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„May I help you, son?“ Father Lampton approaches the newcomer sitting in one of the middle rows on the left as friendly as always. The man dressed in black with a hood drawing shadows over his face seems surprised to be addressed.
„Ah, no. Thank you, Sir... Father. I- I’m just here for an old friend. He... uh, he died and he was catholic and I thought I’d do him the honors.“, the mans deep, raspy voice echos throughout the whole church without intent. He appears uneased to Father Lamptom with his hands flying up as if considering to take the hood off his head but deciding against it. But also sad and lonely. The priest gives the ex-marine a warm smile.
„Everyone is welcome here. And I am sorry about your friend. I am sure god holds him dear.“
„Uh yeah... Thank you.“ The man known as the Punisher nods his head in respect at the retreating old man. He watches Father Lampton go, rearranges his sitting position once then again, looks up and then at his feet. Frank Castle exhales in frustration. He doesn’t even know how to sit right and it’s bothering him even though he should just get his goodbye finally over with. He knows, he isn’t good at this, never was and never will be, but this shouldn’t be as hard as it is. Just say it and leave, Frank, goddamit. Instead, he can’t help but scan the church another time.
Meanwhile a story downstairs, one set of ears listens intently for the new heartbeat in the room right above. Matt Murdock can’t believe his ears who just came strolling into his church. The devil follows the conversation, listens to every movement, every change in Franks heartbeat. While Father Lamptom walks away from the rhythmic heartbeat that is Frank Castle, Matt sits up on his cot, concentrating to never miss a breath of the Punisher. He wonders about Franks intentions for his visit as the man in question starts to speak again, voice quite like murmur but still deep and rumbling.
„Jesus, Red. I’d never thought I’d have to do this for ya. But you’re gone now right? No coming back now, no. Fuck, Red. Promised ya I’d see ya again but no. Too late now, right. Shit, Murdock, what did’ya even do, huh?“, Frank laughs quitly as he thinks about the absurdity of the moment. „They say the devil doesn’t die, right. Yeah, well, they clearly don’t know shit.“, he laughs again. Matts breath hitches downstairs. To hear Karen cry about his death and Foggy was hard. Really tough. But this? No, this is impossible. Frank freaking Castle, the Punisher, mourns his death. He can’t. Matt just can’t. He has to make this right. So he pushes himself up and away from his room, walks through the statue hall where he had his first fight after waking and up, up, up.
„To be honest to ya, I’d always thought it’d be me dying first. Nearly did, actually, twice now. Couldn’t believe what Karen said. You dead? It just- it wasn’t right.“ Frank sighs heavily and leans his head into his hands. What is he doing here?
Out of the corner of his eyes he sees a black figure escaping the small way to his left. It stops apruptly. Franks head shoots up. Locks eyes with the man standing in front of the hallway he just came out of. Stares into those eyes, those unseeing eyes under the dark locks of hair. Frank stands upruptly and keeps staring. This jawline. The stubble. The set of his shoulders, the way he holds himself. Matt fucking Murdock, devil of hells kitchen, Red.
„You piece of SHIT.“ The Punishers gravel voice rumbles through the entire church. Matts mouth twitches a little until he can’t surpress the grin tugging at his lips anymore.
„Frank.“, Daredevil says in greeting. Franks breathing is heavy, his mouth opening and closing without meaning to. He shakes his head, exhaling, not believing how stupid he has been to think that something could kill the fucking devil.
„You- you were- I- Everyone thought that- you- Even Karen- I came here- And you- Who even survives that? Just- Only you, Red. Only you.“ Frank just isn’t able to find the right words. What are the right words for this kind of situation anyway? Has this happened to anyone before, ever? What is he even supposed to fucking think? Instead of trying and probably failing at words again, Frank just looks up and laughs. „What the fuck.“
„Yeah. That sums it up pretty good.“, Matt laughs quitly too. „Though no swearing in church, Frank. You know the drill.“
„You shut up. The dead can’t talk.“
„But I’m not dead, Frank.“
„Appearently. That’s what I have to wrap my mind around. Just fucking...“
„If you’re ready come downstairs. We should talk. And stop with the swearing.“, Matt responds still smiling. It is just so nice to have this piece of his old life here with him.
„The hell we should, Murdock. You’re thought to be dead and still lecturing me. Can’t believe this shit show.“
Matt laughs at that before he turns around, goes downstairs again and sits on a memorial grave in the basement to wait for Castle. Frank still can’t believe what just happened. His decision is made, of course he will join the Devil for a little Q&A in the basement of some fucking church in Hell’s Kitchen. Still, he let’s a few minutes pass, just breathing and centering himself.
„That fucking devil.“, he mumbles as he goes downstairs, full well knowing Red will hear these words as well as he heard his little monologue before. The little shit.
Frank finds Murdock in some statue hall sitting on the bottom piece of a long-gone guys memorial stone. Matt does his thing of ‚watching‘ him as the Punisher settles next to him, a small gap still between them. Frank sits with his elbows on his spread legs and looking over to where Matts profile is a dark shadow against the light coming from upstairs. The Punisher watches and Matt let’s him, he himself bathing in the familiar scent next to him. After a few more minutes Frank finally speaks.
„So, you’re alive.“
„So it would seem.“
„Don’t give me that look right there. You should have told Karen or your lawer friend that you’re breathing and you know it. Instead you’re hiding away in some church.“
„Am not hiding.“
„Oh yeah? Pretending to be dead doesn’t sound any less dumb in case you were wondering. What are you even doing nowadays?“
Matt stares straight forward as he let’s silence settle in between the two. Finally, he answers, voice gone quite in the dark cellar.
„Keeping low. Helping were I can.“ The devil swallows, then adds „Recovering.“
Frank next to him grunts and shifts until he sits straight.
„Why didn’t you reach out?“, he asks, not sounding the least bit accousing. Because he wasn’t. Now, of all times, the Punisher might be the one person understanding the devil of hell’s kitchen the most. Matt sighs and let’s his jaw work.
„Foggy is doing great, you know. Working at a big law firm, having a stable relationship, being successful. Karen is, too. She is a great reporter. And I- I’m- I just don’t fit in anymore. I was always a burden for both of them, being Daredevil. But Daredevil is a part of me I can’t supress. I constantly made them worry. And I have been gone for months now. They have moved on. I think they are better off without me.“
„Okay.“
„Okay?“
„I get your thinking, Red. But your friends don’t think of you as a burden. I’m sure they would choose being worried about you over mourning your death anytime.“
„I was out for several weeks. They mourned me already and I couldn’t stop that. They are over the worst now.“
„You never stop mourning.“
„Yeah, I know that.“ Silence
„Why didn’t you reach out to me?“ Frank asks and Matt huffs.
„I know we aren’t at best terms. But we have history and I for my part trust you, Red. Or else, I wouldn’t have come to say goodbye.“
„I trust you too. I figured you would maybe be... occupied.“
„Right.“ Laughing. „I finished my revenge trip by the way.“
„Yeah? It sounds weird but I am happy for you.“
„I even left one alive.“
„Easy there, Frank. Sounds like you grew some morals.“ The Punisher laughs at that.
„Yeah, right.“
Silence settles between the two for a few minutes before Frank breaks it again.
„Seriously, you should contact your friends.“ Matt sighs deeply.
„I just feel like too much time has passed already. I can’t just go back, knock on their doors and say hi, you know. It’s not that easy.“, the devil answers honestly.
„I know, Red. It’s never easy with these things. For all I know, your death broke Karens heart.“
„How is she?“
„She’s tough, ya know her. But not as passionate as when I first met her. Guess she doesn’t get emotionally attached as easily anymore. Though she still does write damn good articles for her paper.“
„Hm.“
„Guess, your lawyer friend feels the same. Shit, even I was at a loss of words when I first heard the news. I just- They’re hurting and you could stop that ‚cause you aren’t actually dead. Not saying ya should get up and make a run for them, Red. But don’t hide forever.“
„I’m not. I- I just needed time.“
„Yeah, I get that.“
„What are you doing nowadays, Frank? Now, that you ended your revenge trip.“
„This and that. Met this guy named Micro some time ago. He’s some kind of badass computer geek, helped me sort through my targets an‘ stuff. Still finds me some bad guys to kick their asses if the government can’t get to ’em or protects ´em.“
„So, you still the big bad Punisher?“
„Yeah. Though not for the public. Frank Castle died a few weeks ago. The legal name is Pete Castiglioni now.“
„Nice to meet you, Pete.“
„Yeah, yeah, shut up, Red. I know the name doesn’t suit the face.“
„Not that I would know.“
„Right. So, when are ya gonna get back on the streets for real with pajamas and everything?“
„The building did a number on me, Frank.“
„You survived a head shot. By me. Who even does that? You’re gonna be fine.“
„I wore a helmet. Besides, you survived one too.“
„Yeah, but the aim was shitty as hell. That doesn’t count.“ Matt can’t help but laugh in responds, though the laughter dies down quickly.
„It’s harder now then ever.“, the devil admits.
„You’re still breathing. As far as I can remember that was enough for ya to do your thing. If the big bad Punisher couldn’t put ya in the ground what chance stands a building, huh?“ Frank pushes his shoulders gently against the younger ones in a friendly way. Matt reciprocates the action with a smile on his face, a rare picture these days.
„My hearing is bad. I am like half-deaf on one ear. I try to compensate that with touch and vibrations, but it takes longer to pinpoint targets, especially if they’re moving. The sisters say that my spine and my hip were badly damaged. My body is still healing but I don’t know yet how much will be irrepairable. Getting back into the suit will be tough.“
„I could help ya with the training. I know how to get a broken body back in shape, trust me. We can also work on your senses. I could be your moving target if ya want. I still don’t know how you can do what ya do but we’ll find a suitable training.“
„You would do that?“
„Sure.“
„Why would you want me out in the streets again though, Frank. All I did was be a burden in your way of justice. So why would you want me to become Daredevil again.“
„At first, you were a pain in the ass, sure. But at the time you didn’t understand me, didn’t know why I was doin‘ what I did. But when ya did, when ya understood me, Red, you were a fun partner to team up with. Ya saved my life, ya defended me in court and out there and ya let me avange my family. It’s time for me to give something back.“
„Okay.“
„Yeah?“
„Thank you for pulling me out of my dark hole.“
„You’re welcome, Red. But you won’t be thanking me for a while once ya have to hang around me a few days in a row.“
„You aren’t that bad company, Frank.“
„Ya sure?“
„Absolutely.“