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Breakfast at Nelson & Page's

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Matt freezes. Carefully he takes a long sniff, breathing in every bit of the scent he can detect - flour, yeast, salt, barley malt. Bagels. Fresh bagels by the smell of it and what’s even better, Matt can’t detect anything that’s not supposed to be there. His stomach rumbles reminding him that in his panicked rush to leave for work this morning, he forgot breakfast. Another sniff adds the scent of decent coffee to the air and Matt gives in. He has time for a quick bite to eat and coffee. He’s got a long day of trying to make himself defend a monster after a night of trying to track down a shadow; he’s going to need coffee.

He enters the shop and instantly realises there’s no one manning the front counter, though he can hear voices in the back of the shop. Clearly they’re still cooking. ‘Hello?’ he calls and someone drops something with a muttered swear word.

The swearer - a man, about Matt’s height but slightly overweight by the sound of his footsteps - comes storming out. He can smell the batter on the man, and under it the scent of a perfume that must belong to his romantic partner. ‘We’re not open, can’t you se- oh shit,’ he finishes as Matt holds up his cane. ‘Ah. Sorry.’

‘The door was unlocked,’ Matt offers in his defence, with a small smile. The man’s heart jumps at the smile and Matt sighs internally. Great. ‘I just, wanted bagels? And I know there’s a shop along here that sells them,’ he lies. ‘Am I in the right place?’

‘You most certainly are! And just in time for the first batch of the day, good timing you!’

Matt’s smile this time is genuine. ‘Thank goodness. I thought my nose was leading me wrong for a moment there.’

The man laughs and something in Matt clenches. He has a lovely laugh. ‘I’m Foggy Nelson, co-owner of this joint.’ He starts to walk off then pauses, ‘Okay I’m going to go grab the batch Karen just pulled out of the oven. They’re plain, is that okay?’ Matt nods, ‘Awesome. Take a seat buddy and I’ll bring you one right over - there’s a chair three steps to your left, if you turn like ninety degrees.’ He’s gone before Matt can reply.

Matt takes three steps and sure enough there’s a seat there. Exactly as narrated. His heart does another silly flutter.

Before he has any time to muse, Nelson is back bringing with him something that smells of butter. ‘I just buttered it; wasn’t sure if you’d want anything else and well. We don’t actually open for like another half hour so there’s not really much else to have. Not that we’re not prepared, we are but we don’t usually get a rush for another hour and well, our early birds tend to like plain butter.’ During Nelson’s rambling, Matt discreetly feels his watch and realises it’s barely six. Surely it was later? He really needs more sleep if he misheard his clock’s five for nine.

‘Butter is fine, thank you. I’m so sorry about this. I honestly had no idea it was this early.’ Matt pats at his watch, ‘I thought it was nine not six.’

That gets a laugh from Nelson as he takes a seat across from Matt, ‘Misread… - heard… read? - your watch, huh?’

‘Misread,’ Matt says with a nod and takes a bite of the bagel.

It’s like biting into heaven. There’s no taste of dirt, not even the faint traces he’s used to and the ingredients are clearly high quality. It’s warm too but not too hot; at that perfect place between just out of the oven and been cooked for a while. And the bagel itself… Matt’s never tasted the like. He finds himself groaning a little, then flushing because holy shit the baker is sitting right there.

‘Good?’ Nelson asks with a laugh and Matt nods, too busy eating to speak. ‘Certainly sounds it.’

‘Foggy?’ A woman calls as she emerges from the back. Matt is distracted by this perfection but not so distracted that he misses her footsteps so he doesn’t jump. ‘Are you… are we opening early?’ From here, Matt can smell her perfume - strawberries and vanilla. Exactly like the scent on Nelson… right, together then.

Matt swallows his bite, resists the temptation to take another bite and answers for Nelson, ‘I’m sorry, this is my fault. I couldn’t read the sign and the door was open-’

‘I’ve told you about leaving the door unlocked, Foggy!’ she cries but there’s amusement in her voice. ‘Well, welcome to Nelson and Page’s Mr-?’

‘Murdock. Call me Matt, please.’ He goes to take another bite and realises the bagel is half gone. ‘And this has to be the best bagel I’ve ever had.’ Both the woman and Nelson make delighted noises at that.

‘I’m Karen Page,’ the woman says, her heart beating just like Nelson’s. ‘And it’s nice to meet you Matt. Can I get you a cup of coffee?’ With another nod, Matt takes another large bite of his bagel. ‘Creamer?’

‘No thank you. Just black. Double shot too?’

Beside him Nelson laughs, ‘Strong and black huh?’

‘Matches my soul,’ Matt jokes and it gets another beautiful laugh out of Nelson. ‘And helps with the long hours.’

Page moves towards the table, ‘You work in business?’ Matt hears her place the cup on the table but pauses, unsure of if he should reach for it.

‘Coffee’s at your ten o’clock,’ Nelson narrates and Matt flashes him a grateful smile. Page groans, a near silent noise, at her error.

‘Thanks. I’m a lawyer actually. Hence the long hours.’ He shrugs and feels around his plate. There’s no more bagel left.

Nelson laughs. ‘Oh man I was nearly a lawyer.’ He pauses and must be examining Matt by the tilt of his head. ‘Want another?’

Matt hesitates but nods. ‘To go? I really should get out of your way.’

From her place behind the counter Karen calls out, ‘You’d have to be in the way to get out of it.’

Matt ducks his head a little to hide what he’s sure is a faint blush. ‘Still. It was nice meeting you Miss Page, Mr Nel-’

‘Foggy and Karen, please,’ Foggy says as they both stand. Karen was thoughtful enough to give Matt a takeaway cup and he can hear the rustling of a bag as she puts his second bagel into it.  

So he grabs his cup and heads up for the counter. The second he’s there, he puts his cup down and fumbles for his wallet. ‘How much?’

‘Five dollars,’ Karen says and Matt frowns. That sounds low to him, almost too low. So he feels around for a twenty and hands it over with a smile.

‘Keep the change.’

‘Ah, that’s a twenty,’ Foggy points out from just behind Matt and Matt’s traitorous heart does the fluttery thing again. Even if Foggy’s just being a decent human being, it’s something so rare in Matt’s experience…                                                                                                              

‘I know,’ he says, managing to keep the fluttering out of his voice. ‘Thank you for the bagels and company.

Before they can reply Matt’s tapping his way out the door. He’s going to be ridiculously early for work but can’t find it in himself to care.

********

The next morning, Matt finds himself racing through his morning routine so as to make it to Nelson and Page’s by six thirty. The door is unlocked again but this time there’s someone - Foggy - standing behind the counter.

‘Are you open this time?’ Matt calls and Foggy jumps.

‘Holy shit, you are a ninja. I didn’t even hear the door open!’

Matt laughs. ‘I have been known to kick an ass or two in my spare time.’ This truth gets a laugh from Foggy, which causes Matt’s smile to grow.

‘What can I get for you?’

‘Anything, so long as it’s as good as yesterday’s.’

Foggy laughs then waves a hand. ‘Okay I just waved a hand. Take a seat my young padawan and I will introduce you to the wonders of our breakfast bagel.’

‘Sounds perfect,’ Matt says, ignoring how his heart thumps at Foggy’s narration. Not a once off then. ‘And coffee?’

‘Coffee. Black right?’

Matt nods. ‘That’ll be perfect.’

A few minutes later Foggy brings over a bagel smelling of bacon and egg along with a coffee that’s strong enough that Matt can already taste it. He pulls out a seat but pauses before sitting. ‘You don’t mind if I join you? Mornings are always a bit slow until like seven and Karen’ll be busy baking until then.’

‘I don’t mind,’ Matt says and takes a bite of his bagel. He savours the taste as contentment washes through him. This is perfect.

Foggy laughs. ‘Oh man, if we could capture the look on your face, it would be perfect advertising.’

‘I’m not sure anyone would want to look at my face when it’s stuffed full of bagel,’ Matt says between bites.

‘Dude, I’d look at your face anytime. It’s like, the most handsome of wounded duck faces.’ Matt pauses, surprised at the compliment. Is he flirting? ‘It’s like, the best advertising to have a model like you eating our food.’ No, it’s just Matt’s wishful thinking.

No, not wishful thinking because there’s nothing to be wishful for. Matt decides to change the subject. ‘So, you’re not busy of a morning?’

‘Nah, no one really wants to be awake right now.’ Foggy pauses then adds, ‘You could have stuck around yesterday you know. We really didn’t mind your company.’

It’s Matt’s turn to blush at the idea someone likes his company. He lowers his head, fiddling with the few bites of his bagel that are left. ‘I’ll keep it in mind.’ His mind flashes back to what Foggy said yesterday and he asks, ‘You said you were almost a lawyer? Is there a story there?’

‘Oh yeah. Good memory.’ Foggy shrugs. ‘Not much of one really. I got accepted into Columbia law school but well, my Mom got sick so I had to defer starting to help out. And then I met Karen and well… we had the idea for this place and the skills to make it happen so,’ he shrugs again, ‘we did. Not exactly an exciting story.’

Matt smiles. ‘Sounds exciting enough to me. Must be in the telling.’ Columbia law. They might have been classmates, if Foggy had gone. Maybe even roommates?

No, stop it Matt. He pulls his mind out of this line of thinking, before a daydream of Foggy as his law school roommate takes over his mind. No matter how good a fantasy it is.

‘If you say so buddy,’ Foggy says with a laugh. ‘You’re probably the first person to like my story telling.’

‘Because you’re usually telling the butcher story,’ Karen calls out bringing the scent of fresh bagels with her. Sesame by the smell of it which is enough to have Matt’s mouth watering. ‘And it’s your turn, get out there.’

Foggy grumbles but gets up. Before Matt can rise, Karen slips into his seat and swaps out his empty plate for one with a fresh bagel on it. ‘On the house,’ she says, her smile audible in her voice. ‘Should keep you here longer this time.’

Matt smiles at her. ‘Well I’m certainly not going to argue with the lady of the house.’

She giggles and Matt can sense the heat on her cheeks. ‘You’re probably the first to call me that.’

‘A beautiful woman like you? No!’ Matt tries to keep the smile on his face innocent and knows he’s succeeded when she blushes harder.

Then it must dawn on her what he said because she laughs and lightly slaps at his hand. ‘You did not just say that!’

‘Oooh, what did he say?’ Foggy asks, poking his head back into the shop.

‘He called me beautiful,’ Karen laughs.

‘Well you are?’ Foggy says, sounding confused. Then it clicks, ‘Oh! Okay wow, that’s… huh. Does that actually work?’

Matt shrugs. ‘More than you’d think it would.’ That gets a laugh out of both of them. ‘And it’s not like I’m lying,’ Matt adds, ‘just that my idea of beautiful probably doesn’t match everyone else’s.’

‘What do you think is beautiful?’

‘A kind voice. Laughter.’ Matt shrugs, ‘Things like that.’

There’s a moment of silence and Matt starts to think he’s said something wrong. But then Karen says, ‘That kinda makes sense.’ Foggy hums in agreement and she turns to him, ‘Weren’t you cooking?’ Foggy swears and retreats to where Matt can smell their bagels baking, causing Karen to laugh. ‘He’d forget his own head if he didn’t have me,’ she says to Matt.  

‘Good thing he does have you then. To keep him in line.’

‘It’s a full time job,’ Karen jokes. ‘I run a bagel shop in my spare time.’

Matt laughs, ‘You must be a very busy woman then. I should stop taking up your time.’

‘Oh… I don’t think you’re taking up my time. Helping me spend it wisely maybe.’ Matt feels a blush start and turns slightly away, hoping that’ll hide it. ‘It’s nice to have some company in here. New York isn’t exactly the friendliest of cities.’

So Karen must be new here. ‘It has its moments,’ he says in as neutral a tone as he can, ‘I find it’s like any person; New York can be as good as it can be bad.’ He shrugs. ‘Well at least in Hell’s Kitchen.’

‘You sound like Foggy. He’s always seeing the best in this place, even after experiencing the worst of it.’ She pauses and seems to consider him, ‘You grew up here.’

It’s not a question. ‘Is it that obvious?’

‘Like I said, you sound like Foggy. He grew up here too and he’s just as defensive of Hell’s Kitchen.’ Something in Matt jumps at the realisation that Foggy’s just as much a Hell’s Kitchen boy as he is. There’s something about knowing a person grew up in your city; a realisation that they might just get it in ways people who didn’t grow up in it might not manage.

‘Well someone has to defend it,’ Matt says with a smile. ‘Seems to me it’s got a bit of a bad rap, since the ‘Incident’.’

‘Is that what it’s being called now?’

‘I’m told it’s easier than ‘that time the skies opened and rained fire and destruction that nearly wiped Hell’s Kitchen off the map’ but I could be wrong.’

Karen laughs and Matt feels for his watch. She must notice the motion because she asks, ‘Do you need to go?’

Matt grimaces, ‘I do, unfortunately.’ He pulls out his wallet and feels around for another twenty, which he hands to Karen. ‘I think I’ll be back though.’

‘I look forward to it,’ she says with a smile and goes to get him his change. Matt takes the chance to sneak out without it and is halfway down the street when he hears her curse his ninjaness.

********

From then on, breakfast at Nelson and Page’s becomes a part of Matt’s morning routine. A necessary part even. He’s always there soon after they open and stays until he absolutely has to go, talking the whole time with either Foggy or Karen - who ever doesn’t have baking duties. Occasionally it’s them both, when they can leave the bagels alone for a moment or too.

‘It’s like babysitting small children,’ Matt jokes one morning as he listens to Foggy describe how much of the baking process involves constant vigilance but also just instinctively knowing when something is cooked. He remembers experiencing something similar from the times he was allowed to watch the younger children at St Agnes.

‘I hope it’s nothing like that!’ Foggy jokes. ‘You shouldn’t bake small children. Unless you’re a witch.’

‘Not all witches bake children!’ Karen calls from the kitchen. ‘Don’t lump us all together.’

Matt starts laughing, ‘Am I to assume you’re a good witch then?’

‘Oh no. The Wicked Witch had fire and flying monkeys. I’m her.’ Karen seems to consider this for a moment, ‘Just without the whole melting in water thing.’

‘Well so long as you don’t try to kill our little dog,’ Foggy says, ‘and leave our red shoes alone we should be fine.’

Matt frowns. ‘I don’t think I own anything red,’ he lies and waits.

It takes a moment but Foggy gasps and goes, ‘Wait, your glasses are red! You’re lying!’ Matt starts to laugh and nods.

‘I know I own red things… or so I’m told. It’s hard to tell.’ That places a slight damper on the laughter but Matt smiles and the others seems to take it as an indication to keep laughing.

Laughter has become a part of Matt’s morning routine, just as much as the bagels. It’s… nice really, to come and bask in the warmth that is interacting with Foggy and Karen. He’s nearly late for work a couple of times, caught up in their tales about how they met - literally running into another at a coffee shop -;  how and why they decided to run a bagel shop - why not, says Foggy but also because it’s a family recipe -; and stories about the best and worst of customers. Foggy’s a great story teller who always has Matt in stitches but Karen has a way of connecting emotionally with Matt through her stories.  

In return Matt tells them about his job as a newbie lawyer at an almost broke little firm. He hasn’t got the way with words his friends do but he can manage to have them hissing in outrage at how he had to defend the monstrous Healey - though he leaves out the bit where the man killed himself in front of Matt after finally giving up a shadow’s name - but also laughing at how some of Matt’s clients have tried to pay him in favours.

His friends laugh harder when Matt clarifies that he means food favours.

Friends. Huh. Matt’s not had any of those for years.

*******

It’s about a month after meeting them that an asshole who’d been about to rape a woman gets in a lucky hit to Matt’s face and he turns up for breakfast with a split lip. And maybe a black eye; though Matt’s not sure if the pain and heat he can feel has translated into a bruise.

‘Oh God!’ Karen cries as soon as he walks through the door. ‘What happened? Foggy, Matt’s hurt!’

‘I’m fine,’ Matt declares even as Foggy races out. ‘Just tripped taking out the trash. I guess there’s ten steps not nine.’

‘Uh huh,’ Foggy says, sounding disbelieving. ‘And the trash bin must have a great left hook because that’s one hell of a black eye buddy.’ Well Foggy’s wrong about it being a left hook that caused his black eye- the piece of trash who hit him had a great right hook. But of course Matt can’t correct him.

At the same time, something in Matt warms at Foggy’s customary nickname for him. He’s also warm because of the care they’re showing him. Karen races off to make his favourite coffee and bagel while Foggy gently guides him to a seat. ‘I hope you put ice on that.’

Matt nods, ‘I did. It’s nothing, really.’ Because it is. Just a fight with a monster that thought a woman saying ‘no’ meant ‘convince me’. With violence. Just one more bit of awful in Hell’s Kitchen but at least this time, the woman’s screams had not gone unanswered. ‘I’m just a bit clumsy sometimes.’ He’d been extremely stupid in missing that the punch was coming at least.

‘Uh huh,’ Karen says as she brings over the coffee. ‘I’ll admit I’ve only seen you in here but Matt… you’re not clumsy.’ She takes the seat next to him. ‘Please, tell us what happened. We… we can help, if you need it.’

Oh shit. ‘I’m fine,’ he insists, ignoring how their heartbeats are spiking. ‘There’s nothing to tell.’

Karen and Foggy exchange a look but for all Matt’s abilities he’s never been able to ‘see’ expressions beyond what he can hear in voices and deduce from their bodies. ‘Okay,’ Foggy says. ‘But Matt? If there’s ever anything we can do, we’re here.’

‘Remember that,’ Karen adds. ‘Please.’

The warm feeling from earlier threatens to engulf Matt and he has to look down to hide the way his cheeks are heating up. ‘Thank you.’

*********

Warm arms surround him; strong arms smelling of batter and cream cheese. Enclosed in his arms is a slightly smaller body, smelling much the same but with the taste of strawberries on his tongue. He shifts and the hair in his face shifts too as its owner rolls to face him.

‘Awake already Matt?’ Karen asks.

‘He’s been awake for a while now,’ Foggy says, his voice sleepy but amused. ‘Thinks staying still will keep us from noticing.’

She laughs. ‘Well that failed.’ He finds himself smiling as she pulls him into a deep kiss, Foggy assaulting his neck with kisses from behind-

Matt wakes up, warm but with a pounding heart. He thumps at his clock for the time as the memory of the dream he just had settles into his mind.

Oh shit. Oh shit. Oh shit.

********

Honestly, if Matt hadn’t sensed it that first day it’s unlikely he would know Foggy and Karen are in a romantic relationship. They’re subtle with their affection, rarely demonstrating it before Matt and certainly never referring to it with pet names. But it is still there; in their voices and their interactions. If you know to look for it, it’s there to see… well, ‘see’.

So he’s known from the start any chance of being with one of them was hopeless. But being with both of them, together… Matt hadn’t thought himself so selfish that he would want two people at once let alone two people who are so obviously happy together. Without him.

But he can dream apparently.

********

Breakfast the morning after Matt’s dream would be awkward except for the fact that both Foggy and Karen seem preoccupied. Foggy drops at least four things in ten minutes and Karen takes four tries to make a cup of coffee for everyone. Matt’s coffee ends up having milk in it.

‘What’s wrong?’ he finally asks and they both jump.

‘What do you mean?’ Karen asks, her tone confused and suspicious,

‘There’s something in your voices, both of your voices.’ Matt takes a sip of coffee and grimaces for effect. ‘And well, there’s milk in my coffee. You’ve not done that, ever.’

Matt hears Karen’s palm hit her face. ‘Well shit.’ She pulls up the seat beside him and collapses into it with a defeated sigh. ‘Are we that obvious?’

‘Just a bit. What’s wrong? Can I help?’

Foggy takes the seat beside Matt and he can hear the crinkling of the papers in his hands. ‘We umm, got an offer. To buy this place out.’

Matt frowns. ‘You own here? I thought you ah, rented. Most people around here do.’

Foggy shrugs and narrates the action. ‘A cousin of mine was expanding their business and getting out of Hell’s Kitchen so we got the place dirt cheap. Family discount and all that. Makes life a little easier and harder.’ He flattens out the paper in his hand. ‘And apparently this guy really wants our silly little place because he’s just offered like, five times what we should’ve paid for it.’

‘Five times?’ Matt says with a spit take.

‘I know,’ Karen says. ‘And the thing is, I don’t know if you’ve noticed but we’re close to the only place around here that’s been open longer than six months. Everywhere else is brand spanking new.’

Something dawns on Matt. ‘This isn’t the first offer.’

‘No,’ Foggy admits. ‘He’s offered a half dozen other times and the offer keeps going up.’

Karen shifts in her seat. ‘And we’ve had a half dozen health inspectors in since this all started too.’ Matt frowns, sure inspections don’t have to be that regular. ‘And sometimes, during rushes, people come in and I swear they’re deliberately trying to make everyone else’s day awful.’

‘You’re being a bit paranoid-’

Matt cuts in. ‘How so?’ He trusts Karen’s instincts over Foggy’s good natured belief in everyone. ‘What makes you think that?’

‘Little things,’ Karen says, ignoring Foggy’s sigh. ‘They’ll complain about everything we try to give them, holding up the line until people start to leave. Or just cause a scene or two over nothing. I mean, I know that customers can be like this but not this many. Six months ago we had maybe one bad scene causing customer a week if we were having a bad month. Now it’s nearly daily. Sometimes twice daily. And it’s never the same people but it is always some kind of… bodyguard dude. You know the type.’

With a nod Matt says, ‘I can guess at what you mean. Always men then?’

‘...Now I think on it, yes. Always men.’ Karen suddenly growls. ‘And always when me or one of our female staff are manning the register.’

‘Sounds like they think you’re the weaker link and are trying to intimidate you first,’ Matt says with a raised eyebrow. ‘Guess they’ve not done any research into this place.’

‘Hey!’ Foggy says, fake offence in his voice. ‘Are you saying I’m the weakest link?’

Matt shrugs. ‘I’m not saying that. But I am saying of the two of you, Karen’s not the one I would try to intimidate.’

That gets a laugh from Foggy. ‘Hard to imagine you being intimidating Buddy.’ Matt just shrugs, well aware that this fact is a part of what is keeping him above suspicion in the search for the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen. Karen only hums, seeming to prefer not to comment on Matt’s ability to intimidate.

‘So the man that’s doing all this. Does he have a name?’

‘Oh yeah.’ He gets up and shuffles around the office for a minute before returning with what sounds like a bunch of papers. ‘The offers are made on behalf of some company that we looked up and it belongs to some other company which is owned by some other company and it’s all very weird. But the name on the latest offer is Wilson Fisk-’

‘Fisk?’ Matt clenches his fists and doesn’t manage to keep the anger and fear out of his voice.

Foggy and Karen pick up on it, judging by the way their hearts start to race. ‘You know the name?’ Karen asks softly.

‘I’ve heard of him,’ Matt says with a frown. ‘He’s… well I’ve heard of him which is more than most people. He’s a shadow, a nightmare.’ A monster to the monsters of Hell’s Kitchen. Which is saying something.

‘Then why did he sign his name?’

Something cold runs through Matt. ‘I have no idea.’

********

Within two days Fisk is on the news, talking of how he is going to help Hell’s Kitchen into the future; renew it for a better tomorrow. Matt breaks his laptop’s screen when he swipes it off the desk as the anger at hearing what Fisk is saying overtakes him. He is the monster in the shadows, already responsible for so much pain and suffering but he dares to speak of a better tomorrow? As though he’s not the cause of the horrible today?

When Matt has his temper firmly in check, he goes to see Foggy and Karen, not caring that it’s not a work day and he usually doesn’t come in. He just… needs to see them. Well. ‘See’ them. Needs to be in their presence. Even just as a friend, he needs them.

The shop is quiet when Matt approaches, despite the fact it’s still during their opening hours. Matt focuses for a moment and realises that he can hear into the shop far easier than usual. Have they left the door open?

But when he tries it, he realises it’s locked. That more than anything causes fear to run through him and Matt tries the door again.

‘We’re closed!’ Foggy calls out and Matt pauses, before trying again. ‘I said we- Oh! Matt!’ He unlocks the door in an instant to let Matt in. ‘Dude, you should have said something.’

‘I… I should have yes,’ Matt says, tapping his way to his usual chair. But Foggy catches his arm and gently guides him to the other side of the shop - and away from the window. Now Matt’s inside he can sense how the movement of air inside the place has changed, mostly because of the large hole in the window. ‘I might have panicked? A bit. You said you were open now.’

Foggy sighs. ‘We usually are. But umm, you obviously can’t see it but someone threw a rock through our window. Right in the middle of our lunchtime rush. Scared the hell out of the dozen or so people in here and nearly hit the young girl sitting by the window.’

The fear that had disappeared when Foggy answered the door returns, along with a fiery anger. Matt tries to keep it out of his voice. ‘Are you both alright?’

‘We’re fine,’ Karen says as she enters the room. ‘But the police have no leads.’

Matt frowns. ‘But it was done in broad daylight, you said? During lunch.’

They both nod. ‘There was even a cop in the store,’ Karen growls. ‘But somehow they have no leads. None. I mean, I know Hell’s Kitchen is bad but this is ridiculous!’

‘Hey, it’s not all bad,’ Foggy says. ‘But man, they could have waited like a week or something. We only just fixed the damage the last nutjob did!’

Last time? Matt runs through their previous interactions, trying to remember if this had happened before. ‘Last time?’ he finally asks.

‘Oh yeah. You wouldn’t have noticed. Remember those bombs?’ Matt nods, remembering the sound of the explosion near him along with the continued pain of having everyone in Hell’s Kitchen believe he tried to blow it up. ‘Well we had a few windows break. Nothing too major but it took us a little while to be able to affo- to get them fixed.’

‘He’s not a nutjob,’ Karen mutters so low Matt barely hears her. But it’s clear Foggy didn’t because he doesn’t reply.

‘Can you get this fixed soon?’ Matt asks, turning his head towards the window. ‘Sounds like a bit of damage.’

‘It is,’ Foggy sighs. ‘I have a cousin who’ll be here in the morning to fix it but well, we can’t leave anything here with a hole that big in our window. So we’re babysitting the store tonight!’

Matt smiles at the false cheeriness in his voice. ‘Don’t you guys live above here anyway?’

‘We do but that doesn’t mean we’ll get here in time to do anything,’ Karen says as she rises. ‘So we’ll stay down here tonight.’

‘Oh!’ Foggy jumps up, delight in every inch of his body, ‘You should join us Buddy!’ Matt blinks in surprise at the invitation even as he hears the way Karen exhales - in anger? in delight? - and moves towards them. ‘I mean, if you want to.’ Foggy suddenly sounds casual in a way that’s clearly forced. This means something to him… but what?

Matt can’t. If he spends an entire night with Foggy and Karen there is no way he’ll be able to hide his selfish desire. This is a temptation he must resist… he has to resist. He values their friendship too much to give in. ‘I would love to,’ Matt says finally, ‘But I can’t. I already have plans this evening.’

There’s a sense of disappointment in the air. ‘A date?’ Foggy asks, his voice still forcibly casual.

For a moment Matt considers lying and saying yes but… he can’t. He could not pretend to want someone as much as he wants these two right now. ‘Sadly no. I’m quite unattached right now. This is… some work plans. I have a few things to discuss with some people.’ It’s an accurate, if misleading way to describe his night work. Matt is somewhat impressed with himself. He has plans to ask around, see if Foggy and Karen are in actual danger or this was just a poorly timed rock.

‘Over dinner?’ Karen says, shifting around behind the counter.

Matt shakes his head. ‘No, not tonight.’ No, Matt will grab a bite to eat before he lets the Devil out. Or wait until breakfast with Foggy and Karen tomorrow.

‘Then take this.’ Karen holds out a paper bag, the position of which is narrated by Foggy, for Matt to take. Carefully he does so, already able to smell the bagels inside.

He makes a show of feeling them anyway. ‘Karen, I can’t t-’

‘Yes you can,’ Karen and Foggy say in unison. ‘They’re leftovers,’ Karen adds. ‘We’re either going to have to eat them ourselves or throw them out. Probably throw them out. Apparently there’s only so many bagels a person can consume in a week. And well, with all the excitement today we didn’t sell a lot of bagels.’

Matt ends up leaving with a plastic shopping bag stuffed full of bagels. He’d had to talk them both down from two bags, feeling extremely warm the entire time and unsure as to why.

God I love them, he thinks before freezing in his doorway.

Oh fuck.

*********

Taking his frustrations and inability to handle his own emotions out on criminals is a surprisingly unsatisfactory pasttime that night, caught as he is in the maelstrom of the very emotions he’s trying to exorcise. All he can think of is Foggy and Karen in danger and how could he be so selfish as to even think he’s in love with them.

Because he’s not. He can’t be. Matt isn’t capable of it; he’s selfish and made monstrous by the Devil he fails to control. And they’re happy together, Matt’s sure of it.

It’s not his place.

*********

He keeps showing up for breakfast because while Matt can resist temptation, can control the Devil inside him, he can’t resist putting himself in temptation’s way. And it’s not like they’ve noticed his inner turmoil. The first breakfast after, Foggy spent most of the time letting Matt feel their new window, followed by Karen and her glass cleaner. Even since then, they’ve been their usual happy selves; rays of sunshine in Matt’s world of clouds.

So it’s a bit of a surprise the morning he walks in and realises there’s someone he doesn’t know at the counter.

‘Where’s Karen and Foggy?’ he asks after the woman speaks.

‘Oh!’ she says, ‘you must be Matt. He’d said you’d come. Um, they’re taking the morning off but Foggy said if you want they’ll be upstairs?’

Matt considers it and is halfway to leaving when he hears Karen coming into the shop. ‘Matt!’ she calls, ‘you’re early.’

‘Only by your watch,’ he jokes and she takes his elbow.

‘We’re eating upstairs today, if that’s okay?’

‘If you don’t mind me in your space.’

‘We could never,’ she says as she leads him upstairs. It’s a small apartment, Matt can tell instantly, about half the size of his. But they have enough room for a dining table which Foggy is sitting at.

He stands up when Karen leads Matt into the room. ‘Hey Buddy. You’re early!’

Matt feels at his watch. ‘I am?’ No, he’s not.

Foggy sighs and collapses into his seat. ‘Or we’re late. It’s been one of those nights.’

Carefully, Matt taps his way to the seat beside Foggy. ‘I did notice. What’s wrong?’

‘I was attacked last night,’ Karen says, anger in her voice. ‘Three men followed me here, thinking I’d be a helpless victim.’ She sounds stressed but there’s a note of steel in her voice. ‘Proved them wrong.’

Something hot races through Matt’s veins, setting every nerve alive. How dare they? ‘Are you alright?’ he asks, none of the rage - the Devil - he’s feeling in his voice.

She puts her hand in his as she takes a seat. ‘I’m fine. I had my mace and Foggy heard the struggle and brought his softball bat out.’

‘Yes I did,’ Foggy says, pride in his voice.

Karen continues as if he didn’t speak, ‘But we had to spend a lot of last night talking it over with the police.’ She snorts. ‘Took me ten minutes to convince one officer I was the victim. So we took the day off and got Foggy’s cousin in to watch the place.’ Matt nods, his unspoken question of why the store was being manned by an unfamiliar woman when they usually only took Sundays off.

‘Was it a mugging?’

‘Looks like it,’ Karen says but she sounds unsure. Matt’s very sure it wasn’t. This has all the markings of Fisk but why… Oh.

‘Off topic but… is the offer to buy this place still on the table?’

There’s a long moment of silence. ‘It is. You don’t think… you don’t think they’re trying to make us scared so we sell?’ Foggy finally says.

Matt shrugs. ‘I don’t know what to think.’ He squeezes Karen’s hand and rises. ‘I’m glad you’re okay.’

She squeezes back. ‘Stay for breakfast.’ Matt’s resolve wavers, even as it really sinks in that he is in their home. ‘Please,’ she adds and he is undone.

‘Okay.’ He settles back into his seat. ‘Okay.’

A part of him also resolves to get the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen to keep an eye on these two. Just in case.

********

It’s not stalking if you’re protecting them. It’s not stalking if you’re making sure they stay safe. Even if they don’t know you’re here protecting them it’s not stalk-

Matt sighs and resolves never to mention this to Karen and Foggy. Because it really is stalking and he hates that he’s been reduced to it… but he wants them safe. It’s not like it’ll take his entire night; he knows their schedule (which… is not helping with the whole not stalking thing). Both of them live in the apartment above their shop and, of a night, the only reason they leave it is to go out, mostly together. Often to Foggy’s favourite bar like they are tonight.

Following them there takes very little effort and Matt keeps an ear on them while he handles a couple of muggings and fights in the blocks around Josie’s. Even so, he misses them leaving and only realises they have when he hears an aborted scream of Foggy’s.

He’s racing to their side even before he registers what the man is saying, ’Stay right there sweetheart, or the fatso gets it.’ Offence roars through Matt as he creeps to the edge of the roof above them. ‘Now give us your wallets.’

Two people and experienced ones at that, judging by their steady heartbeats. No scent of gunpowder so there’s no gun but Karen and Foggy’s hearts are beating way too fast for there to be no weap- ah yes. Knife. Matt can sense it, hear it slicing through the air as the man holding it gestures with it. ‘Hurry up - and drop the mace sweety.’ It’s a different man to the one that spoke before but his words cause just as much anger in Matt as the other man’s.

Time to step in. Matt listens for a moment until he’s certain where the light in the alleyway is coming from. Carefully he positions himself so he’s in the shadows behind the two men and clenches his fists. He takes a few deep breaths, to prepare himself.

Then he strikes. He’s close enough to grab the man - the one who called Foggy fatso and has no weapon - in front of him and drag him into the shadows. Weaponless squawks at the attack but Matt has him in a chokehold that prevents any further sounds.

‘Who’s there?’ Knife Holder calls but Matt stays silent. As does his victim, who is slowly losing consciousness. Matt helps it along by tightening his grip. ‘I’m armed-’

Weaponless sags as he falls into unconsciousness and Matt releases him. He’s moving in the next moment, aware that Weaponless’ body would have fallen into the light. ‘Holy shit,’ Foggy gasps as Matt ducks to the side.

‘I’ll kill them! I will-’

Matt’s time is up. ‘No you won’t,’ he growls and lunges. Foggy screams as Karen drags him away but Matt barely pays any attention. He’s busy dodging the panicked strike of Knife Holder, and placing a well aimed punch into his chest.

But Knife Holder regroups himself, his heartbeat still racing but his calm returning. While he doesn’t completely dodge Matt’s punch, he does manage to turn so it only leaves bruises instead of breaking bones. He counters with a swipe of his knife that Matt only just gets out of the way of, throwing himself into a spin that he uses for momentum for a punch.

It hits the side of Knife Holder’s head and he stumbles. Matt presses his advantage, striking again and again.

‘Holy shit that’s the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen,’ Karen exclaims and Matt jerks, slightly distracted by the panic in her voice. Knife Holder takes advantage and stabs at Matt. Only his quick reflexes ensures it’s a glancing - but still somewhat deep - cut across his wrist instead of a piercing torso wound. Matt takes this moment to throw Knife Holder off balance and punch him in the gut. Then knee him in the face. Then punch him in the head and break his wrist.

He drops the knife. Matt uses that chance to punch him again and throw him to the ground, where he lies wheezing. For a moment the Devil in Matt roars for him to continue punching, to continue this attack until the man really understands what happened but Foggy’s panicked breathing suddenly registers. No, he can’t let them see any more of the Devil than they already have.

Stepping away from Knife Holder, he kicks the knife aside and turns towards Karen and Foggy. They’re huddled together, Karen in front, by a dumpster. ‘You alright?’ he asks, lowering his voice as deep as he can go so they won’t recognise him.

It must work because neither of their hearts jump. ‘Did you kill him too?’ Foggy asks angrily.

Matt shakes his head. ‘I’ve never killed anyone.’ He pauses then adds, ‘I might be the Devil but I don’t have the right to take a life.’ Knife Holder groans, apparently having a good sense of dramatic timing. ‘He’ll live. They both will.’ Matt kicks Knife Holder anyway, just to be sure he’s down.

Foggy flinches but it’s Karen who speaks, ‘But the bombings-?’

‘I didn’t do it.’ Matt cocks his head, hearing the sound of sirens. Yes, Foggy’s phone has someone breathing on the other side. He’s called for help. ‘I want to make my city a better place; not destroy it.’ He turns and reaches for the nearest fire escape.

‘You’re hurt!’ Karen cries and ouch yeah, she’s right. Reminded by her, Matt’s body finally decides to feel the pain from the knife wound. He’s going to have to visit Claire tonight.

‘I’ll be okay. Take care,’ he calls and he’s up on the fire escape in the next breath. Two jumps later and he’s on the roof and out of sight.

But he doesn’t run out of earshot straight away, content to wait and listen to his friends’ reaction. ‘Holy shit,’ Foggy repeats. ‘Did you just- holy shit.’

‘Holy shit indeed.’ Karen must elbow Foggy by the pained hissing noise he makes. ‘Told you he was innocent.’

‘Or so he clai-’

‘He just saved your life!’ Smirking at their fight and well aware of the sirens only a block away, Matt leaves them to it and creeps away.

********

‘He was just all this movement!’ Karen says, waving her hands around. ‘And power!’ In his usual seat Matt squirms while trying not to show it. It’s been something of a running theme this morning as Karen and Foggy go over (and over and over) their late night meeting with the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen. ‘He was badass,’ she says and Matt fiddles with his cufflinks, embarrassed by her praise.

‘And completely cold,’ Foggy adds. He’s been nowhere near as delighted as Karen is. ‘You saw the way he beat those men up.’ He shivers in fear, if his heart is anything to go by.

‘He saved your life!’

Matt holds up a hand to stop the third repeat of this argument. ‘Okay, that’s enough. I love you guys but I’m not going to listen to this argument again.’ Foggy laughs, his heart racing and Matt frowns internally. Wha- oh shit. Deciding not to react and hoping that’ll mean Foggy doesn’t notice, Matt turns to Karen. ‘You are both alright?’

He waves the hand in the air to gesture in their general direction and Karen suddenly goes still. Before Matt can comment she says, ‘We’re fine,’ in a weird tone of voice. ‘How are you?’

‘I wasn’t the one attacked last night,’ Matt says with a frown. ‘But I’m good?’ He lowers his hand and barely hides his hiss. Shit, that was the injured one. Claire had warned him to watch it and of course Matt’s too much of an idiot to take notice. ‘Why do you ask?’

‘Just wanted to know.’ She rises and goes behind the counter. A moment later, Matt hears her fiddling with a plastic bag.

He turns in Foggy’s direction and gives a vague shrug. ‘What did I do?’ he mouths at his friend.

Foggy leans forward and whispers, ‘No idea Pal.’

Matt feels at his watch. ‘I should go,’ he says loudly. ‘Or I’ll be late.’

‘See you,’ Karen says. ‘Oh, I think one of your cufflinks fell out,’ she adds when Matt has risen. He feels at his sleeves and yes she’s right. ‘Try the floor by your feet.’

He feels around and sure enough, there it is. ‘Thanks.’

‘You’re… you’re welcome.’

********

A knock at Matt’s door has him pausing his reading of files - Claire had all but banned him from going out for at least tonight for God’s sake - and frowning. He’s not expecting anyone, hell he’s not sure half his coworkers even know he lives in Hell’s Kitchen. Extending his senses causes surprise to run through him as he realises it’s Karen at his door.

‘Hello?’ he calls as he approaches the door. ‘Who is it?’

‘Matt, it’s me Karen,’ she says instantly and there’s something steely in her voice. Matt opens the door with a fluid movement only realising at Karen’s soft gasp that he doesn’t have his glasses on. Smiling he gestures for her to come in and as she walks past he quickly finds and puts them on. Matt knows that people find his eyes uncomfortable at best; something about the unseeing gaze being unnerving.

‘What can I do for you?’ She takes a seat on the sofa as Matt flicks the lights on. Well he thinks he does and judging by the way Karen’s movements gain surety it’s highly likely they still work. Matt takes the chair across from her, unwilling to face the temptation of sitting so close to her.

Karen takes a deep breath and Matt can hear how her heart is pounding. ‘I… I need to ask you something and I don’t want you to lie.’

Panic floods Matt but he keeps his voice steady. ‘I would never lie to you,’ he says.

‘Lying by omission is still lying,’ she snaps and Matt barely manages to hide the flinch. ‘And that was not how I wanted this to go. Sorry.’ She takes another deep breath and straightens her shoulders. ‘Matt, I need to know. Are you the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen?’

That… that was not what he expected. Surprise, shock and panic flood Matt and he ruthlessly uses it to his advantage. ‘What?’

‘I know, I know. I thought it was crazy but,’ she leans over and grabs his wrist, right on the wound which causes Matt to hiss, ‘I saw that this morning. And then I looked at the evidence.’

‘Karen I’m a lawyer. I swore an oath to uphold the law.’ All of which is perfectly true. Matt is not going to say he’s been keeping his oath.

But she continues as if he hadn’t spoken. ‘You and the Devil have the same body type, ah, you sound alike and-’

‘And I’m blind,’ Matt cuts in.

She deflates a bit. ‘You are. I.. I wondered if you’d been faking that but I saw your eyes.’

Anger floods Matt and he tugs his hand from her grip as he rises. ‘I think I would like you to leave now.’ How dare she accuse him of faking his blindness. Even if it is a natural reaction to finding out about what he can do. No wait, she doesn’t know what he can do. Even worse.

‘No, Matt. I’m sorry. I… I just want a straight answer. Then I’ll leave. Are you the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen?’

He can’t give her a straight answer, not without either lying or giving up his identity. But he’s a lawyer, he’s a master of answering questions without actually lying but without giving up the truth either. Well he hopes he is.

‘Karen, I don’t know ho-’

‘No,’ she cuts him off, getting to her feet. ‘No talking around it, no trying to pretend I’m insane. Yes or no Matt. Are you the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen?’ He stands there stunned, unable to answer either way and she sags. ‘Jesus Christ I thought I was insane but I’m not. You are, aren’t you? That’s why you’re not just saying no.’

Matt swallows. ‘Karen-’

She surges forward suddenly and grabs the empty coffee mug Matt has sitting on his table. Without pausing, she throws the mug at him. Slightly panicked, Matt steps aside so he’s not in its path.

Only Karen never releases the mug, though her heart rate had indicated she would. She still stumbles as Matt moves aside. ‘Jesus, what the hell?’

‘Karen-’

‘You can see,’ she whispers. ‘You knew that was coming, you can see.’

Some of Matt’s anger returns. ‘I can’t see.’

‘But you knew what was coming. You knew.’

Matt is always willing to fight a hopeless fight. He doesn’t know the meaning of backing down and he’s not going to give up because he might be beaten. But… But a Murdock is always a gracious loser even if they make sure they’re on their feet when they lose. He knows when he’s beaten.

...Most of the time.

But this time for sure. ‘I knew,’ he admits and Karen’s breathing picks up. ‘Just like I know you’re scared of me right now, that you just came from your shop, that you’ve had two cups of coffee and a bagel to eat today, probably around midday, and that every word I say is making your heart beat faster.’

‘My heart beat? You… you can hear my heart beat.’ It’s not a question so Matt doesn't say anything. ‘You said you couldn’t see.’

‘I can’t.’

‘And you’ve not lied to me.’

Matt lowers his head. ‘Not tonight.’

‘But… but you can hear.’ There’s something like wonder in Karen’s voice, the kind you hear when someone puts all the pieces together. ‘That’s how you do what you do.’

He hasn’t admitted to being the Devil yet but Karen has taken it for granted anyway. Matt might as well cop to it. ‘Yes, something like that.’

‘Something?’

‘It’s not just hearing,’ Matt admits. ‘All my senses are… enhanced.’

‘How?’

Matt sighs and heads for his fridge. If he’s going to do this, he needs a beer. ‘My accident.’

It’s all he needs to admit to; Karen knows enough of his story from that. ‘Oh. Matt-’

He holds up a hand. ‘No Karen, please.’

It takes a moment but she nods. Then she must frown because it’s in her voice, ‘You have to tell Foggy.’

‘No.’

‘Matt, you have to tell Foggy,’ she repeats. ‘You can’t keep this from him; not after last night.’

Matt sags. ‘I just want to keep you safe. Both of you. Knowing who I am… Fisk is dangerous Karen, he’s killed so many people… and he’s after you because you own a shop that he wants. Can you imagine what he’d do to you if he knew you knew who I am?’

‘Does it matter?’ Matt jerks in shock and surprise but Karen ignores him. ‘Unless you cut us off, stop being… being our friend, Foggy’s going to find out. And we’ll still be at risk from Fisk. You said it yourself, he’s… he’s after us because we own a shop in the wrong spot. Wouldn’t it be better if we both knew why we need to be careful?’

There are so many reasons Matt adores Karen but this has to be one of them. She cuts through all his carefully reasoned arguments in minutes but in such a way that they suddenly seem like bullshit. And he wants to thank her for it. ‘Okay,’ he whispers. ‘Okay. I’ll tell him.’

Finally she moves forward and pulls him into a hug. ‘Thank you,’ she whispers just as quietly. ‘You saved my life. Our lives.’

‘I terrified you too.’ But he pulls her into his grip and drinks in the feel of her in his arms. ‘You were terrified.’

‘Because I didn’t know it was you. I only feel safe when you’re around.’ Matt shakes his head at her faith in him but says nothing, content to just hold her. He’ll take what he can get.

Finally she pulls away. ‘We should tell him now.’

Matt nods. ‘Lead the way.’ He slips his mask into his pocket and swaps his sweater for a darker one. It’s not quite his usual outfit but it, along with the mask, should be enough evidence to convince Foggy while not being enough to look suspicious on the walk over.

He leaves his cane behind. He’s not going to need it tonight.

********

The walk over is mostly silent. Matt has his arm tucked into the crook of Karen’s elbow and she occasionally asks what he can ‘see’. He gives simple and short answers, always framing it in terms of what he can hear/smell/taste. She gets the hint eventually and starts using ‘sense’ instead.

But as they approach the shop - and their apartment - Matt starts to slow down, cocking his head in confusion. There’s definitely three people in the apartment and Foggy hasn’t said a word the entire time. He pulls Karen into the alleyway before the shop and drags her into the cooler part of it that is probably the shadows.

‘Were you expecting company?’

She shakes her head. ‘Foggy thinks I’ve just gone for a walk. He didn’t mention having anyone over.’

Matt focuses, trying to narrow in on Foggy. He’s definitely there, Matt can hear him… hear him…

Hear him whimpering in fear. The Devil races through him as he straightens. ‘Does your apartment have rooftop access?’

‘No, we’re on the second floor. But the bedroom window doesn’t lock and we’ve never bothered to fix it because it’s not near a fire escape.’

Matt feels the Devil’s grin spreading across his face. ‘Perfect. Stay here and keep out of sight.’

He goes to leave but she grabs his arm and pulls him back to the wall. ‘No, wait. What’s going on? What’s happening? Is Foggy okay?’

Right. He needs to explain things, doesn’t he? ‘There’s two men in your apartment and while they’re not speaking, Foggy is terrified. I can hear his ah, um, fear from here.’

‘What do you hear?’ When Matt freezes, unsure of how to answer, she repeats, ‘What. Do. You. Hear?’

Matt closes his eyes and sighs. ‘He’s whimpering a bit, in fear. I’m not close enough to tell for sure but I think his heart is pounding and the men are calm.’ Matt sniffs and tries to focus harder. ‘I think he’s tied up? Or otherwise threatened into not moving. They’re… they’re waiting.’

‘Waiting for me,’ Karen whispers.

‘Or me.’ The guilt floods him at the thought his rescue might have dragged them into his darkness.

But Karen shakes her head again. ‘If they were waiting for you, they’d be making him make noise. I work in a bagel shop Matt, and people gossip sometimes. The Devil of Hell’s Kitchen hears the cries you thought would go unanswered. He turns up when you don’t expect help but your best bet to get help is to scream for it.’

Matt blinks. ‘You… knew that before. You liked me before, because of this.’

She nods. ‘I did. Half the Kitchen believes in your Devil; the other half is like Foggy and only needs to be convinced.’

Foggy. Right. ‘Okay. You’re still staying here.’

‘Like hell I am.’

********

Slipping in through the broken bedroom window, Matt wishes he could love someone less stubborn than Karen. She’s given him ten minutes to get into position and then she’s coming in as a distraction. And to get Foggy out while Matt works on getting these men down.

It’s not the plan he would have gone with. But they didn’t have time to argue and Matt could not convince the determined Karen otherwise. Somehow, around her, he forgets all the skills he’s supposed to have as a lawyer. Damn it.

He moves into position, just in the doorway to their bedroom - ignoring the fact he’s in their bedroom. From this close he can tell that there’s two men, one pacing the room while the other fiddles with a knife and sits at their table. Foggy’s tied up, just beside the lounge and by the sound of his breathing, his mouth has been duct taped. Matt can taste his fear from here and it’s hard waiting.

Karen’s key enters the lock and both men rise. Karen and Foggy’s flat is set out such that their movement towards the front door puts their backs to the bedroom door. Matt’s never going to have as good a moment as now.

He enters the room and moves towards the closest man as fast as he can, ignoring Foggy’s muffled cry. The closest man - the one who’d been sitting down - doesn’t notice but the pacer does and he half turns to see why Foggy’s making noise.

Thus he gets an excellent view of Matt’s fist landing in the side of Sitter’s face. It’s a good punch - a real sucker punch - and Sitter goes down in a heap. Pacer cries out as Karen finally opens the door.

Matt moves, grabbing Pacer and dragging him away from the door. He throws him into a wall, hoping he managed to avoid any damage. From the sound of it, he probably didn’t. Pacer tries to struggle to his feet but Matt is there, punching him repeatedly until he slips into unconsciousness. It’s a short fight by Matt’s standards; clearly these two were not professionals.

‘Holy shit,’ Foggy says and yup, Karen’s got the duct tape off. His hands are untied too and he’s clinging to Karen as she helps him up. ‘How the hell… what the hell?’

‘Are you alright?’ Matt asks and Foggy stiffens.

‘Matt?’ It takes a second but Matt realises he forgot to lower his voice. He just asked that in his regular voice. He freezes and considers going for the window.

But Karen is there. She steps between them, but also keeps herself half between Matt and the bedroom’s open window. ‘Foggy, please. Don’t freak out-’

‘You knew?’

‘I just found out. We were coming to tell you when… when we realised what was happening here.’

‘What… what was happening?’ Matt asks, taking off his mask. Foggy jerks again with a soft cry at the sight of his face and Matt puts it straight back on. Right.

‘They wanted to have some fun,’ Foggy says in a deadpan. ‘Thought we’d be good for it.’

Matt can’t suppress the angry twitch in his face at the idea of what they were planning. ‘Fisk,’ he growls.

‘Oh, so it’s your fau-’

Karen cuts him off, before he can say anything. ‘No Foggy. This is about the offer for our place. I think?’

Matt nods. ‘It is. And I’m going to make sure you stay safe.’

‘How?’ Foggy demands, ‘By killing Fisk?’

The thought of doing that, of damning his soul even for as great a cause as this still weighs on Matt’s mind. But… ‘Only if I have no other option.’ He fiddles with his hands. ‘I’m not a killer.’

‘Uhuh. You are a liar though.’

Matt has no defence for that. ‘I am.’ He sighs as he notices the heartbeat of Pacer change and moves to Karen. ‘I’ll keep you safe,’ he whispers and places a kiss on her cheek - all the contact he will allow himself to ever have with her. Them. ‘Both of you,’ he adds over her shoulder in Foggy’s direction. ‘I’m sorry I lied.’

‘Are you even really blind?’

Matt finds his fist clenching and makes a focused effort to unclench them, biting at the effort to not react with violence. It’s so much harder to control his temper as the Devil. ‘Yes,’ he finally snaps. ‘Karen can explain. I have to go.’ And he does, Pacer is moments from consciousness. ‘Call the police,’

‘No, wait-’ Karen says but Matt moves her aside gently and goes for the window. Behind him, Pacer groans as he starts to come to. ‘Oh shit,’ she says and Matt takes the chance to jump out the window and scramble up to their roof. ‘Holy shit,’ she adds and it takes Matt a moment to realise she means his abilities.

‘He’s really blind?’ He hears Foggy ask as Karen dials 911.

‘I’ll explain later,’ she says and Matt decides it’s time for him to leave.

********

The next week is probably close to the worst of Matt’s life. Okay, top five… top ten. It’s bad, anyway. He’s so used to waking up for breakfast with Foggy and Karen that every morning he finds himself sitting at his table, half heartedly picking at a piece of toast. His freezer is full of bagels that they’ve sent with him or he’s bought but Matt doesn’t have the heart to eat one. Even the toast is too much most mornings.

He spends most of his nights trying - and failing - to find a weak point of Fisk’s that can finally bring him to justice.

Then Karen rings.

Matt jerks in surprise as his phone starts to call her name, nearly dropping the mask he’d been about to put on. A part of him wants to ignore it but… Karen called him.

‘Hello?’

’Matt! You actually picked up. I’m… really surprised.’

‘I can tell.’ He sighs, ‘Look, I’m sor-’

’I’m sorr-’

They both stop, surprised at the other’s words. Finally Matt says, ‘You first.’

’Okay, wow. Look. I’m sorry for not calling but well, it’s a lot to work through but… but I’m sorry. And I really need to ask you something. Have you ever heard of a man called Hoffman?’

Matt stands up straight. ‘I have. He’s a police detective who murdered his partner on Fisk’s orders. I, ah, got there in time to talk to the partner but not to save him.’

’Holy shit. So the fact that there’s a couple of police officers in here sounding like mobsters with their talk of ‘finding Hoffman’ and ‘taking care of him like the boss said’ is bad?’

Wait what. ‘What?’

Karen sounds sheepish. ’Like I said. People gossip. And they never notice the person cleaning their tables or selling their bagels. I like to know things. It’s interesting.’

‘Karen-’

'Wait,' she cuts him off which he is silently grateful for because he’s not actually sure what he was going to say. 'They just got a call. Something about meeting someone at 53rd and 10th?’

‘Okay. I’m going to check it out. Stay there Karen and…’

'And?' she prompts after he is silent for a long while.

‘And stay safe. Please.’

’I will. We will.’

He hesitates then finally adds, ‘I miss you.’ He hangs up before she can reply.

********

Karen’s tip means he gets to Hoffman moments before the officers she saw try to kill him. Matt’s never been so proud of someone since his Dad’s final fight (nothing will ever overtake the pride he felt at his father’s victory, no matter the cost). He follows Hoffman to the station, sending him to a police officer friend of Foggy’s he’s heard about occasionally. He then manages to get home in time for a quick change so when he gets the call from his firm to take a late night client, he can get there fast. An unexpected benefit of being the new guy; because of the time of night they didn’t even look at the case before assigning it to him.

For the next week his life consists of dealing with Hoffman’s case and not much else. He barely has time to think of Foggy and Karen, let alone miss them.

Okay, that’s a lie. He misses them every moment he has and it’s not helped by the little texts Karen has taken to sending him. Nothing that requires a reply so he never does, but small things like 'Why do customers come into our shop looking for donuts??? and Foggy went to the shops for three things; came back with two things and neither of them on his list that make him smile. One text might have even been from Foggy; there’s something in the way it’s written. But that’s just wishful thinking.

Then they arrest Fisk.

I did it, he texts Karen, his first reply. He’s at home, listening to the news as they cart Fisk off. He considers going for a beer in his fridge but it feels weird to drink alone. Especially when he really wants company… a particular pair of people’s company.

Celebration! she replies an instant later. Our place?

Something squeezes his heart and he’s ringing before he can help himself. ‘You still want to see me?’

'Yes,' Foggy answers and Matt finds himself unable to breathe. ’Matt… I’m sorry.'

‘You don’t have to be,’ Matt lies.

’Uh huh. You usually this bad at lying?’

Matt bites his lip. ‘I’m not sure.’

There’s a long moment of silence and Matt has begun to think he’s been hung up on - despite being able to hear Foggy’s breathing but maybe that’s a figment of his imagination - when Foggy goes, ’Okay, that was mean of me. Look… Matt-’

It’s then the news starts to talk about an incident with Fisk and Matt feels for the keys to turn the sound up. ‘Hang on Foggy, something’s wrong.’

Foggy is silent as Matt listens to the reporter dictate the details of Fisk’s escape, something cold and heavy settling in his stomach. ‘Are you watching the news?’ he finally asks.

'We are,' Foggy says, his voice slightly echoey. He has the phone on speaker. ’Matt, you’re not going to go after him-’

‘Someone has to,’ Matt cuts in. ‘And I have a plan.’ Well, a better suit at least. That counts as a plan.

'Matt-' Karen tries to say, her voice high and worried.

‘I know I’ve not earned it, not yet but please. Trust me. I know what I’m doing.’

There’s another long moment of silence before Foggy finally speaks, ’I do trust you. We trust you.’

’Go be a hero,’ Karen says.

’And don’t get killed doing it.’ Foggy adds.

‘Thank you.’

'Matt?' Karen says before he can hang up. ’Come to ours after. We’ll leave the window open.’

He hangs up before he can answer her. He’s not sure what he wants to say to that.

********

Defeating Fisk is hard; like fighting a brick wall that moves while dealing with what the added weight of the armour does to his fighting style. But it gets so much easier when Fisk insults his city - his family - and Matt can draw strength from the thought of those who are waiting for him to return. Who want him to return.

Using that, it’s simple to put Fisk on the ground and wait for the police officer that’s approaching to arrest him. Matt’s pleasantly surprised when the officer, Foggy’s friend Brett, lets him go without even a token effort to arrest him.

He makes his way to Foggy and Karen’s and pauses in the alleyway beneath their window. Facing this climb to their window and to them… he almost wishes he could go another round with Fisk. It might be easier.

But Murdock’s always get up and they always face their fate on their feet. Plus, you know, they always face their fate. Gathering his courage, Matt starts to make the climb.

As promised, the window is open and he slips in. He can hear the news playing, probably on a laptop by the sound of it, and Karen and Foggy’s soft breathing. The news flashes to a report just as Matt reaches the doorway to the bedroom.

’This just in, fugitive Wilson Fisk has been apprehended by police. To repeat, Wilson Fisk has been recaptured. Preliminary reports allege that it was not the police who initially captured him but the masked vigilante known as the ‘Devil of Hell’s Kitchen’.’

‘He really needs a better name,’ Foggy complains.

‘At least we know he’s alive,’ Karen replies, turning the sound down. ‘How long do you think it’ll take him to get here?’

Matt can hear Foggy shrug. ‘Depends.’

‘On what?’

‘How long it takes me to pluck up the courage to climb in here,’ Matt says and both of them jump, their heartbeats skyrocketing. They turn as one towards his voice, half rising from their seat on the sofa and Matt steps out from the bedroom door, sure from the coldness that he’s still half in shadow.

Karen gasps but Foggy…

Foggy laughs. ‘You look like a dork,’ he says but something in his heartbeat spikes at the lie. Matt tilts his head and yup, there’s a definite spike. Fear? Or… or something else.

‘You look dangerous,’ Karen breathes and Matt’s attention snaps back to her. ‘Did you take Fisk down in that?’

Matt nods and finally steps forward into the light, taking his cowl off as he does. Something in the room relaxes as he turns his head in their direction and offers a small smile. ‘Ah. Yes, I did.’

‘Gotta admit Buddy, that’s kinda badass.’ Foggy’s praise warms something in Matt and he looks down, feeling his cheeks heat. ‘And that’s kinda hot.’

The something in Matt warms even more as something else slams into his chest. ‘What?’

Foggy’s breathing picks up as he starts to panic but before Matt can even process what’s happening, Karen steps forward. ‘No. First things first, we’ve being mature adults and talking. Matt? We’re sorry. I’m sorry. For everything I said.’

‘I’m sorry too,’ he says. ‘For keeping this from you… for lying. To you.’

Matt expects their silence. What he doesn’t expect is Foggy’s sigh. ‘Yeah, well. I’m sorry too. For ah, overreacting.’ Matt’s head snaps up and he points his head in Foggy’s direction, wishing he could actually look his friend in the eyes. ‘You have a right to keep secrets. I mean, this is huge and big and I’m scared for you… but I understand. And I’m sorry for… for what I said.’

‘It’s okay.’

‘It’s not but I think that’s as good as we’re going to get,’ Foggy says and Matt can hear the smile in his voice. There’s a long pause as Matt tries to figure out what to do now before Foggy takes a deep breath. ‘You know what? Fuck it. Matt, I hope this is okay.’

Before Matt can blink or even think, Foggy’s crossed the floor and pulled him into a gentle kiss. Matt instinctively kisses back, savouring the taste of Foggy’s lips - and the bagels he must have had earlier. Then Karen makes a soft noise and Matt shoots back, realising what he’s doing.

‘Oh God, Kar-’ But she moves forward too and cuts him off with a kiss of her own which Matt returns just as enthusiastically as he did Foggy’s. When she breaks it, she doesn’t move away but holds him while Foggy moves to stand behind him. ‘I don’t understand,’ he whispers into her hair.

‘We like you,’ Karen says and places a gentle kiss on his lips. ‘And we want you to be a part of our lives. It’s been hell without you and then tonight… Matt, I know it’s not usual and we both understand if you don-’

‘I do,’ Matt whispers with the weight of his selfishness in his voice. But then, is it selfishness if they want it too? He must be dreaming but he aches too much to be asleep. ‘God help me but I do.’

He’s close enough to feel Karen’s smile and Foggy presses in closer behind him, enclosing Matt in his arms. ‘Okay. Okay.’

‘Okay,’ Matt repeats in the same tone and he feels Foggy laugh.

Then Foggy squeezes him and Matt can’t hide the flinch as it pulls at some of his bruises. They both must feel it because they step back as one. ‘You’re hurt!’ Karen accuses.

‘I’ve had worse?’

‘That’s not reassuring Buddy,’ Foggy says. ‘Karen you get the first aid kit. Matt, come with me and we’ll get you out of those horns.’

Matt turns to grin at Foggy, ‘Not even going to buy me dinner first?’ The smirk grows as he senses the matching reactions of Foggy and Karen to his words.

‘Oh no. There’ll be no funny business tonight, not if you’re bleeding.’

‘It’s just a flesh wound,’ Matt jokes as he follows Foggy into the bedroom. He’s not naked under the suit so he starts stripping it off the second he crosses the threshold.

Thus it must be quickly clear to Foggy he’s not actually bleeding - well, not a lot anyway. ‘Just for that we’re going to make you sit on our sofa and watch that movie with us.’ He passes Matt a pair of sweatpants and a shirt that are a bit big on Matt.

‘What a hardship,’ he quips as he pulls the clothes on and allows Foggy to lead him back to the sofa. ‘How ever will I survive?’ This feels exactly like breakfast always does and Matt finds himself relaxing. Somehow, someway, he’s getting everything he wanted and nothing is changing.

Foggy kisses his cheek as he heads into the kitchen. Okay so not much has changed. Karen’s at Matt’s side a second later and Foggy returns with a wet towel moments later. Together, they slowly clean the blood - most of it Fisk’s - off Matt and put a bandage or two on the few bleeding injuries of Matt’s. He lets them do it, soaking in the feel of their hands on him.

Then Karen goes to set up the movie while Foggy settles in beside Matt on the sofa. At Matt’s questioning look he shrugs. ‘I’d usually get popcorn but with everything that’s happened we’re out. So I get to be lazy.’

‘You can cook tomorrow,’ Karen says as she settles in on Matt’s other side. She pauses for a moment, then leans against Matt so he’s acting as her pillow. He tenses then forces himself to relax. After a moment, he moves his arm so it’s resting on her shoulders and she snuggles in closer.

Foggy shifts so he can do the same to Matt. As the movie starts - Foggy’s narration supplementing Matt’s vague memories of watching this with his Dad - Matt finds himself relaxing into Foggy’s side. He’s vaguely paying attention to what’s happening on screen but most of Matt’s attention is caught in the feel of the two bodies pressed against his and how careful they are not to touch his bruises. And their scent, of bagels and strawberries and desire.

When Foggy’s hand starts to play with his hair, Matt gives up any pretense of paying attention to the movie and pushes into the movement. He can hear both of them smile and resolves to pay them back for this later.

After Foggy’s done.

********

Three months later

Matt stretches out as he wakes and is surprised when he doesn’t encounter another body in his bed. He focuses for a moment and yes, he’s at Foggy and Karen’s. It’s beginning to become more of a home than his apartment is, though it is still nice to have somewhere to retreat to when things get to be too much. Which happens occasionally.

But normally when he wakes up in their - all of their - bed, there’s someone else with him. So he focuses a bit more, to listen in downstairs…

Okay, they’re in the shop getting an early start on cooking. Or… Matt fumbles at the clock on the cupboard beside him and it reads out ‘Six oh two.’ Right, he’s slept in and today’s Monday. All hands are on deck for preparing for the Monday morning rush.

Stretching again, Matt pulls himself out of bed. He doesn’t stumble over the Daredevil suit he left lying on the floor last night and a quick sniff lets him locate the sweaty suit hanging in the cupboard. Foggy must have cleaned up after him. For someone as messy as Foggy is, he’s surprisingly prompt about picking up after others. Or it might just be he doesn’t want the suit lying around. Karen and Foggy might have accepted Matt’s night job but they don’t always like it.

It takes Matt a long moment to locate the spare change of work clothes he keeps here and he stumbles into the shower, already annoyed about being awake. It’s mornings like this that make the idea of his own firm so much sweeter. But if he makes it quick, he should get a good while with Karen and Foggy before work.

Twenty minutes later, a clean and dressed Matt shuffles into the shop’s kitchen, clutching but not using his cane. Karen’s laying out bagels to bake and he waits until they’re in the oven before swooping in to steal a kiss.

She jumps when he touches her back but accepts the kiss with good grace. ‘You need a bell.’

‘A bell would defeat the purpose of my - how was it Foggy put it? ‘Ninja skillz’.’ That gets a laugh from Karen, though it’s possible it’s at the memory of the time Matt and Foggy played catch, which earnt him the ‘ninja skillz’ label. ‘And you’re assuming I couldn’t move silently even with a bell. I know how to move.’

‘I’m aware,’ she leers and Matt feels his face heat. He ducks in for another kiss, one that lasts so long Karen has to push at him. ‘No, I’m baking. Go annoy Foggy.’ With a smile, Matt tries for one last kiss, dodges the dish towel she swipes at him and darts into the shop with a smile on his face.

Again, the person he wants to kiss doesn’t notice him until he’s right behind him. Foggy jumps and Matt darts in to catch the tray of bagels before they fall. He smirks at Foggy.

Foggy only growls at him, ‘Dude, noise! We’ve talked about this!’ He takes the tray off Matt though and lets him place a kiss on his cheek.

‘As I remembered you talked about it. I didn’t agree to anything.’

‘Don’t use your lawyer-y skills on me.’ Foggy wags his finger at Matt, which causes him to nearly drop the tray again. Once more, Matt catches it but this time he places it where it’s supposed to go. Or at least he tries to. From Foggy’s sigh, he’s got it in the wrong spot.

‘What skills am I supposed to use on you then? If my lawyer and ninja skills are gone?’ Matt moves the tray and Foggy nods. Got it.

‘I don’t know. Or you can use them if I can figure out a way to make you make noise.’

Matt leers, delighted at the opening. ‘Well you certainly don’t need help with that.’ Foggy’s face heats up and Matt can smell a hint of desire. He smirks.

‘You’re awful,’ Foggy complains, swatting at him. ‘Go sit down you dork.’

‘Oooh, breakfast!’ Matt sniffs and the familiar scent of bagels fills his nose. ‘Any recommendations? I hear the bagels here are to die for, and the baker always knows best.’ He adds a touch of his leer to his voice

Foggy must still be blushing, judging by the heat on his cheeks. ‘Right, I have an idea but I’m not going to tell you what I give you. You have to guess. Sound fair?’

‘Perfect,’ Matt says, jokingly folding out his cane and tapping his way to his chair. ‘I trust you.’ The way he says it makes it sounds like ‘I love you’.

‘I know you do Buddy,’ Foggy says and he seems to responding to both Matt’s spoken and unspoken declarations.

Matt sighs in contentment and waits. Thank God he’d decided to come in here all those mornings ago. Who knows where he’d be if he hadn’t?

Probably not this happy for sure. Thank God, indeed.