Fandom: Netflix MCU mashup
Wordcount: This part, 3204
Rating: Teen I guess.
Summary: You want Kastle? I give you Kastle. It's got coffee, it's got dogs, it's got really intense conversation and a harebrained scheme to use gunfire for an ultimately good cause. But first, it's time to check in with Matt.
Matt plugged his earbuds into the laptop, fervently missing his refreshable braille display device and knowing he had no chance of getting a new one. The computer he was using belonged to St. John of the Cross, and it was just barely powerful enough to handle the software for the visually impaired that had been installed when it was assigned for his personal usage. He couldn’t ask Father Lantom for more than this.
The priest was approaching his door now, and Matt removed the earbuds and said “Come in,” before the knock landed. It was just as well that he hadn’t gotten started on anything yet. His current research was as much about killing time was it was about planning his next move.
“I’ve got today’s papers,” said Father Lantom, stepping into the room without remarking on Matt’s preemptive invitation. “I could read you the headlines, see if there’s anything you want to hear more about.”
“No thanks,” said Matt politely. “I can go through the online editions on my own.” He paused, then added, “Unless you saw something you think I should check out?”
“Another witness who swears he saw Daredevil fighting the Punisher. I know what you’re going to say, but even rumors are rooted somewhere. It would be good to find out where this one came from.”
Matt shook his head, as baffled by the report as he had been last time he had heard it. “It’s true Frank Castle is active again, I heard his voice, but I haven’t engaged with him. I didn’t even let him see me.” Sneaky as Castle could be, he was sure about it this time. He had kept well clear of the other man’s line of sight.
Father Lantom gestured with the papers, a dispirited motion. “Well, that’s it for what I think you should check out, then.”
“I’m going to get some answers, Father.” He felt compelled to say it, even though they had been through all this before. “I’ll find out where Javelin is hiding, but first I need to know what Castle is up to.”
“The world is full of mysteries, Matthew. I for one would still like to know who fixed my espresso machine.”
Matt cracked a smile. “If they try to break in for more stealth repair jobs, this time I’ll be here to catch them in the act.”
“You will, won’t you?” The old man folded up the newspapers and tucked them under his arm. “All these nights without even asking when your suit will be ready. I’d have thought you’d be restless by now.”
“I am,” Matt admitted easily, drumming his fingers on the desktop. “But I promised Claire.” Claire had been back once since then, checking up on his recovery and making it clear that no part of it was a social call. She wouldn’t tell him much about how his friends were doing, except that they were alive and not in any danger beyond their usual.
He wasn’t about to lose hope for mending all of those bridges, but for now it seemed best to wait for Claire to bring it up, and she probably wouldn’t do that until after she let him off his medical leave. He missed her, though. “Have you heard from her, by the way?” he asked Father Lantom.
The priest shook his head. “No, but I do have a visitor for you, if you feel up to it.”
Instantly Matt tensed in his seat, snatching up his glasses from the desk as if they were the only thing that could save him from the peril of a sudden stranger about to materialize in the room. Aside from Claire, everyone who knew he was here was affiliated with the church. Who could Father Lantom have brought to him?
“Don’t panic,” Father Lantom said dryly. “It’s Betsy. Your friend Mr. Potter got so worried about you when he saw the state of your suit that she marched right up to me and demanded to know why Daredevil was causing her Melvin so much trouble.”
“What did you tell her?”
“That Daredevil was on leave. And that, by the way, the software she found for our visually impaired tenant was working fine and very much appreciated.” He gestured over his shoulder. “She’s in the kitchen sorting out donations. Why don’t you join us in there when you’re ready?”
Matt could only say, “Oh.” He had heard Betsy’s voice in various parts of the church property, and knew that she attended the ten-thirty Mass and volunteered here for more than just running Melvin’s messages and deliveries. It had never occurred to him that he was free to meet her in person. Or that he had something to thank her for.
He made his way to the kitchen a few minutes after Father Lantom did, and held out his hand for Betsy to shake. She was tall and wide but moved with a measure of lightness he wouldn’t have expected, and her voice was soft and sweet. “Hi Matthew. Father told me about you and it sounded like you probably get lonely here sometimes, so I thought I should say hello.”
The three of them sat and talked, pleasantly enough that the time started to slip away. It was true, apparently, that Matt had needed company. In addition, he realized quickly that Betsy was a good source of information about current happenings in Hell’s Kitchen, and he didn’t even have to steer her into the topics he wanted to hear about. She knew that he knew that Daredevil had a connection to St. John of the Cross, so she didn’t try to conceal her involvement in keeping his suit maintained.
“I wish he wouldn’t fight the other vigilantes, though,” she remarked, examining a child-sized shirt and then folding it up and placing it into one of her open boxes. “The Punisher is really dangerous, that’s what I heard.”
Matt held his tongue, but Father Lantom interjected gently, “Don’t forget, Betsy, there has been talk of men impersonating both Daredevil and the Punisher.”
Betsy shook her head. “People described the devil suit and it couldn’t have been anyone but him. Maybe the other one was an impersonator, though.”
“Well,” said Father Lantom, “I’ll have to ask Daredevil if he’s been fighting any counterfeit Punishers.”
That was a good cap on a subject that Matt thought they should definitely move away from, but before he could find a way to organically change the subject, Betsy finished folding another garment and said, “There’s no eye holes in the helmet.”
Matt’s head jerked up. “What?”
She reached for another shirt. “On Daredevil’s suit. The eyes are hard plastic. You can see through them, but not well. Especially at night. Seems to me like Daredevil has some way of seeing that doesn’t use his eyes. Seems to me like if he was fighting someone who was dressed up like the Punisher, he wouldn’t even know it.”
Did she know? Her heartbeat was steady and she wasn’t acting like someone guarding a secret, but all this talk about Daredevil and the Punisher couldn’t be a complete coincidence. He had to trust her, there was no other choice, but his mind was racing.
One thing was clear: she was right. He had almost definitely been fighting a fake Punisher at some point. How had he not thought of this?
Father Lantom was over at the espresso machine again. Under his breath, he spoke for Matt alone: “Well, I feel half an idiot now.”
A cup of coffee in each hand, Frank spotted the front entrance to Hell’s Kittens from a block away, and then saw Karen emerging before he had reached it. He hadn’t tried to time it that way, but this was good; he wouldn’t have to go inside and talk to anyone but her.
She was holding the leash of a hefty black and white dog, which took a few steps backward and sat down when Karen saw Frank and stopped walking. He couldn’t quite read the expression on her face even when he was close enough, although he sensed some dismay. That hurt, which surprised him: it was a rare occurrence for anyone to be happy to see Frank Castle, and dismay was usually just the beginning, so it wasn’t like he wasn’t used to this. But then, Karen was an exception to all the standard rules.
“Hey,” he said, holding out one of the cups.
“Hi,” she said, taking it with a tentative hand.
Frank had been bracing himself for a rejection of his offering, so that boosted his spirits a little. He took a sip from his own coffee and gestured toward the mutt behind her legs. “This the dog?”
Karen looked like she had to consider the answer to that, for some reason. “I’m adopting her, yeah. Can’t take her home while I’m still sleeping at Trish’s place, though, so I’m just dropping by every day to walk her.” She wrapped the loose end of the leash around her hand and took a look around herself. “So, you came looking for me to hand off an extra coffee, or...?”
“Came looking for you ‘cause you been avoiding me, and I wanna know why.”
She dropped her eyes. “Want to come with us, then?”
Frank inclined his head. “Yeah, I do.”
There was a light breeze in the air, but the sun stayed overhead as Karen led the way into the park adjacent to the shelter. The dog, which Karen called Sicily, pulled and bit at the leash and showed no affection or joy at all, and finally Frank broke the relative silence they had been maintaining to ask her, “Why this one?”
“She needs me,” Karen explained quietly. “She’s got a good dog somewhere inside. I can see improvement already, I mean, she hasn’t shown any aggression since that first time.”
“First--? Ah, shit, Karen, this is the one that bit you? What the hell’s going through your head?” He let out an angry breath, and Sicily huffed and stepped on his foot as if she had understood.
They had reached a quiet corner of the park, with room beside the path for them to stand and argue in hushed tones, which Karen wasted no time in doing. “Frank. Have you ever wondered why I wanted Nelson & Murdock to represent you? Back when all I knew about you came from the hospital and the news?”
Taken off guard, Frank could only shake his head and wait for the rest. Of course he had wondered, but he had also accepted Karen’s blazing heart as an untouchable thing beyond his comprehension. The idea of these questions having answers, which he would hear, was startling and new.
“Because I don’t believe in the death penalty,” said Karen. “I heard they wanted to have you executed and I knew I had a shot at doing something about it. Every day since then I’ve had to face the irony in that, and I’ve never really come any closer to knowing how to justify it to myself. I did what I had to, I don’t regret it, but every person you’ve killed since then...that’s on you, but it’s on me too. That’s where not believing in the death penalty brought me.”
“No,” Frank protested softly, reaching for her face but letting his hand drop before touching her. “Karen, no.”
She shook her head in a rejection of his disavowal. “For as long as we weren’t seeing each other, I didn’t have to make these choices. Now it’s all happening again. There’s men out there who need to be brought to justice, but if I tell you what I know, am I ordering another execution? How do I get through this without more blood on my hands?”
There was a burning silence before Frank broke it to her: “You don’t have to tell me what you know. I got the location already, the names, the whole backstory on Wake.” He let her take that in before adding, “So that’s why you didn’t wanna see me. Gotta admit, I coulda been moving on this a lot faster if you weren’t shutting me out, so I guess you knew what you were doing.”
“I did,” Karen asserted. “You weren’t the right man for the job.”
“Just tell me one thing, Karen. Do you really know who you’re up against? You know what Donovan Wake has done?”
Her anger flared up all at once, visibly enough that the dog at her heels looked up in alarm. “He killed and he destroyed lives and he tore a teenage girl away from her family and made her into his personal slave. Leigh Ericson. I saw her name and now I couldn’t forget it if I tried. Donovan Wake is the scum of the earth and he does deserve to die, Frank. I know that. But I’m not the one who gets to decide, and neither are you.” She seemed to deflate a little, and doubt crept into her voice as she dropped into a crouch to give Sicily’s ears a scratch. “Maybe I don’t even really believe that. Maybe I just wish I did. Whatever choice I make now, though, it’s going to be with me forever, so I think I better err on the side of life. Even if the only one I end up saving is this grumpy bitch who doesn’t even like me.”
Frank tried to meet her eyes and ended up staring at the dog instead, loathing it but now somehow forced to consider whether he would put it down if it were up to him. Maybe Karen was right, and enough kind treatment and skilled training could turn the animal into a lovable pet. Dogs could change. Not like people.
“I’ll take the leash for a little while,” he said, holding out his hand for it. He had finished his coffee and tossed the cup in the last trash can they had passed, but between talking and wrangling the dog, Karen had barely taken a sip. She blinked up at him, then straightened and wordlessly handed over the leash, and they kept walking together down the path.
Sicily was at first just as obstinate with Frank as she had been with Karen, but she sensed and accepted his dominance more quickly, and soon he was able to devote the greater part of his attention to Karen again. “Listen, hey,” he said in a low voice. “David went through a good ten years of Wake’s personal history. He knows how to get me into the yacht, how many guards are gonna be between me and the bedroom, yeah, but he also knows who the victims are and what happened to ‘em. Leigh Ericson? He pulled that name up real easy.”
She was looking at him sidelong, quizzically, as if he were tearing open her wounds and she wanted to know why before she asked him to stop. The park was still fairly empty, but whenever they passed someone on the path, Frank would stop talking and Karen would drop her eyes to the ground as if she had something to be ashamed of.
“Karen.” He stopped walking, abruptly enough to confuse Sicily into stumbling, but he had to be facing Karen to say this. “Leigh Ericson’s alive. David’s sure about it. Wake’s got her on that yacht, but she’s alive, and we can find her.”
The blue of her eyes seemed to expand, taking in some of the sky to help contain her astonishment. “Oh God…”
“He’s not gonna just let her go if we ask nicely. This is gonna mean leaving bodies behind, there ain’t any way around that. But if you give it the nod, I go in there and end all this. As a rescue. Not as an execution.”
Her eyes remained wide as she inhaled sharply and asked, “And this is...up to me? You’re waiting on my nod?”
Frank kept his voice even. “Yes I am.”
For Karen that seemed to break the spell. She even forced out a little laugh as she shook her head, golden hair waving around her. “For a moment there I had this crazy idea to put a condition on it. To tell you I wasn’t going to approve unless I was part of the rescue. But that’s…”
He cleared his throat and gave her the rest of it in a grim tone. “Actually, I don’t think I can do it without you.”
“What?” Her mouth formed the word, but there was barely enough sound in it to be audible.
“That girl’s for sure been through hell for the past few years. We gotta think about the state she’s gonna be in when we find her. Ain’t gonna go well if the first thing she sees is…” He indicated himself and let Karen complete the sentence in her head. There were plenty of phrases that would fit. Frank Castle. A heavily armed stranger wearing the image of a skull. A man, any man at all.
Karen didn’t say any of those things, but it was clear she was connecting dots and drawing mental maps. “So I can calm her down. Walk her out to safety. And I can call the cops without letting them get near you.”
“Yeah.” Now that the plan was beginning to form, Frank felt nervous. He trusted Karen’s competence and respected her right to make this decision for herself, but he was still going to be putting her in danger and that wasn’t something he could ever take lightly. “Karen, listen to me. I need you to swear. You go in there with me, I have to be absolutely sure you’re gonna do what I say. No asking questions, no taking initiative. For as long as we’re on that boat, I’m in charge. That work for you?”
To her credit, she considered it carefully before answering. Frank was sure there was a part of her that objected on principle to being asked to obey without question, but she knew that she wasn’t a soldier, and that giving him total control of the mission was the only substitute for the training she lacked. “That works for me,” she stated.
“Good. Then Leigh Ericson’s going home.” He gave the leash a light tug to get the attention of the dog, who had lain down by his feet and now shook herself as she stood and looked up expectantly. “Good girl,” he told her, and noticed that for some reason that put a smile on Karen’s face. He handed the leash back to her anyway. “Here. I ain’t in charge right now.”
For the duration of the walk back to Hell’s Kittens, they talked about Sicily, and about Jessica and Trish. Very briefly, the names of Lisa and Frank Jr. came up, and Karen’s empathy was radiant on her face.
She would be happier, more at ease, once they had rescued the girl. That would have been reason enough on its own to do it, but it was also the event that would make her go back to avoiding Frank. His every step through the park was weighted with regret.