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Matt learns from an early age that, despite what everyone says, fists solve problems. Punching fists into his pillow or a punching bag sooths him when the world crashes down around him, when everything is scratching against his spine, unbearable, and tears are streaming down his cheeks.

His father’s fists keep food on their table, a roof over their heads, and water and heat flowing through their walls. Fists are a means to an end. Fists are survival.

Fists stop bullies:

The first time Matt sees Kevin Saunders accosting Drayton Callahan, Kevin punches Drayton square in the jaw, laughs, and saunters away.

Matt has a hard time with faces, but he knows it’s Drayton, by the way the boy’s brown hand twists at the silver stud in his left ear, even as his right hand comes up to touch his wounded chin gingerly, and by the way his square, bronze frames, bent and misshapen, sit crooked on his nose.

Matt doesn’t have much in the way of friends. The boys in his grade find him odd; he gets on best with the school janitor and the librarian at the public library, who find his quirks endearing, who don’t mind if Hamlet or Thurgood Marshall are the only things he wants to talk about. Matt doesn’t have much in the way of friends his age, and he’s mostly ok with that, because he doesn’t understand the boys in his class, doesn’t understand how to interact with them; he always seems to say the wrong thing at the wrong time. Though sometimes his loneliness aches, he feels a lot safer, a lot less anxious, curled up against the wall by himself during recess.

But Matt thinks he rather likes Drayton, who’s two years older than he is. Something about Drayton feels familiar, something Matt can’t name. He watches Drayton twisting his earing rapidly, and the motion calls to him like signal fire—Matt doesn’t wear earrings, but his hand shoots up to his ear just the same, automatically, unconsciously mimicking the gesture by rubbing his earlobe between his fingers. And when Drayton is happy, his hands flap, telling the story of his glee and his flying hands send out a blast of infectious, joyous wind that Matt can’t help but join, jumping in delight.

Matt puts his arm around Drayton’s shoulders, and steers him toward the office. While Drayton tells Ms. Graham what happened, Matt stands encouragingly by his side. After school, he peeks in the detention room, sees Kevin hunched in a chair, and heads home with a satisfied smile.

The second time, he comes out of his classroom for a washroom break to see Kevin’s foot crashing down on Drayton’s glasses (he recognizes Kevin’s sneakers, white with a little tennis ball design on the side, as his foot falls). And Drayton needs his glasses, and his mom works two jobs and takes care of him and his brother and they can’t afford a new pair of glasses, and Matt doesn’t give a warning, doesn’t give Kevin a chance to react. He doesn’t even think, really, just sidles up beside the pair, curls his hand into a fist, and gives Kevin a swift jab in the side, as hard as he can. Matt’s never actually hit anything besides a punching bag or a pillow, but he’s been watching his dad’s fights since he was two, and he knows a thing or two about making a punch count, about getting them where it smarts.

Kevin howls in pain and doubles over, clutching his side. His neck snaps up to glare at Matt. “You’re gonna pay for that, Murdock.”

Matt grins, pulls back his lips to show Kevin his teeth, gnashes them together with a snarl and a laugh. He knows a thing or two about threatening someone, too—about putting on a show to throw the enemy off. “Sure,” he says. “I look forward to it.”

While Kevin is recovering, Matt takes Drayton by the hand and pulls him away. Kevin is a bully, and Matt reckons he knows a thing or two about bullies; he reckons that if Kevin wants a fight, he ought to go after someone willing to fight back. He leads Drayton outside, passed the soccer field, to the edge of school property. “All right, Dray,” he announces. “Time you learned how to fight back.”

They’ve been training for weeks, the third time Matt catches Kevin hounding Drayton. Drayton has been making steady progress, and, based on the growing bulge under Kevin’s cheek, it looks like he’s managed to get a few good swings in. Only now Kevin has him pushed up against the grating yellow lockers, a fistful of Drayton’s polo in his grip, a finger jabbing at Drayton’s chest, nose pressed close to Drayton’s face, bearing his teeth, hissing and seething. Kevin’s got two other burly looking boys beside him, and that’s just unfair.

Matt rushes at Kevin, slams his shoulders into Kevin’s side. Kevin skids, stumbles—lands with a crash on the floor.

It’s not that Drayton needs Matt to save him; Drayton can take care of himself—but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve someone willing to stand by his side. Matt stands behind his friend, and together, their fists make Kevin and his friends stop.

Of course, he gets in trouble for that one; the administration can’t quite fathom quiet little Matty Murdock and Drayton Callahan beating on Kevin Sanders and his friends, but Matt’s dad takes one look at him, at his cracked fist and bruised cheek, and knows.

“Come on, Matty,” he says, frowning, and Matt’s stomach twists; disappointing his dad hurts him more than any bully could. “You don’t know that boy’s story—you don’t know his home life. The thing about bullies is, they’re always trying make up for something. There’s always somewhere they’re powerless.”

Except Matt’s pretty sure Kevin’s home life has nothing to do with his behaviour. Even if it did, that doesn’t excuse it or make it ok, and Matt’s not about to make allowances for it. Matt’s pretty sure Kevin is just a racist prick who got what’s coming to him.

“Use your head,” his dad says.

Use your head, Matt echoes. Do as I say, not as I do. (“Use your words,” the old refrain, spins in his head, but sometimes he can’t use his words, sometimes he loses words and can’t make them work—but he always has his body; his feet, his head, his fists, and sometimes he wields it in anger, sometimes he needs it as a weapon, but sometimes it communicates “I need to get out of here” with a point of a finger and a desperate nod toward the door).

The local boys running the fights that earn Jack’s keep are big and burly, all muscle, and no heart and they’re bullies, too. But we always get back up, and when Murdocks get back up, peel their broken bodies from the floor piece by piece, they push back, stronger from the fall. Murdocks always get back up, and they always keep fighting—except, apparently, against bullies, because Battlin’ Jack Murdock doesn’t do battle when they come for him, and he forbids Matt from fighting, too, even if it’s bullies.

“Some fights, Matty, we can’t win. Don’t end up like your old man.”

Matt adds a new rule to the Murdock Code of Conduct: Always stand against bullies. Don’t just fight—fight for what you believe in. (He’ll realize, too late, that his dad always did).

Matt doesn’t stop fighting bullies; he just gets smarter about making sure no one finds out.

**

Sometimes pillows and punching bags aren’t enough. Sometimes, the world cracks under his feet, a deep rumbling, an earthquake, opening up into a deep, pitiless cavern. The earth beneath him crumbles, swallows him whole, and he shatters, his skin on fire. He shouldn’t, he knows he shouldn’t, but the desire’s crawling under his skin with a desperate need, and he cracks the palm of his hand against his skull and his arms. It’s better when he can stick with his pillow, but sometimes he can’t—and sometimes his father catches him at it, takes his tiny fists in strong arms and pins them down, and that only makes it worse. Matt screams and flails, but his father is strong and he can’t escape.

He lands on the other side of the cavern, not a drop of energy or fight left, a clean slate to be filled again.

**

The world is on fire, bright hot light like a sharp needle jabbing his eye. Cotton bites at his skin, leaves him raw and aching, despite the lack of physical evidence to corroborate his story–no rash, no redness or scratches. It shouldn’t hurt as much as it does, Matt’s sure.

He doesn’t ask for the silk sheets that would make it better. He knows they can’t afford them.

In class, everything burns. High on the wall, the clock ticks. Boys behind him whisper. Pencils scratch. Someone chews gum (a wet, disgusting sound), and these little noises, these small, inconsequential sounds that bother no one save him, conspire against him, grate against his nerves, a great, boring cacophony that digs under his skin, claws its way across his skull, pressing and unbearable. It drowns out all else—the math problem in front of him, his thoughts. Rage bubbles, and he swings his legs wildly under his desk to contain it, to keep quiet and still, to get the noise out of his brain. His fingers tighten around his pencil, and it snaps with a crunch.

Later, a world on fire will become his signature, his default explanation for his abilities, but it begins here, when he’s still a sighted child.

For Matt Murdock, the world has always been ablaze.

**

When he’s seven, he burns his hand boiling water for dinner, and doesn’t notice the pain for several minutes.

He looks at the red, angry welt on the palm of his hand and thinks it’s funny that everything else always burns, except this, except actual fire.

Years later, he tells Claire his ability to tolerate pain is Catholicism; it’s not a lie, exactly (the weight of guilt is heavy on his shoulders), but it’s not the whole truth, either. His pain receptors lag behind the rest of his body, and always have.

**

He comes along for the ride when his father is called into the school for a teacher’s conference. He’s eight and he sits in a blue, rough plastic school chair, swinging his legs back and forth, humming softly under his breath, and looking fondly at the poster of Thurgood Marshall behind Mrs. Latimer’s desk.

A hand lands on his arm. The touch is gentle, but disorienting just the same. He starts, his head shooting left to the source of the hand. “Hey,” says his dad. “This is still school. You still gotta be good and sit like a proper, well behaved young man.”

Matt stills, jolted back into the conversation.

Mrs. Latimer’s gaze shifts warily between Matt and his dad, lips twisted together in distaste, then settle back on the latter.

“As I was saying, Mr. Murdock,” she says. “Matt is a very special boy—very bright, one of the brightest in his class, and I’m sure if his interest in law continues, he could be great lawyer when he grows up.” She pauses to smile at Matt. Matt looks down to his lap, twists his steepled hands together, and takes his lip between his teeth. From the corner of his eye, he sees her head turn back to his father.

“However, his grades fail to reflect his intelligence and, indeed, are growing worrisome. His failure to engage in reciprocal relations with his peers is also a growing concern. It’s a large class, and I’m afraid he may not be getting the support he needs to succeed, particularly when it comes to social development amongst his peers. I’d really like you to consider having him sent to a psychiatrist for an autism assessment—“

His dad is quick to cut Mrs. Latimer off: “We can’t afford a psychiatrist. And there’s nothing wrong with my boy.”

“Mr. Murdock, I don’t mean to suggest—there are options—“

Matt feels his dad’s hand come up to clasp his shoulder, the arm heavy across his shoulders. “Nothing wrong with my boy,” his dad repeats, and it’s the same voice he uses in the ring when the odds are stacked against him, when he knows he’s fighting a losing battle and he digs his heels into the mat anyway with a wild gleam in his eye. He looks sternly at Mrs. Latimer, his mouth a thin, angry line. Come at me, his gaze taunts, and Matt can almost hear the roar of the crowd.

“We’re done here. Come on, Matty.”

The weight on Matt’s shoulder lifts only long enough for him to stand, and then it’s back, steering him out the classroom, down the hall past the gym toward one of the green side doors. The full force of his dad’s arms shove hard against the door handle, as if he’s approaching his battlefield and the school and all it represents are his arch nemesis. The door crashes against the brick wall. Matt winces, following sheepishly behind with quick, agile steps, sliding out the door just before it bounces back into the doorframe with a clang. His dad strides with long, proud steps across a corner.

When Matt creeps around the corner after him, his dad has a cigarette between his lips and his favourite lighter in his palm—the fancy, lifelong metal one Matt got him for his birthday the year previous, inscribed with Battling Jack in dark cursive on the silver casing. (He’d mowed Mrs. Droshky’s lawn every week for months and saved every penny to afford the gift.) His dad lifts his eyes to look at Matt as he touches the flame to his cigarette. Matt avoids his gaze, staring instead at the blue bottom of the flickering flame.

“You’re a smart boy, Matty. You’ve got a good head on your shoulders. Never let anyone tell you there’s something wrong with you.”

Matt doesn’t see what the big deal is—he knows other boys find him strange, but he’s never thought there was anything wrong with him, just because he prefers reading law books and history to playing with the other kids, or because, during lunch hour, he likes talking to Mr. Santos (the janitor with three kids he’s trying to provide for) better than he likes chatting to any of his classmates. He didn’t have any cause to think there’s something wrong with him until his father made such a big deal of his normalcy, pushed it with booming force like he’s trying to convince himself. (The lady doth protest too much, methinks, Matt thinks, bitterly, the words forming automatically, unbidden in his mind).

Never let anyone tell you there’s something wrong with you.

Matt wonders if ‘anyone’ includes his father, if his father sees the irony. Matt knows he didn’t mean anything by it.

“Okay,” Matt says, small and determined. He leans against the wall beside his dad, his right arm pressed tight across his stomach to clench his other elbow, and tries not to gag at the tobacco smell and smoke filling the air.

**

He looks up ‘autism’ on his next trip to the public library.

He doesn’t like what he finds. Autism, the books all tell him, is a thing to be feared and stamped out.

He decides to forget what Mrs. Latimer said, what he’s read.

Never let anyone tell you there’s something wrong with you.

**

Matt’s world is on fire, and he can’t remember a time it wasn’t—always itching, piercing, scathing. Lights and sounds and cotton sheets that scratch and burn at his skin, scattered ash and smoke making painful swathes across his mind, drowning out everything else.

He wakes in hospital after the accident to a world on fire and it isn’t anything new, except it’s amped up to excruciating, stretched its mouth wide—from a house fire to a forest fire of metal and brick—raging and engulfing apartment buildings and skyscrapers and cars and warehouses across the city. There’s a brief moment when he wonders what’s worse: the increased sensitivity or the blindness. Then an alarm shrieks somewhere in the hospital, loud and shrill. He covers his ears, screams, and realizes the folly of the question.

**

The cane feels wrong in his hands: too heavy, it pulls the muscles in his wrist taut. His hands shake with the effort of swinging it back and forth across his body with his wrist, in opposition to his steps—left step, tap cane right; right step, tap cane left. His body won’t cooperate—too many complex, incongruous steps at once. It’s like trying to rub your head and pat your stomach at the same time, Matt thinks.

The sun beats down, and he hears the aluminum down the shaft of his cane bending in the heat, twisting out of shape when he gets it stuck in the cracks of sidewalks and stabbing him in the stomach because he’s too eager to walk quickly, to regain his old speed. Sweat pools under his palm against the leather grip, and some sticky residue leaks off the grip, tainting his hands. His fingers blister where he holds it too tight.

Teagan, his Orientation and Mobility instructor, casts a tall shadow over him. Her voice, kind, but firm, comes from high above him. The wind rustles her long hair. She had garlic for dinner the night before, and Matt tries not to gag.

“That’s all normal,” she says. “You’ll get used to it.”

He takes a few careful steps, concentrating hard, but can’t get the rhythm right—the recess bell from his school rings five blocks away, throwing his concentration. He puts his cane and his foot to the left in the same movement, fumbles, and grumbles in frustration.

It takes time, more time than he likes, but he sticks with it, because he’s a Murdock and Murdocks always get back up and slowly, he starts to grow accustomed to the movement—the muscles in his wrist strengthen and the ache lessons when he swings his cane. The swaying, rhythmic motion becomes automatic. He steps outside, and falls into easy synchronicity with his cane. He doesn’t even have to think about it anymore.

He still jabs himself in the stomach sometimes (the pain doesn’t bother him as much as the unexpected stop), and he still gets blisters when he grips his cane too tight, which is more often than naught.

The satisfying clang of his cane hitting the front bumper of cars parked over the crosswalk sits deep in his belly, and he can barely contain the upward tilt of his lips. If he could avoid hitting them, if he puts a little extra force into the swing, well—the drivers needn’t know it was anything but an accident; nothing wrong with an ‘unintentional’ reminder that the crosswalk is for pedestrians, that for some people, going around an illegally stopped car is harder and more dangerous than others.

Once he’s got basic cane techniques down, it’s on to cardinal directions, understanding and interpreting his environment, walking a straight line (especially while crossing the street), knowing the difference in sound and feel between a gravel parking lot and the sidewalk (roads are bumpier, he soon realizes; he can feel every grove).

The first time Teagan takes him to a busy four-way lighted intersection near the highway, he wants to cry. It’s a comparatively small one, one he knew like the back of his hand when he was sighted, but now the cacophony of sound is unbearable. How is he supposed to tell when his parallel traffic surges, when he can hear traffic surging and stopping for miles around, hammering and drills, scraping metal, and fog horns of boats pulling into the harbour? And the smell—he thought he hated the smell of gasoline and garbage before.

“Take your time,” Teagan says beside him. “We can stand and listen a few cycles until you think you’ve got it, and we’ll go sighted guide the first couple times. Tell me when you think it’s safe.”

Matt has one hand gently around Teagan’s elbow. He holds his cane by the shaft, just below the handle, straight up and close to his chest. “I can’t,” he says. “There’s too much noise.”

“Take your time,” she repeats.

Matt listens, concentrates on the sounds closest to his side, tries to shut out anything further away. He lifts his cane slightly off the ground, and then lets it fall; when it lands, he catches the shaft again, and it doesn’t hit the ground, so much as it bounces a couple times before stilling. He likes the feel of it. He bounces it again, and again, and again, a grounding force as he focuses on ascertaining the traffic nearest to him.

There are a few false starts where he hears the wrong surge, or mistakes the surge of cars turning on the advanced green for his queue to go, but eventually he squeezes Teagan’s elbow hopefully and bounces his cane one final time. “Now?”

“Yes!” says Teagan, positively delighted. “See, you can do it.”

**

Braille, at least, is relatively easy. He’s told it will take months, maybe a couple years, to master—for his fingers to adjust, to learn to recognize the small differences in letters, recognize an ‘s’ from a ‘t’, a ‘d’ from a period, to put the letters together into words, put the words into sentences and paragraphs, and retain what he’s read. (Braille reading comprehension is a whole new ballpark).

But Braille is just language, just words, and Matt’s always been good with language, when it’s not spoken. He has an advantage over most: his fingers are hypersensitive, they don’t need time to adjust, they don’t go numb the way others do. His hyper touch makes it easy to distinguish the letters in Braille, and within a week, he’s got the alphabet and basic punctuation memorized. Within a month, he’s making decent progress on memorizing the contractions of literary braille, despite the sheer volume of them, because he dedicates all his waking moments to it, because there’s nothing he wants more than his favourite books back in his hand.

In two months, he’s back to reading Hamlet and Thurgood Marshall—maybe not with quite the same speed as when he was sighted, and he has to stop frequently to check contractions, but he’s determined to get there before long.

**

Normal. His experiences are normal, they keep telling him. Some of them probably are—Teagan was right about the muscles in his wrist needing time to adjust to his cane. But hearing someone cough from miles way, hearing not just breath and the shuffling of clothing of those near him, but heartbeats, the flow of blood in veins, bones and organs shifting, is decidedly not typical of blind people’s experiences—not that he ever asks anyone to clarify. And anyway, he’s pretty sure that even without the apparent super senses, his experiences wouldn’t be considered normal, because he’s known since before he could count that something is different about him—not wrong, but different.

The heartbeat thing is kind of neat, though (when it’s not keeping him awake). Faces and emotions were hard for him to understand, when he was sighted; he always identified people through any other means available—voice, gait, general shape and size. But people change: they cut their hair, or lose that silver bracelet they always wear, or they spill mustard on their shirt at lunch and come back to school in a different outfit, and then they’re always angry when he can’t put their name to their face. Now, at least, no one expects him to identify them by their face, and hearts are steadier and more reliable than any other method of identification; sometimes they beat faster than others, but he finds an essence of the person always remains.

Heartbeats are unique; young heartbeats are light, and grow firmer as they age. His dad’s heartbeat is strongest of all. He identifies people and keeps track of their emotions through the steady drumming of their hearts, and it helps smooth the corners of his rugged social encounters, gives him warning as to what is expected him, helps him tailor his speech to the situation.

Normal, they tell him. He doesn’t correct them, because he doesn’t have the words for this, because he doesn’t think they’d believe him or understand, anyway.

**

Be careful of the Murdock boys. They got the devil in them.

If the devil is real, it passes from Murdock to Murdock and if it’s death itself or the circumstances of the death, Matt doesn’t know, but he feels the emptiness where his father’s pulse should be, the silence where his breath should be, and the devil stirs, awakens fire and rage in Matt’s chest—because they murdered his dad and it’s his fault.

He goes still and quiet, feels the devil bubbling; swallows, and purses his lips.

He finally understands why his dad never stood up to his own bullies before now. Because now he has, and he did it for Matt, and now he’s dead. Matt vows to do the same, no matter the consequences, for anyone who ever needs his help.

**

Before the accident, as after, it isn’t about what he sees, but what he feels when sound and touch and heat reach out for him. Burning heat, his skin ablaze, scratching, and the hum of fluorescent bulbs.

Before the accident, he liked to lay awake and count the sirens, the seconds between the sirens, and guess how many were ambulances, how many police, how many firefighters. Counting was soothing, rhythmic, steady. He liked counting for counting’s sake. At night when he couldn’t sleep, sirens were the perfect thing. He’d put stories behind them—stories about people in danger, but always saved in time.

Now he hears all the sirens, all across the city, the sheer number of them, and he can’t—each siren screams at him that someone is in danger, someone has been hurt (like he was, like his father was), and now he knows they can’t save everyone.

Sound travels easy through the orphanage. Steady heartbeats, the calmed breath of sleep, and snoring from the two boys who share his room and boys in all the rooms across the East Wing. There are voices from a TV somewhere—probably down the hall, in the nurse’s station, the night staff. He lays on his stomach, presses the palms of his hands into his eyes; sometimes, if he presses just right and waits long enough, wades through the pain of the pressure, there is a flash of light like starburst. He counts the seconds between flashes, and tries to drown out the sirens.

**

The nuns let him attend Sunday mass at his father’s church with a chaperone. It’s a harrowing experience, not least because of the press of bodies all mushed together in a musky building (that’s always been an issue, just now it’s infinitely worse), but because of the way everyone coos at him—all sad, pitying ‘tsks’ and ‘awws’ and whispered, “Oh, that poor boy”. He twists his fingers around the elastic band of his cane, tugging at it fretfully, his free hand curling into a tight fist at his side.

Worst are those who tell him not to worry, that when Jesus rises to pass righteous judgement upon the world, he will be healed and ascend to Heaven with his newly restored sight, because he is a good lad and he’d saved that man’s life. It all seems a bit… zealot, and he isn’t sure he likes the implications. The school board has introduced him to a few other blind kids in the city, some of whom have been blind or partially sighted since birth, and they seem pretty content with the way things are: they are kids, and they are happy; they live their lives, and they aren’t interested in any religious healing.

“It assumes there’s something wrong with us,” says Daniela, when Matt broaches his congregation’s obsession with “healing” him. He’s having difficulty finding the words for why the incessant talk of healing bothers him, but Daniela is 17 and brilliant, and he knows she’ll find the answer through his vague mumblings. She’s just returned from getting her first guide dog over the summer, a yellow lab named Robin, and she plans to take disability studies in college. Her voice is soft and elegant, her speech always crisp and sure and eloquent. Matt can’t decide if he’s more enamoured or jealous of how smoothly she lays her thoughts on the table.

“Look, Matty, people like that, they come from a world that views disability as a tragedy. Blindness is considered the ultimate loss, because so much of our society is built on the ability to see. In general, they don’t understand how we can achieve anything. Have you noticed how often they like to talk about us ‘overcoming’ our disabilities? How they try to separate us from our disabilities, because if it’s separate, then we can beat it. ‘Stop defining yourself by your disability’ and all that. God.” Daniela lets out a derisive laugh, and a puff of her breath, coffee and mint and warm cinnamon, hits his face.

“Like being disabled is something to fight, not accept, not embrace as part of who you are. I’m not saying being blind is a piece of cake, but honestly, Matty, fuck them. Going blind sucks, but worse is not accepting it, worse is hating it and hating yourself and waiting to be healed, by religion or medicine. You can’t spend your life dreaming about something impossible. You take what life gives you, and you move on.”

Never let anyone tell you there’s something wrong with you, his father’s voice echoes. But Daniela is right, their accomplishments are always viewed in spite of being disabled, and every day they have to stand up in arms against it. If he doesn’t get over hating blindness, he can’t accept himself.

It’s not that he’s celebrating his blindness. Maybe it isn’t how he or his father had ever envisioned Matt’s life, maybe sometimes he’s angry and he screams into his pillow at night, and it’s hard, all the new things he has to learn, all the things he has to relearn. But it happened and he’s still young, his brain’s still developing, and he’s adjusting—he will adjust, like millions of others with vision loss around the world.

Besides, the supersenses are way more of a problem than the blindness, especially since there’s no one he can talk to about them. And maybe it’s part of God’s plan, but if God wants to come down from his high horse and take those away and let him be an ordinary, if slightly odd, blind kid, well—that would be pretty cool of God. But the blindness itself? It is what it is, and Matt reckons Daniela is right.

“You get back up,” Matt says, and Daniela laughs—she’s heard him say this often enough.

“Yeah, Matty. You get back up.”

The world is, and always was, on fire. The road to self-acceptance is long and lonely and lined with trees ablaze. It is rough and unpaved, riddled with ditches and steep inclines, and nearly impossible to navigate, because apparently, self-acceptance has to be fought for and won by the strongest and the bravest, accessibility be damned. Apparently, no one thought disabled people might like some self-acceptance, too.

**

Matt discovers there are a lot of things he can do with his cane to ground himself when things start to grow overbearing. He can stop, bring it up to his chest to stand vertically and give it a little bounce against the sidewalk, or twist his hands around the cord coming from the handle that wraps around his cane to keep it together when it’s folded, stretching and pulling and bending. He can grasp the cord, and swing his cane back and forth, letting it hit gently against the front of his wrist and then sending it over to the back of his hand, keeping the tip on the ground all the while.

The only remaining problem with the cane is people keep touching him. When he’s alone, on his way to school or the park, they see the young blind boy with his white cane, and they assume he’s lost, assume they need to help him. And they always touch him, when they do; they try to grab his arm and steer him wherever it is they think he should be, or try to grab his cane. Matt jumps a mile high each time—and several times, very nearly punches the unsuspecting pedestrian—because his senses are on fire, because his brain kicks into overdrive and seems to take the unexpected touch as a threat to his survival, because he knew they were there and they didn’t need to touch him.

“Yeah,” says Daniela sheepishly. “That one gets old fast. And it never really stops, either.”

**

He still pretends he never heard the word autism, sometimes almost convinces himself, but it’s always a whisper in the back of his mind. There’d been something about sensory processing in the pages he read, but even that wouldn’t explain his heightened senses—before the accident, it might have, but not now. He shakes his head, and goes back to ignoring it.

**

When Matt’s new roommate looks at Matt, the first words out of his mouth are “Oh, sorry,” with that familiar creeping, dawning realization, and a flutter of panic that reverberates in his voice and his heart. Matt isn’t sure if he’s apologizing for Matt’s blindness, or for saying Matt was looking for someone (he hates when people feel the need to adjust how they speak around him—“Did you listen to TV last night?”, they ask, emphasizing the ‘listen’ like it’s a trick they’ve cottoned on to, a game they’ve won with their cleverness). Probably Foggy isn’t even sure what he’s apologizing for; it’s an automatic response. Probably it’s both, but neither are necessary or wanted.    

Matt doesn’t miss a beat. He knows this dance; he’s used to strangers mistepping, even if it gets a little tiring. “What for?”

“You’re blind, right?”

Of course. Matt tries not to sigh—everything about Columbia Law is new and exciting and overwhelming. He really doesn’t want to deal with confronting a pity party right now. “I hope that won’t be a problem.”

It’s not. Foggy adjusts quickly. Matt smiles and cracks a joke to ease the tension, and the panic he’s used to from strangers lasts only a short while; Foggy introduces himself, shifts, and from then on, it’s all girls and Punjabi, and any remaining awkwardness has nothing to do with Matt’s blindness. Matt can’t say he exactly follows Foggy’s train of thought with the weight of an entirely new sensorium experience making it harder than usual to process speech and respond appropriately, but he thinks Foggy’s not half bad, and soon they’re off to grab coffee.

He hears the crowd in the café minutes before they arrive, and when Foggy opens the door, Matt baulks, hit by a wave of bodies, heat, sweat and soap, coffee, voices, the clanking of dishes in the back, the ding of the cash register. He hesitates in the doorway, twisting his fingers around and around the elastic cord coming from the handle of his cane.

“Are you ok?” asks Foggy, beside him.

“I…” Matt takes his lower lip between his teeth and thinks. “I don’t like crowds.”

“How can I help?”

How can I help? Matt repeats the words in his head. No hesitation, no assumptions, no touching or grabbing his arm and trying to steer him around. Just genuine, open: How can I help?

Matt smiles. “Let me take your elbow?”

Foggy nudges his arm gently against Matt’s hand, and Matt reaches out to take it, just above the elbow, and they fall into easy synchronicity, Matt just half a step behind Foggy.

“Is that a blind thing?” Foggy asks, when they pause to wait in line.

“Ah, well… Partially, perhaps. I’m sure I’m not the only blind person who doesn’t like crowds. They’re a bit overwhelming and harder to navigate. People don’t always watch where they’re going. I’m not a fan of tripping people with my cane while trying to find a table.”

“Well,” Foggy says. “Clearly, they should watch where they’re going. They’re the ones at fault and they deserve whatever they get. If I were you, I’d laugh my ass off when they fall on faces. Oh, wait—has that ever actually happened? Please tell me that’s happened.”

“Just once—not in an area that serves food, fortunately. I’d hate to start a food fight. Or make someone burn themselves on their coffee.”

“Are you kidding me? That’d be amazing, and you wouldn’t even be to blame! Ok, so, dislike of crowds is ‘partially, perhaps’ a blind thing. What’s the other part?”

Matt shrugs lightly, and continues fidgeting with the cord. “Just me. Even before the accident, I always found crowds overwhelming—I’m not sure why. Too much everything, I guess.”

“Well, don’t you worry, Mr. Murdock,” Foggy says, straightening his shoulders, his voice confident and proud. “We’ll get our coffees and be out of here in no time. In fact, I hereby volunteer to henceforth be the official coffee runner of room 312 at Columbia Law for the duration of our time together. Except when I’m sleeping. Don’t make get coffee when I’m sleeping, Matt. That will end badly for both of us.”

Matt laughs.

Matt warms up to Foggy quickly, and finds it odd. He doesn’t take well to people, usually. He’s used to being alone. He’s charming and soft-spoken, he offers small, shy smiles that disarm almost anyone, he listens to their heartbeats to gauge what they need from him in the interaction, but it’s all surface, no substance—a script Matt writes himself and practices until perfection. It only works for short plays. Anything longer, anything deeper, and people start to back away from him, seem to see that there’s something off about him. Matt wonders if they recognize the Devil in him.

Foggy is different. Foggy worms his way into Matt’s heart, and doesn’t seem to notice Matt’s rough edges—or if he does, he doesn’t mind them, the way everyone else always does.

Foggy jokes about wanting to make lots of money as a lawyer, but his laugh, ordinarily so genuine, comes out a little forced when he says it. Matt knows that part of Foggy really would like to make it big, so that he can support his family—pay off his mom’s medical bills, the mortgage on her house, send his sisters and his brother to college. And his dream isn’t limited to immediate family—he wants to support all his aunts and uncles, all his cousins and their kids. The entire Nelson clan.

Matt may not share that dream for riches, but he understands it—understands what it is to grow up in Hell’s Kitchen, with parents always wondering where the next meal was coming from, or how they were going to keep the heat on; the ongoing battle, in winter, of choosing between heat and water. He knows how that fear, despite the parents best efforts to the contrary, passes to their children. Matt’s not in it for the money, but he can understand why Foggy, in some small way, needs to be.

Foggy dreams big of riches, but he listens to Matt’s dream, too, small as it is, because helping people is at the core of Foggy’s dream. Foggy wouldn’t be happy making it big, not really, even to support his family—not if it meant compromising his values. To make it in New York, you’ve got to be vicious, ruthless—Foggy has the skills and the smarts to be one of New York’s most successful attorneys, but not the heart. Matt’s pretty sure Foggy doesn’t have a mean bone in his body—and he would know, for all the time he spends listening to them.

Foggy is warm and endearing. When Marci comes into their lives, Matt can see why she calls him Foggy Bear (besides the way it rolls off the tongue and rhymes with Yogi Bear; the warmth Foggy exudes is exactly like that of a teddy bear, and he has an insatiable ability to put everyone he meets at ease with his unique blend of over-confident boasting and self-deprecating humour). He’s easy going, blunt, never afraid to speak his mind or stand up for what he believes in—he laughs loud and hard and easily, and the volume doesn’t bother Matt, for a change, because it’s genuine and light, and never at the expense of anyone except himself. Matt quickly grows fond of the way Foggy’s laughter rings and echoes across their room. Sometimes, he hears it when he enters the building, three floors up, and it feels like home.

Foggy believes in justice the way Matt wishes he could, the way Matt’s father always wanted him to—fighting with their heads, not their fists, to help the people they grew up with. Foggy is earnest and Matt thinks he might be the most honest man in Hell’s Kitchen. Simple in his idealism, but incredibly smart, and so unapologetically himself, Matt can’t help but like him immediately.

If Hell’s Kitchen has a heart, it beats in Foggy’s chest. Matt will hold on to Foggy, because when the Devil rears its head and roars, that heart, light and steady, is what he needs to find his way back.

**

He takes a couple classes on disability law his first year, because his intent, from day one (from before day one) is to defend those the system always fails. Foggy takes them with him, which pleases him.

There’s an entire book dedicated to cases involving ‘people with autism’, and the word wiggles in his brain.

Some of the cases involve autistic people murdered by their caregivers. The judicial system has an alarming tendency to side with the murderers, to sympathize with them, and that wiggles in his brain, too, so loudly and angrily, he has to go to the gym to let off some steam.

When he gets back to his room, Foggy’s still awake, stretched across his bed on his stomach.

“This is the sort of thing we need to fight against, Foggy,” Matt says. “They murder disabled people, every day, and no one gives a damn. Some of them are children.” His voice shakes with emotion; he clenches his fist at his side, running his thumb over his fingers. (Maybe he should have stayed a while longer at the gym).

“We will, buddy,” Foggy says.

**

If memory serves, the internet is worse than the books he browsed, all those years ago—parents decrying vaccines as poison that has stolen their children from them, encouraging others to avoid vaccinating their children; parents who would rather their children be dead than autistic; parents advocating pseudoscientific torture as “treatment”.

His stomach curdles. Disgust and rage fills Matt, along with that creeping sensation as the Devil crawls up his belly to his throat to peer out of his mouth with its red, angry eyes. Matt squeezes his hands into fists, his nails digging into the palms of his hands.

It’s no wonder the judicial system leans toward supporting murderers, the way they view autism. Except even if autism is all they say it is (and Matt doesn’t think that it is), it wouldn’t justify the murder of children.

He remembers being eight and frightened because the books he found all seemed to say that autism was a terrible thing, and his dad told him never to let anyone tell him there’s something wrong with him. He’s frightened now, too, but in a different way—frightened because he thinks he might be on to a truth he’s been denying his entire life. Matt is older, and wiser. He’s wise enough to know that maybe never letting anyone tell him there’s something wrong with him doesn’t mean denying he is disabled—like Dani always used to say, Matt thinks.

Daniela used to tell him about disability positivity and acceptance; he took her words to heart, yet still never allowed himself to think of it whenever that part of his brain wiggled at the word ‘autism’. Never dared to.

He tries it now. Autism acceptance, he types.

**

It’s Foggy and Matt, Nelson and Murdock, all through law school and the internship at Landman and Zack. Others flit into their lives on occasion—Marci is constantly fluttering in and out, and Matt has a few short flings of his own—but they never stay.

Karen and Claire burst onto the scene like sunrise.

Karen comes first, burning hot with fear and passion when they meet, smelling like the bar she was in the previous night, of unwashed skin and hair, of salt, and something sweeter, underneath it all: apples. She’s terrified, but nothing like the frightened rabbit Union Allied expects her to be—more like a cobra, Matt thinks, backed into a corner, but watching and waiting, ready to strike.

Matt expects her to leave, once her case is won, for her flame to flicker out of his awareness like so many before her. She chooses, instead, to tether herself to them, to their work. After all her old bosses have done to her, after killing her accomplice, framing her for murder, trying to murder her in turn, then having the audacity to buy her silence when it all goes south, she stands up, doesn’t back down. She’s still got teeth half-buried in the Union Allied scandal and she’s prepared to sink them deeper, to tear the scandal and those responsible to shreds, not for revenge, but for justice. Matt admires her for it, and wishes she'd be more careful in equal measure.

And then there’s Claire—Claire who cares, who is incredibly brave, who is the best nurse at the local hospital, who finds a masked man bleeding outside her apartment and doesn’t call the cops, because she’s heard whispers of what the masked man has done and she wants to believe in his work, to protect him and his cause. Claire pulls a potentially dangerous stranger out of a dumpster with deft, sure hands, and brings him home like an injured bird to tend his wounds.

He opens his eyes to smell coffee and spice, copper, antiseptic and latex cloves, and the mold growing in Claire’s bathroom, despite her best efforts, the lemon she uses to clean it over top.

“The less you know about me, the better,” Matt says, and the irony isn’t lost on him. Even without his name, Claire knows more about him than anyone. She’s the first person to know his secrets, the first person he’s truly been honest with in years. But he means it, and he intends to be out of her life as soon as he can; it’s safer for her that way.

Only he sees how capable she is, how brave, how much she cares, how she chooses to believe in him, and he doesn’t want to let her go.

He goes to her, battered and bruised after saving the boy kidnapped by the Russians, counts the windows to find the right apartment where she’ll be staying and knocks on the glass.

The first thing Claire asks is: “Did you find the boy?”

She opens the window and puts her hands on his arms to help him clamber inside. Her hands are warm against his skin, and Matt is surprised to find he isn’t bothered by her touch; the contact doesn’t send his skin crawling, his mind reeling on high alert.

“Yes. Reunited with his father now.”

“Good. Is he ok?”

“Traumatized. Probably a bit banged up—but no serious injuries or broken bones. He’ll be ok.”

“Did you get the men that did this? Did you give them hell?” Her hands are gentle on his arm as she helps him stumble toward the couch, but there’s an edge to her words, an anger like fire Matt knows all too well.

“Of course,” Matt says, lowering himself onto the cushion.

“Good,” Claire says. “Though it looks like they gave you some back.”

Claire is gentle when she stitches him up, and thorough, too. She dabs alcohol soaked cotton swaps across his abdomen, disinfecting his wounds. “You know, I have a cousin who’s autistic. There’s often a different way of processing sensory information. You remind me of her, the way you move. Granted, she can’t smell cologne three floors down, but still. Is your… whatever it is with you, a bit like that?”

He hesitates, licking his lips, then shakes his head. “I had sensory sensitivities when I was a kid, before the accident. Meltdowns in school.”

“So not just a blind vigilante,” Claire guesses. “A blind, autistic vigilante?”

Matt nods.

“You’re something else,” she says, the exasperation in her voice a put-on; she gives him a small, soft laugh and rests her hand against his arm.

Matt flashes her a smile and shrugs sheepishly.

**

The girl is twelve, and in court, her white father professes to love her with all his heart, proclaims loudly and proudly that she is the apple of his eye, but at home, he takes away the AAC device she uses to communicate as punishment for meltdowns.

It’s the girl’s aunt, Lupita, who brings the case to Nelson and Murdock. The girl’s mother is dead, and Lupita is fighting for custody. Matt quickly agrees to take the case, pro bono, before Foggy can chime in that family law isn’t really what they do.

Lupita’s voice wavers when she speaks and Matt tastes salt in the air, but her heart is steady, sure, and true. “Taking away her iPad only increases the frequency of her meltdowns, because without it, she can’t communicate her needs. On top of that, he’s not letting me see her, and he’s got her doing six hours of ABA a day.”

“What’s the problem with ABA? Isn’t it just therapy?” asks Foggy.

“No,” says Matt, remembering strong hands pinning his arms against his sides—not technically ABA, but the motives and methods are similar. “It’s torture.”

“He’s trying to stamp out everything that makes my little Alejandra Alejandra, Mr. Nelson—everything that her mother loved about her. Leala, she wasn’t like these autism parents you see, because she’s—she was autistic herself, so she understood and listened to Alejandra’s needs. And now… and now she’s going through a nightmare, now her mother’s gone, and I want to give her what Leala gave her, or as close to it as I can.”

Matt licks his lips and folds his hands over the table, rubbing his thumbs together. “We’ll make sure custody goes to you, Ms. Serna.”

Matt wants to meet Alejandra in her home, in the environment that feels safest to her, but her father won’t allow them inside his house ("It’s ok," Alejandra says, when Matt apologizes. "Home isn’t a safe place right now.") Instead, a court ordered social worker brings her into Nelson and Murdock, without her aunt. They say they don’t want the aunt influencing what Alejandra tells them, they want her to be comfortable being honest. Matt’s not sure how taking away the girl’s support network is supposed to help her feel comfortable speaking her mind. He’s pretty sure they don’t understand the first thing about being autistic.

The social worker is obligated to stay with Alejandra while she speaks with them; Matt asks Foggy to let him do this conversation alone, not wanting to overwhelm her any more than necessary—her life must be hell enough as it is right now. Two strangers in a strange place is more than enough.

Alejandra seems smaller than most twelve-year olds—there’s something fragile and skittish about her body and the way she moves. She’s a bundle of frail nerves, but like her aunt, her heart beats with a spirit of strength and love.

She rocks as she types on her iPad, and she feels familiar, like his childhood friend Drayton had felt familiar, that unknown something calling to him, whispering. Except, Matt supposes, maybe it’s not so unknown now. He’s read about autistic people having a radar for one another, being able to identify other autistics and neurodivergent people upon meeting—it must have been autism he recognized in Drayton, just as he recognizes it in Alejandra now, not only because he knows she is autistic, but because he can sense it, because the girl is stressed and rocking, and the sound of it feels natural to Matt in a way most social encounters never do.

Matt catches himself swaying forward, the unintentional mimicry of stims that always reared its head around Drayton re-emerging, apparently more than a visual stimulus response. He’d stop it, usually, because rocking is a private thing, something he only does when he’s alone and overwhelmed, but Foggy’s not here and Matt wonders if Alejandra seeing him rock will help her feel a little less alone—if her mind, like his, will reach out, and recognize the likeness.

Across the table from Alejandra, Matt rocks, and he’s able ground himself, to ignore the irritation radiating off the social worker, the clicking of her pen. Matt rocks, and Alejandra laughs and says thank you. Matt rocks, grateful he’s no longer under the misconception that autism is somehow a bad thing.

Never let anyone tell you there’s something wrong with you—and he doesn’t.

**

Matt purses his lips, stoic and firm when he promises Lupita, “You and your niece will get the lives you deserve. And I’ve no doubt your brother-in-law will get what he deserves, too.”

As it happens, the father does get what he deserves—Matt sees to that, as soon as he learns the judge has changed his mind and won’t allow Alejandra to speak on her own behalf, give her testament as to what her treatment at home’s been like and where she’d like to live.

If the father comes back to family court to withdraw his custody claim with a limp in his step, a few shattered ribs, and the fear of God in him, no one complains—certainly not Matt, and certainly not Alejandra who flaps her hands happily, when the custody verdict is read out. (Matt doesn’t think she’d be quite so happy, if she knew what changed her father’s mind; he feels a twang of guilt, but knows that, given the opportunity, he wouldn’t do things any differently).

Foggy is positively bubbling when they get back to the office. They’re hardly in the door before he’s shouting their victory wide. “We did it, Karen! Alejandra’s going to live with her aunt. Well, the Man in the Mask helped a bit. But only a bit; we did most of the work, clearly. And we could’ve won without him, but I guess he cleared our path to victory somewhat. Just a smidge.”  

Karen’s light steps tap against the floor as she comes around the desk to greet them. “The Man in the Mask again?” she asks.

“Yeah,” Foggy says. “Must’ve been. Alejandra’s father came in all bruised up and limping. You should’ve seen the guy—but more importantly, you should’ve seen Alejandra when the judge told her she can stay with her aunt. She was so happy.”

Karen seems oddly still, and Matt reaches his senses out to her—the heat of her, the weight of her stance, and feels her tightly crossed arms, the quick, nervous flutter of her heart. Her breath hits him at an odd angle, suggesting a curious tilt of her head.

“But why would the Man in the Mask help with a little custody case like this? I get that beating up abusive dads is probably right up his alley along with giving thugs who attack women a taste of their own medicine, and trying to take down Fisk and his criminal empire, but—I mean, it’s a bit odd, isn’t it? The number of times he involves himself with our cases?“

Matt’s own heart speeds up; he’s grateful he’s the only one who can read heartbeats.

Foggy gives a mock gasp. “Why, Karen, you wound me! Is it really so surprising that the Man in the Mask would follow our careers? We’re the best damn avocados this city’s ever seen. And the handsomest. Who can blame him?”

Karen laughs. “I guess,” she says, but she doesn’t sound like she believes it.  

**

Matt wonders about Karen sometimes. There’s always the sound of skin on skin when she’s near—fingers rubbing together, hands trailing up and down arms. He thinks it’s the duress she’s under when they first meet, but even after her case is won, after she’s safe and settled into working with them, she’s always fidgeting and holding her arms tight across her body.

She doesn’t give him autistic vibes the way Drayton and Alejandra did, but—it’s still possible. His radar could be off, or she could be neurodivergent in another way.

Matt doesn’t ask her about it.

**

Claire’s no frightened rabbit, either; when he turns out the lights where the Russians have taken her, she throws her head back and laughs, and he knows that she knows that he is coming.

**

A world on fire, Matt tells first Claire, then Foggy.

Like impressionistic paintings, he says helpfully, offers the metaphor like a prayer, something familiar they might grab hold of.

So you can see, they say, and Matt sighs.

He loves them, he does, even if he’s poor at showing it. He loves them with the same fervour he takes to church or to confession, a bone deep love rivaling his love for his city, and before them, before Foggy, Claire, and Karen, he’d thought that was impossible; he didn’t think himself capable of building lasting connections with people, but here they are. He loves them, knows they reciprocate his feelings. But he tells them how his world is on fire, and their world, so centred sight, on particular ideas of blindness, can’t fathom how he builds such a detailed understanding of the world without it. They can’t fathom the possibility of knowing the shape of a couch from a table by the way sound bounces off it and the heat it gives off—far softer and more muffled than wood, as if it takes sound into its comforting cushions the same way it does people. The possibility that through training and practice, and the help of his heightened senses, he’s honed and sharpened that understanding until he can identify even a single finger in front of his face. Not because he sees it, but because he feels the heat it gives off, the shape of air around it, and so close, it’s easy to reach out, touch it with his breath, touch it without touching it, and recognize there is only one.

Foggy, more than anyone, he’d hoped might understand how the world is more than the seen and the unseen, for all the years they spent together—but Foggy, in his anger, is caught up in the same dichotomy as the rest of them.

“Are you even really blind?” Foggy asks, an edge in his voice that Matt’s rarely heard, and it’s never been directed at him until now. It hurts more than all the wounds mapping his body, and this is why he never told anyone.

Foggy’s anger is righteous fire and brimstone. Matt deserves it, he knows he does, but he’s angry, too, because he is exhausted and hurt, and he never asked for Foggy’s pity. He never asked for anyone’s pity. Foggy didn’t know the full extent of Matt’s abilities, but over years of friendship, surely he’s seen how capable Matt is in a myriad other ways.

After all they’ve been through, Matt thinks their friendship should have moved beyond I felt sorry for you.

And it’s not as though it’s easy, having an entire city burning his flesh. It hurts. It’s overwhelming. Sometimes it overloads him entirely and he sits in his apartment, hands clasped over his ears, rocking and praying for it all to stop.

Whenever possible, he prefers to shut as much of it out as he can, conserving his energy for handling the extreme sensory input at night, when he puts on his mask and needs his abilities most. He likes going sighted guide, because there are days he can’t let in some of the information he needs (the surge of his parallel traffic that signals he has the right of way, the openness of green spaces, the subtle downward slope of a blended curb) without inviting the entire city into his brain for a rave. If he takes Foggy’s elbow, there are times, thanks to his training, he can shut it all out, hear only Foggy’s voice (and Karen’s, when she’s with them), the pavement beneath his feet, and by God, it’s a relief. He can’t use his abilities all the time.

The city needs him in the mask as much as he wants to be in the mask, but he can’t be the Devil they need without time to recharge, turn it all off.

So you can see, they say.

Matt sighs, shakes his head, and wonders if they will ever understand.

And people say autistics take things too literally.

**

He ought to eat more. He keeps forgetting to eat.

When he remembers, he tastes every flavour, every chemical, every molecule. Even his go-to safe foods are too strong, and he gags as he chokes them down.

He tries to make a pot of coffee and keeps getting the steps wrong—forgets to put the grounds or the water in, or drops the empty pot to the ground (he’d sworn he had a solid grip on it, but it slips from his fingers, he hears it shatter when it hits the floor, and he doesn't have the energy to clean it now, but it's lucky he has a spare caref).

He hears the coffee maker finish, rises to get it, and finds himself standing in front of the open microwave instead, the door in his hand.

The world fell apart. Didn’t you notice?

**

Fisk’s been in prison for a week, and it’s all the media can talk about: the scandal, the corruption; how two home grown, small time defence attorneys finally broke the story to the authorities; how the Man in the Mask—Daredevil, they’re now calling him—returned to the streets with his new costume and a thirst for violence and justice. How Daredevil is the hero Hell’s Kitchen needs, even if no one is sure they deserve him.

This last irritates Karen, despite her own adoration for the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen. She bristles whenever they watch the news.

“What about everyone Fisk hurt? What about Elena, and Ben? Where’s their recognition? Ben was this close to outing Fisk and for that Fisk murdered him. I’m grateful for everything Daredevil’s done, but Ben was just as much a hero as he is.”

Matt smiles softly—this is why he likes Karen. It should be Ben, not the Daredevil, getting credit for bringing Fisk down. The Daredevil couldn’t even save Elena and Ben.

They have more clients—an unexpected abundance of clients, really. The names Nelson and Murdock have been kept from the papers, fortunately, but there’s rumours, and it’s not hard to attach the phrase “small time, home grown attorneys” to their firm.

Some of the people that come to them are exactly the clientele Matt’s always wanted—Fisks victims, people just trying to get by, people fighting for their loved ones and their survival. Others are decidedly not—former Fisk agents, skivvy arms dealers and the like. The former are ushered in with welcoming smiles and a proffered cup of tea by Karen; the latter are promptly shown the door—if they even make it passed the door in the first place, with Matt’s careful screening. (Though Matt makes sure even they get the special attention they deserve—late at night, in his new body armour).

Matt explains, in better detail, that no, I can’t see, Foggy, and Foggy’s willing to listen this time. The heat of Foggy’s anger dies off, bit by bit.

Sometimes, Matt can almost fool himself into thinking things are the way they always were: Foggy still laughs, they still have a thousand and one inside jokes that leave Karen somewhat befuddled, somewhat bemused at their antics. But the air around the office is stale, and cold, and things can’t ever go back to the way they were. Even when Foggy laughs with Matt, he seems wary—Matt can feel Foggy leaning back from him, like he’s afraid Matt’s contagious. Matt’s used to that from most people, but not Foggy. Never Foggy.

“The lying’s not the worst part,” Foggy tells him. “Not to diminish how much the lying hurts, but I think what scares me most is that you really would have killed Fisk. I never thought you were capable of that. I mean, I’m glad you didn’t go through with it, but the first time, that’s only because you almost died, Matt. If you could’ve, if you hadn’t been beaten within an inch of your life, you would have murdered him. That terrifies me. I don’t know who you are.”

“But I didn’t,” Matt says earnestly. “I could have, the second time, but I chose not to. I listened to you, because you were right. Because you do know me.”

“Yeah,” Foggy says sadly. “I guess.”

And there’s more, there’s something else Foggy’s not saying, hanging thick in the air. Every time they come away from conversations like this, there’s the subtle shift in Foggy’s breathing like he’s about to say something else. And every time, he swallows the words like he swallows his vodka.

Matt notices the way Foggy seems to skirt around Karen, too, trying to dodge her and avoid being left alone with her.

There’s one last secret Matt has to tell Foggy; he’ll wait until Foggy is ready to share what’s on his mind before telling it.

**

Matt’s all geared up and ready to hit the streets when he hears Foggy’s heartbeat outside his door. It already has a nervous flutter to it. It speeds up further when Matt opens the door, in full Daredevil outfit.

Matt,” Foggy hisses, rushing in and shutting the door behind him with finality. “What are you thinking, answering the door in that thing? Someone could see you!”

Matt smirks at him. “They’re calling me Daredevil now, Foggy. They must be right.”

Foggy groans. “You can’t—you can’t do that.”

“No, it’s fine. Everyone in the building is asleep. There’s no one to see.”

Foggy doesn’t sound impressed: there’s a hitch in his breath like he’s about to say something. Then he seems to think better about what he was going to say, pauses, and says instead, “We need to talk.”

“I know,” Matt says.

“Let me guess? You know because my breath’s been indicating I’m about to say something for days.”

Matt opens his mouth to respond, but Foggy cuts him off.

“It’s fine. I’m still adjusting, that’s all. Okay, first of all, the outfit is even worse in person. The horns? Ugly as sin. You really should’ve had someone sighted with fashion sense—like moi, for instance—help you picking it out. Second, I have a question for you. A very important question.”

Foggy clears his throat. “Is there anything else you’d like to tell me? If we’re going to build this friendship anew, I need to know that you’re being honest with me. So I’m giving one free pass to air out all your dirty laundry.”

Matt hesitates. He steeples his hands in front of his stomach, and rubs his thumbs together.

Matt.”

“Ok, it’s—it’s nothing big. Nothing like the other stuff. You’re right, you deserved to know about the heartbeat thing; it violated your privacy. But this is something entirely personal, and I don’t think I’m obligated to tell you. But I was going to—I was just waiting for the right moment to tell you. I’m autistic.”

“Autistic?” Foggy doesn’t sound convinced. “What do you mean?”

“Autistic,” Matt repeats.

“Like Alejandra Serna? Because, Matt, Alejandra Serna couldn’t speak.”

“Not with her mouth—but she communicated fine in her own way. You saw that. Do you see now why I don’t tell you these things? Disability isn’t black and white, Foggy—just because I can speak with my mouth and Alejandra speaks with her iPad, just because I can jump off buildings and most blind people can’t—which, by the way, most sighted people can’t do either. Doing things not all autistic and blind people can do doesn’t mean I’m not autistic and blind.”

“Ok, fair point, you got me. Maybe I could do with being a little more open-minded. Tell me a bit more about being autistic?”

Matt takes his bottom lip between his teeth. “It’s… The acid heightened my senses, but I’ve always been hypersensitive to certain sounds and textures, even before the accident. I’d have meltdowns. I hated crowds—I didn’t know how to interact with people, but I knew how to fight. You know how many times I’ve read Thurgood Marshall—his work and his life’s been my special interest since I was seven.”

“’Partially, perhaps’,” says Foggy.

“What?”

“It’s something you said, when we first met. You said your dislike of crowds was partly a blind thing, and partly just you.”

“It is. Yes. One of my teachers wanted me to be sent for autism testing, but we couldn’t afford it, and my dad thought the teacher was suggesting there was something wrong with me. He wasn’t happy about that.”

“There’s nothing wrong with you,” says Foggy, and then stops. “Well, apart from the obvious, which has nothing to with any disability.”

“Because there’s nothing wrong with being autistic?” Matt asks hopefully.

“Hey, buddy, no—of course there isn’t. And I guess it would explain some things about you.”

Foggy hesitates, and there it is again—that subtle shift in his breathing. He doesn’t swallow it down this time, though. He takes a deep breath and says, “You need to tell Karen.”

“Foggy—“

“No, Matt, listen. The way she looks at you—you can probably hear it in her heartbeat, right? She’s got it bad for you. And I care about her, and I can’t let you hurt her the way you hurt me. Don’t you dare do that to her, or make me part of your lies. I can’t lie. You need to tell her everything—well, except the autism, unless you want to. You’re right, that’s personal.”

“And having super senses isn’t?”

“Not in the same way, not when you can learn her secrets by hearing her heartbeat, not when you’re running around in an ugly costume beating people up. Not knowing is going to put her in danger. I know how it goes with you superhero types—‘I must protect my loved ones from my secret’! It never works that way; loved ones still get hurt, sometimes because they didn’t know. What do I value most, Matt? I know you’ve know this all along.”

“Honesty.”

“Yeah, honesty, Matt. She’ll be safer knowing, and I can’t lie to her. I won’t.”

“Can I write a letter? I can’t—I can’t seem to describe it verbally. You and Claire—you both misunderstood. I’m better at writing. If I type it, maybe I can make her understand without her jumping to the same conclusions you and Claire did.”

“Yeah,” Foggy says. “You can write her a letter. It’s your choice how you tell her. Just as long as you tell her.”

**

He does tell Karen about the autism, includes it as a footnote in his letter—because if she’s going to know the deepest, worst parts of him, the parts he is proud of and ashamed of in equal measure, then she may as well know the important things he feels no shame for, too.

“Karen, there’s something I’d like you to have.”

Foggy’s left, giving them some time alone, and Matt stands in the doorway of his office, the freshly printed paper still warm in his hands. He thought about sending it as an e-mail, but he liked the idea of having something physical and tangible to hand her. He’ll burn it later.

“Ok,” Karen says, in that soft, guarded voice she uses when she’s waiting to see whether fight or flight instincts need to kick in. “As long as it’s not my notice.”

Matt laughs softly. “No, nothing like that.”

Karen lifts the letter from his fingers with gentle, steady hands. Her heart is quicker than usual, but not afraid—not pounding in her chest like it was in the interview room where they first met or when that thug attacked her, but still on edge. It maintains that quick rhythm as she reads, but doesn't speed up further. Matt waits with baited breath, twirling the elastic cord on his cane around his fingers. Every shift of her shirt, or ruffle of paper, makes his heart race.

Finally, she takes in a deep, shuddering breath, wet with emotion. “You asshole," she says, and Matt thinks she sounds like she’s on the verge of tears, but tastes no salt in the air. "This is what you and Foggy were really fighting about, when you fed me that bullshit about a car accident?"

Matt nods, hands still twisting anxiously.

“Foggy never knew? All that time you were friends?”

Matt shakes his head.

“No wonder he was pissed.”

“I'm sorry,” Matt says.

Karen sighs. “Well, I did wonder if you were ever going to tell me.”

“I’m sorry?”

“Oh, come on, Matt—you’re great, really great, but you aren’t exactly Mr. Stealthy. You come into the office looking like someone’s used as their personal punching bag. Your mask didn’t have eyeholes—who wouldn’t need eyeholes in their mask, except someone who doesn’t need to see, maybe because they can’t see? Despite your apparent batman impression, your voice and your body are pretty distinct. And then you and Foggy had that fight, and you wouldn't tell me what was going on, but you were both very insistent that it was your fault. I drew my own conclusions. I didn’t know for certain, but I suspected.”

“Ah,” Matt says. “That’s—that’s not exactly the reaction I was expecting.”

“Don’t worry, your new costume isn’t so obvious. But Foggy’s right about the horns being a bit much. And now I can thank you properly. You saved me, Matt, more than once—you and Foggy saved me from prison, and then you saved me in that mask. Thank you.”

Matt graces her with a small smile and nods. “So, uh, you aren’t angry?”

“I’m not angry. I mean, you’re still an ass for not telling me, but I can understand why you’d think you needed to keep it from me and I guess I should be grateful you’re telling me at all. It’s fine—all of it.”

Now Karen’s heartbeat increases further, and there’s a pause, and a hitch in her breath.

“I’m glad you told me,” she says, her voice strained and strangely high, as it’s often been of late, like she’s standing on the edge of a cliff looking down. It isn’t a lie, but Matt doesn’t think it’s what she means to say either. He hopes she’ll tell them before she’s pushed over the edge.

**

Foggy seems a little more forgiving after that, a little less on edge. Matt knows the trust will take time, because Foggy gave it to him so freely the first time, and he’d spit the gift back in Foggy’s face—thoroughly snapped Foggy’s trust in half and torn the pieces to shreds. There’s no gluing it back together. There’s only grabbing a fresh clump of clay, and creating a new masterpiece.

Foggy stops skirting around Karen, at least, now that he doesn’t have to fear slipping up in front of her, now that he doesn’t have to lie to her.

Matt leaves a letter for Claire, too—slips it into the mail slot in her apartment door. Her letter is shorter than Karen’s; there is only one secret to share with Claire, and it’s one she already knows. He thanks her again for all she does, and hopes his sincerity comes through better in his writing. (“Well, obviously,” is Claire’s response when she gets home, gently teasing, her heart soft and steady, and Matt’s grateful she came back).

Matt invites the four of them over for another celebration of Fisk being gone. If he’s not going to keep secrets anymore, it’s important that they all be together; it’s important to let Claire meet Foggy and Karen properly.

Fisk getting out of jail is an inevitability, and the city is still asunder, still burying itself out of the ashes, and there will always be more work to save it, always new scum emerging from the cracks. Still, for the time being, Matt feels like a weight has been lifted. Since his father died, he never thought he could have this—real connection, real love, real family. But he has Foggy, and Claire, and Karen, and they know all of him, all his rough edges and demons, everything the world tells him is wrong with him, and they don’t seem to mind.

Matt puts “Águas de Março” on repeat, lets the music sink into his bones over the soft hum of the city, and hops up on the kitchen counter, beside Foggy mixing rum and coke, and Claire telling Karen how she met Matt. Matt’s struck by an urge to swing his legs, and he does, his socked heels bouncing gently against the cabinet doors with a soft, rhythmic thump-thump, not unlike a beating heart. None of them tell him to stop, or comment at all.

Hell’s Kitchen will always need its Devil, but the Devil doesn’t need to worry about letting anyone tell him there’s something wrong with him. Matt smiles and swings his legs and thinks that’s something.

Karen is quiet; she laughs at Foggy's jokes, gasps at all the right places in Claire's story, but there's that edge to her voice, that panic to her movements. She grabs a bottle of vodka in lieu of Foggy's rum and coke, and takes swings directly from the bottle.

When the rest of them are on their fourth round of drinks, Karen goes completely still beside Matt on the couch.

"We should make a pact,” she says quietly.

"What kind of pact?" asks Matt.

"Not to keep secrets from one another any longer. They only seem to cause us trouble."

"I'd be open to that. But is there something you need to tell us before we can make it?"

Karen huffs. “You know there is, don’t you? You and your… hearing people’s heartbeats.”

“Don’t tell me,” says Foggy with a snap of his fingers. “You’re actually Black Widow. Or some other masked hero. Isn’t one of you vigilante types enough?”

There’s a soft puff of air beside him—not quite a laugh, not quite a sob. A pause, then: “They took me,” Karen says.

Matt grips the armrest beside him. “What?”

Karen doesn’t answer.

“Who took you, Karen?” Matt asks.

Claire stands and shuffles toward the couch, settling in beside Karen on the opposite side of Matt. Matt feels Karen move away from him, a fresh wave of cool air between them, and the heat of Claire’s hand by his shoulder, and thinks Claire must have her arm around Karen.

“The suit from Confederate Global. It’s fine—I’m fine. I got away. I shot him.”

Matt tenses, his muscles coiled for a fight. He tries very hard not to stand up then and there and hit the streets. With one hand, he grips the armrest; with the other, he rubs his pointer finger along his thumb.

“Was he still alive?” Foggy asks.

“I don’t think so,” Karen says. “I don’t know what happened to him after that. I don’t know if Fisk knows.”

“Why didn’t you tell us?” Foggy asks.

Karen laughs bitterly. “You weren’t even talking to each other! Every time, I tried to talk to either of you, you shut me out. You told me that you’d keep me safe, but you couldn’t. And that’s not your fault, but how could I go to you when neither of you seemed like you cared?”

“Of course we care,” Foggy says.

“I know,” says Karen. “I know, but.. I can’t go to jail. Or risk Fisk finding out I killed his man.”

“We won’t let that happen,” says Matt. “You’re not alone.” He repeats the same words she gave him near the end, knowing they’re truer than ever before; none of them are alone now that there are no secrets between them.

It’s another nail in the coffin they’ll have to break through, but they’ll do it together.

No more secrets.