By the Dragon, what a night, Hudson thought wearily, cradling a grumpy Bronx in his arms. Two muggings, a jumper, an attempted rape - that man he'd let see the sword close, razor point tickling a sweating tip of nose as the would-be victim ran for help. Hell's Kitchen, indeed.
And now a fog was rolling in off the harbor, blotting out buildings, cutting the roar of Manhattan to a dull groan. "Time to land, eh, boy?" the gargoyle elder sighed, shifting his grip as the watch-beast licked his face. "Afore we zig when we should ha' zagged."
His radio crackled. "Hudson?" Elisa; a welcome voice any night, though she'd been subdued of late. The detective still would not speak of what had happened the night of Demona's spell.
And ye've yer reasons, that I'm sure of, Hudson thought. I know ye dinna want t' speak of this with family, Elisa. But we're clan. "Aye, lass."
"It's getting early. Are you going to make the rendezvous point?"
"I dinna think so, lass. The fog's pouring in like milk." The elder gargoyle thought back to the map tucked into his satchel. "There's a church near; I can hear the bell."
"Holy Innocents? I wouldn't, Hudson. That place has gotten a little too much attention lately."
And churches were not the haven for his kind they once had been. Best to find another refuge. He swept back up into the sky, circled. "There's a roof; a water tower, a stone rail about it, and ye can see the lights atop Empire State Building. I'll light there."
"Okay, I've got your location marked," the detective said briskly. "See you at sunset."
Mist cleared a moment, showing tarpaper littered with cigarette butts and broken glass, but none of the needles that would mark it as an addict's hangout. Good, Hudson thought grumpily, angling wings to catch the wind. I've seen enough trouble for one night-
A soft cough, carried on the wind; the harsh breath of a man wounded sore. Bronx sniffed the breeze, whined.
"Aye, Lad. We'll look." Och, and as if we'd not seen enough for the night. But he knew that curious sniff from the beast, worried and eager at once. Someone was injured below. Someone unknown, possibly hostile, but whose scent intrigued the beast.
Someone who might be kin.
Hudson touched down in a swoop of wings, picking his way between exercise weights. Bronx scrambled free in a rumble of curious growls, snuffling his way across the roof toward the worn frame of the water tower. His stumpy blue tail wagged.
"Easy, now," Hudson warned the beast. "Dinna startle the poor soul. 'Tis all right," he called. "Are ye hurt? We're wanting to help, nae more."
A redheaded form separated from the shadows. "Who's there?"
Hudson drew himself up short, taking in the rasp of voice, the dark glasses, the red cane lifted and ready.
The lad is blind….
That, Matt Murdock thought, still poised with his cane at the ready, is one big dog.
If it was a dog at all; he caught no scent of fur, just leathery skin and brick, shattered rock and rust and a tang of living horn. But not cow horn. What is that?
Friendly, if the rumble and panting were any indication. Not to mention the soft chuckle, as whatever had swooped out of the sky hauled it back. "Easy, Bronx. The lad's nae need of a bath." The accented voice grew louder, over a swish of leathery membrane, a tap of tail on tarpaper. "I'm called Hudson. Like the river."
Matt listened up toward the sky, turned toward his unwelcome visitor. Lowered his cane, before shaking hands could give away the weakness of too much blood lost. Listened to the sheer solidity of that form, all muscle and bone and fragile traceries of skin. "You're… a gargoyle?"
"Aye. And ye?"
Twelve years of sight momentarily overpowered blindness; Matt blinked. Is he kidding?
No, not if that even heartbeat was any indication. Not the same as a human heart. Slower. Larger. But just as steady as any man telling the truth.
"Matt Murdock," he ventured. "I come up here to be alone."
"Ah." Understanding lurked in that voice; the soft sigh of a creature who'd seen his own losses. "Then it's sorry I am, but there's a mist risen, and it's no safe time t' be in the air. We'll take our leave an it passes."
Matt could hear the mist; sense the damping of sound, the fine haze around objects that should have been solid in his radar sense. "It's not going to clear for a while." He could tell by the chill in the air, the bite of moisture in a shoulder that burned under painkillers.
"Aye, lad." A flicker of curiosity there; he could hear Hudson decide not to press. "I've been in this land long enough t' know a thick one when I see it."
Which means they're going to be here a while, Matt thought. I should go.
Go down from this rooftop. Down from one of the most precious memories he had of Elektra, of standing together in the rain, sensing her face traced in the diamond-clear sound of raindrops, all the beauty darkness denied him there for the reaching-out of his hand….
A roar shook the air, ten blocks away; one of several he'd heard this night. Under it he could hear human shouts, running footsteps, the unsteady beat of an elderly heart as the woman who'd almost been mugged bolted back into her apartment building. "I thought… the older ones usually stayed uptown." Near Harlem and the 21st Precinct, if Ben Urich's research was right. Daredevil wasn't the only urban legend the intrepid reporter had chased down.
"We've care for all of Manhattan. 'Tis our castle, now. Though aye, we've usually left this piece of it alone. But what makes ye think I'm nae new?"
Matt felt a wry grin tug one corner of his mouth. "I heard you land."
A deep, rich chuckle, echoed by Bronx' happy ruff. "Aye, the young ones are having a bit o' a time of it, they are. I dinna know what we'll do. The ones who come to a friend we'll teach, right enough; but those who're too frightened to admit what they are-" A sigh. "'Tis hard, it is."
That's putting it mildly. Matt had overheard some of it, these last few weeks in Hell's Kitchen. The screams of families torn apart by fear. The shattered glass and lives as some thugs turned gargoyle took apart an apartment building before the cops showed up with stun guns. The sad weeping of a young girl confessing her supposed sins to Father Everett.
He hadn't meant to hear that. He just couldn't help it.
A fist bunched; relaxed with a gasp, as the effort plucked torn muscle. "So even gargoyles stay clear of the Kitchen." Figures.
The massive heart speeded a little; aggravation, smoothing into reluctant understanding. "It's nae for lack of wanting to help, Matt. But when first we came here, a friend told us this place had a guardian for its nights. One she'd cautions 'gainst meeting unaware." Hudson sighed. "I'd like to meet this Daredevil. He's cleared a fine way for us; a hint of glowing eyes in the dark, and many a miscreant's running without a blow landed."
Nice to know his alter ego was beginning to have a reputation. "Daredevil." Matt shook his head. "Another one."
"Ye've heard of him, then."
"My partner keeps reading me the articles," Matt said wryly. "There're no eyewitnesses. Even you gargoyles have eyewitnesses."
"Ah, but we didn't at first. Not for year upon year." Hudson hesitated. "Yer partner? Ye canna be a cop…."
"Legal partner," Matt clarified. No, he definitely wasn't a cop. A cop had to follow the law. No matter how unjust. "Matt Murdock, attorney at law." Feeling surreal, he held out a business card.
A solid skull bumped into his hand, huge tongue slurping over his palm with hot, doggy breath. "Rruff!"
"It's all right." Matt felt along the craggy skull, scratched behind a leathery ear. Felt the beast's happy rumble through all his bones. "You're a good boy, hmm? So, if you didn't want to run into Daredevil," he ventured, "Why are you in the Kitchen now?"
"Ah. That." Hudson sighed. "It's said the man won his battles, but was wounded sore."
Matt kept his face still, politely interested. Under a concealing jacket, his shoulder ached.
"If he's the man tales paint, he's a warrior wise enough t' know he'll do his people no good by venturing back into the fray so soon." Hudson's voice faded slightly; radar traced a craggy head turning, regarding Hell's Kitchen. "But if he's the man tales paint, every night his folk go unwatched will gnaw his soul. I've seen it, in the clan of police. They canna rest wi' their people in the teeth of danger."
"You must know some pretty good police." No, that wasn't fair. Manolis was clean. It wasn't the detective's fault he couldn't be everywhere.
"And ye don't?"
Matt shrugged. Hid a wince.
"How'd ye get hurt, lad?"
Not good enough, Matt realized, feeling Bronx' solicitous bump jar ribs that had been bruised over what felt like half the bricks in the surrounding tenements. "I live in Hell's Kitchen," he managed. "You've been here a night. What do you think?"
"Truth, lad, I'd wondered why any live here at all." A soft breath. "But it's nae so different from the camps in the castle, is it? Long ago, that was; a siege upon us an' no way out but by swords' point. Folk all piled on top each other, will they or no, the villains and the honest folk and those who're pulled both ways. And here, they're not naming us monsters an we save them. For that, at the least, I'd wish to thank the man. He may ha' saved our lives."
Matt pushed up dark glasses. "Excuse me?"
"Ah, lad. 'Tis human, t' slay what ye do not understand. 'Tis gargoyle, too; though many of us deny it. And while we know humans, 'tis been centuries since ye knew we." Clawed fingers tapped on leather; a sword-belt, Matt judged, hearing the solid echo of edged steel. "But this man, this Daredevil; he's accustomed the folk of this isle to eyes in the night. To a demon, who'll do nae ill to honest folk, but wreak havoc on those who mean harm. Those who see him know what he's come for. And when those who've seen him see us-" A deep, hearty chuckle.
They run instead of trying to kill you, Matt realized. Hadn't thought of that.
An unexpected mercy. Mercy no one had shown to Elektra….
He turned away, feeling the hands on his watch. Didn't know it was that late. Or more accurately, that early. "I've… got to go."
"Do ye?" Steady steps behind him. "Is it safe for the day, here?"
"Why are you asking me?"
A leathery hand closed, very gently, on his whole shoulder. "Ye hide it well, lad. But Bronx and I were hatched in a time when wars raged, and battles came oft, and those who survived carried the scars. As ye do." Hudson's voice was quiet, calm. "Bronx knows the scent of those who've walked too near to death."
Gentle grip, but strong, Matt knew, sensing the toughness of muscle and bone. He didn't have the endurance to be subtle; if he meant to break it, he'd have to move fast and hard - faster and harder than any innocent attorney could. Not good. Very not good. "So I got in a fight."
"Aye. That you did. And won, too, I'd wager."
"Haven't you noticed?" Matt tapped his glasses. "I'm not a fighter." I promised.
"A blind man who walks Hell's Kitchen before dawn." He heard the rustle of beard as Hudson shook his head. "Do ye need to be anywhere today, lad?"
"I…." Foggy had taken one look at him yesterday and told his partner to go right back to bed. Which he had… until the lingering trace of Elektra's scent had just been too much to bear.
"Ah. That's well." A rustle of wing; leathery skin wrapped around him, drew him close. "Easy, lad. I've done this before…."
A crackle of stone, and sound went black.
"I don't believe this." Elisa Maza walked around the stone trio on the tarpaper roof, shaking her head at the play of sunset over human, beast, and gargoyle. Or apparent human, at least; if he'd turned to stone, he was no more human than….
He's as human as you are, the detective told herself firmly. Trust Hudson to find another one.
No one knew how many hybrid gargoyles there were in Manhattan. Somewhere over three dozen, at least, going by police reports on their changed co-workers; but she'd lay even odds that just as many hadn't been reported, details obfuscated by cops not willing to hurt scared partners. And when it came to the civilian sector - well, some had come into the 23rd Precinct, drawn by word of mouth. But only some.
Sunlight faded; cracks danced across stone, split-
Shattered off auburn hair; the man whirled out from under Hudson's grip, fast and agile as a dancer. "What on earth was that?"
"Found another stray?" Elisa lifted a dark brow.
"Ah, no, lass. Young Murdock's nae one of us." Hudson gave her a toothy grin, patted Bronx. "Not quite."
"Not quite? But how did you-" She jabbed a finger at stone shards.
"Who are you?" Murdock's gaze whipped her way; or would have, if not for the dark lenses shading pale eyes. "What happened?"
Blind? Elisa realized, noting the red cane. Though that wasn't nearly as much of a shock as not a gargoyle. "Maza, 23rd Precinct. Detective," she said matter-of-factly, pressing one of her contact cards against a white-knuckled grip. One hand reluctantly uncurled from the cane, took it. "And you just had a day's sleep, that's all." But how?
"Ye needed it," Hudson said dryly. "Come, lass. I've a feeling Goliath's nae amused I've been away for the day." Scooping up Bronx, he leapt from the roof.
For a moment, it was all Elisa could do not to follow him. Great idea. And explain to Goliath what really happened with Demona? I don't think so. She sighed, turned toward Murdock. Which just leaves me to explain to-
The roof was empty.
Where'd he go?
Watch must have stopped, Matt thought, sliding down the last few feet of gutter to the alleyway; comparing the time that said just after dawn with the scents and sounds of Hell's Kitchen in twilight.
Overhead he heard a cop swear, hid a reluctant grin. Ordinarily he'd have taken the stairs down. But given the circumstances….
Whoever she is, I don't want to talk to her.
Not until he'd sorted out what had just happened. And maybe not even then.
What did just happen? He felt - well. Not whole, his shoulder still ached, but the bruise Bullseye had left on his throat was gone, wiped away as cleanly as the raw edge of exhaustion. That was sleep? Urich's articles said they slept like stone during the day, but Mother Mary….
"Hudson, do you see him?" Maza's voice echoed overhead. "I turned my back, and-"
"And that's all he'd need, lass." A faint crackle of static to it; the gargoyle must be carrying a radio. "Dinna fret. He'll be well enough, now that he's healed some. I doubt the blood's thick enough to heal it all, he'd not that much look of the clans about him, but he's wary enough t' need only a chance."
Fast footsteps on the roof; Matt edged a bit farther into what he guessed were shadows, out of Maza's line of sight. "You said he wasn't a gargoyle," she said.
"And he isna'. Not like Bluestone, or your Captain Chavez. Or you."
A stifled gasp. "Hudson-"
"Ye've not told Goliath. I ken that well enough. I'm elder; I know there's stories the leader should not hear. But I've seen Bronx take the scent of humans with our blood before. Ye're not the first to be of two races. Far from it." A sigh. "Sorcerers meddle, mortals love, and there's naught the rest o' us can do but carry on."
"Hudson, what are you saying?"
Yeah, what are you saying? Matt's brows brushed his hair; he tuned out street noises, focusing on the beat of leathery wings. He thinks I'm - but that's impossible!
"I'm saying, lass, that I've known humans swift as any of the clans. And those hatched and named gargoyle who flew by day. Dragon's blood, yon genetic tampering, magery loose and swift to change - there's oddness in the world, Elisa. Ye never know what ye'll meet. Titania. King Arthur. Macbeth." Hudson laughed, wings swimming through sky. "Even an honest lawyer in Hell's Kitchen."