“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.
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. Fischer
And the word for moonlight is my name by Jai Hamid Bashir
Loss of memory by James Langlas
Lady Lazarus by Sylvia Plath
Very many hands by Aaron Coleman
Forgetting by Joy Ladin
No. 30 "major character death", No. 31 "trauma" and No. 5 "forgotten".
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.
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.
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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“You have a f***ing death wish, Red? Is that what-”
“I’ll go in there and I’ll talk to him, Frank.”
“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!”
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 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.
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.
“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.
“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.
“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.”
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, 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.”
“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.
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.
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.
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-
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.
“Yeah, that’s... She’s your assistant. I think.”
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?”
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.
He opts for the other strategy. No amount of fighting puts Red down, it only incensed him. Got him invested.