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The coughing spell lasted for a long time and ended with a groan, some spitting, and then retching. Didn’t sound like whoever it was had anything left to throw up, though. It wasn’t the first time he’d heard that cough in the past few weeks, and Frank wondered who could be stupid enough to wander rooftops at night while they should be having chicken broth in bed, but hey. He wasn’t anyone’s father. Not anymore.

He pulled his guns out of their holsters, stepped into the boarded-up shop, and sighed.

“You.” Of course.

Red was bent over, hands on his knees, still trying to catch his breath. “Don’t kill them,” he finally managed in between gasps. Them being the four small-time robbers Frank had come to pump full of bullets, but of course altar boy had got to them first. They were lying on the dusty floor, in various stages of consciousness but all tied up securely.

“That’s what I came for.”

Frank.” Red knelt to search one of the trussed-up guys’ pockets, and came up with a phone. “Just…” A wheeze. “Call the police, and let’s call it a day.”

You call them.” Still, he put his weapons away. He wasn’t about to shoot prisoners, whatever altar boy here believed of him.

“Please?”

Shit. Frank snatched the phone and made the call, trying to ignore the little smile on Red’s lips. Not that there was anything else that showed under that black mask. Once he was done, he dropped the phone and stepped on it. “Happy?”

There was a snicker from the floor. “You married?”

Frank kicked the wannabe burglar in the teeth.

“Let’s go, Red.”

“Aw, you taking me to some fancy dinner?”

“Shut up.” Frank left the shop and could tell Red was right behind him. “Not taking to the roofs?” No answer. He turned around just in time to get an armful of idiot.

“Let go of me,” the idiot mumbled.

“Hey, who fell on me?”

Red pushed against Frank’s chest and took a step back. “Tripped on something.”

“Uh huh. Didn’t see it?”

“Ha ha, funny.”

Frank sighed. “You shouldn’t be out and about. Not when you’re sick. You’re TKO’ed, Red.”

“I’m fine.” Sure. Bit unsteady on his feet, though. “Night, F…” And the coughing started again.

“Right.” Frank crossed his arms and waited as Red hacked up a lung or two, wheezed, spat, and retched; it was the whole shebang again. He slid down the wall behind him when he was done, head resting on his knees. “I’m parked a block away,” Frank said. “Drive you home?”

“Fuck you.”

“Not with that attitude you won’t.”

Red tried to resist, but Frank had experience dealing with pouty, stubborn, sick children. He hauled him up, half-dragged him to the van, and ignored every mumble and grumble until he’d thrown him in the passenger seat. “You kidnapping me?”

“Sure, if that makes you feel better. Take off that mask, I’m not driving you around with it.”

“No.” It was jarring to see him act like the blind man he was while in that get up, patting the door to try and find the handle.

Frank caught his wrist. “Murdock.” Red froze. “Stop it. I’m driving you home, and you don’t want to be seen going home with that mask on.”

“You don't know where I live.”

“Please.” As if he wouldn’t know where Red lived. Frank was meticulous, he kept tabs on the people who operated in New York. The mask finally went away after a moment. “Wasn’t that hard, was it?” There wasn’t any answer, of course. Just a steady glower from the passenger seat.

The drive was quick enough at this hour, and he managed to park half a block away. Murdock was blinking at nothing when Frank opened the passenger door. He looked exhausted, his skin gray and his eyes bloodshot. The yellow light from the street lamp right above them didn’t do him any favors. He made little birdlike movements with his head before getting out of the van and missing the last step. Frank caught his arms and steadied him.

“Fuck, sorry.” Murdock's hands were shaking slightly, but he drew himself straight and nodded, his empty gaze aimed somewhere to Frank’s left. “So, uh, thanks.” He took a step, another, and then slapped a hand on the van’s hood as he bent in two and started coughing again.

“Oh, hell.” How did this idiot think going out in that state was a good idea? And how did he manage to not get himself killed? Frank opened the van’s back door, took his getaway bag, and waited for the coughing to stop. “I’m not carrying you.”

“Wha…?”

Frank didn’t let him finish; he grabbed Murdock’s biceps and marched them to the building’s door. There better be beer in Murdock’s fridge.

 

There was beer.

Murdock was sprawled right where Frank had dropped him, over a sofa that looked like it had seen better days. “Can I have one?”

“No.”

“’s my beer.”

Frank shrugged. “Too bad.”

The Devil’s of Hell’s Kitchen didn’t look very devilish right now, one leg dangling from the couch and his eyes half-closed. He was breathing shallowly, one arm wrapped around his torso. With the way he’d been coughing Frank wouldn’t be surprised if he’d cracked a rib, especially if he’d had broken ones that hadn’t fully healed before this started. It sounded like whooping cough, but he thought it wasn’t supposed to be that bad in adults. That's what the medics had said, when a guy had gotten it in their unit. Well, trust a guy who used to prance about New York dressed like the Devil to be a little dramatic about everything.

“You should go have a shower, Red.”

His lips twitched. “Do I stink that much?”

“Steam will help with the breathing.”

“Oh. All right.” He didn’t move.

“I’m not undressing you.” Frank went to stand at the window. That giant billboard was kind of hypnotic, flashing ads Blade Runner style.

“Not putting on a show for you.”

“Can’t you tell I’m not looking?”

Murdock grunted. Probably didn’t want to admit to anything he’d perceive as a weakness, and so when he heard him move Frank looked over his shoulder. This was definitely not boxer-Red, who hit hard and whose jabs didn’t miss their marks. Not ninja-Red either, with the fancy kicks and smooth moves. Frank watched him narrowly miss the low table, catch himself on the sliding door to his bedroom, disappear inside, then come out in his underwear a few minutes later. Shit, he had a bunch of scars. Frank had expected some, but that was… did he fight a wood shredder or something? Well, wouldn't be surprising.

Frank went to get another beer and see if he could scrounge up anything to eat, but there wasn’t much. Some old bread, milk, a carton of eggs. He must have a takeout menu or two somewhere, right? Fuck, no; he wouldn't be able to read them. He opened the cupboards and found mostly empty pasta boxes, less than a cup of rice, tomato paste, expired beans, and too many kinds of granola. Well, beer on the couch it was, then.

 

“Frank.” Murdock was standing in front of him, his damp hair still plastered to his skull and wearing pants and a sweatshirt that looked to big for him. He looked better, still flushed from his shower. Not coughing, too. “You still here?”

Frank grunted. So he’d fallen asleep on the couch, who cared? “Problem?”

Murdock stuck his hands in the front pockets of his shirt and stared at nothing, puzzled. He looked like a child, shoulders rounded by exhaustion, with the scars and muscles hidden under his clothes and with his eyes naked like that. “...no?” He turned around and shuffled to his bedroom, his thick socks soundless on the floor.

It made Frank feel things he didn’t want to feel. He was here to make sure Daredevil didn’t fuck up and get himself killed or unmasked because he was too proud to admit he was sick, nothing more. Murdock and those around him didn’t deserve that; Karen would lose her job and all the cases he and his hairy buddy had worked would be compromised. They’d done good, he knew that.

4:12am, a mechanical voice said in the bedroom.

Ah, fuck.

 

The sun was up when Frank opened his eyes, but it wasn’t that late either. He checked his phone: 8:37. He stretched and felt his joints pop, and sat up on the couch. A shower would do him good, wake him up properly. He checked the bedroom and saw Murdock was still dead to the world, so Frank poked at the coffee maker to have fresh joe when he got out of the bathroom. Of course the light bulb was dead in there; he left the door ajar so he could still see enough. When he turned off the water, he could hear the clink of tableware; Murdock was up. He grabbed a fresh towel under the sink, dried off roughly, and walked out naked to take a change of clothes from his getaway bag. Not like Murdock would be shocked.

Except it wasn’t Murdock.

There was a woman, a nun, in Murdock's kitchen. She looked him up (and down), and her smile was way too sly for a nun.

“Erg,” Frank said. His bag was near the kitchen counter. He couldn’t decide between strategic retreat or a quick grab and run maneuver.

“Hello. Coffee?”

“Maggie? I’m sorry, I overslept – oh.” Had Murdock forgotten about Frank?

“Is this fine specimen of a gentleman here the reason?”

“That's, uh, Frank.”

“I gave him a lift last night,” Frank said. That was true, after all.

“I bet.”

Maggie!” Murdock went crimson, and then – yep, the coughing started again. Frank steered him to the couch before he keeled over.

“I thought you were better. You said you were better,” she said. Frank hurried to his bag as she went to sit next to Murdock.

Red wheezed and gasped for a while before he spoke. “Thought I was.”

“Good thing I brought broth, then. In your fridge, put a Braille label on it.” She turned her head just as Frank was about to close the bathroom door. “Your boyfriend’s looking good from behind, too.”

“I wouldn't know.”

“Oh, I’m just trying to help.”

Was she one of those nuns at the orphanage where he grew up? Because then Frank could definitely tell who he learned his smartass tendencies from. He felt in the bag for some fresh clothes while keeping an ear on the conversation outside.

“And he’s not my boyfriend.”

“What am I supposed to think, Matthew? Do you often entertain naked men?” She was enjoying teasing Murdock.

Naked?

“Birthday suit.”

“Not even – but…” And more coughing.

Frank stepped out of the bathroom, throwing his bag near the door. “Well I don’t take showers with my clothes on, Murdock. Figured you wouldn't mind. Coffee, Sister?”

“Yes, please.” Murdock waved a hand too but she tutted. “Tea for you, Matthew.” She joined Frank in the kitchen and rooted into one of the cupboards. She quickly found was she was looking for, and flicked the electric kettle on. She obviously was familiar with the place.

“Don't want tea,” Red groused.

“No one asked you.”

“It’s your fault I’m sick,” he mumbled. “That boy at St Agnes – you said to come talk to the kids and then you made me go see him at the infirmary.”

“Fuck, you’re whiny, Murdock. The Sister’s nice to you and you’re whining more than a kid with his mom.” Red’s face immediately blanked, and Frank glanced at the Sister. She was looking intently at the kettle. “What?” No answer. What did he say? What – oh. She couldn't be… could she? She was a nun. Frank sighed. Only Red.

The water boiled and the Sister poured it in a mug that she brought to the couch. “I apologized already. You’ll live, you just need to rest.”

“Yeah, I know. I’m sorry.”

“You better be. Tea’s in front of you,” she said as she put it on the table. “I can’t stay much longer, but your friend here might?”

“No,” Murdock said right as Frank grunted a, “Sure.” She looked between them, eyebrows raised. Frank just stood there like an idiot, a coffee in each hand.

“He just drove me home last night. Frank’s not staying.”

“What were you doing out last night anyway, Matthew?”

Shit, what did she know? Murdock was looking vaguely guilty and keeping quiet and Frank didn’t know what to say, so he just put her coffee on the low table and retreated to the kitchen where she couldn't see him.

The Sister shook her head. “Don’t answer that, it’s a rhetorical question. You’re not trying to…” She stopped and cleared her throat. “That's… over, right?” Murdock nodded, and she looked relieved. “Good.” She took her coffee and held it silently for a while.

After a while, Murdock lifted his head. “Did you bring some of Sister Angie’s pie?”

“I did. You can share it with your friend.”

“What if I don’t want to share?” Murdock was smiling again.

“Well then I hope he won’t go all Punisher on you.” She must have felt Frank’s surprise, because she pointed at the vest leaning against the wall. “Your vest.”

Ah, shit, yes. The skull was there, clear for everyone to see. Well, not everyone. “Wasn’t expecting a visit.”

“Clearly. Matthew and I generally have breakfast together on Saturdays. You’re welcome to join us next week.”

“I’ll think about it.”

Frank finally settled on one of the armchairs closest to Murdock and stared at the billboard as Red and the Sister talked. He had… a lot of questions, and he didn’t mind staying around for a little while. This place was much nicer than his own, and he could see himself dismantling and cleaning his guns on this table; it was large enough and there was plenty of daylight coming in. Red probably would have a fit if he tried, though.

As soon as she finished her coffee, the Sister stood up and Frank did too. Murdock opened his mouth to say something and started coughing again, his arms wrapped around his ribs. Frank sighed and went to boil some water. Breathing in steam used to work for his kids when they both had the croup. Used to soothe them. He could feel the Sister’s eyes on him.

“What?” Frank asked.

She shook her head at him before looking down at Murdock, who was trying to catch his breath. “I like your friend,” she told his bent head.

“Not my friend.”

“Of course not.” Her voice softened just a little when she added, “And take it easy for a while, Matthew.”

“Okay,” he wheezed.

She patted his shoulder awkwardly and left after a last nod at Frank, her steps quick in the stairway outside the apartment.

Frank put a bowl of steaming water on the table and threw a towel at Murdock’s head. He didn’t quite catch it, but he picked it from the couch and bent over the bowl for a few minutes.

“Thank you.” His words were muffled from under the towel, and Frank grunted in answer.

He waited a little before asking, “You hungry?”

“No.”

“You’ve been out most nights, haven’t you? Heard you spitting your lungs out a few times.” Red pushed the bowl away and shrugged. “And being a lawyer by day?”

“It’s my job.”

“Right. Been any good at it lately?”

“Why are you still here, Frank? What…” And more coughing, of course.

This time, it didn’t want to stop, even when Frank pushed him down over the still hot water. It went on and on and on, and Red couldn't manage to catch his breath; he made horrible sounds. How long had this been going on? When the fit finally dwindled down, Murdock looked like shit. He wiped his face with the towel, but it didn’t change how blotchy it was.

“Back to bed with you, Red.” Frank took his arm but of course Red didn’t like it.

“I’m fine,” he snarled and curled a little more around his ribs.

“Did you just break a rib?”

“They were already cracked.”

Frank sighed. “Take my hand, I’ll help you to bed.”

“No.” Murdock made a pathetic attempt at standing, but he was still shaky from hacking out a lung and Frank caught him under the armpits.

“You done?”

“I don't need…”

“Should I go get the Sister to make you behave?” Those turned out to be the magic words, and he finally could steer Red to his bed. “So. She your mom?”

Murdock tried to turn on his side away from Frank, remembered his ribs were a mess, and settled on his back. “Go away.” So Frank sat on the bed, of course.

“You shouldn't be on your own. Got anyone to call?”

“Yes.”

“Will you call them? I can call Karen for you.”

A hand shot out to catch his shoulder. “Don’t.”

“All right, I won’t. And you won’t do anything stupid like trying to leave this bed, okay?”

“Fine.” Not like he could, really, but he liked to pretend.

Frank left the bedroom, found peas in the freezer for Murdock’s ribs, and left the apartment for some errands. Food, a few more changes of clothes, and all the firearms he wanted to clean.

That would occupy him for a while and annoy Red: one stone, two birds. The Marines certainly taught you to be efficient.

 


 

Apart from a few trips to the bathroom or to get some water, Matt stayed in bed for most of the day. He couldn't really sleep, but he tried to meditate so his ribs didn’t hurt as much. Whenever he had another of those coughing spells, though, he was back to square one, so he gave up and eventually fell into a light doze.

When he emerged from it, he fumbled for his alarm clock. 5:41pm, it said. Matt felt mostly clear-headed, and figured he should try to work a little. He’d fallen behind lately, not that he’d admit it out loud. He took his time sitting up, then putting his feet on the floor. He didn’t want to get dizzy and fall on his face; the pain in his ribs would flare up and he didn't need that. He needed to focus. There was a strong smell of gun oil and gunpowder coming from behind the sliding door, and a steady heartbeat. Time to face Frank, then.

“Thought you’d left,” Matt said.

“Came back.”

“Are you…” He snapped his fingers and listened to how the sound echoed around Frank. “…are you cleaning your guns on my coffee table?”

“Yeah.”

Matt didn’t feel up to a fight, but he still sighed. It made his ribs twinge. “Here. In my home.”

“They needed cleaning, and I promised the Sister I’d stay around.”

“You didn’t.”

Frank shrugged. “You need anything?”

“My table.”

“What for?”

“I… it’s mine.”

“Guess it is. Sit before you fall on your face, Murdock.”

“I’m fine.”

“You’re white as a sheet and I’m pretty sure you haven’t eaten much in a while, given your fridge.”

“You poking around my things now?” Matt took a few slow, careful steps to the satchel he’d left on the bench near the front door. He could feel Frank’s gaze on him, heard him stand up and follow him. What did he think he was doing? Matt didn’t need help. He picked up the bag and immediately let go. Damn, he’d forgotten about the ribs. But he’d fought with broken ribs before, he could pick up the damn satchel and –

“Fuck’s sake.” Frank strode past him, picked up the bag in one hand, and put the other on Matt’s shoulder. “Can’t you ask?”

“I don’t need help,” Matt said. He still let Frank turn him around and push him down into his couch.

“Sure.”

The bag was gently put on his knees, and Matt wanted to scream and throw it at Frank’s head. “I don’t need you.”

“Course not.”

The sofa leather creaked a little and the rubbing of cloth over metal resumed. Matt realized that was what had woken him up earlier; Frank cleaning his weapons. Something unfamiliar and probably vaguely threatening. It should feel threatening, right? He opened the satchel and got his laptop and files out, then remembered he’d need earbuds with Frank right next to him. And he’d left them at the office, because it’s not like he needed them in his own home, right?

“What’s got you making that face, Red?”

“What face?”

“Lookin’ pissed.”

Matt sighed. “Wanted to go over some files, but I left my earphones at work.”

“Do you need them?”

“Well it’s not like I can read the screen, is it?” And sometimes taking spoken notes was easier, too.

“You have speakers on your computer, right?”

“Well yeah, but – ”

“I don’t mind.”

“But…”

“Knock yourself out, Murdock.”

And to Matt’s surprise, he really didn’t mind; even though it must have been annoying to have to listen to legal shit read with a computer voice he’d tuned to go faster. After a while, Frank went into the kitchen to make himself some coffee. He brought Matt tea, the same herbal kind Maggie had given him in the morning. The hot drink soothed the itching in his throat, and he didn’t have any coughing spells for a while.

 

Jostling dragged him out of his dreams.

“Sorry, Red. Gotta piss.”

“Wha…?” Matt rubbed his face and sat up, his ribs screaming at him woke him the rest of the way up. Oh, shit. He’d fallen asleep on Frank. He reached out to the table and found his closed laptop and a tidy pile of folders there, but no guns. “What time is it?” he asked when Frank got out of the bathroom.

“Eight thirty. Hungry?”

“You said my fridge was empty.”

“Not anymore. And your, uh, the Sister brought broth and pie, too.”

Matt sighed. “You can say it.”

“Say what?”

“That she’s, you know.”

You can’t even say it, Murdock.”

“It’s complicated.”

“Doesn’t have to be.”

Maybe it didn’t.

 

Actually, as Matt found out over the next week, many things were much simpler around Frank. He stopped asking why he was staying after Tuesday; every time Frank would answer, “This place is nicer than mine,” and every time he was telling the truth.

And really, Matt didn’t mind. Well, he didn’t like it when Frank made him call Foggy to say he’d be working from home for a few days, and he didn’t like it when he found Frank’s arsenal (well, part of it) near the fire hose, and he didn’t like it when every morning he could hear Frank’s spine popping as he got up from a night spent on the couch. So, he sort of had to…

“Frank.”

“Yeah.”

“You, uh. Want to sleep in a bed?”

“You only got the one, Red.”

“Yes.”

“Couch’s fine.”

“Not according to your vertebrae.”

“Freaky ears,” Frank muttered. But from then on, he slept on Matt’s bed. He stayed on top of the covers, but he kept to his side and his joints didn’t creak anymore, so really it was much easier on Matt overall.

Frank drove him to court on Wednesday then left to parts unknown, but when he took a cab back home Matt found that Frank had, in fact, sort of moved all his stuff in. Well, mostly it meant there was a metal chest in a corner with clothes and a few books inside, fresh food in the kitchen, and a razor on the bathroom sink that hadn’t been there in the morning. Neither of them mentioned it, and it just… became how things were, now.

The coughing slowly got better, Frank refused to say where he’d hidden Matt’s Daredevil gear until his ribs were healed, and Maggie was studiously silent on the topic when she visited on the next Saturday. Frank disappeared right before her arrival, but Matt was pretty sure she noticed… things. But he didn’t want to explain what he didn’t really understand himself, and he was relieved she didn't mention it.

When Frank came back, it was early afternoon. Matt was not worried, of course. Frank could take care of himself, right? It made more sense to be worried about the people around Frank. Still, he’d really like to know where his mask and batons were.

“Found a job,” Frank announced as he put away the groceries he’d bought.

“What?” Matt pushed his Braille reader away. “A job?”

Frank shrugged. “In a shooting range.”

“Oh.”

“Hours leave me time for, you know. Other stuff.”

“Shooting people?”

“You’re all antsy to be stuck here. I can keep an eye on the Kitchen for you for a while. I’ll try not to kill anyone.”

“That’s… good.”

And that was that. At least if they shared the rent now Matt would be able to take more pro bono or low-paying cases.

 

The next week, Foggy insisted on bringing takeout back to Matt’s apartment to celebrate his improving health. Matt tried to dissuade him, but of course Foggy wouldn't listen.

“Besides,” he said, “you owe us after coming to the office every day when you were contagious, so you’re inviting,” Foggy said.

Matt tried not to show his dismay; Karen and Foggy would lose it when they saw who his new roommate was. They’d say he was keeping secrets again and it would be kind of true, but it had only been what, not even two weeks? And he couldn't even warn Frank, because leaving a voice message when they were around would defeat the purpose… so Matt tried to hide his freak-out as well as he could and hoped Frank would be elsewhere. And that they wouldn't see traces of a second occupant in his apartment. That could happen, right? He focused on his breathing, tried to look as relaxed as possible.

“Matty, you’re cutting off the circulation in my arm.”

It wasn’t working. “Oh, sorry Fogs.” Fuck fuck fuck.

They ordered pad thai at the place near his apartment, but – small mercies – Karen got a phone call from one of her Bulletin friends as they were reaching his building.

“Shit, she broke her leg and she needs – look, I can’t stay,” she said. “Next time?” She shoved her food at Foggy and hailed a cab and Matt thought, well. At least Frank’s dinner was taken care of.

“Well, too bad for Karen’s friend,” Fogs said.

“Yeah.”

“Why the long face, buddy? Don’t tell me you’re still, you know. With Karen?”

“Still – oh, no. Just tired.” And he was a lying liar who lied. Frank was home, smelling like gunpowder after an afternoon at the range, his heart-rate slow. Matt braced for the shit-storm and opened the door.

“Hey, Murdock.” A pause. “And Nelson.”

“It’s the other way around,” Matt said feebly. He wished he hadn't left his cane near the door so he could have something in his hands now.

“You’re not surprised.” Foggy’s arm was wrenched out of his grip. “Matt. Frank Castle, aka The Punisher, is reading on your couch, and you are not surprised.”

“Er.”

“Want a beer? Bought some on my way back from work. Decent beer, not the shitty kind you get.” Frank was fucking with him, oh God.

“Matt. Why is Frank Castle buying your beer?”

“’s my beer too.”

“You live here?” Foggy’s voice was reaching new heights, and Matt winced.

“Don’t bust a vein, Counselor.” Frank got up, grabbed three beers from the fridge, opened them, and held them out. “So. Beer?”

A cold bottle tapped Matt’s fingers and he instinctively took it. The bag of food was taken from his hand, and he heard Frank do the same with Foggy.

“He’s being nice!” Foggy hissed. “He’s nice, it’s Bizarro World, what’s happening?”

“You going to stand here all evening?”

Somehow, Matt found himself on the couch and Foggy on the armchair. Frank was doing something in the kitchen, getting forks maybe.

“How long…?” Foggy sounded a bit more composed now, but his heart was still beating fast.

“Maybe two weeks ago?” Frank dropped a bunch of forks on the low table and got the takeout boxes out of the bags. “Found him trying to do his thing one night while hacking out hairballs.”

“Not trying. I got to them before you.”

“Wait. Matt. You were going out when you were sick?”

“Not anymore. I hid his gear. Doing the rounds myself for now.”

“Oh my God.”

Matt tried to hide his face behind his beer. He couldn't actually disappear, but maybe they could… forget he was there?

“I drove him here before he did anything even more stupid.”

“And you stayed?”

“This place is nice. And his mom asked me to.”

“His – ” Foggy’s beer made a loud thud as he dropped it on the table. Matt could sense him trying and failing to make words.

“You didn’t know? The nun.” Foggy made a sort of wheezy sound. “Your buddy’s making all sorts of faces, Red.”

You never told me!” Foggy finally yelled.

“Don’t think he told anyone,” Frank said. “They’re cagey about it. I only know because they were being weird.”

Matt cleared his throat. “You prancing naked in front of Maggie is weird. It’s all just… new?” There. He had to say something, right?

“Prancing…” Okay, maybe it hadn’t been the right thing to say. Foggy stood up and went straight to where Matt kept the hard liquor. “What the fuck,” he kept mumbling.

“Smooth, Murdock. You’ve traumatized him.”

“You’ve traumatized a nun!” Foggy threw back.

“Pretty sure she wasn’t traumatized. Said I was good-lookin’, even.”

“Oh my God. Matt, I need All The Booze. And apologies. And explanations. And more booze.”

“Okay. You can sleep it off on the couch, I’ll call Marci.”

“Thanks – wait. Where’s he sleeping?”

“Bedroom,” Frank said. “Started on the couch, but Red offered the bed.” Foggy choked, but managed not to drop the bottles and glasses he was bringing back to the table.

“His joints were creaking, Fogs. Every morning.”

Foggy threw himself on the armchair with a groan. “Oh. My. God.”

“What?”

“You’re – you’re, like, common-law married at this point.”

“I think he doesn’t know yet, Nelson.” Okay, Matt was pretty sure Frank was fucking with him. Well not fucking – screw this. Goddammit.

“We’re just, uh, roommates?” The word seemed a bit… weak, now. Matt took the bottle closest to him on the table and felt for the label he’d put on it. Tequila. Perfect.

“Roommates. Yeah, sure. Like Marci and me. Abso-fucking-lutely.” Foggy took the tequila from him and poured. “Karen is going to be so pissed she couldn't stay.”

“Can we just… talk about something else?”

“Oh no, Matty. We’re going to eat this fine food, and you’re going to spill.” He thrust a glass in Matt’s hand.

“Spill? The tequila?”

“All the stuff you’ve been hiding and that you’re not supposed to, dumbass.”

“Like how he broke a couple ribs coughing?”

“Frank!” Now Foggy wouldn’t let him carry anything at the office for months.

“Okay, clearly the boyfriend is chattier. Go on, I want to know everything.”

Matt knew when he was dismissed, and suffered in silence through the rest of an evening where his roommate and his best friend traded humiliating stories about him drunkenly singing in their Columbia dorm or holding a bag of frozen peas like a teddy bear at night. Frank, that traitor, had apparently taken pictures.

Matt hated them both.

 

Foggy left after a couple hours, not so drunk that he couldn't take a cab back home safely. He still had mixed feelings, Matt could tell: upset at not having been told so many things, understanding that Matt wasn’t actively trying to hide them but just trying to make sense of things before putting words to them, amused by Matt’s insistence on the word roommates. Probably also trying very hard not to think of Frank as The Punisher.

He kept an ear on Fogs’ steps outside, his words to the cabbie, the engine driving away in the right direction. Frank was putting the booze back in the cupboard and the leftovers in the fridge, and yes, all right. It was all very domestic.

“Frank?”

“Yeah.”

“Why are you here? Really?”

Frank didn’t answer right away. He finished tidying up first, then came to sit next to Matt. “It’s just better here.”

“Better how?”

“I don't know, just better. You’re the one with the words and the fancy degree, Red, not me.”

“You never call me by my name.”

“Murdock’s not your name?” Matt elbowed Frank in the ribs then hissed when the move reminded him his own were broken. Frank huffed, laughed at him perhaps. “You want me to call you Matt?”

“No. Yes. I don’t know, it’s just… an option.”

“You’re being clear as mud.”

“Fuck you.”

“Well, you did buy me dinner.”

“That’s not…” Matt sighed. “What are we doing, Frank?”

“You tell me. I’m good; you’re the one having a fucking conniption.”

“A…” He shook his head. “You’re the Punisher.”

“Yeah.”

“You kill people.”

“Sometimes.”

“What do you want?”

Frank’s steady, slow heartbeat filled Matt's ears. He realized he fell asleep to it every night, now. Woke up at night when Frank left, and waited for him to be back before he could sleep again. He came back home to it. As he did to the smell of gun oil from the rags Frank kept in a drawer, the slight wheeze of air in Frank's often-broken nose. “I like what I got here.”

And Matt could be self-aware, sometimes. He liked what they had, too. But… “We’re going to fight.”

“Yeah.”

“You’re not going to stop doing what you do.”

“No.” Frank moved, fabric rubbed against fabric as he put his elbows on his knees. “You aren’t either. Do you think – the people around you. Nelson, Karen, your mom. Do you think anyone likes it, that you go out there with nothing? I have Kevlar, you just have some fucking ropes.”

“It’s not the same.”

“Spare me the sermon, altar boy. You don’t kill, I got it the first time. I’m – these days, because I’m doing your thing, I’m not either. For now. But you’re going to get killed, is what’s going to happen. You used to have that stupid costume, but it protected you, yeah? I shot you in the head, and you still came after me.”

“Are you… are you worried?”

“Seriously? You need to ask?”

“I…” Matt wasn’t quite sure whether he was very lost or just the opposite. He moved his hand until it touched Frank’s thigh, waited until he felt rough fingers tighten around his. “Bed?” He didn’t know what to say. He hoped Frank would get it, get what Matt himself couldn't quite wrap his mind around.

“Yeah, okay. Bed.”

Frank didn’t go out that night.