Karen spent an hour reading some of the Bulletin’s obituaries and similar from the previous year, including a couple of Ben’s; he had others still on file. She spent another hour reading about David Bowie while streaming various songs from him. She’d known who he was in general. She discovered during the process she’d even grown up listening to a couple of his songs her brother had been fond of, though she hadn’t known until then that had been him. There was a lot she hadn’t known about him, such as the boundaries he’d pushed, the stories his music had told, and even that he’d just released an album she unfortunately didn’t have time to listen to before writing. She did listen to the title track as she typed her article out.
Three hours after receiving the assignment, she watched Ellison glance over it, though there was no time to truly critique. “You’re getting good at this,” he commented.
(“You have a way of seeing straight through to the heart of things,” he’d said to her, just before he’d ripped the first article she’d written for him to pieces. She knew how lucky she was he saw things that way. She was also getting good at seeing when he was thinking that about her.)
She always thought it kind of strange, afterwards, that they hadn’t pre-written an obituary about Bowie, especially later in the week, when she learned they had written one for Alan Rickman. She actually was a little heartbroken when she heard about his death, especially since the final Harry Potter movie had made her cry. Though the thing about writing obituaries, she learned, at least ones you weren’t writing in advance, was they could leave you with a newfound appreciation for someone the world had just lost. David Bowie was now a man she had huge respect for.
In February, Karen wrote the obituary for Frank Castle. Not because he was dead, thankfully. In fact, it was written because it had become clear to the world he was still alive, and that was when Ellison decided they’d better have one on file. All the local newspapers were preparing them then, no doubt. Though none of them would include the information she was relieved to finally put down, things the public wouldn’t mind remembering once the Punisher was safely dead. It didn’t even feel that weird to write about someone she knew and cared for being dead when he wasn’t yet, if only because he might be any day.
She’d sort-of been back in contact with him by then. By the end of February, she was fully back in contact with him. Also sitting with him in one of his safehouses overnight, hoping he wouldn’t forcibly try to keep her there for her own supposed safety come morning; she was not in the mood for that. It had been the kind of two days where they both initially dropped off from pure exhaustion, but later woke up in the middle of the night and knew immediately that was all the sleep they were going to get.
Sitting at a rickety table, sipping coffee neither of them were very good at making, Karen ended up telling him about writing his obituary. His first reaction was to chuckle. Later, he said to her, “That obituary you wrote. Would you mind putting in a few things about Maria? It’s just that the papers never wrote much about her and the kids, and there are things about her I’ve always wanted the world to know.” Karen’s response was to fish a piece of paper and a pen out of her pack.
A few days later, while she quietly edited the file to put in as much of what Frank had told her as she could reasonably manage, she wondered how much famous people contributed to their own obituaries. She was sure there were those who practically wrote them. At least Frank was unlikely to ever think he could write it better than her.
In March, Karen wrote the obituary for Doris Urich. She felt guilty, afterwards, by how little grief she felt during those long-anticipated final days. The day before Doris died was a crazy one, with her non-responsive by then, trying to get details about her life from her grieving relatives while also getting calls about three more stories at once. She was also honestly relieved it was almost over for Doris. The last two months had been brutal to her, after her final deterioration. Most of the time, it had felt like she was pretty much gone already. The day of her death, Karen sat by her, typing revisions, and felt very little.
When she emailed him the obituary that night, about an hour before Doris finally passed, Ellison responded to tell her it might have been her best work yet. He assured her they’d give it a good position in the Bulletin. After all, she’d been a remarkable woman in her own right. Perhaps Karen had only fully comprehended how much so while she’d sat near her deathbed putting her life together on her laptop for the public’s final consumption.
The morning after, she still felt little. The article she’d just written about Rand closing the Staten Island plant was getting a lot of attention, and she also had the interview with Harvey McCormac she’d been trying to land since the Inhuman had gotten the commission to do fireworks for the city. After the latter all she wanted was a nap.
Then, when Foggy was picking her up to treat her to lunch, she happened to see the obituary actually in the printed paper. That was Karen finally lost it, breaking down completely, everything she hadn’t had the energy to feel before that moment crashing down on her. It was godsend Foggy happened to be with her at that moment, and he was willing to literally hold her up and help her stagger all the way to her office and stay with her until she felt able to do something other than scream out her pain and grief over Doris, and Ben, and also everything else that had happened around and in between them. “I think you needed that,” he would tell her later, when they were having that lunch, and she tried to thank him.
He was by her side for most of the funeral as well. Which Matt also attended, as Karen supposed was only right and proper of him. She didn’t talk to him much, but the longest length of time Foggy did leave her side was when he went to have a conversation with him. He came back looking deeply grieved, but insisted he and Matt hadn’t even talked about anything important. “I couldn’t not talk to him,” he sighed. “Couldn’t stop myself. But it’s just…” Karen thought she understood, at least somewhat.
In April, Karen wrote the obituary for Prince. The official one that went up immediately this time, which she hammered out in roughly ten minutes and edited over five more while the news spread through the office and more than one person demanded to know why they hadn’t had one pre-written for him. Some of the words she heard from them definitely tended racist, but she just kept her head down that time and typed.
Throughout the rest of the day, she heard most of his hits at some point. Unlike Bowie, of course, she’d grown up hearing plenty of his songs and knowing they were his, and flashes of her life they’d been significant to kept coming back to her. Singing “Kiss” with Abby and Marge when she’d been ten, all of them giggling. Listening to “Little Red Corvette” for the hundredth time as a teenager, and suddenly realizing what the song was about. “When Doves Cry” coming onto the car radio when she’d been in the backseat with big Tom Lyons, and the chorus to “Little Red Corvette” running through her head. Foggy singing (in the loose sense of the word) along to “Let’s Go Crazy” as he carried a folder over to her, stopping to rap in rhythm on Matt’s door oh no let’s go.
She thought of all the celebrity deaths that year, Prince was definitely the one Foggy took the hardest. She’d thought he would, so she invited herself over to his apartment that evening. The two of them ate takeout while listening to some of his music and then watching Purple Rain, which she thought was actually a terrible movie, but she didn’t tell Foggy that. For the rest of her life, Karen would forever associate the song with the memory of him sobbing out, “I’m just so sick of losing things, Karen.”
Karen reminded herself as she walked home how many people there were out there just like him that night. She really ought to keep that in mind more when writing obituaries. Even if they were ones she wrote over ten minutes while just needing to keep her head and get the words together.
It was the very next day the craziness with Matt and Jessica Jones and Luke Cage and Danny Rand started, or at least her part in it did. There was one moment during it Cage had to take her to safety on his motorcycle, “Raspberry Beret” started inappropriately playing in her head, and she was sorely tempted to crack up in a way that would’ve made her poor companion question her sanity.
In May, Karen wrote the obituary for Peggy Carter. The Bulletin had pre-written one for her, of course; in fact, Ben had written it. But they’d then had a war over what to do after S.H.I.E.L.D.’s exposure and disbandment, and while several proposed updates arguing in strong words with each other were in the folder with the word file of the obituary itself, nothing further had ever been done with any of it. Two of the four people involved in the war weren’t even with the paper anymore.
Karen received the news from one of her contacts early in the morning, very shortly after Carter was found dead, having gone in her sleep. He’d asked her not to publish it, though, until all her various relations had been notified. Karen didn’t even tell anyone anything, just went to look at the files, discovered the situation, and decided to ignore the proposals and just rewrite the whole thing. It was still heavily based off Ben’s work, though. Ultimately they both received authorial credit.
For all that, by the time the Sousa family officially notified the media, Karen was pretty proud with what she had come up with, what then went out. It was well-balanced, recognizing all Carter had accomplished while not downplaying the great fatal blunder she’d made with her organization, and also going into detail about the barriers she’d broken and the influence she’d had on women, something she thought Ben had actually overlooked a bit. One of those two remaining people whose proposals she’d ignored, Terry, wasn’t too nice to her in the days just after. But the other one, Scott, slipped her a note at one point thanking her, “for covering for us on that one.”
Everyone who knew Karen seemed at least a little surprised she wasn’t more broken up over her dying. But Peggy Carter had honestly never been more than a name in books and reports and news articles to her. She’d admired her, but she’d never been important to her. Besides, she’d been old.
Also, she had other things to worry about. Already there’d been that whole thing that had happened with Matt and his three fellow vigilantes. And now she found the Sokovia Accords to be downright alarming, the kind of heavy-handed handling of superheroes that would drive people like Matt further into hiding, and threatened to draft Inhumans into an involuntary army and force them to become tools of the powerful, even if they’d never had interest in using their powers in that kind of manner. And that was before the Avengers publicly imploded. Soon she was busy crying outrage over half of them being held with the public knowing absolutely nothing about where or how, which was a violation of international law right there. Peggy Carter had died at a very inopportune time when it came to having anyone pay much attention to her, except for when it came to the symbolism.
After that whole sequence of events with their own local superheroes, she and Foggy were now on better terms with Matt, though he still kept his distance. He’d been a very strong admirer of Peggy Carter, and told Karen he was very impressed with her obituary.
In June, Karen wrote the obituary for Anton Yelchin. It was an easier quick write than Prince’s had been, especially she knew it wasn’t going to be the most-read obituary of the month. (The person who had written Muhammad Ali’s obituary had died within a year of writing it. Karen tried not to find that creepy.) She hadn’t cared much for the two Star Trek movies he’d been in, but she had to admit he’d been pretty good in the second one. She and Foggy exchanged emails about possibly watching some artistic vampire movie he’d also been in called Only Lovers Left Alive together, but she’d already known they probably weren’t going to find the time.
By then, writing such things was a break from staring at a map of the world and wondering where in it Steve Rogers and his band of jailbreakees were. There weren’t even any rumors that were remotely believable. “You’d be amazed at how much of this job is waiting,” Ellison had told her at the beginning of the saga.
But there’d been other fallout from the Sokovia Accords and the Avengers’ fall from grace, things nobody who’d been in Vienna had likely thought about. Like the fact that Inhumans and other superpowered people the world over had had it thrown in their face that everyone thought them dangerous and in need of being controlled. Karen was penning articles about the rise in death threats, the amount of hate crimes, the bullying in schools that was happening to kids who were even suspected to be superpowered. She was watching the rise of the Watchdogs with downright alarm.
She thought of Star Trek, of its original idealistic message, of the significance of Nyota Uhura on the bridge and the friendly Russian among the crew. Of course back in the 1960s there’d been only two superpowered people known to have existed, one of them had been evil, and they’d been both presumed long dead. But when she heard they were making another series, she hoped that one had an Inhuman character, someone who made that unique contribution to the crew, same as Mr. Spock had.
In July, Karen wrote the obituaries for Luke Cage, Danny Rand, Jessica Jones, Scott Lang, Janet van Dyne, Quake, and Spiderman. The first three were easy. She knocked them off one after another, wondering if she’d ever have the kind of relationship with any of them where she might mention she’d written obituaries for them, since, after all, as superheroes, they really could die at any time. The last two were the trickiest. Quake in particular was frustrating, because when she put together what few facts they had confirmed or probable about her, all she could think was unless she died within the next hour or so, they’d probably be long discovered to be wrong if and when the damn thing ran.
Spiderman was more straightforward, mostly because they didn’t try to claim to know much about him besides where he’d shown up and what he’d done there. Karen had to suppress a laugh when Ellison suggest she look at their obituary for Daredevil to get some idea of how to write about a vigilante of unknown identity. She was very grateful that one had already been written, though. She wasn’t sure she could’ve handled writing it.
She did think it said something, though, that they were preparing such obituaries. After all, most would assume that if a dead body was found, people would end up finding out who the unfortunate vigilante had really been. This carried on a weird hope with it, that when they were dead, their secrets might be left alone. Even if their real life identities would then have to be perpetually missing people. Hell, most people would probably figure it out, if Matt disappeared or was somehow reported as dead when Daredevil was. But even then, they might not say so publicly, and she and Foggy might even be more or less left alone. That would be a mercy.
Or maybe they just didn’t expect the police would announce it to the media immediately. Although if such a thing did happen with Spiderman, she, for one, absolutely intended to demand of them how much they knew. Not even for what his name was, necessarily, but she wanted to know if they knew it, and if they intended to disclose it to the world after notifying his next of kin or whatever.
(If they ever got their hands on a dead Daredevil, and she found out early enough, Karen didn’t intend to be around to either ask or answer any questions. She didn’t know where she’d be; she kind of hoped Foggy would have some idea of where they both could be, or just where she could, if he refused to come with her. But if Matt was beyond needing any more help, well, there were shitshows she charged into, shitshows she reluctantly faced, and some shitshows she was not going to hang around for, even if by some miracle they didn’t feel like arresting her.)
In August, Karen wrote the obituary for Lou Pearlman. That was an educational experience, writing an obituary for someone she’d actively despised since she’d been pretty young. Of course, she knew the drill, knew how to be professional about it. But it stung all the more when she was still in mourning for Kenny Baker. She’d always loved Artoo, more than anything else about Star Wars. She’d have rather be writing about him. But his obituary had been pre-written, of course.
Although at least a lot of the memories writing it brought up were more pleasant than not. That surprised her, because the time she had been obsessed with NSync hadn’t exactly been the best period of her life. But their later songs brought back memories of the road that had led her to New York, as well as her earliest times there. Some of the songs that played in her head she hadn’t listened to in years, but now she had an urge to do so again. She wondered if she even had those old CDs somewhere.
It was probably inappropriate on the part of her brain that the song that ran through her head the most was “Bye Bye Bye.” But hey, it had even been written with Pearlman in mind, on the occasion of the band firing him as their manager. Besides, she’d lost count of how many times she’d silently mouthed along to it and felt like she was singing it to her small hometown.
For most of the rest of the month, that song played in her head on other occasions too. Like as she typed the triumphant article after she managed to nail one Roxxon asshole for tax evasion. And when Frank told her that one particularly scary man that might or might not have had connections to Fisk had left town. And whenever she saw a map with Vermont on it.
She also longingly thought about it as she wrote about the President calling Ross in, with rumors that he just might be asked to step down. He wasn’t, of course. Later, she would hear that both presidential candidates looked likely to keep him on, and she was left to despair for the world.
In September, Karen wrote the obituary for Arnold Palmer. Easy for her to write, because some of the most vivid of her less complicated childhood memories were off her father avidly watching him. Well, mostly uncomplicated; she also remembered Kevin too becoming a fan. It was one of those deaths htat made Karen feel like another part of her childhood, long since left to expire, had finally passed away, even he did have to look up what he’d done more recently, since she hadn’t heard anything about him in years. His wasn’t the only death that year which gave her that feeling, but it was the one that felt the most surreal.
It was one she felt alone in too. She was acquainted with other people to whom Arnold Palmer had been significant, but she didn’t really call herself friends with any of them. Foggy had only known who he was because he’d watched that 30 for 30 documentary about the day of OJ Simpson’s arrest. When she happened to mention the latest obituary she’d written to Frank late in the month, he said, “That’s the golf-playing guy, right?” She never discussed that particular subject with Matt, because they were talking more, but still not much, but she doubted the guy was that important to him either.
The longest conversation she ended up having with anyone about him turned out to be Claire Temple, while they were sitting together in Colleen Wing’s new dojo, waiting for her to come in to begin the self-defense lesson, idly watching Foggy and Malcolm Ducasse debate the merits of the justice system, a developing argument between them even Karen knew to stay out of. Claire had never had reason to pay much attention to him either, but she’d been friends with two nurses at Metro General who’d watched golf. “Poor Lizzie must be crying her eyes out,” Claire commented. “She loved him. I don’t even know why she loved him more than whoever the hell else was hitting the ball on her TV screen…”
“That’s all right,” said Karen. “Honestly, I never entirely understood that part either. And I’m…not really in position to ask my father why.” She hadn’t told Claire about her brother’s existence, or even much about her family at all.
But Claire had seen enough, or maybe was just smart enough, and she smiled sympathetically, and said, “It’s all right. One of the world’s more harmless mysteries.”
In October, Karen wrote the obituary for Harvey McCormac. It was the first obituary she wrote where she actually cried as she typed, hot angry tears that fell upon hands nearly shaking in their rage. She rewatched the beautiful firework show he’d put on that July, and wanted to scream.
But write was all she could do, and she wondered if even her best prose, or anyone’s best prose, could get enough people to care that a good man and upstanding citizen had been murdered, and that the police weren’t even trying very hard to find out who’d done it. Brett had already laid out for her just how bad the situation there was, but so far he wasn’t willing to let her print anything he’d said, even with him kept anonymous. (“They’ll know it was me, anyway,” he sighed, and he was probably right.) Yet even publicly, it was clear Harvey’s killer (probably a Watchdog) wasn’t likely to ever face justice.
It made her so mad she actually made a point of talking about the whole thing around Matt and Frank both. She didn’t know if either of them could even identify the man, and if she’d been ask to decide which one of them would, she would’ve been torn between them for the worst reasons, because the only reason she didn’t necessarily want him to die was so that he could suffer more.
The two men themselves reacted exactly as she would’ve expected, assuring her that they couldn’t promise anything, but if they could, they’d take action. It wasn’t the first time Frank had said such a thing and she’d made clear she wouldn’t at all mind him doing so, but all the previous ones had involved targets who’d been directly threatening her. She could only guess at what he was ultimately thinking, hearing her want this from him now.
She knew Foggy had to be dismayed when she couldn’t really keep her feelings about the whole matter concealed from him. He kept his mouth shut about it, though.
It was Claire, who she was starting to become friends with by then, who heard her vent, and gently reminded her about the toll such feelings took on, “our mutual friend, and some other friends we each have.” “I’m not going to suggest you’re in any danger of being just like the asshole who murdered him,” she said. “That would be kind of overdoing it. But you want to be careful how much you have in common with him.”
Karen conceded that point. But it was so, so hard some days.
In November, Karen wrote her own obituary. She started it while mildly drunk and having just read the Bulletin’s (pre-written) obituary for Leonard Cohen, typing out the facts of her life and how poor murdered Ben had mentored her into journalism. Then she got a little more drunk and typed a heading about how she’d been murdered herself by thugs probably working for the new president, before adding “(Of course by the time I’m murdered there’ll probably be censorship in place and you won’t be allowed to include this part.)” She finished up by writing about how she hoped she would serve as an inspiration and was proud of doing everything she could to resist the new regime-“(Yeah, this part, too)” she added after it.
The next morning she deleted most of the dramatic parts about being murdered and even about resisting the new regime. But she also expanded the more factual parts about the obituary, because she was very aware that she could genuinely get killed in the brave new country that was officially on its way. She’d already been in danger from Wilson Fisk, and now she was likely to make enemies far more dangerous than he. It was good for the Bulletin to have something on file. She would hardly be the first journalist to write her own obituary. Ben had done it.
Until she got murdered, or died in a nuclear war, or alien war, or superpower war, or superpowered alien nuclear war, there were things to do. Like talk to more Inhumans about how terrified they now were, and to other people about how shocked and upset the election had left them. Also make her plans, and make the first of them with Matt and Foggy. Ironically enough, the new situation mended what little was left of her break with the latter. This was no longer a time to give up any friend she could have. And he was already thinking about hate crimes, and how there’d be quite a few more he’d be the best person to thwart, either with or without aid from her, depending on the situation.
And really, in a country where the law might become more the enemy than anything else, vigilantes like Daredevil were necessary, far beyond how they’d already been. They were now all of them seriously worried about what Luke Cage especially might be driven to do, and what the authorities might do in response. Though they had that worry for the other three too. She, Foggy, Claire, Malcolm, Colleen, and Trish Walker began having serious conversations relating to possibly even getting themselves and the four superhero-vigilantes under their care out of the country, if it looked like they might need to. Though how to get them to go was something none of them could figure out.
In December, Karen wrote the obituary for Carrie Fisher. At least she got what turned out to be a little bit of notice on it. She’d started it within half an hour of the news breaking of her heart attack, staying in her office to type into the evening, even after the report came saying she was in stable condition. She spent much of the twenty-fourth working on it too. She didn’t mind; it distracted her from all the memories of a year ago. But when that day was almost over and Carrie Fisher still was not dead, Karen saved it one final time and went home hoping it wouldn’t run for a good long while.
Three days later, she found out the woman was dead when she saw her own report of it gracing the top of the Bulletin’s website.
Karen had already made plans to go see Rogue One New Year’s Eve, but the three nights just before that, she, Matt, and Foggy gathered at the last’s place to watch through the original trilogy. She and Foggy had to take turns describing Princess Leia’s looks and actions, because it was so painful. “She won’t be in the last one now,” Foggy lamented at one point. “They probably can’t do her digitally; they can’t have enough spare footage of her old, plus, honestly, it looks creepy. Leia Organa’s going to spend her whole life trying to free the galaxy, and now she isn’t going to live to see the final triumph.”
Danny’s Christmas presents to everyone had been large Amazon gift certificates, mostly, Karen supposed, because that was something he had figured out how to do. She used hers to buy Carrie Fisher’s books. As with the first obituary she had written that year, writing the last one had left her with far more admiration and appreciation for its subject, but she thought she might like Carrie Fisher most of all as a writer. A woman writer, in fact, that no one had expected to become that. Like Karen herself, now.
Foggy actually warned her that Rogue One would end with a creepy CGI of Carrie Fisher’s face. “Won’t be as bad as all the Peter Cushing, though,” he said. That was all he told her, allowing her to walk into the movie theater otherwise spoiler-free, as had all her other friends and colleagues who had seen it already.
That was what they were supposed to do, of course; everyone generally agreed on that. But had Karen known what happened by the end of the movie, she might have actually waited another week or so, when she might have been able to deal with it better. Although honestly, she didn’t think she could ever have dealt with it well.
It was Chirrut Imwe and Baze Malbus’ deaths that hit her the hardest. Well, of course, watching a blind ninja get killed was going to. She wasn’t the only one seeing the face of someone she loved on that fictional character as he breathed his last; months later Foggy would confess to her he’d bawled like a baby. But at that moment, it felt like she was, like the secret she’d now spent a year harboring shut her up into her private pain, because she couldn’t tell anyone she was watching one of her nightmares unfold out on screen.
Watching Baze spent his final moments in grief and pain and rage, of course she thought of Frank, the man for who those moments had now stretched out to a year and a half and counting. But she also wondered if, someday, that person standing near the corpse of their beloved and staring down the universe with their gun, quite happy to make their death certain, would be her. It was very far from impossible.
After she watched the young heroine face her death, getting a last embrace from a man all too dedicated to his cause, having earlier forgiven him for the dark secret he’d kept from her, Karen was numb for the rest of the movie. She sat in the theater and watched the credits without really seeing them. It was a little past ten, she hadn’t made any real plans for midnight, and she wondered if they’d let her stay there until then.
Thankfully Foggy had guessed the state she might be in, and when she turned her phone back on, there was a text from him: If you don’t want to be alone, come watch the ball drop on TV with me?
She was just leaving when he texted to warn her Matt had dropped in. Not too injured, he assured her. Karen didn’t mind in the slightest. On the contrary, she was glad she would see them both.
Foggy’s apartment was walking distance from the movie theater, but it took long enough for Karen to think too much, about death, and how much it happened, and how inevitable it was, and getting more so all the time. Halfway there and panic seized her, and she pulled out her phone and texted all three of Claire and Malcolm and Colleen, suddenly needing to know that they were all right.
Claire sent her response first: she and Luke were having a quiet night in. Malcolm was next, texting about how he wasn’t looking forward to dealing with a hungover Jessica the next day. Colleen took longer, since Danny had taken her on a fancy date, but the view of the city in the photo she sent her was worth the wait.
“Hey,” Foggy said when she came in, “need a hug?”
“Yes, thank you,” she said, and he gave her a good one. It was good to see Matt too, sitting there in the lower half of his suit and one of Foggy’s old shirts, his arm newly bandaged.
“And however many more of those as you need for the year to come,” Foggy said to her when at last they let go.
“Could you both just stay here, for now?” Karen asked in response. “For tonight?”
“To get through the last hour of this year? We wouldn’t dream of doing otherwise, would we, Matt?” Matt voiced his agreement and scooted over to make room for both of them on the couch. “So,” said Foggy, picking up the TV remote, “Retrospectives, or something else?”
“Something else,” Karen told him. “Please.” She’d had enough of death for one night, and for one year.