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Duty Driven (Taken/Busy IRL)

05/04/2023 02:54 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.”

Duty Driven (Taken/Busy IRL)

05/04/2023 02:47 PM 

White Noise

Summary: “Why didn’t you tell me you were hallucinating?” Frank asks in an undertone. Something somber in his voice. Laying low isn’t as fun as it’s cut out to be, Frank thinks, specially when you have a TBI patient whose lawyer brain and sheer stubbornness won’t be hindered by his memory loss, someone dead set on killing said patient and your own internal crisis going on. Notes: And we've come to the third installment! Another reminder to see the end notes for TRIGGER WARNINGS (which are potentially spoiling)!! Be safe y'all. Poems and excerpts taken from (in order of appearance):Symbol for static grief, Gilbert MaxwellSwift shot, Kynafrom Bodies of water, T. GreenwoodMake me human or give me death, May Yangfrom Flux, Afaa Michael Weaver   Happy reading!     White noise; a constant background noise that drowns out other sounds.   No color and no wonder... Wanting no end at all, yet vaguely seeing Something of peace in breathing and not being.   PAPERCUT   tragedies become memories, living, dying. Sound is dead. Breathing is only a feeling.   Frank finds the edge of the tattered fleece blanket and pulls it over Murdock’s shoulders for the fourth time since dawn before going back to his research, hands flying over clacking plastic keyboard, faded white letters and stains roughly the shape of his digits. Possible Punisher sighting. He reads the article quickly - lacks evidence besides a female eyewitness claiming she recognized his silhouette from the news and the fact that bullets where found on scene. The address isn’t mentioned, neither is Murdock’s name. No news of six dead mercenaries found at the wanted lawyer’s flat. No police report of shooting. Nothing. FBI agent investigated. Albanians killed. Fisk’s transport detail ambushed. FBI agents injured and dead. Nothing pertinent, not now. Besides the guy’s face - strangely familiar. The same that has been going through his head since the attack on Murdock’s house two days before returns in a loop, running useless circles around his brain: Fisk makes a deal with the Feds, gets shanked in supermax. Transferred to the Presidential hotel, ambushed by Albanians, saved by one lone FBI agent. Red calls him, Frank finds him brained in a warehouse covered in blood, dead guys all around them. The moment Red steps back into his flat, Fisk sends mercs on broad daylight to take him out. He either wanted to get back at Murdock for putting him there, or- Or he knew he was Daredevil. Mercenaries on broad daylight, though? It either showed desperation or a man who had nothing to fear from the police or the Federal Bureau itself. Frank digs his digits into the corners of his eyes, thumb and forefinger holding tight to the crooked bridge of his nose. An exhale, and his large, aching palms snapped the laptop shut. Murdock shifts at the sound, a tiny jump of his shoulders indicating the startle. The covers shift with his squirming, fall again to expose a pale shoulder prickled like a Braille page from the chill. He had spent the day before in some kind of dissociative state. Obeyed commands sometimes, but mostly just lied there, eyes open and body completely still. Except when he did talk, but then it was just one word, caught in a loop: “Danger.” “Nobody is in danger, Red. We’re okay.” “Danger.” “You’re okay, nobody’s hurt. Go back to sleep.” Frank stands up - takes the corners of the blanket again with a sigh and tucks them back around Red’s neck. Out of habit more than necessity he checks the sutures for any sign of bleeding, plus or serous liquid. He had cleaned them, checked the scarring over Red’s lower abdomen and thigh now that the sutures were out. Didn’t touch the ones in his head, though. He was due a check in with Curt, anyway. The bandages around his hands were still pink. One of the cuts hadn’t been deep enough for stitching, but it was in a bad place: every little twitch of Red’s knuckles got it bleeding again. Nicks and shallow cuts surrounding it, framing them like a halo. Nothing Murdock hasn’t survived before, which isn’t saying much. Last he heard of the Devil before this sh*t show, he had been trapped under a collapsed skyscraper in Hell’s Kitchen. Had the whole thing fall on top of his head. Figures that wouldn’t have taken him down. Frank is tempted to say nothing can by this point, but circumstances have changed. Only takes one wrong move, Frank, Curt would say, tearing the wrong ligament, severing the wrong muscle, and you’re down. For good. Murdock’s breathing changes like an omen moments before he awakens. Frank’s been getting used to the sound of it - deep, relaxed breaths turning choppy, shallow - and hadn’t noticed. He listens to the change, the shift of ribs allowing lungs to expand full of air, for the tell tale- There. Abrupt inhale, a pause and then a long, carefully measure exhale. Frank sits back against the creaking old chair and watches Red twitch under the sheets, back turned to him. He moves, the blanket falls from his right shoulder again. Frank doesn’t try to straighten it back this time. “Hmm.” He meets Red’s first words with a grunt of his own, brings restless fingers to scrape over smooth wood, catches the splintered edges with his nails, digs them into the hollowed out nicks - carved again and again with fingernails until he couldn’t wash out the dark stains anymore. He stands up once Red turns, pushing the blanket down his torso and staring up at the ceiling. Heads to the kitchen. The whole emotional trauma sh*t and activity from two days before hadn’t done him any good and he was clearly still out of sorts. Eyes lethargic where they oscillate from the ceiling to the wall, sunlight reflecting dully on the damaged retinas. He peruses for a clean glass - one thing he’s come to realize about Red the last twelve days, you can fool his ears if you try but you can’t fool his nose. Or tongue for that matter. Unwashed cups gets him the disgruntled, pissed off face; anything he doesn’t like eating gets Frank the puppy dog f***ing looks. Shoves the glass of water into Red’s hands as soon as he’s up and leaning against the headboard, peeks over his shoulder at the sound of rustling sheets and fleece blankets before getting one for himself. Gets back only to see Red doing his smack-of-lips routine, tongue working over his teeth with that puppy look again, forefinger twitching along the hem of his sweatpants, scratching at the skin under it. His right hand is unsurprisingly uncooperative on the task of getting a proper hold of the cup. When Murdock fails a third time, Frank throws patience out of a window and sits down by the bed, enveloping a cold, shaky hand with his and helping him find a grip around the cup, clenching his fingers forcefully over Red’s. “Thanks,” barely loud enough for his ears to catch. He ducks his gaze in favor of missing that ridiculous look Red puts on his face when he’s thanking him, catches glossy red paper from the gift half-hidden under the pillow. Looks away. Matthew drinks slowly, blinking sluggishly through each gulp. Frank gets tired of the f***ing creaks of the chair and brings one from the kitchen, straddles it at a reasonable distance from the redhead - close enough to jump in should he let go of the glass. There’s been enough broken glasses around Red recently for him to know it’s not safe, should that cup break. With his head messy like it is, Frank isn’t sure if he would jump away from it or clench his palms around the shards until it bled. “Headache?” “No,” a frown. “Why can’t I move my hands right?” Frank squints at his face; every inch as clueless as he had expected. He had been doing it a lot, recently. Having episodes and forgetting about them afterwards. “A window broke. You got hurt.” Murdock’s head snaps up, eyes big when they land between his arms and torso. “You’re lying.” Yeah. Frank ignores it. “Who am I?” Matthew’s eyes go up to the ceiling in what Frank recognizes now as an attempt to roll in disdain. “Do we really have to-” “Yeah, we do,” kid almost gets himself shredded in a broken window and he wants to know- “F***ing hell, Red.” Shoulders go back, his spine straightens, chin goes up. Sh*t, and it’s not even a fighting stance. Frank had seen that in the hospital room, yeah. But mostly, he saw that one in court. Kid’s geared up. “You’re Frank,” a shaky right hand pulls the fleece blanket away from him, exposing his naked upper body. “You have military training but apparently doesn’t answer to anyone. You don’t have a job or a license, but you carry a lot of guns. You killed people yesterday and yours vitals kept steady like you were washing the dishes or doing your laundry. You’ve had me for almost two weeks and you somehow failed to mention that I’m a target for someone powerful enough to send armed mercenaries after me in the middle of the day.” Murdock takes a long breath, lets it out with a defeated sigh. “Who are you, Frank?” Can’t lie, right then. Not with those eager, desperate eyes stripping him bare. “A while back,” voice goes low, Frank clears his throat, “there was a shooting at Central Park. Three gangs.” He can almost smell it, the stench of death when it started creeping up on him. When he woke up and realized- “They killed my family,” a whisper: “all of them.” Matthew turns to him, then. The same attentive, considerate gaze Frank recognized from the graveyard. Willing to carry a few more burdens, a few more pains. Like he didn’t have enough of them. Gets him remembering that this is the man that cried for his daughter, for Frank. Frank who had bounced a bullet off his head not a week before, who had terrorized him into killing, taped a gun on his hand and chained him to a chimney. And now Red was here, with a whole less baggage than he had the day the met - all those years wiped clean out of his head -, and still willing to hear it. Share that burden again. “Got shot in the head,” a flinch, “but I survived, Red. Went after them, took all of them down.” He lets go of the wooden backrest once it protests against the strength of his grip. “You were my lawyer, when I got caught.” A head tilt. “I got you out of prison?” He asks in a small voice, slightly odd. “Nah,” he fixes his eyes back on Red, “that was me.” He frowns, considering the new piece of information. Maybe putting more questions in his head than answering them. He’s a lawyer in the care of a wanted murderer. “You helped me then,” he offers, it’s barely consolation but it’s all he can give. “Even when I didn’t want you to.” He’s waiting for a lot of things. A speech about revenge not being the same as justice. About second chances and life is sacred, Frank. He’s certainly not expecting what he gets: “I’m sorry.” A pause. Frank lets it stretch until it snaps too thin. “What?” “About your family,” a flicker of pain through his eyes, “I’m sorry you lost them.” Nausea hits Frank hard. Maybe it’s something about hearing it coming out of Red’s mouth - the raw truth of something morbid, horrifying coming from someone... sh*t, someone good. The type of good you don’t believe when you see it. Looks unreal. “Yeah,” he looks at him. Really looks at him. “Yeah, Red, me too.” The silence grows but it doesn’t offer much more than an attempt at catharsis; maybe an understanding. Facing a shared loss, loss of loved ones, of memory, of control. Seems like hours later, maybe, when Murdock finally speaks up again. “What do we do, now?” He asks, voice cracks into a whisper. “What do they want with me?” “See if we can wait the dust to settle. Head back to the cabin if we can, get ya out the city.” Although Frank seriously doubted it. This whole thing smelled of Fisk - of power and manipulation and well thought-out plans. Smelled of him past the point of pulling strings - a**hole’s running the whole show. “This place...” “It’s a safe house,” Murdock nods. “Might keep us out of trouble for a while.” Frank sighs, stands up with his trigger finger jumping against his upper thigh. Talking of them got his whole skin creeping, stress building up, muscles tensing. The carousel song going round and round in his head. “How’s the head, Red?” As if on cue, Red reaches to touch the sutures. Frank snatches his wrist, avoids pressing into the bandages. “Hey, don’t touch it.” Doesn’t let go, for some reason, calloused fingers tight around the shivering skin. “It’s... it’s fine.” His voice goes tight, breathing goes odd. He does that thing again, spilling out of himself like a broken cup, head flying miles away from his body. Or at least, he attempts to. He’s back in the room soon, flinching at sounds Frank can’t hear. Hyper-alert, goosebumps rising in cycles all over his arms. Frank sighs, leans back while slowly letting go of Murdock’s wrist. Frowns when Murdock flinches, hand slamming down against the mattress and immediately clenching around the fleece, bunching it and letting it spill from the cracks between his fingers. He worries the fabric between his palm and the bed until his breathing evens, his shoulders stop jumping and muscles coiling at everything. “You know, you’re gonna have to tell me sometime, Red.” Murdock either does everything he can to avoid his eyes landing on Frank or he has no clue where Frank is in the first place when he responds. “Tell you what?” Frank sits back down. Cocks his head back. “Com’on,” he chides in an undertone, “Don’t do that.” Murdock deflates with a shaky sigh. “I know,” he scratches at his neck gingerly. Frank eyes the scrapes on his forearms from jumping that building. “But I didn’t lie, the pain isn’t too bad.” “Right,” he sighs softly. “Hey, Red?” Matt turns to him, eyes lost somewhere on his neck. Chest going up, up and down in stutters. Up, up, down. “Breathe.” A flush rises up to his cheeks and colors his neck pink too, but Red tries. He’s been needing that a lot - someone to remind him to eat, breathe, take a break. “C’mere,” Frank stands up once more, sits down on the edge of the bed. Leaves plenty of space for Red to retreat away if he needs to. Can feel him reading him before he makes a decision, curious little head tilts before deciding and inching slowly towards the marine. Frank is mindful as he traces the sutures, checks for the third time for any signs of infection. The sickly red is down to a less concerning shade of vermilion - the wound didn’t close as quickly as the gunshot to the thigh or the slash on his stomach, but it was scabbing. “Should pay Curt a visit, to be sure.” He grunts, presses his palm against Red’s forehead before making a sound to indicate the movement. Red reacts better to it when he knows something’s coming. “Can’t tell if it’s healing as it’s s’pposed to.” “Who’s Curt?” “A friend, helped me when you were hurt.” Matthew smiles softly and Frank stops where he’s moving, drawn back to the slight push of lips. His whole face lights up with it. “I thought you were the one who put my head back together.” Frank can’t help a snort at the quip. Shakes his head. “Let’s go.” He walks up to the closet first, perusing for something Murdock could use. It was a fierce cold outside and winter was approaching. Grabs a pair of black wool gloves, threadbare and probably smelling like all the years it spent on the bottom of Frank’s bags. Forages for a scarf and a thick sweater to go with the coat he had brought from the kid’s place. “Put that on,” Murdock cocks his head in that ridiculous way of his before taking the offered items. Frank frowns at the pouty, plush mouth when the redhead licks over the chapped lower lip. He finds that he can’t look away. Red suddenly goes still, straightening up subtly. Frank clears his throat and turns away, feeling see-through. “I’ll get you a goddamn chapstick on the way back, yeah? C’mon.” Ding ding , he lost that round. Red stays still for a moment longer in appraisal and Frank feels like an a**hole who just handed over ammunition to the enemy. He strolls towards the door, ignores the nagging chip on his shoulder until he can’t: “And drink some f***ing water, Red.” He opens the apartment door after checking his handgun, shoving an army knife in a holster and extra ammo on the inside pocket of his jacket. Leaves Red’s cane and glasses where he can find, although he doubts he’ll be taking them. Keys. Burner. Money. Curses himself as he reaches for some paracetamol, in the likely event that Red’s headaches make a come back. Murdock shouldn’t be moving half as much as he is but this sh*thole has not elevator, which makes getting him a wheelchair to avoid stairs useless. Waiting for Red to get on with it, Frank leans against the door frame, eyes casually sweeping his surroundings. There was the possibility that Army lady and Knee jerk were alive, if they were, they either recognized Frank or they didn’t. If they did, there’s a small chance Fisk has people trying to find where he is. He had nothing but contempt for the son of bitch, but there was something about the immediacy with which Fisk established his control. Managed to get himself out of supermax, put the FBI after Matt Murdock and sent someone to kill him the very second Red stepped inside his apartment. Trigger finger taps, taps, taps against his thigh. He knows the layout of the Presidential Hotel by now. Frank could drive Red to Curt’s and go there, end this. But that meant leaving his one-legged friend and the concussed, amnesiac idiot on their own to fend against more mercs. And then the guy from the warehouse shows up and what in the world are they supposed to do with that? Murdock steps closer as he hides a reddening nose under a dark, coffee-colored scarf. The threadbare fabric probably had some stains from when Frank had to use it as a tourniquet, but it was functional. Walking down the stairs, Red misses some steps, fingers digging on Frank’s biceps the first two or three times his knees decide to buckle out of nowhere. From there on, the marine manages a subtle grip on his upper arm, steering him close so he can guide him properly and keep him from keeling over if he can. If Murdock is confused about the different car and the blood under the back tires, he doesn’t mention it. By the time Frank drives away from his building, Red’s already asleep, face nestled in Frank’s scarf.     Frank notices them when it’s almost too late. He keeps his eyes open and alert all the way to Curt’s place. It’s half an hour from East Harlem to Midtown, give or take, and low blues rock filled the car from the radio station he had settled in when Red kept flinching from every horn in his sleep. Taking the FDR Drive had been a bad idea. They’re just driving past East 59 th street when Red suddenly jumps in his seat, sluggishly fumbling for Frank’s arm, blinking in sporadic, forceful motions. “Something isn’t right.” Someone blares a horn, a loud screech of tires and two black cars flank them from both sides. A woman in a red Bentley just behind them screams when the left car forces her to move out of the way, Frank immediately spins the steering wheel right, stabs his feet down against the accelerator. There’s too much traffic. A car tries dodging out of the way and loses control. Left car can’t avoid crashing against the lower part of the vehicle. A silver Honda crashes against a truck on his right, a man screams, Red’s fingers dig into his forearm and pulls him away from the window when the first gunshot flies over their heads. The silence precedes the telltale drop of a canister outside the van. Frank can’t recognize its shape, can’t see where it landed. Unbuckles his seat belt in under a second before throwing himself on top of Red, covering his whole frame with his at the same time he pulled his head closer to his chest, making a shell out of his hands to protect his break. Instead of exploding, smoke bursts up into the air and keeps spreading high. His visibility will take less than a minute to be shot to hell. Another canister, he uses the little time he’s got to shove Red in the floor between the passenger’s seat and the dashboard, under the glove box. “You stay there, Red, don’t you goddamn move-” Another canister, this one hits the window before it falls to the asphalt. A symphony of horns not far behind them work in tandem with screams, people running, another car crashing. Frank pulls his AK from under the back seat with a painful tug, two mags. “Frank, there’s too many-” “You don’t move from there, Red, you hear me?” “Frank, you have to listen to me!” The gunfire starts. He manages to open the backseat door and jump to the ground, crouching low and squinting through the smoke. The worst of it gathers in front of the car, wind blowing west and taking the fog with it. Frank looks back to Red, curled up impossibly small under the glove compartment, breathing hard with each gunshot and shattered car window. Sh*t, he can’t- he can’t leave the car. Can’t force them back and take them one by one as he’d usually do. Can’t leave Red unguarded and helpless in the f***ing van and- Frank takes his eyes away for just a second. Crouched low and waiting for a reprieve on the bullets to return fire. Just a second and it’s long enough for Red to shout out and Frank’s finger to twitch violently against the trigger. When he turns his gaze back, Red has his face splattered with blood, an assault rifle in his hand and a guy shouting, holding a broken nose, bleeding profusely all over his fingers. Red’s relentless, Frank had forgotten. He doesn’t give the blonde bearded guy a second to as much as step away before he’s driving a powerful kick between two ribs once, twice, three times until Frank’s sure he heard one of them break. Still manages to shove the butt of the gun to Blond Beard’s mouth and finish him off with a kick to the throat. “Jesus Christ, Red,” he turns away and stands up. The smoke finally dispersing enough for him to spot heads and weapons. At least five from the left, another three from the right. He points and he shoots two down before they notice where the bullets come from. A man screams, getting out of his car with a kid pressed tight to his chest, scrambling away from the black-clad, armed mercs approaching Frank’s van. He drops into a roll, throws a look over his shoulder. “Keep your head down, Red!” Gunfire starts again. Frank curses under his breath. There’s heat coming from both sides, Red is already spent from a few kicks and looks ready to pass out. Got not time to kill them if he wants to keep Red from getting shot again, for good this time. “Frank, there’s more-” He sees it before Red’s finished speaking. A third car approaches from the other side of the road. No identification plaques, black. “F***’s sake,” voice gets lost in the roaring gunfire, Red screams out some kind of warning seconds before another smoke grenade is thrown at his feet. He takes it and flings it as far as he can before jumping up and returning fire. Another goes down, he narrowly misses a bullet coming from the right. But the mission is change, his focus another: maintains shooting until he’s safely back inside the van. Thinks he sees another come down before slams the door shut and keeps firing. “Put your seat belt on-” “Frank-” “Put your goddamn seat belt on now!” Red jumps back to the passenger seat and buckles himself in with shaky hands. He drops the AK with the empty clip down and takes his handgun with his left, the right hand grips at the steering wheel just as he presses down the accelerator. At the sound of the gunshot, Red goes from erratic to completely still, freezing against his seat. That same panic again. “Just hang on, Red,” he maneuvers between two crashed cars forgotten in the middle of the road and drops the handgun as soon as he gains just enough speed to get the others running towards them. “Just hang in there.” He stops. Matt’s breathing is still too quick. Frank uses the time it takes for four remaining bad guys and the other two joining the party to circle the car. The moment three of them step in front, he shoves his feet hard against the pedal. One barely manages escaping. The van jumps when it runs over his legs, and everything else from the other two. The shock of it seems enough to startle Red out of his panic. Ragged breaths turning shallow and angered turn towards him as he manages a hasty escape, lowering down his head from time to time when stray bullets manage to hit the back glass. “What the hell , Frank?!” Doesn’t offer anything in return but a look that Red, somehow, manages to hold. Frank hasn’t apologized for who he is in a long time, he won’t start now. WATER   This is what I know: memory is the same as water. It permeates and saturates. Quenches and satiates. It can hold you up or pull you under; render you weightless or drown you. It is tangible, but elusive.   Murdock is barely coherent by the time they find a place to ditch the car. Frank has to drag him and sit him in the cold grass by the roadside and get him to breathe properly. Waits at least twenty minutes until he’s sure the younger man can manage to move. It’s not news - Red seemed to have some delayed responses sometimes. Pushed through the trauma to get through the fight and crashed right after. He can’t be picky and there’s no other illegal stolen cars around that he knows of to rob from bad guys so Frank goes with the least worse option: take from one of the local gangs he knows off. It’s risky, some of those guys have friends in high places, but he’s got Red to think of and dangling him around security cameras is a bad idea, so no walking. “You stay there, stay hidden.” Frank orders, eyes all the while jumping from Matt’s face to his surroundings, to every car that passed. “I won’t take long, I’ll stay close, yeah?” Red nods with a heavy shrug, whole body drained. Frank nods, attention orbiting the redhead’s face again. The blood splatters dusting his right cheek, his eye, his neck and jaw. His lips. The muscles around his wrist and forearm tense and ripple with a spasm, fighting the urge to reach out and clean the dark-red dots. “Stay safe. You notice something, you run.” Matt nods through a sigh, whole body deflating as he finds somewhere to sit and wait, out of sight. Frank’s footsteps take a while to move out of his hearing range. The attack in the middle of FDR Drive, in plain daylight, opens his eyes to the severity of the situation. Someone is desperate to either kill him or take him and Frank knows who it is, Matt wasn’t fooled by his routine for a second. He has a feeling Frank knows that too. The shameless, unapologetic way the man presents himself as nothing else than Frank is somewhat fascinating, even if Matt isn’t sure he has the time to dally over it. The marine had been nothing if not a solid beacon of composure and steadfast single-mindedness through the whole time he’s had him in his care. If Matt shivers, Frank brings him a scarf. If he has headaches, Frank gives him his meds. The car isn’t safe, he finds another one that is. Mercenaries came after Matt to kill him, Frank killed them instead. No second thoughts, no regrets. He thinks of it while feeling oddly out of his own body, resting his head against... something. Isn’t sure what. Something solid, cold, echoing the vibrations coming from the ground. Reality downs on him at the same time it feels far away, held distant from his own body. Maybe it’s the physical exertion or the rapidly building migraine. Maybe it’s because he’s been in his second gunfire in under three days and feels oddly unafraid of the fact. Maybe it’s because he’s already witnessed Frank Castle kill ten or more people and he still feels safest with him. He wonders if it’s because Frank’s the only person he remembers and knows clearly, untouched by the fog circling thick around his mind. Or because, even terrified at the prospect of a man that kills so easily, so efficiently, Matt can still identify a slight thrill of the simplicity of it. The finality. It horrifies him and settles him, too. Knowing that those people can’t come after them, can’t hurt anyone else ever again. “Always had the dark inside,” he whispers, isn’t sure why but can’t feel his lips moving, only his voice. “Murdock boys.” What was it Grandma used to say? He remembers sitting by her feet in the living room, drinking something pleasantly warm. His reflexes aren’t exactly a surprise. He remembers Stick training. Remembers getting ready for the war - a voice like that of a drill Sargent: it’s time to stop taking a beating and start giving one. Stick knew. He smelled it in him, the day after. The tears in his face. The other man’s scent. He reeked of it, couldn’t get it out of himself. Milk? Something. She’d tell her neighbor sometimes, a punishing strong hand clamped around Matt’s shoulder. He wasn’t sure what happened, but she said Matt did something wrong. That something was wrong with him, inside him, just like his Dad. There’s something wrong with me, he remembers thinking, gritting his teeth because his wrists hurt and his back did too. God is punishing me for being bad, like Grandma said. Sitting on the breakfast table, the nice nun who smelled of black tea and antiseptic asked what was wrong. Why did Matt cry all night long, and he couldn’t answer because- because- Because he doesn’t think about it. Because he couldn’t say it, she’d see it like Grandma saw it. The bad thing inside him. The dark. But Stick knew it the moment he went down to the basement. He smelled it in him and for the first time, Matt heard his heartbeat skip in surprise. And then anger, and something he wasn’t sure of that he later learned to identify as sadness. Sh*t, kid. And then he had nodded, hadn’t he? He nodded and for the first time, didn’t tell Matt off for crying. I’m gonna teach you to defend yourself first, he said, fancy kicks later. If you can’t use your arms, use your legs. If you can’t use your legs, bite that f***er’s throat out and make him bleed. And Matt did, not a month later.     The headache hits him hard when the hazy, floaty feeling dissolves, sitting on the passenger seat of a car. And with it, the sense of danger, of not being safe. Of having eyes all around him. Doesn’t remember Frank coming back, now that he thinks of it. But Frank’s heartbeat pulsates in steady, strong thumps by his left side, one hand in the steering wheel, head leaning back against the back rest. They’re moving - car, Frank came back with the new car -, the noises of the city considerably less grating with the closed windows. He thinks about asking Frank if he had slept, but it wouldn’t do to give it away that he had no idea what happened in the time span between sitting in the cold grass thinking about his childhood and being in the car. Last time he could properly recall being conscious it was still afternoon, maybe close to sunset, but now the car roof was cold and so was the asphalt. The air lacked the heat sun brought with it. Frank opens a crack of his window with a sigh and the rush of smells makes Matt suddenly dizzy. Mexican food (a block away), car exhaust (everywhere), sweat, garbage (garbage truck few yards behind them), dogs (several, park), Hudson (to the right), cheese (pizza? No, Italian place), alcohol (a bar, cheap beer). Hudson. The same scent he smelled on the clothes in his kitchen floor, the day before. Or what Frank said was his kitchen floor. Everything smelled of him although dust had settled in the place. It didn’t feel lived in. But the clothes, the river had washed away a lot of the smells and covered others, but there were some Matt could pinpoint clearly: blood, a considerable amount of it, gunpowder, smoke and leather. Car seat leather. His chest hurts. Matt hears his own pulse stutters before it quickens, the throbbing pain climbing up his neck and reaching the fracture tearing at the right side of his head. Panic builds in his throat and he doesn’t know why. The smell of the Hudson clogs his nostrils, mixes with the scent of military-grade smoke bombs that he remembers from earlier. The handgun and the sound it made when it went off. Somehow so much worse than the assault rifles and shotguns. Terrifying in a way being attacked hadn’t been. He clenches his fingers around his knees. He can’t do this again, he’s been panicking over nothing all the time now and he needs to tell Frank to shut the goddamn window but the words can’t seem to come and his voice is lost somewhere, buried deep- Drowning. Matt remembers drowning. In the river? He couldn’t breathe. The car went deeper and deeper, water broke the front windows and cracked the windshield and he couldn’t breathe, couldn’t find a way out- His breath leaves in a ragged cough before he remembers how to breathe, inhaling brokenly and having his whole frame shudder with the strain of it. Fingernails dig deeper in his legs, enough to sting. The pain isn’t enough to snap him out of it. Isn’t enough, he needs- ”...Red, Red,” doesn’t sound like the first time he said his name, “Red, goddamn it, open your hand.” He flinches away from the knuckles resting against his forearm before registering the heartbeat against the skin - Frank. He tries to tell him, tell him he can’t breathe, that there’s no air, that his chest feels too tight and he’s scared, and doesn’t know why, that he was drowning and he needed help- “Open your hand, Red, com’on. You’re okay.” He does as told, fingernails unlocking painfully from the skin above his knees and the fabric of his pants. Two small pills get dropped on his shaky left palm. “Just swallow ‘em, it’ll make you better.” Frank seems to take his hesitation as stubbornness which works just as fine for Matt if it covers for the fact that he can’t remember how to move without panicking more. “What is the other one?” His voice is embarrassingly small and choked up - no air left in the room for the words to come out completely formed. Chest goes up and down too fast. But he doesn’t recognize the chemical smell coming from the second, oval-shaped pill, compared with the capsule-like shape of the paracetamol. Frank nods softly in acknowledgment. Of what, Matt’s not sure. “It’s Xanax, just take it, Red.” He drops the pills in his mouth with trembling hands and struggles with pushing them down his throat enough that Frank feels the need to check him before hissing out an alarmed sh*t. Matt startles, body straightening up in his seat, muscles tensing around his arms and shoulders as he hones his senses outside, one arm coming to grab Frank and pull him back, away from the windows. He isn’t sure why but they stopped and all the other cars around them did too. Spot the threats, tame the pain into submission. Has to protect Frank, cover the car, find the threats, make sure no one is hurt. He’s gotta make sure no one gets hurt- “Hey, hey, it’s fine,” spot the threats. Three teenagers laugh in the car behind, a dog barks, someone blares a horn, a motorcycle drives past them, a glass breaks, sirens far away. “Red, it’s fine, there’s nothing there-” Matt presses Frank back when he tries to move, away from the windows. Away from the shooters and the bullets. Has to find somewhere safe to hide him, has to spot the threats before they- Hands close around his wrist. Matt flinches away with a cry before recognizing the heartbeat pressed against his own pulse. Frank. “Red,” heartbeat too fast, thundering over his ears, how can he spot the bad guys if he can’t hear them over his own heart? “Red, calm down. There’s nothing out there.” Nothing? No, that’s not right, Frank was surprised by something, he saw something that alarmed him. Has to find the air so he can fight and protect him, keep them away from the car, buy Frank time to escape and- “Red. We’re both safe, listen to me, do that ninja thing you do. I’m not lying, am I?” Matt tilts his head towards him, every breath burning in his chest. No. He’s not lying. They’re safe? “C’mere,” Frank’s hands direct him to turn his body towards his left. His voice is surprisingly soft. He thinks it’s the first time he heard it like that. “Your nose, s’bleeding again.” Oh. But why was Frank scared? He sounded alarmed, worried maybe. Frank takes something out of the glove box in a movement that, in his drowsiness, Matt can’t track before the marine’s leaning closer to him. Letting Matt get a whiff of his scent before blood drips over Frank’s shoulder. His blood. He wants to apologize. He should apologize. But breathing is still difficult and Matt can’t figure out the words. “Why-” words. Words, he needs to find the words. Frank presses a cloth against his nose, a palm cradling the back of his skull and helping him tilt back. “Why were you scared?” “I wasn’t scared,” a pause. Frank presses slightly harder before letting go and checking his nostrils, using the cloth to wipe the blood staining his lips and chin. “Just, shouldn’t be bleedin’ like that. It’s the third time already.” Oh. Worried. About him? The bleeding seems to have stopped, but Frank doesn’t let go immediately, no. Cloth-covered fingers rub at the bridge between his lips and nose, as if wiping a particularly nasty stain. “Did it... stop?” He asks partially because he wants to know if he should worry and partially because he isn’t sure what to think of Frank’s intense focus zeroed solely on him for such a length of time. Skin prickled with the idea that it felt like Frank had found something he really liked and it was either the sight of Matthew bleeding or his lips. Or both. Matt isn’t sure which one he prefers. Not for the first time, he speculates on which kind of relationship Frank and him had before... whatever happened to him, happened to him. A friend? A colleague? A father figure, a lover? Maybe Frank just felt the need to take care of people or maybe he got stuck in this situation without wanting to. Maybe Frank, under all the crassness and walls he built to keep people away, felt the incessant need for connection too. Maybe Matt was projecting. He could live with those three possibilities. Anything else was too much right now. Puts the control of their relationship on Frank’s hands and not on Matt’s lacking memory. Frank clears his throat before letting go of the cloth, dropping it carelessly over the gear lever. His heart does something odd when he turns to look at him again and finds Matt staring right at his eyes, where Matt can hear his eyelids move. Not the usual telling sign of pity or discomfort drawn from his dead irises, but a falter. Like surprise. “We’re clear,” he says and Matt comes to realize they’re moving again, just pass a heavy buzzing he came to recognize as streetlights. “I’m taking you to Curt now.” “Who’s Curt?” Frank’s heartbeat does another surprised little jump. His voice sounds oddly monotonous when he answers. “A friend that helped me when you were hurt.” Matt smiles softly, slightly confused at Frank’s forlorn tone. “I thought you were the one who put my head back together.” Frank’s heart stutters again but not in amusement at the quip. Something farther away from anger and closer to dread that Matt couldn’t quite figure out.       He hated swimming. Specially after he went blind and his senses started developing. He couldn’t say his childhood had been sheltered in any way - Matt had learned to take care of himself from a young age and he remembered that particularly well, even a few gaps and chunks were missing. His clearest memories were from his nine to twelve years old, although the chronology had a tendency of getting lost on him. Matt didn’t have many friends when he was younger. His Dad worked a lot most of the day and Matt spent a lot of his time alone at home, forbidden from going out. That is, after Grandma died and he couldn’t stay with her. He did remember Lindsey Shelton from school. One Matt met only months before the accident - her appearance comes to him so clearly, then. Long, thin braids that went all the way to her waist, thin eyebrows, dark skin like chocolate, yellow hair clips over her year. Remembers how a lot of older kids picked on her because she was so much smaller than the other kids their age. Her and Matt, also scrawny for his age, quickly became acquainted. Remembers almost drowning in the public pool, the one day Dad managed to take them both, and drowning in the Hudson with so much clarity that, when they’re closer to Curt’s place and rain starts pouring down, his heartbeat doubles. He doesn’t panic, not this time. Maybe because he’s too drained or maybe because of the Xanax. It makes him loopy, weird. He’s in the car sitting by a man he barely knows but feels he can trust with his life, but he’s also hearing Dad’s alarmed shouts and Lindsey’s scared, distant shrieks. A car honks past them, Dad pulls him out of the pool. Frank says something, Lindsey’s tears fall all over his face when she cries over his chest. He doesn’t tell Frank what’s happening, is not sure of it himself. A flashback? No, he knew where he was. He was in the car with Frank. They just parked outside of Curt’s building. It’s raining. And Matt’s friend is scared, because she thinks it’s her fault he can’t swim. Stepping out of the car makes the ghost touch of her small, childish fingers disappear. Raindrops make the world around him come around in a myriad of bright, tonal reds and flashing embers and Matt has to breathe deeply several times before closing the door. Frank looks different than what he had imagined. Matthew can’t exactly see in the rain, he has zero light perception, his sight extends like an endless void in front of him. It’s just that the radar sense works perfectly with the tiny sound waves each drop create. Sometimes, it can be overwhelming, depending on the rainfall. But if he focuses, just like this, he can hear the symphony of drops falling over Frank’s face and body and outlining every curve and edge instead of his impressionist-like blurry picture from before. He can see. Matt sees his deep set eyes, the strong eyebrows curved over them and the beautifully well-defined jawline. He follows the raindrops to a Botticelli-worthy upper lip, sculpted into a curve just bellow a crooked nose, the bridge healed unevenly from too many breaks. His hair was kept buzzed at the sides and slightly longer on top. His ears were... endearing, to say the least. Matt can’t help a small, tired chuckle. Frank’s heartbeat falters and he turns to stare, his puzzled expression makes Matt turn up to the sky with a free laugh. He didn’t know his senses could do that. He can see. “You have ridiculous ears,” Frank’s pulse indicates surprise, once more, and something like disbelief. “And you broke your nose at least eight times.” Frank doesn’t snort but there’s something like amusement in his tone when he speaks: “How in the hell would ya know that, Red?” Matt only offers him a small smile in return, the exhaustion sank deep in his bones but standing in the rain there, listening to how Frank looks like, it feels like he can keep going, if only for a bit. “I just do.” He thinks Frank scoffs bullsh*t under his breath, but the raindrops like thunderclap hit the shell of his ear and Matt flinches. The sudden interference with his hearing throws him off balance, which is maybe why Frank is suddenly there. Just distant enough not to crowd him, but at a distance that allows him to catch Matt, should he take a tumble. Curt lives in an apartment and he doesn’t appreciate the stairs. He’s had more than enough panic attacks and commotion for the day. Frank doesn’t reach out to steady him until it becomes clear he can’t keep going on his own and, even then, he doesn’t ask if he needs a break. So Matt keeps walking when his head starts throbbing, he keeps walking when his shot leg protests fiercely against the steps, keeps walking when the pain builds up so high that he feels like throwing up and almost faints. And when he gets his feet under him he walks some goddamn more. Castle is a steady, solid presence through it all, if not for the grumbled curses of almost there and goddamn it, breathe, and keep going, soldier and Matt wants to tell him that he’s wrong, because he wasn’t a part of Stick’s war, because Stick left him, because Matt wasn’t good enough. Or was it Dad that left? No. No, Dad died. He found him dead in the alley with a gunshot to the head and a stab wound to the stomach. No - no stab wound. Who died with a stab wound? Who- “Get in,” an extra heartbeat among the myriad of others in the apartment complex gets Matt jumping. “Sh*t, Frank, he looks like a ghost, he was supposed to be resting, not walking around like-” “Yeah, yeah, place to sit him down?” “For the love of- His head was open a week ago!” “Curt.” “I found you a wheelchair. Why-” Frank’s trigger finger jumps against his thigh. “You try and make him stay still, Curt.” The man, Curtis, sighs before guiding the both of them towards a kitchen table and Frank finally gets Matt to sit down. The reprieve should feel like heaven on the overworked muscle of his left thigh, still recuperating from the gunshot wound, but his body is too out of it to register. He isn’t sure how much time passes from the moment the second heartbeat (not Frank, slower, two inches taller, broader, antiseptic and good coffee, metallic sounding leg) leaves the room to when he comes back. He digs his fingers into his healing thigh, the pain makes him sharper. Needs to stay alert, needs to- Flinches away from foreign fingers attempting to touch his hair, his hand forms a fist, his leg muscles tighten. The fingers go away, familiar ones close around his wrist. “Hey, take it easy,” bad coffee, gunpowder, smoke, Frank. “Easy,” danger. Needs to- “There’s no danger. It’s my buddy, Curt. He’s a medic. Take it easy, Red.” “I just wanted to take a look at your head wound, if that’s okay? If you don’t want me to touch you, I won’t.” Matt waits for the tell-tale skip of his heartbeat, the proof of a lie, nothing comes. His body is still hesitant to trust, muscles tense and about to snap even when he slowly nods. The fingers come back. Matt feels the foreign pulse through the skin as it prods around his scalp, feather-like touches tracing the scabbing wound. “Alright, Matthew, how’s the pain?” “I can take it.” A skip of two heartbeats, Matt tilts his head, smells the air. No anger, although Frank’s heart speeds up slightly before he forces it back down. Curt’s stays slightly faster. “Right, but is it bad?” What does it matter if it’s bad if he can take it? “Sometimes.” “Alright,” the man slowly tilts his head against the light, “it looks clean. Healing slow but well. Did you have any fever?” He realizes he doesn’t know the answer to that question just before Frank catches on to the same. “He didn’t.” “Ringing in your ears? Deaf episodes? Alterations in taste or smell?” “Ringing,” he mumbles, “sometimes.” Hands move to check his pupils, the man takes a flashlight, switches it on. “How’s the nausea?” “Hm.” “Throws up from time to time,” Frank answers for him. “Think it’s that Post-Concussion syndrome you talked about?” Curtis makes a vague sound in consideration. “Could be,” the flashlights are switched off, the man leans back against his own chair. “How’s your appetite?” Frank grunts from his place, arms crossed over his chest like a guard. “Eats like a goddamn bird.” Matt ignores him. He eats what he can keep. He’s not supposed to waste food, the nuns said... or was it Dad? No, he’s quite sure he heard something in the orphanage, too. And Stick said differently. Food is fuel, you’re not supposed to enjoy it. “How is your sleep?” “Uh, it’s okay.” Curt must see something in his face because he turns to Frank for confirmation and Matt does a poor attempt of hiding his scowl. He’s not a child, goddamn it. “Sleeps most of the day sometimes, but it’s fitful. Still having those episodes I told ya about.” He snaps his head towards Frank, frowning. He didn’t have any episodes, did he? He’s about to refute that statement out loud before remembering the day he woke up with glass shards all over his hands and a broken window. “Have you had any bleeding? From the wound, ears, nose?” “I don’t think-” “His nose did for a bit,” Frank mentions, and it’s the first time Matt catches something akin to reluctance in his voice, “after some running.” “Jesus Christ, Frank.” The man in question only shrugs in response. Curtis seems to shake his head before turning to Matt again. “It could be post-op hypertension. Blood pressure goes up, capillaries can burst inside your nostrils, causing the bleeding. Which is why you need to rest, as much as you can. Stress when you’re recovering from head injuries can be really harmful.” Another sigh, exuding barely contained disapproval. “Any numbness in your extremities? Motor impairments?” Silence stretches thin before Matt raises his eyebrows pettily. “Oh, I can answer for myself, now?” Curt snorts as Frank huffs through his nose. “No numbness, my right hand is getting better.” “That’s good to know, squeeze my fingers please.” Matt does as told, squeezing as hard as he can with one hand and then moving on to the other. “It’s improved, but the muscle is still weak. Are you doing the exercises Frank’s taught you?” “Yes.” “Good, you’ll probably regain full function, but I can’t be sure, it’s not my specialty.” He lets go and Matt’s go back to his lap. “Any periods of confusion, lost time or hallucinations?” He freezes. Immediately tries to conceal it with a careful shake of his head, pressing his lips thin. Frank’s gaze burns at his skin. “No,” Matt answers in an undertone, voice coming off too weak and little convincing. “None.” He doesn’t need eyes to notice Frank and Curtis exchanging a cryptic glance.   CHILDHOOD   This matters because I’ve lived on that side of life that you all have made for me partitioned the orphaned one   The itch under his skin spreads until it takes over; an unrelenting pressure at the back of his head. Fingers open and close around the steering wheel, he gazes at the new bottle of painkillers held tight in Red’s hand before his eyes stray towards the reflection of his sutured skull on the foggy window. Frank’s geared up. Every muscle is ready to act and he has to fight every single impulse that tells him to do something. He has nowhere to go, nothing to fight, so he clenches his fingers harder over the wheel and stays put. Heart pounding like a freight train that has got to be pissing Red’s sensitive ears off but he keeps quiet, and so does Frank. Glancing from time to time at raindrops reflecting in sightless eyes that can’t appreciate the beauty of it. Goddamn it. He abruptly changes course, turning left when he was supposed to go straight, finding a spot by Ruppert Park, empty. It’s a few minutes past midnight already and the roar of traffic in the 2 nd and 3 rd avenue are far away enough that Frank can just barely make it over the rumble of the engine. He takes another look at Red, then, whose head is slanted slightly towards him in silent acknowledgment of the detour. Frank sighs heavily, lets all the air leave his lungs before turning off the car and leaning against the back rest. “You gonna talk?” He drawls, left hand joining the right over his thighs as it drops off the wheel, trigger finger twitching restlessly. Nothing to fix, nothing to do. “Talk about wh-” “Cut the sh*t, Red.” Murdock’s jaw works. Frank considers him with creased eyebrows before angling his body towards him, his face set in the beginnings of a scowl to the point he carefully schools it into nonchalance. “I don’t know what you mean, but I do know that we can’t stay here. So if you will-” Frank’s scoff interrupts him before it turns into a derisive laugh, only serving to get Murdock worked up. Good. Let him burn along with Frank. “Better keep that bullsh*t o’yours before you run out of it, Red.” Matthew turns away from him and the sutures reflect in impressionist-like strokes of dull color on the window, the picture forming poorly on the droplets merging together to form bigger ones and collecting at the frame. The lamppost light catches on shaking hands. “Why didn’t you tell me you were hallucinating?” Frank asks in an undertone. Something somber in his voice. Murdock scoffs but there’s no humor in it, no real reaction besides a bitter, forced indifference. Or resignation, who knows. Red presses his knuckles against his teeth as if about to tear it off in frustration, turning to stare out of the window in a world he can’t see. Maybe it’s the realization of how vulnerable he must feel and how much he must hate it that Frank lets the accusation fall from his voice. “Hey,” when softer doesn’t work, he turns sterner, “hey.” It feels like calling Junior out on lying. Like telling Lisa she can’t get into fights, even if he was proud of her for protecting her friend from bullies. He shakes his head out of the thought when his guts twist and turn over themselves. Reaching out to tap Red’s upper arm, Frank reminds himself to do it slowly - first touch soft, showing he’s not a threat. The words in the crumpled paper inside his pocket burned in the back of his eyelids: Gunshot, touch, name. Nudges with a little more pressure behind it when Red doesn’t flinch, calling his attention back to the car - the present -, away from the rain or whatever was happening in his f***ed up head. “Red,” now gentler, coaxing him out of his shell like he used to do with his kids, when they cried. Back when he had people to hold on to, people he hadn't held strong enough. It doesn’t surprise him that it works and Red deflates, angling his head towards Frank, eyes staring vacantly while his lips twitched from time to time, fingertips playing with the hem of his sweater. Frank notices the little blood drops caught in the wool. His left knuckles are reddened by the jab he threw at Beard guy earlier, his right ones are soft. Long healed over from the warehouse fight. Frank suddenly wants to press his lips against it, against proof that Red maybe has a lot in common with Frank, but he’ll always be different. Better. Innocent. Wants to taste that innocence in his lips - the light Red had inside, that spark of wild fire he couldn’t erase. “Talk to me, Red.” “I don’t know,” he says, and it’s clear it kills him. Either the admitting or the pain of not knowing, swallowing him up. “Sometimes it’s like a dream. The world feels weird, there’s noises coming from nowhere and smells or tastes that I know aren’t there. Sometimes I feel like I’m drowning.” Frank waits him out when he suddenly stops, allows his own knuckles, scarred and layered with bruises, to graze over the skin of Red’s forearm briefly. He was still losing a bit of weight, the marine noted vaguely. “The devil,” Frank’s heartbeat jumps like a bull against a cage before he forces it down. “I know it sounds.. ridiculous. But I know it’s him. Sometimes he’s just there and sometimes he talks and I don’t know why, I-” Words die before they make it out. Red shakes his head before turning to Frank. “I doesn’t happen often now, just sometimes and briefly. It’s fine.” Frank wants to laugh. Wants to do something with his hands. Shoot Red in the head and he comes back to save you from torture. Chain him to a chimney and he comes back to help you out of a death penalty. Hurt him and he forgives you, trap him and he tries to save you, take everything away from him and he’s still there. Body and mind soaking up abuse like it’s no big deal. “No it’s not, Matt.” In the silence that grows after his voice fades, there’s understanding. A distance Frank doesn’t try to impose by refusing to call him by name, an honesty Red doesn’t try and hide behind snark and stubbornness. Murdock looks a lot more like the guy Frank knew, before everything. The lawyer with the relentless sense of justice; the vigilante who’d sooner get killed than let someone get hurt. The guy who had two people who’d give him the world, if only he knew how to ask, and who he’d die to protect. And here they are now.     “H-h-hurts,” everywhere, and he can’t make it stop. It’s the first word through his lips once he wakes up. Smells blood, gunpowder, cordite, urine, dust. “Hurts, hurts-” “Red,” he’s moving, why is he moving? He needs to stop. He’s got to hide. He needs to hide before- “Red, it was just a dream.” “Hurts,” he isn’t sure what. His head. His head hurt. His belly, his thigh. It all hurts. “Red, what’s my name, huh? Can you tell me?” Voice. Deep. Tense. Familiar heartbeat. Gunpowder. Coffee. Shaving cream. Smoke. “F-rank,” a sob, “it hurts.”

Duty Driven (Taken/Busy IRL)

05/04/2023 02:41 PM 


Summary: “You stick with me, Red,” Frank drops his voice down to a whisper, “I got you.” Frank and Matt deal with the aftermath of the attack at the Bulletin while planning on how to move forward. Notes: Hi, there! We're getting to the end of this series, and this work, admittedly, has been one of my favorites to write. I'm a sucker for angst, if it's not clear by now. SEE END NOTES FOR TRIGGER WARNINGS! (Contains spoilers!) Poems and excerpts taken from (in order of appearance):November by Raymond P. FischerAnd the word for moonlight is my name by Jai Hamid BashirLoss of memory by James LanglasLady Lazarus by Sylvia PlathVery many hands by Aaron ColemanForgetting by Joy Ladin No. 30 "major character death", No. 31 "trauma" and No. 5 "forgotten". Happy reading!     November; the eleventh month of the Gregorian calendar. The last month of autumn in the Northern Hemisphere.   May I be blind whenever June clouds pass; Never lie down in sun-warmed meadow grass, Never smell clover; my voice grow harsh and thin, And next November leave me dead in sin.   BLOOM   This mouth is a wound from where I’m learning how to love.   With mid December comes unforgiving cold and merciless noise. Winter parks and Christmas fairs open, stores play Christmas’ songs from nine to five and Matthew can only allow it to flood him, drag him to drown into it as he sits in the cot by the broken window. He sighs at the sound of Frank assembling his gun for the sixth time. They had been easy to ignore at some point, but now each click echoes around his head like a gunshot. His head’s been getting better slowly. It took him a week to improve from the simple flu and two days of Curtis coming and going to reassure Frank the fever was not due to an infection and that Matt’s immune system has been compromised for a while due to poor nutrition and stress. And stress hasn’t been lacking. Fisk, and now he remembers enough of that name that his fists clench with the mere thought of it, is tearing Matt’s life apart. Not long ago he heard an APB on his name, considered armed and dangerous. There was someone using his symbol to kill people and now Daredevil was wanted for murder. A shoot to kill order was issued on Frank twenty-four hours after the whole Bulletin ordeal. Nine people died on the attack - including one that, according to Frank, was the man who shanked Wilson Fisk -, several were hospitalized and the man had escaped custody somehow. Matt opens his eyes at the sound of Frank disassembling his gun again. “Frank,” a grunt, “Frank, it’s the seventh time already.” “You been counting?” Matt stands up from his place perching at the window to sit down on the (uncomfortable, flea-bitten) couch. “Hard not to.” Frank only offers him another grunt. Puts the handgun together and drops it on the table, leans back on his seat and crosses his arms. “Past time we planned ahead, Red.” Yeah, Matt had been thinking the same. Running wouldn’t get them anywhere, but - “You should go, Frank.” A second. Frank’s heartbeat stops for a second before it returns, booming powerfully against his bruised ribs. Matt can feel his stare burning holes through his unguarded eyes. “Excuse me?” At the sharp-edged tone, Matt’s hackles raise. “This isn’t your fight-” “What do you mean, it’s not my fight?” His voice climbs up several notches and so does his temperature, Frank’s muscles tense and ripple. “Fisk is my problem, I’m responsible for this mess, you shouldn’t have to-” “Ah for crying out loud, thought this Catholic guilt martyrdom fest bullsh*t had been knocked clean outta your skull-” “Don’t change the-” “What, Red, you want me to walk away?” Could you do that, he asks him in another lifetime, could you walk away? “Yes! That’s exactly what you should do!” “And you’ll fight that guy in the Devil suit, weighting half of what you did a month ago and with your skull crocheted with wire?” His tone is mocking and it hits him in all the wrong places. Matt’s palms sting when he slams both down against the table. “You could have died!” He exclaims at his face, his own heartbeat mingling with Frank’s until it’s impossible to tell either one apart. “And there was nothing, nothing I could have done to stop it!” The marine’s heartbeat falters before he too rises. But Matt won’t give him the chance to push and prod and bend him. He needs to understand. “Fisk found someone to kill me, Frank. Someone better, faster and what do you think he’ll do if you stand in his way again?” “I’m not the one who dies, Red.” He growls, crowding into Matt’s space. Fast heart rate slows right down. The level of self-control of this infuriating- “So you get your head on straight, because I don’t care what bullsh*t you’re agonizing over right now, we’re doing this, you’re not doing this alone, you got that?” Matt inhales and doesn’t let go. Frank steps and only then he exhales, when the air is slightly less Frank and he can breathe properly. “This ain’t on you, Red.” A hand raises - he almost gravitates towards it before holding back. Frank eventually lets it drop by his side. He should know that Frank wouldn’t do it half-way, even when it came to taking care of Matt, getting him back on his feet. Had never been one for half-measures. And yet, it still seems he thinks Matt’s worth the time. Not like this, Red. He sits back down, unperturbed by Frank looming over him. Since a week or so ago, they’ve been mostly ignoring what had happened, ignoring the implications in Frank’s words, refusing to voice the unmentionable. “It’s like,” he exhales brokenly, “every piece of information I try to make sense of, it doesn’t fit. It’s like reaching for a broken cup to try and glue it together, but finding that most of the pieces are missing. I can see most of the fragments, I don’t know how it looks like when they’re together.” Frank nods, as malleable and open as a solid wall of bricks, giving nothing away. “Any leads?” Matt tilts his head up. “One,” he can mostly sense Frank’s eyebrow curving up. “The man who made my suit.” Frank stops for a moment, his arms cross in front of his chest. “How good was that copy, Red?” Matt feels the devil smile through his teeth. “It was identical.” The marine stops, head slanting to the side as if considering him, something in his face. His heartbeat changes, his temperature rises, blood pumping faster in a rush. Frank suddenly snorts, all the tension leaving his shoulders. “It is good to have you back, Red.”     Frank checks his gear as quietly as he can, leaving Red to his meditation thing. Sig, couple of knives, a smoke grenade because regular ones are bound to f*** up Red’s hearing. Prepares an extra getaway duffle with a lot of ammo, because he can almost count on a sh*t storm when it comes to Matt f***ing Murdock. Makes sure to shove some of the redhead’s clothes and pills and the cream for the fading bruises around his neck. A crumpled piece of paper from a week ago catches his eye. He had already memorized both the addresses scribbled down in there, repeated them until they echoed with his kids’ laughter and the never-ceasing gunfire. Frank’s mind is a battlefield and he’s the last man standing on it. At least, he thinks, eyes straying back to auburn hair, it used to be. He worries the paper between his fingers, eyes going over the same phone number in the back. He wasn’t here for me, Frank, Karen had said between sobs, splattered in blood as she pointed at the corpse slumped in the ground. Jasper Evans, the man who had shanked Wilson Fisk. And the bald a**hole had known. Had known Karen would find him, that she’d bring him in. He had known. It had been a stupid move, what he did. And he was still glad Red had been completely wiped out to notice Frank being gone most of the next day after the attack. He had twenty-four hours to get Karen and Curtis to safety before he went to the address he was supplied with and killed the six people waiting for him inside. He traces the phone number again. Shakes his head but doesn’t immediately throw the paper away, once he crumples it for the second time. It could come in handy. Maybe. His eyes stray back to Red. It’s been getting harder to stop himself from staring, these days. Specially now, that he knows. Knows what his lips taste like, how they move against his, how he grabs like he’s terrified you’ll let go of him. He sits down and watches and waits.     Red insists on wearing a black cloth around his head like a goddamn sock, but Frank doesn’t do much besides ruffling his hair teasingly. Matt only gets stuck once, during the ride. Frank wonders if he realizes it still happens. He’d just suddenly stop whatever he was doing and be very still. It wasn’t like his usual dissociative episodes, Frank isn’t sure if he’s just listening to something or lost inside his head. He thinks maybe there’s familiarity in his state. Like a man sitting in the corner of a safe house, a forgotten black guitar on the corner, the memory of Lisa’s giggles when he tried teaching her- Heartbeat must change. His smell - something does, because Red’s eyes snap open, his ear gravitates to his side. Frank has to drag his eyes away from the soft crease of worry between his well-defined eyebrows. Still not as sure as he once was, but focused. Ready. His grip changes around the steering wheel. Telling Red off for listening to his heart would be too much like acknowledging the fact that Red, clueless like a newborn fawn or not, always knew what was going on inside. It was a massive tactical advantage, now that Frank thinks of it. Perfect for manipulation if you know which words provoke the strongest reaction out of someone. But manipulation is not Red’s style, that’s for sure. “Will you be able to track ‘im?” He stops at a red sign only to find Murdock aiming a grin at him. “I forgive you for that.” Frank scoffs. “Right,” he reaches his arm behind him, shoving a hand into the duffel. “You’ll need those.” Throws the twin batons carelessly on Murdock’s lap. “Oh,” Frank keeps his eyes forward to avoid that face Red did - the guilty sh*t that seemed to scream you shouldn’t have at the same time it spoke of a gratitude that just wasn’t proportional to the deed. “Thank you.” He risks looking. There’s the face. Sh*t. He shakes his head. “Yeah, yeah, altar boy.”     Red wants to go barging in for answers once they finally manage to trace Potter back to a warehouse and Frank, unsurprisingly, has to hold his leash and knock some sense into him. So he drags Red to a rooftop, takes his binoculars out and watches. “This is a waste of time, Frank, I can tell you what he’s doing if you insist on recon-” “Shut up, Red.” He sighs at the put upon frown that answers him. Those f***ing eyes. “Yer nifty senses can come in handy, Red, not gonna lie, but we’re doing this my way or not at all. Don’t think I won’t chain you up again.” Murdock frowns. Translates the words to the memory before sighing. “F*** you for that, by the way.” “You’re welcome, Saint Matthew.” Red snorts softly at that and Frank can only pretend there isn’t a smile in his face mirroring the younger man. Reputation to uphold and all that. Frank’s good at waiting - so he settles in and watches, eyes keen on every figure passing by the place. Writes down a few suspicious car plates, photographs two or three people acting sketchy. Red’s sh*t at it. Meditating crap or not, Murdock’s jumping out of his skin by the time Potter finally shows up. He didn’t think it was possible for a guy to fidget as much as the redhead did, but Frank’s ready to shove a bottle of Xanax in his hands and beg him - again - to sit your goddamn ass down, for f***’s sake. He suddenly falls belly down by Frank’s side, his lips a breath’s width away from touching the skin by his ear when he speaks. “That’s him, the tall man. I think he’s bald. He smells like oil. There’s a woman with him, she’s packing heat, that’s-” Red tilts his head at the same time Frank catches the two kissing through the binocular. “Betsy’s his parole officer.” “Betsy?” “Yes, Fisk threatened to hurt her if Melvin didn’t work for him.” Frank’s eyes fall to his tensing knuckles. Red shakes his head in guilty dismay. “He got to him again.” “Any surveillance cameras?” Looks like a goddamn bird evaluating and picking a branch with the amount of head tilts he manages under a minute. “Not directly in the lot, but we might want to avoid the auto-repair shop across it.” “Right. How we doing this?” “Let me talk to him alone.” Frank stops. Stares. He’s more convinced every day that Red’s the human equivalent of a suicidal road chicken. “When he’s tied up and unable to crack your head open again, yeah, Red, sure.” “Frank-” “No, so you’re telling me this guy works for Fisk and has a girl to protect and you think he’ll listen to you? This Melvin, you said he’s strong, right?” Matt doesn’t back down. If anything, he seems more convinced that’s the way to go about it. “I can get to him, Frank, if we treat him like an enemy-” “That’s exactly what he is until he proves otherwise!” And maybe even then. Someone had to be cautious and Red clearly ain’t gonna be it. Frank bares his teeth in annoyance. “After the stunt Fisk pulled a week ago, you think he’s not waiting for you?” “We waited enough-” “Like hell we did, Red. You’re remembering sh*t but you still got a wire holding your skull closed, so don’t you f***ing start. We’re doing this my way.” Red’s skin is hot. Frank can feel it even from their distance. And his eyes- f***. “No,” he shakes his head, conviction in every movement he makes. “No, we’re not.” “F***ing-” “Frank.” “You have a f***ing death wish, Red? Is that what-” “I’ll go in there and I’ll talk to him, Frank.” “Ah f***.” “He helped me when he didn’t have to, he risked his life, Betsy’s life-” Frank throws his head back while still cursing, “when he agreed to it back then, and I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt.” Red aims his eyes straight at him, through him, stripping bare everything in his path. “I’m not letting him down again, Frank.” So he’s left to stare, again. Can’t stop staring. Can’t help letting whatever is blooming in his chest from spreading its vines all over his flesh and bones and taking over, consuming. This is what he had respected about Red from day one, from the moment he realized it wasn’t stupidity or naiveté, it was sheer, unwavering faith and unbelievable strength. Faith he refused to lose in the scumbags that would beat him half to death in the streets. Faith he refused to lose when a piece of sh*t tied him to a chimney and tried breaking him, showing him he was just as dirty. Hadn’t been ready for the truth, then. Now, he just lets it burn him from the inside out. This is Red, all of him. Missing chunks of memory and all, taking all of Frank in turn and not even realizing it. Stares maybe for too long, because Red’s out of sorts by then. Barely listens to his stammering - he reaches a fingertip to trace the shell of his ear, the peach-fuzz texture of his lobe. The soft sigh that leaves Matt in response - it’s too much. He clears his throat. “I go inside with you, Red, that’s final.” Matt nods, leans into the touch for a few moments more before squaring his shoulders back.     Frank sees it coming from a mile away. FBI storms the place, just after Frank shoots the locked gate and dodges having his head cut off with a circular saw blade - Potter is a big guy and abnormally strong and fighting him gets tricky once they’re surrounded. Matt takes care of that pretty quickly. He takes out three agents with a few well-aimed kicks and punches. Frank is careful to hit only legs and arms - there’s time to make a run for it, but the moment Red tries- “No!” Potter manages to grab Red around the waist with crushing force, the agonized gasp from having his broken rib jostled has Frank aiming his handgun at the man in a second. Nausea stabs him deep in the guts when Red is shoved head first to the table. “Hey, let him go!” No clear shot, if the guy as much as clenches the hand pressed against Red’s break- “Let him go or you die here, you hear me?” The tears give him a stop. Barely a second. “He’ll hurt Betsy!” The man exclaims, still holding Matt to the table, Matt with his fractured skull. Frank’s heartbeat speeds up more, his temperature rises. “Let him go, you piece of sh*t, let him go-” “Melvin,” a choked breath. “Melvin, don’t-” “He’ll hurt Betsy!” “Melvin, please.” The telling sound of a canister dropping. “Red!” He fires at the man’s right arm, precisely on the muscle so he lets go of Matt. A scream cuts through the sound of the flash-bang grenade going off, Frank jumps over to Red, throwing his body over his and hands covering his ears. His stomach does swoops at the thought of checking his head. “Hands in the air!” “Frank-” Matt drags himself up to run palms and fingers over his face, out of sorts, looking for injuries. “Frank-” “I’m fine, Red-” “You!” Frank turns over to the single agent up, hands trembling where he holds his rifle, young. “S-stand up! Show me your hands!” “Melvin,” Matt drags himself to the crying man in the corner, kneeling between the crates and boxes surrounding the plate. “You have to tell me.” “Don’t move, either of you!” Frank takes a step forward, covering both of them with his body, hands up in the air and gun pointed up to the ceiling, fingertips straight and away from the trigger. “Easy,” he growls, taking another step closer. Gotta keep his attention on him if Red’s getting what he wants. “Easy, kid.” “Don’t move!” “Melvin, please.” “Don’t you f***ing move!” Frank stops, but keeps himself moored to the ground. No one gets past him. “He didn’t tell me his name,” a muffled whisper comes from behind him, voice teary. “But he was FBI. Mr. Fisk- Mr. Fisk said they needed to catch you with the suit.” Footsteps approach from the hallways. There’s more in the way. “Red, now!” From a second to the other, all the lights shatter above him. Matt is body slamming him behind the safety of a few crates and wooden pallets as the agent starts shooting. Frank’s back to the wood, Matt pressing against his front, a hand clamped tight over his mouth. He makes a soft shushing noise, head tilting carefully up and Frank follow the direction, having a hard time taking his eyes away from the redhead. He catches the faint light coming from the back exit. He nods. “Please, he’ll hurt Betsy!” Potter’s cries echo through the walls as they make their escape. “He’ll hurt Betsy!”     Matt sits under the shower and lets the running water relax his tense, overworked muscles. There’s a bruise forming on the left side of his face, extending all the way to his temple. Matt senses it like a tense coiling of heat, burst veins like cobwebs spreading to his eyebrow and cheekbone. Apparently Fisk’s plans had changed. Trying to kill him turned into trying to disgrace him again - destroy the very symbol he worked so hard for. Frame him for being Daredevil - take away all he has left. Not according to Frank, though. He did mention once Matt had friends, but every time he tried going after a memory, as small or insignificant as it may be, he got lost in the fog. It’s there somewhere, suspended on the haze, holding its breath. Matt feels like a fool trying to touch the unreachable. Frank is back just as he’s finishing up. He had left Matt in the safe house and went back to follow Betsy. Make sure she’s safe, tell her to get out of town. His heartbeat is weird. Matt is so atuned to it, these days, that the shift crawls from his eardrums to his skin, his arms prickling in goosebumps. He pats himself dry quickly, eyebrows drawn in contemplation, tying the towel around his waist. His right side still feels stiff and weak sometimes, but he makes do. Frank is sitting in the living room when Matt steps out of the bathroom, heartbeat pounding against his chest, palms working together restlessly. He’s agitated, there’s heat coiling all over his frame as if he was about to attack, eyes following him when Matt steps into the living room. Frank’s heartbeat slows down but not by much. Matt claps his palms once, using the sound waves to orientate himself towards the duffle bag in the corner. Peruses inside for a pair of fresh clothes - sweatpants and hoodie, smelling of Frank. It’s only after he puts it on and the hoodie sleeves slide past his knuckles that he realizes they’re not his and almost pulls them off on principle. The ghost feeling of a fingertip caressing the shell of his ear stops him short of doing it. Matt sighs through his nose. Puts some socks on because there was a snow alert on the radio that morning and he could smell it in the air. Only then does he find a seat by Frank’s too-fast-too-wrong heartbeat. Knowing the best way to approach the man when he’s geared up helps. He tucks his elbows close to his body and stays quiet. Lets Frank know he’s not a threat or confrontational. If Castle notices his subtle try at communication, his body language doesn’t betray it. If anything, his muscles tense further, his heartbeat keeps pounding deafeningly loud, his blood pressure is through the roof. “Frank,” he tries, carefully reaches to touch his bicep. “What happened?” There’s blood on the soles of his boots, Matt notices, sniffing the air. “Frank...” The marine shakes his head, digs his elbows into his knees and briskly rubs his palms through the sides of his head. His breath hitches once, twice, but he never speaks whatever it is he’s got to say. Matt is just about to ask when the man suddenly leans back, stands up and stomps to the duffel bag. The one with his guns. “What are you doing?” No answer, predictably. The redhead jumps up too, his ribs protest at every deep breath. “Talk to me, Frank.” Frank slams a gun down against the kitchen table and Matt fights a flinch. He’s huffing through his nose, heart speeding up. Hormone levels spike, the bittersweet stench of adrenaline clogs the air - Frank is a bomb about to go off. “I told you. I f***ing told you. I told you we had to be careful, but you never listen to a f***ing thing anyone’s got to say, do you Red?” “Are you talking about Melvin?” No. Something else. There was something wrong. “Frank, what happened?” He takes a step forward, fighting the urge to fall into defense position when Frank’s trigger finger twitches. “Why do you smell like-” “Blood?” The soldier pulls something out of his jacket pocket and thrusts it into his hands, the coppery scent gets stuck to his tongue. He feels for it, the smooth polycarbonate drags across his fingers. The blood stains make it impossible for him to follow any traces of ink. “I don’t-” “Third body I found in the last week, Red. The third.” He takes a step back, brows furrowing down, presses his fingertips harder against the cards, can’t make sense of the ink. “Ask me their names-” “Frank, you’re not making any-” “Richard Murdoch, Matthew Ramirez, Louise Matthews, recognized any patterns yet, Red?” His stomach drops, blood turning cold. And Frank sees it and he’s vicious about it. Crowds into his space so Matt has nowhere to escape. “Yeah, got their eyes plucked out of their sockets while they were still alive before they were shot in the stomach, hands tied so they couldn’t do sh*t about it. This woman, Red? They left her in her kitchen. Her little kid found her. Her little kid.” Bile is corrosive like acid when it reaches his throat, coating the back of his tongue. He thinks maybe his pressure drops, because feeling leaves his fingertips and toes. “Fisk-” “Yeah.” Frank takes a step closer, Matt’s stumbles back when he reaches to pluck the three cards from his trembling hands. But he’s not done yet. Frank’s not pulling any punches and Matt feels like throwing up. “Now, you got a Fed dressed in your pajamas killing people, Fisk tearing your name apart, going after Karen, going after Curt, murdering innocent people to get you out hiding and you gonna tell me this piece of sh*t deserves a second chance, Red?” Matt’s mouth opens to answer but nothing leaves, his own heart hammering inside his chest, pressing against his sore ribs. “I can’t k-” “You’re goddamn right you can’t.” Cold seeps into his bones and Matt wonders if the air leaking out of his lungs is ever coming back, because suddenly it feels like there’s less oxygen in the room. He presses himself against the wall, chest barely moving. “This ends now. I’ll do it my way, my kinda justice.” Matt shakes his head once. Shakes it again more erratically and why isn’t there any air ? Why does his chest burn like it’s being torn apart? “No, Frank, you can’t, you can’t kill h-” “Yes, I can!” Frank steps closer, huffing against his face like a predator about to open his jaws and sink canines into his neck. “And I’ll kill anyone else in this town if it means you’re safe.” The air goes thicker, his heart squeezed tight in his chest and as fast as a hummingbird’s. And trapped between the beginnings of a panic attack and an elated sense of confusion, Matt feels like he finally understands Frank completely, if only for that moment. Sees all of him, the dark and the light, not fighting but constantly fusing. “Frank,” voice weak, his fingertips tremble when he reaches out, traces the bruised contours of his face. There are no words when he goes looking for them, still breathing too quickly, focusing on Frank. Bright like fire in front of him. “Frank.” “Shut up, Red,” had never heard his voice that weak, glass shattering wetly in every consonant. But his thumb comes up to caress Matt’s chin, his lower lip, his cheeks. “Shut your mouth.” Matt kisses him. It’s a conscious decision at first and then it’s not. It’s Frank’s lips, chapped and full against his trembling ones, his mouth hot and wet against Matt’s. It’s him swallowing all of that grief that was ever-present in Frank’s voice so it didn’t spill all over them both. It was Frank holding him up, pulling gently at his hair, a soft apology in each caress, in each peck. It’s tasting Frank’s pain in his tongue and trying to remember a time where he didn’t make sense. He hugs the man’s neck so he won’t let go, moaning faintly under his breath when the kiss turns deeper. When Matt can’t distinguish Frank’s heat from his own with his senses - they look like one and the same. His breath hitches when fingers clench hard around his hip, pressing him tighter against the wall. Frank pants into his mouth when their crotches meet. “Yes,” Matt whispers, begs, as he nods. “Yes, Frank, please-” And his voice is so lovingly wrecked when he murmurs by Matt’s ear, biting at the side of his neck, rolling his hips against his. “Goddamn you, Matty,” a particularly hard bite makes him yelp, “goddamn you.” “Please.” Frank doesn’t need much more convincing. Matt lets him take them to the bedroom and doesn’t think of anything or anyone else for some time.     Red dozed off eventually, back against his chest. He had filled up some but was still skinnier than he used to be. Frank had been there for every meal he couldn’t keep down - could trace them like braille over his slightly protuding ribs. It felt like an year ago that Red woke up for the first time in the cabin, unable to form words in a second and ready to attack in the next. Take me home, his voice echoes. Please, take me home. If he thinks too much about it, at some point, his voice and Matt’s mingle. It’s him, digging his fingers into that nurse’s arm, feeling like death when he brought him close. Take, me, home. But there was no home. Finds it in a small column in the newspaper - Kitchen Irish, Mexican Cartel, Dogs of Hell. He buries his lips in the smooth, velvety skin of Red’s neck, following lazily the dark red bruises decorating the side and falling like a chain around his neck and collarbones. His chest, the insides of his thighs, his hipbones. The contrast is like that of stars in a night sky - the old mottled bruises around Red’s neck had faded. Leaving behind some leftover hues of red, sickly green and yellowish - the love bites looking like little silhouettes of Mars or Venus, shining red among all that white. Stitches were about ready to come out, too, on the wound the Devil gave him. It felt wrong that Red’s body was so quick to erase abuse. That he took hit after hit after hit and continued there, standing, waiting for the next. There was hair very slowly starting to grow over the scar in his head, where it was bright pink and glossy. Fingers roam down to the deep scar above Matt’s hipbones and presses softly into the smooth texture, a grounding kiss. The skin was thin were it had knitted, almost paper-like. It was the worse one so far Frank had found on his body, while licking, biting and kissing him from his sinewy neck to the insides of his thighs. The wound had to be deep - the scar was slightly pulled inwards, like something had hooked in. Wonders if Nelson ever saw all of those scars. Or Karen. Thinking about that - about the three of them, he tries to build a scenario. Nelson, a put-upon frown that doesn’t manage to hide his worry. Karen, a compassionate attempt at stern reprimanding. You should take better care of yourself, Matt, she’d say. And he can see Matt clear as day, hunching his shoulders over with that guilt face he did, agreeing to everything not because he particularly had any care over his own state, but because he’d hate to have them worrying over him. Useless to think of sh*t like that now. Gets him thinking of Fisk, though, stomach twisting in his belly. Of Nelson. Of Karen, holed up in that church, waiting for a way to get out of the country. Curt, staying at a cousin’s home in Virginia. And Red, here, in his arms. With his come drying in him, with his marks spread all over his body. What the f*** is he doing? This is Matt. Matt who has an expiration date stamped on his forehead. Who dives into trouble the first chance he gets, who’s being hunted by cops, feds and scumbags alike. Priority was getting Red through this sh*t show alive, not whatever this was. Keeping Red safe meant taking out this Devil wanna-be before he gets to Matt, because the a**hole kept on coming. Fisk can come later. He needed to resupply, get in touch with David, ask about Louise Matthews and, maybe, give a call to the owner of the phone number forgotten in his duffle. Later, he wonders if it was the change in his heartbeat or his tapping trigger finger on the gentle dip of his waist that woke Matt up, nose still close to sweet-smelling skin. Matt stirs, humming softly before stretching like a cat, turning boneless in Frank’s arms before he squirms, rubbing his naked ass against Frank’s covered crotch. “M’too old for marathon sex, Red.” The fondness in his tone has no business being there. “No, you’re not.” Matt smiles knowingly but doesn’t push. Frank doesn’t let go though, finds that he can’t, nosing the freckles on Red’s most prominent cervical bone. Then kisses it - he isn’t sure he’ll ever get to do it again, so he lingers as much as he allows himself to. Matthew draws slow circles on the forearm trapping him by the waist, squirming at the feel of dried cum and spit between his legs. “I...” a soft, almost soundless chuckle, “I think I dreamed about my eighth birthday.” “Yeah?” “Yeah, I... Dad and I, we didn’t starve but we also didn’t have much money, you know? Food was definitely never wasted there. There’s this one time he manages a few extra bucks with a fight and he bought me a thematic cake. I never had one.” He smiles. It’s abstract, but he could almost remember how it looked like. “Lin was there.” “Lin?” “Lindsey. She was my friend.” Red chuckles suddenly. “I think she enjoyed it more than I did. It was Star Wars themed and she was obsessed with it.” Red tells him about it in whispers. About how she loved every single movie she could get her hands on, how they’d compete about who had memorized the most dialogues. About his dad feeling ashamed that he almost took a tumble and some of the frosting of the cake had stuck to the box. Frank holds him through it, one ear tight against his neck, listening for his heart, chin hooked over his shoulder. It’s quiet - like the eye of the storm, the silence after the gunfire. Lisa had insisted on having all over her birthdays with a different dinosaur theme from ages four to nine. God forbid Maria ever mentioned doing something else. Her giggles as she ran around the house with her plastic dinosaurs in hand, diving through the air, permeate every nook and cranny of his brain. Frank presses his lips softly to Matt’s temple, careful of his break. Moves away from spooning the younger man but doesn’t immediately get out, though. Stays there, hovering over Red’s spent form. “Frank.” He grunts. “Thank you.” Frank shakes his head. Standing up makes his skin rise in goosebumps, Matt’s own skin mirroring his. He’s tucking him into the blankets before he’s even realized what he’s done. Shakes his head again - Red’s got no f***ing reason- “Nothing to thank me for, Red.” The constant, familiar itch of anger poisons the softness of his afterglow. Red only blinks lazily at nothing, doe eyes lost. “Anyway.” Frank stands there, and Matt lies there and none of them move. His fingertips itch to reach out but the marine holds himself back. “Do you ever think about just... riding off?” Frank frowns, not expecting the question. “Just going away, not thinking about anything you leave behind.” “I have nothing to leave behind.” Is his first response. Red pauses, still unmoving. Either because he hears the lie in his heart or because he knows, just knows it’s not true. Not anymore. So Frank sighs. Gives in. “Sometimes, yeah.” “Yeah,” Matt smiles, the curves of his lips tinted in wishful red, the soft curves of his eyes disbelieving of the possibility of ever escaping. Ever getting away. “It’d be nice.”     A strange quiet takes over the apartment the next couple of weeks, while they lay low. Daredevil’s latest attack at the Bulletin and the Punisher sighting and mysterious eye-gouging murderer take over the news. They don’t leave often and Red takes in to checking the perimeter with his weird super senses and, for some reason, that gets Frank sleeping better at night. Most of his days, he fiddles with his police scanner - looking for word of people he had marked to be in Fisk’s payroll, FBI ops, anything the NYPD caught a wind of. Cops were apparently clean since Nelson and Murdock saved the day back then. Frank sighs at himself. Red is rubbing off on him, more ways than one. Although, the other ways don’t happen again after that night. Not for lack of want - they both orbit each other a few feet away, pulling closer as the day progresses without noticing. Frank’s a moon courting an impossible sun. Red is back to training, though, so there’s no time for them to suffer through talking and weird discussions. It happened, they both liked it, they both knew it, they didn’t talk about it. Simple. Frank is admittedly a bit worried at first when Red starts - building himself up to pull ups and push ups. He appreciates that unyielding strength of his (an immovable object, a fire you just couldn’t put out), but if there’s one thing Red’s no good at, is recognizing when it’s time to stop. Sh*t, look at all the things that happened to him and he was still kicking. Still hanging on to those high morals of his. Doesn’t matter that Frank found him half-dead with his skull bashed in, Red still had the strength to to have faith and hope and believe in people, when Frank, well, doesn’t. Even training, Murdock doesn’t last longer than an hour at a time. He doesn’t say it but he gets dizzy and exhausted fast. Frank would watch him across the safe house - he’d drag himself to a corner, guzzle down a bottle of water with shaking arms, eat a fruit or a bite of a protein bar and then he’d sit, cross his legs and go quiet. When he opened his eyes, minutes, sometimes an hour later, Frank could barely recognize the lost, messed up kid he brought to that shack. He’d go down, eyes dead - his arms would stop shaking, his shoulders would relax back and he’d start again with renewed vigor. Red would do it again and again until exhaustion finally caught up to him and he’d crumble by the bed and sleep for a long time. He gets used to being quiet around the place. Training took a lot out of him and Red slept five to six hours during the day. While he does his thing, Frank begins researching. Fisk’s immediate detail has to be it, no other way he’d get in touch with someone trained as quickly as he did. And after Melvin’s admission, well. Ray Nadeem’s face doesn’t surprise him among the files and pictures Micro leaked him. The thought of calling him, setting up a meeting to ask about the copycat is tempting enough, but Frank is resigned to waiting for the time being. He’s just going through the last of the files when a somewhat familiar face catches his eyes. Chiseled jaw, blonde hair, dead shark-like eyes. There was just something about it- Matt rises and jumps up so quickly Frank has no second thoughts when he immediately reaches for the gun in his pants, pressing it close to his chest, eyes checking all possible entrances. Bathroom, kitchen window, front door - no movement. But Red is still standing there, eyes focused and head tilted, whole body locked in defense. He either heard something or he’s in one of his flashbacks again. “Red,” he walks towards him, checks his breathing, his eyes. He’s calm, although alarmed. Frank doesn’t need more reassuring before pushing the redhead behind his body. “Where?” Bathroom, kitchen window, front door. Bathroom, kitchen - Red’s face. His furrowing eyebrows and the confused little twist of his lips. “Roof. Only one.” His muscles twitch, eyes go wide. “I know her,” he whispers, fingers suddenly reaching out to clench tightly to Frank’s sleeve. ”I know her, Frank.” A shift of red and black in the window directly across them and Frank is shoving Red behind him again, pulling the safety off. No way she got there from the roof, there was only one f***ing person he knew that could do that and he was standing right behind him. She steps inside the loft like a shadow spilling. Woman has a presence on her, the walls almost warp towards her. “Matthew,” a thick accented voice greets, her tongue curling around the double T. “You’re awfully hard to find these days.” “Who are you?” Frank’s eyes narrow. Red may not recognize her, but Frank does. Head may be a battlefield of gunfire and contingency plans and his kid’s laughter and Red’s soft voice but he remembers her. It gives him a stop, because that can’t be. He saw her bleed out on that rooftop through his scope, saw Red cry over her corpse. But then there were the initial reports of Midland Circle - Daredevil and an unidentified female trapped underneath. He tries to fight the nausea that comes with the thought. He saw her die. “The f*** you doing here?” But Matt is already stumbling forward and away, face a mask of confusion when he steps closer. Frank wonders if he feels the grief, even if he can’t properly recall it. “Matthew, why don’t you introduce us?” “No, wait, wait. I know you.” Her pretense drops for a moment, eyes calculating when she studies Red’s face, his body language, before turning to Frank. And by then, her gaze is a promise of death and not and easy one. She smiles, small and dry. “What did you do to him?” “I didn’t do sh*t-” “Frank didn’t do anyt-” Both stop at the same time. Red’s fingers close around his bicep, the muscle twitches in response. He stares at him, taking him in, the delicate curve of lips and light stubble. Lips he kissed. The surge of protectiveness almost destroys him. “I remember you,” he growls out, “on that rooftop with all the ninjas.” Her eyes cut sharp like a dagger when she finally stops staring at where Red’s palms were locked to him. The satisfaction is short-lived but Frank savors it all the same. Her face changes, like day and night. The way she looked at Red rubs him off, too - something between helpless affection and toxic, hungry possessiveness. As if Matt was the embodiment of salvation and the picture of meat that she was just dying to dig her claws in. “And I remember you ,” she smiles with little humor, “Matthew was awfully entertained with you back then.” “Was about to say the same.” “No, wait, you know each- Will any of you just tell me what’s going on?” The frustration bleeds into his voice but the girl and Frank are trapped in a conflict of their own. Her hands caress the daggers strapped to her thighs, Frank’s finger twitches against the trigger - but their weapons point down, Red’s presence a weighting on them both. “What happened to him?” “What happened to you?” He shoots back, she raises her eyebrows with a twitch of her head. “I thought you were dead.” Uses the moment to drag Red behind him again because he doesn’t trust the lady as far as he can throw her. “I was,” Frank’s whole body tenses, heartbeat flat-lining in his chest. He tries and fails not to think of Maria, of Lisa, of Junior. “I’ll ask again then, shall I? What happened to him?” “Would you stop talking like I’m not-” “Got his skull bashed in,” Frank rises in volume, “and you didn’t answer mine, the f*** do you want?” “Stop, stop, stop.” Red broke from his hold, taking three steps towards the woman before he froze altogether, his shoulders shaking. “I remember you. I remember fighting with you, you... you died, I held you-” her stance changes but it’s barely noticeable. Frank’s well aware she’s still a threat (probably never wasn’t a threat at any given moment), but something soft creeps at the corner of her lips. She reaches out to push a strand of red hair behind Matt’s ear, quiet fondness in her touch. Almost reverent. Red doesn’t lean into it but doesn’t run either and Frank’s guts twist. “You hurt me,” he whispered then, “I hurt you.” Her hand trembles where she’s touching him. “I don’t even know your name.” Her eyes find Frank’s, raw and desperately trying to cover it. All of her that felt inhuman before seems to melt away then. “Elektra,” she says, eyes still locked to Frank’s. “I heard you were missing.” Too much vunerability, her face twists in disgust at herself. Only then does Elektra finds it in herself to step away from Red and that’s about the only thing he can relate to. Frank can still see it in her eyes. She wants to kill him - do something about Frank being in Red’s immediate surroundings. He can’t say he doesn’t feel the same, and can’t claim to not know why they both don’t do it, the reason standing shakily between them. Their familiarity doesn’t stop there. He sees the way she looks at Matt - the hunger, the protectiveness, the helpless respect. “Take care of yourself, Matthew.” She jumps from the same window she came from, leaving them both there, standing, unable to say a word. NOVEMBER   There was a time when you thought things like that mattered. When you thought everything did.   He shoves the over-packed first aid kit into Red’s hands and the younger man puts it into the duffle as Frank power walks towards the black batons tangled with the sheets at the cot. “Frank, do we really have to-” Christ Jesus, this again. “Yes.” Red follows him like a duckling, still sporting those blushed cheeks against too-pale skin that Frank couldn’t bare looking at sometimes. He looks anyway, every damn time. “She didn’t attack us, she clearly could have-” “Ain’t up for discussion, Red, we’re going.” He reaches out a hand to stop Frank on his way to the ammo boxes stacked away close to the wall because Red had nifty senses, but was still f***ing blind and kept tripping on them. Fingers curl around his bicep. “Just, will you listen to me?” “Didn’t before, Red. Don’t figure I’ll start now.” “Frank...” his goddamn voice, Jesus Christ. Doesn’t need to look at him to know he’s giving him the f***ing eyes. “No,” he drops basic hygiene items into the getaway bag and kicks it out of the way, crowding into Red’s space with powerful steps. “This safe house is compromised. We’re not talking about this sh*t again.” But Red is good at grasping at straws. Spent a whole f***ing lifetime barely hanging on and he’s a pro at it by now. Even more now that he’s got cabin fever - desperate for any proof of connection besides the marine. “Please, Frank, I know her. You clearly know each other, I- she knows me.” More than knows if Frank’s got anything to say about it. Didn’t need to be close to know she was the type of girl that enjoyed playing the game as much as she liked winning it. The cat and mouse thing was her style. Manipulative to a fault. Just look at the way Red reacted to her - like a stray sniffing an owner. Made him f***ing sick to his bones. I know you, he thinks, selfishly, stupidly. “You stick by me, Red,” Frank drops his voice down to a whisper, “I got you.” Matt is still pissed. He can see it in the bullseye forming between his eyebrows. Frank steps closer, stares into the hazel-green of his eyes and reminds himself of all the marks hiding under those clothes. His mouth, his fingers, his bruises. He kisses his cheek chastely, slowly, nosing his temple when he stops pressing his lips to Matt’s skin. Holds on to that warmth he knows he won’t have close for long. “We can’t stay,” he enunciates, not as sure under all the solidity of his voice. Matt sighs and Frank doesn’t let him step away. Not then. Not yet. And there are those eyes again. All that light- “If something happens to you, I-” it dies down. Gets stuck in the cage of muscles spasming around his throat. Red takes a deep inhale that Frank feels overfilling his own lungs, his eyes wide. He steps back, every muscle in his body suddenly calling him to action. But he stays - stays to watch Matthew’s face fall, understanding flooding and creating rivers in the cracks of his anger. “Frank...” He shakes his head in response. He already said too f***ing much he can’t take back. Words just keep spilling out of him, these days. His chest feels flayed open. He needs back - back to before. Just him, the next target, the next mission. Not this. Whatever this is. Whatever Red is. He turns away from Matt, grabbing the getaway bag on the floor. Shoves an extra blanket in it before closing it. Red gets cold these days. “Let’s go.” Grabs what scrap of courage is left to look at him. Red’s face is almost serene, slightly dazed with solemn understanding. Frank thinks he preferred the anger. The anger he knew how to deal with. They walk down the stairs and leave Harlem.     Matt rubs his hands for warmth, presses his digits to feel where old cracks and hairline fractures had knitted his bones. Frank is quiet by his side, but his voice is all Matt can hear. And I’ll kill anyone else in this town if it means you’re safe. If something happens to you- He can’t tell where one neighborhood ends and the other starts, but the scents slowly become more familiar as they go. Smoke gives way to the tall trees of Central Park that gives way to Mexican food, coffee and alcohol. Chatter rises and so do faint sirens. Grocery stores and a Greek food restaurant and universities. Something that smells like childhood. Hell’s Kitchen. Besides his Dad, it was one of his only intact memories. It was difficult to track people besides that. Lindsey’s voice often got mixed and he can’t always remember what she looked like. The nuns all sounded the same, the priest (the good one) was surrounded by fog and the bad one... Well. Matt doubts he had any clear memories of him even before the injury to his head. Elektra... he can define the edges that separate her from the other women in his life, now. The one that smelled sterile like a hospital and the other one in the rain. Elektra was the soft voice in his ears, was the way he’d chant her name when she played with him - and she did play with him. She’d chuckle as she spread him out, coo as she made sure Matt knew he wasn’t in charge. That he was hers, body and soul. He can’t remember when her desires became his, our when his became hers. He does remember feeling utterly broken in her absence - faced with something she saw like a gift and felt like betrayal. He remembers fighting by her side and telling himself he wouldn’t let her come too close again. But soon he was kneeling, waiting for the clarity of her touch, the unburdening of letting himself be taught, guided. Matt figures he always liked himself better that way - when he was someone else’s. And in the middle of all that storm and chaos, right where Matt was taught to thrive, there’s Frank. Who feels more real than anything else in his head, solid and unwavering. There’s memories of him from before and after the injury and the fog. After he decided Frank wasn’t an enemy, and... When did that happen again? When did Frank became something between an ally and more? He sighs and tries to ignore the uptick on Frank’s heartbeat at the sound, the minute acknowledgment of worry. It twists the knife deeper - Frank worries. It should feel like something he should run away from. His finger sneak to his side, pressing against the finger-shaped bruises on his waist, the bite marks all over his torso, thighs and neck. Maybe it’s too late to run. The car stops. Matt steps out of it with a sharp inhale - desperate for air that wasn’t saturated with the smell of Frank’s skin, Frank’s hair, Frank’s clothes and the air that left his healing broken nose. It doesn’t surprise him that the fresh air makes no difference. Frank’s smell is stuck to him - it’s in the clothes he wears, in his hair, in his skin. He wonders if Frank would do it. Grant him that unburdening. Strip him away of the control he so desperately wishes he didn’t have at times. Elektra had bent him out of shape and broken him, but Frank... Frank would put him back together, wouldn’t he? He’d never leave him behind to pick up the pieces. Set him on fire and leave him to burn. And he wouldn’t have to hide from him, Frank’s seen all of Matt. He wouldn’t need to pretend like he did with- Karen. The name comes to him like a punch. It’s what Frank had said that day, to the woman who knew him at the Bulletin. “Karen,” he suddenly exclaims. Frank grunts in return. “Karen, it’s... Karen, it’s Karen. She, she was the woman in the rain, the one who helped me at the office!” It’s muddy, perceptions are tangled, there are thoughts and feelings he can’t put to context. “I didn’t meet her at school, I met her somewhere else, but I can’t remember where, I...” I can’t do this alone, he told her, I can’t take another step. And then she hugged him, didn’t she? You’re not alone, Matt. Blurry edges sharpen like blades. Her image carved like cut-out paper in the back of his skull. Only person besides Frank and Elektra that was actively part of his life that he remembered. Frank is quiet but there’s something weird with his body temperature. Blood pressure drops before it suddenly goes up, up, up. Not anger or frustration, something else. His heart goes scarily steady. “Frank?” “Yeah, that’s... She’s your assistant. I think.” “Oh.” Of course he knew. Matt keeps forgetting that Frank knows more that he lets on. It makes him wonder how deep Frank had been into his life before all of this. And he can’t bring himself to ask now. Not after what he said. What they’ve become - whatever that is. “C’mon, Red.” Frank helps him upstairs, the fog buzzing in his ears. No matter how much he tries, he can’t build up a timeline around Karen. Everything he remembers splintered, wrong, lacking.     “You sound like you’re meditating when you do that.” Frank raises his eyes to meet Red only once before turning back to his gun, checking the recoil strings. “Oh, yeah?” He asks, nonchalantly. “What does that sound like, sunshine?” He moves on to wiping the outside, making sure the bore of the barrel is clean enough. Chances another glance at Red when he’s putting the clip back in and assembling the gun back. He’s folded into a pretzel in the middle of the room. F***, he’s flexible. How far did that leg f***ing go, sh*t- “Your heartbeat slows, your breathing goes even. You almost sound like you’re asleep, peaceful.” Huh. Frank isn’t sure his breathing is even now, face twisting in calisthenics when Red folds into yet another impossible-looking position. Isn’t sure he ever sounds peaceful, either. Got war in his blood. Long before his family. He saw that in Red, too. A soldier wearing a civilian mask. A devil wearing a person suit. And right then, right there, Frank gets to see him free of the need for masks, brains knocked clean. The price of blissful ignorance. “Generalizing, you find something to focus on, usually your own breathing, and lets your mind stick with it. It’s basically what you’re doing.” Figures Frank’s own brand of meditation would include guns. He pauses. Watches Red make faces and clutch at his ribs while he keeps trying to get a tricky position right. “What do you focus on?” Matt blinks and stops altogether, tilts his head to study him in that unnerving way of his. When he speaks, he’s bluntly honest. “Your heart.” Frank halts, waits for the punchline. For something. “And that, what, brings you inner peace?” F***, he shouldn’t ask. He really doesn’t want to know. “It’s not that, it’s...” Matt turns his face away to think and Frank’s almost thankful for it. But Red’s not a quitter and he’s soon turning to face him again. “It’s safe.” Frank stares at him, unable to process what he just heard. And then, trying to find a catch. But there’s Red, who begged him for help and ended up with his skull bashed in. Who Frank’s been arguably holding hostage and hiding sh*t from. Who once bounced a bullet in his f***ing head, telling him Frank’s safe. “That’s f***ed up, Red.” The redhead smiles. “I know.” Frank shakes his head, turning away. Stands up already geared up for the discussion he knows is soon to come as he goes looking for his sniper rifle. Red’s been getting used to the new safe house the last few days but it doesn’t mean he’ll stay put when- “Where are you going?” Bingo. Frank doesn’t stop moving, his back to Red. Checks the rifle before putting it back in its case and grabbing it. Stands up with a sigh. “Gonna find a devil.” And an FBI agent, but Red didn’t need to know that part yet. Murdock stops, his silence saying a thousand things. Frank has to drag his eyes away from the last fading hickey over his Adam’s apple. They hadn’t done it again, besides the one night they got to Hell’s Kitchen and Red... well. Was f***ing angry and determined to show it. Determined to push until Frank finally gave him what he wanted - pushed him against the wall and kept him there until he begged. “Are you going to kill him?” “What do you think?” Can’t fathom how Red sticks to that sh*t anymore. Pain in the ass. Red suddenly stands up, fists clenched tight by his sides. Frank doesn’t want to but he will knock him back on his ass if he has to. “I’m coming with you.” “Like hell you are.” Frank scoffs, eyes instinctively jumping to the bright pink scar over his right ear. “You almost had your skull bashed in again the last time, Red, f***’s sake-” “I’m trained for this-” ah, f***, there he goes. Child soldier bullsh*t. “This concerns me, I’m coming with or without you.” Frank stares at him. F***. He opts for the other strategy. No amount of fighting puts Red down, it only incensed him. Got him invested.

Duty Driven (Taken/Busy IRL)

05/04/2023 02:33 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?”


05/04/2023 12:56 PM 

Welcome to July Starter

RP Prompt:Set during Trigun Stampede-ish during the time where Knives is going around stealing plants from towns to bring back to the city of July. you'd be dealing with the usual Knives, one who is out to kill humans and set his plant kind free. you'd be dealing with him at his 'headquarters' (some information I use is from the original trigun and the manga) Don't expect a kind Knives either. He is somewhat insane, certainly sadistic, almost bi-polar with his thoughts. can appear calm and collected one minute and an angry abuser the next. He has convienced himself that everything he does is perfectly fine, he is superior to others so he can do as he pleases. If his sadistic nature is too much I can tone it down upon request.NOTE: you do NOT need to respond with the same amount, Im fine with a max of 2 paragraphs or less, if you want to write more you can but I myself may not respond with much more than 2 paragraphs after this unless im inspired with a lot of information from you. also please no 1 liners to this.---Respond in a message with the title "Welcome to July" to continue this.---Welcome to July(set after Knives destroys Jeneora Rock) The city of July, one of the three major cities in No Mans Land, bustling with humans thanks to the 3 large water providing plants. The largest tower to loom over everything was the headquarters of Knives and the 'Eye of Michael' a religious plant worshiping group who secretly did experiments on humans to 'improve' them. Some humans gave their lives to this group, thinking God would save them from the horrors that this desert planet offered in exchange for a sacrifice. The God they worshipped was none other than Knives, and he had no plans to spare their lives. 'they should all suffer' he thought bitterly as long fingers began to slide across the keys of a piano. A familiar song, one of his favorites and one he played often. The melody seemed hopeful, yet full of dispair as if his emotions were being played out on display. He rather enjoyed playing the piano, one of the very few things that brought him any joy on this planet.How could he enjoy himself though? humans were still alive, his fellow plants still suffering in enslavement to them. Soon though, soon all his effort will bear fruit. He had been going around collecting his 'sibling' plants from the worthless humans, he needed them for his plans after all and the humans didn't deserve them. He still needed to collect his brother though, the thought of him bringing a smile to his face. It had been so long since he had seen Vash, he had missed his twin brother. Before the fall of Jeneora Rock, the last time he saw him was well over 100 years ago, he tried to get Vash to join him but he refused and sided with that witch of a human. Yet again a human taking his brother from him! He was growing irritated at the memories of that day, his hands stopping in their movements as he finished the song.He could remember that day clearly, as if it just happened. Killing those worthless humans who had just killed off several of his kinds in the 'last run' the sounds of them screaming for help, that only he and Vash could hear. He could even remember so vividly slicing off his own brothers arm, Vash's gate had opened and he clearly couldn't control it, reminding himself that he HAD to stop him. 'He made me do it, he should had just listened to me! then I wouldn't of had to hurt him.' He was angry at Vash and even declared some of his plans to him, however he felt guilty after it had happened, hurting his own brother. He wasn't guilty about slicing off their arm, 'that was necessary' he reminded himself, it was beause he felt some joy from doing it. He had isolated himself for several years after it had happened, wondering what was wrong with him to feel that way. He was confused for awhile till eventually he convienced himself that it was a normal reaction, it was fine. He was essentially the equivalent of a teenager at the time, eventually his body aging and maturing into his 'adult' appearance where he eventually stopped aging all together, looking the same for well over 100 years. His adult mind falling even further down the rabbit hole of insanity and rage. He knew his brother would come for him, he counted on his brothers love of humans to get him to come here. It would all go according to plan, however the next thing he heard was not. An Alarm went off, turning his head towards the only enterance to the room when the doctor popped his head in to inform him there was an intruder in the facility. 'an intruder?' he thought, surely it was too soon for Vash to be here? was he that distracted that he didn't notice his brothers arrival? or was someone else foolish enough to come here? Perhaps coming to save one of the unfortunate human children the doctor used for his experiments. The thought amused Knives, 'let them come' perhaps he would allow himself some entertainment if they were lucky enough to make it to his location. He chuckled lightly, his fingers returning to the piano keys letting them dance across them with another song filling the air. Hopefuly that a new plaything would arrive to bring him some joy...Additional note: if need be you can change some stuff, especially if your character is Vash you can either play it by what the show did or do your own take on it. let me know if you have any questions or concerns too.


05/04/2023 10:27 PM 

Mafia Boss Knives Starter

RP Prompt:Alternate UniverseOn Earth. Mafia? Undergroun Boss Knives. Set in modern-ish times. in this universe knives still has his abilities, which has given him a lot of power in the underworld. He still hates humans but uses them how ever he wishes if it means he can achieve his goals. In this universe there can be more than just humans too given he himself isn't one. He also actually wears human clothes! I know disappointing for you but he is usually seen in some form of a suit or some kind of fancy clothing.(see example pic)NOTE: you do NOT need to respond with the same amount, Im fine with a max of 2 paragraphs or less, if you want to write more you can but I myself may not respond with much more than 2 paragraphs after this unless im inspired with a lot of information from you. also please no 1 liners to this.---Respond in a message with the title "Mafia Boss Knives" to continue this.---   Alternate Universe: Mafia? Boss Knives How irritating, a worthless human dared to stand up against him? HIM? didn't they know who he was? what he could do? of course they did, he was Millions Knives after all. He sat upon his chair, pratically a throne staring down at the bloody mess before him, yes the human was still alive, he didn't want to end them too quickly after all. How would they learn to fear him if he killed them instantly? Sure he could and has ended lives in an instant and usually such a thing amused him to no end, watching their blood splatter as his blades sliced them apart but not today. He was irritated more than usual after dealing with his twin brother earlier, argueing as they usually did. He always enjoyed when Vash stopped by for a visit, it filled him with some hope even if they always ended up argueing over the same stuff. Vash crying to him to give up his life style and be nice, and Knives yelling at him to join him instead and rule the underground with him as was his right.They were a rare species after all, independant Plants. So rare that as far as he knew only two were in existance right now, him and his brother. Usual plants were sealed in bulbs/containers and used by the humans to power their lives, Knives thought of them as enslaved by humans something he never wanted to be. Independant plants however were born and looked more human, their bodies being able to survive outside the bulbs, and their power immense, nearly unrivaled. Humans certainly couldn't stand up against him, they were far too weak and he was far to powerful to a point he thought himself more godly than anything. He could rule over this planet if he wanted to couldn't he? For now though, he simply ruled in the underworld, it was more his style anyways.Pulling himself from his distracting thoughts, he looked back down at the pathetic excuse for a human before him. Perhaps he would cut them up a bit more before he was done with them, why else keep them alive? The human before him was male, he didn't discriminate, he would do the same thing to a human female, they were all filthy creatures to him after all. He recalled that this man said he was from a rival party, perhaps trying to prove to his higher ups that he was worth more? 'rival? how amusing, who could rival me?' He was arrogant, his power going straight to his head and who could blame him? He WAS powerful after all. He was aware there were other powerful groups, perhaps they were threats but they tended to keep there distance from him, usually keeping to their own territory. As long as they didn't bother him, he usually let them be, for now. This however, seemed to give him an invitation to spread his dominance further and he could blame it all on some pathetic weakling who made the mistake of coming after him.Blades began to form out of his arm, reaching out towards the human again and ever so slowly dragging the sharp edges against remaining flesh. The sight of blood from their wounds was so delightful, hearing them cry out in pain even more so. "ah ah, don't pass out." His voice sounded soft, but it was a laced with a threat, he wanted to hear them suffer, there was no point in torturing them if they weren't awake for it. He was about to end their life when one of his own men came up to him, interupting his fun. "what is it?" Blades retracting back into his body, absent mindly adjusting the sleaves of his jacket while listening to them speak.Henchmen: "Sorry to disturb you sir, there appears to be someone here to ... negotiate about... them." The lowly henchman looked towards the barely surviving human on the floor.He himself employed humans, despite his hate for them this henchmen next to him was one. He didn't treat them well either, they were still lowely creatures after all and he used, abused them, and treated them like garbage in exchange for sparing their lives and serving him. "Negotiate?" why would anyone care about this lowly humans life? was it Vash? was this human one of his little pets? Something Knives refered to Vash's friends as. He didn't recognize them, then again he hardly paid attention to them. "Send them in." He would see who it was, would he actually negotiate with them? that would depend, however he might just end up adding another body to the floor. He waited impatiently for the henchmen to bring this negotiator to him, things were starting to get interesting for him, so entertaining. He had to hold back his smirk as he heard the knock at his door, followed by the henchman entering and leading this negotiator to him.Additional note: if you don't like being the negotiator, you can send your own starter. this can just give you some idea of how he is in this universe. being an underground/mafia style boss.


05/04/2023 09:17 PM 

The Fall of Knives RP starter

RP Prompt:Would take place after the fall of Knives, defeated by his brother Vash. In exchange for his life being 'spared' Knives would agree to live by Vash's rules for the most part. Agreeing to not kill humans (or at least try super hard not to) he would be angry about it but would attempt to live like the humans all while continueing to curse them and talk down to them. He isn't happy about it and he's not afraid to speak his mind on the matter either. Not being able to kill humans, and his power would be drained a lot due to the fight with his brother causes Knives to be more anxious around the humans.NOTE: you do NOT need to respond with the same amount, Im fine with a max of 2 paragraphs or less, if you want to write more you can but I myself may not respond with much more than 2 paragraphs after this unless im inspired with a lot of information from you. also please no 1 liners to this.---Respond in a message with the title "The Fall of Knives" to continue this.--- The Fall of Millions Knives Everything hurt, of course it did his idiot brother shot him several times! Why couldn't Vash understand that what he was doing was all for him? the humans had to die! so why? A groan escaped his lips as he shifted on the bed beneath him. A bed? oh right, vague memories of being carried off by his brother after their battle had resurfaced. How long had it been since then? hours? days? weeks? He honestly couldn't tell, everything still hurt but he was healing just far to slowly for his liking. He used so much of his energy to maintain himself during the fight, having to heal any wounds his brother inflicted on him, having to manifest his blades to attack, his wing to fly, eventually it took its toll on him and he couldn't do it all anymore. He had chosen to attack rather than heal in some hope of victory against his human loving brother, yet it failed. He could remember the sight of Vash's blood, the look of dread, him pleading with him to stop. He wouldn't though, fueled by so much rage that his brother continued to defy him, chose the humans over him! He would make him pay! even if he had to beat it into him! make him see he was right in his decision, it was all for his brother after all. Perhaps that is why he failed, his mind clouded by the rage he felt that he miscalculated everything, or perhaps it was everything he had done to his brother. All his words finally sinking in and the guilt was starting to consume him.Another groan came up as his body moved even the slightest, why wasn't his body healing faster? He hated feeling this weak, being at the mercy of anyone hurt his pride more than anything. He remembered waking up before, his brother near by waiting for him to return to consciousness so he could speak with him. Vash's words echoing in his mind, 'For sparing your life, you will do as I say, live by my rules... and for once, listen to me.' He could remember the harsh warning look he was given followed by that typical Vash smile. His eyes fluttered open, staring at the ceiling of someones home. He was alone now, his brother no longer in the room as he was earlier.He attempted to sit up, it was painful yet he would not faulter, he was not weak! Why was this so painful? his body had practically been destroyed before so this should be nothing! Trying to distract himself, he took in the room around him. It was plain, hardly anything of note was present. It could almost be considered a jail cell, a room for a prisoner, was he one? There was the bed he was on, a small table next to it and a chair nearby, the one his brother was sitting on earlier. Why wasn't Vash here? why was he alone? Why did he not want to be alone? He wanted his brother here, he was injured! he should be here to protect him right?! what if some human came in and attacked him right now? would he be able to defend himself? His hands were shaking, visiably panicking as he felt fear consuming him.What was wrong with him? He was Millions Knives! not some weak human! So why did he feel this way? He was acting like some scared child, and it made him feel even more pathetic than he already felt. It was then he heard it, footsteps outside the door followed by a few knocks. Who? despite his panic he tried to still himself, alter his features to one of anger as he stared at the door in anticipation of who could be coming in. Was it his brother? or someone else come to kill him? He was in no condition to fight, but he wouldn't go down without a fight. He was mentally trying to prepare himself as he saw the doornob turn and the door opening up to let who ever it was in.


05/04/2023 08:57 PM 

Random Info about Knives

    RANDOM INFORMATION ABOUT KNIVES[This information is put together from Trigun Stampede, the Original Trigun and the Trigun Manga as well as some I created myself, or with interactions with others]-Being a plant, he doesn't need to eat or drink anything to survive. He will refuse to eat 'human garbage' as he puts it, though he has eaten food before when he was a child.-He is a twin, though he refers himself as the big brother. even if his birth was only a minute or a few apart he declares himself the older of the two.-He gets easily irritated, especially when things dont go his way.-Argues with his brother A LOT. despite being twins, their views on things are completely opposite of each other.-If you aren't human, Knives will like you more but will still act superior-If you ARE human he will most likely try and kill you or torture you. he will talk down to you and degrade you. He prefers his kind the plants over others.-He claims himself to be superior to others, practically a god come to set his kind free and though he finds it amusing when some weak creature tries to stand up against him other times he gets angry, for how dare they even think to stand against him? -He will refer to humans as 'spiders' or 'filthy creatures' honestly anything insulting. He hates them after all.-Hates that his brother wont join him, he his rather obsessed and protecting of him and he claims to be doing everything he is for him and it is mostly true. He has a fear that he may end up abandoning his goals just to have his brother back and ends up getting mad at himself for not focusing on his goal of killing all the humans off and creating a paradise for them.-If you threaten his brother Vash, Knives WILL get mad, only he is allowed to hurt him! despite Knives sending others to try and kill his brother, he believed that Vash would defeat them. doing so to only make his brother suffer for not joining him. Yet if Knives were to witness another harming his brother he would get enraged at them for doing so.-Gets uncomfortable when others talk about sex , though he tries to hide it and will try and change the subject. sometimes its noticable if the subject continues, acting more like a shy ANGRY teenager with the way he responds to the subject. If you are after something 'sexual' with Knives, know he has ZERO experience. he understands it for the most part he just has never done it himself. also depending on the universe his body can be 'different' than a humans.-Despite not needing to eat or drink to survive, on rare occassions knives is seen drinking wine. He is usually alone when he does, as he hates to admit liking the drink.-Knives enjoys playing the piano, ever since he was a child he seemed to master the instrument and over the years has continued to play perhaps using it as a means to express his burried feelings. -He wont admit it but part of him was always jealous of his brother and how Rem seemed to like him the most when they were children, Vash was clearly more likable than him. His jealously only getting worse when he always thought that Vash chose Rem over him, when he should of been more important to his brother. Which seemed to fuel some of his hatred towards their surrogate mother.-Knives can create multiple blades out of his body that he can control independently or while attached to himself. usually seen in the form of tentacle blades that come out of his back.-Can fly by creating a metal looking wing that comes out from his shoulder blade.-Wants to create a paradise for his brother and the other plants.


05/04/2023 06:48 AM 

I can turn human here? Inuyasha au

Inuyasha a half demon was visiting Kagome in her time. He was sitting in Kagomes bedroom waiting for her to return from shopping. "Ah where is that girl? I have been waiting for hours!" Inuyasha said. The half-demon looks around the bedroom and notices the day it was the beginning of the new month. "It's already that time? Wait would I transform here as well? Nah no way." Inuyasha said. Kagome finally came back and said, "I am back Inuyasha." "Finally who takes hours to shop? Where did you even go!" Inuyasha said annoyed. "Excuse me I had to get groceries, clothes, books, supplies for the shrine, plus school supplies for Sota and I!" Kagome yelled. "Agh. Tonight is a new moon." Inuyasha said. "Won't you transform here?" Kagome asked. "Haha no way."  Inuyasha said. Kagome shook her head in response and said, "We will find out tonight. Luckily my family is out of town so no risk in having them find out. My friends will be over. "  "Your crazy friends are coming?!" Inuyasha said growling. "Think of it this way you can interact with them without needing to cover your ears." Kagome said. Inuyasha growled again he hated Kagome's friends.  Day turned to night and the two of them were in her bedroom. Inuyasha looked at the sky and sure enough he turned human."Huh! I can turn human here."  Inuyasha said. "Intresting. My friends are here come on!" Kagome said. "They will be all over me!" Inuyasha said getting up. "Oswari!" Kagome said. Inuyasha fell to the ground and groaned. "Fine." Inuyasha said. He followed Kagome down the stairs. Kagome's friends  Ayumi, Eri, and Yuka came inside. "Kagome!" Ayumi said. "Hey girls. Inuyasha behave!" Kagome said angerily. "Fine." Inuyasha said. "Are you Kagome's boyfriend?" Eri asked. Inuyasha blushed and said, "N-no I am just a friend of hers." Inuyasha said. "If that's true then why are you blushing?" Yuka said. "Shut-Shut up!" He said.  Inuyasha liking me I doubt that but what if it's true. Kagome thought.  "Are you an actor?" Eri asked. "Huh?!" Inuyasha responded. "The costume and sword are so real." Yuka said. "These aren't fake they are real I am.." Inuyasha was about to say he was from the feudal era but Kagome put her hand over his mouth. "He is just really into his role. He is a lead actor in a play about the Feudal Era." Kagome said glaring at Inuyasha."Really? What role is he playing?" Ayumi asked. Kagome had to think and she realsed her hand and looked at Inuyasha he groaned but said, "A half-demon seeking to be a full demon." Inuyasha said annoyed. "So is that your natural hair color?" Yuka asked. "Y-yeah it is." Kagome said. Inuyasha was about to object but said, "Yeah it is. If I were a half demon I would have different colored hair." "Is there a photo of you?" Yuka asked. Kagome took out her phone and found a photo. "Here this is what he looks like in character." Kagome said. "Wow those ears, eyes, fangs and claws look real." Eri said. "Yeah he has a really good hair and makeup person. How about you put your things down and order some pizza." Kagome said. The girls nodded and went upstairs to put their things down. "Inuyasha to keep this a secert don't reveal that you are from the feudal era. When tomorrow comes and you are back to normal act like you needed to have the acessories on before you head to the theater." Kagome said. "Sigh fine." Inuyasha said.

┊͙ ˘͈ᵕ˘͈ across time.

05/03/2023 02:29 PM 


oo1. Drama: Drama is not tolerated, I will adore the angst and drama for IC stuff but not for OOC. If you can't address me an issue in DMs and communicate with me of our issues then we can't be associated with another. I will not engage in toxicity environments. I will also not talk about ship discourses either.  I'm not a huge fan of SessRin so my Towa is Sesshomaru and Kagura daughter for AU and I'll leave it at that. Please do not give me drama or you'll be subject to removal. I came here to write and enjoy myself, not listen to petty drama.oo2. Shipping / Romance:Due to Towa being a minor, there will be no NSFW. If we do shipping of any kind, it will be strictly SFW. I do not do NSFW role plays for my own comfort zone. Please do not force romance stuff, it's the least of my priorities. She will only be shipped with those in her age range if she does get shipped.oo3. Replies / Starters:Please do not rush me for starters and replies. I work retail and since my hours have picked up, that means less time I'll have to be around here as I get exhausted from IRL stuff. Please do not take it personally if I do not reply to your stuff, sometimes I just want to chill with a few close friends I have known for a while.oo4. If pictures are obviously edited, please do not steal or take them. I work very hard on them and I will not tolerate theivery or stealing my AU ideas / lore.


05/03/2023 12:22 PM 

Inuyasha on my page

I am still trying to figure out an au for him since my page isn't really about following the anime. He will still have the rude aspect but i will humanize him a little bit.So in this Au Inuyasha still was bounded to the sacred tree by Kikyo and was dead. Kagome came and found Inuyasha but while she was touching his ears he could feel it and slightly revived though it wasn't noticable. When he was finally reawakend he reacted the same way he did in the second episode of the anime and recieved the beads of subjecation. During his travels with Kagome he was beginning to realize that he in fact was developing feelings for Kagome, but he didn't want to accept them. As he continues his travels his feelings become more apparent.  Kikyo returns but instead on Inuyasha wanting to be near her he avoids her like the plague. He does not trust her especially if Kagome is near.He still despises his brother Sessashomru and they still fight. When Kikyo is first revived she believes inuyasha betrayed her while he thinks otherwise. Miroku then tells him of Naraku and he realizes that it was his doing now knowing Naraku wants to get Kagome out of the way he becomes overprotective of her. Like the anime the two of them always fight and he still turns human every new moon. Turning human in this au isn't just in Feudal Japan it can also happen in Kagome's time though he isn't aware of that. I will write a drabble or blog post with that situation soon. Just like the anime he can't stand Miroku being a lecher so he ends up beating miroku. In the japanese version he does swear at times so i will keep that in my au. This is only based on the orginal anime I have not seen Yashime nor will I so in this au Kagome and Inuyasha have no children. I am not against roleplayers who do that it's just my au.More will come as i contiune to watch the anime and come up with inuyasha's story.

Oh Beautiful Death

05/03/2023 01:43 PM 

Death in all his glory (bio)

OriginDeath came into existence shortly after the first lifeforms appeared in the universe.He is destined to function as the embodiment of both life and death until the very last living thing is dead. After that, he was destined to put the universe to restDeath is generally a kind individual, though this was not always the case, billions of years ago he was quite cold and pragmatic. Everyone meets him twice: at birth he gives the breath of life, and everyone, from stars to gods, see him once more. At the end of time, when the universe dies, he claims that he will "put up the chairs, turn off the lights, and lock the doors behind me when I leave."Death, by his own admission, was not always who he now is. At the beginning of time, he thought he had the hardest job it made her unhappy - so sad, in fact, he stopped doing it. When nothing died, chaos reigned, and he was begged to return to his realm. He did so, but he became "hard and cold and brittle inside."His demeanor didn't change until he was asked by one he collected; "How would you like it?" After that, he resolved to live for one day as mortal to see how he liked it, and what he could learn. It was only after his taste of mortality that he altered the way he thought about his job. He decided that at the end, most would be glad for the company of a friend, and that was what he tried to become.He has been known to have trouble catching sarcasm and jests, causing him to often appear cold and humorless. Though with having spent so much time with humans he tends to do better, only every once in awhile will a joke go completely over his head.Despite Death's kind and gentle nature He is able to inspire great fear and intimidate the most fearsome and persistent of cosmic forces.Powers and abilitiesPersonification of Death: Death is the personification of all death and life, he meets with the recently deceased and guides them into their new existence. Unlike most personifications of death, he also visits people as they are born.He was once referred to as "He who trumps and defines all of existence". Death has the power to free the soul of a body and escort a soul to its appropriate destination. Death sometimes leaves this task to various death gods. For death gods or demons to claim a soul instead of Death himself, they usually have to have a valid claim on the soul; either a contract with the deceased or the deceased worshiped the death god's pantheon. The exact nature of the relationship between death gods and Death itself is unknown.Nigh-Omnipresence: Being Death, he is everywhere on Earth at any moment, but not in a form visible to humans, usually. He can travel instantly anywhere in the mortal realm, and, so long as he shows proper respect, he can easily enter and transit most magical realms, too. Death apparently is also there at the time of one's birth and can infuse a body with life. He commonly does this at the time of birth or at certain times to give another a second chance (reincarnation).Immortality: Death is ageless and virtually immortal. Death is such a powerful being that he can undo his immortality and become mortal for a short time.Shape-shifting: Death can change his size, appearance and clothing instantly at will.Superhuman ReflexesTeleportation:  Death can instantly travel anywhere on the planet and from any realm he chooses.Grant of Immortality: Death can relinquish his duty to seek a soul, causing it to live forever and only go on to seek it if the person tires of this burdenMediumship: He can sense, interact with, and see spirits in the world of the living. He can also leave a soul on Earth as a ghost.Relationships/ FamilyDeath has siblings (Much like The Endless in The Sandman) While they are unable to have relations with humans, Death seems to be the only one who is able to do what he wants.Life, who is his sister can also be his partner, romantically. It has always been said that Death has always been in love with "Life."  

Feelin’ Witchy

05/01/2023 06:53 PM 

Rules and Finer Details

Rules and the Finer Details.   Basic one out of the way first.  Your request - you message first.  Just seems like good manners.  Discussion is preferred, but I’m open to a starter if you have one in mind.  Starter and reply length is not set in stone, but I do ask that you do your best to keep things going.  One-liners or rushed events can kill my desire to write.  Romance and erotic moments are story dependent.  This is not an ero-account.  Lea and Admin are both Genderqueer, a gender identity that is similar to, but different than, Non-Binary.  Though even I’m not sure how they differ, they do have different flags.  Lea is Transfeminine (Male to Female Transition) and is forever pre-op.  To use a term commonly seen on the site?  They are “packing”.

Feelin’ Witchy

05/01/2023 06:49 PM 

Rp Setting Ideas

Just a few RP Settings for consideration   Default: Basic slice-of-life with little frills. Lea is just a college student who enjoys witchcraft, games, motorcycles, and just relaxing.  They are the person who will complain that all of the Halloween decorations are coming down too soon and that Christmas is going up too fast…  But also the person who will go look at said Christmas decorations.  A bit rude a times, but they are kind to those they warm up to.  Very much a slice-of-life setting with little pomp or circumstance.   Urban magic: Based on the webcomic “Barbarous” from Imagine a world where magic is very much a real thing, but nowhere near as fantastical as you’d hope.  Most mages have to spend hours meticulously writing down page after page of complex algorithms, sigils, and runs just to get a single spell to work.  And even then, the single cast burns up your work so you have to start over.  Only special individuals with unique bonds to magic can cast spells without the need for notebooks and long, sleepless nights.  This is also a world where familiars exist, but are difficult to summon by all but the most powerful of individuals.  In this world, a lot of witches make money with “Glamours”, spells cast on individuals to either temporarily or permanently alter their physical bodies.  Ranging from cat ears to full-on bird people.   Paranormal Investigator: More mystery focused. Lea is more than just a college student.  Now they are a full-on paranormal investigator.  Be it using a voice recorder in a dark, haunted building or even outright tracking a cryptid in the night.  These investigations can range from the mundane to the extraordinary, depending on how much of it all is real or not. Are the threats waiting in these vacant halls real? Or just superstition? Is this "Ghost Adventure" or "Phasmophobia"?   Paranormal Security Force:  More action-focused. Lea lives in a world where monsters are very much real.  Creatures that stalk the night, vampires that operate in the shadows, and other Witches who use their gifts for sinister means.  Here, Lea is part of a team of monster hunters who seek out these creatures of the night to put them down using their magic. Magic is not so simple as waving a wand and blowing someone up. It requires focus, discipline, and good aim so as not to cause any unnecessary damage... Lea might have at least one of those things. Will add more if I think of them.

Feelin’ Witchy

05/01/2023 06:03 PM 


Name:Leandra “Lea” Ashcroft   Age:RP Dependent (Default: 24)  Gender Identity:Genderqueer (Transfeminine)Pronouns:They/Them or She/Her  Orientation:Lesbian  Occupation:RP Dependent (Default: College Student/Part-Time Waitress)   Likes: Meditation, crystals, tarot readings, Minuit (their pet American raven), yoga, listening to music, video games, board games, coffee, and tea.  Dislikes: Bigots, “it’s just a phase”, bullies, being called an “e-girl”, being dead named (Lee), men who flirt with them. Hobbies:Tarot readings, fortunes, motorcycles, and board games (their club meets twice a month).

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