Characters: Matt Murdock, Foggy Nelson, Wilson Fisk, Peter Parker
Genre(s): Hurt/Comfort, Action, Angst, Drama
Spoilers: Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man #134, 137, Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 1 #276–8. Daredevil, Vol. 1 #228–9.
Warnings: None, this chapter
Word Count: 5,369
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: While Matt recovers from his injuries, Spider-Man has a big favor to ask.
Some dialogue lifted directly from ASM #277 by Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz (Marvel, 1986).
The epidural brought his agony down to a more manageable level, but it didn't eliminate it. "Effectiveness does vary," the nurse said apologetically.
Matt nodded his understanding. "It's an improvement," he said. Meditation should reduce the pain further. At least, thanks to the epidural, he could achieve the necessary focus for that. He reached for the glass of water on the side table and fell back with a gasp. "Really." He frowned, picking up a slight hesitancy on the nurse's part and an increase in her stress pheromones. "Is something wrong?"
"Well," she replied, clearly uncomfortable, "you do understand that this is an emergency clinic. We generally patch you up to the point where you're able to go home and then expect you to follow up with your primary care physician. Your friend mentioned that there were some complications relative to the security of your current address...?"
"Oh," Matt nodded again. "Yes," he said with a faint smile, "unfortunately, there are. I'll talk to him. Maybe between the two of us, we can work something out." He tilted his head, questioning. "How long do I have?"
"I suppose," the nurse said, "it depends on whether someone else in your line of work comes in for treatment. We really only have the one room set aside. We like to keep it vacant as much as possible."
"Ah." Matt reached for the IV pole and tried not to wince. "All right," he said, stifling a groan. "I," he gasped as he struggled to swing his legs over the side of the bed, "I guess I'd better... agh! ...g-get up."
"I can help—" the nurse started to say, but Matt cut her off.
"You... won't be there after I... leave," he pointed out. "I've got this." Gritting his teeth, he forced himself out of bed, clutching the IV pole for support. His legs promptly buckled and he fell to the floor.
Matt reminded himself forcefully that there was a fine line between pride and idiocy. And that pride went before a fall—as he'd just illustrated. "I'm... fine," he lied. "Who," he tried to smile despite the pain, "who took the muscles out of my legs?" He tried to pull himself up, gasping as his ribs let him know that epidural or no epidural, they were a long way from healed. "Is that offer of help still open?"
The nurse stooped down and offered her shoulder. "We're not kicking you out quite yet," she reassured him, "but there's absolutely no reason for you to be on total bed rest. What I'd like to do is get you sitting upright in a chair; there are a number of exercises that you can start with to build back your strength."
Matt nodded. "How far away is the chair?"
"There's a good one just over in the corner. I can move it closer."
"No," Matt shook his head and rested a hand on her shoulder, even as he tightened his grip on the IV pole. "Better move me closer to it. Help me up." He winced again, this time for a reason that had nothing to do with his ribs. "I'm sorry. Please."
"Of course, Mr. Murdock," the nurse replied and Matt could hear the smile in her voice. "I'm going to straighten up now. Ready?"
He nodded and braced himself for the pain that he knew would follow. Despite his best efforts, another gasp escaped him.
"I'm afraid you're going to be feeling that for some time," the nurse said sympathetically. "Are you sure you're up to walking to that chair today?"
Matt forced himself to take a deep breath, despite the fresh stab of agony. "Only one way to find out," he replied. "Let's just... take it one step at a time."
He was sitting in the chair, slowly stretching his knee to his chest when he recognized a familiar heartbeat headed toward him. The only question to Matt was whether he was here in costume. "Up for visitors?" a soft voice, somewhat muffled by a face mask, inquired from the doorway.
In costume, Matt confirmed to himself. Aloud, he said, "As long as you don't mind if I keep exercising." Even so, he held off on resuming his stretches and waited for Spider-Man to come closer before he spoke again. "Foggy told me what you did. I—"
"I'm sorry," Spider-Man interrupted. "When you weren't breathing, I didn't even think that maybe chest compressions would make things worse. I panicked and—"
Matt held up a hand. "I wanted to thank you," he clarified. "Not just for saving my life, although I am grateful. If Foggy had..." He let his voice trail off, as he listened carefully. Once reassured that his friend wasn't within earshot, he continued. "I never dreamed he'd go after me on his own like that. If I hadn't told him... he wouldn't have followed me and he'd have been sa—" He shook his head. "No. From what he told me, the Kingpin was planning to have him killed and then frame me for the murder. If..." He broke off when he felt Spider-Man's hand on his shoulder.
"Matt," Spidey sighed, "do us both a favor and stop beating yourself up. That's one of those areas where you really don't want to outshine Kingpin."
Matt's lips twitched. "I believe there's an expression involving a pot and a kettle that would be appropriate here," he said dryly. "Regardless, you're right on your main point. I have been beating myself up." He brought his knee to his chest again and winced. "Very effectively."
"Um... I'm pretty sure Fisk gets some of the credit. When I get my mitts on him..."
Matt shook his head. "No. He's mine. But be careful. It's very possible that he's compiling data on more of us. He might know who you are, too."
Spidey flung his hands into the air. "You lay something like that on me and you expect me to back down? You must be on some really good painkillers."
"Not quite good enough," Matt admitted. "Fine. If you're going to confront him—and I'm going on record as advising against it—there are two things that I want you to do for me. I realize I'm not in a position where I can hold you to this, but I'm hoping that you'll respect my wishes."
Matt repeated the stretch. "One: do not tell him that I'm alive. Eventually, someone will haul that submerged taxi out of the river and find it empty, but until then, if he thinks I'm out of the picture, I can afford to take the time to recuperate and plan my next move."
"Matt..." Spidey ventured, "Can you afford not to?"
"No. That's why it's important that I have this breathing space, which I won't have if he's combing the city for me."
"Fine," Spidey said. "What's the second thing?"
"Going by what Foggy told me, I'd say it's likely that at least one of his people saw you fish him out of the river. I'm presuming that, if Kingpin believes I'm dead, Foggy's safe. See if you can confirm that—without hinting to Kingpin that you're any more concerned for him than you would be for any random potential drowning victim." He sighed. "I'd like to be able to tell Foggy it's safe for him to go home."
"Where's he staying now?"
Matt's voice lowered a fraction. "He's contacted his credit card providers to let them know his wallet's been lost. He's going to his bank to pick up the replacements tomorrow. After that, we're not sure. He can check into a hotel—which would pinpoint his location, if Kingpin is looking for him. He can see if he can stay with a friend. He can try camping out in the waiting room here, if they'll let him. He might have made other arrangements. I'm not sure."
"Got it. Anything else?"
Matt hesitated. He hated having to beg favors, but... "I wish I had the funds to reimburse you or something I could give you to pawn," he said slowly. "I need hair dye. Some color other than mine and I believe it's easier to go darker than lighter."
"And color contact lenses," Matt said. "The color doesn't matter. If I'm going to lie low for a bit, it's important that I not appear to be blind. There aren't too many people wearing dark glasses at this time of year, and I've been told that without them, my condition is obvious."
Spidey nodded. "Yeah, it is. Okay. Look, I'm hard up for cash; I think you probably figured that out a long time ago. Still, what you're asking for is relatively cheap. Like less-than-the-cost of-the-web-fluid-I-need-for-an-average-
"Uh... would it be pouring salt in a wound if I asked you for free legal advice?"
Matt sighed. "I guess that my being disbarred didn't make the papers."
"It might have," Spidey replied. "I don't usually have time to read more than the front page and the comics. So, how does that work?"
Spidey flung a strand of webbing to the ceiling, sailed up, and dangled upside-down. "Well, how do they remove your legal knowledge? Do they hire a telepath? Hypnosis? Surgery?"
Matt didn't bother to hide his irritation. "What are you talking about?"
"I'm not looking to hire a lawyer," Spidey said. "One, I can't afford you. Two, neither can Flash."
"Flash," Matt repeated, puzzled. The name meant nothing to him. "I don't understand."
Spidey dropped back down to the floor in a graceful somersault. "I'm looking for legal advice, Matt—something I'd normally be a little too embarrassed to ask you for. I mean, normally, it'd be taking advantage of our friendship, since there's no way I could afford your consultation fee. But one of my best friends was just arrested on suspicion of being the Hobgoblin. The evidence looks pretty bad. I honestly don't know whether he's innocent. He can't afford a lawyer; someone named Sharon Banks is handling it pro bono, but I don't know how good she is or how thorough she's going to be. You told me, not so long ago, that everyone deserves the best defense they can get; the defendant as well as the plaintiff. If Flash's case is being handled by someone who already thinks he's guilty and is just trying to get him a lighter sentence when maybe he shouldn't be serving one at all, do you think that qualifies?"
Matt shook his head slowly. He remembered that conversation. It was more or less the same thing he'd told a colleague some days earlier, but the words had still applied, when he'd put his mind to convincing Peter of the merits of the legal system. "I'm sorry," he said. "I'd offer to take the case if I could, but I can't. I can talk to Foggy about it for you, if you're that worried about your friend's current counsel."
"That would be great," Spidey admitted, "but even if he can't... look, whether Flash is innocent or guilty, he's still a friend. I don't know if Sharon Banks is just going to phone it in; she might be the greatest thing since Oliver Wendell Holmes. Or, she might be an overworked overextended burnout case who graduated in the bottom half of her class and will call it a job well done if Flash ends up serving ten to twenty instead of life. I just don't know." He hesitated before adding, "And if he really is the Hobgoblin, then I'm not sure I want to know. He came pretty close to killing me a couple of times." He took another breath. "I was thinking that maybe with your help, we could come up with... something that we could hand her. Banks, I mean. You know, do a lot of the work that she might not have time to do. Maybe it'll help. I mean, it can't hurt, can it?" Without waiting for a reply, he plunged on. "That's where I thought you could come in. I mean, if Foggy's willing to represent him, that's... that'd be really great. And if you tell me that Sharon Banks is good, I'll trust you. But if you're bored and looking for something to do..."
And since he really did hate asking for favors... "You understand," Matt said slowly, "that my mind hasn't really been focused on that sort of thing for the last little while."
"I bet it's like riding a bike."
Matt was silent.
"Don't tell me you never—"
"I grew up in Hell's Kitchen and money was tight, okay?" Matt snapped. "Dad had a hard enough time paying the rent and getting food on the table without my bugging him for a bike." Not to mention that Dad would probably have said something about riding cutting into his study time.
Matt shook his head. "Don't be. Or maybe I should apologize. I didn't mean to bite your head off. I was just going to say that, because I'm out of practice, and considering that I'm no longer an attorney... if you're sure you want my help, I think I can see my way clear to reducing my usual consultation fee to... say... the cost of some hair dye and color contacts?"
"Sounds fair to me," Spidey replied.
Matt matched the smile in his friend's voice with one of his own. "Can you get me a pad and pen? I'm going to need to take notes."
When Foggy returned, it was to find Matt with a pad of 8 ½ by 11-inch paper on his lap, frowning as his fingertips ran back and forth over the page. As Foggy watched, Matt flipped the sheet over and repeated the exercise.
"Hi, Matt. Tell me that's not your treatment bill," Foggy greeted him.
Matt paused from his perusal. "No... just an interesting puzzle Spider-Man asked me to look at."
Foggy pulled up a second chair and sat down. "Yeah?"
"Flash Thompson. Arrested wearing the Hobgoblin's costume. A search of his apartment turned up a crate containing pumpkin bombs and other trademark weapons. The guy was in the army, sort of drifted after being discharged, recently broke up with his girlfriend after she caught him with another woman—a married woman. Guy says he didn't do it, but is unable to explain how he got to the place where he was arrested, how he got into the costume, or how that arsenal ended up in his closet."
Foggy let out a low whistle. "Tough case for whoever's taking it."
"Do you remember Sharon Banks? She was in our year at Columbia? Sat behind me in Criminal Law."
"Sharon..." Foggy brightened. "Yeah... yeah, sure! We were both in Black Letter Law/White Collar Crime with McConnell. Sure, I even think we went out a couple of times."
"She turned you down once. The second time, you had to cancel because you caught that flu bug that was going around. Then mid-terms happened and you started going with Monica Stebbins."
Foggy let out an exasperated breath. "How do you remember all that?"
Matt ignored the question. "Spider-Man asked me to examine the case and see if there's something everyone overlooked that Banks might be able to work with. He suspects that Thompson was framed. Considering that the guy had been trying to kill him when he was apprehended, that's saying something."
"Uh huh," Foggy nodded. "Psych evaluation?"
"It's been ordered. Not sure when it's happening. Guy founded a Spidey fan-club, back in the days when the Bugle wasn't the only voice clamoring for his head. Stuck up for him in the past. Spider-Man's looking to return the favor. Says a lot, considering that the Hobgoblin had been trying to kill him at the time of his arrest."
"Admiration's been known to turn to envy before. Or disillusionment."
"True. Let's just say that I've had some firsthand experience with being set up. It makes Spidey's suggestion that his friend's been framed seem a bit more plausible to me than it would have a few months ago."
"Oh, nothing. It's just... good to see you pulling yourself together is all. I don't think you've been this interested in a case in months." He hesitated for a moment before resting a hand on Matt's arm. "Not even yours." Then, quickly, before Matt could respond, he withdrew his hand and added, "Anything I can help with?"
Matt gave him a rueful smile. "I thought you'd never ask. Here's what he's told me, so far. I did have a few other questions for him that he couldn't answer off the top of his head. He's going to see if he can see Thompson or Banks and ask them, but meanwhile, if you can think of a few other angles..."
Spider-Man waited in the shadows of the darkened office as the heavy, ponderous footfalls drew closer. Now he could hear the greetings of various office workers.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Fisk."
"Hello, Mr. Fisk."
"Nice day, Mr. Fisk."
As the office door opened, he heard another man telling the Kingpin something or other about having assembled some data on gambling operations. Fisk sounded preoccupied, which suited Spidey just fine. The man was too busy giving his flunky the brush-off to notice that his office was already occupied. As soon as Fisk closed the door behind him and walked to his desk, Spidey went into action.
The faint sound of his webshooters deploying did not escape the larger man's notice.
"You may as well come out of the shadows," he said calmly. "I know you're here. I heard you gluing the door shut with your webbing. I realize that I'm trapped in here until it has had sufficient time to evaporate. To what do I owe the pleasure of this unexpected visit?"
Face to face with the Kingpin, Spidey fought to keep his temper under control. He reminded himself that he couldn't let it slip that Matt was still alive, no matter how furious he felt. "You can thank Franklin Nelson," he said evenly. "I found out what happened to his best friend. We both know why. I am not happy."
Fisk sniffed. "Why come to me? I have heard of Murdock's misfortunes. Who hasn't? The media has been most informative on the subject. But surely, you don't hold me responsible. The man has been obsessed with me for a long time. How could you believe any of the charges he might level against me... especially when you consider what the weight of his troubles must have done to his mind?"
"Methinks you doth protest too much."
"Talk to him. Judge for yourself."
Behind his mask, Spider-Man's eyes narrowed. There it was. Kingpin didn't know that Matt had survived. Or at least, he was hoping that Spidey would let him know one way or the other. He took a deep breath. "I can't. He was staying with Nelson, but he hasn't been back in more than two days. Vanished. You wouldn't know anything about that, would you?"
Kingpin shrugged his shoulders. "Why would I? I'm running a multi-national corporation. I have a vast financial empire to oversee. Do you seriously think I'd concern myself with one disgraced former attorney?"
"And you don't know anything about why Nelson fell into the East river, running from your people."
"My people?" Kingpin chuckled briefly. "Did they tell you that they worked for me? Do you have one shred of hard evidence to support your slanderous allegations?"
"I..." Spidey held his tongue.
Kingpin chuckled again. "I thought not. I grant that Murdock was a passing annoyance, rather like a mosquito. Nelson is even less to me."
"So you aren't after him?"
Kingpin sighed. "I will say this once, and once only, web-slinger. I wish Mr. Franklin Nelson every success in life. I am not conducting some witch-hunt for Murdock's past associates. If an mosquito annoys me, I may swat it, but I have far more important things to do than hunt down the colony from which it emerged. When you speak to Mr. Nelson—I can only presume that you're here at his behest to ensure that it is safe for him to resume his daily life—as though I had any desire to prevent his doing so—please, do express my sympathies. Losing a friend can be devastating. I can only hope, for his peace of mind, that Murdock turns up eventually—and I'm sure he will."
"I still think you know more about that missing friend than you're telling."
The larger man smiled. "Perhaps... but what can you do about it? Beat me up? Web me to a wall? Hope the police arrive and find enough evidence to convict me? That's your usual style of dealing with criminals, isn't it?" He took a cautious step toward the edge of his desk, hoping to take up the walking stick that leaned against it. "I'm sorry, Spider-Man, but coming here was a waste of your time."
There was a 'thwipping' sound and a blob of webbing landed on the cane, securing it to the side of the desk. "Maybe," Spider-Man allowed, "and maybe not." He perched lightly on the desk and regarded his adversary.
Kingpin let out a long breath. "Aside from serving as an occasional minor annoyance, there's no way you can possibly harm me. I am a force quite beyond your limited abilities. My network could find you to be much more of a help than a hindrance."
Spidey gave an angry start. "What do you mean by that?"
"You serve me in many ways you've never even realized. A large part of my income comes from people who pay me for protection from you." He was reaching for the telephone on his desk, knowing that the push of a button would summon reinforcements to deal with his unwelcome guest, when a red-gloved hand slammed down on the receiver.
"Really? Tell me more. But keep your hands to yourself."
Kingpin smiled benignly, as though he was trying to explain politics to a precocious six-year-old. "You also act as an evolutionary force to help weed out the minor criminals," he said, moving toward the book-case and the emergency exit concealed behind it. "The survivors often find places within my organization." He was about to reach for the book that would trigger the hidden door when Spiderman touched lightly down before him, blocking his path.
"You think you have all the answers, don't you?"
"Of course," Kingpin rejoined, hiding his anger at being thwarted. "Do you realize that every time you save the city from a super menace, you're actually helping me, by allowing the normal business of crime to continue? You're aiding the flow of money into my pockets!"
"Cut it out, Kingpin!"
"Don't feel bad, Spider-Man. I'm sure I also serve some of your needs... though I can't even guess at them. You and I have a much closer relationship than you could ever imagine!"
"Well, don't hire the band and photographer yet, chubby!"
Kingpin ignored the jibe and focused on the undercurrent of anger in his adversary's tone. Anger made people careless. Careless people made mistakes. He smiled and continued his verbal assault. "Perhaps... it's time I put you on payroll."
That hit a nerve. "Stop it, Kingpin!" Spidey nearly snarled. "You're pushing me too hard!"
"Am I?" The big man peered down his nose at the costumed crime-fighter and smiled. "Such a pity you can't do anything about it. I know you, Spider-Man... Probably even better than you know yourself. You'll never strike me first. So long as I stand here and do nothing."
All of a sudden, Spidey was glad that his mask hid his expression. He had what he'd come for. He didn't need to stand here and endure the crime boss's smug serenity a moment longer. But before he left, he wanted to make sure that Kingpin would see him as a slightly less minor annoyance than usual. "You're..." he forced the word out, much as it galled him, "...right. It was real stupid of me to come here. I should have used my brain instead of acting on instinct." He hesitated. Was he overdoing it? No, Kingpin seemed to be buying it. "I should have realized I couldn't take you on as I would a simple street thug." Almost... Just a bit more... Much as he hated laying it on this thick, it was going to be worth it. Yes, he was being petty. Juvenile, even. But so what? Kingpin needed to be taken down a peg or two, and this was the safest way to do it. Plus, he'd promised Matt he wasn't going to interfere. This didn't count. Much. "The only way to bring down a big leaguer like you is slowly! Subtly! Short-term methods just won't work!"
As Kingpin turned to face the window, Spidey made his move, taking advantage of the creak of the floor and the noise of the pane sliding back to mask his actions. Sounding bored, Kingpin opened the window wider, saying, "This has all been rather enlightening, Spider-Man, but I think you should go now. You've already wasted enough of my valuable time."
Spider-Man took a deep breath and let it out. "You're real good at manipulating people, Kingpin," he said, "but you're not nearly as powerful or invulnerable as you may think. Someday, you'll make a mistake. I'll be waiting!" He swung out the open window, knowing that if Kingpin spotted him watching, he'd know something was up. He wished he had Matt's ears, just this once, just so he could hear what was coming next.
In his office, still smarting from the encounter, Wilson Fisk sat down in his chair—and promptly discovered that Spider-Man had left him a parting gift on its seat. Webbing. He was glued to the chair until the cursed stuff dissolved. Kingpin scowled and slammed his hand down on the intercom button. Instantly, his secretary's voice came on the line.
"Yes, Mr. Fisk?"
He forced himself to speak calmly. "I do not wish to be disturbed for the next two hours. Keep everyone away from this office... under penalty of death!"
He barely heard the acknowledgement. Spider-Man would pay for this humiliation. It was only a matter of time.
When Spidey returned to the clinic, it was to find Matt and Foggy bent over in deep discussion. They stopped as he entered.
"Okay," Foggy said slowly. "It doesn't look good, but I guess you already know that much."
"That being said," Matt chimed in, "I wouldn't give up quite yet." He beckoned Spider-Man closer. "Grab a chair. From one of the other rooms if you have to. This is going to take a while."
Spidey set a small paper bag down on the empty hospital cot and leaped lightly to the ceiling and squatted upside-down. "I'm good," he said.
"Okay." Matt nodded to Foggy.
"I'm willing to call Sharon Banks," Foggy said. "For the record, if she's anything like the way she was when Matt and I knew her in law school, your friend is in good hands. Now, we've never gone up against her in court, so I can't tell you what she's like today, but what was your impression?"
Spidey shrugged. "I don't know. She seemed excited to take the case, though I don't know if it's because she believes Flash is innocent or she's hoping to cash in on the publicity, or what."
"All right." Matt sighed. "Before Foggy makes that call, though, we might have a bit of a snag."
Spidey tilted his head. "Another one?"
Matt's lips twitched. "Spider-Man, you've been extremely... open with me about your friend, which I appreciate. But I suspect that part of the reason you were so open is because this isn't the first time. Bluntly put, I know who you are under that mask, and I suspect that some of what you told me earlier would be material that Spider-Man would not be privy to."
Foggy nodded apologetically. "And since Matt tells me that you've already spoken to her in your civilian identity, it is very possible that when I approach her, she'll let that name slip. If she does, of course, I'll keep your secret, but I get that just my knowing it might be a problem for you."
There was a long silence. Spidey broke it. "I know all about 'innocent until proven guilty'. I do. To save my friend's life—and let's not kid ourselves; if he's found guilty, he'll be facing years in prison—"
"If he gets the maximum," Foggy interjected.
"Fine. If I knew Flash wasn't guilty and this was the only way to get him off, I'd tell you. If I had to, I'd tell Banks. But I don't know. And I'm not sure I'm ready to unmask to get a guy who's been trying to punch my ticket for the last few months off the hook." He shook his head. "I... I'm sorry."
Foggy shook his head. "Don't be. Once that kind of information is out there... there's no taking it back. And after what Matt's been going through, I don't think either of us can blame you. But it is going to make things harder." He sighed. "All right. Let's go over this again. And this time, I want you to take out anything written here that Spider-Man wouldn't know. Also, before I contact Banks, I want you to encourage her to interview other people who know Thompson—if she hasn't already. The more people she talks to before I try to get involved, the less likely I am to figure out which one of them's you. Just... please make sure that Banks gets the rest of the information—the stuff we're crossing out now—from your alter ego. Call Banks; tell her you thought of something that might be helpful and... I'll try not make connections you don't want me to if she should mention your other name to me when we review the data. Always assuming she's willing to have me assisting."
"I won't have to testify, will I?"
Foggy gave him a tired smile. "For which side, Spidey? If you're this ambivalent when you're trying to get your friend some help, I don't think we're going to want you on the stand." In an undertone, he added, "And good luck serving you with a subpoena."
Matt cleared his throat. "I do have some ideas for you if you were planning to do a little investigating of your own."
"No offense, Matt," Spidey replied, "but I think I can figure out who to talk to."
"Yes, but do you know what to ask them? More to the point," he continued seriously, "do you know what kind of evidence is admissible in court and what kind isn't?"
Spider-Man was silent.
"Look," Foggy said, "you want our help? You've got it. But now that you've got it, you need to know how to conduct yourself so as not to accidentally sabotage the case."
Spidey dropped lightly to the floor. "I'm going to grab a chair from another room," he mumbled.
"Do you need to take notes?" Foggy asked.
"I'll grab a pen and paper, too."
It wasn't until they'd gone over everything multiple times that Spidey finally remembered to tell Matt and Foggy about his meeting with the Kingpin. Both men instantly became more serious.
"Can we trust him?" Foggy finally asked.
Matt nodded slowly. "I think so. Kingpin doesn't lie. He chooses his words carefully. Very carefully. If he tells you that you can sleep safely in your bed at night, he's not ruling out a drive-by shooting."
"He didn't deny that his goons were chasing you," Spidey pointed out. "He just didn't admit it either."
"Wish I had him on the stand," Foggy muttered. "No judge would stand for that kind of garbage."
"Unless Kingpin had some hold on him," Matt pointed out. "Remember Manolis?"
Foggy nodded, but Spider-Man sat bolt upright. "Manolis?" he repeated. "I've heard that name before. Where...? Oh, yeah... yeah!" He stopped and looked at Foggy. "Um... you know how you said you'd try not to pry into my identity? I... this kind of touches on that."
Matt let out a breath. "Would you mind, Foggy?"
"Nah," Foggy replied, getting up. "I could use a coffee right about now. And I think I saw some Twinkies in the vending machine," he added, rubbing his back.
"Sorry," Spidey said as Foggy passed by.
As Foggy closed the door behind him, Spidey sighed. "I hated to do that."
"No, it's all right. So... Manolis?"
Spidey nodded. "I was waiting to drop some photos off at the Bugle. Jonah's door was closed, but the guy doesn't know the meaning of the words 'indoor voice'. Uh... J. Jonah Jameson."
"I know who he is," Matt replied. "Go on."
"Okay. Ben Urich was in there with him. It was..." he snapped his fingers. "That was when I found out about your home!" Then chastened, he looked down. "Sorry."
Matt shook his head. "Go on."
"Okay. Ben was arguing with Jonah. I mean, it happens; Ben's one of the few people at the Bugle who aren't afraid to argue with him. He was insisting on covering the story—your story; either for the Bugle or some other paper. He mentioned your house then... I'm sorry; I should have put things together. But he also said that he was going to talk to Manolis and see if he could get some insights." He shook his head. "I am such an idiot."
"It seems to be going around," Matt said quietly. "Manolis was the prosecution's star witness at my grand jury hearing." He took another few minutes to bring Spider-Man up to date. When he was finished, the web-slinger shook his head.
"Want me to talk to Ben for you? Maybe found out something."
Matt considered it. "Better not," he said finally. "Until Kingpin knows I didn't drown in that car, the fewer people that know I'm alive, the better."
"I don't have to mention your name."
Matt shook his head. "Ben's not stupid. The only reason you'd have to be sounding him out on Manolis is if you've been talking to me. He's going to make that connection."
"You're sure you're not just being paranoid? I mean, how's Kingpin even going to find out?"
"He had me under surveillance for weeks. He had Manolis under orders not to talk to Daredevil and to report in if I made contact. If there's a chance that he's still monitoring Manolis to make sure he stays quiet..." He froze. "Keep an eye on Ben. He could be in real trouble."
"Okay," Spidey said dubiously. "Oh. I almost forgot." He walked back to the cot and retrieved the paper bag. "Here's that stuff you asked for."
Matt accepted the bag. "What color dye did you get?"
"Dark brown," Spidey said. "I figured if the clerk started asking questions, I could tell them that I'd just found a few gray hairs and wanted to touch them up."
"I hadn't realized your hair was brown," Matt replied with a faint smile. "And the contacts?"
Matt's smile grew wider. "Just like they used to be."
"You know," Foggy said, later that evening, "I'm not exactly a beautician."
"You'll do fine," Matt reassured him. "Just don't miss any spots."
"Great," Foggy replied. "Just remember, it was your idea."
"What's the next instruction?"
Foggy consulted the paper. "Um... Work mixture gently through hair from roots to ends." He frowned. "I'd better do your eyebrows, too," he said critically. "And I'd go for a really close shave if I were you."
"I've been thinking about growing a beard."
"Think about it all you like," Foggy replied, "But unless you want to keep touching up the roots every day..."
"Not the way this stuff smells," Matt shot back as Foggy massaged the coloring mixture into his scalp with gloved hands.
"When is the nurse coming back?"
Matt tried to lean back into the sink—no easy feat in the straight-backed chair. His ribs still ached, but meditation was helping to manage the pain. "I have no idea. If they say anything, I'll just point out that they want me gone as quickly as possible, this is probably the safest way to facilitate that." He took a breath. "I want you to run an ad in the paper. Tomorrow's, if there's time."
"A new roommate. If you get any phone calls, stall them. Tell them... I don't know. You've already had a fantastic response and you'll call them if the current batch of applicants doesn't pan out."
Foggy frowned. "And I'm doing this because...?"
"Because if Kingpin is still watching you once you return home, we want there to be a simple explanation for a new face in your apartment."
"Got it. I guess you're going to be using an alias?"
Matt frowned. "I guess I'll have to. I hadn't really thought about it."
"Well, start thinking about it. And do not think about pretending to be your own twin brother. I had enough of that garbage the first time."
Matt started to laugh. Then he winced and pressed a hand to his ribcage.
"Well," Foggy said critically, "it's a lot darker than it looked on the package."
Matt nodded, unconcerned. "But other than that?"
"It'll pass. I'm not so sure about the contacts, though."
Matt frowned. "Why? They don't look natural enough?"
"No, it's not that." Foggy hesitated. "It's... you need to work on establishing eye contact. If that's even possible for you to fake. Half the time, you already forget to face people when you're talking to them, but when you're not trying to act like you can see, people tend to let it slide. If you're trying to pass, on the other hand..."
"I'll work on it." He frowned.
"Spider-Man," Matt said slowly. "Something's happened."
"And how do you know..." Foggy's voice trailed off as Spider-Man entered the room, his head hanging low and his shoulders slumped.
"Spider-Man?" Matt asked. "What's wrong?"
The web-slinger hesitated. "I went to look for Ben, like you asked me to. Um... Merry Christmas, by the way. As of about two hours ago."
Foggy's eyebrows shot up. "Wow. How did that slip my mind?"
"Other things on it," Matt pointed out. He nodded to Spidey to continue.
"I couldn't find him or Manolis anywhere. And while I was looking for him, I ran into the usual... stuff I find when I go out at night. I might have gotten a little side-tracked. Anyway, about a half hour ago, I was in Kips Bay, passing Bellevue, when I saw a bunch of EMTs in the parking lot. They were bending over a couple of people. Ben was one of them. He was hurt and he seemed... I guess 'shell-shocked' would be a good way to put it. One of the paramedics was talking to him. But the other guy..."
Spidey shook his head. "They were loading him onto a backboard. He wasn't conscious. I'm not sure he was breathing. But I heard his name when one of the EMTs read it off of his ID." He took another breath. "It was Manolis."