One of his ears was still on Karen and Pretzel. They were still at a jog, but were realizing that they’d more or less gotten away. He was sure Karen would keep them in his hearing range as long as possible so he could focus on them, though they had to go outside it to deliver the weapon to Sharon’s drop-off point. At least Pretzel was currently steady on her feet. He’d had precious little chance to gauge her condition during the rescue, but he didn’t think she’d suffered anything that wouldn’t heal, at least physically.
In fact, in the video, they’d more threatened to do things to her than actually done them. Matt thought they’d probably been afraid of Platzer. But even the threats alone had made him so angry, not holding the devil back on her guard had been a sweet relief. He was still a little giddy on the adrenaline of it.
That man was currently being taken out of the building; the man with him was telling him they’d get down the block and then call an ambulance. Matt let himself lose track of them in favor of taking stock of who was still in the building. Only eight people left, including CJ, who had just joined four of them in what sounded like one of the large nearby rooms. It wouldn’t be easy to escape if he tried to, but it wouldn’t be impossible.
(“Please try to escape if it you don’t think you can take it,” Karen had urged him just before they’d left the church. “This mission isn’t worth you sticking that much out.” Her tears had gotten on her hands by the time she’d touched him.)
“Wipe that smirk off your face, you asshole,” growled one of the men dragging him-Ralph, Matt thought his name was. They’d dragged him into the room with CJ and the others. From what Matt could tell, there wasn’t much more in there besides them, a table, three or possibly four chairs, and a large crate at the end. “Please say you idiots saved some of the rope.”
They’d used the rope on Pretzel. Her hands were still tied right now; Karen had only taken long enough to free her feet during the rescue. That was another reason they’d have to stop running soon.
They got Matt tied up quickly, and fairly tightly, around his wrists, ankles, and midriffs. “Do make sure you leave him still able to talk,” said a cool voice that Matt just bet belonged to a Hydra agent, probably Mr. Ice.
“You want information from me?” Matt asked, because their answer there could be significant. “Honestly, I don’t even know much that’s not available on the net already.”
“Oh, of course you would say that,” said Mr. Ice. “But S.H.I.E.L.D.’s files doesn’t have much on what you two are doing now, do they? Things like who else is involved. Or where your pretty whore is? I bet she’s going to be telling you right now. I bet she’s going to find somewhere within your hearing range and starting trying to talk you through this whole thing.”
He’d been hoping none of them would be smart enough to realize that, but, “She won’t tell me where they are. She knows better.” He’d actually forbidden her to, and she’d agreed, unhappy as she’d been about it.
She and Pretzel were now on the far end of his hearing range. He thought she’d realized that, because she said, “All right, I think we’re not being followed. Let me cut you free, and then I think there’s a Starbucks down the block. I’ll buy you a pastry?”
As they started binding Matt to one of the chairs, dragging it out into the middle of the room, he also heard Karen say, “Let me tell you about the time Matt and I ended up spending a day in the company of a Japanese family we thought had been contaminated with a substance that thankfully turned out not to exist.” That was a good subject for her to talk about. She could make it go on for hours without talking about anything that much out of the ordinary, between the antics of three cooped up young children and their mother’s wanting to know everything they could tell her about New York City.
She was just finishing up her initial description of the family members when Ralph gave Matt a smack upside the head, right before Mr. Ice asked him, “Are you scared, Agent Murdock?”
Matt had managed to keep his grin on. “I’ve had worse done to me than you can do, I bet,” he said, with perfect truth. He was pretty sure these guys didn’t even have any implements on hand, which was actually a lucky break, considering some of them were Hydra. He’d been beaten to hell before. He hadn’t always even had Karen to focus on while they did it.
“Remember the Goldsmith is going to want him alive,” said someone else. “And still able to talk.”
“Oh, he’ll be talking.” Mr. Ice was putting on gloves, definitely leather.
When he raised his arm, Matt couldn’t hold back a flinch.
In the Starbucks, Karen had made Pretzel laugh. It was a strange sound, coming from her.
He’d lost at least three teeth, and at least two of his ribs were broken. But so far no one had gone near his legs; he’d be able to run.
Matt was pretty sure Mr. Ice had realized he’d lost his focus, because he was hitting harder. He was struggling to hold on to memories instead. His father guiding him around the house for the first time, identifying the birds outside the window for him. Tracking Jessie in the line during her confirmation. Getting drunk with Fox the night before he’d headed off to the Academy. Karen bursting into his dorm room to tell him she’d passed everything her first semester. Telling a little German girl not to be sorry for him, because even if he couldn’t see, he got to hear very special things.
He was jolted out of that one when Mr. Ice stopped, and sighed, “We may not be able to get anything out of him before Morino gets here.”
“What’s the matter?” laughed Ralph, in a way that made Matt’s stomach honestly twist in dread. He was far worse than Mr. Ice was, because he was outright malicious. “You two fighting over glory?”
“There isn’t much glory at the moment, to be honest.” Mr. Ice’s tone remained calm and untroubled, even as a moment later he dealt Matt another blow, before grabbing his neck and nearly lifting him out of the chair. Matt couldn’t concentrate on anything then besides the struggle to breathe.
But when he let go a moment or so later, he heard a voice, not far outside the warehouse-he should’ve heard it much earlier, but he hadn’t been listening-Tommy nervously babbling, “And I’m still confused about how all this happened, I mean, no one tells me anything. CJ doesn’t, Pretzel doesn’t…”
Matt lost track of him when Ralph yelled, “What are you smiling for now, asshole?!” He strode forward a moment later, and kicked Matt in the shins so hard for a moment he feared the bone would break. But while the pain was daggers stabbing him, it stayed intact.
They all heard the doors to the storehouse standing open, and Morino’s voice boom, “Ice? How far have you gotten without me?”
“Not far at all!” called one guy near the door. “He still hasn’t talked.”
“Will the Goldsmith be very dismayed if we don’t get anything out of him by the time he arrives?” Morino walked fast; he was already coming in. “My friend just received a call from Platzer, hinting he might be on his way. Also, a certain Katrina Castillo might also show up. She believes Murdock might have something she wants.”
Probably that coded piece of paper they’d gotten off Channing Friday night. The code had turned out to be one not far known even within the Goldsmith’s circle; none of their three allies had been able to do anything with it. They’d sent a photo of it to Sharon, but she said only she’d see what she could do with it, and then not mentioned it in any of her emails since. Karen was the one who had it at the moment.
There were multiple adrenaline spikes in the room, and hearts picking up and hammering. Though Ralph said, “He won’t mind at all. If what I’ve heard is true, he’s going to be happy to question this one himself.”
For a moment, Matt found himself desperately hoping for a respite, especially after Ice commented, only a little idle regret tinging his voice, “Then I suppose we should stop for a moment. He’s probably softened up enough.”
But Ralph let out a brutal laugh, and said, “If your lazy Hydra asses aren’t willing to do any more work, that’s just fine.”
“Pointless work,” was Ice’s only retort, and he was walking away.
“’Ice’ is right,” said Ralph. “Cold as it. You really do only care about power, do you? Unlike those of us who care about our friends. It’s not pointless to teach a lesson to those who messed with them.”
His heart beat strong and true. It was a truly terrifying sound.
So were his facial features, though they were covered by the blood he’d coughed up, a foul smell and taste he knew would linger for days. And now Ralph was looking at them. “Such pretty eyes,” he commented. “Nice ornamentation. I suppose you’d miss that.”
His legs were still intact.
“Remember what I said,” Ice called from where he was sitting talking with Marino. “If you want to take those out, you’d better know a way to do it where there’s no risk of causing him brain damage.”
“You can do it later, maybe,” suggested CJ from where he and Tommy were seated together in a corner. “After he’s talked with the Goldsmith. Give him time to think about it first.”
Ralph was tracing Matt’s eyes, and then he was actually touching them, with the tips of his fingers. Nothing that would make any practical difference to anything, but even all he had already endured that day, it was almost too much to bear.
His legs were still intact.
“What about his ears?” Ralph asked. “Make him deaf as well as blind. Maybe I can figure out a way to do that right now.”
Matt had to flee.
His legs were still intact, but he still wasn’t sure he could anymore, not from the entire building. Not when everything above his waist was on fire, heat and pain and his shoulder in the wrong place all screaming at him through his senses and making it difficult to discern his surrounds as well as he usually would. He could probably fight his way out of this room, if it came down to it, especially if CJ and Tommy pulled their punches as much as they could get away with. But how many people were coming? He should've gone earlier.
Desperately he reached out, forcing himself to push aside everything immediately around him, to try to get some idea of how many people there were in the vicinity. His worst fears were realized when he heard a voice he remembered all too well, surrounded by too many other voices, including Katrina Castillo’s, the motors of their pair of cars accompanying them as they drove up and into the storage facility’s small parking lot.
It was loud enough for the others in the room to hear as well, and Marino said, “Better leave it. Sounds like your boss is here.”
Matt ordered every muscle on his face to stay absolutely still; it was the only way to hide the overwhelming relief as Ralph walked away. Though when it made him aware how scrunched up they’d gotten, he let them slowly relax as the Goldsmith and his entourage came in.
And then, somewhere still too far away, he thought he heard familiar pair of boots, hurrying rapidly in their direction. He had to hope he was right, and that his legs stayed intact just that little bit longer.
When Mrs. Castillo was first to enter the room, she initially said, “Mr. Marino. Did you find any pieces of paper on his person?”
One of the other men looked him over. “You really think he would’ve brought such a thing here if he could help it? I don’t think he has anything on him.”
“Make sure you get out of him where it is, then.” She was addressing her words to the Goldsmith, who had followed her in. “Remember, I’ve made no commitments to you so far.”
She was a fool if she thought Hydra especially would just let her walk away, given all that she had to know about them. But the Goldsmith just said, “I’ll see what I can do,” and walked up to Matt.
His legs were still intact. And now those boots were close enough, and the wind was blowing the right way for the scent to make him certain, the familiar whiff of her hair easing things in his chest. But it would take her at least a few more minutes to even reach the building.
There was something about the Goldsmith’s presence that was overpowering when he got close enough. The only other time he had to Matt, he’d been in S.H.I.E.L.D.’s custody and heavily restrained, but even then he’d felt it. He wasn’t even sure what it was, because it wasn’t a sound or scent or anything that did something specific to the air around him. It was just a general impression Matt got, especially now, when he was standing over him, something metallic and probably sharp held in his hand.
“Did you know,” he asked, “I’ve often wondered what I would say to you first, if I ever got the chance to talk to you? Especially if I managed to get you apart from that bitch you stole from me. Did you know, when I sent my men after you in DC, I instructed them to bring you to me separately. Of course, that was partly to make it harder for you two to escape.”
“You really want to have this conversation in front of all these people?” Matt asked, genuinely stunned.
“Of course,” he said, his voice turning vicious. “I want people to know what happens to those who get their hands on my property without my permission. So tell me,” he grabbed Matt’s head with his free hand and yanked it back, “how is she? Still needing all that lube? Did you know I used to make her scream? Can you do that? I’ve heard at least one claim that you’re not the only man she fucks; do you like to watch? Or, you know, listen? Or whatever it is you do with those superpowered senses of yours? Boast to them, tell them you took the pet of some great evil crime lord? Hoped they wouldn’t think about the fact that I was the one who made her?”
The knife was dangerously near his legs, but they were still intact.
There were things Matt wanted to say to him. Such as that Karen hadn’t needed the lube once she’d put therapy and time between herself and him. That she’d been faking every time she’d screamed, and it was he who had been the first man to make her come, though the first time had belonged purely to her. That he’d only ever met one of her other lovers, and that had been by chance. He thought she’d kept them away from him on purpose, to make herself feel more in control, and he’d been sure to allow her that.
That he’d taken nothing from this man. Karen had left him on her own, albeit with a little help from him, and she would never be anyone’s property again. And in the end, she’d made herself.
But that scent was strong even through the building’s walls, and there was another with it which indicated she wasn’t going to bother going through the door, and his legs were still intact.
So he just smirked, and said the one thing that would hurt more than any of that: “That’s none of your business, sir.”
The explosion was a moment later, knocking everyone in the room off their feet, and Matt away from all of them and nearly into the far wall. Karen fired a warning shot as she charged in. One of the chair’s legs was broken; he needed only to be freed from the other one, and Karen had that done within seconds of reaching him. He was pretty sure he was terrifying sight, especially with blood all over his face and his chest and arms cut and bruised up, but she could see also that his legs had remained intact.
He grabbed her arm, and they ran with him still squatting over, because the chair was still tied to his back and legs. They were out of the room before most of those in it had gotten to their feet, though several gunshots followed them, likely poorly aimed with all the debris in the air.
But these men knew the building better than them, and they needed to stop to get the chair off of Matt. Karen darted on ahead, put her head through a door, then said, “I think we can barricade this one up. I don’t know how far away our backup is, but I know it’s en route. You might even be able to hear them.”
He didn’t get the chance to listen for them immediately. The room had crates in it, heavy ones they could just lift when working together. When the first one was against the door she took a moment to slice through the rest of his bonds, so he could finally stand up as they moved a second into place. “That’s covered the door,” Karen told him. “There’s a third one; maybe put it up against them?”
By the time they’d done that, their pursuers were already on the other side, and pounding on it. The Goldsmith wasn’t doing that dirty work, of course, but he was literally standing right behind them. He’d likely be the first one through. And Matt knew exactly what meant, especially when Karen was standing right in front of the crates, gun still in her hand.
Their efforts were reverberating in the air around them. Matt felt like at any time, one of their blows might knock him over. Between that and the pain he was in, the world was threatening to close up around him.
But Karen was asking, “How long will that hold them? Until the backup arrives? Can you guess?”
She must have seen his face, because she cursed very softly, and then a moment later was carefully placing one of her hands under his. He seized it and gripped tightly as he tried to get a gauge on how hard the air was vibrating, how much impact the crates were taking, how much resistance they were offering. The Goldsmith’s men had grabbed something fairly heavy from one of the rooms to use as a battering ram; he thought it had some metal in it.
“Ten minutes,” he finally said. “Maybe fifteen. I’ll listen for our rescuers.”
He reached out, beyond the walls. The streets around them were clearer now, people hearing the explosion and not wanting to stick around. Someone had probably called the police by now, which was probably going to be another problem, but while he could hear sirens, they sounded like they wouldn’t arrive within the next few minutes.
And then he heard a voice, fairly near, say, “I’ll take the motorcycle and go on ahead. Make a perimeter when you catch up, and then wait for my orders.” But Matt had to truly be going crazy, what with what his brain was telling him about that voice. He briefly wondered if his head had somehow made it up out of desperation.
But he was pretty sure he was not making it up when he heard Ice say, “Wait a minute. It was you who took my gun,” and then Tommy’s terrified, “No, sir, I swear I didn’t!” The gunshot came barely a second later, followed by CJ’s cry. “Don’t, boy,” Ice growled at him. “Your boyfriend was a traitor.”
Matt should’ve known better than to think it was just luck and obscured sight that had kept all those Hydra agents from hitting them. If Ice had been a better marksman than most, Tommy had probably known that and snatched away his gun. Maybe hoped he wouldn't try to figure out what happened to it for long enough.
He hadn't known how to deal with Hydra agents. What on Earth had they just done?
He wasn’t telling Karen what had just happened while the opportunity to shoot the Goldsmith was still pending. He could hear the motorcycle, estimate time of arrival, and more accurately predict when the door would give way. They’d happen in quick succession; either could happen first.
He needed to buy time again, he realized, make it so that neither party fired immediately as soon as the door was open. After relaying to Karen the news about the man on the motorcycle, he said, “Listen, Karen, it’s a big enough party I wouldn’t be surprised if they’d want the Goldsmith alive. At least some of the Hydra agents, too; they don’t strike me as the type that will just kill themselves.”
“I do wonder how he’d hold up under interrogation,” said Karen, maliciously, but Matt would take it for now.
Then there wasn’t much to do but wait, and listen, and try to figure out what to say. He wished he was a lawyer already, instead of somebody just trying to live to see law school. After tonight, he reminded himself, it would all be over. Probably within an hour at most, and then he and Karen walked away into their new lives.
His lesser pains were starting to fade, though too many of them wouldn’t go away that easily. His ability to fight remained limited. The man on the motorcycle had no more reason to talk, and Matt thought more and more that his mind had been playing tricks on him about the voice. Nobody had yet accused CJ of being in cahoots with Tommy or made any suggestions out loud of whom he might have betrayed the group for in the first place. And they wouldn’t bother, because he was striding out the hole Karen had left behind, crying tears that absolutely were not faked.
He still wasn’t there when the door broke into pieces, and the ram started moving the crates aside. But Karen stepped back, where it would be harder for them to shoot her. She wasn’t going to fire immediately.
Outside, still pretty distant, Matt heard another familiar voice, and whispered to Karen, “Where is Pretzel right now? Do you know?”
“In the company of someone bearing Sharon’s letter of introduction,” Karen whispered back.
So there was no more reason to hide her involvement. Matt took a final check of where CJ was, but their friends would almost certainly reach him before their foes did. He yelled, “Mr. Platzer is nearly here. You want to know how we’ve compromised him? I think he might know what’s on her piece of paper. Do you even know that?”
It didn’t take long for the people on the other side to put the pieces together. “That bitch Pretzel Martin!” It was Ralph who yelled it. “Should've known, with Tommy. Hell, maybe Platzer betrayed you too, sir.”
"Tommy?" Karen whispered. Should've known he couldn't have kept that from her, but there was no time to explain.
“It was Platzer's idea,” Matt yelled. “He recruited her, she recruited Tommy; I think it probably stopped there. You really think your minions are going to stay loyal to you, Goldsmith? Only the ones who are too scared are going to do that. They all hate you.”
“Liar!” Matt had gone too far; he leapt over the crates and into the room. Karen fired her gun, but she hadn’t had time to aim properly, and the shot went wide. Noone else followed; it was a hard jump.
“I have more!” he yelled, desperate to buy just another minute; the motorcycle was almost there. “You know Lubov Ashtovka stole your weapons, of course, but she told us she was only getting started. She’s going after your stash in Boston too.” Sharon had told them about the likely stash in Boston; Matt hoped she’d been right, and nothing had happened to it since. “I think she’s doing it tonight; you left some men up in Boston, right?”
“Of course I did,” growled the Goldsmith, indignant. No change in his heartbeat, at least until he added, “And I knew about that.”
Get him to make false boasts; that would finish it. “What are you planning to do to her?” Matt asked. “We wouldn’t care, mind you, except we kind of had plans of our own…”
Next thing Matt knew the man had grabbed him by the side and by the arm, squeezing bruised places until he couldn’t keep back a hard grunt of pain. Normally he could’ve pulled free, but in his current state it was harder. Karen trained her gun on them, and he desperately shook his head.
“You gonna take that bitch away from me, too?” the Goldsmith growled. “You get a kick out of that, don’t you? I should’ve known what kind of man you are, what other kind of man would keep that as long as you have?”
“Please, Matt,” Karen whispered.
At her pain, Matt’s own rage kicked in hard; and a moment later he had the tables turned and the Goldsmith slammed against the wall, growling, hoping he looked a terrifying sight. “You say another word…” he started.
But at that moment the crates gave way completely; and his heart sunk; they’d have to kill now.
Except a moment after that, he heard the motorcycle crash through the open hole in the wall and the familiar sound of an ICER being fired. It distracted the Goldsmith enough it was easy to knock him out. The guy on the motorcycle didn’t take everybody out, but those he didn’t he scattered around.
Then he drove into the room, and Matt couldn’t doubt it any longer. The breathing, the scent, it had to be-
“Phil Coulson!” Karen actually did not sound surprised. “Let us guess, reports of your death were greatly exaggerated.”
“Well, no,” said that familiar voice. “I actually did die. I just didn’t stay dead. It’s a long story.”