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champagne and sour candy

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With her flight delayed another hour, Claire sits on the bench outside the airport bathroom and tries to stomach the third Big Mac between JFK and the Windy City. There’s shredded lettuce and sweet bread stuck to the back of her teeth, her hair needs a wash, and security keeps sweeping past her in a way that makes her go blank on the inside. Maybe it’s the old cut on her lip, maybe it’s the rest of her face. Something in the way she won’t sit and stare at the flight times.

Who knows? She sucks on her teeth. Too tired to rattle, that’s what she is. Twenty-four-fucking-seven. Tired of waterfronts and cities and shredded iceberg.

Teeth cleaned, she tosses the crescent of her burger back in the bag, tosses the bag in the trash. Security sweeps across the hall and she lifts her ticket with the tightest smile, eyes slit and she wants to give him the finger. She’ll sleep on this bench if the plane doesn’t land tonight, and anybody with a problem can fuck right off. Douchebag walks off with exaggerated swagger tossing the loose folds of his plastic black jacket, and she presses her head to the sharp soundproofing on the wall behind her.

There are three bruises left from Vladimir’s boys: her thigh, where she threw herself flat in the gunfight; her ribs; her arm, where Matt picked her up and couldn’t, quite, let go.

She picks the one on her side, pushing her hands to her ribs like she’s stretching her back. It hurts like a motherfucker, and she presses harder, stretches the feeling out her legs and the satisfaction is like—sour candy. It wasn’t all bad, not really. Matt made her breakfast, let her lounge in his nicer shirts, and he couldn’t see it the way other men had seen her, in their clothes, but he could tell they were the nice ones. Sat with her on the couch and ran his bruised hands up and down her bruised arms, making the smallest hums and wet, clicking swallows.

Never could tell if he was playing her. That one knew he was attractive, whatever the mirror couldn’t show him, but there was a lack of pretense when they were alone in his apartment. He didn’t bullshit her about being led around, wanting to touch her face for any reason but to pull her in for a kiss. He wouldn’t know what she could or couldn’t hear, of his throat working to swallow whatever he wanted to say when he was listening to his hands move over her skin.

Claire knows the sound and shape of a man holding something back.

Her phone contains something of another bruise, another hurt to press. She opens the voicemail and holds it to her ear, tapping the rough patch left on her lip with her other hand. “Claire—”

“Claire, this is Mike. I know I’m probably the last person you want to hear from, just—I fucked up Claire. I fucked up bad and I don’t know who else to call. I’m not trying to play you this time or get you back, I know you’re turning it all around, probably married to that Luke guy—”

She balls her hand into a fist and holds it against her left eye, kneads her brow with dry knuckles.

“I just, if this goes the way I think it’s going, I just wanted someone to know. I just wanted to hear you pick up, wanted to say I’m sorry—”

“Come on, Mike.”

The message cuts off, she pulls her lip between her teeth and maybe it does matter, whether that flight time changes. Maybe it matters a lot. Mike was a lying sonofabitch, but he needed her every time their eyes met. Matt doesn’t have to play her, she guesses—she can’t resist a man in jeopardy, and Matt never did hide that.

She wonders if Luke is still in Chicago, if it would be worth the time to cancel her layover and look him up. Vladimir more than made his point about how effective she is in a fight, and even with his secrets caught up to him—Mike isn’t spilling any in that message. She doesn’t know what side of the law the second voice is on. He might not need anything more harrowing than a decent lawyer.

And she only knows the worst defense lawyer in New York City.

Her phone buzzes and she taps the screen, heart kicking too hard in her chest. Not Mike, a fucking snapchat from the last person she’d expect. Claire opens the picture and stares wide-eyed at a red-horned cowl and armor, a copy of the paper strewn over it with Daredevil in bold print. SAINTHOOD IS OVERRATED across the middle.

She lets the app count down and delete the picture, wondering why Matt even has it on his phone. To harass her, clearly, and she hits call without hesitation. Three rings, she imagines it calling her name to him, imagines the smile she can hear in his voice when he picks up.

He always picks up for her.

“Like the devil didn’t tear apart the world for loneliness,” she says. Matt laughs, light and smooth. She loves his voice—loves him, whatever she said on her way out. She didn’t leave because of him, even if he deserves to think so a little longer. If she’d left any man in better shape than she found him, she wouldn’t be flying across the country right now, and she’ll shoulder half the blame for that.

Not with grace, but she knew things about sainthood before Matt Murdock turned up in her trash.

“I miss you,” he says, voice slipping a little high. He’s trying out the words, and she listens close as she can, the way he must listen, because she wants to hear it all and needs the distraction. “I wish we could celebrate.”

“I’ll call you back from my hotel,” she says, and it isn’t a lie if she doesn’t know what hotel it is or when she’ll get to it. “I’ll order champagne.”

“It isn’t the same if I can’t smell it,” he sighs, and she wonders what it would be like, over the phone. Will be like, the way his voice gets rough at the end, and it tastes like champagne to own this man without trying—she’ll call, he’ll answer, alone in his bed and nothing but a world on fire and her voice. It bubbles up from her toes and runs her several degrees hotter in an open airport terminal. “Claire?”

She hums an answer. There’s a wet click through the phone, near silent: she wonders if he licked his lips. She licks her own. “I’m glad you took my advice. On the armor.”

“Me too.”

“I might miss that little ponytail on the end of your mask, though.”

“I still have it. I might even wash it before you get back.”

“Don’t,” she says, and his groan is reflexive, has her pressing the tip of her tongue to her incisor. “Later though,” she adds, “I just need to take care of something out west.”

It isn’t audible, the moment he stops flirting and—she imagines him sitting up straight, somehow. “Is there anything I can do to help?”

“Set my plane back on schedule? Charter me a private jet?”

“Not a rich playboy, remember?”

“One out of two—”

“None out of two, currently.”

She sighs, can’t decide if hearing him say it is champagne or sour. “Matt.”

“Claire. Let me help, please. I owe you, I—would like you to come back, as soon as possible.”

Without his brand of hearing, there’s no heartbeat to underscore the sincerity in his voice. He never sounds anything but, even when he’s angry, even when he’s under the mask. Mike always sounds like he’s lying, even when he tells the truth. Luke—

Luke didn’t really lie, the break had been honest and mutual.

“I need you to look someone up for me, see if he’s still in Chicago.”

Matt smiles again, voice lifting and rolling a little smoother across the distance. “Email me what you know and I’ll call you within the hour.”

Across the way, an announcement is being made at the counter. The other passenger are getting up to form a line, and there’s no telling where Mike is, if Luke is in the city, if he even cares—

Matt is the one who answers, when she calls.

“Alright. While you do that, I’ll find a hotel.”