Avox in Arcadia (perpetual) wrote,
Avox in Arcadia

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A Conspiracy of Ravens - Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Title: Recruitment Schemes
Author: Kairos
Fandom: Netflix MCU mashup
Wordcount: This part, 2557
Rating: Teen
Summary: Jessica has an unexpected encounter. Frank mulls over his feelings about Karen.

It was just after sundown, and the first time that Jessica had left her apartment that day. She had been arguing on the phone with Hogarth, and Foggy, and Trish, and arguing in person with Malcolm, and glued to her laptop trying to find any kind of mention of Javelin online. None of it had come to anything, even her excuses for clinging to this case when it was not only cold but profitless.

Malcolm was talking about quitting. She had said she didn’t care, and reminded him that she had never actually hired him in the first place. It made her queasy to think that he might finally take her advice and leave, but at the moment, all she wanted was a cheeseburger and an hour to herself. Even booze was coming in third.

She had taken one step outside of her building when a soft voice from the shadows, way too close, said her name. Her fist was raised to throw a punch before her mind caught up, but the man dodged it effortlessly and stepped back, hands up. “Jessica,” he said again. “It’s me.”

There shouldn’t have been any man in her life who could say that and expect to be recognized without giving a name, but...that voice. And now that she was taking a better look at him, that build, that stance, that mask with the stupid pointy ears on top. Something inside her felt like it was crumpling up. “You’re dead,” she informed him.

Matt let his hands drop. “Almost was. I’m okay now, though. Can we talk?”

“Foggy and Karen were out of their minds grieving for you, and you come to me?”

“I need your help.”

He couldn’t do this to her. He couldn’t change the past, invalidate what they had been through together, and act like she shouldn’t even care. “No. Hell no. Whatever you want, no.”

The fake eyes on the Daredevil mask flashed in the headlights of a passing car. “Please just hear me out. I can explain everything, but this can’t wait. Javelin’s regrouping and I’m the only one who knows how to end them.”

Jessica flinched. “Javelin?”

Matt smiled, probably sensing she knew the name through that weird vital sign reading thing he did. “You’ve been on their case, haven’t you? Come on, Jessica, work with me for this one night. Do whatever you want after that, call the cops on me, send me a bill for your services, I don’t care as long as the job gets done.”

She crossed her arms and gave it a long pause, testing his ability to shut up and wait for her to respond. “One condition,” she said finally. “We talk while I’m eating.”

He chuckled. “I can’t really walk into a restaurant like this.”

“No shit. Tell me where to meet you and I’ll get it to go. If you want me to grab something for you too, tough luck.”

The location that he chose was far enough away that she had to take the subway, and she finished her burger on the way there. She didn’t ask how he was going to get there, when Matt Murdock couldn’t drive and Daredevil couldn’t ask for a ride, but the time she spent waiting in line for her food at least gave him a head start.

He met her coming off the train, having apparently known that the stop would be vacant, and led her to a corner even more remote and unused. She brushed off a concrete wall and sat down with her bag of fries, and he perched like a gargoyle nearby and started talking.

“There are a lot of common thugs affiliated with Javelin, but they’re a front as much as they are conscripts. You know how cults work -- the bottom rank gets basic brainwashing, and as you come up, they let you in on more secrets, but only the ones at top really know everything. I can practically guarantee you haven’t met anyone at the top.”

Jessica shrugged. “I beat up some guys who kidnapped Karen. They knew some martial arts and shit but they weren’t talking like they had to please the Supreme Leader or anything.”

“Karen was--? Okay, yeah. Those would be the ones that get picked up from the street, given a better life and a sense of purpose, and then they start training them.”

In spite of her resentment at the situation, Jessica was starting to get interested. “Sounds like the Hand.”

“Sort of. The Hand was an ancient order, and it had Eastern origins. Javelin’s founders were Americans from a few generations back looking for a quick path to power, some supernatural force that would grant them the special abilities that the top rank has now.”

“I’m getting that tingle that says I’m not going to believe whatever you’re going to say next.”

Matt sounded tired. “Yeah, I’m getting that too. But it’s true. They found what they wanted. There’s no way to describe what they can do except magic, and they’re functionally immortal, but they paid for it with their souls.”

Jessica dipped a fry in ketchup and stuffed it in her mouth. “They sold their souls for power,” she summarized flatly. “Who’s buying?”

“Depends on who you ask. Where I come from we’d just call him the Adversary.”

“Christ.” She rolled her eyes, though she wasn’t sure if that was something Matt could sense or not with his sonar. “Did you seriously come back from the dead just to tell me we have to fight some disciples of Satan? I hope you have something better up your sleeve, Devilman.”

He was clearly just as frustrated as she was, but he wasn’t giving up. “You don’t have to believe any of that, but look, you remember what the Hand could do, and you and I both have powers that most people would call supernatural. Javelin has those too. That’s what matters. This is the kind of criminal that the law can’t stop, and I can’t do it alone.”

The inevitability of fighting at his side again was descending on Jessica just like the reality of his survival had. “How do you know all this, anyway?” she asked, stalling.

“They’ve been after me for a while. That’s why I had to hide. See, once they get fully inducted, there’s a ritual that changes them, physically. The changes aren’t visible but I can sense them. I made the mistake once of letting them know I could identify them and now I’m a threat.”

“Uh, not to point out the obvious here, but none of that applies to me.”

He nodded. “I’m not asking you to face the leaders. I have to do that on my own. But I can’t get to them without going through a lot of the grunts first, and those will be the same kind of guys you said you beat up.”

“Still.” She squashed her empty fry cup and the bag it had come in, exerting unnecessary pressure on them. “Why me? You know I hate this shit.”

“Because I knew where to find you.” He had been holding the same pose for the whole conversation, feet on the concrete in front of him and elbows resting on his knees, but now he finally shifted and straddled the wall, still facing her. “If you can get Luke and Danny, I wouldn’t turn them down.”

“No,” she said, more quickly than she intended. “We’re not in touch.”

He looked suddenly concerned, although it was hard to read his expressions through the mask. “You’re not? I thought you and Luke at least…”

Now that he was getting into personal territory her anger flared up again. “Luke’s dating Claire, if you want him, ask her.”

His voice was gentle when he responded. “Okay. You and me, then?”

“I haven’t agreed to anything.”

Instead of asking, he waited, and she considered every angle. How much she didn’t want to do this, how much she knew it needed to be done. Her fury at Matt, her affection for him. The people who deserved to know what was going on before she committed to anything, the people she had to protect just like Matt had protected them with his silence.

“You’re a son of a bitch,” she muttered aimlessly.

“I get that a lot.”

Jessica gave up. “Okay. You’ve got me for tonight.”


Whenever Frank made a tactical mistake, he spent a lot of time afterward mulling over it to see where he had gone wrong and what exact steps he needed to take to avoid repeating it in the future. Looking back over the past year, he thought that the mistake which had taught him the most was underestimating David.

It hadn’t been a lapse in judgment that made him assume the mysterious hacker was an enemy. In Frank’s line of work, you didn’t put yourself at the mercy of a stranger just for the sake of being fair. Now that he knew the truth, sure, he felt a little bad about the pain he had inflicted, the threats he had made, but there had been no other option. His only allies at the time were Karen, who had put him on Micro’s trail, and Curtis, who had assisted with the infiltration. After that it was just him against his rival.

He had played to his strengths, making the confrontation a physical one so that he would be sure to win. But David had played to his strengths too, and that meant anticipating everything Frank would try and using his tools and his mind to get the upper hand. His explanation on how he won had been ruthlessly simple: Frank was in over his head. He needed help.

David was the reason he was still alive now, and the reason the mission had been accomplished, and Frank had no problem admitting it. What was harder was trying to see if the same thing was happening now.

Karen had accepted his plan to take down the piece of shit in charge of the fake Punishers because it was about rescuing an innocent, not executing a criminal. Frank respected that, though it wasn’t his way. If she wanted to say that whatever happened next wasn’t their business, he would respect that too. The men still out there wearing skulls might change the meaning of the symbol, and he didn’t like that, but he couldn’t reclaim it if he wasn’t the real Punisher anymore.

There was just one problem: those men weren’t after him. They were after Karen. They had already kidnapped her once, and since then she hadn’t exactly stayed out of their business.

So Frank had to do some hunting. Determining their guilt would be simple; if they saw him wearing the skull, they would probably either speak to him as a co-conspirator or draw on him, and if they didn’t, he could let them live long enough to find out what they thought they were doing. Back when he had first chased the gangs of the carousel shooting into Hell’s Kitchen, he had eliminated dozens of enemies on his own this way, most of them before they even knew who he was. He didn’t need an army behind him. He was the army.

A lot had changed since then.

David was still periodically trying to talk to him. Frank’s phone rang while he was on his knees working on some modifications to his apartment, and he decided to answer it this time. “What?”

“I met Karen.”

Frank slammed his hammer down on the floor. “What the fuck, Lieberman.”

“Got your attention, huh? Look, I know you’re planning some kind of rampage, and I really doubt it’s a one-man job. Let me help.”

“Not your goddamn business. You talked to Karen?”

David’s voice was flippant but taut; he was angry and not trying to hide it. “Yeah, she’s a cool lady. Might have inspired Leo to major in Journalism. Sounds like she’d lay down her life for you, so I get why you’re all gung-ho about protecting her, but you still need help.”

Frank stood up so he could bang a fist against the intact part of the wall. “Are you dragging your own family into this? Huh? That what you’re doing?”

“There is no this, asshole. Karen’s not a vigilante and neither am I and neither is Sarah or the kids. We’re just people who want to keep living like people. That’s all we want for you too.”

“Then you’re outta luck.” Frank hung up, wishing that ending a call on a cell had a more satisfying sound than a weak little beep, and feeling foolish about it. He didn’t have a good retort for David. The thought that he and his family were becoming the friends that Karen so desperately needed was actually wonderful, but if they kept trying to bring him into it then everything would just go to hell.

She’d lay down her life for you. Frank had already known that about Karen, on some level, but hearing it spoken out loud from someone trustworthy was nothing less than chilling.

To be honest, though, Frank had been feeling unsettled about Karen since storming the yacht with her. Her courage had been no surprise. If there had been any doubt about that he wouldn’t have allowed her to come in the first place. What impressed him once he had seen her in action, though, was her instincts. Her competence was informed by perfect discipline, knowing when to follow his orders and when to take initiative, where to position herself to cover him and how to stay out of the way. He couldn’t have pinpointed any single moment as proof; it was just something he knew when he saw it.

He had served with plenty of men who had those instincts, of course, since those without them didn’t have a high survival rate. Being able to trust the soldier behind you without checking up on him was the key to the exhilarating sense of belonging that Frank had felt as a Marine, to the sacred bond he shared with Curtis and Gunner and so many friends he would never see again.

Sharing that bond with a civilian was a strange sensation, and sharing it with someone he wanted was stranger still. And he did want Karen. He was okay with that, Maria being gone; he wasn’t going to feel ashamed of it or try to suppress it, and he doubted there were many straight men around who could look at Karen’s legs without having a couple fantasies intrude. For Frank they would remain fantasies. She would never have to know that he imagined those legs wrapped around him, and how her breasts would fit into his hands, almost every single night.

The real danger was that she did know, now, that she was capable in a combat situation and that her help could make all the difference for him. Karen Page wasn’t one to receive a tool without using it.

Frank sighed and took his phone out again. David answered on the first ring, mimicking the terse “What?” that Frank had given him on their last call.

“You’re right,” Frank said. “It ain’t a one-man job. I could use your help.”

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Tags: conspiracy of ravens

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