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Let Bad In

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Karen Page is lonely. She’s been lonely for a long time.

--

“Matt's back.”

She says it into her pillow that evening after the dust had settled, voice hoarse from shouting, wine or just the anger thick and tight in her chest.

So I see. She hears it in Frank's voice, rasped with that peculiar warmth that has stuck in her memory. Think you can forgive him for this shit, this time?

She remembers the angle that he’d leant back against the railing by the river, before all this. The way he tilted his head, looking at her beneath hood beneath cap beneath bruise.

“Not sure I'm the forgiving kind.”

He’d smile at that, a brief, crooked thing with the wrinkle of a nose that makes her smile into her pillow, turning into her elbow. He’d watch her, taking in the shifts in her expression until she'd withdraw further or crack, spilling out in frustration or bemusement like coffee over sticky counters. That had always pissed her off as much as she loved him for it: the way he reads people. Understanding eking understanding.

“Can't always get your way like that, Frank. One day you'll try it and it just won't work.”

Hell if I don't know it, and she laughs, loud enough to be caught by the dark quiet of her bedroom, and it startles her enough that the thought shifts and she open her eyes and she’s alone again, girl and gun, in a small one bed at the edge of Hell’s kitchen.

-

She thinks about Frank in the evenings, sometimes. They haven’t been out of touch, not exactly. She still hears from him: a text from a burner phone, sending her his new number; a postcard from some midwest town. Sometimes a letter. It doesn’t surprise her that he writes to her - guess I’m an old fashioned kinda guy - but nonetheless every time time she receives a letter it hits her as much it did when he gave her the flowers - and she keeps them where she keeps her gun, in the bedside table on the side that she sleeps on, close enough to touch.

She imagines meeting him somewhere out there. Maybe sitting in a city diner, one of the ones dolled up retro to add character, linoleum as authentic as the record sleeves pasted to the wall. Or maybe a fox-hole of a dinner place like the one she'd dream about, with the broken jukebox and the scratched windows, chilli fairy lights flickering overhead like fireflies.

But Frank doesn’t really seem to stick in that one. The dream, the thought, melts away until there’s only the table with its gummed up menus and him, cap low over his eyes, fingers drumming on his thigh.

And she remembers tacky plush seating and the wet crunch of bone caving, and the tension and fear that’d wound through her so tightly she felt high on it and god, it’s been a while since she’d thought about that - remembered that - and-

Sometimes she just curls herself back against the headboard, feet in her duvet, and rereads the letters, worrying the corners.

-

It’s only after she’s gambled against Fisk and lost, and she’s huddled in a church crypt, feeling stupid and scared and so goddamn angry - that she dreams about him being- home. It’s a quiet, silly dream. They go to a small Italian joint a couple blocks from the river; nothing fancy, just a small, tucked away kind of dive that's part of a bar-dining chain that hasn't spread outside the city. There’s a student waiter who takes their orders without looking at the menus and then disappears towards the back after the drinks. They’re alone. It feels nice.

In the dream he looks no more or no less than the last time she saw him - still bruised but healing, with hair grown out over the new scar upside his temple; the hint of a beard greying his cheeks.

She clears her throat before she speaks, finding the words through the fog of - of a lot of things; relief, exhaustion, spent adrenaline. A strange kind of grief. “How'd you find this place, Frank?”

You like it? The lopsided smile again. I, uh, took a look around. Checked out some reviews. This one scored well. What do you think?

(she thinks about Frank Castle, Punisher and ex-marine, flicking through comments on tripadvisor or yelp and somehow it fits)

“Looks good so far. I haven’t-” and she stops, as she hadn’t meant to say this, hadn’t thought of doing so - but the words have spilled out anyway. He watches her with those bruise dark eyes, rolling the wineglass between his thumb and forefinger.  “I haven’t seen you in a while, actually.”

Yeah. Yeah, I'm uh, trying out Pete. Castiglione. He rolls out the word. Needed some time to see if I could fit inside that.

You've been, uh, you’ve been busy.

Flicker-stutter of the feel of her gun in her hand in dark alleyways, the taste of someone else’s blood and her own in the bile she’d coughed up that morning after the Bulletin shooting, when there was nothing left to vomit but stale alcohol and stomach lining. She focuses on him, just him, and the memories quieten, although they linger, waiting at the edge of her thoughts like ghosts.

“And you.”

The last letter she'd received was a week or two ago, just before all this began - he'd written about how the country music radio stations were starting to grow on him, and how iHop coffee still tastes the same no matter how far you go.

And me. He takes a sip of his wine, wrinkles his nose at the taste, and then finishes off the glass. He pours them another: first her and then himself. Should see the shit I keep out of the letters. The country’s old, up here; old and new at the same time. ‘S weird.

She laughs; Fagan Corners was like that, all single road neighbourhoods and paint peeling from sun-warped siding, high school kids getting drunk and high in their parent’s houses. “I know what you mean.” She considers that and adds, almost as an afterthought, “I don’t think you’d like where I grew up, then.”

He kicks up his eyebrows. You calling me a city slicker?

She grins around her own glass. “Yes.” She takes a drink, and then relents. “I didn’t like it either.”

Yeah?

And she could tell him, then. She almost has before, and it would be so easy now - after Foggy and after Matt it would be as easy as breathing. She will tell him, at some point.

He toys with his glass, and she feels the question coming before he says it. You haven’t, uh. You haven’t written much.

And she hasn’t. She’s kept his letters, near 6 of them now, but has only written back once or twice. Texted him, sometimes. She’s wanted to call, but she hasn’t - not about the Bulletin, not about Fisk, and not about Kevin and she curls her hands around her glass, the warmth of it pressing back against her palms. “Yeah, I know. I’m going to, I just…”

(she remembers him in her apartment that last night before he left. How he’d kept his backpack slung over his shoulder as he’d hovered in her doorway and then her living room and the way he couldn’t seem to settle his hands - on the back of a chair, on the strap of his bag.

“I need- I need space to try this, yeah? But not from you, Karen. Not from you. You get that?”

She’d smiled, pressing her knuckles to her lips and then away again, as if she could hold the emotion in. Of course she gets it.

“Yeah.”

“I mean it.” he’s still looking at her, even though it’s like it’s stripping something away from him - his eyes are wide and soft, soft almost to vulnerability. “Yeah? I mean it.”)

(It’s not that she’s lonely. She’s been lonely for a long time.)

The pause stretches and wanes. Frank ducks his head across the table to catch her eye, reaching out to cover her hand with his own. She imagines the touch - he’s never touched her like this.

Hey, he murmurs, just as soft and quiet.

There is a clang as the gate to the crypt opens. Another, as it swings shut, and it jars her, and she opens her eyes - and she’s back beneath the church, in this version of reality, where there are approaching footsteps loud against the stone and all she can do is hide behind a shelf. She’s the girl in the cupboard again, beside the ambulance, at the whims of her mistakes.

--

She texts him after Father Lantom leaves and before she goes upstairs for mass. She sends it before she can regret it, her heart beating hard once, twice, and then the message is gone.

Hey, Frank.

I miss you.