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Nixie Webs

10/03/2022 03:42 PM 

A Young Witches Doll.
Current mood:  artistic

π™±πš’πš›πšπš‘ π™²πšŽπš›πšπš’πšπš’πšŒπšŠπšπšŽπ™΅πšžπš•πš• π™½πšŠπš–πšŽ: Nixie Cicily Websπ™°πšπšŽ: 24πš‚πš™πšŽπšŒπš’πšŽπšœ: Porcelain Doll [Witches Spirit]π™΄πšπš‘πš—πš’πšŒπš’πšπš’: Europeanπ™°πšπšπš’πš•πš’πšŠπšπš’πš˜πš—: UnknownπšπšŽπšœπš’πšπšŽπš—πšŒπšŽ: Willows Antiques and More.π™ΎπšŒπšŒπšžπš™πšŠπšπš’πš˜πš—: Witches toyπ™Ώπš‘πš’πšœπš’πšŒπšŠπš•π™·πšŠπš’πš›:  Varies in shades of Blue °π™²πš˜πš•πš˜πš›: Varies.  °π™»πšŽπš—πšπšπš‘:  Varies.  °πš‚πšπš’πš•πšŽ: Varies. π™·πšŽπš’πšπš‘πš: 4'11"πš†πšŽπš’πšπš‘πš: 98 π™Έπš‹πšœπ™ΌπšŽπšŠπšœπšžπš›πšŽπš–πšŽπš—πšπšœ: °π™±πšžπšœπš: 32" °π™·πš’πš™πšœ:  34" °πš†πšŠπš’πšœπš: 26"π™±πš˜πšπš’ πšƒπš’πš™πšŽ: curvaceous; miniature. πš‚πš‘πš˜πšŽ πšœπš’πš£πšŽ: 3π™²πš•πš˜πšπš‘πš’πš—πš πš‚πšπš’πš•πšŽ: Childish; Mature; Trendy. πšπš˜πš–πšŠπš—πšπš’πšŒ πš•πš’πšπšŽ/ πš‚πšŽπš‘ πš•πš’πšπšŽπšπšŽπš•πšŠπšπš’πš˜πš—πšœπš‘πš’πš™ πš‚πšπšŠπšπšžπšœ: Single. πš‚πš’πšπš—πš’πšπš’πšŒπšŠπš—πš πš˜πšπš‘πšŽπš›πšœ: None. π™²πš›πšžπšœπš‘πšŽπšœ: Classified. πš‚πšŽπš‘πšžπšŠπš• π™Ύπš›πš’πšŽπš—πšπšŠπšπš’πš˜πš—: Pansexual. πš…πš’πš›πšπš’πš—: Yes.

#AboutNixie

Lenny.

10/03/2022 02:39 PM 

Flags

ΞΉnΡ‚reριd.β„’

10/03/2022 02:22 PM 

EDIT.

  Outside on the porch of Shiloh Place was where Elijah rushed her body to her father and Klaus rested the lifeless Hope on the porch, frantically trying to come to a conclusion of if Hope was going to ever come back or not.And at that moment it didn’t seem like it was that likely. “Niklaus, she’s collapsed.” Klaus joined his brother kneeling on the other side of his daughter, his eyes alert and full of fear, looking up at Klaus.“You look like you’ve just seen a ghost.” He mumbled in observation and Klaus practically ignored the comment his eldest brother had just made. “I don’t kno-“ “Quiet..” Niklaus glared in his direction for a moment before looking back down at his daughter.Placing a hand against her chest where her heart should have been beating. “No heartbeat…” He mumbled to himself. Hope seemed to be fading quicker by the second as they ticked by. “Please, come back…” He whispered.“Hope!”Her hazel eyes slowly opened and she found herself laying in the grass in a dark field, sitting up after a few moments she tried her best to realize where she was; resting back on her hands for a moment she felt her heart beating heavily against her chest, her breathing rigid and fast and she tried her best to calm herself down.After a moment she stood up and kept her eyes peeled in all directions, hearing sounds in the distance but couldn’t see what was making that noise. Rustling in the leaves behind her came from the feet of her deceased mother who was extremely surprised to see her standing there, in purgatory.“Hope?” Hayley’s voice cracked as she called out to her daughter. Dropping the firewood when she saw her face and she rushed toward her. “Mom?... Mom!” She breathed out, wrapping her arms around her in a tight hug and clenched her eyes shut while they embraced one another. “What happened? Why are you here?” Hayley’s questions came out quickly and she pulled back a bit, placing her hands on either one of Hope’s shoulders and studied her face. Hope shook her head and closed her eyes for a moment.“I was sick, Mom there is so much that I have to tell you!” She breathed out and Hayley shook her head trying to find the right words to calm her down. “No, it’s not your time yet… you shouldn’t be here.” Hayley shook her head and wrapped her arms around her neck. “It’s okay, I’m okay. I want to be here with you..” those words broke her heart but she knew she had to send her back.Her father needed her now more than ever.   template credit.  

sα΄‡Κ€α΄˜α΄‡Ι΄α΄›α΄Šα΄œΚŸΙͺᴇᴛ♔

10/03/2022 12:39 PM 

This Love.

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Even now, when the size of her baby bump is plain to see, little else has really changed about her physically. However, the force she propelled herself into her husband's chest caused him to take a step back to steady them both. She buried her face into his, shielding her crying eyes from him while at the same time feeling the laugh rumble through his chest as he put his arms comfortingly around her, and the only thing that quieted her was when he started gently humming reassurances into her ear. As he bowed his head to her, he tucked his nose against the side of her head while fingers shifted to brush the hair away from her feverish forehead. Already, his touch appeared to be calming, just as the circles against her back had been fighting off the wave of nausea brought on by the pot of spaghetti."Promise?" He had anticipated the pitiful need for reassurance from the emotionally distraught mother-to-be before she had even managed to form the words. She simply nodded her head petulantly against him as she remained nuzzled against his neck for a long moment. He had anticipated her need for reassurance before she had even managed to form the words. She had very little of a sense that she was doing an excellent job because so little of what was happening to her, and her body was under any conscious control of her own. She wasn't sure if she could be credited for the straightforward biology of growing a human being inside of her. She didn't feel like she was doing a very good job. Even though she had been reassured hundreds of times by other mothers and even her own that those worries and fears were completely normal, the actual birth itself and the life of a newborn infant to be responsible for still terrified her. This was the most challenging part of motherhood that had yet to come, and the actual birth itself and a newborn infant's life to be responsible for still terrified her. Betty didn't want to disappoint Jughead or let him down in any way. Even though she had expressed her worries and concerns in the past, it was never anything she wanted either of them to dwell on, especially with so much happiness associated with this pregnancy. It had just been a part of mother nature's plan and not by any default of her own, not anything she had done or not done. There was probably a splinter of superstition in her still, worrying that if she condemned herself or the kid, something would go wrong.She managed to eventually raise her head while sniffling from a suddenly runny nose. Thankfully, she did not have any genuine waterworks, and she rubbed her nose feebly with the back of her palm. "Jug, I'm a hormonal time bomb waiting to go off." She corrected him, her tone tinged with condescension as she remained firmly fixed within his hold, her belly pressed against him, and she felt the baby stir from likely both the sudden onslaught of such strong emotions as well as the external force of his body against hers. She felt the baby move as she remained firmly fixed within his hold, her belly pressed against him. Her hands slid to her tummy and began gently massaging it in an attempt to soothe both the mother and the infant. Instinctively, she did this. "It seems like someone's awake now..." She said, unable to contain her grin as yet another unexpected emotional turn and twist occurred throughout the course of their evening. The joy of feeling her baby was an experience neither of them would ever get exhausted from sharing with one another. Betty reached for his hand, pulled it to her belly, and placed her hand on top of his so that he could feel the baby wriggling and pushing out against her with some limb or another, which, if she had to guess, was probably a foot. She kept one hand on her, but the other was placed against her so that he could also feel the baby. Betty had a strong feeling that whether their child turned out to be a boy or a girl, they would have a future superstar on their hands, whether in the field of tap dancing or soccer. It was a touching moment, with just the three of them alone in their own little universe, meals, and depressing reality television programs fading into the background as they neglected to savor the simple miracle."Hey, Jug? Did you cook meatballs too?" Betty murmured quietly while keeping her hands where they were and sniffling again as she glanced back up to him with eyes that were a bit clearer and brighter. Some of the melancholy that she had felt that had been weighing her down was removed with the welcome from their unborn child. But you come back to what you need,

Bowie

10/03/2022 12:16 PM 

OPTIONAL TASK 376

1.) This movie was based on Anne Rice's famous novel and had a stellar cast that included names like Brad Pitt, Antonio Banderas, and Tom Cruise. Which movie is this? C.) Interview With The Vampire2.) The iconic movie The Silence of the Lambs introduced this iconic character who would go on to feature in countless TV shows and movies. Who is the character? R.) Hannibal Lecter3.) Which iconic scary movie features Quentin Tarantino and George Clooney as murderous brothers? W.) From Dusk till Dawn4.) Which 90s movie features creepy crawlies taking over a small town in California? E.) Arachnophobia5.) Which horror movie was shot entirely on a video camera like a documentary? F.) The Blair Witch Project6.) Which Martin Scorsese movie features Robert De Niro as a criminal madman? S.) Cape Fear7.) What color palette does The Ring predominantly follow? X.) Blues, grays, and greens8.) Which horror movie featured Sarah Jessica Parker as a witch? K.) Hocus Pocus9.) Where does the story of Scream 2 take place? P.) University Campus10.) How many Nightmare On Elm Street movies have come out to date? T.) Nine Films11.) Which Tim Burton movie features the headless horseman? Y.) The Sleepy Hollow12.) Which children's movie released by Disney has been joked about bordering on existential horror? B.) Pinocchio13.) Which Tim Burton Disney movie features dogs as the main characters? Z.) Frankenweenie14.) Which horror author has the most adaptations made from his bestselling books? U.) Stephen King15.) Which movie features Pennywise the Clown? D.) It16.) Which actor plays the protagonist in the movie The Woman in Black? O.) Daniel Radcliffe17.) Which character portrayed by Johnny Depp is a barber who kills all his clients? J.) Sweeney Todd18.) Which movie features a princess who has to go down a hole in the tree to find a disgusting creature with its eyes in his hands? M.) Pan's Labyrinth19.) What is the real name of the antagonist in A Nightmare on Elm Street? I.) Freddy Kreuger20.) Who plays Hannibal Lecter in its first and most horrifying film depiction? A.) Anthony Hopkins21.) Which terrifying fish has inspired numerous monster flicks? L.) The Piranha22.) Which movie features a child who can see dead people? Q.) The Sixth Sense23.) What is the name of the scary clown from the Stephen King Franchise 'It'? V.) Pennywise24.) Which slasher flick character is terrified of water because he died by drowning? N.) Jason Voorhees25.) This movie features a clergy member who turns over to the dark side. H.) The Nun26.) Which flick was shot partly through CCTV cameras? G.) Paranormal Activity

Dodge

10/03/2022 10:49 PM 

Halloween Movie Match Up

  1.) This movie was based on Anne Rice's famous novel and had a stellar cast that included names like Brad Pitt, Antonio Banderas, and Tom Cruise. Which movie is this? - C Interview with A Vampire2.) The iconic movie The Silence of the Lambs introduced this iconic character who would go on to feature in countless TV shows and movies. Who is the character? - R Hannibal Lecter3.) Which iconic scary movie features Quentin Tarantino and George Clooney as murderous brothers? - From Dusk til Dawn4.) Which 90s movie features creepy crawlies taking over a small town in California? - E Arcanophbia5.) Which horror movie was shot entirely on a video camera like a documentary? - F Blair Witch Project6.) Which Martin Scorsese movie features Robert De Niro as a criminal madman?-  P University Campus7.) What color palette does The Ring predominantly follow? - X Blue Grays Greens8.) Which horror movie featured Sarah Jessica Parker as a witch?- K Hocus Pocus9.) Where does the story of Scream 2 take place? - S Cape Fear10.) How many Nightmare On Elm Street movies have come out to date? - T Nine Movies11.) Which Tim Burton movie features the headless horseman? -  Y Sleepy Hollow12.) Which children's movie released by Disney has been joked about bordering on existential horror? - B Pinnochio13.) Which Tim Burton Disney movie features dogs as the main characters? - Z Frankenweenie14.) Which horror author has the most adaptations made from his bestselling books? -  U Stephen King15.) Which movie features Pennywise the Clown? - D It16.) Which actor plays the protagonist in the movie The Woman in Black? - O Daniel Radcliffe17.) Which character portrayed by Johnny Depp is a barber who kills all his clients? -  J Sweeny Todd18.) Which movie features a princess who has to go down a hole in the tree to find a disgusting creature with its eyes in his hands? - M pans labrynth19.) What is the real name of the antagonist in A Nightmare on Elm Street? - I Freddy Kruiger20.) Who plays Hannibal Lecter in its first and most horrifying film depiction? - A Anthony Hopkins21.) Which terrifying fish has inspired numerous monster flicks? -  L The Piranha22.) Which movie features a child who can see dead people? - Q The Sixth Sense23.) What is the name of the scary clown from the Stephen King Franchise 'It'? - V Penny Wise24.) Which slasher flick character is terrified of water because he died by drowning? - N Jason Vorhees25.) This movie features a clergy member who turns over to the dark side. - H The nun26.) Which flick was shot partly through CCTV cameras? - G paranormal activity 

π‘ͺπ’‚π’“π’π’π’Šπ’π’†.

10/03/2022 10:58 PM 

he's going to kill me, isn't he?

  It was one of those busy mornings that seemed to feel a bit like chaos. It wasn’t that they happened few and far between, it was almost a weekly occurrence due to busy schedules and the fact that Abel and Caroline seemed to constantly be adding things to their to-do lists. Caroline was talking on speaker phone, standing at the kitchen counter with her macbook open and typing rather aggressively as she half responded to emails and half argued with the voice on the other end of the line. Her glasses were perched on her nose, since she hadn’t even had time to put her contacts in. The person on the phone, a man, was arguing with Caroline about the cost of launching a full line of foundations for her beauty brand. “Caroline, we’re just saying that the money doesn’t make sense to launch with that many shades, the profit margins will be significantly lower.” he warned, causing the brunette to angrily stop typing to pick up her phone and bring it closer to her mouth.    “I’m sorry, I wasn’t aware that this was your company. Is it your face and name that’s on the door? Oh, wait, I sign your paychecks and you work for me.” she said, surprising even herself a little at her harshness. “We will launch with at least forty shades or I won’t do it. No one will be left out because you’re worried about making money.” she repeated herself, which like the number of shades she wanted, she’d said at least forty times that this would be the way it would go. The man sighed, the fact she was arguing with some man who probably couldn’t pick out the difference in mascara and sharpie over makeup was ridiculous. “How about this? You figure out a way to do it the way that I want or your profit margins are going to be so low, it’s zero, when I fire you. Thank you.” she said hanging up the phone and wanting to toss it into the pool.    “Babe, I have to go.” She heard from behind her, her loving fiance who probably had thought the whole thing was hilarious since Caroline seemed to be the least scary person on the planet. “I love you.” she reminded him as he wrapped his arms around her, she noticed that he still held on longer. He lingered. He was scared every single time they weren’t together, she wanted to remind him that nothing had even happened lately, but she knew it wouldn’t help. It was hard, but it wasn’t like they could just ignore what needed to be done, especially since they’d be taking some time off to honeymoon in Bora Bora. “I’ll be fine.” She said, standing onto her toes to press her lips to his. “Don’t worry, boss, I’ll take care of you little miss, I'll fire you.” Jordan said as his presence was made known as he rounded the corner into the kitchen. He was taking a bite out of an apple that he grabbed from the fruit bowl that Caroline always seemed to get stocked to help remind her to eat.  Jordan was Abel’s longest running security guard, and now Caroline’s. They fought like siblings, but he was by far Caroline’s favorite in her ever growing security team.    With that, he was gone and Caroline was right behind him. She was going to the location for her store front. She’d always wanted to have an actual “Xoline” store front, but it was never the right time. And with the last few successful launches, she felt like it was time. She’d bought a location, secretly, of course. She kept her name out of it, half because she didn’t want TMZ to leak that she’d be opening not just a pop up, but an actual store and for her own safety. While Caroline didn’t seem to worry as much about her safety, it was just an act. She was terrified of what the man could do to her if he wanted, and she wanted to live. She was so blissfully happy with her life that she didn’t want to lose it. So, she started listening a little more to Abel and the security team to take more precautions.    The ride to the store was only long due to the traffic. She sat in the backseat of the large black suv, with Caesar laid across her lap, and her phone in her hand trying to respond to all the things that she needed to with the time she had stuck in the car. When they arrived, Jordan dropped her off at the door. It should be safe, no one even knew that she had this property and he was just parking the car. She noticed his hesitance, and she realized that it was probably because Abel had drilled it into his head not to leave Caroline alone, basically ever. It wasn’t something he seemed to play with, her safety.    She used her finger to press against the scanner, another safety precaution that Abel had insisted on, a lock that could only be opened by certain fingerprints. It was ridiculous to Caroline, but she had to say that the whole thing was kind of cool. The doors opened and Caroline walked inside. The building was nowhere near put together, but she had a lot of things done surprisingly. She dropped her bags off in the small office area that was off to the side, and made her way into the showroom. Today, she wanted to start dressing the mannequins, start deciding what they needed more of and also confirm the choice of paint.    She didn’t notice a single thing out of place until she flipped the light switch and was face to face with fear. As the lights turned on, she wasn’t looking at the bare mannequins that she’d ordered and painstakingly choose. These mannequins were already dressed, and they looked like…they looked like Caroline.    The mannequins were exactly Caroline’s height and build, and they were all stabbed in the chest through the garment with notes present on each and every one. She froze, it was like she couldn’t even grasp what she was looking at. She walked closer, as if she couldn’t help but want to examine the details. Like, she wasn’t believing what she was seeing, she wondered what type of mean prank that this could be without it being a clear message from her stalker. As she got closer, she realized they were dressed in her clothes. Not her clothes as in from her line, as in her clothes from her closet. Most of them were things she’d worn to events, all with the notes and covered in red liquid that reminded her of blood, “I’ll see you soon, Caroline.”, or “I miss you, Caroline.”    There were other looks, like the dress she wore to meet Abel for the first time, the silk lingerie she’d worn when her phone was hacked and photos of her sleeping was leaked. The exact outfit she’d been wearing was down to the jewelry when she’d been choked out by the man in her old office. He'd written that was his favorite, and couldn’t wait to see her gasp for air again. It was f***ed. She was frozen, she couldn’t believe what she was looking at. She could hear Jordan banging on the door, his fingerprint wasn’t working.  Caesar started barking at the noise, picking up on the fact that Caroline was scared. “You’re so f***ing pretty when you’re scared.” rang over the sound system, it wasn’t a human’s voice, but one like Siri reading a text. The lights flickered and she could hear Jordan telling her to get back that he’d break the door down. But he didn’t have to, the doors unlocked and he was able to rush in. And with the sound of the backdoor slamming, it caused him to rush into action, pushing Caroline aside and running after the sound.    It didn’t matter, as Caroiline backed herself into the corner, sliding down the wall and wrapping her arms around her legs, she knew he wouldn’t catch him. She knew that he’d only be caught if he wanted to be, and he wanted to kill her too badly. She started to cry, her breathing quickening and her sobs sounding so much more sad than before. She was terrified, the anxiety making her feel as if she could throw up. Jordan returned, yelling at the other members to guard every single damn exit in the building. “Caroline. It’s okay. I’m here. I’m going to call Abel, we’re going to get you out of here, okay?” he said softly, in one of those rare moments that showed how he actually did care about her and not just because he was paid. “I’m going to call him right here, okay? So you can hear.” he said, as he tried to help Caroline calm her breathing. “He’s going to kill me, isn’t he?” she asked him, herself, and maybe even God. An answer that no one knew, they just hoped that she’d make it out alive.  

π‹πžπŸπ­ 𝐁𝐞𝐑𝐒𝐧𝐝

10/03/2022 12:32 PM 

How To Get Rid Of Dad

Tara couldn't believe it. Standing there holding a knife with his blood on it. Her dad's blood. He had tried to get her away from Woodsboro and go on a camping trip. But then he started talking about her issues and tried to be a better dad. But Tara had just snapped and grabbed the knife, stabbing him over and over again yelling at him to shut the f*** up. ​Blood covered hands, her dad's dead body laying there on the ground next to the firepit. They used to come here all the time back when she was younger when Sam had first left them. Camp Woodsboro. It was a small camp outside of the town and people often came here to go camping, or screw in the woods. But coming here now after what she's been through, and snapping like this, what can you do? "Sh*t, f***" she yelled out dropping the knife. ​Dragging her father's dead body she dragged him right next to the tent. This was all sorts of f***ed up but she had seen enough horror movies to know how to get rid of a body. But this was her father, though he left when she was just 8 years old. He was family. Once his body was in position, she grabbed one of the logs from the firepit then dropped it onto her dad's body and it instantly caught fire. Tara just stood there, an almost emotionless look coming across her face watching her father's body burn. It was like she was evolving, or becoming something else. Either way, she wasn't the same innocent Tara her sister knew.

Don't Scream, Scream

Tyler

10/02/2022 09:48 PM 

weekly challenge Sept. 26 - Oct. 02

β€” Black Sabbath -(Taken)

10/02/2022 09:35 PM 

Humus

Summary: “What’s your name?”“Red.”“No,” the man - Frank - shakes his head. His heart beating a symphony of unease. “That’s not it.” Notes: SEE END NOTES FOR TRIGGER WARNINGS! (Contains Spoilers) Poems and excerpts taken from (in order of appearence):Unlocking, Alice B. FogelDeep Red, Kevin KillianThe too late poem, Albert GoldbarthBalance, Alice B. FogelBilly-Ray Belcourt  Altrno. 6 "Head injury" and no. 21 "Bleeding through bandages". Happy reading     Humus; a brown or black complex variable material resulting from the partial decomposition of plant or animal matter and forming the organic portion of soil.   Trees are born and die, bones turn to humus, glacier to meadowland.     RED   I’m living in your disgrace deep red hatched cells a doll with hands scuttles across the face of the sea for you come and get these memories   He wakes up and he’s nothing but the pounding ache, hammering a hole through his brain and out his skull. Nausea plays with his stomach in flips, bitter acid splashes at the back of his tongue, scorching his taste buds in white-hot sting. He swallows convulsively - he’s numb from his feet to his waist and it recedes like the tide. Feeling returns like glass shards stabbing his thighs, knees, calves, feet. Abdomen flutters with the need to be sick, heat replaces cold and cycles back to heat all over his sweaty skin. Glass shards turn into pins and needles, he finds that moving is possible. Hands scramble to get a purchase onto something real, scratchy cotton scrapes over his palms as they shake, muscles pulse as if trying to melt right out of his skin. His fingers feel anesthetized, skin tingles all over, merges at the right side of his face. Tingling- Getting up makes blood rush to all the places that hurt, his perception flickers and darkens in a world that’s already painted in black and splashes of red. Maybe his knees hit the floor, he’s not sure. He’s up again - holding himself tightly to the wooden headrest of a bed before the pain converges to one place; his head. It sharpens into a ringing over his right ear, splitting him open, brain turning into static mush. He’s being taken apart from the inside out. There are words trying to tumble their way out of his mouth, but he can’t remember how to move his lips, curl his tongue. Knows that M feels like pressing his lips, knows that L gets his tongue to dance in the cage of his teeth, but nothing moves, nothing works. Nausea swirls around once more, doubles his body weight. He’s oddly aware of his own shaking, then. How his hands tremble and tremble as if convulsing. Moving gets the blood to pool on his legs and the throbbing muscle flares like fireworks under the skin. He takes a step - falters. Nothing works as it’s supposed to and he pushes. When his knees fail he pulls himself up, his head feeling like an overfilled balloon, brain liquid and heavy. He smells soap and he follows it, follows the only thing that’s not hot-cold pain and the clash of lightheadedness and heavy, pounding ache that tears from his spine, to his neck, to his head and behind his eyes. The world flickers as if it’s own fire. And then he’s falling, knees collapsing like a house of cards. He’s unable to keep going - still, he crawls. Shoulders shake in a dance of giving up and giving more, his elbows bruise with the number of times it falls to the ground. He can’t remember half the crawl when he finally reaches the smell of soap - a bathroom. He has to stand up, so he does. Body begs him to stop, flares in his own perception like lightening. His muscles quiver and crumple, pain screams a high-pitched agony song on all of his limbs. Even as he manages to stand up, he’s still falling, getting pulled into the ground. He doesn’t know, but it’s not the first time he awakens in the unfamiliar place. Cold porcelain meets him in a shock of cold and he’s vomiting before he can process the feeling of knees hitting the tiles once more. Barely registers the vile taste coating his tongue for it feels thick and tingling with palpable static as if anesthetized. His head throbs, brain pulses against the cage of his skull. Drills from the center to find surface - he’s a hollow tunnel collapsing inwards. He vaguely registers he stopped vomiting when vertigo thickens the weight of his head. Digs through his brain on how to make his limbs move, how to get his muscles to work, so he stays slumped in the ground, a pile of failed meat. Feverish eyes scream a bright sting when he blinks - maybe he’s shaking from it, from the pain. Maybe it’s the cold from the tiles under his naked knees. He tries to come up with an answer to questions he doesn’t know how to formulate - to where he is, why does everything hurt, why can’t he see, why is he alone - but nothing comes. Only the ringing in his right ear and the impermeable fog on his head, cut through only by needle-sharp pain. Where. His breath hitches and even the slight movement of his throat feels exhaustive. He forgets mechanics and only focuses on pressing his hands to the floor, finding something solid under his feet. Tries to get up, tries to get ready. Head screams threat even when all he can perceive is soap, his own sweat, copper and the ringing in his ear. Needs to locate the threats. Find escape routes. Head pulses, throbs- Where? The unfamiliarity of the place feels slightly less daunting when he manages to stand up. He doesn’t recognize the cold feeling under his feet, doesn’t recognize the smell of soap or the coppery aroma that gets more noticeable every second that he balances precariously on his legs. He can’t see but he knew where the bathroom was - followed the scent of soap and bleach. There’s something he has to do. The thought comes unbidden, penetrates through the fog like knife cutting through cloth. And then it’s all he can think of. There’s somewhere he has to be. Someone... someone was waiting. Someone needed him. Needed... who. The thought disappears like smoke with the next pulse of pain against his bone, overworked muscles shake and falter as he grips onto the sink. Swaying side to side, again and again. A swirl of nausea his body mimics from his stomach. And then it’s back. Someone, someone, someone. Fingers curl around the faucet. He can’t open it. Right hand refuses to cooperate. His head hurts and the ringing won’t leave. He tips it slightly to the right side only for it to scream bright-white-red pain and his knees try buckling once more. Someone waiting ( someone needed him) . He’s there, holding himself to the sink, convinced he’ll fall to the ground again. And this time, he won’t get back up. The world is a black hole but for the fire thickening around him, a botched perception of a sink, a toilet, a shower - but it’s dull and thick like spilling ink. He’ll fall and sink into the nothing underneath. Melt into insubstantial liquid. He hurt his head. He hurt something else too. His head is hurt - how, when, why - doesn’t know. Why is his head hurt? He finds the stitches like a rupture in the embers painting the perception of his own body. Follows the sutures with his fingertips, feels the swelling threatening to pull the threads apart. Almost faints from the pain when he tries pressing lightly into it. His right ear rings - someone - and keeps ringing, it won’t stop - someone needed him. Who? (Get to work). The erratic thinking is cut through by rhythmic thumping approaching - and then, the world rushes in. A heart, breathing, creaking wooden floor, birds, a deer far away, rustling leaves. Something is missing and he doesn’t know what. Someone needed... Open the faucet. He can’t open the faucet. Thought turns to mush and disappears into nothing, he has one job, he has to open the faucet but he can’t. Fingers fumble but can’t hold a grip. A solid wall of thumping heartbeat, inflating lungs and straining muscles carrying the smell of rain, smoke and antiseptic clots the doorway, the only escape route. A large hand suddenly intrudes in his space, takes the handle and twists it for him. He stumbles away from the oppressive, undefined form. Too much battles with his perception - the worms crawling and squirming under the house, the creaking wood, the loud, thunder-like heartbeat, the choir of birds and deer and coyotes and a large, shapeless body of leaves and trees and roots. It takes the form of a man as he concentrates, limbs sluggish where he tries to protect himself. Maybe he falls, maybe he’s still up. He’s upright, he’s upside down - his head hurts. The man, for now he’s sure it’s a man, closes the faucet then. Tries to focus on some kind of noise that may or may not be coming out of his mouth, but is deafened by the too-fast sound of his own pulse, loud ringing and the rhythmic war-drum behind, framing the bathroom with its sound waves. He whimpers, tries to press a hand to his right ear only to yelp at the pain, the sound echoing and stabbing his eardrums viciously. What’s happening? What the hell is happening? Why does everything hurt? What happened to him? Too late, the fog whispers back, too late. “Where am I?” He doesn’t recognize the voice that leaves his own throat, uncertain in its candor. Weak. A simple thought of what would Stick think? passes through his head before disappearing into the fog, lacerated and torn apart by the sharp ringing. Like everything else - insubstantial. He can’t reach it but it’s there, trapped in the haze. If he could just reach it- God, his head is killing him. “Red,” the gruff voice saturates the room and paints it bright. “Can’t be walking yet, go back to bed.” The sound helps him make a picture of himself - the embers lick at the heat gathered tightly in a straight line across his lower abdomen, in a circular wound in his right leg. Hot-white pain brings the nausea back the moment he attempts touching the sutures in his belly and he’s falling again. The man’s arms are curling around him firmly before his knees manage to hit the ground, a solid weight trapping him and he fights the nausea if only to push the man away with a disgruntled shout. His tongue is thick and dry in his mouth when he makes a second attempt at speech, limbs heavy and unable to come up to protect himself from the stranger. “No!” His own voice hits the tiles and echoes loudly against his eardrums. “Where am I? W-who are you?” The man’s heartbeat slows right down, the image of him flickers and he tries to grab onto it so he won’t catch him off guard should he attempt to attack. The man’s breath rumbles like the growl of a bear in his chest and he stumbles another step back at the disappointed, choppy rhythm of the man’s pulse. “You’re in a shack,” he relays carefully, tone neutral and giving him nothing to analyze. “Outside the city. It’s me, Red.” “No, why... Who, who are you?” He’s barely there when he asks again, mulls over the name again in his head. He’s called him that twice. Tries to savor it in his tongue as if it’ll get it to make any sense, but it doesn’t. He doesn’t know. Something’s wrong, missing. He tries to reach for anything that makes sense. Anything at all. The fog sits there, unreachable, unperturbed. He doesn’t know. He doesn’t know. “C’mon, Red. You need to sleep the meds off for a while longer.” A hand approaches him, cutting through the haze. “Don’t!” Red jumps away a few steps from the solid wall of a man, hands reach for him again once his knees try buckling for the second time. “Why do you have me? Let me- let me go-” The tinnitus in his right ear rises to that of a bee hive and he whimpers, head falling forward only for it to pulse dangerously, throbbing in so much pain that he barely registers it. “It’s Frank, Red.” It still doesn’t make any sense. Nothing does. “Why do you keep- ah, God,” the skin at the side of his head seems to swell, tries to pull at the stitches when it’s only the pain, bloating larger than life and playing with nausea settling deep in his bones. Adrenaline pulses hot, burning through it, keeping him no his feet. “Why do you keep calling me that?” The man’s - Frank’s - answer is deliberate when it comes, deceivingly patient. “What else should I call you?” The air leaves him in a sharp exhale, sutures pulling at the side of his head, right over his ear. Can hear it like bending wires, metal against bone. He uses it to center himself, tries to work through the haze with trembling fingers and weak knees. Finds nothing. “I don’t-” Too late, the fog repeats, you’re too late. His eyes sting but he refuses to acknowledge the heavy heat when it fills his eyelids with salt, burns at them. His head pounds as if protesting against it too. “Red is... fine.” He chokes out, his whole frame shivering as if his skeleton was attempting to jump out of his skin. The man - he forgot his name again, what was it? Grant, Dent, no - steps closer again, palms turned up to show he’s not a threat. He’s the only real thing he can track, the only thing that makes sense in the midst of all the input. Untouched by the fog even while he’s surrounded by it. Red can make out arms, fingers, a torso, a heartbeat, organs, bones - can’t make sense of his face, not yet. It gets lost among all the flames. Trying to work through the scents only proves him in worst shape, the sound of the man’s stomach digesting coffee and oatmeal almost deafens him. “Hey,” his voice booms around the room and Red’s knees weaken, the man is there to touch him lightly, callouses meeting elbows. “Hey, I’ll just take you back to bed, c’mon.” The words make sense until the point that they don’t. His brain grabs at what he can; the quality of the man’s - Fred, Frank - voice, deep, stoic and unperturbed. The warmth of his palms, every single ridge of a scar and a callous. His limbs are heavy by the time they stop moving, knees touching something cushy but coarse. Cotton. Doesn’t want to come anywhere near it, but he can’t fight the pull of every single muscle in his body. “I have to get back,” he slurs. “You’re in no shape to do sh*t, Red.” But he has to get back before curfew. Sister Augustine uses the ruler on the disobedient ones and Matt doesn’t want- He needs to get back before curfew. The man is there. Hovering just at the edge of the fog, fingers digging into it and keeping it away from him. Molding his body just right so it doesn’t escape it completely. He feels larger than the world, surrounding him from all sides - mountains surrounding a forest, forest surrounding a cabin... “It’s okay, kid.” He lets the tide take him. Large palms pressing him down to sandpaper, the church bells ringing in his ear.     His head is splitting open. Red cries out as soon as he wakes up, his brain pulsing against the sutures at the side of his head, throbbing. The pain radiates like lightening from it’s roots, an intricate web-patterned mesh of agony right over his right ear, extending to his temple, all over the right side of his head and the back of his eyes. The skin of his right arm feels numb and prickling, his ribs burn and splinters every time his chest rises with a breath. His lips feel dry and cracking when his parched tongue traces the edges, a foul taste lingering in the inside of his cheeks, over his teeth. His saliva feels thick with dehydration. “Open,” the gruff voice startles him to action. A rib shifts and another creaks and Red feels another cry dig its nails inside his throat. A large, sunken ship groans in his thorax and his chest stutters up and down with the new ache. He tries to feel for the coarse fabric irritating his skin - tries to fight, to get the offending hands away, but it’s useless. There are birds chirping outside, loud enough that it feels like their beaks and too-fast-too-loud heartbeats are pressed right against his eardrums. The large, indistinguishable body of roots, dirt and trees extends for as far as his senses can go. But the birds, they’re everywhere, occupying his insides like their own little cages. “It’s just water, open up.” Water. Water sounds good. Hands falter and fighting becomes pulling. Opening his mouth takes a surprising amount of strength. A rough but surprisingly careful hand tilts his chin back, supporting his head and helping cool liquid slide down his throat and quench the desert-like aridity. Stray drops run down his lips and neck, a stark difference with his slightly overheated skin. Tries to reach up his right hand to steady the man’s wrist only to find it uncooperative, lifting his left one instead. Red keeps on pushing until the right one eventually joins its twin, grip weak around a thick, scarred forearm. He holds it tight. The man's not getting his arm back until Matt is finished.  “Slow down, Red, you’ll choke.” He responds to the command automatically, guzzling down gulps of fresh water in a slower rhythm until he finishes what’s left in the bottle. All strength leaves his muscles when he finally lets go. The man’s hands are stop him from falling down abruptly against the mattress. This man. The man from before. Before... how long ago? Hours? Days? Some time before. Some time. Red doesn’t linger on it. Cotton sheets catch on the bruises in his skin and he hisses. “Hey! Stop f***ing moving around!” The man’s voice is pleasantly rough and Red stops, tilting up to hear it more closely, how it caresses the shell of his ear with a deep, gruff timbre. He’s locked in a more gentle, subtle kind of haze, then. The void doesn’t seem as terrifying as it feels inviting. “You had your skull open three days ago. Take it easy, Red.” He giggled. It was funny. Skulls weren’t supposed to be open, and people weren’t supposed to be named after colors. Red doesn’t know what colors looks like. It’s funny. “I’ll call you Black, then,” it feels funnier, still, because he isn’t sure he knows what black looks like either. “Dunno what it looks like but errthing’s burning-” The tingling feeling from before traveled up all the way from his legs to his shoulders and the world went out of focus. He’s oddly aware of his body moving before he went out again. Moving and moving and he couldn’t stop. Muscles tightening and loosening and tightening again. And then he was melting into the cotton sheets, skin feeling oddly detached of his flesh, hanging of him. Curt... back... seized again, just, come back here. He feels two powerful arms holding him sideways, a palm cradling his head. His head is overstuffed with cotton balls until they too dissolve, and Red’s drained. He isn’t sure when he manages to move. When reaching out feels like something possible, but it happens before he’s ready for it. He carefully explores the man’s face, the heavy stubble around his jaw and lips. The tight coiling heat of a bruise under one eye. He smiles. He’s home? “Dad?” “Sh*t-” the man, he didn’t sound like Dad, holds his breath before letting it get punched out of his chest. Like he’s in a ring with himself, or maybe with Red. “No, kid, just... Hang in there. Just hang in there.” The man doesn’t make much sense. Red feels around for him, for a proof of Dad. Feels the thick neck and strong shoulders. The pain coils tightly around the grinding above his right ear. His right arm feels too heavy to keep moving. Too heavy to do anything. He groans, hands coming to protect his head from the hellfire blazing within, hold it together so it doesn’t get ripped apart from the inside out. Hands appear out of thin air and Red can’t track them fast enough, hear the whistling of nails through air when someone forces something down his throat. Red fights. He has to find his Dad. He needs to find him or it'll be too late. The hands press him down against sandpaper sheets, feels it scrape at his skin, take a piece of him with it. Red fights it, with everything he has in him. “What did you do to him? Where’s- where’s-” Limbs loosen even when he tries to tense them, tries to fight. The need to sleep comes so suddenly his brain barely catches up to it, fingers still twitching, attempting to grab at something. The world is black, black, black and Dad’s face disappears with the sky when he hears the bullet. He lays down beside dad’s body in the alleyway, blood dries in the concrete.     “Eat.” His eyes open like the fluttering wings of the bird right outside the window, picking at its own feathers with its beak. Everything smells of wood, grass, gunpowder and soil, it impregnates every inch of his skin as his eyelashes disturb the air around him. Moves dust particles in a dance of fairy lights he’s not privy to. He’s not sure how long it’s been since he last woke up. It could be hours. It could be weeks. The fog is easier to navigate through, this time. It’s thick and omnipresent in every pulse of blood rushing through his body, but Red finds a way around it - can make the picture of his own body in his mind, how it inhabits the space, how it’s positioned in relation to the wooden walls. He can trace his pains back to their sources, although the fatigue stops him short of it. Every muscle in his body screams of exhaustion. The man - Frank, he recalls - is there once more. The fog battles the fire as Red unravels the enigma of the heartbeat poised right beside him. Listens to the rush of blood and oxygen to track the edges and contours of the man’s frame. Frank’s big, a shifting solid wall of trained muscles and a too-steady pulse. There’s a certain unwavering confidence in the way his chest expands with every inhale. A man unafraid of anything. Smells tell him more - gunpowder, gun oil, coffee, nicotine, blood, a lot of antiseptic, enough that it tickles his nose. He’s soon interrupted when a bowl of oatmeal is shoved in his face, struggling to curl his right hand around it as easily as he does with his left one. He winces once more when a head movement makes agony strike like lightning, rooting from the cloudy epicenter of the wound by his right ear and spreading over the curve of his skull and side of his neck. “Here,” the man turns to his left, feeling for something in a small fold-up table that smelled strongly of rust. A rough hand reaches for his, dropping two pills inside the shell of his palm. “It’s paracetamol. Curt said I can’t give you NSAIDs.” Red just nods sluggishly, realizing his mistake when the pain flares - whatever Frank says, he has other things to worry about. Why am I not in a hospital? He wants to ask. But doesn’t. Not yet. “Why do you smell of guns?” He asks instead. Red’s voice is only a thin thread of what it had been moments earlier. The fatigue is catching up to him quickly - too quickly. The man only snorts and Red tilts his head in slight confusion. For some reason he can’t fathom, that gives Frank a stop. Heartbeat falters before speeding up imperceptibly. “What’s my name, Red?” His voice catches on gravel and tar as he speaks, thick and filling the whole room with a sense of foreboding Red can’t help but mirror. “Frank.” “Frank what?” Red frowns, works through the exhaustion to keep upright, oatmeal balanced precariously in his hands. “I don’t know, you tell me.” “Sh*t,” the man shakes his head, pulse slightly faster still. “What’s your dad’s name?” Red’s eyebrows furrow closer together, analyzing a catch, some kind of implicit cue that he isn’t getting. Sees Dad’s face in his head, bruised and smiling at him. “Why do you want to know-” “Just answer the damn question.” He breathes a bit deeper. “Jack.” Red offers, calmly. Tries to remember his surname but can’t for the life of him form a single letter in his head that feels right. Just Jack. Battlin’ Jack. “Your mom’s?” “Dunno. Never met ‘er.” Something clicks, right at the back of his head. A noise. Doesn’t know what it is, doesn’t know where it comes from. Another click. He shakes his head. Frank is quiet. A void where Red’s perceptions usually would reach him - read his heartbeat, the pulling of his muscles, the steadiness of his breathing. He leans with his elbows to his knees, shifting dark smoke against the flames and the fire. “What’s yours?” The noise clicks again, his stomach goes cold. Eyes shift uselessly around as if to look for those embers, that bright fire. “What’s your name?” “Red.” “No,” the man - Frank - shakes his head. His heart beating a symphony of unease, of disappointment. A stark contrast to Red’s derailing one. “That’s not it.” “Does it really matter?” He begs in a breathless voice, heartbeat erratic where it pulses like a drum against his broken ribs. Soft tissue pressing against splintered bone. “You got yourself in some sh*t, Red,” the fog and the smoke envelop the man and he can barely track him but for his breathing, his heart, his stoic, unperturbed voice. “Some bad guys, they hit you in the head pretty bad. I could see part of your brains when I got there. Have no f***ing clue how you’re alive.” Frank’s heartbeat changes - accelerates just for a moment, snapping his body to life before he sinks back to the controlled ease. Red feels the pull of sutures on the side of his head. The grinding of bone on bone right over his ear, the feel of metal holding them together. “Is that why-” “Why what?” “I can’t see. Is... no,” no, he remembers Dad fading from his sight. The sky a far away dream. Dad promising it would be okay. “I’m blind.” The man’s chest stutters in a breath before measuring itself once more. In his slip of control, Red sees him clearly. Smoke fades in the face of the impressionist-like strokes of scent, sound, taste, touch. Can feel the heat as it leaves his body, the bruises blossoming all over his skin, the gunpowder stuck under his nails. “Yeah, you are.” The fatigue weights on him, seeps the energy out of his bones like a quiet stream. The oatmeal cools off. “Why is everything so loud?” Frank sighs, the air leaves him like a prisoner breaking free. Red feels it permeate the air. “I don’t know how you work, Red, really don’t. Just eat and go back to bed. It’ll get better, yeah?” A skip. Barely there. “Lie,” he mumbles. Frank’s heartbeat is a war-drum, a march of soldiers across no-man’s land. He sounded almost worried. Family? No. Red only ever had his dad. Friend? Unlikely. Red's no good at friends. “Are you my boyfriend?” Frank snorts without humor. “Nah, Red. You don’t like me very much. Just eat your food.” He stands up, footsteps fading where the fog dampens the fire. The noise rises in his right ear as he eats, spoonful by spoonful of lukewarm oatmeal. He can’t keep it in his stomach for long.   CONCUSSION   Nothing in the room can go back. The ashes couldn’t be paper again, the paper couldn’t return to its parental linen rags.     3 days earlier;   Frank can’t find a pulse. He curses, fingers slides wetly and slips in blood, presses them deeper into the same spot. The puddle keeps growing, nothing thrums under his digits - there’s no f***ing pulse. And he was too goddamn late. He keeps his hands close to the absence of a heartbeat and hangs his head. Sh*t, this wasn’t supposed to happen. It wasn’t supposed to go down like this. He lets go of the cold, progressively colder neck and curses at the sky, gathering the strength to face Red. He’s still mumbling, lips twitching and moving uselessly, crimson-tinted. His eyes are huge and dazed as if drugged, eyelashes clumped together with dried blood - he’s covered in it. Envelops him like a second skin, a sick kind of clothing. He stands up from the wet puddle under his feet, stains the few parts of gray concrete ruby where he steps and crouches by Red’s shivering figure, tries to find the source of the blood dripping down heavily over the side of his neck and painting his dislocated shoulder the color of his old suit. “Ah f***!” It’s small, can’t be wider than three, maybe four inches and a half, but the broken, elevated bone in Red’s skull gave way to his brain, hidden among tufts of auburn blood-soaked hair. Frank curses and steps back - has to work through his mind on what he knows of head injuries, anything from boot-camp to his experience on the field. Files the do’s apart from the don’t and what he’s equipped to deal with on his own. Goes through the information with single minded focus as he motions to the side and rips the shirt of a twitching, dying man in the warehouse floor. The bone hadn’t pierced the brain and there didn’t seem to be any parts pressed inwards, which counted for some measure of relief. He was extra careful moving him even then, supporting his neck. Red was still mumbling, huge eyes blind and lost to the tar-like emptiness surrounding him from all sides. “Sh*t, Red, work with me. C’mon, kid, work with me.” “Ahn- mhn- nnn-” “No,” Jesus Christ, he’s not doing this. He is not going to do this, not here. “No c’mon, kid, you don’t die here.” Frank holds on to a lifeline, attempting to press the cloth to stop the bleeding without disturbing the bone. Shifts his body to wrap a tourniquet around the bullet wound in his thigh, the knife slash across his stomach bleeds freely and gets the too-thin scrap soaking wet. He takes his own jacket off and presses against it, one hand still holding his nape to keep his head off the ground. It starts off like a twitch before Red’s whole frame seizes. Muscles contract and loosen, Red’s body snaps alive and deteriorates at the same time. Castle uses his whole weight to press his chest down to the blood-stained concrete and keep his neck still so he won’t hurt himself further. “Come on, Red, hang in there.” The gunshot to the thigh, the broken ribs, the dislocated shoulder and the slash to the stomach Frank can deal with. Sh*t is way less concerning than the piece of brain he could see and the seizure. Red is a live, pulsing wire in his arms until it seeps off him like an ill-fitting suit and he goes limp in Castle’s arms. He makes sure to put the shoulder back in place, secures the crimson-tinted wraps around the kid’s right thigh and lower stomach. Shifts him in his arms to brace his neck as best he can without proper equipment and holds the cloth to the bleeding wound. Thick ruby liquid drips on the ground and splatters his combat boots when Frank gets Red up. He checks the unconscious and dead bodies around them - some mangled to some degree, others beginning to wake up and shook his head. This wasn’t his goddamn mess. He gets moving. Calculates next steps. If Frank takes him to the hospital, Red was as good as dead. Whole city would be looking for him, morning came. He sifts through the possibilities in his head before finding the only truly viable solution. This day couldn’t get any worse.     “Does he need surgery?” “I don’t know, I-” Frank’s got no time for this bullsh*t. Much less the kid. He takes one careful, deliberate look around the room before slanting his head towards the bloodied threshold; the dead bodies piled outside. “Your bosses are dead, Doc. You only get out of this alive if I let you, got that?” The wiry man couldn’t be older than fifty, but the severe lines of fear distorted his face, made him look older. Frank studies exit points lazily - he had them memorized by now. “You told me you needed the portable CT. You have it. Does he need surgery?” “Man, look, I dig bullets out of people, close up stab wounds. I’m not a neurosurgeon!” Frank looks around, stuck between the restlessness and measured composure. He rubs the handle of his colt at the scar in his head, presses the cold metal against the skull until it stings. He wasn’t a neurosurgeon, no, but he had good equipment. Everything a mob doctor could need to patch up sh*tbags, including some things Frank was sure was alien tech. The Italian family Frank had been planning on hitting before this whole mess started had a whole hospital fit in a room so they could keep out of sight, out of record. “See, Doc, people say you’re the best. If they’re wrong, I got no use for you.” Frank clasps his hands in front of his body, feels the tackiness of Red’s drying blood in his palm and presses them more viciously together before loosening his muscles by sections. “Do you know how to do this or not?” The man’s lower lip trembled, muscle caught in the limbo between giving in and giving out, dark skin shining bright with sweat in the artificial light. “His dura looks intact. Little extrusion of brain matter... I can,” doc sighs shakily, “I can make a wound debridement, put the bone back in place with some wire and stitch it together. But if his brain starts bleeding or if there’s any internal damage we didn’t see, there’s nothing I can do.” Frank chances a look at the kid, sprawled out in the metal table. Still mumbling - awake, and still fighting to live with every inch of strength he could gather beneath wax-like skin. The house, painted crimson in blood as it was now, stank of death and piss. His eyes meet the doc’s again, there’s no understanding or truce in the gaze, but acknowledgment. They’re doing this. Frank has no f***ing choice. “Get ready, doc.”     0500 hours sees the sun far from fully setting in the horizon but the cold is already creeping into Frank’s bones. He abandoned the van he had stolen from the Italians in a ditch far enough away from the forest so it would keep them from looking, although Frank seriously doubted there was anyone left after the bloodbath he left behind. Wheeling a stretcher through the woods is a challenge on its own but it’s good quality stuff and he makes do, shoving bigger rocks and rotting branches away from their path when necessary, covering his tracks when needed. Red is passed out in between the flimsy see-through sheets, head bandaged neatly with only a few bloody stains seeping through. The trees eventually give way to his cabin and Curt’s car. He checks the plaque twice, makes sure the numbers are ordered correctly, focusing on details that would give away anything other than the expected. The beehive eating away at his brain settles, if only just as he mulls the numbers over in his head. Details get past him, sometimes. Spill like water from his grasp, like Red’s blood from the fracture in his head. Splattering in no distinguishable pattern, thick like overheated jelly over Frank’s boots. Can’t help looking at the gauze holding Red’s head together and feeling the tingle over his own scar. The one Bill left him with. Curt is draping new sheets over the creaking, old bed on the corner when Frank bursts hurriedly through the front door, eyes checking the perimeter, counting the booby traps surrounding them in a backwards order. Tree branch, leaf pile, can grenade, bamboo whip, trip wire, nail spikes. The room had been scrubbed within an inch of its life and Frank can’t exactly put to words any kind of gratification as he undoes the latches holding Red to the stretcher. He had been up and moving since four in the morning, since the phone call and the warehouse and finding Red mumbling gibberish with his head open and covered in blood that wasn’t only his. “Curt,” his voice is thick with gravel and tar-like saliva when it croaks out of him, “gotta take a look at that wound.” “Slow down, Frank, we’ll get to that in sec.” He shakes his head but doesn’t protest further, he won’t interfere with a corpsman’s f***ing work. Never had before and won’t start now. The unease trickles to his jumping fingers and settles in the pit of his stomach like a reassurance - he’s left two battlefields, welcoming a third one. Red, Curt and him and making sure that Red’s brains stayed where they were supposed to. Curt puts a thermometer in the kid’s ear and holds it with one hand while he carefully untangles the end of the gauze with steady fingers. “Hold this for me,” Frank’s already moving, taking hold of the device and leaving Curt to his work. Had never been this close to the kid without gearing up for a punch and the wrongness is another poke at the wasps’ nest in his head. “Did he do it right?” The uneven tan of his forearms next to Red’s waxy parlor makes him look fragile like china. “The surgery, he got it right?” The corpsman exhales a huff - neither a put upon sigh nor a simple breath, something trapped in the mingling lines. “I’d need a head scan to know that.” Wants to say something useless, waiting for the temperature to stop rising and the thermometer to finally shrill out a warning, if only to see if that would get Red to wake up and stop looking like a corpse. Say something like he’s good. Because he’s an idiot and a sanctimonious a**hole but Red’s good, can’t argue with the truth of it. “Does it look right?” He doesn’t trust a mob doc to have done it right as he trusts Curt and he certainly didn’t trust one not to give Red’s identity in exchange for safety from the other gangs, and that’s why his body is cooling off with his bosses’ back in the Costa family mansion. “Doesn’t look infected but it could take a while to set in,” the thermometer beeps. Curt checks it and nods in passing. “Not high enough to be a fever, probably from the shock.” An open palm is presented to him and Frank doesn’t ask him what, just handles Curt the improvised head scan the doc had taken after Frank shoved a gun in the back of his head. His face twists in all kinds of complicated expressions before sighing heavily. “Was he unconscious after the hit?” “Was awake when I found him. Mumbling sh*t, wasn’t making much sense. Passed out right after I got him to the doc’s table.” “How long?” “Two hours maybe.” Isn’t sure, even when he says it. The details get lost in between bracing Red sideways in the table and watching the doc put the fracture piece of bone back in place after dosing him with something, wiring it up together precariously and pulling the torn up skin over it, knitting it together in the shape of a crescent right above Red’s right ear. “The surgeon got the place clean, put that piece of bone back in place and closed it.” Curt nods, frowning for a different reason entirely as he works the flashlight back and forth over non-responding eyes. “His pupils-” “He’s blind.” “Alright,” he took it in stride. Curt’s good at playing civilian but he’s still a soldier. Still trained for the job first, any and everything else later. Frank can't begrudge him for the shake of his head. Frank himself still found hard to believe the sh*t Red pulled without functional eyes. “At least they’re even.” Mumbles offhandedly, barely parting his lips as the slurred words work through the cracks. The blooming bruises starting under Red’s eyes were small but starting to spread. A mock-mask. Frank remembers it vaguely. Seeing the same bruising under his own eyes in the mirror back then, when that bullet shattered inside his skull and lodged in the soft tissue of his brain. Curt stands up from his looming, turning the flashlight off and sighing heavily, his whole frame moving with the weight of it that hangs oppressively in the air between them. “Fracture’s not the problem, Frank. They mostly heal on their own. Docs call it a compound fracture.” Curt snaps the gloves off his hands, throwing them over to Frank when he offers his palms. He sees it coming, sees how the situation downs on him - Curt prepares to fire the big guns and Frank fights the urge to square himself back against it, keeping his pose neutral. “If he has brain damage, though? He could bleed internally, Frank. His brain could start swelling, he could paralyze, stop breathing. If he gets an infection, the chance of saving him, Frank, Jesus.” Curt shakes his head, every motion a forewarn. “Risk is already high in a hospital, let alone in the middle of nowhere.” “What do I gotta do, Curt?” He cuts to the chase and the ex-corpsman is none too happy about it, pressing his lips together in silent disapproval. Frank could almost taste it in the air in the way he could still taste the sterilized surgical tools. A stench that wouldn’t go. “For at least six days, if you’re keeping him here,” he exhales, all the contents in his lungs leaving in a single heave. “You gotta sterilize the room. Clean it at least two times a day. His sheets will need to be changed everyday, his wound cleaned, the bathroom scrubbed every time you use it. You can’t touch him without washing your hands, can’t open the windows or you risk letting in dirt and bacteria.” Frank rubs a palm through his eyes until the skin around it stings and he moves to pressing his knuckles against his eyeballs, feeling the pressure build up, dark and bright spots dancing at the edges before he lets up. “Think I can do it here?” Curt turns to him, eyebrows raised in something that looked like resignation but Frank wouldn’t be all that sure. “You have any other choice?” It’s a fair question, one Frank would’ve answered truthfully, should’ve gotten the chance. He was nothing if not practical - if there was anywhere else he could’ve safely taken Red to, he would’ve. In a f***ing heartbeat. But there’s nowhere and here they are. Movement stops them both short of continuing the questioning: twitching fingers sing a prelude to wakening muscles and a dragged out, weak groan. Red moves subtly under the thin stained sheet, left arm fumbling for a grip before he lets go. Frank watches it, taking an involuntary step forward when it twitches again, fingers attempting to hold the fabric before eyes flutter open. “What’s his name?” Curt’s voice brings him out of the brief uncertainty and Frank’s eyebrows furrow down to meet at the bullseye between them. “Matthew.” Curt nods, pulls himself a rickety fold-up chair and sits closer to the bed. “Alright, Matthew,” he starts, his voice dropping to that soothing tone Frank had heard one too many times. “I’ll need you to stay still, you’re really hurt.” He’s dazed, still. Less so than when Frank found him, but his eyes won’t still quite stop moving around lazily. Every single movement too slow, as if limbs were being weighted down to the mattress. “Mhn,” sounds wrong coming off the kid. Too vulnerable, lacking a fight. Frank clenches his jaw and works his trigger finger against his upper thigh before taking a step to the side. “Eye response is good, that’s a four.” Frank’s gaze flickers from Red’s frame, coming back and forth from Curtis and settling back again. “Hell’s that?” “I need to know his level of consciousness. There’s a scale the docs use to track that. Might need to check it a few times. It usually gets better, but he could also step into a coma.” Frank frowns at the thought of it; locks his stare to Red’s owlish, blinking eyes and lets the severity of the situation wash over him like a wave. “Matthew, can you move your left fingers for me?” The silence drags viscerally in the wake of it and Frank feels each second like a brand searing into his skin. Numbers lining up at the seam of skin over his vertebrae. “Matthew,” Curt tries again, “Can you please move your left fingers for me?” Absence of movement takes a space bigger than Frank would’ve once thought it could. He waits for it - he and Curt hanging onto the edges as they swell, separate the before from the now and all its meanings. The cabin feels larger, all the empty spaces consuming the occupied ones. “Alright.” A sigh, Curt fumbles for his first aid kit and pulls an unopened suture needle from it. The sheets get pulled from Red’s blood-stained feet, stainless steels puncturing through dermis. Red’s leg jerks away from the pain like a snapped rubber-band. Curt’s assessing eyes drag to meet Frank’s gaze in doubt. “Looks voluntary, that’s a five. Not too bad. Matthew,” no response. No head tilting, at least not towards Curt. Red’s a blank sheet with nothing but bruises and stitches holding him together - every inch of him looked wiped clean. “Matthew, can you tell me how you’re feeling?” “Mhn, mhn-” “Sh*t,” the curse leaves him in a huff of breath, his eyes go up in useless search of something he wasn’t quite sure he ever fully believed in. Guy upstairs was either very fond of Red or not at all. “Matthew, can you tell me your name?” “Mmm, mmm.” Nothing more than sounds. The echo of Red’s words over the phone crackle like static around the shell of his ears, the ghost of his speeches and admonishments like a half-forgotten story he heard from someone else. “Verbal response is not good, that’s be a two.” Curtis stands up from the chair, flimsy legs creak and cry with the movement, slanting towards the slightly smaller leg precariously. Gloves get pulled off again, thrown to the side. “He’s got moderate TBI at best, Frank. These kinda injuries either get better or they don’t. He could be talking tomorrow and then falling into a coma the day after and there’s not a damn thing you can do here to stop that from happening.” Frank turns his gaze away, locks onto Red’s dazed form instead. “This guy should be in a hospital, Frank!” “Jesus Christ,” fingers find a thread to pull before ripping it out in a single tug. Frank interlaces them behind his head and he steps around Curt, pacing into the room. There was no doubt before, when he dragged Red away from that warehouse and brought him here. There isn’t going to be any now. He drops his arms. Turns back to his brother. “How do I know?” Curt sees it. Knows him long enough to know when he’s got his mind made up about something. “Bleeding,” he offers, an exhausted drag of his consonants, “from the ears, nose, eyes. Pupils dilated unevenly. Fever, seizures, loss of motor function.” Frank commits it to memory like he once committed the names and addresses from the Cartel, the Irish, the Dogs of Hell. Paralysis, fever, seizure, blood - abort mission, find Red a hospital. “Any of those happen, I go to the hospital,” turns his eyes up to meet Curt’s, “they’ll be able to help ‘im?” Curt’s shrug is every inch as tired as his voice had been moments before. “With any luck, maybe.” He turns to sit back down, fingers tracing the rusty edges of the fold-up chair. “You mentioned a mob surgeon?” “Yeah, was planning on hitting their headquarters a while back,” he scratches at his stubbled chin, eyes fixed on the grime stain on the window pane right by Murdock’s bandaged head. “Guy took a portable scan, ain’t sure if it was any good.” “Jesus, Frank,” words are just that now; words. No turning back from this and Curt knows. Frank’s gotta do his thing but that won’t stop Curt from doing his - from trying to knock some sense into him. He’ll push and Frank won’t buckle and Curt will eventually fold, if only for the time being. “He’s had head surgery, he should be on a ventilator! Of all the impossible things!” A hysterical, put upon breath breaks out of him as he sits down. Frank doesn’t offer him anything - it’s not the first time he’ll disappoint him and most certainly not the last. Frank will do what he gotta do and Curt knows that. Knows him. The taller man shakes his head once more, fingers rubbing at his eyes. “I’ll take a look at his wounds, make sure they’re clean.” The ex-corpsman dropped his hands from his face, right elbow leaning his weight into his thigh. “You sure you can’t take this guy to a hospital? There’s a serious chance he won’t make it, Frank.” Unprompted, his mind makes its way back to the bloody two-floor warehouse. The man in the stairs. “Yeah,” voice leaves in a wisp, barely there, shredded at the end. He clears the thick feeling bloating around his throat, perched under his Adam’s apple. “I’m sure.”     Frank thumbs the edge of the crumpled piece of paper, following Curt’s scrawl with a gunpowder blackened index, dried blood stuck under his short nails. Searches through the sh*t he had raided from the Costas. A bunch of drugs Curt advised him against using, some others that’d come in handy. Paracetamol, broad spectrum antibiotics - some sedatives, should they need them. A whole bag of cleaning products he had scrounged for and some he had bought. Supplies for his dressings, antibiotic creams and Vaseline, so the bandages won’t stick to the sutures. Red’s still deep asleep by the time he gets back, Curt reading one of Frank’s books absent-minded in a corner. They’ve been checking him from hour to hour. Nudging him awake and testing his reflexes. Taking his vitals, his temp, making sure his pupils were even and there was no bleeding. Frank scrubs the whole place down. Makes sure there’s plenty of antibacterial soap and hand sanitizer around, specially when he changes his bandages. The sutures over Red’s ear were reddish and still swollen and the dressings come out slightly damp with serous fluid and some bleeding, but Curt tells him it’s normal and Frank doesn’t overthink it. He’s got a job, he’ll do it. And he damn well trusts Curt to do his. By the time he’s done cleaning, the place doesn’t look the same, something odd creeping through the wooden floors. It’s not even about the stench of cleaning products or the lack of dust settling over furniture, but a presence hanging over the space. Red is a stain making itself known - and even small as he is, kid's got one hell of a presence. Doesn't demand attention but once you see it, it hooks you in and by God it won't let you go. Twenty-one hours later, Red wakes up on his own for the second time. At first, he’s twisting the sheets in pale, ghostly hands and making sounds leaden with fatigue. Frank has no idea how he does it. One second he’s pale and slumped in the clean sheets; the next, he’s jumping to his feet, swaying precariously over his toes, breath straining and erratic - shallow, panicked puffs of air leaving him as if he was being punched repeatedly over his ribs. “Red, calm down,” his voice makes him cry out in shock, which surprises Frank in turn, heart jumping and body gearing up. “Hey, quit it, you gotta lay down.” “No, no, I have to go, lemme go, I have to-” Frank attempts an approach, only for the younger man to jump a step back, knee bobbing underneath him like a spring, caught in the limbo between giving in and holding up.  “Red, it’s Castle-” his attempts to appease only serve to incense him more, and Frank can’t say he’s surprised by that. “Let me, I need to go, I need to, I have to- ” “Red, you can’t move yet!” Trembling, almost convulsing fingers close tightly around the hilt of a fire iron, dazed, panic-blown eyes jumping from one nothing to another. Curt is a new presence at the threshold when Red unsteadily brings the weaponized tool up to his chest, sweat gathering around his waxy features with the effort of pointing it towards them. If not for the dressings and bruises and the overall beaten down appearance, Red would look every inch the dangerous fighter Frank knew him to be. “Where am I?” He asks, a quiet choke of a sound. The bandage around his shot left thigh starts pinkening before the color darkens to ruby red that starts seeping through the gauze. “What’s- I need to go,” his voice wavers again. “I need- let me go.” Blood drips on the floor from the ruptured stitches. “Can’t do that, Red.” “Who are you?” Murdock interrupts again in a burst of sound, shaky as it was, it still echoed around the four old walls. Frank hands it to him, he’s got a lot of fight. Can see the recognition in Curt, too. Red was barely keeping himself together, but still he stood there, holding that fire iron up and displaying every intention to use it if necessary. “It’s Frank, Red.” He tries a step forward. “Frank Castle.” “Get away from me!” The marine does, palms up to the opposite wall, suspended in the air with all the things he had no idea how to answer. All the question he’d need to face once- “Where’s... where’s...” Frank sees it happening in those sightless eyes and looks away. Recognition comes and goes but it always, eventually fades. Only serves to allow the question a repetition. “Where’s...” “Hey, Red, you got your head hurt pretty bad. A lotta sh*t’s gotta be confusing right now, but yer safe here-” “No no no don’t come any closer!” Can barely recognize the Devil’s voice, the way it splinters in fear and disorientation. The shaking only gets harder, his joints seem to stretch against his skin, limbs jumping away from his torso as if needing to run away. “There’s something wrong-” a sob, broken as anything Frank had ever heard. “There’s there’s something wrong, I can’t- I can’t-” words mingle and turn to mush, consonants get eaten and mixed into an auditory scrawl. Slurring the middles and catching at the end on hitched sobs. Was a wonder that Murdock still managed to keep standing, the bandage around his leg darkening further into crimson. “There’s something- please, please take me home.” The distant ringing on his ear turns into a hive, the numbness of the swarm’s fluttering wings. Take me home, he had said years ago. Head bandaged, no wife, no kids. Dead even if he still didn't know it. “Take me home, please-” Murdock’s knees finally give in and Curt steps into the room, the mid afternoon sun painting a dream-like haze over them - over Red’s open sobbing and Curt’s mumbled, comforting words. “Please, take me home.” Frank dodges his gaze to the ceiling and leaves the room.     “He doesn’t know his goddamn name, Curt.” The man sighs dispiritedly in response and Frank wonders if this is where Curt will finally stop indulging him. No such luck. “You don’t know that.” “Did you see that? Huh? Did you see what I just saw?” The incensed tone barely registers over the ex-corpsman’s features, eyes lazily following the movement of the blunt kitchen knife cutting through the apple in his hand. Curt shakes his head, drops the fruit on the table. “It’s been barely a day, Frank. He’s been beaten half to death, shot at, stabbed, brained. You’d know something about it?” “What, you think I did it?” Deep black eyes search over his face, eyebrows slightly curved upwards, betraying the worry Curt couldn’t keep bottled up. When he finally gives in, he does so with a heavy, exhausted exhale; his whole frame moves with it. “I think you wouldn’t torture someone you think is worth saving, it’s what I think.” Curt shakes his head once more, eyes pressed closed. Frank’s seen it a million times before. Patience runs right out of him even while Curt tries to hold it as tightly as he can. “Why is he here, Frank? Who is this guy?” The question should cut or maim or injure something in him, the way it sounds like a shriek cutting through his eardrums. Slicing through them like butter. No such thing happens - he’s a man sitting by a window with all his systems geared up for a fight and nothing left to face but his friend. “Have nowhere to send him.” “That’s bullsh*t, Frank!” He wasn’t denying it. “All I can give you.” He shrugs, rolls his shoulder back when he feels a healing cut pull at the edges. Curt steps back from the conversation at the movement and so does Castle. Takes the time to observe the other, how he prepared for another approach, how he studied his angles the way Frank would always study a building’s layout and exits before stepping inside. “Look, I ain’t asking why a blind man got hurt the way he did,” it sounds like it’s exactly what he means to ask. Frank doesn’t give him anything. “But whoever had him wasn’t a fan. He has broken ribs, his lower abdomen is slashed, his left thigh shot through, his shoulder was clearly dislocated-” “What do you want, Curt? What do you want me to say?” “I want you to tell me you’re not neck deep in something too big again, Frank!” His exasperated tone turns desperate, the thick lump of worry suffers metamorphosis, hatches out of its chrysalis like hopelessness, resignation. “You don’t die on me, not again.” He presses his palm against his head, rubs a the tight shaved hair on top. “Sh*t, Frank, what happens when this guy goes into a coma, huh? What happens then?” “I take him to a hospital.” Frank closes his eyes, lets a long exhale flow out of his system. “Just gotta postpone that sh*tshow as long as I can.” Curt only stared, dismay a permanent fixture in every pulling, twitching muscle of his face. Frank thinks again about disappointment and bringing Red here. The warehouse and the phone call and the man in the stairs. “What have you got yourself into, Frank?” “Got no idea what’s going on, Curt,” not yet. He’s nothing if not tenacious and thickheaded. He has a goal in mind. He’ll achieve it. “No goddamn idea.” The Lieutenant’s eyes find Red’s sleeping figure as if on a whim. The kid was twitching in his sleep, hands moving from time to time. “Is he the one neck deep-?” “It always is,” Frank interrupts, pressing his knuckles to the scar over his head. A mirror of Murdock’s. “It’s always a sh*tstorm around Red.” Curt is silent for a long moment. Long enough that the skin of his palms go numb with the force of his fingernails pressing deep into the meat. “You’re not responsible for him.”

β€” Black Sabbath -(Taken)

10/02/2022 09:32 PM 

White Noise

Summary: “Why didn’t you tell me you were hallucinating?” Frank asks in an undertone. Something somber in his voice. Laying low isn’t as fun as it’s cut out to be, Frank thinks, specially when you have a TBI patient whose lawyer brain and sheer stubbornness won’t be hindered by his memory loss, someone dead set on killing said patient and your own internal crisis going on. Notes:  TRIGGER WARNINGS (which are potentially spoiling)!! Be safe y'all. Poems and excerpts taken from (in order of appearance):Symbol for static grief, Gilbert MaxwellSwift shot, Kynafrom Bodies of water, T. GreenwoodMake me human or give me death, May Yangfrom Flux, Afaa Michael Weaver no. 23 "pursuit", no. 24 "flashback" and no. 5 "misunderstanding". Happy reading!     White noise; a constant background noise that drowns out other sounds.   No color and no wonder... Wanting no end at all, yet vaguely seeing Something of peace in breathing and not being.   PAPERCUT   tragedies become memories, living, dying. Sound is dead. Breathing is only a feeling.   Frank finds the edge of the tattered fleece blanket and pulls it over Murdock’s shoulders for the fourth time since dawn before going back to his research, hands flying over clacking plastic keyboard, faded white letters and stains roughly the shape of his digits. Possible Punisher sighting. He reads the article quickly - lacks evidence besides a female eyewitness claiming she recognized his silhouette from the news and the fact that bullets where found on scene. The address isn’t mentioned, neither is Murdock’s name. No news of six dead mercenaries found at the wanted lawyer’s flat. No police report of shooting. Nothing. FBI agent investigated. Albanians killed. Fisk’s transport detail ambushed. FBI agents injured and dead. Nothing pertinent, not now. Besides the guy’s face - strangely familiar. The same that has been going through his head since the attack on Murdock’s house two days before returns in a loop, running useless circles around his brain: Fisk makes a deal with the Feds, gets shanked in supermax. Transferred to the Presidential hotel, ambushed by Albanians, saved by one lone FBI agent. Red calls him, Frank finds him brained in a warehouse covered in blood, dead guys all around them. The moment Red steps back into his flat, Fisk sends mercs on broad daylight to take him out. He either wanted to get back at Murdock for putting him there, or- Or he knew he was Daredevil. Mercenaries on broad daylight, though? It either showed desperation or a man who had nothing to fear from the police or the Federal Bureau itself. Frank digs his digits into the corners of his eyes, thumb and forefinger holding tight to the crooked bridge of his nose. An exhale, and his large, aching palms snapped the laptop shut. Murdock shifts at the sound, a tiny jump of his shoulders indicating the startle. The covers shift with his squirming, fall again to expose a pale shoulder prickled like a Braille page from the chill. He had spent the day before in some kind of dissociative state. Obeyed commands sometimes, but mostly just lied there, eyes open and body completely still. Except when he did talk, but then it was just one word, caught in a loop: “Danger.” “Nobody is in danger, Red. We’re okay.” “Danger.” “You’re okay, nobody’s hurt. Go back to sleep.” Frank stands up - takes the corners of the blanket again with a sigh and tucks them back around Red’s neck. Out of habit more than necessity he checks the sutures for any sign of bleeding, plus or serous liquid. He had cleaned them, checked the scarring over Red’s lower abdomen and thigh now that the sutures were out. Didn’t touch the ones in his head, though. He was due a check in with Curt, anyway. The bandages around his hands were still pink. One of the cuts hadn’t been deep enough for stitching, but it was in a bad place: every little twitch of Red’s knuckles got it bleeding again. Nicks and shallow cuts surrounding it, framing them like a halo. Nothing Murdock hasn’t survived before, which isn’t saying much. Last he heard of the Devil before this sh*t show, he had been trapped under a collapsed skyscraper in Hell’s Kitchen. Had the whole thing fall on top of his head. Figures that wouldn’t have taken him down. Frank is tempted to say nothing can by this point, but circumstances have changed. Only takes one wrong move, Frank, Curt would say, tearing the wrong ligament, severing the wrong muscle, and you’re down. For good. Murdock’s breathing changes like an omen moments before he awakens. Frank’s been getting used to the sound of it - deep, relaxed breaths turning choppy, shallow - and hadn’t noticed. He listens to the change, the shift of ribs allowing lungs to expand full of air, for the tell tale- There. Abrupt inhale, a pause and then a long, carefully measure exhale. Frank sits back against the creaking old chair and watches Red twitch under the sheets, back turned to him. He moves, the blanket falls from his right shoulder again. Frank doesn’t try to straighten it back this time. “Hmm.” He meets Red’s first words with a grunt of his own, brings restless fingers to scrape over smooth wood, catches the splintered edges with his nails, digs them into the hollowed out nicks - carved again and again with fingernails until he couldn’t wash out the dark stains anymore. He stands up once Red turns, pushing the blanket down his torso and staring up at the ceiling. Heads to the kitchen. The whole emotional trauma sh*t and activity from two days before hadn’t done him any good and he was clearly still out of sorts. Eyes lethargic where they oscillate from the ceiling to the wall, sunlight reflecting dully on the damaged retinas. He peruses for a clean glass - one thing he’s come to realize about Red the last twelve days, you can fool his ears if you try but you can’t fool his nose. Or tongue for that matter. Unwashed cups gets him the disgruntled, pissed off face; anything he doesn’t like eating gets Frank the puppy dog f***ing looks. Shoves the glass of water into Red’s hands as soon as he’s up and leaning against the headboard, peeks over his shoulder at the sound of rustling sheets and fleece blankets before getting one for himself. Gets back only to see Red doing his smack-of-lips routine, tongue working over his teeth with that puppy look again, forefinger twitching along the hem of his sweatpants, scratching at the skin under it. His right hand is unsurprisingly uncooperative on the task of getting a proper hold of the cup. When Murdock fails a third time, Frank throws patience out of a window and sits down by the bed, enveloping a cold, shaky hand with his and helping him find a grip around the cup, clenching his fingers forcefully over Red’s. “Thanks,” barely loud enough for his ears to catch. He ducks his gaze in favor of missing that ridiculous look Red puts on his face when he’s thanking him, catches glossy red paper from the gift half-hidden under the pillow. Looks away. Matthew drinks slowly, blinking sluggishly through each gulp. Frank gets tired of the f***ing creaks of the chair and brings one from the kitchen, straddles it at a reasonable distance from the redhead - close enough to jump in should he let go of the glass. There’s been enough broken glasses around Red recently for him to know it’s not safe, should that cup break. With his head messy like it is, Frank isn’t sure if he would jump away from it or clench his palms around the shards until it bled. “Headache?” “No,” a frown. “Why can’t I move my hands right?” Frank squints at his face; every inch as clueless as he had expected. He had been doing it a lot, recently. Having episodes and forgetting about them afterwards. “A window broke. You got hurt.” Murdock’s head snaps up, eyes big when they land between his arms and torso. “You’re lying.” Yeah. Frank ignores it. “Who am I?” Matthew’s eyes go up to the ceiling in what Frank recognizes now as an attempt to roll in disdain. “Do we really have to-” “Yeah, we do,” kid almost gets himself shredded in a broken window and he wants to know- “F***ing hell, Red.” Shoulders go back, his spine straightens, chin goes up. Sh*t, and it’s not even a fighting stance. Frank had seen that in the hospital room, yeah. But mostly, he saw that one in court. Kid’s geared up. “You’re Frank,” a shaky right hand pulls the fleece blanket away from him, exposing his naked upper body. “You have military training but apparently doesn’t answer to anyone. You don’t have a job or a license, but you carry a lot of guns. You killed people yesterday and yours vitals kept steady like you were washing the dishes or doing your laundry. You’ve had me for almost two weeks and you somehow failed to mention that I’m a target for someone powerful enough to send armed mercenaries after me in the middle of the day.” Murdock takes a long breath, lets it out with a defeated sigh. “Who are you, Frank?” Can’t lie, right then. Not with those eager, desperate eyes stripping him bare. “A while back,” voice goes low, Frank clears his throat, “there was a shooting at Central Park. Three gangs.” He can almost smell it, the stench of death when it started creeping up on him. When he woke up and realized- “They killed my family,” a whisper: “all of them.” Matthew turns to him, then. The same attentive, considerate gaze Frank recognized from the graveyard. Willing to carry a few more burdens, a few more pains. Like he didn’t have enough of them. Gets him remembering that this is the man that cried for his daughter, for Frank. Frank who had bounced a bullet off his head not a week before, who had terrorized him into killing, taped a gun on his hand and chained him to a chimney. And now Red was here, with a whole less baggage than he had the day the met - all those years wiped clean out of his head -, and still willing to hear it. Share that burden again. “Got shot in the head,” a flinch, “but I survived, Red. Went after them, took all of them down.” He lets go of the wooden backrest once it protests against the strength of his grip. “You were my lawyer, when I got caught.” A head tilt. “I got you out of prison?” He asks in a small voice, slightly odd. “Nah,” he fixes his eyes back on Red, “that was me.” He frowns, considering the new piece of information. Maybe putting more questions in his head than answering them. He’s a lawyer in the care of a wanted murderer. “You helped me then,” he offers, it’s barely consolation but it’s all he can give. “Even when I didn’t want you to.” He’s waiting for a lot of things. A speech about revenge not being the same as justice. About second chances and life is sacred, Frank. He’s certainly not expecting what he gets: “I’m sorry.” A pause. Frank lets it stretch until it snaps too thin. “What?” “About your family,” a flicker of pain through his eyes, “I’m sorry you lost them.” Nausea hits Frank hard. Maybe it’s something about hearing it coming out of Red’s mouth - the raw truth of something morbid, horrifying coming from someone... sh*t, someone good. The type of good you don’t believe when you see it. Looks unreal. “Yeah,” he looks at him. Really looks at him. “Yeah, Red, me too.” The silence grows but it doesn’t offer much more than an attempt at catharsis; maybe an understanding. Facing a shared loss, loss of loved ones, of memory, of control. Seems like hours later, maybe, when Murdock finally speaks up again. “What do we do, now?” He asks, voice cracks into a whisper. “What do they want with me?” “See if we can wait the dust to settle. Head back to the cabin if we can, get ya out the city.” Although Frank seriously doubted it. This whole thing smelled of Fisk - of power and manipulation and well thought-out plans. Smelled of him past the point of pulling strings - a**hole’s running the whole show. “This place...” “It’s a safe house,” Murdock nods. “Might keep us out of trouble for a while.” Frank sighs, stands up with his trigger finger jumping against his upper thigh. Talking of them got his whole skin creeping, stress building up, muscles tensing. The carousel song going round and round in his head. “How’s the head, Red?” As if on cue, Red reaches to touch the sutures. Frank snatches his wrist, avoids pressing into the bandages. “Hey, don’t touch it.” Doesn’t let go, for some reason, calloused fingers tight around the shivering skin. “It’s... it’s fine.” His voice goes tight, breathing goes odd. He does that thing again, spilling out of himself like a broken cup, head flying miles away from his body. Or at least, he attempts to. He’s back in the room soon, flinching at sounds Frank can’t hear. Hyper-alert, goosebumps rising in cycles all over his arms. Frank sighs, leans back while slowly letting go of Murdock’s wrist. Frowns when Murdock flinches, hand slamming down against the mattress and immediately clenching around the fleece, bunching it and letting it spill from the cracks between his fingers. He worries the fabric between his palm and the bed until his breathing evens, his shoulders stop jumping and muscles coiling at everything. “You know, you’re gonna have to tell me sometime, Red.” Murdock either does everything he can to avoid his eyes landing on Frank or he has no clue where Frank is in the first place when he responds. “Tell you what?” Frank sits back down. Cocks his head back. “Com’on,” he chides in an undertone, “Don’t do that.” Murdock deflates with a shaky sigh. “I know,” he scratches at his neck gingerly. Frank eyes the scrapes on his forearms from jumping that building. “But I didn’t lie, the pain isn’t too bad.” “Right,” he sighs softly. “Hey, Red?” Matt turns to him, eyes lost somewhere on his neck. Chest going up, up and down in stutters. Up, up, down. “Breathe.” A flush rises up to his cheeks and colors his neck pink too, but Red tries. He’s been needing that a lot - someone to remind him to eat, breathe, take a break. “C’mere,” Frank stands up once more, sits down on the edge of the bed. Leaves plenty of space for Red to retreat away if he needs to. Can feel him reading him before he makes a decision, curious little head tilts before deciding and inching slowly towards the marine. Frank is mindful as he traces the sutures, checks for the third time for any signs of infection. The sickly red is down to a less concerning shade of vermilion - the wound didn’t close as quickly as the gunshot to the thigh or the slash on his stomach, but it was scabbing. “Should pay Curt a visit, to be sure.” He grunts, presses his palm against Red’s forehead before making a sound to indicate the movement. Red reacts better to it when he knows something’s coming. “Can’t tell if it’s healing as it’s s’pposed to.” “Who’s Curt?” “A friend, helped me when you were hurt.” Matthew smiles softly and Frank stops where he’s moving, drawn back to the slight push of lips. His whole face lights up with it. “I thought you were the one who put my head back together.” Frank can’t help a snort at the quip. Shakes his head. “Let’s go.” He walks up to the closet first, perusing for something Murdock could use. It was a fierce cold outside and winter was approaching. Grabs a pair of black wool gloves, threadbare and probably smelling like all the years it spent on the bottom of Frank’s bags. Forages for a scarf and a thick sweater to go with the coat he had brought from the kid’s place. “Put that on,” Murdock cocks his head in that ridiculous way of his before taking the offered items. Frank frowns at the pouty, plush mouth when the redhead licks over the chapped lower lip. He finds that he can’t look away. Red suddenly goes still, straightening up subtly. Frank clears his throat and turns away, feeling see-through. “I’ll get you a goddamn chapstick on the way back, yeah? C’mon.” Ding ding , he lost that round. Red stays still for a moment longer in appraisal and Frank feels like an a**hole who just handed over ammunition to the enemy. He strolls towards the door, ignores the nagging chip on his shoulder until he can’t: “And drink some f***ing water, Red.” He opens the apartment door after checking his handgun, shoving an army knife in a holster and extra ammo on the inside pocket of his jacket. Leaves Red’s cane and glasses where he can find, although he doubts he’ll be taking them. Keys. Burner. Money. Curses himself as he reaches for some paracetamol, in the likely event that Red’s headaches make a come back. Murdock shouldn’t be moving half as much as he is but this sh*thole has not elevator, which makes getting him a wheelchair to avoid stairs useless. Waiting for Red to get on with it, Frank leans against the door frame, eyes casually sweeping his surroundings. There was the possibility that Army lady and Knee jerk were alive, if they were, they either recognized Frank or they didn’t. If they did, there’s a small chance Fisk has people trying to find where he is. He had nothing but contempt for the son of bitch, but there was something about the immediacy with which Fisk established his control. Managed to get himself out of supermax, put the FBI after Matt Murdock and sent someone to kill him the very second Red stepped inside his apartment. Trigger finger taps, taps, taps against his thigh. He knows the layout of the Presidential Hotel by now. Frank could drive Red to Curt’s and go there, end this. But that meant leaving his one-legged friend and the concussed, amnesiac idiot on their own to fend against more mercs. And then the guy from the warehouse shows up and what in the world are they supposed to do with that? Murdock steps closer as he hides a reddening nose under a dark, coffee-colored scarf. The threadbare fabric probably had some stains from when Frank had to use it as a tourniquet, but it was functional. Walking down the stairs, Red misses some steps, fingers digging on Frank’s biceps the first two or three times his knees decide to buckle out of nowhere. From there on, the marine manages a subtle grip on his upper arm, steering him close so he can guide him properly and keep him from keeling over if he can. If Murdock is confused about the different car and the blood under the back tires, he doesn’t mention it. By the time Frank drives away from his building, Red’s already asleep, face nestled in Frank’s scarf.     Frank notices them when it’s almost too late. He keeps his eyes open and alert all the way to Curt’s place. It’s half an hour from East Harlem to Midtown, give or take, and low blues rock filled the car from the radio station he had settled in when Red kept flinching from every horn in his sleep. Taking the FDR Drive had been a bad idea. They’re just driving past East 59 th street when Red suddenly jumps in his seat, sluggishly fumbling for Frank’s arm, blinking in sporadic, forceful motions. “Something isn’t right.” Someone blares a horn, a loud screech of tires and two black cars flank them from both sides. A woman in a red Bentley just behind them screams when the left car forces her to move out of the way, Frank immediately spins the steering wheel right, stabs his feet down against the accelerator. There’s too much traffic. A car tries dodging out of the way and loses control. Left car can’t avoid crashing against the lower part of the vehicle. A silver Honda crashes against a truck on his right, a man screams, Red’s fingers dig into his forearm and pulls him away from the window when the first gunshot flies over their heads. The silence precedes the telltale drop of a canister outside the van. Frank can’t recognize its shape, can’t see where it landed. Unbuckles his seat belt in under a second before throwing himself on top of Red, covering his whole frame with his at the same time he pulled his head closer to his chest, making a shell out of his hands to protect his break. Instead of exploding, smoke bursts up into the air and keeps spreading high. His visibility will take less than a minute to be shot to hell. Another canister, he uses the little time he’s got to shove Red in the floor between the passenger’s seat and the dashboard, under the glove box. “You stay there, Red, don’t you goddamn move-” Another canister, this one hits the window before it falls to the asphalt. A symphony of horns not far behind them work in tandem with screams, people running, another car crashing. Frank pulls his AK from under the back seat with a painful tug, two mags. “Frank, there’s too many-” “You don’t move from there, Red, you hear me?” “Frank, you have to listen to me!” The gunfire starts. He manages to open the backseat door and jump to the ground, crouching low and squinting through the smoke. The worst of it gathers in front of the car, wind blowing west and taking the fog with it. Frank looks back to Red, curled up impossibly small under the glove compartment, breathing hard with each gunshot and shattered car window. Sh*t, he can’t- he can’t leave the car. Can’t force them back and take them one by one as he’d usually do. Can’t leave Red unguarded and helpless in the f***ing van and- Frank takes his eyes away for just a second. Crouched low and waiting for a reprieve on the bullets to return fire. Just a second and it’s long enough for Red to shout out and Frank’s finger to twitch violently against the trigger. When he turns his gaze back, Red has his face splattered with blood, an assault rifle in his hand and a guy shouting, holding a broken nose, bleeding profusely all over his fingers. Red’s relentless, Frank had forgotten. He doesn’t give the blonde bearded guy a second to as much as step away before he’s driving a powerful kick between two ribs once, twice, three times until Frank’s sure he heard one of them break. Still manages to shove the butt of the gun to Blond Beard’s mouth and finish him off with a kick to the throat. “Jesus Christ, Red,” he turns away and stands up. The smoke finally dispersing enough for him to spot heads and weapons. At least five from the left, another three from the right. He points and he shoots two down before they notice where the bullets come from. A man screams, getting out of his car with a kid pressed tight to his chest, scrambling away from the black-clad, armed mercs approaching Frank’s van. He drops into a roll, throws a look over his shoulder. “Keep your head down, Red!” Gunfire starts again. Frank curses under his breath. There’s heat coming from both sides, Red is already spent from a few kicks and looks ready to pass out. Got not time to kill them if he wants to keep Red from getting shot again, for good this time. “Frank, there’s more-” He sees it before Red’s finished speaking. A third car approaches from the other side of the road. No identification plaques, black. “F***’s sake,” voice gets lost in the roaring gunfire, Red screams out some kind of warning seconds before another smoke grenade is thrown at his feet. He takes it and flings it as far as he can before jumping up and returning fire. Another goes down, he narrowly misses a bullet coming from the right. But the mission is change, his focus another: maintains shooting until he’s safely back inside the van. Thinks he sees another come down before slams the door shut and keeps firing. “Put your seat belt on-” “Frank-” “Put your goddamn seat belt on now!” Red jumps back to the passenger seat and buckles himself in with shaky hands. He drops the AK with the empty clip down and takes his handgun with his left, the right hand grips at the steering wheel just as he presses down the accelerator. At the sound of the gunshot, Red goes from erratic to completely still, freezing against his seat. That same panic again. “Just hang on, Red,” he maneuvers between two crashed cars forgotten in the middle of the road and drops the handgun as soon as he gains just enough speed to get the others running towards them. “Just hang in there.” He stops. Matt’s breathing is still too quick. Frank uses the time it takes for four remaining bad guys and the other two joining the party to circle the car. The moment three of them step in front, he shoves his feet hard against the pedal. One barely manages escaping. The van jumps when it runs over his legs, and everything else from the other two. The shock of it seems enough to startle Red out of his panic. Ragged breaths turning shallow and angered turn towards him as he manages a hasty escape, lowering down his head from time to time when stray bullets manage to hit the back glass. “What the hell , Frank?!” Doesn’t offer anything in return but a look that Red, somehow, manages to hold. Frank hasn’t apologized for who he is in a long time, he won’t start now. WATER   This is what I know: memory is the same as water. It permeates and saturates. Quenches and satiates. It can hold you up or pull you under; render you weightless or drown you. It is tangible, but elusive.   Murdock is barely coherent by the time they find a place to ditch the car. Frank has to drag him and sit him in the cold grass by the roadside and get him to breathe properly. Waits at least twenty minutes until he’s sure the younger man can manage to move. It’s not news - Red seemed to have some delayed responses sometimes. Pushed through the trauma to get through the fight and crashed right after. He can’t be picky and there’s no other illegal stolen cars around that he knows of to rob from bad guys so Frank goes with the least worse option: take from one of the local gangs he knows off. It’s risky, some of those guys have friends in high places, but he’s got Red to think of and dangling him around security cameras is a bad idea, so no walking. “You stay there, stay hidden.” Frank orders, eyes all the while jumping from Matt’s face to his surroundings, to every car that passed. “I won’t take long, I’ll stay close, yeah?” Red nods with a heavy shrug, whole body drained. Frank nods, attention orbiting the redhead’s face again. The blood splatters dusting his right cheek, his eye, his neck and jaw. His lips. The muscles around his wrist and forearm tense and ripple with a spasm, fighting the urge to reach out and clean the dark-red dots. “Stay safe. You notice something, you run.” Matt nods through a sigh, whole body deflating as he finds somewhere to sit and wait, out of sight. Frank’s footsteps take a while to move out of his hearing range. The attack in the middle of FDR Drive, in plain daylight, opens his eyes to the severity of the situation. Someone is desperate to either kill him or take him and Frank knows who it is, Matt wasn’t fooled by his routine for a second. He has a feeling Frank knows that too. The shameless, unapologetic way the man presents himself as nothing else than Frank is somewhat fascinating, even if Matt isn’t sure he has the time to dally over it. The marine had been nothing if not a solid beacon of composure and steadfast single-mindedness through the whole time he’s had him in his care. If Matt shivers, Frank brings him a scarf. If he has headaches, Frank gives him his meds. The car isn’t safe, he finds another one that is. Mercenaries came after Matt to kill him, Frank killed them instead. No second thoughts, no regrets. He thinks of it while feeling oddly out of his own body, resting his head against... something. Isn’t sure what. Something solid, cold, echoing the vibrations coming from the ground. Reality downs on him at the same time it feels far away, held distant from his own body. Maybe it’s the physical exertion or the rapidly building migraine. Maybe it’s because he’s been in his second gunfire in under three days and feels oddly unafraid of the fact. Maybe it’s because he’s already witnessed Frank Castle kill ten or more people and he still feels safest with him. He wonders if it’s because Frank’s the only person he remembers and knows clearly, untouched by the fog circling thick around his mind. Or because, even terrified at the prospect of a man that kills so easily, so efficiently, Matt can still identify a slight thrill of the simplicity of it. The finality. It horrifies him and settles him, too. Knowing that those people can’t come after them, can’t hurt anyone else ever again. “Always had the dark inside,” he whispers, isn’t sure why but can’t feel his lips moving, only his voice. “Murdock boys.” What was it Grandma used to say? He remembers sitting by her feet in the living room, drinking something pleasantly warm. His reflexes aren’t exactly a surprise. He remembers Stick training. Remembers getting ready for the war - a voice like that of a drill Sargent: it’s time to stop taking a beating and start giving one. Stick knew. He smelled it in him, the day after. The tears in his face. The other man’s scent. He reeked of it, couldn’t get it out of himself. Milk? Something. She’d tell her neighbor sometimes, a punishing strong hand clamped around Matt’s shoulder. He wasn’t sure what happened, but she said Matt did something wrong. That something was wrong with him, inside him, just like his Dad. There’s something wrong with me, he remembers thinking, gritting his teeth because his wrists hurt and his back did too. God is punishing me for being bad, like Grandma said. Sitting on the breakfast table, the nice nun who smelled of black tea and antiseptic asked what was wrong. Why did Matt cry all night long, and he couldn’t answer because- because- Because he doesn’t think about it. Because he couldn’t say it, she’d see it like Grandma saw it. The bad thing inside him. The dark. But Stick knew it the moment he went down to the basement. He smelled it in him and for the first time, Matt heard his heartbeat skip in surprise. And then anger, and something he wasn’t sure of that he later learned to identify as sadness. Sh*t, kid. And then he had nodded, hadn’t he? He nodded and for the first time, didn’t tell Matt off for crying. I’m gonna teach you to defend yourself first, he said, fancy kicks later. If you can’t use your arms, use your legs. If you can’t use your legs, bite that f***er’s throat out and make him bleed. And Matt did, not a month later.     The headache hits him hard when the hazy, floaty feeling dissolves, sitting on the passenger seat of a car. And with it, the sense of danger, of not being safe. Of having eyes all around him. Doesn’t remember Frank coming back, now that he thinks of it. But Frank’s heartbeat pulsates in steady, strong thumps by his left side, one hand in the steering wheel, head leaning back against the back rest. They’re moving - car, Frank came back with the new car -, the noises of the city considerably less grating with the closed windows. He thinks about asking Frank if he had slept, but it wouldn’t do to give it away that he had no idea what happened in the time span between sitting in the cold grass thinking about his childhood and being in the car. Last time he could properly recall being conscious it was still afternoon, maybe close to sunset, but now the car roof was cold and so was the asphalt. The air lacked the heat sun brought with it. Frank opens a crack of his window with a sigh and the rush of smells makes Matt suddenly dizzy. Mexican food (a block away), car exhaust (everywhere), sweat, garbage (garbage truck few yards behind them), dogs (several, park), Hudson (to the right), cheese (pizza? No, Italian place), alcohol (a bar, cheap beer). Hudson. The same scent he smelled on the clothes in his kitchen floor, the day before. Or what Frank said was his kitchen floor. Everything smelled of him although dust had settled in the place. It didn’t feel lived in. But the clothes, the river had washed away a lot of the smells and covered others, but there were some Matt could pinpoint clearly: blood, a considerable amount of it, gunpowder, smoke and leather. Car seat leather. His chest hurts. Matt hears his own pulse stutters before it quickens, the throbbing pain climbing up his neck and reaching the fracture tearing at the right side of his head. Panic builds in his throat and he doesn’t know why. The smell of the Hudson clogs his nostrils, mixes with the scent of military-grade smoke bombs that he remembers from earlier. The handgun and the sound it made when it went off. Somehow so much worse than the assault rifles and shotguns. Terrifying in a way being attacked hadn’t been. He clenches his fingers around his knees. He can’t do this again, he’s been panicking over nothing all the time now and he needs to tell Frank to shut the goddamn window but the words can’t seem to come and his voice is lost somewhere, buried deep- Drowning. Matt remembers drowning. In the river? He couldn’t breathe. The car went deeper and deeper, water broke the front windows and cracked the windshield and he couldn’t breathe, couldn’t find a way out- His breath leaves in a ragged cough before he remembers how to breathe, inhaling brokenly and having his whole frame shudder with the strain of it. Fingernails dig deeper in his legs, enough to sting. The pain isn’t enough to snap him out of it. Isn’t enough, he needs- ”...Red, Red,” doesn’t sound like the first time he said his name, “Red, goddamn it, open your hand.” He flinches away from the knuckles resting against his forearm before registering the heartbeat against the skin - Frank. He tries to tell him, tell him he can’t breathe, that there’s no air, that his chest feels too tight and he’s scared, and doesn’t know why, that he was drowning and he needed help- “Open your hand, Red, com’on. You’re okay.” He does as told, fingernails unlocking painfully from the skin above his knees and the fabric of his pants. Two small pills get dropped on his shaky left palm. “Just swallow ‘em, it’ll make you better.” Frank seems to take his hesitation as stubbornness which works just as fine for Matt if it covers for the fact that he can’t remember how to move without panicking more. “What is the other one?” His voice is embarrassingly small and choked up - no air left in the room for the words to come out completely formed. Chest goes up and down too fast. But he doesn’t recognize the chemical smell coming from the second, oval-shaped pill, compared with the capsule-like shape of the paracetamol. Frank nods softly in acknowledgment. Of what, Matt’s not sure. “It’s Xanax, just take it, Red.” He drops the pills in his mouth with trembling hands and struggles with pushing them down his throat enough that Frank feels the need to check him before hissing out an alarmed sh*t. Matt startles, body straightening up in his seat, muscles tensing around his arms and shoulders as he hones his senses outside, one arm coming to grab Frank and pull him back, away from the windows. He isn’t sure why but they stopped and all the other cars around them did too. Spot the threats, tame the pain into submission. Has to protect Frank, cover the car, find the threats, make sure no one is hurt. He’s gotta make sure no one gets hurt- “Hey, hey, it’s fine,” spot the threats. Three teenagers laugh in the car behind, a dog barks, someone blares a horn, a motorcycle drives past them, a glass breaks, sirens far away. “Red, it’s fine, there’s nothing there-” Matt presses Frank back when he tries to move, away from the windows. Away from the shooters and the bullets. Has to find somewhere safe to hide him, has to spot the threats before they- Hands close around his wrist. Matt flinches away with a cry before recognizing the heartbeat pressed against his own pulse. Frank. “Red,” heartbeat too fast, thundering over his ears, how can he spot the bad guys if he can’t hear them over his own heart? “Red, calm down. There’s nothing out there.” Nothing? No, that’s not right, Frank was surprised by something, he saw something that alarmed him. Has to find the air so he can fight and protect him, keep them away from the car, buy Frank time to escape and- “Red. We’re both safe, listen to me, do that ninja thing you do. I’m not lying, am I?” Matt tilts his head towards him, every breath burning in his chest. No. He’s not lying. They’re safe? “C’mere,” Frank’s hands direct him to turn his body towards his left. His voice is surprisingly soft. He thinks it’s the first time he heard it like that. “Your nose, s’bleeding again.” Oh. But why was Frank scared? He sounded alarmed, worried maybe. Frank takes something out of the glove box in a movement that, in his drowsiness, Matt can’t track before the marine’s leaning closer to him. Letting Matt get a whiff of his scent before blood drips over Frank’s shoulder. His blood. He wants to apologize. He should apologize. But breathing is still difficult and Matt can’t figure out the words. “Why-” words. Words, he needs to find the words. Frank presses a cloth against his nose, a palm cradling the back of his skull and helping him tilt back. “Why were you scared?” “I wasn’t scared,” a pause. Frank presses slightly harder before letting go and checking his nostrils, using the cloth to wipe the blood staining his lips and chin. “Just, shouldn’t be bleedin’ like that. It’s the third time already.” Oh. Worried. About him? The bleeding seems to have stopped, but Frank doesn’t let go immediately, no. Cloth-covered fingers rub at the bridge between his lips and nose, as if wiping a particularly nasty stain. “Did it... stop?” He asks partially because he wants to know if he should worry and partially because he isn’t sure what to think of Frank’s intense focus zeroed solely on him for such a length of time. Skin prickled with the idea that it felt like Frank had found something he really liked and it was either the sight of Matthew bleeding or his lips. Or both. Matt isn’t sure which one he prefers. Not for the first time, he speculates on which kind of relationship Frank and him had before... whatever happened to him, happened to him. A friend? A colleague? A father figure, a lover? Maybe Frank just felt the need to take care of people or maybe he got stuck in this situation without wanting to. Maybe Frank, under all the crassness and walls he built to keep people away, felt the incessant need for connection too. Maybe Matt was projecting. He could live with those three possibilities. Anything else was too much right now. Puts the control of their relationship on Frank’s hands and not on Matt’s lacking memory. Frank clears his throat before letting go of the cloth, dropping it carelessly over the gear lever. His heart does something odd when he turns to look at him again and finds Matt staring right at his eyes, where Matt can hear his eyelids move. Not the usual telling sign of pity or discomfort drawn from his dead irises, but a falter. Like surprise. “We’re clear,” he says and Matt comes to realize they’re moving again, just pass a heavy buzzing he came to recognize as streetlights. “I’m taking you to Curt now.” “Who’s Curt?” Frank’s heartbeat does another surprised little jump. His voice sounds oddly monotonous when he answers. “A friend that helped me when you were hurt.” Matt smiles softly, slightly confused at Frank’s forlorn tone. “I thought you were the one who put my head back together.” Frank’s heart stutters again but not in amusement at the quip. Something farther away from anger and closer to dread that Matt couldn’t quite figure out.       He hated swimming. Specially after he went blind and his senses started developing. He couldn’t say his childhood had been sheltered in any way - Matt had learned to take care of himself from a young age and he remembered that particularly well, even a few gaps and chunks were missing. His clearest memories were from his nine to twelve years old, although the chronology had a tendency of getting lost on him. Matt didn’t have many friends when he was younger. His Dad worked a lot most of the day and Matt spent a lot of his time alone at home, forbidden from going out. That is, after Grandma died and he couldn’t stay with her. He did remember Lindsey Shelton from school. One Matt met only months before the accident - her appearance comes to him so clearly, then. Long, thin braids that went all the way to her waist, thin eyebrows, dark skin like chocolate, yellow hair clips over her year. Remembers how a lot of older kids picked on her because she was so much smaller than the other kids their age. Her and Matt, also scrawny for his age, quickly became acquainted. Remembers almost drowning in the public pool, the one day Dad managed to take them both, and drowning in the Hudson with so much clarity that, when they’re closer to Curt’s place and rain starts pouring down, his heartbeat doubles. He doesn’t panic, not this time. Maybe because he’s too drained or maybe because of the Xanax. It makes him loopy, weird. He’s in the car sitting by a man he barely knows but feels he can trust with his life, but he’s also hearing Dad’s alarmed shouts and Lindsey’s scared, distant shrieks. A car honks past them, Dad pulls him out of the pool. Frank says something, Lindsey’s tears fall all over his face when she cries over his chest. He doesn’t tell Frank what’s happening, is not sure of it himself. A flashback? No, he knew where he was. He was in the car with Frank. They just parked outside of Curt’s building. It’s raining. And Matt’s friend is scared, because she thinks it’s her fault he can’t swim. Stepping out of the car makes the ghost touch of her small, childish fingers disappear. Raindrops make the world around him come around in a myriad of bright, tonal reds and flashing embers and Matt has to breathe deeply several times before closing the door. Frank looks different than what he had imagined. Matthew can’t exactly see in the rain, he has zero light perception, his sight extends like an endless void in front of him. It’s just that the radar sense works perfectly with the tiny sound waves each drop create. Sometimes, it can be overwhelming, depending on the rainfall. But if he focuses, just like this, he can hear the symphony of drops falling over Frank’s face and body and outlining every curve and edge instead of his impressionist-like blurry picture from before. He can see. Matt sees his deep set eyes, the strong eyebrows curved over them and the beautifully well-defined jawline. He follows the raindrops to a Botticelli-worthy upper lip, sculpted into a curve just bellow a crooked nose, the bridge healed unevenly from too many breaks. His hair was kept buzzed at the sides and slightly longer on top. His ears were... endearing, to say the least. Matt can’t help a small, tired chuckle. Frank’s heartbeat falters and he turns to stare, his puzzled expression makes Matt turn up to the sky with a free laugh. He didn’t know his senses could do that. He can see. “You have ridiculous ears,” Frank’s pulse indicates surprise, once more, and something like disbelief. “And you broke your nose at least eight times.” Frank doesn’t snort but there’s something like amusement in his tone when he speaks: “How in the hell would ya know that, Red?” Matt only offers him a small smile in return, the exhaustion sank deep in his bones but standing in the rain there, listening to how Frank looks like, it feels like he can keep going, if only for a bit. “I just do.” He thinks Frank scoffs bullsh*t under his breath, but the raindrops like thunderclap hit the shell of his ear and Matt flinches. The sudden interference with his hearing throws him off balance, which is maybe why Frank is suddenly there. Just distant enough not to crowd him, but at a distance that allows him to catch Matt, should he take a tumble. Curt lives in an apartment and he doesn’t appreciate the stairs. He’s had more than enough panic attacks and commotion for the day. Frank doesn’t reach out to steady him until it becomes clear he can’t keep going on his own and, even then, he doesn’t ask if he needs a break. So Matt keeps walking when his head starts throbbing, he keeps walking when his shot leg protests fiercely against the steps, keeps walking when the pain builds up so high that he feels like throwing up and almost faints. And when he gets his feet under him he walks some goddamn more. Castle is a steady, solid presence through it all, if not for the grumbled curses of almost there and goddamn it, breathe, and keep going, soldier and Matt wants to tell him that he’s wrong, because he wasn’t a part of Stick’s war, because Stick left him, because Matt wasn’t good enough. Or was it Dad that left? No. No, Dad died. He found him dead in the alley with a gunshot to the head and a stab wound to the stomach. No - no stab wound. Who died with a stab wound? Who- “Get in,” an extra heartbeat among the myriad of others in the apartment complex gets Matt jumping. “Sh*t, Frank, he looks like a ghost, he was supposed to be resting, not walking around like-” “Yeah, yeah, place to sit him down?” “For the love of- His head was open a week ago!” “Curt.” “I found you a wheelchair. Why-” Frank’s trigger finger jumps against his thigh. “You try and make him stay still, Curt.” The man, Curtis, sighs before guiding the both of them towards a kitchen table and Frank finally gets Matt to sit down. The reprieve should feel like heaven on the overworked muscle of his left thigh, still recuperating from the gunshot wound, but his body is too out of it to register. He isn’t sure how much time passes from the moment the second heartbeat (not Frank, slower, two inches taller, broader, antiseptic and good coffee, metallic sounding leg) leaves the room to when he comes back. He digs his fingers into his healing thigh, the pain makes him sharper. Needs to stay alert, needs to- Flinches away from foreign fingers attempting to touch his hair, his hand forms a fist, his leg muscles tighten. The fingers go away, familiar ones close around his wrist. “Hey, take it easy,” bad coffee, gunpowder, smoke, Frank. “Easy,” danger. Needs to- “There’s no danger. It’s my buddy, Curt. He’s a medic. Take it easy, Red.” “I just wanted to take a look at your head wound, if that’s okay? If you don’t want me to touch you, I won’t.” Matt waits for the tell-tale skip of his heartbeat, the proof of a lie, nothing comes. His body is still hesitant to trust, muscles tense and about to snap even when he slowly nods. The fingers come back. Matt feels the foreign pulse through the skin as it prods around his scalp, feather-like touches tracing the scabbing wound. “Alright, Matthew, how’s the pain?” “I can take it.” A skip of two heartbeats, Matt tilts his head, smells the air. No anger, although Frank’s heart speeds up slightly before he forces it back down. Curt’s stays slightly faster. “Right, but is it bad?” What does it matter if it’s bad if he can take it? “Sometimes.” “Alright,” the man slowly tilts his head against the light, “it looks clean. Healing slow but well. Did you have any fever?” He realizes he doesn’t know the answer to that question just before Frank catches on to the same. “He didn’t.” “Ringing in your ears? Deaf episodes? Alterations in taste or smell?” “Ringing,” he mumbles, “sometimes.” Hands move to check his pupils, the man takes a flashlight, switches it on. “How’s the nausea?” “Hm.” “Throws up from time to time,” Frank answers for him. “Think it’s that Post-Concussion syndrome you talked about?” Curtis makes a vague sound in consideration. “Could be,” the flashlights are switched off, the man leans back against his own chair. “How’s your appetite?” Frank grunts from his place, arms crossed over his chest like a guard. “Eats like a goddamn bird.” Matt ignores him. He eats what he can keep. He’s not supposed to waste food, the nuns said... or was it Dad? No, he’s quite sure he heard something in the orphanage, too. And Stick said differently. Food is fuel, you’re not supposed to enjoy it. “How is your sleep?” “Uh, it’s okay.” Curt must see something in his face because he turns to Frank for confirmation and Matt does a poor attempt of hiding his scowl. He’s not a child, goddamn it. “Sleeps most of the day sometimes, but it’s fitful. Still having those episodes I told ya about.” He snaps his head towards Frank, frowning. He didn’t have any episodes, did he? He’s about to refute that statement out loud before remembering the day he woke up with glass shards all over his hands and a broken window. “Have you had any bleeding? From the wound, ears, nose?” “I don’t think-” “His nose did for a bit,” Frank mentions, and it’s the first time Matt catches something akin to reluctance in his voice, “after some running.” “Jesus Christ, Frank.” The man in question only shrugs in response. Curtis seems to shake his head before turning to Matt again. “It could be post-op hypertension. Blood pressure goes up, capillaries can burst inside your nostrils, causing the bleeding. Which is why you need to rest, as much as you can. Stress when you’re recovering from head injuries can be really harmful.” Another sigh, exuding barely contained disapproval. “Any numbness in your extremities? Motor impairments?” Silence stretches thin before Matt raises his eyebrows pettily. “Oh, I can answer for myself, now?” Curt snorts as Frank huffs through his nose. “No numbness, my right hand is getting better.” “That’s good to know, squeeze my fingers please.” Matt does as told, squeezing as hard as he can with one hand and then moving on to the other. “It’s improved, but the muscle is still weak. Are you doing the exercises Frank’s taught you?” “Yes.” “Good, you’ll probably regain full function, but I can’t be sure, it’s not my specialty.” He lets go and Matt’s go back to his lap. “Any periods of confusion, lost time or hallucinations?” He freezes. Immediately tries to conceal it with a careful shake of his head, pressing his lips thin. Frank’s gaze burns at his skin. “No,” Matt answers in an undertone, voice coming off too weak and little convincing. “None.” He doesn’t need eyes to notice Frank and Curtis exchanging a cryptic glance.   CHILDHOOD   This matters because I’ve lived on that side of life that you all have made for me partitioned the orphaned one   The itch under his skin spreads until it takes over; an unrelenting pressure at the back of his head. Fingers open and close around the steering wheel, he gazes at the new bottle of painkillers held tight in Red’s hand before his eyes stray towards the reflection of his sutured skull on the foggy window. Frank’s geared up. Every muscle is ready to act and he has to fight every single impulse that tells him to do something. He has nowhere to go, nothing to fight, so he clenches his fingers harder over the wheel and stays put. Heart pounding like a freight train that has got to be pissing Red’s sensitive ears off but he keeps quiet, and so does Frank. Glancing from time to time at raindrops reflecting in sightless eyes that can’t appreciate the beauty of it. Goddamn it. He abruptly changes course, turning left when he was supposed to go straight, finding a spot by Ruppert Park, empty. It’s a few minutes past midnight already and the roar of traffic in the 2 nd and 3 rd avenue are far away enough that Frank can just barely make it over the rumble of the engine. He takes another look at Red, then, whose head is slanted slightly towards him in silent acknowledgment of the detour. Frank sighs heavily, lets all the air leave his lungs before turning off the car and leaning against the back rest. “You gonna talk?” He drawls, left hand joining the right over his thighs as it drops off the wheel, trigger finger twitching restlessly. Nothing to fix, nothing to do. “Talk about wh-” “Cut the sh*t, Red.” Murdock’s jaw works. Frank considers him with creased eyebrows before angling his body towards him, his face set in the beginnings of a scowl to the point he carefully schools it into nonchalance. “I don’t know what you mean, but I do know that we can’t stay here. So if you will-” Frank’s scoff interrupts him before it turns into a derisive laugh, only serving to get Murdock worked up. Good. Let him burn along with Frank. “Better keep that bullsh*t o’yours before you run out of it, Red.” Matthew turns away from him and the sutures reflect in impressionist-like strokes of dull color on the window, the picture forming poorly on the droplets merging together to form bigger ones and collecting at the frame. The lamppost light catches on shaking hands. “Why didn’t you tell me you were hallucinating?” Frank asks in an undertone. Something somber in his voice. Murdock scoffs but there’s no humor in it, no real reaction besides a bitter, forced indifference. Or resignation, who knows. Red presses his knuckles against his teeth as if about to tear it off in frustration, turning to stare out of the window in a world he can’t see. Maybe it’s the realization of how vulnerable he must feel and how much he must hate it that Frank lets the accusation fall from his voice. “Hey,” when softer doesn’t work, he turns sterner, “hey.” It feels like calling Junior out on lying. Like telling Lisa she can’t get into fights, even if he was proud of her for protecting her friend from bullies. He shakes his head out of the thought when his guts twist and turn over themselves. Reaching out to tap Red’s upper arm, Frank reminds himself to do it slowly - first touch soft, showing he’s not a threat. The words in the crumpled paper inside his pocket burned in the back of his eyelids: Gunshot, touch, name. Nudges with a little more pressure behind it when Red doesn’t flinch, calling his attention back to the car - the present -, away from the rain or whatever was happening in his f***ed up head. “Red,” now gentler, coaxing him out of his shell like he used to do with his kids, when they cried. Back when he had people to hold on to, people he hadn't held strong enough. It doesn’t surprise him that it works and Red deflates, angling his head towards Frank, eyes staring vacantly while his lips twitched from time to time, fingertips playing with the hem of his sweater. Frank notices the little blood drops caught in the wool. His left knuckles are reddened by the jab he threw at Beard guy earlier, his right ones are soft. Long healed over from the warehouse fight. Frank suddenly wants to press his lips against it, against proof that Red maybe has a lot in common with Frank, but he’ll always be different. Better. Innocent. Wants to taste that innocence in his lips - the light Red had inside, that spark of wild fire he couldn’t erase. “Talk to me, Red.” “I don’t know,” he says, and it’s clear it kills him. Either the admitting or the pain of not knowing, swallowing him up. “Sometimes it’s like a dream. The world feels weird, there’s noises coming from nowhere and smells or tastes that I know aren’t there. Sometimes I feel like I’m drowning.” Frank waits him out when he suddenly stops, allows his own knuckles, scarred and layered with bruises, to graze over the skin of Red’s forearm briefly. He was still losing a bit of weight, the marine noted vaguely. “The devil,” Frank’s heartbeat jumps like a bull against a cage before he forces it down. “I know it sounds.. ridiculous. But I know it’s him. Sometimes he’s just there and sometimes he talks and I don’t know why, I-” Words die before they make it out. Red shakes his head before turning to Frank. “I doesn’t happen often now, just sometimes and briefly. It’s fine.” Frank wants to laugh. Wants to do something with his hands. Shoot Red in the head and he comes back to save you from torture. Chain him to a chimney and he comes back to help you out of a death penalty. Hurt him and he forgives you, trap him and he tries to save you, take everything away from him and he’s still there. Body and mind soaking up abuse like it’s no big deal. “No it’s not, Matt.” In the silence that grows after his voice fades, there’s understanding. A distance Frank doesn’t try to impose by refusing to call him by name, an honesty Red doesn’t try and hide behind snark and stubbornness. Murdock looks a lot more like the guy Frank knew, before everything. The lawyer with the relentless sense of justice; the vigilante who’d sooner get killed than let someone get hurt. The guy who had two people who’d give him the world, if only he knew how to ask, and who he’d die to protect. And here they are now.     “H-h-hurts,” everywhere, and he can’t make it stop. It’s the first word through his lips once he wakes up. Smells blood, gunpowder, cordite, urine, dust. “Hurts, hurts-” “Red,” he’s moving, why is he moving? He needs to stop. He’s got to hide. He needs to hide before- “Red, it was just a dream.” “Hurts,” he isn’t sure what. His head. His head hurt. His belly, his thigh. It all hurts. “Red, what’s my name, huh? Can you tell me?” Voice. Deep. Tense. Familiar heartbeat. Gunpowder. Coffee. Shaving cream. Smoke. “F-rank,” a sob, “it hurts.”

𝑩𝑬𝑡𝑱𝑰.

10/02/2022 06:23 PM 

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𝕯ᴏᴍΙͺΙ΄Ιͺα΄„

08/28/2022 12:05 AM 

Κ€α΄˜.

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Amberle

10/02/2022 04:53 PM 

Elessedil Starter

Nearly two years went by the day Amberle had stepped inside the Ellcrys her life ended, the human side of her vanished and she became part of the tree. Stabilizing the life of everything and keeping the evil at bay but over time the human side began fighting back she missed the life she had, missed Wil and the love she had for him and she began to wonder what happened to her beloved home of Arborlon. Unaware there was no one left her uncles the last remaining members of her family were dead and the city fell to rumble over the course of the years Arborlon fell to the hands of nature vines over grew the once vibrant city and with out anyone to maintain it the buildings began to collapse. Survivors moved on finding new places to live and to start lives over it was a chaos mess.As her mind began to wonder and her human strength returned she began in and out of subconscious the virbrant beach she walked all day long would turn black and she would awaken to a man's voice it was distant at first but it grew louder over time. It was just like when Wil would call out to her from the other side and this time it was no different. The voice was recognizable it was Calor an elf who had run the Gauntlet years before her and won. Though he had vanished one night never to be seen again, it was only than did Calor inform her had become a victim of trolls and had been tortured for years only to escape months ago. To return to their fallen city of Arborlon and everyone was mostly dead, the news was heartbreaking and there wasn't much she could do till something began to happen, Calor was beside her and the once beach was now a field it was no longer her dream but his. He took her place in the Ellcrys her world went black and the sudden reality that she was back in Arborlon hit her.As she woke up and glanced around Calor and as right the city was gone and even when she managed to regain back to her feet and roam the buildings seeing no one insight she needed help. She wanted her people back this isn't what she wanted and now it was her duty as the princess to return Arborlon back to the way it was. Looking all dishelved she cleaned herself up in the bath and found her old chambers refreshing herself on her clothes. Time went by and she left again in search of her friends...Wil and her people.

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10/02/2022 11:07 PM 

A Million Dreams.

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