Fandom: Netflix MCU mashup
Wordcount: This part, 2380
Summary: Matt and Claire come to an understanding. Karen takes home a complicated gift from Brett.
Matt tamped down his impatience and let Claire guide him through what he hoped was his final check-up. She had been as reserved and laconic today as she was on the previous occasions, but he sensed there was a different quality to it this time, less bitter and more pensive.
“Okay,” she said finally, taking off her stethoscope. Matt let his arms drop and reached for his shirt.
He waited for more, but she said nothing as she carefully put each of her instruments away, and he couldn’t read much about her emotional state from her vital signs. Finally he ventured, “So how am I doing?”
She took a deep breath, and he thought she was trying to stare into his eyes, so he tried to point them towards hers. “You’re doing well,” she said. “If you don’t pick up any new injuries for at least a couple weeks, you should be as good as new.”
“Does that mean I’m free to go?” he asked. If he sounded sardonic, so be it. He had felt restless for as long as he had been staying at the Church of St. John of the Cross, but Claire’s demands had turned it into a prison. He had promised her to recuperate, not to be happy about it.
Claire made a small sound of dissatisfaction. “Matt, how much do you know about what’s going on in the world outside this church right now?”
He allowed himself to slide off the table he had been sitting on so he could pace his little bedroom. “Only what I hear from you and Father Lantom.” He hesitated, then went on, “And the news. Karen’s editorial about the shooting at the pier…”
“I think there was a lot she wasn’t saying. This was vigilante justice, I would bet anything on it.”
Matt grimaced. “It’s Frank Castle.”
“The Punisher?” Claire looked only mildly startled; she must have already suspected it. “How long has he been back?”
“Can we start with why you’re asking? I thought you wanted no part in this.”
Her response was defensive. “I know this has been hard for you, staying still while the city’s in trouble. I appreciate that you listened to me when I said you needed to heal.” Her voice quavered. “But I’m starting to get worried.”
Matt’s frustration was building into anger. “Just starting now, huh?”
“I’ve had patients saying they fought the Punisher. There’s been talk of criminals impersonating him--”
“--and it seems like that must be what drew out the real one--”
“I know!” He inhaled deeply, no longer caring how he sounded. “Get to the point, Claire. Do I need to be out there?”
Her breathing, her heartbeat, even her scent spoke of a tangle of emotions. “Luke and Danny both have lawyers at the same firm, and they’ve both been getting questioned about whether they know anything about you or the Punisher being back, or whether they had anything to do with it themselves.” She paused, then added, “They didn’t. But of course they had the same question for me.”
“HCB,” Matt muttered. “Foggy…”
“It’s everyone’s business now. If the cops can’t catch this guy and the self-appointed neighborhood guardians won’t try, every criminal in New York is going to take it as a permission slip to start killing each other again.”
There was a part of Matt that wanted to put on the suit and run outside in the broad daylight to start fixing things, but just because Claire was wavering on whether it was time for Daredevil to return didn’t mean it was a good idea. “Frank used to think that the only solution was to kill everyone who was dangerous to innocent people. He was nothing if not thorough. Is there even anyone left to catch?” Silently, he added aside from the man himself. He wasn’t planning to excuse Frank Castle’s many crimes, but he understood when there were priorities.
Claire’s tone was s erious and urgent. “Donovan Wake was a major player. Supposedly he’s the one who hired men to play the Punisher. Everyone who died on the yacht was with him, and for all I know, that’s the end of his influence forever. But he had enemies.”
Matt flinched. “You mean Javelin.”
“Just for starters, yeah. And I seem to recall you having some history with them.”
It was more than a history, and Matt had already told Claire as much about it as he dared, but she had every right to bring them up now. It was time for him to dare more. “People don’t understand what they really are. Foggy, Luke, Danny, Karen...probably even Castle...they’ll think it’s just another gang.”
She stepped over to him, closer than she usually got except in her nurse mode, and laid a hand lightly over his. “So yes,” she said, “you need to be out there.”
Karen didn’t know exactly why Brett wanted to meet with her again; he wouldn’t make it clear over the phone. When she protested that she had already given him all the information she had about anything that had happened recently, he sounded like he believed her, so that wasn’t it.
She didn’t expect real trouble from him, but a mysterious visit from a police sergeant at the Bulletin was enough to make anyone wary, so she welcomed him into Ben’s office with more professional courtesy than warmth. He was wearing a suit with his badge hung around his neck, and he smiled at anyone who looked his way, putting them at ease.
As Karen closed the door behind him, she began to relax, too. Maybe he wasn’t going to try prodding her for more about Frank. Maybe he just wanted to touch bases.
“You’ve been here how long, and they gave you this office?” he asked, taking in the room as he pulled out the chair she had offered him.
“It’s not really mine,” she answered hastily. “I use it when I’m here but I’m not the only one who’s allowed to.” That was true, but Karen knew that she spent more time behind this desk than the rest of the staff put together. She had heard them casually referring to it as “Karen’s office”. It would always be Ben’s to her.
Brett nodded. “Still pretty impressive, but I guess nothing should surprise me about you anymore.”
Karen waited. If he wanted her to say something he was going to have to ask for it.
He sighed, recognizing the tactic, and leaned forward. “We’ve already got three confirmed sightings of men dressed up in black with a white skull painted on the chest. All of them at night, alone. At least one was armed.”
“Three...total?” That didn’t seem like too many, compared with what Karen had heard.
“Three since the shooting at the pier two nights ago.”
Brett took a moment to watch her reaction, then continued, “Looks like everything got shaken up again. Donovan Wake was supposed to be the guy producing these Punisher copycats, right? So the factory goes out of business and now it’s a brand anyone can use. That’s all I can read from this, anyway.”
At a loss, Karen could only stammer, “I never expected…”
“Sure,” said Brett dryly. “What would you expect, since you had nothing to do with this except showing up at just the right time to meet the victim?”
“Well what am I supposed to do, Brett? I’m not some kind of secret agent who you can come to for all the latest gossip about criminal schemes being hatched.” Feeling her composure return, she added, “I tell you what I can when I know it will help, and I can only do that because I know you and I know you’re honest.”
“Ah. So who you talk to, that’s a matter of trust.”
Karen knew he was referring again to her communications with Frank, and she didn’t like it. “It’s a matter of loyalty. Do you get that? Do you know what it’s like to be torn between two opposing forces when neither of them is wrong?”
Brett’s voice became suddenly and uncharacteristically hard. “Karen Page, I am a black officer of the NYPD. Don’t you talk to me about split loyalty.”
Chastened, Karen looked down at the desk, then at the framed picture of Ben, wishing he were here to give her some guidance. “I’m sorry, Brett, really. I’m just at a loss here. I want to help but I don’t know what I can do.”
He shook his head. “It’s alright. I’m not asking you for anything. I wanted you to know about those unintended consequences, but there’s more to it than that. The girl, Leigh, she and her parents are getting ready to go home. I talked to them and they couldn’t stop singing your praises. I could have a statue of you commissioned and they’d still say you deserved more recognition.”
Brett smiled, and Karen smiled back, gratified. “I hope you convinced them I don’t want to be in the spotlight.”
“I tried, but who knows,” he replied. “And listen, I looked over Donovan Wake’s rap sheet. The man was a cancer on this country, internationally even. The rest of the ones who died, they weren’t any better, just stupider. Whoever took them out, whoever was involved, I don’t condone it. You can say I’m an opposing force, sure. But that doesn’t mean I’m not grateful.”
Karen tried to thank him, but it seemed like only her lips mouthed the words, and no sound came out. Brett seemed to understand; he nodded gently and moved his chair back. “There’s one more reason I wanted to see you,” he said as he stood up and reached inside his jacket, withdrawing something from a pocket there. “To give you this.”
He held out a sealed padded envelope, no larger than a greeting card. It was unmarked, and Karen looked at him quizzically as she turned it over in her hands. Whatever was inside was small and hard, but she couldn’t make out its shape.
“I’d wait until you got home to open that,” said Brett. “It’s off the record, you got that?”
She gave him an ironic half-smile. “I can keep a secret.”
After Brett had gone, Karen sat going over the conversation in her head for a moment, until she happened to look up and notice the time. She had an appointment in twenty minutes that she definitely did not want to miss.
On the walk to her car and then from her parking spot, her hand kept straying into her handbag, past the familiar curve of the .380’s grip, to touch the little envelope. Guesses about what it could hold had crossed her mind, but she didn’t want to think about it too hard and drive herself crazy. Already, the prospect of opening it had ignited sparks of nervous anticipation that meshed into the ones she had about her current destination, until she couldn’t tell them apart.
Finally she was there. She took a deep breath, squared her shoulders, and marched through the door of Hell’s Kittens.
The volunteer behind the counter recognized her and raised a hand in friendly recognition. “Right on time!” she said. “Sicily’s all ready for her forever home!”
Karen signed the form and paid the fee before going to collect the dog that was now officially hers, with license and vaccination tags on her new collar to prove it. The last few times she had come to visit, Sicily had shown less reluctance to walk with her, but it had been a very gradual progression and Karen knew she couldn’t hope for changes to happen overnight. It was enough to know that a cautious friendship was beginning.
But today, when she walked up to the kennel and called out Sicily’s name in a cheerful voice, there was a difference. The dog’s ears pricked, she moved up to the gate, and her tail gave a few stilted, uncertain wags.
Somehow, it was exactly what Karen needed at exactly the right moment. She swallowed a lump in her throat and bent to pat her new sidekick. “Good girl,” she murmured. “Let’s go home.”
Everything was set up and ready in her apartment: a dog bed next to her own bed, food and water dishes in the kitchenette, an assortment of toys and bones ready to be given out as distractions and incentives were needed. Karen unhooked the leash to let Sicily roam, then backed off to give her space.
For the next half hour she sat on the bed, watching the dog sniff the corners and take hesitant steps around the perimeter. Finally, Sicily settled down to chew on a bone, and Karen steeled herself and took the envelope out of her purse.
She tore off the top seam and fished a finger into it, pulling out a ball chain with two metal tags dangling at the end. Her breath caught. She didn’t need to read them to know what they would say, but she did anyway. The first line was CASTLE, the second was FRANK. Then came a string of digits, then USMC.
What did Brett think she should do with Frank’s dog tags? What should she do with Frank’s dog tags? It seemed like a responsibility beyond everything she had handled so far, and the only thing stopping her from sitting there pondering it all night was that she had felt another object in the envelope.
There was only one thing it could be, and it filled her with nameless dread. She held the packet over her open palm and let the final piece drop. It was a man’s ring, golden and heavy, unadorned except for the finely etched script on the inside telling of two names and a date.
From the floor, Sicily made a soft and almost inquisitive sound. Karen shook her head as if trying to answer a spoken question. The dog might as well have asked what she was thinking, and she felt it wouldn’t have even surprised her. She was holding the Punisher’s wedding band, a symbol of the murdered woman he would always love. Nothing made sense anymore.