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The Source of Darkness

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What is a hero? Courage, strength, morality, withstanding adversity?
Are these the traits that truly show and create a hero? Is the light truly
the source of darkness or vice versa? Is the soul a source of hope or despair?
Who are these so-called heroes and where do they come from?
Are their origins in obscurity or in plain sight?
—Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground

Moral indignation is jealousy with a halo.
—H.G. Wells, The Wife of Sir Isaac Harman

“So,” Karen says. “It’s official. We’re broke.”

She’s been half-expecting it for weeks now—she’s not stupid, of course she has been—but it still hits her like a punch. Darcy shuts her eyes for a moment, and breathes. This, she thinks, is what happens when you help the helpless. Usually the helpless can’t afford to help you back. Most of the time, the helpless can’t even afford to help themselves, which is why they need help in the first place. Yeah, it’s something they’ve known since the start, but knowing that is different from hearing it. Knowing that is different from seeing it. We’re broke.

“Ah,” Foggy says, and wipes at the back of his neck. He makes a disgusted little sound, and gropes for something to wipe the sweat off with. “I wondered.”

“Like, really badly broke,” Karen says, closing the door as much as she can so Marino and Jacinto and Maxwell and everyone else in the main office won’t actually be able to hear them. Darcy shifts her weight, and winces a little. She’d popped a rib rolling off of a rooftop yesterday, and yeah, it’s not broken or cracked or anything—know what those feel like, now, thanks very much—but it kinda aches anyway. Outside, the shuddery little terrier makes an unhappy sound, and Mr. Marino puts it onto the floor. If you pee on my plants, Darcy thinks, watching it out of the corner of her eye, I will kick you out the window and then we definitely won’t get more peach cobbler. We’ll be Nelson, Murdock, and Puppy-Killer Lewis. “There are a bunch of bills on the table from…maybe the past two months or so, all past due. And, um. This month’s should be coming in the mail in the next week or so.”

“There is, however, pie,” Foggy says. “Which I intend to consume at the first possible opportunity.”

“I don’t think the goons from the IRS will take pie as a peace offering.”

“Are you joking? That pie is mine.”

“Guys,” Darcy says, and Karen folds her arms over her chest. Then she unfolds them, because yeah, it’s kind of way too hot to be doing anything like that right now. At Darcy’s shoulder, Matt shifts, and puts himself in the way of the fan on her desk. “The pie is irrelevant. Karen?”

“I mean.” Karen throws her hands in the air. “There’s a lot of stuff we should have been doing, probably months ago, but like…we need paying clients. Not—not IOUs or more bananas or pie or anything else, just, clients which can, you know, add money to the coffers and possibly make things easier for us. Literally the only option we have right now, because at the end of the month, if we don’t have that? No lights, no water, no, you know. Office. If we can’t pay rent.”

“It’ll work out,” says Matt. It’s the first thing he’s said since coming into the office, really, and he sounds oddly cheerful about it. Like: Yay, we’re gonna die! Which is…highly unlike Matt and should probably be freaking her out more. “We’ll make it work.”

“I mean, sure, we can try. I’d just like to have some kind of guarantee that we’ll be able to keep doing this beyond the next three weeks or so.”  Karen lets out a breath. “I haven’t told Kate, before you ask. I’m feeling like that’s a last resort kind of thing, considering everything.”

Tell Kate Bishop, baby millionaire, that their toddling law firm is currently so deep in the red that it’s looking up at someone’s arteries? Yeah, no, not a good plan. At least not right away. It’s not that Kate wouldn’t leap on the chance to help, she thinks, just that…well. She knows how Ben felt about Kate and Doris heading to a new nursing home, now. Darcy pushes her glasses up away from her forehead, and rubs at her eyes. There’s been no point in make-up the past few days. She can’t afford the expensive non-melty stuff, and it’d all just run down her face in twenty minutes. 105 and still climbing, Jesus, New York. “Yeah, no, don’t tell Kate. Um. Keep the envelopes in Foggy’s office, she never goes in there.”

“Too overwhelmed by my charm, poor thing,” says Foggy, and leans next to Matt against Darcy’s desk. There’s literally no air circulation in the room anymore with both of them there in front of the fan. They’re bastards. “Good a hiding place as any.”

“I need to go to the DA’s office today to talk to Jen, anyway, so I’ll—I’ll sniff around, okay? Maybe I’ll get lucky.” She digs her nails into the back of her neck. “Foggy, you wanted Marino and Zeus?”

“Zeus?”

“Hey, in your own words, that tiny, tiny terrier humped a statue until completion, Karen,” Darcy says. “Of St. Francis, no less. That doesn’t scream I’mma stick my prick into this bull because I am the king of Olympus to you?”

“I think the dog’s name is Martie, actually,” says Karen, but she’s smiling, so, whatever. It works. She’s been really pinch-faced lately. Impending debt, Darcy reasons, will do that. “But Zeus definitely works.”

“I will receive the King of Olympus and his supervisor in my office in five minutes,” says Foggy. “I need to deal with the actual buckets of sweat and disgustingness running down the back of my neck right now. Darcy, you want Maxwell or Jacinto?”

“Maxwell. I’ll take him in the conference room, it’s easier to clean if he bleeds.”

“Or if you bleed,” Foggy says. “You know, just saying.”

“I’m fine.”

“You say that now.”

“Which leaves me with Miss Jacinto.” Matt straightens, and Jesus god finally there is cool(er) (not really) air blowing in her direction. He touches his hand to the small of her back, and Darcy tips into it. “Karen, you said we have ten o’clocks? How many?”

“I’m pretty sure we’re only gonna find that out at ten o’clock,” says Karen. She knocks the door open again with her hip. “You want notes?”

“Please,” says Darcy. “If you’re offering. I feel like a bar fight needs a little more direct note-taking than horny puppy-dogs, and Matt has the recorder.”

“Did you see that, Matt? She just threw us right under the bus. Right under it. Jesus, Lewis,” says Foggy, and Darcy dances out of the way of the pair of them to grab her notebook and her pens. Zeus, at least, has had the good manners not to pee on her floor, yet. “That was cold.”

“Yeah, well.” Darcy turns just enough that none of the clients can see them, and hooks her fingers through Matt’s for a moment. “I’m good at that. Karen, where’re the files?”

“Out here.”

They’re ushering Mr. Maxwell into the conference room (“Cold water? You’re fucking beautiful, ladies, best thing that’s happened all week—”) when Karen catches Darcy by the arm, and says, “Darcy, I really don’t—I don’t like how close we are to the edge right now.”

Darcy peeks at her through her hair. Karen’s been able to snag non-running mascara, or, at least, she’s made it last long enough that it doesn’t really matter if she wears it during basically the hottest summer New York’s had since Darcy moved out here. (Eleven fucking years, you monster, and now you want me to suffer? Now, when I run around all night in a leather catsuit? Seriously? Is this karma?) Her nails, though—she’s bitten them down to the quick. Darcy makes herself smile. “We’ll figure it out, Kare.”

“That’s Matt’s brand of bullshit, not yours, quit spouting it.”

“I know. I’m sorry.” She breathes, in through her nose, out through her mouth. “I’ve been meaning to ask for a few weeks, it just kept getting pushed aside. How deep are we?”

“Pretty bad. I wanted to be sure before I said anything, but—pretty bad.”  When she presses her fingers into Darcy’s elbow, she pushes right into a bruise. “You really think Jen will have something?”

Darcy stares hard at the ceiling for a moment. Foggy’s joking with Mr. Marino, and the dog, thankfully, is back up off the floor. “I think we better hope she does,” she says in a low voice. “Otherwise things are gonna get sticky.”

Karen searches her face. Then, slowly, she nods, and lets go. “You want me to go with you?”  

“To see Jen?”

“Mm.” She frets with her bracelet. “I can, if you want.”

More like you’ll stress if you don’t. “Two o’clock. Can you?”

“I’ll manage it.”  

“You’re a queen,” Darcy says, and knocks her shoulder into Karen’s. It could be accidental, from an outside observer. When she turns to the door of the conference room again, Mr. Maxwell is whistling an Irish shanty between his teeth. “Now, Mr. Maxwell—I have absolute faith that you did not, in fact, start this fight, but I’d like very much to know how it did start. So—from the beginning.”

.

.

.

She’s not sure what the beginning is, anymore.

Maybe the beginning is Fisk rotting in jail and Vanessa hiding somewhere on the eastern seaboard, ferreted away somewhere not even Ben’s nosiest mice can quite work out.

Maybe the beginning is having to turn down a dinner invitation from Elena Cardenas because she has a black eye that won’t stop swelling, and won’t hide under cover-up like it needs to.

Maybe it’s Ben Urich, The Urich Report, a website she visits three times a day and still can’t keep up with the rate of production, all of Ben’s moles and whisperers feeding information into his ears faster than even Lilith and Daredevil can manage.

Maybe it’s Kate, calling her on the rooftop of the Catholic church to let her know she’ll be late a day, that Clint’s being a bastard and that someone needs to look in on Lucky and Yoko just in case she doesn’t finish before midnight.

Maybe the beginning is Jen, buried so deep in her work that it’s almost impossible to keep track of her, digging deeper and deeper into something that she won’t talk to any of them about.

Maybe it’s Karen, who still calls her in the middle of the night sometimes to ask if Darcy can walk with her. It’s only ever silent, Karen’s lips pressed together and her hands locked behind her back, but Darcy goes when she can. They pace back and forth by the waterfront, and never talk about it.

Maybe the beginning is Foggy, hissing a little when he sees the scar on Darcy’s hand. It’s been nearly a year and he still does it, puts his teeth together and breathes out like he’s been kicked when he notices the mark, between her tendons and her bones. Sometimes she wears cover-up, just to stop it from happening. Every time she does, though, it feels like a lie.

Maybe the beginning is waking up after chasing down a trio of diamond thieves in the middle of the New York summer to find that Matt has his fingers curling into her hair, his face turned to the window and the light. When she’d lifted her head to look at him, he’d turned back to her and said hello in the quiet, absent way that’s more habit than thought, the way that makes her smile every time because yes, hello, you’re still here. Even at seven in the morning with the A/C on and a fan going, it’d been way too hot to kiss him, so she’d just caught his hand and held onto it and curled back around the pillow.

Maybe the beginning is a bullet in Central Park on a warm, sunny day in April. Maybe it’s Matt on her fire escape, hands up as she holds a gun on him. Maybe the beginning is Melvin, or Nobu, or Leland Owlsley; Madame Gao, or Wesley, or even Richard Goodman. Maybe the beginning isn’t the beginning at all, but the middle, something that’s been in motion for months or years or decades, Eli and Stick and chemicals trailing across the asphalt. Maybe the beginning is something entirely different.

Or maybe she’s just being dramatic.

.

.

.

The thing about New York City is that if you think the justice system is twisted anywhere else in the United States, New York will just…fuck you up even worse. There’s a reason why a lot of people decide not to take the New York bar, especially if they want to go into criminal law. Which means, Darcy thinks, knocking the door of the courthouse open with her hip and holding it open for Karen to slip inside, that the three of us are masochists of the first order. The Supreme Court, in New York, isn’t the top court in all the land—that’d be the Court of Appeals, which is twisted and weird and confuses anyone who comes in from other states. But anyway, it means that when Jen tells her “meet me at the courthouse,” she’s talking Supreme, and since Jen’s not answering her phone at the moment, there’s not a lot Darcy can do other than take the subway down to Centre Street and cry a lot at how much sweat has soaked through her nice shirt.

“This place always creeps me out,” Karen says, as a clerk of court ducks by them without looking up from his papers. “I feel like people are going to drop down out of the ceiling and like…eat us.”

“Please. That’d involve actually realizing we exist.” Darcy shifts her messenger bag on her shoulder. “I think Jen has a thing in Courtroom Ten, so, we can Harry Potter it and wander over there or we can go and bug Angie at the desk. Unless you wanted to talk to me about something.”

Karen fists her hand around the straps of her bag, and turns so that her hair is hiding her eyes. “We should probably ask Angie where Jen is just to be sure. She always knows.”

Because that’s not suspicious as fuck, Page. “Yeah,” Darcy says. “Come on.”

Angie Huang isn’t exactly a paralegal. She’s not a clerk of court, either, or if she was, she isn’t anymore. She just kind of exists, propped up at a desk just outside of the restricted areas of the Supreme Court on Centre Street, though she occasionally materialized in the Manhattan Criminal Courthouse a few buildings down, too. She’s short, and round, of indeterminate age and sexuality, and she scares the living god out of all the baby clerks, ADAs, defense attorneys, and witnesses that she comes into contact with. For obvious reasons, she’s probably Darcy’s favorite person in the Supreme Court building outside of Jen herself. She stops on the way over to Angie’s desk to grab a coffee for her, though, because there’s really no sense at all in stabbing the tiger in the eyeball.

“Peregrine,” Angie says, and eyes her for the moment over the top of her computer screen. Her shirt is a truly terrible shade of coral, and Darcy’s pretty sure she picked it just to make sure people noticed how ugly it was. It seems like a very Angie thing to do. Her earrings are shaped like hibiscus flowers. “Been a few weeks. You bring me anything?”

“I always bring you things.” When Darcy sets the coffee on the desk, Angie doesn’t touch it. Still, she grunts a little, like she’s accepted the offering. “Things have been busy down in the Kitchen.”

“Yeah, I heard.” Angie peers at her through her bangs again. “Caught your closing in the nail salon thing. Worked out well for you.”

“Yeah, well, it better have. Eunji needed the closure. And plus, you know, there’s a certain kind of satisfaction in getting to kick the verbal crap out of someone who’s basically running a sweat shop, especially when the DA has done exactly shit about it.” Darcy shifts her bag on her shoulder again. Behind her, Karen’s watching one of the ADAs arguing with a witness, or something, she has no idea what they’re doing, just that they’re hissing a lot in quiet voices a few dozen yards down the hall. “How’s Hei Hei?”

“He’s pulling his own fur out again,” says Angie. “Truesmith gave him an anxiety attack the other day by stubbing his toe. What do you want?”

“So Truesmith doesn’t get a bird name, now?”

“Not if he gives my monkey anxiety.”

“Preach.” Darcy sips at her own coffee. “I was looking for Jen, she around?”

“Toucan’s still in court. She should be out in a bit, though, Moustakas’s grandkid has food poisoning and she wants to get home earlier rather than not.” Angie takes the coffee without a word, and sets it aside, on top of a pile of papers stuck with a pink post-it reading bullshit. “You can wait.”

“You’re a peach, Angie.”

“We don’t talk about peaches, peregrine. We’re not that close.”

“Aye-aye, captain.” She touches Karen’s elbow. “C’mon. We’re waiting. Jen should be back soon.”

“Cool.” Karen manages a smile. “Hey, Angie.”

“You look like shit, my dove,” says Angie, and watches them for a second or two. Then she gestures Karen closer—Karen, not Darcy—and opens her desk drawer. “Don’t eat this here,” she says, but she presses two Hi-Chew sticks into Karen’s palm. “Truesmith’ll try to take them.”

Karen curls her fingers around the candies, and her smile gets a little wider. “Thanks, Ange.”

“Go away,” Angie says, and puts her earbuds back. Darcy nudges Karen in the side with her elbow.

“Charmer.”

“Shut up.” Karen drops down onto the bench across from Angie’s desk. “Darcy, you really think Jen will have something?”

“You live with her, what do you think?”

Karen sucks her teeth. “I mean, yeah, I think so. She’s been getting a lot of bigger cases, lately. You know that, you’ve talked about them as much as you can, the pair of you, but like—she doesn’t come back to the apartment most nights. Which is kind of nice, just because it means I get time to work on things without having to talk to people or be social, but like…I worry she’s kind of overworking herself. She’s muttering in Greek a lot.”

Which is never a good sign, with Jen, and they both know her well enough to know that. “You ask her what it was?”

“Like she ever actually explains it when you do?”

Darcy dips her head, and hooks her hair back up out of her face again. “I’ll ask her. This was supposed to be a lunch meeting anyway, not that she ever, you know, actually keeps those anymore. I would’ve thought she’d be the one up for Reyes’s second-in-command, not Tower, just with the way she’s been going. But Tower knows how to grease some palms, I’d guess.”

“Should you be saying that in the Supreme Court?”

“Like the rest of these chuckleheads aren’t thinking it? Please.” She props her chin up in her hands. “I mean, more power to him, if he wants to be the one to deal with the Iron Lady. Jen just works twice as hard as anyone else in this damn office, that’s all.”

“No, I know.” Karen drops down next to her on the bench, and then hisses. “Darcy, you’re bleeding.”

“Again?”

“Can you not do the snarky thing right now? We’re kind of in the middle of the Supreme Court, you bleeding from suspicious places doesn’t exactly help anything.”

“I didn’t even realize I was bleeding, but okay.” Darcy holds very still as Karen folds up a Kleenex, and settles it on the back of her ear. Which, kudos to the Page, she would never have noticed that one. She’s pretty sure no one else would have either, but that’s neither here nor there. “I was kind of rolling around in glass last night, I’m surprised there’s not more.”

“You sure you want to talk about this here?”

“Is anybody listening?” Darcy presses the Kleenex down over the back of her ear. “We’re small fish in here, Kare. Nobody pays attention. Besides, if someone had noticed me bleeding, all I would have had to say was what the hell and maybe make noises about a bike accident. That usually works.”

“There are only so many times you can get into a bike accident before someone starts worrying you’re jumping in front of them.”

“I know.” Karen still looks worried, though, so Darcy leans into her shoulder, humming a little. “Everything’s okay, Karen. We’re in the clear, still.”

“How many hours did you sleep last night?”

“Four, maybe.” Which is better than usual, but Darcy’s not about to tell her that. “More than Matt, which is why he’s being dumb about the money. He’d be more worried, usually.”

“I don’t get why they’re being so okay with it. Just—God.” Karen runs her hands over her face, and hooks her hair up into a ponytail, tying it off. “It’s not something that we can fix. It’s not like—we can’t mess with a computer and get it to work again, it’s not like banging the router. If we go bankrupt, that’s it. That’s—that’s a black mark on our records and the end of the firm, of—of all of it, and that’s not something to wave off with an it’ll work out fine. It really isn’t.”

“You want me to talk to them again?”

“I don’t want to make a thing of it, just—” Karen huffs. “I’m worried, that’s all. About a lot of things, but—but this is pretty high on the list.”

As it should be. There’s something gnawing away at her duodenum right now, and it feels like a rat. “Karen,” she says, and Karen shuts her eyes in the way that she always does when she knows Darcy’s not going to take any more bullshit. “What is it?”

“I can’t be worried about debt and rotting bananas?”

“I’m pretty sure Foggy’s gonna eat the bananas before they start to rot, just, you know, for future reference. Or Matt. They’re organic, means he thinks they’re fair game.” She props her bag up on her lap. “Seriously. What’s wrong?”

Karen pulls a handful of hair over her shoulder, and starts to twist it, absently. “It’s—I don’t know. I just had a call from Ben this morning, before you guys came into work.”

Darcy stills. “He’s okay?”

“Jesus, can you not go to like defcon-five when I say things? Yes, he’s fine.” Karen waves that off. “Doris is fine too, it’s not the problem, he just—he was asking me if I’d heard anything about stuff going down in the Kitchen, and I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about.”

“What kind of stuff?”

Karen tracks a clerk of court with her eyes. Once he’s out of earshot, she says, “Gang stuff. Suit stuff.”

Darcy bites her lip. “I mean, I haven’t heard anything. But that doesn’t mean all that much. Most of the gangs have been really quiet since everything that happened with Fisk. Trying to stay out of sight, I think. Which you would, if—you know.”

If someone’s coming through to beat the shit out of you, she thinks. She doesn’t have to say it.

“Yeah, well.” Karen shrugs. “Just—I dunno. You ever heard of the Dogs of Hell?”

Darcy leans back into the bench. Up on the ceiling, one of the lightbulbs is flickering. At least here, she thinks, there’s decent air conditioning. It’s plastering her wet shirt against her skin, and she’ll freeze if it keeps up like this, but it’s better than the outside world. “Yeah. Um—motorcycle gang, runs out of the Kitchen most nights. I can hear them sometimes from the apartment, if I’m up late. Hard to keep track of them, they trade in and out with other biker gangs in different areas of the city.”

Not to mention the fact that you can’t exactly chase a bike down on foot, but that’s not something she’s telling Karen. Karen nods. “Ben says something happened with them. He wouldn’t tell me what, but—but it was bad. Like—not Russians bad, but bad. Wanted to know if I’d heard anything, that’s all.”

Darcy tips her head. “What’d you tell him?”

“Jesus, you look like Matt when you do that.” Karen rubs her eyes. “I didn’t have anything to tell him. I said I’d ask around.”

“I can look, if you want.”

“In this weather?”

She shrugs. “Weather doesn’t do much to stop stupid people. They still dump their shit all over the street and leave it for the rest of us to clean up.”

“That’s disgusting.”

“She tends to be,” says a voice, and they look up. Jen’s watching them from a few feet away, amused. She’s been getting sharper suits, lately, Jen—she looks like she’s just stepped out of a legal magazine, the top two buttons of her white shirt undone and her suit jacket draped over her arm. All curves and leg. At the other end of the hallway, Truesmith (who’s a good six inches shorter than Jen is out of heels) gives them a dark look, and passes Angie without a word. “I wonder sometimes if you’re ever g-going to leave the elementary school stage of that’s vile, I want to poke it.”

“Aw, Jenny.” Darcy bounces up off the bench, and hooks their arms together. “That’d be counter to my personality entirely, you know that.”

“Says the fully functional adult.” Jen’s eyebrows lift up into her hair, but she’s smiling, so, whatever. “I thought we didn’t have lunch until tomorrow.”

“You said Friday. This is Friday. How did the case go?”

“Fine.” Jen frowns. “It isn’t Thursday?”

“Yeah, we’re going to lunch,” Darcy says, and toasts Angie with her cup of coffee “I’ll give her back in an hour, Angie.”

“Give her back in three, she hasn’t left the offices in two days.”

That explains why Jen’s actually wearing perfume, for once. It hides the fact that she hasn’t showered. Jen makes a face at Angie. “You’re not any b-better than I am.”

“Go away, toucan,” says Angie, and that’s the end of the conversation. Darcy presses Jen’s elbow close into her side (which is difficult, considering Jen is not only very tall but wearing four-inch heels) and peers up at her.

“So. Carvel’s?”

There are loads of twenty-four hour cafes all around the courthouse. They’re taking advantage, Darcy thinks, of the fact that a lot of people work very long hours and generally need a great deal of coffee that doesn’t come out of a shitty, decade-old espresso machine. Carvel’s is one of the smaller ones, tucked in between a laundromat and a Starbucks, but it’s been here for twenty years, and the owner, a woman named Millicent, has had a soft spot for Jen ever since the first six months Jen had been taken on at the district attorney’s office and they’d discovered they shared elocutional difficulties. Millicent’s stutter is much worse than Jen’s is, now, but they still bonded, and so Jen gets free coffee when she comes in, and Darcy, as Jen’s proto-sister (cousin, technically, but—y’know) at least gets a buck knocked off her lattes. Jen sinks into the cushions of the back row with the expression that means she hasn’t actually sat down in a while, and she’s forgotten what it feels like. “You’re plotting,” she says, eyeing Darcy. “You have the p-plotting face on.”

“I do not have a plotting face.”

“Do I have to pull in an expert witness?”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Jen.”

Jen’s lips quirk. “I’ll be as ridiculous as you are, D-Darcy.”

Karen, on the inside of the booth and knocking into Darcy, takes a sip of her coffee rather than participate in the conversation. Dirty pool, Page.

“You look like you haven’t slept in a week, Jen,” Darcy says. The air conditioner’s running in here, too, but it’s not quite so powerful. There’s damp on the back of her neck. “Angie wasn’t lying when she said you haven’t left the courthouse in two days, was she?”

“Technically, I was thrown out of the courthouse both nights.” Jen catches Millicent’s eye. It’s only after they order that she adds, “Though they don’t mind me working at 100 Centre. I have a d-deal with Cosima, the lady who cleans, she doesn’t tell.”

“Have you showered?”

“I brought a toothbrush to the office.”

Darcy groans. “Jen.

“Don’t be hypocritical, dear,” says Jen, and sips at her coffee. “You’ve done the same thing, I know you have. Even before you moved in with Matt, there were nights you wouldn’t c-come back at all.”

“Yeah, but—”

Karen steps on her foot. Darcy keens, and shuts up.

It’s only after the food (reubens and pie, for Jen, who apparently has been craving it all day) has arrived and Jen’s finished half of Darcy’s sandwich as well as her own that she sighs, and says, “It’s c-complicated. There’s been a lot of chatter at the office, lately. We’ve been trying to close a lot of cases, clear the load a little before something big hits. When there’s a heat wave people always g-go a little crazy in the city.”

“People are always crazy in the city,” Karen says. “I mean, we’re kind of ground zero for the crazy.” She pauses, and then says, “That wasn’t meant to be a 9/11 joke, I swear.”

“D-Didn’t take it as one.” Jen swipes her finger through the whipped cream on the top of her peach pie. “It’s to be expected. Still, lots of felonies coming through. Lots of ‘bangers trying to take the place of Wilson Fisk and his men, l-lots of drug trafficking charges. Prostitution, human trafficking, assaults, possession. N-not to mention all the vigilantes running around this town nowadays. Suspicious deaths, mutant powers. There aren’t laws to deal with mind control, y’know. It was d-damn hard to get Reyes to back down on charging your detective, Darcy, even with Hogarth in her corner.”

“Yeah, well, Jess didn’t do anything.”

“Which I know,” Jen says, “but Reyes would like nothing b-better than to get her hands on any of the crazy suits running around throwing bad guys in the hospital. Spider-Man, he’s high on her list, but that’s because she reads the Bugle. The Avengers, upstate. She’s still in a fight with Tony Stark’s law team about all the damage his d-damn suit did to Grand Central Station, all the people who died when the space cow landed. Not to mention that we have Bonnie and C-Clyde in our own backyard.”

“The allegory’s not perfect,” Darcy says, carefully. “Daredevil and Lilith don’t steal anything. Or shoot cops, so far as I can tell.”

Jen finishes her coffee. Like a wraith, Millicent appears, and refills all three mugs. “Doesn’t change the fact that Reyes wants them going down. She has files on her desk for each of them. Aggravated assault, trespassing, ad nauseam. Not to m-mention everything else going on with the vigilante justice, all the laws they’ve broken. Get her on the topic, she d-doesn’t shut up for hours.”

That’s…not exactly the way Darcy wanted to come to the attention of Cruella de Ville, District Attorney. If she doesn't scare you, no evil thing will. “Huh.”

“Regardless of what Daredevil and Lilith have been d-doing lately, it’s all moot. I’m just busy, that’s all.” Jen’s eyebrows snap together. “So if this is an intervention, then—”

“It’s about as far from an intervention as you can get, actually.” Darcy curls her hands around her coffee mug. Probably drinking hot coffee is a bad idea, considering the weather, but she needs it. Like breathing. Also some aspirin, but that’s not happening until she gets back to the office. “I was wondering if, you know, anything had come across your desk that you think would fit with us.”

Jen goes quiet. She purses her lips, and peers at Darcy over the tops of her glasses, and Darcy feels about fifteen. She doesn’t actually ask. “Not mine, no,” she says, slowly, and then looks at the windows again. “I can look around, if you want. Anything wrong?”

“Not exactly.” Darcy shrugs. “Just sick of getting paid in fruit, even if it means I don’t actually have to buy it anymore.”

“You’re taking payment in fruit?”

“Hey, rooftop garden produce actually is the shit, Jenny.” She sobers up at the look on Jen’s face. “I haven’t been. Foggy and Matt are being…I don’t know. They’re kind of driving us crazy, actually, but it’s…it’s difficult when your clients are mostly immigrants or unemployed or, you know, both.” Mr. Maxwell can at least pay them a little for getting the assault charges dropped, which, judging by the look on Karen’s face when he’d mentioned it, is like putting a piece of scotch tape over a hole in the Hoover Dam. But at least it’s something. “Arguably we should be sending these people to legal aid agencies, but you know the statistics there, and just…they trust us. We can’t turn them away.”

Jen takes her glasses off, and starts wiping them clean on the hem of her button-down. “Fine. But if you do need help, you’ll ask, won’t you?”

“If I do,” Darcy says, carefully, “then I will. But right now, I’m not asking for help, Jen. All I want to know is if you’ve heard anything.”

Jen looks like she wants to put her face in her hands, which, in Jen-speak, is more I’m thinking than oh my god, why is this my life. She takes her glasses off. “Actually,” she says, “I think I do remember something that you might be interested in. Don’t know the name or the current counsel, but Angie was c-complaining about some case she heard about. Racial discrimination suit down at civil.”

“Why’d Angie care?” says Karen.

Jen shrugs. “Didn’t ask.”

Darcy frowns. “Racial discrimination suits are a bitch and a half, Jen. They’re so hard to prove, especially if we’re talking like…employment or something. You don’t have the context, do you?”

“That’s b-basically all I know. Woman with a racial discrimination suit down at civil that Angie heard about.” Jen shrugs. “From the sound of it, though, she needs help. And according to Angie, she just fired her counsel, so she can probably pay for it if that’s really what you need. If you’re going ambulance-chasing again, then it might be worth a shot.”

“It’s not ambulance-chasing if there aren’t any ambulances, Jen.” She bites her thumbnail. “I’ll talk to Angie when we walk you back to the courthouse. But you’re going home, first. You need to shower, seriously.”

“Is that a crack about how I smell?” Jen stops, and blanches. “Wait, d-do I smell?”

“No, you just…look like you’ve worn the same thing for two days, and need to shower. It’ll help reset your brain.” Darcy prods at Jen’s ankle under the table. “Eat your sandwich, Jen.”

“I don’t need to be mothered,” says Jen, smiling a little. “Especially not by you.”

“Har-har,” she says. When she knocks her knee into Karen’s, Karen knocks her back, and applies herself to her pancakes with the air of a job well done. It’s not a paying case in the bag, she thinks, but it’s progress.

When she ducks into the bathroom to check how the cover-up is holding, there’s crusted blood in the hollow behind her earlobe.

.

.

.

Boston doesn’t agree with her. It’s something she’s thought for months, really. Boston doesn’t particularly agree with her. The air doesn’t smell quite right; the cars don’t have the same cadence. The license plates are wrong. She sits in a garden and looks up at the night sky and she can see stars, and that’s deeply, intrinsically odd. Vanessa pulls her feet up under her, shifting the computer around on her lap, and makes a face when someone on the main street blares a car horn.

Wilson’s property in Boston had been filed under a false name, a subsidiary of a conglomerate of a ghost company of a secret affiliate, and so even with all the digging that the FBI has been doing through their resources in the past year, this place—the Beacon Hill house, is what she calls it; the only property Wilson still has in Boston, the only thing that hadn’t been liquidated—has been left untouched. She can’t exactly leave it, not without half the police in New England going on a manhunt, but it’s a fairly nice prison, all things told. At least, she thinks, she can have Indian delivered.

“Miss Vanessa.”

It’s Christian. He’s shaved his head, recently, and so his skull gleams in the sunlight like polished ebony, his eyes careful and steady, and fixed on her face. Vanessa turns so she can look at him, closing the computer partway. “What is it?”

“A call for you.”

“Who from?” She wrinkles her nose. “It’s not that obsequious lawyer again, is it?”

“No, Miss Vanessa.” He creeps closer, and holds out one hand. The screen of the phone is lit up with the words Unknown Number. “I believe it’s Madame Gao.”

Vanessa blinks. She takes the phone. She waits, though, one fingertip pressed over the receiver, until Christian has slunk away back into the house. When she settles it against her ear, her earrings click together. “Hello?”

“It was extraordinarily difficult to get in touch with you, you realize,” says Iris, and slowly but surely, Vanessa relaxes. Of course, it could still be a trap—she hasn’t spoken to Madame Gao in six months, not since she’d actively begun her hunt, and Madame Gao had gone back to rebuilding her empire—but she’s more inclined to relax than not. Constant stress isn’t particularly good for her, especially now. “I had to ask some of your men very forcefully.”

“Do I have to get new ones?”

“Not if they continue to be polite from now on.”

Vanessa draws her fingers along the petal of a flower by the base of her chair. “I think that can be arranged easily enough. Why are you calling?”

“A friend of yours visited me today to extend her greetings,” says Iris. “I thought it impolitic not to return the favor.”

“I see.” Vanessa snips the head of the flower off with her thumbnail. “Everything’s worked out, then?”

“So far as I could tell.” Iris hums. “It would not be wise for her to return here. I have already informed her of the circumstances.”

“She merely wished to say hello on my behalf, I think.” She picks a petal free. “It’s hard for me to move as I’d like, nowadays.”

“I thought I’d heard a rumor you were somewhere in the Middle East,” says Iris. She sounds amused. “Whatever smokescreen campaign you’ve been running, it’s quite successful.”

Vanessa folds the hem of her scarf over her collarbone. “That’s good to hear. It’s still not quite good enough for me to be able to wander how I please, but we’ve managed considering the time limits.”

“Ah,” says Iris. “Then you have not seen him, have you?”

Vanessa looks up at the clouds, at the way they’re rolling over the sky. There’s no particular sting to it, the words. Of course she hasn’t seen him; she’s wanted in New York State, she can’t cross the border, and even if she somehow smuggled herself in there would be no way to get into the prison without being thrown there herself. So no, it doesn’t hurt, not exactly. The ache’s more constant than anything. It doesn’t rise and fall; it swallows her up and spits her back out. If not for the work, there are some days she wouldn’t even be able to get out of bed. “No,” she says, after a moment. “I haven’t.”

“More’s the pity,” Iris says. “He seems to be doing well for himself. I’d very much like to know how he’s getting his information.”

That, at least, she knows. She has people in the prison system the same way she has people everywhere else. Some are Wilson’s old contacts. Most of them are her own.

“Did you only call today to say hello?” She plucks another petal off the flower, and lets it drop into the grass. “I do have other things to get done.”

“I’m aware.” There’s a clattering on the other end, a burst of Chinese. “I wished to inquire into your progress on the matter of Lilith and the Devil.”

“Every man I’ve sent to observe the law firm has wound up with broken bones,” says Vanessa. It’s more sour than she’d like. “The pair of them seem to have an exceptional sense as to when their legal pets are being watched. Why do you ask?”

“No reason in particular,” says Iris. It’s an out-and-out lie, but Vanessa doesn’t call her on it. “I’d warn your girl that the city is going to be busy in the next few months. She ought to keep her head down, if she wants to keep it at all.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“What did I bother sending you Davos for, if you can’t even answer a simple question like that?” says Iris, and she hangs up. Vanessa stares at the screen of the phone, watching it blink into sleep mode. Then she sets it aside, and brushes the petals off of her lap.

“Christian.”

He must have been waiting just inside the French doors. Christian peers out, hands folded behind his back. “Yes, Miss Vanessa?”

“Is there anything going on in New York at the moment that I haven’t been informed of?”

Christian dips his head. “I’ll look into it.”

“I appreciate it, Christian, thank you.” When she passes him, she rests her fingers to his shoulder, just long enough that she can see his eyes flicker. “Check that wretched blog, if you must. Say what you will about the reporter, he at least knows how to get things out in a timely manner.”

“Yes, Miss Vanessa.”

Vanessa smiles, and then locks herself in the office. She needs privacy, she thinks, if she’s going to start making calls.

.

.

.

Typically on Friday evenings they invade Fogwell’s to practice. Not just Darcy and Matt—though they’re here far more often than anyone else, now, enough that Bernie gets a bit confused when they don’t show up after closing—but Karen, and Kate, and occasionally even Foggy, though he’s always been a hard sell when it comes to learning how to physically defend himself. “I thought the point of having vigilante best friends was to not need to know this stuff,” he’d said three months into it, staring at the mats with Karen pinning him to the floor with her knee and one long-nailed hand. “I thought, you know, that you’d guys come running to my rescue or whatever.”

“I mean, we would,” Darcy had told him, balanced on top of one of the ring posts, “but at the same time it’s kind of difficult. Considering all the trouble you like to get into, Foggy, y’know.”

“You’re awful and I hate you.”

It makes him uncomfortable, she thinks. Seeing it, rather than just hearing about it. Knowing that the things that Matt’s teaching them, that Darcy sometimes can help coach them through, those are the same things that are putting men in the hospital every night. Foggy doesn’t like it, and so he fades in and out, enough to learn how to get someone off him if he gets grabbed from behind, but not much beyond. Karen comes more often, sensibly dressed and waiting for instruction, and Darcy has her own theories about that one, too. Kate’s the one who shows up most often, dependable as clockwork, popping her gum and snarking her way through getting her ass kicked. (Less and less often, nowadays, especially considering she has other teachers, too. But it’s still intense.) 

Today, though, Kate’s off in Albany with Clint for some reason, wandering around or doing some odd training thing or Hawkeye bird-bonding or cliff-diving or whatever it is they do during those random times they disappear for no good reason. Karen had had another call from Ben on the way back to the office, and darted off into the ether. And Foggy, well. He’d had a decent excuse. (“Lewis, it’s a hundred and three in the shade. If you think I’m pulling this shit tonight, you’re crazy.”)

So when Matt wanders in at about six-forty, in sweatpants and carrying a duffel bag, Darcy’s already messing around with one of the bags. He doesn’t say a word, just comes to steady it from the other side. It takes her two minutes of smacking the bag as hard as she can before she manages to say, “Ben called Karen this morning. Says that the Dogs of Hell are in a tizzy about something, but he couldn’t say what.”

Matt takes his glasses off. When she steps away from the bag to grab her water bottle, he leaves them on the nearest bench. “Couldn’t or wouldn’t?”

“Either-or. There’s nothing on the blog yet, so it probably means he’s still confirming. Kare’s meeting up with him before we all head to Josie’s, so hopefully there’ll be more information in a few hours.” Darcy pushes her hair out of her eyes. “She’s stressing. Worried that you and Foggy aren’t taking the whole we’re broke thing seriously.”

Matt laughs. “Well, I mean, there are only so many ways to take the news. I picked something that didn’t involve breaking things.”

“Look, I know you have your volcano thing of keeping things inside until they explode all over and like…singe the rest of us, but please, can we have some kind of meeting on Monday about strategies?” Darcy heaves a breath. “I’ve done the scraping from day to day thing, Matt. So have you, so has Foggy, so has Karen. It’s—I’d really rather not go back to that if I can help it.”

“We can’t exactly take money from people who don’t have it, Darcy.” He braces the bag again, and waits for her to go back to punching things. “And we can’t turn them away.”

“I know that.” She hits the bag hard enough that her elbow whines, and dances back. “I know that, we can’t—we can’t turn them away. I know we can’t, that’s not what we’re here for. It’s not—”

Darcy stops. She shuts her eyes. In and out, Lewis. Four hours of sleep, and that’s an hour and a half more than she normally gets. She’s honestly not sure Matt slept at all, judging by how he keeps blinking like a confused seal when he thinks no one’s paying attention. Four hours of sleep, and their business is failing, and they have to keep it from Kate otherwise she’ll swoop in and think she fixes it the way rich people always think they fix things, and it’s too fucking hot for any of this. “We just need to prioritize,” she says, finally. “And maybe stop accepting pie.”

“Foggy will be sad.”

“Foggy can buy his own pie with the money we’ll get from actual paying clients, and then maybe we can go back to accepting pie. Alongside money, obviously. A better business model equals more pie and possibly even more strawberry rhubarb, I don’t know.”

He hums. Matt cocks his head at her, and then hooks two fingers into the waistband of her pants, tugging her around to clock into him. Darcy whines. “It’s too hot for that.”

“We’ll make it work,” Matt says. He leaves his hand braced over the small of her back. “We have to. We’ll figure it out.”

“We have to consider shifting into a legal aid organization, if this is how we’re going to keep doing things.” Darcy touches her fingertips to his shoulder. “Seriously, Matt. Being defense attorneys, that’s a good job, that’s what we started out with, but—but clearly we’re doing way more work as legal aids than anything else at this point. If we’re going to keep working the way we are, then the transition is something we need to look at seriously. The grants would help.”

“We’d need to completely restructure the firm if we make the shift.”

“Yeah, but we’d also be able to afford to pay the electricity bill, and thus keep the doors open and keep on helping where we can. It’s a balance. We just haven’t figured it out yet.”

“Mm.”

Darcy rests her palms to the bag, and sways around to knock into him. It’s too damn hot in Fogwell’s, and running into him is like walking into a heating coil, but she does it anyway. Matt shifts, and pushes back. “You’re not usually this quiet after a good night. You okay?”

“It’s nothing, I’m fine.” Matt turns his face to the ring for a moment, considering. “Just thinking about Mrs. Almeida.”

“About Mrs. Almeida or about her husband and the butcher knife?”

“Not her husband so much. Just—I don’t know.”

Darcy doesn’t even have to say anything anymore. Almost seven months of I don’t know and bullshit, Matt, you totally do have left their mark on both of them. She just cocks an eyebrow at him, and waits.

“If we stop,” he says, “if—if we take a night off, if we stop, then people get hurt. Sometimes I just—I wonder what we miss, when we’re not out there. When we’re not listening, or—or trying to get in the way. I wonder what happens.”

Darcy curls her fingers into the fabric of his shirt. She can’t exactly say it’s not something that’s kept her awake at night, what happens when they’re not outside, when they’re not paying attention, when they’re not trying. For the first month or so after Fisk she hadn’t been able to stop thinking about it, really, the things that she hadn’t been able to stop. Ephemeral images of dead women, dead men. Blood and pain. Gunshots and drugs and cruelty. She’s come to a balance with it, now, wrangled it under control as best she can, but it still lingers. If I know something has to be happening out there, and I can stop it but I don’t, what does that make me, anyway?

“We can’t fix everything,” she says, when Matt tips his head towards hers in a silent question. “It’d be the same if we were just working at the firm, or at the DA, or at a legal aid place or a homeless shelter or any of it. We can’t fix everything. The world doesn’t work like that.”

“I know.”

“You know.” She tugs on his shirt again. “But you still feel guilty.”

Matt doesn’t say anything. Still, when Darcy pulls on his shirt one more time, he bends into her, into a kiss as light as gossamer. Darcy rests her scarred hand over his heart as she says, “You can’t take on the whole world, Matt. You can’t save everyone and you can’t stop everything. If you try, then all you’re gonna do is break yourself.”

“I don’t want to take on the whole world.” It’s too hot to lean into him, too goddamn hot to do more than balance on her toes and leave her palm to his chest to keep her balance, but when Matt settles another kiss to the corner of her mouth, she hums into it. “Just the parts that piss me off.”

“That I can get behind.” She touches her lips to his jaw, and then says, “So can we talk about the irony of that guy last night letting you chase him into a church? Because that was fucking hilarious. Though I’m pretty sure I still have little shards of the Virgin Mary in my hair.”

“Shut up,” Matt says. The corners of his mouth lift. “You were chasing him too.”

“I was, but like…I’m not the Catholic, here.”

“Not saying it wasn’t ironic, just that you’re part of the irony.” He prods at her hips. “It’s too hot for you to lean on me.”

“Arguably, that means it’s too hot to spar.”

“Not for more than twenty minutes, no,” he says, and she groans as she heaves her way up into the ring.

It’s closer to nine than it is to eight when they finally make their way over to Josie’s, but it’s still cracking a hundred even long after the sun has set. It’s really, really bad for crime rates, she thinks, staring down an alley at a cat disappearing under a dumpster. People are dumb during heat waves generally, but people who aren’t used to the heat get angry, and when people get angry they get stupid, and when people get stupid they pull dumb shit like trying to whack their neighbor with a baseball bat or try to steal a whole Trump Tower’s worth of diamonds or try to beat their boyfriend’s head in with a hammer. (All of these things have happened in the past five days, and she’s really tired of it. Really tired of it. Seriously, the most tired.) If there’s any city on the planet that’s not made for a heatwave, it’s New York.

Josie’s is crammed with people looking for cold beer, which means the A/C has conked out. Walking in is like walking into a tub full of chicken noodle soup. Karen and Foggy are already at the pool table, bickering about something to do with the 8-ball. No Ben in sight. Which, really, she kind of expected; Ben has a wife to keep an eye on and a brownstone with actual air conditioning; why the fuck would he brave their divey bar instead of sending Karen with news? “I have gorgeous friends,” Darcy says, and Foggy shuts up in an attempt not to laugh. “Look at the pair of you, you are gorgeous humans. Even covered in sweat and lit up with red lighting. I feel like I should be beating suitors off with a stick right now. Why am I not beating people off with a stick?”

“After the disaster that was my date last night, please do not. I think explicit violence would send the wrong message.” Foggy gestures at the end of the table, where two bottles of beer have been left untouched. “Kate’s not crashing this shindig?”

“Kate’s still up near Albany last I heard. She should be back tomorrow, though, if nothing goes wrong or if they don’t get lost driving back into the city.” Darcy clicks her bottle to Karen’s, and sips at the beer. “Never gets any better, no matter how hard it tries. Anyway, she’ll be back tomorrow night at the latest. Why, you miss her?”

“Just wondering when the peace and quiet of the office is gonna shatter is all.” Foggy misses his shot, and swears. “Is anyone else feeling shots tonight? I’m feeling shots.”

“Oh, God,” says Matt, laughing. “Not—not exactly, no.”

“You have no sense of adventure, Murdock.”

“Is there a bet on this game?” Darcy steals Foggy’s cue. “Does it involve emptying the paper shredder?”

“No, but that’s a good bet, we should make that the endgame.” Foggy flares his fingers. “Whoever wins gets to pick who empties the paper shredder for a week and a half.”

“Don’t add a bet on in the middle of the game, Foggy, that’s cheating.” Karen knocks the three into the pocket, and shifts around to the other side of the table. On top of the TV, Rosa the cockatoo makes an unhappy noise. She’s molting, and there are feathers all over the floor of the bar. “We can do that next game, though.”

“So what was the bet for this game?”

“Piece of the strawberry rhubarb,” Karen says, grinning, and knocks the six in, too. “Score.”

“Goddamn you, Page—”

“Darcy.”

It’s not Matt, not exactly. Well, it’s Matt, but it’s softer, quieter. The hair on the back of her neck stands on end. Darcy knocks her shoulder into his chest, close enough that he can whisper without it looking strange. “What?”

“Don’t look around.” He dips down, and warmth tickles against her ear. Sweat is dribbling down her spine. “Someone at the bar is watching us.”

“We’re usually watched,” she says. “We are a group of very pretty people, plus you. Usually means we attract attention in public spaces.”

Matt doesn’t laugh. “Don’t usually get stared at by men with guns, though.”

“Hm.” She taps her fingernail against the glass of her beer. “Which one?”

“Coat, about halfway down the bar.”

She doesn’t turn, not exactly. She hooks her hair behind her ears, and shifts her weight so she can see the bar as well as she can see the pool table, as well as she can watch Karen and Foggy snipe away at each other over the balls. He’s not wrong, she thinks. The guy’s definitely watching them. There’s a sheen of sweat on his upper lip that’s probably from the crowd, from the heat and the humidity, but he’s twitching. He keeps bouncing his leg against the barstool.

“I’m gonna talk to him,” Matt says, and Darcy catches his arm.

“Blind guy walking up to a counter to talk to a guy packing a gun and a twitchy finger? Like that works.”

“If he’s here to start something—”

“He’s not gonna start something.”  

“Darcy—”

“Can you think of any way a blind man noticing someone packing a gun from across the room isn’t suspicious? Because I can’t.” She lifts her chin. “I’ll go. I need to grab the shots anyway.”

Matt presses his fingers hard into the bone of her hip, and then lets go. “Don’t do anything stupid.”

“Please. You’re talking to me.” She bounces up onto her toes, kisses his cheek. “Since when do I do anything stupid?”

“Don’t make me answer that.”

“Sometimes I wonder why I date you,” she says, and turns to Foggy. “You still up for shots?”

“Twist my arm, Lewis,” Foggy says without looking at her. On the other side of the table, Karen’s eyes dart to Matt, and then back to Darcy. “Tequila for me.”

“I thought you were done with tequila,” Matt says.

“What can I say, the eel has a siren song I cannot deny.”

“Gross,” says Darcy. “Karen? Vodka?”

“If she still has it.” Karen looks at Matt again, and then goes back to ripping Foggy apart. “If not, just—whatever looks the least like it’s gonna eat through my insides like acid.”

“So not Tammy Swanson’s farm booze, understood.”

Josie has feathers in her hair when Darcy bounces up to the counter, but for once she actually looks like she’s in a good mood. The heat, Darcy thinks. For some reason, Josie thrives in disgusting temperatures like this. It might be because she’s from Louisiana, Darcy isn’t entirely sure. That, or she’s, you know, inhuman. “Tonight is a shots night, Jos,” Darcy says, and plonks herself on the barstool right next to Signore Twitch. “You still have the things?”

“’slong as you still have your tab.”

“You’re gorgeous.”

Josie snorts, and stalks off. It’s possibly the nicest she’s been to Darcy in the years since they started coming her, and it’s weird. Darcy peels her hair up off the back of her neck, ties it off. Next to her, Twitchy Dude glances at the ABSOLUTELY NO TABS sign behind the bar, and then says, “What’d you do to wrangle that one?”

“Helped with some fire code violations like three years ago. Plus, I’m charming.” She swivels around on her stool, propping her elbow on the counter. “You’re new.”

Twitchy Guy looks at her, and then back to the pool table. He glances at the door. “Yeah, well. Guy can drink where he wants, can’t he?”

“Not if he’s packing whatever you’re packing, he can’t.” She smiles, and Twitchy Guy starts actually vibrating. It’s kind of fascinating to watch. “Take a chill pill. Not saying that to pick a fight. You’re in a heavy coat in a hot bar during one of the worst heat waves New York’s had in twenty years, you think anyone with eyes and half a brain can’t tell you’re carrying?”

Twitchy Guy’s eyes dart to her face, and stick there. “’n who are you?”

“Darcy.” She wipes her hand on her skirt, and offers it to him. It takes him a full ten seconds to actually take it, and when he does, his fingers are shaking. There’s a smear of something dark on the inside of his wrist. “You realize like half the people in here have guns, right? Kinda stupid, you know, to yank out whatever you have and whack it on the table like you wanna compare lengths.”

“Not what I’m here for.” Twitchy Guy shoves his hand back into his pocket. “Attention’s the last thing I want.”

“Funny way of not attracting attention, this.”

Out of the corner of her eye, she can see Matt pinch the bridge of his nose in the biggest Lord give me strength she’s seen to date.

“’ve heard about you guys,” says Twitchy Guy, and lifts his chin towards the pool table. “Nelson, Murdock, and Lewis. That the blind one, there?”

“Yes,” says Darcy, slowly. “What’s this about?”

He searches her face. “If you’re who they say you are, then I need your help.”

“And who do they say we are?”

“Nelson, Murdock, and Lewis,” he says again. “The nice one, the blind one, and the one that’ll rip your throat out with her teeth.”

“I’m not that mean,” Darcy says. “I mean, I don’t think I am.”

Twitchy Guy shrugs. “’s what they call you. I’m not the one who came up with it.”

“Well, whoever did is gonna get a boot up his ass.” When Josie reappears with four shot glasses, Darcy takes two. “You want help?” she says. “Help me get these glasses over there. And do me a favor? Keep your gun tucked in your pants.”

.

.

.

His name, he tells them, is Grotto. He kind of forgets to mention that he’s dying.

Okay, no, he’s not dying. That’s an exaggeration. He’s lost a lot of blood, though (and she really wants to ask Matt what the hell is going on, because usually he’d, you know, notice that the guy that’s asking for witness protection is actually covered in blood right now) and so when he falls out of his chair onto the floor it’s not all that surprising that he’s completely out of it. Like, actually unconscious, not just half-woozy and swooning like a Catholic schoolgirl with a hand up her skirt. The Dogs of Hell Darcy thinks, as Karen folds up a towel that Josie produces from behind the bar and presses it down over the wound. The Dogs of Hell and the Kitchen Irish. Glass cuts and more than a dozen Irish mobsters gunned down in one of their own goddamn pubs. The world’s getting wrenched out from under her feet, and she’s not sure she can stop it.

“Do I really look like I’m gonna rip someone’s throat out with my teeth?” she asks Karen, as the EMTs load Grotto up into the ambulance. Behind them, Matt and Foggy are muttering about something, probably arguing. Darcy’s taking advantage of the breeze. “Seriously.”

“Occasionally I get worried you’re going to come over the top of the conference room table at someone, yes.” Karen hooks her hair behind her ear. Darcy’s met exactly none of these EMTs, which means that when Karen introduced herself as Mrs. Steve Schaeffer, all of them had bought it hook, line, and sinker. Which, holy shit, she sometimes forgets how good Karen is at acting. “Are you coming?”

“Have to stop at home, first.” She wraps her arms around Karen for a moment, hiding her face. In spite of the heat, Karen squeezes her back. “I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

“You don’t have to come.”

“If what Grotto says happened is the truth, then I’m really not comfortable with you being the only thing standing between him and whoever shot up that pub, even if you do have the .380.”

“I don’t. Not on me, anyway.”

Great. Darcy sinks back onto her heels. “Go. If Claire sees you there, then…I don’t know, avoid her. What’s my name?”

“Anita Schaeffer,” Karen says. “You’re my sister-in-law.”

“Am I older or younger?”

“Older sister.”

“Sweet, I get to be bitchy when he wakes up.” She kisses Karen’s cheek. “Go with Steve.”

Karen goes with Steve. She has to bellow her way into the back of the ambulance, but she goes with Steve, and Darcy waits until the ambulance is out of sight before turning around. Foggy’s stripped off his suit jacket, and rolled up his sleeves. There’s a smear of blood on his shirt. “Everything okay?”

“Club’s at 47th and 10th,” Foggy says. “That’s maybe three blocks from here, one block north. We were gonna walk it, see if we can figure anything out. Someone seriously had to pull this shit now? Seriously.”

“Some guys go up to Canada for the weekend. Others blow up Irish gangsters. You have to find a balance.” Darcy bounces in her shoes. They’re flats, and they’re tied, so it really wouldn’t be difficult to pull some alleyway racing on her way back to the apartment, but it’s also just…hot. And gross. “I’m gonna cab back to the apartment and then go to Metro-General. You want me to say hi to Claire?”

“I think you’ve talked to her more than any of us, the past three months, dunno how true it’ll ring.”

“She likes hearing it anyway.” Darcy cocks her head. “Matt?”

“I’m going with Foggy.”

“Call me if that changes.”

“Darcy,” he says, as she starts to turn away, and catches her hand, pulling her back. Foggy looks pointedly at the sign for Josie’s. “Be careful.”

“I’m always careful.”

“Because telling a guy with a gun to take a chill pill is careful,” Matt says, but he tips her chin up and kisses her anyway, light and fast. Darcy snorts at him.

“Hypocrisy, thy name is Matthew Murdock.” She yanks on his tie when he snickers. “Don’t piss the cops off too much.”

“He’s good at it,” Foggy says, still staring very hard at Josie’s. Darcy rolls her eyes, and steps away.

“That goes for you, too, chuckles. I don’t want to have to drag my ass down to holding to bail either of you out, so just…be nice. And if Brett’s there, don’t be mean to him. He suffers a lot, y’know.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Foggy says, but he deigns to let her buss his cheek. “Whatever, Lewis.”

She waves without looking back, and snags a cab.

Darcy’s long since worked out how exactly she can pull off wearing the Lilith uniform under her clothes. She has it a little easier than Matt, outfit-wise, just because as a woman she doesn’t get side-eyed for wearing long skirts, especially when it’s hot out. Plus, the boots go up to the middle of her calf, which means anyone catching a flash of black around her ankles assumes it’s her shoes. She pulls a sweatshirt on over the top (she’s going to a hospital, and if she has to she can claim shock) and leaves her gloves and her mask in a cloth purse she scrounges out of the back of the closet. The rose-colored glasses she’d worn to infiltrate Metro-General the first time (oh, Nurse Lebowski, thank god you transferred to Our Lady of Sorrows) are perched on her nose when she slips in through one of the side doors, and heads for the ICU. “Anita Schaeffer,” she tells the nurse at the desk, a new one, she thinks, one she hasn’t met before. “I’m, um—my brother was brought in about half an hour ago, my sister-in-law is here somewhere, I think—”

“ID?” says the nurse, but at the same time, someone clears their throat.

“It’s okay, Louisa,” says Claire, and tucks her folders under her arm. “I saw her earlier, she’s clear.”

Louisa the desk nurse looks from Claire to Darcy and back again before nodding, and pointing down the hall with her pen. “Room 415.”

“Thank you,” Darcy says. “This way?”

“I’ll take you,” says Claire, in a voice that Darcy recognizes. Uh-oh.

Room 415 is around the corner from the nurse’s desk, which means as soon as they’ve passed out of sight, Claire seizes her by the elbow and drags her into an empty room. Or…not an empty room. A room with a sleeping patient. “Whoa, okay. Are we gonna wake him up?”

“He’s a vegetable. Anything he hears, he’s not ever gonna repeat.” Claire scowls. “Look. I really do not need a lot of drama tonight, okay, so whatever’s happening, can you tell me?”

“Hello to you too,” Darcy says, and blinks. “Are you okay? You look like you’re a walking pincushion.”

“I haven’t left the ER in days, I haven’t slept in thirty-six hours, and I really don’t have time to dance around it, so can you just—can you tell me for certain that nothing insane is going to happen tonight?”

“Insane things don’t always happen when I show up,” Darcy says. Claire scoffs.

“Please. They always happen when you show up. It’s like your face is a trouble-magnet.”

“That’s the second time tonight people have been snippy about how my face is shaped. I don’t appreciate it.”

Claire gives her a look with some very unimpressed eyebrows. “Sure. Is he showing up, too?”

“Probably not. Or if he is, he’s gonna warn me, so I can warn you.”

Claire crosses her arms over her chest. “I don’t need a warning. Just answer the question. Can you tell me for sure that shit isn’t going to go down tonight? Because this is quite literally the last night that I need shit to go down on. The very last. The apocalypse could happen, and tonight would still be worse.”

“I can’t give you answers I don’t have, Claire.” Darcy shoves her rose-colored glasses up her nose. “I don’t know. I’m pretty sure things should be okay, but just—keep an eye out, all right? Just in case.”

“Because that’s not ominous.” Claire’s eyes dip down to Darcy’s boots. “Please don’t fight in my workplace. I like working here, most of the time. When they’re not punishing me for doing my job outside of regulations.”

“That thing with the kids?”

“That and your friend and her giant, indestructible boy toy.” She blows air out her nose. “So I’d really appreciate it if things can be kept as quiet as possible tonight. I don’t need the administration breathing down my neck any more than they already are.”

The door’s shut. Still, Darcy glances at the knob, just to make sure, before she reaches out and squeezes Claire’s elbow. “I’m sorry,” she says. “Most—most of that isn’t your fault. It’s ours. You shouldn’t be the one getting into trouble for it.”

Claire shuts her eyes, and breathes out, long and slow. “I don’t blame you, y’know. If you hadn’t called me in with that kid, he’d probably be dead. And I was the one who decided to lug the detective and her boyfriend out in my car. I’ve made my choices the whole way through. I just…don’t want to have to choose between helping you and doing my job, Darcy, not again.”

“I’ll remember.”

Claire rolls her eyes up to the ceiling, and threads her stethoscope through her fingers. “I need to get back down to the ER before anyone misses me,” she says. “I was just up here for some charts. Whoever Steve Schaeffer is, you’d better make sure that that’s who he stays. I don’t need cops crawling all over my hospital.”

“I’ll do my best.”

She scoffs. Still, Claire snags Darcy’s elbow and squeezes her back before stalking back off down the hall.

Grotto’s still completely passed out by the time Darcy gets into the hospital room. Karen’s perched in a chair with her head in her hand, watching him carefully. She glances over her shoulder when Darcy comes in, but all she says is, “So, Ben was right.”

“Well, something’s going on, anyway.” Darcy perches at the end of Grotto’s bed. “What’d the nurses say?”

“He needs PT and a few days of bedrest. Which he’s probably gonna fight, for a lot of reasons.” She looks at the door. “Steve’s always argued about things like this.”

“Believe me, I know.” Darcy offers her bag. “I brought you different clothes. If you want to change out of those.”

Karen smiles, thin, and takes it, setting the bag on the floor at her feet. “Thanks.”

“Coffee?”

“Please.”

“Happy Friday,” Darcy says, and Karen laughs.

“Yeah. Happy Friday.”

An hour passes. Then an hour and a half. She hears from Matt at the hour-thirty mark, clipped and careful. There’s wind whistling in the background. He’s probably chilling on a rooftop, again. “Proto-military group,” he says. “Or, at least, that’s how it looks so far. Nobody’s caught sight of them yet. Brett says they’ve been hitting some of the local gangs pretty hard. Dogs of Hell, like Ben said.”

“Proto-military?”

“Heavy duty weaponry.” He pauses. “I’ve talked to Turk already, he gave me some names.”

“I’ll stay on Steve.” She curls her hair around her finger. “What about Foggy, what’s he doing?” 

“Foggy’s gonna try to get some questions answered. Said he was going to talk with a guy he knows.”

Darcy stops, and blinks at the wall. “Since when does Foggy know a guy?”

“He grew up here same as me. You know people when that happens.”

“You didn’t even ask?”

“Darcy. It’s Foggy. He’ll be fine.”

“If you say so,” she says. The words feel like severed fingers in her mouth, scraping and heavy, bloody on her tongue. “What’d you get from Judas Priest?”

“I’m heading to the Meatpacking District, Mexican cartel’s picking up heavy firepower.”

“That’s…very unspecified. Which group are we talking about here?”

“Los Milagros, I think. Maybe the Serpiente boys, I’m not sure. Turk didn’t have a lot to say after I threw away his keys.”

Darcy twists her hair again. “River?”

“Mm.”

“You amuse me,” she says, and Matt laughs. Darcy turns away from Grotto’s bed. “All’s quiet on the western front. You want me to meet you there?”

“It’s Los Milagros. Even if they’re trying to build up their weapons base, they’re nothing we haven’t gone up against before.” He huffs. “Besides, I’m just gonna look.”

“Like you’ve ever said that and actually meant it.” She stares at the door. “Don’t be cocky, Matt.”

“When am I ever cocky?”

“You want me to give you a list?”

“I’m…not sure I can actually argue with that one. Do you have a list? Of every single time I’ve been cocky, really? That’s—that’s dedicated, I’ll give you that.”

“Don’t be a jackass.” Still, she’s smiling. “Just—be careful.”

For a second, all she can hear on the other end of the phone is the wind. Then, very quietly, Matt says, “I made you a promise. I’m not going anywhere. You don’t have to worry.”

Darcy folds the hem of her sweatshirt over her fingers. The scar on the back of her hand catches the light, oddly, flashing pale in her skin. “So you’re allowed to worry about me but I’m not allowed to worry about you?”

“Logical, isn’t it?”

“Not really, no.”

“I’m fine.” He hesitates. “I’m not the one sitting in a hospital waiting for a gang of shooters to come after the one guy they didn’t manage to gun down.”

“When you put it like that, it makes it sound like I’m doing something dangerous.”

“Darcy.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah.” She blows her hair out of her eyes. “I know.”

“I love you,” Matt says.

“You keep using that on me like you think it’s gonna make me worry less.”

“Doesn’t make it not true.”

And that’s a low blow. The nice kind, but still dirty pool. Darcy pinches her nose. “I love you. I’ll call if anything happens here.”

“Half an hour,” he says, and hangs up the phone. Darcy slips hers back into her pocket, and turns to find Karen watching her.

“All’s fine.” She drops down on the end of Grotto’s bed again. “He’s looking. You hear anything more from Ben?”

“He’s in with Doris, tonight. She had a bad night. He can’t exactly go looking around right now.” Karen presses her hand over her mouth, for a moment, watching Grotto breathe. His heart rate monitor’s been doing odd things the past half an hour or so, speeding up and slowing down, which Darcy is pretty sure means that he might be waking up. Still, no sign so far. “You don’t have to stay here, if you’re that worried about him.”

“If I’m here I’ll be worried about him, and if I’m there I’ll be worried about you and Steve. Besides, I told you, I’m not about to walk off right now, not considering the circumstances.” She pats at Grotto’s feet, awkwardly. “I just don’t like waiting for something to happen. It’s like sticking my head up over the edge of a trench and waiting for someone to plink me.”

“I mean, it’s not particularly enjoyable on this end, either.” Karen rolls her neck, and props her chin in one hand. “You sure that’s all it is?”

“Do I have anything else to be paranoid about?”

“Is it paranoid to worry?”

“Just—I don’t know. Things have been going well, lately. Since—” She waves at the wall, hoping Karen can translate Fisk and Nobu and Vanessa without her having to say it. “Well, for almost a year. I don’t want to break the lucky streak.”

Karen draws her feet up into the chair, leaving her shoes on the floor. “You think something’s gonna break it?”

“I think there’s no point in tempting fate.”

“D—Anita, seriously. If you really want to go—”

“I’m staying here.” Darcy makes herself smile. Or partly makes herself. Half of it’s real, she thinks. “Not gonna leave my sister-in-law alone waiting for my noble idiot of a little brother to wake up.”

“Still—”

The EKG jumps again. At the same time, Grotto makes a little, pained sound under his breath, and shifts his hands across the bedspread. Karen’s out of her chair and pressing him back into the mattress before he can do more than twitch. “Steve,” she says, and then again, sharper: “Steve, I need you to calm down. Anita’s gonna get the nurses, okay?”

“Who the fuck is Anita?” says Grotto.

“Thanks, bro.” Darcy says, and goes out to find someone who doesn’t look too busy.

It’s only once she’s managed to snag Louisa and made the appropriate thank God, thank God noises over the messy cut in Grotto’s side—it takes about half an hour, which, Jesus—that Darcy slips away. She texts Foggy on the way to the bathroom (please let me know when you get home) and then ducks into the first empty stall. The lock slides home with a satisfying thunk. Darcy doesn’t breathe, for a moment. She leans against the door, forehead against the cool metal, and she listens to her heartbeat, thundering in her ears. In and out, she says again, and draws in air through her nose. In and out.

It’s probably the firm, she thinks. The money and the lack of paying clients and the fucking bananas are all meshing together, making her worry when she doesn’t need to. It’s been really good, the past six months, really good. Even with the unexpected, nothing’s ended badly. Things have been changing, things have been happening. Most of the big gangs in the kitchen have slunk into their holes to lick their wounds after Fisk, and taking care of the ones who creep out—that’s been easy. Matt’s right, she thinks. Los Milagros is nothing they haven’t dealt with before. He can handle them on his own, same way she could. She’s handled them on her own. It’s not the first time they’ve worked separate angles of the same thing. There’s no reason for her to be this worried, this time. Everything’s fine, she thinks. When she says it aloud, it echoes wrong. “Everything’s fine.” There’s no one else in the bathroom, and it still feels like she’s telling a lie.

Home, Foggy says. And I’m fine. Darcy turns her phone on silent, and puts it back into her pocket.

Proto-military, Matt said. And everything Grotto had told them, men in heavy armor and packing big weapons, all of them dead without a single return hit. Bullets flying through the window, and only Grotto had crept out of it alive. Proto-military, and they’ve been keeping things quiet, it’s been working, but now there are bodies on the floor and the firm could be failing and she’s sitting here waiting with nothing to do but think, and so she’s stressing. She’s worried. Goddammit, I’m allowed to be worried. She’s worried about Foggy and this mysterious person who he supposedly knows (because who the hell would Foggy know that could get him more information on a biker gang?) and she’s worried about Karen sitting in here with a target on her back, as Grotto’s ‘wife’, and she’s worried about Matt on his own in the Meatpacking District, wandering through cartel territory without her to watch his back when there’s a new gang they haven’t even heard a whisper of wandering around killing people. In and out. As long as they can keep Grotto safe and anonymous until they strike a witpro deal with the DA’s office, then at least that’ll be one thing off their plates. And maybe—

She thinks it’s her imagination, at first. The bang. It’s muffled through the bathroom door and probably two walls. The screams, though, that’s not her imagination at all. There’s a shriek, and another bang, and then people running, and fuck. “Shit.” Her taser’s under her skirt, strapped to her thigh, but her bag, her gloves and her mask, they’re all in Grotto’s room with Karen. Which is down the hall. “Shit,” she says again, and throws the lock back, pushing the bathroom door open. The nurse’s desk is empty. Louisa’s gone somewhere. On the other side of the swinging doors, someone shrieks. Another gun goes off towards the end of the hall, towards Room 415, and adrenalin hits her like a stevedore. Shit. “Get back in your room,” Darcy shouts, as another patient opens the door and peers out into the hallway. “Get in your room and lock the door, don’t open it—”

Big, she thinks, when she skids around the corner. Big and white and heavy, not in weight but in carriage. His head’s half-shaved—jarhead, she thinks, it’s the first thing that comes to mind, a military buzzcut—and there’s a shotgun in his hand, held loose, like it’s part of him, like Matt and one of his kali sticks. At the other end of the hall, Darcy catches a flash of blonde, and terror snags in her throat. “Hey!”

The guy doesn’t jump. Still, his shot misses, though whether it’s because Karen ducks and screams and drags Grotto along with her, or because Darcy startled him somehow, there’s no way to know. He looks back over his shoulder at her, and—holy shit. A nose that’s been broken. Dark eyes. Cold, she thinks. Then he aims, and Darcy flings herself out of the way as part of the floor explodes up into shards of linoleum and wood. He’d aimed at her feet, she thinks, but it’s still way too close for comfort.

“Stay out of the way,” he says, echoing down the hall.

Like hell.

Still: by the time she manages to extract herself from the corner she’s landed in (stuck between a potted plant and the wall, it’s fucking impossible) he’s disappeared around the corner. The shotgun goes off again, and again. Emergency stairwell. It should be the only place Karen would go, down the stairs and out in a way that keeps most people from being caught in the crossfire. By the time Darcy gets there, flings the door open, he’s gone. Karen and Grotto are nowhere to be seen. She can hear an echo of footsteps three floors above her, slow and steady, like he has all the time in the world.

Shit.

She snags her bag out of Room 415, and runs.

The cameras in the elevator have been disabled. It’s basically the only reason why she can yank off the hoodie and skirt, pull on her mask and gloves. Her hands aren’t shaking. Darcy stows the duffel bag behind a plant on the top floor (the cameras aren’t working up here, either, the whole place is shut down) and then hits the roof access door at a run, taking the stairs three at a time. There are three main buildings in Metro-General, two towers connected by a seven-floor entrance area/intensive care unit in the center, and Jarhead wouldn’t have had time to get to the next one. Shit, shit, shit, of all the times to hide in the bathroom to worry, Lewis, shit fuck hell shit damn. Outside, there are no sirens. A helicopter buzzes overhead, but it’s only passing by. The city’s echoing all around, car horns and the buzz of telephone wires, and when she closes the roof access door (quietly, as quietly as she can, and it only just barely creaks as it clicks back into place) there’s no sign of him. Darcy draws her taser from the holster, and steps sideways, around one of the air conditioning units. The air hangs in the air, molasses creeping under her suit. Shotgun, she thinks, and then when she comes around the edge of a second unit and sees the set-up on the wall—sniper. A sniper with no shooter and Karen running down to the car on street level, where the hell—

There’s a creak. It’s the same little noise that fire escapes will make when someone’s standing behind you, when metal warps to try and take the weight of something much heavier than a cat or a pigeon. Darcy drops, and rolls. It’s the only thing that keeps the back of Jarhead’s shotgun from slamming into her skull. When she pops up again, he’s stepped off the air conditioner, and he has the shotgun pointed right at her face.

“The hell is your problem,” Darcy says, because it’s the only thing she can think to say. “This is a fucking hospital, you unmitigated jackass.”

Jarhead blinks at her, long and slow, and she dives. The shotgun goes off, spraying pellets. Something stings in her shoulder. Darcy rolls, and pops back up behind another ventilation unit, panting, wondering if this had been a tactical error. Yeah, sure, step right in front of the crazy shooter, Darcy, excellent idea, get his attention and have him fucking come at you with

There’s another creak of metal, and she throws herself out of the way. He’s not aiming for her head, she doesn’t think. It’s kind of hard to aim with a shotgun, but it doesn’t seem like he’s trying to blow her face off. She jumps, back and back, and slips into the shadows, clutching her taser. He could have shot her in the hallway and he didn’t, and that means—well, it could mean a lot of things, really. Her ears are ringing too much for her to be able to think clearly, but he could have killed her and he didn’t and that means that there could be an opening there. She shifts again, from shaft to shaft, keeping low, watching.

Jarhead cracks the shotgun, and she moves. Darcy snags the edge of one of the shafts with both hands, one that’s a head taller than she is, and she heaves herself up and swings, driving her feet as hard as she can into the guy’s shoulder. It’s like hitting a mountain; his weight’s balanced, his arms like rocks, the jacket muffling everything. But he staggers. Somehow, he staggers, and the second cartridge falls out of his hands, cracking on the pavement. Then it’s movement, motion. You’re faster than you think you are, Matt’s told her, over and over, but this guy’s a snake, a striking cobra. (A fist clips her in the jaw and she staggers back but when he comes at her with the other she’s twisted, ducking away and jabbing her taser hard into his side—) Back and forth and all around, and when she ducks, he’s there to meet her. Not acrobatic, she thinks. Not in the same way. Brutal and efficient. (Electricity crackles again but then he’s knocked it from her hand and she can’t dive for it without leaving herself open to his fists—) He moves like he’s trying to break something, and even if the blows don’t land quite right, even if she dances back, she feels every one of them.

She’s still learning. Granted, she’s been working her ass off for the past year, but learning shit like this takes time and effort and a great deal of bloody noses, and she’s not ever going to be finished. (She hits the ground hard, spits, and rolls out of the way of the boot that comes flying for her ribcage—) Even if she’s good—and she is good, she’s not about to not admit that—there’s still a marked difference. He’s good. This isn’t for-fun good. This is this-is-my-job good. This is I-have-a-license-to-kill good. (Darcy rolls again, and snags her taser off the ground, turning and firing, and the prongs stick but he doesn’t go down—) This isn’t her league. She’s not sure this is even Matt’s league. This isn’t something she can handle, and there are two options. Turn and run, or just…keep going until he beats her into the ground.

Like fuck is he touching Karen.

He’s not after Karen, but it doesn’t matter. He’s after Grotto. Grotto’s with Karen. Darcy rolls, and rolls again, circling, staying back, out of reach. Jarhead has a knife, she realizes. On his hip. He hasn’t drawn it yet. Something in the base of her throat snaps, snarls. Fucking rude.

“You wanna tell me why you want that guy dead?” Darcy says. She’s between Jarhead and the sniper rifle, now. For some reason, he’s stopped marching at her. She’s pretty sure Karen and Grotto are long gone by now, but she doesn’t want to take the chance. “Seriously, there are much bigger fish in this city. What’s so special about him?”

Jarhead doesn’t say anything. He watches her, unblinking, for a long awful moment. Then he wets his lips. “You’re a spitty little cat, aren’t you,” he says, in a voice that makes her think of cavern rock, deep and dark, scraping against her skin. “Never liked cats.”

“Figures.” One of her teeth is loose. At the base of her tongue, something’s buzzing, vibrating. If she snagged the shotgun, she could use it, take out a kneecap, hit him in the ribs. If it’s still loaded, anyway. He’d been putting in new cartridges, and there’s only one on the ground. A rattlesnake curls through her guts. “I’m not that big a fan of dogs, myself.”

“Stay out of the way,” says Jarhead. “I’m not going to hold back just because you’re a woman.”

“Yeah, I noticed.” She spits again. Blood runs down her chin. “Kind of refreshing, actually. You know how many assholes get all twitchy when they see the lipstick?”

Jarhead lunges. She hasn’t had time to reload. When he hits her—one blow, right to the ribs, knocking her sideways and sending her taser flying—it’s no-nonsense, a strike that has her half on the ground and nearly gagging. She still has a bit of air in her lungs, but only just. Jarhead turns, and steps on her taser with one foot, popping the plastic. He’s not looking at her, not anymore. He’s looking down at the street.

Footsteps. He turns. In the same moment, Darcy lunges, and snags the knife off his hip, slashing up and to the side. Something tears. Blood hits the air. Jarhead makes a noise like a grizzly bear, and bares his teeth, but in the same moment there’s a flash of red and black and sticks, and Jesus fuck, what took you so long, Matthew? Darcy takes a huge breath, as big as she can without her ribs stabbing into her, and then another, before heaving herself to her feet. They’re already yards off, a completely different rooftop, fists and feet flying so fast it’s almost impossible to track, but when Jarhead turns, there’s a slash right across the bones of his ribs, crossways, a thin cut that’s leaking blood. Fucker. He’d pulled back at the last second. Fucking bastard. She swallows air—no broken ribs, she doesn’t think, and her wrist feels like shit but it’s not useless—and then she bolts, not for the fight but for the shotgun and for the vents. It’s with the gun in one hand that she takes the nearest A/C unit at a run, jumping up and over and clambering as high as she can. Heights, she really, really hates heights, but when they get close enough, she doesn’t have to fall too far. When Jarhead bolts for a space between two buildings, she lands hard in front of him. Matt’s behind, blood on his mouth, panting.

“Let’s be clear,” she says. “You take a step, you lose a knee.”

Jarhead bares his teeth again. It could be a smile. She’s really not sure. There’s red on his canines. Then he turns, and clips Matt hard in the jaw with one elbow. She can’t fire without hitting Matt. When he snaps back around, she ducks the second blow, and whips the shotgun around to hit him. The butt of the gun rams right into his knee, hard enough that it reverberates all the way back up into her shoulders, hard enough that she hears something crack. Jarhead snarls, something wild and awful that she’s only ever heard once or twice (Matt, she thinks, Fisk) and then her head cracks into the side of the roof access door.

Echoes. The world’s in pieces. The gun falls from her hands. She can’t see. Her eyes cross. There’s only copper, and the echo of a shout, of a bellow.

It can only be for a minute, maybe. Two. She feels sick. When she gets to her feet, her knees nearly give out. Darcy wipes her chin—her glove comes away bloody, her lip stinging—and tries not to puke. Concussion, she thinks, maybe. Maybe a concussion. She’s alive, and she’d half-expected not to be, and that’s—painful more than anything, to be honest. When she peels off one glove, touches her fingers to the side of her head, they’re streaked with red. A scrape on her temple. Foggy’s gonna kill me.

Come on, girl. She can’t sit still. Karen, come on. Karen’s gone, probably. Out and safe by now, far away if she’s lucky. Karen’s out, and Grotto’s out, and Claire’s—she has the vague feeling Claire’s gonna kill her. The shotgun’s gone. She yanks her glove back over her fingers, and braces her hand to the wall. “Shit.” Matt. Where—

There. Noises. A blow. When she comes around the corner, Jarhead’s on the ground, and Matt’s standing over him, beside a ledge, frozen. For a second, she can’t process it, the image. There’s a gun. Matt’s standing there, over Jarhead, and Jarhead has a gun, there’s a gun

“Bang,” says Jarhead, and pulls the trigger.

Bang.

Matt falls. It’s not slow motion. Here and then gone. The world shatters in a split second, the space between one heartbeat and the next. Bang, and Matt falls. Bang, Matt falls, and there’s a buzzing in her ears that won’t stop. Bang, Matt falls, he’s gone, she can’t see him, he’s dead (—no, he can’t be, he’s not, he’s not dead, he can’t leave me, he can’t—), there’s a gun and a man on the ground and Matt is gone, and she doesn’t know who’s cracked her chest open but they have and everything in her is gone, the world’s dropped away from under her feet, Matt is gone, and there’s a gun, and he falls—

Matt falls, and she screams.

(—no—)

Images flash. She’s shouting, but she doesn’t understand the words. She wants blood under her nails and a heart in her hands. She wants to tear. There’s a snapshot in the back of her mind of Jarhead, looking at her with a bloody nose. His eyes are big and his lips are parted and she thinks he might be saying something to her, but she can’t hear him. The knife in her hands. Flesh and bone and cloth. Hitting the ground hard. Another shot, over her head, off into the distance. Blood. She can’t keep her feet, and the second time she gets up, Jarhead’s gone. She’s not crying, she doesn’t think. She can’t breathe. There’s a black hole inside her and she’s not sure if it’s not going to drag in everything else.

Matt. She slips when she goes over the other side, drops down hard enough that her ankles scream. Matt. He’s sprawled, unmoving, no blood, and there should be blood, she thinks, faintly, there should be blood if he’s been shot, but there’s nothing. When she skids to a stop next to him, her nose is dripping red. She can barely get the helmet off him, with how bad her hands are trembling. His eyes are closed. She opens her mouth, but she can’t scream. No sound comes out. No. God, no. No no no no no, please no. Darcy reaches out, but she can’t quite touch him. Not like this. Her mouth is open and she should be screaming but there’s nothing left inside her. She can’t. No, not you, please, please, no, please—

She can’t process it, at first. The motion. Then he takes a breath, shallow, his ribs rising and falling, and it’s like the universe crashes down onto her head. She should be plastered to the ground. Air catches in her throat. All of a sudden she’s sobbing. “Matt,” she says, and finally she can do it, put her hands to him, tracing his mouth and his jaw, his neck, fumbling. When she tears off her glove and presses her fingers to the artery in his throat, it beats, and she can’t breathe again. She can’t breathe. Alive, she thinks. Alive, alive, alive, alive— “Matt, honey, open your eyes—”

He doesn’t say anything.

(Bang.)

Matt,” she says again. She wants to scream. She should be screaming. “Matt, can you hear me? Please just—please, please don’t do this to me, sweetheart, please don’t leave, please open your eyes—”

His heartbeat’s slow. He’s breathing. He’s alive. She smooths his hair back up out of his face and tries not to gag, because they need to get off the roof, they need to run, there are going to be cops everywhere and she’s stuck to the ground because she’d thought he was dead, she’d thought she’d watched him die, and she wants to chase after that bastard with the sniper and beat his head in with a brick, watch something burst, watch him gag on his own blood and choke and fall apart. Kill him. She wants to kill him. Not Matt. You don’t touch him, not ever. And Matt’s alive but he’s unconscious, he might not wake up for hours, or ever, her head’s a mess, and she can’t move. In and out. Solve the problem, Darcy. She can’t solve this, though. She doesn’t know how. She bends, puts her mouth to Matt’s cheek (she doesn’t touch his forehead, she’s too scared she’ll break him) and then folds herself, awkwardly, until she can rest her head to his chest. “Please don’t leave.” She says it into the armor, blood running down the back of her throat. “Matt, you can’t leave me, please, please don’t leave me. You can’t. I need you to wake up, Matt, please—”

“Darcy.” When she lifts her head, Claire’s there, watching her. There’s blood on her scrubs. Her lips go white. “Jesus Christ—”

“Claire—” She can’t finish. “We need to—”

“I know,” Claire says. “Come on.”

“Claire—”

“Darcy, you need to get out of the way.”

“Claire—”

Move,” Claire says, and Darcy bares her teeth and spits.

No.

Claire rocks back and forth on her feet. Then she drops to the ground on Matt’s other side, and gets to work. Darcy can’t watch it. She’s breathing, thin and sharp, her heartbeat echoing in her ears. Please don’t leave me, she thinks, again. Please don’t.

“I called Foggy,” Claire says, as she touches her fingertips to Matt’s head, light and careful. “He’s on his way over, he shouldn’t be long.”

“He can’t be here.”

“Anyone who needs to get the hell out of here is you. You don’t have much time before the cops find the sniper on the rooftop, he managed to get off a shot judging by the glass on the ground outside. People have been reporting gunshots.”

The words echo inside her ribcage rather than her head. She can’t understand it. “Claire—”

“If the police find you here then you’re gonna get arrested and I’m definitely gonna lose my job, so right now, just—you need to get up and you need to move.”

“Is he okay?”

“I can’t know that for sure.”

She can’t move until she knows. Why does nobody understand that? “Claire, is he okay?”

“His skull isn’t cracked,” Claire says. “That’s about all I can tell you.”

Darcy puts her mouth to the back of Matt’s gloved hand. Come on, Lewis, she thinks again. Come on. He’s alive. Get up. Her knees won’t cooperate.

“You look like shit,” says Claire, and that finally gets her moving. Darcy rocks back and forth and sways to her feet, still crouched. When she draws one of Matt’s arms over her shoulder, he’s dead weight. Claire seizes his other arm.

“I’m fine,” she says. “Help me get him out of sight.”

And then, she thinks, I’m going hunting.

Chapter Text

It takes four hours for Matt to wake up.

Claire can’t stay. She gets them down onto the ground, into an alley, and then she has to dart back to Metro-General before anyone realizes she’s gone. (She catches Darcy before she goes, wraps her arms around her as best she can and puts her mouth to Darcy’s forehead even through the mask, and that nearly drags her into catatonia. She can’t deal with kindness, right now. She can’t manage it. She feels like an unsheathed blade, and anyone who touches her is going to be sliced to pieces.)

Darcy calls Karen three times. It all goes to voice mail.

It’s twenty minutes of waiting and watching the play of red and blue lights over the brick of the wall before Foggy hisses her name. He goes dead-white when he sees it, the wreck of them, Matt’s mask off and gore running down the side of his head and Darcy covered in bruises and smears. Her nose isn’t broken, somehow, but it’s still bleeding. Blood’s running over her lips. “Jesus,” he says, and then again. “Jesus Christ.

“I can’t carry him,” she says. “Where’s Karen?”

“She’s not with you?”

“Ben loaned her his car. She took Grotto somewhere.” Darcy stands, staggers. Matt’s too heavy. Foggy darts around to his other side, and pulls an arm over his shoulders. “Be careful.”

“What happened?”

(Bang. It keeps echoing in her head, over and over. Bang. Blood and the knife in her hands. Bang. Matt falling. Bang. Jarhead driving her down into the ground. Bang.)

“Later, Foggy,” she says.

Foggy presses his lips together, and nods.

It’s Nobu all over again. Lurching through alleyways like drunkards, trying to stay out of sight. The sun’s rising when they finally get to the apartment, finally make their way to the elevators (and they do take the elevators, because dragging Matt up the fire escape to the roof access door would be impossible). When she pushes the button for the sixth floor, it leaves a bright red print behind.

Onto the couch, she thinks. Or not the couch, the bed. The bed’s a better idea. They strip Matt’s uniform off, leave it on the floor. The helmet she leaves on the coffee table, the raw crack in it like the remnants of an earthquake. A natural disaster. Foggy goes and cleans the blood out of the elevator, wiping up drops and trying to eliminate the trail. A few minutes and half a millennium later, he’s back, and he stands at the end of the bed and watches her long enough that her skin starts to creep.

“Darcy,” he says. “You should change.”

“I’m fine.” She doesn’t look away from Matt’s face. There’s blood smeared down his temple. They should at least put him in clothes, she thinks, but that would mean moving his head, and she really doesn’t want to risk that right now. “It doesn’t matter.”

“You look like you just walked through a massacre, you need to at least change.” He swallows. “You’re gonna stain the blanket.”

“I don’t care,” says Darcy woodenly, and keeps her hand fisted around Matt’s. “I really—really could not give less of a shit about the blanket right now.”

Foggy considers that. Then he wanders off into the kitchen, and starts clattering through cabinets.  Darcy lifts Matt’s hand, puts her mouth to his knuckles and leaves it there for as long as long as she can. There’s a terrible bruise building up on his forehead, black, a lump like a goose egg. If it rises, she thinks, then it’s probably not swelling inside. But there’s no way to know that, not for sure. Not without scans and a hospital visit they can’t afford. Hi, nurses: please ignore the fact that my blind boyfriend is covered with bruises and knife scars. Also please ignore that I look like someone beat the shit out of me. Please ignore all of that and just tell me if he has a traumatic brain injury and if he’s going to fall down and die. Please just tell me that much.

(Bang.)

“Where’s Karen?” she says.

“I haven’t heard from her.”

She fumbles her phone out of her pocket, and hits speed dial again. It rings out to voice mail. She needs to go look for Karen, she thinks, needs to search for Karen and Grotto, but it’s like she’s swallowed in ice. She would have gone to the police, she thinks, leaving the phone on her lap. Karen would have taken Grotto straight to the police. Armed protection. They would have been able to give her enough of a head-start, getting in Jarhead’s way, that she’d probably been long out of sight before—

(I’m going to kill him, she thinks again, and it’s a stone falling down a hole, clattering against the sides, echoing rock. She thinks if Matt woke up and heard her say it, he’d be horrified. We hold each other back, she thinks. We’re supposed to hold each other back. Right now, she doesn’t care.)

(Bang.)

Something inside her is breaking.

It’s a decade before Foggy comes back with a bowl of water and a washcloth. He sets them on the bedside table. “Mirror,” he says, and pulls it out of his pocket. Darcy turns, and blinks at him, slowly. “If he wakes up and finds you covered in blood, he’s gonna be scared shitless.”

She looks down at her hands, at the smears. Mostly her own blood, she thinks. Jarhead’s knife is still tucked into her boot. “Oh.”

“I’m gonna get the kit,” Foggy says, and vanishes into the kitchen again.

Darcy stands, and strips. There’s bruising all down her ribs, on her hip and on her back, smearing. One’s in the shape of a boot heel. She pulls a shirt over her head at random (it smells like Matt, and her eyes are burning, all of a sudden) and then drops back down onto the bed. She’s not wearing pants, but she’s pretty sure Foggy isn’t going to care. The knife she leaves on the floor. Foggy drags a chair into the bedroom, one of the folding chairs, and sets it up across from her. “Look at me, will you?”

Darcy turns her head, and watches him, unblinking. Foggy’s still pale, pupils flaring wide, but his mouth is set when he lifts her chin with two fingers and starts dabbing at her cheek with the wet washcloth.

“Darcy,” he says again. “What happened?”

“You first.” She eyes his cheek. There’s a bruise swelling there, fat and purple. “You look like you were thrown into a wall.”

“Pinned to a pool table, actually.”

Something very, very cold cracks on the back of her head, and trickles along her spine. “By who?”

It’s not Darcy who says it, she thinks. The vowels are too long. Not how she sounds when she’s Lilith, not quite, but far too close to the edge for Foggy. She tries to keep it under control, when Foggy’s around. His lips go bloodless. “Jesus,” says Foggy. The hand that’s pressing the washcloth to her bloody cheek is trembling. “Don’t look like that. It’s fine, it worked out. All okay.”

Who?”

“Darcy, I don’t need you to go crazy mama bear on me, okay, just—”

“Foggy, what did you do?”

“I went to talk to the Dogs of Hell, okay?” he snaps, and throws the washcloth into the corner. Foggy fumbles the alcohol out of Matt’s kit, the gauze. “I knew someone a long time ago who became a full-patched member, I thought, you know, if I could talk to Smitty I could get a better idea of what the hell is going on right now.”

She legitimately cannot speak. She opens her mouth, and shuts it again. Then she wets her lips, and says, “Foggy, are you fucking crazy?

Well. She means to say it, anyway. She shouts it, instead.

Foggy snaps back, away from her. “I don’t need to hear that from you right now.”

“Are you insane? You go talk to a motorcycle gang without backup—”

“Like it’s any different from what you and Matt do—”

“At least we don’t go alone!” She’s screaming, high and cracked, because it’s not enough that she nearly lost Matt tonight, it’s not enough that she had to see him shot, now she has to hear this, hear that Foggy went and put himself into the worst possible position and that she hadn’t been there and that he could have died— “At least we tell you we’re going!”

“You don’t get the moral high ground with this one, Darcy!” He takes her chin in one hand, puts the cotton swab to a cut on her cheek. It burns. “Neither you nor Matt get the moral high ground with me when it comes to this shit, not ever, not when you look like you’ve been through a shredder and Matt won’t wake up and you won’t tell me why—

“You can’t lecture me for putting myself in danger and worrying you and then turn around and do the same thing to me and not tell me—”

“Darcy—”

You could have died!”

“You nearly die every night! Matt nearly dies every night! Don’t tell me it isn’t the same!”

She’s squeezing Matt’s hand so hard she’s surprised she hasn’t woken him, hard enough that the bones are shifting under her fingers, hard enough that her knuckles have gone white and her wrist aches with the force of it. “The difference is I tell you, Foggy! I tell you—I tell you when I’m going to do something dangerous, I signed up for this, I threw myself into this war, I prep for it, I don’t just walk up to a bar and asked to see a gangster with nothing more than my briefcase and my old iPod—”

“You weren’t there, you have no idea—”

“Then tell me you did something to protect yourself!” She shuts her eyes. Tears are streaking down her cheeks. “Did you tell anyone? Did you say anything? Did you get a gun, did you have backup? Did anyone even know where you were going?”

He wavers. “It’s the same.”

“It’s not.”

“It is.”

“It’s not, because if I’d gone in I would have been able to defend myself. You walked in and trusted them not to kill you when they’re jumpy as hell and getting—getting slaughtered by trained mercenaries, okay, they would have shot you in the head you if you’d so much as said a word wrong. You don’t trust these people, Foggy. You can’t.”

His fingers are steady on her cheek as he throws the first piece of cotton aside, and dabs a second one into the little bowl of alcohol. “There may have been a tactical miscalculation.”

“Yeah, no shit!”

“I can do without the lecture.” Foggy scrapes into a cut on her forehead, and Darcy spits like a cat. “Besides, it was productive. I just thought that Smitty would, you know, still be alive, but—”

Jesus Christ—

“—I’m fine, I made it out okay, and just—we can set aside how hypocritical you’re being right now—”

“There is a big difference between going in armed and going in like a lamb to slaughter, Foggy—”

“I know!” He pushes the swab hard into the cut on her eyebrow, and Darcy winces. “Shit. I know.” He can’t look at her, not really. “I just—I wanted to help.”

Darcy looks at her empty hand, palm up on her knee. Then she catches Foggy’s hand. Alcohol smears between their fingers, cold and faintly pink with her blood. Foggy flicks away the cotton ball, and squeezes her fingers hard, so that she’s linked on either side, holding on to Matt’s limp hand with her scarred one, and Foggy’s strong, regular, unbattered hand with the other, callused and warm and alive. She lets out a shaky breath. “You can help,” she says, finally. “I’m—I want you to help, if you want to help. You help by being here, but if you want to do more, I’m—I’d be a hypocrite to try and stop you. But just—please don’t do that again. Please don’t throw yourself into something that could kill you without at least telling one of us, Foggy, please.”

“Darcy—”

Please.

He looks at Matt. Foggy knots their hands together. “I promise, okay? Just—I promise.” His lips go thin. “But if there’s something I can do to help, I’m going to. From now on. I’m—I’m really sick of watching you two come back beat to shit and not being able to do anything.”

Darcy lifts Matt’s hand to her mouth again. She can’t speak.

“What happened?” Foggy says, for the last time.

She’s trying to find the words when the phone rings. Karen, the ID reads, Karen and a photo of her on the screen, posing like one of Charlie’s Angels with Kate. Hell’s Kitchen Angels, Kate had joked, and it’s a good shot, the pair of them back to back in front of Satan’s Photocopier with finger guns held up by their faces, laughing. She thinks her ID photo on Karen’s phone is its mate, Darcy sighting down her arm with her forefinger pointing right into the camera. She answers before she thinks, heaving a breath. “Karen?”

“I’m okay,” Karen says without preamble. Her voice is shaky, but steady. “I’m okay. Grotto and I are okay. We’re at the police station.”

“Did he follow you?”

“I haven’t seen him. I’m—I’m guessing you’re the reason he stopped taking potshots at us as he drove away, just—are you okay?”

Her eyes well up. “I’m fine.”

“Darcy—”

“I’m fine. Stay with Grotto, I’ll—I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

“You will not,” Foggy snaps. “You’re not going anywhere right now, you’re—you’re letting me tape your nose first, at least, because I’m pretty sure it’s broken—”

“My nose isn’t broken, Foggy.”

“Foggy’s there with you?” Karen says, and Darcy hands Foggy the phone without a word. She can’t work up the energy right now. She hands Foggy the phone, and she settles the mirror on her lap, taking another cotton swab and going to work. Her face, she thinks, is a wreck. Not a fan. Definitely not a fan. She can’t remember how half of it happened. She’s pretty sure it wasn’t before—

(Bang.)

I want to kill him, she thinks again. Matt’s alive, but everything keeps circling back to that. I want to kill him. There’s a monster in her throat, clawing its way up and out, snaring logic and strangling it without a sound. I want to kill him. I want him dead. He tried to kill Matt, I want him dead.

Is this what Matt had felt, she wonders? When Fisk tried to kill her? I want him dead, he’d said, in a voice she’s never heard from him since, husky and rough and inhuman. I want to kill him for what he did to you. She thinks if she says it aloud, she’ll sound the exact same, like the words are peeling away the last of her skin. Like she’s voicing something that’s welding into her soul. When she looks at the floor, the stolen knife is still laying there, naked and bloody. A hunting knife, she thinks. Or a ranger’s knife. Heavy-duty, weighted hilt. Serrated edge at the base. She doesn’t touch it. That would mean getting up. It would mean letting go of Matt, moving away, seizing it and slipping it into her boot again, open and ready to cut. I need a sheath for it, she thinks. She doesn’t know blade-work, exactly, but she can at least carry it for now.

“My taser’s gone,” she says, suddenly. She’d forgotten. Jarhead had broken her taser. “Fuck.”

“What?” Foggy plugs his ear, turns the phone a little so Karen won’t hear anything. “What’d you say?”

“Nothing.”

“Darcy—”

“My taser’s broken.” She turns away from him. “It’s nothing.”

Out of the corner of her eye, she can see Foggy watching her. Darcy doesn’t look around. Finally, he resettles the phone, and says something to Karen about being in in an hour or so. Damage control, probably. It’ll take at least that long for Grotto to make a statement, for Karen to make hers. At least that long, because they’re going to have to deal with the cut in Grotto’s side first, and Jesus Christ, he’s pulled them into so much shit, the twitchy guy in Josie’s with his finger on the trigger.   

What had Jarhead said to Anita Schaeffer? Stay out of the way.

Like hell.

Foggy settles in the seat across from her again. He leaves her phone on the bedspread. Darcy licks her lips, and waits for him to go back to the job he’s given himself, patching up her outsides while her insides wreak havoc. “What’d Karen say?”

“They’re at the station,” he says. “Ben’s there already. They have Grotto in holding while everyone and their mother goes absolutely apeshit over everything that happened at the hospital. It’ll take a while before anyone remembers they’re even there, I think, even if the DA’s gonna get nuts over this. Which, let’s be real, they’re probably going to be. A hospital?”

“You should go,” Darcy says. Alcohol buzzes into the cut on her lower lip. “Someone needs to be there with her. Karen’s learning, but she’s not a lawyer, she can’t advise Grotto on what he needs to do.”

“I talked to him.” Foggy smooths an adhesive strip over the worst cut, the one on her temple where she’d hit the side of the building. Darcy flinches, and squeezes her eyes shut. “He knows not to talk to anyone until I get there. I’ll head out as soon as I’m sure you’re not gonna run off and—I don’t know. Jump off a building. Take potshots at stray cats. Take out your anger in a way that is not conducive to regular people.” He peeks at her through his lashes, and then adds, “That was meant to be a joke.”

“Nothing’s very funny to me right now.”

“Who did this to you?” He peels a bandaid open, and settles it over a cut just beneath her eyebrow. “How many guys?”

Guys is a misnomer.” Darcy grits her teeth. Jesus, the cuts sting. “One. Big. Strong, but not—not unnaturally. Um—I don’t know. Military, I think.”

“Did he split off from the group, or—”

“Foggy, you don’t understand.” She breathes in through her nose. “It was one guy. One guy shot up the hospital. One—one guy was trying to kill Grotto. One guy did this to me. One guy—” —shot Matt. Darcy bites her lip, and then winces. “One guy did this,” she says instead. “Just—not an army. Just one man.”

“One man,” Foggy says.

“Yes.”

Foggy looks down into the battered black kit. He sighs. “There’s no way any of this is going to end well. Calling it now.”

“Amen to that,” Darcy says, and lets him stick another bandaid over her nose.

Foggy leaves about an hour later, after he’s absolutely certain (“You promise?” “I promise.” “You swear?” “For God’s sake, Foggy—”) that neither she nor Matt are going to go anywhere without telling him first. (“Matt really shouldn’t be going anywhere, but I’m not gonna be the one to try and tell him that.” “He’s crossing that threshold over my dead body.”) Unfortunately, that means that she now has time to herself to panic in private. She doesn’t melt down, not exactly. She goes into the bathroom, and she inspects every single bruise and cut place she’d been hiding from Foggy, because it gives her something to do rather than watch Matt sleep. There aren’t many places—a split between her ribs where she’d been kicked; a livid red-purple mark across her hip—but there’s a flecking hole in her left shoulder with a shotgun pellet inside, a little metal lump inside her skin. She has to pick it out with tweezers, and that—shit. It’s not enough to knock her back from the edge of Lilith, or whatever it is that’s tangling between her ribs, but it’s enough to make her stop and think. After it’s done, she hides in her hands, and breathes. In and out, Lewis.

(Bang.)

She can’t let herself think right now. She grabs her computer, and clambers up onto the bed next to Matt to listen to him breathe.

Ben’s already posted an update. SHOOTING AT METRO-GENERAL HOSPITAL; ALLEGED LINKS TO KITCHEN IRISH MASSACRE. There’s a note at the top that says something to the effect of will be expanded as more information becomes available, which, goddammit, Urich. She’d honestly kill for some of Ben’s old cop contacts, because there are factoids in here she’s pretty sure that the DA would kill to learn where he picked up. Also, Karen’s credited. Not by name, for obvious reasons, but generally when it comes to shit that Nelson, Murdock, and Lewis get into, anyone labeled a source who would prefer to remain anonymous means Karen, or Darcy. Or Darcy-as-Lilith, but that’s a completely different story.

(She and Matt get into spitty cat-fights occasionally about how many people now know who Darcy is, out of the mask. Ben’s on the list, though that was kind of unavoidable. Both Melvin and Betsy, though that one was unavoidable too, considering Melvin had to measure literally every part of her body to make sure that the suit would fit right, and Melvin tells Betsy everything always. Father P. And then there’s Jessica Jones, who wouldn’t ever rat Darcy out, but at the same time it’s kind of unsettling to think that a private investigator knows their names and faces. But yeah. Occasionally Lilith and Ben Urich will have heart-to-hearts, and Daredevil can just suck it up and deal with it. It’s not like the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen hasn’t had his own chats with The Urich Report in the months since Fisk went down.)

Her limbs are twitching. She can’t sit still. She looks through The Urich Report, shuts the computer again, stares at the wall. Opens the laptop back up and stops halfway through a crawl of the #samsonanddelilahofhell tag on Twitter. She needs to move. Matt’s unconscious and he could be dying and she can’t just sit here, waiting for it to get fixed. There’s Jarhead to find, she thinks, and her guts twist into sailors’ knots. There’s Jarhead to find and kill, for this. You try to kill him, I try to kill you. Fair game. And that shouldn’t feel as wild as it does, it shouldn’t feel like her skin’s coming to life and her whole body’s on fire. You try to kill him, I try to kill you. She turns, threads her fingers into Matt’s hair, tugging until something settles way back behind her teeth. We don’t kill, she tells herself. Even when she says it aloud, it doesn’t quite ring true. “We don’t kill.”

(Bang, he’d said, and pulled the trigger, and Matt had dropped like a stone, and she can’t remember what she did after that, only that there was movement and screaming and blood—)

She’s surfing messageboards—there are more than a few cult followings of Daredevil and Lilith, not to mention all the other superhero junkies that haunt the city and keep their ears to the ground; even if their information is usually shit, there are gems sometimes—when next to her, Matt shifts, and makes a soft sound. Darcy has the laptop on Foggy’s borrowed chair and his hand in hers again before he can do more than blink. “Hey,” she says, hanging over him, and Matt wrinkles his nose when her hair tickles at his jaw. “Hey, how are you feeling?”

Matt rolls his eyes up in a silent Christ, I feel like shit before wetting his lips. “Like I was kicked in the head by an angry mule.”

“That’s what happens when you get shot,” she says. She folds her other hand around his, hiding his fingers away. “You shouldn’t be moving. Claire says you don’t have a cracked skull, but you probably have a—a really bad concussion, and like…there’s no way we can actually tell if something’s bleeding unless we take you to the hospital. Which is, you know. Out of the picture.”

He blinks, slowly, tipping his head. Even that has him wincing. “You’re bleeding,” he says, after a moment. Which, yeah, she is, but that is so far from the point right now, holy shit.

“You were shot. I had the crap kicked out of me. Don’t change the subject.” She puts her fingers to the lump, skirting the edges very carefully. No shifting pieces. “Can you tell if anything’s wrong? Or is your head just as swollen as it normally is?”

“I haven’t had enough aspirin to respond to that the way it deserves.” He shifts, and shuts his eyes. “Jesus. Some mule.”

“Some bullet.”

“I don’t remember that part too well.” He clenches his jaw for a moment. “Help me sit up.”

She’s pretty sure he wouldn’t have asked, if Foggy were here. She doesn’t mention it. Darcy shifts, and wraps her hand around his wrist, lets him curl his fingers around the bones in her arm and hold on. He moves like every part of him aches, and she’s seen him move stiffer, before—after Nobu was worse—but it’s still making her heart hurt. (Bang.) He settles with his back to the headboard, and breathes deep through his nose before reaching out and touching his fingertips to one of the bruises on her cheek. “You okay?”

“I’m bruised. No breaks, no big holes, no, you know, bullets to the head.”

“Should’ve noticed the gun.” He rests his hand to her shoulder, and swipes his thumb under the collar of the T-shirt, into the dip above her collarbone, back and forth. Darcy folds one leg up under the other, watching him. “Ankle holster. I should have—I should have noticed it. It was sloppy.”

“Yeah,” Darcy says, her voice shaking. “Yeah, no shit.”

“What happened?”

“Before or after he had a gun to your head?”

Matt winces again. She’s not sure if it’s because of what she said or how she said it, brittle and crackling at the edges like dead leaves. “I’m okay, Darcy.”

“This is—” She can’t speak. (Bang.) “He shot you, Matt.”

“And I’m okay, so.”

“You don’t understand.” She rests her hand to his chest, to one of the scars under his clavicle. “Matt, he shot you. There’s—there’s a crack in the helmet. He was trying to kill you, and you—you can barely move right now, that’s not anywhere close to okay.”

(Bang, he’d said, and the shadows lunge up her throat again, into her mouth, because you don’t do that, you don’t get to do that to him and survive it—)

“I’m not so sure he was trying to kill me so much as keep me from following him.” Matt scuffs the backs of his fingers over her cheek. “I made a mistake, that’s all. I’m all right.”

“Yeah, because shooting you in the head is definitely the same thing as saying go away, I’m ollying out.” Darcy shakes her head, and stands, heading into the bathroom to grab the aspirin. Frankly, she’s tempted to just…put Vicodin in his water and knock him out for a day, but first of all he’d be able to smell it, and secondarily, they don’t keep anything stronger than aspirin in the apartment for a reason. (He’d told her, maybe three months into this, that the last time he’d been on heavy anesthetic he’d been nine and in the hospital after the chemical accident. “I can’t focus when I’m on them,” he’d said. “I can’t filter out the noise. I can’t do anything.” So, yeah. Vicodin’s out.) She knocks a few back herself, and fills the bathroom glass at the sink. “I really—you scared the living shit out of me, so I would really appreciate it if I could just sit there and watch you breathe for a little while, okay? Just—”

He’s standing. Darcy nearly loses her grip on the cup. It’s only Matt curling his fingers around the base of it that keeps the thing from shattering on the floor. “Thanks.”

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” she says, and there’s the panic. It burns into her blood, racing like fire as she watches him swallow the aspirin, step around her and head for the kitchen. “Matt, get back in bed.”

“We don’t have time for me to lie around.” There’s an awful bruise on his back, lancing sideways across his spine like someone took a stick to him. He’s moving very carefully as he passes the coffee table, planting each foot, like he actually has to consciously think about it. “If he’s after Grotto, still, then wherever Grotto is, he’s in danger.”

“Grotto’s at the police station,” Darcy says, and follows after him. “Grotto’s with Karen and Foggy, Grotto’s fine—Matt, sit down.”

“I’m fine.”

“You’re not fine! I’m starting to wonder if you actually have brain damage, what the hell do you think you’re doing?”

“My job,” he says. “How long have they been at the 15th?”

Darcy makes a noise like a cat that’s had its tail stepped on, and says, “We are not talking about this right now.

“I can manage a trip to the police station.”

“No.” She steps in front of him. Matt rocks to a stop. “No.”

“Darcy—”

You are not fine.” It cracks like ice on her tongue. “You are so far from fine. You were shot. I thought you were dead, Matt, do you understand? You were shot and I thought you were dead and you can barely keep your feet right now, don’t you stand there and tell me you’re fine.”

There’s a flicker. Matt scoffs a little, and tries to angle past her, but Darcy steps in the way again, back and forth. “I can’t just sit here.”

“If you leave this apartment right now you are doing it over my dead fucking body, Matthew Murdock! I will tie you to the goddamn bed if I have to—”

“Darcy, I don’t—”

“Sit down,” Darcy says, and when he doesn’t move, she puts her hands on his chest and she pushes. It’s barely even a touch, nowhere close to how hard she shoves him during sparring, but he staggers, nearly hits the floor. Matt catches himself just in time. “Matt,” she says again, and her voice is all Lilith, drawling and harsh and low. “Sit down.”

He sits. He looks like he wants to take a swing at her, or a wall, or a ‘banger, but he backs up, into the couch, and he sits. Darcy stands in front of him with her hands clenched and shaking. She can taste bile.

“Now you listen to me.” When he turns his face away from her, Darcy reaches out, and puts her palm to his cheek, turning him back. “Listen to me. You could have brain damage. You can barely stand, and I don’t care if you’re a Murdock and can get the shit beat out of you and still go ten-to-one with a bunch of Russian mobsters, you are not going anywhere, and especially not right now. If that means I sit here and stare at you to make sure of it, then I swear to God, Matt, I will be sitting on you just to make sure you don’t take a goddamn step.”

The levity vanishes. Matt’s mouth twists. “I’m not a kid, you can’t just—pin me up in the corner.”

“Don’t you fucking patronize me.” Her hands are shaking again. “I thought you were dead, do you understand me? Until I know for sure that you’re not going to fall down and die then you are fucking grounded. You are not going anywhere, and you are not going to be heading off to pick a fight with the guy who shot you in the head because you’re pissed he managed to kick your ass—”

“That’s not what this is!”

“That’s exactly what this is, don’t you bullshit me!”

“I don’t need you to mother me, Darcy!”

She nearly punches him in the face. Darcy shuts her eyes, breathes in and out through her nose. There’s a flicker around his mouth that might be regret—better fucking be regret—but his jaw is set in a stubborn line, and she could kill him sometimes, she really could, she loves him but sometimes she wants to strangle him, beat his head in with a crowbar—

(Bang.

Her stomach lurches, and knots into pieces.

“You’re not going anywhere.” She pulls her hair back, and ties it up. “You’re not—you’re not leaving this apartment. Not until you can keep your feet. Not until I know, for certain, that you’re not going to die in our bed, okay? Not until I know. You promise me, Matt.”

“Darcy—”

Promise me.

He presses his lips together. “He can’t just—we can’t let him run around and kill whoever he wants, I can’t just sit here.”

“Yes, you fucking can.”

“Darcy—”

“Don’t fight me right now.” She heaves a breath. She’s right on the edge, Darcy and Lilith. She hasn’t left the edge since Foggy. Since Jarhead. She’s dancing on the point of a knife. Don’t fucking fight with me right now, Matthew Murdock. “Hitting the police station wouldn’t be like hitting the hospital, there’s—there are people with guns everywhere, people who know that this guy is after Grotto. Karen will have told Brett everything she can, you know that, and Brett's not stupid. He’ll have the whole of the 15th on high alert. Nobody’s getting in there today.”

“But—”

“If this son of a bitch is anything close to smart, he’s not gonna go anywhere near it. Grotto’s safe, for now. And as soon as I’m certain you’re not going anywhere, I’m going to go and make sure everything’s okay, so just—just sit down and stay there.”

“I can’t just do nothing!”

“And I can’t watch you die because you were too fucking stubborn to sit down and rest after you nearly had your brains blown out over a goddamn rooftop!”

“Can you stop saying that?” Matt snags the glass off of the coffee table. “I’m alive, I’m fine. He missed, all right?”

“That’s not the point! This guy isn’t someone you mess around with, Matt, you can’t fight him when you can barely walk a straight line—”

“We leave him out there, people are gonna die!”

“Do you think I don’t know that?” She wants to break something. She wants to seize the glass from him and throw it against the wall. “Jesus Christ! Do you think I don’t know that the longer we do nothing the more blood’s gonna spill? I’m not fucking stupid, Matt, so don’t treat me like I am!”

“You didn’t see what he did to Los Milagros, Darcy, he didn’t just—he didn’t just shoot them from a rooftop, he hung them to die on meathooks in a packing plant. By their throats, through their chests. One of them through the head, just—we can’t let him get any further away than he already has—”

“And I promise you if you go running after him half-cocked then one or the both of us is going to die, all right, so for God’s sake, sit down and shut the fuck up!”

Matt opens his mouth, and then shuts it again. He blinks. Darcy whirls away and goes to put on some goddamn pants.

He’s still sitting there when she gets back in to the living room, her hair wound back and her yoga pants pinching the bruises on her ribcage. Matt hasn’t budged, turned towards the window and the sunlight spilling over the floor of the apartment. When she goes to mess with the coffee machine, her hands are trembling enough that she spills grounds all over the counter. “Shit.”

“Darcy.”

“I don’t like it when you make me shout you down.” She fumbles the sponge, and knocks half the grounds onto the floor. Shit. Her ankle’s aching in a steady, pounding rhythm, beating in time with her heart. “I shouldn’t need to yell at you every time you get hurt.”

“You know what could happen if we slow down.”

“God, will you just—” Darcy punches the counter, once, hard, enough that her knuckles scrape and bruise. “Fuck!”

“Darcy,” Matt says, and she stops. Lilith slides back down her throat, fades. “I don’t—”

“He shot you in the head, Matt.” She can barely get the words out. She’s never going to stop seeing it, she doesn’t think. She’s not sure she’ll be able to shut her eyes without it playing out again, and again, and again, the shot, bang, Matt whipping back and to the side and falling over the edge, the sudden yawning emptiness inside her ribs, she can’t stop. She can’t. “He had a gun on you and he shot you and you went down and I was too far away to stop it. I thought you were dead, and I can’t—I can’t go through that again. I thought you were dead, and I wasn’t—”

Me, she thinks. Not her, not anymore. Not Lilith either. Something darker. Something worse. It’s leaping up her throat, staining shadows over her teeth, and she can’t force it back into its box.

I want to kill him.

“I saw you die,” she says, finally. “I saw—I saw you die. I saw you shot in front of me, and I couldn’t stop it. Don’t tell me that you’re fine, goddamn you. Don’t you fucking dare.”

He doesn’t say anything for a long time. Then, carefully, he lifts his hands. Darcy leaves the kitchen, leaves the coffee grounds, and slides into him, winds around him until she can hide her face in his throat and breathe, try her damnedest not to shake. “I didn’t mean to scare you, sweetheart,” he says, quietly, and her throat squeezes.

“Don’t call me that while I’m pissed at you.”

There’s a buzzing in his ribs that might be a laugh. “What do I call you, then?”

“How about I’m sorry, Darcy, I scared the living shit out of you and I’m not ever going to do anything that stupid again?”

“Bit of a mouthful,” he says, and settles around her. Alive, she thinks, putting her mouth to his throat. Alive and alive and mine and alive, and it might not be settling the shadows back under her skin but it’s at least keeping her heart from shattering inside her chest. “I’ll stick with sweetheart.”

“Yeah, well, not right now, you don’t.”

“Darcy.” His throat works. “I didn’t—I messed up. I should have been paying more attention. I’m sorry.”

“I didn’t notice the ankle holster either, it wasn’t just you.” She shakes her bangs back out of her face. Her head throbs. “I just need you to sit, okay? I need for you to sit and not do anything and not, you know, die. For twelve hours. I need that from you right now, please, I don’t—please, Matt. Please don’t make me fight you over this, please just—please just sit, for once, take care of yourself for once, if not for you then for me. Please.”

Matt curls his arms around her, and holds on. “How’s your head?”

“About the way it would be after someone threw me into a wall.” She fists her hand up, rests her fingers to his heart. “I’m doing better than you. If I am concussed, it’s no worse than after the Goodmans. Arguably I could go and help Foggy with the witpro agreement, but—but I really don’t want you out of my sight right now, so.”

“Don’t trust me?”

“Not when you might possibly have brain damage, no.”

Matt huffs into her ear, and goes quiet. It’s about as good a compromise as she’s going to get, she thinks. She’s kind of proud of it, in a sick, concussed sort of way. Darcy shuts her eyes, and holds onto him, ignoring the heat and the blaze of the sun on the back of her neck. His heart’s beating. He’s breathing, his heart’s beating, she can feel his lungs working and his ribs moving and the warmth of him, and he’s not going anywhere if she can help it. Not ever.

(Bang.)

“We need to find out who he is.” It tickles at her ear, the words, her hair, the way he breathes out when he says it like something the weight of Mt. Everest has settled on his shoulders. “We need to find him and stop him.”

“We will.” And I’m going to kill him. She swallows that back down. He’s alive. Matt’s alive. I want to kill him for what he did. “He’s—he’s kind of carving a pretty big trail.”

“He’s been trained.”

“I gathered that much, believe it or not.”

“He’s good.” Matt rests his lips to her hair again, thinking. “He’s very good. It’s not—he’s been trained, but there were tricks he was using that you only get out of experience.”

Darcy shuts her eyes. “He called me little cat. I don’t know if that’s patronizing or not.”

“He spoke to you?”

“Just to tell me to get out of the way.”

“Hm,” Matt says.

Darcy taps out a pattern on his collarbone.

“Promise me you won’t go after him alone,” he says, when the silence starts to crack.

“Matt—”

“Promise me, Darcy, please.” The scab behind her ear scrapes a little when he touches his thumb to the skin there, very softly. “Don’t go after him alone.”

She thinks he might say something else, might say promise me you won’t try to kill him, but he doesn’t. The way his hands shift against her back, though—she’s pretty sure he knows exactly what’s boiling in her throat, in her guts. Darcy swallows. “Only if you promise me you won’t do just that while I have my back turned.”

He hisses through his teeth. When he smiles, it’s not quite human anymore, more devil than anything. “You want me to cross my heart?”

“Hope to die,” she says. “Stick a needle in your eye.”

“Wouldn’t do much, in my case.”

She says, “Don’t go after him without me, Matt. Promise me.”

He says, “I promise. Do you?”

It burns her tongue. “Yes.”

When he makes the X over his heart, half a joke, she covers his hand with hers, and presses it flat over the scars.

.

.

.

The Urich Report (@theurichreport): Unnamed gunman opens fire in Metro-General Hospital; exclusive interview with eyewitness. tur.co/…

Hero Watch (@maskwatchnyc): Right in DD and L’s backyard, this one #samsonanddelilahofhell #whereintheworldistheangelofmercy

Hero Watch (@maskwatchnyc): @theurichreport Heard whispers about a civilian getting in the guy’s way; do we have another hero in our midst?

The Urich Report (@theurichreport): @maskwatchnyc So far that’s unsubstantiated. Ask around yourself if you’re interested.

Hawkeye, Not Hawkgal (@hisforhawtass): @theangelofmercy I swear to god I leave the pair of you alone for five minutes

.

.

.

She’s not sure how long she sits there, with him. It’s too hot to keep managing it, really, but she doesn’t want to let go, so she sits there and suffers with her head on Matt’s shoulder, and he sits there and suffers with the full weight of her sprawled across his legs, fingers in her hair and his mouth to her temple, thinking. Foggy texts an SOS at about nine-thirty (JESUS! FUCKING! CHRIST! I’M DEAD!) to let them know the status of the witpro, and she leaves the phone on her knees after replying. (You’re very loud and exclamation point-y, for a dead guy; what happened?) When her phone rings, though, loud and trilling, they both jump. “This is Jen, pick up your phone, please. This is Jen, pick up your phone—

“Don’t run off on me,” she says to Matt, and then slides off him to go put on actual clothing. She leaves the phone on speaker. “Hello?”

“Hey.” Jen sounds pleased. She’s not entirely sure what there is to be pleased about this early on a Saturday morning, especially when you’re coming off the heels of a mass shooting, but Jen is pleased. “So Angie asked me to tell you she heard from your c-client.”

“My client?” It takes her a minute. “Oh, Jen, you’re actually a beautiful human being.”

“Is something wrong?” Jen says. “You sound like you’ve been crying.”

“No, nothing’s wrong, just—some asshole at the gym hit a bag into my face, my nose is all swollen and it’s making my voice sound funny.” She sniffs, and makes a mental note to blow the clotted blood out of her nose before leaving the apartment. “I asked Angie yesterday but she couldn’t give me a name, how did you find her?”

“Angie tracked down her old c-counsel.” Papers shuffle. “Her name’s—shit.”

“You okay?”

“Knocked something over. Have a pen?”

Half into one of her button-down shirts, Darcy snags a sharpie off of the bedside table, and uncaps it with her teeth. “Go.”

“Her name is Marisol Guerra; she’s a pianist with one of the local orchestras.” Jen reads off the phone number. Darcy scribbles it on the inside of her arm, just below the tattoo of chains. “You’re free after noon, right? Because I told her she could go to the office around then, if she wanted to meet you t-today. She seemed interested. Said she’d call if she couldn’t make it today.”

Darcy spits out the lid, recaps the pen. “I owe you, Jen, so much right now, holy shit—”

“You sure you’re okay?”

“I’m fine.” Would it be creepy if she called Marisol Guerra first? Probably. The woman probably doesn’t know that Darcy even has her number. Still, she’s tempted. “I owe you, seriously.”

“I’ll collect someday,” says Jen, lightly. “Though that’s difficult considering I b-barely see you anymore.”

“You’re the one who wanted me to be busier.”

Something clatters in the living room. Darcy stops, and looks around. The door’s halfway shut, and she can’t see Matt through the gap. Jen says something about Darla, but it’s faded a little, buzzing. “—misses you.”

“Darla hates me,” says Darcy, slowly. “Um, Jen, can I call you back?”

“Something wrong?”

“No, just—I have a walk-in. I’ll call you back.”

She hangs up before Jen can say anything else.

Matt’s stood up. She’d shout at him for it, if not for the look on his face. There’s an incredibly odd angle to his mouth, like he’s just been stung by a wasp. When she opens the door, and says, “Matt?” he tips his head to the side and says nothing. His eyes are flicking back and forth, like he’s looking for something. “You hear something?”

The water glass slips through his fingers. Darcy looks at it, and then at Matt, and she starts to say, see, I told you, if you can’t even hold a glass properly then it’s not like you can fight, but then she sees the look on Matt’s face and she stops dead. She’s never seen Matt look like that, before, not really. All the blood’s left his face. When he shifts, he steps on one of the pieces of broken glass.

“Matt, Jesus Christ—”

“I can’t hear anything,” he says, scraping. Blood smears on the floor. “I can’t—I can’t hear anything. I can’t hear—”

Oh, God. “Matt,” she says again, but he doesn’t react. “Matt, get off the glass—”

“I can’t hear.” He gropes, wildly, looking for something, anything. “I can’t—Darcy, I can’t hear you, I can’t hear, I can’t, I don’t know—”

Darcy crashes into him. In the same moment, his knees give out. He’s shaking, actually trembling, and when he wraps his arms around her and holds on he’s squeezing so hard that her ribs scream. “I can’t hear,” he says, and then again, louder, a shout, “I can’t hear anything, I can’t hear, I can’t hear you—

“It’s okay.” She puts her hands to his face. He’s hyperventilating, his hands are shaking, and he reaches out blindly, touching her cheek, her hair. He knocks right into one of the bruises. Darcy doesn’t flinch. He scuffs around until he finds her mouth, her split lip. “Matt, it’s okay, I’m right here. Breathe, please—”

He heaves. She thinks he might throw up. “I can’t tell what you’re saying, I don’t know, I can’t hear anything, I can’t hear anything, I don’t—”

Darcy catches his hand, his wrist, draws his fingers away from her mouth. She presses his palm to her heart, and covers the back of his hand with hers. It takes him a second. Heartbeats, she thinks. He keeps track of the world through heartbeats, through breathing. She holds his hand there, over her heart. “I’m right here,” she says again. His fingers shake against her sternum. “Matt, it’s okay. I’m right here.”

He must feel it, she thinks. The buzz of her voice. The vibrations in her chest, in her ribs. He shakes when she speaks, and lifts his other hand to her throat, settling with his hand wrapped around her neck, skin to skin with her trachea, her vocal cords. When he shifts on the floor, glass crunches. His fingers are trembling over her sternum. She hooks her nails into his hair, draws him down so she can put her mouth to his cheek, his ear. “I’m right here,” she says again. “Matt, it’s okay, I’m right here. I’m not going anywhere, all right? Just—”

“I can’t hear you, Darcy. I don’t know what you’re saying, I don’t—”

“You’re okay.” She touches her fingertips to his mouth, to his cheek, leaves her hand there. It’s an anchor, she thinks. Probably for her. “Just—breathe, sweetheart. I’m right here, I’m not going anywhere, all right? I’m right here.” She breathes, in and out, more to steady herself than anything, and Matt nearly gags. “I’m right here, okay, we’re going to fix it, it’s—we’ll fix it. We’ll fix it, just—I’m right here. I’m right here. Breathe, in and out.”

He can’t hear her. She keeps babbling. It’s easier to pretend she’s not crying, if she talks.

It’s probably a good two hours later when she hears the scraping from the roof access door. Darcy’s sprawled sideways across Matt’s legs, her head resting against his shoulder, holding on as best she can when they’re settled on the floor like a couple of kindergartners in time-out. He stopped shaking about forty minutes ago, she thinks. Stopped trying to talk. He’s been sitting, quite still, caught up in silence. When the scrape comes again, he tips his head a little, and says, “Is someone there?”

“Can you hear me?”

His nose wrinkles again. Still, he sags, and when he puts his head on her shoulder Darcy shifts and leans back into him. “You’re echoing,” he says, the way someone who can’t hear themselves speak would say, louder than normal, half-yelling, more to feel it than to hear it. “From—from very far away.”

“Thank God.” Darcy swallows. “Thank God. You scared the shit out of me, Matt, Jesus Christ.”

She doesn’t say I told you so. There’s no point. Matt curls his fingers back into her hair, and says nothing. He doesn’t let go. “I think it’s Kate,” he says, after a moment, more quietly this time. “It smells like Kate.”

“You are correct, sir,” says the figure in the doorway, and then Kate slams the roof access door behind her. She’s in booty shorts and a white tank top that reads I’m With Reckless with a purple arrow plastered across her boobs, which, how the hell she managed to parkour over here without scraping the hell out of her arms and legs Darcy has no idea. Still, she looks a little more tanned than she did before, and incredibly pleased with herself. “Looks like you two had fun,” she says, and bounces down the stairs two at a time. “So much for me rolling in three hours late with Starbucks.”

Darcy shuts her eyes. When Matt lifts his head, turns to not-look at Kate, she hides in his throat. “Really not funny right now.”

“Probably not, but it makes me feel better.” Kate tips her head. “You wanna tell me why Karen called me at like…seven in the morning saying I had to get my ass back down here to watch your butts? Because usually I can leave for a week without the whole city imploding.”

“Yeah, well, usually when you leave for a week we don’t get nutjobs treating local hospitals like carnival shooting galleries.”

Kate looks at the broken glass, and then at Matt and Darcy still tangled on the floor. Her eyebrows snap together. “Everything okay?”

“Fine,” Matt says. In the same moment, Darcy says, “Not particularly.”

“So, our brand of normal,” Kate says, and snags the broom and the dustpan out from between the fridge and the wall. “Get out of the way, I don’t need either of you like…dying of tetanus or something. The apartment gets wrecked enough as it is with your regular shenanigans.”

“Shut up, Kate,” says Darcy, and Kate smirks at her before settling in to scrape up the glass. Darcy glances down at the floor, at the smear of blood on the wood, and drops her voice. “Can you get up, do you think?”

Matt doesn’t say anything. He shifts his hands on her hips. Darcy clambers off him, and when she offers both hands, he catches them. His balance is shit, she thinks. His balance is shit, and when he’s vertical he still looks like he’s going to throw up, but he sticks it. He can pretend with the best of them, anyway, even if she can see through it most of the time. “I’m good.”

“Bullshit,” she says, and leaves her hand laced into his. “How was Albany?”

“Albany was shit,” says Kate. “How was the city?”

“The city’s been stupid.”

“Clearly.” She dumps the broken glass into the dustbin. “Twitter’s been blowing up. Shootings in hospitals and Ben all over the place and Lilith not responding to any tweets—seriously, can you like…just leave a winky face online or something? You know how much it freaks them out when you ignore them like this.”

“I don’t owe the Twitterverse my time or attention ever,” Darcy says. “Especially not right now.”

“They like a chatty superhero.”

“I’m not a superhero.”

“This shit again.” Kate eyes the bruises, the phone in Darcy’s free hand, and drops a wet washcloth onto the floor where the glass was, swiping it back and forth with the toe of her tennis shoe. To pick up glass shards, Darcy thinks. She’s not doing much more than smearing the water around, but the only big piece left is the one stuck in Matt’s foot. “Doesn’t look like this unnamed shooter took a liking to either of you.”

(Bang.)

“He didn’t.” Matt squeezes her fingers, and then balances on the back of the couch. When he pulls the piece of glass from his foot, Darcy looks away. “Darcy, you need to go.”

“What? No.”

“Jen said that the client was going to be at the office at noon. It’s past eleven.”

She shakes her head. “If you think I’m going anywhere right now—”

“If you cancel on her the first time out, she’s going to look for another firm.”

“That’s—”

“True,” Matt says. Kate takes the glass from him, and throws it into the garbage can too. “You know it’s true. If she’s a paying client, we can’t fumble it.”

“I’m not leaving, Matt, not when—”

“I’m not going anywhere.”

“I don’t—”

“Darcy.”

In and out, Lewis, she thinks, again. In and out.

“Fine.” Darcy twists her hair up at the back of her head and snaps a second band around it, making a sloppy bun. “Fine. Kate, are you free today?”

“For the most part. I don’t have classes, and I was going to have a coffee date but I can cancel if I have to. What’s up?”

“I need you to watch him,” Darcy says. She doesn’t bother lowering her voice. It’s not like Matt wouldn’t be able to hear her anyway. “He hit his head, he has a concussion, he might have a TBI, he—just keep an eye on him. And if something happens, call Claire.”

“Not you?”

“Claire first.” Sorry, Claire. If Claire’s on shift, then she won’t be able to come and help, but she might at least be able to give some suggestions. Or tell them to get Matt to the hospital, in which case she’s willing to risk all the questions that’ll come from the scars and the bruises to make sure he doesn’t die. “Claire first and then me, if you need to. Okay?”

Kate cracks her gum between her teeth, and adjusts her glasses on her hair. “Does that mean I get to tie him up if he argues with me?”

“You can try,” Matt says, lightly, and doesn’t look at either of them. His shoulders are still stiff as a railroad spike. “Promise you I’ll make it fun.”

“Don’t be snippy, Aramis,” says Kate. She glances at Darcy. “I’m making coffee. You want any?”

“To go, yeah.”

Kate brushes by her into the kitchen, and starts whistling. It’s enough of a cue. Darcy creeps close, as close as she can manage without settling on the couch again, and knocks into his knees. She thinks he might yank away from her, but when she reaches out, Matt catches her hand and holds on. Darcy tugs her fingers into the hair at the back of his head, as light as she can. “You’re okay?”

“I’m okay.”

“You’re sure?”

“No,” says Matt. He shuts his eyes. “I need to get the helmet repaired.”

“I can do that.”

“You have to meet with the client.”

“I’ll take it with me.”

His mouth twists. “You can’t carry that in your messenger bag.”

“Then I’ll come back and get it and go and see Melvin later.” She tips his chin up. “Seriously. Sit here. Stay with Kate. I’ll be gone for a few hours. Don’t make me chase after you, okay? If anything happens, call Claire.” She puts her lips to the top of his head. “I can’t lose you, Matt. I really—I really can’t lose you. You need to promise me you’re not going to do anything reckless.”

He’s quiet. Slowly, he folds his fingers around her wrist, draws her hand down so he can press his mouth to the scar on her palm. “Since when do I do anything reckless?”

“That isn’t funny,” she says, in a very damp voice. “And that’s not a promise.”

“I promise I won’t go anywhere alone.”

“And that you’re not leaving this apartment until I get back.”

“Darcy—”

Promise me.

His lashes flicker. Then he says, “I promise.”

Darcy shuts her eyes. She breathes. “Okay.” When she leans over, he tugs her down by the chain of her necklace and brushes his lips over hers. “Okay.”

“You should probably put cover-up on those shiners,” Kate says. “Just, you know, just saying.”

Darcy glances up at her. Kate’s still messing with the coffee pot, going back and forth between the beans and the grinder and the machine. “Is it that bad?”

“It’s been worse,” says Kate, which isn’t an answer at all. Though it kind of is. “Still. Like…your whole face needs replacing pronto.”

“Fine.”  

“Leave the mask,” Matt says. “And your suit. At least until you’re done.”

“I’m going to meet with Marisol, and then maybe Foggy, and then I’m coming back.” She smooths her thumb over his cheek. “No detours unless they’re unexpected.”

That, at least, isn’t a lie. Something loosens in his hands. “Okay.”

“If you try to go anywhere, this is me officially giving Kate permission to shoot you with one of her tranquilizer arrows.”

“Not helpful.”

“Extraordinarily helpful.” Darcy turns away. “Soon as I get my shit together, Katie, he’s all yours. For the next three hours, at least.”

“Cool,” says Kate. “You wanna watch Brooklyn Nine-Nine with me? Or listen, you know. There’s a lot of talking, you’re good with the talking. Or you could help me with pre-law stuff! You know things about legal shit, or I assume you do, considering you never shut up about truth and justice. Maybe you can help me write the essay I have due in a week.”

“Actually,” Matt says, “shoot me now.”

The heat hasn’t broken. If anything, it’s worse. She can only pray that the cover-up holds, she thinks, as she takes the stairs up to the second floor. The door to Nelson, Murdock, and Lewis is still firmly shut, the lights inside off (which, thank Christ, the last thing they need right now is leaving the lights on when they’re already deep in the red) but when she opens the door she sends a few pieces of paper flying across the wood. Notes, she thinks, from people who came by. It’s posted on their website that occasionally there will be days when no one’s at the office, and she’d put a notepad on the wall next to the front door so people could leave messages when they had to (some of their clients don’t have phones; it works better than having them sit and wait) but even on a heavy day, this is a bit ridiculous. Six separate messages. One of them from Miss Jacinto, all in Spanish. She leaves it on Matt’s desk (he might be blind, but Jacinto wrote it in pen, and he can trace out letters when they’re sculpted out as clear as this), and flicks through the rest, hitting the replay button on their old-as-fuck answering machine. Different messages from clients, a few new inquiries. The only one of note is from Malcolm, of all people. (“We heard about what happened from that sergeant you guys know, so like…Jess is doing that thing she does where she wants to ask if you’re okay and thinks it’s like…childish or something, so this is me officially asking. …bye.”) She goes through them all, perched in Karen’s desk chair with the fan blowing in her face, and then she tosses the papers aside, and goes to clear a spot on her whiteboard of crazy. New case, she reasons, new acronyms.

She has one earbud in and her bare foot braced to the tiny fan Karen has set up under her desk when there’s a knock at the door. Marisol Guerra is young, for a concert pianist. Maybe Darcy’s age, maybe a little bit older. Whippy and dark-skinned. She’s wearing half-a-dozen thin bracelets around her wrist, silver inlaid with turquoise, and they click together when she offers her hand. “Sorry I’m late,” she says, and Darcy blinks and looks up at the clock. It’s 12:05. “It’s difficult to find parking.”

“You drove?”

Marisol shifts her purse on her shoulder. “I’m new to the city. I used to live in Arizona. Brought my car with me when I moved.”

“Ah.” Darcy considers. Tall, she thinks. Maybe Matt’s height, or she would be if she weren’t wearing heeled boots that added an extra few inches. There are bruises on her knees like she’s landed hard on a floor, but she’s also sharply gorgeous, with long lashes and clear cheekbones and lipstick that is hella on point, holy shit. “Come in and sit down.”

The conference room is coolest. Still, Darcy herds Marisol into her and Matt’s office, because she has to deal with the notes anyway, and if Marisol’s meeting takes less than an hour she can at least call around and make sure nobody’s dying before she goes back to the apartment. Marisol glances at the wall, where Kate had framed the article from Fisk’s crash-and-burn. NELSON, MURDOCK, AND LEWIS. “Does the city always get this hot in the summertime?”

“Not for as long as I’ve been here.” Darcy thunks down into her chair. “Never been to Arizona. Never been further west than Georgia, actually. Is it nice there?”

“Empty,” Marisol says, and Darcy laughs. “Like—really, really empty. There are a lot of ranches and big stretches of desert.”

“Gross.”

“Not as bad as it sounds.” She folds her fingers over the straps of her purse, her eyes riveted to Darcy’s face. “I heard from the woman at the Supreme Court that you might be busy, but—are you the only one in today?”

“Had a thing this morning,” Darcy says shortly, and shuts the notes away into the top right-hand drawer of her desk. “My partners are working other cases. You can ask about what happened to my nose, instead of staring at it, if you want. I won’t be offended.”

Marisol blinks again. “I didn’t want to impose.”

“I box, sometimes,” Darcy says. “I was at practice last night and some jackhole clocked me in the face with a punching bag. It’s not the first time. I’m not all that good at paying attention to where I am in space, is all. How can I help you, Miss Guerra?”

“Marisol’s fine.”

“Marisol, then.” She turns her hand so Marisol can’t make out the notes on her forearm. “Jen Walters said something about it being a racial discrimination suit.”

Marisol purses her lips. “More a complaint, really, but I don’t—it’s not something I want to happen to anyone else. And I’ve asked around, and the guy’s done it before, it seems like, so just—I wanted to look into what I could do. The last person I talked to said, you know, there wasn’t much.”

“Who was that?”

“Um, a guy named Lawrence Cranston? I have his number if—”

“I know Lawrence Cranston,” says Darcy, and leans back in her chair. “I had the distinct pleasure of being in Trusts and Estates with him during law school.”

“Oh,” says Marisol. She hooks her hair behind her ear. “I see.”

Darcy eyes Marisol for a moment. “Does he still do that thing where he sucks his teeth when he doesn’t know how to answer a question?”

Marisol blinks at her, and then snorts. “Is that what that means? I thought he was just hissing because I didn’t actually have a case.”

“Not when I knew him, it wasn’t.” Lawrence had always been more pissy with Matt than with her or Foggy, just because Matt had talked rings around him in a mock trial in another one of their classes, but he’d never been particularly friendly. Should I feel bad about poaching one of his clients? Probably. But I don’t. Welcome to Columbia: packed to the gills with straight white cishet doucheheads. “You fired him?”

“He wasn’t being particularly helpful.”

Could be good, could be bad. If they don’t get her an answer, then Marisol Guerra could fire them, too, which would be shit for their image right now. Still. “Well, here’s hoping we can do more.”

Marisol puts her purse on the floor. She twists one of her bracelets around her wrist without looking at it, over and over, smoothing her thumb over the porous blue stone. “I said I was from Arizona,” she says. The rhythm of her voice makes Darcy think of Spanish, of Elena but not quite, very faint but still curling underneath the words. “I grew up on the Tohono O’odham reservation out there, near Tucson. My mother was half-Mexican. To some people I guess that means I’m a quarter illegal, and three-quarters of something that makes them very uncomfortable.”

Darcy twirls her pen between her fingers. “Jen said you’re a concert pianist.”

“I’m part of the Chamber Orchestra of New York. I trade off with a few other pianists. I play violin, too, and cello, but I prefer piano.” Her nails are trimmed short, and unpainted. Darcy makes a note on her page (Chamber Orchestra) and falls silent. “A month ago one of the other musicians, a cellist, gave me an extra ticket to a university concert, a string quartet.”

“Which university?”

“Manhattan School of Music. Kalia’s new in the Chamber Orchestra, she graduated from MSM a few years ago. One of her old classmates was part of the quartet.”

“Full name?”

“Kalia Blake.” She watches Darcy write it down. “Kalia ended up getting sick that day, and said I should go on my own. I hadn’t met her friend at all, so I felt kind of weird about it, but I’d heard good things about one or two of the other players, and they were expecting someone from the Chamber to show up. So I had two tickets, general admission, and I was ten minutes early, but when I made it to the theatre, the bouncer wouldn’t let me in.”

Darcy clicks her pen a few times. “You get the guy’s name?”

“Yeah, Marcus Caldwell.” Marisol rubs at her nose with her thumb. “He wouldn’t give me a straight reason for why he wasn’t letting me in. Kinda shifted me over to the side, you know? And kept his voice down. He said something about the venue being full, at first, and then when I told him I could see empty seats inside he mentioned fire codes or whatever, and then he tried to say something was wrong with my ticket—both of them—and just—” She shrugs. “He kept saying something like you’re disturbing the guests, miss, you need to leave. Threatened to call security on me.”

“Sounds like a charmer.”

Marisol snorts again. “You have no idea.”

“You mind if I’m blunt?” Darcy says.

“Go ahead.”

She throws her pen onto the table. “What makes you think it was racial, and not sexual or—anything else?”

“Other than the fact that I was the only woman there who didn’t look like they came out of a bottle of Elmer’s Glue?” Marisol’s eyes flick over Darcy’s skin, fix on her hair. “I told Kalia about it the next morning. When she called around and asked, she heard some story about this guy throwing out students of color, for, you know. Being noisy when they weren’t, really, or just…existing. There are a lot of study abroad students at MSM, but the demographics aren’t particularly varied. I looked up the statistics, maybe—out of a thousand or so students, two percent are black or African-American, maybe three percent Latino-Chicano.” She gestures at herself. “So.”

“He’s done this before?”

“So far as I can tell. I looked into it a little. I don’t have a lot of names, just he-said-she-said, but he’s worked at the university for a while. Security, usually, but they double him out as an usher sometimes when there are bigger events or there’s some big name coming to a concert. He’s not a student, he’s a professional guard. Some professor’s brother’s son-in-law or something, I don’t know.”

“They usually are.” She wishes, suddenly, that she’d stolen some gum from Kate. She really wants to crack something in between her teeth right now. (Bang, he’d said, and Lilith won’t settle back down. Bang.) “Off the top of my head there are two main options. If you were to hire us, then we’re going to want to file a racial discrimination claim with the feds, under the Civil Rights Act, most likely against the university."

"The university?"

"He's working for them, if they're letting him get away with it then we can nail them on that." She sighs. "It’s illegal for someone to be excluded or removed from any place of exhibition or entertainment, such as a concert, on a racial basis, so unless you did something you haven’t told me about, say, drink too much champagne and start dancing on a table, I feel like there’s some kind of claim here.”

“I don’t like champagne,” Marisol says.

Darcy shrugs. “Regardless. If and when we file, we can either go the easier route, through New York law—specifically the laws to do with civil rights—which is prove that there was no legitimate reason for you to be denied entry, and make them pay for it—it wouldn’t be much, I don’t think, less than a thousand, but—”

“The money doesn’t matter.”

“Right. There’s that, then. Or we could do the same thing, but under 40-c instead of 40-b, we’d need to prove racial bias. Which unless we can somehow record this guy talking shit about you, it’s gonna be kind of difficult.”

“That’s what Lawrence said.” She rubs at her nose again. “He said it would be a lot of work for possibly no reward.”

“Well, not possibly. We can probably get some injunctive relief—um, that means making the courts get this bastard to quit being a bastard, or get the school to make him quit being a bastard or whatever they decide to do—and if we use 40-b instead of 40-c then at least you can get up to five hundred dollars.” Darcy snags her pen again, and starts tapping it against her notebook. “The question is if you want to. Racial discrimination suits are tricky, and I wouldn’t blame you for not wanting to get involved.”

“I wouldn’t be looking around for another lawyer if I didn’t want to get involved.” Marisol drops her hands to her lap. She folds her fingers together, and says, “Do you think you can do it?”

Her phone buzzes. Foggy. Could use you at the station tbh, this is getting sticky. She knocks it into her desk drawer, and pushes the thing closed. “I can definitely do it, Marisol, I’ve done these before. Doing it isn’t the problem.” She’d been worrying that this was some kind of employment problem. Title II won’t involve nearly so much of a migraine, unless Marcus Caldwell decides to be a supreme asshat and fight tooth and nail. Think about your luck, Darcy. That’s probably gonna happen. Ah, well. “We just might be opening a can of worms if I do, that’s all I’m saying. Lawrence Cranston might be kind of a dumbass, but he wasn’t wrong when he said it could get complicated. If you hire us, it’s our job to advise you, and my advice right now is to think about whether you want to get involved in a suit that could last a while.”

Marisol’s quiet. Darcy watches her, for a minute. Seriously, what the hell lipstick brand is that and where can I get some? It’s gorgeous, and probably way out of her price range if Marisol’s a concert pianist working for the fucking Chamber Orchestra, holy shit. Her hoop earring resettles against her throat when she says, “I talked to a student a few days ago. She said her grandmother had been thrown out of her senior recital because she showed up in a burqa.”

“Caldwell?”

“Yeah.”

Darcy lifts her eyebrows at Marisol, and ignores the sting from one of the scabs. “Want me to walk you through rates?”

“I don’t care how much it costs,” says Marisol. “I want this guy to turn around and figure out that all his bullshit has finally come back to bite him in the ass.”

“That,” says Darcy, “is precisely what I wanted to hear.”

.

.

.

She’s walked a grand total of a block away from the office when Ben falls into step with her.

“Ah,” Darcy says. “Why did I not expect this? You’re like a bee to honey.”

“Long time no see, Lewis,” he says. “You look like shit.”

“I don’t need your snark right now, Urich.” She whacks him with her elbow to let him know it’s a joke. She hasn’t seen Ben in weeks, not since before the heatwave and before—wait, no. Not since St. Patrick’s Day. Holy shit, that’s months, not weeks, and when did she stop paying attention to how frequently she ran into Ben Urich?

Well, no, that’s not quite true. Ben and Lilith talk sometimes. Darcy eyes him through the hair hanging against her cheeks. The thing about deciding to become a vigilante while also working with a damn good reporter? That reporter winds up about 99.5% sure that you are, in fact, said vigilante, and occasionally hits you up for information that you shouldn’t be able to give him. Especially on public thoroughfares where you can’t run away without attracting a lot of attention. He’s never once dropped a hint to anyone else that he knows, though, which she owes him for forever and a day. He knows, and he hasn’t said a word. Whether or not he knows about Matt and Daredevil, she’s not quite as sure of, but she thinks he might at least suspect that Matt has something to do with it, if only because he keeps getting his ass kicked. Just…the blind thing makes it hard for a lot of people without the appropriate knowledge of the situation to put it together.

Into the fray, Lewis. She pastes on her cheerful face. “How’s Doris? She doing okay in the heat?”

“Doris is fine. Doris is pissed that none of you aside from Karen have turned up for dinner in the past six months or so, but Doris is fine. Doing better. Why do you look like shit?”

“Can’t turn off that reporter nose, can you?”

“It’s a curse.” Ben pushes his glasses up his nose. She’d thought, since he left the Bulletin, that he’d chill a little with the jackets with the elbow patches and the button-downs and the shiny shoes, but it might actually be his uniform. The collar of his shirt is soaked with sweat, though, so he must be suffering like the rest of them. At least he can roll his sleeves up without showing off all the cuts and scabs from rolling around on asphalt in the middle of August. “How is it that no matter whatever the hell happens in this neighborhood, the four of you always manage to find yourself front and center?”

“It’s a curse,” she repeats. “Though I really don’t know what you’re talking about this time.”

“Really? Because I spent most of the night wandering around Metro-General Hospital, and there was a very chatty nurse who wanted to let me know that a blonde woman and her dark-haired sister-in-law were in the room with Steve Schaeffer when the guy with the shotgun started emptying cartridges into the wall.” Ben glances over his shoulder. “Not to mention that the dark one did the supremely reckless thing of trying to get the shooter’s attention so other people could get away.”

“Well, that was fucking stupid of her,” says Darcy.

“I talked to Karen this morning.”

“Then you already know the whole story.”

Ben makes a grumpy little old-man noise in the back of his throat, and then seizes her by the elbow to pull her into the shade cast by an awning, off the main part of the sidewalk. “Do me a favor, here, Lewis, and cut the shit. How the hell did Grotto wind up with you?”

Darcy doesn’t shake his hand off. She doesn’t have to, really; she’s not a big fan of getting yanked into shadowy corners, but it’s not like Ben’s going to attack her. When a white guy passing them on the street slows down, looks from her to Ben and back again, she flips him off. “He’s my uncle, you racist jackass. Fuck off.”

The jackass fucks off. Ben looks back at her. “Not your grandfather?”

“I’m twenty-six, Ben. You’re sixty-two. So unless your sproglets were having sproglets at the tender age of probably-way-too-young, then no, you’re not my grandfather.” She pulls her elbow out of his grip. “Client privilege. I’m not talking to you about Grotto.”

“Yeah, well, tell that to the District Attorney. Reyes is playing hardball on this one. If you don’t watch out, you’re gonna get your nose bloody.” His eyes drop to her nose. “Again.”

“Like it’s the first time. What have you heard?”

“Pay to play, Miss Lewis. You tell me something, I tell you something.”

“You do realize my sister works for the District Attorney. I could just ask her.”

“Jennifer Walters is the most straight-laced ADA I’ve seen in twenty years,” says Ben. “You’d have better luck getting a python to spit out the goat it just swallowed.”

“I’ll tell her you said that, see if she invites you around for baklava anymore.”

“Lewis.”

“I told you, Ben, I can’t.” There’s another white dude giving them odd looks, and Jesus Christ, she has had it up to here with racist douchefucks today. With racist douchefucks who look like army veterans and have a buzzcut to match. (Bang.) “Fuck off,” she snaps, and the guy skitters, turning his back real goddamn fast. When she looks around at Ben, his eyebrows are roosting near his hairline.

“Bad night?”

“You have no fucking clue,” Darcy says.

“Everything okay?”

“Don’t want to talk about it.” Sweat drips into her eyes. “Goddammit, I hate this goddamn weather.”

He fumbles with his pocket for a minute, and then produces a somewhat tattered, yellowy handkerchief. Ben holds it out like a peace offering, and Darcy wipes her face. It smells a little like chili oil. “Lewis, seriously. You look like you want to bite someone’s head off and chew up the bones.”

“If anyone else gets up in my face today, then I might.” She folds the handkerchief up. “Client privilege, Ben. I can’t tell you what’s going on with Grotto. It’s non-negotiable.”

“Get me in a room with him.”

“Not gonna happen.”

“What can you tell me, then?”

“Other than the sky is blue?”

“For God’s sake, Lewis, work with me here.” Ben pushes his glasses up his nose. When she offers him the handkerchief again, he waves it off. “The DA is pissed as shit. What went down with the Kitchen Irish last night, it’s not the first time something like that’s happened. The Dogs of Hell, half the Mexican cartels in the city are running scared, people have been dropping like flies the past three weeks—”

“I know this.”

“You don’t.” He darts a look down the street again. “Where’s Karen?”

“With Foggy.”

“And Murdock?”

She has to swallow before she says, “Sick day. Why does Cersei Lannister have a wasp up her ass?”

Ben scuffs his fingers together like he’s rubbing a coin. “Back-and-forth.”

“Jesus, no wonder the VA tried to sue you after you published that tell-all, you’re kind of a bastard when you get the bit between your teeth.”

“Like you’re any better,” Ben says, and Darcy snorts. It hurts like hell—her nose can’t handle snorting, not at the moment—but she laughs, and looks up at the torn inside of the awning, at the sunlight gleaming through the cracks. “The DA’s office has been buzzing like a hornet’s nest. They’ve done a good job keeping the shootings quiet, they don’t want a citywide panic, but this is the fourth major attack on gang holdings in less than a month. Weapons are military grade. Every crime scene I’ve been to looks like a bomb site. No survivors, no mercy.”

(Bang, he’d said, and he’d had dark eyes, very cold, not the same darkness as Wilson Fisk, not the same gravitational pull, but something rawer, the burning kind of frost that will peel your skin off the bone, the black ice that sends a car skidding off the road—)

(Bang, and Matt drops—)

(I’m going to kill you.)

“I picked up on the no mercy piece,” she says. She has to think about it, consciously think about it, to keep Lilith from creeping out. “Kind of hard not to.”

“What happened?”

“What do you think happened?” She pulls out her phone, and texts Kate. Status update? “Wait, fourth? I know about what happened to the Kitchen Irish and about the Los Milagros guys down in the Meatpacking District—”

“Sometimes I think I’d kill for your sources,” says Ben sourly. “The cops only found that crime scene three hours ago.”

Darcy cocks her eyebrows at him. “You don’t want my sources, trust me. I heard about those two, and I’m guessing that the third one has something to do with the Dogs of Hell, but what was the fourth?”

Ben does his coin-rubbing thing again, and says, “Fifteen minutes with Grotto.”

“Really, really not gonna happen, Ben.”

“Then I guess you’re out of luck.”

Her phone buzzes. He’s doing that thing where he says he’s meditating but I think he’s actually snoring. What about you? “Why don’t you tweet Lilith or Daredevil? I’m sure they’ll talk to you. Light up the Batsignal if you have to, Bruce Wayne will probably show up.”

“Why should I? I have Catwoman right here.”

“That’s hilarious.” She swipes out Ben’s being nosy and then puts her phone back into her pocket. “I met Daredevil back when he was the Devil, okay? And that’s because I was stupid enough to get involved in something that managed to put me in Fisk’s way. I’m not a magical vigilante magnet.”

“Sometimes you talk, and all I hear is a bunch of bullshit.”

They’ve gone from a manageable disaster to a complete wreck of a universe and it’s been less than twenty-four hours. Darcy goes to pinch her nose, and then remembers. “Look, let’s just say that I could get you in touch with Grotto. What do you want to talk to him about, the psycho with the shotgun? Because trust me, there’s not a lot to be said on that front that hasn’t already been said. The guy’s crazy.”

“Seems to me that a lot of people have been saying Daredevil and Lilith are crazy, too.”

“Yeah, well, they don’t shoot up bars full of gangsters," says Darcy shortly. “This one does.”

“You have me there.”

She shifts her bag on her shoulder. “I can’t get you into a room with Grotto, Ben. I can’t pull off miracles, especially not where the DA is concerned.”

“Give me something that hasn’t been in the news yet, then,” Ben says, and Darcy glares at the underside of the awning again. Jesus. “Give me something that nobody has. You were there, you saw it. From the looks of things, you had your ass kicked.”

“I keep telling you, I’m not—”

“Just answer the question,” says Ben, and Darcy shuts up. “Who are these guys, Lewis?”

(Bang.)

“Hypothetically,” Darcy says. “You know, hypothetically, saying I was there—which means none of this is quote-worthy, Ben, absolutely none of it. Clear?”

“Clear.”

“Okay.” Darcy sighs. “It’s a guy. Not—not a whole troop, one guy. The hospital was taken down by one guy. Lilith—” she glares at Ben again “—and Daredevil were—were taken down by one guy.”

Ben stares hard at her face. Then: “Jesus Christ, you serious?”

“Yeah, I’m dead serious. Hypothetically.”

“Hypothetically.” He rubs a hand across his jaw. “Jesus Christ. I’d heard rumors, but I figured it was boogeyman stuff, the kind of shit you get when you have a lot of people running scared. Didn’t think it was actually true.”

Darcy folds her arms close across her chest. “So far as I know, they’re not wrong.”

“Jesus Christ,” he says again. “You get a good look at him?”

“I mean, yeah.” Darcy fights the urge to press her hand over her ribs, over the mark from Jarhead’s boot. “Um, tall. He was military. Walked like it. Buzz cut, good with guns. Took control of the whole floor without firing off more than a few rounds.”

Ben shakes his head. “Already knew that.”

“We’re not talking basic grunt, Ben, he was—he was trained, he knew shit that Catwoman—” she scowls at him “—hasn’t ever seen before. He’s been trained, not just in hand-to-hand. Knew his way around a sniper rifle. And he was fast, really—really damn fast. Someone gets in his way, and he doesn’t hesitate.”

(Bang.)

“Way I heard it, he does,” says Ben. “Loads of people in that hospital he could have killed, including you. And yet here you stand. Little bruised, sure, but at least you’re breathing. Kitchen Irish didn’t get the same courtesy.”

“Yeah, well, the Kitchen Irish were his targets.” She yanks her hair ties out, and threads her fingers into her hair, pushing her bangs back up out of her face. “I just happened to be there. Hypothetically.”

“Sure.” He pushes his glasses up his nose. “You talk to him?”

“Does it count as talking if the guy fires a shotgun at you afterwards?”

“Hey.” Ben catches her by the arm again. “What happened?”

“Seems like you already have it figured out.”

“Lewis.”

Darcy pulls away from him, and says, “I don’t want to talk about it, Ben.”

His lips thin out. Thankfully, though—and she’s pretty sure no one other than Ben would have done this, no one she knows—he actually listens. “You gonna be looking into him from your end?”

“Why does everyone assume I have an end? I don’t have an end. I am infinite.”

“Lewis.”

“If I did, Ben, would I tell you?”

“Sometimes I look at the four of you and think, aw, you cocky little shits.” Ben rolls his eyes. “Fine. How about this. From now on, whatever you pick up about this guy, whatever you hear, you come to me first. The blog gets the exclusive. Don’t tweet it, don’t natter about it, just send it right to me. In return, I tell you everything I know, soon as I know it.”

“Karen’s probably gonna do that anyway.”

“Karen is going to charge into it like a bull at a red flag.” He takes off his glasses, and wipes them dry. The humidity is actually making them fog up. “But she’s not on the front lines like you are. It’s not the same thing.”

“I’m not on the front lines.”

“Then why’s Murdock taking a sick day?”

“Heatstroke,” says Darcy. “He keeps wearing those goddamn suits.”

Ben looks at her for a long time, and then says, “That’s plausible.” He sounds a little put out about it.

“You know he loves his suits.” She puts her hands on her hips. “Is that enough, or should we start dancing the tango in the middle of the sidewalk and scandalize literally everyone here?”

“You want to know about the first hit? Then make the deal.”

“Jesus, why am I surrounded by so many stubborn men?” Darcy rolls her eyes hard enough to hurt, and then offers him her arm, and says, “Fine. Deal. Walk with me, Hildy, and tell me all.”

“Are you calling me Hildy Johnson?”

“Should I not call you Hildy Johnson? Hildy Johnson is a queen.”

“Far be it from me to argue with that one.” Ben gives her arm a quizzical look. When Darcy scoffs, and loops her hand through his elbow, he actually looks pleased. He coughs and turns away to hide it, but she did not miss the little glint of oh behind the glasses. “So. Last night, Kitchen Irish. One of the Kitchen Irish gangs, anyway, there are still half a dozen scrambling to get enough firepower together to fight these guys. …this guy. Brannigans might be down, but the O’Reardons are gearing up for war.”

“So the first hit was another one of the Kitchen Irish gangs?”

“Slow down, Selina.” He pats at the back of her hand. “Last night, Kitchen Irish and the Los Milagros. At least what’s left of Los Milagros; a lot of them jumped ship after hearing what happened to the Dogs of Hell. Hit out on the highway, killed four guys hauling illegal cargo.”

(Bang.)

“That’s what you called to talk to Karen about,” Darcy says. Ben nods.

“It’s never a good sign when the Dogs get snappy. They don’t scare too easy, and if they’re yanking at the leash, then it means bad things for everyone underneath them.”

And Foggy walked right into it. Her skin creeps. God, they came so fucking close last night, so, so close, and that’s never going to happen again. Not if she can help it. “Plus the weather.”

“Yeah, well, the weather isn’t doing anyone any favors.” Ben wipes his forehead with the back of his hand. “That was last week. Two weeks before that, there was another hit. Not in the Kitchen, down by the waterfront. Cops called it a busted gas line. But your guy blew up a warehouse, Lewis. They pulled fifteen bodies out of the building. They’re still identifying them, but the cops are pretty sure they’re all O’Shaughnessy Irish mooks.”

Her stomach rolls. She’s pretty sure she’s going to be sick. Darcy wraps her hand tight around Ben’s wrist, over the watch, and swallows over and over. “Jesus Christ. How have I not heard about that?”

“Like I said, DA’s doing their damnedest to keep this shit quiet, and I can’t blame them, not after what happened with the Russians last year.” He shakes his head. “My mole in the DA’s office won’t talk about it, shuts up like a clam when I ask him too many questions.”  

“Yeah, well, he could get cited, so I don’t blame him.” Fifteen men. Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ. “I need to get back to work. Where are you gonna go?”

Her phone buzzes again. Foggy. Seriously, where are you???

“15th.” Ben eyes the screen of her phone. “That one’s new.”

“Yeah, well, the one I had last year didn’t survive.” And she has a second one, a small, cheap one, shoved into the bottom of her purse along with the gun she stole from Turk Barrett, months ago, but that’s neither here nor there. The knife she took from Jarhead is sticky against the small of her back. Darcy taps out where do I meet you? with her thumb, and hits send. “I mean. Not a lot you can do these days without a phone.”

“Not exactly, no.” He puts on a casual face. “You going to meet Karen?”

“Cool your jets, Yoda, I’ll tell her to call you.”

Criminal court for the witpro, Foggy says. Ask Angie, we might have moved by the time you get here. 

“Your guy at the DA,” Darcy says, when they stop at the corner so Ben can hail a taxi. “What has he told you? Before, you know, his clam-mouth sets in.”

“Only that they’re calling this guy the Punisher.” Ben pinches his lower lip between two fingers. “And the names of the people working the case.”

“Oh?”

“You’re not gonna like it.”

A stone drops into her stomach. Shit. “What am I not gonna like?”

“Lewis.”

“Just fucking tell me, Ben, Jesus.”

Ben peers at her from underneath his eyebrows as he says, “You might want to seriously consider figuring out how to get the python to spit up the goat.”

Chapter Text

She can’t afford a taxi. It’s a pain in the ass, but she can’t, not after last night. So it’s after cramming herself into yet another overheated subway car and trying her hardest not to snap the elbow of some kid trying to goose the butt of every woman in a five foot radius that she finally puts her bag through the security check at the Criminal Court building at 100 Centre, and snags the first guard she recognizes. “Travis, is Angie at her desk?”

“Yeah, she’s at her desk,” he says, and then looks up from his computer. His eyes nearly burst out of his head. “Jesus, Lewis, what—”

“You sure?”

“Yeah, I mean—hey, slow down!”

“I’m the Roadrunner,” Darcy says, and grabs her messenger bag before it’s even all the way out of the machine. On the other side of the gates, Lisa makes an irritated sound. (“Watch it, Lewis, this thing is expensive!”) “Sorry, Travis, I don’t have time to explain—”

You’re bleeding!” Travis calls after her, but she’s already bolted. And yeah, unfortunately, she is bleeding. The tape that Foggy stuck over the cut on her forehead hasn’t kept the scab from cracking, and it’s dripped onto the collar of her white button-down. She fumbles Ben’s handkerchief out of her pocket and presses it to her forehead as she darts up the stairs (fucking heels, fucking heels), coming to a very sudden stop in front of Angie’s desk. Hei Hei is in today, and there’s a huge bald patch on his shoulder that looks like an accident with an electric razor. No cone, though. Can monkeys take surgical cones off? They do have opposable thumbs. He chitters a little at the sight of Darcy, and curls his tail around the back of Angie’s neck. She’s still not sure how Angie gets away with bringing her tamarin to work, but she’s fairly sure it has to do with the contract she signed with the devil. Her soul in exchange for supreme power over the New York justice system and its rules of employment.

“I’m looking for Foggy,” Darcy says, and then backtracks. “Wait, no. I’m looking for Jen. I need to talk to Jen like right now.”

“Call her.” Angie doesn’t look up from her paperwork. “The toucan’s not in court right now, she’ll probably pick up.”

“Angie, seriously, I can’t just stand around and wait for her to check her messages, I just—please tell me where she is.”

Angie lifts her head, and stops. “Jesus Christ,” Angie says, and actually gets up out of her chair. “Peregrine, what the hell happened to you?”

Darcy shies away from Angie’s outstretched hand. It’s not that she thinks Angie’s going to hit her, not exactly. It’s that Angie moves fast, and the options she has right now are either move out of the way or grab Angie’s wrist and slam it to the desktop, and the second one is completely out of line. Rein it in, Lewis, come on. (It’s been hours and she’s still coasting right on the edge and she can’t seem to make herself stop, goddammit, she’s better than this, but every time she shuts her eyes she just sees it, over and over, bang and the drop—) “I’m fine,” she says, through her swollen lip. “Just—boxing accident. It’s not a big deal, it’ll heal.”

Angie hisses through her teeth. “Jesus Christ, Darcy.”

“I think that’s the first time you’ve said my name.”

Angie gives her a very long, very level look before sinking back down into her chair. “You went to the hospital and had your head checked?”

Yes.” Claire had shone a light in her eyes in the alleyway, pronounced that she had a mild concussion, and said, essentially, if you’re gonna be stupid enough to wander around, at least try not to get into a fight. “I’m okay. Jen, Angie. Where’s Jen?”

“I figured you’d be in that meeting, isn’t it with your firm? Pigeon’s been here for an hour.”

“Foggy hates it when you call him pigeon.” She peels the handkerchief away from her head, looks at it, and then settles it over the cut again. Gonna have to buy Ben a new hanky, pretty sure. By the time she’s done with it, it’ll probably be more sweat and blood than cloth. “Which room are they in, Reyes’s? A judge’s chambers?”

“No, pretty sure they’re holed up in Tower’s office. Are you sure you’re not going to fall down and die in front of Empress Cixi? Because that’d look really bad on paper.”

“I’m fine, why does no one believe me when I say I’m fine?”

“Because it looks like someone took a baseball bat to your nose.”

That’s pleasant. “I promise you I am not going to fall down and die in front of Samantha Reyes, District Attorney.” She makes an X over her heart, and refuses to think about Matt. (Bang.) “Tower’s office still in the same place, or has he moved up in the world?”

“Nah, same place. Where’s the robin?”

“Matt has heatstroke.”

Angie snorts. “Figures. You sure you don’t want an aspirin?”

“Careful with all the concern, Angie, or I’ll start to think you like me.”

Blake Tower’s office is kind of tucked away amidst all the other ADA offices, closer to the center than anything, like a spider in the center of a spiraling web. He’s not a city kid, she doesn’t think. She doesn’t know a lot about Blake Tower, truth be told, only little tidbits she gets from Jen and gossip from other defense attorneys. Went to Harvard Law, took the New York bar, went into the DA’s office rather than federal legal hoohah for reasons unknown to all and sundry. Definitely not a Fisk supporter, she thinks, looking at the shadows beyond the glass. Both he and Reyes might be grasping politicos, but neither of them were stupid enough or skeezy enough to get into bed with Wilson Fisk and Vanessa Marianna. Only Senator Cherryh had been quite that stupid.

And he’s now on house arrest with a federal contingent up his ass, so that’s where that put him.

No, Blake Tower’s not a bad guy, she doesn’t think, and judging by the number of people he’s put away over the past six and a half years, he’s very good at his job. Still, he keeps his head down. It’s good for dealing with Reyes, especially when she has a mission in mind, but it’s really bad for letting anyone get closer than arm’s length. Add Reyes into the mix—Fordham Law and in your face with all the Ivy boys who have ever tried to make her feel like shit about it, clawing her way up from the ignominious lower-class neighborhoods in Amsterdam, New York, pushing further and further and further until she finally hit the DA’s Office and sunk her nails in with every scrap of strength and cunning she has in her—and it’s a recipe for disaster in the making.

Welp.

Karen’s the one to answer when she knocks. “Sorry I’m late,” Darcy says, or starts to say, but Karen takes one look at her face, shuts the door behind her, and pulls Darcy into a hug that actually physically stings. “Ow—ow, hi, ow—”

“You idiot,” Karen says, in a brittle little voice. “You idiot.”

“Ow, Karen, ow—

“You’re okay?”

Karen’s shaking, Darcy realizes. She stops complaining. When one of the other ADAs comes to the door of his office to watch them, she flips him off behind Karen’s back. “I’m okay. Everything’s okay. Are you doing all right?”

“Getting shot at was not the best ending to my Friday,” Karen says, but she doesn’t let go. “You need to not do that again. Not ever.”

“What, get shot at or get whacked in the face with a bag?”

Karen makes a little hiccupping noise that could be a laugh. “You know what I’m talking about.”

She thinks of it, the raised shotgun, the flash of Karen and Grotto at the end of the hall and Jarhead taking aim. Hey! Yeah, she knows exactly what Karen’s talking about. She pets at Karen’s hair, a little awkwardly considering she’s in flats and Karen’s in heels and that means she’s bent kind of halfway over trying to hold her upright. Which, okay, she really must have scared the shit out of Karen if Karen’s doing this in the middle of the Criminal Court ADA office block, even if it isn’t all that busy in here right now.

“I’m okay, Karen,” Darcy says, quietly, and Karen pulls back. “You’re okay?”

“I’m fine.”  Karen takes a breath, and stares hard at the fluorescent lighting until she can blink the damp off her eyelashes. “You look like shit.”

“Ben said the same thing.” Karen hasn’t slept, she doesn’t think, and there’s a bit of a trembling to her hands when she wipes her palms on the fabric of her skirt. Darcy doesn’t mention it. “What’s been going on in there?”

“Um, a lot. Foggy and Reyes and Tower have been going over the witpro agreement, it—it seems pretty legit, so far as we can tell. If we can get Grotto to draw out a dealer named Edgar Brass, he goes into witness protection courtesy of the federal government, and maybe people can stop shooting at me.” Karen glances over Darcy’s shoulder, and her lips go thin. “Um, Foggy told me about Matt.”

“Heatstroke’s a bitch,” Darcy says. “He’s staying home today. Unless the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse show up, which I am not ruling out at this point.”

“Okay.” She bites her lip. “We should probably—”

“Go in, yeah,” says Darcy, and knocks the door open with her hip. “Apologies for being late. Things have been complicated today.”

Samantha Reyes looks up from her paperwork, and scowls. Or, not scowl, exactly—her mouth gets that funny twist that Kate’s gets sometimes when she has a plan and not everything goes according to her carefully prescribed conditions. On her far side, Tower gives Darcy a considering look, and then inclines his head once before going back to his files. Jen isn’t in the room, but there is an empty seat with an open folder in front of it, covered in her handwriting. Ah, shit. Foggy doesn’t get up, or look at her for more than a second, but when Karen shifts to take the third empty chair, sticking Darcy in the middle, he kicks her in the ankle and leaves his foot there, like he’s trying to keep her from moving. “Your tardiness isn’t my problem, Miss Lewis,” says Reyes. “If I had to put a name to it, it’s only a minor annoyance.”

Darcy bites her tongue. Sassing the District Attorney is probably not the best idea right now, Lewis. “I’m here now,” she says. “Can someone bring me up to speed?”

“Is it entirely wise that your partner be a part of this process, Mr. Nelson?” Reyes folds her hands on the desk. “When the fact of the matter is having her in this room at all could be a conflict of interest. Considering the circumstances.”

“If that’s the case,” says Foggy, “then maybe you ought to ask ADA Walters to leave as well. You know. Considering the circumstances.”

Holy shit. Karen taps the back of Darcy’s wrist with her fingernails, and flashes the screen of her phone under the table. They’ve been like this for hours.

Darcy takes the phone, and taps out, I’ll bet without looking at the screen. Then she adds a bunch of question marks, and passes it back. A second later, Karen flashes the phone again.

Jen v. not happy w/this.

Yeah, Jen wouldn’t be. Darcy looks up from the phone, and hitches her mouth into a smile, or as best a facsimile as she can manage, cutting into the pissing contest. “I think that ADA Walters and I will be able to keep ourselves from applying any particular bias to Grotto’s case.” Stop there, Darcy, she thinks, but her temper’s snarling, she’s dying for a fight, and Reyes is giving her one and what the hell, she can’t stop herself. Foggy’s gonna kill me. “Considering I’m fairly certain that Jen isn’t actually working on Grotto’s case at all, but the Punisher files, instead, which means she basically has no interest in this to conflict with. Which also begs the question of what she’s even doing in this room. But, you know, if it makes you uncomfortable, I would be more than happy to step back.” She pauses. “Ma’am.”

“How did you—?” Reyes stops, staring hard at Darcy’s face. “Mr. Nelson?”

“Wasn’t me. I’ve been with you since about eleven this morning.”

“And it wasn’t Jen, before you go there,” Darcy says. “If you honestly think Jen Walters would discuss confidential case files with someone outside of the DA’s office, then, no offense, Miss Reyes, but I’m gonna have to ask what kind of orange juice you drink in the morning.”

Foggy kicks her hard in the ankle. Darcy bites her tongue, and keeps on smiling.

“Watch yourself, Miss Lewis,” says Reyes. “Your firm’s already hanging on by its fingernails. If you’re not careful, all the goodwill your partner’s established with this office in the past few hours is going to go right back down the garbage chute.”

“Which would be the last thing I want, believe me.” She leans back in her chair. “You might want to keep an eye on some of your clerks. If they’d dropped that name with anyone other than me, then it probably would be in the papers by now, and I’d say that’s the last thing you want, considering all the other vigilantes splashed over the evening news.” Sorry, Ben’s secret source. She’s pretty sure that whoever Ben’s been talking to, it’s not a clerk of court, though, so all that’s gonna happen is that some people will have the shit scared out of them. Which…she still feels bad about, but. Whatever.

“He’s not a vigilante,” Tower says abruptly. Light catches around the frames of his glasses. “The kind of things he’s done? The guy’s a psychopath.”

“Because psychopaths can’t be vigilantes,” says Foggy, and steps so hard on her foot that tears actually spring to her eyes. “Didn’t you hear about that guy who cut up a bunch of mutants a few months ago? People are saying he was dressed up in a red suit and carried katanas.”

Tower actually winces. Reyes looks like she’s bit into a ghost chili. Under the table, Karen digs her nails into Darcy’s arm. She thinks, for a minute, that it might actually turn into a fight. Then the door opens again, and Jen says, “They’re prepping the area now. We should be able to—oh.”

Jen stares at Darcy. Darcy stares right back. “Hey,” she says. “Twice in two days. Coincidence, huh?”

Jen’s eyes dart to Reyes, and then to Tower, before she sinks very slowly into the last empty chair. “C-Coincidence is one word for it.”

“These are the terms that the DA is willing to broker,” says Tower. Reyes fists her hands up, and hides them under the table. “Like we discussed at the station, Mr. Grote—”

“Grote?”

“Elliot Grote,” Reyes says. “Your client, Miss Lewis.”

“Grotto’s kind of laconic,” Darcy says. “Didn’t mention his name to me before we pulled him bleeding out of a bar, you know. Sometimes it happens.”

Foggy shuts his eyes for a long moment, and pushes down onto her foot. Karen looks caught on the verge of hysterics. Jen’s lips are twitching; she ducks her head, and hides behind her hair. Darcy’s pretty sure she’s the only one to see Tower dart a little look at Reyes, like he’s waiting for the woman to blow her top. Reyes’s mouth has thinned so much that it’s basically disappeared.

“Mr. Grote’s only available option is to cooperate with the District Attorney’s Office and set up a meet with Edgar Brass.” Reyes shifts a curl of blonde hair behind her ear. “Brass is one of the few remaining members of the Kitchen Irish Brannigans to still be in the city after the attack last night, and so far we’ve been able to connect him with four separate murders, within the heroin trade and without. If Grote can get him to roll on audio, then he is free and clear to take his witness protection agreement and use or misuse it as he likes, outside of my jurisdiction. As detailed in the proposed agreement.”

Foggy pushes the file over to her, and starts to talk again. Darcy tunes out. Tower, she thinks, is watching them. In particular, he’s watching Karen, which considering the fact that Karen is technically their legal assistant/soon-to-be paralegal (if she can afford to go back and finish her classes), and not one of the partners, makes sense. Still, she’s not all that jazzed about it. She scans over the papers, and then goes over them again, as quickly as she can without missing things. All detailed exactly as Reyes said; get Brass to mention heroin on tape and he’s in the clear. It seems, she thinks, fairly open and shut, which is probably why there’s something slimy creeping down the back of her neck. Why Brass and not Jarhead? Though really, using Grotto to try and lure Jarhead out of hiding would be a plan that only a literal crazy person would come up with, considering the guy’s tendency for maximum casualties.

Loads of people in that hospital he could have killed, including you, from the sound of it. And yet here you stand.

(Bang, and Matt falls—)

“Why a midnight deadline?” she says, and Foggy shuts up again. Reyes turns, slowly, and Jesus Christ, is she imagining the Exorcist vibes in the room right now? Because she’s not sure she is.

“Because we’re working against the clock on this one, Miss Lewis,” she says. “It’s more than possible that Brass is next on this bastard’s list. If Grote doesn’t get him to fess up to at least one of his many charges before midnight, then this office has no interest in continuing to offer him a protection deal. Especially considering his own track record.”

Yeah. Okay. Valid. Darcy shuts up, and applies herself to the witpro agreement. She doesn’t trust Reyes and Tower to not at least try and slip one or two loopholes into the legalese to worm their way out of responsibility if anything goes wrong.

Foggy manages to hold his tongue until they’re out of the Criminal Courts building, at least. They’re just passing a coffee cart on the corner when he finally makes a noise like a bomb’s gone off inside his ribs, and punches her in the shoulder. (The shoulder she’d dug a pellet out of this morning, which, ow.) “What the fuck!” he says, in a very high pitched voice, and punches her again, Christ, Nelson— “Darcy, were you trying to poke the sleeping dragon in the eyeball? I know you haven’t slept in like three days but seriously—”

“Ow, Foggy, be gentle—”

Are you crazy?” He reaches out, and then drops his hands again, like he thought about shaking her and then reconsidered. “I know you and Matt are like—doing whatever it is you’re doing now, but he has rubbed off on you way too much if you think holding a steak out over shark-infested waters is going to do anything other than make our lives harder—”

“She tried to kick me out of the room and then implied Jen was being unethical, Foggy, I can’t be pissed off about that?”

“I thought she was going to scratch your eyes out, Darcy, Jesus! We can’t afford to get the DA pissed at us on top of everything!”

“Yeah, well, she didn’t seem too fond of you, either, Mr. Nelson, what did you do?”

“Foggy was amazing,” says Karen, and Foggy turns bright pink, right there in the middle of Centre Street. “He completely wrecked her and her little goon when they tried to bulldoze their way into the 15th, it was spectacular.”

“I caught her off guard,” Foggy says, and turns away to mess with his bag before anyone other than Darcy notices how red he’s getting. “I was doing my job and protecting our client, not actively baiting the District Attorney, there’s a difference—”

“I lost my temper, okay? I’m sorry.” She really needs to stop trying to pinch her nose; it hurts like a motherfucker. Darcy touches her fingers to the scab on her temple—holding, still, somehow—and then nudges Foggy. “It worked out okay. I won’t do it again.”

Foggy makes a pbbbt sound. “At least I can trust you to try a good fifty percent of the time, unlike someone else that we will not name, Darcy. Seriously, Jesus Christ.”

“Yeah, well, call me Old Reliable, I don’t know.” Darcy turns, and looks back at the doors of the courthouse. She thinks she might see Jen at the glass doors, talking with one of the guards. “You really want to see me get lectured, Foggy? Stick around. Jen’s gonna have a ball.”

“Did you know?” Karen says. “That she was working on the Punisher files?”

“No, I didn’t. Did you?”

“Nope,” says Karen. “But, I mean, I’m just her roommate, you’re her cousin. Sister. Cousin?”

“Sister,” Darcy says. “But it’s Jen. She takes work as seriously as other people take, you know, breathing. Or Pop-Tarts. You didn’t see anything in her files?”

“She doesn’t bring sensitive stuff back to the apartment.” Karen goes to bite her thumbnail. Without thinking about it, Darcy catches her wrist and draws her hand away from her mouth. Karen doesn’t notice. “I thought she was going to have a heart attack when she came into the conference room and saw the pair of us sitting there, I’ve never seen anyone go so pale so fast.”

“You think she’ll lecture me too?” Foggy looks a bit grey. He’s heard Jen give lectures before. If anyone lives up to Hogwarts’ motto of never poke a sleeping dragon in the eye, it’s Jen Walters, not Samantha Reyes. A roused Jen is a Jen that does not stop, or slow down, or give in until you feel like you’re made entirely of glass. And not just broken glass, either; glass that’s been smashed so fine that it’s basically dust. “I didn’t do anything this time.”

“You’re probably safe.” And here comes Jen, marching, her hair falling out of the ponytail to tickle her face. “Ah, shit. You guys should bolt while you can.”

“Meet you back at the office,” Foggy says, and disappears. She’d say he teleported, if she couldn’t see the tail of his jacket whipping around the corner. Karen waits for a few seconds longer, wavering, but eventually she picks the smart option, and follows. Darcy hooks her thumbs into the pockets of her slacks, wishing she could at least have had a chance to change her shirt. There’s still a bright red speck of blood on her collar.

“Hey, Jen,” Darcy says. “Don’t be snippy.”

“Snippy implies that I’m being irrational, which I am not.” It’s the Don’t you dare play with me, Darcy Lewis voice. Which, not as bad as she was expecting. It could have been the I am going to fucking kill you voice. “When were you g-going to tell me that you knew about the files?”

“I only learned about them an hour ago, Jen, and Grotto was a thing that happened at like…ten last night, I didn’t think it was going to involve you so fast. Or, you know, at all.”

Jen can’t argue with that. She waves it off. “What the hell happened to your face?”

“Like I keep telling people, it was an accident at Fogwell’s, okay?”

“Cut the bullshit.” She yanks Darcy’s jacket from the crook of her elbow. “You’re beat to shit all the time, now. Bruises everywhere, cuts—if it w-weren’t Matthew you were seeing I’d be actually concerned that someone was making a game out of hurting you every night—”

Her heart crashes into her sternum. Fuck. This is not a topic she wants Jen to stay on, and she refuses to think about how much of a hypocrite that makes her, she absolutely refuses— “What does this have to do with the Punisher?”

Don’t say that name out here.” Jen snaps out the jacket, and folds it. “Jesus Christ, Darcy, how the hell did you g-get involved with someone like Elliot Grote?”

“Didn’t Reyes mention it to you?”

Jesus.” Jen starts to pace, back and forth. “You need to—Darcy, you four, you shouldn’t be getting involved in this. This is bad, what this guy is doing, this is the w-worst stuff I’ve seen come through the office since—since ever, since I started. You can’t get involved in this, you’ve already been sh-shot at once if the stories I’m hearing are right—”

“So you’re saying I should have done nothing and let the—” Jesus, the Punisher, what a stupid fucking name “—that I should have let that asshole try to kill Karen and Grotto back in that hospital?”

“You were there!”

“Jen, please don’t yell, not on the sidewalk—”

“I will yell whenever and wherever I need to in order to get you to listen to me!” Jen shakes her head so hard that her glasses actually slip down her nose. “You know what happened the last time I told you to d-drop a case and you didn’t? You were put in the hospital! You had to go into hiding! Fisk tried to have you killed, for God’s sake—”

Fucking hell. For a second, all Darcy can hear is a faint buzz. “Jen, I never said—”

“You come back with a handprint around your throat and start waking up screaming and you think I’m stupid enough to not realize what nearly happened?” Jen clenches her hands up into fists, trembling by her sides. “For G-God’s sake, will you just listen to me this time and let this be?”

“Grotto’s my client, Jen, I can’t just turn my back on him!”

“And I’m your sister and I am—” God, Jen’s crying. There are tears on her cheeks, catching over her skin. “I am begging you, Darcy, please let this go, please—please get as far away from this case as you can—”

“I can’t do that.” Shit. Shit. She made Jen cry. She made Jen cry, and she can’t keep having a day like this, she can’t, she can’t handle a day like this when she’s already so raw and close to the surface and on the verge of snapping into pieces. She can’t do this. “Jenny, I can’t, I can’t do that, I can’t back off and leave Grotto to get killed, I can’t—that puts Foggy and Karen and Matt in danger, you know that, I can’t just let them face this alone—”

“And I can’t lose you,” Jen says, and shit. “Darcy, I can’t—please don’t do this, please don’t chase this, I can’t—I c-can’t go through what happened last year, not again, p-please—”

(Bang.)

(Please don’t leave me, Matt—)

She can taste salt on her lips. When did she cross the canyon? When did Jen wind up in the position Darcy used to be? When did Darcy end up burying herself in secrets? “If it’s so dangerous, then—then you need to get away from it, too, tell Reyes to shove it up her ass, stop looking into this, Jen, get as far away from it as fast as you can—”

“This is my job, Darcy.”

“And this is mine!” She snatches her jacket back. She’s crying too, now, all of a sudden, and it feels like blood on her cheeks. This is the worst fucking day. “This—Elliot Grote came to us, Jen, he came to us because he had faith in us, he had faith that we could help him, and I’ll be damned if I abandon him now. Even if it puts me into the path of a psycho, again, because for God’s sake, this is what we’re supposed to be doing, remember? We’re supposed to be helping people, not turning our backs on them when they actually need someone to save them.”

“Grote is a career criminal who’d sell you out as soon as he had a better offer!”

“So’s Reyes! She rips defense attorneys apart like confetti, she’s thrown her own office under the bus a million times, and you think she’s trustworthy?”

“She’s trying to put this guy behind b-bars—”

“Yeah, because she’s probably banked everything she has on putting him away! She’s aiming for a politician’s chair, Jen, not trying to do the right thing, we can’t let her steamroll us—”

Jen screams, caught between her teeth. Color flares high in her face, under the smeared mascara. “Darcy, let this go.”

“I can’t let it go, not any more than you can—”

“I am not going to watch you die because you’re too goddamn stubborn—”

“Jen—”

“No!” Jen reaches out, and grips Darcy by the shoulder, shaking her. “Darcy, no. Please, please, I’m begging you, p-please stay away from this. Please. Please.

So close to the edge. Dancing on a wire. Lilith under her tongue. “Jen,” she says. “I can’t.

Jen lets out a small, choked sound. For a second, Darcy thinks she’s going to turn around and stalk off, turn her back and walk away, because it’s what Darcy would do in an argument like this one, leave the stalemate lying there between them like a thrown glove. Jen, though—Jen steps forward and wraps her arms around Darcy so tightly that it’s like she’s being snapped in half. She smells like chamomile tea and her shampoo and the insides of the criminal court, paper and glossy photos and ink, and Darcy yips when it crushes her ribs into her lungs and pinches at her bruises. Jen doesn’t let go. “God damn you.” Her voice cracks. “God damn you for being so goddamn stubborn, Darcy Lewis.”

“Learned it from you,” Darcy says. Jen makes the little noise again, and squeezes so hard that Darcy actually leaves the ground. “Ow.”

“Shut up.” Jen breathes out hard, half a sob. “Just—I hate you right now.”

“I hate you too.” Darcy winds her arms tight around Jen’s ribs. “Please be careful.”

“I don’t need your hypocritical b-bullshit right now.”

First Matt—well, implicatively—then Foggy, and now Jen. She just has to get Karen and Kate to call her a hypocrite too and she’ll have the quintet of everything crushing her into tiny pieces. They’re not wrong, says a tiny voice in the back of her head. It’s half her mother, half her, and she can’t shake it off. They’re definitely not wrong. “If it were me asking you to back off,” Darcy says, into Jen’s shoulder, “you’d be telling me no, too.”

Jen doesn’t have anything to say to that. She’s been going to the gym, Jen—there are muscles in her arms that weren’t there before, a strength Darcy can’t remember from six or even three months ago. She wonders if Jen’s been taking self-defense classes. Then, very, very carefully, she deposits Darcy on the ground again, and wipes at her eyes. “God damn you,” she says again. “Just—god damn you.” 

“I’ll try to stay out of his way.” Darcy fumbles Ben’s handkerchief out of her pocket, and gives it to Jen. Jen looks at the blood smeared on the cloth, her eyes hard, and then blows her nose into it. “I’m—I’m not exactly looking to get a shotgun aimed at me all over again.”

That was the wrong thing to say, apparently, because Jen actually flinches. Darcy hugs her again, lighter this time, ignoring the heat and the stickiness and the way the tears keep threading down her face (Which needs to stop, seriously, she hates crying, it doesn’t help her any, and underneath it is a curling, vicious rage, he tried to kill Matt, you can’t forget what happened—) Jen smooths Darcy’s hair back and kisses the top of her head, so hard that it actually makes her brain pound. Then she yanks away.

“Go home,” she says. “Go—go home, don’t come out with Foggy tonight when they d-do the surveillance. Go home and fix your nose and just—stop, okay? Just be careful. G-go home, Darcy.”

Darcy doesn’t say anything. She squeezes Jen’s fingers, instead. If she speaks, she thinks, then all she’s going to wind up doing is telling Jen more lies.

.

.

.

She doesn’t go home.

She wants to. She really, really wants to. She wants to go home and sit and watch Matt breathe, even if he’s asleep, even if that’s creepy as hell and she’s still pissed as fuck she had to actually shout him into sitting down, because this morning she’d thought he was dead and she never, ever wants to have to keep that in her head, what it had felt like to think he was dead and gone. She never wants to feel that again, the emptiness of it, the hollowness, the black, screaming hole inside her where everything that she was used to be. Was, or is, or pretend to be? It’s left gouges inside her the way a tiger claws at dead wood. So yeah, Darcy thinks, she sure as hell wants to go home, but in the end she’s only there for about twenty minutes before snagging the helmet off of the coffee table, kissing a sleepy Matt goodbye, and heading down to Battery Park.

Melvin’s garage has gone through some renovation, in the nearly nine months since Darcy first crept in here with Matt at her side. He’s knocked some walls in, spread out a little more, put in new worktables and new machines that she can’t even begin to understand the workings of. When she raps on the door to the garage, Betsy’s the one to rack the thing up. Her hijab is a soft plummy red today, and she’s wearing lipstick that makes her skin go curling dark. “Hello,” she says, and touches her fingertips very lightly to one of the bruises on Darcy’s face, all nurse and no thought. (The cover-up job, she thinks, has held, but Betsy’s very good at picking out bruises. She used to work at a battered women’s shelter.) “You look awful.”

“Believe it or not, you are not even the fifth person to tell me that today.” She’d been pulled aside on the subway again by a group of old ladies who’d pressed a 1-800 hotline for abuse victims into her hand. Darcy had thrown the slip of paper into the garbage can as soon as they were out of sight. Nobody asks Matt if his girlfriend’s abusing him, and it’s a thought that she can’t shake. Nobody asks Matt if he’s being turned into a punching bag. She feels sick, because Christ, so many women in the world being brutalized by people that are supposed to love them and she’s the one getting all this random concern. It’s bullshit. “How are things down here?”

“Quiet.” Betsy waits until Darcy’s ducked under the half-open garage door, and then pulls it back down again. “Doing better.”

“That’s good.” Darcy lifts her chin. “That one’s new.”

“He wanted to try something with silk layering, I think.” Betsy tugs at the hem of her hijab. “It’s cooler than I thought it would be. Means I won’t have to feel like a complete sweat-monster when I take it off.”

“That’s nice, at least.” Darcy hesitates, and then draws the helmet from her bag, still wrapped up in one of Matt’s T-shirts. She hadn’t wanted to risk someone kicking her bag over and knocking Daredevil’s mask out onto the floor of the subway car. “Um, I needed to talk to Melvin about fixing something, actually, is he here?”

“He’s upstairs futzing with the sink again, I’ll get him.”

Betsy opens a side-door, and heads up the stairs, shouting Melvin’s name. On the first floor, Darcy hears a grumbling mutter, and then a clang, and loud cursing. She’s pretty sure the sink just opened fire. Darcy settles on one of the three-legged stools, and kicks her heel against the wood, looking around. Melvin’s been working on new fabric designs, she thinks. There’s a uniform sketched out on one of the blackboards that she can’t remember seeing before, and on the table there’s a few more diagrams of what look like the interior of a walking stick. The whole basement smells like spray paint and molten glass. She tips the chair back, and thunks back against the ground. Mask. Then…what? Watch Matt. Make sure he doesn’t sneak out or hurt himself, which really, she shouldn’t have to do, and sometimes she wishes he weren’t such a stubborn shit, because—

(Bang.)

Stop thinking about it, Darcy.

“Lilith,” says Melvin, and steps down into the basement. She forgets sometimes that he’s just so fucking huge. He doesn’t have much of a presence, Melvin. Or if he does, he doesn’t show it with her, anyway. Darcy gets off the stool, and flares an A-OK sign at Betsy in the stairwell. “Where’s Mike?”

“Taking a sick day.” She unwraps the helmet, and offers it to him. “I was wondering if you could fix this.”

Melvin trips. Or not trip, but do that little rolling bouncy thing he does when he gets startled. He takes the helmet, shifting it delicately between his massive hands, like he’s holding a shard of ancient pottery. “Jesus. This from last night?”

In the stairwell, Betsy puts a hand on her hip. “Something bad happen?”

“Someone cracked off Mike’s helmet, is what happened.” Melvin sucks his teeth, and tips the helmet so he can look at the inside. “Christ. Inch or two to either side, would’ve shattered. Accident?”

“Um.” Darcy clears her throat. “I mean, no, direct headshot.”

“Know what caliber?”

“I’m not that good, Mel. Small enough for an ankle holster.”

“Jesus,” Melvin says, and hooks the helmet up to one of his little machines. Betsy wanders into the back room, and starts clattering around again, humming a Bollywood song under her breath. “This guy beat you up, too?”

“Do I really look that terrible?”

Betsy reemerges with an ice pack, and smacks it into her hand. “You’ve looked worse. The make-up’s holding, somehow.”  

Darcy folds the ice pack over the bridge of her nose as best she can without losing sight of Melvin, and winces. “That’s encouraging.”

“More the eyes than the nose, really,” Betsy says. “Usually you smile more. Or—not quite that. You usually don’t look quite so angry.”

That’s…not what she expected to hear. Darcy looks away. “Bad night.”

“I’ll say.” Melvin scrapes with his tweezers. “This thing’s busted. Don’t think I can fix it. Need to make a new one.”

“How long will that take?”

“Three days easy.”

Matt is…not going to be happy about that part. She shoves that aside. “Not gonna ask you to rush it, but if you can do it faster, might help.”

“Told Betsy I wouldn’t be doing anything else illegal,” Melvin says.

“I think this is an exception, Mel,” says Betsy. She squeezes his shoulder, and eyes Darcy. “You told them you’d keep them safe, remember? They’d keep us safe and we’d keep them safe. So I think this is an exception, don’t you?”

It shouldn’t hurt, Darcy thinks, to see Melvin look at Betsy like that. She’s not entirely sure what they are, Melvin and Betsy; Melvin’s been going to therapy when he can afford it, but he’s still only crept forward from wherever he’d regressed in bits and pieces. He adores Betsy, though, and it shines through on his face every time he even says her name, and that shouldn’t hurt to see. She clenches one hand up by her side, and waits. Melvin looks back down at the helmet, forehead wrinkling. “Three days,” he says again. “Two if Betsy helps some.”

“I have a shift tonight, but tomorrow I can.” Betsy smacks a kiss onto Melvin’s bald head, and then straightens. “Mike doing okay? Lying down like he should be?”

Darcy just has to lift her eyebrows to answer that question. Betsy scrunches her nose up. “Figures.”

“He’s predictable.”

“Two days is a long time to do nothing,” Melvin says. And yeah, for Matt, it definitely is. And for you, too, Darcy, seriously. As frustrating as it is to think. “Can try to do something about this. Can’t promise anything. Maybe weld the crack shut. Put in extra support. Want me to?”

That would just be like giving Matt a guy to beat up and then telling him he can’t, she thinks, but it’s a miracle he’s been down for the count for even six hours. “Yeah, please.”

“He shouldn’t be moving, if he took a shot like that,” Betsy says. “By all rights, he should be dead.”

“No,” Melvin says. “No, look. One inch to either side, half an inch maybe, yeah. This—” He taps the crack down the front of the Daredevil mask. “Deliberate. Aimed right for this spot. Knew it wouldn’t kill him, just knock him silly. Guy knew what he was doing. Aimed. Knew.”

Darcy shuts her eyes, and gropes for the edge of the table. One of her nails folds under the force she’s putting on the plastic. “He tried to kill him, Melvin.”

“No,” Melvin says. “Warning shot. Incapacitation. Guy killed a bunch of Kitchen Irish. Knows his way around a gun. Knows what he’s doing, knows what he wants. If he took a shot like this at Mike, then he hit exactly what he was aiming for.”

Incapacitate, she thinks. Incapacitate, not kill. It ought to drown the shadows weaving in her throat like ivy, but they don’t fade, not really. They echo, instead. I want to kill him.

If he wasn’t trying to kill Matt, then—

I want to kill him.

Think, Lewis. If he wasn’t trying to kill Matt, if he was just trying to get him to back off—

Stay out of the way, he’d said, and he’d shot the floor at her feet, knocked her out, hadn’t killed her, but—

I want to kill him.

She turns away from Melvin, and covers her mouth with her hand. She wants to gag. Christ. If he wasn’t trying to kill Matt, if he didn’t try to kill her, then she shouldn’t want to kill him, she shouldn’t want that, she’s better than that, she knows she is, but—

Bang.

Melvin stands, and shifts around. For a guy that’s so bulky and built, he can move like a weedy, asthmatic tween when he wants to. “Lilith?”

“I’m okay.” She presses her fingers to her lips, and swallows. There’s something tangy on her tongue that’s not quite bile, not quite blood. “I’m okay.”

Betsy puts a hand to her back, and leaves it there. Darcy gulps air, blinks until her eyes clear. She coughs.

“Sorry,” she says. “Long night.”

“I’m sure,” Betsy says, and looks at Melvin. Melvin shuts his mouth up again, sinking back down onto his stool. “He resting like he should?”     

“What do you think?” Darcy pats Melvin’s shoulder. “Before I forget—you guys don’t have a taser lying around here somewhere, do you? Only mine kinda…died. Like, explosively.”

“No,” says Melvin. “Illegal in New York. Don’t have them.”

Shit. She has the knife, though. That’ll have to do, for now. “Thanks.”

“Wait,” Melvin says, and bounces back to his feet. “Don’t have anything finished, nothing you’d like, not sparky enough—”

“Sparky?”

“But.” He snaps open a cabinet, and digs through old boxes. “Mike says you like whacking people with sticks. Use this until we get something.”

It’s a black baton, like a nightstick that an English bobby might use. There’s a strap for her wrist, which, thank God, she’s not entirely sure she wouldn’t drop the thing if it wasn’t looped to her. “Compressed air for the extension,” Melvin says, and hits a button on the handle. The thing snaps out to a good three feet long. When he hits the button again, it collapses back down. “Not, you know, your style. In your face, up close. Too much Mike, not really Lilith. But. Can’t go out with no weapon.”

“I have a knife.” And a gun, but she doesn’t use those in uniform. “I should be okay.”

“Knife’s not really Lilith, either.” Melvin offers it to her. “Careful. Heavy.”

Darcy loops the strap around her wrist, and spins the baton a few times. It is heavy, but not unmanageably, especially considering she’s been training to heave her own body weight up onto rooftops for the past year. She hasn’t done much work with sticks, beyond basic things Matt had insisted on, but she cannot deny, she’s used planks like baseball bats a time or two. She’s pretty sure the general idea isn’t much different. “I’ll try to get it back to you in one piece.”

“Shouldn’t break.” Melvin raps his knuckles against the material. “Reinforced.”

“You hit someone in the head with that, you could kill them,” Betsy says. “Be careful, Lilith.”

She twirls the baton again, and hits the extension button. There’s no real kickback, but the thing snaps out like a bullet train, and if she hit thef button while it was pressed up against someone’s side, Jesus. She could bust a lung. “I’ll try.”

“When you come back, we can build something,” Melvin says. “For you. Things are happening in the Kitchen. Can’t go out without a weapon, not right now.”

“What have you heard?”

“Friends are scared.” Melvin darts a look at Betsy. “People are dying. You gonna be okay?”

The baton makes a whistling sound as she whips it down, pointing it towards the floor. Betsy doesn’t flinch. Melvin does. Darcy punches the button again, retracting it, and wraps it up in the T-shirt she’d brought Matt’s helmet in, slipping it into her bag. Then she frowns. “Melvin, you know what kind of knife this is?”

She’d cleaned the blood off it before she’d tucked it into the waistband of her pants. Still, the way Melvin handles the thing, you’d think it was dripping red. “Drop point,” he says after a moment. “Combat blade. Kinda common. Not hard to find.” He flips it, catches it by the hilt. “Marine.”

“Marine?”

“See?” He rubs his thumb over the base of the blade. There are two letters faintly etched into the metal, so subtle Darcy hadn’t seen them. “SF.”

“San Francisco?” She cocks her head. “Steve Franco?”

“Semper Fi,” he says. “Marine Corps.”

Darcy takes the knife back, and slips it into the sheath. “You think whoever dropped this is a Marine?”

“Hard to say. Lots of civvies with throwaway knives. Lots of shops selling old Marine blades, knockoffs. Could be someone just picked up a knife, happened to have that on it. Might not be. Hard to say.” Melvin frets a little. “You gonna be okay? Lilith.”

“Yeah,” Darcy says. She doesn’t stop to think about it. It’s what Melvin needs to hear, really. “Yeah, we’ll be okay. Don’t worry about me, Melvin.”

Betsy puts a hand on the back of Melvin’s arm. Whatever Melvin wants to say, it vanishes. He wets his lips down. “Gimme an hour,” he says. “I’ll try to patch this up.”

“I’ll wait outside.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Betsy says. “You’ll wait upstairs. The sink has stopped flooding the kitchen, and there’s coffee. You look like you need it.”

Her stomach churns. “I really don’t—”

“I need to do paperwork anyway, so you’ll have the kitchen to yourself.” Betsy looks far too knowing, as she says that. “If you wander around Battery Park for an hour people will wonder if you’re crazy. It’s too hot outside.”

If he wasn’t trying to kill Matt, then—

(Bang.)

“I can’t sit still right now,” she says, raspy. “Anything here that needs to be done?”

Betsy glances at Melvin again. “I think we can come up with something.”

.

.

.

It’s basically the one thing to go right the whole day long when she gets back to find Matt still completely asleep. Kate, curled into the side of the couch, looks up from her iPad game, and cracks her lollipop between her teeth. “Welcome home, soldier.”

“Don’t need soldier jokes right now.” Darcy steps out of her shoes, and pulls the hem of her button down out of her slacks, undoing it. She’s wearing a tank-top underneath, and besides, it’s not like Kate hasn’t seen her worse. “Everything okay here?”

“You’re gonna have to tape him snoring to get him to admit it. He wouldn’t believe me when I told him earlier.” Kate rolls the stick of the lollipop with her tongue. “He slept for most of the day. I woke him up every hour to make sure, you know, he wasn’t dying or anything, that’s what Google said to do when you have like…head trauma. Talked to Foggy and Karen on the phone, fell back to sleep. Jess called to see if you were okay.”

It’s one thing to get a message from Malcolm, but from Jess? “Really? She actually asked?”

“She asked if the pair of you were dead, and when I said no, she hung up, so…yeah.”

She’s not sure if she should be touched, or pissed off. “I’ll call her later. Did Foggy say anything about the witpro agreement to Matt, or did he just—”

“Darcy,” Kate says. “Take a nap.”

“Can’t.” She pushes her glasses up, and wipes her eyes. “There’s still the meet with the DA later tonight, and I should have done some filing while I was at the courthouse earlier, for the new client, I didn’t think about it, but I—”

Darcy,” Kate says again. She unfolds from the couch, and takes Darcy’s suit jacket and the button-down, wrinkling her nose. “Gross. Seriously, go change clothes and sleep for like…two hours. Please. You’re always lecturing me for not sleeping enough.”

“Yeah, but—”

“Hypocrite,” Kate says, and there’s four out of five. Still, at least Kate says it fondly. “Go lie down at least, if you don’t want to sleep. And if you do, you know, I’ll wake you up if anything happens.”

She wavers. “If anything happens, Kate, you swear—”

“I swear.” Kate pops her lightly with one fist. “Go change clothes and lie down, seriously. I don’t want to see you for an hour, at least.”

If she falls asleep, she probably won’t wake up for a day. Still. It’s not entirely a bad idea. “If I’m not awake before seven, Kate, come in. I don’t care if you think I need more sleep, I need to be there when they go to meet with the DA. And not seven-thirty, Kate, seven exactly.”

“Fine.” Kate flaps a hand. “Leave me to my Angry Birds.”

Matt doesn’t stir through the whole process of detangling from her pantsuit. Darcy clambers up onto the bed next to him, and settles, pressed close into his side even with the afternoon sun shining bright in through the windows. Then, finally, he shifts, and curls around her. He’s only just barely awake when his eyes slit open, fingers tickling over her ribs. “Hey.”

“Hey.” Darcy hooks her hair out of her face. “How’s your head?”

“Better.” And there go the eyebrows, doing the caterpillar creep. “I shouldn’t be spending the whole day lying around like this.”

“Don’t start that again.” She shoves her glasses up her nose. “I’m still pissed that I had to actually physically shout you into a corner, Matt, don’t push it.”

Matt traces his thumb around a bruise. “I know.”

“I don’t want to go over it again, just—” Darcy shifts, balancing on one elbow. “You are actually, legitimately, the most frustrating person I have ever met in my life, and sometimes it’s not in a good way. That’s all.”

His lips quirk, more sadness then smile. Matt catches her hand, and presses the pads of her fingers to his mouth. “I’m an asshole.”

“Yeah, well, it’s good you know that,” she says, and he snorts. “Melvin says that he needs to make a new helmet. He did a patch job on the one you have now, but it’s fragile. It could break if there’s any significant stress on it.”

Matt sighs. “Figured as much. What about the client?”

“Racial discrimination suit, Title II stuff. Should be easy enough to deal with, if the school we’re filing against doesn’t pull an asshat move and try to fight it. They probably will, because we have shit luck and nobody likes being called a racist, no matter if they are or not, but I mean, the longer the suit lasts, the longer she pays us, which is…mercenary but okay with me.”

“Hm.” Matt scuffs his fingers back and forth over her shoulder blade, thoughtfully. He’s put on a shirt since she left, and the fabric tickles against her bare arm. “What’s her name?”

“Marisol Guerra. New to the city, and first thing she gets is a racist douchefuck trying to kick her out of a university concert.” Her elbow hurts. She settles on her side on the mattress, feeling oddly exposed and awful, as if she’s a beetle that’s been knocked onto its back and she can’t get her many feet under her again. “Betsy agrees with Claire and me when she says you should probably lie in bed and rest for at least a week.”

“You know I can’t do that.”

“Yeah, well, arguably she could say the same thing about me and my probable concussion.” She slips her hand up under his shirt, pressing her thumb to the scar Nobu left behind. “We can be stupid and reckless together, if you want. Just not today.”

Matt snorts. “Typically that seems to be how it works.”

“I’m a corruptive influence,” she says, and he laughs again. “Think about it. I asked you to work with me back in that alleyway, not the other way around. I led the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen astray.”

“That’s entirely how everything started.” The smile fades a little. Matt shifts, settling on his back, and when she lifts her head to look at him there’s a smear of blood on the underside of his chin that she hadn’t noticed when she’d left this morning. “Did something happen?”

“Nothing,” she says. Or she tries to say it. The word won’t come out. Darcy kicks the blanket off, and puts her head to his chest, her ear over his heart. Matt lets out a rattling breath when she does it, and threads his fingers through her curls. She can’t speak for a long time. When she does, her eyes are damp all over again. “You mean other than you nearly dying and then being an asshole about it?”

His heart stutters under her ear. “I’m sorry,” he says, very soft. “I am.”

“For nearly dying or for being an asshole?”

“Both.”

“I’m attributing about thirty-five percent of you being an asshole to the fact that you are very seriously concussed. Pretty sure that means you’re legally impaired at the moment.” She sniffs. “But only about thirty-five percent. You can definitely keep right on apologizing for the other sixty-five.”

Matt sets his mouth back to her hair. “Coffee and scones.”

“That’s what’s known as bribery, counselor.” Darcy listens to his heart for a minute or two. The longer she hears it, the more she unwinds, until it’s not fury leaching through her but exhaustion, until she can barely shift her hand from the amount of effort it would take to peel herself away. “Jen was angry that we took Grotto’s case.”

“Jen?”

“She’s working the investigative team for the Punisher.”

She can actually hear him frowning. It’s like there’s a hornet’s nest somewhere in the room, and someone’s poked it with a stick. Less a sound than a feeling, but still completely audible. “How’s that work with conflict of interest?”

“Technically the Grotto and Brass thing doesn’t have anything to do with the Punisher. The witpro is with Brass. She sat in because, you know, the Punisher wants Grotto dead. Though with Reyes it’s hard to say whether or not she just…doesn’t care about the conflict and wanted Jen there to throw us off our game. She pulls a lot of shit, Reyes.”

He nods, and waits. Sometimes she really hates that he can read her so goddamn well. Darcy swallows, and hides her face under her hair for a moment, breathing.

“Are—am I being hypocritical for keeping Jen in the dark? I know—I know we talked about it, and it’d put her in such a terrible position, considering she’s at the DA, it’s not that I don’t trust her, Matt, but—but am I being a hypocrite for not telling her?”

Matt draws his thumb along the curve of her ear. “You’re asking me about hypocrisy after what happened this morning?”

“You’re contrite today. Catholicism hitting you hard or did Foggy lecture you?”

He scoffs, like that’s ridiculous. Darcy slips her hand under the collar of his shirt, draws her fingers over one of the scars, and waits. Eventually, he laughs into her hair. “No, it was Kate.” 

“Kate? Really?”

“Occasionally she gets spitty.” There’s a fondness in the way he says it that makes her lips twitch. It’s not the moment, she thinks, to smile, but she wants to anyway. “Sometimes watching the pair of you is like watching a baby falcon imprint on a cat. It’s fascinating.”

“Don’t try to make this funny.”

“Darcy, look at me,” he says. She listens to his heart for a second or two longer, one beat, two, three, and digs her chin into his chest, half on top of him with their ribs knocking against each other, sprawling. Matt shifts his hand to her cheek, strokes over the bone. “You’ve been crying.”

“Only a little. It’s been a day.”

Matt presses his thumb to her lip, very carefully, barely stinging. He traces the line of her jaw. “Do you think you’re being hypocritical, for not telling her?”

“I’m asking because I don’t—I’m not sure.” Darcy leans into his hand, trying to breathe. “I know why. I don’t want to make her have to choose between her job and—and knowing this, and getting involved with it, because Jen would, you know she would, she can never keep her nose out of things. But Matt, she thinks—she thinks someone’s hurting me, that something’s wrong, and I can’t tell her what’s really going on. I don’t think I’ve told her the full truth since the Goodmans. She’s my sister, and I’m lying to her because of this, and that’s…yeah. That’s hypocritical, I think.”

“Kind of.” It doesn’t hurt, just kind of echoes, someone ringing a bell inside her head. “Yeah.”

“You’re supposed to tell me I’m a saint, Matt, Jesus.”

The bruises on his face look like stones at the bottom of a dark river, flickers of shadow and light. “I don’t lie to you, remember?”

Ouch.” She puts her mouth to his chest, through the shirt. “You’re mean.”

“You knew that coming into this.” Matt trails his fingers up her spine, vertebra by vertebra, tracing his way to the tattoo on her neck and back down again to the Templar cross at the small of her back. He doesn’t say anything for a long time. “I’m uncomfortable enough as it is having so many people know. The more people who know a secret, the likelier it is that it gets spilled, and I don’t—I don’t want any of them to wind up in danger because of something we did. That’s not something that’s acceptable.”

“Of course not.” She rests her cheek to his chest again. One beat, and two, and three. “I hate lying to Jen, Matt. I hate lying to Jen. And you nearly died, and I’m just—it’s not a good day.”

“You’re overstretching yourself.” Matt tangles his fingers in the hair at the back of her head. “You work so damn hard, all the time, and it’s—you spend every single moment you’re awake trying to take care of everyone. And I love you for it, Darcy, but you can’t do it forever. You need to take your own advice, about trying to fix everything. You try, it’ll wind up killing you.”

“I haven’t hit my limit yet, Matthew.” Darcy starts to shift off him—his ribs can’t take this, not really—but Matt curls his fingers into her hip and holds her still. “It’s too hot for me to lie on you, let go.”

“I like feeling your heartbeat,” he says.

God, slay me. “Don’t say nice things when you can barely stand up straight,” Darcy says, and Matt chuffs, crackling in his chest. “It’s not fair. Also, you telling me that I’m overstretching? Kind of rich.”

“Yeah, well, that’s a different discussion altogether.” Matt snakes his hand up under her tank top, pressing his fingers into the skin of her back. “We don’t have time to stop.”

“I know.”

She thinks, for a time, he might say something, but he doesn’t. When she lifts her head to look at him, his eyes are closed. He’s dozing, she thinks, something that he never, ever lets himself do anymore, and he needs it more than anything, really. More sleep. More time in the day. Darcy curls her fingers into the collar of his shirt and closes her eyes, glasses jamming into her temple.

(Bang.)

“I want to kill him,” she says, and Matt blinks his eyes open. “He shot you. I thought you were dead. I thought he tried to kill you. And Melvin—Melvin said it was probably just a warning, that he wasn’t trying to kill you, but I saw you die, and I thought—I want—”

“I know,” Matt says, and that’s all that needs to be said. She curls up on his chest as best she can, and Matt keeps his arms around her, and yeah. It’s a terrible, no-good, very awful day, but at least she has this. Even if it’s only until seven.

.

.

.

The phone buzzes.

Checking in.

You’re late.

Things were complicated. I had to find a place to settle that wasn’t completely out of the realm of probability, which is difficult here.

Regardless.

Don’t be grumpy.

All going according to plan?

Best as I can manage. I’ll call when I get back tonight.

I’ll be waiting with baited breath.

You don’t have to be snarly.

.

.

.

“Darcy.”

Darcy wrinkles her nose, and presses her face into Matt’s throat. “Mmph.”

“Darcy, your phone.”

“No. Phone is unacceptable.” It’s too hot to pull the blankets up, but she does it anyway, rolling off Matt and hiding underneath them. “No.”

“I think it’s Ben.”

And sure enough, her phone is talking with Ben Urich’s voice. “Pick up the phone, Lewis.” God, hasn’t he dragged enough information out of her today? She hides in the pillow, just for a moment, and then snags the cell phone off the bedside table, flopping back onto Matt’s outstretched arm. “What.”

“You don’t have to confirm,” Ben says, without preamble. “Not officially, anyway. But am I right in saying that Nelson, Murdock, and Lewis negotiated a deal with the DA to get Edgar Brass into custody in return for Grotto’s freedom?”

Oh my god, can I not get an hour’s peace? “Who the hell do you have in the DA’s office, Ben, Jesus.”

“That’s an answer in and of itself.” Under her head, Matt’s arm goes taut. Ben sounds—well. He sounds like he did back during the Fisk fiasco, tightly leashed to keep the nerves from leaking through. “Lewis, Brass is one of the men who died in that fire I told you about. The coroner identified him through dental records half an hour ago. Whatever the DA’s planning on doing with your boy tonight, it has nothing to do with Edgar Brass.”

Every single cell in her body turns to ice. “Shit,” she says, and drops the phone, bolting off the bed. She nearly trips over the sheets that are dangling on the floor. “Shit fuck shit, I knew it sounded weird—”

“Thanks, Ben,” Matt says into the phone, and then hangs up. He swings his feet down onto the floor. “What was he talking about, fire?”

“Punisher’s been a busy boy, likes burning people alive apparently, just—fucking hell.” It’s six-thirty. The meet with Brass was scheduled for ten, but they’ll already have set everything up, Grotto will already be in transit and prep, she won’t be able to get in until the DA opens the doors and she is going to strangle Samantha Reyes, holy shit— “I knew it sounded weird, Matt, I knew it sounded weird, I didn’t ask but I didn’t think she’d be so fucking stupid to try and—Kate!”

“’sup,” says Kate. She’s barefoot, and she’s stolen one of the popsicles Darcy had hidden in the very back of the freezer. “Clint’s abusing my dog again.”

“I thought Lucky was a share-deal with you and Clint.” Like children and a divorced couple, she thinks, but she doesn’t say that. Kate gets twitchy whenever someone talks about her and Clint as a Possible Item, though Darcy to this day isn’t quite sure if it’s because she wants it, or because she does not want it, ever, at all. “Never mind. Go home, get changed. I need you to go out with me tonight.”

“Ooo, in front of your boyfriend, too.” Kate waggles her eyebrows “Ballsy, Lewis.”

That doesn’t actually deserve a response. “Just go,” Darcy snaps, and Kate snaps a lazy salute with the popsicle stick before darting out the rooftop access door again. The Lilith suit is folded neatly and resting on the arm of the chair, on top of the Daredevil suit. There’s still a hole in the sleeve from the shotgun pellet. Fuck. Darcy rolls her shoulder, gritting her teeth at the tug of the muscle. It’s still too bright out to really wear the Lilith suit in public, but once the sun sets— “Matt, you should go back to bed.”

“You’re not going after him alone,” Matt says, and snatches the Daredevil suit away from her before she can hide it. “Remember?”

Fuck her and fuck her promises. “The helmet’s a disaster, you couldn’t hear less than six hours ago, and you could fall over if someone hits you too hard, you shouldn’t be—”

Matt catches her by the back of the neck and kisses her, hard, scratching his teeth into her lip and scorching at the inside of her mouth. Darcy squeaks—holy shit—and then fists one hand up into the fabric of his shirt, scraping. When he lifts his jaw, pulls back, he’s panting, and she’s bit his lip hard enough to make it swell, a threat and a question. She has to work hard to make herself remember how to swallow.

“You can’t kiss me when I argue with you,” she says, hoarse. “That’s not how this works.”

"Not why I'm doing it."

"Don't snipe at me."

He shakes his head. “You can’t go alone.”

“I’ll have Kate with me, you stubborn bastard.” 

Matt tilts and presses another kiss to her mouth, to her cheek, feathering. “I know you will,” he says, “but you’re not going after him alone.”

“Matt—”

“He took both of us down last time,” he says, lips against her skin. “Please, Darcy. Even if he didn’t—even if it was on purpose, even if he didn’t try to kill me, please. I need to—”

He stops. Know, she thinks. He needs to know that she’s not going to die. And yeah, if it were reversed, if she’d been the one shot and Matt the one heading out again, right back up against the guy who did it, she’d be kicking and screaming to come along. She would. Darcy goes up onto her toes, puts her forehead to his cheek, holding on.

“If I didn’t know you as well as I do,” she says, “and if I didn’t know that you know that I would cut you up into tiny pieces and feed you to sewer ‘gators if you tried it, this would feel a hell of a lot like you’re manipulating me into making me go along with your crazy.”

He stills. Then, carefully, he shifts his hands to her hips. “Darcy, that’s not—”

“I know.” Her eyes sting a little. “It’s not—I want you there. I need to—”

I need someone to hold me back, she thinks. She trusts Kate, entirely, but she’s never told Kate about Eli. She’s never told anyone about Eli, about Eli’s father, about the knife and the back door and wondering if tonight was the night she’d finally be brave enough to do it. Not even Foggy knows the whole of it. Just Matt. Only Matt. If anyone can drag her back from wanting to kill someone, it’s Matt.

“You stay back,” Darcy says, in a wet voice. “No stunts. Don’t try to do anything fancy. The instant your head starts swimming, you get out of the way and stay out of it. And for God’s sake, don’t step in front of a gun again.”

He presses his palms to her cheeks, swiping the damp away with his thumbs. “I’ll do my best.”

“You get hurt,” she says, still pressed up into him, “I will actually kill you, Matt Murdock.”

“You keep saying that and you never follow through,” he says, and she bites his lip hard enough to break a scab just for that, because you bastard, don’t tease me about you dying. Then she goes to find something to wear over the top of the suit, because she’s not about to walk out the door without Lilith on her skin.

Darcy’s the one to call Foggy, because if Matt does it Foggy will skip rationality and go into lecture mode, and that’s not something they have time for at the moment. “Cancel the deal,” she says, when Foggy picks up. “Reyes is playing us. She’s going to try and use Grotto as bait to draw out this son of a bitch.”

“Fucking hell,” Foggy says. His voice cracks. “Fucking hell. Is this woman insane?”

“I don’t know, just—go talk to Grotto, tell him to reject the deal, ask for something different. Stall her, I don’t care. I’m not about to let Samantha Reyes put our client in danger because of this crazy fucking plan, no matter what it does to our image with the DA.” She yanks her pants up, fumbles with the zipper. “We’re going to go out and try to track this guy down before she does something else completely reckless and idiotic.”

“By we I’m choosing to believe you mean you and Kate, because I would really like to think that Matt is not being so stupid as to get involved when he should be in the hospital getting an MRI and a fucking psych eval—”

“Thanks, buddy,” Matt says, loud enough that Foggy can hear, and grabs a sweatshirt, pulling it on over the top of his suit. “Appreciate it.”

“You’re welcome,” Foggy snaps. “You’re a jackass.”

“He knows,” Darcy says, and Matt pinches her ribs. “You guys need to keep your heads down and stay out of sight, see if you can get Grotto moved to a safe house Brett knows in the meantime, call every favor you have—”

“No,” Foggy says.

“—it’ll—what?”

“No, I think—” He swallows, audibly. “Darcy, I think we should go along with it.”

Darcy drops her glove. She curses, and fumbles it off the floor. “Foggy, that’s insane, that’s asking for some crazy guy to shoot at you—”

“Like the pair of you don’t do it all the time?” He has the Iron Nelson Voice on. Fucking hell. “You and Kate and Matt are going to do the stupid thing of trying to track this guy down before he gets anywhere near us, and I—I trust you, okay? I trust you to keep him away from us. If we back out on the deal with Reyes right now, she’ll go apeshit, and the whole thing will come out, which, no bueno, we don’t want that happening, not right away—”

“Don’t want Reyes exposed for the Bellatrix Lestrange level insane that she is? Jesus, Foggy—”

“Darcy,” Matt says, “let him finish.”

“Matt—”

“I’m putting you on speaker,” Foggy says. There’s a clatter. “Karen’s nodding a lot.”

She would be. Of course she fucking would be. “Guys, that’s—I don’t want you anywhere near this, neither of us want you anywhere near this—”

“You think we want the pair of you near this either?” Hypocrite. “It’ll work if we do it this way, seriously. We don’t tell Reyes we know. If it goes wrong, yeah, we could get our asses sued, but the same thing would happen if we didn’t know and everything went down like this. It’s a risk I’m willing to take.”

“Grotto will never go for it,” Matt says, and Darcy hits speaker on her end, too, leaving the phone on the coffee table as she eases the sleeve of the Lilith suit over her bandaged arm. “He’s scared shitless as it is.”

“Not if the pair of us are there with him to keep him quiet, he won’t be.” Foggy takes a breath. “We don’t tell Reyes. If it gets anywhere close to her actually sending Grotto out as, you know, bait, then we call it off, but not right away. You guys try to catch up with this bastard before he gets anywhere near. If Reyes is expecting the Punisher, then she’s gonna stick herself into a fucking bunker, way out of his line of fire, we’ll be totally safe. You’ll be the ones out there in his crosshairs—don’t make that I’m going to argue noise, Darcy, don’t you dare!”

“I’ll argue if I think you’re being crazy, Foggy!”

“You said you wanted my help,” Foggy snaps. “Don’t take that back now. It’ll work. Right?”

“It’s a shot, Darcy,” Karen says. Her voice is all high and nervy, but yeah, that’s the Karen Page Has Made Her Mind Up tone, and she is going to kill them, both of them, slowly, beat them up and lock them in cages and not ever let them out of her sight again. “We have a shot this way, and he—this guy needs to be stopped, okay? Whoever he is and whatever started this, he needs to be stopped, and this is a way we could do it without anyone else getting hurt.”

“They’re not wrong,” Matt says, and Darcy nearly shakes him before she remembers the lump on his head. His jaw is set. “Doesn’t mean it’s happening.”

“Don’t be gross, Matt,” says Karen, and at the same time, Foggy says, “You act like a reckless dipshit all the time and you tell us we can’t? The fuck—”

“This is insane, you guys, that’s not something—there are so many ways this could go wrong, we can’t risk that, that’s crazy—

“Darcy.” Karen’s voice muffles, and comes through clear again. “This guy doesn’t shoot the innocent, okay? He has specific targets. He wouldn’t kill us. I don’t think.”

Matt snarls. “Because I don’t think is a guarantee—”

“There’s not really any way either of you can stop us,” Foggy says. “Not unless you call Reyes, and then you get to explain to her how you’re getting sensitive information from inside the DA’s office without breaking a lot of laws, Darcy. Have fun with that one.” Pause. “How did you hear about this, anyway?”

“Ben,” Matt says, and Karen says, “Ah.”

“Let us do this, guys,” Foggy says.

“Let us help,” says Karen.

“Are you both on crack?”

“Matt, seriously, you know it could work.” Foggy coughs. “It could work. We can convince Grotto to go along with it, full disclosure, we’ll manage it—it could work, Matt. It’d get this guy off the street much faster than any crazy-ass plan Reyes has cooked up in the past twenty-four hours—”

“Because a five minute plan is so much better,” says Darcy acidly, but Matt takes the phone from her before she can hang up.

“We call you thirty minutes before Grotto gets sent out,” Matt says. “He’s going out at ten, we call you at nine-thirty. If we haven’t found anything, Foggy, call it off.”

“Matt—”

“They’re going to do it whether we tell them no or not, Darcy. This way at least we can make sure they get out before anything bad happens.”

“We don’t know what this guy is going to do!”

“Which is why we catch up to him before he has a chance to do it.”

“Matt—”

“Thirty minutes, Foggy.”

“Ten,” Foggy says. “If it gets down to the wire I can say Tower was twitchy and it made me suspicious or something, makes it easier to convince her how I know.”

Jesus Christ,” Darcy says, and drops down hard onto the couch. “Matt—”

“We can’t stop them, Darcy, Foggy’s right.” He could be pulling out his own molars saying it, judging by the look on his face. “If Reyes blows the deal herself then we can sue her for reckless endangerment—”

“She could turn that right back around on us if it comes out we knew beforehand! Not to mention the fact that this is actually, literally insane—”

“Not if we move fast enough to track him down before he gets anywhere close.” Matt shakes his head. “If Grotto’s out of police custody for a minute then he’s dead. Safest place they can be is in the middle of whatever SWAT team that Reyes has pulled to keep herself safe.”

That, at least, is true, but— “This guy takes down dozens of mobsters all at once, all on his own, a SWAT team isn’t going to make much difference—”

“The Punisher seems to have a code, whoever he is, he doesn’t hurt anyone outside of the gangs.”

“He shot you!”

“He didn’t kill me,” Matt says, and fire leaps up her throat. “He could have and he didn’t, Darcy. He could have killed you and he didn’t. That means something, it has to—”

“You do a lot of reckless shit, Matt, but this—”

“We’re doing it, Darcy,” says the phone. She can’t tell if it’s Karen or Foggy. “You remember what you said? You risk yourself. We’re risking ourselves. Our choice, Darcy.”

That part, at least, was Karen. Darcy hides her face in her hands, and breathes. Matt says, “Half an hour, Foggy. Nine-thirty. You don’t hear that we have him by then, then you call it off.”

“Fine,” Foggy says, and hangs up.

She has to take a few minutes. When she finally lifts her head, Matt’s fully in uniform, aside from his gloves (which are hidden, she thinks, in his hoodie pocket) and the helmet, which will probably go in her bag. “I don’t know when we switched roles,” she says, “but this is very uncomfortable for me.”

He gives her the phone back. “We’ll catch up before he gets to them, Darcy.”

“We’d better,” Darcy says. “I don’t want to think about what’ll happen if we don’t.”

His lips thin out. Matt says nothing. When they leave the apartment, it’s through the front door, hands looped together to hide the way Darcy’s fingers are shaking.

Kate volunteers to go and watch the bunker. Edgar Brass apparently haunts—used to haunt—any number of wrecked buildings still leftover from the disasters of May 2012, and buildings slated for demolition offer a multitude of cubby holes she can tuck herself into and keep an eye on things without being seen.  “I’m a Hawkeye, remember? I’m good at watching. Unless you want me along tracking down the Pistol Packin’ Mama, but I’m not entirely sure that three people wandering around in hoodies in the middle of summer is going to do anything other than make people think that we’re trying to shoplift.” She spins her bow, not around in a circle but snapping it back and forth, so the string presses to the back of her hand, then the inside of her wrist, then the back of her hand again. “Really, though, Katie needs to shoot something.”

“Don’t shoot Reyes, Kate,” Darcy says. “Wouldn’t be good for your image.”

“Technically it’s Clint’s image, and he fucks it up well enough on his own.” She tips her glasses down her nose. “I can shoot her anyway if you want me to. I might, if she does something stupid.”

“Don’t tempt me.”

She snorts, and trots off without any guarantees. Which is Kate, so Darcy isn’t particularly worried. Not more than usual, anyway.

The Burren Club on 47th and 10th looks like something out of Saving Private Ryan, a wreck of shattered glass and punctured walls. The bodies have been carted away, couldn’t have been there for more than a few hours, so she really must be imagining the smell in the air, something hanging thick and heavy, traces of meat and blood and whiskey. Shards of the window crunch under her shoes. “He wouldn’t come back here,” she says in a low voice, as Matt pushes his hands into his pockets to keep himself from touching things. “He’s finished here. I might not be a psychologist, but I don’t think this guy likes to come and gloat over his old battles.”

Matt shakes his head. “Not very sentimental, no.”

Darcy steps over another piece of fractured glass. There are photos on the walls, some of them laced through with bullet holes. Mostly of men, one or two with female bartenders alongside them. An Irish flag hangs from the ceiling, tattered and stained. There’s one framed poster, a stylized harp and curling letters. Éirinn go Brách. “These guys liked their mother country, that’s for sure.”

“Kitchen Irish families tend to.” Matt crouches, and draws something out from under the table, a pen. He tucks it in his pocket. “I think half the people in my dad’s old apartment complex were Brannigans or O’Reardons. On St. Patrick’s Day the whole building would go nuts.”

“Are you telling me you could have been an Irish mobster?”

“My dad would’ve killed me,” Matt says.  “An té a luíonn le madaí, eiroidh sé le dearnaid.”

“The fuck?”

“Basically, lie down with dogs, get up with fleas.” He taps his fingertips to the floor. “There’s a hollow space under here. Weapons and drugs. Surprised the police haven’t found it yet.”

“I’m more interested in the fact that you can, apparently, speak Gaelic, and I have never heard you do that before. I mean, I knew you were Irish, but like—what the fuck, Matt, you tell people things like that.”

“That’s about all I know, other than cheers and some insults that my dad would never translate. My grandmother would cuss him out in it sometimes.”

So basically equivalent to her sparing, scattered memories of Russian cursewords and a few key phrases. Like, this borscht is shit. “Ah.”

He sways back up to his feet. “Speaking of fleas, there was a dog in here somewhere. Not here anymore.”

“Cops would have taken it away, if it survived.”

“Maybe.” Matt skirts a pool of blood. “This way.”

There’s a tie pin on the bar counter. Darcy glances back at the door, at the crime scene, do not cross tape, and then slips the thing into her bag and follows.

The back way in is part-garage, part-kennel, part-chopshop. Motor oil and wet dog. There’s an empty cage in the corner, a chain driven deep into the wall with a clip at the end to keep an animal. Blood on the floor, smearing dark over the concrete. Another taped-out silhouette of a dead body. Darcy rests her gloved fingers to the top of one of the tables, where a dead welding torch angles over a half-finished steel project. It might have been some kind of shelving thing, maybe. “I’m honestly not sure there’s anything here for us to find.”

“It’s the only place he’s been we know for sure that hasn’t been set on fire or filled up with angry bikers.” Other than that rooftop on 10th, down by the hospital, but she doesn’t particularly want to revisit that, and she’s not sure Matt does either. “If there’s a trail to pick up, it has to be here.”

“We hope.” Dear Punisher: Please step in a pool of blood so we can follow your footprints. It’d make things easier. She flips open a notebook on the table, pages through it. Names and dates and money. A bookie’s record.  “I think they were dogfighting,” she says, and turns another page. “These aren’t names I would give humans. Unless there are actually people in this world who would willingly name their child Ripper or Star Destroyer. Wait, Star Destroyer? Star Destroyer.” She frowns. “There’s a Boba Fett on this list too. I dislike the idea that animal abusers can also enjoy Star Wars. In fact, I reject it entirely.”

“Seems like a sound strategy.” He cocks his head, listening. “More heroin in a wall-safe.”

“Wanna crack that sucker and sell it? It’d pay off our debts.”

Matt snorts, and touches the ground again, searching. “There would have been a guard out here. He wasn’t shot, the gunpowder isn’t fresh enough. Strangled, stabbed maybe. Not enough blood for the second one, but there could have been a tarp that’s been taken away.”

Darcy has his knife, so she’s really hoping it wasn’t a stabbing. There are phone numbers in the back of the bookie’s record, names. She takes a photo of it with her phone. All likelihood, a lot of these guys are dead by now, but there’s no point in not checking into it. There’s a special kind of hell, she thinks, for people who make animals kill each other for fun. “Like I trust your nose right now. What the fuck happened in Josie’s, anyway? Grotto was actually covered in blood, how did you not notice that?”

“You know how many gangsters were in there in bloody jackets? Not to mention the weather and the number of people and the alcohol. Someone spilled a full thing of vodka the next table over, and it was pretty powerful.”

“If you say so.” Darcy pads over to stand by his shoulder, peering at the ground. “What are you looking for, anyway?”

“There’s fresh blood here,” he says, and taps his index finger to the concrete.

“There also used to be a dog there that they were using for dogfighting, the poor thing was probably scared out of its mind and bit one of the handlers.”

“When Foggy and I were here last night I didn’t hear anyone say anything about a dog.”

“So they took it away before you showed up.” The spatter pattern’s angled, oddly, though she’s still reading about forensic science; she doesn’t have the pathology degree to know what degree of impact the thing had. “You think this guy has enough of a heart to rescue the Brannigans’ dog?”

“You talked to him, I didn’t. What do you think?”

Stay out of the way.

(Bang.)

“I don’t know what to think anymore,” she says.

Matt turns his face up to hers for a moment. In the dark, she can’t really make him out, just shadows in more shadows. He wets his lips, and focuses on the floor again. “Could there be a connection?”

“Between the dog and the Punisher?”

“Between him,” Matt says, “and us.”

Darcy stills. The baton feels cold in her hand when she twists her fingers around it, pressing her thumb into the pliant rubber of the grip. “You mean, like—he’s doing this to get our attention? Because I feel like if that were the case he would have left little notes for us. Haikus could be good, just bang written over again with the last line being die, Daredevil and Lilith. Or maybe couplets. So long as wood can burn or men can die; so long I kill, and hope to make thee rage-quit with a sigh.

His mouth twitches. “You’re butchering Shakespeare now?”

“Made you laugh, didn’t it?” Her palm is slick with sweat. “What are you thinking? What kind of connection could he have with us?”

“Karen said something.” He stands, drifts over closer to the garage door, and crouches again. “More blood, here.”

“Did Karen come over?”

“No, just—when she called to talk about the witpro agreement, she said something.” He touches his fingers to it, and grimaces. “Tacky, still. Humidity’s keeping it from drying all the way out.”

“Gross,” says Darcy. “What did Karen say?”

“Trail leads off this way.” He stands, and lifts the crime scene tape, letting her pass before ducking under it and stepping away. “Karen thinks that—I don’t know exactly how she said it. But with everything we’ve done, everything we’ve been doing, we—we opened a door to something that we might not be able to stop. That the Punisher looked at us, and decided that he could do things like this, because of our example. That this is our fault.”

Christ. The nausea’s come right back, sure enough. It makes, she thinks, a sick kind of sense, that other people would follow their example. Other people have followed their example. But this one, this one man—Christ. “I don’t think she meant to throw blame anywhere, Matt. That doesn’t sound like Karen.”

“Wouldn’t it be, though?” In his hood, in the dark, she can’t make out his face, only the way his lips have twisted, curling up into a knot. “Brett talked about it too, a little, but—but what we’ve done, what we’ve accomplished, it does open a kind of door. What the Punisher is doing is a fundamental misinterpretation of what Daredevil and Lilith want, of what we’re trying to do, but—but isn’t there a theme, there? Some kind of connection?”

“You know it’s not the first time that that’s happened.” She spins the baton, and puts it back into her bag. Her fingers brush over the hilt of the drop point knife. “There are the Devil Worshippers, Lilith’s Whores. They—regular people who take some kind of inspiration from us, try to go out and do it themselves. If that is what the Punisher’s doing, then it wouldn’t be the first time.”

“But it’s the first time that people have died like this,” Matt says. “It’s the first time that it’s happened on a scale like this. This guy isn’t just some kid beating up a mugger, he’s trained, he has tactics—”

“What he decided to do doesn’t get laid at our feet, Matt. It doesn’t.” 

She’s not sure he hears it. She’s not sure she hears it, really. The words are sour. It’s not our fault, it can’t be our fault, but would this guy have even considered taking lives and guns into his own hands if not for the fact that Lilith and Daredevil exist? That they wander out every night to beat the living shit out of the people who were trying, are trying, still trying to ruin whatever good is left in this fucking city? If they’d never existed, would the Punisher have happened at all? Sometimes, she thinks, it’s hard to see the good through the shit that they wade through, all the things that come forward past midnight, the cruelty, the brutality. The depths to which people can sink. You can just keep digging deeper, Matt had said after Gao, and yeah, you can just keep sinking. They keep cycling back to that one question, that one, stupid question of blame. Can you take responsibility for what happens in the name of an idea that you’ve been trying to protect?

There’s a story about that, she thinks. Student protesters in Nazi Germany, caught and executed. A dream before the day they died. The idea will survive us, and succeed, despite all pitfalls and obstacles. They’d been fighting for freedom. Is that even comparable to this?

“People make their own choices.” Darcy shifts her bag over her shoulder. “People are always gonna make their own choices. If we set an example, then yeah, maybe someone actually insane will follow it. But that doesn’t make what this bastard is doing anything close to our fault, Matt. Our responsibility, maybe. Something we need to handle. But not our fault.”

“Yeah,” Matt says. “Maybe. Maybe not.”

The blood trail ends. Or it skitters, back and forth, taking them in circles all over Hell’s Kitchen. Throw someone off the trail, she thinks, or maybe fade into the background, wandering around with no purpose, trying to see if anyone was following him. They lose it three times, once at 43rd and 10th, again on 44th and 11th, and then again on 41st and 9th when they have to duck out of the way of a squad car cruising near the Port Authority Bus Terminal. Interesting place to hide, the bus terminal, because yeah, it means a quick getaway, but it’s also one of the first places the cops will go if they think someone’s trying to make a break for it on public transit. The sun’s set. Nearly nine, now. They’re running out of time. “Anything?”

He lifts his chin. “That building, I think. Blood near the stoop.”

“There’s a keypad on the door.” She presses her back to the wall. The fire escape is too far up off the ground to reach, even if Matt jumps, and it looks like the ladder’s locked into place anyway. Of all the places for the fire escape to be properly maintained. “What do you want to do? There are bars on all the windows, can’t get in that way.”

“Did you never do this as a kid?” Matt says, and smacks a few of the intercom buttons. Darcy bites back a yelp.

“What the fuck—

What,” says a voice from the speaker. A guy, she thinks, raspy like he smokes a pack a day. “I don’t want to hear the word of Jesus again, Benny.”

“Sorry to bug you,” Matt says. “Just— I just moved in, I forgot my combination on the dining table, can you do me a favor and let me up?”

There’s a moment of silence. “Are you fucking stupid, man?”

“Kind of,” Matt says. “Occasionally, yeah.”

“Jesus,” says the voice, and then the door buzzes open. Matt knocks his shoulder into it, and dips his head into a little bow as she passes him on the way into the stained, grimy foyer. He lifts his eyebrows in a silent, well?

“Hey, I grew up in Georgia, dude. My breaking and entering was limited to throwing bricks through windows to unlock doors.”

That is definitely a smirk on his mouth. Matt tugs the sleeve of her sweatshirt—it’s not a kiss, because she’s pretty sure it’d be a bad idea to do that half in costume—but it’s close enough to make her smile. “Blood goes up the stairs.”

“The elevator’s out,” she says. “So it would.”

The Punisher lives on the fourth floor at the end of the hall, no name above the buzzer, a torn carpet at the threshold. The door’s locked, but the hinges are flimsy, and no one’s on this floor anyway. Matt snaps it open with two sharp kicks, and sure enough, there’s a sudden, snarling bark, a rush of movement and the crack of a leash pulling taut. “Ah.”

“He doesn’t look like a Star Destroyer,” Darcy says from the hall. She’s mostly getting flashes of grey fur and yellow teeth, but the point stands. “I may have to give them Ripper, though.”

The blood quite arguably could have come from the dog. Once they get him calmed down enough to settle (actually calm enough to let her touch him, which is both fascinating and terrifying, considering there’s crusted blood on his mouth) she can see all the bandages, the marks from old fights. “Hey,” Darcy says, in a very quiet voice. When she reaches out, the dog flinches back, and snaps. “Hey, baby, what have they done to you, huh?”

“Jesus,” Matt says, and shuts the door behind him. It creaks open again as soon as he steps away. “It’s an armory.”

Cans on the table. Guns propped in boxes against the wall. Even a communications rig from a cop car, and holy shit, she’s not sure how someone would be able to get their hands on that without a lot of finagling and possibly bloodshed. Holy shit. She doesn’t crouch down, not within range, but she does offer her hand again, and when the dog doesn’t lunge at her, Darcy creeps closer. “Where do you even get this crap? It all looks military.”

“Black market, maybe. Back counters, back alleys.” He reaches out, and stops an inch away from one of the cans. “Jesus,” Matt says again, much quieter and fiercer this time. “There are grenades in the box at the back.”

Fucking hell. She strokes her hand down the dog’s neck. The longer she stands near him, the quieter he gets, until he just starts watching her with his tongue between his teeth, observing. She folds his good ear through her fingers, experimentally. “He seems to have a system. Set things up in a grid. If things are missing, he could have gone to hit another gang.”

“Or he could have gone after Grotto.”

“Don’t remind me.” The dog knocks into her leg. Darcy puts her hand to the top of his head, scuffing the edge of the bandages. “I don’t think this guy was very good at the fight scene.”

“They still used him as a guard dog, so watch your fingers.”

It’s not like she’s going to bend down and stick her face near any of the teeth. She scrapes at the dog’s head with her nails, scratching a little. “What do you think?”

“He might already be at the ambush site.” Matt rubs at his jaw again, pressing his fingers into the back of his neck. “He’ll have to come back here eventually.”

“He might not before they send Grotto out.”

“We have half an hour left, still.” He snags one of the cans. It’s a pull-activation, she thinks. Yank the cord, run like hell. Or send smoke up like a fucking beacon, either way. “The trail ends here, it doesn’t go back out. He either patched himself up or stopped bleeding, and either way it means he could be anywhere in the city by now.”

“Want to go back to the Burren Club, see if we can find something else?”

“Don’t think there’s anything else to find.”

At the far end of the hallway, someone drops a bag of groceries, and swears. Darcy pushes the door shut before anyone else can see the freaking—is this what the inside of a terrorist cell looks like, all this shit? Is this what it looked like in Timothy McVeigh’s house after the Oklahoma City bombing? Christopher Dorner and the LAPD shootings? (They sound so white, Christ.) It’s like she’s stepped into a movie set. Chemicals sting in her nose. She keeps her back to the door, just to make sure it stays closed. “I don’t think this guy is stupid enough to just walk right into a trap.”

The rig buzzes again. Reyes. Matt’s mouth contorts, and he lets his hand rest to the back of the machine, listening. “Hear anything from Kate?”

“She says no movement. The cops have all set up in their own sniper positions. If he is on his way there, he’s somewhere they don’t have eyes.” Not particularly encouraging. “You think he’s been there the whole time?”

“The stuff in here—” Matt pulls on a glove, starts flipping through channels on the rig. “This guy plans. He won’t expose himself until he needs to, until he’s certain he has the shot.”

“Walking into a hospital with a shotgun and a sniper rifle doesn’t seem much like planning to me.”

“Nobody there was supposed to put up a fight. We took him by surprise. He’ll have accommodated for that, this time, he’ll have distractions in place, he won’t have—”  

“Wait, wait wait wait, go back one.” Darcy steps away from the door, and the leash scrapes across the floor when the dog tries to follow her. Which, ow, her heart. “Go back a channel, Matt, go back, I thought I heard—”

“—possible 10-33 at four-four and one-two, shots fired, all available units—”

“Ten-thirty-three, what’s a ten-thirty-three?”

“Explosion,” Matt says. “Shh.”

“—repeat, garage at four-four and one-two—”

“Garage at 44th and 12th,” Darcy says. “An explosion at a garage at 44th and 12th. Isn’t that in Dogs of Hell territory?”

Matt’s white around the mouth. “That’s the red herring.” 

“Ah, shit,” Darcy says. “We’re going to have to run, aren’t we.”

Ripper dusts his tail over the floor.

.

.

.

“This is fucking crazy,” Grotto says again. “The pair of you are crazy.

“Don’t back out on me now, Grotto.” At least he had the sense to wait to say it until Jen, Reyes, and Tower were out of the room. Karen yanks down hard on the button-down, trying to adjust it over the wire. “It’s the only way any of us can think to catch this guy.”

“I’d prefer not to die.” There’s sweat on his temples, along the column of his throat. “You know, just for further reference. It’s come way too close in the past couple of days.”

“You’re not going to die.” She fixes the shirt again, and steps away. “There are dozens of trained, armed men out there who are waiting to hit this guy with everything they have, and as soon as you get into the shipping container, they’ll have someone waiting for you. All you have to do is stand there, and call for Brass like he thinks you’re gonna, and then you can get out of sight. The next thing you know, you’ll be on a plane out to Florida with a new pair of swimming trunks.”

“Yeah, and what if he shoots me in the head the instant I step out that door?”

“He won’t.”

Grotto scowls at her. “You can’t know that, sweetheart.”

“Just sit there and be quiet.” Karen pushes him back onto a stool. “It’s a waiting game, now. They said Brass was supposed to show up at ten, so we wait until ten. Okay?”

“Fucking crazy,” Grotto says again, but at least he shuts up. He folds his arms over his chest and hunches, a kid trying to protect his balls from a bully, but he shuts up, and Karen moves away from him just as the door opens for Reyes, Tower, and Jen to trail back into the room. Jen looks like Karen feels, she thinks—sick to her stomach, scared out of her wits, and really, really pissed.

“They were arguing,” Foggy says in a low voice. Karen drops down into the chair next to him, turning her face so Tower can’t make out her expression. “I could hear Jen getting shouted down. Nothing in detail, but she didn’t sound happy.”

“You think she’s mad about this?”

“You live with her, Karen, what do you think?” He pushes his hair out of his eyes. He needs a haircut, Karen thinks fondly. He’s been letting it slide. “Jen’s as straight an arrow as you can get. Bullshit like this would give her an ulcer.”

It’s nine-twenty. Ten minutes until the deadline. Reyes settles into her rolling chair like a queen into a throne, fixing a headset over her hair. She doesn’t look at either of them. Jen keeps darting little glances at them, though, settled with her arms wound tight over her chest and her legs crossed, knotting herself up like an old oak.

“Anything?” Foggy says out of the corner of his mouth.

Karen shakes her head minutely, and peers over Foggy’s shoulder. The surveillance cameras have been up for an hour, ostensibly to let them know when the late, unlamented Edgar Brass showed up a la A Christmas Carol; nothing’s moved since the thing flickered on at about eight-thirty.

“We have incoming,” says Reyes, all of a sudden. Something cool and thin slips between Karen’s ribs, pricks into her lungs. “Brass.”

What? But

Grotto doesn’t squawk. She half-expects him to, but he doesn’t. “I thought he wasn’t supposed to show up until ten. That’s when I said in the message, ‘s when I told him to show.”

“Yeah, well, apparently the guy’s a little eager to hear from you.” Reyes cuts her eyes from his head to his feet. “Can’t imagine why.”

“Look, lady, I’m helping you, least you can do is not be an ass about it.”

Foggy seizes her wrist. “Karen, they don’t—”

“Don’t what, Mr. Nelson?” Tower blinks slowly at them, like a tortoise. Or a cobra, she thinks. Slow and steady, searching for a weakness. Foggy puts on a smile that she can only remember seeing him use in Landman and Zack, months and months ago. At the same time, under the table, Karen texts Darcy. SOS, going out early.

“Nothing in particular.”

Across the table, Jen’s eyes narrow, and flick between Karen and Foggy. Karen gets to her feet. “Come on, Grotto. You’ll be fine, remember?”

“Kiss for good luck?” Grotto says, and she flips him off. She’s only half-listening.

Where the hell are you guys?

Her phone is silent and still in her hand.

.

.

.

From start to finish, this case has been an absolute fucking disaster, and she’s really, really wishing they’d just minded their own business and let Grotto faint at Josie’s bar without working up the nerve to talk to them about the whole damn circumstance.

(Of course she doesn’t wish that. Grotto needed help. More than that, someone needed to look into this, especially when the DA keeps dropping the ball. But Jesus Christ, she’s been on her feet for two days straight now and now she’s climbing up onto a rooftop that in all likelihood is being watched by police snipers, she’s not particularly happy and she is allowed to be upset about it, okay?)

Kate’s waiting for them at the edge of one of the empty buildings, her bow strung, an arrow nocked. “No movement on the perimeter, but the cops are getting antsy. I think they’re gearing up for something.”

Kate’s glow-in-the-dark watch reads 9:24. Darcy swallows. “You think they heard about the garage?”

“What garage?”

“Exactly,” Darcy says. “What do you think?”

“Circle around the back.” The zig-zagging crack down the Daredevil helmet makes her stomach cramp up. Like lightning, she thinks. Like a scar. Hey, Harry Potter, and there should not be hysterical giggles bubbling up right now, that’s really not something she needs. “He’s probably going to try and sneak in through a hole in their monitoring. We’ll need to split up. Hawkeye—”

“I’ll take east,” Kate says, and presses comm buds into Darcy’s hand, buds and receivers alike. The receivers are little adhesive clingers, something that Kate had called a subvocal-transmitter-whatever-thing. She tugs down the collar of her suit, and sticks one of them to her throat. “Meet up two blocks over on the building with the Verizon Wireless store when you’re finished.”

“Fine.” Darcy hooks the thing into her ear.  “Be careful.

“Please,” Kate says. Then she settles on the window-sill, knocks an arrow, and fires. In the next second, she’s gone, swarming up the outside of the building like a spider, the rope hitching itself up behind her. The shit Clint teaches her, I swear to God. Matt turns to her, frowning.

“We’re not splitting up,” Darcy snaps. “That’s not happening.”

“It has to, we don’t have time to argue about it—” 

“M—no. Not after what happened earlier, not—”

“Lilith—”

“I told you, no. I’m not risking that.”

Matt opens his mouth, and stops. His head tips. “Incoming,” he says. She can’t see anything, when she looks out the window, but she trusts him. If Matt says there’s incoming, there’s incoming. He snags her wrist with one hand.

“We don’t have time,” he says again. “He could be anywhere and you know it. We don’t split up, we could lose him.”

And if they lose him, then that means Foggy and Karen could get caught in the crossfire. If they lose him, it could take days or weeks or months to find him again, and more people will die, and that’s more responsibility, that’s more weight on both of them, and they can’t let that happen. They can’t let that happen. Darcy screeches between her teeth. “I hate you sometimes.”

“You don’t.”

“You keep pissing me off, we’ll see how it goes.” She twists her hand around, squeezes his arm hard enough to shift the bones. “You go west, I’ll go south.”

Matt’s lips thin out. He curls his fingers around her wrist, just for a moment. Then he’s gone, taking the stairs up to the roof two at a time, way too fast for her to feel anything other than nauseous. Darcy shifts her grip on the baton, and darts for the southern stairwell.

There are cops on her part of the roof. Of course there are cops on her part of the roof. She avoids the first two just by slinking behind them, careful to keep her boots from clicking on the concrete. The third guy, though, she has to whack in the back of the head—which she would feel more bad about, she thinks, if it weren’t for the fact that he had been sighting down his scope at Kate at the time. “There’s another one you owe me, Hawkeye,” she says, half under her breath, and through the comms Kate crackles a little.

“Please.”

“Vehicle coming in,” says Matt. Or Daredevil, she thinks. It’s Daredevil this time, rasping and deep. “North-east side.”

She doesn’t turn to look. Darcy swings herself over the edge of the building, and drops, seven feet down to the next one. The ankle that Jarhead had swept out from under her nearly caves. “Fuck.”

Matt’s voice snaps through the comms. “Okay?”

“I’m fine, pay attention to your own bullshit.”

There’s another cop on this rooftop, and there’s no way she’s going to get past him, not this time. The roof is bare except for the access door on the far side, and the walls, and she is not about to swing herself over the side and skitter along like Ezio fucking Auditore. She twirls her baton, once, twice, and flies at him, dropping at the last possible second to skid along the roof and hook the baton against his legs. He drops, yipping like a terrier, and hits the ground hard enough to actually rattle. Darcy snaps up to her feet, and presses the tip of her baton into his throat.

“I don’t want to hurt you,” she says. “So I’d keep your mouth shut.”

The guy looks at her with huge eyes, and gropes for the second gun he has on his belt. He’s a cop, she thinks. She shouldn’t want to brain a cop. She whacks her baton over his helmet, and takes the edge of the roof at a run.

Down below is chaos. The team Reyes brought in is crawling all over the crashed semi, whipping around, shouting at each other. Nothing here. Check in back. Flames and yelling and Foggy, Karen, where are they, if they’re not inside I swear to god I’m gonna kill them. “Nothing on south.”

“Nothing to the west,” Daredevil says.

“I have him,” Kate says. “On the water tower. He hasn’t seen me. I can take out his rifle.”

“Don’t.” It’s Matt, not Darcy. Darcy can’t find the words. Do it, she thinks. Take the shot, kill him, which is not what Kate meant but it’s what she wants, to watch him fall, to carve him apart, but if he didn’t actually try to kill us, if he’s only after particular people, then why do I still— “You miss, and he’ll bolt. We can’t lose him.”

“I don’t miss,” Kate snaps. “I can do it, Daredevil.”

“And if you do knock it out of his hands then the whole place starts shooting.” Matt hisses through his teeth. “I’m closest. Give me three minutes to get him down. Meet me at the base.”

“Don’t you dare,” Darcy says, but Daredevil’s gone silent. When she bolts to the edge of the building, she can see a dark figure slinging itself up the edge of the water tower, up and up and up. There’s a man standing on the roof, a sniper rifle to his cheek. “Wait, goddamn you—Hawkeye, take the shot!”

“Don’t do it, Hawkeye—”

Take the fucking shot!”

“Lilith, look out!” Kate shouts, and a fist lands hard against Darcy’s jaw. She hits the ground and rolls, back, out of reach. Blood flecks on the rooftop. Down on the ground, people are swarming. Matt. Matt and Foggy and Karen and Kate, and a woman standing on the rooftop, dressed in black, her hair twisted up into a ponytail and a mask pulled high up over her nose. Her gloved hands are curled into fists.

“You have to be kidding me right now,” Darcy says. “You could not have picked a worse time for this.”

Kudos to her, the woman in the mask doesn’t say a word. She just lunges.

She’s balletic. This isn’t Jarhead and his constant, overwhelming bulldozer of brutality; this is a woman on her toes, back and forth, little stinging jabs, acrobatic whirls. This is something she can fight. Kate’s shouting in her ear, but Darcy can’t make out the words; she has her baton, and the woman’s bare-handed, and this is a style she knows, this is a person who isn’t a fucking machine, and I can fight this. I have to win this. Matt’s being an idiot (you promised me, goddamn you, you promised me) and she has to go make sure he doesn’t get himself nearly killed, again, for the second time in twenty-four hours. Darcy whips the baton into the woman’s ribs and she goes into a one-handed cartwheel to take the sting off. A gymnast and acrobat and a fucking ninja, Jesus, I didn’t even hear her coming

She’s strong, for her weight and her size and her stature. When she drives a fist into Darcy’s side, it almost knocks the breath out of her. Above the mask, the woman’s eyes crinkle. She’s close enough that when she blinks, Darcy can almost see her eyelashes lacing together. Over her shoulder, Matt and Jarhead have vanished from sight.

“Not as good as I heard,” she says.

“It’s been a long day.” Darcy rocks back and forth on her feet. No sign of Matt, no sign of Jarhead, no sign of Kate. “Did I step on your toes on a subway platform or are you with Yosemite Sam over there?”

“Who?” says the woman, and drops. Darcy just barely manages to skip back out of the way of the sweep. Side to side and back up again, and she’s faster this time, her strikes are harder, smoother, like she’s shaken off some kind of weight or hesitation and shit, that’s a knife

The blade screeches over the metal coating of the baton. Which is very not friendly of Miss Ninja, first of all, and also a terrible sound. The woman slashes at her again, and again, and the third time Darcy snags her wrist and twists it backwards, angling, forcing it out of her hand. When she hits the button on the baton, it jabs forward into Miss Ninja’s ribs, and knocks the breath out of her. “Back,” Kate snaps, and Darcy leaps away before an arrow sprouts from the concrete, two. Then the guns go off, and she drops. The police have caught on to the fact that they have two vigilante fights going on in the same hundred yard radius. Bullets ping off the edge of the roof. Miss Ninja hisses between her teeth, and then slings herself over the edge of the roof, arching like someone leaping over a balance beam. By the time Darcy looks over the edge after her, she’s gone.

“Jesus, I can’t take you anywhere,” Kate pants into the comms. “I’m coming over there; I think Daredevil and Sniper Boy fell through a window, I can’t see them anywhere.”

No, not again, not again, Jesus Christ— “Go help him, not me—”

“He’s not the one in the middle of a war zone right now,” Kate snaps, and Darcy shuts up. Another arrow lands hard in the rooftop, and starts to smoke. “Cover your nose and get out of sight, go, go go go—”

The access door is blocked. There is, however, a window even with her rooftop, maybe four feet between the buildings. Oh my god, am I actually—oh my god. Darcy presses her hand to her nose and mouth, trying to breathe through the smoke. She paces in a tight circle, heart in her throat. Then she backs up, three bouncing steps, and bolts for the edge, because I hate heights, I hate heights, I really, really, really hate heights and if I actually think about what I’m doing I’m going to throw up because oh God oh God oh God

She jumps. There’s a single, surging, terrifying moment of weightlessness. Then she hits the glass hard, shattering it inwards. She turns her face, but a shard still streaks a cut over her cheek. Darcy hits the ground and rolls, keeps on running. “Daredevil, can you hear me?”

No answer.

“Where were they?” She seizes the railing, and whips herself down into the emergency stairwell. “Hawkeye, what building?”

“The cops are crawling all over it, Lilith, you can’t go there—”

What building?”

“Lilith—”

“Not sure you can hear this,” says a voice, and Darcy stops dead, skidding, nearly tripping over her shoes and tumbling right down a full flight of stairs. It’s caverns and dripping caves and stone, hoarse and regulated and raw, and Jesus fucking Christ. “Haven’t seen one of these in a while. Sub-vocal comm, high-end but not military. But it’s here, which means somebody’s gotta be listening, right?”

“Jesus,” says Kate, but Darcy shushes her.

“This is Cat,” says Jarhead. “Isn’t it? We met at the hospital. Relax; if there is an audio receiver rattling around in this bike helmet somewhere, then I don’t care enough to go check. Not like he can hear you right now, anyway. He’s gonna sleep for a while longer.” Pause. “Must be having one hell of a headache.”

“Lilith—”

“Be quiet, Hawkeye.”

“Me and Red, we need to have a talk.” There’s a thunk, like he’s dropped from some height, a clatter of weight and movement. “And you and me, too, to be honest, the three of us, we all need to have a bit of a reconnoiter, y’know. A nice chat. What I’m thinking is, this little transmitter, ‘snot big enough to have any kind of tracking system, so, here’s the plan: when Red here starts looking like he’s gonna open his eyes up again, I’ll give you a holler on this thing. And then the three of us—the three of us, Cat, not your little birdy friend, not anyone else you can scrounge up out of nowhere, just you, me, and Headache Red—we can have our little heart-to-heart.”

She can’t answer. There’s no way to answer. She can hear Jarhead breathing. Then there’s a click, and silence. She thinks he might have put the transmitter inside of something. There are noises, but they’re muffled, echoey, too faint to make out detail. Little rattles and bangs. Kate swallows, audibly.

“Darcy,” she says. Darcy should be shouting at her, for using real names over comms, but she can’t find the words. “Darcy, what do we do?”

She’s cold.

Chapter Text

“I think,” Foggy says, “that I might be sick.”

Even compared to last night, the hospital is actually nearly overflowing with people. ‘Bangers, she thinks, for the most part, watching a guy handcuffed to a rolling stretcher rattle by, cursing out his nurses. Grotto’s back in the hospital, because like an idiot, he’d managed to pop all his stitches trying to run away from all the shit that went down in the yard. The only reason he’s still in their custody is because Karen had managed to catch up with him and talk him down from bolting off into the night, no thanks to Reyes and her Supreme Mishandling of Extraordinary Bullshit. He’s still cuffed to his own little hospital bed, because “like hell are you keeping me in here again, get me out of the fucking hospital, he walked right in last time—” but at least he’s, you know. Here. And alive.

More than I can say for Matt.

(He said he was going to call when Matt woke up, he’s alive, Jarhead’s not gonna kill him, not yet, you have to remember that—)

“Don’t be sick on me,” Kate says, and hands Foggy a paper cup of coffee. The waiting room is cramped and awful and smells like smoke, and she wants to curl into a ball and scream. Christ. Darcy draws her knees up against her chest, and nearly hides her face in them. Karen touches a hand to her back, and pets at her, awkwardly. She has to fight the urge to bare her teeth and snap at Karen’s fingers. “You throw up on the floor they’re gonna throw you into the ER too and I don’t think you want to be in there right now.”

“Yeah, no, I can do without that.” Foggy makes a face at the coffee, and then says, “But seriously, I think I’m gonna be sick.”

“We’re not talking about this here,” Karen says.

"I didn’t say anything.” Foggy shuts up when a nurse goes by, staring at her clipboards and cursing under her breath. “Should the pair of you even be here after what happened last night? Don’t you think one of the nurses will recognize you?”

(Bang. It won’t get out of her head. Bang.)

“This is the ER, not the ICU.” It’s the first thing Darcy’s been able to say in an hour, and it makes Kate stop in the middle of her swallow of coffee, watching over the rim of her cup with the same cool steadiness of a sniper. “And they’ve seen a million faces in here today. Nobody will care.”

“That’s true, but—”

Karen reaches behind Darcy’s back, and touches her fingertips to Foggy’s shoulder. He closes his mouth, and goes quiet. It’s too close in here, too loud. She wants to be outside, listening to the city, moving, running. I’ll give you a holler, Jarhead had said. It’s been an hour. If Matt hasn’t woken up yet, how long is it going to take? She touches her fingers to the bud in her ear, and shuts her eyes. “Nobody cares,” she says again, and clambers off the chair. “I’m going to the bathroom.”

“Want me to come?” Kate says, lightly, but there’s a hawkish look on her face that really shouldn’t be there. It’s the first thing Kate’s said to her since Matt was taken, and it pricks at her like a scorpion. Hawkeye, Kate, they’re one and the same, like how Lilith and Darcy are one and the same, and Matt and the Devil are one and the same, and does the Punisher have a name? Does she care? Not now.

This is Cat, isn’t it?

“I’m not going to run off,” Darcy snaps. “I’m going to the bathroom and then I’m going to call Brett and get on his ass about this fucking safehouse, so just—I’m not going anywhere."

Kate takes another sip of her coffee. “All right, then.”

“Darcy,” Foggy says, but Darcy’s already stalked off towards the bathroom.

The women’s restroom is crammed full on this floor, people who have come in with different patients all trying to settle in for a private breakdown, so she jabs the elevator button a few times before slamming into the emergency stairwell. It’s quieter in here, and the temperature difference—shit. It’s actually tangible. It has to be cracking a hundred degrees in the emergency room, what with so many bodies crammed in there. By all rights the stairwell should be the same, but it seems like a lot of air conditioners seem to be venting right in here and keeping it chilled. Nobody else is around. She fists her hands up, lets them loose again. She doesn’t actually have to pee, or anything, she just needs to be somewhere that has nothing to do with people, right now.

You broke your fucking promise, you asshole.

He’d promised her. He’d promised her he wouldn’t go after Jarhead on his own, not when his head was so bad, not when he was already barely keeping his feet, and the first thing he does when he’s out of her line of sight is go after the bastard like a honey badger. You promised me, you son of a bitch, she can’t actually speak for how angry she is with him right now, and now Jarhead has Matt, and Matt could wind up dead, and this is the second time in two days she’s had to sit and watch something happen and not be able to stop it, and she’s going to be sick. Every muscle in her body is twisting, working themselves into knots. She wants to run. She wants to scream. It keeps building up in her chest and bubbling in her mouth, and every time she speaks she comes closer to the edge. It’s a miracle she hasn’t killed someone yet. They’re all grating, every one of them, every voice, every word, every breath she hears, because she shouldn’t have to be here, goddammit, this never should have happened, she should have made him stay at the apartment and keep his head down and do this herself, she should have realized, she should have figured it out, she should have been better

(Bang, and Matt drops, and then the voice in her ear again, this is Cat, isn’t it, and they could be anywhere in the city and she can’t do a thing—)

She needs to get out. She needs to be moving. She starts to pace, back and forth on the landing of the emergency stairwell, around and around in tight circles until the world is spinning. There’s no reason for Jarhead to come after Grotto, not when he has Matt somewhere, not when he has to make sure Matt won’t wake up and get away, but who knows what he’ll do, this creature that Daredevil and Lilith might have made possible, who knows what’ll come out of the head of this warped child of their dreams and their monstrosities? She can’t predict him. She can’t think. Take the shot, and Kate hadn’t, and they’d fallen, and Foggy had said there was blood on the floor where they’d dropped, and he could be dead, what are you doing sitting here, why are you trapped here, just go, what are you thinking, Darcy—

She can’t take this anymore. Darcy balls her hands up into fists, and slams one of them into the hard concrete of the wall, once, again, and again. Blood smears over her knuckles, leaves a little mark against the wall. “Fuck.” It cracks out of her, broken. “Fucking dammit, god fucking dammit—”

Again and again and again and she shouldn’t be here, right now, she shouldn’t have to be here, but she can’t leave Foggy and Karen alone. She can’t do it, not right now. The skin on her knuckles has split, smearing red down her fingers. She hits the wall again, leaves another mark. She shouldn’t be here, she should be out looking for Matt, she needs to look for Matt, but she can’t focus, can’t think; there’s nowhere she can go without getting herself lost, and nothing she can do but wait, and the hate inside her is an actual living, breathing thing. This is fury mixed with terror mixed with loathing, this is hurt and this is panic and this is helplessness, her blood turning to shards of ice inside her skin, her head roaring, a taste like copper pipe on her tongue and barely feeling it when she smears blood on the wall of the stairwell. “Fuck,” she says again, and it’s a scream, echoing up and down and all through the stairwell like she’s trapped in a canyon. It tears at her throat. “Fuck!”

(You promised me you wouldn’t go after him alone, you promised that you’d always come back—)

Echoing. The whole world is echoing. Take the shot. She should have made Kate take the shot. She shouldn’t have let Matt go off alone. She hits the wall again, and again, and blood leaves a print behind like a bruise. Matt should have kept his fucking promise, not done the stupid reckless awful thing of ignoring her and jumping in and doing whatever the hell he thought he was doing, getting even or putting himself between the Punisher and a bullet or whatever the fuck it was, whatever hero complex bullshit that he still holds so close, and she should have been able to stop it. She should be able to trust him not to do this shit, not have to fight him every step of the way, she should be able to trust him, and just—shit. She can’t breathe, right now. She can’t breathe, she can’t think. Her mind spins in circles, and there’s a spot in the center of her chest that’s knotted up like ice, frosty fingers scraping over her insides, spreading farther and farther and farther.

She should have taken the fucking shot.

“Whoa, hey,” says a voice, and then Karen’s caught her wrist, tight between her fingers. She nearly throws Karen over her shoulder to the landing, nearly screams. “Darcy, Jesus, you’re going to break your hand if you keep doing that—”

“Let me go, Karen.”

Karen’s eyes narrow. She digs her nails in. “No.”

"Let go.” Her hand is throbbing, but at a distance, like it’s someone else’s body, like there’s something muffling all sensation. Blood drips from her fingers. “Karen, let me go, I swear to God—”

"What are you gonna do if I don’t, hurt me?” She yanks hard on Darcy’s wrist. It tugs at the hole in her shoulder, cracks the scab. Under the gauze, she thinks she might be bleeding. “Is that what we do to each other now? Scream and yell and dig in until we rip each other apart?”

Let go of me, Karen!”

“Not unless you make me,” she says, and Darcy almost does it. She almost wrenches Karen forward, almost whips her around and slams her into the wall and yanks her arm up behind her back. Almost breaks. Karen stares at her, a dare, a threat. “Make me,” she says again, and Darcy squeezes her hand into a fist, and does nothing. There’s red trickling down her wrist to run over Karen’s fingers.

“Shit.” Her eyes burn. “Fucking shit.”

Karen doesn’t let go. Her grip loosens, a little. It still feels like it’s going to bruise. “He’s not dead, Darcy. Kate told me what Castle said.”

Darcy wets her lips. Her mouth is dry, cracking inside. “Castle?”

“That’s his name.” She presses her lips together. “The Punisher. I heard Tower and Jen talking, in the bunker. His name is Frank Castle.”

Frank Castle. Jarhead, the Punisher. Frank Castle. Don’t give him a name, Darcy thinks. Don’t give him a name when I want him dead more than ever. Don’t remind me he’s human, Karen. Karen’s nails pinch back into the soft skin of her wrist, by her pulse.

“He’s not dead,” Karen says again. “Matt isn’t dead. And there’s nothing—there is absolutely nothing any of us can do right now except stick together, and make sure Grotto gets somewhere safe, and wait for this bastard to contact you. There is nothing else we can do.”

“I can’t sit here.” It’s an echo in her mouth, déjà vu. “I can’t sit here and wait, not right now, I can’t, Karen, I can’t just—”

“It’s not a question of can or should, Darcy, you have to. We need you here to make sure nothing happens. You can’t crisscross all over the city looking for Matt, all that’ll do is exhaust you and make things worse and there’s no way we can protect Grotto if someone comes in after him, not without you. So right now—” She swallows. “I need you to focus, okay? We all need you to focus. I know how hard that sounds—”

“You have no idea!”

“What do you think it was like for us when Nobu grabbed you?” Her nails bite again. “Do you think I don’t know what this feels like? Do you think I don’t have any idea? With Nobu, we didn’t know, we had no idea if you were dead or not, we had nowhere to start and no guarantee you were ever coming back alive or whole or any of it, and we fell apart. You have no idea what it was like to wait for that, and then again, when Fisk tried to kill you, we called and called and you didn’t pick up, and just—” Her eyes are overbright, tears clinging to the lashes. “Darcy, you nearly died, because of me. Fisk tried to kill you for what I did, because you took the fall for me and for Ben and told him you’d been the one to do it, so don’t tell me I don’t have any idea what it’s like to be stuck somewhere completely ignorant and not be able to do anything to change it!”

There’s nothing Darcy can say to that. She pulls her wrist out of Karen’s fingers, and lets her hand drop. Blood spatters on the floor. Karen gulps for air, and touches the tips of her fingers to her eyes, wiping away tears that haven’t fallen yet. It smears a bit of Darcy’s blood over the skin of her cheek. She doesn’t notice.

“I’m not in love with Matt, so—so yeah, I don’t know what it feels like to have the person you love most taken away from you. But don’t tell me I don’t know how it feels to not be able to do something when someone who matters to you is in trouble. And don’t you dare ask me to stand here and let you hurt yourself, because I won’t, Darcy. Don’t you ever ask me to do that again.”

She should want to cry, at that, she thinks. The crackling in her chest could be something important. She looks down at her hand, at the torn skin and the dark red welling up, trailing down her fingers.

“Karen—” It’s a rasp, a husky thing, a bursting eggshell. “He promised me. He said he wouldn’t go after the bastard alone. He made me a promise, and he didn’t keep it, and I—”

She stops. She doesn’t know what she can say, after that.

“Then when we get him back, you can rip his head off for it. You should rip his head off for it. It shouldn’t have to take five people to keep Matt Murdock from doing something stupid, even if he’s been knocked silly more times in the past year than he probably has brain cells.” Karen looks at her for a moment, and then digs something out of her purse. More Kleenex. She folds it up, layers it, and then very carefully she takes Darcy’s wrist again, and presses the wad down over her knuckles. The sting still isn’t quite real. “We wait. And while we wait, we get Grotto somewhere safe. All right?”

She can’t speak anymore. Darcy nods, and closes her eyes. When Karen shifts, puts her arms around Darcy and draws her close, she can’t move. It’s only when Karen threads her fingers into her hair that something starts to shatter. Darcy heaves a breath, and then two, and hides her face in Karen’s shoulder. She can’t bring herself to hug her back. If she clings, she’ll crack. If she speaks, she’ll run.

“We have to wait,” Karen says, half a whisper. “All we can do is wait.”

No wonder the silence makes people go insane, she thinks, and keeps her mouth shut.

“Come on.” Karen draws back. “We should get your hand looked at by someone who actually has some idea of what they’re doing.”

.

.

.

The phone rings.

"This is Ben Urich.”

“You need to look into Reyes.”

“Who is this?”

“You have to. Everything she touches turns sour. You need to look into her. You need to expose her for what she is, or a lot of people are gonna wind up dead.”

“You’re the one who emailed me earlier, aren’t you? You’re the one who was talking about Elliot Grote. Tell me somewhere I can meet you, we should be talking about this face to face—”

“You think I don’t know what happens to the people who talk to you, Ben Urich? We get crushed.”

“Not all of them.”

“Just—look into Samantha Reyes. Look into it.”

“I’ve heard a lot of shit about Samantha Reyes since she started as DA. Something that broad isn’t gonna help me at all. You have to give me something more specific.”

Silence.

“Is this about that guy? The Punisher? The one who’s been treating the city like a game of Call of Duty: Black Ops? Is that what this is about?”

Silence.

“You have to give me something. Give me anything. A name.”

"Castle,” says the voice. “That’s your name. Frank Castle.”

"Who’s Frank Castle?”

"You’re not gonna hear from me again.”

A dial tone.

.

.

.

It’s not Claire, who treats her. She keeps catching little glimpses of Claire wandering in and out of the ER, more and more stressed, more and more exhausted, snapping and snarling at ‘bangers to keep them in their places. Instead, it’s a nurse none of them have met before, a tiny Indian woman named Parvati with the softest voice Darcy’s ever heard. She doesn’t ask what happened, or how someone in the waiting room has been shifted over to someone who needs first aid (not ER stuff, definitely not, but still; she’s bleeding on their floor and she’s pretty sure that nurses don’t enjoy seeing that very much). She just wraps Darcy’s hand in a bandage as best she can, weaving it between her fingers, and then she herds them all into the waiting room again and disappears, here and then gone, half a shadow.

Darcy’s numb. She kind of watches it happen from far away, the treatment and the vanishing, doesn’t speak. Karen answers the few questions Parvati has, mostly with no, she’s fine and it’s been a very long day. (Parvati tapes the glass cut on her face closed, too, and her cheek trills a little when they dab alcohol onto it. Her heart is pounding, but at a distance. Everything hurts.) Wait, she thinks. Watch. Eventually she stands, and starts to pace. The movement helps, a little. She can’t focus, but she can’t keep still, either. Wait and watch. Grotto’s twitchy as hell when the nurses finally let them through to talk to him, five minutes only, and he looks truly pathetic with his wrist handcuffed to the bed like basically everyone else in the ward.

“Shouldn’t be too much longer, Grotto.”

“Should’ve let me run while I had the chance,” Grotto says, and not-so-subtly tests the give of his handcuffs again. “That bastard’s going to come back and get me.”

Let him, Darcy thinks. She could seize Grotto by the hair and ram his head into the railing, shut him up. You’re why this all started. Grotto and Reyes and her terrifying, reckless ineptitude, her grasping greed, her rash carelessness about who winds up caught in the crossfire. Samantha Reyes, District Attorney. She could slam Grotto’s head into the railing and knock him out, because this is what Jarhead wants, isn’t it? He wants Grotto dead.

No. She curls her fingers around the rail of the bed. No. Get it together. She’s not that person. She’s not that person. She can’t be that person. She won’t be the monster here. She can’t.

(Matt, where are you?)

Grotto’s watching her, and his lips are white. At the end of the bed, Kate’s jaw is clenched. “Jesus,” he says. “Jesus, what the fuck is wrong with you?"

“Shut up,” Darcy snaps, and slams out of the emergency room.

After a minute or two, Karen and Kate follow. They bracket her on either side, and she can’t work out if it’s meant to be a flanking, or a precaution. Keep Darcy from falling apart or keep Darcy going off the rails and smashing our client’s head through a wall. She crosses her legs at the knee, starts bouncing one. Foggy’s stayed behind, trailing Claire across the emergency room. Through the glass in the door, she can see them hissing in low voices, whispering back and forth. About her, maybe. Or about Matt, who knows. Karen’s chewing on her fingernails, and for once Darcy doesn’t try to stop her. Kate blows air, spitting like a whale.

“Not much longer,” she says, pressed up into Darcy’s side. “Right?”

Ten-fifty. She stops moving, all at once. Both Kate and Karen watch her like she’s a bomb. “I’m gonna call Brett, see where the hell he is.”

When she stands, Karen reaches out, hooks her fingers around Darcy’s wrist again. The touch burns into her bones. “Darcy—”

“I’ll be back in three minutes."

She actually has to pull her wrist away. Karen drops her hand to her lap, and watches her go.

Cell phone use isn’t allowed in any of the major wards, so she has to wander all the way outside before she can finally dial Brett. It rings out twice. For the first time in nearly a week, the air doesn’t stick to her like porridge. It’s cooling off. Slowly but surely. It’s still unbearable, but there are storm clouds rolling in from the East River, faraway but creeping closer, smoky and yellow with the light of the city. She could break off, now, she thinks, start running, but if she does then she won’t stop. Pick up the phone, Brett. He doesn’t. It’s probably better that he doesn’t. If she actually had to speak to Brett right now—well. Who knows. She’s not sure. She doesn’t want to talk to Brett. She wants to dig her nails into her own skin and rip.

She leaves a message, clipped and curt—“I’d really like to know that my client isn’t going to wind up eating a shotgun barrel in the next twenty-four hours, so let me know when the safe house is ready, will you?”—before she leans against the wall, and stares at the sky. I need to scream. I need to scream, right now, but there’s nowhere I can scream where people won’t come running. And if I start, I won’t stop. The screen of her phone glows bluish in the yellow light of the street lamp. A tweet comes in from the #samsonanddelilahofhell tag. Then another from Hero Watch. Darcy blinks at the screen of her phone, at the uncracked glass and the carefully maintained shell—no more bananas, this time, just a plain black flip cover with stars on the inside—and then she shoves it back into her hoodie pocket. The city smells like someone’s died, like there’s a body rotting underneath the streets, and the comm is cold and dead in her ear.

Her knuckles ache when she folds her hand back into a fist.

.

.

.

Hero Watch (@maskwatchnyc): Anyone hear from @theangelofmercy tonight? Kitchen’s been noisy and she hasn’t responded.

Hijabibabi (@betsysy): @maskwatchnyc Leave her alone, for once, you vultures

Alias Investigations (@aliasinvestig): @maskwatchnyc how about you fuck off and let the woman do her job

RooKate (@archersdoitbetter): @maskwatchnyc maybe back the fuck off her and she’ll answer when she’s ready

Hero Watch (@maskwatchnyc): @betsysy @aliasinvestig @archersdoitbetter No need to get offended, it was just a question.

RooKate (@archersdoitbetter): @maskwatchnyc BRO YOU DID NOT JUST “SIT DOWN, YOUNG LADY” ME

RooKate (@archersdoitbetter): @maskwatchnyc YOU WANNA FUCKIN GO

.

.

.

They only realize after the completely heart-stopping, nerve-shredding moment of Foggy talking two rowdy ‘bangers back down into silence (and the only reason she isn’t in there, between him and them, between Foggy and danger, is because Kate has her nails digging so deep into the skin of Darcy’s arm that she leaves scabs behind, and Karen’s blocking her on the other side, and please, please, please don’t make me watch this, please let me help, please let me break something) that Grotto is gone.

“He must have used the argument breaking out as a cover.” Kate clatters the now-empty cuffs against the side of the bed, and scowls. “Goddammit. This is your job,” she snaps at the nearest security guard, “your job, not ours—”

“Leave him alone, Kate,” Darcy says. She sounds very unlike herself, low and harsh. “He has his hands full right now, same as the rest of us.”

“How the hell did he even get out of this?” Foggy looks more pissed than scared, thankfully. She can’t deal with a scared Foggy right now. “The thing’s still connected.”

“Maybe he’s double-jointed, I don’t know. He can’t have managed to get very far.” Karen bites her lip. “I’m going to check outside. Kate, go towards the western doors, see if he tried to sneak out through another ward. Foggy, Darcy, you go the other way. He might try for the emergency exit.”

“He’s probably gone,” Foggy says. “There might not be any point.”

“Yeah, well, I’ll agree with that when I can’t find him.”

“Karen,” Darcy says, because Christ, not alone, she’s not sure if anyone will come after Grotto and Karen can’t go alone, “maybe you shouldn’t—”

“Don’t,” Karen says, in a sharp voice, and stalks off. Kate’s eyes dart from Darcy to Karen, and then she snaps to, bolting west before Darcy can get a hand on her and keep her still. There’s a new scratch on the sleeve of her leather jacket, and it makes her look scarred. Darcy turns and walks away without looking at Foggy. His shoes scrape against the linoleum when he tries to catch up.

“Slow down, Darcy, Jesus.”

“Everything that’s happened over the past few days has been because of this son of a bitch, I’m not about to let him walk out on us and get himself killed when everything has been because of him.” I’m not letting anyone else I love get hurt because of him. She has to find him first. She slams into the emergency stairwell again, and hangs over the railing, listening. Nothing. Silence. Back into the hallway. “This fucking bastard—”

“Hey, Cat.”

Darcy freezes, one hand on her hip, the bandaged one clenching up against her side. Next to her, Foggy stills, and turns. “What?”

She presses her fingers into her ear, and says nothing.

“Nothin’ to report, yet.” Castle, she thinks. His name is Castle. Jarhead. Punisher. Don’t remember he has a name, Darcy. Don’t do it. “Still sleeping, your boy Red. Just had a question for you. Though it’s not like you can answer me. Like talking to a ghost, isn’t it. All you can do is listen. Some people get paid for this.”

“Darcy,” Foggy says, very hushed. “Darcy, what is it?”

“Let me listen,” she snaps, and turns away. The first door she finds—and Christ, this is déjà vu too, this is someplace she never thought she’d come back to—is the break room. The Caution: Hazardous Materials sign is still pasted to the fridge. She shuts the door behind her and starts to lock it, but then Foggy pushes his way in after her. He’s the one to snap the lock.

“Interesting work you did with the helmet.” She sinks down into a chair. Her heart’s been impossible to hear for hours, but now—now it’s too loud. Now she can barely catch anything over the beat. “Can see where I cracked off on him, other night. Fresh welding. Who does that, who does your fashion work? You do it? Seems military grade. Close enough, maybe. Fixed it damn fast, but the thing’s probably like an eggshell. Could crack it apart with one good hit.” He muses. “Wanted to ask you. Why Lilith?”

Darcy bites her tongue. At the same time, Foggy reaches out, and seizes her hand, wrapping it up tight in his. It feels like he’s tethering her to earth. The rest of her is a whirlwind, shrieking. She wants to rip the world apart.

“Daredevil,” says Castle. “Daredevil and Lilith. The Devil of Hell’s Kitchen and Lilith. Name you gave yourself. Red, here—dunno. Hell of a name, Devil of Hell’s Kitchen, but the papers started that one, from what I can tell. Lilith, though. Didn’t know about her for a long time. Nobody talks about Lilith. But you picked it. Figured it must mean something.”

“Cut the bullshit,” Darcy says, quietly. He can’t hear her, but she doesn’t care. “Cut the bullshit, you bastard, give me something—”

“Guy I knew once told me about her.” There’s a click, and then the unmistakable sound of a racking gun. Her heartbeat drops away again into silence. (Bang.) “Lilith. Made of the same mud as Adam. God said, it is not good for man to be alone. But the guy I knew, he told me Lilith didn’t want any of God’s shit. That she refused to submit to Adam, refused to say she was anything less. Left the Garden, left Adam, left all of it, made her own way. He said, people think of her as the mother of demons, now, but at the beginning, way back at the start, she was just a woman who wouldn’t be told what to do.”

Castle falls quiet again. She can hear Kate breathing, she thinks; there are hospital noises coming through that don’t match up with the soft windy echo of wherever Castle is hiding.

“Think there’s something about this that you get that he doesn’t.” Castle sounds muffled, now, like he’s talking through something. “He doesn’t see it, or doesn’t want to see it. Doesn’t like to look at it. But you, you might see it better than him. Lilith the witch wanted me dead. Still want me dead, Cat? Took you a bit, but you wanted it. Coasted me along the ribs like you were trying to cut me open. Fire like that doesn’t cool off. Burns hotter the longer it lasts. Red, here, not so sure about him. I’m wondering what he does, you know, goes home, takes off the suit, lives his own life, turns away from the shit and the blood and the terror so he won’t see it—”

“Shut up,” Darcy snaps, and Foggy squeezes her hand so tight it shakes. “You don’t know anything, you don’t know anything, so shut up, you bastard, shut up—”

“—but you—you came at me out of the suit, same way. That was you in the hallway, wasn’t it? The woman in the rose-colored glasses.” There’s another click, and he comes through clear again. “Don’t care who you are, Cat. Don’t care who he is. I don’t give a shit. But that trash you’re protecting? He’s a murderer. He murdered a whole family two years ago, ‘cause they wouldn’t pay off whatever racket the Brannigans had them roped in.”

She’s going to throw up. She’s actually going to throw up. “That’s a lie.”

“You can look it up,” he says, like he can hear her. “Old man who couldn’t pay the right people. Grotto was in deep with one of the Brannigans, owed a favor for a favor. So he shot the guy in cold blood. Lafayette Street. And when the old lady came out of the back bedroom and saw it, he killed her too. And there were two kids, teenagers. All of them blown away. The only reason the twelve-year-old survived was because she was sleeping at a friend’s house that night.” A dead, awful silence. Then: “You still think a piece of shit like that is worth protecting?”

On the other end of the comms, Kate gags.

“The pair of you wander the city,” he says. “You take out symptoms of the disease but leave the root set deep. Back and forth, always letting it live, the scum, creeping back out of the dark. You ever think about how many people are dead because of you? Because the pair of you could never work up the courage to finish the job? Came after me because you wanted to stop me burning it out. Figured you’d be easy to deal with. Couple of kids, no idea what you’re doing, not enough guts to end it. But you wanted to kill me, Cat,” says Castle. She closes her eyes. “I could tell, with Red. He never aimed like he meant it. Never tried to shut me down for good. But you did.” He stops. “Could be because of what I did, maybe, but I don’t think it is. Think it’s something in you. You’re only half-grown, Cat. Think you could go further, if you wanted.”

Bang.

“You don’t know me,” Darcy says, very quiet, very level, a voice beyond Lilith, far beyond, nails on a chalkboard and knives slid between ribs, cold and dark and awful. Next to her, Foggy flinches. “You don’t know anything about me, you son of a fucking bitch.”

Like he’s heard her, Castle scoffs. “If you ain’t looking for Red right now, you should start,” he says. “Think he’s gonna be waking up soon. Though he’s gonna have a hard time getting up. Not gonna be happy about it when he finds out.” He rolls the words around his mouth. “Talk to you soon, Cat.”

There’s a mug of cold coffee on the table. She can’t look away from it, for some reason. Words, embossed on the side. World’s No. 1 Aunt. She wants to slam her hand into it, knock it flying, shatter it against the wall. Flip the table, smash the chair. Dismantle it. Break everything. Burn the world. Destroy it. Get her teeth set in something and tear.

Foggy’s still holding on to her hand.

“Matt?” he says.

He’s gonna have a hard time getting up.

“Nothing.” Darcy watches his fingers. “Still asleep. Let go.”

“Darcy, whatever he said—” Foggy’s voice cracks. “Whatever he said to you, you know it wasn’t true, right? You know he was just trying to freak you out.”

No. It stings at her lips, burns her with frost. No, all of that was true. All of it had been true.

Still want me dead, Cat?

Fisk had taken her, and tried to kill her, and Matt had wanted him dead. Castle’s tried to kill Matt—or even if he didn’t, he could have, the bullet came so close, so close, all the could-have-beens, and Castle wouldn’t have cared if he died—and now he’s taken him, and Darcy—

Think there’s something about this that you get that he doesn’t.

You don’t have a clue what you’re dealing with, you son of a bitch.

“Let go, Foggy,” she says, still in that cold voice. It doesn’t echo, anymore. It’s immediate, the sense of it. Ice on her tongue. Cold fire up her spine. The slippery danger of black ice, staring out at her from a human face, with a broken nose and a shotgun held loose in one hand. “I’m fine.”

You’re only half-grown, Cat. Think you could go further, if you wanted.

Further where? Further from Matt? Step out over the ledge they keep each other clinging to, the barrier between what they try to be and what they try to keep themselves from becoming? I want to kill him. It’s never been truer. She wants Frank Castle dead. He’s a person, he’s a human being, he’s a criminal and a murderer and a monster, and she wants him dead. She wants him dead for what he did to Matt, for what could have happened, for the crack of the gun, bang, and the end of the world. She wants him dead for this, for looking right through her and reading her and ripping her apart, thirty seconds and an epiphany, things he never should have been able to pick up about her, knowing things he never should have known.

Think it’s something in you.

(Heat and humidity clinging to her skin, the knife cold in her hand, the chill of the knob against her palm, and the thought of it, Eli, his eyes flaring wide, the blood on the floor, the muffled sounds when the belt had come down, and you killed him, my best friend, you killed him and I want you dead and it's nearly happening all over again—)

Fisk had said something like this, hadn’t he? That they were similar. That they were alike. All inverted reflections, distorted images of each other, mirrors cracked and filthy with grime, all smeared with the same thing. She looks at Foggy’s hand, clenched tight around hers. And Foggy had been right, back then. She’s nothing like Fisk. She doesn’t kill people just because they’re in her way. She doesn’t try to kill. She doesn’t see people as nothing. When she hates, it’s personal. When she hates, it’s a cyclone.

If you kill someone, she’d said to Matt, it’ll kill you.

Still want me dead, Cat?

“Darcy,” Foggy says again. She blinks at him, slowly. “It was a lie, Darcy, all right? He was trying to psych you out, trying to get you to do something stupid. You can’t believe him, whatever it was. You can’t.”

“Burns hotter the longer it lasts,” she says. Does that mean it gets worse? She can already barely breathe through the smoke.

“What?”

“Nothing.” She stands, and his fingers slip away. “I’m—Grotto’s getting away. We—we need to track that little bastard down before he gets very far, there’s something I need to talk to him about.”

Foggy goes still. He searches her face. “What did he say?”

“Seems like Grotto’s been lying to us about a few things,” says Darcy. She rolls to her feet. “That’s all. We need to go. You go right, I go left.”

“You sure you’re up for it?”

“I’m fine, Foggy.” She doesn’t try to make it sound like anything other than a lie. There’s no point. “Go, Foggy, he’s getting away.”

He wavers. Then Foggy nods, unlocks the break room door, and leaves without a word. She’s on the threshold when she realizes that under the bandages, her knuckles are bleeding again. She’s clenched her fist so tight that the scabs have cracked, and it’s sinking sharply red into the gauze.
Grotto. Find Grotto. Lafayette Street. Find Grotto, get him out of the way somehow, and then go after Castle, go after Matt. Go after all of them. Find Grotto first.

And when she finds Grotto, what?

It bursts into her head, the image, driving the baton into him, cracking his skull, knocking him down into the dirt, breaking him, bit by bit, because you killed them, you killed an innocent man and a woman and children, a family, you killed them and I tried to protect you, you killed them. “Nothing down this way,” Kate says into her ear, “I’m going to check the next floor,” and lava rushes up into her mouth. What are you going to do when you find him, Darcy?

No. God. No. No. She staggers back, yanks the door shut and locks it. Presses her palms to the cool wood, tries not to heave. God, no.

She stands over the sink for a good minute, but she doesn’t throw up. Somehow, that’s the worst part of it all.

.

.

.

She answers.

“Well, you certainly took your time.”

“It took a little while for me to get back to the apartment. This city is busier than I remember. There never used to be so many people using the rooftops instead of the sidewalks.”

“Did anyone see you?”

“I’m not completely inept.” Pause. “I was under the impression, from what you said, that she was relatively untrained. Judging by what I saw tonight, she’s either been learning fast, or she has a flair for this. Or both, which is aggravating.”

“Did she see your face?”

“You keep asking me questions like you think I’m a complete novice at this. Ruins a girl’s self-confidence.”

“That isn’t an answer.”

“She never came close to touching my mask. Then again, I don’t think that was her intention. She didn’t seem to care who I was. To be completely honest, I’m a little irritated with how the whole thing went. She spent the whole fight distracted with what was happening on a completely different rooftop. Which, to be fair, I don’t blame her. It was fairly distracting. Bullets everywhere and a botched ambush, it’s no wonder she kept trying to pay attention to other things.”

“You confronted her alone? Lilith.”

“The archer interfered towards the end. Not to mention that the police opened fire. Seriously, I thought this was New York, not the Wild West.”

“Things have changed in the city since the last time you were here.”

“Really. I didn’t notice.” She shifts the glass of wine on the countertop. “What have I walked into here? I’m not particularly inclined to go after this woman again until I know more details.”

“Figure them out yourself. You’re not a fool. Besides, you have a vested interest in uncovering how this woman works, don’t you?”

“You don’t have to be patronizing.”

“Use your ingenuity. When you report again, I want a little more than she was distracted.” Another pause. “What of the other matter, what did you learn about him?”

“Not much. I didn’t get close enough, today.”

“Don’t be nervy.”

“Easy for you to say.”

“You’re capable of more than this, and you know it.” A sigh, gusting with static. “Do better.”

The call ends.

.

.

.

Don’t get up, Matty.

Chains. Chains and the city and rust on his tongue. Bullets and copper and the sharpness of explosives. A heartbeat. Blood and dog and metal and gunpowder, leather and cracked ribs and popping, heavy bones. Chains and the city.

“Morning, sunshine,” says the Punisher. “Sleep well?”

There’s a mosquito whine ringing in his ears. A helicopter passes overhead. Too far away for him to hear voices. He can’t tell which company it’s from. The comm bud in his ear is stinging, crackling like it’s been damaged, but he can still make out sounds. Breathing, a little. Kate cursing under her breath. Nothing from Darcy. Where are you? And then, even faster: don’t come near here, don’t. He heaves a breath, and jerks against the chains.

“Told your girl I’d call her when you woke up,” says the man. He collects a gun. “Sure took your time. She’s probably worried sick by now.”

Fragments in his head. Glass. A water tower. Gunshots. Falling, deafness, the world shut off, everything gone, only flares of movement and those are barely manageable, hardly perceptible, only a flicker of smoke in the dark, and he’d never known how much he’d relied on his hearing until it was gone, never even thought about it, vibrations and variations and shifting air, what part of it is hearing and what part of it is touch and sensation and currents, what’s me and what’s the universe, and there’s a split in his tongue where his teeth dug in and promise me

“Where is she?” he says.

The man with the gun crouches down, and goes through a box. Matt yanks at the chains. Too tight for him to shift; loose enough to keep him from popping a rib. He pulls again. He can barely think beyond the pounding in his skull. “Where is she?”

“Don’t know,” says the man with the gun. “Don’t care much. I’ll call her up in a minute. Wanted to talk to you a little, first.”

“Shit,” says Kate, but it’s under her breath. “Bastard’s gone.” There’s crusted blood on his teeth. Splits in his cheek, in his lip. His head is still ringing. Tinnitus in his ears. Sit down, she’d said. If not for you, then for me. He can’t, and he couldn’t, but his head is pounding. Nausea creeps all through him, not just in his guts but through his skin, through to the tips of his fingers, pooling in a sick, yellowy feeling like rotting egg.

“You wanna talk to me?” Matt says. “Looks like I’m all ears.”

That takes him by surprise, Matt thinks. There’s a hitch in the man’s breathing, in his heartbeat. He turns away, and opens up one of his boxes with a crowbar, picking through the sawdust. Matt says, “Where’d you find those, anyway? Hit up a military storehouse?”

The man pulls a gun from the box, and sights down it, off the edge of the roof. "You ever think about how you’re gonna die?”

Matt twists at the chains again. There’s no point to it and he knows it—they’re woven too tight, like the guy’s practiced at this, the Punisher or whatever it is he calls himself, like he’s done this to someone before and knows precisely how to layer them to make it impossible to move—but it gives him something to do. There’s fury leaping beneath his skin, and it gives him an outlet. “Not as often as I should,” he says, and lets his hands drop. “Probably.”

“Probably.” The man with the gun turns, and settles with his back to the wall. The thermos smells like cheap coffee, brewed strong and thick. How many times has he does this by now? This man with the guns. How many times has he settled, and waited for a target? “Never had it look you in the face while you dance around rooftops, play this little game with yourself? When I shot you, the other night. You see death looking back?”

“No,” Matt says. “Not last night, no.”

“Could’ve killed you,” says the man.

“Didn’t.” His throat’s scratching. “You could have killed me, and you didn’t. You don’t have to kill anyone else. You could stop now. Walk away.”

“Walk away.” The man folds both hands around the lid of his thermos. “Could you walk away, Red? That something you think you could do?”

“Yes,” Matt says. It tastes sour. “I could.”

“Bullshit.” The man snorts. “Bullshit, Red. You can’t walk away. You couldn’t stop if you tried. You get off on this shit. Running around in your Halloween costume, telling yourself you’re making a difference. Pair of you don’t do fuck-all.” He swirls the coffee in the lid. “Don’t think she could walk away, either. Different reasons, same result.”

Matt bites the inside of his cheek before he can let out a hiss. “Don’t talk about her.”

“You wanna hit me?” The man bares his teeth. “Wanna hurt me? Can’t do anything unless I let you outta that, Red. You know that as well as me. Only way you’re getting up is if I let you.”

Matt knocks his head against the brick, and immediately regrets it. The world goes blurry for a second. Somewhere nearby, a bell tolls. Ringing, over and over. He counts them. “Midnight? What cathedral is that, St. Patrick’s?”

"St. Matthew’s,” says the man, and Matt can’t help it. Something catches against the roof of his mouth that could be a laugh. Figures.

“St. Matthew’s? You Catholic?”

“Long time ago.” He sips his coffee. “Should call your girl. She’ll be wondering where you are.”

Call her? He swallows, and realizes: the receiver isn’t pressed against his throat. Darcy’s turned her speaker off. He can still hear soft hospital sounds, Karen and Kate whispering to each other about a locked door—Darcy, sweetheart, no—but he can’t hear anything from Darcy herself. And neither of them, he realizes, neither Darcy nor Kate can hear him, now. So much for getting this bastard to drop a location. “I said not to talk about her.”

“Big words, looking at you right now, Red.” He draws a tin from his pocket, and taps his thumbnail against the lid. “Touchy about her, aren’t you? Care about her? Seems like a bad thing to do, business you’ve put yourself in. Not a very long life expectancy, even if you pussyfoot around it like a pair of kids. You go out every night, the pair of you—you know her, outside of those long johns? You must. Both of you, playing hero—where’d you find her, huh? How’d you drag her into it?”

“We’re not talking about this.”

“Doesn’t strike me as the type to get dragged anywhere, Cat.” There’s a tightness to his voice now that there wasn’t before. “Came into it herself, didn’t she? Not from here, either, not with her drawl. Virginia, Georgia? South Carolina? You go down and find her or did she come up and find you?”

“Stop it.”

“She found you,” says the man. Matt pulls at the chains again. “Came up here and found you somehow, didn’t she? ‘s sweet. Like a fairy story. Devil and the Witch Queen.”

Matt shuts his eyes. “Don’t talk about what you don’t understand.”

“Don’t I?” He knocks his thermos to the lid, and pours more coffee. “How far would you go for her, Red? Pretty sure I know how far she’d go for you. How far would you go? Die for her, kill for her? Let the whole city burn for her? Tell me, she always—” He flickers his hand in front of his face. “She always in those rose-colored glasses? Haven’t seen a pair of those in years. Doesn’t fight like a damn hippy, that’s for sure.”

Shut up.”

“Hippies, they don’t come at you like they want you dead. But your girl, that Cat, she—she didn’t hesitate. Not for a second. Not after she saw you fall.” The man tips his head. “Drives you crazy, doesn’t it? You’ve never outright killed doing this, the pair of you, but when she thought you were dead, didn’t think twice about killing me. That why you came after me alone? Or are you actually that stupid?”

Both, he thinks. He bares his teeth. “How’re your ribs? They hurt?”

That, he just ignores. “You know what I think? I think it scares the unholy shit out of you. Pair of you, out together, doing whatever the hell it is that you do. You run out with someone every night like that, fight with them, you know when something’s off. Know when they’re on the edge and can’t come back down. You knew she wanted to kill me the second you woke up, didn’t you? Did she mention it? Came at me with my own goddamn knife and tried to gut me like a fish. And that scares the shit out of you, doesn’t it? Makes you wonder. How far would you have to push to get her to do it? Not that far, I’m thinking.”

“You come near her, I swear to God—”

“—you’ll kill me?” The man looks at him. “You want to. I can see it in your face. You want to, and you don’t. You see the shit that overflows in this goddamn city, and you stay your hand. But what’d you do for her, Red? If it’d been her I’d cracked off on, last night, her and not you, what would you’ve done? If you’d thought she was dead. If I killed her, what would you have done? Throw me in jail? Tell me not to do it again? Smack my wrist and scold me the way you do with every bit of scum you let walk? Or would you have slit me open the way she tried to?”

His heart’s beating too loud in his ears. Kate’s talking again. So is Darcy. He can’t differentiate them over the cacophony. “You don’t have a clue what you’re talking about.”

“No, you don’t have any fucking idea,” says the man with the gun, and then he’s surged forward, and there’s that same gun pressed to his helmet, right to the welded place, jamming his head back into the wall. “You know what I think? I think you’re a hypocrite. I think you’re a coward. I think that you, and me, and her, I think we’re the same thing, the same goddamn thing, and I think the difference between me and you is that I’m the one willing to make the hard call and put these bastards down for good!”

“These people you murder, these men you shoot down—they have families, they have people who love them, you’re robbing them of whatever chance they have to redeem themselves, that’s not your call—”

“Ah, for fuck’s sake,” says the man with the gun, and flicks the safety back on. “You wanna know what else I think?”

"Not really."

“I think you’re one day, one second, a single life away from being me.” He stares. “And I think you know it.”

There’s a heartbeat. Old cigarettes. Swearing.

“Someone’s coming,” Matt says.

The man waggles the gun. “Better go and say hello.”

.

.

.

Get up, Darcy.

She sits, and stares at the mug. It’s a struggle in control, she thinks. The longer she keeps herself from throwing the thing against the wall, the more human she can pretend to be.

Get up, Darcy, come on.

Her whole body’s jumping, but she can’t move.

You have to find Matt. You have to keep them all safe. You have to save him, Darcy, come on, get up.

But there’s nothing left. If she leaves this room, she can’t trust herself to keep her hands clean. She can’t trust herself, not right now, not when her hand’s in her bag and she’s clenching the handle of Castle’s knife so tight that her bones are going to pop through her skin. She can only wait, and when she waits she thinks, and when she thinks she’s paralyzed.

Stop thinking.

There’s nothing else she can do. The thoughts she’s been pushing back for the past two days have all crashed together, and she can’t peel herself free of the wreckage. She’s sitting here and barely breathing, trying to wrangle herself back together, trying to get back under control, but she can’t. There’s nowhere to go anymore, no one to protect. Grotto, but they’d misjudged Grotto. They’d let Grotto manipulate them. Somehow she and Matt and Foggy and Karen had looked at Grotto and never seen the truth about him when everyone around them had seemed to see it so clearly, that this was a man who would kill children to save his own goddamn skin, and if she leaves this room she might kill him, she really, really might, and she can’t get up. If she moves, she might break, and the breaking might shatter her, but it’ll also probably wind up with someone dead, and she can’t live with that, she can’t

But does someone like Grotto really deserve to live?

She’s never the one to fall apart. She puts them back together. Or she tries, at least. She’s surrounded by so many shattered people, and she’s not very good at fitting them back into a semblance of a whole, but damn it, she tries. They all try. They keep each other from cracking. But right now, she’s in pieces, and she’s not certain that it can be fixed this time. She’s broken to shards and she needs to move, she needs to get up and stop thinking and deal with the problem, but she can’t remember how to do it.

When did I get so arrogant that I didn’t even notice a snake in my shoe?

She’s not the only one. They’ve all been arrogant. Not just her and Matt, but Foggy too, Foggy and Karen and Kate. Riding high on taking down Fisk, the one man who could never be beaten, or so they’d thought, a man who’d owned the whole city and blocked them at every turn. They’d taken on Wilson Fisk and they’d won, and they’d let it go to their heads, all of them, let themselves think that maybe they could make a difference. Maybe they can fix things one at a time. And yeah, they’ve fixed some things, there are people who are alive today that wouldn’t be if they hadn’t stepped in—Mrs. Almeida, Elena Cardenas, Christ, even Ben, probably—but God, what if it isn’t enough? What if doing what they’re doing is only making things worse?

When did I get so overconfident that I thought I could fix the whole world just by throwing a few assholes out windows?

What if this warping of Daredevil and Lilith, what if this twisted part of them that’s coming forward in the Punisher—what if that’s right, instead? But that can’t be right. Because there are evil people in the world, yes, people like Fisk, but that can’t be all there is. There are evil people and frightened people and cruel people, kind people and smart people and innocent people, truly innocent people, and are they really outweighed by the cruelty she sees every night?

People get hurt, if they don’t do this. If she doesn’t put on the suit, if Matt doesn’t, then people get hurt who don’t have to be. But it’s top-down, bottom-up mechanics. We’re fighting the symptoms, not the source. They’d known that with Fisk. Cut off the head, the snake dies. But how do you fight a whole society? How do you cut off the head of the planet? This can’t be how human beings are, this can’t be how the world works, it shouldn’t be how the world works, and she’d thought she was doing something to fix it but maybe she’s only ever made things worse. Maybe Castle isn’t completely wrong, after all.

Think it’s something in you.

She can’t move.

She expects Karen to be the first one to come by, but no. It’s Kate. She raps a few times on the door, and calls through the wood, but when Darcy says nothing, she walks away again. Then it’s Karen, quietly, confused—“Darcy, are you still in here? I just want to talk to you.”—but when Darcy ignores that, too, there’s a scuffing sound against the door. She thinks Karen might be leaning against it from the outside, not speaking, just standing. Then Foggy—“Darcy, come on, we have to figure out what to do, just let us in, will you?”—but she’s trapped in mist. Still want me dead, Cat? and her hands are still, not shaking; her eyes are dry; her stomach is churning but it’s not from nausea; it’s reality, and it’s cold and heavy and weighs her limbs down. Then Kate comes back. “No luck with Grotto,” she says, muffled. It comes through loud and clear in Darcy’s comm. Shut up, Kate, if he talks I might not hear it. “He managed to sneak past the security guard in the parking garage, he’s gone.”

“Son of a bitch.” That one’s Foggy. He, at least, can echo right through the door. He whacks it twice, hard enough to rattle. “Come out of there, please. We can deal with it, okay? Just—I know you can hear me, so unlock the door.”

“How long has she been in there?”

“I’m not sure she ever left. I went to look for Grotto and when I came back the door was still locked.”

“Maybe we should get security,” says Karen.

“No security,” Kate snaps. “Not right now. Let her be for a minute.”

She pushes the cup closer to the edge, and watches it. Go home, she thinks. Go home and be safe, Grotto’s gone, there’s nothing to do.

Still want to kill me, Cat?

Yes.

“Figures it’d be you people,” says a voice, muffled through the comm. “Get out of the way, I have a key. All of you, go hover somewhere else. Bug Louisa, she’s pissing me off tonight.”

“Give her a minute, all of you, Jesus—”

“She can’t stay in there.”

“Claire—”

“Go away, thug life,” says Claire fondly. There’s another buzz of voices, and then Claire’s stepped inside and shut the door. Darcy stares at her, a faint buzzing in her ears. The comm is still terribly silent.

They stare at each other for a minute.

“Last time I talked to you in here, the city was on fire.” Claire leans against the break room door. “Really hoping that isn’t gonna repeat itself.”

“I don’t want to talk,” Darcy says. It’s the same cold, quiet voice she’d used with Foggy, but there’s something else threading through it, a reediness she can’t quite define. If she’d heard it on someone else, she would call it panic. “Don’t ask me to, please.”

Claire’s eyes narrow down to slits. She folds her arms over her chest. “I’ve had enough shit from every bozo who’s come in here tonight with brandy stains and bullet holes, Darcy, I don’t need any more of it from you.”

Darcy goes back to watching the World’s No. 1 Aunt mug.

“You’re scaring the crap out of them, you know.” Claire rocks forward, her arms still folded, and frowns. “Generally you seem to be the one keeping them from winding up like this, so I’m a little puzzled about why you’re hiding in here like a hibernating grizzly bear.”

“I’m not hibernating.” Darcy touches the very tips of her fingers to the handle of the mug, and then draws away. “I’m thinking.”

“Seems to be some pretty deep thinking, to scare the people who love you that badly.”

I’m scared, Darcy nearly says. I’m scared that all we’ve been doing is for nothing, Claire. I’m scared of the world. I’m scared of myself. But she keeps her mouth shut.

Claire drags the other chair around to Darcy’s side of the table, and straddles it. “You know, last time this happened you were nearly in hysterics. I’m liking the hysterics more than this blank-faced PTSD thing you have going on right now.”

“I don’t have PTSD,” Darcy says, and pushes at the mug again.

“Right.”

(Bang.)

(I am going to kill you.)

(Tell me what you have found out about the Black Sky.)

(The fewer lies you tell, the less he’ll hit you.)

(They found Eli.)

“I thought you were getting run off your feet downstairs.” She shoves the mug so close to the edge it starts to tip, and then hooks her finger through the handle and draws it back onto solid ground again. “What are you doing in here?”

“Dealing with your dumb ass, apparently.” Claire shrugs. “When people tell security there’s a crazy woman who’s taken the break room hostage like a hoarding dragon and won’t talk to anybody, I kind of get sent to deal with the problem. That’s the issue with being competent. People dump all their shit on you and expect you to deal with it.” She considers. “Plus, they know I know you, and figured I might have better luck getting in through the door than Tom the security guard from Antigua.”

Darcy doesn’t say anything. She presses the comm closer into her ear. It’s gone back to the soft clinking of being trapped somewhere, cut off from sound. Sometimes, she thinks, she catches a burble that could be a voice. She’s not sure, though. Claire sighs.

“You’re scaring the shit out of me, too,” she says. “You’re not acting like you.”

Good. It scares her, how vehement the thought is. Maybe now you’ll get it. But that’s hateful, that’s awful, and something, some curl under the rage, revolts from the idea. “Maybe I am,” Darcy says, after a moment. “Maybe this is what I’m really like.”

“Now, that sounds way too much like Mr. Hair Shirt, and it’s probably coming from the fact that I never see one of you without the other these days which, let’s be real, has probably oversaturated you to the point of actual insanity.” Claire frowns again. “Not to mention the fact that I’m pretty sure you’re running on like two days without sleep, and you’re also scared out of your mind.”

She prods at the mug again.

“Kate said that this guy who has Matt, he said something to you. About you. That why you’re sitting in here in the dark?”

Her lips are dry. Darcy wets them down. “Nothing he said to me wasn’t true, Claire.”

“Yeah, from his point of view, maybe. And when you’re scared for as long as you’ve been scared, when you haven’t slept and you’re living on adrenalin and too much coffee and an actual year of bad decisions and bruises, I’m pretty sure it sounds like it’s true from your point of view, too. But that doesn’t mean it’s true from ours.”

There’s something gnawing away at her teeth, itching. Darcy presses her lips together, and keeps it trapped inside.

“You’re scared out of your mind,” Claire says. “You’re scared and you’re angry and that’s allowed, Darcy. We’re all angry. We’re all scared, right now. We’re scared Matt might never come back. We’re scared we’re gonna lose both of you in one night, the way you’re acting. We’re scared of this guy that you’ve been after. We’re scared of what’s happening in the city. But you’re making it worse for everyone by hiding in here.”

“I’ll scare them worse if I come out.”

“Scare them?” Her eyes narrow. “Scare them how? Scare them by not being on top of your shit? Scare them by breaking down in a stairwell because someone you love is being held hostage by some trigger-happy dipshit, and you’re stuck here waiting? Scare them by letting that same jackhole get into your head because you’re exhausted and angry and maybe he said some things that rung true and you didn’t expect them to? I don’t need to hear them,” Claire adds, holding up her hands. “I really don’t want to know what a guy who’s spent the past month or so adding bodies to the morgue has to say that makes you think he’s right. I don’t need to know to see how much it’s freaking you out. It’s just frightening them, and that gang of sidekicks you have out there waiting? They’re some of the bravest people I’ve ever met in my life. So it’s really, seriously unnerving, let me tell you.”

“They’re not sidekicks.”

“Partners, then,” Claire says. “Your gang of homies. The Scooby Gang. The Batfamily. Team Purgatory, or whatever it is you people call yourselves.”

We hold each other back, she thinks. But Matt’s not here to help, and she’s not there to watch his back, and she’s spiraling. “I’m scaring me,” she says. Something pops and bleeds inside her. “I’m—I don’t like me very much right now.”

Claire looks at her bandaged hand. “And I’m guessing you don’t want to talk about any of it.”

She presses her hand to her mouth, just for a moment. “If I did,” she says, “I don’t—I don’t know.”

And that really sounds like Matt. But she can’t voice this, not to Claire. She could, maybe, to Matt, or to Karen, Karen who’d aimed a gun and pulled the trigger and lives with that every day, but not Claire. Claire, who fixes people, and doesn’t break them; Claire, who drew her lines and walked away; Claire, who keeps her head high and helps them in spite of everything; Claire, who is so genuinely good that sometimes Darcy wonders how a human being like Claire Temple came to exist on the planet she did; she can’t tell Claire she wants to kill someone. She can’t tell Claire she’s starting to wonder if the Punisher isn’t right. She can’t tell Claire about any of it, not really. Claire sighs again, and rocks away.

“Christ.” She presses her hands to her face, and then swipes her hair up and out of her eyes, hooking her fingers to the back of her neck like her shoulders are sore. “Well, I’m gonna sit in here for like…five minutes, because I’ve had ten severed digits in the past hour and need to just…not move for as long as I can get away with it. So when you leave, pretend I said something inspiring, and made you less of a bridge troll.”

She can’t help it. She blinks. “That’s it?”

“I can’t help someone who doesn’t want to be helped.” Claire shrugs. “Something you learn when you work in a hospital. You know there’s this guy I fix up every night, like clockwork? Crackhead. He comes wandering in with some kind of infection, some new cut that’s gone septic or some knocked-out tooth. The same cop always brings him in, and always takes him away again. I think it’s a way to get him off the street for a few hours, make sure he gets clean. But he’s always a crackhead, this guy. Never does a thing to clean his cuts, never stops tripping over curbs or stealing wallets on the way out, trying to find a new way to get high. We stopped giving him pamphlets ages ago, stopped trying to get him to go to rehab. He never listens. He doesn’t want the help. But you—you’re not like that. Which is why I’m confused about what you’re doing right now, because you never let the bullshit that jackasses like this come up with ever get to you, not like this. So why is it bothering you this time?”

“Because the shit other jackasses say hasn’t ever been true,” Darcy says. “Maybe this one is right.”

“So what?”

Darcy opens her mouth, and shuts it again. “What?”

“So what if it’s true?” Claire braces against the back of the shitty chair. “So what if whatever he said about you is true? Doesn’t make what he’s doing any less wrong. Doesn’t make what he’s doing to you right now any less sick.”

That just…won’t process. It feels like Claire’s detonated a grenade in her brain. “But—”

“Since when have you ever cared what people think about you, Lewis? Since when have you ever done a damn thing anybody says? Since when have you ever not taken one look at a problem and gone at it with every little scrap that you have in you? You did it with Fisk. What makes this guy different?”

Still want me dead, Cat?

(Bang.)

“What if it isn’t working?” Darcy says. “What we do. What if—what if there’s something more we should be doing? What if this guy, the—whatever they’re calling him. What if he can see something about people, about the world, that we don’t?”

Claire’s eyebrows snap together. “Seems to me that a guy who goes around shooting people in the head and cutting off their hands might not be the best source of philosophical advice.”

“Karen thinks we helped create him,” Darcy says. “Me and Matt. She thinks that what we do might have started this. And—and from what this guy says, I’m not so sure she’s wrong.”

“Yeah, well, people start beating the shit out of each other in alleyways, it gets inspiring. But you know, people have been coming up with this idea for hundreds of years. Look at the Avengers. You saying that the Black Widow shooting aliens in the face and all that shit that happened in Sokovia is what drove you to do the Chinatown thing?”

That nickname just won’t die. “But he’s doing it here, Claire, not—not halfway across the world, here. He’s killing people here.”

“That doesn’t mean all the bodies he’s dropped are laid at your feet.”

“People are dying.”

“And you’re not the one killing them.”

“We’re not stopping anything.” She digs her nails into her knees. “We—we go out and we do this and yeah, maybe—maybe sometimes it helps, but nothing ends. People still go and—and hurt each other, Claire, they destroy each other, society’s stacked against us, we’re not stopping—we’re not really stopping anything at all anymore, not really.”

“Tell that to the woman I saw in here the other night, whose boyfriend tried to rape her.” Claire folds her hands tight around the back of the chair. “Tell that to the little boy whose life the pair of you saved when he nearly walked right into a gang drive-by two months ago. Tell that to Elena Cardenas. Tell that to Karen.” She stares. “Tell that to me.”

Darcy can’t breathe. She swallows her heart back down. “You don’t get it.”

“No, I don’t,” Claire says. “I mean, I understand that you must be going through some major shit right now, but, you know, I’ve never had my boyfriend shot right in front of me. I’ve never had to deal with half the shit you take on every night. I’ve never let a murderer into my head. So yeah, I don’t get that, and I don’t have any idea how to even begin to comprehend the crap going on in your brain right now. But there’s something else that I really don’t get, and that’s why you’re sitting here locked in my goddamn break room when you could be doing something about it.”

“I can’t leave.”

“Why not?”

“I can’t, Claire. If I go—if I go out there, I might—there’s nothing I can trust myself to do.”

Claire shakes her head. “That’s bullshit. Loads of things you could do.”

“Like what?”

“Go looking for Grotto.”

Darcy looks away. “Not a good idea right now.”

“He’s your client, isn’t he? Kate said something about you sticking around here to keep an eye on him, but he’s gone. Go track that little weasel down. Get him back before this bastard with the guns and the fire and every other damn thing he’s pulled finds him first.”

Lafayette Street, Castle had said. “He won’t listen.”

“So make him listen.” Claire scoffs. “What the hell are you doing, Lewis? Hiding in here isn’t going to do a damn thing to help anyone. All you’re doing is making it worse. Stick that iron back in your spine. You want to fix something? Go out and fix it. Look for Grotto, look for Matt, try to find something else out about the Big Bad. Do whatever you think is necessary. Just do something other than sitting here alone in the dark. Christ, you’d think it was Matt Murdock in here, not Darcy Lewis.”

“I don’t know what I’ll do to him!” Darcy snaps. “Claire, if—I don’t know what I’ll do, if I catch up to him. I don’t know what I might do.”

Claire goes quiet, watching her. Outside, someone drops a bedpan, and swears. Something tickles in her throat. Darcy blinks, her eyes hot, and stares at her knees.

“Matt said once that part of why he does this is because he enjoys it.” Clare rubs at her eyes, and lifts her gaze to the ceiling. “That he likes punishing people. Maybe both of you do. But the thing is, there's something you told me, too. That if you were doing this alone, then yeah. You might do something terrible. But you're not doing this alone, and you know that. if you were really a bad person, Darcy, you wouldn’t be sitting in here kicking yourself for something you haven’t even done yet. You haven’t done anything to Grotto.”

But I want to. “Claire,” Darcy says. “Claire, I’m so angry.”

“Don’t blame you.”

“No, you don’t—you don’t get it.” She dries her hands on her pants. “Have you ever been so angry it’s like you’re nothing but skin? Like it’s eaten away every other part of you, and you can’t remember how it was to have lungs? Have you ever been so—” Darcy stops, and swallows. “I don’t trust myself right now, Claire. I can’t—I can’t trust myself. Not right now.”

“Then trust us,” Claire says. She doesn’t hesitate. “Trust that we think you can do something good. Trust that we trust you to be who you are, even with your anger, even with all your bullshit, Darcy, because you’re kind, and you’re passionate, and you fight too much and you have the smartest goddamn mouth I’ve ever heard on a human being, and you are good. You’re glue. You know how fast this shit would fall apart without you? All of us, we need you, the way you are, as fucked up as you can be and as bitter and awful and bitchy and weird. Because you, at your core—you are a good damn human, and we need you. Trust us to know that, even if you can’t believe it. Trust us.”

It should connect, she thinks. It’s all an echo. Don’t ask me to let you hurt yourself, Darcy, Karen had said, and Foggy, you know he’s wrong. When Claire reaches out with both hands and takes Darcy’s, Darcy doesn’t yank back.

“Yeah,” she says. “Maybe the world is fucked up. But we don’t stop trying to fix something just because it keeps breaking. It’s not who I am, and it’s not who you are. I’ll be damned if I give up on any of you assholes yet.”

“You keep saying so many nice things and I’ll start to think you have a crush on me, Temple,” says Darcy, but her voice is wet and sticky and she thinks she might be crying again, which, fuck that. No. Claire snorts, and pinches Darcy’s wrist with two fingers.

“Trust us,” she says again. “Trust that we want you to come out of this stupid break room and throw yourself right back into the fight, because you’re good at it, you never stop fighting, even when you’re scared. But for God’s sake, stop acting like the Wizard Howl. It has your little gaggle in a tizzy, and it’s driving all the nurses on this floor up the fucking wall.”

Darcy chokes. “I’m not being completely like Howell Jenkins, am I?”

“Minus the slime and the hair dye, but who knows, I’ve heard stories about you in college. Wouldn’t surprise me.” Claire squeezes her fingers, and then gets up, slipping away. Darcy watches her go, the blue scrubs and the dark hair and all the exhaustion, all the people she takes on and never, ever lets fall back to earth. Her eyes burn. Darcy glances back at the mug, and stands, and pushes the chair away with her foot. She peels the sub-vocal comm off of her throat, and clicks it once, turning it off. She doesn’t want Kate to hear this part. She doesn’t want anyone to hear this part.

“Claire?”

Claire turns at the door, her mouth going crooked. “What is it? Feels like I tell you this every week, but I’m not much of a hugger.”

“No, that’s not—no.” If someone tries to swallow her up in a hug right now, she’s going to explode. “I just—I need you to do me a favor. And you can’t—you can’t tell any of them about it. Not Matt—” her voice breaks “—not Karen or Foggy or any of them. You can’t tell them, okay?”

Her forehead puckers. “If it’s something illegal—”

“It’s not. It’s just a favor.” She draws a deep breath in through her nose. “I just need you to find some names for me.”

.

.

.

He comes to again with blood lingering on his teeth and Frank Castle—Castle, Darcy had said; his name is Castle—watching him.

Matt swallows. Copper cascades down the back of his throat. “Didn’t have to hit me.”

“You were yelling too loud.” Frank watches him, carefully. “All that bullshit about truth and redemption and Santa Claus. Would’ve woken up somebody downstairs.” He frowns. “Only out for about half an hour, maybe.”

He turns his head, and spits.

“You can hear her,” Frank says, abruptly. “Can’t you?”

Matt keeps his chin lifted, like he’s staring at the sky. He could never really see the stars in the city, even before the accident. The clouds and the smog and the backwash from the city lights always blocked them out.

“You nearly killed that man, Frank,” he says. “You nearly killed him for nothing.”

“That was a show, Red, just to make sure you were listening.” He shrugs, like he’s tossing off a fly. “You can hear her right now, can’t you? Lilith. In that helmet of yours.”

She’s turned her vocal receiver back on, so, yes. But he’s not about to say that. “What do you care?”

“Lilith and the Devil. Devil of Hell’s Kitchen.” Frank’s mouth curls. “Daredevil.”

“I didn’t ask for them to start calling me that.”

“Yeah, well, she named herself,” says Frank shortly. “Neither of you seem to be running away from the big names. Running from everything else, but not from those.”

“What are we running from, then?”

“Put on that mask, walk out at night, you know, maybe when you get home you can take it off again and think, that wasn’t me, that did those things. That wasn’t me.” Frank turns a bullet between his fingers. “Soldiers don’t get to do that, Red. Don’t get to do things like that. Don’t get that privilege. And from the looks of things, Cat knows that better than you.”

“Soldiers, huh?” If he can keep him on this, keep him talking, then maybe— “You know what I think?”

“Christ. Bet you’re gonna tell me.”

“You’re still at war.”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” says Frank, and draws a thing of duct tape from his box. He tears off a strip. “Getting real sick of your psycho shrink shit, Red. At least your girl can’t talk back.”

“Who’d you lose?” He yanks at the chains again. No give. “You’re not the only one who’s lost someone. You don’t have to keep doing this. It doesn’t fix anything. It doesn’t fix a damn thing, all it does is make things worse—”

“Do you eat self-righteousness for breakfast, Red? Swim in it? Jesus.”

“Everyone has lost someone,” Matt says. “Everyone has lost someone. Doesn’t mean you have to kill. Doesn’t mean you get to take away the one chance these people have to make something better of themselves, Frank. It doesn’t make you God.”

“Don’t think I’m God,” says Frank. “I think I’m just doing something no one else has the guts to manage.”

“Bullshit. They deserve a chance. Everyone deserves a chance.”

He scoffs again. “Like you believe that.”

“There’s goodness in you,” Matt says. “There has to be. There’s goodness in every human being, and every time you take another life, you snuff it out.”

There’s a shattering on the other side of the comms. Glass. Darcy shouting. Matt lunges away from the brick, and snaps back like a rubber band. Frank blinks at him, slowly, evaluating. He says, “She’s doing something, isn’t she?”

What the hell did you say to her?”

“The truth.” Frank tips his head. “She scaring you yet?”

On the other end of the comms, he hears a man scream.

“Loss doesn’t work the same for everybody in the world, Red,” says Frank, and he settles the tape over Matt’s mouth. When he lashes out with one foot, tries to take out a knee, Frank steps smoothly out of the way. “Loss isn’t the same. Ways we deal with it aren’t the same. Everybody’s different. You think you’re a hero, but you’re nothing but a half-measure, and I think some part of you already knows that.”

Matt can’t speak. The tape is like venom on his skin, stinging. He breathes through his nose, and tries to think. On the comms, Darcy’s still screaming. “Is it true,” she says, “did you kill them, is it true,” and he’s never heard her like this, raw and shattering and something beyond anything he’s ever known her to be. Something that echoes inside his ribs. Something familiar. His skin is burning and he can’t tell if it’s from fear or the adrenalin or from being trapped or from the echo of it in his ribs, her voice, because he’s never heard her like this before but he can imagine what it took to get her here, can guess at what Frank must have said—

He slams both feet into the roof of the building, and shouts into the tape until he has to take a breath.

“Ever hear a cat scream?” Frank racks a gun, and sets it aside. He’s singularly unconcerned by all the writhing. “Like when it gets caught in a burning building? Shit’s creepy, Red. Scares the hell out of you. Like foxes screaming, you know. It’s not a human sound, but it’s just close enough that you think, maybe there’s a person trapped in there. Makes every hair on your body stand up.”

He pulls at the chain again.

“Never thought humans could make noises like that.” Frank shifts the rifle, sights down it. “Noise like that, you only make it when you’ve lost everything. When you’re so goddamn scared and hurt and angry that the only thing you can actually do is scream.” He glances at Matt over his shoulder. “When I shot you,” Frank says. “You hear your girl screaming? Not a sound you forget, if you do. Did you hear her scream like that?”

Jesus. Jesus. Matt snarls something into the tape, and he thinks it might be fuck you. On the comms, he catches a burst of Kate. (“Lilith—”)

“She’s out there somewhere looking for you, right now.” He straps a grenade to his chest. “Know how lucky you are, having that? Know how goddamn blessed?”

Yes.

(A scream, and shattering glass, and God, Darcy—)

“You don’t.” He scoffs. “No way you can. Fucking choir boy half-cocked half-chicken bullshit. You want to know how lucky you are, Red? You watch it get taken from you. That’s the only way you know.”

Deep, burning, sudden, inexorable cold. Cold all the way through his marrow, down into his bones and deeper. Cold and scorching frost. “Don’t,” he says, into the tape, impossible, unintelligible. “Don’t you fucking touch her—”

“Pissed you off now, haven’t I, Red?” Frank says, and comes closer. “Who’s gonna stop me? You gonna stop me? Try and stop me, Red. Only way you’re gonna stop me doing what I’m doing is if you kill me, if you come at me like you want me dead. Only way it’s gonna work, Red.”

He tries to say it, I’m not gonna kill you, Frank, but it won’t come out, because there’s a memory pressing up against his tongue, because not her, not ever her, blood on his gloves and against his teeth—

(Silence from the comms and please God someone say something—)

You have to come at me like you want me dead!” There’s a gun in Frank’s hand again, and it’s pressed right back to the welded crack in the helmet. "You think I’m just some asshole going off on whoever I want to? The people I’m killing need to be dead! They call you the devil, and maybe you are, because you look at these men, these murderers and these rapists and these animals, and you smack ‘em around and put them back in the world to kill again, punish the monsters just enough to leave them hungry for more. Because Red,” Frank says, “no matter what you say, you ain’t never been to hell. You’ve never been to hell and had it spit you back up again. You’ve never had a really, truly, phenomenally bad day.” He bares his teeth. “Why don’t we call your girl over here so you can see what it’s like?”

Matt starts laughing. He can’t stop, not before Frank knocks his head into the brick again, and makes stars burst in the back of his skull.

.

.

.

A few minutes ago.

“Lilith.”

Darcy comes to a stop on the edge of the roof. Kate had insisted on coming with her. (Trust us, Claire had said, and when Kate had stepped up to the plate and refused to back down even when Karen had fretted and Foggy had looked from one of them to the other like he thought they might actually start brawling in the middle of the hospital, Darcy had just jerked her head and let her follow along behind.) Foggy’s gone back to her and Matt’s apartment, Darcy’s key pressed into his hand and a promise to wait for news. “Go sleep,” Darcy had said, and the naked relief on Foggy’s face had been so blatant that it had actually twisted a knife into her guts. “I’ll call when I have Matt back."

Karen had shaken her head when Foggy had asked if she was coming. “I have to look something up,” she’d said. “I’ll meet you there in a little bit.” She’d been wearing the thin-lipped, stubborn look Darcy remembers from the days she’d been investigating Union Allied, and no matter what Darcy could have said, there was no way she would have been able to convince Karen not to do it. Still, Karen had searched her face for a long, quiet moment before pressing her lips to Darcy’s cheek, and walking away, leaving another twist of the knife, another turn of a corkscrew, in her wake.

She hasn’t said anything to Kate, hasn’t asked her to help, but when they’d gone to change, when they’d slipped into an alley and left their things behind in Claire’s locker, Kate had reached out and gripped her hand so hard that their gloves had caught and squealed together. “You good with this?” she’d said, and Darcy hadn’t been able to say a word, just watched her until her eyes had started to burn. Kate had heard every word of what Castle had told her. She never really had to ask Kate for anything at all.

She’d squeezed Kate’s fingers hard, and that had been enough of an answer.

So it’s just her and Kate standing on this roof, the way it used to be at the start, her and Kate. Kate, who she’s never had to hide in front of. Vengeance, not Justice. She turns, and looks at Kate, at the light reflecting off her sunglasses. In the dark, in the faint yellow light from the streetlamps and the gash of moonlight through the clouds, she looks like a too-sharp blade, all elbows and angles. “What?”

Kate doesn’t say anything. She points. They’ve been spiraling out from the hospital in a circle for the past fifteen minutes or so, looking for shadows, looking for hints. There are any number of people wandering around at this hour, but there aren’t a lot of them in hospital gowns. This one is bare-legged, a thatch of blondish hair and jittery hands as he lifts bricks from a nearby wall, testing the weight of them, the heft. It’s a shadowy corner, and only Hawkeye could have picked it out, really, the flickering and the intent. It’s not a bad plan, really. Steal a car, get out of the city. Flawed, but it works.

Right up to the edge, and halfway over. He’s trying to run. He’s trying to run. He’s killed and he’s lied and he’s betrayed them, he’s led them into this, and now he’s trying to run, trying to save his own damn skin, trying to—

“Want me to shoot him?”

She snaps back into herself, and breathes. Kate’s voice is all ice. Down below, Grotto’s smashed the window of the car open, and unlocked the door so he can slip inside and fiddle with the alarm. “I can probably pin his hand if you want. Might be a tricky angle.”

(Think it’s something in you, Castle says.)

(Trust us, Claire says.)

The nice one, he’d said. The blind one. And the one that’ll rip your throat out with her teeth.

Darcy turns, and drops onto the fire escape. She swings herself over the railing, hangs out in space, judging her moment. Then, just as Grotto shuts the door of the car behind him, she lets herself fall.

She lands on the roof of the car with such force that her teeth shake, denting the metal, nearly snapping her ankle. Grotto screams. She doesn’t wait. Darcy hits the button on the baton, and smashes the windshield, shattering it, punching a hole through the driver’s side. He shrieks again, and fumbles for the door. When he sprawls out onto the sidewalk, she’s there to meet him, seizing the back of his scrubs and throwing him back into the driver’s seat. He looks, she thinks, like a bullied child. His eyes are wide and wet, and there’s blood running down his nose and his knobby knees from where he scuffed them on the pavement.

“Jesus Christ!” He lunges, back for the passenger side, but then Kate drops down on that side and aims an arrow through the glass. He shrieks again. “Jesus Christ!”

“Going somewhere, Grotto?” It’s Lilith’s voice and beyond, drawling tongues of fire. “After everything people have been doing for you the past few days?”

“The fuck have I ever done to you, you bitch!”

Kate hisses, long and low. “Watch your fucking mouth, you bastard.”

“I haven’t done anything wrong!” Grotto looks from one of them to the other. “I just—I want to get out of town, you know what he’s like, he’ll kill me if I don’t leave, just let me go—”

She shifts her grip on the baton. She’s biting her tongue hard enough to bleed, looking at him, and think it’s something in you, this man’s killed four people, he’s lied to them, he’s driven them into this corner where all she can do is bite and snap—

“Lilith,” Kate says, so quietly, and Darcy breathes. Grotto freezes when she whips the baton in, and presses it hard into his throat. Darcy swallows. She has to think, to focus, to make herself speak.

“Is it true?”

His eyes are huge. He shakes his head. “I don’t know what you’re talking about!”

A power surge, flaring bright in her chest. She doesn’t think. Darcy flips the baton, snags it out of the air, and slams the point into the side mirror as hard as she can. Plexiglass cracks, shatters, casting shards all over the asphalt. Grotto recoils with another shriek, and draws his knees up against his chest, but she has the baton up against his throat again and she’s half in the car, leaning down, choking him with the weight of it. “Lafayette Street! The old man and his wife, the family on Lafayette Street, did you kill them? Is it true?”

Grotto heaves. There are tears on his cheeks. “I can’t breathe—”

“Lilith,” Kate says again, and Darcy snaps the baton back, retracts it. She doesn’t wait. She fists both hands up in the collar of his scrubs, yanks him out of the car and throws him to the ground. He makes a noise like a kicked dog, like the dog in Castle’s apartment, and she thinks Star Destroyer, Boba Fett, and he’d been a Brannigan, he’d stood by and watched as that dog had been tortured, he’d taken a gun and killed an entire family, a mother and a father and two children, two teenagers, and she wants to crack his head open on the sidewalk. When she whips her arm back and smashes another window, he doesn’t even scream anymore, just flinches and curls into a tighter ball, waiting for the end. Glass scatters over the back of his scrubs.

“You killed them!” Her throat should be bleeding. “Tell me you killed them!”

“They saw me!” Grotto screams back at her. “I didn’t have a choice!”

(Trust us.)

She whips the baton down.

Grotto goes quiet, and still.

“Jesus,” says Kate, and skids across the hood of the car. Darcy can’t stop panting. Could kill someone, Betsy had said. Kate doesn’t seem to know what to do. She peels off her bow, her quiver, leaves them on the sidewalk as she presses her ungloved fingers to Grotto’s throat. Her hands are steady, somehow. Darcy shuts her eyes, breathing in shallow bursts.

It takes her a minute. Darcy can see it when she figures it out, the way her shoulders sag, the way everything holding her up seems to collapse like a soufflé. “He’s alive,” she says, very quietly. Then again. “You left him alive.”

Darcy turns her back, and looks up at the buildings opposite. There’s someone watching through the window. When they see her looking, they yank the curtains closed.

“Yeah,” she says, finally. “I did.”

Kate looks up at her. Her eyes are huge behind her sunglasses. “You could have killed him,” she says. “If you hadn’t pulled back, he’d be dead.”

She looks down at Grotto. He might not wake up, she thinks. She hasn’t brained him, hasn’t killed him, but she’d hit him hard. Harder than she’s ever hit anyone before. He might never wake up from this, what she’s sent him into, and she can’t bring herself to regret that. A man. A woman. Two teenagers. A family dead. And you still asked us to put our faith in you. You still asked us to save you, and damn it, we tried. This isn’t something she’ll regret. “Yeah, well, maybe I should have.”

She thinks, for a minute, that Kate might take her up on it. Then Kate pushes her sunglasses up into her hair, and looks at her. Sometimes, Darcy thinks, she forgets that Kate Bishop had her rapist in the sights of her bow, and chose to shoot him in the shoulder, instead.

“Should have, would have, could have,” she says. “You could have killed him, and you didn’t. That’s all.”

She has to press her hand to her mouth to keep from sobbing. Rage, she thinks, frustration, agony, all of it. There’s not enough room left in her for Kate and Kate’s forgiveness. She blinks, turns away from the car. “We should leave him for the police.”

Kate’s opening her mouth to speak when they hear it. Applause. Slow and steady. Darcy thinks it’s coming from someone nearby, until Kate puts her fingers to her ears. “Don’t know what you did, Cat,” says Castle, “but it sent your boy into something that looked like a fit. Had to smack him back down. He should be awake by the time you get here.”

“Oh my god.” Kate covers her mouth with one hand. “Fucking shit.”

Matt’s been listening. Something roars back up her throat. Darcy stares up at the sky, and pretends that the dampness on her cheeks is nothing but sweat. Matt’s been listening. He’s been awake and listening. Unless it’s a lie, but she doesn’t think it is. Matt’s been awake, and listening. For how long? How much has he heard? Everything since Castle told her about Grotto? Only parts? What had he been asleep for? What had he overheard?

He promised me.

Vines lunge up into her mouth, curling and poisonous.

“Meant to tell you when he woke up,” says Castle. He’s panting, like he’s been shouting. “But then I had to whack him again, and it took him a bit. You want to see him? Come to the tenement building across from the Dogs of Hell bar. 44th and 9th. You should be able to find us pretty easy.” Pause. “Just you, and me, and Red, Cat. No birds.”

It clicks off again.

“I’m coming with you,” Kate says, immediately.

“Someone needs to make sure Grote gets into police custody, Hawkeye.” Darcy takes off her glove, and wipes her eyes with her scarred hand. “He needs to pay for what he’s done.” If he ever wakes up.

“You can’t go up against that bastard alone,” Kate says. “Lilith, he’s been fucking with your head for hours, he’s messed you up, you can’t go alone—”

“I won’t be alone. Daredevil will be there.”

“Daredevil’s probably locked in a fucking box and can’t do anything at the moment!” Darcy looks at her. Then, carefully, she takes Kate’s sunglasses from her hair, and settles them back on her nose. Her hands shake. It’s the first time that’s happened in hours. (Pretend, she thinks. Pretend. She can’t help but wonder if she’s fooling anyone, least of all herself.) “Hawkeye,” she says. “Don’t leave him bleeding on the sidewalk with his ass hanging out. Whatever you do after the cops come, that’s up to you. Just get him inside.”

Kate’s eyebrows creep together. Darcy doesn’t wait for an answer. She steps back, and slips into the nearest alley.

The bar haunted by the Dogs of Hell—aptly named, she thinks, Dogs of Hell; it’s like plastering an X marks the treasure! spot on a map for the cops, really, but the bikers at least have the common sense not to pull too much shit around here; they still get warrants served every week and the guys at the 15th draw lots to figure out who has to go get picked by the bikers—isn’t on the corner of 44th and 9th, but a few buildings down. It’s past midnight, now, though by how much she isn’t sure, and aside from one or two people wandering (because it’s New York; people are always wandering) the streets are mostly bare. The tenement across from the bar is quiet, some windows lit, some dark, but when she stands at the edge of the alley and looks at the rooftop there’s a glint of something metallic on the wall. She hasn’t seen a set-up like that before, not in person, not from this far away, but—sniper. A sniper rifle.

She presses her back to the wall of the bar, and touches her fingers to the comm on her throat. “I don’t know if you can hear me, but don’t react. I think I’m southeast of you, between the bar and the next building over. I’m gonna try to come up the back way. If that rifle’s for me, I don’t want to leave cover.” If that rifle’s for me, he’s gonna have another thing coming. There’s a line of motorcycles on the sidewalk. Darcy looks up at the sniper rifle again, at the angle of it, and thinks, ah, shit. “I think he’s gonna try and draw out the gang, keep him distracted.”

Nothing from the rooftop. Of course, there wouldn’t be. She wets her lips. “When you’re out of this, we’re going to have a talk that you’re not gonna like at all, Matthew.”

Blocks and blocks away, Kate chokes a little. She doesn’t say anything. Darcy absolutely refuses to think about how much effort must have gone into her keeping her big mouth shut.

Trust us, Claire had said, and Kate had heard every word of it. Trust us, and she does. That’s not a question. That’s never been a question. They might not match her quite in the way that Matt can, they might not be able to drag her back from the edge as fast, but they do match her. She does trust them. She needs them. She needs all of them.

Trust us.

“I’m going in,” she says.

Inside it’s quiet. It’s probably five floors, maybe a little less. Small compared to anything downtown, but it still has security cameras in the lobbies and the stairwells. Lilith and Daredevil have both been caught on camera before, in choppy images and half-glimpses of masks and mouths and “the kind of overdramatic, senseless physical violence that only has a place in a Quentin Tarantino movie.” (Thanks for that one, Ellison.) Still, Darcy keeps her head down as best she can as she heads up the stairs to the fifth floor—not the roof, but the fifth floor—before standing by the window at the end of the hall. No fire escape here, not really. If her spatial memory is right—and her spatial memory is generally shit, but she can at least see out the window and kind of orient herself—then she’s at a window facing west. Castle and his gun are pointing south, towards the bar. (Silence, still, on that front. No bullets, no explosions. Not even a voice.) There’s a service elevator that she’d passed on every floor, heavy doors and thick metal, and yeah, that’s one route, but they’d hear it coming, it doesn't go to the roof anyway, and she’s not all in for the whole announce I am coming to kick the shit out of you thing.

It’s an older building, though, this one. From the sixties, maybe. There are ledges running around the outside, like balance beams. Fuck this, fuck this, oh my god, fuck this, and she might be spending too much time with Jessica Jones if that’s her first thought when she’s going to do something stupid, but oh my god, fuck this so hard up the ass right now, seriously. She heaves the window open, and looks up at the line of the roof. No hand and toe holds from a straight shot, but one window over—and this one is covered with curtains, thank God, the lights out—there’s a fire escape, and God bless New York City for being paranoid about burning down like twentieth century San Francisco. She just, you know. Has to get there. And if she falls, she dies. Like, awful, splattering, bursting death, sudden and irrevocable. Death is always irrevocable, Darcy, come on. Her stomach hurts. Of all the jobs in the world that she could have picked, of all the things she could have done with everything she has wrong with her, she had to pick the one thing that meant flipping along rooftops and clinging to walls five stories off of solid ground. God, okay. This is actually happening.

She crosses back and forth in the hall, once, twice. Come on, come on. The palms of her hands are slick, her fingers shaky. Then she muffles a scream between her teeth, and heaves herself out the window.

The ledges look a lot thicker from inside. When you’re standing on them, they feel about the width of a pencil. She balances for a second, her shaking fingers hooked into the window latch. Then, slowly, she stands. Down on the sidewalk, the night had been incredibly still, still sticky with the heat caught in concrete and asphalt, but up here there’s a little breeze tugging at her hair, at her back. She can’t hear anything from the roof, not really. Darcy swallows—it’s reflex more than anything; her mouth’s so dry it could have been shrink-wrapped—and shifts her feet. Her heels are hanging out in space. Please do not break. Please defy physics and do not break for me, ledge, do not— Another shift, and something crumbles, and she freezes, just for a moment. Maybe three feet of space between one ledge and the next, and she had to be short and have stubby little legs and need to stretch out like she’s doing a lunge in order to manage this, didn’t she? She leaves her hand hooked into the edge of the window, and inches over again, until she’s just barely clinging on and she’s braced between one ledge and the next, one foot on either side. The next window is closed. Come on, Darcy, you have a time limit. In and out, braced up against the wall, and then she’s stretched as far as she can and seized one of the rails of the fire escape tight enough to hurt, yanking herself across the gap so hard that she clangs against the metal. She can’t breathe over how hard her heart is pounding. Jesus Christ, you owe me for this, Matt, you owe me so goddamn much for this

She has to hang there, gagging, for three precious breaths before she can swing herself onto the stairs, and start to creep.

.

.

.

“How about this,” says Frank, when he wakes for the third time. There’s still tape over his mouth. One of his hands is free of the chains, but it’s layered with duct-tape, his index finger forced into the trigger of a gun. “How about you have a choice, now, Red? Your girl should be here any minute now, and there’s only one or two ways she can make it up here to meet us, so how’s this—one bullet in that gun. And me, I’m sitting here with the rifle on one side, and this—” he holds up another pistol “—on the other. You have a choice here, Red, you either—you either shoot me to keep me from shooting your girl when she shows up, or you get to see how much shit your forgiveness can do after I kill her.”

The gun’s heavy and cold and the night air tastes like vomit and he can’t breathe, he can’t breathe, because you don’t touch her

“Can’t hit me in the arm, or the leg,” says Frank, and it’s half a song, half a lament. “I’m all kitted, Red, have to hit me in the head, have to shoot me in the head to stop me, Red, and it’s up to you what you do, it’s your goddamn choice. You either shoot me, or I shoot her. Up to you.”

The chains shift and clink against his shoulders.

“Up to you,” Frank says again, and sits. “Up to you.”

.

.

.

Up and over.

She stays low, as quiet as she can. The fire escape’s old, and it creaks, but when she swings over the edge of the building, she’s placed herself at exactly the right angle to put the roof access door between her and Frank Castle. The baton’s clenched tight in her hand. She heaves a breath, and rolls her wrist to loosen it up. On the other side of the roof access door, she thinks, there’s Matt, and then there’s Frank Castle. Someone coughs, and metal clicks together. There’s no other place to hide but this little door, the four walls that stick up in a single, solid point between her and a bullet. She has her baton, she has Castle’s knife strapped to her thigh instead of the taser, and she has her brain and her rage and maybe the barest shred of control left, and that’s…really about it at the moment. When she peers around the corner, she can see chains, and Matt’s boots, and Christ, there’s acid building up in her throat, because how dare you, how dare you do this to us, how dare you fuck with us like this, how dare you

She spins her baton again. It’s retracted, at the moment. There’s not a lot she can do from afar, not without her taser. And it’s Castle’s fault that’s broken, too, all of it, she can blame so much of this on him, and even if he is their fault somehow, every damn thing he’s done has been his own choice. Every damn thing. Every part of it.

How you gonna do this, Darcy?

What does she have? Her baton. The knife. Her anger. And her brain.

She wets her lips.

“Hey, there,” she says, loud enough that it echoes. The chains shift again, and there’s a muffled sound. She might have surprised Matt, as well as Castle. Whatever. “Doesn’t seem fair that I come to talk to you all friendly and you’re waiting with a gun.”

A chair creaks. Boots scuff over concrete. “Cat,” he says. “Guessing you’ve been listening.”

“Actually,” she says, “I kinda wound up sick of the sound of your voice.” She keeps her back pressed to the wall, listening as hard as she can, but his boots aren’t steel-toed, there’s no click for her to follow. He could be coming from either side. Shit. “Not that I’m saying it’s a bad voice, you know, just—seems like you’re out of practice talking. How long’s it been since you had someone to talk to? You definitely had a lot to say.”

Castle makes a cracking sound that could be a laugh, if it weren’t broken in two. “Sound pissed, Cat. You wanna come out where I can see you?”

From the right, she thinks. He sounds louder to the right. “Nah.” Darcy curls her free hand up into a fist against the brick. “Rather keep this between you and whatever gun you have pointed at me right now. Unless you’re not doing that. We could make a game out of it: if you have a gun, clap once. If not, clap twice. Like a magic trick. Or the Puppy Olympics.”

There’s a tap on the ground that sounds more like a scrape than a footstep. A clink of chains. Matt, she thinks. Matt’s awake, then, at least. Once for yes, she’d said. Twice for no. She’ll probably only be able to get one more question in without Castle noticing, but at least there’s a chance.

“You talk a lot, usually?” She turns, taps her fingers against the brick. “Just, you know. You’ve spent the past couple of hours talking at me, on and off. When’s the last time you had so much to say?”

“Cut the crap, Cat.”

“I’m good at crap,” says Darcy. She steps away from his voice, again, and again. “Trust me, I’m really good at crap.” She swallows. “Grotto told the truth, by the way. I asked him really nice.”

Castle doesn’t say anything, for a moment. “He still alive?”

“You care?”

“Told you, Cat. Shit like him needs to die.”

Bile in her throat. “Sure. Maybe they do. Maybe there are some people who can’t be redeemed, you know? And maybe Grotto’s one of them.” She heaves a breath. “But I don’t kill people.”

“’cause it’s wrong?” He spits it out. “Sounding like Red, Cat. You on this goodness shtick too? Tried to kill me, Cat, don’t you remember?”

“I still want to kill you.” Darcy steps back, away from the wall. She spins the baton twice. She can see Matt out of the corner of her eye, and his face is turned towards her, tape over his mouth, and a mass of tape and metal in his hand, what the hell is that, anyway, she can’t tell— “You have—you have no idea how much I want you dead, Frank Castle.” Castle doesn’t say anything, for a moment. Silence. Darcy shifts, and peers around the other side of the roof access door. There’s nothing.

“I want you dead,” she says again. “You’re a murderer. You’ve put people I care about in danger and I want to kill you for that. I would, if I thought it’d fix a damn thing. But what you do, Castle, you said—you said something about fighting the symptoms, not the disease, and what you do isn’t any different from us. You just spill more blood trying to get at the root.”

“Better than you.” And he’s too close, all of a sudden, way too close, just around the corner; Darcy presses her back to the door. Matt taps his left foot once, and tips his head, and she edges away again. “Think you do a damn bit of good leaving them alive, Cat?”

“You shoot them and they die and what does that fix, Castle? Who does that help? The people they’ve killed? They’re still dead. You were in the hospital, you see what the ER was like? Full of people trying to kill each other because they’re scared of what you’re doing, full of innocents getting caught in the crossfire. You’re not making things better, you’re making them worse, just like we are. You wanna help people, Castle? You need to shut the fuck up.”

Matt makes a strangled noise behind the tape. In the same moment, there’s a scuff from behind her, and Darcy whirls. Castle has a gun aimed at her head, but when she ducks, slams her baton into his wrist, the shot goes sideways, ricochets off of the door and shoots off somewhere into the night. Her left ear is ringing, and she can’t hear over the buzz. He fires again, and this time it grazes her, scuffs against the armor at just the right angle to cut. Blood leaks over her ribs. Matching, she thinks, and ducks his next swing, snapping her baton out and driving it into his knee. Matching scars. She’d fucked up his leg when she’d hit him with the shotgun, and he’s not fast enough to pivot out of the way. She feels something crumple, vibrate up through the baton, and kneecap, goddamn, she’s smashed his knee. Castle makes a sound like an animal, not a howl but a roar, and backhands her so hard that stars burst in front of her eyes. She hits the ground. The baton goes flying. In the next second, he’s seized her by the hair and dragged her up again, latched an arm around her throat, pressed the gun to her head. “Ten seconds, Red,” right into her buzzing ear, and the knife’s still on her thigh but when she goes to grab it he squeezes his arm so tight around her throat that she chokes. She can’t speak. “Nine seconds, shoot me, come on—”

“Don’t,” she says, barely audible, squeezing it out, “don’t—”

Me or her, Red, show me what you are—”

You kill him and you become him, don’t do it, don’t

Seven—”

Matt fires. Castle shoves her to the side as the bullet cracks off the brick behind them, close enough that scraps of brick sting against her cheek. When Matt pulls the trigger again, it echoes with an audible click. In the same moment, an arrow lands in the rooftop. “Shut your eyes,” Kate shouts into her ear, but she’s not quite fast enough; when the flash grenade goes off, her vision goes white. She fumbles the knife up into her hands, and slashes blindly backwards, catching something, cloth and flesh. Castle lets her go. There’s another thunk (Kate, firing—), and a whip of chains, and then Matt’s up, he’s brushed past her and slammed Castle hard into the wall, and she can barely see, but the idea pops into her head, an epiphany, the stupidest damn idea she’s ever had and maybe the greatest. “Hawkeye, the bikes, hit the bikes,” and in the next second there’s a bang so loud that it rattles her teeth in her skull. All those pretty motorcycles, popping one after the other. It doesn’t distract Castle, the explosions—it wouldn’t, not really—but the sound knocks Matt sideways, which, oops. Should have thought about that part. Castle’s eyes are closed and tears are streaming down his cheeks from the flash grenade, and it’s the only thing that gives her enough time to snap around into a kick aiming right for his head. He hears it, or sees it, somehow, because he catches it with one hand and balances on his (fucked up, fucked up) leg to kick her hard in the ribs, driving the breath out of her, a steam train into her guts. Someone snarls—her, Kate, Matt, who knows—and Darcy’s rolled and snapped back up to her feet just as Kate fires again. An arrow sprouts from Castle’s shoulder, from the patch of skin visible at the collar of his jacket. Castle snarls, knocked sideways from the blow. In the next instant, Matt’s on his feet, her baton in his hand, he’s thrown it to her, and it’s both of them this time, two against one. They’re all exhausted, but Castle’s fucked over because of the arrow, he can’t use his hand properly, he can’t balance right on the knee she’s caved, it’s two against one and this time he’s the one scrambling to keep up with them. They drive him back, back and back, and it’s a whirl, it’s smoke and the smell of hot metal even five stories up, it’s the lash of the chain and bruises and screaming bones and a gun clattering onto the floor of the rooftop. Back and back. Matt snaps the chain out, looping it around the ankle of Castle’s good leg, and pulls. When all of Castle’s weight lands on his smashed knee, he snarls, staggers, and she cuts up and in and slams her baton hard across the bone of his jaw.

Castle drops. He drops, and he stays down, still as Grotto was, breathing and bloody and beaten. Below there’s fire and shouting, and Kate is saying something about angry bikers in her ear, but Castle drops and stays down. Darcy stares at him, at the bruises and the cuts, at the gun and the jacket and the boots, until Matt shifts next to her, and starts to reach out. Then she works her throat, and spits, not on Castle but to the side, onto the concrete. There’s a little pool of blood spreading from where the arrow found its mark, angled oddly through the meat between his throat and shoulder, somewhere that wouldn’t damage him permanently but slowed him down enough to beat. Her lip is bleeding again. The cut on her face from the glass, that’s bloody too. Her hair’s probably sticky from the cut on her head, and her ribs ache, and she wants to bring her baton down onto Castle’s skull, shatter it, brain him for what he’s done, but she looks at him and she spits and she says, “I’m not you, you bastard. We’re not you.”

There’s a single, shivering moment where she thinks about breaking Castle’s nose. Before she can decide, Matt shifts against her shoulder, and pulls her into him. It’s not a hug—she’d kill him if it were a hug, she can’t be touched right now, refuses to let him be tender with her when she wants to rip him apart for doing this to her, when she wants to hurt him for being stupid and for being a hypocrite and for making her angrier than she’s ever been with him before, a cold knot of fury still pressing up against her sternum—but he puts his gloved hand to the back of her neck and pulls her close enough that he can rest his forehead to her temple, that when he breathes out it dusts over her cheek, over the taped cut from the hospital and the bruising, helmet against helmet. She can feel one of the horns pressing into her skull. He breathes, deep and slow, and the chain weighs heavy against her back from where it’s dangling from his wrist, and she breathes. You’re alive. Hollow exhales. I’m alive, you’re alive, and I’m furious with you, but right now this is all I need to know.

Darcy shuts her eyes.

Chapter Text

The rest of it is just…shit.

Getting out of the building is probably the worst thing she’s had to do since throwing herself out of a warehouse window to get away from Hironobu Orihara. They drag Castle for the first few floors, stick him in the elevator and leave him unsupervised, and of course they turn around from the absolute avalanche of angry bikers to find him gone, fucked-up knee at all. It’s the way the whole rollercoaster of this entire thing has gone, the past few days all screaming through her mind like a bullet train. One step forward, three steps back. She doesn’t like how fast this has developed, how quickly everything had spiraled so completely apart. Two days for her to question everything. Two days for her to nearly lose it all. Two days to wonder if it had ever had any meaning in the first place.  

Matt’s watching her, in his own way. He doesn’t say a word. He’s always been able to tell when she’s angry, before, but she doesn’t think she’s ever—ever—been this furious with him. The farther they get away from the tenement, from the Dogs of Hell, from Castle and from the agony of the past two days, the colder it gets, spiraling down into a terrible, frozen knot in the back of her mouth. He’s alive, somehow, incredibly, after everything, all the shit he’s pulled and all the crap they’ve had to deal with and all the things he’d said, and she’d said, somehow he’s still alive, and that’s—that’s pretty damn close to everything, right now. But God, she’s so angry with him she can’t even speak. She can’t even look at him, barely can stand to walk next to him, because you promised and you broke it, you told me you wouldn’t and you did, you said you’d never leave and you almost did and if you say a goddamn word I’m going to be the one to kill you, Matt, I really probably will. And because he’s Matt, he can probably hear it. Or hear something, anyway, because aside from saying “I’m fine” when Kate asks him if he’s gonna die in the next hour, he keeps his goddamn mouth shut.

Karen’s spread herself across the floor of the living room, shoving the coffee table aside in favor of her photographs and her files. She bolts up off the floor as soon as Darcy wedges the roof access door open, and steps aside to let Kate and Matt in. She’s the one to lock it up again, behind them. “Christ,” Karen says, and flies at them both, crashing hard enough into Matt to nearly knock him off his feet. “Christ, we thought you were gonna call, you said you’d call when you had something—”

“Forgot,” says Darcy. Karen takes one look at her, and backs off of the incoming hug. “I need to change. Where’s Foggy?”

“I think you have enough gauze in there to treat an army,” says Foggy, shutting the bathroom door behind him, but he darts forward and hugs Matt too, hard enough that Matt lets out an odd wheezy sound. Foggy yanks back just as fast, and hugs Darcy too, blatantly defying the look on her face and the blood on her cheek. “Jesus Christ, you two, overkill much?”

His voice is trembling.  Darcy fists her hands up by her sides, and then relaxes into him, hiding her face in his shoulder. Foggy. She can’t do this without any of them, but she wouldn’t be here without Foggy, not really. Slowly, she curls her fingers into the back of his jacket, and tries to keep her breathing steady. “You’ll get blood on you,” she says, and Foggy just shakes his head.

“You’ve ruined enough of my suits already, I don’t think it matters.”

Behind her, Kate snorts. “You want to talk about weird places to keep gauze, Clint’s place is worse. He keeps first aid shit in the fridge, which, what the hell.” She taps two fingers to Darcy’s shoulder as she passes them, and Darcy draws away from Foggy with a rasping breath, yanking her gloves off and throwing them into the box by the base of the stairs. “You guys bought food, you are excellent humans.”

“I get hungry when I’m nervous,” says not Foggy but Karen. Kate swipes her finger into the bowl of hummus, making happy noises.

“You are good people, Page.”

“Is no one going to explain what happened?” Foggy looks from Darcy to Matt and back again. Darcy presses her mouth tightly closed, and turns away to hide in the bathroom, flinging the top of the Lilith suit out onto the floor. The bandage on her shoulder from the shotgun pellet has crusting blood on it, old enough to have gone brown. She peels it up and away, and hisses at the smears on her skin. Her ribcage is a mottling of bootprints and bruises. “Like—seriously, where’s Castle?”

“Gone,” says Matt. Darcy tears open the antiseptic wipes, and goes at the hole with a viciousness that makes her whole shoulder sting. “He’s pretty badly wounded, he couldn’t have gone very far. Not with his leg the way it is.”

“What happened to his leg?” says Karen.

Darcy looks at the floor.

“Doesn’t matter,” Matt says.

“Like that isn’t ominous,” says Foggy. “What about Grotto?”

“Hospital again.” That’s Kate. “He’s not gonna wake up for a while.”

“You beat him up?”

“He’s a murderer,” Kate snaps, before Foggy can do more than yelp. “He probably deserves worse than a stay in intensive care.”

That, of course, has the whole room in a cacophony. Matt hadn’t heard that part, she doesn’t think. He asks a few tight questions—who did he kill? When?—and then falls silent again. Darcy throws her pants into the hallway, too, and kicks the door of the bathroom shut so she can clean the rest of the blood off.

Things have settled by the time she comes back out. She’s careful to keep her eyes away from Matt (Matt out of costume, Matt bruised and beaten looking but alive, Matt in sweatpants and a T-shirt and standing at the end of the couch like he’s waiting for someone to hit him, and the way he tips his head when she passes without touching him makes her think yeah, you have some kind of clue how pissed I am right now) as she takes the mug of coffee from Karen, shifts into the kitchen to stand shoulder to shoulder with Kate and knock their hipbones together. Kate shifts, and hooks an arm around her waist without looking at her, picking through the bowl of pita chips until she finds one that meets her high standards. “You smell like rubbing alcohol and smoke and it’s gross.”

“Yeah, sure,” says Darcy, and Kate eats her chip. “We need to talk about what’s going to happen from now on.”

“Sleep.” Karen drops down onto the floor again, her shoes off and her ankles tucked together like a motherfucking lady. “First of all, sleep. But I managed to get my hands on the Punisher files. I can definitely go over this. If Castle has some kind of motive it might be something we can find in here. This is everything they have on him so far.”

Kate makes an interested noise. “How the hell did you do that?”

“Tower’s not marching to Reyes’s fife as much as he likes everyone to think.” Karen shifts a few photographs aside. “I’ll keep working on this until I find something.”  

Matt opens his mouth to say something, but Foggy jumps in first. “The DA’s still not gonna be happy that Grotto’s in the hospital. His witpro’s null and void.”

“Who cares,” Darcy says, and Kate digs her nails into Darcy’s waist in a warning.

“The witpro was invalidated as soon as Reyes pulled what she did with the SWAT team, Foggy.” Matt presses his forefinger and thumb to the bridge of his nose. “There was no way we were going to get a new one, and really, there isn’t a good reason for why we should.” 

“Seconded,” says Foggy. She thinks he might be standing on Matt’s foot, because it’s taking a bit of an effort for Matt to peel away from him and circle around to the far side of the couch. “We just need to make sure that Reyes doesn’t find some way to blame that on us.”

“We go down, she goes down,” says Karen, with a grim look. “I talked to Ben while I was out. He’s looking into Reyes’s bullshit. We might be able to drag something up about her that we could use, if she tries to threaten us for any of this.”

“Which I doubt Jen would let fly.” Foggy drops down onto the end of the couch, watching Darcy like a turtle peeking out from under a rock. “You’re really quiet.”

Darcy steps away from Kate, and leaves her coffee mug on the counter. She wants to curl up and lie down, but the adrenalin and the aftermath of the fight are both still thrumming inside her like a beehive. She’s not going to be able to sleep until she drops. “I don’t have a lot to say.”

“You talked to him, you were listening to that damn headset the whole time we were at the hospital, basically, did the guy—did he say anything about why he’s decided to play Battlefront Hardline in the middle of Hell’s Kitchen, or is he just your resident psycho nutjob suffering a fundamental misunderstanding of the right to bear arms?”

“I don’t know what he is,” Matt says. He turns, away from the kitchen, and it’s only then that Darcy makes herself look at him. There are red marks on his jaw and mouth from the tape, and the bruise on his forehead is still awful, nearly black under his hair. The braid of ice in her throat creeps further up, lacing over her tongue. “He’s not—he’s insane, but he’s not completely irrational. I’m not entirely certain why he’s doing this, but he’s not just doing it to kill. There’s something there.”

Darcy picks a pita chip out of the bowl, and crumples it into pieces over the sink.

“Yeah, well, if there is something there, we can probably wait to figure it out until after he’s stopped shooting up the whole neighborhood.” Foggy keeps watching her, and it’s irritating. Darcy draws away from Kate, and goes to the fridge. She doesn’t actually need anything from the fridge, she just doesn’t want to look at Matt’s face. “And I kind of really question whether or not it even matters. He’s killing dozens of people at a time, that’s—there’s no excuse for that, Matt.”

“But there could be a motive,” Karen says. “If—I don’t know. Maybe there’s something there.”

“Whatever the motive is, he’s still killing people, guys, that’s not—I’d rather not have any of us get shot.” When Darcy turns away from the fridge with an apple in her hands, spinning it between her palms, Foggy’s glaring at Matt. “You know, again.”

Matt opens his mouth, and shuts it again. Then he says, “Valid.”

“Well,” Foggy says, and then shuts up, staring at Matt open-mouthed. He blinks a few times, points, and then drops his hand again. Then he turns to Karen. “You did actually see that, right?”

“See what?” Karen says vaguely, and pushes her pile of photographs across the carpet again. Foggy looks at Darcy, and then to Kate.

“That was witnessed, wasn’t it?”

“What was?” Kate smirks. “Was I supposed to have been paying attention?”

“Oh, bite me, Bishop,” says Foggy. “Don’t, because ouch, but seriously, bite me. If nobody’s going to acknowledge that Matt just said I was right, basically, I’m going to just…hold this to my chest forever and let it keep me warm at night.”

“Because that’s totally hetero of you,” says Kate. Darcy turns her apple between her hands again. “You sound a little slap-happy, Nelson. You should probably go to bed.”

“We all need sleep.” Matt rubs at his eyes again. “We have to track Castle down while he’s still incapacitated. It’s the only way, right now.”

The frost cracks in her mouth.

We,” Darcy says, enunciating every scrap of it, every possible part, “don’t have to anything. We are not going to be doing anything. We aren’t going to go through this song and dance again.” She digs one fingernail into the skin of the apple, and juice trails down her fingers. “We aren’t doing a damn thing.”

The whole room goes quiet. On the back of the couch, Matt shifts, and straightens. He’s still fighting to keep his balance, even now, and there’s patterns of ice over the roof of her mouth that make her teeth go sharp. “Darcy,” he says, softly, and icicles crack down her spine. “Don’t.”

“Don’t what?” She throws her apple onto the counter. “I can’t even look at you right now.”

Kate’s standing by the knife block, playing with the paring knife. Her eyes dart from Darcy to Matt, and then she scrapes the edge of the blade under one fingernail.

“I know you’re angry,” Matt says, the way someone else might tread around a bomb. “You have a right to be angry, Darcy—”

“I’m not angry.” She’s freezing. “Angry doesn’t even begin to come close to what I am at the moment.”

“Um.” Foggy raises his hands, palms out. It might be a warning sign. “I would—guys, we’re all exhausted, we’re tired and we’re stressed and we’ve been scared for hours and hours, can we maybe wait to talk about what we need to do until we can string a coherent sentence together, or—”

“Seems like you need to say something,” Matt snaps back at her, and instead of stinging, it jabs, like a fist to her guts, and she bares her teeth because oh, okay, that’s how you want to play this? Kate spins the paring knife between her fingers, flickering it like a magician would a coin. “Go ahead.”

Foggy squeaks. “I would very, very loudly and emphatically not suggest doing that, either of you, especially not right now—”

“Fine,” Darcy says, and her voice is echoing, as quiet as it is, as level as she sounds, and somehow that shuts them all up faster than if she’d screamed, if she’d thrown things and shrieked and flown at Matt like she wanted to scratch out his eyes. “Fine. You want to know what I have to say? Fine. What the actual fuck is your damage?”

Matt’s mouth twists up into the shape that means she’s hit too close to the mark, and he doesn’t want to admit it. “Are you actually asking me or was that just to make a point?”

“I’m not the one who went after a mass murderer alone, with a head injury, and managed to get himself captured on the same day he nearly died, Matt. That wasn’t me, that was you. So yeah, I’m asking you.”

He wets his lips. “I did what I had to do, Darcy.”

“Bullshit.” Her knuckles are bleeding again. “That’s bullshit, Matt. That’s absolute bullshit. You didn’t have to do anything. You just wanted to.”

Wanted to?” he says, and she fists her hands up so tight that her arms shake. They’re standing with the kitchen counter between them, jars and glasses and open containers of Mediterranean take-out, and she can’t breathe. She wants to hit him. She wants to lunge at him and slam his head into a wall, because god fucking damn you, Matt. “Jesus, Darcy—”

Don’t.” She’s not sure if her fury is ice or fire, anymore, not the way it’s burning under her skin. “Don’t you dare use that voice on me. You don’t get to talk down to me like I’m an anxious kid, not about this.”

“That’s not—”

“The fuck it isn’t!”

“Since when do mom and dad argue?” says Kate, but she’s high-pitched.

Karen heaves herself to her feet, pale as a ghost. “Um, maybe we should go.”

“No,” Darcy says. “No, stay right there. Maybe if he hears it from more than one person, he’ll listen for once in his goddamn life!”

“Holy shit,” says Foggy.

“You promised me.” Her voice shakes, but it’s not fear, it’s not terror, it’s not tears. There’s smoke stinging at her throat. “You promised me you wouldn’t go after him alone, Matt. You told me to my face that you wouldn’t do it, you told me to my face that you wouldn’t, and I trusted you, damn you, and the first thing you did when my back was turned was break that promise, and you don’t get to brush that under the table.

“The pair of you were too far away, if I’d stopped to wait then he could have killed someone, he could have killed Foggy, or Karen, there wasn’t any time—”

 “I, for one, am in favor of the not dying thing,” Foggy says, and when she whips around he puts both hands up. “Not that I’m saying that it’s not bullshit, just that I appreciate that there were thoughts in that direction—”

Kate had him!” For some reason, she’s very aware of how the floor feels under her toes, cold and unyielding. “Kate had him in her sights and she could have done it, she could have knocked the gun from his hand, she could have netted him, she could have knocked him down, she could have dealt with it, and you had to go and be the fucking hero and wind up chained to a fucking pillar and nearly get killed, again, nearly get killed again—

“We didn’t have another choice!”

“Kate had the fucking shot! If you hadn’t argued this could have been over by now, we could have had him on the ground, given him to the cops, put him away, get him out of here, stop him from doing this, but now he’s out there still and the pair of us can barely walk—”

“Guys,” says Karen, but neither of them listen.

“You promised you’d never lie to me, Matt, you swore—

And that, she thinks, that hits him, because he goes completely, absolutely white, lips fading, all the blood sapped from his face like someone’s drained it away. “I didn’t,” he says, “I didn’t lie to you, goddamn it, it’s not like I planned—”

“I don’t give a shit whether you planned to do it or not!” She does, though, because the thought that he’d told her he wouldn’t, that he’d stood there and kissed her and told her he wouldn’t be reckless when the whole time he was planning to do exactly that, God, that makes her hurt. “You made me a promise and you broke it because—I don’t even know why you did it, what the hell did you think you were doing? Were you trying to prove you could beat him, or—or make some kind of point about how different Daredevil and the Punisher are, is that what you were doing—”

“If Kate had shot him, he could have died, Darcy, it would have drawn too much attention and the cops would have opened fire—”

“You know how Kate shoots! This guy has killed dozens of people, Matt—”

“And that doesn’t mean we let other people kill him!”

Hey,” Kate snaps, and shoves between them, still holding the paring knife. Darcy can’t remember circling around the counter and getting right up into Matt’s face, can’t remember shoving him until he nearly loses his balance, but she’s done it, or she must have, because he’s rocking back into her hands with a look like he can’t decide whether or not he wants to bite her or hit her and she’s not sure she disagrees. “First off, you don’t talk about me in front of me. It’s gross and you don’t get to do it, either of you, ever. Understood?”

“Kate,” Matt says, voice tight, but she points at him with the paring knife, and he shuts up.

“Secondly.” Kate has to shout when Darcy opens her mouth. “Secondly. Don’t either of you ever make me choose which order to follow, not ever again. Don’t ever, ever, ever put me into the goddamn position of having to pick, because it was shitty and dangerous as hell and it nearly managed to get us all killed, and both of you—shut up, Matt—both of you were at fault. Don’t ever do it again, Darcy, are we clear on that? Neither of you. Don’t make me have to choose.”

 “Kate—”

“I don’t—”

Are we clear?” Kate says again, not even loud, just fierce and cold and completely uncompromising.

Matt hisses. “We’re clear.”

“Good.” She seizes Darcy by the arm. “You come with me.”

“Kate—”

“You’re running hot, you haven’t slept in two days, you’re going to kill each other, and we’re gonna be the ones to have to clean up the bodies, so this is an executive order from me to you that you are going to shut up, and you are going to come with me, and if one or the both of you manage to get your shit together in the next few hours maybe I’ll put you back in the same room, but for now, you are grounded, because in three days when you cool off you both are going to hate yourselves for some of the things you want to say and that is really not okay with any of us.”

“I don’t—”

“Shut up.” She glares at Foggy. “Don’t let him out of your sight.”

Foggy sets his face into hard lines. He looks grim, actually grim, and it’s odd, hanging on him. But also not, because God, she’s seen that grim look a hundred times over the past eight years. That’s the look he wears before he drops a truth bomb into someone’s lap, like a radioactive kitten. “Can do.”

“We can manage him,” says Karen. “Go.”

Matt actually spits a little, catching a snarl between his teeth. “I don’t need to be managed—”

Karen snorts. “Don’t even go there, Matt.”

“Jesus Christ—”

“You were just kidnapped, Mr. Brain Damage, you are not going anywhere right now.” Foggy darts in the way. “Sit your ass down.”

“Foggy—”

Sit down.”

“Kate—” Darcy says again, but Kate yanks, hard enough to make her stagger.

“Walk it off, Lewis,” Kate says. “Walk it off, take a breath, don’t you fucking argue with me—”

“I don’t—”

“Walk it off.”

They’re nearly an hour into the march—Darcy’s wrenched her arm away from Kate’s so she can walk on her own, barefoot, in sweatpants and a tank top, bruised and cut to shit and probably way too exposed, even at ass o’clock in the morning—by the time Darcy finally realizes where they’re going. Fogwell’s Gym is close to the apartment, yes, even by city standards, but Kate uses a second gym when she goes to her classes with the martial artists she’s wrangled out of nowhere, a twenty-four hour place on the border of Columbia. They’ve made the walk before, but it’s a long one, and usually in this weather it means that they take cabs or the subway. Darcy had barely even noticed. She thinks she might have stepped on a bit of broken glass; there’s a stinging in the ball of her foot that isn’t natural. “What the fuck are we doing here, Kate?”

“You have two options right now,” Kate says, and swipes her keycard. “Either you beat the shit out of a punching bag until you’re so tired you can’t actually shout anymore, or you let me knock you out right now with a sleeping pill and when you wake up, you beat the shit out of a punching bag until you’re so tired you can’t actually shout anymore.”

“Kate—”

“Those are some good options, there, Lewis. I could have just gone straight to knock you out and tie you up until you settle, but I decided not to, because I’m a good bro, and good bros don’t knock their bros out with narcotics.” She pinches her lip. “Without advance warning.”

Kate holds the door open. Darcy stalks by her, and into the building. She’s smearing red on the tile. “I don’t need a goddamn lecture.”

“You think I’m gonna lecture you?” Kate smacks the elevator button, and waves at the security guard behind the counter. Clearly, Kate showing up with people who look like they’ve been wound through a meat grinder isn’t uncommon, because the guy just grunts, nods at her, and ruffles his newspaper out again. “Please. That takes effort. I’m just here to make sure you don’t actually stab someone.”

Her teeth crack against each other. “He lied to me, Kate.”

“He broke a promise, yeah.” Kate bounces on the balls of her feet. The elevator doors slide open. “Come on. Fourteenth floor.”

There’s a security guard on this floor, too, and though he gives Darcy a careful look (the bandages on her hand are bloody again) he just nods at Kate, and vanishes into the staff room. Sometimes it seems like Kate Bishop has the entire city on her payroll, and it can be phenomenally frustrating.

“Here’s what’s going to happen,” Kate says. “You do what you need to do in here. When you’re done, you come get me. You’re not going back to the apartment tonight. You’ll stay in my guest room.”

“Kate—”

“He’s not gonna go anywhere, Darcy. You think Foggy and Karen are going to let him? They’ll tie him up if they have to, but if you go back there you’re going to wind up fighting again, and that’s the absolute last thing any of us need right now.”

“I don’t—”

“This is the plan,” Kate says, talking over her. “Tomorrow morning, when you wake up, you’re going to come out for coffee with me and Trish. You’re going to let her fuss over your bruises, and you’re going to keep your mouth shut, and if you need to beat the shit out of something again, you can do that. Trish has been looking for a sparring partner anyway.” Kate crosses her arms. “After that, if I think you're up to it, we’re going into the office so the pair of you can have an actual, adult discussion, possibly with shouting, about the bullshit that Matt pulled tonight. But if I think you’re going to go back to incoherent screaming, then I’m going to drag you right back out of there and we can do this all over again. And it’s not a punishment, before you even go there. This is me trying to keep you from doing something that you’re going to regret in a day, or a week, or a month, or a year.”

God, she wants to bite. “Kate, he promised me. He swore he never would lie to me again and he fucking lied to me and he nearly managed to get himself killed—”

“Yeah, and give him hell for it. Don’t let him get away with it. I’ll beat the shit out of him, Karen will beat the shit out of him, I’m guessing Jen will, too, even if she doesn’t know what happened, and I don’t even want to think about what Foggy’s going to do. He might have pled neutrality in your fights, Darcy, but Jesus, I think he actually wants to stab Matt in the eyeball himself right now, there’s more than a little displacement going into this one.”

“Off-topic,” Darcy snaps, and digs the scrap of glass out of her foot. When she looks up again, Kate’s produced a band-aid and an antiseptic wipe from exactly nowhere on this earth. “Where—”

“Clint does stupid shit,” she says. “I keep them on me.”

Where on you?”

“I have hidden pockets, before you get weird.”

Darcy sits down hard on the bench, and rubs at the cut on her foot. Kate watches her do it, quietly, her thumbs still hooked into her pockets. “He promised me,” Darcy says again, and throws the used-up antiseptic wipe onto the ground. “He fucking promised me he wouldn’t do anything stupid, that he’d back off, that he wouldn’t go after Castle alone, and he did all of those things as soon as he thought he could get away with it, and he nearly managed to get himself killed twice in two days because of it and I am so fucking angry with him, Kate, I can’t even fucking breathe—”

“So beat the unholy hell out of him,” Kate says. “He was stupid, he was reckless, he broke a promise and yeah, you know what, he deserves to get whacked with a shovel. But if you’d had that fight right now, when both of you are running on days without sleep, after everything that happened the past two days with Grotto and Castle and Reyes and the whole damn avalanche of shit that we’ve been trying to climb out of, when you can barely even stand without tipping over, then I promise you, it would have gone so sideways that the whole world would have inverted. And I think that even with how pissed you are right now, you’re not pissed enough to end the relationship. Unless I’m wrong, and you do want out, but that seems like the most extreme option possible here. ” Kate leans back against the counter. “Which, to be fair, the pair of you tend to opt for.”

Darcy slaps the band-aid on over the ball of her foot, and stands again. This place is much more high-tech than Fogwell’s, much less driven by boxing. There are standing bicycles, a few heavier bags. One of the little teardrop-shaped things that are supposed to be at someone’s eye-level, the ones she can never remember the name of. A ballet bar. A wide open space for sparring. Weight machines. She tests her weight on her cut foot, and shifts back and forth.

“You gonna break up with him?” Kate says.

It’s a shock of cold water in her face. No. It’s on her tongue. Her first instinct, the rawest one, the thing that leaps up inside her bones. She’s pissed as hell. She’s never, ever been so angry with him before, never wanted to rage and scream and shout at him like this before, never been so absolutely furious that she couldn’t actually find the words. But she can’t turn around and say, I’m ending this. She can’t. She’s known him for so long that he’s a part of her, and she loves him in a way she can’t even begin to explain, even to herself, and just the idea of it—no. That’s like asking her to cut her own arm off. Her arm, or her leg. Peel her heart out of her chest. She swallows. “Christ, Kate.”

“That’s not an answer.”

Jesus, no, I’m not—”

She stops. Kate, for some reason, looks satisfied.

“Think you needed to hear yourself say it,” she says. “Just to be sure.”

Her foot stings when she leaves her full weight on it. “Kate.”

“Go hit something, Lewis,” Kate says. “I’ll be back in an hour. If you break anything in here, you’re the one who’s gonna pay for it, not me.”

She’s gone before Darcy can blink. It takes a few minutes before Darcy can work up the courage to pick a bag, and start throwing punches.

.

.

.

The sun’s shining into the guest bedroom and right in her face when she finally wakes up. Darcy shifts, and nearly whines. Every muscle in her body is stiff, unyielding. It’s as if someone’s cut her open and replaced her insides with sticks. Her face hurts, and her hand, Jesus, maybe continuing to punch things with fucked-up knuckles had been a really bad idea because her hand is actually throbbing, and her ribs have the same dull ache they always do when someone manages to kick her in the chest. The pants that Kate had spotted her after they’d finally trundled into the Park Avenue apartment at maybe four in the morning are too big, catching oddly on her hips, and when she shifts, the collar of the T-shirt (actually, she thinks this might be one of Clint’s shirts; it’s purple and has a weird stain on the hem) catches around her throat. The clock reads 9:42. She puts a hand over her eyes, and groans. “Kate.”

It takes a minute. Kate sticks her head in, toothbrush sticking out of her mouth. Her hair’s up in a messy bun, and her sleep shorts have Pac-Man on them. “Whazzit.”

“I need to be at work in ten minutes.”

“It’s Sunday, first of all, which you would know if you had actually slept at all in the past few days. There’s no work on Sundays. There’s no work on Saturdays, either, in a rational world, but the world you live in is clearly irrational otherwise you—” Kate points at her with the (purple) toothbrush “—wouldn’t be here in the first place.”

She can’t handle this crap this early in the morning. “Lemme alone.”

“Nope. We have a morning meeting.”

“I don’t have a meeting. It’s Sunday.”

“We’re having coffee with Trish, remember?” Kate has white foam at the corners of her lips, like she’s rabid. Not an image I needed, brain. She sticks her toothbrush back in her mouth. “Besides,” she adds, muffled, “I already went and grabbed all the paperwork for the Guerra thing, so if you want to write your complaint out of the office, then that is totally something you can do. By the way, I’ve already had another call from Jess. Apparently the news about the Dogs of Hell getting their asses handed to them has been spreading. Twitter’s flipping a shit again.”

Darcy yanks the blankets up over her face (unlike Matt’s apartment, the air conditioner in Kate’s place actually works, and she has it set inhumanely low; trying to turn it off means Kate bites) and whines in the back of her throat. “I don’t want to talk to Twitter.”

“I can always tweet for you, I know the password to the Lilith account.”

Well, that’s encouraging. “Do I want to know how you found that one out?”

“Darcy, the forgotten password hint was why. It was pretty obvious the actual password was gonna be because fuck you, that’s why. With a one in the middle and like…two exclamation marks. It only took me a couple tries.”

She glares at the weave of the blanket. “Fine. Fine. I’ll talk to Twitter. Go—go fuck yourself.”

“Do that already,” Kate says, and trots off.

“That is way more than I ever needed to know, Kate Bishop!” Darcy shouts after her. There’s only a bit of cackling from the bathroom. Darcy hides in the pillows—come on, Lewis—and then heaves her bruised, achey, old-lady self up out of the bed so she can change.

She’s still wearing Kate’s clothes (well, Kate’s baggiest clothes, because the boob difference between Kate Bishop and Darcy Lewis is actually insane) when they head for Joe’s Cups. It’s one of those swanky newer places that always give Darcy hives to look at, shining chrome and very white vinyl seats, minimalist design and a coffee bar like an MC Escher stairwell (seriously, it’s weird as fuck). Trish Walker has settled at the end of the bar with an iPad, her legs crossed neatly at the knee and wearing a pair of heels that look like they could kill a man. She’s kitted up like she’s going to go into work, pencil skirt and button down, but that’s both gross and unacceptable because Sundays. Especially Sundays in August where the temperature outside is still cracking a hundred, even after the thunderstorm at three AM. (Walking home in that had been fun, for sure.) 

“’sup,” says Kate, and she and Trish do that Parisian style cheek-kiss thing. It looks weird on Kate, considering she’s in a tank-top and shorts and has a tattoo on the back of her shoulder of a bull’s eye, and Trish is, you know, Trish, but they do it, and then Kate pulls out the next stool over. “I brought someone, hope you don’t mind.”

“Oh my god,” says Trish, and bounces off the seat to hug her. Darcy’s too emotionally exhausted to push her away. “Of course I don’t mind—Darcy, what happened to your face?”

“Can we not talk about it? Because it’s all anybody wants to talk about.”

“Oh,” says Trish. She doesn’t pull back, though. She smells, Darcy thinks, like bergamot. “That happened to your face.” When she leans back, she gives Darcy a much more professional, clinical look. “Bad?”

(Bang.)

“I don’t want to talk about it,” she says, finally. Darcy eyes the mugs on the counter. “Do you think the baristas will throw me out if I have to pay with dimes?”

“I’ll buy it.” Trish waves her hand. “Don’t argue with me, Darcy. The barista’s the type to ignore you entirely if you come in looking like anything less than a runway model, and plus, you know, if that—” she points at Darcy’s nose with one perfectly manicured finger “—happened how I think it did, then I’m pretty sure a lot of people in this city can owe you a coffee or two.”

She feels like a fish. She can’t quite work out what to say. “Trish—”

“You can owe me if you want,” Trish adds, and waves at the barista. It’s actually a coffee bar, which is the weirdest thing Darcy’s seen. God fucking bless New York. “You can buy mine the next time I see you. It goes around.”

That, at least, is a deal she can accept. “What are you drinking?”

Darcy worked in a Starbucks all through undergrad, and she still has no idea how to even begin to parse out all the words that Trish throws at the barista behind the counter. It’s about as comprehensible as mermish, but when he brings the mug back—giving it to Trish, not to Darcy, the rude shit—the coffee she gets is…coffee. Guatemalan if she’s not wrong. Also, expensive as fuck, but like…Guatemalan coffee. You were so excited to prove you could, Darcy thinks, looking at the completely incomprehensible, Starbucks-on-steroids names of things on the board, that you didn’t stop to think about whether or not you should, did you, Joe’s Cup?

This is, apparently, a weekly ritual for Trish and Kate. They talk in circles, dropping names Darcy’s only ever heard in passing, talking about benefits and media campaigns and donations. Kate used to hang around the Daily Bulletin a lot, back when Ben had worked there, and she knows a little more about the ins-and-outs of media and news reporting than she likes to let on. Trish, with her radio show, comes in at different angles, but it’s all still news, all still media, and it fades into a gentle wash in her ears, like water on a beach. Darcy holds her mug in her scarred hand (her bandages are making things hard) and stops paying attention after a while, cocking her split eyebrow at the barista behind the counter when she catches him staring. (He ducks his head and turns away very fast. She can’t help but think he’s scared she’ll beat him up.) Five hours of sleep last night, she thinks, hard enough and deep enough that waking up had made her feel like she was clawing out of dark water. Then maybe an hour, yesterday afternoon, and then before that four hours, plus probable concussion, and…yeah. She’s kind of dazed. She wants to go home and get back into bed and sleep until all her problems go away.

Because that always works, Darcy.

Shit. The cold hard knot of anger is still there, hunched in the back of her throat, ready to pounce. Shit. She’s supposed to be on top of her shit, isn’t she? She’s an adult. She’s supposed to be able to manage things, juggle a job and a relationship and family and friendships and a life. (The night job thing makes that way more complicated, let’s be real, but still.) She’d been able to manage it, before, even if it had only been by the skin of her teeth. And in two days it’s all spun completely out of control, bursting between her hands like a grenade, cutting her to pieces with the shrapnel. Castle, and Grotto, and Matt, and yeah, herself, too, slipping along the black ice left behind by Frank Castle and cracking her head open on the pavement. I could have killed someone last night. God, I wanted to. She’d come so goddamn close, and it had been an actual miracle that she hadn’t, and Matt had nearly died, twice, he’d lied to her and gone barreling ahead with his damn stubborn idiotic ideas of what he can manage and not being able to fucking trust them to get things done on their own and she wants to hurt him—

In the light of day—not the cold light, because it’s still hot as Satan’s balls outside, but still, the light—she looks at the bruises on her hands and wrists and forearms and fights the urge to put her head on the countertop. He’d promised her he wouldn’t do anything reckless, that he’d keep out of the way, but if he’d asked her to do the same thing, would she have listened? Would she have done the same thing he did? And the line between truth and lie, here…she’s not sure where it steps over. Because she knows Matt. She thinks she might know him better than anyone alive right now, and he’d meant it, when he’d promised her. And if it’d been two days ago, if he’d been healthy and she hadn’t nearly lost him, she wouldn’t have had a second thought about him getting Frank Castle off the tower, even if Kate had had the shot, because—because of a lot of reasons. Because as much as she hates to admit it, Matt hadn’t actually been wrong when he’d said shooting Castle down might have drawn fire from the cops and put all of them in serious jeopardy.

Which doesn’t excuse any of it.

No, it doesn’t. She just—she hates fighting with Matt. She hates fighting with Matt. The ice in her throat doesn’t fade, thinking about it, she’s still just as pissed and has just as much of a right to be pissed as she did last night, but she just—she hates fighting with him. She’d been shit at it a year ago when she’d had just as much cause, and she’s shit at it now, because even with how angry she is, even though she thinks actually seeing him right now would make her scream and rant and rage and shatter every mug in this goddamn snooty coffee bar, she just—she wants to shake him until he understands why she’s so angry, and she wants to hold onto him, and she wants to hurt him, damn it, because she’s not even sure how deep the cut from this has run, how far it goes. Like someone’s slipped a razor down her throat and it’s opening her up further with every breath. I trusted you, damn you, and you turned around and did exactly what I asked you not to do, and that hurts. God, sometimes she just wishes she could get into people’s heads and make them think like her, make them understand where she’s coming from.

(Trish says something, laughs, and Darcy snaps out of her daze just enough to remember everything she’s heard about Jess from Trish, everything she knows about Kilgrave and what happened a few months ago. The sick, oily guilt, the utter revulsion, hits her hard in the stomach, because no, not like that, Jesus, no. Not like him. Not ever like him.)

She’s just not good at talking, she’s good at letting all her problems fester until they burst, and maybe everything with Castle had cropped up out of nowhere, but—but maybe some of the fight with her and Matt, maybe that’s been percolating for a long time. Since the start, maybe. Matt and his hero complex. Darcy and her need for control, her incessant, burning craving to fix things, just—Jesus.

She hates sleeping on things. It gives her perspectives that she wouldn’t have had if she’d just bulldozed ahead and finished the goddamn fight in the first place. They’re control freaks, the pair of them, and even after nearly a year sometimes she’ll look at him and it scares the living shit out of her that he has so much influence over her, that he can make her happy or destroy her so fucking easily, with a word, with a smile. She’s not built for long relationships just because it’s so goddamn hard to give someone that much power. And it’s mutual, she thinks. She thinks of how white he’d gone when she’d said it, you lied to me, Matt (because a year ago she’d told him if he ever lied to her, if he ever lied to her, she’d be done, and that there wouldn’t be a second chance) and knows. Yeah. It’s mutual. Matt, control freak Matt, Matt with his strict rules and his iron-clad conceptions of reality and morality: Matt’s just as scared of what she can do to him as she is of what he can do to her. Matt’s just as scared—she thinks; she hopes; she used to know, but now she’s not entirely sure—to be without her as she is to be without him, because God, they’ve known each other for eight years, she doesn’t actually remember the way it felt to live life before she knew Matt, he’s the one person who’s ever known all her secrets and she’s so angry with him right now she could actually beat the shit out of him.

Doesn’t mean he didn’t break his promise.

(Bang, and she’d nearly lost him, and all of it’s mixing up inside, she’d come so close to the edge and she’d walked away from it, she wants to hurt him and snarl at him and scream but she also can’t get the image of last night out of her head, because Castle had had a gun to her temple in spite of everything he'd said about people who deserved to die and he'd said shoot me, me or her, and Matt had done it—)

“You look like you’re thinking really hard.”

Darcy looks up from the coffee mug. Trish is watching her, chin propped in her hand. On Trish’s other side, Kate’s fiddling around with her phone (she’s tweeting; Darcy’s phone buzzes in her pocket with the notifications coming in) and not paying attention, or pretending not to, at least. “Hm?”

Trish settles her cup back onto the bar. “You doing okay?”

“She had a fight with her partner-in-crime,” says Kate, before Darcy can come up with an excuse. She wants desperately to kick Kate Bishop in the stomach, but she’s too far off.

“Ah,” says Trish, knowingly. “Before or after the nose?”

“After the nose.”

“I can speak for myself,” Darcy says.

“Now you know how it feels to have someone talk about you in front of you,” Kate says. Her smile’s sharp enough to cut. “It’s the shits, isn’t it?”

Trish makes a little gesture with her fingers that looks more like a come at me, bro thing to Darcy than anything, but it shuts Kate up, somehow. “You want to talk about it?”

“Not really.” Darcy scowls at Kate. “Is this why you dragged me out to this? For couples’ therapy?”

“Couples’ therapy involves an actual couple most of the time, not just half of one.” Kate shrugs. “Think about it, though, Lewis. Trish might have hard-hitting news and opinion segments, but TrishTalk does a lot of interpersonal stuff too. The Friday shows are always dating related.”

Trish wrinkles her nose. “I keep trying to get that one discontinued, but the network gets antsy when they hear about a woman-led, woman-run show that doesn’t involve romance or whatever, so I have to keep it. For now,” she adds, darkly, and Darcy tries very hard not to think about a Trish Walker on the side of Bad Things, because a Dark Side!Trish would actually be terrifying. The only person who might scare her more, treading onto the Dark Side of the Force, would be Karen. Which…holy shit.

“Anyway,” says Trish. “I mean, I generally get experts in interpersonal relationships to do that part, and it’s only a fifteen minute segment every Friday, but most couples seem to have the same problems, so far as I can tell. Not talking about things, not discussing boundaries, stepping on each other’s toes, not cultivating healthy relationships outside of the significant other.” She glances from Darcy to Kate, and then says, “I don’t think that last one would be your problem.” 

“It’s cute that you think my relationships are healthy,” says Darcy, and Kate snorts into her mug.

“Aren’t they?” Trish leans back on the stool. “I mean, you have friends, you have your job, you try to keep it together most of the time even with your krav maga accidents—”

“That’s a much better term for it than Chinatown, thank you, I’ve been trying to come up with something—”

Trish waves that off. “If anything, you’re much more well-adjusted than anyone could expect, considering what you do with your life and who you do it with. Is this the first time you guys have actually, you know, had a big fight?”

Darcy gags on her mouthful of coffee. “Seriously, Trish, I didn’t come out here for therapy.”

“I’m not looking to give it. Last guy I dated turned out to be a psychotic ex-military drug addict with rage issues, I’m not anywhere near a place where I can be giving advice about healthy relationships. But, you know, I can listen, if you need that right now.” Trish swirls her coffee in her mug. “You mind if I ask what he did?”

She might actually rather swallow acid than talk about this too much with anyone, but…Trish. Trish isn’t actually a part of their little group or team or whatever it is; she doesn’t see Trish more than once a month, doesn’t talk to her much outside of a few text streams about puppy videos and maybe asking for a Jessica translation, and Trish…might actually be the best candidate to not blow up on her, to be honest. Darcy rubs at her eyes (carefully, very carefully, because her nose still feels like shit) and watches the barista putter around the other end of the counter. His nametag says Eduardo, which is a blast from the proverbial past that she really does not want in her head right now.

“He promised me he wouldn’t do something and he did,” Darcy says. She shifts her bandaged fingers on her mug. “And it, um. We have a really—really aggressive client. And I told Matt to stay out of the guy’s way, because they’ve already fought—argued once, and it ended badly. Like…really badly, nearly wrecked the case badly, nearly ended his career badly. And he promised me he would. And last—yesterday he went after the client anyway, and—and it really could have ruined everything.”

Trish glances at Kate, and then says, “Ah.”

“He promised me he wouldn’t,” she says, and she sounds like a broken record, but this is the sticking point, this is the worst part. “He promised me, and he did it anyway, and I don’t know if it’s because he—he didn’t think the promise was worth anything or because he’s stubborn or because he’s actually crazy or because of something else entirely, and I think I’m gonna actually smash his head through the wall if I see him today, and I just—I don’t want to talk about it.”

At the other end of the counter, Eduardo the barista starts flirting with a redhead in a mini-dress. He doesn’t look anything like the Eduardo Darcy dated during 1L—he’s much skinnier, a lot taller, and his hair is artfully shaved and bleached instead of dark and tied back—but the name’s pissing her off. The redhead with the curly hair loops her arm through her friend’s—a platinum blonde in knee-high tan boots and what looks like a lab coat—and gives the barista the middle finger before the pair of them vanish out the front doors again. 

Trish snitches a sugar packet out of the basket when the barista goes to wash one of his mixers, and adds it to her latte. “You think he did it on purpose?”   

“The aggressive client?”

“Matt.”

“Break the promise?”

“Mm.”

Back with the fish face, her lips parting and no sound coming out. Darcy crosses her legs. “I’m—I’m good at telling when he’s lying, and when he promised, he didn’t—it wasn’t—”

“He wasn’t lying when he promised you he wouldn’t,” Trish says, and Darcy nods, hard enough that her head aches. Stupid concussion. Go away.

“Yes,” she says. “That. I can’t English. But that.”

“So he made the promise, and he meant it, and then later he went after this client of yours anyway?”

Kate mimes an explosion with her hands, and then says, “The huge, shredded, eight-pack client with lots of pointy objects and boom-boom sticks.”

Trish scrunches her nose up. It’s her way of smiling without smiling. “Adam Driver appreciates you.”

“He’d better. I still want to date him.”

“He’s a bit young for you, isn’t he? Only in his thirties.”

Kate rears back. “Bite me.”

Darcy doesn’t really have any more words at the moment. She knocks the heel of her shoe against the barstool, not looking at either of them anymore.

“Why do you think he broke it?” Trish says, carefully. Darcy coughs.

“I don’t know if I care much at the moment, to be honest. He did. He could have—he could have ended everything and he did it anyway. It still happened, no matter what his motives were.” She swallows. “He still—I don’t know.”

“Well, yes. But why might help you come to better terms with it.” Trish shrugs. “Or not, y’know. Like I said, I’m not really good at this. I don’t think anyone our age is. Or anyone any age is.”

Kate says, “Word.”

“This isn’t your not-therapy session, Kate.” Trish pushes at her with two fingers. “You stay out of it.”

“Fine.”

“He meant it,” Darcy says. “At the time, when he promised me. He meant it. And just—he broke it, but he meant it, and it nearly ended with—with both of us losing everything, and I don’t know why. It’s like—it’s like he was trying to fuck up, and I don’t get it. I don’t get it.” And, because she thinks she might spit or cry or break or something if she doesn’t say it: “I want to smash his head in with a hammer.”

“Which is probably a natural reaction, though the violence is a little extreme.” She hooks a strand of blonde hair behind her ear. “I don’t really know what to say other than, you know. Communication is important. The only way you’re really going to be able to answer that question is if you ask him.”

“And then smash his head in with a hammer, because that’s what’s going to happen if I’m in the same room as him right now.” Because Christ, she’s still furious—not the cold fury from Grotto and Castle, not the edge-of-her-teeth, barely hanging on, end of the line rage that had kept her running last night, but just—anger like she’s been stung by a scorpion, like she’d put her hands out to a dog she’d thought she could trust and it had bitten her, anger laced through with pain, and that’s a completely different breed. Trish clicks her tongue between her teeth.

“And then smash his head in with a hammer.”

Darcy pulls a handful of napkins from the dispenser, and starts to shred them into tiny pieces. She’s through about two napkins, and has three left to go, when Trish clears her throat again. “I know you probably have a lot of people saying this, but just—if you need someone to talk to about this, Darcy, you can call me. When you’re ready to talk about it in more detail.”

She looks up from her pile of ripped-up napkin, and frowns. “Trish—”

“I know you don’t know me all that well, but just—” Trish digs through her purse for her compact mirror, fixes her lipstick. “I don’t know the circumstances, no, and I don’t know Matt all that well either—I’ve met him, what, once?—but I can tell you that I’ve had a self-destructive personality in my life since I was about sixteen. It’s not the same thing, obviously, but—I don’t know.” She sighs. “It’s like—you love them, for a lot of reasons, but it’s exhausting sometimes. Watching them fuck themselves over. Watching them hurt themselves, or you. Being angry, and forgiving them, or being angry and not forgiving them but coming back to them anyway, or—or whatever it is you decide to do. And I know how much it can hurt, watching them mess up, and—and living through the aftermath. So if you need someone to talk to, you can call me. All right?”    

Her tongue sticks. Darcy takes another sip of her coffee, not quite able to look at Trish anymore. Her phone buzzes in her back pocket again. Kate’s still going off on Hero Watch. As long as she does it on her personal account, and not the professional one, Darcy really doesn’t care what she says. She swipes into her Lilith account, and just posts a smiley face before signing off again. There’s nothing openly connecting Lilith with the account, aside from the implication that it is, you know, Lilith the vigilante behind the anon-face in the profile picture, and since she hasn’t posted anything like I’m gonna go beat up a guy now the police still haven’t had quite enough to execute a warrant on it, but she tries to be careful about it anyway. She barely replies to anyone at all, anymore, and when she does post things, they’re vague enough that you can read them half a dozen different ways.

Well, aside from the one thing she’d posted blasting the NYPD for being racist dickweeds, but she’d retweeted that from The Daily Show, so whatever.

“I know,” she says, finally. Trish snaps her compact shut. “Thanks, Trish.”

Trish shifts off of her stool. “Come on,” she says. “I want to go hit something. Even with your hand fucked up the way it is, it’d probably help take some of the edge off. If you’re not too tired.”

“If your gym is air conditioned, then I’m all for it,” Darcy says, and flips off Eduardo the snooty barista as she goes.

.

.

.

She stays at Kate’s again that night. Foggy, apparently, has managed to pin Matt down in his own apartment, either with so it’s not like Matt is there, but she just—she doesn’t want to go home. Tomorrow, she thinks, she’ll be able to manage it, but tonight, no. If she goes back tonight, then she’s either going to break down into tears or hit Matt hard enough in the head to actually damage his brain permanently, and she doesn’t think she can handle that idea.

The next morning is Monday (Jesus, Monday). She packs up her things, and drops them off at the apartment—the empty apartment, because Matt’s gone, and his shoes are gone, even if the cracked helmet is still in the closet under the stairs where it should be—before wandering in to work to finish Marisol’s complaint. File today, she thinks. File against the Manhattan School of Music, and start actually doing things to make the money Marisol had insisted on paying them worth something. Go back and see if she can’t push the guy suing Marino over the bar fight into putting his tail back between his legs and back down. (Apparently, he’d insulted Marino’s boyfriend and called them both a pair of twinks, which…considering the size of Marino’s biceps hadn’t been a good idea, in Darcy’s opinion, but it gives her a lot of fodder in regards to getting the charges dropped. The guy’s lawyer seems to agree with her, at any rate, judging by the way he’d eyed his client when that snippet of detail had come forward.)

Matt’s not in. He was, at some point—his bag is here, and the text-to-speech reader is out on the top of his desk—but he isn’t now. He’s out with Foggy, she thinks, and when Karen looks up from her coffee and says something about a courthouse visit for Jacinto and a guy named Dupre or diPresto or something, she’s not sure, she stops paying attention as soon as Karen says “they’ll be back in a few hours.” Darcy nods, and shuts herself up in the office with her headphones in to at least draft out the complaint. Working—crafting out the familiar forms, going over the details, going through civil rights law for fodder—that’s soothing. That’s familiar, and soothing, and something she knows she can do, something she knows she won’t fuck up, something she’s done so many times that it’s about the same regularity as a ticking bomb. The system might be fucked up, the system might not ever do enough, but this, at least, she can fight with her brain and not her fists.

Karen knocks on the door at about noon, poking her head in. Monday isn’t a walk-in day—those are Tuesdays and Fridays—but Darcy’s still half-expecting her to say something about a new client who can only pay in bus tickets when she clears her throat. “You mind if I come in?”

“You don’t have to ask to come in, Kare.” She yanks one earbud out, and leaves the other one playing. “What’s up?”

Karen bites her thumbnail again, and shuts the door behind her. Well, mostly shuts it. They’re technically still open, and Karen’s always the first line of defense if someone comes in unexpectedly. “I just—um.” She hooks her hair behind her ears. The Punisher files are nearly spilling out of control from under her arm, pressed close into her ribs. “I wanted to see if you were, you know. Doing okay.”

She’s two days into fury and she nearly killed someone Saturday night, she’s bruised and cut up all over, she still hasn’t talked to Matt, and Frank Castle is out there more than ready to continue raining hell down on the Kitchen Irish, with no way for her to stop him yet. “Okay is pushing it.”

“Figured,” says Karen. She drags one of the chairs they use for clients over, and plops down into it, still chewing away at her thumbnail. She’s going to make it bleed soon, Darcy thinks. It’s an incredibly bad habit. “Your nose looks better.”

She pulls out her other earbud, and leans back in her chair. The heat’s finally dying off, two days into on-and-off awful fucking rainstorms, and she can at least cross her legs under her desk without turning her whole chair into a sticky mess. “It’s healed enough to put cover-up on, which I appreciate.”

Karen drops her hand away from her mouth, folds her fingers together in her lap. “Are you—I mean. Are you sure you’re okay?”

“Karen.”

“Just, the thing with Matt—I don’t want to overstep or anything, but even—even back when everything started I don’t think I’ve ever seen you guys fight like that. And that, on top of, you know, Castle, and everything that happened with Jen, and all the other shit that’s going on with the firm, just—I wanted to see if you were all right.”

“You don’t have to worry about me, Karen. I’ve dealt with worse.”

“Believe it or not, that’s not all that reassuring.” Karen bites her lip. “If it helps, Matt’s—well, I don’t know how he’s doing, exactly, he won’t talk to me about it and I get the feeling he’s barely said a word to Foggy even if Foggy’s been keeping him penned up in his apartment for the past few days, but he definitely doesn’t look happy. I don’t know if that would make things easier or not.”

It doesn’t, not really. She’s absolutely furious with him, but it’s not like she wants Matt to suffer. She shifts her glasses on her nose. “What have you found out from the files?”

Karen purses her lips. “That was a really bad subject change.”

“But you’re gonna tell me, aren’t you?”

“You suck.” She rolls her eyes. “I mean, a lot of it was stuff I expected. The Dogs of Hell, the Brannigans, the O’Shaughnessys, like Ben said. The cartels. Not just Los Milagros but a couple of others, Serpiente Boys, Muerto Nine, a few more, but—but really heavy on Los Milagros, they’ve been taking a lot of fire. The theory the cops had going in was that this was more gang-on-gang stuff, that the Irish had managed to get their hands on military hardware somehow, and then the warehouse took a hit and they realized it couldn’t be.”

The warehouse, and fifteen bodies pulled out of the wreckage. She wonders if maybe she ought to go down and take a look at it, circle around. There won’t be a lot to find, a few weeks out, but she can at least try. Or she could try and get in touch with someone who might have been there, but that’s a bit of a stretch. “What do they have on Frank Castle himself?”

“Not a lot. I did—hold on.” She bounces up out of her chair, and hits the lights, turning the blinds down on the window. Karen flicks through the files, and turns on Darcy’s desk lamp. “This,” she says, and holds up an X-ray. “It was mixed in with the rest, I don’t know why, there wasn’t any record in these files of Frank Castle ever being hospitalized or any of it, but these are clearly from a medical file, and this—” she points at the X-ray “—this is something.”

It’s a hole. Not just a dent, but an actual, legit hole in the bone of the skull. A bullet hole, she’s pretty sure. Darcy doesn’t know enough about bones or about anatomy to say which one, or to say which part of the brain the bullet must have entered, or to know exactly what might have happened to someone if they’d had a bullet shred into them, into all their synapses and nerves, but just—Jesus. “I think he’s a Marine,” she says, and takes the X-ray from Karen, holding it closer to the light. “The knife I stole from him, that’s Marine issue, Melvin told me. And what he knows about weapons and tactics—I don’t know. Soldier. You think this could have been something that happened overseas?”    

“I don’t think so.” Karen taps her nail to the inked numbers at the base of the X-ray. Metro-General Hospital. “He was hospitalized when he was here, on US soil. Whatever happened, it happened to him here, not—not in Iraq or Afghanistan or wherever it was he was deployed, if you’re right and he was a Marine.” She looks pleased, though. “If he really was a Marine I can probably track down his service records somehow, that might give us more background or context.”

“You think he’s having some kind of PTSD meltdown?” She thinks of the Castle she’d seen on the rooftop, terrifyingly in control, the things he’d said. Think it’s something in you. She’s not sure she can actually agree with that idea. If this is PTSD, or a breakdown inspired by something he saw in war, then…what? What does that say about her?

Focus, Darcy.

“I don’t know if that’s—exactly what I’m thinking, no, but I just—there’s something here, don’t you think? There has to be a reason this was mixed in to all of the police records, all—all the photos of dead bodies. They think this—” Karen taps at the X-ray with a tattered fingernail “—was important enough to include. No context for it, just this. I don’t know. I think it could be important. I think—I think the DA might be hiding something.”

“You run it by Ben yet?”

“No, I want to see if I can track down part of it on my own first. I can at least find out if he ever stayed at Metro-General, and where he stayed if he did.”

“Claire’s already on thin ice with her bosses right now, I wouldn’t ask her.”

“No, I wouldn’t. I’ll figure something out.”

Karen takes the X-ray back, and taps at the bullet hole with her tattered fingernail. With her hair hanging the way it is, she looks, Darcy thinks, like she’s a historian digging into an old box of Nazi war records. It’s a very odd, striking image, and she can’t shake it.

Karen hasn’t called her out to walk on the waterfront in two months, she remembers, suddenly. She has a theory, half-crafted and really not something she wants to ask about, that Karen only asks Darcy to come out with her when she has bad nightmares about James Wesley. She’s not sure if that means Karen isn’t having nightmares anymore, or if she’s finally decided to not ask Darcy for help with them.

“What do you think of him?” she says. “Castle.”

Karen puts the X-ray down, and hits the light switch again. “What do you mean?”

“You want to know how he works, right? You’ve been crawling all through these files, you’ve seen what he’s capable of. You’ve probably read more about the psych profile they’ve been putting together for him than any of us. What do you think?”

She opens up the blinds again. Karen’s careful to keep her back turned, looking out the window at the city, at the dumpster on the corner and the scaffolding that still hasn’t been fully replaced on the buildings down the way. Thanks, Loki, really, we appreciate your redecorating skills. She clears her throat. “I mean, I don’t think it matters what I think of him, in the long-run. I just—I’m pretty sure there has to be more to the story than this. He’s so—he’s focused, on this, he’s brutal, he doesn’t just go after everyone he sees. He has specific targets.”

Darcy tips her head. Her earring tickles at her shoulder. “The Kitchen Irish, yeah. Los Milagros. The Dogs of Hell. What’s your point?”

“I mean, doesn’t it seem weird to you?” Karen turns. Her eyes are very blue, today. They’re always blue, but there are some days where they’re like…scary blue. Omen of death blue. Darcy’s not sure if it’s the rings under her eyes or the fact that she has something to chase, some mystery to solve. Karen has a tendency, she thinks, to fix on mysteries. She hates them, can’t stand them, wants to unweave them as quickly as possible. She’s like the rest of them: she can’t stand not knowing how things happen. “If—if waging a war against gang violence was his original intention, why would he just focus on those specific groups? What does it matter? There are hundreds of gangs in New York, thousands of them. He could go into any bar in the city and probably pick up one or two ‘bangers to shoot in a back alley, if he wanted. So—so why these groups? What is it about these three subsets of a literally roaring part of the underworld that keeps his attention?”

Darcy tugs a strand of hair in front of her eyes, and starts to braid. “It could be he’s a Hell’s Kitchen boy,” she says. “Out of all the gangs in the city, Kitchen Irish and Dogs of Hell especially are really big here. They have the most power. Clear out his old haunts before moving on to bigger fish.”

“Maybe,” says Karen, in the I can see your point, but I also think you’re talking out of your ass voice. “Or maybe there’s something else here, something bigger. Something Reyes doesn’t want anybody to look at. It’d explain why Ben is getting random phone calls telling him to look into the District Attorney’s office, see if they’ve fucked anything up.”

“Reyes’s DA’s office is actually a shitshow.” She doesn’t realize she’s drumming her pen against the keyboard until she looks at her draft of the formal complaint and realizes she’s added about fifty extra Ts to the word Complaint at the headline. Darcy backspaces. “I haven’t been working long enough to remember the last DA, but Jen was in law school, she was a 2L the year Reyes took over. Year before I came up to New York, I think? And ever since then things have been just…falling apart. She runs a tight ship, but inside it’s a disaster zone.”

“So you’re saying it’s probable?”

“I’m saying it’s not out of the realm of possibility.” She undoes the braid again with a few sharp tugs. “If Reyes catches you doing this, she’d come down on the firm, you know that.”

“Yeah, she could.” Karen sneaks a look at her. “Not going to tell me to be careful this time?”

Darcy shuts her eyes. “I really—I get that you guys are making your own choices, just…sometimes, I don’t know. I don’t want anyone to get hurt.”

“Except you,” Karen says. “You don’t want anyone getting hurt, but you don’t care if you get hurt.”

“That’s kind of sick and twisted, isn’t it?”

“A little, yeah.” Karen looks at her thumbnail. “Shit. Band-aid?”

“Matt’s top-left drawer. He won’t care.”

Karen shifts around the pile of files on the floor, and jimmies the drawer open. The top-left one always sticks, for reasons none of them can quite work out. They need to oil it, but it keeps getting shoved aside. “I get that you worry, Darcy—Christ, after what’s happened the past few days, I get why you would be worried, we came really fucking close to something I don’t even want to imagine, but—I don’t know. It’s kind of hard to take it seriously when you and Matt say shit like it’s dangerous or be careful when you refuse to listen to us saying the same things to you. And with Matt, you know, I get it, because he’s like—he thinks everything that happens to everyone he knows is somehow his fault, and I don’t know where he gets that, really, but it’s a pain in the ass and it’s something we live with, but you don’t have the same chip on your shoulder. Or at least, I didn’t think you did, until the past few months.”

She swallows that down, slowly. It tastes, she thinks, like the meds she’d had to take as a kid for pneumonia—sickly and completely nauseating. “We’ve been kind of shit to you guys, haven’t we?” Darcy says, and her voice is not fucking trembling, goddamn it, she can ask that one fucking question without getting all shaky and weird. Karen folds the corner of the folder back, creasing it with her one remaining nail.

“I mean, you want a nice answer or you want an honest answer?”

“Like that’s not terrifying to hear.” Darcy takes a deep breath. “Go with honest. I don’t—I don’t really want nice right now.  Nice feels too much like a lie.”

Karen stops at that, watching her, her eyes flinty. Then she sighs. “I mean, I don’t think you’ve been shit. Cocky, sure. I mean, we’ve all been kind of cocky. It could have been way worse. But the fact that we know, that—that you didn’t keep this from us, or lie about it afterwards, that you—” and she thinks Karen might mean her, in particular, not Darcy-and-Matt but just Darcy “—ask for help when you need it and at least, you know, try not to be a jerk about it most of the time is good.” She takes a breath. “It’s hard on Foggy—you know why it’s hard on Foggy, what you and Matt do isn’t something he gets, not really, not even a year later.”

“What about you?”

“I have my own thing that I’m doing.” Karen taps at the folder again. “I just think it’s—it’s really fucking hypocritical of both of you to get angry and fussy and try to keep the pair of us locked up in a closet when there are things we can do to help you. Looking into the Punisher, going along with Reyes’s plan, those are things that I can do to help. And what Foggy did, with the Dogs of Hell, yeah, that was fucking stupid to go in alone, believe me, I’m not—I’m not excusing how stupid that was, but it was a way he could help. And telling us we shouldn’t want to reach out and do something when we’re already watching the pair of you go and get your asses kicked is more than a little rich.”

It doesn’t sting as much as she expects it will. Darcy looks down at her bandaged hand, flexes her fingers, slowly. Tendons and skin tug at the scabs, pinching her knuckles uncomfortably. “It’s not that I don’t think you can handle it.”

“I know it isn’t,” says Karen. “But the pair of you have to get it through your heads. I don’t know where it comes from—I really would like to think it’s not that you don’t trust us enough to be able to handle ourselves alone, because seriously, that’s…actually a really shit thing to think and I don’t want to go near that ever again, but you have to understand. I get that this is something that you two do, that you walk out, with Kate, and you do these things and you see these things that Foggy and me don’t. But that doesn’t mean that we’re not just as much a part of this as you are. And you’re not as bad, Darcy, you’re really not.”

“Matt?”

“Matt.” She sighs. “I don’t even want to start in on that one. Just—the past couple days, that’s the worst you’ve been in a long time. What you need to do is remember that we’re making our own choices. That we’ve made our choices, the whole way through. What happened with Fisk, you and Matt didn’t do that alone. We all did it, we all put ourselves in danger and fought him and we all came through it, and that’s something that we wouldn’t have been able to do if we were all separate parts. We did it together, and we’re still a team, or—or I want us to all still be a team, anyway. And if we’re a team, then you and Matt don’t get to look at the choices Foggy and I have made and dismiss them. You don’t get to arbitrarily cut us out when you don’t feel comfortable with the situation anymore. That’s not how a team works. We’re not children. We’re adults, we make our own decisions, and we’ve chosen to stay, because we love you, and because we want to help you, both of you. So you need to stop shutting us down.”

Her eyes, somehow, are dry. Darcy tangles her hands together, and meets Karen’s gaze, steely and blue and nervous and all hurricane, this woman, Karen who’d killed James Wesley to protect them months and months ago, and just…Christ. It’s the same choice she’d made, when she’d first started working with the Devil. It’s the same choice she makes every night. When Karen puts her files down and comes around the back of the desk, Darcy reaches out, and hides her face in Karen’s shirt, digging her nails into the fabric.

“I do trust you,” she says, very quietly. “I trust you and Foggy, and Kate, I just—I really don’t want any of you to get hurt, that’s all.”

“I know,” Karen says, just as quietly. “But both you and Matt need to realize that you can’t control everything. The world doesn’t work like that. You’re—you both have this thing, that you do, where you seem to have this like…set image of what things are supposed to be like, and when things don’t match up, you get freaked out. And when you freak out, you get snappy, and it’s not really all that nice for the rest of us to manage.”

“So you’re saying I’m like a momfriend on steroids,” Darcy says. Karen huffs, petting at Darcy’s hair.

“I mean, yeah. And it’s fine for you to want to take care of us, Darcy, it’s how you show people what you feel about them, but just—keep in mind we’re not fragile baby birds. That’s all.”

It takes her a minute. Darcy nods, very slowly, breathing in and out as deep and as measured as she can manage to try and keep herself steady. Karen stands still, smoothing at Darcy’s hair with one absent hand. Sweat trickles down the back of her neck.

“I don’t blame you,” Darcy says, muffled into Karen’s shirt. “For what Fisk did. I don’t blame you, Karen. I never did.”

Karen flinches. She flinches, and the next pass of her hand down Darcy’s hair is shaky, and she’s breathing like she’s on the verge of tears. Darcy squeezes tighter, shutting her eyes and holding on, until finally she stops. When Karen pulls back, Darcy has to fumble Ben’s bloodstained hanky out of her purse, and blow her nose.

“I’m gonna, um.” Karen points at the door. “I’m gonna go and see if I can find any record of Frank Castle being enlisted. And let you work.”

“Yeah.” Darcy blows her nose again. “Okay.”

Karen’s on the threshold and shutting the door when it comes back to her, the thought. “Hey, um. Karen?”

Karen pauses with the doorknob in her hand, turning back. Her eyes, Darcy thinks, look a little red. “Yeah?”

“In your crawl through the files, did you—did you see anything about a woman?” “

“A woman?”

“Yeah, um—” She tries to remember. “Dark, darkish skin. Maybe—I don’t know, Asian or Latinax maybe. Something in between. Around my height, but I can’t remember what kind of shoes she was wearing, she could be shorter or taller. And—and good at fighting. You see anything about anyone like that?”

“The only women mentioned in these files are either the widows of the victims or one or two of the people working for the ME’s office.” Karen starts gnawing at her thumbnail again, and then jumps when she bites the band-aid instead. “You didn’t mention anything about a woman before.”

“I was kind of stressed.”

“No, of course.” She looks down at the files in her arms. “I didn’t see anything my first few go-throughs, not that I can remember, but—but I’ll keep looking. And if I come up with anything when it comes to the hospital angle, I’ll let you know, all right?”

“Yeah.” Be safe, she nearly says. Darcy bites her tongue. “Tell me when you have something.”

Karen watches her for a moment, inscrutable. She says, “You’re gonna be okay, y’know.”

She’s gone before Darcy can say anything. Still, there’s a faint smile on her lips when she wanders out of Darcy and Matt’s shared office to settle in at her own desk again. Darcy looks at her keyboard, at her screen, at the complaint, and blows air out her nose. She’s not really sure she wants to be here when Matt and Foggy get back, and she needs to file this before the end of the day today, anyway.

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She really should have expected it, after Karen. They’ve gone into damage control mode, the pair of them, and if she’s heard from Karen, then she could set her watch by how long it’ll take Foggy to get in touch. She’s just leaving the courthouse when her phone goes off, a six word text that brooks no argument. At Mira’s, come and get food. Which, she’s not gonna turn down food from Mira’s. It’s a diner that Kate introduced them to, and it has the best goddamn sourdough ever, so it’s…yeah. She needs to eat, and it’s not like she’s avoiding Foggy, even if he’s probably gonna ask her questions she doesn’t want to answer. Darcy checks her phone, and then makes for the subway.

Foggy’s in their regular table at the back, already more than half through his sandwich and flicking through PDFs on his phone of claim drafts. When the bell over the door clinks, though, he’s up out of his seat and bouncing on his toes. “Hey,” he says, when she gets close enough, and then buries her in a hug that smells like pickles. She’s still kind of uncomfortably warm from walking the block and a half it took to get to this place, but she hides her face in his shoulder and holds on for as long as she can reasonably get away with it. Foggy’s family. It doesn’t fix anything, not really, but she feels less like breaking things if Foggy’s around. Foggy leans back, and runs his hands up and down her arms, awkwardly. “How you holding up?”

“Like the only cat at a conference for thermometer-happy veterinarians.” She peels off her suit jacket, and hangs it on the back of the chair. “What about you?”

“I told both of you I wouldn’t get involved in your bullshit,” Foggy says. “And yet somehow I am involved in the bullshit. Though, to be fair, the bullshit is more Matt being a jackass to all of us then, you know, whatever boyfriend-girlfriend fights you guys have sometimes.”

She winces. “I’m sorry, Foggy, I didn’t—”

“Hey, you don’t need to apologize. Not that you’ve been flawless lately, but I’m like…ninety-eight percent sure this one is almost entirely on Matt.” He presses at her shoulder, tilts her into the chair. “You haven’t eaten today, have you?”

“I mean, I had coffee at the office—wait, how—”

“Darcy, I’ve known you for eight years, I know when you haven’t eaten. You get the pinched zombie look.” He waves at the waitress. Once Darcy’s ordered something, and the woman’s wandered off again, Foggy folds his hands on the table. “How’s Kate’s?”

“There is a special kind of instinctive terror of being the only person in a Park Avenue building who isn’t either a gazillionaire or working for a gazillionaire. I feel like people are trying to shrivel me up with their eyes when I barely even poke my nose in the door.” There’s also the fact that she’s kind of forgotten how to sleep alone, but that’s not something she really wants to talk to Foggy about. She barely wants to think about it herself, even when she’s stuck staring at the window with her arms around an extra pillow, trying to not pay attention to how the detergent is making her nose itch. “How’s yours?”

“You can ask about him, y’know,” Foggy says. “He asks about you.”

“Really?”

“Well, not in so many words, but he always starts paying attention when the phone rings. He stops when he realizes it isn’t you, but, I mean. He’s doing the meerkat head-twitch thing, so.”

That shouldn’t sting the way it is. “I wasn’t wrong to shout at him.”

“Hell no, you weren’t,” says Foggy, and something unravels under her collarbone. Thank God. She hadn’t been worried about that, exactly, that Foggy might disagree with her shouting, but just. She doesn’t want to fight both her boys at once. “Maybe you could’ve picked a better moment, but, I mean. I’ve shouted at him. Karen’s shouted at him. There’s been a lot of shouting. Which probably isn’t helping his head any, but he brought it on himself this time.”

She taps the fork against the table.

“He hasn’t told me much about any of it, but like—I know something happened. And it was probably something really bad, judging by how he’s acting. He keeps going to Fogwell’s just to beat the shit out of things, which we came to a compromise about. And so far as I know, he hasn’t gone out to hit actual people. It’s basically the only thing I could get him to agree to.”

He would, she thinks, considering the last time he’d been out he’d tried to shoot Frank Castle in the head. (Me or her, Castle had said. Me or her, shoot, and Matt had pulled the trigger, and he’d meant it, he’d aimed and the only reason Castle isn’t dead right now is because of luck, and that’s…yeah. She can imagine how Matt is behaving, right now, after that.) Darcy looks out the window, watching pedestrians in short-shorts and tank-tops, in flip-flops and T-shirts, the businesspeople in suits and the families with their strollers and balloons from whatever weird Central Park event is going on today. “It was bad, the other night. I don’t know if you want to hear any of it, but—yeah. It was pretty bad.”

Foggy rubs at his nose. “As bad as what happened when—I mean.”

He points at her hand. She hadn’t bothered to put cover-up on her scar today, hadn’t thought about it. She draws it off the table, and starts pushing her thumb into the mark, dragging back and forth, following the uneven skin. “Different-bad. But—yeah. Still—still basically that bad.”

Foggy blows air through his nose. “No wonder he won’t talk about it.”

Darcy shrugs, and digs her nail into the scar. The waitress shows up with her sandwich and fries, refills the coffee mugs, and vanishes again.

“If it helps,” Foggy says, “I think he knows he’s fucked up. Like—he’s angry and he’s taking it out on everyone but he’s angriest at himself. At least, I think that’s what it is. It’s like our 1L year all over again and sometimes I’m not entirely sure if he’s being a jackass just to be a jackass or if he’s being a jackass in some weird Catholic self-flagellation drive everyone else away because I can’t stand myself right now thing. Hey, he could go for broke and do both at once.”

“If he does,” Darcy says, “I’m going to crush him with a steamroller.”

He gives her a turtlish, under-the-eyebrows look. “I think you’ve been spending too much time thinking about how you’re going to beat the shit out of him, if that’s the first option.”

“That’s like the fifth, there are four stages of suffering before that.”

“I am occasionally incredibly concerned for your sanity.”

“Only occasionally?” She breaks a french fry. “I’m losing my touch.”

“Har-de-har.” Foggy swipes the crust of his sandwich through a drop of mustard on his plate, and pops it into his mouth. Still chewing, he says, “I dunno. He’s doing that stupid bullheaded thing where he’s convinced himself that he’s in the right even though he knows for a fact that he isn’t and it’s just—” He twirls his finger in the air. “He’s put the wall back up, y’know? The Great Wall of Matthew.”

“I mean, I can put his head through the Great Wall if you want.”

“That would probably kill him. But, it’s tempting.” He leans back in his chair. “I’ve tried talking to him about it, but he won’t listen to me. He won’t listen to Karen, either, or to Kate—”

“Kate too?”

“Didn’t she tell you? She showed up at about noon yesterday and tore into him for a full half an hour, it was insane. I think she gets practice with Hawkguy maybe, but it was, uh. It was scary like whoa.”

Holy shit, Kate. She’d said she had something to do, but Darcy had assumed it was like…school stuff, or homework stuff. Class stuff. Hawkeye stuff. Not stuff like lecture Matt Murdock for a full half an hour and come out of it pissed type stuff. “If he didn’t listen to Kate, what makes you think he’ll listen to me? Kate’s just as much of a mask as either of us.”

“Yeah,” says Foggy, “but the thing is, Kate and Matt are like…siblings. He’s not going to listen to a little sister the way he’d listen to you. I mean, Jesus, Darcy, he’s been in love with you since freshman year.”

“Doesn’t mean he’ll listen.”

“He does though, Darcy, seriously. I don’t think you realize how much he listens to you. Like—you have some kind of speech-based superpower where you can phrase things that drill through that stupidly thick skull of his and get him to hear them. Which is weird, and occasionally freaky, but people have known for years that we want to get Matt to do something or back down from something or understand something that he’s being idiotic about, we send you in. That’s how it always works.”

Darcy frowns. “That makes it sound like I’m defusing a bomb.”

“He listens to you,” Foggy says again. “The way he doesn’t to anybody else, that I can tell. You don’t take any of his shit and you don’t back down and even when you get frustrated you still just like—nag and nag and nag—”

“Watch your words, there, cowboy.”

“Fine, not nag. You talk at him until he starts actually paying attention. And most of the time he wants to listen to you anyway, so it works out. Usually.”

The ache under her breastbone has started back up, a finger pressed hard into a bruise. “He listens to you, too, Foggy.”

“Not about this, he doesn’t.” He shrugs. “He’ll listen to me about a lot of things, but this stuff, the—the mask stuff, the fighting stuff, the Batman stuff—I can’t convince him about any of that. If he’s going to listen to anyone about all the bullshit he’s pulled the past few days, it’s you.”

She knots her arms across her chest. “I dunno. He might—there are a lot of things that he might not hear me on. And I’m…not really in the mood to get him to listen, anyway. Mostly I just want to punch him in the face. Or cry. In either order.”

“Valid.” Foggy steals a french fry off her plate, and ignores the look she gives him. “Translating for him isn’t your job and it’s not fair to make you do it. I’m just saying, you know, that you could probably get him to walk backwards off a cliff if you tried hard enough.”

Now that’s an image. “I mean, maybe.”

“Not maybe.” He snags another fry when she draws back, and plonks it in the ketchup. “If you ask me, which, let’s pretend that you did, I don’t think you have to try and convince him of anything. He lets you in his head in a way that he doesn’t with the rest of us, and that’s half the fight right there. But even if you don’t try to knock some sense into him, or you don’t want to or whatever, you still can’t avoid him forever. And he can’t avoid you, especially considering that there’s still some psycho with a shotgun wandering around and trying to kill people. Not that I like the idea of either of you going up against the bastard again, because yeah, it—I mean, I kind of want to wet my pants when I think about him, no lie, but the pair of you are doing the do and being insane and it’s better that you go up against him together than one on one and get your asses kicked, again.” He stops. “I had a point. The point was, you need to talk to him, Darcy, and soon. And if he listens to you then he listens to you and if he doesn’t then he’s an idiot, but at least after that we know we need to like…quadruple-team up against his stupid.”

“The joys of knowing Matt Murdock,” Darcy says, and Foggy snorts. He’s stolen another fry and gone to watching the new waitress out of the corner of his vision (she’s cute, Darcy thinks, especially in the way Foggy thinks people are cute, which is generally blonde and super-leggy) when she clears her throat. “I’m sorry I’ve been such a jackass.”

Foggy blinks at her a few times. He waves his hand. “I mean, considering you barely sleep, it would surprise me if you weren’t being a jackass.”

“Just—” She fists her hands up under the table. “I don’t know. I was a jackass in the hospital and I’ve probably been a jackass for weeks now, and I’ve been awful to you and Karen, and that isn’t fair, and I kind of want to kick myself repeatedly in the ass for it but I can’t do that, obviously, so it’s just kind of. I don’t know. I was a jackass and I’m sorry, Foggy, I didn’t—”  

“Hey, chill.” He blows hair out of his eyes. “If you keep apologizing then you’re not gonna stop and it’ll get awkward and we can just like. Cut you off there, okay? Because yeah, you were a jackass, but now you’re trying not to be. Or at least, I hope you’re trying not to be. And I’ve made stupid decisions in the past year, too, so.”

Darcy nudges her foot into his shin, and pulls back.

“Are you going out again tonight?” He leans back in his chair. “To look for Castle?”

“I don’t know. I fucked his knee up pretty badly, I’m not sure he can walk on it very well. He might be quiet for another night, he might not.”

“You gonna take Matt?”

She shrugs. “Hadn’t thought about it.”

“He’s getting twitchy, is all. And I could do with one night in my own apartment that isn’t drenched in existential angst.” Foggy sighs. “I love him like a brother, despite that weird three-month period in freshman year we’re not talking about ever again, Darcy—”

“Foggy, you’re talking to me.”

“Do I want to remember that I had a thing for my roommate for the whole of fall semester of freshman year? No. Especially considering the current circumstances.” He wrinkles his nose at her, like Bambi with a butterfly. “It’s awkward and unacceptable and it’s also really, incredibly embarrassing, because of the whole he probably knew the whole time and pretended not to part. But yeah. I love him like a brother, the pair of you are my best friends, and if he stays one more night on my couch he’s probably going to claw Victoria Regina into the walls with his fingernails and then break something to pretend he’s fighting some gangster in a back alley. Even with a head injury, I don’t know how much longer I can actually keep him pinned up inside without killing him myself.”

Darcy bites her lip. “Has he said anything about hearing problems?”

“No. Should he have?”

“Just—I dunno. He hit his head pretty hard, and things happen.” When Foggy goes for another french fry, she smacks his hand. “If you want french fries so badly go buy some, you loser.”

“They always burn mine here. They like you better than me.”

“Your life is so hard.” She adds more cream to her coffee, stirring. It’s a shade too pale, now, but there’s not much she can do about it. “I don’t know. We need to deal with Castle. After—who knows. It’s not like I can slow down, no matter how little good it does.”

At the counter, the blonde leggy waitress answers the phone. There’s a wedding ring on her hand. Ah, shame. Another strike. Karen’s probably out doing her investigative thing, at the moment, and when Darcy checks her phone there’s a text from Kate (what’s the deal, wheel?). She throws it back into her purse. There’s a family of four at the other end of the counter, two women, a little boy, and a baby maybe six months old with a puffy baby afro and very chubby arms. It’s a whole different kind of existential terror, really. Real talk: babies are frightening, and I don’t want to be near one. Still, the moms look happy, anyway, judging by the smiles on their faces.

“That’s a difference from if we stop, people get hurt, at least.” Foggy blows at his hair again. “Is that why you were so freaked out in the hospital?”

“Not all of it, but I mean, what have we really changed, Foggy?” She shrugs. “We can’t exactly say we bought Frank Castle a gun and put it in his hand, but what difference have we really made, doing this? Who’s to say we haven’t made things worse by doing what we’ve been doing, the same way Castle has?”

“I mean, I think there are a lot of people who are kind of grateful that you’re not shooting up barfronts and blowing up warehouses, just saying.”

“I know.” She knows that, for certain. “Just—sometimes it feels like I’m carrying a bucket with holes in it, and water spilling everywhere, and every time I tape it up in one place, three more cracks open up. Frank Castle was right about one thing, even if his methods are—well. The problem at the root is society, and that’s not something that you can change by going around with a heavy stick.”

Foggy shifts the ice around in his empty glass. “I mean, you know how I feel about what you guys do. I think it’s crazy, and I spend—” He swallows. “You know, every night I’ll wake up at least twice thinking the phone’s gone off, that one of you is dead. I can’t sleep through sirens anymore. I wish you weren’t doing it, either of you. I think this is what army wives feel, I don’t know, but it’s awful, and I’d like to not have to feel it anymore.”

“Foggy—”

“Don’t make a big deal out of it, seriously, I can manage.” He makes a face at her. “I do wish you would stop. But I know that’s impossible, just because you’re you, and Matt’s Matt, and as much as I hate to admit it and as hard as it is to see it right now, you do make a difference. It’s not rampant change, Darcy, not like you want, but—but I mean, Karen’s alive because Matt put on the mask. Remember? You told me that. Took me a while to think of it that way, but it’s true. Karen’s alive, and you’re alive. Elena’s alive, even with what Fisk tried to pull. Claire’s alive. A lot of people would be dead right now if not for you two.”

That’s true, but— “I don’t know, Foggy.”

“You’ve seen the graffiti around the Kitchen, right? Devils and fallen angels? The creepy snake lady?"

"Lamia."

"Whatever. What you guys do, that affects people. It scares the bad guys and makes the good ones feel safer, and yeah, sometimes you’re gonna fuck up, but if you didn’t do it, then…I don’t know. Things might be a hell of a lot worse.” He scowls. “Much as I hate to think that you’ll take that as encouragement to do stupid shit without feeling bad, but you do do some good, Darcy. Even if you don’t think you do, there are people alive who would be dead if not for you and for Matt. If you can think of it that way, maybe, it’ll be easier.”

Darcy presses her foot into his calf again. This time, she leaves it there, because she can’t actually work up the courage to speak. When Foggy’s fingers twitch on the tabletop, she shoves her plate into the middle. “Eat them.”

“They’re your fries.”

“And you’re eyeing them like they’re one of your French girls, Foggy, eat the damn fries. Though you can at least buy me another coffee, if you’re gonna be a cheap date.”

“Fine. But this is the last time.”

“You said that last time.”

Foggy kicks her under the table.   

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Lilith (@theangelofmercy): Kind of a weird question, but directed at everyone: what have vigilantes ever done for you?

Hawkeye, Not Hawkgal (@hisforhawtass): @theangelofmercy Someone’s philosophical this afternoon

unicornrider (@dkwlkxia): @theangelofmercy Broke my brother’s hand

MojojoDojo (@idonotthinkthatmeans): @theangelofmercy You walked me home when one of my coworkers trapped me in a parking lot

ChocoBanana (@niseijuu): @theangelofmercy Spider-Man high-fived me once

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There’s an odd sense of inevitability when she walks into Fogwell’s to find Matt at one of the bags.

She won’t lie. She kind of came here looking for him. Foggy was right. You can't avoid him forever, and her heart's beating way too fast at the thought of this, the fight that they're absolutely guaranteed to have (because she came here looking for it, as well as him, no lie) but Foggy's right, and they have to do this. They can't just let it lie. It had still taken her the entirety of the afternoon to work up the courage to get her bag together and go after him, but now she’s done it, and…yeah. Here he is, and here she is, and it's game on, cage match of the decade. 

He looks like shit, she thinks, uncharitably. Like he’s been kicking the living hell out of himself, and like he’s pissed and has no outlet. Exactly what Foggy had described. Good. Sounds like what she’s been feeling. She locks the door behind her—it’s after hours, but Matt must have come in through the skylight, because the key had still been under the brick where Bernie leaves it—and shifts her bag on her shoulder. “Hey.”

“Done avoiding me?” Matt says, and hits the bag hard enough that the chain rattles. Darcy bites her tongue hard, closes her eyes.

“Like I’ve been the only one doing that.”

He stills the bag with both hands, breathing hard. There’s sweat soaking the back of his shirt. He’s either been here for a while, or he’s been doing stupid shit with a head injury again, and either way, he’s a mess of a human being. Matt rocks back and forth with the sway of the bag, eyes closed, panting. When Darcy throws her shit onto the nearest bench, and drops down to wrap her hands, he says, “You brought your things back to the apartment.”

“I did.” She’s going to have to wear gloves, or at least not punch things with her right hand, not until the scabs get a few more days to settle. Working with Trish yesterday had been more flips and throws than actually landing punches, but bag-work is out for a while. At least with her hands. “Did you think I wasn’t going to?”

For a minute, the only thing she can hear is him breathing, and the creak of the bag. Then he wets his lips. “I wasn’t sure.”

God, she could strangle him. Her fingers are itching for it. “We’re fighting,” she says, shortly. “I’m pissed at you. Doesn’t mean I’m going anywhere.”

He hasn’t been sleeping, she doesn’t think. There are rings under his eyes. If not for the fact that Foggy’s sworn up and down to her via text that Matt hasn’t actually gone out hunting for the past thirty-six hours, she’d wonder if he’d been looking for Castle. “Oh,” he says, and hits the bag again. Darcy stares hard at her hands.

“Yeah, oh. Did you think I was going to ditch because you fucked up?”

“I don’t know.” He says it through his teeth, hitting the bag, over and over. “Didn’t seem out of the realm of possibility.”

“Yeah, well, fuck you.” She tucks the end of the bandage into the layering. “Jesus, I forgot how much of a jackass you can be when you’re in this mood.”

There’s a look on his face that reminds her of typhoons, listening to Hurricane Sandy whipping at the windows and trying to pretend the world might not come in on their heads. Come on, Matt. Come at me. “What mood?”

“The I don’t want to admit I fucked up and try to make everyone else feel like they did instead mood, the one that nearly wrecked you the first year of law school.” Darcy flexes her hands. “And you know what, back then I was understanding, because you’d been through a really bad breakup, but this time it’s not sitting so well with me.”

“Is that how you’re playing this?”

“Yeah, because you just told me that you thought I was going to fucking leave you because we’re having a fight. Because if that’s what you think of me, then seriously, fuck you, Matt.” 

“That’s not what I meant.”

“Wasn’t it?” She shakes her head. “You think I’m overreacting to all of this, aren’t you? Still. Less than a week after you, you know, nearly died, you think I’m overreacting when I ask you to keep a single fucking promise to me, and you can’t manage it.”

“You’re telling me you wouldn’t have done the same thing?” He’s going at the bag like he wants to break it, like he wants to snap bone, and it’s infuriating and agonizing to watch. “If you’d been the one closest to the water tower, you wouldn’t have done the exact same thing?”

She swears under her breath. “I like to think I trust Kate enough to be able to believe her when she says she can make the shot. That’s not the point, Matt. The point is that if I can’t trust you to keep a promise to me, I don’t—I don’t know what I’m supposed to even do with that, what am I supposed to do if I can’t trust you?”

“I was trying to help!”

“Were you? Were you trying to help? Or were you just thinking that you couldn’t trust either Kate or me enough to get the job done and you had to run in and do it yourself because clearly we can’t actually manage anything ourselves—”

“That’s not—”

“Bullshit!” She wants to scream. Breathe, Darcy. “God, I could kill you sometimes! You’re not the Lone Ranger anymore! You’re not alone, damn you, you haven’t been alone for nearly a year, you have people who love you and want to help you. You don’t get to pull this Lone Gunman Silverado shit and ignore us. Do you not trust me or Kate to be able to manage things?”

“Of course I trust you, Christ—”

“Then let me deal with my shit! Yeah, I asked you for help, I asked you to support me, I asked you to be there to make sure I didn't go over the edge, to make sure it wasn't just Kate and me alone; I didn’t ask you to go jumping into the middle of a fight you couldn’t manage because you spent the whole day laid up with a head injury, just—” How many times do I have to say it? “You scared the living shit out of me, you bastard, do you know—you should know what it feels like to watch someone you love get taken away from you and not know if you can get them back, and that was after—that was after I asked you, I basically begged you, I asked you to take it easy, I asked you not to go after him on your own, and you did it anyway, and I can’t—ugh!” She shoves a bag with both hands. “I nearly lost you twice in two days and the second time was because you—because you thought you knew better, because you promised and you didn’t keep it, and maybe that makes me as hypocritical as I don’t want to be, but Jesus Christ, I don’t think it’s much of an ask for me to expect you to not fucking lie to me!”

She thinks he’s going to say something, thinks he might shout, but he’s completely silent. Then, in a raw, awful voice, he says, “I didn’t lie to you. I didn’t—I didn’t lie to you.”

“Yeah, but you made me a promise and you didn’t keep it. Kind of a thin hair to split.”

Matt twitches, badly. “You wanted Castle dead, Darcy.”

“Yeah, and I asked you to be there to remind me how bad of a fucking idea that was, how bad an idea it would be, not to fucking—not to pull this white knight jump-in-front-of-a-bullet macho bullshit!”

“You told Kate to take the shot!”

“It was a logical play!”

“Yeah, but you weren’t talking about the logical play, Darcy, you were angry and you were out of control and you wanted to kill him and you know it.”

Christ. Right to the heart. She shuts her eyes, breathing hard. She hasn’t even hit one of the bags yet, and she feels like she’s been punching things for hours. “Yeah.” She spits it. “Maybe I did. I’m not saying I didn’t fuck up, that night. I was on the edge, I wanted Castle dead, I could have killed Grotto and no one would have been able to stop me. But I wasn’t the one with the bow. Kate was. And if you think Kate was going to do a damn thing other than shoot one of her net arrows and get him down off the water tower then I’m sorry, but I’m starting to think you do have brain damage—”

“Darcy—”

“What I wanted didn’t have anything to do with what Kate was planning, and it sure as hell doesn’t change the fact that you made me a promise that you would be careful and you jumped at the first goddamn opportunity to throw yourself into the crossfire, again—

“That’s not—”

“Isn’t it?”

“No!”

“Then what the hell was it? Because from where I’m standing—”

Matt makes a noise that’s half-snarl, half-shout, and hits the bag so hard that she thinks he might hurt himself. “You don’t understand!”

“Then tell me, damn you! What the hell was going through your head when you promised me—

I didn’t want you to lose yourself!”

She stops, and stares at him. She can’t speak, for a moment. Matt hits the bag, and then he pushes at it, hard, enough to swing the thing back and forth like a metronome. He stalks away from it. “You told me once that if I killed someone, it’d kill me, and you know—you know it’s the same for you, and you were angry, and you were out of control, and you know what this does to people, Darcy, I didn’t want to lose you to that, I can’t lose you—”

“You weren’t even close to losing me to it until you decided to take it all on you and your damn hero complex and left me alone!”

Matt jerks. He jumps like she’s just come at him with a knife, like she’s driven a blade into him and cut something out, winces back away from her and shifts up into the ring, ducking through the elastic railing. She watches him for a breath, for two, and when he starts going through a kata, she heaves herself up onto it. “Matt.”

He snaps up, off the mats, spins into a kick that makes her dizzy, and lands again. He doesn’t say a word.

“Don’t pull this silent treatment bullshit, damn you, look at me.”

Up again, spinning—

She doesn’t think. Darcy steps into his way, and hits him. Or she tries to hit him—Matt smacks it aside, the blow, baring his teeth like he’s been waiting for it, and then it’s not sparring, not really, it’s an argument without words, snapping back and forth, trying to say things neither of them have the voice for. I can’t lose you, and it’s Darcy sweeping his legs out from under him and Matt flipping sideways out of the way, landing hard and lashing out with his foot, and they're not pulling back the punches the way they normally do, not slowing down. Don’t ever do this again, and when he kicks her in the ribs it lances all the way up through her spine, sends a jitter of pain through the gash from the bullet, but she rolls into it, lets it put her out of reach, and this is something that they’ve both needed, something that she hasn’t been able to scrape away at with sparring with Trish or her fight with Castle or any of it, just movement, and it’s I can’t lose you and you nearly died and we both nearly fell off the edge and I’m terrified of it ever happening and don’t ever do this again and I’m so angry with you right now I could scream all wrapped up into one.

He’s still moving slow, still just the slightest bit unsteady on his feet, not quite quick enough. When he throws one last punch, he telegraphs, and Darcy flips him hard over her hip and twists his arm up behind his back, pressing her knee hard into his spine and torqueing his wrist sideways. “Look at me,” she says, panting, and Matt hisses through his teeth and says something that could be a swearword under his breath. He could get out of this, she thinks. He’s snapped himself out of worse holds. He could easily flip and pin her to the floor and win the match. Still, he doesn’t move. “Goddamn it, Matt.”

It takes her a second to remember she’s twisting his wrist. Darcy lets go, shifts off his back. Matt rolls to lift his face to the ceiling, eyes closed. She thinks he might say something, but instead he just blinks, slowly, like he’s waiting for her to speak. She’s exhausted, all at once. She’s so exhausted she could cry.

“You don’t want to lose me.” She fists her hands up. “You don’t want to lose me and I don’t want to lose you, all right, can we just—can we agree to disagree on that one? Please.”

He sits up. She can see more bruising through the arm of his shirt, and it stings. Matt shuts his eyes, and breathes, in through his nose, out through his mouth. He sits, and all of a sudden he looks so damn tired that he might just pass out, right there on the floor.

“There are three things I need from you right now,” she says. “And I need you to listen very carefully, because if you don’t, then I’m going to be staying at Kate’s until you do, and I’ll be perfectly within my rights to do it. Don’t talk, Matt, listen. The first thing is that I need you to remember what you said to Foggy, back when all this started, that this is a democracy, not a tyranny. This team is not under your supervision. You do not get to make the final call. The five of us are equal, we do this together, and if you can’t get that, then we have a serious problem, not just with the two of us, but with everyone. And if I’m not wrong, you’ve been hearing about that from Foggy and Karen, too, the past few days, so it’s not just me, Matt. We work better together, and I know you know that. I need you to climb off your goddamn self-righteous high-horse and remember it.”

“Self-righteous high-horse?”

“You have a better term for it?”

Matt lets out a sharp breath. “What’s the second thing?”

“We’re going after Castle again. Soon. We can’t not. If we don’t, he’s going to kill more people.” Matt grimaces, but doesn’t turn his face away. “I don’t think—I don’t think either of us are up for going after him alone. So we need to work together, on this, because I don’t…I’m still not sure I trust myself. And I don’t know how you’re feeling, but considering everything—I don’t know.” Her eyes need to stop burning, right now, damn it. “So I won’t go after him alone, and you won’t go after him alone, but damn it, Matt, I need to know I can trust you. I need you to prove to me that I can trust you, Matt, I need proof of that, because right now I don’t feel like I can, and that’s—I don’t like the idea that I can’t. I love you, I want to be able to trust you, but right now it’s hard, so I need you to tell me that you’re not going to go after him alone, that you’re not going to run wild, and I need you to mean it, because otherwise—I don’t even know. Otherwise we have much bigger issues than you not being able to keep your head down when you nearly get it blown off.”   

He blinks, furiously. His eyes are wet. “Darcy—”

“I need you to tell me,” she says. “Right now. And I need you to not turn your back on it again, because if you do, then—I don’t know what I’ll do. But I need you to tell me.”

“I won’t.” He nearly trips over it. “I’m—if I hear anything, I’ll tell you. I won’t go after him alone.”

“You swear?”

Matt’s throat works. He rubs a hand over his mouth. “I swear to you, Darcy. I won’t go after Frank Castle alone. I don’t—I won’t.”

Breathe, girl. In and out and in again. She can’t relax, but at least the knot isn’t winding tighter. I don’t know if I can believe you this time, and God, God, that hurts.

“What’s the third thing?” Matt says, and okay. Worst conversation in the history of ever. She sits back on her heels, and wipes her face.

“Before—before that, I need you to answer a question, Matt, and I—I really need you to be honest with me.” She’s crying again, and she really, really doesn’t want to be, but she can’t seem to stop. “When Castle—when he had the gun to my head, he said that either you killed him, or he killed me. And you pulled the trigger.” Darcy swallows. “Were you trying to kill him?”

He’s turned paper-white again. “Darcy—”

“Answer the question.”

“I don’t—”

“Matt,” she says. “Answer the question.

He opens his mouth, and shuts it. Opens it again. Swallows. She thinks he might gag. “Yes,” he says. “I—yes. I was.”

Darcy closes her eyes, leans back on her heels. Okay. “Okay.” In and out, girl, come on. “Then I really—I really need you to think about who you’re actually talking to, when you try to make me feel guilty for wanting to kill Frank Castle. Because if that’s true, Matt, if you were trying to kill him to save my life, then—then I really don’t think it’s me you’re trying to punish. I think you’re trying to punish yourself for wanting him dead, and that—that isn’t fair. Not to you, or to me, or to any of us.”

He curls one hand up into a loose fist against the mats, dips his head, doesn’t look at her. Darcy heaves herself to her feet, and bends, presses her lips to the top of his head, resting her fingers to his shoulder. Matt hesitates, and then very, very lightly he touches his fingers to the back of her hand, like he’s afraid she’ll smack him away. She doesn’t move.

“I wanted to kill him,” he says.

“So did I,” she says. “Because I saw you die, right in front of me. I still want to hurt him. And that scares the hell out of me, Matt, so I can understand why you’re feeling that way. But you don’t get to take your fear and your guilt and your frustration and whatever else it is that you’re trying to avoid on me. Not ever. And if you do it again, then yeah. Maybe the next time I leave the apartment it’s going to take a lot longer for me to come back than a couple of days.”

Matt freezes. He doesn’t speak, doesn’t twitch. He barely even breathes. Darcy wipes at her eyes with the back of her free hand. “I need to meet with Melvin to design something to replace my taser. Have Foggy text me, if you’re not going to be at the apartment tonight.”

Matt turns his face up to her. Darcy kisses his forehead, very, very carefully. Then she steps away from him, slips out of the ring, and leaves.

She’s more than halfway to Battery Park when she starts crying, and even when the jackass across from her on the subway stares, she can’t really make herself stop.

Chapter Text

Karen’s been settled into Mug Shots for a good hour before Kate shows up. She’s dressed in black—well, black with purple highlights, anyway. She’d stopped streaking her hair when the whole Hawkeye thing had started, but she still can’t seem to let go of the color. “It’s thematic,” she’d said, when Karen had asked her once. “But, y’know, I liked it even before the whole sharpshooter thing started, so Clint can go suck an egg, I’m not copying him.”

It suits her, Karen thinks. The purple. The suit she’s pulled on. It might hang wrong on other people, vigilantism, being a hero, but it suits Kate. She’s settled completely into her own skin in the past year, and whatever marks are still left behind by everything that happened with the Goodmans, she’s being very careful to keep them hidden. Sometimes her disguise is so good that it’s as if nothing ever happened at all.

Not that you can say much different, Karen.

(Do you really think this is the first time—)

“I ordered for you,” Karen says absently, as Kate kicks the chair out on the opposite side of her table and drops down. “It should be waiting up at the counter.”

“You keep buying me food and I’m wondering if it’s bribery.” Kate pushes her sunglasses up into her hair, and snaps her gum. There’s a scrape on the side of her neck like she’d rolled wrong on asphalt, but other than that she looks mostly okay. Not like Darcy, with her bruised nose and her red eyes, or like Matt, whose head still looks as though someone took a Tommy gun to it and didn’t say sorry. “You trying to get me to do something for you, Page?”

“Can’t I just be nice?”

“Not when you’ve spent the past two days straight going over those files, you haven’t.”

Karen snorts. “Yeah, well. Oh, there’s one for Ben too. Grab it, will you?”

“And now I know it’s bribery,” says Kate, but still, she gets up, and goes to collect her drink from the counter. (Red, Karen thinks. They’re deep in the red, and she barely has enough money to pay for her own coffee, let alone Kate’s or Ben's, but she can’t regret doing that now. Another bill had come in this morning, and she hadn’t even bothered to open it. It’s locked in Foggy’s drawer with every other past due notice she’d managed to scrounge out of the mail pile.) Kate comes back with an iced coffee she’s laced with cinnamon, doctored to her precise specifications. She draws one knee up against her chest, tipping her head to watch. “Whatcha doing?”

“Trying to find Frank Castle’s war record and failing.” Karen hits the space bar on her computer a few times. Her phone buzzes. Santino: Found another one, she wants to talk to you. She turns off the screen of her phone before Kate notices. “I’ve been online with a technical assistant with the Marine Corps and he hasn’t been able to give me anything. I’ve been stonewalled everywhere else.”

“That’s legal of you.”

“I’m not good enough to break into a website controlled by part of the US military, Kate, and I don’t even want to try, that just—that seems like a shortcut to getting my ass kicked in a million kinds of ways I don’t even want to contemplate.”

“Generally going after the military does,” says a voice. Ben’s taken to sneaking in side doors, lately. It always makes her jump. “Looks like neither of you have slept all that much, the past few days.”

“Ben, hi.” He squeezes her shoulder, and sits down. “I mean, no. There’s—there’s been a lot of stuff, I don’t know. Lots of stuff means not a lot of sleep.”

“And coffee,” Kate says, and toasts them both. She puts her cup down, and rests her chin on her knee. “So what’s with the council of war, Karen? Especially considering the Golden Trio are absent.”

“Golden Trio?” Ben echoes.

“Harry, Ron and Hermione,” says Kate. “Which makes us Ginny, Luna, and Neville, and I’m claiming Ginny, but only if we’re talking book Ginny. Asian Ginny Weasley is my jam. Though I would look awful with red hair, let’s be real, here.”

Ben gives her a look. “Sometimes I’m glad that there’s a generational gap between us.”

“You are a sarcastic, rude, pushy little man, and you are my favorite.” Kate knocks her head to Ben’s shoulder, and then sits up straight again. “So yeah, seriously. Karen. What’s the sitch?”

“Asian Kim Possible’s not a bad idea either,” says Karen. She closes the chat window with the website advisor, and shuts her computer. “I just—look. I wanted to talk to both of you because I know you—you’re working on the Reyes thing, Ben, I know you won’t talk about it yet, but you are. And you’re sneaky, so I wanted you in on it, too, Kate.”

“Digging things up about Samantha Reyes is like sifting through a bucket of needles looking for pushpins. They just keep stabbing.” Ben crosses his arms over his chest, and leans back in his chair. “This about everything that’s been happening, lately?”

“Yeah, I mean—yes. You said that your source, whoever they were—” She lowers her voice. “You said they told you to look into Frank Castle.”

“Yeah, and so far it’s been a dead end.” Ben eyes her computer. “Like I’m guessing you’re finding. No real military record, aside from enlistment. Man’s a ghost. Told you that yesterday.”

“I know, it’s just—” Karen goes to bite her thumbnail, and stops when she finds the band-aid. “I might have something. I just—I wanted to ask both of you a favor.”

“Shoot, girl, shoot.” Katie makes a finger gun. “I am at your service.”

“What kind of favor?” Ben says, eyebrows snapping together. “Is this an information favor or a reckless endangerment Karen Page special kind of favor?”

Karen looks at the counter. The baristas—Kimmy’s moved on with her life, but there are a few new ones that aren’t completely terrible, and they don’t mind her sitting here until two in the morning when they finally close up shop, which is great—aren’t paying attention, and neither is anyone else. Still, she bites her lip. “Um, the special. Might be illegal.”

“I like illegal,” Kate says. “I’m practically an Avenger, I can do illegal. What’s the illegal?”

“Breaking and entering.”

Ben pushes his glasses up his nose. “What for?”

“I talked to a guy today.” She shoves her computer into her bag. “He used to work at Metro-General Hospital, he was—he was one of the nurses who treated the guy we’re looking for. Managed to get his ass fired when he helped him with something.”

“Someone actually helped Castle do anything?” Kate whistles through her front teeth. “I mean, that’s what nurses do, y’know, help the helpless, but that seems kinda—huh.”

“I’m choosing to think he did it out of the goodness of his heart.” Her shoes are pinching at her toes again, and she really should probably go home and change out of her work clothes before doing this, but she just—she needs to move. She needs to do something before she explodes. “I found an address, I was wondering if either of you wanted to come out and take a look at it with me.”

“An address?”

“I want to break into Frank Castle’s house.”

Ben looks into his mug of coffee, and then wipes his hands over his face. “Ah, shit. You sure it’s his house?”

“Pretty sure. The guy who told me the address was scared out of his mind, that seems like enough of a guarantee in my book.”

“How’d you find this guy?”

“DA files.”

“How’d you get DA files?”

“A guy. Maybe the same person who contacted you, I don’t know.” Karen wipes the sweat from her palms. “But I just—don’t you think it’s weird that there’s literally nothing about this on the air right now? That—I can’t shake the feeling that there’s something deeper, Ben, I really can’t. And I know you feel the same way, you wouldn’t still be looking into Reyes otherwise.”

He rubs his eyes. “Depending on what it is, you could get into a lot of shit real damn quick.”

“That’s why I’m asking for help.” She takes a breath. “I—we’re a team, we don’t do things alone. All of us. And so I wanted—I wanted to ask.” 

Kate slurps at her straw as if to punctuate it, and turns to look out the window. “I mean, I’m always down for some B & E. It’ll be fun, I promise.”

“No,” Ben says. “You do this with me, you go by my rules. We don’t make it fun.”

“Ben, you sly fox,” says Kate. “Since when do you break and enter?”

“It’s called investigative reporting, and since before your mother was out of diapers, so shut up.” He takes off his glasses, and rubs at his nose again. “Your friends know about this?”

“No.” She bites her lip. “I don’t want to tell them until I have something, and just—I don’t want to stress them right now. And besides. I felt like they might try to stop me.”

She waits. Ben sips at his coffee, and puts it back down again. His glasses slip down the bridge of his nose. He needs to shave, she thinks. He needs to shave and sleep just like the rest of them, but damned if he will, Ben Urich. Finally, he sighs. “At least you’re not stupid enough to go off alone.”

Karen snorts. “I mean, it’s me.”

“I can’t go, not tonight. Someone ought to stay here and keep an eye on things, just in case.” He looks at Karen, then at Kate. “But you’ll keep me updated. And you’re giving me those files, Miss Page.”

“I’m loaning them,” Karen says. “Team, remember?”

Ben flaps his hand, and goes back to his coffee. “If you have to get sappy about it.”

When Kate smiles, it’s all curve and blade and icicles in her eyes. “Where do we start?”

.

.

.

Darcy winds up spending three hours in the garage, which is two hours longer than she’d originally intended, going over the designs for the new weapon. The chain that Castle had used to tie Matt to the pillar, that had been an awful thing, something she never wants to see used like that again, but some of the shit he’d managed to pull off with it in the fight to get out of the building…Christ. That, she’d thought, watching a light fixture burst, that, I want that, and when she’d brought it up to Melvin he’d been so tremendously excited about figuring out how to layer electrical current through the thing that she’s pretty sure he didn’t hear a word she’d said after can we do a whip, or is that too complicated? Not to mention the way he gets all twitchy when he sees what she’s done to the suit, the repairs he has to make. Thankfully it’s only a tear in the cloth, no damage to the armor plating, but he still gives her a look like she’s slaughtered a bucket of kittens. It doesn’t help that Betsy’s coughing in the back of the room in an effort to smother her laughter.

“A week,” he says. “Gimme a week. I can finish the whip by then. Needs layering. Gonna take time.”

So yeah, three hours, instead of one, which means when she walks out of the garage again she’s blinking not in sunlight but in the soft yellow of the streetlamps and the pink-orange of the sunset. She stares at the setting sun through the angle of the buildings for as long as she can manage it, until her eyes start burning, and then carefully she takes a breath and gets back on the subway, getting off at the closest stop to Metro-General.

She doesn’t go in. It seems like a stupid idea, to go in. Like she’s asking for trouble. So she stands across the street, and she watches people trundling in and out of the front doors, listens to the ambulances and the conversations and the city. She leans her good shoulder against the brick of a building, and watches it, hood up and her eyes swollen, wondering where Elliot Grote is inside. She doesn’t know, exactly, where they would have put him, or what his diagnosis is, or what’ll happen to him from now on. She’s not even sure what’ll happen to him in a week, because she’s fairly certain he doesn’t have the money for the hospital to draw on for his care, and if nobody comes forward to pay for it then...well. Where the hell is Elliot going to go?

He might have a DNR, she realizes. They might not resuscitate. He might die in there, because she hit him in the head harder than she’s ever hit anyone, and she still doesn’t regret doing it.

“Didn’t expect to see you here.”

It’s Father P. He looks, she thinks, like he’s overheating, what with his collar and the black clothes and all the sweat shining on the top of his bald head. Even his short sleeves aren’t helping all that much. He’s carrying his briefcase in one hand and a little bouquet of what look like daisies in the other, and for a second she’s so confused—because where did he come from, anyway? She can’t remember hearing anyone get close enough to startle her—that all she can do is blink at him. Darcy pulls her hood back, but she doesn’t leave the alleyway.

“Hey.” Her voice crackles, popping leaves in a campfire. Darcy clears her throat. “What are you doing here, Father P?”

“Heard that one of my parishioners was hospitalized recently.” He’s giving her a very sharp look. Darcy stares hard at the ground rather than meet his eyes, because Christ, she’s pretty sure he heard it from Matt, or at least that Matt’s mentioned it, or something, she doesn’t know, and she does not want to talk about Elliot Grote. “I don’t think he’ll have anyone else coming to visit him. As I recall, he didn’t have anyone in particular who would care enough. But it seemed sad, a man lying alone in a hospital bed with no one to visit him.” He shrugs. “Besides, it gets me out of St. Patrick’s before two in the morning.”

Darcy clears her throat. “Burning the midnight oil?”

“In a way. Trying to make sure that parts of the cathedral don’t get destroyed.” There’s that sharp look again, but more amused this time. “What are you doing here? Seems like it’s too hot a night for you to be hiding in an alleyway when you could be sitting in the air conditioning like anyone else sane.”

Darcy laughs. She scuffs her shoe over the pavement. “I mean—I don’t know. I wasn’t thinking all that much about it, really, just—wanted to stand somewhere.”

Father P knocks the bouquet of daisies against his leg. Then he slips into the alleyway with her, standing at the edge of the shadows. He looks towards Metro-General, cocking his head to get the right angle, eyeing the lights and the doors and the white ambulances and the cop cars and all of the rest. “Been busy the past few nights,” he says, studiously casual. “I’ve been hearing some interesting things.”

“It’s been a barrel of monkeys.” Darcy shoves her hands into her hoodie pockets. “I should probably go. I need to get some work done.”

“Never slow down, any of you.” Father P taps his daisies again, and then bends, settling his briefcase on the ground. “Looks like you haven’t been sleeping much.”

“I never slept all that much before.” Darcy shrugs. “Now it’s just figuring out how to catch naps without people realizing that you’re asleep at the office.”

“Fairly certain that a lot of people who don’t have night jobs try that, too. It doesn’t always work out too well.”

“Well, I mean, my office is kind of weird.” Her knuckles hurt. So does the scuff from the bullet, pounding over her ribs. She needs to pop more aspirin, but it would feel really weird to do that in front of a priest. For God’s sake, Darcy, it’s not like you’re going to snort coke in front of him, it’s a painkiller, just take the freaking pill. She leaves it in her bag. “Sorry to have canceled the past two weeks.”

“Ah, you weren’t the only one. And you have far more extenuating circumstances than birthday parties or unexpected work shifts.” He cuts a look at her from under his eyebrows. “I’d still consider finding a way to carve an hour out of your weekend schedule to at least break your bard out of jail, but if you can’t manage that, then I’ll just tell them you’re ill.”

Her lips twitch. She can’t manage the full smile. Darcy presses her back to the brick, and watches Metro-General for a few minutes more. She should go—they don’t have a lot of time before Castle starts in on something new, and even if she’s fighting with Matt, she’s not about to let him go out and fight alone, especially now—but it’s…oddly, it’s the easiest interaction she’s had all day. And she’s an atheist Jew talking to a devout Catholic priest.

“You doing okay?” he says, after a moment, and there goes the easiness, flying right out the window to land splat on the pavement thirty stories below. Darcy knocks her head against the brick a few times.

“I’m so sick of people asking me that, y’know? Just—not just people I know, but people I don’t. People keep pulling me aside, you know, giving me names and numbers, you can go here if you need to, and just—I’m so sick of people asking me if I’m all right. I’m not all right. I just kind of want to get back to my not being all right and not have people quiz me about it.”

Father P clasps the bouquet in both hands. The plastic wrapping crinkles when he spins it a little, thoughtfully. “Just means you have people who care, Darcy.”

“I’m not saying it’s rational, I’m just sick of hearing it.”

“Noted.”

The daisies are going to start to wilt, if he stands out here for much longer. She watches the bouquet spin between his fingers.

“You want to talk about it?” he says.

She taps at the wall with her heel. “About how people keep asking me if I’m all right or how I’m sick of hearing it?”

“About what has you not all right.”

Darcy bites down hard on the inside of her cheek. “You want the full story or the SparkNotes?”

“I’d rather not stay out in the heat any longer than I can help it. I’m old; I like my air conditioning and my spinning desk chair.”

Sometimes she really freaking loves Father Patrick Lantom. “You’ve probably heard half of it already.”

“I don’t think you realize how infrequently I hear from him,” says Father P. “He’s…sometimes I think he believes he’s not welcome in church. I haven’t seen him in months.”

“Before the past few days,” Darcy says, because it’s hanging in the air. “You mean you haven’t seen him in months before the past few days.”

Father P shrugs.

“What about him?” She tips her head towards Metro-General. “Elliot Grote ever tell you what he did?”

“Elliot rarely took confession,” says Father P. “And even when he did, I’m not at liberty to divulge what he said to me there. Whatever sins haunted him, they’re between him and God, and I just happened to be listening in.”

Darcy fists her hands up in the pocket of her hoodie. “Yeah, well, maybe someone other than your god ought to have been paying attention. Might have fixed something before innocent people managed to get in his way.”

Father P snaps a look at her. “What do you mean?”

Darcy presses her tongue up against the back of her teeth. “It doesn’t matter anymore, not really. I don’t think he’s going to get up again.”

“Not a lot of people get up again, after they hear from the pair of you,” says Father P. “Or if they do, they don’t get up the same.”

“That’s kind of the point.” She yanks her hood back on. “Today’s kind of been a shit day, Father P, I just—I should probably go.”

“Darcy,” he says. She stops, halfway out of the alleyway. “You think he deserved it?”

“What?”

“What happened to Elliot.” There’s a look on his face that she can’t quite define. She’s not sure if he’s sad, or confused, or both. “Do you think he deserved what happened to him?”

I’m the one who did it to him, she nearly says. What do you think? “I think he’s a manipulative, cowardly little snake,” she says, “and I think he’s done a lot worse than you or I ever have, Father, and I’m not sure I’m all that bothered with the idea that he might never get back up. So yeah, I guess you could say I think he deserved it.”

“If that’s how you feel, then why are you standing out here looking in?” He taps the flowers into his free hand. “Why not go in? Why come here at all, if you think he’s deserved everything that’s brought him here, to live or die in a hospital bed with no one to come and wait at his bedside, no one who actually cares? If you feel like he deserves it, Darcy, why are you watching the door?”

Something aches. Deep inside her, something curls into a ball, and starts to keen. “He deserved it,” she says. “I don’t regret it.”

“Maybe he did, or maybe he didn’t. What happened to Elliot, it’s not up to me to say whether or not he deserved it. Sounds like you think he did, whatever it was, and maybe you’re right and maybe you’re wrong, but that’s not really up to you, either.”

“Who’s it up to, God?” She looks hard at the railing of the fire escape. “Some people just don’t have good left in them anymore, Father, and—and if Elliot Grote isn’t one of those people, I don’t know, maybe there’s something wrong with what I did to him. But it doesn’t change the fact that what he did was evil and he deserved to pay for it.”

“It’s not our call to judge.”

“Then whose call is it? Some—some great celestial presence that might not even exist? If we don’t do something to stop evil here, when we’re alive, what’s going to keep it from just coming back, over and over and over? What do we do if we don’t fight, Father P?”

The bouquet’s wilting. He shifts the flowers around until they’re facing away from the sun. “We do good, Darcy. It’s all we can do.”

“Some people in the world just aren’t capable of that, anymore.”

It’s definitely sadness creasing around his mouth. “You truly believe that there are people in the world who aren’t worth saving?”

“You think Fisk was worth saving?” She shakes her head. “What about this guy who’s been killing people, all over the Kitchen? You think he’s worth it? You think there’s goodness in him?”

"Do you?"

Ouch. "I asked you first."

“I think it’s not up for me to judge.”

“And that’s something I don’t get, because—look.” She wipes her hands over her face. “You’re right, okay? Evil’s real. I think—I think there are people in the world who are so corrupted, and terrible, and cruel, that they don’t have anything good left inside them. I can’t look at what I do every night and think otherwise, anymore.”

“I can’t believe that,” says Father P simply. “I really can’t.”

“Yeah, well, I’m Jewish,” Darcy says. “I might be shit at it, but I am. Maybe that’s part of it, I don’t know, but with what I see, and what I know, and what I’ve heard—yeah, I can definitely believe that.”

Father P presses his lips together, and says nothing.

“I remember you telling me once that someone has to want to be helped before you can help them, and it’s the same with this, just—someone has to want to be good in order to manage it. If you don’t want it, then there’s nothing good left inside. And it’s something—I don’t know. I’ve thought that since Fisk. It’s not something that’s gonna change.”

He sighs. “You’re sure?”

“I don’t really have any way to make it clearer.” Darcy presses her forefinger and thumb hard into the scar on her palm from Nobu’s knife, into the cut that still aches some days, still tugs oddly at her muscles and tendons. “I don’t know if I have the energy for this, Father P, I really don’t, it’s just—it’s been a long few days, okay? And I might—I might be losing something I thought would be there forever and I’ve fought with everyone else I know the past few days and I came really close to doing something that I don’t—I just—” She kneads at her eyes. “I really don’t think this is a conversation I should be having right now.”

Father P’s quiet. “I see,” he says, after a moment, and looks into the daisy bouquet. Then, carefully, he plucks one of them free, snipping the long stem off with his thumbnail. He offers it to her. Darcy blinks, looking from the flower—small, white, fragile petals—to Father P, who’s waiting patiently for her to take it. When she doesn’t, he steps just close enough that she can catch hints of the smoke from the church, and he settles it behind her ear like she’s a hippie flower girl, like she’s a six year old on a field trip with her first grade class. He draws back just as quickly, like he’s afraid he’s invaded.

“Keep that,” he says, and then he steps out of the alley. She watches as he crosses the street and steps up into the hospital, and after, watches the doors close behind him and another ambulance runs screaming out of the parking lot.

She’s still standing there, watching, when Ben calls. Her Lilith phone, not her regular phone, the phone that barely ever goes off, the burner that she doesn’t like to use. She looks at it for a long time before she answers.

“There’s been a hit,” he says. “Today’s been busy. Are you up for working tonight?”

Darcy touches the daisy behind her ear. “Give me a little bit,” she says, and it’s Lilith speaking. “I need to change into better shoes.”

Stanley’s Bar is a wreck, and that’s saying something. She can’t remember the last time she’s seen the city this wrecked, this devastated. Not since the Incident, when the sky opened up and she’d thought that maybe the world was ending, that this would be how humanity would die, drowned in an oncoming sea of aliens from another dimension, of screaming monsters that she still has nightmares about, the rattling and the shouts and the wails and the explosions, listening to the howling animal wails of dying people and knowing that she might be next. Over the past few days, though, she’s seen places coming close. The wreck of the Burren Club, bullet holes in the walls like something out of a warzone. And now this, blood everywhere, shattered glass, cops crawling all over it like ants on a dead rat. Darcy doesn’t try to get closer. She perches, settled into her fire escape on the next building over, and she watches the flashing lights and the movement and the people crowding the caution tape, searching. Matt, she thinks, is probably already on his way. “Give me half an hour,” he’d said, when she’d called, and it had taken him so long to pick up the phone she’d thought that he wouldn’t. Kate had never picked up at all.

Stop stressing. She clasps one of the railings, watching Brett duck under the tape and vanish into the decimated bar. She’s probably just doing something tonight and didn’t hear the phone.

The daisy from Father P is tucked neatly into one of her pockets, folded up in paper and kept away from anything that could stain it.

Ben notices her before anyone else does. He’s probably been watching for her, she thinks, as he cuts away from the crowd and edges back, careful not to look at anyone, not to meet anyone’s eyes. He slips away from badgering the officers protecting the perimeter and comes to a stop at the head of the alley, his back to her, watching. Darcy drops down onto the ground, and says, “You never call with nice things to say.”

“You want someone calling with nice things to say, you should have picked another line of work,” says Ben shortly. He keeps his back to her, folding his arms over his chest. “Looks like a shitshow in there. Tape’s only been up for an hour, they’re not even close to getting through that crime scene. Haven’t managed to hear everything, but it sounds like the Irish are on the prowl.”

“Which family?”

“Brannigans. They’re not too happy that their new golden boy was one of the men shot and killed at the Burren Club.”

“Golden boy?”

“Kelly Brannigan. His father flew in from Dublin this morning. Before your time. Finn Brannigan. Used to own a lot of the drug-running rackets in Hell’s Kitchen, before Fisk came in and strong-armed the Irish out of their own neighborhoods.” He turns his head, just enough that she can see the frames of his glasses, red light playing over the black plastic. “Seems like they’re out looking for your boy, Lilith.”

“Me and the Punisher aren’t anywhere close to friends, and I definitely wouldn’t call him a boy.” The baton feels cold against her leg. “If the Irish are looking for him, probably means they want blood.”

“Yeah, well, I don’t blame ‘em. He’s turned the whole city into his damn playground.” Ben turns to watch the cops again. “He owes me a new back window for my car.”

“I’ll be sure to tell him that, on top of everything else. He’ll probably oblige.”

“I could do without the snark.”

“And yet sadly it is my only setting.” She taps her fingers against the hilt of the knife. “You have any idea where the Brannigans could be holing up?”

“Used to be they controlled half the Kitchen, but these days, they’ve been crammed down in pockets of maybe a block or two. Most of them have been cleaned out by Castle. Doubt any of the old addresses I have would still be good, and even if they were, no way to say that they’d be in use right now.” Ben adjusts his glasses. “Where’s Hornhead? Figured he’d be all over this.”

Hornhead’s a new one. “He’s on his way,” she says. She thinks she manages to keep the ache out of her voice, but judging by the way Ben shifts, she probably didn’t succeed as well as she’d like. “Figured we’d have one or two more days before Castle started pulling some moves like Master Chief the Sith Lord.”

“I’ll have to put that in your biography, when I write it,” Ben says. “When in doubt, relied upon visual media references.”

“Better than curling up in a corner and crying.” She pulls her baton from the holster, and then shoves it back in, a nervous habit she’d picked up with her taser. “You heard anything from your Wart, Merlin?”

“Some. She’s looking into it on her end. Wondering what you know.”

She blows out air. “Not much more. We think he’s a Marine. Served in Iraq, Afghanistan. Has background with sniper rifles, hand-to-hand, grenades, explosives, any number of things. Could mean Special Ops, could mean that he’s just well-rounded. Full name’s Frank Castle. Don’t know if that helps with anything.”

“Frank Castle’s a name I’ve been hearing a lot lately.” Ben shrugs. “Haven’t managed to dig up much. No real service record. Birth certificate, no death certificate. Man’s a ghost.”

“You think he wiped himself off the map in case anyone went looking?”

“It’s possible, but it’s a damn good job for one man if he did.”

“Like I said, Special Ops, maybe.”

“Mm.” He tips his head. “Sure you want to be standing here talking to me when there are angry Irish wandering around tearing the city apart looking for this guy?”

“I’m not entirely certain I ever should have started talking to you at all,” Darcy says, and Ben snorts. “You make life difficult for bad people, Ben Urich, you need to watch your back before someone shoots you in it.”

“Shoots, not stabs?”

There’s a soft sound from the fire escape. Matt, crouched, police lights flickering over the horns. She nods once, putting her finger to her lips, and when he points at the opposite end of the alley, Darcy sends him a thumb’s up. It’s easier, she thinks, to pretend it’s not Matt Murdock under the mask right now. She can work with Daredevil. She can’t quite look at Matt, at the moment.

“Knives don’t seem to be the order of the day anymore.” There’s a rubbernecker trying to take a video of the crime scene with his phone. She watches as one of the new officers at the 15th takes the thing from him. “Seriously, Ben, watch it. The DA has her hands all over this, and she has a history of making sure that other people fall down in the shit and she comes out clean.”

“Like I haven’t faced that before.” He rocks from foot to foot. “You made a deal with me, Lilith. Anything you hear about Frank Castle, you bring it to me first. Don’t go leaking it to other papers. And don’t give it to Wart to give to me, I want it from you.”

“You’re the one and only reporter for me, Ben, you know that.”

By the time he turns around, Darcy’s already vanished back into the shadows behind the dumpster. She waits until he snorts, until he steps away muttering under his breath about “damn dramatics,” before she turns and follows Matt to the end of the alley, turning the corner and leaving Stanley’s Bar behind.

Matt’s quiet. It’s not the same kind of quiet from the walk back from the rooftop across from the Dogs of War bar front, not the same kind of waiting for the other shoe to drop. He’s quiet, and it’s an achy quiet, and Darcy’s quiet because she has no idea what to say to him, not really, not at the moment. Months and months ago she’d been afraid of this happening, a fight that would tear and wind its way under their skin until even the simplest things are impossible to say. If it affects our work, the firm, Foggy and Karen and Kate, all of it, I don’t—but no, that’s something everyone risks, anyone who trusts someone risks losing them eventually. She’s just not sure she can lose Matt, not really.

I can’t lose you.

Matt’s in the wrong here, she tells herself. She knows that, for a fact. No matter what angle she looks at it from, no matter what he’d been trying to do, or telling himself he’d been trying to do, he’d made a promise to her and he’d broken it, and that isn’t something easily fixed. That’s not something that can be repaired with a sorry and a few gestures, because right back at the start, months and months ago when she’d still been reeling from what Nobu had done and the knowledge that her best friend was the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen, she’d told him that if he ever lied to her, she would leave, and just—God. That isn’t this, she doesn’t want to leave, but they’re traipsing far too close to the edge for her, and it’s terrifying. She’s freefalling, and she doesn’t know if he’s going to catch her, or if she’ll hit the ground.

“I’ve heard of Finn Brannigan,” says Matt. Or Daredevil. It’s easier to think of it as Daredevil saying it. “Used to run a lot of betting circles, a lot of drug rings. Left the business to his brother, and when his brother died he sent his son over from Dublin to manage the Brannigan family.”

“And now his kid’s dead and there are a lot of people looking for Frank Castle.” She can handle talking to him about this, about people they don’t know, about things that don’t have anything to do with the pair of them and the open hole in her heart. “You think they’ve found him?”

“Possible.” He hesitates. “We should check the Port Authority apartment. If Castle hasn’t been there in the past few days, then it’s at least a place we know he isn’t.”

“Is that a suggestion?” Darcy says, very carefully. Matt’s jaw clenches.

“An idea.”

She turns it over in her head. “The apartment,” she says. “I don’t think he’ll be there, that’d be the first place anyone would look, but he might have left something behind.”

He hasn’t. Aside from a lot of bloody gauze in the bathroom garbage can, and the empty chain where the dog Ripper used to be, there’s no hint Frank Castle has been here at all. The door’s been broken a second time, though, wood fractured all along the deadbolt, and Darcy touches her gloved fingers to it. They’d come from the next building over, this time, down the fire escape to the window. She hadn’t felt particularly bad smashing it with her baton.

“Men were here,” Matt says.

“Irish?”

“Probably.” He crouches. “Fresh blood on the floor.”

That’s that, then. She heaves herself back out the window. “Ben didn’t have any addresses that were worth anything.”

Matt looks at the half-shattered window, and then kicks a few final pieces of broken glass into the apartment before passing her, taking the stairs two at a time. He waits until they’re on the rooftop before he says, “Asked Brett. He didn’t have anything either.”

Brett probably wouldn’t have been happy to see Daredevil. Actually, she’s pretty sure Brett would have been happier to see Hitler. “I’ll bet.” Darcy sucks her teeth. “Still leaves us with nothing. Turk’s back in custody. We could always stay here and listen to the radio transponder. Unless you want to go ringing people’s chimes and trying to get a few words out of them.”

He shrugs, like beating the shit out of people to get them to give him an address is nothing. “Might work.”

“I don’t—” She stops. “Hold on.”

“What?”

“Lemme think.” She chews on her lip, digs her teeth into her tongue. There’s no guarantee of this one, nothing that’ll say it might work, especially considering it’s been months since she’s spoken with the woman, but—“We need to get to Midtown North.”

The last time she’d seen Brigid O’Reilly had been at a party post-winning the Bishop lawsuit against one Rich Goodman, serial rapist and drug dealer. It maybe hadn’t been the most professional idea, attending an event where people she’d called as witnesses were sure to show up, but Kate and Brigid had bonded, and Brigid had helped them with looking into the yakuza; they’d already broken the professional barrier way before the months-long slog of the Goodman case had ended. (In spite of everything going down with Fisk, in spite of all the evidence and charges, it had still been a tooth-and-nail fight to get the Goodmans to pay a goddamn cent. She’s still incredibly proud of herself that they’d managed it, especially considering by that point she’d been running on three hours of sleep most nights. Especially considering that after Landman and Zack crashed and burned the Goodmans had dragged out a lawyer from Hogarth, Chao, and Benowitz, and hadn’t that been a bundle of joy.) Brigid hadn’t filed a suit for getting shuffled around in the Fisk bullshit, hadn’t wanted to get too deeply involved in going after the NYPD, and yeah, in some ways, Darcy can respect that; the corrupt cops who’d moved her to the 34th after she’d filed Kate’s rape had been taken down, and half the firms in the city were still caught up in all the bullshit that Fisk had left behind. Still, she’d applied to move a different precinct, and administrative services had shifted her from Washington Heights to Midtown North, which was amusing to Darcy for a lot of reasons but mostly because of St. Patrick’s Cathedral being in that beat. The transfer had gone through about a month ago. Logically, she should be around here somewhere.

It’s a long shot. She’s never spoken to Brigid as anyone other than Darcy Lewis, and Kate’s never once mentioned to Brigid anything she does with Lilith and Daredevil. Brigid’s smart enough to have worked out that Kate’s Hawkeye, Darcy thinks—there are only a few people in the world who can use a bow like Kate, and the only other person in the entirety of the eastern seaboard who can manage it is Clint Barton—but Kate’s never mentioned anything about it to Darcy, and Darcy’s never asked. So yeah, going to see Brigid to ask about Irish mobsters? Long shot. Way more than a longshot. Impossible shot. But she knows Brigid’s good, she knows Brigid knows Kate, and she knows that Brigid has a tendency to stick her nose into every major gang event in the city, and that’s a combination she can’t turn down right now.

Brigid’s not at the precinct. She’s out, and judging by the chatter Matt overhears on one of the phones inside, she’s not in her car, either. “Walking,” he says, and tips his head to listen. Darcy crouches down on the edge of the building, pulling her baton from the holster and whacking it against her palm. It stings a little, but she keeps doing it, because it gives her something to do with her hands and some reason not to watch Matt as he sifts through sound and smell, picking through the sea of people in the park until he can finally zero in on Brigid O’Reilly. Someone’s organized a festival for Latin American food things, judging by the number of flags hanging around. In the heights, I hang my flag up on display, she thinks, and it’s not really the right time to be thinking of musicals, but she can’t get the song out of her head. It reminds me that I came from miles away.

God. Atlanta. Eli. This isn’t the time to be thinking about this, not really, but the song’s looping, and her brain’s racing, and all she can do right now is wait for Matt to give her a location for Brigid, so she’s trapped in it. Eli and Atlanta and sticky nights stealing apples from Eli’s kitchen table. The bruises and the marks and the things she’d never said, never even asked him, because how does a child ask what it’s like for your father to pin you down and gag you and hit you, over and over, with a belt, with a stick, with anything that Eli’s father had at hand? How do you ask that, as a child, going to school and knowing that other kids didn’t have parents like her mother, like Eli’s father, that other kids didn’t have to worry about walking in to find her mother drunk on the kitchen floor or coming home to realize that his father had had a bad day and there was only one person he could take it out on? You don’t know how to ask. You don’t have the vocabulary for it. Not at nine. So she hadn’t asked, and Eli had vanished, one night when she’d been asleep. The next time anyone had seen him had been when a group of kids had tripped on a garbage bag down at the docks and torn it open and they’d seen a child’s hand through the black plastic.

She doesn’t let herself think about it, most of the time. She never really likes to remember the time right after Eli died. The pain, first. Raw, the rawest thing she’d ever felt (and had ever felt since, until she’d seen Nobu’s blade hook under Matt’s ribs, until she’d turned the corner and the gun had gone off, bang). Her whole body had been an open wound for months. She’d skipped school for a week, until her teachers had finally caught on to the fact that Lorna Lewis’s girl had gone missing and called to let her mother know that if she didn’t personally drop Darcy off every morning for a month CPS would be called. (She can’t remember speaking to a single person that whole month, either, not until she overheard her mom on the phone with the school therapist and they’d brought up psych eval and self-harm and mutism and post-traumatic stress disorder and started talking in class just to keep them out of her head.) The wounds had never closed up, really, just…kind of faded into the background, and she’s not sure if that means she stopped feeling the pain or just stopped remembering to notice it.

Then Eli’s father had switched shifts. She can remember seeing him when she’d walked to school in the morning, when she’d walked back at night. She’d been terrified for a week, convinced he knew she knew, but the longer it went on and he’d never once looked at her, the faster the terror had shifted over into something completely inhuman. From terror to hate. From terror to rage, a towering kind of rage that had swallowed anything and everything, chewed her up and spit her out and split her skin from the inside, a living thing latched into her guts, feeding on her life. It had probably been six months after Eli’s body was found that she rolled over in bed, stared at the ceiling, and first thought, I could kill him, and no one would ever know.

She’d planned so many different ways to do it. It had been the only thing she thought about, for years. She’d kept her grades up to keep the teachers from asking too many questions, came home with dyed hair, forged her mother’s signature on a permission slip and had the chains inked into her wrist. The pain and then the anger, and the fear of that anger, so thick it choked her. She’d loathed and feared Oliver Bletchley, and she’d loathed and feared herself, and it hadn’t ended when her mother had announced one morning that they were moving, and to pack her things. It still hasn’t ended. She’s built a new life, come to a new city, found a new family, and there’s some part of her that’s still trapped in that kitchen in Atlanta, Georgia, the blood on the floor, the blare of the TV, and the look on Eli’s face when the belt had come down again.

She’d hated Fisk. She’d wanted Fisk dead for everything he’d done, for all the crimes he’d ever committed, for all the people he’d ever harmed. She’d wanted Fisk dead and she’d wanted to be the one to do it, as revenge, but comparing what she’d felt for Fisk, or for Wesley who’d tried to steal Karen, or for Nobu who had tried to kill Matt; to compare any of that to what she felt to Eli’s father…no. That hate had seethed. That had had years and years to develop, to grow, to nest inside her in a way that she’s never been able to drag loose. That’s what’s burst back up out of the dark. She’d stoked it, pruned it down, honed it and turned it into something cleaner than what it was at the root, purer, saner, but now, because of Frank Castle, it’s exploded back into life and she can’t shove it back. It’s something wild, and cruel, and merciless, an ocean without end all trapped inside her, something not even she knows the full scope of, and Frank Castle had seen it. He’d looked at her for a minute, for a breath, and he’d picked it out, the thing she’s spent actual years burying so deep inside her skin that not even Matt, who’s known her since she was eighteen, who’s loved her for almost as long, Matt who has senses beyond anything that a normal human should be able to have—Frank Castle had seen it, and Matt hadn’t. (Hadn’t seen it? a little voice asks. Or hadn’t wanted to? She crushes it back down.) Some part of her hates Castle for that, because this man who kills the way he does, who takes so many lives, who gets under her skin and makes her question everything—he shouldn’t have been able to see it. Not if Matt didn’t. Or couldn’t.

Christ, I still want him dead.

(Fisk or Bletchley or Nobu or Grotto or Wesley or Castle, she’s not sure anymore, not really, all of them are melding together, all the people who have ever taken someone she loves away from her, anyone who’s tried to hurt someone that belongs to her—)

And she can’t want that. She doesn’t want to remember it, but she knows it, in her bones. She can’t want that. If she wants this, if she lets it control her, then she’ll be Fisk; she’ll be Wesley; she’ll be Nobu; she’ll be Oliver Bletchley; she’ll be Frank Castle. She’ll be them, and the thought of that is acid in her lungs, mustard gas rolling down her throat. She can’t want it. But she does.

“Five blocks,” Matt says. Darcy jumps. She hadn’t realized she’d stopped passing her baton from hand to hand until this second, until she’d curled her fingers over the handle again and the point of it had echoed against the rooftop. Matt points down the street, past St. Patrick’s. “That way.”

“Yeah.” Darcy stands. “You want to talk to her?”

“She’ll probably try to shoot me.”

Like that’s ever stopped you before. It’s on the tip of her tongue. Darcy bites it back. “No guarantee she won’t shoot me, either.”

“Brigid doesn’t like men too much. Might have better luck with you.”

Well, that, at least, is true. Darcy slips her baton back into the holster. “Fine. I’ll go first. Just—if she tries to shoot me, don’t hit her too hard.”

“Fine,” Matt says in a tight voice, and drops down onto the fire escape.

Brigid standing on a corner when they track her down, rocking back and forth on her feet like she’s thinking. She looks the same, Darcy thinks. Late thirties, dark hair cut close in a cut that’s closer to a buzz than a bob. She’s in long sleeves, even in this weather. Darcy doesn’t blame her. Hard enough being a beat cop and a woman, she thinks, as she clambers hand over hand down to the ground. Makes it harder when you add in a prosthetic arm. She’d never asked Brigid what happened, and Brigid had never offered, but it makes things complicated.

“Her partner’s half a block down,” says Matt into her comm bud. Which he could have told her on the roof, but maybe—she hopes—he’s been having just as much trouble talking to her in person as she has with him. “Try to get her into the alley.”

“Brigid’s not one for subterfuge.”

Matt makes a noise like he wants to argue, but keeps his mouth shut. Darcy looks up at the windows. There’s a girl watching through from one of the apartments, dark, a Puerto Rican flag hung on the back wall of her bedroom. Darcy blows her a kiss, and drops the last few feet down to the ground before she draws her baton and taps it, very gently, against the metal of the dumpster.

Brigid turns, and goes stiff. Darcy’s standing mostly in the dark, still, but she knows exactly what Brigid’s looking at. Lilith, not Darcy Lewis. Dark hair and dark lipstick and streaks of blue running down her arms, an armored uniform and a weapon in the dark. Brigid rests a hand to her gun, and darts a glance down the road at her partner.

“You’re out of your zip code,” says Brigid. She still sounds like smoke, hoarse and husky and torn. “What the hell are you doing out here?”

“Looking for you.” Darcy doesn’t let go of her baton. “Wanted to ask a favor.”

Brigid blinks, and blinks again. She glances at her partner. When she takes two steps forward, it’s still with her hand on her gun and her face turned, like she’s going to radio in to dispatch any second. Still, she doesn’t laugh, and she doesn’t shout for help, and that’s two points in her favor. “Like I said. Way out of your zip code.”

“But you’ve been hearing about the Irish, same as the rest of us.” She looks up at the window with the girl, the Puerto Rican flag. “And I’m betting some of the cartel hits have come through here too. Not as many, but you had to have heard about them.”

Brigid rolls her eyes. “Not my precinct.”

“You seriously think this guy is gonna stop with the Kitchen? He has his way, the whole of New York could be a hunting ground. All the precincts, everywhere.”

“Yeah, and that’s a cop problem, not a mask problem.” She drops her hand from her gun, though. “Way we see it, this guy wouldn’t have been able to get started if there weren’t people like you running all over the place beating the shit out of criminals instead of letting the cops do their jobs.”

Darcy closes her eyes. “Because the cops have been doing their jobs so well. How many dead boys in a year, Officer? How many people were thrown into holding this year so far for just walking while black? Don’t talk to me about the cops doing their goddamn jobs when half the time we’re trying to help the ones the cops leave behind.”

Brigid clenches her flesh hand up into a fist. She touches her fingers to her radio, and then drops them again. “You have a smart mouth,” she says. “You want to watch yourself, Lilith.”

“You’re saying I’m wrong?”

“I’m saying you need to watch your mouth.”

“Doesn’t mean I’m wrong,” Darcy says. “You know I’m not wrong. You read the statistics, Officer O’Reilly? Last year over twenty-two thousand New Yorkers were stopped by the cops for a stop-and-frisk. You wanna hear the statistics on that one?”

“I can guess.”

Twenty-three thousand,” she says. “You know how many of them were innocent? Over eighteen thousand.  You wanna know how many of them were black? Over twelve-thousand. That’s more than half. We can go back to a few years ago, if you want. Over six-hundred-eighty-thousand stop-and-frisks in 2012, and fifty percent of them were black. Thirty-five were Latino. And that was stop-and-frisks. We can talk about other statistics too. Driving while black. Standing at a bus stop. Wearing a hoodie. Walking down a street while autistic. Existing at all while trans. What about the women who have been raped by a guy wearing a police badge? What about all the people who have been assaulted and brutalized and harassed? What about all the victims brave enough to report a rape who get mocked and have their evidence kits tossed out ten years later without ever being investigated? How many children have been killed because they happened to have the wrong color skin? And you’re asking me to trust the police to do their jobs?”

“Not all cops are like that,” says O’Reilly.

“Yeah, and not all men, and all lives matter. Don’t try to throw the good cops in my face when I go up against half a dozen bad ones every week. Don’t tell me that I should stop what I’m doing and let the cops handle things when half the time it’s the cops who decide to be a bunch of racist pricks and tase a group of Hell’s Kitchen kids just trying to get home at night. And that’s after Fisk’s men were weeded out. These guys aren’t corrupt, they’re just bad, and they’re endemic, and you’re asking me to trust them?”

“None of that means I should trust you to do a damn thing better. You don’t follow the law, you spit on it. You’re disrespecting the uniform as much or more than a dirty cop ever could.”

“Yeah, but at least what I do makes people feel safe at night,” Darcy says. “When people see me coming, they don’t get frightened unless they’ve done something wrong. Can’t say that about any of your so-called good cops. I’m not the one disrespecting the uniform, Officer. Cops are.”

O’Reilly taps her fingers against the butt of her gun again. 

“I’ve heard things about you. I’ve heard you’re a good person. You’ve had your name in the papers, Brigid O’Reilly. I know what you did for Kate Bishop and her rape case, all the civil suits that she brought against the police department. Bet it didn’t earn you any favors with the administration. But you did it because you thought it was right, and it was right, and I’m asking you to help me because I don’t have anywhere else to go.” She takes a breath. “Finn Brannigan’s back in town, and he’s looking for the Punisher. I don’t want this guy on the streets any more than the police do, but the Irish are tearing the city apart looking for him, and I don’t have anywhere else to look. They’ve been keeping their noses clean since Fisk and all their old hidey-holes have been blown to shit, so if you can give me something, anything, a name, a place, then I can maybe deal with it before more people get hurt.”

Brigid’s radio crackles. “O’Reilly,” someone says. “What’s your status?”

Darcy stares at Brigid. Brigid stares back. Then, slowly, Brigid hits the comm button on her radio. “Nothing,” she says. “All clear here.” 

“Copy that,” says the dispatch guy, and Darcy pulls her hand away from her baton, trying not to shake. She blows air out through her teeth.

“Could’ve told him I was here.” She flexes her fingers. “I don’t hit cops unless they try to hit me first.”

“Nice to know.” Brigid won’t stop staring.  “If I tell you, then you’ll get him off the streets tonight.”

“I’ll do my best.”

“That’s not good enough.”

“Yes,” Darcy says, and Matt hisses into the comm. “We get him off the streets tonight. And into custody. We don’t kill, O’Reilly.”

“And yet people still somehow wind up dead, hanging around you.” She scuffs her boot over the concrete, pursing her lips. “Just a name?”

“Or an address.”

Silence. Then: “Ah, fuck me,” says Brigid, and yes. Her heart skips. Thank you, Brigid O’Reilly, for being a decent fucking human being. “And you won’t say a word? I know you talk to that blogger.”

“Nobody’ll know you came into it.” She shrugs. “Like you said. Way out of my zip code.”

“Fuck me,” Brigid says again. “Fine. Nobody I know’s heard that Finn Brannigan’s back in town, but if it’s recent he might not have had time to sink his teeth in yet. His kid Kelly was a little bastard, but he was barely a tenth of what his old man is. If he’s back, there’s going to be a whole lot of bloody bodies showing up on the streets again.”

“That’s heartening.”

Brigid snorts. “Yeah, well, the son of a bitch likes to be brutal. Likes dark places where he can hurt people for a long time and no one can hear them scream.”

“I know lots of places like that in the city.”

“I’ll bet.” Brigid scowls. “Christ, why did I quit smoking with you people around. Didn’t know Finn was back in business, but his kid, the one who died, he was looking into some real estate. Probably using daddy’s money. Don’t know the exact details, but a guy I know over at the 15th told me that the Irish have started scouting out a place by St. Michael’s Cemetery. Thought it was weird, but there wasn’t anything illegal about it, couldn’t serve a warrant. You wanna look for your Irish, you might start there.”

Darcy closes her eyes. “Thank you.”

“Yeah, well.” She crosses her arms over her chest. “Apparently I’m a shit cop.”

“Don’t think this makes you a shit cop,” Darcy says. “Think this makes you a good one.”

“Says the vigilante in the carbon fiber underpants,” Brigid says, and stalks away without a goodbye. When Darcy looks up at the roof again, Matt’s tucked his chin in close to his chest, waiting. She presses her fingers to the comm in her ear.

“That could have gone way worse, you can at least admit that.”

“We need to get to St. Michael’s,” says Matt.

.

.

.

The phone rings.

“This is Finn.”

“You might think about watching your back, Mr. Brannigan.”

“Who is this?”

“A friend.”

“I don’t do business with anyone who won’t tell me their name, man or woman, so whoever you are, I don’t have any—”

“What would you do if I told you that you have two very angry vigilantes bearing down on you, Mr. Brannigan? In that covert catacomb you think you have guarded so well.”

He catches his breath. “Who the bloody hell are you?”

“A friend,” she says again. “Who has a vested interest in ensuring that a potential business partner doesn’t crash and burn in Hell’s Kitchen like so many others have.”

Silence. Then: “I’m listening.”  

“If what I’m hearing is right, then you, Mr. Brannigan, you’ve lost a great deal in the past few days. Half your people. Your son. One-point-two million American dollars.” She curls her necklace around her fingers. “You’ve been waging a war against a one-man army, and at the outset I would think that Daredevil and Lilith have been fighting to find him, too, but consider: you have one vigilante locked up in your catacomb, and another two coming at you at full speed. Their last reported location was maybe six blocks away from St. Michael’s Cemetery. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but it’s not the first time that your men have gone up against the pair of them and been miserably outmatched, and that’s without your trigger-happy prisoner in the mix. Half your forces have already been decimated, and if you had had time to call in back-up, there’s little guarantee that they would be able to match up.”

She can practically hear him grinding his teeth. “And I suppose you have an offer that’s supposed to save my skin.”

“It has absolutely no guarantee. You have little time to consider a counter-offer, however. If what I’ve heard about the man you have in custody is correct, then I imagine he’s told you little, and spoken less. But I know for a fact he’s been in contact with both Daredevil and Lilith in the past few days, and regardless of whether they mean to damn him or save him, the two of them will smash through your walls of men like children through a sandcastle, and it is very likely that you will suffer when they do. So consider this, Mr. Brannigan. I currently have an asset in play who assures me that she can match them, together or apart. If you wish, I can instruct her to assist you in this and other, further operations you will undertake against the Devil and the Angel of Mercy.”

“Assist how?”

“Making certain that you survive.”

He scoffs. “What makes you think I give a damn about those two?”

“Other than they’re eighty percent of the reason that your family has fallen completely apart over the past year?”

Brannigan makes a noise like the retort of a pistol. “And in return, you’ll get what? Money?”

“Money is unnecessary,” she says. “I would like you to call for more men.”

“What?”

“Men, Mr. Brannigan. Bring in more of your family. Make the Kitchen Irish a force to be reckoned with. I want them everywhere, in everything. I want every man you’ve ever had in that city, behind bars and outside, on alert and ready for whatever may come. And when they’re in place, I want you to do me the favor of wiping Lilith and Daredevil off the map.”

“Yeah?” He scoffs. “And who are you to be asking?”

Vanessa pulls her hair up out of her face, and ties it off. “The last Manfredi worth anything in the world.”

Brannigan goes quiet again. “Maggia?”

“My father was.” She points her toe, and looks at the chipping polish. Her leg aches. “I’m making a bit of a name for myself, independently. I know you and my father did business, Mr. Brannigan, that he did business with your father as well, back when the Irish were in full control of Hell’s Kitchen. I thought this might be a nice way to continue the tradition.”

“Silvio never mentioned to me he had a daughter.”

“He rarely mentioned me at all. Proof I have, but time, we don’t. This offer, Mr. Brannigan, is only good for the next minute and a half. If you choose to accept it, then call me back. If you choose to face whatever is coming to you, then I wish you godspeed.”

She hangs up the phone, sets it on the small table she has settled near the tub, and waits. The bathroom smells like a haunting, like jasmine and warmth and water and old dead secrets. Vanessa sinks down into the water, ignoring the sting over her shoulders. She might, she thinks, be topping her brother for indolent requests. She very much doubts that Joseph had ever had the nerve to call an Irish crime lord while luxuriating in a bubble-bath.

There’s still thirty seconds to the deadline when he calls back. “Send the woman in.”

“Excellent choice, Mr. Brannigan.” Vanessa points her toes. “If we’re to be allies, from now on, I would suggest that you call me Silvia.”

“He gave you his name?”

“He gave me far more than that.” She slips her foot back into the hot water. “I’ll call in an hour to see if you survived.” 

.

.

.

“They’re waiting for us,” he says.

Of course they’re waiting for them. Because when has anything during the Castle investigation ever gone right? When has anything gone right in the past week? Darcy crouches down on the corner of the rooftop, peering down at St. Michael’s Cemetery. The goddamn cemetery’s all the way out in Flushing, which let it be said, is a pain to get to on foot from somewhere near St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Walking, it probably would have taken two hours. At a run? She doesn’t want to think about it. Her chest feels tight and she’s really wishing they could have called a cab without having to worry about whether or not people would remember their faces, their names. They’d grabbed bags of clothes and ran, and now they’re hanging around trying to figure out a plan, and her legs won’t stop buzzing.

Bonus for running for more than an hour, though—she’d spent the whole time too winded to feel weird about how she and Matt are Not Talking. Capitalized Not Talking, because there’s nothing to say, which is really weird and she hates it. Even when they’d been fighting about his mask, they’d at least talked. This is just…silence. And it’s weird, and she doesn’t want to think about it at all. Seriously, cracking heads together sounds like a better idea, at the moment.

“How many?”

“So far?” He tips his head. “Four waiting outside. In the tomb, I don’t know. I count eight heartbeats, but there could be more. It echoes.”

You’re echoing, he’d said, from very far away, and he hasn’t said anything but she knows his hearing is still bothering him, it has to still be bothering him, things like that don’t just fix themselves. She’s spent half her time on the subway lately googling traumatic brain injuries on her phone, hearing loss and other side effects, everything else, and there’s nothing you can do, with brain injuries, there’s nothing you can really do about it, and with Matt’s senses the way they are there’s no way to tell if the level of damage to his inner ears would have just caused tinnitus in a regular person or if it’s so bad that he might never be able to trust his hearing again, and all she can think is how badly he was shaking when he’d dropped the water glass and how tightly he’d held onto her, like he was completely lost in the dark—

She shakes it off. “’course it echoes. It’s a tomb. Or a catacomb, or whatever. Doesn’t New York City have catacombs?”

“Yes,” Matt says, in a voice that means I know you’re worried and I don’t appreciate it which, fuck him. “Did you not know this?”

“I mean, most older cities have catacombs, I just don’t like thinking that there are dead people under the sidewalk I’m using.”

“Depending on which part of the city you’re in, that’s likely no matter if there are catacombs or not.”

“Thanks for that,” she says, and bites her tongue. Stop. Don’t. You can’t act like everything’s normal. That’s not fair to either of you. Darcy clears her throat. “You want top or bottom?”

“Like a bunk bed?”

“I’ll take the ground,” she says, and starts down the fire escape. Matt curses under his breath (she can hear it through the comms, even if he’s two storeys away) and then he’s moving, probably to find some way to climb on top of the mausoleum or the catacomb entrance or the tomb building or whatever it is without the guys with guns noticing him do it. Half the time it seems like Matt Murdock is actually a grown-up Danny Phantom, and she’s willing to take advantage of it if necessary. Darcy draws the baton, and weaves her way between the graves.

There are a number of suspicious looking bro-dudes scattered around the mausoleum, in concentric circles out through the graves. Four, she thinks, just like Matt said. They’re spread out, which makes things a little easier, but at the same time they’re kind of in the worst possible location to sneak up on. There’s no real cover other than the headstones, and those are…well. She doesn’t actually want anyone to shoot at gravestones. Not that the dead people will care all that much, but it’s the principle of the thing, really. Don’t fire bullets at gravestones. That is how you bring about poltergeists. She stays out of sight as best she can, darting from one stone to the next in some kind of fucked up game of Red Light, Green Light, until she can snag one guy around the neck with her baton, and drag him down into silence. And miracle of miracles, the bastard has a taser. Wrong size, different weight, and a completely different model from her old one, but it’s a taser and by god, she wants it back. Melvin had been right, when he’d said the baton hadn’t quite matched. Wearing the taser makes her feel even again, completely even, for the first time in days.

The second guy is easier, with the taser. She jabs him in the leg as he goes by, hits the button, and he’s down. (Note to self: most bad guys forget to wear armor around their calves and feet. Like Achilles’s and his heel, only way bonier.) He doesn’t go down quietly, but that doesn’t really matter, because when the other two guys come to check it out, Matt drops from a tree onto one of them, and throws his baton at the other’s head.

“That works,” Darcy says, and kicks one of the guns out of the guy’s hand as she steps over him. “You said eight more downstairs?”

“I think.”

Let’s hope.

Down, into the dark. The stairwell is almost pitch black, aside from a dim light at the bottom. This place feels more like a playground based off of a catacomb than a real one, something smooth and nicely curved and distinctly lacking skulls in the walls. Still, the stairwell is thin, and Matt goes first, so she takes the stairs in tight circles, watching his back half the time. He seems so much bigger in the uniform, especially in the dark. His shoulders are broader. Looking at him from behind she can almost pretend she doesn’t really recognize him, even after months and months. It’s no wonder, she thinks, that Brett doesn’t remember his voice, that Ben still hasn’t quite put it together. If she can’t recognize him sometimes, then other people, people who don’t know him as well, they wouldn’t even begin to guess.

“Nine,” he says, when they’re close to the bottom of the stairs. “Castle’s here. Four doors down and to the left.”

She can hear screaming, so yeah, she’d figured. The Irish probably haven’t taken kindly to Frank Castle blowing up everything near and dear to them, the past few weeks. Darcy waits until the silence stretches thin, and then says, “We want to get him out of here?”

“Seems like a good idea.”

Cops will be on their way, probably. Maybe. She’s not sure. “You want left?”

He nods. She thinks he might be biting back something, some order, but when they reach the last curve, he turns, and looks back at her. Matt presses his lips together. He lifts his hand, like he’s going to reach out. Then he stops, halfway there, suspended in space like he’s hit some kind of barrier between him and her, some shield that keeps him from actually daring to touch her. She bites the inside of her lip, and just looks at him, at the reflective plastic over his eyes, bloody red. He’s had a few days of rest, but he’s still not a hundred percent, and TBIs don’t just…go away. They don’t just fix themselves after a couple of days of nothing. He probably shouldn’t even be standing right now, not really, but they’re both here, and there’s not much she can do about it now, and she’d promised and he’d promised, and she wants so badly to trust it, but—who knows. 

Matt’s still watching her. Darcy swallows. “What?”

He shakes his head. His fingers fall away. “Nothing,” he says. “I’ll take left.”

She nods. Six heartbeats after he slips out into the dark—she counts, carefully, letting the noise swallow her up—she sidles out of the stairwell and into the right-hand passage.

The catacomb/mausoleum/tomb/basement/whatever they should be calling it is actually a Brannigan tomb. There are names here from the eighteen hundreds, earlier. Irish immigrants, pre-potato famine. Old, old family. It’s dirtier, down the side passages, like nobody’s been here in years. (Clang, and the echo of Matt’s baton reverberates through her ribs as he stalks from one passage to the next, drawing them in. She waits until someone passes in front of her hidey-hole, and then drives the taser into his back, covering his mouth with her free hand to muffle the yelp.) It’s old, and dirty, and the walls are crumbling towards the back. She doesn’t trust a single thing about this place. There could be hidden doors, or something. Hidden passages. Oh my god, wait, if there are hidden passages that would be really cool, actuallyfocus. The screams keep echoing. There’s something about it that’s making her skin crawl. For obvious reasons, first of all, because Jesus, there’s a dull, drilling whine and someone is screaming and it’s like all her worst nightmares about the dentist’s office have mated with the worst kind of vampire movie and it’s awful, seriously. (Matt’s vanished into the dark. Darcy slips out of her tunnel, and gives the nearest passing guard a love tap before crossing the passage and disappearing again.) The thing about this, though, this kind of screaming—this isn’t just pain, and it definitely isn’t fear. She knows what frightened screaming sounds like, and this is more—well. This is a scream of, pain, yes, but it’s also—it’s like when you’re in a hard fight and you need to shout just because you’re full of it, the movement, the sound, the energy and the frustration or the satisfaction of finally landing a useful hit. Castle isn’t screaming because he’s scared, he’s screaming just to scream, like he doesn’t get the chance normally and he’s using whatever Finn is doing to him to howl like an animal for as long as he can. It’s unsettling.   

There’s a footstep at the head of her tunnel. At the same time, she hears it, the pinging of Matt’s baton ricocheting off a wall and landing hard. Apparently that’s the cue. She bolts out from her hiding place, extending the baton. Five men, and two are already down, and when she snaps the baton out and cracks it across the nearest man’s jaw a gun goes off and turns the tunnel into an echo chamber. They’re slow, the Irish. It’s nothing like fighting Miss Ninja, and definitely nothing like fighting Frank Castle. How the hell did they take him? She skips sideways out of the way of a fist, and rams the baton up into the soft parts in the guy’s guts. He kills dozens of people at a time, how the hell did a handful of angry Irish gangsters manage to drag him all the way out to Flushing unless he wants to be here?

Now, that’s a terrifying thought.

“Down,” Daredevil says, and she drops. It’s months and months of instinct, not an order but a warning and a habit and a reality, and if it means not getting a knife in the back of her neck then she’s totally okay with falling flat on her face. Black fabric and dark hair and a mask and what the fuck, what the actual fuck is Miss Ninja doing here, where did she come from, what the fuck

“You’re Irish?” Darcy says, and rolls back out of the way when the woman flips her knife, and catches it. “You kidding me right now?”

Miss Ninja darts a look at Matt, and then looks back to Darcy. “I’m whoever they want me to be,” she says, and then she’s passed the knife to her left hand and lunged. Shit. She’s faster this time, somehow. Back and forth, and the knife clips and rebounds off of one of Darcy’s armored plates as down the hall, another one of the Irish shouts “Oi!” like they’re in a JK Rowling novel.

“Go,” Darcy snaps, and Matt snaps to, vanishing down the hall to deal with the angry Irishmen with guns. There are Seamus Finnigan and Tom Branson jokes to be made here and I don’t have the brain for it. Miss Ninja darts back and watches him vanish, eyes flicking between Lilith and Daredevil.

“That one didn’t strike me as the type to follow orders.” Her eyes cut from Darcy’s head to her toes. “Neither did you.”

“Of course I get the chatty one.”

Miss Ninja passes her knife back and forth between her hands. It’s brighter here, or brighter than the rooftop at the ambush site, and this time Darcy can make out a little more, the angle of her eyes and the general shape of her nose where it’s hidden beneath the mask. She has a long slashing scar down the inside of her upper left arm, knotted flesh that angles sharply to the right by her elbow. There’s another mark on the skin of her shoulder, a birthmark or a tiny faded tattoo maybe, Darcy’s not sure. She doesn’t get the chance to look before Miss Ninja’s lunged again, and she’s trying not to get stabbed in the throat. She’s faster this time, and it’s not Darcy’s imagination; she’s moving faster and she’s hitting harder and she’s keeping up, she’s mirroring everything Darcy’s doing and smacking her hands aside before she can land a blow, and it’s infuriating. The blade of the knife screeches against the baton again, and Miss Ninja’s eyes crinkle.

“If you want to shout for help,” she says, “I won’t think any less of you.”

“Yeah, fuck you,” Darcy snaps, and lunges with her taser. Electricity crackles. The prongs skid over Miss Ninja’s side, and Darcy can’t tell if it’s an accident or not, but Miss Ninja jolts and jerks and snaps away from her again, making a noise like a screechy cat. (Castle’s stopped screaming. That shouldn’t be as odd as it is. She hears Matt’s batons again, hears a shout, and then silence.) She’s staggering, but she hasn’t gone down, and Miss Ninja snaps around and the heel of her shoe clips Darcy hard enough to make her eyes cross. “Jimmy,” someone shouts, “Shaun, goddamn you, woman, get in here—” and Miss Ninja doesn’t move; she twirls her knife, watches Darcy. Darcy spits.

“Your boss sounds like he needs help.”

Miss Ninja’s eyes go wide. There’s a rim of gold around the brown, flickering. Then she’s gone, and Darcy whacks her baton hard against the ground before heaving herself to her feet, and following. Yeah, sure, Darcy, tell the woman that the mob boss is calling for her, that’s an excellent idea, just—Jesus—

“Lilith,” Matt says in her ear, and she snaps, “I’m on my way, don’t—”

More men. Out of nowhere. Five more, and all of them with guns. “Get to Castle,” Darcy says, and how the fuck did Matt not pick up these ones, where did they come from, are there seriously secret passages in here and she’s so fucking done with seeing blondes and redheads and all these ridiculous Irish faces and hearing the botched accents and all of it. She’s pissed as hell and her mouth hurts and one of them gives her a top to toe look before cocking an eyebrow.

“You lost, sweetheart?”

“Darlin’, don’t even,” she says, and snaps his kneecap. Down the hall, a shotgun goes off. Drop again, spin, knock his feet out from under him, snap up and spin again and there’s another one down, there’s blood on her face and she’s not sure whose it is, the shotgun goes off, “Jimmy, Shaun,” and then a door’s shattered and that’s Matt and Miss Ninja falling out of it, tangling, and what the fuck is even going on here, this is a free-for-all underneath the earth in a freaking cemetery and this is what her life is now, apparently. (Something hits her hard in the shoulder and skids and she only realizes someone tried to stab her with a flick knife when she knocks it out of the guy’s hand, and thank you, Melvin, thank you, thank you—) Last one, down, and out of the corner of her eye she can see two men dragging a third out between them, smearing blood over the floor. Miss Ninja is covering their escape. There’s another raw, wounded sound, like an animal, but more men are coming up out of nowhere, heaps of them, and Castle’s sagging in the door frame with blood running down his head.

“Y’all are rude, seriously, don’t you lie down—”

“Get out of the way,” Castle shouts, and there’s a shotgun in his hands, and somehow she’s standing between him and his target again and this time she’s not entirely sure she shouldn’t just budge over and let him do it. A hammer whirls out of the room he came from, knocks the shotgun sideways, and when it goes off another Irishman howls and hits the floor. When she looks back around, Brannigan’s gone, and Miss Ninja is standing by the doors, her knife out, pacing back and forth like a caged tiger. Why she hasn’t followed, Darcy has no idea, but now it’s Castle and her, and seven men all around, and Christ. Beggars can’t be choosers.

It’s deeply, intrinsically weird to be fighting with him, not against him. He looks like one of the walking dead, barely standing, the knee she’s smashed giving out and blood smearing over the concrete and more of it running down his chest and his face, dripping from his fingers. When he goes to shoot the last one, Darcy taps the gun out of his hand with her baton, and the blow nearly makes him fall over. She’s under his arm and wrapped around his waist before she realizes it, before she thinks. Like fuck are you walking out of this one, Jarhead. For a second she thinks he’ll wrap an arm around her neck and strangle her, but he just rocks back and forth on his feet, and then dumps most of his weight on her. Darcy staggers to the side, and swears.

“Coward,” he says, and spits out a tooth. Gross. “Both of you, fuckin’ cowards.”

“Laugh it up, fuzzball, the cowards came to save your stupid ass.” She clears her throat. “I’m taking him out.”

“You’re clear out the stairs,” Matt says from the doorframe of the torture chamber. He kicks his baton back up into his hand. “I’ll deal with Brannigan.”

“Brannigan’s mine,” says Castle, but they both ignore him. When he tries to yank away from her, he barely has enough strength to tip to the side. Darcy drags his arm over her shoulders, and wishes she were taller.

“Watch it, Lady Ninja has a knife.”

Matt surges past them down the hall without another word. .   

“Brannigan’s mine,” Castle spits again, but when he tries to lunge away from her they nearly tip into the wall again. A reason, Darcy thinks, Karen thinks there has to be a reason, and the way Castle’s acting, just—God, why do I have to think so much about the grey? “Both of you, fuckin’ Jesus—

“Shut up,” Darcy says, and steps away from him so he lands hard on the floor. She catches his jaw in her hand, forces him to look at her. “Look at me, asshole. We did not come all the way out here at ass o’clock at night to let you have your way and keep killing people.”

“That son of a bitch—”

“—is probably gone by now, and you’re in no state to go after him anyway, you’d get chewed up and spit out by the rest of his men like a fucking Easter bunny—hey!” She digs her fingers hard into his jaw, into the cut on his face, until it stings. “Listen to me, asshole. Listen—Castle, listen to me. You have two choices here. I don’t think you want to die, and if you go after them, you’re going to, so either you cooperate, and you walk up those goddamn stairs with me and the dog and get some goddamn help for that stupid face of yours, or I tase you, tie you up, and send the cops in to grab you so you can wake up in the hospital in handcuffs. Up to you. But I swear to God if you keep on fighting me, I will break your jaw this time, and I will enjoy it way, way too much.”

Castle blinks at her. Dark eyes, black ice eyes, and he blinks at her like she’s surprised him, somehow. He stops moving, watching her. Darcy lets go of him, and wipes her bloody glove on her pants. “Get up,” she snaps, and when she offers him her hand he seizes it, and heaves himself to his feet. “You talk again, I’m gonna give up and leave you to the crazy lady in the mask. She saved Brannigan for a reason, she probably wants you dead too.”

Castle rasps something that could be a laugh. “Still spitty as hell, Cat. Hell you doing, dragging me out after what I did?”

“Fuck off, Jarhead.” She grinds her teeth. “You remind me, I’m dropping your ass.”

“Stupid move, ‘sall I’m saying.”

“Again with me getting the chatty ones.”

“Dog,” he says. For a second, she thinks he’s crazy. Then she hears it, the whining. Something’s scraping at the wooden door on the far side of the torture chamber. (And it is a torture room, Christ, a bloody drill and razors and knives and nails and what the fuck kind of twisted Home Improvement bullshit was going on in here, Christ, Christ—) And yeah, as much as she hates to hear it from him, she really, really wants to bare her teeth and hiss like a cat right now, because we don’t have time for this, damn it. “Leave the dog here, they’ll shoot it.”

“Goddammit.” Outside, she hears one of Matt’s batons rebound off the wall. “Shit. Why’d they bring him here?”

“Him?” says Castle. “That dog’s a bitch.”

She has to drag his arm all the way around her neck again before she can fumble the door open. The dog, Ripper, whatever her name is, lunges out and circles their feet, making noises like a kicked puppy. She’s going to get in the way, Darcy thinks, until Castle whistles between his teeth and she settles again. “What’s she doing here?”

Castle doesn’t say anything. Judging by the number of holes in him right now, she can guess. Darcy looks down at the dog, who’s limping just like Castle is, and regrets not smashing Finn Brannigan’s head in with a hammer before his men had managed to drag him out of the catacombs. “Come on.”

“Nowhere else to go, Cat,” says Castle.

“I was talking to the dog.”

She really doesn’t want to think that the cracking noise Castle makes then is a laugh. If he laughs he’s human. But he looks desperately, unassailably human right now, broken and bleeding, bruised and torn to shreds, holes in his shoes and in his pants and in his foot and in his leg and a tear in his shirt that shows off the cuts she’d left behind, two over his ribs. The crease from the bullet buzzes along her side. Darcy yanks his arm again, hard, and heaves him to the door.

It’s nearly impossible to get Castle up the stairs. He falls twice, almost drags her back down with him. His foot’s fucked up, she thinks, same as his knee, and Ripper the dog isn’t doing much to help, pacing back and forth in front of them and turning back to watch. The fact that the dog is being so goddamn loyal isn’t helping her heart much either. They barely make it a few dozen feet away from the mausoleum before he staggers, and hits the ground. He doesn’t get up again. “Come on.” Darcy crouches down next to him. “Not giving up on me now, are you, Castle?”

Castle cracks again, and shifts, lying flat on his back on the grass. “That not what you want?”

“You’re seriously an asshole.” She kind of wants to kick him in the ribs. Darcy glances back at the door to the tomb, and curses under her breath. She can still hear Matt, fighting, down below.

“Go help him,” Castle says. “Not much you can do here.”

“I can keep you from running.”

“Not running anywhere, I don’t think.”

“Not even after Brannigan?”

“You fucked my knee, not much running I can do.”

He’s staring at the moon. The light’s casting odd gleaming reflections in the blood on his cheeks, cuts and bruises black in the dark. There’s a gash on his arm that’s still bleeding, torn gauze. “Jesus. You’re a fucking wreck, Frank.”

“’s Frank now?”

She straightens. The cops will be here soon, judging by the lights. Brigid, she thinks. Brigid would have called them. She’s good at helping, but she wouldn’t be able to keep her nose out of it, Brigid. Well. At least the mausoleum’s about as far from the main gates as you can get, and it’ll take them a while to make out the shadows of Darcy and Frank Castle in the far corner of the cemetery. They can probably still get out through the back way, if the NYPD is as good at their job as they are regularly. Which is to say, not very, in her opinion. “We’ve both tried to kill each other and I still just dragged your stupid ass up out of the earth, I feel like I out of everyone on the fucking planet get to call you Frank without all this backchat.”

“Spitty cat,” he says, and actually smiles, crooked and broken and awful, lips peeling back from bloody teeth. “Told you, never did like cats.”

Ripper the pit bull has picked a spot, she thinks, between them and the door of the mausoleum. She paces back and forth. Darcy watches her for a bit, oddly hypnotized. “What’d you do to make that dog like you so much?”

Frank doesn’t say anything.

“Fine. Be a statue.” She drops down onto the ground, leaning back against a headstone. She gets the feeling that Mary Ellis Phipps, 1832-1856, Over And Under And Over Again won’t mind too much. “So goddamn chatty when no one looks you in the face, but with real people you get all tongue-tied. Were you one of those kids who never talked to anyone in school?”

Frank cracks again. “Something’s wrong with you.”

“Yeah, same thing that’s wrong with you, I don’t know when to keep my damn nose clean.” She rests her arms on her knees. Matt’s still fighting. “I can’t drag you anywhere, Frank, you’re too heavy. If you don’t work with me, I can’t get you out.”

“Thought you wanted me dead for everything I’ve done, Cat.”

Darcy watches him through her lashes. “And I thought you were gonna shoot me in the head but here’s me, being the bigger person. Try it sometime.”

“Wasn’t gonna.”

“What?”

When he coughs, blood bubbles on his lips. “No bullet in the gun.”

Darcy opens her mouth, and closes it again. She wants to laugh. Or cry. Or punch him in the face. Possibly all three. “There was no bullet in the gun.”

“Think you’re both cowards,” he says. “But. Not gonna kill you. Not gonna kill either of you. Don’t deserve it. You’re wrong, but you’re trying.”

“So what the hell was that, some—some kind of show?”

He spits. “Red’s too stubborn. Wouldn’t’ve understood otherwise.”

“Jesus Christ,” Darcy says again. “You sick son of a bitch.”

“’swhat they tell me.”

“I should’ve killed you.”

“Probably.”

She sticks on that, the probably. She doesn’t think Frank Castle wants to die, but at the same time, it’s just…she sticks on it. Probably. Darcy deflates, watching him. “Daredevil know it was fake yet?”

“You still have that fancy audio set up in your headgear? ‘cause now he does.”

She’s not sure he’s paying attention, at the moment. If there was no bullet in the gun, then—but no, Matt’s hearing is still shot. Or not shot, but compromised. And if he’d been hit in the head again, who knows what he would or wouldn’t have noticed?

“A fucking test.” She knocks her head to the stone. “Jesus Christ.”

“Red passed,” says Frank. “Didn’t need to test you, you already passed.”

“A fucking test.” God, I’m tired. “Something’s really fucking wrong with you, Jarhead.”

“Why’re you calling me that?”

“Why are you calling me Cat?”

Frank heaves a little. Then he grits his teeth, and rolls. Darcy’s halfway up off the grass by the time he’s managed to sit up, prop himself against a headstone of his own. His reads Marcus Dettweiler, 1921-1953, When Do The Dead Stay Dead. There’s not really much she can do about it now. She sinks back down. “You look like shit, man,” she says. “The hell were you doing letting the Brannigans grab you like that?”

“What I needed to do to find that fucking bastard.”

“What, Finn Brannigan?”

“Fucking bastard,” says Frank.

“I mean, the initials match, so sure. What’d he do?”

He coughs. Ripper creeps closer, and when Frank offers a hand, she nudges her heavy pit bull head up underneath his bloody fingers.

“Knew a dog,” he says, after a moment. “Had dogs when I was a kid. Always liked me.”

“So you were the kid who never talked to anyone and could always be found in the backyard at house parties playing with the family dog.”

Frank tugs on Ripper’s ear. “This one’s young. Not too set yet. Probably barely wet her teeth in fighting. Not marked up too badly, hasn’t killed either. Won’t ever be a dog you can keep around other dogs, but she’s not wild.” He considers. “Didn’t see any point leaving her there.”

“So, what, the Punisher and his shotgun and his trusty pit bull?”

“Nah. Cops would’ve put her down.” He shuts his eyes. “Besides. It’s not much of a life. Killing other dogs ‘cause some bastard thinks it’s a fun game.”

“Not much of a life for humans, either.”

Frank turns his face away from her to look at the moon again. Ripper dusts her tail over the grass, and when Darcy reaches out one hand, she pushes her head into Darcy’s glove. “Hey, baby,” Darcy says again, and Ripper doesn’t lick, but her tongue rolls out of her mouth. “Hey, there.”

“Thought you didn’t like dogs.”

“So far this one hasn’t tried to bite me and she hasn’t wiped her spit all over my face. We’ve come to an accord.” She tugs a little on Ripper’s good ear. (Christ, Ripper. This dog isn’t a ripper. This dog is a victim just like everyone else.) “If you want, I’ll make sure she gets somewhere safe.”

He looks at the dog. Ripper settles, curled, her spine nudging into Darcy’s hip. Frank shuts his eyes. He doesn’t say please, but she’s not sure he has to.

“No birds, tonight?” says Frank. Darcy shakes her head.

“Didn’t think we’d need her, this time.”

“Makes Red the last man out,” he says, in an odd voice.

“Yeah, last man out, usually.”

“Coming up,” Matt says in her ear. “She ran. I think she went after Brannigan.”

“That’s all we need.” Darcy looks around at the line of cop cars. “Might want to hurry,” she says. “The good sergeant’s getting a little anxious.”

“Brett?”

“Probably.” She sighs. “Looks like someone called in a tip. Might have been Brigid. Might have even been the Brannigans. You have a little time, he’s arguing with the caretaker at the gate.”

“That Red?” says Frank, and if she didn’t know better she’d say he’s actually curious. Darcy shifts on the ground. The grass is wet, and even through the armor she’s going to have damp underwear now.

“What’s with the nicknames, Frank? That a Marine thing?”

He shrugs. “Feel kinda stupid saying Daredevil all the time.”

She can’t help it. She snorts. “You have no idea.”

The look on his face is…very unsettlingly close to shrewd, and she doesn’t like it. “He piss you off?”

“We’re not having a heart-to-heart, Frank.”

“Yeah, sure.” Frank closes his eyes again. “Not as much of a pussy as I figured, Red.”

“You say that word again and I’ll be the one beating your head in with a tire iron,” says Darcy, icy. “Maybe before all you big strong macho guys start going off on how fragile vaginas are you might wanna think about how you, you know, came from one.”

Frank cracks an eye, and looks at her. The crooked, broken smile comes back. “Christ, you’re a piece of work, aren’t you, Cat?”

She drags her gloved fingers down Ripper’s ribs, careful to avoid the scabs. “You just worked that out now? Thought you were smart.”

“Asked him if he knew how lucky he was.” He coughs. It sounds wet. “Shit. Y’know, I asked Red if he knew how damn lucky he was, having someone who’d walk into the firing line to get him back. Used to wonder why he let you do this, y’know. Risk losing it.”

“The Devil doesn’t let me do anything.”

“Lilith,” says Frank, carefully. “I figured.”

She tears up a few blades of grass.

“You ever been tired, Cat?” Frank heaves again, and blood dribbles over his lip. “You ever—you ever been so goddamn tired you can’t even manage breathing?”

Darcy shakes her head. “Not yet.”

“Yeah, well. Keep going the way you are, wouldn’t be surprised if you get it soon.”

Neither would I.

“Wasn’t gonna kill you,” he says again, through the blood. “Don’t think you’ll believe me, but I wouldn’t have killed you. Didn’t want him dead, either. Just—” He stops. “Tried to tell you that. Didn’t think you wouldn’t be able to hear me.”

“I should have broken your jaw back on that rooftop so I didn’t have to get all this context.” She shuts her eyes. “Easier to just hate you.”

“Yeah, well,” Frank says. “You nearly did.”

“Hope it hurts,” says Darcy sweetly. Frank peers at her again through wet eyelashes.

“He’s under your skin, isn’t he?” He tips his head. “Pair of you. Weaseled your way under his skin like he’s under yours. Makes you raw, doing that. Feels like you bleed, when they get cut. Makes you weaker than anything and it scares the shit out of you but you don’t want to stop.”

The only reason she sees Matt leave the tomb is because Ripper lifts her good ear. He’s slinking through the graves, sticking to the shadows. Darcy swallows, hard. There’s an odd, metronomic quality to Frank’s voice that makes her think of church bells. “Sounds like you’re speaking from experience.”

Matt’s getting closer, but he’s still a dozen feet off when Frank coughs. “Someone gets under your skin, Cat, ‘snot about experience. More like you’re trying to survive it. You—you lose it, you lose them, and it’s like all the thorns they pierced you with are yanked out at once. Rips you up. Tears you to shreds. And—and you figure out, when all the thorns are gone, that—that those thorns, things that hooked in and stung and ached and you just—you wanted to tear them out yourself, sometimes, but you figure out when they’re gone that they might’ve been the only thing keeping you together at all.”

“Never figured you for a poet, Frank,” says Darcy. Matt crouches down beside them, turning his face from Darcy to Frank. Blood’s leaking from his lip. “People’d probably pay money to read that, y’know.”

“Bullshit.”

“No, it’s good.” She scratches Ripper’s side again. “Better than anything I could come up with.”

He makes that wet choking sound again. She wonders if one of his broken ribs has dug into his lung. “Pair of you are fucking stupid,” he says. “You have thorns like that, you have a thing like that in your life, you don’t risk it with this bullshit. Go out like this, every night, you’re asking to lose everything. You’re asking to have someone rip you apart. Practically begging for it. Fucking stupid, the both of you.”

Matt hums, low in his throat. “Someone told me last year you risk that no matter what, Frank,” he says, very quietly. Darcy’s heart surges under her ribs. “Caring at all’s a risk. Doesn’t matter if Halloween costumes come into it.”

“People die a million different ways every day,” Darcy says. “This way I can at least try to make sure he doesn’t get his dumb ass shot again.”

Matt’s mouth twists into something that could be a smile, albeit a bitter one. He doesn’t say anything. Frank looks from him to Darcy and back, and then says, “Fucking stupid.” He shuts his eyes. “Both of you are fucking stupid.”

“Guilty as charged,” says Darcy. “Unfortunately.”

They’re all quiet, for a minute.

“What’s that poem?” Matt says. “The one you were saying down in the catacomb. What’s that poem you were saying?”

“Poem?”

“Yeah.” He clears his throat. “One batch, two batch. Said it before you tried to pull the trigger on Finn Brannigan. What’s it mean?”

“You heard that?”

“Yeah.”

“Christ,” Frank says. “Sometimes I think maybe you are the devil.”

Matt’s mouth contorts. “Sometimes,” he says, “I think maybe I am, too.”

Darcy can’t help it. She reaches out, touches her fingers to his elbow. Matt doesn’t shake her off. He turns his head towards her, and when she presses her fingers to the center of his palm, he fists his hand around them, for a heartbeat, two, gloves scuffing over each other like sandpaper. Then he lets go. Frank’s quiet for a long time, watching them, his eyes half-lidded and musing. The dog lifts her head and looks at nothing, ears pricked, peering off into the dark of the cemetery.

“It was her favorite book,” Frank says.

.

.

.

They get out clean. Somehow, incredibly, they get out clean. She’s already fifty feet away with the dog when Matt and Brett have their talk, when Brett scoffs under his breath and turns and lets Matt go in spite of everything. Ripper—she has to come up with a new name for this damn dog, but she can’t think of anything at the moment other than Dog, which is pathetic—doesn’t really want to come with her, but she obeys, and she’s practically vibrating with every step they take away from Frank. Which. He’s apparently Frank in her head, now, not Castle and not Jarhead and not anything else. Frank, who’d watched his family die. Frank who hadn’t even come near killing her when she’d thought Matt was dead, even when she’d tried to cut him open.

She doesn’t know how to feel anymore. 

Matt catches up with her a few blocks away. They’re still in Flushing, and walking back to Hell’s Kitchen, especially with a dog, is going to be impossible. Her feet hurt, and her heart hurts, and she just wants to curl up and go to sleep, but she can’t, not yet, not really. She swallows back her lungs. “You wanna tell me how nine guys turned into like thirty without you realizing?”

His mouth creases, hard. “Hearing’s not right yet,” he says, after a moment, and her heart pinches in her chest. “Underground is harder. All echoes.”

And that’s without a TBI. She chews the inside of her cheek. “Well, it was fun, anyway.”

“I think your definition of fun has turned a little twisted, lately.” He looks down at Ripper, and his mouth curves the way it does when he’s arching his eyebrows at her. “That one yours now?”

“No.” Darcy touches her hand to Ripper’s back. “But—I don’t know. For tonight, maybe. Until I find somewhere to put her.”

Matt’s quiet for a second. “Claire likes dogs.”

“Claire’s a nurse who works hell shifts, I don’t know if she can take a dog.” There’s a shed just beyond one of the fences, rope hanging on the outside of the door. Darcy heaves herself up and over, and steals the rope, climbing back to loop it through the collar. “Just for tonight. I don’t know. I’ll figure something out, all right?”

Matt shifts on his feet. When he peels his gloves back, crouches down, Ripper shies a little. Still, she doesn’t bite when he puts his hand out, and she doesn’t shake when he touches her ear.

“I can help,” he says, not looking at her. “If you want.”

It’s such a thin line they’re treading. Darcy watches his helmet, the curve of the horns, the flicker of his fingers over Ripper’s fur. Christ. If I can’t talk to him and I can’t work with him and I can’t at least be around him then I’m going to go insane. She can fight with him, and alongside him, but the rest of it—God. Why does it have to be so hard?

When he lifts his head, she stares hard at the line of the fence, and clears her throat. “Yeah.” She shouldn’t sound hoarse, Jesus. “I mean, if you want to.”

He doesn’t reach out this time, but the weight of his focus is prickling down the back of her neck. Darcy pulls at the rope. “We should start walking.”

Matt stands, and lets her pass.

They’d left the bags with their clothes behind a dumpster a good six blocks away from the cemetery, one of the only alleyways in the area that has a little curve to protect anyone inside it from being seen on the street. This is a process she’s used to, now, stripping out of her uniform and stowing it in a duffel, hiding away her second skin and trying to shift back into what people expect when they hear the name Darcy Lewis. Her skinny jeans tug at a bruise she can’t remember getting, and when she pulls on the button-down over the tank she realizes she’d snagged one of the shirts she’d stolen from Matt ages ago. The sleeves are too long, and she has to roll them up. If he’s noticed, he doesn’t say anything, just snaps out his cane and grips her elbow when she turns and offers it to him. It’s a two hour walk, she thinks, more, and about ten minutes into it Matt lifts his face and says, “It’s going to rain.”

“Of course it is.” Darcy makes a face. “Nothing goes right this week. Why wouldn’t it rain when we can’t afford a cab?”

“We could call someone.”

“No. That thing about catching colds from walking in rain is a myth, I think. Besides.” She shrugs. “It’ll clean the blood off.” 

Matt presses his fingers hard into her elbow. Then he loosens his grip, slowly. “You sure?”

“I want to walk.”

He nods, and tugs at her arm. “This way.”

It starts in a few sprinkles, at first. When they cross back into Manhattan, it’s a steady drizzle, flattening her hair down and sprinkling her clothes with dark splotches. Ripper—Dog—whatever the dog’s name is now doesn’t make a sound, padding along at Darcy’s hip. She keeps turning to look back, like she’s waiting for someone. Then thunder cracks, and it’s a downpour. In the duffel bags, the uniforms are dry, but she’s soaked, her hair, her clothes, all the way through to her underwear. The only dry thing about her at the moment is her socks, and she’s pretty sure those are next.

Matt’s silent for the first hour, careful to keep from knocking into her, tapping his cane back and forth on the sidewalk with the steady rhythm of a heartbeat. She hasn’t seen him this soaked since he’d walked from St. Patrick’s to Jen’s. Even her arteries ache, thinking of that. She looks at the ground for a few blocks, clears her throat. She used to like silences, with Matt, and now—no. They’re excruciating.

“You’re grinding your teeth,” he says, soft enough that she thinks she’s imagining it. “What’s wrong?”

She doesn’t say anything for a while. She has to think of something that doesn’t sound pathetic. “Frank.” Darcy weaves the rope between her fingers. “Only—Brannigan’s still alive. If Frank gets out, he’ll go after the guy again.”

“Brannigan’s one of the men who killed his family.” Matt presses his lips together. “Don’t blame him, much.”

Darcy snaps a look at him. “That’s a change of heart. You don’t blame him for wanting to kill someone?”

“Should I?” He keeps his face carefully blank, hiding away behind his glasses. “After what happened on the rooftop?”

Me or her. The gun going off, the bullet chipping brick. He’d meant it. He’d aimed. Frank’s alive tonight because he’d ducked, because he’d pushed Darcy out of the way. “His gun was empty.”

“I heard.”

She bites her lip, and goes back to staring at the ground.

“I could have killed you,” Matt says. “Doing that.”

“You were aiming for Frank.”

“Yeah, and his gun was empty, and I would’ve known that if—” He stops. “I could have killed you and I meant to kill him.”

“You’re talking to me,” Darcy says. “I told you what happened, after you were shot. If you’re wanting someone to punish you, then you should look somewhere else, because I’m not gonna do it. Not for doing the same thing I did. And unlike you, I don’t regret doing it. I thought you were dead, and I tried to kill him, and that’s wrong, but I don’t—” She stops. “I don’t know when the world turned so black and white for you, considering everything we do, but I don’t regret what I did. It makes me sick, but I don’t—it didn’t feel wrong, and it doesn’t feel wrong now. Maybe that makes me the same as Frank Castle, I don’t know.”

“You’re not the same,” he says. “You could have killed him, and you didn’t.”

“Yeah, because he stopped me the first time. And the second time…I don’t know. Even after I knew you were alive, doesn’t mean I didn’t want to try again.”

His fingers curl close into her arm. Matt goes quiet.

They’ve walked another three blocks by the time he clears his throat. The rain isn’t even close to letting up, and the gutters are running dark. “I don’t.”

Darcy blinks at him. “Don’t what?”

“Regret it,” he says. “Trying—I don’t regret pulling the trigger. I thought he was going to kill you, and I—I should regret it. I feel guilty for not regretting it, but I don’t. I don’t regret trying to kill him, not if it meant saving your life. He put a gun in my hand and all I could think about, before you found us, was what I did when—when Nobu had you. With Nobu and Fisk and everything else. What—what I did. What I was willing to do to get you back, it all just—” He stops, and wets his lips. “I would probably do anything, if it meant saving your life.”

Barbed wire cuts in around her throat. Darcy opens her mouth, and closes it again. “Oh,” she says, very quietly. Matt curls his fingers into her elbow again.

“He said something,” he says. “Frank. About—about how similar we were. One bad day, was what he said. I’m one bad day from turning into him. I didn’t want to believe it, when he said that, I didn’t want to remember it, but it’s—he’s not wrong.” He licks his lips again, and says, “I think, if you died, that—that would be my bad day.”

She watches the pavement for a few more steps. Then, carefully, she shifts her arm, and threads her fingers into his. It’s not forgiveness, not even close, but just—she can’t not touch him, right now. She can’t not do this. Matt goes ragged, his breath catching. It takes him a little bit before he presses his fingers into her hand, holding on, drawing his thumb back and forth over her damp skin.

The rain’s coming down harder, now, a full, heavy roar, steady as a monsoon. Neither of them have umbrellas. The dog doesn’t seem to care about the weather. A few cabs pass, but nobody stops for them. Darcy doesn’t try to hail one. She keeps one hand wrapped around the makeshift leash, and the other tangled in Matt’s, and he taps his cane in a steady rhythm and steps carefully, not because he can’t keep his balance but because—and this is just her theory, but her theories about Matt are usually right—he’s listening to the rain. (“It’s constant motion,” he’d said. “It’s—it’s blue instead of red, it traces things out and makes them clearer and fogs them away again all at once. It’s—I don’t know. It’s rain.”)

They pass the office. Another taxi blares by. Somewhere nearby a door slams, and it makes her jump. Matt squeezes her fingers, and when she gives him a look out of the corner of her eye, he shakes his head. “Delivery,” he says, very quietly. “Didn’t get a tip.”

“Rude.”

His lips twitch, and then turn back down. She can’t stop thinking about thorns.

The office. A few blocks of lights and sounds and people staring at them through windows as they walk silent in the rain. Then, finally, home, two and a half hours later, a shivery dog at her leg (because the dog’s shivering now, cold, and she seems to have forgotten the whole don’t touch thing in favor of pressing into Darcy’s warmth) and Matt’s hand still in hers. He clears his throat, and draws away, ghosting his fingertips against the back of her hand.

“The apartment’s gonna smell like wet dog,” she says. Her voice cracks a little. “So sorry, you know, in advance.”

“I—wait.” He catches the hem of her sleeve between two fingers. “Just—wait. I want—I want to say something. I don’t—I need to say something.”

“About wet dog?”

Matt shakes his head. He breathes, in and out through his nose. “You said—today. You said that you don’t—you don’t really know how to trust me anymore.”

Her heart drops. Darcy swallows, and punches the first three numbers into the keypad. “We don’t have to talk about this right now.”

“Darcy—”

“Matt, you haven’t had a lot of time to think, okay, and we’ve just walked to Flushing and back and fought like fifty people and met a ninja and had weirdly emotional talks with a mass murderer, just—it’s been a really, really terrible few days and I’m really not expecting a response right now—”

“I’m good at lying,” Matt says, abruptly. Darcy narrows her eyes.

“Is this where you tell me you’ve lied to me about something?”

“No, just—” He presses both hands to his face, hiding his nose and mouth for a moment. Ripper sits down on the sidewalk, and starts panting again. “No, I don’t—I don’t lie to you, Darcy. Or I never intend to, but—but somehow things always explode out of control and what wasn’t a lie turns into one, and—I don’t know.”

Water dribbles down behind her ear. “Oh.”

“This is coming out wrong.” Matt rubs a hand over his jaw, this time. His fingers are shaking. “I told you that I’m—nothing good happens to me, not in a way that—that sticks. Sometimes—sometimes I pass people on the street and I wonder what the difference is, between them and me, that they can—that they can trust happiness, and I can’t. And part of that is just—I don’t know. Terrible luck. You could—you could call it bad karma, maybe. But I’m—I’m really, really good at ruining things. And with everything that’s been happening, I don’t—”

Her heart’s beating very fast. “Matt—”

“I lie to myself,” he says. “I’ve always been good at it, I’ve always been able to do it, I’ve always done it, even though I know—and I thought I was getting better at recognizing it. I thought I could tell, now, when I was doing it, but I can’t, I think—I started to think that maybe I’m the last person in the world who can tell. I lie to myself, and you’re right, not to trust me, because I can’t—I can’t even trust myself. Nobody should trust me, if I don’t even know when I’m lying anymore. And I don’t—I don’t get good things, Darcy. I’m not—sometimes I think I’m not good enough for good things to happen, and every second I have something that—that’s amazing, that’s so completely perfect that I can’t even breathe, I can’t help sitting there waiting for all of it to go completely wrong, because I don’t get those things. I don’t get things like this, I don’t—I don’t deserve things like this, or people like you, and something in me makes me lose everything I’ve ever wanted to keep, and the past few days, it’s—”

She fists her hand up in the hem of the button-down. “Matt, seriously—”

“Please.” He heaves a breath, steps closer, and this time there’s no barrier, when he reaches out, this time he doesn’t stop; he puts his fingers to her cheek, and Darcy stays very still. The rain runs down the back of her neck, sticking in her hair. “Please just—if I don’t say it now, I don’t—I don’t know if I’ll be able to, please.”

Her mouth is sticky. Darcy nods, once, and Matt pulls back, like her skin’s too hot, like it’s scorching him. His throat works.

“I thought I could trust myself again,” he says. “After everything with Fisk, I thought I could—I don’t know. I thought I could trust myself, I thought I could handle it, but the past few days, just—I can’t, anymore. I thought I knew what I was doing but I don’t, not really, I thought—I thought I knew where I stood, but it’s like the whole world’s turned to mud and I keep slipping into something that—that sticks, that gets in your nose and ears and mouth and chokes you, and sometimes it feels like I’m dragging you into it too, even though I know you’re not—” He runs his hands over his face again. “I don’t know how to think anymore. I went into the apartment and—and your things were there but you weren’t and it was like walking into a tomb, and I don’t—I ruin everything I ever touch, and everything’s spiraled completely out of control, and I hurt you, and I hurt Foggy and Karen and Kate and just—I don’t know how to stop it, every time I try it falls apart in my hands, and I can’t—”

“Slow down—”

“I don’t want to ruin this, Darcy,” he says. “I don’t—I don’t want to lose this. I don’t want to ruin us. If I did, I don’t— I wouldn’t be able to live with myself.”

Darcy looks down at the dog. Then, carefully, she winds the end of the rope around the doorknob, and steps free of the awning, back into the rain. She’s completely soaking wet, but out here it doesn’t matter so much.  Darcy touches her fingers to his throat, to a bruise, and he shudders. She wants to choke on the downpour, cool drops rolling down her scalp and her throat and the length of her spine, dripping from her eyelashes.

“Listen to me.” She brushes her thumb over the corner of his mouth. “You haven’t dragged me anywhere. You haven’t dragged me anywhere; you haven’t made me do anything. You haven’t ruined me, Matt. Every choice I’ve made has been mine, and that’s not something you get to take on, all right? It isn’t.”

Matt closes his eyes. Water drips off his glasses. He presses his lips together, and shudders again when she drops her hand, pressing her palm to his chest over his heart.

“You’re so convinced that everything that goes wrong around you is your fault.” She can’t raise her voice above a whisper. “Not everything is.”

“Isn’t it?” His mouth twists. “This, what’s wrong with us, this is my fault. What happened with—with Castle, what happened with Kate, that was my fault. Frank—”

“Frank Castle is a man who’s made his own choices, and if you take credit for all those gangsters he’s killed he’ll probably kneecap you.”

He laughs. It sounds more like a sob.

“Open your eyes,” she says, “please,” and he does, without hesitation, blinking behind his glasses. When she draws her fingers down his cheek, she’s shaking to pieces. “You fucked up, Matt. You fucked up, and you fucked up a lot, but—but that doesn’t mean you’re not a good person, here.” She taps at his heart, once, twice. “This person, here, he’s good. You’re a good person, Matt, even—even when you fuck up and even when you’re a jackass and even it seems like you can’t do anything but hurt other people, because I know that’s what you meant—even when you think you can’t do anything worth something, this, here, your heart, it’s good.  You’re a human being, you fuck up, you—you drive me insane sometimes, but you’re not worthless.”

His glasses are slipping down his nose. The lenses are all raindrops. “You believe that.”

“I believe you’re a jackass and you have shit self-confidence and you like to take the blame for everything.” She tugs on the collar of his shirt, fixing it. “But you’re good, Matt. You—You’ve always been good.” 

He blinks again, and his lips part. He doesn’t say a word.

“Claire said something to me when I was—I don’t know. She said that if I can’t trust myself, then I should at least trust her, and Foggy and Karen and Kate and Jen.” She fusses with the collar again, trying to keep herself from trembling. “If you can’t trust yourself, then trust me. If you can’t trust yourself, Matt, then—then I want you trust me, when I say it. Trust me, and Foggy, and Karen, and everyone else around you who—who loves you and trusts you and thinks that you’re good, Matt. Trust me. Trust us, even if you can’t trust yourself.”

She thinks that some of the damp on his face might be from tears. When he fumbles his hand up to hers, covers it, his fingers are shaking.

“You fucked up, and you hurt me, and—and it’s going to be incredibly difficult, all right, it’s been difficult, but all I want is—is to fix this, okay? We’ve both made a lot of mistakes the past few days, or—or months, with a lot of people, and now you know that and I know that and what we can do is try to make it better. And if you think,” she says, fiercely, even through the prick of tears, “if you think I’m going to be any better off without you than you would be without me then I’m going to kneecap you, stupid. Because we’re in this together, okay? Like—like we’ve always been. And I might not—I might not trust you, right now, and I haven’t forgiven you, and I might still want to punch you in the face until I feel like I can, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love you, or that I’m going to stop, or that you’ve—that you’ve stained me. If you keep thinking like that, I will kneecap you, and then you’ll really have to sit down and take a break for your stupid damn head that’s probably still all bruised up inside like a fucking apple.”

It’s definitely a laugh, this time, and a sob, all mixed together. Matt cups his hands to her face, stroking his fingers over her skin, stepping into her and touching her like she’s something priceless, and it breaks her a little the way it always does, to feel it. “You do this every time,” he says, and she fists her hand up in his shirt again, pushing up onto her toes when he touches his forehead to her temple, breathing out over her cheek. “You—you do this every time and I don’t know how you manage it but you—it’s like I’m stuck in the dark and I can’t—I can’t sense anything, I can’t see, I can’t make out anything at all, and you come in and you bring the world back and I don’t know how you do it but you do, every single time, and I can’t lose you, Darcy, I can’t—”

“Then trust me.” She presses her free hand to his cheek, touches her lips to his, careful, very light, barely enough to feel. “Let me help you, don’t—don’t shut me out of this, don’t try to push me away, don’t try to take it all on yourself or think you have to face things alone, just trust me, Matt, please—”

Matt folds her into him, shaking, clutching her close like he thinks she’s going to bolt. Darcy goes up on her toes and wraps her arm around his neck. He’s holding on so tightly that she can barely breathe, her lungs and cuts and bruises all pinching at her chest, and when she hooks her nails into his hair and rests her nose to his shoulder he sags like all his strings have been cut, leaning hard into her. He puts his lips to her hair and hides, his glasses jamming into her scalp and his fingers trembling against her back. “I trust you,” he says. “I—I trust you more than I’ve ever trusted anyone.”

More than I’ve ever trusted anyone, and she thinks that might mean he trusts her more than he trusts himself. Her heart’s breaking. “Matt—”

“I’m sorry.” It dusts warm and damp over the curve of her ear. “I’m so sorry. You were—you were right, and I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I can’t—I don’t know how to say it in a way that makes it anywhere close to enough, and I know it doesn’t fix anything and I know you can’t trust me and I know that it doesn’t change what I did, but Darcy, I’m so, so sorry—”

She’s the one to kiss him. He tastes like rain, a little like salt, a little like blood, and he makes this small, desperate, keening sound into her mouth before threading his hands into her hair and kissing her back, panicked, like he’s trying to bury himself, like he wants to vanish into her and not ever come out again. She’s been shot through with cold lightning, and it sparks on her tongue. Like thorns, Frank had said. Like he’s woven into her skin and yanking him free would tear most of her with him. Makes you raw, makes you bleed, and she kisses him anyway because she can’t bear not to. Maybe that makes her weak, she’s not sure. If it does, she doesn’t care particularly much. Darcy curls her hand into his hair and kisses him, carefully, as quietly as she can, until the desperation fades and he slows, down into something as liquid as honey, his fingers trembling against her cheek. She shifts, puts her mouth to his jaw, and breathes into him for a minute, the rain pouring down on her head and down her back and the damn dog making unhappy noises from the nearest puddle. 

“That’s a start,” she says, after a moment. It scrapes against the inside of her throat, comes out rough as sandstone. “That’s definitely a start.”

Matt lifts his head. He smooths her wet hair out of her face, touches his lips to the side of her nose. It’s careful and tender and a little awestruck, she thinks, and she can deal with the unhappy whine from her bruises when he has that look on his face, the one that says he still can’t quite believe this is real. Occasionally it’s kind of nice for her ego.

“Tell me.” He rests his mouth to her hairline, closes his eyes. “I want—give me something to do, please. I want to make it up, please give me something. I know it’s not—that won’t fix it, I know that, but just—I want something to do, to try. Please.”

That’s. Wow, okay. She’s pretty sure she’s never heard him ask anything like that before. Then again, he’s never fucked up this badly before. Even when he’d lied to her, for years and years and years, that—that had been to everyone, not just to her. That hadn’t been half a dozen promises broken to her face. “First step is let me go inside, finally,” she says, and Matt huffs, mouth against her temple. “I’m a) tired, b) wet , and c) not wanting to stand out here in the rain any longer than I need to now that we’re, y’know, home.”

Matt presses his hand to her cheek. “I can see you like this,” he says. “Better than—you’re clearer, out here. I forget the angles, sometimes.”

“My nose is still swollen and I look like a drowned rat, Matthew, that’s not much of a compliment.”

He doesn’t say anything, just shakes his head and scuffs his mouth over hers, more than a raindrop of a kiss. “I like seeing you.”

“Then the next time it rains,” she says, “we can go outside. Just…I’m cold right now.”

Matt hums into her mouth, and draws back. “Okay.”

They leave patterns of clear water all the way down the hall, footprints in the elevator and smears of mud on the wooden floor, especially when Ripper shakes halfway past the fourth floor and scatters water and mud and grass bits everywhere. Still, at least she’s quiet, and so is the tiny, yappy dog in the apartment across from Matt’s, which is a miracle considering sometimes it seems like even the barest whiff of cat gets the little bastard shrieking like a siren. Matt unlocks the door, but Darcy’s the one to close it behind them, close it and lock it up again, sliding the deadbolt home and resting her forehead to the inside of the door like she’s saying hello to an old friend. She aches, and she’s not going to stop aching, not for ages, but this place has been home for almost a year now. Familiar smells and the creak of the squeaky board under her foot. Darcy bends to undo her boots and step out of them, finally deal with the blisters forming on her heel. A few feet down the hall, the dog shakes again (only roughly half the amount of grass flies off this time) and sniffs at the hem of one of Matt’s coats. Darcy unknots the rope from her collar. “I’m letting her wander.”

“Okay.”

“…wait, shit. There’s—she does need food. I don’t think she can eat any of your weird organic stuff.”

Matt ghosts his hand over the small of her back, and passes her on his way down the hall. The dog follows. If she imprints on Matt, shit. That would be awkward. And also weird, because Matt’s such an absolute human asshole cat that watching a half-wild, half-murderous (and yet still somehow oddly fuzzy) pit bull trail him around would be like something out of an internet meme. “There’s probably something at the—”

He stops dead. It takes her a second to process it, the shift. It’s not Matt, anymore, it’s the Devil, and he stops dead at the end of the hallway with his hands balling up into fists at his sides and all the tension that had leaked out of him down in the street back in his shoulders, curved, ready to fly. When she creeps up behind him, it’s with Melvin’s baton in her hand and all the hair on the back of her neck standing up. “Matt?”

There’s a woman settled in one of the armchairs. For a second, Darcy can’t make out her face. The lighting’s wrong, at this angle, the blaze of the scrolling billboard too dim for her to see more than sharp bones, the angle of her fingers against the arm of the chair. Then the colors shift, and it’s all yellow, splashing sharp gold over her hair, her dress, the curve of her mouth. For a second, Darcy can’t process. Nearly four years haven’t changed any of them all that much, but the clash of now and then is so stark that even as she thinks oh, that face, I know that face, she actually cannot believe that this is reality. Then Elektra stands, slinking through the air like a leopard, and the spell breaks.

“Well,” she says. “Isn’t this a surprise.”

Chapter Text

“Get out,” Matt says.

Elektra wrinkles her nose. It’s incredibly weird to watch, like watching a tiger or a bear or some other kind of huge, terrifying predator lick a baby. “Oh, come on, Matthew, you needn’t be that abrupt. It’s not as though I’ve broken anything.”

“I don’t want you in here. Get out.”

In the kitchen, the dog sticks her head in the garbage can. Darcy looks from one of them to the other. On a list of most awkward things to ever happen in your life, she really hadn’t expected walk back into the apartment you share with your boyfriend to find his ex sitting in the living room to be one of them. Elektra’s eyes snap to her and stay there, magnetic and magnetizing, as Darcy goes to catch Ripper again. “How long has this been happening?” she says, and there’s a glint to her like steel. “I’m only curious. Nelson, Murdock, and Lewis. The three of you have been busy bees, the past few months, haven’t you? I’ve been reading the papers, about Fisk, but none of the articles ever mentioned this.” She waves her hand at the room like she’s showing off a museum exhibit. “How does it work at the office? Are you openly an item or just another dirty little secret?” 

“None of your business,” Matt says. “None of this is any of your business.”

“If you say so.” Elektra traces her fingers over the back of the couch. “It’s lovely to see you, Darcy, dear. Even if you’re holding a weapon.”

“Um.” What the fuck. It’s the only thing she can think. What the actual fuck. Darcy loosens her grip on her baton. “Nice to see you?”

“No, it isn’t,” says Matt.

“Snippy.” Elektra wrinkles her nose again, this time at the dog. “Is it the best idea to take a dog that small into a downpour? This whole place is going to smell like wet animal.”

“She’s not—” Darcy stops. She’s not processing, not really. “How did you even get in here?”

“I picked the lock,” says Elektra. “Obviously.”

“Obviously.” She can only echo things now, apparently. Ripper tugs at her hand, trying to get back into the garbage can. Darcy turns and stares hard at a banana peel before closing the lid with the end of her baton. “Because that’s how regular people get into other people’s apartments. They pick the lock.”

“Actually, I’ve found that breaking windows is simpler. And more fun.” She twists her bracelets around her wrist. “But I restrained.”

Matt goes stiff as a board. Darcy’s not entirely sure why—she kind of appreciates the fact that there isn’t any broken glass to clean up—but he does, and something coasts under her skin, a shark cutting through water. Elektra’s eyes narrow, and dart between them, her mouth curling like she’s found gold.  Water’s still dripping from his nose when he says, “What the hell do you want, Elektra?”

“Who says I want something?”

“You always want something.”

“Would you believe me if I said that I need your help?”

“Not in the slightest.”

Holy shit. This is like…Foggy versus Reyes times a million plus bad backstory and a hundred other things besides. Darcy pulls on the dog again. “I would—I’m gonna say that’s my cue and take it.”

“You don’t have to hide, dear, I just wanted to pop by and say hello.” Elektra draws her fingers down the back of the couch again, and looks at Darcy from under her lashes. “I see you at least took my advice about the hats. Oh, but you took out the piercing, that’s a shame, it suited you.”

“I stopped wearing the hats because it broke a hundred degrees last week and it’s hard to get clients to take you seriously in a beanie,” says Darcy. “And you’re not here to talk about fashion, so I’m just gonna…go. Upstairs. With the dog. And let you two work out this…” She gestures between them. In her ribs, her heart’s pinching. “Whatever this weirdness is.”

“You don’t have to go anywhere,” Matt says, not turning his face away from Elektra. He’s blank-slate cold, the way he was in court during the Fisk trial, the way he is when he’s so completely, totally furious that he shuts everything else down to keep it hidden away. There’s an odd hum to it, though. Hurt, maybe. Old raw wounds. “You live here.”

Elektra’s smile doesn’t flicker, but there’s something around her eyes that makes Darcy think of bruises. “Clearly. Don’t let me chase you out.”

“I’m not being chased anywhere,” Darcy says, shortly, and drops the baton back into her duffel bag “I’m going to go up to the roof for fifteen minutes, and then I’m going to come back down, I’m going to deal with the dog, I’m going to shower, and I’m going to sleep, because it has been a long fucking day, my feet hurt, and I’m too tired for this.”

“In that case.” Elektra twists her bracelet again. “I’ll be in town for a few days, we should catch up. Get lunch. It’s been, what, three years?”

“Four.”

“Not long enough,” Matt says, half under his breath.

“No offense, but that’s…not happening.” Darcy flicks a look at Matt, and then pulls the dog along with her. “I have work to do.”

“That’s right, I forgot,” says Elektra, airily. “He’s always been very proprietary of you and your time, hasn’t he?”

Holy shit. She thinks Matt might actually snarl. Darcy shakes her head very minutely, not quite enough for Elektra to see it—judging by the way Elektra’s lashes flicker, she might have noticed anyway—and then pushes her wet hair back up out of her face. “Well, no,” she says. “Mostly I’m saying no because you broke into my apartment in the middle of the night and then started baiting people for funsies. That has more to do with it.”

“Shame.” Her smile’s all wildcat, teeth and gum and threat. “I’m sure it would have been entertaining.”

“It would have been something, that’s for sure.” Darcy whistles at the dog, and then says, “Fifteen minutes, Matt.”

He catches her arm when she passes him, holds on for a moment. He doesn’t do anything more than that, doesn’t turn away from Elektra, but he presses his fingers hard into her arm for a beat, and that stung look flickers around Elektra’s mouth again. Darcy looks from Matt to Elektra and back, and then heads up the stairs, and closes the roof access door behind her.

Somehow, the puddles and the rainstorm on the roof are far more interesting to Ripper than anything down on the ground. She bolts around the edges of the roof fast enough to nearly give Darcy heart failure, and makes a game of splashing in puddles. She can’t focus on it very well. Her mind has shut down. Holy shit. Elektra. Elektra Natchios. The Elektra Natchios. Not an ex, but the ex. Who…apparently can pick locks and break into people’s apartments and knows where Matt lives and still looks like she just walked off the front cover of Vogue and there’s…apparently there’s a lot of history here that she doesn’t know about.

She’d met Elektra maybe—maybe? A handful of times that she can remember. The first time she’d just caught a glimpse when Foggy had pointed her out from across the quad, senior year. That’s the girl Matt’s crushing on in Spanish. The second time, it had been first semester of their 1L year, Matt had been missing classes for nearly two months straight, but for once he’d shown up for Torts and been coldcalled and completely bombed it. The moment they’d left the building, Elektra had collected him from the curb, and Christ, every time Darcy had seen her from that point on there’d been a different gorgeous car but the same chipper greeting, hello, Darcy, dear, I’m here to abduct him for a bit. Foggy only met her once, had only ever experienced Matt-and-Elektra in the aftermath, but Darcy—Darcy had seen her maybe half a dozen times, more than she had ever seen any of Matt’s other girlfriends. Elektra had even invited Darcy out, once, shopping on Fifth Avenue, and holy Christ, it is still to this day the single most insane experience of Darcy’s life.

But yeah. Elektra had never treated her the way Matt’s other girlfriends had. Not like she was a threat, or like she was competition, but evaluating. Half the time she’d actually seemed pleased. Wild, Darcy thinks. Wild, dark, and snarky, and she broke Matt’s heart, but she never treated me like shit. Which seems to be continuing, whatever the hell is going on downstairs right now.

Darcy drops down onto the roof, pressing her back to the door. She props her chin in her hands. Any other night. Any other night would have been better than this. Any other night would have been better than this one, less than five minutes after than everything they’d said, after everything that’s been going wrong lately. Christ, was Elektra watching? No, she wouldn’t have been able to see the door from the apartment windows, she wouldn’t have seen any of that, definitely wouldn’t have been able to listen without Matt noticing. Something untwists in her throat. But Jesus Christ. Fucking hell. Elektra Natchios, and who knows what she wants, and she’s back in New York and Matt’s standing like he has broken bones and she broke into their apartment and it’s been way too long of a day and she just—

There’s something pushing at her leg. It’s the dog. She’s soaking wet, but at least she’s not covered in mud anymore. Rolling in the rain took care of that. “I thought you were hyper again,” Darcy says, and the dog shakes, hard enough that the bandage on her bad ear flies off. It’s been stitched, badly, and it’s scabbed over and awful-looking. “What the hell happened to you, baby dog?”

Bones and scabs and a bit of a limp. She’s not nearly as bad as she could be. For the most part, she’s at a healthy weight, even if she’s bonier than she probably should be. She’s not biting, not attacking anyone. But the tattered ear, the shaking—no. There had been no name in the bookie’s notes, nothing for her to track him down with, and he’s more than likely dead what with the level of destruction Frank Castle had wrought on Hell’s Kitchen, but Darcy still wants to track him down and hurt him for this. A python’s living beneath her skin, wanting to coil, to crush bone. The dog nudges into Darcy’s shin, makes a noise like a deflating balloon. Darcy murmurs something that isn’t even English, just some kind of soft, soothing noise, and this time when she reaches out, the dog doesn’t leap away. There are scabs hidden away under the fur.

“Hey,” she says again. “How long do you think they’re gonna take, huh?”

The dog makes the balloon noise again, and then pushes her head into Darcy’s knee.

“That’s what I thought,” Darcy says, and plops her legs down into a puddle. The dog circles around her ankles, and then settles with her spine pressed to Darcy’s thigh. She’s not sure why that makes her want to cry, but it does. Just—Christ.

Elektra Natchios is back in town.

Darcy gives them eighteen minutes, not fifteen, because honestly, she needs that extra three minutes. It’s past one in the morning when she opens the door again, and shoos the dog back inside. Matt’s sitting on the end of the couch, still wet, pressing the heels of his hands into his eyes like he’s trying to shut the world out. Darcy grabs towels from the cabinet, and folds one over his head, making a cave, before settling down to dry the dog off.

Well, she goes to settle, anyway. Matt’s hand snaps out before she can turn away, and he closes his fingers around her wrist. He’s steadier, at least. He’s not shaking. He’s terrifyingly silent, but he’s not shaking. Darcy puts the other towels on the arm of the couch. “You okay?”

His throat works. “You’re dripping.”

“The dog wanted snuggles but she didn’t want me to touch her, so I had to compromise my integrity.” When he doesn’t ask, she says, “It means I sat in a puddle.”

Matt pushes his thumb into her pulse, and leaves it there. The door’s shut. It’s also locked, which means he has to have locked it behind her. There’s no trace of where Elektra was, no evidence that she’d ever been in the apartment at all, but the air feels different. Not heavier, but thicker. Weighed down. Smoke and memory, loss and confusion and hurt. The last thing we needed, right now. The absolute last thing. Castle and the gun and bang, Matt falls, and if there had been a week, maybe, a few days, more than five minutes, maybe this would be easier, maybe this wouldn’t be so overwhelming, maybe, maybe, maybe. Maybes don’t do anything for anyone. Darcy rolls her shoulder, trying to get the kinks out. The spot where the shotgun pellet had wedged into her still aches.

“What did she want?”

“To hire a lawyer.”

Well. That’s not exactly what she expected. Or what she’d expected at all, really. “Doesn’t she have one already? Her dad had like a fleet of them if I remember right.”

“She wanted to ask me,” Matt says. It whistles between his teeth, air through hollowed bone. “She said she couldn’t trust anyone else.”

“That’s ominous.” She tugs at the towel. “What for?”

“Something to do with her father.” The words come out chipped and fragmented, splintered, shattered. He lifts his other hand, presses his fingers to the small of her back to bring her closer. “She has a meeting tomorrow with Roxxon, or something. I think—I don’t know.”

Tomorrow?” She can’t help it. Darcy whistles. “I mean, we’re magical, but we’re not that magical. Jesus Christ. Does she not know how to use Google? She could have hired a lawyer ages ago, not dropped this on us last minute.”

Matt shakes his head. “I told her no.”

“I mean, yeah.” The dog has disappeared into the bathroom. Darcy can only hope she’s not going to drag gauze out of the garbage can and choke herself to death. Again with the puppy-killing, Lewis. “And she broke into the apartment for what, fun?”

He doesn’t laugh. “She was playing a game,” he says. “She’s always played games.”

It’s the most he’s ever said to her about what happened with him and Elektra. It’s the most he’s said about Elektra at all since spring break of their 1L year, since he’d reappeared the exact same way he’d disappeared, sudden, the way a lost pet will turn up with no warning on your doorstep. He’d been hollow for a good three months after that, vanishing for long stretches, never even mentioning Elektra’s name, and she and Foggy had learned to tiptoe around it, dropping her name only in passing, and never, ever prying about it. She has the sense that something terrible had to have happened, just from the way Matt had acted afterwards, but she’d never asked, because he’d never, ever sent the signal to anyone that it would be okay to, and she’d been scared to death that he was going to vanish again if she tried. She’s always played games. Darcy leaves the towels on the couch, and steps into him, and Matt presses his face into her ribs and winds his arms around her, taking deep breaths. She can’t help wondering if he’s trying to get Elektra out of his lungs, whatever she’d been wearing, because she’d been wearing something, Darcy had caught hints of it when she’d passed her, something dark and curling, like heavy southern summers.

“You okay?” she says again. Matt fists one hand at the small of her back, and doesn’t pull away from her. Still, it’s a very long time before he shifts, just enough that she can hear him clear his throat.

“I didn’t think she’d come back.”

He goes quiet again. Darcy sighs. She scuffs at his hair with the towel, more to do something with her hands than anything else. She’s making a puddle on the floor, and there are goosebumps all up and down her spine that have nothing to do with the chill. “We have to figure out a name for the dog,” she says. “I can’t just go up to someone we know and say hey, this is Ripper, she used to be in Fight Club and will probably eat any small animal that comes within her line of vision, please keep her for me.

“How do you know this one isn’t Boba Fett or Star Destroyer?”

“I don’t.” Still, that gives her a few ideas. “Rey,” Darcy says, after a moment. “It starts with R, it shouldn’t confuse her too much.”

“We can’t keep the dog.”

“I know we can’t keep the dog. I don’t want to keep the dog. I just don’t want to have a dog in our apartment that is named Ripper, because it makes me think of misogynistic serial killers.”

Finally, he smiles a little, mouth curving against the wet fabric of her tank top. “Not going to name her after Frank?”

“Like Francine is a good name for a dog. Francine is barely a good name for a person, let alone that ratty four-legged garbage disposal with trust-issues.”

Matt rests his hands at her waist. When he turns his face up to her, for a second, all she can see are the bruises. They’ve crossed a bridge, somehow. On solid ground again, even with all the fissures under her feet. Standing on eggshells with so many ways they could crack. “Come on, punky. We have to figure out the dog. And then shower, and then sleep. We can talk about it tomorrow.”

Matt circles his thumb around the bone of her right hip, sketching out a lopsided pentagon, before slithering off the couch to net Rey with a towel.

.

.

.

“You didn’t tell me the pair of them were living together.”

“I didn’t think it was necessary.”

She curls her fingers tight around the edge of the mobile. She’s sixteen blocks away by now, and seven stories up, pacing back and forth on the rooftop because it’s the only way she can think to get the energy out. “How is that unnecessary information?”

“You’ve been there on reconnaissance for the last week and a half, I would have thought you’d gathered that much.”

“I couldn’t get near the apartment without him noticing.” There’s something churning in her stomach, and she can’t get it to stop. “The whole thing is nauseatingly domestic.”

Stick hums. “Still don’t think Lewis has anything to do with Lilith?”

Three hours ago, maybe, she would have said no. Because she’s not sloppy. She’d made a judgment about Darcy Lewis four years ago, and she still doesn’t think she was mistaken. Potentially dangerous, but not a threat. Not a threat to Elektra, and not a threat to Elektra getting Matthew on their side. Now, though; now, when they’re living together and she moves on the balls of her feet, silent and balanced; now when his first instinct is to grab Darcy’s wrist and keep her from leaving instead of shooing her away from the edge of the dark; now she’s not sure.

“It doesn’t matter. I don’t need or want their help.” I don’t want his help ever again. “I can do this alone. I told you that in Singapore.”

“Don’t need his help?” says Stick. “Or don’t want her attention?”

Daredevil and Lilith, the newspapers say, and it’s always been obvious who the Devil is, she’s kept an eye on New York for years, but Lilith—Lilith had prickled at her, thorns in her shoes. In spite of everything, in spite of all the scars she’s made in place of wounds, she still had never thought she’d come back to find him in the dark with someone else. He wasn’t supposed to find someone else. Because there is no one else who can understand them, not truly. She’d been the only one to understand him, and he’d been the only one to know her.

Or she’d thought he’d been.

“I don’t care about Lilith,” Elektra says. “And I don’t care who she is. Her identity doesn’t matter. She just needs to not get in my way.”

“You don’t care.” Stick scoffs. “That’s why you’re calling me while you’re on assignment for the first time in four years.”

“I don’t.”

“Hollow, Ellie.”

(A baton, Elektra thinks. She’d come in holding a baton. And it would have been something, she’d said, and there had been a hint of something in her face that reminds her of—)

“Do you think it’s Lewis?” she says instead.

“I think it’d be a surprise if it isn’t. He’s never been a good enough liar to be able to pull off that kind of charade. And even if it isn’t Lewis, which I doubt, she’s a distraction.” The phone statics out when he sighs. “Too damn soft.”

She doesn’t want to talk about this with Stick. She doesn’t want to hear about softness, not when the cut-up places inside are still so quick to bleed. “I’m surprised you let her live, after she threatened to shoot you.”

“We’re not all as quick with a knife as you, Ellie,” says Stick. “Back then she was just a pain in the ass, not an actual problem. Besides, Matty would’ve killed me, you know that.”

“Proprietary,” she says, half under her breath. Even the last time she’d been in New York, he’d been reticent to let anyone anywhere near either of them, Franklin Nelson or Darcy Lewis. She still can’t quite work out why. The gentle places that she’d tried so hard to wean him out of are still there, messy as bruises. “It’s absurdity.”

“Always a soft touch, Matty.”

Stick hangs up. She paces back and forth, back and forth, and then she lets herself drop. She needs to prepare for tomorrow, and if the bait she laid works, then, well—she’ll have more work to do.

.

.

.

The ten-to-six hours shift is, in her opinion, the best business decision they have made to date, because it means she sleeps for a full six and a half hours. Waking up to find a dog in her face (an ex-dog fighting pit bull in her face, scary as fuck in its own way) is not exactly the highlight of the morning, but still, when Rey lunges away to go and hide behind the couch, Darcy’s still left with six and a half hours of sleep in her own bed and waking up to find Matt propped up next to her tracing the line of one of her tattoos out with his forefinger. It aches like a sunburn, and she should probably tell him to stop—she really should tell him to stop, she thinks, curling her arms around the pillow and shutting her eyes again—but before she can decide, he draws his hand away. “Are we taking the dog in to work?” is all he says. “Because if the Saint Defiler returns, there might be a problem.”

“That’s Foggy’s case, not yours. And unless you have a better idea, we can’t just leave her here. She might eat the pillows or something.” They’d made do last night with leftover noodles and an egg, which Rey had inhaled like a starving child and then thrown back up half an hour later, but there should also probably be some actual dog food purchased. “We can say she’s your service dog, I don’t know.”

“And when we find somewhere for her to go?”

“Then I have an allergy to dogs and I started sneezing too badly for her to stay.”

He muses on that. “She’s kind of beat up for a service dog.”

“Then she was in a car accident.” She tips her head on the pillow, shifting to get her hair out of her face. “You’re doing the displacement worry thing again.”

Matt frowns. “I’m not.”

“You are.”

He opens his mouth, and then shuts it again. Darcy watches him, the curve to his mouth and the way he’s hunched, a turtle forcing itself back into a shell, before scooting over and resting her head on his bent knee. Matt freezes, the way he hasn’t in a long time. Then, very slowly, he goes back to what he was doing, tracing the edges of the compass rose.

“She’s a stray we found,” Darcy says. “If anyone asks. It’s not like we’re the only people in the city who have taken in a stray, and she acts like one, so people will believe it. She’s a little more beat-up than most strays, but we could just say we found her that way and be done with it. Not a hard sell.”

Matt tugs his fingers into her hair, and that’s a sunburn too, a still-raw ache. It’s not enough for her to ask him to stop. “I know.”

It’s nearly nine. She really should get up. Darcy closes her eyes. “You’re worried.”

“I’m not.” 

“Matt, seriously. You’re talking to me. I can tell when you’re worried. You might not want to be, but that doesn’t mean you’re not.”

He drops a hand to her shoulder, swipes his thumb back and forth over her bare skin. The clock’s ticked over to 9:04 before he clears his throat. “She showed up after four years of nothing and—and everything that happened to break into the apartment and ask for a favor she knew I wouldn’t give. I’m not worried. I want her gone.”

Which, valid. Darcy doesn’t hate Elektra—she doesn’t know enough about what happened—she only knows how Matt was, before, during, and after, and that…she doesn’t want that Matt coming back. The longer Elektra stays, the more likely he’ll suffer, and no matter how shaky they are right now, she doesn’t want to watch Matt fall apart. Or drive himself into the ground. “You said it was Roxxon?”

“Roxxon has enough shady business deals going on without us getting involved.” He’s set his jaw, now. She can hear it in how he’s biting every word he says. “She can find someone else to play games with.”

Is it a game, though? She’s not sure. She wouldn’t think Elektra would be someone capable of bringing themselves down to asking for help, but she’d still done it. Would you believe me if I said that I need your help, and yeah, maybe Matt can’t believe that for good reasons, but at the same time…she doesn’t know. Darcy rolls onto her back, and looks up at him, still kind of propped against his knee. Matt’s turned his face towards the window, clenched, his forehead wrinkled and his eyes half-closed and his mouth twisted like he’s in pain. When she reaches out, touches her fingertips to his collarbone, some of the stress smooths itself out. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard you talk about her.”

“There wasn’t any point. I didn’t think she would come back.”

“Will she come back here again?”

He shuts his eyes. “I don’t know.”

“She never struck me as the type to give up when she wants something, and she wanted you on the case badly enough to break into the apartment.”

“She doesn’t want me looking into her father’s paperwork,” he says, bitterly. “She wanted to mess with my head. And your head, if she knew you were here.”

“Maybe.”

“I told her no.”

“Still.” Her hair’s a mess, Jesus. She shouldn’t have fallen asleep with it wet. “Will she come back here?”

“No, she made her point. She won’t come in here again unless she’s invited. Or unless she thinks she’s invited, anyway.”

How very vampire queen of her. How very Matt of her, but she doesn’t say that. “There was a point to breaking in here? What the hell kind of point was she making?”

“That she could,” says Matt. “Probably.”

That, or she was trying to freak me out. “Okay, then.”

He’s been petting at her hair for a full minute before he says, “You don’t have to worry.”

“Worry?”

“About—I don’t know.” He clears his throat. “About me. Or her. You don’t—you don’t have to worry.”

“Oh.” She digests that. “Well, I mean. I’m not.”

“Really?”

Darcy rolls onto her stomach, propping herself up with her elbows. “Honestly? No. I’m worried that you’re worried—”

“I’m not.”

“You’re doing the thing.”

Matt shuts his eyes, and huffs between his teeth like she’s slapped him in the ribcage. “Is that how you’re going to point it out?”

“I’ll come up with something.” Darcy rests her chin in one hand. “Do you not want me to point it out?”

He clears his throat. “Just—need to get used to it.”

“If you don’t want me to—”

“I do,” he says, and touches his fingertips to the back of her jaw. “I’ll—I do.”

“Okay, then.” Darcy clears her throat. “It’s not weird to worry about it. I don’t think. Her coming back, I mean. I don’t know much about what happened, and I’m a little freaked out that she seems to think it’s kosher to like…break into people’s houses and sit and wait for them like Dracula, but clearly there are a lot of issues here that probably need some time and attention. It just…it sucks that this is happening now, that’s all.”

“There isn’t a problem,” Matt says, flatly. “I don’t care what she’s doing here. I just want her gone.”

“Doesn’t change the fact that there are issues. Which you might want to think about taking a look at sooner or later just because you look like you’ve been stabbed in the throat and she was barely here for twenty minutes, but—yeah.” She hooks her hair out of her face, over her shoulder. “I’m worried about a lot of things, right now. And we’re not—there are things that we have to work on. But that doesn’t mean I’m worried about you and her.”

He looks like he wants to say something, but he can’t find the words. His throat works. “We should get up. We’re going to be late.”

And there go the shields, right back up. Darcy sighs, and searches his face. “I know—I mean, I don’t know. The last major break-up I had was with Eduardo and that was…I dunno. But whenever you want to talk about it, Matt, you can tell me, seriously. Just—I don’t know what happened with you two, but clearly it was bad, so. If you want to talk about it, you can tell me.” She wets her lips. “I mean, if you want to. If you don’t feel like you can, or you think it might be awkward, then Foggy’s around. He’ll probably be able to say damn, what an asshole better than me.”

Matt touches his thumb to her chin, brushes down the line of her throat. “It just—it depends.”

“On what?”

“On whether or not she takes the hint,” Matt says, “and gets the hell out of our city.”

That right there, that was a growl. Spitty angry cat noises. When he scuffs his fingers over her throat again, Darcy tips her head back, and leans away. Not that it isn’t, you know, kind of hot to have a growly, ridiculously good-looking guy who somehow, incredibly, loves you brushing his fingers over your pulse point, but she still hurts, and what she would have done a month ago, or a week ago, isn’t anywhere close with what she feels comfortable with now. She’s pretty sure Matt’s too raw for any of it, either, judging by the way his mouth shifts when she moves back. Relief, she thinks. Not disappointment. “It is,” she says. “Our city. I wasn’t born here, not like you, but—but it is ours, I think.” She frowns. “Am I allowed to call it that if I’m adopted?”

“You’re the one who talks so much about the importance of bonding over blood.”

“That’s true.” She rolls off the bed, and onto the floor. In the kitchen, Rey jumps, and yips. “Come on. I’ll deal with the dog.”

It’s cooler this morning, at least. She doesn’t have quite the egregiously huge pit stains from walking to work that she’s had since this damn heat wave started, and she’s pretty sure the only person she has to thank for this is Mother Nature. (Global warming does exist, and anyone who claims it doesn’t is an idiot.) Foggy’s in, but Karen isn’t, and when she goes into the kitchenette to find the coffee beans she discovers that the bag is empty and there’s nothing else available. Shit. Rey sticks close to her and shies away simultaneously, somehow, creeping back when Foggy tries to touch her and traipsing after Darcy like…well. Like a lost puppy. Which essentially she is. It’s hard to tell how old she is, but Darcy really seriously wouldn’t be surprised if she was more than six months old, let alone close to a year. She doesn’t let Darcy touch her, but she does follow, and even considering how bad Darcy is with dogs, she’s about ninety-nine percent sure that following is better than cowering in the corner and shivering whenever someone walks by.

The deposit—well. The deposit (made in the name of one E. Natchez, which is both possibly the worst alias Darcy’s ever seen, and probably just…deliberately really bad) is a mess. “We can’t take it,” Matt says, and at the same time Darcy says, “Don’t use it,” and Foggy’s eyes get really narrow and flick back and forth between them.

“Can there be an explanation, or do I get left in the dark, or—”

“I don’t—” Matt stops, shuts his eyes, takes a breath. “Look, just—I can—”

“Matt,” says Darcy, quietly, and he stops again. “We talked about this.”

“You guys knew there was gonna be a deposit?”

“No.” She doesn’t look away from Matt. “It’s not the deposit, Foggy, it’s just—a thing we talked about, that’s all.”

Matt fists his hands up, and then loosens them, very slowly. Come on, Matt. Trust us. He takes another breath. “Elektra,” he says, like it stings, like his jaw is snapping in the doing of it. “The—the money’s from Elektra.”

“Elektra.” Foggy’s eyebrows snap together. “Wait, Elphaba? Seriously? What the hell is she doing giving us money, that’s—”

Darcy leaps in, then, because Matt has the I’m getting stabbed over and over with your words right now face, and she’s not entirely sure Foggy’s noticed. “Just don’t use it, will you? Marisol’s first payment should come through sometime today and that’s—that’s fine, but whatever Elektra deposited, don’t use it. Matt didn’t take the job, so—”

“She offered you a job? Dude, when the hell did this happen?”

“It didn’t happen. I didn’t take the job. It doesn’t matter.”

“And yet there is like an enormous lump of cash in the business account right now, so she seems to think you did. Or she assumed you’d take it, which is fucked in its own way, it’s not like we’re for sale. Jesus Christ.” Foggy rubs his hands over his face. “Jesus, okay. Yeah, no. Not using the blood money. Or the tainted funds, or whatever we want to call them right now. I can try to get the deposit reversed, I mean, there was a canceled appointment so I have a free hour—”

“Who’d we lose?”

“Not Marino or Jacinto or Maxwell. Or Guerra. Mrs. Takatomi jumped ship, though, which, I mean, Reyes has been breathing down our necks for the past few days, it makes sense. Just kinda sucks.” He sucks his teeth. “Just—seriously? Elphaba?”

“You don’t have to call her Elphaba, it’s not like her name is cursed.”

Matt’s gone very quiet, leaning against the edge of Karen’s desk and tucking his chin in towards his chest. When she leans next to him, he slips his fingers through hers, and holds on. Foggy sees it—his eyebrows snap together again, of course he sees it—but he doesn’t say a word. “What did she even want?”

“It doesn’t matter.” Matt shakes his head. “Some—some business deal with some holdings of her father’s, I didn’t ask, I don’t—I really don’t care.”

Which is a lie, she thinks, all on its own. He does care. She’s not entirely certain that it’s possible to not care about someone who you were in love with, even if they broke your heart. (And Christ, she’s never thought about it this way, but if Matt was in love with Elektra during law school, and if—if what he’d said about his feelings for her, Darcy, is true, then…holy shit. She shoves that aside, because do not think about that right now.) If he didn’t care at least a little he wouldn’t be snapping, and he definitely wouldn’t be this twitchy. But he hasn’t let go of her hand, so she picks that to focus on instead of worrying about his temper. Rey crawls under Karen’s desk.

“Okay.” Foggy wipes his hands across his face again. “Okay. So if we don’t use the money, then we need to at least come up with some way to have a stopgap between now and the next due date for bills, because we have a million envelopes that are stamped final notice and it’s super intimidating, seriously.”

“Marisol’s first payment should come through today,” Darcy says again. “Maybe pay electricity first, we can’t exactly do work if we don’t have working computers. Even if we can’t pay off all of it, we can pay off enough that they won’t turn the lights off. If we have to go down to coffee shops or whatever for WiFi, that’s something we can do, but the electricity—”

“Yeah, no, clear on the logic.” Foggy’s eyes dip to their tangled hands again. “So, um, are you guys, you know, okay, or—”

“We’re, um.” Curse her suddenly swollen tongue. “We’re—”

“—working on it,” Matt finishes quietly, and sweeps his thumb across her fingers. “We’re working on it.” He turns his face towards hers. “Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“Cool,” says Foggy.

Something’s percolating in the back of Darcy’s head, some kind of reckless, darting thing, edging too close to insane. Because yeah, if anyone knows what Elektra would want, showing up at their place in the middle of the night, it would be Matt. It’s more than likely he’s right and all she was doing was playing a game. But at the same time—

Would you believe me if I said that I need your help?

“I think,” she says, “you should go and see what the meeting is about.”

Matt jerks, next to her, and whips his head around. His lips part. “What?”

“Like you said, it’s sketch as hell, which means, you know. Probably something’s going on. I don’t know if it’s our usual kind of weird, but it might be something weird. She dumped a lot of money on our heads—do I want to know the total?”

“No,” Foggy says. “Trust me, no.”

“Okay. Then she assumed she could make us work for her, and paid us preemptively in probably obscene figures to make it a bribe in case she couldn’t, and that, more than anything, pisses me off about all of this. ” She chews the inside of her cheek. “And you’re worried.”

“I’m—”

“She’s your ex, Matt. No matter what happened with you two, just—your brain gets set in grooves about certain people, even after horrible circumstances. That’s not wrong, exactly, it’s just…how people work. So.”

He shuts up, and just blinks at her. She’s shocked him speechless again and it’s kind of oddly liberating. He’s good at doing it to her, so, turnabout.

“You’re worried, and I’m not, and if you want to know what’s going on, then you can ask, and if you don’t, then whatever, either way.” She presses her shoulder into his. “Besides, if you go, we might get some kind of ammunition for if she decides to break into the office.”

Matt chokes, and starts to cough. Which could be a bad thing or a good thing, but he hasn’t pulled away from her yet, and even if he’s not laughing, some of the jaw clenching has gone down. In the door of his office, Foggy crosses his arms over his chest. “Is there going to be someone breaking into the office? Because that’s…that could be a problem.”

“Really doubt it,” Darcy says. “Like…really doubt it.”

“I kind of want to know where the theory came from in the first place, but—”  

“You don’t, seriously—”

“—but yeah, I mean. We already have the District Attorney’s office crashing down on our heads, let’s add investigating shady business dealings made by the fathers of our exes to the list, not like it can hurt us too badly. Except, you know, that it can, and we can like…die in poverty and possibly on the street.”

“Foggy.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah.” He flaps a hand at her. “Honestly it’s easier for me to think about than whatever the hell it is you people have been doing. I can fight numbers and corruption and whatever, that’s easy. Just don’t ask me to throw a punch right now, I’ll probably hit myself.”

“Classy, babe,” she says, and blows a kiss. Foggy flips her off, and stalks back into his office.

“You really think I should go,” Matt says. He presses his fingers hard into the back of her hand. “You think it’d be a good idea?”

“I think that it’s probably going to turn out to be nothing. If there’s a meeting at all, it’ll be just what she told you it was, and you don’t even have to go into the building to figure out that much.” She tugs on his tie. “And if, somehow, there is a thread here, then it’s not necessarily a bad idea to tug on it and see what’s on the other side. Either way, it’ll stop you from obsessing over it for the rest of the week and letting her get in your head.”

“Isn’t going to the meeting letting her get in my head?”

“You wouldn’t be going to the meeting, you’d be standing outside. You wouldn’t even have to talk to her. It’d just be reconnaissance.” Matt still has a look on his face like he thinks she’s an alien, but he’s not rejecting it flat out. Maybe this is an incredibly stupid idea—it’s one of her ideas, it’s probably stupid—but…who knows. “If you don’t want to, Matt, then it’s fine, I just…don’t want you to worry yourself over something that probably will turn out to be nothing.”

“I’m not—”

“From now on, when you say things like that, that I know are wrong and you’re not entirely sure of? I’m going to say whale shark.” She pulls on his tie again. “Whale shark, Matt. Whale shark in the middle of the room.”

He stops, and takes a breath, squeezing her fingers tight enough to ache. “Why whale shark?”

“Because it’s a huge spotted sea creature that has a big mouth that it uses to eat absurdly tiny things, I don’t know. It’s the first thing that popped into my head.”

“Actually the first?”

“Quit arguing.”

“Bossy,” he says, but he shuts up for a minute. When he speaks again, it’s so low that Foggy doesn’t even notice. “I shouldn’t be worried. I should—I don’t want to worry about her. I don’t care, I just—”

He stops.

“It’s not the same.” Darcy swallows. “I mean, it can’t be the same, but—but I kind of feel that about my mom, a little bit. Like I said, like—there are grooves in your brain, old habits. If my mom showed up, and asked me for help, I don’t…I don’t know what I would do. I left years ago and I haven’t gone back and I haven’t spoken to her at all, but sometimes I sit and I think about her and I still…she’s my mom, y’know? I still care. I don’t want to be her, I don’t want to be near her, I think she’s bad for me and I don’t want anything to do with her anymore, but she’s my mom and I loved her for such a long time that I can’t cut the feeling out. We can’t help who we care about. Even when they’ve beat the living shit out of us, we can’t help worrying, sometimes. It’s just how human beings work.” 

Matt tips into her, and leans for a while. Darcy shifts around to get a good look at where Rey is—still curled up under the desk—and then leans back. Prodding at each other’s bruises, she thinks. But still. This is the worst timing, and just…they can deal with it, for a few days.

“I think you’re worried and you’re going to keep being worried,” she says. “Even if you don’t want to be, I think you’ll stay worried until you can at least figure out what’s going on. I also think, kitty-cat Matt, that you’re curious, in spite of yourself, which isn’t a good combination for you. And I think that the person I remember Elektra being wouldn’t have broken into the apartment in the middle of the night to ask for help unless she didn’t think she might need it eventually.” She shrugs. “I never knew her as well as you, but she never struck me as the type to ask for help at all.”

Matt presses his lips together. “I’m not sure I knew her either,” he says. “Not really.”

Darcy squeezes his fingers. “All the more reason to have a little context.”

“Karen’s coming,” he says. “She brought coffee.”

“Karen is an actual angel come to earth, but you’re changing the subject.” Darcy slips off the desk. “Like I said, it’s up to you. But I do think that some kind of closure would be good. And if she’s here, then…I don’t know. I just don’t like seeing you make this face.”

“What face?”

“The I’m suffering because I’m too Catholic to talk about it face.”

Matt chokes, and ducks his head. Darcy catches his other hand, and links her bandaged fingers through his, holding on.

“Up to you,” she says again. “I just don’t like that she seems to think she can buy any of us. And even if I think that it’s not my place to get in between you and her with whatever drama the pair of you had, then…then I don’t know. I might want to get up in her face just for that.”

“No.” He shakes his head. “No, you don’t—you don’t need to talk to her, it’s okay.”

“It’s not need, it’s want, and if I do, then it’ll be about work and not about you. Whatever baggage the pair of you have, that’s between you, and I don’t want to stick my nose in that.” She searches his face. “Unless you want me to, in which case, I will. I just think that maybe getting some closure about her will help you, that’s all.”

Outside, Karen curses. They only have a few seconds. Matt settles, a little, putting his shoulders back, and when he lifts her hand to his mouth it’s very tentative, like he thinks she’ll draw away. Her bandaged knuckles sting a little, when he touches his lips to them, but she doesn’t move. “You keep trying to fix things,” he says, and lets her hands go. “Sometimes things can’t be fixed.”

“I don’t need you and Elektra to be best broskis or whatever. I don’t think that’s possible, considering what little you’ve said. I just…sue me for not wanting to see you tearing yourself into little bits over someone who’s probably not gonna stick around anyway.”

“Who’s not gonna stick around anyway?” Karen says, and narrows her eyes when she sees Matt leaning against the edge of her desk. “Careful, those are the financial papers for the past year. If we do get audited, I want every single one so we can make a chart of our downfall into deep, everlasting debt.”

“Explains why they smell like cigarettes,” says Matt, a little rough. He shifts off the desk, and Darcy draws her hands out of his. “Sorry. Disaster averted.”

“Narrowly.” Karen’s eyes flick from Darcy to Matt and back again, and then she holds out the tray of coffees. There’s a whole hive of newspapers stuck under her arm, which is never a good sign. “Arabica. We ran out yesterday and I haven’t gone to buy a new bag of instant stuff yet.”

“Jen usually has a few bags of things in her hidden cabinet, if you want to steal. She probably wouldn’t notice for a year, what with all the stuff she has to work on now that the Punisher’s in custody.”

“The Punisher.” Karen kicks the door shut behind her. “Can we at least call him Castle? It’s a stupid codename. It makes me think of old video games and Ubisoft bullshit.”

“Cool with me.” She’s still not all that fond of the slip that’s had her calling him Frank, especially after everything. God, just—all her emotions are mixing up about everything and she’s trying, she is, she just doesn’t know how to handle things. Not really. So it’s easier to think about other people. “You okay? You look like you didn’t sleep.”

“I didn’t.” Karen raises her voice. “Foggy, coffee.”

“Queen,” Foggy shouts through the closed door, and goes back to his phone conversation. She thinks he might be arguing with the bank.

“So,” Karen says. “Who’s not gonna stick around where?”

Without any prompting—which, holy shit—Matt says, “An ex.”

“Oh.” Karen’s voice is odd. “That’s—oh. Darcy’s or yours?”

“His,” Darcy says.

“Awkward.”

“You have no idea.” Subject change. Subject change, right now. “Don’t sit down at your desk right now, there’s a dog underneath it.”

“A dog?”

“I’m going to work,” Matt says. He pulls away from her. “And—and think.”

“Okay.”

He shuts the door to their office very quietly behind him. Karen blows out a sigh, and lifts both pale eyebrows at Darcy. She doesn’t ask, because it’s not like Matt can’t hear them as clearly as if he were still in the room, but she does tip her head in a question. Darcy shrugs. “No blood will be spilled in the office, unless one of us does something stupid. Or I slip and put an elbow through the wall.”

“Okay.” She huffs through her nose. “When did the whole—”

“Last night.”

Karen blinks. “So Castle and then—”

“Yeah.”

“Ouch.” She blinks. “Oh, you had a call yesterday, I forgot—” Karen digs through the piles of paperwork on her desk, and extracts a post-it. “Um, that racial discrimination case, Marisol Guerra, she called. She wanted to meet up with you today, if you could manage it. She had some questions for you.”

“I only filed yesterday,” Darcy says, but she takes the post-it anyway and looks at it. Karen’s handwriting is a mess. Still, she can at least translate enough to tell the difference between fives and threes, which is all that matters. It’s not the number that she has for Marisol, that’s for sure. “Is this a work number?”

“She didn’t say.”

Ah, well. “You mind watching Princess Rey while I call her back?”

“Is that the dog’s name?”

“I mean, it’s better than any of the other options that were in the bookie’s notebook.” Darcy shrugs. “And you can’t tell me Rey isn’t a princess if she’s related to Leia.”

“Shush,” says Karen. She crouches, and holds out her hand out, still out of reach in case Rey lunges, fingers curled, palm up. Under the desk, something clatters, like Rey’s jerked back. Still, when Karen doesn’t flinch, Rey inches forward to sniff very delicately at the polish on Karen’s fingernails. She’s redone them, a pale silvery pink that’s like sunlight on steel. “Bookie?”

“Dogfighting.”

“Oh,” says Karen, and lets Rey knock her back onto her ass to shove her head into Karen’s chest. “Hi, suddenly intimidating dog.”

“She couldn’t exactly stay with Frank, and if we’d left her for the cops I’m really not sure what would have happened, so I dragged her back with me last night. In the rain, which was less than fun, but whatever, at least she’s not getting her throat torn out.”

Karen scuffs her fingers along Rey’s shoulder. “Stay with Frank?”

“When you say Frank you mean Castle?” Foggy sticks his head out of the office, eyeing Rey and Karen’s fingers and how close Karen’s fingers are to Rey’s admittedly huge jaw. “As in, Frank Castle, scary shooter dude? Frank Castle, who tried to kill basically everyone in this room, who has burned half the city, and yet apparently has enough of a heart left to save a stray dog?”

“She was at the Burren Club. Took her with him when he walked so the cops wouldn’t put her down. What did the bank say?”

“They’re dealing with it.” Foggy shakes his head. “Frank Castle, animal lover. People aren’t supposed to be confusing.”

“Tell me about it.” Darcy makes an executive decision, and hands Karen the leash. “I brought her in because I didn’t know what else to do with her. I don’t even know if she’s housetrained. She didn’t mess anything up last night and she hasn’t bitten anyone but she’s scared of people, she flinched the whole way over here.”

“I mean, dogs that are bred to fight are generally abused really badly to get their aggression up, so that would make sense.” Karen’s very soft, now. She doesn’t move, lets Rey sniff her shirt and her ribs and her hand and doesn’t try to touch her. “She’s willing to ask for attention, though, which is good.”

“And how would you know that?” Foggy’s very antsy in the doorway, watching all this. “Is she telepathic? Are you the Dog Whisperer?”

“Don’t talk to me about the Dog Whisperer,” Karen says. “My mom works with dogs. She rehabilitates a lot of animals, actually. There’s not a lot to do in the middle of nowhere, Vermont, and some people decide to treat their animals like shit because of it. I think she’s on speed dial for three sheriff’s offices.”

“Oh.” Rey steps off of Karen, and slinks around until she can hide under Karen’s desk again. “I mean, do you know where you would even start with something like this?”

“I wasn’t allowed to go near the dogs with violence issues,” Karen says. She’s keeping her voice very measured. “I’m not even sure she’s fought all that much. She’s acting more like an abuse case than anything, and those are complicated in their own way. She just—she’s willing to step on people and ask for attention, and that’s better than nothing. It could be much worse.”

Foggy looks at Darcy. He cocks an eyebrow. “I mean, she can stick around with us today if there’s nowhere else she can go, but we can’t exactly have a potentially violent dog in the office. Especially not with Zeus the Saint Defiler being dragged in every other day.”

“That would be a bad idea.” Karen shifts her chair out of Rey’s way, and sits down again, the leash still looped around her wrist. “The last thing we need right now is a lawsuit from a client. What do you want to do, find her a place to live?”

“I don’t know, maybe. Doggy rehab. Narnia.”

“I know someone,” Karen says. “I mean, Santino knows someone, and I kind of know them, but they work with animals here in the city. I think they might be able to help.”

This is about as interesting as hearing that Foggy knows someone in the Dogs of Hell. Darcy blinks, and blinks again. “Wait, really?”

“I know people outside of the office, you know,” says Karen, but not in a mean way. “Let me just—I’ll call and see if they can meet with me, gimme a couple hours. And I’ll watch the dog,” she adds, “while you guys are working. If Zeus shows up—”

“Lock her in with me.” Darcy raps on the top of the desk, and stops abruptly when Rey jumps underneath. “Can do.”

“I still can’t believe your mom rehabilitates animals, though,” says Foggy. “I never knew that.”

Karen looks down at her paperwork, and hooks her hair behind her ear. “You never asked.”

Darcy had known. She’d forgotten, but she’d known. She bites the inside of her cheek at the look on Foggy’s face. “You should be working on Zeus, by the way, Fog. It’s not like irate neighbors with defiled St. Francis statues get any less persnickety when you leave them alone for a week. It’s a miracle Zeus even still wants to associate with us, considering Reyes being a petty little shit.”

“Right.” Foggy watches Karen for a second or two longer, mouth pursed. “Right, I’ll—yeah.”

“So?” Darcy heaves a breath. “What did you end up doing last night? I texted you when we made it back to the apartment, but you never responded.”

Karen’s eyes dart sideways. She dumps her newspapers on her desk. “I—you can’t be mad. We talked about it, you can’t be mad.”

“Mad about what?” says Darcy, slowly.

“We broke into Castle’s house,” says a voice, and then Kate swans in, back in her wedge heeled boots and in a clingy purple top that bares her arms. “Ben Urich approved. There was a security company we had to run from and everything. It was all very Mission: Impossible.”

What,” Matt bursts out from inside the office, and then chaos reigns again. Darcy rubs her temples, and wishes she had an aspirin.

.

.

.

Daily Bulletin (@dailybulletinnyc): Who is Frank Castle and where did he come from? Find the full story here. dbl.co/…

Rising Santino (@saintvasquez): @theangelofmercy They saved my city instead of letting some old white dude burn it down. Hard not to like them after that

The Urich Report (@theurichreport): Vigilantism and Its Consequences: The Avengers Effect. tur.co/…

Hero Watch (@maskwatchnyc): @theurichreport You sure you want to be posting that considering everything?

RooKate (@archersdoitbetter): @maskwatchnyc You people just keep sticking yourselves on my shit list and you won’t enjoy the consequences

Rising Santino (@saintvasquez): @archersdoitbetter Need help with that?

RooKate (@archersdoitbetter): @saintvasquez You are my fav amigo

Rising Santino (@saintvasquez): @archersdoitbetter Please don’t use Spanish irresponsibly.

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In some ways it’s a good thing that Reyes has been being so nasty and driving their clients away, because it means no one interrupts the recap of everyone’s midnight shenanigans. Karen and Kate with Frank Castle’s house; Darcy and Matt, Frank and Brannigan and Miss Ninja. Elektra’s a side-note, for the most part, or she would be if Matt didn’t keep blinking and going “Hm?” when someone asks him a question. Darcy takes over after a while, and when he snags her hand under the table again, dragging his thumb across her knuckles, she doesn’t twitch. There’s nothing on anyone who could even come close to a profile of Miss Ninja in the case files Karen skived off of Tower, which means they’re back to the drawing board. As for Brannigan himself, just a preliminary Google search has many nasty things to say. He’d left New York City right before Fisk started taking all the power in the underworld, fifteen years ago, now, but before that…Christ. Lots of body parts in garbage bags. Basically, the eighties and nineties were not a good time to be in Hell’s Kitchen.

Marisol doesn’t pick up the phone when Darcy calls, but someone else does, a woman named Kalia—“Yeah, I’m Kalia Blake,” she says, “you’re the lawyer, right?”—so the conversation is a little fruitful, anyway. Darcy’s not particularly inclined to file a million suits against MSM, but at the same time if there are people willing to come in and work with them and maybe, eventually, get them rewarded by the court for prosecuting civil rights cases, then she’ll take the work and the exhaustion over the impending debt. She leaves a message for Marisol with Kalia, and hangs up to keep working on everything she’s been letting slide.

Matt goes. She kind of expected it, but he still seems really, really uncomfortable with the idea of it, so she doesn’t make a big deal out of it all. “Tell me what happens,” she says, and when he bends and kisses the top of her head before he leaves she doesn’t protest. Rey’s curled herself into the space behind Darcy’s potted fern, and sits there shaking on and off, which is probably the most depressing thing she’s ever seen in her life. Karen keeps peering into the office to look at the dog, and Darcy’s not entirely sure if it’s because of her newfound fascination with the idea of providing context for Frank Castle, or because of her background with rescue dogs, or because Karen might be seeing something in Rey that’s familiar (and isn’t that an awful thought) but eventually Darcy catches Rey, hooks the leash back up to her, and gives her to Karen to keep under the desk.

It’s about eleven when Kalia calls back—Kalia, not Marisol—to let Darcy know that Marisol can meet her whenever and wherever she specifies. “She’s playing right now, she asked me to call you, she hasn’t had a chance to get on the phone all day.” Which, weird, but whatever. Darcy gives Kalia the street crossing for Mug Shots, and says “one o’clock maybe?” and then Kalia’s hung up. End of story. It gives her some time to browbeat Marino’s opposition for a while, at least.

She has her earbuds back in and Halsey on repeat when the door to her office opens, and Santino pokes his head in. “Hey. Karen said you were in here.”

“What are you doing here?” Darcy leans back. “Everything okay?”

“Yeah, just escort duty.” He yanks his hood off his head. His hair’s getting absurdly long, poofing out at the back of his head like a cottontail rabbit. Darcy kind of wants to clip it, a little, but Santino likes it, and, y’know. Whatever works. “Since when does la tigresa take in dogs?”

“Since la tigresa has a heart of gold, you monster.” He’s too tall. Darcy goes up on her toes and kisses his cheek, because Santino’s a darling, and it’s not like he’ll actually read into it, considering he’s pretty firmly in the really likes dudes camp. “Who are you escorting?”

When Karen had said someone who might be able to help, Darcy had been picturing an ASPCA badass, not a teenage girl in a Tweety Bird t-shirt. She barely looks tall enough to get on a rollercoaster at Coney Island, let alone do anything with a traumatized dog. Maybe fourteen at the most. Santino crosses his arms over his chest as he watches, standing at her shoulder. Karen’s standing between, talking with the little girl, too soft for Darcy to hear. “Reynardine introduced me,” says Santino quietly, as the girl steps away from Karen without a word and drops down to her knees to offer her hands to Rey. “They used to be homeless. They to Midtown Science, now.”

They? Darcy eyes the girl—the kid, she corrects—again. “Midtown Science is a good school.”

“They’re lucky,” Santino says. “Their aunt found them a few months ago, took them in where their parents wouldn’t.” He gives Darcy a look. “They’re different.”

Ah. “Like you’re different or like Jess is different?”

Santino wrinkles his nose at her in a little smile. “Both. Chat’s just quieter than Jess, is all. They don’t like talking about it.”

“Their name is Sophia,” Karen says, as she comes to stand on Darcy’s other side. “But don’t call them that, they go by Chat.”

She pronounces it the French way, chat, like chat de lune and chat noir. Like cat. Darcy nods, and watches as Rey creeps out from underneath the desk, nose first, then her head. “And how’d you get involved, Kare?”

Karen and Santino look at each other for a moment. Then Santino clears his throat. “Karen helps me with them, sometimes. Not Chat, but other kids.”

“Really?”

“I have a lot of their numbers.” Karen won’t look at her anymore. “I can’t do a lot for them, but they know I’ll come and get them if they ask and not expect anything else. It’s enough, sometimes.”

It shouldn’t be a surprise, she thinks, that Karen’s made herself a brood mom for homeless kids the same way Santino’s turned into a Big Brother. Still, she can’t speak for a moment. This—this might be why Karen stopped calling in the middle of the waterfront, stopped asking for company. That makes so much more sense, now. “Karen.”

“I don’t want to make a big deal of it, and it hasn’t cut into working hours yet, just—I like knowing that if they have a phone they have my number. And even if they don’t, they still have my number. Just in case.”

She clears her throat. “Anyone ever take you up on it?”

“Chat, once or twice.” Karen hooks her hair behind her ears, not quite able to meet Darcy’s eyes anymore. “Um, Mattie, the one that Jess knows. Some of the ones you’ve met through Santino.” Santino dips his head. “And a handful of others. I didn’t mention it because I didn’t want to scare them, I had to promise a lot of them I wouldn’t tell anyone their names or where they are most of the time or any of it. There are a lot of kids here who are running from people, and learning that I work at a law firm doesn’t exactly make them want to trust me. Even if we do a lot of work for the ones Santino brings in.”

“They barely trust me,” Santino says, “and I used to—y’know.”

Used to spend more time on the streets than he did at home, she finishes, silently. Rey’s crept completely out from underneath the desk, now, and she’s curled into Chat’s lap. Chat’s still whispering, running their hands over Rey like they’re tracing out runes.

“It won’t cut into work,” Karen says again. “I just wanted—I don’t know.”

“If it does cut into work then I don’t think of us will actually mind,” Darcy says. “I mean, I wouldn’t mind, at least.”

Karen’s mouth flickers into a little smile. It fades again, almost as fast. “Okay.”

“Santino,” Chat says, and turns around. Their voice is incredibly quiet, barely audible even standing a few feet away. “And—oh. Hi. Were you there before?”

“I’m Darcy,” Darcy says. “And yeah, but I was in the office. You’re Chat?”

“Mm.” Chat gives Santino a long look—Santino nods, once, very carefully—and then they look down at Rey again. “I talked to her. She won’t attack anyone. She didn’t really want to, but she won’t, now, unless you ask her to. I made that really clear.”

Darcy blinks. “If I ask her to?”

“She says that you took her away from bad people.” Chat’s eyes flicker to Darcy, and then back down to the dog. “She says that you took her away and you haven’t hit her, and she didn’t really know what to do about it, but she gets it now. I promised her no one in this office will hurt her, and she believes me, but I might have to come back and talk to her again to make sure she remembers.”

Chat’s expression says don’t make a liar out of me or I’ll kill your children. Which, valid.

“If you want,” Karen says, in the same gentle, steady voice she’d used when they’d brought Rey in. “It’d be a big help if you did.”

“She’s scared,” Chat says. “That’s all it is. She’s been scared for a long time, and now we get to help her not be scared.” They run their hands down Rey’s ribs, and Rey doesn’t flinch. “If you come down here I can tell her what commands mean, and who you are, and then she’ll know for sure that she’s supposed to listen to you and not bite when you tell her not to and all the rest of it.”

She’s not crying. You’re crying. Darcy heaves a breath, and wipes her face. “Yeah, sure.”

“Who’s she staying with?”

Darcy looks at Karen. Karen looks at Darcy. Then Karen folds herself down onto the floor like a colt, tucking her legs up under her. “Me,” she says. “Rey is staying with me.”

Santino blinks. “You sure?”

“Yeah, I’m sure.” Karen fiddles with the hem of her skirt rather than look at anyone. “She’ll be staying with me. She’ll be good for when I have to go wandering around in the middle of the night.”

Chat’s eyes narrow. “Do you want me to give her a word to let her know she needs to bite someone?”

“You can do that?”

“It’s just making sure she understands. Like I said, it might take a few times, but animals aren’t stupid. Most of them already understand a lot more of what we say and do then we actually know, she just gets more context if I talk her through it.” Chat’s eyes dart to Darcy again. They turn pink, and look down at Rey. “If you tell her to do things, she’ll listen.”

“What kind of commands?”

“I mean, basic ones.” Chat shrugs. The more words they manage, the less their voice shakes. “I won’t teach her tricks, that’s stupid. I can tell her to warn you if you meet someone she recognizes, one of the people who were hurting her. I can tell her not to attack people who don’t need it, and to stay with you and to not bite you no matter how mad or frustrated she gets.”

“She needs to not go after cats,” Karen says. “My roommate has a cat. She needs to know not to go after cats. Or other dogs, or children, or—or basically anything, really, unless she’s asked.”

Chat purses their lips. “That’s easy enough.”

“Like…under any circumstances.” Karen makes a face. “This cat is kind of a pain in the ass.”  

“I can talk to the cat too, if you want. She shouldn’t bite. It’s rude.”

The possibility of a Darla that doesn’t hate anything and anyone on sight is so strange that Darcy actually can’t speak, for a moment. “You do this for a lot of people?”

“Chat works for the Humane Society after school,” says Santino, and Chat turns pink again. “They’re really good at what they do.”

“Animals like me and they listen to me, so. They let me go in all the rooms even though they’re not really supposed to.”

“Let’s go over what she should know to warn me about,” Karen says. “We can use the conference room, I think. And—and we should try to figure out if anything is going on with her, so if she does need to go to the vet, we can manage that.”

“Worms,” Chat says instantly. “She has worms, but I brought medicine for that, I thought she might. She has broken ribs, too. And her cuts hurt, but they’re not infected, I don’t think. And one of her feet was broken and it’s fixed now, but it still hurts to walk for long distances, so you need to be careful. And one of her teeth is rotting and should be pulled. And—”

“Conference room,” Darcy says. “Go in the conference room. I’m going to meet with Marisol. Foggy can deal with things out here.”

“She likes you,” Chat tells her, as Rey picks herself up off the floor. “She likes everyone here. But she says that there was another man who took her the first time, where is he?”

Darcy opens her mouth, and shuts it again. She swallows. “He’s, um. He’s in the hospital.” And under arrest, but she’s not entirely sure Chat or Santino need to know that bit. “He can’t take her back, he’s, um. He’s really sick.”

“She’d like to see him, if she can,” Chat says. “She thinks he’s very sad.”

They’ve disappeared into the conference room before Darcy can think of a way to respond.

It’s nostalgic, meeting a client in Mug Shots. She hasn’t been here in a while, just because the whole world has been completely insane in regards to schedules, and time, and bruises, and just…everything, so when she walks in there are people behind the counter that she doesn’t recognize, and new things on the menu that she hasn’t heard of. Darcy rubs her hands over her face, careful of the cut and the bruising and her nose, and then orders the cheapest thing she’ll still be able to stomach before settling in the window, two tables down from the one she’d used when James Wesley had wandered into her café and told her If I didn’t know better, I’d say you know who he is. She’s never used that table again, even when it’s open. She just—she can’t. She can’t use that table, she won’t use that table, even if it means standing and drinking her coffee and looking out the window instead of taking the only empty seat in the place. She won’t.

Karen thought I blamed her.

Christ. Just—Jesus Christ. Fisk’s fucked all of them up. Or more than that. They’re all messed up, somehow, every one of them. A bunch of broken people fitting each other back together. Except Foggy, who grits his teeth and bears it and stands between them and ruin like a sentinel. If she thinks of James Wesley she thinks of glasses being shoved back onto her face; she thinks of a gag in her mouth and the laser target of a sniper rifle bouncing against her chest; she thinks of a card and a job offer and having Karen come into the office and break down in tears because I killed him, he’s dead, and all that had happened afterwards with Fisk. She forgets sometimes that as close as she’s come to killing people, as close as both she and Matt have come, especially in the past few days, Karen’s the only one of them who’s actually, deliberately pulled the trigger.

It’s no wonder, Darcy realizes, curling her hands around her mug and setting her computer up on the tabletop, that Karen is so fixated on Frank Castle. Not as a person, but—she’s not sure. Punishment, the DA had called it, everything he’s done. The Punisher. And she might not agree with his methods, but she can’t say that she doesn’t understand it. She can’t say she doesn’t know what it feels like to have your family die in front of you, and not be able to stop it, to go completely screaming hollow, to fall in silence into a black hole you can’t crawl out of again. And yeah, Matt wasn’t dead, but she didn’t know that, and the feeling—the feeling isn’t made lesser, for that. She’d tried to kill Oliver Bletchley, and she’d tried to kill Frank Castle, and she can’t say that she doesn’t understand more of him than she wants to, not after all of that.

Think it’s something in you.

She can’t blame Karen for connecting with it, either. Not after everything. Karen never talks about what happened—she doesn’t want to, and Darcy gets not wanting to, the same way she doesn’t want to talk about Oliver Bletchley with anyone ever again—but it happened, and there are still nights where Karen is the last one out of the office at night and the first one there in the morning and it’s not because she’s trying to get more work done. And now there’s the reveal of the homeless kids, and Santino, and just…all of it. She can’t blame Karen for connecting with Frank Castle and what he’s done on some level, because she can’t blame Karen for something she’s done herself. She hates to think it, but it’s true. It’s the same thing that had her understanding more than a little of Vanessa Marianna, and seeing the inverted reflections of herself and of Matt in Wilson Fisk. They’re all a mess of wants and desires and motivations and mistakes, and somehow they all smash right up against each other’s edges to cut themselves, to bleed. Frank Castle had seen something in her that nobody should ever have been able to see, and Karen’s seeing something in him that she recognizes, and Matt’s seen something too, and just—God. Why do people have to be complicated?

“Darcy,” someone says, and she jumps. It’s Marisol. She shifts her sunglasses on her nose, and sits down. “Hi, sorry. My phone has been doing ridiculous things lately. It won’t accept or send any calls at all, and there’s no sound to it, and just—I need a new one, is all. It’s why I had Kalia call you.”

“Oh.” Darcy blinks. Yank yourself up out of the philosophical deep end, Lewis. “No, it’s okay. I don’t know what you really wanted to meet about, I only just managed to file yesterday and I haven’t heard anything from the school yet.”

“That’s actually kind of what I wanted to talk to you about.” She’s pressing her purse tight into her stomach. “I wanted to ask if you would be willing to file other suits. I mean, for some of the other people he’s done this to, I guess. Just—other people at the school have heard that I’m doing this, and they’ve been asking me, and so I said I would ask.”

Oh. Could’ve sent me an email. “I mean, if they would like to work with Nelson, Murdock, and Lewis to file for injunctive relief against MSM, then they can, it’s up to them. I wouldn’t necessarily have a problem with it. Just—the more people who file, the larger and more complex it’ll get, and the more likely it is that we might have a Fourth Crusade on our hands.” Marisol blinks at her, and Darcy shifts. “Sorry. Fruitless endeavor. It’s a lot of work, is all I’m saying. Maybe if we get more people the school will fold to pressure, instead of fighting one or two little suits, but…hard to say.” 

“Oh.” Marisol’s buzzing, for some reason. She hasn’t looked away from Darcy’s face. “I don’t know, I was just—I was wondering, that’s all.”

“Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.” She bounces her leg up and down. “Just been a long couple of days.”

“Yeah, no. For me too.”

Marisol shifts her sunglasses on her nose again, and then takes them off, folding them up in her hand. Her hair’s tied back today, into a ponytail, and her hoop earrings are so big that they could probably fit around her wrists along with the bracelets. “If I were to bring you more people, would you be willing to talk to them? I know we talked about how generally with cases like this the lawyers get refunded by the courts, which is good because a lot of them are students and they probably wouldn’t be able to afford the rates, but I was just—”

“If you do want to bring people, that’s all right with me.” She’ll take drop-dead exhaustion over bankruptcy any day. “Just—are you okay? Did the school say something to you?”

“What?” Marisol stops bouncing. “No, the school didn’t do anything, I’m fine. I’m just—I’m thinking really fast, I guess, that’s all.”

“If you’re sure that everything’s all right—”

“Everything’s fine,” says Marisol. “Just a long few days. How’d you get the cut?”

Darcy blinks. “What?”

“I mean, you said—you said the nose was a boxing accident, what happened to your cheek?” Her eyes dip. “And your hand.”

“Oh.” Something very cold and slimy starts to creep up Darcy’s back. She looks down at her coffee, and then up at Marisol again, and closes her computer. “Why do you ask?”

“Just kind of beat up for a defense attorney, that’s all. Should I be asking if the school came to talk to you, or is there like—some other case you’re working on that’s getting violent, or something?”

“I can’t talk about cases with a client,” says Darcy. “Except yours, obviously. Active or otherwise.”

“Oh, well, obviously.” Her nails are painted cherry red, and when she waves a hand through the air in dismissal it’s like watching blood fly. “I didn’t mean to pry, I don’t know. Just—I know that your firm does a lot of work with like…risky cases.”

“Risky cases?”

“I saw the article framed up in your office. You’re the firm that brought down Wilson Fisk last year. You guys were the ones to file the suits, you know, when everyone else was letting him stomp all over them and do all the things he was doing.” She leans forward. “I mean, you are the same Lewis, right? The one that the Goodmans hired some guy to beat up in an alleyway?”

“Well, I mean—yes.” And she doesn’t like that that’s a piece of information that floats around, really, but it’s kind of hard for it not to be after Ben Urich’s articles and the Bulletin and Kate’s TMZ interview and every other major newspaper in the city had picked up on Fisk and his strong-arm game. She’d really rather not be known as the lawyer who had the crap kicked out of her in an alleyway. She’ll even take the one that rips your throat out with her teeth over the damsel in distress bullshit. “You’re not wrong, no, but just—why are you asking?”

“Clarification,” says Marisol. “Just—I was fairly certain, when the woman at the courthouse told me your name, but I wasn’t positive until I came in to your office the first time. I’ve been asking around since then, and I’ve heard a lot of contradictory things.” She rests her sunglasses on the table. “The DA’s office isn’t particularly fond of you guys, is it? First you knock half the corrupt ADAs out of the ballpark with blowing the whistle on Fisk, and now you have Reyes herself spreading the rumors that you guys have been playing fast and loose with procedure and nearly ruining some kind of sting operation they set up with the police department.”

That fucking weasel. “Doesn’t seem to be making you too uncomfortable.”

“I’ve done my homework.” Marisol starts twisting her bracelets again. “Anyone with a brain and access to Google has heard of all the scandals that have come out of Samantha Reyes’s DA’s Office. I’m new to the city, but I’m not stupid. From what I can tell it’s far more likely that it’s Reyes covering her ass again. Besides, I’m a musician, not an attorney. I’m far more interested in the idea of working with the firm that took down Wilson Fisk than I am whatever gossip is floating around the Supreme Court. You guys might be unorthodox, but you seem to get results.”

“Yeah, well, you might be the only one in the city who thinks that.” She’s going to have to go to the courthouse, isn’t she? Christ. She doesn’t want to go to court tomorrow. She doesn’t want to have to deal with the bullshit. “Thanks, though, for the vote of confidence.”

“So, is that how you hurt your face?” Marisol props her chin in one hand. “Did someone else beat you up in an alleyway?”

“I can promise you that there is no way I’m ever getting beat up in an alleyway like that again,” Darcy says. She only realizes she’s hooked hair behind her ear with her scarred hand when Marisol’s eyes snap to the mark, and stick there.  “And I’m—I’m really not all that comfortable talking about this, Marisol, truly. It’s not something I like to remember. At all. Ever. Even while inebriated.”

“No, of course.” Marisol watches as Darcy slips her computer back into her bag. “I was just—I was curious, that’s all. I wasn’t in the city at the time, but like I said, I did research. I read a lot about the Fisk trial and everything online. Just—I knew it coming in, but I couldn’t reconcile it until just now. It’s just—I’m interested, that’s all.”

If this is hero worship, this is the oddest case of it Darcy’s ever seen. It’s making the muscles in her legs get all twitchy. “Same Lewis. Born that way, unfortunately. I stick my nose into dangerous places. Was there anything else you wanted to talk about, or—”

“Not really,” says Marisol. She’s still staring. Darcy’s halfway up out of her chair and her bag’s on her shoulder when she says, “Actually, wait. Just—one second, wait.”

“Is someone else coming about the MSM thing?”

“No, just—” Marisol collects her mug, and holds tight to it with both hands. “I just—I told you I grew up on a reservation, right? I told you about my parents.”

What the hell is going on here? All the hair on her body’s standing on end. It’s as if someone’s turned on a foghorn, right in her ear, and set it to listen up, stupid volume. “Marisol—”

“I didn’t—I did grow up on a reservation. At least, for a little while. And my mother was from Mexico. But I’m not Tohono O’odham, I’m Cheyenne. I only lived in Arizona after the Guerras took me in. I was born in Montana.”

What the actual fuck. “Marisol, I really don’t—”

“I don’t tell people where I’m from for the same reason I don’t tell people my real name.” Marisol glances at the counter, at the window, and then leans in. “My father was murdered when I was nine years old.”

Christ. Darcy glances at the door, and then sinks slowly back into her chair, settling her bag over her knees and keeping her mouth shut. Marisol turns, and stares at the wall for a little bit, pressing her lips together. (And seriously, her lipstick game is still on point, and it’s kind of irritating to be honest.) “I found the body,” she says. “He was—he was beaten up, executed. The police thought it was some kind of punishment, at the time. For something he’d done.”

Fucking hell. One or two details different, and this story could be Matt’s. One or two things shifted, and this could be Jack Murdock they’re talking about, and not Marisol Guerra’s father, and just—she can’t handle this right now. “Marisol, I don’t—”

“My father did things for people,” says Marisol. “He cleaned things up. I didn’t know at the time what kind of work he did, only that he’d go away for days and days sometimes. That time he was gone for a week, which wasn’t unusual, but when he came back, he was—he was scared.” She blinks, very slowly, and then turns to look at Darcy again. Her eyes are dry. “After he was killed, I was placed with a family named the Guerras. We lived in Arizona for a few years, and I went back there for college, so I wasn’t—I wasn’t lying, exactly, I just…wasn’t telling the full truth.”

“What about your mom?”

Marisol shakes her head. “She had cancer, she died when I was two.”

“So Guerra isn’t your name.”

“No, it is.” She presses her fingers to her lips. “The last thing my father said to me before he died was to be careful, to watch my back. He thought—I don’t know. That someone might come after me. When the Guerras took me in, they had my name legally changed just in case someone did. I don’t know if anyone ever has, but I’ve kept my head down for fifteen years, moved across the country. If someone was looking for me they’d have had a hard time of it.”

Darcy shakes her head. “Why are you telling me this? You barely know me, and this doesn’t—” She stops. “This is why you decided to go with our firm, wasn’t it? Because of everything that happened with Fisk.”

“I won’t lie and say it wasn’t a deciding factor in dropping Lawrence Cranston.” Marisol shrugs. “Though he was tremendously irritating and sexist, so I would have fired him regardless. I didn’t tell you before because I wasn’t certain whether or not I could trust you. My father died because he used to fix things for people in New York City, he’d—his name is attached to half a dozen cold cases with the NYPD, more, even. I had to be sure that you were clean before I told you the truth.” 

“So the case with the Manhattan School of Music—”

“That’s true. That did happen, and I do want to keep going with the suit, I think we should. The case wasn’t an excuse, just—just circumstances.”

Her mouth is very dry. Darcy fumbles her coffee mug up to her lips, and doesn’t look at Marisol for a long time. “I don’t understand what you want.”

“You know Lilith and Daredevil,” says Marisol.

Shit. Shit fuck shit. “I don’t.”

“You do. You have to, I’m sure of it. I told you, I’ve read everything there is to know about the Fisk case that’s available to the public, I’ve read every—every trash magazine, I’ve gone through every online messageboard and all the sightings and every goddamn tweet about the pair of them, and you have to know them. There’s no way you would have survived Fisk otherwise. That’s a horrible thing to say, but—but it’s true, isn’t it, that you would be dead now if not for Daredevil and Lilith?”

It’s true, in a lot of ways, but just—holy shit. “Marisol, I really don’t think this is a good idea.”

“I’ve studied everything I can get my hands on.” Marisol doesn’t seem to be listening. “I’ve studied everything, Darcy, every part of it, or every part that I have access to as a civilian. And if you look at it, it’s obvious. There’s no way Nelson, Murdock, and Lewis would have been able to come out of what happened with Wilson Fisk as clean as you did if you didn’t have help. And there’s no way they would have managed to get as far as they did without someone on the outside.”

Darcy bristles, because she has to. “I don’t know what you’re accusing me of—”

“I need to talk to them,” Marisol says. “You’re the only way I can think of. You’re the only hope I have of getting in touch with them.”

“Have you tried Twitter? I think I heard somewhere that Lilith has an account.”

“And you think they’d take a tweet seriously? I’m not about to bandy my father’s murder all over the internet in the hope that it might attract their attention.”

She shakes her head. “What makes you think they can help you? It happened fifteen years ago, in a completely different state, it’s not like—”

“They know New York,” says Marisol simply, and dammit, I’ve shot myself in the foot, now, haven’t I? “It might have happened fifteen years ago, and that’s decades in the criminal underworld, but they can find people, they can—they can make people talk that I can’t even begin to get near. I need their help, and you’re my only lead to finding them.”

“Marisol—”

“I know you met Daredevil in that alley when the Goodmans had you attacked.” Marisol rocks forward in her chair, fists her hands up on the table. “I know you met Daredevil, and you had to have met Lilith somehow, I don’t know, maybe she found you when Daredevil went dark, but you know them. I have to talk to them. I can’t take no for an answer.”

 “Marisol, seriously.” Her heart’s beating very fast. “I can’t.

“I need to talk to them.”

“You’re not listening to me, I don’t—I’m not some Magic Eight Ball that you can shake and get a phone number for vigilantes, okay, I can’t help you—”

“My father died,” Marisol snaps. “I was nine and I walked in and I found my father dying on the floor with a hole in his chest and half the bones in his body shattered with bats. He wiped his blood on my face and he told me to run and I have never, ever forgotten that, but I’m done with running away from what happened. I need to understand. My father might not have been a good man, Miss Lewis, but he was my father, and he was murdered, and whoever killed him is in New York somewhere. I need Daredevil and Lilith to help me find out where.”

“I get that,” Darcy says. “Believe me, you have—you have no idea how much I can understand that, Marisol, but seriously, I don’t know who they are. If I could help you, I would, but I can’t. I can’t help you with something like this. I wouldn’t even know where to start.”

Marisol fists her hands up on the table, and looks at her. Her eyes flick over Darcy’s face, over the cut and the bruises, and her mouth creases. Then she stands. “His name was Willie Lincoln,” she says. “My father. They wrote about the murder in the local paper, you should be able to find it in the backlogs of the website.” She takes a breath. “And—and you’ll be able to access his records from the NYPD. Just so you know. If you happen to come across them, you can tell them that.”

“I don’t know them, Marisol.”

“You’re not a very good liar, Miss Lewis,” says Marisol. “Tell them about him. Maybe let them decide if they’re going to help me or not.” She heaves her bag over her shoulder. “I’ll let you know if anyone else at MSM wants to talk to you about the suit.”

She’s gone before Darcy can speak, slamming out the door and vanishing into the New York crowds. Behind the counter, one of the baristas sucks her teeth.

“Bad date, honey?” she says, when she collects the mug from Darcy’s table. She’s still sitting there with her bag in her lap, staring hard at the tabletop, her brain kind of just…stopped. Frozen in carbonite. She’s not sure. Darcy blinks at her, and shakes her head.

“Just, uh. The universe needs to chill with all the things it’s throwing at me.”

“Pretty sure everyone feels like that, sometimes,” says the barista, and pats her back soothingly before wandering back to the counter again. Really, she thinks, there isn’t anything else that has to be said.

.

.

.

To: questions@theurichreport.com

From: rdglo329@freenet.co.uk

Subject: Frank Castle

You need to look into what Reyes did to Frank Castle. If you don’t hurry then there’s not going to be anything left for you to blow the whistle on. She’s good at cleaning up her messes. 

 

To: rdglo329@freenet.co.uk

From: questions@theurichreport.com

Subject: re: Frank Castle

Thought you weren’t going to contact me again. This seems strikingly similar to contact.

 

To: questions@theurichreport.com

From: rdglo329@freenet.co.uk

Subject: re: re: Frank Castle

If you don’t post something soon then she’ll have the whole thing tied up with a bow and nobody’s going to know the truth.

 

To: rdglo329@freenet.co.uk

From: questions@theurichreport.com

Subject: re: re: re: Frank Castle

We should talk about this in person. You’re lucky I know someone who can encrypt emails.

 

To: questions@theurichreport.com

From: rdglo329@freenet.co.uk

Subject: re: re: re: re: Frank Castle

Attached: scan90322.jpeg

You’re running out of time.

.

.

.

It’s not hard to find. Willie Lincoln. Found dead in his home in Lame Deer, Montana, April 17, 2001. Murder never solved. Outlived by one daughter, nine, unnamed. Predeceased by partner Anita Lopez, leukemia. Recently returned from a business trip to New York City. Worked as a financial advisor. The last financial advisor I met was Leland Owlsley, and he was about as legit a financial advisor as Donald Trump is a person. The tribal police who had looked into it had dismissed it as a break-in gone wrong, and the article in the paper announcing it doesn’t have any details to contradict it. Still, something lingers. A vague aftertaste, smog hanging in the back of her throat. Something’s wrong here. A financial advisor in Lame Deer, Montana making frequent trips out to New York City? No. Especially not considering what Marisol had said, which, even if it isn’t the truth, still begs the question: why did Willie Lincoln die?

You’re letting this get to you, she tells herself, as she leaves Mug Shots an hour later than expected and starts off down the road. You shouldn’t let this distract you. A fifteen-year-old murder doesn’t have anything on what’s happening in the now. Compared to the gangs that are still going wild, the capture of Frank Castle and all the other shit that goes on in this city on a daily basis, a fifteen-year-old murder is the last thing that she needs to think about right now. In all likelihood Lincoln had been working for Rigoletto or the Maggia, a cleaner and a fixer they called in when they didn’t want someone local, and he’d been killed for messing up or stealing or doing whatever it is that fixers do when they get too greedy or get in too deep. But the look on Marisol’s face…damn it. You’re letting this get to you, you’re being too soft. Seriously, this case is fifteen years old.

But there’s no statue of limitations on murder.

Wasn’t even in New York, it was out in Montana, and more than that it was on a reservation, it’d be tribal jurisdiction and possibly also federal and not something you can poke your nose into.

Goddammit. She doesn’t like mysteries. She can’t stand mysteries. And even if this one is fifteen years old, it’s still a mystery, and it’s still something that happened in New York, and it’s still haunting Marisol Guerra. Come on, Darcy, think it through. The likelihood of the guy who killed Willie Lincoln actually being in New York, still, nearly two decades later? Small. The likelihood of her tracking him down? Infinitesimal. The likelihood of anything actually coming of it? Excruciatingly tiny. But the look on her face—goddammit.

He was my father and he was murdered, she’d said, and ah, shit, I’m going to look into it, aren’t I?

Brett’s behind the front desk when she walks in to the 15th Precinct. It’s like clockwork, she thinks. She walks in, Brett’s at the counter. Brett looks up, gets a look on his face like he’s just been pepper-sprayed, and goes to gulp coffee to put his stoic cop face back on. It’s rhythmic and familiar and it’s kind of great that it still happens, because it might make her a bit of a sadist, but she kind of enjoys annoying Brett Mahoney. Makes up for him being a shit three-week sex partner. (The sex hadn’t been shit, just…she and Brett hadn’t managed to get along too well outside of it, is all.) “What happened to your face, there, Lewis? Thorn bush decide it didn’t like you?”

Why’d you have to mention thorns? She’s had enough of that talk, lately. “Bike accident.”

“Getting in a lot of bike accidents.” Brett’s eyes narrow. “Something you want to tell me? Last time you looked like this we had federal agents coming through taking away half our officers in cuffs, no thanks to Wilson Fisk.”

“Nah, it’s nothing. Bikes just don’t like me. String of bad luck, is all.” She cocks her head. “What’s with the smug look, my brettanical garden? You look like a cat who has inhaled a whole wall full of mice.”

Well, he did. Now he looks like he’s in actual physical pain. “Please don’t call me that. They just keep getting worse, the names. I would have thought you’d run out of options by now.”

“Not my fault your name is so completely amendable, mon bretit chou.” Darcy raps her knuckles on the desk. “Heard about the Castle collar. Good for you.”

“Just followed a tip,” Brett says, but he looks pleased, so she’s hit the nail on the head. “Only doing my job, Lewis, as you know.”

“Yeah, well, they’d be stupid not to promote you, snag like that.”

“I’m just glad he’s off the streets again.” Brett makes a face. “Don’t know how to feel about half the vigilantes running around the city nowadays. Make it damn hard to be a cop sometimes.”

“You know my opinion on cops. Half the time I’m in here it’s because some jackass in a blue uniform wound up getting a little too happy with his nightstick and breaking some poor kid’s arm.”

“And by poor kid you mean ‘banger.

“Yeah, that’s exactly what I mean, especially because I think the last one was like twelve.”

Brett grimaces. “That was a shitshow, I’ll give you that one. Still don’t agree with you, but there it is. What do you want?”

“Two things, actually. First off—I have a new client, racial discrimination thing, but she just—she said something that kind of freaked me out a little bit. Have you ever heard of a guy named Willie Lincoln? Before our time, maybe fifteen years ago. Wasn’t a New Yorker, but from the sound of it he did some work here that would not have made him many friends.”

Brett sucks his teeth, and leans away from the desk. “Willie Lincoln? No. Guy you would’ve talked to about stuff that happened fifteen years ago is dead, though. Oscar Clemons. Mind like a steel trap.”

“Unless you can raise the dead and you’ve been lying to me all these years, Brettcromancer, I really don’t think it matters what kind of mind Clemons did or did not have. He’s dead and he was murdered and the bastard who did it is still out there, and that’s…kind of more important.”

“Simmer down, Lewis.”

Darcy scowls at him. “Don’t tell me to simmer down, Sergeant Tibbs. You know how I feel about people telling me to simmer down. As in, when people tell me to simmer down, I’m always tempted to do the exact opposite and boil over, and that’s not ever a good thing.”

“You never do anything by halves, do you,” says Brett, exasperatedly. “And some people still get surprised that you and Murdock wound up being a thing.”

“People get surprised about a lot of things that should be obvious.” Darcy pops the knuckles on her good hand, and starts scraping her nail into the scar on her palm, over and over. It’s turning into a nervous habit, and she’s not sure how she feels about it. “C’mon, Brettigan. I’m just looking to see if you guys have any information about Willie Lincoln, that’s all. I know you can look that up on your computer, maybe get some copies for me?”

“Fifteen years is a long time. Might be that some of the files were lost in the Incident.”

“Yeah, you and every other big bureaucratic sinkhole in Hell’s Kitchen lost files, I get it, just—will you check? I know it was a long time ago, but there isn’t a statute of limitations on murder.”

That has him hitting the brakes, at least. “You think he was murdered?”

“I know Lincoln was murdered. I want to know if he was a murderer too, that’s all. If you can manage it.” Darcy knocks on the desk again. “I’m willing to wait, seriously. Anything you can get for me on this guy. I’d appreciate it.”

He sighs through his nose. “This isn’t for a case, is it? This is just you poking around.”

“Don’t give me any guff, man, just tell me yes or no.”

“You owe me for this,” he says.

“I shower honor on your whole family, Sergeant Mahoney.”

“Yeah, sure, whatever.” He whacks the space bar a few times to wake the computer up. “What’s the other oh-so-rational favor?”

“Uh, that’s—a little more complicated, actually. But more relevant, after Grotto.” She hesitates. “I want anything you can get me on Finn Brannigan.”

Brett stops dead, staring at her. “Finn Brannigan,” he says. “That’s not for some fifteen year old murder, is it.”

“Not…exactly, no.”

She’s pretty sure Brett wants to take her by the shoulders and shake her until her teeth clack together. “What the hell are you getting into this time, Darcy?”

“Wow.” She tries for flip, ends up somewhere east of nervous. “My first name. Must be some interesting stuff in those files.”

Brett looks one way, then the other. He steps away from his desk. “Come,” he says, “with me, now,” and before she can speak he’s seized her elbow and hustled her into the precinct, through the gate, down the hall, and into the observation area of an empty interrogation room. She wrenches away, and rolls her shoulder, trying not to wince, as Brett locks the door and shuts off the lights.

“Christ, Brett, could’ve asked nicely before frogmarching me—”

“The fuck do you think you’re doing?” Brett snaps. “Fifteen year old murders, Lewis, that’s one thing, that’s something I can understand you sticking your nose into, but Finn Brannigan—Christ.”

“You know him?”

“My mom told me stories.” He looks at the door, at the broken camera on the table. “Know the shit that used to happen, when he was in town?”

“I’ve seen the headlines.” Darcy cracks her knuckles again. “Smiling Finn, yeah?”

“You know why they called him that?” He rolls right over her, doesn’t wait for an answer. “When people crossed Finn Brannigan, they turned up with new mouths. In their necks. Cops used to call it Finn’s Grin, he’d cut so deep. Heads would come off, half the time. And that was after he beat the shit out of them. Drills, knives, needles, bullets. Your guy Fisk, he was quiet, he was careful—”

“Unless he was cutting the heads off of Russians.”

“Yeah, well, Finn was like that all the time. Wild, violent. But cold. People would always comment on that, the few that survived seeing him in a temper. Vicious as all hell. Take your nose off if you crossed him. But just—frozen solid, when he did it.” He folds his arms over his chest. “Why the hell do you want to know anything about Finn Brannigan?”

“You heard about Grotto.”

“Yeah, and he’s in a coma. So either you’re just curious, or there’s something you’re not telling me.”

Please, please, Brett, just—pick if you’re going to be a good cop or an awful cop. Please pick something, because I can’t deal with you not noticing obvious things and picking up on tiny things all the fucking time, it’s so inconvenient, holy shit— “Look.” It’s a long and torturous battle not to pinch the bridge of her nose. “Grotto might be in a coma, but he’s a Brannigan, he’s one of the Kitchen Irish, and if Brannigan’s smart enough not to get caught after years and years of being Smiling Finn, he’s probably going to do the not-stupid thing of coming back to New York to rebuild his family now that Frank Castle’s in custody. And if he’s coming back, and if Grotto wakes up—”

“Lot of ifs in there, Lewis.”

“I don’t have another reason for you! If it’s not good enough—”

“No, your reason’s fine. Reason makes sense. It’s just bullshit.” He snags her elbow again when she tries to push by, squeezes hard. “Tell me the truth, Darcy. Because the last time you tried getting involved in something like this, the last time you poked your nose in, you were kidnapped, and tortured, and you nearly died, and I’m not letting it happen again.”

“Wow,” she says, after a moment. “You actually do care.”

“You’re a pain in the ass.” Brett digs his fingers into her arm, right into her bruises, and she has to bite her tongue to keep from yelping. “None of us want that happening again. And with Finn Brannigan? You wouldn’t come back whole. So tell me. Give me a reason.”

What can she actually say? Actually, I’m Lilith, and I can’t get my hands on that paperwork illegally because I’m not that much of an idiot, so it’d really just be easier if you handed them over or like…let me sign them out like a good little vigilante? “I can’t,” Darcy says, shortly. “I just—if you won’t give me the files, I’ll find out some other way, I just need the information, Brett.”

“For what?”

“Forget it.” She waves a hand. “It doesn’t—I’ll figure it out, forget I even asked.”

“You don’t get to ask me shit like that and then not tell me why.”

“Let me out of this room, Brett.”

“No.” Brett steps in front of her. “Darcy, stop—”

“I can’t tell you.”

“Can’t or won’t?”

Can’t.”

“Shit,” Brett says, and lowers his voice. “Is this—are you working with them?”

This is absurd. She’d laugh, if she could manage it, laugh and laugh and laugh, because he sounds like a middle school student talking about playground royalty, longing and furious all at once. “Who are you talking about?”

“Them,” he says again. “Daredevil and Lilith. And Hawkeye. This is for them, isn’t it?”

“Why does everyone think I have their private phone number? That’s totally what I do on the weekend, I text Daredevil and Lilith and Hawkeye and hang out with them and get bubble tea. Hawkeye’s allergic to lychee, did you know that?”

“Stop fucking around,” Brett snaps. “Is this something you’re doing for them? Do you work with them now? Do you feel like you owe them for saving your life, because Darcy—”

“Christ.” Her armies are wrecked, and the urge is too powerful. She rubs at her eyes. “It isn’t for them, Brett. This has nothing to do with them.”

“Don’t lie to me, Lewis. Daredevil rescued you last year, I know you know him and I know he knows you, you didn’t see him before he found you—”

“You did?”

“Caught me near that tenement where you were grabbed. I’ve only met the guy a few times, but he seemed—” Brett waffles. “For a guy who pulls on a leather suit and a mask and goes around cracking skulls, he seemed freaked when he couldn’t find you. And I thought it was because he’d met you once or twice, because you were innocent, but if you’re still working with him—”

“I’m—”

“Shut up.”

Don’t tell me to shut up.” She shoves away from him. “I’m not working with any of them, Brett, Jesus—”

“If you were—”

“Get out of the way—”

I want to help,” Brett hisses, and then shuts up. His lips go thin. Darcy stops dead, and stares at him.

“What?”

“Look.” He looks back at the door. “Look, I don’t like any of them. I think they’re a problem, I think they should be behind bars, I think they’re spitting on the uniform and that they’re making the police department look like Scully and Hitchcock from Brooklyn 99—

“Wait, when did you start watching popular TV?”

“Would you quit?” he says, with the God, why is this my life, why do I know you look on his face again. “But they grabbed Fisk when no one else could manage it. They grabbed Fisk, they grabbed Castle, and they’ve been keeping people alive when we can’t do anything, and if Finn Brannigan’s back in town, then—” Brett stares hard at the wall. “They ought to know what they’re going up against. So if you’re doing this to try and help them, then—then tell me, and I’ll do what I can.”

Her shoulder hurts. Darcy digs her thumbnail into the scar on her hand, and Brett sees it, not just seeing but seeing, the scar and the bad habit and the nervousness. She stares at the wall. If I bring in Brett—what? He could notice. He’d probably realize that there were discrepancies, that she comes in more beat up and more bruised than she ever did before, that there are convenient disappearing acts she pulls when she has something to do as Lilith and marks from Daredevil’s helmet on Matt’s cheekbones that they can never quite hide. If I’m careful, if I send Foggy or Kate—but Foggy would flip a shit, and Kate would be too obvious, as Hawkeye, she’s cocky and barely wears a mask and she’s open about her archery, about all of it, and Brett’s blind to Matt but he’s not stupid, he’d pick that up—but the files

“You just meet with me,” she says, in a low voice. “And I’m not telling you anything about either of them.”

“I don’t want to know anything about either of them. Any of them. I don’t want to know that you know anything about any of them.” Brett taps his forefinger to the butt of his gun. “To be clear: you ask me questions. I get you information when I can. We don’t talk about them, you don’t tell anyone I’m doing this—”

And another lie to add to the pile. “Of course.”

“—and you don’t go poking around anywhere near Finn Brannigan, Darcy. You keep your reckless attorney nose out of the Kitchen Irish, you hear me? Even if that scumbag Grotto does wake up. The three of you, you and Foggy and Murdock, you stay as far away from them as possible.”

“Brett—”

Promise me,” he says, and Darcy swallows. “I don’t care what else you do. Just stay away from Finn Brannigan. Swear.”

She may, possibly, be the worst person in the world for doing this. “I swear,” she says, and sticks out her hand. Scarred, not bandaged. “I, Darcy Lewis, will stay as far away from Finn Brannigan and the Kitchen Irish as I can get.”

Brett looks at her hand, at the scar on her palm. Then he reaches out, and shakes her hand twice, awkward as it is with two righties doing a left-handed shake. He looks at the dead camera again, and then steps away.

“I’m going to get the files,” he says. “Wait five minutes, and then head back out to the waiting area again. If you have questions, call, don’t come in. You can’t be seen in here more often than normal.”

“I know that much, Brett.” She waggles her fingers. “Ain’t my first rodeo.”

“Don’t tell me that shit,” Brett says, exhausted, and leaves the room. When he shuts the door, she’s been left behind in the dark.

 

She’s walking back with six files under her arm—two for Finn Brannigan, three for Willie Lincoln, and one unsolved murder that Brett had thought Daredevil and Lilith might want to pay attention to—when her phone rings. Matt, is her first instinct, please let it be Matt, but the screen reads Unknown Number. Marisol, she thinks, maybe. She’d mentioned she was going to tell other people to contact them about MSM, probably handed out Darcy’s cell number instead of the firm’s, which, whatever. She hits accept. “This is Darcy Lewis speaking.”

“Wonderful. I’d wondered if I had the right number. It took me a little while to get the information out of your secretary; is the whole firm as protective as she is, or is it just…little Miss Page being special?”

This is not a good day. This just isn’t a good week. Darcy comes to a stop in the middle of the sidewalk, and someone clips her shoulder hard with theirs. “Watch it, asshole!”

“Was that at me?” Elektra sounds delighted. “How crass.”

“No, um. I’m walking.” She scoots into an alley. “Elektra, um. Hi. Can I help you with something?”

“I was just calling to get an idea of where your heads were at. I mean, the bank contacted me to let me know that the deposit was refunded, which—that’s a shame, it seems to me that your little business could have used something to pull it out of the red.” Elektra hums a little. “Your loss. If you didn’t want to keep it, you could have just said something.”

“We’d rather be paid for actually doing work,” says Darcy. “Which, since we didn’t take the job, we wouldn’t have felt comfortable accepting monetary compensation for it.”

“Is we in this circumstance the firm in general, or—”

“The firm. Collectively. Meaning all three of us, before you ask.”

“I see.”

I really get the feeling you don’t. Darcy leans hard against the concrete wall of the next building over. A Laundromat, she thinks. She can hear coins and dryers. “What are you calling for, Elektra? I’m in the middle of something, and I already told you no lunch.”

“Are you sure? There’s a lovely place off of Fifth Ave that does Bengali food. I seem to remember you like it, but I could be wrong. We only spoke a few times.” Elektra sighs. “More’s the pity. I’m getting the feeling that there’s always been a little more to you than I thought, originally.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“The trick Matthew was pulling with the Roxxon meeting? Cute. Was it your idea he eavesdrop, or his?”

Ah, shit. How the hell did she catch him? Matt probably wouldn’t even have been in the building, so unless she has eyes like a raptor—wait. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Don’t play with me, dear, I know you know what he can do. You might not have, back then, but you do now. It’s not difficult to tell. You move around him differently than you used to, you know. I remember you used to be much more careful of where he is in space.”

Elektra knows? Darcy swallows hard. Well. That’s. Well. Okay. “It is not at all unsettling that you used to watch how I move around people.”

“Oh, come on,” Elektra says, and laughs. It’s more like a snarl. “You have an eye like I do, Darcy. You like understanding how people work, you like watching them. You babble and you chirp and you say the most inane, silly things, and the whole time you’re thinking at a hundred kilometers a minute, trying to work out everyone’s little habits, all their quirks. It drives you crazy not to understand things, especially people. It’s not a hobby, it’s an instinct. Don’t pretend otherwise.”

Out on the street, there’s a man wearing a hot dog suit trying to pass out coupons for a sandwich restaurant. A swarm of insects has spawned under her ribs, buzzing and flaring like locusts. I really, really don’t like it when people try to pick me apart. “So you called me to talk about my instincts as a human being?”

“Not exactly, no,” she says. “He didn’t tell you that I knew about his little gift, did he? I’m not sure I expected it, really, but that’s still a little surprising. I thought you two were close.”

She will not snap. She will not snap at such an obvious hook, because goddamn, that’s some tease the cat until she bites stuff if she’s ever heard it. Darcy digs her fingernails into her palm, hard enough to sting. “I never figured you would be the one to pull the passive-aggressive ex-girlfriend crap, Elektra. You were always way too upfront for the catty bullshit people like to make women think they need to get into over men.”

“No, you’re right, I’m not.” Elektra sighs. “I didn’t mean it as an attack, truly. I was just surprised. It seems like rather a large hole in the patchwork, as it were.”

She rolls her eyes up to the sky. “What do you want?”

“I want what’s mine,” Elektra says. “I’m assuming Matthew told you about why I’m in New York. Roxxon has decided to screw with me, and I’m not fond of the idea. But since he’s flat-out refused to help me. I’m wondering if you would.”

“I’ve generally found that it’s a good business practice to not pick up a partner’s rejects,” Darcy says. “And this has nothing to do with the history, Elektra, or what the situation is now. What you were asking for was actually impossible, especially on the time limit you delivered. Besides, I have a full case load at the moment.”

“Of course you do. More indigent nursemaids and drunken bartenders, I suppose.” There’s a soft musical chatter on Elektra’s end of the line, something that Darcy thinks might be jazz. She’s not sure. “Ah, well. Worth a try. But are you really sure you’re going to turn down the lunch? It’s very good curry.”

“I really don’t think that’s the best idea.” Darcy rubs at her eyes. “Look, I get that you might have a problem with me, and I can understand why, but whatever happened with you and Matt—”

“I don’t have a problem with you, personally,” Elektra says. “I quite liked you, actually. You never did manage to get the hang of double-speak. It was refreshing.”

“I think that’s an insult, but I’m not entirely sure, so I’m gonna ignore it.”

“No, it’s the truth,” Elektra says. “Funnily enough. I’m still quite serious about the lunch, though. I feel like there might be a few things we need to talk about. I think we might have something in common.”

“Seriously, I don’t—”

“Lilith,” says Elektra. “For example.”

Chapter Text

The phone rings.

“Nelson, Murdock, and Lewis, how may I help you?”

“It’s me.”

“Ben, hey. I know we said we were gonna meet up to talk about the thing yesterday but I have to—”

“Have you heard from the DA’s Office?”

“Yes,” she says, slowly. “Yeah, um, ADA Tower is in with Foggy right now.”

“Just Nelson?”

“Murdock and Lewis are both off dealing with things,” says Karen. “Ben, is something wrong?”

“I need to show you something,” Ben says. “Meet me at the diner in forty minutes.”

“I don’t—”

“The mole’s back, Karen.”

Karen looks down at the dog at her feet, at Rey’s head on her shoe, at the plant in the corner and the half-shut door of Foggy’s office, the soft murmur of Blake Tower creeping out into the entryway. The empty seats in the waiting room.

The mole’s back.

“I don’t want to talk about it on this line,” Ben says. “Can you—”

“I’ll be there in thirty. But it can’t be the diner, they don’t allow animals.”

“Animals?”

“I’ll explain when I see you, just—meet me near that living statue in Central Park with the Willy Wonka hat. I think there’s an ice cream vendor near a bench, there, that works as well as anything.”

She hangs up before he can respond. At her feet, Rey heaves a sigh. She’s bony and wretched-looking, and Chat had said something about her feet and how they hurt for long distances and Central Park is a bit too far, but just—she can’t leave this dog. She won’t leave this dog. Frank Castle is a murderer and he still dragged this dog out of hell, and she’s not sure what to make of that but this feels a little like a talisman, doing this, something she’s not sure how to work with but knows is evidence of something Reyes would really rather keep hidden. Would a sociopathic murderer rescue a dog?

His whole family was killed, Darcy had said. In front of him. His wife, his two kids. Within a day of him coming home. And he’d nearly died, a bullet to the head and flatlining in the hospital, wrenching himself back up out of the grave. He’d been shot, he’d died and come back, and when he’d woken up, he hadn’t been Frank Castle anymore.

(Do you really think—)

“Come on,” she says, and Rey lifts her head. “Soon as Tower’s gone, I’m taking an early lunch.”

.

.

.

Everything is very loud, all of a sudden. Darcy stands. She stands, and she’s still, because there’s a cacophony in her head, a thousand ringing alarms, all mixing up with the chatter and the smell and the echoes of this alley, of the scream of the door to the Laundromat and the horn of a taxi on the street and the muttered cursewords of a woman in six inch heels stumbling off the curb. Underneath it all there’s her brain, all bells and whistles and fucking klaxons screaming danger, Will Robinson, danger. She has to cough to get her mouth to work properly. “Lilith.”

“Yes.” Elektra pauses. “Where are you, at the moment? Only it seems like a bit of a risk, talking about a thing like this if you’re around other people. Or have you not worked that much out yet?”

“You can cut the crap,” Darcy says. “It’s not endearing.”

“Good lord, you sound like him. Which is a little pathetic. I don’t remember you being this straight-laced.” She muses. “Actually, I thought you were a lesbian.”

“I’m bi, but I feel like that’s beside the point. Or like…way out in left field.” Darcy presses her finger into her free ear, trying to listen. “Seriously, everyone today seems to think I have some sort of Batsignal that I use to get one or the other of them to appear on command, it’s really irritating if I’m honest—”

“Don’t be coy, Darcy,” says Elektra, and all the playfulness has dropped away, vanished. The words are honed to cut steel. “You don’t need any sort of signal, and you do know who she is, and who he is, because you are her, and if I’m honest—” she doesn’t spit it, she drawls it, all Southern, and it makes the hair on Darcy’s arms stand up because Christ, that’s her accent reflected perfectly, that’s her voice coming right back at her “—darlin’, you’re really not that slick.”

Her heart’s pounding in her chest. Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ stuck on an anthill. With Nestle chocolate or something, who the fuck knows. Elektra’s guessed. What the hell is she supposed to do now? “Atlanta doesn’t suit you,” says Darcy finally, and Elektra cracks out a laugh.

“Was that Atlanta? I haven’t been further south than Virginia since I was sixteen; I’m quite out of practice telling them apart.”

“Yeah, because clearly your accent game is the biggest problem you’re dealing with right now.”

Elektra cracks again. “Oh, my dear, are you angry with me for figuring out your little subterfuge? It’s really not all that difficult. Especially once the facts are presented in the right way.”

Tip your head, Darcy thinks, tilt it in just the right way, and everything falls into place. “I seriously don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“We can play this game if you like, but it’ll get boring very quickly. For both of us, I’d imagine.”

Breathe, Darcy, think, come on. “Whatever you’re accusing me of—”

“Oh, it’s not an accusation, it’s a certainty.” She can almost see Elektra preening, see the curl of her fingers around the stem of a wine glass. “I wasn’t sure, before I arrived; it didn’t seem like something that the girl I remember from Columbia would do, pull on a catsuit, walk softly and carry a big stick, but now that certain facts have come to light it’s not surprising. It’s cute, though, that the pair of you thought you would be able to get away with it.”

Shit fuck shit hell damn. Matt’s not going to be happy. Matt’s going to be furious. “Certain facts?”

“Histories,” says Elektra. “Personalities. Shifting relationships.” It’s back again, the bruising under the words. What the hell happened between them? This doesn’t seem like just a bad breakup, and if it were...Christ, what the hell even happened? “Besides, even if you aren’t her—which, judging from what I’ve uncovered in the past sixteen hours, is impossible, but for the sake of debate—it’s incredibly difficult for me to believe that you wouldn’t at least know who she is, considering where you live.”

You mean who I live with, she thinks. “I still don’t have a clue why you would care.”

“Ach. Can we cut the bullshit? We’re both intelligent enough to know exactly what I’m talking about, Darcy. Acting like this is insulting to both of us.”

“I kind of think it’s fun,” Darcy says. “Actually. But seriously, why do you care about her? I thought you came to New York to deal with your father’s business, not play around with half-baked Avengers in leather body suits. Unless there’s something you forgot to mention when you, you know, broke in to the apartment in the middle of the night like some kind of bounty hunter.” She crosses her ankles under the bench. “Wait, do you think Han shot first, or Greedo? Because if it’s Greedo, I don’t think I can talk to you anymore.”

There’s a moment of silence. Then Elektra laughs again, low and rolling, all curling pleasure, a tiger draped in sunlight. “I forgot how entertaining you could be,” she says. “You can tell Matthew about this conversation, or not. I don’t particularly care. Á bientôt.”

She hangs up without another word. Darcy holds the phone to her ear for another ten seconds, easily, staring at the sky and wondering if the drums in the back of her head are going to slow down anytime soon. They don’t. When she finally knocks her head against the wall of the Laundromat, there’s a headache building in the base of her skull.

Well. That answers the question of whether or not there’s a thread to pull.

Kate texts her about twenty minutes later with a question. Darcy hasn’t moved. She stands there, staring at the brick, listening to the precinct, and tries to keep herself from panicking. Elektra knows. This isn’t like Ben knowing, or like Claire or Santino knowing, or any of the rest of it. She trusts Ben and Claire and Santino and Melvin and Betsy to keep their mouths shut about it, to not use the information against her. Hell, Melvin and Betsy don’t even know her name. She’s not sure she can give Elektra the same courtesy, especially considering what she’s done so far. (Catch Matt spying. Con my number out of Karen. Break into our apartment. Call me dear. Ask for help.) She plays games, Matt had said, and Jesus Christ, this isn’t a game she’s equipped to play. This is so far out of Darcy’s comfort zone that it’s ludicrous, and she really, really, really doesn’t want to be the one to trip the hidden lever and knock the ledge out from under her feet. Elektra knows. Jesus. Elektra knows, and if she wanted to splash it all over the world, Darcy wouldn’t be able to stop her.

Why didn’t he tell me?

She doesn’t call Matt. Or, well, she does, but she doesn’t call to talk to him. Face-to-face seems the better option for the hey, so your ex-girlfriend knows we’re vigilantes discussion, as much as she’s not looking forward to that. So instead, she goes back to the office. Karen’s missing from the front desk. “She went to meet with Ben,” Foggy says absently, not looking up from his papers, “and Matt hasn’t come back yet, so, you know, persevere. I think I can get this guy to roll over on Marino and the Saint Defiler if I push.”

“Really?”

“Mm. I have a meeting with him tomorrow. And Marino’s actually a paying client, so.”

“You’re a god,” she says. “Do you know when Karen’s coming back?”

“Didn’t say. But the meeting’s with Ben, so I’m assuming it might take a while. She’s doing that hunting dog thing again with her face and the eyes and the nest of newspaper she makes out of her desk. I feel like we should be more worried than we are.” Foggy looks up at her through his lashes. “What’s up?”

“Just—” Is there a point to worrying Foggy before she’s absolutely sure there’s a problem? She bites her lip. “I had some weird news. I need to think, I’ll—I’ll tell you in a bit, okay?”

Foggy watches her. “Is this one of those things you can’t talk about?”

“It’s one of those things I can’t process,” says Darcy simply. “That’s all.”

He hums. “Okie-doke. Can you make coffee before you like…curl into the thinking corner?”

“Am I your maid?”

“No, but you’re the only one I trust enough to ask.” He peeks at her again. “I’ll buy scones tomorrow if you do it.”

“Bribery,” Darcy says, but that’s that. She makes coffee (“Coffee goddess, yes, thank you—”) and then slinks back into her office to text Karen. There’s no response, but since Karen’s with Ben, she didn’t expect one. She messages Kate, too (coming in again today, y/n?) and then leaves a message on Matt’s cell (“Hey, um, something happened, I need to talk to you like now, please come home. Or to the office. Or something. Just like…find me as soon as possible.”) before trying to focus on the Willie Lincoln files. It doesn’t work. She reads the same paragraph six times before finally throwing the paperwork aside, and hitting up the gods of Google.

Natchios. There’s nothing on Elektra, not really. She’s in a few photos with her parents, who are very white (I didn’t know she was adopted) but she’s never named. There’s a lot more on her dad. Hugo Natchios, old, old money, professor of Macedonian antiquities with Columbia University and Oxford before that. Also the Sorbonne, which, holy shit. Holdings all over the world. Out of the spotlight, for the most part, though the mother did a lot of charity work in Africa. (There are photos on Hugo Natchios’s old website of her with children in Rwanda, which Darcy has no idea how to feel about.) They were killed in an accident in 2014, maybe two years after Elektra left Columbia, and again there’s a photograph of the funeral, Elektra all in black with a veil like an Asian Audrey Hepburn. And after that, nothing. Nothing in the society pages, nothing in any registry that Darcy can access online, no records anywhere that Elektra Natchios still exists. Except, you know, for the fact that she dropped in at midnight. Also that she knows who Lilith and Daredevil are. And what Matt can do.

Shit.

He’d been in love with her, she tells herself, firmly, and closes out of the Google search. That’s not weird, to tell someone what you can do if you feel that strongly. For God’s sake, he’d told Claire about it. She’s known that for months, and it had never stung. This—for some godforsaken, irrational reason, this stings. Because there it is, bubbling back up, if what he said is true, if he’s been in love with me since he was eighteen, then—Jesus. It’s not as though she hasn’t met people who are polyromantic, or—no, that’s not right. She can’t know what’s going on until she asks him, but Jesus Christ, does she want to? Right now? When everything is so shaky, when it’s barely been a day, when she can’t even begin to say how much it hurts that he hadn’t trusted her and that he’d broken a promise to her—Jesus, can she handle asking him that? Hey, so, like—are you polyromantic? And along that line, when you were dating Elektra, whatever happened, whatever it was, were you in love with her and with me all at once? Because if you were that’s okay, I just—I don’t know how to handle that information right now and it kind of stings even though I know it shouldn’t because people can do that, I know they can do that, I just wish you’d told me that that was the case and I wish that you’d told me that she knows about your senses, because damn it, because I know how hurt you were but that seems like something you would tell someone you’ve been dating for nearly a year—

She heaves a breath. Focus, Darcy, come on. She’s not going to do this to herself. She can’t do this to herself, not right now. Elektra is an ex—the ex, but also an ex—and there’s—there’s kind of a much bigger problem than everything to do with squishy feelsy bullsiht. Like how she can blow us wide open and we wouldn’t be able to do a damn thing to stop her.

Jesus Christ, she needs to think. Why would Elektra let her know that she knows? To freak me out. To get me scared. Which means fuck getting nervous and fuck getting scared. She takes a deep breath, holds it, and lets it out again. If Matt’s right about her and all she likes doing is messing with people’s heads, then she won’t give Elektra the satisfaction. If Matt is wrong (and she’s not entirely sure that he is, at this point, but she needs to weigh the possibility that he is; she doesn’t want to compare Elektra and Grotto, but they’ve already been stabbed in the back once this week, and she doesn’t want it happening again) then Elektra was legitimately asking for help. She was asking for help, and in doing it she’s nosing after Daredevil and Lilith, and that in and of itself has its own host of issues.

Everyone wants to meet up with Lilith these days. First Marisol, now Elektra, and before that there was Frank, though he didn’t particularly care who she was behind the mask, and then Brett, who wants to help but thankfully wants nothing to do with any of them in person, and seriously, can the world stop pulling all this bullshit for maybe thirty seconds so she can sleep—

It seems a rather large hole in the patchwork, as it were.

Fuck. Fucking hell. Her eyes burn. Darcy wipes the tears off her face with the back of her hand. She’s not going to let this get to her. She will not, because if Elektra’s playing a game that’s just what she wants. (And if she isn’t, then…what, Darcy?) Her throat hurts. Come on, think.

I trust you more than I’ve ever trusted anyone, Matt had said, and that—that she believes. And if he trusts her, more than anyone, enough to trust her with his own—how can she even put this. He trusts her with his own perception of himself. With—with his own truths and his own lies. He’s trusted her with everything in his head, things he can’t believe about himself, and she can’t discount that. She absolutely will not discount that, because Matt doesn’t say things like that, not without meaning them. She’s known him for eight years. She knows Matt, and yeah, Elektra knows this, somehow, and maybe Matt told her and maybe she figured it out, but—but it’s different. And it’s so petty to think this way, makes her feel small, filthy and crusty and vile, like something growing in the back of a fridge, but it’s true. She just—

Stop and think before you jump to conclusions, Darcy.

Something cold touches her leg, and she flinches. It’s Rey. She doesn’t shake, this time, when Darcy puts a hand down to pet her head. She doesn’t shake, even when Darcy scuffs her fingers over the protruding bones of her spine, and she’s so damn small that when she heaves herself up onto Darcy’s lap and curls into a ball like a cat would she’s…well, she’s still bony and unwieldy and smells like dog and blood but, you know, it’s not as hard as it could be. Darcy still kind of sits there and looks at her for a minute or two, though, because Christ. Abused animal and trust from an abused animal and Rey heaving a sigh like she’s let go of something heavy and she can’t, with this. She doesn’t even like dogs. Why is she crying.

Karen stands at the door, fingers curled into the frame. “Darcy?”

“I’m fine,” Darcy says thickly, and touches both hands to Rey’s back. She shivers a little, but it stops almost immediately. “Hey, baby dog. How was Chat?”

Rey’s tail flickers a little, and she rests her chin on Darcy’s forearm, crushing it against the arm of her rolling chair.

“Chat talked to Darla,” says Karen. “Which, may I say, it was the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen in my life to have Darla actually like someone. And it won’t be a problem, Rey and Darla and Jen.”

“Jen?”

“Jen was there, she fawned.”

Which may explain why Rey’s stomach is bulging, now. “Jen was home in the middle of the work day?”

Karen shrugs. “I didn’t ask.”

You should have, Darcy thinks. Jen’s never home in the middle of the work day. If Jen’s home in the middle of the work day, then something’s wrong, and Jen’s not going to tell anyone that anything’s wrong unless they ask her straight out. She looks at the screen of her phone for a long time. Will she even respond, if I text her? They haven’t talked since the argument in front of the courthouse, and she knows—well. Jen would respond, she’s sure. But she might not actually say anything. Darcy taps at the screen, and then swypes, you feeling okay? “Huh.”

“In other news, Chat gave me the name of a vet who won’t charge too much to take care of the dog, so that at least I can deal with.”

That’s good, at least. Possibly the only good thing to happen this week. “Nothing else? Foggy said you went to talk with Ben, what’d he have to say?”

“A lot.” Karen clears her throat. “That mole, in the DA’s office, the one who told us what was going to happen with Grotto, they contacted him again this morning.”

Darcy lifts her head, still scratching very carefully under Rey’s collar, trying not to cut with her stubby nails. Yes, please, give me something to focus on other than this, please please please give me something to do other than stew in my own ridiculousness— “What’d they have to say? Something about Castle?”

“About Reyes,” she says, and frowns. “Well, about Castle, too, and all the shit the DA’s office has managed to get up to in the past ten years, but mostly about Reyes.”

“That sounds ominous.” Darcy touches her fingers to Rey’s back. “Is it her college sex tape?”

“No,” Karen says, and circles around to stand next to Darcy, placing three pieces of printing paper on her desk, over her files and over her keyboard. They’re mostly blocks of text, and not just text but redacted text, huge pieces of the summaries and the analysis wiped clean with ink. They’ve been restricted, she thinks, or blacked out for the protection of investigators or CIs, witness protection or Reyes covering her ass, there’s no way to know. “Not—not exactly, no. Whoever warned Ben about the sting with Grote, they contacted him again. They sent him these.”

Darcy fingers one of the pages. “These aren’t from the Castle file.”

“No, they’re from an investigation into drug trafficking in the city last April. Which didn’t make any sense to either of us, because this doesn’t have anything to do with Castle, not really. He was in Iraq until the beginning of April, he wouldn’t have anything to do with the drug busts that the DA’s office had been trying to pull off.”

She remembers that, sort of. There have been a lot of ups and downs in the drug dealing part of the underworld since then. “Kitchen Irish were trying to make a comeback, I think? A lot of them were still hiding after what happened to Fisk, we kept smacking them down, but I remember there was one family working with a supplier in Chinatown to try and get a better grade of heroin on the streets.”

“Reyes was targeting these three groups, though,” Karen says. “The Dogs of War, they funneled stuff in on their bikes, high grade drugs, things they wouldn’t have had access to without backing. And then Los Milagros, they were bringing in a whole variety of shit from across the border, heroin and guns. They dabbled in human trafficking too, but that wasn’t what this task force was focused in.” She taps the third page. “And here we have the Brannigans and the O’Shaughnessys. Playing nice, for once.”

“So a task force that focused on the same three gangs Castle was focused on.”

“Yeah.”

Meat, Darcy thinks. Meat where her face was supposed to be. Fucking bastard. “Christ, you think—”

“It would match up.” Karen drops the paper back to the desktop again. “It’s what Ben thinks, he went to the Bulletin to check everything in their old archives, he organized it, he knows where things are, but Darcy—his family’s dead, his house is basically untouched, he was shot in the head and kept in the hospital on a Do Not Resuscitate for months, woke up and left the hospital in July, and as soon as he was out these three groups started getting slaughtered. I don’t really see any other way for these pieces to fit together.”

“And the DA had a task force looking into these bastards back in April.” Had there been some kind of mix-up? Christ, Brannigan’s still out there somewhere. “And this was all the mole could send you?”

“They said they weren’t going to contact him again, but they did, and this is all they could forward.” Karen folds her arms across her stomach, starts to pace. “Darcy, the house, it was—it was creepy, there were dishes in the rack and on the table and toys all over the floor and mail just…piled up behind the front door, nobody’s been there in months, but security still came running. I really don’t like this.”

Back in April—the investigation into all the shit that Fisk managed to pull with the bureaucratic network of the New York City justice system is still ongoing, but so far as she recalls the first in-depth investigation into the DA’s office had been mostly completed by then. “You think the DA pushed too hard and the Castles were caught in the crossfire somehow.”

“I can’t prove it, not with this.” The papers are more redaction than words. When Karen waves a hand at them, one flutters back at them in a little fuck you. “There’s not enough evidence. Whoever’s funneling this to us is right; Reyes is wiping the map clean. Whatever happened, she doesn’t want it to interfere with her little scheme for the mayor’s office. She’s put everything into her Castle is a psychopath basket and she’s taking it to the bank and if we don’t stop her, then—”

“Melisandre as the Mayor of New York,” says Darcy, and Karen snorts in spite of herself. “It isn’t particularly appetizing as an image, no.”

“All beware the Red Priestess,” Foggy says from the doorway. “What’s with the council of war? Also, whoa, dog in lap, Darce, I thought you hated dogs.”

“I don’t hate them, they just generally do not appeal.” Still, she doesn’t stop petting at Rey’s head. “Ben has news.”

“Is it more news about how we need to take the calm, chill cases from now on so we don’t get shot at? Again? All of us? Possibly all of us at once? Because that hasn’t happened yet and I’m walking around waiting for that little Indiana Jones boulder to come up and squash me like a pancake.”

“You have the greatest ideas, Foggy,” Darcy says, and Foggy flips her off. “Karen, you wanna—”

They’ve already started arguing over her head. Darcy curls around the dog and breathes, for a while, lets the noise wash around her and into her head and fade everything else out. It’s easier to listen than to think. She has far too much to think and worry about.

She sits, and she listens, and she watches her phone. There’s no answer from Matt or Jen.

.

.

.

She’s been home for half an hour by the time the keys finally turn in the lock. Darcy jabs at the space bar a few times, trying to scroll back through the many pages of bullshit about Cheyenne reservations that she’s found haunting the internet. (She’d been reading old articles about dead people that Willie Lincoln was linked to, both primarily and tertiarily, but she’d been distracted by the discovery that some people in the Maggia a decade ago had called Willie Lincoln things like “Willie Crazy Horse,” and she’d wanted to know if that was actually a legit naming scheme or if someone had decided to watch a bunch of racist John Wayne movies, and that had derailed into research about the Northern Cheyenne Reservation versus the Southern, and the differences between the two, and crime rates, and the history of the tribes, and she’d…possibly been distracting herself a little, she’ll admit it now. And hours later, she’s still not entirely sure anything she’s found online is accurate, because there had been way too many websites with flashing WordArt applications, which by their nature are untrustworthy things.) By the time she’s closed back out, Matt’s through the door and shut it behind him, leaving his keys in the bowl. “Hey.”

“Hey.” She sets her computer aside. “How did it go?”

“Roxxon?” Matt takes off his glasses, rubs at his eyes. “I mean, something’s going on. There was a little computer chip or something inside a pen and people were panicking and there was a lot of Japanese, I couldn’t make out most of it. And a British accountant, for some reason. I don’t know if it’ll turn out to actually be anything, it was mostly just…business issues, I think. Hard to tell.”

Kate would have been good, then, if there had been a lot of Japanese getting thrown around. Damn. “Um, I called, I don’t know if you heard.”

“I had my phone off.” He leaves his watch in the bowl, too. “I went walking and did research for the Jacinto thing at the courthouse, Angie says hi—what’s wrong?”

That explains some things, at least. “Um.” She folds her hands around the hem of the Topeka shirt. “Do you want the bad news, the uncomfortable but more positive news, or the slightly less uncomfortable but also more unsettling news first?”

Matt’s eyebrows snap together. He undoes the buttons on his shirt cuffs. “There aren’t better options?”

God, she wishes. “Not really.”

“Uncomfortable but positive.”

“Ah.” She’d been hoping for unsettling. “Ben’s contact in the DA’s office sent him more information and it sounds like he and Karen are on to something with the Castle thing. It’s not a lot, but they’re looking into it. Kate’s helping, or she was.”

“Did she come back this afternoon?”

“No, she had class and landlady stuff to do, but I’ve been texting her.”

And out comes the tie. Matt drapes it over the back of one of the dining table chairs, and rubs at his eyes again. Christ, neither of them have slept enough. “That’s positive?”

“I’m taking it over any of them going it alone and nearly getting themselves killed. That’s happened enough in the past week.” She presses a pillow hard into her stomach, and curls around it, resting her chin on her knees to watch him putter around. “You look like you went one-on-one with Hulk Hogan.”

“So I look fine, then,” he says, his mouth curling. Darcy snorts.

“Don’t be cocky.”

“What’s the unsettling news?”

“Marisol Guerra wants to meet Lilith and Daredevil.”

He fumbles an apple out of the bowl, and nearly drops it. “Seriously?”

“Mm.”

“And she’s asking us because—”

“Fisk,” says Darcy, and Matt says, “Ah.” She’s pretty sure it’s just because of the Fisk thing, anyway. It’s possible that Marisol had been lying—again, lying again—but she’s not certain. It’s not like she can hear someone’s heartbeat. “I’m looking into it. As me, not as Lilith. I don’t think it’ll pan out to anything, really, but I can at least look.”

“What’s she asking for?”

She goes over it as quick as she can. The Brett thing makes his mouth twist, but he doesn’t argue with it, at least. It’s not like she could have said no without making Brett even more suspicious, anyway. “It probably won’t wind up anywhere, but I’m looking into it anyway. And if Marisol keeps nagging me about the Lilith thing, I don’t know. I don’t want to like…fire her as a client or whatever, there are more cases coming in against the Manhattan School of Music because of her, but I don’t want to get harassed about Lilith every time I meet up with her to let her know how things are going. Worst comes to worst I could always visit her as Lilith and tell her to back off, but that’ll just confirm the link to the firm, which I don’t really want to do. So yeah, unsettling.”

He hums. She’s pretty sure the whole of the Marisol and Willie Lincoln talk just went in one ear and out the other, but she doesn’t exactly care at the moment. “You’re doing that thing.”

“That thing?”

“You babble when you don’t want to say something.”

This isn’t something you’re going to like hearing. “Yeah, um, the bad news. The thing is, I had a call—I mean, it was kind of random, I don’t know—”

“Darcy.”

“And I already talked to Karen and she says it was a mistake, that she said that she was a client and dropped enough details that she thought it would be kosher—”

Darcy—”

“The point to all that is like—don’t get grumpy with Karen because she’s already kicking herself enough and don’t get huffy because I can take care of myself, I really can—”

“Will you just—”

“Elektra called me,” she says.

He goes very still, wavering, a reflection in warped glass.  “When?”

“Today. This afternoon. To ask about the case, and, um. Other stuff. But yeah, she, um. She called.”

Matt presses his lips thin. “I’ll deal with it.”

“Matt—”

“I told her to leave you alone and she didn’t, and that’s not something I’m—” He fumbles the apple again, and it lands hard on the tabletop. Bruised to hell now, she thinks. “Damn it.”

She can’t tell if she’s pleased, or pissed. There’s a prickling under her skin like ants. “Wait, you told her to leave me alone?”

“I said that her problem’s with me and if she tried to pull you into this then she wouldn’t like the consequences, yeah.”

Oh. “When you were talking about the case?”

“She’s here to tug at all our strings.” He snags his jacket again. “The case is only the excuse.”

Darcy unfolds from the couch. “I don’t care about the case, that’s not the problem—”

“Whatever game she’s playing—”

“Matt, she knows who we are.”

Matt stops, halfway down the hall. She’s not sure if it’s because of the shock, or because of how she sounds, or because of the way her heart’s beating or because of some other, completely inscrutable reason, and she just—she can’t, anymore. She doesn’t know how to feel anything anymore. Darcy twists the hem of her shirt tight between her fingers, crumpling it up.

“How?” he says.

“She said, um. She saw you listening in to the Roxxon thing. And she said something like, look at it the right way and it’s obvious. So she knows that you’re—you. And that I’m me.” Her voice breaks. “And—and what you can do, apparently, which—kind of took me by surprise, because I like to think you would have told me that if she hadn’t—I mean.”

“I forgot,” he says. “I—I didn’t—I forgot.”

“Kind of a big thing to forget.”

“In comparison to—” He stops. “It slipped my mind.”

And it’s been a long week, so she can’t begrudge him that, but still. “I think I played it off okay, I dunno. It’s hard to tell over the phone, and I never knew her all that well anyway, so.”

Matt’s hand curls against his side. He turns. “Darcy.”

“It’s okay,” Darcy says. Christ, please don’t let sound like a lie. “I mean, I didn’t—it’s kind of not really great, that she can—well, that she can report us to the police and get us arrested and disbarred and, you know, imprisoned, probably in gen pop with people we’ve beaten up over the past year, but I’m just really hoping it won’t come to that, though I don’t know how exactly we can stop her from saying things to people—”

“That’s not—”

“And I mean, the rest of it took me by surprise, but you guys were, you know, what you were, and I just—I don’t know, it’s not something that I have the right to—” God, why can’t she speak? Why can she never talk when it really matters? Why the hell is her throat squeezing the words away? “I just, um, didn’t expect it, that’s all, and it was—”

“Darcy—”

“You were in love with her, I get it—”

“You don’t.” He shakes his head. “Darcy—”

“You don’t have to explain any of it, Matt, just—” Her voice cracks, and fuck her life. “It’s—I don’t need to know—”

She doesn’t realize he’s crossed the room until he’s caught her by the wrist. Darcy yips, strangled all of a sudden, and fists her hands up against his chest, trying to push back, because she can’t be held right now, she really can’t, she’s going to either scream or burst into tears. Not after last night, not after this afternoon, not after Frank. Seriously, any other week. “Darcy, look—look at me, please—”

“Matt, seriously—”

“Darcy,” he says again, and his voice is shaking, he’s touching her, drawing his fingers down her cheeks, her throat, over her shoulders, his lips are parted and his eyes have flared wide open behind his glasses and she can’t do this right now, she can’t, she really can’t— “Darcy, just—listen to me for a second—”

“You don’t have to explain anything, Matt, I don’t—I don’t really want to hear it, to be honest, just—”

Look at me,” Matt says, and she looks at him because she can’t help it. Her skin hurts. He brushes his thumb across her cheek, and she only realizes she’s crying when it smears. He waits, and it’s only once she’s swallowed, once and again, that he says, “I didn’t tell her.”

She stops. All at once, she stops, and stares at him, trying to pick everything out of his face. Fear, she thinks, and sadness, and frustration, and something else, something edging around softness, something tender in the set of his mouth that makes her whole body ache. “You didn’t—”

“I didn’t tell her.”

God. She shouldn’t be relieved, but she is. “But if—”

“Listen.” He presses his other hand to her cheek, careful of the cut, and just stands there, breathing, his glasses reflecting red across the bones in his face. Watching him is like staring into the sun. She shuts her eyes. “I didn’t tell her, the—you’re the only—will you just look at me for a second, please—”

Darcy shakes her head. “Elektra—”

“—guessed.” He’s so close that she can’t see much else, even through the blur that her vision’s become, even through the tears. “Elektra guessed.”

“How?”

He shrugs. “She watches people.”

Pick them apart, figure out their quirks, and she does not want to compare herself and Elektra Natchios anymore. Not in her head, not anywhere.

“She guessed,” he says again. “And—and with everyone else, everyone else who knows, I had to tell them. Claire knew I was blind as soon as she pulled me out of the dumpster, Foggy—Foggy was an accident, and you know what happened with Karen. But I told you.”

She sniffs, and chokes a little. She thinks it might be some kind of bastardized laugh. “Yeah, because I’d figured you out, too.”

“No, I—Darcy, when I went to see you, I’d already decided I was going to tell you. All of it, everything. After I found those two bastards working with Goodman, Lynch and Jenson, remember? I’d—I’d decided to tell you. I told you what I could do because I wanted to, not because I had to. You’re the only one I’ve ever told because I wanted to, Darcy. I—it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but I wanted to do it. Because it was you.”

She hiccups. She can’t help it. This is so stupid, to be so fixed on this, petty and childish and ridiculous, but she hiccups and turns her face into his palm to hide it, and Matt pulls her into him. The edginess, the shakiness, that matters less right now than listening to his heart, the steadiness of it, no matter how fast it’s beating. When he sets his lips to her forehead, it stings. “I told you because it was you,” he says, and she wraps her arms around him and hides her face. “I told you because it was you, Darcy. You—you’re not second. You never have been.”

Darcy makes a sound like shearing metal. His heart’s racing under his ribs, and he’s bent, there’s only half a foot between them but sometimes he feels so much larger than she is, especially when he does this, when he wraps around her and holds on with all the force he keeps trapped inside, mixing them up until there’s no space left between the pair of them, until sometimes it feels like she’s going to weave into his bones and create some freakish, Platonistic creature with two heads and four arms and four legs, a dual being, two hearts at once. He pets at her hair and at her spine, rests his mouth to her scalp and breathes, saying it, over and over, “You’re not second, you’ve never been second, please don’t cry,” and every time she chokes and nearly bursts with it, all the feelings building up in her throat. She chokes and presses closer until she has to be breaking his ribs, but he doesn’t let go. If anything, he holds on tighter.

“I’m not crying,” she says, but she’s twisted and awful-sounding, and her cheeks are wet, which, fuck her life. “It’s a stupid thing to cry about, it’s—”

“It’s not.” He puts his mouth to her hair. “It’s not stupid.”

She hiccups again, and tries to breathe through her nose. It doesn’t work out very well. It’s been such a long week, and she’s had too many people in her head lately, first Frank and now Elektra, and things shouldn’t be this hard, not all at once. She wants whoever or whatever decided that all of this needed to happen at the same time to go and sit on a poker. Preferably flaming and rusty, but she’s not picky. Matt’s making soft sounds into her hair, the way you do when you’re trying to stop someone from crying, or soothe them through it, and it breaks the dam. Darcy digs her nails into him, and suddenly she can’t really breathe, she’s crying, awful rasping sobs that barely break out of her before they shatter into pieces, cutting them both to bits. She can’t stop, even when Matt scoops her up off the floor and backs up onto the couch, settling her sideways across his lap. Darcy presses her face into his neck and cries, and Matt holds on, whispering so low that she can’t actually make out any of it, lips moving against her hair. She cries because of everything that happened with Frank, and Frank’s family, and the photograph; she cries because of the fights, because of everything she’d thought she nearly lost, because she’s never going to get it out of her head, watching Matt fall; she cries because of all the stupidity and all the frustration and all the helpless hours spent in the hospital, fear of being exposed and hurt from the words corkscrewing under her skin and for all the hate inside her that she can’t get rid of, for everything she hasn’t cried about since Fisk, and Matt presses his mouth to her hairline, murmuring against her skin. She’s not sure how long it lasts, only that when she finally can’t catch her breath, when things start dying down, she’s left an awful smear against his shirt, and she feels—not empty, exactly. Wrung out like a towel. Pinned to a clothesline like a dishrag. Twisted and twisted until all the tears have been pressed out.

“I feel idiotic,” she says, scraping. Matt shakes his head.

“You don’t have to.”

“I shouldn’t have let it get to me, it was—”

“I told you she plays games.” Matt knocks his chin to her temple, so careful that she barely feels it until he speaks. “This is what she does, she—she likes seeing what she can do with people. And—and to people. She’s good at it. I should have—I don’t know. I should told you.”

“You did.”

“Not well enough.”

Darcy squeezes her arms around his ribs. I nearly lost you, she thinks, half a dozen times in the past few days alone, and they’re shaky but they’re holding, and she’s not about to let go.

“She knows who we are,” she says.

“Elektra won’t tell.”

“You can’t know that for sure.”

“That’s not her game.” His lips twist. “Besides, she knows I can bury her if I want to.”

Like that’s not ominous. “It’s not a big deal.” Darcy curls her fingers into the collar of his shirt, scraping her nails over his clavicle. “It just—I’m tired. Everything with Frank, just—none of it would have bothered me so much if I weren’t so tired.”

“Her problem’s with me,” Matt says. He puts his mouth back to her hairline. “Her problem’s with me, not with you. Whatever she’s here for, she’s—I don’t know. She wants to get me to do something, or acknowledge something, or something, and I thought she would leave you out of it, but she lashed out anyway and that’s—” There’s a cast to his voice like nighttime, like the Devil, and she clenches her fingers into the fabric of his shirt and presses closer. “She won’t do it again.”

“You can’t control her, Matt, that’s not how people work.”

“She’ll back off if I tell her to.”

“I’m a grown-up, if anyone needs to tell her off—”

“She said what she did because she knew it would piss me off,” Matt says. “Even if you go after her, it won’t make her stop. She’ll only stop if I talk to her.”

Darcy leans back, and searches his face. He’s already decided, she can tell—he has the set-jaw, clenched-eyebrows thing going—but she still tips, and rests her head to his shoulder. “You don’t have to do this because of me, Matt.”

“It’s not just because of you.”

Darcy curls into him again. She hides in his throat, in the soft places, and Matt hooks his arms around her and winds close, the way that they haven’t in days. Eggshells and thorns, warmth and sharpness and Matt, and this is something she can’t lose, not really. She doesn’t want to lose this. The longer she sits, the looser she feels, until she’s floating inside her skin, relaxed and relieved and God, I missed you.

“What happened?” she says. “With you and Elektra.”

His throat works. His lungs stop. She thinks his heart might have, too, until she rests her palm to his chest and feels it beating, far, far too fast. He shudders a little, static and icicles down his spine. When he clears his throat, it snaps in his chest.

“Sorry.” Darcy shuts her eyes. “I told you I wouldn’t ask, or, you know, I implied it, you don’t have to tell me if you don’t want—”

“She—um.” He swallows again. “I’m not—let me talk to her. Today. And then—I’ll tell you after I get back, tonight.”

“Seriously, Matt, you don’t have to—”

“After this week,” he says, “yes, I do.”

And that could mean any number of things, including but not limited to after both of us nearly died and after both of us nearly killed someone and after Frank and after all of it, and it’s making something inside her itch, scabs cracking and pulling at her skin. “You don’t have to tell me if you’re doing it to prove something. It was—clearly whatever it was hurt both of you, a lot, and I don’t—”

“I need to.” He traces circles at the soft spot behind her ear, tickling with his thumb. “Just—let me talk to her, first. I need to make sure that she knows she needs to leave, and not come back.”

And that, she thinks, is that. “You’re such a stubborn bastard,” she says into his neck, and Matt scoffs. “Why did I have to pick such a stubborn Irish bastard?”

“What does me being Irish have to do anything?”

“You’re stubborn.” He scoffs again, but she can feel him relaxing, just a little. “You’re stubborn and you have a shit temper and I feel like both of those things are stereotypically Irish.”

“What does that say about you?”

“Haven’t you ever heard of the fiery Latina? As gross and harmful as that stereotype is. Also, you know, half-Russian, born Southern, it’s like the worst combo for take no shit and do all harm.

Matt hums, and nudges her temple with his nose. “It’s been a shit week.”

“God, don’t talk to me about this week. This week was actually awful and needs to be taken out back and shot with extreme prejudice.”

“Thank you,” Matt says, and when she leans back to look at him, he scuffs his knuckles down her cheek. “Just—thank you.”

“What for?”

“All of it.” He touches his thumb to her nose. “For being you.”

Oh. “That wasn’t really all that hard. One thing I actually am good at is being me.”

“Still.” Matt draws his forefinger over the line of her clavicle, along the dip and up to her pulse in a warped circle. It’s thoughtless, she thinks. He’d hesitate, if it weren’t. “Thank you. For being here, and being the way you are, and—I don’t know. Thank you.”

Darcy covers his hand with hers, pressing it close to her cheek, and looks at him. “I’m here because I want to be, and because you’re my best friend, and because I love you, even though you’re a stubborn Irish bastard who needs to get whacked with a baseball bat. And I don’t say it enough, but it’s true. And we’ll get through this, Matt.”

Matt’s smile is shaky, and tiny, half a ghost, but he leaves his thumb on her cheek and puts his mouth to her forehead, quiet and careful and steady. He has to go and talk to Elektra, she thinks. Or fight with her. Either way, she can hold on for just a little while longer.

We have to get through this. Please, please let us get through this.

.

.

.

It’s a while, before he leaves. She’s not too fussed about it. She sits and she breathes him, and it’s easier, that way. She’s so used to touching him at this point that not doing it, holding herself back, scrapes away at her insides the way someone guts a pumpkin. So it’s only after that the sun’s set and she’s dozed and woken up and dozed again (she thinks he might have, too, because she catches him half-sighing the way he does when he’s only barely conscious) that she finally mutters something about showering, and working for a while. They’re all on the same page now, the entire group—even Foggy, who hadn’t seemed particularly happy about any of the directions their lives are spiraling at the moment, and especially not about the Brett thing—and now that there’s half a plan for Elektra and that whole situation she can start actually actively researching and investigating without getting distracted. …she’s still showering first, because she feels disgusting, but yeah, that’s the plan for the evening.

Her plans always get scuppered, though. Darcy’s halfway in the shower when her phone rings. “Bitch, this is Kate, don’t ignore me again.” (Yes, okay, she really enjoys handing people her phone and having them record personal messages as their ringtone, but at the same time, Kate, seriously, not the best choice for someone who works in the legal system.) She’s tempted to ignore it anyway, because she feels like a panda and she really, really wants to stand under hot water right now, even with the weather being shit as it is, but when the tone goes off again, she whacks the speakerphone button. “What.”

“Touchy.”

“I’m literally naked in the bathroom right now, Katie, what is it?”

She snorts. “And you tell me TMI. I’m calling because I have a request for your magnificent presence, Lewis. Or less a request than an order, because I don’t argue with Elena Cardenas anymore. She wants all of you guys over for dinner if you can manage it, because, and I quote, I say so.

Ah, shit. “Katie, I can’t, I look like shit and I’ve had a horrible day—”

“You haven’t shown up in three months and she’s starting to take it personally. If I were you, Lewis, I’d get your ass down here. And I’d do it even if I weren’t you, because she’s been making food all afternoon and it actually smells amazing.”

Well, that answers the question of where Kate’s been since this morning. “How’s life as a landlord?”

“I still maintain that Clint and I came up with the idea completely independently.” Kate makes a motorboat noise. “There’s been some complaints about noise from new tenants, and I’ve been here all afternoon trying to sort things out, they don’t speak a lot of English and my Japanese isn’t good enough to like...really communicate the problem. I should probably get Yoko down here, honestly, but she’s in Osaka for another two weeks with my other aunt and my cousins, so that’s out. But Elena’s been really good. Like eight more families actually managed to get their rent in on time last month because of her. Even if she keeps trying to set me up with the guy on the fourth floor.”

This is a very normal conversation. She could have sworn that she wasn’t allowed to have those anymore. “What guy? I didn’t know there was a guy.”

“He’s like nineteen, Darcy.”

“So are you.”

“I’m twenty.”

“Yeah, yeah, kid. I’m only asking because you brought him up, and I feel like I should be warned if Elena’s on the warpath. Also, if I’m coming over there, I should at least know his name.”

“Miles,” says Kate, sourly. “His name is Miles, he’s going to university somewhere in the city, he works at a convenience store, he’s a Taurus according to Elena, and he’s here right now talking to her about something or other to do with the food, which is why I’m hiding in the bathroom and pulling spy shit with you instead of gorging myself on tortillas.”

“Aww, poor Katie.” She sits down on her towel. “She’s really pulling the whole matchmaking arsenal out, isn’t she?”

“She’s bored because Raoul left and because none of you guys show up anymore and even though she has a whole life as the building super and basically runs this place like a freaking Navy vessel, she still carves time out of her day to try and pair me off with the only semi-eligible guy in the building.”

“Semi-eligible?”

“I’m like fifty percent certain he’s gay.” The whole bathroom has reached the level of steam that should only be found in tropical jungles. Darcy traces out a dead smiley face against the glass of the shower door, listening. “He and Elena get on really well, she’s like…adopted him Claire-style. Which is partially why I’m calling to beg you to come, because please save me. I’m worried she’s going to pull a Nelson and Page maneuver and like…leave the room without warning and make me eat dinner alone with the guy. Not that he’s bad-looking or awful or whatever, I just don’t want the awkwardness of like…I don’t know, being that person.”

“That person?”

“That person. The one that stares awkwardly out the window instead of saying anything and makes small talk about the weather because there’s literally nothing else to say. Who may possibly break someone’s wrist if they try to touch them, because like…please do not.”

She says it jokingly, but there’s a little thread underneath the words that’s worrying. Darcy looks at the shower head, at the water and the steam on the mirror, and then rubs at her eyes. “Give me like forty minutes, I really do need to shower.”

“Cool. Elena will add more serrano and it’ll be great, she never does it when it’s me. I think she thinks my poor ass can’t handle her spiciest foods, which is a blatant lie, but she always adds more when she knows you’re coming over. I think she’s trying to, like, inspire your Guatemalan roots or something.”

“Glad to know I’ve managed to do one thing right today,” Darcy says. “I’m hanging up now, Kate.”

“Sure you don’t want to leave me on speaker and talk to me while you’re shampooing?”

She hangs up rather than respond to that, because really, Kate can handle awkward social situations on her own for forty minutes. She swans into multi-million dollar fundraisers and manages an Avenger in her spare time, this is right up her alley.

Or not, apparently, because by the time Darcy finally shows up (with the last of the tequila that Claire had dropped on her head for her birthday in March) Kate has an expression on her face like she’s being set up against the wall for a mugshot, and the kid, Miles, looks like he wants to curl into a ball and have someone step on him. He’s tall and gangly and indeterminate, race-wise, though the Morales part of his name says he’s at least a little Spanish or some variation on Latin American. Or South American. Possibly even Indonesian, now that she thinks about it. She doesn’t ask. “Darcy,” she says, shaking his hand. “Where’s Elena?”

“Kitchen,” Miles says, clinging to her fingers with the kind of relief she usually only gets from McDonald’s workers in dark parking lots after she’s knocked some mugger out with her taser. “You’re the lawyer?”

“One of them.” The bag with the tequila in it is kind of cutting into her arm, ow. She can’t really blame him for looking a little disbelieving; she’s not dressed much like a lawyer right now. She found her knee-high boots in the back of the closet a few weeks ago, and she’s been wearing them every chance she gets, lately, but there are only so many things that go with stabby sex boots. Basically, she looks like either an assassin or a femme fatale right now, and it’s kind of great. Even if it’s still a bit too warm for a turtleneck. (Fucking bruises.) “You’re new.”

“I live upstairs, I moved in last month.” He scuffs a hand over the back of his head, and stops suddenly, like the buzz cut is a surprise. “This building is a lot more, um. Hands’ on than the last one I lived in.”

“Nosy,” Darcy says. “You mean everyone who lives in this building is a lot nosier. It’s okay, you can say it. I don’t live here for a reason.”

“You don’t live here because if you did you’d have to deal with me bossing you around and you’d hate that.” Kate doesn’t look up from her phone. “Also because you live with your boyfriend or whatever, but that’s the main reason and we both know it.”

Darcy makes a face at her, and says to Miles, “Kate is the most mature landlady I know.”

“That’s what I’ve gathered,” Miles says, very mildly, and stares at his plate when Kate’s head snaps up. “Like I said, it’s very hands’ on.”

“Welcome to the crazy train.” There’s a clattering from the kitchen. Darcy dumps her coat on the back of the chair, and sets the bottle of tequila up on the table. “Don’t touch, minors.”

Kate glares. “Bitch, don’t even.”

“Ay, mi hija, you are here.” Elena throws her dish towel onto the dining table, and catches Darcy’s other hand, drawing her away from Miles and pulling her down to kiss her cheek. She smells like flour and dried roses, and her flyaway hair is rising in little clouds from her head, thanks to the humidity and the steam and the fact that the air conditioning is barely blowing in here, the hell. “Tres meses, carajo, dondé diablos has estado?”    

Limpiando tras los chicos,” Darcy says, and kisses Elena’s cheek. “Lo siento, Elena.”

“English.” Elena flaps her free hand in a distinctly Foggy-ish fashion. “I am practicing.”

Right. “Sorry, forgot. Why is your air conditioning off?”

“Because she’s crazy.” Kate drops down hard into one of the cushy chairs, sitting sideways and flinging her legs over the arm. “She says it isn’t hot.”

“Is no hot,” Elena says placidly, in her buttoned cardigan and her stockings.

“I’m dyin’, Lewis.” Kate shuts her eyes. “I’m a delicate fucking flower, I’m not built for this heat. Give me seventy degrees and ice cubes, not this bullshit.”

“Language,” says Elena. Miles coughs, and hides a smile behind his hand. “No Señor Murdock, tonight?”

“You can call him Matt, y’know. You call me Darcy. And you call Foggy, Foggy. I don’t think he’d mind.”

Elena shakes her head. “Señor Murdock, no. He shy,” she says, in an aside to Miles. “Fuera del tribunal. Very shy, her Mr. Murdock.”

Shy, Kate mouths, and hides behind her phone to keep from giggling. And yeah, sure, shy is one way to put the whole I hide all my feelings behind my glasses and don’t share things with people ever for fear of judgment thing that Matt has going on. It’s not exactly the word she would have chosen, but some parts of it kind of apply. Maybe. A little. Sort of. Darcy bites her tongue. “Yes,” she says, solemnly. “He’s very shy, my Mr. Murdock.”

There’s a noise coming from Kate’s corner that could be snickering, if not for the fact it sounds more like a mouse that’s trapped itself in an electrical outlet.

“He had something to take care of tonight, so it’s just me. And Señor Tequila. I feel like that’s an acceptable replacement for Matt. Is Foggy coming?”

Sí.” Elena looks pleased. “With a friend, he say.”

“Marci.” Kate’s pink with muffled laughter. “He said he’s bringing Marci. Or he will be, eventually. When they show up.”

“It’s a party.”  

“I take this,” Elena says, and weasels the bag with the tequila out of Darcy’s grip. “You sit.”

“I can help with the food, Elena, honestly—”

Sit.”

You don’t disobey Elena Cardenas. Darcy sits down at the dining table, and crosses her ankles under her chair. Miles kind of hovers for a minute or two, and then settles next to her, his lips still twitching. Shy. Christ. She’s not telling Matt about that. Kate will, probably—Kate loves irritating Matt, it’s kind of great—but she’s not going to say a goddamn word. She will hold that memory like a precious jewel, and not let Matt getting huffy tarnish a single moment of it.

“You’re not what I expected when Elena said that she was inviting her lawyer.” Miles rubs a hand over the back of his head again. “I, um. Sorry, that didn’t come out the way I intended it to.”

“That is by far not the weirdest thing someone has said to me this week so far. You’re good.” She leans back in her chair. “I’m not in my robot suit, I don’t have to act like an attorney right now. Kate, feet on the floor, not on the wall.”

“Yes, mom,” says Kate, in a sing-song voice, but she puts her feet back on the floor again. Sometimes Darcy has to remind herself that she shouldn’t use the momfriend powers for evil, but she cannot deny, sometimes her people make it incredibly tempting. “You think Elena will let us touch the tequila before Foggy and Marci get here or should I sneak it out of the bottom cupboard where she hides things?”

“I hear that,” Elena says from the kitchen, and Miles coughs, covering his mouth with one hand. He plays it off by rubbing at his jaw, but it was definitely a muffled snort, and yeah, Miles Morales is going on her good list, if he hadn’t been there already. He has this weird air about him that’s simultaneously nervous and incredibly soothing, like he’s super chill but he’s too anxious to remember it most of the time. Darcy catches Kate’s eye, and then folds her arms on the tabletop.

“So what’s your story, morning glory?” She cocks her head at Miles. “If Elena’s adopted you, you have one. She likes taking care of people that she thinks need supervising.”

Miles coughs. “I’m not anyone, really. I live upstairs. I helped her with her groceries one time and now she’s like…I’m thinking the term is honorary abuela? But she’s also the building super, so like. It’s weird.”

“Honorary abuela is a title she wears with great pride. Kind of what she did to me. And Katie,” she adds, and Kate flips her off without looking up from her phone, because that’s always what she does when Darcy calls her Katie in front of other people. “We’re her herd of awkward ducklings, of varying ages and nationalities. You from the city?”

“Yeah, uh. Washington Heights, before it wound up too expensive.”

“And stuffed to the gills with rich folks and hipsters?”

“Truth,” says Miles. Out of the corner of her eye, she can see Kate spying on the pair of them through her hair. “Hell’s Kitchen’s cheaper than anywhere else in the city right now. Reconstruction’s down the tube and the crime rate’s up after Fisk, even with all the vigilantes. Plus nobody wants to move to New York anymore just because of the alien thing. Means I only have to work two jobs to keep myself in school and a decently sized apartment instead of three for a closet.”

“Jobs?”

“Cashier at Walgreen’s.” He shrugs. “After-school tutor for high schoolers.”

“School?”

“NYU. Biochem.”

“Cool beans. Don’t mention that when Foggy and Marci get here.”

Miles blinks. “Why?”

“Marci wanted to go into animal rights, she gets twitchy when she hears about any kind of science that does animal testing. I’d fudge it and say like…architecture is safe.”

“I don’t know anything about architecture.”

“Make it up.” Kate rolls her eyes. “It’s what the rest of us do when confronted with Daenerys Targaryen.”

“I still kind of want to pay you to say that to her face,” Darcy says. “I really want to see if she gets mad or if she gets happy. Or both.”

“White savior ahoy, though,” Kate says. “For serious. If we’re talking A Song of Ice and Fire, again, though, can we build off of Dorne’s rules and make the whole thing a matriarchy? Because the Sand Snakes can do absolutely whatever they want to me and I will probably just lie there bleeding and thank them for doing it.”

Miles blinks at them. A slow smile creeps over his lips. “You’ve read the books.”

“Have you not read the books?” Kate makes a face. “Get out.”

“We have lists.” Darcy drums her nails on the table. “Mostly on the many, many ways that Petyr Baelish needs to die. Also, about how gay Margaery Tyrell is, because that needs to be a thing.”

“Oberyn Martell, though,” says Miles, and that right there is a conversation that lasts them all the way to Foggy and Marci swanning in like they own the place. Marci looks around with the air of someone who took a wrong turn on the way to Tiffany’s, but at least she manages to keep her tongue between her teeth, and really, that’s the best anyone can hope for when it comes to Marci, sometimes.

“Darcy.” Foggy beams at her. “I didn’t think you were coming.”

“Kate dragged me out.” And she’s exhausted, for sure, and should probably be curling up in bed with police files right now, but when Foggy scoots over and kisses the top of her head (which he’s been doing more, lately, but it still feels like having a gold nugget crop up in her Cheerios) she decides right then and there that it’s worth it, pretending to be normal for a night. “This is Miles. Elena’s adopted him. I have also adopted him, because he wants Sansa Stark as Queen of Westeros. We’re gonna make bumper stickers. Ride or Die for Sansa Stark, Queen 2K5EVER.

“Have you been drinking?”

“The tequila was confiscated until after the food, so no. Have you been drinking? You smell like Josie’s.”

“Quit judging me,” says Foggy.

“I always judge you. Miles, this is my legal partner, Foggy Nelson. He’s also my platonic life-partner—”

Foggy shoves her.

“—and a Stannis-stan, which you can rant about later, because if you get him started he won’t stop. And this is Marci Stahl, Queen of Evil and Stiletto Heels.”

“That’s a much better title than I usually get.” Marci’s mouth quirks. “You look less shitty than usual.”

“HC and B must be treating you nicely if you’re being that complimentary, especially when I have a honking huge cut on my face,” says Darcy. “Has Jeri Hogarth hit on you yet?”

“No, and it’s incredibly tragic. Not that I would take her up on it, but it’s hard to realize that I’m apparently not universally appreciated.”

“Your worst nightmare,” Darcy says, and Marci actually winks at her.

“You guys talk like Toby Ziegler fast and my head hurts,” says Miles. In her corner, Kate makes the electrocuted mouse noise again, and hides her face behind her hair.

“Funny story, I used to tape The West Wing and watch it in the middle of the night to piss my mom off. It’s why I have such an excellent fucking vocabulary. Also, why I started wanting to be a lawyer.” Foggy drops into the chair to Darcy’s right. “Where’s Matt?”

“Matt’s dealing with the Wicked Witch.”

“Ah,” says Foggy.

“There’s a Wicked Witch other than me?” Marci drapes herself into a chair, and then looks surprised at herself. Darcy’s pretty sure Marci hasn’t draped anywhere since their 1L year and she’d still been a brunette. And actually remembered what sweatpants were. And how to leave the house without false eyelashes. “Does that make Murdock Dorothy?”

“I don’t think there’ll be squashing-via-house charges in his future, no.”

“Boo,” says Marci. “We could have represented him. Well, I wouldn’t have, because no offense to you, Lewis, but I don’t care what your boyfriend does—”

“He appreciates that.”

“—but one of the baby affiliates, maybe. The janitor might do well.”

“Somehow I don’t think HC and B would be the first firm Matt would go to for representation, if he were put up on murder charges.”

“Boo,” she says again.

“Ignore her,” says Foggy, and then winces. Darcy’s pretty sure Marci just kicked him under the table. “Or pay attention, you know, up to you guys.”

“So is this a thing that’s back on?” Darcy looks from one to the other. “The Foggy and Marci thing? Or do you tag along to anyone’s random dinner with an old client, Stahl?”

Marci scoffs. “He wishes.” Still, she looks pleased, and maybe a bit pink around the ears, and a hell of a lot more like law school!Marci than L&Z!Satan!Marci, which is good enough for Darcy. “He’d have to do some serious work to tempt me back into your little circle of insanity.”

Foggy clears his throat. “It’s up in the air.”

“No, it isn’t.”

“It isn’t?”

“Up in the air implies something’s been thrown up in the air. So far as I can see? The ball is still in your court, Foggy-bear.”

He blinks a few times. “Oh.”

“Yeah,” Marci says. “Oh.”

“Can we change the subject before I projectile vomit all over this nice rug?” Kate bounces up out of the chair. “Lewis, come help me with something.”

“You mean come and save you from something.”

“Six of one,” says Kate. “Come on, I wanna show you how the repairs have gone up, it looks pretty goddamn slick.”

The repairs, Darcy thinks, have been done for three months, and she saw them the last time she came out to Elena’s. Still, she gets to her feet (heels, blisters, ow, thank you, inventor of band-aids and gauze padding) and trails Kate out the door of Elena’s apartment, and into the new elevator. Darcy thinks, for a minute, that they’re going to go up to the roof—usually they go up to the roof, if Kate wants to talk about something and doesn’t want anyone else to hear—but instead Kate jabs the button for the basement, and slips her hands into the pockets of her skinny jeans.

“What’s up?” Darcy says, once the elevator doors close. The elevator’s new, installed maybe four months ago, and somehow nobody’s graffitied it yet. She’s pretty sure that everyone’s too scared of Kate and too fond of Elena to dare besmirch the thing, even with how new and shiny it is. “This isn’t the thing about Elena matchmaking again, is it?”

“No.” Kate cuts her a look. “She’s been muttering at me about you and Matt getting married, though, so she might bring that up, just as a warning.”

And there go her knees. She kind of wants to faint a little bit. “Christ. Seriously?”

“The muttering gets noisier the later it gets, but yeah, seriously. She keeps asking me if you’re engaged yet, and she doesn’t like the excuses I keep coming up with.”

“They’re not excuses!”

“Tell her that.”

“Christ,” Darcy says again.  

“I think she wanted him to show up tonight just so she could ambush you both with it, so count yourself in the safe zone. She might bring it up, but only with you, I dunno.” Kate rocks back and forth. “No, I wanted your opinion on something, actually. I told you that there are some new tenants pissing people off on the first floor with noise and stuff, right?”

“Yeah, but I dunno what I can do about it. Unless you want me to file a complaint somewhere, but I’m more civil rights law than anything, it might take me a while to write the whole thing out.” Plus she probably shouldn’t be Kate’s lawyer anymore anyway, as her objectivity is very thoroughly compromised and has been since like…the second time they met up at Mug Shots. “It’s not like I can tell them to bug off, either, I know like…no Japanese other than what you and Yoko have taught me.”

“You strugglebus,” says Kate. “It’s fine. At least your vowels are mostly right. No, I can deal with the noisy tenants on my own, that’s easy enough once Yoko gets back. I’m pretty sure they speak English, but they always pretend not to when I knock on their door and tell them to shut their pieholes. Worst comes to worst I can always drag my Japanese professor out with me and get him to talk to them.”

“You’ve delivered a warning?”

“We’re on warning three if they keep doing noisy shit at two in the morning through next Wednesday. Still, not the point.” The elevator dings, and Kate slinks out. “Remember back when Fisk was doing weird shit out here with this building?”

“Kind of hard to forget.” Darcy realizes she’s rubbing at the scar on her hand again. She forces her thumb away. “Why do you ask?”

“So three weeks ago—no, two weeks, sorry, maybe…three weeks after this new family moved in—the water heater started doing some weird shit, and Elena called a guy to come out and fix it. And he found this. She was going to tell me earlier, but then I was out of town on that thing with Clint, and then everything this past week, and I haven’t been able to come around here until now.” The basement, for the most part, is one room full of washers and dryers (coin operated: New York life, guys) and a side-door labeled Management. Darcy’s never been down here before, so she just stands and waits as Kate undoes the lock. “I think before Elena let the water heater repair guy in here it’d been like…two months since anyone came in. It’s mostly just crap from the renovation and old paint cans and shit. And there’s no evidence that the door was tampered with, either, and nothing on the video feed. I think the security camera was looped, though why the hell they’d loop it for something like this, I have no idea.”

Well, this conversation just took a turn for the uncomfortable. “Seriously, Kate, spit it out.”

“Better that you see,” Kate says, and pushes the door open. “Just—go in.”

It’s not April, and Kate had definitely gone overboard with her April Fool’s Day pranks anyway, so Darcy’s like…ninety percent sure this isn’t a joke. Though honestly, it’s also Kate, so there’s always that vague doubt. Still, the lines around Kate’s mouth are like craters, and when she gestures Darcy forward, it’s with wires in her bones. She’s jerky, like a marionette. There are piles of wood up against the wall, a few old plywood pieces propped against the cement like surfboards. A shelf with cans of paint and old rollers. A metal filing cabinet. The water heater and the fuse box. Darcy stops in the middle of the room, and turns around. “I don’t see—”

Oh. Oh, okay. That’s what it is. On the inside of the door—the whole inside wall, actually—someone’s painted Japanese characters. Not spray-painted, but painted, by hand, carefully shaped, as tall as a man and in deep, deep black, standing against the whitewash, something darker than shadow. Darcy shuts her mouth as Kate creeps in, and points to the first one, the one on the left.

“These are easy,” she says. “That’s black. And that one—” she points to the other “—is sky.”

All at once, there’s a buzz in her ears like a nest of hornets. Tell me what you have found out about the Black Sky, Nobu says in her head. She’s digging her nails into the scar on her hand. Tell me what you have found out about the Black Sky, and there’s a man on fire behind her eyes, a dagger hooked up under Matt’s ribs, a drug addict coming at Elena with a gun. Tell me what you have found out, and there’s a killer with a sniper rifle aiming to start a war between the Kobayashi and the Matsuhara, there’s Stick murdering a child out on the docks, there’s the Hudson in her mouth and her hand smashed all to pieces, there’s Nobu’s man Nam Suk Kim vanishing into the ether and the question they’d never had answers to, not really. Tell me what you have found out about the Black Sky.  

“What the fuck,” Darcy says.

“That’s what I said.” Kate pets at her back. “You look super pale, are you gonna barf?”

“Only if you punch me in the stomach.” Darcy marches up to the wall, and touches the paint. It’s long since dry. “When do you think this was done?”

“No idea. Like I said, it’s been ages since me or Elena have been down here, there wasn’t any need, not until the water heater crapped out.”

Tell me what you have found out about the Black Sky. “Oh.”

“You seriously look like you’re gonna throw up,” says Kate. “I suggest you not look like that by the time we head upstairs, Elena will get worried.”

“You think the new tenants did this?”

“There’s no way to tell, really. Like I said, they moved in a few weeks ago, and this could have been done any time between two months and three nights ago. And it’s not like I can kick them out over the possibility that they might have painted kurozora on the inside wall of the maintenance room, like—that’s not exactly in the rental contract. Well, I mean, aside from defacement stuff, but since I can’t prove it was them, there’s not a lot I can do.”

She has to go up on tiptoe to touch the very top of the kanji for black. Whoever did this was either super tall, or used a stepladder. There aren’t any drops of paint on the floor. “Can we maybe get someone to look at the video feed and see where it was looped?”

“That was my thought. At least it’d mean getting the perpetrators out of the building.” Kate presses her lips together. For a second, she looks eerily like Matt, wrinkled brow and her mouth thin enough to crack. “I don’t like that this is happening on my property. Nobody’s inquired about purchasing the building, no one’s come at me legally, it’s all been copacetic, and then that random water repair guy walked in and found this. I’m really hoping it’s just a coincidence.”

“I’m not sure how coincidental it can be, considering I’m pretty sure half the reason Nobu was working with Fisk was because he wanted to get his hands on this building.” And why that is, she still has no idea. “How common is the phrase black sky in Japanese?”

“I mean, there are other words about weather that are way more common. Ouame, like…monsoon-level rain. Hinode, akatsuki, both of those mean dawn or sunrise depending on the kanji. Arashi for storm. Niji for rainbow. For the sky, though, usually you hear aozora, not kurozora. Sometimes kurai, but that’s only if it’s cloudy.”

Kurai?”

“Dark.”

Darcy rubs at her temples, and looks at the kanji again. “Christ. I think my brain is going to explode.”

“Don’t. I don’t want to clean up bits of your skull.” Kate takes a picture of it with her phone, and forwards it. “So do you want to take this as a clue that the yakuza might be trying to get back in town, or that there’s just some kind of weird clinging-on thing that’s happening here, or—”

“Why would they even do this, though, if they were? What’s the point? Yeah, sure, Black Sky, whatever, why paint it on the inside of a room no one even goes into? If it’s a marker for something, why make it so damn big? If they really wanted to announce anything, why wouldn’t they just spray paint it on a billboard?”

“That’s why I showed you,” Kate says. “It’s just weird.”

They don’t even know what the Black Sky is. A child, Matt had said, a kid, maybe eleven, maybe twelve, dead with an arrow in his heart, dirty and chained in a shipping container with a whole contingent of Orihara yakuza to meet him at the docks. A human being? Something carried by a human being? Some kind of drug smuggled in human bodies like heroin mules over the border? But then there would be no reason for Stick to kill the boy, no reason for him to call the child an it instead of a he, no reason for him to murder a kid in cold blood and cast it aside with that thing wasn’t human anyway. A weapon, he’d called it. So, what? A bloodline, a breeding program, a virus? A child soldier? Since when does Japan have child soldiers? She can remember, vaguely, that the Japanese army had recruited middle and high school boys into service during the height of the Second World War—the Iron Blood regiments, or something like that—but that had been home service only and more than seventy years ago, now. And even if you throw yakuza dynamics into the mix, she’s still not sure that even applies, not with something like this. “There hasn’t been anything else?”

“Not that I’ve seen.”

She drums her nails against the mark. “Who’s the family that’s moved in?”

“They’re called Ahagon. That’s an Okinawan name, not mainland Japanese, at least according to Yoko. I’ve tried to talk to them a few times, not about this but about the noise thing, and I just get stonewalled.” Kate sucks her teeth. “You think they’re yakuza?”

“I don’t want to typecast, but it might be worth keeping an eye on them just because this—” she taps the wall “—only happened after they showed up. Have you told Elena?”

“I didn’t want to get her involved, not after what happened last time the yakuza came sniffing around here. Still, she’s probably put it together on her own. This isn’t some white dude getting a bad tattoo; it’s not like having kanji splashed on the wall of a building means anything in this neighborhood other than gang bullshit.” Kate heaves a sigh. “I can’t be here all the time. I have class, and then we have Chinatown bullshit, and if I get called in for something with Clint I can be gone for days at a time, it’s not like I can watch the Ahagons twenty-four-seven. And I’m not asking Elena.”

“You could hire someone.”

“Yeah, and have them sniff it out? Not likely.” She bites her thumbnail. “I could always miss a few days. And it really depends on the results of the video footage. If it wasn’t the Ahagons, then we’re kind of back at square one.”

“What about Miles?”

“What about Miles?”

“Maybe ask him to keep an eye on things when you’re not around, I don’t know. He said his mom was a cop, didn’t he?” Like Brett. “He probably has a better idea of how to be stealthy than most people.”

“Just because he supports Sansa Stark for Queen of Westeros doesn’t make him trustworthy.”

“No, but it does make him smarter than the average bear, and Elena likes him. She’s a good judge of character for the most part.” Darcy shrugs. “Not saying you have to do it, just throwing it out as an option. He seems like a good egg. Besides, you don’t have to mention the yakuza thing at all. Just tell him there’s been some graffiti in the basement and to keep an eye on it if he can, but like. Don’t be weird about it.”

“How is that not weird?”

“You’re Kate Bishop, you can think of something.”

Kate chews her lip. “Maybe.”  

Which is Katespeak for I’ll think about it and then probably say no but at least this way I can say I considered it. Kate and Matt are more alike sometimes than either of them would like to admit. Darcy presses her scarred palm flat against one of the strokes for kuroi. “I think I need to start a new whiteboard. This shit is getting way too complicated.”

“You didn’t already have one?” Kate says. “I have a corkboard of insanity with a bunch of yarn and push-pins. Everything’s color-coded. And it gives me an excuse to buy novelty post-its.”

“Silver lining right there.”

Tell me what you have found out about the Black Sky. She flexes her hand into a fist and then out again. Hironobu Orihara is dead, burned alive in that damned warehouse on the waterfront, he’s not coming back and whatever secrets he had he took to the grave, but just—damn it. What the hell is the Black Sky, anyway?

“We should go back upstairs,” Kate says.

“Mm.” She peels her hand away from the paint. “Maybe add another lock to this door.”

“Already working on it.”

“The road goes ever on and on,” Darcy says, and Kate blinks at her.

“What’s that from?”

Lord of the Rings.

“Today’s a fantasy day for you, isn’t it?”

“Seems better than reality.”

When Kate turns the key in the knob, it clicks like snapping bone.

.

.

.

He comes.

Of course he comes. He wouldn’t have been able to avoid it, not after everything today. She wonders if he waited across the street, in a coffee shop or on the corner, until she’d finally clambered out of her taxi and stepped into the elevator. She’d had work to do, tunneling through what she’d been able to scrounge from Roxxon’s mainframe, what files she’d been able to pick up and discard almost as fast. She hadn’t been the one to write the code, or build the bug, but she at least knows enough about computers to be able to wander through the results and create a search program for what she’s looking for. Still, it’s taken her all afternoon to sift through the thousands of documents that spilled right into her hands, and she may, possibly, have stayed out later than necessary just to make him wait. Not a punishment, she tells herself, just a reminder that she doesn’t come when anyone calls, that she isn’t anyone’s pet. She’s the one in control, here. Not the other way around. Elektra’s not entirely sure that he’ll pick up on any of that, not really, but it’s reassuring anyway, for reasons she doesn’t want to look too deeply into.

She leaves the door unlocked. It only takes him fifteen minutes, once she’s through the door. His mouth’s all in knots and he has his hands clenched like he wants to hit her, but he comes, and when she pours herself a drink it’s partly to keep herself from spitting.

“Look,” she says. “You did miss me.”

“What the hell do you want?”

That’s direct, at least. Elektra crosses one arm over her stomach, and then realizes that makes her look weak, like she’s trying to fend off a blow. She drops her hand to her side. “Oh, please. I thought we were through with this part already.”

“What do you want?” he says again. There’s something curling, there, something wild, something she wants to scrape her teeth against. Which I never will again, she thinks, just to herself, because you betrayed me, you destroyed me, and I still hate you for it no matter what else I feel. She doesn’t even know what she feels. She looks at him and she’s a volcano erupting, spewing everywhere, out of control, all blood and no bone. “You wouldn’t have come back if you didn’t want something.”

“Don’t play the wounded martyr with me, Matthew. It really doesn’t suit you. Never did.” The tequila nips at her tongue, settles. “You seem to get a kick out of it, though.”

He tucks his chin in towards his chest. “Answer the question.”

“I told you what I wanted,” Elektra says. “I wanted your help and you turned me away. I feel like that’s the end of it.”

“You didn’t want my help.” Matthew shakes his head. “You’ve never wanted my help. All you wanted was to see what you could do, you wanted to see what you could play with, but you can’t play with peoples’ lives, Elektra, not like this—”

“You’re one to talk about playing with peoples’ lives.”

“What I do is different than what you do. You just manipulate, it’s all you’ve ever done, you like seeing what you can get people to do, how far you can get them to go—”

“This again.” Her heartbeat’s getting a little too fast for her liking. She breathes, settles it back down. “If you’re going to complain about me giving you something you wanted, you could just say it outright.”

“You think I wanted that?” And it’s the same thing, all over again, revulsion mixed with want, his feelings all over his face, useless guilt and shame and disgust and craving, and she’s not wrong, she’s never been wrong, she hadn’t been wrong then and she isn’t wrong now, and her heart is racing with it. “You think I wanted to do that, to murder someone in cold blood—”

“You did.”

You don’t know me.” She thinks he might break his cane, he’s clenching it so hard. “You thought you knew me and you don’t, you thought you had this—you thought you could see right into my soul, but you can’t, Elektra, you never have—”

“Please.” It cracks out of her, the laughter, snaps away before she can stop it. “You’re fooling yourself.”

“I’m not.” He’s getting back under control, clawing back out of the dark again, reining himself back in. It scrapes at her raw edges, at the scars. “And either way, it doesn’t matter anymore. Whatever little game you think you’ve been playing, whatever problem you have with me, I don’t care—”

“A problem.” It echoes in her mouth. “I have the problem.”

“—I don’t care,” Matthew says again, and his hands are in fists and he’s wired, torqued, ready to jump and hurt and break, not wild but leashed, not open but shuttered. “But Elektra, if you bring her into it, I swear to God I will drag you out of here myself and put you on the next flight to Dijon or Barbados or wherever the hell it is that you’ve been the past four years—”

“I never thought she’d be the type to let someone fight her battles for her,” Elektra says. Her molars are shards of glass, cutting into her tongue. “This seems out of character. Unless you’re trying to keep me from telling me something else she doesn’t know, because you haven’t told her much, have you, the pet that you’ve kept safe all this time—”

“Don’t,” he says, very low and rasping, all shadow. “You don’t want to do this.”

“You aren’t like them, Matthew. The people you pretend with, the—there’s something in you, there’s always been something inside of you that you know is different, you know it, the darkness in you that calls and calls and you can’t not listen—”

“Elektra, don’t—”

“You’re like me,” she says. She puts the glass down. “You know it, inside, even if you don’t want to admit it, there’s always been that darkness in you, Matthew, and the rest of them, they can’t understand that, they would never—”

“Stop it.”

“This little game that you have with her, the pair of you playing at house, pretending to be heroes, that’s not who you are, Matthew, it never has been—”

“You don’t know them.” His teeth are a flash of white in the dark. “You don’t know them and you don’t know me, Elektra, not anymore.”

“But I do know you,” Elektra says, and he shakes his head and backs away from her like he’s fleeing acid. “I’ve always known you, what you are, what you want to be, and you can’t do that here, not with her—” 

Leave her out of it.

Protective, she thinks, proprietary, or some line between the two, and she’d pushed and here he is, but this isn’t anywhere near how she wanted the conversation to go, not at all. She can’t remember when it happened, but it’s all spun wildly out of control, a car skidding off the road, aiming for the tree line. “She can’t understand that, she’s not capable of it, not like you and I—”

“You have no idea,” he says. “You have no idea who or what she is—”

“Don’t I? She’s your leash. She’s always been your leash, whenever—whenever I came too close, whenever you started to remember it, who you are, the darkness inside you, Matthew, you’d go running back to her like a dog, she’s never been anything more than a security blanket—”

He’s panting, hard and fast, heaving like he wants to be sick. “Why did you take me there?” he says, and snap, the trap closes, she has him, she has to— “Why did you take me to that mansion, Elektra, why did you do that, why did you try—”

“Fun,” Elektra says, simply. She’d pushed. She’d thought he was ready for it. She’d thought she could manage it. She’d been young and cocky and stupid and she’d thought he understood, she’d thought it would be a lark, and she’d done it and he’d dropped the knife and looked at her like she was a monster, and it still rips her into shreds inside. I am not what you think of me. I have never been your nightmare, Matthew. “I did it for fun.”

“Exactly,” Matthew says. “That’s why you don’t understand, why you—why you can’t understand—”

“Oh, don’t let’s get maudlin, Matthew—”

“Roscoe Sweeney had my father killed,” he says. “And yeah, that night—I thought about it. And maybe I wanted it, more than I want to admit. But I didn’t, because if I had, it would have turned me into him, and that’s not something you can ever—ever understand.”

Elektra stops. They both stop. There’s a razor under her ribs and it’s slicing away all the scar tissue, peeling the wounds open and letting them bleed again. “And she can,” she says, woodenly, because that’s ridiculous. That’s absurd. She would have seen it, would have realized it, she would have. She wouldn’t have missed something like that. “This marvelously complex little moral jungle you’ve lost yourself in, she can understand it.”

“Yes,” he says, simply. “She does.”

The last stitch is torn out. She’s all carnage and she should taste it on her tongue, because she’s pulp, inside. She’s a mess of torn and battered flesh beneath her ribs. Elektra shakes her head. “You live in a fairy tale, Matthew. She can’t understand you any more than your firm can, that shrinking violet Nelson and your silly little blonde secretary. She can’t understand you any more than she could understand a wild animal. She’s not capable of it.”

For some reason, he doesn’t hiss. He laughs. She wants to tear his useless eyes out for it. “You don’t have any idea what you’re talking about. You don’t—” He stops. Tips his head. “Someone’s coming.”

Shit. Here and then gone again, on the hook and then away, and she’s so angry, all at once, even if she hides it, the fury pulsing through her, blood from an open wound. Soft, Stick had called him, soft and sentimental, and he does believe it, she thinks. He believes it, that Darcy Lewis can understand, but that can’t be possible, not truly. Stick would have seen it. She would have seen it, whatever little thing that Matthew’s fixed on, whatever little bedtime story he’s woven for himself: she would have seen it. They would have seen it, one of them. It’s not possible. It’s not possible.

Work with facts, not fantasies. Figure it out. For now, at least, she has bigger things to think about. Elektra resettles her robe against her chest, and turns away. “They’re late, if they are. I thought they would have come sooner. Would have saved me the trouble of listening to your fairy stories.”

That he just ignores. “Silencer, in the lobby.”

“Mm.” She wanders into the closet, and lets the robe drop. “Hold my gloves, will you?”

“No.”

“Your loss.”

“They’re in the elevator.” He’s prickling still, like an animal with its ears up, trembling with an energy he keeps leashed. “They’re on their way here.”

“Pity if they get the wrong floor. It would make things complicated.”

“Elektra,” Matthew says. “What have you done?”

Caught you.

.

.

.

She goes out running that night, because she has to.

Darcy gets back from Elena’s around eleven, and sheds her skin, slips into Lilith and heads right back out again. The rain’s building up again, rolling from the south this time, up the coast like a great black monster, swallowing away the stars. Tell me what you have found out about the Black Sky, and when she looks up there’s the lights of the city reflecting on cloud cover and down below her there are people wandering, creeping through the city, cats and mice. Tell me what you have found out about the Black Sky, and Frank still in the back of her head, Think it’s something in you, Elektra knows who they are and Matt hasn’t come back yet and she can’t think, anymore. She needs to move. So she does, even though she hates running on rooftops, even though the drops between the buildings make her stomach knot and the scuff of her shoes makes her blisters scream. Move, don’t think. Darcy runs, runs and runs, with a taser in the holster and a baton in her hand and the knife she’d stolen from Frank Castle tucked in the new strap that Melvin had attached to her costume, a loop where she can slip the sheath. “Not very Lilith,” he’d said again, when she’d asked, but Darcy can’t quite explain it. This is the same sort of thing as the gun she keeps in her purse, the semiautomatic she’d borrowed from Turk Barrett. It’s not something she uses, really. It’s just something she has. Not a symbol, but a possibility. This is mine. Something she’s claimed from someone else. Not a trophy, not quite. This is mine, and this is a warning to myself. Or a reminder. With Frank’s knife, the warning’s obvious. With Turk’s gun, she still hasn’t worked that one out. Maybe just proof that she made a decision, months ago. I’m Lilith. I’m Lilith and I’m Darcy and I’m Darcy Lewis and I can and will be all three, and I’m not going to let someone take this away from me.

…maybe. That still doesn’t ring quite right. It’s easier not to think about it.

She runs, and when she spots a woman walking home alone she trails her for a while, just to make sure she gets in safe. She should probably be doing something, looking for Finn Brannigan, wandering and asking questions, but she doesn’t have the brain. If she stops moving, she starts remembering, and so she slips into autopilot. She just reacts. She catches two boys winding up to throw bricks through the window of a hardware store, and scares the unholy shit out of them by dropping down off the fire escape. They bolt, thankfully. Down at Daily Daze, over by Central Park (and it’s out of her purview, really, but she still comes here sometimes, for Kate and for Tandy) she catches a drug dealer with a knife to someone’s throat, and snaps his wrist when he tries to stab her in the throat. Which really, she thinks, when he howls, it shouldn’t be as satisfying as it is, to do that.

Think it’s something in you.

She knocks him out, tells the kid he was threatening to call the cops, and keeps on moving.

She circles, around and around. Back and forth across the Kitchen. It’s a quiet night, and she’s not sure if that’s a relief, or an offense. After the drug dealer at Daily Daze there’s another dealer in the alley behind Mug Shots, and then a random guy—Russian, she thinks, or Ukranian—beating the hell out of his girlfriend in an alleyway. It’s only after that, maybe two in the morning, maybe two-thirty, that she finally settles on a fire escape across from St. Patrick’s Cathedral. She could just go in, she thinks. She could probably go in without anyone batting an eyelash, even in her suit. She doesn’t. She drops down onto the fire escape—long since chilled, though the air is still summer-muggy—and lets her legs swing in midair, winding her arms around the bars and resting her head to the railing. It echoes oddly through the helmet. The scar on her palm is itching. She lasts maybe five minutes before she yanks her glove off, and starts pressing her fingers into the mark, dragging them, trying to scrape away at whatever it is that’s irritating her. It doesn’t help, much.

She wishes she could say she’d come to some great realization there, that something had clicked in her head and suddenly all the shit that’s happened in the past week is behind her and all her problems suddenly make sense, but it doesn’t. Darcy sits and doesn’t think of anything at all, not really, just listens to the city and focuses on how the muscles in her legs are jumping, the way muscles do when you’ve used them too hard and there are still little jolts of energy and electricity staticking under the skin. She sits and listens, and there are cats screaming an alley or two down, and the light’s on in the cathedral—from Father P or from Tandy and Ty or from someone else entirely, she doesn’t know—and she just lets it wash over her, all of it, everything that she’s claimed. Our city. Her place. Her people and her place and her world and her job. Everything I want to protect is here, and I’m not going to stop.

Tell me everything you have heard about the Black Sky.

Darcy knocks her head to the railing. Fuck. Nobu’s dead, and she doesn’t want to think about it. Nobu’s dead, the yakuza have fled into their holes, but her scar keeps itching. She knows it’s in her head, but that doesn’t stop her from pushing her thumb into her palm, from pressing with her nail and trying to scrape it out of her, the feeling, how scared she’d been and how furious, the echo of her own bones snapping and the rage on his face when she hadn’t answered. She’s gone through the files on Leland Owlsley’s computer, found some scant bits of information on Hironobu Orihara. Barely in his thirties, when he’d died. Korean mother, Japanese father. A businessman. Shateigashira. But she thinks of him and all she knows is metal in her hand and that single goddamn demand, seared into her marrow. Tell me everything you have heard about the Black Sky. And now the Black Sky has been painted on the wall like some kind of QR code for how to screw Darcy up in three seconds or less and it’s nearly three in the morning and she knows if she sleeps she’ll wake screaming even if Matt were there. But she can’t be trapped, can’t sit alone, not boxed inside with the walls closing in. All of it in a week, and it’s too much, it’s too much for any one person to handle, and so she needs to think and feel something else other than overwhelmed. So she sits, and listens to the city, and breathes until Matt comes to find her. 

It doesn’t take him long. She doesn’t flinch when he comes up behind her, touches his fingers to the back of her helmet (glove on leather) and then settles next to her. It’s the same thing they used to do on her fire escape, except now they’re both in costume, and neither of them have secrets anymore. She wets her lips. “How’d it go?”

“Apparently,” Matt says, “she’s pissed off the yakuza.”

“Oh.” Darcy knocks her head to the railing again. “Fabulous. She can join the club, we have jackets.”

Matt folds his legs up under him. “How was Elena’s?”

Of course he would smell that. “It was, uh. It was weird, mostly.” She nearly blurts Elena wants to know if we’re getting married, which is definitely not something to bring up, now or ever. “Someone’s painted graffiti in the basement. That—that thing, that Stick was here for last year. Black Sky. Someone was painting about that in the basement.”

Instead of jumping, instead of snapping and snarling and asking who and why and how, Matt just sighs through his nose. He touches his hand to the space between her shoulder blades. “Are you okay?”

“Why wouldn’t I be okay?”

He wets his lips. “I—sometimes you talk. When you have nightmares.”

Nightmares or flashbacks or those night terrors that have me awake and screaming for ages before I actually manage to breathe? “Oh.”

Matt strokes his fingers along her spine in silence, back and forth over her shoulder blades, to the small of her back where the Templar cross is inked.

“Kate thinks it was yakuza that did it,” she says. “Or someone affiliated with them.”

Matt sighs again. “I don’t like that they’ve built themselves up under our noses.”

“What did Elektra do to piss them off?”

“I’m not sure. She never actually explains herself until she has no other choice.” He knocks his shoulder into hers. “I’m supposed to meet her at a diner tomorrow morning to go over what happens next.”

“You didn’t talk about it tonight?”

“The room was full of unconscious yakuza, it didn’t seem like the right time.”

Darcy hooks her ankles together. “So she’s staying, then.”

Matt doesn’t say anything for a while. When he unfolds his legs, sticks his feet through the railing and swings his boots back and forth next to hers, it’s cautious, more like he’s worried he can’t manage it than worry she’ll tell him to buzz off. “She’s not leaving as fast as I wanted her to, no.”

Were you in love with me when you were in love with her? It’s arsenic on her tongue. What about now? “If she’s fucked something up, we can’t just leave her. Especially if it’s yakuza. Especially if it’s yakuza who are talking about the Black Sky, because they’re probably Nobu’s old buddies. Especially then.”

“I know.”

Clang, clang, clang, tapping her head to the railing and feeling the echo. “I just—I can’t keep going into anything blind. I don’t want to go into things not knowing what’s going on, anymore. I hate mysteries.”

Clang and clang and then something softer. Matt’s slipped his hand between her head and the bars, and when she blinks at him, the corner of his mouth curves a little. “You’ll hurt yourself.”

“Like I haven’t done that before.”

“Doesn’t mean I have to like it.”

That’s true. Slightly hypocritical, but true. Matt leaves his hand on her forehead for a moment, spreading his fingers over the material, glove and the thick layering of the mask. Then he draws back. She doesn’t knock her head into the railing again.

“The yakuza,” she says. “Finn Brannigan and Miss Ninja.”

“It’s not Elektra.” Matt shakes his head. “The woman who was working with Brannigan, it’s not Elektra. I would have been able to tell. I know how she fights.”

“She fights?”

He nods.

“Well, there goes the easy solution.” She turns her head. “Are we splitting this down the middle?”

“Do you want to?”

Darcy knocks into his shoulder. “I want us to do this together,” she says. “Because that’s what—it’s what we’ve always done. Not just the five of us, but—but us two. We’re a team, we do this together.” She steals a look at him. “Unless you don’t want me and Elektra in the same room.”

“I don’t want her in the city at all.” Usually they try, really hard, to keep from touching when they’re in suits. Especially out in the open like this, in a city that glorifies superheroes and vigilantes, where a photo anyone in a mask will get hundreds or thousands of dollars from cheap newspapers and snapshots of two people on a fire escape knocking into each other and pressing closer than they should will get millions of hits in an hour. She still doesn’t pull away when he peels off one glove, and threads his fingers through her bare ones. “But I don’t—if she has to be here, I want you there. With me. I don’t—” He skitters, for a moment, trails into silence. “If it’s just me and her, I remember things.”

She waits for that to hurt, or for her heart to beat faster, but…no. She feels it, all through her, the words. But it doesn’t ache. “Like what?”

He laughs. It’s not one of his silent, happy, Kermit-the-frog laughs, which are so few lately that she can’t remember the last time she saw one. It’s not a Devil laugh, either. This one’s sharp and cutting, all fractured glass. “Things I don’t want to remember.”

Down in the cathedral, someone turns out the lights. Well, in the office, anyway. Another light flickers on a few windows down. Darcy shuts her eyes, and rests her head on his shoulder, on the hard scuff of the armored plating and the warmth of him, even in the still-sticky summer night. Matt unwinds, bit by bit, until he’s leaning back into her, until they’re bracing each other, holding each other up.

“Do you want to talk about it now?” she says. “Or do you want to go home first?”

Matt turns. His chin knocks into her helmet, his mouth. “Here,” he says. “I don’t—not at home.”

She’s nodding, even before he finishes saying it. Elektra’s broken into the apartment once, and the apartment—it’s theirs, it’s their place that they share, and even with every other horrible thing that’s happened in that place (Fisk trying to kill her, for one) she’s not sure that she wants this story in the walls. She doesn’t want to see the memories plastering themselves into the brick. “Okay.”

Matt presses his lips together. The armor’s going to leave patterns against her skin, she thinks. Lines and crosshatching. “I’m not—proud of any of it.”

“I’m not sure I expected you to be.” She lifts her head. “If you’re not sure—”

“Do you not want to hear it?”

“I think I need to hear it,” she says. “I think you need to say it, and I think I need to hear it. And I think that I’m tired of blundering around in the dark.”

Their fingers are still tangled together when he pulls her hand onto his knee, holds it there. Darcy wishes, for a moment, that they could take off the masks, for this. But Daredevil is Matt and she is Lilith and if the suit combines all parts of her, then it does the same for Matt. You look like you, she nearly says again. All of you, every part. The suits might be more fitting than she wants to consider.

“Ask me.” He squeezes her fingers. “I’m not sure I can—ask me.”

Darcy shifts, and clocks into him, hip to hip, knee to knee, resting close against his side and shutting her eyes against the city.

“Matt,” she says. “What happened with Elektra? From the beginning.”

Something, some kind of energy, jitters down his spine. He takes a breath, traps it. Sets it free again. She sits, and waits, wishing she could push her thumb into the scar on her palm, wishing she could do something to fix it rather than just sit and listen and absorb. Thirty seconds, a minute, and he breathes. Then he licks his lips.

“When we were bored,” he says, “we used to break into empty houses just to see what was inside.”

Chapter Text

They don’t sleep, that night.

Matt talks for more than an hour. The only reason she knows this is that when they go home, finally, his arm around her shoulders and hers around his waist, dawn’s breaking. She’d known, she thinks, that it had to have been something crazy, something completely unexpected and awful for a relationship like the one Matt and Elektra had had—a tornado, she thinks, peeling the ground away in its wake—to just…stop. But Christ, this

(“We’d do what we wanted,” he says, empty, echoing. “It was like—it was like a fever dream. Because I thought she knew what I was. I thought that I knew what she was. It felt like she reached in and pulled my heart out of my chest and bared all the dark places and said, I know these. It felt like we were above everything and everyone, and—and I forgot, for a while, that I wasn’t.”)

—she doesn’t know what to think of this.

Wild, dark, and snarky. Elektra. Wild beyond anything she’d ever imagined. Not that she’d led Matt along by the nose, not that she’d put a gun to his head and made him do it, because he’d wanted to do all of it. She’s certain of that. Matt’s never once done anything he didn’t want to do, and everything that happened with Elektra—that was Matt, just as much as it was Elektra Natchios.

(“The rules didn’t matter anymore. Or more like I forgot why I cared about the rules. Because she understood. Or I thought she did.”)

She can remember Matt coming back a few times, always kind of odd, always hiding something, smiling and laughing and just a little sharper, a little more brutal with his jokes and his words, like he didn’t see the point of hiding his thoughts anymore. He’d never once stung her, but Foggy—not intentionally, she doesn’t think, but Foggy’d been hurt by it, and Darcy had snapped, and Matt had snapped back, and it’d been awful every time it happened. Every time, she’d wondered what the fuck his problem was, Matt, what the hell he was doing, but before she could work up the courage to ask he’d always vanish again in another bright, fancy car, and every time it had felt like someone had sliced another piece of her insides away. But in this—no. Her own feelings are beside the point, for this. She needs to understand, not to feel. She sets emotion aside, and just listens to the words, to how he sounds when he says them, bitter, hateful, furious with Elektra, furious with himself.

(“We’d talk about people who hurt us, and what we could do to them if we could. And I was serious, about a lot of it. Not all, but a lot. And—and that night, she put Roscoe Sweeney in front of me. She brought me the man who had my father murdered, like—like a cat does. With dead rats. And she gave me a knife.”)

He’s stiff, on the walk back. Stiff and bruised. Moving like he has arthritis. Darcy thinks of the jittery way he’d been after he’d reappeared, red-eyed and broken on the doorstep of his and Foggy’s dorm, silent about all of it. How he’d flinched when they’d tried to touch him. She’d thought something had hurt him, and yeah, something had, but she’s wondering if he’d thought, back then, that he wasn’t worthy of them touching him.

(“I came back and you both—you didn’t forgive me, but you accepted me. You let me back in, and you never asked why even though both of you had the right to, and all I could think was it might be better if I’d left and never came back. Because I didn’t deserve either of you, not after that.”

“You didn’t kill him, Matt.”

“But I wanted to, Darcy. I wanted it. And—and for a minute I didn’t have a clue why I shouldn’t. For a minute I forgot what—” A ragged breath. “She was never supposed to come back.”)

She lists it out, carefully, in her head. Stolen cars—she’d assumed that, with Elektra. No one other than Tony Stark would have been able to own those sorts of cars. Breaking and entering. Some assaults, nothing on the scale of what they do as Daredevil and Lilith. And Roscoe Sweeney. In the eyes of the law, nothing enormously egregious. To her, nothing too egregious either, especially with how they live their lives, with everything that’s happened since Frank Castle started his bloody work. To Matt…she’s not sure. She thinks the loss of control might frighten him more than anything else about it. Not the edge of murder, but tipping on the edge, falling away from discipline and into raucous, erratic desire. We’d do what we wanted, and the spiral of that, the sweetness of the fall, that would be far more frightening than killing someone, for Matt. No matter how he translates it to himself.

I wanted him dead, she thinks. Frank Castle, and Oliver Bletchley, and Fisk. I wanted all of them dead. And to have Roscoe Sweeney tied up in front of him and to not pull the trigger, Christ. She’s not sure she would have been able to do that.

She’s careful, when they get back to the apartment. She’s not gentle, but she’s careful. She strips the armor off him, lets him peel hers away. It’s not sexual at all. He sweeps his fingers over her skin like he’s trying to remind himself of the texture of it, and she braces her hands to his chest over the scars, over his heart.

(“And you never told anyone?”

“I didn’t like thinking about it,” he says. “I didn’t like remembering it. So I tried not to.”)

They’ve both crested close to killing people, since then. She’s not sure about Elektra. (God, she’s not sure what she feels about Elektra. She’s not sure if she wants to fly at her with her nails extended, or trap her in a room and shake her until she explains herself, because killing for revenge, a knife in your hand and the chill of a doorknob against her palm and this isn’t you, Darcy, detach yourself, think clearly—) She’s not sure about Elektra but she knows Matt, and coming that close to the edge—not for justice, not to save someone, but just in revenge, just in hate—it’s no wonder he’s as shaky as he is. She herds him, carefully, pushing him into the middle of the bed and then crawling in behind him, pressing close to his back and looping one arm around his waist. She thinks he might shake her off, but he doesn’t—he quakes, a little, tips his head forward and curls just enough that she can put her mouth to the nape of his neck without too much trouble. He barely ever lets her hold him like this—it makes him uncomfortable, not being able to leap away, having someone pressed up against his back and protecting him instead of the other way around—but when she sneaks her foot between his ankles he traps it there, holding on, hooking his fingers through hers and settling them against his lips. She lies there and she thinks, and he’s still and quiet and empty, almost, as if freeing the words has peeled everything else away from him. Dawn casts odd shadows over the marks on his back.

(“I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. I don’t—if she stays, I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

“With you?” She swallows. “With us?”

“I don’t know.”

“Do you still have feelings for her?” she asks, very carefully. “For Elektra.”

He doesn’t say anything for so long that it’s more than enough of an answer. “I don’t know.”) 

They lie there in silence until the alarm goes off at seven-thirty. It’s only after she’s shut it off and wound around him again, hand on his chest and her lips on the back of his neck, that Matt clears his throat. “I should have told you,” he says. “I should have told you years ago.”

“About Elektra or about the rest of it?”

“All of it.” He presses her foot between his. “I should have just—I should have told you all of it. If you’d known about what I could do, you or Foggy, maybe—maybe I wouldn’t have fallen so deep into it. Maybe I’d have been able to figure it out, faster.”

“Figure what out?”

“That what we were doing was wrong.”

Oh, honey. “Lots of things you could’ve done, or I could’ve done, or she could’ve done. But they didn’t happen, and it can’t be changed.” She shuts her eyes, and breathes, in and out. Warmth and skin and Matt. “I’m glad you told me now. Even with everything.”

Matt settles her fingertips against his lips, clasping her hand and holding on. For the first time in hours, her scar’s not itching at her. It might have something to do with his thumb pushed into the middle of it, but it could be something else entirely.

“It feels like God’s punishing us,” he says. “This past week. For something we’ve done. All of this at once. It feels like a punishment.”

“There could have been better timing on some of it, yes.” Darcy puts her lips to a knob of his spine, and he shivers a little. He’s shivered every time she’s done it, this morning. Like even with her like this, wrapped around him, holding on, every touch is something that’s startling. Like he’s not letting himself expect it, any longer. “Frank could have slept for another month and a half, that would have been cool of him.”

Something whispers out of him that could be a laugh. Darcy puts her palm flat to his chest, and he covers her fingers with his.

“I’m sorry,” he says, very quietly.

“For what?”

“All of it.” He curls again. “I guess.”

Darcy shakes her hair back out of her face, resettles on her side and tucks her nose back into his shoulder. “I’ve known for years it would have been—I don’t know. That something had to have happened. You basically dropped off the map for six full months, I had loads of theories. When I let myself think about it.”

“Did you?”

“Not very often. I didn’t—” She sighs. “It was hard. Not having you there. Foggy and me, we didn’t change, but—but we missed you. And getting dropped, you know, with no warning and no explanation, it hurt both of us. Stung like a son of a bitch.”

He takes a deep breath, and doesn’t let go. “You’re not angry.”

“I was back then. And then you came back, and you were heartbroken, and I didn’t—I guess I funneled it away, like I do every time I get angry. Pushed it into something else. I was—I was really, really angry with you, but I couldn’t shout at you the way I wanted because you were so wrecked, and then it just kind of…you know. It was set aside. And it was four years ago, Matt. I’m—yeah, if I think about it, I’m still pissed, but there’s some distance now.” She shifts, finds another vertebra with her mouth. “And now I have context for all of it. It makes sense, why you didn’t explain it back then.”

He threads his fingers through hers, and shifts when she presses her knee into his leg, trapping her there.

“I didn’t say any of that to send you into a spiral of I hate myself, I don’t deserve you, so don’t,” Darcy says. “I know that’s what you’re doing right now, Matt, don’t deny it. You are a good person who deserves good things because you do good things, you just—occasionally you’re just incredibly stupid.”

Matt coughs again, a hiccupping little laugh. “I mean, you’re not wrong. Entirely.”

“Generally I’m not wrong about you, no.” Darcy shuts her eyes. “You can be stupid and you can be selfish and you can be absolutely ridiculous, but you’re not a bad person and never have been. I wish you’d remember that, sometimes.”

His ribs stutter into a gasping breath, and he shudders again when she swipes her thumb over the back of his hand, across his knuckles. 

“You know what happened with me.” Darcy knocks her forehead into his back. “You know what happened with Eli, and I don’t—I’m not sure I wouldn’t have killed him, if someone had caught Oliver Bletchley and—and given him to me like that. I don’t know what I would have done. Before everything with Frank, maybe—maybe I would have been able to say no, but not now. Now I’m not sure.”

“You wouldn’t,” Matt says, quietly. “I know you wouldn’t.”

“I wanted Frank dead, Matt. I wanted Fisk dead, I wanted Bletchley dead. I still want him to pay for what he did.”

“And you’re still good.” He catches her fingers again, says it into her skin. “We hold each other back.”

Me or her, Frank had said, and Matt had pulled the trigger, and there’s a flicker of memory, all the way back at the start, after Nobu, after Fisk. I should have been there to kill him and if you kill him it’ll kill you. Because we’re the same. “Yeah.”

Christ, she’s so tired. She feels empty. Not quite to the point that Frank had been talking about, not so exhausted that she can’t even breathe, but just—she needs days of sleep and days of recovery. She needs to curl into bed and not get out of it again for a month. Or at least a week.

“If this isn’t a punishment,” Matt says, “I don’t know what it is.”

“A chance for closure,” she says into his spine. “Maybe.”

“I don’t need closure.”

“Whale shark,” she says, and he laughs. He chokes on it, but he does. “She did this, and she left, and you’ve refused to think about it for four straight years. If that’s not unresolved, I don’t know what is.”

“I just want her to leave.”

“And from what you’ve told me and from what I’ve seen, she’s not going to, not until she gets what she wants. Whatever it is.”

The clock, and the city through the window, the buzz of the fan on the floor and his heartbeat under her hand. They can’t stay like this forever, not really. There are too many things to do, too many things they have to finish, but—she feels like a teenager. Five more minutes.

“What are you thinking?” Lips to the middle of her palm, to the scar in her skin and the marks from Nobu. “You’re very quiet.”

“It’s a lot to process.” And she’s sticking on some parts, to be honest. “Why do you think she did it?”

“For fun.” Matt swallows. “That’s what she said, anyway. For fun. Because she thought it would be fun, to kill someone. Or to get me to kill someone.”

Wild. Wild Elektra. And every time Matt’s verged on killing someone since then, it’s been nowhere close to fun. She thought it would be fun.

“We walk a line,” he says. “We—there’s a line we won’t cross, either of us. That we can’t let each other cross. Sometimes I think of it like—like falling into a dark hole. And we’re on the very edge, and if we fall, or start to, then we catch each other. Elektra—Elektra pushes other people into the hole. And she—she made sense, when I was with her. Things made sense. Until she gave me the knife, things made sense.”

And that’s what scares you, she thinks, pressing another kiss to his shoulder. More than any of the rest of it, that’s what frightens you. Because if Elektra had made sense up until she’d pressed a knife into his hand, if Elektra had made sense right up until that moment, then—Christ. Killing someone for fun. Or for revenge. Fun or revenge and not—not justice or punishment or any of it, just—her mind’s a tilt-a-whirl.

One batch.

“There’s a monster in me,” he says. “There’s—the Devil’s in me, and I can’t claw him out. There’s a devil inside me and half the time it’s like I’m getting burned up from the inside.”

“If you’re a monster,” says Darcy, “then so am I.”

“You’re not.”

“You’re the one who said we’re the same.”

He fists his hand around her fingers. “Darcy, you’re not a monster.”

“I want the same things you do. I don’t think Grote’s ever going to wake up, after what I did to him. To other people, that’s—that’s monstrous.”

“But you didn’t kill him.”

“Doesn’t mean I don’t think he would have deserved it.” She swallows. “Doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy hurting him for what he did. If you’re a monster, I’m a monster.” 

The blankets shift. When he rolls to face her, it’s with red eyes and a thin mouth, determination and grief. “You’re not a monster,” he says. “You’re the most amazing thing that’s ever happened to me, and you are nothing close to a monster.”

“Then neither are you.” She touches his lips. “If we’re both monsters, then—then it’s not a bad thing, necessarily. Monsters are monsters. Maybe everyone’s a different kind of monster, I don’t know. But you’re not wrong, Matt. You’re not evil, you’re not bad, you’re just…you’re you.”

He shuts his eyes. It takes a few minutes for him to open them again, a few minutes and Darcy tracing lines down his jaw as she waits.

“I’m going to ask you something,” she says. “Not as your girlfriend, but just as—as your friend. As someone who loves you, and wants you to be happy. And I want you to understand that if you answer, it’s not going to hurt me, or break my heart, or make me angry. I’ll—I mean, it won’t be comfortable, but I won’t hate you, no matter what you say, all right? So you can answer me.”

“I don’t like the sound of this.”

“Yeah, well, it needs to be asked.” She considers, for a moment. Then, carefully, she tucks herself into him, nose pressed into the hollow between his collarbones, arms around him so he can’t wrench away from her without getting caught up. “Were you in love with me when you were in love with her?”

He flinches. Actually, legitimately flinches, and his fingers go tight on her hip, and he stops breathing, for a minute. “Darcy—”

“I won’t be angry,” she says again. “If you say yes, I won’t be angry. If you say no, I won’t be angry. It’s just a question. I’m trying to understand, that’s all. You told me that—that you’ve been in love with me since we were freshmen, so I just—I want to understand.”

He’s still, for a while. He breathes, in and out. She thinks he might be timing it, because each inhale is the same length, each exhale. Seven seconds in, eleven seconds out.

“Something’s wrong with me,” he says. “I think—I think something in me is broken.”

“No.”

“Darcy—”

“You aren’t broken.” She shakes her head. “Absolutely nothing about you is broken. If you were—in love with both of us, I mean, that’s—that’s not wrong, Matt.”

“I told myself I wasn’t, but—” He stops. “Every time—every time I started realizing that what we were doing was dangerous, or—or too dark, I would come and find you. She called it—she said you were my leash, and in a way you were, because you—I told you. You make me—you’ve always made me better. Than I am, I mean. You—I’m a better person with you, somehow. And every time I started getting nervous I’d go and find you, because you made it easier.”

She strokes her fingers down his collar. Her heart hurts too much to say anything.

“Just—” He stops again. “People aren’t supposed to be able to do this.”

“What, love two people at once?” There’s a scar on his shoulder from Nobu. When she puts her mouth to it, he tastes like salt and sweat and skin. “People can do that. I know people who have done that. It’s not wrong. It just—it means you have a huge goddamn heart, that’s all.”

“I shouldn’t care,” he says. “At all. I shouldn’t—she nearly destroyed me. I should hate her. Or more than that, I should—I should be indifferent, I shouldn’t care, but—”

“But you do.”

Matt shakes his head. “I don’t know.”

“If you care?”

“I don’t know, maybe.”

“Grooves,” she says. “In your head. You’re always going to care. You were in love with her, and no matter what she did, no matter what she asked you to do or thought you were capable of, you’ll have feelings. Feelings aren’t something you can help, Matt. They—feelings grow and change and we can’t crush them. People say we can, but God, poetry wouldn’t exist if that were the case. If we could kill feelings, then half the masterpieces in the world would never have been created. More than. We’d live in a world without—without Shelley or Van Gogh or Dostoyevsky or Plath and that’s just a sad thought, to me.”

“Of course you pick Plath.”

“I love Sylvia Plath.” She presses closer into his chest. “After Eli, she was one of the only people who made sense. Like…ever. I don’t know.”

“Really?”

I like people too much, or not at all.” Lips to his collar again, to the dip in the bones. “And I thought the most beautiful thing in the world must be shadow.

Matt shifts around, rolls onto his back, lifts his eyes like he’s searching for the ceiling. “Shadow?”

“Christ, I don’t—hold on.” She has to think. “I thought the most beautiful thing in the world must be shadow, the million moving shapes and cul-de-sacs of shadow. There was shadow in bureau drawers and closets and suitcases, and shadow under houses and trees and stones, and shadow at the back of people’s eyes and smiles, and shadow, miles and miles and miles of it, on the night side of the earth.”

“You remember that?”

“You kidding? I used to write it in my school notebooks all the time, shadow at the back of people’s eyes and smiles. It was the only thing I’d ever read that ever felt like me, and I know how stereotypical that is, believe me. It scared the teachers because they knew it was from The Bell Jar and that’s about someone struggling with depression and considering killing herself. So.”

He’s quiet. Darcy rests her head on his shoulder, and smooths her fingers back and forth over the scar in his side from the fight with Nobu, back and forth and back and forth, from tip to tip. It takes him a while before he rests his fingertips to her shoulder, leaves his arm around her, listening.

“Nothing is wrong with you,” she says again. “What you do doesn’t just come from anger and viciousness, Matt, it comes from how deeply you care about people. You want to protect the city because you love the city, and the people in it, and you’re not just—neither of us are doing this just to hurt people. We do it because if we stop, people get hurt. The violence is its own cause and consequence, but it doesn’t negate the love.” Deep breath, Lewis. “Just like loving one person doesn’t negate loving the other.”

“I don’t love her anymore.”

“Yeah, but that doesn’t change the fact that you were in love with two people at once, and one of them hurt you very badly, and now she’s back, and it’s freaking the hell out of you. The polyromantic thing was probably scaring you shitless did back then, too, just—you didn’t think about it the same way because you didn’t need to. Or you didn’t let yourself.”

He shakes his head, disbelieving. “How are you being so calm about this?”

“I went to the Queer Caucus meetings at Columbia, remember? I’ve talked about this with people before.” Her chest squeezes tight. “Not that I’m going to be like—a hundred percent behind the idea, just because it seems like it’s hurting you more than anything and to be honest I didn’t…factor in the idea of non-monogamy into this—”

“Darcy—”

“Let me finish,” she says, and he shuts up. He listens to you, Foggy had said, the way he doesn’t to anybody else, that I can tell, and who the fuck knows why he does it. Maybe because they’re so similar, him and her. Maybe because he trusts her with his back and he knows they’re the same and so his secrets are more easily prised out of the shell than they would be for anybody else. No matter the reason, she’s glad of it, right now. That he’s actually processing, not just letting the words wash away. Because this means something, what she’s saying. She means every word of this. “It isn’t something I expected. And I don’t know that I like hearing it, really. That there could still be feelings, there. But—I mean. If there are, that—that doesn’t mean something is wrong with you. And, y’know—” honesty time, Lewis, come on “—I’d probably be stuck in the same boat. If it were me and you and someone else.”

Matt’s quiet for a long time. He strokes his knuckles down her shoulder and back up again, a circuitous rhythm that would lull her to sleep if she weren’t waiting for an answer, if she weren’t wrapped up in her own thoughts. Finally, he puts his mouth to her scalp. “Really?”

“Mm.” She doesn’t really know how to say it well, but…whatever. “Like—I can’t actually imagine not. Loving you, I mean. So it’s just—if it were me, and I was with someone else—loving them, or—or having feelings for them, and you came out of nowhere like this, then I’d kind of be stuck. In the middle.” Darcy wrinkles her nose. “Seems like a shitty position.”

His arm goes tight around her shoulders. Matt tucks his nose into her hair.

“You said you don’t trust yourself around her.” She curls her hand up over his heart. “You said that you don’t feel comfortable being around her, that you—is it because of the feelings or because of what nearly happened?”

“Jesus, you don’t pull punches.”

“Of course I don’t. You’ve known that for years.”

Matt heaves a huge breath. “I don’t—it’s not—I mean.”

“English.”

“Is difficult,” he says.

“You could say it in Spanish, if you want.”

“I’ll bite you.” Still, he doesn’t lift his lips from her hair. “I don’t—I can’t actually emphasize enough how much I don’t want to start something with her. Now, or ever. After what happened, I don’t—”

He stutters out, back into silence, bracing his arm around her shoulder and holding her close enough that it almost stings. Her glasses jam into her nose. Darcy angles until she’s resting half on his chest, her cheek flat to his shoulder, still, but when she breathes, in and out, it’s a rise and fall, it’s her pressing him into the bed and making herself present and a quiet plea, I’m right here, you’re all right. Matt rests his palm to the back of her head, swallowing, convulsive.

“Tell me.” She traces the scar again. “You can tell me, you know that.”

“I know.” His heart is racing under her chest. “I don’t—if she stays, I don’t trust myself not to fall into the dark again. She—it took months, after. To build control back up, to—to remember who I was and what I wanted. I don’t trust that it won’t happen again, if—if she’s nearby. Even if nothing happens. Which nothing will, because I don’t—I don’t want it to. Not her, not—not any of it.”

“Losing control.”

He nods. Darcy props her chin up against his chest, looking at him.

“You said that you wanted me to stay with you,” she says. “If you have to talk to her. Is that why?”

“You don’t have to worry about her and me.”

“That’s not what I asked.”

He settles his thumb to the corner of her lips. “We work together. And if you’re there, it won’t—it makes things easier if you’re there.”

“So I stay with you,” she says. “If you don’t want me to leave you alone with her, I won’t. And I know—I know, for a fact, that you love me, Matt. I know that. That was never, ever in doubt. Not for me. I know you love me, and—and I do love you. Even with everything this past week, that hasn’t changed.”

Something cracks in his chest, vibrating into her lungs. “I know that. I don’t know why you do, sometimes, but—but I know that.”

“I love you because I love you.” She kisses his collarbone. “I love you because you’re obnoxious and because you’ve been my best friend for eight years and because you make that stupid scrunchy face when I pull your earlobe and because you help me remember good things in the world. I told you, when we were staying at Claire’s, after—after Fisk. That I can’t, um. You know all the pieces of me that—that I hate. And you care anyway. You understand me anyway. You know them, and you—you love me anyway.” Darcy bites her lip. “I don’t know if that’s the right thing to say right now, considering, but—I don’t know.”

She really, really loves seeing his eyes. She’s never really been able to articulate it properly, even to herself, what it means that he’ll take his glasses off around her. That he doesn’t hide, with her. That he reaches out knowing she’ll be there. That when they’re talking she can look up and see him blink at her and he’s never self-conscious of it. Matt threads her hair back up out of her face, paints his fingers down her cheek. “I don’t know what you see in me.”

“You,” she says, and kisses his mouth. “I see you, that’s all. I don’t know why it’s so hard for you to believe it, but I see you, and you don’t scare me. You never have.”

Another laugh, crackling. It’s honest this time, though. Matt fists his hand up against the blankets. “I don’t know what I did to deserve someone like you.”

“It’s not a point system. You don’t deserve anything. I don’t deserve anything. We chose.” When he rests his fingers to her lips, Darcy lets herself smile, just a little. “We chose, and this is what happened. I know that might break your Catholic brain, but in my mind, nobody gives out prizes. We’re just people, and we make choices, and the pair of us made choices that led us to this. That’s all.”

He doesn’t smile. Matt strokes her cheek again. When she rocks forward, tips into his mouth, it’s delicate. Shattered crystal. Fingers in her hair, skin beneath her palms. She presses a kiss to his chin, and says, “When are we supposed to be out the door?”

“There’s that diner down the street from the firm. I told her eight-forty-five, but she probably won’t be there until nine.”

“No watch?”

His mouth twists. “Never cared.”

“Ah.” Wonder how that works out with meetings with Roxxon. “Well, if it’s Rosetti’s, then I can buy banana pancakes. It’ll make up for not having slept. Though I really shouldn’t be buying pancakes until we at least know that we’re going to be able to pay rent, this month. I’m—kind of regretting not being more Slytherin and keeping the money she threw at us. It was mercenary and gross and basically blackmail but, y’know. It would have pulled us out of debt.”

“Really?” 

“I snuck a look at the transaction records when Foggy wasn’t looking, and yeah, it would have.” Darcy kisses him again, quickly. “We both smell like suit. Come on. Shower.”

Normally he’d flirt. Normally he’d say something like, if I must, and trap her against the door to the bathroom and make it difficult to remember what the plan had been in the first place. This time, though, he just takes her offered hand, and that more than anything else she’s learned tonight makes her want to snatch up her baton and aim it at Elektra’s head. Still, she bites her tongue. Think. If she’s learned anything in the past week, if it’s made her remember anything, it’s that people are complicated. That they have reasons, they have problems. That each person is a universe unto themselves. I turned around, he’d said. And she’d vanished.

She’s not entirely sure what’s happened, in her head. She feels even, a boat on still water. Underneath the surface all of it’s churning, wild, but for now things are steady. Like a cat, he’d said, with dead rats. Elektra in their living room. I’ve found that breaking windows is simpler. But she can’t shake it, the feeling that there had been bruises dancing around Elektra’s mouth, old bloody wounds on both of them. Matt’s a wreck. What does that mean for Elektra?

Christ. Foggy’s rubbing off on her. Darcy turns her face up under the showerhead, and tries to drown in the spray.

Matt’s not wrong. It’s nearly nine-thirty by the time Elektra comes in, and she doesn’t stop or pause or even flinch when her eyes catch on Darcy in the booth next to Matt. There’s that flickering around her mouth, though, shadows chasing each other under the skin, and in Darcy’s head, Plath pops up again. Still and empty, the way an eye of a tornado must feel. She’s not sure if Elektra’s the eye, or the tornado itself, but the expression’s gone in a second. Something sour roots itself into her throat, looking at her. You broke his heart and scared him out of his mind and you don’t get forgiveness, for that, not from me.

“You good?”

Darcy hooks her fingers through Matt’s under the table. “I’m fine. Don’t let her bait you.”

“Shouldn’t I be telling you that?”

“Don’t get sassy with me.”  

“And good morning to the pair of you,” Elektra says, and slides into the opposite side of the booth. Her lipstick is a gorgeous shade of coppery red that Darcy’s too pale to ever be able to pull off. “We missed you last night, didn’t we, Matthew? Could’ve used you in the fight.”

“You seemed to handle it fine.” Darcy knocks her knee into Matt’s, and leaves it there. If Elektra’s going to play this as carefree indifference, that’s a thing Darcy can do. “Not a scratch on you, by the look of it.”

“Please. Under the clothes I’m a disaster. Not as bad as it could have been, but there are still some nasty bruises.” Elektra shrugs. “I’m starving, what did you order?”

“Pancakes.”

“Brilliant.” She waves down the waitress, her bangles clicking against her wrist. “I dealt with them, by the way. They won’t be bothering anyone again.”

Matt goes stiff, next to her. “You killed them?”

“Was there another option?” Elektra’s eyeing the remaining bits of whipped cream on Darcy’s plate like a woman who hasn’t had a scrap of food in fifteen years. Whatever. Darcy shoves her plate across without a word, watching the drag of her thumb across the ceramic. She’s not sure if Elektra even thinks about it. She’s always been one of those people with sexuality dripping from their fingertips. “They were yakuza, they would have come after me again with the way you left them, even the one with the crack in his skull. Which was efficient, by the way, very neat. I could’ve done better, but then again, we can’t all be me.”

Jesus Christ. “I’m—um.”

“Do I scare you?” Elektra’s not angry, she doesn’t think. Curious, more like. “It’s all right if you are. I won’t think any less of you.”

“You puzzle me,” Darcy says. “More than anything.”

I hear such different accounts of you as to puzzle me exceedingly,” Elektra says, pleased. She sucks at her finger, and then says, “Besides, it’s not as if they weren’t going to head right back to their little holes and work on new ways to make all the innocent people in this city wish they were dead.”

That may, possibly, have been the most cynical, sarcastic thing Darcy’s ever heard in her life, and that’s her talking. “Do I want to know what you did with them after?”

“Please. I’m not sloppy. There won’t be an investigation. I doubt the bodies will even be found.”

“Christ,” Matt says. “This was a mistake.”

“Matt, let her finish.”

“Talking about killing people?”

“Explaining herself,” Darcy says, and slowly Matt sinks back down into his seat. Elektra’s watching this with blatant interest, her eyebrows marching up her forehead, lips curving. “Because she’s going to finish explaining herself.” 

“Listen to the woman, Matthew, she at least seems to have a streak of common sense.” Elektra swipes her finger over the plate again. “This city’s a shithole. I forget it every time I leave, get nostalgic, and then I come back and wind up disappointed all over again. Why any of you stay here, I have no clue.”

“It’s a shithole,” Darcy says, “but, y’know. It’s our shithole." Thanks, Foggy. "Our expensive, crime-ridden, rapidly gentrifying, nasty-smelling shithole. But Lin-Manuel Miranda has it right, when the sunrise hits the fire escapes the right way? Most beautiful thing in the world.”

Elektra presses her finger to her lips, watching Darcy through her eyelashes. “I’ll take that into consideration, then. And don’t,” she says, when Matt opens his mouth. “I don’t talk about anything until I eat. We don’t all get to vanish into the ether and leave the mess for other people to clean up.”

“I wasn’t—”

Darcy jabs her thumbnail hard through the fabric of his slacks. Matt shuts up, and turns his face towards the window. If Elektra notices, she doesn’t say anything. She just flags down the waitress.  

The fifteen years thing might have to be upped to hasn’t eaten since birth, because the amount of food Elektra orders, Christ. Pie, a sandwich, two different kinds of tea plus coffee (which she gestures at all of them, for that one, and Darcy’s not sure what to make of that) a salad, a side of onion rings, and fries. Which…damn. Okay. Darcy wants fries now. So, yeah, after all of that (plus Darcy’s fries) is delivered to the table, and Elektra’s made more than a few decent attempts at conquering her enormous club sandwich (complete with razing all cities under its dominion to the ground) Matt leans back against the vinyl of the booth. “Are you done?”

“Only halfway.” Elektra’s lips curl. “But I can talk, now, probably. So long as I get to pause.”

Literally all the sass at this table right now, Jesus. Sass and baiting and teenage grumpiness. She hooks her foot around Matt’s ankle. I get that you’re freaked out, but please don’t get snippy. Darcy wipes salt off her fingers from the fries. “I don’t remember you being this chipper.”

“Please. Isn’t this a fascinating morning? Daredevil—” she’s quiet, but Matt still jerks like she’s hooked him up to a car engine with jump cables “—and Lilith, and me, and no one in this café knows but us. Oh, don’t get fussy, Matthew, I’m not shouting it from the rooftops.”

“Elektra,” says Matt, through his teeth. “Keep your voice down.”

“Like anyone’s paying attention.” Elektra picks the tomato out of the remainder of her sandwich, and eats it. “You could probably put on a shirt that says I’m Daredevil in all capitals and wear it through Times Square and nobody would believe me. Take a pill.” She eyes Darcy, for a moment. “You’re a harder sell, especially with all those cuts, but I’m fairly sure enough people in this neighborhood know you and would be the first to cry no, not her!”

Thinking of Marisol, of Brett, of everyone who’s linked her to Lilith in the past few days, Darcy snorts.

“You wanted to ask me questions, didn’t you, Matthew?” Elektra steals a fry off of Darcy’s plate, and lifts her eyebrows in a challenge. “Or did you miss me?”

“That would be a no.” He presses his knee hard into Darcy’s under the table. “I want to know what you’re doing here, Elektra. The truth, this time.”

“I told you, Roxxon has my money wrapped up in their bullshit. I want it back.”

“And they called in the yakuza for that?”

“Roxxon’s had their child-slaving fingers wedged into criminal pies for decades, is it really so surprising that the Japanese subsidiary of their conglomerate is tangled with the yakuza?” She picks another tomato out of her sandwich. Darcy thieves a fry of her own, and refuses to acknowledge Elektra’s eyebrow game a second time. “I stirred the pot, they came running. It’s not particularly complicated.”

“You could just, you know.” Darcy snaps the fry in half. “Pull your funds out of Roxxon. They can’t possibly have it so twisted that you can’t divest yourself as a board member. And it would get the yakuza off your back if you did.”

“I’m not a board member, my father was, which tells you enough about my father.” She blows hair out of her eyes. “I don’t run from a fight, and they’ve started one. I hacked into their servers, and they came with knives.” Elektra hums a few bars of the IAMX song, and licks mayonnaise from her finger. “There’s something here that they don’t want anybody to see. We have to track it down before they bury it again.” 

“We,” Matt echoes. “There’s not a we, here.”

“Of course there’s a we. If there wasn’t a we, the pair of you wouldn’t be here.” She stirs the ice in her glass with the straw. To be irritating, Darcy’s pretty sure. She can’t see any other reason for it, especially when Matt’s this on edge. “Of course, I’d rather deal with it alone, but you—” She looks at Matt. “You’re the best fighter I know. And you—” She actually pulls the straw out of the cup, points at Darcy “—you’re learning, and thus can be tolerated.”

“Much obliged.”

“You’re welcome,” Elektra says. “I’m not stupid enough to turn down backup if it presents itself. Not that I don’t appreciate all the time and attention, but you wouldn’t have come to meet me if you hadn’t already decided that much. It’s not particularly difficult to deduce.”

“Thanks, Holmes,” Darcy says.

Elektra tips her head. “Jonny Lee Miller or Benedict Cumberbatch?”

“Jeremy Brett. Also not the point.”

“We can handle the yakuza.” Next to her, Matt clenches his hands up on his knees. “We did before.”

“No,” Elektra says, “you can’t. And no, you didn’t. They’ve been here waiting, that much is clear. They’re here with something more permanent in mind than just crossing me off the map, as flattering as it is that they think they need to send eight of their best people to subdue me. They didn’t give my father the same courtesy.”

“Your dad was an antiquities professor.”

“Among other things.” Elektra knocks the ice around again. “Richer than Croesus, and a selfish bastard to boot.”

“Sure,” Matt says. “Hard life for you.”

“Oh, don’t go on one of your proletarian rants, if you can manage it. I know sometimes it’s hard for you to keep your mouth shut, but I’m not in the mood for it, this morning.”

“Children,” Darcy says, and under the table Matt steps on her foot. If you’re going to be snotty, I’ll be snotty back at you, Matthew, don’t get mad at me. Getting snippy isn’t going to help them get anywhere. More flies with maple syrup than with arsenic, or whatever it is. “We’ve established your dad was a bastard, fine. So was mine, he left before I was born. If there’s going to be a we, there are ground rules.”

“Oh, Lord,” says Elektra. “How hard am I going to roll my eyes?”

“We don’t kill.” Matt crosses his arms over his chest. “No more bodies drop, no more—no more accidental deaths. We don’t kill. If you work with us, neither do you.”

“Well, you don’t kill intentionally, of course. Thin distinction, but fairy tales are your habitat, I’m not sure I’m surprised—”   

“No more killing, Elektra,” says Matt, in a voice that brooks no argument, and Elektra actually shuts up. She scoffs under her breath.

“Fine. Kid gloves back on.” She peeks through her eyelashes. “You used to be fun.”

“Second rule,” Darcy says, loudly, over whatever aborted snarling sound Matt’s making right now. “We work together, we actually, you know, work together. Instead of sniping at each other like a bunch of teenagers. That absolutely has to be a thing, because if I have to listen to it for as long as this goes on then I will actually stab someone.”

“I thought we just clarified that the two of you don’t go in for that.”

“Again, not the point.” Darcy picks over her fries. It’s easier to do that than to look at Elektra, or at Matt, easier to do that then feel like a hypocrite when Elliot Grote is lying in a hospital bed and probably never going to wake up. And he deserved it. “No killing. No sniping.”

“No sex,” Elektra says.

She has to bite her tongue to keep from choking on it. “What did I say about no sniping?”

“It’s not a snipe if it’s the truth.” Scratch the Elektra’s not conscious of it thing. She totally flaunts it. “You can’t deny that we’re all very pretty—”

All?

“—and with fighting, especially the way we do it, sometimes it doesn’t feel like there’s any other outlet.” She considers her plate. “Well, that or pie.”

“That’s a very Faith Lehane outlook on life,” Darcy says. Do not react. Do not react to Elektra Natchios possibly suggesting a threesome, even in jest, because Jesus Christ, if you react— “I don’t bake, telling you that right now. So if you want pie, you buy it.”

“Is that your line in the sand?”

“Close enough to one that it’ll stick.” Darcy knocks into Matt. “You good with that?”

His jaw clenches. Come on, Matt. Darcy touches his knee again, and he catches her fingers in his, not squeezing, just holding on. “Fine.”

“Excellent.” Elektra drags a bit of apple out from her pie, and mashes it with her fork. “And the trend of you both being absolute sticks continues. If you can avoid it, try not to be overtly vile, the pair of you. The domesticity is bad enough.”

“What part of don’t go there—

“Sniping,” Darcy says. “It’s not happening. Check yourselves before you wreck all of us. Besides—Matt, we have to get to work, come on. Karen will be pissed.”

“Is that the secretary?”

“That would be the secretary and the legal assistant and the Queen of Nineties Tech, yes.” And the Dog Tamer. And the Gun Wielder. And the Secret Weapon, which she’s not telling Elektra. She pushes Matt out of the booth. “You already have my number, so call if you need.”

“Looking forward to it already,” Elektra says, and Darcy pushes, pushes and pushes without being too obvious about it, until she’s hustled Matt out the door with about as much ceremony as throwing a sack of rice, hand woven into his. She thinks Elektra might watch them as they go, eyes trained to their backs. There’s a prickling up her spine that can’t be explained by anything else.

“Jeremy Brett?” he says, when they’re half a block away and his shoulders have dropped from around his ears. “When was Jeremy Brett?”

“Eighties and nineties. Granada specials.” Darcy squeezes his fingers. “You good?”

“Hah.”

“Reword: are you going to punch anything or anybody in the next hour?”

Matt bumps into her shoulder. “Probably not. Unless one of the clients gets too obnoxious.”

“Let’s hope that they don’t, then.” She sighs. “And let’s hope that nothing crops up for like a month so she gets bored and leaves.”

.

.

.

They get two weeks.

It’s actually fairly easy, all told. Back to what they’d been doing before, the balance between the law and the night. She still falls asleep at her desk more than a few times, still dozes off and wakes up to find Rey crawling back into her lap (because Karen brings Rey to work, “she’s too young and scared to be left alone all day and besides, Chat found me a service dog vest, we can pull it off—”) and curling up the way Darla does. Six more students from the Manhattan School of Music call in to ask about the suit she’s filed for Marisol Guerra. They settle with Maxwell’s nemesis, though, get the charges dropped, and actually get paid. Miss Jacinto is more complicated, since her immigration status is precarious at best, but she’s pretty sure Matt makes inroads on that. He seems pleased when he comes back from court, anyway, and it’s an improvement over everything else that’s happened.

Still, she lies awake staring at the ceiling when they get back from the city, listens to him breathing, and thinks, how do I do this? Blow after blow after blow. Broken promises and exes out of nowhere and she knows for a fact that he would never, ever cheat on her, but she’s still not sure she can trust him not to rush ahead of her if it meant he could get Elektra out of here as soon as possible. He’d asked what he could do, to prove it to her, but she’s honestly not certain. She thinks existing might be the only solution.

Maxwell closes, more cases open up, but outside of MSM the firm’s quiet. The whip that she’d sketched out with Melvin is proving trickier than expected. “He’ll call you,” Betsy says, “when it’s ready,” and she’s good with her taser and the baton for now, anyway. Now that the semester’s actually really started, Kate has to be in at Barnard most days, and that means she doesn’t show up quite so often at the firm. The looped video was deleted, or removed, according to Santino (and Darcy should’ve known that Kate would get Santino on the case; Kate and Santino are good friends, from what she can tell) which means there’s no way to tell who broke into the maintenance room and painted Black Sky on the inside. It’s stumping Matt, too. “It’s like they’ve wiped all the scents out of here,” he says, when he touches his fingers to the wall a few days later. “Like—all I can smell in here is you, and Kate, and Elena. And the paint. There’s nothing else here.”

“Because of how long ago it happened?”

“Maybe, but the paint is still strong. There should at least be something.” He shakes his head. “There’s nothing here to find.”

Which is back to square one there. Still, Elena’s recruited Miles, even if Kate had hesitated. There are people watching the Ahagons. Hopefully it’ll give them something eventually.

She doesn’t hear anything from Jen. Neither does Karen, really—they’re both out of the apartment so much it’s a miracle that Darla is still eating properly—but even though Darcy texts her a few more times, there’s no reply. Never thought Jen would be the type to pull the “seen: 2:41PM” thing. Judging by how the courthouse is buzzing every time she has to visit, though, the DA’s office is working overtime to build the case against Frank. It’s more than possible Jen’s not actually ignoring her, just that she doesn’t have enough brain outside of evidence to respond. “Leave the toucan be,” Angie says, one morning when Darcy comes in with more coffee and another complaint to file against MSM. “She’s having a hard time of it, lately.”

Christ. She’s such a shit sister. Darcy steals a post-it off of Angie’s desk (“Watch it, peregrine, I don’t like you that much—”) and scrawls tell me if you need anything –D onto the paper. “Give that to her,” she says, and smacks it onto a pile of case files. “Or stick it on her computer or something, somewhere she’ll see it.”

“If I must,” says Angie, but she looks grimly pleased anyway. “If you could come back in a few hours to drag her out of that damn office, it might help.”

“You think she’ll actually come along this time?”

The expression on Angie’s face is the only answer she needs.

Frank is still asleep. Claire texts them updates, on occasion, just says nothing yet and doesn’t respond when Darcy tells her thank you. They’re keeping him under sedation until some of the more dangerous injuries have resolved themselves a little. It’s an impressive list. Strain on his heart, from what Claire can only guess was four different tasers. Possibly more. A drill through his foot, a shattered knee (oops,) internal damage from whatever else Brannigan was doing. One or two missing molars, in the back of his mouth. Plus all the fractured bones, the broken nose, the cuts, and even a few burns, though from what the nurses haven’t been able to gather. “He made bombs,” Darcy says into the phone one night, perched on the corner of a rooftop with Kate and watching Matt beat the shit out of an Irishman. (he shouldn’t be out here, he needs to rest, his stupid head and his brain and the hearing, God, because he’s still having hearing issues even if he’s pretending otherwise, she knows, she can tell—) “It might have been from that.”

“That would explain chemical traces the labs found.” Claire heaves her God, why did I end up with you people sigh. “I have more names for you.”

“I’ll call you on my way to court tomorrow, can you tell me then?”

“Sure.” Claire hesitates. “You don’t need to keep doing this to yourself.”

“I need to know, Claire.”

“Need to know what?” Kate says, next to her, and Darcy shrugs.

“Nothing, just girl stuff.” And she’s really hoping Matt isn’t paying attention right now. “I’ll call you tomorrow, Claire.”

“I’ll hold you to that one,” Claire says, and she’s the one to hang up.

She has her timelines, at least. Sketching everything out. Which is exceptionally dangerous, considering what she does, and who she is, but Kate’s right—she can’t keep track of all of it in her head anymore, no matter how interwoven it is. Her brain’s never worked in anything but mind maps, and mind maps are best drawn on whiteboar