Hi friends! Long time! It's been just short of a year since I updated this story, and I'm sorry. I won't get into Real Life details, but it has been A Year. For all of us, I think. I lost my writing bug for a while, and it took a long time to get it to come back. But I am back, and I have enough of the next chapter written that I don't think a long hiatus like that will happen again! I so appreciate all of the PMs and emails and reviews everyone has left, and I'm sorry if I didn't reply to them all. But please know that I read them all, and that it was so nice this last year to have people care about me and this story.

A large portion of this chapter has characters dealing with sexual assault, fear of intimacy, trauma, and other heavy things. There's nothing explicit, but I want to give a heads up in case anyone isn't in the right headspace to read it. I did try my best to insert a good bit of humor into the chapter to balance out the emotionally heavier parts.

For a little fun (?) we're kicking this chapter off with a pre-story flashback! Obviously since it's been a while, I recommend you go back and re-read the last chapter to understand what's going on in this one. I hope you enjoy!


Roughly One Year Ago

The first month of Sarah's new position at Orion, Inc. was full of unfortunate surprises. The first and most obvious being the job itself, which she had been shoved into with little warning. The second was the discovery that her new supervisor—a tall, sneering man named Ronan—was among the most detestable of the company's employees; much worse than James Wesley, who had been the one to 'offer' her the job in the first place.

The third and worst surprise was when she opened her first paycheck. There was no accompanying stub with a breakdown of hours worked or deductions—and why would there be? Had she forgotten what kind of company this was?—but she was certain there had to be a mistake. Had they accidentally left a week out?

It wasn't as though they had an HR department she could ask, so she had to resort to something she had quickly learned to hate: knocking on Ronan's office door.

Ronan didn't look surprised to see her entering his office. In fact, he looked expectant and almost—gleeful? The sight immediately set her on edge.

"Um...I think there's a mistake," she said hesitantly. "With my paycheck."

"What kind of mistake would that be?"

Sarah looked down at the check, then back up at Ronan's smug expression. She held the check up.

"There's barely anything in it?" she ventured.

Ronan squinted theatrically, as though trying to read the check from across his desk. "Mmm...no. Looks right to me. Maybe you just don't understand how the math works."

"What are you talking about?" she asked, trying to keep her breathing steady. He was always playing these weird games with her, and she hated it.

Ronan rolled his eyes, then pointed at the chair in front of his desk.

"Take a seat," he said.

Sarah was reluctant to make herself any more comfortable in his office than necessary, but she did want to know what was happening with her pay, so she took the chair.

"Didn't Wesley walk you through the logistics of this arrangement?" Ronan asked. "Were you not listening? You do the work, we keep half the money to pay off daddy's debts."

"He said it would be a—a portion," Sarah argued. "Not half."

"Half is a portion. A big one. Plus, there were a few special deductions I had to take out myself," Ronan said. At Sarah's confused stare, he elaborated. "We don't pay you to just show up here and look pretty. You have to actually do your job. So all those breaks where you go—I don't know—cry in the bathroom or whatever you do? That's not paid. Neither is the time spent staring a the clock like you'll make it go faster. So...that's the pay you actually earned."

Sarah hadn't realized until now just how closely Ronan watched her while she was at work, and the knowledge made her skin crawl.

"But I can't survive on this," she said. "I have to pay rent, and bills, and—and buy groceries—"

"Then I'd suggest you pick which one of those is most important to you," Ronan said with a callous sneer.

Sarah bit the inside of her cheek hard to stop herself from responding. It wasn't like he needed a response to continue anyway.

"I feel bad for you. I really do. It's not like you can go get a second job. You have no real marketable skills," he said as he stood from his chair and walked around to lean against the desk in front of her. His proximity made her want to get up and run, but she didn't want to give him the satisfaction of knowing he was making her uncomfortable. "Remind me again what you were doing before this? Playing the violin?"

He was playing with her, trying to get a reaction. And in some ways it was working; she could feel her face heating up and knew that it was probably turning visibly red.

"The piano," she said as calmly as she could.

"Right. The piano. Is that what you're always daydreaming about at your desk when you should be working? Playing some fancy concert? Being a big crowdpleaser?" Ronan asked. He laughed derisively. "That life's over, sweetheart. You have a crowd of exactly one person to please now, and that's me. So maybe start actually doing your job."

"So what, you're going to knock m-money off of my paycheck every time I take a moment to breathe?" she asked, unable to keep the frustration out of her voice. She regretted it immediately when she saw Ronan's smug expression.

"Look, I don't know what you're whining about. It's not like you don't have options, you're just not creative enough to take them," he said.

A heavy sense of dread fell over her as she started to suspect what direction he was trying to take the conversation.

Sarah didn't give him the satisfaction of an answer, so he continued.

"I mean, you have it easy. Men have to actually work hard at a real job to make a living. But women…women can find all sorts of ways to make money if they really need it."

If his words weren't enough to make her stomach turn—and they were—the predatory look in his eyes was. He leaned forward, and his hand came to rest high up on her thigh.

Despite all of the comments he'd made, the leers he'd sent her way, the actual physical contact of his hand on her was jarring.

Sarah jerked back, her eyes widening in shock. Ronan's stare never faltered, just stayed pinned to her as he grinned.

"Come on. What do you think? A little extra work and you can make up for that small paycheck in no time."

"I—I…" she started, but her words stuck in her throat.

"I—I—I," Ronan mocked her stammer. "You what?"

Sarah swallowed hard.

"I'd rather starve," she replied, her voice barely loud enough to be heard—but it was steady.

Something in Ronan's face hardened at that. He narrowed his eyes at her, his mouth twisting into a bitter sneer.

"Suit yourself," he snarled. "We'll see how long that conviction lasts when those paychecks actually leave you starving."

When she got home that night, Sarah immediately reached for the bottle of wine on top of her cupboard. She paused, then reached instead for a bottle of vodka that had been sitting on her shelf for a while. She needed something stronger than wine as she processed the fact that her working conditions had just gotten much worse.

She turned her TV on just to have some kind of noise, figuring she might as well use her streaming services while she could still afford to have them.

Of course, that thought quickly waterfalled into other thoughts: about her student loans, her credit score, her dad's medications. Eager to drown those worries out for a night, she poured a generous amount of vodka into a glass, then opened her fridge in search of a mixer. She'd been so stressed the last few weeks that she hadn't gone grocery shopping in a while, so she grabbed the best option she had: a small, half-empty bottle of orange juice she had bought from a bodega on her way to work yesterday. She poured it in with the vodka and took a sip, then immediately made a face.

Strong, but it'll get the job done. She tossed the now empty orange juice container in the recycling.

She leaned against her counter for a moment, gathering her thoughts. As she did, her gaze landed on a nearby photo of her and her father at a restaurant after her college graduation. They were both grinning widely, and her father had a glass of rum and Coke in his hand—of course.

"Cheers," Sarah murmured dryly, tipping her glass at the photo before taking a deep drink. It tasted just as strong as the first sip, but she knew it would get easier as the glass got emptier.

Her phone buzzed beside her, and Sarah took another deep swig of vodka as she checked who it was. Her screen was lit up with a photo of Lauren's face as her best friend tried yet again to call her.

It wasn't that she didn't want to talk to Lauren. But what was she supposed to say if she answered? How was she supposed to come home from that soulless place and act normal to her friends? Should she even talk to them at all, knowing how easily the two sides of her life could painfully collide?

Sarah gripped her glass tightly with both hands, watching the photo as her phone kept vibrating. She made no move to answer, and eventually it stopped. Of course, knowing Lauren she would call back again soon enough. Slowly, Sarah reached over and turned the phone off.

Sitting there in the silence that followed, Sarah felt incredibly, completely alone.

Involving her friends would put them in danger. Her dad wasn't mentally there enough to be of any help cleaning up his own mess. And the police had made it clear they weren't going to be of any assistance.

There was no one she could turn to for help. And she couldn't imagine that changing any time soon.

She took another drink from her vodka, and it made her a little dizzy. But the dizziness was accompanied by numbness, and she welcomed that. Anything to get rid of the sick feeling that had been sitting in her stomach since Ronan touched her. She slowly put her head in her hands, and didn't lift it again for a long time.


Present Day

The nice thing about riding the bus in New York City was that no one really blinked an eye at someone quietly crying by herself in a seat near the back.

Sarah had just made a total fool of herself, and now she didn't even have a place to stay. It was still light out, but not for too much longer. And as much as she didn't want to go back to Matt's and face him after that breakdown, she also couldn't sleep in her gasoline soaked apartment with its broken locks.

Sarah wiped her cheek on her shoulder before focusing her attention on her phone. Unsurprisingly she had a missed call from Matt. No voicemail. She discarded the notification before she could stare at it for too long.

'Can I crash on your couch tonight while you're out of town?' she texted Lauren. 'Long story.'

'Of course. There's leftover lasagna in the fridge.'

Sarah didn't have the her copy of the key to Lauren's place on her, but she remembered where they kept their spare. Underneath a ridiculously obvious fake rock—but maybe you didn't have to worry about those kinds of things when you lived in a nice neighborhood and had non-homicidal coworkers.

Once she'd let herself into the apartment, Sarah took a calming breath and looked around. Lauren's apartment was quiet, with a few lights still left on. She slipped her shoes off and padded quietly down the hall towards the bathroom. It was a small half bath, with a toilet and sink just inside the doorway.

She flipped on the light switch in the bathroom and turned towards the sink to splash some water on her face. The water that came out of the tap was lukewarm against her fingertips, and Sarah watched her reflection in the mirror as she waited for it to get colder.

It was when she was bent over the sink, splashing her face with water from her cupped hands, that all the hair on the back of her neck stood up, and she was overwhelmed with the sudden feeling of not being alone.

She abruptly jerked upright, and as she did she caught a glimpse of a man standing only inches behind her in her reflection, blurred by the water droplets in her eyes.

Reflexively, Sarah let out a startled yelp, while at the same time—almost without thinking—she spun around and lashed out at the figure, swinging her fist in a clean right hook directly to his face.

"Jesus!" the man exclaimed, before letting out a string of swears in a voice that Sarah immediately recognized.

She clapped her hands over her mouth as she recognized the man in front of her, who was slightly doubled over in pain with both hands clasped to his nose.

"Greg?" she said, her voice muffled by her hands over her mouth.

He looked up at her, and even with his hands in the ways he could see his nose was bleeding heavily.

"Sarah?" he said incredulously.

"Oh, my god. I'm so sorry! What—what are you doing here?" Sarah exclaimed as she grabbed a handful of tissues out of the box on the bathroom counter and shoved them towards him.

"Me?" Greg said indignantly as he snatched the tissues from her and pressed them against his nose. "I live here! Why did you hit me?"

"I didn't know it was you! I thought someone broke into your place!"

"Someone did!" he said with an accusatory gesture her way. His voice was nasally and stuffed up sounding from the bleeding.

"Me? I didn't break in," Sarah protested. "Lauren said I could sleep here for a night while she was upstate and you were at a work conference. Why…why aren't you at a work conference?"

"Because there is no work conference! I lied!" he answered in exasperation. "To my wife! I didn't realize the penalty for that was a broken nose!"

Sarah winced.

"Oh, god. Greg, I'm…I'm really sorry, I don't…" She faltered as she took a look at how much his nose was still bleeding. "Um, you-you should tilt your head back. It'll help."

Greg glared at her, but tilted his head back all the same.

"Why are you trying to sleep here anyway?" he demanded.

"Uh…my apartment had to get some work done on it," she said lamely. It wasn't really a lie so much as a half-truth, but it sounded less than convincing all the same.

Greg gave her a long look, his eyes peering doubtfully at her from over the tissues he was pressing to his nose. Then he broke her gaze with a rueful shake of his head.

"You know, if you're going to break in here and punch me in the face, you could at least do me the courtesy of not lying directly to it afterwards."

"I…you're right," Sarah said, her face flushing. "I'm sorry. I'm…I'll leave. I'm really sorry about your nose."

Greg let out a sigh as she skirted past him.

"Hang on," he said.

Sarah turned back to him, and she saw him frown as he took in her bloodshot eyes and tired face. His eyes quickly flicked down over the rest of her, and she realized with a sad start that she showed up hurt so often that even her friends who were uninvolved with her Orion life knew to check her for injuries.

"I was about to put on some tea. If you're truly sorry, then put yourself to work and go put some on for both of us while I try to sort all this out," he said, waving at the bloody tissue.

Sarah blinked.

"Yeah," she said uncertainly. "Tea. I'll...go make us some."

Greg gave a short nod and turned his attention back to his bloody nose as Sarah turned and left the cramped bathroom.


While Sarah was making tea in preparation for sharing her jumbled thoughts with Greg, Matt was sorting out his feelings in his own way.

His boot slammed against the chest of the man he was fighting—although Matt would use the term loosely, as it wasn't taking much effort to take him out. He was wiry and out of shape, and in another circumstance Matt might have held back a little on him. But he'd caught Daredevil having an exceptionally bad night, and he was also an exceptionally huge piece of shit, so he was out of luck.

He left the man in a spot where the cops would find him easily, and continued on his patrol.

But to his frustration, he didn't come across much else. His head was a tornado of conflicting thoughts after what happened earlier, and he desperately wanted something to distract him from the guilt brewing in his chest.

Sarah hadn't answered his call, so he was left with only his own interpretation of what had happened, and his mind was quick to supply a long list of the different ways he'd screwed up.

It wasn't like this was some new fling where he didn't know any better. He knew exactly what Sarah had been through in the last year. He also knew that their own relationship wasn't free of questionable complications, as much as they both tried their hardest to navigate them.

It also seemed clear to him now that for as much as their relationship bounced from hot to cold, maybe it hadn't been the best judgment to segue directly from yelling at her to stay away from Fisk to straddling her on his couch. And that maybe he shouldn't have initiated something like that when his apartment was her only viable safe place to stay.

But he'd felt such a headstrong rush of relief when she'd promised him she'd stay away from Fisk's jail, only to be directly followed by what she'd said to him afterwards.

("He...wouldn't be wrong."

"What?"

"About me being yours. He'd…he wouldn't be wrong.")

After that point, none of the problems that seemed so clear to him now had crossed his mind. In fact, nothing much had crossed his mind at all beyond wanting to be with her. And he'd been so certain she felt the same.

Sarah was difficult to read, but up until now Matt really thought he would have been able to tell if she wasn't enthusiastic about what was happening. But clearly that wasn't true, if the racing heartbeat and flushed skin he'd interpreted as excitement similar to his own had really been panic.

He was brought out of his ruminating thoughts by the sound of two angry voices a few stories below him.

It was a man and a woman, and they were arguing in low voices as they crouched next to a car. One of the back doors was open, and the shattered window gave a good clue as to how they'd gotten inside.

As much as Matt was itching to get a few more good fights in tonight, he didn't generally let himself get involved in things like car break-ins. Like he'd told Cecilia, protecting property wasn't the reason he did this.

Then the smell of gasoline caught his attention, and he listened more closely.

"—but I think we should try again at the girl's apartment," the woman was saying. That certainly caught Matt's attention even more. "Elliot wasn't happy with the job we did—"

"Of course he wasn't! We went to all the effort to break in there and then your dumb ass forgot the matches! So we wasted our chance to light the place up, and now you want to go back so we can get caught?" the man argued. "That's stupid, let's just use what we have left of the gas on the guy's car and we'll figure out something else to do to her."

"Fine," the woman snapped.

Matt heard her rustling in her pocket for a book of matches, and he took that as his cue to step in before anything went up in flames.

He dropped down silently to the pavement right behind them.

"You shouldn't do that," he said calmly by way of announcing himself.

Two heartbeats skyrocketed in unison as the pair spun around to face him. He heard the man swear under his breath, while the woman stayed quiet. They both instinctively moved to step back, but were blocked in by the car.

He tilted his head slowly. So these two were the ones who had broken into Sarah's apartment? He and Sarah had spent so much time running through every possible enemy she had in Hell's Kitchen, and it ended up being two morons working for an equally moronic nightclub owner.

"Whose car is that?" he asked, nodding towards the gasoline soaked vehicle.

"Just a guy," the woman said. Matt noticed for the first time how her words were slurring together. "Real bad guy."

"You two work for Elliot Bradshaw," Matt said. There was a beat as he could tell the two of them were exchanging some kind of look. Panic, he would guess if he had to go off their heart rates.

"Uh...how do you know that?" she asked. The man next to her elbowed her hard, then shook his head.

"Why does he have you targeting these specific people?" Matt asked. "He doesn't seem to be trying to kill them. So what does he want?"

"It's—it's not really about them, it's—"

Her companion elbowed her hard in the side again before speaking.

"We don't know what you're talking about," he said loudly.

Matt's jaw ticked. He didn't have time for this tonight, and he definitely wasn't in the mood.

In one quick move, Matt slipped one of his batons out of the holster on his leg and struck the man across his windpipe. He let out a gasping noise and fell to his knees. It was an effective move; the blow would cause his trachea to spasm painfully for long enough that Matt could question the woman with no interruptions, but it wouldn't have any lasting effects.

He turned his attention to the woman.

"I'll ask you again. This car. The apartment you broke into. Why were they targeted?"

She was jittery—definitely more than nerves. Jittery and sweating. He could hear the way her muscles kept tensing and relaxing, her entire body twitching.

"Just...'cause they work for Jason," she said. "El wanted to piss Jason off, but we couldn't figure out where he lives, so..."

"He wants to piss off one of the dangerous men in Hell's Kitchen?" Matt clarified. "Why?"

On the ground, the man was able to stop coughing and wheezing long enough to smack her leg.

"Don't," he rasped out.

The warning seemed to sink in, as the woman immediately gave Matt a shrug.

"Don't know why," she lied.

Matt was silent for a moment.

"Alright," he said finally. "I'm going to give you a choice."

Matt aimed a kick at the man's ribs; not very hard, just enough to get him to roll over onto his back. When he did, Matt knelt down and retrieved a small plastic bag of powder from his front pocket.

He held the bag up as he stood back up.

"I'm guessing this is what's in both your systems right now," he speculated. "You know opioids have some pretty nasty withdrawal symptoms. Have you ever gone through it?"

The woman hesitated, then nodded.

"Yeah. And I'd guess your last hit was about…six, seven hours ago?" he guessed.

Another sharp nod.

"That's not great for you. Because I'm going to find a place to leave both of you tied up tonight, and wait until sometime tomorrow to tip the cops off to where they can find you. Which means when the withdrawal starts to kick in in a few hours, it's going to be a long night for you."

"You can't do that," she exclaimed. "That's—that's like torture."

Matt shook his head.

"No. When I torture someone, it's more straightforward than that," he said calmly. "I'm not going to torture you; I'm going to give you a choice. You can answer my question without lying, and I'll leave these here with you to get you through the night. Or, you can keep playing games, and you can spend the next twelve hours in withdrawal."

The woman looked from him to her partner, who was still groaning on the pavement.

"Does he look like he can help you?" Matt asked. She looked back up at him. "Make a decision."

"El wants to piss Jason off enough that he'll try coming after him," she blurted out. "You know, like a dick measuring contest."

"More like a turf war," Matt said. "You know he won't win that."

"I don't know. That Jason guy is creepy, but he's kinda old. And El's got hella guns," she slurred.

"People will get killed in the crossfire if he tries starting up a war with Orion," Matt warned. Probably including innocent ones if he continued to operate his criminal operations out of a nightclub full of people.

"That's just how it goes," came a raspy voice from below them. The man had recovered enough to be slumped against the car, but he seemed to know better than to try to get up. "You wanna make a name for yourself, there's gonna be damage."

That 'damage' could very likely include Sarah. Matt was tempted to hit him in the throat again, but he refrained. These two weren't the ones he need to be spending his energy on. Elliot Bradshaw needed to be tracked down soon for a friendly talk about what happens when people try starting up a criminal turf war in the Devil's territory.


Many blocks away, in a much nicer neighborhood, Sarah was leaning against Lauren's kitchen counter, waiting for Greg's electric kettle to heat up the water for their tea.

Greg had just joined her in the kitchen with a newly blood-free face and shirt. He took a seat on one of the stools at the kitchen island, his gangly legs bending neatly so he could rest his feet on the rungs.

"Electric kettles take so bloody long to heat up here. Americans need to up their voltage," he grumbled.

"You could use a stovetop one," Sarah suggested timidly, despite knowing what his answer would be.

The look Greg shot her was one of more disgust than when she had punched him.

"I refuse. It's a matter of principle."

Leaving the electric tea kettle to get its act together, Sarah moved around the kitchen island to get a better look at Greg's nose.

"Is it really broken?" Sarah asked him with a sympathetic wince as she inspected his face. His nose was still swollen and tender looking, but it had stopped bleeding, at least.

Greg scrunched his nose up experimentally, grimaced in pain, then shook his head. "No. I don't think so."

"I'm really sorry," she repeated for the hundredth time.

"When did you get such a mean right hook, anyway?"

Sarah laughed weakly. When I started spending time with the Devil of Hell's Kitchen.

"…it's something I've been working on."

"Well, you can stop working," he informed her. "It's up to snuff at this point, believe me."

The light on the electric kettle lit up, and Sarah walked over to the cupboard to grab the cups. She selected a chipped red one that she knew was Greg's favorite, and a light blue patterned one for herself. Blue was supposed to be calming, right? She could use some calm.

"So…you don't really have a conference this weekend," she said, trying to fill the silence with something other than her own insane actions. She placed two teabags in the cups and glanced over at Greg, who looked surprisingly guilty for someone who had not just punched his good friend in the face.

"No. And I'm not cheating on Lauren or anything, if that's what you're thinking," Greg said.

Sarah let out a startled laugh at the very thought, then caught sight of Greg's mildly offended expression.

"I didn't think you were," she said quickly.

"Well good, because I'm not. I just…couldn't go on that trip with her and those women. It would be one thing if it was just Lauren and Noah, but Cecilia? That bloody woman is already here all the time, and yes, I do think she honestly cares about Noah, but it doesn't make her any personality easier to tolerate."

"I agree," Sarah interjected.

"On top of that, I'm used to seeing Lauren's mother about twice a year, and I could handle that, but now that the baby's here, she's visiting constantly," he explained with a pained expression. "I can't handle it, Sarah. I have high blood pressure for the first time in my life. I'm in my twenties! I shouldn't have high blood pressure!"

Sarah gave him an alarmed look as she nodded. Greg didn't often go off on rants, but when he did it was difficult to get him to stop.

"And Lauren's Aunt Kathleen? Cecilia's mother? Have you met her?"

"I don't think so."

"She makes the other two look like rays of sunshine."

Sarah winced. "Oh, god. I didn't know that was possible."

"I don't know how Lauren came from that family and turned out how she did. I love her to death. But…I've already been exhausted lately. And I just can't handle all of that right now, so..." Greg threw his hands up in the air. "So I invented a fake work trip to get out of it. I packed a suitcase and everything."

"Wow," Sarah said, at a loss for what to say. It wasn't like she could judge Greg for lying, considering her own life right now. "I'm sorry. That...that sounds really stressful."

"It is. And I will talk to her about it. I will. But not right now. There's too much going on. Ever since Noah was born, it's been…" Greg trailed off and shook his head. "It's been difficult for her. For both of us. So if we're going to have a conversation about how I despise half of her family, it needs to wait until it doesn't feel like we're drowning anymore."

A pang of guilt wracked Sarah's chest as she realized yet again just how much of her best friend's life and problems she missed out on because she was always so busy with her own crazy whirlwind. This was her first confirmation that her suspicions about Lauren were correct: that she'd been struggling since giving birth, that motherhood wasn't coming easy to her.

"I get it," she said. "I can't blame you...for not wanting to add a visit with all of them on top of regular stress. I'd probably lie about a work trip, too."

"You would definitely lie," Greg said with certainty. "But I usually don't."

Sarah winced at that as she gently set both cups of tea down on the granite island countertop, then took a seat on the stool across from Greg. She wrapped her hands around her teacup, pressing her palms against the slightly-too-hot ceramic until it started to almost burn, then pulling them away.

As she opened her mouth to try to say something, Greg suddenly changed the subject. He was similar to her in that way; he generally had a hard limit for how much he could discuss anything regarding his own emotions before he felt the need to pivot away.

"So, you're here because you're having work done on your apartment?" Greg speculated. Sarah nodded. "Is that why you didn't bring any kind of overnight bag? And why you're all puffy faced like you've been crying?"

"I…don't want to lie to you," Sarah said carefully. "But I also can't really tell you the whole story."

Greg sighed, turning his gaze away from her.

"You know…I'm not just your best friend's goofy English husband, Sarah. I'm your friend, too," Greg said carefully. "I've known you a long time."

Sarah frowned. "I know that."

"And it hasn't been easy for me to see you keep popping up with these mysterious injuries and vague excuses. And Lauren tells me not to worry, and I try not to. I know if there was anything we could be doing to help, she'd already be bending over backwards to do it," he said, giving her a sad, serious look.

"She would," Sarah agreed. Her throat felt tight, like maybe she might cry again.

"And I also know that no one on this planet has ever been able to get you to talk about anything you didn't want to. I think the CIA could try to get secrets out of you and it wouldn't work, so I'm certainly not going to try," Greg said. "So if you'd like to sit here and drink tea in silence, that's fine. But if you think it might be helpful to talk about whatever made you come here, well..."

Strictly from habit, Sarah was already poised to tell him no, thank you. That she really couldn't tell him anything. But it occurred to her at that moment that she could talk to Greg—sort of. If she was careful.

"Um…hypothetically," Sarah began. "If you were seeing a girl and you'd gotten...close and—and she'd been giving you lots of very clear signals and then when you started to actually—you know—move forward with things, she kind of...ran away. From you. You would…not like that. Right?"

To his credit, Greg skipped past the looking-at-her-like-she-was-crazy stage and moved directly to the contemplative stage.

"Uh…" he took a second to think as took a sip of his tea. "Well, if we were really...in the midst of things, then I suppose physically I would find that…unpleasant, yeah."

Sarah winced. "Yeah."

"But I'm also an adult, which I assume the man or woman in this hypothetical scenario is as well," he said. "So I'd get over it. More so I'd probably be concerned about why Hypothetical You ran away."

"Because Hypothetical Me is nuts?" Sarah offered. "And I couldn't stay. I had just freaked out, a-and I was about to start crying, and I knew I wouldn't be able to explain myself. I was panicking, and I didn't want to seem like a crazy person, so I..."

"...ran away," Greg supplied. "Into the night. Like a normal person."

Sarah groaned and put her head down on the table.

"Well, if it helps at all, this bloke probably doesn't even know you're feeling half of what you're feeling right now. Men are simpler than you want to give them credit for," Greg said with a shrug. "We don't always pick up on these things."

Sarah couldn't help but laugh at that as she lifted her head back up.

"Uh...not this guy," she said. "He's very observant. Like, very. He's—he's always going around noticing what I'm feeling, or when I need something."

Greg shook his head as he brought his teacup up to his lips.

"Bastard," he said somberly.

"I'm not saying it's a bad thing," Sarah said. "Just that he...knows me."

"Yeah, that definitely sounds like something you'd run away from," he commented.

She looked up at him in surprise.

"No, that's...that's not why I left. It was..." she trailed off and shook her head. "Well—I don't want to talk about what it was. But a different reason. Not that."

"Well, if I've learned anything from my many years on this planet, it's that a patented Sarah Corrigan freak out never has just one cause," Greg pointed out. "Your anxiety is very multifaceted, I'll give you that."

It did make sense, in a way. Sarah knew most of what had just happened was like a weird brain misfire, a ghost of a reaction to the danger Ronan used to pose to her. The kind of danger that honestly still surrounded her at Orion, if not as blatantly. But it probably hadn't helped that in the days leading up to it, she'd already been worrying about how taking that next step would make her relationship with Matt more intense than she was equipped to handle.

"Hmm," she murmured noncommittally as she took a sip of her tea.

"I do feel like I have to ask...you getting this mysterious new lover right at the same time you keep showing up with all of these injuries..."

She shook her head. "No. Not him."

Greg nodded slowly, and she was relieved that he seemed to believe her. One of the downsides to lying to your friends all the time was that sometimes when you were telling the truth, they didn't believe you.

During the lull in their conversation, her gaze lingered on the wine rack next to the fridge. It was strange, trying to navigate this complicated situation without drinking. In the past, she'd always been able to effectively numb any nervousness about sex rather than having to actually deal with it. But that wasn't really an option now.

Right?

"So, do you want to let this person know you so well?" Greg asked finally.

Matt's face flashed into her mind, and Sarah smiled despite herself. "Yeah."

"Just not in the...Biblical sense?" he asked, eyebrows raised.

"Ew," she said, making a face. "Why would you phrase it like that? But...yeah, in that way, too."

"So what's stopping you?"

She spread her hands wide and shrugged.

"There's...there's just something wrong inside of me," she admitted. "And I know what it is but I don't know how to turn it off. And—and even if I do manage to push through it and we do sleep together, what if that's it? What if...once he knows that last piece of me, he realizes that all the crazy he had to go through to get there just wasn't worth it?"

There was a deep frown on Greg's face as he focused intently on his teacup, and for a few moments Sarah thought he might not reply at all.

"You know, for someone who I've always found to be a very kind person, you can be very cruel to yourself," Greg noted.

The comment caught Sarah off guard. She blinked at him, left oddly wordless by a simple statement.

"That's...not true," she said finally, her voice shaky. "I just know me better than other people do, so...I'm a little harsher."

"A little? If I ever talked about Lauren half as unkindly as you talk about yourself sometimes, you'd punch me in the face on purpose," he informed her, giving her a pointed look.

Sarah held his gaze uncertainly for a beat before she had to look away.

"You can't just decide for other people that you aren't worth the effort," he told her gently. "And if you do decide to give this guy that choice, I hope to God he's kinder to you than you are to yourself. Because you deserve that."

"He is kinder to me. He's..." Sarah trailed off. There were a thousand ways she describe the very specific kindness Matt showed her, but whenever she thought about him she kept flashing to the hurt look on his face as he reached for her in concern, only for her to flinch away. She scrubbed her hands over her face and groaned. "Shit. I shouldn't have left. I have to go talk to him."

"Right now?"

Sarah nodded.

"Alright. Well, thanks for stopping by to talk about your incredibly intense relationship with someone I've literally never heard of before today," Greg said.

"Is that weird?" she asked with a sad laugh.

"Yes. It's also very you. I miss you."

"I miss you, too. And I hope things get better for you and Lauren soon," she said. "If there's anyone who can get through a tough time it's you guys, but...if there's ever anything I can do to help..."

"Well...there is one thing. I am going to talk to Lauren about how I've been feeling, but until then, I'd appreciate if you...didn't tell her I lied about the work conference," he said hesitantly.

"I'd appreciate it if you didn't tell her I punched you in the face," Sarah said.

"Deal," Greg said immediately. "That was easy."

Her talk with Greg was easy. Sarah checked her phone, eyeing the missed call from Matt. The hard part was what was still ahead.


It was still early, and Sarah knew Matt wouldn't be home any time soon. She could have let herself into his apartment, but the idea of fresh air and city lights was an appealing distraction from her own thoughts, so she found herself waiting on his roof, leaning against the low concrete wall that bordered it as she looked out over Hell's Kitchen.

She wasn't sure how long she'd been waiting when Matt finally got there. She didn't hear him land on the roof so much as she suddenly sensed a presence behind her, and she turned.

Sure enough, there was Matt—standing halfway across the roof, his head cocked curiously as he observed her. She was nearly as surprised to see him as he was to see her, considering how early it was. But she supposed she should have known he would notice her up here even from blocks away.

"I'm getting good at noticing when you're sneaking up on me," she said in a weak attempt at a joke.

"I wasn't expecting you to come back tonight," Matt said, ignoring her attempt. He slowly pulled his mask off, leaving his sweaty hair sticking up in different directions.

Sarah wrapped her arms around her stomach, already feeling deeply uncomfortable with the conversation they were about to have.

"I didn't want to leave things like that," she said quietly.

Matt came closer, then paused and tilted his head. "You have blood on your shirt."

With a frown, Sarah looked down at herself. There were in fact small dots of blood on the sleeve of her shirt, probably from when she'd been frantically trying to shove tissues at Greg's nosebleed.

"Oh. It's okay, it was…friendly fire," she said tiredly.

Matt raised his eyebrows at that but didn't comment. He leaned against the wall, facing her but leaving a few feet between them. She noted the careful distance he was leaving and wondered briefly if in all his overprotectiveness he simply wouldn't want to ever touch her again. She looked away from him, but she could feel him studying her as she gazed out across the city, trying to find the words to begin explaining herself.

Finally, Matt broke the silence between them.

"Are you okay?" he asked quietly.

Sarah traced a crack in the concrete with her finger and nodded her head, still not looking at him.

"Yes," she said, trying to sound certain, but it just came out sounding short.

Another long stretch of silence.

"Are we okay?" he asked carefully.

When Sarah finally made herself look at him, she saw his brow furrowed in a sad, knowing way.

A surge of guilt and embarrassment welled up inside her chest, and she bit her lip hard as she tried to tamp it down. Matt deserved an explanation from her, and it would be difficult to give him one if she started crying.

"Um…I'm really sorry, Matt," she said. "I swear I wasn't trying to—to play games with you, or…"

"I didn't think you were," Matt said slowly. He tilted his head, his brow furrowed once more. "Is that why you left? You thought I'd be…what, angry with you?"

Was that what she'd thought? Maybe a little. Mostly she'd been afraid that she'd ruined everything, and that trying to explain herself would just humiliate her and hurt Matt even more. In fact, that feeling was still sitting heavily inside her chest even now.

The silence grew heavier as she struggled to find a way to articulate what she was feeling, to figure out which parts were even worth trying to talk about. Why had she decided to do this tonight?

"Sarah, come on," Matt pressed her when she didn't answer his question. His hand twitched, hovering a few centimeters off the wall like he was going to reach for her before he changed his mind. "Don't leave me in the dark here. Not this time. If…if I crossed a line, or I did something to hurt you, then tell me. Please."

Sarah's heart twisted at that, because of course that was his first thought.

"Matt, no." Her voice was thick, and she swallowed hard. "No. You didn't do anything wrong."

Matt let out a short, humorless laugh and then shook his head, unconvinced.

"I haven't dated anyone in a while, but I'm pretty sure when a woman flees your apartment, it's not because you did something right," he said wryly.

"I didn't leave because you hurt me. You didn't hurt me. But freaking out on you like that...it was humiliating. I just—I had to leave. But then running off was just as bad, so...I'm sorry."

"Sarah, I don't know what's making you think that I'm looking for an apology from you, but you don't owe me one," Matt said bluntly.

Sarah leaned her head back, staring up at the dark sky. "Then what do you want me to say?"

"I don't know, maybe give me some insight?" he tried, taking a small step closer. "Because it seemed like we were on the same page earlier, and obviously we weren't. So now I'm really hoping that you weren't making yourself do something you didn't really want to do."

"But I wasn't doing anything I didn't want to. That's the thing, I—I really, really want to. Like…a lot. Like, one of my main goals while staying at your apartment was to do exactly that."

Matt let out a short, surprised laugh.

"That's why you finally agreed to stay here?" he asked, a small amused grin crossing his face, and Sarah gave a faint laugh despite herself. He shook his head. "And here I was thinking it was so I could keep you safe."

Sarah weakly shrugged one shoulder.

"It was that, too. But the two concepts do kind of…blur together in my head sometimes," she admitted, thinking of every time that Matt had put his hands on her to pull her out of danger's way and her brain had gone haywire in another direction. That had to create some kind of messed up neural pathway, didn't it? "You…probably already know that."

Matt's sightless gaze was aimed somewhere far out over the rooftops, and she wondered if he was listening to something far away while he gathered his thoughts.

"I get that you don't want an apology from me," Sarah said finally. "But I am sorry. I know I made you feel bad. But it wasn't your fault I acted like a total basketcase."

"No, you acted like someone who spent the last year being harassed, and stalked, and assaulted," Matt said slowly. The way he laid it out—calmly, like a lawyer proving a point and not someone pitying her—made it a little less difficult to hear. "Some of which I was around to witness, so give me some credit that I can piece together why you reacted like you did."

"Yeah, but...but none of that was supposed to matter," she said.

The panic was starting to creep in again, and she took a deep breath before speaking.

"What do you mean?"

"I really thought that—" Sarah's voice caught, and she looked away.

"Sarah?" he prompted.

She suddenly found herself oddly missing the distraction of an injury that usually accompanied their more difficult conversations. Normally, she could ground her nerves with the methodical process of stitching up Matt's newest wound, or with the sharp sting of alcohol being applied to her own broken skin. Tonight, she had nothing. Just the heavy weight of a humid summer's night pressing down on them.

"You know this happened before," she said softly. "Or something like it. On my date with Todd."

Matt's jaw ticked, a flash of anger mixing in with the concern on his face. Clearly Todd leaving Sarah alone on that street corner still didn't sit well with him.

"I remember," he said darkly.

"But…when it happened then, I just assumed it was because of Todd. Because he was being so pushy, and I didn't…I didn't feel safe with him. I wasn't even very attracted to him," she admitted. "So when it went badly, I just thought…it's the wrong guy, you know? And it would be different with the right one—with you. I think even at that point I knew it would be you."

Sarah tried to focus on her breathing again. Why was this so hard? She looked over at Matt, at his serious eyes as he waited for her to continue. So she did, despite the prickling feeling behind her eyes.

"Everything with you is right. I trust you more than anyone, and I want to go there with you so badly, and…the fact that this still happened means the problem wasn't Todd. It's—it's me. What if I'm just…broken?"

Her voice cracked a little on the last word, and as it did Matt pushed away from the wall, breaking the careful distance he'd been leaving between them. He took both sides of her face in his hands, his thumbs gently sweeping across her cheeks, which she was just now realizing were wet.

"You're not broken, Sarah," Matt said firmly. "You're not. Believe me, as someone who is a little bit broken. I can recognize it in other people. And it's not in you."

She was fully crying now, much to her horror.

"Then what's wrong with me?" she demanded. "Why can't I just do normal things that I want to do without some stupid part of my brain screaming 'danger' when there isn't any?"

"Maybe that's just something that happens when you're in danger basically every day," he said pointedly. "That's not your fault."

"But it's my issue, and now we both have to deal with it."

"Then we will. Alright? Look at everything we've already gone through. Nothing's managed to tear us apart. Not for more than a week, at least," he added with a flicker of a grin. "We always come back together. Do you really think this will be the thing that does it?"

Sarah bit her lip, then shook her head.

"No."

"Good," he said.

Anyone else in this situation might have chosen a more sugary sweet approach when confronted with a clearly traumatized girl crying on their roof, so it was almost amusing that Matt's strategy was to essentially argue her into not hating herself.

She sniffed and squinted at him suspiciously. "Why do I feel like you just...lawyered me out of a panic attack?"

Matt flashed another quick grin. "I don't know what you're talking about."

Sarah just shook her head.

"I don't think you're broken either," she whispered.

"Well, I'm definitely closer to it than you are."

Sarah squeezed her eyes closed and took a few deep breaths, hoping to calm her racing heart. When she opened them again, Matt was waiting with serious, concerned eyes, his hands still cupping her face.

"You alright?" he asked, tilting his head. "Kind of feels like you might run off again."

"It's a possibility," she said honestly.

The corner of Matt's mouth tilted upward into that crooked grin she loved so much, and he narrowed his eyes at her slightly.

"I'd rather you didn't. It's gotten late, so…" he shrugged. "If you take off now I'll have to go with you."

Sarah let out a short, sad laugh at that. She moved in closer him, letting the comfort of being near him wash over her, and pressed her face to the crook of his neck. He wrapped his arms around her waist, keeping her pressed as close to him as he could. She breathed in the now familiar smell of sweat and blood and gasoline—gasoline?—and focused on the solid feel of him against her. As she did, a word flashed through her mind, carried by a current of affection so strong she didn't know what to do with it. It took her by surprise—it was too soon for that word, too early in their relationship for that—so she tucked it away, not ready to think about it yet.

"So, what do we do?" she asked.

"What do you want to do?"

"I'm not the only person involved in this equation," she protested, lifting her head up from the crook of his neck and leaning back to look up at him. "What you want matters, too."

"I want to keep you," he said, sounding so certain and matter-of-fact that it took her by surprise. "I want to not screw this up and hurt you. I've hurt you so many times…I don't want to add this to the list. Tell me what to do to not make that happen. Do you want to slow down? Step back?"

"No," Sarah said immediately. For the first time that night, honest words came to her easily. "That's not what I want. I like where we are. How we've been going. I don't want to pull back."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes. And...and I mean, it might not even happen again," she said, wishing she sounded or felt anywhere close to certain about that. "Today was...it was already so bad. I was on edge to begin with. I-I haven't gotten any sleep because I've been having these nightmares about Ronan, and then Vanessa was talking about Fisk, and then with Jason grabbing me—"

"Grabbing you?" Matt repeated sharply.

"No, not in like a sexual way," Sarah reassured him quickly. "In like a murder-y way."

His expression made it clear that he was less than impressed by the clarification, but other than a quick clench of his jaw he let it pass.

"Okay. We'll come back to that," Matt said slowly. "How long have you been dreaming about Ronan?"

Sarah bit her lip.

"Since my apartment got broken into," she said.

She saw the realization as it crossed Matt's face.

"Makes sense," he said.

"Yeah. And I know it's not him this time. I'm a little crazy, but I'm not that crazy. I know it's not him. But…it made the dreams start up anyway."

Matt blew out a deep exhale. "Well, you're right. It's not Ronan. That's something else we'll need to come back to. Were you planning on telling me about any of this? Jason? The nightmares?"

"…I'm not sure," she said honestly with a wince.

The answer didn't seem to make him angry, but he didn't seem to like it much either. He shook his head, rubbing a hand across his face tiredly.

"You don't like it when I read your heartbeat, but you don't want to speak up and tell me what you're thinking, either," he said. "Are you ever going to let me in on what goes on in your head? Or do I have to keep guessing forever?"

"In my head?" Sarah repeated in surprise. She gave a weak laugh. "You act like it's some grand mystery and not just…a million buzzing bees."

"I'll take it. I'll take whatever you're thinking over not knowing and then having you react like that."

A pang of guilt hit Sarah's chest. She knew he was right; if she didn't keep so many things to herself, maybe she'd have some control over the way she reacted to things. But she just couldn't get past feeling like a burden by talking about it. And if there was anyone who should understand that, it should be Matt 'Won't Talk About His Feelings Until He Literally Gets Poisoned' Murdock. But she had a feeling this wasn't the time to turn that around on him.

"I'm just—I'm not really used to...people wanting to know what I'm thinking. Usually they're just kind of waiting for me to stop talking, you know? I mean obviously, because the way I talk is, um...like this. So…" she trailed off with a nervous laugh. She'd meant for it to sound more like a light joke than it had.

Matt cocked his head, his lips thinning into an unhappy line. One of the side effects of perpetually keeping things to herself was that sometimes Sarah didn't realize how something sounded until she saw Matt's reaction to it.

"What?" she asked.

"Sometimes you make me wonder…about some of your exes," he said carefully.

Sarah let out another laugh, this time a startled one. Whatever she'd been expecting him to say, it hadn't been that, and she definitely wasn't prepared to wander into that minefield right now.

"You first," she said.

This time it was Matt who laughed, an expression that could only be described as 'yikes' crossing his face. Sarah couldn't help but wonder which of his 'hot with no morals' exes was making him make that face.

"Maybe another night," he suggested.

"Good idea."

They sank into silence for a few minutes, but it wasn't uncomfortable like before. Matt's sightless eyes were turned thoughtfully towards the city skyline, while Sarah idly traced the worn cracks that crisscrossed his gloves along his knuckles.

"You need new gloves," she noted quietly.

Matt turned his attention back to her, and she could see from the look in his eyes that the heavy parts of the conversation weren't over yet.

"You know it might happen again. Even without all the things that happened today."

"I know."

Matt tilted his head, observing her in silence for a beat that went on a little too long.

"I want to ask you something. But I'm not sure if I'll get an honest answer from you or if you'll just say what you think you're supposed to," he said frankly.

Matt was possibly the only person who could point out some of her dishonest habits without making her feel defensive. Maybe because he didn't say it like a judgment; just a fact of who she was, and one that he was more acutely aware of than anyone else.

"I'll try," she said.

"You keep saying you didn't expect it to be like this with me, but…are you sure you didn't react that way because it's me?" he asked carefully.

Sarah frowned and tilted her head. "What do you mean?"

"I mean that you have a long list of men who have put their hands on you. I'm on that list. And maybe the part of your brain that screams 'danger' hasn't forgotten that."

"What?" she repeated, her eyes widening. "No, Matt, of course not. That's…that was a long time ago."

Matt tilted his head, looking thoroughly unconvinced. He stepped a little closer and brought his hand up to lightly trace her cheek, just where her bruise had finally faded.

"Not as long as we like to pretend," he said.

Sarah placed her hand over his and moved it from her cheek down to her neck, where she gently pressed his fingers to her pulse. She knew he didn't need to touch her to hear her heart, but she wanted to make the point.

"I'm not scared that you're going to hurt me," she said clearly, letting him hear her steady heartbeat. She waited until she saw him nod before bringing his hand back down. "And if the crazy alarm part of my brain is, it's because it doesn't know it's you." Then she took a deep breath. "But...some of the nervousness is because of you. Just not in that way."

"Then in what way?"

"In the way that...being with you is like constantly being an open book. It's vulnerable, and it's scary. And it's so worth it," she added as she squeezed his hand. "But that's just being with you normally, you know? Like—like just eating breakfast or walking down the sidewalk. And the idea of...of being with someone who I can't hide any of myself from is...kind of intimidating."

Matt let out a frustrated exhale.

"There's only so much I can do to control that."

"No, I'm not asking you to. I just have to figure out a way to deal with those nerves, and I'm not great at that. I mean, I don't even really remember the last time I slept with someone new without having a drink or two first, just to—to kind of take that nervous edge off," Sarah admitted. She saw Matt's face flicker in the way it did when he was carefully not saying something. "And, um—and now that I've said that, I'm remembering that I wasn't going to say it because it sounds bad. But now I did. So, that's it. That's, um...that's the bees."

Matt nodded slowly.

"Okay," he said finally.

"Okay? That's—that's a lot of information I just threw at you," she said uncertainly.

"It was," he acknowledged.

"Like, real anxiety-brain type rambling."

"I'm used to that."

"Are you sure you want to deal with it?"

Matt slid his hand around the back of her neck and pulled her closer to him, catching her mouth with his own. A familiar feeling spread through her, a curious combination of being electrified and finally being able to breathe after almost drowning. It was exactly how she hadn't felt earlier, when she'd had so many different sources of panic pinging off each other inside her head.

He broke the kiss, then brushed his lips against her cheek, her jaw, and finally to her throat, where the raised scar from Ronan's knife still lingered on her skin. He pressed a kiss there, softer than the other ones. The tenderness of it made a swirl of various emotions rise up in her chest, and she dug her fingers into his back and closed her eyes.

It was only for a moment, and then his mouth was back on hers, kissing her so intensely that any worries she'd had about him not wanting to touch her anymore flew out of her mind.

As she ghosted her fingertips along the back of his neck, she became aware of how hot his skin was. Part of that might have been from how close the two of them were to each other, but it occurred to her that a lot of it was probably due to the skin-tight black suit he had been wearing the entire time they'd been having this conversation on his roof.

"It's a thousand degrees out here. Let's go inside," she suggested, pressing one more soft kiss against his mouth.

"Good idea," he murmured.

She wove her fingers through his and started towards the roof access door to return to Matt's blessedly air conditioned apartment and let him change out of his Daredevil suit.

"Hey," Matt said, using their entwined hands to spin her back around to face him again. Sarah gave him a questioning look. He gently tugged her a few steps back closer. "In case you were considering having those few drinks first? To take the edge off? I would be…incredibly unhappy with you about that. Just to be clear."

"I wasn't," Sarah said automatically. Matt cocked his head, giving her a skeptical look.

"No?"

There was a pause. The thought had kind of crossed her mind, although she hadn't really entertained it.

"Well, I won't now," she said defensively.

"Good. That's the one thing I'm asking. You decide when, you set the rules…but when it happens I want you to be there with me," Matt said. He gently tapped his finger against her temple. "Not somewhere else."

Sarah swallowed, wondering as she watched him how she was supposed to do really anything with him without simply bursting into a million pieces.

"...seems fair," she managed to force out breathlessly.

With a nod and a quick squeeze of her hand, Matt stepped around her, his hand still linked in hers as he led them over to the roof access.

"Why do you smell like gasoline?" she asked curiously as she followed him. "Did you go to my apartment?"

Matt opened the stairwell door for her and let out an exasperated exhale that she didn't think was aimed at her.

"No, but I found out who did. And it's not anyone we had on our list."

"Really? Who, then?"


"—a pair of drug-addled, penurious, insolent deadbeats," Jason spat out coldly as stood with Sarah and Tracksuit the next day, the three of them watching security footage of Orion from the night before.

Sarah nervously glanced over at Jason and his seething demeanor, taking a brief moment to wonder what 'penurious' meant, before turning her attention back to the damning footage.

On the screen, two figures—one male, one female—were easily visible as they poured two buckets of some kind of dark liquid all over the main entrance to the office building. The woman splashed some of her bucket up onto the walls and the door. The man tried to follow suit, but fumbled the bucket, spilling the rest of the contents on the ground.

It as ultimately a somewhat pathetic attempt, made even worse by the fact that they hadn't even waited until it was that dark outside—it was clearly a few hours before they'd run into Daredevil that night.

"I'm sure you must recognize them from one of our previous encounters, correct?" Jason asked them.

Tracksuit squinted at the screen, then shook his head.

"Nah, not really," he said.

"That's because you drugged yourself, you idiot," Jason snapped. "Sarah?"

She nodded reluctantly. She definitely recognized the girl as the one who had been next to her on the couch at Elliot's nightclub, strung out on drugs and playing with a glow stick. The guy wasn't as recognizable, but was vaguely familiar as one of the other faces that had been sitting around the VIP section that night.

"Yeah. From the nightclub," she said. "They work for Elliot Bradshaw."

"Yes, they do. And Mr. Bradshaw seems to have taken offense to the...commotion we caused at his place of business. Hence, his two minions vandalizing our building."

"Is that...blood?" Sarah studied the dark splashes on the screen with a nauseous feeling in her stomach. The area had been blocked off when she'd gotten to work, so she'd gone in the side entrance and hadn't had to see it in person.

"Pig's blood," Jason answered.

"How do you know?" she asked.

"Do you have any idea how long I've been in this business?" Jason said. "This isn't my first time encountering pig's blood."

Sarah frowned in a mixture of confusion and disgust. "Okay."

"Someone doused my Camaro with gas, too," Tracksuit said. "It's gotta be them."

"It seems likely," Jason agreed. "And how about you, Sarah? It would be very odd if you were skipped."

The question wasn't unexpected. Once Matt had told her about Tracksuit's car getting vandalized, Sarah had realized she wouldn't be able to keep what had happened to her apartment a secret. It would seem too suspicious.

So she slipped her phone out of her pocket and pulled up the video she'd taken to document the damage to her apartment. The pools of gasoline were clearly visible all over the floor, as were the dark stains splashed across her furniture.

"Gasoline for me, too," she said.

"Last night?"

"A couple days ago."

"And you didn't think this was pertinent to mention before today?" Jason inquired pleasantly.

"Well, I didn't know it was work-related," she said lamely. "I thought maybe it was...personal life gasoline."

Tracksuit briefly shot her an incredulous look before turning his attention back to Jason.

"So, what the hell are we doin' about this?" Tracksuit demanded. "First this kid gets me landed in jail, and now this? We can't just let him disrespect us."

"To be clear, you landed yourself in jail," Jason said coolly. "But I agree that something needs to be done."

"Let's blow their goddamn nightclub up," Tracksuit suggested. "Whether they're in there or not."

"Uh—I think that's an overreaction," Sarah said quickly.

"Is it?" Jason said, much to Sarah's disappointment. She'd foolishly been hoping he would have a leveler head than Tracksuit.

"I mean, yeah. I think so," she said uncertainly. "We—we don't need to do something that could kill people. This was really just...two idiots vandalizing things. It's not great, but...is it worth going full scorched earth over?"

There was a long pause during which Jason stared at her with an unreadable expression.

"If it's such a harmless prank, then surely you won't mind cleaning it up," Jason said.

Sarah stared at him in surprise, unable to tell if he was joking. "Um, what?"

"The blood. You can clean it up, since you feel so sympathetic to the people who put it there."

Sarah looked from Jason to Tracksuit as it slowly sank in that Jason was being serious. She opened her mouth, then closed it again, knowing that arguing would only make it worse.

"You can go do that now, while Kevin and I discuss our next steps," Jason suggested.

Wordlessly, Sarah exited the room and closed the door behind her. So now Jason was not only pissed that she wanted him to show some restraint, but he was excluding her from plans that it would be very helpful for her to be included in. Matt had made it clear that a turf war between Jason and Elliot would involve a lot of people getting killed, and she agreed. Tracksuit encouraging him to escalate was the last thing they needed.

Stressing about that situation was about the only thing she had to distract her from the task at hand, which was enough to make her want to gag. The blood had dried over night, and although the janitor's closet had plenty of supplies to help her clean it up while mostly keeping an arms length, it was still a messy process. Cleaning it took her the better part of the morning, and by the end she was sweaty and disheveled. To her credit, she had managed to avoid getting the blood on most of her clothing, with the exception of the white sweater she had chosen to wear that day, which was now stained a dark brownish-red in several places.

When she was done, she shoved the cleaning supplies back in the closet and trudged up to her desk, carrying her stained sweater in a clear plastic trash bag.

Jason's door was open, and she knocked on the frame quietly, unsure if he was about to explode on her.

"It's...it's all cleaned up," she said.

"Excellent," Jason said, not looking up from his newspaper.

He didn't say anything else, and Sarah lingered awkwardly. Normally she wouldn't care much if he was upset as long as he wasn't violent about it, but she really need to be in the loop about what he was doing with Elliot.

She was just about to say something when Jason spoke instead.

"Daredevil," he said. Sarah froze. Then Jason held up the newspaper, which had a headline about someone the vigilante had saved recently. "The press adores him. The people of Hell's Kitchen think he can do no wrong. Why is that?"

"Uh...people just love him," she said. There's that word again. She quickly added, "Not me. But other people."

"Why? Because he...saves people?" Jason asked derisively.

Sarah paused. "Yeah. Probably that."

"Hmm." He gave the headline an unimpressed look before tossing the newspaper aside.

Sarah took the opportunity to both change the subject and try to backpedal from earlier.

"Um. I'm sorry if earlier it seemed like I wasn't taking things seriously," she said, hating the feel of the fake apology in her mouth. "I just thought that you—we—already have an enemy in Daredevil." She gestured to the newspaper. "And another in Vanessa. Do we need a third?

Jason abruptly looked up at her, and she was startled by the expression on his face. It was one of such sudden realization that she could practically see the cogs turning.

"No," he said slowly. "We don't need a third. Excellent point. "

"Is it?" she asked uncertainly, not sure if she had just made things better or worse.

"Yes. It really is," he said. "Now keep everyone out of my office for the rest of the day."

"Um, what about your appointments?" she asked.

"Cancel them. I have work to do and I don't want to be disturbed," Jason said shortly. "By anybody. I don't care if Wilson Fisk himself walks out of prison and straight up to this door." Sarah sent an alarmed look at the doorway, as though by saying it he might make it happen. "I do not. Want to be. Disturbed."

Sarah blinked.

"Understood," she said.

"You may leave now."

Sarah closed Jason's door behind her and glanced at the bag she'd shoved her bloodstained sweater into. She briefly considered trying to wash the stains out in the office bathroom, but she knew it was pointless. She looked down at herself, noticing for the first time that the thin heel of her shoe had blood splattered on it as well.

"Gross," she muttered under her breath, then headed to the bathroom to try to salvage her shoes, at least.

As she returned to her desk, having cleaned the blood off her high heels, she saw someone about to reach for Jason's door handle.

"Oh, shit," she said under her breath, then called out to him. "Hey!"

The man turned at the sound, and Sarah saw his face for the first time.

"Hi—ooh," she inadvertently reacted as she got closer to the man. His bald head was completely tattooed, from his neck up across his cheeks and all the way across the dome. There was ink mostly everywhere but his lips and eyeballs, and they did not look like cheerful tattoos. "You—you can't go in there right now. He doesn't want to be disturbed."

He turned to look around.

"…and who's gonna stop me?"

Sarah bit the inside of her cheek. God, she was so tired of being the barrier between Jason and people like this. She wished he would just start locking his door, but then he couldn't have the power trip of putting her in situations like this.

"It's not that anyone will stop you so much as, um, if you go in there he'll be really pissed. He's in a mood today."

With a shrug, the man turned back towards Jason's office door.

"Okay, okay, just—hang on. Do me a favor," Sarah said. She grabbed the trash bag with her bloodstained sweater inside. "Do you see this?"

The guy raised his eyebrows as he glanced at the bag. Then he made a face.

"Is that blood?"

"Yes. This is from earlier this morning, when I had to clean the blood out of Jason's carpet from the last person who interrupted his work today," she lied, hoping she sounded convincing.

"...what happened?" he asked warily.

"Uh—a, uh...courier. He went in without knocking. And he also...brought the wrong package."

"And what happened to him?" the tattooed man asked, eyeing the bloody clothes in the bag.

As Sarah tried to come up with something suitably gruesome, her mind flashed to the memory of Jason throwing her against the bar cart full of fancy crystal barware.

"...the guy took a crystal decanter straight to the face," she said, trying to look sorrowful.

"Really?"

"Yes. So...if you really, really want to go in right now, just let me know so that I can go change into different clothes before I have to clean up after you, too," she said.

The guy screwed his eyes at her suspiciously. His gaze flicked between her, the bag, and the door, and she suspected his hesitation was due more to Jason's reputation or violence than to what she was saying.

"It was a lot of blood," she added helpfully.

"Okay, bitch, damn," he said. "I'll make an appointment."

"Great," she said brightly. "Take a seat while I pull up his calendar. What's your name?"

The man dropped heavily into the chair, his legs sprawling out in front of him. He gave her a blank look.

"Friendly."

There was a long pause in which Sarah stared back at him. His expression didn't change.

"Okay," Sarah said, taking a seat at her desk and opening her laptop. "Friendly it is."

As she was bringing up Jason's calendar to make Friendly an appointment, she heard footsteps approaching and looked up to see Tracksuit and his very tall friend—Richard, she reminded herself—approaching her desk.

"You got the rest of my money yet?" Tracksuit asked by way of greeting.

Sarah blinked, then looked around and spoke in a low voice, not particularly wanting anyone hearing she owed Tracksuit money. That might lead to questioning about why, which might lead to questions about Melvin, and she didn't need that.

"No, not yet. It's—it hasn't been very long," she whispered.

"You better hurry."

"I don't exactly make a lot of money here," Sarah told him.

"I don't exactly care," he retorted. "Get me my money. And I want to see Jason. I have an update on what we were talking about earlier. You know, the bit after he kicked you out."

Sarah sighed.

"Do you have an appointment?" she asked.

"No. I was just here earlier," he repeated, looking at her like she was dumb. "Don't you remember?"

"Did he ask to see you again?"

Tracksuit rolled his eyes. "No."

"Then can you—"

"—what's with all the questions?" Tracksuit interrupted her in irritation. "Are you Alex Trebek or something?"

He snorted a little at his own joke. Before Sarah could continue what she was saying, the tall Russian man next to Tracksuit spoke up.

"Alex gives the answers," he said, his voice deep and heavily accented. "The contestants ask the questions."

Tracksuit gave him an annoyed look for ruining his joke, while Sarah stared at him with her mouth slightly open.

"I have never heard you speak before," she said, not particularly meaning to say it out loud.

"Alright, it's been nice chatting but we're going in to see Jason," Tracksuit said, moving to brush past her desk.

"He really doesn't want to be disturbed," Sarah said. "He's in a mood."

"He just bashed some guy's face in with a crystal...somethin'," the tattooed man supposedly named Friendly spoke up from his chair.

Tracksuit looked from Friendly to Sarah in confusion.

"Decanter," she supplied, hoping Tracksuit wouldn't put together that she had lied to the man.

An uncertain look crossed Tracksuit's face as he glanced at Jason's closed door, and Sarah sent up another thanks to the universe yet again that Jason's absolutely psychotic reputation made lying about him a little easier.

"That does sound like him," he said slowly. He shoved his hands into the pockets of his tracksuit jacket and gave Sarah one last annoyed look. "Fine. We'll come back tomorrow."

Shortly after dispatching the two of them, Sarah managed to get rid of Friendly as well after making him an appointment. She was feeling somewhat pleased with herself until she looked up from her laptop to see yet another person she didn't want to talk to walking towards her: Vanessa Fisk.

"Good morning, Sarah," Vanessa called out as she approached Sarah's desk.

Trying to hide her reluctance, Sarah gave her a weak smile.

"Hi, Vanessa," she greeted her. "Um, I'm really sorry but Jason actually isn't available to see anyone right now—"

"Oh, that's alright. I'm actually here to see you."

"Me?" Sarah repeated in surprise.

"I believe I owe you a little bit of an apology," Vanessa said. Sarah blinked in surprise. "I think I took you aback somewhat yesterday, when I mentioned Wilson."

"Oh. Um…a little I guess," Sarah admitted warily, not sure if this was a trap. "I just—I'd never really thought about meeting him."

"I understand. Wilson…has an imposing reputation," Vanessa said. An understatement, Sarah thought. He had a reputation more so for brutal murder and organized crime. "But he's really a loving, intelligent man. He is my soulmate."

Sarah nodded. "Of course."

"Sometimes I forget that other people only see the side of him the press has shown to the world. And he's so much more than that, but…" Vanessa offered her one of those mysterious smiles that Sarah could never quite decipher as genuine or not. "It's a complicated thing to love a dangerous man."

Sarah held her gaze for a moment, for the first time feeling as though they were on somewhat equal footing.

"I'm sure it is," she said finally.

"My point being, I understand if you want to take some time to think about it. Maybe after your fundraiser you'll feel more up to it. I know musicians can feel very on edge before a performance," she said with a knowing look.

You have no idea.

"I do get nervous," Sarah said. Especially when I think a maniac like Jason might try to murder me—or you—or both of us.

Vanessa leaned in with a playfully conspiratorial look, and it was a mark of the kind of people Sarah spent her time around that she had to resist the urge to flinch back even from a woman her own size.

"I get the same way before a major gallery opening," Vanessa told her in hushed tones, like they were school girls gossiping. "And to calm my nerves, I treat myself to the most ridiculously decadent dessert I can find. It works every time."

Sarah wondered briefly what the most decadent dessert she could actually afford was. Probably a Twix bar at the most—but maybe a king size if she was feeling really fancy.

"I'll think about that," she said, offering Vanessa a smile.

"Perfect. And let me know about visiting Wilson," she said. "He really does want to meet you."

Sarah's stomach twisted in dread, and she couldn't manage to do much more than nod.

"See you at the fundraiser," Vanessa called out as she left.

Between Vanessa and Jason, Matt and Cecilia, and the sheer pressure of performing in front of an audience again, it was starting to feel like the fundraiser couldn't come and go fast enough.


But despite feeling it might never come, the evening before the fundraiser did eventually arrive.

It was still early, and while Foggy and Karen had both just called it quits for the day, Matt was still at the office. He knew Sarah would be at the church practicing, so he figured he might as well get some backlogged work done.

Since the night Sarah had opened up to him on the roof, it was like an invisible tension had lifted between them, replaced by a sense of understanding. They hadn't done much beyond the mild messing around that they'd been doing up until now, but they hadn't taken a step back, either, to his relief. Matt had a feeling they wouldn't be going further any time soon—definitely not while this fundraiser was still keeping Sarah's anxiety in high gear. The effect the impending event was having on Sarah's nerves was clear, as evidenced by the obsessive practice schedule she'd been following the last few days.

Which was why it was a surprise to him when he heard her footsteps coming up the stairs to the small Nelson and Murdock office.

As she entered the room, he caught a clear whiff of food from the plastic bag in her hand. She gently rapped against his doorway to announce herself, as though he might have somehow not known she was there.

"Hi," she greeted him.

"Wow. The evening before your big performance," he noted. "I'd have bet money you'd be practicing at the church right now and not bringing me food."

Sarah laughed as she grabbed a chair from the other side of his desk and dragged it around to face him on his side. She reached into the paper bag in her hand, pulled out a wrapped sandwich and handed it to him.

"I got you the kind I had last time since you ate so much of mine," she informed him as she pulled her legs up to sit cross-legged in the chair. "And I actually never practice the day before an event."

Matt's stomach grumbled in a sharp reminder that he'd been too busy today to take any kind of lunch break. He flashed her a grateful smile as he unwrapped the food.

"Why not?" he asked curiously.

"I don't know. It's like a luck thing, I guess. I've always done it."

"What, like a superstition?" he clarified.

Sarah, who had just taken a bite of her sandwich, made a noise of protest, but had to hold her finger up indignantly while she finished chewing her food.

"I don't know if the guy who's currently designing a devil costume gets to call me superstitious," she said once she'd swallowed.

"You designed it more than I did," he said with a half-grin. "I just went with what you said looked good."

"Was it supposed to look good?" she asked. "I just picked what I thought would be scary to see on the street at night."

"That is what I'm going for," he said. He took a few seconds to observe her, noticing the almost hyper energy she had. Several strands had fallen loose from the bun she'd pulled her hair back into, and her foot was bouncing restlessly against the chair. "You seem…caffeinated."

"Yes," she agreed enthusiastically. "I was working on something earlier, and I drank a lot of coffee while I was doing it, and now I regret it. Did I tell you I'm going to cut back? I might go back to mostly just tea."

"That seems like a good idea," he said with a laugh. "Maybe the food will level you out. Thanks for bringing it, by the way."

"Well, I needed to talk to you anyway."

"About?" Matt asked warily, although from her mood it didn't seem like it could be anything too bad.

Setting her food down, Sarah leaned down and rifled through her bag before straightening back up in her chair.

"I have two surprises for you," she informed him. She held out her hands in front of her, which were both closed into loose fists. "Pick which one you want first."

Matt cocked his head, but decided to humor her game. He reached out and tapped her left hand.

She turned her hand palm up and opened it to reveal what seemed—to his senses, at least—to be an empty hand.

"That is a surprise," he acknowledged dryly. "I was expecting you to have something."

"Well, that's because the left hand surprise is information," she told him, waving said hand around like a magician. "Our friend Betsy is at 214 East 57th Street."

Matt's smirk fell in surprise.

"What? Are you sure?"

"I'm sure," she said—and she did sound certain. "Once I figured out the address I looked up a bus route that goes by there and took it so I could double check without, like, going going there. It's definitely the place from the photos."

"How did you find her?" he asked, his brow furrowed. He'd been trying to find Betsy himself (to no avail) and he'd assumed that if either of them managed to track her down it would take a few more weeks, at least.

"Why do you look so suspicious?"

"Because last time you gave me information, you'd given away five grand to get it, so I'm afraid to know how you got this."

"Well I didn't have any more money to give away, so I had to use old fashioned espionage," she informed him.

He raised his eyebrows. "What did you do exactly?"

"Um, I had to, like, figure out the timelines and break into cars to get addresses from the GPS systems and then use Google Maps a whole bunch to see if they matched the Betsy photos, but then a lot of the photos on Google were out of date by a few years so I had to match them up with photos from those sketchy real estate sites where people want to, like, buy your house for cash—" She cut herself off as she seemed to catch her own caffeinated rambling. "Anyway. There were a few more steps but I finally found it. Spying is kind of tedious, actually."

"Sounds like it," Matt said, an amused smile crossing his face as he listened to her rapid-fire explanation. "That would explain the coffee."

"Mhm. But if I had another five grand I would honestly have just given that up. I can totally see why rich people are always trying to bribe everyone all the time."

"And how long have you been working on this project?"

"I don't know. Not that long. Right around when I started staying at your place," she estimated. So that was why she was up late on her laptop every night when he came home, Matt realized. "I didn't want to say anything and then have it be a dead end. But then…it wasn't a dead end. So…so hopefully now you can get your suit."

Matt shook his head, a half-smile still lingering on his face. It hadn't missed his notice that out of everything she could bend over backwards for, it was finding him a safer suit that seemed to have kicked her into high gear. Caffeine-fueled espionage skills and all. With a laugh, he caught her empty-palmed hand with his and brought it to his lips.

"You're a miracle," he said fondly.

Sarah flushed deeply at that, the temperature of her skin ticking steadily upward.

"What about the right hand?" he asked, not letting go of her left as he wove his fingers through hers.

"Oh," she said with a start, as though she'd forgotten. She hesitated before holding the other hand out. "Now that I think about it, I probably should have picked the order because the first hand was the bigger surprise, but…oh, well. Too late now."

She opened her hand palm-up, and for a second he thought that one was empty, too. Then he picked up on something light and metal nestled in the center of her palm. Carefully, he reached over and picked it up between his fingers, then ran his fingertips over the metal ridges on its side: it was a key.

Matt gave her a quizzical frown.

"Um, Mrs. Benedict is a sweetheart and she found me a good deal on a locksmith who put some, like, mega-duty locks on my front door, so…I had to get new keys made," Sarah explained. "And I made a couple extra copies."

For as much of an exhilarating surprise the first bit of information had been, this one threw him off guard in a different way.

"A key to your place," he said, as though that wasn't obviously what was in his hand.

"Yeah," Sarah said. She shifted nervously in her seat. "I mean, it's not like you couldn't get inside anyway with all your…vigilante, fire escape tricks."

He cocked his head. "That's not the same as this."

"I know."

He knew she was waiting for some kind of reaction, but Matt still wasn't quite sure what to say. Sarah had made it clear on many occasions that her apartment was her sanctuary, the one place she got for herself that no one could intrude upon.

Well, almost no one. It occurred to him suddenly that she said she'd made more than one copy.

"I'm guessing the first key copy already went to Lauren," he said slowly with a small smirk, and he felt Sarah relax a little.

"It did," Sarah confirmed with a laugh. "But hers came with strict instructions to only use it with my permission."

"And mine?"

Sarah offered a half shrug as she pushed her hair behind her ear.

"Yours is to use whenever you want."

A slow smile spread across Matt's face. He liked the certainty in her voice, especially considering how not too long ago, the last thing either of them would have wanted was for the other person to step foot inside their home.

But the smile was quick to fade.

"I'm also guessing that if you've gotten new keys made, that means your apartment is ready to go back to."

"It is. They said I'm good to move back in tonight."

Matt kept his face neutral to hide the disappointment. He'd kind of liked hearing her heartbeat on the other side of his door when he came home.

"That's good," he said. "I'm glad you'll have your place back."

"And you can have your place back."

"Yes. Good. It's been difficult coming home to a beautiful girl who always wants to help stitch me up and make me tea," he said, then tilted his head in contemplation. "Actually, if you could try to get your things out in the next hour or so..."

"Shut up," Sarah said laughingly. "I was going to say that if you think you can stand another night of me…it'd be nice to not be alone the night before the big show."

Matt like that, too. He wondered if she'd realized this would be the first night she was there purely because she wanted to be, and not because it was simply the safest alternative to her own place.

"You know you can stay as long as you want. I'm not going to kick you out."

"I knew the sandwiches would make the difference," she teased him lightly.

Matt laughed, but it faded as he reached out to cup her jaw, letting his thumb run across her bottom lip.

"Thank you for the key," he said seriously.

She just smiled against his hand and nodded, but he heard her heartbeat kick up a notch. Or maybe that was the excess of caffeine flowing through her veins, he reminded himself.

So the two of them sat together in Matt's office, eating and laughing and being close to each other. Both of them naively thinking that maybe things would go smoothly tomorrow, that maybe they had just been paranoid because how could anything bad happen when they felt this happy?

And when Sarah did spend the night at Matt's that night, neither of them suspected it would be last night they would spend together for a while.


Across Hell's Kitchen, Jason was still sitting at his desk. He had an assortment of photos in front of him, and he shook his head as he sifted through them.

A man with tattoos across his neck and face sat across the desk from him, watching him disinterestedly.

"No, not the right build," Jason commented as he tossed another photo aside. He picked up another and scrutinized before shaking his head. "Too tall—why does everyone think the man is so much taller than he is?" Then the next one. "Not tall enough. Did you even pay attention to the specifications I gave you?"

The tattooed man—who had given him the name 'Friendly', which Jason was never going to address him as—gave him an annoyed look.

"Your specification was just: 'Daredevil,'" he pointed out.

"Yes, and none of these people look like him," Jason retorted.

"Well yeah, 'cause they ain't wearin' the costume yet."

"The costume doesn't matter. They need to carry themselves the same way. Move the same way. Graceful, but angry," Jason said, leaning towards him intently as he explained. "Calculated. Focused. But…with a constant sense of being on the edge of losing control."

Jason's melodramatic description was met with a look of deep bewilderment from the tattooed man seated across from him.

"Okay," the man said slowly. "I'll try to look for...all that."

"There's no time left. The event is tomorrow," Jason said.

"Well, I'd have gotten you the photos of your options sooner, but your crazy ass secretary wouldn't let me in to see you."

"Yes, Sarah. She is a little odd," Jason said. "Which I normally encourage, but lately...well, let's just say I'm not involving her in the planning for this one. We'll see how she reacts."

He picked up another photo, then paused and cocked his head, studying the picture.

"Wait. This one is…acceptable."

The tattooed man leaned forward to see. "Oh, him? Yeah, he'll cause a shitshow for sure if that's what you're looking for."

Jason didn't move his eyes from the photo. "Yes, actually. That is exactly what I'm looking for."


Next chapter is the fundraiser! I promise not to take a whole year to post it. I hope you guys enjoyed being reunited with Matt and Sarah!