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A week ago...
“How've you been, Frank?” Curtis Hoyle asked, walking up to his friend and shaking his hand. Other former soldiers were filing out of the meeting and once again, Frank had missed it. “You did real good there for a while but lately... haven't seen you. What's going on?”
”I'm fine. Just had things on my mind,” Frank replied, turning to get some of the cheap coffee after he had shook Curtis' hand. ”I don't think this is helping.”
Curtis sighed and nodded, holding his tongue while he watched Frank pour up some coffee. He had to pick his words wisely. Frank was an extreme case who could probably use more professional help than he could provide, but due to the deal with the CIA he couldn't exactly go out and talk to just anyone about it. Even if there was Doctor and patient privilege involved, who exactly could they trust to keep the secret that Frank Castle is still alive?
“I know it doesn't seem like it. But man... we have to give it some time,” Curtis finally said when Frank turned back to him. “You've got to...”
”Forget?” Frank asked, his stern exterior making it hard for Curtis to see if he was upset or not.
“No, no... that's not what I was going to say,” Curtis said, holding up a hand.
”That seems to be the theme around here from what I've seen. Talk about your damn feelings until enough time has passed that you just don't feel it any more. You forget how it felt before, who you were before, and you learn to just be happy with who you are now,” Frank continued, pausing to take a swig on the coffee. If he was angry, it wasn't at Curtis. ”I can't forget. Even after Orange and Russo... fuck forgetting.”
“I didn't mean to make it sound like we should forget our past,” Curtis chimed in, reaching out to put a hand on his friend's shoulder. “No way in hell do I mean that... especially for you. But you need to look around you and see that you mean something to people. Me, David, his kids... you are our family too, Frank.”
”Let me ask you something,” Frank said, downing the last of his coffee and then tossing the cup into the garbage can. ”How many people out there right now do you think are suffering like me?”
“A bunch, probably,” Curtis yielded.
”A whole fucking bunch. Families are left devastated every day while these fucking people go to jail and sit back and live off the state. Go to school, watch TV, get five warm meals a day. All the while their victims are sitting at home trying to make sense of what just happened to them. And that's only if this fucked up justice system puts them in jail to begin with. These dumbass vigilantes are just leading them down to the jail where they can just learn to be better criminals and come back out again when people like Fisk say go. What kind of justice is that?” Frank asked, glaring at Curtis.
“It's not...” Curtis admitted, not liking where this was going.
”It's not. You remember Grotto?” Frank asked, and Curtis nodded. ”The Daredevil wanted him to walk free, but that was a cold blooded killer. A fucking coward, and Daredevil wanted to stick him in jail. Why don't they think about the people left behind? People who can't do anything about it... people who aren't strong enough or have the ability. They are just left alone, while fuckers like Grotto would go on and have a good time with his buddies in jail.”
“Let me stop you there, Frank. I feel like you are trying to ask me if it's okay if you do something... but you know I can't say that it is. Right?” Curtis asked, honestly hoping that Frank wasn't being serious.
”I'm sick of it. Every day I see her... I see Frank Jr... I see Lisa,” Frank continued, his eyes filled with anger and pain. ”And I can't help but to think... What if those bastards were too afraid to ever try this shit to begin with? What if they knew that if they killed someone, they will be punished for it swiftly and without remorse? What if that molester knew that he would die instead of going to jail for a few years and then be put on a list? They should be the ones who are afraid, Curtis.” Frank looked down, his fists clenching. ”And that goes double for these super powered assholes out there that think they can get away with anything just because they can lift a truck or shoot fire out of their ass.”
“Shoot fire out of their ass?” Curtis asked, breaking the tension by laughing. “I haven't seen that one yet.”
Frank looked up with a grin, having been in full rant and not realizing what he had said at first.
”I'm sure it's out there somewhere,” Frank laughed, crossing his arms over his chest.
“You know it will never bring them back,” Curtis said after the moment of humor passed.
”I know... but maybe it will keep someone else from going through this. And hey, I'm already fucked up. Might as well see how deep down this hole I can go,” Frank said, still a smile on his face.
“Man, I'm not giving my blessing,” Curtis said. “Just know I'm here for you.”
**Graphic Content, Bitches**
As it turns out, one does not have to go far in order to find the scum of the earth. Just ask Dale Roony.
”Just tell me where they are,” Frank said, sitting on the arm of a couch across the room. He held a Ka-Bar with a seven inch blade in his right hand.
Dale moaned and looked up from where he was hanging. Frank had ripped the sheet rock off of the walls of the small apartment and tied his hands uncomfortably above his head to the exposed studs. He had no idea how long he had been there – there were several bodies lying on the floor in the living room where he was tied and he could only assume that it was his friends. Blood was upon the carpet underneath their bodies, the puddle slowly growing as it drained from their bullet ridden carcasses. The unfamiliar man was across from him wearing all black. That is, except for the white skull on his chest that could be seen underneath the trench coat. That looked familiar, he thought but he was woozy and his entire body hurt.
”One more chance, asshole. Where are they?” Frank asked again, glaring across the room at Dale. The words seemed to register this time as Dale lifted his chin and looked confused. ”Don't play stupid with me.”
“Who?” Dale asked.
Frank moved across the room like lightning and threw a swift punch right into Dale's ribs, causing the man to cry out in pain and begin crying. That was followed by a back hand with his right hand, as he struck Dale right in the mouth with the butt of the knife. Dale's front teeth broke on the impact and the man's head rocked back against the wooden stud he was tied to. Then his head fell forward, limp as blood and teeth flowed from his mouth. A swift slap to the face from Frank roused Dale back to reality.
”The girls,” Frank said, holding the Ka-Bar underneath Dale's jawline with just enough pressure to draw blood as he looked at the man face to face.
“Oh shit, it's you!” Dale said as realization came into his eyes. “I don't know... they moved them around. They uh.. uh.. They uh..”
The pressure of the knife increased and Dale squirmed.
“Red Hook.. Motz shipping, I think it's called.. Big blue warehouse, real busy. Man you can't miss it,” Dale stammered out.
Frank nodded to him with appreciation.
”That wasn't so hard, was it? Die knowing that you did at least one good thing with your miserable fucking life,” Frank said, then drew a shotgun out from under the trench coat that he wore. Dale's eyes widened and then the shotgun went off – and then Dale's eyes really widened as they went separate ways across the room and his head blew in half. Frank turned away and walked towards the door.
It'd been a long time since Natasha got herself into water this hot, considering the team she once belonged to and the government agency she'd been involved with didn't really agree with infiltration in just this way... but here she was, and honestly? She was a little sorry that she didn't have backup, if only because going things alone made her stories that much more unbelievable.
Steve and co. would just have to believe her again... if she made it out.
In the moment, she wasn't too sorry that she was by herself, considering the others members of the team would never have thought she'd make it out, if they were anywhere close... and they certainly wouldn't have fit in the way she did. It wasn't just that she was stuck in one of the shipping containers with a bunch of other women, having infiltrated the shipment of 'special merchandise' during the exchange... oh no. The people inside were Russian, a bunch of scared women no older than girls, all having been sucked into this scheme because of a wish for a better life.
Now that they were on US soil, Natasha was going to do her best to get them out and safe. First, she had to take out those who thought exchanging guns for human lives was okay, which honestly made her so much angrier than she would have, if those very guns were going to just be handed out to all the lowlifes in the city she'd once called home, in exchange for cold, hard cash. That they were even considering using people to bargain... it made her sick... and when she'd snuck into the shipping container earlier that evening, she'd done what she could to try and console... and give the girls some hope.
She just hoped they didn't run when the gunshots started.
Having snuck out of the shipping container after a few minutes, along with having loosened the door so the girls could run once her distraction happened... Natasha remained crouched behind a nearby crate, her hair back in a bun, and her dark clothing allowing her to blend with the shadows. All in all, she was sure that there was nothing she could do until the shipping container was opened.. because, as much as it was deplorable, the thought of selling women into slavery, she needed those guns, herself. Better to have an arsenal like that in the hands of the Secret Avengers than in the grip of a crime lord and his lackeys.
But the sound of something caught her attention, making her pause where she was, to turn her head and look in its direction. If she were anyone else, that sort of thing could have easily been missed, but she knew what it was on sight: the last gasp from someone close by, the additional thud from a body hitting the ground, unmistakeable. Either these men had guards on high, protecting their investment, or... someone else was at play. Considering she knew her team was not involved in this... it made her wonder: who could it be?
Sucking in a breath, Natasha took a moment to watch that spot, and a darker-coloured shadow snuck away and closer to where she was... though she didn't stop it. One pistol on her hip and another at the small of her back, Nat narrowed her eyes again... before letting out a breath... just as the squeak of metal yanked her attention back to the shipping containers.
It was only when it was opened, and their prize was displayed in the hands of one of the leaders... did Natasha's lip curl. These men were about to exchange 'presents' and she would be damned if she'd let those innocent people fall into the hands of those who could wish them harm. Nope... which was why she reached down into the little pouch at her waist, took out a small silver disc... and tossed it at one of the guns, its metal a perfect conductor... for one of her Bite discs. The man holding the gun fell to the ground, flopping like a fish... just as Natasha skimmed around the container she was hiding behind, knowing they'd come looking for who did it.
Man, she just hoped they'd find her. That, or she'd run into whoever else was out there. Why? She was curious.
Frank's brow raised as one of the men fell to the ground and began to convulse. Those around him took a surprised step back and began looking around. There were about fifteen of them, five from each of the three SUVs, including the one being electrocuted on the ground. Several of the men were wearing dress casual clothing and they had been the ones talking. The rest were obviously muscle – hired henchmen that were either ex-military or had some kind of training in the past. Those that were hired protection wore suits and Frank had a good idea that they were probably wearing concealed body armor beneath their dress shirts, just judging by the extra bulk that they carried.
The four men that were doing the talking each drew pistols from waistband holsters. Frank judged two of them to be CZ 75s; well made Czech 9mm pistols that held ten rounds per magazine. Another man held a Glock 43, which was similar to the CZ 75, though it handled better. The final man had a Glock 21 that shot .45 ACP rounds. That was the type of gun to take to a gun fight right there. It would set a man on his ass in a heart beat.
The remaining guards each had fully automatic weapons. Folding MP5s and other submachine guns that were easy to conceal. Those were the ones to watch out for, really. They weren't exactly the most accurate of weapons when put on full auto, but the amount of rounds that they could put down range was dangerous.
Frank took a moment to glance upwards as the guards began to look into the shadows. They were standing under lights, which made it much harder for them to see him than it was for him to see them. As he looked upwards, he noticed that similar lights were scattered all throughout the shipping yard. More than likely, if any of those guards went loud with their weapon, this place would light up like day time. He hadn't been able to scout the place quite as much as he would have liked to... so who knew exactly how many other guards were scattered through the area and who knew exactly how many of them knew what was really going on at this place.
That left the question of what the hell just happened to that guy. Frank looked back to the men as one of the well dressed men squatted down to check on their friend, perhaps thinking that he had just had a seizure or something. But Frank recognized that as something else. His thoughts went to Daredevil, but he wasn't exactly near Hell's Kitchen and he couldn't recall Daredevil ever using electricity.
“Chto, nakhren, eto bylo?” the man squatting next to his friend asked, then glared into the shadows around them. With CZ75 in his right hand, he reached to his side to pull out his cell phone with the other. No doubt he was about to call for assistance.
As he hit a button on his phone and then lifted it to his ear, a seven inch Ka-Bar knife came flying out of the shadows. It whistled through the air as it flipped end over end and it hit the man's hand with enough force that it went straight through it, through the phone, and into the man's skull, pinning the man's hand and phone to the side of his head. He fell to the ground dead, which caused every person there to look toward their dying comrade.
That would have provided the perfect distraction for most people to launch and continue their stealth attack. But Frank? He wasn't exactly all that concerned with stealth.
The men looked towards their dying comrade and then there was the sound of metal bouncing across the concrete towards them, which drew their eyes back towards it. A M-67 grenade rolled up right into the middle of all of them and all of their eyes widened in unison. They had no time to react with anything other than shock and the grenade exploded and sent most of them to the ground. The six guards closest to the grenade were dead and several others were severely injured.
Frank emerged from the shadows as one of the men was scrambling back up to his feet and wasted no time in blowing the man's head off with the Mossberg 12 gauge pump shotgun that he was carrying. He immediately cocked the shotgun and then took aim, shooting one of the well dressed men in the chest at near point blank range. In just a matter of seconds, eight of the fifteen men were already dead and four of them laid on the ground injured.
As Frank predicted, the lights around the shipping yard began to flip on as reinforcements began heading their way. He had no idea how many more were coming... but he'd kill them all.
Nat simply took a moment to ensure that her well-aimed toss of the Bite-disc did its job... before she was on the move, staying low as her eyes remained on the still-flailing man on the ground. It was spy-craft 101, that no one stayed in one spot too long, because there was no assurance in cover, not even in darkness and surrounded by shipping containers and crates. No, she wasn't going to die that day.. not at the hands of some low-level Russian thugs... and definitely not over some guns.
Having already assured herself that none of the thugs that were wearing those three piece suits were looking in her direction, Nat skimmed the outside of the container, taking great pains to keep as far from the one that held the women expected to be used as payment. No way they were dying when the hail of gunfire started... though she was a little amused to see a few of the leader's goons bend over him, checking him over, as if to understand what happened. Their commentary varied over the distance, making Nat's smirk rise... even as she flexed her fingers, bringing her Widow's Bite online.
Yep, if they found her? She'd be ready.
Knowing that these men would be on the lookout for whoever harmed their leader... if not because of loyalty, but because they were paid to do it, Nat knew that the best course of action was remaining in cover until their guard was lowered nicely. Indeed, having spent time researching this man and his practices, Nat knew that he never did things half-assed... which meant the place would be crawling with his armed goons in moments. Really, she knew he should have considered his personal safety a little better, like worn shoes with a rubber sole. That would have saved him the hospitalization she knew he had in his future.
Silently chuckling to herself, Nat peered around the corner of the crate she was crouched behind... just in time to see that one of the goons was about to call in, perhaps for backup, which... well, would make things a little more difficult. Considering she could handle the ones on the dock, but not anymore than that... Nat raised herself up and out of cover again, still use the darkness at the edge of the light to hide her presence, intending to use another disc on the man with the phone to his ear.
Would have... but his head all but exploded as a knife slipped into the phone, it spitting sparks... just before it slid into the thug's skull with a meaty thud. Nat jerked back down and into cover again, her eyes following the path the knife must've taken... just in time to see another shadow, the familiar human-shaped form enough to make her eyes narrow, though... she couldn't recognize it, due to the fact that he'd suddenly lobbed something at the assembled men.
Yep, it was time for Nat to run.
Jerking back and skittering around another crate just as the grenade went off, the force of the blast sent Nat into the side of the next shipping container, her body hitting it hard enough to dent it... just before she landed hard on the concrete, falling to her knees. But... she wasn't prepared to take time to recover, not when it was possible that they would get up and run. She'd definitely down them if they tried... if anyone was alive after such a blast...
So, while there was that annoying ringing in her ears, Natasha pushed herself up unsteadily to her feet... and began to move, heading towards where the men had been standing, in time to catch the sight of what must've been the boogeyman, handling them all without a hint of hesitation. Nat standing back, watching the mayhem, she would have said something... but all the lights suddenly came on... along with the sound of booted feet hitting the ground in unison.
Having the lights scatter the shadows wasn't something that Nat had to say was her favourite thing, considering she worked best from the shadows, but... she could make do. And, as the guards realized that she was standing there, along with shouts of 'Chernaya vdova!', Natasha smirked.
Yes, it never got old.
And just like that, she narrowed her eyes on the first guard, eyeing his weapon as his finger slid towards the trigger... and ran full-tilt at him, using his body as a springboard to take out the next with a Bite to the face, her momentum carrying her back around to take out the first with a well-timed kick to the throat. As the first and second went down, one after the other, Nat dropped to the ground, making a little face... even as she heard the tell-tale click of a weapon very close.
Yep, she knew that this was always a possibility... but, well, whoever that man was out there, and she had her guesses... she just hoped he was up for a little thrilling heroics. After all, as her hands went up, planning her next move all the while... she could hear something, and... well, it didn't hurt to hope that maybe the Punisher just might figure out they were on the right side.
The math worked out in Frank's head, even as he shot the last one in the chest with the shotgun. There were three left and if they had any sense they would have already flanked. He turned quickly and caught the last bit of the action as Natasha took the men down. Holding the shotgun tight in his shoulder, he took aim at her. This had to be where the electricity had come from... as made obvious by one of the men laying on the ground suffering a similar fate as the first.
Frank glared at Natasha down the illuminated sights of the shotgun as her hands went up. The way she had just moved? She was no ordinary assassin. Maybe he had spoke Russian he would have recognized the name Black Widow, but he didn't... and let's face it, people look different in person than they do on television. He, just like many many others, were familiar with the Avengers and specifically the occurrence in New York. Even without putting that connection together, he knew that Natasha was deadly just by the way she had just moved. However, his thoughts didn't linger there. Instead, he thought about one thing.
There is one left...
Standing off to the left of Natasha, he heard the click of a pistol's hammer being pulled back as well and he spotted the last one left. The man in slacks carrying the Glock was focused in on Natasha but he was looking right at Frank.
“Drop it or I'll-”
The sound of Frank's shotgun filled the night once more. The man's threat turned into a scream as the hand holding the pistol was blown off. He fell to the ground and cradled the gory mess that used to be a hand and began writhing in agony. Frank cocked the shotgun in order to chamber another round, but then he lowered it as his eyes leveled on Natasha.
”Hope you're not here to stop this,” Frank said, guessing that she was someone similar to Daredevil. The way she took those guards out? It was fast and efficient. But they were still breathing. He looked away from Natasha as the sound of vehicles could be heard coming from the warehouse and towards them. The shipping yard was pretty large and it was buzzing with activity now. ”I really don't have time for an ethics seminar right now.”
Frank kept his eyes on her and slowly squatted down to the man with the Ka-Bar knife stuck in his head. He pulled it out with one yank and then opened his trench coat in order to wipe the blood off upon it. If she did recognize anything about him, it would be the white skull on his chest that was visible as he did this. He released the shotgun that he was holding and it disappeared back under his jacket, since it was strapped to his shoulder in a way that allowed it to hang underneath his arm.
”I was here looking for some girls... but found these shit bags instead,” Frank said, reaching out to the crate that they had opened and picked up one of the RPGs. ”Guess they'll have to do.”
As the sound of footsteps came from behind her, a heavy tread showing the bulk of the man approaching... Natasha turned her head ever so slowly to catch sight of who it might be, her lips pressed tight beneath those intense green eyes. That was why, despite only giving herself a split-second's glance, she knew this man on sight, and that was why she simply kept her arms up, knowing as she did that every indication she'd ever had of his motivations... it seemed that he didn't kill innocents.
The girls would be safe.. but she wasn't so sure about herself.
After all, two of her victims were lying on the ground at her feet, and the other one was still resting around the container, now very likely blown to bits due to the grenade that the Punisher'd tossed into the mix. Yeah, a part of her was almost sorry that he was dead, because getting him to talk would have been pretty enjoyable. The only problem was that she wasn't alone, and the gun-wielding, last thug seemed to have a death wish, to face this man down, and dare threaten him. It was why Natasha stayed sill... just long enough to realize she wasn't going to be the victim here. Nope, thankfully, it seemed, Frank Castle's motives seemed to have been unchanged.
As it was, she knew that she should have been worried, especially for how he'd been so quick to gun down the very last of the thugs, this one, having tried to use her for a hostage... but Nat wasn't intimidated. He may have towered over her, and was armed with a shotgun that just took a man's arm clean off at the wrist... but she had a feeling that if he'd wanted to, she would have had that barrel pointed at her. The fact that he spoke up after a moment, his voice a gravelly growl, just helped Nat let out a breath, even as she lowered her arms, her head turning to look down at the still-screaming final goon.
In seconds, she fired another tasing bolt, this one shocking him immediately, and... in the aftermath? There was blessed silence.
"Not here to stop you, no. But I am here for those guns," she said low as she followed him back to where he'd gone to collect his knife, her expression cold as she stepped past to look into the crate that'd been opened. She knew that she didn't have time to collect all the guns before there would be a lot more company, and arguing with the Punisher about the gun he'd just snatched from it... well, that seemed foolish. "It looks like we're both in need of a little ethics refresher, but you're right: time is short."
With that, she turned back to look at him, the white skull on his chest a definite clue that she'd guessed right. His face was one thing, almost ingrained on her memory, but... the skull was even more unforgettable. It reminded her of Rumlow... if only in colour, not in tactics. She seriously doubted that HE would have ever helped save someone, which... was already making her think Castle might be a good means to an end. He hadn't shot her and he could have. All the press in the city'd been saying he was a rampage killer... but none that she ever heard of actually helped people, or differentiated when someone else crossed their path, mid-kill. Yeah, if that was the case, she'd be as dead as all the rest.
"Whoever told you about the girls, they were right. They're are over there..." she said, pointing to one of the shipping containers with a little frown, just before going to the remains of her first victim. Crouching down, she just clicked her tongue a moment, and then moved her hand, pushing over one body to get at the gun it was holding, snatching the small metallic circle from the weapon... and then pocketed it. She didn't need any proof she'd been involved... Ross hated her enough as it was. "They were meant to be payment for those guns. What a world we live in," she added, muttering as if to herself.
Getting up from that crouch, Nat just turned away to listen to the sound of approaching vehicles... and sighed. Yeah, she knew this wasn't going to be pretty. "If we want to save those girls, then we need to do something now... because we don't have much time before this place is going to be overrun. Knowing that guy," she said, nodding down at the corpse at her feet. "He overcompensated by hiring more thugs than he'd ever need, but they wouldn't know he's dead."
With that, she eyed Frank across the short distance, her expression as steely as ever, arms at her side and shoulders loose. She was ready to move, if she needed to. "Black Widow," she said, by way of introduction. "I know who you are, Punisher," she added, and then stepped over the body to glance up at a nearby light. "What do you say we make them afraid of the dark?" she asked, and then tossed one of her Bite bolts at a light, it causing it to short... and thus, begin to knock out all the rest.
Yep, a spider always worked best in the dark.
”The guns?” Frank repeated, a bit surprised at why she was there. He looked into the open shipping container and it was slap full of crates. He could help but to wonder how exactly she was planning on getting all of that out of here, but he wasn't going to linger on that thought for too long. There was more to consider here than that, especially once she revealed that the girls were indeed here. Frank looked back to Natasha and nodded.
So that sorry bastard was telling the truth. He just didn't know or didn't bother to mention that this was also the site of an arms exchange. It didn't matter, now.
”Yea, it's real fucked up,” Frank agreed on the state of the world. He lifted the RPG up so that it rest on his right shoulder, then leaned over to pick up one of the MP5's that one of the guards had dropped. A glance at it and it told him it was still fully loaded. He looked back at Natasha. ”The girls are going to have to sit tight. No doubt that the cops will be here once the shit hits the fan and we'll just have to trust that they find them. And as far as that guy and his men goes...”
Frank shrugged, walking forward until he stood in front of Natasha. He stared off towards the sound of the vehicles approaching, his eyes focused on nothing in particular, but his brow was furrowed into a glare. He would have stood there and solemnly waited for the hired soldiers to come, but Natasha revealing her codename pulled at his attention.
Her name struck a cord with him because he placed it with the Avengers. Whether the Avengers liked it or not, quite a few cameras picked up their actions during the Battle of New York. The Hulk, Thor, Captain America, Hawkeye, Iron Man, and the Black Widow. They were recognizable and maybe it was because of where they were, but he just had not expected to run into one of them here. Now that he looked at her though? He remembered her face.
The Avengers had fought for New York against something that Frank couldn't quite wrap his head around. But he was thankful for it, because Maria and the kids were in the city that day while he was off on deployment. So not only had the Avengers saved countless lives, but they had also saved his wife and kids.
The thoughts went through his head quickly and he was brought back to reality when the Black Widow called him by the name given to him by the media. The Punisher. For the briefest of moments, he felt some shame rise up within him. Here he was next to a hero, someone he would have thanked had they met in any other situation, while he was nothing but the Punisher. Scum of the earth. A killer.... according to the media anyways. Maybe later he could take the time to wonder how exactly he was being thought of by Black Widow, but for now...
”That's me,” Frank agreed, and then nodded to her suggestion of darkness.
The lights flickered out across the shipping yard just as the first SUV rounded the corner, coming from the same direction that the original three SUVs had come from. Their headlights came around and they fell upon Frank and Natasha. Frank aimed and pulled the trigger on the RPG, sending a guided grenade right through the windshield of the truck. It exploded into flames, the force of the explosion killing those within instantly, while also blowing out all of the windows. Flames poured out from within the truck as it continued rolling towards them.
”We won't be overrun,” Frank said, dropping the empty RPG launcher on the ground with a thud. ”Not if we kill all they send.”
"The shipping container they're in has been unlocked, and I told them to hold tight until the police arrive. So... they're prepared," Natasha told Frank while ensuring that her Bites were in working order and fully online, knowing as she did that the innocent lives that just so happened to be plunked right in the middle of a shitstorm deserved to survive it, and she would ensure it. It wasn't their fault that they were to be used to buy weapons... and considering they wanted a better life, she just hoped the cops would do something for them, instead of just deporting them outright.
She didn't want a single one of those who were driving those vehicles closer to be able to take revenge on the girls because of the actions of the Black Widow and Punisher. Yeah, Nat was going to have to ensure too many didn't die... though she had a feeling that that would be easier said than done, for Castle's tendency to leave a high body count.
Yet, as Frank came closer, Natasha stared up at him, wondering just what he was planning to do... and thus, decided to cut him off at the pass and told him who she was. After all, it wasn't like she could hide it for very long... and besides, the chance of those about to rush in and recognize her was bound to be high.
Of course, she almost expected him to do something drastic, like shoot and run, but his quiet intensity made her eyes narrow on him, wondering if this was how everyone felt on dealing with her. If anything, she found that it was interesting, his way of silently absorbing the information, his dark eyes so intent on her face, as if memorizing it, or recognizing it. She knew she didn't resemble the woman who'd fought in the battle of New York... though she hope there was something he saw in her that would keep her from earning a bullet.
But then she saw his face change slightly, and she just eyed him a moment longer, before cutting him a quick nod. "That's what I thought," she said, turning her head away to look in the direction that the vehicles could be heard from, watching as the lights went out and the SUVs came ever closer. "Frank Castle. I've read about you," she said and then slowly eyed, crossing her arms over her chest as she widened her stance.. even as the last lights flickered out. She was preparing to run once she needed to... and not because of the man beside her. Nope, they were partners in this... despite their very different feelings about killing.
"As one criminal to another, I have to say: I didn't expect to see anyone else out here tonight. I'm glad you were... because I slightly miscalculated just how hard Gregov was going to fight to keep those women in his grasp." She could have handled it herself, she knew, if the lights had remained out. As it was, Castle's help was highly appreciated, if not the fact that he'd killed them all. She'd been expecting to call in the NYPD to nab them once they were incapacitated, but... well, that ship sailed.
With darkness all around them, Natasha could only watch as the SUVs came closer, their headlights shining over the shipping containers that were left on the dock... as well as herself and Frank. She was about to reach down for her Walther, to take it in hand... but Frank was quicker... and the second that the grenade was launched at the truck, she raised her chin, the resulting explosion simply ruffling her hair and warming her face with its blast. Her face didn't change expression, but her hand did fall away from her thigh holster... in time to have her curl her lip upwards the very faintest bit.
"That's one way to do it," she said and then paused to turn her head and eye Frank. "Or another would be to leave some alive, so they can face justice. Killing them all just leaves a vacuum..." she reminded him and then frowned, knowing that she might have a harder time arguing with Punisher than just about anyone. Considering she needed to protect those women... well. She would do what she needed to. "But if the situation demands it... then okay. I just choose to kill as a last resort."
And as the next to SUVs stopped at an angle to the first one, still burning... Natasha just simply inhaled deeply through her nose... let it out... and then rocked her head from side to side, her eyes narrowed as men began to climb out of each of the vehicles. "The sooner we handle these, the sooner the girls can be freed. Let's go." And with that, she darted off behind a crate, knowing that the element of surprise wasn't in her favour for long, but she'd use it.
She did so love to hear the screams of terrified men.
”Justice?” Frank repeated the word, taking the MP5 that he had taken off of the body while looking towards Natasha. His thoughts went to Maria and the justice that had been dealt out for them. The police did nothing. The system did nothing. The only justice there was was when those responsible were six feet under. Castle shook his head at her and looked to the second SUV that was approaching.
What she had just said made him angry. A vacuum would be created? She knew about what was going on here and she would just rather let these guys keep on walking to jail instead of facing true punishment? Who knew what horrors these girls had faced thus far, what they were supposed to go on and face from here, and who knew what they had intended to do with the arsenal that was being traded for them. So let them continue on? Even one of them?
”Maybe the guys I kill need killing,” Frank muttered, a darkness rising up within him. He leveled that dark gaze towards the SUV as it came to a sliding stop. As Natasha went off to flank and use surprise to her advantage, Frank moved quickly right towards the vehicle. He met the driver as the man was opening the door and he kicked the door with force, causing the door to close hard upon the man's head. As the door recoiled off of the man's head, Frank threw the door the rest of the way open to allow the man to fall out and onto the ground. The man was just unconscious, no doubt suffering from a concussion from the blow, but Frank solved that for him by firing straight down into the man's head with the MP5.
Frank was seeing red and he was on a warpath. He welcomed the idea of all of these men coming at him because, well, he would kill them all. The sound of merry-go-round music came to mind as he turned towards the man who had been sitting behind the driver. He grabbed the barrel of the man's rifle and pushed it upwards with enough force to his the man in the face with it, causing the guard to stumble backwards and land on his ass. The men on the other side of the vehicle attempted to shoot over the top of the SUV at Frank, but the Punisher straddled the second man around the waist and began beating his face in with the stock of the MP5.
The men on the other side of the car stopped firing and they seemed too scared to come around the SUV to face what had just happened to their friends. Two more SUVs rounded the corner, their headlights lighting up the scene of Frank beating a man to death with the stock of a rifle while two of their own men hid on the other side of the truck. The Punisher got to his feet, the white skull showing brightly on his chest in the headlights. One SUV immediately put it in reverse and began going back the way they had just came from – perhaps the driver recognized the skull.
Spattered with the blood of the man he just beat to death, Frank held up the MP5 and then turned to move to the other side of the SUV where the other two men were. He would kill them all. If it created a vacuum to fill? He would kill those who filled it.
Oh, she could see she'd pissed him off, but there was nothing for it: Natasha wasn't willing to wait around, to tell the Punisher something palatable, just because she wanted to soothe his feelings. He was a killer, she knew that... and he didn't seem to trust in the justice system, as much as she did. Then again, considering she knew that the system was a little more flawed than usual in the city, due to her own criminal status... well. It wasn't like she could step in the line of fire and sway opinion, with the target on her own back.
So... having ducked around the side of another container and into the darkness surrounding it, Natasha just turned to follow the curve of the metal facade... just before she heard the sound of a car door slam, and the meaty thunk of it hitting something.. human. Making a face, she hurried to look past the edge of the container to see Frank put a bullet into the man who'd just slipped down and to the ground, unconscious. Frowning, she narrowed her eyes on him... just as another set of car doors opened, unleashing even more fodder.
It was as if they didn't see the danger lurking right in front of them with the skull on its chest.
Shaking her head, she pushed away from the container and around the back of the two SUVs who'd parked, her footsteps were almost silent as she moved. Honestly, though, she shouldn't have worried, due to the way that everyone's attention was on the man of the hour, taking out first one, then another... the sound of gunshots finally giving way to the surprise, apparently, of watching the second one beaten to within an inch of his life. Their surprise was warranted, and she raised her hand, as if to send a shock-bolt at both men still grasping guns... as she realized that two more trucks arrived on the scene.
turning her head to look, the light barely passed over her from where she was crouched... though she had to smirk at the sight of one backing away quickly once its driver got a good look at the landscape. Honestly, considering the mess on the ground and all over Castle, she didn't quite blame them. But that didn't mean she was going to let the others go, either.
Gritting her teeth as she watched Frank stand and face down the remaining truck of killers, Natasha just simply reached into the pouch she carried, fingered a small disk... knowing as she did that time was short. Castle would move fast, she'd seen it, and he'd wipe them all out. Her self-promised tenet to help people would be for naught if she didn't stop him... and help him, in some way. That was why Natasha threw the disk hard in the direction of the truck, causing it to magnetically seal itself against the side of the SUV, effectively shutting down its electronics with a zap. Pressing a button, she discharged the device, the truck electrocuting both itself and its passengers with a blaze of electricity.
And it was only right then did Natasha step out of the shadows, her footsteps carrying her past the still-smoking remains of the SUV, and its passengers. They were alive, she knew it... but not for long unless she did something. "Those girls need us to get them out of here... we don't need to waste more time killing people who should already be on the run, considering what you just did," she said, motioning to his feet with a little nod of her head. "I know we think of justice in different ways... but I think you've shed enough blood for one day."
The last body from the SUV that Frank had been attacking hit the ground just as the Black Widow approached. He looked past her towards the truck of men that she had stopped, briefly wondering their condition before meeting Natasha's eyes with his own. Despite the attack that he had just launched and the darkness that was within him, which most people would probably label as crazy, Frank looked calm and collected. Too calm, perhaps? Like Natasha, he had seen and committed so much bloodshed that it did not seem to faze him.
”They won't get away,” Frank said, dropping the MP5 submachine gun onto the ground with a plastic and metallic clatter. He moved aside his jacket to expose the shotgun that he carried and then reached to a pouch on the back of his belt, taking out several rounds. Then he began reloading the shotgun. ”I can either kill them tonight or hunt them down later. If I get them later, who knows what they'll do between now and then.”
With his shotgun reloaded, he released it and it fell back by his side underneath his right arm, concealed by the coat that he wore.
”Why's that a waste of time?” Frank questioned, raising a brow at her. He did yield, at least for now, and turned to start walking back towards the container that Natasha had said the girls were located. He was fine with letting the police get them, but if she knew of a way to get them out of here more quick and safely, then he would have to help do that. ”Seems to me that if you remove the problem then the problem will stop. If you're getting burned, put out the fire and it'll fix it. Same with these pieces of shit. Girls won't be in trouble if we get rid of the trouble.”
He was probably just talking to himself, though. Just like when he chatted with Daredevil in the past, it really didn't matter what he said or what Daredevil said, they weren't going to change each other's minds. Frank could just feel something different about Natasha though. She didn't look twice at the bodies and she really didn't seem concerned about them, almost as if she was used to it like he was.
”I think I don't need to tell you that,” Frank said as he approached the container. He opened the metal door and the girls within it cried out when they saw him, so he moved aside so that they could see Natasha instead. ”This one is all yours. I'll cover you.”
Natasha just simply watched the man before her, Frank's body showing very real calm as he reloaded the shotgun that he'd had on his person. If anything, she wasn't surprised, because she'd long ago heard enough stories of the Punisher to think that he would have been skilled as one of the Avengers, if he hadn't been so bloodthirsty. As it was, his ability to detach from his surroundings seemed to mirror her own... and while she knew it wasn't healthy, everyone had their own coping mechanism. It was hers... and perhaps it was his, too.
But she couldn't let him go off and kill whoever he wanted, simply because he thought that it would save lives. Justice needed to be adhered to, offered... and while she agreed, to a certain extent, that it would solve nothing in the end, she needed to do what her mandate with SHIELD taught her: to protect people, even against themselves.
That was why Nat turned her head to eye him.. just before walking past, her normally stoic and cold veneer back in place. "Because word of mouth will get around and the cops will be here before you know it. I, for one, want to get those girls out, and those weapons in the hands of those who could use them for good... rather than sit in a jail cell," she reminded him, Nat turning her head away even as she moved alongside him, not looking back at all the bodies. Indeed, as he went on, Natasha simply pursed her lips together, knowing all too well the mindset he had. She'd been an assassin, a killer, before being redeemed, and sometimes she thought the way he did.
But no longer did she act on them.
And it was her new point of view that she decided to tell him about. "No, you don't need to," she said low, just before going on. "Think about it: you took out their leadership. There's going to be infighting, and they'll tear themselves apart from the inside. I may not agree with it, but taking out Gregov may do do more to impact things than you hunting down his underlings." With that, she simply watched him a moment longer, her expression unreadable in the darkness surrounding them, before turning away again to look up and at the shipping container. "It's not much, I know... but take it from me, Frank: creating a vacuum is worse than letting them destroy themselves."
With that, she watched as Frank yanked open the door of the shipping container, a cacophony of shrieks rising as the girls inside saw the terrifying figure with a skull on his chest. Natasha was about to move, to jump forward, to do what she needed to... but Frank stepped aside, making her glance up to look into his eyes... before offering him a nod. "Thanks. The sooner I can get them out, the better."
With that, Natasha turned to the women, speaking in a low murmur, letting them know in Russian that he was there to help them, that together, she and Castle would bring the girls to safety. If anything, she knew that it would be difficult,.. but she had an idea. And it was this idea that forced Nat to turn her head to eye Frank from behind her, with Russian girls surrounding her. "How good are you at hot-wiring machinery?" she asked and then slanted her eye towards the ship that the guns, still in their shipping container, were on. "Because we might need a quick escape and there's too many girls here to fit in those SUVs."
Frank watched Natasha's interaction with the girls. Soot was smeared across his face from the dirt that the explosions had kicked up and that was dotted with the blood of the man he just beat to death. They still looked at him suspiciously and he couldn't blame them for that. Hopefully they knew that he'd never hurt them, though. Despite those thoughts, Frank's expression didn't waver and he remained stern as Natasha looked back at him.
”I can manage,” Frank said, looking towards the ship and then up towards the cranes that moved the large containers back and forth from the dock and to the ship. He was familiar enough with cranes from working on construction sites. ”Not sure if there is any crew on board,” he said, knowing that was poor planning on his part. ”But if you get on the ship and take the girls down river, I can make sure that there will be no one following you.”
Frank turned to walk towards the crane's controls but he paused and looked back at the Black Widow.
”By the way... I'm not here to let these guys fight among themselves to fill the vacuum,” The Punisher said, absolutely serious despite whether he could fulfill what he said or not. ”I'm here to make sure there is no one left to fill it. Good meeting you, Black Widow.”
For only a split second, he showed her the Frank Castle that was capable of making friends by giving her a smile and a nod, then he turned to head towards the crane controls. As he walked over some of the dead bodies of the men that had been in the meeting, he stooped down and picked up a pistol. With a quick check to make sure it was still functioning, he brought it up just in case he ran into anyone else who had a deathwish.
It didn't take but a minute or so before Frank had made his ways to the controls. He found them empty, and he stepped inside. Looking down at the controls he recognized that it was similar to the rigs that he had used at the construction site. Different, sure... but similar enough that he could manage. With a few flips of a switch, the engine for the crane rumbled to life and he was rotating the arm towards the container with the girls in it. Stopping it over the container, he lowered the giant magnet down to the top of it and truth be told, he had to search for a few seconds to find a button that turned the magnet on. The container lifted off of the ground and then slowly began making it's way towards the deck of the ship.
Gunfire erupted from behind him, splintering the glass windows of the crane's cab, and Frank ducked a bit as he felt glass fly down the collar of his body armor. Turning his head, he saw three more men shooting and lucky for him, the metal of the crane's cab was enough to stop the rounds. With the pistol he had picked up, he returned fire while glancing every few seconds towards the container so that he could stop it when it got in position over the ship's deck.
Boom-boom-click! The slide of the pistol locked back when it was empty and Frank threw it aside. The men must have heard, because they advanced on his position. A bullet hit inside the cab and ricocheted around a couple times before finally clipping the side of his head. It had lost enough speed in the ricochet so that it didn't penetrate his skull, but it did thump him in the side of the head pretty good. It caused his head to jerk and for him to fall down within the cab. The men celebrated, thinking that they had just shot the Punisher's head off.
Cautiously, the men continued towards the cab with their rifles raised. The three men got to the door and seemed to have a silent argument about who was going to check the body. Finally, it was decided and one of them moved to the cab of the crane and opened the door with their gun raised. A shotgun blast rang out and the guy fell backwards holding his neck. The neck had been partially blown away, leaving the man's head held on by half of a spinal cord and a bit of meat.
”That all you got?!” Frank exclaimed, hopping up and shooting again with the shotgun. It was loaded with slugs. This one hit the second man in the groin and gave him a non-lethal wound that sent him to the ground. Frank looked towards the container and saw that it was over the ship's deck and he slapped the emergency stop button. The container came to a sudden stop and it was stuck several feet in the air above the ship's deck. The girls would have to jump, unfortunately.
This distraction allowed the third man to fire again, striking Frank in the chest with enough force to make him fall back into the crane's cab. He didn't go down though. Raising the shotgun up, he fired a well aimed shot which hit the third man right in the center of the chest, bisecting his aorta. Pressurized blood spurted dramatically from the wound and in just seconds, the man would bleed out.
“Please,” the second man said, holding up a hand to Frank as he came to stand over him. The man shook his head at Frank, crying for mercy. “I was just doing what I was told.”
Frank reached to his thigh and withdrew his own pistol, a Colt 1911. He took aim at the man's head.
“You know what? Fuck you! You're going to die for this!” the man shouted from the ground, seeing that begging was getting him nowhere.
Frank had heard that before and he responded just as he always did.
Getting these girls away from such a dangerous place was going to take some quick thinking, and of course, Nat was more than aware that the quickest way would require the boat that was currently moored closest to the dock. After all, putting them all into the back of an SUV would have been the most low-key way to escape, but there were too any people to make it feasible. Then again, she didn't want these women afraid, and a high-speed chase would do just that.
So... she turned her eyes to Frank and nodded at him, knowing that they still needed to work together in order to give these women a chance. "Alright, well, I think we have a plan," she murmured back at him, before going on. "So... if you can hotwire that crane to load that shipping container onto the deck of the boat, I can get these women somewhere safe, and those gun as far away from this crime scene as possible. Time is of the essence..." she told him, knowing as she did that she could only linger too long, before she'd have to run. No way she was being stuck in the RAFT, not from how the other spoke of it.
Even so, Nat just had to admit that, as much as she didn't like his methods, they were effective... and so, as he spoke once more, Nat stopped mid-stride towards the boat, to turn and eye him... only to nod at Frank. "I imagined I didn't change your mind. But you can't deny I tried," she said, offered him a smirk, before cutting him a sharp little nod in return. "Good meeting you too, Castle. I mean that," she told him honestly, his smile met with one of her own, eyes warm for a moment before she turned away, in order to set their plan in motion.
Natasha pushed herself into a quick jog, body moving lithely through the darkness surrounding them... which turned into a run as she got nearer the boat. She had to make sure that there was no one on board before she got the women loaded onto it, which could be easier said than done, all things considered. Climbing up the gangway, she ran along the edge of the boat's railing, using the delicate balance that her body seemed to subsist on, to drop down and into the inside of the boat, where... there was nothing but silence. Eyes scanning over the bunks that remained empty, Nat just simply let out a breath, just before hearing the sound of gunshots outside.
Frank'd said that he would help clear the way... she just hoped that he'd gotten the women's container onto the boat... and the guns, too, before dealing with whomever tried to stop him.
Shaking her head, Natasha took a moment to climb back up onto the deck, heading right into the pilot room for the ship, her eyes going right to the controls with a frown. It reminded her all those years ago of manning that submarine with Wade Wilson, though she had a feeling this was going to be a far smoother sail than that'd been. If anything, it already felt less dangerous for her sanity, though she could see through the windows in the cockpit that not only was Frank dealing with some trouble, but the girls' container was some distance above the ship. They'd have to jump.
Hot-wiring the ship was easy, Nat having yanked the wires out from the insides of the control-board... and pressing two together, caused the
panels to light up, a red button pressed a moment later to bring it all online. The engines starting with a growl, she just waited until she was sure that it wouldn't conk out, before she ran out, right underneath where the shipping container was hovering over the deck of the boat. If anything, this was going to be easier said than done.
Motioning towards the ground, Natasha just helped the women understand, using a mixture of Russian and charades, that they needed to jump down to the deck. It wasn't TOO far, that they would be injured, but she knew, too, what kind of bravery they'd already had, and how much this must've been insult to injury. Still, it was the only way... and as they began to drop, one by one, Nat remained there, welcoming them with a smile so as to help them remain calm. If they wanted a proper freak-out, they'd have to wait until they were on the open water... because no one had time yet, for that.
But as the final woman fell to the deck, getting up with a dusting of her hands, Natasha waved at Frank, hoping to get his attention. "CASTLE! The guns!" she called out, pointing to the shipping container that was resting amidst a pile of bodies and various bits that used to be men. "Get them on, and then hop on! We need to get out of here!"
Frank continued to stare down at the man he had just shot until he heard the faint call of his name over the sounds of the shipping yard. He looked up and then towards Natasha, who was pointing towards the container that held the guns. Raising his chin in recognition, he turned and walked back to the shot up cab of the crane. Moving to the controls, he moved the container that held the girls away from the ship and once it was clear, he just dropped it with a loud boom that echoed throughout the shipyard. The giant magnet swung over to the container that held the weapons and with a flip of a switch, he attached it and lifted it upwards.
Gunfire erupted again from behind him with several rounds striking him in the back. Thankfully he was wearing body armor. As the container that held the weapons moved towards the ship, Frank turned and returned fire with his Colt 1911. Natasha was not lying about the amount of men they would send. Frank turned back to the controls just as the container hovered over the ship and he flicked the release, letting the container fall onto the deck of the ship. It's weight caused the ship to rock violently, but it was on board.
As more men came out of the woodwork, Frank scanned the ship until he found Natasha. Though they were a couple hundred feet away from each other, he was pretty certain that she could see him well enough. Frank shook his head once at her and then mouthed the word “Go.” He knew the girls would be safe with her. He knew the weapons would be safe with her. Now? He just had to mop up and make sure there was no one left to follow the ship.
The Punisher hopped down from the cab, turning away from Natasha and the ship. If it wasn't clear enough yet, he had no intentions of going with her. Walking towards the maze of containers that he went through in order to get to the gun deal, he disappeared into the darkness, the report of his shotgun heard occasionally. Bursts of gunfire could be heard here and there, but it didn't take long for the shipyard to fall silent and the sound of police sirens could be heard in the distance.
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