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Frank Castle, well, he’s a fucked up ruin of a human being. Pain will do that to you. Festering rotten under his skin. He’s done things he’s not proud of, and he’s going to carry on the same way. The memory of three sentinel gravestones scratching behind his eyes as he carves out his place in the world, a scowl and a body decked out in scars. It’s not nice, but the world, this world he’s doing his best in, is a laughable shit-show, and he never expects it to be anything less these days.

He’s not a good man, and he’ll readily admit that. Only if anyone can get close enough to ask. He doesn’t lose sleep over the blood on his hands, and his conscience, if it ever had the balls to cough and grab his attention, remains silent as the dead.

Except right now, when it won’t do him the courtesy of shutting its fucking trap.

He doesn’t harm civilians, not if they’re innocent. He’s always tried to keep to that. Even if this pencil-pusher is really trying his patience, and this would definitely be over quicker if Frank just broke his legs and carried on doing what he’s here for.

“Back the fuck away, little man,” he growls.

He takes a step forward, and the man takes an unsteady step back. Sweating like a pig, a sheen across his forehead, shaking like he’s trapped all his fear inside and stuffed it into his skin suit of a body. He adjusts his grip on the softball bat he’s got, perspiration making his hold slick and not tight enough. He swallows visibly, posture half-cringing, wincing even though Frank’s not laid a finger on him yet.

He still doesn’t fucking move, and Frank, he’s never been good at repeating himself.

“I’m not going to ask again,” he says. The man shivers, although the weather’s comfortably cool even after the recent rain, and looks like he’s about to piss himself when Frank brings up his gun to lazily aim behind him. He still moves to block Frank’s target, shuffling further back. Christ, it’s pathetic.

Behind him, the figure in red breathes out rasping. Should really be halfway to the hospital already, what with the beating Frank gave him. Mind you, Frank wants to save the ambulance drivers the trouble and skip straight to sending the guy to the mortuary.

He’s planned this for weeks. How to bring down Daredevil. Researched every scrap of reports about his powers or whatever the fuck mutie shit they are. How to overwhelm them. How to beat them. He doesn’t know who he is, but he knows how to drown the Devil in sound so he won’t be so scrappy when Frank breaks his ribs,  won’t be able to focus properly to fight him off before  Frank puts a knife in his side.

Only now he’s sick of this game and wants his knife back, has enough bullets in his gun to make sure Daredevil goes cold into the ground, and this shit-scared ambulance chaser is beginning to try his non-existent patience.

“Leave him be, yeah?” His current pain-in-the-ass says. His voice wobbly, like he’s about to turn on the waterworks because he’s seen a bit of blood. Boo-fucking-hoo. If the Devil’s not bleeding, Frank’s clearly not been doing his job properly. “You’ve done enough, made your point, just… let him alone, please.”

Far bigger and more threatening men than Mr Nelson have begged for the Punisher not to kill them. Frank wasn’t much good at listening to them either.

Frank’s got no problem with Nelson, personally.  Keeps his nose clean, the sort of scrappy little-guy mentality of a yappy dog gnawing at something much bigger than it. Murdock’s the same. Idiot local kids, thinking they can change this shit-stain of a world, causing a scene and pissing the big guns off and probably making very little difference at all.

But now Nelson’s standing here, with the fucking cheek to be defending Daredevil. After all his talk about the law, about what’s right, and he’s on the side of those costumed fuckers.  His body comfortable in a worn shirt and suit, his hands calloused by handyman jobs, not the recoil of weapons. He’s not made for fighting, not made for war, and of course, now is the time he thought he might learn to man up and grow some balls.

“I’ll have done enough when that red bastard’s got a hole the size of a dime punched into his forehead,” Frank says, and surges forward.

Nelson makes a frightened yelping noise, startled as Frank fists his hand into the man’s shirt and yanks him around to smash his back painfully into the alley wall off to the left. He brings up his knee and Nelson’s breath catches, winded as it slams into the soft flesh of his stomach. Frank thinks – that should do it. Get the stupid bastard with no self-preservation skills out of action so Frank doesn’t have to hurt him anymore than he has to, and  then he can finally do what he came to and deal with ol’ Hornhead.

Nelson clearly didn’t get the message.

He pushes out weakly with his free hand, and tugs Frank down as his knees buckle and he drops down onto his ass. It doesn’t pull him down as well, but Frank’s balance is skewed off-kilter, and it’s enough for when Nelson brings the bat around and cracks it against his side, before bringing his legs back to kick out. Enough to shove Frank backwards, and then he’s scrambling up, using the bat to stand. Frank grabs the bat and pulls it away, and Nelson gives up his grip easily. Scrabbling to move right back to where he was standing before. Knees damp and scuffed, dirt scratched across his rumpled suit, hands shaking into half-formed fists.

The whole thing is sloppy. Nelson wouldn’t last five minutes in the army, and he sure as fuck isn’t going to last more than five minutes once Frank’s dealt with him.

Frank’s body knows what war feels like. He’s a breathing sack of ribs and blood these days, knot-eyed veins keeping his anger twisted inside him, good only for vengeance. He’s been fucked up and fucked over more times than he likes to think about, and he’s got enough skin left for a few  more battle scars before the end.

Nelson’s got no chance, and they both know it. He’s moved back in front of Daredevil,  even though they both know that he couldn’t possibly stop the bigger man from snapping the red-suited little bastard’s neck. And Nelson looks like he’s about to keel over from a heart attack, lips tight and face blanched white with fear, no weapon but his own body positioned right in front of the Devil  and the whole image would be fucking tragic if it wasn’t so funny. Life, Frank’s found out, especially the parts filled with shit and shadow, is one big fucking joke sometimes.

A scared lawyer who’s never thrown a punch in his life tries to protect a morally ambiguous vigilante from a morally fucked self-imposed executioner. There is no universe where he’ll win this. Ha fucking ha.

“I don’t want to hurt you, Nelson,” he says, throwing the bat off to the side with a clattering bang and going for his gun,  instead of doing the sensible thing and just tossing the attorney  aside like a ragdoll. Man’s got principles, even if he doesn’t have the guts or brains to go with them. “But I’m going to kill that sonofabitch, and you’re in my way.”

“You don’t need to kill him,” Nelson says, his voice desperate. “He hasn’t done anything to you…”

“He’s part of the same bunch of assholes that got my family killed,” Frank snarls. “A superhero fight in Central Park, and my wife and kids were just collateral damage. You know how many of those suits I’ve killed as payback, don’t you? How many more I’m going to. You really think you can stop me?”

“…No.”

“Then move. ”

“No,” Nelson whispers. Half-choked and terrified.

He’s got bags under his eyes like he’s not been sleeping. Like when he does, the bogeyman comes knocking to give him bad dreams. Frank wonders if this is what happens in his dreams. Vengeance catches up with the Devil and he dies bleeding out an alley like a put-down dog. Nelson should know that’s the only way this ends by now.

“Go home to your family, Nelson,” he says. Family means something, as much as it means anything these days. “There isn’t anything for you here.”

Nelson swallows like he’s about to cry.

“There’s everything for me here,” he replies. He shifts further back, trying to block the Devil from Frank’s view. “There’s always someone behind the mask, Frank. You’d know if you stopped before you blew their brains out. They’ve all got family too. People they come home to. People who love them. Just, stop and think about that, if family is so important.”

“Of course it’s important,” Frank bites out, taking a step closer. Stung at the implication, because he doesn’t need to take this bullshit from some lawyer running his mouth off, not when Frank’s got all the words he needs walled up inside his own head. “It’s the whole reason I’m doing this.”

“Is it?” Nelson asks. “When was the last time you thought of yours, Frank? Or is it just the anger, the grief you remember? That you’ve got left?”

Nelson doesn’t cry out when Frank smashes the first fist across his face, but he does on the second. Frank lands more than one without thinking, hearing only the roar in his ears because how fucking dare this little shit lecture him about family, question his motives when everything, everything, he’s done has been about them. About getting revenge, about trying to forget that they’re dead, and out there is a whole community of costumed bastards that are to blame.

“I’d do anything for my family,” he hisses. “Anything.”

Nelson’s dropped to his knees, head lowered and looking woozy and beat. It would be so pitifully easy to kill him. Frank uses his gun to pull Nelson’s head up, rest the barrel at the centre of his forehead.

He’s not going to kill him. Nelson’s not a criminal. Not a vigilante. Just a stupid lawyer, out of his depth. Frank just wants to scare him with the gun, and it works because he hears Nelson’s breath hitch sharp in his throat.

He half wants Nelson to babble promises that he’ll leave if Frank won’t shoot him. Least that way, Frank wouldn’t feel so bad about knocking the guy out before popping his friend full of bullets.

Nelson doesn’t. Instead, he moves gingerly. Blood trailing down his face from the gashed skin over his eye. A bloody lip that’ll swell something fierce. His eyes wet and his lip shaking and his gaze unyielding as he stares up at Frank.

“And I’d do anything for mine,” he says.

It’s not the tone of voice that convinces him, brutally honest despite the way it breaks in the middle. The frankly noble but useless display of loyalty, his refusal to just save himself the hurt and move aside. No, what gets to Frank is the flash of fear in his eyes, brighter than the terror of a bullet in his brain, when Daredevil takes in a gurgling breath too thick with blood. The way he angles his head to look at whoever the hell the man in the suit is to him, the man he calls family even knowing what he does, a gutted expression on his face like he’s watching his whole fucking world fall apart.

Frank remembers that look. He remembers what the world falling apart felt like.

He feels tired all of a sudden. Tired of a lot of things.

He lowers his gun.

“Get him to the hospital,” he says. “Tell him if I see him again, I’ll kill him. Today counts as his last warning.”

Nelson looks too wiped to even respond beyond a nod, but Frank know he’s heard him from the shocked look of mistrust that flickers across his face. It doesn’t bother him; he’s never wanted anyone’s trust and he doesn’t need it now.

He pulls another knife out from one of his many pockets and Nelson starts and looks like he’s thinking of doing something incredibly stupid before he realises that Frank’s holding it out to him carefully, handle end first.

 “You’re going to need to cut him out of that poncey suit,” he says, sliding his gun back into its holster. “Don’t know who your boy is, but no-one’s going to believe he’s not Daredevil if he shows up in ER in his fancy dress.”

“Y-yeah. Sure,” Nelson says, and once he takes the knife, clutches onto it far too tightly. Like he’s readying himself in case Frank changes his mind.

“See you around, Nelson,” Frank says instead, and makes a show of slowly and deliberately  walking away.

Frank’s half-strode out of the alley when he hears Nelson put in a frantic call to the emergency services. He strays for a little longer, curiosity making him turn back and watch. Nelson’s not paying attention to him at any rate, ending the call and  scrambling over to Daredevil.

“I’m here,” he’s saying, panicked but trying his best to sound reassuring. Hands fluttering over wounds, anxiously flitting over the knife still jutting out of him before he moves to ready his own.  “Don’t worry, the ambulance is going to be here soon, ok? You’re going to be alright.”

A hoarse intake of breath. Daredevil’s hands feel around for Nelson’s arm.

“F-foggy?” He sounds broken. Less like a superhero, and more like a man caught on the wrong side of Frank’s war. “Fog, w-w-what are you…?”

“Shh,” Nelson says. “Stay still ok, while I cut you out of your suit. Thank Christ this thing’s got an underlayer. We’ll tell the EMT’s you were out parkouring in your yoga gear kay?” Daredevil makes a wailing sound in his throat, shifting his body without thinking and clearly jostling something shattered. Nelson sounds distraught listening to it. “I’m sorry, I know it hurts, buddy, I know. It’s gonna be alright, just hold on and stay with me.  I’ve got you Matty. I’m not leaving you, ok. I promise.  I’m not going anywhere.”

Matty.

It shouldn’t surprise Frank that Nelson’s law partner is Daredevil, but it does.

Matthew Murdock. Blind, and doesn’t that make all of his flipping around and ninja shit some neat party trick. The good little Catholic boy who still defends Frank as his attorney every time the law catches up with him. Who tells him sadly, again and again, like he’s his priest and not his lawyer, that there’s more to vengeance, more than the hate that tears him up inside. Who still believes, naively, that under all the blood and shit Frank Castle could be a good man.

Frank knows where Matt lives. The people he loves, where he works. He’d never considered that Daredevil might have a family that cared about him. People who’d fight for him, who’d mourn.

Coming back and destroying him would be as easy as breaking bones. He’d even be able to tell himself that Matt deserved it.

Frank waits half a block from the alley until he hears the sound of ambulance sirens, and then leaves all the same. He won’t be coming back.