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the ache of hollow bones

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He lies to himself, refusing to allow this to become a manhunt to preserve any semblance of sanity he might have left. To maintain the façade that this is still strictly about scanning the city for criminals.

In a way, it still is. And if he accidentally overhears that The Punisher was last spotted on 53rd and 7th, well, it’s just that, an accident.

By the time he swings onto the rooftop of the abandoned warehouse, the police are still caught up in the traffic fifteen blocks away, giving them plenty of time alone. Frank doesn’t appear surprised to see him, offering a curt nod while continuing to polish the barrel of his riffle. AK 47. A classic. Matt doesn’t ask if it holds any sentimental value.

“Came to turn me in, sweetheart?”

Matt can hear the smirk in his voice, the way it must hurt to do so because he’s been punched enough times to know what a fractured zygomatic sounds like.

It’s a taunt though, nothing more because if Matt had come here with the intention of turning him in, they would have started fighting long ago. He should though, Matt knows that he should turn him in but then again, he’s painfully aware of how well that went last time. The truth of the matter is that the world is safer with Frank Castle roaming the streets than locked up behind bars, no matter how much that thought makes Matt’s stomach churn uncomfortably and drives him to confession more often than in the past.

Or maybe that’s just the screwed up way Matt consoles himself that this, whatever it might be, is okay.

“No.”

“Then stay the hell outta my way ‘cause I’ve got a job to do.”

A job.

Matt still hasn’t gotten used to that word, the way Frank reduces the act of taking a human life to something so mundane. There’s a psychological argument he could make, tell Frank he only refers to it as a job as a means to dehumanize his target and–

“I can hear you thinking.” Frank still doesn’t look up at him. “Say what you came to say and leave.”

Matt wants to ask him if there’s even any point but instead, a harsh accusation takes its place. “Are you humoring me?”

“I’m feeling generous.” Another taunt. “Sounds like you need it.”

“I don’t need your help.”

“Then why you do you insist on following me?”

And yeah, that’s a good question. A very good question that Matt has avoided dwelling on because the glaring, ugly answer is loneliness. He follows Frank, has followed him for weeks now, for the most twisted and pathetic reason he can fathom: because Frank might be the only person left in the world that understands why he does the things he does. Why he chooses to live his life like this.

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t know, or you don’t want to know?”

In that moment, Matt wonders when this conversation had derailed into a pointless cycle of twenty questions, Frank mercilessly taunting him and making his head ache without so much as moving a muscle. It’s unnerving and infuriation and leads Matt to yearn for their relationship to go back to the way it was at the beginning: an endless string of rough brawls that left him bleeding and aching and feeling so alive.

“Does it matter?”

“Lying to yourself’s not good.” There’s a pause and Matt can hear him smirk again. “Lying’s a sin, you know.”

The next three seconds are a blur. One moment, Matt is standing on the edge of the rooftop watching Frank, the next he’s shoving him against the nearest wall, hard enough that he hears his skull colliding with the brick wall and air knocking out of his lungs.

It feels good, it feels so damn good until it doesn’t because Frank isn’t fighting back, isn’t trying to hurls him into the ground or even so much as attempting to shove him away. Matt feels like he’s been played and it only serves to increase his frustration.

“Is this what you wanted, huh?” Frank asks. “Has anyone told you, you’ve got some serious issues?”

“Shut up!” Matt shoves at him again, drawing a pained grunt from his lips as two large hands settle on his hips.

“I’m not gonna fight you, sweetheart, so you best stop trying.”

Sweetheart.

It’s condescending and patronizing and just enough for Matt to lean closer and slot their lips together with harsh precision. He feels dizzy and reckless but Frank’s hands on his hips are a constant presence he can’t shake off. Or the fact that this is the first time in months that someone is touching him for a reason other than to beat the life out of him.

Matt kisses him with embarrassing desperation, fisting his hands into his clothes to keep him close and licking his way into his mouth like he’s afraid that this might be his only chance to taste him.

When they pull apart, Matt presses his forehead against his chest despite knowing that the horns from his mask must be digging into his skin. Their breaths come in harsh pants mingling with the night air and it’s only when Frank speaks that Matt realizes he hasn’t let go of his shirt yet.

“You’re really fucked up, Red.”

---

Frank buys them take out, shoving a handful of crumpled dollar bill onto the counter before grabbing the two boxes of chicken fried rice and stalking out of the restaurant. Large frame intimidating enough that the owner doesn’t dare count the money until Frank is already out the door.

They meet on a different rooftop every time. Either out of necessity or by sheer coincidence. Regardless, Matt can’t bring himself to care because the location is hardly a concern at this point. Although, the fact that they’re currently overlooking Coney Island definitely has it’s perks.

Matt won’t delude himself into believing they’re here for his benefit, or God forbid, simply for the sake of the view. The carton of rice is almost half empty by the time Frank speaks up.

“My daughter, Lisa,” He starts and Matt can hear the strain in his voice, the way he has to force himself to say each word. “She used to love it here. Frank Jr. though, not so much. He hated the roller coasters, said he never wanted to fly either.”

It strikes Matt like a blow to the chest that not only are they here out of Frank's volition but that Frank is sharing intimate details about his life with him, names of people he never thought he would hear Frank utter again because being tortured had probably hurt a thousand times less than that late night admission in the cemetery all those months ago.

How many times had Frank roamed through Coney Island, a lonely man with a heavy heart, carrying around the hopes and dreams of his children and wife and staring up at the rollercoasters that used to bring him joy instead of the dull ache akin to failure?

Matt knows that feeling all too well. It seizes him every time he walks past the build Nelson and Murdock used to claim as their home, fingers reaching out to brush over the sign embedded in the concrete wall until one day when it wasn’t there anymore. The bruises on his knuckles are still healing from strength with which he struck the wall, as if punishing himself would bring Foggy back.

“Why are you telling me this?”

“It’s called a conversation, Red.” There’s an edge to his voice now and Matt can practically hear the walls around his heart rebuilding themselves. “Ever had one before?”

Matt pauses, listens to the way Frank digs his chopsticks into the paper container in search of the last bits of rice and decides to shift gears because calling him out is apparently a dead end.

“What about your wife? Did she like the rollercoasters?”

Another pause, long enough for Matt to wonder if he had done more damage than good but then Frank is clearing his throat and leaning into him by just a fraction, invading his space in a way that helps him breathe easier.

“No, not really. Not unless I was there to hold her hand.”

His voice reflects the smile on his lips, small and sad and distant in a way that causes his fingers to tighten his grip the edge of the concrete they’re sitting on as if the cold cement could ever come close to the way their fingers used to slot together so perfectly.

“The Ferris Wheel was her favorite.” Frank continues, almost as if saying those first few things had opened up a floodgate he can’t find the strength to stop. “She used to point out all the constellations, you know, when you could actually see them.”

Frank laughs, free and breathless and far more relaxed than Matt has ever seen him. It's a special moment Matt feels privileged to witness which, of course, brings forth another question that had been lingering on the periphery of his mind ever since Frank had thrust the take out container into his hands.

“Is this a date?”

Matt half expects him to get up and leave, or worse, shove him off the side of the building for asking something so crass and ruining the moment. Neither of those happen though, because Frank is leaning closer to him once again, close enough that Matt can smell the gun powder on his clothes and hear his muscles shift as he shrugs his shoulders.

“It is if you want it to be.”

---

Frank creeps into his life unexpectedly, laying roots inside his heart and morphing into a constant presence at the back of his skull. Constant and haunting, suffocating in a way that makes Matt wonder if breathing is truly worth it.

There’s only one problem though, another constant presence Matt can’t shake off, guilty and twisting up his insides because what if Frank bothers with him just because he’s the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen?

He’s been making amends, trying to right all the people he has wronged and by continuing to lie, even to Frank, it goes against everything he wants to stand for. Father Lantom has always emphasized that lying is a sin.

It’s weeks later when he sees Frank next, neither asks what the other’s spend that time doing and frankly, Matt isn’t sure he wants to know. There were rumors of Punisher sightings in Florida and that’s when Matt stopped listening.

“Missed me, Red?”

The word yes lingers on his tongue. “Something like that.”

“A little disappointed you didn’t bring any food.” Frank stands perched on the edge of the building, watching the city below him with the ease of a man that has every street and alleyway memorized like the back of his hand. “Heard this place in Manhattan has the best deep dish in all of New York.”

“You wanted me to go to Manhattan for you?”

The smugness in his tone is unmistakable. “Would you have? If I would’ve asked?”

Matt shifts uneasily on his feet, clenching and unclenching his hands at his side. There’s something different about tonight, something different about Frank’s questions and the way he carries himself, he's not usually this reserved when it's just the two of them.

“What’s this about, Frank?”

“Told you I don’t care who you are, Red. Still don’t.” There’s a pause and the following but is almost palpable. “I can’t help wondering sometimes though. What the hell does a guy like you do during the day? Can’t imagine you having a desk job.”

“Are you asking me what my job is?”

“Depends on if you’re willing to share.”

“And if I’m not?”

Frank shrugs, turning around to face him. “Then I guess it’s just the musings of a mad man.”

Matt hesitates because this is feels a lot like Pandora’s Box. Opening up about anything will slowly lead to opening up about everything. He wants to weight his options, make an informed decision, but the truth of the matter is that last time he lied he ended up losing the two people he care for most so maybe telling the truth merits a chance.

“I’m a lawyer.”

Frank laughs deep and loud and sounding shocked more than anything. “A lawyer? Are you kidding me? What, are you one of those bigshots that can’t handle losing a case so you go after the people you failed to convict?”

Matt can’t help from smiling at that, it’s a connection he’s never made but in some screwed up way it makes sense. “Not really.”

“Your parents force you into it or something then?”

“My father was a boxers.”

Frank scoffs. “That one I believe. Still, the lawyer part, if you’re lying, you can do better.”

“I can prove it.”

“Yeah?” Frank sounds interested, as soon as his feet hit the ground of the rooftop, he’s moving closer towards him, almost as if sensing that this was more of a show than a tell. “How?”

Matt feels his heartbeat pick up, hammering against his chest as Frank’s rises with unknown excitement. It's now or never. He’s toeing a line he can never uncross but maybe that’s for the best. He’s spent far too long in limbo that it’s started to feel an awful lot like hell. His fingers shake as he reaches it up for his mask, pulling it off in one swift move and letting it fall to the ground in an act of vulnerable surrender.

There’s utter silence for a good five seconds before Frank inhales sharply through his nose and swears under his breath. “Jesus Christ.”

“Frank-”

“Should’ve guessed.” Frank cuts him off. “Should’ve fucking guessed, you seemed like a daredevil in that court room, Matt.”

Matt laughs, relaxing marginally as he closes his eyes and allows himself to get lost in the feeling for a moment. He most definitely deserves that one and while he wants to jab back, call him out on his own behavior in court, he stays silent on the matter as Frank begins to speak again.

“So, am I supposed to ignore the elephant in the room?”

“Yes, I’m blind.”

“Is this like a Spiderman thing?” Frank asks. “You got bit by a spider and have super senses?”

“Chemical spill, actually.”

Frank huffs another laugh, less tense this time. “I’d tell you’re insane but you probably already know that much.”

“I’ve heard it once or twice.”

“I don’t know what to do with you, Red. Every time I think I have you figured out you go and pull some shit like this. All this time I thought I was dating the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen but instead I’m dating my fucking lawyer.”

Matt isn’t sure what part to focus on, the fact that Frank still seems to consider him his lawyer or the fact that he just openly admitted that they are dating, if you could even call it that. He’s mostly avoided the subject and decided to take everything in stride, deal with things one night at a time. Getting his hopes up, at this point, seems masochistic, more than anything.

“What’s with the face?” Frank asks, pulling him out of his thoughts. “You gonna tell me you’ve been seeing someone behind my back?”

“What? No-nothing like that. I guess I just didn’t really considering this dating.”

“Then what do you consider it?”

“Honestly? I don’t know.” Matt’s still trying to get the word ‘dating’ through his head, trying to put together his own ideas of what two people dating should look like and failing to see how it applies to their current situation. Frantic kisses on rooftops hardly seems like a relationship but maybe the conventional definition of dating is too far removed from their way of life.

“Give me your hands.” Frank is invading his space now, standing so close that Matt’s surrounded by the scent of ammo and the clean smell of fresh laundry and antiseptic.

Matt obliges, allowing Frank to reach for his hands and focusing on his breathing when they touch. Frank’s heart speeds up just enough to put a smile on Matt’s lips. He brings Matt’s hands to his face, laying his palms on his cheeks and granting him free reign to feel.

Any semblance of self-control leaves in that very moment, Matt’s breath hitches as he ghosts his fingers over Frank’s features. Tracing along his eyes and the curve of his nose before lingering for a moment on his lips. Frank’s hands are still on top of his, a comfortable weight guiding him on his very own personal tour of man that has made his home inside his heart.

They don’t speak and Matt chooses to disregard the cacophony of the city, their mingled breaths and heartbeats are their only company. The words attractive and handsome and captivating come to mind but they all fall short of how Frank really makes him feel because Matt doesn’t think there’s a word in the English language to accurately describe the feeling of falling from a cliff into a roaring and protective ocean.

So he kisses him instead, slotting their lips together in something much softer than before, his hands still firmly pressed against his cheeks. Frank tastes like cheap coffee mixed the metal tang of blood, sharp and dangerous and nothing like the hands currently gripping his hips: half possessive, half comforting.

When they draw apart, Frank’s hands remain on his hips and Matt’s linger on his face, sweeping over his features one final time to crystalize them in his memory because last night he woke up in a pool of sweat unable to remember the shape of Elektra’s lips when not pressed against his own and he doesn't want to repeat that mistake again.

---

Matt would be lying if he said he never thought about Frank naked. Naked on his bed, no less.

The shape of his biceps, hard muscle under rough and calloused skin. Chiseled abs and strong thighs he wouldn’t mind becoming intimately acquainted with. The curve of his cock, its weight in his hand.

(In his mouth.)

He imagines that Frank would be aggressive, not enough to cause him any real pain but enough that the memories of their time together would be imprinted on his skin. He imagines Frank whispering his name under his breath as he thrusts into him, almost as if demanding to hear his own name ripped from Matt’s throat, loud enough that it would make anyone within a five mile radius blush.

What he doesn’t except is for Frank to tug him closer by the drawstrings of his hoodie and kiss him the same way he imagines he would have kissed his wife: slow and deep and with as much finesse as he can manage.

Frank’s hands cradle his hips, keeping them pressed together as his lips travel the curve of his jaw, kissing the sharp angles and stubble before moving down to the sensitive skin of his throat. Matt is breathing loud and clear, a sharp intake through his nose as Frank’s teeth just barely graze over his carotid, causing his heart to beat a mile a minute, fast enough that Frank has tofeel it through his chest.

Except that his heart is racing too and his fingers twitch against the fabric of Matt's jeans, so much so that Matt finds himself pulling back in order to take hold of his hands before leaning in to kiss him again. He misses by a fraction, lips coming into contact with the corner of his lips before readjusting the angle and kissing Frank with every drop of pent-up desire he had been harboring until this very movement.

He hears Frank exhale sharply through his nose, tightening his grip on Matt’s hips almost reflexively and pulling them together once again, chest to chest and heart to heart. There’s a sloppiness to the way Matt kisses him, a sloppiness driven by hunger and paralyzing fear that there is a very real possibility he may never be able to do this again.

“Slow down, sunshine.” Frank murmurs against his lips. “What’s the rush?”

Matt doesn’t answer immediately because the truth of the matter is that he doesn’t want to talk right now, doesn’t want to allow all the thoughts Frank’s lips had put on pause to rise to the surface once again and terminate this moment of happiness. Delusional happiness, but still.

“Just…” He squeezes Frank’s hands. “Just let me kiss you. We can talk later, I promise. I just need this- I just need you right now.”

Frank’s shock is palpable, tensing for brief moment before relaxing once again and punctuating his nod of approval with a chaste kiss to Matt’s lips. “Yeah. Alright. Whatever you want.”

Whatever you want.

The words ricochet inside his mind, bringing to life a myriad of possibilities, most of which end with both he and Frank sprawled out naked on his bed in a tangled mess of limbs and soiled sheets. Frank is relinquishing his power in an act of trust and Matt is determined to honor it.

They continue to kiss on the way to the bedroom, Frank making the first move and unzipping his hoodie before sliding it off his shoulders slowly, relishing the skin to skin contact as he runs his hands over Matt’s shoulders and biceps before splaying them over his back. Frank’s shirt follows suit almost immediately as Matt tugs it off him so he can run his fingers over his chest, pausing in the doorway of the bedroom to brush over a bundle of scars marring the skin just above the hem of his jeans.

“Boating accident.”

Matt doesn’t ask for clarification. Instead, he bends down to press his lips against the raises skin, lingering there for a moment before Frank practically manhandles him over to the bed, pushing him down onto the covers.

“Tell me what you want, Murdock.”

Frank hovers over him, pressing chaste kisses to his chest and shoulders while waiting for a response, one hand still holding onto his hips for leverage. Matt’s head is still swimming with possibilities though the only thing he knows for certain is that he never wants Frank to stop touching him. There’s a strange sort of comfort that washes over him because there’s so much blood on the hands cradling his body, they’re dripping red and yet Matt has never felt saver.

“I want…” Matt catches is bottom lip between his teeth. “I want you to lay down.”

The bed shifts in an instant, Frank granting his request and laying down next to him, awaiting further instructions. Matt climbs on top of him, straddling his hips and bracing his hands on Frank’s chest. He sits there for a moment, cataloging the scars on Frank’s arms before sliding his hands over his chest again, brushing over his nipples just to hear his breath hitch.

Frank’s hands are on his waist now, thumbs working gentle circles into his skin almost as if trying to convey to Matt that he’s willing to go along with whatever he wants, willing to wait as long as he wants. Matt doesn’t want to wait though because he can feel the curve of Frank’s cock against his thigh as well as his own, trapped uncomfortably inside his now too tight jeans.

Divesting them of the rest of their clothes happens quickly, Matt tugging off his own jeans and boxers in a one swift move before doing the same with Frank’s and resuming their previous position.

It’s different now, intoxicatingly intimate because Frank’s hands are smoothing over his thighs, traveling as low as his knees and back up again. The word reverence comes to mind but Matt quickly strikes it down. He’s no God, he definitely doesn’t deserved to be worshipped.

“I can hear you thinking.” Frank breaks the silence, sliding his hands to Matt’s lower back in order to tug him into a soft kiss. “Stop it.”

Matt’s cock is trapped between and there’s almost no friction but it feels incredible. He ruts against Frank, turning their kiss from sweet to messy but Frank doesn’t seem to mind because there are fingers in Matt’s hair, drawing moans out of him with every gentle tug.

“I want to ride you.” Matt says suddenly, desperately. “I want you inside me. I need you inside me.”

Frank smirks against his lips, sliding his hands down to Matt’s hips, gripping them with the kind of possessive passion that translates into yes. Fuck yes.

After directing him to the top drawer, Frank wastes no time, warming up the gel between his fingers before pushing one finger inside Matt. “Shame you can’t see yourself right now. You’re a sight for sore eyes.”

“Tell me.”

“You’re blushing.” Frank adds a second finger as he says those words, making Matt shudder under his ministrations aas he nd pushes back against him. “You’re blushing all the way down your chest.”

Matt grins at him, either from pleasure or embarrassment, or maybe some mix of both. He knows he must look desperate, bucking against Frank’s fingers and moaning Frank’s name with every breath.

Frank isn’t gentle, gripping his hips hard enough to bruise because as soon as he tightened his hold, Matt had moaned in encouragement. He fucks him open hard enough for him to throw his head back and bare his throat. Matt is only a little disappointed that Frank doesn't reach up to sink his teeth into his skin.

“You look wrecked.” Franks says, withdrawing his fingers and wiping them carelessly on the sheets. “You look like a fucking dream.”

“Yeah?” Matt grins, biting his lower him as his fingers trace lazy patterns over Frank’s chest.

“Come here.” Frank pulls him into another kiss, dominating every aspect of it and leaving Matt dazed and wanting more as soon as they pull apart.

He doesn’t chase his lips though, not yet, anyway. Instead, he fumbles for the bottle resting by the pillow. He works the gel over Frank’s cock, sliding his fingers over it with the expert precision that comes from listening to the uptake in Frank’s heartbeat. It’s all that happens for a few moments, the air thick with panted breaths before Frank is batting his hands away.

“Don’t tease me like this.”

Taking pity on him, Matt takes a deep breath and positions himself, reaching out for Frank’s hands in search of leverage before sinking down onto his cock. There’s something overwhelmingly intimate about the way Frank laces their fingers together and kisses the side of Matt’s face, pressing his lips against his temple and jaw while whispering every filthy detail about their current predicament that Matt can’t see.

Matt swears he could come from just Frank’s voice, he tells him that too which earns him a slow laugh and a roll of Frank’s hips that has Matt moaning all over again.

Frank is everywhere around him and inside him and for the first time in a long while Matt feels whole, if only for just this one moment of indescribable pleasure. He figures he’s suffered enough to deserve this, fought hard enough and made enough amends to take a break from punishing himself for one night. The way Frank thrusts into him and kisses the curve of his shoulder convinces him that he deserves this.

They don’t talk except for the few times Frank pauses to comment on how good Matt feel or how good he’s doing, all words that would make his knees weak if he were standing. One particularly filthy comment coupled with an impossibly deep thrust pulls a visceral shout of Frank’s name from his lips and the frantic scrape of nails over his chest. He’s leaving marks but he doesn’t care, and it doesn’t seem that Frank does either because Matt is certain there are bruises already blooming on his shoulders where Frank got a little frisky with his teeth.

They don’t last long, Matt coming after only a few hurried strokes from Frank, who follows him, moaning Matt’s name under his breath and remaining buried inside him. Frank holds him close after, running his fingers in soothing patterns over Matt’s shoulders and back before they finally disentangle, much to the disappointment of both, though neither voices it.

Matt is the first to stand up, wobbly on his feet as he stalks to the bathroom in search of a towel to clean them up. When he returns to the bedroom, Frank is already reaching for it and coaxing Matt into laying down again and letting him take care of it. Matt obliges, too tired to protests or pretend that he doesn’t enjoy this gentle side of Frank and the way he seems adamant about taking care of him.

When he finishes, there’s an audible pause. “Do you want me to leave?”

Matt frowns, almost as if not understanding the question. “Do I want you to leave?”

“I’m just asking what you want, Red.” Frank clarifies and there’s no malice or ill intent behind his words, just genuine curiosity. “Do you want me to leave or stay?”

“What do you want?”

“Not what I asked.” There’s a warning edge to his tone.

“Frank, I don’t-”

“It’s a simple question.” Frank interrupts. “Do you want me to leave or stay?”

Matt is silent for a long moment, weighing his options even though he already knows what his answer is going to be. To stay. He wants Frank to stay and come back to bed and ward off the ghosts that live within these walls and insist on haunting him night after night.

He wants to fall asleep to the sound of Frank’s heartbeat, strong and steady under his ear, and wake up to the feeling of his hands on his skin, a powerful request that is somehow summed up with one simple word: “Stay.”