A/N: Enjoy Matt and Steve getting in some quiet, sober discussions on boxing, so they can go back and tell Foggy and Bucky they socialized with human beings that night. Lol


It's Habit


The glass door creaked on its hinges as the bell ringed, announcing a final customer at ten o'clock.

A huge man with broad shoulders and a baseball cap pulled low over his head stepped up to the counter.

"Sorry, mate, we're closed," the desk girl announced with a shrug, her accent showing a random combination of inflections from both Australia and Manhattan.

"I'm staying in Brooklyn for a few weeks," the man said quietly, shouldering a gym bag like it was a sack of marshmallows. "Maybe I could—speak with the owner about coming in after-hours?"

She jerked her thumb back toward the workout room. "You'd have to take it up with him," she informed him. "This guy's been coming in for three years now, no fail."

He raised his eyes just slightly, to meet hers. "Kinda glad I don't know," he smiled wryly.

She gave him a kind one in return. "Make sure you don't interrupt him," she indicated the man in the back. "But try and talk with him. I'll get the owner for you if you're still interested."

"Thank you," he nodded appreciatively, before heading back while she exited through a side door.

The gym was an old one, and smelled of sawdust and saltiness, with a tinge of blood. Along the back wall, rows of punching bags were laid out. Fading posters of long-ago boxing champions, with plenty of modern fight propaganda, decorated all four sides of the room. The evidence of history gave Steve a vague sense of home.

The furious 'tap, tap, tap, tap, taptap TAP!' of the other man's fists against his own punching bag briefly interfered with that sense of calm.

'TAP tap, taptaptap tap tap TAP THWAP!'

Steve looked over at him.

The man seemed deeply engrossed in what he was doing. He was tall, but not unusually so; lithe and muscular, with pale skin offset by the dark T-shirt and baggy sweats he wore. Hearing Steve behind him, he stopped, breathing heavily, and steadied the bag with his tape-covered hands before reaching for a pair of sunglasses he'd left on a small bench nearby.

"I take it I'm not the only one who likes to punch things in the dark?" Steve asked in a friendly way, before the man turned around and smiled politely.

The man was dripping with sweat, but the way he didn't meet Steve's eyes and the fact that he had purposely gone for the glasses before turning around gave him a pretty good idea why the man didn't want to be seen. "It really doesn't make much difference to me," he stepped forward. His voice was surprisingly soft. "You're new in town?"

"How'd you know?"

"You don't smell like my city," the man grinned. "Call that creepy if you want. I can't help noticing."

"I'll just be impressed instead," Steve reached out with his hand. "Steve Rogers."

"You'll have to grab mine," the other man laughed, reaching out his own hand vaguely before Steve caught the hint and grabbed it, giving it a firm shake. He made a face. "Where do you get a grip like that from?"

"A bottle, according to some I know," Steve winced, even though he said it casually.

The blind man hummed to himself for a moment before smiling. "Bottle always gave me a steadier hand, but I wouldn't say it was a firmer one."

Steve laughed, knowing what he thought he'd meant. "I try not to make drinking a habit; more of an exception."

"Well, we all have different habits," the other man sighed softly, reaching out for the punching bag behind him and running a hand down it.

"Didn't catch your name," Steve remembered.

"Oh, sorry. It's Matt," the man said simply. "It's Matthew."

"You always beat up on things alone, Matthew?"

"I prefer it that way."

"Must be nice," Steve gestured, before remembering Matthew couldn't see it. "Having this old place to yourself. How long have you been coming here?"

Matthew turned slightly, angling his shoulder away from Steve. He nodded his head in the direction of the wall. "There a poster up there, badly tacked up, vintage-looking, the name 'Murdock' on it?"

Steve nodded in affirmative, then remembered and spoke up quickly. "Sure is. It been there awhile?"

A glimpse of a smile appeared on Matt's face. "Since I could see it." He turned back to the bag, gave it a few halfhearted punches, and turned to Steve again. "I used to come up here and watch my daddy spar and box, up there in the practice ring," he gestured to the ring where it still stood, square and impassive. "Later on—I just listened. Nobody could take him down unless they let him. That's his name on the poster you saw. They called him Battlin' Jack Murdock. Nobody knew why he—" Matt let out a slow breath, and his voice grew very quiet. "—didn't win more often."

Steve stared at the tattered sign, the edges crisping over with age like so many of the old files he'd been given from his own time.

Nothing lasted. It all simply aged away.

All of a sudden, he felt he knew Matthew Murdock a whole lot better than he should be able to, for having only just met him.

"I'd like to meet your daddy," Steve spoke up after a while, as Matt began to unwind his taped knuckles, his nimble fingers deft with skill.

A ghost of a smile crossed Matt's face. "Where'd you come from?" his brow creased, as he changed the subject. "You spar at all?"

"I try to," Steve replied, feigning a casual tone. "Some people tend to think using my fists is all I'm good for. Sometimes even I do, even though I didn't grow up that way. I'm from Brooklyn," he added, answering the first question. "Haven't been able to get back here for a while. There's no place like home."

"Well, there's no place like Hell's Kitchen, either," Matt smirked, a glint in his sightless eyes. He finished unwrapping his hands. "Wouldn't call it 'home', not ever, but it feels like it belongs to me. I've lived here all my life—I couldn't—leave."

Steve took it on himself to change the subject this time. "You ever spar a—live partner?" he asked.

He thought Matt may have actually held back a choke of laughter, and soon he was laughing, too. "Have I ever sparred a live partner?" Matt drew out the question on his tongue, slowly contemplating each word. He changed his posture toward Steve into one of an equal level of challenge. "Wanna find out?"

"Most men with their eyes intact—no offense," Steve laughed, even though he felt himself turning red, "wouldn't dare to challenge me."

"Most men with their eyes intact are terrified of me," Matt's lips twitched with amusement. "But I don't think either one of us qualify as 'most men'. So whaddaya say?"

… … … … …

"This is impossible," Steve couldn't NOT laugh, feeling totally out of his comfort zone as the scratchy cloth around his eyes made the gym darker than it had been, even before with the lights off. "Is there a trick to this?"

"Only staying light on your feet," he detected a hint of amusement in Matt's tone, though it remained quiet and serious for the most part. "Try not to get hit. Listen and feel for the strikes before they come at you."

"I've got to admit, if I could become any good at this, it could come in handy," Steve admitted, holding his fists up in a defensive position. He tried to maintain balance on the balls of his feet, even though he couldn't even see where his partner was on the floor.

A slight depression in the mat in front of him, just to his left, warned him of the incoming attack just before Matt's fist swung to the side of his face. Steve fumbled for a block, but he was too slow. Matt struck again, having made good on the first one, and again.

"You've gotta be kidding me—" Steve ducked, causing him to swing high, and plowed straight into him at a tackle. He went light at first, but when Matt caught him around the throat and effortlessly swung up and over his head, landing on the other side with a soft 'thump!'

Steve regretted his decision.

"That the way you do boxing in Hell's Kitchen?" he coughed, eyebrow raised in skepticism.

Matt breathed evenly, pausing before he spoke. "Sorry. Only on the streets," he replied, in a voice that Steve couldn't tell if it was serious or not. "Old habit."

"You know, with this thing on, I couldn't tell if I HAD wandered into the streets." Steve raised a hand to his blindfold, resisting the instinct to just pull it off and fight like he always did. "Old habit, you know. I can't do without my eyes." He forced himself to still and use his slightly enhanced hearing to tell when Matt took a step. He didn't dare go on the offensive just yet. It was difficult enough to figure out where his opponent was standing.

Matt struck out again. A combination of punches and kicks, which Steve just barely managed to avoid most of by grabbing the smaller man and shoving him away several times in a row, ended in a behind-the-heel takedown that caught him completely by surprise. He had no idea Matt was even bending down in that direction, and out of nowhere he was flat on his back on the floor again with his feet in the air like an overturned beetle.

Steve flipped over fast and struggled to keep up. He grabbed at where he thought Matt was, and caught only air instead. Then Matt came up from behind him, arms around his neck once again.

Steve knew how to handle that one a little easier. He ducked his chin, swung around to face Matt, and rolled. Matt dropped his grip and disappeared once again. Then he was back on him, knocking Steve flat on his back and mounting, setting a fist to his jaw.

"Yield?" a small amount of amusement was clear in Matt's voice.

"You sure you're blind?" Steve balked in response before Matt let him up. He yanked off the blindfold, a little tired of it by this point. And of losing, to somebody he respected, no less.

Matt was smiling at him when he could see again. "As a bat. But it would have to be one with no eyes, because bats aren't actually blind."

"Well, you would know, wouldn't you?" Steve chuckled, wiping the sweat from his face. "What's your secret?"

The blind man gave him a hand to his feet. "Close your eyes," he instructed gently.

Steve did so, feeling awkward. Matt's voice echoed around him as he hovered nearby.

"The hard part about boxing without your dominant sense is that you have to relearn everything you know about fighting. Forget the old ways; they won't help you now. Lower your head so you can hear what's coming, and hold up your gloves. Strike first, strike fast. Don't let me get the first shot, and if I do, listen for me coming and duck before going straight in."

Matt stepped away, leaving Steve's busy mind processing everything he'd said and translating it into his plan for the upcoming match.

"Half of it is never backing down," there was a smile in Matt's voice, even though Steve couldn't see it.

Maybe he was beginning to understand. "Sounds like you make a habit of this," he grinned, listening for Matt's feet on the ground.

"I thought you did the same."

Steve struck out first, like he'd been instructed, aiming straight in the direction Matt's voice came from while keeping his gloves up high. After the first two, and wildly blocking a strike of Matt's in a flailing of arms he was VERY glad nobody could see, he finally found contact with the side of Matt's jaw.

"First man down," Matt smiled again.

"How many men are there?"

"With someone your size? I figure twenty-five to thirty."

"Guess we're gonna be here a while."

Matt smirked. "Well, Old Man, old habits die hard."