Matt Murdock had been expecting, and dreading this moment all night, but now that it had finally come upon him it was even worse than he’d imagined. Nothing in all his training had prepared him, and a grim smile tugged at his lips as he turned to face his doom.
“Mr. Matt? I have to go potty. Bad.”
It was Owen. Of course it was Owen. As the six year old smiled in what he knew was an endearing manner Matt smelled the stench of day old goldfish crackers ground up in the recesses of his teeth (Merely smeared over with a veneer of toothpaste the day before to appease Mom and Dad).
“Owen, you all went to the potty five minutes ago. We’re ready to start practice. I think you can go after.” Matt fingered the braille sheets of music that Father Lantom had given him yesterday. Again he asked himself why he had agreed to this madness. Yes, his caseload was slow at the moment and he was trying to keep himself off the streets, trying to figure out how to balance his recent losses with his desire to keep his friends and… others in his life and not let everything fall to pieces. But playing piano for children’s choir practice?
“Matthew, are you ready?” Father Lantom walked towards his left shoulder, trailed by April, wiping the remnants of the oreos that covered her little hands on the back of his pants.
“Almost, Owen says he needs to… use the bathrooms. Again.” Matt could hear and feel the Father’s heartbeat speed up the tiniest bit, in anticipation of a little fabrication, told in what he thought would be Matt’s benefit. That and the Father was no fool. He’d known Owen since he was a disruptive little 2 year old, pushing his hot wheel cars under all the kneeling rails and playing Really Old Man birthday party with the votive candles at the front of the sanctuary.
“I’m sorry, I have to watch the other children, you’ll have to take him. Owen, this is going to be the last time, Mr. Matt has to play piano for all the songs, so everyone is waiting. Go quick and hold Mr. Matt’s hand the whole time. Matthew, remember our bathrooms are out of commission right now, you’ll have to take him out back to the port-a-potty. Take Brayden with you too, he needs some fresh air.”
By “needs some fresh air” the Father tactfully avoided saying “needs to have his hands pried off the arm of the little five year old he was forcefully swinging around in a joyful circle on the stage.” Matt would hardly have needed his extra senses to recognize the unhappiness of the child that Father Lantom released from Brayden’s grip as he gently, but firmly led the offender over to the piano, where he and Owen immediately got into a shoving match.
“But Father, are you sure… This is my first time at practice and the boys…” Matt hedged. He’d signed up to use his poor piano skills when the power surrounding the church had been unceremoniously cut off for the week and Father Lantom had begged, so he wouldn’t have to cancel on the kids. Also because Matt wanted to avoid seeing anyone who knew too much about what had been going on in his life, or any kind of situation where he would run into the temptation to… interfere again.
“You’ll be fine Matthew, it’s right outside, just hold on to them and we’ll warm up in here. All right, we’re going to start with Jesus loves me...and jumping jacks! Everyone on your feet!” Father Lantom turned back to the whispering mass of children on the stage and Matt sighed, resigning himself to his unpleasant duty.
“All right boys, let’s go. Owen, hold my hand… No wait, Brayden, hold Owen’s hand and Brayden, you can hold mine.” Matt made the switch as soon as he sensed the mucus that had just come out of Owen’s nose and settled on his finger. Brayden put his hand into Matt’s left hand and Matt could feel the muscles in his little body tense as he prepared to give Owen’s hand an extra hard squeeze.
“Hold his hand gently Brayden, gently,” Matt said purposefully looking away from the boys as he felt forward with his cane, hoping to put a little bit of apprehension for his possible mysterious blind person powers into the hearts of the little troublemakers. Brayden slouched along, dragging Owen with him as Matt made his way out of the sanctuary and down the front stairs of the church. The sounds, smells and feelings of New York assaulted his senses, and he automatically categorized them, tuning out the ones that were irrelevant at the moment, heading towards one of the only things in the world that the “man without fear” felt apprehensive towards. There were several heightened senses reasons that Matt avoided public restroom facilities. Despite years of practice he couldn’t quite tune out the stench, the taste in the air that surrounded the squat little building in the alley beside the church.
“It stinks back here!” Brayden complained, yanking Matt in the opposite direction of the Port-a-potty.
“You stink!” Owen whined, and Matt admitted internally that he had a point as he sensed Brayden emitting his own brand of stench in Owen’s direction.
“Owen, hurry up, it’s right in front of you, “ Matt deftly pulled the boys in a gentle circle and separated them, quickly putting a hand on Brayden and tapping the port-a-potty with the end of his cane.
“How can you tell? Don’t you need to lick it to be sure?” Owen asked, not moving any closer to the potty.
“Don’t be dumb, he can feel it with his hand!” Brayden tried to push Matt towards the building and Matt tensed up slightly and didn’t move.
“Or I can just not touch the port a potty at all. Go in, all right?” Matt put his hand on Owen’s shoulder and moved him towards the building.
“I thought you had to lick it, that’s no fun…” Own mumbled as he finally moved into the potty and closed the door, his voice came out unfortunately clearly through the flimsy plastic, “Are you going to lick the piano?”
“I’ll lick you!” threatened Brayden, suddenly swinging from Matt’s hand towards the potty, Matt smelled his oreo breath as his tongue went out towards the door. Matt swung him back next to his side, putting his own body between Brayden and the port a potty, also keeping Owen from opening the door and escaping without washing his hands. Outmaneuvering small children was proving to be surprisingly similar to the moves needed to defeat the Hand’s assassins, he thought ruefully and winced. Was this really all that he was going to be able to do with his powers? Keeping Brayden from trying to put most of New York in his mouth?
Suddenly amidst the sounds of Owen humming an off tune version of the Paw Patrol theme song to himself and Brayden making spitting noises as he swung happily from Matt’s hand, Matt heard the extra fast pounding of two hearts approaching from behind. He narrowed his focus and heard a tense whisper.
“Go for the red haired kid, the one swinging, the blind man won’t know which way he went. The car’s that way,” the man split off and ran, Matt quickly noted the direction and extrapolated where the getaway car was parked. The other man stepped towards them, Brayden unconsciously swinging closer to his would be kidnapper. For a split second Matt paused, wondering how to handle this while instilling the least amount of emotional trauma. Yes, the kids were from Hell’s Kitchen, but kidnapping wasn’t an everyday occurrence, and he knew this children’s choir. It was something that Father Lantom saw as a safe place, somewhere you could act up and have a good time with your friends without all the drama on the streets the kids lived with day to day. Brayden may have been pummeling Matt’s leg with reckless abandonment, but that recklessness came from feeling like he was in a place where he could have normal little boy fun. Matt was doing nothing with his powers for many reasons, but right now, he was definitely willing to make an exception to keep fear away from the kids.
“Brayden, do you want to know how I found the port-a-potty?” Matt spoke quickly as he felt the man approach and his breath come quicker, stinking of stale alcohol and sickness.
“Not really, “ Brayden mumbled as he hung onto Matt’s knee, squeezing until it almost hurt, and impeding his ability to maneuver without hurting the child.
“I’m all done Mr. Matt, what should I do if there isn’t soap?” announced Owen, pushing the door open at the precise moment that the man bent to yank Brayden off of Matt’s leg.
“I just swung my cane around till I found it, like this!” Matt announced as he swung his cane at the spot where he knew the man’s head was, connecting solidly and dropping him to the pavement. Brayden and Owen fell silent, Owen’s slightly damp hand found its way into Matt’s pocket.
“You killed him!” crowed Brayden, detaching from Matt’s leg as Matt grabbed his hand, and the boy swung himself over the prone would be kidnapper.
“That is so cool! You’re a bad dude Mr. Matt!” Owen said excitedly as Matt caught his hand before he was able to play with the man’s outstretched shoe.
“He’s not dead, I just accidentally knocked him out. We’ll call the ambulance and they’ll make him better,” Matt assured them as he turned the boys towards the church and began to walk up the stairs. He could hear the motor of the getaway car shut off as the man inside got out to investigate his buddy’s downfall.
“Father Lantom! Mr. Matt needs to come back every week and beat people with his stick!” Owen yelled as they entered the sanctuary and Matt finally released his hand, giving the kid a head start on Brayden, who may or may not have developed some bad ideas from Matt’s “accident” outside.
“I’ll be right back Father,” Matt called as he felt the boys reach the front of the sanctuary and their little refuge. Someday, he mused, one way or another, he’d find a way to work towards making this whole city a place of safety. He smiled again as his cane connected to the back of the other mook’s head. He smelled the weapons on them, no doubt illegally held and nodded, assured that his citizen’s assist would result in a stint in jail.
After ending his quiet phone call with the police Matt entered the sanctuary again and Father Lantom turned towards him.
“Been busy again Matthew? And here I thought I was keeping you occupied.”
“Well, you know what they say about idle hands Father,” Matt walked forward and sat at the piano, feeling, among all the oreo breath, sniffly noses, and restless whispering, their sense of safety. He smiled.