That voice... authoritative, confident, self-assured. It expects to be recognized, Matt can tell, and then he realizes where he's heard it before.
"Captain America," he observes flatly, concentration on the thugs tied up below breaking.
"It's plainclothes tonight," the head of the Avengers says. "You can call me Steve."
"Because that means I'm supposed to tell you my name," Matt replies. "Right?"
"Whatever you're comfortable with."
And what's he supposed to say to that? Where the hell was your team, when Fisk blew up Hell's Kitchen? Or maybe nice of you guys to break the city apart and then do nothing about it, considering Tony Stark's a billionaire and all. The last thing he's comfortable with is being ambushed, on a rooftop, in his own neighborhood, by the guy who nearly destroyed Midtown a few years ago.
"I'll pass," he says instead, figuring that's a better answer, and lets it just hang.
Cap coughs. "That was an impressive display down there. Saved that woman from..."
"No offense, Cap, but it's been a long night and I'm not really in the mood for some S.H.I.E.L.D. interrogation. What do you want?"
"I've heard about some of the things you've been doing. Wanted to get eyes on you."
"You're operating in my city, figured..."
"Your city?" Matt snorts, letting the brick wall behind him take his weight. The cops are incoming, a few blocks out; he doesn't even need amplified hearing to catch the sirens. "Bit different from the last time you were here, isn't it?"
Cap's voice is tighter, terser, when he speaks again. "I don't care much for vigilantes."
"And what exactly is your definition of vigilante, Captain? I'm assuming, with the amount of disgust you put into that word, you're not referring to yourself."
"I'm not here in a professional capacity, Daredevil. I'm just a guy..."
"...from Brooklyn, I know." Matt finishes it for him. It's either correct or insulting, but either way, it ought to shut him up. People hate that sort of thing. "And I'm just a guy from Hell's Kitchen trying to make his neighborhood a little bit safer."
"Well you seem to be handling it well."
"And what gives you the right to have an opinion on anything?"
That really does shut the Avenger up.
For a moment or two.
"I'm guessing you probably need to get going," Cap says drily, probably making some hand gesture Matt can't see. Sure, he might be able to see vague shapes, the world on fire, with his eyes open and the world around him open, but the mask removes that distraction entirely. Makes it easier in a fight, but harder in casual situations like this. If a situation like this can be called casual. "You should drop by the tower sometime, in uniform or whatever. We won't even ask you for ID."
No way in hell is he doing that. But Matt nods anyway. "I'll take it into consideration."
Foggy - when Matt relates the story, over the same sparse breakfast of fried eggs and toast they've been eating since Foggy conned a hot plate off a graduating senior back in undergrad - tells him he's insane.
"Avenger tower? That's like... everybody in New York wants to see inside of that place! I want to see inside that place!"
"It's the Avengers," Matt says, trying to stress that word, hoping he won't have to spell this out for his friend.
"Yeah. Exactly. The Avengers."
Matt doesn't need to look to know that Foggy's grinning. It's in his voice. "Whatever," he says, and mops up the last bit of yolk off his plate. One hand on the table, he stands, the other reaching for the edge of the counter; four steps to the sink. After Foggy found out about the whole world on fire thing, he asked Matt, very bluntly, if he only behaved like he was blind to put on a good show for the civilians. That hurt, but then, Matt's just grateful his best friend gave him a second chance, after Fisk.
"You can't possibly be upset with them for New York!" Foggy says loudly, in between his last few bites. "There were aliens pouring out of the sky and all."
Matt would roll his eyes, if it meant anything to do so. “I need a shower. You coming or what?"
He also pins Matt to the tile, hands on his hips. "You're worried they're going to figure out you're blind."
"You know what happens if you lie to me again, right?"
Oh yeah, Matt knows. Foggy made it damn clear, when they moved back in together - after that dreadful experiment in living apart for the first time since college, thinking it’d be too much to manage a business partnership and a roommate situation - that what anything less than 100% honesty would do to this... whatever it is that they have. But it's a stupid fear to admit to, a stupid thing to be embarrassed about, and Matt kisses his friend instead.
It gets him a slap and a chuckle, and they're both half an hour late to the office.
Hopefully, though, the Avengers will leave him alone.
Of course they don't.
Because a few nights later, instead of tearing through half a dozen goons to find a terrified girl with her clothes ripped off, it's Black Widow crouching behind a Dumpster. She’s in civilian clothes, flowy rayon dress, ballet flats, but even here, her skin carries the scent of cordite and ozone and leather.
"I haven't seen that style in a while," she comments, like she's discussing the difference between the Sumatran and Indonesian roasts at the local coffee house. That kind of bored expertise that comes from too many years spent doing the same thing. "I take it you're not self-taught?"
Matt thinks about Stick, and wants to laugh. His old mentor would probably love this woman. "No. I'm not."
"Where'd you train? Japan? I know a school in Shikoku where..."
"I'm a New York boy," he says, and cocks his head. She's quiet, pacing around him, taking him in, but he can still hear her. Just out of reach. Not that he's got any desire to hurt her, but a friendly sparring session... that could be interesting. "Don't even own a passport."
"Yeah, me neither. Hasn't stopped me yet."
"Look, I appreciate what you guys are trying to do, offer... whatever, but I don't need your help and there are lots of people out there who need mine. So if you don't mind, Ms Romanoff, I think I'll be..."
"You're a lawyer, aren't you?" she asks suddenly, triumph in her voice.
Matt starts. "What?"
"Your locution. Only other guys I know who talk so intentionally are lawyers."
He smiles. "Maybe I'm a priest."
"A Catholic lawyer, then," she replies, and her voice is moving away from him, her feet soft on the asphalt. "You know, you keep turning our invitations for a meeting down, Stark's going to get it through his head to have you drugged and kidnapped."
"Would he do that?" Matt calls after her.
Like that's an explanation.
But then, the man did fly a nuclear bomb through a wormhole. So who knows?
The last straw comes a week later. Early evening. Another riot. Each one seems to be louder, more violent, than the one before.
Like it’s not bad enough the city’s still rebuilding from the Chitauri attack. The Fisk indictments came at the worse possible time for civilian-police relations. Oddly, it hasn’t been too bad in Hell’s Kitchen, and so far they haven’t had the same kind of rioting other cities have seen, but Matt likes to keep an eye on some of the rowdier demonstrations.
He might not agree with what’s happened elsewhere, but the last thing his city needs is more dead cops. Or a civilian protestor getting shot by a shopkeeper. Or more deaths, of any kind, of anyone, in general. But it’s hard to pay attention to it, the world scattering from his attempts to get ahole of it, because...
“Quite a party down there.”
Ahh. That was the disturbance he’s been feeling in the air, the noise that’s been growing louder. Repulsor jets.
Everyone knows that voice.
“You got a reason for being here, Mr Stark?”
“What, a guy can’t check in on what’s going on in his own city?” the billionaire asks, flippant. Like he hasn't just dropped onto a rooftop at the edge of an anti-police riot that's turning ugly. Like he has no idea how bad things are around here - and considering all the news stories about the Avengers taking down this or that HYDRA cell in some foreign country, he’s probably not.
Matt holds his irritation in. “You guys keep checking in on me, not the city. If you had any interest in checking in on the city, you could have done it at any point in the last two years.”
There’s a hissing noise, slight, metal moving against metal, and the scent of human skin curls out from under the titanium. Stark pushed his mask up. “I have a lot of money invested in rebuilding this city.”
“Yeah. I’m sure you heard what happened to that.”
“I did. That’s why I’m having every development firm vetted by my people now,” Stark says, more serious, quieter.
Down below them, the yelling is getting louder. Lighters are being struck. Things are going to get ugly soon. Damn.
“It’s about more than just the money flow. Can’t just throw cash at it and expect it to all be okay.” Matt waves a hand at the growing crowd. “Plenty of people aren’t getting their basic needs met.”
"I'm hosting a party later tonight, a bit of a soiree. Everyone who's anyone in this superhero community of ours is going to be there," Stark says, careless again. Subject changed, matter closed. "Do you good to show up. Meet some people, have a drink."
"I don't really think now's the time," Matt tries to say.
"Oh, those guys?" Stark asks, breezy, and his suit makes a noise like something's opening up in it. "Not a problem. Cover your ears."
But the explanation comes in the form of a sonic boom, a crippling, terrible noise, and everything just... stops.
"Good evening, Mister Murdock. How good to see that you've woken. Are you feeling alright?"
It's a voice, familiar but not human, the consonants slightly clipped, the vowels almost too crisp.
Matt tries not to panic.
"Where am I?"
"Stark Tower, in the medical ward. Mister Stark set off a sonic stun grenade that seemed to have a disproportionate effect on you. He brought you in, rather than allow them to take you to the nearest municipal hospital."
"I'd have been fine," he lies, mentally cursing Tony Stark and the Avengers and all the well-intentioned curiosity. He isn't some enhanced HYDRA experiment, or a metahuman, or anything else. He's not out there fighting aliens. He's just a guy with good hearing and a few ninja skills. What right do they have to keep butting into his life like this?
“Tony was worried about you sustaining a concussion from hitting the ground at a strange angle.”
“I fell off the building?”
“Yes. I’m surprised you didn’t take more damage, Mr. Murdock.”
“Like I said, I’ve had worse,” he replies, and thinks about what she just said. "How do you know my name?"
"I asked JARVIS to run you through his facial recognition program and verify that you didn’t have any pre-existing conditions that might aggravate the head injury.”
"Did you tell Stark?"
"I consider that confidential," the woman replies, and squeezes his hand. Seoul tinges her words, a certain sophistication under the Korean accent. Her fingers are strong but her hands aren't calloused; it's flesh she works with, albeit it in a different way from what Matt does. She has to be good at her job, or the Avengers never would have taken her on. "Is there somebody you'd like JARVIS to call for you?"
"Yeah, my partner." He corrects himself. "My business partner. Umm, Foggy Nelson. You can contact our office at..."
"Nelson and Murdock, yes, I've found it," JARVIS chimes. "Shall I tell him you were in an accident?"
"What? Oh." The computer voice is asking if he wants his identity protected, Matt realizes, and wonders exactly how advanced the thing is. "Yeah, just tell him I'm here. If a girl picks up, don't talk to her. Ask for Foggy."
"Very well, sir."
"JARVIS is very considerate," the female doctor says. "It understands what's at stake."
"Everybody knows who the Avengers are."
"They still have their secrets," she replies. “My staff bagged your uniform for you and left a set of clothes for you on the door. I believe they are the correct size. Would you like them brought over?"
Matt shakes his head. "I can manage."
He listens to her leave, the walls reverberating in a strange way from the force of the door shutting - glass, it’s all glass. So the Architecture Digest article about Avengers Tower was true after all. Fucking fantastic. Matt can navigate by touch around glass just fine, but it plays havoc with his hearing, echoes leaving shadows in that fire that fills the mindspace behind his dead eyes. The clothes on the hanger are easy enough to find, though, and they feel like the right size. A bit too broad in the shoulders maybe, and they smell like Cap did the other night.
Matt tries not to think about that.
Foggy would kick his ass.
Besides, no way Captain America’s gay.
“JARVIS? Did you get ahold of Foggy?” Matt asks.
“Yes. Mr. Nelson was very concerned about your well-being. He says he is on his way down.”
“Well, that’ll be fun,” Matt mutters to himself, hand on the wall.
Unfamiliar place, difficult internal layout, no cane to simply walk himself out of the building and into the nearest subway station... it’s going to be a blast, getting out of here without giving away his little problem. He gets enough sympathy from normal people, without needing the Avengers added to that list. Foggy, and now Karen, are the only people in his life that don’t treat him like he’s some broken thing in need of constant supervision.
He dresses quickly, shoulders the bag containing his Daredevil uniform, and, with only a moment of hesitation, opens the door.
The doctor - Cho, she says her name is - is waiting for him. As is somebody else, the beat of his heart loud and slow, the scent of his skin tinged with something hot, almost radioactive. Matt takes a wild guess, hand out. “Dr. Banner?”
“Bruce,” the man who destroyed Harlem a while back responds, and shakes firmly. “How are you feeling? No dizziness, no tingling in your fingers?”
“It’s hardly the worst fall I’ve had.”
“You fell two stories.”
Matt cocks his head in Doctor Cho’s direction. “We’ve already been over this, haven’t we?”
“Can’t blame us for being curious,” Bruce tells him, a smile in his voice.
“Maybe you could show me somewhere I could wait until...”
“Hey hey, none of that. At least let me show you around.”
He does manage to charm Black Widow - call me Nat - into taking his arm. She laughs and he plays it off and then Captain America teases on her about it.
“C’mon, Daredevil,” she says, turning them away from Cap’s heartbeat and Stark’s metallic scent. “Ignore the living fossil. Come meet the rest of the team.”
They’re different than he expected.
A lot different.
Captain America and Nat rag on each other, all the way down the elevator and out across the floor of some lab where he’s expected to be impressed by some hologram Stark and Banner won’t shut up about. Matt nods and smiles, uses all the little non-committal gestures he learned a long time ago, back in school, for deflecting attention. He can’t get his senses to focus, the way sound reverberates in this place playing hell on his senses. It’s still dark outside, that much he can tell, but little else.
There’s something, further there that smells like interstellar dust. “Loki’s scepter,” Thor explains joining in the party, and he’s sad when he says it. The Asgardian makes some reference about Hell and the cries of defeated enemies and Matt just tells him he doesn’t kill people, which seems to shut him up.
There’s a huge open room, the next level down, padded leather furniture absorbing some of the noise, the air flowing freely from quiet vents. There’s a bar and Matt takes a seat gratefully, JARVIS chiming in about how Foggy’s downstairs and shall I show him up for you?
“Partner, eh?” Stark asks, good scotch splashing quietly into cut crystal glasses.
“Daredevil’s a lawyer,” Black Widow offers. “Aren’t you?”
He nods his head at her. “Yeah. Small practice in the old neighborhood.”
“Hell’s Kitchen?” Banner asks. “Rough place.”
“It’s been through a lot. We do what we can.”
“Including putting on a mask and beating the crap out of people?”
That’s another new voice, and Matt can’t quite place it. Still. “Only certain people. The people who deserve it.”
“The gods have given you quite a talent for combat,” Thor comments. Matt can hear the moment his hand takes one of the low-balls from Stark. “Long have we admired your feats in the alleyways.”
“It’s good stress relief, after reading depositions all day,” Matt jokes. He doesn’t touch his scotch; he’s not quite sure where it is. The red/gold oilslick of his remaining sight is even worse than usual here. It’s the way the light’s hitting all the glass and metal. He’s only got a vague idea of where everybody’s sitting and what they’re doing, and it makes him feel totally out of control. It’s not a good feeling. Why isn’t there anything in this place that’s non-reflective?
“Seems a bit strange, a lawyer flaunting the law like that,” Captain America says.
“Hey now, we pride ourselves on only the highest standards of law-following at our firm, which is why we have never worked for an organization like S.H.I.E.L.D. nor destroyed wide swaths of urban areas such as New York or Malibu Hills,” Foggy calls out from over at the elevator bank, and Matt breathes out; he’s never been more grateful to hear his friend’s voice. “Doing okay there, buddy?”
“Yeah, guess so.”
“His robot said you fell off a roof.”
“Something like that.”
“Should have called Claire.”
“Tony Stark offered me a ride. Seemed a bit rude to refuse.”
“Are you wearing Captain America’s clothes?”
“I don’t know,” Matt lies.
“Yes,” Cap offers.
“I swear, can’t take this kid anywhere,” and Foggy’s right there, hand on Matt’s elbow. “You wanna get back? That O’Malley case isn’t going to handle itself.”
“You said you had it tonight,” Matt says, and grabs on to the comforting solidity of Foggy’s sleeve as he stands. “Or did that change?”
“Well, our illustrious secretary used the wrong printer for about half the paperwork, so I’m going to need you to translate,” Foggy says lightly. “Ready to go?”
“You haven’t even said hi to the Avengers.”
“Eh, I see ‘em on TV.” Foggy turns a bit, probably doing one of those little hand waves of his.
Matt almost stumbles, a little off balance.
And Stark snaps his fingers.
“You’re blind,” he declares, almost triumphantly, and spreads his hands, the airflow over his body changing. “That’s what it is. You’re blind.”
“You’re blind?” Black Widow asks, sounding dubious.
Bruce grunts. “No, there’s no way, Tony. Maybe partial vision loss, but...”
“No, it explains everything. The lack of response in the lab, why your partner’s here. Sensitive hearing, the effects of the sonic grenade... that’s why you reacted so strongly to it. Your hearing is enhanced cause your sight’s gone.” He sounds almost excited, quite pleased with himself, like he just figured out some big puzzle. “How do you go out there and do what you do? It’s incredible.”
Beside him, Foggy tenses. “Hey, jacka-“
“It’s not a handicap. Not for him, not like this,” Hawkeye, silent until now, says loudly from the couch, and must stand up; his civilian boots echo on the glass floor. There’s a sigh in his voice. He’s obviously had this conversation before, and Matt’s surprised by the amount of brotherhood in the clap that lands on his shoulder. “Losing your eyes showed you other ways to see, right?”
Matt cocks his head. “Not sure what you...”
His hand’s guided up, fingers right behind the other man’s ear. A slight break in the skin, a hard raised area beneath it.
“Next-generation cochlear implant. Got the first one put in when I joined up,” Hawkeye explains quietly. Around them, the room is silent. Matt doesn’t focus on anybody’s heartbeat in particular, but he’d wager that Stark’s has sped up a bit.. “S.H.I.E.L.D. requires their operatives be able to hear. It’d be a nightmare with the comms otherwise.”
“It’s how you learned to shoot?” Foggy asks.
“Whatever you think about us, we’re not exactly a group of gods.”
Matt chuckles. “Isn’t Thor...”
“Kind of an alien. Or something.” There’s a wry grin in Clint’s voice. “It makes less sense the more you think about it. I try not to.”
Matt pulls his hand back, taking Foggy’s arm again. “Matthew Murdock,” he says quietly, and leans into Hawkeye. “Just out of curiosity, is everybody...”
“Oh yeah. They’re always like this,” the other man replies quietly.
Black Widow scoots her stool back. “So you boys want another drink before you go or what?”
Matt can feel Foggy’s eyes on him. “Beats Josie’s,” he comments with a shrug, and nods to Stark. “You got anything with an eel in it?”
“Ah, Aegirmead!” Thor declares loudly. “Tis an exceptional libation! Had I know you were a man of such taste, I would have brought a cask from home.”
“I don’t know. The stuff I’ve had just gets you really drunk,”
“Sounds exactly like ours!”
“Last time you served Asgardian liquor at a party, we had to pump somebody’s stomach,” Banner says.
Stark coughs. “How about some tequila instead? Everybody loves tequila.”
Captain America sighs. “Just cause there’s a worm in the bottom...”
“Did they have tequila back in the Ice Age, Steve? Are you familiar with it?”
“Just cause I was on the ice for a while...”
“You’re really wearing Captain America’s shirt, aren’t you?” Foggy whispers to Matt as they sit back down at the counter.
“They invited me to a party tomorrow night,” Matt replies. “I don’t think we should go.”
“No, we have to go. You gotta bring his shirt back.”
That should have been the end of it.
Except a couple days later, he arrives at work to a new scent and an agitated Karen.
“Umm, Matt? You have a visitor, waiting in your office, and...”
“Ah, Mister Murdock. It is, you are, Matthew Murdock, correct?”
Matt’s got to hand it to the man, he’s a good actor. “Yeah, it’s me. And you are?”
“Tony Stark. The Tony Stark.”
“You’re not wearing the suit, are you?” Matt jokes, and grabs for the edge of the desk, pulling himself over to it. “Cause that would be...”
“Cool?” Karen volunteers, and she sounds hopeful.
“Yes, it is cool. It’s a cool suit,” Tony says, a vast reservoir of pain under the flippancy, and leans over, moving a case to Matt’s hand, the smooth metal bumping his fingers. “Everything I build is cool.”
Karen laughs, and Matt can’t help but smile. He lets his fingers crawl up onto the case. “May I ask, why are you here, Mr. Stark?”
“Please, call me Tony. Everyone else does,” Stark says, and raps the top of the case with his knuckles. “You know, I did take your name after you got clipped by that bike messenger in front of my building a little while back.”
“You know I’m not going to sue, right?” Matt replies, following the story easily.
“These days, you never know. We’ve had so many protests lately, I figure, better safe than sorry. Anyway, when I turned up that you were blind and a lawyer, I thought you might be able to help me with an R&D program I’ve been working on.”
“In the case?”
The shape of the clasps reveal themselves under his fingers; aluminum, lined with laser-cut high density foam. Matt runs his hands across its contents carefully, taking in the cool surface. It feels almost viscous, plastic that’s still half-melted, poured and sealed under cellophane into a hollowed out tablet.
“Haven’t quite worked the bugs out of the polymer yet. You have to account for body heat, the pressure of the human hand, and so on. It’s all quite complicated, but I’ve got the interns working on a fresh batch, so the next release ought to be a little tighter,” Tony says while Matt inspects it. “Transition speed is a bit slow, too, but...”
“What is it?” There’s a clunky button on the side. Matt flips it, and the screen stretches flat under his hand.
“It’s a tablet. Displays shapes instead of images, like little needle boards from the planetarium.”
Matt's heart jumps. “Like Braille?”
“Exactly. It translates normal text files into Braille. No web browser yet, and the OS is kind of shit, honestly. We’re still working on it of course, but you do have a file structure, all touch activated. If you’re anything like my lawyer, you have a large volume of documents you have to digest on a daily basis. You’re in the ideal position to help me test it.”
“Obviously, for your efforts, you’ll be compensated...”
“Percentage, not lump sum, and I want to be listed on the patent,” Matt says automatically, hand stroking across the screen, bubbled with words. “You uploaded your personal biography on here?”
“And some Edgar Rice Burroughs. There’s plenty of room for whatever you need.”
“Our clients do warrant privacy, Tony,” he says, wary now, wondering if JARVIS is hooked up to this thing somehow.
“I assumed as much. There’s no wifi chip in it. USB access only. Braille only. Ought to keep it safe. But any other security measures you need added, just let me know. Shouldn’t take too long to tweak.”
Overwhelmed by the rising realization of what he could do with a tool like this, how much it could open things up for him, Matt sits down hard on the edge of the desk, fingers taking in the first paragraph of Princess of Mars. No more need for a special printer. An Internet browser that’s touch activated, that he can read instead of having it read to him. “Karen, could you get us some coffee? Tony and I have some legal stuff we probably need to go over...”
“Yeah, sure,” she says, and squeezes his shoulder.
Matt nods at his office, retrieving his cane and tucking the tablet carefully under his arm. Tony follows him quietly, closing the door as soon as they’re both inside Matt’s office.
“How long have you been developing this?” he asks, settling into his seat, hands centering the tablet on the desk in front of him.
“About three days.”
Tony does some little flip thing with his hand, his suit rustling as he moves. “I’ve had the material for years. Part of an old military contract for three-dimensional mapping. We never did get the topography interface to work, but Braille, it’s so simple, just render it down to ASCII and back up...”
“So are you saying you made this for me?”
“You get so focused on all the fancy shit,” and he waves something made of glass, that phone of his, “that you forget most people out there aren’t getting their basic needs met.”
“Printed books and speech software works just fine.”
“And guns worked just fine without rifled barrels. Doesn’t mean we can’t improve on it.”
Matt breathes out, wondering if this comes with any additional strings, if Tony’s got ulterior motives. “I’m not joining the Avengers.”
“You’re always welcome to, if you change your mind.”
“Like you said, a lot of people aren’t getting their basic needs met,” Matt replies, and turns the screen back on.