Hi y'all! Sorry it took a little longer than estimated! This chapter is mostly a bunch of dialogue and emotional type scenes, and I wanted to make sure I was getting it just right. There is some legal stuff that very possibly is not how the law works in our world, so let's just assume it works that way in the MCU. The next chapter is mapped out but not actually written yet, and just looking at my August schedule I can let you guys know it definitely won't be up any time this month. But I promise you I will be working on it, and it will come!
I also think I set a new record of replying to exactly zero comments last chapter, so bear with me while I try to get through some of that backlog. Thank you all for always sticking with me despite my inability to ever estimate time or correspond with anyone.
I hope you enjoy the chapter and aren't too horribly upset with me for the cliffhanger! Love y'all!
It was around seven on Thursday night, just hours after Jason had banished her from Orion, and Sarah was…on edge, to say the least.
She'd given the phone to Lauren earlier, along with a flash drive of the video, which Lauren had promised to pass along to Matt right away. Sarah knew she was taking the coward's way out by having her friend give the footage to Matt instead of going herself, but she'd had a rough day already, and she didn't think she could handle seeing him right now.
Her ribs throbbed from where Jason had slammed her into the edge of the bookshelf, and the entire left side of her torso was bruised and swollen. It hurt so badly when she inhaled that she wondered if any of her ribs were actually broken. She knew she could probably ask Claire, but it felt odd now to ask for her help without Matt involved, even if he had explicitly told her to do so.
So instead she popped a few aspirin and winced as she tried to shrug off the button-up she'd worn to work. Quickly giving up on that task, she decided she'd just wear this outfit to dinner with her mother. Part of her was tempted to cancel, but she knew there was always the risk Anna would take it personally, and then Sarah's chance to see her would be out the window until the next time she was in town. And despite the awkwardness and the tension, Sarah did want to see her. She wanted to have a better conversation than the one they'd had before, to leave things on a somewhat better note.
It was a mark of how surreal her life had become that it barely felt odd to get ready for dinner with her mother just a few hours after trying to stab her own boss.
Her mind flashed again to the impenetrable material that had stopped her from driving the sharp letter opener into Jason's shoulder. It wasn't any material a normal suit would be made out of, and it was something she'd only seen once before—in the lining of the oversized suit she'd peaked at in Jason's office. Wilson Fisk's old suit. She and Matt had gotten Melvin away before he'd finished altering the suit to fit Jason, but it seemed he'd gotten enough done that Jason had found someone to finish the job.
Perfect. If there was one thing she'd always wished for, it was a bulletproof version of Jason.
But she needed to push that thought from her head for the tonight. Tonight she just had to get through dinner with Anna. Tomorrow morning she had her mediation with Todd—and after the stress she'd been through lately, Sarah was a little worried she'd punch him again just from having to speak to him. And after that…then she could try to reckon with what was happening with Jason.
At least for now the rain had stopped.
Anna wasn't there yet when Sarah got to the restaurant.
The hostess politely informed Sarah that only complete parties could be seated, but that she was welcome to have a seat at the bar. With a glance over at the well-stocked bar, Sarah declined, choosing to wait in one of the chairs by the door instead.
After ten minutes of waiting, Sarah tried calling her mom. No answer. Trying to give her the benefit of the doubt, Sarah told herself Anna might be on the subway, and maybe she didn't have service to tell her she'd be late.
Then just after the thirty minute mark passed, her phone buzzed. It was a text from her mother.
I'm not going to be able to make it tonight – so sorry honey. Xo Mom
Sarah was annoyed with herself for the flash of disappointment that snuck through before she was able to tamp it down. She wasn't surprised; this was classic Anna. When she came to town, she always wanted a big emotional scene: she wanted catharsis, she wanted to rehash and reframe things and have poignant breakthroughs. This time, she wanted some sort of closure with Mitch. And apparently if she couldn't get that, she wasn't interested in the more mundane things like dinner.
When Sarah looked up, she saw the hostess approaching her with an apologetic look on her face.
"I'm sorry, but we can't hold the reservation any longer," the hostess told her. "If you still want to wait, I can see if we have any space to fit you in when the rest of your party gets here."
Sarah nodded. She opened her mouth to let the hostess know that no, she would just be going home instead. But what would she do at home? Sit alone in her too hot apartment and think about all the different ways Jason was probably going to try to kill her? Maybe scroll through all of the people in her phone she couldn't call? Her best friends hiding out hours away because of her? Her dad who didn't know her, her mom who seemed to have no interest in knowing her? Maybe her ex-boyfriend who wanted nothing to do with her?
Looking back down at the text, at the silly 'xo' sign off, Sarah made her choice.
"I think…actually I will wait at the bar if that's okay," she told the hostess.
A colorful array of liquor bottles lined the dark shelves behind the bar, backlit by a warm, inviting light. Sarah scanned them as she slipped onto one of the stools.
As the bartender approached her, she turned her attention to him.
"Do you have any happy hour specials?" she asked.
He nodded. "House vodka and whiskey are half off until 9 o'clock."
"I'll take a vodka soda, please."
As she took her first sip a few moments later, warmth immediately rushed through her, filling in the cracks that had been spidering through her chest for days. Within minutes, she had finished the drink and could feel a delicious numbness beginning to creep in. She welcomed it with relief.
The sidewalk outside the large front window was busy. As the bartender set another drink down in front of her, she picked it up and idly watched the people outside going by, imagining what was going on in their lives and desperately trying not to think about her own.
A few drinks later, Sarah felt amazing. Weightless in a way she hadn't in months, despite the nagging knowledge in the back of her brain that it wasn't real, that it was only temporary until the alcohol left her bloodstream. But she didn't care. For now, all she cared about was delaying the moment she sobered up by as long as possible.
A goal that was immediately blocked by the bartender removing her empty glass from in front of her and replacing it with a receipt for her drink tab.
She looked up at him in confusion.
"I gotta cut you off for the night, miss."
Sarah blinked, then looked around. "…what? I'm—I'm not even doing anything."
"The restaurant puts a pretty strict limit on how much we can serve, and you're already past it," he informed her with a significant look. "There's bars all up and down the street if you want to keep drinking."
If she wanted to keep drinking? Why would she not want to keep drinking when it was wrapping her in exactly the kind of numbness she'd so desperately wanted for the last week?
So she ended up at a loud, rowdy bar down the street. She'd given a quick glance at the neon bright '90's Night' signs plastered on the front windows and figured maybe some silly nostalgic music would make her feel better. Once inside she quickly realized the crowd leaned much more towards college students, but she didn't really care. It usually meant the drinks were cheaper, anyway.
Which was how she found herself sitting at the bar next to some guy who had probably just turned 21 and seemed thrilled to have found a drinking partner in Sarah.
"—I just feel like they stopped making good music after like, 2003, ya know? So this is perfect," he was saying, following a long explanation of why this was he and his friends' favorite spot. "And we were going to come dressed up on theme but we ended up pre-gaming too hard."
"Uh huh," Sarah said as she took a long drink from her glass. She hadn't been contributing much more than that, but he didn't seem to mind too much.
"Yeah, but actually my friend Brad over there—" he pointed to a couple of guys around his age sitting at a table not too far away "—the one in the blue, not in the yellow. Actually, they're both named Brad, but the one in blue, Crazy Brad, he says that I look just like Vanilla Ice. So I pretty much am on theme. Right?"
Sarah squinted at him. The vodka in her system was hitting her hard, and she let out a tipsy laugh. "Yeah. I can see it."
"And you're…are you in costume, or…?" he asked, looking down at her outfit.
Sarah glanced down at her skirt and button up shirt and laughed again. "Who would I even be dressed up as?"
"I don't know! But you're…really, really pretty. You could be, uh…one of those chicks from Charmed," he tried.
Sarah's phone buzzed on the bar, and Foggy's name flashed up on the screen. Through the haze of alcohol in her brain, Sarah registered that he was probably calling about their meeting tomorrow.
"Foggy!" she greeted him a little too enthusiastically as she answered.
"Hey! Just calling to do a last minute check-in before the mediation tomorrow," Foggy said. Cheers went up in the crowd of people around Sarah as the blaring music changed to a fan favorite. She plugged her right ear to hear him better. "We need to be at Landman and Zack at 9 a.m. sharp. Do you have anything you want to go over before tomorrow? Any questions?"
Sarah thought about it, but right now her problems with Todd seemed like they were years away. "Um…nope. I think I'm good."
"It's really loud on your end," Foggy noted. "Where are you? A frat party?"
"I'm at…" Sarah glanced around her. What even was this place called? "…out."
"Out doing what?"
Sarah drained the last of her drink, wincing slightly at the burn.
"Having fun?" she hazarded with a shrug. "Blowing off steam."
"Blowing off steam with a…wild night of sober board games?" Foggy asked hopefully. "Or more the alcohol kind of way?"
"The second one," she told him. "Because I don't know if you've heard but my life is…stressful."
"I have heard, yeah. Can't argue with that. But, uh…do you need to be de-stressing the night before your mediation?"
"Yes, I do," she said resolutely.
"Hey, do you want another shot?" the guy next to her asked.
"Yes, I do," she repeated to him just as resolutely.
"Who was that?"
Sarah made a face at the phone.
"How should I know? I dunno everybody in the world, Foggy," she slurred. "I'm sorry."
There was a short pause on the other end of the line, then Foggy spoke again.
"Hey, I've got an idea for a fun game," he said cheerfully. "What if you told me where you are right now?"
"Why?" she asked. "Are you coming to drink with me? It's 90's night."
"…yep. Good guess."
"My friend is coming," she told Vanilla Ice loudly.
His eyebrows went up interestedly. "Is she hot?"
"He is beautiful," she informed him, and his face dropped into a confused frown. "But he's not single. I'm sorry."
As she brought her phone back to her ear, she heard Foggy talking in a muffled voice to someone on his end.
"—sounds like she's completely wasted, and I can hear—"
"Who are you talking to?" she asked.
"Me? No one," Foggy said quickly, much to her suspicion. She had a feeling she knew exactly who he was talking to. "You were about to tell me where the party is."
"Okay, see you tomorrow, Foggy," she said.
"Wait—" Sarah heard him start to say.
Then she hung up, and promptly forgot about the phone call altogether. She tossed her phone into her purse.
"Your friend's name is Froggy?" Vanilla Ice asked in delight. "I used to buy weed from a guy named Froggy back in Indiana."
The bartender set two shot glasses down in front of them.
"His name isn't Froggy. That's not a name. It's Foggy," she corrected him. "And he's not my drug dealer, he's my lawyer."
"Your lawyer? Wow. Are you, like, a criminal?" he asked her teasingly.
Sarah tilted her head back as she took her shot, then winced as she slammed her glass down on the bar.
"Yep," she said with a nod. "Big time."
The guy laughed.
"That's hot. Like a…femme fatale, huh?"
"Something like that."
"Wow," he said, then leaned over and in a faux-conspiratorial tone, asked, "How many men have you murdered?"
Sarah stared down at the empty shot glass on the bar.
"Just one. But he really deserved it."
He laughed. "I bet. Lucky guy."
Sarah didn't bother trying to hide her grimace.
"Are you having another? I'm getting another," she said, raising her hand to catch the bartender's attention. He pointed to her empty shot glass with a questioning raise of his eyebrow, and she nodded, giving him a thumbs up.
"That's who you can be! What was that show with the hot spy girl in the wigs?"
"Alias?" Sarah hazarded.
"Yeah! That was the 90s right? You can just say that's your costume. Because an international spy could be wearing anything, right?"
That sent Vanilla Ice off on another tangent, talking about some television show or another. Sarah nodded and listened halfway as she watched the bartender begin to pour another shot.
About ten minutes later, Sarah was well past drunk, and was just making her way back from the restroom when she felt her phone buzz again in her bag. She fished around inside until she pulled it out and saw her mother's name flash on the screen.
She bit her lip, debating just sending it to voicemail. But anger sparked in her chest, and she found herself wanting to know what weak excuse Anna was going to give her for ditching out on yet another dinner with her daughter.
So she lingered in the back hallway outside the restroom, where the music wasn't as deafeningly loud, and answered the phone.
"You didn't show," she said to her mother by way of greeting.
"I know. I'm sorry, honey."
"I…" Anna let out a sigh. "Nothing happened. I feel so bad. I got dressed and ready and everything but I started thinking about our conversation and I just got…wrapped up in my anxieties. It just felt like it would be…too much. You know how I get."
Sarah did know. She couldn't count how many times she'd watched her mother deal with stressful situations by just locking herself in her room for a day or two and refusing to open the door. Apparently that wasn't something that had gone away when she'd sobered up. And in some ways Sarah understood it; she'd spent more than a few nights hiding from the world in her own apartment. But right now she was angry, and wasn't feeling very understanding at all.
"So you just didn't show? It's been years since we've had dinner and talked," Sarah said, trying hard to keep the slur out of her voice and hoping she was succeeding. "I—I have a lot going on, too, and I managed to show up."
As if in response, the pain in her ribs that had been dulled by the alcohol throbbed bright once again, a reminder that she'd gotten into a fight with a literal murderer earlier that day and had still managed to show up for dinner.
"I know. I know, you're right. I'm sorry. Listen, the wedding is tomorrow, and we leave town the next day. I'd still like to see you tonight," Anna said. "Where are you? Are you home? I'll come to you."
"No, I don't—I don't want to see you," Sarah said, screwing her eyes shut and shaking her head.
"Are you still upset about what we talked about with your dad? Honey, I wasn't trying to criticize you, I just didn't know what to think about the situation. I know that you've had a lot going on, and I just want to help. I want to help you and Mitch—"
"You want to help dad?" Sarah repeated
"Of course I do. I…feel awful that he ended up like this," she said.
And Sarah did believe that. She believed that her mom did feel sorry for both Mitch and herself. What she didn't believe was that she wanted to help.
"Right. You know, if you really wanted to help dad you would write a check," she suggested with a humorless laugh. She knew that wasn't going to happen, but it felt like she should make the point anyway.
"A check?" her mom said doubtfully.
"Yeah. You must have a lot saved up after so many years of not sending any child support."
"What? Sarah, what is wrong with you tonight? You never act like this when I see you," Anna said, hurt and confusion in her voice. "You know why I couldn't send any money. Your father would have just wasted it on—on alcohol and card games—"
"Well, he can't exactly do that anymore, can he?" Sarah shot back. "Not unless he convinces his nurses to set up a gambling ring."
"I can't just start writing out checks. Charlie would have all kinds of questions—"
"So what? Tell—tell the truth for once in your life. Or even part of the truth," Sarah said. She didn't know why she was even bothering to push this, except that she wanted her mother to admit that she was here for her own selfish closure and not to help Sarah or Mitch. "Say you're paying back your daughter. Or doesn't he know I exist?"
"Don't say that. Of course he does. I have a photo of you right on our dresser. At one of your first piano recitals. Why are you acting like this? Have you been drinking?"
"Yes," Sarah said shortly. "And I want to get back to it, so…see you next time you're in town."
But for the second time that night, Sarah hung up on someone.
Taking a deep breath, she turned back towards the main room. She was feeling too much now—anger and sadness and guilt and a million other things—and she desperately wanted to get back to that place of floaty nothingness she'd been in just minutes earlier.
The night began to blur into itself from there.
She'd returned back to her seat at the bar, and Vanilla Ice had been talking about something for a while. But Sarah's happy buzz from earlier was gone, obliterated by her fight with her mother. Now every emotion she'd been feeling all week had come back, only magnified by the alcohol in her bloodstream.
She wasn't sure how long had passed since her phone call—twenty minutes? Thirty?—when her drinking partner leaned in closer to her ear to make himself heard over the loud music.
"It's getting kind of loud in here," he said, then nodded at the front door and offered her a hopeful smile. "If you want, we could…go somewhere quieter?"
Then she felt his hand rest on her leg, just above her knee. And the careless blur of the night slammed to an sudden stop.
"I have to pee again," she announced, then lurched off her stool and grabbed her bag before heading towards the bathroom.
In the back hallway, Sarah glanced around the corner and groaned when she saw there was now a long line outside the women's room. Deciding she'd just try going to a different bar, she spun around—then stumbled to an abrupt halt as she ran right into someone's chest.
"Shit—" she exclaimed as she tripped back a step, and the floor tilted beneath her. Two large, calloused hands came up to grasp either side of her arms, and her vision swam as she tilted her head back to look up at the person in front of her.
"Matt?" she said in bewilderment.
Oddly, the first thing she registered as she squinted at him was that he looked tired. He had his glasses on, but she could see the dark ring of a bruise extending from just underneath one of the lenses, stretching part way down his cheekbone. His cane was folded up and hanging from the loop around his fingertips, and he was still wearing his suit and tie, with his tie loose and his shirt unbuttoned at the neck—the way he always wore it when he went out after work. Probably with Foggy—Foggy. That snitch. It was fun when he blabbed to her about Matt, but she didn't like it so much in reverse.
"Come talk to me," Matt murmured. Behind him was a rusty metal door with a push bar, and a flickering red 'Exit' sign above it. Sarah's world spun a little more as he shouldered open the door and steered her through with a hand on the small of her back.
Then the sounds of the bar were quickly muted as the door swung shut behind them. Sarah blinked rapidly as she adjusted to the dimly lit back alley.
She turned to look at Matt. And maybe it was the alcohol, or maybe it was the lingering effects from her conversation with her mother, but Sarah felt a surprising flare of anger in her chest. She could see the unhappy set of his jaw, the glint of his dark glasses as he tilted his head, taking in all of her messy, humiliating chaos. And she felt angry. She didn't want to stand here and get yelled at again, didn't want to feel guilty and lonely. She wanted to feel…nothing. And now the one person who made her feel every emotion possible was here to foil her plan.
"God, Matt," she said as the ground beneath her began to settle again. "You scared the shit out of me. What—why are you here?"
Matt's raised his eyebrows pointedly. "Why are you here?"
"No, I don't—I don't have to explain why I'm here, I was here first," she argued. "What, are you following me? How'd you even know where I was?"
"You drunk dialed Foggy."
Sarah's mouth fell open.
"Wha—Foggy dialed drunk me," she slurred indignantly.
"Well, either way you invited him to come out to 90's Night, so…" he nodded towards the door, where the muffled sounds of the Spice Girls were now pounding on the other side. "Wasn't hard to narrow it down."
"Yeah, I invited Foggy. The other half of Nelson and Murdock," she pointed out. "The one that's actually helping me tomorrow."
"Yeah, if you actually make it there tomorrow. Which you might not, if you keep on like this."
She threw her hands up. "And what do you care if I make it to the meeting tomorrow, Matt? If it's not life-threatening, then it's not supposed to be on your list of things to care about."
Matt shook his head. "Come on. You need to go home. I'll take you."
"Yes!" Sarah exclaimed. "I—you can't just…just ignore me and then show up and expect to boss me around. You can't have it both ways."
"I'm not bossing you around, I'm trying to help you—"
"I don't want your help," she found herself blurting out. She didn't even know if that was really true, but it felt true in this moment. "I want to go back in the bar and continue my night."
Matt tilted his head back in exasperation. "Sarah, you know you're going to regret this tomorrow."
"I don't care about tomorrow, Matt! I care about this moment right now. And right now I'm stressed out, and I'm miserable, and I'm scared, I would very much like to not feel any of those things, so please get out of my way so I can go back inside."
When Matt didn't move, Sarah spun on her heel, ignoring the way it made her head spin, and started walking towards the end of the alleyway, where she could see the lights from the traffic on the street.
"Go back inside and what?" Matt asked, his voice close behind as he followed her. "What's the plan, Sarah? Drink until your liver gives out? Blackout in a bar? Go home with the guy who's been feeding you shots all night?"
And that sent another surge of anger through her, because he knew—he knew she wasn't going home with anyone, and he knew why. She stopped walking and whipped back around to face him.
"Yeah, I think maybe I will," she bit out with a laugh that surprised even her with how bitter it sounded. "Who knows? Maybe I'll actually be able to sleep with someone who doesn't have all the screwed up history that you and I do."
Even with his dark glasses on, she saw him flinch.
"What? You can do the same," she pointed out, not caring that she was lashing out, that she didn't mean anything she was saying. "You're single now. Go find some girl who's, uh…what's your type again? Hot with no morals? But—but not too heavy on the no morals, because if she messes up too much you'll just ditch her."
She could tell she was pissing him off, could see his jaw tick in aggravation. But she didn't care; this was the only emotion he'd actually shown towards her lately, the only break from the careful neutrality he'd put up as a defensive wall against her.
"Ditch you? It's been barely over a week, I'm sorry I needed a little time to think. But I tried to meet you halfway, I told you I would still be around to keep you safe and I meant it," Matt said forcefully. "I asked you to check in if anything happened, and I know something happened, but you never checked in, and now you're—"
"I never checked in because I can't handle another conversation where you talk to me like I'm some co-worker you pass in the hallway," Sarah argued.
"Well, I'm not talking to you like that right now, am I?" Matt shot back. "So fill me in. What did you do to get that phone back?"
"That's why you're here? Because you want answers about Orion?" Sarah asked. She gave a shaky laugh. "Well, I'm—I'm busy. Check back in during business hours."
"Busy getting so drunk you can barely stand? Come on. Don't do this to yourself, Sarah," Matt said, the harshness fading from his voice as he stepped closer to her. "Just...let me get you home safe."
He reached for her, and she pushed him away—harder than she'd intended, and he took a surprised step back. She hated the gentleness that had crept into the end of his tone, because she knew that it wouldn't last, that soon enough it would fade back into impassiveness.
"Stop it. Stop—stop trying to help me, I don't want you to be nice to me—"
"What, you want me to be mean to you?" he asked with a sharp laugh.
"Why not? It be less confusing than this, at least. I mean, y-you already dragged me out into this alleyway. Why not just go through the whole old routine?"
"Knock it off, Sarah," he said quietly.
"I mean it. The old Matt Murdock's got to be in there somewhere, right? Bring him back."
Matt reached out again, still foolishly thinking he could calm her down, that he could do anything other than make everything ten times more painful. Sarah tried to push him away again, and he caught her wrist in a loose hold before she could pull back. She stumbled, her balance already shot.
"Sarah, stop—" he said, maneuvering her a step back against the wall and gently pinning her there with a hand flat against her stomach, his other hand holding her wrist loosely against his chest.
But then his fingertips brushed against her bruised ribcage and she gasped loudly in pain and doubled over. Matt's brow furrowed in surprise and he let her go.
"I'm fine—" she gasped, straightening up, but they were interrupted when the back door to the bar opened and the technicolor lights spilled outside from around the hulking silhouette of one of the bar bouncers.
"Is everything alright out here?" he asked.
Sarah was still trying to catch her breath and didn't answer, so Matt turned to answer over his shoulder.
"We're good. Thanks," he said shortly.
"I'm asking her."
The bouncer was watching the two of them with suspicion, and Sarah straightened up more, pushing her hair behind her ears. "We're fine. I was just coming back inside."
"Yeah, well…you're not supposed to re-enter this way, so hurry up," the bouncer said. Then he shook his head at Matt. "Not you, man. Got too many guys in there already, we're only letting chicks in for a while."
She ducked around Matt and unsteadily made her way towards the door.
"Sarah—" Matt tried, and she turned back to him.
"No, Matt. Maybe you're right, and I am being reckless," she said. "But it's not your problem anymore."
The pulsating club lights bathed Matt's face in swirling colors, mixing with the blurring of her vision so it was impossible to read his expression. The bouncer closed the metal door behind her before he could say anything in return.
Back inside, it took her a few moments to readjust to the lights and sounds of the bar. Music thumped in her ears and everyone's voices suddenly seemed very loud. As she stood there, she became very aware that she didn't actually want to wade back out into the overwhelming crowd of the main bar. Instead, she trailed a hand along the wall to keep herself steady as she made her way down the hallway to the bathroom, where the line had mercifully cleared for now.
She didn't actually have to pee, she just wanted the relative peace of the small bathroom as opposed to the crowded bar. There were a few other girls inside, and they looked at her in concern as she stumbled in.
"Are you okay?" one of them asked.
"Mhm," Sarah murmured with a nod.
"Do you want me to bring you some water?" another girl offered.
She realized she must look really bad, if their expressions were anything to go off of.
"No. Thanks, I just…need a moment."
"Okay," the first girl said, exchanging concerned looks with her friend.
"You have really pretty eyes, by the way," the friend added. "They're, like, so blue."
"Thanks," Sarah mumbled.
As soon as she looked in the mirror above the sink, she saw why they looked so concerned. Her eyes were bloodshot, like they always got when she was crying. When had she started crying? The effect did always make her eyes look startlingly blue, although she wouldn't say it was in a good way. Her mascara was smudged, and her hair was disheveled.
She looked like her mom. The way she had always looked whenever she'd had a day she couldn't handle.
And in a flash of lucidity, Sarah realized that her mother hadn't been the one to have a classic Anna meltdown tonight. She had, unleashing her emotions like a storm on everyone around her just to get a reaction.
As the realization hit her, it made the anger sap straight out of her, and her shoulders sagged in her reflection. Along with it went any desire to drink more, and suddenly the thought of having another shot made her feel nauseous.
It was time to leave. Matt had been right. Her memory of their fight outside was already getting fuzzy, but she knew it had been bad. She'd spent the last week and a half wishing he would forgive her, and now that he showed up to help her she'd just yelled awful things at him.
The bar was far more crowded now than when she'd got there, and it took about ten minutes to close her tab out. Her drinking buddy had disappeared off to the other side of the room, where he was chatting up a woman who he would probably have much more luck with.
Sarah finally stepped out of the packed bar and onto the sidewalk, which was also fairly crowded with people. She took a few deep breaths, filling her lungs with air that wasn't stale and bar-flavored. Above her, the streetlights blurred and swayed.
She started walking in the direction of the subway, which was at the end of the block. It was still early enough in the night that it would be full of people; she just hoped the motion wouldn't make her sick. But when she reached the entrance, it was taped off. There was a large sign posted in front, and she had to squint and concentrate to get the large letters to stand still so she could read them: 'Closed due to flooding.'
She stood there for a moment, debating what to do. Ultimately she decided maybe it would be best to sit down first and wait for the sidewalk under her feet to stop tilting. There was an unoccupied bench a few yards away, and she unsteadily made her way over to it. She sat on the bench and put her head in her hands, pressing her palms to her temples to try to stave off the headache she could already feel coming on.
She couldn't believe she'd done this again. Just like her date with Todd, but a hundred times worse. Was this how she was going to deal with every stressful moment of her life from now on? At least this time she was in a populated area, surrounded by people going to and from restaurants and bars.
And just as she thought that, someone sat down next to her on the bench. Sarah tensed at how close they were to her, and lifted her head to look at them.
She was met with the sight of her own reflection in a pair of dark glasses.
Matt's head was tilted towards her, and she could tell he was scanning her, picking up on whatever he always did.
"Why are you still here?" she asked quietly, her voice raspy from the alcohol and the constant shouting over music.
Matt blew out a sigh. "Because you're still here."
"Well…you can rest easy because I'm going home now," she said. "I'm just…sitting down first."
"I'm going to walk with you."
"No, I…I'll be fine," she mumbled tiredly.
"Look, it's either walk down here with you or…" he gestured upwards, towards the dark rooftops that lined the street.
"Follow me around in the shadows?"
"Yes. So pick which one you want," he said.
Sarah studied his bruised face, letting herself forget everything that was wrong just for one second—just for a heartbeat—and instead letting the warmth of him beside her wash over her. She held her breath for a moment before answering softly.
"Stay with me."
The walk back was difficult given Sarah's current coordination abilities, but it was still better than sitting in the back of a cab, trying not to get sick.
They didn't take any of their usual shortcuts through alleyways or across rooftops, presumably because Matt thought she wouldn't fare well in her inebriated state. Instead they took the longer way, blending in with the other people on the sidewalk.
Matt had unfolded his white cane and now swept it along the sidewalk as they walked. He held her right arm in a firm grasp above the elbow, and to any passersby it might look like she was guiding him, and not like he was keeping her upright entirely.
When they got to her apartment, he steered her into one of the chairs at her kitchen table, then a minute later set a glass of water down on the table in front of her in not the most gentle way.
"Drink that," he ordered, before fishing his phone out of his pocket and striding away from her, disappearing into her room as he brought the phone to his ear.
She blinked after him in confusion, wondering where he was going.
Without the uncharacteristic fury of earlier to fuel her, Sarah's energy was rapidly draining. She put her head in her hands with a groan, propping herself up with her elbows on the table. Just a few hours ago, nothing had seemed more important than wrapping herself up in the numbness that the alcohol in her veins had lent her, and now that that feeling was gone it suddenly didn't feel like it had been worth it at all.
She heard Matt's footsteps as he came back into the room, then paused in front of her.
She pulled her face from her hands to look up at him. "Who were you calling?"
"Claire," he said shortly as he dropped into a chair next to her. He tilted his head at the glass in front of her, which was still full to the brim. "Good job on the water."
She squinted at the glass of water, then back at him.
"To ask her if we need to be concerned about any leftover tranquilizer in your system mixing with all the alcohol you just added to it."
"There's no more tranil—tranquilizer," she mumbled, the syllables of the word tripping and transposing on her tongue. "I'm not gonna die. I'm just drunk."
Matt raised his eyebrows, then reached out to push the glass of water closer to her.
With a grimace, Sarah picked it up and drank some. She eyed Matt as she set it back down, waiting for him to start lecturing her again. But he was quiet, and behind his glasses she couldn't tell if his sightless gaze was aimed at her or not.
"This isn't because of you," she said suddenly.
"Alright," he said, his tone guarded.
"I mean it. I've wanted to drink…because of all this with us. But I haven't," she said. Despite everything, she hated the idea of him thinking she'd relapsed back into her worst habits completely, that this was her normal lately. "I just…want you to know. It's not like I've been getting drunk every night since…"
She trailed off. Matt pressed his lips together and gave a quick nod.
"I know you haven't," he said quietly. "You've been here every night. Sober."
Sarah breathed out a humorless laugh.
"Right. Of course. How often are you around?" she asked. "Listening in?"
"Just…enough to know you're alright," he said. "I don't have a lot of ways to find out, if you won't tell me yourself."
Sarah's eyebrows went up as she took in Matt's own battered appearance: the bandage peaking out from underneath his shirt collar, the dark cut that started below his ear and disappeared back into his hairline. She could only imagine how awful the rest of him looked. She wondered if it was that much worse out there now that half the city hated him.
"If I'm alright? What about you? You look…bad," she said, gesturing clumsily in his direction. "But it's not like I get to know if you're safe. And I can't just stand on your roof and find out, I have to go based off what—what people post online, or what the newspapers say, and just…hope I don't get a call in the middle of the night from Claire, or Foggy. Why am I the only one who has to give status updates?"
A shadow flickered across Matt's face, and he opened his mouth as if to reply, then closed it tight again. He nodded towards the now half-empty water glass.
"Keep drinking that."
"And I was going to call you," she said. "To tell you Jason has that—that fancy suit now. The one he got from Fisk."
"Are you sure?" he asked with a frown.
"How do you know?"
"Because I tried to stab him with a letter opener," she slurred.
She could see his shoulders rising and falling as he carefully regulated his breathing.
"Is that how you got hurt?" he asked calmly.
"And…did this have anything to do with you getting that phone?"
"…yes." She eyed his expression with wariness, then hurriedly took another drink of her water in case that might help.
"How badly are you hurt?"
"I don't know," she said truthfully. "My ribs hurt. But I don't know if they're broken or not."
Matt's jaw ticked. Then he scraped his chair closer to her and reached out, his hand faltering for one hesitant second before he carefully placed his hand on her side.
"Breathe in," he instructed. That wasn't the easiest order to follow when she could feel the heat of his hand burning through her shirt, but she did so anyway, wincing in pain as the movement sent a shock of pain through her side.
Matt tilted his head, listening closely as his fingertips pressed lightly into her skin.
"They're not broken," he murmured. "Just badly bruised. It should get better in a few days."
She just nodded, watching him as he moved back to his seat. It crossed her mind that if this was how badly a few bruised ribs hurt, how painful were all the broken ribs Matt had casually dismissed?
"You can't be taking risks like that, Sarah. You have to be more careful around Jason. How did you even get away?"
"There's no more Jason to be careful with," she said.
"What do you mean?"
"He…told me he was done with me, and I just work for Vanessa now. And that…basically he's—well, he's still going to kill me, just…he's waiting until Vanessa wants me dead, too," she explained.
She wasn't sure if Matt's eyebrows could physically go any higher.
"Meaning he is going to come after you. Somehow, at some point."
"I know. That's why I asked Lauren and Greg to leave."
"Yeah. I heard about that when Lauren came to drop off that footage instead of you," he said pointedly.
"Did that…go okay?" she asked.
"As well as can be expected."
And that was her opening. She knew she had to try, at least one more time. Even if he hated her forever, she needed to try to make sure he understood.
"Matt…you say that you trust me. Or—that you did. But…you just trust me to do what you say. What about when you aren't there to tell me what to do? When I have to decide? I had to make a choice with what I knew, and…I did what I thought was right," she said. She was speaking slowly, hoping she wasn't slurring as she tried to pick the right words. "It was either…don't tell her and she would send you to jail. Or tell her and ruin everything between us, but…you'd be safe." She gave a small shrug, watching him sadly. "I was going to lose you either way."
He hesitated, his expression conflicted. But before he could start to reply, he tilted his head sharply in the direction of her front door. Moments later, there was a soft knock.
"Sarah?" a voice called from the other side. Sarah's chest twisted as she recognized it as her mother's. "Sarah, honey, please open the door. I know you're upset. I want to talk about it."
"Do you want to answer it?" Matt asked.
"No," she said adamantly. She shook her head, then abruptly stopped as the room tilted violently. "No, I don't want to see her. I don't want her to see...me."
"I'm guessing she's part of the reason you're drinking tonight," Matt ventured.
"Yes. Because I'm mad at her, and—and I'm starting to think I'm becoming just like her," Sarah said, the confession spilling from her before she could stop it. "And I know I should just…give up on ever having a real relationship with her. Write her off. But I can't. Not right now. I don't have space in my heart to mourn two parents who aren't dead, so...I don't care if it's immature. I just want to avoid her until she leaves."
Matt's head was still tilted towards the door as he listened.
"She's leaving right now," he said. Then after a pause, he began, "Sarah, I—"
"—I don't think I can do this," she cut him off abruptly. "I don't—I don't know how to do this halfway thing. With us. To keep it just business. I get that it comes easy to you but I just—I can't do it."
"You think it's easy for me?"
"Isn't it? I mean, y-you've been right out there, listening in on me. But you never just…wanted to knock on the window and come in?"
"I've wanted to every single night."
"But you didn't do it. And that's…that's fine if you're able to keep away like that. But you can't just switch back and forth between helping me and wanting nothing to do with me," she said, her tone turning pleading. "It's confusing, and it hurts, and maybe you think I deserve that but I…I'm asking you to stop."
Even with his dark glasses on, she could see him wince.
"I'm not trying to hurt you, Sarah. This was never about trying to hurt you."
"Right. It was about…space, right? You said you needed to get away from me so you could think. So why are you here? Why show up tonight at all? Just to—to make sure I don't go home with someone?" she asked bitterly.
He blew out a long sigh.
"I shouldn't have said that to you," he said quietly. "But I'd been there long enough to hear him offer you another shot every time your glass was empty, and the next thing I knew his hand was on your leg, and…" Matt shook his head and scrubbed hand over his face. "I don't know. But I can't just let you do this to yourself. Getting shit-faced drunk after so long of keeping yourself sober. And doing it the night before your mediation at Landman and Zack. Making an enemy of Jason by getting that phone. I have a wide enough self-destructive streak that I can recognize it in you, too."
She threw her hands up. "Well, you've done a great job of controlling yours, so please lecture me."
"I'm not trying to lecture you, I'm trying to help you," he repeated with some frustration, which Sarah had no patience for right now. Her head was spinning and her stomach was rising up in her chest, and every emotion she'd hurtled through that night was now crashing down on her exhausted shoulders.
"I know you are. But you can't. We can't—come on, Matt. We can't do halfway. We've never, ever been able to do halfway. It's always been all or nothing, and I ruined any chance of us having it all, so…it has to be nothing. If you really, truly know you'll never be able to forgive me, just stop showing up to help me. Just let it be nothing. Please."
"You need to go," she cut him off. "I just…I know I'm going to get sick soon, and I don't want you here listening to it."
It looked for a moment like he would argue. But he tilted his head, taking in every sign of intoxication radiating off of her, and seemed to accept that trying to continue this conversation in her current state would be a waste of both their time.
With a resigned sigh, he got up from the table.
Sarah watched him cross the room, and just before he got to the door he paused and turned to her.
"It's not just you."
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"All of this. If it is ruined…it's not just because of what you did," he said, his mouth twisting ruefully. "I'm sorry for making you think it is."
Sarah furrowed her brow in confusion. Her vision was doubling so there were two or three Matt's in front of her, and none of them were making any sense. "What did you do to ruin it?"
"I didn't keep you safe. When it really mattered."
"The—the party? I never blamed you for that."
She truly had no idea what to say to that. She wasn't sure if it was the alcohol-fueled haze stealing her words away from her, or just her own surprise at what he'd said. Either way, she just watched silently as he walked out the door.
From outside, she heard the lock click into place, and somewhere in the back of her mind she registered how strange it was that despite every sign that they were truly done…he'd never given her back her key.
Cigarette smoke greeted Matt as he stepped out of the building. He was so lost in his own thoughts he didn't pay much attention to it until someone spoke his name.
"Matt, right?" a nearby voice asked, quiet and hesitant in a way he was all too familiar with.
Matt tilted his head in the direction the question had come from and realized Sarah's mother was still here, leaning against the building a few feet from the entrance, a lit cigarette in her hand.
"Sorry, who am I talking to?" Matt asked, sweeping his cane across the sidewalk as he approached her.
"Right. God, sorry. Um…Anna. Sarah's mother," Anna said, embarrassment coloring her voice. "I just knocked on her door and no one answered. I thought maybe she was still out, but…if you were up there I'm guessing that she was too. She doesn't want see me, does she?"
"She's not feeling great," he said.
"She's wasted, you mean," Anna corrected him. "I talked to her on the phone earlier. I could tell."
Matt pressed his lips into a line but didn't answer.
"Does she do this a lot?" she asked sadly.
But he could tell Anna wasn't taking his word for it, because she made the exact same low, skeptical humming noise that Sarah always made when she didn't believe something.
"They say it's hereditary. The drinking problems. I guess between her father and I…we didn't give her much of a chance."
"She doesn't do this a lot," Matt repeated. "She's just…having a rough time lately."
Anna took a deep drag from her cigarette, then blew the smoke out away from him in a shaky exhale.
"Is some of that because of you? The two of you had some kind of relationship. Right?"
"That's probably something she'd rather you ask her."
"Yes, my daughter is famous for being an open book," Anna said with a faint laugh. "I'm only asking because I need to ask you a serious question. And the only way I know you'll answer it honestly is if you're someone who actually cares about her."
Matt furrowed his brow. "What's the question?"
"Is Sarah on drugs?" she asked him bluntly.
The question caught Matt so off guard that he didn't answer for a beat. "What?"
"She's acting…so angry. Like I've never seen her. She gave up her career playing the piano and—and hardly seems to even care. She put her dad in a home, and the Sarah I knew would never have done that. It's like…someone put a new personality in her," Anna said. She sniffed and looked down at the sidewalk. "And I know being in addiction can cause that, because I've been that person."
"No," Matt said abruptly. "No, she's not on any drugs."
"She asked me for money, which she's never done before," Anna said. "Not once, even as a teenager. She says it's to help with her father, but…he used to come up with all sorts of reasons why he needed money, and none of it was ever real. It just makes me worry…"
That was a surprise to Matt. Sarah was fiercely stubborn about not taking money—or any help, really. It was a fight just to get her to accept a free meal or a safe place to stay.
"If…Sarah's actually asking you for money, it means she needs it," he said slowly. "You can trust her."
"Are you saying that as her lawyer, or as something else?"
He paused. "For now, we'll go with lawyer."
"Right. Well, you seem levelheaded enough, I guess," she said. Matt resisted the urge to raise his eyebrows at that. "Although I see you're all banged up, too. Not as bad as Sarah is. Were you at the same party?"
"I was," he confirmed.
Anna took another drag of her cigarette, and as Matt felt her gaze taking in his appearance, he thought maybe understood why she was viewing him as the more levelheaded one—a laughably inaccurate assumption to make. He was in a suit and tie, and he was lucky that most of the bruises and scars that littered his skin were easily concealed underneath. But Sarah…hers were always right out in the open for everyone to see. For people to make their judgments and assumptions based on marks others had put on her.
"It's insane. You know, crazy things like that…they don't happen in other places," she informed him. "Masked killers and armed ambushes at parties…there's something wrong with this city. I knew it when I left and it's only gotten worse. I wish Sarah would leave here, go somewhere safer."
"Hell's Kitchen is her home," Matt said with a frown.
"Home doesn't have to be where you were born. It's wherever you decide it should be."
"Some might argue it's where your family is."
"I'm sure that's how Sarah has told you she feels. I don't blame her. But…she doesn't understand. I had to leave. Her father…he's not a bad person. Not at all. But all we ever did was hurt each other," Anna said bitterly. "No matter how hard we tried. Leaving was the kindest thing I could have done for any of us."
Matt wasn't so sure about that.
"You never regret it?" he asked evenly.
"No. I know that sounds awful, but no. The moment I left, I knew it was the right thing. Even if it hurt to be away from them, it hurt more to stay, knowing that all Mitch and I had to look forward to was…a lifetime of hurting each other. Letting each other down. And Sarah watching us do it."
And as he stood there on that sidewalk listening to his own words come out of Anna's mouth, it slowly hit Matt that they didn't ring true for him. Not even a little. There hadn't been a single moment of relief since he'd been apart from Sarah. No magic feeling of rightness or certainty. Just loneliness, a hollow cave in his chest that grew bigger every day. Sleepless nights spent in a bed that smelled like her. Badly stitched wounds and lack of any buffer between himself and his own rough edges.
And Sarah: Sarah's bruised ribs and stumbling, slurring sadness. The risks she was taking with no regard for her safety. As he thought of her, all of his carefully laid out arguments about this being the right thing for both of them began to flicker. Maybe they were hurting each other by being together. Just like Sarah's parents. But there was no pretending that they were truly better off apart like Anna and Mitch were. They were both hurting either way. Now they were just doing it alone.
Anna's cigarette had burned down by now, and she ground the butt out beneath her sandal.
"Don't, uh, don't tell Sarah I was smoking," she said self-consciously. "I managed to kick all of my other bad habits, but…I still lean on this one sometimes. When things get stressful. I just—I don't want her to judge me for it."
Matt frowned but didn't say anything.
"So…you know her better than I do," Anna continued. "Do you think it's worth trying one more time before I leave town, or will I just make things worse?"
"I…can't really give you any advice on that," Matt said.
Anna breathed out a laugh. "No? Isn't that what lawyers get paid for?"
He gave a sharp laugh. "I'm Sarah's lawyer. Not yours."
Another laugh, this one somewhat surprised. "Fair enough."
Matt wet his lips, weighing his words before continuing. "But I think…she doesn't often ask people for anything. Ever, really. So whatever she asked you for, you should give it to her."
"What, the money? You really think that's what will help?" Anna asked doubtfully. "Just…write a check and expect that will fix everything?"
"Or just do it without expecting anything. Give it to her because…she deserves it," he said. "And because she's already given more than enough."
Based on his limited interactions with Anna, Matt wasn't even sure if that was something she would understand. But there were enough echoes of Sarah in her mannerisms that he had to hope she had some trace of her daughter's capacity for selflessness in her, too.
A few hours later, Sarah jerked out of her deep sleep with a start. Her heart was pounding painfully fast inside her chest, her skin was drenched in a layer of slick sweat, and her mouth was so dry her tongue stuck to the roof of it.
She sat up quickly, then immediately regretted it as the movement caused a wave of pain to crash through her skull. With shaky hands, she fumbled for the light on her nightstand, wincing as it came on. She'd fallen asleep on top of her covers with her clothes still on, and after a few moments of fumbling around she spotted her phone on the floor a few feet away.
"Jesus Christ," she mumbled as she struggled out of bed to grab the phone and check the time: 4:37 a.m. So at least she hadn't slept straight through her mediation. Whether she would actually make it there in one piece was another question.
She managed to make her way to the kitchen to grab a glass of water and a bottle of aspirin, but didn't even get around to taking the lid off before she had to rush to the bathroom to vomit.
It quickly became apparent that the bathroom floor was where she would be spending the few hours she had between now and her meeting at Landman and Zack. She doubted she'd be able to get back to sleep, which was unfortunate because the longer she was awake the more her memory was bombarded with snippets of the night before. Small flashes of being in a bar, downing shot after shot, and then—Matt. Some of the things she'd yelled at him in that alleyway…
She had a vague recollection that he'd walked her home, but everything after she sat down on the bench was even blurrier than the rest. As though her brain had decided since she was with Matt, it was safe to shut down completely for the night.
It was unfortunate that she'd long gotten rid of any streaming services in an attempt to cut down on bills, because she desperately needed some kind of background noise to keep herself from replaying the fuzzy memories of last night. She opened her podcast app and randomly hit play on the most popular one, then started fumbling with the aspirin bottle.
The podcast host's voice filled the room, still a bit tinny from the water damage to the phone.
"On today's episode, we'll be telling you all about what's probably one of the most gruesome murder cases we've covered in a while. Our victim, Sherry, was only 26 years old in 2005 when she was stalked and—"
With a groan, Sarah pawed at the screen until a different podcast came up. This one wasn't anything particularly interesting—some celebrity interviewing one of his friends—but at least it wouldn't give her an hangxiety-induced panic attack. Then she laid back on the cold tile of her bathroom floor and pressed the palms of her hands against her eyes until she saw stars.
She spent the next few hours like that, slowly able to drink more sips of water without feeling like she'd throw it up, until she couldn't push it any longer. She had to get up and take a shower and get down to Landman and Zack, or Foggy would very possibly kill her.
In a strange, dark way, she was thankful she felt like this. Her father never had hangovers like this to keep him from drinking, and so he never stopped. But the misery she was in this morning felt like a sign from the universe, a reminder that being this cruel to herself wasn't helping anyone, and the few brief hours of relief she'd gotten out of it weren't worth the consequences. She forced herself to lock in every detail of how she was currently feeling, so next time she felt like careening off the rails, maybe she could remember this. And she could only hope it would help.
It was no surprise that the morning after getting Sarah home from the bar, Matt found himself seeking out Father Lantom.
He explained the situation to Lantom as best he could, telling him about the charity ball and everything that had come after.
"And I don't want us to be out of each other's lives. I don't want that at all. But then I see how much potential we have to hurt each other, and it gets…complicated," he finally finished.
The priest was quiet for a minute, taking in all that he had just been told. When he spoke, his voice was quiet and musing.
"It is complicated, but…it also isn't. I've watched many, many parishioners stumble their way through love. They come to me for confession, they come to me for Pre-Cana, sometimes they come to me when they're considering an annulment. I've seen it all. And I know the more dangerous aspects of your particular situation might make it seem more insurmountable than others, but it's not," Father Lantom said. "Your issue is actually one that I see very often with couples who are young and…well…dumb."
Matt's eyebrows went up, and he let out a low ghost of a laugh. "Alright. Tell me."
"You're both making the common mistake of wanting the other person to love you the same way you show love."
"How do you mean?"
"Whenever you come in here speaking of Sarah, you talk about protecting her. You keep a tally of the times you've kept her safe, and the times you've failed. Even the times you've been the one to hurt her," Lantom pointed out, and Matt's chest twisted painfully. "You show your love for her through protection, and when she failed to keep your secret, in your eyes she failed to protect you in one of the few ways she can. She failed to love you in the way that's easiest for you to recognize."
Matt worked his jaw, trying to find the words to respond to that.
"And me?" he asked.
"Well… I don't know Sarah as well as I do you. But it seems to me that she shows her love through forgiveness. She doesn't hold any of your trespasses against you, and in doing so she gives you the opportunity to be better," Father Lantom explained calmly. "So in her eyes, by refusing to forgive her you're condemning her to be no better than her worst moment, and you're failing to love her."
As much as Matt didn't want them to, the priest's words rang true. He wondered how the situation seemed so clear to Lantom when it was so muddled to Matt.
"Why is it so much harder with her than with anyone else?" Matt asked. He swallowed hard, gripping his cane tightly. "Sarah…she's more important to me than anyone. Than anything. She should have been the easiest person for me to forgive. So why isn't she? Why did it take me so long?"
"That's the old paradox, isn't it? When you let someone get closer than anyone else, they can cut you deeper. It takes longer to heal."
"Yeah, but…it doesn't go both ways. She's never been like that," Matt said. He couldn't count how many times he'd screwed up and Sarah had just handed him another chance, again and again. "I had one chance to show her…a fraction of the forgiveness she's always shown me and I didn't do it."
"Well, it'd be very poetic if humans worked like that, but we don't. We're messy," Father Lantom said simply. "Sometimes the people we love hurt us, and our brains can understand why they did it in a rational way, but our hearts…our hearts have to get there on their own. It takes time, and that time is different for each person. Trying to pretend otherwise is just putting a band-aid over an open wound. A metaphor I'm sure you'd understand more than most."
On another day, Matt might have tried to muster a smile at the light jab.
"That being said, I don't think you came here today to determine whether or not you should forgive her. From the sound of it, you've already done that. What you seem to want to know is if it's safe to let her back into your life. And ask to be let back into hers."
"Are you looking for me to reassure you that it will all work out? That you're taking on no risk in opening yourself up?"
"I suppose you're not going to tell me that."
"No," the priest said bluntly. "There's no such thing as love without risk. You'll both probably hurt each other again, and you have to decide if it's worth it."
"And what if it's too late to make that decision?" Matt asked. He couldn't help thinking about how angry Sarah had sounded last night, how open and raw her pain had been. "What if…I waited too long to try to fix things?"
Father Lantom exhaled—a long, exasperated sound. "Then I guess there's no point in even trying, is there?"
The corner of Matt's mouth twitched upward at the priest's wry tone.
"If I can give you a word of advice that I've given to others in your situation?" Father Lantom offered.
He tilted his head, giving a nod for the priest to go ahead.
"Show each other some grace," Lantom said, his voice gentler now. "Don't worry so much about if the two of you have earned each other's forgiveness, or if you're worthy of another chance. The whole point of grace is that it doesn't have to be deserved. You simply…choose to give it. Freely."
Matt nodded, taking in a deep breath.
"Thanks, Father," he said quietly. Then he pushed his suit sleeve up and ran his fingers over the raised dots that covered the surface of his watch. It was still early. "I have to go."
The rain had started up again, but even if there had been sunlight shining through the tall glass windows of Landman and Zack it would still be a cold and intimidating building.
In that morning's one shining moment of good luck, both of Sarah's buses had actually come on time, and as a result she'd surprisingly gotten there a few minutes early.
She was led to a large conference room with white carpeting and expensive leather chairs flanking either side of a long, polished wood table. Everything about the place was the opposite of the warm, slightly worn Nelson and Murdock office, and yet again Sarah struggled to imagine Matt or Foggy working here. Then again, Foggy did enjoy making money. She wondered if he would still be working here had Matt not convinced him they should leave together.
The door to the conference room opened and a short, impeccably dressed man strode in. A few seconds later, he was followed by Todd, dressed in an equally expensive looking suit and fixing her with a wary frown as he spotted her. To her satisfaction, she could still see a faint ring underneath his left eye.
"Sarah Corrigan?" Todd's lawyer asked. At Sarah's nod, he set his briefcase down on the table and scanned the empty room. "Anderson Holden. Your representation isn't here yet?"
Sarah shook her head, then immediately regretted it as the splitting pain in her head got worse.
"Huh. Nelson's usually right on time. Well, nothing personal but obviously my client and I won't be speaking with you until he gets here," Anderson informed her.
"Sure," Sarah muttered. Both Anderson and Todd turned their attention to their phones. She looked down at her own phone, though she had no messages to distract her. Instead she scrolled through the local news, frowning when she saw the headlines were still blasting Daredevil as a killer. Why hadn't the footage made it onto the news yet? She was sure Matt could have gotten it to someone by now.
Only a few minutes passed before the door to the conference room opened again.
Sarah looked up, and her heart stumbled.
Instead of Foggy Nelson's cheerful grin and shaggy blond hair, she was greeted by the sight of his law partner, neatly shaved and dressed in a serious grey suit, cane in hand and dark glasses concealing his eyes.
And as soon as her gaze landed on him, more jagged bits and pieces of the night before hit her, quickly and painfully.
Sarah's throat tightened and she swore internally. Of course she'd gone and humiliated herself the night before, and now she had to sit right next to Matt throughout what was already going to be an awful meeting? Why was he here?
"Matt Murdock!" Anderson exclaimed. "I thought your more pleasant half was going to be joining us today."
"What, you aren't happy to see me?" Matt asked with that relaxed yet practiced charm he adopted so easily. "Sorry I'm late."
Anderson shook his head as he grasped Matt's hand in a firm shake. "No worries. And no one's ever happy to see you as opposing counsel, Murdock."
Matt laughed. "Foggy had a, uh, client emergency, so I'm stepping in. And let's not call it opposing counsel. This is just a conversation to see where we stand, right?"
Todd was watching the two of them interact with an annoyed expression on his face; apparently his counsel hadn't given him the same disclaimer of friendliness that Foggy had given to her. Sarah just watched the two of them as well, her words from last night still swimming in her head.
Matt paused, his eyebrows raising a fraction.
"I, uh…I assume both our clients are already here?" he asked Anderson, who turned to look at her.
Of course Matt knew she was here. Her racing heartbeat was thundering in her own ears, meaning it must be filling the room for him. But they had an audience, which meant playing along.
"Hi," she managed to say. Matt's cocked his head in her direction as though only just finding her.
She could feel his x-ray machine running over her, taking in the exhaustion in her posture, the alcohol that was still circulating through her bloodstream and undoubtedly leaking out of her pores.
"Good morning," Matt said, his tone professional and pleasant. She hated it.
He trailed his fingers along the conference room table as he made his way around it, his cane extended in front of him until he found the chair directly next to her and pulled it out.
"Are we ready to begin?" he asked as he took a seat.
"We are," Anderson confirmed. "The purpose of this meeting is to try to avoid the cost and time of a court case by simply settling on an appropriate amount that Ms. Corrigan can pay to my client as compensation for the loss of work he's suffered due to his injury."
Todd murmured something to his lawyer, who appeared to hold back a sigh as he added, "And a written statement of apology from your client, although that will of course come secondary to the monetary repayment. I have a document drawn up with a suggested amount, but since I was expecting Foggy I don't have an accessible copy prepared…"
"Not necessary," Matt said, waving away Anderson's concern. "I don't think there will be any need for payment to be made. Or an apology, for that matter."
With a sigh, Anderson straightened up a bit in his chair. "My client has missed out on lucrative opportunities because—"
But Todd leaned forward and interrupted him.
"—because I can't see right out of one eye. I'm a photographer! Do you have any idea how important vision is?" Todd demanded. There was an unfortunate silence after his words before he backtracked. "In regards to my career, I mean. It's—I'm not asking you specifically."
Todd's awkward discomfort was a brief, amusing respite in a maddening situation, and Sarah bit her lip and looked down to keep from laughing at his expression.
After letting the uncomfortable silence hang for another beat, Matt continued.
"Is there any medical documentation of these vision problems?" he asked.
"My client has record of reporting eye pain and blurriness to his general practitioner, yes," Anderson answered.
"But no examination from an actual ophthalmologist?"
"We can obtain that if necessary."
"Seriously?" Todd asked, sending his lawyer a frustrated look before turning his attention to Sarah. "Look, you're lucky I'm not pressing assault charges against you. Especially considering this isn't the first time you've attacked me—"
Sarah nearly bit her tongue off trying to stop herself from responding to that. Attacked him?
"My understanding is that when my client struck you, it was in response to your refusal to let her get off the elevator," Matt said calmly, but his glasses glinted as he tilted his head slightly.
Todd leaned his head back with a loud, exaggerated sigh of exasperation in response to Matt. It distantly occurred to Sarah that he would be acting much differently if he knew exactly who he was sitting across the table from.
"I was obviously joking around," Todd protested. "Anyone who's not a total idiot would have picked up on that."
"Your client's going to want to choose his words a little more carefully, Anderson," Matt said sharply.
"Todd, we talked about this. I'll do the talking, remember?" Anderson murmured to his client in a hushed voice, before addressing Matt and Sarah again. "But he is right that the refusal to move was clearly done in jest. Poor taste in humor, perhaps, but it doesn't warrant violence by any means."
"According to my client, he had his arm out and repeatedly blocked her from exiting the elevator. That's false imprisonment," Matt said.
Sarah looked over at Matt in surprise, and from the looks Todd and his lawyer were giving him, she wasn't the only one.
"False imprisonment? Seriously?" Todd turned to his lawyer, not bothering to lower his voice. "Do you see what I was talking about? She's acting like I handcuffed her to the elevator."
"Todd, let me deal with this," Anderson said, giving his client a meaningful look before turning back to Matt and Sarah. "Let's be reasonable here, Matt. My client never touched Ms. Corrigan."
"He didn't have to," Matt countered evenly. "'Gold v. Campbell' already set the precedent that physical contact doesn't have to be involved for it to be considered false imprisonment; just blocking her freedom of movement is enough, especially combined with threats or demands."
"Okay, hey—I never threatened her, regardless of whatever she's told you," Todd said.
"But you did specify you would let her off the elevator if she agreed to go on a date with you," Matt said, and his voice was definitely colder now. "That's a demand."
Anderson's expression was crafted into a careful neutrality that Sarah swore they must teach in law school. But from the quick look he cast at Todd, she surmised he hadn't been informed of that part.
"My client—" he began, but once again Todd cut him off. It was rapidly becoming clear why Anderson hadn't wanted to represent him in a courtroom.
"A joke is not a demand," Todd argued. "Jesus."
"It wasn't a joke to me," Sarah said abruptly, breaking her careful silence for the first time. "I told you to get out of my way and let me off the elevator. I told you multiple times, and you wouldn't listen."
"So you hit me? Do you know how crazy you sound?"
"I'm not crazy," Sarah said.
Todd snorted, but a sharp look from Anderson kept him from saying anything further.
"Look, at the end of the day, you might be able to go through a long court process and recoup some kind of monetary damage by garnishing Ms. Corrigan's wages over the next several years," Matt said bluntly. Foggy had explained that process to Sarah when she'd asked him how, exactly, the courts would even get money from someone who had less than none. But hearing it spoken out loud now made it sound much worse. "But in order to meet the standard of proof for that, you wouldn't be able to take any more photography jobs for a good while, and that would be a significant loss of income and exposure for you."
Todd blinked at that, giving his lawyer a questioning look.
"Additionally, I think our case for false imprisonment is significantly stronger than your case for loss of wages," Matt continued. "But much like your client, mine would also like to avoid the time and cost of a court case. So it would be best for everyone if we dropped all of this right now."
As Anderson regarded Matt, his countenance was now significantly less friendly than when they'd first begun—something that Sarah was willing to bet happened to Matt fairly often.
"We need a minute to confer," Anderson said, then looked at Todd and nodded his head to the side. He and Todd rose from their chairs and retreated the far corner of the long conference room to consult, leaving only Matt and Sarah sitting at the table.
The silence stretched on. Sarah was painfully aware of Matt so close to her side, and she couldn't help wondering if he was feeling the same.
In another universe, he would be resting his hand on her knee under the table, a calming touch no one else could see, and quietly asking her how she was. And she'd reassure him she was fine, and later she would tease him about how he used to work here in this cold building with all of its stainless steel and chrome and glass.
Instead, they both sat in silence. She snuck a glance at him and saw that his head was tilted slightly; if she had to guess, he was tuning in on Todd and Anderson's discussion.
Matt's hand was resting on the table top, his fingers tapping on the surface restlessly. Sarah's eyes wandered down to his knuckles, freshly littered with new, dark bruises that no one else ever seemed to notice.
"Do you want him to apologize to you?"
Startled out of her thoughts, Sarah blinked at Matt in surprise.
"What?" she said blankly.
Matt tilted his head in her direction slightly, his voice low.
"He has no standing here; Anderson's breaking it to him right now. If you want an apology from him, we can get one. Since he apparently thought he deserved one from you," Matt said.
Sarah didn't care about an apology, but the question paired with the hard set of Matt's jaw reminded her so strongly of a past offer he'd made, to pay Todd a visit as Daredevil after he left her on the street. The memory almost could have made her laugh if it wasn't a bittersweet reminder of where they were now.
"No," she whispered, shaking her head. "It's fine. I just…want this to be done."
A short nod from Matt, but she saw a brief glimpse of that tick in his jaw still.
Anderson and Todd returned to the table, but neither took a seat.
"Let's cut right to the chase," Anderson said. "My client is willing to put all of this behind him. As long as Ms. Corrigan agrees not to seek him out at his place of work, and to kindly not contact him by other means, either."
Her eyebrows shot up at that. Did Todd think she'd be calling him up to go on another date? Texting him for a late night meetup? She really would be crazy to do that.
Matt turned his head in her direction with an expectant look, and she realized they were all waiting for her to give an answer.
"Uh…sure," she said. "Agreed."
"Then thank you for your time. Matt, always good to see you," Anderson said, though his tired tone belied that perhaps he wasn't joking when he'd said he wasn't happy to have Matt as his opposing counsel.
Outside, the city's brief respite from the rain had ended, and a steady downpour surrounded the large awning that Matt and Sarah stood beneath.
Sarah wrapped her arms around herself, at a loss for how this conversation would go. She'd gotten a tiny window back into Matt's mind and feelings last night when she was drunk, and now she was sure she was just moments away from having to watch him carefully shutter himself closed again.
"Um…thanks for coming," she said finally. "I hope everything is okay with Foggy's client."
A brief look of confusion clouded Matt's expression, and Sarah gave him a confused look in turn.
"The…client emergency?" she said tentatively.
"Oh, uh—yeah. It's fine, he's taking care of it."
She nodded and looked down at the sidewalk awkwardly. "That's good."
He took a step closer, but she didn't look up at him.
"Sarah…we should talk. About last night—"
"You know, I really don't remember a lot of it," she cut him off abruptly, and there was enough truth to it that she was fairly certain her heartbeat wouldn't give her away. The night was blurry enough that she was sure there were parts she had forgotten, even if the parts she remembered were painfully vivid. "It…turns out one of those nasty side effects of getting blackout drunk is…blacking out."
There was a pause, and when she finally looked up from the ground she found him observing her with that tilted head and serious expression she knew so well.
She swallowed hard.
"But if how I felt this morning is any indication, I'm sure I made a giant fool of myself," she said, forcing a weak, humorless laugh.
Matt's brow creased, something odd flashing across his face.
"No," he said finally. "You didn't."
"I'm sure I really did," she said. But she didn't want to talk about last night, and she cast around for something else to say. She suddenly remembered something that had caught her attention earlier. "Why aren't you on the news?"
He cocked his head.
"I don't know if you've checked, but I think I am on the news," he said slowly. "Kind of a lot."
"No…the fake one is on the news," she said, watching him carefully. "Just like he has been since the fundraiser. Why isn't the video I gave you on the news?"
To her confusion, her question was met with a long, almost hesitant silence from Matt.
"Sarah…I'm not releasing the video," he said finally. "Not yet, anyway."
"…what?" Sarah asked after she registered what he said. "What do you—why not? Is this because you're still mad about me taking the phone?"
"No. Although to be clear I'm still not happy about that."
Matt's eyebrows shot up. "Why? Because I don't want you getting killed when Jason figures out what you did, that's why."
"He won't figure it out."
"Yeah? He's totally in the dark? Is that why you had to fend him off with a—a letter opener?"
Sarah winced at that.
"Jason was mad because he thought I broke Greg's phone, not because he thought I stole it," she argued. "As far as he knows, he still has it, it just doesn't work."
"And do you think he'll still think that when the video hits the news?" Matt asked.
"Yes! I mean…maybe. There was almost a week between when Cecilia took the video and when Jason got his hands on it," she said. "The police had it, and then Greg, then the imposter, and then the cops again. As far as he knows, the video could have been sent to anyone during that time and just now came out. There's no way he can know for sure—"
"Since when does he need to know something for sure to act on it? He's looking for reasons to come after you, Sarah," Matt said, gesturing in frustration as he leaned in close to keep his voice low.
"Exactly! He's going to find a reason no matter what," Sarah said. "It—it might as well be one that can stop him from hiring another psycho in a mask. And one that can clear your name."
"I can stop whoever he hires, and the next one after that, too," he said. "Clearing my name can come later. When…we've figured something out."
She was so thrown by his decision that she didn't even register the 'we' in his statement.
"But it can come now," she insisted. "I'm telling you, Jason already hates me. It doesn't matter—"
"So what, you've just given up and accepted that it's going to go bad no matter what?" Matt asked. Then he shook his head, his jaw tight. "No. We're not going to do that."
"That's not what's happening. I'm just saying…I've thought about this, and I can convince him. Just like I always have."
"No. No, you're downplaying it now but unfortunately for you, you don't have any filter when you're drunk," Matt informed her bluntly. "You made it clear last night that you're one step away from Jason trying to kill you, and I'm not going to let this be that step."
Sarah took deep breath and pressed her hand to her pounding forehead. She didn't want to have this conversation anymore, huddling under this awning and feeling like she could get sick any second.
From Matt's long sigh, he agreed.
"This isn't how I'd hoped this conversation would go," he said, almost more to himself than to her.
Sarah tilted her head at him, her frustration growing even more. What did he mean by that?
"What conversation were you hoping to have?" she asked.
"I just—" he began.
"Hey, Murdock!" someone called out. Looking over Matt's shoulder, Sarah spotted Anderson leaning out of the open front door to the Landman and Zack Lobby. "A couple of the guys from our intern class saw you were around, they want to catch up."
That worked great for Sarah, who didn't think she could stay here a second longer and listen to Matt essentially tell her that everything she'd just done was for nothing. She knew it was his decision, but…that phone had been the one last good thing she felt like she could do, and now Matt wouldn't even take it.
Sarah heard the squeal of air brakes from behind her, and looked over her shoulder to see her bus pulling up to the stop.
"Uh…give me a few minutes," Matt called back to Anderson, then he turned back to Sarah. "I want to—"
"My bus is here," she cut him off. "I have to go."
But she turned and darted out into the rain, slipping between the crowds of umbrella-sheltered people on the sidewalk and making it onto the bus just before it pulled away.
When Sarah unlocked her door that evening, her stomach sank at the sight of an a white envelope on the floor just inside the door.
In her experience, notes slipped under doors tended to be threats more often than not. But as she gingerly picked it up and turned it over, she recognized her mother's looping handwriting on the front.
Her brow furrowed and she walked towards the kitchen as she opened the envelope and withdrew the contents: a note covered in the same handwriting, and—the second item made her stop dead in her tracks:
A cashier's check for a not-insignificant amount of money, made out to her name.
As Sarah read the accompanying note, a familiar feeling of guilt gnawed at her. The ever present suspicion that if she just tried a little harder, she and her mother could have the kind of relationship they'd always wanted, that this was a sign maybe she really had changed.
But she pushed the feeling away; there was no time right now to dwell on her fraught mother-daughter relationship. For right now, she needed to deposit the check, because she knew exactly what she needed to use that money for. And it needed to be done soon.
She stayed up late that night, researching all of her options. She didn't have the time or resources to be as picky as she would like, but she at least wanted to choose something halfway decent. It was into the early hours of the morning when she finally fell asleep, and she found herself barely half awake as she went through the motions at work the next day: her first day of working only for Vanessa.
Vanessa had been out of town since the attack at the fundraiser had happened. Apparently it was a 'rest and recovery' trip to some tropical island after her traumatic experience of being held hostage. Sarah wished she'd been able to also take a vacation, but instead she was working on a Saturday, because there was a long list of things that needed to be done before Vanessa's return that night, and they were all her responsibility.
She knew she needed to talk to Matt about the decision she had made. Maybe he wouldn't care, but she at least needed to let him know. So in a brief break after dropping Vanessa's packages off at the post office, she found an empty bench at the edge of a park and sat down, taking out her phone and dialing before she could change her mind.
Matt actually answered; she hadn't been sure he would.
"Hey. Do you, um…do you have a minute to talk? It's—it's not about us," she clarified. "It's about my dad."
"Is he alright?"
"He's okay. But I'm…going to move him."
There was a pause.
"Move him to a different care facility?"
"Yes. I found a place that can move him in quick. It's…not as fancy as the first place. But they seem nice, and it's clean, and…it doesn't have any connection to Orion or Jason. It's, uh, it's right across from that Greek restaurant we ordered from a few times. I just thought…you should know where he'll be."
She left off the 'just in case' that she was thinking, but from the caution in Matt's voice when he replied, he'd picked up on it anyway.
"That's…a big step to take," Matt said slowly. "Did something else happen? With Jason?"
She could hear the concern lacing his words, knew he thought she was acting out of panic again. And maybe she was, but…her mind felt clear.
"No. I just—I just got some money from my mom, weirdly enough. Like…a good amount of it. And I think this is the right move," she said. "Now that Jason's officially done with me, I can't risk keeping up this arrangement we have."
"What are you going to tell him? If he's been paying, he's going to notice when that money isn't being taken out anymore."
"I don't know," Sarah admitted. "But it's the beginning of the month, and the place my dad is at now is paid up until the thirtieth, so that will buy me at least some time to figure it out. I'm moving him on Monday."
"You know it's risky," Matt said. "Jason could have people at that place reporting back to him. They could tell him that you've moved your dad out."
"I know. But…it's a risk either way. If I move my dad, maybe Jason will find out, but…I'm already on his bad list, right? I can deal with my name getting bumped up another spot. But If I leave my dad where he is, I'm risking Jason trying to go after him. And that's…that's not a risk I can take."
She waited, wondering if he was going to argue.
"I'll help you," he said finally.
Sarah closed her eyes. She knew should refuse—had she not just told him to stop helping her? She definitely had a blurry memory of that. But she couldn't stop the relief that flooded through her at the thought of not having to deal with it all by herself.
"Thank you. Um, I'll…let you get back to your work."
"Wait," Matt said. He hesitated. "I…I was just about to call you, actually."
Sarah tried not to get her hopes up, but she couldn't help herself. "For what?"
She heard him breathe in as he hesitated again before speaking.
"Look, I know you don't remember all of what you said the other night. But…you did say you don't know how to do this…us…only halfway. And you told me that…if all this is ruined, you want me to stop showing up to help you."
"I remember," she said softly, her chest twisting at the memory of everything they'd said to each other. But underneath that, she felt a twinge of curiosity—because he had still shown up to help her yesterday, and she didn't think it was because of any client emergency on Foggy's part.
"I can't just stop showing up, Sarah," he said. "I…I want to talk to you. About all this."
"I thought you wanted space," she said, hope and confusion fighting for space in her head.
"I did. And…you gave it to me. And I thought it would help me get my head straight about everything that's happened, but it's—it's only done the opposite. I want to actually talk to you. When neither of us is bleeding, or drunk, or about to go to jail. Just…you and me."
Sarah tried telling herself not to get carried away. She didn't even know for sure what talking to him would lead to—a reconciliation? Or just closure? But despite herself, she felt her heartbeat quicken to a race.
"When?" she asked.
"I'm actually at work," she said reluctantly. "Vanessa comes home from her trip today, so…I have to spend my Saturday running a bunch of her errands, and then go meet her at the airport. But…tonight?"
"Tonight. I'll come by your place."
"Can—can it be your place?" she asked. "I just…I've been holed up in my apartment a lot lately. I'd like to get out."
It wasn't a lie, exactly. She did want to get out of her tiny apartment. But she also wanted to see if Matt would push back, if he still wanted to keep her out of his home.
"Alright. Come over when you're done with work."
The day dragged on, leaving Sarah wishing for a fast-forward button to skip straight to meeting Matt at his place. Every task she had to do that day—from picking up Vanessa's dry-cleaning to carting around yet another car trunk full of things she didn't want to know about—felt like it took ten hours.
But eventually it was the end of the day, and her only task left was to pick Vanessa up at the airport and fill her in on everything she had missed while she was away.
Sarah had been by herself for most of the day while running errands, but now that Vanessa herself was about to be nearby her usual army of staff magically materialized. When Sarah stepped outside, she spotted Vanessa's driver waiting in the sleek black car they'd be taking to pick her up from the airport. And as she climbed into the back seat, she was unsurprised to see two of Vanessa's personal bodyguards already there, waiting to protect their charge once she was in the car. Normally only one bodyguard accompanied Vanessa around, and Sarah wondered if the recent death of her favorite one had resulted in security getting doubled up.
Either way, they both sat wordlessly in the forward facing seat, their mirrored sunglasses observing Sarah as she slid into the reverse facing seat. She'd seen both of them on Vanessa's protection detail before, but she didn't know their names, and wasn't certain she could even tell them apart.
The car ride was silent. This worked out well for Sarah, who focused on her phone as a distraction from her upcoming reunion with Vanessa. They hadn't spoken at all since the fundraiser.
When she looked up, they were on 19th Avenue, just a few minutes out from La Guardia airport.
Sarah could feel the beginnings of a stress headache starting to creep in, and she closed her eyes to keep the motion of the car from making it worse. She breathed in deeply through her nose and focused on what she had to look forward to later.
The car shifted as they took a left turn.
She took another deep breath. Things felt like they were falling apart, but she could do this. She would deal with seeing Vanessa again, and she would try her hardest to keep Jason from turning Vanessa against her. She would move her dad somewhere safe. And she would talk things out with Matt, for better or worse.
The sound of the road changed below the car, suddenly lighter and more hollow. Sarah frowned and opened her eyes.
She was immediately met with the sight of a metal bridge railing whipping past, and in between the posts she could see the dark water of a river rushing underneath them. For a moment she thought she had fallen asleep and was dreaming again.
This wasn't the way to the airport.
"Where are we going?" she asked one of Vanessa's bodyguards sharply.
His expression didn't change even a fraction. "Got one more stop to make."
She craned her neck around to see where they had turned, trying to figure out what bridge they were on. In the opposite lane, a white bus was driving the other way. Sarah squinted at the writing on the side of the bus, and her heart dropped.
'New York Department of Corrections'
Her mouth went dry as she turned her gaze towards the island they were approaching. Severe-looking brick buildings grew larger as they approached, surrounded a tall, razor wire topped fence. And there in front, printed on the sign as large as life:
No. No, she couldn't go there. Couldn't come face-to-face with the person she knew was waiting for her.
Her hand automatically drifted to the phone in her lap, but the other bodyguard spoke up now.
"I'll need your personal effects to give to security. Phone, purse," he said in a monotone. Sarah narrowed her eyes at him, and he shrugged. "Prison policy."
They both knew that wasn't the reason. If Fisk had summoned them there, she doubted they would even to through security, much less get stopped.
Sarah's eyes lingered on the guns that each bodyguard had strapped at their sides. One had his hand resting only a couple inches away, and her brain quickly flipped through the short list of options she had. Trying to fight back against one person with a gun was useless, much less two. Even if she managed to do anything, she was sure the driver was armed too. The only control to unlock the doors was up front with said driver, on the other side of the thick divider, so she couldn't even take her chances trying to jump out.
"I just—need to let someone know I'll be a few minutes late—" she said, her fingers trembling as she tried to unlock her phone. If she could get Matt on the phone, even if she couldn't talk to him, maybe he could figure out where she was—
But the bodyguard leaned forward and yanked the phone from her grasp, then held out his other hand expectantly for her bag. Gritting her teeth, Sarah shoved it at him, and he took it without a word.
The car came to a stop in front of the prison a minute later. The bodyguards got out, the one to the right slamming the door behind him while the one to the left kept his open, waiting expectantly for her to get out.
"Come on," he said, sounding annoyed.
But she couldn't move. Every inch of her was frozen. This was the one place she was never supposed to go. The place that had sent Matt into a panic at the thought of her stepping foot inside. The place where the most dangerous man in New York was waiting for her inside. Through the car windows, she saw the building looming dark and grey and dangerous against the matching sky.
The bodyguard reached in and grasped her upper arm, then yanked her easily out of the car. She stumbled, managing to stay on her feet as the gravel slipped beneath her shoes.
His hand rested on the handle of his gun.
"You want to go in the easy way? On your own two feet?" he asked her.
Sarah gave a jerky nod, and they walked in a single file line up to the front doors: one guard in front of her, one behind.
As expected, Vanessa's bodyguards didn't have to go through security. They merely nodded to the prison guards on duty, who nodded back and allowed them through. Sarah, on the other hand, was pushed roughly through the metal detector and then patted down before being led to a very small, harshly lit room. The walls were cinderblock, and the only objects inside were a metal table bolted to the ground, with two metal chairs on either side.
One of the guards grabbed her by the shoulder and shoved her down onto one of the chairs. Then he turned and left without a word, and she was alone in the room.
She automatically started scanning it for something, anything that could help her. But the room was bare. Just the table and chairs. It was a tiny room to begin with, but as she sat there it seemed to get smaller and smaller, the walls shrinking in on her as her panicked thoughts ricocheted around—
Then the door opened, and Wilson Fisk stepped into the room.
It was as though he filled the tiny space entirely, leaving no room for anything else. She'd seen him from afar at Orion a handful of times, but up close…he was huge, a monster taking over the entire room and staring right at her with cold eyes.
Unwillingly, a vivid image flashed into her mind: one of the photos McDermott had shown her, of some crime lord who had crossed Fisk and ended up as a bloody, headless corpse on the ground.
Another bodyguard entered the room behind Fisk, his sharp eyes flicking over her, then quickly examining the rest of the room before standing in front of the door, his back straight and his hands clasped behind him.
Fisk took a seat across from her, his hands folded neatly on the table in front of him. No handcuffs, of course.
Sarah's heart pounded so fast she felt dizzy. She didn't think she'd ever felt this level of gut-level, physical fear before. Not with Jason, not with Ronan, not with any of the people who'd come after her. This was in her stomach and in her chest, flooding through her veins until she could taste it bitter on her tongue.
"Vanessa…doesn't know that you're here," Fisk began in a slow, measured tone.
Sarah stared at him, her mouth so dry she didn't think she could speak.
"When my wife first mentioned you, I confess I was unfamiliar with who you are. I do believe it's important to know the people who work for me, but obviously I cannot know every secretary at every company I own," he continued. It was ironic, in a way, that Fisk was such an enormous, looming presence over her own life, but he had no idea who she was. "But you're not just a secretary anymore, are you?"
This time he waited for her to respond, and she swallowed hard.
"No. You managed an impressive climb up the ladder. From being a secretary to working closely with both Jason and my wife in the span of a few months. I had your file pulled, just to see who had caught everyone's interest so quickly. You are in a repayment program to clear your father's debts, correct?"
That wasn't how she would describe it, but arguing was the farthest thing from her mind at the moment.
"But I understand you no longer work for Jason anymore."
"No. Um…just for Vanessa now," she said, trying to keep the nervousness out of her voice. She succeeded a little, but not entirely.
"Yes, well…Jason has come to Vanessa recently with some worrying accusations. Because of her fondness for you, she felt unequipped to decide on her own if those accusations are true, and so she brought them to me. Do you know what I am referring to, Ms. Corrigan?"
Balling up her hands in her lap to keep them from shaking, Sarah shook her head.
"N-no. I don't."
"Jason is under the impression that you may be giving information about Orion to the Devil of Hell's Kitchen."
The room felt like it was tilting, and Sarah could hear her pulse pounding her ears.
No, she thought, taking in a breath. She could do this. She had lied her way out of countless situations over the last few months, and she could put on a convincing show now, too.
"Jason has…no reason to think that," she said, keeping her voice as even as possible. "But he—he got really mad at me the other day. Because I accidentally dropped a phone of his. And…he doesn't like that I get along with Vanessa. Maybe…he's just trying to come up with something that could drive a wedge between us."
"Perhaps he is," Fisk agreed, to Sarah's surprise. But his cold gaze stayed pinned to hers. "His suspicion was triggered when—as I'm sure you remember—he sent an associate of ours to attack an advertising firm. He only told you and the man who would be carrying out the attack. But somehow…the Devil of Hell's Kitchen showed up and saved the target of the attack. It seems very strange that he would show up to this business so many hours before he usually prowls the streets of Hell's Kitchen."
"I don't know. I just figured he—he hears the police radios or something."
"Again…perhaps. But Jason's suspicions were strong enough that he took action the very next morning, by tasking someone with following you."
"Following me?" Sarah echoed faintly.
"Yes. And to his disappointment, you appear to have had no contact with Daredevil. In fact, you go from work to your home every night without doing much else, and you remain in your home throughout the night," Fisk said.
And in the week since the attack on Greg's office…that had been true. Without Matt speaking to her, she wasn't sneaking out of her apartment at night to go run around the streets. She wasn't opening her window to let black-clad vigilantes climb through. She'd been doing exactly what Fisk described: going home to her empty apartment and doing nothing until it was time to get up and go to work again. It had been a miserable stretch of days, but now it was a tiny flicker of relief, because it meant no link had been found between Daredevil and herself.
"However…there is someone else you've been seen with multiple times. Someone who I believe is also cause for alarm," Fisk said. Sarah knew what name he was going to say before he said it, but hearing the words from his mouth still made her throat close up. "Matthew Murdock."
He watched her reaction intently for a beat.
"You do realize," he said slowly. "That Mr. Murdock is one of the people who helped put me away in here. I've been away from my wife when she needed me, been away from my son for the nearly the first entire year of his life. So you can see how I would find this...upsetting."
"Nelson and Murdock have helped me out a few times. Jason is aware of that, though. He was fine with it," she said quickly. "Because it was just…business. They got a few charges lowered for me. It wasn't anything personal, they just…showed up. I think they just have to represent a certain number of low income clients to hit a pro bono quota or—or something."
Something flickered behind Fisk's eyes.
"I don't think that's the entire truth, Ms. Corrigan."
He nodded to the bodyguard near the door. The man briskly walked over, withdrawing a thin blue folder from inside his jacket and laying it on the metal table in front of Fisk, who opened it and withdrew what looked like several blown up photos.
The first few he laid out were from after her mediation with Todd, and they looked like they'd been taken from inside a building across the street. In the photos, she and Matt were standing on the sidewalk facing each other, and they were just a little too close to be having a regular conversation. They were clearly arguing, and Sarah could pinpoint it as the moment Matt had told her he wasn't using the footage.
The next photo was at night, and showed a drunken Sarah walking down a sidewalk with Matt's hand grasping her arm. Again, it looked like it had been taken from far away, this time perhaps from inside a car. As Sarah took in the series of shots taken on their walk home, she noted that at least Matt had been using his cane.
The final series was back in the daylight. Shots of Matt standing outside her apartment building with her, handing over her duffel bag as her mother stood in the background between them.
Every single time she had seen Matt since revealing his secret, with the merciful exception of their last two arguments, when they had been concealed up on a rooftop and in a dark alleyway.
"These look like oddly intimate conversations for a lawyer and his client," Fisk noted. "Were you discussing business in these photos?"
Sarah bit the inside of her cheek. There was no way to look at those photos and lie that there was nothing going on. Not when the camera was zoomed in so closely you could see the raw emotion on both of their faces, even behind Matt's glasses and Sarah's bruises.
"I…" she started, but her voice gave out. She took a deep breath and tried again. "I…have been seeing him. It wasn't anything serious, and we—we didn't talk about my work at Orion or any of that at all. It was just…a stress outlet. For both of us. And—and it's done now."
"You are a…very skilled liar, Ms. Corrigan," Fisk noted, studying her face. "Despite your obvious nerves, you project an…earnestness that makes you seem truthful. I can see how Vanessa and even Jason could believe what you say. But…I do not."
Her blood went cold as he continued, and she couldn't help noticing that although his hands remained clasped on the table in front of him, his knuckles were turning white from how hard he was squeezing them together.
"I believe the reason Jason has found no straight line between Daredevil and yourself is because there isn't one. Your middleman is Matthew Murdock. I see very few scenarios were you might have encountered the Devil of Hell's Kitchen himself and successfully aligned yourself with him. But…Mr. Murdock and his partner Mr. Nelson are known to have worked with the Man in Black in the past—an alliance that landed me here. In this prison. Unlawfully. " Fisk said, and for the first time true anger began to sharpen the edges of his tone.
"No, I—I don't know—" Sarah stammered
"So despite Jason's wild theories of you meeting up with the Devil of Hell's Kitchen in the dead of night, I believe it much more likely that you've instead been meeting with Mr. Murdock, and giving him information with the understanding that he will give it to the masked man, who will in turn use it to harm the company that employs you. The people who employ you…including my wife."
Sarah's eyes widened.
"I've never told anyone anything about Vanessa. I've—she's never even done anything for me to t-tell anyone about. I told you, we—we get along. That's why she asked me to work for her," she said. Then in a fit of desperate self-preservation, she blurted out, "Jason was the one who hired the fake Daredevil to attack Vanessa. He wanted her dead and he wanted you to blame Elliot Bradshaw for it."
Fisk's cold eyes betrayed no surprise or anger at this revelation, and Sarah's heart dropped.
"Yes, Jason said you might tell me something along those lines. Do you have any proof?"
The only tiny shred of proof she had was on that video. The one that Matt was keeping to himself because he thought it would keep her safe.
"No, I...I don't, but he told me," Sarah said, but she knew it was hopeless.
"Yes, well...I have people looking into it. For now I have to proceed under the assumption that your accusations are untrue."
Sarah balled her hands up so tightly she felt her fingernails cut into her skin. This couldn't be happening.
"Regardless, I am aware of Vanessa's affection for you," he acknowledged. "It is the only reason I chose to bring you here and speak with you, rather than simply have you killed immediately. But you understand that I cannot have someone who works so closely with my enemies—" Fisk gestured sharply at the photos in front of them, and Sarah jumped at the sudden movement. "—also continue to work closely with the woman I love."
"No, I swear I—"
But Fisk held up one massive hand to silence her, and she felt her voice die in her throat.
"That being said…after some reflection, I have come to realize that killing you may not be the most efficient use of your...unique situation."
A deep sense of dread grew in Sarah's chest at his words.
"I have spent far too long rotting in this prison for a sentence that was unjustly bestowed upon me. I've been working with my attorneys, and I will be appealing the verdict that was brought against me. Very soon, thanks to some loyal connections in the DA's office. But my legal team tells me that the case Nelson and Murdock helped build against me is legally rock solid. So I want to…create some cracks in that rock," Fisk said. He didn't quite smile, but his face took on a harsh, satisfied amusement. "And the best way to do that is by starting with Misters Nelson and Murdock themselves. Or for right now…just one of them."
He raised his hand toward the bodyguard, who strode forward again and this time placed another item on the table: Sarah's cell phone.
"Unlock your phone," Fisk ordered.
Sarah stared at the phone, desperately trying to come up with something, anything that could get her out of this.
The bodyguard grabbed her wrist and wrenched her hand forward. His grip was iron strong as he lifted the phone and pressed her fingertip against the home button, unlocking the phone with her fingerprint.
Fisk reached out and picked up the phone, calmly scrolling through it. As the bodyguard released his grip on Sarah, she realized there was at least one thing Fisk wouldn't find in her phone: any communication with Matt's burner. He'd given this phone to her the day she'd moved into his apartment, and she'd had no reason to contact him on it while living with him. And after that…they'd been on radio silence with each other.
That left only Matt's regular phone, and Sarah knew Fisk had found it when she saw his expression flicker with satisfaction. He met her gaze for a long moment before pressing the call button, then placing the phone on speakerphone and setting it on the table in front of him.
God, she hoped Matt wouldn't answer. Forget every prayer she'd sent up over the last week and half, all she wanted right now was for him to have changed his mind, for him to be angry enough that he wouldn't pick up the phone when he heard it read out her name—
But she heard the line pick up on the other end, and any hope she had shattered.
"Hey," Matt's voice came through the line, less closed off than she'd heard it in weeks. "Are you still coming over?"
Fisk's eyes remained fixed on the cell phone, but Sarah still saw a flash of triumph in his eyes at hearing the confirmation of his suspicions.
Sarah opened her mouth to say something, to warn Matt not to say anything that would give anything away—but her voice stuck in her dry throat, and Fisk's deep, slow voice filled the room before she could get a word out.
"I'm afraid your plans with Ms. Corrigan have been…delayed, Mr. Murdock," Fisk said slowly, calmly.
The rush of static that came through the phone made Sarah's heart twist as she realized she was hearing every ounce of breath leave Matt's body.
"Fisk," he spat out, his voice hard now. "Where is she? What did you do?"
"She's sitting right in front of me. Unharmed, at the moment. Say hello, Ms. Corrigan."
Sarah bit the inside of her cheek and stayed silent. She wouldn't let herself be used as a pawn to torture Matt.
Fisk gave a bored nod to the guard holding on to her. Pain shot through her as he wrenched her arm into an agonizing angle, and she let out a strangled yelp.
"Sarah—" Matt's sharp voice came through the line.
"I'm fine," she forced out, and after another nod from Fisk she felt the guard release her arm.
"I'm sure the two of you would love to chat, but alas…I called so you could speak to me, Mr. Murdock. You see, my legal team has requested a new trial to rectify the unjust verdict I was given. As key players in my prosecution, I know you and Mr. Nelson will be contacted within the next few days about contesting my request for trial. And if you wish for Ms. Corrigan to remain safe, you will…decline that opportunity."
"They're never going approve a new trial," Matt said harshly. "Just let her go. She has nothing to do with this."
"On the contrary, Mr. Murdock, I think you'll find that they be very open to the idea. The new trial will be approved. And at that time, I will have much more detailed instructions for the role you and your law partner are to play, but for now…your only task is to not stand between myself and the trial I am entitled to."
"My sanity is perfectly intact, Mr. Murdock, but I need an answer right now. This offer is the only chance Ms. Corrigan has of leaving this room alive."
"Don't you touch her—"
"Now you know how it feels, Mr. Murdock. To not be able to protect the woman you love," Fisk ground out, his massive shoulders heaving with restrained anger. "That's how I've felt every day since you put me in here. Locked me away from Vanessa, from my son. But you locked me in a fortress full of people desperate for a leader, and that was your mistake. I have not lost the power you tried to take from me, I've only strengthened it. If you go to the police, or the FBI, or even your friend in the mask…if you bring anyone else into this at all, I will kill her myself, and I will not do it quickly."
"I swear to God, Fisk, if you hurt her—" Matt snarled, and Sarah realized that in his panic he was slipping closer to the voice he used as Daredevil—a voice Fisk was sure to recognize if he kept going.
"Matt, stop," she cut him off, her voice quiet and cracked.
"Just hang up," she said. She tried and failed to keep her voice from shaking. "It's okay. Just hang up, Matt."
Losing her only—and possibly last—connection to Matt's voice was the last thing she wanted. But the longer he was on the line the more likely he was to give himself away, and there was nothing he could do to protect her through a phone line.
"Let me talk to her, Fisk. Just her."
"Why would I allow that?"
"A show of good faith," Matt said. "I'll do what you want. Just let me talk to her."
Fisk's face was unreadable as he considered the request. "Very well. You have thirty seconds."
He nodded to Sarah, who kept her eyes on him as she cautiously reached for her phone. It felt like a trick, but no one reached out to snap her wrist as she took the phone off speaker and brought it to her ear.
"Am I still on speaker?"
"No," Sarah said, and despite the lack of heartbeat to listen to, she knew he'd be able to tell she wasn't lying.
"Listen to me, Sarah. Do whatever you need to do. Alright? If they—if they question you…tell them whatever you need to tell them. I trust you. Completely. To make whatever decisions you have to. Don't focus on anything but staying alive. Do you understand?"
She did understand. She understood with painful clarity that the situation was dire enough for Matt to tell her to discard every secret he'd made her keep. And that scared her even more.
She sniffed as she squeezed her eyes shut. "Yes."
"Promise me that you'll do what you need to do to keep yourself safe. Until I can get to you."
"I promise," she said, barely above a whisper.
"Time is up," Fisk said. A split second later the phone had been yanked from her hand by the guard, who handed it to Fisk.
Fisk held the phone in front of him like a walkie talkie as he spoke into it. "I'll be waiting for my legal team to relay your response, Mr. Murdock. And then I will be in touch."
Then he hung up, and the one small scrap of safety Sarah had felt was sucked from the room.
Fisk's cold, calm eyes assessed her as he handed her cell phone back to the guard.
"And what did Mr. Murdock ask you to promise him?"
Sarah met his gaze, and suddenly somewhere deep, deep under all of the fear, a surge of anger went through her. After everything she'd been through all these months, the risks she took and the danger she'd been in…this was how she might die? She'd spent all this time working to bring Fisk's company down, but what finally put her in his crosshairs was her usefulness as a pawn against someone else.
"To not do anything stupid," she said. "To just hold on until the appeal is over."
It might have been, if that was the advice he'd given her. But it wasn't. He'd made her promise to do whatever it took to stay alive, and she would.
"I understand it must be upsetting to you to be in this position. But your part in this is not limited to being the damsel in distress, Ms. Corrigan. You have the opportunity to help yourself in this situation."
The offer immediately raised her suspicion. "How?"
"You will remain safely detained until my new trial has been approved, and a date has been set. After that, I will have two of my men escort you from your safehouse. You will call Mr. Murdock and ask him to meet you at the police station, and I expect that he will quickly go there in anticipation of a loving reunion. Once he's on his way there, my men will enter his home and leave sensitive documents in a specific location. Given your knowledge of the layout of Mr. Murdock's home, you will have picked the location. You need not concern yourself with what the papers are; only that they will prove wrongdoing on the part of Nelson and Murdock during my original trial."
"You want to frame Matt," she said hollowly.
"In technicality, perhaps, but not in spirit. The truth is that my conviction was based on…raw emotion and angry sentiment. A jury that had been excited and agitated by rumor and gossip. Whether or not these documents are fake is irrelevant. What matters is that I had a chance to save this city, and it was wrongfully stolen from me. If this is the necessary solution to remedy that, then I will take it.
Once at the police station, you will inform the police that you've seen documents in Mr. Murdock's home that you believe hold pertinent information that was withheld during my trial. They will undoubtedly ask you why you've chosen to come forward with this information, and you will tell them that shortly after retaining Nelson and Murdock as your legal representation, you were pressured by Mr. Murdock into beginning a sexual relationship."
"What?" Sarah asked blankly, stunned by the plan that was being laid out in front of her.
"It will follow an established pattern, as I believe Mr. Nelson is also romantically involved with a Ms. Karen Page, who is both his former client and his current employee. Of course, she may deny that anything untoward happened, but between your testimony otherwise and her own questionable past, I don't believe it will be difficult to cast doubt on her honesty."
"People won't believe that," she whispered.
"Won't they? Two lawyers seeking out the poor, downtrodden souls of Hell's Kitchen…then using their leverage to take advantage of them? It's certainly a scenario people have seen before."
Her heart was still racing, but now there was clear anger mixed in with the fear.
"Why do all this?" she asked. "If you want to frame Matt and Foggy, why not just have someone break in before now and plant those papers?"
"In part it's because you provide an easy reason for the police to look into his home. But I will be honest with you, Ms. Corrigan. A significant reason is also that you…make it personal. I believe it was very personal when those two lawyers ripped me from my family and put me in this cage. And I plan to make it just as personal when I get out of it."
"But of course, the choice is yours," he continued. "Either way, I can't have you near Vanessa, no matter how much she enjoys your company. So you can say no, and I will have you separated from her in the way I had initially planned: by having you killed, despite any upset it may cause my wife. I will not kill your father, but without Jason footing the bill for his home I expect he will be evicted and…things will take their natural course from there. Or…you play your part. You won't need to testify; the papers will be evidence enough, and when the story of your distressing experience with Mr. Murdock leaks to the press it will destroy his reputation enough to poison any jury's mind against him. You simply plant the papers, give your statement to the police, and then…you will leave town."
Sarah blinked at that. "Leave town?"
"Yes. If you do everything exactly as instructed, then…your debt to Orion will be considered paid off. You and your father can go start a new life. Far, far away from Vanessa and my son. A life in which you will never speak of any of this, or you will both immediately meet an extremely brutal end."
Fisk didn't wait for her to give an answer. Instead, he calmly stood from the table and pushed his chair back in.
"You'll have plenty of time to decide while you're being held," he told her, then turned his attention to his bodyguard. "Is the car being pulled around?"
The bodyguard nodded, and Fisk turned back to her.
"They'll take to your new accommodations shortly," he said, and Sarah couldn't help thinking those accommodations would be far from luxurious. "I do hope you make the right decision, Ms. Corrigan. For everyone's sake."
Then he walked out of the room, his pace slow and measured, and every ounce of oxygen in the room seemed to disappear with him.