Alright, y'all. It's here! The fundraiser! Well, half of it. We've been building up to this fundraiser for…seven years now? So it's not surprising that it took two chapters to cover everything I wanted. I could have cut a lot of the dialogue/character-heavy scenes in this chapter to focus on the important action ones in the next one, but I find conversational scenes so much more fun to write, so…two chapters it is.

I hope everyone enjoyed watching Spider-Man and Hawkeye; I'm hoping it's not a spoiler at this point to say I was very happy to see some of our characters come back! And as a few of you have pointed out in emails/messages, this story's Tracksuit Kevin would fit in perfectly with Hawkeye's Tracksuit Mafia, if they ever want to ask him to join.

I know this story is re-posted in various places on WattPad, Tumblr, etc. so if you're a re-poster please include this note for your readers to see as well:

This chapter will end on a cliffhanger. I'm just letting you know now. So does the next one. Because I love them and I'm not ashamed! But I held off on publishing this chapter because I wanted to make sure I had the next two mostly done, so that you guys wouldn't be stuck on cliffhangers for months and months. Chapters 44 and 45 are about 90% done, with just a few last scenes left to write. Give me about two weeks between chapters to make my last few changes, and then you can start sending messages asking if I'm dead again.

Enjoy reading!

The night before the fundraiser was Sarah's last night staying at Matt's apartment before moving back in to her own.

Because of this, he really had intended to only go out as Daredevil for a short while, wanting to come back early enough that she'd still be awake. He was only going out because he'd gotten wind that there was a meeting happening with some people he'd been very keen to find in relation to a drug ring he'd been tracking. The plan had been to check it out, stay out of sight, and get what information he could to lead him to their higher-ups.

But of course, things so rarely went according to plan, which was how Matt ended up thudding tiredly down the roof access stairs in his apartment at three in the morning with a splitting headache, a wrenched shoulder, bruised ribs and a painful stretch of road rash across most of the left side of his torso. But at least, he thought to himself wryly, he'd gotten the information he'd gone for.

Matt fumbled a few aspirin out of the bottle he kept on the kitchen shelf and swallowed them dry, too tired to bother getting any water to chase them with. He knocked the bottle over as he set it down, sending it rolling off the counter and away from him, the skittering sound of pills spilling out across the floor. He ignored it and braced himself against the kitchen counter with both hands, bowing his head as he tried to concentrate on his breathing and calm the pounding in his skull. If he could just rid of that, it would be easier to focus on tending the rest of his injuries.

He was still concentrating on his breathing when he felt something bump against his hand. He jerked his head up with a start, suddenly becoming very aware of the presence of another person in the kitchen.

Sarah was standing close by, but with a few careful feet of space between them. Matt frowned when he realized what had bumped his hand was the half-empty bottle of aspirin, which she had gently rolled towards him across the counter to get his attention.

"I was saying your name, but you weren't responding," she said hesitantly.

It occurred to Matt with a faint pang of guilt that she'd kept her distance because she was possibly remembering the last time she'd accidentally taken him by surprise, and the massive bruise she'd gotten as a result.

"Sorry," Matt murmured. "Didn't mean to wake you."

Reassured that Matt was safely lucid, Sarah closed the space between them. Her hands moved over him as she inspected the state of his injuries, and he heard her breathing catch as she brushed her fingers over the torn fabric of his shirt, where the skin was scraped angry and raw underneath. She pushed her hair out of her face and swallowed, then shook her head.

"I'll get the kit," she said quietly, her voice raspy from sleep.

She ducked into the bathroom to grab the first aid kit, and Matt tugged his mask and gloves off and tossed them aside. He slowly reached for the hem of his shirt to pull it over his head—a task that he was less than enthusiastic about, given the battered state of his ribcage. Sure enough, he got the fabric about halfway up his torso before his ribs protested with a sharp, stabbing pain.

Sarah hurriedly set the kit on the table and reached to help him.

"Ribs," was his short, wincing explanation.

"Okay," she murmured. "Are you able to lift your arms a little more?"

"The right one more than the left," he said. "Shoulder's a little…"

He trailed off, not needing to explain much more. She'd already seen him hurt that same shoulder numerous times, wrenching it until it was just short of dislocated—and occasionally until it actually was dislocated—over and over again.

She rested her hand against his chest as she looked him over, and he could hear the drag of her teeth against her skin as she bit her lip worriedly. She fingered the torn fabric at the hem of his shirt and looked up at him.

"Can I just cut it?" she asked. "Kind of looks like it might have run its course anyway."

"Have at it."

She kept her carefully close by as Matt lowered himself onto the couch, slouching low and leaning his head against the backrest. Sarah grabbed the first aid kit off the table and brought it over to the couch, rummaging inside for the sharp scissors she usually used to cut lengths of gauze.

"Were you really not going to wake me up?" she asked.

"What, and ruin your sleep the night before your big performance?" he asked, a twinge of guilt hitting him as he thought about what time it was right now. "I'd have to be a real dick to do that."

She took a seat next to him, folding her legs up against him.

"You're not a dick, Matt," she told him with a sigh. She carefully positioned the scissors at the bottom of his shirt and began snipping the fabric open. "You're hurt."

"It's fine. I get hurt all the time," he told her.

"I'm aware of—I'm actually very aware of that," she said in frustration. "But this is a lot. You look like you got run over by a car."

Despite Matt's best efforts to keep his expression neutral, he couldn't help the slightest flicker of guilt that flashed across his face before he could hide it. Sarah paused, then her mouth fell open.

"Oh my god, Matt!" she exclaimed, halting the scissors. "Are you serious?"

He shifted uncomfortably, brushing off her alarm.

"A small car. Slow moving, barely clipped me," he said, rolling his shoulder experimentally then wincing.

"A small car," she echoed him in disbelief.

"Yeah, you know," he said, offering her a pained grin. "The compact kind. Environmentally friendly."

His weak joke failed to land as Sarah snipped the last bit of fabric and pushed his shirt aside, revealing the full extent of the bruised, scraped skin on his torso. He heard her take in a deep, steadying breath as she looked at him.

"It's fine," he insisted before she could say anything. "I'll heal."

"Will you? I know you like to think you'll always bounce back like rubber but you're still made of human parts. Getting hurt over and over again adds up. How many times have you hurt that shoulder now?" Sarah asked, reaching out for the shoulder in question. If her touch had matched her harsh tone she would have grabbed it hard enough to bruise, but as usual her hands were gentle on his skin.

"And it's healed each time," he argued quietly. "Like everything else."

That was technically true, but he knew why she was bringing up his shoulder in particular. The last time Sarah had called Claire for advice about treating Matt's wrenched shoulder, Claire had warned them both that continuously stressing his rotator cuff could lead to limited mobility, which would be less than ideal for someone who needed to throw punches as often as he did.

"Yeah, and it took longer each time, too," Sarah pointed out. "Claire said you have to stop wrenching it or your—your pop socket is gonna…rotate its axis."

Matt's ribs protested again as he gave a tired, surprised laugh. He knew that probably wasn't the best way to make her less angry at him right now, but her absolutely nonsensical medical terminology spoken in such a frustrated tone was a small bright spot of amusement in between the dull waves of pain that were washing over most of his muscles.

"What are you talking about?" he asked.

"I don't remember the technical terms," she said defensively. "But it's bad for you!"

"I'm sorry," he said with a chuckle that quickly turned into a sharp inhale of pain as she began to dab disinfectant against his broken skin. "It'll be better once the new suit is ready."

"Don't apologize to me. If you make Claire mad enough, she's going to stop helping us. Then you'll have to charm some other nurse into treating you," Sarah warned.

"Why would I do that when I have you?" he asked, tilting his head and offering her a hopeful grin.

Something changed in her breathing as she watched his face, and when she spoke again her tone was softer, more tired than angry. That was the thing about Sarah: even when Matt deserved to be yelled at, she somehow found her way back to being empathetic instead. It wasn't exactly a trait his past girlfriends had possessed, and he never stopped being surprised by it.

"I'm not a nurse," she informed him. "My first aid skills are nowhere near Claire's."

"They're a lot better than they used to be."

She carefully smoothed a bandage over the now disinfected area on his abdomen.

"I don't think they could get worse. You'll probably always have that scar."

He knew she didn't like the sight of the jagged scar that ran over his shoulder and down across his chest, messier and more noticeable than the rest. A souvenir of the first time she'd attempted to stitch him up, all trembling hands and nervous heartbeat. To Matt, who had little care for scars that he couldn't even see, it was just a physical reminder of what had fascinated him about her in the first place: that ceaseless compassion again, present where logically other emotions should edge it out.

"Who cares? I was lucky you helped me at all," he said, then raised his eyebrows pointedly. "I still am."

Sarah's breathing changed again as she gave him a tired smile for the first time that night, and Matt returned it. He moved his hand until his fingertips found the warmth of her legs curled comfortably against him, bare skin stretching up until it met hem of his t-shirt that she'd chosen to wear to bed—very possibly planning to steal it on her last night here. He rested his hand against her leg, focusing on her steady heartbeat over the pain in his head and body.

So very different from that first time. He would never for the life of him figure out how they'd ended up here.

They were quiet for a while as she continued to work, interrupted just by the occasional yawn from Sarah.

"I am sorry I woke you up for this," he said after a bit.

"Don't worry about it. Not sleeping before a big show is the usual for me," she said with a shrug. She gently pressed a bandage over another raw patch of skin. "I'm surprised I fell asleep at all."

"You feel like you're ready?" he asked, relieved to move on to a topic that wasn't his injuries. "For tomorrow?"

"The piano part or the potential assassination attempt?"

"Either. Both."

Matt knew Sarah had been waiting all week to see if Jason would say anything to her about the fundraiser. But he hadn't, which could mean several things: he'd caught wind of how much security would be surrounding Vanessa at the fundraiser and had decided against any kind of attack he had been planning; he was still planning something bad and he didn't trust Sarah enough to include her; or he'd never been planning anything at all, and they were just being paranoid over one conversation.

"I'm definitely prepared for the performance," she said. "The rest of it…I don't know. It's such a grey area that I don't even know what to be on the lookout for. I just wish Vanessa had never decided to go so that we didn't have to worry about whatever's happening with them affecting us."

"I'll worry about keeping tabs on Vanessa. And anyone else who seems like they might cause trouble. You worry about what you're actually there to do," Matt told her.

Sarah snorted. "Oh, sure. You sneak around and take out anyone who's pointing a sniper rifle, and I'll just play my little songs."

"That's exactly the plan, yeah."

One of the few times Matt had to actually guess what Sarah was doing was when she rolled her eyes, but sometimes the sigh she gave was so deep that he could only assume she was.

"You must be at least a little concerned if you're willing to date Cecilia to be there," she said.

Matt sighed, but his breath caught in a wince as he shifted, the movement jostling his ribs too much for their liking.

"It doesn't mean I think anything will happen. But if there's a chance something will…if Jason does try to do something to Vanessa, I want to be there to make sure you don't get caught in the middle of it," he said.

Sarah gave a doubtful hum, but otherwise didn't argue.

"But since we're on the subject…you remember everything we agreed on, right?" he asked, knowing it might annoy her but needing to make sure anyway.

"I do," she confirmed. When Matt just waited, she groaned. "You really want me to go through all the rules you came up with? It's a long list."

"It's not that long."

"As the overprotective person who came up with the list, I think you're biased."

He stilled her hand as she reached for the disinfectant again. "Humor me."

"Fine," she said with a sigh. She began to list off bullet points as she poured the disinfectant onto the cotton pad in her hand. "Stay away from Vanessa as much as possible. Don't go near her bodyguards, don't drink anything any of her people hand me. If something happens, don't try to interfere."


"Talk to you a little bit, because people know we know each other, but not a lot, because we don't know each other well."

"Professional acquaintances," he agreed.

"Right. It's like if I ran into…my accountant at a party," she estimated. "Very businesslike."

"Do you have an accountant?" he asked curiously.

"Oh, sure. For all my buckets of money I have to keep track of."

"Stupid question," he allowed, sucking air through his teeth as she pressed the disinfectant against his skin. "Keep going. What else?"

"Um…don't talk about fight club."


"Don't talk to anyone about Daredevil," she amended, adjusting her tone to something more serious. "That's a big one. I know. I promise I won't make that mistake this time. Trust me."

"I trust you," he said firmly. "With anything. I just know that you…really don't like it when people have certain things to say about Daredevil."

"Well, I also really don't like the idea of my boyfriend going to jail because I have a big mouth, so…I'll get over it," she said.

"Glad to hear it. Slipping up in front of Cecilia would be bad; slipping up in front of Vanessa Fisk would be…"

Sarah swallowed, and her voice no longer held anything close to humor as she gently brought her hand to his face.

"That won't happen," she said seriously. "In front of anyone."

Matt nodded, hoping she was right. From what Sarah had told him, it sounded like it would be a fairly large event. And given Vanessa's status in the local art community, there was a good chance she would be kept busy with all of the artists there kissing her ass so that she would purchase some of their work during the auction. Hopefully busy enough that she wouldn't be paying either of them much attention.

Sarah gently tilted his chin up, inspecting what he suspected was a fairly vivid bruise on his cheek—luckily one that would be covered by his mask, so that only Matt Murdock would be seen with it and not Daredevil.

"What will you tell people tomorrow when they ask about this?" she asked him.

Matt considered her question for a second as she moved on to cleaning a shallow cut on his side.

"Most people won't ask. They get uncomfortable around people like me. The ones who do ask…" He gave a painful half-shrug. "I could say any kind of excuse. They'll already have chalked it up to a blind thing in their head. People…decide on an idea of who a person is, and anything outside that box gets ignored."

"Like the idea of a blind guy who gets injured fighting crime every night," she ventured.


She hummed thoughtfully. "And no one ever figures you out."

"Almost no one," he said quietly. Then his lips tugged into a wry grin. "Hopefully not the investigative reporter I'll be spending most of the evening with."

"We won't let that happen," Sarah said, but Matt picked up on the way she shifted against him, her posture changing just slightly to something more closed off. The same way she had when he'd brought up accepting the invitation in the first place, and the same way she had every time it had come up since then.

"You keep doing that," he pointed out cautiously.


"Tensing up whenever I mention Cecilia."

She carefully kept her attention on the first aid kit, where she was pulling out a box of steri-strips to address the cut on his side.

"Well, she makes me tense," she said with a half-shrug.

Matt waited a beat for her to explain further, but she didn't.

"Kind of feels like something else," he prompted, trying to feel out if his suspicions were correct.

Sarah groaned.

"I can feel you preparing to cross-examine me," she protested.

"You're not on trial," Matt said with a grin. "It's just a question. Are you really bothered that I'm going with her?"

"That's not fair."

"What isn't?"

"If you ask me if it bothers me and I say no, you'll know I'm lying, and I know you don't like that. But I also can't tell the truth, because I'll sound crazy if I say that I'm jealous of you going on a date that I know you're only going on to keep me safe. So I think it's probably best to just…plead the fifth?" she said hopefully.

"Jealous? Of Cecilia?" Matt asked incredulously.

"I really wish I wasn't; it's embarrassing," she said, tucking her hair behind her ear. "But I figure you'll know soon anyway, because when I have to watch the two of you dance tomorrow night I think my heart might actually, like, physically shrivel up. And that just seems like the kind of thing your senses will pick up on."

"Of all the things you need to be worried about tomorrow night, me being interested in Cecilia isn't on that list," Matt said slowly.

"I know. I really do. Or, like…the logical side of my brain does. But…Crazy Brain Sarah just keeps thinking about how Cecilia is um…just your type," Sarah said with a self-conscious wince in her voice.

"Yeah?" Matt asked in dark amusement, his eyebrows shooting up. "And what exactly do you think you know about my type?"

Sarah exhaled, then answered reluctantly. "Something about…beautiful women with no morals?"

His sharp grin slipped a fraction as he recognized the familiar words, then he groaned, casting his blank eyes towards the ceiling in exasperation.

"Foggy," he grumbled.


"Is there anything I can do to get you to stop gossiping with my best friend about our relationship?"

"It wasn't gossiping," Sarah said, seemingly taking offense to the insinuation. "It was…bagel line small talk. And I mean, if you'd been standing in the bagel line with him like you were supposed to be instead of me…" She trailed off when she saw Matt's unimpressed look. "Sorry. I wish I could talk to my best friend about us, but I can't, so…your best friend is the next best thing. Who else am I going to talk to?"

"I don't know—me?" he hazarded. "Do I get any say in who my type is, or does Foggy get the final word on that?"

"Talk to you? About us?" Sarah asked suspiciously.

"Ideally, yes."

"It's just that you tend to answer a lot of personal questions with…long, ambiguous silences," she pointed out hesitantly.

"And Foggy?"

"Foggy spills out information like a piñata," she informed him matter-of-factly. "Like, with no prompting at all. He always has. Since the first time we met."

That was true. Foggy had trusted Sarah pretty much immediately, instantly won over by the girl who'd come out to help a stranger at two in the morning in the middle of Hell's Kitchen. It had irritated Matt at the time, but Foggy was like that. Open to seeing the best in people, the potential good.

Matt wasn't as open, and even now he had to fight the self-destructive instinct to close himself off from her questioning completely.

The uncomfortable silence hung between them, proving her point. But Matt wasn't sure what to say. It was true that at one point, Cecilia would have been exactly his type. A smart, attractive woman with whom he shared almost no principles? That had been Matt's taste in women for years.

A few minutes later, as Sarah pressed the last steri-strip across a cut, she tilted her head to glance up at him uncertainly.

"Um—sorry," she said haltingly, breaking the long silence. "That was a silly thing to bring up. I do know you're doing all this to help me. I wasn't…trying to make you feel bad."

Matt has his defense mechanisms—namely playing all of his cards as close to the chest as possible—but Sarah also had hers: backtracking and trying to smooth things over, even if it meant erasing something that was obviously bothering her. And somewhere along the way, Matt's aversion to hearing her do that had started to outweigh even his tendency to keep all his secrets to himself.

"You didn't." He shook his head, his hand drifting up to hook her hair behind her ear. The corner of her mouth curved at his touch. "I'm the one who brought the subject up."

He took another moment to gather his thoughts.

"It's true that women like that were…the kind I got involved with for a long time," he said slowly, choosing his words carefully. "Before I started putting on the mask."

He heard Sarah's hair brush her shoulders as she looked over at the mask on the kitchen table, then back to Matt uncertainly.

"I don't get the connection," she said. "You…stopped sleeping with girls like Cecilia because…you were bleeding too much?"

Matt breathed out a quiet chuckle and shook his head.

"That probably wouldn't have helped either, but no. Being with…women I knew I couldn't trust…it was just something to do. Something reckless that I knew would hurt like hell in the end," he said. "Now that I do what I do…I don't feel the need to look for that feeling in other people anymore."

Sarah nodded contemplatively.

"Now you can just date…normal, boring people," she said half-jokingly.

"I don't know. I did still end up with a girl who could ruin my life in a heartbeat if she felt like it," he pointed out with a grin. "Luckily for me, she doesn't seem to want to."

"Depends on how many more times you decide to go out and get hit by cars," she said.

Matt chuckled. "In my defense, the driver of the car made that decision more than I did."

Sarah just shook her head. She finally set aside the first aid supplies, finished with her task for the night.

"Are you sure you're in any condition to even go tomorrow? You could stand to take a night to just rest," she suggested.

"Maybe if Vanessa wasn't going to be near you with a target on her back," he said—although that was a lie. Even if Vanessa cancelled right now, he still wouldn't pass up the chance to hear her play.

"I don't have to go either," she said. "I could just…catch the next fundraiser. Maybe a less murdery one."

Matt gave a sharp laugh.

"That's cute," he said, cocking an eyebrow at her. "I'll drag you to that thing myself if I have to."

"In the shape you're in right now, I might actually win that fight."

"Well, sorry to disappoint, but you won't have the chance to find out," he said with a lazy grin. He caught her hand, spreading his fingers out against hers and nodding towards them. "Precious cargo. Can't let you go around punching things until after your performance."

"You can go to fancy events with bruised knuckles, but I can't? That's not very fair," Sarah said with a laugh.

"Sorry. I don't make the rules."

"You've made me an entire list of rules," she pointed out.

"That's true. How many of them are you actually planning on following?"

"I always plan on listening to you. It's the execution that sometimes gets a little fuzzy," she explained. "And why are you the only one who gets to set rules?"

"I'm not. What kind of rules are you thinking?"

Sarah tilted her head in contemplation.

"I don't know. Just that you have…not a bad time with Cecilia, exactly, but…don't have such a nice time that you forget about me," she said. Her tone was teasing, but her heart skipped just enough to give her away.

Matt shook his head, then snaked his hand around the back of her neck and brought her mouth to his, kissing her deeply. He was still sprawled low on the couch, and she had to lean over him to reach.

"My attention has been on you, whether good or bad, since the second you came into my life," he murmured against her mouth, punctuating his words by pressing soft kisses against her lips. "I don't see tomorrow changing that. But I'll follow the rule."

Sarah's mouth curved into a smile against his lips, and she leaned into him more.


"What else?"

She reached up to trace the bruise on his face again.

"Just try to take it easy for a while. Until your new suit is ready."

He tilted his head. "I thought these were rules for tomorrow night."

"I'm making a special request," she said. She brushed her lips lightly across his, then even more lightly across his bruised cheekbone. "Please."

Her hair fell around his face, the citrus scent surrounding him and effectively eliminating any possibility of him telling her 'no'—to this, or to anything, really.

He gave a nod as he buried one hand in her hair, his other hand slipping underneath the t-shirt that hung loose around her and pulling her over him so her leg swung over his lap.

"Matt—your ribs—" she protested, but the tight breathlessness in her voice made her concern sound half-hearted.

"They're fine," he whispered, kissing her more deeply.

She let out a soft noise against his mouth and slid both of her hands up the back of his neck. But she stayed hovered over him, careful not to put any pressure on his injured ribs. He wished she would, wanted her to be pressed more firmly against him, but even he could admit that might not be the best idea. The last thing he needed was to make his ribs worse, and then she'd never kiss him when he was injured again.

He let the feel of her carry him away from the pain in his body, away from the dark grit of the city that pressed so insistently against the windows of his apartment. In here, it could just be the two of them, if only for a short time.

But for as pleasant as his current situation was, it unfortunately couldn't last—which was difficult to remind himself of as she pressed her mouth against the hollow of his neck.

No matter how exhausted he was, it still took Matt a while to come down a from night out patrolling. He was still keyed up on the adrenaline lingering in his veins, and that meant a shorter amount of time for him to get to a point of either stopping or accelerating. And between his battered body and the frazzled anxiety that buzzed around her over tomorrow's performance, accelerating would be a bad choice for them both tonight.

He reluctantly broke the kiss and pressed his forehead against her neck as he took a few steadying breaths. The goosebumps that he felt flood her skin at the drag of his breath didn't help matters.

"We should…" he trailed off.

"I'm sorry," she whispered.

"Don't be sorry," he said firmly, his fingers flexing against her waist. He lifted his head up so his eyes were cast somewhere near her face. "Don't. I know tonight's not the night."

Sarah sighed and pressed her forehead against his.

"You mean…the middle of the night when you just got hit by a car and we both have to be up for work in two hours?" she said with a faint laugh.

Matt exhaled a rough laugh, too, closing his eyes.

"Yeah. That covers it."

He held her there a minute longer, their foreheads pressed together, and his mind wandered to the key she'd given him. He hoped she'd meant it when she said it was his to use whenever he wanted, because once she moved back into her apartment, he knew his own was suddenly going to feel very, very empty.

Of the many benefits of dating a vigilante, keeping a steady sleep schedule was not one of them.

Sarah had already struggled to fall asleep the night before, and she hadn't managed to drift off until after midnight—giving her a little less than three hours sleep over all. So she ended up beginning her workday fairly exhausted, with dark circles under her eyes. Between the lack of sleep and her nerves over the fundraiser, she was less than productive throughout the day, and by three o'clock she decided to call it quits early. Jason had left the office hours ago like he often did on Fridays, and without him there she didn't have much to do anyway.

She probably should have gone home right away, to give herself extra time to get ready. Take a soothing bath, maybe take a nap or do a face mask. But instead, she had another pre-show tradition that she wanted to indulge in, although she wasn't sure how it would go.

It didn't take long by subway to get to her destination. The tall white building stood out from the surrounding area, cleaner and newer than the buildings it sat between.

She waited at the front desk as a soft spoken nurse asked for her ID and put her information in the system. Her nametag read 'Caroline', and she had stuck a tiny daisy sticker above the 'i'. Once or twice she glanced up from her screen, looking at Sarah closely as though trying to place her face.

Sarah shifted uncomfortably; with the way her life was going these days, she didn't really like it when it seemed like strangers were paying her too much attention.

"Okay, sweetie, I have you all entered in here. And who are you visiting?"

"Mitch Corrigan," Sarah answered.

"Oh, Mitch! That's where I know you from," she said, snapping her fingers. "You're in all the photos on his walls. Oh, all the nurses love Mitch. He's a real sweetheart."

Relief flooded through her, and she smiled at the nurse.

"Yeah, he's the best," she said. "He really seems to like it here."

It was true. Sarah visited as often as she could, but between working long hours, practicing at the church, training at the gym with Matt, and reluctantly getting involved in the occasional turf war with local nightclub owners, that wasn't as often as she'd like. But she called, and when Mitch was lucid and in the mood to talk, he sounded happy.

"It's Friday, so you'll probably find him in the recreation room just down the hall," the nurse said, pointing down a nearby corridor as she slid a visitor pass across the counter to her. "We try to have them socialize as much as we can."


Then the nurse leaned forward a little and gave Sarah an encouraging smile.

"He's having a good day today, honey. You'll see."

Sarah made her way down the hall, glancing into a few rooms as she passed by. They were all spacious and clean, with large windows and potted plants to warm the somewhat clinical-looking beige walls. Overall a nice place to live; much nicer than anything she could afford without the arrangement she'd set up with Jason. And with every passing day that Jason grew more unstable, Sarah wondered what she would do if this place was no longer an option.

In the recreation room, she spotted her father right away. He was sitting at a table by the window, across from another resident who looked to be in his seventies. There was a checkers board between them, and it looked like they were just finishing up. She watched as the older man slowly stood up from the table and said goodbye to Mitch before walking away. Mitch remained at the table, gazing out the window at the sunny day.

Sarah crossed the room, but hesitated when she got within a few feet of the table.

Her father looked away from the window towards her, then blinked and gave her a vague smile. He had an expression on his face similar to that of the nurse earlier: like he was trying to place her, but just didn't quite know from where.

"Hi, Dad," she said hesitantly.

Mitch's brow was furrowed for a moment, and then it smoothed away as recognition dawned in his eyes.

"Sarah," he said, and Sarah swallowed hard against the lump in her throat at the sound of her name. At the fact that he had been the one to say it, without her having to give it to him. "Hi, honey. How are you?"

He stood up from the table to embrace her. It wasn't the same as when he'd hug her as a child, when she was smaller and he was stronger and would squeeze her so hard she felt like nothing bad could ever get her. Now he was frailer, and his hugs weren't as long or as tight, but she would happily take it. She never knew if the next time she'd come to visit would be a 'bad day' and she would find the eyes of a total stranger staring at her from her father's face.

"How are your classes?" he asked as she took a seat across from him.

Sarah shook her head with a small smile. She didn't want to confuse him, but she didn't want to spend the whole visit pretending like she was still in school, either.

"No classes," she said simply. She unshouldered her bag and dug through it for the small bag of candy she'd bought on the way there. "But I have a show tonight. I, um, I brought M&Ms."

She watched him closely, wondering if he would understand. When she was younger, a pre-teen nervous about playing her first shows, her dad would sit with her in the lobby of whatever intimidating building she was playing in. He'd always buy her something from the vending machine, and she always picked M&Ms. They'd sit together and sort the colors out—he didn't want the green, she didn't want the brown—and it would take her mind off her nerves.

But to her disappointment, the smile he gave her was vague; he didn't recognize the gesture as anything other than a polite gift.

"That's nice of you, honey. How many concerts are you playing this month? Five, six? They keep booking you all over this city," Mitch said proudly. "Where is this one?"

Sarah pressed her lips together, swallowing her disappointment as she poured the M&M's out onto the table next to the board, dutifully sorting them by color anyway.

"It's a fundraiser event," she answered. "A fancy one, at an art museum."

"A fundraiser for what?" he asked.

Sarah paused, trying to recall what obscure disease Allison had said they were raising money for. In all honesty, it seemed like the actual charity was just an excuse to have a big, fancy event.

"I don't really remember," she confessed. "Even if I did, I don't think I could pronounce it."

"Well, whatever it's for, they're lucky to have you there," Mitch said. Then, with a nod at the board, he asked, "Do you have time to play a round before you have to go?"

Sarah watched him, a smile playing on her lips.

"Yeah. Of course."

The game went slowly. Sometimes Mitch seemed to understand the rules, and other times not. Sarah didn't mind; he could invent his very own game for all she cared, as long as she could look at his face and see a bit of her dad for a brief time. They didn't talk about anything important as they played. Some light small talk, nothing that would confuse or upset him. But she hung on every word, happy that at the very least he seemed to know who he was talking to. Maybe he didn't know which Sarah he was talking to—in his memory she bounced from 21-year-old college student Sarah to 25-year-old professional pianist Sarah to some other version altogether—but he knew she was his daughter today. And she wanted to hang on to that as long as she could.

When the game was finished, she stared at the board with a startling feeling of loss.

"Do you want to play again?" he asked.

Sarah glanced at the time on her phone and bit her lip. She knew she needed to leave now if she was going to give herself time to go home and get ready. But when she looked back up at her dad, she found that she couldn't bear to leave.

Making a decision, she sent a quick text to Lauren, then set her phone aside and gave her dad a smile.

"I could play one more game."

Given Allison's connections in the New York City art scene, it was no surprise she'd managed to rent out the ballroom of a trendy new art museum that had recently been built as a part of the construction boom that followed The Incident.

Sarah wasn't quite as late to the fundraiser venue as she'd feared, but she was late enough that she found herself half-running up the wide front steps of the venue, glancing up at the bright murals that flanked either side of the tall glass doors she yanked open.

A security guard was waiting for her just inside the door, requesting ID before she could go any further. He eyed the decidedly non-formal outfit she had worn to work with some skepticism as she fumbled in her purse for her license and handed it to him. While he checked it against a list, Sarah's eyes wandered to the gun prominently clipped to his right hip, then to the two similarly armed men in suits and ear pieces standing not far behind him. It wasn't unusual to have someone at the door at events like these, but usually it was some elderly usher or volunteer. It seemed safe to assume the extra intimidation factor here was Vanessa's doing.

After confirming her identity, the guard directed her down a side hallway to the left rather than the main ballroom. She assumed that was where Allison was waiting for her—and hopefully not freaking out too badly over her tardiness.

Sure enough, as Sarah hurried down the hallway, she could hear Allison's agitated voice coming from a room up ahead.

"She was supposed to be here twenty minutes ago!"

"She'll be here," Lauren's reassuring voice answered. "I already talked to her."

"Okay, she'll be here when?"

"Right now," Sarah answered as she breathlessly entered the room, where Greg and Lauren were standing with Allison. "I'm here."

Allison gave her a wide-eyed up and down look, taking in Sarah's button down and cardigan. "What are you wearing?"

Sarah set her purse down on the table next to her and looked down at her work outfit, then at Allison's long, expensive-looking dress.

"Well, I didn't want to accidentally wear the same thing as you," she said. When Allison's eyes widened in alarm, Sarah felt a little bad about the joke.

"She's joking! Because she enjoys giving you a heart attack," Lauren interjected, then turned to Sarah. "I got your text. Greg and I stopped by your place and grabbed the whole list: dress, shoes, jewelry, makeup. We're good to go."

"Thanks. I got a little delayed," Sarah said. She meant to sound more apologetic about it, but she was still floating on a good mood from her visit to her dad. "I'll get dressed fast, I promise."

Allison opened her mouth to reply, then stopped and inhaled deeply through her nose and out through her mouth, like she was meditating away her Sarah-related stress on the spot.

"Okay. This is fine. You get ready, and I'll go try to put out the next fire," she said.

Sarah and Lauren exchanged a look as Allison left the room.

"She needs a Xanax before she hosts these parties," Greg said. "We're still a good half an hour early, and to her that means twenty minutes late."

He handed Sarah a garment bag that had been folded over his arm.

Sarah unzipped it, then faltered as she registered what was inside. She blinked as she looked from the dress to Greg.

"What is this?" she asked.

"Your dress," Greg supplied with a helpful smile.

"No. What? This is—do you see what kind of dress this is? This is not a formal event dress!"

She pulled the dress out of the garment bag. It was not the tasteful floor length dress that she'd picked out of her closet for the event. Instead, it was a dress she'd bought with Lauren years ago: black and thin-strapped, with a back that dipped all the way down the waist. It was one of the many dresses Lauren had suggested for Sarah's first date with Todd, which Sarah had shot down because the backless cut of it was too risqué for a first date—much less for a charity fundraiser.

Greg shifted uneasily and sent a guilty look towards Lauren, who was only half paying attention as she dug Sarah's makeup bag and shoes out of a tote she was holding.

"Well, I—I thought it seemed a bit of an odd choice, yeah," Greg agreed.

"What's wrong?" Lauren asked as she wandered over to them.

"You told me to grab the wrong dress is what's wrong," he said.

Lauren frowned quizzically as she peered around Greg at the dress Sarah was holding up.

"Aw, so love that dress!" Lauren said affectionately. Then after a moment of realization, her eyes widened. "Oh. Oh, no. Greg!"

"What—you said to grab the black dress on the far left of the closet!" he protested.

"My left! I was facing the other way!"

"You were in the other room," Greg said incredulously. "How was I to know what direction you were facing?"

"Oh, god," Sarah groaned. "Okay, well. It's either this dress or what I'm wearing, so…this dress it is."

She blew out a long exhale. The dress wasn't even that bad, it was just more revealing than anything she'd worn in a long time. What if people noticed the various scars that marked her skin from the last few months? She was nowhere near as bad as Matt, of course, but they were still there faded but still noticeable on her neck and hands and back—that last one now framed nicely by the fresh bruise she'd gotten from Jason shoving her against the bar cart.

Beside her, Greg and Lauren were still bickering as Sarah pulled herself from her anxious thoughts.

"—the long, sparkly black dress on the other side of the closet," Lauren was saying.

Greg was squinting at her as he apparently tried to recall what she was talking about, then he snapped his fingers.

"The long—oh, that one. Yeah, I did see that one. Because I remember thinking, 'Oh, that would look nice, wouldn't it?' And then—" he stopped abruptly as Sarah stared at him. He cleared his throat. "Right. Well. I'm going to leave you two to get ready."

As he hastily exited the room, Sarah reached for the makeup bag. Her nerves were really starting to kick in now, and her fingers trembled a tiny bit as she dug through the bag for her foundation.

Lauren, who was carefully watching her with a frown, reached out and gently took the makeup bag from her.

"Okay, shaky hands, let me do this," Lauren said.

Sarah nodded, a quick smile of gratitude flickering across her face before her expression grew vaguely anxious again.

Lauren was much better at applying makeup than Sarah had ever been, and she worked quickly as she talked about a couple of pieces that she had painted and donated to the art auction that would be happening after dinner. It was nice for Sarah to get to listen to Lauren talk about her life for once, instead of her being the one to dump her newest traumatic event on the table.

"It's really nice to have some work back on display after being MIA from the art scene for so long," Lauren was saying as she finished giving Sarah some kind of winged eyeliner look that she never had steady enough hands to do herself. "Plus, Noah is at my mom's tonight and this is the first night in forever that Greg and I both have the energy to go somewhere fun together and are both able to drink, so…"

"So you'll be getting trashed tonight in celebration," Sarah surmised.

"Basically. Okay, so for hair are we thinking…braid tucked under? Low bun? Twisty chignon, which I think is just a fancy French bun?" Lauren suggested as she gathered Sarah's hair up.

Sarah's hand automatically drifted up to the scar on her neck, and she traced her fingers over the rough, raised skin.

"I should probably wear it down," she said self-consciously.

"With this dress? Why?" Lauren asked with a frown, before she noticed where Sarah's attention was. "Oh."

"I don't really feel like having anyone ask me about it," Sarah said. In particular, Allison's filterless method of asking questions came to mind.

"I mean…you can wear your hair down if you really want to. It'll look fine. But…" Lauren shrugged. "It's just a scar. Not even that big. Who cares if someone asks about it? Say it was…tonsil removal gone really wrong."

Sarah gave her an alarmed look. "You know they don't slice your neck open to get your tonsils out, right?"

"Really? Well, there's your 'gone wrong' part," Lauren said with a shrug.

Despite herself, Sarah laughed at that, and her nerves faded a little. Maybe Lauren was right. Everyone would be staring at her anyway, between that dress and her being the musical entertainment for the first portion of the evening. The scar would just be one more small thing to add to the list.

"Okay," she agreed. "Let's put it up."

When her hair and makeup were done, she slipped on the black dress for the first time in…she wasn't sure how long, actually. She fastened her earrings as she took a few steps to see the final result in the mirror.

To her surprise, she actually didn't look bad. After a year of generally avoiding looking in the mirror at her underweight, worn-out reflection, it was a relief to see that she looked a little closer to her old self these days: a face currently free of bruises, with cheeks that actually had some color under the blush, and eyes that looked surprisingly awake for a girl who had only gotten about three hours of sleep.

The dress looked less inappropriate when paired with a sleek hairstyle and nice jewelry, and while the hemline wasn't as long as the floor length ones most of the other guests would probably be wearing, at least it wasn't outrageously short, hitting just above her knees. Lauren had given her a darker red lipstick than she might have picked for herself, but it looked good with the dress. Sarah turned to see the back of the dress, and was relieved that while the scar on her lower back was visible, the bruise was far enough to the side that the most vivid parts were mostly covered.

"Wow. You look like a Bond girl," Lauren told her approvingly.

Sarah laughed, but shook her head.

"I hope not. Fingers crossed for nothing espionage-related tonight," she said.

"It looks like what's-her-face brought an entire army of bodyguards, so I don't think you need to worry about her getting poisoned again, or whatever," Lauren said.

Sarah had told her a little about her concerns that Vanessa might be targeted again at tonight's event; no details, but enough to warn her that she and Greg should stay away from her if possible.

"Here." Lauren handed her a sparkly red clutch. "I brought one of the bigger ones because I know you like to steal the leftovers."

"Ooh, thank you. You know Allison got good catering, too," Sarah said.

"Prime opportunity for leftover thievery."

A quick look at the clock on the wall warned her that if they didn't head out to the ballroom soon, Allison would probably have an actual stroke.

"You should go join Greg and…" Sarah bit back a grimace as she named the second pair. "…Cecilia and Matt. I'll go find Allison."

"Okay. Good luck," Lauren said, giving her a tight hug before leaving the room.

The anxiety buzzing in Sarah's ears was loud enough that she barely heard Allison giving her welcome speech to the guests. She just caught a few words here and there, enough to vaguely piece together what she was talking about: a thank you to the local artists who donated to the auction; a short speech about whatever disease this thing was raising money for; and then, all too quickly, Sarah's own name being introduced.

As much as she hated to admit it, Sarah wished more than ever that she could have had a strong drink before making the walk across the room to the piano with a sea of faces watching her. She knew she shouldn't be as nervous as she was. This was far from the largest crowd she'd ever played for, and far from the most attentive, either. This was just a ballroom full of people, some of whom were watching her while others were at the bar or sitting at their tables quietly chatting. No big deal.

She scanned the crowd, looking for a few faces in particular, but it was difficult with so many people.

It was the glint of Matt's dark red glasses that caught her eye, and she finally spotted them: Matt, Lauren, Greg, and—unfortunately—Cecilia, all standing by the edge of the crowd, watching her. Lauren gave her an excited wave and smile as she downed a glass of champagne, making good on her promise to get completely trashed. Next to her, Greg was also grinning widely, holding his cellphone up and ready to film her like a proud soccer parent, and Sarah had to bite back a laugh at the sight.

Beside Greg was Cecilia, and to Sarah's mild annoyance she looked gorgeous in a long, dark green dress with her hair cascading in a sleek curtain behind her shoulders. It seemed as though being among the upper echelons of society had put her in a better mood than usual, and instead of her usual downright sour expression, she merely had an impassive look on her face as she waited with the others for Sarah to begin playing.

Then finally, to Cecilia's right, there was Matt, standing with both hands loosely clasped around the top of his cane. Sarah's heart twisted a tiny bit when she saw Cecilia's perfectly manicured hand snaked around the crook of Matt's arm, but she tamped down her jealousy. She was struck—not for the first time—by how differently Matt carried himself in public when he wasn't with his friends: relaxed but reserved, with a neutral expression on his face and his dark glasses carefully covering his eyes. A handsome but serious lawyer that no one in this room—hardly anybody in this city—really knew but her.

Which was why Sarah was probably the only person in the room who noticed the slight curve at the corner of his mouth, the way he tilted his head as soon as her eyes landed on him like he could feel her gaze. More like he could hear her heartbeat skip, because Jesus—she really hadn't been wrong about him looking good in a tuxedo. She wished he could be next to her, a warm presence on the piano bench beside her just like he had been that first day, in his dusty, sundrenched church. But he was here, at least, and she would take that for now.

As Sarah began playing the first few notes, her anxiety washed away with each key she pressed—just like it always did, and just like her mind always managed to forget it would. She was interested to find that her music seemed to have a different sound to it now than it had in the past, when this had been her entire life. She had started to pick up on the difference during her time practicing, but it was more obvious to her now as she played in front of the crowd.

It didn't sound worse, necessarily, but there was a different feel to it. The notes were a little less polished and a little more raw; a little less clean and a bit more emotional, like each time her fingers struck the keys the sound was being ripped from her pulse and her breath. Or maybe she was just more aware of those things now that she was constantly around someone who paid such close attention to them. Either way, she thought she liked it. She wondered if anyone listening could tell the difference too, or if it was solely in her own mind.

But what hadn't changed was the way the room faded out of focus as she played, just like it did in the past. The guests in their tuxedos and dresses became like a background as Sarah focused on nothing but the cool keys underneath her fingertips.

This moment didn't belong to any of them. It only belonged to her, this one small thing that was solely her own, even in front of a crowd.

Of course, the illusion of being alone at the piano had to come to an end at some point, and as she played the last few notes of her first song, the people around her faded back into existence with the sound of applause. Her eyes drifted back to Matt, who was nodding his head as a bored-looking Cecilia said something into his ear over the applause. His polite smile gave way to a quick flash of something more genuine as Sarah turned her head towards him, and then he resumed his carefully neutral expression again.

That was one of the downsides of playing spy games on an important night, Sarah supposed. As much as she wished she could throw her arms around his neck and ask him what he'd thought, in reality they couldn't do much but politely acknowledge each other.

The crowd had dutifully watched for her first song, but after the initial round of applause they began to mingle: some dancing, some chatting over hors d'oeuvres. That was generally what was expected at events like these, full of people who regularly attended them and knew all the etiquette: they'd watch the first song of her opening set, and the last of her closing set, and everything in between was meant to serve as pleasant background.

That worked fine for Sarah, who wasn't sure she could handle a full on spotlight for too long right now. She was content to play in the background, keeping her focus on her music and not what was going on around her save for the occasional glance up to make sure nothing dangerous was happening.

After several songs, it was the end of her first performance. The sound of applause met her ears again, and she wished for a moment that she could just play background music straight through the rest of the party. The piano served as a nice, safe barrier between her and everyone else at the party, and after she left it came the actual hard part. But staying wasn't an option, so she smoothed her palms against her dress nervously and stood up, scanning the crowd for her friends to no avail.

Despite knowing she wouldn't be drinking tonight, Sarah found herself automatically making her way to the bar, her feet carrying her there like muscle memory. It had always been the safest place to stand at events like this, where she could take a few minutes to calm down without looking like she was just awkwardly standing around.

The bar was long and oval, with a bartender at each end. When one of the bartenders turned his attention to her, she leaned over, speaking quietly.

"Do you, um…have any non-alcoholic options?"

She didn't really want to draw any attention to the fact that she wasn't drinking, given how many of her old acquaintances were in attendance and would likely have questions or unoriginal jokes.
"Sparkling cider, grape juice, water," the bartender listed. He scanned the bottles lined up below the bar. "Could make you a Shirley Temple."

"Um…sparkling cider, please," Sarah requested.

The bartender nodded and stepped away. All the way across the bar, Sarah spotted Matt standing next to Cecilia, who was ordering a drink with the other bartender. She saw Cecilia lean close to him to ask him something—presumably what he wanted to drink—and she purposefully made herself look away.

Then she felt a hand touch small of her back, warm against her bare skin. She jumped at the unexpected touch and turned her head to see who it was.

Of all the people she might have guessed, she certainly hadn't expected to see Todd standing next to her with a smile on his face.

"Sarah!" he greeted her warmly, as though the last time they'd seen each other hadn't been yelling at each other on a dark street. "Great to see you again. Great performance just now."

She shifted away from him so that his hand fell away from her back.

"Thanks," she said shortly, giving him a wary look.

"You look…amazing," he said, giving her an appreciative look up and down. Sarah frowned. "Let me buy you a drink. They have this really amazing aged whiskey. Truly complex flavors."

"No, thanks," Sarah said, put off by his sudden friendliness. The bartender set down the flute of sparkling cider next to her, and she nodded towards it. "I have a drink."

"What, champagne?" Todd asked, looking at Sarah as though she were drinking bleach. "No, no, that's boring. You can get champagne anywhere. You have to try this."

He raised his hand to get the bartender's attention, but Sarah cut him off.

"Sorry, why…are you talking to me?" Sarah asked, shaking her head in faint confusion. "Last time we spoke you left me standing alone on the street."

"Yeah. Yes, that's true. Sorry about that," he said nonchalantly, as though the apology was just something to get out of the way before moving on to more important things. "But, you know, since that night I've gone on a lot of other dates, and…after seeing how crazy most of the single women in this city are, our date really wasn't as bad as I thought."

Part of her wished she could scream at him that it had actually been worse than he thought, that maybe he had gone home with just a headache and a bad mood but she had been left feeling like a crazy, broken shell of her old self who would never be able to move past the toll Ronan had taken on her.

But she couldn't do that. Because this was a nice event full of people who already halfway thought she might be crazy, and with everything else going on the last thing she needed was to draw more attention to herself.

"Okay. Um…thanks for lowering your standards, but I'm good," she said carefully.

"I mean…you came here without a date, right?" Todd asked, glancing around the room. "So did I. So it's not really like either of us can be judgmental. We both must be single for a reason. Come on, give it another shot. I'll get you this drink and we'll talk about it."

From the other side of the bar, she saw Matt's jaw tighten as his head tilted towards them just slightly.

Yikes. Danger, Will Robinson.

But before Sarah could say anything else—maybe warn Todd that he should be running in the opposite direction if he had much self preservation—Greg's lanky form appeared at her side, giving her a cheerful grin with pointedly raised eyebrows.

"Dance with me?" he said, then quickly her around and away from Todd, her faux drink forgotten as they moved onto the dance floor.

Sarah let out a surprised laugh at the clear tipsiness of his movements. Clearly he was keeping up with Lauren drink for drink.

"Thought you needed some rescuing," he said, then almost immediately stepped on her foot.

Sarah bit the inside of her cheek. As grateful as she was for the intervention, she'd forgotten that Greg was actually very, very bad at dancing. And the fact that he was a few drinks into his night wasn't helping.

"Thank you."

"Well, it's the least I can do considering Lauren and I were the ones who set you up with him to begin with."

"You and Lauren are having a good time," Sarah observed.

Greg nodded as they turned.

"Well, Lauren's mum is watching Noah, and this is the first night in a long while that we both get to go out," Greg said. He nodded is head towards their left. "And your lawyer over there is doing a fantastic job of keeping Cecilia's attention so that she talks to him all night and doesn't bother us."

As they turned, Sarah followed his gaze and caught sight of Matt and Cecilia, who were also on the dance floor like many of the other guests. She tried to keep her face from betraying how much the sight of them felt like a punch to the stomach. She knew Matt was good at the fake charm, and that he was doing this for her, so being jealous was ridiculous. But it didn't help lessen the urge to check how close they were dancing, how often he was making Cecilia smile.

"Right," Sarah said, trying to keep her tone neutral. "Poor guy."

"He'll survive the night. I have to listen to her complain all the time."

Sarah laughed, but it was quickly cut off by Greg accidentally treading on her foot again.

"Ow—you are so not good at this," she pointed out.

"So sorry," Greg said, not sounding terribly sorry at all. They spun around again. "Someone recently walloped me directly in the face so hard that I think my balance is a bit off."

Sarah bit her lip, a guilty look crossing her face even as she tried not to laugh.

"I'm sorry. Your nose looks a lot better, by the way," she offered. "The swelling really went down."

"Oh, thanks. I spent most of the night icing it with a bag of peas," he informed her. Then with a glance around, he added, "And how about your night? Did it go alright?"

"It did," Sarah confirmed slowly. "Turns out you were right. Sometimes other people are kinder to me than I am to myself."

"Good. I'm glad to hear it."

Before Sarah could say anything else, Lauren appeared beside them.

"Can I cut in?" she asked, glancing between them. "I'm getting jealous."

Sarah laughed.

"Of course," she said, letting go of Greg's hand.

"Thanks," Lauren said brightly, then handed Greg her empty champagne glass before taking Sarah's hand and spinning her around. She sent her husband a wink and a grin. "I'd love a refill."

Greg shook his head ruefully, but took his dismissal in stride.

Once he was gone, Lauren leaned in to whisper loudly in Sarah's ear.

"I'm tipsy."

Sarah giggled. "I can tell."

"You did so great up there."

"Thank you. I was just getting the same compliment from Todd, who you definitely didn't mention was going to be here," Sarah said pointedly.

Lauren's eyes widened as she looked around, then gasped dramatically when she spotted Todd at the bar. "Oh, my god. I didn't know he was coming! It makes sense though. He probably donated some photographs to the auction."

"How generous."

"Ugh. New York feels so small sometimes, right?" Lauren asked as they continued moving in a circle.

Sarah rolled her eyes. "The trust fund New York art scene sure does."

"And he came up and talked to you?"

"Mhm. He wants to go out again. Because our last date went so well."

"Gross," Lauren said. "You'll probably be at the same table, won't you? Allison always puts all the single people together."

"No, don't tell me that," Sarah groaned, but she knew it was true.

"I'm sorry. I hope no one buys his stupid, ugly photos."

Sarah laughed at that, but mentally she agreed.

"Hey," Lauren said suddenly. "Can I spin you?"

"Oh, god. Please don't," Sarah said, her eyes widening.

"Just a little spin! It'll be fun!" Lauren insisted, and Sarah had to laugh at her tipsy friend's delight at the idea.

"Fine. Be careful," she warned her. "I don't want to roll an ankle."

As Sarah had suspected, drunk Lauren was not terribly careful. She spun Sarah out, then pulled her back in with just a bit too much gusto, and they both stumbled and nearly lost their balance, knocking into a man who had been standing nearby.

"So sorry!" Lauren exclaimed, stifling her laughter.

"Sorry, sorry," Sarah agreed, glad that at least the person they'd knocked into hadn't been holding a drink.

But the man barely seemed to hear them. He was intently staring at something across the room, and when Sarah followed his gaze she saw that it was Cecilia. She was no longer dancing with Matt, and the two of them were now standing with a few other people, chatting.

Sarah looked back at Lauren questioningly, and saw that her friend was rolling her eyes.

"Typical. Everywhere we go, men stare at Cecilia. Meanwhile, I'm chopped liver."

"You wear a wedding ring, or they'd be staring at you" Sarah corrected her. She sent another glance over at Cecilia and felt a small, petty tinge of relief that there were people standing between her and Matt, so she was no longer tightly holding onto his arm.

Sarah shook her head at herself. Clearly the jealous side of her brain was on overdrive tonight, and the last thing she needed was to hear about how attractive everyone found Cecilia.

She danced with Lauren for a little while before releasing her to go join her husband, who was standing across the room and holding a drink in each hand for them. When Lauren reached him she whispered something in his ear, and then they both laughed as he gave her a quick kiss. She smiled slightly at the sight of them, glad that even if things weren't perfect, the two of them still seemed very much in love.

A few people stopped to talk to her as she made her way back over to the bar for a new drink, since she'd abandoned her first one untouched. After so many months of talking mostly to criminals by day and vigilantes by night, speaking to normal people about everyday topics felt strange to her; not unpleasant, but it didn't come naturally either.

When she finally reached the bar, the bartender gave her an expectant nod.

"Could I get another sparkling cider, please?" she asked.

As Sarah waited, she turned back to face the crowd and saw Allison approaching her, a slightly frazzled look in her eye. For someone who claimed to love throwing parties and events, she definitely seemed to get stressed out by them.

"Sarah! I'm sorry I didn't get to check in with you after you finished playing; I've been running around like crazy. But you sounded amazing, as always," she said before continuing on to the actual reason she'd come looking for her. "But I am having a teensy tiny problem figuring out your seating arrangements."

"Mine?" Sarah asked in confusion.

"Yeah. Lauren just talked to me and mentioned that maybe you wouldn't want to be at the same table as Todd, and she wanted to know if you could sit at her table instead."

Sarah blinked in surprise, then shifted awkwardly, wishing her drunk but well-meaning best friend hadn't done that.

"Oh. Um—"

"I totally get it," Allison said quickly. "I was at the singles table at one point in my life. I remember how awkward it is to get stuck with people you've hooked up with."

Sarah didn't like the fact that people seemed to think she and Todd had 'hooked up' when in actuality they had shared half of a kiss before she'd panicked and knocked his head against a street sign, but this probably wasn't the time to point that out.

"It's really not a big deal—"

"Well, it's sort of fine, because we had someone cancel last minute so there actually is space at that table. But it's just that, well…Cecilia is also at that table, so…" she trailed off awkwardly.

A vague, flickering memory of her very public argument with Cecilia at Lauren's baby shower flashed into Sarah's mind, along with the memory of grabbing Cecilia's drink from her and downing it in front of everyone.

"I have no problem with Cecilia. That was just a one time thing," Sarah said, feeling incredibly embarrassed that Allison apparently thought she had so much drama she couldn't even eat dinner without causing a scene.

"Great, but I more meant…didn't you used to go out with her date?" Allison asked curiously.

Sarah blinked and frowned. "What?"

"I can't remember his name right now. The blind guy. The lawyer. He was with you when I asked you to perform, remember? You guys were out on a date at that um…that pizza place." Allison snapped her fingers, trying to think of the name. "Oh, my god. I'm so frazzled I can't think of the name of anything right now. But you remember what I'm talking about."

"Oh. Oh, uh, no," Sarah said quickly. Her eyes darted to Matt across the room. He was nodding along as Cecilia talked to him, but she was sure his attention was on her conversation. How had she not thought about the fact that Allison might remember him? "No, he's my, um, my lawyer's neighbor—my neighbor's lawyer. I had some legal paperwork that I had been putting off for a while because, um…I didn't understand any of it, so he was just helping me out."

"In a restaurant?" Allison asked in confusion.

"Legal documents can be less tedious with pizza involved," Sarah said brightly, hoping to brush past this quickly. "Anyway. Any table is fine; I don't care. I'll eat at the piano. Wherever you can fit me in. Shouldn't you be getting back to your party?"

A look of relief crossed Allison's face.

"Okay, good. So, if I put you at Lauren's table you'll be alright?"

"That's totally fine."

Allison's attention was diverted by one of the caterers passing by with a tray of hors d'oeuvres, and she waved to catch his attention.

"Hey. I saw you with a pack of cigarettes earlier, right?" she asked, speaking in a more hushed tone now.

The caterer gave her a guarded, uncertain look. "Uh, no ma'am. The museum is a smoke-free venue."

Allison waved his words away impatiently.

"I know; whatever. But I'm going to go crazy if I can't have a smoke break soon, and I need to know where I can sneak one," she told him. She sent Sarah an apologetic look and said to her, "Sorry. But I know you won't judge me."

Sarah frowned, unsure how she should take that comment.

The caterer nodded, looking less suspicious now. "Oh. Uh…yeah. There's a door on the second floor, past the bathrooms. Takes you out to a landing area on top of the loading dock. Looks like they just use it for storage. The door's kind of busted, so it won't lock you out."

"Perfect," Allison said immediately. She finished her drink and set it down next to Sarah, then gave her a tight smile. "Back in ten minutes."

As Allison stepped away, she revealed that someone had been standing at the bar behind her. Sarah's heart dropped when she saw who it was.

"Hello, Sarah," Vanessa greeted her with a pleasant smile.

Sarah swallowed, wondering how long Vanessa had been standing there.

"Vanessa. Hi."

"You did a wonderful job playing earlier," she said.

"Thank you."

"It was very beautiful, and just a little bit sad," Vanessa said. "Which is always one of my favorite combinations."

Sarah wasn't sure what to say.

"It was my first time playing for an audience in a long time," she said honestly.

"That's unfortunate. You're very talented."

She wondered sometimes how Vanessa could act normal and sympathetic towards her, knowing that her own husband had been the one who had destroyed her life. Sarah might not have ever spoken to Fisk himself, but he was the one who had ordered Wesley to call in her father's debt in the way he had. Surely Vanessa knew that. She wondered if that fact had ever come up when Vanessa was visiting Fisk in prison and telling him all about Sarah and her music. Did she feel guilty at all?

But she couldn't say any of that out loud—not unless she wanted to risk her job and her life. So she just offered a tight, false smile.

Vanessa turned to the bartender to order a drink. Behind her, one of her bodyguards watched the bartender like a hawk, his eyes tracking every move the man made to ensure nothing unexpected found it's way into the drink.

The bartender placed the drink in front of Vanessa, and as she took a sip it seemed for a hopeful moment like their conversation might be over.

Then Vanessa set her glass down and looked at Sarah.

"A blind lawyer," she said, echoing Allison's words. Sarah's chest tightened. It had been too much to hope that maybe she hadn't been listening to that part. "I thought that I spotted Matthew Murdock here tonight."

"Um…yes," Sarah said with a nod. "He's here."

"He's here with a friend of yours?"

"A friend? No, um, not really. A-an acquaintance. No one I know very well."

"But you know Mr. Murdock. Jason has told me that he and his partner helped you with your legal troubles after you were found with Officer McDermott's mother."

She felt like her head was spinning. Obviously Vanessa would have been informed of who Sarah's legal counsel was, but did it have to come up in conversation for the first time here? Now?

"Yes," Sarah said. "They did."

"You are aware that Nelson and Murdock were the lawyers who helped put my husband in prison?" Vanessa asked. Her voice was calm, more curious than anything else.

Sarah nodded again, trying to stay calm. "I do. It was kind of a random turn of events that they showed up. But, um, I discussed it with Jason, and…he agreed that using their counsel would be a good way to show that Orion had…turned over a new leaf."

"The old leaf being Wilson," Vanessa said, the corner of her mouth turning up in a mysterious, bitter smile. "And what did you think of Misters Nelson and Murdock?"

"N—not much. They really just helped with getting my charges filed," Sarah said with a shrug. "There was no trial or anything, so…our interaction was pretty limited."

"It's okay if you liked them. They can both come across as very amiable at first. Trustworthy. I liked Mr. Murdock myself the first time I met him."


"Yes. Long ago, long before Wilson's trial," Vanessa informed her. "He came into my art gallery."

"I didn't know that," Sarah lied.

"He was very charming. I had no idea what he was planning to do," Vanessa said, and for the first time a dark look flitted across her usually calm face. "That he was already…gathering information on Wilson. Trying to damage him."

Sarah very much just wanted to find a way out of this conversation before it went wrong, so she stayed silent.

Vanessa finished her drink and set it down on the bar with a gentle clink.

"I would be very careful around him if I were you," she told Sarah.

And then she left, disappearing into the crowd of people and leaving Sarah with a pounding heart.

As Sarah had guessed, Matt had in fact been listening to the entire conversation. He'd actually started listening when Allison had began talking to her about him, and he'd noticed midway through that Vanessa had sidled up to the bar. Sarah had kept talking to Allison, clearly not seeing the woman behind her.

But the run-in with Vanessa hadn't gone as disastrously as it could have. No one came after her while she was near Sarah, most importantly. And Sarah had stayed outwardly calm during their conversation, despite the racing heartbeat he could hear under her words.

So he'd reluctantly turned his attention back to his own date, who had spent most of the night either complaining or making snarky comments about their fellow partygoers.

He was sure that later some of that snark would be aimed at him when she had someone else to complain to. Cecilia had barely managed to conceal her irritation when she'd seen him, clearly re-evaluating what she had thought was a sure-fire safe and boring date to boost her own reputation.

Now it was time for the next potential disaster on the list: dinner. Neither Matt nor Sarah had anticipated being placed at the same table, but thanks to Lauren's intoxicated and well-intentioned meddling, here they both were, sitting across from each other with Cecilia, Lauren, Greg, and three other guests whose names Matt couldn't recall.

It was a relief to have other people there besides just himself and Cecilia. Lauren, who was sitting directly to his left, was clearly very drunk—as was her husband—but at least they were more pleasant company than what he'd been dealing with.

Cecilia and Lauren didn't seem altogether dissimilar: both of them zeroed in on things and didn't drop them, both could be witty at times and liked holding the attention in a group conversation. But Cecilia had a cruel streak that her cousin didn't, and it made the difference. It was as obvious in person as it was in her writing that she got some kind of nasty satisfaction out of kicking people who were already down, as though they'd lost her respect just by falling.

And one of the main targets of that vindictiveness had just been placed at their table last minute.

As Sarah sat down directly across from him, he got a wave of her perfume. She normally didn't wear perfume, but tonight she had on a sweet jasmine scent that clung to the skin on her wrists, behind her ears, between her collarbones. It was different from the normal light, citrusy scent of her shampoo, but he liked it. It helped him form a picture of how she must look tonight.

Just like the rest of the evening, Matt spent most of dinner tuning in and out of the conversation, letting the others carry the bulk of the discussion while he scanned the room for anything out of the usual. An apprehensive heartbeat, a gun being unholstered, an unexpected taste in the drinks. But to his relief, there was nothing. That was the thing with Jason: he was so erratic in his emotions and ego that it was difficult to predict when he would snap and when he would bide his time. It was no surprise that Sarah's nerves were as frayed as they were, dealing with him every day. Tonight was the same predicament, only heightened, and Matt was trying his hardest to keep the weight of watching for danger on his own shoulders and not hers.

"—honestly if it's not a mini series, I'm not watching," one of the female guests was saying. It seemed they were discussing different streaming platforms. "Sarah, what are you watching these days?"

"Me?" Sarah asked, as though surprised to be included in the conversation. "Oh, I don't get to watch a lot of TV these days. I watch this one show that's about, um…these surgeons who are pirates. I think sometimes there's time travel. It's a Spanish show."

"Oh, I love foreign films. Is it dubbed or subtitled?" the guest asked curiously.

"…neither, I don't think."

"So is it a satire? A metaphor?" the guest speculated. "Pirates, surgeons. Like an admonition of the state of our healthcare systems and transportation structures?"

"Um…no," Sarah said apologetically.

"It's…really just about pirates who are surgeons?" she asked in confusion.

"Surgeons who are pirates," Sarah corrected her. "Not all of the pirates perform surgery."

Matt couldn't help a quiet laugh at that, and the careful smile he'd kept up stretched momentarily into a warmer, wider one.

Unbeknownst to him—maybe because his attention was on Sarah—Cecilia's eyes darted between them and she frowned.

"So, how long have you been playing piano?" one of the other guests asked Sarah in a clear attempt to change the subject.

"Oh, um…forever, really," she answered. "Since I was a little kid."

"That's how we met," Lauren said. "Well, not as kids. But we were both in the fine arts program in college and we got assigned as roommates."

"How cute, and you're still friends!" the guest said. "Where do you normally play these days?"

"Um…I actually don't, really. I kind of…took a break."

"Oh, that seems a shame. Why?"
"…I just, um…" Sarah started.

"She wanted something with steady hours and health insurance," Lauren interjected, quick on her feet despite the ever-so-slight slur to her words. "So she's been doing admin work."

"Well, that's totally understandable. If you don't have good health insurance these days you're just screwed. You know, my brother-in-law…"

Matt tuned out of the conversation again as he scanned the room. It was a minute or two before he tuned back in, just in time for Lauren to turn to him and continue whatever conversation they'd been having without him.

"What about you, Matt?" Lauren asked him, and Matt hoped she would clarify what exactly she was asking, since he hadn't been listening. "When you were you born? I feel like you're a Capricorn."

"Uh…November ninth," Matt said. "Not sure what that makes me."

"A Scorpio?" Lauren exclaimed, probably too loudly. "I would not have called that. Wow. So you're like…a full on water sign."

Matt was mystified, but gave a polite nod. "Apparently."

"Speaking of water," Greg interjected, handing his wife a glass. "Maybe you could drink some."

"Maybe you should drink some," she responded, and Greg laughed.

"That's true. Let's both drink some."

This time when Matt tuned out, he focused in on Vanessa. She seemed to be having a good time, placed well on the other side of the room from their table. Someone was telling her a story about a trip they'd gone on to Romania. Her security team was close by, watching everything very closely.

"—my stocks went down again. Seems like every day I can count on the same things: my stocks and 401k go down, and my taxes go up," one of the other guests, this one male and loud, was saying when Matt focused back on his own table.

"401k? Well, there's your problem, you need to get a Roth IRA—"

"I have one! The annual contribution cap is such a pain. Say, have you looked into the mutual funds dividends that—"

"—you know what else is going up?" Cecilia interrupted, and for a moment Matt was relieved to have a break from the financial jargon. "Crime."

The moment of relief dissipated immediately. Matt knew exactly where she was going to take the conversation; it had only been a matter of waiting for her to get there. She really couldn't seem to help herself, could she?

"Good lord, don't start," Greg said. It made Matt wonder just how much Cecilia talked about him that even Lauren's husband seemed fatigued by the subject.

"Don't start what?" one of the guests asked curiously.

"I just think it's an important factor that people overlook," Cecilia said. "Your taxes are going up because so much crime makes the city a more expensive place to live. The police and firefighters and EMTs need more money to hire more people to take care of all the crime in New York, and that money comes out of your pocket. And…it just seems like a lot of it is exacerbated by our city's encouragement of vigilantes."

"You mean the Devil of Hell's Kitchen?" the guest asked.

"I do, although I've heard rumors there are others."


"Some guy up in Harlem. Maybe one out in Queens. But the one who actually affects us is the one right here. Daredevil."

"I've seen your articles about him. You're a bit of a Daredevil expert, huh?" the loud man joked. "What will your next exposé be about?"

"Well, right now I'm working on checking the hospitals," Cecilia said. "I always hear reports about him getting into fights that have to injure him severely. He has to be getting medical help somewhere, and my bet is he has someone on his payroll. Like a mob doctor."

Matt could almost have laughed at the thought of Claire or Sarah being a mob doctor. If Sarah's sharp, quiet intake of breath was any indication, she agreed.

"His payroll? You think he has a whole ring of people operating underneath him?"

Cecilia shrugged.

"Ask Sarah," she said silkily. "She's the real expert. Always eager to talk about what the Devil is up to."

Matt tensed, but Sarah stayed calm.

"Sorry. I actually haven't been watching the news much lately, either," Sarah said apologetically. "Just…my pirate show."

"Really? You usually jump at the chance to defend your hero," Cecilia sneered. "You seem to know all about him."

"Cecilia, shut up," Lauren complained, the tipsiness clear in her voice. "She hasn't given any reason to make anyone think she knows Daredevil."

Cecilia paused.

"I said she knew about him. I didn't say she knew him. That's a funny thing to say."

"Lauren, look at the time," Sarah interjected hurriedly. "Didn't you guys say you needed to call and check in on your mom and Noah around now?"

Lauren blinked in surprise as she looked at the clock. "Oh, wow. I didn't realize what time it was."

"We're late calling. Your mum will have something to say about that," Greg said as they both stood up from their chairs. "We'll be right back."

It was a small relief to have Lauren removed from the conversation. If Cecilia was sniffing for blood, at least Lauren wouldn't drunkenly make it worse.

"So, like I was asking—" Cecilia began.

"Cecilia, you went to some fancy college, right?" Sarah interrupted her. Matt kept his face neutral, hoping she wasn't about to say something she'd regret.

"I don't know if 'fancy' is the most refined description for Ivy League, but yes, I went to Dartmouth," she answered in smug amusement, and the way she turned her face towards a couple of the other guests made him suspect they were exchanging amused glances. "Why?"

"It just seems like someone with so much education should be able to hold a conversation on more than one topic," Sarah said innocently. "Isn't there anything you're interested in besides the Devil of Hell's Kitchen?"

Cecilia's hair swished as she faced Sarah again, and he heard her pulse pick up slightly; she was clearly irritated that Sarah wasn't taking the bait she was throwing out. She leaned forward.

"Sure," she said silkily as she carefully set her glass down on the table. She adopted a tone of faux concern and nodded towards the "I've actually been meaning to ask you: how is your sobriety coming along?"

Matt knew what she was doing. If Daredevil couldn't be the target of the conversation, Sarah would be for refusing to play along. And he knew what Sarah was doing, too: allowing Cecilia to make comments and claims like these because it was taking the attention off of him.

Sarah bit the inside of her cheek.

"It's going great," Sarah replied. Matt was pleasantly surprised to hear that her voice sounded even despite the way her heart was pounding. She gestured towards her champagne flute. "The sparkling cider here is great. You should try it."

"Oh, good," Cecilia said with an overstated tone of relief, as though Sarah's wellbeing had ever been the actual point of her question. "I know you tend to cause a scene when you drink, and I wouldn't want poor Todd to get his head bashed in again."

"It's so nice of you to be concerned," Sarah said carefully.

"Of course. It just seems like it will be hard for you to find a man if you keep flinching every time someone dares to touch you," she pointed out innocently.

Matt knew he shouldn't say anything.

And maybe if the other night had never happened, he wouldn't have. Maybe if Sarah hadn't flinched away from his touch and then run, convinced she was somehow broken. If that feeling inside her hadn't clearly been made worse by what had happened with Todd. Maybe then Matt would have let the comment slide like Sarah was doing.

But as he listened to her careful breathing, knowing that she was taking Cecilia's torment solely because it kept the conversation off of him, he couldn't help himself.

"Maybe they shouldn't be touching her if she doesn't want them to," Matt said, more harshly than he'd intended. Everyone turned to look at him and he tried to relax his clenched jaw. "From a legal perspective."

It didn't take someone with enhanced powers to pick up what was behind the long pause following his words: betrayal form Cecilia, frustration that her carefully planned date hadn't turned out as planned. Relief and guilt from Sarah, who was trying so, so hard to keep all of this between just them. Despite the reactions of everyone else, his reaction was solely on her: the way her breathing hitched unevenly at his words.

No one said much about the comment he had made, but the damage as done with Cecilia. She didn't say much after that, just nodded and acknowledged people's questions when aimed her way.

After dinner, the group split again before the auction: Lauren and Greg off to dance, Sarah drifting through the crowd and occasionally talking to someone, and Matt stuck with Cecilia, who had just been flagged down by the host of the event: Allison, with a short, heavily-cologned man who seemed to be her husband on her arm.

"Cecilia! I'm so glad you two were able to come," she was saying excitedly, the smell of recent cigarettes lingering on her breath. "And I'm so sorry, but—remind me of your name again?"

"Matthew Murdock," Cecilia interjected before Matt could answer. "He's a lawyer. From Columbia Law School. He owns his own law firm, actually. They help the less fortunate."

"Oh, how cute," Allison said. "I love that."

"So do I. I've always said we should help people who need it," Cecilia said smoothly.

Allison nodded vigorously.

"You know, I always said to Arthur that I think—oh—hang on—there's someone I have to say hello to," Allison said as she spotted someone coming towards them in the crowd. "Oh, I'll introduce you!"

In the split second that it took Matt to pick up on who the person being introduced was, Allison had already turned and put her hand on the woman's arm to get her attention as she passed. Turning her head towards them, Vanessa Fisk stopped in front of the group.

"Do you all know each other?"

It seemed as though Allison wasn't the type to watch the news very often in between planning lavish charity balls.

"Allison, honey, stop—" Allison's husband Arthur started to murmur in her ear—probably about to warn her that Vanessa and Matt did, in fact know each other, and infamously so. But she wasn't listening.

"Cecilia, Matthew, this is Vanessa Fisk; she's one of our most generous patrons tonight. Vanessa, this is Cecilia Gladstone and Matthew Murdock," Allison said.

There was an apprehensive beat.

Matt's hands tightened involuntarily on his cane. Despite knowing that Vanessa hadn't personally caused the harm that Wilson Fisk had done to Hell's Kitchen, being near the closest person to him made his blood pressure go up.

But for all the tension in the air, Cecilia either didn't notice or didn't care as she extended her hand to Vanessa to shake.

"Mrs. Fisk, it's so nice to meet you. I'm a reporter at The New York Bulletin."

"Nice to meet you as well," Vanessa said politely. She craned her head to the side as though spotting someone across the room, and she was probably about to excuse herself from the tense situation until Cecilia pressed on.

"I know that your husband is at Ryker's Island. I really thought his prison sentence was too harsh," Cecilia said.

Matt's jaw ticked.

Allison took a surprised intake at Cecilia's statement.

"How…interesting," Vanessa said, and he could feel her gaze moving from Cecilia to him. She must have been wondering why someone who had sympathies for Wilson Fisk would accompany Matthew Murdock to a ball.

"Is he allowed to give interviews at all? Speak to the press?" Cecilia asked.

"Cecilia," Matt said lowly, but it was no use.

"He's not," Vanessa said shortly.

"Well, if you'd ever be interested in giving an interview about how your husband's arrest has affected your life, I'd love to talk to you. For instance, I know you had to close your art gallery…?" Cecilia said leadingly, as though she was eager to begin the interview right then and there.

There was a long pause, during which Cecilia and Vanessa seemed calm, but Allison and Arthur both shifted uncomfortably, their heartbeats nervous.

"You're the one who reports often on the Devil of Hell's Kitchen, yes?" Vanessa asked.

"Well, a lot of people report on him. I like to think I give a more objective take than some of the more fawning reporters do. I think he does a lot of harm, which…it seems like maybe you would agree with?" Cecilia asked carefully.

"No comment." Vanessa's tone was polite but firm, with a sharp edge to it. "With all due respect, Miss Gladstone, it seems as though you're doing a fine job of making a name for yourself without involving my family in your articles. We've had enough coverage in the press."

And then she excused herself, lessening some of the tension in the air. Allison quickly stepped closer to ask Cecilia in hushed tones what that had all been about, and Matt heard her breathing change as she hesitated to answer in front of him.

"Excuse me for a moment," Matt said. "I'm going to find the restroom."

"Don't be too long," Cecilia said. "The auction is starting any minute."

"Um, the restroom is straight ahead and then to your right," Allison said. Then she turned her attention back to Cecilia, clearly eager to talk without him around.

She didn't need to worry. Matt wasn't interested in hearing what gossip Cecilia was sharing about him and Fisk. He quickly tuned out of the conversation as he walked away, using his cane to make his way across the room and focusing his senses outward to find Sarah.

It took him a moment; her heartbeat wasn't present among any of the guests in the crowd around him. But he waited, listening, until he heard her above him, on the less crowded second floor. He frowned curiously when he heard the quiet creak of an exterior door being pushed open as Sarah slipped away from the party and outside.

He knew she was probably stepping out to get a moment alone, but he couldn't resist taking the only opportunity they'd had tonight to actually speak to each other. He had no real interest in the auction anyway; a bunch of rich people bidding on items that had no value to him. So as Cecilia and Allison exchanged whispered stories, he slowly made his way through the crowd to the large staircase.

The small landing was less glamorous than the rest of the party, but it was quiet. It was directly above the museum's loading dock, and directly below a dining terrace on the third floor, and the overhanging structure kept the landing bathed in darkness. The only part that was illuminated was the very edge, where the metal railing was dimly lit by a few buzzing streetlights nearby. There wasn't much stored on the landing besides a few stacks of chairs and folded up table umbrellas leaned against the wall.

Sarah took a deep, calming breath as she leaned against the railing that bordered the landing. She was greeted with a view of the empty truck access alley that led to the loading dock below, and beyond that was the ever-present glittering lights of the city. The speakers inside were loud enough that she could still hear the music, but muffled by the walls so that it was a low, pleasant background level.

The nights were rapidly getting cooler as the late summer evaporated into autumn, and the lower temperature was a small relief to Sarah after the bright and crowded ballroom. It wasn't that she necessarily disliked being around so many people and interacting with them, but it felt like a skill she'd lost and had to relearn like a child. It was overwhelming, and the peace and quiet outside the building was a welcome break.

She knew she couldn't stay out there too long; she still had another performance to put on once the auction was over. But for a few minutes, at least, she let the cool night breeze sooth her as she gazed up at the city lights.

The metal door behind her squeaked as it opened, and Sarah looked over her shoulder when she heard the sound. It was an indication of how often she and Matt spent most of their time together in the dark, because even in the dark shadows she recognized the silhouette of his shoulders, and the glint of his glasses gave him away soon after.

"Sorry. Is this too far out of the safety perimeter?" she greeted him teasingly.

The corner of his mouth curved upward as he slowly made his way across the landing towards her.

"My own fault. I forgot to add 'don't wander off alone in the dark' to the list of rules," Matt said. He leaned against the railing beside her, his back to the city lights she was facing.

"Well, usually if I wander, you follow," she said. "Seems safe enough."

"And are you hiding out here because you're tired of hearing everyone in there tell you how much they liked your music?" he asked. He tilted his head towards her and grinned. "Because you were incredible."

She looked at him and smiled slowly. She had been hearing that all night, and it was nice. But hearing it from him was different.

"Thank you," she said softly.

Matt reached up and removed his glasses, folding them up and storing them inside his jacket pocket. The effect softened the sharp, slightly intimidating combination of his dark glasses and tuxedo together.

"You don't seem as happy as I'd have guessed," he pointed out.

"No, I am. Just a little…overwhelmed. I'm not…really used to events like this anymore. Just needed to catch my breath for a minute," she said with a shrug. "What about you? What kind of night are you having?"

Matt shrugged. "Reminds of me of some of the stuffier events I had to attend when Foggy and I were interning at Landman and Zack."

"I forget that the two of you worked there," she said with a thoughtful frown. "I can't picture you there at all."

"Is that an insult or compliment?"
"Mostly compliment," she said. "I can't see you using your time and energy defending a bunch of rich guys who you can tell are guilty. At least, not without beating up a few of them afterhours."

"Might have been tempted one or twice."

Sarah laughed. "Besides that, I don't really know how to imagine a rich Matt Murdock."

She squinted at him in the dark as she tried to picture an alternate universe Matt Murdock who made a big law firm salary at a soulless place like Landman and Zack. Would he keep his hair slicked back and wear expensive suits instead of the cheap ones that—in Sarah's humble opinion—he looked so effortlessly attractive in? Go to work with neatly manicured hands and knuckles free of bruising?

"I don't think you're in any danger of ever having to find out," Matt observed dryly.

"Not even if you…diversify your Roth 401k mutual portfolio?" she asked in a mockingly stuffy tone like that of one of their fellow diners earlier.

"I think you made that up, so…no."

"That's alright. I need someone to be broke with me anyway."

Matt chuckled. "Foggy will be relieved to hear you aren't after our law firm money."

"What, the Nelson and Murdock fortune?" she asked teasingly. "If I wanted three fruit baskets and a tray of bear claws I think I could just buy them."

"Ouch," Matt said with a faux wince, then nodded his head towards the door. "Just wait until I get a few of the clients I keep getting introduced to inside."

"Hmm. Speaking of our fellow partygoers…anyone setting off any alarm bells for you?" Sarah asked. "Anything weird going on?"

"Nothing. The security at the door has been checking everyone. I've been listening for anyone acting nervous, like they're going to pull something. Vanessa's security team has been communicating all night, keeping an eye out for anyone trying to approach her. Nothing so far."

"It's more than halfway over," Sarah said. "Maybe everything going on with Elliott and his weird little sidekicks caught Jason's attention enough to distract him. He can get like that sometimes."

"Let's hope," Matt agreed. "It'd be great to go home tonight without adding any more injuries to the list."

Sarah shifted sideways so she was facing him and reached up to lightly touch her fingertips to the bruise on his cheekbone, then let her hand drift down to his side, where she knew bruised ribs and raw skin were hidden below his neatly pressed tuxedo jacket.

"And the ones you already have? Are you holding up okay?"

"Sure. Slow dancing requires a bit less exertion than what my normal evening plans include, so…"

"Hmm. And what did your slow dancing partner think of the big bruise on your face?"

Matt gave a dry laugh.

"Oh, I could tell she wasn't too thrilled about her charity case arriving damaged. But she bought the excuse and moved on, which is what matters."

Sarah didn't like any of the wording in that particular sentence—"date", "charity case", or "damaged"—but she knew it was fruitless to point it out, so she just pressed her lips together and stayed quiet.

Then he paused, tilting his head towards her. "Thank you. For not letting her bait you."

"I learned my lesson when I slipped up last time," she said, her mind flashing to her panicked, foolish actions that night in her stuffy, candlelit apartment. "I'm being good tonight. No sticking up for that crazy guy in the mask. And I'm pretty sure that you weren't supposed to be defending me, either. Professional acquaintances and all."

"I know, I know," Matt groaned, tilting his head back. "Although, to be fair…our acquaintance is that I'm your defense lawyer."

"Defense against what? Cecilia being bitchy to me? She looked at you like she wanted to murder you."

"That's the danger of bringing a date with the sole purpose of improving your image," Matt said with a shrug. "Sometimes they don't behave."

"You really didn't need to say anything. But I appreciate that you did," she said quietly.

"Yeah, well…I didn't realize that you avoiding the subject of Daredevil would result in her using you as a verbal punching bag in front of everyone."

Sarah shrugged.

"It doesn't matter. I think my reputation is pretty much already shot with most of the people here that know me."

"I don't think that's true," he said slowly.

"What, all that superpowered hearing you have and you haven't heard any of the things everyone says about me?" she asked skeptically. "That I have a raging drug addiction, or a crazy abusive boyfriend? Or both, according to some."

Matt pressed his mouth into a thin line, and she could tell she wasn't wrong about the rumors people were whispering around the ballroom.

"They might be talking about you, but…I think people are more on your side than you think," he said. "Not everyone at this party takes the same view on things that Cecilia does."

"Well, it looked like you got to hear Cecilia's view on a lot of things tonight," Sarah said. "Every time I saw you two she was talking your ear off."

"Yeah? Just how often were you watching us?"

"Just a little," Sarah lied. As predicted, Matt cocked his head at her skeptically. "More than a little. But very discreetly. Spy-like."


Sarah laughed, then trailed off into silence as she pictured how the two of them had spun around the ballroom like normal people, not having to pretend like they barely knew each other.

"Do you think that will ever get to be us?" she asked suddenly.

"Will what?"

"Dancing in the middle of a room full of people. Just…out in the open. Together."

He tilted his head.

"You want that?"

"I mean, yeah. I want a lot of things," she admitted. "I want to be able to kiss you on a crowded sidewalk, or…go out to celebrate with you and your friends when you guys win a case. I want to be able to keep pictures of you on my phone. No secrets."

"I don't know about no secrets. Fewer secrets, maybe," Matt said. Sarah nodded, rolling her eyes. Obviously there would still be The Big Secret, but he knew that wasn't what she was talking about. "But the rest of it…yeah. I think that'll be us."

She bit her lip and looked away from him, back out towards the distant lights. "Just feels far away sometimes."

Matt was quiet for a moment, his sightless gaze landing somewhere just past her.

"Do you think for right now, you could settle for just the two of us?" he asked, and held his hand out palm up. Sarah gave him a questioning look at she placed her hand in his, and he slowly towed her a few steps away from the wall, to where they had less light but more open space. "Maybe not in a room full of lights and people, but…we have music, at least."

Sarah couldn't help letting out a soft laugh, shaking her head at him but not protesting as he slid his hand over her hip, brushing his thumb against the fabric of her dress. Sarah moved closer and rested one hand on his shoulder, her fingers curling against the base of his neck, her other hand remaining linked with his. He curled his fingers around hers and brought their entwined hands to his chest.

She was a couple inches taller than normal with her heels on, but when she was so close to him she still had to tilt her head back to look at his eyes. Of all the times she'd let her imagination wander to something like this, none of her daydreams had been set on a dark storage landing that people used to sneak cigarettes, dancing to the muffled song of the party inside. But it suited them in a strange way, and besides, Matt was precisely as she'd imagined: tall and solid and warm against her, his face relaxed and open in the way so few people ever got to see as he gave her a crooked smile.

"I think I'm going to need to see you in a tuxedo more often," she informed him. "So be prepared to get dragged to more stuffy fundraisers in the future. Just…maybe ones without Vanessa. Or Cecilia."

"Mmm. Feel free to add Todd to that list," Matt said.

"Oh. You noticed that he was here?" she asked nonchalantly, as though she hadn't seen Matt give Todd a legitimate death glare from across the bar.

"Yeah. I heard him talking to you," Matt said, his voice neutral even as his jaw ticked in displeasure.

Sarah shook her head at his expression as she moved her hand from his shoulder for a moment, reaching up to trace her fingertips down his temple.

"I think I've already mentioned that you can't Daredevil him just for being insufferable, right?"

"Mentioned it, maybe. But have you really made a good argument for it?" he asked, and Sarah laughed. "Besides, I technically never threatened to hurt him."

Technically was doing a lot of heavy lifting there. As she recalled, Matt had threatened to 'have a chat' with him, which she supposed could be interpreted in the literal sense—that is, by someone who had never met Matt Murdock a day in their life.

"A very lawyerly way of dancing around the fact that you've wanted to punch Todd ever since he ditched me on that street corner," Sarah pointed out.

"That's not true," Matt said calmly.

Sarah raised her eyebrows. "No?"

"No. I wanted to punch him when he asked you out on a date," he corrected her with a wicked grin. "I wanted to knock his teeth out for leaving you alone on the street, and I think I've shown admirable restraint so far."

"That's a little less lawyerly," Sarah said as she laughed.

"Can't be in court all the time."

"Well, for being so protective, you didn't even try to come save me when I was being manhandled on the dance floor," Sarah pointed out. Her feet were still a little sore from being trampled on by Greg multiple times.

Matt's lips quirked. "That's because it was funny."

Before Sarah could say anything, Matt lifted his arm, spinning her in a slow, easy circle. When she came back, she could see his dark eyes focused near her mouth, and she shook her head with a grin.

"You're not allowed to kiss me," she warned him softly.

He raised his eyebrows. "Since when?"

"Since I've gotten a lot of compliments on this lipstick tonight, meaning people will definitely notice if suddenly you're the one wearing it instead."

"Hmm." Matt unlinked his hand from hers and gently cupped her jaw. He traced his thumb just underneath her bottom lip, careful not to smear the neatly applied lipstick she had on. "Noted. No messing up your makeup."

"Well…during the fundraiser," she corrected him. "Feel free to do whatever you like after that."

She kept her tone light, innocent, but she knew he could pick up on the teasing way her lips curved upward.

Matt's fingers tightened on her jaw and he smirked, slowly shaking his head.

"You think you're funny," he said before letting go, bringing his hand back to hers to encase it against his chest again.

"A little bit," she said. She hesitated for a beat, then pushed on. "A little bit…not."

Matt tilted his head. "Meaning?"

"Meaning…the party's almost over. Maybe you could…you should come over afterwards. To my place, now that it's safe," she said, studying his face closely as she wondered if he would turn her down, tell her they should give it more time. But she didn't want to give it more time. She felt good tonight; strong and together in a way she hadn't in a long time. "If you don't have to run off to chase criminals, maybe we could just…take our time. See where things go."

It made her a little nervous when he didn't say anything for a few beats, even though she knew by now that it just meant he was thinking.

"You don't think your friends will want to take you out to celebrate after?" he asked.

"I'd be shocked if they don't pass out on the cab ride home," she answered.

"We'd have to leave separately. Can't be seen together. Plus, I need time to get rid of my other date," he said with a half-grin.

"You have a key," she said simply. "Come when you're ready."

The half-grin spread into a fuller, warmer smile across Matt's face, but he cocked his head with a mock contemplative expression.

"You'd have to let me add one more rule to the list."
Sarah groaned and tilted her head back. "I can't believe you're treating this like a legal hearing. What rule do you have for me now, Murdock?"
Matt wet his lower lip, his hand squeezing her hip as he gave her a smirk.

"Promise me that you won't change out of this outfit before I get there," he said, his voice low.

"I wouldn't dare," she said solemnly. "I know you're a fan of the dresses."

He leaned down to press a kiss against the racing pulse in her throat.

"Then you have a deal."

Sarah's entire body grew hot, and she suddenly felt oddly like she was floating off the ground. She closed her eyes, struggling to focus on anything other than the drag of his lips against her throat. Of the few scattered thoughts that managed to flit across her mind, one that came through clearest was how glad she was that he wasn't treating her like she was fragile, that he still made it so clear that he wanted her.

"Always so bossy," she managed to stutter out.

She felt his lips form a smirk against her skin, and she had a strong feeling that if they didn't have to worry about looking suspicious to the partygoers back inside, she'd be feeling his teeth against the base of her neck right now.

But they couldn't get too carried away; not when she would be back in everyone's attention soon, not when Matt needed to be keeping at least some of his attention on what was going on inside. He must have been thinking the same thing, because he reluctantly pulled himself away from her neck and pressed his forehead against hers, his eyes closed.

They fell into silence for a few minutes, swaying to the music inside. Then something Matt had said earlier floated across her mind, and the wording of it made her frown.

"It's not settling," Sarah said suddenly.

Matt tilted his head questioningly.

"You asked if I could settle for this," she elaborated, studying his face closely. "But I don't think it's settling. I mean, I do think about all those things I want us to do in the future, but…I'm happy like this, too. Right now."

"Yeah?" he said, his tone light. "A couple of bruised up people with no money, dancing in the shadows?"

She laughed softly and wrapped her arms around his neck, looking up at him.

"As long as the other person is you," she said simply.

For a moment, she thought she saw something flicker across his face—uncertain, almost guilty. But then it was gone, and in the dark she might have imagined it, because all she saw then was a small, warm smile.

Sarah closed her eyes and rested her head against his shoulder, exhaling a contented sigh as they swayed together. Matt dipped his head so his cheek rested against her hair, keeping her pressed close against him with both hands around her waist. She didn't think anything had ever felt so right, and in that moment with the feel of Matt against her, warm and solid, she couldn't imagine ever wanting to be anywhere else.

But they couldn't stay out there forever. Eventually someone would wonder where one or the other was, and the last thing they needed was for anyone to make the connection that they were both missing.

"Allison is looking for you," Matt murmured against her hair. "It must be time for you to play your second half soon."

Sarah answered with a displeased hum, and Matt laughed, sending vibrations through his chest as she stayed wrapped up against him.

"Don't act like it's a bad thing," he said. "You spent forever practicing for tonight. You deserve to play the rest of your music. And I deserve to get to listen to you."

"I know. It's not a bad thing at all," she said. She was looking forward to sitting back down at the piano without some of the nerves she'd had earlier. She lifted her head up to look at him as they slowly swayed to a stop. "But this was just an exceptionally good thing."

She stepped back and turned towards the door, reaching for the door handle, but Matt stopped her with a hand on her waist.

"Hang on. There's security walking by."

Sarah paused and listened. Sure enough, if she strained her ears she could just make out the sound of footsteps as someone walked past the door they were hovering behind.

"Vanessa's?" she whispered worriedly. They weren't likely to come out here, but if they did it wouldn't look great for the two of them.

"No. Just museum security," Matt answered from behind her. He paused. "Young. Not armed. Nothing to worry about."

"Is he gone?"

"He's going to loop back around in about thirty seconds," Matt whispered. "He's been walking the same circuit all night, and this is right where he turns around."

He sounded all business as he calmly explained the situation to her, but his body language said otherwise. His hand drifted from her waist to along the edge of her dress where it dipped low along the small of her back, and he skimmed his fingertips slowly up her spine, sending goosebumps up her skin.

Sarah narrowed her eyes, well aware of what he was doing. It drove her crazy in the best way when he got like this, searching for ways to fluster her and get her heartbeat up, and despite her best efforts to stay calm, it worked every time. She bit the inside of her cheek hard as she purposefully didn't look at him, knowing that as soon as she saw the self-satisfied smirk that no doubt currently graced Matt's face, she would lose all desire to leave this balcony and return to the party to perform.

"Are you paying attention?" she asked, struggling to keep her tone serious.


"Not to me," Sarah said laughingly. "To the security guard."

"Yes, of course," he said, but the way his lips brushed against the shell of her ear made her doubt his words.

"Matt," she breathed out. "I have to go out there in a minute and I can't look like I'm blushing."

"How would I know if you're blushing?" he asked innocently, as though her skin wasn't on fire.

"That bullshit doesn't work on me, Murdock," she hissed. "I know you know, you do it on purpose—"

"Coast is clear," he said suddenly, pulling the door open wider and giving her a gentle shove, propelling her a few steps forward into the hallway.

She sent a glare at him over her shoulder as she regained her balance in her heels. But despite herself she couldn't help smiling at the sight of him leaning lazily against the doorway in his tuxedo with a fond look on his face. She shook her head and turned around, leaving the vigilante behind her for now as she made her way back to the party.

Matt waited another minute out on the balcony, giving Sarah enough time to get back to the party before him so they wouldn't seem suspicious.

Besides, his thoughts were still very much tangled up in the conversation they'd just had, and he needed a minute to sort himself out. Despite the teasing note they'd left each other on, he couldn't help also thinking about the way her heartbeat had sounded when she'd wrapped her arms around him and told him she was happy: steady against his own chest, not even a hint of a lie.

And as happy as he was too, Matt's own heart had twisted in a confusing way at her words. Listening to her play the piano earlier—listening to the crowd as they listened to her—made it so clear that she should be in the spotlight, not in the darkness. He was wicked for always keeping her tied to the shadows with him, but she didn't even seem to realize it.

But that was the situation they were in right now, for better or for worse. They were both far, far past the point of turning back, and he didn't want to. All he could do was try to make sure they had something better to look forward to, something brighter for her, with all the things she'd confessed to wanting for them. It was difficult to want anything else when she was wearing that dress and smelling like jasmine and seeming so much steadier and more sure of herself after her show. He couldn't help but wonder what she would be like later, with a full night's success behind her and nothing but hours of just the two of them stretched out ahead of them.

Thoughts of later quickly led to remembering the comment she'd made about her lipstick, and he fleetingly wondered what shade it was; if it was a flushed pink like he always imagined her skin to be when she blushed, or if it was something darker like the perfume that clung to her skin.

But he reminded himself that he didn't have time right now to be thinking like that. He took his glasses out of the inside pocket of his jacket and slipped them on as he forced his attention back to the fundraiser, and to the hallway on the other side of the door. There was no one around, so it was safe to open it and step back inside.

He had almost reached the main staircase when a conversation caught his attention from inside the restroom to his right, and he paused outside the door. Two people were standing at the sinks, and he could hear the sound of running water under their voices.

"—the piano player, right? What's her name?" a man was saying.

"Sarah," a familiar voice answered. "Corrigan."

Matt's jaw ticked as he recognized Todd's voice, and he recalled how brazenly Todd had rested his hand on the small of Sarah's back, against her bare skin.

In the months that Matt had known Sarah, he'd had to carefully earn every bit of trust he'd gained from her, and in doing so he'd mentally noted exactly how she liked to be touched: what made her flinch away, what made her lean into him, what made her laugh or her breathing hitch. He'd tucked every piece of information away like a treasured discovery. And possessive as it might be, he didn't like that Todd—Todd who had very much contributed to Sarah's idea that she was crazy or broken—felt entitled to walk up and touch her so intimately.

From the way Sarah had stepped away from him, she didn't like it either, and Matt had just been mentally calculating an excuse to make his way over there when Lauren's husband Greg had stepped in and saved the day for him—in a decidedly more cheerful way than Matt himself might have.

"That's the girl you hooked up with, right?"

"Yeah, we went out a few times," Todd said. "She wasn't what I'd thought, though. I figured, you know…she lives in a bad part of Hell's Kitchen, has kind of a reputation for partying. I thought she'd be fun, kind of trashy. Actually up for doing something interesting, instead of the same boring thing every other girl in this city wants to go do on dates."

"She doesn't look trashy tonight. She's pretty hot. You going to try to hook up again?"

"I don't know, man," Todd replied, as though he hadn't already tried and failed to flirt with her earlier. "She does look good tonight, but…she's seriously nuts."

"Yeah? Nuts how?"

"Like, bipolar kind of nuts. One second she'll be cute and normal, and then the next she's inventing weird reasons to run off, or making up things you did wrong so you're the bad guy."

"Oh, man. Why are so many chicks like that? Yeah, maybe skip that headache."

The water shut off, and Matt heard the sound of an automatic hand dryer start up.

"I mean…if she's down, I'm not saying I wouldn't," Todd said with a laugh. "You know what they say about girls like that."

"I sure do. The more unstable, the better in bed."

"You know that's true. Not sure I want her knowing where I live, though. She seems like the type who'd randomly show up on your doorstep."

"That's what her place is for."

Matt's grip on his cane was so tight he could barely feel his fingers. He knew that with everything Sarah had been through, he could sometimes get a little…overprotective of her. Sarah herself would be the first person to point that out, and he wasn't so dense that he couldn't see it himself. But knowing that didn't help calm the hot anger that coursed through him as he listened to their conversation.

He could hear their footsteps echoing around the bathroom as the two men walked towards the door, which Matt was still standing directly in front of. The door started to swing open towards him, and he had a fleeting fantasy of slamming his hand against it so hard that it would swing back and break Todd's nose—

But he didn't.

Sarah was right that him hurting Todd wouldn't be for anyone's gratification but his own, and he knew that she would be less than impressed if he drew extra attention to himself with a stunt like that. So instead he took a step back, letting the door swing open without incident as Todd and his friend stepped out.

"Whoa, sorry," Todd said when he saw Matt standing there with his glasses and cane. "I almost ran right into you. That probably would have hurt, huh?"

Matt wet his lower lip, not bothering to offer a fake pleasantry.

"Might have."

It gave him a momentary feeling of satisfaction when Todd gave an uneasy laugh and took a short step back, unnerved by the opaque glasses and dark tone. He and his friend exchanged looks before stepping around Matt and back towards the crowd.

Matt stood there a moment longer, letting the sharp current of anger fade to something more manageable before he returned to the party as well.

Sarah stopped by the third floor bathroom before heading downstairs so she could check her makeup and hair, make sure she looked normal and not like she'd just been on a balcony with someone who made every nerve in her body run crazy.

As she fixed a few stray hairs in the mirror, a stall door opened behind her and Cecilia stepped out.

Of course.

Of course Sarah couldn't be lucky enough to not run into Cecilia again between now and the end of the night. And of course it would have to happen in the women's room, because where else would this high school-esque feud come to a head?

"Oh, you're here. I figured you were off shooting up whatever kind of drugs you like to take before big events like this," Cecilia said.

Sarah shut the water off with more force than maybe necessary.

"Is there a reason you're being an even bigger bitch to me than normal tonight?" she demanded.

"I'm sorry, am I ruining your big moment?" Cecilia asked with a roll of her eyes. "Something like this is basically your dream right? Getting to be the center of attention?"

"What are you talking about?"

"I'm talking about you, Sarah. Because what else could anyone ever be talking about?"

Sarah's brow furrowed in faint confusion. "What?"

"That's all anyone talks about is Sarah. Sarah and her black eye. Sarah and her busted lip, or nose, or jaw, or—what do you do to get that shit all over your face, anyway? Because it's not secretarial work, that's for damn sure," Cecilia said. "Is it drugs? I thought alcohol for a while, but it doesn't make people act quite as crazy as you do."

"I'm not crazy," Sarah said, trying to keep her voice even.
"Then what is it? I mean, you act so starved for attention that you clearly aren't dating anyone, so I don't think it's abuse. What, are you doing it on purpose?"

"On purpose?" Sarah repeated, so stunned she could barely get the words out.

"I just don't understand how your mysterious injuries and excuses to get out of things always coincide with important events in your life. Like, Lauren's baby shower that you kept pushing back because you didn't feel like planning it? You had so many ridiculous excuses. And then when it finally happened, it should have been about her and her firstborn child. But instead it was about Sarah and her overdose, or seizure, or whatever you did," Cecilia said coldly.

Sarah opened her mouth to argue, but she didn't have an argument. She had taken the pills that Claire had given her despite knowing full well what kind of effect they'd have on her—because she'd seen the effect they'd had on her mother. And then she'd chosen to drink on top of the pills, and while the concussion had muddled her judgment (and made her so out of it she hadn't even realized she was concussed) it didn't excuse anything.

"I feel bad about what happened at the party," Sarah admitted. "But Lauren was the person I needed to apologize to for that, not you. And I did."

"How about later on, when Lauren went into labor and all she wanted was her best friend and her child's godmother to be there, but whatever you were mixed up in was so important that she didn't even want to bother you. She waited to call until the next morning, and I stayed with her and Greg while she gave birth."

Sarah blinked, thrown by hearing familiar events told from such a different point of view. She hadn't even realized Cecilia was there for the actual birth. She'd assumed she'd shown up the next morning, just before she had.

"Or how about when it was my birthday, and Lauren was supposed to take me to a nice restaurant. But she didn't, because she needed to stop by and see you first, and then somehow you got arrested for attempted murder? Or—or when Lauren wanted us to go to dinner because for whatever godforsaken reason, she wants us to get along. But we couldn't, because you showed up drenched in alcohol and clearly bleeding but pretending like you weren't. How is it that Sarah Corrigan always has a strange emergency whenever anyone else has something going on?"

"You have no idea what you're talking about," Sarah said quietly.

"You can't stand the spotlight not being on you. You even picked the one person that I brought as my date to try to go after."

"I'm not trying to steal your date, Cecilia."

"Right. You're just staring at him, and making him laugh, and playing the little victim at dinner so that he'll defend you."

Sarah scoffed. "Playing the victim? You were airing my personal business out for everyone to hear, I wasn't playing anything."

"I thought you'd love to have your personal business on display. It helps you be the center of attention, which is your favorite thing, right?"

"Oh, go screw yourself, Cecilia," Sarah said with a bitter laugh.

"So is it me, then?" Cecilia asked, her eyes lighting up. "Am I the reason you act like this? You haven't exactly made it a secret that you hate me. Or is it Lauren? Are you getting some kind of weird revenge on her for something by being a shitty friend? I mean, you're not going after her husband; you're going after my date. So I have to think it's me. What is it about me that makes you so angry?"

There was a retort on the tip of Sarah's tongue, and then her mind flashed to the night before, her lips pressing against the hollow at the base of Matt's throat.

Yes, Cecilia got to dance with him in front of everyone, looking every inch the perfectly matched, beautiful couple to everyone in the crowd. But Sarah got the messy, rough-edged Matt, the one with sharp, lopsided grins and dark eyes, with bruising lips and the gentlest hands.

"I guess I just feel bad for you," she said quietly. She didn't think she had intended to say it out loud, but there it was.

Cecilia narrowed her eyes at her in the mirror.

"You what?"

She did feel a little bad. As awful as Cecilia was, Sarah wasn't exactly being kind to her, telling her there was nothing going on with her and Matt while simultaneously planning on taking him home and (hopefully) sleeping with him.

"Why would you feel bad for me? Because you think you managed to trick my date into feeling sorry for you? Do you think there's any world where that would translate to whatever kind of romantic hopes you have in your head? You're a secretary who took a bunch of music classes in undergrad. Murdock is a lawyer from an Ivy League law school. What would you even talk about?" Cecilia asked mockingly, even Sarah was surprised at the viciousness of her tirade. "Even if he does fall for it, there's a dozen men at this party I could go home with, and none of them would dare come near you after the scene you caused with Todd on your date. They don't need those kind of made-up rumors tarnishing their reputations."

"I don't know what the hell Todd told you, but I have a feeling you made it sound even worse when you told other people," Sarah said. "I didn't make anything up."

"Well, who can tell? That's the kind of life you choose to live. Thank god I made better choices."

Sarah let out a harsh laugh.

"You have no clue what it's like to live a life like mine," she snapped. "And for your sake I hope you never find out."

Before Cecilia could open her mouth to respond, there was a deafening crash from the ballroom below. Sarah snapped her head towards the bathroom door, her eyes wide. Then she grabbed her bag and darted for the door, with Cecilia close on her heels.

Out in the hallway, there were already several people leaning over the bannister, covering their mouths in horror as they watched what was happening below. When Sarah reached the opening, she looked over to see a huge, crumbling hole where the front entrance to the museum had once been—and large, black military style Hummer sitting in the rubble inside. The doors to the Hummer opened, and the men who emerged were dressed in all black, with heavy vests over their chests and large guns in their hands, ski masks obscuring their faces.

Sarah only had a moment to register what she was seeing before there was another loud crash and a second identical Hummer smashed through the doors on the opposite end of the ballroom, effectively blocking off both main exits. More men jumped out from the second vehicle.

Sarah frantically scanned the crowd below her for familiar faces as one of the men climbed on top of the trunk and shot his gun straight up in the air to gain everyone's attention, as though there was anyone at the party who hadn't noticed their arrival. Sarah finally spotted Lauren and Greg on the opposite side of the room, but Matt was nowhere to be seen.

Good, she thought. If there was no Matt in sight, then hopefully Daredevil would be in sight shortly.

Of course, this wasn't what they had expected. Jason did things behind the scenes, keeping his murderous activities secret and out of sight. If anything, they had just thought anyone who got too close to Vanessa might get caught up in any kind of discreet plot to attack her. But this? Two vehicles full of armed men crashing into the museum? Neither Matt nor Sarah had expected that, and it made for a lot more innocent people who could be caught in the crossfire.

Out of the corner of her eye, Sarah saw Vanessa, one floor below her on the second level. More accurately, she saw just the tail end of Vanessa's deep purple dress vanish around the corner as her security detail whisked her away to safety.

Must be nice to have a security detail while everyone else is in danger, Sarah thought. Then, on second thought, she changed her mind. She'd rather have the one-man security detail she already had.

"Everybody stay still and stay calm," the man on top of the Hummer yelled, waving his rifle around for emphasis. "We didn't come here to kill anyone, but we will if we don't get what we want." A few people screamed as he kicked some drywall debris off of the top of the truck, where it hit a nearby table, crashing loudly into the plates and silverware. "And what we want is Vanessa Fisk and S—"

Sarah's chest tightened as she heard the sibilant sound of the beginning of her name begin to tip the man's tongue, but before he could finish the word the lights went out. The entire ballroom was plunged Into darkness, save for a few dim patches of light from the skylights several floors above them.

Good timing, Matt.

She heard a loud clatter followed by one of the men giving a yell of pain, and she assumed that Matt was beginning to get to work. She hoped he would be careful with all of these innocent people around. Innocent people that included Lauren and Greg—who she needed to get to safety quick as she could .

"I have to get out of here, " Cecilia exclaimed, as though she was the only one in the building in danger. "Who the hell are those people?"

"I don't know," Sarah replied. "I don't really want to meet them to find out."

She had barely started thinking of a way to get down to Lauren and Greg when Cecilia pushed away from the bannister next to her and made a break for the stairwell on the other side of the floor. The bright red exit sign was still lit and visible from across the opening to the ballroom below. Sarah followed, hoping that the stairwell marked by the exit sign might also provide a safe way to get down to her friends.

While the ballroom below was in almost total darkness, the upper floors where Sarah and Cecilia were had a little more visibility thanks to the tall windows that allowed outside light to spill in.

And they almost made it to the staircase.

But just before they got there, a figure stepped into their path.

For a moment, Sarah's brain couldn't process what she was seeing in front of her. Because she knew that Matt was downstairs. Matt was in a tuxedo and a mask and the rest of his suit was safely at home.

But standing directly in front of her was a man in black cargo pants, black boots, tight black shirt—and most importantly a black masked pulled halfway down across his face.


Love you guys! Hope you all made it through the wait!