Avox in Arcadia (perpetual) wrote,
Avox in Arcadia
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A Conspiracy of Ravens - Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Title: Loneliness Conquered
Author: Kairos
Fandom: Netflix MCU mashup
Wordcount: This part, 2267
Rating: Teen
Summary: Collective nouns for a group of ravens include "unkindness", "treachery", and "conspiracy".


A man and a woman lay unconscious on the floor of their workshop, broken vials and antique blades scattered around them. He was dressed in 17th-century peasant’s clothes; she had hair down to her waist and hands still tangled in the burning, slippery twine that she had been using as a weapon. Matt would have placed both of them in their forties, but he knew that any signs of age with these two would be misleading.

The full implications of what he had just done didn’t hit him until after he had stumbled into the next room and used the phone there to call in an anonymous tip. Then he made his way up to the roof, wincing. He thought he might have a fractured rib.

That he had won this fight was undeniable. With his only advantage being the element of surprise, he had still managed to defeat two Javelin leaders who countered his every attack with what he could only call magic. He had done it his way, too. They would both survive, and they were stripped of their powers, and he could hear the sirens of the police he had summoned on their way right now. It should have been a time for victory.

Instead, all Matt felt was despair. He had fought two. There were supposed to be three.

The whole point of this had been to take them all down at once. One exception meant more than one more enemy on the loose; it meant his only advantage was gone. Javelin would be rebuilt from the ground, and this time they would be prepared for him. It was only a short step before they ferreted out everyone he cared for, too.

All these months of hiding, the plans he had laid during his slow recovery, the loneliness...had it all been for nothing? Matt lowered himself to the rough tar surface of the roof and sat back against the barrier. His mask held his eyelids closed, but tears were pressing through them anyway. Some part of him had known he had made a fatal mistake as soon as he and Jessica had begun their fight and too few soldiers had shown up, but by then it had already been too late.

Below him there were sounds of the first responders answering his call. Matt listened with dull interest until he was satisfied that the job was getting done properly, and then he heaved himself to his feet, clutching his wounded side.

There was one small silver lining to this: His failure didn’t change the plan that he had told Jessica, to reveal himself to his friends. Now that he had made his move, it was pointless to pretend he was still dead.

Tomorrow he could begin to return to his old life. No more leaving Foggy to continue their work alone. No more letting Frank Castle flaunt his disrespect for human life. No more involving Father Lantom and Claire and Melvin in lies of omission.

Matt knew, without making a conscious decision, that Karen should be the first. He would find her, conquer his fear of what she would think, and tell her face to face that he was sorry for what he had put her through. She might be happy that he was alive, maybe even happy enough to forgive him.

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It was like he was hallucinating, or trapped in a simulation made to pit him against all of his inner demons. Every man in the warehouse was wearing a black vest with a white skull emblem; every man was heavily armed and trained for battle. Frank didn’t know how they could differentiate him from their own, at a distance, but they never seemed to accidentally aim at one another.

For him there was no need to tell them apart. His job was to kill everyone he saw.

The warehouse was cavernous and dark, with just a few windows letting in the occasional bar of light from neighboring buildings. Frank could tell he was better at using the terrain to his advantage than they were, but many or all of them had been here before, and it was likely they had come with a strategy. He had to keep moving, stay up high on the walkways and landings, fire only when there was a clear shot.

He stooped to trade his empty pistol for the one that had just fallen from the hands of the last man he had killed. Far across the way, a dark shape appeared on a bay of wooden crates, and Frank spun and fired at the pale face that showed over its painted white skull. That one had taken him by surprise, he thought grimly as the body toppled over. His moments of respite before they found him again were getting shorter, and they still had enough men to corner him once one of these scouts survived.

Added to that, the gun he had just taken had fewer bullets than he had hoped, and there wasn’t another that he could see. As long as he had a full clip he always knew he had a chance, but without that, the confrontation coming up could be the end for him.

Voices came from deeper in the building, the first he had heard since this had started. He couldn’t make out any words, but they sounded agitated. Frank grinned. Anything that hadn’t gone according to their plans was a stroke of luck for him. He moved fast and low toward the sound.

Before he was close enough to see anything, he heard gunshots. They weren’t intended for him, so that was another first. The thought that a third party had entered this brawl was vexing, but at least there would be someone here who wasn’t wearing the same outfit as him.

Suddenly he saw her. She was only visible for a second, less than a second, on the floor far below him and rushing for cover, but it was her. Karen Page, the Bulletin reporter, the seeker of justice, the bright angel of courage and sorrow. There was no explanation for how she could be here except that wherever chaos bloomed was her natural terrain, and Frank didn’t care anyway. She was here. She was in danger. The only goal that mattered now was seeing her to freedom and safety.

One of the Punisher copycats was at the other end of the walkway that Frank had claimed, crouched so that only the armored parts of his body were showing. The way across would leave Frank exposed for a few seconds, ordinarily too much a risk when he hadn’t yet been seen, but these were no ordinary circumstances. He bull rushed the man, who had enough time to fire but not to aim properly, and the bullet went over Frank’s shoulder.

They grappled for the space of a few breaths, four hands gripping the stranger’s rifle, and then Frank overpowered him, kneed him off, and got him in the head with the rifle’s butt. His fall was around two stories; he might not be dead, but he was down for the count.

More voices ahead. Frank’s newly claimed weapon was a great improvement with enough ammunition to last through several more encounters. He looked below and saw two men dashing from one shadow to another, and he picked off one of them and then rushed to change position before anyone else watching could read the trajectory to locate him.

Before he had stopped moving, another shot rang out and the second man dropped. Frank didn’t have to look to know who had fired, and it filled him with savage delight. Nobody was going to catch his girl with her guard down.

There were other Punishers up ahead. From here on in they wouldn’t be coming one by one, and he couldn’t continue to hide effectively. It was time. Frank let out a roar and charged forward.

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Karen couldn’t understand how her body kept performing without waiting for instructions from her mind. She didn’t feel distracted but she wasn’t focused: Things were just happening, critical events, matters of life and death, and she was part of them even while she was sure she was somewhere else and watching at a distance.

It gave her the time and space she needed to think about who she had become, and even to mourn the person she used to be. Maybe this had all been inevitable, from the time she had fallen in love with a killer and forgiven him in her heart, as if she had any right. Maybe it didn’t even matter that she was the one who had just shot someone in the head when he hadn’t even seen her. She could tell herself it was self defense, just like it had been when she killed James Wesley, and anyone who knew the story would agree and tell her there had been no other choice.

But they weren’t the ones who had done it. She was.

Frank was in here with her somewhere. That was a comfort, not because she wanted him to save her life or even because every man he killed was one that she wouldn’t have to, but because it made her feel less alone. With every shot fired, she pictured his calm professional demeanor, doing what needed to be done.

She wasn’t sure whether he knew she was here. She hoped that he didn’t, although she knew it was next to impossible for her to stay long enough to be sure he would survive and still get out of here without showing herself. It was better not to think that far ahead, anyway. Frank certainly wasn’t.

Jessica had told her not to get out of the car. It would have been smarter to do that. She could have waited for backup, maybe done this with a real fighter at her side instead of attempting it alone. Karen regretted that she hadn’t really meant it when she promised to stay safe, but she didn’t think she regretted anything else. Not while both she and Frank were still alive.

Her hiding spot had yet to be discovered, but she wasn’t here to just stay concealed. She crept out, gun held before her in both hands, and found a narrow path between stacks of crates that should provide enough cover while she got closer to the center of the conflict. It had moved and was still drifting away from her, probably due to the machinations of either Frank or his enemies although there was no way to know who currently had the upper hand.

She emerged from the gap to find herself surrounded. Five men -- five -- all dressed in black with skulls adorning their chests. Each one had a gun pointed at her. Their sardonic smirks showed how easy this had been for them and how little fear they had of the consequences.

It was too late to retreat and there was no chance of talking her way out. She wondered whether they were going to kill her in the next few seconds or take her for questioning or their own amusement, and realized it made no difference. She could take at least one of them with her if she didn’t spend any more time thinking about it.

Karen chose her target, but in the split second between that and pulling the trigger, a gunshot boomed and the man’s eyes rolled back in his head. He fell to his knees before fully collapsing, and the remaining four in the group spun and stumbled, exclaiming in confusion. Karen drew on one of them and fired, and the unseen sniper got another at the same moment.

She ran, listening for the final two gunshots but not needing to check on their results. The battle was back in full swing, crashing and shouting all around, with Frank’s wordless cries of rage above it all. Karen knew better than to try to help out again. She backed into a crevice and thought about the beloved dead, all those who might see her and Frank now and extend their mercy, who might otherwise be there to greet them if this was the end.

And then, all of a sudden, there was silence. It was more accurately the reduction of noise, with debris still settling and someone coughing and Karen’s ears ringing, but it meant that the shooting had stopped, and that could only happen if Frank was dead or everyone else was. She froze, waiting.

The distant cough trailed off and was replaced by a voice, Frank’s voice, full of terror and desperation. “KAREN!

Karen staggered, blindly setting her .380 down in her haste. “Frank!” she cried, but it came out as a hoarse whisper.

Again he bellowed out her name, God, the man had a set of lungs to wake the dead when he wanted. “KARENNNN!

As she stumbled out into the open she tried her voice again, and this time it rang out loud and clear. “Frank!” She saw him, alive, whole, standing over multiple bodies. “Frank!

He saw her. He dropped the long rifle he was holding and came running. Karen broke into a run herself, and his arms were open to receive her. Then she was kissing him, or he was kissing her, or they had been drawn into the kiss simultaneously through an intervention beyond their knowing, but they were together and inseparable by any means.

They had fought and won. The loneliness was gone.


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Tags: conspiracy of ravens
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