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Devil You Know

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You speak to me in words and I look at you with feelings.

Leo Tolstoy

**

For a moment, it’s a perfect night.

There’s a bite in the air threatening rain—cold, like a late autumn thunderstorm that can so easily slip into snow. Matt can smell the whiskey on Jessica’s skin, if not her breath, seeping from her like bits of released tension as she talks about trust and he finds himself stepping in rhythm with her coiled, tiger-like stride. The muscles in his face relax into a smile in response to the forced acid of her tone—something he’s found himself doing enough around her they don’t creak and groan with the motion.

Then he hears the crash of a body hitting the ground two blocks away. The unsteady thrum-thrum as Luke Cage’s heartbeat falters slams into him like a punch. And Matt is reminded that there is no perfect and that trust is a myth told to children.

“Something’s wrong.”

He starts to run, folding his cane with a practiced motion, heading directly for the sidedoor of the theater where they’d left Luke and Danny with Stick. He can hear Jessica behind him, moving without question in response to his urgency, believing him—thankfully—without the benefit of proof.

The clutter of the abandoned building offers him a pathway and he’s sprinting through the scent of dust and old sweat and rotting furniture and empty boxes. He crosses the stage, passing Sowande’s body cooling in a now-stagnant puddle of blood, the odor of copper and death like a cloud that drags on his skin. He leaps up an amalgamation of furniture to the balcony, registering that Jessica is running toward the stairs.

He knows in his gut she won’t be fast enough.

He doesn’t focus on why, on reasons. He’s caught on what, moving toward panic and pain. He can hear their heartbeats.

Danny’s is fast and frantic, fear clouding his control. Matt knows the younger man needs to focus his chi. But something is stopping him. Terrifying him.

Luke’s is an unusually slower cadence to his naturally steady beat. The wrongness of the sound pushes Matt to find a new speed.

Stick’s is a drumbeat, racing like a humming bird’s. He is in pain, struggling. Fighting.

And then there is a void—a smudge of dark in a world on fire.

He’s running down a hall, ducking through a doorway, the flames that are his vision wrapping around edges and bending across barricades, guiding him, navigating him. He can smell them, their fear, their pain. He can smell the sharp tang of smoke—he remembers that scent, remembers Stick using it to control, to overpower. The drug is spilling through the room, seeping into lungs as Danny breathes, subduing him.

And, oh God…oh God. He can smell her hair, her sweat…her. She's in there. They are afraid because of her. In pain because of her.

“Elektra!”

He shouts her name before he slams his way through the door. His own pulse is desperate, beating against his ribs, his breath drowning out the warning screaming at him from Stick’s wild heartbeat, the reassurance of Jessica’s footsteps headed his way.

It all fades to a backbeat thrash of noise as the flames—his world on fire—bend around the…the nothing that is Elektra Natchios brandishing a blade above the heart of their shared mentor.

“Matthew….” She breathes his name and it’s like a sigh. Like she’s coming home.  

His hands are up, placating, pleading. He can feel himself trembling with the need to move, to prevent, to protectprotectprotect.

“Listen to me,” he starts, unable to quell the tremor in his voice. “You don’t have to do this. You don’t belong to them.” He steps closer, realizing the only reason he’s able to do so is because she allows it. “This is not who you are.”

“It’s good to see you,” she replies, her voice still soft, the sound caressing his skin like the flat of a blade.

He hears Jessica crash into the room behind him, ready to fight, to back him up. But it doesn’t matter now.

Except that it does, because it’s exactly the moment Elektra shifts in his perception, the shadow of her body toying with the fire and causing the flames to twist as she raises the sword and slams it brutally through Stick’s heart.

And Matt’s world explodes.

Grief stabs through him with the acuity of the blade that ended Stick’s life and he charges forward, mindless in his attack—no form, no plan, just the anguish howling inside of him, hands aching to beat back time.

He never touches her.

Elektra kicks out, making contact with his chest and lifting him off his feet, his body flying through the air like she’d swatted a fly, slamming with considerable force against the opposite wall and sliding down to lay in a crumpled heap of broken promises.

He is caught in a world where there is no fire, no scent, no sound of any kind. Nothing but the echoing darkness of his nightmares and the cutting edge of his memories. Where even his own heartbeat counts an uncertain cadence against the reality of a world where he is now utterly and truly alone.


“I need you.”

Claire looks up from the paper coffee cup—her sixth of the day—balanced between her long fingers and blinks in confusion toward where Misty is leaning into the room, arms akimbo in the doorframe.

“Sorry?” Claire replies, straightening up and glancing briefly at the other occupants of the room.

Colleen pauses in her quest to wear a groove down the center of the room. Malcomb opens one eye from where he’s stretched out sideways on the only armchair. The low hum of Karen and Trish’s conversation quiets and Foggy stands up as though he’s been waiting for this.

Misty doesn’t look away from Claire. “Not them. Just you. Grab your coat.”

“M’kay,” Claire replies hesitantly, standing and tossing her coffee into the now-overflowing plastic trash bin as she reaches for her jacket.

She exits the room without looking at the rest—unable to stand the questions in their eyes. Tension curls up in her gut like a snake, anxiety a venom turning her blood hot. Misty doesn’t pause as they move down the hall, passing offices and interrogation rooms, toward a door marked ‘stairs.’

“This is completely unorthodox,” Misty says over her shoulder. “But…gimme one thing about this mess that’s normal.”

Claire tips her head silently in concession, moving through the door and following Misty down the stairs. It’s cooler in the stairwell and Claire is glad for the warning about her jacket. Misty picks up her pace and Claire frowns.

“Look, not that I’m ungrateful for your protection and everything, but what the hell?”

Misty pauses at a landing, looking up the stairwell to Claire.

“A call just came in,” she relays, her brown eyes dark and flat with concealed worry. “Abandoned theater in Harlem, two dead bodies, three unconscious people.” She pauses and shifts her chin so that Claire is on notice. “Two of them super-human.”

Claire swallows. “Did anyone call an ambulance?”

“Not yet,” Misty reports, continuing down the stairs.

Claire blinks and hurries forward. “Why the hell not?”

The release of the door that leads to the garage is loud in the stairwell and Misty’s answer echoes back toward her as she says, “This ain’t your first rodeo. You know as well as I do, there’s nothing they can do for Luke Cage in a hospital, and I’m not sure I want to find out what happens when Jessica Jones wakes up in an ambulance.”

“What about the third person?” Her hands suddenly feel too empty.

“That’s why you’re here,” Misty says, reaching a car. She arches an eyebrow as she opens the trunk and plucks out a large bag with a red cross on the outside. “Something tells me you know who it is and what we need to do.”

Matt.

Claire feels her heart shiver as she jumps into the passenger seat of the car.

“How are you going to explain this to your Captain?” she asks, thinking furiously about the logistics of getting Luke, Jessica, and Matt someplace safe. Wondering at the same time what the hell happened to Danny Rand and trying not to think about why he isn’t with the rest of them.

“Don’t have to,” Misty replies. “We’ve already got you all in protective custody; this is part of the same investigation.”

Claire frowns. It sounds thin to her. She keeps silent, listening to the radio chatter and counting the street lights until Misty pulls the car to the side of a road lined by squad cars. Claire jumps out, medical bag in hand, and follows Misty through the small throng of uniforms gathered outside the entrance to the theater. She sees two coroner vehicles and one ambulance.

“Thought you said they hadn’t been called,” Claire challenges as she and Misty enter the old theater, the musty smell of decay enough to make her cough.

“They hadn’t,” Misty grumbles, leading the way past the stage and to a back set of stairs.

Claire feels the tension coil tighter as they head up through more trash and shattered furniture, down halls tagged with painted gang symbols. The area is nearly devoid of uniforms and as the two women approach a room at the end of the hall, with the exception of two men standing guard. Claire puzzles at the general lack of activity. She’s seen crime scenes before—been a part of her fair share.

This is not a normal crime scene.

The first thing she sees when she breaches the room behind Misty is Matt Murdock lying sprawled and still at the base of a wall with a human-shaped dent in it. His glasses are askew and there is blood on his shirt and the side of his face. She starts forward, instincts kicking in. She’s on one knee, fingers at Matt’s throat, finding a pulse that’s tachycardiac as hell, when the smell of blood—and lots of it—catches her attention and she shoots a look to her left to see the skewered body of a man, and just behind him, Luke Cage lying prone in the annexed room.

“Luke,” she breathes, abandoning Matt and heading toward him, her pulse skyrocketing with worry. Whatever happened in this room was enough to knock Luke Cage out and that—

“Jessica’s over here,” Claire hears Misty say, her voice pitched low as though in deference to the dead and wounded.

But Claire’s eyes are for Luke alone at the moment. She won’t be able to breathe until she knows. His skin is clammy to the touch, his heart rate bradcycardic, but stable, his breathing shallow, but steady. There’s no blood—but then, there wouldn’t be.

She swallows hard, gently caressing the side of his face before she moves over to Jessica, assessing the unconscious P.I. with practiced precision.

“She’s got a strong pulse,” Claire reports, running her hands along the back of Jessica’s head and neck, checking for obvious injuries. “With her strength, I’m doubtful of a spine injury. She and Luke appear to be just unconscious.”

“And the lawyer?” Misty asks, rotating on one knee to look over her shoulder.

Claire moves back to Matt, frowning as she pulls his glasses free, tucking them into her jacket pocket in an automatic motion. She checks his head and neck, finding a raised knot on the side of his head, the skin split and the clear source of the blood on his face and clothes.

“Matt,” she calls, tapping his face lightly.

As attuned as she knows he is to touch and sound, she fully expects him to rouse with her ministrations. When nothing happens, she applies a sternum rub, trying in vain to bring him around. She jerks her hand back when he utters a low moan at her touch. Snapping latex gloves on from within the medical pack, Claire carefully loosens his tie, unbuttons his suit shirt, and lifts the white T-shirt beneath.

“Damn,” Misty breathes, peering over her shoulder.

Claire winces at the deep bruise she can see already forming across Matt’s ribcage, but she knows that’s not what draws Misty’s eyes. The scars that litter Matt’s torso are definitely not aligned to his attorney persona.

Claire pulls his shirt down.

“You’re going to think I’m crazy,” she says, shifting slightly to pitch her voice toward Misty, “but we can’t take him to the hospital either.”

“Honey, crazy came to stay the minute I saw Luke Cage stop a bullet with nothing but his hand,” Misty counters. “Why do you think I made them wait outside until we’d cleared this scene?”

Claire nods, pressing the back of her gloved hand to her upper lip. “Okay, so how do you want to do this? Where do you want to take them?”

“Back to the precinct,” Misty declares. “I got questions.”

“They’re not in any condition to answer questions!”

Misty arches a brow. “They will be,” she predicts, then motions behind her with a tilt of her head. “Or at least those two will.”

“Fine,” Claire relents, looking back over at Luke. “Can we get them down to your car?”

Misty straightens up and calls to the two uniformed officers standing out in the hall. “I want you to cuff her,” she orders, pointing at Jessica. “Cage will behave as long as Claire is here, and this one….” She frowns at Matt.

“If he wakes up, he’ll be okay if he knows I’m close,” Claire replies, hoping to God she’s right.

It’s awkward as hell and Claire’s worry spikes higher than she thought possible after all the trauma she’s witnessed, but the uniforms get Luke out of the room and down to Misty’s car without the big man waking. Then they return for Jessica. One officer puts her over his shoulders in a fireman’s carry.

Claire bends to help the other officer take Matt’s weight. He is completely pliant; there’s no resistance, no awareness. The last time she saw him like this, he was literally bleeding out on his apartment floor. She can’t help but wonder if this time the wounds are only part of the problem.

Who in the world would have been able to take out three of the most bad-ass people she knows? And not only that, hit them hard enough to keep them out through repeated attempts to wake them?

They manage to get Matt into the back seat of Misty’s car, Claire twisting around in the front to watch them as Misty drives back to the precinct. If the situation weren’t so dire, it might look endearing to see these three slump against each other, heads to shoulders, features slack and peaceful.

When they arrive at the precinct, Misty once more takes over, instructing Luke to be moved to a cot in the breakroom and Jessica to be cuffed in interrogation.

“Put the lawyer in my office,” she orders. “And get that shirt off of him; I want the blood for evidence.”

Claire’s heart wants her to follow Luke, to see what could have happened to keep him out so long, but the moment Misty orders the collection of Matt’s shirt her gut compels her to follow the lawyer to the private office. They pass the squad room on the way and she sticks her head through the doorway.

“Foggy.” His head snaps up, his eyes finding hers like lasers. “I may need your help.”

“What about the rest of us?” Trish steps forward, her brows pulled low over worried eyes.

“Not yet,” Claire replies cryptically, then heads down the hall toward Misty’s office.

One of the more burly officers carries Matt in, draped over his shoulder like a recalcitrant child, and as he bends low to deposit the attorney on the leather couch, Matt’s head drops back, one arm swinging free.

Claire squeaks out a quick plea. “Easy with him!” She makes a grab for Matt’s head and eases him back to rest against the arm of the couch.

“Here,” the officer says, thrusting an evidence bag under Claire’s nose. “Misty wants the shirt.”

“Why?” Claire asks, confused. “It’s his blood.”

The officer shrugs. “Protocol.”

Claire crosses her arms over her chest and raises an eyebrow. “Seriously? The guy got slammed into a wall.”

“Look, lady, I’m just following orders. Misty says get the shirt, I get the shirt.”

“Right.” Claire barely avoids rolling her eyes and instead offers the man a tight, insincere smile before shedding her jacket and approaching Matt’s limp form.

He hasn’t stirred, not once since she inadvertently rubbed the dark bruise on his chest in an attempt to wake him. She wants an X-ray of his chest, an MRI of that impossible head. She wants an IV and pain meds and something resembling modern medicine.

Instead, she gets a bored-looking officer waiting for his evidence and Matt’s best friend stumbling through the doorway to stare at him in equal parts confusion, worry, and irritation.

“What. The actual. Hell.”

“Foggy, come over here.”

“He looks like shit, Claire.”

“I’m aware,” Claire sighs, then sits next to Matt’s hip and reaches for his shoulders. “Lift him up. Toward me.”

“What did you give him?” Foggy demands as he moves to the arm of the couch, wedging himself behind Matt as he lifts the unconscious man. Claire ignores the sharp pain that shoots through her gut as Matt’s head lolls forward without as much as a groan.

“Give him?” Claire asks, sliding the arms of Matt’s suit jacket from him and tugging it off before pulling his tie free.

“To knock him out like this.”

“I didn’t give him anything, Foggy,” Claire replies, removing the suit shirt and stuffing it into the evidence bag.

“T-shirt, too,” the officer barks.

Claire shoots him a glare and starts to pull up the edge of Matt’s T-shirt as Foggy works his way around to true indignation.

“You’re saying this is because…someone…or something, did this to him?”

Claire pulls Matt to her so that his forehead rests on her shoulder, rolling the shirt over his head and wincing in sympathy as her knuckles brush against the bump on the side of his head.

“Yes,” she grinds out.

“Why the hell isn’t he in a hospital, Claire?”

“You know why,” Claire snaps back, glaring at Foggy this time.

Because, honestly. If anyone in Matt’s personal orbit knows why she didn’t fight to get him into an ambulance and to the hospital it sure as shit should be Foggy.

She thrusts the evidence bag at the officer and cuts off Foggy’s further protests by easing Matt back onto the couch, his head pillowed on the arm, skin gathering in goosebumps along his bare chest.

“Damn,” the officer utters, still lingering in the doorway.

Claire grimaces; Matt’s scars—not to mention the ugly-assed bruise—are on full display.

“You want to get him a T-shirt or something?” She barks at the officer, then stands and practically pushes the officer through the door, closing it behind him.

Turning she sees Foggy staring down where Matt lay like a marionette with its strings cut, the bruises dangerously close to an indication of internal bleeding. Matt’s face is pulled into a pained frown, though he looks deceptively innocent without his glasses.

“What happened?”

“I don’t know,” Claire replies, digging the red-lensed glasses from her pocket and setting them on the side table near Matt’s head. She wants him to have them near when he wakes.

“You don’t know.”

Foggy turns to look at her and she feels her defenses go up as she crouches next to Matt once more, gently running her hands along his sides, checking for broken ribs. Or hidden stab wounds. Or something she could detect using her very human touch and her very normal sense of hearing and smell and—God, why had she ever followed the kid to the dumpster that night?

“You just let the cops bring him back here, beat to hell again, and fucking unconscious—“

“Look,” Claire growls, snapping her head around, one hand resting on Matt’s sternum, his skin warm to the touch, his heartbeat still tachycardic. “He was in a room with a dead guy and Luke and Jessica were there—both of them unconscious as well, by the way—and none of them could—“

“Luke and Jessica?” Foggy retorts in a strangled whisper. “Those two are…like…super-human! Impenetrable skin and freakazoid strength. They’ll get over getting knocked around…but Matt’s not…he doesn’t have magical healing powers, Claire! All’s he’s got are tricked-out senses—he’s not bulletproof!”

“I know that!” Claire hisses back, her voice growing softer and thinner the angrier she gets. “I’ve put him back together more times than I want to remember.”

Foggy swallows, looking back down at his friend. “He breaks.”

Claire pulls a breath in through her nose, exhaling slowly as she finishes her exam. “Nothing is broken this time,” she says. “But he’s going to be pretty damn sore, and I don’t like how none of this activity—and noise—is waking him up.”

She can’t help but gently brush his hair off of his forehead.

“What hit him?”

“I don’t know,” Claire confesses, feeling defeated.

There is a knock at the door and both look up as the same officer returns with a blue NYPD Harlem T-shirt in his hand. Foggy takes it with a nod of thanks and closes the door again. Silently, they assume the same positions, lifting Matt up from the couch—except this time Foggy catches his head as it slumps back on a slack neck—and propping him up to slip the T-shirt over his head.

As Claire works one arm into a sleeve, Matt groans, shifting against her, his body shuddering once as though in pain.

“Matt?” she whispers, afraid for a moment how the noise of the station that had yet to rouse him would affect him once he did wake. “You with me?”

Matt doesn’t move, but another groan slips out, this one sounding more agonized than the first.

Pulling the T-shirt lower so that it covered the scars that lay evidence to his other life, Claire eases Matt back against the couch, keeping her hand beneath his head. Once he is lax against the arm of the couch, she palpates the wound on the side of his head, watching carefully as he frowns, his lips folding in a grimace of pain.

“Hey, Foggy, hand me that medical bag over there,” she requests.

Digging around inside the bag with one hand, she finds the hydrogen peroxide and a few gauze pads. Wetting the gauze, she gently cleans the cut on Matt’s scalp, soothing him with gentle strokes against his chest when he tenses, his expression tightening with pain.

“Stick….” Matt murmurs, and Claire pulls her head up in surprise as his expression melts with grief. His chest hitches slightly with his next pull of breath.

“Claire.” Foggy looks at her, dread heavy in his expression. “Who was the dead guy?”

 “What?”

“In the room,” Foggy clarifies. “Who was dead?”

“I-I don’t…,” Claire looks back down at Matt, gently cleaning the blood from the side of his face. “I didn’t recognize him.”

“Gray hair, looks like he could’ve been David Carradine’s stunt double in Kung Fu?”

“Yeah, maybe,” Claire nods. “To be honest, I was a little distracted by the sword stuck in his chest.”

Foggy swallows loud enough Claire can hear it.

“Stick,” he said quietly. “The guy who raised Matt…well, kinda. After his dad—I mean, he was pretty much an emotionally abusive son of a bitch, but he taught Matt how to fight. How to…y’know. Do all that ninja shit.”

“Oh.” Claire sits back, staring at Matt, then tosses the soiled gauze into a nearby trash can. She sighs, as Matt shifts again, not coming around, but more aware than before. He turns a bit to his side, curling around his wounded chest, and draws his arm close. “Oh, Matt,” she sighs, resting a hand on the side of his face.

The sound of a door opening across the hall brings her head up and she sees Misty going into an interrogation room, catching a glimpse of Jessica slumped over the table.

“I need to go check on the others,” Claire says, standing up. “I can’t do much more for him, but…maybe you should hang around for when…. I mean, it’s not going to be a smooth reentry for him.”

“Yeah, well,” Foggy grumbles. “Maybe it shouldn’t be.”

“Foggy,” Claire warns.

“I’m serious,” Foggy looks over at her, his eyes hard. “What the hell is he thinking, running around with these guys? He’s just a guy in a suit—and he didn’t even have the suit!”

“Well, even though it caused him more damage…it’s probably a good thing he didn’t this time.”

“And isn’t that just fanfreakingtastic,” Foggy mutters. “Yeah, okay, I’ll stay. But…I need coffee.”

Claire looks down at Matt’s tense posture, watching for a moment as his breath puffs out between his lips as though exhaling both pain and memories.

“He should be okay for you to leave him alone for a little bit.”

Foggy huffs, shaking his head sadly. “That right there? Is the biggest lie I tell myself.”


Something is screaming next to his head.

Loud, intense, insistent.

It isn’t until he jerks aware and flings his arm instinctively toward the sound that he registers it’s a telephone. Confusion is king, wreaking havoc on his senses, terror spiking his heartrate and triggering his fight or flight instinct.

And for Matt, there is never an or; it is always fight.

He scrambles to his feet, wavering unsteadily, uncertain what he’d been lying on, only knowing it isn’t the ground where he’d fallen, it isn’t his apartment, it isn’t a hospital.

The smells of stale coffee, cigarettes, sweat, old paper, chalk, and dry erase markers slam into him in a cloud and he’s stumbling backwards, crashing into a side table, knocking a lamp sideways. He catches it awkwardly, automatically, steadying it as his head ticks to the side, trying to find something he recognizes.

The hum of the overhead fluorescent lights stabs into him and he can hear voices—so many voices—slipping around him and above him and below him. Shouts and curses and sharp-toned questions and tired, pained answers. Worry and anxiety and anger are trapped in the walls around him and he can’t breathe.

His chest constricts and he tries to focus but he can’t breathe….

A door opens and Matt jerks back with a bitten-off cry of pain, unable to sift through the cacophony to determine who’s approaching him.

“Oh, Matt,” a voice breathes, “Hold on.”

“Foggy.” A paragraph of relief, remorse, and resentment is captured in the word. He’s not even aware that he’s shaking; all he knows is that he needs an anchor. “Where are we?”

“Harlem precinct,” Foggy replies, something like sympathy in his tone, as if he can see something in Matt that is a too raw, too real for Matt to cage. “Private office,” Foggy continues, clearly trying to convey that they are safe and Matt should definitely not hit anyone or anything. “And if we’re painting a full picture, you look like shit.”

Matt’s chest throbs, his lungs ache. He presses a hand to his ribs, feeling the rough scratch of unfamiliar material against his skin, the smell of someone else wrapping around him so closely he knows it’s not from the office.

“They took your shirt for blood samples,” Foggy continues. He’s holding coffee, Matt can tell now. Black. Too much sugar. “Claire checked you out. Nothing is broken, but the cops have a lot of questions.”

It’s too much—too many words, too much input, too many sounds, just too damn much.

Matt staggers back slightly and finds the arm of the couch with the back of his legs, sinking down, trying to breathe. His hand presses against his chest where the ache is strongest.

“I wasn’t wearing the suit.”

It’s more of a question than a statement—he wouldn’t have hurt this badly if he’d been wearing it, but what the hell had he been doing without it that caused him to feel like he’d been kicked by a—

Matthew…it’s good to see you.

Oh, fuck.

He can’t breathe.

“I know. There is a God after all,” Foggy is saying in his you’re being an asshole but you’re my friend so I’ll be patient with you voice but it doesn’t matter because Matt can’t fucking breathe and his chest hurts like she…God, she’d been so strong and there wasn’t anything there when he looked for her and her heartbeat…her heartbeat had been….

“Matt? You with me?”

“What happened to the others?” Matt jerks his head to the side, the new voice suddenly coming at him from the chaos that exists outside of Foggy. He knows that voice. Defensive. Dangerous. "Are they okay?” It’s not in the room with them, but it’s close.

He tilts his chin, listening, searching.

“Matty, c’mon, man.”

Foggy is stepping closer and Matt draws away, simultaneously thirsty for space and seeking reassurance. Balance. Someone or something to ground him.

Time is slipping, catching, speeding up and grinding to a halt. He remembers the abandoned room…. Elektra bent over Stick, and Danny—

“He’s in danger…Danny Rand.” His voice rasps out and he can’t quite let go of his chest, heat pulsing once through the bone, an ache pressing his lungs flat even as he tries once more to stand. “They took him.”

“There’s a weird shadow organization….” Jessica. He can find her now, one room over. The whiskey scent of her skin. The pain in her voice.

“The billionaire?”

There are too many voices swimming around Matt and he has to fight to figure out which one to listen to.

Foggy. Foggy is in the room. Foggy is here, with him. Focus on Foggy. But Foggy sounds confused and frustrated. Matt feels his resistence.

“Just one. Same one that came after John Raymond.”

She’s right. It is just one. An impossible reality, yet there it is. And he just wants to keep The Hand from getting Danny, even working with Stick again to—

All thought halts. Stick.

“Stick,” he gasps out. “She killed Stick.”

And suddenly he is in that room again; he can smell the blood, hear the moment Stick’s heart is stopped by someone without a heartbeat. His face collapses as loss screams inside him, a confusing hurricane of emptiness and resistance, the weight of it pulling him forward with pain so acute he wants to scream. To rage.

Feeling the levy of emotion beginning to break, Matt clenches his jaw until all that emerges is a strangled, “Mmmfff.”

There is a storm inside him and the one person who grounds him stands across the room, the flames capturing the stillness of his posture. Matt presses a hand to his chest as it tightens and he’s fighting for air once more, backing up against a wall, crashing against a small table, crouching, anxious, off-balance.

He’s not the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen. Not now. Right now he’s not sure if he’s even Matt Murdock.

The lamp is on the ground—he hadn’t caught it this time. Someone is saying his name but Matt’s lost in the memory of Stick’s hands on his hands, guiding him, Stick’s grip at his neck, punishing him, Stick’s constant voice instructing, berating, directing, belittling.

Stick is—was—Matt’s pain and purpose in one. And he’s gone. At one time or another in Matt’s life, he’d been devil and angel, the catalyst for his fight, the only person who knew what chased Matt through the shadows.

And now there is no one left.

Matt is alone and he feels it in the noise and smells and touch of the heightened emotion around him, pressing against him and taking his air and son of a bitch why is it so hard to just goddamn breathe?

“What the hell is wrong with him?”

The voice approaches him from the chaos. It isn’t familiar. He can’t find its source the melee of twisting flames and surging darkness. He hears himself fighting to drag in air and it sounds like it’s coming from across the room.

“He’s, uh, hyper-vigilant. Just. Disoriented or…something.” Foggy. Tense and uncertain. And so far away.

“Get me out of these damn cuffs and let me in that room.”

“No way! You must think I’m crazy, turning you loose.”

“Jesus, I’m not gonna go anywhere. I just need to get to him.”

The voices are tangled. Some are in the room with him. Some are elsewhere. Some are familiar, some foreign.

“Look, he doesn’t need someone else to punch him, okay? He’s just…freaking out because of all the noise in this place. I, uh…think.”

“Oh, fuck this.”

Matt is lost in the voices until he picks up the scent of whiskey and leather, and suddenly a figure stands out in his world on fire. It strides toward him and he feels a cool hand on his overheated skin, the grip like iron, bruising and grabbing and pulling him from the world of loss and back into the world of too much.

“Murdock. Hey. Matt! Listen to me, dammit.”

“Jessica?” His voice is thin, as if he’s too far from it to give it weight. Air wheezes around the sound like it's being pulled into his lungs through a straw.

“You need to take a breath, okay? Right now. One breath.”

He does. He feels it press against his damaged chest, feels it beat at the ache in his head.

“Good. One more.”

He obeys and the world starts to reform. “What—?”

“You’re in a police station. With like, a shit-load of cops. And you got your ass kicked by your ex.” Her words are hard, biting, and solid. Real.

She builds him a foundation to stand on, one fact at a time.

“They took Danny.” He wants it to be a question, wants her to tell him he’s wrong. That they didn’t fail.

“Not they. Her. Just her.” Jessica growls. But she doesn’t let him go.

Matt can feel himself shaking in her grip. He can taste her worry, her anger, her need to move to act to hit to fight to drink. It bleeds into him and he’s able to take another breath, his body slowly uncurling until he’s once more standing.

“She…she killed—“

“Yeah, I saw,” Jessica breaks in, closing him down. Sparing him. “And not for nothing, but I didn’t get the impression you and that old bastard were the cards at Christmas type.”

Matt feels a weak, instinctive smile tug at his mouth. The sneer around her words changes the way they hit the air, coloring her in the flames so that she is cool and bright.

“He—he was the only one…. All I, uh….” How did he explain what it felt like to be alone in a world of chaos only to be rescued by someone who would ultimately cause him more pain than he’d ever felt in his life? “He…saved me.”

“From where I stand, Matt, you saved yourself.”

And then suddenly he remembers Jessica telling him she took his case when he took hers. Remembers that she knows about his dad and his life and his loss and his reasons. That she knows he can hear the way her heart beats steady and fast just as easily as he can hear the angry mutter of the man in the holding cell two floors down and the baby crying in the car driving past the precinct.

He remembers that she has her own secrets and her own reasons and she hasn’t once judged him or told him that what he’s doing is dangerous and wrong and outside of the law and would only get him killed.

“Matt?”

Dammit…Foggy. Anchoring himself in the steadiness of Jessica pushes Foggy to the background.

With a slight hitch in his breath, Matt steps away from Jessica, the motion permission for her to drop her hands. She doesn’t move away from him, however, and he’s glad for that.

He’s not steady; his head is pounding and his chest his tight from where Elektra did her best to put her foot through it, but he can’t…. He can’t break now.

“Yeah,” he says, smoothing his hands down his borrowed T-shirt, his sensitive fingers picking up the printed NYPD Harlem on the front. He wonders idly what color it is. “Yeah, Danny. They—she took Danny.”

“Son of a bitch,” says a voice from the doorway and just as Matt is finally able to identify it as Misty Knight, she’s stepping away, down the hall and he can hear her calling to her Captain.

“Look, Matt.” Foggy steps forward and Matt senses his friend halt as Jessica shifts just enough so that her slim body is now slightly in front of Matt’s. “They haven’t pressed charges. Yet. But…they found you in a building with two dead bodies.”

Matt shakes his head, finding his suit jacket on the chair next to him. He gathers it up, slipping it on over his NYPD T-shirt gingerly, his chest muscles protesting the motion. “I don’t have a choice. He’s the Iron Fist.”

“I’m not going to pretend I know what that means.” Foggy’s voice is flat, retreating.

Jessica hums a sardonic laugh. “Join the club.”

Matt simply adjusts the collar of his jacket.

“Matt…you can’t,” Foggy sighs, and Matt can hear it in the inflection of his voice, the drop of his shoulders: he’s starting to give up. “You’re like one big bruise. You shouldn’t even be standing up right now. You’re in no condition to go after some…Fist.”

“Hand,” Matt corrects.

“I thought you said he was a Fist?”

“I’m going after The Hand—“

We,” corrects Jessica.

Matt bites the inside of his cheek to keep his smile in check. She reminds him of…him. Of the person he created. Smile in definance of death. Keep moving. Keep swinging. Get back up.

We are going after The Hand…to, uh…to save the Iron Fist.”

“Oh, my God,” Foggy mutters. “I knew I should have listened to my mother and become a butcher.”

Matt steps forward, knowing that Foggy is trying, that he cares about Matt and not Daredevil. But he needs his friend to see that this—all of this—is his life. Not just part of it. He’s not one or the other anymore.

He is both.

“Foggy, the person who…who did all this?” He rubs his chest lightly. “Who killed Stick? It was Elektra.”

“Your ex-girlfriend?”

Matt nods. Jessica steps forward, flanking him.

“She’s dead, Matt.” Foggy says, tone overflowing with I am calling bullshit on this.

And suddenly, as close as they are—close enough Matt could reach out and clasp his friend’s shoulder if he wanted—Matt feels he’s shouting to Foggy across a ravine. There are no words sufficient to help Foggy see who he is, what he is, and why he can be no other way.

“She’s not. They…they took her and did something to her. She’s….”

“A bitch with a mean right hook,” Jessica supplies. “But none of that matters because if we don’t get Danny back? Things are going to get really ugly for New York.”

“Of course they are,” Foggy states dryly.

Matt tilts his head, hearing Claire’s voice. “Luke’s awake,” he announces. “And Misty’s on her way back here.”

“We gotta get over there to him,” Jessica states, sliding something into his hand.

His glasses, Matt realizes. He hadn’t even registered they were missing. He slips them onto his face and Jessica steps forward smoothly so that Matt can take her elbow. He can guide himself through this building with more ease than a sighted person if he wants to, and he’s pretty sure Jessica knows it, but truth be told, he needs the balance right now.

He needs her balance.

“Well, at the very least, you’re being considered a witness to a crime,” Foggy informs him, blocking the door, halting their departure. One last shot at keeping the Devil in check.

Matt’s lips twist in a mirthless grin; he feels stronger, perhaps a little cocky, with Jessica next to him, his hand on her arm. “What, are they going to ask me to describe what they sound like?”

“Don’t be an asshole,” Foggy spits at him.

“Foggy,” Matt says softly, relenting. “I can’t deal with this right now. The city is in real danger.”

“And the only ones who can stop it are you, Bulletproof, and Super Joan Jett, here, is that it?”

“Hey!” Jessica automatically protests. Then reconsiders. “Actually, Joan Jett rocks, so…we’re good.”

“I’m infinitely relieved,” Foggy mutters.

“Right now, yes,” Matt answers him. “We’re the only ones who can stop it. And save Danny.”

Matt hears the slight intake of breath Foggy makes before saying something that will inevitably land on Matt like an anvil.

“I—“ Foggy stops and Matt waits, feeling Jessica’s muscles tighten beneath his grip. “I just hope you know why you’re doing this.”

“Why I’m...trying to save the city?” Matt asks, hoping his false confusion is convincing.

Foggy’s exhale is heavy. “You’re not doing this for the city.”

“Listen, does it matter?” Jessica snaps, her patience whisper-thin. “We do this, lives are saved, every body wins.”

“Even if it is Elektra,” Foggy presses on, ignoring Jessica, “she’s thoroughly trashed you twice before.”

“Foggy….”

“I feel like this time…I let you walk out of this room, I’ll live to regret it.”

Matt is still.

He hears the breath stall in Jessica’s lungs as she waits to see this play out. He hears Foggy’s heart beat a steady cadence of truth, his fear and worry like a sour cologne. He tightens his grip on Jessica’s elbow slightly, feeling her relax into his hold as she recognizes his signal for what it is: This is my fight. This is my purpose. This is who I am.

“I have to go,” Matt says softly. “I have to do this, Foggy. It’s…I can’t not…be this.”

Foggy is quiet for a moment. “I guess you’ve always been…this. I just didn’t see it until it was too late to change your mind.”

“Not like I gave you a lot to go on,” Matt acknowledges sadly.

Foggy takes a breath; Matt tenses, ready for another contest of wills. But for reasons Matt doesn’t want to examine too closely, Foggy simply opens the door, letting the two of them pass through.

“I’ll find you,” Matt promises as he comes abreast of Foggy. “Once we, uh…figure out…you know.”

“How to save the world? Again?”

“Yeah,” Matt offers him a small smile, hoping it matches the expression Foggy needs to see.

“Just…maybe don’t try to take on all of them by yourself this time?”

“He’s not by himself, Counselor,” Jessica tosses back toward Foggy. “Not anymore.”

She tugs Matt forward with her elbow.

And Matt follows, feeling the ache in his chest recede with each step, his balance reasserting itself, his pain and purpose finding a new anchor, a strong anchor. One that is a cool shadow in the flames, putting him on notice that there are some constants in his chaotic world.