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๐™๐™ค๐™จ๐™ฉ.

09/06/2022 05:15 PM 

basics

BASICSname: yamada aiko age: 24  physique: athletic, slender, tall-ish (171cm) hair: black. she tries to keep it short, but it grows like a weed. eyes: black. the darkest circles. birthmark beneath left eye.  DOB: 12/21 occupation: student / amateur occultist   location: [redacted], the occult capital of japan drink/smoke: yes please orientation: disaster bisexual fem preference    AT A GLANCE ๐Ÿ”Ždisillusioned, sharp-tongued, adrenaline junkie, compassionate, antisocial    TALENTS AND FLAWS ♥ educated, strong swimmer, mind fully-opened to the supernatural  โœ˜ chain-smoking, v i c e , eldritch magnet OCCULT ABILITY zero formal occult education, all current  knowledge has been circumstantial or self-taught. her 'magic kit' is a chaotic patchwork, constructed out of stolen or improvised objects. skills include: astral projection, divination, curses, second sight, demon summoning, exorcism . . .. . . and whatever's fun plot-wise.     

pretty bird (Taken)

09/06/2022 03:26 PM 

A First-Responder's Girlfriend & Veteran of the Afghanistan War (Jordan) - My View From Home.

When you get home,You will not have to make any decisionsBecause no-one will need saving –At least, those who do will not rely on you,Because your job will be done.You have done your partTo try and fill that black hole of need,And we will not let you spend all of yourselfOn an impossible and eternal task –You are too valuable.We love you too much.When you get home,We will sit you downSomewhere warm and comfortableAfter a long hot shower or a bath,In clean pajamasAnd dry socks,With a cup of tea(Or a little something stronger).If you need to vent, vent.We will listen without interruptionAnd not insert ourselves into the narrative.If you like, we can remember your story,So that if you want to tell it(Shout a warning)Cassandra’s message will amplifyIn many voices.But if you need silence,To sit, say nothing, and just be,We can do that too.I’ll hold you.You can take off the mask,Stop pretending not to be scared,Aghast, bewildered, exhausted,Shattered –Because the horror you survivedIs not bearable.It is insane.Whatever “crazy” way you dealIsn’t crazy,But a rational response to an irrational world.Let it out. You are not alone.I don’t need anything.I don’t need you to be or do anything.I am simply here with you.Although I have not seen what you have seen,I lived through something similar;We have both borne witness.So there is no need to apologise.You owe me nothing –You owe them still less.When you get homeYou're welcome to sit with me,Or let me manage the daily tasksWhile you seek solitude.You have done everything and more.No individual can carry the world –Atlas is a myth for a reason.We are family of a sorts,Bound by more than blood.Together, we are strong.

pretty bird (Taken)

09/06/2022 02:50 PM 

Valentine's Day

Valentine’s Day was never a holiday Carol cared much for before her relationship with Hal; but her husband was a romantic. She didn’t consider herself much of one, but she loved Hal so much she found herself wanting to do things for him. She wanted to be as good to him as he was to her. A difficult prospect when he as so very extra. Because of Hal’s grandiose nature, Carol had no idea what was in store when she touched down gently on the roof of the Avengers Tower where he asked her to meet him.  Her face broke into a grin when she saw him, feeling excited even though she saw him practically every day.   In a flash, her clothes changed from her captain marvel uniform to a dress that did very little to protect her from the cold. Lucky for her she didn’t need any protection. Usually, her energy was better used toward other things than keeping herself warm, but showing the skin was for Hal and it was worth it this day of all days.  “You too baby.” She leaned in giving him a kiss before taking the remote in her hand. “What is this for?”   It wasn’t strange to see Carol in a dress, those long slits up the sides showing off her shapely legs and drawing the eye to her wonderful curves Hal loved to explore. The pull toward her was like gravity. Strong, relentless, and from this high up, absolutely exhilarating. His lips crashed against hers, wanting nothing more than to feel that warmth of her body against his. “Press it and find out.” Hal grinned, wiggling his brows at her excitedly. Once the button was pushed, bright red lights swirled around them. Beautiful red dwarfs twirled around them in a small scaled universe until they fluttered into a heart that put Carol and Hal in the middle. He wrapped his arm around her waist, escorting her to the small table set for two, her favorite dish served hot on the plate with a bottle of Dr. Pepper chilling on ice. “After dinner, how would you like to fly the one plane you’ve always wanted to?” he asked, pouring the dark liquid in a glass for her.  The dazzling display of stars moving and encircling them in a heart caused Carol to smile even brighter. Of course he did.  ‘What a dork.’ She loved him. Carol allowed herself to be led to the table so Hal could show off all the work he did for her. Neither of them were cooks, but he never failed when it came to CHOOSING food. He knew her tastes very well.  Her heart fluttered with such warmth seeing the burgers and soda plated so fancy for them. Secretly, she was a bit glad that they were both sober. No awkwardness over whether or not her partner should abstain for her sake.  Propping her chin on her palm, Carol leaned on the table.  “ Well I’d love that completely….which one would that be though?” She inquired slyly, guessing he was correct with whatever he picked for her. Get your own valid XHTML YouTube embed code

Mithrandir

09/05/2022 11:10 PM 

๐’ ๐ค ๐ฒ ๐’ ๐ญ ๐ซ ๐ข ๐ ๐ž ๐ซ .

 

Blazix

09/05/2022 08:05 PM 

Craving for angst
Current mood:  angsty

If there is somebody who can scratch my angst itch that would be great.  I want to get this Daydream involved in some actual dark plots. I mean there is the nightmares but he needs other villains or monsters to face.  I am thinking something along the lines of aspects of The Black Phone or a deranged person hunting him down. If there is somebody interested do let me know. ^^  

RP

~: Forever A Myth :~

09/04/2022 04:05 PM 

Dragon Prince Charcter, Verrona Vesandoral

Name - Verrona Vasandoral   Race - Moonshadow x Skywing Elf   Age - 2000 years old   Location in Xadia - Silvergrove   Weapon Of Choice - Dual Welding, Blades ๐Ÿ—ก๐Ÿ—ก   Magic - Moon๐ŸŒ˜ & Sky ๐ŸŒซ๐ŸŒง๐ŸŒฉ๐ŸŒฌ๐ŸŒช   Pet - An Adoraburr ; Nexus   Mount - Moon Phoenix ; Nebula   Favorite Color - Blues, Silver, White, & Greens   Diet - Strictly Vegetarian ๐Ÿฅ—[More To Come As I Write Out Her Story]

KNIGHTHOOD.(Taken/Busy IRL)

09/03/2022 07:16 PM 

Paranormal

Summary: The more he is with her, the closer he comes to falling for death. Note: This passage is pretty heavy on the gore side, and maybe a bit intense for those who are not good with that type of stuff.    He steps through the front door of his new home and scrutinizes the place with a bored gaze. Instantly, he is displeased. When Sasuke’s mother had first told him about the house, she practically gushed about how timelessly elegant it is. “It has history, and the character really gives the place a charming atmosphere,” she had said while animatedly moving her hands around as if taking part in an interpretive dance. He should have realized that all the adjectives she ended up using had been code for “old” and “musty.” Looking around the expansive entryway that feeds into the living room, kitchen, and library, he notices that it appears as if darkness lingers in every corner. The only light filters through the small paned windows situated around the front door and illuminates the particles of dust that drift through the air. Peering into the living room, he can see maroon, damask wallpaper that peels at the edges as well as antique couches that look as if his great-grandmother might have owned them. “Character, huh?” Sasuke looks up at his older brother who had just entered on scene, a large duffle bag tossed over his shoulder. “Next time, we should have a say in the place,” Sasuke grumbles in response. “If mother sees you complaining about her ‘dream home’, she might smack you,” Itachi chuckles as he inspects some of the aged furniture. “She fell in love with it and apparently the ‘bargain was too good to be true’.” He imitates their mothers excited voice, causing Sasuke to roll his eyes once again. “I just wish we didn’t have to use furniture that probably has fifty years worth of dust mites in it.” “Apparently it was all reupholstered a decade ago and is worth a lot now.” Itachi tries flipping a switch to turn on the large chandelier dangling above them, but with no luck. “I’ll let you have first pick of bedrooms,” he tells Sasuke while gesturing towards the upper floor. Sasuke nods in response and watches as his brother heads towards the very modern looking kitchen, before making his way up the staircase. It is grand, with wide steps that curve around the circular foyer, each creaking and groaning under his weight. Just like his mother to pick some place so obnoxiously over the top. Once arriving on the second floor, and seeing six doors on each side of the hallway, he officially thinks his mother has lost it. After all, who could possibly need this much space? Reaching the first door on the right, he twists the knob and swings it open, prompting the hinges to moan at the action. Peering in, he finds a bathroom that seems fairly modern with a minimalist design, much like the kitchen, complete with an open shower and a stainless steel sink. He shuts the door and crosses the corridor to open the one across from it. A mirror image of the bathroom he just exits greets him. He continues his self-tour, opening each of the twelve doors. He finds that the next two doors past the bathroom lead into the same bedroom. He enters the third to last door and finds that it also shares a room with the last two doors, except from within the room, the center door is blocked with a large bookcase. Deciding that this is as good as room as any, he sets his book bag on the ground. The room is furnished with the same antique looking furniture. A large bed with black sheets sits directly in the middle, a bedside table next to it and an old writing desk adjacent. He walks through the room and exits out of the last door in the hallway. I’ll probably just keep this one locked, he thinks before moving to inspect the window at the end of the corridor. He looks out the dusty panes and notices a grove of trees as well as the corner of the neighbor’s house, but something about the window frame catches his eye. The same old wallpaper decorates the wall around it except for the areas directly above and below the window. He runs his hand over the bare area and feels grooves in the plaster as if something had been bolted into it. He decides to ignore the little peculiarity and reenters his room. “Hey!” His head snaps up at the voice as he realizes that he is no longer alone. There, sitting on the edge of his bed is a girl about his age. She appears to be wearing a thin cotton dress with white ribbons tied around the front, similar to nightgowns that women wear in old movies. Her hair is cut short, just barely coming past her chin and her eyes are wide and green. “Who are you? How did you get in here?”  Sasuke questions. Wouldn’t he have seen her in the hallway… unless, she has been in here the whole time. “I’m Sakura,” she chirps happily, swinging her legs back and forth. “What are you doing here?” Sasuke asks, more confused than anything. “I just wanted to pop in and say hi,” she smiles and makes a hand gesture that references to his whole room. “Did you know that this place used to be an orphanage?” she whispers, as if sharing a secret. Sasuke shakes his head, but thinks that it explains all the doors. When they converted it into a house, they must have knocked down some walls to create larger rooms. “Well, it was.” She begins messing with the ribbons on the front of her shirt, untying and retying them. “Run by the esteemed Dr. Orochimaru and his medical assistant, Kabuto. They mainly kept teenagers, but there were some younger kids here as well.” She cups a hand by her mouth and goes back to whispering. “They say you can still hear-“  “Seriously,” Sasuke cuts her off, not sure what to think of this nonsense. “How did you get in here?” She leaps off the bed, and Sasuke notices how petite the girl is, her limbs are skinny and almost appeared malnourished. She can’t be much taller than five foot, and he guesses that she just barely reaches the hundred pound mark. “Well, be seeing you,” she says with a wink before walking past Sasuke. He turns his head to stop her, not exactly sure what to do about a girl that possibly broke into his house in nothing but her pajamas, but she’s gone and all that is left in her place are bloody footprints that lead out, into the hallway. Panicked, Sasuke rushes into the hallway and glances down it, only to find complete emptiness, no sign of the strange girl. He turns to go back into his room, and finds the crimson colored footprints gone along with a piece of his sanity. Xxxxxxxx Knock-knock. Knock Knock-knock. Knock. Sasuke awakens, his body jolting with a start. Knock-knock. Knock. He spins around, trying to pinpoint where the sound is coming from. Knock-knock. Knock. Climbing out of the bed, a flash of blonde catches his eye. There, in front of his bed, sits a hunched over figure with blonde spikey hair, his fist repeatedly hitting the air as if there is an invisible barrier. Knock-knock. Knock. Each time his fists halts, a steady knock echoes through the room. “Who are you?” Sasuke questions while reaching for the metal baseball bat that he stowed under his bed when he unpacked earlier that day. Knock-knock. Knock. The boy continues on, as if Sasuke had never spoken. “Hey! I’m talking to you,” he yells louder, the repetitive appearance of unwelcome guests getting on his nerves. “He can’t hear you,” a familiar feminine voice says sadly. Sasuke looks up to see Sakura standing by the far door, the same white nightgown billowing around her. “What are you two doing in my room?” Sasuke yells at her. Her head bows silently and tears begin running down her cheeks. “It’s not by choice.” “What do you mean?” Sasuke asks. “I tried to tell you before,” she whispers before beginning to back out the door. “He’s coming.” Then she disappears in the hallway once again.  Sasuke is about to chase after her, determined to catch her this time, but a strangled cough from the blonde boy causes him to spin around. His stomach drops at the sight. The boy lies on his back, a bloody hole torn through his stomach. His eyes stare up at the ceiling, blue and blank, blood dribbling down his chin. He coughs again and the crimson liquid spurts from his mouth. “Sa-aku-ra,” he gasps out before the ragged moving of his chest stops and his head falls to the side.  Xxxxxxxxxx “Sasuke?” Onyx eyes open to be met with a matching set. “Why are you sleeping on the floor?” “I-tachi?” Sasuke as he sits up, already feeling the stiffness from falling asleep on the wooden floor. “Itachi! There was this kid and he died on my floor and the blood. There was so much of it.” He looks around on the floor, finding no traces of what happened the night before. “Sounds like a bad dream,” Itachi says as he pokes Sasuke in the forehead a habit that Sasuke despises. “Anyways, breakfast is ready.” He lets out a “hn” in response before standing up and following his brother downstairs. In the kitchen, he watches as his mother bustles between moving boxes and cabinets, trying to get everything unpacked in the large space. The room is a huge contrast from the rest of the house. Granite counter tops, stainless steal appliances, and cream-colored cabinets line the actual kitchen area while a large, round table establishes a dining area.  The biggest contrast is the large windows that take up much of the wall space, each one open and blowing the wispy drapes around. Sasuke thinks he catches a glimpse of pink behind one of the sheer curtains, but when he blinks, it’s gone. “Here ya go, honey,” Mikoto Uchiha, Sasuke’s mother, says as she hands him a large plate topped with eggs, bacon, and some fresh tomatoes.  He sits at the table across from his father, who is reading the newspaper and sipping a cup of coffee. “Did you know that this place used to an orphanage?” Sasuke asks, prompting his brother to pause from drowning his pancakes in syrup, while his father peers over the edge of his paper. “Really?” Mikoto asks, “That’s funny, the realtor didn’t say anything about that, did she tell you, Fugaku dear?” “No,” Sasuke’s father replies, “where did you hear about that?” “One of the neighbor girls told me,” Sasuke replies quickly, the lie rolling right off his tongue. But then again, who’s to say it isn’t actually the truth? “Which neighbor is that?” Fugaku says, an eyebrow quirked in curiosity, at the same time Mikoto says, “You met a girl? What does she look like?” “I don’t know,” Sasuke tells his father, while rolling his eyes at his mother’s questions. “Hm,” Mikoto hums in contemplation as she searches for the perfect cabinet for the nice dinner plates. “I guess it adds to the charm of this place.” Xxxxxxxxx Sasuke stares at the blinking cursor in the search bar of his computer screen. Where should he even start? Konoha Orphanage Multiple results pop up, none having to do with his new home. Konoha Orphanage Murder No results, but it was worth a shot. “Try ‘Sound’s Home for Children and Young Adults.’” Sasuke jumps at her voice and almost sends his laptop flying across the room. From his place at the old writing desk, he turns to find Sakura jumping up and down on his bed. He wants to ask her what she thinks she’s doing, but at this point has realized that he might was well be talking to a wall. So instead, he types in what she said and hits the Search button. The first result is of an article “The Tragedy of Sound: The Unexplained Mystery.” Already feeling uneasy about this, Sasuke clicks on the link. A large, black and white image of the house pops up. For the most part, it looks exactly the same except for a sign out front with the name of the orphanage written on it. Scanning the article, he feels all color drain from his face. “The esteemed Doctor Orochimaru, known for his opening of Sound’s Home for Children and Young Adults, was found dead along with all ten child residents.” Sakura reads from over his shoulder. “All the articles will tell you the same thing, that his apprentice Kabuto is suspected because he was never found afterwards.”  She pauses, straightening her nightdress. “But none of them know the truth.” “What is the truth?” Sasuke asks as he watches a piece of her pink hair come untucked from behind her ear. She smiles sadly, “I don’t think you’re ready for it.”  Then she turns to walk away, and for the first time, Sasuke sees her back. A large gash replaces most of the back of her neck, marred flesh and torn muscle visible inside of it. The entire back of her nightgown is soaked with blood to the point that it drips down her legs all the way to her heels. She pads out of the room, leaving her usual footprints and humming quietly. Xxxxxxxxxxx It is a week later when Sasuke sees her again. He had spent all day researching the bloody past of the orphanage. 80 years ago. 11 murders. 10 children ages 12-17 and the famed Doctor Orochimaru. The majority of the deaths were caused by blood-loss from ghastly wounds, but there were a few that were especially gruesome: electrocution, drowning, there was even a decapitation. According to all of the articles, all the blame was pinned on Doctor Orochimaru’s apprentice and assistant, Kabuto, who was never seen again after the incident. While the children all suffered horrible deaths, the doctor himself was killed by poison, most likely slipped into his food. Sasuke leans back on his desk chair, anxiously running his fingers through his messy hair. It is a lot to absorb, his house being a place where so many murders took place. He’s about the call it a day, when a link at the bottom of the webpage catches his eye. Photo Gallery Hesitantly he clicks on it, not knowing what to expect. The first picture is of the house, similar to the one he saw earlier, except in sepia with a group of people stand in front of it. They are standing pretty far away, so it’s difficult to make out faces. However, he can immediately point out the doctor and Kabuto. Doctor Orochimaru stands tall and proud, his hair long and dark, and an unsettling smile on his face. Kabuto wears a pair of spectacles and his arm rests over the shoulders of a girl. Sasuke does a double take, though he can’t make out her facial features, her height and build resemble Sakura’s. The only real difference that he can pick out is that her hair is long, coming to rest to just above the waistband of the skirt she wears. She frowns as if unhappy with Kabuto’s touch. Another arm is intertwined with hers, and Sasuke realizes that it belongs to the light-haired boy next to her. He could be the one that was making the knocking noise, Sasuke realizes, though it’s hard to tell without the gaping hole in his stomach. Sasuke clicks on the arrow that takes him to the next picture. It’s of Doctor Orochimaru, but he’s lying on floor of what appears to be his office. Father’s office, Sasuke realizes, recognizing the shape of the room. The doctor’s eyes are shut, but his mouth is still twisted into that creepy smirk, it gives him the creeps, so he clicks to the next picture. His blood runs cold and his heart skips a beat. The picture is of a body, and Sasuke immediately knows that it belongs to Sakura. She’s face down, a large wound covering her neck and blood blooming over the familiar nightgown. Bloody hand and footprints surround her body, along with a black-handled axe that seems to be what caused the gash in her neck. The caption under the picture reads, “Sakura Haruno, the oldest female resident at 17. Cause of death is multiple blows to the back of the neck with the axe seen next to her. She was found near the upstairs window, presumably trying to escape.”   “I knew the windows were barred.” Sasuke turns to find Sakura in her usual place on his bed. “They had been since Kabuto first brought me here, but in those last moments, I was foolish enough to hope that they would somehow come unbolted.” “Sakura,” Sasuke says her name for the first time. “What really happened?” She shakes her head back and forth. “I’ll show you sometime soon, but not now.” He brings his laptop over to the bed and sits down next to Sakura, glancing at her neck wound quickly before clicking to the next picture. He doesn’t get a chance to look at it however, because then the knocking starts. Knock-knock. Knock. He glances at the clock and realizes how late it has gotten. Every night, consistently, the knocking starts at 2:30am. He looks up to find the boy, in his usual hunched over spot next to the invisible wall. “Why does he do that?” Sasuke asks Sakura, his eyes never leaving the blonde’s hunched over form. “It was our code,” she replies with a sad smile on her face. “One knock means ‘Are you there?’ Two slow ones mean ‘Goodnight,’ and two slow plus two fast mean ‘All’s clear’.” “What do two fast and one slow knock mean?” Sasuke asks. “Danger,” she says beneath her breath. “It means that the Doctor is performing his experiments.” Sasuke takes a moment to digest what she’s really saying. Experiments? What kind of messed up orphanage was this place? “Why can’t he hear me like you do?” “Because he’s trapped.” Sasuke watches a lone tear run down her cheek. “He doesn’t realize he’s dead, yet he knows he’s not alive.” Her voice breaks. “I know that I’m dead and have accepted that I’m stuck here.” They watch silently as the boy continues knocking, his labored breathing the only other noise. “I have to go,” Sakura says as she rises from her spot on the bed and heads towards the door. “You know enough now that it’ll only get worse. Stay out of the hallways at night.” A couple minutes later, Sasuke watches as the boy falls to his back, his chest just barely moving. A piercing feminine scream cuts through the silence and Sasuke finds himself glued to his spot on the bed. Then like all the times before, the boy gasps out “Sa-aku-ra,” before his head falls to the side. Glancing down at the computer to screen, Sasuke finds an exact replica of the sight before him, except in the picture a solid wall with bloody knuckle prints sits next to the boy’s body. “Naruto Uzumaki: Oldest male resident at 17. Cause of the gapping wound in his stomach is unknown, but investigators believe that Uzumaki dragged himself up the stairs only to die in his room. Investigators are puzzled as to why Uzumaki would do this when he was much closer to front door before his very tedious climb; they suspect that the trauma of the wound drove Uzumaki to insanity in his final moments.” Xxxxxxxxx “Sasuke, you’ve been cooped up in your room for the past week,” Mikoto says one night at dinnertime. “Maybe you should go explore the neighborhood or something.” “How much do you know about the history of this house?” Sasuke counters as he pushes the pasta around his plate absentmindedly. “What is with all your questions?” she asks getting annoyed at her son’s strange behavior. “That’s the fifth time you’ve said something about it since we moved. Why won’t you eat your dinner? It’s your favorite.” “Mikoto, stop pestering him,” Fugaku says quietly. “Oh honey,” Mikoto says as if realizing something. “Is it because you’re missing Suna? You’ll make new friends once school starts, I’m sure of it. In the mean time, you should make the best of it. Konoha is a beautiful place with lots of kids your age.” She glances at the clock on the wall and exhales in annoyance. “Where is your brother?” “That boy hasn’t been acting like himself for the past couple of days,” Fugaku says before taking a bite of pasta. “I know,” Mikoto says sadly, “It’s not like him to act so moody and distant, maybe we should start having family movie nights again or something.” Just then, the front door slams and the heavy footfalls are heard from the foyer. “You’re family’s sweet.”Sasuke glances up to see Sakura sitting on the kitchen counter. “Don’t worry, they can’t see me.” Sasuke gives her a questioning look as a silent way of asking why that is. “I’m not sure exactly,” she replies, apparently understanding the message. “I think you might just be better attuned to the spirit world than them.” Just then, Itachi enters the kitchen and glares at the table. “Pasta again?” he mumbles before turning to leave. “Itachi, wait!” Mikoto calls out, standing from her seat. “We need to talk, son,” Fugaku adds as he sets his eating utensils down. “You’ve been acting strangely,” Mikoto walks around the table towards Itachi. “Is something wrong? You can always tell us anything, we’re your family.” She moves as if to hug him, but Itachi slaps her hand away. She stands back, shocked that her son would treat her that way; Itachi has always been a kind and caring child, he would have never dreamed of hurting her before. “Itachi!” Fugaku yells. “How dare you treat your mother that way!” Itachi stares at his hand for a moment before looking around the room at the stunned faces of his family before turning to leave once again. “I-I’m sorry,” he stutters. “I’ve been feeling restless lately. I will retire to my room for the night.” Then he rushes out of the room, the creaking of the steps signaling his course upstairs. “Itachi, I’m not done with you!” Fugaku calls after, before following him. “Sasuke,” Mikoto says, before bringing a hand to her temple. “Will you do the washing up tonight? I’m suddenly not feeling well.” Sasuke nods as she walks away, pretending to not see the tears running down her face. He turns to find Sakura staring at the doorway, a curious expression on her face. “Your brother’s never acted like this before?” she asks, eyes still vacant. “Never,” Sasuke replies as he gathers the dishes from the table. Her gaze turns to the vase of roses that his mother had cut from the bush in the garden. “I have a bad feeling.” With that said, she leaps off the counter and walks out of the kitchen. Xxxxxxxxxx “When does your school start?” Sakura asks one sunny afternoon as she lies across his bed. Sasuke has gotten used to her sudden appearances and doesn’t jump at the sound of her voice anymore… very much at least. “Not for two more months,” he responds as he puts the finishing touches on a certain drawing he’s been working on. “Why?” “Will you tell me about your days?” she says while making a frame with her fingers and peers at Sasuke through it. “Like all the drama and gossip.” “What do you mean?” “You know,” she smiles as she rolls over onto her stomach, and Sasuke thinks that her perfect teeth and upturned, petal lips are such a pretty contrast from the gaping wound in her neck. “The family that was here before you had a daughter that would always be on the phone talking about ‘who’s dating who’ and ‘what so-and-so did at the party.’ She was in the room right next to yours.” “What happened to that family? Did you talk to any of them?” Sasuke asks, instantly curious. “They were gone within a month. They had a young son who found the false wall that led to the basement.” “What basement?” There was no basement in the house, that he knew of at least. “That’s where Kabuto and Orochimaru would run their little ‘experiments,’ nobody knew about it until that boy found it. I tried to keep him away, but he couldn’t see or hear me like you can and ended up stumbling across some nasty things.” She sighs and her emerald eyes pin Sasuke where he is. “The realtor freaked and had somebody come and fill it in with cement. They didn’t try to sell the house until ten years later. You’re the first family since then.” “What about families before them? Could anybody else see you?” He couldn’t be the only one, right?” “There was only one other person, about thirty years ago. A fortune teller or something.” Sakura makes a motion with her finger indicating that she thought the lady was crazy, which is rich coming from a ghost. “She lived here peacefully for about a year before she tried to contact all of us spirits with some sort of thingamajig. I don’t know what she saw, but she hung herself that night.” “Oh my god,” Sasuke says in shock. How many people died horribly in this f***ing house? “Anyways,” Sakura begins, seemingly unfazed by the conversation, as she peers over his shoulder. “Whatcha drawin?” “Uh,” a blush burns on Sasuke’s cheeks as he turns the sketchpad towards her. “You.” The picture is a rough pencil sketch of her looking backwards towards him. She wears a pair of jeans and a sweater with sleeves that reach down to her palms. No gash tarnishes her slender neck and her hair hangs down to the small of her back. She smiles as she looks at the picture. “I always thought I looked better with long hair.” “Then why’d you cut it?” Sasuke asks. He had given her long hair on a whim, inspired by the picture of her standing in front of the orphanage. “It wasn’t a choice.” Another one of her sad smiles. Sasuke doesn’t know what possesses him, but he has the urge to kiss her, to touch her, to do something. So he reaches forward, and she pulls back. “Soon,” she whispers, before jumping up and walking out the door. Xxxxxxxxxx “Is today your birthday?” Sasuke turns around to find Sakura standing behind him in the bathroom. He never actually sees her appear or disappear, simply one second she would be somewhere and the next she would not, or vise versa. He’s not sure whether some glowing light engulfs her, or if she simply evaporates in the air, but he figures that he prefers it this way. It makes her seem more real. He takes the toothbrush out of his mouth and spits in the sink. “How come you don’t have a reflection?” She jokingly pouts. “I asked you first.” “Fine,” he sighs, “Yes, I turn eighteen today. How’d you know?” “Wow, you’re an adult.” She giggles and Sasuke feels his stomach flutter. “I’m not a tangible thing, so there’s nothing for the mirror to reflect.” She takes her hand and sticks it through the sink, passing right through to the other side. “See? And to answer your second question, I was downstairs this morning and overheard your parents talking in their bedroom.” “You spy in my parents bedroom? Pervert,” he mutters under his breath with a teasing grin. “Not in their bedroom, just outside of it. I can’t go into anywhere I never went when I was alive, and I can’t leave the premises of where I died. That’s why I can go through the sink, but not the furniture in your room.” “Really?” Sasuke asks, receiving a nod in return. He always figured that she ghosted around outside when she wasn’t with him. “Anyways, I think your mother said something about a special breakfast for you, so I’d head downstairs.” With that, she exits the bathroom. Xxxxxxxxx In the entire month he’s been living in the “Haunted House,” Sasuke has been picking up on more and more of the “spirit world” as Sakura calls it. Instead of hearing the knocking and then seeing Naruto, the blonde boy appears first crawling through the bookcase, where his bedroom door used to be. A trail of blood always follows behind him from where his injured stomach drags on the rough floorboards. If he walks down to the kitchen for a late night snack, the sink will be filled with water and the sound of somebody choking can be heard. If he goes to the bathroom, crying resounds off the walls. If he looks out the window, he’ll notice the porch lights flickering. By far, the worse thing is the sound of Sakura’s scream being cut short at the same time every night. One time he asked about why she screams and she shrugged him off once again, but when he asked about the disappearing bloodstains, she answered him simply. “Just like the screams, flickering lights, and water, the blood doesn’t belong to your world. You’re just seeing and hearing echoes of what used to be here. Though the rest of your family isn’t, which is a bit odd.” He has tried approaching his parents about the strange occurrences, but each time they send them away with a “Give the place a chance.” However, he’s grown closer to Sakura. Though she’s dead, she makes pleasant company. Today, he leans back against his headboard, doing nothing in particular on his laptop while Sakura is draped over the foot of the bed.  “Kabuto cut it,” Sakura says after a long period of silence. “Wh-what?” Sasuke asks, taken off guard by her words. He shuts his laptop and sets it on the nightstand, looking at the strange, dead girl lying on his bed. “My hair.” She runs her fingers through the short ends. “He always talked about how peculiar and interesting it was, and one night he called me to the lab and chopped it all off with a pair of scissors.” Sasuke remains silent, taken aback by her sudden openness. “It was two nights later when Doctor Orochimaru went on his rampage. He was the one that murdered everyone, even Kabuto; that bastard’s buried under the rose bushes outside. Naruto was one of the first; having been called to the basement, then it was little Moegi who had gone to get a glass of water. Everybody else was a sleep, completely unaware of what was happening until it was too late.” “Sakura…” Sasuke trails off, not knowing what to say. An apology didn’t seem fitting and he is not quite sure how to deal with her when she acts so serious. “You don’t have to tell me this,” he ends up saying. “No,” she sits up to stare him straight in the eyes. “I can show you.”Then she leans forward and Sasuke thinks that she’s going to kiss him. But when her face gets close to his, she goes right through. Her whole “body” enters his, and his eyes forcibly shut. “Relax, Sasuke,” her voice echoes in his mind. Then he opens his eyes to the sound of knocking. Knock-knock. Knock. “Naruto?” the voice comes from his throat, raspy from sleep but distinctly belonging to Sakura. Feet swing over the side of the bed and land gracefully and soundlessly onto the wood floor below, pale, feminine feet with little scratches on them. It is then that Sasuke realizes he’s a passenger in Sakura’s body. Knock-knock. Knock. Sakura looks up and in the small mirror hanging on the back of the door, Sasuke watches as her eyes widen. Then, the little, white nightgown she dons becomes all too familiar. Knock-knock. Knock. Sakura glances over to the wall, which was not there before Sasuke shut his eyes. A scream echoes out in the hall and Sakura moves to her door, opening it. Glancing down the darkened corridor, Sasuke sees the house as she did in her last few moments. A thick blood trail leading down the hall, into Naruto’s room. She begins moving towards it, and Sasuke thinks she’ll peer in the room and see her dying friend, but she doesn’t get a chance. A tall figure, masked in the shadows of the hallway emerges from the door across from Naruto’s. Water and blood drip down the front of his shirt, and the moonlight illuminates his pale hands wrapped around the black handle of an axe dragging behind him. “Come here, little blossom,” a voice sings out as the man moves towards her. Sakura gasps and falls backwards to the ground, scampering away from the man. He steps into the light, and Sasuke sees the gold eyes, the creepy smile. It was two nights later when Doctor Orochimaru went on his rampage. Sakura is able to scramble to her feet and instantly runs to the window. She pulls on the large iron bars frantically, hoping beyond hope that they’ll break free. The footsteps behind her stop, and slowly, she turns her head to peer over her shoulder. He raises the axe, and a familiar scream rips from her throat before it is cut short with the heavy blow. She falls to the ground, unable to move, barely able to feel. An enormous pressure hits her again, and then everything goes dark. Xxxxxxx Sasuke’s eyelids fly open and he pants heavily, trying to gulp down all the oxygen in his vicinity. Sakura leans over him, her green eyes seeming to search him for something. “Now you know,” she whispers, “now you know what I and all the other ghosts in this place, have to relive every single night.” Sasuke sits up and Sakura leans backwards to give him room. It’s then that he notices the tears running down her cheeks. He brings a hand up to wipe them away, but it goes right through her. “Why now?” he asks while pulling his hand back in frustration. “Why show me all of this now?” “I’ve been feeling odd lately,” she replies as her palms wipe away the moisture from beneath her eyes. “I feel like I’m fading, I don’t even know what day it is anymore.” “Sakura?” Sasuke says hesitantly as he watches the petite girl close her eyes. “I’ll be alright,” she whispers before curling up on the side of his bed, seemingly asleep. Xxxxxxxxx When he wakes up, she’s gone and the morning light filters through the curtains. Groaning, he throws an arm over his eyes to block out the sun. “Good morning, sleepy head!” He moves his arm to find Sakura leaning over his bed, her eyes shining much more green than usual. He groans again turns his head to the side, that’s when he notices it. In the mirror on the far wall, he can see her back. No blood stains the little nightgown, and smooth, flawless skin covers the back of her neck. Wait… reflection? Sasuke sits up so quickly that his forehead bumps into Sakura’s, and the slight pain causes him to wince. Sakura lets out an “ouch!” and Sasuke stares up at her. “I touched you!” he says before slowly bringing a hand up to cup her cheek. Surprisingly, it comes into contact with the soft surface of her skin. His other hand touches her pink hair, like he has wanted to do since first seeing her, and thinks that the feeling resembles that of goose down. Wispy… soft… real. “Am I dreaming?” Sasuke asks as he pulls her down on top of him, feeling the warmth of her body over his. She giggles and shakes her head. “Are you alive?” he asks hesitantly, and her smile dims. Another head shake. “It must be today then,” she mumbles to herself. Sasuke looks up at her curiously, not sure what to make of the situation. “On the anniversary of our death, those of us who are aware of our situation get to materialize. I don’t know why exactly.” She nibbles on her lip and Sasuke can’t help but pull her closer. He knows it’s stupid and impossible, but he can’t help himself from leaning closer and touching his lips to hers. She seems shocked at first, but responds, moving slowly against him. Even though it is slow, hesitant, and over far too soon, it is easily the best kiss that Sasuke has ever had… also the weirdest. Maybe she’s dead and maybe it can never be, but Sasuke has fallen head over heals for Sakura Haruno, the dead girl haunting his house. A pretty blush colors her cheeks, and Sasuke can’t help but smirk up at her. “Wow,” she says quietly, “that was my first kiss.” She lies down next to him on the bed and runs her hand over his face. She traces his messy hairline, running her fingers through the silky locks, her fingertips outlining his sharp cheekbones, softly following the bridge of his aristocratic nose. His arms wrap around her hips, securely her to him, and Sasuke thinks that he can get used to this feeling. She tucks into him perfectly, her thin body molding against his, and they just lay there in silence, feeling each other. “Why couldn’t we have been born in the same time period,” Sakura whispers as she tucks her face into his chest, memorizing Sasuke’s scent. He doesn’t respond, thinking the same thing himself, instead he brushes his lips over her forehead and watches as her face turns the same color as her hair. Embarrassed, she buries her face in his neck, trying to hide. Chuckling causes his chest to rumble, sending Sakura into her own fits of giggles. Sasuke just watches the joy in her eyes as he smoothes her hair, loving the feel of the strands. Her smile falters slightly as she pushes her body up so that she is eyelevel with him. As if unsure, she slowly moves towards him, and kisses him. She begins to pull away, but Sasuke secures her in place and deepens the action. His tongue prods against her lips, and she opens her mouth as invitation. Tasting her, touching her, loving her. It’s almost too much. She hums happily against his lips, and Sasuke makes a mental agreement with himself that he will not be leaving her side today. Xxxxxx “Can I meet your family?” Sakura asks as she runs her foot up and down his. “You know, for real?” “Hn,” Sasuke says, neither accepting nor rejecting her request. He settles for ghosting a kiss on her upturned nose. “I’ll be a girl from the neighborhood who comes down to stay with her grandmother during the summers,” she nuzzles his cheek with her nose. Then, rising from the sheets, he nods towards the door. Sakura looks at him as if confused, her hair mussed from his constant attention. “If you’re going to come to dinner, then I’ll need to get you some clothes.” He heads towards the door. “Stay here.” Quietly shutting the door behind him, Sasuke heads down the hallway intent on making his way downstairs to his parents’ room. However, a loud noise from his brother’s room causes him to stop. “Tomorrow,” a voice hisses from behind the closed door, but the rest of the sentence is muffled, so Sasuke finds himself leaning his ear against the aged wood.“-starting to notice,” the voice continues and Sasuke recognizes it as a man’s, definitely not Itachi’s. Still muffled, he can only catch bits and pieces. “…can’t escape… anger… do it.” The door opens and Sasuke jumps back from it in shock.  “Sasuke?” his brother inquires, looking down at him. Lately, Itachi has had deep circles under his eyes, as if he hasn’t been getting much sleep. At first, Sasuke assumed that he had been hearing the deaths as well, but when he asked about it, Itachi responded with a look that made him feel crazy. “Is there somebody in there with you?” Sasuke asks as he tries to look around the tall form of his brother. “No,” Itachi replies curtly before shutting the door in Sasuke’s face. Xxxxxxx When he reenters the room, Sakura is no longer on the bed. “Sakura?” he calls, panicked that she turned back into a spirit. He jumps slightly when his wardrobe door opens and the girl peaks her head out. “What are you doing in there?” he asks as she steps out. “Your brother came in, so I hid,” she says before launching herself in his arms. Sasuke catches her, surprised at how light she is and sets her back on the bed. “I cleared told my mom that you were coming to dinner and I grabbed you a pair of leggings and some boots.” He picks the items up from the floor, having dropped them when she leaped and shows them to her. “My mom’s pretty tall and I figured your dress would pass as normal clothes. You’ll probably have to roll the leggings up, but my mom has so many clothes and shoes that she shouldn’t notice the boots.” She pulls the items on and examines herself in the mirror. “How do I look?” she asks teasingly. “Beautiful.” Xxxxxxxx They sit around the dinner table, except Itachi who left shortly after sitting down, and the room is filled with Sakura and Mikoto’s chatter. The Uchiha woman had instantly took a liking to the dead girl, even hinting at Sasuke needing a girlfriend like her. Fugaku remained his passive self as always. “So, you’re only here during the summers?” Mikoto asks. “Yeah, I live in Ame, I just come down here to help out with my grandmother.” “That’s too bad,” Mikoto replies. “It would have been nice if you and Sasuke went to the same school.” “Yeah, it would be fun to go to school with each other.” Sakura sends a wink at Sasuke before excusing herself. “She’s very charming,” Mikoto says after directing Sakura to the bathroom. “Though she doesn’t seem to like my cooking.” “Yeah,” Sasuke says quietly. “You know, long distance relationships don’t typically work out well unless you are both very committed to each other.” Sasuke shoots his mother a withering glare. “Don’t you look at me like that, Sasuke Uchiha.” She points her fork at him threateningly.  “Never, have you ever brought a girl home, not even that one girl that you dated for almost a year.” Sasuke shakes his head as his mother continues giving him unwanted – and frankly, unnecessary – relationship advice. Xxxxxxxx Being a ghost, Sakura doesn’t really have to use the restroom, but feels the need to wash her face. Mikoto is such a beautiful woman and very motherly as well, accepting Sakura even though she knows so little about her, not even saying anything as she pushed the food that she can’t eat around the plate. This was a mistake. Sakura thinks as tears burn in her eyes. She should have never asked Sasuke for this, she should have stayed away from the family that she can never be a part of and remained the orphaned, dead girl that she is. But she is selfish and couldn’t pass up the opportunity of feeling normal. Turning off the water and drying off her face, Sakura stares at her reflection. Gaps in her memory have started forming. Have her eyes always been green? Has she always been this short? How old was she when she died? She doesn’t know what the lapses mean, but she figures that it cannot be anything good. Make it worth it. She tells herself before exiting the bathroom, only to run into a strong chest. “I’m sorry,” she says, quickly moving out of Itachi’s way, but his hand shoots out and grabs her arm before pinning her to the wall. “What are you doing?” he spits out and Sakura could have sworn that she saw his eyes flash red. “I was just washing my face,” she replies trying to remain calm.“That’s not what I mean, little blossom.” The change in his eyes is distinctly visible now. They remain bright red and the tone of voice shifts to one that sounds all too familiar for Sakura. “What are you doing in this world?” “Orochimaru,” she realizes as she watches Itachi’s tongue come out of his mouth and flick across his lips in a way all too familiar. “I won’t let you harm this family too.” She tries to make her voice sound strong, but her yelp of pain as Itachi’s grip tightens around her wrist ruins the effect. “Learn your place, girl,” Itachi snarls. He blinks rapidly and his eyes fade back to the dark color that resembles his brother’s. He looks at his hand and in shock pushes away from Sakura. “Please forgive me,” he states, pinching the bridge of his nose. “I have not been myself lately.”  Sakura watches him as he rushes away, her eyes swimming in sympathy. It seems as if she is not the only one losing herself. xxxxxxxxx “My mother is quite taken with you,” Sasuke murmurs as he strokes her hair. After dinner, when his parents had retired elsewhere, he and Sakura had snuck upstairs and resumed their position on his bed. He lays on his back, with Sakura curled up in his arms, half lying on him, drawing geometric symbols over his shirt with her finger. “I’m fading, Sasuke,” she whispers. His hands come down to cup her face, and turn it so that she looks in his eyes. “What do you mean?” “I’m drifting away, I’m forgetting my past, who I am, what happened. It’s all leaving me.” Her eyes close and she begins humming a sad, haunting tune. “Soon enough, I’ll be just like Naruto and the others.” Sasuke allows that to sink in. He knows that their relationship is dysfunctional, but he never imagined something like this. Having to hear her die every night, calling out to her, but his voice never reaching. Her humming stops and he thinks she fell asleep, so he runs his fingers up her back, tracing all of her vertebrae and her soft skin. “Sakura?” he begins, there is still a way that they can be together, forever. “Sakura?” he asks again, shaking her lightly. Slowly her head rises up, and her eyes are filled with confusion. “Is that my name?” she asks. “Yes,” Sasuke breathes out his reply, not believing this. “Yes, you’re Sakura.” Her eyes widen and she jumps up. “Sasuke, you need to get out of this house!” “Whoa, wait a minute,” he rests his hands on her shoulders. “No, you need to get out, you need to move somewhere else,” she starts breathing quickly as if hyperventilating. “He’s coming back, he’s coming back.” She begins looking around as if in a panic. “Sakura, calm down.” Sasuke’s at a loss, he doesn’t know what she is talking about or why she is suddenly hysterical. “I love you, Sasuke, and you need to leave.”  He pauses and stares at her, shocked, then he decides to voice the thought he had just a moment ago. “What if I never leave?” he whispers. “What do you mean?” she asks slowly, in a way that makes him think she already knows. “I could d-“ “Stop, stop right there,” she says sternly, frowning at him. “You are not killing yourself. You are not going to be trapped in this house, reliving your death everyday for me. Don’t you dare ever suggest anything like that ever again!” She yells the last part, tears streaming down her face. She leans her head on his chest, clutching her shirt in her hands. Her shoulders shake as she begins crying, and he instantly embraces her. “You need to leave,” she whispers between sobs. “He’ll kill you too.” She slides to the floor, and Sasuke comes with her, until they are on their knees.“I’ll speak with my family soon, okay?” he tells her, burying his nose in her hair and breathing the light scent that he discovered this morning. She nods and he picks her up before setting her gently on the bed. “It’s time,” she whispers softly, and her voice sounds distant. “What do you mean?” Sasuke asks and Sakura holds up a hand in response. It does not appear translucent, but it is not quite solid. Testing it, he tries to interlock their fingers, only to go right through. “No,” he says quietly.He stares at her and watches as the rest of her body begins to lose its solid outline. He grasps her around the waist and begins kissing her. He puts everything he has into the kiss since he knows it will be the last. Then, she is gone and he’s left alone in the expansive bedroom, crying out for her to come back, as her scream echoes in the distance. xxxxxxxxx She did not come back the next morning. She did not come back the in the afternoon. She did not come back at night. xxxxxxxxx   “Sasuke!” Dark eyes fly open at the sound of Sakura’s voice. He glances around and finds her leaning over him, her hands resting on the bed. “Sakura! You’re still here!” he exclaims reaching to touch her face, but his hand passes right through and he is left with the gut clenching reminder that she is dead. “You need to run. You need to run now!” she shouts as she points to the open door. “Get out! He’s awakened, Itachi is possessed! You need to leave!” He takes a moment to figure out what she is saying. “Run!” she screams, “the window!” Sasuke slowly tumbles out of his bed and enters the hallway. There, standing at the foot of the stairs is a dark silhouette, and Sasuke is hit with an awful sense of déjà vu. This scene is too familiar. Moon light streams through the window, a tall from shuffling towards him, with dark hair hanging down, an axe dragging along the ground, leaving a trail of blood in its wake. It is almost exactly like the vision Sakura showed him or her own death. He begins trying to open the window, only to realize that there is no way to do so. There are no hinges or handles. It’s just a solid pane of glass. Itachi steps into the moonlight, and Sasuke notices that his eyes are glowing red, even more shocking, the handle of the axe is black. An evil smirk splits his face in half and blood splatters across his forehead and cheeks. Is that the same one that killed Sakura? He breaks out of his shocked state in an instant, forcing his mind not to linger on whose blood might be coating Itachi’s body. “Come her, brother,” Itachi calls, but his voice is not his own. “Itachi, why?” Sasuke asks, pounding against the window, begging it to break. “We must join them,” he lets out an inhuman chuckle and continues down the hall. Sasuke dashes back into his room and grabs his baseball bat. He barely acknowledges Naruto, who his executing his usual knocking routine. Spinning around to enter the hallway once again, Sasuke finds his brother blocking the doorway. He instantly runs to the other door, only to find that it’s been locked from the outside. Then, a hand grabs the ends of his hair and pulls him back. “Your turn, Sasuke,” Itachi smiles as he raises the axe over his head. This is it. Sasuke thinks, bracing himself for the blow, but it never comes. Looking up, he notices Sakura standing in front of him. “No!” she yells at Itachi, “You can’t have him too.” Then, she steps into the elder Uchiha’s body. Itachi lets out a blood-curdling scream and grasps at his head. His voice comes out, morphed as if multiple are using it to argue with each other. Then, in a voice that clearly belongs to Sakura, he shouts. “Run! Use the window! He sabotaged all the other exits!” He glances at Itachi one last time before running to the window. Swinging the bat he shatters the glass, creating an opening big enough for him to slip through. Before jumping to safety, however, he glances in his room and watches as Sakura is pushed out of Itachi’s body, her spirit glowing brightly. She turns to him, a large smile on her face as her spirit begins to evaporate. First goes her fingers and toes, then her whole body becomes streams of light. “Thank you,” she whispers before disappearing. Xxxxxxxxx Two years later, Sasuke opens his eyes, finding himself in a strange white room. He looks around him and almost has to shut his eyes again due to the hazy, bright light. It is then that he notices a familiar pink-haired girl hovering over him. “Sasuke,” she chokes out. “Do you know what happened?” He’s in a shock. He hasn’t seen Sakura since the night Itachi was possessed by Orochimaru. After she had disappeared, he was able to jump out the window and get help from the neighbors. When the cops had arrived at the house, they found his parents dead and Itachi missing. Since then, he had been living on his own off of his inheritance. He is in college now, studying law. People have passed through his life, their faces blurring together. Though he survived that night, he felt more dead than alive. His family was gone, the one girl he fell in love with was gone, all the light in the world… gone. The last thing he remembers is driving to a lecture and then, nothing. But with Sakura here, looking down at him, it is as if somebody has resuscitated him, breathed oxygen into his body and shocked his heart into beating once again. “Am I…” he hesitates to say it. “Am I dead?” Sakura smiles sadly, a tear running down her face. He reaches up and wipes it away, and at there touch, instantly knows the answer. “Yes,” she whispers, covering his hand with her own. He notices her usual white nightgown is long gone, along with any traces of blood. Instead, she wears a wispy dress that seems to float around her, even from her seated position. He rises from his spot on the ground, and Sakura comes up with him. She points in the distance, and all he can see is ever expanding white. “Your family is that way,” she explains before slipping her hand in his and guiding him forwards. As she giggles and leads him towards a golden light in the distance, a new warmth spreads through him, calming him for the first time since the incident. 

KNIGHTHOOD.(Taken/Busy IRL)

09/03/2022 07:10 PM 

Midland

Summary: “Running away from something, Red?” Frank asks, thumbing back the label of his beer bottle before taking a swig, leaning back on his sh*tty bar stool. Red smiled ruefully, turning to him. Of course he was. They both were. Frank and Matt have a one-night stand a month before the collapse of Midland Circle. Frank digs the devil out, but it soon becomes clear pieces of him stayed under the rubble. Notes: So, I got myself into writing another series because I'm stupidly gone for this ship, anyone relates?This story involves some serious mental health issues, including Insomnia, Suicidal thoughts, suicide attempt, medicine abuse, depression and others. Be advised! I wanted to explore some more of Matt's suicidal tendencies during s03 and defenders, so here it is.This will be a 4 work series, all one-chapter works.Happy reading! TW's:Panic attacks, insomnia, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempt, overdose, depression, hospitalization, some violence.     We thought we knew these sidewalk cracks by heart but even they have altered in our absence, branching out on their own. - Coming Home, Vern Rutsala   When Frank hears about Midland Circle, he’s walking home from a vet meeting at Curt’s, still sore with injuries from the fight with Billy and Agent Orange’s torture. It’s not even a choice. Before he knows it, his feet are carrying him to the closest library. Looking for information on water ducts, abandoned railroads, undergrounds maps of the city old enough for the ink to start fading and the paper to yellow. It’s not until twelve hours later that he finds the Devil’s bloodied, corpse-like body slumped by the river, smooth rocks digging into his bruised face. Frank doesn’t allow himself to acknowledge the heavy, suffocating burn churning in his chest at the sight of him - more bruises and blood than skin, chest barely moving -, and instead takes his vitals, runs his palms over his battered frame to make sure he could move him without risking further injury, mind settled in mission mode. It’s when Red suddenly wakes up, gasping and whispering for him to bring him to Clinton Church, that Frank sees her. A silhouette, a cut-out paper shadow mocking the impression of a woman Frank had seen through his scope once, a year or so before. A woman he saw bleed out in Red’s arms. She disappears before Frank can make sense of what he saw. He has more pressing matters at hand. Matt Murdock is not dying on his arms. So he takes the kid to Clinton Church, running calculations and tactical moves through his head - the medical apparel he needed to find, where he could find a doctor that would keep their mouths shut. Who could he threaten into getting him something or the other, who he could steal from - always bad guys. Father Lantom is not as old as Frank first imagined and he’s strong enough to help him put Matthew’s skinny, bleeding body into the orphanage’s infirmary. One of the nuns tries to call 911, but it only takes a word from the Father ( it’s Jack Murdock’s son, he said) for her to drop the phone. Frank brings in supplies. The nuns do what they can. He grew up here, the small nun, Maggie, tells him. In the orphanage. Frank nods. He doesn’t take his eyes away from the kid the whole time. She wants him and Red gone, but she takes care of him. They swear all the others to secrecy and it’s as good as it’ll get. I know who you are, the Father says, a week later, and Frank is yet again staring at Matt Murdock’s undisturbed, lifeless frame. Skinnier than when he first got there. I can not say I agree with your actions or even understand them, but I can only thank you for bringing him here safe. Frank offers little back. He isn’t sure why he did it. He just never considered the thought of not doing it.     It’s two weeks of daily visits from Frank before Red wakes up. At one moment he’s entering the room of a half-dead man, at the other, he’s watching him stumble and fall from the bed, gasping I can’t see, I can’t see, weakly in the Sister’s arms until he goes limp. After he helps Sister Maggie put him to bed, observing the other nuns hovering around and helping clean his wounds and change his bandages, Frank remembers the day at the bar, months ago. Before David Lieberman came after him. Before Madani’s involvement and Billy’s betrayal. Before William Rawlins. Before Midland Circle. He had been coming home from the construction site he had been working at under Pete Castiglione’s name when he stopped at a bar. It wasn’t something he usually did. But that day, the song from the carousel grated louder in his ears than the others and Maria’s voice was an echo of Hey, sleepyhead. There’s plenty of time now that you’re home. At a bar in Queens, he met Red. “Lost, Frank?” he had asked, swirling a glass of scotch in his hand, a small smile in his face. Frank had considered him only for a moment before he found himself a seat by his side. “I should ask you the same, you’re not in the Kitchen,” Red - Murdock - had chuckled tiredly, eyebrows raising in agreement. He downs the rest of his drink before knocking on the table for another. Frank gestures for the barman. “People haven’t heard much of the Devil for a while.” “And they won’t be,” “Huh,” Frank hadn’t asked. Maybe he should have. He had seen, even then, that something was eating away at him. Instead, he ordered a beer and another double for the auburn-haired man. “Running away from something, Red?” Frank asks, thumbing back the label of his beer bottle before taking a swig, leaning back on his sh*tty bar stool. Red smiled ruefully, turning to him. Of course he was. They both were. They had ended on Matt’s apartment, hours later. And Frank f***ed Red long and good into his sh*tty, blood-stained couch and didn’t think of the hollow hiding behind his ribs for a while. And when he thought Murdock couldn’t possibly take any more, panting and oversensitive as he was, the man straddled him and rode him like he was made for it, with a fluttering chest and shuddering gasps. For a while, Frank had hugged him in his bed. Spooned him from behind and held him tight. Murdock had tensed in his arms, but soon went pliant, allowing Frank - and himself - that moment to bask in human warmth and intimacy against their touch-starved skins. “Thought you were too Catholic for this kinda thing,” Frank had joked, and it wasn’t a lie. And Matt, he laughed, Frank had liked the sound enough that it scared him. “I’m not too good at being a Catholic,” he had answered, before his chuckle tempered down into a sigh. “It’s almost dawn.” “You got somewhere to be?” Someone, he didn’t say, remembering how Nelson and Murdock had dissolved, how Karen now worked somewhere else. Do you have anyone? Matt had gone quiet. Stiff under his fingers. “No,” he had whispered back, “nowhere.”       The next time Murdock wakes up, Frank is there, sitting by his bedside. Red is a bit more aware of his surroundings when one of the nun’s help him drink some water. He’s scarily thin and pale, his head doesn’t twitch side to side as Frank was used to seeing. “How are you, Red?” He doesn’t talk, staring straight at the ceiling, seeing nothing. Unlike the last time he woke up, he wasn’t trying to touch his ears. Just looking at nothing. Sucking all the noise around him like a black hole. Matt looked blank. Like he wasn’t even there. “Was she there?” He asks, finally, in a hoarse whisper, in what seems like an hour later but could have been only minutes. “I don’t know,” but he does know who Red’s talking about. He didn’t think it was possible, despite the reports of Daredevil and an unidentified woman being trapped under Midland Circle. “I thought she-” “She did,” Matt swallows thickly, somberly. “They brought her back,” he whispers, something like dread tainting all the blankness from before. “They brought her back and she was all wrong.” Frank’s heart stutters in his chest. Because as much as he’d like to unpack all that’s built inside that statement, it’s not what matters now. “What were you doing there, Red?” “She didn’t let me leave.” “ Bullsh*t,” Frank growls, pushing his feet into the ground but not making a move to stand up. Red doesn’t make an effort to acknowledge him, staring straight ahead, avoiding. He probably wasn’t even sure of where Frank was, and wasn’t that a sobering yet terrifying thought? “Bullsh*t, Red.” Silence stretches thin until it snaps and Red opens his mouth. And Red speaks. When he’s done, Frank stands up suddenly, the small pile of books falling from the nightstand to the floor. The feeling of unreality lasts for a mere second before he stomps away from the orphanage’s infirmary. His chest heaving in strained pants, furious, raging. He stomps away. Away from Red. If the Sister is surprised by his sudden hurry to leave, she doesn’t let it show. If anything, she looks resigned. She had said it before, everybody leaves Matthew. “He needs a friend,” is all she says, folding some donation clothes by the church pews. “He’s not in a good place,” yeah, no sh*t. Her eyes stray to the hallway Frank just strode away from. “And you’re the only one here.” “I can’t be that friend, Ma’am,” his voice is way more strained than he expected, it leaves his throat in a hoarse murmur. She gives him knowing eyes, hidden behind indifference. “Something more, maybe?” Frank just shakes his head. He can’t. If he closes his eyes, he can remember how pink and purple neon shined against Matthew’s skin. “Just... if you need supplies,” She nods, Frank ignores the disappointment that radiates stronger than it should in a frame so small. Her eyes... her eyes were familiar. “We have your number.” Frank walks away. Red’s words against his hurt lips, spilling into his bruised, mottled skin, they echo. Get stuck in his head. Repeating again and again until he can’t hear them anymore, just the movement of his lips. He dreams of him, asleep in his bed. Frank caresses a hand through his auburn hair and Red smiles. And when Frank’s about to leave, Matt’s mouthing those words, the same words he said that night, in between silk sheets, with Frank’s love bites blossoming on his neck and chest. The same Goddamned words.     It’s a month later when Daredevil - the fake one, because Frank knows the altar boy would never... he just couldn’t. He didn’t have it in him. And then, Wilson Fisk is exposed and arrested once more. A week later, Frank sees Red on patrol. He’s wearing all black and fighting off five, six people at the same time. When three more show up, Frank jumps in. He doesn’t even doubt himself for a second - clean slate, and all that. He covers fire for him, keeps to his rules, shoots kneecaps and elbows and steers clear from heads. The moment they get a reprieve, Red is on him, snarling like a feral animal and pushing him away. “Red-” “Get away,” his voice is down to a growl, and an unbidden shiver works through Frank’s guts at the sheer force of his glare. “Or you’re getting hurt.” And Red does it himself, brutal and efficient. Red doesn’t make a sound, he’s a blotch of ink moving in the flickering lights. He fights like Frank’s never seen him fight before. Except, he thinks, that day on the roof. And Frank... Frank can’t keep up with him. For the first time since he met the Devil, he can’t keep up with him. Not while carrying the armory he has on him. “Red, just wait-” But he disappears. Like a shadow, and Frank can’t follow him. The only trace he leaves behind a hand-print in blood on a wall.     That week, Frank runs some reconnaissance. He settles, belly down, three buildings away from Nelson, Murdock and Page’s new office. Watches through his scope as Nelson puts up their new plaque. Right then, Red seems fine. He laughs at someone Nelson says and Karen pats his shoulder with a fond glance their way. Red turns to her, smiles sweetly and pulls both of them for a little group hug. Red shakes his head with a little smirk to something Karen says, he seems fine. Red flinches away from their touch before leaning closer. His suit hangs loosely off his frame, he looks... tired. Skin-deep though, he puts on a show for his friends. He seems fine. Frank sighs wearily and the Devil tilts his head subtly, dangerously, towards the direction of the rooftop Frank lying on. Red seems to consider something before smiling again towards Nelson and walking inside. Frank leaves, hissing out a curse under his breath.     Red is being careless. Reckless. More than he usually is, which Frank never thought was possible. It’s almost like he’s tempting his God to come down himself and end him. Frank knows a little bit about that - the edge you can’t shake off, walking straight towards the barrel of a gun or maybe staying behind in a boat about to blow up. But even in the peak of his self-destructive bullsh*t, Frank wore body armor. Red’s wearing pajamas and staying out almost all night, at all hours of the night. Kid was a danger to himself. It’s proof to how he’s exhausting himself that, one night, Frank manages to catch up to him. “What are you doing out this late, Red?” “Go home, Frank,” he’s getting tired of this cat and mouse thing. “Come on, stop that,” he chides, carefully, voice low. “That ain’t me and you know it.” But Murdock just tilts his head, “I really don’t,” Frank grits his teeth. Maybe he deserves that. “Look, you wanna talk about it, we can talk.” “I don’t wanna talk, Frank,” he rebukes coldly. Walls so high up around him Frank can barely see what’s behind. But his fingers are trembling, his whole body shaking tiredly. His nose is bleeding, he moves with a limp. “I don’t know what you want, but it certainly isn’t me, so go.” “Cut the sh*t, Red,” he breaks in, last drop of his patience long gone. He steps forward into Matt’s space, who tries stepping back only to find a wall. He’s out of his game. “You think I haven’t seen it? You’ve been at it at all hours of the night, every night, you’re past burning that candle on both ends-” “I don’t need your patronizing bullsh*t-” “And that candle’s gotta burn on, Red. Long after tonight.” Red’s whole frame goes still for one moment, just long enough that Frank’s hackles go down and he thinks he’s finally gotten through to him. But then, suddenly the kid is pulling him close, both hands fisted in his shirt, with such ferocity that he stumbles slightly before finding his footing. “It’s none of your business.” “Yeah?” It hurts more than he’s willing to admit, so instead he grabs onto him too, fingers digging into his (skinny, bruised) upper arms, reaching up to tear the mask away from his face. “What about Karen then, Red? Nelson? Is it their business?” Red’s stutters, his hands loosen before his grip tightens. “You catch your death out here, you piss off the wrong guys, they’re gonna pay for it too, Red, you know that, don’t you?” Murdock shoves him away, taking the mask with him, eyes wide, breathing shallow. Frank almost takes it back, seeing the full-body tremor that wrecks his frame and remembering that Wilson Fisk and the fake Devil wasn’t too long ago. That Red probably spent day after day wondering if he’d wake up to news of his loved one’s deaths. “Red...” “Get the hell away from me, Frank,” he whispers, the decibels rising just above a breath, croaking exhausted. Frank thinks he’s never seen him this defeated, this tired. Red steps off the side of the building and disappears. Frank doesn’t try to follow.     He does follow him a few nights later and it’s too easy. Red’s out of his depth if he hasn’t noticed Frank. He finds a spot behind the huge neon sign, hoping it’s buzzing masks his heartbeat or smell or whatever it is Red uses to recognize him. It’s four in the morning and Murdock should be done in, but despite the scarily deep circles under his eyes he’s restless, head twitching left and right, pacing in circles, rubbing his palm through his face occasionally. Frank settles down and observes him through his scope as he goes inside his bathroom and comes back a few minutes later - showered and snug under thick autumn clothes. Red paces some more before tilting his head towards the table and just... standing there. As if he was mulling something over in that busy head of his. Frank watches him reach out a hand for a bottle of prescription pills on his coffee table, taking three and swallowing them dry. He clenches and loosens his fists in cycles, eyes closed and up to the ceiling. Murdock looks unsettled, fidgeting, twitching. His face set in a troubled, weary expression, eyes suspiciously bright in the neon lights. He had followed Red since eleven in the evening. He had been going at it for at least five hours, and still, he paced. It’s half an hour later when Matt finally sits down, staring straight ahead. Head tilting and twitching towards sounds far away, hands shaking. He doesn’t sleep. Frank leaves when dawn comes.     Thinking back, maybe it was the last straw, that night. He’d been observing Red for a while now, sometimes from behind the neon sign, sometimes through the scope of his sniper rifle. Red had lost weight, his milk-toned skin faded into a sickly ashen by the time night came and he was slacking off. The last few days, the Devil hadn’t noticed Frank following him from work to his nightly outings and that sh*t right there, that was worrying. It was only inevitable that Red, eventually, bit more than he could chew. But Frank’s ready when it happens and soon jumps into action. He keeps to Red’s rules for as long as he can, for as long as the a**holes they’re fighting let him. Once one pulls a gun to the back of Murdock’s head, Frank shoots his arm off with a shotgun. The blast clearly throws Red’s senses off the rails because he falters on where he stands, hands fisting a lowlife’s collar. The guy is quick to take advantage of Daredevil’s sudden distraction. Frank shoots his brains out the moment his knife nicks a piece of Red’s shirt off, right under his ribs. He thinks he hears Red’s shout of no!, but Frank’s busy taking care of the others surrounding them. He looses himself easily in it, in the blood he spills, in the blood that latches onto his skin as if finding home. And Frank never feels more at home than when he’s dipped in red. The last man standing. Red is on him the moment the last gang member falls to the ground, a hole through her tattooed neck. He’s torn off his mask and has his (tired, sleep-deprived) eyes burning wildfires into Frank’s skin. The moment Matthew’s hands dig into Frank, Frank’s dig into him too, bringing him closer, keeping him away. Wanting to appease his anger the same way he wants to watch it consume them both. “You piece of sh*t, you piece of sh*t, I can’t believe you!” Red snarls against him, faces too close together, baring teeth and curling lips. He burns into his reserves until the last drop is the only thing keeping him anchored to Frank, and Frank is the only thing keeping him from falling to the ground. He holds him tighter - feels like, should he let him go right then, Red would fall right through the floor and be swallowed by it. “You burst into something that has nothing NOTHING to do with you and you turn it into a blood bath!” “Yeah, you’d rather I had let that piece of sh*t stab you?” Frank snarls back, pulling him closer by his arms. Enough that he’s not sure what any of them would do should they get closer yet. He’s earth meeting fire, and Red’s embers were burning brighter than ever. “You’d rather let them go free than get the job done, Murdock?” “These people, they have families, they have kids-” “ For crying out loud, shut your goddamn mouth-” “That man you shot in MY arms, I followed him for weeks, he had a kid, Frank, he had a wife,” Red heaves out a weak breath and his eyes are too bright. “They’re better off without him!” Frank doesn’t know how he realizes it’s the wrong thing to say, only that he does. Matt looks about to cry or maybe fall apart, and Frank doesn’t think he’s ever seen him like this. It’s the lack of sleep, he thinks to himself. What else would it be? He grew up here, the Sister had said, in the orphanage. Murdock tries to attack again, but he’s weak. The former marine easily stops him, holding his elbows back, keeping his fists and legs away while letting his head thump against his chest. Matt snarls like a wounded animal, tries to kick him, but his muscles are quickly turning liquid and his bones rattle and quiver weakly in his attempts. “The hell happened to you, Red.” Stupid question. Midland, Elektra, Fisk, Poindexter, - whatever those pills were, the ones he took almost every night. Naively (obtusely, foolishly) Frank had thought he’d be better once he got back to his friends, started their firm again. He thought he’d be better once Frank’s brief presence in his life came to an end. But then again, Frank leaving had been anything but selfless. He’d always been quick to get lost in his head. Maybe that’s something he shares with Red. His fingers find a warm, wet spot on Murdock’s ribs when he tries to twist away from Frank. Bullet graze. “Com’on, let me patch you up.” “Let go.” There’s something in his face, Frank can’t call it by any name he knows. Layers and layers of too much, at the same time. He’s fighting the ocean, trying to set fire to it on his own. And Red... he looks like he wants to let the tide take him away. “Come on,” he says it softer, this time. Matthew doesn’t consent as much as he just stops fighting altogether, going deceivingly pliant against his hold. By the time they’re entering his apartment through the rooftop access, Red’s fiery attitude has been replaced by an unnerving, blank sort of avoidance. The bone-deep exhaustion is still there and it seems to weight more then as they get past the stairs. Matt looks done in. The bright orange of two different pill bottles catches his eyes as he makes his way to the coffee table, glancing at the name. Prozac, the almost empty one reads. Ambien, reads the half-full one. There’s another empty one, forgotten on the floor. “Having trouble sleeping?” He asks, as casually as he can get. The marine half expects it to be the thing that finally gets Red’s fury out once again, but no such luck. A shake of his head, more of fatigue than of disagreement, is the only response Castle gets. Red takes a first aid kit out of the bathroom and sits gingerly on the couch before taking off his compression shirt. Frank can’t help but hiss softly at the sight - Red’s a Pollock of bruises overlayed with cuts and scabs. There’s a splatter of drying blood along his neck and face - likely from the guy Frank shot. It’s not often Frank feels guilty for a kill. Not exactly for doing it, but how he did it. He shouldn’t have done it with Red holding the guy, close as he was, hands still on him. Not with the way the kid tied himself over knots over every little thing. He sighs, gets his mind to focus on the work. He sits facing Red, unsettled by not being able to read his face. Murdock is not exactly good at hiding his emotions and Frank’s good at picking people apart. But somehow, just then... It’s like the orphanage infirmary all over again. And Frank hates remembering that. “Look, Red,” “It’s been repeating since morning,” Matt interrupts, his voice oddly soft. Distant. Frank stops what he’s doing, the first stitch already done. “It won’t stop.” “What won’t stop?” Red looks... sh*t, he looks a bit feverish. Pale and clammy. It’s certainly not from blood loss, he hardly bled enough for that. There was something wrong. Just... off. Frank’s eyes involuntarily track back to the half-empty bottle of sleeping pills on the table. The empty one on the floor. He knew a bit about how messed up your head can get when you just can’t sleep. Frank had had nightmares for a long time after his Maria and his babies. Matthew’s eyebrows twitch and there’s a crack in him - a chasm splitting him in half from the inside out. Just deep enough under the skin that, should Frank be a little less familiar with him, he wouldn’t have seen it. “The radio,” he croaks out, tiredly. “Can’t you hear it? Two apartments down? No, three,” he chuckles a little, eyes bright. Frank sees the tears and freezes, stopping mid-stitch. “There’s a...” he laughs this time. “A stray adoption day at the park, like, like- like the saying?” Frank cuts off the thread, his heart thundering in his chest. “Red..?” His mind races a mile a minute. Is he drugged? Concussed? Something’s seriously off, something... “Like the saying, at the orphanage,” he huffs out another humorless, weak laugh. “The saying, they’d say... They said it was a safe place, until you found your forever home,” Murdock barks out a laugh, as if he finds it exceptionally amusing. Frank’s nauseated, but he holds him. Holds him because Red looks like he’s breaking and Frank’s afraid he’ll spill all over his stained floor and won’t be able to find the pieces of himself when it’s over. “Like puppies, you see? Like we were lost, stray puppies. You shouldn’t be jealous of the others, pup, one day you’ll find your forever home too,” his chuckling is nothing but a breath, now, a shaky hand coming up to brush the tears out of his face. “But we never did,” the laughter is all gone now. A small smile the only suggestion of it ever being there, cracking at the edges. “We never went home.” Frank has nothing to say. Wouldn’t know what to say. What could he, really? When there was nothing but Frank’s hands holding Red together there, in his blood-stained couch. The one Frank had f***ed him into months before and then left. Just... left. He thinks he had seen this coming a long time ago. It’s none of your business, he had told himself. Convinced himself. Too deep into the ocean to be able to make sense of it. “I’m tired, Frank,” his whisper is barely there when he finishes. “I’m really tired.” Frank nods. Tired he understands, tired he can fix. “You need sleep, Red, yeah?” He sticks the adhesive dressing over the stitched-up graze. He glances at the sleeping pills. “You want to take one before-” But Red’s back to his unnerving blank stare. “They don’t work,” he says, holding his stitched-up side. Frank’s hands hover over his shoulders, his lower back. Wouldn’t know how to touch him without breaking him more. “They never work.” The marine nods. “Yeah, I’ll go,” Red twists his head towards him subtly, softly. He’s not surprised, once again. Just like... yeah. “I’ll see you around, Red.” He averts his eyes the moment Matt opens his mouth. Frank thinks he sees him mouth something but the sound dies in his tongue before it reaches the surface. But he saw it, he thinks. He can’t be sure, he tells himself. Maybe it’s just an echo, his scarred head playing tricks on him. Maybe it’s an echo from that day, after the bar. Maybe...     “Bullsh*t, Red.” “I knew I wasn’t getting out of Midland Circle. And Elektra... she knew it too.” “You shut- shut your mouth,” “Told her we were gonna die and she said... She said, this is what living feels like,” Red closed his eyes. “I knew I wasn’t getting out,” he whispered, then: “I didn’t want to get out.”     Frank stops in front of a laundromat, two blocks away from Red’s building. If he looks back, he can still see it. He could still peek over his shoulder, and if he lets his mind drift, Frank almost feels like a schoolboy again. Wondering if that one boy he shared lunch with the day before is going to come to school, so they can share it again. He wonders if he should go back, now that Red’s voice faded among the noise in his head. He knows it will come back soon (it always does, Matt’s voice, for some reason, always comes back). Frank keeps walking. None of your business, his own voice whispers back to him. None of your business. And yet, he couldn’t shake off the cold in his bones. Something had happened in Red’s apartment, and Frank probably would never know or begin to understand what. It was like opening a box and hoping to find what you were looking for, and be greeted instead with a mangled imitation. Faulty clockwork. He walks for maybe an hour, mulling it all around in his mind, as if tasting bitter wine. Red, sitting alone in a bar in Queens. Red, admitting he had no one. Red staying behind under a collapsing building with that woman. Red’s sleeping problems. His reckless behavior, his confession in that small orphanage infirmary. Matt, chuckling like life is one big, bad joke, tears in his eyes. We never went home. The nun’s voice, coming back to him in a whisper, everybody leaves Matthew. Matt lying in a orphanage bed, looking so utterly at peace with his own words, conflicted with the reality in which he woke up to. I didn’t want to get out. He freezes before crossing the street. Frank doesn’t know what finally propels him to go back, he doesn’t know at which point did his walk turn into a run. Metal creaks and complains under his stomping feet as he takes two steps at a time, making his way up the fire escape. His pulse is booming like thunder inside his ribs, throbbing in his temples, threatening to give him a headache as he opens the door to the roof. He’s panting from his run, a palpitation in his chest when he finds the apartment silent. Murdock’s not in his room, he notices first. The two bottles he saw earlier on the coffee table are not there either. He must make a sound, something, because it echoes like a mewl from a wounded animal. Frank isn’t sure if the sound comes from him, but he moves towards the echo anyway, only for his feet to kick something in the way. The first thing he sees as he clicks the light switch on are two bright orange bottles. Both empty. But, they had been almost full before, hadn’t they? At least one of them had, he was sure- “Red?” A crash answers him, a small, cut-off cry he’s sure doesn’t belong to him. But he knows that voice, hears it in his dreams. Hears it whispering to him during the day - he follows it to the bathroom, clicking another light on. His stomach drops, blood running cold. Frank’s knees go weak and, in a second, he’s kneeling, holding Matt’s body in his arms as he convulsed, choking on his own spit and bile. Twitching and seizing non-stop, it didn’t matter how hard Frank held him close, positioning him sideways so he wouldn’t suffocate. It didn’t matter what he did- “Jesus Christ, what did you do?” his voice breaks, hands shaking where they grip Red’s frame, his skin ashen. Frank glances at the empty bottles, Prozac, it displays, Ambien. “What did you do?” He asks again, uselessly, eyes stinging as he holds him, waiting for the seizure to stop. Red’s drying, colorless vomit reeks of medicine. He calls emergency services, past caring if any of them saw through his beard and recognized his face. The words flow from his mouth in a syncopated rhythm and Frank barely hears himself over the buzzing. Nothing. Took pills, Red’s pallid, sallow skin. Prozac, his wide eyes fighting to stay open. Ambien, his hands, shaking violently, fingers spasming. Don’t know how long ago, Red’s auburn, bright hair against white tiles, colorless vomit, foam-covered lips. Male, about 30, the way he said his name, not long ago. Seizure, no blood in the vomit, Red’s little smile when Frank held him that day, twisted in silk sheets, soft against their scarred skins. “What did you do?” Frank asks again, voice sepulchral, begging, whispering. He does what the attendant tells him - checks the pupils (huge), his pulse (fluttery, too quick), his temperature (cold, getting colder), his breathing (shallow, fast). Frank holds the world in his hands as it falls apart silently, quiet as a grave. And what a terrifying thought it is. What a terrifying thought. He doesn’t know when he starts softly rocking, trembling fingertips caressing a cold cheek, his breathing ragged, shaky. His voice rather toneless as he mumble nothings into the empty air, ( you’re okay Red, I got you, I got you Matt, here with you, M’here with you) one finger digging into Red’s neck, pressing into a tripwire pulse. Too quick. Spasming like his muscles. Frank doesn’t hear the paramedics breaking down the door, doesn’t hear them until they’re right there, taking him away from him, asking Frank to step back, putting a blanket around his shoulders. He doesn’t know how much time passes before he stops fighting the paramedics holding him back and one of them is waving the bottles in front of him. Prozac. It says. Ambien. “Sir, I need you to answer me,” Frank nods, lethargic, clearing his throat before his eyes go back to Red. “Sir, do you know how many did he take?” “About... there was about half a bottle of Ambien. Not much of Prozac, maybe 10 pills, just- is he... is he...” is he breathing? Is he alive? “He’s stabilized for now, but we need to move him. We’re taking him to Metro-General,” The world is too quick around him. They have Red on a stretcher ( they’re taking him away), he fights the one guy still holding him back, but he’s weak. “His pupils are non-responsive,” a voice floats from his right, the man with a flashlight to Red’s eyes. “He’s blind,” he croaks out, licks his dry, parched lips. “He’s blind.” “Okay, sir,” the medic nods to another. “Tell them we’re bringing in a suicide attempt victim,” the words, they hit him, puncture his skin. A bullet in the dark where he can’t make sense of where it’s coming from. That they call him, Matt Murdock, brilliant lawyer, fierce protector, sweet, vicious Matthew, like that. Suicide attempt victim, they say. Frank can still feel his cold skin in his palms, as if he was still holding him there. Him and Matt, trapped between white, cold tiles, hanging off the edge, unaware that they’re in free fall. “Sir, are you his proxy?” “I’ll call him,” voice like gravel, bleeding like tar. “I’ll call his proxy.” “Does he have any family we can call?” But we never did. “No,” We never went home. “No, he doesn’t.”     Frank doesn’t think he ever got to go home, either. He planned to, craved it even. But home had never been his house, it had been Maria and the kids. And they died before he could remember how to feel it again. And after that... After that, Frank wasn’t looking for home anymore. He wonders if Matt had been, all this time. Nelson is on him from the moment he gets there, Karen hot in his heels. His hands shake when they grab his jacket only to push him. Frank barely stumbles. “What did you do to him?” He demands, eyes furious even while they threaten to spill like waterfalls. “Foggy-” Karen is shaken off the moment she tries to hold him back. “What did you do to my friend?! What did you do?” Frank doesn’t answer - what could he say? There was nothing to be said. Nothing that wouldn’t make it hurt more. He’s still numb. Still feeling the imprint of Red’s clammy skin and spasming muscles like a phantom limb. Karen must pull Nelson away, because suddenly she’s in front of him, big, cerulean eyes worried. Teary. “Frank, what happened?” He finds that he can talk. At least with her. “Found him,” She frowns, confused. “What?” “I found him,” Frank swallows. Can’t blink away the image seared into his eyelids, how his whole body went taut while he seized, how his own voice sounded frantic and broken as it boomed and echoed around the small bathroom. He makes eye contact with her. “I found him,” Karen looks lost for about a second before horror downs in her eyes and she gasps, taking a step back, hands covering her mouth. “He, he took pills.” “What is he-” Nelson’s voice fades when Karen sobs, still staring with wild, disbelieving eyes into Frank’s. “What’s he talking about?” “I thought, Jesus Christ,” her face looks pink when she cries, Frank remembers, for all the times she spilled tears for him. As if he deserved any of them. That same odd feeling of unreality claims him back, his skin is not his own, wet tiles touching his knees, seizing, shaking. “He said he was okay, he said- I gave him a therapist’s number, he said it was just insomnia, oh my god.” “Matt,” Nelson’s face contorts in a ugly, painful try at confusion and Frank’s dissociating mind focuses at it, for some reason. “Matt tried to-?” Frank averts his eyes when Karen jumps to hug Nelson by the neck, sobbing into his shoulder. His heartbeat a deafening roar in his ears, a painful stab against his rib cage. He sits down in the waiting room, with the two of them. The mismatched family Red had patched for himself but was never taught how to keep, how to hold it together. Frank feels cold tiles on his knees, sweaty, cold skin on his fingertips. And he knows that he’s still there, on that bathroom floor, holding Red’s life in his hands. He wonders if that’s how Matt felt, when he woke up at the church. Like he was still under the rubble, getting slowly crushed but never dying. Feeling bone after bone break, but never finding any peace.     Karen sits with him, later. While Nelson goes to Red’s place to pack up clothes for him. He’s out of the woods and stabilizing, we’re doing our best to clear out his system. A young, wide-eyed nurse had explained. He’s alive. Frank knows the shock will wear out eventually. He knows the next stop is anger. Some twisted Kubler-Ross bullsh*t. He’ll rage and he’ll want answers, but does he have any right to them? Does having a night with him entitles Frank to those answers? Does stitching up his wounds, finding him seizing in the floor? “Do you think... do you think it was on purpose?” Karen asks, her dulcet tone masking the dread Frank knows is wreaking havoc, deep down. Frank shakes his head. Does he think downing almost half a bottle of sleeping pills with some heavy antidepressants classified as a suicide attempt? Yes. Did Frank think it was on purpose, that Red wanted to die? He doesn’t. He doesn’t know. How could he? They know Red longer than he does. Now, if they know him well... That’s another problem. He knows Red’s lips look sweet but are infinitely sweeter once you kiss them. He knows his skin is warm like a fireplace. He knows his hair shines auburn-red in the sun and feel soft. He knows Red likes when you pull them, when you show him where you want him, how much you want him. He knows Matt’s waist is smaller than his ill-fitting clothes would lead you to think it was, and that it felt so breakable under his roughened hands. He knows Matt punches hard and is perhaps too quick to forgive and the last to give up hope. He knows the first and last person Matt Murdock will always hate and punish the most will be himself. He knows how he sounds when he whimpers in bliss, how his legs feel around Frank’s waist, how he’s shy about his eyes, how he fights like a dancer and hits like a boxer and always, always gets back up. And Frank knows that, should he ask his past self if he saw himself in this situation, his other would snort at his face. Should he ask his past self from days ago if he ever thought Red would pull something like this, he’d say no and yet he had seen it happening right under his nose. Because Midland Circle was it’s own proof and yet. “I don’t know, Karen, right before he... he cracked,” Frank shakes his head. “He’s been off, the last few weeks, I don’t know.” Isn’t that where it all comes back to? He didn’t know. He saw it but he didn’t observe it, not really. He averted his eyes, pretended it didn’t matter. He took for granted how much Red could take, took for granted the pain he saw, the struggling. He really doesn’t know. Maybe Red was half out of his mind and really just trying to sleep, maybe he has lost hold of himself, or maybe... Maybe he wanted to end it. I’m tired, Frank. Didn’t he tell him the same thing, roughly a year before? You ever been tired, Red? Frank feels the anger as it finally comes. Overcomes the shock with a snap, a rubber band pulled too hard, past it’s breaking point. Wasn’t it enough that he lost them? Didn’t he suffer enough, losing his wife, his babies? But then again, Frank had walked away from him. Not once, not twice. He walked away after the bar. He walked away from the church orphanage and the night before. When he saw it, when he knew Matt Murdock was way past his breaking point. Red hadn’t been looking good even then, sitting alone in the sh*tty bar stool. His knuckles were healed and his palms soft and Frank’s had never been rougher, full of healing sores and open ones after spending day after day hammering down walls. They had talked, and Frank had driven them to Red’s apartment and Matt had given him this small, almost innocent smile before inviting him in. He had looked pure and Frank had wanted to ruin him and so he did. And Matt, Matt had wanted to be ruined. And then he didn’t, in the end. He wanted to let Frank hold him. Hold his brittle, cracked parts together. But Frank had freaked out. And Red, he saw it. He noticed it even before Frank’s breath caught in his throat with guilt, panic, anger, grief. When he was leaving, Matthew didn’t look surprised or angry. It was almost like he had been expecting it. Like he never thought it could end any other way. And then, he had mouthed - said, begged - in a faint whisper, soft like it didn’t matter, like he didn’t think it’d be heard. He had almost begged- It didn’t matter. Frank had left. “I don’t know,” he repeats. Karen puts one hand on his shoulder. And he hears what she doesn’t ask. Why were you there? Why are you here? “I don’t know.” But he does.     Sometimes, Frank dreams he was there when Midland Circle collapsed. In some dreams, he’s outside, watching it explode and the blast is loud enough that he can’t hear himself over it. In others, he’s under it with Red, and he’s holding his hand as he pulls him, tells him to go, get the f*** out. Asks him why, why, why. But Red always answers the same way, always says the same thing. Frank has repeated it so many times, whispered over and over in his head, that he barely hears it anymore - just sees the movement of his lips when he says it. This is what living feels like. But sometimes, he says what he did when Frank was hastily putting his clothes on, leaving soft silk sheets and a naked, quiet Matthew behind. The same thing he had said the night before, when Frank left him in his apartment after his breakdown. But still, Matt’s just mouthing it. Red would never say that out loud, his own voice whispers back. But he did, that day. He did say it. Frank just chose not to listen. Everybody leaves Matthew. In the waiting room, Frank thinks Matt had been asking for help in the only way he knew how. And if that’s the truth, Frank had seen it but ignored it, and let him fall. In some dreams, Frank is the bomb. He’s the one thing that traps Red under the rubble. He’s the overwhelming deafness of the explosion before concrete comes crumbling down.       When Red wakes up, like months ago, Frank is there. It’s almost like they’re trapped in their own, f***ed up loop. He’s there to witness the surprise in his wide eyes, the opening and closing of his mouth in stuttered gasps as tears track down his face. It takes away all his doubts. That surprise. The tears. Red didn’t expect to wake up. Frank’s stomach twists in anger (nausea, grief) as he stands up and goes to the door, calling a nurse before going after Nelson and Karen. He didn’t - couldn’t - stay. When he leaves, he doesn’t look back. Afraid that Red will be saying the same thing again, the same words. The same goddamned words that would have made all the difference, should Frank have listened to them.     The next night, Karen calls him and Frank finds himself sitting in his van, staring at Metro-General’s front. The anger from before has faded slightly through the course of twenty-something hours. “Can you stay with him?” She had said, like she was asking him to watch her dog. Like we were lost, stray puppies. Frank curses, hidden behind a sigh. Shakes his head and pinches the bridge of his nose before staring at the flaking white paint under the big, red neon sign of the hospital. He takes the small, overnight duffel bag he brought with him, prepared for any occasion. It takes some effort to get his heart rate down. Combat boots hit the front door’s threshold before he’s even realized he’s moved. Karen and Nelson look like sh*t. Frank wonders if this will be the last straw for them too. If this is where Karen finally gets away, where Nelson finally gives up on his friend. Can’t be easy, Frank knows that. God knows what kept Curtis coming back to him, what kept Karen coming back or even the Liebermans. He wasn’t one to question much, at least not on a good day. Now Red - there wasn’t a single thing in his goddamn world Matt Murdock didn’t question, challenge or defy. Death, apparently, being the most prominent one of those. “Just... be careful, F- Pete,” Karen corrects herself, sighing and passing her long, manicured nails through her hair. “He’s not...” She looks at Nelson, helplessly. The blonde shakes his head too, that same pained, torn expression from the day before. “Make sure he doesn’t try to choke himself with his own IV,” he croaks out, coldly and Frank knows it’s none of his business, but he dares hope Nelson works through the hurt, the pain. Because if Karen leaves, Matt may close off, get sadder, quieter or angrier. But if Foggy Nelson left? Frank thinks that would be the last straw. Murdock turns his head away as soon as Frank enters his room, chest rising a bit raggedly. He’s still drowsy but the nurses warned that could happen. That had he taken a bit more than what he did of Prozac (they estimated between five to seven pills), he may have survived, but he’d most definitely have lasting sequels - motor coordination impairment, hearing loss, something named RASP, not any of it good things. That had the paramedics taken a bit longer to get there or Frank to find him, Red would have likely suffocated in his own spit and vomit. That the cardio-respiratory arrest he went in when he got to the emergency room could have killed him, should it have lasted mere seconds more than it did. Frank lets his bag drop to the ground by his feet and watches him. His slow-blinking, his shaky hands, his still pale skin, blue veins like spider-webs along his arms. Stark against an old, silvery scar by his elbow. Knife wound. The former marine sits down with a heaving sigh. Karen had told him earlier Murdock was put under periodic suicide watch, which meant a nurse would be checking in frequently to make sure he was alright. All the angry words he had left him in a blink of an eye. They would come back soon enough. “Brought a book,” he offers, quietly. If Karen’s research was to be believed, the cocktail of sleep deprivation, Prozac and Ambien would be enough to get Murdock’s senses a bit haywire. And as much as a wicked part of him wanted to punish him for his actions, for the sh*t he just pulled, Frank refrains from it. “Not going to give me a talk down?” Matt asks in a hoarse, phantom-like whisper. With all those tubes, pale like the sheets he was under, like the tiles Frank had found him. “Figured your friends got that covered,” and it’s not a lie. Curt would say another talking down is the last thing the kid needs right now. If the goal is feeling like sh*t, Red had that part handled. If it’s making him feel guilty, realize the extent of his actions, Red was most certainly thinking about it already. “Ever read Proust, Red?” “Yeah,” Matt looks at him a bit amused, although he doesn’t smile. He seems too tired for that. “Is In search of lost time supposed to make me feel better?” He asks and this time he sounds teasing. “Well, he did say happiness was beneficial for the body,” Frank shrugs, a small smile in his face. It doesn’t erase where they are but it’s almost like he could just... pretend. Just for a while. The heart monitor beeps steadily. “He’s the father of existential crisis, Frank,” he huffs out a snort at that, watching the artificial light as it touched Red’s damaged, cloudy eyes in a haze. “Brought poetry too,” Matt doesn’t say it but Frank can see it in the little tilt of his head, the curiosity. It fades as he sighs, tiredly. “What did you bring?” He didn’t actually know, Leo had been the one to tell him it was good. He checks out the cover. “Mary Oliver,” Frank’s hands scrape against his jeans as he settles back, Murdock twitches towards the sound, laying back on his sheets. “Do you want-” “Please,” he says softly. Frank nods, and presses his feet harder against the ground. Just so he doesn’t forget where he is. He blinks a few times, eyes on the heart monitor before going back to Matt’s steadily rising and falling chest. “I go down to the edge of the sea,” he starts, voice made of thin, breakable china. “how everything shines in the morning light, the cusp of the whelk, the broken cupboard of the clam...” He maybe reads to him for an hour or two. Frank barely feels time as he measures it with the sterile smell of the sheets, the soft rustling of pages, the feel of a soft paperback cover, Matthew’s tender breathing. It’s rawness dims with every word, every verse. “What dark part of my soul shivers,” Frank isn’t sure when Matt’s breath turns tremulous, or when his own voice strains in a husky grind. It’s just the words, Frank’s voice, Matthew’s breathing, the white sheets, the heart monitor. He can almost ignore where they are. Almost. A nurse comes in, not long after he finishes Every Morning. Red seems to come slowly out of his daze as a tray of mashed potatoes and other unidentifiable food gets dropped on his lap. The fragile truce snaps in a deaf sound, and Frank watches him turn his head down to his tasteless dinner, eyes turning away for all the good they do. Red’s rather well-trained in avoiding glances when he can’t (shouldn’t be able to) feel them. Frank can’t say he hadn’t seen coming what happens next. “I didn’t try to kill myself,” he murmurs into his (plastic) fork, curled around himself as if saying the words are a sharp knife of their own. Maybe he didn’t set out to, but he didn’t mind if he did. Maybe he wished for it, the same way Frank had wished most mornings before he started pulling his life together. “What were you trying to do then, Red?” He carefully swallows any resentment or anger back, any grief. Not the time. Red keeps playing with his food. The childish gesture would be amusing - endearing even, if not for the IV, the monitor, Red’s shaky hands, the nurse that came to check from time to time. “I wanted to... I just wanted to sleep.” I’m tired, Frank. Yeah, Frank knew tired. He knew not wanting to wake up, too. “Look, Red, you gotta heal,” he says, voice a deep rumble, low enough not to set his senses off. “these kinda things, they leave wounds. They make us... make us bleed, right? And thing is, sometimes, sometimes you don’t even realize it, ‘cos you’re so neck deep in the blood, yeah? You’re fighting the ocean one bucket at a time, and that sh*t is tiring as hell. You gotta take those wounds, and you gotta let them scar, you kno’? Better than to leave it open, bleed out, yeah?” Don’t make me find you like that again, an unbidden, choked-out voice crawls from the depths of his mind. Don’t do that to me again. Matt is quiet, in the wake of a revelation Frank never made. Maybe he heard it, anyway. “I don’t know how,” he finally admits. And it’s okay, because Frank hadn’t known it either. Sh*t, he was still figuring it out. Having Curt, though. That right there made all the difference. Matt suddenly sags deeper into his pillow. “I didn’t... want to die.” But he didn’t mind not waking up either. Some part of him, probably, had wished for it so hard, so loud - took over the remaining drops of sense from his sleep-deprived head. Frank breathes through the sudden rush of anger, unable to trace it back to Red or to himself. Angry at the idiot for doing this sh*t, angry at himself for not seeing it. Angry at Nelson and Karen who saw him every day and never noticed sh*t. But then again, Matt Murdock had been hiding for so long, he didn’t even know how to come out of the shadows on his own. Repressed, shackled-down anger comes like a punch to bruised ribs. Clawing at his throat like Ahab stabbing Moby D*ck, only to get tangled in ropes and dragged by his neck into the sea. “You don’t do that, Red,” he growls out, earning a mildly surprised glance from the younger man. “You don’t do that your friends, sh*t, you don’t do that to them,” his voice is suddenly thick, hoarse. Frank almost stops talking, if only to hide the weakness bleeding out in his tone. “Now you listen to me, ‘cause I’ll say it once, you listening? Your life is not yours and you take your goddamn hands out of it,” hisses out, sharp like a blade, and he sees it slide right through him, makes him bleed all over white sheets. Yet Matt’s face barely flinches. “You take your life, Red, you put that on Karen, you put that on Nelson, you tell me you love ‘em but you take that from them, you wound them!” You wound me, you tear me apart, says his heartbeat, the loud ringing in his ears. Haven’t I lost enough? Why do you want to go, too? Frank’s selfish, terribly, horribly selfish. He’d come and go as he saw fit, and somehow believed Red would always be there, open arms and all. Some f***ed up, self-entitled bullsh*t part of him thought that Matt and him would inevitably, one day, find each other again - be it in the middle of a fight, as allies or enemies or lovers in a bed. Matthew, he turns away with his stoic expression crumbling to shreds. That blade stabbed him right through where Frank had aimed and it was too late to claim it back now. Red looks pained, muscles jumping like he’d rather run far, far away than stand a second more listening to what Frank’s got to say. And that’s just another thing he can’t fix, just another thing he caused that he can’t fix. Frank had been there. Spent months sleeping with a gun under his pillow. He’d wake up sometimes looking for Maria, for his baby girl, his baby boy, and he’d think maybe... maybe he could, you know? Thought he didn’t owe nothing to no one here. And Red, he knows all that. There’s nothing Frank has to say about it that he doesn’t know. He’s just... punishing him. Tearing the wound a little wider. And that’s not what he wants. That’s the last thing he wants. “Just... ask for help, Red,” is that so hard? He almost says. As if he doesn’t know who he’s talking to. As if Frank had any right saying it. “Ask for what you need.” Matthew’s chest shudders and Frank wonders at how hypocritical he is, saying this sh*t. Sister Maggie had said it herself, people always leave him, she said. He could use a friend. And Frank, the first time Matt had asked of him what he needed... He left. He just left. Maybe that’s why Red doesn’t. He doesn’t expect it to be granted, so what’s the point? Looking at him, his hands twisting into the sheets surrounding his frame, his eyes blinking rapidly and owlishly, teary and unable to hide it, Frank thinks the dam is finally about to break. For one moment he waits with bated breath, thinks Matt’s going to ask. Talk. Anything. Just ask, Red, he thinks, just ask. But he doesn’t. He doesn’t say a word.       Frank goes home feeling the texture of his skin in his palms, from where he held his shivery arm before leaving. The smell of his hair. Matt had looked for a while like he wanted to say something, ask something. Looked like it was tearing him apart not to. Frank had seen it and maybe Matthew knew he did. He wished he had just said it. Help me, he didn’t think he’d say. But, maybe something small, like, read me more, or maybe, if Frank’s feeling bold and hopeful, hold me. And wasn’t that just it? He had said it, once. Almost something like it. Like help me, and hold me. And his eyes, his eyes had said it all, too. Ask me, Red. He would’ve done it in a second. In a f***ing second.

KNIGHTHOOD.(Taken/Busy IRL)

09/03/2022 07:05 PM 

November

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.

KNIGHTHOOD.(Taken/Busy IRL)

09/03/2022 06:55 PM 

Light Perception

Summary: Fisk gets put away again, and it feels like that should be the end of it, but it’s not. Of course it’s not. The FBI needs a win. Who better to take that out on than the lawyers who exposed their corruption. I am not Daredevil, Matt says so many times in so many spaces that he almost believes it. His ability to maintain a concept of self was difficult enough before this: this new judgment day, this thing that has fractured him beyond what he thought was possible. He feels like he’s been dropped into the ocean, all his limbs weighted with stones, unable to find which way is up and which way is down, which way is surface and which way is gone. Later, he'll try to think about it objectively, distance himself from this new kind of violence that inhabits his body. He'll grapple with the defined edges of his constantly shifting memory, carefully delineate the before from the after, turn his conclusion over and over in his mind. As it turns out, he observes, living feels a lot like drowning. [An exploration of trauma and memory, of what it might look like if Matt's identity as Daredevil was exposed. Prison fic. Post-S3.] Notes: “There are things unbearable.”—Anne Carson, Decreation      I.   The moment Wilson Fisk steps up to the podium, flanked by his team, somehow more imposing than ever, heartbeats stutter and crescendo across the city: a frenetic, dissonant exposition—and Matt thinks he understands a little bit more now why crowds nearly rioted at the premiere of a ballet once, overwhelmed by its relentless unpredictability, by its apostasy. The pagans onstage made pagans of the audience. The memory of Fisk’s voice doesn’t even hold a candle to the reality of it. Makes his hands curl into fists, takes him right back. If his memory had been a candle, then the reality is a forest fire: violent, irredeemable. “…to frame me. Daredevil. The killer who’s now showing—his true colors. Who’s tried to murder people in newspaper offices—and churches. Attacking our sacred institutions. Believe—me. Daredevil is our true—public—enemy.” It feels like Matt is caught in the crossfire of feedback from every television set in the borough, the fractional delay of sound just offset enough to make it seem as though Fisk’s voice carries beyond the restraints of sound and time, as though his power is truly limitless. The gasps that follow the speech, the uptick in heart rates, the sharp smell of sweat glands and fear arousal overwhelm his senses as he parses through the confused and conflicted responses across the streets: truth, truth, truth, it can’t be true, can it be true— A stuttering swan song of disbelief; it doesn’t matter, he thinks, it really doesn’t matter what he does, how much he does, who he tries to be—a few seeds of doubt, a handful of words, and the people he calls his own turn on him, just like that. A half-measure; a man who can’t finish the job. One bad day away from becoming the villain of his own story. One bad day away from becoming— Nausea battles with helpless rage inside of him as he is stricken with the realization that maybe Castle was right: the system is broken, his work as Matt Murdock is a practice in futility, almost as pointless as his work as Daredevil—not enough, never enough. He imagines for a moment what it would look like to team up with Castle, to end this—once and for all, for better or worse, ‘til death do us part; an unholy marriage of the Devil and the Punisher. How disappointing that his old teacher couldn't be here to witness the ruthlessness he’d despaired of ever finding in Matt. Maybe there's hope for you yet— Matt clenches his jaw against the wave of grief that follows, and pushes himself up to his feet. Foggy and Karen are waiting. — It takes him less time than he hopes it’ll take to arrive, barely exhilarated from the sensation of vaulting from rooftop to rooftop, the wide chasm of empty spaces below him, the promise of adrenaline that comes with every moment that he taunts death, and fear, and his own limitations. “So, I guess you needed my help, after all,” Foggy says smugly, with, to his credit, just a trace of the bitterness that usually accompanies his words. Since that day. Judgment day. When the secrets came bleeding out from Matt’s wounds. So, Matt swallows his pride as Karen steps onto the rooftop after Foggy. “Yeah,” Matt says. “Yeah, I did, Foggy. You’re right.” He doesn’t add that Karen nearly died because she got involved, because Foggy gave her the idea to confront Fisk, because he did exactly what Matt asked him not to do. He doesn’t say anything because he finally understands—there is no protecting each other, and good intentions only pave the way to hurt and hell, anyway. Fisk's speech lingers in his mind, a thick gossamer caught at the barbed edges of his thoughts, as present as the hallucination of Fisk that’s been haunting Matt's footsteps since waking up back at St. Agnes weeks ago.  The worst part, thinks Matt, was not even the speech, itself, no; not Fisk's voice, nor even his accusations; it was the heckling of the protestors fading into rapt silence, the collective gasps which greeted the accusations against Daredevil, the rapid click of camera shutters stuttering one by one into stillness: the cold realization that, after everything, after everything Fisk had done—the city believed him. Fisk, it was Fisk, it was all Fisk— Helpless rage rises up in Matt's chest and his hands flex at his side, curl into trembling, white-knuckled fists. Ten steps behind, always ten steps behind and nothing he did ever— “Do you have any idea how much life has sucked for Karen and me,” Foggy interrupts his thoughts, “while you were, just, off doing your own thing?” All Matt’s ever tried to do is the right thing, and all Matt’s ever seemed to do is get it wrong.  “No, but—I’m sorry, Foggy,” Matt says, grimacing at the profound inadequacy of words to bridge this rift in their friendship, to fill this cavernous space of all the things he's never been able to say. "Maybe I was, was wrong to push you away." “Ok, it’s, insanely hard to fight with you if you keep agreeing with me,” says Foggy, and Matt's own heart skips a beat. He doesn't need enhanced senses to catch that Foggy's heart is almost in the quip, almost— “Good,” returns Matt, “because I don’t want to fight with you.” He releases the breath that's been caught in his chest, and the rest of his apology comes out in a rush of words. “Look, the way I’ve treated you—the way I’ve treated you both—you deserve better.” Foggy's breath hitches in surprise.  "Yes," he says, cautiously, and Matt can sense that Foggy has turned to look at Karen, sense that she is nodding in bewildered agreement. “We did. But... so did you." For a moment, the words don’t register, the corner of Matt's mouth tilting up as though Foggy just made a joke that he didn't quite understand.  “I, Fog, what’re you,” Matt says, the words faltering as they tumble out clumsily on top of each other. “Listen, Matt,” says Foggy, and his voice is doing that thing where it sounds somehow both resigned and determined. “I pushed you away, too, after everything that went down with—you know,” he stumbles, not wanting to say Elektra’s name. “But it wasn’t fair,” he says quickly, to stave off Matt’s inevitable apology. “It wasn’t fair to leave you alone like that after she showed up again. I just—Jesus, I still remember that night at Co—” “Foggy,” interrupts Matt. Karen’s heartbeat is quickening in confusion, in concern, in interest. “We don’t, we don’t have to do this. Just, if you can let me try to do better, give me another chance—that’s all I need.” "No, Matt," says Foggy. "I'm just—I'm trying to say that I know your relationship with Elektra is complicated, has always been complicated, and God knows you probably never learned anything about healthy relationships since your childhood was so supremely f***ed up—" Matt releases a sharp breath of air in an unexpected huff of laughter. “Look,” Foggy continues doggedly. “What I’m trying to say is that—I’m sorry, too. You were alone, and I know that you thought I’d—we’d—be safer that way, thanks to your own personal, a**hole Mr. Miyagi but—whoa, Matt, are you ok? What’d I say?” He must look like he'd gotten punched in the gut at the mention of his old teacher. Matt certainly feels winded, and breathless, and incapable of explaining why. He licks his lips, as though forcing his tongue into motion will pave the way for the words to follow. “Stick's, uh, he's... gone, Fog. She, Elektra—she killed him,” Matt says finally, quietly, as though saying it softly enough might keep it from being true; as though saying it out loud doesn't make him feel like he might fracture into innumerable, irreparable pieces. He's barely a person already, he thinks; there's no way he can survive another blow, another hit like that. “Jesus, Matt,” says Foggy, and the sharp taste of salt hits Matt's tongue. He drags his focus back into the present; wisps of Karen's long hair are getting caught in the night wind, trailing across her tear-dampened cheeks while Foggy is... stoic, which is unlike him, his heartbeat ticking up anxiously in the silence that follows. The regret Matt feels is instantaneous; he should have known better than to task his friends with the unfair burden of grieving these complicated losses, these impossible figures who'd stolen Matt away from them before they'd ever had a chance. “It’s, uh, it is what it is,” Matt says, his voice flat. “I thought I could help her. I thought I could—I don’t know, but,” he shakes his head and laughs, a sound that is entirely joyless. “I couldn’t.” “Oh, Matt,” Karen says, sadly. Foggy takes a halting step toward Matt, stops himself in awkwardly aborted movement. A long moment of silence follows, before she ventures: "So, where do we go from here?" “I don’t want to leave you,” Matt says slowly, reluctantly, “but I can’t—I can't ask you to be accomplices to what I have to do now.” The words linger in the air between them like a challenge. Karen shifts her head away from Matt, displeasure in every closed gesture of her body. Foggy looks between them, settles on Karen: “What’s that supposed to mean?” “Um,” Karen hesitates briefly then plows quickly forward, as though that might soften the blow of the words. “Matt wants to kill Fisk.” There is one vibrating moment of silence before Foggy's words come staccato, rapid-fire, punctuated with disbelief: “What the f***, Matt—you know, maybe that building falling on you really did mess with your head—" “We put him in prison, Foggy—and look what happened,” Matt says, and Foggy hates that his best friend is somehow able to sound calm, and rational, and deeply unaffected while discussing his intention to cross this line that he'd sworn he could never cross, this line that could never be uncrossed. Foggy can still picture the crumpled expression on Matt's face when he'd asked if Matt had ever gone that far before—and Foggy doesn't understand how they got from there to here. Foggy thinks he could fill books with what he doesn't understand about his best friend. “It won't be the same this time,” Foggy returns. “This time, he’ll be thrown into some kind of supermax hole where he can’t compromise anybody. He’ll never see the light of day again!” “Foggy, I know you’re not that naïve—” “It’s called having faith in the system, something you used to have—” “It’s called facing reality,” Matt snaps, but Foggy can hear the exhaustion in his voice, the disbelieving resignation, the stretch and break of him. "The reality that the system wasn't built to contain men like Fisk. Men who are too rich, and too powerful—men who take the law, who take the system and twist it into something that protects them—" “No, Matt,” Foggy snaps back. “This isn’t you. There’s another way to do this—we just, if you can just, I don’t know, take a step back from the murder ledge for one freaking second!” “Matt, just, hear him out, maybe,” Karen interjects. Her voice is soft, pleading, raw.  “Fine.” Matt laughs, and the sound is short, and bitter. “Tell me how the law can possibly fix this, Foggy. I’m all ears. Please. Tell me your plan.” "Ok, simple, step one," says Foggy slowly, deliberately. "We do this together—we devise a plan together. Step two: we, we execute said plan. Together." “Wow,” Matt says, and laughs joylessly again. Not enough. Never enough. “That’s genius. You come up with that on your own?” ”Yeah, well, so I’m still working out the details,“ Foggy replies, but the uptick in his heartbeat belies his too-casual tone. “Ok, ok, ok, what about this—we, we find ourselves another witness,” Karen suggests. “Someone that will flip on Fisk, but, unlike Jasper Evans, we keep them alive this time. Someone who knows the details of Fisk’s operation. Someone with nothing to lose.” "No," says Matt, as the memory of what happened at the church returns to him in a rush of grief that nearly takes his breath again. "Someone with everything to lose." “Nadeem,” breathes Karen. “He helped me get away.” “Yeah,” says Matt. “His family’s in danger, he probably went back to move them. I need to go. Now. Foggy—do you think Brett would be willing to help Nadeem’s family?” “Already on it,” Foggy mumbles, and Matt can hear his fingertips rapidly tapping the screen of his phone. Pulling the mask back over his head, Matt rolls his shoulders back and starts jogging across the rooftop, gaining momentum as he goes until he’s leaping over and across.   —   In some ways, it feels like Matt never stopped running. Fisk gets put away again, and it feels like that should be the end of it, but it’s not. Of course it’s not. The FBI needs a win. Who better to take that out on than the lawyers who exposed their corruption. Daredevil. Our true—public—enemy. They’ve gathered enough evidence against Matt that there’s not much Foggy can do other than insist on protective custody, on the grounds that a blind attorney can't be placed in general population with the same violent offenders he put there. I am not Daredevil, Matt says so many times in so many spaces that he almost believes it. The days following his indictment are a blur of promises and threats bridged together by sleepless nights outlined with crushing absence where language used to be.   II.   It takes only one night in prison for Matt Murdock to realize that his luck has finally caught up with him; it takes thirty-two nights to fully understand what that means. Thirty-two nights of imprisoned men yelling and banging and taunting and singing; thirty-two days of the stench and noise of convicted inmates mixed in with others, like Matt, who are just awaiting trial; thirty-two nights of listening to choked sobs and threats, favors and retributions. Thirty-two days and nights with little sleep, and less food.  Then it happens—the transfer from protective custody to general population. Matt is almost relieved when it happens: it means freedom from the oppressive hum of surveillance cameras in protective custody always watching, always, so that he must act the part of helpless blind attorney every moment of every day and every night, or risk losing his case before it can ever get to trial, risk getting Foggy sentenced alongside Matt for aiding and abetting. The prison guards have demonstrated petty cruelties in the past, but still—Matt doesn’t see it coming when they take him not to his new cell in general population but into an ambush. A closed room with no way out, the door locked behind him and too many heartbeats to immediately count. It’s not that Matt ever considered himself an especially lucky person to begin with, not that he'd ever relied on luck when he could rely on himself, instead; but he's always been able to recognize when good things come into his life that have absolutely nothing to do with him—that have everything to do with chance, or else divine providence, or fate. And if all the good luck allotted to him in life had been spent up on a singular event, Matt's ok with that—because getting assigned to Foggy Nelson as a roommate at Columbia felt like a second chance at everything good that had ever slipped through his grasp—a chance at happiness that didn’t need to be gripped tightly in his fists or hidden beneath a mask. Foggy, who saw Matt—really saw him; not just his disability or the cultivated personality he presented to the world, but who Matt was, who he tried to be. Foggy, who saw with his heart, like Matt— He starts numbering the heartbeats, placing the bodies in the space, tasting the cortisol and adrenaline mingling with sweat in the air, his thoughts involuntarily drifting back to the last time he’d faced this many men, the cavernous space of the sky above as he and Elektra fought back to back on the rooftop where she would die in his arms. Different, he thinks, from the second time she would die: ripped from his arms below the earth as the sky collapsed down upon them. Elektra. It really shouldn’t have come as a surprise to Matt that he would all but free-fall into the kind of life Elektra could promise him, the life he'd been coldly, dispassionately shut out from in the quiet basement of an orphanage: his child's body colored with bruises he'd thought could mean love, his child's heart filled all the way up with shame—he’d been holding onto it for months, had pressed it carefully, tenderly, into the pages of his bible: a paper bracelet made from the wrapper of an ice cream cone— So if Elektra wasn’t quite compatible with Matt’s desperate need to be good, to be so good, well, at least she knew every buried part of him: knew intimately his darkness, his grief, his unbearable rage. Is she sick? Worse, Matty, she’s in love— “You’re Battlin’ Jack’s boy,” says a voice from above the men, atop a set of steps leading up to a door, and there’s something about the voice that strikes a chord in Matt’s mind, that stops him in his tracks, that catches his breath in his throat. Matt had observed the exit behind the man from the moment he’d stepped foot inside, one of three exits from the space. All closed, all locked, all useless. Guards posted outside every one, their pockets lined with blood money, their bodies full of threats. Plata o plomo. Silver or lead. Take our money, or take our violence. Matt always chooses violence. “What’s it to you?” he bites, fighting down the feeling that this is all more than it seems, more urgent, more dangerous than he can comprehend right now, with the evidence he has before him. "You don't remember me?" the man asks, mildly. "I killed your father." You don’t remember me? You killed my father. Well, I hate to break it to you, son, but I killed a lot of guys’ dads. Then let me help you…he hit hard, like this— Matt's body turns to ice, turns to stone, turns to lead as everything comes together to form a memory: Elektra, knife in hand, taunting Roscoe Sweeney, encouraging Matt to tell him who he was—he could taste salt in the air as he beat the other man until his face didn’t even feel like a face anymore, so bruised and bloodied beneath Matt’s knuckles. Good, he'd thought. His father's face hadn't felt like a face anymore either when Matt had found him in the alleyway all those years ago—but Elektra had disappeared after Matt refused to kill him, leaving only the lingering scent of her perfume—sandalwood, ylang ylang, mandarin leaf—as proof that she'd been there at all. Shards of crystal like fractured stars in Matt's hearing on the kitchen floor. Matt, equally shattered, equally disposable, alone by the open door.  He'd stood there numbly until long after she left, until the lonely wail of sirens reached the limits of his hearing. Then he'd hitchhiked and stumbled his way back to the dorm at Columbia, every intention of waiting for Foggy to leave the building before returning to their room—until realizing his keys were gone, lost somehow during the messy events of the evening. Or, just as likely, Elektra had taken them before disappearing; petty retribution for not complying with her command to end it, for not meeting her own desperate need for Matt to be the mirror to her fragmented pieces—to reflect back something whole, something still worthy of love. So Matt had knocked, humiliated, dried blood on his knuckles, on his clothes, mingled with the tears that had tracked their way down his face, and tried to ignore Foggy’s sharp intake of breath when he saw Matt, tried to ignore the frightened uptick in his pulse as the law student succumbed to his tendency to babble in distressing situations. “Oh my god, Matt,” he had said, “you disappeared from the party last night, and I know you can take care of yourself, but I’m always afraid you’ve fallen into, like, an open manhole or, I don’t know—a sinkhole, because I guess that’s more likely to happen than quicksand, not that I really thought quicksand was an option when there’s wet concrete and—” Matt had opened his mouth to say Foggy’s name, to reassure him, to somehow make this seem less bad than it was; instead, he'd heard himself gasp Elektra's name, barely a whisper of a sound, felt hot tears slipping out from the corners of his eyes again. The scent of Foggy’s fear had blossomed into anger, then; he had never liked Elektra, had never trusted her, had warned Matt about her so many times—and Matt had felt bitter shame rise up in his throat. But Foggy had knelt gently, quietly beside him as Matt wept wordlessly, his hands aching to feel just once what it would be like to touch someone and—not hurt, not be hurt. And if Matt had internally railed at the unfairness of it all—he’d thought surely by now he would be ok, surely by now he would have picked up the pieces of his life and fashioned them into something whole, no longer caught in the riptide of shattered childhood dreams and loss—he didn't let it pass through his lips. Not the way he had once allowed it to pass through his lips as a child in the orphanage waking again and again from impressionistic nightmares to unfamiliar rooms, calling out for his dead father, for anyone at all. He'd learned, then, when no one came, that it was better not to ask at all, better not to burden others with his neediness, his sadness, his shame. “Matthew?! Oh, you’re Battlin’ Jack’s boy, oh you amateur. Now I know your name, nothing to stop me from bloodying the street with your corpse, just like I did to your old man—” Scuffle of countless feet across concrete pulls Matt's attention back to the men who circle slowly, densely around him. "Sweeney," he all but spits, almost pleased for the opportunity to face him again. He can feel that helpless rage rising back up inside of his body again and his hands tighten into fists, aching for a fight after a month of playing domesticated house cat for the cameras in protective custody, for the prison guards whose daily cruelties and provocations were their bread and butter. “Murdock,” the mobster responds, almost sweetly. “You put me away ten years ago, and I’ve just been dreaming about getting you back ever since. Then I read about your trial in the paper and realized that I could get you back without ever leaving these walls. Only this, this is so much better than even I imagined.” “What do—what are you talking about,” Matt bites out through gritted teeth, mentally cataloguing everything in the room that could be used as a weapon against him, counting every heartbeat, every obstacle between him and a way out of this alive. A few inmates have switchblades tucked into their waistbands, others have clumsier weapons, and the rest carrying only their loathing for Daredevil, armed only with their bitter memories of humiliation and defeat, with the knowledge that they're locked away in here because of him. “You see, I knew about you, sure, followed along as the media praised the poor blind orphan with a law degree just trying to do good for his community. Except it turns out that you’ve been doing it with your fists instead of your law degree—I wonder how your partner feels about that—how your old man would’ve felt about that—” “Enough—” The word snarls out of him unbidden, his rage uncoiling inside of him until every fiber of him aches to hurt, to be hurt. “Don’t talk about them, don't you dare talk about them—” "Did you know that your partner has personally fought every appeal that I've made in the last ten years?" asks Sweeney, his heartbeat rushing in satisfaction when Matt doesn't respond. "You didn't know, did you? Guess we're all entitled to our... little secrets—" Sweeney's body is suddenly wracked with convulsive coughs; calluses line the inflamed membranes of his nasal passages, and Matt is hit with the realization that Sweeney had never recovered from the beating he'd given him that night, ten years ago. The thought that Sweeney must remember Battlin’ Jack Murdock every single time he takes a breath brings Matt a rush of grim satisfaction. “You’re a survivor, Murdock, unlike your old man," Sweeney says, his voice rasping. "Unfortunately for you, so am I—and I’ve not forgotten what you did. You left me with too many reminders.” "Then you should know now that you don’t want to make an enemy of me,” he bites, the Devil creeping into his voice. Sweeney laughs, drawing a few huffs of laughter from the men around Matt and he is caught in the crossfire of feedback again, kneeling on a rooftop with Fisk's voice in his ears; he shakes his head desperately in an attempt to bring his senses back into focus. Feeling of solid concrete beneath his feet, uptick in the ring of heartbeats around him, low hum of the ventilation system somewhere distantly above. “No,” Sweeney returns. “The mistake was making me an enemy, was making yourself an entire goddamn army of enemies and thinking you’d somehow never end up in here with them. Did you really think we’d never come back for you, pretty boy? For Daredevil?” Daredevil—our true—public—enemy— Sweeney scoffs. "You've only been here thirty-two f***ing days, Murdock, and, from what I hear, you're already losing it: talkin' to yourself in your cell, not eating, not sleeping—well, we've been here for years, so you can imagine that we are more tired, more hungry—for release, for retribution that's owed to us." Matt’s only half-listening to Sweeney’s monologue, his senses trained on the men surrounding him. Mind, body, connection. He forcibly releases the tension in his shoulders, allows himself to relax into the stance of a boxer as he grounds up through his feet. He tilts his head, focusing on the men who are distracted by Sweeney's speech. Adrenaline is coursing through him now, his body practically vibrating with it. “You think I’m afraid of you or these men, Sweeney? You think I’m not hungry for a release after thirty two days and nights of listening to all the sh*t that goes on in this place?” Matt's mouth curves up in a feral smile. “Try me.” Matt strikes the prisoner closest to him, the sole of his foot connecting with his throat; he goes down, and Matt uses the momentum from the kick to erupt into a flurry of motion as the other prisoners scramble to take their shot at the man who put them here. Slipping back on his feet, he narrowly avoids a shiv; taking advantage of the convict's imbalanced footing, Matt throws him face-first into the ascending concrete steps. There's a sharp crack as the man's jaw dislocates on impact. Matt steps over him to get to Sweeney but more men are already grasping at his arms, dragging him back by his prison uniform, by his hair, by anything they can get a hold of. He violently shakes off a couple of his attackers before something heavy is swinging through the air and he's forced to drop back down over the railing. He drops into a roll as he lands, swiping out a leg close to the ground to bring down the attacker closest to him, uses the momentum to spin back up to his feet. He strikes his heel down across the man's temple before Matt is grabbed again from behind, arms restrained this time. He kicks out furiously at one of the men in front of him, lands a hit on one of the men holding him and pulls away— —but there are too many men and they've closed too tightly in on him. He is being restrained again and this time the attacker hurls Matt against the wall, then down against the steps. He hits hard, his senses blurring in and out of focus as he swings out desperately. One man, two men, three go down, but more pile on top of Matt, their hands grabbing at his prison uniform, his arms held high behind him as he tries and fails to fend off the seemingly endless stream of attackers: a chaotic blur of overstimulation for his already exhausted and dazed senses. Then the shiv is cutting through Matt’s prison uniform, leaving a jagged, burning wound across his chest, and he cannot help the agonized gasp that is torn from his throat as the serrated edge of the makeshift blade catches every bit of sinew beneath his skin, as men grasp at the torn fabric, cool air against his skin followed by violent touch—  Mind, body, connection. The mind controls the body— Matt forces himself to exhale, tracks separate heartbeats out of the cacophony, and thrusts his head back savagely into the face of one of the men restraining him. His leg kicks out, and another man goes down as he wildly wrestles his way back up to his feet. His breath is coming out in gasps now; he swipes at the blood around his mouth with one hand, then lowers it to gauge the depth of the wound on his torso, the other arm still dangling at his side, numb all the way up to where his shoulder is braced against the wall. He’ll survive the knife wound, he thinks, his body now trembling with exertion and the effort of fighting off the shock that threatens his hard-won control over his senses. His head tilts as he gauges the heartbeats of the men still on their feet; he can sense the hesitation in their movements, their disbelief that he is somehow still on his own feet, and he knows he won't get another chance. Despite the exhaustion settling into his limbs like a weight, the long days and sleepless nights and weeks of slow starvation, he forces himself into motion, striking at any vulnerable place that might knock down these men enough for him to catch his breath, to figure something else out, to— The world shifts beneath him as he is thrown against the side of the staircase. Matt grabs a fistful of hair as he goes down, drags the attacker down with him and staggers to his knees at the man's side before he can get back up; he hits him until he can feel bones fracturing beneath his fists. “Careful, Murdock,” Sweeney warns, and his voice draws Matt’s focus back to the feeling that he’s still missing something, something bigger, something more urgent, something more pressing; only he can’t pinpoint what’s wrong over the sound of blood rushing in his ears, the sound of his own gasps, his heartbeat pounding against his ribcage, the cacophonous ring of heartbeats still around him, above him, his senses dazed, overstimulated, overwhelmed. What was he missing? What was he missing? Tap, tap—tap, tap, tap— He thinks back to his old teacher and narrows his focus, tuning out the heavy breathing of the other prisoners, the gasping, strangled sounds from men still on the ground—tap, tap, tap—there it is. A tapping sound. Sounds so familiar. Only Matt can’t place it. Another rooftop, he thinks, another lifetime. Karen and Foggy were there, he was typing out a text— Phone. Camera. Low of hum of video in the corner of the ceiling, barely audible, barely distinct from the low hum of the ventilation system just beside it. He stills immediately with the realization, and then something heavy is swinging toward his head again. The blow itself incapacitates him, his hands raising to his ears in a desperate attempt to stave off the high pitched ringing that follows. The pain that follows blurs his senses entirely out of focus for a moment that feels eternal. He gasps as the world swims around him, sounds coming in and out of muffled focus as he is dragged up onto his knees, his arms held behind him in a final defeat, a blade pressed against his throat. “You showed your hand, Murdock, just like your old man,” Sweeney says as he finally descends from where he'd been waiting at the top of the concrete stairs, phone held loosely in his hand. He laughs. “Except I let Jack off too easy for what he did, I think. Should’ve waited ‘til he was home, made you watch—sorry, listen, as the bullet went through his skull, let you think you could save him, let you try to staunch the blood—” “F*** you—” Matt half-slurs, half-gasps, fighting down the too-visceral memories of himself as a child with hands so small, too small—I think that’s my dad, I think that’s my dad—to be feeling for the familiar landscape of his father’s face and finding a bullet hole instead. Matt swallows around the sob in his throat, chokes out: “You think getting sent to prison was the worst thing that could’ve happened to you, Sweeney? After everything you’ve done—I should’ve, I should’ve—” “What, killed him?” says a low, familiar voice, and Matt feels like all the breath has been stolen from him in an instant, feels a horrible cold settle inside of him in its place. “Like you tried to kill me?” “No,” he gasps, his stomach churning. No no no no no no no— This isn’t real, he thinks, it can’t be; he’s hallucinating again, lost to himself. Poor timing, but that’s par for the course. It’s not enough for Matt to fight enemies made of flesh and blood, no; he must create phantoms to haunt his steps, resurrect ghosts long dead. Self-flagellation for the modern penitent. Better lost to himself than this: ten steps behind with a mouthful of blood and defeat. The world around him is still swimming in and out of muffled focus, his tightly wound control over his senses unraveling under the strain of it all: metallic taste of blood, acrid sweat mingling with expensive cologne, adrenaline and arousal, too many heartbeats, too many sounds, too much, it was all too much and he's so tired, he doesn't think he's ever felt so tired before— “What’re you—what does, no—” he tries to say, but his voice falters, catches in his throat as he fights to get the words out past his lips. Played like a fool. Always the fool. His teacher had been right about Matt; but his teacher is gone now, for all the good being right ever did him. Did Fisk do this to you? Fisk, it was Fisk, it was all Fisk— Matt struggles to slow the breaths that hover high up in his chest, fluttering violently like a wild bird trapped in a cage. He can't catch his breath. He can't catch his breath, and he can't tell what's real and what's— Pull it together, he thinks viciously, but Fisk’s presence obliterates his focus, gets deep inside of him where he can't stop it, where he can't shut him out. He leans in close, so close that Matt can feel his too-warm breath in his ear, all but deafening in its proximity, in its intensity, in its intent—and, for some reason that Matt can’t immediately name, can’t immediately place, the feeling is so much more sickening than the blood rapidly seeping out onto his abdomen, than the blade still pressed into his throat. “You’re still so naïve, Matthew,” says Fisk, quietly, for his ears alone, and Matt cannot help the shudder that wracks his already trembling frame. “There are things worse than death for men like you and men like me. Things unbearable that linger, and fester, and take on lives of their own.” Fisk steps back, runs his fingers back and forth across the palm of his hand, a rapid brush up from the bottom followed by a slow return.  "You will only wish you had died, died rather than know what it means to have who you are stripped from you, to understand that you allowed it to happen, to know that you could have stopped it—at the expense, of course, of knowing you've all but placed a death sentence on your partner, of knowing you'll never see him again. The same choice you gave to me, Mr. Murdock. Fair's fair." Matt’s been dealt sh*t hands before, always prided himself on his ability to take the hand he was dealt and shift the cards in his favor, on his ability to hit the mat and get back up again, fists swinging. Now laughter bubbles up inside of him. The ghost of his father had finally abandoned him, it seemed; only fitting that he should face his ruin alone. For it is we who haunt the dead, he remembers bitterly, and not the dead haunt us. He chokes back the hysterical urge to laugh, swallows down the bile that's risen again at the back of his throat as Fisk forcefully grips Matt’s jaw and tilts it up toward the surveillance camera hanging from the corner of the ceiling. Its low, dissonant drone cuts in and out of Matt's hearing like a scratched record, and he feels boneless, uncorporeal. If his body had turned to ice before, now it was dark, drowning water. “They’re watching, Matthew,” Fisk says. “Don’t let the Devil out." Don’t let the Devil out, he says, and Matt hears the promise in the spaces between the words, or your case will fail before it ever makes it to trial, and Foggy will get sentenced, and worse, for aiding and abetting Daredevil. Daredevil—our true—public—enemy— He feels like he’s been dropped into the ocean, all his limbs weighted with stones, unable to find which way is up and which way is down, which way is surface and which way is gone. Surface feels like a fairy-story told to children at night, like enchanted forests.  Light as the breadcrumbs which lead the way up, which lead the way out. This isn’t real, he thinks desperately, like the child who hides under his covers at night from the monsters who live in the closet, who sleep under the bed. If I can’t see it, it can’t be real.  He can practically hear Stick’s response, derisive, cold: C’mon, kid. You, more than anyone, know better than that. Get up. Get up and fight back, your soft partner be damned. Just look at you, a trained warrior—and this is what you’ve become: weak, soft, useless. I was right to leave you when I did— “Time’s up, Mr. Murdock,” Fisk says, dispassionately, and the ghost of his old teacher dissipates like smoke. Then, to Sweeney: “He’s yours. Let your men have him, but he stays alive—or you do not.” A litany of no’s are uttered in quick succession, one after another, as if from someone else, though Matt feels his own lips moving, feels the vibrations in his throat, feels his tongue heavy and dry against the roof of his mouth as the knife is removed from his throat, as different hands roughly grasp his jaw this time, hold him still as the other men press in— Then, nothing; only a few dull sounds in the back of his throat as he resigns himself to muteness, to what he cannot fight, to what he cannot change.  This is the moment Matt understands what it means for his luck to have finally caught up with him, the moment he understands that there is no such thing as paying his dues, that some cards can’t be shifted in his favor. He'd known the risks of Daredevil, had lived for the risks of Daredevil—thrived in the charged spaces between risk and consequence, walked the tightrope between good intention and self-destruction. So, the consequences had arrived. For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them in chains of darkness to be held for— Judgment day.  The formation of a memory like the empty spaces between towering edifices, playing over and over—the smells, he thinks, the smells are what will stay with him the most—but no, because it repeats, and this time it’s the feeling of powerlessness, of observing distantly from somewhere outside of his body, the ringing in his ears rendering his assailants all but invisible to him, if not for their lingering, burning touches on his body, his skin— But no, because the memory repeats and, this time, there’s just nothing there, and he thinks, if he could just remember, just remember what happened, how it happened, he could gather the fragments back together into something that makes sense—except that it repeats, and he remembers, and it still doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t—the blur of faceless touches, the ringing in his ears softening to a quiet drone as nothing happens, nothing, really, because if he can’t remember, then it didn’t, it couldn’t have— —and then he’s on his hands and knees, trembling, vomiting until there’s nothing left but his own blood that he keeps swallowing and he’s dry heaving and shaking as they laugh, and he thinks, he thinks this might be dying because he doesn't understand how anybody could withstand this feeling without dying. His body doesn’t even feel like it belongs to him anymore, because it couldn’t possibly, he can’t think of a reason why— No, he thinks, absently, what happened—it happened to someone else.  He doesn’t try to focus. There is no mind, body, connection, not anymore, not when his mind has violently rejected any connection to his body. In this moment, there are no thoughts of Elektra, or Foggy, or even God; no illusions of a friend or hero coming to his rescue. In his experience, people showing up at the last minute to save the day is a trope strictly relegated to films and books and television shows. In real life, people rarely show up at the last minute to save the day. In Matt’s experience, no one ever shows up at all. Maybe later he’ll rewrite the story; give it a better ending, a better beginning, more realistic, more true—something that makes more sense. Mostly, he remembers that it started and he remembers that it ended; but it felt like it never would, and he feels like, somehow, it never will.   III.   The night passes slowly. He trades incoherent banter with phantoms and mumbles apologies to ghosts. His body trembles violently, and the touch of his own fingertips feels alien as he presses the blood back into his wounds. He can’t remember why. Memory can keep its secrets, he thinks, as a rat scurries across the floor of his new cell.   —   Morning brings a kind of clarity. Unwanted, but there nonetheless. His phantoms (mostly) fade away at the relentless hammering of a bell. Father Lantom lingers. Something to do with Catholic school, he thinks. “Is there a problem, inmate? Why aren’t you prepared for the count?” There’s a heartbeat at the entrance to his cell; he probably should have noticed it before, but there are so many heartbeats, and so many voices, and the effort to focus his senses would only draw energy away from the effort to get to his feet without collapsing. The thought of being touched by anyone else right now is too much for Matt to bear. “No,” Matt says as he shuffles carefully to stand in front of his bed. He holds his arms behind his back in compliance, gritting his teeth against the low moan that rises in his throat. “Sorry.” “Next time you’re late for the count,” the guard says irritably, his hand resting on the baton at his side, “you’ll find out what disciplinary action means, Murdock.”   —   Attending meals is non-negotiable, evidently. Inmates in general population are not permitted to stay in their cells during mealtimes. In addition to learning that neat fact, Matt also learns that asking questions is considered ‘non-compliance’ and, therefore, also cause for disciplinary action. Matt not-so-secretly thinks that the guard just wanted an excuse to use force, but that doesn’t change the fact that he ends up on his knees again, unable to defend himself without giving away his secret. I am not Daredevil, he thinks, swallowing down the burning desire to fight back. It settles in his stomach like hot coals, waiting to burst into flames inside of him. The cafeteria is only a five-minute walk from Matt’s new cell, but the assault of catcalls and jeering on his ears, the sudden touches and hisses, makes it feel endless. Worse, there were so many men—he doesn't know which ones were in the room with him, which ones that— Sweeney signals his approach with the pungent, cloying odor of cigar smoke and expensive alcohol; the combination causes nausea to rise up in the back of Matt's throat. “You look real down this morning, Murdock,” he murmurs, standing close, too close. “So, listen, I’m gonna make this easy for you. This, last night, will just be a taste of what the next few years are gonna look like for you in here. Or, you can choose option B: tell your partner that I want out, and that I want him to get me the deal. Fisk can rot in hell for all I care. I’ll even delete that footage of you—” Don’t let the Devil out— “You have no idea what’s coming for you, Sweeney,” Matt spits, and turns to walk away from the cafeteria line. But the world spins disorientingly around him in vertigo not felt since he was a child: the rough fabric of his father’s shirt pressing desperately against Matt's eyes as the blue sky eroded away like film that had caught fire. I can’t see, I can’t see— He grasps for something to hold onto, something to stabilize himself, but finds nothing, ears ringing, his senses overwhelmed. He stumbles backward into another inmate, and mocking laughter erupts from the line. Flashes of memory return to him: on his knees gasping for breath while they laugh— All the helplessness inside of him transforms into rage in an instant, so suddenly that it takes his breath away—but before he can do anything there are hands grasping roughly at his arms, and he's hauled away.    —   Solitary. Matt registers the small, enclosed space as the gate clicks loudly shut behind him, the footsteps of the two prison guards walking away, but he is on his hands and knees in the filth and grime of countless inmates before him and he can hardly find a shred of feeling left in him to care. His mind is a constant replaying of his latest disaster, his most recent self-destruction; a litany of no’s like a prayer, don’t let the Devil out— His jaw clicks tight against the sudden onslaught of memories and he forcefully jerks his body back against the wall of the cell, sucks in a sharp breath of air through his nose and presses one trembling hand against the throbbing wound at his side. He can feel blood seeping out and through his new prison uniform. He can't remember what happened to the other uniform, ripped, stained, ruined; he supposes they must have thrown it away when they took it off of him. No evidence, no crime. Time passes slowly. He reviews all of Foggy’s cases in his mind, but the exercise is pointless, and he knows it. He’s never heard Foggy even mention Sweeney’s name, let alone mention attending any appeals. Beneath the hurt, Matt feels distantly pleased, vindicated, even, that he’s not the only one who ever kept secrets in their friendship. Still, the secret is out, and now Sweeney knows that hurting Matt hurts Foggy, knows that bending Matt will get Foggy to do whatever it takes to keep Matt from breaking. Fisk may have used the lowlife crime boss to get his revenge, but Sweeney used him right back. It’s almost laughable. Almost. “In conclusion, ladies and gentlemen of the jury,” Matt says, bitterly, “I’m the idiot who can f*** things up for the people I love even from behind bars.” His own voice sounds foreign to him and Matt hesitates to consider the ramifications of this feeling of decorporealization. A sudden echo of footsteps from the corridor catches his attention, then a heartbeat from the other side of the bars. A guard, judging by the sound of callused fingertips impatiently brushing against a baton. “Losing it already, Murdock?” he jeers. “Get up, your attorney’s here.” Matt doesn’t rise to the bait, doesn’t even shift to acknowledge the guard's presence; he’s found that if he holds himself absolutely still, he can slow the spinning and repress the nausea to tolerable levels, slightly stabilize his core temperature from its extreme ricocheting between hot and cold, burning and shivering. He'd given up trying to stop his body from its constant, violent trembling; it'd started at some point during the night, and hadn't taken a break from it since. “Hey, you hear me? Thought you were blind, not deaf!” snaps the guard, and he slides a key into the lock. Matt hears a soft click as the latch unlocks, and the gate swings open. “Your lawyer’s here and he wants to see you. Get up.” “I’m staying here,” Matt says flatly. “I don’t want to see him.” “I don’t give a sh*t what you want, inmate—your a**hole attorney is threatening to file a lawsuit against this entire prison if he doesn’t get to see you, and I’m not gonna be the sorry son of a bitch who gets held responsible. So, get up, and get moving.” Matt doesn’t bother to point out all the lawsuits they would have on their hands if word ever got out about even half of went on in here. Then again, the warden seems capable of making anything he wants to disappear. A veritable bureaucratic magician. The violence Matt had witnessed in here even before this, the things he heard for weeks on end— He stands up slowly, one trembling hand still pressed against the wound at his side, his shoulder pressed gingerly against the wall for support. The guard unsnaps a leather pouch, then gestures wordlessly with a pair of handcuffs for Matt to put his hands out in front of him. Matt grits his teeth, pointedly doesn’t react. I am not Daredevil— “Oh, f***’s sake,” the guard mutters. “Hold your hands out in front you, inmate.” “Is that really necessary?” scoffs Matt. Still, he holds his arms out, bloodied palms splayed up. “I was indicted on suspicion of perjury and obstruction of justice, not for running a fight club.” The irony of the defense isn’t lost on Matt. “And yet, here you are in solitary for fighting with another inmate. Want to avoid cuffs, Murdock? Learn to keep your hands to yourself and your mouth shut. Your fancy degree don’t mean sh*t in here.” The cold metal clicks shut around his aching wrists— You're still so naïve, Matthew— —and the guard walks him down the cellblock. Matt walks slowly, the only act of resistance left to him, feeling suddenly furious that Foggy keeps returning to the prison, keeps risking his safety; doesn’t he understand that Matt can’t keep him safe anymore? Can’t even keep himself safe. He still feels drugged, like he’s only witnessing everything from somewhere deep inside his own body, not actually living it. Like if he tried to speak, he’d be able to say nothing at all. The moment they enter, Foggy is all movement and barely restrained displeasure. He stands up, his fingertips pressing against the plexiglass that separates them, the clean scent of his cologne cutting through the lingering stench of the prison, and Matt, against himself, is grateful for it, for the sense of gentleness and stability that is carried with it. Surrounding yourself with soft stuff isn't life, it's death— “Get those cuffs off of him,” Foggy demands, redirecting Matt's attention away from phantoms lingering in the corners of the room. “This institution may be in the business of dehumanizing inmates, but he’s a non-violent offender awaiting trial, and I’m here to have a civilized conversation with a human being. Get them off, and then get out.” The guard’s heartbeat speeds up in a rush of anger, but he complies. Matt suffers the touch of the guard once more as he removes the cuffs from around his wrists. Tries not to think about the next time the cuffs will go back on, back off, back on; the endless violations of bodily autonomy waiting for him that he can do nothing about.  “What the hell, Foggy,” Matt bites out the moment the guard has left the room. "You may get to leave at the end of this meeting, but I don’t. Maybe try not to make me enemy number one of every single guard in here.” “What do you mean every single guard? Have other guards been mistreating you?” asks Foggy, and his tone indicates that he’s prepared to pick a fight with every single guard that has even so much as looked at Matt. “Jesus, Foggy,” mutters Matt. “That’s the part you hear? I just meant that I don’t need you to antagonize the guards for me on my first day in general population, ok?” “Not ok, Matt," snaps Foggy, but he releases a deep breath of his own and stops pacing long enough to sit down across the table from Matt. The breath hardly helped, Matt thinks, he can still hear Foggy’s heart racing like a cornered animal. “Matt,” Foggy starts to say, then falters, sits down across from him and tries again. “Listen. I don’t know what strings got pulled to transfer you to general population, but I’m working on it. It wasn’t a legal transfer. I’m filing a transfer back to protective custody while Karen is investigating who’s behind this. In the meantime, I just—I need you to keep your head down, ok? There's—there's someone else in here, other than Fisk—someone who has it out for you... and for me." “Foggy, it's fine,” Matt interrupts, not wanting to draw this out any longer than he has to. “I already know about Sweeney.” “Sh*t,” Foggy curses. “Did something happen between you two? Did Sweeney—are you—is that why you’re in solitary? Wait, no, did something happen last night? Is that why he sent that message to me?” For one long, disorienting moment, Matt thinks he’s going to be sick again. The nausea rises up in his throat, and he forces himself to swallow it down and keep it down. The nausea roils, threatens to rise again, his body burning cold with the effort to keep it in check. His very own Sisyphean punishment, he thinks. How appropriate. A fitting punishment for the arrogant hero who dared to challenge a god. What hubris, what naïveté. “What did Sweeney send to you,” Matt bites out through gritted teeth, certain that if he opens his mouth any more he’ll lose the fight with his stomach. “Foggy, what did he send you?” “Just, a text message," Foggy says, his pulse quickening as the clean scent of his sweat begins to sour with fear. "What else would he send me, Matt?” The rigidity of Matt’s posture softens ever so slightly. He opens his mouth to talk, but finds that nothing comes out. He licks his lips, tries again: "I don't, it doesn't matter. I, just, what did he say?" A few moments pass before Foggy answers, and he thinks that Foggy won’t let it go, whatever it is that’s bothering him about Matt’s response. Matt tilts his head back up from the table. Defiantly tries to meet Foggy’s eyes. Probably ends up looking somewhere over his left shoulder. “Sweeney was just letting me know that he’s in here with you, Matt,” Foggy concedes, his shoulders collapsing with a resigned exhale. “Probably trying to make me sweat. But then I get here first thing this morning and they tell me that you’ve somehow already managed to land yourself in solitary. Seriously, Matt, what the hell happened? Did he provoke you into a fight?” "Nothing happened," Matt replies bitterly, almost surprised at his own reaction, that he can still feel so hurt over something as trivial as this: that this must have been Matt's fault, that Matt allowed himself to be provoked into recklessness again.  “Jesus, Matt, do you seriously expect me to believe that? I mean, I know you can’t actually see what you look like, but I'm, I’m personally having major flashbacks to that time I found you dying on your apartment floor,” Foggy snaps back, leaning toward the plexiglass as he finishes his rant in a furious whisper. “So, can you, just, for once in your freaking life be straight with me? Because I really don’t want to drag Jessica or Karen into this, really, really don’t want to interrogate every single guard in here, but if you won’t tell me what’s going on—" Foggy’s breath is high in chest, and his pulse is elevated with emotion, but his heartbeat is steady, no hint of a bluff. Panic rises up in Matt at the thought of—no. Foggy can’t. He can’t— They're watching, Matthew—

KNIGHTHOOD.(Taken/Busy IRL)

09/03/2022 06:52 PM 

Memorabilia

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 "Escape/flight" and altrno. no.1 "Losing control". 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?”

Jacob โ†A Forsaken Incarnateโ†

09/03/2022 06:03 PM 

Guidelines

So here are some guidelines to kinda keep things as fun as possible and so we don't have a misunderstanding, alright?1: Please don't be rude to myself or others on my list, understand? There's nothing that boils my blood more than jerks being rude towards my friends and myself.2: No one liners please, I'm mobile so I can understand that it can be difficult for some to reach more than a paragraph at times but I will not accept A sentence as a response.3: No rushing! I'm not on 24/7, I've been away from this site for some time and just now returning so I may be a tad rust..but I will not rush a reply nor do I expect to be rushed. This is for fun and to relax, it's not a job and replies are not assignments with due dates.3.5: A carry over to the previous rule there are exceptions, this is if you've literally not even made the attempt to say hello or message me back after I had sent a message. If you're not going to chat or rp then why bother adding me to begin with? If you're not going to make any sort of effort then please don't add me.4. Please if you believe the story is growing stale or dying out let's talk and bounce some ideas around to breath some life back into it. Wanna kill it and starter anew? Fine by me. No longer interested in creating a story with me? Fine, no worries things happen but don't not reply. Please let me know and we can part ways on good terms.These are a few and I'll add more if necessary, please don't feel bad if you're no longer interested in replying or starting over and just wish to head out, by all means please do. No hard feelings, though if I feel the same I will let you know. Please DO NOT act childish and spam me, swear at me, make fake accounts of me based off hurt feelings and spread rumors about me. Hopefully we can settle things like Adults!

Queen MaggieDarkness

09/03/2022 12:20 PM 

please join my roleplay server discord

Bring more members into the server make this more fun and better, Safe place to chat.Meet awesome people.A judgemental free zone where you can be yourself, make new friends, relationships, and amazing roleplays! We are growing we are looking for more members to join the lovely friendly server this link will never expire so share it out to everyone.https://discord.gg/XCYjeK7ft3

แด›สœแด‡ แด€ส€แด„สœแด‡ส€

09/02/2022 11:28 PM 

Rules

I'm a fairly laidback person so if we can just stick to a few ground rules, we'll get along just fine. Literacy is a must. I'm multi-para, but quality over quantity. No drama. Please. Just no.  Mature and dark themes are involved, but I typically ask my writing partner for their limits first. Don't be afraid to say no. Don't be shy. My character is adaptable and I adore crossovers and AUs, so feel free to suggest any ideas.  This is a hobby. I work full-time and have a life offline, so please don't pressure me for posts. Let's have fun! I'm a friendly person despite my stoic muse, so don't be shy about reaching out for anything. 

~ ๐“๐“ท๐“ฝ๐“ช๐“ป๐“ฎ๐“ผ ~

09/02/2022 06:20 PM 

~ RULES ~

Thanks for taking interest in this character! This is my first Aniroleplay character and I'm learning the ropes of this place. Outside of roleplaying this draconic megalomaniac, I'm pretty outgoing and friendly to most people. Please have patience - It has been quite a while since I wrote text RP so it could take time for me to write longer responses. I'm always working to improve my writing. I'm here to write, not to date! - Although I will write romances I'm not personally looking for a partner in real life! I'm married so please try to remember that our stories are between our characters. Talk about your expectations! - I'm willing to be flexible with this character depending on what you're looking for. Being that he's an evil lord of destruction it helps to know what direction you want the story to take.



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