Avox in Arcadia (perpetual) wrote,
Avox in Arcadia
perpetual

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A Conspiracy of Ravens - Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Title: The Dark Night of the Soul
Author: Kairos
Fandom: Netflix MCU mashup
Wordcount: This part, 2373
Rating: Teen
Summary: Morning brings with it all the obligations you ignored through the night. It's raining. Hell's Kitchen is waiting for you.


Frank awoke with the sense of having slept deeply and naturally, less familiar to him than the kind of sleep he got from having trained his body to take recovery whenever he could get it. Karen was sitting on the edge of the bed buttoning up her blouse, facing the wall. It was raining.

“Where are you going?” he asked softly.

She turned, and the smile she gave him was hesitant, which hurt. “Work,” she replied. “It’s already late. I have to stop at home first.”

“Call in sick.”

“I can’t. If I’m not in today, someone else will report on the shootout and the misinformation will get out of hand.”

He frowned. He had envisioned a lazy morning with Karen, sharing a meal, taking the time to address whatever worries were on her mind now that they had fallen into this uncharted territory together. But if she had already made this decision to leave his place by herself, she was testing him, or she meant what she said about the importance of seeing to the Bulletin.

Either way, he couldn’t blame her. He sat up. “You want me call you a ride?”

Her expression was again painfully uncertain, but she nodded. “Thanks.”

When the Lyft arrived outside Frank’s building, they were both dressed and had gathered all of Karen’s things and straightened up from last night’s wild abandon. They hadn’t said much to each other, certainly nothing important.

Maybe he should have waited for her to make the next move, but he didn’t think he could bear watching her leave without giving her a kiss goodbye. He compromised by placing it on her cheek, and she accepted it and returned his brief embrace with genuine warmth. “We’ll talk,” she promised in an unnecessary whisper.

They would talk; of course they would. It was hard to accept that they couldn’t start talking right now, but it was probably better this way. Frank had to think. What did Karen want, and how could he, a man who dealt only in death, give it to her?

//////////\\\\\\\\\\//////////\\\\\\\\\\//////////\\\\\\\\\\


Morning broke at the Church of St. John of the Cross, and Matt had never felt so cut off from daylight. The symbolism of hope and new beginnings was lost to him in a way that blindness alone had never reached. He lay on his back in bed, trying to remember why he had thought he should go on with his life, trying to remember who he even was.

Father Lantom tapped on his door, the sound of it nearly lost in the blanket of rain pouring down the roof. “Matthew? You have a visitor.”

Matt knew it was Claire; he had heard her voice and already decided that he didn’t want her to see him. “I’m not feeling well,” he called back.

“Then a nurse is the kind of visitor you need,” Father Lantom persisted. “We’ll be in the kitchen. I’ll make you a latte while you’re getting ready.”

It was no use staying in bed and trying to ignore him. Matt fought through the pain in his side, his breath coming in short gasps, and got to his feet. From there it was simple enough to go through the motions, showering and shaving as if there was a point to any of it.

Claire’s concern for him when he finally limped into the kitchen was palpable. She clattered her chair in a rush to come over to him, then stopped in response to the hand he was raising to ward her off. “Let me take a look at you,” she implored.

“No,” he said shortly, and took a seat at the long table, leaving a chair between himself and hers. His body hurt, but what he had feared was a broken rib turned out to be nothing more than a bad bruise.

Father Lantom, sitting across from him, was worried for him too, though the signs of it were more subtle: stiff posture, slow breathing, long quiet looks. He slid a lukewarm latte in its saucer toward Matt. “Why not just tell us what happened, then.”

Dispassionately, Matt described the events of the night, beginning with his surprise visit to Jessica. He didn’t consciously leave out any details, but he could tell that they were waiting for something else. “And then I came here and went to sleep,” he concluded after a long pause.

“Have you talked to Jessica?” Claire asked. “Let her know you’re okay?”

I’m not okay, Matt wanted to retort, but instead he shook his head in silence.

“Then I will,” she announced, standing up again. “I’m sure you have other things you want to take care of today.”

The thought of taking care of things today made him feel ill. He listened to Claire leave the building and walk away from it until her footsteps merged into all the others splashing on the sidewalk. Father Lantom didn’t speak, and Matt again had the impression that he was waiting for something. “What?” he said crossly.

The old priest cleared his throat and began in a voice overladen with gentleness. “This church was named for a sixteenth century Spanish saint, Juan de la Cruz. I think this is a time in your life when you might benefit from some of his writings. If you’d like, I can--”

“I’m sorry, Father, but religion is not what I need right now. I’m grateful to you for all you’ve done for me. I’m leaving as soon as I can so you won’t have to support me anymore. Please don’t try working miracles on me in the meantime.”

There was a weighted pause. “You’re not yourself today, Matthew. I wish you would talk to me.”

Matt’s desire to apologize was buried deep in his own despondency. “I am talking to you.”

“Is it about the enemy you couldn’t find last night? Is it about your friends? Is it something I couldn’t guess if I tried a thousand times?”

It was all of those things, but before Matt could formulate some kind of answer that would get Father Lantom off his back, an entirely different truth reached his lips and escaped through them. “It’s Elektra.”

Father Lantom’s voice was surprised but steady. “Your lover.”

“My soulmate.” He said it as a kind of challenge, prepared for disapproval that didn’t come. Matt closed his useless eyes beneath his pointless glasses. “I know I haven’t said much about her. I’ve been trying not to think about her. But honestly I don’t get what there is to live for when the only person who really needed me is gone.”

“The only one? You really believe that?”

“I’ve been gone for months and all of my friends are doing fine without me.”

Father Lantom let out a frustrated sigh. “And what about your city? Protecting Hell’s Kitchen used to be enough for you. It used to be your purpose.”

Matt thought about Jessica, then about Danny, his starry-eyed youthfulness, the role he had taken up at Matt’s final request. “I used to be the only one.”

“I see.” The unmasked disappointment in his voice was worse than the prying had been. “Well, I suppose you’re right. Your friends really are carrying on, best as they can, and they’ve all done their parts to make this a safer place to be. Claire with her healing, Karen with her investigating, Foggy and his legal work. I can’t say I like the methods of all the vigilantes that took up where you left off, but then, I didn’t always like yours either.”

He didn’t have to call out any of the vigilantes by name to remind Matt that Frank Castle was still out there killing whenever and whomever he pleased. Maybe Father Lantom was right, and it was Matt’s job to put a permanent stop to the Punisher. Maybe he was thinking about something else entirely. Matt felt too tired to work it out. “Is Sister Maggie okay?” he asked.

Father Lantom accepted the change in topic without protest. “She is. She sends her love.”

“I don’t know if she’s still on Javelin’s radar. I don’t really know anything about that one that got away. They might not care about me anymore.”

“Shouldn’t you be trying to find out, then?”

Matt took his glasses off so he could rub his face. “That means talking to people. Foggy and Karen, to start with. And yes, I know that’s what I was planning to do anyway.”

“It’s hard,” Father Lantom acknowledged. “I know.”

“I just want all this to end. Whenever I try to clean up a mess I made I just make a new one. You think it’s irresponsible to let someone else deal with it, sure, of course it is. But maybe in the long run it would be better that way.”

There was a long silence. Father Lantom wasn’t afraid of silence, which was one thing Matt had always liked about him. He thought before he spoke, always. “They miss you, Matthew,” he said at length. “There is nobody but you who can deal with that.”

Matt bowed his head. “I miss my dad. I miss Ben Urich. I miss Elektra. But I just have to live with it, is that what you’re saying?”

“Of course you do. Just as I’ve had to live after losing my loved ones, just as we all do. The difference is that whether or not your friends have to live with it is up to you.”

It was undeniably true that Foggy and Karen didn’t deserve that. “I think you did it, Father,” said Matt with an ironic chuckle.

“Oh?” said Father Lantom. “What did I do?”

“Made me feel guilty enough to go through with this.”

Another layer of tension dissipated with the sound of another sad laugh. “Well, in my defense, it wasn’t the first thing I tried.”

However much the discussion had helped, Matt still needed time to think about everything on his own. He decided to give it to himself by walking to the Bulletin, in spite of the risk of someone who believed him dead seeing him before he was ready to be revealed to the rest of the world. The sun wasn't shining yet, but the rain had ended an hour ago.

He wasn't recognized by anyone, as far as he could tell, but the walk affected him with a strange sense of reunion all the same. It had been a long time since he had strolled down a sidewalk in the daylight, sweeping ahead with his cane and keeping up the same fast pace as the crowds around him. At every crosswalk, people gave him space and stood up straighter, more alert, registering his blindness as vulnerability and appointing themselves his protectors for the few seconds it took to cross the street.

They had always done that for him, probably unconsciously, no matter how much they might shove and bully each other throughout the remainder of their day. It had even annoyed him at times, but it didn’t today. His people wanted to look out for him. Before long, Matt realized that he had missed Hell’s Kitchen as much as he had his other friends.

It was an encouraging thought, but it didn’t help him settle on what he should say to Karen. He had surprised himself by mentioning Elektra to Father Lantom, but even that was only part of the story. He loved Karen too. He had never stopped loving her, though he knew it must have looked that way, to her and to everyone around them.

But it wasn’t in the same way that he had loved Elektra, and worse than that, it wasn’t in the same way that Karen had loved him. Almost from the first day they had met and certainly up to the last day they had been together, he could hear it in the sound of her heartbeat and feel it from the heat of her skin whenever he came close to her. It was much the same way that Foggy reacted whenever Karen came close to him.

“Just ask her out already,” Foggy had said to Matt once.

Matt wasn’t prepared for it to be out in the open. “But...don’t you…”

“Yeah, but she doesn’t feel that way about me. It’s fine, dude. Already over it.”

That talk had changed everything. Foggy was exaggerating his nonchalance, but he had meant what he said.

Matt might have steered clear anyway, just to be on the safe side, but there was one big difference in the way that Foggy felt for Karen and the way that Karen felt for Matt: Foggy had a sex life.

The lingering scent of intimacy on a body the morning after was one of the features of Matt’s enhanced senses that he had desperately wished he could block out, but over his years of friendship and partnership with Foggy, he had grown used to it. Sometimes Foggy had smelled of his current girlfriend, sometimes of one night stands that Matt would never meet, but they never overlapped. Matt appreciated that sign of his friend’s loyal nature, in the same way he appreciated that the nuns of St. Agnes had never smelled of sex at all.

If Karen had ever come to work with evidence of any sexual activity on her, though, it might have saved them from a big mistake. Every morning when they had all reached the office, Matt’s senses would do a routine check whether he wanted them to or not. Toward the end, it was only ever Marcie’s scent on Foggy, and nobody’s on Karen. Matt could have resisted her attraction to him, but he couldn’t ignore her loneliness.

What was done was done. He had failed her and he had hurt her, but he was going to take responsibility now, ask for her forgiveness without expecting it. If she had anything to say about Daredevil and whether he should take up that responsibility again as well, he would give her opinion the full consideration it deserved.

As he approached the doors of the Bulletin, just one question slowed his step. What was he going to do if she was still in love with him?


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Tags: conspiracy of ravens
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