i. Justice, when she comes to him, is a woman.
First, she is the nuns at his orphanage, the harried social worker who spares him a rare smile which he can, of course, not see, but can hear in her voice, the older girls who tell him when to shut up, shut up, shut up, because they are the forgotten, the unwanted, the-very-literally-silent-sufferers. The women are kind and they are careful, and their justice is brief and costly. Later, she will be Karen, and Claire, will be the women who die and the women who live, and he tries not to question it, why his model for justice is a woman, why his model for victim is also. Perhaps it is easier. He is neither arbiter, nor victim, when of course, his whole life, he’s been both.
(Victim, longer than arbiter. Victim, until victim no more, but.)
He can’t remember ever seeing the statue of Lady Justice before any New York courthouse, before the accident, but it doesn’t matter. The Lord appoints his saints. It is only a little slip into blasphemy, to give his model for the Virgin, in the quiet sanctuary of his own mind, scales, a sword. The irony is, of course, never lost on him, but he’s not justice.
He’s just blind.
ii. Foggy Nelson is not a woman, and therein lies the problem.
Oh, he knew before Foggy, therein lying another problem. Matt was normal until he wasn’t, invisible, until he wasn’t, but that’s not how life works and it’s not how this story goes. There was something inside him, deep beneath the devil, blood-deep and bone-deep, marking him as never normal, never right. He prays about it because he does not understand it, his vision of a loving god jarring with the force of it, why me why me why me. He comes to terms with the blindness long before– the other, which is what he takes to calling it: The Other Thing. He hates knowing, inescapable, that he would never have been normal. He would never have been right. The original of his own Original Sin. Matt Murdock likes boys, like that. So, for once, he takes the coward’s way out, and ignores it.
The Murdock boys, they got the devil in them. But not like this. Oh, he prays, not like this.
iii. Justice has more than one face, not that it means shit to him.
The years roll together, and Foggy’s heartbeat becomes the soundtrack to his life. Foggy’s bright laugh wakes him in the mornings, and his breathing lulls him to sleep at night. He wants Foggy and hates himself, but never Foggy, never ever Foggy, and he chases it, doing the right thing, and he hates himself and he he hates himself and life goes on, because that’s what life does. He hates himself and he keeps getting up and getting up and getting up, because that’s what his life is. He hears their voices, the people who need him, and he forces himself to be the man who he ought to be, the man who can be the man these people need. As a rare indulgence, he thinks of Foggy, but does not let himself linger. Perhaps this is penance for his sins.
And by now, that’s one long goddamn list.
iv. “Were you ever really blind?” asks Foggy, and Matt wants to throw up.
This is– this is. In its own way, this is justice, this is Matt getting what he deserves. He feels the disgust in Foggy’s voice like it’s physical pain, and given that he’s going to be pissing blood for at least a week, that takes some doing. He doesn’t have the words to tell him because he never has, language not built for this, for standing so outside the realm of human experience it almost transcends. (Not, of course, that he would ever consider himself transcendent.) He doesn’t have the words because the words don’t exist, and he could live a thousand lifetimes and still be left grasping at air. But it’s not fair, it’s so, so, so not fair, and Foggy deserves to understand, and Matt– Matt deserves this. All of this pain, the splitting ache in his chest and the tears in his eyes and this feeling of the roof caving in on top of him. That’s fair. In the pursuit of his brand of justice, that’s fair.
Fair is not the same as just. Matt is, just barely, beginning to learn to tell the difference.
v. “You’re doing what you can,” Foggy tells him, on what is probably a dark night, and most certainly a cold one. One of Matt’s ribs is broken and he hasn’t slept more than three hours a night in a week. He thinks Foggy is understanding better than he ever has before, because Foggy has taken up boxing and keeps a gun inside his drywall and he’s becoming a person Matt never wanted him to be, a little more ruthless, a little more mean, living with Matt’s secret. Matt loves him regardless because he’ll love him forever, whoever he becomes, and anyway, even Foggy’s cruelty is kind.
“Just keep coming back to me,” says Foggy, and Matt could kiss him then, he could, but that’s not fair, because one of these nights Matt will come back to him in a bodybag and it’s already bad enough. It wouldn’t be fair. It’s unfair enough as it is. Matt Murdock, finally finding the sin he won’t commit in the name of justice. Matt Murdock, never quite falling out of love.
“I promise,” says Matt, and Foggy isn’t the one who hears heartbeats, can’t catch the lie.
vi. The guilt is such a cliche it’s barely worth mentioning, but then, it’s all that’s worth mentioning, because Catholic guilt is a cliche but it’s real as hell. Real as hell.
Matt doesn’t know what damns him more, the way his palms itch to hurt bad men or the way his palms itch to touch the best man he knows, not even in his heart of hearts. His hands are filthy-dirty, and it would be a terrible thing, to touch Foggy with those hands. Never matter that they belong to a man, because those hands shouldn’t be touching anyone. Never mind that Foggy does not see Matt as he really is. No one has ever seen Matt as clearly as Matt sees himself, and being blind has absolutely fucking nothing to do it with it.
“Confession three times in a week is pushing it even for you, dude,” says Foggy, and Matt gives him his best smile, wonders if he’ll ever be brave enough to tell Father Lantom the sole secret the man hasn’t guessed. If only Daredevil was his worst secret. If only.
vii. Sometimes, he looks at Karen and thinks: I wonder which secret would make you hate me more?
Karen is a good woman; she hates injustice and steel curves its way around her spine; something deep inside her that might be even harder and more dangerous than what drives the Daredevil. Matt has only heard it once or twice, coming out in her tone when she’s cornered and furious, bringing a knife to a gunfight. She is a good woman and she loves him and he knows, although he couldn’t tell you how, that she has the sheer ruthless compassion inside her to burn this city down to save it, and even he wouldn’t do that, over his dead body, amen, amen, amen.
But even good people hate fags, when all is said and done.
In the end, both questions answer themselves, in a reply to Foggy’s casual coming out at Josie’s one night, to a discovery that he can’t lie his way out of, and she doesn’t care, she doesn’t care one bit, and he feels like he can breathe all over again, both times. She’d kissed a girl in college, and thought about more, but New York was intimidating for dating, and anyway, she’s been busy, and goddamit, Matt Murdock, I knew you hadn’t fallen down the stairs!
Matt wonders what it makes him, that he always expects the worst.
A man who has lived his life, and has very, very good ears to hear the things people call him behind his back, he guesses.
(The only thing worse than a fag or a cripple is a crippled fag, and oh, don’t people let you know.)
viii. “You’re not going out tonight,” says Foggy, and Matt should fight it, but he doesn’t.
He’s too selfish, or too tired, or too shit-scared that Foggy’s heart will sound the way it did the night he found out, like it was about to beat out right out of chest and onto the floor. It’s the only time in his entire life that he’d been glad to be blind, so he couldn’t see how Foggy looked at him in that moment. The moment where he knew.
(Foggy is one of the only people Matt knows for sure wouldn’t shun him if he knew his other secret. He would, however, do the sad smile that Matt can recognise from that tone in his voice, the one he hates, and patiently explain to Matt how he loves him like a brother and how they’ll be friends forever and Matt will get over him, eventually, there’s plenty more fish in the sea. Matt’s not sure if he could survive that conversation. He’s looking forward to never finding out.)
Foggy sits him on the couch and he orders pizza, he narrates some crappy movie to him and pulls a blanket over both their laps and stands over Matt until he takes some pain pills, although they’re just enough to take the edge off, but Matt doesn’t tell Foggy that. His heart beats steady and happy and he smells like hypoallergenic washing powder and the sort of sunlight that makes some people sneeze. He’s the best thing that ever happened to Matt Murdock, the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen, attorney at law, the man who could never deserve Foggy Nelson as long as he lives. He kisses Matt on the forehead before he leaves, because he does that, sometimes, when they’re alone, and Matt has never let himself hope that it means anything.
In the everlasting second before the door swings closed, Matt feels the words curling in the back of his throat, trying to force their way out like a cat with a hairball. I love you, I love you so much it hurts, and I know pain from pain, I would do anything to make you stay, I would do anything to keep you safe, and you can never be safe around me, I know you don’t love me back and it’s okay, it’s okay, just lie to me this once except I would never ask you that, ever, please don’t go, please don’t go--
Matt wonders if what holds his tongue is cowardice, or bravery. In this brave new world of theirs, it’s starting to get a little difficult to tell the difference.
ix. Claire thinks he’s an idiot, and she’s not wrong.
If he was sensible, he would be in love with Claire, although it would be equally as hopeless, and equally as doomed. She’s beautiful (or so he’s been told) and whipsmart and she can keep a secret like nobody he’s ever met, and whatever she’s running from, it’s bad. It’s very, very bad. If he loved her, he could tell people, get a sympathetic pat on the back and be told that there’s four million girls in New York City, and he’ll meet the right one for him, if he gives it enough time. Except time is something he’s rapidly running out of, and he liked kissing her well enough, liked her, likes her, but he knows better than anyone what it is he wants. What it is he can’t have.
“You’re going to die doing this,” says Claire, and that line is drawn stark in the sand between them, and no wave is ever coming in to wash it away. He doesn’t blame her, not for a second. She is a good woman, the best, and he is punishment enough for a lifetime’s worth of sins. She deserves better, and she knows it. He can’t fault her for that. If anything, it only makes him love her more, just not-- like that.
But if he was better, if he could, it would be Claire’s voice he dreams of, or Karen’s, when he thinks idly of the last thing he hopes he ever hears. Or, perhaps, more accurately, second to last, because he can’t think of anything worse than Foggy having to watch him die. He’s going to die doing this, and he knows it, and he can’t bring himself to be sorry. He’s only sorry for what will be left in his wake, but, in a sense, that’s unavoidable. Everybody dies. Everybody.
That’s a lesson Matt Murdock learnt young.
x. “You know that I know, right,” says Foggy, casually, like he hasn’t just shot Matt right in the fucking heart, and Matt doesn’t even bother saying what.
“I would never-- I don’t expect anything,” says Matt, and Foggy shakes his head, his heart beating steady, his breathing normal, and Matt would cut a finger off his hand himself to be able to see Foggy’s facial expression right now, it’s so frustrating he could scream from it if his throat didn’t feel like it was closing up, so he doesn’t, just sits there waiting for the axe to fall.
“I wish that you would, you idiot,” says Foggy, and his voice is so, so kind.
“What?” says Matt, giving up on not bothering, and Foggy snorts, inches a little closer to him on the couch.
“I told you were hot within thirty seconds of meeting you, Murdock, you are so slow on the uptake, God,” says Foggy, and then he’s kissing him, kissing Matt’s mouth like he’ll die if he won’t get it, and it feels so good, and it feels so wrong, and Matt hates himself that when he pushes through the feeling of wrongness that he wants it more than anything he’s ever wanted in his whole life.
“Are you-- you’re Catholic. Is... this?” says Foggy, clearly not knowing how to ask politely, and Matt nods, then shakes his head. (It matches his shaking hands.)
“I want to. Believe me, Fog, I want to. It just-- it makes me-- you might have to wait a while--”
“Before I get you into bed? I’ve waited seven years, Matt, I think I can manage to wait a little more.”
“You’re being understanding, and you shouldn’t be,” says Matt, sick with self-loathing, and Foggy, inexplicably, laughs.
“This is so you,” says Foggy, fondly, “Trying to argue me out of being in love with you. Trying to give back something freely given out of guilt. It’s not going to work, man, so you might as well quit it right now. I’m gonna kiss you in the most PG-13 way imaginable tonight and then I’m going to take you on a lot of dates and buy you flowers and appreciate how handsome you are when you blush, like you are right now, it’s really something, honestly.”
“You’re so beautiful,” whispers Matt, and the uptick in Foggy’s heartbeat tells Matt that he doesn’t believe him, but he likes to hear it anyway.
“That makes two of us,” says Foggy, cheerfully, “So shut up and kiss me, I’ve had to listen to you argue all day in court as it is.”
Foggy is as good as his word, that night and the next and the next and the next, and Matt keeps waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the feeling of guilt and shame in his chest to crumble into dust. But the other shoe never drops and that feeling erodes but it doesn’t crumble, and he makes himself be brave, tells Father Lantom about it, Karen, then, eventually, Foggy, and he learns that it’s normal, that some guilt isn’t solely Catholic, and some guilt is guilt he doesn’t need to carry, or, at least, carry alone. He lives and he keeps living and justice is not a woman, is not Foggy, is not him, but something intangible, unreachable, a goalpost always moving, a promise he never quite manages to keep, and Daredevil must be, also, inhuman and unknowable, the only part of Matt permitted to transcend, a sacred thing Matt pays for in blood and body, a thing beyond.
“Let me hold the door open for you, like a goddamn gentleman,” says Foggy, brilliant, beautiful, utterly human Foggy, and perhaps, maybe, just this once, Matt gets to be human. Maybe, just this once, Matt just gets to be a man, and not a mask. Maybe, just this once, Matt gets to be a person and not a punishment.
“No one who grabs my ass like that is a gentleman,” says Matt, mildly, and it’s enough to know that Foggy’s smiling, that he can hear it in his voice. For once, Matt is enough.