Matt Murdock didn’t need anyone. He was independent, self-sufficient, a productive and well-connected member of Hell’s Kitchen little world.
He was also an idiot who’d just had an Ikea table delivered, and now he was kneeling in front of the open box and remembering that, oh yeah, he was blind.
He hadn’t forgotten, really. He’d just thought he didn’t need to read the instructions; his hands were sensitive enough to gauge what screw went into which hole, right?
“What’s crawled up your ass, Red?”
Matt finished off the crime boss wannabe he’d been pummeling and let him drop, unconscious, on the warehouse floor. “What?” He hadn’t planned on the Punisher being around, but as long as Frank refrained from mass murder and preferably from any kind of murder, fine. Matt could deal. But that was it; he wasn’t in the mood for a chat at the moment.
“You’re in a funk tonight.”
“I’m not.” Matt stalked out and raised his head, smelling the cold air near the docks.
Frank followed, the leather of his boots creaking ever so softly. “You and Nelson fight?”
Matt almost jumped. “Nelson?”
“Your buddy with the hair. You work together again, right? Nelson & Murdock, back to fight the good fight?”
“I… you… shit.” How did Frank know his real name? “Did Karen tell you?”
“Seen your names in the paper; you’ve been busy.”
Frank holstered his gun and zipped his jacket closed again. “I’ve known who you are since…” Frank grunted. “I suspected during the trial; the rest confirmed it.”
Matt was speechless.
“You look like a choking fish, Red. Did you think your sermons about justice and all that shit were subtle?”
“I,” Matt tried.
Frank huffed something that sounded like a laugh; Matt wasn’t at all offended. Nope, not him. “See ya ‘round, Murdock.”
And then he was gone.
After that discovery, Matt wasn’t in the best headspace for his nightly battle of wills with… FJÄLLBO, however one was supposed to pronounce that. Probably not the way his screen reader did.
The pieces of wood and metal were scattered all over on the floor between the armchairs and the sofa, rolling everywhere as if they had a mind of their own (he suspected they did), and the only way he could get on his couch was by hopping over the back. Any other approach was like walking on a minefield, except instead of mines it was screws and bolts that threatened to maim his feet. Besides, the broken remains of his old table were in the area between couch and window, and they were a hazard all on their own.
But he wasn’t giving up. Oh no, not Matt Murdock. Giving up wasn’t in his blood.
The previous night, he’d tried to match screws with holes, but once he was done he found out that he was no closer to actually fitting any parts together, to say nothing of the… metal donut things, the bolts, and some weird metal triangles. Really, the description on the website had seemed pretty straightforward: coffee table, wooden top, metal shelf under it. Four legs. A million screws. The website didn’t say anything about the million screws.
He had, of course, no idea what it was supposed to feel like once assembled; he hadn’t wanted to trek to the store, deal with the crowds, waste his time with an attendant that would try and sell him extra services. “But sir, the instructions aren’t in Braille!” they’d have said. “Unless someone helps you, you possibly can’t – ”
He could. He totally could.
He was Matthew Michael Murdock, summa cum laude Columbia graduate, Devil of Hell’s Kitchen, alternatively a servant and a challenger of God. He wasn’t going to be defeated by no table.
He went to bed in the early hours after half a night spent searching for YouTube tutorials for this particular table, and all the while his irritation grew. Turned out that the only tutorial he could find only had background music and no helpful descriptions for blind folks.
“You’re limping, Red.”
Right before he put on the mask, he’d had to extract pointy, pointy… nails? it had felt like thick nails, or maybe slivers of metal, from the ball of his foot. Hurt like a bitch, even more than the bunch of shards he’d tweezed out the evening before. He thought he’d gotten them all, but his feet had still hurt all through the day.
If he were honest with himself, he’d admit defeat. He wasn’t able to assemble the table; that much was obvious. He wasn’t even sure it was salvageable, after the… incident. He might have gotten a little bit frustrated, but it was part of the process, right? One had to be frustrated at furniture, or at least that was what it sounded like from Foggy’s tales of woe back when they first got separate apartments. And he couldn't afford to buy another new table anyway; he’d bought Ikea because it was supposed to be cheap and practical and he had no idea where one went to get furniture. Karen had suggested Ikea, and Matt had gone with it.
“You shouldn't be out here if you’re limping.”
“You’re going to fuck up a landing or a kick, is what’s going to happen.”
“Not going to rescue you if you break something.”
“I don’t need…”
“Right, sure.” Frank was… folding up his rifle stand? “I’ll drive you home, yeah? Our mark’s not going to show anyway.”
“You don’t know that. And Koehn’s my mark, not ours. I’m staying.”
“It’s 3 am. He’s not.”
“You’re wrong –”
“3:08 am”, Frank's phone said.
“Told you so.”
“I don’t screw around, Red.”
That particular word made him snap. Matt launched himself at Frank, fists up and chin down, but he stumbled over a dislodged brick right into Frank's chest. Which shook with laughter.
“That eager, eh?”
“I will fucking end you. I will make you eat your teeth; I’ll…”
Frank swiped Matt’s legs from under him and lifted him in a fireman’s carry. “You’re all bark and no bite, Murdock.”
The rush of blood into his feet made him clamp down on a groan, and Matt submitted to the indignity of being carried until they reached the roof access door. He was going to catch the door jamb, wrap his thighs around Frank’s neck, wrestle him to the ground, and –
“Don’t even think about it.”
“Think about what?”
Frank sighed. “I’ll let you down if you let me drive you home. You can barely walk; just admit it.”
“Jesus Christ.” Frank tightened his hold on Matt’s legs and arms, and started to go down the stairs.
“Don’t take the name of the Lord in vain.”
“That’s rich, coming from a potty mouth like you.”
Matt did everything he could to make Frank let go of him, but it turned out that the Punisher was just as stubborn as the Devil himself.
Still, he crossed his arms and refused to say anything to Frank during the whole drive to his apartment (and tried not to think about the fact Frank didn’t have to ask where he lived). One had to have principles.
A click; Frank had flipped a light switch. “What happened here?”
Why had he followed Matt up? “Nothing.”
“Doesn't look like nothing. It’s like someone tried to assemble a… table, and decided to destroy it instead.”
Matt ignored Frank’s question, Frank’s amusement, Frank's casual walk through his apartment, Frank’s general Frankness.
“You can take your stupid mask off, Murdock. Toldya, I already know who you are.”
Annoyed, Matt kept the mask on and sat on one of the wooden chairs to take his boots off. His feet were throbbing, and he hoped freeing them from the tight leather might help.
“Damn, what did you do, walk on…” Frank whistled. “You actually walked on nails.”
Matt threw one boot at Frank; he heard it connect with Frank’s palm and be dropped near the wall.
“Your socks are all bloody, Red. Taking them off is going to suck.”
Yeah, Matt was already dreading it. He could feel and smell the drying blood, and he knew he’d have to tear them off his skin. Fuck. He really didn’t need an audience for that. He slipped a finger between skin and fabric, started to roll it down, took a deep breath – and felt hands close over his ankle.
“Don’t be more of an idiot than you already are.”
“Shut up; don’t move.”
Matt, of course, tried to stand up; Frank shoved him back down on the chair.
“You’re going to hurt yourself more.”
“I don’t care! I didn’t ask you to come here and I don’t need your help!”
“Not everything is about you, Red.”
That, in fact, did shut him up. What did it mean? As he was mulling over this question, he could hear Frank go into the bathroom, fill something in the sink, then come back with… a bucket, heavy with water.
“Stick your feet in there.”
He didn’t want to.
“It’ll loosen up the blood and wool from your skin. Won’t hurt as much.”
“Pain is nothing.”
“Sure.” Frank grabbed Matt’s ankles and stuck his feet in the warm water. “Are you always this difficult?”
“What are you doing? Why are you doing this? What’s your play, Frank? What do you want?”
“Didn’t want to have to peel you off from whatever street you were about to fall and splatter on.”
“I wouldn't have fallen.”
“You can barely walk.”
“Why would you care anyway?”
Frank shrugged. “You’ve got your uses. Decent backup.”
Fuck you, Matt thought. “Oh wow, I feel truly appreciated.”
“So do I, when you’re being a little shit.” Okay, so Frank shared his sentiment.
Frank’s hands were tight around his ankles, as if he thought Matt would take the first opportunity to escape. Which… wasn’t wrong, but neither was the fact he could barely walk. He wouldn't go far, and there was the mine… the nail field.
After a while, Frank’s hands went away. “Water’s all red now. Tell me if it hurts.” He started to roll one sock down, surprisingly gently; he kept the heel in his cupped palm and gently peeled the wool away from the still-open cuts on Matt’s sole. The sock made a wet, slapping noise when it fell on the floor, and Frank moved on to the other foot. It didn't feel cold or impersonal, like the care he’d get at a hospital; it wasn’t like Claire’s well-trained gentleness or Maggie’s stilted, although efficient, first aid, either.
Matt’s eyes filled with tears all of a sudden, and he had to take his mask off to wipe his cheeks. It was too much. The whole thing reminded him of his dad, sometimes awkward but always full of affection. It reminded him of Jack Murdock, learning how to guide his newly blind son around and being as lost as Matt; of skinned knees and ruffled hair. It reminded him that Frank had been a father, too.
“You alright, Red?” he asked softly.
“Yeah.” Shit, his voice was rough.
Frank squeezed his heel before releasing his foot altogether; the second sock joined the first. “There’s a folding stool in your shower, want me to get you there?”
I don’t need your help. I can manage on my own. I can take it up from here. “Please,” Matt said instead of everything else he’d considered.
Frank helped him out of the bathroom, checked his feet again, put a few stitches on one of the cuts and smeared antiseptic cream on the wounds before bandaging them. Matt slid on his most shapeless pair of socks and lay back on his bed, feeling adrift. Lost. He could hear Frank puttering outside in the main room, from the sounds of it he was gathering things and maybe sweeping. He left after a while, and Matt breathed out.
Things were back to normal.
He was alone.
He didn't need anyone.
Then his front door opened again and Frank was back, his feet lighter than when he’d left.
“Frank? Did you forget something?”
“Good little altar boys should be sleeping by now.”
“I’m not a good little altar boy!”
“Hm.” The sliding door creaked when Frank leaned against its frame. “I took the broken stuff down to my van and brought up some clean clothes. Where do you keep your towels, Red?”
Matt was speechless for a moment before managing, “What… why?”
“I’ll assemble that thing for you in the morning, but right now it’s almost five and I’m going to get some shuteye.”
That didn’t answer any of the questions floating in Matt’s brain. “Under the sink,” he finally said. There, coherent.
Frank slid the door closed and Matt wondered what the hell was going on until exhaustion finally took over.
He woke up to the smell of… pancakes? Were those pancakes? Matt rubbed his face, feeling how bristly his face was, and pushed himself up; the previous night rushed back into his memory. Frank? Pancakes?? He set his feet down on the floor and agony shot up his legs; he couldn't help the cut-off groan that escaped his lips.
“I got some Ibuprofen,” Frank said from the doorway.
Frank smelled like Matt’s soap and shampoo, and it was both familiar and disturbing. “Need a hand?”
Frank went back to his frying pan and Matt hobbled to the bathroom, then the kitchen.
“Chair’s to your ten o’clock.”
“Ibuprofen’s next to the coffee.”
Matt frowned and sat down; he felt confused and angry and, ironically enough, like he’d missed a step. He was only a few feet away from Frank but it felt like this was a Frank he’d never met, a Frank he knew must have existed years ago but had surely died along with his family. And now, the Punisher himself was putting a plateful of pancakes in front of him, telling him to eat up and that he'd check Matt’s feet after breakfast.
“Who are you?” Matt blurted out.
“Did you hit your head?” Frank’s fork grated against ceramic.
“But I don’t…”
“Just eat the damn pancakes, Red.”
Matt felt too discombobulated to say anything else, so he finally picked up his own fork and ate the damn pancakes. He had no idea where Frank had found the eggs or the flour or the syrup, but he was also hungry enough that for now, he didn’t care.
“Your feet don’t look too bad,” Frank said. His hand was warm on Matt’s ankle, the fingers gently prodding the sensitive skin of his sole. “Just stay off them as much as you can.”
“I have court on Monday.”
“Then you got the weekend to stay put and let those heal.”
“What about Koehn?”
“I’ll deal with him tonight.”
A pause. Matt felt his lips twitch, heard Frank’s sharp intake of air, and then they both started snickering.
“I’ll incapacitate him; that okay with you, altar boy?” Frank finally said when their snickers died down.
Matt put his socks back on and sighed. “Fine.” Just that one time. Because, however much he wanted to, he’d be in no shape to go out as Daredevil for the next few days, and Koehn had to be stopped.
That settled, Frank sat on the floor and in about ten minutes had assembled the table, not leaving a single screw unaccounted for.
“There, now you can walk around here without stabbing yourself in the foot.”
Matt was trying very hard to feel grateful, but the main thing he was feeling right now was anger. Frustration. “I was going to do it myself.”
“No, you weren’t. Not without help.”
“I’d have managed!”
“You can’t read the instructions, you can’t see the drawings, and you probably have never done this before.”
“It’s just a table! A board, four legs! How hard can it be? I’m not stupid!”
“No one said you were. Why didn't you ask Nelson to give you a hand?”
“I don’t need anyone. You didn't.”
“It’s not my first table, and I got working eyes.” Frank shook a piece of paper in front of Matt’s face. “Can read this.”
Matt bit his lip; he didn't want to lose it. He wasn’t a cripple. He didn’t want pity; he didn't want people to look down on him and just see the cane. The glasses. He didn't even need the cane; Stick had trained him well with the basics and he’d worked from there. He didn’t need help all the time; no, he never needed help. “What’s next, forcing me to get a guide dog?”
“Uh.” Frank sounded surprised. “Who said anything about a dog?”
No one. Everyone. “Never mind.”
The air shifted a little as Frank shrugged; they were close enough Matt could feel it. “I can fix your shower, if you want.”
“My shower’s fine.”
“Some parts are almost rusted through; it’s going to fall apart soon. Saw a hardware store round the corner this morning; I can get what I need there.”
“You were conked out til 10. Had some time to go round the block." Oh. Must have been when he’d picked up some groceries, too.
But Matt’s confusion was still growing. “Frank, really. Why?” He waved his hand in a circle: the kitchen, the table, the bathroom. Why?
Another shrug. “Why not, I guess.”
“That's not a reason.”
“Do I need a reason?”
Yes, he did! Matt wanted to kick Frank, sitting there on the floor all casual, with his back against the table he'd just assembled faster than Matt could go down the stairs today. Days after getting the package delivered, all he’d managed had been to scatter all the pieces everywhere and take his rage out on what he'd hoped were the remains of the old table, before hurting himself so badly and stupidly he couldn't walk to his bathroom without feeling like his feet were on fire.
He’d been an idiot, thinking he could deal with a damn table all by himself, thinking he could do things like a regular guy having a regular life with regular problems. But no, getting new furniture had to turn into yet another challenge, yet another ordeal, because nothing could ever be easy in his life, of course not. He could feel his heart rate go up, his face flushing; rage was mounting in him and he couldn't – didn’t want to – stop it. The fury was spreading in his every limb, in every nook and cranny of his cells.
He wanted to fight.
Frank was right here, smug and undefeated by furniture; he was too nice and helpful and too fucking considerate, and Matt snapped.
He threw the first punch.
“You’re an idiot,” Frank said.
“Let me go.”
Matt snarled and struggled some more. Frank was pinning him down on the couch, and between its give and his throbbing feet Matt couldn't find the right purchase to throw him off. Well, if he really wanted to he could, but it would be at the expense of his healing wounds and he wanted to be back in the streets as soon as possible; he didn’t want to push it back. Not because of Frank, anyway. He wasn’t one of those he went after in the night.
He sighed in frustration and tried one last twist, but Frank wasn’t having any of it. He was heavy, his body hard and unyielding; Matt could hear how Frank’s heartbeat had barely accelerated and was already slowing down again to its resting pace. Matt’s was still fast, the adrenaline pumping through him; he was taking quick breaths and Frank’s smell was filling his nose. Coffee, dog hair, leather, gunpowder, those were usual. Those were Frank; they lingered on his skin, in his clothes. But now, they were mixing with Matt’s own soap and shampoo, and it was… new. disconcerting. troubling. He opened his mouth a little so he could smell better, let all the Frank molecules float past his lips, land on his tongue.
“You alright there, Murdock?”
Matt’s teeth clicked when he closed his mouth. “Sure.”
Frank grunted, and finally lifted himself off of Matt’s body. And Matt felt naked suddenly, naked and cold and light, too light. Unanchored. He sat up and pushed those feelings away; he didn’t know what to do with them and they were pointless anyway.
“I’ll take the trash down. Don’t take your pissy mood out on that table I just put together for you.”
Matt stayed cross-legged on the couch, keeping out of the way and listening to Frank moving around and gathering cardboard and that weird foam and plastic wraps and what sounded like one last wooden board from his old coffee table. When Frank started to make trips down to wherever he was taking all of that Matt finally got up and took his laptop, earbuds, and a thick folder from his messenger bag, and settled to prepare for court on Monday.
Frank was still there in the evening. He’d cleared the area around the new table, fixed the shower, spent some time making noises around the roof access door (it didn’t squeak or scrape after he was done, which was a definite plus), changed the light bulbs that didn’t work anymore.
“Some folks come here that need them, Red,” he’d said when Matt asked why.
Well. Why not.
But then Frank hadn’t left, and Matt didn’t know what to make of that.
“Don’t you have your own place?”
“It’s a shithole; only good thing about it is the neighbor’s dog. And yours is closer to where I’m going tonight.”
“You’re not going to kill him, right?” Koehn’s victims deserved justice, not revenge by proxy via the Punisher.
“Said I wouldn’t, Red; quit your nagging.”
Fine. Matt wasn’t nagging, but fine. He could trust Frank, he was a man of his word, right? He’d trust him, and he would hope Frank would come back safe.
Or not come back. He didn’t live here anyway. He didn’t have to come back. In fact he wouldn’t; why would he?
Even if he hadn’t been blind, Matt wouldn’t have looked back when Frank left. Nope. (He listened, but that was completely different. And better. But different.)
Frank, of course, didn’t come back. And Matt – Matt wasn’t waiting up; he was busy. He had things to do. He did stretches, and some yoga, and studied a new case they’d taken on Thursday, and then it was 3 am and the apartment felt a bit empty. A bit cold. But that was normal; it was late October and it had rained most of the day, a white noise that had helped center him as he was exercising and working.
And Frank was out there, probably wet and cold, waiting for Koehn to show and maybe with his Thermos empty by now. Or maybe he was fine, maybe he was back to his shithole place; there was no way to know. Eh, Frank was a real fighter, right? Nothing brought him down. But many people tried to get him down, and it only needed to be that one time, that one second of bad luck for it to be over.
Matt took his night gear out and suited up, hissing as he tightened the laces of his boots and took a few experimental steps. This was nothing; the real test would come once he stepped out and made his way to where Frank had to be. Had been. Still was? Might have been.
He took a deep breath, climbed up the stairs, got on the roof. Took another deep breath.
The real test was, it turned out, excruciating.
Every landing made him want to scream, but this way – jumping on the next rooftop, the next fire escape – was faster; he didn’t want to walk the streets with his mask on. It didn’t take him long to get to where they’d been the night before, waiting for a mark that never showed, but it was long enough he could tell he’d busted open the stitches Frank had made and that he’d bled through all the wrappings he’d used.
And Frank was there, calm as you please, folding up his rifle and packing it in its case.
“The fuck, Red? Come to check I hadn’t gone back on my word?”
“I,” Matt said. He was panting; speaking was hard, that was all.
The case clicked closed and Frank stood up. “He’s down; cops are there and taking him into custody. Trip to the hospital first, but he’ll live. Cool your heels.”
“Uh, yeah, I’m cool.” (He didn’t feel cool.) “Good. That’s good.” Frank kept quiet, so Matt pushed on. “You’re… alright?”
“Good. Good, good. Yes. I’ll, huh.” Lie down and elevate his feet and not leave that roof for three days. Maybe let the birds eat him.
“What’s got into you now, uh? I bet you’ve fucked up your feet again, yeah?”
“No, I… yeah.”
Matt made a strangled noise when Frank shoved the rifle case into his chest, but he slung it over his shoulder and let Frank carry him piggy-back down to his old, beat-up van. Again.
Frank had a really strong core to do that without too much apparent effort, and Matt did not stick his nose in the dip between jaw and jacket. Where else was his nose supposed to go anyway? The Frank scent was stronger than earlier; he’d worn his leather jacket tonight and maybe sweated a bit, and the superficial smell of Matt’s own soap had faded by now. It was all Frank now, except…
“Did you get hurt?”
“Uh?” Frank let him slide down his back next to the passenger door. “Need help getting in?”
Matt almost said yes, but his pride won out. “I’m good.” He couldn’t decently say fine, not after hitching a ride on Frank’s back, but still. “You smell like blood, a bit.”
“Got into a fight on my way here. Got a cut on my scalp.” Frank walked around the van and climbed into the driver’s seat.
“It’s nothing.” The engine started. “You should see the other guys,” he added, and Matt could hear the smirk in Frank’s voice.
“Hey, don’t be ableist. I’m really blind, you know.” Matt’s lips twitched, but he clamped down on them.
“Asshole,” Frank replied mildly.
“Did you kill them?”
“Wouldn't you like to know, uh?” He took a turn and merged into what felt like a bigger road. “Don’t think we’ll ever see eye to eye on how efficient killing is, right?”
Matt huffed and slapped Frank’s arm with the back of his hand, and Frank snickered. “I hate you.”
“Sure,” Frank replied. He was accommodating, tonight. Mellow. It mellowed Matt in turn. “They’re alive,” Frank added.
The rest of the drive was comfortably quiet.
After resting a bit in the van, Matt insisted on climbing the stairs under his own power; his feet hurt more for it but his ego, less. Choices, right? Life was about choices. He started work on his bootlaces while Frank got his first aid kit out and set it on the table he’d assembled earlier, and before Frank decided to go all mother hen on him again Matt grabbed his arm and pulled him down to sit next to him on the couch.
“Let me check that cut,” he said.
“It’s fine.” Matt saw absolutely no irony in Frank’s use of the term.
“I want to.” Frank was hesitating; he could feel it. There, time for the magic word: “Please.”
Frank sighed, but finally leaned back against the couch. “Knock yourself out,” he said. “Not literally.”
“I resent that remark.” Matt was grinning as he left the couch and took a few ginger steps to the kitchen where he washed his hands thoroughly, then hobbled back to Frank. He felt around the wound; it wasn’t too warm or swollen. Some disinfectant, a few stitches, and it would be fine. Frank’s hair was nearly shorn, maybe a bit longer on top but not by much. The stitches would show, but they’d be easier to do too. Matt would make quick work of those. “Have you ever grown out your hair?”
Matt felt Frank smile under the hand he was using to hold the skin in place. “Sort of.”
“Stopped shaving for a while, after… after. When I thought I was done.”
“Didn’t like it?”
“Woman called me a hipster.” That, from Frank's tone, had been a terrible insult to his dignity.
“Aw.” Dab, thread, knot, snip. It had been a long time since he’d last done stitches on someone else. Elektra, probably. “There, all done.” Matt dropped the scissors into the kit and then… and then, he found he didn’t want to leave Frank’s side. He could feel the warm blood pulsing under his skin, bask in the purely Frank smell that surrounded him.
“Thanks,” Frank said after a long silence. He didn’t move either. “Why did you come?”
Matt turned his head a little, angled it just right so he could hear the air coming in and out of Frank’s lungs, every bronchiole and every alveolus. It went through his nose, touched the back of his tongue, his throat, his trachea. Filled his chest, warmed up, went back out, a little damper, a little warmer.
“Why did you come? Tonight.”
Matt shrugged, and kept following the flow of air in Frank’s body. In, out. Slow, regular, like his heartbeat.
“I didn’t need help.”
Frank pushed the air out through his nose with more force; a bit annoyed. Not a lot. “I’m going to look at your feet.”
As long as Frank kept close so that he could still feel how astoundingly alive Frank was, Matt didn’t care. The workings of a body were amazing, Matt thought. He’d briefly imagined becoming a doctor when he’d been very young, but after the accident – after he became blind – he’d kept away from hospitals. Too many memories, and too much input from all the bodies around him. But one body, just one, that was strong and unstoppable and unmovable, all at the same time… Nothing stopped Frank Castle, unless he decided to stop. His hands were large enough to hold his ankle firmly, and Matt imagined he could sense every little scar and cut and wrinkle, down to the fingerprints. He felt branded, contained. All of him was in his ankle, and his ankle was held by Frank.
For the first time since his dad died, Matt didn’t have to pretend to be strong and unbreakable – not that it had ever worked, but… that was what people expected of him, right? The blind kid who made it and became a lawyer; the masked vigilante who’ll stop anyone trying to hurt his beloved Hell’s Kitchen. A few knew how fragile he was sometimes, but he still felt guilty about not living up to expectations. But Frank? Frank didn’t expect anything. Frank was just there, for his own unfathomable reasons. Annoyed, patient, angry, quiet, violent, helpful, lethal, gentle… and there.
“Tell me I’m reading you wrong,” Frank said, and Matt was suddenly aware of the hand slowly going up his calf.
“No,” Matt breathed out. You’re not; please don’t stop, he meant.
Frank stopped. “Tell me you want it. I don’t do this, Red; I don’t read between the lines.” The hand had stopped, but it was still on Matt’s calf, stuck between Matt’s pushed-up pants and his skin. “Speak plain.”
“Don’t stop.” He briefly thought of Jesus. Do unto others, right? Matt hadn’t been raised by wolves; he only occasionally chose to act like one. Now wasn’t one of those occasions. “Please,” he added politely, like the altar boy Frank said he was.
“Christ,” and Frank sounded both so exasperated and turned on it made Matt giddy, like little happy bubbles were popping in his brain.
He forgot the bubbles when Frank’s mouth (and his lips and his tongue and the air that flowed in and out, in and out) was on his and it was revealed that the Punisher was, in fact, really good at kissing. (And that Matt really wasn’t such an altar boy.)
Frank was heavy; Matt could feel how their combined weight pushed him down into the sofa cushions. He didn’t want to move, though, not when Frank’s warm breath was tickling his neck and curling around his throat. Matt’s hand was idly drawing patterns on Frank’s back, sometimes falling on a scar and mapping it out. Frank had a lot of scars, but none of them had managed to take him down. Not even a bullet to the head had. One had been enough for Matt’s dad, who’d always felt so invincible to his childhood self, but Frank… well, his day would come, too, in a day or a week or a decade. Probably in blood and violence as well. But for now he was alive, scarred and heavy and breathing.
“Stop thinking, Red.” The words were muffled against Matt’s shoulder.
“Haven’t tired you out enough, eh?”
Matt grinned. “Nope, but you’re welcome to try again.”
Frank, after all, loved a good challenge.
A week later Frank was still very much alive, and somehow still finding things to fix in Matt’s apartment.
Two weeks later, Matt had fully made his peace with nailings and screwings, as long as Frank was involved in those.
A month later Frank stopped pretending he was ever going to leave, even when they had one of their epic fights.
A year later, Foggy offered them coffee mugs with He and Him embossed in Braille. A belated housewarming gift, he called them. A ‘Sorry it took me a year to get over you and Castle’ gift, according to Frank.
Matt didn’t care; he loved them. He loved them even more than the FJÄLLBO, and that was saying something. But his favorite piece of furniture was no furniture at all, although it could serve as the perfect body pillow, or maybe the ideal couch that molded just right around his body: it wasn’t new, it was temperamental, and it was as stubborn as Matt himself, but it had a patina that new things could never hope to get. Some edges were rough and some worn down by time; sometimes it was the most uncomfortable thing ever and sometimes Matt couldn't imagine being without.
So, you know what? Sure, furniture that smelled brand new was all fine and good, even if it came in too many pointy parts. Sure, maybe sometimes one needed a hand to assemble it. But out of what he got from the whole affair, what Matt valued the most was one slightly worn, solid guy whose rough edges somehow fit Matt’s.