She runs. She runs hard and fast through the rain and cold because shots are going off everywhere and she is really glad she wore flats to that interview. If only she had known that her intel was bad and she would end up in the crossfire of the Serbs and the Irish.
She weaves through alleyways and the shots start to sound more distant. They stop completely and the sirens take their place. Eventually, she’s just trying to walk casually down a sidewalk and hears the low rumble of a car behind her. She expects it to ride past her. When it doesn’t her hands reach for the gun in her purse. It pulls up to the sidewalk and she aims it through the passenger window with precision.
She sighs in relief and annoyance. She should have known he would be here too. Why else would there be such silence in the chaos?
He scrunches his nose the way he does whenever she calls him that.
“Get in. It’s cold out there.”
She does without argument and feels just a little bad for the way water pools on the floor. She looks to the back of the van. She turns to him with a frown.
She grabs onto the handle as he speeds away. He tears around the corner and her stomach lurches. She hates the way he drives and has told him so on many occasions. He always finds it amusing.
“Not tonight. Put your seatbelt on.”
She rolls her eyes but does what he says. He turns the heat on high and she hums in appreciation. Her adrenaline had been pumping so fiercely that she had ignored how the cold had seeped past her coat and into her skin.
“What were you doing there?"
She shivers and he notices.
“Source,” she says through chattering teeth.
“Didn’t think to bring an umbrella with you?”
She raises an eyebrow.
“You worried about me, Frank?”
They’re stopped at a red light so he reaches behind him. She accepts the blanket with surprise. He must have just done laundry because it smells like detergent and the image of Frank doing laundry causes so much dissonance that she shakes her head.
“You’re gonna get sick."
He is such a dad. She hides her smile in the blanket and leans her head against the seat.
“I’ll be fine.”
He reluctantly drops her off several blocks from her building because it would be unwise for people to see her emerge from his murder van. That was the name she had given it at least. He hands her an umbrella before she gets out of the van.
“You’re gonna wish you had this earlier, ma’am”
She slams the door.
“Hey, watch it,” comes his muffled protest.
She wishes she had brought an umbrella. She wishes her source had been a better fucking source in the first place because then maybe she wouldn’t have been out there last night. She can barely lift her head from the pillow. Ellison practically thanks her for not coming in because she sounds so bad.
“Stay home, Page. We don’t need that here.”
She thinks about dragging herself to urgent care but she can’t move and the room is spinning. She groans and goes back to sleep. When she wakes up, there is a hand pressed to her forehead. it feels too hot so she pushes it away.
“You’re burning up, ma’am.”
Frank sits on the edge of her bed and looks at her with mild alarm. Max sits on the floor at his feet obediently. His tail wags and Karen can tell he wants to hop on the bed but Frank has clearly told him not to. She groans and rolls onto her back.
“What are you doing here?”
“Checking on you.”
She reaches feebly for her phone. He hands it to her. The brightness of the screen triggers her nausea. She tosses it back onto the nightstand. It was past noon.
“I feel like shit.”
“Got something to say, Francis?”
She has a headache the size of a Texas and her muscles ache. She can’t tell if it’s from sprinting the night before or if she has the flu. She rolls back onto her stomach and buries her face into her pillow.
“You eat today?”
What she means to be a shake probably looks more like of a slow roll of her head to him. She feels him get up and then hears the rustle of a paper bag in the kitchen. She wants to see what he’s doing but she’s already drifting back to sleep. He wakes her up with a hand on her hair. She lifts her head marginally.
“Come on. You need to eat.”
She does feel just the tiniest bit hungry. He helps prop her up against her headboard and pillows. He brings her a small bowl of soup that is mostly vegetables, broth and seasonings. It smells delicious. It does help to soothe her throat. He takes to straightening up her apartment as she sips her soup and watches. She thinks of him doing this for Maria and his kids and it makes ambivalence rear its loathsome head. The incongruence of Frank Castle never ceases to perplex her.
He must feel her eyes on him so he comes over and replaces her soup with a large glass of water. He gives her two ibuprofen to take for her headache.
“Where did you learn that recipe?” she asks.
He takes the cup from her when she finishes.
“Maria. She, uh, used to make it for the kids when they got sick.”
She smiles and nods, burrows herself back in the covers.
“You like it?”
There is a trace of shyness in his voice and goddammit. Here he is in her apartment taking care of her and sharing recipes that his wife shared with him. She reaches up to run a finger over his dog tags as they dangle out of his shirt.
“Yes. You can make it again sometime if you want.”
He smiles, soft and reflective.
She rolls back onto her stomach. She is almost back to sleep when she opens her eyes groggily.
“I want Max.”
Frank sighs. He can be such a grumpy old man sometimes.
He calls Max onto the bed and the dog responds eagerly. The movement jostles the bed and does nothing for her headache but Frank eventually gets Max to calm down and lie still next to her so she can pet him. She goes in and out of sleep. Each time she wakes Max is curled up next to her, moving only if she does.
Sometimes she wakes and can only hear Frank moving around her apartment. Other times she can see him lying on her couch with a book in one hand and coffee in the other. She cranes her neck a bit to see the title of the book. Her laugh comes out as a squawk because now she has a cough.
“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies?”
He simply turns the page.
“Go back to sleep, Karen."