she says, and turns on her stool to look at the crowd. A guy dressed as Thor (he can’t be more than sixteen, so he must have used ‘roids of some sort to get his deltoids that large) slows as he walks by, and gives her a sweeping top-to-toe look that reminds her of someone sizing up meat. Darcy rolls her eyes, and turns her back on the crowd. “Trust me to pick the worst person to dress up as on Avengers night. I should have been the Hulk.”

“Lynch and Jenson are here,” Matt says, and she stills. The lady!Hawkeye bartender drops off her drink, and sweeps away to the other end of the bar. “Back of the club. Goodman’s not with them.”

“How do you know?”

“They’re on the phone with him right now.” Matt stops for a moment. “Talking about their next shipment.”

“Good, because Goodman’s met me, and he’ll smell me out.” She gulps down half her drink at once, and grits her teeth to keep herself from choking. “The guy’s a dick, but I’m pretty sure he’d remember the attorney who filed a suit against him.”

Matt’s quiet.

“Matt?”

“There’s a girl with them. She’s drunk.”

Oh, great. “You’re joking,” she says, and finishes her drink before slipping off the bar stool and sliding through the crowd. “Do you think they’ve roofied her?”

“Possibly. She’s slurring her words a lot.” Matt’s slipping into the Vigilante voice, which could be a good thing at the moment. She’ll feel better if she doesn’t think that it’s her best friend Matt on the other end of the line. The dubstep song fades, and builds up into Lady Gaga’s Monster. She’d laugh at the aptness of it, if not for the fact that she’s pretty sure she’ll drop into hysteria the moment she starts. “There are too many people in there. I can’t make them out very well without ignoring you.”

“Ignore me for a minute, then.” She drums her fingers against her thigh, pressing her clutch close against her hip. She’s pulled the gloves she’d stolen from Matt on over her finger splints (not something she ever wants to do again) and though her sleeve is a bit bulky thanks to the cast, she looks normal enough in the dim light. “Listen to the girl. You can find me again. Don’t worry about me, I can handle myself for five minutes.”

“Sometimes I wonder,” says Matt, but it’s affectionate. Then he drops into silence. Darcy fights the urge to grab her taser, and smiles at the next guy who walks by and checks out her boobs. Fucking slimebucket. May some enterprising soul break into your bank account and distribute it to those in need.

She knows what Mathias Lynch and Clark Jenson look like from photographs (always lock down your Facebook privacy settings, kids) but seeing them in person is a bit different than reading their faces in digital photos. They’re both white, surprise, surprise, though Clark Jenson has dreads in his hair, like he’s either trying to be Bob Marley or thinks it works on him. It really doesn’t. She has yet to meet a white boy who can pull off dreads, to be totally honest. Lynch is whip thin, with a shaved head and a tattoo of something that looks like a skull laced with flowers on the side of his throat. Darcy drops down into an empty chair about ten feet from them, crossing her legs and propping her chin in her hand, elbow on the counter. The girl’s sitting between Lynch and Jenson, tipping a little. Darcy can’t make out her face, but she looks young. A college freshman, maybe. It looks like she’s dressed as a crossplaying Bruce Banner. Great.

“I’m pretty sure she’s drugged,” Matt says all of a sudden. She’s very glad she’s not carrying a drink, because she would have slopped it all down the front of herself. “Or someone in her immediate vicinity is drugged, anyway. I can smell it in one of the drinks.”

“Where are you?”

“Other side of the wall. Gimme a minute.” There’s a small window set high into the wall behind Lynch and Jenson’s couch. She thinks she sees someone standing just beside it, but in the next instant, they’re gone. “Yeah. She’s drugged. She’s gonna be completely out of it in a few minutes.”

“We have to get her out of there.”

“Careful. There’s a camera that’s centered right on that couch. Keep your back to the entrance when you go over there.”

Darcy nods once, and masks it by tugging the hair of her wig back out of her face. There’s another Black Widow a few seats down, the front zipper of her jumpsuit pulled very low to show off a fresh tattoo on the inside of her left breast. She gives Darcy a look, and then harrumphs away. Darcy snorts. “Don’t you miss the club scene?”

“There’s a reason why I never wanted to go with you guys.” She touches her wig, and then her cheeks (she’s layered enough make-up on to make sure that her actual face is almost completely unrecognizable, especially once the swelling from the bruises goes down, but there’s still a flutter of terror in her stomach that this might actually get her disbarred) before standing, rocking into her shoes to catch her balance. “These places make my head spin.”

She thinks about what it would be like to go into a club with senses like Matt’s, and winces. “Oh, Jesus. I’m so sorry.”

“I never told you. Don’t worry about it.” The music shifts again, from Lady Gaga to Ke$ha, and hey, the music in clubs hasn’t changed all that much in five years. She doesn’t feel quite so terribly old. “Wait. Someone’s coming.”

It’s the bouncer. He bends down and says something into Lynch’s ear (that settles the question as to which of the two takes the lead, when Goodman’s not there) and then vanishes back into the crowd. Lynch and Jenson talk quietly amongst themselves for a minute or two. Then Jenson gets up, hooking the girl’s arm around his waist and tucking his own around her shoulders. She can’t quite put her feet down right. Her wig’s tousled, strands of platinum blonde hair escaping to brush her jawline, and she has sharp cheekbones underneath the scientist glasses. Darcy licks her lips. “Matt, I think they’re taking her out of here.”

“They’re passing her off,” Matt says. “Goodman’s waiting in a car down the block. They’re grabbing girls for him.”

Her stomach churns. She wants to shoot something. Darcy gets to her feet, fluffing her hair out one more time. She can feel it the moment Lynch’s eyes fall on her, a creeping chill up the back of her neck. Lynch crooks his finger at her, and Darcy turns her face just enough that he won’t be able to see her lips moving. “Lynch wants me to come over.”

Matt doesn’t say anything. Darcy makes herself smile, and dips her hand into her purse. Her banana phone might not be able to make calls or send texts anymore (it receives, at least; she’d tested it, back in Matt’s apartment) but the voice recording app that she’d downloaded after Wesley had threatened to kill her the first time, that still works. (The first time. Jesus. Her life.) She hits the record button without looking, and comes to a stop in front of Lynch’s couch. “If you’re not buying me a drink, I’m moving on.”

Lynch signals at a nearby waitress (wearing Hulk-fists and looking very unhappy about it) and looks at her through heavy lidded eyes. His eyelashes are so fine they’re almost transparent, and his pupils are huge. It looks like he’s been sampling his own product. “A drink for the lady,” he says to the waitress, and the waitress irritably turns to Darcy.

“Strawberry daiquiri,” she says, which is pretty much the only thing in the world she’s guaranteed not to drink. She’d swell up like a balloon if she tried it, so there’s no way Lynch or Jenson can drug her without her realizing it. “Please.”

The girl doesn’t soften at all at the please, but she also doesn’t swear at them as she leaves, which Darcy thinks is probably an improvement.

Darcy perches on the edge of Lynch’s couch, just looking at him. He’s definitely been drinking, in addition to whatever shit he’s been shooting up; she can smell it on his breath when he leans forward to study her face. She’s very glad, all of a sudden, that the strobe lighting is so strong. The flashing colors will make it impossible for him to make out the color of her eyes, or the shape of her jaw. Especially if he’s as wasted as he smells. “So,” he says, and she shifts her hair to cover the little waxy bulb of the receiver in her ear. “What’s a girl like you doing in a shithole like this?”

She nearly laughs, because you have to be fucking shitting me. That’s the line he goes with? “Nostalgia,” she says. “I came here a lot a few years ago. I don’t have as much time, now.”

“Finals?” says Lynch knowingly, and his eyes drop to her leather pants before sliding back up to her face. She clenches the fingers of her good hand into a knot on her knee.

“It’s October. So, no. Also, I finished school.”

“Hey, I finish this year.” Wait, that means—okay. So you’re just phenomenally stupid. She’s not sure why she’s surprised by that. “What did you take, English lit?”

She bares her teeth in an approximation of a smile. “Criminal justice, actually.”

“That’s cool.” He curls a strand of her wig around his fingers. There’s an X tattoed into the web of skin between his thumb and index finger. She wonders what it’s supposed to mean. “Seems kind of deep, for a girl as pretty as you. Though you do pull off one hell of a Widow. Damn.”

“This was just something I had floating around.”

“Hell of a something,” he says, his eyes not leaving her boobs. To hell with him recognizing him in court. She’s beginning to think he wouldn’t be able to pick her face out of a crowd five minutes from now. He’s like the poster child of Straight White Boys Texting. “What’s your name, gorgeous?”

Gag me. “Lilith,” she says. Foggy’s gonna shit a brick.

“Lily,” he says, and she has to roll her eyes. Lynch doesn’t notice. “Like Lily Potter, haha. And a redhead, too. Jesus, it’s like a fucking picture book.”

Oh, you are not going to ruin Lily Potter for me, dude. Lilith,” Darcy repeats, and he blinks at her once or twice before his lips part, and he nods.

“Lilith.” His eyebrows wrinkle. “Like the queen of monsters?”

“My parents were Satanists,” Darcy says sweetly. Lynch seems to struggle with that concept for a moment before tossing it aside completely as too complex. God, she’s so done with stupid people. Stupid assholes. Stupid rapist drug-dealing assholes. Speaking of—she tips her head a little to bare the side of her neck, the way she would to a vampire. “I hear on the grapevine that you’re the guy to go to if a girl wants a good high. Did I hear right?”

“Hmm.” He twines her wig between his fingers again, resting his wrist on her shoulder. “Who’d you hear that from?”

“I tutor at Barnard. Picked it up from someone or other. If they’re wrong, then sorry, but thanks for the drink.” As if on cue, the girl in Hulk-fists reappears with the strawberry daiquiri. Darcy accepts it, and sets it on the table. Lynch still doesn’t seem to be fully comprehending anything she’s saying, and when she gets a good look at the inside of his elbow in a sudden flash from the strobes, she can see a fresh bruise on the skin there. Yeah. Totally high. “But somehow I don’t think they’re wrong.”

“No,” he says. “They’re not. What’re you gonna do for me to get it?”

“I don’t know.” She smiles. “What do you want me to do?”

“Christ, you’re sexy,” says Lynch, and she throws up in her mouth a little. She hears a scuffle and a thump from Matt’s end of the line, and then nothing. She assumes it was Jenson. “Rich’d love you.”

I can promise you that he really, really wouldn’t. “So?” She rests one fingertip against the inside of his wrist. “What do you say we take this outside?”

She’d be really, truly, phenomenally depressed about the state of her generation if not for the way Matt is choking on laughter on the other end of her communicators, or whatever the fuck these are called. Why the hell he thinks it’s so funny she has no idea, but she’s glad somebody’s amused about the whole thing, because she certainly isn’t. Lynch nods a few times, his eyes wide, and she stands, leaving her daiquiri behind. It’s on Lynch’s tab anyway. Her mask is outside with Matt, but her taser’s pressed close against her hip through her clutch as Darcy takes Lynch’s hand (it’s sweaty and shaped wrong to fit comfortably with hers, which is good, because her skin is already crawling) and tugs him back into the crowd. “The girl’s unconscious,” Matt says in her ear. “She’s safe.”

She feels something brush against her ass, and she’s really not sure if it’s a hand or something else. She ignores it.

“When you come out, turn left and go down the side alley. Keep walking. There’s a turn-off about fifty feet down that’ll put you out of sight of the bouncers.”

“’kay,” she says, in a low voice so Lynch won’t hear it. She thinks for a minute that Matt doesn’t hear it either, but then he hums again, something deep and dark and pleased that makes her blood curl.

“No wonder Wesley’s scared of you.”

The idea of James Wesley being scared of her is almost inconceivable (I do not think that word means what you think it means), considering how absolutely terrified she is of him, but if anyone’s going to know who Wesley’s scared of, it would be Matt. She files away that thought in the back of her mind to ask later, and tugs Lynch up the stairs. “This way,” she says, careful to keep the Atlanta accent in her voice. “I know a place.”

“I’ll be back,” he says to his bouncer friend, and Darcy keeps her face turned towards Lynch as the bouncer checks her out carefully. He’s the one who might be the problem, if it comes down to it. Of course, his eyes settle on her boobs, and the tension in her spine slowly leaks away.

“I expect you will,” says the bouncer to Lynch, and she’s seriously just going to take a bath for like…hours. She feels tainted.

Lynch doesn’t let go of her hand as she pulls him down the alley. He does start creeping up behind her, his other hand tracing down her back, over the top of her ass. She bites the swollen part of her cheek to keep herself from screaming. “Where you takin’ me, baby?”

“Somewhere private,” she says, and it’s almost a growl. Touch me again and you lose your hand. “It’s this way.”

There’s the turn-off Matt mentioned, fifty feet down and to the right. She can see Jenson’s feet sticking out from behind a pile of cardboard boxes. Lynch doesn’t notice; he passes her and turns, reaching out with both hands to grip her by the shoulders, and she turns her face away before he can lay a sloppy kiss on her mouth. “Thought you said you’d do anything,” he says, a warning low in his voice. Darcy smiles wide, and closes her good hand over the taser, drawing it out of her clutch.

“So will you,” she says, and jabs it hard into his ribs.

Something vicious and snarling and real roars in her chest when she hears the crackle of the static. Lynch goes absolutely stiff, twitching with the force of the volts, and she pulls the trigger again, just to be an asshole, before stepping away from him and letting him fall. His eyes are rolling back into his head when he hits the ground, and she glances back over her shoulder—she can’t see the bouncer—before stepping over his jerking body. The girl’s on the far side of the pile of cardboard, her eyelashes fluttering. She’s ghost-pale and beautiful, even with her glasses dangling halfway off her face. She can’t be more than eighteen. Darcy stops the recording on her phone, and then crouches, fixing the girl’s glasses (they’re probably fake, but whatever) before popping the comm thing out of her ear. “So. Okay?”

“You scare me,” says Matt from the fire escape. He swings down, and then puts a hand to his ribs. When she scowls at him, Matt ignores it. “But it’s a good kind of scary.”

“It better be.” She touches the girl’s cheek, and then stands. “We should get her out of here. I don’t know where to take her, though.”

“She won’t wake up for at least another four hours. There’s time to figure that out.” Matt’s dropped entirely into the Vigilante voice. Darcy clears her throat. “Lynch will snap out of it soon, though. You should probably be gone by then.”

“Uh-uh. My case, my fight.” She grabs her bag from where it’s lying next to the girl, and pulls the mask out, hooking it over her wig. It’s not difficult to see through it, exactly, but she’s glad she’s wearing contacts, that’s all she has to say about it. Matt doesn’t say anything as she turns back to Lynch, and goes through his pockets with her gloved hands. There are a bunch of little white packets marked with a curving snake, which she assumes are his product; she shoves two into her clutch and keeps going. There’s his phone, unlocked; an iPod, new, which she takes and feels no shame about it; and a pack of cigarettes, which she doesn’t bother with. “Where are we taking them?”

“In here.” There’s a half-open door with a broken lock that leads into an empty café, the kitchen shining and chrome and utterly empty. Matt nudges it all the way open with his foot, and Darcy heaves the girl up, dragging her arm over her shoulder. She’s sheer dead weight, but after staggering a few times, she gets the girl inside and into a pantry full of dry goods. She doesn’t want her to hear or see anything that might wake her up and scare her. Together, Darcy and Matt get Lynch and Jenson into the main body of the kitchen, dumping them both on the floor. It’s hell on Darcy’s wrist, and it can’t be much better for his stitches, but she keeps her mouth shut, kicking the door closed behind them. Now, at least, if the bouncer comes looking, there’ll be nothing and no one to be found.

“How did your talk go?” Matt says in a careful voice, when Darcy goes to check on the girl again. Darcy glances at him over her shoulder before creaking back to her feet.

“What, at the bar? It went okay, I think. I wouldn’t suggest you trying it yet.” Matt’s probably already searched Jenson, but she does it too; his phone has a passcode to it, but when she tries 0000 it unlocks with a little chirp. The background is an obviously photoshopped image of Kanye West with a bong. Oh, Jesus. She goes through the recent texts (there are a lot of videos from Rich Goodman, from a private Youtube channel, she thinks) and then drops the phone into her bag. There are other videos in Lynch’s phone, from Rich. There are also names. She turns it off, and pockets that one, too. “I don’t know if I helped or not, but I like to think I did.”

“Oh.”

“This is a weird conversation to have over hostages,” says Darcy. “Let’s not have this talk right now.”

“Probably a good idea.”

The girl’s name, according to her Ohio driver’s license, is Tandy Bowen. She’s seventeen years old, though she has an expensive fake ID stuffed into the back of her wallet that says she’s twenty-two, and her phone reads seven missed calls from someone named Ty. It buzzes again in Darcy’s hand, and she hits the reject button for the moment, setting the phone close by Tandy’s head. Matt tilts his head.

“Lynch is waking up.”

“Strong little fucker.” Darcy checks her burner phone, and then stands. “So. This is your night job, huh?”

Matt’s mouth flickers into a little smile. “I guess.”

He stands as if he’s waiting for her to strike him, unsettlingly vulnerable when all she’s ever seen the devil be is pure vengeance, and she can’t help reaching out and running her gloved fingertips down his arm. There are a thousand things she wants to say—this doesn’t scare me; I’m not going to run; I want this; don’t worry—but all she can really manage is, “We’re big goddamn heroes. And I want to tase Jenson, too, so let’s get out there before he wakes up.”

His lips twitch again, and he hooks his fingers through hers for a moment before steadying. If this is codependency, then she’s not entirely sure she dislikes it. “Big goddamn heroes,” he repeats, and she nods once. Her taser lets out a little trill, almost like a comment.

Jenson may still be completely out of it, breathing slow and deep through his bloody nose, but Lynch isn’t. Despite having who knows how much alcohol in his system, and heroin, and having been tased, he’s awake, and trying very hard to get to his feet again, even though his knees keep giving out. She wonders for an instant if he’s some kind of mutant, if there’s some strain of genetics in him that makes him stronger, or more resilient. That’d just make their night. Darcy leaves the side room first, and whatever he sees—red hair, a mask half in black, the taser—it makes his eyes widen and his hands lose their grip on the side of the counter. “Jesus,” he says, and scrambles away from her. “Jesus fucking Christ, who the fuck are you?”

It’s here again, that trembling sense of transformation she remembers from that night in Atlanta, waiting with a knife clenched in one hand and a doorknob in the other. A chrysalis. A metamorphosis. Another Darcy. She closes her eyes just for a moment, and lets it overwhelm her. When she speaks, the soft Southern vowels come to her without conscious effort, like she’s slipped back in time. Her skin burns. “I told you my name earlier. Weren’t you paying attention?”

His eyes narrow. Then they widen, and he licks his lips. There’s something powerful in the way he’s looking her, something that makes her feel flush and dark and whole. It looks like he’s frightened of her. “Lilith,” he says. “What the fuck. You fucking bitch. You fucking tased me, you goddamn fat-ass crack whore, I’m going to fucking kill you—”

She hits the button on her taser, and blue sparks dust the floor. Lynch shuts up. In the same moment, she feels Matt come up behind her, ghosting his hand over the back of her shoulder. “I’d be nice to the woman if I were you,” he says, and that’s his Don’t Fuck With Me voice. She knows it from Matt and she knows it from the devil, and now the two are entwining in a chrysalis of their own. “She has a temper.”

Lynch’s eyes nearly fall out of his head. “You’re him,” he says, and scrambles back, or tries to. His back rams up into the metal drawers that hold kitchen appliances instead. “You’re the devil. But you work alone, what the fuck—

“Queen of monsters,” Darcy says, and Matt’s mouth curls up into something dangerous. She crouches down, draping her bad arm over her knee. Lynch’s eyes follow her. “We have a lot of things to talk about, I think.”

For a second, she hears Wesley in her ear. Then she shakes it off. I’m not the same as him. She’s not going to hurt Lynch without reason. (Well. She might hurt him a little bit. She thinks of Kate, of Kate’s banshee scream, and decides: yeah. She’s gonna hurt him a little bit. But she’s not going to hurt him. There’s a difference.)

“You’re fucking crazy,” says Lynch, and then flinches when she cocks her head at him. “Keep the fuck away from me.”

“A few weeks ago you and Jenson here—” she pats Jenson’s ankle, but he doesn’t twitch “—were with Rich Goodman at Daily Daze. Selling your smack, as usual. There are probably a lot of nights like that, though, so I’ll be more specific. There was a girl, purple in her hair, tall, thin. Your good buddy Rich knew her. He hit on her. She told him to fuck off. Remember her?”

Lynch shakes his head. “I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.”

“I think you do, Mathias, honey.” He’s sweating. She can see beads of it on his upper lip. “After all, a friend of hers was buying product from you at the time. And Rich, well, if I’m gonna guess, he’s not the sort of guy who takes it well when women tell him no, is he? Especially not women like Kate Bishop.”

His eyes bulge. He shakes his head. “You’re fucking crazy.”

“So Rich, he comes up with an idea.” She can see it in her mind’s eye, the three of them in the back of Daily Daze, with their drugs and their drinks and Rich Goodman’s poisonous tongue. “You wait until she leaves with her friends, and then you follow them. It’s probably not the first time the three of you have followed a girl into Central Park, is it?”

Lynch turns sheet white. “You crazy bitch,” he says. “You crazy bitch.”

“You helped hold her down,” she says, and her voice darkens into a husky croon. “Rich had her by the throat, but you and Jenson, you held her arms while he raped her. She was strong, stronger than any one of you, but each of you grabbed an arm and held her there. You laughed at her. You hit her. You tortured her as sure as anyone can torture anybody, and you laughed while you were doing it.

Lynch presses himself close up against the metal cabinets. It looks like he’s about to cry. There’s something sick and swollen inside her throat. “Don’t hurt me,” he says, and his voice cracks. “Jesus, don’t kill me.”

How many times.” Darcy hits the button on the taser again, watching him flinch. She’s being swept away by the rage, her state of constant fury, and she’s happy to let herself go. “How many times have you ferried him girls? How many times have you drugged women like Tandy and sent them off to his penthouse? How many times have you held women down for him?”

“I didn’t, I didn’t, I don’t know what you’re talking about—”

“He’s lying,” says the devil. Darcy doesn’t look at him. Matt’s standing with legs spread and arms crossed over his chest, and she thinks it might partly be to protect the gash in his stomach, but it’s also because of the wrath in him; she can feel it thrumming off his skin, like heat, or fire, and it’s almost like an anchor. She smiles, nearly in spite of herself.

“I know. I just wanted to see if he’d try it.”

“Jesus Christ.” Lynch licks his lips. “Fucking Christ. How do you know any of this? Nobody was there, nobody knows—”

“You’d be surprised what I can find out, Mathias.” Darcy stands. She kicks his foot aside, and hunches again, closer to him, close enough that she can smell the sweat of him. He’s shaking. His fair eyelashes tremble. “How many women?”

“Oh god.” He stares at her. “Oh god. Don’t kill me.”

How many women, Mathias?” She taps the taser against his cheek. “Shouldn’t be too hard a question to answer. Unless it is. Unless there are too many to count.”

“I just help him, okay? I don’t—I don’t fuck them, I just help him. Jesus Christ, she’s going to fucking kill me.” His gaze darts past her to Matt. “She’s going to fucking kill me.”

She’s an arrow, drawn back to someone’s cheek. She’s a bullet, waiting in the chamber. “I could,” she says, slowly, but then she stands, because she’s not Wesley. She’s not Fisk. “I want to. But you can help me. So I won’t.”

Lynch sags against the cabinets, and closes his eyes. She thinks he might be wetting himself. There’s a sharp, yellowy smell in the air that couldn’t be anything else.

“You’re going to turn yourself in,” Darcy says, and taps his ankle again with the toe of her shoe. He wrenches his leg away from her, pulling his knee tight against his chest. “When you wake up, you’re going to take a cab directly to the 15th Precinct. There’s a sergeant there, Brett Mahoney. You’re going to go right to him, and you’re going to lay your hands on his counter, and you’re going to say, ‘I was an accomplice in the rape and assault of Katherine Elinor Bishop.’ And you’re going to let him arrest you, and you’re going to tell him everything that you’ve done. Starting from the very first rape, and ending in tonight, with Tandy Bowen. Do you understand me?”

“Who?”

Tandy Bowen. The girl you drugged and tried to cart off to Rich Goodman tonight. Her name is Tandy Bowen. She’s seventeen years old. And you drugged her and sent her off to be raped like a good little boy, because Rich Goodman gives you your heroin on the cheap. And be honest, Mathias—something in you enjoys it.” She touches the taser to his cheek again. “Tell the truth. Does it make you feel powerful, hurting women? Does it make you feel like a man? Because all it does is make you a pig.”

Lynch is crying. “You don’t know what they’ll do to me,” he says. “It’s not just Rich. There are other men, more powerful men, they’ll kill me for doing it—”

“You mean Fisk,” she says, and he flinches so badly that she thinks he might gouge his cheek on a cabinet handle. “He’s going to learn that he can’t control this city. Not the way he wants to. And it’s going to start with you.”

“He’ll kill me.”

“No, he won’t.” She shakes her head. “He doesn’t give a damn about you. Not about you, or Rich Goodman, or even Robbie. They don’t need you. They don’t want you. And if you keep your mouth shut about them, then they won’t kill you.” She bares her teeth under the mask. “You can’t get a promise like that from me. Now. What are you going to say to the nice sergeant?”

He gulps. “I was—I don’t know.”

“‘I was an accomplice in the rape and assault of Katherine Elinor Bishop.’”

His voice shakes. His eyes skitter to Matt again, but Matt is just there, quietly implacable. “I—I was an accomplice in the rape and assault of Katherine Elinor Bishop.”

“Good boy.” She almost pats his cheek. She can’t trust him not to grab at her, though, so she doesn’t. Darcy steps back, and sets her good hand to her hip, the taser caught between her fingers like a gun. “And if Fisk’s men actually do come for you, if you’re stupid enough to try and out him as what he is, well. When they come to kill you, tell them Lilith says hello.”

She fires the taser before he can say another word. The prongs stick in his chest, and the high, crackling buzz of the electricity makes her pulse jump. Lynch’s eyes roll up into the back of his head, and he sags against the countertop. She slowly releases the trigger, breathing hard as if she’s been sprinting, and tugs the used cartridge free, tossing it aside. Jenson’s still dead to the world. She kicks him in the leg as she passes, clenching her good hand into a fist and releasing. Her muscles are jumping with adrenaline and something else, something darker. She wants to run. Her brain is screaming. Matt turns his face towards her, and keeps silent. She’s not sure if the twist in his mouth is from regret, or from hard approval. It might be both.

“That,” she says, “felt really good.”

Matt doesn’t say anything. His jaw tightens. Then he catches her good hand, brushing the sleeve of her turtleneck back with his thumb. She blinks at him, slowly, her heart still pounding, but Matt still doesn’t speak. He lifts her wrist to his mouth, and sets his lips to the tundra swan inked into her skin.

Darcy watches him.

“Where,” he says again, words and heat and breath brushing over her wrist, “did you even come from?”

She blinks. “I told you, Georgia.”

He shakes his head. Matt licks his lips, and steps closer, until she can almost feel the harsh way he’s breathing inside her own ribs. He curls towards her, around her, and she’s intoxicated. She wants him, and she doesn’t know if it’s because of the adrenaline and the anger or because of how he’s there, pressing up close, chest to chest and hip to hip, warped reflections in a looking glass. This isn’t Matt, she realizes. This is the devil. The same, but not. Dark and light. He touches his mouth to the inside of her wrist again, his mouth and the tip of his tongue, and fuck, the bomb that goes off in her guts at that could level the city. He does it a third time, and she nearly shoves him up against the wall to do—she doesn’t even know what, fuck him or kiss him or eat him alive, right there in front of Lynch and Jenson and Tandy Bowen. But then he pulls away, and sanity, or something close to it, fades back into her. Almost. In the dry pantry, she hears the phone go off. Darcy swallows—her mouth is suddenly very dry and tacky—and then steps over Jenson to collect it. The screen says Ty again. She answers. “Hello?”

There’s a long silence from the other end. Then: “W-Who the fuck is th-this?”

“Lilith,” Darcy repeats, still trying to catch her breath, and makes herself look at Tandy Bowen. She’s curled on her side, breathing quietly. Keep your brain working, Lewis. Pull on your big-girl pants. “What’s your name?”

“T-Ty.” He sounds young. Frightened, though he’s trying not to show it. And angry. “What the f-fucking hell are you—”

“Ty, I need you to be quiet and listen to me. Your friend was drugged at a club. I managed to get her away from the guys that did it before they could do anything, but she’s asleep and I can’t stay here with her for very long. Can you take a cab to Daily Daze?”

“H-Holy sh-shit.” Panic creeps through the phone. “Holy sh-shit, are you fucking shitting me—yes, I c-can, just—I’m on m-my way there n-now.”

“You her roommate?”

There’s a long pause. “W-We d-don’t have a room.”

Oh, Jesus. “You’re homeless,” Darcy says, and glances up at Matt. “Do you have somewhere to go?”

“No,” says Matt, instantly. “No.”

She makes a face at him behind her mask.

“W-We h-have a p-place.” Ty’s stutter might be even worse than Jen’s was, back before Jen started taking elocution classes. Darcy pinches the bridge of her nose, and looks down at Tandy Bowen. Now that she actually has cause to see it, she can tell exactly how thin Tandy is—not supermodel skinny, but hasn’t-eaten-much-lately skinny. Her clothes are high-quality but in poor condition, and there’s a smear of dirt on the underside of her jaw. Darcy sighs. Goddammit. There’s nowhere else she can think to put them—Claire’s empty apartment is out, because Santino would probably freak, and there are more than enough people in her own apartment anyway, not to mention the fact that she doesn’t exactly want anybody to be able to tell who she is.

The idea dawns on her slowly, like a sunrise. “Do you know where St. Patrick’s Cathedral is?”

Ty’s quiet for a long moment. Then: “M-Maybe.”

“The priest there, Father Lantom, he’s a good man. He might not be able to do much for you, but what he can do, he will. Not saying you have to go. Just—it might be better than what you have right now.”

She hears him swallow. “Wh-Where’s T-Tandy?”

“There’s an alley between a Chinese restaurant and a pawn shop, three blocks away from Daily Daze. I’ll wait with her there. How soon can you be here?”

“T-Ten minutes.” Ty hesitates. “M-Maybe f-fifteen.”

“Fifteen minutes I can do.” She looks up at Matt again, ignoring the way her muscles are twitching. Fight, run, dance, kill. “She’s safe with me, Ty. I promise you.”

Ty doesn’t say anything else. With a shaky sigh, he hangs up the phone. Darcy shoves Tandy’s back into her coat pocket (the lab coat is too thin for her, especially considering the chill in the air lately) and huffs. “I know,” she says. “I’m a soft touch.”

“Not what I was thinking.”

“Well, whatever you were thinking, wait to tell me until we get her off safe?” She squeezes her unbroken hand into a fist, ignoring the throbbing in her fractured fingers. “Shit. Father P’s gonna kill me for this.”

Matt doesn’t have anything to say to that. He bends down, and scoops Tandy Bowen into his arms. Darcy lets out a shocked, scared little noise—“your stitches, you idiot!”—but he just shakes his head. “Come on,” he says. “Jenson is waking up, and we should be gone by the time he snaps out of it.”

“I swear to god they both have some kind of mutation,” says Darcy, but she grabs her bag. “They should be completely out of their skulls by now.”

“I doubt the only thing they’ve been taking is heroin.” Matt heaves Tandy’s arm up across his shoulders. “I could smell mutant growth hormone on them, too. Maybe that did something.”

“Mutant growth hormone.” She shuts the door to the kitchen behind them, and then shoves a piece of PVC pipe through the door handle. “MGH that, dickweasel.”

Matt’s lip twitch, but he falls quiet after that.

Ty looks about as different from Tandy as a Klingon does from a Vulcan. Where she’s slender, pale-skinned and pale-haired, he’s tall and thicker-set, with the darkest skin that Darcy’s ever seen. His white t-shirt is torn at the collar, and smeared on one side with something that looks like charcoal. He stops dead at the sight of her mask, but then he seems to steel himself, and he darts forward to run one hand through Tandy’s cropped hair, gently, even though his fingers are shaking. It reminds Darcy very strongly of Jen, how he moves around Tandy, careful and loving and there, and it makes her throat hurt. Matt’s waiting half a dozen yards back and about three yards in the air, crouched on a fire escape the same way a panther will sit in a tree. Darcy crosses her arms over her chest, ignoring the twinge from her broken wrist (Ibuprofen when you get home, girly-girl) and says, “She’s okay, Ty. Just sleeping. She’ll wake up in a few hours.”

“She c-can’t hear me.” He touches Tandy’s cheek, and then steps past her, putting himself between Tandy and Darcy. She’s very careful to keep herself from flinching. “Masks d-don’t help p-people l-like us,” he says, and that breaks her heart, the determination and the agony in his face as he says it. “W-What d-do you w-want from us?”

“Nothing.” She clenches her fingers hard into her elbow to keep herself from reaching out. “She crossed paths with some bad people tonight. I just want to make sure she’s safe. That’s all.”

He stares at her. Then his eyes flick up, and widen. He’s found Matt in his perch. “Jesus C-Christ. You’re the d-d-devil. Y-You blew up Hell’s K-Kitchen.”

“I was framed,” Matt says quietly, and drops down to the ground again. He barely makes a sound on the concrete. “For the record.”

“Th-Then—” Ty’s eyes flick back to her. “Are y-you the B-Black W-Widow?”

“No. I’m just me.”

“L-Lilith,” Ty says, and Darcy nods.

“Yeah. Close enough.”

Ty’s eyes narrow. “Th-This isn’t Hell’s K-Kitchen. Wh-What are you doing here?”

Darcy taps the heel of her shoe against the wall. “Doesn’t really matter. Take Tandy. Get her somewhere safe. She’ll probably panic when she wakes up. And if either of you need anything, go to Father Patrick Lantom at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.” She smiles. “He likes people who ask deep questions.”

For a long time, Ty just looks at her. Then, very slowly, he tips his head forward into a nod. “Y-Yeah,” he says. “I c-can’t—maybe. I’ll th-think about it.”

It’s not a lot, but it’s all she’s going to get. Besides, she has a feeling that even something like that is a very big deal, coming from a homeless kid. She nods once, and steps away from the wall. “Take care of each other,” she says, and then she turns to Matt, and together they walk away into the dark.

.

.

.

It’s almost two in the morning by the time they get back to Matt’s apartment, and clamber in through the fire escape. There are blisters on the balls of her feet the size of fifty cent pieces, for some reason her hair smells like fish, her head is pounding, and extracting her broken hand from her glove is going to be the most painful thing in existence (well, except maybe the breaking of it in the first place) but there’s a tired sense of accomplishment hanging heavy off her limbs that reminds her of long days in the law library at Columbia, or a double-shift at the Starbucks with Zeke. She’s exhausted, but it’s for a reason, instead of just staying up all night watching Netflix. “No wonder you fall asleep at work all the time,” she says, and bites the inside of her cheek to keep herself from yawning. “I feel like fucking Aurora or some shit.”

Matt doesn’t say anything. He just drops down onto his couch (or eases his way down, in a way that makes her think he’s hurting more than he wants to say) and rests his head against the pillows, the mask dangling from two fingers. “Mm.”

“You asleep?” She peels off her second shoe, and lets out an awkward little hiss when her blistered feet touch the cold floor. “Shit. Band-Aids. Band-Aids now.

He hums again. She eyes him for a moment, and then drops down onto the couch next to him, tugging the first aid kit out from underneath.

“Hey, Matt.”

“Mm?”

“I’m on fire,” she says, and peels open a Band-Aid. “Like, blue flame. Very painful.”

“Sure you are,” says Matt, without opening his eyes. She wants her contacts out. Darcy presses the Band-Aid over the first blister, whining high in the back of her throat when she has to push down a little to make it stick.

“Well, at least I know you’re not dying.” She heaves her other foot up onto her knee, digging around for another Band-Aid. Her wig is very itchy. “How’s the war wound?”

“Fine.” He doesn’t touch it. There’s a puffy bruise blossoming all down one side of his face, as if he’s been knocked into something hard, over and over again. It wasn’t there when she’d left the apartment that afternoon. “No busted stitches. Somehow.”

“Well, good, because I’m sick of fixing it.” She watches him out of the corner of her eye. Her mouth tastes sour, like she’s swallowed curdled milk by mistake. “Do all your jaunts usually go that easy?”

He scoffs under his breath. “Not nearly. And considering my luck, it should have been much worse.”

“Guess I’m lucky, then.” She collects the Band-Aid wrappers, and closes the first aid kit, heading for the kitchen to deal with the trash. “It really didn’t bother you the way I thought it would.”

“What didn’t bother me?”

“Me being there. And—doing what I did.” There are still little aftershocks jolting through her system like static, from the taser, from the power, from the look on Matt’s face when she’d done it. “All of it. I thought—I thought it would bug you more.”

Finally, Matt opens his eyes. He turns his face towards hers. “Darcy, why would that bother me?”

She makes an impatient noise. “I don’t know. Because you were trying really fucking hard to keep me away from it, like, two days ago? And I wasn’t exactly—”

She stops. What wasn’t she? Rational? No, she’d felt rational. Like she’d been walking down the edge of a knife, too-sharp, cutting. Sane might be a better word. Or human.

“Nice,” she says, eventually. “I wasn’t exactly nice.”

He considers that. Then Matt shifts on the couch. “Come here,” he says, and Darcy creeps out of the kitchen and back into the living room, coming to a stop just beside the couch. Matt lifts her broken hand in both of his, and starts tugging the glove off, millimeter by millimeter, as gently as he can. He shouldn’t be able to do that, she thinks. Have hands that are cruel that can also be so, so careful. For the first time since the start of this, she thinks she might be seeing them both at once, Matt and the devil in one. Two halves of one creature. Like Gabriel, maybe. And Lucifer. She grits her teeth and squeezes her eyes shut until her hand is free again. “You shouldn’t have worn this,” he says, after a moment. “Your fingers are swollen.”

“They’re gonna be swollen for a while anyway. And I didn’t want to leave prints.”

“Mm.” He lifts her other hand, and peels the glove off. He doesn’t let go of her, though. His fingers are warm where they tangle with hers. “You’re right. I don’t think you should come with me again, not until you can fight. Until you can protect yourself. But—but it wasn’t bad, having you there. It’s—” He searches for a word. “I don’t want you to get hurt, but if you’re there, I can keep you as safe as I can. And it’s…” Matt’s mouth folds, strangely. “Three days ago I would have said no. I wouldn’t want you there. I wouldn’t want you to turn into me. But it’s different, now.”

“Because I’m different?”

He shakes his head once. “Because I think I finally know all of you, and it doesn’t scare me the way it would have before.”

She flinches, and nearly pulls her hand away. “Oh.”

“Shit, no. That’s not what I meant.” He sighs, sharp and quick, through his nose. “You think it frightened me. What you did.”

“Not—not exactly.” She can remember the way his lips had felt against her wrist. It’s distracting. “More like—it’s a part of me that I don’t—I don’t like showing it. I don’t.”

His hand tightens around hers. “Like a monster,” he says. “Clawing out of you. Like a demon.”

“Not anymore.” She shakes her head. She’s never talked about this. Not with anyone. But she’d told Matt about Eli, showed him the ugliest, cruelest part of herself. Maybe he can hear this, too. “Maybe—maybe before, when Eli was killed, it was like that. Now it’s—I don’t know. It never leaves. I’m never not—I’m never not angry, Matt. It’s always there, choking me. I can—I can hide it, and I do, but it’s—it’s always there. And I look at the world, I look what’s been done to it, to people like Kate and that girl tonight, Tandy, and I feel it. All through me. And when—when I let it out, it’s like—“

Matt lifts her knuckles to his lips. Then her fingertips. His mouth is just a little damp, like old rainfall on a hot day. She’s never seen him so tactile. She’s never seen him do this, not like—it’s as if he’s worshipping her. She doesn’t know what to think of it. “Seeing you angry doesn’t scare me, Darcy,” says Matt, and the words seem to crawl inside her and roost there, a dark, hovering crow. “You have never scared me. What I meant—earlier, I meant I would have been frightened for you. But I don’t think I would be anymore.” His mouth quirks. “Well, not the way I would have been, anyway.”

“Yeah, well. It didn’t scare me then, in the middle of it, but it—it scares me now, a little.” More than a little. Her heart’s trembling in her throat. “I don’t know what I could do, if I let that loose again. I don’t know what I’ll do.”

“I know what you’ll do.” Matt sets his free hand on her hip. “You’ll do the right thing. Like you did with Tandy and Ty, tonight. You gave them a chance. You could have hurt Lynch, and I wouldn’t have stopped you, because the bastard needs hurting, but you didn’t. You scared the shit out of him, and you did it for Kate. And for you. You kept your head, even when you let the monster out.”

“The monster.” She tastes the words on her tongue. “What do you do when the monster is you?”

Matt shakes his head once. “I’m not the best person to ask.”

Darcy pulls her hand from his, and threads her fingers through his hair. She likes doing it, she’s found. He always leans into the touch the way an alley cat would, half-shying away, half-begging for it. It’s no different now. His hands coast down her ribs to her hips, one thumb rubbing slow circles against the fabric of her turtleneck.

“It really doesn’t bother you.”

“No.” Matt curls his fingers into the back of her hip. “No. It’s as if—” But then he stops, because whatever he’s trying to say, he can’t quite voice it. That, at least, she understands.

“Yeah,” she breathes. “Yeah. I know.”

Like a recognition, she thinks, as she bends down and kisses his temple. Like they’ve found something in each other that matches, that snarls. A knowing, and an understanding. She thinks she hears him saying it, even if his lips don’t move. Matt turns his face into hers and kisses her, and the slow-burning fire in her muscles roars back to life. She digs her fingernails into his scalp and leans into him, pushing him back into the cushions. Yes. There’s a monster in her blood, and it’s howling. Yes and this and mine, and when she clambers forward onto the couch, straddling his lap, Matt’s hands slip under the seam of her shirt and up her back, his long fingers stroking the skin under the strap of her bra. Mine, she thinks again, and bites his lower lip. Matt makes a soft growling sound against her mouth and presses up into her with his hands, pushing and pulling at once. Mine.

Darcy draws back just enough to choke, and Matt drops his mouth to the skin of her throat, scraping at the tendons there with his teeth. The muscles in her thighs are shaking. “Your stitches,” she says, pushing at his shoulder, just a little. “Not with your stitches.”

“Fuck my stitches,” says Matt in a voice like shadow. He nips her collarbone. She laughs, breathless.

“Really would rather not fuck your stitches, Matthew.”

“That was terrible,” he says, and then they’re kissing again, and when she digs her nails in and curls her tongue around his the world fades. She’s hyperaware of every touch, of the way his fingertips keep seeking out the sensitive places in her skin without faltering, like he knows where they are on instinct. Darcy tugs uselessly at his shirt with her one good hand, and Matt breaks away from her just long enough to yank it up over his head and throw it aside before he goes back to her mouth, and yeah, okay, she’s way more than alright with the way his fingers keep dipping below the waistband of her leggings, and she loves how he doesn’t shy away when she uses her teeth, how he matches her, because nobody’s ever done that, nobody’s just let her want

Hey, it’s Karen, pick up your phone before I wreck your coffee collection. Hey, it’s Karen—

“No,” says Darcy against Matt’s mouth, and fights the urge to throw a pillow at the banana phone. “No.”

“She might need something,” Matt says, but he’s still tracing his lips down the side of her throat and his hands over her ribcage, which is so not helpful right now. “It might be important.”

“Important like your stitches are important?”

“Darcy,” he says, and it rumbles through her bones. Darcy. “Answer the phone.”

She clambers off him (Matt drops his head back to the cushions and squeezes his eyes shut) and yanks her wig and wig cap off as she fumbles for the banana phone. It’s a miracle the thing will still even accept calls, considering how busted it looks. She hits the accept button (three times, because the sensor won’t acknowledge) and then says, “Karen, honey, I love you, but what.”

Nothing. Silence. Her lungs squeeze.

“Karen?”

“Oh, god,” says Karen. Her voice breaks. “Oh, god. I shouldn’t have called you, I’m sorry, I’m—”

“You stay on the line,” Darcy snaps, and Karen stops talking. Her breathing’s coming fast and harsh through the spotty connection. “Karen, what happened? Are you okay?”

“He’s dead,” Karen says, and on the couch Matt comes to attention in an instant, lips pressed tight together. “I just—oh, god.”

“Honey, where are you?” Darcy presses the phone between her ear and her shoulder, and heads for her shoes. “I’m going to come find you, okay? Where are you?”

“I’m, um, at the river. I—I don’t know what to do. Darcy, I don’t know what to do.” She’s crying, and that more than anything frightens Darcy. Karen doesn’t cry. Karen hadn’t even cried when talking about the night she’d nearly been murdered. Karen doesn’t cry, and whatever this is, it’s bad enough that Karen’s sobbing, near hysteria. Her skin prickles like she’s been doused with ice water.

“I’m going to come meet you. Where should I meet you?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know. I just—I don’t know what to do. And you said—” she swallows. “You said I could always call. And Darcy, I can’t do this alone.”

“Karen, honey, listen to me. I’m going to go to the office, okay? Will you meet me there? No stops, just come straight to the office. All right? Meet me there in twenty minutes.”

“I don’t—I don’t know how long it’ll take me to get there. Um. There’s—I think I can catch a cab, but—”

“Half an hour. Any later and I’ll smack you.” Karen doesn’t laugh. Darcy swallows. “The office. Thirty minutes. Karen, tell me where you’re going.”

“The office,” Karen repeats. “Thirty minutes.”

“I’ll meet you there, okay?”

“Yeah.” Karen swallows. “Yeah. Okay.”

She hangs up. Darcy listens to the silence for a moment or two, and then closes her eyes. She breathes sharp and fast through her nose, because otherwise she’s going to cry. First Foggy, and then Kate, and now Karen. God, what’s happening to us? Every time she thinks something’s fixed it starts to break again, and she can’t handle it if this keeps happening. She can’t.

“What the hell was that?” says Matt.

“I don’t know,” she says, and curls in on herself. “But I’m going to find out.”

Chapter Text

The flicker of streetlamps on the backs of her eyelids makes her feel as though it’s all a dream, and telling herself that it’s true is probably the only reason she doesn’t lose her mind.

Karen leans hard into the door of the taxi, resting her forehead against the cool glass. It’s a gypsy cab, the only sort of cab that’d come near the docks this time of night; the backseat smells like cigarettes and there’s a big tear in the fabric of the seat, but the driver (a young, attractive Sikh with bottle-cap glasses) had been genuinely concerned for her. It’s the first time she’s ever had a cab driver do more than grunt at her or bitch about baseball scores. The picture ID hanging from his rear view mirror says his name is Ajeet Singh. He’s doing a truly remarkable job at exuding worry without ever actually saying anything, and she’s grateful for that, she really is. Still, most gypsy cabs are illegal, and that’s why she picked this one. Ajeet had been the youngest of the drivers around, and the skinniest, the person she could overpower if it came right down to it—exactly the sort of driver who can’t report her to the police unless he wants to get arrested himself.

(—the gun weighs heavy in her hands but she knows the weight of it, knows the heft, the only familiar thing in this moonscape of a warehouse, and he does well to hide it but she knows she can see fear in his eyes when she pulls back the hammer and says “do you really think this is the first time”—)

Her head hurts. Every time light and shadow flicker over her hands, she thinks she sees them bloody again. Danny’s blood or James Wesley’s, it doesn’t matter. There’s blood on her wrists, under her fingernails. She scrubs her palms against her skirt and closes her eyes again. Breathe. Come on, Karen, breathe. It’s a dream. Breathe.

(—do you really think this is the first time—)

The whole thing feels like a nightmare, skittering along the edges of her mind the way a cockroach clings close to a wall. Her bones scrape together when she moves. Her jaw aches. She’d hit the stairs hard, when Wesley had grabbed her. (She knows it was him, now. She knows the terrain of his hands like she knows the stretch marks on her thighs, a growth spurt in high school that had left its evidence behind. “A weed to willow,” her mother had said, patting her cheek, and Karen had bitched so goddamn much about the growing pains she’d barely even noticed the tremor in her mother’s hand. Her mind skips from present to past and back again, because that’s easier than looking the truth in the face.) Her pantyhose are torn, her knees are bloody and bruised, and there are marks deep in her palms where the edge of the stairs had caught against her skin. The cut from the night of the bombings is still puckered and pink on the heel of her hand. (You can read the story of her life in the marks on her body and she’s not sure how she feels about that other than resigned.) The spot on the side of her throat where he’d jammed the syringe (and who the fuck knows what he’d given her?) is puffy to the touch, and she avoids doing it.

“I’d contemplated chloroform,” he’d told her, as she’d been coming out of it. “But really, I’m done with having you people surprise me. With your track record you would have been some sort of mutant, and that would have just made my night.” There’s a bruise on her forehead from where she’d hit the stairs up to Darcy and Jen’s, and she knows she heard Elena singing a soft, lilting hymn behind the doorway as Wesley heaved her up into his arms and carried her away. He’d thrown it in her face, later. “Elena Cardenas in your apartment,” he’d said, as if to tell her, look, look at all the things we can do to hurt you, all wrapped up for us in one place. “Elena Cardenas and Jennifer Walters. So many people that you care about, Miss Page. Truly, it’s a testament to the sort of person that you are, that you manage to get so many on your side in so short a time.”

(—the feel of the trigger under her forefinger as she pulled it, once, twice, three, four, and every time is like watching a bomb go off inside his chest, blood flickering in the dim light, a little grenade inside the flesh of his torso, and I dunno, do you really think this is the first time—)

She’s very cold, even with the heater on full blast and her clothes finally free of the endless damp. She makes herself think about her breathing, the tug and loose of oxygen in her lungs. She can taste garbage in the air, garbage and car smog and humanity, the stench of the cigarettes embedded into every part of this cab (does Ajeet smoke or someone else?) (—the crush of unwashed garbage stacked on the sidewalks, the air that seems to adhere to your skin, a layer of filth you can never completely wash away—) (—and James Wesley is going to be her filth, that mark she’s never going to be able to free herself of, Lady Macbeth’s damned spot—) and it makes her think of the city as its own living thing, an ecosystem of metal and concrete, trash and human waste of every sort pumping through its corrugated cardboard veins. Mr. Fisk loves this city, Wesley had said, but she’s still not sure if she does. She’s killed for it, but she’s not sure if she loves it.

(—but you won’t be the first to die, Miss Page, no. No, I think—I think Mr. Urich will have that honor. And then we’ll go to your place of employment, see to Mr. Nelson, Miss Lewis, Mr. Murdock—a pity they all have to die, but they’ve already made it perfectly clear on which side they stand, how much you’ve corrupted them for anything better. Then, after that, I think we’ll be paying a visit to your home, see to Miss Walters, Mrs. Cardenas. And after that, anyone you have left to you, your friends, your family, anyone you’ve ever cared for, Miss Page, they’ll all die, and finally when you have absolutely nothing left to you, we’ll come for you, and you’ll be begging for us to kill you before we slit your throat—)

She doesn’t love the city. She hasn’t been here long enough. But she loves places in it, the places that mean something to her, she loves those. Karen loves the office and the apartment and Josie’s, as skeezy and terrible as it is. She loves Mrs. Cardenas’s home, even when it’s wrecked, because she can see the love that’s been poured into that place even when you have to turn your coat collar up to ignore the local drug dealers in order to get into it. She loves Matt’s apartment even with that fucking billboard and she loves Foggy’s living room with the bookshelves that are full to bursting. She loves the fold-out couch she’s used for the past few months, loves Darla lying on her chest in the middle of the night with her eyes half-closed and her teeth poised to find flesh, loves waking up to find Jen in the kitchen making coffee with her hair up in a messy bun like she’s never gone to sleep. She loves coming back to that place and finding Darcy on the corner of the couch with ice cream or a computer or a book and that when Karen sits down on the other end of the couch she scoots over to rest her head against Karen’s knee without even thinking about it, because to her that sort of touch means nothing when in reality that sort of acceptance and easy affection and companionship means everything.

She realizes that maybe it’s not the places she loves, but the people in them. Josie and Elena and Kate, Jen and Darla perched on her lap, Matt and Foggy and Darcy, those are her people. Her people, the only good things that she’s had since coming to this fucking city, and (—they’ve already made it perfectly clear on which side they stand—) those are the people she’ll stay for, that she’ll fight for.

(—think this is the first time I’ve—)

In the front seat, Ajeet Singh clears his throat. Karen jolts away from the door as if someone’s put a bullet in her (—she sees it again, the way the bullets strike home, the physics of it, how he moves, how it makes him twitch—) and when she finds his eyes in the rear view mirror, Ajeet looks like he wants to kick himself. “I’m sorry,” he says. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”

“No, it’s—it’s fine.” She wipes her eyes (and when did that even start? She can’t remember) and clears her throat. “What is it?”

“We’re here,” he says, and when she looks out the window she sees the restaurant and the pokey little door in the brick that leads up to Nelson, Murdock & Lewis. Karen closes her eyes and fights the urge to cross herself (an old habit from her parents, who’d never been quite sure what sort of religious denomination they’d fallen under).

“Sorry,” she says. “Um. How much do I owe you?”

Ajeet shakes his head. “No.” His voice is very soft. He sounds like he’s from Queens, or Brooklyn. (She doesn’t even know how to tell those apart, doesn’t try.) “Just—do me a favor?”

Her mouth turns tacky and in spite of everything she’s done tonight (—the first time I’ve shot—) her first instinct at hearing something like that, something so open-ended from a person she’s already labeled as a non-threat, is terrifying. “Um.”

“Oh god, no, not—nothing like that.” She thinks he might be blushing, but it’s too dark outside to tell. “Just—uh.” He digs through a backpack in the front seat, pulls out a notebook (is he a college student? He doesn’t seem quite that young) and scribbles a few things down on a blank page before tearing it free, and turning in his seat to hand the paper to her. “It’s—I know it’s weird,” he says, and Karen meets his eyes dead on, because she’ll give people that courtesy even if other people don’t do it to her, even if she’s the only one, sometimes, who will look anyone in the face. “But—yeah. It seems like—it seems like you’re having a hard time, and if you need—you know.”

“If I need a ride,” Karen says, slowly. There’s something inside her that stings like an ember on bare skin. His eyes crinkle at the corners.

“Yeah, sure. If you need a ride somewhere. Because to be honest, you are not the sort of person I would have expected to find wandering around the docks at two in the morning. So yeah. If you need something, just, y’know. If I can do anything to help.”

She looks at the paper. There’s a little smiley face at the bottom of it, and her eyes ache in her skull to look at it. Karen folds it up, and tucks the paper into her wallet, adding it to the sleeve where she keeps all of her important cards and knickknacks. Ajeet gives her a shy smile, and she makes herself smile back. She doesn’t even want to consider what it looks like.

“Yeah,” she says. “If—If I need a ride, I’ll call you.”

“Good,” says Ajeet. “This city can be dangerous, y’know? Better to have allies than enemies.”

She’s not sure why that hits her so hard, but it does. It knocks the wind out of her. Karen musters up a shaky little smile, and then opens the door to the gypsy cab, clambering out into the street. She already knows she’s not going to call him—he doesn’t deserve to get mixed up with someone like her, this guy who’s so strikingly kind even in the face of all the shit he must go through being a turbaned brown-skinned man in a city like New York, where Ground Zero lingers like an open, pussy wound. He deserves better than that.

(Do you really think this is the first time I’ve shot someone?)

This city can be dangerous, he’d said, and she wonders what he’d do if she tells him yeah, and I’m one of the dangerous parts. In this city full of monsters, I’m one of the things lurking in the dark.

.

.

.

Matt’s apartment is only ten minutes away from the office, but she has her boots back on and her coat hanging over her shoulder less than a minute after Karen hangs up. It takes longer to convince Matt that he doesn’t have to come with her, that he just has to listen until she makes it to the law firm and then butt his nose out. “Karen called me,” she says. “I get that you’re worried, but she called me. We can’t both ambush her. She’s expecting me. And if she doesn’t want to tell you, she doesn’t have to tell you, Matt. So back off.

Matt gets creases around his mouth that he only has when he’s angry and not wanting to mention it, but he says “okay” without a whole lot of venom, and when she turns away from him he tugs her back and kisses her swiftly on the mouth, so she thinks they’re okay.

She’s also pretty sure that he’s going to try and eavesdrop, but if she pretends that’s not happening, then, whatever, it’s not happening.

The result is that by the time Karen unlocks the door to the office, Darcy has coffee made and her feet up, tapping the edge of her phone too quickly with her fingernails. She’d at least managed to get most of her make-up off (she leaves remover wipes in her desk drawer for a reason; it only takes so long before eyeliner starts making her feel like a deranged panda), but the only really comfortable way to sit in her leather pants is to keep her legs as straight as possible, which is only going to happen if she props her boots on the desk.

It makes sense in this universe, okay? She’s checked.

Karen looks like hell. That’s the first thing that Darcy notices. Like someone’s opened her up along her spine and scraped everything out of her. Her eyes are red and her fingers are shaking as she drops her purse on the floor, and rubs her hands together, like she’s trying to warm them. Her keychain jangles between her palms. “Hey,” she says, voice cracked. “Sorry I’m late.”

“No, it’s okay.” Darcy stands. Her combat boots make awkward thunking noises against the floor. “What happened, Kare?”

“Don’t want to talk about it,” says Karen thickly.

“Ben’s okay?”

“Yeah. Yeah, Ben’s okay.”

Something in her unwinds. Whoever’s dead, at least it’s not Ben Urich. “Okay. You want coffee?”

“No.” She’s shaking. “Not—not really. Sorry.”

“It’s okay,” she says again. What else is she supposed to say? He’s dead. I can’t do this alone. She licks her lips. “Are you all right?”

There she goes with stupid questions again. Karen lifts one shoulder, and then lowers it. She rubs her arms, like she’s trying to get warmth back into them. “Um. I don’t—I don’t know.”

“Okay.” Darcy steps forward, slowly. When she touches Karen’s wrist, Karen flinches like she’s been struck. Darcy pulls her hand away. “Okay. You don’t have to be, if you’re not. Do you—do you want to stay here? Go back to the apartment, maybe?”

She doesn’t look injured. There’s a strange smell coming off her, sickly sweet, like rotting flowers. Karen rubs her arms again. “No,” she says. Then she swallows. “Maybe. I don’t know.”

“What do you want me to do?”

“I don’t know, Darcy, okay?” She jangles her keys in her hand. Karen snatches her bag off the floor. “Shit. I shouldn’t have come here. I shouldn’t have—”

“Did something happen?” Darcy asks, as Karen puts her hand on the doorknob. “With Fisk? With—with what you learned about him? Did something happen?”

Karen goes white. She’s so pale that she might actually faint, Darcy thinks, and she steps forward just in case Karen crumples to the floor. Then Karen presses her back to the wall beside the open door, propping herself up, tipping forward so that her hair hides her face. She shakes her head once, not a no, just a don’t. “Darcy,” she says, rough. “Stop asking.”

“I’m the annoying supporting character. I have to ask things.”

Karen laughs once, sharp, almost a bark. “Yeah, well, sometimes asking questions gets you into a hell of a lot of shit.”

Well, that helps, a little. She wonders if Matt’s listening to this, or if he’s turned his ears off. (Can Matt turn his ears off? Questions to ask.) She swallows. “Did Fisk—did Fisk learn about it? You visiting his mom. Or about Ben?”

Karen jerks her head once, and is silent.

“Did someone else learn about it?”

She flinches. Karen drops her keys, or they slip out of her hand, Darcy’s not sure. She doesn’t bend to pick them up again. “Darcy,” she says again. “Stop asking.”

“They did, didn’t they?” She feels skeletal. Why this night, of all nights? Why now, of all times? And: No matter what you do, Fisk can still get them. Fisk can still come for them. Then: Not if I fucking kill him first. She wants her gun back. She wants her taser in her hand. She wants blood underneath her fingernails. “They—they found out you and Ben went to see Fisk’s mom. Did they send someone after you? Did they attack you again?”

Stop,” Karen says, pressing her hands to her head. She sounds like broken glass, brittle and sharp. Darcy stops. This time when she reaches out, Karen shakes. She lets Darcy touch her, lets her rub warmth into her shoulders. She’s freezing cold, and Darcy’s not certain if it’s because of the weather or because of something else entirely.

“Karen. Honey.” She touches her lightly, the way she’d touch a scared animal. “You can talk to me. You know you can talk to me.”

“You’re keeping secrets,” Karen says. Her voice snaps, all frost and fire. “You and Matt and Foggy, you’re keeping a secret from me. You think I can’t tell? You think I can’t—Matt wasn’t hit by a fucking car, Darcy. You think—you think you’re helping by keeping secrets from me, but you’re not. You’re not,” she says again, digging her nails into her skin, like she’s trying to peel the flesh away from her face. “You’re not. It doesn’t help for you to lie to me when I’m supposed to fucking trust you.”

“Whoa, hey.” That escalated quickly. “Hey. Breathe.”

Don’t fucking tell me to breathe!”

“Okay, don’t breathe, then,” Darcy snaps, because her temper’s rising and what the fuck else is she supposed to say? Karen doesn’t notice; she clenches her hands into fists and starts to pace around the room, a tiger in a cage.  

“Something’s going on,” she says, too fast, as if she’s trying to force all the words out at once. “I know it has something to do with Fisk because it only happens when he’s involved, all of Matt’s bruises and you get that weird line between your eyebrows, it’s only been happening the past few days but it’s obvious, I can see it, and Foggy knows, he has to, because he was crawling under the fucking bar at Josie’s last night like he wanted to nest there and he was so fucking sad, and I’m going to hurt both of you for making him look like that, I swear to fucking god, I don’t know what you did but if I ever see him looking like that again because of you guys I’m going to destroy you—

“I’d let you,” says Darcy, but Karen doesn’t seem to hear.

“—and all that—that bullshit about the broken walls and the Japanese car and why you didn’t go to the fucking police when you were fucking tortured and what happened and how you escaped and all of it, Darcy, none of it makes any fucking sense, and you lie to Jen about it because you want to keep her safe but I thought we were supposed to be a team, okay? That’s what I thought, that—that I was a part of the team, and we were doing something, that we could trust each other, then the three of you keep this secret from me and now I feel like I should keep this secret from you because that’s what would be fucking fair, wouldn’t it? But I can’t breathe—I can’t—I don’t—”

“Karen.”

“You’re lying to me!” Karen shouts, and her hands are fists and her whole body is torqued with it, sketched in a vicious curve like a catapult drawn back to fire. “Stop lying to me!”

They just stare at each other. Darcy’s frozen. She feels pinned by the weight of Karen’s stare, the fury that’s gleaming through the cracks in the façade. It strikes her, all of a sudden, that she might never have seen the core of Karen at all. A kitten, she thinks. A tigress. A hurricane. Then, all at once, Karen crumples. She presses her face into her hands, and begins to cry, great heaving guttural sobs that are almost screams.

“Karen?” she says, and when she draws closer, Karen turns towards her, not protecting herself anymore, just needy and frightened and loud. “Karen, honey, oh my god.”

“I did something terrible,” she says, in a voice that doesn’t sound like Karen at all. “So terrible, Darcy, I can’t—I don’t—”

“Hey.” Darcy sets a hand to Karen’s shoulder, and this time she doesn’t jump. “Hey, come here.”

Karen lunges with a strangled gasp, pressing her face into the crook of Darcy’s shoulder. Her cheeks are warm and damp, and she’s smearing make-up into Darcy’s sleeve. She howls, and Darcy’s not sure how she came to be this person, how she’s the one that people like Kate Bishop and Karen Page, the strong ones, the ones that stand tall and lead the charge, turn to when their disguise breaks down. Something whispers in her that it’s because they’re like her, Karen and Kate: they have that same fury in them, that same passionate rage, and they recognize it in each other the same way she’s found her match in Matt. That’s why they feel safe around each other, that’s why they understand, and it’s why she knows for a fact that if she needs anything, if she needs to break, she can go to any of them, Matt or Karen or Kate, because they’ll rage with her, they’ll get it in a way no one else can, not Jen or Foggy or Elena or Father P, because that monster’s in them, too. It doesn’t make them lesser, Foggy, Jen, Elena, and Father P, it just makes them different. Because Kate, Karen, Matt, Darcy: we are the things nightmares are made of. Maybe they feed off each other, maybe they make each other worse, but they’re a tribe now, all of them, the nightmares and the daydreams. I am theirs, they are mine. And that’s what matters.

All of it tumbles through her like an avalanche, and she presses her lips to Karen’s temple and makes soothing noises. Darcy strokes her hair, and her cheeks are wet. She’s crying. Her voice shakes. “Hey.” Karen hides her face in Darcy’s neck. She’s nothing but agony, not even sobbing anymore, her mouth open against Darcy’s shoulder, just long, thin screams muffling against Darcy’s shirt. “Hey, you’re okay. You’re okay. I’m here. You’re okay.”

Karen makes a sound that’s almost a moan, but deeper, a low, broken sound that fractures at the end. She shakes her head against Darcy’s shoulder, and digs her nails into the back of Darcy’s neck. “No,” she says, “No, no. No.”

“Karen,” Darcy says. “Karen, who’s dead?”

She shatters. Karen draws back, presses a hand tight over her mouth. She dry-heaves. Darcy doesn’t know what to do. Karen’s the strong one, she thinks. Karen keeps us on point. If Karen’s like this— “I killed him,” Karen says through her fingers, and Darcy winds her arms tight around Karen’s waist. She understands, now, what Jen was trying to do. Keep her here, she thinks. Keep her safe. Karen leans into her until Darcy’s bearing almost all her weight, and Darcy lets her. “I killed him. Oh, god. I killed him. He—he put the gun on the table and he thought I wouldn’t d-do it but I did, he thought I’d be weak and I wasn’t, I shot him and I th-threw the gun away, Darcy, I threw it away, but they’re—he’s dead, he’s dead, I don’t know what to do, he’s dead and he knew about me and B-Ben going to see Fisk’s mother, and what if he’s told Fisk, what if he’s told Fisk about Ben, he said he didn’t, but what if he said something, what if—”

“I’m here. Okay? Just breathe. Just for a minute. Just breathe.”

“He thought he’d scare me.” She doesn’t seem to even know what she’s saying anymore. She’s babbling, like a lanced wound, all of the infection pouring over them both. “Wesley, he thought—he thought the gun would scare me, and I was so, so scared, Darcy, I thought I was going to die, but he died instead, I killed him, he thought I was weak and I wasn’t, I killed him, I killed him—”

Wesley. I killed him. Wesley, dead. It ripples through her in an earthquake, the shuddering knowledge of it. James Wesley is dead. The man who’d looked at her with bright, considering eyes, who’d threatened them all, who’d turned her over to Nobu and offered her a job and put a bandage on her hand and said better to kill them both now before they fuck things up worse, that man is dead. Fisk’s right hand man is gone because of Karen Fucking Page. Her tether lines have been cut, and she’s drifting in a starless sea. Darcy closes her eyes. “Wesley’s dead.”

Karen nods. She’s hyperventilating, shaking, breathing too fast and too hard to stay standing. “I killed him,” she says again, and she buckles. Her knees hit the floor first. Darcy’s yanked down with her, bent awkwardly, her hair caught in one of Karen’s earrings. Karen doesn’t notice. “I—I murdered him. He was going to murder us all. I killed him.”

And Fisk is going to come after you. Their milk and honey queen, sweetness and fury in one, Fisk will hunt her like an animal, until she’s in pieces. Darcy crouches down, pressing her hand to Karen’s cheek, searching her eyes. Karen won’t meet her gaze. Instead, she bites her first knuckle and begins to rock, crying quietly. She can’t seem to stop. What can I do? What is she supposed to say? She wets her lips. “You killed him?”

“I shot him.” The words send a shiver up Karen’s spine. She grabs Darcy’s wrist, holds on. “I shot him. He left the gun in my reach and I shot him. Darcy, I killed him. I—I took his life, I don’t—I’m not—”

She doesn’t know what to say, but her mouth moves anyway. “Good,” Darcy snarls, and Karen freezes. “People try to kill you, you kill them back. You don’t just roll over. You don’t just let them hurt you. You killed him. Good.”

Karen hiccups. Her eyes narrow until they’re slits. “But—”

“He was a monster.” There’s something cold in her, icy and crusted over with hoarfrost. “He played Temple Run while Nobu put a knife through my hand.” And then he bandaged it later, she thinks, and the whole of her insides turns over, because she doesn’t want to remember that. She wants to remember the way he’d looked at her, the way he’d said good girl, like she was a dog that needed petting. The way the sniper sight had bobbed against the fabric of her shirt. “He tried to hurt you and you hurt him back. He tried to kill you, you killed him back. You’re alive, he’s not. Good.”

Karen turns absolutely still. Then, slowly, she raises her hands. She hooks her fingers through Darcy’s, holding on. She doesn’t touch Darcy’s broken hand. “I don’t want that kind of power,” she says. “I don’t—I don’t want to hurt people. I killed him. And it was so easy. That’s not what I wanted. I wanted—I wanted—”

“Justice.”

“The truth,” Karen corrects. “Out there, for everyone to see. I didn’t want them dead.”

“And then he tried to kill you.”

“And then he tried to kill me.”

The dark part of her is curled into a ball, legs twitching. It can’t see why Karen’s stuck on this, on this moment of death. But then she thinks of life, of choice, and she understands it. “Did you go in there aiming to kill him?”

She blinks. “N-No, but—”

“Did you plan it?”

“No, but—”

“Was he innocent?”

“No.” Her eyes are opening, wider and wider, like mirrors. “Darcy—”

“Did he try to hurt you?”

“He—he offered me a job.” Like he did with me. Wesley seems to have wanted a secretary rather desperately. “And—and then his phone rang, and I just—I grabbed the gun, and he was g-going to—he was going to kill all of you, he said, if I didn’t—because I didn’t do what he wanted, one by one, all of you, he was going to hurt you, he was going to—”

“So you killed him,” Darcy says. “You didn’t kill him for you. You killed him for us. You killed him to protect us. You killed him for us, Karen.”

Karen wavers. There’s hair sticking to her mouth. “But I—”

“You saved us.” She strokes her thumb over Karen’s cheek, smearing mascara and eye shadow. “You saved us, Karen. You killed him but you saved us.”

Karen closes her eyes and breathes. “But I killed him,” she says, and this is the sticking point. This is what Darcy can’t understand, and even with all the hate inside her, some part of her hopes that she’ll never understand it. She’s on one side of a crevasse, and Karen’s on the other, and that can’t be changed.

“Yeah.” She keeps her voice firm, and flat, and even. “You killed him. You carry that with you. You never forget it. But you did it for us. You did it to protect us. You’re not a monster. You did it to protect us, Karen. You’re not an animal.”

“I shouldn’t have told you.” Her face is screwing up again. “It’s—it’s staining, it’s everywhere, I can’t get the feel of the gun off my hands, Darcy, I don’t—”

“Karen.” She kisses one cheek, and then the other. Her vivid red lipstick leaves prints behind. With the black streaks from Karen’s mascara, the marks look like twisted war paint. “Karen, listen to me. You did the right thing. You killed him, and that was wrong, but you’re not evil. You’re not stained. Do you hear me? You are good. You are a good person, and you are a strong person, and we’re going to get through this. Do you understand?”

“Don’t tell Foggy,” Karen says, and her voice is so utterly broken. “Don’t tell Foggy or Matt. Please, please don’t tell them. I don’t know—I can’t. They can’t know. Darcy, they can’t.”

Darcy closes her eyes. “Okay,” she says, because it’s the only thing she can say. “Okay. Not yet.”

“Not ever.”

Oh, god. She’d promised she’d never lie to Foggy again. She’d promised. “Karen.”

Please,” Karen says, and her nails bite into Darcy’s elbows. “Darcy, please. You can’t tell them. You can’t, I don’t—I don’t want them to hate me, please, please don’t tell them, please, please—”

“Okay.” The word rips pieces of her throat out with it. “Okay. I won’t tell them. I promise, Karen, okay? I won’t tell them. I won’t. Not unless—not unless you want me to.”

“Don’t tell me what?” says Foggy in the doorway, and Karen screams. She actually screams, scrambling to her feet and pressing a hand to her lips like she’s holding back bile. Foggy jumps so badly that he drops his coat, and stares at them both with eyes like plates. “Jesus. You look terrible. What happened?”

Karen shakes her head, wordless. For a second, Darcy thinks she’s going to dissolve into dust. Then she bolts. She doesn’t even grab her purse; she runs through the door and clatters down the stairs and is gone before Darcy can even pick herself up off the floor. When she tries to stand, she slips. She hears Foggy call Karen’s name, hears footsteps on the wood, but she’s done something to her wrist in the landing—the world blacks out for a minute or two, and there’s only pain, sick and nauseating, radiating up her arm like a cancer. When she can finally sit up without puking, Foggy’s crouched over her, petting at her hair and glancing at the door like he’s just seen a ghost.

“Shit,” says Darcy, and picks herself up off the floor. Foggy offers her a hand, and she yanks herself up. “Shit. Foggy, where’d she go?”

“I don’t know, I made it down to the street and she was gone, I didn’t see her anywhere—what the fuck happened?”

“Karen’s having a bad night,” Darcy says. There are still tears damp on her cheeks. She might have thrown up in her mouth a little. “Foggy, I think I did something to my wrist.”

“Holy shit,” says Foggy. “Um—hospital?”

“No hospital.”

Yes hospital, what if you broke it again?”

“I don’t think I did. I think it’s—I think it’s the stitches in my hand, I just jostled the break, I think. Look, the cast is fine.” And the cast is fine. It’s her fingers that look kind of iffy. And the bloody bandage over her palm. “Fuck a mother goose. What are you even doing here?”

“I forgot some papers—do you want me to call CC?”

“I don’t want to call her unless it’s an emergency.”

“If you’ve broken anything else, it’s an emergency.”

“No, it feels better.” And it is, slowly. The pain is fading back to something manageable. “Karen’s more important right now. Because we’r