Facing the Devil

June 11, 2018:

The Daredevil and the Dark Devil speak of Wilson Fisk and how to confront him.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Following a trail like this is like reliving a memory, and not one from a past that came from a different body. For Azalea Kingston, this looks like every pace she put herself through to keep the Devil Inside sated. To keep it from wanting more, from wanting to kill. It ticks in the back of her mind, turning as she reaches out with senses that extend into the astral. The pulse of emotion, of life, helping her find another thread in his direction. She leaps.

Boots hit tarred roof, cascading and echo outward that will do little to detract from how she will appear in the world on fire. Every cell hums, every portion of her existence etched in a minute detail, down to her very freckles. Though she is not the whirlwind of entropic destruction that last chased down him on a rooftop, she could never hide from Matt Murdock, not ever.

Thunder rings through the air, charging ozone high above in the clouds, but she still stands out, walking through drizzle in an approach with purpose. Cargo pants. A shirt tight to her body, and made of some hard to cut substance, a hold over from her Bat-Family days. But no mask. She’s done with those.

Whatever state she finds Matt in, she won’t immediately intrude beyond sharing the rooftop. It’s important to let someone who saved the person you love finish their thought before ruining their evening.

To someone as intimately familiar with violence and its aftermath as Azalea Kingston has become in the last few years, the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen will not be hard to find. The trail she finds is one of littered bodies, with bones broken and skulls fractured and joints turned to the consistency of oatmeal.

These are the groaning, barely breathing remains of the Ranskahov criminal empire. With the Russian brothers mysteriously in the wind, the man-in-red has set about dismantling the decapitated regime with brutal and methodical efficiency. The warehouses on the docks first, then the safehouses and stashes and grubby little warrens — the weakest link at the last point always leads him to the next.

Once upon a time Azalea threw herself at the criminal underworld to save herself from killing others; relieving some pressure before it all blew. Though no one is dead in any of the scenes she finds, this feels different. Each of the half-dozen scenes is more grisly than the last, the injuries more severe and in some cases permanently debilitating. It’s not the sign of a man restraining himself from killing; it’s the picture of a man working himself up to it.

Though when she finds him, he’s not some whirling dervish of activity. He isn’t mid-parkour or beating another hoodlum. He’s crouched on the rooftop edge, down on knee like the gargoyle or fallen angel his theatrical costume most resembles. He’s either recuperating, scoping out his next target, or perhaps waiting to see how the anthill responds after it has been so thoroughly kicked over.

The fact that his head is canted like a cat hearing some far-off sound is a good hint at number three, however.

Even in that state of watchfulness, he won’t move from that pause on sensing her arrival, despite all the trace sensory details that betray her identity almost at once. He doesn’t even turn his head; though his lips do twitch at one corner. “My supplier tells me that this suit is tougher than the last one,” Daredevil says over his shoulder. While his voice carries over the summer wind and the Manhattan street sounds, it’s noticeably rough, almost hoarse, either from lack of use over the last few weeks or from simple exertion.

After all, he’s just beaten thirty-three men within an inch of their life, and he’s no god.

“Come to give it a stress test, lady?”

The silence that stretches between his question and her answer might make one wonder if it is something asked in jest that will be repaid in blood. But unlike her savage storm of ever-living motion that assaulted him that day on a rooftop very much like this one, she comes now with an eerie calm. It almost resembles the eye of a storm, a hum at the surface of her skin that translates to some violence yet unleashed, and when she moves up next to the Devil of Hell's Kitchen it's to look out over his city with some silent judgement. Maybe it's appreciation for Matt's work. Maybe she's just trying to think about how she can make up for destroying that last suit. Maybe she's just trying not to laugh at how he can be so very funny, when he is clearly so very tired.

"I suppose I still owe you an apology for that. Probably a thousand apologies. At least one thank you, for saving Trish the other night, when I could not."

He will feel her moving before she almost begins to think about it. Such is the nature of what she is made of, a physicality now infused with an ancient, divine power. The hand moves for his shoulder, a touch more human than she could ever impart when she was carrying a Devil, instead of Divinity. If he allows it, he'll feel the difference in her nature. No longer a chaotic, hungry violence steeped in everything that makes men monsters, but the touch of someone who is making up for it, one soul at a time. It is not purposeful or intrusive, but as entropy used to curl at her skin when she harbored a Devil Inside, now she holds only the temptation that an Aspect of Redemption can offer.

As much as her mind runs to what happened with Trish, it is now distracted by the psychic scars that wade across the battlefield in Matt's wake. An escalation, not catharsis. Different from when she worked her will on those who would dare stand in her way and call themselves dangerous. Part of her, the human part, tells her to ignore it. She came here for something specific, sought him out because she wishes to wage war. But there are parts of her she can no longer ignore. For all her purpose on this will, the combined being that is Xiuhnel reborn and Azalea Kingston must help someone so tormented.

"Besides, we both know it's not the armor you wear on the outside that's in any danger of failing you. Tell me what's happened."

The difference in tone between apology and appreciation to demand is more than noticeable. If Matt were speaking to God Almighty himself, he might hear less weight to her words. Maybe she does not have the right to demand anything of him. Certainly, she does not know him as well as Jessica or any of the others might. But if nothing else she has stood before him and traded blows, and in this she finds only the most sacred of bonds, forged in blood and held in regret that will likely never end.

If he's truly wary of a potential rematch with the godling, the so-called Devil of Hell's Kitchen doesn't seem to show it. He keeps that crouch while she approaches, and only the slightest shift in his crouching silhouette suggests the slightest reservation as she reaches a hand and lays it on the back of his shoulder, which she'll find sticky-slick with a few stray drops of blood that's not his own. The contest between them — fought along this very skyline — destroyed his previous uniform, left him battered and broken and unmasked before a group of friends. It seems like such a long time ago, almost another life, but from what he can glean Azalea seems to have gone through transformations even more dramatic than his own. It's an outright metamorphosis that makes itself known in a million different ways to his finely attuned senses.

Still, for all the ground she covered, she offers apologies for what came before. The man in red shrugs it off with a roll of his unencumbered shoulder. "From what I've heard, you weren't exactly in the driver's seat back then," he offers, quiet and wry. "I've been told I have a soft spot for people in that condition." As much as she's a near-stranger who unintentionally complicated Matt Murdock's personal life by several orders of magnitude, he finds it perversely easier to talk with her than with those closest to him: Foggy, Jess — Kinze.

And then she's thanking him, asking him 'what's happened.' A cold tightness clutches his chest. He could aver. 'I got into a fight with some gangsters,' reveals little, and has the virtue of being true. 'I was looking for the guy who went after Trish,' also has an element of truth to it.

There are these answers and more to her question, but for reasons he cannot begin to fathom, he finds himself selecting the truth. "You shouldn't be thanking me," he says of 'saving' Trish Walker. "I'm — ah, the reason. That she was attacked."

A pause, then, while he draws in an audible breath that expands his frame, broad back and rounded shoulders and all. He lets it out with a shuddering exhale. "This, ah, gangster whose life I've been making difficult, he's started sending someone to murder all the women I've ever helped. Last year, I fought off some muggers that were after Trish."

“So. I guess she made the lucky list."

If the feel of blood on her skin were ever to bother her again, she might never show it. It is more familiar than the rain, and in her dreams it never does wash off. This is where it belongs, and this is where she belongs, standing vigil next to someone who seems intent on bearing the weight of all creation, and the ensuring destruction, on his shoulders. What a familiar path he takes. Her hand withdraws after a reassuring squeeze, but she does not stop looking over the city, pondering just where her quarry might be.

"I had him in front of me, you know. I played for him at a piano bar, his whimsey at my mercy. I told him to send his guards away, and he did. The conversation I had with him told me everything I need to know about the man. He knows he's capable, at least along the measure of a normal man. He knows he is smarter than most, fast for his size, and he was certain I had little to threaten him with. I could have twisted his head off and sat it on the bar while his men let lead dance against my skin for all the good it would have done them. But he did not care. I know all about your gangster."

As she becomes a second gargoyle beside him, she takes measure of him in close profile, searching him for signs that her words have meaning to him. "The truth is, even so unburdened by madness, with no threat that I might become a monster, I still could not kill him. I wanted to, for all he did to Trish. For arranging a deal to have NPR hire her. To take her from me, while I was locked away in a cage. And what could I do then? She was happy. So very happy. Could I dare to ruin that for her, while she was safe in another city? The moment she returned of her own volition and chose me over that happiness, she was in danger. I blamed myself when she was attacked and I was not prepared, but that was my humanity talking. I know the truth. There is no one to blame other than this man who gave the order. So yes. I thank you, for saving her from a mad man. For saving me from becoming a monster, so long ago on that rooftop. For being the example I needed in the darkest time of my life."

Now poised next to him, this shell of a girl wrapped in an eldritch divinity touches him once more. Her hand finds his back, but it does not feel like extra weight on his considerable burden. It is a touch of consolation, and she leans in for a whisper. "He's just one man, Matt. We are many. A pantheon against a single demon. He knew right where to stab you, but you need to stop twisting the knife."

The woman crouched beside Matt Murdock searches his half-obscured features for any reaction to her words, some twitch of his lips or a shift in the slant of his jawline. Those tics are present, but tough to parcel out. Raw and ragged as Matt Murdock may be, he's spent a lifetime arranging his face to prevent anyone from gleaning much useful from it, and even in this moment it's schooled to subtlety.

Still, there's a brief puff of a breath when she mentions she knows him, that's she's seen him, and what's more that she's even talked to him about Trish Walker and her 'fortuitous' career opportunity in Washington, DC. That others in his circle not associated with the motley little band that raided Monterary Shock have encountered Fisk shouldn't necessarily surprise him — he is a man with his finger in many pots — but he finds that it does. "I've, ah, seen him too," he says at last, his tone distant and his masked aspect still cast towards the city lights beneath them. "At the Stark Expo in Queens, before those terrorists blew it all to hell. His heartbeat like a gong. He got out in the commotion, and I — I thought about following. About just ending it. Him."

She places her hand on his back, offers him consolation and reassurance. Now his jaw does tighten, and his breath hitches. Others have tried to console him, and then as now it produces a multitude of conflicting impulses. Gratitude, guilt, relief, remorse. But the dark creature gnawing in his stomach rules him these days, and it hates consolation — wants none of it. After a beat of wrestling with those feelings a simple gesture and a few kind words summons up in him, Matt continues: "But I didn't. Follow him, end him. Instead I did the rational thing. Put together a team, foiled his plans, and gave an iron-clad case against him to law-enforcement."

His torso shakes with a grim little chuckle that never quite finds expression in his voice. "Some people think I've gone crazy. But isn't crazy doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result? Isn't the answer just to do what my gut told me to do, all those months ago?"

Every tick she sees is a shout from his humanity, and it pulls at the part of her that is Azalea. For all that torture is of the soul is her most familiar battleground, it pains her to see someone so stricken by second guessing the difference between decency and that gut reaction that tells him to do what humans have been doing forever: Hitting other humans over the head with rocks, all in the name of making things better. She rises again, and her fingertips leave his back, and for all she sought to comfort him with, if it forces him to recoil he will have to bear it no more.

"What you're asking me is something humanity has struggled with since spears and rocks were the worst we could muster. Even Captain America will kill a man if that man places others in danger. But he is a soldier, and he was trained to fight a soldier's battle. His has always been a physical war. What this gangster means to see done to you and this city is a war of the spirit. That might will make right. That any means can be used in his justifiable end. He would see you brought low for what you represent. If you kill him, you will only make him right, and I imagine, trigger whatever contingencies he has in place to rain ruination upon those things we care about most."

There is a beat of silence, perhaps consideration of her own words. What is crazy? Is it repetition? Will we not only gravitate to what works? Will that be the new crazy? The street moves beneath them with the pulse of the city, the wind picks up, and though the rain is little more than a scattered drizzle, it comes from all directions, chaos in motion that puts a backdrop to their words. "I can't give you permission, if that's what you're looking for. I can only give you perspective. I was a primordial being, and swam among the stars. To capture my power, I was given a taste of love, and then murdered. That was an act I repaid in multitudes uncountable. All of recorded history stretches out behind me and still it is not cover the measure of my sin. Murder, rape, and everything else that is the worst part of being human, and not once, not once, did it win me any real victory."

Finally she looks back to him, and she will feel her gaze boring into him as surely as that dark thing in his gut seeks to rend him apart. "Only when I tried to be like you, did I ever put The Devil to good purpose. And that meant winning every part of this war. That meant doing the hard thing, but staying true, no matter how much it hurts. It also meant not doing it alone."

This is her offer, again, to help. To fight back. As much as Matt might be building boundaries and pushing those in danger away, there may yet be one person in this circle of do-gooder wannbes that he is not likely to dissuade from such a course.

Matt knows little to nothing about Aztec pantheons, or even the ins and outs of how whatever rests inside Azalea Kingston from the vengeful, possessed terror he encountered a year ago has transitioned into the (relatively) benevolent being she/it seems to be now. Frankly, the talk of primordial history and gods and godesses and bonafide demons would have struck him as madness a year ago. But it has been an eventful year, and between his months of experience with all manner of oddity and his own strange insights into matters below the surface of things, he finds himself actually believing her.

Which, of course, means he's sitting next to a self-avowed murderer and a rapist. Or at least someone who has somehow incorporated the spirit and personality of a murderer and a rapist into their own. Someone who has made those terrible choices he's dreaded but felt increasingly compelled to make, found them fruitless, and come out on the other side to find perspective — if not quite redemption.

It would be easier to dismiss her words if the bloody blur of the last month had not proved her, on some level, right. He's spent the last weeks cleansing Hell's Kitchen of any muscle he suspects of being remotely connected to Wilson Fisk. Operated with the same measure of brutality and violent intent a rival gang leader would — and even the same reductive logic. These are my streets. My corners. And what has it netted him? Fisk is in the wind; there's sign of neither him or the lady-friend the Ranskahov brothers spoke of at that art gallery. And there's every reason to believe that Fisk has merely moved his operations elsewhere, temporarily.

Weeks of violence, and nothing to show for it but a purged spleen. Matt shuts his eyes tight behind his mask while he grapples with her offer of help. Everyone wants to help. Bucky and Jane. Foggy. Jessica. Now Azalea. But do they understand? "The price for going up against this guy can be higher than you think it is," he murmurs. "And it won't necessarily fall on you. You know that, right?"

"War is like love. It always exacts an unfair price."

Her reply comes as a distant whisper, and as the thunderheads roll by in the distance, her eyes fall shut and her mind slips backwards. To win this war, she would have to think of the wars she fought. It was always different then. There was never a price, not for her. The unfair price was only paid by the victims of Xiuhnel's slaughter. But it is not how she won wars that draws her mind backwards. She thinks of the times when she lost.

She thinks of The Forgotten King, T'Challa's Ancestor, who asked his soldiers to die to bide him time to summon Bast, and then gave everything to save Wakanda from Xiuhnel Unleashed.

She thinks of the Six Elders of Nahari, who put aside hatred for one another to defeat the Warlord Amen-Het, a man Xiuhnel inhabited for almost twenty years, the plague of Sudan, Egypt, and the Nile. Six families became one, a lasting peace from the ashes of war.

She thinks of Zatanna, John, Jessica, Tony, Matt, Bucky, Jane, Cindy, and Trish, and everyone in between who helped keep Azalea together until they could all defeat Xiuhnel for the very last time.

"You need a shower. At least five days of rest. Then you need to talk to the people you love. Remind them why they are important to you. It will refuel your soul for the battle ahead. Out here, alone, you are everything this gangster wants you to be. A lone martyr waiting to die for him. You need to be legion. You need the strength of soul that others will provide. While you rest and mend your mind, body, and spirit, I would like you to gather your information on this man. His tactics so far. I will do the same. Then, when we confront him, it will be our family against his machinations. Luke will help. Bucky and Jane will no doubt be eager. Two sorcerers stand at the ready. While he seeks to make us pay a cost for our true power, for the audacity to confront him as a pantheon, we will show him we are unbreakable. Then, we will do to him what he tried to do to us."

For a moment it might sound like Azalea does mean to kill him after all, but her clarification may harbor far worse by way of implication.

"He is just a man, and a man will have things he loves. We will let him know that his war has an unfair price on all sides."

Azalea's counsel is similar to that Jessica Jones gave him just a few days before. Rest, recover, take time to grieve, and renew. Matt had seemingly blown off Jessica's words and advice, but the truth is they sunk in, and Azalea drives them home with the force of divine mandate. But she has an addendum, too: Then talk to the people you love. Remind them why they are important to you.

That draws a visible flinch from a man who has spent the last month burning all his bridges, from Bucky and Jane to Foggy to Jessica to — — to Kinsey. He feels a sudden, white hot lance in his chest as the waves of emotion he's spent the past few weeks suppressing surge suddenly upward. He swallows the pained grimace that wants to form. Later. I can think about that later. Not here when I'm sitting next to this weird godling thing.

It's too soon to say whether he will take her advice to heart, much less accept her vision of a unified front against Wilson Fisk. Still, he does not immediately object, or try to brush her off. Part of the reason may be, ironically, because she occupies no special place in his heart like a Kinsey Sheridan, Foggy Nelson, or Jessica Jones do. But it's also because he can sense in her a spirit similar to his own, driven by some of the same demons — even if hers are a touch more literal.

Of her comment about Fisk losing things he loves — raising an ugly specter of a beautiful, sophisticated woman working in a SoHo art gallery — Matt makes no comment. The matter of what justice may be fairly or effectively applied to Wilson Fisk is a matter he is still wrestling with, an internal battle that is likely to continue right up until it is time to apply it.

In fact, he makes no spoken comment on nearly any of what she says, save for a quiet, weather-beaten: "I'll be in touch." The guarded tone makes clear it's not a full assent or agreement. Still, that promise of continued contact is perhaps the most he's committed to anyone since that fateful day he tried and failed to save Allison LeGrange from his doppleganger. It's the smallest of steps, but a meaningful one. And it's followed by a quick push of aching muscles as his drizzle-slicked frame rises from its crouch there on the rooftop ledge.

"Take care of Trish," he adds as he pulls out those batons connected by a thread of alloyed wire.

The long drive of a stake through Matt's heart was never Azalea's intention, but at least she knows he still cares about them enough to feel it. There is a slight tilt of her head at that flinch, and when he seems to mull over her proposal, one that was arrayed like a command, she stays stark silent. Those few, non-committed words that follow are a step back from the edge, and she will take them. As much as she had wanted this to be a night to exchange information, her body language tells him she is pleased that they spoke about things far more important.

"Take care of yourself."

The reply is curt and quick after he speaks of Trish, reminding the Devil as much as his muscles might try to remind him that he has limits, and wounds that must heal. This, she will not accept a no on. This, she will check on later. As Matt prepares his leave, Az turns and runs, a footfall powering her off of the edge of the building with an inhuman leap. What mysteries she might hide in her new situation, what benefits being merged with a God might bring, she at least tells him her strength, landing at the far end of another building entirely, and then, from several stories, stepping off.

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