Fandom: Netflix MCU mashup (Punisher focus)
Wordcount: This part, 3018
Rating: Teen for language
Summary: Frank wants answers. Matt wants some exercise. Karen wants a dog.
Notes: No notes!
She wasn’t expecting him. He hadn’t called first, and she hadn’t put the roses in her window. It was past ten at night, and Karen had been thinking about getting ready for bed when there was a light rapping at her door.
That alone was enough to worry her, but when she saw it was Frank, her heart began hammering in her chest. “What is it?” she asked instantly. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah. I was, uh, in the neighborhood. Thought I’d check up on you. Don’t like the way this shit with the phonies looks.” He made no move to come in. Karen wanted to be glad that he had come to see her without an emergency to prompt him, but his hunched stance and the creases around his eyes just made her think this was a slower, more subtle kind of emergency.
She nodded. “Well, I don’t like it either, but I’m fine, if that’s all you wanted to know.” There was a pause, as if both of them had forgotten their lines, and then she said, “Come in here. Sit down.” She wondered what he thought about seeing her in her sweatpants and spaghetti strap top. This was new territory.
He entered, but didn’t sit, choosing instead to walk a circle through her living room that ended in front of her, his eyes downcast. She offered him a beer, then coffee, then anything, and he refused each time. Finally he looked at her and said, “My son always wanted to be a Marine when he grew up. Anyone asked him, it was the same answer every goddamn time, he was gonna join the Marines, be a soldier like daddy. Kept me up at night, thinking about him in a war zone one day, but shit, I was proud, y’know? That’s my boy. Couldn’t ever try to talk him out of it.”
Karen crossed her arms tight against her ribs. Instead of trying to find a response, she looked him in the eye, silently indicating that he should go on.
He did: “Now Zach wants to be a Marine. That kinda kid, y’know, they don’t get it. They join ‘cause they wanna fight, they wanna be heroes, hell, that’s why I joined. Maybe there ain’t any recruits who don’t start there. And us who’ve been to the other side, we don’t do a damn thing to straighten ‘em out before it’s too late.”
A few beats passed before Karen asked softly, “Who’s Zach?”
Frank blinked. “Oh, right, uh. David Lieberman’s boy. He’s got his family all back together, I think I told you.”
He had told her, as part of a general summary of what had happened after he left the elevator, but she hadn’t known that he was close enough to the family to have heard what one of the children wanted to be when he grew up. It gave her a pang to think that there was yet another part of his life that she knew nothing about, but she only nodded in response. She moved into the living room, coaxing him into following with a meaningful gesture of her head, and took the armchair so that he wouldn’t have to decide if he should sit next to her.
To her relief, he seated himself without comment, and kept talking. “Whenever I started having doubts, when shit started going down in the unit, I told myself I’d still done some good by putting my kids in the world. That was my true purpose, right? Reason I’m here.” He leaned forward with his hands rubbing at each other between his knees. “Now I know, yeah. If there’s a reason I’m here it’s...at least if I do my job right, no one else has to do it.”
“Frank,” Karen murmured. She knew she didn’t have to find anything else to say; her role here now was to listen, to let him speak the truth to someone who could bear to hear it. It still made her want to cry, but she had built up a tolerance for the pain. Every time she saw him, every time she even thought about him, it was a little bit easier.
“These copycats, they still think there’s some kinda glory in it, shit, they think there’s a prize somewhere under the bodies. Just more boys itching to get in a fight. Dressed up playing Punisher.” He shook his head and looked up at her. “I can’t make sense of it, Karen. Why’s anyone want to be like me?”
If she had been wondering why he had come, now she knew: it was to ask her that question. She understood why he wanted to know, and why he couldn’t find the answer himself, but she wasn’t sure about why he thought she would. She had to give it a try, though. “Most people, when the world turns on us, we can’t do anything. We just watch it happen, wish things were different. But you take action. People envy that, even if they don’t like the action you take. They don’t see what it costs you.”
He stared silently forward for a moment, not quite nodding, but showing a kind of comprehension on his face. His voice was full of thorns and gravel when he asked, “You said once I belong in prison, you still think that?”
“No,” Karen replied, not needing to consider it first.
“Blame it on my bleeding heart, but I value human life too much to lock you in a room full of hardened criminals.”
Frank gave her a sharp look. “You think I’d get killed?”
She returned an even gaze. “Not at all.”
After a moment he shook his head, chuckling, and some of the tension seemed to escape from his shoulders. It was maybe an odd way to get him to relax, but Karen would take what she could get. She pulled her bare feet up on the chair and pushed her face into her sleeve to hide a yawn. Loving Frank might hurt less than it used to, but it was never going to be easy.
“Be a lot easier on me if you gave up chasing the story,” he stated, breaking her out of a muddled reverie.
What had she just been thinking about? Frank hurting her? Frank being able to relax in her presence? She pushed it out of her head so she could answer him. “I thought we agreed not to tell each other what we were going to do about this.”
Of course that hadn’t exactly been what they agreed, but he didn’t fight her on it, just looked at her with that worried tilt to his eyebrows. “Yeah, but c’mon, Karen, I know you’re still chasing the story.”
“I am,” she said mildly. “But while we’re on the subject, it would be a lot easier on me if I ever knew where you were.”
Frank rolled his head back, looking caged and worn out. “Yeah, I guess it would.” After a second he exhaled and pushed himself up from the couch. “I should go. I don’t know what I’m doing, bothering you this late at night. Just be safe, okay? Don’t get in over your head.”
“Same to you.” They would probably never stop saying that to each other, she reflected. They would probably never start listening, either.
Karen saw him out with no more than a soft assurance that he hadn’t been bothering her, and he could come back any time he wanted. He thanked her brusquely, but apologized anyway and left without having touched her at all during his visit.
She practically fell into bed, sleep descending at high speed, but the exhaustion itself was enough to remind her of the thought that had escaped her earlier: loving Frank was hard work. With the last of her energy, her eyes snapped open. Loving Frank…?
“...If you believe you’ve sighted a vigilante, particularly those known as Daredevil or the Punisher, or if you have any information or speculation you would like to share, we’re waiting for your calls. Again, you’re listening to Trish Talk on WNEX, and the lines are open.”
Matt switched off the radio as soon as the show had ended. He wished he had something to punch, but the priory at St. John of the Cross wasn’t built with anyone’s physical training in mind. For a moment he debated going to find Father Lantom, just to have someone who could talk through the problem with him. He was a busy man, though, who had already sacrificed too much of his time as Matt’s only source of companionship.
It was broad daylight, but sometimes the risk was worth it: Matt decided to take a walk. If by some chance there was someone he knew out in the neighborhood, he would just have to recognize them before they saw him. He put on his glasses, unfolded his cane, and opened up his senses.
Trish had been discussing recent appearances of the Punisher, but with a grain of salt that Matt had noticed was characteristic for her, since he had begun regularly listening to her show. She had urged her listeners to consider that Frank Castle was dead, and that the recent murders were the work of a copycat killer -- and then she had drawn a comparison with recent sightings of Daredevil, which also couldn’t be confirmed. She was vague enough to give Matt hope that it was Jessica who had seen him after all, and nobody else. It was still more than he wanted, but at least she would be smart about it, unlike a stranger.
Further along in the show, Trish had opined that law enforcement would soon put the Castle imitator behind bars. It was a marked difference from the alarmist tone that most other news media liked to take, which Matt appreciated even while he wasn’t buying it for a second.
The night before, he had been searching for members of Javelin, and found instead their rivals. Securing a hiding spot on the floor above them, he had stayed to listen without getting involved, but now he knew: Frank Castle was anything but dead, and nobody would have an easy time getting him behind bars, law enforcement least of all.
It was a comfortably warm day, with a gentle breeze carrying the scent from those trees along the sidewalk which had started to bloom. Matt realized he was headed toward Fogwell’s Gym, but instead of changing direction, he picked up his pace. He hadn’t been back there in a long time, and it would be good to find out if it was in use, or if he could still get in.
He had two days before Castle was supposed to meet up with Russell Blagg, whoever he was. If there was a fight coming, two days wouldn’t amount to much training, but it would have to do.
Karen had to sign in at the WNEX reception desk, as she had the last time she had been here, but as she wasn’t speaking this time, there was no other red tape that she had to go through to get to the Trish Talk meeting room. She was given a guest pass and pointed in the right direction, and the station was large and busy enough that nobody recognized her or asked if she would be speaking on one of the shows.
Trish and Jessica were both waiting for her, looking respectively concerned and cynical while somehow appearing to make them look like the exact same expression. Trish stood up and took her hand, saying, “It’s really good to see you again. I know this was short notice; I hope we didn’t take you away from anything.”
Karen affirmed that she wasn’t on a standard 9 to 5 schedule, and sat down at the table next to Trish and across from Jessica. Actually, Trish’s call had taken her away from the animal shelter, but she didn’t want to talk about that. It was the third time she had followed an impulse to go and pet a few dogs, and if she kept it up she was sure she would end up falling in love with one and fail to talk herself out of bringing it home. That wouldn’t be so bad -- God knew she could use the company -- but she still wasn’t sure that her life was stable enough for a pet. If she found herself kidnapped again she didn’t want to be worrying about her dog while she was trying to escape.
“We have four different callers lined up to come in,” said Trish. “After the screening process, these are the ones who we thought were most likely to have legitimate information. I’ll start out by explaining who we are and what we’re looking for to each one, but once we hear their stories you can ask whatever questions you like. You’re the one who can verify if they’ve seen the real Punisher or Daredevil.”
Karen bit back a rejoinder. They had already discussed the inclusion of Daredevil in Trish’s call for eyewitnesses, and Karen had already said her piece about Matt being dead, and his memory deserving of respect and privacy. Anyway, all she would have to do was listen to people who, at most, had seen someone else in a red costume.
Jessica stood up and moved down to the far end of the table. “Pretend I’m not here. Unless someone gets cheeky and you want them tossed out.”
The first guest was a woman their own age who told a story that sounded well-rehearsed: she had been walking through “a bad part of town” and seen six or seven “scary-looking guys” suddenly draw guns on another man, who “mowed them all down like weeds.”
Karen asked for a physical description and got one so hazy it was meaningless, then asked for details about the circumstances and got answers that could have been picked out of a hat. She let her irritation into her voice to ask, “Did you go to the police to inform them that you were witness to a crime, or were you saving this just on the off chance that Trish Talk would be asking listeners to call in with stories about the Punisher?”
The woman froze for a second, then turned a nervous but sappy smile on Trish. “Big fan,” she said.
“Oh, Jesus,” Jessica snapped, the first time she had spoken since the big fan had come in. “Get out of here. She’s not signing your Patsy poster, okay? Go home.” She kept glaring until the three of them were the only ones left in the room. “Sorry, Karen, apparently our screening sucks.”
The next interview was just as easily debunked, but the third was with a hardened, muscular man in his thirties whose frayed jacket and jeans looked like they were probably the best clothes he owned. He was quiet for as long as it took Trish to do her standard introduction, and then he said his piece quickly and urgently: “My lil’ bro got mixed up in some shit, started hangin’ with these dealers, then one day he just gone. Word gets around, right? Mothafucka wearin’ a pirate flag for a shirt killed him.”
Karen and Trish glanced at each other, and then both of them looked down the table at Jessica, who was silent and intent on the guest. “Go on,” said Karen.
“I can’t go to the cops, right? You get that?” He waited for their nods. “I wanna see justice for my brotha, you know what I’m sayin’? But me up against this crazy mofo, that ain’t gonna happen. So I start askin’ around, seein’ who got the fire to take him out.” His face contorted in anger. “They tells me, someone already took him out. And then they says, we got another pirate flag sumbitch shootin’ up our people. Now everyone’s askin’ each other, who the real Punisher? Shit, you know what I say? There ain’t no real Punisher. But my little bro, he was real. So I’m gonna tell you everythin’ I know ‘bout this new sonnovabitch, and you gonna get the NYPD to do some good for a change. That a deal?”
Karen’s heart was hammering as they made the deal. The man, who would only give his name as Burl, seemed to have reached his limit on how much would reveal in this environment, but he was serious about making arrangements for a second meeting with Karen. “Long as it ain’t public,” he added. “Anyone see a man like me with a girl like you, they know some shit’s goin’ down.”
Trish spoke before Karen could: “I’m sorry, sir, but Miss Page is absolutely not going to be alone with you behind closed doors.”
“I don’t need no doors, I just gotta stay clear o’ rats, you know what I’m sayin’?”
Jessica and Trish both started to talk at once, and Burl threw his hands up and pushed his chair back as if he were about to leave. Karen cleared her throat loudly. “I know where we can go. It’s outside, and nobody will see us. Jessica, can you join us?”
In the end, everyone seemed at least cautiously satisfied with the plan. Karen jotted it all down in her pad and handed Burl a piece of paper with her name and number, so that he wouldn’t have to hold onto a New York Bulletin reporter’s business card. When he left, he had only a few muttered words of thanks for Trish and Jessica, but he caught Karen’s eye and looked at her with a forlorn kind of trust that her instincts told her to return.
The final interview was with a middle-aged woman who freely admitted that she hadn’t seen Daredevil, but wanted to share her opinions about how he had made the streets unsafe. Jessica expedited her departure with a few pointed insults, then gave Karen a flat look and said, “Lunch is on Trish. Let’s go.”