Summary: Matt Murdock saves people all the time. They usually don't send people after him to repay him. Repayment is usually not in the form of a new bossy roommate.
Disclaimer: Marvel owns the characters, Disney owns Marvel.
Spoilers for Daredevil seasons 1 and 2 and the M.C.U movies up to Captain America: Civil War. There may be mentions of general information from Agents of Shield, but they aren't part of this plot.
Rated T for violence and language typical of the Daredevil tv show.
Chapter 1: Creep
Verb: to go very slowly, to go timidly or cautiously so as to escape notice, to enter or advance gradually so as to be almost unnoticed
Noun: a strange person who you strongly dislike
It would take an unusual person to enjoy crawling through a sewer. Matthew Murdock was not that unusual, or at least that kind of unusual. Matt was the vigilante defender of Hell's Kitchen. He took that duty seriously, though it had cost him his job and his friends, and almost everything else in his life.
He thought he knew all the ins and outs of Hell's Kitchen. A cult of very quiet ninja called the Hand had proved him wrong, using the sewers, rail lines, and electrical access tunnels to hide from him. He had had years to search the sewers, to add them to the mental map he kept of the neighborhood he considered his to protect. He had left it until it was too late.
He wondered if it was some kind of cognitive dissonance. He usually ran across the roof tops to avoid notice, but he knew the sewers were an equally good way to get around. He knew deep down it was the smell; the ammonia reek and the buildup of centuries of waste from humans, rats, and roaches. He had to push past that and make up for it now. He thought of Elektra, cold under the earth, and knew he didn't deserve better.
On the first day of exploring the sewers, he made the mistake of wearing the Daredevil suit. Matt was aware of the stench sinking into his armor, but he had under estimated a normal human's sense of smell. That night on patrol a mugger mistakenly assumed his would be victim had soiled himself in terror, and mocked the old man about it before Matt leapt from behind a parked car and broke the mugger's nose. The next day Matt wore a set of ragged denim pants and an army surplus jacket, which he left on the roof of his apartment building at night, to air out as much as possible.
To hide his identity Matt wrapped a scarf around his mouth and nose. He left the upper half of his face exposed to keep track of air currents and temperature changes. Though his eyes were useless, his eyelids and lashes were sensitive enough to make up for covering his nose.
Matt had already given up on finding his way by smell for the most part. The airflow through the tunnels was often confusing, pushed by distant links to the subway, hot fetid air rising above rotting things and mixing with cold brine from the Hudson that slowly dripped through ancient brick walls. Every once in a while there would be an overpowering blast of chlorine or something equally abrasive, as illegally dumped chemicals found their way to a new catalyst. The scarf also served as a slight filter for the fetid air.
The new old clothing helped him blend in with the other tunnel residents as well. A few times he crossed paths with city workers at unexpected intersections, where the walls didn't carry echoes like he expected them to. They thought he was just another homeless derelict. They either ignored him or chased him so slowly and loudly that it was obvious they didn't want to catch him.
The actual tunnel residents were a bit more difficult to fool. Most of them were not particularly friendly and a few were violently territorial. Matt supposed he was arrogant to think because he was always blind, he would automatically have the advantage in a lightless environment, but several near-misses with knives and rebar had humbled him.
He did find tunnel people who were willing to talk to him about the Hand, and a few of them even told the truth. The cult had killed at least 10 tunnel residents and driven the rest into other parts of the tunnels, which extended far outside Hell's Kitchen. People had only just started to return. Matt prioritized making it safe for them, since no one wanted his help as lawyer anymore. At least he could make sure the tunnels were free of booby traps and giant iron urns full of blood.
To check for traps, Matt added a broom handle to his exploration kit. He used it to tap suspicious bits of ground and to check the depth of any liquid he might be forced to step in. Though the broom handle wasn't as versatile as the batons Melvin had made for him, it was much easier to replace. If it fell into a pool of sewage, he'd spend the $12 to buy a new one.
Matt was poking around inside a pipe when he noticed them. The pipe was large enough to crawl through, but it sounded brittle. Rust flaked off like snow and fell all over his head and shoulders as he leaned into it. He was trying to focus on the vibrations in the metal when stomping boots broke his concentration. They weren't close, but they weren't hard to zero in on.
At first he thought it was a S.W.A.T.. team. He heard the rattle of weapons and buckles, creaking nylon and plastic, thick cloth sliding against armored vests, and combat boots. Matt couldn't think of why a swat team would be down in the sewers. They were moving through part of the tunnels he had explored before; a series of storm drains that linked to the Hudson.
He back tracked and then climbed up a crumbling vertical shaft, part of an ancient cistern jammed between the steel roots of a skyscraper. He had to run parallel to the armed group for a few hundred feet before another vertical shaft, a more purposely built spillway, would allow him close. He heard their boots echo through an intersecting horizontal tunnel above, and climbed.
He braced himself just below the top of the spillway, most of his weight was on his splayed legs. His hands rested on the floor of the tunnel above, feeling the vibration of the men's boots through the concrete. He had gotten ahead of them, more through luck than planning. He was close enough now to differentiate their approaching heartbeats, nine loud even rhythms almost drowning out the light frightened flutter of a child's. The child was being carried, since his or her feet never brushed the tunnel floor.
He heard the buzz of the men's radios, throat mikes and earpieces, instead of hand held sets. Eight of them spoke to each other, but no other voices answered or interrupted, so he assumed they weren't in contact with the surface.
"—approaching the next fork,"
"Hang a left."
"The woman's flagging. Should I take the kid?"
"Negative. Do not interact with the asset."
"Please turn on the light," the child asked, their voice carrying loudly above the radio sets.
"Quiet," one of the men ordered.
Another heart sped up, a beat Matt hadn't noted until it started to change.
"Lila, be quiet," a woman's voice echoed.
"Please be quiet," she said. Matt could hear her desperation now.
Matt pushed his face against his shoulder, shoving his scarf down below his chin. Over the normal putrid smells he detected fresh blood. He thought he had the guilty sorted from the innocent. He pulled his hands back and shimmied further down in the spillway. His legs shook a little from the strain as he waited, hunched, for the group to pass by.
Different scents poured off them, as they passed the spillway: solvent and polish from their guns, jet fuel and gasoline, cheap deodorant in five flavors, losing against ten different body odors. The woman smelled faintly of horses and goats and bits of hay and alfalfa deep in the soles of her boots. The child smelled like sugary cereal, crayons, alcohol, iodine, and a dozen other hospital cleansers.
The men were not spread out far enough for him to pick them off easily. Three walked at the front of the group in a wedge, two walked on either side of the woman and child, and three walked at the back, again as a wedge, with two next to each other and one ahead. Their helmets rasped against buzz-cut scalps.
He heard a faint whirring sound that he at first thought were auto-focusing camera lenses. After a moment's thought he concluded that he was hearing night-vision goggles, since the sound only came from around the eight armed men's faces.
Hiding was always a challenge for him, since he did not know how much other people could see. Since the child had complained about the dark, it was likely the men were depending on their goggles, and leaving their prisoners basically blind. Night-vision goggles required some illumination to start with. Matt assumed the men had some kind of light turned on, maybe something on their gun sights, since he heard the barrels of their rifles cutting back and forth through the air as they walked by. None of them paused by his spillway.
Though he would describe the overlapping networks of pipes and tunnels as labyrinthine, there were a lot of places where the tunnels were long and straight, with no place to hide for hundreds of feet. Charging through those, towards multiple projectile weapons, would be suicide. Ricochets were another major problem. The tunnel walls were filled with little chips and dents and angles that made guessing where a bullet would fly nearly impossible. The deafening reverberations of gunfire wouldn't be too helpful either.
A few strategies flickered through his mind. He could pick them off one at a time as they moved past connecting tunnels, but they were talking back and forth on their radios, and would probably clue in quickly even if he did knock each man out before he could get noisy. The sudden silence would give the missing man away. For that plan to work, he would also have to keep finding and moving to connecting tunnels, which were not unlimited. He could simply follow them to wherever they were going and hope the conditions there were better, but that was probably just as risky as the next option, a blitz attack. The Devil in him cheered at the thought of sudden merciless violence.
Matt bit his lip, trying to focus and not let the red pulsing excitement overwhelm him. The goal here and now was not to beat down as many heavily armed men as possible, it was to save the woman and child from them. He let out a slow silent breath, and dropped back down the spillway.
Laura Barton couldn't tell how long they had been walking, but her arms ached. Lila seemed to gain another pound with every new tunnel they passed through, but she couldn't risk putting her down. She hoped Lila wouldn't start whining again, since one of their captors had shot Laura in the arm to put an end to the first tantrum. It was only a graze but it was surprisingly painful. Despite the pain Laura was tempted to start asking "Are we there yet?".
A month ago, Laura had noticed her daughter Lila rubbing her fist in her left eye, and had sent up a prayer that she wasn't about to have three children stuck at home with pinkeye. After five different consultations with specialist she was given the diagnosis and Laura was swept through with guilt, though she knew pinkeye hadn't magically become cancer because of an ill-timed prayer.
She tried to keep Clint in the loop. She sent him a series of emails that had flown off into heavily-encrypted space. He was being hunted by the people he had served with, so the old channels weren't safe. He finally responded, but not with "I will come home and hold my daughter while we tell her that her eye has to come out". Instead she received a single line; "Stark will get you access to the Cradle."
She didn't trust that machine, and she bore a grudge against the billionaire who controlled it, but she couldn't stop herself from hoping. The Cradle had saved Clint from what might have been a crippling injury once, maybe it could fix an eye as well. Clint made the arrangements over the next few days, through emails that were brisk and business like, but contained all the right code words.
She found a sitter for Cooper and Nat, and made copies of all the medical paperwork. She knew Clint couldn't join them in New York. It could still be a trap. Though none of the current Avengers would use a sick child as bait, she knew General Ross had not forgotten the jail break from the Raft.
Lila was already tired and cranky that morning, when they boarded their plane. She had caught on weeks ago that something bad was happening, even if Laura and the doctors hadn't given her all the details. Lila used to beg to go with Clint to New York. Most of the flight she spent claiming she felt fine now, and wanted to go home.
Natasha had not been waiting for them at the airport as planned. Laura wished she had turned right around then, but Natasha was often delayed by missions. Instead Laura bought tickets for a shuttle bus to Midtown. A man with a gun boarded a few steps behind her, and they ended up in a random parking garage instead of outside their hotel. More armed men were waiting, and she and Lila were searched, bound at the wrists with zip-ties, and marched down a staircase into the sewers.
The men hadn't told her where they were going. They hadn't said what they wanted either. No over-the-top villain with a bad mustache had cackled that her husband would have to kill the president if he wanted to see her alive again, or any other dramatic nonsense. They just told her to walk, and gave her rough shoves when she got disoriented, and bumped against them in the dark.
She frowned. For all she knew these men could be working for the president. She wished for the thousandth time that Steve Rogers had never called for help, or that Clint had told him no. Steve knew just how to ask though. He didn't appeal to high-minded ideals, didn't give a speech about the draconian Sokovia accords. He just asked Clint, in a slightly desperate voice, to help his save his friend who was the victim of mind control. She hoped Steve and whoever else they recruited would help return the favor now.
"To the left," the man said, pushing her right shoulder with the barrel of his rifle. She had the sudden urge to sing a few lines of that Beyonce song, and knew the stress was getting to her. Her right foot banged against something and she started to step over it. A hand grabbed her shoulder and shoved her harder to the right.
"It's a hole," the man growled, now behind her. "Keep left."
"She can't see," Lila said in her defense.
"Shut up, kid," the man growled.
"You should turn on the lights," Lila whined. "It's too dark!"
Laura wanted to put her hand over Lila's mouth, but she couldn't do that without dropping her. Something thumped behind them, and she tensed, thinking one of the men was pushing his way towards them, maybe the one who shot her. There was another thump and then arms wrapped around her. Lila was crushed between her and another body. Lila screamed. She nearly did too as grasping hands slid into her right armpit and down under her right thigh. Lila's screaming got louder as the man grabbing Laura lifted them off the ground.
"No!" Laura shouted trying to pull away.
She kicked her legs, trying to get loose, but the man was a lot stronger. His knees knocked against her shins as he bent and then launched them out into space.
As they fell, she screamed.
The sound had barely left her mouth when they hit the ground. They landed on top of the man, but he was rolling with the fall, and they ended up squashed under his body. The man grunted in her ear, and she thought it sounded pained. He got off of them and shoved his hands into her armpits, hauling her to her feet. She overbalanced and nearly dropped Lila, but her daughter's weight shifted, and she stayed upright.
"Mom!" Lila shouted.
She realized the man's hands were on her daughter and she tried to pull her away, but her wrists were tied together and she couldn't get a grip on her.
"No! No!" she screamed as the man pulled Lila out of her arms.
Gun fire rattled around them and light flashed from above. For a second she saw an outline of the man, with Lila over his shoulder, and then everything was black again. The man grabbed her arm and dragged her into a stumbling run. They moved away from the hole they had dropped through, around one bend and then another.
"Kid!" the man hissed, barely audible over Lila's wailing. "Kid, please be quiet!"
Laura wasn't won over by manners. She knew a perfectly civil conversation could end with a bullet in one party's head. Still, the man seemed like the lesser of two evils.
"Lila!" she hissed, shaking badly but less panicked. "Lila, be quiet! He's helping us. We're going home."
She hoped she was telling the truth as she was dragged around another sharp turn and then jerked to a stop.
"It's a short drop," the man said. "Tuck and roll, and keep rolling so I don't land on you."
Her yelp of protest was cut off by a shove and then she was falling again. Her knees jarred as she landed, and she fell over backwards, slamming her head against the ground. Bright stars erupted out of the dark. She heard feet shuffle and little yelp from Lila and then the man was pulling her to her feet again. Instead of hauling her into motion, his large hands wrapped around her head. His fingers pushed through her hair. She tried to push him away.
"Ma'am, where are you hurt?" he asked.
"Mom? Mom? Mom? Mom?" Lila asked, over and over in the background.
"It's just a bump," she whispered, though her eyes teared up from the sting as his fingers found the wound.
The man let go, and stepped back. She was glad he wasn't crowding her, but she was immediately lost in the featureless black of the tunnel.
"Mom?" Lila asked, her voice floating up from the dark to her right.
"I'm fine, honey," she said. She stretched out her bound hands, trying to find her daughter. The man's hand found hers and guided it to Lila's shoulder.
"Stay here and stay quiet," the man said. "I'll find something to cut these off."
Before she could object he was gone. She thought she might've heard the scuff of a boot, but nothing as clear as retreating footsteps. There was just a little scuff sound and then he was gone. She knelt down and looped her arms around Lila, because she couldn't think of anything else to do.
"Mom?" Lila asked.
"Shhhh," she said.
She thought about trying to get away, but she would only get them more lost. They'd fall or they'd starve or they would run into the armed men they were running from. They would have to wait for their rescuer to come back.
Their rescuer, what did she know about him? Male, strong, polite, somehow able to see in the dark. She thought if he knew Clint he would have said, but she wasn't certain about that. Clint knew a lot of strange people.
She clenched her jaw to keep from yelping. Lila squeaked as Laura's arms reflexively tightened around her.
"Ma'am, I found something sharp. Hold still and I'll get those zip-ties off you, ok?"
"Ok," she whispered.
His hands found hers, still looped around Lila. Callused fingers brushed along her wrists and then pulled at the strips of plastic. She felt one snap and then the other, but kept her arms around Lila.
"Kid, I'm going to cut you loose, ok?" the man asked.
"Do you have light?" Lila asked.
"Sorry kid, I don't need one, so I don't carry one. You and your mom will be outside soon though. Give me your hands ok?"
It took a little more cajoling for Lila to agree to be freed, but the man didn't get impatient. Laura hoped that meant the armed men were not nearby, but they didn't seem to have come very far.
"I'm Laura," She said, recalling Clint's lectures on survival in captivity. Humanizing your self was supposed to help. She hadn't risked it with the soldiers who took them, but they already knew who she was. "This is my daughter, Lila. Thank you for saving us."
"Thank you sir," Lila said, after Laura poked her in the shoulder.
The man's feet shuffled awkwardly. She worried it was guilt for a moment, and that he could be involved in this somehow.
"You're welcome. You can call me Mike."
"It's nice to meet you Mike," Laura said. "Did my husband send you to rescue us?"
"No ma'am," he said. "I don't know who he is. I was already down here and heard you and those men passing by. They seemed…suspicious."
She wondered if he was waiting for her to elaborate on her circumstances. She wasn't particularly eager to, since Mike seemed rather suspicious himself. He probably wasn't a plumber or anyone whose job would require him to be down here, but he didn't give off a deranged-hobo vibe either. She wondered if he was an altered human fleeing from prosecution under the Accords or hiding from the various governments and criminal organizations hunting people on the leaked Shield Index.
"Are we very far underground?" Laura asked.
"About 6 stories down," Mike said. "We shouldn't go straight up from here though, since we'd come out by the docks and that isn't the best neighborhood, even in broad daylight. Do you have somewhere to go?"
"I'm not sure where would be safe," she said.
"I can bring you up by the 15th precinct," Mike said. "Detective Mahoney is a good cop. Ask for him. He can probably help you sort out the legal side of whatever this is."
She wasn't sure that was true, but she didn't want to push her luck by asking too much of a stranger. She wasn't sure who was behind the kidnapping; mercenaries who wanted Clint to do a job for them, General Ross' goon squad, some power play by a rogue nation. A police station was probably her best bet at the moment, since she did not know where Tony Stark stood. The invitation to use the Cradle could have been intercepted or entirely fake.
"Ok. Sounds good," she said, squeezing Lila again.
Lila squirmed, but Laura was shivering, so Lila must be freezing. Her arms shook as she tried to lift her, though it should have been an easy task now that her arms were free. She started badly when Mike's hand came down on her shoulder.
"I think you're a little bit in shock, Laura," Mike said. "The wound in your arm isn't very deep, but that bump on your head and the stress add up. You wear my coat and hang onto my arm, and I'll carry Lila, Ok?"
"Alright," she said, and he helped her get her arms into the sleeves. The garment held the odor of an unfamiliar body, mostly lost under the stench of their surroundings.
She reached out and found Mike's arm. He had a long sleeved flannel shirt on, but she could easily feel ropy muscle under it. His biceps weren't equal to Clint's, but she'd have no chance in a physical fight, even if she could see. Lila managed to kick her in the elbow as Mike picked her up on his other side. It probably wasn't worth it to mention caution and manners. Or maybe it was.
"You're prickly," Lila said. "You need to shave more or less."
"I've been told that before," Mike said. Laura thought she heard a smile in his voice.
There was a soft rasping sound, and Laura could imagine little hands running over stubble.
"Lila!" she hissed. "You don't grab at someone's face!"
"I'm not," she lied. "I'm finding a good spot to hang on."
She could feel Mike's ribs shiver against her arm in a repressed laugh.
"My nose is not a good spot," Mike said.
Lila gave a betrayed little huff, but settled as they started walking.
Author's Note: Reviews regarding this story are appreciated, random demands to work on a different story are not. Plot bunnies happen people.