A/N: Couple of things to mention first!
Firstly, my O/C Valerie isn't really physically described in this story - I leave that up to you. Her personality and some background information will be added throughout, but her general appearance is completely up to you. Ethnicity, height, weight, hair colour - even last name - is all your choice. I challenged myself with this, so I suppose if you squinted and tilted your head to the right you could self-insert. Up to you! Feel free to tell me how you imagined her.
Secondly, I've only watched the first season so far (starting on the second) and deduced from that my own vision of how Matt Murdock would respond to certain events. I've done some research on the internet, dug up some information from the comics, but other than that I'm fairly green.
Thirdly, I'm trying to stick to the canon storyline as much as I can. This story begins a little before the events of season 1.
Nothing ever changed.
Her perfume, her hair colour, the scar on her right thigh from where she got too cocky in her first fight; her favourite food, how she had her coffee (white, two sugars – anything less made her heave) or her sense of style. These were all consistent, never-changing.
Her environment, less so - but there were a few things in it that always remained the same.
Valerie's sparring partner, Jackson, for instance. At the ripe age of seventy-two, his days as a champion mixed-martial artist had long since passed, but he always turned up every Monday, Friday and Sunday to help her train. Always on time, always with a hangover and always in a foul mood. She had long become accustomed to his whiskey breath and jabs that always felt a touch too aggressive to be called 'sparring', and she had learnt from his grunts just what she needed to change. A harsh grunt meant to keep her hands up, a low grunt meant her footwork was sloppy and a short bark meant she was either doing well or he needed to cut down on how many Marlboro Slims he was smoking – she was never certain.
Walking into Fogwell's gym at eight o'clock sharp – and by sharp, she meant she had perfectly synchronized the beeping of her watch so that the eighth beep sounded as soon as she shut the door – she was greeted with pleasant and familiar smells. Sweat predominantly, but also mildew, old brick and if testosterone had a scent – that too. It wasn't the fanciest gym in Hell's Kitchen, but she didn't have much choice when it came to where she trained.
The last beep of her watch sounded as soon as she shut the gym door, its high pitched sound being drowned out by the snap of frame.
Jackson would turn up in fifteen minutes time, which meant she had enough time to warm up before he arrived. Five minutes to stretch, eight minutes to skip, and the remaining two minutes left for any discrepancies. Striding over to the makeshift weights area, Valerie pulled her bag off of her shoulder.
"'sup Val." Eugene breathed with a short nod, before resuming counting his reps. Sweat glistened across his dark skin.
"Evening, Eugene. Arms again?" Valerie greeted as she threw her gym bag into a corner.
"You know it." He huffed.
Eugene was apparently also a creature of habit too, as she always found him every Monday sitting near the dumbbells, doing bicep curls (and only ever bicep curls) with weights too heavy for him to comfortably lift. Then every Friday listened to him complain about his pulled muscles, which thankfully he chose to do two minutes before Jackson turned up – so she always had the perfect excuse to stop the conversation.
What she didn't expect, or rather plan for, was Eugene to place the dumbbells back on the rack, stop the music on his dated iPod and strike up an unplanned conversation. It was a Monday. He never wanted to talk on a Monday.
"You hear about Hoston?"
Valerie remembered Hoston as the balding man who grunted too loudly when he boxed and always stopped sparring with his partner six minutes in - every time - with his 'wound from 'Nam', even though those who knew he was too young for him to have been around the time of the Vietnam war.
"No?" Valerie said, perturbed by the new choice of subject. "I imagine he'll tell everyone on Sunday though." Hoston gossiped like a bored housewife.
"Doubt it," Eugene said simply, crossing his huge arms. "Anderson said he's been caught by the NYPD for distribution."
That wasn't too far-fetched. She had overheard him many a time trying to sell steroids to other gym rats.
"Oh?" She wasn't sure whether to act happy or annoyed. Eugene didn't like Hoston – many of them didn't, but she knew Eugene hated the feds more. Valerie settled for an expression she hoped conveyed mild sympathy but pleasant surprise.
"Had it coming if you asked me." Eugene took a hefty swig of his water. "Apparently that masked dude swallowed him up and spat him out at the nearest precinct."
The Masked Man. Yeah, she had heard of him. Valerie had no formal opinion on vigilantes other than she thought they must have a lot of time on their hands. She had honed her body to function well on exactly six hours sleep and couldn't imagine spending that jumping off of rooftops and beating up criminals. Now that would disturb her schedule.
"It's why Jim's been in such a bad mood lately." Eugene continued, not put off by Valerie turning her back and stretching. Jim was the owner of the gym, a name she still wasn't sure if it was real or some kind of running joke. "He said Hoston never tried to deal outside the gym, so he thinks one of ours ratted him out."
"I thought, ugh," Val felt the tug of her calf as she stretched it. "Jim didn't like Hoston?"
"He don't," He confirmed. "But he hates snitches more."
There was a note in Eugene's voice that Valerie picked up on immediately. Suspicion. Valerie stopped bending and turned to face the six-foot tower of bicep.
"You think I snitched on Hoston?" It wasn't entirely unfeasible, Valerie was always a fierce stickler for honesty and rules, but she would never go out of her way to see a man she rarely spoke to put behind bars.
"Not really, I know you, Val," Eugene shrugged. "But Jims keeping an eye on everyone. I'd keep out of his way if I were you. He's suspicious of you only because you're the only female this gym's seen in years. Plus," He smiled, a weird, crooked thing that was a tell-tale sign he was either going to tell a joke that was either offensive to her personally or just sexist in general. "We'd see it in that damn schedule of yours." He pitched his voice dramatically. "6:15, arrange meeting with masked man-"
"Understood," Valerie said shortly. She checked her watch. 8:13.
Great, she thought bitterly. Idle gossip has cost her time she could have spent warming up.
"I'll see you around anyway." Eugene drawled as he swung his towel over his shoulder. "Look after yourself, man, days are strange now – superheroes, vigilantes, aliens. Weird shit."
Eugene said his goodbyes and Val quickly wrapped tape around her knuckles. Jackson didn't believe in warm-ups, and soon as he stepped foot in the gym it was go time.
Apart from, this time, Jackson never showed up.
He had done so once before, turning up half an hour later blind drunk but still able to throw punches like the best of them. He didn't keep a phone on him either – believing some government conspiracy he heard on a radio show in his youth, so there was no way to find if he was just delayed or not coming at all.
So Valerie waited and spent every minute wishing she had never walked into the gym in the first place.
8:15 came and went, and Val found herself idly pushing a punching bag.
8:20 came and went, and Val did some pushups.
8:30 came and went, and Val tried to the splits. She pulled a muscle in her thigh.
8:45 came and went, and Val skipped.
9:00 came and went and Val watched as the last of the evening regulars trickled out the door, those who knew her mumbling their goodbyes, oddly looking in her direction.
Everyone knew Valerie was strict and punctual. She calorie counted, tracked her expenses religiously and would track how many breaths she took in a day if she could. Seeing her out of routine was just as unusual as a spacecraft nearly levelling a city. Thought impossible, but apparently not.
Valerie huffed as Cameron, who was always the last to leave, walked over to her.
"Jackson not show up?" He asked, concern in his voice. Cameron had known Jackson longer than she had and always knew the old drunk was nothing if not punctual.
Valerie held her arms up and looked around, an action a little too sarcastic for her usual character. Cameron gave her a pat on her shoulder.
"Old man's probably throwin' up in a gutter somewhere, you know him." Valerie huffed in reply. "I've gotta' head back to the kids, you okay here or are you calling it a night?"
"I might as well stay." Valerie chewed the inside of her cheek, a clear sign of her anxiety. "This is going to throw my whole schedule off."
"Yeah, I've seen your ledger." Cameron chuckled and handed Val a set of keys. "Make sure you turn the electric breaker off before you go."
"Sure thing." Val put the keys on a nearby bench as she walked towards the bags.
Cameron got to the door before he stopped. "Oh, Val?"
"Hm?" Val readied her stance and raised her arms, keen to take out her frustration on the red bags of sand in front of her.
"I, uh, probably shouldn't be saying this – dude likes his privacy, but there's a man who usually comes round about nine-thirty. Likes it quiet."
"Oh?" Val delivered a few trying jabs as Cameron called to her.
"He don't always turn up, but, if he does I thought I'd give you a little warning."
"Uh-huh." Val barely registered what Cameron was saying as she huffed out air with every jab. "Thanks."
"And, uh, he's blind."
"Cool," Val replied, now entirely not paying attention to what he was saying as her tempo started to build.
Valerie's muscle memory kicked in as she zoned out all sounds around her. The smell of mould, the ticking of the broken clock, distant sounds of sirens – they all faded out as her mind began re-calibrating.
Leading such a busy life, she had become quite adept at multi-tasking and spent her time mentally rearranging her schedule. Her eight o'clock meeting would have to be moved to nine, so she would arrange that at seven to give ample warning. She'd have to have toast in the morning instead of her Greek yoghurt and oats – which took six minutes to prepare, so she could use those minutes to ring the office and-
Was someone talking to her?
Valerie zoned back in and next thing she knew she shouted and tripped over own damn feet. A man stood over her, his face etched in both surprise and concern as her heart refused to stop thumping.
"Are you alright?" The man asked, placing his stick to the side of her as he reached out his hand. She briefly wondered why he brought a stick to the gym before she accepted his hand. He pulled her up with a surprising amount of ease.
"Yes, yes." Valerie expelled a big puff of air to steady her breathing. "I… uh, wasn't paying attention."
She took a look at his face and frowned. Was he really wearing dark shades… indoors? At a gym? She took in his groomed hair and fit physique and her impression of him began to sour. She had met a few bro-types in her time.
"Evidently." He breathed with a quick upturn of his lips. "I didn't think there'd be anyone else here at this time."
"Neither did I, apparently," Valerie said slowly, trying not to stare so much before he commented on her wandering gaze. She hadn't seen him around before, not to her schedule anyway.
She checked her watch and barely stifled a gasp when she noticed how much time had passed. She'd struggle to get five hours and forty-five minutes worth of sleep if she didn't leave soon.
"I should really be going, nice to meet you…?" She hurriedly said, wanting to desperately leave before too much time got away but hearing her screechy grandmother's voice about etiquette squawk in the back of mind reminded her to be polite.
"Matthew, though Matt's just fine."
She extended her hand and replied with her own name.
Apart from he didn't take it. Hm?
"You just extended your hand, didn't you?" He said, with a small, knowing smile on his rugged face.
"Yes?" Valerie answered questioningly, wondering where the joke was and-
He was blind.
Cameron had said he was blind.
"I'm such an idiot," Valerie sighed, going to retract her hand and smack it to her forehead. Apart from he grasped it first, and gave a sharp shake.
"It's fine. You wouldn't be the first, you won't be the last." Matt laughed and after finally noticing the proverbial elephant in the room, she began to notice the smaller things. How his face didn't angle down towards her even though she stood a few inches shorter, a few small razor nicks across his neck where he had slipped and blotted the cut clumsily – and of course the big stick and glasses that weren't because he was some ninety's wannabe.
"I, um, left the keys to the door on the bench," She jabbed her thumb behind her but quickly stopped herself. "…if you're okay with closing up on your own?" The smile on his face disappeared, and Valerie wanted to fully punch herself. He was blind, not a toddler. "I didn't mean… by that…"
"It's not the first time I've closed up," Matt said quietly. He stepped back and bent down to pick up his cane. Valerie suspected it was to avoid her sympathetic stare. His hand fumbled for a second before closing around it and standing.
"Okay, well, it was nice…" Val trailed off and sighed heavily. "Embarrassing myself in front of you." She could feel the heat rising in her cheeks. Something in his posture changed, subtly.
"It was nice to listen to it." He said, the small, quirky smile returning. "You train with Jackson, don't you?"
"Yes, usually. He didn't turn up today, though. You two know each other?"
"Yes, actually. He used to train with…" He stopped, and Valerie had the suspicion she was treading on sensitive ground. "Someone I knew. Awful drunk, constantly smells like whiskey and cigarettes?"
"That could be said for half of the city." Valerie laughed. He smiled in agreement. "But yeah, old vet who only talks in grunts?"
"That's the one. He didn't turn up? I heard he was quite the stickler for punctuality." There was something in the way he talked, Valerie noticed. Rehearsed almost, professional.
"Definitely. It's one of the few things we had in common. I'll make some calls tomorrow and see if anyone's seen him." Matt nodded and there was a lull in their conversation. "I'll… see you around?"
"Probably. Not sure if I can say the same."
Valerie's breath hitched in her throat until she spotted the small shadows of a smirk. "Oh, ha."
She quickly picked up her gym bag before she embarrassed herself further. She bid him one final goodbye before heading towards the door. Looking over her shoulder, she saw his head angle towards her direction. He wasn't moving, his hands still around his cane, evidently not keen on changing that until Valerie was clear out of sight. Or… hearing.
She figured he must have been insecure about his abilities or something. He couldn't exactly check his form in the mirror.
He looked almost… lonely in the dim light of the gym.
Valerie said nothing else and left, wondering how on earth a blind guy had gotten so… buff.
Was that bad to think?