The whole thing with Danny Fisher finding everything out had been unfortunate, but it could have been managed. He’d agreed with their cause, and he’d had a family that needed protecting, and Solar Flare knew she could have persuaded the Headmistress to relocate them somewhere where they could live and keep quiet for their own safety.
So he stood aside, just gaping at them, as she and Artiste fought their way through the Union Allied offices that night, easily taking care of the Kingpin’s men, until Solar Flare held in her hand all they needed to bring the company down. And then Artiste dipped her brush in her knockout powder, which confused Solar Flare for a moment, because all their enemies were knocked out already, before she flicked it right at her. She felt the briefcase being wrenched from her hand before everything went black.
She woke up in a jail cell, under arrest for Danny’s murder.
It took her much of the day to comprehend Artiste had really done what she had done. She couldn’t understand it. After all they’d been through, all they’d fought for, how could have she who had been the closest thing to a best friend Solar Flare’d had betrayed her?
Also, the police had apparently found her lying next to the dead Danny covered in his blood and holding the murder weapon. She knew a lot of them were on the Kingpin’s payroll, of course, and it seemed like Artiste might actually have turned traitor completely and was working for him, but this felt like something long-planned.
She wasn’t sure when they showed up who had sent the two lawyers. Foggy Nelson and Matt Murdock didn’t drop any codes words, or give any indication that they knew she was anything other than Miss Karen Page, secretary working for Union Allied Construction. She told them some story very loosely based on the truth that she knew they wouldn’t believe, and she tried to fall back on the whole truth when she swore to them passionately that she hadn’t done it, even though she doubted they would believe that either, if the school hadn’t sent them, however much Mr. Murdock claimed to. Although if they had, she was aware, she probably shouldn’t try to break out, since they would then be trying to preserve her civilian identity.
She wasn’t surprised when one of the guards tried to strange her in her cell that night. Though she was surprised by how badly he mangled it. Thankfully that meant she was able to defeat him in a way where she did nothing which an ordinary woman being able to do would raise eyebrows, and when Mr. Nelson and Mr. Murdock came back the next morning, they came to her with the news she was being released, her civilian identity uncompromised.
Though grateful as Solar Flare was for that, it was a little awkward, when the two lawyers(who definitely had not been sent by the school) then continued to want to help. Which was how she ended up in the apartment of Matt Murdock, a poor blind man who still had no real idea of what he was getting into with her, and listening to him speculate why she hadn’t been killed along with Danny.
Solar Flare was wondering about that herself, actually. Had some lingering sense of loyalty or affection kept Artiste from going that far? Her jailhouse assassin she thought had probably been sent by the Kingpin; it was hard to guess whether Artiste had since become okay with killing her or simply hadn’t known about it(although surely she would never have thought a single guard, especially one acting against his will, would ever have brought her down), assuming she was with the Kingpin at all.
She answered his questions, telling the lies she had to tell, and told herself not to think about it. It would not do to show the pain she was feeling to anyone. Not to her peers, certainly not to her enemies, and even more so not to a good-hearted civilian who couldn’t know the truth about her and was unknowingly putting himself at too much risk when she’d already had one civilian die on this mission specifically because of her.
She finally gave him the slip and returned to the offices of Union Allied. She wasn’t even sure how she was going to get back to the school. For all she knew, Artiste had also betrayed their location, although it would be idiotic of her, the Kingpin, or anyone else to try to attack the school directly; not when every girl in it would rise to its defense, and when there were enough of them there, not even a full army could take all of them down. But she had a mission, and she was going to complete it; she’d worry about the rest later.
They’d anticipated her coming back. Of course they had. Five minutes after she broke through the window she was surrounded by nearly a hundred men, and starting to think she might not be able to win this fight. So she was actually grateful when the man in black with his face covered also showed up. Together the two of them took down man after man, although he had an annoying reluctance to kill them, and even got their hands on the files they needed.
Finally Lucky Strike showed up, and between them they got out with the information. When the man in black offered to take their prize into “the right hands” they ultimately decided to let him. “He’s already been in the papers a couple of times,” Lucky Strike explained to Solar Flare after he’d left. “General do-gooder-with-violence guy. So if anyone has to be credited for vigilante work, he can be, and the rest of us can stay safely on the down low. Might be useful as an ally, actually. If we’re right about Artiste, we’re going to need all the help we can get on this one.”
Back at the school(they’d gone in through the emergency entrance, and even that one had needed to be heavily fortified; the main one was officially out of commission), Solar Flare spent nearly an hour on the table. Artiste had given her such a powerful dose of the powder she still needed to be purged of some of it even over 48 hours later, and she listened as Night Nurse listed off her various other injuries, before saying, “You really should have come back here before you went back to Union Allied.” She might be the calmest of them all, not counting the Headmistress, and even she showed a little how badly she was shaken by the betrayal by one of their own.
At least the purge gave her a chance to speed-sleep, and be up for when Gladiatoress showed up to fit her into a new suit and armor. “Includes some of the latest armor designs from my boyfriend,” she told Solar Flare.
“I hope the Kingpin hasn’t seen these ones,” was her response. She knew having an in to gather information on him was vital, even if they had to let the Kingpin have great body armor in order to have it, but there was a problem, because Gladiatoress’ boyfriend was so simple-minded it was hard to convince him that there was no way the Kingpin could ever hurt her, and he lived in fear of it happening.
Before she could ask the obvious question, Gladiatoress answered it: “Artiste’s now sharing a bed with the Kingpin. I really thought better of her than that. I guess we all did. Now she’s no doubt told him everything, and I’m not sure what the next move’s going to be.”
“Take her down, I hope,” growled Solar Flare, as she stared out into the air before her and felt herself turn as hard the pieces of underarmor Gladiatoress was applying to her. At that moment, even destroying the Kingpin felt secondary to her, after the desire for revenge.
Resuited, she went to meet with the Headmistress, who gave her a surprising instruction. “While we might not have had anything to do with the lawyers,” she said to Solar Flare, “it was actually quite prudent of you to take steps to preserve your identity as Karen Page, and we believe it may still be a useful one. Now I know those two lawyers a little; they like to drink at my bar. Even helped me with the authorities trying to shut it down. I want you to go back to them and get yourself hired as their secretary; I believe they need the help and if you offer to work for free to pay your bill they should almost certainly take you. Kingpin may keep an eye on them; he always has a use for clean, young, idealistic lawyers desperate for money and easy to manipulate. So we will too.”
It had been a while since Solar Flare had been at the school, actually. Needing no more sleep that night thanks to the extra effects of the table, she spent most of the rest of the night in training. She sparred with Jewel first, who thankfully didn’t completely overpower her with her strength and flying ability, but just used them to give her a challenge. She considered going into the snow room, but decided against it; she wasn’t ready to face those memories yet. After competing at projectile throwing with Lucky Strike, she decided to seek out Quake. It still felt like her world had been rocked around her, after all; she might as well spend some time with that being true literally.
But when she found her, she was with Elektra, the two of them crouched over a StarkPad, and when they looked up, Quake said, “Solar Flare! We really need to talk to you. Elektra here knows both your lawyers, and I know Matt Murdock as well!”
So she listened to Quake’s story about knowing Matt in the orphanage just before the school had recruited her, and Elektra’s story about dating Matt in college, when he and Foggy Nelson had already become inseparable. “I’m not surprised the Headmistress has been interested in keeping them watched,” said Quake, “especially since I know she’s looking to recruit an ex-girlfriend of Nelson’s.”
“I think she might even get visited tonight,” said Elektra. “I actually just went out to encourage that man in black to turn his info over to Ben Urich-Black Flame’s husband, you know?”
“Hope Black Flame’s able to appreciate that,” sighed Quake, and they all agreed. Black Flame had still been active when they’d come to the school, before her ailing body and mind had finally forced her into retirement, and they all grieved for her condition now.
Eventually the three of them raced motorcycles down the track, even holding flares up in the air during their final race, and then it was close to dawn, and time for Solar Flare to depart and go back to being Karen Page again. She passed the Headmistress on her way out of the track, hand still clutching to her namesake, and they nodded to each other over the flame, the older woman initially looking concerned, but resting easy after what she saw. Her trust had been betrayed, but a night among those of her peers who were truly on the same side of her had made Solar Flare feel strong again, ready to take on their new enemy as well as their old one.
It was only during the following weeks that Solar Flare finally understood what she’d been told a thousand times at the school, about pain and hurt making someone stronger. Although she soon came to think that contrary to what one would assume, love made you stronger too, in its way, especially if it was platonic, and unconditional.
That kept her from feeling guilty with how fast she came to care deeply for both of her new employers, even before Night Nurse discovered Matt Murdock and their man in black were one and the same when she fished him out of her dumpster. Although when Lucky Strike had just been attacked while working at her bowling alley in her civilian identity, no one had any time to think about what they were going to do about it. Even after they learned they’d just done that to keep her in the back room while they murdered one of the customers, when the lawyers promptly took the case of the killer, well, obviously that made them reluctant to tell Matt about all of them.
But then Night Nurse, who was no fighter, was kidnapped, and they revealed everything and bonded over rescuing her. He was after the Kingpin too, after all. Also, Night Nurse was obviously in love with him, and why she refused to have a relationship with him was beyond Solar Flare.
Then another person she’d come to care for was murdered by the Kingpin. The night Elena Cardenas was found dead, Solar Flare once again sought refuge in the school, going into the boxing ring against Jewel, whom she could hit as hard as she could without worrying about injuring her. That was such a relief she didn’t even care when she lost that bout.
She was just starting to think she was okay when they got the call from Foggy, and everything fell apart.
Matt’s six hours on the table after they rushed him to the school were spent with Foggy ripping into them both, his longtime friend especially. By the end of it Solar Flare had long realized there was nothing that would keep him from walking out, unable to accept how long and how much Matt had lied to him, and who they were, but still she tried, especially when it become clear to her Matt might not be able to function without him. All for naught; when he walked out, she feared none of them might ever see him again.
It was probably her distress over that which left her guard lowered enough that the Kingpin’s right-hand man was able to kidnap her. At least she repaid him with the contents of his own gun before she escaped.
It was only on the table afterwards, Night Nurse confirming he’d used the powder, that Solar Flare wondered if the gun had been loaded because Artiste had arranged for all of it, and just used her to take out her greatest rival for power over the Kingpin.
She found Matt having his measurements taken by Gladiatoress, having finally agreed to accept their help. “I don’t know what I think of any of this,” he said to her. “But…I can’t do this alone.” He was near tears then.
“You’re not alone, Matt,” she said, taking his hands. “You never were. You are our brother, and we are all sisters here, so long as we stay true to each other.”
And then yet another civilian was dead directly because of the two of them. Although being married to Black Flame had left Ben involved enough they might have even given him a funeral at the school, except he had relations that didn’t know about it, so they couldn’t.
Instead, after the main ceremony was over, Solar Flare and Matt lingered with Black Flame and her family member who did know, until the Headmistress arrived, and it seemed the entire school came with her; the admiration for Black Flame was that strong. They could not salute the grave when Ben had not been one of them, but each placed her hand on the stone and spoke her own farewell.
Solar Flare started hers steadily, “Goodbye, Ben. Thank you…for your help…your inspiration…” she struggled to keep it up, but her knees gave way; she collapsed against the stone and was whimpering, “Forgivemeforgivemeforgivemeforgiveme…” She was showing her weaknesses in front of everyone, all the pain and guilt she’d suffered since Artiste had thrown that powder in her face defeating her, and she didn’t even care.
At least until she discovered there were two more witnesses, when she heard a familiar voice call, “Karen…?”
Foggy Nelson was standing in the graveyard. With him was Marci Stahl.
There was some debate as to whether to take her, of course, after Solar Flare had so strongly recommended against her after meeting her. But she was showing signs of “getting her soul back,” as Foggy described it, the unpleasant truth was that she didn’t really need *that* much of it at the end of the day, and there was no denying she was perfect as an adult recruit in every other way.
By the time the stolen papers she’d brought with her had served up the vital information with which the Kingpin’s empire was then brought gloriously crashing down, the both of them had made great progress. Matt and Foggy were now trying to rebuild their friendship, and he had managed to earn Solar Flare’s forgiveness for shattering Matt like that, mostly by not only reminding her tirelessly Ben's death wasn’t her fault, but also by holding her and telling her she was allowed to cry, which was the sort of thing no one had done for her ever. Meanwhile, Marci had won the respect of most of the girls, and the Headmistress had officially made the offer.
Marci had not yet actually said yes, when the two of them found themselves sitting in her car in the Landman and Zack parking lot, watching as her soon-to-be-former-boss was swarmed by FBI agents. “I know this may sound crazy you to you,” said Marci, “but I don’t want to stop being a lawyer.”
“You won’t,” said Solar Flare. “We’re not going to let your lawyering skills go to waste. You’ll probably have to spend at least a few months training full time, but once you’re ready to strike out, we’ll find you a place somewhere. You’ll be like Matt; you’ll still be a lawyer. You’ll still be Marci Stahl. You’ll just be Justice too.”
“I am not taking that as a moniker,” Marci insisted, laughing. Solar Flare laughed with her, and tried not to think of the time she and Artiste too had sat in a car and giggled together.
The world would later think that Wilson Fisk had escaped simply because one of the cops on his payroll had gone unidentified. But as soon as she saw it on the newsfeed, Solar Flare knew, just like that. “Artiste,” she said, as she, Matt, and Foggy hurried into their coats. “She’s the one pulling the strings now. The one doing to logistics at the very least, maybe the one completely calling the shots. We’ll probably never even know if that’s what she wanted most, whether it was the man she betrayed us for, or his power.”
“What do we do?” Matt asked her, and Foggy stopped short for a moment, at him just asking her like that, but then nodded, as he realized yes, of course he was. “Can I do anything against this woman, honestly?”
She shrugged. “You can certainly deal with the Kingpin, and someone’s got to go grab him. We’ll have to get back to the school-I do hope they let us put the new entrance under this building. Hopefully Gladiatoress will have your new suit ready. Then…” she was last out of the office, and she let the door rattle the wall as she slammed it behind her, feeling her hardness return. “We’ll go make her pay.”
Which was how Solar Flare found herself on an island in the middle of the Hudson, bonfires raging all around them until her hair looked less yellow than red(the people of the city would wonder at the sight, but they had seen scarier and more dangerous things in recent years, and would probably just hope the Avengers took care of it). She had seen Artiste on her computer screen since-it was a good thing she’d been alone in the office on the morning Wilson Fisk had introduced himself to the world, because when she’d seen her by his side, smiling and playing the beautiful girlfriend perfectly, she’d had to scream and pound on her desk-but this was the first time since that moment of betrayal she’d seen her in person. And there she was, losing an expensive coat as she walked towards them, but keeping a diamond engagement ring on her finger, flanked by five other women who looked as deadly as her; she’d had time to recruit on top of everything else.
But Solar Flare was not alone. Daredevil, as they’d impulsively christened him when he’d donned his new outfit, had gone off to capture Kingpin, now truly the lesser target. But she was flanked by Lucky Strike, and by Gladiatoress, and Jewel, and Quake, and Elektra, and as she was sure their newest recruit and Night Nurse were with the Headmistress at her monitor back at the school, she felt them there in spirit. Black Flame too; it was a pity she no longer had the power to avenge her husband, but her sisters would do it for her. As one the six of them walked to the center of the island, until only centimeters of air remained between Solar Flare and she who had once been the most important person in her life. It was hard to remember that now, few as the intervening weeks had been.
And apparently Artiste had been keeping tabs on her, because she said, her voice high and haughty, “Good evening, Miss Page. Heard you’ve been out and about with two men, all the while ranting about me because I took up with one. Are you the reason they had that falling out?”
“Think about all that what you want,” shrugged Solar Flare; if she’d missed Artiste at all, she never would again now. “But I never betrayed anyone for them, least of all my sisters. You abandoned us all, and we all recovered together, because we know, unlike you, that there’s a special place in Hell for women who turn their backs on other women.”
“Well spoken,” snarled Artiste, and the battle was joined.