When she couldn’t speak, he said, “Or tell me Bakshi on Ward’s command actually did something to justify your throwing one of those grenades at him, and you had some reason for only telling Coulson that Ward had betrayed us again. Or you made a mistake, and thought they were betraying us, and only found out too late they weren’t. Jemma, look into my eyes and tell me you didn’t get on that damn plane with the plan to kill Ward no matter what and I’ll believe you.”
She had to force herself to look into his eyes, looking so desperately at her. Her mouth opened, but she couldn’t get the lie out.
She saw the exact moment his hopes died, heard the desolation in his voice as he said, “Bakshi got in the way, didn’t he? Because of the brainwashing. My God, Jemma, y-y-you’ve comm…comm…comitt-ted…” She saw his lips form the first syllable of the final word, but neither of them could get that word out.
“I had to do it,” she protested, her voice far too weak. “I had to try anyway. Even if he’d stuck with us throughout the mission for his own purposes, you know he would’ve turned us and hurt us all over again sooner or later. And you know he deserved it.”
But Fitz was shaking his head. “Jemma, I think it’s pretty clear he’s actually not going to betray us again; that’s not what he wants anymore. Be a self-centered psychopathic asshole, yes, betray us, no. And just because a man is evil doesn’t give you the right to murder him!”
The word, once spoken, hit Jemma hard, as if she’d been socked in the stomach. Especially when Fitz continued, “And did you really view him as a threat? Or did you just want revenge?”
“Well you’ve certainly wanted to pay him back too!” she retorted.
“Not by killing him! Since when did we sink as low as him? Jemma, I…I can’t believe this.” She heard him break. “When did you become someone who would do this? I knew you’d changed, b-b-b-but…now you’re not even the woman I…” And there again he stopped, another sentence neither of them could bear have finished.
She couldn’t take it. Jemma felt herself backing up as she said, “Fitz, I did it for you.”
He just stared at her speechless, clearly even more horrified. Tears tore themselves out of Jemma as she turned and ran.
He would tell the others, she was sure. That was the proper thing to do, after all. And they’d all come to her, and they’d either be horrified like him, or trying to excuse what she had already known, deep down, was an inexcusable act. She wasn’t even sure what they would do with her, but she suddenly felt she was willing to do anything rather than find out.
When she realized she was running to her quarters, she kept on going. It might take Fitz time to recover and decide who to tell first. She would take ten minutes to pack a change of clothes, all the cash she had, and other handy supplies, and the Playground was still in more than enough disarray that she could probably steal a road vehicle and be far away by the time they figured out she’d fled.
She lost track of how long she drove for. She didn’t even pay attention to where, getting on an Interstate and going and going and going until she needed to get off to pee. She didn’t even try to eat; she wasn’t sure she’d be able to keep anything down.
Eventually she found herself thinking she probably needed to desert the truck; they’d scan for the license plate, and sooner or later they’d find it. She parked it in front of a bus depot, then spent several minutes staring the list of buses which were running. One of them went to New York City. She could go to her dad’s.
If she felt able to face him. How was she to explain to him what she’d done? How was she to explain to any of them? If Fitz hadn’t understood, she wasn’t sure anyone would.
She got on the bus anyway. Crazily, as she did so, a current S.H.I.E.L.D. advisory ran through her head: unknown superpowered vigilante currently active in Hell’s Kitchen. Suspected to be Matthew Murdock, unsupervised Gifted, Index #51-005-RE-88. Appears to be well-intended-low priority. At one point apparently he hadn’t seemed well-intended, but they’d still had too much on their plate to deal with him at the time.
When she tried to sleep during the trip, she dreamed of Bakshi’s death all over again. Then she dreamed of throwing the grenade, only for it to hit Fitz, and Ward over his shoulder smirking at her, murmuring, “So disappointed,” as Fitz met his grisly fate. She dreamed of throwing it at Turgeon, only for it to miss and hit Bobbi, who then exploded all over everybody else, and she was frozen in place as they all crumbled into dust. When she woke up from that one, she didn’t try to sleep again, just stared out at the highway, up at the sky, down at the signs, still unable to keep track of where the hell in the country she was.
She hadn’t really faced up before to the fact that she’d killed someone, and so needlessly. There’d been a moment to look at it right after it had happened and Ward had walked away, but it hadn’t been too long a one, and then she’d been dealing with the rest of the mission and the fallout. But now she couldn’t escape that fact, that she had committed such a monstrous crime.
She was still in a daze when they arrived in New York, and she realized she had no idea where in the city she was, or how to get to her father’s apartment from there. Even when she had a map in her hands, her brain just wouldn’t make sense of it. She couldn’t even understand why her mind suddenly wouldn’t work. It took her five minutes to finally comprehend where the YOU ARE HERE star was. Too shocked, exhausted, and sick at heart to make the calculations that should have been child’s play, Jemma made her best guess, then started walking. She was too far away from the depot when it occurred to her she should’ve gotten one of the cabs. It was looking like she’d been especially stupid, too, when the sun was going down, and it was starting to rain.
She kept walking. Her mind was still in a gloom. The rush of the city around her felt isolating, the hubbub only highlighting the sound in her head, of the grenade hitting and doing its work, over and over and over again, with Fitz crying out murder, murder, murder…somewhere within her Jemma Simmons was aware that after months and months of her life being pain, she might have just gone off the edge for good. If she only could summon of the strength to care, or even convince herself she deserved better, after what she had done.
Or even care that after about half an hour or so, she was not only convinced she’d gone the wrong way, but she’d lost track of where the station was, and the map would probably be useless.
It was fully dark and raining, and Jemma’s depression and dull rage at herself was just beginning to give way to anxiety, and her stomach was growling loud enough she even thought of maybe giving food a try. Or maybe asking someone where she was, or for a number to call a taxi.
Although now it wasn’t impossible that S.H.I.E.L.D. might have traced her steps. The thing that would take longest would be finding their truck-she’d paid for the bus with cash; but there were probably security cameras, and the New York depot’s cameras might be the first ones they hacked into, since they knew she had family there. Jemma knew Coulson had agents in the city. It was only a matter of time before one of them paid her father a visit.
Thinking of that, in the darkness her steps grew hesitant, and she shivered in the cold and wet; she felt the dangerousness of her being lost, the knowledge that she could very easily never be heard from again now.
And then it happened-a big hard hand grabbed her arm and pulled her into an adjoining alleyway. There was a knife at her throat, she was felt up against a body broad enough she thought it might be twice her size, and a voice growled in her ear, “Hey, honey, what are you doing out so late with such a big pack?”
There was a gun in her purse, but of course if this man found out about it, it would just get used against her. But there were things one was supposed to do in this sort of situation. Jemma had learned them when she had first prepared to go out in the field, practiced them with May when she’d prepared to infiltrate Hydra. At that moment, she was too scared to remember a thing about them, or even move at all.
“Answer the question, honey!” The man snarled as his knee kicked her hip, and Jemma screamed. A moment later the hand not holding the knife was over her mouth, his huge arms holding her in place instead, her body flush against him, and she realized to her horror that he was hard. She would pay for what she had done now, she knew. “On the other hand,” he chuckled as she whimpered, “I don’t really care. So long as you were empty-headed enough to come around here-”
Then suddenly his arms were away from her. She was free and falling forward, hitting and skidding on the wet pavement, her purse and pack flying after her. Above the rain she heard the sound of punching and grunts, and turned to see her captor-she could tell immediately by his size which one he was, struggling to dodge the blows of another man, smaller, but able to do jumps and flips with a dexterity some S.H.I.E.L.D. spec-ops agents might have envied. The battle was short and brutal; Jemma barely had time to stumble to her feet before the bigger man was down, and the newcomer turned and called to her, “Are you all right?”
Jemma saw the superhero-esque costume and without thinking burst out, “Murdock!”
Next thing she knew she was back on the ground, the man’s hands around her neck, not pressing, but holding dangerously, and he growled, “How did you find out who I am?!”
She couldn’t tell him, Jemma reminded herself; he wasn’t supposed to know S.H.I.E.L.D. was still around. “Answer me!” he yelled, and Jemma sobbed; she’d had that command already tonight, and now she thought this man was no savior of hers. Although that caused him to hesitate for a moment, yet still he growled, “What are you doing here? What do you want with my city?”
“Oh for God’s sake, just kill me already!” she cried. “I can’t tell you anything, I’m not even stalking you or anything like that, and I deserve to die anyway!”
There was a long moment filled with nothing but her hysterical sobs and the rain getting harder. Then he said, “I don’t kill. I thought people had gotten that through their heads.”
“Unlike me,” she said, before forcing herself to shut up.
He let her go, dashing over to the other man as she struggled to again get up. “Well, he was definitely unconscious and didn’t hear you at least.” Then his hand was like iron around her wrist as he said, “And if you know who I am anyway, we can continue this talk at my place out of the rain.”
Thankfully Matt Murdock proved kinder than Jemma’s first impression of him. Instead of continuing his interrogation of her as soon as they got in, he insisted she dry off and change into her dry clothes in his bedroom-even though by then she was starting to think he might be blind, even if he moved like no blind person she had ever met-while he did the same in his living room, and she came out to him making a sandwich, which he offered to her, and she gratefully wolfed down, sitting on his couch.
But when she had swallowed the last bite, it was to find him standing over her, intimidating even with his eyes covered by red shades, and he asked, “Who are you?”
“Jemma Simmons,” she said. “Just Jemma Simmons now, really,” and she was too close to sobbing again.
“Well, that’s not all you have been, that’s obvious.” His voice was soft now, but very serious. “You say you can’t tell me anything, and that you know who I am, but you don’t seem to actually care that much. That means you have access to that information, possibly without looking for it. If S.H.I.E.L.D. hadn’t gone under last year I would think you were one of their agents…” Then he stopped, and she thought she saw him cock his head towards her, as if he was listening to something. Jemma was suddenly very aware of her heart picking up and pounding in her chest. “You are one of their agents,” he said. “Your heart started hammering as soon as I said the world ‘S.H.I.E.L.D.’”
“You can hear that?” she asked.
“So you don’t actually know what my abilities are…no, you’ve probably only heard my name and that’s it. Which I bet was recently, since I only started being Daredevil recently, and they wouldn’t have had much cause to talk about me before then, and since you said you can’t tell me anything, that means S.H.I.E.L.D. didn’t really fold, did they?” Another pause. “No, they didn’t; you’re reacting to that too.”
Jemma felt stripped bare and helpless. She wondered if Ward or Bobbi could’ve fooled him. But while she could now tell lies to people who couldn’t hear her heartbeat with the straight face, this man was beyond her ability to handle.
“Hey,” he sat down next to her. “What happened to you? Why did you kill someone?”
And there was no reason to hold back now that he knew all her actual secrets, or at least all the ones he was likely to care about, so she told him the whole story of Grant Ward, and Fitz, and what she’d done. She did her best to be ambiguous about where the Hydra base had been and their exact mission there, though it was necessary to explain about the brainwashing so he’d understand why Bakshi had behaved as he had. She managed to keep herself together through her account of her actions, but when she told him about confessing to Fitz, and how he had reacted, she couldn’t hold back a few tears. She thought them silent, and yet he got up, went and got some tissues, and brought them to her anyway.
When she had dried her eyes, she asked, “Are you going to call the police?”
“Honestly,” he said, “If you were already under arrest for this, I would definitely want to act as your attorney-that’s my profession, if you didn’t know. Which means I should probably leave it up to you where and how you would want to turn yourself in, if you want to do that, although I could give you advice. Or even to whom; jurisdiction is a complicated matter when you’re a British citizen, and a permanent American resident, I assume, the guy you committed attempted murder against is an American citizen, and do you know Bakshi’s nationality?”
“Also British, I believe.”
“Okay, and since you won’t tell me where this secret Hydra base was I don’t even know how that further affects jurisdiction.”
“It won’t,” laughed Jemma bitterly. “Believe me, it won’t.”
“Well,” he said dryly, “that tells me something about where it wasn’t…do you want to turn yourself in? I’m not even sure how the authorities would deal with you, when it comes to that. Any trial would have to involve evidence they do not want going public.”
“I don’t know,” said Jemma. “I don’t know anything right now.”
“Listen,” he said. “It’s very late. Why don’t we sleep on this, and you can decide what you want to do with yourself in the morning, whether you want to see your dad, turn yourself in, or try to do something else all together. You can take the bed; I’ll sleep on the couch.”
She managed to sleep four hours, which she attributed to being completely wiped out both physically and emotionally. By then it was dawn, and she woke up feeling worn and heartsore, but not feeling like the world was gone anymore. Plus, she was positively starving.
She tried to walk quietly in the living room, but as she passed the couch her host groaned and woke up. “Leaving early, Agent Simmons?” he murmured.
“Actually,” she said, “if you don’t object, and have the ingredients, I’d like to make us both some pancakes. Least I can do for you, really.”
“Pancakes sound good,” he said, and pulled himself up. It was the first she had seen his eyes exposed; the mask had covered them completely. He was definitely blind; she could see it in the way they moved, clearly not being used. She also noticed that he was quite handsome, especially since he was barechested, though he had more than a few bruises. “Bit early for them, though. Couldn’t sleep?”
“I’ve slept as much as I’m going to, I think. I think I’m going to take a cab and see my dad this morning. He rises early. And I want to do it before my former colleagues do.”
“Former? So you want to leave S.H.I.E.L.D. over this?”
"I…surely they won’t want me.” But it felt like a lie in her throat, which meant of course he presumably read it as one off her heartbeat. “Or maybe I just don’t want to believe they’d still want me,” she reluctantly corrected.
“Well I don’t believe they’d arrest you,” he said as he put on his shades and joined her in his kitchenette. “Like I said last night, too much information they wouldn’t want getting out.” He did not sound impressed by this.
That made Jemma angry. “And why are you wanting to help me out?” she demanded. “Hoping S.H.I.E.L.D. will reward you handsomely? We don’t have nearly the budget we used to, I’m afraid.”
“No,” he said. “No, Agent Simmons. I have my…own reasons I’d want to defend you, if it came to that. Or just help you out.”
There was something strange in his voice as he said that, a crack in his composure. It was the first time he’d seemed vulnerable to her, even with his blindness having been fully on display just minutes earlier.
“In fact,” he continued, “if you think you might not be able to stay with your father, you can stay here a little longer, at least until we figure something out. Especially if you decide you want to go back to Britain, or something like that; then you could just stay with me until you get your plane ticket and go.”
“That’s very kind of you,” said Jemma. “I don’t know if I can accept such an offer, really. Though you’re right, I can’t really stay with my father; sooner or later, S.H.I.E.L.D.’s certain to drop in. I would like to at least leave my pack here today.” For a moment she wondered whether his reasons might not be so nice, but if he was a man on Index without even a supervisor, and it didn't seem likely he could be Hydra when he hadn't turned on her yet, S.H.I.E.L.D. must have thought him very, very trustworthy.
It was good to watch him eat; she looked more at his mouth than perhaps she ought to have, and the sounds he made were actually doing things to her that were not at all appropriate and she hoped he couldn’t detect. It was perhaps with worry about this that she ventured, “Is your sense of taste as good as your sense of hearing?”
“All four of the senses I have are ‘enhanced,’ to use the term S.H.I.E.L.D. used when they visited me when I was sixteen.”
“Was that when you were put on the Index?” she asked.
“Yeah,” he said. “A whole group of agents visited me, led by this guy who charmed the nuns who ran the orphanage I was in into letting them do pretty much whatever they wanted with me. They put a penny on the floor and had me locate it, took me to a very long and very crowded street, put me at one end, put another one of themselves on the other end, and asked me what he was saying, that sort of thing. I suppose I have to thank them, really; it resulted in me having a much better idea of my range. They also insisted I talk with a psychologist, who at least said he’d recommend they leave me alone. Their leader made a pretty aggressive pitch to me about joining S.H.I.E.L.D.…I’m not sure he might not have even succeeded, if I hadn’t already decided I really wanted to become a lawyer, and been putting my plans in place for how I was going to achieve that.
But once I convinced him of that, he said I’d have a supervisor until I was eighteen, then they’d evaluate whether I’d need one as an adult. But if they ever did appoint one, he never got into contact with me. They went away when they were done, and you’re the first S.H.I.E.L.D. agent I’ve had any contact with since. I don’t suppose you know how much tabs they’re keeping on me now, exactly?”
“Sorry,” she said. “There’s a lot of what they do that I really don’t know.” That, she supposed, was a whole nother cause of grief, one which at least at the moment didn’t seem likely to cause her much more trouble.
She hadn’t gone early enough. The instant the cab pulled up at her father’s building, she recognized the vehicle outside from the Playground, and she immediately ordered the cab driver to keep going, and to take her to Central Park.
The disappointment of that was enough to knock her right back into her funk for much of the day. She spent a few hours wandering aimlessly about the park until her legs grew sore, besieged by the same thoughts that she was starting to think would never stop haunting her. The thought that she might not get to be tried and convicted and sentenced for her crime, while in one way was relieving, in another still made her feel worse; this wasn’t something she wanted to just get away with.
But she wasn’t sure what she should do about that, and in the end the park provided no answers. At least she handled herself better that afternoon than she had the previous day; she made sure to eat twice more, and to figure out how to get back to Hell’s Kitchen by bus before she tried to return there. Still, she spent more time out than was prudent, and it was fully dark by the time she was trying to remember just where Mr. Murdock’s apartment had been.
But that night, it wasn’t her that was attacked. Instead, she was still standing there trying to figure it out when she heard the sound of fighting between two of the buildings. It didn’t sound like there were any guns involved, which caused Jemma to draw out her own and creep to the edge of the alleyway.
There were a lot of figures, too many. Then the moon came out, and she recognized the Daredevil costume, and five men surrounding him, him fighting all of them at once.
Jemma took a deep breath, aimed for the space just above the men, and fired once, twice, three times. Three of the men stopped and looked around. Daredevil took quick advantage of the distraction; two of them were knocked out completely, and the third was left to stagger back, looking like he ‘d had something broken. He looked over at Jemma, and she waved her gun at him. To her relief, he turned and stumbled off the other way.
“Your men aren’t very loyal to you,” Daredevil hissed at one of his remained two opponents. A savage kick incapacitated one of them. “You ready to take me on without them?” he demanded of the other one.
“You are not worth that,” his last foe tried to sneer, but he didn’t do a very good job of it. He stepped lightly back to join his limping companion, each of them taking a hold of their knocked out men, then suddenly what looked like some sort of metal vent covering on the wall they were pressed again was pulled open, then clanged shut behind all four of them. Daredevil tried to pull it open himself, but now it wouldn’t budge. He turned to instead go after the man whom Jemma had waved off with her gun, but the fight had taken its toll; he too was limping.
Jemma raced into the alley and took hold of him. She was aware she ought to do something as the would-be quarry disappeared around the corner, now going faster, but she didn’t care, not when the man she cared about more was clearly not in good shape. “You’re very badly hurt, aren’t you?” she said. “You need medical help.”
“I have someone,” he said. “A trained nurse. She usually comes and patches me up.”
“Well she’s not here right now, and I have some practical in the field medical experience,” Jemma told him. “We can call her if you have any injuries that are beyond my ability. At least let me help you get home.”
He turned out not to have anything she hadn’t already dealt with before. Back in his apartment, he lay there quietly and let her work on him for half an hour, then said, “Things didn’t go well with your father, did they?”
“They didn’t at all,” said Jemma tersely, annoyed that he could somehow tell that. “S.H.I.E.L.D. got there first and no doubt they’ve told him and now it may not even be safe for me to…” She had to stop there before grief broke her concentration.
“I’m sorry,” he said, and he genuinely sounded it. “You should probably stay here another night; it’s late to try to find a motel.”
“From a professional standpoint I’d want to anyway. But you take the bed this time; you’re going to need it.”
Jemma stayed in all of the next day, looking up flights to London, but also looking up job listings. She spent some time staring at the jobs listed on the Stark Industries website; there was more than one she was qualified for, but did she dare try to go there? Maria Hill would know who she was, of course, but she highly doubted anyone else there would. Would Hill be willing to help her even take a false identity? Or had Coulson contacted her?
She even wondered if maybe she shouldn’t let S.H.I.E.L.D. take her back if they proved willing to, if maybe running away had been too rash. But she was still too afraid to make any attempt to contact them.
She still hadn’t at all decided what to do when she noticed the time, and decided to make dinner for two. When Mr. Murdock came through the door, he had a huge smile on his face, and he said, “About ready for serving, right?”
“You are good,” she said, and wished that smile wasn’t doing things to her heart there was no way he couldn’t hear.
And she still didn’t know if he knew the effect he was having on her, so when they were settled and eating she asked, “How good are you at tuning the enhanced senses out?”
“Not very, sometimes,” he said, smiling ruefully. “It’s not impossible for me to do, but it can be difficult, especially if it’s something I’d rather not hear-not unlike with most people. Easier with distance; I hear everything in this room automatically but most of the time if I want to hear something specific further away I have to concentrate.”
“So,” she said. “you’ve known everything about me automatically?” Getting bolder, she added, “That sandwich you made me-could you tell I hadn’t eaten?”
“I could tell that you were faint,” he said, “and at one point I heard your stomach growl.”
“That’s kind of creepy, actually,” she had to comment. “But I suppose if you couldn’t help it…” She took a deep breath, which of course he heard loud and clear, and ventured, “What else can you tell about me?”
He considered it. “I can tell you’ve been in the apartment all day today. I can tell you cried early this afternoon. I thought when you came home yesterday you’d been to Central Park-you’d obviously spent time sitting in grass at some point. I…can hear you fidgeting at this moment. I…” a real pause, before he went ahead and said it, “I can tell you’re attracted to me, and this conversation is arousing you.”
It was. Jemma didn’t even know what it was about it, that him having this level of intimacy with her could turn her on when him doing the same thing certainly hadn't the night before last. Maybe it was the gentleness with which he spoke, the complete lack of fear she had now that he would in any way take ill advantage of it. “I don’t suppose you’re interested then,” she said.
“Not…not necessarily,” he said. “But you were nearly raped only two nights ago; I haven’t thought acting on my knowledge would be a good idea.”
It said something about the life she had lived, Jemma supposed, that she hadn’t even thought of that as a reason attempting sex now might be a bad idea. But that, at least, was something his enhanced senses couldn’t tell him about. So instead she said, “I’ve twice in my life been dead certain I was about to die. And once, I was trapped behind enemy lines with Hydra after me, and I was dead certain I was going to be captured and then brainwashed.” Her breath was short with remembered terror, which she was sure he could hear too. “That will hopefully be the most terrifying thing that ever happens to me; even if he’d killed me, that mugger couldn’t have done worse to me than what they would’ve done.”
“That’s the worst part of it,” she heard herself add when he said nothing. “That Bakshi had been brainwashed. It makes me sick to think S.H.I.E.L.D. was even able to take advantage of that, however desperate we were. I mean, he was a horrible evil person beforehand, maybe even more than Ward, in a way, but that wasn’t who I killed. I killed someone who never would have even willingly intercepted my grenade for Ward if Ward hadn’t done that to him, someone victimized even before he was murdered!”
He had already fetched her the tissues.
He insisted on doing the dishes while she sat on her couch, phone in hand, and told herself to look up motels, but she already knew she wasn’t going anywhere that night. He was probably going to go out and be Daredevil again, and he might need her when he got back in.
When everything had been put away, he sat down next to her, a friendly amount of distance between them, and said, “Agent Simmons…Jemma…the reason I’ve wanted to help you is…I went there myself once. I tried to murder someone, and failed, and killed someone else instead, someone I had no interest in killing, although in my case I really absolutely had to in self-defense. So difference in action, but same mens rea, to use the legal term.”
“Who was it?” she asked, mildly surprised, but not finding any wish to judge him within herself. “Was it that Wilson Fisk I read today about you putting away?”
“Yes,” he said. “Did you read about Elena Cardenas?” When she confirmed she had, he said, “He actually had her murdered just to spur me into trying to come find him. I didn’t realize that, but it was obvious to me he was responsible, and I just…” Now he sounded like the devastated one, and Jemma wanted to say it was okay, but she knew well it wasn’t. “I did just what he’d hoped for, went to an abandoned warehouse where he was hiding, and that was when he set this Japanese ninja on me-Nobu, his name was. An associate he actually wanted killed-I’m sure you’ve read that he was rather into killing his own allies-and when he was dead, he lamented that the fight hadn’t ended with us both dead, and even dared talk about how he had taken no joy in killing her…”
He had to stop there, and Jemma could see his hands shaking. She took one of them, and squeezed in reassurance. “I know your rage,” she said softly. It was the same rage that had filled her every moment she had seen Fitz being so broken, when she had heard Skye sob about seeing Trip’s body crumble to dust, when she had beheld the dead bodies Raina had left behind in the underground city. Also the same rage that, every moment she’d been looking at Ward, had been so strong she’d barely been able to think-until the final moment, just before he’d walked away, when she had realized what it had driven her to do.
“I tried to kill him,” he finished, “and failed, because thanks to the fight I’d just been in I was in absolutely no shape to do anything; I was extremely lucky I got out of there alive. But I tried.”
“How did you…how did you cope?” she asked him. Perhaps there was a way to, after all.
“Well,” he said, “I’m Catholic, so I went to church and talked with the priest. Which was more hurting than coping, but it was the closest thing to it that I did, really. I’ve just…kept going. That’s all you can do, I’m afraid. That’s what you have to do now, Jemma. I’m sorry it’s that hard.”
“I am too,” she said. “That you’re going through this as well.” He sighed, and she insisted, “No, really, I am. You’re such a good man-yes, you are, I read more than enough today to know that, and I don’t care how many men you’ve beat up. I’ve seen my fellow agents do worse more than once…” She stood up, deliberately stepped on the floor hard as she could, so her moving to face him, reminiscent of the way he’d interrogated her two nights ago, would resound in his ears. Even with his shades on she could see the pain, the guilt they would both carry for the rest of their lives. “Matthew…” she started, his first name on her tongue feeling heavy.
“That’s not even the worse thing in my case,” he said. “Would’ve been if I’d succeeded, but…instead it’s something that happened once. But I’ve got the devil in me, Jemma, and I go out at night and let it out. I understood that the first time I went out in the dark to punish a man who was raping his daughter and the law had failed to prove it, and even more so after that night. I not only do this, I want to. I suppose you might never sin again your life. I don’t intend to try to kill anyone ever again, but…”
And when that speech didn’t make Jemma want to kiss him any less, she surged forward and did so. Her hands tilted his head back as he rose from the couch to make it easier, his shades falling off and clattering to the floor. His hands settled on her back as she kissed harder, holding him to her with a fear he’d flee if she let go.
When they parted, his eyes were watery as he said, “This isn’t the way to do this. We still don’t even know each other that well.”
“I know,” she said. “But now I want to.” And when his hands didn’t move, she outright took them and placed them on over her cheeks, then closed her eyes, tried to keep breathing, and felt the shivers run up and down her body with each stroke of his fingers exploring her face.
He still refused to sleep with her that night. “Give yourself a little more time to think through this,” he insisted, and she secretly suspected he wanted that himself. Then he went out, came back with a few cuts she helped him bandage, and slept on the couch again.
She slept soundly for the first time since Antarctica, and woke up to hear Matt on the phone with someone. As she stirred, she heard him say, “…I don’t know, really, I’ve known her less than a week…I really don’t know if she’d want to come with us tonight, but I can ask.” She hurried out into his living area as he said, “See you at the office, then. Bye. That was my partner, Foggy Nelson,” he explained. “He really wants us to go out for a drink tonight with our secretary Karen. I’ve already turned down one invitation from them this week. I…well, I told them there might be a new woman in my life, and now they want to meet her.”
“I’d like to meet them,” said Jemma. If this thing between the two of them was to actually happen, after all, she’d have to, sooner or later. It would be fine, she reminded herself. But she wasn’t sure she believed it, whether she was that ready to face new acquaintances yet. “I could…”
“Should I tell them you might be coming? If you feel tonight like you can’t you can still back out then.”
One thing was for sure, though; Jemma was determined not to spend the entire day hiding inside again. Initially after Matt left for his office she looked at the jobs listings again, taking notes and bookmarking this time, though she supposed she’d had to go through that Hotmail account and fish out the resume someone had prepared for her to hand to Hydra. But after lunch, she stepped outside, into a bright, beautiful day, and wished she had somewhere to go. A turn about the place, she supposed, would do her good.
When she saw the Catholic church, she went in. There was a feeling of peacefulness about the place, not like very many places she had been to lately. Although that made her feel like she was intruding, a poor sinner who had never had anything to do with this, since her family had attended the Church of England on Easter when she had been a child but she had never really believed in anything at all. She found herself halting, trying to banish the images in her head away before they defiled a space that felt too sacred for them.
At some point a priest appeared, and said to her, “Good afternoon, m’am. Are you lost?”
She wasn’t sure if he even meant it figuratively or literally, and she just laughed bitterly and said, “Yes, and for some time now. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t be here.”
“I’m sorry to hear you believe that,” he said. “All are welcome here.” Of course he would say that; he might even be after a convert. But when he walked down the aisle, Jemma found herself following him. “Feel free to sit down,” he said, and when she did, he sat down near her. “What is troubling you, child?”
She didn’t feel able to say to him, “I’ve committed murder.” But Matt’s speech was in her head, and she found herself instead saying, “I’ve let the devil out.”
“Ah,” he said, and he was sure he knew who she had been talking to, though she didn’t think he was allowed to repeat anything he might have said to him.
“I didn’t even know I had it in me,” she said. “Not until it was too late.”
“If you wish to beat the devil, you must be aware of him. Even if you don’t believe he exists as that particular entity.”
“You’re right,” she said, especially grateful for his willingness to flex himself to reach her. “I suppose at least I always will be now.” She thought further of Matt, still going out each night and, it occurred to her, putting himself at a good deal of spiritual as well as psychological risk.
If she was to get involved with him, that was something that was going to be her business too. “But what should one do, if one is always at risk, with the devil constantly beating on your door, finding opportunities everywhere?” As she asked the question, she found herself thinking also of S.H.I.E.L.D. in its current state, especially with the barely-held peace between its two factions. “Is it right to run from where those opportunities are?” That question came out shocked, as she realized she was asking it about herself.
“That,” said the priest, as gravely as if he could somehow tell the question was about more than just an unnamed man they had in common, “is for each of us to decide on our own.”
Jemma initially liked Foggy Nelson and Karen Page; they were both kind-faced, and Foggy was funny. Then, as they sat down at the bar and got their drinks, and Foggy said, “So, did you hear about that crazy shit where someone let the Hulk loose in Africa?”
“What?” Jemma asked. It seemed like a bit had happened since she’d left the Playground. Maybe she should have read the news that morning.
“Yeah, he rampaged through the capital of this nation called Wakanda, and then this huge version of Iron Man showed up and somehow managed to knock him unconscious, but even more of the city got knocked down first, and then apparently the Avengers thought themselves above Wakandan law because they promptly left without granting the local authorities so much as cursory interviews. Not a word of explanation or apology for wrecking the place. Stark’s apparently now throwing money at the city which is actually helping people, but still.”
This is what the world thinks of people like you. If she was not to flee back to S.H.I.E.L.D., Jemma reminded herself, she would have to deal with that. If these people learned that the Hulk losing control had always been far more of a risk than had been admitted to the public, they would only get angrier. And it would be no use to tell them that if it weren’t for the Avengers the Chitauri would have razed all their homes to the ground. So she just said, “Maybe they’ll go back and make statements later? They might have been on a time-critical mission.”
“If they do, I’m looking forward to hearing what they say; that’ll be good.” He took a critical look at Jemma along with a swig of his drink. “You know, I’ve never seen you anywhere. Are you new to Hell’s Kitchen?”
“Yes,” said Jemma. “Very new. I was very lucky to meet Matt.”
“So says plenty a woman,” he grinned. “Though you know, Matt, I think this is the first woman you’ve actually been on a date with since…” He drifted off, then started again. “Though maybe I should warn you, Jemma, once you get to know him, there are things about Matt that will blow your mind.”
“I know,” she said, calmly. “I think I’ve already learned the biggest of them, though.”
Their eyes met in understanding, and Foggy’s flew wide. “Already?” he demanded. “Wow, you are one quick miss. Just don’t go too fast, because Matt’s relationships tend not to last very long.”
“We’re trying not to,” said Matt. “Jemma’s still searching for a job right now.”
“Well, I’m afraid we have a secretary already.” By the way Foggy looked at Karen, Jemma suspected she was a bit more to him than just that.
“She’s a biochemist,” said Matt. “You think she might be useful to us as a forensics expert?”
“We don’t have room on the payroll for that,” said Karen. “Though I suppose we might hire you out occasionally, Jemma.”
“I’ll see if I can keep my schedule open,” she told her.
Before they broke up for the night, Karen and Foggy together also cornered Jemma, and she said to her, “Treat him well, please. He does deserve it, and he’s had far too few good things in his life.”
Matt held onto her arm as they walked home, even though she had long since realized he didn’t actually need to, any more than he needed the cane he held in his other hand. Being with him, as well as everything else, would also mean lying to people a lot, although hopefully not to the important ones. But when she pictured the two of them, taking this walk home on a regular basis, it felt like a nice idea.
When they got to the entrance of his building she asked softly, “Tonight?” and let herself think about all the things that allowed the heat to build in her loins, knowing he’d get the rest.
He nodded. “Yes,” he said. “Tonight.”
The previous night, when Jemma had turned in between Matt’s silk sheets for the second time, she’d already started wondering just how sensitive his skin was. She found out when she got first her hands, then her mouth onto those hard, fit abs, carefully maneuvering around cuts and bruises while lingering on scars. Matt went from panting to moaning to downright whimpering within a minute, then reluctantly pushed her off with a, “Too much, sorry,” and didn’t give her time to feel disappointed before he was pressing her down into the mattress and kissing her, hot and messy and with an intensity beyond that of any man she had ever bedded.
He broke away when his hands found her breasts, though his head remained against hers, eyes screwed shut in concentration. “What do they feel like?” Jemma breathed.
It took him several breaths to get enough air in to answer her. “Wanting,” he finally gasped out, then moved down to replace his hands with his mouth, and the former moved further down, mapping out her form. He was good with his mouth, and better at finding out quickly just where to touch; he stroked and teased spots on her sides and back and hips that had her writhing, her body surging and opening and yes, wanting. Wanting more when his head reached her hips, and he skipped over where she was aching for him most, instead tracing her thighs with fingers and tongue, at which point Jemma thought she might die, even before he discovered just what he could do from licking the inside of her knee.
She was begging him by the time he reached her feet, finally bursting out with, “MatthewMurdockifyoudon’ttouchmerightnowIswearIwillohmygod…” His fingers brushed over her clit first, then that part of her, too, was mapped out by featherlike touches, and then, at long last, he brought fingers and mouth in, and Jemma was gone, losing it completely even before the orgasm hit.
Matt was still nuzzling around her stomach when she came down, until that became oversensitive, and Jemma started having other desires, reaching her hands down toward his head until one of them reached out and curled their fingers together, a gesture that sent a completely different kind of warmth through her, but she said, “Can I try touching you again? And do you have condoms? Please say you’re not too Catholic to use them…”
“Not going to inflict my seed on any woman.” He laughed as he said it, but Jemma wasn’t sure how much she liked that sentiment. Still, there might be time aplenty to talk about it later, and right now he was leaning over to rummage through the bedside table, and there was so much skin in front of her. “If it’s all right with you,” she said, “I’m going to touch your back.”
When he didn’t object, she carefully placed her fingers on the skin, and ran them down. His soft sighs sent heat straight back to the pit of her stomach, his moans even more. But again after a minute he said, “This is going to end fast if you keep that up.”
Still she let herself tease him a little more, snatching the condom packet from his hand, and taking her time getting it open and the condom on, and pressing several kisses to his jaw and neck. “I can feel your blood thrumming,” she murmured. “I suppose you can sense that everywhere on me.”
“It’s the effort that counts,” he told her, and kissed her through her laughter as they fell back onto the sheets together. Laughs dissolved into moans as he pushed in, and she indulged in one grope of the muscles of his back as they moved beneath her hands, before he started to move, and once again he read her responses and figured her out fast, that she needed him to move just so and hold her right there. They kissed until she couldn’t manage it anymore, her mouth hanging open as she panted, and still he kept his mouth and his tongue near, as if he could taste her breath-maybe he could.
Her second orgasm of the night wasn’t as strong, but it feel good, her entire body throbbing around his cock, which he clearly liked; he was letting out moans of his own now, and she moved with him, reveling in the tangle of their bodies and the feel of him finally, slowly, letting himself come apart in her embrace. She was whispering his name now, alternating it with kisses to his ears, and finally he groaned into hers and went limp.
Even then Matt’s hands were still moving, like they had been at the beginning, working, perhaps, on getting the lines and contours of her body completely memorized. She ought to insist he pull out, Jemma knew; it actually wasn’t comfortable at all to have him still inside her once the heat of their coupling had worn off. But she felt loath to disturb this moment, to break up this feeling of rightness and belonging with someone else she hadn’t had since it had all gone wrong with Fitz.
Knowing having such a thing wasn’t impossible, even now, might have been the greatest boon she’d had since her flight yet.
She woke up the next morning to Matt shaking her. “Hey,” he said to her softly when she was fully awake. “This new version of S.H.I.E.L.D., is there a Phil Coulson involved in it?”
“Yes,” she said. “In fact, he’s now director of it. Wait a minute. Was he the one who led the delegation when you were sixteen?” She nearly laughed with the delight of it. Of course it had been him, who would’ve charmed the nuns and tried so zealously to recruit such an idealistic talented boy.
But her cheer evaporated with Matt’s next words: “Yes, it was, and he’s in this building right now.”
“Listen,” he continued. “If you don’t want him to know you’re here, I won’t tell him. I suppose someone might have seen us together at some point, but I can try to claim you finally went off to see your dad and I haven’t heard from you since.”
“I…” Jemma started, but when a second later they heard the knock on the door and Coulson calling, “Mr. Murdock? Mr. Murdock?” she shook her head. There were many things she was prepared to do, but when it came down to it, hide while Coulson was lied too wasn’t among them. “No,” she said. “In fact I’ll come with you.”
So they answered the door together with her in one of his shirts, but she doubted Coulson would make such a fuss over that. Still, when he saw them, he looked stunned. “Hello, Jemma,” he said. “Glad I found you.”
“Really?” she asked. “This isn’t a happy duty for you, is this?”
He shook his head. “Listen, the only people Fitz told about what you did in Antarctica are me and Skye. Skye actually doesn’t think you did anything wrong; you know how she feels about this matter.”
“You can talk openly about it,” Jemma said to him, her mind reeling from what he just said-this changed things completely. “Matt knows already. Though you did just give away where the Hydra base was.”
“The thing is,” he said, “I’m pretty sure if we told everyone else, Gonzales would call for a board of inquiry, and I have reason to fear that if he did, what verdict and sentence they inflicted on you would be decided by what he wants or doesn’t want with you, rather than what the people on it actually think you deserve. I am sure you would agree, Mr. Murdock, that that would be travesty. If you want to come back to us, Jemma, the three of us are willing to make up some kidnapping story to cover this.”
So she was going to get away with this, Jemma thought; that was officially now beyond doubt. Her only punishment would be self-inflicted. But did she want to go back? Even more than the thought that it was what she knew, was that, despite it all, S.H.I.E.L.D. was still where she thought she could best make the world a better place. And yet there was Matt standing beside her, offering her the kind of life that was supposed to be lived by a woman other than her.
“Also, Jemma,” said Coulson, “the entire time I’ve been in the city, I’ve been almost constantly on the phone with Fitz. He’s been frantic, terrified, relapsing into his speech difficulties. I don’t think he’d ever forgive himself if his words were the ones that drove you away from him.”
And that was it; Jemma knew that was one thing she simply could not let happen. “I’ll come back, then,” she said, and she felt something within her click back into place, and knew that was the right thing to do, to go right back into where there would always be opportunities to let the devil out again, just like Matt had gone right back into his costume after his brush with the unforgivable, although now she would be on her guard.
But she hoped Matt could hear how heavy it made her heart to say that. There was so much she had to say to him, now, and she wasn’t sure she could say any of it. “Just…would you give us a few minutes alone?”
“Absolutely,” said Coulson. “I’ll be right out here waiting.”
“Just one thing,” said Matt, before he closed the door. “Now that I know you people are still monitoring me, how did you find out I was Daredevil?”
“Actually we didn’t,” Coulson smiled. “But of course we had to keep an eye on him, and we noticed he always had his eyes covered and seemed really good at hearing things, and while we only really keep basic track of you, we knew you were back in Hell’s Kitchen, and hey, it would’ve been a remarkable coincidence if that guy hadn’t been you. Since you seem to be doing your neighborhood good we’re not going to interfere with that right now, but I can’t promise we won’t occasionally pop in and ask for you help on an individual mission or two.”
“I can’t promise I’ll be willing to help,” said Matt, but he too was grinning.
“Maybe you will be, maybe you won’t be,” said Coulson. “But from the time I first met you, I’ve known you to be someone who wants to do the right thing, Mr. Murdock. I’m willing to hope there’ll be times when we’ll agree on what that is. Besides, if you want to see Agent Simmons again, that would give you the opportunity.”
That just made Jemma more sad, and he must have sensed her reaction by the way he gently touched her back before saying, “Well, I guess we’ll see.”
They had finished loading her pack back up before Matt finally spoke first. “Do you think Fitz is still in love with you?”
“I don’t know,” she said, and now the inability to deceive him was a relief, because it made telling the truth easier. “And how I feel about him I have even less idea.”
“You care for him,” he said. “Maybe more than you could care for anyone else. I don’t even need my enhanced senses to tell that. You don't have to be in love with such a friend to be devoted to them above all else. If it makes you feel any better, when Foggy found out my secret, it nearly ended our friendship, but in the end we were able to move on together, and when he had a lot more reason to be pissed at me. I know this has been going on for longer than just this latest episode, but I really think Fitz will forgive you. And this decision, it’s not just about him is it?”
“No,” she admitted. “S.H.I.E.L.D.’s always been where I belong. I don’t think I even realized that until right now. This week…it’s felt like a dream. But I can’t…maybe even more so now. I’ve run away from what I’ve done, too, and I suppose in a way that’s like not confessing it to the priest, pretending it didn’t happen, but it did. I should accept what that means, and insist to myself that I choose what is right over what it easy all the more.”
“I know,” he said. “This last day and night have felt like a dream for me too.”
“It’s terrible of me,” she said. “To leave you like this. If your friends hate me I wouldn’t blame them.”
“I’ll tell them you had good reasons for not staying in Hell’s Kitchen,” he said. “You do. Besides, you heard what Foggy said. Things tend not to work out for me and women. I don’t think most people could take being that close to the Daredevil. I’ve already met one woman who couldn’t.”
That just made her feel worse. “I’m so sorry,” she choked, and he pulled her into his arms. When she pressed her head into his chest, she, too, could now hear his heartbeat. For several moments she just closed her eyes and listened. It was a wonder others couldn’t hear a heart as strong as his, she thought. They ought to, ought to acknowledge how incredible it was, that he had suffered as he had and it still hadn’t gone hard, but beat with the strength of feeling that it did. Jemma knew she didn’t deserve this man anyway, though she also knew he felt like he was the undeserving one, and she suspected they’d just have to agree to disagree on that point.
“Besides,” he said, “Perhaps sometime your boss will come to me with a mission where I’ll think it would be the right thing to help, though if he wants me for more than a day or two, we’d have to get Foggy to agree to it as well, I think. Or your own work will take you back to New York. I mean, the Avengers operate out of the city, don’t they? I think I even heard something about a huge party and their tower being trashed a few days ago.” They both managed to laugh a little at that, Jemma feeling his body gently shake with it.
“They actually don’t know we’re still around,” said Jemma. “At least as far as I know. But I’m sure we’re going to have missions here sooner or later.”
“And if you’re on them,” said Matt, “I do hope you’d be willing to drop in and see me. Even if you’re not single anymore at that point, I’d still like to see you as a friend, see how you’re doing.”
“I will,” she told him, and moved to kiss him for what she found herself hoping wouldn’t be the last time.