“They wouldn’t. They would start sacrificing each other to the demons, either out of insanity or boredom.” The situation in New York was, to be frank, extremely dangerous. For all of the Fantastic Four’s knowledge on cosmic threats and other dimensions, they were completely in the dark. Even the world’s greatest minds combining their ideas together were utterly baffled by what had occurred, and no one seemed particularly eager to speak up against Doom unless it was in the safety of the back storage cupboard at the Bulletin, or their own living rooms. “I will get you a stack of them for Christmas. If we’re back on earth by then, do you stay in the city, or do you go home to family?” Karen rarely spoke about her upbringing, Sue knew only what she had done since arriving in New York, but Sue always wished to know more about her friends. It also meant she would know where to send the very elaborate Christmas present she was yet to come up with! A notebook was only the beginning of what Karen deserved. “Melodramatic,” Sue snorted. “Always had a chip on his shoulder when it came to Reed. Overconfident, until he wasn’t. Wore a lot of black, listened to Metallica when he was in the shower, thought he could sing when he couldn’t. I only noticed after we broke up that he was, in Johnny’s words, a ‘complete creep-fest.’” Sue took a breath, looking down at her watch. “No time like the present, unless you would like something to fill up your schedule sometime this week?”
“Hopefully insanity otherwise that’s bleak,” Karen said, cringing at the prospect. She couldn’t imagine people seriously sacrificing one and other to demons, but in New York, and caught between misery and detox, it didn’t seem entirely improbable. Slowly, the years had really taken away from her faith in humanity, Karen realized, and she wasn’t proud of that. Hell’s Kitchen wasn’t a kind place, however, and as the saying went, only the strongest survived. Luckily, they had heroes seeking out resources to keep from any serious tragedies and Karen truly hoped that would continue. “I can’t wait,” she said with a smile, genuinely appreciating Sue’s suggestion. As far as she knew, Sue wasn’t aware that Karen typically had a notebook tucked in her purse, ready to write any brilliant ideas down. Her phone never felt as genuine. “I stay in New York,” she replied. “My family doesn’t get together anymore.” It was the truth, she supposed, just without any detail. “Do you and Johnny stay here too?” Sue rarely discussed the Storm’s, and Karen knew better than to ask for any intimate details. “It sounds like he did a one eighty in order to become the president,” she said, wrinkling her brow. “Men like that don’t typically end up elected… they lack the charisma,” Karen was obviously thinking out loud, but she imagined Sue had grown used to that with Reed around. “I would love to do it now,” she replied before finishing the last of her drink. “I really appreciate this, Sue. I know it’s risky,” Karen continued as she rose from her seat.
“You look lovely,” Lois says as she stops beside Karen, offering her a smile. “You’re like an amazon woman all legs and your…” she gestures vaguely. “Gorgeous face,” At the risk of sounding like a mad woman, Lois let the compliments stop.
“What do you make of all this?” She asks on an exhale, crossing her arms over her chest. “I have never been happier o be a human in my life, I just — I feel so bad. I bet some of these people feel pressured to reveal themselves despite the consequences that will surely follow,” Lois tugs at a curl as she talks before looking back up at Karen. “Sorry, didn’t mean to uh, bring it down. Did you come with anyone?”
“You always look lovely,” Karen replied with a smile. It was the absolute truth, Lois Lane never looked anything short of incredible. “Thank you,” she said sheepishly as Lois continued. “I love your dress,” she added, her smile widening. All of her compliments were honest, of course.
At the question, Karen faltered for a moment, considering what her opinion was exactly. “I don’t agree with any of it,” she said with certainty. “Doom is obviously making a power play, but I don’t understand what he can get out of it yet. I’ve been trying to find out, but all roads are dead ends.” Her explanation was long, but she had been researching their president to no avail for months. “At least their identities will still be private,” Karen said with a sigh. “In that regard, it could have been a lot worse, but what Doom did was wrong.” As the topic shifted, Karen forced a smile and shook her head. “I’m all on my own tonight, but I know a few people here. Did you come with anyone, Lois?”
For Frank, love had seemed simple up until the moment it wasn’t. He’d loved Maria and his kids more than anything else on Earth, would have done anything to keep them safe, and he’d failed them entirely. Love hadn’t been enough to save them, to keep them alive and, suddenly, it seemed far more complex than it had ever been before. He started thinking of shit like that, of relationships and romance and family, in the past tense. He’d had it once, and he figured he’d never really get it again. You didn’t get a second chance at something like that, didn’t get a do-over. Then, he met Karen. He met her and, all of the sudden, he was feeling shit he thought he’d lost a long time ago. He looked at her, saw her, and family didn’t seem like an abstract concept he’d never see again. What he had with her was different than what he’d had with Maria – he was a different man now than he’d been back then – but it was still there. It was still something.
If the way she’d kissed him was anything to go by, she thought it was, too.
He’d been avoiding the subject since it happened, been fighting a war to keep his eyes from darting down to her lips every time she spoke. She hadn’t mentioned it, either, and he tried to be relieved. He tried to remind himself that the person he was wasn’t someone who could have what she deserved, wasn’t the sort of man who could give her what she needed. He figured she regretted it, and he couldn’t fault her for that. When she broached the subject in his warehouse, he felt his eyes widen slightly, unable to hide the surprise. “We did,” he agreed. “We did do that.” He considered her words for a moment, wondered why she was asking him what he wanted. “Guess I was waiting on you to tell me that,” he admitted. “Thought the ball was in your court.” Rubbing at the back of his neck, he shrugged a shoulder. “It bad of me to hope it might? Happen again?”
Relationships of the romantic variety had never been kind to Karen. Her secretive nature was most likely a big part of that, she could freely admit it, due to the fact that no one truly knew her. Matt hadn’t understood what she had lost — he had never asked — and her certainly didn’t acknowledge her ferocity or desire for freedom. What Karen had had with Matt was love, she had never once doubted that, but she had fallen in love with a man that never existed, and assuming Matt similarly, he had fallen for a woman devised entirely of his assumptions. The other people Karen had dated were similar, she never knew Clint, and he never understood a thing about her, and the list only continued from there. It was an unfortunate reality, but with Frank, things were different. He asked the proper question, he allowed Karen to take the necessary time to trust him, and he never once assumed what kind of woman she was based solely on devised appearances. It was among the many reasons that Karen had fallen for Frank, and perhaps the most important, the exact reason why she was willing to dive into loneliness in order to be with Frank Castle for presumedly a very short period of time.
When Karen broached the subject, it was obvious that Frank was surprised. She couldn’t blame him for that, they had been avoiding discussing it, but Karen could only play that game for so long. She preferred their honest way of communicating, but without acknowledging what had happened between the two of them, honesty was impossible. “I’m glad you haven’t forgotten,” Karen replied with a wry smile, hoping to remind Frank that he was free to be lighter, albeit only briefly. He was a burdened man, incapable of joy for extended periods of time. It was something that Karen would inevitably have to make peace with, though she believed accepting Frank’s misery was impossible — he deserved far better. “I always believed what we’ve built is equal,” Karen pointed out, “and equality means either of us can discuss what’s on our minds.” Luckily, Frank continued, and admitted that he hoped it would happen again. “No, that’s not bad at all,” Karen replied. “I was hoping it might happen again, too, although I’m not sure what that would look like. Have you got any ideas?”
Relationships were always complicated, Karen understood that. The romances she had were typically short trysts, including what she had had with Matt. She had loved him undoubtedly, but at the end of the day, she hadn’t known Matt Murdock and Matt hadn’t known her. She never trusted him with the truth about Kevin, and Matt had never once asked about where she grew up or how close she was to her family. It was unfortunate, a difficult lesson to learn — you could love someone desperately and never know them, and they could make decisions about who you were — but Karen was slowly overcoming the heartbreak over that particular failure. Truthfully, it wasn’t losing her relationship with Matt that hurt as much as once again being forced to lose her family. That being said, her decision to visit Frank had nothing to do with the past that had broken her heart. She was visiting Frank because of the man he had proven to be: trustworthy, honest, caring and while they undoubtedly had difficulties and would in the future, she wanted to know for certain that their relationship could exist in its own realm. It would never be open, no one would realize Karen was with someone, but it would mean something to her.
Seated inside Frank’s current warehouse, the dogs gathered around her feet, Karen nervously looked down at her hands. Typically, she was comfortable with Frank, their friendship was deep and they had discussed secrets. “I was hoping we could talk about something,” Karen said quietly. Their kiss had been on her mind since it happened, and she wasn’t blind, she was aware that Frank was interested in her. “We kissed recently, and I was wondering if you wanted that to happen again.” Beating around the bush with Frank was pointless, they respected each other much more than that. Karen understood that in many ways, whatever they created would be lonely for her. Frank was dead for all intents and purposes, a wanted criminal, but Karen was inclined to follow her heart. Even if it were brief like every relationship Karen had in the past, Frank was worth it.
The party wasn’t an event that Karen would typically attend, but it was the first and only opportunity she had had to get close to President Doom. He was an aloof, mysterious man, but unfortunately, the party had not ended the way Karen expected. She had genuinely believed that it would be a peaceful evening, and she had expected their president to mingle with the crowd. Evidently, that had not been what happened and with the crowd going crazy at the sight of the list, Karen ducked into a nearby corner, hoping that she was safe from the chaos. She had no desire to push and shove her way out, and she had no desire to rally with Doom’s supporters and Doom’s enemies. Karen sought out the truth, it was her brand of justice, and this resembled none of it.
Breathing heavily, she was surprised when someone else joined her. They were further from the exit than most, but it seemed to her to be the safest place and it didn’t surprise her at all that someone had made the same decision. When she recognized that it was Steve Trevor, she smiled warmly. Their relationship, as she had expected, did not work out. Her heart was with Frank Castle whether she admitted it or not, but she liked to believe that she and Steve were friends regardless. “Hi,” Karen greeted, her voice raised to be heard over the panicked, angry and liberated crowd — their calls were really quite diverse. “It’s nice to see you despite the circumstances,” she added. “Um, what do you make of all… this?” In her line of work, public opinions were necessary and Karen trusted Steve’s analysis.
“An alien named Rhomann Dey was chasing a space pirate and managed to track him to Earth, but Dey was badly wounded, barely managed to survive the trip through the Earth’s atmosphere.” He begins, idly stirring sugar into his coffee. He hasn’t thought about it in a long time, wasn’t sure if the Cancerverse had even allowed him to keep the memory (there are bits that he’s finding are fuzzy, like his the face of his younger brother, or some of the missions he served with the Guardians), but he’s sure that they’d have to do a lot worse to him than they did for him to lose this–the thing his life hinges on. “He was the last surviving member of the Nova Corps, a peacekeeping militia force based off of the planet Xandar, and he needed to pass his power onto someone, and at random he picked me, I was a senior in high school at the time.” He smiles and shrugs his shoulders, chuckles. “So I dropped out and I did the hero thing for a while, called myself Nova the Human Rocket before I got called into space and properly joined the Nova Corps.”
He takes a sip of his coffee and taps his fingers against the ceramic; being dead has made him gravitate towards sources of warmth, like he’s trying to remind himself that he hasn’t gone cold yet, despite everything. He wonders if she’ll even know to ask about the others, the ones who went cold when Annihilus tore Xandar apart. “I know I’m the unknown in this situation, but does this mean I get to ask you why you got into journalism instead of say… laser gun science?” He smiles and raises an eyebrow, chuckles. “By the way,” He channels only a little bit of the Nova Force, enough to make his palm glow and do nothing more, opens it so it faces her. “I may have mislead you somewhat, since I’m kind of a laser gun myself. Every Nova has the ability to channel the Nova Force.”
“That sounds terrible,” Karen said softly. She couldn’t imagine the way Dey’s flesh had been charred, likely bloody, thanks to the trip. It was a horrific way to pass, and presumedly, the alien had been a hero. She understood little about the intricacies of the superhero world that belonged on Earth, but when space became involved as it was now, Karen was completely blind. Everything Rich was saying, she believed to an extent, but without fact checking and sources, the story could never run. This was a personal conversation for her, and honestly, she appreciated the way he answered her questions without hesitation. As far as people Karen accidentally ran into, he was one of the most interesting and genuine, she was grateful for that. In New York City, people with kind hearts were a dime a dozen. “That’s a lot of responsibility for a high schooler,” she replied sympathetically. “Did you enjoy it? It sounds like you went really far,” she acknowledged.
As the questions turned around on Karen, she smiled faintly. It was exactly what she would have asked in his position and she didn’t mind sharing in the least — at least not about journalism. When it came to personal history, particularly about her family, she immediately clammed up. Luckily, that wasn’t the case. “Well, I did intend to pursue laser gun science, but I never had enough money for university,” she admitted. Her financial situation wasn’t something Karen bothered to hide, she had moved to New York City immediately after graduation without a penny to her name. “I worked a lot of secretary jobs — like I said, I couldn’t pay for school — and eventually, I was working for a law firm. One of the cases seemed… wrong and so I looked into it. It was a big break for me and after it got published, I got a position at the Bulletin.” It was a very short version of the events, but Rich didn’t seem like the kind of guy that would be offended by that. As his palm began glowing, Karen’s eyes widened. “What’s the Nova Force? Some kind of energy?”
“It would be almost as catastrophic as a coffee drought would be for the academic population,” Sue said, thinking fondly of how the labs at the Baxter were piled high with empty coffee mugs and Starbucks bags. Black coffee from the decanter was her port of call considering it was often the quickest and easiest option, but she had to admit, she was relieved to hear that there were more resources out there that would mean she didn’t need to mourn for her caramel latte just yet. “If you wanted paper, we could definitely go to Daphne’s house. I don’t think she’s written anything in her rather large, expensive looking notebook all year besides jotting her name down a thousand times per class.” The things that Sue had to deal with, honestly. She almost found the micro aggressions of her students more irritating than the demons infiltrating the city, though obviously it was far less serious, and her perception of things was warped from years of superheroics. “Oh, I’m more than aware,” Sue said, turning serious. “I don’t trust Doom as far as I could throw him. I’m in a unique position where I knew him before he was … what he is now. If things go south, I’d hope he would understand where I was coming from.” It was far from the truth, but it was wishful thinking, which was in desperately short supply these days. Nothing would dissuade her from assisting Karen in any way she could, and her friend had to know that.
“How would anyone in New York go on if both gin and coffee were unavailable?” Karen mused. There was no attitude in her words, she was genuinely posing the question. New York City was in a perilous position, and while she and Sue were capable of joking about it, the fact of the matter was quite simple: inevitably, they would begin running out of luxuries, and when that time came, the population would have to adjust. Karen was concerned people weren’t capable, New Yorkers were… vain. “I would love that,” she said with a laugh. “I’m always looking for new notebooks, especially the nice ones.” Hers was a simple Hilroy, no fanciness to be remarked upon, but it would be nice for that to change. After all, Karen was a professional. As their conversation shifted into a serious tone, Karen took another sip of drink, as if bracing herself for the truth. She always sought it out, but more than anyone, she understood intimately how difficult honesty could be to face. “What was he like before?” She asked quietly, her brow furrowing. If Sue knew him years ago and he had no interest in politics, that was a great lead. “I hope he understands, too, but if he doesn’t… this is how we protect people. When should we go?”
Family - because that was what the three of them had been, a family, what they still would be if Matt hadn’t thrown complication after complication into their lives - was extremely important to Matt, but that didn’t mean he knew how to react to it when it was right in front of him. At one stage, he had the entire world ahead of him; a firm that was succeeding (although they were desperately poor, they were helping people, and for Matt that was the very definition of success regardless of what the bank thought), a best friend who still thought of him as the man he had known since college, a girlfriend who was amazing, intelligent and fascinating all at the same time. He had the whole world, he had every chance of being happy, and then, true to form, it had all gone spectacularly to shit. It would’ve been easy to blame the situation with the Hand, to point the finger at Stick and say that Matt’s mentor had pushed him down this path, but to do that would mean not taking responsibility himself. Matt didn’t have it within himself to be happy, that was the long and the short of it. When he thought there was a chance that might be the case, he destroyed it, and he made sure there was no coming back.
Still, he believed in forgiveness. He believed that anyone had a chance for redemption, to see the error of their ways and do something to change that. If that didn’t extend to him as well, then it wasn’t much of a strong belief system. “Really? I thought my boss was just losing hair because the water cooler had stopped producing ice,” Matt deadpanned, a small smile on his face as he did so. “A few,” Matt said. “I’m hoping to get a few more, actually. I joined a team recently, figured that what I was doing alone wasn’t exactly working for me, so I might as well try something different.” It was a massive step for him, all things considered, and it was yet more proof of how desperately he was trying to make amends - though the words that would surely help the situation weren’t coming out quite as easily. “Public support in cases like this is always beneficial,” Matt said. “Considering it would make me prosecuting him a little more difficult, I can’t ask you to be on his side, but if he’s innocent…” Matt trailed off, sure that Karen could fill in the blanks.
“Speeds up the healing process, at least. I learned how to do it about twenty years ago, give or take.” Maybe twenty-five, though when Matt thought back on his first lessons it definitely felt as if it was closer than that. Matt didn’t wince at Karen’s tone, knowing that he deserved every bit of her anger, and more than she would ever give to him. “I couldn’t think of something to tell you that wouldn’t reveal what I was doing,” he admitted, “and I know the truth was an option, it should’ve been my first option, but I…” Matt took a breath. “I wanted someone who liked me as the person my dad wanted me to be, you know? No violence. No hatred. No ninjas breaking into his house to kill him. And you liked me. You liked that Matt Murdock. And I liked you, a lot. I couldn’t come up with the explanation, and so I just left it. Figured that you were better off without me, same as Foggy.” Matt nodded, swallowing thickly, but strangely, things felt a lot lighter now that he had told the truth. Stick had always painted it as something to be avoided, that secrecy was safer, but Matt knew now that wasn’t the case. “I’d like to try to rebuild,” Matt said, voice soft, “if that would be something you’re interested in.”
Since Karen left Fagan Corners, she had been searching for family to some extent. The second she had chosen to pursue leads explaining Kevin’s rather than mourn Kevin alongside her parents, she had forfeited any relationship with the Page’s. It hadn’t been her intention, she simply wanted to understand what had truly happened to her brother, but her parents hadn’t seen it that way. She had hurt them, and while it was unintentional, her mother informed her, ‘We shouldn’t have had to mourn two children.’ They were right, of course, but Karen would have liked to be supported, too. The Page’s hadn’t known their son remotely, they didn’t realize that Kevin would never be driving down the highway during school, speeding, on his own without cause. Ironically, Matt and Foggy didn’t truly know Karen either. They never asked her for personal details, they paid little attention to what her passions or interests were. They had made the mistake of creating a woman in their mind, and while they loved her, Karen wasn’t sure it was unconditionally. Thus far, no one was capable of that kind of love where she was concerned. Idly, she wondered whether that reflected poorly on her.
If Karen were being entirely honest, she hadn’t loved the man that Matt genuinely was either. To be fair, that was due to the fact that he had hidden one of the largest, most important parts of himself. Karen liked to believe that if she had the honour of truly knowing who he was, she would have fallen for him just the same. After the way Matt had behaved, lying to her and making her feel inadequate — Karen hadn’t stood for the latter long — she would never fall in love with any version of Matt. Their friendship could be repaired, Karen had to believe that because she still cared deeply for him, but their romance was no longer alive. “That sounds awful, Matt,” Karen said with a laugh. “How are you working there?” When he mentioned joining a team, Karen’s eyebrows rose. “You joined a team? What team?” Honestly, she had never expected Daredevil to ever join a team. “Do you like it?” Karen was asking too many questions, but she couldn’t deny that she was relieved Matt was doing something safer than working solo. “I’ll wait until there’s concrete evidence one way or the other,” Karen replied. “I’ll do some digging, too.”
It still sounded unbelievable that Matt could genuinely speed up his healing process, but Karen had learned to expect the unexpected. “That sounds very important,” she said. “You need that kind of help… especially with your night job.” Daredevil was dangerous, and while Karen’s relationship was strained with Matt, she worried about him constantly. He easily took her anger, and strangely, that only made Karen feel vindicated. It didn’t change her anger, didn’t lessen it, but she was relieved Matt didn’t try to justify his actions. “You don’t have the right to choose what’s best for me. Only I’m capable of that, and if I happen to choose something wrong or difficult, that’s still within my right. I would have supported you and I would have helped your secret — like I’m doing now.” The idea of someone making choices for Karen had always endlessly irritated her, and now was no different. She had been independent for years, since her parents asked her to leave, and while Matt wasn’t aware of that, it more than proved how capable she was of ensuring her own safety. (Although Karen often forsook her own wellbeing.) “Rebuild what, exactly?” She asked, her voice no longer venomous. “Our friendship or…?” She asked, leaving her sentence hanging.
Moon Knight was someone that Karen trusted. In theory, she was a relatively trusting woman, she knew. She believed that people had the best intentions, that they would help her if given the opportunity, and at times, that very belief had lead her into perilous positions. After her discussion with Marc, revealing that his… god wanted to help her, Karen had come to think about Marc as an ally in her investigation into President Doom. Admittedly, her results had been limited. She couldn’t publish an article about how strange it was for a president to have no paper trail, no proof of a campaign, but after the list was revealed, Karen’s suspicions only increased. Everything Victor von Doom seemed calculated and as a result, Karen needed to become unrelenting.
It was dusk when she arrived a few blocks away from the Empire State Building, Doom’s acting office, and that had been a conscious choice. She wasn’t confident that Moon Knight would help her with an investigation as danger as the one Karen was about to begin, but she could ask, and if things went terribly wrong, a vigilante would know the truth about her disappearance. Ultimately, it was the safest decision, although coming from Karen, a woman with little concern about her safety on the pursuit of transparency, ‘safe’ meant little. Her gun was tucked into her pants, unloaded for the time being, and she had her phone recording in preparation. It was the best arsenal she had. When she saw Moon Knight approach, Karen took a step forward and offered him a smile. “Thanks for meeting me,” she said. “I was hoping I could convince you to help me with something. I want to search Doom’s home,” she admitted. “He doesn’t always stay in the Empire State Building. “He sometimes stays at the Langham Hotel, we can start there. What do you say?” Before Marc could answer, she added, “I want proof that always planned on leaking the list.” After President Doom repeatedly promised he would not reveal the names, it was a mighty claim to make.
“I’ve spent a lot of time in space, so the amount I know about laser guns would actually probably shock you.” He grins, shrugs his shoulders again. “Unfortunately I couldn’t tell you if Doom has any. My gut feeling says he’s more of a–magic, kind of guy, if anything. Like Doctor Strange or the Scarlet Witch–bending the laws of the universe in some way.” He’s never cared much for that kind of thing, not that he’s ever been good at science and logic and all of that, or ever felt particularly adherent to it, but he’s spent enough time in space that he’s come to appreciate the solid rules that this universe and most universes are bound to. The planets and the stars have to stay constantly in motion, he had to die in the Cancerverse so that the universe could continue to have death–he can handle that. Where magic is concerned, that isn’t necessarily the case, and it makes him uneasy.
He nods as she explains her approach to journalism, and honestly it’s akin to a breath of fresh air in comparison to the borderline propaganda that they’re being fed through the mainstream media. Truth and facts are hard to come by currently, and he’s grateful that there are apparently still individuals who value them and seek after them–especially people who lack superpowers. “Maybe I can help you fill in some of the blanks, if you have a second. I’m a member of the Nova Corps, an intergalactic militia force–I might know something useful?” He’s been careful about who he choses to collaborate with, not wanting to tie himself or the Corps to anything or anyone who could force his hand in terms of registration or listing, or –Sue Storm was a brilliant astrophysicist and an incredibly thoughtful and honest individual, throwing in with the Fantastic Four (but mostly her) had been a no-brainer, and Karen seems like the perfect person to be free and giving of information with. Someone who will use it in the pursuit of good and truth.
“I could buy you a cup of coffee and we could talk?”
“Please, tell me more about the laser guns,” Karen said with a faint smile. She wasn’t sure how she had learned to react normally to the words ‘I’ve spent a lot of time in space,’ but New York was absolutely insane. They were allegedly lost in space, she supposed she had learned to adapt. “I don’t think I like the sound of that,” Karen replied slowly. She knew very little about magic, and truthfully, very little about the general superhero world. Her experience with Daredevil was limited and Frank was far from an Avenger. However, Karen was a logical woman, and logic made it obvious that dangerous people with that kind of power would prove to be lethal. “You said you spent a lot of time in space and you know about magic… is that just coincidence, Rich?” She asked delicately, knowing how personal her question was. Matt had chosen to hide his identity from Karen for a ver long time, it was inevitable that other heroes felt similarly, assuming this man was not merely an astronaut.
In Karen’s experience, powerful people, assuming they weren’t corrupt, always responded kindly to her personal brand of journalism. It was how she had formed a friendship with the King of Wakanda, and judging by this man’s title, member of the Nova Corps, Rich was well respected as well. His offer was kind, she immediately smiled upon hearing it and Karen nodded. “That would be amazing, thank you,” she said gratefully. The story was one she felt passionately about and New York was in dire need of some honesty. “I would love that,” she agreed.
Once they were seated inside a quaint coffee shop (by New York’s standards) with cups of coffees warming their hands, Karen looked at Rich for a moment, studying him. “Before we get into the grisly isolation stuff, I was wondering if you could tell me how you ended up in the Nova Corps. Off the record, I promise,” Karen asked curiously.
At the time, it felt as if the only thing that Matt could do was shroud the grand majority of his life in lies and secrecy, and hope to God that by the time the danger passed, everyone would understand why he had done it. Of course, that turned out not to be the case. When Foggy first discovered that Matt was Daredevil, he had not been relieved. He had not been thankful for the fact that Matt had shielded him from danger, not grateful that his ignorance to Matt’s nighttime activities meant that ninjas weren’t going to kill him in his sleep. He had been angry, he had felt betrayed, and Matt understood that, but that didn’t mean he necessarily regretted trying to protect his family as best as he could. He knew what it felt like to live a life where he knew what his father was doing every night. Jack would come back with bloody, bruised knuckles, a new wound for Matt to stitch, and his hands would be shaking until he downed another bottle of booze that they could barely afford. Matt knew what his father was. All the love in the world couldn’t change that, and he didn’t want that for his friends. He didn’t want that for Karen. Telling her the truth, though, turned out to be something she would have appreciated monumentally more, and as the months had progressed, he began to realise that more and more.
True to form, by the time Matt figured it was time to tell her the truth, it was too late. Lying was his default, secrecy was where it was safe, and when he tried to change that, things went to hell in a handbasket, preventing him from doing so. Now, though, they were trapped in this city. They had a chance. Matt had a chance to tell her what he had done wrong, not because she didn’t know, but because he wanted her to know he did. “Under a lot of stress,” he said. “Yeah, we’ve been friends for years. Vigilantism in New York is kind of a niche market.” Then Peter went and became an Avenger, but their relationship hadn’t changed. “That’s what I’m attempting. Of course, being free to choose where they go themselves is the preferable option, but I could put Xavier’s into the sentence if it came down to that. The kid needs assistance, not condemnation.”
Matt took a breath. “Yeah. Yeah, I’m dealing with them. Meditation heals them.” He couldn’t tell if it was concern in Karen’s voice, or disbelief at everything he was saying. Which hurt more, he coudn’t be sure of either. “I don’t really know where to start,” he admitted, “but what you walked in on - with Elektra - it wasn’t what you thought. We weren’t together. I never would have done that, you were … you were important to me. You still are. I brought her back to my place because she was bleeding out. The old man that you saw, that was Stick. He taught me how to do – the things that I do.” Of all the lies he had told, that misunderstanding was the one that had weighed on him so significantly. “We were fighting an ancient enemy called the Hand. They – they’re complicated. Dangerous. Don’t care who they hurt. I thought I was protecting you. I honestly did. That – I know that’s no excuse.”
Losing Matt and Foggy — briefly in Foggy’s case — had been devastating for Karen. She had journalism to throw herself into and to protect herself from the sting of the loss, she had thrown herself into it, researching countless articles and successfully making a name for herself in the process. Journalism was a profession she had always wanted to thrive in, but without a degree or the money for education, it had always been unattainable. In the end, Karen had doubted herself pointlessly, and while she was living what was technically her dream, she was lonely. The person who knew her best in the world was Frank, an endlessly complicated relationship, and she missed Matt. He had lied to her horrifically, allowed her to fall in love with half the person he was, and the betrayals he had committed was unfortunately a very long list. Karen was angry, she wasn’t sure she could ever entirely forgive him, but when you missed someone as fiercely as she missed Matt, Karen was willing to try. Unfortunately, trying was not a simple process. She still was unaware of the reason behind Matt’s decision to keep such integral parts of himself from Karen, nor did she know what his relationship with Elektra was, and those thoughts circled furiously in her mind, reminding Karen that Matt was never the person she had fallen in love with.
“I think everyone is under a lot of stress lately,” Karen said wryly. That was an understatement, New York City was completely isolated from Earth, and with no idea where in the galaxy they were — or even what dimension — Karen was unsure how to cope with the knowledge. Rather than fret, she had, true to form, thrown herself into the honest stories she was capable of telling, beginning with their mysterious president. “Do you have many superhero friends?” Karen asked hesitantly, unsure about what boundaries she had Matt had wordlessly developed. Trying to forge peace between them was difficult and the last thing she wanted to do was destroy what amicability they had formed during their recent, strained conversations. She cared about Matt after all and Karen always would. “That’s a smart move,” she agreed with a nod. “Can I help with your case at all?” Sometimes publicity changed a sentencing entirely.
“Meditation heals them?” Karen repeated, obviously shocked that Matt seemed to think that was a possibility. In a world as crazy as theirs, perhaps it was, but that didn’t make the claim sound believable. Matt was an incredible liar, perhaps he wanted to see how far — no, Matt Murdock was a good person, their circumstances were simply complicated and the hurt was deep. “So you let me think you were cheating on me rather than telling me the truth, thinking that was decent?” Karen countered, her tone sharp. She believed what Matt was claiming, but strangely, that didn’t make the situation any better. He may not have cheated on her, but Matt had allowed her to feel terrible for months, thinking he had. “If I was important to you, I don’t think you would have behaved that way and let me doubt myself, my feelings and our friendship.” Perhaps not discussing what had happened between them would have helped their friendship blossom. “You can’t protect people by lying to them and hurting them,” Karen replied. “That only ruins everything you’ve built with them, but I think you realize that now.”
The entire situation surrounding the discovery of resources in the wasteland was still something that was weighing on Sue’s mind. She knew that it was a good thing, and ultimately it would have been inevitable considering how many of the most amazing scientists in the city were working on the issue, but it seemed as if it was extremely convenient timing. She was deeply suspicious of Doom - that was an easier way to refer to him, rather than Victor, rather than old friend - and it felt as if she had a good reason for that, but she couldn’t rationalise it. It was extremely irritating, but being with Karen and distracting herself with dinner was ultimately what she needed. “Thank God,” Sue muttered. “New York is never the happiest place on the world, but imagine it if there was a gin drought.” She imagined there would be monsters less terrifying. “Absolutely not,” she said. “They’ll probably use their notes as kindling for the fire. I don’t mind. We’ll get back on track once we return.” It wasn’t an if, it was a when, of that much Sue was sure. “They’re pretty amazing,” she admitted, “even if they’re standard.” She was insanely lucky to have her life, and she knew it. “If you ever want to call on me for a hand, you know where to find me. Now that the kids are off, I’m definitely going to need something to occupy my time. What better than helping you nail the bad guys to the wall, huh?”
“I don’t think I want to imagine a gin drought right now,” Karen admitted. New Yorkers were haughty at the best of times, but without liquor to calm their nerves, she envisioned it being absolutely horrific. There would be riots, paranoia, demands, and right now, they needed to be operating as a team in order to be free of their strange circumstances. Karen might not drink excessively herself, her reliance on alcohol was questionable and unhealthy, but not everyone had her vices. “Well, at least that leaves us with a little more usable paper,” she joked. Their resources and lack thereof was something that terrified Karen, she understood the direness of their situation, but she also understood that humour was necessary in situations like their own. “They’re definitely amazing,” Karen agreed with a smile. When Sue agreed to her offer, Karen was surprised. Her job required investigation, especially since she prided herself on honest journalism, but Sue would be taking a risk in helping her — especially against the President. “Are you sure you know what you’re offering?” She asked, worry evident in her tone.
Heroism was a part of some people.Frank had seen it every day in the Marines, seen soldiers with a chronic habit of helping the people around them. Back then, over in the desert, it never ended well. In places like Afghanistan, heroism got you killed. Sometimes, heroism got you killed in New York, too. Trish’s death was a painful reminder of that. Karen, she was just like them, just like all the bright-eyed, determined, heroic assholes he’d seen shot to hell in trenches, just like all the guys he’d seen bleed out into the sand. It fucking terrified him. She was so steadfast in her beliefs, so eager and determined to find the truth that she didn’t seem to mind the idea of dying for it. Frank, he was reckless because he had nothing to live for, but Karen? Karen’s recklessness was because her search for the truth was more important to her than her own goddamn life. Frank respected it, he respected her, but he was still terrified of losing her to it. Maybe that was selfish, but he’d always been a selfish man.
Still, he wasn’t here with some misguided idea of changing her, wasn’t here with hopes of making her something less than what she was. Karen had her truth, chased it down with determination and recklessness, and Frank had his vendetta. It was what made them who they were, and they both understood that. No, he was here for her, here for the same reason he asked to talk to her alone in that hospital room, the same reason he was so afraid of losing her. At his core, Frank was a thoughtless, selfish man. It would have been right to let her go, to let her live her life separate from him, but he couldn’t do it. He’d lost so much already, and he couldn’t imagine adding Karen to that list, not even if it meant she’d be better off.
“You’re welcome,” he replied, and the smile on his fact could only be described as soft. It was a smile that existed only for her, one that few people had ever seen. Frank was angry, he was cold, he was rough around the edges, but Karen made him forget all that. She made him something like the man he’d been a million years ago, and he clung to her for it. His smile widened a fragment at the question. “Lisa, uh, my little girl… She went through a phase where she’d only eat foods that were certain colors. Yeah, there was… There was nothing green. She liked it to be red. I’d make spaghetti, you know, with red sauce. Put carrots in the sauce and she loved it. The orange with the red, she liked that. Yeah. My boy, he was… He was too young to care much about colors. He liked, uh… Simple foods. The wife, she said it must’ve driven me crazy making macaroni and spaghetti when I used to make the real stuff for her, but… I never minded it. You know? I kinda liked it.” He snorted at Karen’s statement, nodding his head. “I don’t have much time for bullshit,” he told her. Murdock, he figured, had always made time for it, probably lied to Karen about everything from the girl helping him fight on the roof to the horned helmet he wore when the sun went down. She deserved a hell of a lot better than that. Frank sighed as she moved in closer. He rarely felt at ease anymore, but with Karen’s shoulder up against his, he felt close to it. Not calm, but not at war, either. “Wouldn’t be you if you weren’t making enemies of some kind,” he teased, though the confession did worry him a little. The demons didn’t seem to be killing anyone yet, but they’d start eventually. Things like that always did. “Really?” He knew Karen didn’t have much of a stomach for killing. It was surprising to hear that she was all right with what he did.
Growing up, Karen had never idolized superheroes like the other kids in Fagan Corners did. They were all amazed with people like Captain America and proudly claimed that they would grow up to become exactly like him. Karen, on the other hand, had never viewed Captain America as someone worth revering. After all, it was impossible to emulate someone that was a complete stranger, and frankly, Captain America was a creation rather than a person; America was clever for giving the people a figure to rally behind, someone brave and enigmatic. Still, Karen couldn’t help but see dishonesty in the man that the military had used to inspire Americans. That didn’t change his heroism, of course, or make him a bad man, but Karen preferred to believe that everyone had heroic traits. Every single individual was a superhero in their own capacity, every single person was worth rallying behind, armed with a just cause, and Karen was proud of her viewpoint. She liked to believe that her most heroic trait (not that she considered herself heroic) was her desire to find the truth even when it seemed impossible, Matt’s was obviously his willpower, Foggy’s was his loyalty and Linda who worked at the coffee shop across the street from her home was her thoughtfulness. Every single person had a heroic trait, even those that were feared.
Frank Castle’s most heroic trait was his unconditional love. Karen had never met a man who fought so fiercely for the people that he loved — unfortunately, in his case, those people had been lost. The people that viewed the Punisher as someone invulnerable was incorrect in their assessment, Frank Castle had become outwardly cold, but his emotions were intense and all consuming. The vendetta may have consumed him, but Karen was lucky and saw many more sides of Frank Castle, and all of them made her all the more positive that above all, Frank was chasing after the love that he had lost. It humanized him in ways Karen could hardly fathom.
Frank’s smile was a rare sight and Karen felt honoured that she’d earned a genuinely content expression from him. Frank deserved more than pain and Karen would go to every single length in order to remind him of it. “She sounds like she was spoiled,” Karen replied fondly. “But if she liked it, I’m very happy it that she got it. Of course you didn’t mind it, you were providing for the people you loved.” To Karen, it made perfect sense that Frank had strove to make his kids happy, complying with their picky palates. She had never intended to be a parent, but she had loved Kevin enough to do similarly if it were required. “I’ll have to get you to cook something for me soon,” she said with a smile. Karen believed that Frank would never lie to her, he was an honest man, too haunted to bother with lies, though she doubted Frank would be prone to lying under any circumstances. “You’d be surprised how many busy people find the time,” she said bitterly. Matt in particular had always lied to her, and while Karen had no doubt that she had loved him, moving on from Matt was easy as a result. As Frank sighed, Karen glanced over at him and smiled, pleased that he seemed to enjoy their close proximity. “I don’t think I know how to only make friends anymore,” she said quietly. It was a sad truth, but one Karen was slowly growing accustomed to. “It keeps you alive,” she replied simply. “I don’t want to lose you.”
After he started out on his quest for vengeance, it hadn’t taken long for Frank to make a name for himself. It hadn’t taken long for the police to realize that it wasn’t an army taking out the gangs in Hell’s Kitchen, hadn’t taken them long to learn that it was a single man. They hadn’t known his reason then, hadn’t known what drove him to do what he did. They hadn’t even known his name. That was how he’d gotten stuck with the Punisher bullshit, how he’d gotten pegged with some goddamn vigilante moniker he’d never wanted. Back then, pretty much everyone had been afraid of him. It didn’t change when he was caught, didn’t go away when he was a man beaten half to death and handcuffed to a hospital bed. The nurses had been skittish every time they came into his room, the doctors had stayed a good three feet away from his bed unless they actually needed something from him, the guard stationed outside his door always had one finger on the trigger. Everyone who came into that room was afraid of Frank except Karen. Karen, she’d been inside his house. She’d seen what made him who he was, looked through his things to understand what he’d lost. She’d spoken to him like a person, like he was a human being instead of a caged animal. Frank never quite knew how to react to that, didn’t know how to feel anything but grateful. It was the first thing other than anger that he’d felt in such a long time that he almost didn’t know how to handle it.
He was still grateful now, still thinking of how much he owed her. Murdock was the one who dragged him out of the Irish’s hideout, the one who’d called an ambulance for him and refused to let him bleed out in that graveyard, but Karen was the person who’d saved him. She was the first one who’d ever seen Frank Castle through the Punisher, and that was exactly why he couldn’t kiss her now. He owed her too much to drag her down with him, no matter how much he wanted to. Karen deserved the world, and Frank was too broken to give it to her. “No?” He repeated the word softly, mouth still forming around it when her lips touched his. A better man would have pulled away, would have let her go, but fuck, Frank didn’t know how. He leaned in to the kiss, putting a hand on her waist and holding her as close as he could. The first time he’d kissed Maria, it was like jumping in a pool on the first day of summer. Cold, heart-stopping, with that brief moment of terror dating back to prehistoric times, the fear you might drown. Karen, though… Karen was all heat, like smoke in his lungs. He couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think, couldn’t pull away. When she finally pulled back, he blinked, swallowing. “That was more than okay,” he said, a little breathlessly. She’d knocked the wind right out of him with it, he realized. "Did you… uh, did you mean that?” It was almost painful, offering her the out, but he knew it was the right thing to do. If she wanted to take it back, he’d let her. It’d kill him, but he’d let her.
Her smile was goddamn contagious, and Frank couldn’t help but let his widen at the sight of it. Karen had a way of doing that, a talent for making him smile no matter how heavy the weight in his chest felt. “I think so,” he agreed, selfishly loving the idea of speaking to her more often, of hearing from her on a daily basis. What they had now was good, but it didn’t feel like enough. He wanted most with her, even knowing he didn’t deserve it. She didn’t speak as he talked about his dad, didn’t interrupt or say a word until he was finished. He looked up at her with the ghost of a smile on his face, raising a brow. “I think you’re just about the only person that thinks that,” he told her quietly. Frank knew he wasn’t a good man, and he’d made peace with it. When she spoke, he looked over, a little surprised at the confession. “I’m sorry,” he said gently, reaching down to take her hand carefully. After he woke up in the hospital with a row of tombstones instead of a family, he’d learned that there was a hell of a difference between pity and sympathy. Pity did little more than piss him off, and he knew Karen would feel similarly. “You figure it out? What happened to him?” It explained her need for the truth, explained why she chased it so adamantly. She needed the truth for her brother, for Frank’s family, for everyone who’d ever been forgotten by the people who were meant to look out for them. He snorted as she spoke again, shaking his head. “You got jokes, huh? You funny now?” There was a teasing lilt to his tone, something he seemed to save exclusively for Karen. “Those dogs smell all right, considering.” Not much he could do to wash them living in a warehouse, after all. “You think he just took over?” Frank’s brow furrowed at the possibility. “Who gave it to him? Who has that kind of power? And why didn’t anyone realize it?”
Truthfully, Karen had never entirely known what fuelled her to look deeper into the Punisher case. She had suspicions, but introspection was difficult, and the choices she made leading up to entering Frank’s home had been reckless. When she first negotiated to peek at his files, she risked angering the DA, affecting Foggy and Matt in the process. Unfortunately, that hadn’t gone well, and it definitely hadn’t been safe. After she witnessed the sheer injustice that she had found regarding Frank’s injuries and broke into his home, she wasn’t entirely sure what kind of man the Punisher was, although he had spared her life. Perhaps what fuelled her was as simple as that: finding justice, seeking the truth, but Karen understood herself far better than to completely believe that. Karen’s motives were honourable, but only to an extent. Frank losing his family and battling for answers and ensuring no one else lost what he had reminded her of herself years ago, chasing every single lead in Kevin’s death that she possibly could. His obsession mirrored her own, albeit far more violently, and the recognition had helped Karen defy the odds and fight for Frank Castle when no one else would. He was human, he deserved sympathy if no one was capable of empathy.
Loss and obsession were dangerous things to bond over, but rather fuel each other’s unhealthiness, Karen and Frank supported each other. They realized who the other person was beneath their disguises and guards and they were battling the odds, attempting to find justice that no longer existed in either of their circumstances. The law ignored Karen’s case entirely and corruption had disgustingly been eradicated the evidence in Frank’s case. Together, they could find peace, Karen hoped, although she was more than aware that Frank would most likely never settle. Where Karen had every intention of working through the trauma she had repressed, Frank seemed determined to remember his family indefinitely. It was lonely, it was heartbreaking, but Karen rarely felt so intensely about someone — especially someone honest and respectful — and she had every intention of being with him if possible, regardless of how short their relationship would be. When Frank kissed her back, Karen wasn’t at all surprised. Their feelings were obviously mutual, neither had bothered disguising it, and kissing Frank reminded Karen of life outside her pursuit for truth. Her mind had been so consumed with finding answers about the Castle, about President Doom, and about Kevin that she had never once considered the connections she was missing out on. It was breathless, it was wonderful, and in the end, it would only lead to loneliness. She cared for a man that would never surrender memories of the family he had lost. “Good,” Karen replied, ignoring her doubts. “I meant that and before you try to inform me it’s a terrible idea, I already know and I don’t care.” Strangely, her words reminded her of Matt when he had warned her. Frank most likely wouldn’t, he understood that Karen made her own choices, thank god. “If you had any intention of warning me, that is,” she added.
Frank wanting to hear from her on a daily basis was undeniably nice and Karen couldn’t help but enjoy the knowledge. He was aloof, difficult to justify contacting often, but if Frank wanted it, Karen could easily comply. “I’ll text you tomorrow morning then,” she replied. Idly, Karen wondered how their relationship would change the more they spoke, the closer they got, even though it was impossible. Frank was legally dead and if he weren’t, he was a wanted fugitive. Anything that could possibly happen between them would have to remain hidden and that was a tragedy she would have to accept. “Thank god you don’t seem to care about many people’s opinions,” Karen replied seriously. Frank had made it clear that he cared very little for what other people thought, but that he did find Karen’s opinion important. She genuinely believed that he was a good man given a terrible hand, and the more she got to know Frank, the more that opinion solidified. When Frank took her hand, offering an apology, Karen silently squeezed his hand in reply. It wasn’t sympathy, but she had heard countless apologies in Fagan Corners and had no interest in them continuing. What Karen wanted was to discover why her brother had been killed and why law enforcement had never looked deeply enough to find evidence about how and who was behind it. Frank of all people would understand that. “No, I never could,” she admitted quietly, sounding pained. “All the leads I found went nowhere and eventually, the cops began talking to me. I still continued, but my parents had a mental breakdown and I agreed to stop. That’s when I moved here,” Karen explained. It was a difficult confession, she was a relentless woman, but it was the truth. Lying to Frank was never something she intended to do, though a lie would be much easier to say. “I’ve always been funny,” Karen replied with a snicker. Frank’s teasing was seemingly reserved solely for her and it was something she enjoyed. “You should bring them by here so I can bathe them properly,” Karen replied, obviously disagreeing with his claim. “I don’t know,” she admitted. “Maybe the government that’s in New York thought he was the only person capable?”
Hearing Karen’s voice was something that always cast Matt back in time. Often it was to the first night that they had met. He hadn’t been lying when he told her he thought about it often, even now, when they spoke mostly as acquaintances, perhaps if he was lucky as old friends. Sometimes, it was to the Christmases, Easters and Thanksgivings he had spent with her and Foggy, the shutter of the camera taking a photo for her to set on her desk, the smell of food heavy and comforting in the air. Family was something that Matt hadn’t really experienced before Karen and Foggy, and now, he was realising just how important they had been to him. Protecting New York was something that they had to understand was necessary, but of course, they knew nothing of the threats that he was facing at the time. Matt had sat across from Foggy in Josie’s and he had said that he had no idea where to begin, and Foggy had said, ‘Just begin, Matt.’ Now, he figured it was the same thing all over again. Just find a truth, one piece of it, and start there. There was never going to be a perfect time to explain, but he had to do it soon, he had been putting it off far too long.
“My boss will literally explode if I lose this case. Spidey agreed to look over the Kitchen for a few nights until I get caught up,” he explained. “Thanks for the faith. An eighteen year old kid set off some explosions in a soccer field. No devices were found, so the state thinks he might have been a mutant. I don’t want to prosecute him for something he couldn’t control.” Matt’s abilities were good in that regard, in that he couldn’t hurt anyone but himself through their use. “Only a little. Bruising, mostly.” Karen had been through so much since Matt had first met her, it was no surprise that she preferred to be out rather than spending her nights at home. “Yeah,” Matt said softly. “I get that.” He paused for only a moment, shuffling on his feet. “I know this probably isn’t the time or place, but I guess there isn’t really a good version of either of those to do this.” Not a great start. He got paid to talk for a living! “I never told you the whole story of what happened a year back. Never really told you anything about it, actually. I was wondering if you wanted to talk about it.” Matt swallowed thickly. “Or if you want to leave it, I understand.”
Understandably, Karen worried about Matt often. Daredevil wasn’t the most careful vigilante she had witnessed, he was frequently beaten and bruised, and that was only what Karen had seen in a professional environment. She couldn’t imagine what Matt looked like outside of work, all the scrapes, the horrific, half-healed injuries. That had been before the demons took to the streets, Karen had personally witnessed Matt pursuing the monsters, prepared to defend her and the public from their reign of terror. Daredevil obviously was well trained, but sometimes, working alone, it didn’t matter how many years of experience you had. Outnumbered and overwhelmed, people died, and Karen had personally experienced crippling loss. Matt was no longer the man she was in love with, that had changed the moment she discovered he had lied to her for seemingly no good reason, but Karen would always love Matt as she loved family. He and Foggy had given her a place to belong when Karen had no one else.
“Your boss sounds like a real winner,” Karen commented. “That’s nice of Spider-Man though, I didn’t know the two of you were friends.” Granted, Karen seemingly knew next to nothing about Matt. The more she spoke to him, especially after the grand secret reveal, the more Karen realized that. It broke her heart every single time without failure, but eventually, Karen would learn how to cope with the revelation. She had no other choice, and luckily, she was very adaptable. “No, it’s been proven that mutant powers are emotionally charged. Couldn’t you shift the sentence? Instead of prison, send the kid somewhere they could be helped?” Some judges were responsive to sentences like that, depending on the circumstances. A mutant did not belong in prison. “Are you taking care of the bruises properly?” Karen asked, not believing that it was solely bruising. Matt hadn’t proven to be honest in the past, she had no reason to trust what he was claiming now. “Not a big deal,” she said, shrugging a shoulder. Karen spent very little time at home, always remembering the dead bodies, her murder, the attempted murder… she was surrounded by violence. When Matt started, Karen remained quietly, levelling her gaze at him. She was not a foolish woman, she understood what was coming next. “You know I value honesty about everything else,” Karen said. Matt should have known the answer when he was offering truth. “So tell me everything you’re willing.”
He should’ve known better. Should’ve guessed. His last night with Karen had been way too normal. They’d actually found the time to have a drink at Josie’s, like it used to be – and he should’ve known. The world did not give away those moments of normalcy without extracting a high price. He didn’t realize he was paying – had been paying it, apparently, for some time.
It took him a few days to process what Frank told him. (And that it had been Frank to tell him. Since he was not, in fact, dead.) But finally, he found himself outside Karen’s apartment, banging on the door until she answered, looking bewildered. “Ran into an old friend of ours,” he announced, walking inside. “Well, not friend. Client. But you know, instead of the usual pleasantries and small talk, we had to talk about why he’s not dead,” he said pointedly. “And how you knew about it.”
After everything that Karen had survived recently, when someone was frantically banging on her door, she was understandably confused and panicked. Her safety had been an issue on numerous occasions and whilst she highly doubted that anyone attempting to murder her would knock, Karen clasped her gun in her hand and hid it behind her back when she went to answer the door, heart pounding. When she saw that it was Foggy through the peephole, she breathed a sigh of relief and concealed the gun in her pants, hidden beneath her shirt. Foggy would never hurt her, but he was most likely angry at her and that was hardly ideal. Opening the door, Karen prepared herself for his line of questioning, unsure what it was about.
When Foggy announced that it was about a ‘friend’ of theirs, Karen’s brow furrowed and she locked the door behind Foggy. He continued, and suddenly, Karen understood what Foggy’s visit was really about. “I didn’t know that you wanted to know what happened to Frank,” Karen said honestly. She had been protecting Frank’s privacy and Foggy’s moral code, though she understood why he was angry. They had both been burned by secrets. “The two of you weren’t… close,” she said slowly. “How did catching up go?”
With the school year drawing to a close and the school boards unable to put exams on without invigilators arriving from outside the city, Sue’s job was currently null and void, at least in regards to her teaching career. Getting off for the summer was typically something that she looked forward to, knowing that the days and weeks would fill up almost immediately with potential research projects, new books to read or missions with the Fantastic Four (the heat made everyone monumentally more irritated, and super villains were not exempt from that). Now that the summer was indefinite, Sue was less enthused, but at least the team had provided her with enough to keep her busy, and she had some time leftover to spend with her friends.
“I’ll go for the sweet potato variant,” Sue said, scanning down through the menu. Food was something that they had been worrying about only a few weeks ago, and now it seemed as if Doom had solved that issue as well. Sue wondered why she still felt so sceptical to the whole situation, all things considered. “Gin has really taken off, hasn’t it? Johnny brought back some pink gin last week, and I swear, I thought it was strawberries.” She was always cautious about drink, preferring to avoid it entirely where she could considering her father, but that didn’t mean she didn’t have a few now and again. “The schools have gotten off for the summer, so I’m just trying to think of a way to keep my students interested in studying until we can get back to earth and do the exams.” Sue laughed, shaking her head. “Missions have mostly been Mole Man or demons, and the dates I’ve been in are too terrible to speak of. What about you? Any interesting stories, or someone you want to tell me about?” Sue wiggled her eyebrows at her friend, lifting her drink to her lips when the bartender pushed it across.
“Good choice,” Karen said approvingly. “We can always share,” she added, having every intention of snagging a few sweet potato fries. Food had been found in the wasteland, same with potential farmland, but that didn’t necessarily ensure that they would be able to successfully keep New York fed. Karen intended to indulge while it was certain that she could. “Gin is really popular right now. There’s lots of distilleries in the city, that could be why.” They never had to import that, thank god, and that meant that the population could continue drinking. Karen was always wary of ingesting too much alcohol, not because of her tolerance, but because of her dependence, but she did want to witness angry, sober New Yorkers. “Do you think any of them really will?” Karen asked, mildly amused by the idea of teenagers willingly studying. It sounded completely unreal, even to Karen whom had been a good student once upon a time, let alone young adults. “Those are still good missions!” She replied, meaning every word. The Fantastic Four were continuing their jobs, that was incredible. “Sorry about the dates though. Stories are all a work in progress, it’s hard to find evidence, people are good at hiding. No one to speak of,” she lied, trying to remain casual about Frank. Mentioning her feelings for a man technically dead and a serial killer was problematic. “You can always help me find evidence. Invisibility is good for stealth,” Karen said with a smile.
“LIFE before Moon Knight was–complicated. My mind was fractured well before I ever stepped foot into the temple of Khonshu, but at least now I have–purpose.” Sometimes it feels like Khonshu is the transparent thread holding the disparate pieces of his mind together, other times it feels like he’s forcing his way in between the pieces until the only part of Marc’s mind left is the Moon Knight. “Before that I was just, taking contracts because violence was the only thing I was really good at, that kept me together. That’s how I found the temple in the first place, I was doing private security. So, I’ve never really been good at safety.” He smiles warmly and chuckles, shakes his head. “And I definitely don’t think you really believe that–there are plenty of people who want to do you harm, and yet here you are, still hunting down something.”
He wonders what exactly that is–Marc is no stranger to the truth being complicated, but this is something new even for him–it feels somehow further away than ever before, hidden behind a thousand doors or something. Even Khonshu feels like he’s approaching things hesitantly, like he’s trying to sort things through in live time through Marc’s eyes, which makes him feel like he’s–further away too. “Sometimes, he’s the god of the moon, vengeance, and those who travel at night. He must really think you’re onto something.”
“I don’t remember either,” He says slowly, narrows his eyes in thought. “I don’t really pay attention to things like that, but I feel like that’s something–I would have paid attention to? That Khonshu would have had me do something about or keep an eye on.” He worries his bottom lip between his teeth, tries to ask Khonshu about it in his head, but the god is silent. “Can I help in any way?”
“How was your mind fractured?” Karen asked, unable to help her own curiosity. She had never been good at refraining from questioning things, she had always been a curious woman, seeking out the truth. Her desperation to find honesty within every person stemmed from the lack of closure on her brother’s death, Karen had and always would believe that foul play was involved, but without evidence, she would always look for clues elsewhere. “You use violence for good now,” she pointed out honestly. “Without vigilantes, people like you, a lot of New York wouldn’t be alive right now.” Between gangs, Skrulls and demons, Karen couldn’t imagine what civilians would remain standing without brave people like Moon Knight. Everyone was a hero in their own sense of the word, but not everyone was capable of fighting at that level. “I’ve never claimed to be safe myself,” she pointed out. Honestly, Karen had abandoned her sense of self-preservation a long time ago.
Knowing that an alleged God supported Karen’s search was a little overwhelming. Despite being thrusted into the world of superheroes and magic, she had never been a big believer in gods. Maybe that would change if she met a sorcerer like Doctor Strange or Scarlet Witch, but Karen highly doubted that. It was very complicated evolution and science, but Marc was a believer, and if he was complimenting her that way, Karen intended to be grateful. “Well, tell him thank you for me,” she replied with a small smile. “Let him know that I’m always willing to have your company, too.” With demons on the hunt for her, it was comforting.
“No one does,” Karen said quietly. The President had suddenly be thrusted into his position of power, a terrifying concept, with no campaign trail or memorable vote. “I think you’d pay attention to it, too, especially with a guy like Doom. He’s charming, but he’s… too smart,” she said slowly. “Not authentic, right?” Doom was complicated man to describe. At Marc’s question, Karen paused. Knowing that she needed all the help she could get, she nodded slowly. “I think I could use someone else watching my back. Maybe you could ask some heroes, too? I’m sure you know some people with information, way more than me.”
In a world full of men like J. Jonah Jameson, journalists like Karen Page were an underutilized resource. Honesty was rare in newspapers, and the fact that Karen never strayed from it earned her T’Challa’s utmost respect. Most people, he knew, would have run falsities about him and slept fine at night, unbothered by what they had done, but not Karen. It was why he was proud to call her a friend. “You do a good job of it,” he told her fondly. “Imani and I are in agreement on that.” They were in agreement on most things; Imani, too, was respectable woman. “Apparently, many of the diplomats who come through the embassy are far too bland for her tastes.” It was an understandable complaint; compared to the bright colors and patterns of Wakandan style trends, the dull suits worn by most diplomats in New York left something to be desired. “They do. I believe they come to me more for the Panther than the king. Not many heroes in this city have identities as public as mine.” T’Challa’s identity had been secret only briefly, and he didn’t regret publicizing it in the slightest. “They offered two-thousand American dollars for an ancient Wakandan artifact,” he told her, shaking his head as if relaying a tragic tale. “I told them it was not for sale. They are lucky I was trained in diplomacy, otherwise I would not have been polite.” Smiling as she accepted his offer, he offered his arm. “Many mistake politeness for romance, I think. It seems to be an American thing, though I’ve faced similar issues with those from other nations as well. Perhaps it’s an issue unique to me.” His brows raised as she went on, and she nodded in understanding. “They are lucky, then. I’m afraid my interests also lie elsewhere. Can I ask about the person you’re interested in?” He had a bad habit of gossiping, Shuri always said. There was no sense denying it. “Anywhere you choose. Affordability is hardly an issue.”
“Thank you,” Karen replied with a smile. Being complimented by a king was rare, she appreciated all of T’Challa’s kind words, knowing that they were the utmost truth. Like her, T’Challa never seemed willing to lie. “Please thank her for me as well,” she added, her smile widening. Imani was an incredible woman, one of the many reasons Karen always enjoyed spending time with T’Challa. “Well, I can’t imagine the kind of diplomats that come through here. Not many of them are exactly… um, exciting,” she said, hoping to sound gentle despite technically insulting politicians. She rarely worked with any of them, knowing how deceitful they were, but T’Challa was different in many ways. “Do you help them at all?” She asked curiously. Heroes were typically always willing to aid the public however possible, but depending on their problems, Karen imagined that offering help wasn’t always easy. Without knowing many heroes with public identities, she had never had the opportunity to ask. “Are you serious?” She asked, sounding as shocked as she felt. The disrespect was absolutely insane, but Karen wasn’t surprised by it unfortunately. “I’m sorry that happened. I don’t think they deserved politeness, but you’re much better than them.” That, of course, went without saying. Accepting T’Challa’s arm, she allowed him to lead her towards whatever restaurant he had in mind. It was better than anywhere Karen had ever been, she was sure, having always struggled with money. “I don’t think any American is used to someone polite and chivalrous. Our standards are very low, T’Challa,” Karen said with a laugh. “Or everyone is hopeful for a date with you,” she added thoughtfully. “The person I’m interested in is honest and he’s taken time getting to know me. Not many people have,” Karen said. “Who are you interested in, if you don’t mind my asking?” At T’Challa’s response, Karen suggested, “Take me to your favourite place. I usually go to very… um, affordable places.”
Rich likes to think he’s spent enough time in the guts of the universe, with his hands in the things that make entire planets and cosmic events tick, that he understands a few fundamental tenants of how things work. Things don’t suddenly appear, even when it seems like they do–either they’ve always been there or someone has made them appear, and he’s not really crazy about either option in this case–for all he knows his sudden resurrection means that the fault keeping the Cancerverse at bay is open again, and it could be leaking into this world–Doom could be an alternate Cancerverse version of himself in disguise, it wouldn’t be the weirdest thing he’s ever seen. He can feel the Worldmind hum inside of him, waiting for Rich to give it some kind of command–when he realizes the broadcast has come to an end and he’s now staring at a black screen.
A woman starts speaking to him, and hard to process feels like an incredible understatement in regards to what just happened. “Something tells me the truth is somewhere under lock and key and laser guns.” He chuckles, shrugs his shoulders and shoves his hands into the pockets of his jeans. “If it even exists in some tangible form at all, the best way to keep a secret is to never tell anyone. Not even the people closest to you.” She says that she’s been writing a story about all of this and his curiosity is piqued–it’s hard to find objective journalism buried under the avalanche of screaming that is Jameson every damn day in some way or another. “Richard Rider. You’re a journalist then? And not at the Daily Bugle? I already wanna read your story then, however incomplete.”
Karen had never been picky about the connections she made in New York. As a journalist, she could hardly be picky with her sources, and the more people she knew, the more honest recollections of events she could get. That being said, someone who actually seemed aware of how absolutely strange things were was rare, especially in a crowd filled with civilians. They believed everything Doom said blindly — at least externally — and while Karen was unwilling to criticize anyone for hope, she was worried about how New Yorkers trusted Doom and demanded that heroes began listing in order to better aid their President. Unfortunately, without a story to run, Karen couldn’t write her very non-objective opinion.
“I would be willing to bet that you’re right about that,” she said with a sigh. “On a lighter note, do you know anything about laser guns? I could run a story about those while I collect information about more relevant ones.” Her voice was light, teasing, but it wasn’t a terrible idea! Ellison wouldn’t love it, it was far from what Karen usually wrote, but they needed something to run. “I will take that to heart,” she vowed, touching her hand to her chest. Richard Rider wasn’t a name that Karen recognized, but he seemed like an intelligent man, and honestly, his interest and humour was enough for Karen to decide this was a worthwhile conversation — not that she was choosy. “I’m a journalist at the New York Bulletin. I can only speak for myself, but we focus on honest, hard hitting journalism. We won’t run anything without creditable sources, and a lot of them.” She smiled at his statement and nodded, “Once it’s done, I’d be happy to let you read it. Right now I’m in the evidence phase… incomplete is an understatement, isn’t it?”
There were a lot of people around New York who clung to the title of hero, who claimed it regardless of whether or not it was one they deserved. Murdock was one of them, pretending Daredevil was something vital to the safety of Hell’s Kitchen rather than a half-measure that could never manage to get the job done. The Avengers, too, always managed to quit before that final blow, only used lethal force when the foe they fought against was one that came from outer space or another dimension. As far as Frank was concerned, none of them fit the term, none of them earned it. He didn’t either, of course. Frank wouldn’t call himself anything resembling a hero, wouldn’t call doing what needed to be done valiant of brave. No, the real heroes of New York were the people like Karen. Far as he was concerned, she was the biggest hero of them all. She fought hard for the truth, never let anything stand in her way. It was terrifying sometimes, more to the people who cared about her than to Karen herself, but it was damn heroic, too.
Pain had never bothered Frank much, and that was as much a help as it was a hindrance. When Frank got angry enough, when he saw red, no amount of injuries could stop him from getting what he was after, and that wasn’t always a good thing. Pain existed as a warning sign, a way for you body to tell your brain that whatever you were doing was causing damage. Without it, there was no limit to the damage you could cause, no way to stop yourself from making it too much. After his family died, the bullet Frank took to the head only resulted in a higher pain tolerance, to the point that he could be half dead and still fighting. He’d lost the people who cared enough to tell him when to slow down when Maria and the kids died, too, making it even harder to react normally to pain. Karen gave him some of that back, made him a little more aware of the effect it’d have on her if he got in too deep. Maybe it wasn’t enough to stop him completely – nothing was – but it was enough to make him think, at least. That was something. “Yeah? You do, too.” She always did, of course. It was far easier for Karen to look great than it was for Frank. He had less to work with, he figured. Spending most of his time covered in blood – both his own and other people’s – probably didn’t help matters much, either. “I do, actually. Yeah, Maria used to be… I mean, she was awful at it. Instant pasta on the stove, that was the extent of her ability. I picked up the slack.” It was rare for him to talk about his family like this, but when he did it, it was usually around Karen. She had a way of bringing it out of him, a way of making him comfortable with it. Maybe it was just the fact that, most days, she was the only one willing to listen. “Never been much of a bullshitter,” he admitted with a shrug. It was largely true. Even before he’d lost his family, Frank had been an honest man. Maybe he wasn’t much of anything else anymore, but he was still that. Instinctively, Frank shifted closer to Karen as she sat down beside him, letting his legs brush against hers slightly. “I am happy to hear that. Yeah, my enemies… They’re not usually around long enough to try anything.” Most of the people Frank went up against died soon after, and since everyone in New York still figured he was dead, no one was coming after him for the crimes just yet.
As far as Karen was concerned, the term ‘hero’ was far too exclusive. The public had branded it as a way to describe groups like the Avengers and the Justice League, and while they were right, those superheroes were willing to risk their lives to keep civilians safe, everyday people deserved the title, too. Doctors saving lives were heroes, politicians who ensured that cruel, discriminatory bills never passed were heroes, and those that were willing to defend minority groups were heroes. Anyone that showed bravery on a regular basis was a hero. Karen, though biased, believed that term applied to Frank in a very unique sense. Frank’s methods were far from kind, he was brutal as he was thorough, but he was brave. Every night, despite the grief and pain he suffered from, Frank defended New York City from horrific criminals. Those he killed were always irredeemable, and while Karen had never condoned bloodshed, she understood Frank’s perspective and never denied that it had changed New York for the better. Hero was applicable to every brave person, every brave act, and the Punisher had both in spades.
With that in mind, Karen wondered whether it had taken Frank bravery in order to come to her apartment for dinner. In a sense, it was a date, and Frank hadn’t been on one since the death of his family and wife. Their relationship was unique, and while they were absolutely friends, Karen knew that Frank was a smart man. Whatever was between them was deeper than friendship, much more physical, and Karen was terrified. Frank had much more reason than her to be — he had lost everything — but for a moment, Karen was going to be concerned about her own perspective solely. Frank Castle was far from an apt romantic partner to choose, he was a serial killer by definition, and Frank was damaged. He had not recovered from his family’s brutal murder, nor did Karen expect him to, but that meant his vendetta would always come first. While Karen understood that, she knew she deserved better. This was risking her heart like she had done with Matt, and once again, Karen was choosing a man who would never be capable of putting her first. It required bravery to realize that, and it required bravery to accept that whatever she had with Frank would be very short lived and most likely painful.
“Thank you,” Karen replied with a faint smile. Frank rarely handed out compliments, she had every intention to appreciate them, just as she appreciated the effort Frank had put into his appearance. She had grown accustomed to seeing him covered in blood, it was a nice change. She never lost sight of the fact that Frank Castle was a man first and foremost, but at times, it was difficult to view him as vulnerable. Impossibly, Frank seemed to live through everything, defy all odds. When he began speaking about Maria, Karen’s smile grew slightly, knowing that it was a sign of how much Frank trusted her. “What kind of things did you cook her and the kids?” Karen asked, hoping to continue the moment. “I’m really tired of bullshitters,” she said honestly. Frank knew very little about her dating history, though he had noticed that something had happened between her and Matt. “It’s refreshing that you’re not one,” she added. As Frank shifted closer to her, Karen rested her shoulder against Franks, leaning some of her weight against him. “Well, I should rephrase: I haven’t made any human enemies recently.” The demons seemed to target her whenever she got too close to them, a fact that Karen was aware of every time she left her home. She would never win that fight. “That makes sense,” she said quietly. “I can’t say that I hate hearing it.”
#punishcrcastle #frank: dinner date #i broke this up but shortened it by three words!
If he was being honest, the decision to follow Karen out into the wasteland was a simple one. There was no thought behind it, no internal back and forth about whether or not it was the right thing to do. Frank wasn’t even sure he was capable of thinking of his decisions on that scale anymore, though he wasn’t sure if it was his family’s deaths or the bullet to the head that had caused that shift. It didn’t matter one way or another, he knew. What mattered was that Karen was going out into that shit, and Frank was going with her. Realistically, he knew whatever protection he offered wouldn’t be much. Frank had guns and skills and determination, but he wasn’t superhuman. He didn’t have powers, didn’t have anything supernatural that could protect her. He hoped he’d be enough, anyways; the alternative wasn’t an option.
“Don’t know anyone who could,” he replied with a nod. There was no sense asking Karen not to go into the wasteland at all, no sense even suggesting it. There were answers to be had, and when it came to the truth, Karen fought just as intensely as Frank fought for his version of justice. He could feel her breath against his skin, close enough to hear the beating of her heart, feel the warmth rising from her skin. It would’ve been easy, he knew, the lean in just a little closer. It would’ve been easy to close the space between them entirely, easy to press his lips against hers and show her all the things he didn’t know how to say anymore about how he felt. Unfortunately, easy didn’t always mean right. Karen Page deserved better than the broken pieces of a man who’d never really been good to begin with, deserved more than Frank could ever give her. Clearing his throat, Frank shook his head slightly. He still didn’t pull away. He should have, he knew, but he couldn’t quite bring himself to do it. “It has to be enough,” he replied quietly, and maybe the words went a little deeper than they ought to. Maybe he was talking about more than what he meant on the surface, about what was going on between Karen and him. Maybe they could have what they had now and make it enough, maybe he could save her the pain and heartache that’d come if she went any deeper with him. “Motivational texts, yeah.” He smiled as best he could, nodding his head. “Think those’ll do the trick.” Really, any text from Karen was enough to remind him about why he did what he did, why he got out of bed in the mornings.
“He was a good man,” Frank replied, shrugging a shoulder. “Maybe that had more to do with why we weren’t close than the religion.” Even as a young man, before the war, before his family, Frank had been angry at the world. His father had seen that, he knew. “I’m sorry to hear that, though. About your folks. I know it must be hard.” It had to go deeper than that – he could see as much in Karen’s eyes – but Frank wouldn’t ask. If she wanted to tell him, she’d tell him. That was what made what they had work, what made it good. He nodded when she spoke again, though he didn’t have a verbal reply to give her. It was what it was, and there was no changing it. Frank was going to do what he did, was most likely going to die for his vendetta eventually. He knew it as well as Karen did, and his being sorry for it wouldn’t change a goddamn thing. “Don’t know. Maybe they know I’m not as interested in taking them out as some of the other people. Maybe they just don’t like the way I smell.” Karen was one of the few people Frank felt comfortable cracking jokes around, as evidenced by the smile playing at his features. “Yeah. Yeah, I don’t remember him running. I know my memory might not be much to go on, but I think I’d remember that.” His memory felt just as good as it always had, but Frank knew the bullet that he’d taken to the head might’ve had some effect on it.
There was never one moment that Karen considered herself invulnerable. She was intimately aware of her weaknesses and intimately aware of her fear. The idea of entering the Punisher’s home, searching for clues about the truth in his tragic history had not been something Karen did lightly. She never once believed that it was safe, never once believed that she was guaranteed to leave alive or unharmed. Similarly, she didn’t believe that entering the wasteland alone was a decision she was certain to live through. The demons were deadly and dangerous, Karen had no skills that ensured her survival. Someone had to do it, however, to report the truth. Karen would be that woman and while she wasn’t fearless, she was capable. Selfishly, having Frank at her side was comforting. She trusted him to keep her alive and she trusted that together, Karen would have the opportunity to tell the tale about the wasteland honestly with Frank’s blessing.
There were several times that Karen got close enough to Frank that she could kiss him. They had never shied away from proximity, but she couldn’t remember one instance that lasted this long. Typically, one of them pulled away, but they had done the opposite this time around. Her arms were loosely wrapped around his neck, Karen could feel his breath against her cheek, and she wanted more than anything to press her lips against his. If she chose to, it would be among Karen’s more dangerous decisions, albeit for less literal reasons. Frank would go to any length to protect her, she knew, but her heart would never once be safe with Frank. That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, although a future with him was either lonely or impossible. Unfortunately, logic rarely won out with Karen. She was driven by her emotions entirely; emotions fuelled her desire for the truth, and right now, they fuelled her desire to be closer to Frank. When he cleared his throat, Karen was absolutely afraid that she had lost the opportunity to kiss him, but Frank didn’t pull away. “No, not enough,” she said quietly. He deserved better, deserved more, and one day, Karen prayed she’d be there to witness it. After she spoke, she gently pressed her lips against his, unsure how Frank would react. His life was far from one filled with romance, but Karen made her decision without thought. Pulling away, Karen made no effort to step away from Frank entirely when she asked, “Was that okay?” It was clear that Frank wanted to be close to her, but neither of them had crossed the line.
When Frank agreed to the motivational texts with a smile, Karen couldn’t help but smile as well. “I think they’ll definitely do the trick,” she agreed. The idea of speaking to Frank more often was an appealing one, too, if she were being honest. As the subject shifted to his father, Karen listened attentively, knowing that Frank rarely spoke about his family. It was an honour to be trusted with details about his history and she had every intention of treating it as such. “You’re a good man, too, Frank,” Karen disagreed. He would never agree with her, but wasting oxygen on reassuring Frank that she thought highly of him was worth it. “My brother died,” Karen admitted quietly. Frank hadn’t asked which was exactly why she was willing to tell him about what had happened with Kevin. “They claimed it was an accident, but I never believed it. I kept searching for answers, never found them, and my parents begged me to stop. I left instead,” Karen explained, her voice betraying little emotion. She had always excelled at covering up what she felt, and while it was difficult to tell anyone about her experience with losing Kevin — more often than not Karen spoke about him in the present tense — Frank, if anyone, would understand. Frank’s jokes were rare, but Karen had to admit that she was relieved to hear them, defusing some of the tension between them. “I think it’s probably the latter,” she said fondly. “It has to be the smell of the dogs.” She loved Frank’s dogs as if they were own despite rarely seeing them. “I think everyone would remember that,” Karen said quietly. “Sometimes I wonder if President Doom ran at all. In all the chaos, someone could have trusted him with the job.” Karen sounded paranoid, possibly insane, but Frank would never view her opinions as such. She trusted him to take her seriously and most importantly, Karen trusted Frank to believe her if she was onto something or kindly tell her she was off base.
For most of her life, Daisy had intentionally flown under the radar. At the orphanage, the best way to get away with things was to keep them to yourself, and she’d learned early on that getting away with things was definitely preferable to getting caught. The Rising Tide had been all about secrecy, dedicated entirely to getting to word out about what the government was up to without risking your own skin to do it. After that, of course, came SHIELD, which was by definition an agency designed for privacy. Publicity had been foreign to Daisy until the moment she’d stepped out as a vigilante, and then, she’d mostly dealt with the bad. Her powers were undeniably dangerous, after all, and most of the stories that came out about Quake were understandably fearful.
Life as a Panel leader changed pretty much all of that. Suddenly, she wasn’t public enemy number one anymore. She was kind of an ally to the people, someone they almost trusted thanks to her willingness to be mostly transparent. Her identity still wasn’t quite as public as Natasha’s, but she allowed people to see who she was, allowed her powers to be listed even if she didn’t give the full scope of them. (It was mostly because she didn’t know the full scope of them; Daisy was still trying to figure out who Quake was just as much as everyone else.) When a journalist called for an interview – a journalist Daisy had definitely heard of, thanks to Karen’s coverage of the Punisher trial – she hadn’t hesitated to agree. She wanted to build up trust any way she could, and this seemed the best way to go about it. “Thanks for being interested in what I have to say,” she replied, letting a warm smile slip onto her features. Fortunately Daisy was good at getting people to like her; it was a talent that was sort of necessary for someone who’d grown up in foster care. “I’m not gonna lie, it’s a little crazy. I mean, this isn’t exactly what I expected for myself when I was a kid, you know? It’s nice, though. I’ve been enjoying it.”
While Karen preferred investigative journalism, seeking out the truth was her passion above all, she never minded interviewing a select few either. After all, interviewing Frank had been very enlightening and without her story being released to the public, no civilian would ever know the truth about the tragedy with the Castle family. Most likely, Frank would have been given the death penalty, too, which was unthinkable. Daisy Johnson’s circumstances were nowhere near as dire, but she was a vigilante that people had once been terrified of due to her superpowers. That reputation was completely unwarranted as far as Karen was concerned and now that Daisy was much more public, aiding the Panel, opinion seemed to be shifting. Hopefully with Karen’s help, New Yorkers would embrace Daisy warmly.
“Of course I’m interested in what you have to say,” Karen replied honestly. Daisy, not only a vigilante, also seemed genuine. The majority of heroes did have a genuine side, of course, but few of them were willing to show it among journalists. Karen genuinely appreciated it and she could already tell the interview would go off very, very well. Thank god she didn’t have to scramble, proving to Daisy that she had good intentions as Karen had to do in the past. It was never an easy process. “I can’t imagine that any kid expects to become a superhero, helping other superheroes,” Karen agreed with a smile. “Do you have any specific hopes or goals for the Panel now that you’re helping to lead it?”
What Clint and Karen had had been brief which, honestly, could be said for most of Clint’s relationships. The ones he’d had outside SHIELD, like Karen, had been entirely unsustainable in the long run. You couldn’t build a life with someone based on a lie, and Clint had always known that. It was why he hadn’t been surprised when Karen finally ended things, why he hadn’t put up much of a fight. They hadn’t been in love, hadn’t been serious, and she’d deserved a lot more than someone who could only give her half of himself. After all, back then, there’d been no way to explain his frequent disappearances without getting them both into some serious trouble with the government, and he couldn’t rightfully blame Karen for not enjoying it. Life as a SHIELD agent often saw Clint away from home for months at a time, usually unplanned, and pretty much always brought him back bloody and beaten in some way or another, which usually meant avoiding his civilian girlfriend for even longer. There was no way she would’ve let it go without question if he’d shown up to date night with his arm in a sling and a freshly sewn bullet wound in his shoulder, after all.
Luckily, the way they’d ended things had been mostly civil. There had been no screaming, no fighting, no demands of honesty or dramatic ultimatums. As far as breakups went, his with Karen had been especially tame compared to some others he’d gone through. “Yeah, no problem.” Civility or no, there was every chance Clint was making a mistake allowing his ex girlfriend to sit with him, especially when said ex chased the truth with as much intensity as Karen. Clint wasn’t bound to secrecy by SHIELD anymore, but he did like to avoid the complexities that came with talking about his time in the organization. Considering how said time had ended, he figured that was fair. Nobody wanted to talk about the time they’d caught a bullet with their chest and bled out looking up at a foreign sky, after all. He took her water and took a gulp, mostly to delay having to answer her question. “Uh, skiing,” he said, deciding on the excuse in the moment. “And… business, uh… stuff.” Clint Barton, super spy. Fury would be proud. “I can’t imagine it,” he admitted, shrugging a shoulder. Being separated from the people he loved wasn’t something he wanted to dwell on at all, and he figured Karen – and most other people – felt similarly. Leaning forward a little, Clint raised a brow. “Something goin’ on with Doom?” The guy rubbed him the wrong way for reasons he couldn’t explain, but if Karen saw them, too, it might not just be his paranoia talking. “My world? Uh, not really. Well, I mean, I…” He trailed off, pausing for a moment before continuing. “I got married. About a year ago now, actually.” Maybe it wasn’t the best thing to talk about with an ex, but if she didn’t know already, she’d probably find out eventually.
In retrospect, Karen seemed to have an interest in men that lied to her. While that was disturbing, Karen had to believe that she had broken the pattern. Frank was honest, though he was very violent (as was Matt she later discovered), and Clint, a complete mystery, Karen was never sure about. If Clint had a secret penchant for violence, she would absolutely have a type, and every single one of those relationships were doomed to fail. It was the unfortunate truth, Clint was unsustainable with his horrible lies, Matt was unsustainable due to his secrecy and possible cheating, and Frank was unsustainable due to his vendetta and heartbreak. Karen never pretended otherwise, but luckily, she was happy with her career. If she were destined to solely experience short flings, she could make peace with it, assuming Karen was capable of continuing in the field of journalism. Ironically, and perhaps this explained her type, Karen was happiest solving mysteries. Journalism allowed her to do that and it never once left her lonely and wishful.
The breakup with Clint hadn’t been nearly as difficult as her breakup with Matt. Clint had never had another woman in his bed and refused to explain, she had never lost a career she genuinely loved in the process, and Clint, unlike Matt, had never been her best friend, her family. At the time, Karen hadn’t known she would have Matt as a comparison for awful breakups, however, but Clint had been amiable nonetheless. She had made her peace with their lack of compatibility long before vocalizing it. That didn’t necessarily mean she was ecstatic to be spending time with Clint once more, they got along fine, but spending time with an ex that lied to you without remorse was never an enjoyable way to pass time. That being said, Clint had been spotted at random with Natasha Romanoff, Tony Stark and other public Avengers, meaning the man could have valuable insight. Karen hated using people and never would without their express consent, but it was important to keep in mind. The stories she intended to run were important for New York’s safety. “You can ski?” Karen asked, noting that Clint had paused to formulate a response. “What kind of business stuff?” God, he was worse at this than Karen remembered. When Clint got more genuine, she was grateful and she nodded in agreement. “I don’t think I want to remember it,” Karen admitted. Her relationships with Foggy and Matt were strained, but she would never want to be separated from them. “I don’t know for sure,” Karen replied honestly. Clint seemed interested in discussing Doom and she took that as a good sign, one possibly of confirmation that she wasn’t alone in her suspicions. “He just… doesn’t have much information about him; for a president, that’s rare. I’m worried,” Karen explained. “What do you think about Doom?” Clint hopefully would respond to that question honestly, too. “You got married?” Karen asked, raising her eyebrows. “To who?”
Once Karen found the lead to an important story, she never gave up. Wolverine had gone through with countless horrific acts, and the ones that couldn’t directly be tied to the past X-Men involved claws, and logically, Karen deduced that they were most likely Logan Howlett himself. The other Wolverine was too young to account for the dates. After compiling every file and every relevant piece of evidence she could, Karen set out to wind Wolverine. Unsurprisingly, the hero wasn’t easy to locate. He was clever, he was constantly on missions, and the X-Men, despite no longer having Logan among their ranks, were fiercely loyal. They protected his location like it was the secret to immortality, and after Storm came to address Karen personally, she backed off from Logan for a short period of time. Naturally, Karen’s idea of ‘backing off’ entailed watching Xavier’s mansion closely, awaiting a time when Logan was alone so she could politely demand to understand why he had been so unlawful in the past. While Karen believed that people could change, with cases like these, it seemed highly improbable.
Eventually, the time came that Wolverine was leaving Xavier’s alone, moving at a steady pace. He was walking much to Karen’s surprise, and without hesitation, she removed her file from her briefcase and pursued Logan Howlett as quickly as she could. When she finally caught up, breathless, Karen said, “You and I need to talk!” It probably wasn’t the smartest thing to call out after a dangerous superhero, but Karen made mistakes frequently. Similarly, she was also scared often, and confronted with Wolverine, she was petrified. She had read the detailed reports about what Logan had done to his victims. “Explain these,” she said, handing the files over to him. “They were all you, weren’t they? And then you became an X-Men, it doesn’t make sense.” People deserved to know the truth about the people protecting them, especially when it was someone so prolific.
With stories that seemed to never add up, no amount of searching or observation lead Karen to useful answers, she was understandably frustrated and exhausted. She hadn’t slept properly for weeks, always awaking in the middle of the night with a new observation, one that once again lead absolutely nowhere, she needed a night to cut loose. Never being much of partier, admittedly her idea of cutting loose wasn’t particularly interesting. Truthfully, Karen was wary about drinking too heavily as well, knowing that she could get… reliant on alcohol easily. All of her concerns forcibly forgotten, she had invited Sue out for the evening. The bar they were in was nothing like Josie’s, but frequenting her old haunt without Matt or Foggy always felt empty.
“I’m ordering french fries,” Karen announced, glancing over the menu. “French fries and one of these fancy gin drinks. It has rosemary in it, Sue,” she said, forcing enthusiasm. Few people knew her well enough to notice how fake her tone was, and honestly, Karen was very, very happy about that fact. The last thing that she wanted to do was admit to her failure and explain the amount of stress she had put herself under. “How are you doing? Have you been up to anything interesting?” She smiled at her friend before asking, “Please tell me you’ve been on some exciting missions or dates, I’m open to hearing about either.”
The news broadcasts in Times Square always brought an uncharacteristic pause in New York City. Considering that everyone was waiting with bated breath for more information, for confirmation that they had enough resources to live upon, Karen thought it made perfect sense. Unfortunately, this broadcast was merely an overview of everything that the civilians already knew. The newscaster reiterated that the heroes were needed to bring in materials to live upon, they informed New Yorkers that soon, they would be home, and to have courage. After a month of living in suspense, Karen had grown accustomed to the martial law, and she had forcibly adapted to being watched closely by demons. At least they were no longer openly attacking her, now it merely felt like a warning gaze.
As the broadcast came to a close and Times Square bustled with life once more, Karen sighed and moved over, allowing people to pass her. She noticed one man as still as her and after a pause, she walked over to him, obviously hesitant. New Yorkers weren’t always the friendliest bunch, but with what they were forced to live with, Karen needed to believe that heroes and civilians could band together. “It’s hard to process, isn’t it?” She asked, chewing on her lip. “I’ve been trying to write a story about everything that’s happened, but I can’t find the truth about it all. The story is incomplete.” After a pause she added, “I’m Karen Page.”
“SAFE is relative for me, I’d get bored if I was too actively looking for it.” He chuckles and shrugs his shoulders, falls into easy step beside her. It must be a strange image, him clad in the bright white moon light and her, with the determined set to her features of the fearless journalist. She’s dogged in her pursuit of the truth of things, it’s why Marc enjoys her company when he can come by it–she’s as fearless as anyone with a codename who walks these streets, even the Khonshu recognizes it, which is probably why he lead Marc here in the first place. He doesn’t deal with the truth as exclusively as she does–but he’s been doing that since he could remember, hiding large parts of himself away from view until they took over his body, his being.
He’s fine with mostly being a mystery for her to uncover, even if he thinks the end result is far less interesting than the mystery itself–he’d rather lose himself in the connectivity of the moon and the god and Marc Spector, if he could, just live in the nebulous spaces between and not be anything at all. “Though even I don’t actively go walking through this side of town if I don’t have to. I think that Khonshu wants me to see you safely to wherever you’re going–shepherding night travelers to their destinations is something he feels strongly about.”
“Investigating something in particular? I can stop a lot of things, but I think the wrath of Doom after reading a scathing expose is even beyond my pay grade.”
“Safety isn’t always a bad thing,” Karen pointed out. Vigilantes were always reckless, she had learned that watching Matt and Frank. Maybe that was hypocritical, considering the lengths Karen would go pursuing the truth. She had successfully made herself a target for the demons, too relentless in her pursuit of the president, their situation — honestly, she wasn’t completely sure. All Karen knew for certain was that after curfew, she was best hiding, but Moon Knight had found her. As far as companions went, she trusted him, and in New York City, that went a very long way. “Do you ever miss life before Moon Knight?” She asked curiously, knowing it aligned easily with the discussion of safety. Before his alter-ego, surely Marc was relatively safe.
As Marc spoke, Karen couldn’t help but smile faintly. After the loss of Matt and almost the loss of Foggy, hearing that she had someone else on her side was refreshing. God, that made her sound lonely, but Karen supposed that in a way, she was. One of her closest friends had been lying to her for years, and that very friend had doubled as her boyfriend briefly and possibly cheated on her, and as a result of all his deceit, she had lost the law firm Karen worked relentlessly for, praying that Nelson & Murdock would succeed. She was happier as a journalist, but happiness didn’t necessarily mean she had deep, meaningful friendships anymore. “Well, if the God insists,” Karen replied, “I wouldn’t mind the company at all. Does he make you escort people home often?”
At the question, she paused for a moment, contemplating what was safe to reveal. “I’m just investigating how the President got into power and what happened during his campaign. I can’t remember it for the life of me,” Karen admitted. “Well, I guess it depends on how damning the expose is. Maybe it’s nothing, but I’d rather be safe than sorry.”
There were a lot of things in Matt’s life that he had regrets about, but none so more than how he had handled his relationship with Karen. In many ways they had both been play-acting, pretending to be something they weren’t so that they could have something that was impossibly simple. If Matt had been honest, if he had allowed Karen the same opportunity, then he had no doubt they would’ve worked. She was his best friend, his family, and he had put all of that at risk for a reason that he couldn’t even make sense of. There were so many things that he wanted to tell her - he wanted to go through all that had happened the year of Frank’s trial, what had happened with Elektra, what Stick had done and no doubt continued to do, manipulating things behind the scenes - but every time they spoke, he told himself he would work up to it, and then he never did. It wasn’t something he could just spit out. He needed time, he needed Karen to feel comfortable before he went straight into the insanity that was his life - but maybe he should just bite the bullet.
Thankfully Karen spoke first. Tonight Matt had made it a point to walk home from a late night in the office, listening to the city as he went. True to form, he found himself on a rooftop, though this time he wasn’t ‘looking for trouble’ as Foggy would expect, he was following the sound of Karen’s heartbeat, always clear and distinct. “Not that, tonight at least,” Matt said, somewhat sheepish. He was done apologising to Foggy for who he was (what he had done was another story) but with Karen, he figured he would never be done. “Late night at the office. The plaintiff in one of my cases is enhanced, so I’m trying to get all the information before we bring prosecution.” It could’ve been an accident that blew up the soccer field, after all, and there were no severe injuries. “No more than usual. Just a little banged up,” Matt said. When he spoke again, his voice was softer. “How are you? It seems like you’re spending a lot of time on rooftops now. I’m guessing it isn’t for stargazing.” Were there even stars in this sky? No one had thought to tell him. He hadn’t thought to ask.
There was a time that running into Matt would have made Karen’s day. She was always eager to see him, to spend time with him, but unfortunately, that time had long since passed. Now whenever she ran into him, Karen felt genuinely lonely. He was among the few people that she had trusted wholly and completely only to be betrayed. Unfortunately, the venom she had spat on the courthouse steps no longer encompassed how she felt about Matt Murdock. Frankly, Karen wasn’t sure entirely how she felt. On one hand, she cared about Matt deeply, always would — she had loved him after all — but on the other, he had never trusted her. He had quite possibly cheated on her, and even if Matt hadn’t, he had thrown their relationship away like it was meaningless. In the end, Matt had thrown Karen away like she was meaningless, and after being abandoned by nearly every person that she loved in Fagan Corners, it was not an offence that Karen could easily forgive. Worst of all, Matt still hadn’t been entirely honest with her. Karen didn’t understand how Daredevil had begun or why he insisted on keeping the secret from her, seemingly remorseless.
Matt’s response surprised Karen. From what she had read and observed, Daredevil was active most nights. “Oh,” she said quietly. “Why aren’t you doing that tonight?” Matt sounded sheepish and in his position, Karen would feel the same. The way he had treated her was… horrible, frankly, and Matt had amends to make before his betrayal would be forgiven entirely. When he explained what he had been doing, Karen nodded along. Months ago, she would have immediately offered to help Matt discover every ounce of evidence available, but now the offer seemed hallow and she couldn’t bring herself to say the words. “I’m sure you won’t have an issue persecuting. You never have,” she said, offering him a tight smile. It was the truth at the very least, Matt was an incredible lawyer. “What’s the case?” She asked, gibing them both something easy to discuss. On the bright side, speaking to him no longer hurt. Their visits, albeit brief, had helped with that factor. Now all they had were explanations to offer and a future to build, assuming they wanted one. “Only a little?” She asked, genuinely doubtful. “They’re better to avoid demons and militia on,” Karen answered honestly. “I don’t like being home alone much unless I’m writing.”
There was something to be said about people like Karen, who put others at ease the moment she walked into a room. The entire world could be falling apart - and, the grand majority of the time, it was - yet when she came over with food clasped in her hand and a notebook sticking out of her bag, Tony found himself relaxing. “Omelettes, actually. I make a mean omelette. It takes me an hour, but when I get there, I have heard no complaints.” He had only made an omelette for two people, of course, and they were pretty much contractually bound at the time not to comment on how horrible it was, but that was beside the point! “I could that as being Gordon Ramsey, but with less time to ensure the finer flavours. I’m sure even he could understand that I’m too busy to use, um. Salt?” There were times when Tony really felt like a rich twat from boarding school, and this was definitely one of them. At least he was covered in enough grease to avoid that stereotype somewhat. “I mean, Agent 13 definitely does. You know she has one cheat day every month? That’s inhumane.” Tony had originally thought he didn’t need to take care of himself, even with his heart conditions, but he found that relying on his body outside the suit was necessary sometimes, so he had tried - and failed, sometimes - to maintain that diet. “My ex-boyfriend showed up,” he said, rather bluntly. “Last time I saw him he was at my ex-fiancee’s wedding, so it’s. A whole thing. Plus we’re in another dimension and I don’t know the answer and I’m kind of freaking out about that but. We’ll be fine.” Tony nodded. “All the time. He’s very dramatic. Foggy seems like a safer choice, honestly. Kind of surprising too. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t that.” Tony shrugged off the compliment, but it brought a smile to his face nonetheless. “Yeah, I agree with it. If I had my way everyone would register, but this is a good midway point, you know? Daisy is great. Like, insanely great. She almost hacked me once. It was impressive.”
“I bet they’re amazing,” Karen agreed. Challenging Tony Stark’s omelette making skills seemed a little unfair, especially when he sounded so insanely proud of skills. “When are you going to spend an hour making me an omelette?” She asked lightly, grinning at Tony, trying to look encouraging. “Gordon Ramsey is a busy man, too! You know he does the Iron Man competition?” Pausing, Karen admitted, “I’ve watched a lot of Iron Chef. It’s a little embarrassing, but while I’m up writing all night…” she trailed off. Honestly, ever since her apartment had been attacked, Karen hated the absolute silence. She was always waiting for the sound of gunfire in it. “Salt please,” Karen agreed, grateful for the subject change. Tony had know way of realizing why she feared silence, no inclination that it was something deeply personal, but Karen avoided thinking too deeply about the traumas she had endured throughout the past few years. Surely a superhero would understand that. Even talking about Tony’s wealth was preferable! A little uncomfortable, Karen was used to scrambling for the money to pay her bills, but Tony hadn’t been in that situation. Faulting him for that would be incredibly unfair. “Well, when you’re a super spy,” Karen said, shrugging a shoulder. It made sense to her, she was far from athletic, but she did try to stay in good shape. With her hands on techniques, cardio was necessary. Strangely, not everyone liked being observed and written about. “That sounds dramatic,” Karen acknowledged, frowning. “Did he say anything to you at all?” Karen didn’t have many exes, but she could relate to the uncomfortableness whenever Matt showed up… especially as Daredevil. “No one knows the answer to being in another dimension, but I think if everyone cooperates, we could find something more out about where we are.” Karen smiled faintly, “Foggy is the best. You won’t regret it at all.” There was no one Karen respected more as an attorney. “Why would everyone register?”