Fandom: Netflix MCU mashup
Wordcount: This part, 2417
Rating: Teen for language and canon-typical violence
Summary: It was supposed to be an ordinary day, but no, she has to save another life.
So, it's been a couple months and I really didn't intend that at all. Even the anticipation stage for Infinity War turned out to be a major distraction from everything else, but I'm not giving up on Kastle; just left them on the back burner for a bit.
Very sorry if anyone's still interested in this story and I left you hanging! I'll try to be better.
Karen was beginning to recognize the volunteer staff at the animal shelter, Hell’s Kittens. They knew her, too: the sanguine young woman who signed her in asked right away if she was ready to adopt yet, or if she just wanted to take a walk.
“Just a walk,” Karen replied. “Is the boxer still here? He was such a doll.”
The volunteer shook her head. “His family showed up and took him home, actually. I’ll miss him, but it’s nice to get a happy ending.”
It really was, and Karen quashed her disappointment. The boxer hadn’t been meant for her, even if she had been here to get a dog. “So, do you have any ideas on who I can pair up with for the next hour?”
“There’s one that just came out of quarantine. She’s a little shy, but you’ve got enough experience, right?” She led Karen to the outdoor enclosures, where five dogs of various types were currently frolicking in separated pens. The one in the middle was sitting in the farthest corner, and it took a little coaxing to get her to the door and onto a leash. “There,” said the girl at last, petting the black and white dog warmly. “She might yank a little. I hope that’s okay. We think she’s still pretty young.”
Karen scratched the dog’s dangling ears, but didn’t get much of a reaction. “What’s her name?” she asked.
“I’ve been calling her Sicily.” If she noticed that the word had startled Karen, she didn’t show it, just went on in a somewhat hushed tone: “I’m kind of worried for this one. She looks like she’s at least half pitbull, and you know how hard it is for those to find a home. And let’s be honest, she’s not exactly the prettiest. If nobody wants her, well. Better if we just give her a chance, right?”
“Right,” Karen agreed immediately. It was true; Sicily was nondescript and stocky, nobody’s dream dog. If she had behavioral problems on top of that, she might be doomed. “Let’s get that harness on and see if we can make her some friends.”
There were a few different routes to choose from, all of them winding through the park that bordered Hell’s Kittens. Karen had taken the same one every time, and knew where to find a picnic table off the trail with nothing but trees around it. Sicily pulled on the leash the entire way, refusing to heel as if on principle. She wasn’t huge, but she was powerful, and Karen’s arm was hurting soon in spite of her patience and her formidable experience with training dogs.
By the time they reached the picnic table, she was glad to loop the leash around one of its legs and sit and rest while Sicily prowled a few paces back and forth. In another minute, Jessica came walking down the trail from the other direction, with Burl, the respondent from Trish Talk, at her side. Sicily growled at them as they approached, making Burl eye her suspiciously and Jessica say, “Hey, I thought I was your guard dog,” with a wry grin.
Karen wrapped a hand around Sicily’s collar and kept it there while Jessica and Burl came to the table, and finally the dog huffed and lay down at the end of her lead. “She’s my cover story,” Karen explained. “With her here no one will look twice at us. So, do you have anything for me?”
Burl sat across from Karen, as far as he could get from Sicily, and took an overstuffed envelope from inside his jacket. “You gotta be careful with this shit,” he warned. “He find out you lookin’ for him, he find you first and there ain’t nothin’ gonna save you then.”
“Blagg?” Karen asked. She thumbed through the contents of the envelope, but couldn’t see much without dumping it all out, which she wasn’t planning to do out here. “I’ve got someone tracking him already.”
“Nah, nah, Blagg just a stooge. Headed outta town by now anyway. Man in charge, he called Wake. Donovan Wake. It’s all in there, a’ight? It ain’t gonna be enough to put him away but it’s all I got.”
Jessica had seated herself on the table, her feet on the bench beside Burl. She glanced at the envelope without any sign of interest, then asked Karen, “Am I understanding here that you hired someone to go after the fake Punisher? You should have told me.”
Karen shook her head absently. “I didn’t hire anyone. And you’re doing enough for me already.”
“It’s alright,” said Jessica. “Burl here’s gonna take me to Taco Bell after this so it’s not a sunk afternoon.”
“Say what?” His affront bordered on outrage. “Woman, you said you was takin’ me to Taco Bell!”
In no mood to banter with them, Karen interjected, “I’ll take the whole damn borough to Taco Bell if you help me bring down this Donovan Wake. Who is he? Why is he hiring hitmen to pretend to be the Punisher?”
Burl gave his head a hard shake, his yearning for tacos apparently forgotten. “I don’t know that. I know he a snappy dresser. I know he got a high-rise apartment in Manhattan. I know he got legal flow from some shit called Roxxon, but the dirty flow is comin’ at him from everywhere else.”
“Roxxon,” said Karen under her breath. She frowned, thinking. “If he’s got a public face I could try getting an interview with him. Say it’s for some kind of flattering garbage about his success in business.”
“Ain’t nobody get face-to-face with Wake. He got guys to hire his guys who hire his guys.”
Karen glanced up at Jessica and saw nothing but a neutral expression. She turned back to Burl and pressed, “But if he lives in Manhattan, he must have some kind of contact with someone.”
He shrugged. “Naw, I says he got an apartment there, not he live there.”
“Okay.” She told herself not to be frustrated; this was already a good start, and she couldn’t expect Burl to know everything. “I should look through this information before we start planning to expose him, anyway.”
“Yeah, knock yo’self out.” He swiveled around on the bench, lifting each leg out from under the table.
Karen stood halfway up by reflex. “Where are you going?”
“I gave you what I got. Rest is on you, Karen Page.” He made a half-hearted farewell salute before he turned away. “I hope you get him. My little bro, he need justice so he rest in peace.” He shoved his hands in his pockets and strode swiftly back down the path.
After a few beats of silence while they watched him go, Jessica slid down from the table to the bench. “Damn,” she remarked. “I wasn’t really gonna stiff him on the fast food. Now I feel kind of bad.”
Karen chuckled absently. The envelope full of Burl’s information was stashed in her purse, and she was already burning to take a closer look at it. “Guess he was in a hurry to get out of here. Seemed like he’s more scared of all this than we are. Thanks for coming, though. You never can tell.”
Jessica made a sound that might or might not have been agreement. “Hey, about the Punisher knockoff…”
“Russell Blagg,” said Karen, a little more tightly than she’d intended. “Burl’s right, we shouldn’t bother trying to catch him.”
“How’d you get his name?”
Much as Karen trusted Jessica, she wasn’t about to start tattling on Frank. “Working on a story, but so far I don’t have anything I can publish. It sounds like Blagg failed his last hit, so he’ll be getting as far away from Wake as possible. And that’s the opposite direction from where I want to be looking.”
Jessica’s eyes narrowed. “He failed a job? Why?”
“He was caught in the act by Daredevil,” Karen answered, drenching her voice with irony. “Make of that what you will.”
“Well I for one am severely disappointed that I missed it. If I’d known there was a fake Daredevil to go with the fake Punisher, the first thing I would have wanted to do was put them in a mayonnaise jar together to see if they fight.”
Karen leaned her face into her hand with a tired smile. “God bless Hell’s Kitchen, huh?” Jessica returned the smile, and for a moment they were silent. Then Karen sighed and gathered up her belongings, making sure the packet of information from Burl was secure. She reached under the table to untie Sicily’s leash from the table leg.
In the next second the dog’s jaws were on her forearm, digging in through her coat sleeve with incredible pressure. She let out a brief cry of pain, her other hand fluttering around the leash and collar, but she knew she wasn’t getting out of this on her own strength. Sicily was staring straight at her, and a strangely disconnected thought resonated through her mind: she had never seen such sadness in a pair of eyes, save only Frank Castle’s.
“Jesus!” yelled Jessica, and before Karen could tell her not to hurt the dog, she had pried her mouth open with her hands.
Karen stumbled back, clenching her arm as it was released. Sicily scooted back under the table, whimpering. “Is she--?”
“She’s fine,” Jessica snapped. “Fuck that, are you okay? Let me see.”
Ignoring the dirty look that Jessica was giving the dog, Karen knelt to check for herself, and only stood up when she was satisfied that no part of her had been harmed in the defense maneuver. Jessica rolled her eyes impatiently, and Karen ignored that too. She shrugged her wool coat off, wincing a little. “The skin is barely even broken, it’s just going to -- ow -- bruise a little. I have to calm her down and get her back to the shelter, though.”
“No, you have to go get checked out at the ER. I’ll take Cujo back, tell them what happened--”
”No!” The sharpness in Karen’s voice surprised both of them. She took a deep breath before continuing. “If they find out she’s got aggressive tendencies she doesn’t have a prayer. They might even be legally obliged to put her down. All I need is to play it cool until I can come back and adopt her.”
Jessica threw her hands up. “So this has been a real productive day, making friends, taking in an attack dog, that’s great. Look, you’re merciful and ambitious and crazed. I’m not gonna try to stop you, but I’m walking back with you so you at least don’t get mauled again before you get that looked at.”
Karen put her coat back on, gingerly easing her right arm through the sleeve. Moving it was painful, but there was no blood visible, so all she had to do would be to sign a few papers without letting on that it hurt. Then the adoption process would be underway, and she could take Sicily home in a few days and teach her some manners. Assuming, of course, that nobody else was bitten in the meantime. “Thanks,” she said absently, crouching to peer at the dog, who was cowering beyond her reach under the picnic table. “Now I just need to convince her to come out.”
With one defeated sigh, Jessica lifted the table off the ground and held it out of the way. “Save that for Wake.”
Matt woke to the sound of a woman crying, and knew it was Claire Temple before he knew he was in an unfamiliar bed, before he remembered anything about how he had gotten there, before he even registered that his ribs were cracked and they were far from the only part of his body hurting him. Getting up to go find her was out of the question. “Claire?” he called softly.
The sobbing stopped, and she came into the room and stood over him. “You son of a bitch,” she said, with a restrained fury that was sure to be justified in some way that he wouldn’t like.
“I...did I call you? I didn’t want to bring you into this…”
“No? Then you haven’t changed a bit, goddamn you.” She knelt to unzip her medical kit. “Six months, Matt. Everyone who’s ever cared about you has been grieving for you. I held out as long as I could and then I just had to accept that if you were still alive you would have contacted me by now, but no, if it weren’t for your priest you would probably be dead before I knew you weren’t.”
She moved rapidly, checking his vital signs and changing some of his bandages, making no special effort at tenderness. Matt tried to clear his muddled head enough to carry out his half of the conversation. “Father Lantom found me? He found you? How?”
“You know what, just stop.” Claire paused as if she had meant the command for herself. She held onto the bed frame and took a deep breath, but none of the emotion left her voice. “Stop digging. I’ll tell you what I know. It isn’t much and we’ve got time to kill while you’re lying here, but if you want to hear it at all, don’t you dare act like your questions are the only ones that matter. Why don’t you start with an apology, okay? Maybe some background that explains a few of the stupid choices you must have been making to land you here. And then a promise.”
Matt nodded feebly. “What kind of promise?”
“That for once in your life you don’t decide you’re done recovering until I say you are. That you prove to me I’m not wasting my efforts.” She put her tools back into the bag and pulled up a chair. “And don’t try to negotiate, or you’re going to get a promise from me instead. I won’t keep doing this, Matt. I won’t leave you to die if you show up on my doorstep like this again, but I will call an ambulance.”
“Okay,” he whispered after only a slight hesitation. “I’m sorry, Claire. You deserve better. You always have.”
Her posture relaxed a little, at last, and she choked out a dry laugh. “Good. That was...good apology. You can get started on the explanation as soon as you’re ready.”