A Little Prayer

March 29, 2018:

Forewarned of his impending death, Agent Phil Coulson chooses a particular Hell's Kitchen church to seek his Last Rites. Matt Murdock finds him there.

Hell's Kitchen, New York

A church in the heart of a dangerous neighborhood.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Bucky Barnes

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

On weekdays— or week nights, as the case may be— the church which one Father Lantom presides over is often nearly deserted. Few parishioners think to interrupt their busy schedules to come and get a bit of solace; content to take advantage of scheduled Saturday confessions rather than coming in for something a bit more one-on-one. But the good Father is there most of the time, ready to provide confession, or counsel, or other services to those who might want to come in. It's one of those things mentioned in mass from time to time but which most people just sort of allow to go in one ear and out the other.

That means Lantom is available almost any time Matt might want to step in and talk to him, and usually right away.

But tonight, someone is with him. Matt's hearing may well give him the heads up that he's wrapping up the Last Rites for someone inside the church well before he reaches the building proper.

On most nights, an empty church would be Matt Murdock's ideal. There are many for whom religion provides a sense of community and connection — but Matt's faith has always been a deeply private matter. He doesn't talk about it with Foggy, Kinsey, Jessica, or any of his close-knit circle of friends, except to make the odd self-deprecatory joke. It's all between himself, his God…

…and his God's chosen interlocutors, of course.

The strange friendship Matt has cultivated with Father Lantom has no parallel in either of his lives. He's told the man things about himself, his fears, his drives, that he hasn't shared with anyone else — not even those to whom he has revealed his own strange double-life. He doesn't consider it a safe space by any stretch, but over the past year he's found these weekly purgings of his soul make what he does slightly more bearable.

In short, the confessional is something Matt has come to rely on. And so when he hears voices in the church, and realizes that Lantom is not immediately on call, he feels a surge of a very un-Christian sort of pique.

Right up until he picks up the hushed words of the Viaticum for what they are. Guilt fills the void left by his ebbing irritation, and leads the grey-suited, somber-faced lawyer to tap-tap-tap his way down the aisle to one of the pews near the front, there to take a patient seat.

As Matt makes his way inside he might even find he recognizes the heartbeat of the person receiving them. Or, perhaps, just the voice. After Lantom finishes the prayer and murmurs the Trinitarian formula the person in question, one Agent Phil Coulson, murmurs, "Thank you, Father," in a low, respectful voice. "I appreciate you making the time for me tonight."

Phil is the first to step out of the small, private area where this final sacrament has been performed, and at first it looks like he doesn't even see Matt. His measured footsteps take him several paces past those front pews, before he stops, as if having caught Matt out of his peripheral vision.

"Mr. Murdock," he greets warmly, quietly. "I didn't know you went to church here."

Phil, of course, does not, and it is merest coincidence which walked him into Matt's church out of all churches tonight. But when one runs in to someone one knows, or has at least kind of sort of met in a sort of harried, 'hurry up and run' way in a darkened office, one says hi.

Matt Murdock has met Phil Coulson exactly once. And even if the masked vigilante 'Daredevil' has fought beside the man, and shared a stranger-than-strange roadtrip, drinks, and a few law-enforcement-related tips, that is how Matt Murdock must react. He arranges his face appropriately: sublimating the shock and surprising pang of sadness he feels on learning Coulson is — what, terminally ill? — in favor of a few beats of feigned confusion and as he 'strains' to place the voice of the man politely greeting him.

"Agent Coulson?" Matt asks with a slight and quizzical quirk of a smile as he brings himself to a rise from his seat at the pew. "Yeah, I do, for the last year or so. Since I moved from uptown back to the Kitchen." That his sometimes contact in SHIELD frequents it is cause for no-small-surprise. I live in a city of tens of millions, but sometimes the world seems like the size of three city blocks. He feels a sudden need to explain why they haven't met before. "I, uh, tend to come on the Sunday morning services, not the midnight masses. Never been much of one for crowds."

He doesn't seem terminally ill. At least, there's nothing in his heartbeat that might indicate a weak heart, and nothing in his pheromones that might indicate the onset of certain diseases. Of course, one never knows.

Matt explains why they hadn't met before, but it might well prove to be unnecessary. Phil looks up and around and says, "Feels like years since I've been in to any Church at all. Made it in for Christmas in France 3 years ago. This one was just close to an errand tonight. A contact I'm going to try to touch base with tonight works this neighborhood. Thought I'd pop in and take confession."

The last sentence is of course a lie, or at least a half-truth, as confession would have happened prior to the Rites, but as always for this perpetual spinner of lies of omission and misdirection, his heartbeat only blips a very little. He sounds content though, and there's nothing in his mien that betrays anything at all like fear.

"I like Father Lantom," he comments. "Makes me wish I'd caught a few more services here."

Thought I'd pop in and take a confession, Coulson tells him.

"Yeah?" Matt says with a rueful twist to his lips, "I, ah, hear that it's good for the soul." And believes it, obviously — what other reason could a man have for stopping by at this hour?

He's not sick, the lawyer decides as he completes his survey of Agent Coulson. There's no trace of decay to be found on the man's breath; just the whiff of freshly-sipped sacramental wine. No skipping of heartbeats or impediments to the smooth rush of blood through his arteries. Nor is there weakness to be found in his trim, solid, middle-aged frame. There are none of the tell-tale signs of impending death which Matt has been cursed with being able to ferret out with nothing more than a sniff or a turn of his ear.

"Lantom's a good one," Matt says of Father, with a note of wry and familiar affection that can only come from having himself grown up among men of the cloth. "Makes a mean latte."

The lawyer cants his head, studying the man in his own strange and singular way. "And he gives a nice sermon, too," the lawyer adds quietly. "If you're really interested, Agent Coulson, why don't you stop by on Sunday morning?"

"Perhaps I will, if I can," Coulson says thoughtfully. A hint of humor touches his tone. "But only if you promise to hang out with me after for coffee and donuts. There's nothing worse than standing all alone during the coffee and donuts bit."

If this church does this, after the service; he certainly has no idea, but the hint of humor happens all the same.

"It's more likely I'll be 500 miles away getting shot." A pause, and then, covering his slip, amending, with the same hints of humor all the same: "Shot at. But one can at least plan."

Matt studies. The man is at his ease, though there is a weariness rolling through him, a resignation dancing with the humor in his tone, and yet for all that he seems at peace. He has never been a man who seems much ruffled, but he seems at peace in a way he never has during their brief and admittedly trouble-tinged interactions.

He half shakes his head and says, "If I don't show, say a prayer for me would you? Terrible Catholics always need them."

"I know what you mean," Matt says with a brief twitch at the corners of his lips on the matter of the coffee-and-donuts postlude of Sunday services. "Though admittedly sometimes I can't tell whether I'm by myself at that point or just enjoying some really awkward silences with someone else."

A beat. "Sounds like a deal, though."

That subtle amendment — 'shot at' instead of 'shot' — arches Matt's thick, dark brows. It's a subtle tell that narrows the list of possible catalysts for Coulson's impromptu visit. Danger, then. Some impending mortal threat. At the same time, Matt knows from his other life that Coulson is no stranger to shooting galleries, or to putting himself in harm's way. It's outlandish to think that whenever Coulson is about to enter a dangerous situation, he makes a quick stop by the local church for last rites.

Especially as he's saying, without falsehood, that he hasn't set foot in a church in five years.

So what situation is deadly enough to make Phil Coulson contemplate the afterlife, with all the warm serenity of a Buddhist monk? Matt could find out. He contemplates, briefly, scaling some rooftops and following Phil's car — assuming it stays on the ground and doesn't go zipping into the stratosphere — and injecting himself into whatever tough spot the spy has found himself.

At the same time, were Matt about to face likely death with clear eyes and a clean conscience, the last thing he would want is some random do-gooder inserting himself without solicitation into the mix. Matt may be getting better at this whole teamwork thing, but he still knows better than almost anyone else that some fights have to be fought alone.

"Agent Coulson," Murdock says quietly, with a gentle dip of his chin, "As I understand how this thing works, we're all bad Catholics. But yeah, for what it's worth? I'll put in a good word for you. And will keep an eye out on Sunday."

So to speak.

"Thank you, Mr. Murdock. And…congratulations. Your defense of Mr. Barnes was nothing short of inspired. I was listening in via comm thanks to some of my agents. I understand Nelson and Murdock is doing well as a result. Most deserved."

But with that, he rubs a sheepish hand over his head and seems to realize he is essentially soliciting prayers from someone who barely knows him, in the middle of what amounts to a chance encounter. It kicks him out of his unruffled state for a second, has him half-shaking his head.

"I should let you get on with your own devotions this evening. Please be careful when you make your way home." A real hesitation, as he contemplates saying something he wouldn't say to the average civilian.

And yet the defender of a SHIELD asset is hardly average, above and beyond what he doesn't know about the unassuming man before him, so he adds:

"Lot of unusual terrorist activity in Hell's Kitchen of late. Extremists. The sort who don't much care who gets caught in their crossfire."

He turns to go.

It's been nearly a year since the arrest of Bucky Barnes — and Nelson & Murdock is still winning plaudits (and more than a few jeers) for its role freeing him. It's a remarkable thing you did, Kinsey told Matt after it was done, but it's only in moments like these that Matt realizes their little firm has already become a nontrivial footnote in history as a result of that case.

And may not be 'little' for very long. Coulson alludes to the success — one billionaire and multinational corporation already on retainer, and more in the wings now — a far cry from where Matt Murdock expected or even intended to be when he and Foggy Nelson set up a shingle in Hell's Kitchen.

There's not much more Matt can do with all that though than muster a polite smile. "Thank you, Agent Coulson. We were proud of our work. But I always say that representing truly innocent people is the easiest job there is." Which is quite a statement to make about James Buchanan Barnes.

Then Coulson is referencing trouble in the Kitchen. Even if Matt didn't have this other side to his life that relied on keeping one very good ear very close to the ground, there's a good chance that the blind lawyer might be aware of the 'extremists' to which the Agent of SHIELD alludes. The Brotherhood of Mutants in his neighborhood, throwing their not inconsiderable weight around.

And for a split-second, Matt wonders whether Phil Coulson's fight and his fight might be one and the same. The very possibility is worth arranging another visit, perhaps, between the Devil of Hell's Kitchen and the veteran spy — through the usual channels and protocols, taking the usual precautions.

"Hell's Kitchen has never been for the faint of heart," Matt Murdock says in a quiet, wry voice to the departing Agent. "Take care, Agent Coulson. Maybe I'll see you on Sunday."

But in the meantime? He'll say a little prayer.

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