Chapter Two: Choices
It wasn't until he had already invaded her space that she realized she wasn't alone. A large hand covered her mouth while another one settled on her throat, and she stared, wide-eyed and panicked, into the partially covered face of Daredevil.
He slowly backed her up until she felt her spine press against the brick of her building. His mouth, the only visible part of his face, was set into a grim line as he held her firmly in place.
"I'm going to take my hand off your mouth," he said in a low, even voice, "and it would be in your best interest not to scream. Do you understand?"
Sarah hesitated, then nodded. She realized belatedly that he wouldn't be able to see it, but he must have felt the movement of her head, because he lifted his hand and rested it semi-threateningly on the wall a few inches from her face, ready to quiet her again if needed. His other hand remained on her throat, exerting just the slightest pressure, so that she could feel her heartbeat pulsing wildly against it.
"I'm going to ask you some questions," he said, "If you answer truthfully, I won't hurt you. Believe me when I tell you that you don't want to lie, and that I will be able to tell the difference. Understood?" He paused, and Sarah nodded again before catching herself and answering verbally.
"I got it," she whispered.
"What's your name?"
"Sarah." She hoped he wouldn't demand a last name, and thankfully he didn't.
"You live in this building, Sarah?"
"And you work for Orion Incorporated?"
Sarah's eyes widened. So he did remember her from their first meeting. "...yes. But I'm…I'm just an secretary, I—I don't do anything important there." So please don't torture me for information, she added mentally.
He nodded slowly. "Alright, Sarah. Now we're going to talk about me. Do you know who I am?"
Sarah could feel her palms starting to sweat and she hoped she could play dumb long enough to get out of this.
"I think you know that's not what I'm asking." So much for playing dumb. "Do you know who I really am?"
Sarah faltered, still not sure if telling the truth was her best option, despite his warning. What would he do once he confirmed that she knew his identity?
Her stuttering hesitation gave her away.
The vigilante pointedly increased his hold on her throat just slightly—not painful, but undeniably threatening—and growled quietly, "If you're thinking of lying, rethink it. Do you know who I am?"
The pressure on her throat lessened again, an immediate reward for a truthful answer. He didn't say anything for a long moment, and she wondered briefly if he would snap her neck here and now. Instead, he questioned her again in that same quietly intimidating tone.
"What's my name?"
"Matthew." She answered quickly this time. "Uh, M-Matthew Murdock."
His jaw twitched with displeasure at her accurate answer, but the pressure of his hand remained steady—not lessening, but not increasing either.
"And how long have you known who I am?"
"Be more specific."
"Just since earlier today. When I saw you outside."
He nodded once, seemingly satisfied with her timeline. "Tell me what else you know."
"Well, you're, um…blind?" Sarah cringed as she heard herself awkwardly whisper the last word of the sentence in much the same way Mrs. Benedict had done earlier. She thought she saw his mouth twitch into the ghost of a smirk for a second, but it returned to its grim line before she could be sure.
"Not much. Um, you're a lawyer. A defense lawyer."
His frown deepened. "Where?"
The tone of his voice had darkened, and suddenly Sarah couldn't stop thinking about the Russian man missing his head. She hadn't thought her heart could beat any faster, but there it went. Suddenly, volunteering the truth seemed like a foolish gamble.
"I d-don't know."
"You're lying," he said calmly. "Remember how we talked about how you don't want to do that?"
"I—it's Murdock and something. Or s-something and Murdock? I don't—I don't remember. Whatever the other lawyer's name is—Foggy something—"
Sarah realized immediately that she'd made a mistake in mentioning his law partner's name—or more specifically in using his nickname, which she had no reason to know. She felt Daredevil's hand tighten suddenly and reactively on her throat. Before, he had been carefully restrained: commanding and intimidating but not violent. But at the sound of his friend's name coming from her mouth, something inside him seemed to snap, and she found herself pinned harder against the wall, the harsh brick biting into her skin.
"Tell me what you know about Foggy. Who else knows about him?" His voice now had a rough, almost panicked edge to it.
Sarah couldn't draw enough breath to answer the questions he barked at her. Tiny black dots began to dance in her vision. She clawed at his powerful forearm with both hands, using all of her strength to try and loosen his grip, but it was like iron.
"Nothing—stop—" she choked out, "You said—if I—t-told the truth—please—don't—"
He seemed to suddenly snap out of whatever state he had been in, releasing her abruptly and stepping back. He turned away from her, breathing heavily, and she registered briefly that he seemed almost taken aback by his own actions. Then the sudden rush of oxygen to her head coupled with a strange mixture of relief and panic brought her to the ground.
She slid down the wall, suddenly acutely aware of her heartbeat pounding in her head and how difficult breathing was, like her lungs would only expand halfway. Was breathing always this difficult? Every inhalation somehow made it worse, and her head spun as panic set in. Why was her heart beating so fast? Was she having a heart attack? She desperately tried to breathe in fully, but couldn't.
Daredevil crouched down in front of her and she shrank back against the brick wall, curling into herself. She tried to gasp out a few words—stay away—but nothing came out. She couldn't focus on anything other than the lack of air available to her.
She felt a strong hand splay against her chest, pushing her into an upright sitting position.
"Breathe. Sarah. You have to calm down. You're hyperventilating."
His voice sounded far away.
The black dots swam into view again, multiplying and blurring with the black mask of the man crouching in front of her, and then the dark, overbearing shadows of Hell's Kitchen enveloped her vision completely.
Foggy answered his phone after the first ring. He had clearly been waiting for Matt to call him with news.
"Hey. What's happening? Did you find her?"
"Yeah, I found her. I'm in her apartment with her now," Matt answered. More specifically, he was standing in her small kitchen with his mask crumpled on the counter next to him, while she was laid out on the couch about ten feet away.
"You're with her right now?" Foggy repeated, sounding confused. "And you…just thought you'd put me on speakerphone so I could cross-examine her, too?"
"No. She's unconscious."
"She passed out in the alleyway. She was hyperventilating. I brought her back up to her place."
"She passed out?" Foggy repeated. "Jesus, Matt, what did you do to her?"
"What do you think I did, Foggy? I asked her what I need to know. Or I started to. Things…got a little out of control," Matt admitted.
There was a pause on the other end of the line.
"Did you hurt her?"
Matt felt a pang in his chest at the uncertainty in his friend's voice. Foggy clearly didn't know anymore what his best friend was capable of. Sometimes Matt wasn't sure either, but it hurt to hear the question come from Foggy.
"No. Not…not really." That was a lie. Choking someone, even for a few seconds, definitely counted as hurting them. But he didn't think he could admit that to Foggy. "I mean…nothing that's going to last. I think I scared her more than anything."
"Well…I guess that was the point, right? Did you find anything out? Has she ratted you out to the CEO of Evil yet?"
"I haven't gotten that far. But I know that she knows a lot more than I thought she did. That's why I'm calling." He paused. "She knows your name, Foggy. Not even just your legal name, your nickname, too. She knows we work together. She's been looking into us. I don't like that."
"I need you to stay somewhere else tonight. A hotel, maybe. Just until I find out if she's told anyone."
"A hotel? You might not have noticed, what with your failing eyesight, but I'm not made of money, Matt. I can't exactly afford vacations at the Plaza." Foggy voice was light and joking on the surface, but strained. Matt could hear fear underneath. Foggy wasn't used to the idea of there being bad people looking for him.
"I'm sorry, Foggy. Make sure you check in with cash. I'll call you when I know more."
"Alright, buddy. And hey…I know it's important for you to find out what this chick knows, but maybe try not to terrify her to the point of unconsciousness again, huh?"
Matt ended the call and listened to his surroundings. It had been a little under ten minutes since Sarah had passed out in the alleyway. She was still unconscious, but her breathing and heartbeat were steady. Matt turned his attention towards her cabinets. The stacks in the sink indicated that she clearly hadn't done dishes for a few days, but she had a few clean glasses in the upper cupboard. He grabbed one at random and felt for the sink's tap, figuring that he could at least give her some water after scaring her into a panic attack.
He was divided about what had happened earlier; he knew he shouldn't have used such force on someone who clearly wasn't fighting back. But the mention of Foggy had scared him to the point of irrationality. He'd have to stay calmer if he wanted to find anything else out. He didn't want to frighten her to the point where she wouldn't be able to tell him anything.
Her breathing changed very slightly, and Matt knew she'd be waking up in just a few seconds. He picked up the glass of water he'd poured for her and then, after a moment's hesitation, the mask as well. He slid the black fabric down over the top half of his face. Obviously there was no point in hiding his identity, but he knew what effect the mask had on people. Maybe he didn't want to scare her as badly as he did before, but a little extra intimidation could go a long way.
As Sarah came to, she was surprised to see her own ceiling above her and not the walls of a dirty alleyway. For a moment, she allowed herself to sink into the comforting thought that she had dreamed the whole confrontation. That moment ended when she heard footsteps close by and tore her eyes away from the ceiling.
She was lying on her couch in her apartment. She sat up as quickly as she could manage with a swimming head, shakily supporting herself by her arms. As she moved to stand up she felt a heavy hand on her shoulder, pushing her firmly back onto the couch.
"Don't get up."
She whipped her head around to see Daredevil. Matt Murdock, she corrected herself mentally. Referring to him by his real name in her head—the name attached to the smiling man in the Facebook photo—made him seem at least a little more human and a little less like a…well, a devil.
Matt took his hand off her shoulder and walked around the side of the couch to set a glass of water on the side table next to her. His mask was still on. He reached over and grabbed a chair from her kitchen table, picking it up and setting it in front of the couch before sitting and facing her. He looked almost comically out of place in his mask and black combat outfit, surrounded by the bright, cheerful décor of her apartment. She wondered how he had known which one was hers.
"You had a panic attack. The water will help," he said.
Sarah didn't answer. She glanced nervously at the front door, wondering what she could do to somehow get those few seconds she'd need to reach it before he could leap from his tense position in his chair and stop her. A brief thought of smashing the glass of water over his head crossed her mind—
"You wouldn't make it past the coffee table," he said softly, as though he could read her thoughts.
She looked at him sharply.
"I'm not going to hurt you," he said.
"What do you call what just happened?" she asked incredulously before she could stop herself. She kicked herself mentally for snapping at a man who, in the not too distant past, had pinned her to a wall by her throat.
"I—lost control." He offered no more explanation. "But I have some more questions. I need you to answer them truthfully, and I promise I won't touch you. I won't come any closer than I am now. Okay?"
"Do I have any choice?" she asked quietly.
"Not really, no. But I didn't tie you up, as a show of good faith."
Sarah doubted the lack of restraints had anything to do with good faith. Rather it just seemed to enforce the fact that even with her hands and feet free, the only threat in the room was him.
"Tell me who you've told."
"I haven't," she answered immediately. "I-I haven't told a soul, I swear to God." Her heart beat faster as she desperately hoped he would believe her.
He tilted his head slightly to the side. There was a tense, lengthy silence. When he finally spoke again, his voice was quiet, carefully controlled, but with a barely contained tone of threat in it.
"The problem here, Sarah, is that you act the same when you're scared as when you're lying, and it's difficult to tell which it is. And this particular question is one that I really need you to answer truthfully. So think hard. Who have you told about me?"
"No one. I'm not lying, I swear."
"Who have you told about Foggy?"
"No one," she repeated forcefully. "I haven't told anyone anything about either of you, and I—I barely know anything about him anyway, just that he's your partner. That's it, nothing else. I haven't said a word."
"Who are you planning on telling?"
The question caught her off guard. She had been so preoccupied with learning everything she could about him, and then with not getting choked to death in an alleyway, that the idea of sharing what she had learned with anyone hadn't even crossed her mind.
His jaw twitched at the catch in her voice; he clearly thought she was lying. Her mouth went dry at the dark expression on his face, and she reached for her water glass. He leaned forward so quickly she barely saw him move and seized her wrist before she could touch the glass. His long fingers easily encircled her thin wrist, and his grip was painfully tight. He made no more movement towards her, but the threat was clear.
"I don't think you're telling me the truth anymore, Sarah," he said softly.
"No, I am, I am," she stuttered desperately. "I just, I hadn't really th-thought about it. But I'm not going to tell anyone, I swear I'm not. Please, I'm not lying to you. " Her words came out in a jumble, her voice cracking slightly with fear.
He held her wrist a moment longer, and then released it, but he remained leaning forward in his chair. She leaned back against the back of the couch, anxious to put more space between them.
"Alright. Let's say I believe you," he said, and she felt a rush of relief. "I think that right now you truly mean it when you say you won't tell anyone, but unfortunately your current career makes me think you might change your mind."
Sarah swallowed. "I'm just a secretary—"
"Are you, though? What kind of secretary shows up for work in the middle of the night?"
Sarah was silent for a moment. "I forgot some paperwork."
"So you're just a secretary, but you're in charge of paperwork that's important enough to warrant going all the way across town to retrieve it at ten o'clock at night?" There was an unmistakable note of skepticism to his voice.
Sarah didn't respond.
"I know that you're aware of what kind of company you work for. You know perfectly well who the employees and clients who come and go from that place are; what they do to people. Or are you blind, too?" he asked sarcastically.
"Of course I know what they do," she snapped. His mocking insinuation that she was willfully ignoring the things that happened at that company hit too close to home. He didn't know anything about her. "I'm not an idiot. I have to see them every day. I have to shred their documents and set their meetings. I hate them just as much as you do. I'm not about to tell them anything."
"That's not really a risk I can take," he said harshly.
Sarah suddenly felt exhausted. Maybe it was the adrenaline from the past hour leaving her, or maybe it was from the panic attack. Maybe it was from the hopelessness that slowly ebbed into her mind, the lack of any possible scenario in which this night could turn out well for her. But suddenly she was so tired she could barely muster the energy to speak.
"So…what…what does that mean? What happens now?"
"First and foremost it means that I need to minimize the chance of you deciding to mention this to your bosses. Quit your job."
"Quit your job. Find a new one in a different city. Never go back," he commanded. He clearly expected her to obey, so her stomach flipped with dread as she responded with the opposite.
"I can't do that."
He cocked his head. "I wasn't asking."
"I don't care," she said, a note of hysteria making her voice go up an octave. "I can't leave. You don't understand."
She expected him to get angrier, to threaten her or put his hands on her. Instead, he sat still for a moment, listening to her fast breathing with an unreadable look on his face.
"Then explain it to me."
Sarah faltered. She couldn't tell him about her situation. Not with her father being in the condition he was in. Bringing him to the attention of yet another dangerous person in Hell's Kitchen wasn't an option.
"I just…if I even mentioned leaving, they'd—" her voice wavered and she paused to gather herself before repeating forcefully, "I can't quit."
"Why not? You said yourself you have no loyalty to them. Why stay? Because they'll hurt you? They'll hurt someone else?"
Her father's face flashed into her mind and she tried not to show how it twisted her insides with worry, but she knew by the way he tilted his head back that he had somehow caught onto it anyway. She knew the man was blind, but somehow he could still read her, and it made her feel horribly exposed.
"Who will they hurt? What are they holding over your head, Sarah?"
To Sarah's horror, she felt tears beginning to prick behind her eyes. She had never been the type who was quick to tear up, but her father's safety had been the center of her whole life for almost a year now, the one thing holding everything together, and the thought of him dying hit her heart like a train every time it came up. She took a few deep breaths and focused on not letting any tears form. She would not cry in front of the Devil of Hell's Kitchen. Have a panic attack and pass out, sure. But she would not cry, and she definitely wouldn't put her father in any more danger.
Matt was still waiting for her answer. She didn't know if he could tell that she was close to crying, but if he could he didn't acknowledge it.
"Please. I can't tell you. And I can't quit. So if you're going to hurt me…just do it," she whispered.
He was silent for a long time. Sarah kept her eyes trained on him, watching for signs that he was going to fly off the handle and start breaking her fingers. She was surprised when instead he slowly sat back in his chair and inhaled deeply.
"Alright. Let's say you don't tell your bosses who I am. What's stopping you from going to the police?"
Sarah thought back to her last interaction with the police of Hell's Kitchen, almost a year ago now.
She had gone to the police station almost immediately after meeting James Wesley for the first time, after he had first made her the 'offer'—if it could be called that—to step in and take over her father's debt to Wilson Fisk. He had revealed to her that he knew of her father's condition, that conveniently one of their companies had an administrative opening, and that this arrangement would be best for everyone involved. Then, with a cold imitation of a smile, he had gone.
Less than half an hour later she had found her way to the police station. The officer at the front desk had seemed friendly, smiling at her when she entered the room. But when she had desperately explained to him that she was being blackmailed and threatened by these men, the smile had slowly dropped from his face, and he had glanced around apprehensively before leaning forward to speak to her as quietly as possible.
"You seem like a good enough kid, so I'm going to give you some advice. Take the job, and keep your mouth shut. Trying to go to the police to fight these guys…it's never going to work. Trust me. I'm not going to rat you out for coming here tonight. Not this time. But if you come back here again, I can't guarantee that another officer won't. Got it?"
Sarah had been at a loss for words as the officer calmly went back to his paperwork, deliberately acting as though she was no longer there.
Lost in that bitter memory, Sarah jumped as she heard Matt speak again.
"Sarah. I asked you a question."
Sarah snapped back to the situation at hand, and the question in front of her.
"I guess I trust them even less than I trust you," she said hollowly. It was true. Even after Fisk's well-publicized arrest had led to a sweep of most of the crooked cops in Hell's Kitchen, there was no way of knowing how many they had missed, or how many had turned since then. "Besides, I've seen the videos of you fighting those cops. They've never managed to catch you. I don't know that I'd trust them to find you before you found me."
His face was again unreadable beneath the mask as he appeared to think about her answers.
Sarah stared distractedly at the glass of water on the side table. The glass he'd brought her was a party favor she'd gotten at her best friend Lauren's bachelorette party two years earlier. Sarah had picked the glasses, actually, when she was planning the party. She wondered if the vigilante realized that the glass he'd blindly picked from her cabinet had sparkly phallic symbols all over it. Why had she even kept that glass? The happy, vibrant girl who had planned that party didn't exist anymore, replaced by someone whose life was out of control. Looking at the glass and its stupid, glittery penis drawings, she felt a bright spark of anger inside of her, and that anger slowly replaced the exhaustion in her system. She was sick of this new life, so different from her old one. She hadn't chosen this.
She didn't choose for her father to get sick. The decision to take on his debt hadn't been a choice, not really. Not considering the only other option. Working as a secretary with a sadistic supervisor wasn't her first pick for a new career, either. Even discovering Daredevil's identity hadn't been something she chose, something she went looking for. Things just kept happening to her, and she couldn't remember the last time that anything in her life was the result of her own decisions. Sarah's head was spinning with anger, fear, and exhaustion as she thought about it. All of her choices lately were being made by others, never by herself.
But maybe they didn't have to be.
Looking at the man in the mask sitting across from her, she made a decision. Maybe a bad one, she wasn't sure, but at the moment she didn't care.
"I-I can't quit my job. It won't help either of us. But if I stay there…I think maybe we can help each other."
Matt leaned forward, and this time she resisted the urge to shrink away.