storms have a way on making you feel safe
"There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm." - Willa Carter
There isn’t any other way to put it. She has long since come to terms with this. Hasn’t she? Maybe this new confirmation is the way of the universe to remind her she didn’t deserve it—happiness. Stability. Friends. Family. Any real chance—any chance at all—must have been all obliterated along with her Toyota Impala and a little boy’s future. But then again, it could have been at that old, gritty warehouse with a gun held shakily in her hands. A thousand moments, a thousand futures, was it all meant to end at the same route?
(She felt lonely)
Karen looks down at the phone in her hands, twisting it around, fidgeting mostly to pass the long drag of minutes since the call ended. There wasn’t anyone else to call. His Dad made perfectly clear she wasn’t even remotely welcome— why did it hurt? He was nothing if predictable. She can call Foggy. To see how he is coping. But Foggy has Marci and vice versa—Marci has Foggy. She is very happy for him. He found someone to love without having to worry they will be found dead by a ninja blade sticking out of them. Her boss has his very own wife and kids, waiting for him while he was hospitalized (no need for journalists who lied to them). Matt is Matt. He won’t be carrying a phone like a normal human being (especially since he is off bleeding god-knows-where, being patched up by god-knows-who already) and well...the list ends there.
That’s why when her phone did, in fact, ring she startled so badly—knee hitting the wheel hard enough to bruise, the phone slipping out of her fingers as she hissed a curse.
She bends down to retrieve the ringing phone from the car’s floor. Turning it over, the screen flashes with the UNKNOWN NUMBER in bold letters.
“Just what a girl needs,” Karen mutters resignedly. “More death threats.” Almost reluctantly, she answers the call and before she can say anything a very familiar, gruff and deep voice snaps.
“Where are you?”
Karen squeezes her eyes shut, biting her lip and whispering softly (like a prayer), “Frank.”
“I said, where are you? Not at your apartment—I had Lieberman check it for me. And you got out from the Hospital a while ago.” Frank exhales harshly, stopping himself. His breathing didn’t sound completely normal. Fast? She presses her cheek harder to the phone, wanting to feel closer and to listen even more closely. She wonders if he is okay. Wherever he is. She wants to leave everything behind and just go where he is, if he lets her. (The world can be shouldered by someone else for a while. She is tired.)
“I—” Karen swallows and slides down the seat, angling her head sideways to watch the blur of the cars as they come and go. Living normal lives. Living under normal expectations (not having death dangle above their heads on a daily basis because of lords of crime, crime-fighting friends and her own stupid actions). Her throat tightens. She hugs herself with her unoccupied hand—the one holding the phone is shaking. She didn’t want him to stop but formulating words, sentences, seems out of her league right now. “Frank, I’m—not hurt.” She laughs humorlessly. “Well, physically. Not. I guess.” The glass feels frozen against her cheek. She can’t move.
How is it possible for any person—him, especially him, after everything—to string together so many damn emotions in a single word? He sounds angry, lost, terrified and so much more that it escapes her understanding. (She is tired)
“Tell me what happened—not the bullshit I’m hearing on every goddamned channel. Just—” He stops himself. Breathes. She closes her eyes. His voice drops to a hoarse whisper. “Please.”
She tells him everything.
It twists her insides. It makes her feel like a proverbial hammer is hitting her over and over and over again (and she doesn’t think about Fisk, not at all about his father, about anything but making sure words get out of her mouth in a dizzying rush that leaves her gasping breathlessly in such an awful way that it has him reaching across instantly, his voice achingly sweet and soothing in a manner that by all universal laws shouldn’t leave her with streaming tears— “Just breath, breath with me, OK? Karen. Karen, listen to my voice. I’m with you and you know it. I am. Tell me anything. Everything. Tell me what those bastards did. I will get every single one of them and you know it.”)
It’s funny (it’s really, really not) how she can vividly absorb every ounce of rage that’s pouring out of him wave after wave in an epic crescendo. He is a thunderstorm. All thundering snarls and lightning fast in his severe judgement against every single person that has ever wrong her (his words, his indignation, his concern – she’s drowning in it. Intimacy weighting her down. She could live the rest of her life without ever needing air again.)
He’s absolutely livid. And somehow, somewhere along the way of her life – her own half-cocked, unimportant story — knowing that Frank Castle (the Punisher, anti-hero in all of its tragic glory) can get all worked up on her behalf, ready to come to her side guns blazing (literal in every imaginable way) to defend her, makes the numbness start to recede ever so slowly (it starts with the way he begins describing exactly what he thinks of Matt at this moment – “Fuck Murdock, really, if I had him in front of me, the little shit wouldn’t even know what hit him” to the point where he offers to come straight out of the other side of the country after she ends her tale – “I’ll be there. This scum is not more important than you. Never.”)
She declines immediately. “You stay right where you are, buddy.” She sniffs as quietly as possible, trying in vain to hide it from him, knowing full well he is hearing it (the sound of a breakdown) and scrutinizing her (out of concern, not out of interest, self-imposed duty or stranger’s sympathy, but of out please-tell-me-you-will-be-alright concern. She marvels at this change. The strangeness never fully leaving her as she speaks) Her eyes are still burning in a way that let her know tears where at standstill for now. “We both know why you can’t come.” Her voice breaks and she doesn’t care. “This is enough.” (it really, really isn’t) “I know I’ll see you soon enough, right? Maybe, we’ll even have this sorted out by then.” (or we’ll be all dead, whichever comes first honestly. But she couldn’t say that, not to him — never to him).
There’s silence from the other end of the line. Her words ran out. He is thinking – brooding more likely. Her phone beeps from a message offering new cellphone plans. She deletes it. She places the phone back on her ear and still no sound. It stars to rain. A sheet of water falls directly from the sky. People jog to the nearest restaurant to avoid being hit, hands are extended in silent call and taxis arrive and go like ants crawling all over the place. They were ants, all of them. Including her. Her friends. Her life. Tiny speckles in the bigger picture. They could be squashed anytime.
(Her heart breaks all over again when she listens to the echoing silence her answer has created. She wishes she could stop breaking things, breaking people, breaking connections. Unlearning it seems as difficult as asking the sky to stop pouring rain over them. Against the law of nature. There’s the Murphy’s law and then there’s Karen Page’s law. Everything that can go wrong will go wrong and Everything that can be broken, will break under her doing eventually)
Franks wants to come. And he can do it. He will do it if she asks it (even without her really having to verbally express it). But if he does it, he won’t stay more than necessary. He won’t. Without intending to, she stares straight ahead. The silhouette of the walking contradiction of Frank Castle stares back at her. Him, with his dark eyes and darker expression - but there’s a subtle edge of softness to his expression when he looks at her. Imagination? Hallucination? Did she care at the moment? No. He’s bleeding, just like he was the last time she saw him. Fitting. She’s bleeding feelings and fear all over her car. Perfect match. The longing plays like a broken record on his face. The elevator again. Only this time, there’s no stare, no invisible thread to bond them from one lonely soul to another lonelier soul. Just an old, cheap phone. A semi-stable line. Two voices. Heartbeats rumbling in their ears. The thunderstorm de-escalates to a heavy drizzle. If she concentrates, she can feel the water droplets falling, sliding from his face to her face.
Should she bid goodbye?
She didn’t want to.
(She has always liked storms. So, she tells him this. An olive branch.)
Finally, the silence ends. Frank chuckles, “Storms, huh?” he murmurs thoughtfully. “I’m not even surprised. Karen Page will probably walk through a hurricane and asked him to leave. Don’t go trying that by the way. I kind of need my blood pressure as it is.” After these previous days, goes completely unsaid. She wisely chooses to ignore it.
Her lips quirk to the side, a hell of an improvement. But then again, Frank Castle will do that to her. Bring hope to a hopeless place – at least for her. Paradoxically enough. “You have too much faith in me, Frank.” she half-admonishes, half-asks him. She wants to know why he cares – wants to advise him to run the other way around and not look back. The combination of these two comes as a slightly miserable mix. More than she intended. It is a serious question either way. Well-intended. She brings trouble wherever she goes. Recent, fresh proof withstanding.
“Ah, well, we’re always bound to disagree in something.” he says lightly. For someone as sharp as him, he was ignoring every warning sign. But who was she asking, a troublemaker like him?
After several steady heartbeats, he calls softly. “Karen.” (Her name rolls from him like ocean waves lapping the shore. Like the soundless nights running away from pasts lives. He sounds like home).
“Yes?” She answers back quietly. An open-ended statement. She tries to close it with an equally soft-spoken word, “Frank.” (She wants a home as much as she wants him in this moment).
They say their names like they are treasures to be safe-kept. And in a way, they were. They are a study in mishandling. (How could she hail him from the auto-implosion if she is headed on the same way?)
“I don’t think I can keep doing this.” She breathes out, her voice is laced with a taste self-pity and she hates it. It leaves a sour taste on her mouth. Each word decomposing in her system, inflaming her insides, exposing the raw, untreated wounds left behind (she is confessing like he has somehow become a priest despite his countless sins and she has come to relieve herself despite the nature of her crimes. Except she is not hiding, not from him, and Frank Castle was the furthest thing humanely possible from a man of peace. But if anyone can forgive her, it is bound to be him).
“You can,” He tells her bluntly, his voice firm and strong. Resolute. (She cannot go back to a place where this doesn’t exist). “And you will. You leave the shitty things behind and walk forward with your chin high. At least, that’s why ex-marines and nosy journalists keep telling me. We’ve got to believe in an after – a future.” There’s a rustle of clothes. A deep exhale. “I want to believe in an after.”
Then, he asks, “And you?” It stands for an extended open palm. Calmly waiting for her choice.
And she clasps it. “Oh god yes.” She nods her head emphatically. Knowing he can’t see it, she laughs instead. And she cries some more. But Frank is there, so he laughs with her, and soothes her raw nerves.
He cares. And he cares some more. That is enough for tonight.