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๐˜๐˜๐˜™๐˜ ๐˜œ

03/20/2023 09:43 PM 

speaking out - pass this around idc

hey slow burn!!my friends and i have tried our best to be civil to you - see: absolutely ignoring your existence and staying in our own circles - but it seems you don’t want to extend the same courtesy to us. i thought by you preemptively blocking me and donryu on ani, that was you saying ‘cool, i don’t want to talk to them either.’it could have worked, you know. the most reaction you used to get out of me until yesterday when i saw your grayed out box on ani was an eye roll and a shrug. but now, i’m finding out that you have been going around to people and telling, i’m going to tell you now: i don’t want to see you except in passing any more. i don’t want to hear about you telling people that we started stuff with you and making yourself out to be some kind of victim anymore. the ACTUAL victim in this scenario was happy to leave it alone, but now he’s having to sift through the bullcrap that WE ALL SAW you put him through in order to prove that he’s not lying, and that’s not fair to him at all.even now, i’m trying to react as civilly as possible. every time you made donryu cry, every time he showed me your dms and told me that he was selfish and unlovable because you put that crap in his head, i had to bite my tongue because he was still with you and i didn’t want to get in between your relationship any more than i was by simply helping him deal with your verbal abuse and guilt tripping.really, could you be any more of a narcissist? donryu is a person too, but every time he reminded you that he had a life he had to tend to outside of your bullsh*t, you made it into some sort of sadness olympics. guilt tripping him with phrases such as “you just don’t want me anymore” because he went to a friend about an issue he was having instead of you (an actual quote!! i come bearing receipts!! image one!, image two!, and image three!), or telling him he could write with friends but then making him feel awful about it and telling him that he should just date them instead?and you know what? this isn’t even the big issue’s the fact that you knew donryu was a minor when you first started talking to him, calling him ‘baby boy’ and other questionable things. it’s the fact that donryu turned 18 years old, and you started dating him less than a month later. it’s the fact that you groomed GROOMED HIM.what, did you want a younger partner that you could manipulate because they were too naive to know that you were a f***ing creep?he would always tell me “oh, slow burn wasn’t like this when we first started talking! i don’t know what happened!” it was textbook, really. it still is, the way that you’re running around and trying to put yourself in front of everything you did and all the lies you spread. even now, i’m sure that there are going to be a lot of people who will still stick up for you because you’ve wormed your claws into them. i’m not mad at those people - i empathize that they also fell victim to you. i’m empathetic that you were so convincing that they didn’t see the point in asking for the other side of the story.THAT’S the reason i’m sharing all of this with everyone. i hope that by sharing what he did to donryu, i can ensure that nobody says ‘nobody warned me’. i don’t care if you unfriend me or block me after this. i just want you to read it, absorb it. i hope one day, when he starts treating you the same way, when he starts acting as if his time is more important than yours, when he turns everything into the saddest situation you’ve ever heard for sympathy, that you remember that someone tried to tell you this is how he is.a list of things he’s done to people, in no particular order:-CHILD GROOMING. donryu was a minor when they first started talking to each other online. flirtatious comments started BEFORE donryu was a consenting adult. during a convention some of us went to together, he then made connections with a then-minor in order to cosplay together. said minor has admitted that he said things that were uncomfortable to her.-ABUSE. degrading donryu while they were dating (receipts: image 1 and image 2). verbal abuse. VERBAL ABUSE. read that and tell me that isn’t verbal abuse. donryu is obviously having a break down in those screenshots, and slow burn is cussing him.-NARCISSISTIC MANIPULATION. when slow burn doesn’t get attention the way he wants, he has hinted at suicidal ideation and made extreme depressive comments. after giving donryu the okay to write with other people (who slow burn was ALSO writing with), slow burn would then get passive-aggressive any time that donryu wasn’t paying attention to him (HE IS A YOUNG ADULT IN COLLEGE!!!) and blame it on him writing with other people and ‘replacing’ him.-NONCONSENSUAL DESCRIPTORS OF HIS RELATIONSHIP. on several occasions, slow burn made clear to me that he was sexually unsatisfied with his partner (who we are both friends with). he referred to donryu as a ‘pillow princess’. this was when donryu was not around to defend himself. i never consented to this information about their relationship and was very uncomfortable. i am not the only person he made these remarks to.-DISRESPECTING BOUNDARIES. a group of us went to his city for a convention. literally a week before the convention, once the hotel room was paid for and we were ready to go, he drops the bomb that he has no one to go with and asks if he can tag along with us. this is fine, we decided. then he requests that he can hang in our hotel room with us. none of us were comfortable with this development, so we told him no. he then proceeded to go to donryu to complain about the situation. (receipts: image 1 and image 2.) he guilted all of us. ON TOP OF THAT, a few days before the convention i suffered a severe back injury. at the convention, slow burn proceeded to climb all over me while fully knowing about my injury and the extent of it.-STALKING. at the next convention, which was held about two weeks after slow burn and donryu broke up, he proceeded to get a group of cosplayers together to INTIMIDATE DONRYU. he specifically chose when the rest of us were not around donryu to do so. if i went to park my car? slow burn had him cornered in the lobby somewhere. he didn’t try to talk to him, just stood near him and threw him nearly into anxiety attacks.-BEING GENERALLY PETTY. after he avoided people coming to get donryu’s things, lied to a mutual friend about plans to exchange the items that HE NEVER MADE, and generally making a fuss about everything…it took donryu getting his mom to threaten a police escort for him to leave the things out for donryu to take. on top of that, when he left them out, he decided to leave them in the pouring rain. there was a perfectly good indoor hall to the airbnb he was staying in. he could have just let donryu use the code one last time. instead, he risked ruining electronics. the homeowner ended up bringing the box inside (which, by the way, was missing key items that slow burn didn’t even purchase for donryu and had no claim to). if you’re wondering “oh hey, why didn’t donryu just grab the stuff before they broke up?” know that it’s because slow burn wouldn’t let him. besides, his home was so dirty he couldn’t find things, and the things he had in storage he made an absolute FUSS about any time donryu asked about them because he was CERTAIN that was the only thing that was keeping them together.there’s probably a TON that i missed (definitely is, actually), but i’m leaving it with this note: if you want to be petty, you’re not the only one who can stoop to a certain level. know that this was me being as nice as possible considering you dragged other people into this, shosho. i won’t be nice past this.


03/20/2023 09:38 PM 




03/20/2023 09:37 PM 




03/20/2023 09:36 PM 



๐•ฏ๐–Š๐–’๐–”๐–“ ๐•ญ๐–Ž๐–™๐–ˆ๐–

03/20/2023 09:34 PM 



๐”‰๐”ž๐”ช๐”ข๐”ก ๐”…๐”ฆ๐”ฑ๐” ๐”ฅ

03/20/2023 09:31 PM 



Duty Driven (Taken/Busy IRL)

03/19/2023 05:43 PM 

If a Woman Took Us Out of Paradise, A Woman Will Take Us to the Gates of Hell, Too

If the Sacred Fire of Vesta went out, it meant one of two things:             meant1. Rome was in danger;                                                  meant2. A Vestal ******, a guardian of the flame, was having ***.  Chastity                                      and                                       fireare two attributes that are directly correlated.  If one is lost,the other will follow.  Trust me.  This is fact:                                                                ­                 only ****** women                                                                ­                   can be celebrated.The ****** Mary,                                the ****** goddesses,                                                      ­                 the way **** was seen as a crime                                                           ­        against the father, not the daughter:                            women                     ­         must                            remain                ­              pure.  Do not eat the pomegranate seeds,do not touch the fruit of knowledge.  A                                                   ­                    statue of a young boy                                                             ­              holding an apple                                               does not hold                                        the same connotationas a woman holding an apple.  Offering it to a man whocould have refused.  Getting blamed for the fall from Eden.                             A womanwith a snake draped around her body is not Eve,is Lilith, but it’s close enough.  They are both to blame forall the evils of the world, so what does it really matter anyway?  Womenare more susceptible to wavering in their faith in God,to worshipping the devil, to practicing witchcraft—            The flames are out.  Rome is not safe.  A “******” is buried            alive for her sin.  Lilith is slaughtering women in childbirth.              Babies  are  dying.   A  man  is  celebrated  for  his  multiple            lovers.   ****  shaming  in  79  AD.    The  beds   in   Pompeii            brothels are made of stone.   St.  Cecilia  is  face  down in the            dirt.   Women on the same level as slaves,  if not lower.  The                                     goddess Vesta as a housewife.

Duty Driven (Taken/Busy IRL)

03/19/2023 05:29 PM 

I Found You Missing

Summary: 'They're asking us because these soldiers have absolutely no one left to write home to,' Sakura thought with a frown. So she signs up for the Shinobi Letter Exchange, not realizing how large the consequences would be. - AUish one-shot [KakaSaku]       A KakaSaku AUish one-shot where more is exchanged than just letters. . "As you are all aware, proud men and women from our village are fighting in a war that's been going on for quite some time now," Iruka said to his classroom of students. 'Four years, three months and two days,' Sakura clarified in her head. "Some of these brave shinobi have been there a long time and need reminders of home and what they're fighting for," Iruka continued on. "As such, the Hokage has implemented a new volunteer program. Anyone who wants to can sign up with me, and you'll be assigned a soldier. While there are a lot of regulations and you can't talk about everything in case the letters get intercepted, and you won't know his or her real name for their safety, it's a rare opportunity to directly help in the war." 'They're asking us because these soldiers have absolutely no one left to write home to,' Sakura thought with a frown. 'There're away from home fighting for their lives and they have no one.' "For those of you interested, please come up to me after class. Now, for today I thought we'd work on…" Usually the studious Sakura listened to Iruka-sensei with acute attention, always eager to learn more about the glamorous shinobi world. Yet today his special announcement had caught her off guard and Iruka's voice drifted into the background. Were there really lonely men and women out there who did not realize just how amazing they were? Just how heroic the sacrifice they were making was? Coming from civilian parents, Sakura knew how hard it was to believe in something strongly and to not receive the reinforcement and praise she always desired. Her parents understood on a fundamental level why she wanted to become a shinobi, but did not sympathize when she got home dead tired. Why would she want to purposefully throw herself into something that would no doubt kill her? But Sakura was stubborn, and she thought those soldiers who refused to leave or die at the front lines must be as well. They deserved to have someone to hear from, to know there was one individual out there that cared about if they lived or not. Feeling full of self-righteousness, Sakura strutted up to Iruka's desk after being excused for the day. "I had a feeling you would be interested, Sakura," he said with a kind smile that Sakura easily returned. "And I know just the person to assign you to. They're being a little stubborn, and a lot of people have quit since they didn't write back. But I think this person needs a pen pal the most out of anyone else, and you're just the equally-stubborn individual for the job." "Is there anything you can tell me about him or her?" "Well, like I said, everything is going to be strict and regulated. I'm sorry to say I can only give them the number they're assigned to. You'll have to wait to get their return letters to know anything about them." Sakura looked at the slip of paper he gave her. It only had a four digit number: 2284. She frowned, thinking it odd that a person had been reduced to a number. Maybe it was for safety, or consistency. Or maybe it was easier to organize people if they were just numbers. "Whenever you want to write a letter, put the number on the envelope with 'Shinobi Letter Exchange' underneath. Don't worry about the postage or address. Others will take care of that." "Ok," Sakura said, suddenly feeling very small at the responsibility. "And Sakura?" Iruka asked as he reached over and put a hand on her shoulder, "Thank you." Sakura found herself grinning again from the sincerity in her teacher's voice. . Sakura sat at her desk, short legs swinging under her and toes wiggling. She pulled at her hair and nibbled on the end of her pen, wondering what she should write. She had written a very select few letters in her life. She had grandparents that lived in the country and a few times a year she sent them a letter. And of course she signed her name on their christmas cards. But this letter was entirely different. Not only was this to a stranger, but it was to someone who needed a little support in their life. And they were probably at least double her age. Yes, she felt proud for finally turning past ten into eleven last year, and Iruka said she was quite intelligent for her age, but they were more than likely way smarter than her. It was more than a little intimidating. "Well, I bet their handwriting isn't nearly as good as mine," Sakura muttered to herself before she put the pen to the paper. Dear 2284, She crumpled up that piece right away and resisted the urge to tear it to shreds. If she did not like the idea of referencing people as numbers, she was sure her mystery person would hate it all the more. She started again and only got one word in. Dear... But then who did she address it to? Soldier? Fellow shinobi? Stranger? All these options sounded empty and weak in her head. She wanted to inspire happiness in this person, no matter now small. She crumpled up that piece of paper as well. Sakura took a deep breath. Yes, this was a war-aged shinobi, but they were just a person. Just a human like Sakura, with the same organs, bone structure and senses. And once she thought about it, it was almost comforting to imagine just writing without trying to actively impress this person. And writers had always said to start with what you know. What did Sakura know best? Well, herself she supposed. And she thought that introductions would be a good place to start if any. So Sakura took a deep breath, counted down from ten, and started writing. . Hello. Unfortunately I'm not allowed to tell you my name or anything that might give me away. You may address me as anything you prefer, if you so desire and it makes you feel better. Although, it's probably best that you wait a little bit to get to know me more before choosing a nickname suddenly. I will do the same. Honestly, I don't exactly know what to write to you. I cannot empathize with what you're going through. My daily life probably seems inconsequential to the amazing heroics you preform daily. And even if you're not fighting every minute of the day, you're still putting your life out there. The person who assigned me to you told me that others have given up on you, and I am sorry that happened. I hope you don't hold it against them. I don't think they stopped writing because they disliked you, but people really like positive reinforcement and when they don't get it they probably get a little surly. I'm mad that I can't ask you what it's like out there in the front (it's a strict rule on the regulations page given to gave me). I just hope that while you have no one back here in the village, that you have people you care about out there with you. Although, I'm sure that's very frustrating. Being thankful that there are people you can connect to out there, but that you don't want to get hurt. What I'm trying to say: is I hope that you have friends out there. I hope you're not alone. I really only have one friend, but she's been there my entire life and she's amazing. One time when I was younger some classmates were picking on me because of my unusual hair color and she stood up and defended me. I hope that nothing bad ever happens to her. Friends are very important, aren't they? I hope maybe one day you can think of me as a friend. I wish I had more to say, but I think this is enough. I hope that you write back soon, so I can have more points to talk about with you. It will get awfully boring if it's just me talking all about myself. Stay safe. . Hello again. It's now been a week since I sent you your first letter. Maybe you never got it? I don't know if it's a lot quicker to send mail out there than to get things imported into the village. I was asking my school instructor about the process, and it seems really extensive. I'm a little embarrassed that not only you will be reading these letters, but also the person who screens them. (Greetings to you, too, second mystery person.) Then they pass or send it back, or black out certain names or whatever, and send it on its way. I will try my hardest not to break any of the regulations so that my letters will be able to get to you as soon as possible without any omissions. I don't know about you, but sometimes when I'm reading an old book, and a worm has eaten away a word and I'll never know what it is, I get really mad at everything. And then I wonder about exactly what those words could be for much too long. Usually I can do with the gaps, but just the fact of not knowing makes me very irritated. I would hate it if I made you go through that. Anyways, not much has changed since my last letter. School has been going alright. I got the highest score on the test again, but still the boy who I think is the cutest won't bother looking at me. I'm sorry, that was probably really boring and sounded like I was bragging, but it's simply fact. I am definitely the smartest, and arguably the prettiest, girl in the class. Aren't you lucky you have me as a pen pal? You should really show your gratitude by writing back. Have you ever been in love? I'm sorry again, that's very forward for only a second letter. I really should start over again, but I've already gone this far. I might as well keep going. I only have one more year in the academy before I'm assigned a new teacher. That is, if I manage to pass. My teacher says that I have nothing to worry about, and that if I try really hard I'll be able to get a really good teacher. Also if I begin to think about what exactly I want to do I'll have a better match and won't end up good at something I'm not naturally proficient in. I do like genjutsu, but other than that, I don't know. I wonder what it was like for you, who probably was taught in a group of three. Since so many shinobi are away, it's more beneficial just to have individual pupil-to-teacher ratios. While it's more intense, this way we get more time to study with our teachers, and we can become more specialized. Dad says that it's just a quicker way to teach us so that we can be shipped out into the war faster. But he's just a civilian, like my mom, and while he is very smart, I don't think he really understands our world somedays. If anything, we're getting better training so we can better protect ourselves. This is all just a very roundabout way of me saying I hope I get a good teacher so I can do well. Unlike the last letter, this one has gotten quite long suddenly. I eagerly await your response. Until next time. . Good morning. Or, at least it's the morning here. I have no idea when the mail comes in for you. Yesterday I went to the Cherry Blossom Festival with my best friend I mentioned earlier (let's call her Sunflower) and it was very fun. The flowers were very pretty. I could watch the petals fall all day and be perfectly content. Are you happy that winter is so far behind now? I bet the winters out there are really bad, if it's so cold here in the village. At the festival it was really nice to see our village come together, shinobi and civilians alike. But I wished people wouldn't get so publicly drunk. I bet if you're off duty you're allowed to drink. My parents say that it's relaxing after a long day, and I think you guys have the longest days without a doubt. I don't care what anyone else says, I hope that our taxes go to those sorts of comforts. I bet you and all your friends at the front would've enjoyed the festival. Maybe you did your own thing? Probably not. I just hope that you didn't have to fight a lot of people yesterday. Everyone deserves some type of peace, no matter how brief. On other news, I just finished reading this great book about the Sannin. Apparently one of them wrote it, so there's the problem of bias. But he didn't hold back on disgracing his friend for his betrayal. Some days I wonder if I'll even be able to stand in their shadows. I know that I'm still young, but I feel that I want to do a lot. Did you feel like that when you were younger? It was the reason why I became a shinobi. Did you have a reason? Or are you part of a clan? Hah, that would be funny. Me, writing dribble to someone from one of the four honorary clans. Or even one of the lesser ones. It'd make me all the more embarrassed about this. Anyways, I'm going to start reading more non-fiction. There have been so many famous shinobis from our village, and I know that I can learn at least one thing from each of their lives. I'm just having a hard time determining if I want to go back into the more obscure, older accounts or into the more contemporary ones. Maybe I'll switch back and forth until I meet in the middle. Do you read a lot? Maybe sometime I'll send you a book. Right now not a lot of books are printed, since the materials go to scrolls and explosion tags and everything. War really does change everything. I hope that you are still looking out for your health and safety. Until next week. . At first Sakura had not been overly concerned by the lack of a return letter. Iruka had explicitly warned her when she volunteered that this person had been abandoned before because of his habitual lack of response. Still, after she had sent out her twelfth letter and she still had not gotten anything in return, she began to feel concerned. After the sixteenth letter that went unanswered she just felt angry. But surprisingly, even to herself, she sat down and wrote a letter to this person every week. It was therapeutic in how every Saturday morning she would sit at her desk and write. Sometimes Ino wanted to go out and play on those mornings, but Sakura held firm that she wanted to stay and write her letters. Ino's dad was out there as well and the blond girl wrote letters to him almost daily. "He calls me his little piglet as my codename. I have no idea why, considering he could have just called me 'Blossom' or something actually flattering," Ino had complained about it to Sakura one day. "I named you Sunflower for my code," Sakura shared. Ino answered her with a wide, toothy smile and a tight hug that Sakura eagerly returned. So even though she was writing to a complete stranger, Ino understood that Sakura just wanted to keep writing. And keep writing Sakura did. She was fueled my a mixture of long standing annoyance that this person had not responded and that she would keep going until something finally came in her mailbox. Iruka called her one of the most stubborn people he had ever met, and also said she had probably been a little hardened by the war prematurely. But Sakura still found the time to coo after Sasuke between her studying. Sakura still somewhat resented this person from never writing back, but soon she envisioned that maybe they just physically or mentally could not do it. Yet at this point, Sakura would be happy about getting an abstract splatter ink drawing. But her annoyance became slowly eroded by the simple monotony of writing. It was relaxing and freeing in a way, knowing that the other person would not respond, no matter what she put in the letter. So she vented, shared and talked about anything that struck her fancy. Her days of intimidation by this mystery person were long gone. Despite this, Sakura hoped that whoever this was read her letters. They probably were bored with them, but Sakura had started this and she was going to keep going with them. . Good morning to you on this fabulous day of personal accomplishment. Remember how I wrote to you all that while back about getting a new teacher? Well, guess who I got? TSUNADE. (To the person screening this: it is very old information that Tsunade is Hokage. This is not new information in any way, so I request that you do not black out the name. There is no way, even if this letter is intercepted, that the enemy can glean any new information from it.) You read that name correctly (because there really is no reason to black it out). I got the honored Hokage as my new teacher. Let me just write that again- the HOKAGE. I'll call her the Slug Queen in future letters. Apparently she was there when we were screening us for abilities and she noticed my 'exceptional chakra control,' as she said so herself. I never thought that I was particularly good at that, but apparently I use the exact amount for my jutus. My training starts this week and I'm so nervous I feel that I may throw up that morning. Or even now. Really, any moment lately. While I know she's beautiful and really accomplished, she's very harsh on those around her. She demands that everyone around her live up to their full potential. I'm sure this war would have ended a long time ago in our disfavor if she wasn't our leader. I wonder what it was like living under the past Hokage like you did. It's crazy to think that the assassination of him and his wife was the tipping factor for why we started planning for war. I've read all about him, but did everyone really love him as much as all the literature says? Do you know about the myth that they had a child but hid it away because they knew war was coming and they didn't want him to be in danger? But that's just what the younger kids at the Academy whisper about, so it's obviously bogus. Anyways, back to myself (since you never respond). It's kinda sad graduating and knowing everyone's going their own separate ways. I'm really going to miss the boy I like, and even that annoying blond kid. Even the kid with all those bugs. Especially my Sunflower friend, even though she's still mad and won't talk to me anymore because I like the same boy as her. I've already been missing her for a while now. It just really feels like everyone is growing up. I just hope that we don't grow apart. Please keep yourself hydrated through this warm summer and be careful. . Sakura's training was tough, but she pushed herself through it daily. She thought about Naruto and Sasuke and how well they were advancing, and how there were rumors that maybe they could finally end this war through their raw talent and power alone. It made Sakura envious, which made her angry, which made her a little reckless. "What were you thinking trying my taijutsu like that already?" Tsunade snapped as she wrapped up Sakura's left hand. The right one was already done, and Sakura was staring at it morosely. "You could have done much worse than breaking all those bones." Sakura winced as Tsunade unnecessarily tightened the bandage; it hurt plenty enough already. As if sensing just how down and useless Sakura was feeling, the pig-tailed woman sighed and sat down beside Sakura. Tsunade wrapped her hand around Sakura and pushed her comfortingly into her impressive bossom. "I know you're seeing your friends Naruto and Sasuke succeed by leaps and bounds. But they're not learning what you are: which is how to save and protect everyone else. Without medics, and people like you who can think and make plans and then actually execute them on skill and not just raw luck alone, this war would have been long gone." Sakura sniffled pathetically. "I know it's hard, but you're doing great. I already know you're secretly doing my Strength of a Hundred Seal. And it seems unlike my ability to create valleys with my fist, you're getting that jutsu down just fine." "Really?" Sakura asked with a hiccup. "Sakura," Tsunade said with a sigh before pulling back and looking into her tearful green eyes. "Despite you being my only student I've ever had, you're also my best." The girl frowned at that. "But still, I'm not going to fully heal your hands or give you medicine to take away the pain. You need to learn your lesson about being impatient." Sakura huffed before saying: "Fine." . It was not like Sakura was helpless with two broken hands, but it was still frustrating. It allowed her to focus on strategies if she ever did get her hands incapacitated, and working on taijutsu with her legs, but it was mostly just a pain. Even little, simple tasks took four times longer than usual. She had to struggle to turn the page on her books. Sakura was forced to drink a lot of her food now. Most times she just lied around moping and storing up energy for her seal. She wondered what color it would be. If it would be the same shade as Tsunades or maybe something entirely different. Sakura did not even realize she had not written her weekly letter until her mom told her she had gotten something in the mail. "For me?" Sakura asked, a bandaged hand scratching her head confusedly. "Well, it had our address and your name, so that's what I naturally assumed. It's up in your room." She looked at it for a long time as it just innocently sat on her desk. It was a little battered, and it seemed that at one point it had gotten waterlogged, but she opened it with the excitement of a shiny, perfectly wrapped present on Christmas morning. Because it had finally happened: her mystery soldier had written back! Before she took out the piece of paper, she closed her eyes and dreamed about what she might read. Maybe there was even a clue about who they were? A fun, silly anecdote about when they'd been her age? Not being able to take the anticipation anymore, Sakura pulled it out. Why did you stop writing? She turned the page up and over, but that was it. The person had not even really signed it, and had only drawn the crude face of a scarecrow at the bottom corner on the sad. This almost entirely empty piece of paper with five scrawled words and a cartoon face did not constitute as a true letter in any way or form. Well, if anything, at least she finally had a nickname to call this person by. . Dear Scarecrow, Your first attempt at a letter was the antithesis of pathetic. But I finally have something to make a nickname for you. I did not know I was corresponding with such an obviously skilled artist. I want to thank you for finally responding back. I do not know if you have read my letters, and if so, why you have decided to remain silent for so long. First, I thought it might be because you were injured and recovering. I imagined that you had cut your hands while saving your friend from a katana, funneling chakra into your hands to stop the blow. But still you got your hands cut deep in the process, making it impossible for you to hold a pen or pencil. Then I thought that maybe it was too wet where you were stationed, as it was typhoon season and apparently the front lines were heavily hit. Didn't people nearly drown from refusing to move from a strategic river spot? Don't respond to that, they may burn your letter. Or maybe it was the winter, and you were shivering too badly that your handwriting became illegible. I imagined that you were just too busy with a war going on to write back to a silly little girl. And I realized that this was the most viable option. There was recently the Cherry Blossom Festival here again. I wrote to you about it last year. I almost can't believe it's been over a year and a half since I started writing to you weekly. No wonder I'm still in shock of your lacking response. I forget to write one week and you call me out on it while you haven't done it this entire time? Hubris: look it up. I've written you almost seventy letters and you can't even manage to give me seven words. Congratulations. Clearly you're a genius among us mortals. To show just how frivolous I am, I have included a flower I pressed at the festival. I hope that some of the sweet scent manages to stick around when you receive this. Even if you don't deserve it because it was kinda rude to make me wait that long. Fun fact: the petals are nearly the same shade as my hair. Please stay safe. . I have never had any family or friends to write back to. They are all either dead or here. Excuse my inability. . Dear Scarecrow, I apologize for my lack of finesse in my last letter. I didn't even bother explaining why I didn't write for a week either, the sole point in your own letter. I tried doing some secret, personal training of something I'd seen Slug Queen do, and ended up shattering the bones in my hands. Slug Queen healed some of the breakage, but only enough that it would heal correctly. So for the past few weeks I've been learning how to live without hands for the most part. This was actually the main reason why my letter was so aggressive. It's very painful to move my hands, but I really wanted to write a letter to you. I could have just written a bereft thing like you have the clear skill of, but I was just very excited about finally getting a response from you. Please don't feel guilty. I could have just asked someone else to write down what I said if I really needed them to. But I really don't want to do that since (even though those screeners read these before you) I feel that this a very personal endeavor for me to you. As for your lack of experience, it's really not that hard. Obviously you're able to write, and that's the biggest hurdle. The second is being able to read, but that usually goes hand-in-hand with writing. Although I honestly have no idea if you read my letters, or just simply cast them aside for another time. Yet judging by how you immediately realized I'd missed a week, I think you're more than just aware of them. Other than that, you write about anything you want. At first I was nervous, but eventually I didn't hold back. I think since you're older, you should share some anecdotes about when you were a kid. Despite our age difference, maybe we grew up with similar fashions or sayings or favorite foods. What are your happiest memories? Again, I'm sorry for my lack of sympathy in my last letter. I think I've almost fully healed my hands, so I should very soon be back to writing you novella length letters. Until next time when you respond with that scratching you call handwriting. . When I was promoted to jลnin I took on a mission that got my teammate killed. My happiest memory was realizing, as he died, that he was my best friend. I had not realized how much I loved and appreciated him until that moment. My second happiest memory was realizing I loved the girl who had made herself die at my hand. She was the girl my best friend loved and who I'd promised to protect right before he died. Please don't ask about my parents. I warned you I was bad at this. . Dear Scarecrow, I do not know what to say. I have known pain (my hands are all healed now), but I cannot even begin to imagine what that must be like. But surely those aren't your happiest memories. If not, I hope that someday you'll be able to replace them. That's not to mean that you should forget about your friends. And I don't mean to insult you by saying I don't think they want you to remember them like that. I'm supposing they were part of your three-genin group and I'm sure you went on better missions and had better days than their deaths. Apparently there was a cat that always got loose- did you and your friends ever have to chase it down? I heard the cat burned in the great fire. I had been very young during that fire, but I can still remember the heat. I wish you could tell me their names so I could go put some flowers on their graves. Maybe I'll try and research it, but it would be impossible to know if instead their names are on the cenotaph. I'm guessing your best friend is. I should go and do that always. A lot of people visit there now and there's always flowers. Maybe this will make you feel better: I saved my first life today. A boy had been training and had cut his leg clean off, and the Slug Queen let me try and reattach it all by myself before he bled out. The bone was a little tricky because the cells are more complicated, but I managed it all the same. He didn't even have a scar when I was done. Slug Queen said I did a really great job and soon I should be able to lead more surgeries so she can focus on other things. It's now been almost a year since my training began. The Queen says it's a waste of my time since I'll obviously pass, but I need to sign up for the chลซnin exam. I know the usual age of passing is thirteen now. Before it used to be fifteen, but the war speeds things up I suppose. I bet you were much younger than me when you made chลซnin, if you were already a jลnin still in a three-man team. I want to apologize if the beginning of my letter seemed preachy, or if I overstepped my boundaries. I have not lost any close friends to the war. I lost relatives in the great fire I previously mentioned, but I was too young to really remember them. I wish I could think of something better to cheer you up with than my own accomplishments. But it probably helps to know that the next generation has not been weakened by the war. If anything, we've become stronger. What do you do with your friends over there to kill time? Like I've said in past letters, I read a lot when I want to relax. Do you do the same? Maybe your short responses are hiding your literary prowess. They probably hide a lot. You took two weeks to respond this time. Is everything alright? I hope it is and I will be able to hear from you promptly. Farewell for now. . I can't write as fast as you, and there's not much I can tell about here other than the food is horrible. I do enjoy reading, but all my books are ruined by the rain and mold. He'll like getting flowers from a girl. He also would have been the one needing his leg reattached like that boy. Congratulations on that. . Dear Scarecrow, First, I want to thank you for responding so quickly. I asked the postman the other day how long it usually takes for a letter to get to the front lines, and it can be as quickly as two or as long as four. Sending back letters is usually quicker, only one or three days. Since your latest response arrived five days after I sent my letter, I can safely assume you dedicated yourself to a speedy response. And now you get to have a letter from me all the faster. Aren't you lucky? I'm sending you a book with this letter, if they haven't confiscated it. I don't think they would, unless the saga of 'The Dragon King' is illegal. It's really just about love, so I can't see how it would be taken away. I hope that you'll enjoy it, as I've loved it ever since I was very small. I enjoy the simplicity of the story: that not all guys who are bad have to be, that anyone with a strong, sure heart can make it through anything. The postman also said that if it fits in an envelope, he'll mail it for me. I plan to bribe him with fresh baked goods so he'll pass along larger envelopes. (Maybe even large enough envelopes that I can fit some cookies into it for those who screen it.) I will also try and find some yarn so I can knit you a scarf. It must be getting really cold out there, and it wouldn't do good to let your face get cold and for your senses to dull because of it. Do you have a color you'd prefer? I might not be able to get it, but Slug Queen does owe me a favor for attaining some more sake for her on the side. Everything over here as been fine for me. Slug Queen has put me up for more hospital shifts. At first I was a little worried about working there because I still am fairly young, but everyone there is very friendly. Also, most nurses are my age and the doctors are very old. Anyone in between is already out there with you guys, or out at neighboring villages offering aid. Also, I've started working on identifying poisons and learning how to remedy them. Apparently Slug Queen is second to none in making them, and that she says I'm fairly good at them. Not as good as my natural affinity for chakra control (I can now create an earthquake with a punch- how cool is THAT?) but if I practice and work enough I can learn how to be better. I hope that you're still trying hard out there as well. Again, I hope you enjoy the book. I know it's small and a fast read, but please enjoy. Also please be careful with it and keep it safe. It was the copy from when I was a girl. I know you're not allowed to send anything back but letters, so you'll have to keep it safe until the war ends and I can pick it back up. (Yes, this is me giving you another reason to make it through if you didn't already have enough.) Maybe you'll start responding faster and we can correspond every five days instead of seven now. Wouldn't that be nice. Goodbye for now. . It's really dreary around here (the mushrooms love it) so something bright and soft. Yellow if you can manage it? I enjoyed the book. . Dear Scarecrow, I hope you like the yellow I picked out. While I like this goldenrod shade, I think it's a little darker than what you were imagining. All the same, it is the color you requested so I'll count it as a victory. Don't you dare get blood on it! Just kidding, I can just make you another one now that I have finally gotten the hang of it. The stitches are still a little bulbous, but I like the way it looks still. I made an infinity scarf so you don't have to worry about an enemy grabbing hold onto one end to pull you down. This way it can sit quite snuggly around your neck and shoulders. I hope it's not too bulky. Last winter I tried making you a scarf, but I was not confident enough in my ability. It's a sad excuse of a thing, bright red with way too many holes and misaligned lines. You and no other will ever see just how badly I failed at my first attempt. I pride myself in being a fast learner, but this took a lot of patience. I have leftover yarn from the scarf and I tried to make you matching gloves, but like the first scarf, it did not turn out well. Although, I don't think you would cut a very intimidating sight to the enemy dressed in matching, obviously homemade knit articles. Yes, I can see through you fishing for more books. Try working on your stealth more. I'll send you another one from my collection next time, since the scarf took up all the space in this envelope. I hope that you're doing alright out there. I know that the weather is soon going to change for the worst. In my haste to finish the scarf I had to omit taking time to write up a nice long letter to go with it, so I'll try and sum up what's been happening quickly. It's flu season, so of course the hospital is in total disarray. I assisted Slug Queen in some complicated, experimental surgeries I wish I could tell you more about, but it seems I have some secrets to keep on my side as well now. I moved out of my parent's and into a quaint, old apartment closer to the hospital. I really like it so far. I got a plant. I still do not have a name for him. Any suggestions? I think that's it. Please stay warm and hydrated, remember to wear layers. During seasons like this, more soldiers die from exposure than enemies. And remember most of all: don't get sloppy or careless and get yourself killed. . Sakura's warm breath crystalized as she waiting at her mailbox, large envelope held tightly against her chest. It was snowing, but the snow simply brushed off the clear tape she had wrapped the envelope in to avoid just this occurrence. It would not do good to have her newly made scarf get soaked and then freeze. She was sure her scarecrow would not appreciate a gift to warm him coming in a block of ice. She eyed the postman coming around the bend and jumped to grab the thurmous. She poured a cup of hot chocolate and offered it to him as he approached. "Ah, good afternoon yet again, Sakura. I see you have quite a large letter for me there," he said, gratefully taking the offered cup with a smile. "If it wouldn't be too much trouble," she said hopefully. "Maybe… if you give me the rest of this delicious hot chocolate," he said with a chuckle, smile widening behind the curling steam. Sakura felt her shoulders straighten in pride before passing over the envelop and beverage container to him wordlessly. "Thank you," she said as she watched him put the package in his satchel. His smile turned a little sad for a moment before he reached forward and ruffled her hair, causing the snow that had accumulated there to drift down onto her jacket. . The scarf is perfect and all my comrades are envious. I suggest Mr. Ukki. . Dear Scarecrow, I thought about knitting you a hat, but stopped. For one, because of my inability to do so, and two, because just like the mittens, I think it would clash horribly with your cool-guy reputation and that you wouldn't wear it. Although, if you're so tickled-pink about showing up your friends, you probably would wear it just to spite them. The book I included are some old histories of the four noble clans of Konoha. I thought it was a little dated, and obviously biased in some aspects, but interesting none-the-less. I just wish it had better information on some of the newer clans and bloodlines. Slug Queen is making me do research on bloodlines and such, so I can better understand all types of patients. I'm a little fearful that all this extra assignments outside of training and the hospital is her preparing me for her position, or at least for the next Hokage's assistant. While it would be amazing to be so high-up, I mostly enjoy the hospital. I wonder what it was like to do missions outside of our boarders. I've done a few missions, but they were all safely in the village. Slug Queen says I shouldn't bother myself with such stuff when other younger, less specialized kids can do it. But I like them, and some days I dream of begin able to leave the village to travel. I cannot believe that in a few years the war will be over a decade long. Yet I believe it will not go on that long, and soon I will be able to travel. Did you travel a lot before the war? I feel that you have a lot of fun stories to tell, and probably a few are from abroad. Speaking of stories, you have never commented during the entirely of our correspondence about the war before. Maybe you think a higher-up will see your lack-luster opinion and criticize you? Although, you must have one dumb general if he thinks this war is still glorious. More likely, no information about the war can be given. Or you're thinking about it so constantly you don't want to have to write it down. Regardless, I still hope you're doing alright out there after being gone for so long: both mentally and physically. I cannot even imagine the homesickness you must go through. Although maybe it's been so long you're just numb to it all. In case you're wondering, the village has barely changed at all. Yes, people are growing up, but the buildings and businesses are nearly all still here. And they'll stay here waiting until you return. I'm sorry for feeling so nostalgic today, and if it's painful for you to think about, but I realized the other day that it's now been about three years since that first letter to you. It's hard to believe, but the drawer full of your sparse responses is evident of it. And if I have such a collection, I can scarcely imagine the horde of my letters you have. Or maybe you don't have room to keep them. I won't blame you if you didn't. I really can't wait to meet you after the war. It's happening, don't argue. We'll figure it out somehow. Also, I appreciate how your responses have become speedier. Thank you. Until my next letter. Oh, and before I forget: I told Mr. Ukki all about you and the name you gave him. He seems very happy, and similarly cannot wait to meet you. He seems a little lonely all by himself though, so I think I need to go get a Mrs. Ukki now. . I have never written about the war because there is nothing to say about it. I grew up into the beginnings of it and I'm just living through it. I will be fine. I always have been. . Dear Scarecrow, Alright there, man with a heart of immovable ice. I thought I told you to stay warm during this winter. And it's pretty obvious to nearly anyone that only those who say they're fine really aren't. But I can tell that you don't want to talk about it (or for me to try and talk about it and you just ignore the heavy hints). I did get another plant, and she is quite lovely. I think that Mr. Ukki is very happy with his pretty, young new wife. It helps him get through this cold winter, since I don't want to waste money on heating my one-room apartment. Maybe I'm being thrifty, but I'm trying to save money for when I can travel, or really just for a better time to spend it at. I have so much to do at the hospital that but the time I get back I'm dead on my feet. Recently Slug Queen started this charity program for the hospital. It takes possessions from dead shinobi, stuff their families don't want or need, and then sells it off. The money generated goes to funds for more medicine and supplies for soldiers still fighting. Anyway, there's was this fairly large section of books and I bought about eight boxes, nearly all of it. Slug Queen though it both odd and hilarious that I spent nearly an entire paycheck on dusty old books, but then she spends hers on illegal sake so whatever. She can mentor me on some things, but others I don't trust her on. What this all means is that I can now send you a book with every letter for a bit now! I know, it's exciting, calm down. Cool guy reputation right? Heart of ice that you can't allow to crack? I realize you probably won't be able to keep so many books, so you should just hand them over to your friends once you're done. I can't knit them all their own scarves, but at least this way you can help share. Although maybe they get much more than you. My Sunflower friend sends her father stuff nearly daily. It must be nice to be that loved. I wish I could send you more things. I expected to be more lonely living by myself, but it's actually not too bad. Friends come and go, and I can always just write to you if I get lonely or bored. And now the lovely Mr. and Mrs. Ukki are here to keep me company. I hope that your friends take up a ridiculous amount of time to distract you from everything. My opinion all those years ago about taxes being used to get you all properly drunk sometimes still stands unmoved. This is somewhat embarrassing, and I wasn't thinking of adding this, but I can't help it. Sometimes when I'm bored at work, or I just need to relax, I draw really bad renditions of what your face may look like. I know it's ridiculous, but I'm stupidly envious of everyone who knows you. I admit, I have always been curious. The fact that I can write to you about anything except who know who you are is infuriating to me. Anyways, I'm never including one of those doodles. Ever. No argument. For your response I eagerly await. . I wouldn't dare to share the books with the others. It's good that you can't send more than you do. I'm already indebted to you as it is. To be honest, I enjoy your words just as much as these published verses. Yes, that even includes the one time you wrote about that new flavor of yogurt you loved for two (very lengthy) paragraphs in vivid detail. You must realize you don't need to see my face to know me. . Dear Scarecrow, So I think maybe you're just acting like a petulant child unwilling to share rather than actually worrying about how your friends treat literature. You must have been an only child. It's so obvious. Onto more important matters: a seal I've been working on for the past three years has finally shown up. It's on my face, and I can't tell if I like it or not. It's a little disconcerting to suddenly have something new and obvious on your face, directly in the middle of your forehead. I didn't get to see it manifest, but when it did Slug Queen suddenly stopped and gaped at me when she was lecturing me, so it probably looked at least a little cool. And the Queen says it doesn't matter if I like how it looks or not, because it will probably save me and all my comrades lives one day. In classic mentor fashion, she told me not to get full of myself and to put even more chakra into it daily. I agree with her like almost always, but it's hard not to care about your appearance when one of your best friends is the town beauty queen. Yes, the Sunflower friend. By the way, did I ever tell you we've made up? It's extremely rewarding to see such long term investments finally begin to pan out. Sorta like your letters. I think you beat your record in that last letter. Four paragraphs, twenty sentences in total? Don't strain your hand too much now. Maybe this is as boring as when I used to droned on about my Moon friend, but boys are starting to notice me. I know that I'm older now, and my body shows just that, but it's still a little odd to feel that sensation of being watched to turn around and see guys staring at your behind. Tsunade says not to worry about it, and that if they really annoy me I can just break their ribs. There's a lot of valuable organs around there that would be a shame to get ruptured. In a way, sometimes it's fun to flirt with them and get them flustered, only to leave them just as they finally remember where their tongues are. Maybe it's cruel, but it's still entertaining. Oh god, I'm such a jerk, aren't I? This brings me back to that letter I wrote that was all about my hair routine. Maybe initially my letters had a serious tone and a vocabulary that made me seem like a stiff grandma. I don't know whether to be happy or sad that I've loosened up my writing style. Like always, stay safe mighty guard. . I admit: I thought you were a forty year old mother from your first letter. Imagine my shock finding you were an Academy student. Don't be too cruel to those poor boys. I'm sure many are falling over themselves, and they just don't know how to spot danger and and run from it just yet. Good thing they aren't out here, else they would have been gone within hours. Forget about breaking their ribs, those heal quickly enough. Break their hearts if they really bother you. That pain will last much longer. . And so the letters continued on for months and then years more. Sakura realized in utter dread that her scarecrow's letters became increasingly depressed and clipped. Sometimes she could get him to write more than a few sentences, but it kept getting harder and harder as time wore on. Yet he still made every effort to write back, and Sakura continued to gather his letters carefully in a drawer. Before she had just put them in randomly, but one day she took time away to organize them into a photo album. The responses were usually just slips of paper and easily fit into the plastic squares. Some days when she felt down, like when a patient could not be saved, or a young widow came in from malnutrition caused by heartache, Sakura flipped through them. She had not yet gone through them all individually. She was saving that for a special day. Maybe they could go over them together? Sakura had thought that she loved Sasuke, and her feelings she felt for this mystery person was akin to that, but not identical. Was it even possible to feel so strongly for a person she had never met? Not to mention she did not even know who this person even remotely was. She had only decided this stranger was a man because of his messy handwriting and clipped tone. It was a little biased based on gender, but Sakura had seen enough handwritings from doctors for some semblance of reference. Their correspondence still covered everything and anything, and always nothing about the war even if Sakura burned to know about it. To know her scarecrow faired in it, and if those enemy creatures were as horrible as soldiers said they were. But the rules were strict, and he never offered anything. Then something seemed to have recently switched for the man. Because in the past few weeks her scarecrow was channeling all that anger and aggression towards the war into his writing for her. While before Sakura had been lucky to get a few sentences, now he wrote pages. Just the other day Sakura had gotten a three-page long letter from him. True, nearly all of it was describing his ninnken and how each one was special (although all equally amazing). She had enjoyed the attached sketches of the dogs the most, which were a lot better than any of the doodles Sakrua had ever made of his imaginary face. It was a clear bribe to get one of those, but she was not giving in. He also demanded that if anything happen to him, she would have to take care of them. Right now they were still out on the field with him, but because he had no one else to fall back on, she would have to take custody of them. He even made her sign a contract in blood, which she sent back with mixed feelings of honor and worry. He assured her that his dogs already adored her on her lingering scent on the letters alone. Sakura wrote back about her life as well. Some days she could barely put a pen in her hand, when her fingers were stiff and shaking from half-day long surgeries, or had just done hours of taijutsu training with Tsunade. But she just mercilessly cracked her knuckles, bit down the grunt of pain, and filled up at least a page with her neat handwriting to send off. Her scarecrow was the same in his resilience to write no matter what. Apparently one time he got his entire right hand severed, and barely an hour after the reattachment surgery he had written her a letter. It had threatened the delicate restitching and his medic had yelled at him for a five minutes. Sakura would have yelled at him for a good hour. She stomped around her apartment yelling for that long, until a neighbor came and asked her politely to please stop making it sound like the village was being invaded. Sakura worried that her scarecrow was writing so much and so frequently because he was worried he would not be around much longer. That he had to get things out, to tell her silly things and stories, before he physically could not anymore from passing on. Still, the war carried on and his letters gave her an equal amount of hope as well as trepidation. Lately there had been a lot of soldiers brought in from the front who were too severely injured to be treated adequately there. Apparently the creatures were getting more active; Madara seemed ready to unleash himself on the world. Infiltration attempts to find his lair failed each time, only resulting in losses. Sakura watched as Tsunade became increasingly stressed; she was sure if not for that jutsu her Slug Queen would look much older than her actual age. Sakura had mixed feelings about the soldiers coming in. Half of her wanted her scarecrow to come, but the other half wanted him to remain strong and steady as he had all these days, months and years. Eventually she realized it silly to think that he would come back to get healed; he would die out there trying before abandoning it. So every time Sakura got a letter, reaffirming that he was not dead and very much alive and fighting, she felt not just a wave, but a tsunami of relief pass over her. . Dear Scarecrow, I turned sixteen today. Apparently I'm a full fledged adult in the shinobi world now. I don't feel like it. It's just all very surreal. My blond friend (or my Sun friend) gave me a gag gift of some porny literature that his mentor apparently writes. I read it, and it doesn't seem too bad despite the gratuitous descriptions at the sex scenes. I've never heard so many inaccurate nouns for 'penis.' Sun's mentor gets points for creativity at least. I thought that you might like it, so I've included it for you. Not to say that you're a pervert, but I feel that you're a romantic in some ways. And while there are sad parts in the book, overall it's uplifting. I know you'll appreciate that. And not to get sexist, but in my experience a lot of guys like porn. Anyway, it's small but I bet it'll really pack a punch for your overgrown love of romance. I hope you enjoy it. As always, please be safe. . The book was amazing. The best by far. Send more if at all possible. . My Scarecrow, I know it's impossible to miss the presence of someone you've never met, but I still cannot help but feel that with you. I wish you could have been here today for me to see just how far I've come. Anyways, I made jลnin today, and so did my Sun and Moon friends. My Sunflower friend only got a partial advancement, but she's ecstatic all the same. For entertainment to the public, they had us compete against others and the person I went against made fun of my hair to try and break my moral. I kicked him out of the stadium, and he had such grievous injuries that Slug Queen had to personally heal him. I thought she would be mad, but when I explained what he'd said about me, she laughed so hard she cried. Then she gave me a whole bottle of sake and we drank it in celebration. I don't think she should help foster my temper that has gotten a bit drastic lately. Maybe that's why I said that convoluted sentence as a start. It's kinda weird and funny being drunk. I like it. I approve. Is my handwriting different? Am I not using as many big words as usual? I wonder if you thought it weird when I was beginning to write and already knew so many. I really pride myself over my vocabulary. And I was really trying to impress you because I was so scared that you wouldn't respond or would think me stupid and hate me. But I know that you don't hate me. Maybe you even like me in some sort of way. I like you quite a lot, when I think about it. I'm getting pretty sleepy suddenly. I should metaphorically sign off before I embarrass myself even more. I really wish you were here. And again, I miss you. Until next time when I'll be sober again. Maybe. I really do like this feeling. Why aren't people drunk ALL the time? Goodnight. . They'll try sending you out here now. Promise me you won't go. Hope the headache wasn't too bad. . Dear Scarecrow, The headache wasn't the best, but it also wasn't the worst. After you've dealt with woman in labor screaming for hours, you get used to a ringing in your ears and an inability to feel like yourself for a bit. I don't know why you're so worried. I'm just a medic so even if I am involved in the war, I would just heal people in the back lines. Not that I can't take care of myself. Didn't I say I explain how I punted a guy out of an arena just for making fun of my hair? I can take care of myself. I see that you're back to your small responses. Do you not have a lot of time anymore? I enjoyed those times when you sent me long letters. Did I ever tell you I keep all your old slips of responses in a photo album? Some of your letters were too long to fit in the small plastic squares, so I keep them in their original envelopes. I'll hopefully find some larger plastic sheets soon enough. I also want to frame those sketches of your lovely ninken. Say hello and give them a nice long belly-rub for me. I'm sorry I similarly can't write as much lately. The hospital has been overrun, and Slug Queen has been stepping up the training. I feel that something is really starting to form. Until another day and letter. . You need to promise me. . Dear Scarecrow, Since you're clearly ignoring everything else I'm saying, I promise that I won't volunteer to go into the war. The Hokage says I have way too much to learn anyway before I'm remotely ready to head out there. I could make a difference if I went now, but I can change the war if I stay and continue working. But, again, you must know I'm strong and able to protect myself. I think she's planning something with my Sun and Moon friends, though. But there is no use in worrying, and I'll just have to wait. I just wish she would include me more on her plans. Did you know, I've been calling you by the same nickname this entire time because of your funny little signatures, but you have never given me one? I would be a little disheartened that you did not care if not for your speedy responses. Can you believe it's already almost winter again? I wonder if your scarf has kept up over all these years. I bet it's pretty dismal despite how well you might've taken care of it. Also, Mr. and Mrs. Ukki now have five lovely children! They were getting a little big, so I cut them back, and then thought I might try to propagate some of the clippings All the cuttings took, and now there are small little bits of themselves growing. You will obviously get one when you get back, as it is your right as their godfather. Don't argue, it was decided the moment you named him. Just think: after this war is finally done all you'll have to worry about guarding is a small plant. You can finally live up to the full potential of your nickname from me! Hopefully you can think of another winning name to give to the little tike. Me and the lovely Ukki family await for your response. . The scarf is still well, as am I since you finally agreed. I apologize, as I cannot write much but this today. Even though I know you will, do not worry. . Sakura hummed as she arranged paperwork on Tsunade's desk. She could feel the older woman's eyes on her. The full sake cup in her hand sat forgotten. Finally giving in, as she felt she may instantaneously combust any moment now by Tsunade's intense gaze, Sakura turned to her with her eyebrows furrowed in silent question. "Sakura, I need to talk to you about something," her blond sensei said with a sigh, suddenly not looking like the pillar of strength and ability she was known to be. This must be really serious if she was looking older than she liked her jutsu to show. Taking a seat in one of the chairs in front of the desk, Sakura crossed her hands atop her lap and waited patiently for her mentor to speak. "As you're aware, Madara is nearing an end to his hibernation. Soon he'll stop with his defensive warfare and start wiping out all the villages, picking them off when they are weakened by physical separation." At the idea of her entire world disappearing, Sakura shivered. "In that vein, I have decided that we're going to do one last, final push. Naruto and Sasuke are ready to face him. I recognize it's a risk allowing Sasuke to get close to the other Uchiha, that he may be converted. But it is a risk we have to take." Sakura looked down at her lap and counted her breaths up to ten before she trusted herself with speaking. "Naruto is going to be estatic about being a hero," she said as she stood with a start, willing her tears to not fall. "No matter how much I tell him that war isn't glamorous, he is set on the idea of becoming a hero." "He's going to be alright, Sakura. You, and everyone else now, need to trust that he's ready to do this." "I'm coming, obviously," Sakura said with a huff, green eyes flashing with more than just unshed tears. "I would never leave my favorite apprentice behind when I need her the most."  

Duty Driven (Taken/Busy IRL)

03/19/2023 05:22 PM 


Summary: “This is weird.”Frank grunts. Waits for Red to say what he’s got to say.“I know this is all mine, I know it is but I don’t- I don’t feel it. I don’t remember it, I don’t...” He huffs in frustration, holds the box closer to his chest. Notes: Second installment! SEE END NOTES FOR TRIGGER WARNINGS (contains spoilers) Poems and excerpts taken from (in order of appearance):Memorabilia, Deborah TallLate summer after a panic attack, Ada LimónFree fall, William Goldingfrom Salt, David HarsentFrom Please bury me in this, Allison Bennis White   Happy reading!     Memorabilia; objects that stir recollection, valued or collected for their association with a particular field, interest or memory.   Let absence be Altogether, but briefly, devastating.   DEVIL   What if I want to go devil instead? Bow down to the madness that makes me.     “Morning.” Frank’s voice brings the images alive. Fire licks at wooden walls, grime-stained windows, bolted doors and two cots, lying on opposites sides of a cramped room. Oatmeal rips through a picture of scents, a dragging sweetness that feels dense when he inhales. Packed. It doesn’t push the other smells away as much as it dominates them, mixes unpleasantly. Sitting up require less effort than before. The smell of food isn’t as nauseating and neither is the pain - controlled for the time being. Still, muscles shake, quake as if tearing away from his skeleton, trying to find other refuge than his skin. His head hangs off his neck like a heavy weight, putting pressure in his vertebrae and collarbones. “Morning,” he manages back. Frank sits down but doesn’t reach to give him the bowl of oatmeal, neither does he say anything else. The routine is expected and if somewhat of a comfort. He sighs softly. “I’m Matt. You’re Frank. We’re in your cabin. It’s, uh, Sunday? November.” Frank’s calloused, thick palms find his, steadies his right hand before handing him the hot oatmeal. “Didn’t call me Fred this time, at least.” He grumbles under his breath and Matt isn’t surprised at the taste of coffee that comes from his lips and tongue, released into the air. Settles back against the headboard and cradles the warm bowl close, the cold morning dew dripping by the window a sonorous facsimile of a heartbeat. Slow and almost in tandem with Frank’s. “Maybe I thought you looked like a Fred.” Frank shakes his head with a huff, mumbles a right under his breath before- “Eat.” Matt does. The ringing in his ear an untraceable vibration that fixates over his right eardrum, poking it with needles. It was usually worse at night. “Are you going to tell me anything today?” If Matthew is like a sponge - absorbing everything and anything around him at all times until he’s spilling over, Frank is rock and concrete. Impenetrable, undisturbed, insusceptible. He gives nothing away - as if he kept the world at bay. Completely unapproachable at times. Embers and fire burn the world bright but Frank Castle was a blotch of ink dripping in the middle of his senses. A stain that stuck. The first heartbeat he looked for when he woke up. The only heartbeat he remembered properly. Castle shrugs, like he had all the days before. “Have nothing to say.” Lie. It’s barely there, not exactly a skip. His pulse speeds for not much more than a second and then settles back down. Red - Matt, Matt, his name is Matt - takes another sip of his oatmeal, slowly processing the taste of the food, the lingering taste of the pan it was prepared in, the old spoon that mixed it. He had time, the last few days, to get himself together, if only just. Stick’s teachings, in return, are a whispered chant in his head whenever he interacts with the strange man. So far, Frank looks like an ally. That could change and Matt tries to create contingencies - where will he run? Where exactly are the traps he heard the night before? How will he survive if he doesn’t know... Well, most of everything about his own life. “And about yourself?” He asks instead, sighing into another spoonful of oatmeal. “You’re military, right? Maybe former.” Tilts his head sharply to the side, listens to the unshakable, relentless heartbeat painting the room red and black. “You have an arrow scar in your shoulder. Are you with the Chaste?” “Marines. The hell is Chaste?” Matt’s lips press together. He thought he had mentioned them before. He had, hadn’t he? Either Frank is an ally or he’s not and if he’s not... Well, there’s a good chance he’d already know what Chaste is. It’s the only answer Matt can find that makes sense - that that’s how he got hurt, working with Stick and the others. But the marine’s heartbeat doesn’t skip nor does it speeds up in that characteristic way. Frank scoffs. Probably at his silence. “Yeah.” But he needs to be sure. “Are you with the Hand?” “I’m what?” Ignores his voice to listen hard to the beating, living thing hiding beneath marred scars and skin tissue. Breastbone and ribs. Matt breathes a bit more easily, if only for a little. Because if Frank isn’t either of them, then how did he find him? How did he know him? How did he know, if partially, about Matt’s senses and skills? None of it made any sense. Frustration rises and swells like a furious ocean, tidal waves rising and rising in height until they reach the skyline. “How do you know me?” “Tell you what, Red,” he drops his empty bowl in the fold-out table. The loud rattle of spoon against porcelain makes him flinch. “You’re a pain in the ass of the highest degree.” He tilts his head, listens closely. “But still, I’m here,” Matt begins, carefully. “Do you want something from me?” Frank shrugs, a heavy exhale getting lost in the distance between them, and so do all of its meanings. “Want you to shut up and eat.” Not working. Not again. “Do I have no one else to get back to?” The bigger man’s heartbeat throbs scarcely faster before it’s forced back down to a resting rhythm. Frank watches him. “Not for now,” and it’s not a lie. Not one Matt can detect anyway, and if there’s one thing he learned about Frank since he woke up in the cabin with his head in bandages, is that he keeps to his promises. The good and the bad. So Matt settles, for there isn’t much else he can do and the energy is already beginning to seep right out of him. He finishes the small bowl of food and takes his medicine. Tries to unlock all the tense muscles bunching under his skin and allows Stick’s voice to chant through his head: mind controls the body, body controls our enemies. Trustworthy or not, Frank is clearly not willing to let him go. If Stick’s alive, certainly he’ll find Matt. Trees may offer cover in a sighted perspective, but doesn’t mean anything for blind people like them. And even if Frank doesn’t know, Matt is likely working for Stick and the Chaste. They had to fight the war, after all. And why else would he get in trouble? Come on, Matty, get to work. Dad tells him. Get to work. He has to get back to his feet. He will. But for now, his head throbs painfully like his brain is threatening to burst out of his skull and the oatmeal plays loops around his stomach. Frank gives him a bucket when he throws up.     The first time Matthew notices something is wrong is when he’s sitting in the bathroom, taking a sponge bath. Frank helps him with the basics before leaving him to the little privacy he had, sitting beside the half-closed door. He’s glad for the shower curtains. Even a few paces away, Frank’s heartbeat illuminated the whole cramped room with bright spots of sound, the vibrations traveling like tendrils underneath the floorboards and deep into the earth underneath. Echoed strangely against the tiles, but loud enough that finding the offered hygiene products wasn’t a hardship, even with his building migraine. It starts as a feeling - a certainty that he’s not alone that he quickly abandons. Frank is on the other side of the door and his senses are haywire, sensitive to every input his fatigued brain can’t process properly beyond threat and safe. He leans back, careful of the plastic wrapping around his left thigh and remembering Frank’s orders not to get his hair wet. It quickly morphs to unease. It begins like a concept and then evolves. Swells and thickens into something closer to dread - into his heart going faster, his breathing pattern changing, choppy inhales and shallow exhales. He isn’t sure what it is at first, the puzzle pieces are scrambled and he’s too exhausted to put them together properly. There’s a presence that doesn’t make sense, not corporeal enough that he can get a read on it with his senses. But he knows it’s there. Even if the sound waves from their heartbeats and breathing betrayed nothing. “Do you reckon Stick would be disappointed?” He startled badly enough that the soap slips from his hand and slides across the floor towards the drain. Aghast and more than a little alarmed, he abandons the crawling sensation across his skin as the soap suds slid across the expanse of his body to try and make sense of the sound. It felt like a thought. A thought that came too loud, enough that it felt like it was outside of his body, perched right by his right ear. His hand closes on the side of the empty tub, nails digging and slipping at the humid, cold porcelain. “Who-” but there’s no heartbeat, no sound beyond the voice. Until there is. Its heartbeat mimics his own. Sounds exactly the same in its cadence, but the thing, whatever it is, doesn’t carry a smell or heat like all living things do. It’s almost apart from the world on fire, a tear on the fabric of reality he put together with his senses. Something that looked like a man, except for the thick skin and the small horns protruding from its smooth head. “You’re trusting him, Castle will kill you the moment he has the chance, it’s what he does.” The thing shrugs, a smile cutting through its alien face. “You’re not here,” he whispers, as if the simple statement would rip the thing apart, destroy it, send it away. “You keep your enemies close to watch them, take advantage of them. Not so they can captivate you. ” “I’m hallucinating,” he whispers again, nails now digging into his knees. And when did he move his hands? When did he do that? There’s a flicker of time between one second and the other that is missing. Like all the days previous to waking up in Frank’s bed and crawling to this place. “You’re not real.” “Huh, real enough to know you’re easy prey.” The demon-like hallucination smiles big at him. “What are you going to do about that?” The devil, he thinks. This is the devil. “Did you miss me already, Matt?”     Red takes his sweet time in the tub. He should’ve been done with it long ago and Frank - well, he should’ve done it himself. He doesn’t doubt for a second Red could be already plotting some half-assed escape plan and stalling for time in the bathroom. He knocks out of courtesy more than to give him privacy - had seen enough of Red in all states of undress the first three days he had been there. “Red?” No response. Frank doesn’t wait any more than that. In his head, he runs through the list once again: bleeding from nose, ears or eyes - brain hemorrhage. Paralysis, seizure - swelling. Fever, delirium, pus - infection. Runs over it again so it doesn’t fade from his memory - not as pristine as he’d like it to be, although he never got to Red’s situation either. Names and meanings escape him sometimes, is all. Red looks physically well when Frank walks through the door, combat boots squeaking against the tiles. He squints at him, at his nose, eyes, ear (clean), his bandages (dry), his plastic wrapped wounds (pink and healthy). He checks the place out of habit, looking for incongruities hiding between fresh, sterilized towels and semi-transparent shower curtains. “Red,” he calls out again but the kid doesn’t answer, and Frank can’t say he’s exactly surprised. Had happened a few times already, the little shutdowns. Which is why he’s surprised when Red speaks. “Is there-” the redhead swallows, fingernails digging into his knees, his left leg stretched across the empty tub to accommodate the pain of the gunshot wound. “Is there anyone else here?” “Jus’ us, Red,” and he did a perimeter check minutes ago. His eyebrows furrow down to meet his eyes and Red twitches, wonders if he senses the movement somehow. “Yeah. Yer senses going a bit haywire?” Matt startles out of a sudden, one hand closing a tight fist around his knee and the other, the right one, spasming as it tried to do the same. “Can you take me outside, please?” Voice comes as the afterthought of a whisper, barely there at all. But it echoes around the cramped space and makes its path towards Frank’s eardrums. He sighs sharply but doesn’t mention anything else. Mechanically helps Red out of the bathtub and into the towels. Grabbing the folded clothes Frank had separated for him to use, slightly too big in places. Doesn’t need the a**hole’s fancy senses to know something’s up but he won’t ask for now and he’s quite sure Red won’t volunteer the information either - wiped out brain or not. The thought sits heavy in his stomach, a weight that he feels physically when he moves to the kitchen. If the memory loss is caused by brain damage, Curt says, the likelihood of Red ever regaining them is extremely small, specially considering the type of first care he received. There are other options to what was messing up his head, but for now, there was simply no way to tell. “You remember anything else?” He asks from there, fetching the wheeling chair he had stolen from the Costas medical facility the week before. The Lieutenant doesn’t give Matthew time to deliberate, helping him up and into the chair, careful of his injured head, belly and leg. He isn’t surprised when- “I don’t need that.” “I didn’t ask. Sit down.” “I’m perfectly capable of-” “But you won’t.”  He cuts off quickly, adjusting the arm support and adjusting the wheel lock before wheeling Murdock towards the front door. “Not yet, at least.” Murdock twitches, impatience making lines like riverbanks form around his youthful face, but chooses wisely not to start a discussion. He’s been picking his fights, since he realized Frank was just as stubborn as him. He repeats his question and watches Red’s sigh raise a condensation fog in the air, following its swirls through the cold morning air. “Just bits and pieces,” Murdock eventually answers, licking his lips. “It comes and goes.” Frank grunts in response and doesn’t press the matter; but he does help the redhead sit in the steps like a few nights before. To fight. For the war. Sh*t. Of all the f***ed up things. He shakes his head to himself, not enough of a movement that drags attention from Red, who seems content in tilting his head back towards the cloudy sky above the high trees. Won’t think about all he’s learned because they’re not part of the mission, not now. He’ll get the kid better, get him back to his life. Maybe go to the orphanage, ask some questions, start digging. But until then, he sits in the cabin steps with the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen by his side, hugging his knees against the coming cold. “Stick taught me knives. Father Lantom and the... the nun called the cops. I got into middle school. Had a crush on Ian from History class. Dad hates Mrs. Hernandez Bakery’s apple pie.” The messy retelling doesn’t phase him but brings a flashback of their own - his head had processed information similarly, back then, the scar of the bullet just barely closed. His brain had latched to their laughter but he couldn’t remember if the plates made it to the sink. He remembers Lisa’s little voice begging him to read her her favorite book, please Daddy, please, but he couldn’t for the life of him remember the clothes Frankie wore that day. Maria’s voice played in a loop of hey, sleepyhead but he can’t remember how she sounded when she said his name with that fondly exasperated look. Tomorrow, baby. I’ll read it to you tomorrow, I promise. “My wife, she, uh,” swallows the clotted knot of uncertainty in his throat and blinks against the moisture collecting around his eyelids. “She used to try some fancy dessert recipes, from time to time.” He laughs suddenly and brightly, remembering her pout when her chocolate muffins ended up burned for the third time that month and her strawberry cheesecake went wrong and liquid. Red looks surprised at him and the anonymity is somehow... comforting. He doesn’t remember the chaos Frank unleashed in the city, doesn’t remember the headlines and the trial and much less how Frank bounced a bullet off his helmet years ago. They would’ve never sat like this, talked like this if Red hadn’t been brained in that warehouse a little over a week before. “She was a good cook, but her desserts were bad, man. She was real terrible at it.” Red chuckles softly and deja-vu creeps over his skin like a thousand ants. It’s almost a do-over of that night in the graveyard. “The kids tried to be nice, y’know? They’d put on this face, all wide-eyed like it was the most delicious thing they’d ever eaten. Lisa, my baby girl, she was good, Red. Sometimes she fooled even me. But Frankie, my son, he, he was horrible at it, you could see it all over his face. He used to say that he wanted to be a chef when he grew up,” Murdock’s eyebrows go up and Frank scoffs. “I know, right. He’d say he wanted to be like the TV shows.” Lisa was a good sister. She’d taste every crazy concoction Frankie came up with - even mango pancakes, once, which made her sick, and she wouldn’t let Frank or Maria tell Junior about it. She’d always make some ridiculously funny accents when she was playing the food taster, wearing those little bracelets she used to make with her best friend (what was her name? Natalie?). Frank tries to chuckle at the memory but it comes out a rasp of breath, his lungs tearing right off of him. She had been wearing one of those. One of the bracelets written LISA in bold orange letters. It was her favorite color since she was about the height of Frank’s knee. Remembers seeing it stained deep red when he cradled her in his lap. Red’s voice brings him back to the porch, away from the park and Lisa. “What happened?” Scary, how intuitive the kid was. Maybe it had something to do with his senses, but Frank isn’t that sure. He hadn’t thought much of him at first, back then. Thought he was impulsive, combustive and too naive. And then he met him again, wearing crisp but cheap suits and red shades and saw that spark of smart he tried to hide. Frank doesn’t doubt that, should he have been more present in that trial, he’d probably have managed to get the not guilty verdict, somehow. Frank’s silence must be answer enough for Red soon turns his face away in respect. Maybe he sense it somehow; the thick knot tightening on Frank’s throat, the stinging at the corner of his eyes and a moisture he wasn’t that sure he could blame on the wind. “I wanted to be a lawyer,” Murdock offers, his head twitches to the side subtly before coming back to the conversation. Frank catches himself wondering just how far those ears of his went. “when I was a kid.” He finishes softly, extending his injured leg with a certain amount of effort before all air left his lungs in a rush. Ain’t sure if it’s Frank Jr’s ghost hanging over them, close enough that Frank swears he could smell that God awful shampoo he liked only because it came with Captain America’s face plastered on it but actually had a terrible scent. Maybe it’s ‘cause Red is sitting there with barely any memories left in that f***ed up head of his and remembering being a kid dreaming about being a lawyer, not knowing he made it. Against a whole sh*t ton of odds. “You are.” he blurts out. Red turns to him, his whole body still, eyes wide. “What?” “You’re a lawyer,” Frank shrugs at the sudden rush of breath that leaves Red, the confusion turning into awe. Frank resists the urge to look away from the precious turn of his lips. “Good one too, when you wanna be.” A breathy chuckle graces his ears and Frank finally turns away, a small smile in his face mirroring Red’s lips. He waits for questions he’s sure Red made to himself a thousand times the last few days: why is he not a hospital, where are his friends, why didn’t they come looking, why, why, why. But Murdock doesn’t. Just holds his own knees closer with that dreamy little smile upturning his lips, pulling at a long scabbed over cut by his chin. Frank helps him inside when the exhaustion kicks in, once again, and leads him to the cot.     Where did you go? An angry voice close to his face. I can’t do this alone. I can’t take another step. Soft, long hands and arms circling his shoulders. Was it all a lie? Salt and moisture in the air (tears), the scent of his own blood. You’re just one bad day away- Chains pressing him down, hands on his chin. Where did you go, Matt? He wakes up with the whisper a burn bright-hot spot of pain in his chest - not one from any voice that he can remember, but familiar all the same. Familiar enough that something clogs his throat, chokes up his airways. Every attempt at an inhale stops just short of completely cutting off his oxygen, the burn in his chest spreads. Matt blinks away the tears in his eyes - where did it come from? Tries to orient himself in the space he’s in - where? He didn’t know these sheets, didn’t recognize these walls, these- The smell. He recognizes it. Antiseptic, coffee, gunpowder. The fabric doesn’t feel as odd, once he runs his hands through it. It’s another one, but not unfamiliar. Frank changed the sheets again. His heart pounds faster against his chest. Panic brews like a tight boiling-hot coil in his chest - he suddenly feels unsafe inside the room, the cabin walls the body of trees and earth surrounding them from all sides. There’s something he has to do, somewhere he needs to be and Matt can’t for the life of him figure out what or where. A shuddery breath leaves through his parted, parched lips. Feels the skin of his forearms cool off where it spills - sharp like a whirlwind for his oversensitive sense of touch. “Where did you go, indeed?” The Intruder, as Matt had taken to calling him, asked softly. His presence is accompanied by a excruciating ache that manifests itself like a weight more than the agony it really is when it spreads at the edges of his fracture, following the lines connected by wire. He doesn’t need to concentrate to hear bone grind against metal. “You’re not in Hell’s Kitchen, but that’s about as far as you know.” He doesn’t answer. If he ignores him, maybe... “Oh, well now, that’s just desperate.” His teeth grind together. The pull of muscle and jaw sharpens the pain, tendrils of it reaching out to take over the whole right side of his head. Matt wonders if this is what losing your mind feels like. A steady, perfectly natural-feel of circling down the drain. Almost like it’s supposed to happen, almost like he deserved it, maybe. “I suppose you do, but I might be biased.” The Intruder’s voice is oddly detached from where Matt senses its surreal body, the weird texture of its skin, almost like leather. The protruding horns in his skull. As for him, his own skull felt the same - broken bone oddly loose when he follows the line of sutures coming from his temple to an inch past the top of his ear. The creature shifts, his body something like red smoke. “Who am I, again?” The devil. He’s ought to be. Grandmother did always say Murdock boys had the devil in them. How ironic that this is how Matt remembers this - with a hallucination probing at the soft, damaged parts of his brain. The thing laughs, the sound doesn’t rebound, doesn’t act like echolocation like a real one usually would for his hearing. At the proof of it, of the unreality, and trapped in the room with it, Matt attempts burrowing further into his sheets, nose dipping into the fabric and looking for something real - coffee, gunpowder, antiseptic, soap, skin musk. “Are you trying to hide from me? Do you reckon it’ll help?” No. It can’t hurt to try. The Intruder shifts, a smoke trail left behind. The impression of lips close to his ear. “I’m in your head.” “Then get out of it.” Matt misses hours before, when it was only a dripping sound and an uncommon stench. One he became aware of when Frank said he wasn’t smelling anything. He thought perhaps it came from the forest, but further search led to nowhere. The smell didn’t come from anywhere physical, neither did the sound. It echoed just at the shell of his right ear. Frank’s heartbeat had betrayed slight unease and, for his sake, Matt mentioned something about being tired and had retired to his cot. “That wouldn’t be any fun.” “Shut up.” The dripping sound comes back, just around the shell of his ear. Works like an echo of the Intruder’s words. His skin the texture of leather and spandex and something inhuman, almost alive. He sits up suddenly, muscles pulling abruptly under his skin, tightening worryingly at his shoulders where they bunch up to cover his ears. He cowers to a corner, knees to his chest. Attempts to find Frank’s pulse nearby, eyes shut tight together as to ignore the very real breathing that he can feel against his cheek, a predator’s maws ready to attack. No matter how much he tries to work through the sounds, he’s hindered in his efforts. His own heartbeat too loud to properly allow him the focus, hammering and vibrating his eardrums. Only realizes he’s digging his fingernails into his knees when something wet and warm touches the palm of his hand. “What was that song? The one Dad liked?” Go away, he wants to say. Needs to say it, why can’t he say it? His ability to speak was locked up somewhere deep and Matt couldn’t reach it. Couldn’t find it, no matter how much he tried or how much the muscles of his neck worked against the knot tying his throat up. “ When I was fast asleep she threw her arms around my neck.” He clutches at his ears, presses his back against the corner of the bed, eyes shut together. But it doesn’t muffle the Intruder’s voice, neither does it stop him from singing. Strength leaves him. Matthew lets his arms fall to the sides, eyes vacant and searching the opposite wall. “ And then began to weep.” “S-stop,” his voice is stubborn, it struggles to fully leave him, sinks its nails in his tongue and refuses to be let out. “S-s-stop, stop.” It’s wrong. He isn’t sure what, but it’s wrong. Dad never liked that song. Dad liked weird country music and rock. It’s wrong, it’s all wrong, and he needs it to stop. “ She wept, she cried, she tore her hair, ah, me, what could I do?” Hands come up to his ears against and Red clamps them down hard, until the pressure becomes a palpable sound, bursting his eardrums. The break protests, he thinks he hears something snap.. “So all night long, I held her in my arms,” the devil’s voice echoes around the empty room, undisturbed. “Just to keep her from the foggy, foggy dew.”     “It’s alright, kid.” His head hurts. Eyes sting when he attempts opening them. “I just need to clean it, yeah? You popped a stitch, s’bleeding a little.” His head hurts. Make it stop. Please. “Wanna tell me what happened?” He isn’t sure. He doesn’t know. “Someone was here,” he thinks he whispers. “Fr’nk, someone was here.” Frank’s steady hands stop. Matthew blinks through the fog, the hands return. “Frank, I need to go back. I need to go back.” He shakes his head, pushes his shoulders against the bed again. Matt hadn’t realized he was trying to sit. “Just rest, Red.” Frank sighs, coffee-mint-toothpaste-eggs-and-bacon mix in the air above him. “Don’t reckon you’ll be remembering this when you wake up anyway.” He doesn’t. BOX   Yet I was wound up. I tick. I exist. I am poised eighteen inches over the black rivets you are reading, I am in your place, I am shut in a bone box and trying to fasten myself on the white paper.     By day ten, it’s clear something is going on with Murdock. He wouldn’t know for sure, since Red never speaks of it. Never speaks much of anything that really matters, to be truthful - still a master in the art of misdirection even if he probably can’t remember sh*t about his life as a lawyer. Frank is a sniper. Waiting is in his nature, as much as Curt likes to point out he has, as he so calls it, a “modern disease” and craves for “instant gratification” or some bullsh*t. When the time is right, he’ll ask and he’ll aim just right, but for now, he has other things to worry about. If what Curt had said through the phone was true, each day that passed there was less chance Red’s amnesia was from a brain injury. The odds were much of it was psychological - Dissociative amnesia, Curt called it. Less to do with Red’s injury and much more with what happened before it. Frank frowns, eyes locked to his food before he averts his gaze to Red once more. The amnesia might have nothing to do with the hit he took to the head, but everything else certainly did. Red slept up to twelve hours most days and couldn’t seem to sleep at all on others, no matter how exhausted he was. It’d come to a point where he’d shut down, get into that detached, dissociating state he had been on his first few days in the cabin. The bruises under his eyes from the broken capillaries were getting better - Curt told him it was normal, so Frank hadn’t worried too much, though they certainly didn’t improve his appearance. He does it again - twitches his head and loses focus on his food, arm settling down against the wood, hands almost fully covered by the long sleeves of Frank’s borrowed shirt. Had been doing that a lot lately, wandering away into his head, getting lost in his surroundings. “Hey,” the crackle of gravel in his deep tone is enough to snap Red out of it. The flinch doesn’t go unnoticed. “What’s going on?” Something with his ears, maybe? Frank was pretty sure at some point they had used a flash-bang grenade, had found a canister abandoned at the warehouse entrance and track marks from someone being dragged. Red swallows, makes an attempt to go back to his food only to yield. “Nothing,” comes the predictable response. “Yeah, I don’t think so.” He slants his head to the side, gets to watch Red’s uncomfortable expressions morphing and changing. Murdock might have gotten better from looking like death warmed over, but he was still pale. He still had bandages around his head, thigh, torso. Bruises all over. Not for the first time, he wonders just how exactly does he work. Couldn’t help but notice his sharp senses the last time they saw each other - in that rooftop. He had seen him nod to something he said yards away. Wonders just how those senses of his are working now that his skull is broken, fracture extending from above his ear to a few inches past it. Frank reaches behind him into the makeshift counter, grabs the bowl of apple slices. “Eat it.” Murdock blinks, his whole body on pause. “I-” he smacks his lips softly, as if trying to get rid of a taste he couldn’t make much sense of. Frank squints at him. “Yes.” Compliance with Red was different, Frank came to realize soon enough. He was either buying himself time for something or he was closing off, hiding back inside his shell. Distinguishing the two was easy enough - Red was nothing if not an open book at the best of times. Like the past ten days, Frank prods. “Remember anything today?” Murdock shakes his head slowly, eyes roaming from the empty plate to the bowl beside him. As if looking for stains or cracks in the porcelain. He eats the slice of apple with care - too much too quick and his headache worsens, sometimes. “Just... words.” “Words?” Lips twist downward. He doesn’t look too comfortable sharing it. “Yeah,” he abandons the half-eaten slice on his place, somehow managing to avoid the dirty parts. “People saying stuff, sentences, but I couldn’t remember-” “Anything in specific?” Murdock stops moving, shakes his head. Frank lets it go, but he isn’t convinced for a second.     He sits by the table and cleans his guns and goes over the plan in his head for the fifth time. Frank’s been stewing over this long enough. It is a bad idea and he knew it, and knew it well. Taking Red back to the city with the way things were now... well, there were a thousand different ways thing could escalate and go to sh*t real quick, and he wasn’t too happy about the odds either. If they were out there, even if Red remembered his training (or some part of it), he was underweight, slightly anemic and injured. They go to the city and Red’s an immediate liability - he’ll have to look out for him. In the other hand, seeing Red flicker between moments of clarity and haze gets him in some deep, f***ed up part that messes with Frank’s head. Head replays over and over again the sight of him reaching out a hand. Too late, he had said, please. Things are starting to get complicated. At the beginning it was simple - take Red in, get him some place safe to rest, get him back to his life. But then he wakes up with his brains scrambled and what in the world does he do with that? How can he get him back to his life if Red has no goddamn idea what that means? Frank should be damn well past caring: should throw Red, clueless f***ing Red, in the middle of the city with all the wolves he pissed off that are now clamoring for his blood. Envisions going through what Red would do if the situation was different. If it was Frank with his head messed up and a whole city bellowing to take a pound of his flesh. Tells himself Red would do the same thing - just throw him to the wolves. But that’s bullsh*t. Not a goddamn bone in Matt Murdock’s body capable of leaving a man behind to bleed out. Not even a piece of sh*t like Frank. So he checks his supplies before going to Murdock with the idea. Guns, knives, burners - back-up plans, safe houses he has nearby. Places he can lay low if they can’t manage the ride back to the cabin. The city wasn’t a safe place for the Devil and much less Matt Murdock. Someone out there knows the two are one and the same, and Frank has a good f***ing guess as to who. Only a matter of time before Frank puts him down. He’s not your responsibility. Curt’s voice nags at him. Take me home. Murdock says instead. Curtis had asked who he was when even Red couldn’t answer that himself, and well, sh*t. Who wasn’t the appropriate question, was it? What Curt had wanted to ask - and Frank knows this, knows this with the certainty that he knows that Murdock will be back on his feet, no question about it - was who was Murdock to him. Red was a sanctimonious pain in the ass, that’s who. A holier-than-thou prick with a savior complex. A good guy. And Frank had been too late and so had Red and they were both paying for that now. Because Frank knows better than to expect everything will go as planned, he prepares a bag with some bare necessities. A whole bunch of first aid and changes for Red’s dressings. Kid shouldn’t be moving so soon, not after getting his head sewn back together in a mob doc’s table but as good as Frank could be at waiting, it wasn’t his favorite tactical approach and neither was Red. Frank needed him out there, doing his ninja sh*t. Murdock was one step away from getting cabin fever and whatever was going on with his ears that he wouldn’t tell. Red may sleep a lot but God knows he doesn’t do much resting - Frank reckons he has flashbacks but Murdock is rarely coherent enough when he wakes up. And the times that he is, he doesn’t seem to understand anything at all. That’s why, when he finishes packing to find Matthew burrowed into the sheets with a peaceful, restful expression softening his features, Frank doesn’t wake him. He busies himself around the place for a while until there’s no need to check traps or supplies and only then does he take a seat by the cot. Red looks different since he got here. Even with the flashbacks, the constant headaches and the effects of the concussion, there’s a weight missing from him. He still has that soldier-like posture of his, spine straight, shoulders back, but there’s something, an absence Frank can’t pinpoint. It’s in the softness of his eyebrows when he sleeps, in his easy-going talk when he’s not distracted with his messed up head. Maybe it’s the memories he doesn’t have. Maybe. Takes an hour for Red to finally shift, hands twitching away from the cotton sheets tangled around his waist. Frank notices the rashes all over his forearms, bright red where they had been pressed against the fabric. “Hey, Red,” a soft groan answers him. Red scratches at his forearm. “Who am I?” For some reason, Murdock flinches at the question; muscles tensing before he lets go. Frank’s eyes narrow at his figure, Red takes a deep, shuddering breath. “You’re Frank. I’m Matt. It’s Monday. November. I don’t know the date.” Frank stares at him some more. Waits for an answer to pop out of somewhere, a reason for the slightly frenetic twitch of his fingers. Sighs when none comes. “It’s the 21 st .” Murdock nods, before attempting to sit up. He still swayed when he did something strenuous - walked a few steps too many, climbed up the three steps from the porch to the cabin’s door -, and sometimes when he woke up. But if Curt was right and Murdock’s amnesia was psychological, triggers could help him fill the blank spots. The faster he got Red remembering, the faster he was out of there and Frank could go back to hunting down scumbags. “Put those on,” Red tilts his head the second the bundle of clothes leaves Frank’s grasp, catches it neatly with his right one. The muscles there had improved just enough that Red didn’t let things fall all the time now - Curt had left him some hand grip strengtheners the last time he had been there. When Frank had thought they’d have to shove Red back in the van. As luck would have it, the seizure had been mostly due to dehydration and shock. Murdock’s fingers explore the items - thick thermal pants, jeans, a heavy sweater and a parka. Maybe it wasn’t cold enough for the pants, but Red had lost a few pounds and had gone from fit to too damn skinny and he shivered a whole f***ing lot when night fell. He curses under his breath and throws in some winter socks and gloves. Peruses for an old pair of boots that came with the place. A tight fit, but better than Frank’s over-sized ones. “Wher’ we going?” He turns his head away from the redhead. He had seen Murdock in various stages of vulnerability in the last week, but when he woke up slurring his words and curling his tongue loosely and softly around his vowels, it was just different. Got the twist in his chest to settle at the same time it only knotted up more painfully. Reminded him too much of his kids, waking up with soft little smiles. Are we going to the park, Daddy? Rubs at the back of his head, palm pressing into the scar. Red inclines softly towards the sound, a bit more alert - chin cocked up, irises creeping towards the upper left corners, considering. “Your place.” Red frowns before freezing altogether. “There won’t be anyone in there, right?” Disquiet fingers pick at the fabric, flinching away from it before pressing his fingers harder together. Goddamn martyr. “I won’t remember them.” Frank pulls the cotton sheets away from him, throws them in the floor by the growing heap of dirty laundry he had to take care of. Red’s relentless, though. Finds away to twist his own fingers into pretzels, picking at the skin between each one. “Don’t think so.” But then again, what does he know? Midland Circle collapses, Red was supposed to be dead. Reports come about a man in a black mask saving a man and attacking people related to Fisk. There’s a riot in prison, Matt Murdock becomes a wanted man, and then he calls the very same day- “That’s what your fancy hearing is for, right?” Murdock nods gingerly. Gets up quietly and sways only once before dragging himself to the bathroom to change. He comes back dressed and already looking drained, expression unguarded. Soft. Frank looks away. “You can sleep in the car, c’mon.” Red does. He’s dead to the world for two hours.     Hell’s Kitchen doesn’t look any different from the last time Frank had been there. He had half expected it to be. That its walls would be somehow marked with the Devil’s absence. If he’s honest with himself, Frank had half expected it to look like the aftermath of an apocalypse. Stupid. Maybe it’s because he can’t picture the Kitchen without its guardian devil. Maybe it’s because it felt like the world had changed, somehow, not much more than a week ago. Something had shattered, and yet the place remained intact. Frank shakes his head and spares a glance at the man sleeping in the passenger seat, chin to his chest, soft clouds of breath getting puffed by his nose. He looked uncomfortable. He waits for the next light to gently squeeze a fingertip under his chin, help him find a better angle to rest his head. Manages to lean it against the window and Red expresses his content exhaling soft, warm air against Frank’s fingertips, falling back asleep quickly. Making sure he wasn’t resting over the injury - the place where bone was held together feebly by iron, sutures and skin - Frank avoids any bumps in the streets while driving, eyes scanning other cars and rooftops. He doesn’t think the man in the stairs necessarily knew who Red was, but his boss did. He thinks he sees something - rooftop over an auto-repair shop, not too far from them. A blur of black and red. It’s gone before he can register its shape and speed but he keeps an eye on all the rooftops after that. It doesn’t show up again, but Frank files it away as something to consider afterwards. Murdock’s building is an old brick walk-up. Not as much of a sh*thole as Frank’s safe houses in Manhattan, but a sh*thole nonetheless. Red wakes up the moment they pull over a street away, head twitching sideways. He looks more alert than he had back in the cabin, taking in the city, the traffic, the passersby. Frank just watches him for a while, makes sure he’s not about to freak out like he did once or twice already before turning off the ignition key. “Come on.” “We’re in Hell’s Kitchen.” He sniffs the air carefully, looks ridiculously alike a dog while doing it. The same way he did with his head tilts. Frank just grunts in response - of course, of all the things to remember, Red would recall what Hell’s Kitchen smells like. They use the fire escape. Frank catches Murdock missteps a whole lot more than the redhead would ever be willing to admit but he lets the man keep his pride. He’s dizzy and his legs won’t coordinate with his brain - right one mostly. As stubborn as his right arm and hand. He’d raise them barely enough to make a step and trip on the next, hold himself for dear life on the handrail before Frank came along to take most of his weight, awkwardly squeezing together through the tight fit of the stairs. Red’s exhausted by the time they make it to the third flight of stairs and Frank mostly carries him the rest of the way, Red’s legs delaying them rather than helping. It isn’t any hardship - Red doesn’t eat much and keeps even less in his stomach when he manages something. Castle isn’t sure what he’s hoping for when Red finally, gingerly walks down the stairs to his place. Looking more like a stranger than a man walking inside his home. Maybe - stupidly - that he’d walk in, surrounded by all things Matt Murdock, and come to some kind of realization and get back to his life. Get the hell away from Frank’s because he sure as hell doesn’t know what to make of this. Of Red and him in the same space, instead of being on opposite sides in a fight. Or maybe a spark. Something that told him Murdock wasn’t lost for good. Murdock touches the walls with barely concealed hesitation, knuckles feeling for the polished wood. There were cracks on the walls, broken glass on the floor, a crack on one of the window panes. Frank takes it all in and keeps quiet. Clasps his hands in front of him as he shadows Red’s footsteps inside the place. Shaky fingertips find case files over the coffee table. Murdock’s expression twists into something funny. “I really am a lawyer,” he mumbles, some kind of innocent awe tinging his voice that Frank thinks he’d never would’ve heard it otherwise, should he have his memories straight. “That you are.” Murdock’s lips twitch in that confused, unsure smile, fingertips trailing the few books by the files. An abandoned, open laptop attached to a device of some kind. Braille reader, perhaps. He stops at one of the books, fingers spasm before he traces the cover again. “Thurgood Marshall,” his eyes bob from the upper corner to the lower one, his knees still shake from the hesitation of climbing up the fire escape. “I used to read this one a lot when I was a kid.” Frank’s eyebrows go up. There’s something that keeps pulling Red back to the book, even when he feels for the other ones. Frank wonders what is it that makes him gravitate back - a memory, a feeling. What gets him tracing the same dots over and over again on the spine. “Take it,” Frank shrugs, lets his clasped hands fall by his side, “it’s yours.” Should probably get some of Red’s stuff too, while they’re at it. He steps towards the bedroom he peeks by the sliding door, looks for something they can use. Gym bag isn’t big enough for a lot, but enough. He empties one, leaves one of the hand tapes. Murdock looks grateful when he reaches gingerly towards the bag, dropping the book inside with a small smile. Frank resists the urge to tell him to quit it. He finds his cane next, discarded by the couch. Confusion and recognition battle around the creases and soft planes of his features before he carefully attempts picking it up, fingers digging into the back of the couch so he doesn’t topple over. Folds it up almost on muscle memory and seems about as surprised as Frank as he does it. “Remember anything?” He asks, strangely hopeful, but Red just frowns - sniffs the air like a hound dog. “I’m not... sure.” Yeah, he doesn’t look very sure about anything, even as he drops the folded cane inside the bag. He walks into the kitchen with a sway to his step Frank has come to recognize as exhaustion. Confirms it when Murdock’s quick to try and find support on the counter, hands bumping into something. Frank catches a blur of dark red and golden yellow before it falls. Red falls into a series of bird-like head tilts, eyes attempting to find the little red box in the floor. Knows it’s a bad idea trying to pick it up without support moments before the kid almost cracks his head open a second time. “Jesus f***, Red,” he pulls him up before he manages to face plant like the a**hole he was. Pissed off but still mindful of his sutured up head. He takes the box himself with a curse, recognizing the smooth, vinylic surface of gift wrapping before he hands it to Murdock. “Thanks.” His eyes get drawn to the floor again, though. Notices the slump of clothes on the floor by the fridge, some of them with pink splatters of washed-out blood, some with bigger stains. Frank crouches beside it - it had been wet at some point, dried up all wrinkled and smelled moldy to a degree. Suit jacket, slacks, socks, white button-up and a torn, black tie. “Hudson,” Murdock suddenly murmurs, one eyebrow quirking up as the other draws down crookedly. “It’s what I could smell before.” His hands still fumble around with the gift box, even while slanting his head this way and that, sniffing the air as if looking for clues. Frank stands up, leaves the rumpled clothes where they are. Something had happened between the prison rioting, Murdock becoming a wanted man and Frank receiving a phone call. Like the book, Red’s attention keeps gravitating back to the small box in his hands, wrapped up with ridiculous primness, contrasting badly with the skewered, badly tied up golden bow. He keeps tracing the line where the lid met the box, encased by glossy, bright red paper. “I... This is weird.” Frank grunts. Waits for him to say what he’s got to say. “I know this is all mine, I know it is but I don’t- I don’t feel it. I don’t remember it, I don’t...” He huffs in frustration, voice edged higher before it falls, holds the box closer to his chest. Frank eyes it, gazes back to the forgotten tag on the counter. It must have fallen at some point. Frank takes another look at Red then. The disgruntled, hopeless expression on his face. Exhales in a large huff of air. “Look, Red, this is gonna take time, yeah? You went through some bad sh*t. You gotta let your wounds heal, let that head o’yours heal.” Except what the kid needs is a f***ing neurologist and, sh*t, a really f***ing good therapist too. And Frank would be willing to give that to him, if only he wasn’t sure it would end terribly for Daredevil and worse still for Matt Murdock to show up now. Murdock suddenly stands straight - that fighter’s posture Frank had been used to seeing less flawless when it takes over the slumped, hopeless figure of seconds before. “What-” “Shh.” He looks a bit more like the Devil Frank recalled. A lot less like the helpless kid he’s been around the last few days. Frank can’t say he didn’t miss it. “Footsteps,” Murdock whispers, mouth close to his cheek, “coming up the stairs, six, maybe seven, they...” Frank pulls the gun from the holster, one hand clamping around Red’s upper arm to pull him back. His eyes go wide in panic seconds before he suddenly shouts out: “Frank, down!” BRUISE   Here is your space, lie down or stand or sit, it will take your shape. Be still if you can, look into yourself for what is soft and spoiled, for pulp, for that dark damage.   In a second, Red’s apartment becomes a battlefield. It’d been easy once to tell Maria that home was here, with the kids, with her. But Frank knows himself better, these days. Knows how easily he falls into the gunfire, how squeezing the trigger feels more natural than making breakfast for them once did. How landing a punch is easier than landing a caress and how he’d been so selfish to think he could have both. He has three rounds of ammo on him, thirty six bullets for his .45 caliber, one army knife - a TBI patient with no self-preservation instinct whatsoever and at least seven guys coming up the stairs to apartment 6A, armed with assault rifles and whole lot more ammunition. He takes one second to feel for Red’s skinny frame covering his body after tackling him to the floor, his unarmored body and the crisscrossed sutures over his ear before he makes a decision. Grabs the kid by the back of his neck, dragging him off of him before shoving him backwards under the stairs as soon as bullets puncture through the wall a second time. Red, probably completely oblivious as to where the urge to fight comes from, immediately tries to jump out. Frank presses his forearm against him, looks deep into his unseeing eyes before checking his cartridge - fully loaded, all twelve bullets in - before turning to Murdock once again. “You stay under those stairs, you don’t make a sound, you don’t move until I say so, do you get that?” Got not time to make sure the kid understands besides a brief stare, easing up the pressure on his chest incrementally before standing up, walking low to hide behind the hallway wall. He’s just got to crouching when a shotgun blow makes debris and chunks of drywall fly past the place his head had been, seconds before. Frank presses his gun close to his chest, stays crouched low as he waits, tonguing his parched upper lip before checking in on Red, hands covering his ears from the close-range blasts. His breathing is too quick but Frank’s got no time to check for anything else but immediate injuries. He roars out for the pieces of sh*t waiting on the other side of the door. “C’mon!!” The spray of bullets start again, exploding through the door and denting the wall by the fridge. Shattering porcelain mugs and plates long forgotten by the sink. He counts the time, the bullets he can hear. Keeps half an eye on Red, curled up tight under the stairs, eyes panicked. The second the gunfire stops, Frank’s on his feet. Two burst through the door and get shot on sight. Shoulder, head - the blonde guy falls. Chest - the braided woman goes down. A third one appears through the doorway, screaming expletives to the remaining four behind him. Frank recognizes a few operational commands - mercenaries, probably former military - before he jumps into a roll, avoiding a spray of bullets and unloading three knee-level shots at the guy. One hits home. The gunfire starts again, Frank grabs Red by the arm and pulls him out of hiding, dragging him to the table and shouldering it down to the ground, using it as shield. It was sturdy but wouldn’t last long. Red’s partially catatonic, but Frank had expected that too. Either he was caught in a sensory hell or trapped in a flashback or both. Probably both. “Red, you listening?” A sharp, erratic nod. “We gotta get to those stairs, you tell me when they’re almost out of ammo, can you do that?” Another nod, more focused, more sure. “Attaboy.” Two stop to reload, Frank lends him his palm and Red makes a small, objective map. Points the location of the four mercs still shooting, the one sitting by the two dead ones with his knee shot to hell. Immediately shows him the two as soon as they’re on their last bullet. Frank rises up too late to do much damage, but one gets a graze to the thigh and the other falls back with a shot to their armored vest. They have little tactical advantage besides Red’s senses, they’ll be trapped if they don’t move, now. But Red can’t dodge bullets when he’s still swaying over his feet every time he moves too quickly and Frank can’t cover for him at the same time he guides him up the stairs. So he quickly falls into another roll, shoots the second lady with the army jacket and slams his back against the couch. Bullets fly over his head. “You got nowhere to hide, Murdock!” Army jacket lady bellows, Frank’s gaze locks at Red’s face and he waits for the signal. The shakiness and pale skin are almost completely hidden by the determined set of his brow, the tense posture he holds himself in. “Come out now and I promise I’ll make it quick, sweetie.” Murdock rises three fingers. One goes down, another- “Now!” He rises the moment burly bald guy on the back stops to reload and shoots him once in the head. Pulls Red to his feet and drags him up the stairs as quickly as he can without risking his goddamn head. “Frank, duck!” He goes low, brings Red with him. A spray of bullets dent the wall over their heads and Frank shoots once, twice, three times. Ejects the empty mag and shoves another in record time before shooting the remaining three - Army jacket lady, vest dude and bullet-in-the-thigh a**hole. Gives them enough cover fire to crawl the remaining three steps to the access door and reach the rooftop. Murdock is weak - stumbles twice before he manages to find his footing again. But as soon as they’re high up, muscle memory and adrenaline seems to get rid of whatever catatonic spell he’d been in, together with whatever remaining self-preservation instinct he had been running on when he stayed hidden under the goddamn stairs. “Use the ledge.” “What?” But Red - the idiot who had his skull open 10 days ago - is already running. Uses the fire escape only to hang on to it, get momentum enough and jump down to the next building’s ledge, balancing precariously before taking hold of the ladder and having it drop down closer to the ground with him hanging on to it, finding the alleyway ground with unsteady feet, knees bucking violently when he finally does. Jesus Christ, this a**hole. But it’s quicker, so Frank does what he says. Almost misses the first jump but manages to hang on, climbing down the ladder and jumping to the floor the moment a bullet shatters the window over their heads and another grazes his left arm. “F***!” He ignores the urge to clamp his palm tight over the wound in favor of tugging Red’s almost non-responsive body out of the line of fire. There’s a van to the left of the building, one that hadn’t been there before. Frank memorizes the plaque seconds before spotting a tall figure waiting inside. He shoots them in the head without hesitation, eyes immediately darting up to the fire escape where Army jacket lady was hobbling down from, and the building’s front door opening from the inside - bullet-in-the-thigh dude and vest guy burst out of it, Frank starts firing and so do they. Red makes a sound of surprise and goes green when Frank shoves him behind his body. There are retching sounds and a splash of liquid against the back of his combat boots, but he’s got no time to check on him. Gotta keep on moving or they’ll get them trapped in the alley. “Keep moving back, Red, keep moving back!” He shouts at him, and Frank swears the kid’s whole body flinches with the volume before doing as ordered, hands bunching the fabric of Frank’s jacket tight and pulling him out of the way when Army jacket lady finally finishes coming down the stairs and starts shooting too. “When I tell you to run, you start running to the car and you don’t f***ing stop, you got that?”  

Duty Driven (Taken/Busy IRL)

03/19/2023 05:12 PM 


Summary: “Why won’t you tell me?” Murdock mumbles, defeated.Frank pointedly doesn’t think of the reason why. The warehouse, Karen, Nelson, the headlines, Fisk.“Don’t matter if I tell you, you won’t feel it. Gotta remember, Red,” he rubs a palm through his face, “it’s what you gotta do.” Frank has to figure out how to guide Matt through the painful process of recovering his memories at the same time he deals with Fisk and the fake Devil. Notes: So, about the sheer size of this series. I had no idea that was going to happen. I got a little carried away hahaha SEE END NOTES FOR TRIGGER WARNINGS! (Contains spoilers!) Poems and excerpts taken from (in order of appearance):Blood and stone, Rae GouirandAdvice from Dionysus, Shinji MoonPaper cuts, Natalie Scenters-ZapicoMemory is sleeping, Sanna WaniFever 103, Sylvia Plath   Happy reading!     Breaking point; The point at which a person gives way under stress. The point where a situation becomes critical.   It only breaks; it does not change. It only goes from one to many.   SHATTER   This is the art of living with a ticking heart.   Red doesn’t mention overhearing Frank on the phone, so he doesn’t bother wasting time wondering if he did. Doesn’t matter if he’s being a stubborn sh*t and trying to buy himself time before another let’s-play-twenty-questions or not. Frank isn’t wasting his breath on that when he has more important things needing his attention. When he’s not sure what to do with the kid, not sure what to do with Karen, him and Nelson. Fisk and the Daredevil copycat. And he sure as hell doesn’t know how to deal with this not being a mission anymore. Because it isn’t. Maybe it was, at some point, in the beginning. Back then when Red called, desperate in a way Frank had never heard before. And Frank had gotten there too late and Red’s efforts hadn’t been enough and he had to watch him drag himself over the bloodied warehouse floor with his skull bashed in. Killing half of the Costa family on that mansion? That was a mission. Shoving a gun on the back of the surgeon’s head had been a mission. Bringing Red to the cabin too. And then he found him in the bathroom, hands shaking and unable to coordinate a single limb. Mumbling over and over again and probably not even realizing he was doing it. The same name, until his voice was barely there. He sat on that porch and heard Red lose his mind just a little bit more, saw the man behind the mask and the glasses. And then it didn’t feel like a mission. Didn’t feel like scorching sun hot in his nape, boiling water inside the canteen that barely quenched his thirst. Didn’t feel like fingertips bitten and dry from handling gunpowder. It felt like the park. Hearing the first bullet fly, the first body drop. Red wakes up again, chest getting stuck in an inhale that never leaves. It’s the third time already tonight and Frank wished he could say he was surprised. Stopped trying to fall back asleep when it became clear it was a bad night. “No, no don’t-” “Red.” “Have to, I have to get to- Frank-” a wounded noise leaves his wobbling lips and Frank sits down on the bed, sighing in exhaustion and dropping the thermal by his feet. “Where- I gotta-” “You did, it’s all good now.” Red’s nails claw into his arms before digging deep, steadying himself. Frank uses a hand to untangle his fingers from him, holding his hand tight. Lets him try to fight it before he recognizes the weight anchoring him down to Earth. “Frank,” in a whisper now, he always does that. “Frank, they’ll see us move.” “They won’t, we’re out, remember?” “No, no, I have to- Frank, did I get to them? Did I stop them?” He flinches at every little hiss of breath squeezing through his teeth, wild eyes bobbing all around the room as if expecting someone to jump at him. “We got out?” Frank’s eyes instinctively jump to the sutures in his head. The scabbing over the incision from where bone poked through. Carefully cards two fingers through silky hair, the color slightly dull with lack of proper nutrition. “You did, we’re out. Mission’s over,” his hair is growing too long. Needs a trim. “you can rest now.” “S’over?” Frank swallows over the dryness of his mouth and parched throat. Gets close enough to kiss Red’s forehead, but doesn’t. “Yeah, it’s over, Red.” Closes his eyes, presses his lips together in a tight line before pulling back. “S’over, you can rest now.” Still holding tight to his hand, Red sleeps again, breathing slowing down gradually. Like there was some measure of peace in the contact, in the assurance. Red barely remembers a thing when he wakes up. Frank lets it go, like all the other nights before.     As many things lately, Frank isn’t sure about letting Murdock alone in the safe house, but he wanted to check out his apartment, resupply too. He knew of a few things he could get from Turk Barrett, a few others from a former military lady he knew back in the day. When he’s got his supplies, he heads to Hell’s Kitchen. Not unexpectedly, there’s no news about the shootout at Murdock’s place and the attack in FDR Drive was attributed to a turf war or some bullsh*t. He does a few rounds, makes sure there isn’t anyone watching the place before he goes in, climbing up the stairs through the front door, this time. The door was replaced, but there were crime scene tapes crossing them out. The hallway had bullet holes from both sides and blood stains that hadn’t been washed out. The couch was destroyed and so was the kitchen table, which was just as Frank remembered it, so far. What stood out were the overturned drawers and the missing laptop and case files Frank remembered from when they came a week before. Stupid. He goes back to the safe house with the nagging feeling that he found something but just didn’t know what - a piece in the puzzle that he couldn’t match yet to a bigger picture. Red is putting away the red gift box he still slept with sometimes, when he thought Frank wasn’t looking, inside his gym bag when he walks through the front door. The airflow makes the garbage bag taped to the window frame inflate outwards before settling back. He’s used to Red acting a bit like a wild creature, tilting his head this way and that to fish for tells and details, a bit like a deer did to check for disturbances or predators around it. Sniffs the air sometimes like a fox hunting its prey. In the last week, they laid low and Red got the time to explain a bit to him about his senses, the accident. In return, Frank was quickly getting used to questions, prodding him for memories, trying to trigger new things out of him. Stupid things he wouldn’t usually be bothered to learn. “High-school? Uh, I remember graduating, I think. I had just broken up with a girlfriend, I think, what was her name?” He had frowned from where he was doing the exercises for his right arm. “Anyway, she found out I like guys too and was a bit disgusted, I think. She said she didn’t want to date a ‘fairy’.” Frank had scoffed humorlessly from where he was scrounging for a meal. “What did you say to her?” “Nothing,” Murdock shrugged, “but then I went and kissed a guy in front of the whole class after the graduation ceremony.” Frank had snorted. Of course he f***ing did. “I think we dated for a while, but I’m not sure.” He prods him about memories of his Dad, of his training and school. Sometimes, he goes too far without realizing it. Asking things about Red’s adult life is the surest way to get him to have an episode. It’s no surprise that, when he does remember something - a bar he used to like, the smell of the cheap drinks they served there -, he shuts down for the rest of the day. But there are a few things Red seems to be able to hold on to, Frank thinks, watching that clever glint in his eyes as Red sniffed the air. “You went to my place.” Frank grunts. Walks to the desk to take off his stuff. Keeps his handgun in the coffee table where he can reach it if he needs to and sits down on the couch, sends Red a look. “Take your goddamn feet off my ammo box.” “It’s comfy.” Frank scoffs, annoyed at Red’s little smirk. “Looking for the people after me?” “Nah. Just checking.” Murdock nods. Worries his bottom lip with his tongue in a way that Frank’s been getting real acquainted to. “Say it, Red.” The redhead acknowledges it with a subtle shift in his direction before he shakes his head. “When we met...” he frowns as if staring at a particularly difficult math problem. Frank has a hard time not getting lost in the sight of a pouty lower lip. “I went to you, didn’t I? In a hospital?” His heart does a mild leap in his surprise. “You were hurt. You smelled of... grief and anger. I remember walking inside and calling your name but then it all goes hazy.” Any expectation that he remembered anything about Karen and Nelson seeps out of him and Frank leans against the couch’s back rest. It’s the first solid memory he talked about that happened past his eighteen years old. “Yeah, I,” he swallows back down the urge to prod. Knows how well that ended up the last time. “When they got me in custody I was in a bad shape.” “Hm,” but Murdock seems lost in something else now. “I dreamed about the bombings.” Frank’s confusion must be audible in his breath or heart or whatever it was Red used to track those things, because he feels the need to explain. “In Hell’s Kitchen? I was close to one of them, I don’t know why. And then...” his eyebrows crease down in a frown. Fingers come up to scratch at the itching scab on the side of his head and drop back down once Frank catches his wrist in a firm hold. “A man was dying. I don’t know. He had a funny accent.” And Red for the life of him can’t make sense of it, apparently. Frank sighs, stands up. Takes two bottles of beer out of the dingy fridge and brings them back to the couch. He had been banking on Red remembering something about his double-life but he clearly doesn’t and that complicates a whole lot of things. Matt picks at the label of the bottle, staring sightlessly ahead, and doesn’t drink for a while. Frank chugs some of his own down, checking on him from time to time. Makes sure he’s not about to flip and tear his hands in broken glass again. The wounds from the other time were only now healing. He thinks for a moment Red’s about to ask him all the questions he’s refrained from asking, since the cabin. Why didn’t Frank take him to the hospital, why didn’t he ask anything else about the hallucinations, why did he get hurt in the first place. But instead he- “Why won’t you tell me?” Murdock mumbles, defeated. Frank pointedly doesn’t think of the reason why. The warehouse, Karen, Nelson, the headlines, Fisk, the fake Devil. “Don’t matter if I tell you, you won’t feel it. Gotta remember, Red,” he rubs a palm through his face, “it’s what you gotta do.” Murdock looks about to protest heavily before he exhales shakily. “Do you think-” he stops. Shakes his head. “Say it.” “Do you think that when my head heals...” Red trails off. Frank doesn’t need him to finish the thought to see where’s getting at, though. He looks at him, then, head tilted back to drink the rest of his beer in one go. Looks at the scabbing wound in the side of his head, hiding loose bone held together by flimsy wire, and remembers watching every step of that surgery. Piece by piece of dirt and debris pulled out of the brain and the bone. Doc wasn’t a neurosurgeon, couldn’t do much besides getting the bone in place, hope for the best. Curt, the last time he checked in with him, had thought Murdock’s memory was behaving unusually, that the episodes during the night sounded like flashbacks and, some, night terrors. It indicated trauma, according to him, not TBI-related memory loss. Also said that, besides helping Red reconnect with his environment and memories, he needed to give him a safe space, that he needed a safe way to deal with the traumatic event that led to this. That this had all the signs of being Dissociative amnesia. “Yeah, maybe.” It’s not really a lie, but Red must hear it. Frank waits for him to say anything, ask anything. Stews in the tension and waits for the silence to snap like a rubber band pulled too hard. They don’t speak a word. Red finally takes a swig of his beer.     “I can go with you.” Frank’s heart must be telling Red how not on board he’s with this, pounding furiously on his chest, bruising his damn ribs all over again. Enough that Red tries using that f***ing lawyer voice of his, probably doesn’t even realize he’s doing it. “I’m not going to get in your way but I can handle myself, you know I can-” “F*** that, Red, you can barely tell up from down when you walk up those stairs and you wanna track mercs with me?” Kid was out of his goddamn mind. Frank was seriously considering tying him up to something and leaving him behind. Maybe kill two birds with one stone, chain him to a chimney, get that head of his remembering other times. But if Fisk sent more people this way, he’d be alone and tied up and- sh*t. Not an option. “I’m a good tracker. I’ve been trained to take down enemies under extreme duress, I can-” “Shut up. You shut your mouth.” He doesn’t need a show and tell on the seventy-three shades of f***ed up of the kid’s childhood. Take down enemies under extreme duress, Jesus f***ing Christ. But Red isn’t lying. He may not remember being Daredevil, but his body remembers fighting. Knows fighting. He can be a sweet guy and he puts up a good front, but that’s half of it. There’s the other half - the devil, the soldier, the man he was trained to become. Both tearing at each other as fast as they mingle and overlap. Frank sees it in his tensing muscles, his clenching fists. The gracefully balanced pose he still holds even when way past exhausted or when his migraines hit. Elbows tucked by his waist, ready to attack. Got him imagining Red, scrawny for his age and with the same fiery stubbornness, being taught by that ninja a**hole in a basement. Getting beaten down and jumping up again, cleaning the blood off his nose with small hands and pushing forward, attacking a guy twice his size, unbothered by the power imbalance. Little Red doesn’t get out of his head even when he stares at him, then: very much grown up and, yeah, maybe not exactly tall but built lean and solid more like a martial artist than a brawler like Frank. Still very much easy to pin down. And then he hits that head of his and what will he do? Pick up the pieces of the devil from the ground in the off chance of saving him a second time while every cop and scumbag in the city is after him? But then again, Red won’ stay still. Got enough energy and control over himself now that he won’t just sit back and obey. Better to take the a**hole with him, make sure he doesn’t brain himself trying to follow Frank through rooftops. F***’s sake. Frank grabs at his collar and pulls him close, enough so they’re breathing into each other’s faces. Huffs like a bull against his face and tightens the hold when Red makes a poor attempt at escaping, shows him he has no chance fighting Frank. Not like this. “You disobey one word I say to you once we’re out that door, just one goddamn word-” “Yes, sir.” Frank growls at the taunt in his voice. He misses drowsy doped up Red from a few days ago. “You think this is funny? Those guys, Red, they’re no joke, and I don’t care what f***ed up war you were trained to fight in, kid, you’re in no condition to.” They’ll mow right through you, he thinks, heart pounding, and you won’t stand a chance. Useless trying to make Red understand risks. He never did. Or if he did, he never let that stop him. “You’ll do what I say, when I say it, the way I say it, do you understand?” “Yes, Frank.” He lets go of him when the air becomes two hot between their faces, rubs at the back of his scalp. The thought of Red, those mercenaries and the warehouse flash like lightning. “Goddamn it.” No coming back now. He produces a spare knife and shoves it at Red. Isn’t surprised at the disapproving frown. “You need it you use it, got it?” “I’m not killing-” For crying out loud- “You don’t need to kill sh*t. You’re down for the count but you’re a fighter, Red, you know where to hit and you hit goddamn hard.” Red’s look changes, turns curious. Frank knows that look. Frank just threw him a bone and Red won’t stop chewing on it until he gets to the marrow. “Did I fight you before?” He sighs. There’s no use lying when Red will know. “Yeah.” “You said I was a lawyer.” Frank evades the question, turns around to check his gear once again before they leave. “You said you were trained.” “No, don’t do that, tell me- ” “Got no time, Red, you know? We’re leaving-” Murdock slams his hand on the table, a mug breaks - Frank hadn’t seen him coming. Had forgotten how fast he was. How quiet he could be. It’s the first time he sees the Devil in those hazel-green eyes since the warehouse. The first time he thinks the kid might use that knife to gut him open like a fish. He sees him hold himself back from pouncing on the last second, his knuckles strain under his skin, his muscles twitch. The strength and the technique is there, but his body can’t handle it and Red knows it. “I have a right to know something that concerns me.” “Got nothing to say to you, Murdock, I told you before-” “Bullsh*t! It’s my life, my life , that you’re keeping from me!” Frank slams his own gun down. “You’re goddamn right I am!” It’s enough to shut Red up, taken aback. Even f***ing angry like he is, Frank’s can’t take the sight of those youthful doe eyes of his. Those sutures in his head. His goddamn head. “Didn’t ask for permission, Red, and I’m not begging for forgiveness, not now. I sure as hell didn’t ask to be here.” Red’s hand slides off the desk. Hangs lifelessly by his thigh. “Why are you then?” Frank rubs at his scalp and turns his back to him, collecting his handgun and shoving it in the holster. “Because it’s my fault, Matt.” He shakes his head, refuses to look back as he strolls purposefully to the door. “It’s my own goddamn fault.”     The ride is silent. Frank would usually opt for walking, the bar’s at a forty minutes distance if he’s going at breakneck pace, but it’s not an option with Red’s head still on the mend. Certainly not a good idea if they need to make another hasty escape. Calling Karen had been a good idea. She gave him what she knew about the dead bodies mysteriously disappearing from the morgue before they could be processed and the FBI is, apparently, unaware of it. There was no mention or even a rumor of the shooting at Red’s place around the New York Bulletin. Only reason she knew about it was because a neighbor of Red’s, former client, called her when she came home to find the the wall full of bullet holes. Other neighbors she talked to mentioned giving statements to two cops in particular and told that they should keep quiet since it was part of an ongoing investigation. Someone was covering their tracks. And if Frank’s info checked out, Fisk’s appeal had suspiciously fast-tracked a few steps. Evidence proving his innocence notably appearing out of thin air. It wasn’t anything too big to get him out of prison yet, but if Frank knew one thing about Wilson Fisk, is that he knew how to play the long game. He shoots a glance at the desolate picture slumped on his passenger seat and huffs. Decides to throw him a bone before that kicked f***ing puppy abandoned-in-the-rain look got under his skin. “A while back, Red, you... you helped on the arrest of this scumbag, Wilson Fisk.” That gets him a delicate slant of his head, curious eyes peeking owlishly up. Fingers twitch - the gesture is gone too quickly for Frank to unravel it. “Guy was a piece of sh*t. Think he was charged with some white collar crimes, but the stuff you couldn’t prove, Red. He got a lot of people killed. Had a network, a lot of bad guys under his hand. You put him there, Red. And a bunch of corrupt cops and politicians. Did a good job too, from what I heard.” Matt offers him a small genuine smile in the admittedly poor attempt at appeasing. It fades too soon. “But a few weeks ago, he made a deal with the Feds. Offering intel on his competition, some major players in the city. Got himself a deal to keep his girl clean. Got shanked right after that too.” “On purpose, I’d imagine,” the quick-witted little bastard mumbles, turning his head back to the window. Frank nods, if only to test those senses of his. Not surprisingly, Red notices it. “Where is he now?” “A penthouse,” the word comes out as a derisive scoff, hands squeezing around the steering wheel, leather creaking under the pressure. “Watched 24/7, or so they say. But it don’t sound good, Red. Guy’s too much for the Feds, the system can’t handle ‘im.” Well, actually Frank didn’t think the system was equipped to deal with anything more serious than armed robberies, didn’t think there was any place for rapists, murderers and scumbags like Fisk to “reform” or “pay”. People like them, for Frank, there was only one way to pay. “Why is he coming after me?” Isn’t that the question. How the hell did he manage to connect the dots between Matt Murdock and Daredevil when, so far, most people didn’t? Frank had done so by chance. Recognized those plush pink lips and the smooth, velvety tone: May I call you Frank? With that vulnerable intonation of someone trying too damn hard to help something that’s beyond saving. And then once he saw it, he saw everything. The purposeful drag of his shoulders, making himself smaller - and when he forgot himself, his posture would change, his jaw would set tight, elbows tucked in, spine straight. He doubted himself for a good while, too, until he spotted him through his scope on that rooftop. “You put him in that cage, Red, but I don’t know the details. Hadn’t met you back then.” Murdock mulls over the information with a thoughtful pose, nails picking at the delicate webbing between each finger. Thumb from time to time rubbing at his knuckles. A nervous tic of some kind. Frank tongues away the bad taste in his mouth, the back of his front teeth. “I remember someone dead,” he stops moving, shoulders tense. Waits for Red to continue. “A woman. An old woman. Was it him?” “You remember, huh?” That was new. Red’s been getting better, but he’s still a mess. The indifference he showed during the first week in relation to his lost memories was gone, too. Kid was trying. Hard. “I was-” He takes a deep breath and tries again. “I was standing in a morgue, I was.. furious. And- and I felt guilty. I could smell her, she hadn’t been dead for long. Someone was crying, I think, but I don’t remember who. I don’t remember anything. God damn it- ” “Hey,” kid is holding his head again, fingertips lightly tracing the edges around the wound. “Hey, take it easy.” “I’m fine.” He doesn’t look it. His body sways lightly as if fighting off vertigo, his face lost color, his lips wobble before he bites down on the lower one. Slowly lets go. “I’m fine.” Frank keeps his eyes on the road and his ears on the passenger seat, alert for another breakdown until Red finally slants back. Dipping his head to rest against the cushioned seat. He’s careful when he asks. “What else you got?” Red sighs before answering. “I remember her, I don’t remember the Fisk guy. Ahm. I remember... a warehouse of some sort. By the docks. I was really hurt. And there was something burning. I jumped through a window, I think, or crashed into one, but-” he huffs in frustration. Frank nods in acknowledgment. That seems to get Murdock out of his head. “What else do you know about Fisk?” The marine only sighs. “Not the time now, Red,” and it isn’t. The bar matches Karen’s description and, if her info was right, at least three of the mercs that turned up dead on Red’s place frequented the place, including Martin Wallace, the leader Frank shot in the knee. He can’t take Red inside, though. Even without his beard, Frank still has a chance that Martin and Army Jacket lady didn’t recognize him in the middle of the firefight. Has a small chance that the a**holes inside won’t, either - people usually only recognize the skull. He stops a block away from the place, turns the engine off and sighs. Now to the hard part: “Red, you gotta stay her-” “You won’t go alone.” Christ Jesus- “Yeah, I will. And no offense, Red? But you’re no good as back-up right now.” Murdock scowls, those pretty lips twisting down. “I thought we talked about this.” “No, Red,” he takes his gun out of the holster and checks the mag before shoving it back in. “You talked about it. Ran your mouth like ya always do. I said you could come, I didn’t say we’d play Batman and Robin. Now you stay inside-” “You can’t go in there alone!” “I can and I will, Red, for f***’s sake. What happens when I have to use this, huh?” He asks, waving the handgun around. Red’s expression changes. “Yeah, you’ll either freeze or panic, Red, and I ain’t judging you on that, but I can’t have you on my conscience-” “I’ll wait on the rooftop, then.” Frank stares at him in disbelief. “In the roo- What the f*** do you mean, you’ll be on the rooftop? You and your f***ed up head, you wanna hang around rooftops? You’re out of your goddamn mind-” Murdock just frowns with that determined expression of his that had him taken aback more than once before, and earned his respect way too many times for comfort. Frank can’t look away from the strength Red manages to gather even then - so much like wild fire, burning everything it touches, and f*** if he's not getting burned alive, too.  He shakes his head, heartbeat erratic. Rubs at the back of his head. No way he’s stopping the kid from doing what he wants to short of tying him up or knocking him down. Damn if he doesn’t want to. He takes the spare burner he arranged for in his supply run, dropping it on Red’s palm. “You stay here, you listen close.” F***’s sake, terrible idea. “You hear anything suspicious, you call, if I need you, I tell you. If I say I don’t, Red, if I tell you to stay, you stay. I don’t care what happens inside that place, I don’t care what you think you gotta do, I tell you to run away, you run. Do you understand? Do you, Red? Because if you don’t just say it, I ain’t scraping your body off the floor again, I’m not doing that.” Murdock considers him carefully, his expression softening slightly. Frank wants to wipe it off his face. “Yes, but,” ah, f***, “if you get in trouble, I’m coming in.” “ If I tell you to stay,” Frank gets as close to him as he can without taking a bite of those goddamn lips, “you stay.” Murdock’s eyes flash, staring back fearlessley. Frank growls under his breath before standing up and slamming the door shut. No f***ing way Red will stay put.     He’s still trying to pick apart the aggressiveness from the sheer worry he caught on Frank’s voice when the creak of a door opening and closing a few yards away gets his attention. “Whatever is on tap.” The marine grumbles, Matt tilts his head towards him, picking apart the sound of the gun clinking against his belt when he sits on the bar stool. The wood whines softly under the added weight. “Looking for work, amigo?” The woman has a thick accent and a deep voice, she sounds tall, but he’s too far to make sense of it. “Nah. Buddy of mine? Got his crew slashed to pieces, tryna find what the f*** happened.” “You mean Marty, yeah?” “Yeah, I was outta town for a while, find out he was shot...” Matthew is reluctantly impressed with how easily Frank blends in, how his body language shifts and adapts, even his vocabulary. He’s good at reading the environment, the people around him. Good at playing them, too. He heard that once, right? I look scared to you? Frank was tied up, wasn’t he? Matt remembered coming in and Frank had been a mess, his lips were bloody, he had broken ribs, his foot was... what had happened to his foot? One batch, two batch- Why was he there? He was Frank’s lawyer, he met him at the hospital. Why would he go after him alone? “Last I heard, Marty took his crew and went after some white collar lawyer, King’s orders. No one knows what happened much, some people think it was the Devil.” “Daredevil?” “Yeah. I don’t know much about it but you saw what happened at the warehouse on 47 th . Guy flipped.” Wrongness creeps into his guts and his skin crawls, immediately zoning out of the conversation. His brain turns to static, his ears focus solely on the dizzying sound of blood rushing through his veins. Feels his skin itching in all the places he can’t scratch, knuckles creaking with how he clenches his fists. He does his inventory again. Frank had suggested the idea after he suddenly came up with some memory exercises, which he’s quite sure his friend (what was his name again?) had been the one to pass it on. What does he know? He knows Frank told him he was a lawyer. He knows there were suits and ties and case files on his apartment. He knows that he trained for the war for years. He doesn’t remember how many it was. He doesn’t know if Stick left or not. He thinks that he did. He knows Frank told him he didn’t have family but that he had friends, he knows no one has come looking for him until now. He knows Frank Castle is a mass murderer. A vigilante. A man tortured by loss who, somehow, thought Matt’s life was worth saving. He knows Wilson Fisk wants him dead. He knows he was Frank’s lawyer, but Frank said they fought before. He was there when Frank got tortured (by who? Why?). Frank knows about his enhanced senses (how?). Matt tilts his head back and, like he did all the other days since Frank’s memory exercises became a thing, tries to build chronology. Dad and Lindsey before the accident. Accident before Stick. Stick before High School. High School before bombings, before the burning man. All of that before Frank. Murdock’s always get back up. Grandma died. Dad tells him not to waste food, they’re both a bit skinny. Lindsey shares lunch with him. She’s his only friend. He drowns on the pool, Dad comes to save him. He drowns on the river, no one comes to save him- A man crosses the street ( I can’t see, he remembers screaming, I can’t see) , chemicals burning, his hands bright red, collecting around his eyes, ears, nose, mouth. The sheets on the hospital bed feel like sandpaper. “Hey, Mia, who’s this joker?” He heard his Dad win on TV. He waits for him on the kitchen so they can celebrate together. He hears the gunshot. He runs to the alley- “Marty’s pal. Was askin’ me about what happened at the lawyer’s.” The nice lady officer talks to him. Someone takes him home to pack his things. There’s nowhere for him to go, they take him to St. Agnes. Sister Maggie guides him inside. Everything was too loud. “Huh. Marty never mentioned ya.” “Just back.” “Military?” “Former.” “Don’t I know it.” And then everything is a blur. Vague recollections here and there. He kept training, he went to college. He walked inside an office space and- He can have the view. He said that. He remembers saying that- “Wait wait wait, I know you-” “F***!” “It’s the Punisher!” “Put the gun d-” Bang. Matt immediately jumps up and out of the car, listening hard through the vertigo of moving too quickly. Tries to track down the heartbeat he’s been waking up to for what feels like forever. A whispered voice. “Stay, Red, don’t you dare-” a grunt and the sound of knuckles against flesh. Another gunshot, and Matt is stuck to the sidewalk, shaking, mind going blank just right to the point that it all comes rushing in. Frank’s in danger. “Don’t you f***ing dare, Red, stay there-” Another gunshot, his legs shake. He can’t. He can’t stand there and listen to him die. Can’t wait back and listen to him get hurt. He’s slamming the car shut and running towards the bar in a second, following the sound of Frank’s heartbeat. Stick’s voice hammering down the break in his skull: get up and fight. He finds a window in the back. As long as he manages to hide his presence, he’s got the higher ground. Wounded and in disadvantage or not. So he’s careful to slip through the window quietly, taking the knife out because he stands no chance against the vertigo if he throws a kick. The blade whistles through the air, perfectly sharpened. The room smells of mold and dust, a refrigerator hums, stacked with frozen meat and foods Matt can’t identify by scent. The first person he finds stands at the short hallway by a bathroom, heartbeat speeding up and a gun in his hand, a thick bandana around his neck. There’s too many people inside the main room. Matt can’t risk him making a sound. He grabs him on a choke hold instead, and avoids a headbutt against his fractured skull by sheer dumb luck, squeezing the man’s neck tighter until he goes pliant and slumps on the ground. Another gunshot rings, someone screams in pain and falls to the ground. Matt rips the man’s bandana and folds it, doesn’t question himself for a second as he covers his eyes with it. The cloth stinks of cigarettes and muscle memory kicks in as he carefully ties it around his head, loose enough not to press against the break. “Jesus Christ-” Frank sees him before anyone else does. By then, Matt’s already slashing the tendons from a guy’s shin and dislocating two knees from another one, the movement making his brain feel liquid inside his skull. He thinks he almost faints, vomit rising up to his tongue before he swallows it back down. He keeps moving - Frank’s already bleeding. In between curling down to escape a gunshot, Matt keeps track of the man’s injuries (broken nose, bruising cheekbone, bleeding lip, knife wound in upper arm and right knee). Matt has to take him out of there. A man lunges with a broken bottle and Frank just barely manages to escape it. Matt’s senses can’t follow it all, he dodges a kick and gets hit by another before he slashes at someone’s shin, once, twice, until they go down. He kicks them on the face, hears something break (zygomatic bone and a teeth) and the man falls unconscious. By then, Frank’s got the broken bottle stuck to the man’s face as the other screams and goes down. He gets lost in the noise. Doesn’t know how. Maybe because he’s too worried about keeping people away from Frank, he doesn’t pay enough attention to his immediate surroundings. He’s hazy but fights purely on instinct - takes an arm and breaks it, kicks the back of their knees and dislocates the other arm. Elbows them in the face, the person goes down. Two people come at him at once, and Matt’s barely managed to dodge the first before the second one’s brains are all over his face, Frank having shot her with a borrowed shotgun. There are sirens coming near. They’re outnumbered. Frank’s hurt. He tries to kick the first guy, the one smelling of cocaine and cheap beer, but he’s twice his size and Matt’s losing the battle to his pounding migraine, the nausea and uncoordinated muscles and Stick’s voice, weak, get up, get up and fight. “Red!” He’s kicked in the back as he attempts crawling away and a rib protests, his arms stop responding, Matt immediately curls around his head. Someone kneels in his chest and he gasps in agony, something breaks, Matt screams. “Hey! Hey, get off him, you a**hole, I’m right here! Come an’ get me!” “Whiz, it’s the guy! Take the jeep ‘round the back!” Cocaine and Cheap Beer makes some kind of gesture, the words muffled in his own overgrown beard, but the pain chomps at his ribs, and Matt’s lungs won’t work properly. He can hear the rib creak and shift. Stray tears run down his face as he gasps again. It hurts and he should use the pain to ground him, bring him back to the fight, but his head is so, so heavy- “HEY! If you touch him you’re dead!” Frank’s roar feels too far, echoes distantly. He slashes a man’s throat and punches another before he’s held back by two, three other people and Matt has to fight. Get to work, Dad tells him, get to work. And he tries, muscles jump and spasm as he tries getting up as soon as the pressure on his chest alleviates, only to have a large booted foot stepping down on his neck. He wheezes, choking in coughs that can’t come out, fumbling to hold onto the foot pressing him down, trying to push it away as he squirms. Moving makes his ribs burn and shift but he can’t breathe. He can’t, can’t breathe, can’t move, can’t fight, can’t help Frank, can’t- “Hey, hey hey let him go! Let him go! I’m gonna watch you die, you hear me? I’m gonna watch you die, you piece of sh*t!” The pressure under his eyes increase, his lungs deflate and burn until there’s nothing else, his fingers stop responding, his arms do too. There are bright spots of pain all over him. Vaguely, he thinks he’s never heard Frank sound so desperate. He comes to it and he’s being dragged away. Frank’s still being held back as he fights. Every time he puts someone down there’s another. Someone pulls the black cloth from his eyes. Who does this guy think he is, Daredevil? Nah, Daredevil- “RED!” Frank’s voice is far. Matt feels the damp atmosphere of the room from which he got inside the bar. Frank’s voice shatters as he fights against the people holding him back and then there’s gunshots, several. He hears five bodies fall, someone screams, more shooting. Frank drops low. “Goddamn it, RED!” But Matt is already in the alleyway by the bar. His back dragging against grimy concrete until red-bright pain shoots through his shoulder blades and back and he thinks he screams. One of the two men dragging him laughs. Broken glass from the bottles discarded by the dumpster now stuck deep to his skin, Matt feels the world shift and go dim, flickering in and out of focus. The Devil is just at the edge. Weak, he says, a voice that sounds like Matt’s at the same time it reminds him of Stick, get up and fight. The world tilts, he’s dropped against metal, the impact jostles the broken rib and the big pieces of glass and he chokes out a moan. The Devil smiles, hovers over him as the doors close. Will you let them get away with it? He asks, face comes so close to his, it might as well be his own; you’re soft. Get up. Fight. Time passes as the world moves. He’s too heavy, still wheezing to breath, throat swelling and hot from the abuse. The shards puncturing his skin shift with every breath and so does his broken rib. His head pounds, his lungs burn. Get up and fight. It feels like he’s far out of his own body when he finally does. Adrenaline burns like fuel through the pain, he jumps at the driver and grabs him from behind in a choke hold. The car swings to the left before the man, Whiz, gets it on the road. Cocaine punches him on the mouth before Matt manages to kick him in the face, his ribs scream at the movement. Matt’s not strong enough to knock him out as efficiently as he usually would. Which is why Whiz manages to choke: “Shoot him-” “We need him alive to get the money!” “They’ll kill him any-” he strengthens the hold, Whiz chokes, the car swings left and right. Cocaine aims at kicking him right in his broken ribs, and keeps kicking, Matt growls, bone cracks, Cocaine keeps kicking. Another crack, but Matt’s at home in the pain. He smiles sharply through bloody teeth, the driver finally goes out. Cocaine jumps to get a hold of the steering wheel and Matt lets the Devil out. He digs his fingers into Cocaine’s beard and hair and drags him away from the wheel, leans back to kick him hard enough in the face to send his head through the window. He’s knocked out cold. Whiz wakes up with a wheezing inhale, flails just enough for Matt to be unable to get a hold of him before he clenches his hands on the wheel. An elbow is launched at his face and he feels blood trickle down his nose. Pressure builds in his lungs from not enough air passing through his swollen trachea. Despite Whiz’s best efforts, the jeep derails. Matt’s ribs are shoved right against the passenger’s seat, jostling the break. He screams, Whiz’s nails dig into his forearms. The car side hits the safety highway fence before spinning left and crashing into a lamppost. Matt’s body lurches forward towards the windshield, he loses consciousness.     He should’ve f***ing known Red wouldn’t stay put. Murdock would rather put his neck on a ringer to hearing someone get hurt and do nothing. That’s exactly the bullsh*t that put them here in the first place. But they took Red. They’re going to f***ing die. Frank digs his hands around the knife trying to gut him and pulls the shaggy man back with a roar. Takes the handle and stabs it through his eye. Finds his gun forgotten on the floor and shoots the next two coming at him. Through the window, he can see the jeep taking of, a trail of blood left on the back doors. Turns back to the room - there’s still six a**holes in the room with him. He shoves the gun with the empty clip back on his pants, pulls the knife out of Shaggy’s corpse. “Come on,” he growls, “come on.” The only a**hole with any remaining ammo tries to shoot him, but kid can’t aim for sh*t. He’s by far the youngest among the others. He disarms him quickly, breaks his wrist before he takes the gun to himself and shoots two heads and a stomach before running out of bullets. Shoves the gun away. “Come on!” He roars. Frank barely feels it as he mows through them, punching and stabbing and breaking necks and arms. Gets a knife stuck to his hip but barely feels it. He has one mission, put all of them down. He leaves the kid for last, shaking and cradling a broken wrist, looking younger than he probably was. Frank lips his way, huffing like a bull as applies pressure to the skin around the knife in his hip, pulling it out with a shout. “Who came to you?” “W-what?” Frank puts the crimson-covered knife against his neck. “Gonna give you one more chance, kid. You either take it or you don’t, your choice.” “I I I don’t know man, I don’t know what you’re- oh God!” He steps on his ankle, makes sure to press down on it until the kid screams and goes down. The guy babbles and screams through tears. “Okay, okay okay okay-“ “Fisk, he hired some of you to kill the lawyer, who came to you?” “This weird British dude, man, I don’t know his name, I don’t- I SWEAR! I don’t- please!” “You have something, man, better sell it.” Red’s running out of time and Frank’s running out of patience. This only ends one way, but the kid doesn’t have to know that yet. “He- He’ll kill me, man.” “I won’t be that generous.” The desperation sets in quick. “Look, I’m not lying, I swear, this guy came to us, told Marty to find the lawyer, said he’d pay us good, that’d Fisk would owe us a favor, that we’d get protection from the Feds-” Frank’s fingers loosen around the knife before he clenches the handle tightly. “And then the agent dude came and asked Marty about-” “Agent?” “Yeah, man, a Fed,” Frank leans back slightly, looking down at the man, searching for any lie in his face. “Blonde dude with a psycho smile, wanted to know how the lawyer got away, who was with him. That’s all I know man, I swear-” Frank nods. Looks down at the man, couldn’t be in his thirties yet. Red would- Sh*t. Frank turns away, marching out from the bloodied bar and to his car. There are sirens approaching and no goddamn sign of Red.     He calls Micro when he loses the tracks three blocks away from the bar. He goes back to the safe house and he waits, trigger finger tapping against his upper thigh, muscles jumping, jaw working. He waits until he’s about ready to jump off of his skin. Two hours later, it pays off. As soon as David’s text message pops on the screen, Frank’s down the stairs and slamming the car door closed. The address is close to the High Bridge, a few blocks from it. They were either taking him to the Bronx or out of the city altogether. Lieberman warns him beforehand, so he’s not surprised by the crash scene. He is, however, taken aback by the abandoned cop car by a tall tree. He doesn’t find the big bearded guy or the shaggy haired one that took Red as he approaches the van. No body. Although he does find brains and blood splattered all over the windshield. Someone got shot in the head. His heartbeat doubles, his body snaps alive. This is not happening, goddamn it. No way- “Goddamn you, Red.” He calls Lieberman with his heart perched underneath his Adam’s apple, pounding unsteadily. “David, I need you to-” “Frank, you gotta get out of there.” He frowns, mostly by the urgency he detects. “What’s going on?” “The masked guy you’re looking for, he just left the crash site fifty minutes ago-” he thinks his pressure drops too suddenly, black spots threatening to show up at the corners of his eyes, pinches the bridge of his nose to get back in the game. “Now, there’s units being dispatched to your location, because the cops who got there, sh*t, sh*t sh*t sh*t-” “Spit it out, Lieberman.” “The car, look at the car!” “What-” but he doesn’t need to ask more. Frank saw and did things that haunted him sometimes, at night. Not as much as his family’s death, but ghosts all the same. Occasionally, he was still surprised. Two cops got there alright. He finds them both in their respective seats, eyes carved out of their skulls and placed on their laps like some sick joke. Frank cusses under his breath at the state of them - stomach shot through, the most painful way to die in his opinion. Hands tied behind their backs, so they can do nothing about it. “You see who did this?” He rasps against the speaker, taking a step further to find their wallets. They were still warm. “No, the cameras went down for twenty minutes. Right after your masked friend ran away.” Frank sighs, feeling for a pulse he knows he won’t find. They’ve been dead for a while. “I’ll call you later.” “Just... soon, Frank.” He huffs a breath through his nose. “Yeah.” One thing he knows, they were placed here. They didn’t die in the car, there wasn’t enough blood for that. Displayed. For either Red to find or him. Which either way meant Fisk knew. Frank opens the wallets, turning them around to pull both driver licenses out. He reads the first one, his jaw clenches. He looks around again, checking for anyone hanging out, before opening the second one. He closes it with a snap. F***. Fisk knows. He had suspected the bald a**hole did, but this is enough confirmation. Fisk wants him or, most likely, Red to know he does. Wants to mess with his head, get him to do something stupid. He looks at the licenses again. Cusses under his breath. Matthew Ramirez, the first one says. Richard Murdoch, says the second. He rubs his palm down his face with a curse, throwing both wallets back but keeping the driver’s licenses in his hands. Left with two dead bodies displayed like some next-level psychopathic bullsh*t he didn’t Fisk was capable of, a message he has no idea how to take and no sign of Red. For the hundredth time that day, he calls the burner phone he gave Murdock. There’s still blood on his knee where he did a hack job of stitching the knife slash closed. He picks at the blood stained denim. For the first time, the line connects. “Red?” “Frank,” crushing weight suddenly lifts from his shoulders, he closes his eyes, pressing the phone tight to his ear. “Frank, don’t know where I am.” “That’s fine,” he swallows thickly at the small, blank voice echoing close to his ear. He’s either dissociating or he lost too much blood. “It’s alright, Red, why don’t you try describing the place to me, yeah?” “Popcorn, peanuts, cotton candy.” Not very helpful, but Frank will take it. “There’s a... there’s a carousel, I think. I’m, I’m - I’m sitting by... I don’t know where I am.” Frank inhales brokenly, bloody fingernails reaching to scratch at the back of his scalp. Wonders how did Red’s messed up brains took him there of all places. “I’m coming to find you, yeah? Just stay where you are.” “Kay.” “Red,” he sounds too weak, that’s no good. “Sunshine, are you hurt too bad?” No answer, Frank starts moving, closes the car door one handed as he presses the phone to his shoulder, turning the engine on. “Red, I need you to tell me, are you hurt?” “There’s.. glass. Glass in my back. Broken rib. My wrist hurts. My throat hurts, s’hot.” “Alright. I’m coming, we’ll take care of ya, just stay there, Red.” Frank disconnects the call and chances a glance at the two bodies displayed inside the cop car. The city was about to burn and it didn’t even know. A text message from David arrives when he’s on his way to Central Park with some pictures of Red in surveillance cameras heading to the carousel and a link to a video on Twitter. Punisher sighted at bar massacre. He turns off the phone and focuses on driving.  NOISE   There is a buzz in my right ear that never goes away, no matter how hard I hit the side of my head for loose change. Most mornings I wonder who I can pray to that will make sure I never have to survive waking again.   Lisa’s voice is a hammer working through his skull trying to break out from the moment he turns off the car. He’s staring at the grass then, eyes fixed to it, to the fences, remembering her little feet running around there for the first time. She hated shoes at that age, learned to take them off months before she learned to speak Dada . She was two? No, Frank missed her second birthday. Went to Iraq with her still sleeping most of the day and came back to her crawling all around the house and taking her first steps. Broke down on the shower after she started crying, didn’t recognize him. No, she was three. Maria was having a hard time at the office and Frank took on most of the chores when he was home. Started taking Lisa to the park almost every day. He showed her the bugs. She was terrified of butterflies and ants and grasshoppers, but for some reason she was fascinated with the ladybugs. Frank never knew what exactly she found so amazing about them, but her little body would light up and she’d squeal and clap excitedly at every single one she found. Sitting there on his car, he could feel the ghost of her weight over his shoulders. The feeling of holding on to her little legs, running around the grass and hunting for bugs. She loves rubbing her soft little palms over his shaved head. Fuzzy head Daddy, she’d say. The sound of the “z” coming off more like a “sh”. Fushy head Daddy. He had a twinge on his shoulder back then, from dislocating it overseas, but he’d hold her forever on his back even if the pain killed him. He leaves the car with a lump tight in his throat. Walks past the entry gate where he could still hear Lisa’s and Frankie’s laughter sometimes and heads to the carousel with the weight of Frank Castle’s corpse on his shoulders instead of the ghost of Lisa’s - father, husband, marine. He doesn’t look at the grass, there are no ladybugs in the trees. Red is on the same wooden bench Frank had sat on, couple of years back, knowing the Irish were coming for him. Dad, dad, look! “Your family,” Frank closes his eyes at Red’s weak voice, his neck mottled with bruises and slightly swollen. Frank finally turns his whole attention to him. “It was here.” Frank suddenly wants them both to leave this place. Stop staining their memories with the now. But he can’t fight the tide. God knows he can’t fight Red by this point. “Yeah,” he looks down at his own hands. Can’t pick the blood away from his fingernails. It’s stuck to him now. “It was.”After a minute that takes too long, he stands up, restless. His back turned to the carousel and his front to Red, he crouches in the floor, daring to put a hand around Red’s right knee. There’s a huge, nasty bruise forming all over and around his neck and Frank wants to kill them all over again. “Gotta get you out of the street, Red,” Fisk’s men are probably looking all over for him. And half the city’s scumbags too. They had to disappear for a while - lay low. Frank finds Red’s cold hands with his, stained with blood just as his own. His eyes reflect the carousel lights, the few that are still on; almost like he’s watching it. Almost like he can hear what Frank can, too - the song, his kids’ laughter, the screams, the gunfire. “There’s,” Matt swallows thickly through a lump in his throat, and Frank sighs at the tears he can see reflect light. “There’s this noise in my head. Sometimes I think I know what it is, but-” He chokes down a sob, his whole chest moving and straining with the effort and Frank instinctively brings him closer, tightens his hold around his hands. “It won’t stop and I don’t know why-” Frank gathers him by the nape and brings their foreheads together, hissing softly at the pain when their noses bump. “Just listen to me right now, Red, yeah? You can do that. Just me, now.” Holds him up, like he did so many of his men when they got lost in the gunfire. Like he held Maria and his kids, once. Doesn’t know how to give half of the things he knew how before - comfort, the easy affection and trust. Can’t find it when he thinks about it and doesn’t try, not usually. “You listening?” “Yeah.” “What can you hear?” In a whisper now, right by his ear. Brings him to bury his face in his shoulder. “Your heart,” Matt mumbles, “your lungs, your breathing, your bones,” he shuffles forward, shaking with the effort it takes. “Your heart,” he repeats, a hand fisting the back of his jacket tightly. “Yeah,” he rasps out, looks at the sky so he doesn’t have to stare at the grass and the trees. Holds Red’s face cradled against his shoulder for a little while more. Just a little more. “We gotta go, Red, c’mon.”     Frank can’t always distinguish the emotional flashbacks from the mood swings, even if they happen a lot. This time, it catches Frank unaware. He doesn’t know what sets it off - if it’s sheer exhaustion or if it’s something he hears that Frank can’t. He’s bandaging Red’s ribs in silence, carefully as to not upset his injured back, when suddenly the redhead is full-out weeping. “I’m sorry, sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry-” “Sh*t, Red, not this sh*t again.” A strangled sound leaves him, like he’s being torn apart, and Frank’s head is a wasps nest, a beehive buzzing and slamming around inside his skull as he finishes taping his broken ribs. “Sorry, sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry-” He catches Matt by the forearms and holds him together as much as he can as he watches him fall apart. By then, Red’s speech is barely coherent and Frank has no idea how to snap him out of it. Fat, heavy teardrops washing him blood-stained cheeks. “Sorry, I’m sorry-“ “Stop that, you’re okay,” he cradles him as much as he can. There was little of Red that wasn’t either injured or bruised, including that neck of his that got his voice so weak and thin. “I got you, Red, you’re alright. Calm down, now.” He does stop, minutes later, when his body is drained and he’s not all there. Frank guides the redhead to his cot and he falls into deep slumber. Stares at the stretch of pink, shiny scar tissue in his head for hours. His cup of coffee grows cold in his grasp.     Frank wakes up to a repetitive sound during the night and immediately reaches out for a light, checking on the cot for Red, hands fumbling to find him and to tether him to the now. Had been more tired than he realized, probably blood loss. The pains and aches finally find him now that the adrenaline’s passed. He doesn’t find Matt. Only cold sheets.

Duty Driven (Taken/Busy IRL)

03/19/2023 05:03 PM 

here is my hand that will not harm you

Summary: It starts the day they assign him to Laura Morse. It starts as something he wants nothing to do with. And then, it becomes something more. Notes: It's the return of epic long fics! If you've been a longtime reader of my work, you know how much I love Laura Barton. So the Hawkeye show giving us real Laura Barton history and making her a bigger part of the universe was literally the best gift I could've asked for. I knew I needed and wanted to write something with this new canon, and then a friend mentioned she needed to see Laura working at SHIELD with Clint and Natasha before becoming the Laura we first meet in Age of Ultron. And once the idea took hold I couldn't stop it, and an entirely new origin story was unfolding. I started writing this around the middle of Hawkeye, after it was revealed that Laura clearly was something more than just a farm mom, and I'm so happy I finally get to share it. Thank you to Kat for beta and for basically helping me figure out this monster when I needed input the most and for all our emotions, you are literally the best.     It starts the day they assign him to Laura Morse. “We’ve got a handler,” Clint announces to Natasha during their morning coffee break, throwing the folder on the table with an exasperated sigh. Natasha looks up from her caramel macchiato and raises an eyebrow, foam decorating the top of her lip. “We already have a handler. Remember? Annoying white guy who likes to make dad jokes?” “Yeah, I’m not talking about Coulson,” Clint responds, collapsing into the seat across from her. “They’re hooking us up with another SHIELD agent. Some person to be on the ground and actually help run our missions from the inside, as opposed to just getting us extraction when we’re f***ed over.” Natasha looks confused, her eyes narrowing into slits. “Wow. Where’s Fury’s confidence in Strike Team: Delta?” “You can ask him after our meeting,” Clint says, heaving out a sigh as he reaches for her drink. “Which we apparently have in ten minutes.” “Oh, well.” Natasha grabs the coffee from his hands before he can take a sip, and Clint shoves his lips into a pout as she smirks. “I guess I should really caffeinate myself.” She pointedly puts the cup against her lips, sipping lightly, and Clint groans as he slumps further down in his seat. “We don’t need a f***ing handler, Natasha! We’ve been going out in the field and doing missions for three years! I mean, you’re a damn Red Room assassin!” “My favorite qualification,” Natasha says dryly, pushing curly red hair out of her eyes. “Obviously someone does think we need one if we’re being assigned one.” “Yeah, and I’m gonna make sure they know exactly how wrong they are,” Clint informs her, crossing his arms in childish defiance. Natasha rolls her eyes, sitting forward and leveling her gaze. “Clint, I’m not exactly thrilled about this news either. But if we have a handler, we have a handler. Look on the bright side, okay? Maybe she’s hot.” Clint gives her a wary look. “Since when are you into women?” “Since you started annoying me,” Natasha shoots back with a small grin, kicking him lightly under the table. “Also, I was talking about you. You could really use a girlfriend.” “And you want my girlfriend to be a SHIELD agent I already hate?” Clint asks dubiously. “Besides, I don’t need a friend. Girl. I have you.” Natasha makes a face. “Your best friend slash SHIELD agent slash partner is not a substitute for a healthy relationship with someone who deserves to know you inside and out and give you the things you want in life as a normal human being who doesn’t shoot arrows at people,” she returns pointedly, all in one breath. Clint huffs out a sarcastic laugh. “So you’re playing matchmaker now?” “I’m just stating facts,” Natasha replies smoothly. “You didn’t hear it from me, but Debra in accounting has been looking at you lately. And I know Sarah at reception was asking me for information on the times you go to the gym…I can’t imagine she’s interested in working out.” “Ugh,” Clint mutters, trying to reach unsuccessfully for her coffee again. “It’s like these people never saw a half-attractive SHIELD agent before I got here.” “I’d wager to bet that’s true,” Natasha answers. “Have you seen Sitwell and Rumlow? They’re not exactly lookers.” Clint sighs again and looks around before he glances back down at the table, where the unopened folder is still lying between them. “I’m gonna make Laura’s life a living hell,” he declares, and Natasha snorts from the other end of the table. “Oh, I’m sure she’s counting on it.”   ***   The first time Clint meets Laura, it doesn’t exactly go well. For one thing, he’s more than aware that he’s being bitchy about this whole handler thing. He’d complained to Coulson, who had essentially ignored him and told him to take it up with Fury. He’d complained to Fury, who had read him a riot act about who exactly was in charge of the paycheck that allowed him to eat every day. He’d complained to Natasha, who endured his whining until she finally shut him up telling him that he was acting like a child and if he didn’t grow up, she’d find another agent to work with. So he grudgingly listens and pulls his act together as best he can in terms of trying not to feel too annoyed about the whole thing, but he’s also aware that he can’t hide his displeasure when he sits down in Laura’s office, even as Natasha keeps shooting him subtle looks. “Clint…Natasha. Nice to meet you,” Laura says before introducing herself. She has dark brown hair that’s tied back in a no-nonsense ponytail and even darker eyes, but her bright smile seems to light up her whole face. “And thank you for taking the time to talk with me.” Natasha smiles back and Clint manages to make his lips rise. “Nice to meet you,” he grumbles, hunkering down in his chair. Laura half-smiles and walks to her own chair, sitting down across from them. “I know you’re exactly not happy about this arrangement,” she continues. “And I know you guys are good – I’m not doubting that. I’m also not here to make you think otherwise. But I think you’ll find it helpful to have my expertise.” “Yeah?” Clint challenges before he can stop himself. “What expertise?” Laura thins her lips, inclining her head slightly. “I did my undergraduate work at Georgia Institute of Technology, where I specialized in biology. I earned my PhD under William Calvin and later joined him working on Project Gladiator, which is where SHIELD first recruited me. I trained under SHIELD to become a spy and I’m sure I could regale you with dozens of high-profile missions I’ve done in the past ten years, but I trust you’ve already read about them in the background files that you and Ms. Romanoff happened to dig up before this meeting.” She flashes a knowing smile at Clint. “Is that enough intel for you, Mr. Barton?” Clint grinds his teeth together because he can’t really refute the fact he had done his own stealth digging about the person who was expected to be their third wheel. But he also knows he can’t really refute the fact that she was good. Even if he didn’t want to admit it, she’d had more field experience than him. Sure, he was trained as a marksman and had worked at SHIELD for a decently long time, but he was good at shooting arrows — he was a spy, the kind of spy who was made to be a weapon. She was the type of spy who had experience with things like espionage and languages and codes, a kind of knowledge that seemingly rivaled Natasha’s high smarts – and that he knew he could only dream of having. “It’s enough,” he manages to get out while Natasha smiles at Laura. “I’m sorry you have to deal with this,” she says, her gaze flicking to Clint, and he makes a mental note to get her back for her words when they’re alone again. “He gets a little upset when it comes to change.” “I do not,” Clint grumbles, sighing loudly because he knows that Natasha’s words mean she wants him to start apologizing for his attitude. He doesn’t think he can make himself go that far, however much of an a**hole it makes him, so he swallows and tries to make himself look interested. “Uhm Fury said you have our first assignment.” “Yes,” Laura says with a nod, handing them both folders. “An op in Madripoor, a place that I know you’re both familiar with. Should I brief you on the specifics?” “Yes,” Natasha answers, at the same time Clint responds “no.” Natasha jabs his foot with hers and if Laura notices, she doesn’t say anything. “Very well,” Laura says, continuing on as if Clint doesn’t exist. “It’s a simple mission but it has the potential to go wrong if it goes into the wrong hands. You’re detailing people who are involved with a group known as the Tracksuit Mafia, high-level criminals who have deeper connections to AIM. The item in question that you’re trying to confiscate for us is a vintage Rolex that’s also SHIELD property.” Natasha gives her a quizzical look. “That’s all? We don’t even get to know what this watch is?” “Until someone above me deems you appropriate enough to know, yes,” Laura responds matter-of-factly. “You leave tomorrow. All the specifics should have been sent to your email. Let me know if you have any questions.” Natasha takes the folders and gets up, knowing her cue. Clint nods as well, standing and making his way to the door. Before he can get his hand on the knob, however, Laura’s voice stops him from behind. “Barton.” Clint watches Natasha continue to walk, silently cursing the fact she’s getting away so easily. He wonders if Laura’s going to privately chastise him for being so difficult but when he turns around, he sees her staring at him with kind eyes. For a moment that disappears when he blinks, he finds himself thinking that she looks less like a SHIELD agent he wants nothing to do with and more like someone he’d actually find attractive, if he ever actually considered looking for someone to date. “I just want to say that I’m excited to work with you.”   ***   Clint and Natasha leave for Madripoor the next day, and Laura sends them off with a long mission directive. “I’ll be on the ground with you the whole time,” she finishes, handing them earpieces. “I know I don’t need to tell you to watch your six, but keep an eye out for anything suspicious. I’m running some reports for extra intel and should have them for you by the time you land.” “Fabulous,” Clint mutters and as soon as they’re safely inside the quinjet, he switches his comm off. He sits down on one of the cots and sees Natasha moving out of the corner of her eye, abandoning the weapons she’s been cleaning. “You okay, Barton?” “Never better,” Clint lies, although it’s less of a lie than he means it to be. Sometimes, he wonders how he survived almost thirty years of his life without her, even though he knows how strange it sounds to admit that his soulmate is more or less a Russian assassin who could kill you with her thighs — and that was on a good day. “Care to tell me the real reason why you’re so bitter we have to work with Laura?” Natasha presses, sitting down next to him and nudging his shoulder. “She seems nice.” Clint makes a face, rubbing his lower jaw. “It’s not that she doesn’t seem nice. It’s just…I don’t like getting help. I don’t like needing help. Okay?” “Okay,” Natasha agrees gently. “But you know needing help or asking for help doesn’t exactly make you worthless. You helped me, remember?” “That was different,” Clint argues. “I saved you from a bad situation. I didn’t barge in on your life.” “Well, you kind of did, because I certainly didn’t wake up that morning thinking I was going to end up defecting to the United States with a SHIELD agent who was sent to kill me,” Natasha replies, giving him a small grin. “You know as well as anyone that sometimes you just need another person in your corner.” “Yeah,” Clint answers. “And I have you.” “And what if one day I’m not here anymore?” Natasha asks pointedly. Clint scrunches up his nose. “Yeah, I know. Death is a part of the game at SHIELD, blah blah blah.” “I’m not talking about death,” Natasha says quietly, putting a hand on his arm. “I’m talking about life. Maybe one day you won’t be a SHIELD agent anymore. Maybe I won’t either. Maybe things will happen that will change both of us. And if they do, maybe it would be nice to have someone else in your corner.” “Yeah, okay,” Clint says, heaving out a sigh. “I get it. No more sad Barton. You made your point.” Natasha smiles, shifting so that she can rest her head on his shoulder. “You know, having someone else behind us isn’t exactly what I want either,” she admits. “I’m used to working alone. I didn’t even want to be partners with you. But I think there’s a reason Fury’s doing this. It’s not that he doesn’t trust us. I think he just wants us…” She trails off. “I don’t know, Clint. We’re the best at what we do, right?” “Yeah,” he says, looking down at her head and wondering how they’ve come so far in such a short time. “We are.” “And maybe because we’re the best, we need a little more to make us even better.” “Didn’t peg you for such a sentimental sap,” Clint replies, and Natasha laughs against him. “Well. Maybe I’m just getting started. We have a long flight.”   ***   Clint is not going to admit that during his first mission with Laura, it helps to have her there. He’s not. He’s not. For one thing, she’d been damn annoying in his ear, constantly cutting in when he was trying to sort out his own thoughts, and he’d almost ripped the earpiece out and settled for ignoring her entirely. For another, he found that having Laura’s added commentary stressed him out, which caused him to stumble in a few instances where he should have had his guard up more — which consequently led to more injuries than he felt comfortable with. So, yeah. They may have gotten the stupid watch and she may have actually saved his life when she used her translation skills to alert him that he was in a line of invisible fire, but he’s not going to admit it. Natasha, however, is, especially once they get back to the safehouse and she’s pulling white gauze over her arm to stop the bleeding from a rogue knife gash. “F***ing Tracksuit…whatever the f*** they’re called,” Natasha spits out, blood seeping through the bandage. “This is probably gonna scar because that guy’s aim was so bad. It’s not even a clean cut!” “What a shame, ruining that pretty skin,” Clint returns sarcastically. “A day in the life of a spy and assassin.” Natasha glares at him and Clint knows she’s zeroing in on his bruises and the large bump hidden by his mop of blonde hair. He glances at her arm as she sits down on the small bed in the safehouse. “You good?” “Ugh.” Natasha huffs out a sigh. “I’ll be fine. You?” He shrugs, even though the motion hurts. “Nothing’s broken. Just a lot of bruises. Probably have a concussion but I won’t sleep tonight so don’t worry about me.” “I’m always worrying about you,” Natasha says tiredly. “Anyway, aren’t you going to say it?” “Say what?” Clint asks, even though he knows what she’s getting at. As it is, Natasha looks annoyed. “If Laura hadn’t been there, you would’ve been dead.” “Oh, so she’s my savior now?” Clint asks, sitting down next to her on the bed. Every inch of him hurts and he just wants to — as much as he told Natasha he wasn’t going to — go to sleep. Or at least get himself drunk enough that he can’t feel his injuries anymore, which was usually the preferred manner for taking care of his injuries. “Well, if you won’t call her that, then I will,” Natasha answers. “I like having you as a partner and I really don’t want to sign up for a new one.” “Then it’s a good thing I’m not going anywhere,” Clint replies, reaching for her gauze and wiping off some of the blood that’s creeping through. “Any ideas about why that watch is so important?” “Not really,” Natasha admits. “There’s a SHIELD logo on the back and the number 19 but other than that, it seems like a regular watch. Maybe there’s something hidden in it that we don’t know about.” “Well, maybe it’s not our problem once we get it back to SHIELD,” Clint decides, stretching out on the bed. His eyes are almost closed when he feels Natasha press down firmly on his knee, where a large bruise is forming. “Ow.” “You said you weren’t going to sleep.” “I’m not,” Clint lies, forcing his eyes open and meeting Natasha’s concerned face. She studies him for a moment, her gaze boring into his. “Good,” she says finally, pulling back. “Because Laura wants to see us.” That gets Clint to come a little more awake and he looks at her suspiciously. “What do you mean she wants to see us?” “I mean, she sent a message asking if we could call for a debrief,” Natasha says, holding out her phone, and Clint notices that even she sounds a little annoyed. “We do debriefs with Coulson, sometimes with Fury, and they take ten minutes,” he says grumpily. “I feel like sh*t. Why do we have to talk with her?” “Honestly, Clint, I don’t know. But can you just help me get this done with so we can actually rest before we figure out how we’re getting home?” He can hear the frustration in her voice and honestly can’t tell if her annoyance is directed at him or at the situation. “Sure,” he relents, heaving out a long sigh as Natasha props it up against the small side table and presses a few buttons, entering a number of codes before the words SHIELD line secure is transmitted via an annoyingly electronic voice and Laura’s face appears on the other end of the screen. “How are you doing?” she asks and despite the fact that Clint knows it has to be at least two in the morning back in New York, everything from her clothes to her voice looks and sounds way too professional. “How do you think we’re doing?” Clint asks and Laura purses her lips on the other end of the video chat. “You don't need my permission to relax for awhile. I know you’re probably tired, so I just wanted to check in. I assume everything went fine with the op and there were no complications.” “Sure, if you’re calling a few bumps and bruises fine,” Clint answers before Natasha cuts in. “Everything went fine,” she confirms, and Clint notices she doesn’t try to make a big deal about her own injury even as the blood continues to soak through her bandage. He has no idea when she became so professional and he thinks he’d feel proud if he wasn’t so frustrated with everything. “The only things that went sideways were the people who tried to get in our way. We’ll have full reports for you by the time we’re back in New York.” “Great,” says Laura, and Clint swears he catches her looking at him a little too long before her gaze flicks back over to Natasha. “I’ll let you guys rest. Thanks for your work.” “Thanks,” Clint mutters as Natasha reaches over and ends the video call. He groans and lets himself fall back on the bed. “Now can I pass out?” Natasha gives him a look and Clint closes his eyes again, knowing if she was really worried about his well-being, she’d force him to stay up. Content in the thought that Natasha probably won’t let him die somewhere with no working shower, he lets himself drift off, with Laura Morse the furthest thing from his mind.   ***   It happens not forty-eight hours after they get home, and when he’s not even close to being fully healed from Madripoor. “I have a favor to ask,” Laura starts after they’ve handled their debrief and given their notes. Clint, who has had one foot out the door, stops with his toe in the air. Carefully placing it back on the ground, he turns around and meets Laura’s face. “What did I do wrong?” Laura looks startled but before Clint can read her expression, her face smoothes out. “Nothing,” she says after the moment passes. “I was actually wondering if you wanted to get a drink after work. Strictly professional, of course. But I know you’re not a fan of me — or this arrangement — and I also know it’s hard to get to know someone when you’re working in this environment.” “What gave you the idea I wasn’t a fan of you?” Clint asks innocently. Laura sighs, running a hand through her long brown hair which today she’s decided to wear half-down. “Is this how you treated Natasha when you first got to know her?” “I –” Clint stops because no, it’s not. In every way, he’d worked as hard as humanly possible to be kind to Natasha even on the days he wanted to throw in the towel, and he knows that he’s been giving Laura the cold shoulder since day one. Natasha had called him out on his difficulty and so had everyone else in his life; he’d been ignoring it but the more that he thinks about how he’s been acting, the more his selfishness eats away at him. Because really — what had she ever done to him aside from work with him, when it might not even have been her choice to do that in the first place? Or maybe it was. Clint realizes there’s extremely little he knows about Laura or about their relationship, and that he’s been basing a lot of his displeasure on the pure annoyance of having someone else infringe on his own SHIELD achievements. “Fine,” he relents after a pause. “Let’s meet at 7. Unless you’re working late.” “Fortunately for you, Thursdays are my slow days. Except when Fury calls me in for some last-minute meeting,” Laura replies. She smiles at him, and he thinks if he looks hard enough, he can almost see something kind in her gaze. “See you at 7, Barton.”   ***   He doesn’t tell Natasha about his off-site meeting with Laura, because he knows that will only lead to her congratulating him for growing up and also ribbing him about her being potential girlfriend material. And he doesn’t want either of those things in his brain while he’s dealing with all his other thoughts. So he ducks out of work early under the guise of being tired and wanting to go home, praying she won’t ask him questions. She simply nods, tells him to take it easy with his still-healing injuries, and goes back to finishing her reports while he slips out and heads to the SHIELD lockers to change. He trades his black uniform for a plaid button-down flannel shirt and blue jeans and it’s only when he gets to the bar that he starts to feel self-conscious about putting so little effort into his looks. It’s not that he’s trying to impress anyone — least of all her — but he knows his face has seen better days thanks to their recent mission and that he could’ve at least put some gel in his messy hair, or even brought out a nicer shirt. He finds himself pushing overgrown blonde strands away from his eyes, desperately trying to tease them into something that might resemble a person who actually put thought into his appearance, as she walks through the door and makes her way towards him. Clint freezes with one hand stuck in his hair as she approaches, and his breath catches in his throat. For all that he’s lacked in making himself look decent for a night out, Laura has more than made up for it. Her brown hair, which she usually wears up to keep out of her face, has been softly styled so that it falls in neat waves down her back and over her shoulders. She’s put on just the smallest hint of makeup, the kind where you can tell someone is accentuating their natural beauty without trying to overdo it, and she’s wearing dark jeans and a blue cashmere sweater. He finds himself taken aback because even though he knows firsthand how different people could be out of the office — Natasha was all business and hard edges at work with her uniforms but when she was at home with him or out on a weekend, it was nothing but sweatpants and soft leather jackets over henley shirts — he hasn’t expected Laura to look so…well…normal. Attractive, even. “Hi,” she says when she gets close enough to be heard over the din of the lively bar chatter. Clint swallows, trying to pull himself back together. He imagines being back at SHIELD and being handed another assignment he doesn’t want to be involved in. “Hi,” he says, turning to the bar and flagging down the woman currently pouring drinks. He orders a beer for himself and before he can ask Laura what she wants, she’s pressing up against him loudly asking for her own glass of wine. “So, uh. How often does a handler ask her agents out on a date?” Clint asks as he takes his Guinness. Laura takes her white wine from his outstretched hand and hides a grin that he tries not to find endearing. “Never. And I’m not your handler, Coulson is.” She pauses to sip her wine. “Also, this isn't a date. Strictly professional, remember?” “Right. Strictly professional,” Clint echoes with a smug grin. Laura rolls her eyes, putting her glass down and sliding onto an empty barstool. “What’s your history, Barton?” “Oh, come on,” Clint says with a groan. “That’s what we’re gonna start with? I thought this whole night out was about non-work stuff.” “Everything starts with you opening up,” Laura responds, and Clint can’t help feeling like he’s suddenly in therapy. “I can’t get to know you better or talk to you about non-work things if I don’t know you.” “But you do know me,” Clint protests. “It’s all…” He gestures vaguely. “It’s all in the stuff they sent you.” “Not all of it,” Laura says evasively as if she knows that he’s trying to find a way to get out of the conversation. Clint sighs, tipping his glass back and downing a large portion of his beer. “Okay. Parents died when I was seven,” he starts when he comes up for air. “Got sent to the circus with my brother — it’s where I learned archery. When I left the circus, I got hired doing some odd jobs for other thieves and assassins. Made a name for myself in the underground crime world, even though I wasn’t really trying to. Fury found me, took me in, and trained me at SHIELD. Five years ago, he sent me to Russia and I met Natasha. Brought her in to deflect. Those enough cliff notes for you?” He expects Laura to push back and make a sarcastic comment but she nods, looking content. “Yes,” she says with a small shrug and when silence starts to grow between them, Clint snorts out a laugh. “Oh, come on. You’re going to make me spill my guts and you’re not gonna return the favor?” Laura smiles thinly, as if she’s expected or even anticipated his answer. “Fine,” she says after a moment, taking her own long sip of wine. “Grew up in Missouri — my parents ran and still run a farm. That’s a pretty standard upbringing for someone who lives in the Midwest. I got really into espionage at a young age and told my family I wanted to be an FBI agent, which they weren’t exactly thrilled about. Went to Georgetown and studied law, then came to Washington and got hired by Alexander Pierce to head up parts of SHIELD.” Her lips quirk upward. “And until now, you’re the most difficult person I’ve had to deal with.” “Thanks for the compliment,” Clint mutters, but he can’t stop the smile he knows is scraping over his lips. He doesn't want to like Laura — he doesn’t, he doesn’t — but now that they’re out of work, he’s finding it hard to ignore her easy attitude and the way she makes him feel so comfortable. “Do you always insult authority like this?” Laura asks, hiding a laugh. Clint narrows his eyes. “Only when they annoy me,” he shoots back. Laura hums under her breath and reaches for her wine again. “How long have you known Natasha?” “Uh.” Clint stops, partially because he’s surprised at the sudden change in conversation. “I told you. Five years.” “No,” Laura says, her tone similar to the one she uses when she directs Clint in the field. “How long have you known Natasha?” He grits his teeth and downs the rest of his beer, putting the empty glass back on the bar. “Three years, if I’m being generous,” he admits slowly. “The progress was slow. We really only started trusting each other when she ended her conditioning and therapy treatments. You know, for…” “I know,” Laura says quietly, sounding a little sad. Clint grunts under his breath. “Yeah, right. Course you do. Anyway, uh…I just kept working at it, you know? I knew there was a person in there, so I just tried to take it slow and show her that I believed in her, even if she did bad things. And look at us now.” “Look at you now,” Laura echoes, brushing her thumb over the rim of her wine glass. “Clint, can you tell me the real reason you’re having such a hard time working with someone else? Is it because there’s something going on with Natasha?” “Is it — what?” Clint’s almost glad he doesn’t have a drink anymore because if he did, he thinks that he definitely would’ve felt bad spitting it out all over Laura’s face and possibly her very nice, dry clean only sweater. “No, god. I mean…no. Natasha is — I’m —” He stops, collecting himself, and takes a deep breath. “I care about her more than anyone else in the world,” he continues carefully. “But it’s not like I’m in love with her or anything.” Laura nods, and Clint can tell that while she might not believe him, she’s also not going to egg him on the way she might if they were at work together. “Okay,” she says in the same soft voice, as if she maybe has finally realized that there’s no reason he’s been an a**hole to her. He watches her finish her drink and something about the way she’s holding her wine glass compels him to put his hand forward, touching her arm lightly. “Hey,” he says with a small smile. “Uh, you know…it’s kind of loud in here and since we’re definitely on this non-date, very professional night out, do you wanna maybe take a walk? I’ve heard the park is really quiet at night.” Laura looks up at him in surprise but smiles slightly, nodding as she slides off the bench. Clint follows her out of the bar, trying to ignore the small flutterings in his stomach, blaming the feeling on his drink.   ***   He walks her to her subway stop a few hours later because he knows it’s the right thing to do and also because he can’t forget her face after he’d basically confirmed that he had no reason for treating her like sh*t. But as much as he doesn’t want to admit it, it’s also because he’s realizing he actually enjoys spending time with her when they’re not talking about SHIELD or missions or whether or not he can ever shut up when they’re on comms. “Thanks for asking me out,” Clint says when they reach the 14th Street station, and he realizes too late how his words have come out. “I mean — sh*t.” “Don’t worry,” Laura answers lightly. “I know what you meant. Strictly professional.” She smiles and lowers her eyes, as if she’s not sure she wants to see his face when she says her next words. “I had fun, though.” “Yeah,” Clint agrees, feeling like he can answer honestly. “Me too. I guess I should get out more often.” He gestures in the direction of the large AMC on the corner. “Natasha and I don’t really do much aside from watch movies on our days off.” “Well, maybe you should,” Laura suggests. “I learned the hard way that it’s not great to make work the only thing in your life.” “Yeah,” Clint repeats, scuffing his foot against the ground. He feels awkward, like he should do or say something aside from just wishing her a good night, but she’s his work partner — a superior, technically — and he really shouldn’t even be entertaining the thought of liking her like this, let alone like this. But somehow, he finds himself leaning in at the same time she does, and their mouths catch just quickly enough for their lips to touch. They both pull away instantly, as if embarrassed about their mutual mistake, and then Laura speaks softly. “Is this wrong?” she asks, sounding hesitant. Clint closes his eyes and thinks, really thinks, before he opens his mouth. “Yes,” he decides, moving closer and leaning down again to meet her lips, this time purposefully. “But I’m going to do it anyway.”   ***   Clint doesn’t tell anyone about the kiss. He certainly doesn’t tell Coulson. He definitely doesn’t tell Fury. He absolutely doesn’t tell Natasha. He also doesn’t plan to see Laura again outside of work, because he doesn’t think he can. Even though there’s a part of his gut that tells him the kiss wasn’t a mistake, he knows that it was. And Clint isn’t about to f*** over the only two good things in his life — SHIELD and Natasha — for a woman that, until two days ago, he could have cared less about. Plus, he’s honestly afraid that if he does see her again he’ll really start to fall for her, and then all bets will be off. But Laura messages him one afternoon asking if he wants to get coffee during an afternoon break, and since he’s been up until 4 a.m. working on a long report, he answers without thinking. It’s only when they’re standing at the truck in front of the building that he starts looking around, feeling anxious, like he’s going to get caught. “Will you stop?” Laura mutters under her breath. “You’re making a big deal about nothing.” “I feel like a kid sneaking out,” Clint whines as they move forward in line. “Can’t you just humor me?” “No,” Laura answers, and he’s admittedly shocked she’s being so blunt with him. “We’re literally two co-workers getting coffee.” “Yeah, and everyone knows that we don’t like each other. So this feels weird.” Laura rolls her eyes. “I was going to pay for your drink given that the bags under your eyes look like they have bags,” she quips. “But if you keep annoying me —” “Sorry,” Clint apologizes with a wince as Laura puts a five-dollar bill on the counter, grabbing two blue and white plastic cups in return. “Look,” she says as they turn to leave. “As long as you keep being mean to me at briefings, no one will suspect this.” “Yeah,” Clint agrees, stopping a few feet from the entrance of the building. “What is this, by the way? I mean…do you even know what this is?” “Do you?” Laura counters and Clint sighs, bowing his head in resignation. “No,” he says after a moment, meeting her gaze again. “But I want to keep doing it. I mean, if you do.” Laura looks a little surprised at his words but nods slowly. “I do,” she acknowledges, walking back inside before he can answer, leaving him and his feelings on the street. In some sense, Clint feels like he’s living a double life — something that makes him laugh since he knows his job is basically that of a secret agent. During meetings, he acts appropriately annoyed with Laura and when he’s with Natasha, he complains about the things that he wishes Laura would shut up about. But when he’s alone, he lets himself daydream of the next time he can see Laura outside of work and he finds himself making an internal list of things that he wants to know, like her favorite food and what she loved about growing up in Missouri. He knows it’s not exactly forbidden to feel this way but the whole thing still feels weird, and so even though he wants to keep seeing her, he tries to keep things as quiet as possible. Most of their interactions are either during quick lunch breaks or after work, late enough that no one would suspect him if he goes out; when they do go out Clint never asks to come over to her apartment and she never pushes for going over to his, even if it’s to do something mundane like watch a movie. And then they get sent to Zagreb. In truth, it takes a lot for Clint to worry about any mission. The fact that he could die at any moment is always somewhere in his mind, but he’s learned to push it back far enough that he doesn’t enter situations with anxiety anymore. It’s the one thing he knows Fury both loves and hates about him – he liked to throw himself recklessly into any situation because he truly didn’t care. It wasn’t like anyone had cared about him anyway. When he started working with Natasha, that had all changed. And in turn, he’d changed. He not only felt more confident with her by his side, but he also felt more supported going into the field which made him a little less inclined to throw himself into fire — because finally, someone else did care whether or not he lived or died. So he’s not really worried when Laura tells him that he should be on his guard more than usual. But he also finds himself listening to her more than he normally would, half out of the feelings he’s still trying to hide and half out of a feeling that he should be more than a little vigilant. “Can you decode this for me?” Clint asks as he squints at the writing on a door in the abandoned warehouse they’re investigating. “I need to make sure it won’t kill me when I open it.” “One sec,” Laura answers curtly, every bit the professional agent she is when she’s on the ground responsible for their safety. He listens to her fingers typing cleanly and waits for her to speak again. “Send a photo, I’ll give it a look.” Clint raises his wrist and uses his Stark tech watch to scan the letters decorating the front of the door. He knows that he could just ask Laura to open it with her resources or have Natasha try to blast it open, or even pry it open with her weapons. But, well — better safe than sorry, and it’s not like they were in a hurry to get anywhere. For once, they didn’t have people on their trail or anyone hunting for them. Recon missions could be the most boring, but they could also be the most dangerous, and those two reasons were why they always went to Strike Team: Delta before anyone else. “Looks like nothing,” Laura confirms after a few seconds of silence. “Should be good if you can get it open. If not –” “I can get it open,” Clint breaks in, putting his hand on the knob and twisting. He half expects to walk back his confidence, but the door opens easily. And before Clint can take two steps, he feels like he’s suffocating, drowning under an invisible weight he can’t see or smell. He manages to gasp out Laura’s name before his legs give out underneath him and his knees smack against the floor as he falls, his head meeting the hard pavement in a rush of pain. “Sh*t — f*** — Barton!” He can hear Laura in his ear, though her voice sounds far away even though she also sounds like she’s screaming. “Clint, talk to me! Answer me!” He wants to respond. He wants to ask her what’s going on, to get help, to get Natasha. But everything hurts and he can’t breathe and everything hurts — His last two thoughts before he passes out are that he hopes he hasn’t killed Laura’s chances of ever working in SHIELD again by being too dumb to keep a relationship professional, and that of all the ways to die, this is definitely not how he thought he’d go.   ***   When Clint opens his eyes again, he immediately regrets it. The light is too bright and the air is too cold, and opening his eyes makes him realize just how much pain he’s in — pain he assumes he avoided while he was asleep, though he has no idea how long that might’ve been. He wonders if he’s dead, but when he turns his head and sees Natasha, he figures he has to be alive because it would probably be really bad if both of them were stuck in some afterlife together. Fury would probably flip his lid. “Clint.” Natasha stands quickly when he moves, putting a hand on his arm as she leans over. “Are you okay? Can you talk?” For the first time since waking up, he notices an oxygen mask around his mouth and nose. He raises his hand to pull it off but Natasha carefully guides it back, keeping their eyes locked. “You can remove it to talk but keep it on when you’re not talking. You still need it, okay?” Clint nods, because while he’d normally push back against being taken care of like this, everything from their mission is slowly coming back to him and he has a feeling there’s a reason he’s laid up in what he realizes is a hospital bed. “What…what happened?” Natasha takes a deep breath and exhales slowly, a movement that looks like it hurts. “The door that you opened had been sealed to lock in a poisonous gas meant to kill trespassers. Did Laura give you any intel about it?” Clint tries to remember the events leading up to the moment he collapsed, despite everything being fuzzy. “There was a code or some writing on the outside. I asked her…she looked at the photo I sent and said it wasn’t anything dangerous, so I opened it.” “Well, maybe she read something wrong,” Natasha says, squeezing his hand. “In any case, you’re okay. The gas did a number on your lungs but luckily, I got you out quick enough that x-rays showed no lasting damage.” “At what cost?” Clint asks hoarsely, squinting at the cut on her face and the way she’s favoring her right arm. Natasha seems to understand what he means, shrugging and wincing at the reaction. “It’s fine. I heal quickly…dead partners don’t.” Clint swallows hard and gingerly reaches out with a non-IV-laced hand to touch the bruise on the side of his face. “Barton.” Clint slowly turns his head in the direction of the door, where Fury’s face comes into view. He realizes with a start that he must be in SHIELD’s hospital, which is enough to placate him a little given that he knows most grave injuries get you airlifted to larger medical centers. “Sir?” “How are you feeling?” Clint takes a moment to use the oxygen mask, realizing Natasha had a point about keeping it close. When he feels like he can breathe enough again, he removes it. “Been better.” “So I imagine,” Fury says, glancing at Natasha. “Laura’s waiting outside. We normally wouldn’t allow other agents down here unauthorized, but seeing as to how she was working on your case and involved in what went down, I thought it was warranted. And she was worried.” “About me?” Clint asks, hoping the words don’t come off as hopeful, though he’s unsure whether or not he could even control his feelings in his current state. “About both of you,” Fury answers. “If you’re up for it, I’ll send her in.” Natasha shares a quick glance with Clint, who nods off the look in her eyes. Fury nods back. “Both of you — no work for at least a week,” he warns before he leaves, looking at each of them in turn. “Barton, I don’t want to as much hear you in SHIELD meeting rooms until doctors officially clear you. I’m not risking my two best agents operating at half their potential.” He exits the room, the door swinging quietly in the wake of his words. In another moment, the door opens again and Laura walks in. Clint knows he must look like sh*t given that he’s the one who was almost fatally injured, but she looks like she’s gone through her own sort of hell. Her hair is messy in a way that he knows she’d never let herself show in the office, there’s redness around her eyes that indicates she’s either been crying a lot or not sleeping, and her clothes are wrinkled. “Hey,” he says, trying not to notice how much she looks like she’s falling apart. “Uh. We’re okay.” Laura shakes her head, her eyes welling with fresh tears. “You’re not,” she says shakily and he can see her face starting to fracture the same way her words are. “You’re not, because of me. My intel was off. I read…I read a letter wrong because I was working too fast and it threw off the whole word. If I had been right, you would’ve been more cautious. This wouldn’t have happened. I should’ve —” “Laura,” Natasha breaks in firmly. “No one blames you, I promise. If anything –” “Stop,” Laura cuts back loudly. “Please, stop. I know this is my fault…I already feel terrible, you don’t have to make me feel better.” Natasha looks at Clint and puts her hand over his, running her fingers over his skin. “You know this line of work comes with risks,” she says slowly. “We all do. Whether or not something is your fault, it doesn’t matter in the end. We all make mistakes. And the important thing is that everyone is okay.” Laura digs her lower teeth into her upper lip and glances at Clint, who meets her eyes before quickly dropping his gaze. “I’m not staying,” she says finally. “I just came to see how you were doing…I needed to know you were alright.” “We’re alright,” Natasha answers with a small smile. “I promise, Laura. It takes more than a little poisonous gas to take us down.” Clint looks up again just in time to see a hint of a smile gracing Laura’s face, but it’s gone before he can blink. “Thank you,” she says in a wavering voice before turning around, leaving the room as quickly as she’d arrived. Natasha heaves out a sigh once she’s gone, sitting down on the bed next to him. “You think she’s going to blame herself forever?” she asks, tangling their fingers together. Clint tries to shrug. “If she didn’t, she wouldn’t be a SHIELD agent,” he replies honestly, tugging on her hand until she looks at him. He wants to get his mind off the way Laura had been looking at him, the way he had a feeling her worry was centered on one person in the room more than the other. “I know I didn’t say it, but thanks for saving me.” “Oh, well.” Natasha smiles and kisses him lightly on the cheek. “If you didn’t say it, I’d worry that maybe you’re taking me for granted.” “Never,” Clint promises, closing his eyes again. “I mean, if I didn’t have you, who’d get my six?” “I’m sure you’d find someone,” Natasha says as she snuggles up against him. “You’re an easy person to love, Clint Barton.”   ***   Afterward, things change. Clint doesn’t want to admit that they change, but he can’t help it. Laura’s softer with him during missions, almost as if she doesn’t want to treat him as harshly, and Clint finds he’s more willing to listen rather than just writing off her suggestions. He doesn’t ask if Natasha has noticed the change because he feels like if anything, she can blame her suspicions on the fact that almost dying had made them all realize just how little being petty about working together mattered in the grand scheme of things. And then, almost two months after Clint has returned to work, Fury calls Strike Team: Delta into his office and clears his throat in a very formal manner. “I’m informing you that Laura has resigned as your acting agent.” Clint, who has been staring at the floor in preparation for another lecture of their latest mission report, whips his head up at his boss’ words. “Excuse me?” “Do I need to repeat myself?” Fury asks, looking annoyed. “Laura’s off your case, starting today.” “Why?” Fury sighs, shaking his head. “I wish I knew. I thought it was the best idea in the world — putting one of my best goddamn agents with my other best goddamn agents. And now...” He shrugs, throwing a folder onto the table in defeat. “She told me she needed to step away from fieldwork due to some personal issues,” he continues, his voice turning deadpan. “I thought you’d be happy about this, Barton. I know how much you’ve enjoyed working with her.” “Yeah, but —” Clint pauses, catching Fury’s watchful eye. But what? But I like her now? But I think I could maybe see myself falling in love with her? But I still want to work with her? “But I don’t want to work with someone new,” he finishes, saving his thoughts. Fury sighs again. “No, you and Romanoff aren’t going to work with someone new. If I’m not putting the best with the best, I’m not screwing around. You’re going back to the way you’ve always worked, and Coulson will continue to be your main point of contact.” “But, sir —” “Barton, we’re done here. Romanoff, any questions?” “No sir,” Natasha answers smoothly, though Clint can tell she’s merely playing along so she can save him from getting into another argument. He clenches his jaw, getting up and moving towards the door. He doesn’t wait to see if Natasha follows, knowing she will, and it’s only when they’ve walked halfway down the long corridor that he feels her grab him from behind, shoving him clumsily against the wall. “What the f*** was that about?” Natasha hisses, pulling at his still-sore arm. “Ow!” Clint mutters, twisting in her hold. “What was what about?” “Seriously?” Natasha looks like she’s going to lose it. “Clint, for months I’ve heard you do nothing but complain about Laura and how stupid it is that we have to work with her. I know things have been better lately, but Fury just told us that we basically got a get out of jail free card and you’re suddenly pushing back. Are you okay?” “Yeah,” he says, struggling against her hold, finally managing to shove her away. “I’m fine, I — I’m just annoyed, okay? And why the hell do you care?” “Because you’re my partner,” Natasha responds hotly. “And it’s my professional life that’s affected by this, too.” “Okay, well, you made your point,” Clint answers gruffly, moving away from her. “Drop it.” He walks quickly, managing to get to the elevator at the end of the hallway, the doors opening right as he pushes the button. Natasha stays close on his heels and when they’re safely inside, she breaks the silence almost immediately. “You like her.” “No I don’t!” Clint bursts back, but he knows that even if Natasha hadn’t been dumb enough to read the signs, his instant defensive nature has probably just given him away. As it is, Natasha snorts out a muffled laugh. “Jesus,” she says, leaning back against the elevator wall and cupping her own face with two palms. “How long?” Clint lets out a long sigh that sounds like a gunshot in the quiet space, knowing he’s f***ed. At this point, he wonders why he’s even bothering to pretend. It’s not like they were working together anymore as of five minutes ago. “About six months,” he admits in a low voice as Natasha’s eyebrows shoot up. “Before Zagreb?” “Yeah,” Clint says slowly. “Before that. It, uh…we went for drinks right after we started working together because she wanted to get to know me outside of SHIELD. And it kinda…we kinda…” He bites down on his lip, not knowing how to continue. “Anyway, don’t worry. We’ve never, like, done anything. We’ve just been seeing each other on and off. She’s never even been to my apartment.” Natasha remains silent as the elevator lands softly on the ground floor of the building, the doors whizzing open. Clint walks out slowly with Natasha at his side, letting the silence percolate until he can’t take it anymore. “Oh come on. Say it.” “Say what?” Natasha asks, looking for all the world genuinely confused. Clint groans, slapping a hand across his forehead. “Tell me I told you so. Tell me I’m predictable.” Natasha laughs lightly. “You’re predictable,” she agrees with a smile, looping her arm through his as they walk. “But I like her and she’s hot, so…your taste preferences could definitely be worse.”   ***   After Clint’s finished up with work for the day, he asks Laura if she wants to get dinner. He’s almost worried that she won’t come, thinking maybe she wants distance or that she’s embarrassed, given the fact he’s pretty sure she’d quit the job she loved because of him. But she accepts his invitation and arrives at the small pizza restaurant promptly at 8. Clint doesn’t miss a beat before he dives in. “So is what you told Fury true? You’re retiring?” Laura looks a little taken aback by his words but manages to nod. “Yes,” she admits after collecting herself. “It’s true. I’m not retiring, though. I still want to do some work at SHIELD, or elsewhere. I’m just taking a step back from active desk duty.” “Because of me?” Laura pauses with a glass of water halfway to her mouth and puts it down before she can drink it. “Because of a few reasons,” she says, her tone indicating that her carefully chosen words are a lie. He glances at the door, watching people come into the restaurant, and picks up his own water glass. “Clint.” Clint looks up, finding her eyes, which are soft and warm. Laura smiles at him in an almost reassuring way. “Look, I love being an agent. It's what I’ve wanted to do my whole life. But sometimes…” Laura trails off. “I don’t know. Do you ever feel like the path you’re on can change? And that maybe what you’ve always wanted is something else and you’ve never realized it because you’ve never…you’ve never asked yourself whether or not you wanted it?” “I…” It’s Clint’s turn to trail off, because hadn’t been like Laura. He hadn’t grown up watching spy movies or dreaming of a day when he could make the world a better place. His world had been filled with uncertainty, worrying about where he was going to get his next meal or if he was going to have enough money from a kill to survive for another week on the street. As much as he never wanted to feel like SHIELD saved him from anything, he knew it did, and finding his purpose among people who were also skilled at doing things like fighting or combat was part of a life he’d assumed he’d have forever. “I guess it’s hard when you haven’t known anything else,” Clint says, hoping she’ll be able to tell that he’s talking about himself and not her. “I guess,” Laura agrees, looking down at her empty plate. Clint reaches across the table and takes her hand, entwining their fingers together. “So…should I ask what this new development in your professional life means for us?” “Well.” Laura puts her other hand on top of his, clasping it tightly. “It means that no matter what I decide to do in the future, I’m not a SHIELD agent anymore.” She smiles shyly and a little mischievously. “So if you’re up for it, I guess we can actually try that dating thing we’ve been putting off.”   ***   With SHIELD off the table when it comes to Laura’s work and Natasha finally clued in about his real feelings, Clint finds that it’s actually easy — and moreover, fun — to date Laura Morse. He finally asks her to come over to his apartment and she finally asks him to come over to hers. They start leaving things like clothes and toothbrushes at each other’s places and outside of work, they take more time to talk openly about their interests and pasts and likes and dislikes. Laura plans a weekend trip to Martha’s Vineyard one day as a surprise, for no other reason than wanting to spend time somewhere that’s not New York. For two days, sleeping next to her at an Airbnb no bigger than his apartment, Clint feels like he’s happier than he’s been in a long time. It’s refreshing. It’s nice. It’s what he’s wanted, and what he’s never realized he’s wanted. The best part, he would argue, is that because Laura actually knows him and his relationship with Natasha, he doesn’t have to feel weird about all three of them hanging out — even when it clearly infringes on what could otherwise pass as a legitimate date night. “I don’t know anyone else who wouldn’t feel threatened by my best work friend showing up unannounced,” Clint says when Natasha arrives at his apartment unexpectedly one night, holding pizza and a case of beer while Laura massages Clint’s bare shoulders. “Get used to it,” Natasha replies, closing the door with her foot. “I’m never leaving. I made him sign a blood contract when he took me in.” “That’s not entirely a lie,” Clint adds as Laura gives him a look. “I was bleeding. I’m pretty sure she managed to get her name somewhere without me seeing.” Laura’s lips fold into a smile. “I’ll forgive you both if I can have some of that pizza.” “What, you thought it was just for me?” Natasha asks innocently. “I already ate. I’m just being the nice friend who brings some lovebirds their dinner.”


03/19/2023 01:28 PM 

Plot Ideas!

I'll put these in the order that I want them. With an overall layout and a more in-depth explanation with suggestions should you be interested. For these ideas, I'd like to find decent writers who want to write long-term stories. Please don't entertain these ideas just to disappear a couple of months later. I ofc understand having to take breaks and being busy. But yea, I'm just tired of wasting time on people that delete all the friggin time ^^'Oh and please note that if we already have a story and you could see yourself writing one of these roles, I'd be down to consider that too. If we're not already overwhelmed by what we got going. Scrapping and starting anew might also be a possibility. 1.  The Pet. Egypt is a very spoiled brat, and thus there isn't a thing that won't be available to her in this world. Including a hybrid human/animal pet. "Because cup pigs and monkeys are so last year! Get with the times!"This is an idea that's already been entertained for me, and the very few replies exchanged were absolutely brilliant and promising. So, I already have a way I want things to go. Of course, I'm willing to consider alternate ideas. But just read this little snippet that basically summarises the gist of what I'm looking for."wait so you're buying me a human? Isn't this the same as slavery?" Egypt asked a little freaked out, as they were let into a room with an assortment of people dressed up as animals. Each in their own little glass boxes for show. "This is a little creepy, daddy!"Sebastian shook his head "They are not humans, they are pets. it's not slavery, cause you have to take good care of whichever one you choose." Egypt had a wtf expression on her face, and the scientist in the room took over, trying to explain to her."It's not exactly accurate, they are part human, you can talk to them, and they have similar emotional patterns as us. But they have been genetically modified to also attain the characteristics of an animal""why?""We hope to develop our research enough that it will eventually benefit the human race. So far we rely on gracious donations or payments from people like you and your father, to keep the research going. And these guys really need a home.""So it's charity? We pay a lot of money so I can take in an orphan?" Egypt looked at her dad as if he had completely lost it.The scientist interrupted before Sebastian could defend himself. "It's so much more. The pet will stay loyal to its owner, it's an amazing bond, a certain type of devotion that is unlike any other. And for people like you who need constant protection, we have types with immense strength as well."Honestly, I'd love for someone to just take over where the story left off, but I realize that's not a very realistic expectation. SO yea, of course, I'll listen to my partner's wants and needs on the matter. I have more material and ideas on the subject too if you should take up the challenge. 2. The arranged marriage. Egypt is a spoiled brat, and her dad has gotten enough of her shenanigans, it's time for her to grow up! How do you do that? Marry her off to the most sensible boring yet successful promising young man he knows. Preferably A childhood friend that Egypt used to have a crush on. But they got out of touch, and now things are completely different. (this part can change of course). Resistance and demands of feigned loyalty and possessiveness to keep up with the charades. If Egypt has to marry this person - NO ONE, will think it's just some business deal for show! She will not accept that kind of humiliation. Act how you want when no one's watching, but you better make everyone believe that you love her! Okay so this idea is also a rp I lost, and it got far. Big shoes to fill tbh. Basically, I should just call it ended and accept that I might never get to write something like that again. But I like the concept so much. And I want the toxic dysfunctional, occasional wholesome moments and misunderstandings. So please, if you feel courages and if you have a character that could fit the bill. Please contact me. I'll try my best to be flexible to your wants as well. _____Now we stepping into untested areas. These ideas are probably more bendable. And I might be okay to scrab them too, should the concepts not work. ____3. Falling in love with a gay guy! Yes! This is what I want, Egypt to fall madly in love with a guy that can never feel that same way about her. Of course, nothing should be set in stone. And I'm even up for a twist on the plot where, a guy will pretend to be gay, to attain opportunity in one form or the other. But I saw this movie a while back: Burlesque. And the female owner of the club and her idk designer?(idr) had this kinda heartbreaking relationship because they loved each other so deeply, and if they were each other's sexual preference they'd probably be all in. But they were just a straight woman and a gay guy that could've been. Idk  That's the gist of it. I'll listen to any spin on this honestly. 4. Do revenge! This is about underhanded games and tricks, taking revenge but falling short. Honestly, I wanna just do a take on the movie by the same name. It was SO much better than I thought it would be! And uhhh! I'm looking for a bad bitch to do a variation of this insane plot with me. (I was thinking Egypt would take lead on it) But yea, we can get creative and crazy with this. of course, I'm always down and ready to listen to any ideas you might want to explore.  

rp ideas, plotlines, marriage, pet and owner,

Emanation of executionย 

03/19/2023 05:20 PM 

Time line and emanations

What are emanations?Emanations can be described as many things. Theories. Ideas. Concepts. Reality. These are small parts of a singular Emanations. For each principle there are Emanations, all of which rank higher then the highest archangels. In the case of Orphiel he is the Emanation of execution. Meaning good and evil are vital to him. Emanations are entities without a pure physical form so he can not be harmed. Aslong as the concept of good and evil exist in the multiverse he can not die. He also can oversee  his own physical universe and even create one so long as life and death are not present. It is because of this authority that all emanations do not participate in fights unless it calls for it.In earth years -pre-reincarnarionArtemis( Birth) as a tuatha de dennan 3250-3190 -War of Sen mags and the formors -3190-30801st reireincarnation 3179-3001 BCE1st life: Born: 3000 BCE 2090-2089 Asrael training  BCE 2070-1530 ishtar training -Babelonias fall-a new dynasty -takes it place 1530-1030 2nd reincarnation 1030-700 BCE2nd life span-700-500 BCE -Shadow vampires first assault 3rd reincarnation 499-300 BCE 3rd life span 299-150 BCE  4th reireincarnation: 149-29 BCE 5th reincarnation 28 BC-50 AD 5th life: 50-170  6th reincarnation: 171-400 6th life: 400-600 AD 7th reincarnation 601-910 AD 7th life 911-1030 -Templer era  -Escort of vector sigma -First Bible escort -location of arc given  8th reincarnation 1031-1300 8th life 1300-1630 -Meets eclipse: A descendant of tsukiyomi  -muramasa training  -First students  -Battle of sekigahara  -Black death -100 year war  -Mongol rule -Ming dynasty rises 9th reincarnation- 1631-1700 Lycan era 9th life- 1701-1780   -endless night war -First meets angels -First beatrice defeat thus marks her rebirth beginning 10th reincarnation  10 life: 1781-1864 civil war 11th reincarnation 11 life 1865-1920 Ww1 12 reincarnation 1921-38 12th life ww2 1939 to 1945 13th reincarnation 1946-1994 13th life 1995-current  


03/18/2023 07:41 PM 

Time line

Artemis as a tuatha de dennan 3000-2094 War of Sen mags and the formors Born: BCE 2095 2095-2089 Asrael training  BCE 2070-1530 ishtar training -Babelonias fall-a new dynasty -takes it place 1530-1030 1st reincarnation 1030-700 BCE 2nd life span-700-500 BCE -Shadow vampires first assault 3rd reincarnation 499-300 BCE 3rd life span 299-150 BCE  4th reincarnation:  149-29 BCE 5th reincarnation 28 BC-50 AD 5th life: 50-170  6th reincarnation: 171-400 6th life: 400-600 AD 7th reincarnation 601-910 AD 7th life 911-1030 -Templer era  -Escort of vector sigma -First Bible escort -location of arc given  8th reincarnation 1031-1300 8th life 1300-1630 -Meets eclipse -Kids birth -muramasa training  -First students  -Battle of sekigahara  -Black death -100 year war  -Mongol rule -Ming dynasty rises 9th reincarnation- 1631-1700 Lycan era 9th life- 1701-1780   -endless night war -First meets angels -First beatrice defeat thus marks her rebirth beginning 10th reincarnation  10 life: 1781-1864 civil war 11th reincarnation 11 life 1865-1920 Ww1 12 reincarnation 1921-38 12th life ww2 1939 to 1945 13th reincarnation 1946-1994 13th life 1995-current


03/18/2023 07:18 PM 

Axel- The Untamed Wolf

Name: Axel WolfNickname: WolfRelationship status: singleSex: maleOrientation: gayRace/species: German/WerewolfHeight: 5’11 (human), 7’5”(transformed)Weight: 160 (human), 240 (transformed)Age appearance: early to mid 20’sActual age: 250Hair color: ashy black with purple and red highlightsHair Length: shortHair style: short, spikey, choppyEye color: magenta/red (human), Red (transformed)Skin/fur color: peachy white (human), Black fur (transformed)Scars: none yetBirthmark: noneTattoos:Piercings: 3 on his right earOccupation: Wolf Tamer in carnivalPersonality: unpredictable, mood tends to be all over the place, animalistic, sometimes mean depending on mood, always high energy, loyal to a fault to those he deems worth it or has submitted to (if he can be tamed), Dangerous, vicious.Profile Song:Backstory: Not much is known about Axels past, even to him. His uncontrollable transformations as a werewolf has caused many black outs over the decades thus leaving him with fragmented memories. What he does know is he was born in Germany but left soon as a small child with his family. The next memory is the slaughter of his parents, Wolf like beasts tearing them to shreds. One got him but he was spared. The next memory is waking up 5 years later in a pool of blood, clothes shredded and gone and a pile of bodies surrounding him. Over the years he learned to control the beast inside him to an extent, the exception being on full moon nights when the beast gets the better of him.250 years later and he still searches for the ones that cursed him and slaughtered his family, all the while growing more and more angry and animal like.Now, the search continues. Only now he does not travel alone anymore, he has taken up refuge as an animal tamer in a traveling carnival. Here he trains and performs with his three Wolf pets Fang, Scar, and Shadow.Chained and restrained when needed, the ringmaster of the carnival keeps close watch over the Wolf and his transformations. After all, murder is bad for business...

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