Fandom: Netflix MCU mashup
Wordcount: This part, 2647
Summary: A mysterious visitor? Who could that be?
Karen sometimes looked back on Frank’s trial with a strange yearning that she could only identify as nostalgia. It made no sense to want to go back to any part of that - the pressure, the simmering fury in the courtroom, Matt’s erratic behavior - but she did. Foggy had been at his absolute best in those days. Frank had been sitting right next to her, silent and grim, but there. Matt had been alive.
They had often casually referred to the “boring parts” of the proceedings, meaning the hours of waiting and the bureaucratic formalities. Karen realized now that those had been the best times, and that even then she had always looked forward to them. Only during the boring parts could they have their trivial personal conversations and crack the occasional joke. Even Frank would seem to relax a little once the accusatory eyes were off of him.
It was those moments, it must have been, that made her start thinking of him as himself and not as his story. The drama belonged to the Punisher. Karen would always remember when he had roared out his vendetta against the city’s criminals, just as the jury, the witnesses, the press all would. But she had other memories of him too, things that they would never have noticed. It was Frank, not the Punisher, who said “God bless you” when she sneezed. It was Frank who absently rubbed his nose with one wrist, dragging the other one with it by the handcuffs that connected them. It was Frank’s mouth quirking into a smile when he caught her rolling her eyes behind Reyes’s back.
So much was at stake, but the courtroom had become a kind of sanctuary. Karen was seated an arm’s length from the most dangerous person she had ever met, but she was at least temporarily safe, and so was he, and so was everyone else there.
That was the last time she had felt safe in his presence, until last night. At some point, the fear that he would kill her had turned into a fear that he would leave her, but she barely felt the difference.
All morning she had fought to keep her balance at the precipice that loomed in front of her. Frank could destroy her with a word now, or worse, by saying nothing at all. When she had hurried away from his bed she had all but granted him permission to pretend that this had never happened, and for all she knew he was planning to take her up on it. He could tell himself that it was for her own protection, that no good could ever come of a true relationship, or even that she didn’t want it. He was more intelligent than most, but any man could be stupid enough to believe his own lies.
She should have never let it get this far. Frank cared for her, she knew that, but what use did he have for a girlfriend? He had already found and married the love of his life, and lost her. Karen could make a poor attempt at replacing Maria, or she could gracefully accept her lot as a single woman with a secret unrequited love, and somehow she had allowed her body to choose the former without consulting her common sense.
After the initial flurry of palaver at the Bulletin, Karen had wanted to shut herself in Ben’s office to concentrate on her work, but it wasn’t one of those days. Everyone seemed to need something from her, or she needed something from them, and Ellison, damn him, was far too adept at reading her mood. She managed to convince him that she was just ruffled by the events they were covering, but he was still raising an eyebrow at her every time their paths crossed.
When her phone vibrated, she had just set it down on the copier, and she jumped at the sound a little but caught it before it vibrated itself onto the floor. Then she saw who was calling and jumped again. “Pete” was still her imaginary boyfriend, the excuse she used whenever she had to talk to Frank on the phone. Pete had never called while she was at work before.
“Hi,” she answered in a small voice, gathering up her printing job with her free hand.
That new, inapt pet name, delivered in that soothingly rough tone, made Karen forget everything she knew for the next few seconds. “Is everything okay?” she asked.
Frank made an affirmative sound. “Yeah. You?”
“I’m fine, just, you know. Busy at work.” A few pages escaped her hand and she stooped to recover them.
“A’right. You gonna be free later?”
Was he asking her on a date? Karen straightened up and looked around the little copy and fax room as if there was a place for someone to hide in there for some eavesdropping. “Um, yeah,” she stammered. “I’m thinking I’ll get out early…”
“Good, ‘cause I wanna make you dinner,” Frank asserted. “Maybe at your place if you don’t mind, you got a better kitchen than me.”
Karen left the copy room with her papers in hand and a dazed smile on her face. “Okay.”
“And then I wanna make love to you again. Eat you out like you deserve, make you scream my name.”
Heat rushed into Karen’s face like wildfire, though her smile only felt like it was getting bigger. “Pete!” she managed in a scandalized stage whisper.
“No, the other one.”
People were casting her amused glances from their cubicles as she passed them, but she was as much consoled as she was embarrassed. This was like the final piece of a puzzle, the one side of Frank she hadn’t seen until now. She was laughing openly as she made it back to Ben’s office. “Fine, yes, okay, we’ll do all those things.”
“Good, then it’s settled. I’ll meet you there.”
“You don’t have a key.”
Frank sounded unperturbed. “Jessica’s got one, yeah? I oughta check how she’s doin’ anyway.”
Jessica was hardly the kind of person who needed watching over, but Frank’s concern for her was still gratifying. “Thanks,” said Karen.
His voice took on another shade of solemnity. “How are things going down there, Karen? You sure you’re alright?”
“I am. It’s a circus but we’re all used to days like this.” She hesitated, then added, “You’re...keeping your head down for now, aren’t you?”
“Gotta get a couple things at the bodega but that’s all. Hey. This shit with the copycats, we both know it ain’t over yet, but it can wait. Today we take care of what’s important right now.”
After the call had ended, the full significance of Frank’s words struck her. What was important to him right now, in the midst of another crisis, was buying ingredients to make her dinner. This went beyond his sense of honor. It spoke of a commitment he wanted to make of his own free will.
Maybe it really was that simple. Maybe Karen was going to be Frank’s girlfriend after all.
The thought of it released her into a different perspective on last night. She finally allowed herself to close her eyes for a few seconds to bring up a memory of Frank’s hands on her skin, and instantly shivered. Everything had been so good. Another experience like that, as soon as tonight, was the stuff of hopeless daydreams.
Ideas about what she wanted to explore with him began crowding into her mind. If he was planning to go down on her, maybe she could return the favor. Was he the type to talk dirty during sex? His manner on the phone certainly suggested it. He would if she asked him to. He would probably do anything she asked him to.
Karen realized suddenly that her eyes were still closed and that she was starting to breathe heavily. She was alone in the room, but she blushed as she snapped out of it and glanced at the clock. Time to start thinking about going home and letting Frank be her focus instead of a constant distraction. There wasn’t much left for her to do at the office anyway.
Ellison tapped on her door as she was making a final check for anything that couldn’t be left until tomorrow. “Karen? There’s someone here to see you.”
She frowned. “I don’t have any other meetings scheduled. If it’s a drop-in eyewitness can someone else take it?”
He looked subdued, which in itself wasn’t that unusual, but when something was bothering him he generally made it clear, and now he was just shaking his head and speaking hesitantly. “It’s someone who came to see you. Specifically you.”
“Fine.” Whoever it was could probably be brushed off with a promise to have a full interview on another day. “I’m headed out right after this, so, see you tomorrow.”
Ellison nodded. “He’s in Conference Room D.” Without saying anything else, he hurried off in the opposite direction from where she was headed.
All of the current complications and dangers in her life were resurfacing as she tried to analyze Ellison’s uncertainty. Somebody might be here with a threat, or they might need her help. Either way, brushing them off wouldn’t be so easy.
The blinds were drawn over the window separating the conference room from the corridor, which they hadn’t been earlier in the day. Karen opened the door, trepidation growing, to see a man in a grey suit standing at the other end of the table, gripping the back of the nearest chair. His face was turned away from her when she entered, which gave her a second to tell herself that her immediate sense of recognition was wrong, entirely wrong and foolish and unwarranted, before he took off a pair of red-tinted glasses and turned a weak smile in her direction and secured the reality of himself beyond denial.
Karen thought she said his name, but it was hard enough to make sure her lungs were still working. Finding anything else to say was out of the question. Her hand was splayed against her chest as if to keep her heart in its place, and her purse had dropped from her shoulder and onto the floor.
Matt had always had a way of looking somewhere past her eyes and staring straight into her soul, and now his inability to focus gave a tragic edge to his weary expression. “Karen,” he said in a soft voice. “I know I have a lot to explain. I’m sorry to do this to you.” He took a deep breath, seemingly about to get to the hard part of whatever speech he had planned, and then suddenly froze. His mouth dropped open. “Karen?”
“I’m here,” she said in a rush. “It’s me, I’m here. God, Matt…”
“But you, you were…” He was fumbling around the chair, either to sit down in it or to get around it and come toward her but stymied by his distress.
“No, I’m okay. I swear.” Karen wiped a tear off her cheek with the back of her hand. “Matt, please, what’s going on? Where have you been?”
He grabbed his cane from where it was leaning against the table, holding it like a baton instead of a tool, and began trying to edge around the room without getting close to her. “I should go. I upset you. I didn’t mean to.”
“Are you kidding me? Don’t leave here before we even talk about it!” Suddenly something occurred to her, a possible explanation for why he was acting so strangely. “Are you still in danger? If someone’s after you I can help, just tell me what you need. But don’t go!”
He stopped and raised his head, finally listening. “We’re all in danger,” he said to the wall. “Times like these you need to be careful about who you trust.”
Before he reached the door handle, she clasped his forearm, and for a moment they both just held still, trapped in mutual indecision. Karen broke through first, giving him a hug that she couldn’t know if he wanted.
A heartbeat later, he hugged back, and then he murmured, “I’ll talk to you soon,” and let go. He was out of room before she could respond, and probably far from the Bulletin before she found the strength to move.
Foggy had called Karen as soon as he heard there was news about a shootout involving the Punisher copycats, and she had answered and assured him everything was under control and explained that she was busy at work and would have to fill him in on the details later.
That was hours ago, and he wouldn’t exactly say that he was still worried about her, but his heart started racing when his cell phone showed her name. Instantly he locked his office doors and blocked incoming calls on his extension so he could answer.
“Karen? What’s up?”
The voice on the other end was not Karen. It was male, deep and husky, familiar. “Nelson,” it said. “It’s Frank Castle.”
Foggy reeled. “Oh God. Where’s Karen?”
“She’s here. She’s alright but she’s had enough bullshit comin’ at her today so I told her let me handle this.”
That in itself was in no way comforting, but then there was Karen’s voice in the background: “Frank, stop, you’ll freak him out.” She sounded unafraid but anxious, and no less so when she got louder and closer to say, “It’s alright, Foggy, everything’s fine.”
Castle took over again. “Everything’s not fine, Nelson, let’s be clear about that. I just gotta know one thing. Did you know your partner was alive?”
There was dead silence on both ends of the call. Foggy had to tell himself to start breathing again. “What do you mean?”
“I mean Matthew Murdock, the goddamn blind lawyer you used to work with. Did you know?”
Foggy was trembling, but he had the experience he needed to keep his voice steady and say what he needed to say. “What makes you think he’s alive?”
Karen’s voice came in again, with a change in the quality of sound that indicated they had turned on speakerphone. “It’s true,” she said. “I saw him. He came to the Bulletin today.”
Another call was coming in on Foggy’s phone, with a number from within HCB. That meant that someone in the building had been urgently trying to reach him and couldn’t get through any other way. “I don’t know what to tell you, Karen, I mean, you know how this sounds.”
A dog barked. “Hush, Sicily,” said Karen impatiently. “Foggy, I saw him, I talked to him, I touched him. This is happening.”
There was a rapid knock at Foggy’s door. Impulsively he hit the button to listen to the most recent voice message on his desk phone, which turned out to be from a harried receptionist telling him that he had a visitor waiting and that it was important.
“You still there, Nelson?” Frank pressed.
Foggy couldn’t deny that it was still terrifying to have the Punisher’s attention on him, but he didn’t respond directly. “Karen,” he said instead, “I’m going to have to call you back. We’ll figure this out as soon as we can.”
As he hung up and went to open the door for his mysteriously important visitor, it struck him that if Karen’s dog was with her, she was most likely at her apartment. That meant that she had let Castle into her home. Jessica’s words echoed in his mind: ”She’s in love with Castle. Sorry.”
He had a full three seconds to deal with that, and then he was face to face with a ghost who gazed past his shoulder and smiled sadly. “Hi, Foggy.”
Next (and final!) chapter.