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The Greatest of These is Love

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“Prudence is the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it; ‘the prudent man looks where he is going.’”

A beaten, bloody man in a dumpster demands a 9-1-1 call. It’s his black mask that gives Claire pause.

She can’t be sure it’s the man of the rumors. But he needs help that she can give.

As a medical professional, she has to suggest the hospital when he wakes.

But as someone who’s set innocent bones viciously broken in the shadows, she has to listen when ‘Mike,’ sans mask, begs her not to bring in others. When he warns of danger.

Claire has seen enough to know such a warning is a luxury few are given in Hell’s Kitchen.
“Justice is the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor.”

She’s mostly quiet at their second meeting, mending a new cut and reopened stitches. Finally, she clears her throat. “There’s something I wanted to ask the other night. Before the… distraction.”

Matt smiles at that. He hears the indrawn breath indicating she’s returning it. “Why the mask?” she goes on. “Why this way?”

He starts to find an evasive answer, lawyer-like. But in the mask, he’s hardly an attorney-at-law.

“It’s needed,” he says at last.

“By whom?”

It’s a question he’s been asking himself for some time. “The city.”

“And the people in it?”

That’s harder for him to answer.
“Fortitude is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good.”

‘Mike’ isn’t quitting his endeavors in the mask. That means more nights of illicit doctoring. With each one, Claire can’t shake the fear growing in her like an icicle.

She’s long known she works in an unacknowledged war zone- she’s treated both its soldiers and its civilian casualties. But in helping the masked man, she has picked a side.

A side with just a medic and a soldier, alone on a battlefield with invisible shrapnel all around.

It is no safe place to be, all her instincts tell her this.

But anything making her afraid to heal is worth resisting.
“Temperance is the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures...”

After fire takes Matt’s world, voices are forever altered. Some are hail on the face- others, like Foggy’s, warmth directing a blind man sunward.

Claire’s voice holds the strength he feels in everyone who fights to choose rightly. For that he admires her.

Claire’s voice shows the joy in the smiles lost to him. For that he treasures her.

Claire’s voice radiates kindness, closer to light than he has been since his accident. For that, he should emulate her.

But Matt chooses a path of fire. So he does no more than come to be healed. And to hear her.
“The gift of faith remains in one who has not sinned against it.”

Matt knows she’ll come.

His awareness is flickering in and out of the haze that’s both pain and the world as he knows it. Foggy’s voice, shaken with hurt and confusion, is the demolition of the walls he’s built between night and day. It’s a collision between two worlds that were never meant to be separated, and everything is off its axis, it seems- though that could be the blood loss.

There’s no way of knowing what he’ll lose by morning. But with the one thing he does know, his life will not be among those losses.

Claire will come.
“The virtue of hope…keeps man from discouragement; it sustains him during times of abandonment; it opens up his heart in expectation of eternal beatitude.”

When they take her to the garage, she fights past the point of futility, having screamed herself hoarse for a man whose name she does not know.

When nothing exists but pain, her only thought is “why,” laced with anger at her tormentors and the masked man that led her here.

Claire finally considers she may die for having helped another.

Regret pierces her. But she can imagine her former patients coming home, fearing no darkness, because of the masked man.

That must be enough.

What she did was good. Even if it ends here.

Then the lights go out.
“If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”

The darkness of the shadows fades as the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen goes about his work, but it shows things with knives. With each passing night, another veil torn back reveals another monster. But they are no longer hidden.

Claire can see this, Matt can hear and feel it. It lingers in the air between them when she’s binding a cut, or he’s testing a bruise.

In those moments with the reminders of the night, she has to trust that Matt’s fire will burn through this concrete-and-steel inferno to let something better grow. He has to rely on Claire when he is consumed by his own flame to rebuild his ashes into something human.

He has felt her fear and knows her goodness and her struggles both in every word and help she gives. Claire has looked at him when he was broken, held gaze with all his flaws, and never once has flinched.

If there’s intimacy in a touch, there must be in such total knowledge.

Neither of them care to question it. A bandage can be a ritual, a touch to remind the mind of the features a binding- for the best and the worst of whatever comes.