Saturday, October 24th, 2015 03:49 pm
Battle

(Art by [personal profile] st_aurafina)

Title: Battle

Characters/Pairing: Karen Page, Foggy Nelson, Matt Murdock, Marci Stahl

Fandom/Universe: Daredevil (TV)

Rating: Teen

Word count: 18,000

Warnings: canon-typical violence, civilian deaths, 9/11 references

Notes: Thanks to [personal profile] musesfool and [personal profile] st_aurafina for the beta.

Summary: When New York is attacked by the Chitauri in 2012, Karen, Matt and Foggy each have to find a way to survive. Featuring Karen in single combat, Foggy meeting the Hulk, and Matt versus a Leviathan.




Matt felt the terrible noise boom through his bones and teeth. He stumbled, falling against a plate glass window, only to find that the window was vibrating with the same strange low note. He pushed away from it, bumping into a tourist. The tourist didn't even notice, gawping at the sky.

"What the fuck is that?" someone shouted, and everyone else on the street joined in with the chorus of fear and disbelief.

"Praise Jesus!" came a woman's voice, but she was quickly shouted down with cries of "Aliens!" "Terrorists!" "A nuclear fucking bomb!" They all had their necks craned, staring upwards. People were coming out of the stores, too, taking pictures of whatever it was above them. Some people were running, and Matt was alarmed to notice that they were all running west or south.

"What is it? What's happening?" Matt asked a woman who had stopped beside him to take photos. He could hear the double-take as she saw his cane and realised he was blind, but fortunately she was kind rather than annoyed.

"This blue laser beam shot out of Stark Tower, then this big hole opened up in the sky, right above it. You can see stars, and there's something coming out…little airplanes maybe?"

"It's bombs, you stupid bitch!" the alcohol-soaked man on the other side of her bellowed, and Matt stepped between them.

"Thank you, ma'am. I think we'd all better find cover, whether it's bombs or planes."

She shook her head emphatically. "I've got to get to my kids' daycare." She didn't waste another second, but ran off towards Tenth Avenue, high heels clacking.

"Shit, the kids!" The man who had insulted her ran off just as quickly, one of the few running towards Stark Tower. The crowd was beginning to split, now, into gawkers and runners, and Matt could hear collisions and arguments all around him, along with people screaming into their phones, calling the cops, calling loved ones. The traffic had stopped dead, pedestrians wandering all over the road.

Matt's phone rang in his pocket. Foggy. Foggy. Foggy.

"Foggy, where are you? What's happening?"

"Still at work, buddy, but I think we might have rest of the day off."

Foggy's voice was as steady as ever, though Matt was now getting a double hit of that low hum – once through his bones and once via Foggy's call. It sounded louder where Foggy was, which made sense if it was coming from Stark Tower. Landman and Zack was a block away, on Lexington.

"Someone here said there was a big hole in the sky over Midtown. Are they evacuating you?"

"It's right above us, so I don't think anyone knows where to go yet. There's all these silvery guys on hoverbikes flying out of the hole. Yay! Hoverbikes!" Foggy put on a silly voice and Matt laughed nervously.

"Are you quoting the Simpsons at me again? You know the nuns didn't let us watch that. Foggy, you've got to get out of there."

"What about you? Where did Chen send you this time?"

Chen was a junior partner who liked to use the 2L interns to hand-deliver documents to clients or other law firms. While Foggy thought it was mean that he sometimes chose Matt to send on his little missions, Matt was pleased that Chen treated him like any other intern. Of course, today it meant that he was stuck six blocks crosstown from Foggy while some kind of attack happened.

"I'm actually in Hell's Kitchen, would you believe it? I'll be fine, Foggy, I'm away from whatever's happening. But you have to go."

"Foggy Nelson!" Matt heard Marci's sharp voice in the background. "Get the hell away from the windows!"

Matt breathed out in relief. Matt and Marci might fight like two cats in a garbage can, but he had no doubt that she would keep Foggy away from danger. Her well-developed sense of self-importance meant that she would want him around as an audience, and Matt had long since learned that the best way to make Foggy do anything was to give him someone to look after.

"Hey, Matt, Marci says they're evacuating now, so I've got to go. Stay safe, okay?"

"Gotcha."

The phone went silent and Matt held it in his hand a moment longer, wishing that he could still hear Foggy's voice.

"Matt! Matt Murdock!" shouted a voice behind him. Matt took a second to recognise it amid all the noise.

"Mr Schnapp! Are you all right?" Mr Schnapp ran the diner where Matt had worked, on and off, since high school. Even though he was staying rent-free at the Nelsons' apartment over summer, the unpaid internship at Landman and Zack ate up most of Matt's time and he wasn't managing to save up much for next semester. Mr Schnapp's diner mostly had Matt washing the dishes and carrying heavy things, but since Mr Schnapp's hip had got bad, Matt had got to work the grill for him sometimes, which he enjoyed despite the grease.

"Yes, I'm on my way back from the doctor and this mess starts up! Come on, we shouldn't be out on the street, not if it's terrorists again."

He took Matt's arm and guided him to the diner. Matt usually had little trouble on foot – he'd fall in behind a speedy local and follow in their wake – but today people were scattered everywhere and the added distraction of that bone-hurting hum was too much. He had vague thoughts of travelling those six blocks to Landman and Zack, to find Foggy, but he couldn't see how he'd make it there: even if he went over the rooftops in broad daylight, he'd still have to cross the teeming avenues and negotiate around the skyscrapers. Mr Schnapp had guided Matt before, and today at least Matt was pleased to have his arm in the old man's, even if he did permanently smell of bacon grease and hamburgers.

The diner was full of people – scared tourists, angry locals, everyone screaming into their phones – but it was doing a roaring trade in coffee and sandwiches.

"Matt!" Mrs Schnapp kissed him on the cheek and gently pushed him towards the kitchen. "So lucky you're not at the law firm today. Where's that friend of yours, Foggy?"

"He's at work." Matt grimaced, as his phone beeped. It was a text, and Matt quickly pressed the button to read it out.

Can't get through to you. People are saying aliens??? Climbing the building and shooting laser guns.

The flat voice didn't make it clear if it was the supposed aliens or Foggy himself climbing the building and shooting laser guns, but Matt had to assume the former, since Foggy had never shown any proclivity towards shooting. Or climbing.

Another text.

Marci and me ok. It's super weird, take care buddy.

Matt flipped the phone over and activated the Brailletouch app to send a message back.

at diner stay safe or I will kick your ass ok

Then he quickly changed out of his one good suit into the old sweatpants, t-shirt and sneakers he kept here, grabbed an apron, and headed for the teetering pile of dirty dishes. It would be easy enough to keep an ear on the TV while he worked, and maybe it would distract him from doing something stupid like going to find Foggy. Here, at least he'd be useful.

***

"We don't even know if the texts are going through!" Marci snapped, but Foggy noticed that she was still texting as frequently as he was.

"I'm sure they're going somewhere. Isn't that how it works? Then after we've all been disintegrated by those silver dudes, everyone can read our last words and cry over how much they miss us."

Marci rolled her eyes, but the corner of her mouth quirked up. "Well, in all the elaborate 'then you'll be sorry!' death scenarios of my teenage years, I never imagined being stuck in a stairwell with my ex-boyfriend while aliens tried to blast the façade off my building."

"Morbid," commented one of the other interns. Most of the group were interns and paralegals and secretaries, from the crappy cubicles near the east stairwell,
though a few lawyers from another firm had joined them. One of them was a much older man and Foggy was worried about his ability to descend any more stairs. Maybe this enforced break was a good thing.

Someone called up from the stairs two storeys below. "Fire door's open! Get down here, everyone!"

The attackers had broken into the building down on the tenth floor, and the stairwell there was filled with debris. The fire doors had automatically locked down when the alarms went off – there's another safety violation, Foggy thought – and left Foggy and Marci's group stuck in the east stairwell. Foggy had suggested going up a few floors and across the building to another stairwell, but the older workers had smacked down that idea.

"9/11 rules, Nelson," paralegal Simone told him. "If you go up, you're screwed. If you go down, you're only probably screwed."

The crush of people in the stairwell heaved into action and they all scurried down another floor and out into the eighteenth floor and some financial services office. Just as they did, one of the hoverbikes smashed against the window, twenty feet away from them. It burst into flames and bounced off, but the glass cracked all over, held in place by the protective solar film. One of the silver guys clung to the windowsill above, kicking frantically at the sagging sheet of glass.

Foggy stared open-mouthed – that seriously was an alien, with a gross little grey face and everything – but Marci dug her sharp nails into the tender flesh of his side and startled him out of it.

"Come on! It's going to break through!"

"Oh, yeah, alien trying to kill us, got it!" Foggy grabbed the arm of the stunned secretary next to him and pulled the guy along with him by the elbow, like he would lead Matt. They got back into the stairwell and closed the heavy fire door moments before they heard the glass explode inwards and the rush of wind from outside knocking everything to the floor. There was a strange screeching noise that Foggy realised had to be the alien soldier and something heavy thudded against the door, shaking it in its frame.

"Hey, Gutierrez, help me with this!" Foggy called over to the other big guy in their group, and the two of them put their backs against the door. Another guy, one of the paralegals, who was totally built under that suit jacket, and Marci's friend Gina the Gym Rat joined them. The door shook as the alien hurled itself against it, but their combined weight and strength was enough to hold it closed, and a fire door was apparently too strong for the alien to break through. Foggy had to hope the alien had lost his disintegrator beam when he lost his hoverbike, because he was pretty sure that the door wouldn't stand up to that.

The IT guy who had gotten the door open in the first place fiddled with some wires and Foggy felt the door lock again.

"I'll try again a few floors down," he told the group, "But it's not going to be any faster."

Marci coolly assessed Foggy, Gina and the other two strong guys. "How about you guys start on the debris on the landing? Maybe we can break through that way."

"And maybe there's an alien with a ray gun on the other side!" yelled the panicked guy Foggy had dragged to safety. "They're going to kill us all!"

Paralegal Simone shook her head and spoke over the top of him. "If there was, they'd zap the debris out of the way, wouldn't they? You saw the damage they were doing to Grand Central! A pile of drywall and concrete wouldn't stop them."

She pushed past everyone else and started the hike down to the tenth floor. Foggy and the others fell in behind her, though the IT guy stopped at the twelfth floor to work on the fire door there.

"Human chain, let's go," Simone told them, so she, Foggy and Gina started passing debris up to Gutierrez and Muscle Guy, who sent it up to more waiting hands. Even Marci pitched in, despite her expensive manicure. It was a plaster-covered mess on the blocked landing, and Foggy was really hoping that the building had been renovated often enough to have gotten the asbestos out. Still, if the explosions and zapping noises they could hear from outside were any indication, living long enough to develop asbestosis might be a good goal right now.

***

Karen couldn't believe it. She'd come to New York to feel safe and on her second day at her new data entry job there was a terrorist attack! Weirdly, she felt quite calm about the whole thing. It was kind of validating to see everyone freaking out, and violence happening out in public, where they couldn't deny it. She did wish she had a gun, though. New York laws were so strict and she couldn't risk being caught and made to go home to Vermont.

At least her manager, Binh, was calm. "Come on, everyone. Let's evacuate the building in an orderly fashion. Head to the door, then turn left for the stairs."

Karen, as the new hire, was right at the back of the crowded rows of cubicles, near the door to the bathrooms, and had to wait for the people in front of her to go. She had a moment's panic about being left alone here, but Binh was herding staff out the door rather than leaving himself, so she focused on his bright blue polo shirt and tried to keep breathing. Should she change her stilettos for flats? What if they had to walk over broken glass?

Yolanda at the next cubicle was texting frantically. "Karen, you should text your family right now! In 9/11 we didn't hear from my aunt for hours and we thought she must be dead. Texting goes through better. My hubby says whatever's happening is only over Manhattan right now, but he's going to pick up the kids from school anyway."

Karen shrugged. "I don't have any family. And I don't really know anyone here yet."

"Oh, I'm sorry, sweetie. Well, give me your number then you'll have someone to text to say you're alive."

Karen brought up her brand new number and gave it to Yolanda, touched that she cared, then their row began to file out of the office, Karen at the end of the line. There was no window in their office, but there were loud explosions from outside and Binh at the door was shifting from foot to foot, increasingly nervous.

"Come on, come on," he called out, then suddenly leapt backwards into Yolanda with an alarmed shout. Karen peered past them into the hallway to see a tall, spindly silver-armoured guy with a big glowing rifle. She assumed it was, anyway: he was treating it like a weapon, even if it looked like something out of Star Wars.

Binh got his feet under him and the three of them backed up into the office. The soldier had seen them, though, and swung up the rifle.

"Down!" Karen shouted and they all dropped to the floor as a sizzling bolt of energy flew past them and set a row of cubicles on fire.

Yolanda groaned in pain.

"Were you hit?" Binh asked her as Karen kept an eye on the soldier at the door. She didn't know why she had placed herself in front of the other two: shouldn't she be running and hiding? Still, she didn't get out of the way.

"No, no, I just landed on my bad knee."

Yolanda and Binh started to crawl backwards under one of the tables, but the armour-clad soldier stepped through the doorway and pointed the rifle directly at them.

Karen jumped to her feet and waved her arms. "Hey! We're civilians! Stop it!"

He fired, the rifle still held low, and Karen felt the heat of the blast scorch her hip. Binh and Yolanda screamed. The table above their heads had caught fire, showering them with sparks, and sending them awkwardly scrambling away.

The soldier laughed, a weird huffing noise, and Karen realised that he knew they were unarmed and no threat to him: he knew and he thought it was hilarious. Outraged, she grabbed the heavy printer from Binh's desk and heaved it at the soldier's chest. It fell short, dragged down by its cords, but landed square on his foot. He screamed and Karen, her mind strangely clear of terror, lunged at him and yanked the rifle from his hands. She didn't waste any time searching for a trigger, but smashed the butt of it into the soldier's face, then hit him again and again, with all her strength. The rifle was glass-like and hard to grip, but Karen was determined.

The cracked faceplate of his armour fell off as the soldier hit the floor and Karen staggered back, both under the weight of the weapon and at the thought of seeing the man's face, but it wasn't a human face at all. If anything, it looked more like the Predator but with a long horse-like jaw instead of the little clicky mandibles. Taking advantage of Karen's shock, it kicked her in the back of the knee and Karen fell forward on top of it, the rifle skidding away from her.

It – not he, it – grabbed her by the arm, but Karen scratched its face with her new $10 acrylic nails. It screamed at her and punched her in the shoulder with its other hand, tearing Karen's shirt. She ripped her arm free and pushed up to her feet, stumbling backwards and tripping on the broken printer, then a blast of light sizzled past her and hit the alien. It convulsed and lay still.

Karen turned slowly to see Yolanda sitting on the floor, her hair half burned away, with the rifle propped against her hip.

"Six years in the Army," she said faintly. "Sorry it took me so long to find the trigger."

"It's an alien." Binh stared at the still form, his face peppered with tiny red burn marks. His smouldering polo shirt lay discarded on the floor. "That's an alien. You killed an alien."

Karen cautiously approached the door so that she could see across the corridor and out the window of the office opposite theirs. More aliens went swooping past on little flying cars, their armour gleaming in the sun, blasting at distant targets with their energy weapons.

"I think they're attacking New York." Karen burst out laughing in sheer disbelief, sounding as unhinged as Binh did. "There's aliens attacking New York!"

***

The reports on the TV were getting crazier and crazier. First they'd talked about a terrorist attack, but within ten minutes almost everyone was agreeing that it was aliens. A few people in the diner were arguing about how it obviously couldn't be aliens, since they didn't exist, but nobody was listening to them, which told Matt how bizarre it must be out there.

He hadn't had another text from Foggy, though plenty of people were complaining that their texts weren't going through, so maybe that was the problem. He'd heard from Mrs Nelson, so at least he knew the rest of the Nelsons were safe. Matt cringed as the TV played live footage of the alleged aliens smashing into a building or shooting at fleeing crowds: surely Foggy had evacuated by now! Landman and Zack's building hadn't been mentioned specifically, but its proximity to Grand Central meant that it must surely be one of the besieged buildings. There were cops and fire crews on the scene, and several Iron Man sightings. Matt would hope so, since it was Stark's building that was the centre of the whole mess.

Up to his elbows in dishwater, he kept washing the cups and plates as fast as he could: the diner was packed with people trying to wait out the attack and they all needed food and coffee. Mrs Schnapp was practically grabbing dishes off the drying rack and handing them back out to the kitchen. Matt was grateful to have the work to keep his body busy, because all he could think about, in between bouts of worrying over Foggy, was something Stick had once said to him.

Matt had been exhausted after yet another full day of training, and all he wanted to do was lie on the ground, but Stick insisted that he could only take a break if he did his stretches at the same time: what kind of warrior gives up as soon as the sun goes down? So instead of lying in a heap as he wanted, Matt was sitting cross-legged while Stick leaned on his thighs to force his knees flat to the ground and improve his flexibility. It hurt, but the thought of getting up was even more exhausting, so he gritted his teeth and tried his best to let his muscles relax.

Stick shifted his weight as if he was getting bored, so Matt quickly used the oldest trick in his repertoire of adult-distracting: asking complicated questions.

"Stick, what's all this training for? I mean, who are we going to fight?"

"You can't even get your knees flat. You're not going to be fighting anyone," Stick snapped reflexively, but Matt waited him out. It had worked on his dad, and it usually worked on Stick, too.

"You're not ready to know the details. That's secret shit. But I can tell you that all this would be wasted fighting in the ring like your dad did."

Matt was used to the little jabs at his dad by now, and took it calmly. Sometimes he wondered if Stick might be jealous of Matt's dad. It certainly seemed a lot lonelier being a ninja than a boxer.

"You could wipe the floor with any of the boxers my dad ever fought," Matt told him. It was entirely true, which didn't mean it wasn't flattery.

"Ah, quit your brown-nosing, kid." Stick's voice was warm, though. "Give it few years and same'll be true for you. But like I said, it'd be a waste. There are things beyond what most of us know, powers that will take all your strength to fight…" He sounded distant, but Matt leaned forward slightly, despite the pain in his legs, hoping Stick would continue.

Too late. Stick released his hard grip on Matt's thighs and rapped him on the head with sharp old man knuckles. "Enough of that. Get up. Time to work."

Today Matt had to wonder if Stick had been talking about these aliens. This couldn't be their first contact with Earth: how would they even know that the air was breathable or that their hoverbikes – he silently cursed Foggy for getting that word stuck in his head – would work in Earth's gravity? Considering all the weird things Stick had had him do, it wouldn't entirely surprise Matt if Stick had been training him to fight something other than humans. But there was only one of him, presuming Stick or the people he supposedly worked for hadn't mysteriously shown up in New York after all these years. He wasn't sure what difference he could possibly make in the middle of a war zone, and he had no way of finding out if the aliens had a leader or general that he might be able to fight.

Suddenly, the babble of the crowd in the diner changed from angry and frightened to flat-out terrified. People were hitting the floor, and pushing away from the windows rather than peering out of them. There was a loud scraping, roaring noise outside, as if a huge truck was going past, but Matt couldn't hear any wheels. He wasn't sure what he was hearing, and there were too many screams and shouts to make out more detail, though a weird and rancid smell swept in, strong enough to briefly overpower the food and the coffee and all those sweaty bodies. The sound swept by, along with the worst of the smell, and everyone relaxed again, babbling with relief and excitement. Matt picked out phrases in between all the "What the fucks!"

"Giant worm!"

"Giant whale-shark!"

"It was flying!"

"It took out that delivery van!"

"So many teeth!"

"I take it all back, there are aliens!"

Matt dumped his apron and slipped out the back, pulling on somebody's left-behind hoodie on the way; it smelled like Greg, one of the other dishwashers, and his smelly pot habit. Matt couldn't stay at the diner: the war was spreading into his neighbourhood and while he might not be able to get across town to Foggy, he could help people here. He sent another text to Foggy as he went, hoping that it would reach him.

***

Foggy passed the water bottle across to Gina and took out his phone, sighing. His messages definitely weren't sending, and he hadn't received one since Matt's last telling him to stay safe. Moving concrete and drywall was hard work and the stairwell was getting increasingly warmer with all the doors closed, but several people had grabbed their water bottles, or had had them in their bags, as they evacuated.

Even immaculate Marci had her jacket off now, and strands of hair were sticking to her head with sweat. The only time Foggy usually saw her so dishevelled was when they were having sex, and wow, that was an inappropriate thought to be having right now. Must be some kind of imminent death thing.

Marci took the water bottle from Gina and handed it back up the stairs. "Hey, at least we're not going to die of dehydration. Cross one off the very long list."

"There's lots of ways we're not going to die. Crushed by a hippopotamus! Flung into the sun! Nibbled to death by hamsters! I can do this all day." Foggy grinned up at her but his words were immediately undercut by yet another loud explosion outside, followed by shattering glass. Everyone ducked or pressed against the walls instinctively, even though the stairwell remained intact.

"Hey, I think that shook something loose!" Gutierrez exclaimed from the pile of rubble blocking their path downwards. He was right: for the first time Foggy could see light coming through from doorway. Foggy, Gina and Bergman, the bodybuilder paralegal, arranged themselves around the concrete slab that had been frustrating their progress and lifted the one accessible edge further. With a sudden rush of rubble, it jerked free of their hands and slid further into the stairwell. There was no way they could descend further, but at least the door was clear now.

"Come on!" Gina clambered into the pile of debris in the doorway. "We can get around to another staircase this way."

"Any sign of those alien assholes?" someone yelled down the stairs.

"The windows are all smashed and the sprinklers have been on, but I can't see any right now. Let's go before they come back." She climbed through into the offices and everyone – including Foggy, who felt instantly ashamed – held their breath for a moment to see if she got vaporised. Thankfully, she didn't.

Foggy shook his head. He was kind of glad Matt wasn't here: he remembered the one time the fire alarm at their dorms hadn't been some drunk idiot setting it off, and Matt had bullishly resisted all attempts by Foggy to get him to safety, instead knocking on doors to make sure every last stoner on their floor took the alarm seriously and evacuated the building. For sure, Matt would be first through that door, declaring "I'm blind, not helpless," right up until an alien shot him in the face.

As Foggy and Gutierrez helped everyone else up and over the rubble out onto the tenth floor, all their phones started beeping as texts started arriving.

"Get out of the doorway before you check your phone!" Foggy snapped at the guy he was helping, who had paused to get his phone out.

"Sure, whatever," he snapped back, but Foggy bore him no ill-will: he was pretty desperate to check his own messages and make sure everyone was okay. As far as he knew, none of his family were on the East Side today, but that's what his parents had thought on 9/11, when his grandfather had actually been in lower Manhattan for a medical appointment. He helped the man through, and felt very relieved when everyone made it through the gap out into an architecture firm's offices. He climbed through himself and huddled behind one of the few standing walls to check his phone, just as everyone else was doing.

There were messages from his family – they were all safe and evacuating, but worried about him – and another one from Matt, thank God.

all good at diner pls be safe foggy

He quickly texted his mom and Matt, then surveyed the devastation in front of him. The office carpet was squelching under his feet and he could see clear into the charred ruin of the conference room, though there should have been two walls in between it and the open plan part of the office where they stood now. There didn't seem to be any hoverbikes zipping past this side of the building, though Foggy could certainly hear them nearby, along with shooting and more distant explosions. Maybe the aliens were done with this building and moving on to the rest of the city?

"We should get moving," Marci snapped, and the general murmur of the group agreed with her. "Does anyone know the layout of this floor?"

"I do," the IT guy volunteered. "It doesn't look too damaged away from whatever hit that conference room, so if we go left towards the records rooms, we should get to the north stairwell, no problems."

The group crept out from behind their wall, moving quietly even though the noise coming from outside would easily drown out their splashing footsteps across the sodden carpet. Bright light flashed outside and another explosion sounded, a little further away this time. It sounded more like a summer thunderstorm than bombs, but that was ridiculous. Of course it was bombs.

Rounding the corner towards the records rooms, there was a lot less damage, though again most of the windows were smashed. An alien hoverbike went flying past them, heading directly upwards, and someone grabbed Foggy's arm in terror.

"It's okay," he said in his most soothing voice, and strangely enough, it was: the alien guys stayed on their vertical trajectory and ignored the cluster of frightened legal professionals twenty feet away. A moment later, Foggy realised why, when a massive green humanoid shape leapt up the building after them.

"Oh my god, that's the Hulk!" Gina shrieked, despite having shown no fear earlier.

"He smashed up Harlem that time!"

"Oh shit, are those aliens his spawn or something?"

The Hulk leapt across the street to thump into another building, and everyone scurried backwards towards the devastated conference room, trying to stay alert to the new threat as well as to the aliens. Inevitably, someone fell, Simone the paralegal, and was immediately stepped on. Foggy stopped to help her up, despite Marci shouting at him to hurry.

"Come on, Simone, take my arm. We're not going to let that Hulk guy get us."

Simone dragged herself up to a sitting position with his help. "He and some other guy wrecked my whole apartment building and killed the old couple who lived right below me! If I thought he had half a brain, I'd say he was behind this."

Marci, unbelievably, hadn't left, and helped Simone get her feet under her. "Yeah, well, maybe whoever made the Harlem Terror made these silver alien guys too. Get up, Simone, we might have someone to sue when all this is over."

That made Simone laugh, and she staggered back up. "Oh, fuck, look!"

Foggy and Marci turned to see the Hulk was right outside their window. He wasn't paying any attention to them, though. He was reaching up with one enormous green arm – Foggy was never going to complain about having to search stores for his extra-large shirt size again – and slapped one of the hoverbikes out of the air. The alien guys went flying and the Hulk laughed, a noise that made Foggy's chest reverberate. Two more hoverbikes zoomed down and Hulk batted one away.

"Behind you!" Foggy shouted, but the Hulk didn't need help. He simply let it hit him in the shoulder, shook off the impact like it was nothing, grabbed the alien driving the thing and threw it into the office. It rolled several times, bounced off a filing cabinet, and lay still. The hoverbike plummeted out of sight.

The Hulk laughed again, then, of all things, winked at the three terrified observers, then climbed on up the building, massive green toes digging into the concrete ledges.

"Wow." Foggy was completely stunned, and Marci was opening and closing her mouth like a goldfish.

"Damn, that was just like King Kong and the biplanes," Simone cheered. "Good! He owed me for my apartment!"

"Is it safe?" Bergman asked, peering around the corner, and Marci shook off her shock like the Hulk had shaken off that hoverbike.

"Yes! Get moving! The Hulk probably can't hold them all off for long!"

Nobody questioned her. They moved into a fast shuffle, avoiding the dead alien by the filing cabinet, and headed for the north stairwell.

***

The alien that Yolanda had shot wasn't dead. It stirred and moaned. Karen glanced at the big smoking hole the alien had shot in the wall, and shook her head. Maybe its armour had protected it from its own weapon.

"There's cable ties in my desk," Binh told Karen. "I usually use them to tie up cables!" He gestured wildly around the cable-heavy room, and Yolanda patted his arm comfortingly.

Karen sidled up to the alien, rolled it onto its front and quickly tied its hands and feet. Despite the heavy armour, it had very skinny wrists and ankles, and it was not hard to restrain it. She pulled it back on its side again, in a semblance of recovery position – it might have tried to kill them, but she didn't particularly want to leave a helpless person to die by accident. She sighed: who knew if it even breathed?

"Should we stay here? With our, uh, prisoner?" Karen asked, in some confusion. Now that the immediate rush of adrenaline was fading, she felt quite shaky, and was regretting wearing stilettos today in an attempt to give herself more confidence.

Yolanda was firm. "No way. If one of them got in here, another ten could be on the way. Binh, help me up."

With some shuffling around, Binh managed to support Yolanda on her left side, while she carried the rifle comfortably against her right hip. They weren't moving fast with Yolanda's injured knee, but they were definitely moving.

"Karen, you scout ahead – not too far, just to the corner – and make sure there's no more of them." Yolanda sounded very calm now, and Karen swallowed down her own panic. She wasn't alone. They had a weapon. Yolanda could use it.

The stilettos were really no good, so Karen quickly changed them for the ballet flats she had tucked in her capacious bag.

"Okay, guys, I'm going up to the corner." Karen crept up the hallway and listened carefully as she got closer. She could still hear explosions, but they were further away, and honestly sounded more like thunder now.

"Anything?" Yolanda asked.

"It's all quiet. I'm going now."

Expecting to see only the water cooler and the signs to the six different offices on this floor, Karen took a moment to realise that the two lumps on the floor were actually people, a man and a woman, both in business clothes. They were very obviously dead, missing great chunks of their torsos, their clothing and flesh partially burned. There were scorch marks on the walls and ceilings and all the office doors in the corridor were flung open. One was hanging off its hinges, and a breeze stronger than the air conditioning was coming from that office. The plastic card holder by the door read "Armstrong Image Consulting".

Binh's nervous voice came from behind her. "Karen? Are you okay?"

"Oh my god, oh my god. They're dead. There's two dead people here. I think they were shot with that rifle Yolanda has."

"Are they definitely dead? Do they need first aid?" Yolanda still sounded calm, which made Karen irrationally angry.

"Yes! They're dead! There's pieces missing and they're burned up!" Karen stomped into the hall, stepping around the two bodies to check the office with the damaged door, since that's where the aliens must have come from. The breeze was from a smashed window in the small offices and fluttering cloth caught Karen's eye: for a moment she thought there were more bodies, but in fact it was a pair of well-dressed mannequins lying on the floor, holes punched right through them. The anger lasted a moment longer, then she turned and threw up in the wastepaper bin by the nearest desk.

Yolanda and Binh had made it to the door.

"They're not people," Karen said quickly, wiping her mouth. "I mean, the ones in the hall are, but these are mannequins."

Binh looked as queasy as Karen felt, but Yolanda's expression was sad. "It's hard, the first time you see a dead body," she said.

"Oh, it's not – " Karen waved a hand, trying to pull herself together.

Binh suddenly lurched forward and threw up in the same bin as Karen had. "Sorry, sorry," he said. "I've never seen anyone who was, was murdered. And the smell…"

"Let's keep going. We shouldn't stay near an open window anyway." Yolanda leaned on Binh again and they turned to go. Karen couldn't resist glancing out the window, where some kind of huge whale-like creature was swimming through the air past the building. It was higher up than the sixth floor, and more aliens on little floating platforms zipped around it, shooting at someone down below. The whale-thing crashed into the building opposite, shattering hundreds of windows, before it lurched around a corner. Karen covered her mouth so that she didn't scream, then got away from the window as Yolanda had said. Even if the police and emergency services were out there helping people, the scale of the destruction was massive. No-one was going to come to help them, no-one had ever helped Karen. She felt the scream bubbling up again, and pressed her lips together. She wasn't alone: she had Yolanda and Binh and a weapon. She would have to keep reminding herself.

Karen forced her hands back to her sides and followed the others back to the corridor where the dead bodies lay. Binh passed her a cup of water from the water cooler, and she drank it gratefully: her mouth tasted awful.

"Okay, I'm going to go check around the next corner. I think we'll be near the stairs then?" Karen was determined to hold her voice steady.

"Good girl," Yolanda nodded and hefted the rifle. "We'll be right behind you."

With a last glance at the two dead people on the floor, Karen walked purposefully to the next corner, the last before the emergency stairs. She could hear the occasional fire of the energy rifles close by, so she peered around as slowly and carefully as she could. There were two of the aliens at the end of the hallway, right near the emergency exit. They were leaning on the sill of a smashed window, rifles propped, and firing at targets below. Karen heard a scream float upwards and the two aliens laughed that creaky chuckle and fired again. Karen retreated at once.

"There's two of them at the window before the stairs. I think they're shooting people on the street," she whispered.

Binh was still a strange greyish colour. "Do they know we're here?"

"If they know, I don't think they care. They're having a really great time shooting people!" Karen's voice spiralled upwards into a shrill squeak and she had to cover her mouth again to shut herself up.

"Shh. It'll be okay." Yolanda frowned. "You said they were by the window? The small one opposite the elevators?"

Karen nodded.

"Okay, help me around the corner."

Binh helped Yolanda limp forward and, before the aliens could even move, she blasted one of them square in the back. As it fell, the second one turned towards them, and she shot over the body of the fallen alien to hit the second in the chest. It made a faint shriek and collapsed.

Karen cheered. "Oh my god, Yolanda, that was amazing. Hang on, I've still got some zip ties from the office."

She dashed forward and knelt on the floor to tie the aliens at wrists and ankles. Like the first one Yolanda had shot, they were already stirring. If these were the weapons that had murdered the two people in the hallway, their armour must be particularly good at protecting them from their own blasts. Karen pulled at the edge of one alien's chestplate, thinking that she might be able to scavenge it to use as a protective shield or something, but it wouldn't loosen.

"Karen, get down!" Binh shouted, and a bolt of energy sizzled above Karen's head, hitting the emergency exit door.

"Oh, shit!" Karen threw herself flat and glanced upwards. A third alien was standing in the doorway. Yolanda shot again, but it ducked back into the doorway and the shot missed.

Karen scuttled backwards a few feet, trying not to get in Yolanda's way, and the alien made an annoyed clicking noise then tapped busily on its arm as if it was sending a text message. It moved forward, perfectly framed in the doorway and Karen glanced up to see why Yolanda hadn't fired.

"The rifle's stopped working!" Yolanda ran her hands over it frantically. "It's shut down!" Binh tried to pull her back around the corner, but she couldn't turn fast on her injured leg.

The alien drew its weapon, a handgun-sized version of the others' shiny glass rifles, and made that infuriating raspy chuckle again.

"No!" Karen roared, and launched herself at its knees, flailing wildly, and tipped it backwards into the stairwell. They slid on the concrete, Karen clutching the alien's legs and grabbing at the weapon. It kicked out at her, kneeing her in the chin. She staggered upright into the damaged emergency door, which swung shut with a resonating clang. She grabbed at the handgun but the alien held on. With a mighty wrench, Karen pulled it free, knocking the alien back against the concrete, but she lost her grip and the gun went flying over the banister and down the stairs.

She stared at the alien in the harsh fluorescent light and it stared back before heaving upright and shoving her away.

"Karen! Karen!" Binh and Yolanda were screaming on the other side of the door, and their concern for her, someone they'd only just met, firmed her resolve.

"You want your weapon? Well, beat me to it, then," she spat, and raced down the stairs. It shrieked at her, and immediately followed. Karen breathed a sigh of relief: Yolanda and Binh were safe from it. A moment later, she felt its clawed hand shove her in the back and realised that she was, again, alone with danger. Tears filled her eyes as she staggered, but she pushed herself off the wall and kept running down the stairs. If she was here by her own choice, surely that made it better.

***

Pulling the hoodie up, Matt hurried across the suddenly deserted Ninth Avenue. There were still a lot of people around, hiding in stores or hurrying from doorway to doorway, but it was just him out in the open. It was like a giant bulldozer had been through: there were overturned cars lining the sidewalks, a huge gouge up the middle of the street, and the office building on the corner was on fire. The smell of burning didn't quite smother that rancid, rotten smell streaked up the street and permeating the air. He'd crossed the street before realising he'd gotten a slippery smear of it on his sneaker.

Near the building on fire, screaming and shouting people were crowded around a big flat piece of metal, many taking photos, but Matt couldn't quite make out why. People were streaming out of the building and there were at least four cops there and a fire engine on the way, so Matt left whatever was happening there in the hands of the professionals. In the distance, he could hear cops yelling at people to get below 39th Street. Good – if the diner was evacuated, Mr and Mrs Schnapp wouldn't miss him and he wouldn't have to worry that the huge whale-thing would hit the diner and crush them. Closer to him, there were two people unconscious in a small overturned car. The rest of the damaged vehicles on the block were either empty or had unhurt people trying to recover their belongings, so the drivers must have seen the danger coming in time to escape. These unlucky two hadn't made it.

"Hey! Over here!" he yelled, and climbed up onto the car, which was lying on its side. A few people broke away from the large group and started picking their way down the street towards him, and Matt pulled the rear door up and open. There was a seriously injured old woman in the back seat; Matt could hear her breath rasping and bubbling in a very bad way. The middle-aged man in the front seat – probably her son, as they smelled of each other – must have tried to get out of the car, as he was unconscious, and his leg was trapped between the car and the kerb. Despite his broken leg and head injury, he sounded a lot better off than her. Matt leaned down into the wrecked car to get a better read on the woman, and realised there was something wrong with her neck, as well.

He stood back up. Two women and a man had come to help him, though their rapid, shallow heartbeats all sounded scared rather than confident. That was all right: they wanted to help and Matt could direct them. His head was clear for the first time all day, mind and body acting as one. He didn't like his chances of pulling the badly injured woman up through the door without hurting her further, so he called out to the people approaching.

"Ma'am, could you please find me a newspaper?" he asked the older woman in the business suit. "And would you have any tape?" This he addressed to the younger woman with the gym bag.

"Sure," the younger woman said, and gave the man with the baseball cap, the tallest of the three, a roll of strapping tape to hand up to Matt. It was surprisingly satisfying to have strangers treating him like anyone else, rather than trying to clumsily help the blind guy who didn't want or need their help.

"Hey, you want this newspaper in sheets or the whole thing?"

"The whole thing. I'm making a neck brace for the old lady in here. I think her son is trapped under the car, but he's not in such bad shape. I'm going to get in the car and hold her in position while you guys tip the car back on its wheels, okay?"

"Okay!" All three of them had immediately settled once they had something to do and someone else to look after, just as Foggy always did. The man added, "But you'd better hurry in case that giant flying thing comes back again."

Matt carefully lowered himself headfirst into the confined space of the car, making sure not to jostle the old woman and hurt her any further. "I was in the diner and I didn't see it, what happened?"

The three rescuers talked over each other, but their story was pretty much the same: "A giant grey worm with metal plates all over it, flying down the street!"

"Did it have wings or something?" Matt carefully fitted the folded newspaper around the woman's neck then taped it in place with the sports tape. She had ended up lying on her side with her head tilted back against the window, which was lucky: if her head had been tipped forward she wouldn't have been able to breathe at all.

"No wings! It flew around like Iron Man!" The man sounded slightly impressed.

"It didn't have that glowy thing Iron Man has, though," the older woman added. "So I don't know how it flew around like that."

"And it hit plenty of buildings as it went."

"Did you see that van it hit up there on the corner? There were two guys in that, and now it's a pancake."

That must be the flat piece of metal that Matt had sensed earlier. He shuddered – how would they even recover the bodies? – but kept on with his first aid. The collar in place and the injured woman's head braced, Matt slid further down and wrapped himself around her, bracing against the back of the seat.

"Okay, tip the car back on its wheels now! Pull towards yourself then stand back!"

They all grabbed hold without question and started to rock the car towards themselves. The car was one of those little hybrids, so Matt was pretty sure they could manage it without help, though he could hear a few more people coming to their aid. Even better, the clatter of a gurney was approaching, pushed by heavy-booted, antiseptic-scented paramedics .

"Hey! If there's someone under the car, don't move it!" a paramedic shouted, but the car was already tipping back onto its wheels. Matt didn't see any way of telling them that he knew the trapped man didn't have compartment syndrome – Matt could hear that he had blood flow to his lower leg – so instead he gently passed the injured woman out and onto the gurney.

"No ambulance?" he asked the paramedic who was quickly checking the woman's vitals.

"Nope, we're stuck over on Tenth," she replied. "Everyone's supposed to be evacuating below 39th, you know that? Whatever that big flying slug was, it's dropped slabs of concrete and crap all over the road. Cars smashed up everywhere."

"It's coming back!" one of Matt's rescue assistants shouted, and everyone turned to face east along Ninth Avenue. Matt turned too, and he could hear it, now that he knew what he was listening for.

"Come on, come on," the other paramedic shouted. "Get off the street! Guy in the hoodie, help me with this patient."

Everyone scattered, the paramedic with the gurney smoothly wheeling her patient to safety, and Matt ducked down at the kerb to help with the injured man. He had regained consciousness, though he was silent and stunned, and the paramedic had him in a sitting position.

"He can't walk, but we've got to move him now." The paramedic spoke urgently but calmly. "We're going to chairlift him out of here."

Matt wasn't sure what he meant exactly, but he copied the paramedic's movements and they locked hands under the injured man's thighs, using their spare hands to support his back. The gurgling, rushing sounds of the flying worm was getting closer, and the paramedic was glancing up frequently and Matt could smell his fear, though the man's heartbeat was perfectly level.

"Hurry!" someone yelled from nearby.

"There you go, arms around our shoulders, sir, and lift!" They stood up, and dashed to relative safety in the doorway of a laundromat. The huge creature swept past them again: it flew unevenly, wobbling and heaving as it went, and this time Matt could smell sparking electricity and burned flesh along with the rancid oily slime that it left on the street. It skidded across the front of the upper floors of a brick building across the avenue, sending bricks, glass and air conditioners tumbling into the street, but Matt didn't hear any screams. The people there must have gotten out when it first went by, or they were dead. A flick of its massive tail sent an abandoned sedan flying across the street towards the laundromat, but it crashed into other cars and stopped before it hit anyone.

"Jesus, that was close," the paramedic muttered.

"The car wasn't on a trajectory to collide with us," Matt replied without thinking.

"Okay, sure, whatever. You can help me get this guy over to Tenth, smart-ass, then evacuate like everyone else."

Matt had planned to assist with the injured, but he'd suddenly thought of a better way to help. "Uh, actually, I've got to go, but the people who lifted with the car were really great, they'll give you a hand."

The paramedic didn't question him, probably assuming he had family to find, and there were plenty of other people around. There were more and more cops , too, making their way down the street and ordering people to evacuate downtown or to get underground. He could hear Mrs Schnapp not far away, asking the cops to watch out for looters as she locked the diner. Matt left the shelter of the laundromat and sprinted down the street in the wake of the creature. He needed to get up higher. The tallest building near him had part of its façade stripped away and was dropping bricks and glass into the street. A pulled-down fire escape dangled from the next building, so it would be easy enough to get to the roof. Fourteen storeys or so should be high enough.

***

The north stairwell was clear of debris, apart from various pairs of abandoned high heels and heavy bags, and Foggy's group descended the last ten flights to the lobby without further problems. By now, Foggy and Gutierrez were carrying the elderly lawyer from the twenty-seventh floor, and Gina and Marci were helping the IT guy, who was wheezing with asthma set off by all the dust.

Although the lobby was deserted, Foggy could hear zapping and crunching noises and explosions from outside. Several of the elevator doors were scorched and damaged, there were burn marks on the marble floor, and the reception/security desk was entirely demolished. The revolving doors at each end of the lobby were smashed: some lay ruined in their sockets, other had been completely destroyed. Usually the far wall was blank, as it was the back of the row of shops at the front of the building, but holes had been blasted in it and Foggy could see right into the Starbucks where he had gotten coffee that morning. The shop was soggy and wrecked, sprinklers still trickling water.

"Should we really go out there?" he asked the rest of the group. "We might be safer staying here."

Marci helped the IT guy sit down on the bottom step. He leaned forward, trying to catch his breath, and took another hit of his inhaler, and Gina stepped past him.

"I'm going to try to find a cop. They'll tell us what to do."

Another blast shook the broken glass doors and two collapsed further. Everyone cringed back towards the stairs.

Foggy took a deep breath. "Okay. I'll come with you." He half-expected Gina to refuse because he'd slow her down or something, but instead she nodded briefly and headed towards the doors.

"Foggy!" Marci was still sitting with the IT guy, holding his water bottle.

"Yeah?"

Marci opened her mouth, closed it, then settled for, "Be careful, okay? If you get hurt, Matt is going to kick my ass."

"Yeah, he probably will. Don't worry." Foggy shook his head at the thought of Matt managing to kick Marci's ass, of all people, then followed Gina.

Gina stuck close to the wall, and Foggy copied her. She might not know what she was doing, but Foggy definitely didn't, and lots of cover would be a good idea right now. As they got closer to the doors they could see out into the street, which was an absolute mess. It was covered in shattered glass and fallen chunks of concrete, abandoned and damaged cars scattered across the road and sidewalks. It reminded Foggy of the Great Roach Massacre in the gross dorm lounge in first year, cracked and broken carapaces lying everywhere.

"Shit, there's still aliens zooming around everywhere," Gina told him from her position closer to the wrecked doors. Foggy inched forward and peered out too. There were indeed hoverbikes zipping about, but they weren't trying to enter the building. He couldn't see any people out on the streets, which was a relief, but also nerve-wracking, because what if everyone had evacuated except for the poor saps stuck in the Landman and Zack stairwell? Then he saw two police officers behind an overturned car, peering up at the sky.

"Gina, look! Cops!"

"Good eyes, Foggy! I wish I had my glasses, but they're back on my desk."

Foggy shook his head. "Are you telling me you're acting so fearless because you can't see what's going on?"

"…A little bit? Hey, but I heard you were great with blind people!"

"You're starting to sound familiar, let me tell you that." Foggy sighed. "Come on, if we get to the doors the cops should be able to see us, too."

They hurried across the damaged floor to one of the blown-open doors, picking through the glass. Gina had to be able to see where she was going, only having problems with distance vision, so Foggy tried to stomp on his urge to take her elbow and guide her through the rubble.

"Hey! Officer! Help!" Gina waved at the cops from the doorway, and they swung around, weapons drawn. Both Foggy and Gina immediately raised their hands, but the cops gestured for them to lower them and started picking their way across the street, hiding behind cars and ripped up concrete.

Foggy held his breath the whole time, but the two officers made it safely across to their doorway.

"How many people are in there?" the female officer asked. "Anyone badly injured?"

"One guy's having an asthma attack and one old man is exhausted, but we're basically fine," Gina told him. Foggy certainly didn't feel fine, covered in concrete dust and his hands aching with bruises and scratches, but he was sure that was nothing compared to what the cops had seen today.

"Okay, great." The male cop kept the doorway covered. "We were evacuating people into the subways, but there's no way we can get you there safely from here. This building's got to have a basement, can you get down there?"

"We'll find a way," Foggy told them. He knew where the basement stairs were, because he'd accidentally ended up there on his first day when a fit of nerves overtook his sense of direction. At least he'd had Matt there with him, even if Matt had insisted that he was sure that the offices were upstairs, not down. "You don't think those alien dudes are going to come after us?"

The female cop shook her head. "Nah, they haven't gone below ground anywhere. We were guarding the subway entrance earlier, but they've got no interest in underground."

"Weird." Foggy had no idea why murderous aliens wouldn't simply run down the stairs and shoot up a platform full of people. Surely that would be a quick and easy attack? Maybe they were too attached to their hoverbikes.

His line of thought came to an abrupt end when two hoverbikes swooped out of the air and landed right in front of the doors.

"Get back!" the cops shouted in unison, putting themselves in front of Gina and Foggy. They shot two of the aliens immediately, but the rest of the group scattered, and their next shots glanced off or missed entirely.

"Go, go, go!" the female cop yelled, half-dragging Foggy across the broken glass and back into the lobby. He stumbled and fell, but scrambled upright again, blood streaming from his hands. He turned as he stood, sure that the aliens were going to shoot him at any second, and two laser blasts shot past him. The male cop returned fire, but there were now too many aliens there for him to make much of a difference.

"Move, Nelson!" Gina screamed, and Foggy backed up further, unable to tear his eyes away from his imminent death as the aliens raised their ray guns.

Something hit the aliens at high speed, scattering them like bowling pins. Foggy stared, open-mouthed, as Captain America leapt into view, kicking one of the few aliens still standing into two of his friends, so hard that all three went flying backwards into a burned-out car. He held up one gloved hand and his shield – it had been his shield that hit the group first – flew right into his grasp. He swung it again, one-handed, knocking down the few aliens who had tried to stand up, then finished off the last with a mighty kick to the chin.

Foggy felt like he should applaud, but the male cop spoke up first.

"Thanks again, Cap!"

Captain America threw a salute to the man then sprinted off down the street.

"Man, that was close." The female cop hustled Foggy and Gina back to the relative safety of the stairs. "Those guys have saved a lot of lives today – Cap alone has saved me and my partner twice, now. I even saw the Hulk up there a few times, and that Thor guy."

Foggy cleared his throat. "Well, you guys are out saving us without super powers or a magic shield or whatever, so, uh, thanks."

Both cops laughed. "Hey, that's our job. Let's get all of you down to the basement."

Marci abandoned the asthmatic IT guy to jump up and hug Foggy, and Foggy started to think that maybe everything would be okay after all. Superheroes! Who knew how good they made him feel?

***

When Karen was thirteen years old and had suddenly grown to near her adult height, her school athletics coach had looked her up and down, and asked her if she'd ever thought about track and field. Karen had blushed so hard at the attention – any attention – that her scalp hurt, but later she watched the girls loping around the track and thought again. She'd heard Eleanor Parkins, who sat in front of Karen in homeroom, complaining about the coach and how hard she made them work. Training before school, training after school, training on weekends when there were no meets. She even made them keep a training diary over term break!

To Karen, that sounded perfect. During their class physical education lesson, she crept up to the coach.

"Excuse me? Coach?"

The coach jumped. "How does a tall girl like you sneak up on people like that?"

Karen shrugged. She had a lot of experience at being quiet. She took a deep breath and launched into the speech she had practised. "Coach, I thought about trying running like you said, but my dad likes me to be at home when I'm not at school, so I don't think he'd let me go to all the training. Sorry."

"Huh. Your father is Doctor Page, isn't he? I've met him. Maybe if I have a word to him he'd consider it. It's not like you'd be roaming the streets getting into trouble!" The coach laughed, but Karen didn't. She could only hope that the coach would do as she'd said.

Karen was gambling on the one thing her father liked more than control: flattery. If the coach made a personal approach to him, there was a good chance that he'd agree – well, that and the fact that Karen would be on school grounds and under a teacher's supervision – but he'd never even consider it if Karen herself proposed it.

The coach was as good as her word, and Karen was permitted to join the track team on a trial basis. Karen knew exactly what the "trial" was: if she got results, if she started winning, she'd be allowed to continue. Her piano lessons had come to a crashing halt at age ten when other kids her age were starting to come to the notice of prestigious teachers and Karen, who was no musical genius, was not. That was not acceptable for Doctor Page's daughter, so her one outlet had vanished. She didn't want to think about what would happen if her grades weren't outstanding, but fortunately it hadn't come to that. Yet.

Every morning, Karen got up at 5:30 a.m., before her father awoke, and dashed out to the athletics field, two blocks from her home. She was almost always the first there, going through her warm-ups and pacing slowly to get her cold muscles moving. The coach praised her dedication, but Karen was honestly happy to be there, rather than in the tomb-like silence of home. She started winning ribbons and medals in the middle distance and cross country races, every single one a talisman against being trapped alone with her father. By the time she was seventeen, she helped her school win their State Conference girls' championship, but she didn't care about that. All she cared about was the freedom, running alone with her heart pounding from exertion, not from fear.

Sprinting down the stairs ahead of the alien trying to kill her, Karen tried to drag that feeling back from wherever it had been hiding. Her legs didn't hurt at all, letting her leap three or four steps at a time, and her heart beat in that familiar, exhilarating way. She took the stairwell corners tight and fast, pulling ahead of the alien in its armour, though her ballet flats didn't have the grip that her old running spikes had had, and sometimes she skidded wide. On one such slip, the alien lunged downwards across the railing and managed to grab her arm.

"Fucking let go of me!" Karen shrieked, and slammed against the railing in an attempt to crush its hand. This hurt her more than it, due to the armour, and it didn't release its brutal grip. She threshed her arm back and forth to try to take advantage of the awkward angle it lay at, head down along the railings, and eventually managed to pull free, ripping her shirt in the process. Her arm throbbed from elbow to shoulder.

A loud clang rang out from above her. Karen glanced up to see what the noise was, but couldn't see anything. The alien took advantage of her distraction, lunging forward so that they were on the same landing, and shoved her into the wall. Her head snapped back and hit the concrete, and she lay there for a moment, dazed. The clanging noise came again, startling her, and she struggled back to her feet. The alien had run off down the stairs to retrieve its weapon and there was no way she was going to beat it now.

She shook her head, regretting it immediately when the world spun, and held onto the railing. She'd won races from further back than this, and the goal now, as it had been then, was her life. Ignoring her scraped hands and knees, her increasingly painful arm, and the creepy feeling of blood trickling from the back of her head, Karen ran, skipping stairs and hurtling around corners, heart pumping.

The weapon had fallen all the way to the bottom of the stairs, right in front of the propped-open emergency exit. On her final corner, Karen could see daylight through that door. The alien was still several steps in front of her, silhouetted in the daylight as it dived forward and grabbed for the weapon on the ground. She wasn't going to make it.

The alien raised the handgun and Karen leapt to the side, adrenaline still pumping. Its hasty shot missed her completely, but now it was between her and the door, and she wouldn't be able to get up the stairs fast enough to hide. It laughed that huffy laugh and Karen looked around frantically: there was a fire extinguisher on the wall. She grabbed it, startled by its weight, and, without time to fumble with the pin, simply swung it at her enemy's face. It fired its weapon directly at the extinguisher, and Karen was thrown violently backwards into the stairs as a massive plume of white powder erupted. She tried to scream but her mouth filled with powder and she choked and coughed instead, crawling up the stairs in an attempt to get air. She was blind, now, everything white and dry and hurting.

It felt like a very long time before hands took her by the shoulders and pulled her upwards. Karen flailed and fought, still gasping for air, until she worked out what they were saying.

"It's Binh, Karen, stop fighting, you're safe. It's Binh."

Binh, still shirtless, had dragged her free of the cloud, which was now settling downwards. The alien was nowhere in sight.

"Where is it? Where is it?" Karen rasped.

"I think it ran out the door," Binh told her, hastily wiping powder from her face. "Is this stuff poisonous?"

"I don't know!"

"It's not poisonous!" Yolanda yelled down from somewhere above them. "You'll be fine once you rinse your poor eyes!"

A moment later, Yolanda appeared, slowly making her way down the stairs while sitting on her butt, her bad leg sticking out in front of her.

"That noise was you trying to open the door!" Karen giggled, feeling strangely delighted for no good reason. "You came after me!"

Binh now had more powder on his hands than Karen had left on her face, so he gave up on trying to clean her off. "Of course we did! You saved us! Now let's get out of here and find a hospital. You look like hell."

Karen didn't care. She was alive, and she wasn't alone, and maybe her arm was broken, but she could get back on her feet and help Yolanda. With Binh on one side and Karen on the other, protecting her twisted arm, they got Yolanda up and limped the last few steps outside into the daylight.

The alien lay dead in the street, still covered with white powder which highlighted the dark bullet holes in its armour. Half a dozen National Guard soldiers helped them into a jeep to get them safely to paramedics, waiting outside what they called the "exclusion zone".

"Thank you," Karen whispered in Yolanda's ear. "Thank you."

***

Matt crouched on the rooftop, listening to the chaos around him. There were strange sci-fi laser noises off in the distance, close to the profound bass hum from Stark Tower that he had first heard, along with explosions, falling concrete and glass, and small arms fire. Another text message had come from Foggy – still in building trying to get out dammit hope you are okay – and another from Mrs Nelson to check that Matt was still alive. Most of the lasers and shooting were coming from exactly where Foggy would be, and Matt was starting to entertain ideas of riding one of those huge flying creatures all the way back to Landman and Zack to get Foggy to safety.

Now that he had a little elevation and time to concentrate, Matt could hear that it wasn't a single creature that was circling via Ninth Avenue but three. They had a strangely regular pattern for something that flew so poorly: they would move away from the humming noise in a straight line, then at a certain distance suddenly make a clumsy turn around a block, crushing vehicles and ripping through buildings on the narrow streets, heading back towards the hum as fast as they could. They'd close in on the Stark Tower's hum again, then turn away just as fast, forming a long loop of destruction across the city. They didn't follow exactly the same path each time, but it was close, and Matt could hear one approaching now. He flexed his toes, feeling the grip of his thin-soled sneakers against the rough concrete of the roof, then sprinted forward and leapt into the air, hurling himself at the flying beast.

It lurched upwards as Matt jumped, and he didn't land cleanly on its back as he had planned. Instead, he hit hard metal under the lip of its carapace, and slid downwards until he grabbed hold of an armoured plate. Everything was slippery, covered in rancid lukewarm slime, but the armoured parts were rough and Matt had a good enough grip to avoid the fourteen storey fall below. After a moment to catch his breath, he dug his toes, and started to climb upwards. The creature was a confusing mix of metal and living flesh: it was rubbery and much cooler than a human being, more like a slug or snail, but Matt could hear a heartbeat and huge organs grumbling away inside it. He had thought that the armour was strapped on, but it was embedded in the creature's flesh. It must have happened some time ago, as the slimy edges showed no sign of wounds.

The creature turned suddenly towards Stark Tower, its armour plates rippling with its movement, and crashed into another building. Glass shattered right above Matt, concrete and steel groaning, so he flattened himself against the creature's flank, hoping that the hard ridge above him would save him from being crushed. He could feel and hear the building screech in pain less than two feet from his back, then the creature tilted away from it again. Matt sighed in relief, then gasped as a shard of glass pierced his back, firmly lodging in his trapezius, blood slowly soaking into his hoodie. He could still move his left arm with only a firm tugging sensation in the wound, so it must not be too bad. He decided to leave the glass in place for now – he didn't need to be losing more blood – and clambered up to the underside of the protective ridge.

Reaching upwards with one hand, he realised that the edge of the carapace was smooth and wasn't going to give him any grip at all: it would be impossible to climb up and over. He bit his lip and thought for a moment before realising he had the perfect tool sticking out of his back. He ripped a strip from his t-shirt to wrap around his hand, and stretched back to pull out the glass with a grunt of effort and an uncomfortable spurt of blood. Overbalancing, Matt's left foot slipped, his right foot kicked out in an effort not to tumble backwards, and for a horrible moment he was hanging by his weakened left hand, thumping against the side of the creature as it wobbled and lurched. The large shard of glass saved him: he stabbed it into the creature's flesh like a piton, to no reaction from the creature, and hung on with both hands until he could regain his footing.

With the glass shard to help him dig in, Matt quickly scrambled up and over the smooth ridge of the creature and onto its back, which was thankfully much less slimy. His clothes were damp with it, and with his blood, and his sneakers were dangerously slippery so he pulled them off and let them drop. Bare feet made it much easier to grip the large, polished plates along the spine, and to jump from one to the next, avoiding the gnarled and sodden flesh in between. Like the side plates, the armour was grown into the creature's skin, but there was something different up ahead, near the neck. Matt could hear the hum of electronics and smell scorched flesh somewhere near the creature's huge jaw. As it swam through the air it opened and closed its huge, toothy maw like a fish, but its movements were far from fluid. It was gaining height as it headed towards the incredible noise of Stark Tower, maybe thirty storeys up, when the electronics in its neck suddenly sparked into a huge electric shock, making the creature convulse and turn away with a low groaning roar. The shock didn't affect Matt on the armour plating, but the creature shook and banked so hard that it was nearly flying sideways. Matt threw himself flat against the armour plate, holding on with fingers and toes, and but still slid a few feet before catching himself.

Along with the roar, though, Matt heard the sharp whine of a hoverbike flying up beside him. There were two people – no, not people – on board, one steering it like a motorbike and the other holding some kind of glass object, cradling it like a rifle. His brain signalled "weapon" just in time, and he rolled forward to drop between two armour plates, sliding on the slimy skin. A laser zap sounded above him, making the hairs on his arms and the back of his neck stand up. He threw his very non-aerodynamic shard of glass back at the shooter as hard as he could and heard it clink against the weapon. The shooter didn't drop it, unfortunately, instead leaping onto the back of the creature with Matt.

Matt was still having trouble with the fact that the vaguely person-shaped person was not a human at all: its body smelled and sounded all wrong; it had electronics embedded in it that Matt kept trying to relate to cochlear implants or insulin pumps, but were no such thing. The proportions of its limbs were wrong, and its head was too small, the armour confusing things further. He really wished Stick had let him know about these things. Matt swung up to land a double-footed kick against its knees, but instead he hit its armoured thigh which absorbed the impact. He came to a sudden stop and rolled away, his feet and shins stabbing with pain from the misjudged kick. He really needed some boots. The glass rifle was easy enough to track, at least, and Matt had plenty of cover and room to move on the armoured creature, which was now flying west again. Two shots went wild, but one hit the creature's skin and made it shudder. Matt kept his balance easily, but the soldier he was fighting dropped to one knee. Taking his shot, Matt launched a flying kick into its neck, right underneath the chin, and while he still hit armour, it was a vulnerable enough spot to send the soldier skidding away, his weapon lost over the side.

The flying creature smashed into another building, ripping away air conditioners, and the whine of the accompanying hoverbike came to an abrupt halt. Matt could smell burning, but he couldn't stop and try to save the pilot: they were already a block away and thumping down to street level, crushing cars before bouncing up again. The other soldier managed to get back to its feet and rush Matt, catching him by the increasingly numb left arm. Matt dropped and rolled, landing a hard kick to its armoured abdomen, then drove the fingers of his right hand into a small gap at the wrist where two armour plates overlapped. It let go and slid right over the side, dropping down to the street. It landed hard on its back, but was already up and running as the flying creature lifted up again, leaving it behind.

Shaking his left arm to try to get some feeling back into it, Matt climbed back up towards the head of the creature, where the electronics were embedded. Before he'd jumped aboard he'd had some vague idea about steering it, but someone must be doing that already, at least at a very basic level. It obviously wanted to go back where it came from, but every time it got close, it got an electric shock and had to fly out again, causing massive damage as it went. The electronics embedded into the creature's neck were exposed, unlike the devices inside the soldier Matt had fought: there were three long electrically charged metallic spikes that extended a few inches from the rubbery skin but ran about six feet down into flesh, into some kind of cartilaginous lump. There was a lot of blood flow in the area, so it must be some kind of relevant organ, but Matt had no idea what it could possibly be. He cautiously tapped the leftmost spike with the back of his hand – Stick had taught him the hard way not to touch an electrified wire with his palm – and while it delivered a mild tingle to Matt's hand, the reaction of the creature was extreme. It lurched to the right, smashing through two balconies and twisting ninety degrees as it tried to get away from the electric shock. Whatever that metal prong was touching, it was very sensitive. In a few seconds, they'd soared upwards and were now high enough to be clear of every building this side of Tenth Avenue.

Matt crouched low and hung on, careful not to touch the electrified spikes again. He felt bad about hurting the giant animal: it was obviously in pain and wanted to go back home, but it was doing so much damage, far more than the soldiers. If he could get the creature out over the river, it wouldn't be harming anyone and maybe the lack of things to crash into might calm it down. He shook his head and grinned slightly: this afternoon he'd been delivering files crosstown and now he was trying to analyse the giant alien slug that he was riding through the air! Foggy would laugh until he made that weird wheezing noise and cried. Not that Matt could tell him, of course, even if Foggy was still alive. Matt focused on his breathing and pushed that thought out of his mind. The mind controls the body. And besides, Foggy's family and some of the nuns who had raised Matt and all his dad's old boxing friends and thousands of other people were in danger from this creature: they deserved help too.

The creature tried to turn back towards Stark Tower and Matt tapped the left spike again, sending it careering back towards the river. Matt could hear the Hudson ahead, a big and relatively empty space, far quieter than anything else around him, especially with that shuddering hum still coming from Stark Tower, far behind. The creature shuddered slightly, then Matt's ears popped, and he felt vastly lighter, like he could take a deep breath for the first time in hours. It took him a moment to realise why: the bone-deep hum had abruptly stopped. The creature he was standing on started to drop precipitously, and Matt hung on desperately, suddenly aware that he couldn't hear the creature's bodily processes any more. Its heart had stopped just before the hum did, and it was rolling lazily to one side as it plummeted down, stone dead in the sky.

They had gained enough height that Matt still had a chance of making the river. Not falling off was also a priority, as the creature had gone into a slow lateral spin and now was completely upside-down. Matt clung on with hands and feet to the underside, hearing buildings go by below him. Worse, its spiral was turning it back towards apartment buildings, away from the relative safety of the Hudson. His left arm had become useless for hanging on, so Matt adjusted his grip with toes and his right hand in order to swing his left arm like a club and slap the right-most electric spike. As he had vaguely remembered from high school science, even dead animals react to electricity. It spasmed in the air, still falling, but now turned back towards the river. Matt hit the spike again as they dropped below twelve stories, and hit it again with his numb hand, trying to keep the creature on track, but they had lost so much altitude.

Unexpected shapes and an electric hum grabbed Matt's attention at his ten o'clock. It was the Intrepid: they were at the piers. He dragged his arm up to hit the electric spike again, and the dead creature made one final lurch away from the aircraft carrier museum, its tail swinging back to catch something metal and rip it apart. They were almost on the ground, Matt now clinging onto the side, and he finally leapt free, hitting the road hard and rolling forward with the impact onto his hands. His left arm gave way again and he skidded on his face and shoulder along the road, dragging his arm underneath him until something snapped and his wrist went floppy. He rolled over and over trying to stop himself, totally disoriented, until he slammed into a chainlink wire fence, his head hitting a pole. Breathless, he lay there trying to work out exactly where he was. His arm was completely numb but his head was pounding. The sounds around him were too huge to be helpful: crunching concrete, explosions, sirens everywhere, smashing glass, and huge, repeated thuds. The other giant creatures must have fallen into buildings. Matt struggled up to his knees, unable to put his left hand on the ground without vicious flashes of pain. People needed his help; the Nelsons might need him; there were people dying; he had failed to get the creatures away. He realised then that he was soaking wet, and so was everything around him, drenched with the sludgy estuary water and polluted mud of the Hudson. One flying creature had made it clear, then. One out of three.

Matt staggered to his feet and started walking. He made it across the empty road, turning his head back and forth to try to overcome the massive barrage of sound and omnipresent river mud stench. He could barely form a picture of his surroundings and immediately caught his foot on the kerb and fell sideways onto his injured arm. One siren separated itself from the mass of noise, getting closer and closer, and it was too much. Matt clutched at his arm, blinked away the blood trying to stick his eyes closed, and collapsed on the sidewalk.

***

This evening had been the worst three hours of Foggy's life, even worse than trying to evacuate from work. The basement of his building had sheltered almost two hundred people in a sweaty, steamy crush, though at least there was plenty of water, phone chargers and a TV, and that poor IT guy got to borrow someone's inhaler. A woman from the architects' office bandaged Foggy's cut hand. Not long after Foggy and his group had made it to safety, the Chitauri – that was what the news had started calling them – had simply dropped dead, moments before the huge laser coming from Stark Tower had stopped and the hole in the sky closed. What Foggy hadn't realised was that there were more aliens than the soldiers he'd run into. There were also leviathans, monstrous floating armoured whales that had done far more damage to the city than the laser-packing soldiers, though opinion was still out on the total body count.

The "Avengers", as the media was calling Captain America's group, had taken down some of the leviathans, but the remainder had fallen heavily enough to shake the building, everyone screaming and clutching at the walls. The closest had landed on Bryant Park, mostly missing the library, but with its head in two buildings across Sixth Avenue. Another one landed in the Hudson, its armoured tail ripping a hole in the Intrepid, and two more ploughed through Hell's Kitchen. They played the footage again and again, from different angles, and on several of them, Foggy could see his parents' apartment building for a moment or two before the dust rose and hid it. If they had stayed there, even in the basement, his parents and sister were probably dead. And he had no idea about Matt: everyone between 39th and 50th had been evacuated or gotten underground, so Matt surely wasn't at the diner now.

When the cops sounded the all clear, Foggy was the first out of the basement, waving his phone in a desperate attempt to get signal. Message after message poured in, but they were mostly from before the leviathans fell.

"Is everyone okay?" Marci asked him, still reading her own messages.

"No, I don't know. Nothing from my family, nothing from Matt. You?" Foggy sent urgent messages back to them, and one to his grandmother to let her know he was alive.

"My family's fine, some friends not checking in yet."

Foggy sighed. Marci might say she had no friends, only future assets, but she certainly had a lot of them.

"Everyone keep moving down to Madison Square Park," bellowed a woman in Army uniform with a megaphone. "Evacuation points at Madison Square Park!"

"Where are they sending us?" Foggy asked.

"Probably directing people on the best way to walk out of Manhattan." Marci stared around, wide-eyed at all the destruction. "I guess no-one's going to be driving."

Foggy and Marci started walking, joining the steady stream of people emerging from underground. There were dead Chitauri everywhere, the National Guard dragging their bodies and weapons into tangled heaps at intersections. The cops were ignoring the dead aliens entirely, focusing on search and rescue: there were firemen and sniffer dogs at some of the buildings, and paramedics transporting wounded people on gurneys or on foot. There were body bags, too, the full ones neatly lined up by the kerb. Foggy tried not to look at them: it was too easy to imagine Matt or his sister Candace inside one. A few blocks from their building the piles of Chitauri dwindled to ones and twos, and the type of damage changed from burn scars and broken windows to massive structural impact. Some buildings were entirely open to the air, and Foggy could see the rescue teams going floor to floor.

Marci pulled him along by the arm, and Foggy glared at his phone, daring it to bring him good news. There were several work updates – one of the senior partners was in critical condition, one junior partner dead and then another – and a tide of messages from idiots who thought it was a good idea to contact everyone in their address books. The next actually relevant message was his grandmother, asking him if he'd heard from his parents.

Nothing, sorry, he texted back.

If they don't let you go home come stay with me, Franklin. Everything's quiet here.

"Hey, Marci, you want to come stay with my grandma? She's on Long Island, if we can get there."

"Thanks, but I've got to go home or my mom is going to have another panic attack." She glanced at the huge plume of smoke and dust to their west. "Not that we know where we're going to be able to go, yet."

The closer they got to Madison Square Park, the more crowded it became. There were cops giving orders off in the distance, but Foggy couldn't hear them yet. People seemed generally calm, even people with blood on them, all glued to their phones, and the shops and restaurants were handing out food and drinks. Foggy hoped that someone was getting water to the people down in the subways. Surely Matt and his family were still hiding out down there, with no reception? Maybe the exits were blocked.

"Thanks, man," Foggy said to a guy who gave him and Marcy a Diet Coke and a donut each out of a cardboard box.

"The power's off! Who knows when it's coming back on?" he said, and hurried off to hand out more.

Marci bit into the donut and shrugged. "I think major disasters make it carbs day."

"Good plan," Foggy told her, then had to swiftly juggle his donut and drink as his phone pinged again.

It was his mother's usual all caps. FOGGY ARE YOU ALIVE???

"It's my mom! Oh thank god!"

Marci grinned – the way she said never she did because it would give her wrinkles and she wouldn't be able to afford regular Botox until she got a paying job – and took Foggy's donut so he could text back.

Yes Mom! I'm fine! Do you have Dad and Candace?

YES DARLING IN THE SUBWAY. APARTMENT STILL STANDING BUT IT'S A MESS! NOT ALLOWED HOME!!!

Did you text Grandma? Have you seen Matt?

MEET YOU AT GRANDMA'S PLACE. NO MATT. IS MATT OK?

Don't know yet. Love you Mom.

LOVE YOU SWEETIE! TAKE CARE!!! FIND MATT!!!

Foggy wiped his eyes with his dirty sleeve. "Aw, Mom. She's worried about Matt." So was Foggy, but he now felt, based on no logic whatsoever, that there was a better chance Matt was hiding out underground somewhere, away from phone reception.

An hour later, there was still nothing from Matt and Foggy's lucky feeling had faded entirely. There were water stations at Madison Square Park, and as evening fell the power had come back on downtown, though there was still a huge dark gap right across Midtown.

"Are you going to be okay if I start heading out to my parents' place?" Marci had a dubious look on her face. "I know you're not going to leave until you've found your annoying bestie, so don't even say you'll walk out to Brooklyn with me."

Foggy shut his mouth.

Marci sighed. "Text him again, okay?"

"I'm trying to save my battery, okay?" Foggy was actually trying to save his sanity, rationing his texts to every half hour, because the lack of reply was really getting to him.

Matt, please answer.

To Foggy's immense surprise, he did. Or someone did, at any rate.

This is Metro General Hospital. Can you identify the owner of this phone?

Yes! It belongs to Matt Murdock. Is he okay?

He has been brought into the hospital without personal identification. I can't release further information.

"They've got Matt at the hospital!" Foggy cheered, then sobered. "Wait, they didn't say alive."

"Aren't you his next-of-kin? I had to witness those documents for you," Marci poked him in the arm with her water bottle.

"Oh my god, I am! Marci, you're a genius."

Foggy texted back. Matt is blind, so don't treat him for that! I'm his next of kin, Franklin Nelson. Is he alive?

There was a pause before the next reply. Foggy had no idea if they were checking some database or if they were just finding info on Matt. He tried to hold his breath in some kind of improvised good luck ritual but the wait was too long and he had to gasp for air instead.

Mr Murdock is in stable condition. I will give your name to security. Please show ID if possible.

Foggy cheered and punched the air. "He's alive! I have no idea what he's doing in the hospital but he's alive!"

Marci kissed him, then looked faintly embarrassed with herself. "Ugh, I thought we might have got rid of him. He's so judgy."

Foggy kissed her back anyway.

Getting to Metro General wasn't as hard as Foggy thought, despite his tired feet, but getting in was tricky. There were hundreds of people around the hospital, all desperately trying to find loved ones, and Foggy felt terrible pushing his way through, knowing that everyone he cared about was alive; at the same time, he guiltily held that thought close. The power was on here, but he could see that a block north it was still off, dust and smoke covering everything and making him cough.

"Franklin Nelson," he told the weary security guards at the main entrance, and they checked his ID against the computer, handing him over to a fresh-faced volunteer who looked about twelve when she smiled at him, all braces. Her nametag read "Madison".

"This way, Mr Nelson," Madison said, and deftly led him through endless rows of injured people in the waiting rooms and in the corridors, lying on the floors and propped against the walls. Other volunteers were tending to them, nurses working their way through the victims and their families, and as they passed each door Foggy could hear a hubbub of activity. Strangely, there was none of the panic of the people outside, though some patients were crying to themselves, and there were still many phones out. The intense, studied calm of the medical staff and volunteers was contagious, and Foggy found himself taking slower breaths, too.

"Not the elevators, they're reserved for patient transport right now," Madison told him, and they went up the stairs instead. There were anxious families and people with minor injuries on the stairs, too, but they were all over to one side to let people pass.

"Can you tell me any more about Matt?" Foggy asked her.

"Sorry, you'll have to catch a nurse when you get to the ward. But they're sending the walking wounded out to the boroughs on buses, so I'd assume it's worse than that."

Foggy frowned, but by then they'd made it to the fourth floor. There were wards here, rooms that held four beds each, but there were people packed in on the floors, too, in between the beds. It was noisier here, with nurses hurrying from room to room and people crying out in pain, and Foggy shuddered to think how Matt's sensitive hearing was handling it all. He knew Matt hated hospitals at the best of times.

"Nurse, I've got the next-of-kin for Matt Murdock here," Madison told a nurse with a thick clipboard.

"Murdock, Murdock…" she flicked through her papers and for a terrible moment Foggy got the idea that there had been a mistake, that Matt wasn't here at all.

"Ah yes, the young blind man." She glanced over her glasses as Foggy. "A good thing you told us that. We were assuming his head injury was a lot worse than it actually is."

"He has a head injury?" Foggy stared at her.

"Head injury with Grade Three concussion, simple fracture of the left arm, penetrating injury to the left shoulder with glass fragments. As long as there's no complications with the concussion, he should be fine. We would have sent him out with the last bus if he wasn't otherwise disabled."

"Oh, is that all?" Foggy felt like he couldn't breathe, but then, if that was "walking wounded", how badly off were these other people? He was glad that Matt wasn't somewhere on a bus, though, all by himself with no idea where he was. "Please, please may I see him now?"

"Room Five," the nurse said, and turned to her next patient.

Foggy scurried ahead of Madison, careful not to step on the patients lined up down one side of the hall, and into Room Five. He didn't see Matt for a moment, but that was because Matt had missed out on a bed and was tucked into the corner, on a mattress protector on the floor. He had a blanket over him, the dirty soles of his bare feet sticking out, and he was lying on his side with a pillow firmly held over his head, something that he often did in the dorm, too.

"Oh my god, Matt." Foggy dropped down next to him. Matt was wearing nothing but a dirty pair of sweatpants, and someone had written MATT MURDOCK BLIND along his right arm with a black marker.

"Foggy?" Matt let go of the pillow to roll onto his back and reach out his right hand, which Foggy grabbed. Matt's left forearm was in an inflatable cast. It looked ridiculous, like a child's swim bands, but also meant that Foggy could see how horribly bruised his skin was underneath. His face was badly grazed and scabbed down one side, painted with a yellow-brown antiseptic, but his arm was worse.

"What happened, buddy?"

"You're okay!" Matt's voice was slurred and rough, but his smile was clear. "Thought you were dead."

"No, Matt, everyone's fine. What were you trying to do? What happened?"

"Home?" Matt wavered.

"You were trying to go home? Good thing you didn't, one of those alien leviathans nearly took it out! Mom said it's a mess and they're being evacuated."

Matt face scrunched up like he was about to cry.

"Oh, sorry, Matty, I know you want to go home, but we have to go out to Grandma's, okay? She won't let us starve in the streets."

"Me too?"

"Of course you too, you idiot." Foggy wriggled over into the corner and helped Matt carefully settle his head on Foggy's thigh, which he suspected was much more comfortable than the hard vinyl floor. Someone had shaved a wide stripe into Matt's hair at the back, and there was a dressing taped over the top. The rest of his hair was stiff and spiky with dried blood. "Man, Candace is going to love your new haircut. Very club kid."

Matt groaned, and Foggy wasn't sure if it was because of Matt's secret vanity being punctured or because he was in pain. There was a big dressing on the back of his shoulder, too. "Hey, don't worry. They said they were going to kick you out soon and put us on a bus. We'll probably make it to Grandma's before anyone else and we'll get the bunk beds."

With another brief smile, Matt relaxed and curled up, resting the good side of his face on Foggy's leg. His voice was a low rasp and words suddenly flooded out of him. "You're alive, Foggy. I should care about all the people dying right here in this hospital, but I'm so glad you're alive."

Foggy wasn't sure what to say to that, but it was okay, because Matt had dozed off again, still holding Foggy's hand.

***

Karen and Yolanda had been lucky – the paramedics had got them to Bellevue Hospital before the leviathans went down and the hospital really filled up. It was still crowded even when they arrived, but every staff member who could show up had done so, and there were enough nurses and doctors to at least give them painkillers and triage them into the right queue.

The subways were running after being cleared of people sheltering there, so Binh had decided to make an attempt at going home to his worried boyfriend. Karen made sure to hug him before he went.

"Thanks, Binh. You're the best."

"No way, Karen, you saved us. I'm going to tell everyone – you were amazing. You should get a medal or something."

Karen blanched. "Uh, actually…would you mind not telling anyone? I mean, anyone official."

"What are you talking about?" Yolanda called out from the floor, where she was holding an icepack to her knee. "You were great!"

"I'm…I'm in New York for a fresh start, okay? I don't need my face out there. Please, don't tell anyone." She could feel the blush creeping up her face, but she held firm. This was important.

Binh sounded confused, but he nodded. "Sure, Karen. Whatever you like."

"Get back down here and put your icepack on," Yolanda grouched at her, and Karen did as she was told.

After a few quiet minutes where Karen tried to quell her horribly visible blush, she turned to Yolanda. "Aren't you going to ask?" She tried to make her voice defiant, but it came out wobbly.

"Of course I'm not. I joined the Army for my fresh start. Moving to New York sounds downright sensible to me."

Karen laughed, and would have hugged Yolanda except that she was on Karen's right, the side she had injured. "Except for the alien invasion, maybe."

"Ah, we made it through."

At the exact moment she spoke, the lights went out. People screamed, but then the lights came back on again, a little dimmer.

Yolanda held her hands up. "I hear you, universe! I won't jinx us again!"

Not long after that, two nurses moved up and down the hall, making quick assessments of patients, and ordered about half the waiting patients, including Yolanda and Karen onto a bus.

"We've got major casualties coming in," the nurse explained. "Hospitals in the other boroughs are waiting for you."

There were murmurs of discontent and a few patients who outright refused to go, most of them still missing friends or family, but Karen was happy to get out of there. A man with a bandaged jaw helped Yolanda out, and Karen trailed in her wake.

"Where are we headed?" Karen asked the bus driver.

"Don't know yet, but we're heading for the Queensboro Bridge. Hey, could have been worse, we could have been sent to Jersey! It's going to be a long trip, but I'm guessing that'll be the least of your problems today."

"Yeah, pretty much!"

Karen took her seat by Yolanda and watched as the city slowly crept by the window, thousands of people walking alongside their bus, going home.

"You okay there?" Yolanda asked her.

Karen smiled. "Yeah. I'm just thinking…I'm still glad I came to New York. My arm is busted, we're probably all out of a job, and aliens invaded the Earth, but I'm still glad. I can see a future here."

"If you fight for it like you fought today, Karen, you're going to be fine."


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