Facilis Descensus Averno

April 21, 2018:

As Daredevil tries to rescue a figure from his past, Wilson Fisk's revenge against him begins to take shape.

Hell's Kitchen, New York


NPCs: Allison LeGrange, Special Agent Ruthie Decoudreau


Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

Her name was Alison LeGrange, and she was one of the first people the Man in Black ever saved. She was a slip of a thing who'd smelled like shea butter soap, soft spoken, under-confident, and gentle, a former child of the same orphanage Matt had been raised in, though by the time she showed up at the age of 16 he was on his way out, months before he started his freshman year at college. She apparently aged out like everyone does, and went on to marry a real loser, a man who nearly beat her to death before Matt's sharp ears had taken him to her side. His defense of her had saved her life, sent her to a shelter in the Kitchen, keeping her close enough to keep an eye on. Which is good, because Matt has caught the ex stalking her at least three times after that while she tries to piece her life back together. Like many criminals in the kitchen, charges never seem to stick.

He is blocks and blocks away by the time her ear-piercing screams and the sound of something hard and heavy slamming into her body reverberates to his hearing. And it becomes immediately apparent that whomever is with her is not the ridiculously persistent Richard Harding, the man who has been served with divorce papers and PFAs on top of criminal charges, but someone else.

Even amid the honks and sirens and shouts of the city, Matt knows the issuer of that scream the moment it sounds in his ears. He's heard it before. When her husband took a baseball bat to her elbow near-on a year ago, when she found Sister Mary Joyce slumped dead of a heart attack at her desk at St. Agnes nine years before that. To his ears, the nuances of people's voices are an indelible marker — even when they're ratcheted up to these extremes.

Little Allie LeGrange, with the sweet voice and slight stutter.

And so, when he hears it, he wastes no time at all, swinging, leaping, vaulting to close the blocks of distance between them — his heart is racing even faster than he is. At first he thinks it is Richard, come back again for one more round of punishment, even though last time a black-masked Matt had nearly tossed the man out a window to show how serious he was about the deadbeat's need to put his marriage behind him and leave Allie be. It had been another scream — a scream of terror from Allie as Matt seemed about to go an inch too far — that had held him back.

But it isn't Richard, he decides as he closes the distance at a furious pace, set to swing across thirty-ninth street and careen through the window nearest the pair. The footfalls, the heartbeat.

What is happening here?

And by the time Daredevil careens through the window, he is too late.

The man who is beating her drops her body, lifeless, to the floor.

He stands with a martial artist's stance. His height. His weight. His build. If they're not identical they're close, as if someone were trying to pair them up for the world's most matched up boxing event. He stands looking slightly over his shoulder the way that Daredevil does sometimes, a pair of heavy scrima sticks nearly exact the same size and shape as his own held in either hand. Daredevil's perceptions pick out Amazon-order gear…cargo pants and combat boots, gloves, and a mesh 'sock' for his head a double for the one that was the source of so much teasing from so many of Matt's friends in the early days of his career.

The only difference is the stance does not speak to the style that Stick taught Matt, but a slightly different one. Matt sees the difference. Elektra would. Danny Rand would. But the average person on the street wouldn't.

The murderer tips two fingers to his forehead in a salute, and goes racing for the door.

Daredevil lands, stumbles, somehow finds his footing amid the splintering cloud of shattered glass, even as he lets out a cry as the lack registers with him. The lack of any heartbeat or breath in the room save this strange doppleganger of an assailant. Allie. Sadness and confusion are just oxygen, fuel for the rage that comes next.

He doesn't know what's happening, or why this obviously trained fighter just killed a woman in get-up close to — but not exactly — like his costume of literal yesteryear. But the red-clad vigilante doesn't have to understand, at the moment. All he has to do is stop this asshole.

Matt doesn't even wait for the grappling hook to fully retract. He sends the baton that's he'd been holding onto for dear life as he swung through that window sailing through the air, aimed between the man-in-black's shoulder blades. "STOP!" he shouts.

He's fast.

He pivots on the ball of his foot; the baton sails inches from his body but hits nothing at all. Those sticks of his are still out, and he settles into a stance. He moves not with Daredevil's preturnatural, catlike grace, but with something that might put one far more in the mind of a hungry wolf.

He chuckles. And returns one of the sticks to his belt.

His chuckle is dark and cold, with no real mirth or heart in it at all. He has a rapid-fire heartbeat, this man. It's obvious, though, that the mesh is hampering him just a little bit. As it would anyone who is sighted, without the benefit of Daredevil's 360 degree impressionistic radar.

Still, he sounds confident.

"Sorry, friend," he says. "Really don't have time for a dance right now. Perhaps another time?"

This man is worlds apart from the hooligans Daredevil spends most of his time cleaning up after: he's fast, and trained, and utterly without fear of the demon who comes crashing throw a window to face him. In fact, he's so nonchalant about it all that it's almost as if he'd expected the interruption, or regarded it as some sort of inevitability.

Perhaps another time? the man asks. "You're all out of time," Daredevil growls before he vaults forward into a sprint towards the murderer, fists pumping as he tries to close the distance and throw every muscle in his body into that first volley of blows.

He is fast and trained.

Fists pump, distance is closed, and for a moment it's just a beautiful moment of blocks with no counterstrikes. After all, he put one stick away; and defending against two takes an awful lot of twists and turns, economy of motion and care. As it stands, Daredevil manages to make contact; there's a hard grunt indicating something he's going to feel in the morning, a slight stagger, a moment where he doubles over.

But then he reveals why he put the stick away.

They have no way of knowing he is blind, no way of understanding how he percieves the world, his enemies. But…a small smoke grenade would give anyone a bad day. He springs back and tries to sling it at Matt's feet, tries to make sure he gets the bulk of that caustic, searing smoky mess right in the face.

There's no sight for the smoke to disrupt. Indeed, the particles that rush upward and outward towards Matt aren't anywhere near as damaging to his perception as the blizzard of this past January was, or a hard rainfall can be. But, as ever, the extraordinary senses that help him navigate the world come with liabilities. His olfactory channels are clogged almost immediately with noxious fumes, and the taste is enough to make him retch, filling his lungs with fire.

Still, he stumbles forward, and even that grunt he gives is filled with a kind of driving rage.

That Murdock keeps fighting is cause for real surprise, a spike in heart rate and adrenaline.

He'd been readying an escape, and suddenly here is Murdock in all of his rage coming after him with all his might. Now he starts fighting back in earnest, really working to give as good as he's got, fist and feet and stick flying with precision. Whether he's trying to kill Matt or issue the beating of his life is now in some question. The stick comes driving for his solar plexus, then flips up and comes driving for the underside of his chin, even as his foot lashes out in an attempted leg sweep.

"He said you were a glutton for punishment," the man comments. "I see his talent for understatement holds."

Even through the choking fog that still/ sears lungs that have breathed too much of it in, Daredevil's ears work perfectly. //He said you were a glutton for punishment, the masked martial artist taunts. He said.

And suddenly the vigilante has a very good idea of who this he might be. Not that it will do him much good in the moment. The stick's impact against his solar plexus may be mercifully blunted by the super-suit Jane Foster fashioned for him, and even if Daredevil's preternatural agility is still enough to dodge that leg sweep, the chin remains a weak spot. When the baton finds it, it drives his whole head upwards and back, as if he were a boxer facing the world's mightiest uppercut. It sends him staggering backwards into the only-slowly dissipating fog and smoke, restarting the cycle all over again.

He lunges forward with renewed anger, swings of fist and jutting elbow and knee coming in a few beats slower than their usual tick. On some level he knows it won't be enough, but he tries anyway. It's the Murdock in him.

It's not enough, but fortunately this guy isn't here, it seems, to beat Matt Murdock to a fare-the-well. Something worse is in the works.

So when Murdock staggers, when he swings forward with those slower beats? He vaults over the stairwell, springs down a flight, and starts trying to make his escape.

Meanwhile, the elevator dings down the hallway, someone else has made it onto this floor. A light heartbeat, raging with adrenaline, whomever it is expects trouble and is feeling some powerful sense of urgency. Friend? Foe? Or something else?

The man is — gone. Or at least retreating. He can't catch his scent — those powers of his won't come back for minutes yet — but he can still hear the impact of his landing and the footfalls that follow. He vaulted down the stairs so fast Matt can scarcely believe it. As fast as he is.

Doesn't matter, Matt tells himself as he rushes forward towards the self-same stairwell, only partially aware of the elevator's ding. You just have to get faster. Come on, push. He prepares to leap right down in pursuit.

He prepares to leap, and he'll have a split second to decide if he will. The murderer is leaping another stairwell, thundering away, one more to go and he's down, he's out…

Behind him, a voice, feminine and furious, and the cock of a gun. "FREEZE! FBI!"

Because that is just who came out of the elevator.

He might even know the voice. Ruthie Decoudreau became a new member at his church just a week ago. But there she was just a person, not law enforcement, like many people who come from other areas of the country to become church members in a new city. Here, though, are no murmured prayers or introductions.

There is nothing but a hard-edged voice and determination.

She's alone though. He can feel that much. He could take the chance of ignoring her. She probably won't make the shot, probably expects him to freeze, not to leap. And she probably can't replicate his feats, or the murderers, to get down those stairs fast enough.

Freeze! FBI! "He went down that way, I'm going after him!" shouts Daredevil towards the agent and, yes, fellow parishioner. It's how he's used to dealing with law enforcement, often belligerent towards vigilantes and inevitably a few steps too slow, a few steps too late. He gives them a head's up and then wastes no time in doing what they can't.

What about what he can't, though? He hears the man's footsteps receding in the distance. Almost gone. But there's still time. He can recover his game, his sense of equilibrium. He can close the distance. "You follow me if you want," he says gruffly. "I'll leave him for you."

And what he hears is a half-step of confusion. "Him? I'm after you."

But it makes the gun waver. He'll definitely be able to give chase if he wants to, because he's brought her up completely short. Maybe not entirely. 'He's getting away' is the last stand of many a criminal, after all. But for whatever reason, this is enough to break her stride just a little bit.

It at least ensures she's not an obstacle for whatever time it will take him to pursue. But the man has hit the final flight of stairs, and once he hits the street? It's going to be that much harder.

An FBI agent just stopped, told him to freeze, said she was after him. The right thing, the smart thing, the thing that Matthew Murdock would tell any similarly situated client to do is to do is to listen to law enforcement and clear all this up sooner rather than later. But he isn't Matthew Murdock at the moment, and someone just killed one of his high school classmates and is making a getaway.

"Good," he says with a lift of his chin. "Follow me, and you'll get to him." And then he does what Daredevil does. He dives, staircase by staircase towards the bottom, suddenly very ready for Round 2.

"Damn it," Ruthie hisses from upstairs. And she is of course forced to just thunder down the stairs like anyone else, FBI-trained or no. She's fast at it, but not fast enough. She'll be far behind.

Meanwhile there's this double.

And if this were a case of Matt simply following a man on foot across the city, with his preternatural tracking abilities and his own not-inconsiderable abilities at acrobatically leaping and flinging himself across the city? He might have even caught the murderer, and cleared this up right now.

Instead, the murderer dives for an SUV that comes racing up. The back door is flung open, the murderer dives inside just about the time Matt hits the street himself, and it tears off, weaving dangerously in and out of traffic in a way that ensures there is just no catching up with him.

Not today, anyway.

"God damnit!" Daredevil curses through gritted teeth as the SUV makes its getaway, fists clenched. Maybe, with his billy club, he could swing and wave his way through New York City like some kind of second-rate Spider-man and catch up with the man. But it's upstairs, and between it and him is an —

An FBI agent.

"Hey!" he shouts up the stairwell, turning and running back up the steps towards the woman who just pointed a gun at him. "Look, you need to put out an APB right away. He's a passenger in an SUV speeding towards the West Side Highway. I didn't get plates, but it's going weaving at seventy down side streets — it'll be hard to miss."

There's this long beat where she stares at him.

But he ran back. He could have gotten away. "You are either crazy, the world's best actor, or innocent," she mutters. She takes out her phone.

And she puts in the APB.

Whether or not that will help is anyone's guess, with Fisk's tentacles wound tight about law enforcement, but she does it. Her stance is still suspicious. Her adrenaline is still high. But finally she says, "I am giving you the benefit of the doubt right now, 'Daredevil,' but you should know that you're my prime suspect for nine murders already, and I suspect I'm about to find another body up there tonight. I ought to haul you in for questioning, here and now."

But something is stopping her, it seems.

He listens to her put out the call; he's patient, arms at his side, as if she hadn't just pointed a gun at him minutes ago. She has a better chance of catching this bastard than he does at the moment, and he's willing to let her give it a go. But then she's talking again, and —

"Nine?" Daredevil says with shock, feeling his highly attuned sense of balance, already off-kilter because of the smoke bomb, thrown that much more out of whack. Not so much that she blames him — he knows a frame job when he sees it — but the number. The enormity of it all. He's already killed ten people, and I'm just now getting on top of it.

"Why?" he ask, aghast — and it could just as easily be, Why do you suspect me? as Why would anyone do this at all? Both questions have their place in the single-word-question he voices, but it's the former that predominates the follow-up and fuels it with indignation. "Because the man wears something that kind of looks like me old costume? Uses some old escrima batons?"

"Because every victim was linked to you. Women. All of their families thought you rescued them from something or another within the past year. One who didn't have a family wrote about it in her diary. One was the one in the truck from your YouTube video, the Mom. Seems loony to me that you'd go back and kill them, but yes, the nature and manner of the blunt force trauma used to kill them does seem to be a nice match for your batons, as do the sightings of someone meeting your description leaving several of the crime scenes." She sounds cool, almost cold on the surface, but under that?

An undercurrent of deep doubt.

"Maybe they weren't properly grateful or whatever, I've seen people snap for less. Maybe your rescues come at a price. Too many sickos with weird motives for me to care much about those. I care about evidence, and so far a fair bit points to you."

Beat. Grudgingly:

"Not enough, though."

And just like that, the federal agent standing a few steps above Matthew Murdock delivers him a body-blow harder than FauxDevil ever good. His world almost literally rocks as the scheme suddenly falls into place. One was the one in the truck from your Youtube video, the Mom. That was the episode that had made him famous, West Side Highway rescue of that young mutant boy and the middle-aged woman in a gurney. "Terry Winguard," the vigilante murmurs, devastation suffusing those quiet words. A social worker, whose fiercely protective husband had a Texas twang and a worried streak. She had a five-year-old daughter named Sammie — she'd be six now.

"Oh my God," he says, stricken, twelve-kinds of gutted. It's Fisk. It has to be Fisk. He's killing every woman I've ever saved — just because I saved them? Suddenly he can't breathe. "W-who else?" he rasps urgently. "Who else have they killed?"

Because he'll remember them all, each and every person he's saved over the course of a fifteen-month career as a vigilante.

And it's that moment that Ruthie decides Daredevil is innocent. There are reactions that can't easily be faked. She'll always follow the evidence, but her heartbeat slows, and her tone shifts. Quiet, compassionate, she names them off.

"Rachel Balsera, Ebony Engard, Mary Keller, Lanisha Macklin, Harper Olson, Lisa Parducci, Holly Pak, and Aini Kalb."

And she just leaves those names in the space between them, letting him digest them, even as she crosses her arms and adopts a far less suspicious stance, one that seems less likely to try to tackle him down to the pavement within the next five minutes. Indeed, from the one she takes she'd have no chance of going after him at all.

Truth be told he didn't know all the names she intones, or even most of them. Most didn't have the history he and Allie did, or require the follow-up her case necessitated. What he remembers of them were skipping heartbeats, the waft of perfume or soap mixed with cortisol, feminine voices tight and constricted by fear and trauma. Right now, he's hearing them all in his head at once.

He bows his head, the aching jaw that was just thwacked with a wooden baton jutting out fiercely, heedless of the pain. "Those women are dead because of me," he says, and there are worlds of self-recrimination in the quiet vehemence of those words. "But I didn't kill them." He swallows down the bile that wants to creep up his throat. "I think I — I think I know who had it done, though."

"Well, if you have information germane to the case, now would be a good time to give it to me," Ruthie says, not unkindly, though with a sort of brusque professionalism. "I'll follow up on any leads you have to offer."

There's a messenger ping. She checks her phone, and a bolt of anger and irritation rips through her. "Cause it seems like they lost the SUV."

Because. Of course they did. Was there any doubt that they would? That a whispered order from a massive throat would cause various law enforcement officers to suddenly go blind and unlucky, until the driver, the backseat accomplice, and the murderer were able to get to safer ground, or change cars?

But her heartbeat, at least, indicates an honest agent. Whether that's actually going to be helpful?

It may be tough to say.

They got away. Of course they did. Daredevil closes the sightless eyes behind his red lenses, presses his lips together so tightly the whiten. It takes him a moment to answer. "Late last year I went up against a mob boss named Wilson Fisk," he says, a little absently — distracted by the swirl of sense-memories in his head. "He keeps a low profile, but he's — he has a massive operation. Drugs. Human trafficking. You name it. Terry? She was — she was one of his victims. I… helped disrupt manufacture of a designer drug he was working on. Gave Agent Phil Coulson at SHIELD enough to put him away."

He grimaces, frustration painting the lower, visible half of his features. "Things went sideways. The chief witness died in prison before he was supposed to give over enough to get a warrant on Fisk. 'Food allergy.'"

"This is, it's…" he grasps for the word, the corners of his mind dulled by shock, and anger, and a strange sort of grief. "This is payback."

They died because of me. Because I saved them.

"Alright, I'll try to get in touch with your SHIELD Agent. In the meantime…"

She holds out a card. "Keep in touch, don't leave town, and maybe try not to antagonize this mob boss any farther. I'll start seeing what we can do to look into him. Call me if you come across any new evidence. I'll dig into what happened at the prison as well."

Brows furrow down and she adds, "Might want to lay a bit low. I believe you. My superiors? Probably not so much. Not without a Hell of a lot more evidence. The devil suit sucks away some of your credibility, you know? And since I have absolutely no way to find you if you choose to disappear, I'm putting my ass on the line letting you walk now."

But it seems she's going to, because after she gives that card she says, "Now get out of here. Before someone sees us doing a little too much talking and a little too little me leading you off in cuffs. This vigilante crap is technically against the law too, you know."

Maybe try not to antagonize this mob boss any farther, she suggests, and suddenly he has to hold back the sudden swell of hysterical laughter that swells in his aching chest at that prudent recommendation. Lay low, she says? Not. Fucking. Lightly.

Instead: "You need to dig through your files and I.D. the people I've saved," he tells her, sidestepping all her recommendations. "I can't help there; I don't take names from people, or file police reports. Tell your superiors you need to protect them from me if you have to, just get them out of their homes and put them under guard. Not cops; your crew. They need federal protection."

If there are any left, Matty, comes Stick's caustic voice in the basement of his brain. Hell, you probably just got this one killed too, putting her on Fisk's trail like that.

When he takes her card he finds that his hand is trembling, from adrenaline or something else. There's no word of thanks, there's no half-hearted defense of vigilantism or the grueling work that's filled his nights for a year and a half.

The truth is he's never had less faith in his mission, or what he's accomplished. It may be that all he's really done is make things worse, get a lot of innocent people killed. He'd gone into this work vowing to never snatch a life away; today he learned he may have taken ten. If that's the case, he'll sure as hell pay for it when he finally approaches St. Peter's gates.

But, as he slips past the federal agent and up the stairs, up past the deafening silence and smell of the cool, congealing blood on Allie LeGrange's apartment on the fourth floor, up towards the rooftop, the rage inside him builds.

And with it? The conviction that if he is going to Hell for this, he'll be taking a few people there with him.

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