Characters: Matt Murdock, Father Lantom, mention of Foggy
Summary: Maybe they were both sins, maybe they weren’t. But Matt knew which one was unforgivable.
“Looks like you’ve had a rough couple of days,” Father Lantom observes. His tone, as usual, is somewhere between dry and kind. Matt’s long given up on trying to detect judgment in the inflections, in drumming fingers and the weakening heartbeat of an aging man.
Matt answers, “I’ve had worse,” but that sounds pretty fatalistic so he forces a smile to show he didn’t mean it that way.
“You really shouldn’t do that.” The air sighs in a way that indicates a very subtle gesture.
“Did you just roll your eyes at me, Father?”
“Until you can practice that fake smile in a mirror, you should refrain from using it out in public. It looks like it causes you physical pain.”
“Won’t be practicing. The blindness is permanent,” Matt reminds him.
“Then you have no reason to make that expression ever again.” The air displaces again, bouncing and rolling over thin, delicate skin.
“Was it that bad? Now you’re frowning at me.”
“You’re such a smart—“
“—Show off,” Father Lantom amends. “Drink your latte.”
Matt obeys, letting the froth tickle his lips and simmer over his tongue. He thinks about champagne, how the bubbles dance in his mouth and coax goosebumps to break out on his flesh. Lattes are different, humid, spreading slow and strong until the warmth seeps unassuming into all the chilly corners. Or maybe it’s just his current company.
“Organic milk,” Matt hums in appreciation, running his tongue over his teeth. “And a fair trade coffee. That in the budget?”
“It is now if it spares me from listening to you rant about growth hormones and equality in international trade. Thought you said you weren’t a righteous man?”
Lantom snorts. “Could’ve fooled me.”
Matt’s shoulders twitch and even he’s not sure if he’s shrugging or ducking in on himself in embarrassment. “Sorry.” It’s just, if Matt is going to taste every chemical component he rather it at least come from somewhere respectable.
The silence ticks by between them as it sometimes does. Father Lantom used to shift, used to spend the time thinking of ways to pull Matt’s thoughts out of him before he even thought them. But lately the old man seems less tense. He’s either grown less anxious around Matt, or has figured out some method to tease out his secrets in a way Matt hasn’t learned to avoid yet.
In the meantime, out of habit, Matt counts the people passing by the church. A family. An old woman with a cane. A man with breath sweet from diabetes. A cat. Doves (three of them with missing feet). Leaves and trash rustling in the wind. He hears the first drops of rain splash on the bench he frequents.
“Read about the bust this morning. Human trafficking, again, but you knew that.”
Matt just smiles, but doesn’t say anything. Father Lamton knows but is usually reluctant to even bring it up, preferring to approach Matt’s second job sideways, like he might be culpable if he says the words “vigilante” or “Daredevil” out loud. Or maybe he’s afraid of scaring Matt off.
“Read that the youngest was twelve. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.”
“Was that swearing?” He uplifts one corner of his lips. Foggy told him that a half-smile is a cue to tell seeing people that he’s joking.
“A prayer.” Lawton sighs through his nose. Matt is still savoring his latte but the old man has already finished his and his fingertips are whispering against the cup as he turns in over in his hands. “It made me think. I have a question for you.”
“Of course,” Matt invites, licking his lips and making a conscious effort not to tense up. Swallowing back the knee-jerk reaction to run when someone starts prodding at his mask. “Is there a wrong answer?”
“Yes, according to the Bible.” Father Lamton says immediately. “But this isn’t a test. And I’m not interested in a right answer, just your answer.” His heartbeat remains steady.
After a moment Matt tilts his head to the side to indicate that he’s listening.
“Those…men. I’m not even sure I should call them that. Men. I suppose that’s the problem, thinking that they’re less. Or more. More vile, more violent, more of all the sin that is in every human. Thinking of them as monsters instead of men…” He sighs, gets up from his creaky chair, wanders over to the latte machine and prepares another cup. “I mean the ones who kidnapped those kids, who sell them. Those who buy them. I was thinking this morning… Christ died for those men too, you know?” A significant pause that Matt fills with a scoff.
“Are you asking if I what? Forgive them?” Matt can anticipate a lot of things, but he’s honestly surprised and deeply uncomfortable with where this conversation is going. He was prepared to question his own morality again, to pick at the wounds that are letting more and more blackness infect the rights and wrongs that were once so clear. But another’s morality. Another’s forgiveness. That’s different… both easier and harder.
“Yes,” Father Lantom sighs, bones creaking as loud as the chair he sits in.
“No, I don’t. Obviously.” He holds up his hands, showing the old man the broken skin on his knuckles.
“That’s you judging and punishing them. Which, by the way, is rather egotistical. God is the only one capable of carrying out truly unbiased judgment.” Matt is pretty sure this is the twenty-eighth time the priest has mentioned this.
“I don’t see God fixing it,” Matt mutters for his twenty-eighth time.
“Well, you are blind,” Lantom responds, which is new.
“And I never claimed to be unbiased.”
“But you do, judge them that is. Find them guilty and carry out their sentence. But what about after?”
“I don’t know,” he says, frowning. “I never really thought about it.” But he senses that isn’t enough, that it isn’t what Father Lantom is looking for and now that it’s laid bare Matt isn’t sure if that’s enough for him, either. “I can tell you… Sometimes, it’s the only life they’ve known. Some of the traffickers were raised into it. Some were once the cargo. Some have never had a home, never had a family to care about, have only ever known cold nights and abuse until they were strong enough to steal some semblance of safety from someone else.”
The priest waits and Matt is fascinated by the words that are forming without premonition. Like these thoughts were waiting, a nebula waiting for a word to birth a star and shine it’s light into the darkness of space. He didn’t think he’d spent time noticing the lives of the people he fought. They were obstacles. Opponents in the ring, meant to be knocked out before they knocked him out.
“Those… I don’t hate them. Sometimes I even feel sorry for them. Maybe I could forgive them, I don’t know.”
“And others? Those who know what it’s like to have loved ones, who have people they care about? Who have homes and basic comforts… those who know better?”
“You mean those who choose their path?” He thinks about it, about the men from last night, their harsh voices, their laughter, and the kids screaming and screaming…
“Yes. Like Fisk.”
A familiar feeling climbs up from the pits of his gut, making his heart stutter and pound against his chest as his throat closes and his teeth grind.
“No.” Not for the first time, the harshness of his own voice startles him. “No.”
A gentle rustle, the sound of hair and skin brushing against a collar in what Matt guesses is a slight nod. The old man doesn’t say anything but gets up and fixes one more latte, this time for Matt. He thinks about making a crack about a bartender masquerading as a priest, or something. Foggy would joke, would say something either cheesy or witty, put them off balance for a few seconds in order to collect his own thoughts.
But the thoughts Matt has he no longer wants to collect, so he lets them scatter. Lets his tongue become cement. He simultaneously wants to revel and banish the anger that thrums beneath his skin, awakened in a rush with just that man’s name.
“‘And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him,’” Father Lantom forms his words with a kind of heavy tenderness he uses when he quotes from the Bible. “‘So that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.’”
Matt turns cold without noticing. Like the chilly corners inside him iced over, despite the latte. He wonders if this is where the term “going pale” comes from, wonders if his skin has gone a shade lighter.
“I can tell you don’t like that,” the old man murmurs with regret. “I don’t much care for it, either. I’ve seen things in my life. I’ve seen monsters—demons wearing the skins of men. Some have even hurt me, in ways. Once or twice I was the monster and I hurt someone else.” Matt shifts in his seat, suddenly anxious to leave and wondering why he always ended up back here. Talking to the priest is probably what it’s like for most people when they look into a mirror.
“I can read you, better than you think. Probably because I’ve struggled with some of the questions you struggle with. If God tells us we can’t judge, why does he command us to forgive? Wouldn’t that be His job as the sole Judge?”
Matt sets his latte down on the table, untouched.
“I’ve studied this passage for several years, and I think you’ve helped me put it into words. Forgiving others has to do with our own repentance. I think… I think God is saying that if we don’t understand other people’s sin enough to forgive them, then we don’t understand our own sin. If we don’t understand our own sin, if we can’t name the deep transgression, then our hearts can’t be prepared for God’s forgiveness.”
Matt imagines that his skin is marble. He imagines that his heart is made out of stone and that the words bounce off of him and land harmlessly at his feet.
“You’re angry. Maybe a little betrayed that an innocent latte turned into… But you’ve been searching so hard for forgiveness, and I wanted to tell you this.”
Matt should have known better, should have known redemption was too complicated, too far off for a man like him.
“You want forgiveness for the things you’ve done, for the things you feel like you’re obligated to do. You’ve told me you’re afraid of what you will turn into without it. But without forgiving yourself or others first I ask you, how can your heart be ready for God’s forgiveness?”
Matt smiles, forced again, and nods his head to the old priest, thanking him for his time and the coffee. He walks out into the rain, letting the falling water drum out the noise in his mind. He’s not afraid to be unforgiven, but still a desperate loneliness swells emptily inside his chest.
“You’ve got to answer your phone, man. If you don’t, I think you’re out there Daredeviling, which usually means you’re getting your ass handed to you.”
“I’ve gotten better,” Matt protests.
“Your suit’s gotten better,” Foggy laughs. “Seriously, though. You can’t be Daredevil all of the time. Take a night off every once in a while. No one wants a workaholic superhero.”
“Not a hero,” Matt reminds him. “And there are plenty who would appreciate a workaholic—uhm—”
“Whatever you are,” Foggy supplies.
“—Whatever I am,” Matt agrees.
“Well, I’m worried. And call me an asshole, because I’m a selfish one who wants my best friend around more than once every month or so—and conscious. I’m thinking of changing our company name to “Nelson and Murdock Sometimes” or maybe “Nelson and a Quarter of a Murdock”. At the risk of sounding like a Lifetime movie, don’t push us away. Please? So, answer your phone.”
Matt pauses by the coffee table in his apartment and listens to the sleepy, robotic voice of his phone call out, ”Foggy, Foggy, Foggy”. He hesitates, swallows, and makes his way up to the roof.
The air sticks damply to his skin, though the rain stopped late in the evening. Matt listens to his city breathe. Listens to the feet and cars that bump up and down stinking asphalt arteries like blood cells. Listens to the murmur of voices, laughter, the sound of bells ring on the doors of shops and bars. He only wants to get lost in the push and pull, the rise and fall of his city as it beats life into the world, into him.
Naturally, because he doesn’t want to think, thinking is all he ends up doing.
The thing is, he likes his job. Jobs. The day one and the night one. There are several things he likes about being…Daredevil, though he’s still not quite used to the name. He likes the hunt. He likes tracking down his prey. He likes it when they run, when they make it a challenge, when they force him to listen, to run, to collect evidence. He likes cornering them, likes ripping into them with his fists, likes telling them just what they did to call him out of the shadows. Sometimes, like last night when he came upon the twelve, thirteen, fourteen year old girls and boys hemmed in like cattle, he even enjoys the way bones break beneath his hands. Takes pleasure in the slippery blood between his fingers.
Annoyed at himself and the dark turn in his thoughts, he listens harder for sirens, for cries, wanting distraction and irritated that he’s wishing for something bad to happen to someone else so he doesn’t have to think.
Matt does want forgiveness for what he does, so he goes to confession. So he soul searches with Father Lantom even when it’s annoying or painful. But the whole thing is almost perfunctory. He does feel guilty a lot of the time, though he suspects a lot of that is feeling sorry for not feeling sorry. But, if Matt’s honest with himself, and he tries to be, he knows what he’ll never be forgiven for.
He tried to tell Foggy about it, once. Because if he ever tells anyone, if he ever puts thoughts into words, it would be to Foggy. Matt owes him that and so much more. He tried to tell Foggy about why what feels like years ago but was only a couple of months, when his best friend found him gutted and bleeding out on his own apartment floor. Matt tried to tell about the little girl, and her filthy bastard of a dad. But how does he tell Foggy about little whimpers in the night? How does he tell his friend about the, “You can’t tell anyone, baby. Daddy loves you. Do you trust Daddy?” and the heart wrenching, little murmurs of, “Yes, Daddy, I love you too, Daddy, it hurts, I love you”.
How does he make Foggy, or Father Lantom or God understand the weeks—months of fucking rationalizations. What could I do? How could I make a difference? If I exposed the father then the kid would be without a family and I know how much that sucks. Besides, it’s going to happen anyway, somewhere, no matter what I do.
What was worse? Beating the shit out of the dad or letting it go on for so long knowing but doing nothing?
Maybe they were both sins, maybe they weren’t. But Matt knew which one was unforgivable. And it wasn’t just the little girl. There were many others over the years he tried to keep his head down, tried to be normal, tried to combat wrong things the right way (before he realized there might not be a right way). There were many, but he can count them. The cries he ignored. The screams he turned out. The desperation he turned his back on.
He curls his fingers into fists at his side. The anger burns anew, though he still aches with the emptiness from earlier. Matt strains his ears, tastes the air, but he doesn’t hear anything. The atmosphere of Hell’s Kitchen is as it should be: dark, wounded, but pulsing and animated. Safe for now. Safe as long as he’s listening, waiting to protect it.
Somewhere below his phone mutters, ”Foggy, Foggy, Foggy, Foggy…”