Characters: Matt Murdock, Foggy Nelson, Wilson Fisk, Peter Parker, Karen Page
Genre(s): Hurt/Comfort, Action, Angst, Drama
Spoilers: Daredevil Vol 1 #226, 228
Warnings: Drug withdrawal
Word Count: 3861
Story Summary: Born Again AU. After the grand jury's ruling is handed down, Foggy can't help wondering if he could have done more. He decides to drop in on Matt and make sure that he's doing all right.
Chapter Summary: Matt's life takes a new direction, while someone else gets a nasty shock!
A/N: In 1986, minimum wage in New York would have been $3.35/hour. A short order cook today makes about 20% above minimum wage on average. I figured the same ratio would probably hold.
A/N: Use of Halon 1211 was discontinued in fire extinguishers circa 1994.
Almost as soon as he registered the acrid odor of smoke, he realized that the situation was far from serious. There were other smells in play that painted a clear picture for him: burned eggs, charred bacon, the faintly sweet smell of Halon 1211—commonly used in fire extinguishers... He fought down a wave of nausea and pressed onward.
The odors were emanating from his destination. As he drew closer, he found that he could isolate specific voices and distinguish particular conversations. Restaurant patrons were complaining about the stink. Someone was apologizing nervously and trying to explain that their regular cook hadn't shown up and the other kitchen staff were trying to handle the grill on top of their other duties. Whoever the server was talking to didn't sound at all understanding. He was going on about 'stupid incompetent kids who weren't even worth minimum wage'.
Matt's jaw hardened. He quickened his pace, following his ears and nose to the site of the quarrel.
Although the smoke was dissipating rapidly, the burned food odors still hung heavy in the air. Matt noted that many of the patrons were fanning themselves with their hands, trying to wave away the smells.
The man he'd heard before was still yelling at the server. "And how long do I have to wait for breakfast now, huh? Jeez are you people still hung over from partying last night? I just want a cup of coffee and some French toast. Even a high school dropout like you should be able to handle that!"
Now that he was in the restaurant, Matt realized that he did smell alcohol, but it wasn't coming from the server. The woman sounded close to tears.
"Sir, as I keep telling you, our cook hasn't come in. We're doing our best to get the orders out—"
"Well, your best isn't good enough! Where's the manager? No. No, girlie. Where's the frigging owner? I need someone with the authority to fire you."
Matt's jaw hardened. He took a step toward the angry patron. Then he realized that there were a number of customers who were observing the scene, that more than one stomach was rumbling, that if he stepped in to defend the server (and teach the irate customer why bullying was a bad idea), there would be a number of witnesses on hand and he wasn't wearing a mask. Maybe there was a different way to defuse the situation.
"Excuse me," he said, projecting his voice so that it carried over the other conversations. "I think I heard you just say that the reason for the delay is that you're short a cook?"
The patron spun toward him. "Butt out of what don't concern you, mac."
"I wasn't asking you," Matt said shortly. He inclined his head toward the server. "Ma'am?"
The woman nodded and tried to compose herself, though her apprehension remained. "Uh... yes. That's right."
Matt smiled. "I know this is kind of irregular, but I do know my way around a grill. Maybe I can help..."
Almost an hour later, Otto Schnapp came rushing into the diner he and his wife owned, anticipating disaster, after the call that had woken him up that morning. Once he'd understood the situation, he'd bolted out of bed and dressed rapidly, but the taxi he'd ordered had never arrived and, after forty minutes, he'd given up and taken the subway. He'd been bracing for an angry mob. To his astonishment, the scene that greeted him was busy but cheerful: customers deep in relaxed conversation, plated orders on the counter, quickly whisked away by hurrying servers. There was still a faint burnt-bacon odor, but it was fading rapidly amid the fragrances of coffee, eggs, toast, and pancakes. He did a double-take when he saw an unfamiliar person standing at the grill.
"Cora?" he called, beckoning to the senior server on duty. "I came as soon as you called. What's going on? Who's that?" he demanded, motioning toward the stranger behind the counter.
Cora shrugged her shoulders. "He's a lifesaver whoever else he is, Otto," she said. "He just jumped on when we were swamped and he's been at it ever since."
Otto's eyebrows shot up. "Just out of the blue like that?"
"Well, one of the customers started yelling at Yvonne," she jerked her head toward the newest hire, "acting like it was her fault the food was coming out slow. That guy offered to pitch in and with Jimmy a no-show..."
Otto watched as the stranger expertly flipped an egg onto a plate, then added two strips of bacon and a slice of toast. "The customers notice a difference?" he asked, as the plate hit the counter. He watched as Yvonne picked it up and sped to a nearby booth.
"Haven't heard a single complaint since he started."
Two slices of sausage joined three uniformly-sized, perfectly round pancakes on a second plate. Another server grabbed it.
"Jimmy hasn't called in?"
"Not a peep."
"Hmmmm..." Otto waited until the breakfast rush was over before he walked up to the stranger. "Morning. You eat anything today?" he asked.
The stranger turned to him. "Yes, I have," he replied. His lips twitched. "I'm guessing that if you're coming behind the counter and asking me that, you're probably the person whose permission I should have asked before I pitched in."
Otto snorted. "I wasn't here when you started. I just thought that if you'd come in, you were probably looking to have breakfast, not cook it for everyone else."
The stranger shook his head. "No, I was just passing by and I thought I saw someone I recognized. As it turns out, I was wrong." He frowned. "Actually, I'm going to need to get going shortly. I'm meeting someone."
"Ah." Otto hesitated. "Do you do... stuff like this often? Walk in to a place and start helping out as if you worked there?"
"Not usually," the stranger smiled. "But you needed a cook and my friends tell me I'm a good one. I figured, maybe you could use a hand."
"Hmmm." Otto regarded the stranger carefully. The clothes were quality, the voice polished, but Otto had seen too many people—particularly in this economic climate—whose fortunes had taken a sudden turn for the worse. To varying extents, they all had a somewhat reeling, slightly dazed look to them, as they tried to cope with their new circumstances. "Where are you working right now, son?" he asked. There it was: the slight hesitation, the embarrassed shuffle, the low, almost guilty, admission.
"I'm kind of... between jobs at the moment," the stranger said diffidently. "I'm sure something will turn up, though."
Despite his body language, his voice was confident. Otto half-believed him. And Jimmy hadn't come in, hadn't had the decency to call and let anyone know... And this guy was a good cook. And a fast one. Otto thought for a moment. "You got a name?"
"Ma—uh... Mac. Mac... Jackson."
Otto smiled. "Well, Mac. I wouldn't want to keep you from your appointment, but could you be here for six-thirty tomorrow morning?"
Mac tilted his head, questioning. "Are you offering me a job?"
"Pay's four dollars an hour to start. Hours are six-thirty to three, with a half-hour off for lunch. Whaddaya say?"
Mac smiled. "It sounds great. Thank you." All at once, his smile dropped away.
Unconsciously, Otto leaned closer. "Something wrong?"
Mac shook his head. "Not really. Just... I was mugged yesterday. They got my wallet, including my social security card. I'm filling out the form for a replacement tomorrow, but I don't know how long it's going to take."
"Ah," Otto said. "Well, I think we can probably work something out."
Otto shrugged. "I need a cook. You need a job. Why let a hunk of plastic get in the way? We can sort out the paperwork another time."
This time, Mac's smile stayed.
He'd walked about half a block back toward Foggy's when he remembered how upset Karen had been this morning when he'd left. He didn't know how she was going to react to the idea of his being away for a good part of the day, five days a week. And if Foggy did take the offer from Kelco—or any other firm for that matter... Matt didn't think that leaving her alone in the apartment would be wise at this stage. He leaned against a lamppost and massaged his forehead, thinking.
Foggy had been right about one thing: he had needed to get out. He hadn't been prepared for the rush of freedom that had hit him with the morning breeze when he'd stepped out onto the street. Karen might need him, but he did need more time out of the apartment. And he needed this job... well, any job. He needed to start contributing something toward rent and groceries. He needed to remind himself that there was other work that he could do, now that being a lawyer was no longer an option.
But if Karen relapsed while he was away...
Matt let out a long breath. He'd never forgive himself if that happened. But there had to be some way that... The sound of a tolling bell gave him pause. Earlier, he'd told Foggy that one of the churches in this area might run a rehab program. He doubted that there'd be anything of the kind starting at six-thirty AM, but as long as he was in the area, it couldn't hurt to check it out.
With renewed purpose, he strode off in the direction of the bells.
After he'd explained the reason for his visit, he was invited to take a seat and told that someone would be with him shortly. Sure enough, it wasn't long before he heard the sound of rubber-soled shoes on hardwood. The stride was brisk and, at first, Matt guessed that the walker was in their thirties.
His breath caught. There was something familiar about the heart beat. Something nagging at his memory. Something...
The voice was older than he'd been expecting. He revised his mental image; the woman was probably in her fifties or sixties. He smiled. "Yes."
"I'm Sister Maggie. I understand that you're here to enquire about our addiction counseling services?"
He nodded and did his best to focus on the current situation, instead of trying to figure out when he'd met this woman. He was seldom at church, and when he was, it was even more seldom that he encountered any of the nuns. In fact, he wasn't sure he'd spoken to one since...
Oh, my G-d. That's where I know her from.
But he doubted she remembered him after all this time. Plus, he was in disguise. It was the wrong time to bring up the past. Still, his voice grew warmer, as he explained the situation.
Sister Maggie proved a good listener, hearing him out without interrupting. Every now and again, she murmured sympathetically. When he was finished, she was silent for a long moment. But when she did speak, Matt couldn't help but notice the warmth in her voice.
"These doors are always open, Mr. Jackson. If you bring your friend by on your way to work, I can ensure that either myself or one of my colleagues will be on hand, even though our program won't start until ten. However, I need to be quite clear on one point," she added crisply.
There was still a smile in her voice, but it was overlaid with a serious tone. "These walls are meant to provide refuge, Mr. Jackson. But we are neither an adult daycare nor a prison. If your friend chooses to leave, not a soul here will try to prevent her."
"I understand," Matt replied, nodding and trying to hide his concern. Sister Maggie was right: if Karen didn't want to be there, then they had no right to force her. He couldn't help but worry, though. Off the top of his head, he could name at least a dozen places within walking distance where a person who wanted a quick high would have the opportunity. "So, if she comes here at six-fifteen, say... but your programs don't start until ten, then what would she do for almost four hours?" He frowned. "And I'm supposing that the program doesn't run all the way to three, either, right?"
"Well," Sister Maggie said, "that would be up to her, of course, but we run many programs here, and almost all of them rely on volunteers. We have a homeless mission in our basement. Between six-thirty and eight-thirty, we serve breakfast. There is an afternoon preschool here that can always use another aide. If your friend wants something to do, I can promise you that we will find her something. And if she'd rather not, we won't force her. It will always be her choice."
"I understand," Matt said again. He frowned. "Sister... this may seem an odd question, but do you visit hospitals?"
Matt shook his head. "No, not 'is it something your order does?' Do you? Or have you in the past?"
"I have," Maggie said. "Many times over the years. Why do you ask?"
"I..." Matt stopped, realizing that he shouldn't have started this line of questioning. It had been so long ago. Thanks to time, the hair dye, and the colored contacts, he probably didn't look much like the boy he had been—at least, he hoped not. And since he was trying to lie low, the last thing he should be doing was jogging someone's memory, hoping she'd make the same connection he had. He shook his head. "I was in an accident, when I was a teenager. Someone visited me in the hospital. A nun. You... remind me of her, I guess."
"Ah," Maggie replied sagely. "I believe the habit has something to do with it. People often tend to remember clothing more easily than faces."
Matt smiled. "Some do. It's all pretty much the same to me. I'm sorry to have bothered you about it."
"It's no bother," she returned. "Now, from what you're saying, she's still in recovery? It's been about two days?" When Matt nodded, she sighed. "I'm afraid that our support program is best equipped to help people who have already detoxed. If she's amenable, I would suggest that you bring her 'round in another four or five days. If you stop by to advise me the day before she's ready to start, I will make a point of being in the vicinity of the main doors the next morning at six. And Mac," her voice was kind, "If your friend decides not to come here, I do hope you'll stop by anyway, just to let me know."
"I'll look to see you in a few days, then, Mr. Jackson. Mac."
"In a few days," Matt confirmed.
It wasn't until he was out of the church and well on his way back to Foggy that a frown creased his face. Had Sister Maggie said 'Mac'? Or Matt?
Karen was easier to convince than Matt had thought. "I think you were right, before," she admitted. "It might help. Me talking to other people who know what this feels like." She hugged herself. "But I can't go outside like this; when the pain hits, I just want to curl up on the floor... and," her voice lowered, "I'm still running for the bathroom a lot."
Matt wrapped an arm across her shoulders and she leaned into him. "It seems to be a little better today, though," she murmured. "I think."
Foggy hadn't said much since Matt had told them about his morning. He did now. "Short order cook, Matt? Isn't that a bit of a comedown? I mean..." He broke off. "I know it's honest work and honest pay and all that, but it's barely over minimum wage. Don't you think you can do a little better?"
Matt shook his head. "How? I went from majoring in criminal justice to law school. Every elective I took at the undergrad level was something aimed at law school admissions: political science, rhetoric, psychology..." He sighed. "I don't think I'd even considered another career option since I was about nine or ten."
"Okay," Foggy said, "so, you're not going to apply to med school at this late date. But... paralegal work, maybe?"
Matt smiled. "Come on, Foggy. With everything that's been in the papers about me recently, who'd hire me? Besides you, I mean?" His smile fell away. "Besides, I think that would probably be worse; being in an environment where I'd be reminded every day of what I used to do."
"There has to be some other..."
Matt shook his head again, but his smile was back. "Maybe there is, but I..." He took a breath. "Let me see if I can explain. A while back, my teacher—Stick; you remember, I told you about him—he told me that there were two sides to me. One side that studied and read and one that trained and fought. Only..." unconsciously, he squeezed Karen's shoulders, "neither one of those sides were really me."
"Excuse me?" Foggy breathed.
"He told me that I'd spent my whole life doing what other people told me, living up to their expectations. Dad wanted me to be a doctor or a lawyer. I didn't question it; I kept my grades up, went to law school, went the distance, became a lawyer... and never once bothered asking myself whether it was something that I wanted. Stick wanted me to be a warrior. Same thing." He sighed. "Well, actually, I did eventually figure out where I stood on the fighting. Later. But the other part? I think, maybe, that's why I haven't been as into appealing the judgment as you've been. I never really thought about other options. Maybe this is a chance to do some exploring."
"Okay," Foggy said a bit more subdued, "fine. You want to find yourself. But what makes you think a greasy spoon is the right place to go looking?"
"I've got to start somewhere," Matt said lightly. Then, hearing the change in Foggy's heartbeat and an exasperated sigh, he relented. "It's something I've never done and kind of wanted to. When I was fourteen, someone in the neighborhood offered me a job. Nothing too exciting: just hand out flyers for his restaurant over the summer. Dad told me I needed to keep hitting the books. Same thing when I was sixteen. Dad had a few of his friends over to watch the Super Bowl. I was taking a break from studying to fix something to eat and it just seemed polite to make enough for everyone. One of Dad's guests was the guy who'd offered to hire me the first time. He liked..." Matt frowned, "...well, whatever it was I'd made; probably grilled cheese or deli sandwiches, I don't remember. But he asked me if I wanted to come by for a couple of hours after school to help with the supper rush. Dad vetoed it. After the game, when everyone else had left, I tried to convince him. I knew money was tight. I thought that maybe with a part-time job, I could help out with expenses. Dad wasn't getting too many fights at that time, as I recall. He shut me down, told me to let him worry about expenses. I tried telling him that I wouldn't mind having a bit more spending money. He told me that he could still give me everything I needed. And meanwhile, I'd hear the other kids talking about their jobs and saying how much they hated them, but it was obvious that they didn't. Joking about customers from hell... It wasn't that I wanted to deal with unreasonable people. More that I wanted my own 'war stories', if that makes sense."
"Kind of..." Foggy replied. "But Matt, you're not fourteen or even sixteen anymore. Wait." He got up, walked over to where Matt and Karen were sitting, and laid a hand on Matt's biceps. "Tell me you're not just taking this because, deep down, you think it's the only job you can get."
"No," Matt said easily. "It's not. I didn't go looking for this. It pretty much happened because someone was in trouble and there was something I could do to help. Nothing really new there. I mean, that's kind of been the story of my life for a while. Except... once I got behind the counter, I actually found out that I liked it. I honestly enjoyed myself this morning. And maybe in a week or so, it'll get old, but right now? I think I need it." His expression turned serious.
"Foggy, I can't thank you enough for everything you've done... are doing. Seriously. But I think I'm past the point where I need a place to just crash and deal with everything that's happened. I think that right now, this job is good for me. I doubt it'll become a new career, but short-term? No offense, but it beats trying to come up with things to do all day, while I'm counting down the minutes before I can go to Fogwell's."
Foggy sighed. "And I guess all of my telling you to let me deal with expenses must have taken you back to when you were sixteen."
Matt's eyebrows shot up. "I hadn't thought about it," he said slowly, "but maybe it did. A bit. It's not that I'm not grateful—"
"I know." He put his free hand on Matt's other shoulder. "Okay. I'm calling Kelco tomorrow. We still don't know if the offer they made me is still open, but if it is, I'll tell them that I can't start for another week. If they won't accommodate, then," he shrugged expansively, "now that you're going to be contributing, I guess I can afford to keep looking."
He'd been awaiting the telephone call for over a week. When it came, however, the news it brought was not what he'd been expecting. The good humor that had suffused him since that evening dissipated in an instant. "Are you certain?" he demanded of the caller—one of his people on the NYPD Harbor Patrol. His voice was only marginally sharper than it should have been. When the informant confirmed it, he thanked him and hung up.
The Kingpin's jaw hardened, as he stood before the ceiling-to-floor glass window of his well-appointed office and mulled over what he'd just been told. The cab had been found. Police Forensics was in the process of examining it, but according to the informant, they had already discovered blood on the seat and bloody evidence of a struggle. The windshield had been smashed, the seatbelt severed by a glass shard, but the cab had been empty.
There was no corpse.
There was no corpse.
There was no corpse.
At his side, his hands curled into fists. There was no corpse. Murdock was still alive. And Kingpin had no idea what he would do next.