Fandom: Netflix MCU mashup
Wordcount: This part, 2728
Rating: Teen for language and canon-typical violence
Summary: As Sgt. Mahoney has observed, Frank and Karen keep bumping up together.
Red and blue lights from three police cruisers and a fire engine were flashing over everything that Frank could see on the ground when he arrived on a neighboring rooftop. He didn’t bother setting up his EDM Arms Windrunner. Whatever had happened here was already over; it was plain that he wouldn’t have a target tonight. He hadn’t really expected one in the first place anyway, but he hadn’t expected this, either.
Karen was down there, talking to an officer. The distance to the ground made it hard to pick out individual faces, but there was no mistaking her hair, not to mention her tall slender body and pencil skirt. Frank drummed his fingers against the wall in indecision, then sighed and took his phone from his pocket to call her.
He watched her react to the ring, say something to the cop, and turn away from him only to look at the screen for a long moment before accepting the call. “Pete,” she said flatly.
“Whatever it is, I didn’t do it,” he replied.
Immediately, her eyes went up to the skyline as if an irresistible force had drawn them. “I’m hearing a different take. I can’t talk here.”
“Yeah, I know. Quit looking for me. Someone’s gonna notice.”
She lowered her head with a startled twitch. “You shouldn’t even be out. Go home and I’ll call you later.”
Frank had to agree with her there: he had come on a fool’s errand, and now it looked like a new hunt for the Punisher was on. He could have made it safely back to his apartment to lie low for a few days, but then what? Whoever was responsible would still be on the loose, and Karen would still be putting herself in danger to find out more. “No,” he decided out loud. “I gotta see you. Where can you meet me when you’re done at the scene? Docks?”
Before she could answer, the officer she had been talking to approached her again. Frank couldn’t hear what he said, but Karen’s side of the conversation came into the phone despite her lowering it to talk to him. “I’m sorry, Brett, I’ll be right there...no, it’s not related, it’s just my boyfriend.” Her voice got stronger again as she returned to speaking directly to Frank. “Pete, I’m going to text you an address. Stop laughing.”
“I ain’t laughing,” he laughed. He wasn’t sure why he even found it funny. ‘Boyfriend’ was a good cover story for the Pete who had called her at that time of night, but anyone who heard her say it would never dream she was lowering herself to a Pete like him.
He sobered quickly after they hung up and he received her text. The address was in Hell’s Kitchen, not so far from here, but he had left the van some distance away, and he would have to get back to it to stash the Windrunner. It was probably part of her intention to make him hurry so he would get away from the scene before she did.
At least she seemed safe enough where she was, though. She had called the officer ‘Brett’, and now he remembered: Sergeant Brett Mahoney was the one who had arrested him with Murdock’s help, and Karen had dealt with him a few times since then. He was trustworthy, she said, a rare commodity in the layers of corruption suffocating the precinct.
Frank took another few minutes to look over the scene below, but there was nothing else to learn from it. Karen was deep in conversation with Mahoney, taking frequent notes. She didn’t try to look for Frank again.
It was another hour before he had parked the van again, this time on a street a few blocks from the address that Karen had given him. He deliberately walked past the location the first time to throw off any observers, although the sidewalks had been deserted since he got out of the van. He almost did a double take when he saw where she had sent him: the number of his destination was clearly shown on the wall of a pretty little church called St. John of the Cross. The lights were off. Was he supposed to go trying the doors until someone saw him and reported a break-in? He shook his head and circled the block.
When he made it back around, there was a woman, not Karen, standing at the side entrance. At this time of night she looked just as out of place as he did, so he didn’t avoid meeting her eyes as he approached, and she took a hesitant step toward him and said, “Mr. Castin...Cassili...Pete?”
He stopped in front of her and didn’t say anything. She was tall and wide and inspired an automatic certainty that she would die before inflicting the slightest hurt on an innocent, and Frank didn’t have any clue about how she fit into this. She gave her long hair a nervous twist. “If you’re here to meet with Karen, I can let you in. She’s downstairs.”
Frank inclined his head. “Thank you ma’am.” He followed her to the door, which she unlocked with a skeleton key as well as an ordinary one. Inside, she turned on a stairwell light, then turned it off again when they had reached the basement level, where she opened a door and led him into a dimly lit community kitchen. Nobody was there but Karen, sitting in one of the folding chairs that lined the long tables set end-to-end in the middle of the room.
She stood up as soon as they came in. “Sorry about the cloak and dagger,” she said to Frank. “We thought it would be better if Betsy was the one who came out to get you instead of me, just in case anyone followed us here.”
“You a friend of Karen’s?” Frank asked Betsy. They weren’t going to get very far if he didn’t know what could be said in front of her.
Karen nodded solemnly while Betsy lifted her shoulders and said, “We only just met, really. She called looking for Father Lantom and I was here setting up for tomorrow’s AA meeting, so I let her in.” She frowned, eyes downcast. “I can’t figure out where he would have gone, so late. I thought maybe Karen would know.”
“But I don’t,” Karen sighed. “It’s probably just something completely mundane, but...one more mystery.” She gave Betsy a reassuring look. “I’ve got your number, so I can call you if he shows up. I’m sure you want to get home by now.”
Frank thought about what could have happened to the resident priest, and came up empty; Karen was probably right that it was unrelated. He spotted a Mr. Coffee across the room. “You think he would mind if I...?” he asked Betsy, pointing as he headed toward it.
She blinked, then released a short laugh. “Just make sure you wash it when you’re done. He’s been using it a lot since the espresso machine broke. He loves that thing, must have gotten him hooked on caffeine.” She turned back to Karen. “So, I showed you how to lock up and set the alarm. Call me when you’re leaving. Even if you don’t see Father Lantom.”
Karen promised she would, and they both said goodbye. Frank did too, putting aside the coffee to thank Betsy and then returning to it when she was gone. “Why here?” he said to Karen as he searched through the drawers for filters.
“Sanctuary,” she replied, irony and resignation struggling for control over the word. She leaned back against the counter, arms crossed. “I trust Father Lantom, but I don’t have any real connection to him or the church. Thought you’d want somewhere that nobody would come looking for either of us.”
“Yeah.” He kept his eyes on the pot until he had pressed the button to begin brewing, and then he took in the sight of her, sparking with pent-up energy even in her weariness. “I ain’t got a story for you, Karen. Not tonight.”
“Why were you on the roof?”
“Had a lead. Someone musta got there first. I didn’t see anything you didn’t.”
She inclined her head, believing him, just like that. He crouched to open up the cupboard under the espresso machine and found a toolbox nestled between two cardboard boxes of parts.
Karen watched with idle curiosity as he set it on the counter and opened it up, but she didn’t question it, just said, “They found one guy on the fire escape who had been knocked out. He barely seemed to know what was going on, but there were plenty of other witnesses. Nearly all the top-floor residents wanted to tell the police about what they saw.”
The front panel of the espresso machine came off with a Phillips screwdriver. Frank moved it to the side, placed each of the four screws carefully into a coffee mug, and peered into the exposed innards of the machine. “And what was that?”
“Daredevil,” she stated. “Daredevil fighting the Punisher.”
Frank paused without looking up, then spoke without looking up. “I’d tell you if I saw him, you know that, right?”
Karen made a dissatisfied sound in her throat. “You’re not going to say it couldn’t have been Matt?”
“I’d tell you if I saw someone dressed up like him, too.” He found a small flashlight in the toolbox and set it up to shine into the machine. He could already see what was probably causing the problem, although he had never really paid much attention to how espresso was made. Why anyone needed to experiment with variations on a good cup of black coffee was beyond him. “You decide for yourself if it coulda been Murdock having it out with Blagg. I say no, yeah, but you knew that already.”
“Blagg?” Karen asked, unexpectedly zeroing in on the only thing he had said that wasn’t about Murdock. “You’ve got a name on the Punisher copycat?”
There was a piece that had clearly been knocked out of its place; Frank found a pair of pliers in the box and got to work on it. “Name. Records. Good look at a picture of him so I know him for sure when I track him down.” He didn’t regret sharing the name with her, but he hadn’t fully thought through what she was likely to do with it. “He’s a piece of shit. Career toadie, gets sent on hits and takes out witnesses while he’s at it.”
“So that was your lead?” she said quietly. “You were there to kill a hitman?”
Frank straightened up, washed his hands in the sink, and faced her as he dried them on the hanging hand towel. “Was there to see if I was gonna get a clear shot at him, yeah.”
“And when he’s dead and he gets replaced by some other asshole wearing your logo, you’ll go looking for a clear shot at him too? And so on until they all decide that impersonating you is too much of a risk?”
“That’s the idea. You got a better one?” He tossed the towel down and opened the cupboard for a pair of mugs; the coffee had finished brewing.
His voice had been hard, but the look she gave him was harder. “You said the vengeance tour was over with. I came to you with this because I thought there was some kind of resolution to it that didn’t involve another corpse. Let me bring down the police on this guy. They’ll investigate before they sentence him and we’ll know if he’s really so far gone--”
“He is,” Frank cut in. “This ain’t some kid who made a couple bad choices. I got proof, Karen. Solid proof.” That had come from David, who handed over the information with an air of knowing exactly what Frank planned to do with it. The words I can live with that had echoed silently between them.
Whether Karen could live with it was another matter. She furrowed her brow at the cup he was holding out to her, but accepted it and held it up to her nose to inhale. “Is this a plan, Frank, or is it a habit? You might have proof about Blagg’s past, but you don’t have any on his future.”
He took a sip of his own coffee, not really tasting it, but appreciating the dull burn against his lips. “Habits don’t break easy. People don’t change. That’s the future.” It would have been nice to believe that maybe he was the exception, maybe he could be a new man someday. It would have been nice to let Karen believe it. He set down his cup and reached for the plating he had removed from the espresso machine, and held it in place one-handed while fishing one of the screws out of the spare mug. “Look, if the cops get to him first, I ain’t gonna make a fuss. But you can’t ask me to sit on my hands while this shit keeps happening in my name.”
“You’re not a solo act anymore. You know that, right? You have to start thinking about how the people in your life are going to be affected by what you do.”
“Yeah?” Frank slammed down the screwdriver before he’d finished with even the second screw. “How about this girl Betsy you sent out to get me? This priest who’s gone missing? You thinking about them at all?” Her stricken expression made him instantly repentant, and he softened his tone. “More people you’re responsible for, more you gotta make choices about who to take care of. I know you at all, you’ll put yourself last. Scares me, alright?”
Karen nodded, an economical motion with eyes downcast, and took her coffee back to the tables lined up in the middle of the room. Frank finished with the espresso machine and replaced the tools and flashlight before retrieving his own coffee. He wasn’t going to make an espresso to test it -- he didn’t even know how -- but maybe he could put a note on there before he left, or Karen could. He ambled over but stopped a pace behind her chair.
She turned it sideways, one elbow propped on the table and her other hand curled around her mug, still full. “Father Lantom knows I know you,” she said, sounding more conciliatory than he had expected. “He’s a secret keeper, though. He knew about Matt all along.” She peered up at him. “I told Betsy you were my boyfriend Pete and that we both needed a place to wait for a little while, and she didn’t ask for details. I think it’s not the first time Father Lantom has asked her to cast a blind eye while she’s lending a hand.”
“Alright,” Frank allowed. He still didn’t like it, but he trusted Karen to contain it from here on in. “Was it her who couldn’t pronounce Castiglione, or did you give it to her wrong?”
“Castiglione,” she said precisely, with a skewed smile. “Why did you pick that, anyway?”
He shrugged. “It’s the Sicilian form.”
“Are you Sicilian?”
“Nah. Maria was. Her maiden name was Guzzo, I used to tease her with it. Means ‘dog’.” Ever since that first conversation in the hospital, it had been easier to talk about Maria and the kids with Karen than with anybody else. She listened like a musician trying to learn a new piece by ear, and he found memories he had never expected to revisit again. It was enough in itself to make him look forward to seeing her, although not enough to make him lose sight of the danger he posed to her.
“Guzzo,” she echoed, sampling the word like a piece of candy. “Nice.” She stretched in her chair, rolling her shoulders. “I’m going to stay a little longer, see if Father Lantom does come back. You can get going if you want. I’ll clean up.”
Frank hesitated, then pulled out the chair next to her and put down his coffee. “Mind if I just finish this first?”
“Be my guest.” Her smile was brief but radiant. “So, Castiglione, now I have to know. If you’re not Sicilian, where did you come from?”