Title: Make It Right
Fandom: Punisher/Daredevil mashup
Notes: Sort of a follow up to the last one. This doesn't have a plot either, I was just craving stability for these two.
It was a dark bitter night in January, but David and Sarah had convinced Frank to bring Karen over for dinner, and now the kids were in bed and the four adults were finishing off another bottle of rosé in front of the fireplace. David had the cautious outlook that for once, everything was okay.
Karen wasn’t entirely what he had expected. Based on her editorials, her interviews, and the vast importance that Frank placed on her, David had built up a mental image of a confident but jaded woman who had no time for anyone’s nonsense. Frank’s reluctance to introduce her to him and Sarah had reinforced the impression, but now that she was here, David was realizing that it had come from the same place as Frank’s initial reluctance to come over and spend time with them himself. He was still afraid of normality. Even the Lieberman variety of normality, which was hardly standard.
For that matter, Karen was hardly a standard normal girlfriend. All evening she had been full of warmth and light and sly wit, ready with a laugh, good with the kids, and openly affectionate with Frank. She seemed almost overly grateful to David and Sarah for inviting her. The word “finally” had been bandied around a lot.
When Sarah excused herself to go clean up in the kitchen, Karen volunteered instantly to help, and had to be firmly ordered to stay where she was, under Frank’s arm on the couch. David stood up. “I’ll do it,” he said to Sarah. “You stay here and relax.”
“Believe it or not I can manage this household just fine on my own,” she replied, effectively shutting down any further offers.
He sank bank into his chair, reddening, as she disappeared into the kitchen. The edge in her tone had made it clear that she wasn’t joking, at least to people as perceptive as Frank and Karen.
Sure enough, Frank didn’t wait before asking, “What was that?” with that don’t-try-to-bullshit-me look of his.
“Nothing.” David took a long draw from his wineglass. At least he had practice at ignoring that look.
“Not nothing.” Frank leaned forward, as much as his hand around Karen’s waist would allow. “You’ve been barking at each other all night. What’s going on?”
David let out a humorless laugh. “Well, Pete, it turns out that spending a year remotely spying on your family while they think you’re dead isn’t entirely a healthy thing to do for your marriage. Who knew.”
Karen winced in evident sympathy. Frank looked like he was gearing up to crack someone’s head. “So make it right. Come on, what are you gonna do about it?”
“I can’t--” David raked both hands through his hair and took a breath. “I can’t do anything. Are we supposed to tell this whole story to a counselor? Give each other space? I just have to let her work through her anger. It’s my fault anyway.”
“Oh no you don’t. You listen to me, you pain in the ass. Everything we went through to get you back where you belong, I’m not gonna let you fuck it up now."
"Alright, man, geez, don't start throwing furniture."
Frank didn't attack any furniture, but he didn't slow down, either. "You and Sarah are gonna go away alone together somewhere, tear open every goddamn wound you got from last year, and not take one step away from each other until you’re ready to spend the rest of your lives fighting for your love. Got that?” He had both fists clenched in his lap. Karen looked from him to David and lifted one shoulder as if to say she wouldn’t be interfering.
David shook his head with vehemence. “We’re not going anywhere. I’m not spending a single day away from my children unless I absolutely have to.”
For just an instant, Frank shot a glance up to the ceiling, toward the bedrooms where Zach and Leo were sleeping. The pain in his eyes was unmistakable, while it lasted, but when he spoke again his voice was still steady and hard. “Yeah, it’s not what I’d wanna do either. But you do have to. Alright? You do have to. What you and your wife have, your whole family leans on that. Your kids need you to keep it strong.”
There was a silence, in which David tried to listen for the sound of Sarah in the kitchen, and heard nothing. Maybe he had grown too reliant on wiretapping.
“Could you get me a refill?” Karen asked Frank, holding out her empty wineglass with a sweet smile. He nodded and stood up, taking both hers and his own glass and heading to the kitchen with them.
“Hey I could use a refill too,” David called after him sardonically.
“You know where the bottle is,” Frank called back.
With him out of the room, David looked at Karen. “How does a nice pleasant person like you put up with that asshole?”
She had her legs crossed and was bobbing the top foot with playful innocence. “Oh, come on. He’s a teddy bear,” she said, making no effort whatsoever to pretend she believed that. Then she sighed, and spoke again with greater sobriety. “The thing is, he’s not bad with relationship advice. As long as it’s not about him.”
David considered confessing the retort that had crossed his mind, the one that he was supremely glad that he had reconsidered before actually saying to Frank: Who died and made you the marriage expert? There was nothing to confess about words that hadn’t reached his lips, though, and Karen already knew who had died and made Frank an expert. “Yeah,” he replied instead. “He’s not stupid. I just don’t think he always remembers what’s, uh, practical. I mean, Sarah and I can’t just up and leave for a couple days. Everything’s more complicated now, we have to keep track of what we can tell people, half the time that’s what we end up fighting about. Even something like finding a babysitter...”
She blinked, tapping her lips, as if something had just clicked. “Frank and I will babysit,” she said.
“What? I wasn’t asking--”
“No, it’s great! It’ll be fun!” She turned to Frank, who had just come back in holding a full wineglass in each hand. “Frank, we’re going to watch Leo and Zack while David and Sarah take their minibreak, okay?”
Frank frowned, handing her one of the glasses, and remained standing to cast a perturbed look at David. Then he shrugged, took a sip of rosé, and settled down beside Karen again, saying, “Guess I walked right into that one. When you need us for?”
David shook his head. “You really don’t have to. If you’re so set on this being what Sarah and I should do, I’ll talk to her, but...”
“I just did,” Frank interrupted, flicking his hand as if to brush David’s protest away. “She’s game. Pick a weekend.”
Karen was beaming at him, her fingers interlocked with Frank’s. David tried to think of another excuse and came up as empty as his own wineglass. He raised his hands in defeat. “And here I thought it was hard dealing with just one of you.”
Along with the five pages of instructions that David had typed up for them, there was a schedule for the weekend with notes on which parts were flexible or optional. Frank’s intentions had been to ignore both the rules and the agenda, since the kids could communicate any important details about where they needed to be and when, but of course Karen had picked up the papers immediately and was perusing them now while Leo explained what they had planned for the evening.
“We’ve got a movie,” said Leo. “I picked it out but my dad said he thought maybe everyone would like it.” Shyly, she handed Frank a DVD: Life of Pi.
The cover image clicked for him before the title did. “Your book with the tiger on a lifeboat? They made it into a movie?”
Karen laughed from the kitchen, her eyes still on the schedule. “It’s all right here. ‘Start Life of Pi no later than 7:30pm. Zach will make popcorn.’” She looked up to smile at them. “Good, I forgot I wanted to see that.”
“Should I start the popcorn?” asked Zach. “I can put M&Ms in it if you get the bag from the top cupboard.”
Frank raised an eyebrow at Leo for confirmation, but Karen was the first to respond. “Item number three says, ‘Zach cannot put M&Ms in the popcorn.’”
Zach moaned. “What else does it say?”
“Item number one: ‘Leo and Zach are not allowed to see what’s on this list.’”
Curious, Frank crossed the room to look over her shoulder at the papers she was holding. Sure enough, she had been reading from them word for word. “Shit,” said Frank, impressed.
Karen cleared her throat and flipped the page. “Item twenty-four: ‘Watch your language in front of my kids, Pete.’”
They managed to get everyone in front of the TV with a bowl of buttered popcorn by the 7:30 deadline. Frank hadn’t watched a movie since the carousel; if he had time to kill, books were a better distraction and less likely to call up memories of his family. But Karen, pressed chastely but cozily to his side, was distraction enough, and before long he found himself somewhat engaged in the film’s story and visuals.
The kids certainly were, and Karen was too. As soon as it ended and Frank was switching the light back on, she said, “Hey Leo, do you have a copy of the book I could borrow?”
Leo looked pleased to be asked. She began to explain the differences between the book and the movie with the same quiet maturity she had shown when Frank first met the family, and Karen listened with the same universal respect she gave to everyone who deserved it. “Because it’s kind of like, both stories are true?” Leo ventured after finishing up her summary. “And Pi chooses to see himself as the tiger because that’s the best part of him. So it’s not just about whether you believe in God. It’s more like, you find the best version of reality for yourself.”
Frank cast a look at Zach to keep him from feeling left out of the conversation. “This is all way over my head,” he muttered, as if confiding a secret. “You?”
“I liked when he’s on the island with all the weasels,” Zach replied.
“Meerkats,” Leo corrected him. She and Karen were headed to the kitchen with the empty popcorn bowl, as comfortable as if they had known each other for years. Frank’s heart twisted painfully. It was one thing to predict that the Lieberman family would love Karen; it was another to see it firsthand. She had come to them with no baggage except Frank himself, and introduced herself by her real first name.
Leo and Zach still called him Pete, and were still at least a little bit afraid of him. Their father had sat them down and explained everything he could, and Frank had done the same, and he could see that they understood and they trusted him and that they were still afraid of him. It was okay to have that distance -- their family was intact again, and Frank had never wanted to be their father figure anyway -- but he felt some shame knowing that this arrangement for the weekend wouldn’t have worked if it had been just him staying over, instead of him and a woman who barely knew them and had never had children of her own.
No ordinary woman, of course. Zach had just draped himself over the side of his chair, eyes pointing toward the kitchen. “Karen is sooooo nice,” he sighed.
Incredulously, Frank looked from him to the kitchen and back again. “Are you trying to move in on my girl, kid?”
For the rest of the evening, Zach was embarrassed instead of afraid. He even went to bed a few minutes earlier than necessary. Frank related the conversation to Karen once they were alone downstairs, and her giggles lifted a weight from him that he hadn’t realized was there. When Sarah called to check in, Karen was the one who took the phone and gave her a play-by-play of every moment since she and David had departed, piling on the assurances that everything was fine.
Hours later, the weight returned with the strangeness of lying in David and Sarah’s bed, listening to Karen’s breathing. He could tell she was awake, but she had been so still for so long that she must have been determined to get some rest, and he didn’t want to risk disturbing her with any touch or sound. A lock of her hair had remained in his hand, though, soft, wildflower scented. He was prepared to stay in this position for the rest of the night.
He didn’t have to. Karen shifted, just slightly at first, and then turned her head back and whispered, “Frank?”
Finally he could let himself caress her temple with a knuckle. “Yeah.”
Her whisper gained a little bit of volume when she saw she hadn’t woken him. “I can’t sleep.”
“Yeah, me either.” He rolled onto his back and mused in a low pitch, “Can’t stop thinking about whether that tiger was real or what.”
She snorted a laugh and turned the rest of the way around to face him, her hair sliding through his fingers. She probably couldn’t see him at all, but his eyes had been open long enough to adjust to the darkness, and he let them glide up and down the muted grey shape of her under the blanket. He liked to be near her at bedtime, watching her perfect composure and immaculate style give way to oversized t-shirts and untamed hair. He liked that she allowed him to see that.
“Tonight was fun,” she said, but she said it timidly, like a confession. Like it was the reason she couldn’t sleep.
Frank grunted in agreement. “They’re good kids.”
“Do you think David and Sarah are working out their issues?”
“Yeah, I do. They’re gonna be fine.” He meant it. They probably would have been fine, eventually, no matter what, but he was glad they had taken his advice and started working on it right away. It had been hard to witness the fallout of David’s exile from his family.
When she spoke again, it was after a few false starts and a deep breath. “Is this hard for you? Is it too much like...before?”
“No,” he assured her, then stopped, knowing he shouldn’t have answered that quickly. “Maybe a little. A girl and a boy, y’know, house in the suburbs, rules about M&Ms and shit, can’t just not see it. But I’m alright. I’m alright. People say ‘I love kids’ like they’re all interchangeable, y’know, but they’re people like us. Leo and Zach aren’t Lisa and Frank Jr., hey, David and Sarah sure as hell ain’t me and Maria.”
Her finger traced an idle path down his arm. “So why aren’t you asleep? Don’t say the movie.”
“Why aren’t you?”
She must have known it was an evasion, but she answered anyway. “Because for me this is all brand new. I’ve never been one of the adults in the room on a family movie night. I feel like...I don’t know...I didn’t earn a place here.”
Frank got his arm around her and pulled her onto his chest. “Karen, it’s one weekend. We’re doing them a favor. You don’t have to earn anything.”
She tightened the embrace and resettled her head to speak close to his ear in her softest voice. “Is this what it would be like for us too? If we were--” She cut herself off, pressing her forehead to his shoulder. “I’m sorry. Don’t answer.”
Somehow she must have known: it was easy to separate this life from the one he had shared with Maria, but not from the life he would never share with Karen, the children they would never have together, the house they wouldn’t buy, the rules about candy they wouldn’t need to uphold. The last time they had talked about the future, he had told her that he couldn’t do it again, but the truth was that there was no again in starting a family. Whatever happened between him and Karen would be theirs alone. He couldn’t do it for the first time.
“I try not to think about it.” He felt like he was letting her down by saying it, but it was the truth. “I guess I kinda hoped you didn’t either.”
“I don’t, usually. It just threw me, tonight, seeing you with the kids. I thought about the first time I ever saw you...” She didn’t have to shudder or pull away to get the point across.
He sighed and kissed her forehead, preemptive forgiveness for any apology she might want to make for bringing it up. “You can’t understand how it could be the same guy?” he suggested.
“I can,” she countered. “Both stories are true.”
It took him a moment to remember hearing those same words earlier from Leo. Maybe the girls had a good point. He closed his eyes, stroking Karen’s hair instead of saying anything more.
The reason he couldn’t sleep was much simpler than anything she had going on in her head: he was awake because she was. It was one thing about him that hadn’t changed since he had shared a bed with Maria, and he was certain it never would, no matter that it hadn’t saved her. There was no place, no situation safe enough that he could bear to let himself fall asleep before the woman he loved.
If Karen asked again, he would tell her. He thought he might know what she would say about it: the tiger was the best part of him.
Saturday’s agenda was a blur of organized activities, different ones for each child, so Frank had taken on the driving duties and Karen had the Liebermans’ house temporarily to herself. She took a moment to notice how strange the sudden silence felt, and then another to notice how strange it was that silence was strange, after just a day and a night here. Zach and Leo weren’t even particularly noisy kids, but their absence was immediately noticeable.
Karen cleaned up a few dishes, texted Sarah, and then opened her laptop on the dining room table. If she didn’t stay on top of her email over the weekend she was liable to drown in it, no matter how efficient she had become at dashing off replies to confirm meetings or clarify requests. As usual, a good half of the new messages were from Ellison, and all of those were expected or inconsequential until she got to one with the subject line, “Saving this one for you if you want it.”
She opened it and clicked the link inside with interest that turned to dread when she began reading. After three times through, she buried her hopes that she had misunderstood something.
Frank had some time between his drop-offs and pick-ups, which might or might not turn out to be long enough to make it worth it to return to the house; he had said he would play it by ear. Karen texted him, Come back if you can. Need to talk.
By the time she had come up with a short, noncommittal response for Ellison, Frank was coming in the front door. He looked worried and she estimated that he’d had to speed to get there so soon, but her own equilibrium began to return when she saw him.
To keep her hands busy, she began to make a pot of coffee as she explained. “There’s a new case Ellison wants me to cover if it gets anywhere. Right now it’s just rumors. But this law firm I’ve never heard of is...” She set down the coffee pot, steadied herself with both hands on the counter, and took a deep breath. “They’re representing Wilson Fisk. It looks like they’re going to attempt to amend his sentence.”
Frank had followed her into the kitchen and was hovering anxiously, but now he grimaced and muttered, “Piece of shit, I shoulda...”
What he should have done, he didn’t say, and Karen didn’t think to prompt him. She reached for the coffee beans, but her hands had started to shake too much to pour them without spilling, so she didn’t try. “As far as I can tell it’s unlikely he could get parole, but that almost doesn’t even matter. If he’s active again he can arrange hits without leaving his cell, God, it could be anything, there’s no way to find out who he’s targeting until--” She turned her back on Frank and buried her face in her hands.
“Hey.” His voice was soft, but alarmed, and she felt his hand on her shoulder. “There something else to this I oughta know?”
She wasn’t exactly crying yet, but the tears waiting in her throat turned her flippant answer to an ironic one: “Why would you say that?”
“Don’t usually see you afraid like this. And I’ve seen you in some scary shit. I know you got a past and I ain’t gonna ask what’s in it unless you wanna tell, but I didn’t think it had anything to do with Fisk.”
Something inside her shifted; instead of being unable to find the words, she was suddenly unable to hold them in. She whirled around, letting his hand slide off of her. “I killed his man.”
The impact of having finally said it out loud made her dizzy, and she clapped her hands back over her mouth, holding in a whimper. Frank was staring at her, so blankly that she couldn’t tell if he was shocked or just waiting to hear more. In a rush she continued: “James Wesley. He kidnapped me, he threatened to kill Matt and Foggy and everyone else I cared about, so when I got the chance to shoot him I did it. I could have gotten away after I injured him but if he had lived he would have...Frank, this was not just any guy. I killed Wilson Fisk’s right hand man.”
When she met his eyes again the blankness had been filled in with deadly calculation. “Okay now Karen listen to me. Does anyone know? I mean someone you’d trust with your life, someone who’s already dead, anyone.”
She shook her head. “I kept thinking Fisk would put the pieces together, but I’m still alive so I guess not. And I didn’t talk about it after it happened. I didn’t tell a soul.”
“Jesus.” His relief was obvious, but there was only compassion in the look he was giving her now. “All this time you’ve been carrying that on your own?” He took a step forward and folded her into his arms, rubbing her back until she gave in and rested her forehead against his neck. She had spent a long time wondering if he would understand why she had deliberately killed a person, but it had never occurred to her that he would understand how hard it had been to live with it.
“He goes for the people you love,” she whispered without leaving his embrace. “I already have too much of that on my conscience. All I can think is who’s next, what’s it going to cost someone to know me, how can I even be here in this house where Leo and Zach live--”
Frank jerked and put a hand under her chin to bring her eyes up to his own. “Hey. No one is gonna hurt those kids. No one is gonna hurt you.” He combed his fingers through her hair. “I know the deal with Fisk, it’s serious, yeah, but you’re talking like you’re alone in this. You’re not. You got that? You’re not. I’ma take care of it.”
He would, too. There was no reason to doubt that. Karen scrubbed a hand across her face. “This isn’t what I wanted.”
“You gonna tell me not to kill him? Wilson goddamn Fisk?”
Her response came out with a bitter laugh. “Nobody’s ever gotten you out of a war before you thought it was done with you. So no.” She squeezed her eyes shut. “I just never thought it would be me that pulled you back into one.”
He put his arms around her again. “This ain’t your fault, angel. None of it.”
“You don’t know that,” she objected, but she couldn’t help leaning into him as she talked. “I don’t ever want to feel okay about what I did to Wesley, but I’m still having nightmares about it, so, not really concerned that I will. But if I can make someone disappear by giving you his name, I’ll tell myself it wasn’t me. And you’ll tell me it had to be done. You won’t even be wrong, but...this is what people like Fisk do. They never get their own hands dirty.”
Frank blew out a long breath and let go of her with a movement that incorporated an indecisive shrug and the shadow of a nod. “You see any other option?” he asked, bending to rest on his folded arms on the countertop.
If she had seen any other option, Karen thought, she probably wouldn’t have gone running to him as soon as she had read that email. It was an undeniable comfort to hear him say that she wasn’t alone in this, but she hadn’t been alone the last time she had played a part in Fisk’s takedown, either. With two excellent lawyers and Daredevil himself on her side, she had still ended up cornered and desperate, and innocent people had died before the end. The only real difference it made that Frank was the one protecting her this time was that Frank would do what lawyers and Daredevil wouldn’t.
“I’m going to take the assignment,” she said, working it out as she spoke. “That won’t make any difference to whether Fisk finds out about what I did. If there’s any sign of this escalating, I’ll see it early on and I can let you know.”
Frank looked appreciative. “I’ll get Lieberman on it. He can dig where we can’t.”
Karen considered that. David could probably find something useful, if he agreed to help. “Oh,” she realized, “We should hire Jessica.”
“Hire?” he echoed, then laughed. “Shit, I thought that wild thing was your friend. Think Lieberman’s gonna charge us for his time too?”
She smiled, a real smile, and begam a new attempt at measuring the coffee beans. “It’s a matter of principle. David owes us a favor. Jessica could always use a client.”
Frank came up behind her. His hand closed over her wrist, keeping her from getting the beans into the grinder. “Don’t bother with that. I gotta go pick up Leo from her lesson. Come with me. We’ll get coffee on the way.”
Karen glanced at the clock and nodded. It would be a relief to go somewhere anyway, even if it was just on a ride with Frank. “What kind of lesson was this one?” she asked as she slipped her laptop back into its case.
“Uhh…” He furrowed his brow. “Hebrew. Guess she was supposed to get her bat mitzvah last year but they had to push it back. There’s all kinds of studying kids have to do to prep for it, lucky she’s so smart.”
They locked up the house and walked out to the driveway together. “Just another day in the life,” Karen mused as she slid into the passenger’s seat. She hadn’t stopped comparing Sarah and David to herself and Frank since the weekend had begun, but now it only made her think about how difficult having kids would make it to discuss the merits of murdering their enemies.
Frank had the keys in the ignition, but he dropped his hand from them before starting the car and turned to Karen. “If it helps,” he said, “I woulda put him down anyway, soon as he was back on the street.”
She looked out the window. “That’s not what I wanted either.”
“Yeah, we could go through this one more time.” His voice was angry; neither of them wanted to go through it again, but they always did. Every couple had a recurring quarrel, she supposed. “Karen, I’m trying to tell you, it was already personal, yeah? I got a score to settle with Fisk. He knows it. Hell, he’s more likely to come after me than you.”
“Wait. What score? From prison?” The circumstances preceding Frank’s escape had never been fully clear. Long after the fact, he had privately given Karen his confirmation about Matt’s suspicion that Fisk had orchestrated it, but she hadn’t asked for details and he hadn’t offered them. “Did you actually meet him? Face to face?”
He nodded, staring forward, then turned the keys and pulled out to the road. “Make a deal with a shitbag, y’know, he’ll play it like a shitbag and at the end he’ll still be a shitbag. Don’t know if I made the right call. Maybe I coulda done something different.”
Karen’s stomach was twisting in knots, but Frank reached into her lap and squeezed her hand. “You made the right call, though,” he said. “Alright, so I wasn’t there. I still know. If you did it, that means it had to be done. That’s not gonna make it any easier on you, y’know, maybe it’s like you say and it shouldn’t be easy, but I know you, Karen. Whatever happens next, it’s not your fault.”
They drove in silence for a few blocks before she replied, “It does kind of make it easier. You and me, in this together. Makes it...better.”
The car was at a stop sign, so Frank gave her a few seconds of his full attention, his sad smile and the love in his eyes. “Makes it right.”