Daredevil. The Man Without Fear.
That's what the papers called him, what he heard on buzzing news stations when his neighbours left their televisions humming overnight. 5B was a demolition labourer that worked odd hours and his apartment always smelled of coffee, syrupy energy drinks, and poor sleep. The TV was his best friend during his nights on call. 2A turned the news on every morning at exactly 5:42 as she went about her routine. She worked with her girlfriend at the bakery on West 45th and 10th. A cloud of cinnamon and yeast clung to her like a film.
The Daily Bugle, the New York Bulletin, Spectrum News NY1. If Matt had been particularly active the night before, there would be a story about the Man Without Fear. His neighbours never paid the stories much mind. It was white noise for them; it was a reminder for him.
Of course he was afraid.
Not when he methodically wrapped ropes around his wrists to keep them stable or slipped a mask over his eyes. Not when he left his apartment through the roof access and took off in a sprint, leaping from roof to roof, hoisting himself up fire escapes and flipping through the air like an acrobat to maintain his momentum. He wasn't even afraid when his ears picked up on a muffled gasp, a sharp scream, or when the promising scent of gunpowder attacked his senses.
No, he was afraid after his target was a bloody mess under his fists and their ribs creaked like the floorboards of an old ship. He was terrified when a heartbeat became thready and he had to throw himself back in a boxer's stance, fists up and ready to guard. Matt felt fear the first time he'd stood over an unconscious body and realized that this was the closest he had felt to his father since he was nine years old.
Daredevil. The Devil of Hell's Kitchen.
He was afraid when he let the devil out and when he could feel his hold on it slipping. Who would he become if Matt Murdock couldn't force the devil back in?
Years ago, he'd told a Russian that he enjoyed this. That he enjoyed hurting people. A nurse had been with him then. Adrenaline had made her heart thud too fast to tell if she chose to lie to him (not that she would, not after what she'd seen him do to the man that had been at his mercy) and the mental image he'd formed of her had been vibrating. It was like her atoms had been trying to spread apart. Like they knew they were in the presence of the devil and were desperate to escape the grips of hell.
She'd said she didn't believe him. That she didn't think he enjoyed hurting people. He hadn't answered her. The devil had been burning beneath the surface of his skin and he'd needed to keep his jaw clenched shut so it wouldn't slip past his teeth.
Matt was afraid that he did enjoy it.
He made excuses later. Convinced himself that Hell's Kitchen needed him in a mask, that they needed a vigilante that stalked the dark corners of the city and dragged monsters into the light. Maybe they did need a protector. Half the NYPD had been dirty. They'd been tucked in Fisk's back pocket and used to mold New York into a kingdom where the Kingpin ruled. But did they need a man with the devil inside him? A man that lost himself in the song of broken bones and bloody cries? A man that served what he believed to be blind justice?
Daredevil. The Man Without Fear.
He'd been afraid when his father died. When Elektra died, came back different, and then died again. When Sister Maggie turned out to be the mother that had abandoned him. He'd been afraid when Father Lantom begged forgiveness and breathed his last.
The news called him a Man Without Fear, but that wasn't true. It was that he translated his fear into rage. Every punch was infused with the terror of a child abandoned by a father who had left him behind because of pride. Every spinning kick told the fright of a boy who was surrounded by a world that was all too much. The blow that left the criminal (they had to be a criminal; they had to be or the devil would stay out for good) dazed on the ground was the culmination of a man left behind by everyone he had dared to love. And the halted killing strike was the fear that this time the devil would destroy what was left of Matt Murdock.
So, a Man Without Fear he was not.
But he tried.
He tried to remember Foggy. Foggy, who, despite everything, refused to abandon him. Who'd brought Matt his armour in a precinct in Harlem even though his distaste for Matt's vigilantism had made the bag tremor ever so slightly when he'd handed it over. Foggy, who still wanted the law firm they'd dreamed of at Columbia after all the shit Matt had put him through.
He tried to remember Karen as well. Karen, who was more like Matt than either of them would accept. Who put herself in nearly as much danger as him because she knew she had to help and knew that not all justice can be served in a court of law. Who did her best not to react when Matt came to work with a shining bruise on his cheek and his knuckles split raw.
They knew that the devil inside Matt terrified him. That he sometimes had to flee after a mugging or attempted rape to stop himself from taking the monster's head in his hands and twisting. But their faith calmed his fears. Whether he enjoyed hurting others or not didn't matter. As long as he directed his violence to help others and directed his skill as a lawyer to do the same, it was alright.
He was still afraid, of course. He was not the Man Without Fear that his neighbours' heard about on the news. He wasn't the fearless vigilante that lived on the peripheral of their own worlds. He was a man with two lives. They lived unaware that the blind lawyer in 6A who sometimes offered a polite smile was the same man who'd taken down Wilson Fisk not once but twice, and who'd cried into his arms when the devil's urge for a more-permanent punishment almost cost the life of a would-be mugger.
Matt wasn't without fear. He wasn't without rage. He walked a tenuous line every time he chose to don the mask and open the door to his apartment's roof access. But he was a man who could channel his fear. He could make the devil work for him as he clung onto the threads of his faith, praying that God forgave his aggression so long as he used it for good. So long as he never went too far.
Of course, the news wasn't interested in a headline that called him the Man Who Was Actually Afraid a Lot. So they called him the Man Without Fear and Matt prayed that he could, one day, be as fearless and resolute as the vigilante in the papers. He prayed that he could do what was right and that it would be enough.
Daredevil. Hell's Kitchen's original vigilante.
Matt Murdock. A blind, pro-bono lawyer with a sharp tongue and a shining reputation.
He could be both. He could be a protector and he could keep the devil in check. He didn't have to be afraid.
But he knew it was alright if he was just a little bit.