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Don't Leave Me Alone

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“You going home, Charlie Rae?”

 

A pair of bright brown eyes turned to look into the green ones of her colleague; black and blue hair framing her face while her smile brightened the room. “Yeah, I’m done. I’ll see you tomorrow, Macy.” Macy waved at her before pushing some strands of her brown hair that escaped her bun as she watched the young adult walk out the door.

 

A pair of black Vans barely made a sound in the noisy city of Hell’s Kitchen as the black and blue streaked layered hair went up into a ponytail.

 

Charlie Rae dug her iPhone out of the left back pocket of her black shorts and slung her black bag over her shoulder; pulling her black and white checkered sleeveless shirt down to cover her ass. Even though it was the hottest summer yet in New York; she tugged her black above the elbow length fingerless gloves up a little more and cursed the heat. Charlie couldn’t wait to get her hands on a cherry slushie before making her way to Central Park.

 

She just had one thing left to do.

 

She checked the time and made her way to the bus stop, carefully keeping to herself as others waited for the bus as well. Digging through her bag, she pulled out her fare money as the bus came in sight and patiently awaited her turn to board. As soon as she paid and was seated by the window, she brought her pale legs up close to her chest; watching the buildings go by as the bus started to move. A baby started to cry as she watched people become a blur of colors and shapes and someone coughed to her left; making her grimace slightly.

 

Public transportation was only nice to ride on occasion.

 

A ding on the bus announced the next stop and Charlie got up, making her way to the front of the bus. She smiled at the bus driver and thanked him before exiting; holding her breath as the vehicle hissed out air. She slowly let it out as it continued on its way and turned to walk up the steps of an old red bricked building, squinting her eyes as she walked through the door; the gust of wind blowing her fringe around. Flicking her hair to its appropriate position to the left of her forehead, she smiled at the receptionist at the front desk.

 

“Hi, Delores. Is mom awake?”

 

Delores glanced at her over her wide brimmed glasses and grinned. “Good afternoon, Charlie Rae. Your mother just got done eating her lunch but you’ll have a few minutes to visit before she needs to sleep.” Charlie flashed her a smile. “Thank you.”

 

Coughing and quiet voices reached her ears as Charlie walked down the white hallways of the hospital toward the room her mom was in; smiling at personnel and patients alike. She stopped at the white door and knocked quietly before slipping in. “Hey, mom.”

 

Daisy Vaughn looked away from the window at the sound of her daughter’s voice and smiled. “Hi, baby girl.” Charlie quietly walked to her bed, the white sheets and blanket making her inwardly cringe, and bent down to hug the petite woman. “How did therapy go?”

 

Daisy frowned as Charlie pulled up a chair and took a clammy, pale yellow hand in hers.

 

Her mom hated it when she asked about her chemo and radiation therapy but Charlie needed to ask. She had already one type of cancer before but pancreatic cancer is so much different than breast cancer. They were able to catch that early about five years ago but the doctors looked and sounded concerned when Charlie had brought Daisy in due to her skin turning yellow in some areas. She had been diagnosed with Stage Three pancreatic cancer and admitted into the hospital almost a year ago, never leaving the white walls again. Charlie had bugged the doctors and nurses and the only thing they could tell her was that chemo and radiation therapy was her mother’s best hopes.

 

Charlie had gone home that night, much to her annoyance, and looked up all she could on pancreatic cancer. Surgery was a major option along with chemo and radiation but the doctors had not brought that up.

 

Her mom was a lot worse than she thought.

 

Daisy fixed the red beanie on her shaved head before answering; her blue eyes showing disproval. “It’s going fine, sweetie. Don’t worry about it.” Her daughter cracked a small smile; her left eyebrow raising. “Every time you say that and every time I’m going to answer with ‘It’s my turn to watch over you’.” The woman in the bed chuckled, giving Charlie enough signs that today had been somewhat of a good day. She was usually in pain and her medication did little to help; maybe they had upgraded her painkillers to a stronger one.

 

Her mom’s nurse, Kendra, came in to quietly talk to Daisy while Charlie watched the IV drip. She prayed all the time that the chemo medication in the drip and all the therapy would, somehow, produce a miracle and that her mom would be okay. The sickly thin, fragile woman was all that Charlie had left, besides the kind old lady across the hall from her apartment who had adopted her as a granddaughter, and she really didn’t know how she was going to deal with her mom dying. As much as she hoped and prayed she didn’t, the small voice in her head told her to prepare for the worst. But her mom seemed to be doing somewhat better and Charlie hoped this was the breakthrough they needed.

 

She didn’t fully believe that though.

 

Shaking her head slightly and disguising it as messing with her fringe, she looked up at the nurse as the blonde woman turned her head to look at her. “Charlie Rae, your mom needs rest now.” Nodding, she got up from the chair and kissed Daisy’s forehead; the skin feeling as cold and clammy as her hand. “Love you, mom. I’ll come by the day after tomorrow.” Her mom squeezed her hand and smiled a little when Charlie pulled back. “Love you too, sweet girl. Take care of yourself. Even with that Daredevil cleaning the streets, it’s still dangerous.”

 

Charlie nodded and walked out of the room while Kendra fixed the blankets on the bed.

 

“Charlie Rae, it’s good to see you.”

 

Smiling, she turned to find Dr. Blake Winston, her mother’s appointed doctor. “It’s good to see you too, Doc.” Dr. Winston nodded toward the way Charlie needed to go out and they stepped into a slow pace walk. The brown-eyed woman glanced at the dark skinned man. “Doc, can I ask you a question?” The doctor was looking at a clipboard in his hand but looked up at the sound of Charlie’s voice. “You know you always can, kid.”

 

Charlie bit her lower lip.

 

“Is my mom dying?”

 

Dr. Winston stopped and Charlie’s throat started to close up as she stopped as well. She reached into her bag, searching around until she found a small object, her inhaler, and wrapped her fingers around it tightly. “Charlie, we are doing all we can to make your mother comfortable as she goes through treatments.” Counting to three and taking a deep breath, Charlie shook her head. “That’s not what I asked, Doc.”

 

The few seconds of silence was enough for Charlie to grip the inhaler tighter with her right hand and reach up with the left to finger the tattoo choker and the cord choker with an angel wings charm around her neck.

 

“Your mother is a very sick woman, Charlie. You know that cancer is not to be taken lightly and it takes some time to heal; if it heals at all. Pancreatic cancer is one of those illnesses that’s a waiting game; an illness you need to catch in the beginning to stop it quickly. Your mother was at Stage Three when you bought her in. It was serious enough then that it was only a fifty/fifty percent chance that we could still beat it. I said in the beginning if anything changes that I would tell you.” The doctor sighed softly. “Charlie, she’s at Stage Four and has been for a few months. The only thing that has changed is that she is getting worse. We’ve upped the dose of morphine to make her more comfortable, switched her to drinking more liquids instead of eating solids and are trying not to do more harm than good with the severity of the chemo and radiation.”

 

He lightly put a hand on Charlie’s right shoulder.

 

“You need to start thinking of the worst possibility.”

 

And all at once, that slushie didn’t sound so good anymore.

Chapter Text

Charlie walked out of the hospital into the unforgiving heat and yet she still felt cold.

 

After a horrible panic attack had brought upon an asthmatic one, Charlie needed to go someplace where she remembered always being happy. She hailed a cab and got in, telling the cab driver where she needed to go. Her thoughts swirled in her head and uneasiness crept into her chest. She dug into her bag and pulled out her inhaler; breathing in the medication once more. There wasn’t any danger of her having another attack at that second but she didn’t want to chance it. Her anxiety attacks always provoked one and she’d rather not deal with one again.

 

Not after what she had been told.

 

Her mom was dying and nothing was working.

 

The city blurred as she sat in the back of the cab. She constantly felt the cab driver’s eyes on her and silently thanked God that he didn’t ask any questions. All she wanted to do now was process everything and stuff it behind the walls she had built. She would grieve at a later time, in the privacy of her own apartment and hopefully after her mother had passed. Dr. Winston didn’t tell her exactly when her mother would pass, just gave her an estimate of a few months. That Charlie could handle and it would make things easier to process; give her time to sort legal documents and her headspace.

 

The cab came to a halt and the rustling of clothes up front made Charlie actually focus outside the window. The carousel was brightly lit up before her and the faint music reached her ears. She paid the cab driver and he gave her sympathetic look; like he knew exactly what she was going through. Pushing aside her slight annoyance, she gave him a small smile before closing the door. She didn’t like pity or sympathy from people; there had been too much of that in past years for her.

 

Pulling her left glove up some more, she weaved through the people who had gathered around the carousel to watch their children have fun and took a seat in the shade. She breathed in deeply and focused her attention in front of her; listening to the now louder music and children’s laughter. A small smile graced her lips as she remembered coming to this spot with her family long ago; a long, long time ago.

 

“Charlie!”

 

Her head snapped up at the sound of her name and smiled bigger as she saw one of the head vets at the animal hospital where she worked coming towards her with her daughter. She got up and hugged the older woman. “Hi, Carol. What’s up, Sophie?” Hugging the four-year-old girl, she looked up at her mother as she spoke. “Hi, Charlie. Do you mind watching Sophie for a few minutes? I need to head to the restrooms before her dad comes and picks us up.” Charlie nodded. “Yeah, sure.”

 

The woman thanked her and walked off as Sophie slipped her hand through Charlie’s; the two of them going on a small walk around the carousel. Sophie giggled and danced a little while she walked with her; letting out a squeal of delight when Charlie twirled her around. Charlie quickly picked her up and spun her around; Sophie’s laughter rang throughout the park. People looked at them; some with a small smile and other’s with a disapproved look like they thought that Sophie was Charlie’s kid. Charlie brushed it off, getting looks from people was part of her daily life.

 

A few minutes later after much twirling and laughing, Carol came back and smiled at the two of them. “Thanks so much, Charlie. Her dad is here and we still have some stuff to pack.” Charlie smiled and nodded. Sophie and her family were moving to a different state as her dad had been promoted in his job. “When do you leave?” Carol sighed tiredly and tucked a piece of Sophie’s blonde hair behind her ear. “Early tomorrow.” Nodding, Charlie brought the woman into a hug. “I’ll miss you, Carol.”

 

“I’ll miss you too, Charlie.”

 

Kneeling down, Charlie tapped Sophie on the nose. “Be good, kiddo. And take care of your mom and dad, okay?” Sophie threw her arms around the young woman and promised she would. Charlie stood up and waved as the two females walked off; returning the gesture. Sighing deeply, she checked the time on her phone before deciding to head back to her apartment.

 

As she turned to leave, her eye caught a rather unusual sight.

 

A man with a military crew cut was sitting on a bench a few feet away from her. What had mostly caught her attention was the black jacket he wore. Now, Charlie knew that she looked ridiculous with her gloves and she knew that a lot of people in this city wore long sleeves due to their clothing style. But this man looked military and appeared to have both his arms so he wasn’t hiding a prosthetic. He looked to be in serious thought and Charlie shook her head; continuing her path out of the park. She was very aware of all the people around her and all the eyes; her own shifting around to evaluate people. Looking over the area with the man, she felt her heart stop in her chest when she locked eyes with him. Trying not to appear rude or afraid, she gave him a small smile in a polite gesture and hurriedly walked out of the park. She walked along the sidewalk, keeping close to the buildings, and within ten minutes, she had arrived at her apartment.

 

Buzzing herself in and pulling out her keyring, she quickly checked her mailbox; grabbing the few white envelopes in the box. She greeted the doorman, Al, and continued her way up to the fourth floor where she lived. Music reached her ears as she passed the few doors to get to her own; smiling when she heard the jazz coming from Gram’s across the hall from her and unlocked her door.

 

She took a relaxing deep breath as she stepped inside.

 

Two tiny heads popped up from the small mound of blankets on her bed and she smiled as the tiny kittens jumped up to run to her. She had been caring for them since someone had dropped them off at the animal hospital a few weeks back. The black haired brother and sister had been malnourished and filthy; Charlie had only meant to keep them until they were well enough to be put up for adoption. But it was lonely in the apartment and there had been no new animals that needed looking after for a while. So Charlie told the vets that she would keep them herself and they had allowed her to.

 

Kneeling down, she gave them a good rubbing before throwing her bag on the black futon in front of the small flatscreen TV and placing the envelopes on the kitchen counter. “Come on, Shadow. Duchess.” Both kittens rubbed against her legs, their soft fur tickling her ankles, as she opened her door once more. They followed her to the door across the hall and Charlie knocked quietly before opening the door she knew would be unlocked.

 

“Hey, Gram.”

 

An elderly lady wearing a blue dress turned around, smiling. The kittens quickly walked over toward her as Charlie closed the door; mewing at the old lady. “I was hoping you’d come by today, Charlie Rae.”

 

The young woman smiled. “You know I always do.”

Chapter Text

Pain.

 

Pain.

 

Pain.

 

Pain.

 

Charlie Rae woke up screaming her lungs out, her heart threatening to beat out of her chest, and sat up. Clawing her way toward the nightstand beside her bed, she clumsily grabbed for her inhaler; shoving it into her mouth and taking deep breaths as the medication went towards her lungs. From the dim city lights that shone through her windows, she made out Duchess’ eyes from her pillow and Shadow’s from the windowsill beside her bed.

 

Swinging her legs over the side of the mattress, she pulled her purple tank top strap back over her left shoulder from where it had fallen in her frenzy to breathe. Her lungs burned from the attack and her heart was slowly but surely working it’s way to a normal rate as she looked around her apartment.

 

She was glad her mom had gotten it as it was an open space, save for the bathroom. The living room area was the first place you walked into from the door. A black futon and a blue chair were set around a black coffee table before a small TV stand with the flatscreen. A silver floor lamp sat behind the chair as well and a tiny, tall table say next to it; holding her mom’s favorite books. Behind the futon was a small, dark brown four-seater table with an orchid plant as a centerpiece. The small kitchen sat in an alcove along the wall that separated Gram’s apartment from her’s and the bathroom was along that same wall. Pictures were set on the tables, the TV stand and hung from walls; almost all of them were of Charlie and her mom.

 

Her bed sat pushed against the bricked walls in the farthest corner of the room. The nightstand was to the left with a window behind it. A chest laid at the foot of the bed and so did another window; a bookcase on the other side of it. Charlie and her mom had hung a pole on the wall that separated the “bedroom” from the bath to hang their clothing with a shelf above that. A shoe rack was put under the clothes and Charlie still remembered the moment she finally knew she was home in this small brick wall apartment. Back then, her mom’s colored clothes had clashed with her darker clothing; their shoes doing the same thing. But now, almost all of her mom’s clothes and shoes were gone, put into storage in the basement, and Charlie swallowed the lump in her throat as she pushed the black comforter away and made her way to the couch.

 

She wasn’t gonna get any more sleep.

 

Plopping down on the futon, she grabbed a dark green crocheted blanket her mom had made on a good day at the hospital and curled up in it. She grabbed the remote and turned on the TV for background noise as she remembered her conversation with Gram earlier.

 

“Mom’s dying, Gram.”

 

The old woman turned from the casserole she was making to look at Charlie who was sitting at the table; her two kittens resting on the other chairs. “I’m sorry, sweetie.”

 

Charlie didn’t want pity but she looked at Gram with tears in her eyes.

 

“I’m gonna lose her, Gram. She’s the best thing that has ever happened to me in years and I’m gonna lose her.” Gram put down the spoon she was holding and walked toward the young woman, wrapping her up in a hug. “Your mom would say the same thing about you too, baby girl. But you can’t thwart the will of God.” Charlie took a deep breath and the old woman rubbed her back. “You have done everything you could have done for her, Charlie Rae. And the doctors that took care of Daisy were the best in that area of expertise. There’s nothing more you could have done.”

 

Charlie wrapped the blanket tighter around herself as Duchess and Shadow decided to join her. Shadow walked along the back of the futon before sliding into the blanket to cuddle at her chest and Duchess curled up between her legs and the couch. Dipping her head low, Charlie nuzzled the tiny animal and he pushed his face into her’s; his purr vibrating throughout his body.

 

She let her head hang back to rest against the couch but lifted it up again as something on the news caught her ear. Turning up the volume, she paid attention.

 

“A shooting took place earlier tonight as a local gang was shot by unknown persons. Police are not giving out information about the shooters at this time but as you can see behind me; it is a nightmarish scene. Approximately ten gang members were killed with a few more injured. The gang had fled the scene before the police arrived and without any affirmative answers, it looks like they were hit by a rival gang. No further intel has been released..”

 

Charlie narrowed her eyes at the screen. She had seen plenty of dead bodies in photographs, due to her mom’s job as a lawyer before she was diagnosed, but never like this. The bodies were still laying in the streets; dark, huge lumps that were barely visible due to the horrible lighting of the street lamps. Red and blue police lights bounced off the buildings and the police were keeping the press as well as passersbyers as far back as they could. Charlie took in a deep breath as her brows furrowed; Shadow gently kneading her arm with his paws.

 

There has always been gang violence in Hell’s Kitchen, being on the Hudson has its perks, but there was never anything like this. Sure, rival gangs would have turf wars and deals gone bad but never, ever like this. This was something else entirely. This was an ambush; maybe even a hit. The press had it wrong and the press was almost always wrong until they had the facts handed to them on a silver platter. Charlie also knew it wasn’t the Daredevil doing this. The Devil of Hell’s Kitchen never killed anyone.

 

That meant that Hell’s Kitchen had new players in the field.

 

Charlie knew a lot about the gangs around the Kitchen due to past issues with them and this would set off the ones in the area. She would have to be extremely cautious while coming home from work when she worked the evening shift at the animal clinic; not that she wasn’t already. Perhaps she should get a dog, a big one. One that the clinic would have no problem with her bringing in and big enough that maybe everyone would just stay away. There were plenty of dogs in the shelters; finding one would not be a problem at all.

 

Or maybe she was just being paranoid like always and she should calm the fuck down.

Chapter Text

“Did you hear what happened last night on the news?”

Charlie pushed her bangs away from her face as she sat at the front desk in the animal hospital and looked at Macy. “The one about the gang?” Macy nodded. “Yeah. I heard that the men who were injured are babbling nonsense about an army attacking them. Weird, isn’t it?” Charlie nodded slowly. “Kinda, I guess. There’s always been gang activity though. Maybe someone decided to up their game.” Macy made a face and grabbed some folders off the desk, putting them away in alphabetical order in the file cabinet. “That could be the case. Whatever it is, be careful out there, Charlie Rae. The attack took place only a couple of blocks away from your apartment.”

Charlie waved her off. “I’ll be fine. Nothing has happened to me and I’ve lived here for a long time.” Macy snorted. “Bet that’s what the gangs said too.” The younger woman glared up at the older one as a bell dinged; signaling a costumer. “You, Macy, need a more exciting life. Hi there! How can I help you?”

----------------------------------------------

”Be careful, Charlie Rae! See you tomorrow!”

Charlie waved to Macy as the woman walked out the front door before going to the back room of the clinic. She pulled her bag out of her locker and quickly changed out of her black scrubs; pulling on some black skinnies and combat boots before slipping a moon phase tank top over her head. Grabbing her gloves, she quickly tugged them on before slinging her bag over her shoulder and running out of the clinic to catch the bus.

Kendra had called her on her lunch break with an update that her mom was having a semi-good day and that she loved her. Charlie Rae smiled when she remembered hearing her mother over the phone and promised to come by tomorrow but that she needed to sleep; which is why Charlie didn’t go to the hospital. Today was the day her mother usually had the worst of the therapies and it was best to leave her alone afterwards.

She made her way through the small crowd when she arrived at the carousel and looked down at her phone when it buzzed. Seeing that it was an email from one of her mom’s lawyer friend’s, she quickly opened it to see what they had said. She collided with a solid structure and apologies started spewing from her mouth.

“I’m so sorry! I wasn’t paying attention, which is totally all my fault. Ah, jeez, I’m really sorry for being a klutz. ”

She looked up to see the man she had been staring at yesterday was the one she had run into. He had a five o’clock shadow and his eyes were slightly sunken in or else it was his broad forehead that made it look that way. He appeared way more muscular up close and the man was now looking down at her. Charlie shook her fringe out of face; shaking that thought out of her mind in the process before furrowing her brows. “I’m really sorry. Did I hurt you?” The man looked taken back at her sincerity while at the same time looked thoroughly amused; like he couldn’t believe she was asking that. “No, no. I’m fine. I think I should be asking you that though.” His voice was deep and soft spoken; something Charlie instantly liked about him. Soft spoken people were usually her favorite people to talk to. That is, when she did talk to people. She chuckled nervously. “Yeah, I guess that was a stupid question. But, um, I’m alright. No need to ask.” The man nodded at her and looked like he was about to walk off but stopped when Charlie stuck out her hand; her mind frazzling at the sudden courage she magically obtained. “My name’s Charlotte.” He raised an eyebrow but took her hand in his calloused ones; the two of them shaking them. “Frank Castle.” Charlie tilted her head at him; her thoughts running at a hundred miles per hour before settling on one that seemed the most logical. “Tell me if I’m prying but did you serve, sir?” He bit his lip and Charlie shook her head frantically; anxiety settling in almost immediately afterwards. “Shit, I’m so sorry. That was a prying question. Um, uh, I’ll leave you alone. Um, I bet you’re busy. Um, uh, yeah, it was nice meeting you, Mr. Castle.” Charlie felt her cheeks warm up and went to move around him; her hands shaking and reaching into her bag for her inhaler as her throat started to close.

“Frank.”

She stopped and looked up at him with questioning eyes. He looked nervous; like he was just like her and had horrible people skills. Or maybe it was because he was a convicted criminal. Charlie chuckled mentally at that one.

“Call me Frank. Mr. Castle makes me sound like some old man.”

Charlie licked her lips and nodded her head. “Frank then. You can call me Charlie Rae.” He lifted an eyebrow at her and she dipped her head; anxiety creeping back into her chest. “It’s a nickname I was given and it just stuck. Besides, everyone who knows me calls me it and, well, I guess technically you know me.” She finally did pull out her inhaler and brought it to her lips; Frank’s brows furrowing as he straightened in his stance. “You okay?”

Charlie nodded and held up a finger in a waiting motion before drawing a second breath; stuffing the small container back into her bag. “I am. Just my anxiety getting to me.” He didn’t look convinced and Charlie didn’t know how to take his concern; if it was concern she saw in his features. “I’m really serious. I’ve dealt with it my whole life and I’m not dead yet.” Frank nodded and looked around them as the crowd started to get thicker. Charlie spotted a bench a few feet away from the coffee cart and bit her lip. “Well, um, would you like a coffee? As an apology gesture for running you over?”

Frank chuckled and flashed a small smile; like he sincerely thought it was funny. “I guess it’d be rude to turn you down.” Charlie shrugged as the two of the started to move toward the cart. “You have your right to. I mean, you still could if you wanted to. I won’t be offended in any way.” Frank shook his head a little. “It’s quite alright. Beside I could have used some coffee about now anyway.” Charlie Rae chuckled. “Well I’m glad I asked then. Um, one medium coffee with vanilla creamer. Frank?” She turned toward him after flashing the coffee man a smile; offering the man beside her one as well. He shrugged his shoulders a little. “Just some black will do.”

Charlie made a face and pulled out her wallet; paying for the coffees. “So you’re one of those people that just drink straight black.” She took her coffee in hand; gripping it tightly as her gloves offered her little friction and waited as Frank grabbed his. “What did ya think I’d get?” He followed her slowly to the bench and watched as she breathed in the smell of vanilla from her coffee; his eyes glancing down at her gloves before quickly returning to her face. She laughed slightly. “Either black or a whole lotta sugar.”

Frank flashed a smile before taking a drink of his coffee.

The two remained quiet for a moment before Frank cleared his throat. “About your question earlier…” Charlie turned to him with curiosity. “About you serving?” He nodded before taking another sip. “Yeah, that one. To answer it, I did serve.” Charlie tilted her head and Frank saw a spark of interest in her brown eyes. “What branch?”

“Marine Corps.”

“Occupation?”

Frank chuckled. “You thinking about going into the military?” Charlie let out a laugh and smiled while she sipped her coffee; Frank watching her every move. “No, I’m not. I used to know people who went into the military. I find it interesting.” The male nodded while studying her. “I was a scout sniper before I was discharged.”

Charlie nodded her head, not pressing on the word ‘discharge’ as to respect his privacy at least some. “Sounds like an interesting position.” Frank nodded his head to the side and scrunched up the left side of his face as a dead breeze began to blow; Charlie scrunching up her nose. “Definitely had it’s moments.”

A buzz brought Charlie’s attention from Frank to her phone and she saw her mom’s best lawyer friend had texted her and wanted to meet in ten minutes; another text from the office manager of the clinic asking if she’d cover for someone’s shift. “Aw, shit, I’m sorry but I have to go.” Frank furrowed his brow. “Everything okay?” Charlie Rae smiled a little at the concern; amazed at how at ease Frank made her feel. “Yeah, I just gotta meet with a lawyer about some things.” She stuck out her hand as Frank stood up and he shook it. “It as nice meeting you, Frank, and thank you for your service.”

Frank gave her a small smile of his own. “Pleasure is all mine. Just don’t go running into people anymore.” Charlie’s cheeks heated up and that did not go unnoticed by him. “I’ll try not to. See you around.”

The former marine watched her walk off; following her carefully through the crowd with his eyes. He couldn’t remember the last time someone had spoken like that to him or had treated him like she had. Watching her safely get into a cab, he relaxed his muscles that he hadn’t known were tensed and finished the rest of his coffee.

Charlie Rae would be someone he would never forget.

Chapter Text

“You know there’s no need to hurry. Right, Charlie?”

 

Charlie Rae took a deep breath as she sat across from her mom’s friend, Stacy. The woman had been a lawyer alongside her mom and the two had met on more than one occasion to discuss cases and other official business. Charlie’s mom had trusted Stacy with a lot of things and Charlie trusted her too; something she rarely gave to people.

 

“I know, Stacy. But it’ll be easier for me.” Stacy nodded at her and Charlie almost bristled at the pity in her eyes. She understood why it was there; she just didn’t like it. Stacy flipped through a couple of documents before her. “Your mother did contact me and we have been going through a few thing together as well. Everything should go smoothly after her passing.”

 

Charlie’s eye physically twitched but Stacy didn’t even notice.

 

Mom. Not mother.

 

She was Charlie’s mom.

 

Charlie bit her tongue and nodded. “That’s all I really want to know. If everything is gonna be okay; even if I don’t show my face for a while.” The woman across from her began to gather documents up and she smiled at Charlie. “Don’t worry, kiddo. I’ll take care of everything and only call you if you need to be present.”

 

“Thanks, Stacy. It means a lot to me and to mom.”

 

The lawyer smiled bigger. “It’s the least I can do. You mother helped me with a tough case right before she was admitted and I never got to pay her back. This is one way of doing it.” Charlie nodded and cracked a small smile. “She did mention that once or twice.” Stacy laughed; the smile on Charlie’s face growing a little bigger as the older woman started to pack the documents before her up. “Everything will be fine, Charlie Rae. I’ll be in contact with you if I need you to sign or oversee anything.” Charlie nodded once more. “Thanks for this, Stacy.”

 

“It’s no problem. I have to head back to the office now. I would recommend you stay here and have the diner’s pancakes. They’re very good.”

 

The younger female smiled. “Maybe I will. Bye, Stacey.”

 

She watched the older woman leave the diner and took a deep breath; fingering the handle of the coffee mug before her. She stared into the caffeinated liquid that looked like it had way too much cream in it and let the world around her fade.

 

Her mom was dying and her mom knew.

 

She swallowed hard and took a deep breath; cupping the mug before taking a drink. The busy city outside the window bustled; no one even knowing what she was going through. But she didn’t know about them either.

 

“Charlie Rae?”

 

Her head snapped up at the sound of her name and a smile spread across her face. “Frank. Fancy seeing you here.” The male pointed to the seat across from her that Stacy had occupied. “Mind if I sit?” Charlie shook her head no and took another sip of coffee as Frank sat down; the black duffel bag he was carrying beside him. “Never pegged you for a diner girl.” She chuckled. “I was meeting a family lawyer friend and decided to stay a while longer.”

 

Frank raised an eyebrow. “Everything okay?”

 

“Peachy.”

 

He nodded and Charlie knew he didn’t really believe her. She could read people quite easily and she honestly wouldn’t be surprised if he could too. He thumped his thumbs on the table. “So what can you get in a place like this?”

 

“Well, their coffee is good and I hear their pancakes are fantastic.”

 

He smirked at her. “Heard that from a family lawyer friend?” She laughed and shrugged her shoulders. “They’re a reliable source.” Charlie Rae watched as Frank raised a hand and the waitress that had served her coffee came over. “What can I get you, hon?” Frank flashed her a smile. “I’ll have a cup of your coffee and I hear your pancakes are fantastic so I want to see if this is true.” Charlie cracked a smile when his gaze flickered to her and the waitress nodded; writing it all down before she turned to her. “Can I get you anything else?” Charlie shook her head. “No, thank you.” She fingered the handle on the mug as Frank settled back into the chair; thanking the waitress when she came back with his own cup of coffee. He took a sip and waited a few seconds; Charlie raising an eyebrow. “Well. That is good coffee.”

 

The young woman smiled cheekily at him. “Told ya so.”

 

He almost glared at her and she smiled sweetly at him before taking another drink. “So why didn’t you order anything?” Charlie licked her lips and checked her phone; 1:00 PM proudly displayed on the screen. “I got to get to work here soon and I don’t do well on the bus with a full stomach.” Frank slowly nodded his head; his food arriving while Charlie had talked. “Where do you work?”

 

“At the 24-hour vet clinic over on 33rd.”

 

He pointed his fork at her. “I pegged you as an animal person.” Charlie chuckled and looked out the window before looking back at him. “Guilty as charged.” She took another sip as Frank dug into his pancakes; his eyes looking back up at her. “Not much of a talker are you?”

 

The young female shrugged. “It’s not that I don’t like talking. Most conversations usually just end after everything is said. “Like ‘how are you’, ‘what are you doing now’ and ‘how’s the weather’.” She quirked an eyebrow at Frank. “It’s usually the other person in the conversation that keeps it going.”

 

Frank gave her a look. “Well, sorry to burst your bubble but I’m not a very chatty person.”

 

“I figured that out on my own.”

 

The muscular male narrowed his eyes at Charlie and she grinned. “I’m fine if we sit in silence as long as it doesn’t get too awkward.” She glanced down at her watch. “But unfortunately, I need to go. I’m covering someone’s late shift.” Charlie tapped her cup handle. “Which means I need more caffeine.”

 

Frank’s stare kept getting more intense. “What time do you get off work?”

 

The waitress came over in that second and Charlie ordered a large coffee to go and her check before turning back to the male in front of her. “Hopefully by midnight. Unless something happens and I need to stay later.”

 

“Isn’t your work in a heavy gang area?”

 

Charlie shook her head. “Technically no. It’s on the outskirts but they have been broadening their territories. So at the moment, no it’s not. In a week or two? It probably will be.”

 

Frank seemed to accept her answer and rested his elbows on the table. “Just be careful.”

 

“Aw, Frank. You going sweet on me?”

 

One of his eyes almost twitched.

 

Charlie Rae knew how to safely push the right buttons.

 

She loved pushing buttons and making comebacks dripping with sarcasm. Her mom used to laugh and shake her head or give her a full on glare when Charlie needed to stop. Her coworkers learned to work around her snarkiness when it was shown and she could be totally serious but still snap back with sarcasm. She was good at it.

 

At that second, the waitress came back with her receipt and coffee.

 

She grabbed them both before flashing a smile at Frank. “Thanks for the company and concern. For a serious guy, you make pretty good conversation.”

 

Frank watched her leave and kept watching her through the glass windows. She pulled up one glove before switching her coffee to the other hand; pulling up the second one. He watched as she walked to the bus stop and kept well away from the other people before boarding the bus when it arrived.

 

Charlie Rae had caught his attention for sure.

 

And he honestly didn’t want any harm to come to her.

Chapter Text

Over the next week, Frank popped up at the most random of times.

 

And surprisingly, Charlie Rae thought nothing of it.

 

He would always ask how she was, how her work was going, and if she had any trouble making it home on her late nights. The gang shootings had continued, almost every night a new gang had been torn to shreds, and Charlie had actually let the notion that Frank was the culprit sneak into her mind.

 

She always shook her head afterwards but the thought was still there, like a little box in the back of her mind.

 

“Hey, Charlie!”

 

Charlie looked up from the dog she was bringing in from the outside kennel to see Macy bringing another dog in for boarding. The young woman slipped the leash off of the pup before locking the dog in its kennel and walking over to help Macy. “Yes?”

 

Macy handed her a clipboard with the board dates and the list of things that was brought with the dog as she walked inside the kennel. “Did you hear about the pawn shop murder?”

 

Furrowing her brow, Charlie got a water bowl and proceeded to fill it up for the new boarder. “Which pawn shop?”

 

“The real sketchy one.”

 

“The one on 21st?” Macy nodded as Charlie handed her the bowl and pet the dog before walking out of the kennel. “That’s the one. They say it was a robbery because there was no money in the register but that was the only thing that was missing.”

 

Charlie shrugged her shoulders as she pulled the sleeve of her long sleeved shirt down and straightened her scrub top. “Unfortunately I can’t bring myself to have sympathy. The guy was sketchy as hell and you can bet your butt that there were illegal things going in that store.”

 

“The police say that most of things were stolen goods; a few things with underage kids too.”

 

Clicking her tongue, Charlie gave Macy a pointed stare. “My point exactly.”

 

The older female shook her head as Charlie looked down at her hand and swallowed hard. Her fingers were visibly shaking and she clenched them into a tight fist before freezing as Macy grabbed on to it with her own. “You doing okay?”

 

Forcing a tight smile on to her face, Charlie nodded. “Yeah. It’s just my nerves.”

 

“Your mom?”

 

Nodding slowly, the raven head flexed her hand once more before flashing her coworker a smile. “I’ll be fine. Just wanna go home and sleep.”

 

Macy nodded as the two worked side by side in the kennels; helping the kennel girl take care of the boarders so they could all go home in at a decent time. The girl thanked them and Charlie Rae gave her a smile before heading to her locker. She sneezed as pet dander got blown around the back of the clinic and opened her asthma medication bottle as she took out two. Throwing them into the back of her throat and dry swallowing them, she sipped from a water bottle as footsteps were heard from behind her.

 

“You better not be working yourself up into an attack, Charlie.”

 

Dr. Summers was standing behind the girl as she shook her head; flicking her fringe out of her face when she stood still. “No ma’am, I promise I’m not. Just trying to stay on top of it.”

 

The vet quirked an eyebrow at her as Charlie bent over to redo her ponytail. “If you say so. Macy said that she has most of the paperwork for your shift done so you can go ahead and go. She volunteered to stay behind to finish up.”

 

“I can stay if I need to, Dr. Summers.”

 

Shaking her head, Summers made a shooing motion. “Go see your mom before the day ends. And your blue is fading.”

 

Charlie frowned as she touched her hair. “You’re colorblind. You don’t know that.”

 

Dr. Summers sent the young woman a cheeky grin which made Charlie frown even more and shook her head as the vet walked away. Grabbing her change of clothes from inside the locker, she quickly stripped off her work clothes and redressed before hopping about to put on her Vans. She pulled her gloves up high as she slung her bag over her shoulder before saying farewell to the receptionist.

 

By the time she approached the hospital, she had been catcalled twice, had a mild asthma attack when she forgot to hold her breath because of fumes, and had one person remark on her gloves.

 

A typical day in Hell’s Kitchen.

 

She said hello to Delores and was making her way to her mom’s room when she heard someone call out her name. Turning around, she inwardly groaned as she smile at the person walking towards her.

 

It was her asthma doctor, Delaney.

 

The brunette doctor said something into the walkie earpiece she had on before looking at Charlie as she stood in front. "Fancy seeing you here, Charlie Rae. You wouldn’t so happen to be here for an appointment, hm?

 

Appointment.

 

Right.

 

Charlie’s regular doctor’s visit to check on her lungs that the raven head had put off for several months. Delaney had called in her prescription medications for her to pick up every month with the question ‘have you made your appointment’ and each time, Charlie made up an excuse. It’s not that she didn’t appreciate what the doctor did. Charlie just didn’t like what the exam entailed.

 

But it was time to make adjustments to her meds if need be.

 

The raven head sighed with a frown. “If you have time today, can you fit me in?”

 

Delaney smiled wickedly. “I heard you were coming in and freed up some time for you. See your mom but then I expect you in the lobby in five.”

 

Charlie mumbled a ‘yes ma’am’ before turning and walking into her mom’s room with a slight knock. “Can I trouble you not to tell people I’m coming in?”

 

Daisy smiled at her daughter. “Delaney get to you?”

 

Huffing and sitting down in her chair, Charlie gently took her mom’s hand in her own. “It’s not that I don’t appreciate what they do here, especially with Delaney putting up with me. I just…. I don’t like being here for more time than I have to.”

 

“Baby girl, it’s for your own health that you do this.”

 

Charlie nodded and spent the next several minutes talking to her mom before the nurse came in and said that it was time for another therapy session. The raven head clenched her jaw at the announcement and said goodbye as she hugged Daisy. She felt like false hope was being given when they all knew it wasn’t working.

 

Walking down the hall and stepping into the elevator, Charlie sighed as she made her way to the lobby.

 

And obviously, Delaney was there with her stupid smile.

 

“This way, Charlie Rae.”

 

The doctor may be nice but Charlie still hated that smile after all these years.

 

They went through the familiar halls as they did their routine: weight, height, etc, etc. They finally came to that familiar doctor’s room and Charlie hopped up onto the table as the paper crackled under her weight, plopping her bag beside her. Delaney held out her hand and Charlie gave her the inhaler she kept in it as well as her spare.

 

“How’ve you been doing these past few months?”

 

Charlie shrugged. “Okay I guess. My lungs haven’t felt any different.”

 

“Not feeling different doesn’t mean you don’t come in.”

 

The raven head frowned as her doctor wrote down the dosage she had been taking and got out her files from the last visit. Charlie wasn’t stupid. She knew her asthma could cause her problems. She just didn’t like the doctor visits that entailed.

 

Delaney held up the peak flow meter and Charlie sat up a little straighter. “Blow.”

 

Charlie took a deep breath as she grabbed it before taking another breath and breathing into the mouthpiece as fast and as hard as she could. Delaney wrote down the number she gotten before moving the bar on the scale down, nodding to Charlie. She had to do this two more times and by the end of it, she just wanted to go home.

 

“Your numbers dropped again, Charlie.”

 

The young female sighed and sagged her shoulders. “You said that they would over time.”

 

“Have you been using your meter at home?”

 

“On occasion.” Charlie replied with a shrug.

 

Delaney narrowed her eyes. “I’m very serious about this, Charlie. Use that meter. If your meds don’t work one of these days because you haven’t used it and brought it to my attention, that’s a problem.”

 

Charlie nodded and stared at her feet as her doctor rolled her chair over to get another instrument. Delaney listened to her heart and lungs, listening closely for any sound that wasn’t considered normal. She mentioned allergies to Charlie as she commented that her lungs sounded a little wet but it wasn’t anything that had been different before.

 

And then, finally, Charlie was cleared go home.