Claire’s not sure how this became her life. She went to school. She excelled. She became a nurse because she wanted to fucking help people. Her mother was a nurse. So was her grandmother.
“It’s an honorable profession. Everyone’s gonna tell you to be a doctor. They want the prestige, the money , but is the nurses who do the work, who meet the people. There’s no one who can offer comfort like a nurse and when the patient leaves, it’s that comfort they’ll remember.”
She set a goal for herself and she stuck to it. Now she’s been practically blacklisted, her dream yanked right out from under her. She’s stuck her neck out plenty of times and now she’s the one who has to tell her parents she failed. How that turned into her running a back alley clinic for injured vigilantes, she has no idea.
She’s been out of a job for two weeks when Matt shows up at her apartment. His injuries are relatively tame compared to the first time they met. All she has to do is pop his shoulder back into its socket and set a sprained wrist. It’s easy enough to do with the meager contents of her slowly dwindling first aide kit.
“You’re gonna have to find someone new to fix you up sooner or later. I’m barely staying afloat and medical supplies aren’t exactly cheap.”
“I’ll try to keep the seriousness to a minimum then.” Matt says quietly. “You’re doing okay though, right? You’re not in trouble?”
“Could you help me if I was? Last time I checked you were even more unemployed than me.” She chuckles darkly. She’s got enough in her savings account to keep herself chugging along but it’s not going to last forever.
“I might have come into some money recently. If you need anything, you can always call.” He assures her, voice even softer than before. She has no doubt Matt would give the shirt off his back to a stranger even if it meant he’d have nothing. Helping him torture himself isn’t on her agenda.
The next time he stops by, he brings coffee, the expensive kind, and a selection of her favorite pastries.
“It’s not a lot, but thank you.” He says.
It’s so sincere she wants to give him a hug and punch him in his teeth.
“I think I broke my hand.”
“Well, hello to you too.” Claire steps aside and lets them in. “Glad to see you conscious.” She says to Luke.
They look pretty much the same as the last time she saw them, Luke, tall and imposing and Jessica, a goddamn mess. “We went to the hospital but you weren't there. They said you didn’t work their anymore so, I looked you up.” Jessica breezes past the introductions and sits down on Claire’s couch like she actually belongs there.
“I quit a while back. I also won't be able to help you out indefinitely. You'll have to find a new nurse to stitch you up.” She presses her fingers lightly to the bruised flesh of Jessica’s hand, asks her to try and rotate her wrist. “If you know any place looking to hire, send them my way.”
Jessica scoffs at that. “Why’d you quit? Thought you liked helping people. You know, saving the day and all that shit.” If she’s in pain, she doesn’t let on. Luke keeps a stabilizing hand on her thigh but doesn’t say a word. Claire doesn’t remember him talking all that much any way.
“Yeah well the system doesn’t exactly allow for that now does it? Someone’s always looking at the bottom line.” She writes down a list of instructions for care and hands it to Luke. “Make sure she keeps it dry. I don’t have any pain killers to give you but you might want to find a way to, ah, divest some. It’s gonna get worse before it gets better.”
Jessica studies her carefully in that way she always does. Eyes narrowed and plump lips quirked in a knowing smirk, “noted.”
They leave as quickly as they came, something about tracking corrupt corporations and human experiments. She doesn’t want to know.
She’s coming home from the corner store, arms heavy with her meager groceries, to a large package sitting outside her door. Inside is a heavy duty first aide kit packed with sutures, burn supplies, and everything she’d need to remove a bullet. There’s a note attached.
-If you ever need a drink, it’s on the house.
She’s yanked from sleep by a loud knock.
She slides out of bed and walks to the front door, all while wiping the sleep from her eyes. 3:13 AM, the clock reads. Nothing good happens after 3 a.m..
She doesn't open the door fully, keeps the chain latch in place.
“I heard you sometimes help people out. You know, when they can't exactly go to a hospital.” He’s holding his arm at an awkward angle, a barely concealed grimace on his bruised face. He’s sporting a split lip and a fresh black eye on what would normally be considered a handsome face. “I’d really appreciate the help, ma’am.”
‘Vigilante,’ she thinks tiredly. He's clearly strapped. She can spot 2, no 3, at least 4 guns on his person.
“No guns in my living room. Leave ‘em at the front door.” Claire steps aside and lets him in.
“Can I keep my knife?” He asks. It's a genuine request and she can tell he'll leave it aside if she says so.
“It stays in your belt. Take a seat.” He leans the large rifle up against the door jamb and makes his way to the couch.
“You need a new door lock. That one’s too easy to kick in.” He says absently. “You live here by yourself?”
“You see anyone else?” The arm’s broken. She doesn’t want to know how but considering the recent slew of news broadcasts, she has a pretty good idea.
“Hmm.” He doesn’t say anything else.
“You’d be better off in an actual hospital. I don’t have an x-ray machine. It feels like a clean break but I can’t be sure.” She warns him.
“Ma’am, trust me. A hospital is not an option right now. I'll manage.”
She heaves a sigh but leaves him alone. It's his life. She sends him off with a makeshift sling and orders to take it easy.
He appears about a week later with slightly faded bruises and gentle eyes. The moment she lets him inside, he tries to hand her a pistol.
“Jesus Christ, put that thing away! What have I said about guns?!”
“With all due respect ma'am, when you hang around the lot of us, trouble is bound to follow. You need to know how to handle a gun." He presses the Glock 19 into her hands. “It’s got no serials, untraceable. I can show you how to take it apart and put it back together, how to clean it, and how to shoot.”
She opens her mouth to protest but then she remembers the Russians. She remembers that disastrous night at the hospital and just how helpless she felt. She holds out her hand.
“Okay, show me.”
By the end of the day, she knows she's a pretty good shot. Frank even pats her on the shoulder.
She feels pretty damn good.
“Um, are you Claire?” She clicks the safety off of the gun.
“Name’s Sam. You and I have a mutual friend. ” He says. He looks more than a little roughed up and there’s a large gash bleeding sluggishly on his side. “He says you’re trustworthy. Especially when someone needs immediate care. I took a bad fall and my communication equipment was damaged. I’m cut up pretty bad.”
He’s familiar somehow, like she’s seen his face on the news before. “Let me take a look. I can probably patch you up long enough for you to go to a hospital but if I say you have to go, you have to go.”
“Will do, ma’am.” He says earnestly and the relief in his voice is palpable.
“If you’ve got guns, leave them on the table.” She hears the clatter of metal hitting the little table next to her front door.
The gash isn't as bad as it looks. It's been bleeding awhile so she takes her time disinfecting.
“I know it stings but who knows what kind of other world disease you'd probably pick up otherwise.” She knows who he is now, the one with the wings.
“You wanna tell me what happened, Sam or is it classified?”
He chuckles at that. “No ma’am. Just working a missing person’s case with a friend of mine. Only, our missing person doesn’t exactly want to be found.” He gestures to the gash.
“Sheesh, you guys love to pick fights with the wrong people. I swear.”
“Oh you think I’m bad. You should meet my C.O.. If he didn’t heal so fast he’d probably be your number one customer.” He scoffs.
“Yeah, I’d petition to get his name changed to Daredevil if that name wasn’t already taken.” That startles a laugh out of her.
“Why’re you following the guy if he get’s himself into so much trouble?” It’s easy to make conversation. Anything to keep Sam from focusing on her stitching him up.
“Because he’ll get himself killed otherwise. If he wants to try and find his Soviet ex-boyfriend, the least I can do is help.” Sam shrugs and leans his head back. “I apologize in advance if I fall asleep. It’s been a really long day.”
She knows what he means.
“Just don’t fall asleep sitting up. You don’t want a crick in your neck in the morning.”
Before he can answer, his phone rings.
“Steve, you and Nat make it out okay? Yeah. Yeah. You know that nurse Daredevil told us about? I found her. Yeah. I’ll circle back to the tower later. Okay. I’ll see you.”
“Your C.O.?” She asks quietly.
“Yeah. He just wanted to make sure I made it somewhere safe.” Sam sounds only moments away from sleep. She gets up to fetch a blanket from the hall closet.
“I’m not gonna keep you up. Get some rest. Sleep helps you heal.”
He nods tiredly.
He’s gone in the morning but in his place is a hot breakfast from her favorite diner and a thank you card. She sets it on her kitchen table with a growing collection of cards and knick knacks.
It goes on like that. It’s like her name got passed around to every vigilante in New York. Suddenly she’s got kids dressed in costumes decorated with spider webs and Norse gods trying to figure out how her Keurig works. Her place is overrun with late night guests who use her couch like a waiting room.
She's got strict rules: no fighting, no posturing, and for God's sake no guns. The last thing she needs is bar style fight in her tiny Hell's Kitchen apartment.
She gets a job as a lab technician in a small clinic. The hours are terrible and the pay is crap but it’s something and if it keeps her from bleeding her savings dry, it’s worth it. Still, sitting behind a desk running blood and urine samples isn't exactly exciting or fulfilling.
She likes the stories. It makes her feel better when Matt tells her there’s one less drug trafficking ring up and running or that Frank took down a child pornography studio. She feels more productive than she ever did at the hospital.
She sees him standing in front of her door as she's coming up the stairs from work.”Can I help you?” She asks. He's not dressed in a shiny costume and there are no visible injuries but she knows immediately who he is.
“I'm looking for a nurse Temple? I was told this is her address?” Steve Rogers is taller than he looks on television. More handsome too. Damn.
“Not a nurse. What's broken?” She sighs, exhaustion weighing her down like an anchor. Her new job is absolutely killer and she has no time to stitch anyone up. She just wants to sleep .
“Nothing ma’am - I'm sorry, can I call you ma’am?”
“Sure, why not.” She drawls. “If you're not hurt, why are you here?”
“Sam told me you were kind to him and I've been hearing stories. They're calling you the ‘ Night Nurse ’.”
Great, now she's got a nickname. Next she’s gonna have to find herself a skin tight costume and lose her sense of self-preservation.
“Anyway, he said you were having some difficulties and we thought it was only fair that we paid you back in some way.” He hands her a check and wow , that’s a lot of fucking zeros.
“I can’t, I can’t accept this. It’s too much.” She tries to hand it back but he refuses.
“We all went in on it. You work so hard and you’ve been such a big help. It’s really the least we can do.”
“I can’t take money from Captain fucking America. ” She insists. “I'm not a charity case.”
“No. You're a one woman medical ward. You've taken really good care of some really difficult people when you didn’t have to. Give us the chance to take care of you.”
Maybe it's those stupid blue eyes or how genuine he sounds. She takes the check and she can almost feel her bank account sigh in relief.
“We take care of our own. If you need anything, you can always call.” He hands her a sleek plastic card with the Avengers logo on it. “I mean it, anytime.”
She’s three hours deep into a damn good nap when she hears someone knocking at her door.
“Coming!” She calls as she tugs a robe on.
He’s an absolute mess. He’s cut up pretty bad but she can’t find the source.
“You have a name?”
“What is that? Russian?”
He grants her a sharp nod but doesn’t say anything else.
He gestures with his hand as if to say ‘so-so’.
“No guns. You leave them at the door.” She points to her now aptly named ‘weapon bin.’ She thinks it was Hawkeye who drew the label. He glances at it before divesting himself of an ungodly amount of firearms. She thought Frank was bad.
“Get in here. You’re taking a shower and while you’re doing that, I’m gonna make you something to eat.” He looks at her blankly while she guides him around.
“Shower? Wash yourself?” She ask. He nods. “Yes, you’re going to do that. Right now.” She tugs at his shirt. “And then I’m going to look at your wounds. Okay?”
He nods again, annoyance now clear on his face.
She leads him to the bathroom and shoves him inside. “Clean up. And then we can stitch you up.”
He grunts an affirmative and tugs his shirt off. There’s scar tissue all over his back leading up to what remains of his left shoulder. The rest is all metal, hissing and clicking as he moves it. She grabs a pair of sweatpants from her growing stock sets them outside the bathroom door.
She sets to work heating up some soup, something warm for such a cool day.
“ cуп? ” Claire nearly jumps out of her skin. She hadn’t heard him move, hadn’t even realized he’d left the bathroom.
“What? Soup? Yes it’s soup. Potato. Do you like potatoes?” He shrugs but accepts the bowl.
“Can I take a look at you or no? You can say no but I really should look.”
“Да.” He sits down on the couch and waits.
She tends to the most pressing wounds first, stitching up the especially deep ones and bandaging the others. “You’re gonna have to come back to get them taken out unless you already know how.” He nods and she’s not sure what the hell that’s supposed to mean.
“Stay safe okay. Whatever it is you’re into, try and keep out of trouble.”
“Спасибо.” He says and he’s gone.
‘ Weird guy .’ Claire thinks. ‘ Very very weird. ’
Superheroes are strangely polite. They always knock. So, when her door is kicked in, she knows it's no one friendly. Next thing she knows, she staring down the barrel of a loaded shotgun.
Her gun, her only real weapon, is in the nightstand next to her bed, completely out of reach. “So, you’re the one they’re calling ‘ Night Nurse .’” He says, derision lacing every word. “You no better than them. Freaks and murderers, the whole lot of ‘em. Claiming to be heroes but I know what they really are.”
“Look, I’m just trying to make a living. Helping the people who help this city, well, that’s a bonus.” Her wit is rewarded by a shotgun butt to the chest that sends her sprawling. He takes aim at her head and she holds her hands up to show she’s not a threat. There’s no card for her to play, no way out. She’s screwed.
He rears back and she readies herself for the bullet but it never comes. His body lurches with the force of three rounds straight to the chest. She turns. There are three bullet holes in her back window, the glass spider webbing out.
Her cell phone rings from its place on her coffee table. .
“Are you okay?” The voice is soft, calculating, something she recognizes.
“The guy with the metal arm.” She breathes. “I thought you barely spoke English?”
“I never said that. You should call Steve. You need medical attention.” He hangs up then and Claire breathes a sigh of relief.
The pain is catching up with her. Her chest aches as she dials.
“ Nurse Temple? Is everything okay? ”
“No…” She groans. “Everything is not okay.”
When she wakes, she knows she’s not in a hospital room. There’s an IV in her arm but the smell is all wrong. There’s a brace around her neck so she can’t fully turn her head. She tries to push herself up but her chest aches.
“Easy, Claire. You had a rough night.” Matt? It hurts to turn her neck but that’s definitely his voice.
“No shit,” she rasps, “some asshole broke into my apartment. God, it feels like one of my ribs is broken. Is one of my ribs broken?”
“Not broken, just bruised. It’s nice to finally meet you Nurse Temple. I always thought we would encounter each with better circumstances. I'm Dr. Helen Cho. Welcome to Avengers Tower.”
Avengers Tower? What the hell?
“I told you to get a new lock.” That's Frank. Who'd he have to threaten to let him into a medical ward without a pair of handcuffs? She wishes she could look around. This is a once in a lifetime chance.
“Or a new apartment altogether. Jarvis, can we make that happen? Let's make that happen.”
“Certainly sir. I've drawn up a list for Ms. Temple to choose from when she's feeling better.”
What the fuck?
“Excellent. Can we outfit it with a medical suite? The works?”
“Tony, maybe you should ask Claire what she likes? Maybe she doesn't want to play nurse to a bunch of superheroes anymore. This is our fault.” Captain America? How is it he only gets to see her when she's at her worst?
“What are we going to do without Claire?”
“That’s why I’m going to make sure the new place has extra security. A door man. Retina scanners.”
“She’s resting. Can you do this later?”
“Where’s metal arm?” Claire grunts. “Figure the guy who saved me would be the first one in here.” Steve stops short, his jaw dropping slightly.
“Metal arm?” He says slowly.
“Yeah, real quiet. Messy hair. Was a mess when he showed up, cut to shreds. I patched him up the best I could. He’s only been by once or twice. He told me to call you.”
“When was this? You said he saved you-”
“Steve, that can wait. Let her get back on her feet okay? I’m sure she’ll be willing to answer your questions later.” That’s Sam, a voice of reason as always.
She gives him a shaky thumbs up.
“I’m gonna be alright. Don’t worry about me.”
“Just relax, Claire.” Matt says. “You go ahead and rest.”
She closes her eyes and smiles.
She comes home to Frank on his knees in front of her door with a drill. He’s replacing the locks.
“It was either mine or Stark’s. Figured you’d actually want to get into your apartment.” He tosses her a set of keys. “One for the security door. One for the main door. New locks on your windows too.”
That’s...kind of creepy but weirdly affectionate. She figures that sums Frank up quite nicely.
“I appreciate it. Really. I do.” She says softly and she can’t stop the smile from tugging at her lips.
“You know, they’re gonna try to bully you into moving into that tower.”
“Eh, don’t worry. I’m not going anywhere.”
Who else is gonna take care of Hell’s Kitchen?