Fandom: Netflix MCU mashup
Wordcount: This part, 2669
Summary: Frank has a tendency to push away people who love him. They're starting to push back.
Trying to reach Frank by phone, David reflected, was a rookie move. It wasn’t that Frank wouldn’t pick up; he would either answer instantly or call back as soon as possible, but as soon as he found out that there wasn’t an emergency, the conversation would end. Sometimes he even hung up as David was in the middle of a sentence.
But texting didn’t work any better, and Frank didn’t have a computer or even a valid email address, as far as David knew. Showing up on his doorstep seemed like a recipe for disaster. There was really no way to initiate a conversation through any of the usual methods, which was without a doubt exactly what Frank intended.
It was tempting to give up, but David said as much to Sarah and she would have none of it. Both of them and both of their children owed Frank their lives, and they were going to be there for him no matter how he resisted it.
She suggested talking to someone else who knew him and could make him see reason, so David paid Curtis a visit. It was, if nothing else, enjoyable to have a drink with the man and listen to his perspective, but he didn’t want to talk about Frank. “You and me,” he said, “we’ve seen Frank Castle at his lowest, and we stayed by him. We didn’t stop him doing what he needed to do. He knows that. You take it away from him, he’ll know that too.”
“I don’t want to take anything away from him. I want to help him.”
“So give him his wife and kids back. But if you can’t do that, next best thing is to let him handle his own business.”
David frowned, his eyes sweeping the bar, nearly empty as it was. “You’ve heard about what he’s up to?”
Curtis nodded calmly. “I heard he handled it.”
He didn’t ask about the role that David had played in Frank’s assassination of Donovan Wake, but it was probably obvious. There was no way to get that kind of information aside from hacking.
Hacking was also how David had confirmed that everything had gone according to plan, since Frank hadn’t bothered to touch base with him afterward. One point of interest was that there had been a second person who accompanied him through the yacht, and factoring in the police coverage of the incident, it wasn’t hard to figure out who it was.
Curtis wasn’t the only one left who Frank trusted. David decided he could make one more attempt at initiating a conversation.
Karen received enough work-related calls on her personal phone that she didn’t pay much mind when it showed an unfamiliar number. She was at the dog park so she could let Sicily run while she was reading through some material Elliot had given her for a Bulletin piece, and she barely glanced at the phone before accepting the call. “Karen Page.”
“Karen Page!” responded a man’s wry voice. “How about that. Karen Page of the New York Bulletin, taking a call from David Lieberman of the New York basement.”
All of the papers in her hands fell onto the picnic table. “I’m sorry what? Did you say this is David Lieberman?”
“It is. And you don’t need to worry. You’re probably the kind of person who needs to be told when you don’t need to worry, huh?”
“Um, do you mind telling me what the hell this is about?” Her heart was pounding; she knew very little about Lieberman, but the idea that she didn’t need to worry about getting a call from him was barely plausible.
David’s voice became a little more serious. “I thought it would be good for both of us to be able to talk to each other. No pressure, but do you know who Pete Castiglione is?”
If he was using that name he was probably indicating that he wanted to protect Frank’s identity as much as she did. “Yes. Did he ask you to--”
“To call you? No. But we could all use the occasional reminder that we can do things without getting Pete’s approval first.”
Karen began to relax, watching Sicily dash from one end of the fenced area to the other. Fortunately, it was a small park and a cold day, so she had it to herself. Karen didn’t yet trust her with other dogs. “Okay,” she said into the phone. “If you want to meet, I’m up for that.”
“Great!” His enthusiasm didn’t sound feigned. “How about Tuesday at six?”
“And do you have any dietary restrictions or preferences? My wife makes a superb lasagna.”
Karen felt like someone was about to jump out of the bushes with a video camera. “No, I...lasagna is...wait, are you actually inviting me to dinner at your house? With your family?”
“Yes I am,” said David gravely. “Are you in?”
Zack and Leo had no end of questions about their dinner guest before she arrived. David had told them that she was a friend of Frank’s and that she knew all about who he really was, and he might as well have said she was an Avenger, for their reaction. Sarah was no less excited to meet her, although she kept claiming she was merely excited for the chance to socialize at their home for once.
David just barely convinced the kids to hang back when they heard the doorbell so he and Sarah could open it without crowding Karen, who was standing there with a bottle in one hand and a bouquet in the other and a look of wide-eyed anticipation on her face. He welcomed her while taking the gifts off her hands, Sarah ushered her in and took her coat, and Zack and Leo inched closer.
“Wine and flowers?” Sarah laughed. “Aren’t these beautiful, I’ll go put them in a vase.”
Karen gave a little shrug, blushing. “There’s also a pie in the car. I may have been overthinking it.”
After a round of introductions, David got everyone settled at the table and Sarah brought out the lasagna. There were a few awkward false starts before the conversation got going, but soon they reached an unspoken consensus: everyone liked Karen, and she liked them.
The first time she addressed Zack directly cemented it. “So,” she said, as if speaking to a colleague instead of a child, “I hear you want to be a Marine?”
“Yeah!” he responded. “That’s how Frank learned to be such a badass.”
The shade of sorrow in Karen’s smile was easy to miss. David looked at Sarah, wondering if one of them should change the subject, but she was resolutely silent. Karen took a sip of water and said, “He’s cool, huh? Not many like him, even in the Marines.” She paused, and nobody tried to speak until she added, “But I don’t think it’s ever really made him happy.”
Zack stiffened with his characteristic pugnacity and a new hint of maturity. “That’s not the point.”
Leo was watching her brother, but then her gaze turned imploringly to David. He cleared his throat. “What is the point, Zack?”
Zack stabbed his fork at his plate, but didn’t take a bite. He addressed his response to Karen instead of his father: “My mom and me got taken hostage last year. It was my fault.”
David, Sarah, and Leo all tried to correct him at once, but his voice just got louder as he repeated, “It was my fault, but the point is that I couldn’t do anything about it. Frank would’ve stopped them. He would’ve kicked their asses. I’m not gonna let anyone hurt my mother again. I’m gonna be the one who saves us.”
Sarah had tears in her eyes. She reached across the table for Zack’s hand, and for a few seconds he studiously ignored her, once again a young boy embarrassed by his mother’s public display of affection. Then he gave in and clasped her hand, and David could see how tightly they squeezed each other.
He thought Karen could see it, too. “That makes a lot of sense,” she conceded. “It’s hard, feeling helpless when terrible things happen.”
Each of the Liebermans made a sound of agreement. David wondered if his son’s future had just been confirmed. He still didn’t like it, but there were years left for Zack to change his mind.
“It’s really strange,” Karen ventured after a moment, “talking to people who know the real Frank. It sounds like you’ve been through a lot with him.”
“You can say that again,” said Sarah wryly. “But how about you? Have you known him a long time?”
Karen shook her head. “Not really. I was, ah, with the law firm defending him after...you know.”
Fortunately, neither of the kids asked for details about “you know”, but Leo had a different kind of question. “Are you his girlfriend?”
“Oh man,” David exclaimed as Sarah and Karen both had sudden coughing fits. “I thought Zack would be the one going there, not you. Karen, you don’t have to answer that, of course.”
“No it’s okay!” Karen replied hurriedly. “Leo, it’s okay, I don’t mind. But no, I’m not. Frank and I are just friends.” She rested her chin on her fist and asked with direct curiosity, “Why did you want to know?”
Leo’s tone was timid but resolute. “I just thought, you know, it would be nice if he had someone. So he wouldn’t be so lonely.”
Karen gave her a broad smile that must have been a comfort. “That’s really observant. And it shows compassion, too. What are your career plans, Leo? Doctor? Therapist?”
“I don’t really know. I think, probably, something with computers.”
“Oh, like your dad.”
David cleared his throat. “Like if her dad had gone into it with a little more Steve Jobs and a little less Zero Cool, maybe.”
“Who’s Steve Jobs?” Zack asked.
Leo answered him, “The Apple guy,” and then turned to David and asked, “Who’s Zero Cool?”
The three adults attempted to patch together a summary of the plot of Hackers for the kids, with limited success but plenty of laughter. Finally, Sarah stood up and began gathering empty dishes, saying, “Okay, I think it’s about time for dessert. Zero Cool Jr. here and her dad made a chocolate torte, but if you prefer it you can get your pie out of the car, Karen.”
“Are you kidding, it’s store bought,” Karen said with a grin. “Let me help you clear up here and I’m all over that torte.”
Karen felt a stab of regret when Leo and Zack were sent upstairs for the night. It had been so long since she had been part of a family dinner, unburdened by personal baggage. But she knew the real reason for this visit wasn’t for the ears of children, even the kind of children who understood what it was like to be held hostage.
“Thank you,” she said quietly after they had settled into the living room and Sarah had put a glass of wine into her hand. “You don’t know how much it means to me, that you let me meet your kids.”
David gave her a nod. “It means a lot to us too. Actually, it was Sarah’s idea to invite you, but I’ve got a confession I should get out of the way now.”
Karen raised her eyebrows, trying not to show how unnerved that made her.
“I was with Frank when he found out about the bomber going after you. He wanted to stop him and I was against it.” He sighed. “It’s not that I didn’t believe him that you were in danger, or that he was your best chance of getting out of it. I just thought it was too risky and I didn’t want to put you ahead of our own mission.”
Karen waited for more, and when it didn’t come, she asked, “That’s it?”
“Yeah,” said David. “It’s been eating at me.”
Her tension leaving her, Karen shrugged and noted, “Well, while we’re on the subject, I was the one who found your name for Frank. I was afraid he was going to use it to kill you, and he never promised me he wouldn’t.”
It was no time to laugh, but for some reason, after a short silence that was what all of them did. Sarah followed it up with a gulp of wine and held up a finger dramatically. “I feel left out. Here’s a confession for you: I kissed him.”
“You didn’t!” Karen gasped as David dropped his reddened face into his palm, chuckling.
“In my defense, I was tipsy and I didn’t know my husband wasn’t dead.” She gave Karen a smile that looked oddly apologetic. “Frank politely turned me down right then and there, if you want to know.”
Of course Karen had wanted to know, but she immediately wished that she didn’t. Lately, even seeing Frank in person had reverted to the complicated risk it had been when he was a fugitive, and her confused blend of feelings about him didn’t help at all.
She reviewed her own reasons for coming here and took a deep breath. David and Sarah were the only ones who might be able to help with this, and they were all friends now. “I have something of his. It’s, um, some very personally significant jewelry that a friend at the NYPD gave me. I don’t have it with me right now, but I was wondering if...maybe you’ll see him at some point, and you could pass it on for me?”
David was staring blankly at her; Sarah at least managed, “You mean his wedding band?”
Karen nodded uncomfortably, eyes downcast.
“I’m sorry,” said David. “Frank won’t see us. I’ve been waiting to ask you what you think we could do about it.”
There was no room for disappointment in the surge of anger Karen felt. “God, why does he do this to himself? This was supposed to be his new beginning. He could have been sitting here with us right this minute.”
Sarah looked pensive. “It’s not that I disagree, but there’s that business with the imposters. He wouldn’t want any of us to get mixed up in that.”
“I was mixed up in it before he was.” Karen gave David a narrow look. “And that list of codes that got us through the yacht, that was you, wasn’t it?” At his nod, she went on, “It’s not the war mentality that bothers me, that’s just who he is. It’s this idea that the rest of us are civilians, that we can’t take up arms ourselves when we see a threat.” She finished her wine with one long pull. “Did you know I used to know Daredevil?”
They both looked surprised, though maybe that was just because they perceived the question as a sudden change of topic. “I knew Frank knew him,” said David. “Makes sense you did too.”
“He had a secret identity. Joe Schmoe by day, Devil of Hell's Kitchen by night. I never liked that, but at least he had a way to keep them separate. Frank won’t do that. He was the Punisher once and now he’s the Punisher forever, and anyone who gets close to him might get hit by the crossfire.”
“So his solution is to just not let us in,” David agreed.
Karen huffed into her empty glass. “It’s a crap solution.”
Sarah stood up with the wine bottle and passed it to Karen, who eyed it doubtfully but ended up pouring a refill. Sarah had emptied her own glass, and now she sat back down and twined her fingers into her husband's. They shared a fond look, then Sarah turned back to Karen. “Let’s get started on finding him a better one.”