Lowering his hood and exhaling slowly, Matt walked past worn and rotting pews, his footsteps echoing in the dusty silence. He branched off past the derelict remnants of the abandoned church’s glory days and entered what he assumed was once a priest’s office but was now his own temporary living space. It was a small room that was obviously remodeled, not fitting in at all with the rest of the church, and it was relatively empty except for a heavy, old desk and shelves filled with dust and cobwebs. Matt had brought in a cot, a pillow, and some blankets, but otherwise didn’t do much to make the place more habitable. He only really slept there anyway.
Dropping his bag of takeout and bottle of whiskey on the desk, Matt cracked his neck and hopped on the desktop, legs dangling and heels kicking worn wood. His knee was sore from landing a little wobbly, but other than that the robbers he ran into before picking up his meal only got one really good hit in. Matt wondered if he’d ever not have a black eye these days.
The food was good at least. He ate slowly, taking his time with the large order of Chinese he’d decided to treat himself to. He had money hidden in a few places, plenty to get by, but he didn’t often spend it on large meals. Mostly on cheap clothes to replace bloodstained shirts and hoodies.
Just as he was getting started on the fried rice, the door to the church creaked open, the faint noise like alarm bells to him.
Instantly alert, Matt carefully and slowly set his food and chopsticks down, head tilting as he sounded out the new arrival.
Footsteps. Heavy, but quiet. Careful and slow, deliberate. Boots, not sneakers. Male. The rustle of coarse clothing. He was turning, looking around. Not another vagrant, but someone with purpose. Someone who was here for a reason. The heartbeat was steady and strong, so was the breathing.
As quietly as he could, Matt moved from the desk to the doorway. The door was long gone, but he kept to the walls so he wouldn’t be seen. He was grateful that the electricity didn’t work, none of the candles were lit, it was well past sundown, and the windows that weren’t boarded up could only let in so much of the city’s light. He’d have the advantage.
He could feel the change in the air as the intruder moved closer to Matt’s hideaway. And then the smell hit him, far stronger than the dust, rotting wood, and plaster of the church. Gunpowder, dog, and coffee.
Matt inhaled sharply and noted a small change in the intruder’s heartbeat.
“Nice place you got here, Red,” came Frank’s gravelly voice.
Matt took a second to compose himself, to make sure his voice wouldn’t crack. “Thanks. The rent’s cheap.”
Frank’s low huff of laughter was followed by hastening footsteps. “You look like shit.”
Matt grinned, but it was more a grimace. “Really? Well, I think you look great.”
“Funny,” Frank mumbled, head nodding as he took in the space.
There was a tense beat of silence and Matt couldn’t handle it. “What are you doing here, Frank?”
“Can’t a guy visit an old buddy?”
Matt sighed and moved back to his desk and dinner, sitting on the desktop like he had before the interruption. “Help yourself, I’ve got plenty.”
Frank followed and leaned against the desk, just close enough to Matt’s leg for him to feel the heat coming off him. He rifled through the bag and took out a fortune cookie. “I thought they only gave out one of these per customer?”
“The girl likes me,” Matt shrugged. He always got a heavy handful of fortune cookies whenever he went to that particular restaurant.
“Of course she does,” Frank laughed, cracking open his cookie and sliding the paper out. “Now, take a look at this fortune.”
“Would if I could,” Matt grinned sardonically. Two blind jokes in one day. He was doing pretty good. He opened his bottle and decided to start drinking a little earlier than he planned. The situation seemed to call for it.
Frank cleared his throat pointedly and Matt could hear the sound of his calloused fingers scraping against the smooth paper. He was making a show of the fortune, facing Matt while he made as if to read a grand speech. “‘You will reconnect with old friends.’ What do you make of that, Red? Pretty spot on, these things.”
Matt took a large swig of whiskey and hunched his shoulders.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought.” Frank yanked the bottle out of Matt’s hand and took a quick sip himself. “Gonna explain yourself?”
“Do I need to?” Matt asked with a shrug.
“I sure as hell didn’t come all this way for fortune cookies.”
Matt bared his teeth. “Then you shouldn’t have come at all.”
“Real nice, Murdock.” Frank let out a frustrated noise. “Everyone thinks you’re dead. They’re mourning you.”
“They’ve moved on,” Matt dismissed, face twisting in pain.
“If you think that’s true, you’re dumber than that suit you liked to dance around in.” Frank roughly grabbed one of the cartons of food and usurped Matt’s chopsticks.
“Like you can talk,” Matt shot back. “Giant skulls painted over tactical black. Real edgy.”
“Not like you can tell.”
“I can imagine.”
“Can you also explain to me why you’re hiding in his shithole?”
“Can you leave?”
Frank spoke through a mouthful of Matt’s fried rice. “Don’t feel like it.”
Matt let out an aggravated breath. “What do you want , Frank?”
Taking an obnoxious amount of time to chew and swallow his food, Frank answered, “I want to find out how you survived a building collapsing on you, but didn’t think to give any of us a call.”
“Maybe I’m better off dead,” Matt mumbled to the whiskey, taking another sip. His stomach growled.
Frank shoved the carton of rice as well as the chopsticks back at Matt. “Eat,” he commanded. “I thought you college boys were supposed to be smarter than this.”
Eating so that any further stomach aches would be psychosomatic rather than hunger based, Matt refused to respond to Frank’s provocations.
He spoke casually, but Matt could pick up on the slight tremble in his voice, husky tone getting that much rougher. “Why do you think you’re better off dead?”
Matt played with the food a little. “It’s just...” He trailed off, doing his best to articulate the combination of emotions he felt - dejected, resigned, angry, guilty, ashamed, wistful, on and on and on. “What have I done to make this city better? What have I done to help? When I was around, I only caused problems. For Foggy, Karen, everyone. My presence as Daredevil invited worse kinds of criminals. I got Elektra killed - twice.”
He cleared his throat as a lump formed, choking him, and his eyes itched with the threat of tears. “I wasn’t making the world a better place. I was just bloodying my knuckles and ruining the lives of good people. I’m as bad as the people I tried to stop.”
Frank exhaled softly, a sibilant release of air. “You’ve said some pretty dumb shit since I walked in here,” he grumbled. “But that might be the dumbest thing yet. Hard to say.”
Matt made a face as he set his food aside.
“I won’t sit here and try to convince you of all the good you’ve done,” Frank continued. “I could list it all, but nobody’s got the time. And the thing is, not being there ain’t getting rid of those problems you think you’ve caused.”
“Stop making these faces,” Frank ordered. “It’s true. You’re not so goddamn necessary to the world that it stops going just because you’re not around. That’s existence - it keeps going no matter who lives or dies or fights or runs. The difference is you’re not there for the people who need you.”
“Foggy’s better off,” Matt countered. “I heard him with Luke just a few weeks ago. And he’s doing well at his firm. He’s not having to constantly worry about his friend ending up dead on a rooftop because he was too slow to stop a bullet to the head.”
Frank grunted something that sounded almost regretful, but Matt plowed on.
“And Karen’s doing great at the paper. She’s thriving without me dragging her down.”
“Karen’s brokenhearted over you,” Frank snapped immediately.
Matt rubbed his eyes, voice low. “And that breaks my heart, but we both know she can handle it. She’s got Foggy and she’s got you. She’s better off. So is everyone else - Jessica, Danny, Luke, Claire. They’re all strong. And they all deserve better than me.”
“Just because someone’s strong doesn’t mean they deserve to lose people,” Frank growled. “And believe me, playing dead ain’t solving anything. It doesn’t make life easier on the people you leave behind and it sure as hell doesn’t make your life any easier.”
He motioned around at the room, at the general dereliction of the church, at the neglect and decay Matt surrounded himself in.
“It’s what I deserve,” Matt told him solemnly.
“This goddamn self-flagellation you’ve got going on right now is not my favorite look on you,” Frank told him crossly.
“Didn’t know you had a favorite,” Matt tossed out halfheartedly.
“Red, you really want to go there right now?”
Matt choked out a watery laugh, his chest convulsing in a sob. “I tried to come back,” Matt confessed. “After I woke up. I couldn’t believe I survived. But it turned out I’d been out for months and I was declared dead and I started to think about everything that happened. Everything I’d done, all the people I’ve hurt, and it just…”
“Seemed better to stay dead?” Frank filled in gently, voice full of deep felt understanding.
“Yeah,” he muttered. He pushed his tears away with shaky fingers.
Frank’s body shifted closer. “So you’re hiding in a crumbling church, stalking the people you love rather than coming back to them, and getting into alleyway brawls.”
“A perfect summary,” Matt smiled, the expression feeling broken and wrong.
“Listen-” Frank cut himself off, his usually steady heartbeat stuttering. “I’m the last person to judge how people cope, you know? I’m not exactly a shining beacon of mental health here. But I don’t like seeing you like this.”
“How’d you even find me?” Matt asked.
“Pretending not to be blind when you go out only works if the people around you haven’t seen your face before.”
Matt squinted. “You saw me.”
“Across the street from a deli while I ate,” Frank informed him. “Never thought I’d see someone not wear glasses as a disguise. Usually it’s the other way around.”
“You’d be surprised how many people don’t recognize the blind lawyer when he isn’t obviously blind,” Matt told him with a melancholy snort. “I’ve passed a few people I used to know. None of them even realized.”
“Yeah, well. Guess I’m special.” Frank scratched the back of his head. It sounded like his hair was longer than Matt remembered. “Also, anyone who keeps track of the crime rate would notice this area suddenly getting a lot safer for civilians and a lot less safe for crooks. How many broken arms have you left behind? A dozen?”
Matt did the calculations in his head. “Thereabouts.”
“It’s not good for you,” Frank told him baldly. “Living like this. Beating criminals, hiding from the world, sleeping in this place. It’s just not good for you.”
“I’m not coming back,” Matt told him in a small voice.
“Just think about it,” he pressed.
“Will you let this go?” Matt asked, already knowing the answer. He knew Frank too well.
“Will you tell them?”
“This is your decision and I won’t take it from you,” Frank allowed, though he didn’t seem thrilled about it. “But you know where I stand on it.”
They fell into an odd sort of quiet, tense and contemplative, the space between them filled with the chaotic thrumming of their jumbled thoughts and emotions. Neither men were experts at open communication or emotional expression, not by a long shot.
“This place is a wreck,” Frank finally rumbled out, breaking the silence. “Come on.”
“Frank, I said I-”
“Yeah, yeah.” Frank waved away his protests. “I’m not going to make you come back from the dead. But if we’re doing dinner, it sure as shit ain’t gonna be in this rat infested ruin. I’m just waiting for the roof to fall in on us. You might survive that sort of thing, but I ain’t exactly wild about experiencing it myself.”
He slapped Matt’s back. “Grab the food and the booze. Car’s out front. We’ll head back to mine.”
Brow furrowed, Matt started to do as Frank ordered, but he wouldn’t go without some clarification. “Frank?”
“I got an apartment. It’s not much, but it’s better than this. You can stay with me while you decide whether or not to take your head out of your ass. Not like I see much of anyone anyway and I’m not the sharing type, so secret’s safe with me.”
Sorely tempted, Matt hesitated and chewed anxiously at his bottom lip. “I really appreciate it, Frank. But I-”
“Don’t you ever stop arguing?” Frank asked, exasperated. He grabbed Matt’s shoulder and turned him towards the doorway, pushing him between the shoulder blades. “Goddamn lawyers. And you’re not taking that sad excuse for a bed with us, I don’t want you bringing any fleas into my apartment. I slept better in the desert, Jesus Christ. I got a couch you can take.”
Matt allowed Frank to lead him out of the church. He capitulated too easily, he knew. But he wanted to. He ached for a familiar face, to be recognized as himself, to talk to someone, anyone, who knew. Since he healed enough to leave the nuns, he’d been hiding. He hadn’t even gone to Father Lantom. The weight of it all was crushing him. Frank was offering to chip some of that weight off and Matt couldn’t resist.
Silent the whole ride, Frank drove them into one of the more dangerous parts of town, though Matt suspected Frank’s presence made at least the building safer.
From what Matt could detect, the place wasn’t exactly the height of luxury, but it was worlds better than a dilapidated church.
“Food can go on the table,” Frank told him. A dog padded over to him to receive some scratches. “Make yourself comfortable. I’ll get the beer.”
As Frank’s boots tapped on linoleum in the kitchen and the sounds of him grabbing and opening the bottles resounded, four paws clicked over to Matt. The dog’s breath warmed the back of Matt’s hand as he sniffed the newcomer, full of curiosity and sweetness. Matt smiled, he couldn’t help it, and pet the dog. He enjoyed the soft fur of his head and ears and the swish of air as his tail wagged back and forth, picking up speed. Matt’s smile stretched into a genuine, joyful grin. Maybe Foggy had been right back in college. He should’ve gotten a service dog. He just hadn’t been able to shake the guilt about having one when there were other people who really, truly needed them, their blindness not coming with his level of increased sensory perception or the training that honed it.
Frank’s return was marked by more heavy footfalls and a pause. Matt frowned a little, picking up on the sudden stillness of Frank’s body and the corresponding uptick in his heartbeat. When he realized that Frank was staring, his confused frown turned into a smirk.
That set Frank back into motion, the man making a disgruntled noise in the back of his throat that sounded an awful lot like ‘smug bastard’ if Matt could trust his ears - which he usually did. “See you’re already making friends with Max,” Frank said in his normal, though still gruff, voice.
“He’s a good dog.”
“Yeah, he is.”
They sat on the lumpy, but surprisingly comfortable couch together and finished off the already lukewarm takeout. They drank their beers in a silence that was occasionally punctuated by Max’s soft pants or strangely whiny yawns. When the dog settled on the floor by their feet and started snoring, Matt realized how tired he was and stifled a yawn of his own. The couch was so much softer than the cot he’d been using, the apartment warm rather than drafty and cold, and Frank was a reassuring presence that stood in stark contrast to the lonesome paranoia Matt experienced at the church.
He drifted off, leaning onto Frank as his breathing evened out and exhaustion overtook him.
Frank stayed where he was, letting Matt sleep against him with his head lolling onto Frank’s shoulder. He moved carefully, doing his best not to jostle the sleeping man as he set his empty bottle on the table and took off his boots. Max woke up long enough to snort contentedly as he turned one of Frank’s boots into a pillow of dubious comfortability.
Propping his socked feet on the table, Frank tipped his head to observe Matt.
He looked worn down and ragged - shaggy hair in need of a cut, eyes underscored by dark shadows, left eye and cheek mottled purple and green, and dressed in a cheap, ill fitting hoodie and torn jeans. At least the hoodie looked like soft fleece inside.
Matt’s brow started to furrow in his sleep, expression turning pained as a nightmare undoubtedly haunted him. Hesitating for only a moment, Frank raised a hand and started to comb through Matt’s hair in a slow, soothing motion. Matt’s features smoothed as he leaned into the touch, the nightmare halted and dispelled.
Frank didn’t let up on raking his fingers through the other man’s hair, but he did scowl at the ceiling. “What the fuck am I doing?”
Frank stopped burning a hole in his ceiling and looked back at the once more peacefully sleeping man. He was very nearly cuddling Frank now. “And what the fuck am I gonna do with you, Red?” Frank asked him in a whisper, tone and expression gentling into fondness.
Not really expecting to get any sleep himself, Frank nestled into the couch and made himself comfortable, secretly pleased with the way Matt instinctively sought him out and moulded against him as they shifted and adjusted on the couch.
When Matt awoke the next morning and extricated himself from the full blown cuddle he unconsciously initiated about an hour into his sleep, Frank smirked a crooked, self-satisfied smirk at his mortified apology and reddening cheeks.
Matt wasn’t the only one who could be a smug bastard.