Ultimate One Universe - Genesis


It’s fourteen whole hours before Ted finally wakes up. When he does I’m sat beside him, his hand in mine, to see his eyes open for the first time since he’d gone to sleep without me there. He smiles broadly at me and tries to speak, only for his voice to croak under the strain, and I hand him a plastic cup of water that he drinks down greedily with a groan.

“So I guess we have a lot to talk about.”

I smile at the understatement.

“Where do I begin?” I ask myself out loud. “The procedure I underwent here couldn’t save my vision but it did something else. Whatever was in the formula that Peter came up with managed to amplify my other senses to a point that it was almost as good as having my vision back. I even developed a sort of radar sense that helps me to “see” things that I couldn’t see before.”

Ted smiled mischievously and raised two fingers in the air.

“How many fingers am I holding up?”


He put another finger up.


He took two down.


Ted let out a little groan that was half impressed and half curious.

“I guess you’re telling the truth.”

“Yeah, about that,” I begin with a smirk. “My other senses are amplified so much now that I can tell when other people are lying. So next time I come home and the half packet of Oreos I left in the kitchen cupboard has disappeared without explanation, don’t even bother lying to me.”

“How many times do I have to tell you? You must have misplaced those. You know I don’t even like Oreos.”

His pulse picks up slightly and I smile knowingly and continue to explain.

“When the extent of my abilities became clear Peter tried to convince me to use them for good and to help people, I turned him down given the amount of damage my first attempt at playing vigilante outside Josie’s that night had caused everyone. Then the whole thing with Austin happened and I needed some way to make sure he would be safe on the inside. There was no way to make sure of that whilst Grotto and Turk were on the street. Someone needed to take them down and let people know that Austin was protected.”

I stop for a few moments to make sure that Ted is still with me and he nods reassuringly as if to urge me to keep talking. It feels weird saying all of this out loud for the first time. I guess it hadn’t really occurred to me how unlikely it all was until I heard it said out loud.

“After I took Turk down they sent an assassin after me by the name of Floyd Lawton, better known as Deadshot. According to the news, the guy’s as deadly a shot as there is on Earth. He must have followed me home from the docks the night I got Turk, I was careless and came straight home instead of coming straight here to Peter’s lab afterwards like I usually do.”

“Did you get him?” Ted asked cautiously. “Did you get Deadshot?”

I shake my head. Lawton was still out there somewhere and I’d probably spend the rest of my life looking over my shoulder for him. Rather that than spend it walking around knowing I’d murdered a man to save my own reputation. The most I’d thought about it since last night the more convinced I was that Cross was in the wrong.

“He was a lot closer to getting me than I was to getting him, I’m just pleased to be sitting here to be honest with you. Staring down those turrets of his I was pretty damn certain I wouldn’t be getting out of there alive. Yet here I am.”

“You could have chosen a better name,” Ted said with a smile. “Daredevil? Really? That’s the best you could come up with?”

“Turk called me it that day at the gym.”

“Kid by the name of Waid used to beat the snot out of me and call me “piss-pants” in elementary school. You don’t see me going around calling myself it.”

I laugh at Ted’s honesty and shrug my shoulders. It felt even better than I thought it would to get that all of my chest. For the first time in a long time I didn’t feel slightly guilty in Ted’s presence. I’d found it harder to lie to him every day than I had anyone else. He’d cooked for me, washed my clothes, and I couldn’t help but feel slightly exploitative throughout.

“How much did you know?”

“I thought I was going mad at first. You were covered in bruises from head to toe, there’d be banging coming from your room and across the roof in the middle of the night, and sometimes it seemed like you knew too much. You’d reach for coffee and grab the salt without even having to fumble for it. Little things, things that on their own wouldn’t add up to much.”

Ted smiles wryly in my direction.

“And then I stumbled on the costume you kept hidden in the attic.”

“Oh,” I say as I feel the blood rushing to my cheeks. “You found that?”

“I heard footsteps up there in the middle of the night, figured it was a trapped animal or something,” Ted laughed. “Imagine my shock. I was worried that maybe you were putting the whole blindness thing on to deal with the trauma of what happened. At least I know I’ve not been playing along all this time for nothing.”

“I hope you know I didn’t hide this all from you out of disrespect or lack of trust or anything. I wanted to tell you, but Peter said it wasn’t a good idea and I’d end up putting you in danger if I did.”

“Where the hell is Peter? I owe him my life from the sounds of things. A thank you is probably in order.”

“We had a misunderstanding,” I mutter with a grimace. “After my run in with Deadshot, Peter suggested that I track him down again and put an end to him permanently this time in order to protect our identities. I wasn’t prepared to do that. Needless to say he didn’t take too kindly to that, we haven’t spoken since, and something tells me we won’t be speaking again anytime soon.”

“I understand that Cross has put an awful lot on the line for you but no one has the right to ask that of you, regardless of the circumstance. You made the right choice.”

I explain to Ted that I’m done being Daredevil and he’s as supportive of that as he is of my decision not to kill Floyd Lawton. He knows what that means for the both of us: Lawton could come back at any time and if he happened to come back when I wasn’t around Ted would be a sitting duck. Ted laughed and pointed at the patched up graze on his neck as if to signify that he’d seen Deadshot off once and he could see him off again.

When I suggest that if Deadshot were to give my identity up to the press I’d probably be arrested, Ted made a point that hadn’t occurred to me before: I was still legally blind. The courts would have an awfully fun time proving a blind man also happened to be a masked vigilante that leapt from the rooftops at night. He assures me I’d done enough for Austin in getting Grotto and Turk off the streets, crippling a large part Slaughter’s operation in doing so, and he was sure that Austin would be safe. I smile.

My mind drifts back to my conversation with Cross last night and what I’d said about telling Ted I loved him. Though I’d been adamant last night that I’d tell him, now that he was awake the prospect of telling him made me nervous. I wasn’t sure why and I knew that if there was ever a time that it was acceptable, it was when both of you had survived a near-death experience. Finally the words came tumbling out.

“I love you.”

I lean across Ted’s hospital bed and place my arms around him. I can tell from the sharp inhalation of breath he takes after I say it that he’s shocked, but he rubs me on the back gently and squeezes me tight.

“I love you too, kid.”

I let go of him and sit back in my seat.

“Now where the hell are those nurses? I want someone in a short skirt to feed me tapioca pudding and, no offense, I don’t want it to be you.”

The four Terrans who were quite literally lost in space attacked the Kree ship as if they had been warriors bred for the work. Sue would have been taken aback by the situation if she wasn't in the same zone the other three seemed to be in as well. She watched as Reed rubber banded two enemies towards Ben, who spiked them like a monstrous beach volleyball player. Johnny was laying down suppressive fire, quite literally, all around them. Sue did her part throwing up forcefields to both protect her friends and confound the enemy. Star-Lord, in the meantime, covered their six. He was an exceptional shot, which was surprising considering how he drank.

"We have to move if we don't want to get pinned down here!" Quill yelled to them.

"You shoulda said so earlier!" Ben growled and took off on a rumbling gait. It was odd to see him run in this state, but at the same time it was a thing of devastating beauty. He had been a fullback during college, but was forced to stop playing due to injury. But with his powers, it reminded Sue of the strong running style he had back in the day. He tore through the ranks of Kree, and cleared a path down the corridor.

"Well that was effective," Reed commented.

"Are you kidding, that was badass!" Johnny exclaimed.

"I agree with the kid," Quill nodded.

"Can we keep moving?" Sue shook her head. Star-lord directed them down a hall before hotwiring a door to close behind them.

"That should keep them," he said before heading on.

"Oh this is so Star Wars."

"Johnny, again, shut up."

"Quill," Sue said coming up beside him. He jumped, and she realized she was still cloaked. "Sorry. But what is this weapon we're retrieving?"

"Don't know, don't care," he shrugged. "Just know it'll get us paid."

"How reassuring," she frowned. But she followed the rogue with the rest of her friends in tow. They eventually made their way to the location of the weapon, or at least where Quill thought it was. But as he got to work unlocking the door, Sue could hear the sound of approaching troops. "You might want to hurry up, Quill. We're gonna have company."

Without taking his hands off the wiring beneath the door controls, Star-Lord glanced over his shoulder, suggesting, "Hey, if you know how to decrypt military-grade Kree security protocols, be my guest." Quill touched two loose wires together, generating a large spark which singed his finger through his gloves. "Ow!" he exclaimed as he shook his still-stinging hand. With a shake of his head, he redoubled his efforts at unlocking the door.

"So, let me get this straight," Johnny began, "you don't even know what kind of weapon we're stealing, and we're just supposed to hand it over to a guy you yourself described as a 'tyrant?'"

"I believe the word he used was 'despot,'" Reed corrected.

"Either way, kid's gotta point."

"Kanjar may be an a**hole, but he's at least a small-minded a**hole," Quill argued. "We give him this weapon, and sure, he might use it to subjugate that little backwater system of his. But the Kree?" He shook his head. "If this weapon's so damn valuable, you do not want it in the hands of the Kree. They won't just use it to conquer a system... They'll conquer the whole damn galaxy."

With another spark, the door to the Kree armory popped open. And not a moment too soon - as another Kree battalion came screaming around the corner. Lightning quick, Star-Lord drew his quad-blaster and fired a single shot. It connected with a blast door control panel down the hall, sealing off the Kree in their tracks. Smiling beneath his helmet, Star-Lord gave the blaster a quick spin before holstering it again.

"Show-off," Johnny grumbled jealously.

Star-Lord led the team into the armory. They passed crate after crate, each undoubtedly containing some terrible weapon or deadly device. Quill could only imagine how much the entire haul would net him on the black market, assuming he had the time - or back-up - to cart it all out of here. Unfortunately, that wasn't a luxury he had, so he remained focused on the mission. Eventually, they came upon the crate highlighted in Quill's visor.

Though nondescript, the metal box containing their prize was quite large - nearly as tall as Quill himself. Somehow, it ended up being even heavier than it looked: the combined efforts of Star-Lord, Reed, and Johnny could hardly budge it. The three turned to Ben, who frowned. "Really?" As he lifted the crate up onto his shoulder, he grunted, "Buncha babies."

"Now what?"

"Now, we make our exit," Quill answered. He pressed a button concealed beneath his sleeve. "Luckily, our ride's just arrived. Hold your breaths." Before the Terrans could think to ask what Star-Lord meant, a large explosion rocked the Kree facility. The Milano's turbolasers punched a hole through the wall just outside the armory. All the air began rushing out of the room into the vacuum of space. The five were immediately sucked into space, and from there into the Milano's waiting tractor beam. Moments later, they collapsed onto the floor of the ship's cargo bay. Quill began laughing hysterically.

"How about a little warning next time, Quill?!" Sue asked, angry and short of breath.

"I did warn you. Kinda," he insisted as he removed his helmet. "Come on, you gotta admit that was at least a little fun!"
"How about a little warning next time, Quill?!" Sue asked, angry and short of breath.

"I did warn you. Kinda," he insisted as he removed his helmet. "Come on, you gotta admit that was at least a little fun!"

As the Milano's engines fired up and the ship escaped from the Kree facility, the group regained their composure.

"Yes, my definition of fun is always being sucked out into the vacuum of space to have my entire body explode," Sue coughed through the pain. "You sure know how to show a girl a good time. You know I could have formed a bubble around us to trap the air in!"

"Yea, but then the story wouldn't be nearly as cool when I tell it to some chick in the bar!" He laughed before his face dropped. "Hey! What are you doing!?"

Sue turned to find Ben attempting to rip apart the box containing the weapon they had just stolen.

"I'm finding out what the hell we almost got killed for," Ben grumbled. "You wanna stop me?"

"The deal was he wanted the container unopened!" Quill begged with the transformed pilot. "We won't get the money!"

"We'll lie and say the crate was damaged in the fighting," Johnny shrugged. "If this wackjob wants the weapon as bad as you say, he'll pay us still."

"Not a bad idea, Johnny," Reed smiled.

"I have my moments."

Quill watched in horror as Ben began to peel back the container's shell. From inside, a fine mist escaped, and began to pool on the floor of the Milano's cargo bay. As the mist began to disipate, Ben gasped and turned to Quill with rage in his eyes. Sue approached the crate and looked inside.

What she found was...a person.

"Quill...what the hell is this?"
As the Milano's engines fired up and the ship escaped from the Kree facility, the group regained their composure.

"Yes, my definition of fun is always being sucked out into the vacuum of space to have my entire body explode," Sue coughed through the pain. "You sure know how to show a girl a good time. You know I could have formed a bubble around us to trap the air in!"

"Yea, but then the story wouldn't be nearly as cool when I tell it to some chick in the bar!" He laughed before his face dropped. "Hey! What are you doing!?"

Sue turned to find Ben attempting to rip apart the box containing the weapon they had just stolen.

"I'm finding out what the hell we almost got killed for," Ben grumbled. "You wanna stop me?"

"The deal was he wanted the container unopened!" Quill begged with the transformed pilot. "We won't get the money!"

"We'll lie and say the crate was damaged in the fighting," Johnny shrugged. "If this wackjob wants the weapon as bad as you say, he'll pay us still."

"Not a bad idea, Johnny," Reed smiled.

"I have my moments."

Quill watched in horror as Ben began to peel back the container's shell. From inside, a fine mist escaped, and began to pool on the floor of the Milano's cargo bay. As the mist began to disipate, Ben gasped and turned to Quill with rage in his eyes. Sue approached the crate and looked inside.

What she found was...a person.

"Quill...what the hell is this?"
For all his flaws, Peter Quill could read a room. In a galaxy where his species afforded him no great advantages in size, strength, or speed, his life often depended on the ability to recognize a bad situation half a second quicker than most. So as soon as he saw the man inside the crate - even before Sue opened her mouth to question him - he knew he'd have to act quickly before things got out of hand. The next words out of his mouth could very well determine how the next few moments would go.

"I know you all have a very low opinion of me, but you can't honestly believe I'd have anything to do with this job if I knew about this." He hoped the calmness in his voice would convey his sincerity.

"You were very defensive about us opening the crate," Reed countered.

Johnny nodded. "Yeah! Like you knew you had something to hide!"

"I was thinking about the money!" Quill insisted. "Think what you will about me and my profession, but I'm no slaver." He looked to Sue and bit his lip. "Is he... ?"

"Alive?" she answered. She knelt down next to the crate and pressed a finger to the man's throat. With a frown, she said, "Barely, but he does have a pulse."

"What does that say?" Reed asked with a nod to the writing on the side of the crate.

"Looks like... 'Korvac?'" He turned to Quill, as though expecting an explanation.

Quill shook his head. "It isn't registering with my translator. Might be a name?"

"Come on! Enough of this!" Ben barked, grinding his stony fists together. "Are we really going to take the word of a career criminal? He dragged us halfway across the galaxy to kidnap someone!" Ben took a lumbering step forward.

Instinctively, Quill felt a hand slip down to his belt, his fingers brushing against the handle of one of his quad-blasters. The situation was turning. But before anyone else could make a comment, the Milano rocked with the sound of laser fire. Sirens began to blare. "The Kree," Quill said. "They must've send warbirds after us." He turned to Sue. "Get our new friend here down to the medbay, third door on your left!" Then, he clapped Johnny on the shoulder. "Time to see if you're all talk, kid. Get to the laser turret and light 'em up." Finally, he looked at Ben. "Strangle me later if you want, but I'm getting us out of here in one piece."

Begrudgingly, Ben stepped aside. Quill raced past him on his way to the bridge.

Much to Dr. Elias' chagrin, I have to leave for work before we can continue testing his "Speed Force" theory. Frankly, I'm not sure I believe a word of it yet, but he is the scientist and I certainly have no better explanation for this morning's strange occurrences. I'd be lying if I said that the curiosity wasn't eating at me, too, but I'll be a dead man if I'm late to work... again... and with no fingerprints to boot. I'm already thinking up my apology to Director Singh when I arrive at the precinct. There, I'm surprised to see Iris, of all people, standing outside with a cup of coffee in each hand. She smiles upon seeing me and extends one of the cups.

Puzzled, I accept the coffee and ask, "Why are you so... chipper?"

"Can't I just be excited to see my friend?" Iris answers with an innocuous tone and mischievous eyes. When she can see I'm not buying it, she drops the act. "Alright, look, I'm here for work. I heard about the explosion last night at STAR Labs."

Though I've started up the steps towards the precinct, the mention of STAR stops me in my tracks. It would be impossible for Iris to know the truth, of course. Dr. Elias made sure my involvement was kept completely off the record. Still, I'm not sure where she could be going with this.

"I know you're working on a case," she continues as she hurries up the steps after me. "You wouldn't stop texting me about your 'field trip' down there the other day. I was just wondering if you knew of any connection between the murder of that scientist and the explosion?"

At that, I have to shake my head. "Come on, Iris. You know how this works. Even if I knew anything, I couldn't tell you. It's an ongoing investigation," I remind her.

"That didn't sound like a denial."

I have to give Iris credit. When she really wants something, she's like a dog with a bone. She won't stop until she gets it. "It was neither a denial nor a confirmation. Director Singh is very clear about his policy on talking to the press. We'd be talking Game of Thrones levels of punishment."

Iris rushes ahead of me and grabs the door. "I could protect your identity," she assures me. "Call you an 'anonymous source' inside the department. Singh would never have to know it was you." As I head inside, she persists. "Please, Barry. I'm withering on the vine here. This is my chance to break a story - a real story - before anyone else!"

I sigh. Of course I want to help Iris. She's my friend, and I want to see her succeed. But even if it wasn't for the fact that I shouldn't be talking about an active murder investigation, I still couldn't tell her what was going on at STAR Labs - in part because I don't honestly know. "Iris, if I could give you anything, I would. But I promise you: there's nothing to give. I know you want your big story, but this isn't it." I look her in the eyes. "Okay?"

She frowns, but I can tell she's throwing in the towel. "Okay. But if and when there is a story..."

"You'll be the first to--- oof!" I'm interrupted by something slamming into me. As I look down, I see Patty Spivot locking me in a hug so constricting that it would make a python jealous. I let out another grunt as she tightens her grip, the flowery scent of her shampoo overwhelming me as she squeezes. Iris gives me a curious grin as she waves goodbye. Squirming, I say, "Uh... good to see you, too, Patty."

"I was so worried!" she declares in a muffled voice. Finally, she relents and lets me catch my breath, but she keeps a hand gripped to either of my shoulders. I can see genuine concern in her eyes. "I saw the news this morning about the particle accelerator explosion, and then I got to work and you weren't here, and then Forrest said that Singh sent you back to STAR Labs late last night, and... !"

For a moment, I'm honestly touched. I knew Patty considered me a friend - and I feel the same for her, in spite of her quirks - but I never imagined she could be so concerned for my safety. And, of course, she has every right to be, seeing as I was inside that explosion. So I feel extremely guilty as I force a smile and say, "Oh! No, no... I, uh, finished up long before any of that went down. Don't worry."

Patty exhales. "Really? Oh, thank God." She releases her death grip on my shoulders and rubs her arms anxiously. "I don't know what I would've done if something had happened to you! I mean, not that I... or that you... what I mean to say is, uh, that it just wouldn't have been the same here. If you were gone, I mean." Her cheeks flush as she stumbles over her words, and it's actually really cute. Evidently she can see that on my face because she's avoiding eye contact now. "Well, better run! Glad you're okay." She gives me another quick hug before racing off.

No sooner have I gotten to my desk and set down my coffee when I spot Director Singh stomping across the Crime Lab. He doesn't seem to spot me, but I figure that I might as well tear off this bandaid rather than have it hanging over my head all day. I clear my throat and shuffle over to him, falling in at his side. "Director? I, uh, have something to tell you about those new fingerprints you ordered..."

"Save it, Allen," Singh replies without looking at me. "For once, your incompetence isn't going to cost this department a chance at closing a case." He brandishes the file in his hand. "We found the murder weapon."

Naturally, I'm taken aback. "Really? When?"

"Just this morning. We found it in the central breaker room. We think the perp dropped it last night when he was sabotaging the power supply, probably in an attempt to cover up his crime."

"You think the murderer was responsible for the particle accelerator explosion?" Dr. Elias did say that he thought somebody was messing with the power right before the lightning bolt struck. It would make sense if he was trying to destroy any evidence left behind in Dr. Frank's lab. "Were you able to lift any prints off the murder weapon?"

Singh slaps the file into my chest. Letting me open it, he explains, "Already done." There's a photograph of the weapon in question on top, a bloodstained pewter paperweight in the shape of a globe. As I push the picture aside, I find a STAR Labs employee reference file. "Maxwell Dillon," Director Singh announces. "He was studying to be an engineer until an altercation with a colleague got him expelled from Keystone University. Up until a few days ago, he was working as a janitor at STAR Labs. According to his supervisor, he hasn't shown up for his last two shifts." Singh stops in front of the door to his office and takes the file back from me. "The judge just issued my arrest warrant, and I've got a pair of uniforms headed to his apartment now."

* * *

Maxwell Dillon sits at his computer desk, his foot tapping impatiently as he keeps a phone pressed to his ear. He flexes the fingers on his other hand. Finally, the holding music stops, and the phone clicks. Before the person on the other end of the line can say a word, Max says, "Listen to me! I'm tired of being jerked around here. I want to talk to Mr. Stagg! You tell him it's Max Dillon calling, and you tell him that if he doesn't come on the line in five minutes, I'm going to f***ing Newsweek with everything I know! You got that?!"

After a protracted silence, a voice says, "Please hold."

Another moment of waiting passes, and then the line clicks again. "Maxwell. You shouldn't be calling here."

"I'm sorry, Mr. Stagg, but I didn't know who else to call," Max replies, his voice nearly cracking. He buries his head beneath his hands and pulls at his hair. Exhaling, he holds up his phone again and continues, "It's all spiraling out of control, and I don't know what to do. I didn't mean to hurt the old man! I tried to reason with him, but he wouldn't listen! He just kept making threats, and I knew I couldn't let him expose us. Not after we'd come so far!"

"We can't be talking about this," Stagg answers in monotone.

"Please! Don't hang up," Max pleads. His lip begins to quiver, and he slams his eyes shut. After a moment, he finds his voice. "Something happened last night."

"I'm well aware," Stagg says, annoyed. "It's all over the news. You've managed to make an even bigger mess out of all this."

"Not that! Something else happened. To me. There was a flash of light, and then..." Max flexes his fingers again. Arcs of electricity leap from fingertip to fingertip. Max closes his fist. "I don't understand what's happening! You need to take me in. You need to help me figure this out!"

"Out of the question. I'm neck deep in all of this as is. I can't risk any more just because you can't handle your business!"

Tears roll down Max's cheeks. "Please, Mr. Stagg! No one else can help me. I just need to know... what's wrong with me..."

"I'm sorry, Maxwell. Perhaps I made a mistake ever trusting you. We won't be speaking again."

"You don't want to do that!" Max barks into the phone. "I know things. Things about you. About your business. If the police find me, who will protect your secrets then?"

"Are you threatening me, you insignificant worm?" Stagg growls. "Remember who you're talking to! I found you, I made you! And I can unmake you just as easily! So don't dare to presume you can speak to me that way, or I'll--"

There's a banging at Max's door, followed by, "Police! Open the door!" Max's head jolts upright suddenly, and sparks sizzle from his fist.

"-- are you listening to me, you little--?"

"They're here!" Max half-whispers into the phone. The banging on the front door continues. "What do I do?!" The phone clicks as Stagg disconnects. Max lets the phone fall to the floor as he spins in his chair. He glances left and right, looking for some avenue of escape, but none presents itself. Slowly, he stands as the police outside begin to ram the door down...

Deadshot was hurt. When he’d tackled Daredevil out of that window he had no idea whether his armour would protect him from the fall. All he knew was that he was a professional and he’d been paid to wipe Daredevil out, so that was what he was going to do. There were worse things in the world than dying with your reputation intact and one of them was living with your reputation in tatters. In the game that Floyd Lawton was in reputation meant everything. That’s why despite the fact he was feverish with pain and could barely walk he was already planning on tracking Daredevil down and finishing what he had started.

This time it would be a little harder since the police were actively looking for him. The first time Lawton had been able to sneak into the city and go about his business without overweight men in blue uniforms slowing him down. Now he didn’t have that luxury and, especially given the state he was in, he’d have to be more careful. He’d done his best to save what he could of the fingers on his right hand that were still partially intact and bandaged and stitched up those that he couldn’t save. It wouldn’t make a difference: he was good enough with one hand to take Daredevil down.

The empty studio apartment that Deadshot had taken refuge in was one of dozens that he used as safe houses whilst on business in New York. They were all purchased in fake names using cash, as was par for the course in Lawton’s profession. Sat in a foldout chair in the centre of the room his eyes were fixed on a small television. It was the only other piece of furniture in the apartment apart from a small table beside him. On the screen the scenes from the police shooting from earlier in the morning flashed by: bodies covered by sheets, crying relatives, the whole works.

“So much for protect and serve,” Lawton said with a pained smile. “At least the pigs are sticking to shooting one another for once. That makes a change.”

Lawton’s left hand shakes somewhat as he reaches for the ointment on the small table next to him and begins to rub it into a deep gash on his leg that he’d sustained during the fall. He was hurting still. He wasn’t sure that he’d even been in this much pain before but he knew that he couldn’t leave New York until Daredevil was in the ground. No one had ever made him miss before. Lawton thought through every single misplaced shot over and over again attempting to work out how exactly he could have missed. It made no sense: the shots were perfect and ought to have hit their target.

The sound of a cell phone ringing from the table next to him tears through his train of thought and Lawton’s glazed over eyes regain some clearness. He flicks the old cell phone open and presses it against his ear without a second of hesitation. There was only one person that could be calling.


Floyd rubs his moustache with his bandaged right hand, wincing slightly as it makes contact with his face and draws his hand back.

“<You’ll forgive my calling unannounced but given that I’m in the grips of a particularly nasty shock it seemed appropriate, Mr. Lawton. Here I am trying to enjoy a nice lamb shank, cooked to perfection, with some broccoli and new potatoes with mint when an associate of mine brings me some rather frightful news. According to my associate Daredevil is still alive.>”

Lawton goes to speak but Eric Slaughter’s continues.

“<So being the inquisitive individual that I am I thumbed my way through today’s copy of The New York Post to a thrilling piece written by an esteemed journalist by the name of Ben Urich. Do you know what Mr. Urich has to say? Apparently an assassin by the name of Deadshot was involved in a conflict with Daredevil yesterday afternoon and, and these are Mr. Urich’s words here, “Daredevil appeared to get the better of the altercation, although both men walked away with their lives”. There are even some photographs to go alongside it illustrating that fact, Mr. Lawton.>”

“He was better than I thought he’d be,” Deadshot says, his voice monotone and unemotional. “He made me miss. No one has ever made me miss before.”

“<You can miss a thousand times for all I care,>” Slaughter said with an impatient exhalation. “<All I want is want Daredevil dead. I’m not paying you to bring undue attention to my organisation, Mr. Lawton, and every botched attempt on Daredevil’s life does exactly that. It also undermines consumer confidence. You’ll understand me when I say that I won’t accept another such failure.>”

Deadshot ground his teeth and clenched his fists. No one spoke to him like that, especially not old men who were losing their grip on their criminal empire, but he knew first and foremost that he had a contract to keep. His reputation meant more to him than his pride, so he bit his tongue and responded as cordially as he could bring himself to.

“I understand you perfectly.”

“<Now if you don’t mind I have a meal to finish. Happy hunting, Mr. Lawton, I can only hope that next time we speak will be under happier circumstances. For both of our sakes.>”

As Slaughter hung up, Lawton threw the old phone down on the floor with a grunt. A smile appeared on his face shortly afterwards as he envisaged a day where someone would seek his services out to remove Slaughter and all the pleasure he would take in doing so if that ever came to pass. First though he would find Matt Murdock and he would kill him for making him miss.

No one had seen Daredevil in several days and slowly but surely the criminals of Hell&#8217;s Kitchen had begun to creep out of the woodwork once more. There were even rumours making their way around town that he&#8217;d died of the wounds he&#8217;d sustained in his battle with Deadshot. No one knew for sure, but every criminal within a five mile radius wanted to make sure they were the first off the mark in getting back to business as usual.

Only it wasn&#8217;t business as usual, the streets were even more dangerous for criminals than they had been whilst Daredevil was around. There was a new threat to them, a more pressing one, though they were all unaware as to the danger they were in. That would all change tonight. The whole world would soon learn what happened to criminals in Hell&#8217;s Kitchen once the night was out.

James sat in the car drumming his fingers impatiently as he watched the convenience store. He was no only than twenty and had never done anything like this before, but his friends had assured him that they&#8217;d be in and out in less than thirty seconds. It had been two minutes since they&#8217;d gone inside and he&#8217;d heard nothing. No shouting, no sounds of struggle, and no gunshots. He looked at the watch he&#8217;d wrapped around the steering wheel, like he&#8217;d seen Ryan Gosling do in Drive, and began to consider driving away if his friends weren&#8217;t back soon. Suddenly from inside came several loud bangs and his two friends came staggering out of the store.

&#8220;Move!&#8221; one of his friends shouted to him as they bundled into the vehicle. &#8220;We need to get out of here!&#8221;

As James went to push his foot down on the accelerator the vehicle became enveloped in smoke. For whatever reason James felt his entire body freeze, as if to scared to move, and though his friends were screaming at him from the back of the car to drive he couldn&#8217;t seem to bring himself to put his foot down.

&#8220;Dude! What the hell are you doing?&#8221; his friend shouted as he reached over and hit him on the arm. &#8220;Are you trying to get us caught? Move this damn thing!&#8221;

His lips quivered violently as he attempted to speak to explain that he was too scared to drive. There was something out there in that smoke, something that would get him if he drove into it, and the dread that was washing over him at the thought of having to confront whatever it was had rendered him incapable of even speaking.

And then he saw what it was, or better who it was, that was making him so scared. Slowly the smoke dissipated and in front of the car was stood a man in a dark costume. The costume clung to the man&#8217;s body with only a hooded cape the only piece of loose fabric. Underneath the hood was an oddly reflective mask that resembled a skeleton.

From the back of the car James&#8217; friends came spilling out and tried to run away from the man. He watched them for a moment, tilting his head with bemusement, before looking at James in the driver seat with a smile. Slowly the masked man reached inside and placed his hand around the young man&#8217;s chin and gripped it firmly.

&#8220;You are so very afraid,&#8221; Peter Cross&#8217; voice came from behind the mask. &#8220;And your fear sickens me.&#8221;

With a sickening twist he broke the James&#8217; neck as if it were made out of cardboard and nonchalantly walked on after his friends. Peter&#8217;s cape fluttered in the wind as he walked and he appeared nonplussed at the prospect of the prospect of them escaping. Peter lifted his hand into the air and once more a thick cloud appeared as if out of nowhere. The two young men, by now a good fifty to a hundred meters ahead of Peter, tried to make sense of the cloud and feel their way around with little to no sense of direction. It&#8217;s useless.

Through the smoke Peter Cross steps with his hands calmly at his side. The two men fell compelled to run but their feet seem incapable of taking them anywhere. They look at one another with bemused expressions and try to figure out what&#8217;s happening and brandish the gun in Peter&#8217;s direction as he steps closer to them.

&#8220;Who the hell are you? You&#8217;re not Daredevil.&#8221;

Behind his mask Cross smiles.

&#8220;How perceptive of you. Daredevil is gone and now this area is under my protection. Unfortunately for your friend back there, and soon for the two of you, I take a distinctly dimmer view of people like you.&#8221;

They begin to unload their weapons in Peter&#8217;s direction and are taken aback as the bullets seem to pass through him harmlessly. The masked man in front of them disappears into thin air and suddenly a large shadow looms over the pair of them from behind. Peter&#8217;s hands wrap around the first one&#8217;s neck and he snaps it with ease, before stepping towards the second man, who pleads for his life as he draws closer, and crushing his windpipe in his hand. The man falls to the ground lifelessly and Cross stands over the pair of them triumphant.


The smoke faded he looks up from their bodies and notices that all along the street there were people at the windows above him. They were watching him, some with phones pointed in his direction, others simply with mouths agape. It was much sooner than he&#8217;d hoped for but it seemed that the great unveiling that Peter had hoped to saved for something slightly more elaborate would have to be brought forward.

&#8220;People of Hell&#8217;s Kitchen, your beloved Daredevil has abandoned you. He has decided that Hell&#8217;s Kitchen no longer needs his protection and men like Eric Slaughter ought to go unpunished for their crimes. You deserve a protector that is willing to do what is necessary to keep this community and its people safe from harm. Someone not afraid of taking those decisions.&#8221;

Cross knelt by one of the robber&#8217;s corpses and lifted his head up so that the people in the windows could see.

&#8220;For too long we have lived in fear of the Eric Slaughter&#8217;s of the world,&#8221; Cross boomed. &#8220;The Devil stood against them, made them think twice for a time, but even he bent his knee in the end. Even he lacked the strength to make them pay the ultimate price for their crimes. My knee does not bend so easily and when the time comes I will show Slaughter what true fear looks like.&#8221;

As he slammed the dead man&#8217;s head down on the pavement and scaled the side of the building Cross felt something peculiar happen. From the people in the windows he could feel their terror at the spectacle he&#8217;d caused, but from some he could feel excitement, some hope, and even from others a sense of admiration. There were those that were scared of him but there would always be those that were afraid. It was the old Peter&#8217;s fear that had forced his hand. The new Peter Cross wasn&#8217;t afraid of anything. Fear was his tool and he would use it as a surgeon uses a scalpel to remove the criminals from this city like the tumour they were.

Despite laying in bed practically all weekend, I'm still sore from my fight with Shocker when my alarm starts buzzing on Monday morning. I glare at it ineffectually before rolling over with a groan. I nearly doze off again before Aunt May swings by my door and gives a courtesy knock. If I don't get out of bed, the next one won't be quite as courteous. I may be willing to take on a gauntlet-wearing knucklehead, but even I'm not brave enough to face the wrath of May Parker. As I get my stuff together, I decide to leave my costume here. Spider-Man's earned the day off, I should think.

"Here I thought you were never coming out of that room," Aunt May announces as she hears me plod down the steps. She's laid out a plate of bacon and eggs for me while she prepares her own breakfast.

I snatch up the first piece of bacon eagerly. "I considered it."

"You know," she says over her shoulder, "You still haven't told me how your dance went!"

I freeze midway through chewing my scrambled eggs. The dance. Oh God, that's right. I've been so busy patting myself on the back about my first supervillain bust that I completely forgot that I'd have to face Flash and Liz and everybody else after I stormed out in a huff. You know, usually I like to keep a low profile, fly under the radar. Somehow, I don't think that's going to be possible today. I force myself to swallow so I can answer, "Oh, nothing to tell, really. Thanks for breakfast, Aunt May, but I've gotta run if I'm gonna make the bus!"

When I finally arrive at Midtown, I'm glad that the first face I see is a friendly one. "Hey, Pete," Anya says with a smile as she falls in by my side. "I know it's probably none of my business, but what happened between you and Liz at the dance? One minute you were there, and the next you were gone!"

I sigh. She's probably expecting some glamorous story about how I told off the popular girl, but the truth isn't anywhere near as exciting. Truth be told, I feel sorry for how I handled the situation. But in my defense, I did need to leave to take care of Shocker. "It was a culmination of a lot of different things," I answer cryptically, hoping my vagueness will be interpreted as a sign that I don't care to elaborate. "Honestly, though, I was just having an 'off' night, I guess."

"Oh." Anya doesn't say anything else until we get to my locker, at which point she continues, "Well, you didn't miss much. Hobie was pretty happy with the reception the Hypno-Hustlers got. I was just disappointed you ducked out so early because I was--"

Before Anya can finish, someone brushes past me, nearly pushing me into my locker. I spin around to see a very annoyed Sally Avril. Normally I'd think the push was intentional, but from the fire in her eyes I take it she's just in a sour mood. As she continues down the hallway, other students stop to watch her. Some even snicker.

"What crawled up her butt?"

Anya grins. "Okay, you did miss one thing. Miguel rigged the Homecoming King and Queen voting," she explains. "Sally was named Queen, much to her delight. That is, until they announced the name of her King." She pauses to build the dramatic tension. "Robert Herman."

Robert Herman is - how I can put this nicely? - big-boned. He's actually a pretty cool guy. Got a wicked sense of humor. But he's certainly not the kind of person Sally Avril would ever be associated with. I feel my smile overtake my lips. "Sally had to dance with 'Glob' Herman?" The nickname isn't mine. No, you can thank Midtown's resident Bard, Flash Thompson, for that one. "Oh, the look on her face must've been priceless!"

Anya nods wickedly. "It was. Ask Miguel. I think he got a picture."

I shake my head and laugh as I finish getting what I need from my locker. Sally Avril forced to stand hand-in-hand with Glob Herman, to suffer through the traditional King and Queen first dance under the spotlight. Sometimes, Universe, you really come through on that whole "karma" thing. And I'm sure Herman had a good laugh about it later, too.

"Anyway, like I was saying, I was a little disappointed because--"

I put a hand on Anya's shoulder as I look past her down the hallway. Liz just walked in. "Sorry to interrupt, but can you hold that thought for just one second?" I pick up my backpack and sling it over my shoulder, closing my locker behind me.

"Yeah... sure."

My palms are already sweaty by the time I get to Liz's locker. She doesn't spot me coming, so I clear my throat. "Hey, Liz. Um, got a second to talk?" She turns to me and doesn't seem upset. That's a good start. "Listen, uh, about Friday night... I wanted to apologize for the way I acted. That was totally not cool to bail like that."

That's when Liz does something unexpected. She smiles. Well, half smiles, anyway. "Pete, please. I should be apologizing, too. I didn't mean to treat you that way at all. I just... let Sally get under my skin, and then I wanted Flash to be upset, too, and it was all..." She sighs. "Whatever. The point is, the last thing I would want is for you to believe that I only asked you to the dance to get back at Flash."

I... honestly wasn't expecting that. Is Liz Allen - the most popular girl in school - seriously suggesting that she wanted to go to Homecoming... with me? I press a hand to my face to see if I'm making a doofy smile, but then I realize how doofy that looks, so I try to pass it off as scratching my chin. "Oh. So, uh... we're cool, then?"

Liz's half-smile turns into a full smile. "Yeah," she nods, "we're cool."

That's right, ladies and gents. I, Peter Benjamin Parker, am cool with Liz Allen!

"Listen, the next time your friend's band is playing, shoot me a text," Liz says as she closes her locker. "I'd love to hear them again."

Was that... an invitation to a date? Kinda? Or maybe she really does just want to listen to the Hustlers again. Honestly, I don't know which scenario is more unlikely! (No offense to Hobie, of course.) "Yeah, sure!" I blurt out when I realize it's my turn to say something. "I've got your number, so..." For whatever reason - let's call it nerves - I then pantomime sending a text. Which I follow up with nervous laughter.

Liz just giggles. Which is either a really good sign or a really bad one.

Either way, I'm still a little loopy as I meander back over to Anya. "I expected more yelling," she says.

I bite my lip and shake my head. "Nope. We're cool. We both apologized, and that was that. In fact, she, uh, wants to go see the Hustlers sometime. With me." Saying it out loud doesn't make it feel any more real, but it is.

Anya looks taken aback. "Oh."

Honestly, I have nothing more to say on the matter, either. "Yeah..." After a moment, I clear my throat and say, "But I interrupted you earlier. What were you going to say? Something about being disappointed?"

"You know... I honestly don't remember where I was going with that," she answers, then rather abruptly adds, "Well, I should get to homeroom, then. See you at lunch?" Before I can even answer, she's already started marching down the hallway.

I'm still standing there by myself, basking in the glow of today's wonderful turn of events, when the bell rings, and I'm forced to take off in a sprint for my classroom.

* * *

Chinatown, NY

Two figures, robed in black from head to toe, pad silently across the rooftop. In the distance, the air is filled with the sounds of the city. There's a chill in the air, the first autumnal breeze. At the edge of the rooftop, a third figure stands, unmoving. Still as a statue, the third figure makes no move as the two robed men approach. They come to a stop mere feet away and stand at attention. The third figure lifts her head in acknowledgment of their presence.

"Inform the Demon we have arrived in New York City as planned," she says. "We will draw the target out and collect our sample." She turns and faces the robed men.


"Then, the Spider-Man will perish!"

It had been five days since my showdown with Deadshot, four since I’d decided to give up on being Daredevil, and I’d only started to get used to being plain old Matt Murdock again. For whatever reason it seemed that Lawton hadn’t decided to go public with my identity and that struck me as a sign that I’d be hearing from him again sometime soon. I’d cross that bring at the time. Until then I’d live my life unafraid, as Ted had insisted that I do, hence why I’d met Foggy for a coffee and why Ted had opened the gym this morning like normal. Even with that threat looming over the both of us life had to go on as usual. Because what was the point otherwise?

“First Daredevil disappears, then six police officers are gunned down in the streets, and now this,” Foggy Nelson said with a shake of his head. “Have you seen what they’re calling this new vigilante?”

Foggy threw down his copy of the New York Post on the table in front of me as if to get me to read it. Of all the people I knew Foggy seemed the most oblivious to my lack of sight and though it sometimes resulted in awkwardness there was a part of me that loved him for it.

“Foggy,” I say with a gentle smile as I clink my cane against my red glasses. “Unless that newspaper is going to read itself to me I imagine the answer to your question is going to remain no.”

I can sense his embarrassment as he realizes his mistake and reaches over and picks up the newspaper. With one of his finger he prods the paper’s pages and shakes his head in bemusement.

“Mr. Fear,” Foggy cried. “What kind of name is that? And this guy’s meant to be a good guy or something? He has fear in his name! That makes having “devil” in your name seem innocent.”

In truth it was of no interest to me whatsoever if this “Mr. Fear” guy wanted to step into my shoes now that I was gone. There were metahumans popping up all across the world, not to mention mutants, so it was only a matter of time before someone else showed up on the scene. I couldn’t say that I thought much of the name either but Ted didn’t seem too fond of “Daredevil” either, so maybe I wasn’t in much position to judge the guy on that front.

“I thought you weren’t interested in this type of thing.”

“I am when there’s another madman out there on our streets and this time he’s murdering people. What did I tell you about padded cells? It was only a matter of time before it lead to this. I wouldn’t be surprised if this Mr. Fear guy is the same guy behind Daredevil.”

Given that Daredevil was sitting right in front of you and he has absolutely no idea who this Mr. Fear is or where he came from, there’s not much chance of that. A few seconds after Foggy stops talking the first part of his sentence begins to sink in. Murdering people.

“Wait, what? This guy is killing people?”

“He killed three after an attempted armed robbery last night. The whole thing is on YouTube, Matt, it's all over the news too. Do you live under a rock or something?”

I can feel my heart racing in my chest. Killing criminals had absolutely nothing to do with justice. Even murderers and rapists deserved their day in court like anyone else, let alone robbers. For a second I’m compelled to put the suit back on, but I look down at my arm in its sling, think about that bullet slicing through the side of Ted’s neck, and banish the thought from my mind. The police would have to deal with this one on their own.

“This week I finally figured out how to get toast out of the toaster without burning myself,” I say with a gesture towards my glasses. “I’m sure I’ll get round to relearning how to use a computer and watching viral videos in no time.”

Foggy shrugs and takes a sip of his coffee glumly.

“Do you have headphones? I might as well listen to this video of yours if I’m going to have to sit here and listen to you talk about it all afternoon.”

After a few seconds of searching for the video on his phone, Foggy carefully passes it over to me with a set of headphones. I fumble around for a few moments for appearance’s sake before putting them into my ear and touching the screen. The voice was cold, distorted somewhat by the mask, and certainly more maniacal than I’d ever heart it before but I recognised it in an instance. It was Peter Cross.


I’d made my excuses not long after watching the video and left Foggy as politely as I could. There was no way I could stay sitting around making small talk or trying to swat away Foggy’s attempts to set my up with a girl from his work now I knew about Cross. He could call himself “Mr. Fear” all he wanted, he was Dr. Peter Cross and despite everything, despite what he asked of me, I still somehow considered him my friend. He must have taken the formula and it must have done something to him, changed him, turned him into that thing because the Peter I knew wasn’t capable of brutality like that.

It would be him I’d turn to in moment’s like these to ask for advice but that clearly wasn’t an option anymore. As quickly as I can I make my way to Wildcat’s Gym to speak to Ted about Cross. I was thankful that he knew my secret on a day like this because without someone to talk to I wasn’t sure how I’d cope. Alone in Ted’s office we talk in hushed voices over the sound of two dozen pairs of fists hitting against heavy bags and skipping ropes slapping against the ground.

“What is it that you’re looking for here?” Ted said, rubbing his temple with a sigh. “Do you want my permission to put that suit back on? Is that what you’re looking for? Because you don’t need my permission for that. You are Daredevil and you’ll continue to be Daredevil even if you never put that suit back on. You’re the only one that can make this decision.”

I was scared that if I put that suit back on I’d never take it off again. Somewhere along the way in all the crime fighting I’d lose Matt Murdock to Daredevil and I’d never get him again back: there’d no be time for family, there’d be no time for friends, and there sure as hell would be no retirement. As much as I felt a sense of responsibility for whatever Cross had turned into, his actions were his responsibility and his responsibility alone. It had been four days since I’d declared myself done with Daredevil and I’d already found a reason to put the suit back on. What if I kept finding reasons until the day I died?

But I knew I was the only one that could stop Cross. If he’d taken the formula then “Mr. Fear” had powers too, though I had absolutely no idea what they were, and that meant that the police wouldn’t be able to stop him. At least not without it costing them God knows however many lives. I didn’t know if I could have that on my conscience.

I didn’t know whether I could live with finding out that Cross had been shot dead by SWAT without so much as my trying to get through to him. What if the real Peter Cross was in there? What if he was trapped in there? What if the formula had corrupted his mind and all he needed was someone there to fight for him and remind him who he was?

There was every chance that the formula had eroded his mind as much as it had amplified my senses. There was no guarantee that “Mr. Fear” wouldn’t sooner rather try to kill me than listen to reason. From what he’d said in the recording he didn’t seem to hold me in particularly high esteem and maybe he’d take my reappearance as a challenge? Maybe he’d take it as a threat rather than an attempt to help him? I wasn’t quite what which it would be if I did choose to do it. Maybe it was both.

Ted shakes his head, clearly aware that my mind is racing with questions and possibilities.

“You’re fully within your rights to choose to let the police deal with Cross but that decision will have consequences as much going back out there will, kid. Whatever you decide I’ll support you, I always have done and always will do, but at the end of the day you’re the one that will have to stomach the consequences.”

I know what I need to do.

There was always a choice. When Cross had tried to convince me to murder Deadshot because he knew my secret identity I’d turned him down knowing that it might mean ruin for me. This was different. When I put on that suit and went out at night I knew the risks that came with it and I accepted them: being found out, being killed, it was all part and parcel with it. The people of New York played no part in the creation of “Mr. Fear” and would suffer if I didn’t do something about it.

What Ted had said about me always being Daredevil even if I never donned the suit again had struck me harder than I’d imagined. I was Daredevil. And it was one thing for Daredevil to want to pursue a life of his own outside of the suit and another for him to do nothing when innocent lives were at stake. That was something I couldn’t stomach.

Legs are churning. Arms are pumping. I barely feel the impact of my feet on the treadmill. To the machine's credit, it's holding up under the stress, just as Dr. Elias assured me it would. I can feel the energy building inside me moments before it crackles across my skin. It no longer surprises me like it once did. The Speed Force. After the fourth time trying to explain the intricacies of the science behind it to me, Dr. Elias finally just let the name stick. He may know the science, but only I know how it feels. If I concentrate, I can feel it even in moments of stillness. A wellspring of power just beyond my reach.

I see flashes of my mother. My heart rate elevates. I can hear the panicked beeping of machines in the distance. A cold sweat breaks out on my forehead. It's the stress. I'm having a panic attack. Ever since the accident, they've come and gone. Dr. Elias suggests it's a side effect of my condition, a symptom of desperation as my mind struggles to process this impossible new reality of mine. He says that they will pass as my changes become more "real" to me. In the meantime, he taught me a technique for handling the stress. I just have to remind myself what's real. Start with the most basic facts and work my way up from there.

My name is Barry Allen. When I was a child, my mother was killed. My father went to prison for her murder. He later died while still incarcerated.

I attended Central City University. I now work as a forensic scientist.

A few days ago, I was involved in an accident involving a particle accelerator.

I may well be the fastest man alive.

I feel the stress start to melt away as I give in to the Speed Force. Suddenly, I'm back in the zone. I sink into my stance and start running even harder. I can feel the beads of sweat rolling off my forehead like raindrops on a windshield. My breathing is steady, consistent. I close my eyes and focus on the feeling of the air rushing against my face. That's when I start to notice the smell. Faint at first, it begins to build as I keep running. Burning rubber? I wonder if Elias' treadmill has finally given out on me as I slow to a stop.

Dr. Elias steps into the room. "Barry, is something wrong?" he asks. "Why did you--?" His voice trails off as his eyes sink to my feet.

I've realized it now, too. The smell wasn't coming from the treadmill. I move to lift a foot, but my sneaker sticks to the tread. Finally, with some effort, I wrench it loose. I stand on one foot as I examine the half-melted remains of my sneaker's sole. By the time I set my foot down - gently - I realize that the other one is now stuck, too. I look to Dr. Elias for help.

"Of course," he says, hand over chin. "How did I overlook the effects of friction?" As he looks up, he waves a hand at me. "Barry, your shoulder."

Confused, I look down to see wisps of smoke coming from my shirt. I quickly smack my hand against my shoulder, trying to smother any potential sparks before they can begin. The smoke goes away, but now the air is also filled with the smell of burning cotton. "And the effects of air resistance," I add, unamused.

Dr. Elias nods. "Quite right." After a moment of thinking, he says, "You know, there might be something we can use. I remember reading a paper about it many years ago, co-authored by Reed Richards. Have you ever heard of 'unstable molecule fabric?'" Before I can answer, Elias continues, "Of course not. It was deemed too expensive for commercial use. However, the fabric exhibits many unique properties which may help protect it against the friction - and air resistance - you encounter at such high speeds."

I know better than to ask for a full explanation, so I merely reply, "Great. Can we get our hands on some of this... ?"

"Unstable molecule fabric," Elias finishes for me. "Yes, I should think STAR Labs would be more than willing to oblige if I put in an order. Of course, we'll need enough for a full bodysuit. And enough to cover your head as well, lest your hair suffer the same fate as your shirt."

Instinctively, I reach up and pat my hair, making sure nothing feels suspiciously warm.

"Otherwise," Elias continues, "I'd call this a successful test. You've even set a new personal record: speeds upward of two hundred and fifty miles per hour. Almost a third the speed of sound."

"I'm getting faster?"

Elias nods. "Consistent with my readings. Your cells are even more saturated with..." He sighs, "... Speed Force energy than ever before. Though whether your deepening connection is a natural reaction over time or a result of repeated use of your speed, it's too early to tell. I have half a mind to begin..."

Hearing my phone beep across the room, I leave Dr. Elias to continue thinking aloud. I've seen him in this mode before. It'll be another three minutes before he even realizes I haven't been listening. As I check my phone, I see that I've received a message from Captain Singh to report to a crime scene immediately. Dr. Elias won't be thrilled that I'm cutting his tests short early - again - but I know better than to make Singh ask twice.

"Sorry, Dr. Elias, but it's work," I explain as I interrupt him mid-brainstorming. He starts to give me an annoyed look, but I hold my ground. "I know, I know. Don't you think I want to figure this all out, too? But I've still got a job to do, and this sounds important." My phone buzzes again. Another message, this time from Forrest. Seeing that, Elias seems to begrudgingly accept that I'm right. "Look, I will be back as soon as possible, but for now I've gotta run."

"Not too quickly, I hope," Elias smirks. I can't help but laugh, as that's the first time I've ever seen him make a joke. At least, intentionally.

* * *

I report to the address Captain Singh gave me. As soon as the elevator doors open on the proper floor, I see a swarm of CCPD officers and personnel. It's clear from the somber atmosphere that something terrible has happened. I feel a knot building in my stomach as I make my way down the hallway. Forrest is standing outside the apartment door, chatting with a uniformed officer. I give him a questioning look as I approach, and he just shakes his head. I clutch my kit a little tighter.

As I'm about to walk through the doorway, Forrest puts a hand on my shoulder. "Might want to touch something metal before you go in there," he says cryptically. I look at him for an explanation, but he has already returned to his conversation. Confused, I push on ahead, squeezing past another pair of police officers.

As soon as I step inside, I realize what Forrest meant. Every hair on my body stands on end as I enter the apartment, and the air feels warm and thick. Sure enough, as I pass by a uniformed officer, a shock of electricity jumps from my finger to the handle of his gun. I jerk my hand reflexively and shake off the shock. Rather than release, I still feel as though my skin is charged.

The bodies are covered with a tarp as I arrive. Once I pull it back, I realize why everyone's so tense. The two victims are both uniformed police officers. I recognize their faces, but only in passing. Must've seen them around the precinct once or twice. Can't say I know them terribly well, but I know some of the guys out in that hallway certainly do. Downed officers always make for the worst crime scenes.

"Officers Berlanti and Kreisberg," Captain Singh announces as he steps into the room with me. If I needed more confirmation that this was serious, the presence of Singh at the scene certainly seals it. I can tell by the look in his eye and the tone of his voice that I won't be berated. Not today. He's too shaken up by the loss. "They were the ones I sent to arrest Dillon."

At that, my eyes go wide. Maxwell Dillon? The man who murdered Dr. Robert Frank. The man who sabotaged the STAR Labs particle accelerator, thereby giving me powers. This is his apartment? I feel a chill running down my spine, and it's not because of static in the air.

"What can you tell me, Allen?"

Singh's words bring me back to the present. I set down my kit and pull off the rest of the tarp. The officers' bodies are sprawled out across the floor. Shell casings lay scattered at their feet. I notice something odd about Officer Berlanti's hand, so I lean closer to investigate. His skin is somehow fused to the handle of his gun. I turn my attention to Officer Kreisberg. The front of his uniform is singed, revealing similarly burned skin beneath.

"Something burned them," I explain. I start looking around for clues in the environment. As my eyes travel upwards, I spot something strange on the ceiling. Burn marks, but they're laid out in some kind of a branching pattern. Almost like what you'd expect from an electrical discharge. I start to wonder if some kind of electrical device might've exploded in here, but there isn't any other evidence to support that. Unless, of course, Max Dillon cleaned up after himself when he left. All I can do is shake my head. "Maybe something electrical?"

"Dillon was studying to be an engineer at one point. Could he have rigged up something? Maybe a trap in case we came looking for him?"

I shrug. "It's possible." After this week, nothing would surprise me. I turn my attention back to the shell casings. Evidence of a struggle. So it wouldn't just have been a booby trap. Dillon was here when the officers arrived. I step carefully over the bodies in the direction that the officers were shooting. After counting the casings, I turn to Singh. "How many bullets were recovered?"

He thinks for a moment. "Six, seven?"

Not enough. If the officers discharged more shots than were recovered, then it stood to reason that some of their shots must've connected - leaving the bullets in Dillon's body. But there's no blood on the scene. Not from the officers and certainly not from Dillon. Something's not adding up. "I don't have anything. We're missing a piece of the puzzle."

"Then you better find it. And fast," Singh instructs me. "This b*stard killed two of our own. We're not going to forget that."

Everywhere Peter Cross went he could smell the fear radiating from the people around him. Some were scared of dying, some were scared of their partners leaving them, and others were simply scared of things like the dark. There was one individual whose fear Cross could sense more than any others. It was overpowering, so much so that he was able to feel it wherever he went, though the individual tried their hardest to suppress it. It belonged to one Floyd Lawton, better known as the assassin Deadshot, and he happened to be the man that Peter needed dead.

From a rooftop across the street, Peter watched Lawton scuttling around his tiny apartment through the eyeholes in his mask and smiled. Lawton had been working on repairing the damage his armour had sustained in battle with Daredevil. A lesser man would attack before the repairs were done, before his foe was prepared and able to defend himself, but Peter feared nothing. Fear was his tool now and he was certain that he would succeed where Daredevil had failed in stopping Deadshot once and for all.

The newspapers had dubbed him “Mr. Fear” and opinion seemed split down the middle about his activities. Some decried him as a murderer and a maniac, others applauded him for going further and farther than Daredevil and taking murderers and rapists off the street. Before Daredevil had arrived the criminals went about their business freely and his arrival had only succeeded in making them more cautious, more wary, as they plied their trade. Now they knew that their crimes would mean their ends the streets had been eerily calm. They would be even calmer once Mr. Fear had made an example of Deadshot.

Lawton flung a rifle over his shoulder and flexed his bandaged hand before making his way out the window and out of the fire exit. From the way that he moved as he scaled the fire exit towards the roof of the apartment building Cross could tell that he was still hurting. It was a shame, he’d have liked to have given Deadshot a fighting chance at surviving.

Without a moment’s hesitation Peter leapt from the rooftop and grabbed hold of an electrical wire and slid across. He landed atop Lawton with a heavy thud and both men fell to the ground. Before Lawton had even worked out what had happened, Cross was on his feet and had kicked his rifle off of the edge of the rooftop and onto the street.

“Do you know who I am?”

Deadshot rolled out of Mr. Fear’s reach and fired at him. The bullets passed through him as if he weren’t there and Deadshot shook his head with a confused look, before leaping to his feet and preparing himself for battle.

“Some dead man.”

Deadshot released another hail of bullets in Fear’s direction and once again they passed through him. A thick fog fell around Deadshot and he found himself planted to the ground unable to move.

“Such bravado for a man so afraid.”

From the smoke Fear appeared and placed a tender hand on Deadshot’s mask as he walked around him.

“Afraid? You’ve got the wrong man,” Lawton laughed. “If you think these cheap parlour tricks of yours have me fooled you have another thing coming. You think I’ve never faced off against a mutant before? I know what your kind can do.”

Peter’s laugh seeped through the grates in his mask.

“Who is it you’re trying to convince? I know who you are, Floyd Lawton, and I know why it is you do what you do,” Fear said as he continued to snake in and around the smoke. “You are so afraid, so very afraid. You reek of fear more than anyone I’ve ever encountered and I know why.”

Suddenly Fear disappeared into the smoke and Lawton was able to move again. He waded his way through it and fanned the smoke with hands as if to clear a path. Suddenly in the smoke he saw a red blur flash past him, almost knocking him to the ground, before dashing off into the smoke. Deadshot chased after it with his turrets primed for action and tried to listen as its footsteps seemed to echo all around him.

“~I made you miss, Floyd.~”

Deadshot knew that voice. He spun around and pointed his turrets in the direction it had come from. There as clear as day amongst the smoke was Daredevil. Without so much as saying a word Deadshot unloaded into him and the bullets seemed to pass through him to no effect. Daredevil laughed and made his way closer towards him.

“~You missed me,~” Daredevil laughed, though this voice came from behind Lawton. “~You missed again, Floyd.~”

Deadshot spun around and there stood another Daredevil. Again he unloaded in Daredevil’s direction and his bullets seemed to do nothing. The Daredevil’s laughed and as they did so more of them began to appear around Lawton. They doubled in number, then trebled, and within seconds there were dozens of them surrounding at him and laughing. They closed in on him and began placing their hands on him, pulling at his arms and grabbing onto bits of his equipment. As Lawton beat them away from him more seemed to appear and slowly but surely they began to overwhelm him.

“Get away from me!” Lawton shouted as he closed his eyes. “All of you, get away from me!”

Slowly Deadshot opened his eyes and the Daredevils were gone. The heavy fog that had enveloped him was still there though and Deadshot could sense that Fear was still in the smoke somewhere waiting for him. It wasn’t real he reminded himself as he walked through the smoke, it was Fear messing with his mind, and once he’d found him and killed him the smoke would fade. He brandished a wrist turret in front of him as scanned for his target.

Suddenly through the smoke Lawton heard a cough. It was another trick, he told himself as he made his way towards it, though as he drew closer he became less and less convinced. On the ground was someone wearing remarkably similar armour to that which Lawton had on, though his bore a gaping hole in the chest through which blood was seeping at an alarming rate. Deadshot pulled free the man’s mask and recoiled in horror as he recognised the face underneath it.

“~Why?~” the boy’s face asked, tears in his eyes. “~Why did you shoot me, Floyd?~”

The boy disappeared into nothing and once more the Daredevils were back. They were everywhere that Deadshot looked. They moved towards him slowly and though he knew shooting them would have no effect he considered to fire in their direction, the question the boy had asked seemingly having got to him. As they moved closer the question came forth from the Daredevils.

“~Why?~” they asked. “~Why did you shoot him? He loved you, Floyd.~”

Angrily Deadshot began to spray at them almost indiscriminately and kicked and pushed them down as he reached them. Slowly as he had been before he became overwhelmed and the Daredevils pushed him to the ground, asking the same question over and over again as they did so. One of the Daredevils stepped forward and placed his hands on Deadshot’s mask, lifting his head up from the ground and whispering two words in his ear with a smile.

“~Wake up.~”

There was a shooting pain in Deadshot’s head as slowly opened his eyes and realised the Daredevils were gone. He was in Hell’s Kitchen still but sirens and screaming seemed to have replaced the quiet. Littered around him were the bodies of civilians, there were bullet wounds in all of them, at least eight or nine of them were dead, and all bore wounds consistent with Lawton’s turrets. He shook his head angrily as he saw Fear pacing towards him. Before he had a chance to fire off a round in Fear’s direction the two were entangled on the ground.

Were he not bearing his injuries from his previous fight with Daredevil, Lawton was certain he could have overpowered him but as it stood Fear was too strong. He rained down punches on Deadshot that felt like hammers smashing against him. It wasn’t that Fear was stronger than him but that he seemed driven by an irrational confidence that made his punches harder than they had any right to be.

Slowly Fear stopped punching and Deadshot lay unconscious and bleeding in the streets. There were sirens around them and the police had cordoned off the area whilst they awaited the arrival of armed response units. Despite their warnings crowds had gathered around the cordons and there were still people holed up inside their homes, watching as Fear loomed over Deadshot ominously.

“This monster calls himself Deadshot,” Fear grandstanded to the people behind the cordons. “You may have read about him in the newspapers. Countless innocent lives have been lost at his hand. Yet when Daredevil encounters him, what does he do? Does he have the courage to make sure this man is put down permanently? Does he avenge the deaths of all those that have died at Deadshot’s hands?”

Fear landed a heavy kick to Deadshot’s stomach.

“No, he lets him walk free to cause more carnage, more pain, and more suffering. All because he lacks the moral fortitude to do what is necessary! Because he is afraid of doing what is required of him to keep innocent people safe!”

Fear gestures to those lying dead in the streets and glances up at those in their homes, those behind the police cordons, and even the police officers themselves. He can feel the hate radiating off of them. Some of those that bled out in the streets here had relatives in these buildings and behind that cordon.

“What would you have me do with him? Should I give in to fear like Daredevil and allow more of your loved ones to fall prey to men like Deadshot? Or should we show the world what true justice looks like?”

There’s a roar from the crowds. Two words cut through it clearer than any others. “Kill him,” they cry as Fear makes his way towards Deadshot. He lifts Lawton into the air and pulls free his mask, throwing it to the floor with contempt, before placing a hand over Lawton’s face. The people of Hell’s Kitchen had spoken. They had delivered exactly the verdict that Cross had knew they would. They had given in to fear as all weak, mewling cattle did.

Suddenly as if from nowhere a billy club comes crashing down against Fear’s temple and Deadshot falls free from his hand. As Fear attempted to get his bearings Daredevil leaps down from a rooftop and lands between the two men, readying himself to attack.


“Last time I checked justice was blind.”

"Strangers in the Night"​

And I don't need to be forsaken by you or anybody else. And I never had a shortage of people tryin' to warn me about the dangers I pose to myself".
-- Patterson Hood

Central New Jersey
2:12 AM

Tracy Lawless was mad as hell.

He drove down the freeway in the middle of the night, checking his rearview mirror every few seconds for any new cars that may have appeared behind him. He saw the two big duffle bags in the mirror, each one stuffed to the brim with cash. Tracy wore a coat that hid the body armor strapped to his chest. Dried blood was caked on his hands. It wasn't his blood. He fumed and kept the hunk of junk he was driving at seventy. His Charger was back in the city. It was too conspicuous to be used as a getaway car today.

The radio in the car played some god awful country music. He reached over and cruised up and down the dial until he found a talk radio show giving the news.

"One man is still at large after today's daring daytime bank robbery of the 5th Avenue Chase Bank. Masked and armed with automatic weapons, the five men came in during the lunchtime hour and made off with over nine hundred thousand dollars in twenties, fifties, and hundreds. Police soon arrived on the scene and gun battle took place, killing four of the robbers before the fifth masked man took off with the money through midtown, where he lost pursuing police in a high-speed chase."

Tracy listened to the rest of the news story with half-concentration. There were no leads on his whereabouts, and so far they hadn't publically identified the rest of his crew. Everyone but him was dead, gunned down by the cops. One of them blew Jack Legs' brains out before the guy could even move. Blood had spattered Tracy's chest and arms. They showed up way too fast for Tracy's taste. They were promised more time to get the money and get out there, but they didn't get that time. He gripped the steering wheel so tightly his knuckles were white. Tommy the Cork. Goddamn Tommy the Cork had sold them out, the son of a *****. He'd given his word they would have at least five minutes before the police arrived. The fat bastard must have gotten greedy and double-crossed them. The odds on Tommy being there at the farmhouse waiting was too unlikely. Tracy was the only one left alive and he had the money. He was too big of a loose end, and no way cops would be there for an arrest. Tommy wanted that money all to himself.

An hour later he turned off the freeway and headed down a Southern Jersey highway towards the established rendezvous point. He could just keep going. He had the money, for Christ sake. But he didn't want to do that. He wanted to pay Tommy back for what he had done, the bastard.

Tracy started to slow the junk heap down as the farmhouse got nearer. The time for the meeting was supposed to be four AM, an hour from now, but he was sure Tommy was already hiding somewhere in the dilapidated barn. Tracy pulled to the side of the road twenty miles from the farm and got out. He lugged the two duffle bags filled with cash into the woods beside the road and left them there. He got a tire iron out of the trunk and placed it in the ground beside the highway, marking the place for his return trip, and got back in the car. A half hour later he came to an old and rotting farmhouse and barn. He pulled into the driveway and slowly pulled up to the old barn.

A parked sedan was waiting beside the barn. The windows were rolled down, and Tracy could hear a golden oldies station playing Tommy James and the Shondells. Tracy reached into his jacket and got out the submachine gun he'd used at the bank. Keeping it low, he stepped out the car and approached the parked car.

"Not so fast," a voice said from behind.

He felt a hard something in his back. A pudgy hand slapped the submachine gun from his hand and spun Tracy around. He looked into the fat and gloating face of NYPD Inspector Thomas Corcoran, head of the department's prestigious Special Robbery Unit. He was also supposed to be their inside man in the bank robbery. His job was to get them plans and details about the bank and surrounding area and provide them protection from the cops. He had done the first part well, but failed spectacularly in the second regard.

"You sold us out," Tracy said calmly.

"I just did some simple math," Corcoran said with a large grin. "This money divides up better one way than six. That is, after I give the Kingpin his cut."

"And you'll think he'll just abide you double-crossing us like this?"

"I'll tell him you pulled the double-cross. Tried to skip out with the money after it went sideways. I caught you in the nick of time, though, but see you fought back and I had to kill you. Damn shame. It's a stupid move, but you're a Lawless, kid. Stupid is your middle name."

Tracy felt white-hot rage at the last part. It was all he could do right now to not try to fight Corcoran, even with the gun aimed at him. Instead, Tracy kept his hands up as Corcoran backed away from him and shuffled towards the junk heap. Tracy stayed as still as he could while the fat man looked through the back of the car for the cash.

"Where is it, Lawless?!"

"In the trunk. I got the key right here."

Corcoran stared at him through the dark and started towards him. Just then, Frank Sinatra came on the radio and crooned.

"Strangers in the night exchanging glances
Wondering in the night what were the chances,
We'd be sharing love before the night was through?"

Corcoran began to rifle through Tracy's jacket pockets and found no keys. The cop started in through Tracy's pants pockets. He dropped the gun a few inches, focusing on getting the car keys from Tracy's jeans.

"Something in your eyes was so inviting
Something in you smile was so exciting
Something in my heart told me I must have you."

Snarling like a wild animal, Tracy struck and slapped at Corocran's gun. The piece went off twice, bullets snapping by Tracy's ear as they whizzed into the air. The gun fell to the ground with a dull thud. Corcoran tried to reach for it, but he was short and fat, a good six inches shorter and fifty pounds heavier than Tracy. He proved no match for Tracy's strong grip. He hit the cop upside the head with a glancing blow to the skull. Corcoran stumbled back and Tracy hit him with a right hook that knocked him to the ground. Tracy pinned him to the ground with his knees and held him close, his big hands wrapping around Tommy's fat neck.

"Strangers in the night, two lonely people
We were strangers in the night.
Up to the moment when we said our first hello, little did we know
Love was just a glance away, a warm embracing dance away"

Tommy fought and tried to get his hands underneath Tracy's. He struggled and thrashed, tried to claw at Tracy's eyes and mouth. The more he struggled, the more oxygen he burned through and made his death that quicker. Tracy throttled Corcoran's neck for a solid ten minutes, so long that he left rub burns from twisting his big hands around the windpipe. He made sure that there was no life left in the man at all. For what the bastard had done to his crew, it was the least he could do.

"Ever since that night we've been together
Lovers at first sight, in love forever
It turned out so right for strangers in the night."

Tracy took Corcoran's corpse and locked it in the trunk of his car, parking the sedan inside the rotten barn before he got into his own car and drove back to where he had the money stashed. He got the two big duffle bags out the woods, took the tire iron marker, and kept going south so he could find a place to lay low for the next few weeks.


A Tracy Lawless Caper


From behind the mask comes Peter’s voice. At once he sounds nothing like and everything like the man I once called a friend. The ambition, the charisma, and confidence was all still there but it was laden with a viciousness that made my blood run cold. Though I couldn’t see them, I could almost feel the weight of his eyes resting on me with murderous intent. He’d murder me in front of all of Hell’s Kitchen before he would allow me to talk him down, but I owed it to our friendship to at least attempt it.

“Stop this madness.”

A chilling laughter seeped through the panes of Fear’s skull shaped mask.

“Madness? You think this is madness? Madness is allowing a man that has murdered countless innocents to walk free because you lack the conviction to end his life. Madness is endangering all those that you love because of your own fears. You are the mad one, my friend.”

I shake my head.

“I don’t know what it is the formula has done to you, but you’re not seeing things clearly anymore. This isn’t you speaking.”

Again the laughter comes emanating from behind the mask.

“I assure you, without fear clouding my vision I see things much clearer than I ever did before. I know what needs to be done. He has to die.”

He points at Deadshot ominously and I grit my teeth. There was no debating that Lawton was as much of a monster as anyone I’d ever encountered, but I wouldn’t stand by and watch him murder him to prove a point. Whatever pheromones Peter was giving off had clouded Lawton’s mind, I was almost certainty sure of that, and though the people lining the streets had lost their lives at his hands it was Peter that was truly responsible. It was “Mr. Fear” that had killed them.

“Listen to yourself, for Christ’s sake. You sound insane.”

Fear gestures towards the crowd.

“Why listen to me when you can listen to them

There’s a loud roar from a large portion of the crowds that had gathered behind the police cordon. They wanted blood, more specifically they wanted Deadshot’s blood, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they wanted mine now that I’d leapt to his defence. If this had happened six months ago I would have been stood shoulder to shoulder with them calling for Lawton’s blood too. Not anymore. Someone needed to show them the difference between retribution and justice.

“They’re scared. You’ve whipped them into a frenzy and convinced them that murder is the only way to answer Deadshot’s crimes. We started this thing to inspire people, not to turn them into braying mobs out for blood. What has happened to you?”

Peter stands in silence for a few moments, his hooded cape flapping in the wind.

“Enough talking. I’ll give you one chance: walk away now and I’ll spare your life.”

Damn you. Damn you for making me do this.

“You know that’s not going to happen.”

“So be it.”

He leaps towards me and throws a punch in my direction. He’s faster than I thought he would be, stronger too, and each blow he throws feels like a knockout punch. He was Deadshot’s complete opposite. Lawton’s movements were scarily efficient, he wasted no more energy than he needed to, and made the most of each swing and kick. Peter’s lack of training was obvious, but what he lacked in technical ability he made up with in furious conviction.

Another punch comes hurtling in my direction and I dodge it and knee him in the stomach. It doesn’t even so much as seem to faze him. He comes at me with a string of punches that I do my best to parry away from my face in order to keep him off balance. One clips me on the way past and I hear a loud crunch along the side of my face that I’m sure is my jaw fracturing.

I hurtle backwards and put some space between the two of us. Lawton’s still out cold and from the sound of it doesn’t seem to be waking up anytime soon. With Lawton safe for now, I’d need to draw Peter away from the street if only to ensure that the people watching on were safe. I do my best to use my radar sense to scan the area for somewhere safe to drag Fear to but I don’t have time to focus, Fear’s hurtling more punches and kicks in my direction than I can bear with. He’s too strong, too quick, and at point those fear pheromones of his could swing the tide of the fight. Have to keep him on the offensive, keep him swinging, keep him too tired to realise that I have no counter to his pheromones.

“Even the way you fight is cowardly.”

I smile as Fear spits the words in my direction. He’s breathing heavily and his punches are coming further apart now than they had been before. He’s playing right into my hands without even realising it. The more of his punches I evade the angrier he gets, the angrier he gets the more he over-exerts himself and the more tired he gets. I might be a blind man, but I’m a blind man that had worked out nearly every day of my adult life. Whilst Peter had been giving TED talks I’d been skipping rope at Wildcat’s and working the heavy bag until I threw up. Now more than ever I was thankful for that.

“This is how you want to meet your end? Dancing around like a weakling? Stand and meet your end like a man.”

I parry away a tired punch and respond with one of my own. It hits Fear squarely in the chin and sends him sprawling.

“You asked for it.”

Before he has a chance to recover I send a kick directly to his stomach that knocks him off his feet and onto the ground. I had to make the most of this, I had to end this quickly before he got his breath back, because otherwise what little advantage I had over him would evaporate in seconds. I launch myself atop him and send punch after punch towards his facemask, feeling it crumple underneath the weight of my punches, and the blood come pouring from his mouth and nose underneath. He gargles on his own blood something that sounds like a call for mercy and I stay my hands for a moment. A mistake.

Fear kicks out from underneath me and I go barreling towards the sidewalk. He fights to his feet, much lower than he was before, but angrier than before. As I reach for my billy club to launch in his direction I hear a hissing noise and a thick, warm haze descend around me. The fear pheromones. I try to clamp my hand against my mouth but it’s too late. Cross disappears into the smoke and suddenly the roar of the sound of sirens and the crowd roaring falls silent.

Wherever I am, wherever Fear has sent me, I’m far away from the street we were on. Or at least he’d have me think that. I try to focus my radar sense through the smoke and find some reference point by which I can navigate but I come up empty and so begin to wander through with my hands outstretched.

Something about this isn’t right.

“~Is that you?~”

A voice from behind me forces me to stop in my tracks.

It’s one I haven’t heard in years, one I thought I’d never hear again. I can’t see him but I’d know that voice anywhere. It’s my father’s voice. This can’t be real. Cross is somehow messing with my mind and making me see things, making me hear things, that aren’t possible. The smell of the old leather jacket that he always wore and even the brand of cigarettes of he used to smoke drifts past my nose as I approach the voice. How could Peter know that? It smells so real.

“~Son?~” Jack asked tearfully. “~Is that really you?~”

As I draw closer the smell grows stronger and I can feel the tears welling in my eyes. My radar sense can only hazily make him out as I get within touching distance of him. It’s not enough to make out his face but I know that it’s him. The smells, there’s no way that Peter could have known my father smelled like that. As I reach him I go to outstretch a hand to touch him and to my surprise he swats my hand away with an angry shake of his head.

“~Why the hell are you dressed like that, son? You look like a fool. You promised me you’d become a lawyer or a doctor or something. And this is how you choose to spend your time? Dressed up like a clown? No son of Jack Murdock’s would do such a thing.~”

I take a step backwards and clutch my hand. The tears begin to flow freely out of my eyes as his words begin to sink in. I had promised him that I’d make it out of Hell’s Kitchen and do something respectable and I’d failed him in that. I’d spent more time in correctional facilities than I had classrooms since he’d died. I’d achieved nothing. I’d let him down.

My father steps forward and grabs me by my wrists and begins to shake me. The strength in his hands is overpowering. I try to resist him but his hands are like vices around my wrists, shaking me angrily with enough force that it almost makes me lose my balance. In his hands I feel myself shrink as if I were eleven years old again.

“~Look at you dressed up like that. What the hell are you thinking? This is your mother’s influence, not mine, I knew her blood would eventually corrupt you and turn you against me.~”

My mother.

Upon hearing the words I suddenly feel a sense of clarity wash over me as I realise what’s happening isn’t real. Not once had I ever heard my father mention my mother whilst he was alive. The tears in my eyes begin to dry and my father’s grip over my wrists begin to loosen to the point that I can pry them open and step away from him. As I begin to back away “Jack Murdock” begins to slowly dissipate, parts of him floating away and becoming smoke, and he pounds the ground angrily and shouts in my direction.

“~Where are you going? Come back here! Don’t you walk away from me!~”

Slowly I feel the smoke begin to clear and through it Fear comes hurtling towards me. He tackles me against a car and I feel my back crunch in several places as we smash into it with a thud. I try to fight to my feet but Peter sends one of his knees smashing against my cheek and I hear several of my back teeth shatter and the fracture worsen. Need to use my agility to my advantage and being this close to him isn’t doing that in the slightest. In a comically uncoordinated movement I manage to roll through his legs and reach for my billy club at my thigh, launching it in his direction and whipping him clean off his feet.

Think, Murdock. There were people watching from some of the buildings around us, but most of them were empty, I needed one as far from people as possible to make sure no one else was hurt. I scan through the floors of the buildings around me using my radar sense and lock onto a bar at the end of the street. There’s no one inside and no one in the buildings around it or directly across the street. That’s my best bet.

Slowly Fear climbs to his feet and runs in my direction. I back away from him and dodge the punches he throws in my direction and unknowingly usher him towards the building. Eventually as we approach it I let one of his punches slip through my guard and let it hit me firmly in the gut. It knocks the wind out of me but I manage to place Fear in a hold and send the both of us through the bar’s window and out of reach and sight of the people outside. Once inside I fight my way to my feet and hold out a hand in Peter’s direction as if to tell him to stop.

“You’re a good man, Peter, whatever the formula has done to you must be able to be reversed. We can still fix this.”

I offer him a lifeline. Maybe I’m wrong to think after all he’s done there’s some way back for him, but there was a part of me that wanted to believe more than anything that some of the old Peter was still in there.

“Fix? You think I want to be fixed?” Peter laughs maniacally from behind his mask. “You’re more of a fool than I thought you were, Murdock.”

Here was where I’d have to end it then. No more messing around, no more dancing, I’d put him down and make sure that the people of Hell’s Kitchen saw Peter behind bars for what he’d done. This was more than a fight for my life or his, it was a fight for the soul of Hell’s Kitchen. They needed to see Fear’s brand of “justice” torn down and exposed or what it was: cold-blooded murder and nothing more than that. Slaughter and Lawton were monsters in their own right but neither of them posed more of a threat to justice on these streets than Fear did. If he won tonight the people of Hell’s Kitchen would hold him up as a hero, they’d applaud him for all he’d done, and Hell’s Kitchen would be lost. But I wasn’t going to let that happen.

I grab hold of an upturned barstool and throw it in Fear’s direction and it smashes into several pieces upon impact. He grabs a large piece of the splintered stool and slashes it in my direction as he climbs to his feet.

One of the slashes makes contact with the unmasked part of my face and tears across my lips and instantly I feel the blood come running down my chin. I swat the splinter out of his hand and throw him over the bar with a strong punch to the face. Fear reaches for the many glass bottles behind the bar and begins to throw them in my direction and I dodge them as best I can as my senses are overloaded by the smell of bourbon and whiskey and gin. The alcohol fumes are almost intoxicating. As he continues to lob bottles in my direction I notice Fear kicking at something behind the bar and reaching for something.

The smell of alcohol fades as it’s overpowered by a much more potent one: gas. Peter had kicked a gas pipe free and, given the shape of what was in his hand, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what he was considering doing.

“What the hell are you doing? You’ll kill us both.”

Peter chuckles as he began to hold down the trigger on the fire lighter between his fingers.

“The Devil is afraid of a little fire. Who knew?”

I leapt backwards towards one of the bar’s many booths as the click of the firelighter in Peter’s hands sounded. The explosion and the resulting wall of warmth and sound knocks me against the booth wall. The last thing I see is the bar in flames, filling with smoke, and pieces of ceiling breaking apart as furniture from the apartments above us begin to fall through. Slowly the smoke begins to fill my lungs and my eyes close, leaving the sound of ringing in my ears as all I can hear as I black out.

Batman and Superman were surrounded by the members of the League of Shadows. Bruce snarled at the men and women that had once been his brothers and sisters. At their head was the Gorgon, a mutant who had never strayed from Victor von Doom's side during Wayne's time with the League.

Superman rocketed off towards Gorgon as Batman prepared himself to take on the League of Shadows footsoldiers who are left behind. There were a fair amount, though if Gorgon meant to take on Superman alone, Doom gave him far too little men. It perplexed Bruce slightly as to why Doom would blatantly make such a foolish move, but he didn't have the opportunity to dwell on it. The assassins were now regaining their feet, and Bruce dropped into a defensive position before calling out to them, "I'm giving you this one chance to go back to your master unharmed. If you're wise, you'll take it."

<Save your breath, traitor,> one of the League members hissed in Arabic. <You have precious few left.>

"I disposed of Ra's al Ghul," Batman snarled. "You few stand little chance."

<We shall see,> he responded as the man, who had been attempting to approach Batman from behind surreptitiously, attempted to slice at the vigilante with one of his swords. Bruce caught it in the guards on his gauntlet, before sheering the metal in two with his strength. The assassin froze in his tracks with shock before Batman's fist connected with his jaw.

"I gave you a chance," Bruce smirked. "Who's next?"


The ninja warrior was fast. That was the first thing Superman noticed about his opponent as he did his best to follow Batman's advice not to look his foe in the eyes. Clark knew he was one of the fastest, if not the fastest person on the planet. But every move he made the Gorgon seemed a few steps ahead of the Man of Steel.

"You cannot hope to match the power of the League of Shadows, Superman," he taunted as he ducked out of the way of a punch. "We are everywhere."

"Ugh, a monologuer," Superman grumbled to himself. "Why is it that evil dudes always feel the need to monologue?"

"Because you need to understand that-" he was cut off by a blast of heat vision from Superman that sends him tumbling over the edge of the skyscraper.

"At least that shut him up," the hero said to himself as he flew after the assassin. He caught his opponent in mid air, but was surprised as the League of Shadows member mumbled something as the neared the street level. Instantly, his skin turned burning hot, even to Clark's touch, causing Superman to drop him.

Gorgon laughed, "Well, it seems like you're not as invulnerable as the Demon's Head believed."

Superman looked up and made the mistake of locking eyes with the Gorgon. Pain shot through Clark's head as he began to feel his eyes slowly hardening. But he could not break the gaze of the assassin. A smirk crawled over Gorgon's mouth as Superman cried out in pain.


A punch connected with Batman's jaw that sent him stumbling back. He had forgotten how skilled the League members could be. Wayne cursed himself for being so reckless. He had taken two of the six down, but he expended far too much energy doing so. It had been too long since he had come up against anyone as skilled as these assassins. The criminals of Gotham may have been terrifying in their own right, but they couldn't fight like this. None of them could.

Batman clamped down mentally as the next wave of attacks came towards him. Ra's hadn't trained him to get distracted. As crazy as the Demon's Head was, he knew what it meant to be in a true fight.

The next assassin to approach telegraphed his move. He slid his left foot forward, allowing Batman to slide around the punch and drive his knee into his gut. Bruce judo threw the doubled over attacker into another assassin. The two bodies collided hard, and they crumpled to the rooftop.

Batman turned to the final two, "Still have time to leave."

They looked at one another as they drew their swords. They came at him at the same time, truly believing they stood a chance. With a flick of Batman's wrists from his belt, two projectile tasers connected with each man. The disks sent electricity coursing through their bodies and they dropped to the ground, convulsing.

"Remember this next time Doom sends you on a suicide mission," he said to them. "ORACLE, bring back the Batwing. I need to find Superman."


Clark had never felt pain like this before. It was as if his entire body was calcifying around him. It was now clear why Batman had warned him not to look into his opponent's eyes. But now he needed a way to break the gaze. His Kryptonian biology was clearly holding back whatever was happening to him, but that wouldn't last forever.

There was only one thing he thought he could do to break the Gorgon's gaze. He let loose with his heat vision. It heated the thin layer of stone that had begun to form on the outside of his eyes before it managed to burst through in spectacular fashion.

The Gorgon broke his gaze to raise his sword and deflect the beam. Instead, the metal glowed red from superheating, and began to melt to the street below.

Superman dropped to a knee to regather himself. As he did, Batman's plan swooped over the street, and the Dark Knight ejected from the bottom, delivering a drop kick to Gorgon, "What's Doom gonna do with one of his lapdogs behind bars? Did you know he was sending you to be defeated?"

"You know nothing, Batman," Gorgon smiled. "But it will all be clear to you soon. And then you will die."

He threw a flashbang down, and when Batman's eyes adjusted, he was gone.

"Thanks for the backup," Superman said as he stood.

"You survived looking into his eyes," Batman said, impressed. "Doom was testing you. That much is certain. We need to find out why."

"I have my ways," Superman smiled. "Though I assume they're a lot less scary than yours."

"Mine aren't scary," Batman assured him as he climbed into the cockpit of the plane again. "They're effective. I'll be in touch."

"How?" Superman asked with an arched eyebrow.

"You fly around in blue and red pajamas," the vigilante said as the cockpit began to close. "You're not hard to find."

The plane took off, and Superman muttered to himself, "Says the guy flying around in a bat-shaped plane."

News of the officers' deaths explodes throughout the whole department in a matter of hours. By the time I return to CCPD HQ, I find the station abuzz like a hive full of agitated hornets. Squeezing my way through the noisy crowd, I find my way to my desk at last. As I catch a glimpse of Patty between bodies, she gives me a quick "Can you believe this?" kind of look. Just then, Director Singh storms past my desk, heading towards his office. He wears the same look of grim determination that he had back at the crime scene. I know he's taking this hard. He's the one who sent Officers Berlanti and Kreisberg to apprehend Dillon.

Just when I thought the deafening din in the station would never stop, a single high-pitched whistle cuts through the air and makes everyone fall silent. I sit up a bit straighter at my desk to see what's going on, craning my neck to look over the shoulders of the many officers huddled around.

Darryl Frye, captain of the CCPD and friend of my father, steps forward to address the crowd. Captain Frye isn't a particularly imposing man - physically, anyway - but he does bring an air of authority everywhere he goes. Rising up the ranks from walking a beat to his current position, Frye's been a cop longer than most of the uniformed officers he's addressing. He's a man who's quick to deliver praise when it's earned, gentle but firm when it comes to criticism, and he never lacks for a smile now and then.

But not tonight.

"Listen up, boys. I'm not going to repeat myself," he begins. "As you all know, I've put out an A.P.B. for the capture and arrest of Maxwell Dillon. Anyone not actively working a case is on this one now. Squad cars have already begun canvassing the city, block by block. We're going to knock on every door, turn over every stone. If Dillon's still in the Gem Cities, we'll find him."

The crowd starts to murmur, even as Captain Frye continues. "Each of you will be given an assignment to help assist in the search. We'll start canvassing known locations, friends' apartments, bars Dillon might've frequented, anything. Some of you will be posted at bus depots and train stations. We've put a freeze on Dillon's accounts, but he may still try to flee using cash. You've all been given a recent picture of him. Study it. Memorize it like it was your own face."

I glance down at the bulletin on my desk. Next to the employee picture STAR Labs had on file, there's also a picture of Dillon that we pulled from his apartment. I can say this much about him, at least: he's not much of a smiler.

Captain Frye whistles again to silence the crowd. "I know some of you are upset. This man killed two of our own. Two officers that many of you knew. Good men. Consequently, I'm sure many of you out there are thinking about getting revenge. About making sure Dillon never sees the inside of a jail cell." Frye's face hardens. "Dillon is dangerous. We've seen that. If you need to defend yourself, defend yourself. But if I see anyone pulling some kind of John Wayne act out there, I will have you stripped of your badge so fast you'll get whiplash. Are we clear?"

The crowd mutters half-hearted assent, but it's good enough for Captain Frye. He gives a dismissing nod and pulls aside several of the higher ranking officers to discuss the plan of attack. After Frye's speech is over, the crowd begins to disperse. Director Singh emerges from his office again, and I decide to catch him before he can wander off again.

"Director," I say politely as I fall into step, "I had plans to meet my family for dinner tonight. I was wondering if I had your leave to step out early?"

Director Singh looks at me, but it's clear he's not completely there. His mind is thinking about a million other things, so he just nods and says, "Go." As I turn to walk away, Singh stops and grabs my arm. He locks eyes with me as he adds, "But you keep your phone on at all times. If there's an update, you report back here immediately." With that, he releases me and continues on his way. It's not quite an admission that he needs me, but I'll take it.

With the manhunt fully underway, I pass no fewer than three squad cars on my way out of the city to visit John and Jesse. With everything that's been going on - between my new powers and now all this insanity at work - I nearly forgot our standing dinner date for tonight. John's making his famed brisket. In those first few years after John and his ex-wife Libby separated, dinnertime at the Chambers household was... rough. But while he's still no Gordon Ramsay, John's admittedly come a long way in the kitchen.

"I was beginning to think you'd be late," Jesse announces as she opens the door for me.

"Me? Never," I smirk. I lean in to give my foster sister a hug as I step inside the house. The smell of brisket assaults me immediately, and I realize just how hungry I am. I wander into the kitchen with Jesse in tow. John is humming a tune as he stands over the stove. "You know, I think you may have a culinary career after all, John."

"Eh, you're only saying that because you live on ramen and pizza," he replies. He turns and claps me on the shoulder. "That's why it's my job to feed you real food at least once a month."

"Too true," I admit as I head over to the table. Jesse has already set the plates and silverware. Guess I did cut it a bit close. "Enjoy this while it lasts, Jes. Pretty soon, you'll be on a collegiate diet, and I promise that dining hall food does not compare to the real thing."

From her seat at the table, Jesse glances up from her phone and smirks at me.

"If you were glued to your books like you are to that cell phone, maybe you'd be pulling more than a B- in Chemistry," John says as he points a wooden spoon at his daughter. "Now, put that thing away while we're at the table. It's family time."

"Yeah, who're you texting, anyway?" I ask. "Is it a boy?"

Jesse's blushing is all the answer I need. "No," she answers unconvincingly.

I laugh. "Well, just promise me it isn't that Axel kid from the summer."

Jesse groans. "Bad enough I have to hear it from Dad all the time. Now I'm getting it from you?" She shoots off one last text before dumping her phone into the bag slung over her chair. "What was your problem with Axel, anyway?"

"You mean other than the fact that he's completely immature?"

"Oh, and you're the expert on maturity?"

John sets down the serving plate and sighs. "You know, sometimes you kids make me forget why I miss family time altogether." He gives us each a light push on the arm, then shoots me an approving wink. When it comes to Jesse's relationships with boys, John and I always see eye-to-eye: we don't like them. "Alright, Barry, catch us up. What's new and exciting in the life of Barry Allen?"

I push my lip up and shrug. "Not much, honestly."

You know, besides the fact that I'm setting new human land speed records every day.

"Nothing going on at work?"

"Tons," I admit before telling them all about Maxwell Dillon and the ongoing manhunt - leaving out choice details like my presence during the particle accelerator explosion, of course. After that, the conversation meanders between Jesse's college hunt, the Diamonds' chances in the postseason, and everyone's favorite topic: my love life. Or, more aptly, the lack thereof.

"What about Iris?" Jesse offers. Isn't that the million dollar question? She continues, "I always thought you two would make a cute couple."

I shrug. "We gave it a shot back in college. Just didn't take."

"Pfft. That was ages ago."

"Now, now. Don't pressure him," John interjects. "Take it from your old man: you can't force it. Timing's more important than you might realize." He turns his head and considers me with a warm smile. "Barry's a good kid. Someone'll snatch him off the open market soon enough." He sets down his fork as he leans back in his chair. "Alright, who's got the dishes?"

Immediately, Jesse points at me. When I look at her, she says, "Hey, I set the table." After a moment, she adds, "Besides, you were always faster."

I smirk. If you only knew, sis.

Part I:
Double Drop​

"I was born a rebel, down in Dixie on a Sunday morning. With one foot in the grave, one foot on the pedal I was born a rebel."
-- Tom Petty

Red Hook, Brooklyn
2:19 AM

Antonio took a large bite from his sandwich and surveyed the action on the corner from the stoop across the street. The junkies shuffled down the sidewalk with the same strung-out gait, the same glassy look in their eyes that seemed to reflect in the dim lights hanging above the street. Cars also came through, mostly white folks from the outer areas in Brooklyn. A few rode in from Queens, plenty still of the bridge and tunnel crowd from Jersey all looking to score.

A small queue of women stood off to the side of the action. They were the junkies who didn't have enough money to get anything. If you were a dude and rolled up to the corner without any money and looking for a fix, then you got told off and maybe got your ass beat for fun. If you were a woman and didn't look too used up, then Antonio's boys might work out a deal with you. Antonio saw one of the dealers walking out of a back alley, zipping his pants up while a woman walked ahead of him and wiped her mouth. The dealer winked at one of his friends and passed the woman a baggie of powder. All in all, a normal Saturday night on the corner.

The car people that rolled through mostly copped coke, a few here and there got dope. The junkies, though, always went for the Double Drop. A little bit of coke and horse mixed together on the same spoon and shot into the veins. Mixing the two together seemed futile to Antonio. Dope was a downer, coke an upper. The two didn't seem like a natural fit, but he'd never touched the stuff and it kept the fiends coming back so what the hell did he know?

Antonio finished his sandwich and wiped the crumbs on his pant legs. The five-man crew he managed were among the best dealers in Brooklyn. The men they worked for never had to come down here to beat somebody's ass for skimming money or product. The count was never short and Antonio knew how to handle his boys. He motivated and inspired them, pushed them to keep going and keep making money. In another life, he would have made one hell of a sales manager at some car dealership. But he was a black man born and raised in an American city like New York. It was a miracle that he was twenty-five and still hadn't seen the inside of a jail cell.

Rico, the youngest member of his crew at twelve, flashed a hand signal at Antonio from across the street. He held up two fingers three times, their sign that they needed more product. The stash for that night sat in a large gym bag in a hollowed out section underneath the stoop Antonio sat on. He was the only one who went in to get more product. Anybody tampered with it or even went for it, no matter who, Antonio pulled the 9MM in his waistband. That was what the big businessmen with their MBAs called asset control and loss prevention, ten dollar words to describe something that was common sense to a lowly dealer from Red Hook.

Antonio stepped off the stoop and surveyed the area. Everyone around was too busy conducting business or going about their lives to notice him preparing to open up the hollow side of the stairs. He still held one hand on the gun in his hands as he opened up the panel and rooted through the open gym bag with bindles of coke and dope strapped together. In terms of street value, it was easily ten grand in packaged drugs ready to sell.

"5-0! 5-0!"

Antonio's head snapped up at the warning. A black SUV pulled up to the corner where the junkies and dealers alike were starting to scatter like roaches when a light goes on. Antonio cursed and shoved the bindles and gun back into the hidey-hole before covering it.

Goddamn NYPD. The people above Antonio paid good money to keep the cops off their back, but every so often they had to roll up and show some force. They would cruise through and bang some heads, take in a few junkies and maybe one of his crew, but they never hit the stash or took Antonio in. That was why he ditched the gun and the dope. They wouldn't take it. Like all cops, bent or otherwise, they did just enough to say they were doing their job.

Antonio got ready to be thrown to the ground, but stopped when the four men came out of the SUV. They were dressed head to toe in black clothing, balaclavas over their faces and submachine guns in their hands. They sure as hell weren't cops.

"The fu--," were the only words Antonio got out of his mouth before a burst of bullets tore through his body.

He hit the ground, blood pouring from his chest and throat while the men went through the street, gunning down the rest of Antonio's fleeing crew. They were not blindly firing on anyone running, instead they took time to pick their targets and fire. They knew exactly who were dealers and who were sellers.

With his vision fading, Antonio saw a pair of black combat boots step over his body. A moment later, the same boots stepped back over him with the gym bag in their arms. Rough hands went through his pockets. He let out a protest that only came out as a gurgle thanks to his neck wound. His mind was fuzzy but Antonio had at least two thousand dollars on him from that night's work.

He tried to put up a fight, but his body wouldn't respond. A cold feeling set in and made his body numb. At the same time, he could hear the blood rushing in his ears and pounding as hard as it ever had in his entire life. A sharp panic went through his chest, cutting through the numbness and making his heart beat faster. Numbness and adrenaline mingling together for something close to a high.

His last thought before dying was maybe this is what the Double Drop felt like.

Midtown, Manhattan
4:48 AM

It was the middle of the night, but Tracy Lawless was wide awake. He sat on the edge of the bed, smoking a cigarette and staring through the darkness at the city outside. Sleep was something he no longer seemed to need much of. Years in the military had taught him how little he actually needed to function. No more than five hours a night and he was good until another twenty-four hours.

The woman in his bed stirred and he looked back at her. Gennelle was her name, or at least her stage name. She was one of the strippers at the club he managed for Fisk. It was stupid, taking her home that night after they closed... but Tracy's basic biological functions had been gnawing at him for the past few weeks. He needed to clear the works out, so to speak, and Gennelle with her long legs and rich coffee colored skin was just what he needed. He should have just went to a bar and picked a woman up, or even better bought a call girl for the night. Sleeping with one of the girls would no doubt cause some sort of trouble back at the club.

The cell phone on the dresser across the room rattled as it vibrated. Tracy stood and padded towards it. A blocked number was calling.

"Yeah," he said softly.

"It's me."

The voice on the other end was recognizable enough. James Wesley, some lawyer type Fisk used as a go-between for him and all the people he dealt with.

"He needs some work done. There's a meeting in the morning. Eight sharp."

"I'll be there. Where do you want to meet?"

"I won't be there. It'll be just the two of you. At the Tower, make sure to use the back elevator."

Tracy's curiosity was piqued. He'd been working for Fisk for nearly a year and only saw him face to face twice. Curiosity gave way to nerves. Just the two of them. Either something big needed Tracy's attention, or Fisk was tired of humoring Tracy and planned to do what he should have done a long time ago

"Okay. I'll be there."

Tracy hung up without another word. He walked towards his closet and started to dress. When he was done, he took a key off his ring and placed it on the nightstand beside the sleeping woman. He left her a note, asking to lock up after she left. Tracy tucked his piece, a Smith & Wesson compact .40, into the shoulder rig he wore under his coat and left out of the apartment before the morning son had a chance to creep up over the horizon.

Even at night, there was no relief from the Bialyan heat. As Agent Michaels stood at his post, he could feel the sweat running between his shoulder blades, soaking into the canvas of his uniform. He had asked his immediate supervisor about a half dozen times if he could just wear a t-shirt during nighttime guard duty, but each time he had been denied. Uniformity of appearance was incredibly important to Hydra. It was hardly the first topic on which Michaels and his supervisor disagreed. In fact, Michaels knew better than to believe that it was only coincidence that he had been assigned graveyard shifts three nights in a row. The power-hungry prick was just being spiteful.

I should cut off his head,
Michaels thought to himself, See who ends up taking his place. Knowing his luck, though, it'd only end up being someone doubly worse. Everyone in Hydra's chain of command was a prick. Hell, that's why they were promoted in the first place.

Other than the interruption of a normal sleep schedule, the graveyard shifts normally wouldn't have been so bad. The air was still heavy with heat, sure, but it sure beat spending six hours baking in the Bialyan sun. No, the real reason nighttime shifts bothered Agent Michaels so much was that they cut into any time he might be spending with Ayalah.

She was a seamstress who lived and worked in the nearest town. Michaels had met her during one of his authorized leaves, and she had taken him into her bed shortly thereafter. Every night that Michaels had to work was one less night he could be with Ayalah. And with the work nearing completion, those few remaining nights were precious. Once they were done with this facility, Michaels would be shipped off somewhere else to do Hydra's good work. And he would likely never see Ayalah again.

He had tried convincing her to run away with him, but it was never a realistic plan. Desertion from Hydra ended with a bullet to the head... or worse. His next idea was to marry her, but Ayalah's father would never consent to her marriage to a foreigner. Agent Michaels had half a mind to slip her father some cyanide and see how much his opinion mattered then. Of course, marriage brought its own troubles. All Ayalah knew was that Michaels worked security for an international organization. If she learned the truth about Hydra, her feelings towards him might change altogether. So few were capable of setting aside such baseless constructs as "morality" in favor of the larger picture, as Hydra was.

In the face of these issues, Agent Michaels had decided that the safest course was to banish Ayalah from his mind. A task easily set yet not so easily completed. Simply forgetting her would never work. He needed to root out the control she had over his mind. He tried to convince himself that she was nothing more than some Bialyan wh*re. That she likely spread her legs for every foreigner who stopped through her insignificant town. She may be in bed with someone else right now, Michaels told himself, but the words rang hollow.

Needing to occupy his mind, Agent Michaels stepped down from his post and began walking down the ramparts of the abandoned fort where Hydra had constructed their warehouse. The fort was nestled between hills of rock and sand on three sides. On the fourth side, where Michaels now walked, the desert extended to the horizon, looking almost black in this light. When Michaels reached the next post, he found his fellow guard missing. Annoyed, Michaels briefly looked around to see if the man had wandered off. As Agent Michaels reached for his walkie to call in the situation, he heard the soft scrape of metal on leather.

Before Michaels could turn, the cold steel was at his throat. Someone kicked at the back of his knees and forced Michaels to the ground. He wanted to scream, to make some noise to signal the others, but he found himself rendered mute with terror. He closed his eyes, and the image of Ayalah came unbidden to his mind. Moments before Agent Michaels felt the sword open his throat, he heard a soft voice say, "Perimeter secure."

* * *

Back in Washington, Michael Holt sat in front of three large, holographic computer screens as he listened in on STRIKE Team Alpha's radio frequency. The center screen displayed a bird's-eye view of the suspected Hydra facility, a modern warehouse situated between the crumbling brick walls of an abandoned Bialyan fort. Activity signs were low, just as they had expected. On the left screen, Holt pulled up vital readings from his teammates in the field. With a flick of the wrist, he overlaid the position of those teammates on the map of the facility. The holographic dots closed in.

"Perimeter secure," a voice reported.

Holt smiled to himself. Efficient, as always. "Good work, Katana." He turned his attention to the third screen where an energy readout displayed consistently high levels of output. "Falcon, you're up," Holt announced. Moments later, a second red blip appeared next to Falcon's position on the holographic map.

"Redwing deployed."

At the touch of a button, Holt assumed direct control of Falcon's drone. He brought Redwing in close to the facility's exterior, keeping one eye on the energy readout on the third screen. For the briefest of seconds, the energy levels flickered, but it was all Holt needed. His finger jumped to another button on his console, and suddenly the energy readings ceased. "Trojan pulse deployed. Perimeter defenses have been breached. Communications, alarms, and exterior cameras are all disabled."

Holt spun in his chair, tapping another button to give Falcon control of Redwing once more.

"Drawbridge is down, Cap. Want to give the front door a knock?"

* * *

"Ten seconds out," Captain America announced back.

Though the machine's advanced ion engine made almost no sound, Cap could still feel the motorcycle roar beneath him as he opened the throttle. The reinforced tires kicked up dirt and rocks as they fought for traction on the poorly paved roads which snaked between the Bialyan foothills. Every time the cycle took a sharp corner, Cap felt Black Canary tighten her grip around his waist. Her face never betrayed any concern, however. Every time he glanced back to check on her, she looked more ready and determined than the time before.

Finally, they zoomed around the last curve, and the facility rose up out of the sands to meet them. Though the front gate was still barred, there was a sizable V-shaped gap just to the left where the wall had crumbled away. Cap spotted a small hill of dirt that may serve as a ramp. As they accelerated towards it, he felt Canary lean forward in preparation. He gave the throttle one last squeeze as he launched the motorcycle into the air. They landed seconds later on the other side of the wall.

"Cap and Canary are in," Falcon spoke over the comms.

Black Canary quickly dismounted once the motorcycle came to a stop, and Captain America followed suit. Already, the yard was filled with Hydra goons out investigating the sudden security outage. As soon as they heard the motorcycle hit the dirt, they drew their weapons and began firing. Canary rolled behind a crate for cover and produced an extendable staff from her belt. Cap snatched his shield off the back of the motorcycle and covered himself with it.

The first wave of bullets dinged harmlessly off the shield, though the force of impact caught Cap flat-footed and sent him stumbling back. It had the added advantage of drawing the attention of those in the yard, which allowed Canary to somersault over the crate and rush the nearest gunmen. She was on them in a flash, knocking away their guns with the ends of her staff before driving an elbow into the nearest one's diaphragm. Cap spotted a second group turning their muzzles towards his teammate, so he hurled his shield at them. Forced to duck for cover, Cap could only rely on the sound of metal hitting meat to confirm that his aim was true.

"Thanks," Canary laughed over the radio.

As Cap sat behind a crate and waited for the gunmen to reload, he watched as more Hydra goons started pouring out of the main warehouse. It would only take them a second to spot him, but if he moved he risked exposing himself to the gunmen at his back. Cap glanced at the nearby motorcycle, wondering he could make the dive safely.

"Heads up, Cap."

Before Captain America could think to ask, his shield dropped from the sky and hit the dirt at his feet. Looking up, Cap watched as Falcon soared away, drawing attention from the second group of gunmen. "Thank you, Falcon." Cap picked up the shield and slung it over his arm. He hurtled the crate and ran for the first group of men. Black Canary was still ducking and diving between bullets, leaving a path of battered bodies in her wake. She hardly had time to notice that Cap had re-entered the fray.

Cap bull-rushed one of the goons, planting the center of his shield into the man's chest. As he fell backwards, the man knocked over a second gunman behind him. A third raised his gun at Cap, but his attempt was met with the click of a misfire. Seizing the opportunity, Cap leaped over the toppled bodies and delivered a sharp cross to the third gunman's jaw. He hit the dirt hard, sending his gun sprawling.

"Second group's coming back your way," Falcon reported.

Cap looked to Black Canary, who had just finished cleaning up her half of the yard. She strode forward to meet him, stepping carelessly over the half-conscious body of one of the thugs she defeated. She gave Cap a small smile before turning her attention towards the second group. As the two got into a battle-ready stance, the earth beneath their feet began to rumble. A hangar-sized door on the warehouse opened, and a Hydra tank rolled out into the yard. Canary and Cap looked at each other.

"Might want to cover your ears for this," Black Canary warned as she took a step forward. The tank turned to meet her, bringing its enormous barrel to bear on the two heroes. Cap saw Canary clench her fists, and he considered tackling her out of the tank's path. Before either of them could do anything, though, something whistled through the night and plink-ed against the tank's armor.

"Save your voice, Dinah," Hawkeye's voice came over the radio. "This is my song."

Then there was a beep, and the top half of the tank blew open in a dazzling fireball. Cap instinctively raised his shield to protect himself, angling it to cover Canary's body as well. Once the heat dissipated, Captain America turned his head to see Hawkeye standing on the ramparts, bow in hand and twirling another explosive arrow. Katana appeared behind him, her namesake blade catching the moonlight.

"Now, come on. We've got a laser to stop."

My eyes are forced open as I cough heavily and jerk upright. There’s smoke everywhere now and the explosion seems to have destroyed most of the bar and parts of the building’s foundations and roofing. Though I can barely breath and my head is killing me, I use my radar sense to search through the darkness for any sign of Peter inside. Underneath a piece of rubble across the room is the faintest heartbeat. It had to be him.

“Peter! Peter! We need to get out of here,” I shout. “This whole place is going down!”

There’s no response as I claw my way through the smoke with a hand over my mouth. As I grow closer I can smell singed hair and burnt flesh. The fire had gotten to him long before the rubble had fallen on top of him. It was a wonder that he was still alive. I do my best to ignore the flames around me and grab hold of the rubble and lift it free of him. It’s heavy, but there’s no way I’m leaving him. I wouldn’t leave my worst enemy to die like this.

“Come on, Murdock, you can do this.”

I try to lift it again and this time manage to get it a half metre off the ground before having to set it down again. It’s no good, there’s no way I’m getting him out of here on his own without some help.

From beneath me I hear a splutter and Peter’s voice comes leaking out from underneath the rubble.

“Leave me.”

I shake my head.

“You have to pay for what you’ve done.”

Fear begins to laugh weakly before breaking into a coughing fit.

“Even now you lack the strength to do what is necessary.”

I wouldn’t leave him here. That’s exactly what he’d want. If the tables were turned he’d leave me to burn alive in an instance. I was a loose end as much as Lawton was. With either of us still alive there’d be the constant threat of reprisal and he’d sooner commit cold-blooded murder than deal with that. He’d let a man he considered a friend burn alive out of self-preservation and he had the temerity to claim to have conquered fear. I’d save him, I’d show him and Hell’s Kitchen once and for all that the good guys could win.

I crouch in front of the rubble with my back faced to it and press up against it, bending my knees and holding onto it as I did so. Here goes nothing. As I stand up I can feel my legs shaking underneath the pressure as if they were pleading with me to give in. I ignore them and my growing inability to breath and watch as Fear drags his way out from underneath the rubble. Once clear from underneath it I let it drop to the ground and start towards him. His breathing is so weak that I’m surprised he could summon up the strength to crawl out from underneath it. The smell of burnt flesh is almost enough to turn my stomach, but I kneel before him for a second.

“You’d lost before this even started,” I mutter to him. “You think not feeling fear gives you an advantage? You’re wrong. Fear is what makes you strong. Fear keeps you alive when there’s nothing else.”

Slowly he drifts out of consciousness and I reach down to pick him up and carry him out of the building. The smoke is so thick that were it not for my radar sense there’s no way I’d be making my way out of here alive. The heat is almost unbearable too. As I approach the front of the building with Peter in my arms I hear a dozen set of footsteps come to a halt outside of the bar door and gun’s cocking.

“This is the NYPD,” boomed a voice from the other side of the entrance over a loudspeaker. “Come out with your hands up and we will do you no harm. I repeat, come out with your hands up and we will do you no harm. No one more needs to die tonight.”

Whoever it was speaking I believed, but he only had a loudspeaker in his hands. I could smell the sweat, the fear, and the anger that was seeping out of the SWAT assembled outside and they were carrying something slightly more dangerous. I wasn’t going to risk one of them acting on impulse and putting a bullet between my eyes.

“You have ten seconds.”

I needed more time. What to do? What to do? Think Murdock, think.

Through the entrance of the bar a smoke grenade came rolling through, as if there wasn’t already enough smoke in this place already. I could hear them making their way towards the entrance and as many of them circling around towards the back too. I glance at Peter in my arms and then towards the entrance. Slowly I set him down by it, certain that SWAT will come through before the fire reaches him, and make a dash towards a set of stairs in the corner of the room.

As I descend up the fiery staircase I glance down as SWAT bursts through the entrance, shouting at the top of their voices as they brandish their weapons in Peter’s direction and surround him.

“In the corner! There he is!”

One of the officers begins to unload his firearm in my direction and I dart around a corner and continue up through the building. I can feel the sweat dripping off me as I make my way through several stories of flames and smoke, fighting desperately for breath and for the energy to remain on my feet. Eventually I manage to break through into what used to be a bedroom, though it would be hard to tell given the extent of the damage the fire had caused, and eye a hole in the wall that looks out across the street with hope.

I had one chance at this. If I made out it and across without the police below spotting me I’d be away, there’s no way they’d catch me even in the state I was in. If someone happened to have their rifle trained at the opening I’d be dead before I even knew about it. I had no chance, going back down wasn’t an option and the back was as heavily guarded as the front, I’d have to go across.

“Here goes nothing.”

I take a running start and reach for my billy club as I leap out of the hole in the wall. As I break through the smoke and into the night’s air I feel a wave of cold breeze hit me in the face. In one swift movement I fling my billy club at streetlight across the street and swing from it and onto the rooftop next to it. From what I could tell the police below had been too focused on the ground floor to notice my escape but I couldn’t risk slowing down, I kept swinging from rooftop to rooftop until I was convinced I was free. Eventually I stopped and crumpled in an alleyway and pulled my mask clean from my face, every breath of fresh air seemed to renew my strength.

I’d made it out. Fear and Deadshot were in the police’s hands. I’d actually won. Deadshot had almost killed me when we’d tangled, Fear had made short work of him, and now both had been neutralized. It was almost too good to be true. And that’s when it hit me.

The smell of cigarettes, whiskey, and ink, though this time with an undercurrent of apricots came wafting over from across the street. As I looked up and attempted to pull my mask back over my face I heard the sound of a camera shutter flickering. Stood there in the middle of the street was Ben Urich, his camera pointed in my direction, with his mouth agape. I attempted to shout in his direction but before the words were out of my mouth he’d leapt into his car and sped off in the other direction. Try as I might my legs couldn’t carry me after him quick enough, I was too tired to go after him and I wasn’t quite sure what I’d do even if I wasn’t.

Damn it, Matt.

I made it home that night with some care. Since Deadshot had tracked me back to Ted’s I’d put twice as much effort into making sure I wasn’t being followed. Needless to say I’d not manage to get much sleep that night for fear of seeing my face splashed all over the television. Of all people, why did it have to be Ben Urich? I should have known better, shouldn’t have been so goddamn sloppy again. I’d been at this for less than a month and already three people had worked out who I was. Ted, Deadshot, and now Urich. Ted knowing put him at constant risk, Deadshot wanted me dead, and Urich was sleeping with my ex-girlfriend. I wasn’t exactly off to the greatest start in the world and that wasn’t even factoring in Peter.

I was still trying to get my head around what had happened to him. The formula had changed him. It amplified the very worst aspects of his personality and had twisted him into someone that pre-formula Peter would have abhorred. At least, I think so. Maybe I didn’t know Peter as well as I thought I did? Maybe “Mr. Fear” was there all along in one way, shape, or form. So many goddamn questions and so few answers. What do I do? Where do I go from here? I didn’t know how to be Daredevil without Peter there to work with.

One thing I did know was that I had to speak to Ben Urich.

So that’s why, still covered in cuts and bruises, I’m sat outside of Angela’s apartment in Ted’s car trying to talk myself into going inside. It wasn’t so much that I was worried about talking to Urich or about finding out that he’d already written the story up. It was the thought of walking into the place I’d called home for years and finding the pictures of Angela and I replaced by pictures of Angela and Ben. Furniture moved around, his things having replaced mine, it hurt to even think about it. But I had to go in.

“You’re sure this is a good idea?”

I nod.

“Good luck, kid.”

I step out of the car and shut the door behind me and limp towards the door to Angela’s apartment building. I run my finger across the panel and stop at the third one down and press it anxiously. I can feel my heart beating through my chest as I await a response from the other side.


I’d hoped Angela wouldn’t be in for some reason. I wasn’t sure whether Ben would have already told her or whether he’d force me into having the conversation with her there. I wasn’t sure how she’d react, whether she’d be proud of me and forgive me for some of my past indiscretions, or whether she’d feel vindicated in leaving me for hiding things from her in recent months. Probably the latter.

“Hey Angela,” I say awkwardly. “It’s Matt.”

There’s a silence.

“What are you doing here?”

I can tell she’s worried. She probably thinks I’ve come by to cause some sort of scene and demand that she leave Urich and come back to me. Once upon a time I’d probably have done something like that. Once upon a time I’d have put Urich in the hospital for so much as looking at Angela the wrong way let alone taking her from me. It’s only in realising that I wouldn’t consider doing something like that now that I realise how much the past few months have changed me. For the better I hoped.

“I actually came by to have a word with Ben. Tell him I’ve stopped by, would you? I’m sure he’s probably expecting me.”


I can sense the shock in her voice. She lets go of the button for a few seconds to quiz Urich about why I’m there and he says, as cool as a cucumber, that the two of us have things to discuss in private. He tells her that she can’t know what it’s about but that it’s nothing untoward and that she had nothing to be worried about. She’s confused, slightly irritated even, but I can feel her relief as he reassures her and assuages her fears in a way that I never could. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t sting.

From the speaker comes Urich’s voice.

“Come on up, Matt.”

I door buzzes and I make my way up the stairs towards Angela’s apartment. I’d done this walk a hundred times over and even without my radar sense I’d have been able to do it, but I take my time and make sure to drag my cane across the steps as I walk. As I make my way towards the door to Angela’s apartment I can hear her putting her coat on and making her way towards the door to greet me. As the door opens the smell of apricots hits me and takes me back to all the good times that Angela and I had ever had with one another in an instance.

“Ben tells me that the two of you have something private to discuss. I’m not sure what’s going on here and I’m not sure that I like this, but he’s promised me that nothing is going to happen if I leave you two alone and I want you to promise me that too.”

I smile.

“I don’t know if you’ve noticed but I’m blind now, Angela, my fighting days are behind me.”

She steps aside and lets me into the apartment. Her pulse is flat and unchanging as she looks at me, but as she turns her head towards Ben I feel it pick up. I knew coming here would be difficult but maybe I’d underestimated the extent of it. She seemed so happy, so at peace, more content than she’d been with me for a long time. And I wanted to be unhappy about that but I couldn’t be. All I wanted for her was to be happy and if that meant it was someone else I’d have to deal with it. But that didn’t make it any easier.

“You have fifteen minutes,” Angela said firmly. “I want you out by then unless you two are willing to tell me what’s going on when I get back.”

I nod as she shuts the door behind her and leaves Ben and I alone in the apartment.

“You can drop the act now, Daredevil.”

Urich pulls a cigarette from a packet in his back pocket and slips one into his mouth. He walks across the apartment and sits by an open window and lights the cigarette between his lips. His pulse is steady, he’s not worried that I’m here to threaten him with violence, but I can tell from the way he moves that he’s uncertain as to what to do.

“It’s not an act.”

Urich shakes his head and tuts.

“Seriously? You’re going to look me in the face and lie to me like that? No blind man could do the things you do. And to think, how many hundreds of thousands of dollars did Peter waste trying to restore your vision? It was all for nothing. You could see the entire time and, not only that, you’re freaking Daredevil.”

I don’t even know where to begin to explain. So much had happened on the way to my becoming Daredevil that explaining it all would take hours. All I had was fifteen minutes. Unless I wanted Angela privy to the fact I was a costumed vigilante, that is. And that was the last thing I wanted. I raise a hand to my temple in exasperation and try my best to think of a condensed explanation.

“Ben, I am blind. There’s no way I can prove to you that I can’t see. Peter created a formula that was meant to help restore my vision but it amplified all of my other senses to the point that I can function almost as well as if I had my sight, even better in certain ways.”

Ben shakes his head.

“You expect me to believe that? I’ve known Peter Cross for nearly two decades, Matt, and I know him better than anyone. If he’d made a breakthrough like that it would be all over the news, he wouldn’t waste it on sending a nobody like you out on the streets to beat on muggers.”

Ah, Peter. How would I explain Peter? I’d forgotten that it had been Ben who’d recommended Peter to Angela. To think if it weren’t for that there would be no Daredevil and Urich and I wouldn’t be having this conversation. What a strange world we live in. That was the easy part. Explaining that Cross had taken the formula, gone insane, and gone on a killing spree was the hard part. I gloss over the “nobody” part and try to think of how I’ll explain the whole thing to him.

“Sometimes people can surprise you.”

Urich cocks an eyebrow at my somewhat quizzical statement as if he senses it was little more than an attempt on my part to buy more time.

“What the hell is that meant to mean?”

“Peter Cross took the formula,” I say with a sigh. “The “Mr. Fear” that people have been falling over themselves to laud as Hell’s Kitchen’s saviour despite the fact he was murdering people? That was him.”

His pulse spikes and I can hear him trying to fight back a gulp. I’d never heard Peter talk about Urich in all the time that I’d known him, maybe because he was aware of the Angela situation and didn’t want to make things awkward, but it’s clear that the men were closer than I’d imagine. There were dozens of reasons that I wished Cross hadn’t gone mad, but that he’d probably be the only man capable of talking Urich out of running this story is the one that seems most relevant at the moment.

“Now I know you’re lying.”

“Believe me, I didn’t want it to be true either,” I mutter with a shake of my head. “After the attack, after I’d lost my sight, after losing Ang… Well, I didn’t have much to live for after everything that had happened and he offered me something to keep me going on. He gave me back some semblance of a life and gave me purpose. But something snapped in him, that formula changed him, it’s driven him insane. He’s not the man that either of us knew anymore.”

Urich takes a long final drag of his cigarette before flicking the butt out of the window and onto the street below carelessly.

“Let’s say any of this is true. Let’s say that you are blind and that Peter is Fear and all of the rest of it. So what? You think that’s enough? You think that I’m not going to run this story because maybe you’re one of the good guys? The people have a right to know the truth.”

I nod in agreement.

“I don’t disagree with you. I’m not here to tell you what to do with those pictures, I’m not here to threaten you or to blackmail you, I’m here to ask you to sit on them.”

A sound somewhere between derisory laughter and a purposefully petulant exhale comes from Urich’s mouth.

“Why the hell would I do that?”

The suggestion was as incredulous to him as asking him not to run them at all would be. I’d hoped that I had a pitch that would convince him to agree to it. I wasn’t quite sure what I’d do if he didn’t agree to it and I’d not planned for that eventuality at all, so my hands began to clam up a little as I spoke.

“Are you from Hell’s Kitchen?”

Ben nods.

“Then you’ll know how long this area has lived in fear of men like Eric Slaughter and Turk Barratt. You’ll know who my father was and who Ted Grant is and how much they meant to Hell’s Kitchen once upon a time. This place had some pride once. Was it perfect? No, it sure as hell wasn’t. But men like Slaughter and Barratt didn’t rule the roost here then, they couldn’t rule the roost here, Hell’s Kitchen was about more than men like them. For every Slaughter there were five men like Ted Grant, for every Barratt there were ten Jack Murdocks out there. People in The Kitchen had pride. They got up in the morning, they worked hard, and they looked out for one another all without having to worry about scumbags like Turk breathing down their necks. It can be that way again. They just need someone to remind them that it can, Ben.”

Please, for the love of God, let this work. I can’t get a bead on him, can’t tell whether he thinks I’m talking absolute drivel or whether I’m convincing him. But all I could do now was talk from the heart and hope he agreed with whatever came out.

“Give me six months. Watch me, watch what happens out there on those streets, and if you think I’m not a force for good, if you think I can’t give those people out there something to feel hopeful about you publish those pictures. I won’t stop you, I won’t run, heck I’ll even give you an exclusive interview after they slap me in irons. You have my word on that. But the people of Hell’s Kitchen deserve better than Slaughter, they deserve better than “heroes” like Fear, and I think Daredevil can give them that. If you let me, I can give those people hope, Ben. I can make Hell’s Kitchen the way it was again. Better even.”

Ben walks towards me slowly and extends a reluctant hand in my direction.

“Six months.”

I shake his hand and smile. There were no more words to be exchanged, no more promises to be made, I’d let Urich judge me by my actions. If I hadn’t proven to him that Daredevil could be a force for good in Hell’s Kitchen within six months then I probably deserved to be behind bars. Despite his agreement, I can still sense Urich’s reluctance and, only slightly deeper than that, the intense grief that he feels about Cross. I wanted to offer him words of support or to reassure him that there was nothing more that he could have done, but that could never happen. We weren’t friends, we never could be friends, and those demons he’d have to bear alone. As I had to bear mine.

“Oh, and Daredevil?” Ben said in my direction as I made my way out. “It's probably for the best you keep that mask of yours on when you’re out and about. I swear to God if you ruin my exclusive Deadshot will be the least of your worries.”

I nod politely and shut the door behind me. Angela was on her way back, I could smell the scent of apricots drifting down from several blocks across in this direction, so I hurried down the stairs and entered the car where Ted had been waiting. In another life maybe I’d have loitered around and tried to bump into her so we could talk alone. But what was there for us to talk about? We were done. That part of my life died the day Daredevil was born.

I look over at Ted in the driver’s seat and smile at him warmly.

“Let’s go home.”

"How's the suit fit, Mr. Allen?" Dr. Elias asks with a knock on the door.

I pull at the bodysuit's inseam. "Snugly," I answer with a frown. "Did it have to be so... tight?"

"Have you ever watched Olympic speed skating? Do you ever see any of those athletes in a sweatshirt? Loose-fitting fabric promotes drag at high speeds. In order to achieve maximum aerodynamic efficiency, you want as little fabric as possible above the skin. Besides, your increased metabolism is helping you build lean muscle at an astonishing rate, so you should take some pride in your new body."

I consider myself in the mirror. He's not wrong, I suppose. I was never wildly out of shape or anything, but neither was I anything to write home about. But with all the running I've been doing lately, I've shed a little extra body fat. I haven't quite noticed when I've been dressed for work, but in a skintight bodysuit? Well, let's just say I wouldn't feel too self-conscious at the beach.

"Well, it's still a pain in the a** to put on," I point out. "Even with superspeed."

"A fair point," Elias concedes. "I'll begin brainstorming a solution."

After one last glance at my own reflection, I step out of the bathroom and present myself to Dr. Elias. "Well, here I am." I hold out my arms and do a quick turn. The more I grow used to the way the unstable molecule fabric hugs my every movement, the more I grow to like the suit. With a smile, I ask, "You really made this? I didn't know you could sew."

"Working with this particular fabric is more science than art. It's not exactly like I took out a needle and thread." He takes a step back and considers the full suit for a moment. "And you're sure about the color?" he asks, arching an eyebrow.

I look down at myself. "If I'm gonna wear a racing suit, I may as well look the part."

Elias shakes his head. "Very well, then. Now we've seen the form. I suppose it's time to see about the function." He motions towards his treadmill.

As I step onto the treadmill, I reach back and pull the cowl over my head. Like the rest of the suit, it contours to the shape of my face, coming to rest on the bridge of my nose. Dr. Elias said it was important to protect my hair from the effects of friction and wind resistance. Moreover, it should improve my aerodynamics, like a swimmer's cap. I feel a bit like a human sausage in this head-to-toe casing, but I do have to admit that it makes me feel kinda... sleek.

Like any good lab rat, I climb into my hamster wheel and begin running. Maybe it's just a placebo effect, but I do feel a bit fast, a bit more aerodynamic. Free from the fear of setting my shirt on fire, I open up the throttle a bit more. Between strides, I catch glimpses of Dr. Elias studying his readouts. From the look on his face, the tests are going well. The unstable molecule fabric is doing its job. When I tap into the Speed Force, the crackle of sparks dance across the bodysuit like little lightning bolts. I can't help but smile at how cool it looks.

Right before I lose myself to that runner's high, I hear the high-pitched beeping of my phone. I slow myself to a stop and hop off the treadmill. As I make my way across the room, Dr. Elias shouts, "One of these days, I'm going to institute a strict 'no cell phone' policy in this room." He's annoyed, as always, that real life is getting in the way of his tests.

On my phone is a message from Patty. And then Iris. And Jesse. All of them telling me a variation of the same thing. "Dr. Elias, can you pull up GBS News?" I ask, still furrowing my brow at the texts. I hear a click across the room, and then the sound of GBS anchor Sally Floyd's voice. I set my phone down and make my way across the laboratory. Over Elias' shoulder, I can see a "BREAKING NEWS" banner on the bottom of the screen.

It takes me a minute to figure out what I'm looking at. It's an overhead shot - presumably taken by the GBS News helicopter - of a standoff taking place downtown. The CCPD have formed a large circle around a singular individual. They all have their guns drawn, but strangely the man seems unarmed. As the camera circles around, I catch a glimpse of his face and realize that I've seen it before.

"Max Dillon."

Dr. Elias looks up at me. "The janitor?"

Without taking my eyes off the screen, I explain, "He's the one who killed Dr. Robert Frank. We think he might've also been responsible for the particle accelerator explosion. When my boss sent a pair of uniformed officers to arrest him at his apartment, he killed them, too, and escaped."

"Evidently, they found him."

There's a flash of light on screen, and I turn my head to avoid the glare. Then, the police start shooting. Though Dillon shudders with the impact of every shot, he doesn't go down. Instead, something thoroughly peculiar starts to happen. He begins to glow. I wonder if it's just a trick of the light at first, but as the intensity grows I realize that it's for real. At first, it's just his hands, but then light begins to emanate from his entire body. He thrusts a hand in the direction of the nearest cop car...

... and lightning arcs from his fingertips.

The beam of lightning strikes the cop car, which promptly explodes. Nearby officers duck for cover as the twisted hunk of metal goes soaring over their heads. The cops on the opposite side of the standoff continue firing. Dillon turns towards them and points again. This time, the lightning branches and strikes five officers all at once. They convulse as their bodies are subjected to thousands of volts of electricity.

"Oh my God," is all I can say. Suddenly, the puzzle pieces from the crime scene begin to click. Whatever Dillon's doing now, he did to those uniformed officers. It explains the cauterized wounds and the burn marks on the floor and ceiling. And evidently bullets are little more than a nuisance to him, somehow, which explains the missing slugs. Still... knowing this and understanding what's happening are two entirely different things.

"The night of the particle accelerator explosion," Elias announces suddenly, drawing me back from the scene onscreen. "I told you afterwards that I suspected someone was tampering with the building's power supply." He looks up at me. "The police believe Dillon might've been trying to cover his tracks? Well, what if he was still inside the building when the lightning struck? What if he was affected, just like you were?"

I can hardly bear to watch more of the live footage. The police are throwing everything they have at Dillon, but it's sadly just not enough. "I need to do something."

Dr. Elias narrows his eyes at me. "Come again?"

I motion towards the screen. "Look at this! The CCPD aren't equipped to deal with something like this," I reason.

"And you are?" Elias turns his attention back to the screen. "You're not exactly a fighter."

"No, but with my speed I stand as good a chance as anybody of taking him down. No one else is going to be able to get close."

Elias leans forward, resting his elbows on his desk and he brings his folded hands to his chin. "Astonishing, isn't it? The sheer volume of bio-electricity that he seems to be able to produce. And much like you, I'm sure he hasn't even begun to tap into the upper limits of his power." If I didn't know Elias better, the tone of his voice would be disconcerting. He sometimes seems to value scientific discovery over basic human empathy. "Even if the police were to somehow apprehend this man, there's no possible way they could contain him. Not without my help, anyway."

"So you agree we should do something?"

After a moment, he nods. "In return for my services developing a containment system for Mr. Dillon, I'm sure the police would allow me to study his condition. It could provide remarkable breakthroughs for renewable energy." Elias spins in his chair to face me. "Alright, let's stop him."

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