Hell's Kitchen.

Matt Murdock.

The night air is cool. There's an electricity to it. Three blocks from here someone cooks pancakes and sausage for a midnight snack. The gristle is thick and Matt grimaces when he feels it on his lips. A flophouse down a back alley reeks of booze. Anger and shame. Yet the borough's alive. Burning with its own life, its own anger and shame. There's an electricity to this place. It never leaves you. Once you're in, you're in. Good luck getting out.

There's always an electricity to the city. And there's always a fire within Matt Murdock. He feels everything. Hears everything. Sees nothing.

Except her.

He always saw her. That's the most anyone could have said for Matt and Karen—that they understood each other. It was a compliment, or at least they took it as such. They enjoyed understanding each other. They had their own little corner of the world, and they loved it.

Like Matt always had.

And it worked for them.

Until Wilson Fisk overplayed his hand. Like he always had. And decided to toy with little Matty's life by way of Karen's…addictions.

Matt frowned. Behind ruby-red sunglasses, his eyes narrowed and he looked up at the sky. Felt a snowflake alight delicately on his nose and then melt into the skin. He almost shivered from the sensation. But then more snowflakes fell.

A storm was coming.

Or already here. Matt wasn't sure which.

It was something to do with the time of year that made him unsure about the weather and more or less, life in general.

Christmas.

Good will toward men. And women.

The ride out had taken longer than expected. Matt wanted to do this as Matt and not as Daredevil. The taxi had reeked of soaked in liquor and semen—however that got there, he didn't want to know—and new curry. The kind of odoriferous malaise that the depressed lament.

He rolled his eyes at his own thought process. Depressed, hardly. Matt wanted to think he wasn't depressed. He saw depression as paralysis. Weakness. Ineffectuality.

Maybe that was Dad talking. Again.

The wind picked up and tossed Matt's hair across his scalp. He wore a tailored brown houndstooth, which in the wind fluttered at the waist. It had cost him dearly. But then, everything these days seemed to. The scarf was tight around his neck, and covered just enough of his mouth to make speaking bearable. It was a cold winter, by God. The middle of December and snow was actually falling.

Guess that's something.

Matt craned his head and pretended to look around the rest of the cemetery. The incoming noise from a police siren, a couple of birds squawking in the trees, and the ever-repetitive ground clutter of populated Brooklyn tripped the radar enough to guide him.

He pulled the scarf down from his neck as he neared the headstone.

Her headstone.

Matt took a deep breath. Frowed.

Pulled the rose from inside his jacket.

Bent over and laid it on the centimeter of snow covering the headstone's crest.

He looked over the headstone and as he did, his jaw tightened and loosened every few seconds.

Karen Page. Loving Friend.

Matt frowned, and then caught himself.

"I guess that wasn't fair of me to do," he sad, recriminating himself. "You know I could never be angry at you." And then quieter: "You have every reason to be angry at me."

Snow kept falling. The air was crisp, and it bit at Matt's ears. He tensed his shoulders against the wind and swallowed once. He readjusted the sunglasses and slid his hands into his pockets.

"I should have told you…a long time ago. I should have done a lot of things with you, Karen, but life got in the way. You know what happened. Fisk gets what's coming to him, and eventually so does his would-be killer. Fisk comes back and suddenly everyone's dropping like flies. I'm pushing Bullseye through another window, and then I'm sharing a prison block with all of them.

And I still can't sleep very well.

I, uh, figured out that I don't really use my bed anymore. A good night means coming back and collapsing on the sofa and waiting for someone to wake me up with more bad news.

It's all bad news, Karen, and I realize this is just me bitching about life again. But it's all bad news. It's all gone to hell without you here.

And I should have told you when it first happened, but…but, I've met someone.

Her name is Milla. She's. She's really great. She reminds me of you. A lot, actually. She doesn't quite have your smile, or that mixture of Chanel you always tried to sneak past me. But she means the world to me.

That's what this is about. Not me bitching about life again, not exactly. It's about me coming to you and not bearing any more secrets. This is about someone so important that I was going to spend the rest of my life with her. And in the year she and I had, the only thing I kept thinking about was you, Karen.

I miss you.

And I find myself wondering why. How terrible is that?

I haven't been able to let you go. You know I don't believe much in ghosts, but…I think…you're with me, Karen. You've always been with me. I've lost sight of that, and I know it's too late to try and make up lost time.

But I wanted to tell you, anyway.

I'm going to move on with my life. Milla is the key to that.

Don't hate me. And please, please, please don't think I don't love you.

I do.

Is that even possible, Karen?

Foggy…thinks a broken heart just doesn't heal all the way. That's a direct quote, by the way. Typical Foggy. I know.

I know, Karen, that if I give myself to Milla, it will never be enough. Not as long as you're with me. I'm not trying to get rid of you. I would never want to.

I love you.

And I love Milla.

And I need to know you're all right with this.

Let me know if I'm doing the right thing. And…if it is time to give myself to Milla, I need to know that you'll be…at peace with that. I think you would.

I trust you, Karen. I always did."

"Matthew?"

He turned around slowly, tiredly, and saw her.

Natasha. The Black Widow. Wearing a body-length black trenchcoat. A leather affair that keeps out the cold, a bad metaphor for Natasha's entire life.

"How long were you listening?" he asked thickly and pulled off the sunglasses.

"I was trying not to," she said and got close to him. Close enough to whisper in his ear. "You know…she loved you, too, Matthew. Once upon a time." Natasha's breath was warm and calm.

"There's a conditional in there," he said.

"Yes. Once upon a time, Matthew."

Matt lifted his head away from Natasha's. "I know what you're going to say."

"She is dead, Matthew."

"I'm not going to discuss this, Natasha," Matt said and scowled. "Go home." He turned back to the headstone.

"You always thought you could get rid of your problems that easily." Her voice was thick. Angry. "If you want to talk about the future, why not do it with someone who intends to see it."

He looked back at her. Frowned.

"That was no question," she added. "I understand your goal, and it is a noble one."

"You think I need your approval, Natasha?"

"Why? You labor under the assumption you need hers," she continued and pointed at the headstone. "You need to remember your David Copperfield. You're either going to master your fate or be its victim, Matthew. I wish there was an easier way to say these things, but there isn't. How much longer are you going to allow yourself to live in the past?"

"And just forget Karen Page even existed?!"

"She would want you to move on. Greener pastures, as it were."

"I…I can't."

"You seem to want to."

"I'd be…"

"Leaving Karen behind?"

Matt looked at Natasha, then back at the headstone.

"Matthew," Natasha said quietly and slid one arm around his waist. "She is gone. No longer among us. However you want to see it I know this is difficult, but you must see it."

"Relativism. That's why you eavesdropped."

"You can spend your Christmas here in your misery. Or you can come with me and we'll have dinner. Like people do, Matthew." Natasha leaned in close again and kissed Matt. Didn't push it any further. "You may never forget her. But she's long since left this world behind. We're here. Now."

Matt looked at the headstone.

Milla.

Karen.

Natasha.

It's about…someone so important that I was going to spend the rest of my life with her…

He paused only once as his eyes roved in their sockets searching for meaning."Natasha."

"Yes?"

"Ask you a question?"

"Yes."

He hesitated briefly, and exhaled slowly. "How does a man share his love?"

She looked at him and cocked her head. The evening breeze threw a wisp of auburn hair away from her face. "Very carefully, Matthew."

He seemed befuddled by the question.

"I wasn't always beholden to SHIELD" she said. "Even you only know part of my admittedly sordid past, Matthew." She paused again, and when she did, her voice was a little more fragile. Like delicate glass about to be stepped on. "Once I was a weapon, in the employ of the Motherland. Or what I thought the Motherland was. During my…time in the Red Room—Department X. I'm sure our dear Director Stark has the files—during that time, I came to know someone. Someone who made me feel like more than a mere weapon. I would have given anything to see him again."

Natasha smiled and looked curtly at Matt.

"Just for one night," she said. "The only thing that mattered was him…simply being there. Do you understand?"

"Whatever happened to him?"

Natasha looked away, slightly forlorn.

"I'm sorry," Matt said, quick and stupid.

"It's all right," she said. "It was a long time ago."

They walked to the front gates, arm in arm. Matt pushed one black iron gate aside and let Natasha walk through. As he followed, Natasha said, "So what will you do now, Matthew?"

"Hm?" He pretended not to hear it. "Oh. The only thing I can do, I suppose. The adult thing. Simply be there. Right?"

She smiled and didn't try to hide it. Leaned forward and kissed him.

"Merry Christmas, Matthew."

To his own surprise, he smiled.

Merry Christmas, Karen.


Latveria.

Victor von Doom.

He'd kept the tomb intact. For the most part.

Through insurrections and destructions and his own deposition, Victor von Doom had seen fit to preserve that which meant the most to him.

Beyond power. Beyond good and evil. Beyond suits of armor and time travel platforms. Beyond Richards.

There was only her. His life giver. His raison d'être.

Cynthia von Doom.

Mother. Sorceress.

Victim.

More than anything or anyone, it was Cynthia who had seen a young Victor into the world. He had grown into adolescence under her wing, and when a vengeful pact with a spiteful demon took her from the earthly veil, young Victor changed.

And after the death of his father, poor, feeble Werner…Victor turned to the dark magics that had consumed her. In time, he mastered those magics.

And his anger.

And his pain.

In many ways, young Victor is still atoning for his mother's sins. A benevolent despotism reigns in Latveria, and its iron-clad ruler would have it no other way. Because no one else can do what that iron-clad ruler does.

No one.

Her tomb was in the deepest subbasement of Castle Doom, in a simple antechamber that had, in a former life, been a mere wine cellar for the previous tenant. Doom had the old place gutted and converted. It became a Spartan shrine to his mother, and, by extension, his own ability to direct his fate.

Simple oil-torches hung in the middle of simple stone walls, one torch for each wall, surrounding the stone table in the middle of the chamber.

The inscription on the slate was shallow-cut Uncial, written in Old High German.

Cynthia von Doom. Beloved.

Under the cold steel faceplate, Victor's eyes narrowed. He frowned as much as the close-fitting steel allowed. He stepped up to the table and pulled a single rose from within his cloak. With tenderness that surprised even himself, Victor laid the rose just below the inscription.

"This is the last living specimen of a rose that grows only in the Savage Land. I find it fitting…that it should rest here with you, Mother."

Doom lingered a moment longer before the stone table. His eyes watched it quietly, and for a moment, he even forgot about the suit of armor that encased and isolated him.

He was always isolated. Especially from her. By people who thought themselves important. Who sought to bring ruin upon Doom.

He frowned and stepped down from the dais.

Reed Richards stood, in a tuxedo, at the chamber's far end, near a heavy and splintering wooden door. He stood upright when Victor turned away from the stone table. Their eyes locked.

The fetid air hung stale and motionless in the chamber, and in spite of it, Doom's cloak swept out as he turned away. He gathered the excess length and threw it over one armored forearm—

"Are you…all right?" Richards asked.

"I require no further time," Victor said. Richards nodded slowly, knowing better than to question Victor on matters such as this. He fell in step behind the Lord of Latveria as they left the chamber.

"Now," Victor added. "Where were we?"

Richards smiled. "Bishop to Queen-five."

—Leaving the tomb once more, as always, as swiftly as he had come in.


Continued...