“Matt, it’s me. Let me in.”
“Marci. To what do I owe the honor?”
“We need to talk.”
He steps back to pull the door open, and gestures down the hallway toward the rest of the loft. “Mi casa es su casa.”
Marci strides in, jacket already over her arm and ready to hang on the hooks in the hall. Her hair’s in a ponytail and she’s dressed for a run, but he knows she hasn’t perspired a drop all day, and he can tell from the way her shoes smell of spilled coffee and vomit and industrial bleach-based cleaner that she’s taken the subway here. Which means she’s lied to Foggy about where she was going. Interesting.
He follows her footsteps down the hall, wishing he’d thought to grab his glasses from the kitchen counter before he answered the door. Well, there’s no fixing that now.
“Can I get you something to—”
“I’ll help myself,” she says, already standing at the liquor shelf, studying the selection. He touches his watch.
“It’s two in the afternoon.”
“And yet in America it’s completely acceptable to get trashed on mimosas before noon on a Sunday, so let’s cut the judgment, shall we?” she says brightly, pulling down a bottle of vodka and studying it. “I never understood why you drink at Josie’s when you stock such good stuff at home.”
He could but doesn’t explain that it’s because Josie’s rotgut is so offensive he can’t stomach enough to get drunk. Instead he says, “Make sure you put that back exactly where you found it.”
“God, Matt, I’m not a total monster,” Marci says, pouring herself two fingers of vodka into a tumbler she found in the dish rack. “You want some?”
She tosses back the vodka and puts the glass in the sink with a dull ring. “I put your glass in the sink, by the way,” she says, replacing the bottle, as promised, on the shelf exactly where she found it.
“I heard, thank you,” Matt says, crossing his arms. “What’s on your mind, Marci?”
“How’d you do that, by the way?”
“Know I was drinking vodka.”
“I didn’t know you were drinking vodka.” (He did.)
“But you knew I was drinking. You wouldn’t have made a snide comment about the time if I’d helped myself to the orange juice.”
Christ. Did Foggy tell her? Her heartbeat is so steady he can’t tell if this is just Marci being her usual blithely filter-free self or if she’s in shark mode stalking her prey. “I could hear you moving around on the left side of the kitchen. The only thing I keep to drink over there is the booze.”
She tilts her head as she considers his answer. “Okay, whatever,” she says.
“Sorry to disappoint,” Matt says. He can’t tell if she buys his answer or not. “How about we skip ahead to the part where you tell me you’re drinking vodka in my apartment at two in the afternoon?”
“How about we skip ahead to the part where you finally tell us where you were for nearly two months?” she asks sweetly, her voice belying the sizzle of adrenaline shooting through her veins. “You get kidnapped from the Harlem precinct by three vigilantes two hours before Midland Circle takes down a full square block of Hell’s Kitchen with it. They get out before it blows but you just—vanish. Is that where they took you? How did you get out? Did Daredevil have something to do with it?”
“It’s none of your business.”
“Yes it is!” She hits the kitchen counter so hard Matt jumps out of his skin. Her heart is beating like a rabbit’s—it’s not fear, although that’s there too, but rage. “Foggy has been waking up with nightmares every single night since you disappeared. You better believe it’s my fucking business.”
“Nightmares?” Oxygen is suddenly bleeding from the apartment like water from a busted hydrant.
“Honest to God night terrors. He wakes up screaming your name. Every. Single. Night.” She crosses her arms. “Have you ever heard Foggy scream before?”
“No,” Matt croaks.
“You should, sometime. Come over, spend the night. Hear for yourself what you’ve done to him.” He can hear the false sugar in her voice, the syrupy, underestimate-me-at-your-peril smile she turns on when she gets talked down to by opposing counsel who make the dire mistake of assuming she’s just another dumb blonde, the honey that always hides her bitterest poison. “Last night he hit me in his sleep because he dreamed he was protecting you. Punched me right in the face. How do you think he felt when he realized what happened?”
“Oh my God, Marci, I’m so—” Gutted. He’s gutted. A sob bubbles up his throat by surprise and he just barely manages to swallow it back just in time. “Are you—"
“Oh, no,” she says. “I didn’t come for an apology. I’m here for an explanation.”
“An apology’s all I’ve got, Marce,” he says in the steadiest voice he can manage. He’s struggling to keep it together, keep it nonchalant, keep it this-conversation-is-over-now, keep it get-the-fuck-out-of-my-apartment-now, but the idea of Foggy striking Marci in his sleep, Foggy screaming for him night after night is a 50-pound kettlebell pressing on his diaphragm and he’s not sure he’ll ever take a full breath again.
“Tough shit,” she says, with an icy fury that sends a tiny shiver along Matt’s spine. “’Sorry’ doesn’t help him sleep at night. ‘Sorry’ doesn’t give him back the two months of hell he went through worrying about you. ‘Sorry’ can’t make this better, Matt. It can’t. You think you can just hug it out over a few beers at Lantom’s wake and everything will go back to the way it was?”
“No,” Matt says. God, he’s drowning now. “But I’d like to think we can find a way to move forward.”
“How, Matt? How do things move forward when nobody knows where you’ve been?”
“He knows,” Matt whispers, regretting the words as soon as they come out. Alea iacta est. There is no turning back from this now.
He had never believed Marci capable of shock before, but she’s frozen with her hand over her mouth, her heart tumbling in her chest like a shoe in the dryer. He can almost feel her think as she pieces together the implications of what he’s just said.
Foggy knows. Foggy didn’t tell her. Foggy didn’t think he could tell her.
But then just as quickly, her shock gives way to a deathly calm. “Did you ask him to lie to me?”
“I didn’t have to.”
“Of course not.” She shakes her head and looks out the window. “You are such asshole, Matt.”
“I know.” He leans back to perch on the back of the sofa. “Tell me something: Do you love him?”
“We’re getting married.”
“Plenty of people get married. Do you love him? Do you trust him with your secrets?”
“God, Matt, yes. Of course I love him. Of course I trust him with my secrets.”
“Tell me one. Tell me the biggest secret you’ve got.”
Marci laughed bitterly. “Oh, fuck off. That’s not trust—that’s leverage. Not interested.”
“Suit yourself,” Matt says, waving toward the door. “I trust you can show yourself out.”
Marci studies her shoes for two beats before looking back up at him. “When I was at Landman and Zack, I knowingly helped James Wesley create a shell corporation to buy an unoccupied apartment building for the express purpose of laundering money through it as fake rent, and when I was copying documents for you two choirboys to take to the U.S. Attorney’s office, I conveniently happened to shred as much evidence as I could so it would never be found during pre-trial discovery. But I couldn’t dissolve the company after he died because I didn’t have power of attorney over his estate and I couldn’t alter Landman’s billing statements, either. If an ambitious AUSA decided they wanted to impress the boss by cross-referencing every record they have against our invoice, they would find a big discrepancy called Hudson Business Solutions with my name on it.”
Her heart is beating quickly but steadily. She’s terrified. She’s also telling the truth. “That big enough for you?”
She doesn’t need to add that the absolute best-case scenario in the event this was discovered would be permanent disbarment—or that the best-case scenario is also the least likely one.
Matt whistles. “Jesus. Does Foggy know?”
Matt says a silent prayer before speaking again. “I was at Midland Circle.”
“No shit. Why?”
“I had business there.”
“But Foggy knows what kind of business.”
“And Foggy knew you were there. That’s why he didn’t file a missing person report. He thought you were dead.”
“How did you get out? Was it Daredevil?”
“All I know is that someone found me beside a storm drain near the 52nd Street Pier. I woke up six weeks later in the St. Agnes Infirmary. The nuns who raised me had been looking after me.”
“I’m sure they have telephones there. Why didn’t you call Foggy? Or Karen?”
“I wanted to protect them.”
“From what I had gotten involved with.”
“But Foggy already knew. Did Karen?”
“So I’ll ask you again: What exactly were you protecting them from?”
“From what came next.”
Marci gives an exasperated sigh. “Matt, I’ve just told you that I’ve committed a federal felony. I’m going to need a little more tit for that kind of tat, old friend.”
“I promised nothing, Marci,” Matt says coolly. “I asked you to tell me a secret and you did. I didn’t offer anything in return.”
“Jesus, Matt.” She looks down at the engagement ring on her hand before returning her gaze to him. “Asking Foggy—explicitly or implicitly—to keep a secret so terrible it gives him nightmares from his wife is cruel, and it forces dishonesty into our marriage, and it’s not fair to either of us.”
“He’s doing it to protect you.”
“No, Matt. He’s doing it to protect you.” She shakes her head and begins to pace the length of the kitchen. “What am I supposed to do, Matt? Just throw up my hands and say, ‘It’s okay for my husband to lie to me as long as it’s about you?’ I can’t live like that, Matt. I can’t live with secrets like that.”
“Maybe he’s better off without you, then.”
That gets her attention. Up till now, he realizes, she’s just been deposing yet another hostile witness. She’s been working him, probing for weak spots, picking at threads to pull. But once he calls her bluff, there’s nowhere else for her to go.
“Matt, I know you don’t like me. But you know me. Foggy is important to me. He’s the most important thing in the world to me. Help me help him,” she begs, and for the first time since Matt’s known her, Marci begins to cry. He doesn’t need to listen to her heartbeat to know it’s genuine, to know this is the Marci he knew from law school. The Marci with a soul, who just wanted to make the world a fairer place. “Just—tell me what’s going on. Please. He’s in so much pain.”
“He’s really having nightmares?”
Marci nods. She crosses the kitchen to stand before him. She takes his hand and presses his fingertips to his cheekbone, wincing a little under the pressure. The skin is warm and swollen. Even he can tell the bruise is ugly. “Do you feel that?”
“Foggy did that to you?”
“He didn’t know it was me,” she says quickly. “You have to believe me, Matt. The look on his face when I finally got him to wake up—"
“I know.” Matt drops his hand down to Marci’s shoulder and squeezes it gently. “I believe you. Let me talk to him,” he says. “Let me make this right.”
Marci bats Matt’s hand away with a violence that startles him. “Foggy Nelson is a goddamned gift, and the truth is, neither one of us deserves him. You fix this tonight.”
Foggy shows up around eight with a bottle of Jameson and a six-pack of something Belgian, regaling Matt with a tale of subway woe in which our hero sat trapped on a dark, crowded train somewhere between the Port Authority and West 50th for the better part of half an hour while a truly terrible beatboxer who’d been busking between cars decided to use the opportunity to test out some new material. But hey, he’s here now, the pizza’s on its way, he’s only missed the first inning of the Mets spring training game Matt’s streaming from Florida, and for the first time in a very, very long time, all seems right with the world.
Except it really, really isn’t.
Still, Matt pretends for a while that it is, partly because he doesn’t want the pizza guy to interrupt them once it starts, but mostly because it feels good to hear Foggy laugh and crack jokes after so long, because no matter how many times he’s tried not to, he’s missed his best friend so very much.
He’s always marveled at how easy love comes to Foggy; he grew up surrounded by it, secure in it in a way that Matt never was. While Matt has always had to rummage around in the pockets of his heart for spare change, Foggy’s a blank novelty check with room for as many zeroes as you can imagine. It’s embarrassing, sometimes, to be the beneficiary of so much wealth, so freely given, when Matt can manage so little in return. But Foggy’s never cared about that. Foggy’s never kept a ledger.
But Matt has, and he knows he’s so deep in the red he’s bankrupt.
Sometimes he wonders what Foggy gets out of their friendship, why he sticks around the way he does. Is it just habit? He knows living together wasn’t easy for him, what with the having to keep everything labeled and organized just so, helping with shopping and laundry and mail and the thousands of other tiny details of a world that was never built to be navigated without sight. But Foggy never questioned it, never seemed to care. Foggy was the first person for whom his blindness was not a problem to be solved, to be dealt with, to be danced around like an unpinned grenade. Matt was blind. Foggy was fat. It was what it was. There’s free pizza at the activity fair so grab my arm, buddy, dinner’s on me.
“Earth to Matt,” Foggy says.
“I’m sorry,” Matt says, giving a self-deprecating smile. “What?”
“I said fantasy league signups close on Monday, are you in?”
“Oh, I don’t—”
“Come ON,” Foggy pleads. “You’re so good at it. And one of us has to beat Brett this year because last year was just embarrassing.”
“Well Karen’s better than both of us—let her defend the honor of the firm,” Matt argues.
“But she’s not here,” Foggy pleads. “Come on, buddy, let me sign you up.”
“Okay, fine,” Matt laughs.
They spend the next hour building Matt’s fantasy team. The pizza arrives a third of the way in, but Foggy’s having such a good time right now that Matt doesn’t want it to end yet. Instead he eats pizza and drinks beer and listens to Foggy read baseball statistics to him, occasionally asking him to look up metrics even Foggy’s never heard of.
“Your command of sabermetrics is frightening, Matt.”
“Well, it’s not like I can see the game. The math’s all I’ve got.”
“Is it fun?” Foggy asks. “Just gaming numbers like that?”
“It’s like playing the stock market. A win’s a win, right?”
“You play the stock market?”
“Hey, being blind’s expensive.”
“It might be a little less expensive if you weren’t having to replace your canes every other week,” Foggy ribs. But there’s no real rebuke in his voice when he refers to Daredevil anymore—it’s just a wry observation by a friend who gets it more than most.
Matt laughs. Marci’s right. Foggy Nelson is a goddamned gift.
And he can’t put this conversation off any longer.
“So Marci stopped by earlier today.”
“Really?” Foggy asks. “Why?”
Matt curls his hand into a fist to steady himself. “She had some questions about where I was during my—sabbatical,” Matt says. “I’m a little surprised you never told her the truth about me. I know you thought I was dead.”
“Jesus, Matt,” Foggy says. “How can you be so casual about that? ‘I know you thought I was dead.’ Like it was all just a big mistake, like I thought you were at lunch when you were actually picking up your dry cleaning.”
“I didn’t mean—” Matt chews his lip. “She’s worried about you, Fog. She wants answers. Why didn’t you tell her?”
“That secret wasn’t mine to tell.”
“As far as you knew, it wasn’t mine, anymore, either. You can’t betray the dead, Fog.”
“Maybe not,” Foggy says, shrugging miserably. “I just wasn’t ready to.”
“Because telling her would mean you were really dead. And I wasn’t ready to accept that yet. It’s hard, you know, when there isn’t a body,” Foggy shrugs miserably and drains his beer. “The brain is a hopeful thing, I guess.”
Matt walks over to the kitchen and returns with two glasses and the bottle of Jameson. He pours them each a double and pushes one of the glasses across the table to Foggy. He downs the other in a single swallow and refills his glass. “I think it’s time she knew.”
“Are you sure?”
Matt closes his hand around his mother’s cross. “Fog, I’ve already asked a thousand times more of you than I ever had a right to. I’m not going to ask you to lie to your wife, too.”
Foggy nods then, but can’t quite look at Matt. There’s a scent of salt, and a flutter of his heart. Then he begins to cry in earnest.
“You have no idea how hard it was not knowing where you were,” he says finally. “I was praying—praying, Matt—that they’d find your body so we could finally bury you. Do you know how fucked up that is? I wasn’t praying for you to be alive somehow—Karen was, but not me. I just wanted it to be over, so I could bury you and tell Marci the truth and just—get on with my life. I abandoned you, Matt, and I have to live with that for the rest of my life.”
Matt rubs his face and forces back an impulse to reach across the table to take Foggy’s hand. He knows instinctively that what Foggy wants from him isn’t forgiveness, but an apology. A long, long overdue apology.
“I am so, so sorry for everything I put you through,” Matt says. “It wasn’t fair, and it was cruel, and you didn’t deserve any of it.”
“When do any of us ever get what we deserve?” Foggy asks softly.
“You deserve to wake up next to the woman you love every morning for the rest of your life,” Matt says. “You deserve that, Fog. You do.”
Foggy shrugs. “Do I?”
“You know why.” Foggy cleared his throat and shook his head. “I hurt her. I wish you could see—I really hurt her, Matt.”
“It was an accident. You thought you were protecting me.”
Foggy shakes his head and gives a teary laugh. “No, Matt. In my dream I was beating the shit out of you. I’ve been so fucking angry at you all this time, I guess I just—I finally lost it.”
Matt opens his mouth but he’s too stunned to speak. Up till now he’d thought Foggy’s anger had long since burned out. If anything, Foggy’s been anxious and clingy, maybe a little more ebullient than was strictly necessary—but Matt had assumed that was just Foggy doing what Foggy did best: quickly shoring up their bond before Matt had a chance to fray it again.
“Why didn’t you just tell me?” Matt asked once he could find his voice again. “You had every right to be pissed off. Why did you pretend everything was okay?”
“Don’t you dare tell me I’m doing my feelings wrong, Matthew,” Foggy said. “You of all people. Christ.”
“Okay, fair point,” Matt conceded. “But can we agree that we have to find a way for you to take your feelings out on me instead of letting your subconscious take them out on Marci?”
“How do I do that, Matt? The last time I got angry and threatened to walk away, you just fucking let me. The truth is, I’ve always needed you more than you needed me. I know I can’t afford to push you away.”
He wants to tell Foggy to push as hard as he wants, that he’s not going anywhere, but he knows it’s a lie. Knows that if—or more likely when—Foggy cuts him out for good, he’ll grieve, but he’ll also leave, and he’ll never look back. Never mind that Foggy’s his best friend, his brother, his anchor to the world he’s killing himself to save—Matt’s too broken to deserve Foggy’s love.
Because at the end of the day, Foggy Nelson is better off without him. If Foggy refuses to see it, Matt will have to show him.
“Hudson Business Solutions.”
“Drop it, Fog. I know. She told me this morning."
Foggy laughs bitterly and shakes his head. “Let me guess: the old quid-pro-nada trick?”
“Not quite nada. I did admit I was at Midland Circle.”
“But not why.”
“I told her you knew why."
“You are such an asshole, Matt.”
“Why would you do that? Why would you tell my fiancée I’ve been lying to her for months?”
“Because I’m an asshole.” Matt stands up and faces Foggy. “We both know it. I take advantage of our friendship. I take advantage of your loyalty. I don’t even know why you like me. I’m as toxic as they come. Remember when you told me you thought something was seriously wrong with me? I’ve got news for you: Something is seriously wrong with you, too.”
“Maybe that’s why we belong together,” Foggy says glumly, resignedly.
“We don’t belong together, Foggy,” Matt says. “We choose it. That is -- you choose it. Why?”
Now Foggy’s on his feet, pointing at Matt like something out of a courtroom melodrama and it would be ridiculous if they weren’t already halfway drunk and doing their best to break each other’s hearts all over again. “Don’t you fucking pretend our friendship isn’t important to you, too, Matt. Don’t you fucking dare.” Foggy’s getting warm now, his heart pounding to beat the band. “We lived together for seven fucking years and six of them were your choice. It would have been so much easier for you to get new roommates every year, to make sure nobody stuck around long enough to accidentally discover your powers, but you didn’t. And it made your life a thousand times harder, but it was worth something to you. I dare you to tell me to my face that it wasn’t.”
Matt’s struggling to keep it together for the second time today—Christ, he’ll be a goner if Foggy and Marci ever gang up on him—and all he can think is that Foggy still hasn’t answered his question. “Why do you care?” he asks.
Matt steps in close to Foggy’s face. “Are you mad at me, Fog?”
“Goddamn right I am.”
“Here I am. You want to do this? Let’s do this.”
“I’m not going to hit you, Matt.”
“You think I can’t take it? Hit me. Beat the shit out of me.”
“Don’t make fun of me.”
“I’m not,” Matt says, taking a step back and holding out his hands wide. “I know you know how to throw a punch. I taught you. Hit me.”
“You beat up Marci because of me. Hit me.”
“Fuck you!” Foggy shouts, driving his fist into Matt’s stomach. Matt’s surprised by how hard Foggy hits now; he’s been working out since he moved to HCB. But it’s good, the pain is good, the pain is necessary. Foggy needs this, and God knows Matt deserves it.
Foggy roars, a sound Matt’s never heard before, and moves in close, driving punch after punch into his gut and sides. He’s angry and determined, whaling on Matt like he’s a punching bag, and it’s taking more self-control than Matt anticipated to keep from hitting Foggy back.
Matt steps back to catch his breath, bends forward and rests his hands on his knees. But Foggy isn’t done yet; he throws a haymaker and catches Matt hard on the jaw, knocking him off balance and sending him sprawling across the floor.
“Jesus,” Matt spits, rubbing his bloody lip. “Fuck.”
Foggy hits the deck on his knees, all the adrenaline suddenly drained. He reaches over to put his hand on Matt’s arm. “You okay, man?”
“Yes,” Matt groans, pulling himself to a seated position against the sofa. “When did you get strong?”
“I’ve been working out,” Foggy says miserably, moving to sit next to him.
“I can tell,” Matt says wryly. “Be careful about keeping your wrist straight. You’ll break it otherwise.” He makes a fist and takes a slow swing to demonstrate.
“Thanks for the tip.”
“To answer your question,” Matt says after a moment, “yeah, it was worth it. It is worth it. I don’t know why you want to keep me around, but I’m really glad you do.”
“I know,” Foggy says.
Matt ruffles Foggy’s hair and hooks his arm around his shoulders. “But promise me something?”
“What.” Foggy rolls his head toward Matt.
“Next time just yell at me, okay?”
It’s nearly midnight before Marci gets to Matt’s apartment. Foggy’s call woke her up, and it took no small amount of persuasion to get her to come, but she’s here now, in all her sleepy grumpy splendor.
“I have court in the morning, so this better be good,” she says when Foggy lets her in.
“It is,” Foggy says, kissing her on the cheek and leading her down the hall into the living room.
Matt’s standing next to the closet beneath the roof stairs. “Thanks for coming,” he says, drawing the door open. He drags his father’s footlocker out into the living room. “I knew you were drinking vodka before you told me,” he says almost offhandedly as he thumbs through the combination lock. “I know you were dressed for a run but that you had taken the subway instead. I know you’ve taken a shower since the first time you were here today. I know you had a chicken Caesar salad for dinner—with anchovies. I know your heart’s pounding so hard you can probably feel your pulse in your ears. I know what I’m telling you is scaring you.”
Marci sucks in a sharp breath. She looks at Foggy and holds out her hands, palms up in a silent, belligerent challenge: What the fuck is going on?
That Matt answers her unspoken question shocks her even more. “You wanted answers,” he says, opening the trunk and swiveling it around so she can see his helmet tucked in neatly alongside his folded armor. “I thought we should start here.”