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Frank had seen it first hand, a human trafficking business that picked up on girls and women specifically. He was in Central Park when it happened, a place he only came to when the date of their death anniversary comes around. Even then, he never really did it much; sometimes it was because he was too busy, most of the time he just didn't have it in him to go. In a way though, it reminded him of what he was doing and why he was doing it.

He was sitting at their spot, once painted with their blood. Frank pictured it in his mind: the guts of his daughter, his boy coughing up bits of his own throat and Maria...Maria had a longing in her eyes as she clawed at her chest uselessly. Perhaps it was longing to live, but Frank knew better. His wife's last sentiments were for him to save their children. She never realized it was too late for her or them.

A younger Frank, one whose heart was more recently torn and smashed six feet underground would've started having a silent breakdown. One characterized by a feeling akin to being waterboarded, except it was himself who would be drowning himself in thoughts that pinned the blame on him. The only visible symptoms of it from another human would be the slight change in his breathing. It pained him all the same.

It had been nearly 20 years since their deaths though.

The trauma of it only haunting him at night.

His quiet lament was interrupted by something shifting, unusual, in the park.

New York City was crowded and busy and so goddamn quick sometimes it was hard to see the villainous in the blur.

Still, Frank Castle knew what a helpless scream would sound like from a mile away.

(Especially in this place.)

The woman's call for help was loud then muffled then silent. Frank singled it out, but not making it apparent that he had noticed. He watched from his peripheral view, and just as they were about to flee, he saw it --A nearby homeless woman getting pulled into a black van.

As it sped off, Frank notices it had no plate number --but it did have the sticker on the back saying 'Daniel's Soup Kitchen.'

Made no sense. He guesses it was a joke, but takes the lead anyway.

It turns out that it was an effective one.

Frank later found out it was a real place, and though he wasn't certain if they'd know about it, he thought it was worth a shot.

Daniel was an old man, kind but shaken. He recalled two men, stomping inside the place, each asking for food. One of his staff members politely tried to explain this was for the homeless, and she got shot. A man sat in one the tables, before just quietly eating his tomato soup, was especially brave, and tried to fight them off. That man was maybe twice their size in height;

Still, he gets shot.

Another two masked men hurried inside the bar, and forcibly took two girls who weren't old enough to be 16 that frequented the kitchen. They knocked them out before throwing them inside the same black vehicle that Frank saw earlier that day. Then they asked for a sticker, a souvenir, of the sort, Daniel guessed.

Being left with only half of the people in the kitchen, they had no choice but to oblige.

As Daniel finished his story, disgust seeped more and more into his voice.

"Yeah, that'll be all." Frank cuts him off before he turns too heated. Daniel nods. "Thank you for your help, sir."

Then the older man notices the white skull peeking from his casual brown leather jacket. Daniel smiled.

"We appreciate your work here in the kitchen." Daniel calls to him, and Frank halts in his movement. He turns to him, wondering what he was about to say. "Get those sons of bitches, Punisher." A newfound tenacity appeared in him. Frank offers a singular nod as a sign of guarantee, if anything.

It lead him here, in a small ship that maybe once held passengers. Now, it was used for crime.

Harry Dorman was an agent of SHIELD who was based in Hell's Kitchen for reasons unknown to him. He was born in Manhattan, and frankly, Hell's Kitchen took after its name and is hell to work in.

When the Punisher comes in, guns blazing, shooting everyone in his line of sight, Harry realizes he only has two choices in this situation:

Blow your cover and offer to help him, or get shot to smithereens.

He decided that he liked living, as of the moment.

He held his hands up, along with his pistols as he neared the towering man. He knelt on the ground. Frank lowered his own arms after shooting one last crewman. "M-My name is Harry Dorman, I'm an a-agent of SHIELD." Harry immediately regrets his second statement as Frank defensively puts his guns back up. "W-Wait!" Frank does. "I..can help you."

Frank narrows his eyes at the man. "How?"

"I can tell you where the victims are."

Frank doesn't need his help for that. Harry notices by his silence.

"I can...I can help get them out. Uh, I have a car. I-I can...y'know... and I won't give any of my higher ups a hint," Harry suggests quickly, knowing that if any of his superiors found out he was face to face with the Punisher, he'd be fired. "Nada."

Frank liked the sound of that.

With the wordless nod of his head, Harry lets out the breath he didn't notice he was holding in.

It was quicker that way, to find them though.

To find you.

You had been on the streets since your father had kicked you out of the house. Your mother had just died, and you guess he just didn't give that much of a shit to get a job after the source of income landed herself in a grave.

You thought you could take it. Sixteen and rebelling and thinking you were as big as the world.

In a week after that, you were starving.
A day after that, you were sucking dick for money.

Frank was in a seminary at that point, when you'd been kicked out. The day he eventually left though, he had passed by your alley and saw you. As you as you could be when your face was obscured by bruises and blood.

At 17, you'd been beaten to shit after a couple of guys whose dicks you sucked didn't pay you. Maybe you should've just shut up.

"You look like shit."

You turned up to the voice.

Tanned skin, blue eyes, dark hair. The details were lost on you and your blurry vision. Looked a bit too clean cut for your liking. He looked about two years older than you. "Thanks," You mustered up your sweetest, most sardonic voice. "Asshole." Then released all the animosity from your assault earlier into the second word.

He was impressed with how audacious you were, even if you were reduced to roadkill.

"Get up."

"What the hell?"

"I'm taking you home." He kneeled down, as if to inspect your injuries. You groaned slightly as the rough pads of his fingers skimmed over your bruises.

"Take me to dinner first." You were taking your sarcasm with you to the grave. He realized this and chuckled.

"That's what I'm planning." He returned as he put your arm around his neck and helped you up.

The comment was hollow, but still, it made you blush.

The Castigliones were not the most virtuous of families. They weren't saints, and his parents argued a bit after they patched you up.

"Louisa, we can't take her in. We don't even know this child."

"Even for a few days to let her rest? Look at her, for God's sake!"

"What if she has parents?"

"They obviously don't give a shit, do they?"

They kept the disagreement hushed, but not to you. Your parents fought while you were in the process of being conceived, you could sound that shit out like a professional.

"They're going to let you stay here." A voice that had become somewhat of a comforting presence brought you out of your trancelike state. "Who says?" You exchanged. "My father is not a bad man. Cautious, but he's ultimately kind." He reasons with you, albeit needlessly. You couldn't care less. Right then, you were eating the first full meal you've had since last year, and goddamnit was it good. The present matters to you most. So you only hummed in some kind of acknowledgment to him. "You never told me your name." You changed the subject, and finished your second helping of mashed potatoes and corn. He paused.

You took that time to finally take in the details of the man who saved your sorry ass.

He was definitely handsome, no doubt. His tan told you he wasn't from Queens, maybe... "I'm Francis Castiglione. But only weirdos really ever call me Francis, my friends call me Frank."

Castiglione. Hmm. Italian.

You'd remember your taste for Europeans later in life rooted from this certain Italian.

"Am I a friend or a weirdo, Mr. Castiglione?" You had a teasing lilt to your voice. You processed how he said his earlier sentence. Weirdos, huh? He looked like he could be a weirdo, though. You noted.

He laughed at that. A big, hearty, innocent laugh.

"Yeah, no, you're both."

As you took in more of him, you realize he came from the direction of the seminary.

"You?"

...Fucking Catholic rich boy.

You said your name, not bothering with your last. Your father doesn't claim you, why claim him?

As he hummed his agreement, his eyes twinkled in the light.

Goddamn Catholic pretty boy.

You did stay for a few more weeks, to your relief. Maybe you could tolerate this guy. First guy in your life who's talked to you that didn't frighten you. You brushed it off, it was because he was in your age range now. (Right?)

The Castigliones tried to put you up for adoption. You hated the thought of it. Your friends who've been picked up by orphanages told you how shitty it is in there. Thankfully, you turned 18 in the next three days after you came there. They didn't know what to do.

"Two weeks more a-and I'll be out of your hair, I promise." You weren't the bargaining type, but it'd been so long since you've been in a house.

They shared a look. They didn't wanna leave you out in the streets again.

"I-I'll get a job."

They nodded, relieved.

In the meantime, you and Frank got close fast. He had left the seminary with no friends, sometimes keeping in touch with his highschool classmates but really only having (and needing, but he'd never admit it) you as his company. You learned a lot of things from him, getting the first education you had since getting out of 10th grade. Still, you weren't stupid, and he was glad for that.

You were lying next to him bed, your stomach pressed against the matress and your feet swung themselves in the air. You had your face being held up by your palms. He was positioned similarly, but kept his legs down, his hands flipping through the book that he and you shared.

He wasn't looking at it though, just...you.

Frank knows he'd been a privileged kid, but growing up Catholic, he'd been raised to love others no matter what. Whole reason he helped you. Meeting you, knowing you, though, was different. You'd been through hell and back. He felt bad for you, sure, but respected you entirely. He can't imagine going through shit like that. He valued your courage immensely. It inspired him, almost.

"Castles, huh?"

"What?"

You gestured to the book. It was about medieval practices and the such. The page before was about torture methods, then it said castles usually had a room for these types of things. He'd read the book before, and when he was brought back down to Earth from shamelessly staring at you, he knew what you were talking about.

"Imagine living in one." You snorted. "How that sound would travel. Huh." You replicated a shudder, he chuckled. The smile on his face mirrored yours. Then you couldn't help but notice his goddamn eyes again.

And his, your lips.

You two were suddenly very conscious of the intruded space. He could feel the heat coming off of you and if he could just...

He leaned in, and you were dazed, following his lead.

You were an inch apart, until--

"Lunch is ready..Oh."

His father was standing in his doorway, amused at the scene before him. He pretended to ignore it and walked off.

You two shrugged it off and got up. As if you weren't legal adults though, red dusted each of your faces like you both were 14 again.

Mario Castiglione snickered as he relayed the memory to Louisa, who felt her heart warm at it.

In the following week, his parents left for a business trip.

You lost your virginity to him.

You were in bed, breathless and hands intertwined with his when you spoke up. "I know castles essentially have in-venue torture rooms, but..." He smiled at you, not believing you'd stretch that topic on even after the (incredible, you thought. He was huge!) sex. "Wouldn't it be amazing if you lived in one?" You enthused. He spent that time memorizing your features, eyes flicking over your lips as you kept talking. He heard it all. "I just feel like, I dunno.." You blushed under his gaze. "You'd feel safer. Stronger." You finished. His face was buried in your neck. He finally input his own commentary at the issue though: "And how the sound..of us.." His voice rumbled against your skin and you shivered. "Would travel..."

Round two.

At your last day, he was wondering why you were cleaning the entire house. He kissed you every moment he could though. Washing the dishes? He'd press himself against your back. Sorting books? He'd pull you closer to his side and pecked your lips. You'd giggle and smile but you couldn't turn yourself on when you knew you'd be leaving.

He was heartbroken.

Still, you told him you'd keep in touch.

You became a stripper at a shitty bar. The worst part was the pay, really. The dancing was alright. It served as a medium to turn your array of emotional scars into something productive. Plus, taking control of your sexuality like that was liberating, after being forced to turn to selling it for years.

Frank became a marine. He learned his way around a gun, and became a top officer soon enough. He'd know something like the anguish you'd faced, except it was in the battlefield. While your scars were because of men touching you and hitting you, his was because he hit first. All the same, it reminded him of you a little bit.

At 26, you got a different boyfriend, and got into a better club with a higher pay.

At 28, he met Maria and started a family.

At 28, your relationship turned abusive and suddenly, you were on the streets again.

At 38, his family died in Central Park.

At 39, he became the Punisher.

At 37, you learn who the Punisher is.

All that time, the promise of keeping in contact was forgotten by both parties.

Now, history repeats itself because he was going to meet you in your helpless form again.

But you didn't know that yet.

The girl you called your best friend stared at you with lifeless, bloodshot eyes as foam dripped from her mouth.

It was protocol. If someone found out about the business, they'd poison the girls and blew up the ship. You knew because you were sucking the captain's dick. You were saved from it because while your friends were getting toxic food, you were starving and sucking his dick.

You tried to run and hide when you heard gunshots, and he tried to grab at you, but you kicked his crotch instinctively from your stripping days. He slapped you with a heavy hand, making your cheek bruise. He reached for his gun, but you went first and knocked him out with it.

Maybe you picked up a couple of tricks after 20 years in the streets.

Now, you were under your bed, looking at all the dead women around you. You heard heavy footsteps, two, alone. You were shaking now, and gripped the handgun harder.

As they came in, horror filled the shorter guy's eyes.

The taller, darker man scanned the room for anything living.

His face looked familiar.

Holy shit.

"Frank?" Your tone was a mix of fright and disbelief. He reflexively brought his gun to your direction, then he saw who it was.

Frank noticed the gun in your hand first, then when his military habits turned itself off and he hears a familiar voice he looks up.

It was you.

You whom, although was not the woman he loved most (That spot only reserved for Maria), the woman he loved first. The woman whose thoughts caused how and what he turned his other last name into.

Your name came tumbling out of his mouth.

You ran to him first from across the room, and he reached up to the tender spot on your cheek, fresh and dark purple. You winced slightly, but allowed it. He and you had a respectable distance between each other, each somehow understanding that you two were very different from the people you used to be.

You observed him. Scars and bruises littered themselves over his skin. He took on a few years (and hundreds of battles, you guessed) but along with it a new kind handsomeness to his face. You noticed the skull on the black kevlar of his shirt. The insignia of the Punisher.

Harry was momentarily forgotten, but honestly preferred it that Frank's dominating presence wasn't focused on him.

"Are there any others alive?" He snapped back into professionalism. You shook your head. God, you wished differently. "M-Maybe the fourth level will, though?" You offered.

The three of you checked.

Nothing.

Then he finally noticed it.

The bleeding between your legs.

At, first, he thought it was that..but it was flowing too much. At least a pint in two minutes.

Holy shit.

You looked down, not alarmed, but solemn once again. You wavered in place.

'Shit. Shit.' Frank thought. He says your name. ",honey... Stay with with me. C'mon." He says, using his arms to offer some support. "What's your blood type, sweetheart, c'mon. What is it?" He scoops you into his arms and carries you. The jolt from that alone powered a little bit of your will to stay awake. You told him what he needed. "Okay, alright. Stay awake for me, alright. Please." More emotion seeped into his voice than he'd liked, but kept going. He didn't run, in fear of hurting you.

The entire time, you slipped in and out of consciousness, never fully succumbing to the temptation though.

Frank couldn't believe it. You were here again. Waltzing into his life in your less than graceful, bloodied form like always, again. You embodied for him a time that he always shut out because he just couldn't believe he was ever a Francis Castiglione. Frank Castle was a grumpy son of a bitch but even he had his moments with Lisa, Frankie and Maria. Castle was contentment, maybe true happiness. Francis was innocent, though and just...blissful. Castiglione was a mindlessly happy time.

You were a peek into something he'd never thought he'd ever have back because he sure as hell knew the happiness of Frank Castle was never going to come back.

Maybe...

His train of thought was halted by your groaning. Holy shit. You were losing a lot of blood.

"Fucking stomp on it, Dorman."

So Harry put all his weight of the acceleration, scared to death.

Harry really regrets that this had to turn personal for the Punisher because he just knew he was two wrong steps away from having a gun to his head.

You finally fully wake to a hospital room, but it did not have the same creepy atmosphere a normal hospital would have. It was a bit more lived in. Various guns and used syringes were on the table. You blink at a woman whose delicate hands tended softly to the bruise on your cheek. You felt a presence aside from hers shifting beside you. "She's awake." She said and lifted her fingers off you. She had black hair so dark that it almost had a blue undertone to it. Her skin was pale, but not eerily so. You turned to the other presence. It was Frank. You offered him a weak smile, before bringing your attention back to the woman. She looks down at you. "I'm the Night Nurse. This is my clinic. I...operate on vigilantes. You're going to be fine." She talked quickly. "I'm going to get you water, you two can talk." She went off, the statement more as a reminder to herself than anything.

"Internal hemorrhage. You had a miscarriage."

The statement didn't surprise. You sighed. "Yeah. Second time this month." The almost casualness of how you said it scared him. He had pure rage in his expression. "What happened?" He asked, and you had a sarcastic answer ready to shut out the trauma but the grimness on his face made you think twice.

"Captain..impregnated me. His bosses found out and beat the kid out of me. Last time, I nearly died." Tears. You didn't like them.

God knows though, that you had fucking enough of keeping them in.

It was too painful.

Frank stiffens in his seat. God fucking damnit.

(He thought he couldn't get more attached to this case, but then you lost two children too. He can't help but string it together.)

"I'm so sorry for what happened to your family." You reflected it on to him. Like you did once too long ago. He locked eyes with you and then buried himself into his palms. Yeah. This had gotten too personal. "I'm--" You knew you did wrong.

Take your own fucking misery, you fucking pussy! You yelled at yourself inwardly.

"It's fine." He understands. You were bound to say it anyway. Now was not the best timing, but you would. You were quiet for a bit, emotionally readying yourself for what you were about to say. "I lost...I lost them too." You...sobbed.

Goddamnit, it hurts.

You had a pint of your blood type safely pumping into you, replacing every drop of it you've lost. You had dextrose attached to you and you probably were on pain meds. The room wasn't uncomfortable, too.

But it still fucking hurt.

"The protocol was to kill everybody and blow everything up if someone ever found out." You breathed before continuing.

"I...I knew it was going to happen. There was talk of the Punisher finding us. ...I timed being in the Captain's quarters when I knew the girls were going to get poisoned...I, I let them die." Your voice cracked at the last second. "I let him let the crewmen gangbang me so I could eat more because I knew I was pregnant...a-and they still beat me the fuck for it." Your tears wouldn't stop coming along.

If Frank had any mercy left for the men he killed that night (he didn't), those little bits disappeared into thin air when you recounted your experiences.

Frank's anguish turned into red hot anger and he was going to hunt this goddamn business down to the last fucking messenger boy of it.

His anger didn't blur the fact that you had been a few weeks at least coming along pregnant when you miscarriaged the first time.

In fact, it made it all the more significant.

You couldn't say anything anymore, you choked on sobs and could hardly breathe.

Like she had read your mind, the Night Nurse came in with a unreadable expression and a glass of cold water. "Here."

She talked with Frank just a few feet from your bed, probably talking fees. You felt even worse that he had to pay for it.

He came back, with a little bit of the fury alleviated from him. "She says it's free. She sympathizes with your situation."

You sighed in relief.

"Do you have a place to stay?" He inquired and you almost laughed. "No." The simple syllable told him all he needed to know. "Holy shit," He uttered your name. "You..You're...goddamn." He pauses, unsure how to follow.

"It's fine. I'll figure it out." Your reassurance is hollow. The thought of going back out there makes you want to wretch.

"No." He is stern, and his decision is final. "You'll take one of my safehouses. I'll give you everything you need, at least to get started, if, if you don't want to stay.." He trails off uncharacteristically. He's still uncertain. He hasn't lived with anybody or taken care of anybody since, well,

since Maria and his kids.

He tries his best not to take it that far.

"Are you sure?"

No. He's never been more hesitant in his goddamn life.

"Yeah, yeah. I'm sure."

Frank was not that terrified at the thought of somebody getting close to him again. 20 years of doing this shit and he's had a few women and friends who would get close no matter what. He learned (though a bit late) that you can't control other people and how they felt for you.

No. What he feared was...

If he ever started to depend on you and you on him.

He was done being afraid of the dangers that come with him,

he's afraid of the danger that is him.

What the fuck would he do to you? Being with you? What would that do to you? What if he scares you away? What if he neglects you?

And god...what happens if he gets so fucking attached like he did when he was teenager that if you ever died...would you be another excuse?

Frank knows that Maria would never have condoned this much killing. He does it because he thinks it's what criminals deserve; after a while, he treated it like a necessity and responsibility not caused by the death of his family, but powered by it.

He hates that that is what has become of Maria, Lisa and Frankie, but he also thinks it's for their own good.

If another one he cares about, no matter who loved them-- Castle or Castiglione, were to die under his watch...shit.

He doesn't want to burden himself with the philosphy of things, but that doesn't blind him to the facts. That using his family's death as an excuse to his ends is wrong, even though he thinks it's for their betterment.

He doesn't want anyone else to succumb to that treatment. To being forced to be seen as that...even if every goddamn day he still cares and laments and loves and pains for them.

Goddamnit.

It had been 3 weeks living in Frank's safehouse now, and it really wasnt that hard feeling at home. It helped that you hadn't had one for 20 years, so the lack of expectations definitely played a factor. The guns didn't bug you as long you didn't ponder over them for too long. He even put a TV and all, for your entertainment. You went back to your previous job of stripping (despite his high disapproval, because it was unsafe) and bought a couple of books. In the morning, you jogged and cooed at the adorable dogs passing by.

At night, you screamed.

You remember all the pain.

Every single kick to the stomach.

Every single time you coughed up blood.

You never had trouble facing your traumas simply because you had no time to. You were either in a bad moment or anticipating the next one. There was never a break.

Now all there's left is silence and eerie, out of place peace and it unnerved you.

All your friends, the women in that ship, were dead.

Your dad had died when you were still stripping, so no family.

You had nothing.

Yet even having nothing was something to you, now. After everything you'd been through. PTSD and depression probably weren't the shortest of straws.

Yeah, they weren't.

They were the second and third shortest straws.

While you were busy having panic attacks or however people called it nowadays (you were unsure on the vocabulary, but there were things that made the beatings flash before your eyes), Frank had went and done something with his life. He was true to his word, the one you didn't know about, that he'd hunt for each and every person connected to the group who had kidnapped these women --you included. You provided him with abundant information, like where you and your fellow 'cargo' were going that night. Staten Island, and then go around the coastline to New Jersey. It was like a nation tour for human traffickers. Frank had to go out of town, for some reason, actually verbally apologizing before he left. You were mentally in shambles, but..you weren't needy of him. You weren't asking him of much.

Frank did it because he knew first hand how it was like being alone for the first chance in a long period of time. After he lost his family, he pondered over it. He'd been a loner, but never really lonely.

You didn't think that yet because you thought you could get out. See people. You thought you could handle it because of that same attitude that put you on the streets and nearly killed you,

because you thought it was the one that kept you alive.

Thing is, it kept you sane, but never alive.

...In your head you thought it out like that, but on the 10th day being without a stable presence in your life, you wondered: If you didn't even want life anymore, was it still sanity?

You ignored that for another 10 days.

So, you tried to do something about it, and remembered your friends in the orphanage. In the streets, maybe, too.

"Lilah?" You said your affectionate nickname for her in a way that only you did. She recognized immediately, your name being yelled out of delight. Two blonde kids, twins, peeked from behind her legs. "It's so nice to see you! I haven't seen you in--" "Thirty years." You finished for her, and she was astonished, before rushing you in. "And who might these be?" You crouched down to the children's heights. "Oh! This is Dandelion and Daffodil. My kids." She introduced, and you smiled at them. They returned the expression. Polite kids. You recall shortly the lack thereof when you were 16. (Before meeting Francis Castiglione)

"You have a husband?"

Her face goes melancholic. You regret your question immediately.

"Oh, I'm--" "He's in prison." She stops you before you could feel bad about yourself.

Oh.

"You?" She changes the topic. That's why you were friends. She seems to have lead quite the ironic life though. She used to prefer pickpocketing differing from your way. A little bit snobby about it but that's alright.

Now, her husband was in jail. You shouldn't laugh but....Hah.

You brought your attention back to her question. "Yeah, no. My man isn't in jail...yet."

She and you shared a quiet laugh.

You referred to the only man who wasn't treating you like shit though. Frank. You didn't wanna turn this visit into a pity party.

The rest of your stay was with welcoming arms. The conversation wasn't the most interesting, but you shared something.

Frank worries immensely about what the hell he felt as he was in the field. It's easy to say you're a one man unstoppable force when you have no choice against it, being alone. Now though...Now that you came back to his life. Maybe..maybe he could depend on someone again?

Maybe more?

No, what the shit was he thinking?

Maybe he did love you, once, but no. He can't. He couldn't. He just..couldn't.

That same voice that opposed most things he did, that voice that sounded so much like Maria told him, take it.

Take the one fucking chance you have for redemption. Don't fuck this up, Castle.

Your traumas always catch up to you, he learned that early. He learned that even he could not stand isolation. That's why he had Micro and Karen --Hell, he could count the Daredevil on that list. Goddamnit, god fucking damn it.

He felt like a goddamn teenager again.

And that was bad, very fucking bad.

Returning home from your visit to Delilah's brought with you a lighter chest. You remembered she was knee deep in shit while she was in the streets. If you were getting beat up weekly, she was getting beat up on the daily. Stealing was hard when criminals who were very much stingy people blended well with the crowd of New Yorkers.

In fear of your own brain wandering into more bouts of intense self-loathing though, you distracted yourself with a book.

And thought about how good she had it.

How good Frank has it. (You selfish motherfucker.)

How fucking shite you have it.

Goddamnit.

Another 3 days, and, and maybe...maybe you'd talk about your real feelings about all this to someone. To Frank.

Frank counted the days subconsciously. Maybe he needed to talk about this with you.

The day after that, you decided to look for a friend that you knew didn't get adopted or anything like that. Maybe she got a job, started a family.

In looking for an address for Rebecca Walters though, you were instead met by old headlines.

Shit.

She was a hooker.

She died three years ago.

Goddamnit.

Were you gonna end up like her too?

Frank was on the way home and he felt something fucked up was about to happen. He didn't know why, or what, but something bad. He had his guard up the whole time, eyeing every passenger on the bus with him. He fidgeted, uncharacteristically. Frank hadn't felt like this since the first three years of his vigilante career.

Frank came him to a quiet house. Unnaturally quiet. He calls out your name. No answer.

He wanted to believe with every fibre of his being that you were just out. That, for once, his first instincts were wrong.

As he rushed into the bedroom though, he was proven right in the worst goddamn way.

There was a bottle of beer on the floor (one of many, he figures) and a nearly empty bottle of sleeping pills, beside it, your body. Still.

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck!

No. Not again.
No, this can't be happening again.

Admit it or not...he was still attached to you because he never meant not to be. Not at fucking all.

He carried you out of there as fast as he could and went to the clinic. Your dummy-like reactions to the wind and his rough actions disturbed him.

You woke up again, in the same hospital you'd been in 2 months ago. It was all a bit like déja vu. You wished you could say you don't remember anything, but you remembered every second of it. You got drunk, and hit 'fuck it' rock bottom.

The room was the same, hell, the nurse was even right next to you, seemingly exchanging whatever she was pumping into you. As she looked up, she uttered the same words, but this time, heavy with relief. "She's awake." "I know."

He was much more restless.

She leaves in a hurry.

"What the hell were you thinking?" He didn't like his tone. You didn't like his tone. The nurse who just practically sprinted out of there didn't like his tone. "I.." Your voice came out hoarse but that wasn't why you just trailed off like that. You fucking coward! You absolute fucking coward! "Were you fucking stupid? Pulling shit like that on me? After everything I did to fucking keep you alive?" He certainly didn't make you feel better. "Look, I'm sorry...I just...I thought..." You felt helpless. He couldn't stop himself. "Sorry? Sorry doesn't fucking cut it! You could've fucking died! Jesus, after everything--" "I DIDN'T FUCKING ASK FOR YOUR HELP, FRANK!" Your suddenly very powerful statement halted him. You weren't done. You maybe loved him once, but you weren't gonna be his little bitch and roll over for him like that. You aren't going to let any fucking man do that shit to you anymore. "YOU COULD'VE--" You calmed yourself down, but kept your tone straight and stern.

"You could've left me to fucking die in that ship. No one would know. It was about to blow anyway. You could've kept walking that day you saw me beat to a fucking pulp. No one would know because it isn't your fucking responsibility to do this shit! No one asked you to fucking help me or anyone else! So don't fucking put the blame on yourself about me KILLING MYSELF BECAUSE IT MAKES ME FEEL FUCKING WORSE!"

There it was. In all its emotion-heavy, voice-cracking glory.

Everything. Everything he ever questioned and thought about while he was gone.

You were on the verge of crying, but you wouldn't let it win. You couldn't.

"I wanted to help you." Frank couldn't think of anything else to say. You weak motherfucker. "Yeah, did a fucking stellar job at that, didn't you?" There was a bite to every word, but it felt more like sucker punches to the gut to Frank. "Staying with me...being with me...you don't know what I could do to you. Carrying all my fucking baggage with me. You're a tough motherfucker, but you don't deserve that."

Jesus Christ, Frank.

Jesus Christ, you.

How the fuck could either of you have thought one was stronger than the other?

"As much as I would love that," You collected yourself before going on. "I don't have to be with you. Even still, Frank, no matter what the fuck happens...I care about you."

His stare softens. He wonders where this was going.

"Every fucking thing I've been thinking about for the last three weeks was about you. I've tried to deny it, brush it off, but I can't. I think about how much stronger you must be, how good you have it --putting all your baggage into something productive like that. How I could never be your equal and how you'll always see me as something to carry...a fucking burden."

You finish, and he hands you a glass of water on your bedside table. You drank it gratefully.

"You're not a burden. Not anymore. Not since-Not since I was 19 when I first picked you up." He says your name before continuing. "Back then, did you think I'd forget?" You raised an eyebrow at the question. "Your promise. You said you'd keep in touch." He reiterates.

Touch. Hmm.

You nodded.

You thought he didn't give a shit.

He laughed, softly. "Jesus Christ..." He says your name. "I lost my goddamn virginity to you, how...how did you think..." He laughs again. Now, you were genuinely surprised. "Wait, I thought...I thought, I was the one who lost my virginity..what..." You muttered. He looked amused. No sign of the angst left. "I was in a seminary, sweetheart." He says. You blushed, both at embarrassment and the pet name. You two shared a chuckle. Then he continued. "..I never forgot. Never dwelled on it though. I thought you moved on from it, so I did too." Dumbass. Both of you were dumbasses.

"Huh." You said.

Okay, yeah.

This? This was stupid.

"What about Maria?"

You poked at something dangerous to tamper with usually, but he let you.

"She used to..before she died, she used to tell me when I got one of my episodes after the war, to...to remember the person before Frank Castle. Francis Castiglione's happiness, alongside with my current one." He paused, looking away from you. "You..you were that man's happiness. You don't want Frank Castle's bullshit."

As much as you wanted to roll your eyes at it, the change in him was admittedly very significant.

"Frank, look at me." He did. Leaning slightly to your direction. You shifted closer to him in your bed. The wires attached to you tugged a bit, but not enough to hurt or disturb you. "Do you think I'm the same person?" You asked, eyes locked with his.

He observes your face. It wasn't as young and taut, but it wasn't saggy. Your eyes gleamed and darkened all the same but it was...dulled. Your skin had more bruises and wounds. Your body...was definitely fuller. Curvier. Nothing like the 17 year old you's scrawny stature.

"No."

"And you don't want my bullshit?"

"No, I-- I do."

"So what makes you fucking think I'd hate you so much?"

...Yeah, you're right.

You'd been through shit. Not together. But shit all the same.

Once you'd been bound because he tried to understand you when no one made the effort to before.

Now, you were bound by the fact that he understands you when no one else can.

Suddenly, you were too conscious of how close you were.

He moved his chair while you were talking and though the positions weren't optimal, you were close. Breaths mixing with each other's.

If he could lean in, just a little bit more....

"Hey, so about payment...Oh."

The nurse stood in the doorway, staring at the scene unfolding before her.

You wouldn't stop for the world.

(She looked to the table a few feet away from the foot of your bed and pretended to tinker with things)

The kiss was sweet. Nostalgic of eveything you'd been through. Nostalgic of his touch, and your lips.

You two felt like teenagers again,

and maybe, for once..

That was good.