Frank's shoulder popped as he unstrapped his semiautomatic and placed it back in the rack. It was the second time in a week a banger had tried to bull rush him off of a balcony. He didn't know why they kept trying that. It never ended well.
His rib twinged as he continued to put away his arsenal. The sawed-off was a lost cause; even if he managed to hammer the barrel back into shape it was just as likely to blow up in his face as hit the target. He'd picked up two new automatics at the scene; after he finished cleaning up for the night he'd have to test them.
His vision swam for a second and Frank steadied himself against the table. Definitely cracked a rib. Sloppy.
"Castle, you are one mother-fucking pain in the ass to find."
Frank spun around and leveled his Desert Eagle at the intruder sitting on his cot. Very sloppy.
The stranger didn't flinch and Frank took a good look. Black. Bald. Eye patch over his left eye; Frank made a mental note that whoever-he-was would expect him to take advantage of the blind side. Military set to the shoulders. "Who are you?"
"Sergeant-Major Francis Castle," the man said, reading from a file. "Awarded the bronze star for valor under fire during action in Serbia. Earned a Distinguished Service medal for actions during Desert Storm. Special Forces instructor. Top marksmanship honors."
"I know my record. Answer the question."
He snapped the file shut. "Oh, my apologies. I'm General Nicholas Fury. I'd read you my record, but most of it's classified. I'm here representing the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division."
"We like it." He leaned on one elbow and suddenly Frank could see Micro's boy sprawled motionless on the floor.
He pulled back the hammer on the Desert Eagle.
Fury raised one eyebrow, then casually looked over his shoulder. "Relax, Castle. He's only sedated. He'll wake up in twelve hours with nothing more than a bad headache." He looked back at Frank with a smirk that almost made Frank squeeze the trigger. "Kid's picked up right where his old man left off, hasn't he. I'm guessing the tuition payments were little hard to come by after you got his father killed."
Louis was a skinny, twenty-year-old version of his dad; Frank heard Micro's voice every time he looked at him. Never knew his dad; the mother and Micro had some problems, Frank never asked. Came looking for his dad a month too late. Good kid. Smart. Even better at scrounging than his father. Frank knows he never should have let him get involved. "What do you want?"
"I want to turn you from a problem into an asset..."
"I'm not your problem."
"You became my problem the second you painted a skull on your chest and started calling yourself 'The Punisher,' and will not interrupt me when I am speaking."
Frank felt himself snap to attention at the barked order and knew Fury had seen it, too. He lowered the gun; they both knew he wasn't going to shoot now. "What if I say no?"
Fury glanced back at Louis. "Seems like a nice kid. I wonder what he'll be like after he does twenty years in Rikers for gun trafficking."
Frank wondered how much heat he would bring down by shooting a US General in the face. "Was that a threat?"
Fury laughed. "You think I have to threaten you? All I have to do is take a step back. That's the only way the story's going to end for him, we both know that. Either he winds up in prison protecting you or he winds up with a bullet in his head like his old man. But it doesn't have to end like that," he said, leaning forward. "You have the power to change that, Castle. Say yes and he gets a free ride to any school of his choice."
"What do you want?"
Fury templed his fingers. "I'm putting a team together. I want you on it."
"You've got a team full of Capes," Frank snorted. "Yeah, I've heard of S.H.I.E.L.D. I don't work with Capes. We tend not to get along."
"I fully sympathize with you in that regard, Castle. Believe me, there are many days where I feel the same way. You wouldn't be working directly with the...Capes, as you put it. Your missions would run parallel to theirs, on those occasions when the US feels that more...direct pressure needs to be applied."
Frank narrowed his eyes. "Black Ops. Wetworks."
"The US government can neither confirm nor deny the existence of any such official policy." He grinned. "Castle, as an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. you would have access to weapons that your resourceful young friend could only dream about. Top of the line body armor. Experimental equipment. All the best the US government has to offer. We don't want you to stop fighting your war, Castle. We just want you to be killing a better class of scum."
He stood up --- slowly, Frank noticed, watching his reaction --- and smiled. "I'll even sweeten the pot. Eventually some beat cop is going to get lucky. I can offer you full immunity for all crimes committed as the Punisher. Your very own get-out-of-jail free card." He crossed his arms. "What do you say?"
For a brief second Frank imagined shooting him, keeping his life simple. Under control.
He kept the gun lowered. They found him once. The next time they wouldn't come empty handed. "Like I have a choice."
Fury had a particular way of grinning that Frank didn't trust at all. "I knew you could be reasonable." He walked up to Frank and passed him an envelope. "Meet the helicopter at that address at 0700 in four days. You're get briefed on the way, and burn that after you finish with it. I'll show myself out."
Castle stuffed the envelope into his pocket. "Oh, and Castle?"
"Yeah?" Frank turned around, feeling like the room was smaller than the day before.
"Welcome to the Initiative."