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The Reporter

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It took a few seconds for Frank to convince himself she was real the first time he saw her. 

He spotted her at a distance, the shape of her warbling through the haze of the afternoon heat. Fair hair and skin glowing almost white under the harsh glare of the sun. She might have been a mirage. A vision in the desert.

Force Recon missions keep Marines isolated, entrenched for long periods in covert locations. They rarely received visitors, and in Frank’s long experience, the visitors were almost never civilians, let alone gorgeous blondes with mile long legs and sky blue eyes. 

Frank was trying not to stare. They all were. Well, everyone except Bill, who’s face had just split into a shit-eating grin. 

The entire camp perked up and took notice. She was walking with Colonel Schoonover, looking around and gesturing as they spoke. Schoonover looked as grim as ever, but she was smiling. She looked excited. 

Frank looked away as they got closer. He stuck his nose back in his book, immediately rolling his eyes at himself for wanting to play it cool. He was a goddamn Marine. Unafraid of the hellfire of war, but the sight of a pretty girl makes him nervous?

Bill shoved him with his elbow and Frank scowled back. Unfortunately, Billy was immune to Frank’s dirty looks and just wagged his eyebrows to be a pest.

When the Colonel and the Blonde got close enough, Frank and the men all stood to attention. The Colonel waved them all at ease and Frank allowed himself to look at her again. 

This had to be intimidating for her. Approaching a dozen armed men, all of whom were silently staring at her. But she had a confidence. She kept her head up, boldly greeting them all with a pleasant but neutral gaze. Frank studied her. There were small signs of her nerves; slight redness at the tips of her ears, fluttering of her fingers. 

They locked eyes. He felt a small charge run up his spine before her gaze moved along, scanning the rest of the team. 

“Alright men, we have the pleasure of a guest.” Schoonover said, in his typical loud monotone. “This is Karen Page, reporter from the New York Bulletin. She’ll be spending the day here with us, working on a story before the convoy heads towards Kabul tonight. Feel free to talk to her. No details about our missions, obviously- but all of you know how security clearance works- so I don’t need to go into all that.” 

Schoonover turned to the Reporter. 

“I’ll leave you to it, Ms. Page,” he said, tipping his head slightly before turning on his heel and heading back towards HQ. 

The Reporter, Ms. Karen Page, almost choked. She stared after Schoonover, wide-eyed, like a deer in headlights, clearly not having expected to be abandoned so abruptly. But she was brave, she rallied. Gathering herself, she shuffled her phone and notebook quickly before smiling brightly at them all.

“Hi!” 

Her voice was slightly breathless. 

“Like the Colonel said, I’m Karen and I write for the New York Bulletin. Thank you so much for your service and for your time right now. I’m here mainly just to listen, to anything and everything you’re comfortable sharing with me.” 

She took a moment to gather her thoughts. Her forehead crinkled. Pretty. 

“People back home know the bare facts about what’s happening here. The removed, big picture, bird’s eye view of it all. But they don’t know the details . The simpler realities of what’s happening, the ethos… the thoughts and motivations of the people here- yours, and the Afghanis. Most Americans- including me- just don’t get it. We don’t feel it. I think it’s important that we bring the truth, the stories, and the humanity of this war to the people back home. And I think the best way to do that is to get to know you. As individuals. As men, husbands and fathers, sons and brothers.”

She searched their faces.

“So, if you’re willing… I’d love to talk to you. About anything. We can talk about the war and the experiences you’ve had... but we could also talk about your favorite book, the best meal you’ve had since you arrived in Afghanistan, or what you have going on back home. I’m really just here to get to know you.” 

When she finished, she just looked at them all. Expectant. Hopeful. 

Frank had no idea what to say. He felt like a kid in class hoping the teacher wouldn’t call on him. 

“Ma’am, you have no idea what you’ve signed up for. These guys are about to talk your damn ear off.” Curtis said, apparently not feeling any of the hesitancy that Frank had.

Karen grinned. The rest of the guys laughed. Curtis was good like that. Breaking the ice, making people feel comfortable. 

“Well, if they’re gonna talk my ear off, how about I start with you and you’ll take it easy on me.” She smiled mischievously. “That ok?” 

“Yes, Ma’am.” Curt said, offering his arm like a prom date, leading her away. He grinned over his shoulder right in time to see most of the guys flipping him off. 

Frank just smiled and shook his head. Let the other guys fawn over the girl, get their time with her. He had no idea what he’d say if she tried to interview him anyway. He sat back down and tried to lose himself in his book. 

It was a lost cause. 

He was staring at the pages of his book, but not seeing the words. He was distracted. The guys were making crude comments about the reporter…  about how hot she was, about various things they’d like to do with her during their interview “one-on-one” time. Dumbasses. Yeah, Frank’s mind might go there- he was a flesh and blood man after all- but he wouldn’t talk about it. She’s a lady.

“Alright, that’s enough.” Frank kept his voice quiet, but the men listened when he spoke. 

“Aw- come on, Frankie.” Bill teased, tossing a Nerf ball at Frank’s head which Frank caught without looking. “It’s not just because we’ve been roasting our balls off in the desert without a woman in sight for weeks - that reporter is hot as hell. Even you can’t deny that.” 

“I’m not denying it.” 

Bill paused in shock for the briefest second before leaning back in his chair and letting out a huge “HA!” 

“In all the years I’ve known you and tried to set you up with women - gorgeous ones, hand-picked by myself-” he said, winking at one of the other men. “I’ve never seen you even halfway interested."

Bill leaned closer, like he was seeing Frank clearly for the first time in his life. 

"So, this is your type, huh? Hot blondes with lips that look like they could just-” 

Frank threw the ball straight at Bill’s face and he caught it in the nick of time, grinning. 

“Very interesting, Frankie. Very interesting.” 

Thankfully, Bill let it rest at that. He liked to mess with Frank, but never took it too far. An annoying little brother. Frank loved him like family.

For the next couple of hours Frank watched over the edge of his book as the rest of the guys talked with Karen. He saw Blaine walking with her around the med center. He saw Gunner making her laugh in the mess tent. He saw Bill sitting with her near the humvees, looking relaxed in a way Frank was pretty sure he’d never been in his entire life. He fought back the small urge to be jealous. Bill had a way with the ladies. 

He’d been paying such close attention to her from afar that he was slightly shocked when she somehow managed to sneak up on him. He’d finally begun making progress in his book when he heard light footsteps, a feminine voice.

“Lieutenant Castle?”

Frank snapped his book shut and looked up. There she was. Tall and beautiful and quirking her head at him with a small smile. He stood to attention. 

“Ma’am.”

She blushed. 

 “Um- hi. It’s nice to meet you.” 

She extended her hand and he took it automatically. She was so soft. It made him realize for the first time that his hands must feel like sandpaper after all these months out here. 

“Would you mind if we talk for a bit? Bill- Mr. Russo- said you might show me around the armory? If you aren’t busy?” 

Goddammit, Bill. 

His eyes darted over Karen’s shoulder to see Bill in the distance giving him a dramatic salute. Frank’s gaze flickered back to the reporter. She was smiling at him entreatingly, her fingers fluttering around her notebook. She wasn’t just beautiful. She was cute. Frank couldn’t deny her.

Actually, he was suddenly curious as to what on earth she’d want to ask him.

“Sure thing, Ma’am. I’m not busy. The only interesting thing happening around here today is you.” 

She blushed again and smiled. He liked that he could make her blush. 

“Well, I’m happy to entertain,” she offered, good naturedly. 

Frank gestured with his head for her to follow him and he started leading her to the armory. It was quiet for a while as they walked side by side, and he appreciated that he didn’t feel awkward at all. She was easy company. 

He surprised himself by asking the first question, “Have you been out here long?”

“No, actually, and I won’t be able to stay as long as I want to.” She sighed.

He turned to look at her, tilting his head to get her to explain more. 

“This story… I want it to be a deep dive. I want to get into the hearts and minds of the people here. I want to spend time. I want to melt in. Unfortunately, security is so strict and transportation is so limited, that the best we could do was get me the few hours with you guys today, and I’ll have two days in Kabul after this to speak with some soldiers and civilians there before heading home. It feels like it won’t be enough time.” 

She was frowning and that wrinkle appeared between her brows again. 

“What I would really like to do is take time with it, talk to someone on and off for months, develop a real human story …” She sighed. Then, seeming to remember herself, her eyes darted back up to Frank’s. “But, enough about me. How long have you been out here?”

Frank wanted to hear more about her and her story, but  she wasn’t about to let him get away with asking all the questions and getting her to do all of the talking. Her eyes were sharp and bright and she was already on to him.

It was ok though. He found he actually felt like talking. Strange. 

“Eight tours.” He said, watching as her eyebrows reached for the sky.

“Eight?” She choked.

He nodded and shrugged, feeling exposed.

“That’s… wow,” She said, quickly jotting in her notebook. “You must really believe in what you’re doing here.”

She left that hanging, obviously hoping he would pick up where she left off. Frank brought his hands together and started kneading them for something to do as he considered her words. She’d laid down a loaded statement. 

“I believe-” he started, but then had to stop, regroup. “I believe that I can do a lot of good here. I can keep my men safe. I can make sure they get home alive. That’s important to me.”

Karen was nodding along, listening so earnestly that he couldn’t help but continue. 

“I don’t know why, but being here- this type of life… I’m just good at it.” Frank smirked and shook his head. “I was always a little shit, you know? Growing up, I was this little punk- always in trouble. But when I turned 18 I joined the corps and it was like everything just fit. It’s like I was built for it.” 

He looked over at her again and his stomach flipped. She was staring at him. Her big blue eyes seeing everything about him. Her mouth was the softest smile. 

“I can see that in you.” She said, searching his face a bit, somehow making him feel more relaxed and more alert at the same time. “You have a peace that most of the other guys don’t have. Some of the guys, it’s like you can feel them vibrating from across the camp, but you... you’re almost serene.”

He had to look away. He hoped he was tanned enough that she couldn’t see his cheeks getting red. 

“You must have seen a lot in all your time here.” Again, she left that statement hanging. 

Frank caught her eyes and nodded, but didn’t elaborate. He didn’t feel like talking about any of that. 

She nodded back and her eyes were warm, letting him know she wasn’t going to press him. 

It felt so damn good to be communicating on this level with someone. He could read her, and somehow, she could already read him. He was rarely this in sync with anyone, let alone a woman he’d just met. Something in his chest ached. 

They reached the armory. Karen averted her gaze politely as he keyed in the passcode to open the doors. 

The armory was the biggest and most fortified building at the camp. It was a windowless, metal warehouse and it had been baking in the sun all day. When Frank swung the door open, heat billowed out at them like a furnace. Frank barely noticed. He was used to the Afghan heat and lack of air conditioning by now, but Karen immediately started unbuttoning her shirt. Frank’s eyes went wide, his jaw dropping slightly. It took less than two seconds for him to realize that she had a tank top underneath. She just wanted to lose a layer.

Frank looked away as quickly as he could, while she wrapped her button up around her hips, tying the sleeves in a quick knot. He took the moment to rein in his reaction to seeing so much more of her skin, her curves hugged by the tight tank top. Damn. She probably had no idea how that would impact him, but jesus- he hadn’t been around a woman he was this attracted to in way too long- you can’t just spring that on a guy… God, now she was pulling her hair up, wrapping it around itself in a bun- exposing her neck. 

Frank distracted himself. He shifted his weight, swung his arms, clasped one fist in the other hand like a baseball in a glove.

“There! It is hot as balls in here.” She exhaled.

Karen’s slightly foul mouth cut through his tension instantly and made him laugh. He grinned at her. 

“You got that right, Ma’am. It’s one of the hardest things to get used to out here- always being so damn hot. We we happen to get a few days off, a bunch of us head in to the nearest town, not for booze or food or anything… we just want a hotel with AC.”

“Makes sense.” She said, wiping her brow. There were a few beads of sweat running down her neck, he caught himself tracking their progress. 

Jesus. Stop ogling the woman and show her around… Frank scolded himself and began an impromptu tour of the armory.

She was wide eyed again, looking around at the vast mountains of containers and giant crates. Openly fascinated.

If Frank had been pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to talk to Karen before, he was absolutely in his element now. He walked her through the warehouse, occasionally opening a case here and there to let her peek inside. She was like a kid in a candy store and he loved it. It was entertaining, showing her this incredible technology, explaining how it all worked and how these things were used in real life scenarios, and she was truly interested. Frank was having fun. 

He was halfway through a story about who knows what, when he realized that she had him wrapped around her finger. 

Frank was talking about himself just as much as he was talking about the various weapons. She now knew he was a native New Yorker, his best pals were Bill and Curt, and he was currently trying to re-read all the books he should have paid attention to in high school but didn’t. Once he noticed it, he couldn’t believe how much she’d gotten out of him. Hell, she knew his favorite food was anything Vietnamese, and his favorite band was Springsteen. 

Frank hadn’t been the only one sharing though. She was from Vermont, but considered herself a New Yorker now that she’d been there for over 8 years. The only book she’d read in high school that really stuck with her was The Grapes of Wrath (which she couldn’t recommend highly enough). And for some reason, she thought that Springsteen being his favorite band was “so obvious” and it made her giggle in this really pretty way. She was doing that a lot. He could make her laugh. And crazily, she could read him and tease him and get him laughing too. She was fresh air. She was familiar and comforting in a way he could barely understand. He hadn’t felt this way in… Jesus, he couldn’t remember ever feeling this way. 

Frank showed her everything in the armory and they were headed back toward the doors when she sighed and looked at him sidelong. 

“Eight tours is a long time, Lieutenant. Do you have family back home? Do they want you to retire soon?” 

Frank’s chest deflated a little, but not too much, he was used to telling people this by now. 

“I don’t really have anybody waiting on me.” Frank looked at her quickly before focusing on the ground. “It’s probably one of the reasons it’s been easy for me to be at this for so long.”

Karen’s expression sobered, but she didn’t apologize for asking. She just waited to see if he had anything else to say. To his surprise, he did.

“I’m not married or anything. My folks, they had me when they were pretty old. We weren’t very connected- they couldn’t really control me. Probably part of the reason why I was such a little shit,” he smirked to himself. “They passed when I was a senior in high school.”

There was a long pause. Frank hoped he hadn’t made her feel awkward. This was about the time in his story where the person he was talking to suddenly looked stunned and sick and started apologizing for even bringing up the concept of a family. Karen surprised him.

“I know how you feel.” She said, almost mimicking his movements, not looking at him, but at the ground as she talked. “I travel a lot, work like a maniac, often take on really difficult and even dangerous stories. Sometimes, I think the only reason I’m able to do what I’m doing is because I don’t have a family. No one worrying about me, or depending on me.”

Frank stopped walking, so did Karen. He waited for more information, sure she would give it if he waited long enough. Her eyes flickered up to his and the understanding in her big blue eyes hit him like an ocean wave. 

“I lost my mom to cancer and my brother in a car accident. My dad isn’t in the picture,” she said, shrugging slightly. The careful, casual way she talked about it; it was like looking in a mirror. 

“I’m sorry, Ma’am.” He said, the words grinding their way out of his throat. 

“I’m sorry about your family, too. And-” she added softly, “You can drop the ‘Ma’am’- call me Karen.” 

“Ok Karen. Call me Frank.”

“Frank.” She said and grinned at him, all of a sudden playful again. “Of course. Your name is Frank.” 

He squinted at her, knowing he was being teased, but not sure why. 

She laughed, reading him so well. “It’s just funny, even if I hadn’t already known your name, I would have guessed Frank. You’re the Frank-est Frank there’s ever been.” 

He laughed, having no idea why it was funny, but her laughter demanded his in response. And it felt damn good. 

“I hope that’s a compliment.” He said as he pushed open the armory door, allowing her to step out of the inferno of the warehouse and into the cool evening breeze.

She didn’t say anything, just looked at him over her shoulder, eyebrows raised, teasing. The desert wind whipped her hair all around and she glowed golden in the light of the setting sun. Goddamn, she was beautiful. 

But, it looked like his time with her was up. Schoonover was making his way over to them directly. Frank stood to attention. Karen straightened her face and perked up as well. 

Schoonover gave the both of them a look over from head to toe and subtly rolled his eyes. Frank sensed that his superior officer was annoyed. Odd. 

“Wondered where you two had gotten,” his typical flat voice, unusually snappy. Frank was confused by Schoonover’s tone. What was his problem? Frank looked to the side, slightly behind Karen, and he saw Bill and Curt watching from just out of Karen’s line of sight, high fiving each other and giving him two big thumbs up. What the hell?

It all hit Frank at once. It was evening. Karen had spent 15 to 20 minutes with each of the other guys, but she’d been with Frank for probably… over two hours. They’d been in the armory. Alone. She’d emerged wearing less clothing. Goddammit. 

There was nothing he could do to correct their assumptions now. 

“Miss Page, the convoy will be leaving at 19:00 sharp. I’ll need you at the humvee in 3 minutes.” Schoonover ordered.

“Yes sir.” She responded, as quick as any soldier. 

Schoonover pulled his trademark rapid turn on his heel, and left Frank and Karen as quickly as he had come. 

Frank didn’t wait to give any of the other guys a chance to say something idiotic to her. He gestured for her to follow him to the humvees. 

He was at a loss. 3 minutes… she was literally going to disappear from his life in 3 minutes. 

No. 

That was the worst. It couldn’t happen. It was- she was- too good to let go. Frank was suddenly so damn nervous that he wanted to kick his own ass. How hard was it to just ask her for her number? Dammit- just do it!

He turned to Karen and froze. Her big blue eyes were sad. He hated it. 

“Frank, I’m so glad I got to know you.” She said, quickly, so sweet and sincere. Maybe she was caught off guard by having to say goodbye in three infuriating minutes, just like he was. “Thank you for the interview...” 

She trailed off. It had been more than an interview. It had been a connection. He’d felt it. And he could tell by the look on her face- she felt it too. The interview was just the start...

“You know, maybe if- if you want to do that longer interview you were talking about… the kind where you keep in touch for weeks or months or whatever… We could do that.” He said, wondering if the look on his face was betraying how casual he hoped he sounded.

She lit up. Her smile. Glorious.

“Really? I’d love that! I’d really love that!” 

She was already  scribbling in her notebook and tearing out a page. She handed him the small scrap of paper with her phone number on it and he felt himself relax the moment he got it in his hand. She wasn’t going to just disappear. He had a way to get to her, to talk to her, to hear her voice again. 

“Call me any time.” She said excitedly, and then once more. Softer. “Any time.”

Suddenly they were surrounded by about 25 other soldiers who were all piling into the humvees. 

It was a swirl of motion and activity- and then Karen was up in the truck watching him from the window with a melancholy little smile, her fingers fluttering a goodbye as the giant vehicle rumbled away. 

Frank watched the convoy get smaller and smaller in the distance. 

Curt’s wolf whistle and Billy’s maniacal laughter snapped Frank back into reality. He rolled his eyes as he carefully folded the scrap of paper and slipped Karen’s number into his pocket. 

That night the guys were extra rowdy. Frank had a lot of slaps on the back and high fives coming his way, and no amount of denial or explanation was having any effect at all. The guys were immature. And annoying. And too loud. 

And Frank was in such a good mood that he didn’t care one bit.

Chapter Text

The first time Frank called her, it was definitely not on a dare. He blamed pure boredom. 

Yeah- Bill had been daring him, nagging him to call the Reporter nonstop - but Frank had resisted. 

In the days following the Karen’s visit to their camp, Frank convinced himself that he’d read too much into the whole thing, the connection, the chemistry. A beautiful, smart woman like that, who lived in New York and traveled the world… she wasn’t going to keep in touch with some random loner in the desert. He must have been kidding himself. 

So, he didn’t call, no matter how much Bill and Curt pestered him to. 

Frank thought of her face and her laugh and her fluttering fingers. When he thought about her he smiled. But, he knew better than to dwell on it, to imagine it was anything other than just an interesting conversation. 

Still though… he was a little sentimental. He’d entered her number into his phone, but he kept the scrap of paper she’d written on. It was now tucked into his book, distracting him from the story unfolding on the pages. It was just her number, and underneath- her name. Karen. In swooshing handwriting. The paper had already gone soft from how often he handled it. Even now, his thumb ran over her name for what must have been the eight-hundredth time. 

Karen

Dammit.

He couldn’t help thinking about her- there was nothing else to do. The last five days had been mind numbingly dull. Nothing going on. They were waiting on intel for their next operation, and while they waited there was absolutely nothing to do but keep the camp clean, work out, or read. A lot of the guys spent their time calling home. They had friends, families, and wives. Bill whiled away the hours on his phone with the seemingly endless stream of women that must’ve been maxing out their data plans sending him pictures that could make even Frank blush. 

Frank never really spent time on the phone, he didn’t have anyone to call. 

An image of Karen flashed in his mind’s eye. It was the image of her that seemed to be burned into his memory; Karen looking at him over her shoulder with those mischievous eyes, hair wild, glowing in the sunset. 

He rolled his eyes at himself as he let his thumb run over Karen’s number again. He did have someone to call. Someone he wanted to call. 

Frank shoved his book under his pillow and headed out of the barracks. He’d need to go for a walk if he wanted to call her- he didn’t need the guys listening in. There was no real privacy in the camp. If you wanted to be left alone, you had to stay in motion. 

Frank grinned to himself as he pulled up Karen’s name on his phone. His blood was up. This was the most adrenaline he’d felt in days- what a laugh. He hit “call” without taking a last second to think it over, just like he always did with everything as soon as he got a little fight flowing through his veins. 

It rang. 

Frank’s blood spiked.

It rang again.

“Hello, this is Karen Page.” 

That sweet voice. Like she was standing right here next to him. 

“... Hello?”

“Oh- hey, Karen…” Frank stuttered, reminding himself that when he called someone he actually needed to talk to them. “This is Lieutenant Frank Castle.” 

He couldn’t help himself, he allowed himself to hope. He hoped like hell that she was as happy to hear his voice as he was to hear hers. 

Frank! ” She sang into the phone, “Finally! I thought you’d never call!” 

He smiled to himself and shook his head, “Sorry to keep you waiting, Ma’am.” 

“Well, all is forgiven now that you’ve finally called.” He could hear the smile in her voice. “It's really good to hear from you. What a pleasant surprise first thing in the morning.”

Frank’s gut jumped at that. Shit- it's about 3pm here… what time is it in New York?

“Hell, I’m sorry- I totally forgot about the time change. What time is it for you? Did I wake you up?” 

“ Don’t worry about it. It’s 7am here- but I’m already at work. The news never sleeps, Frank.” She teased. 

“Oh- well, good.” He sighed, rubbing the back of his neck. “When did you get back?”

“I got home 3 days ago…” 

Karen went on to tell him all about the rest of her time in Afghanistan. She’d gone on to Kabul and taken in the city, seen the sights, tried the food, gathered as much contextual knowledge as she could. She’d met a local girl, late twenties, in a tea shop. They’d hit it off. She was witty and kind and easy to talk to. In the end she agreed to keep in touch with Karen, just like Frank had. Then, en route home, Karen met a Homeland agent who spent half of her time in Afghanistan, half in New York. She had a really unique perspective on things and had also agreed to keep in touch and do sporadic interviews with Karen over the next few months. 

Karen was thrilled. He could hear it in her voice. Frank could tell she was a great writer just by listening to her. She had a gift for storytelling. She was passionate about this project. Frank found himself riveted, whether she was re-telling the sobering stories she’d gathered from the homeland agent, or just describing the flavor of the tea she’d shared with her new friend, he was hanging on her every word. 

“It's just… way, way better than anything I had hoped for. And it's all thanks to you.” She said, finishing her story. 

“Me?”

“Yeah! Frank, connecting with you the way we did- it made me believe that this story had more potential than I had dreamed. It isn’t about me spending all this time, entrenching myself in the Afghanistan. It’s about connecting deeply with a few people who are already there. The holistic truth and the story is with you, and my other two sources. I have no agenda, no deadline, I just have to stay in touch. Stay connected. And the story will come to life.” 

Frank’s heart thumped. It felt so good to hear her say she’d felt the connection between them, too. He was truly happy for her that this story was coming together in a way that clearly excited her. He was also truly happy to know that their conversations were going to continue. He’d get to call her again and again and hear her warm voice and imagine her grinning at him over the phone. 

“So sorry- I’ve been talking your ear off. Who’s interviewing who here?” She laughed.

Frank smiled. 

“Nah- Karen. It’s good to hear your story is coming together. I’m happy for you.”

“Thank you, Frank.” She said softly. “How have you been?”

“Honestly? Bored as hell.” He sighed, and liked hearing her soft laughter echo back at him. “We’re in standby mode right now. I’ve literally had nothing to do but clean my gun for about a week.” 

“Hmmm… and in all that free time, you didn’t think ‘Hey, I should call that reporter lady who pretty much begged me to call her over a week ago?’”

Frank laughed. She was calling him on his shit. 

Frank was strolling passed the barracks and made a sharp turn attempting to avoid Curtis and Billy who were sitting together, playing cards. It didn’t work. Billy spotted him and shoved Curt in the shoulder to get him to look up and catch Frank, red handed, on the phone and grinning like an idiot. Goddammit. They both knew who he had to be talking to. They were going to be a pain in the ass poking him for details later. As annoying as that prospect was, Frank couldn’t wipe the smile off of his face. Not while he had Karen’s laughter ringing in his ear. He just shook his head, rolling his eyes at Bill and wandered off to continue enjoying Karen’s company while he had her. 

They talked for a long time. He made her laugh again with a story about Gunner preaching at him the first time they’d ever met, and she made him groan with jealousy when she told him she was currently enjoying coffee and a bagel from his favorite Midtown deli. 

If he had been in New York, he might have actually met her there. He might have bumped into her, maybe bought her coffee, maybe gotten her number… He felt that little ache in his chest again. 

By the time they hung up Karen had somehow convinced him to call more frequently- at least once a week. How the hell had she gotten him to promise that? 

Frank was still staring down at his phone when Billy and Curtis appeared out of nowhere, on either side of him. 

“So, how’s our favorite reporter?” Bill said, and snatched Frank’s phone out of his hand, immediately opening it up and searching for photos that didn’t exist. 

Frank huffed a laugh, aiming for a dignified silence. 

Curt slung his arm around Frank’s shoulders and squeezed. “Frankie, we need details.”

Frank groaned. “Curt- not you too…” 

 

:::

 

Sometimes the days in the desert really do seem to blur together. 

Frank kept in touch with Karen. It was easy. Having someone to call was… nice. He looked forward to it. To hearing her voice. To telling someone about his days. Some days were good, some were bad, most were boring. Frank found himself tallying up more good days since he’d started calling Karen every so often. He tried not to over analyze it, not to read too much into it. She was a new friend. She made him smile.

Today, Frank found himself sitting on the hood of one of the humvees, staring off at the horizon as he held his phone to his ear, soaking in the sound of her. He felt like he was floating on the waves of her voice, rising and falling with the melody. He liked the way she slowed when he could tell she was writing something down. 

“Frank?”

“Hmm?”

“... Are you ok?”

“Yeah… I’m fine.” Frank frowned, wondering what was wrong. 

“Ok, that’s good.” 

She paused for a minute, but he could tell she had something else to say.

“It’s just that- and I’m not trying to pry…” Her voice was careful, tentative. Not her normal confident, wit. “I guess, you seem a little sad today.”

Frank’s eyebrows shot up. He didn’t know what to say. Sad? Why would he be sad? 

He never really paid attention to feelings. Frank had been at war for so long, he based his well being on whether or not he was in danger, whether or not he was injured… he couldn’t remember the last time he took stock of his emotions. 

As Karen waited for him to say something, he did a quick gut check, and to his own surprise- she was right. He... was a little sad. How the hell had she known it when he hadn’t?  

“Jesus, Karen,” He sighed, laying back onto the hood of the humvee. “I guess I am kinda sad. Shit- I didn’t really notice it until you said something.”

“What is it?”

He could picture her leaning closer into her phone. 

“I don’t know.” But he did know. “It's a good thing, really. One of the guys here, Jameson, he became a dad today.” 

“Oh.” Karen paused, not knowing what to say. 

“And that’s great, you know? Really great.” He said, explaining it to himself at the same time as he explained it to her. “But you know, after the cheers and the beers… I can tell… we’re all feeling it.”

She waited.

“It’s like this when anything good happens back home. We all celebrate like crazy. But afterwards, it’s like a hangover. It’s like we’re all reminded how far away we are from everything we care about. We’re across the fucking world. Baking in the desert. These guys- they all miss their families.”

“I understand.” And he knew she did. 

For the first time in years, Frank had a lump in his throat. “I don’t know why I’m - I don’t even have…” 

“Frank, you’re more than just a soldier. You’re human too. You have every right to be as sad and homesick as the rest of your team.” 

He snorted. “I’m not homesick, Karen-”

“Bullshit.” She cut him off. “Of course you are. It would be awful if you weren’t.”

There. She had him smiling again already. Calling him out on his shit. It felt really good. That little spot in his chest that seemed to be tied to Karen twinged with that familiar ache. 

“Alright, Ma’am. You caught me. I’m homesick.”

“Well, that’s good, Soldier. Being homesick is what eventually brings you back home.”

 

:::

 

They discovered early on that it was way better for Frank to call Karen, rather than vice versa. He was unreachable so often and at such random times, it just worked better for him to call her when he got a chance. He didn’t always catch her, but he’d gotten to know when the best times were. Usually when he called, she answered even if she was in the middle of something. It made him feel… important . Whenever he could tell she literally stopped what she was doing to talk to him, it made that little “Karen” spot in his chest ache so good. He wondered if she had any idea. He wondered how he could even start to explain it to her if he tried. 

As the weeks passed they developed a rhythm. Frank was more and more aware of how much it meant to him. For so long, he hadn’t had anyone to call, hadn’t had anyone to answer on the other end of the phone with a breathy exhalation of his name that struck a match inside him and lit up the dark.

Frank thought about Karen all the time. The image of her that was seared into his brain- the one of her glancing at him over her shoulder, hair whipping all around, smiling at him in the desert sunset- was now joined by a hundred imagined images he’d conjured up during their phone calls. 

He imagined her sitting in her office, surrounded by stacks of papers and organized chaos, phone pressed to her ear. She’d be sipping her coffee or eating a bagel, maybe licking some extra cream cheese off of her thumb. He imagined her in her kitchen with her hair up in a knot, apron on and spoon in hand, the way it had probably been the time he’d talked her through one of his favorite Vietnamese recipes. He imagined her, cheeks flushed, skin glistening, after the hot yoga class she’d mentioned once. Her voice had been so low and relaxed… he’d pictured her all sorts of ways after that particular conversation. 

Frank wished he had an actual photo of her. Nothing wild, nothing sexual like the photos of girls on Bill’s phone. Just… something. He’d only seen her the once. He wasn’t quite sure if she really was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen, or if he was just picturing her that way because she mattered to him more and more every day. He was fairly confident, due to the occasional needling comments from Bill and Curt, that he hadn’t imagined it- she was gorgeous. It wasn’t even really about that though… He just wanted a photo, because he wished he could see her face. He didn’t know how to ask her for one without feeling like a creep.

It wouldn’t be very professional to ask her for a picture, and this was supposed to be a professional relationship after all, right?  At least, it had started that way. 

They still discussed the war and the politics of the region and things for her story. Karen would fill him in on her growing friendship with her young friend in Kabul and the incredible stories from her contact at Homeland. But more often than not, they were just... hanging out. He’d be talking her through how to fix one of the malfunctioning appliances in her apparently derelict apartment. She’d be filling him in, blow by dramatic blow, on everything he was currently missing on TV. (Frank was 100% sure that Karen’s renditions of the plot lines had to be better than the actual shows themselves.) Or they’d somehow end up bickering about music or sports just to waste time. To make it last longer. 

Was this just a professional relationship? It didn’t seem like it, as she filled more and more of his thoughts and he occasionally found himself checking the weather in New York just to see if she was having a nice day. 

Right now, he missed her. Frank hadn’t been able to talk to Karen in 12 days. He’d been way off the grid for an operation. His last several days had been intense, and a couple of times, terrifying. His team was lucky to be back in one piece.

Frank dug his phone out of his pocket and headed away from the barracks for a little privacy. The phone only rang twice. 

“Frank!”

He could tell from her tone that she was still at the office. Her voice was focused and strong. When she was at home, she usually sounded a little softer, more mellow. 

“Hey, Karen.” 

“I’m so glad you called! How are you?”

“I’m good, Ma’am. Real good. You?”

“I’m good too. It’s been a while- you almost had me worried.” She laughed it off, but he heard the tension in her voice. 

“It’s all good here. Don’t worry- all routine stuff. Just had to be under the radar for a few days.” Frank said, in his most convincing tone, his gut twisting a little bit at the soft lie. 

It struck him that this is how it must feel for the rest of the guys when they talked to their wives. This struggle between wanting to be honest, and wanting to comfort them. He didn’t want to over analyze that, so opted for distraction instead. “All boring shit, really. Not nearly as exciting as whatever's happening in the world of Intrepid Reporter Karen Page .” 

She scoffed. “Nice deflection, Soldier Boy. Not obvious at all.”

He laughed out loud at that. Always calling his bullshit. He loved it.

“But since you asked… there’s actually a lot going on in the world of Intrepid Reporter Karen Page. ” 

“What’s up, Karen? Everything ok?” Something in her voice put him on edge. Frank stopped his pacing and stared out at the hills, not really seeing them, picturing her instead. 

“Yeah, everything’s fine- more than fine actually- I’m working on something big. I can’t talk about it now, but it has to do with some seriously powerful people- it’s going to shake the city.” 

She had his full attention. Something like that… it sounded dangerous. 

“Karen, are you… is it safe?”

“Oh yeah! Don’t worry about me- I have it completely locked down. No one even knows I’m researching it.” She said quickly, cajoling. “I didn’t mean to stress you out! I just wanted to let you know I’m working on something exciting.” 

Frank’s heart rate slowed down a bit, but he still had some acid in his stomach. 

“Seriously, Karen. New York is full of people you don’t want coming after you. Some hornet’s nests shouldn’t be kicked, yeah?”

“I’m taking precautions. But...” Her voice got softer. “Thank you. For caring. It's been a long time since I had anyone worry about me. It feels kinda nice.”

Frank blushed a little. “Well, I am worried. So be careful.”

She gave a soft laugh, “Well, you too, Lieutenant Nothing-To-See-Here-I-Was-Gone-For-A-Week-On-Routine-Exercises Castle.”

He laughed out loud. Calling him out again

 

:::

 

His ears were ringing.

Shit. SHIT. SHIT .

Frank was sticking to himself, his clothes, his skin, his eye lashes every time he blinked. The blood was all over him. His friend’s blood. It was all over him. And he couldn’t breathe. And he couldn’t think. 

The chaos had died down and all was quiet now. But Curt Goddammit Curt...   

The medic’s had hauled Curtis away- 

Frank ripped off his clothes and stood, shaking under the harsh spray of the shower. Getting all the red off of him, waiting, wild-eyed for the water to run clear. 

When he got back to the barracks, Schoonover was talking but Frank could barely register what he was saying. He made a beeline directly for Bill. His brother’s eyes were red and puffy. They hugged the way only best friends could. The way only best friends who’d just seen their brother’s leg get blown off could. And it was fucked up. And they couldn’t cry. And they couldn’t talk. 

And his ears kept ringing. 

Later, when Schoonover was gone and even Bill was asleep, Frank laid, twitching, in his bed. Eyes wide open. His mind was racing, but he hadn’t formed a complete thought in hours. His heart hammering against his ribs. He was going to lose it. He was going to explode. He didn’t know what to do. He needed… he needed… 

Karen.  

Fuck. He needed her. Right now. 

He grabbed his phone and all but ran out of the barracks, into the freezing night. He wasn’t thinking, didn’t even realize he was headed toward the humvees until he got inside one. He slammed the door shut and the echoing silence pressed down on him. It set him off. 

Frank screamed. As loud as he’d ever screamed in his life. Again and again.

His body was prickling with electricity even though he was so fucking exhausted he felt like he might pass out. Shaky hands, blurry eyes. Karen’s number. 

Please pick up… please...

She did, thank God. And her voice was the first thing he felt like he could actually hear since the bomb went off. 

“Frank? … Frank?

“Karen…”

“Frank? Can you hear me? Are you ok?”

He missed her... He wished she was here right now. No. He wished he was there right now.

“Frank, please-  please answer me - are you ok? Please Frank-” 

Oh shit- he was making her upset. 

“I’m ok, Karen. I’m- ” He forced himself to say through gasps, as he realized he was crying. 

She sounded like she was crying too. Shit.

“What happened, Frank?”

The only sounds he could make were groans. He couldn’t get the words out. 

“I- Karen… I-” He just couldn’t tell her the story right now. He felt like an idiot for calling her. He should just hang up-

“Its ok, Frank. Its ok.” She whispered over the phone and her voice was like a balm. “You don’t have to tell me. We don’t have to talk about it right now. Just breathe. Breathe with me, Frank.”

And he did. 

He didn’t know how long they sat there, just breathing together on the phone. But he clung to his phone and the sound of her breath like a lifeline. He listened. He breathed. He followed her lead. 

More time passed. The fog in his mind slowly clearing. He started to feel embarrassed by keeping her on the phone so long in complete silence- but he dreaded hanging up, losing their connection. As if she could read his mind, Karen finally broke the silence. 

“Hey Frank, how about I tell you about my day today?”

He was confused, but didn’t care what they talked about as long as she stayed on the phone. 

So, she started by telling him about how she woke up at 6:30am and made herself a cup of coffee with cream, and scrambled an egg, and then looked outside and saw that it was so bright and sunny that she decided not to wear a jacket to work. 

She was half way through her elaborate description of her walk to the office when he realized what she was doing... She was resuscitating him. Bringing him back to life. He’d been in shock, having a panic attack when he called. And she was soothing him back into his right mind. How the hell did she do it?

He hadn’t even noticed her breaking the cycle of his own agonized thoughts, when suddenly he was just following her story as she described everything in such great detail that it was like watching a movie in his head. It was a nice, peaceful movie about a beautiful woman having a lovely day and it was the best thing he’d ever heard. He hung on her every word as she described her day at the office and how it was Rachael’s birthday so Ellison bought cupcakes and Karen picked a red velvet one because that was her favorite. 

Frank was floating. There weren’t words for the intensity of relief and gratitude he felt for this woman in this moment, as he came back to himself. If he’d had the energy- he would have thanked her. But he didn’t. So he gripped his phone and listened along, and soaked in the feeling that he’d never been so well understood, so well cared for. 

Somewhere around her description of making dinner and telling him which vegetables she liked most, he must have dozed off. 

The next day he called her as soon as he could to thank her for being there for him last night. He barely had the right words, but again, she understood everything. 

He told her about what had happened. How they’d been attacked in a small town… How Curt was- thank God- alive, but he’d lost his leg, and his life would never be the same. Karen openly wept. Her grief for his friend helped him handle his own. 

By the time they whispered goodbye, Frank had to sit down, and shake his head, and admit to himself that somehow Karen Page had become one of the most important people in his life. 

 

Chapter Text

“Stronger every day, Brother. You know me.” 

Curt’s voice sounded thin, and it wasn’t just the poor connection on their phones. Frank could hear the strain in his friend’s voice. Confidence to camouflage despair. 

Curt was the strongest person Frank knew. The best corpsman. The best man. Curt’s whole life was built around being a leader, being the first one to dive in, on being the guy who comes to the rescue… and right now, he couldn’t even get himself out of bed. He’d lost the ability to do what he loved, to be who he loved being. The loss was more than just his leg, it was existential. The pain Frank felt for his friend gripped at his chest like it had claws. 

“Yeah Brother, I know you.” Frank said, hoping his positivity didn’t sound too forced. “You’re a Marine. The best one I know. Not just because you’re the strongest. Because of your brain and your heart, man. You’re gonna get through this. Believe that.”

Curt scoffed. 

Frank growled into the phone. “Believe it. You’re gonna make us proud. Gonna kick this shit in the ass.” 

“... Don’t know how much ass kicking I can do... I’m only standing on one leg, Frank.”

There was a pause before they both burst out laughing. Curt… how the hell was he able to make a joke right now? So damn resilient.

Their laughter died slowly.

“How’s the hospital? They treating you alright?”

“Oh yeah, I got a nice set up here.” His voice changed suddenly. “I got this nurse. I’m thinking I might propose.”

Frank shook his head, laughing again. 

“Back in town for a week and you already found the one , huh?”

“I think so.” Curt sighed. “Nurse Claire is gorgeous, and tough as hell. I like a woman bossing me around. Plus, she’s already seen me naked.”

“Well, that’s half the battle right there.” Frank said, still laughing and missing his friend so bad it hurt. 

Frank heard motion in the background. 

“I gotta go, Frank. It looks like they gotta roll me somewhere for a test.” 

Damn. 

“OK. Give Nurse Claire my regards.”

“Will do.” Curt paused for a few beats. “Take care, Frank.” 

Saying take care, be careful, goodbye- it all felt different now. Heavy. 

“I will… Hang in there, Buddy.” 

 

After they hung up, Frank wished there was some damn place he could be alone. He felt… God- he couldn’t really pinpoint how he felt.

He was wrecked about Curt and he missed him like hell. That he understood. But Frank had been on edge for days. Uncomfortable and irritated. Lonely, but snapping and being a dick to anyone who actually tried to talk to him. There was this undercurrent in his mind all the time, churning away. It was new. It wasn’t something Frank was used to. It had the flavor of fear. 

When that bomb went off it could have been any of them, or all of them that got hurt. It was pure, shit luck that Curt was closest. The truth is, any given day, every single day, could be their last. Frank had known this forever now. He’d talked so many of the younger guys through this over the years when they’d gotten spooked. Frank had come to accept his proximity to death. He almost embraced it in a nihilistic way that Curt would normally scold him for. But it was like that familiarity and acceptance had flown away in the helicopter that airlifted Curtis, and Frank wasn’t feeling… himself. 

Frank headed around the back of the barracks where he was pretty sure he’d find some peace and quiet. He sat heavily on a crate, leaning forward, elbows on his knees, picking semi-consciously at the calluses on his hands. The calluses ones that spoke so clearly of how long he’d been at war, how long he’d been desensitized to it.

Frank bit the inside of his cheek. Can’t keep doing this forever. 

Eight tours. Almost a decade of deployment. He had already used up most of his nine lives. Statistically, it was incredible that he hadn’t been killed or at least injured considering the length of his service and the level of danger involved in most of his operations. Frank had never been in denial or anything, but his brushes with death, the risks he took, it just didn’t bother him. 

Until now. 

Frank sighed. He didn’t have to be a genius to figure out what had changed, what put the acid in his belly. For the first time since he’d joined up, Frank had somewhere else he’d like to be. Someone else he’d like to be with. 

He sat, looking out at the hills the way he so often did these days, the scope of his mind focusing in on Karen. He wanted to make it home in one piece. When he pictured himself at home, he pictured himself with her. 

Frank scoffed at his own thoughts, shaking his head. Ease up, Asshole. You have no idea if she’s even interested…

This was true. Frank reminded himself of this. Daily. 

Karen had become so important to him, but he couldn’t just assume she was feeling the same way. He could be building this up to be something that it's not. A woman like that, in New York? She probably had guys after her everywhere she went. Karen was a busy, successful woman with a full life. He was dude in the desert with close friends he could count on one hand. He’d be an idiot to assume their time together meant as much to her as it did to him… right? 

He scuffed the toe of his boot in the dirt. Frank always trusted his instincts. No matter what. But- his gut was in a knot on this one. It was frustrating as hell. He wished he could just ask her how she felt. The problem was, if she didn’t feel the same as him- he didn’t really want to hear it. Hell, even if she only saw him as a source for her story and nothing else, talking to her was still one of his favorite things in the world. 

Frank had no idea how her story was shaping up, or where she was going to take it, but the few things she’d share with him every once in a while were fascinating. 

Her young friend in Kabul, Benesh, had sent her an incredible email last week about the complex relationship that she and her family have with the US. One the one hand, there’s so much resentment. There’s anger over the destruction that's happened in their country, there’s the constant chafing feeling of their culture being disrupted or even demeaned by what feels like an occupying army. But on the other hand, there is a terror of the US troops leaving, of the violence and mayhem that could occur in the vacuum. It's so much for a young person to try and grapple with. So much for anyone to try to sort out. Karen choked up when they’d talked about it.  He could picture her so clearly- big blue eyes all glassy, biting her lip. He’d wanted to hold her. 

And Karen’s contact at Homeland, what was her name… - Madani . Dinah Madani. She seemed interesting too. Karen hadn’t shared as much about her conversations with Madani, but Frank knew they’d gotten together for drinks a few times. Karen liked and respected her. She’d told him once that she thought they’d get along. When he asked why, Karen had to think it over for a minute. She finally came back with, “Well, you two are so similar... you’d either really like each other, or you’d hate each other.”  

Frank was curious. 

Whether or not they’d get along, Frank was jealous of the agent. He wanted to be the one getting drinks with Karen, meeting up with her after work, arriving at the bar a little early so he could already have their drinks ordered and he could watch her walk in, scanning the room for him before their eyes locked. He wanted to be the one telling her stories between sips of whiskey while she leaned closer and closer to catch every detail. He wondered how her laugh might change half way through her second drink, if her cheeks would take on a little blush the way he imagined they would. 

Frank heard footsteps behind him and whipped his head around, scowling, but it was just Bill. Frank’s expression relaxed immediately. Bill shoved Frank over to make room on the crate and plopped down next to him. 

“Damn, Frankie. If looks could kill I’d be a goner.” 

Frank snorted. 

“I’ll try harder next time.” 

Bill laughed. They sat in easy silence for a while, watching the clouds roll over the hills. 

“You ok?” Bill asked.

“Yeah. You?” 

“Yeah.”

There was another long pause. Frank could tell Bill had something to say. He’d wait for it. They both stared off into the distance. 

“I know Curt was the better one to talk about serious stuff with. But I can tell you’re not ok.” Bill turned to look at him. “You can talk to me.”

Frank winced. “I know I can talk to you.”

“Then talk.” 

Frank had no idea how to even start, or where Billy wanted this to go. Silence stretched. Bill elbowed Frank in the chest. Not hard enough to hurt, but hard enough to make him defend himself.

“Alright, alright- shit .” Frank laughed, rubbing his chest as if Bill had actually caused him pain. 

They grinned at each other. 

“I guess I’ve been thinking-” Frank started, having a hard time believing what he was about to say. “Been thinking that maybe I don’t want to do this anymore.” 

Frank couldn’t look at Billy. He stared at the ground, waiting for Billy’s surprise, his shock or disappointment. But he got neither. 

“Thank God.” 

Frank turned to Bill, frowning. Confused. Bill didn’t look back at him, he kept staring out at those hills.

“I’d heard about you, before we even met. Frank Castle, one-shot one-kill, war-whisperer, toughest son of a bitch alive who always gets his team home. ” Bill’s mouth tipped up, rattling off these accolades like Frank was some sort of legend. “You’ve given everything to this job. Everything to this team. Serving with you has been the honor of my life, man. But I look at you, and it makes me sad. Because I don’t want you to give everything. I want you to have something else. I want you to have a whole life- away from all this shit. I want you to have everything.”

Frank had no idea what to say. Billy had never spoken to him like this before, no jokes, no messing around. Straight to the heart. 

“To hear you say you want to leave… Frankie, that’s the best news I can imagine.”

Frank cleared his throat. “Well, I’m not sure-”

“Be sure!” Bill cut him off, made to elbow Frank again, but Frank blocked him. “Go home! Marry the reporter- have babies- get fat- be jealous of me that I stayed so young and good looking!”

They were both laughing now as Frank shoved Bill back. 

“I’m not gonna get fat.”

“Well, be jealous of me for some other reason then.” 

Their gazes drifted back to the hills again as their laughter died. 

“It’s the girl, huh.”

Frank’s shoulders slumped. Here we go…

“You guys made it official yet?” Bill prodded. 

When Frank said nothing, Bill’s eyebrows crept further up his forehead. 

“Have you at least talked about it?”

Frank shook his head. 

“Oh my God, what the hell are you talking about so long on the phone all the time then?”

Frank shrugged. Uncomfortable talking about this as always, but weirdly craving Bill’s advice at the moment. 

“Everything. Nothing. I mean, we still talk about stuff for the story and other stuff she’s working on at the paper. She just tells me about her day and what she’s got going on. I tell her… honestly, I have no idea what I’m saying half the time. She just gets me talking- I don’t know how she does it. Don’t know why she wants to listen. I guess it doesn’t really matter what we talk about, we’re just spending time.” 

Frank stopped, fully aware that his face had gone red and hoping Bill wouldn’t notice. 

“Jesus.” Bill said, dropping his elbows to his knees. “You guys skipped the honeymoon and went straight to ‘old married couple’.”

Frank rolled his eyes. 

“But after all this time you guys must have had some sort of talk about your relationship… or at least when- you know… ” Bill gave him a look. 

Frank waited for Bill to finish his thought.

“I mean- when you…” Bill’s eyebrows bounced up his forehead. 

Frank stared back. 

Bill looked comically concerned. “Frank- you guys do have phone sex…”

Frank squinted and jerked his head back. The fuck?  

“After all this time, you had to have-” 

Frank shook his head, and Bill’s jaw hit the floor. 

Come on - do you at least have pictures? Something?

Frank shook his head again. Bill scrubbed his hand over his face, at a loss. So dramatic. Frank would have laughed, if this entire conversation didn’t make him feel embarrassed and annoyed. 

Frankie. No wonder you’re on edge all the time. Damn.” Bill pinned Frank with his gaze and pointed at him like Uncle freaking Sam. “You need to get on the phone with that Blonde right now and take care of some very overdue business-”  

Bill’s elbows were still on his knees and Frank kicked out one of his ankles to make him lose balance. 

“It’s not even about that, man.”

As Billy straightened up, he didn’t respond with words. He just tipped his head in an ‘Oh, really?’ type of way. Frank laughed, always amused to be called on his bullshit. 

“Ok. Maybe it’s a little about that.” Frank said, and wanted to slap himself for the way it almost sounded like a sigh. 

“So, wow-” Bill gathered his thoughts. “You guys literally haven’t defined anything about your relationship at all. Do you think she has a boyfriend or something?”

Frank felt that roiling feeling he got in his stomach whenever he thought about this. Honestly, he had no idea. She could be in a relationship, or at least be going on dates. She wasn’t setting her life on hold for him or anything. 

“I don’t think so.” He said. Then gut-checked again and shook his head. “No, I really don’t think so. She’s a good woman. She’d have mentioned it if she was seeing someone.” 

That was true. Karen was all heart. She’d have told him. 

Bill didn’t fight him on that. He nodded along and let them sit in silence for a bit longer. 

“Seriously, like- no pictures at all?”

 

:::

 

Karen’s laughter in his ear- was there anything better? 

No. Not a damn thing. 

Frank was leaned up against the wall of the med center, sipping on a surprisingly decent cup of coffee, listening to his girl giggling in his ear.

A distant voice in the back of his head was barking at him like a little yappy dog. Yelping at him not to think like that- she isn’t his girl. But the larger part of him didn’t give a shit. This part of him loved thinking of her as his girl, this part enjoyed the slightly possessive feeling he got from having her on the other end of the phone, saying his name and laughing at his jokes and ignoring the rest of the world. 

It was just about midnight for her. He should let her go to sleep. But it seemed neither of them was ready to end the conversation. He actually said goodbye about 20 minutes ago, but then she’d remembered a story she needed to tell him about the 2 lawyers she’s been working with on her big story. These guys were characters. One was blind, so had stacks and stacks of all his documents made in braille. The other was named Foggy. Weirdest name Frank ever heard. He could tell Karen loved these guys. The way she talked about them, Frank was annoyed to find himself feeling a little jealous. They were helping her with work- it’s a good thing that they get along so well. But… she’s spending so much time at their office, and meeting them at the bar after work, and it’s just so clear how much she adores them. Why couldn’t they have been lady lawyers? 

Anyway, today she’d been at their office again, working on the case in her story, when another client came in to pay them for their legal services. Apparently the guy had no money, but was profusely grateful. He paid in boxes of bananas. 

“You should have seen them, Frank!” She laughed. “He must brought 300 bananas- it was so weird, and so cute. Matt handled it ok, but- poor Foggy- he looked about 2 seconds away from calling his parents and begging for his job back at their butcher shop.”

Frank smiled, loving the way her voice transitioned from musical laughter back to her relaxed ‘at home’ voice. 

“So, how’s it going with them? The story coming together?” 

Karen paused for a moment, like she always did before answering any work related questions. 

“We’re getting close, so close. It’s driving me crazy having something this big in the works and not being able to talk to anyone about it. Well, anyone other than Matt and Foggy. Even my editor only knows the basics. I’m kind of saving this to show him everything at once- to really knock his socks off.” 

Frank hated not knowing what about this story, not knowing if it was as dangerous as he worried it was. 

“You got me on a hook here. Can you give me a preview?” He said, unused to the feeling of having to coax information out of her. 

She paused. 

“Ok. I’m actually kind of dying to talk to you about this, but you’ll need to swear you won’t breathe a word to anyone.”

Oh. She had Frank’s full attention. 

“Yeah.”

She laughed, a tiny clipped sound. Nerves?

“Thanks. I probably didn’t even need to ask. So, ” Her voice was low, almost whispering. It set him on edge. “it’s big, and it’s a long story, but I’m working on a story that’s going to take down one of the biggest names in the city.”

The back of his neck started prickling. He did not like this.

“There’s a construction company, Union Allied- I doubt you would have ever heard of them, but it doesn’t matter… basically, a source tipped me off to investigate their pension fund. Once I got in there, I couldn’t believe it, Frank. There were massive amounts of money unaccounted for. I kept digging only to find out that this random construction company’s pension fund is a major hiding place for all sorts of illegal money. I’m talking drugs, weapons, people - its all being hidden in there and organized by none other than Hell’s Kitchen’s own- Wilson Fisk.”

Frank was speechless. He’d heard of Fisk. Of course he had, so had everyone in Manhattan. This guy was the epitome of entrenched, powerful, dangerous New York crime. Up to his eyeballs in corruption, but openly ignored because he paid off the politicians and had fixed up a few slum apartment complexes for good PR. 

Warning alarms screamed to life in Frank’s brain. His body lurched off of the wall he’d been leaning against like he’d been shocked and instantly started pacing. 

What the hell are you doing, Karen? Going after a guy like that?” He tried to keep his voice calm, but he knew he was growling at her.

“If you saw the things I found in this file you wouldn’t-”

Dammit, Karen. If I saw that file I’d want you even further away from this guy.” He couldn’t believe it- she could not have said anyone worse. Frank had been away from the city for a long time, but even he knew that going up against this guy was insanity. “Don’t do it, Kare. Just leave it alone.”

“Leave it alone?” She repeated, sounding shocked.

“Yes, leave it-” He felt frantic. “You can’t win against a guy like this!”

“No, Frank- you don’t understand. It’s just me, Foggy, and Matt now, but once the story comes out- we’ll get the DA on our side. The whole city will know the truth-”

“The city is not going to protect you, Karen. Are you crazy?” Frank was waving his arms, gesturing at no one. “And the DA? I bet Fisk owns half the cops and judges in town- the DA can’t save you from that.”

“So, what am I supposed to do? Nothing? That’s how people like this win.” Karen was pissed. “I’ve got him- the corruption, the fraud, the killing - I’ve got him on it all. You want me to just let him get away with it?” 

“Yes! That’s exactly what I want you to do!” He shouted, smacking his hand against the building he’d been leaning on. “You’ll put a target on your back, Karen. Will that make you happy? You can’t beat a guy like this! Not with a DA who might be in Fisk’s pocket, and definitely not with a couple of green lawyers who get paid in bananas!”

Frank's blood was pumping now. If she wanted to fight him on this- he was ready to bring it. But, maybe she didn't want to fight after all. Karen was quiet for a long time. Frank could practically feel the icy chill coming at him through the phone. 

“I’m going to print this story. I’m going to take this asshole down. And… I’m sorry you can’t be happy for me.” 

God.  

She’s so mad. But- how could Frank be happy knowing she’s about to throw herself to the wolves like this? 

“Karen…” 

 “You know what? I’m really tired. I just want to go to bed.” She voice cracked. It wrecked him. 

Frank’s chest was tightening up, he had no idea how to fix this. 

“Karen- just… please…” 

She huffed impatiently into the phone, but didn’t hang up. She was waiting. 

“Be safe. Please. ” It was all he could think of. Fucking idiot. 

When she spoke, her voice was so small. Hollow. Not his girl’s voice at all. “Goodnight, Frank.”

And she hung up. 

 

:::

 

Miserable. 

Frank was totally and completely miserable. Bill noticed right away and he had the sense to know that now was not the time for more questions or jokes. Or conversation. Or eye contact. Let the sleeping bear lie. Or else get your head ripped off. 

The rest of the day Frank was like a storm, looming over the camp, clearing people out of whatever place he entered. He barely noticed. He was trapped inside his own head. Worrying about Karen. Running scenario after scenario through his mind where she got threatened, or hurt, or worse. Wishing there was something he could do. Wishing like hell he would have handled that conversation better. 

He should have just talked it over with her, convinced her somehow. Karen always listened to him. She was smart and intuitive. They could have figured something out.There were a thousand things he should have said rather than flipping out and calling her crazy. He was such an asshole. And the worst part? As scared as he was that something would happen to her, as horrible as the idea of her being in danger was… the real thing making him sick to his stomach, making him want to crawl under a rock and whimper, was the thought that maybe this was it. What if she didn’t want to talk to him anymore? What if he’d just ruined whatever he’d hoped had been between them? What if she never… God, this was too awful to think about… what if she stopped answering his calls?

Hell.  

That’s what it would be. Pure Hell. Frank couldn’t go back to the way things were before. He couldn’t narrow his vision, focus solely on work. He couldn’t live with no one else on his mind, no one to talk to other than this team. He’d tasted something sweet and now he was addicted. 

“Goddammit.”

He swore at himself for the hundredth time, keeping his voice low so he didn’t wake the other guys. 

It had to be almost 4am, but he was totally awake. Sleep was a lost cause. He wanted to talk to Karen so bad. He needed to fix this, to call her. Now. 

Frank grabbed his phone and left the barracks as quietly as he could. 

It was cold outside, so he headed for the armory. The way it baked in the sun all day meant it held some residual heat all night long, even when the desert nights got so cold. Frank sped toward the big warehouse, he keyed himself inside, and shut the door on the howling wind. The moment the door closed he felt a sort of peace he’d been missing all day. Curt would laugh at that. Frank Castle’s peaceful place: warm and toasty, surrounded by guns. Frank’s mouth tipped up in a sad flicker of a smile. He missed Curt. 

Focus. He could call Curt later.

First things first. Right now, there was a certain Blonde Reporter who he needed to make amends with. He would apologize, eat his words, lay on the charm that he knew he used to have a million years ago when he was a different guy and was somewhat good with the ladies. He’d do whatever it took. That being said, this was all totally dependent on her actually picking up the phone.

Frank snapped his eyes shut, not wanting to think about how it was going to feel if she didn’t answer. Karen…  

Frank sat down on a crate and leaned back, resting his head against the wall. If she didn’t answer- it didn’t mean she was screening his call. There were a thousand reasons for her to be busy or not able to get to the phone. It wouldn’t be the end of the world- but still…

He pulled up her number and pressed his finger to her name. Please pick up, Kare…

It rang. 

It rang again. 

It ra-

“... Frank?”

Thank you God.

“Hey, Karen.”

“Frank?... What time is it there?”

“Just about 4am.”

She sighed into the phone. Frank’s heart was pounding. He was so glad she answered, so damn glad to hear her pretty voice.

“Couldn’t sleep, huh?” 

He huffed. “No.”

“Good. That’s what you get.” But she didn’t sound mad. She sounded happy. Like she was teasing him.  

“I’m sorry, Karen. I was an asshole earlier.” He said, not wasting any more time. “I know how hard you’ve been working on that story and I know you’re smart and you thought this through and I shouldn’t have talked to you like that.”

It all came out in one breath and it sounded a little desperate. He didn’t care. 

She was quiet for so long that Frank started to hear his own heart beat in his ears. 

“I understand.” That voice was soft, beautiful. His girl’s voice. “I shouldn’t have just sprung it all on you like that. I know how worried you get when it comes to people you care about.”

Boom. His heart banged in his chest. I care about you so much. Do you have any idea?

“Thanks, Karen.” He closed his eyes. “I’ve been useless all day, just wanting to call you, to apologize.” 

“I was useless today too. Mostly because I didn’t get much sleep last night after getting yelled at by a bossy Marine.”

Frank’s eyes snapped open. “Bossy?”

“Mmhmm.” Karen hummed. “Very bossy.”

Frank laughed. She killed him. 

“Again, my apologies, Ma’am.”

“At ease, Soldier. I like a little bossy.”

“Yeah?”

“Oh yeah. I can handle bossy. In fact, I can be a little bossy myself.”

Frank felt a tug deep in his gut. He didn’t know what was going on, but he had gone from pure dread to pure joy in a matter of seconds, and now… There was something in the low, slow melody of her voice, in the way she was breathing. It was different. Flirty? It was turning him on. He didn’t even know why. But she was being feisty, and silly, and he was loving it. 

“Well, I guess I like a little bossy, too.” He said back at her.

She laughed and Frank listened to the musical notes, skin warming.

“What are you up to this evening?” He asked, hoping he sounded normal, not as flustered as he felt. 

She sighed again, a long drawn out breath, like she was stretching. Frank closed his eyes, picturing it, imagining her back arching…

“Not much. I came home from work a little early today, and I’m already in bed about to finish off glass of wine number 2 .” 

Oh- so this thing he couldn’t define, the difference in her voice, in her breath- was the wine. So hot. Damn. What was wrong with him? He felt like a teenager. Just the thought of her laying in bed, drinking wine and talking to him on the phone was making him hard as hell. 

“Already in bed… is this a bad time? Should I let you go?” He said, almost smacking himself because hanging up right now was the last thing he wanted to do.

“No! I’m glad you called. I’m always glad when you call, Frank.”

Frank could feel himself getting hotter. Did she have to say his name like that?  He heard movement through the phone and all he could picture in his mind was tangled sheets and smooth skin. 

“Yeah?” 

“Mmhmm.” She hummed again. “I was hoping you’d call actually. So many times you call right when I’m thinking about you.”

Frank gulped. 

“What- uh, what were you thinking about?”

Karen giggled. Giggled. Frank’s palms started to sweat. 

“I don’t know- just you .”

“...What about me?” Come on, Karen… tell me...

He hoped he wasn’t pressing too hard, but he was dying to know. He heard the smallest sound from her lips, like maybe she’d just taken another sip of wine. 

“Well… at first I was thinking about fighting with you, and then… I was thinking about your voice. You sound so different when you’re mad. Really low, really rough.” 

Frank felt his mouth go dry. 

“And then, I don’t know why… I started thinking about your hands. When we first met and we shook hands. I remember your hands were so rough.”

He couldn’t believe she remembered that.

“I remember.” He said, almost to himself. “I thought the same thing when I touched you… your hands were so soft. I thought mine must feel like sandpaper to you.” 

She laughed, very quiet. “No. I liked it.”

“... Yeah?”

The tugging feeling in Frank’s gut was becoming hard to ignore. He was all revved up just from listening to her voice, knowing she was in bed, thinking about how she liked the feel of his hands. He wondered what she was wearing… Frank reached down to adjust himself and his hand just stayed down there. There was nothing he could do. 

“Yeah.” She sighed. “Your hands are big, and strong. And warm. And rough- in a good way.” 

There was a catch in her breath. Frank felt like he could barely breathe at all. 

“I was thinking about your hands, Frank. How they would feel on me…”

Frank couldn’t help the panting breath that burst out of him, he was just glad it wasn’t a full on groan. He gripped himself, through his pants. He couldn’t help it. Did she really say that? Was this happening? 

Then, he heard it. The faintest whine on the other end of the phone. Another little catch in her breath. 

Holy shit…

“... Karen. Are you…?” 

Yes - are you? ” 

Oh, Jesus. What the hell… “Yeah.”

Frank was on autopilot, pressing the phone between his shoulder and his ear so he could use both hands to grapple with his belt buckle and pants. He pulled himself out to finally get some real relief. Shit. Frank spread the moisture from his tip around with his thumb, resisting the urge to groan because he didn’t want to miss a single sound Karen was making.

She sighed again. Her breathing getting heavier and heavier. 

Frank could picture her in his mind, eyes squeezed shut, mouth slightly open. Karen moaned and he answered back with a gasp. They were totally in sync, like always. For a while they just listened to each other, Frank’s imagination going wild, picturing Karen writhing in her sheets, her hand between her thighs- wishing it was his.

Frank… ” Karen exhaled. 

He could only answer with a grunt.

“Even if you hadn’t called tonight… this is what I’d be thinking of. This is what I’d be doing.”

It was like she’d thrown a lit match on gasoline. He lit up. He was on fire.

“Tell me…” He growled out. He needed her to keep talking- please keep talking…    

She let out a little whine that made him want to bite her lip. 

“When I’m home and I start thinking about you, God- … sometimes I just can’t help it.” 

Frank started pumping himself in earnest, hardly able to absorb what he was hearing.

“Sometimes I think about being back in the armory with you- the way it was so fucking hot. I imagine us peeling off each other’s clothes. You, pressing me up against the wall. And we’re trying so hard to keep quiet, but it’s so good that I just want to scream.” 

She whispered into the phone, but it echoed in Frank’s head. So fucking hot.  

He felt the exact same way. Ever since that day in the armory, there wasn’t a surface in there that he hadn’t imagined pinning her up against, there wasn’t a crate he hadn’t imagined bending her over, or setting her up on to get those long legs wrapped around him. And now here he sat, back in the armory- listening to her moan and tell him she thought about it too. 

Goddamn. This woman was fucking perfect. 

Frank groaned.

Yes- Frank. Let me hear you- God, that’s so hot- ” 

So he did. He let her hear him as both of their inhibitions melted away. He could hear her, too. So sexy, so gorgeous, so real… 

“Frank- do you ever think about me?”

Yes. ” 

She whimpered, she wanted more.

“I think about you all the time, Karen.” He rasped. “All the time. In every way possible.”

Her gasps grew harsher. His hand worked faster. 

“Mmmm- Frank. ” 

They were both so close. 

“Yeah, Sweetheart. Come… come on…”

Frank urged her on, and he heard it when she snapped and let out the longest, sweetest sound he’d ever heard in his life. It sent him over the edge, her name grinding out from the back of his throat. His brain a rush of electricity, and bliss, and surprise.

He listened as her breathing returned to normal, wanting to say the right thing, to keep this perfect moment. 

In the end, he wasn't as smooth as he wanted to be. He stumbled and fumbled his way through trying to convey to her how much she meant to him. Karen understood, like she always did. And she was gracious enough to only make fun of him a little bit. She couldn't help herself. Apparently he "made it too easy."

 

By the time he said goodbye to Karen and… cleaned up, breakfast was being served. Bill was the first person he saw when he got to the mess. Frank lifted his chin in a greeting. Bill froze, staring at him, squinting like he was trying to read a sign in a foreign language. Then his face broke into one of his irritating, all-knowing grins. 

“Atta boy, Frankie. It’s about time.” 

Frank felt the tips of his ears go red. Goddammit, Bill. How the hell could he tell? 

 

:::

 

A few days later, Frank finally got a photo of Karen on his phone. And no, it was still nothing like the photos Bill would have wanted to get a look at. 

Karen was in the center with a big, beautiful, goofy grin on her face, between two men. She was holding a newspaper in front of her, pointing to the byline. It was too small to read, but Frank knew what it was. Her article about Wilson Fisk must have been published. He felt his gut twist. 

The two guys on either side of her- these must be the lawyers. The one on her right was wearing sunglasses indoors. Must be the blind one. But somehow he still seemed to be looking straight into the camera. The other one had his arm slung around Karen and was giving a huge thumbs up. This had to be Foggy. These guys- they looked like kids. He sure as hell hoped they knew what they were doing. 

Frank focused on Karen, taking in every detail. She was just like he remembered. Tall and gorgeous, with waves of blonde hair, and sky blue eyes. She was dressed up. This must be how she dresses for work at the office. Silky blouses, heels and skirts. 

Damn. It’s a good look. 

Karen texted him a link to the article as well. He tapped on it, trying to ignore the thunderstorm in the back of his mind. Yeah- he wished she hadn’t published this, but he still wanted to read it. It’s important to her. And, for better or worse, he was dying to know how deep it went, even as he hated that Karen was the one unearthing it all. 

The headline was damning. “KINGPIN: The Truth about Wilson Fisk- Crime, Corruption, and Murder.

Jesus Christ- Karen, why are you going after him like this? 

The article was scorching. Flaying the man, the crimes, the system that’s turn a blind eye to it all. 

It was beautifully written. 

Later, when he was able to catch Karen on the phone, she filled him in on the chaos in town. The media frenzy over her story, the police scramble to look try to look like they were on the right side of the whole thing, the DA coming to them- just like she and the lawyers had hoped- to take on the case against Fisk using Karen’s investigation and the lawyers research. 

She was flying high, talking a mile a minute. He wished he was there with her to celebrate, to grab her and swing her around in a circle. To kiss her. And once Karen filled him in that- due to his wealth and influence, Fisk was deemed a flight risk and being held behind bars- Frank allowed himself to be legitimately excited for her. 

This was huge. She’d worked so hard and been so brave… and it paid off. 

Karen Page was a damn hero.

 

:::

 

Soon after Karen’s article came out, Frank’s team dove into a couple of complex recon operations. Nothing that brought him too close to danger, but the deep-in-enemy-territory stealth of it all kept him way, way under the radar for a few days. By the time he was back at camp he was completely spent, and missed his girl like crazy. 

He called, but didn’t catch her. 

Miss you, Karen…  

And then he slept for about 14 hours.

When he woke, he called Karen. Missed her again. 

He tried the next day and finally got through. 

Hello?

But it wasn’t Karen, it was a man’s voice. Frank’s stomach bottomed out.

“Who is this?”

“This is Franklin Nelson.” The guy’s voice was shaky. “I’m a friend of Karen’s…”

Franklin… Frank didn’t remember Karen ever mentioning a Franklin. 

“This is Frank Castle, right? Karen told me about you. Her caller ID just lists you as ‘Frank’… ”

“Yeah- this is Frank Castle.” Frank waited for more information, but this Franklin guy wasn’t talking. Frustrating. “Where’s Karen?” 

The guy was sniffling… Was he crying? All the alarms in Frank’s brain started going off at once. 

“Frank- I don’t even know how to say this-”

Frank felt it like a bullet to the chest. He knew it before the guy could even get the words out. 

“... Karen’s missing.

Chapter Text

Frank wasn’t one for religion, but in the last 12 hours he’d been undergoing a kind of conversion. He’d never prayed so much in his life. 

He’d discovered that Hell was real. 

Hell was knowing that Karen was out there somewhere, in danger, alone. She could be hurt. Or worse- she could be… NO. Frank squeezed his eyes shut, slamming a steel door shut on that thought, kicking it for good measure. 

Hell was being helpless. Hell was scene after scene running through his mind of what could be happening to her and knowing there was nothing he could do, knowing it was out of his control. Hell was sitting on this goddamn plane. Waiting. Knowing he moving as fast as he could, tearing across the world for her, but it still wasn’t fast enough. 

And the deepest torture of it all, was knowing that once he landed- he still wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do. It sent ice through him. What if…

Frank leaned over, elbows to his knees, and gripped his head with both hands, groaning. 

It was a good thing he wasn’t flying commercial. If he’d been packed into a plane full of civilians and tourists trying to watch shitty airplane movies, he would have fucking lost it. Fortunately for Frank, Schoonover had gotten him to the nearest military airbase within 30 minutes. 

When Frank careened into Schoovover’s office explaining, no- begging to go home right now. Schoonover set it up without even asking a question. He gripped Frank’s shoulder tight, looked him dead in the eye. “I got your six, son. Keep me posted.” was all he said before thumping him on the back in dismissal. 

Bill drove Frank to the airbase. Drove like a maniac because he knew Frank needed him to. 

Frank hadn’t gotten to really explain to it either of them, hadn’t had time to thank them…

Now Frank was strapped to an uncomfortable jumpseat in the hold of a military airship, essentially a cargo plane for military drops. He was alone in the semi dark. The plane had a small crew, but he barely noticed them. They were likely avoiding his vicinity because the murderous aura around him was so suffocating. 

Frank groaned again, wanting to smash his head into the small window near his face as an image flashed in his mind. It was Karen, so pretty, the way he always saw her in his mind- glowing in the sunset, the desert wind whipping her hair all around- but this time when turned to grin at him over her shoulder, her face was splattered in red. 

God. 

Frank’s stomach turned. 

That was not helpful. That would not help Karen. What he needed to do was focus- get his head on straight before he landed so that when it hit go time he’d be 100%. He closed his eyes and breathed deep, recounting the steps that had already been taken. 

When the word’s “Karen’s missing” had left Franklin’s mouth, Franklin- who Frank soon learned was the “Foggy” Karen had told him so much about, Frank didn’t bat an eye. That switch flipped inside Frank like it always did, that thing that made him the hunter, not the hunted. His mind sharpened and his senses quickened. Foggy had just told him that his worst nightmare had come true… But Frank was trained for nightmares. It was like being pinned down under enemy fire. In moments like these he became, in many ways, the best version of himself. Fully focused. 

Unstoppable. 

Frank didn’t waste time with emotions. He got Foggy to tell him everything he knew. Twice- to make sure he didn’t forget anything. 

  • Karen hadn’t met them for drinks last night like they had planned. 
  • When she didn’t come into the office the next morning, they’d gotten a bad feeling and went to her place. 
  • The door had been broken in. 
  • Karen was nowhere to be found. 
  • There were signs of a struggle. 
  • The lawyers were in touch with the police and the search had started.

Frank catalogued it all. As Foggy finished, Frank was already three steps ahead- getting the lawyers phone numbers, and the direct contact for the police on the case. Frank heard himself telling them to get in touch with Karen’s friend from Homeland before he’d even realized he had the idea. It was good though. Bigger guns at the ready. 

“Madani. Dinah Madani.” Frank repeated, wanting to be obeyed immediately.  “I don’t have her number- but it’s probably in Karen’s phone. She’s with Homeland.”

“Homeland? What can they-” it was a new voice, probably the other lawyer. No time. 

“Listen- I don’t know what they can do, but she cares about Karen. Maybe she has ties in the FBI that can help us out. Tell her what happened. She’ll help.”

“Ok. We’ll try.”

“Don’t try. Do it. If she doesn’t answer- call again and again until she does.” Frank growled. “I’m on my way.”

It wasn’t until after Frank hung up on the lawyers that he had his melt down. His phone went black and he stared at it for a good 30 seconds drowning in that queasy feeling that maybe- just maybe- this was a bad dream. He could wake up from this nightmare, call Karen, and find her at home on the couch working on another story. But no. This shit was real. It was everything he’d feared. Frank felt his veins fill with ice, his lungs squeeze shut. The lock he’d had on his emotions while he was on the phone evaporated completely.

Karen. My girl…

He burst into Schoonover’s office, almost crying, barely able to form thoughts, speaking in broken sentences. 

He barely held it together in the humvee with Bill driving. He was wild eyed, shouting on the phone. He was yelling at David, an old friend from Quantico. While Frank had gone on to Special Forces, David’s own unique skills led him to the CIA. Now David was buried in computers and intelligence and deep, dark, spook shit that Frank had no idea about. He had never been more grateful to have a hacker for a friend in all his life. 

“Karen Page.” Frank said, as clearly as he could.

“Middle name?” 

“I don’t know.” 

David paused. “Where does she live?”

“I don’t know.”

“OK… how do you know her again?”

“Just find her, man. Please.” Frank grit through his teeth. David, as usual, was asking a million questions rather than just doing what he was told. 

“Come on... You just want me to find for some random girl using facial recognition from every surveillance feed in the entire city? Getting authorization for something like that is going to take-"

“Fuck authorization! Listen- her name is Karen Page. She works for the New York Bulletin. Blonde. White. Tall. Late twenties- early thirties.” Frank pinched the bridge of his nose. “Just find her.”

“That’s illegal, Frank.”

Frank was starting to see red. “What would you do if it was Sarah? If some maniac had her, huh? What would you do?” 

There was a pause on the other end of the phone. Frank knew it was a low blow bringing up David's wife like that. He prayed David hadn’t just hung up on him. 

“Sarah’s my wife. She’s my family-”

“LISTEN. Listen.” Frank hissed, feeling like he was going to explode. “I’m gonna say this once- so is Karen. If something happens to her I-”

There wasn’t a word. There was only rage. And terrible fear. Frank slammed his hand into the vehicle door, needing to vent the chaos inside him.

Please.

David’s “ok” was quiet when it came through the phone. But Frank heard it, and that was enough. David was Frank’s best hope of finding Karen, and he’d said yes. Frank sank back into his seat knowing there weren’t enough apologies and thank yous in the world. 

That had been hours ago. He hoped to God that David had found something- anything to go on. 

Frank was on high alert the moment could see New York through his window. His blood was up and roaring by the time they landed. His phone was lighting up. Everyone was coming through. David had intel. The lawyers had connected with Madani. All of them were converging at the Hell’s Kitchen Police precinct. 

We’re coming for you, Karen. 

Hold on, Sweetheart. 

 

:::

 

Frank barreled into the police precinct, eyes wide and fingers twitching. He had no idea where to go or who he was looking for, but he hoped like hell everyone else had already arrived. He couldn’t stand any more waiting. Not one more minute. 

He was about to ask the front desk for help when he spotted the shaggy haired lawyer, Foggy, in one of the glass conference rooms. Frank made a beeline for him. When he got close, Foggy finally noticed his approach and his eyes went wide. He even took a few steps back, startled. 

“Lt. Frank Castle.” Frank said, suddenly remembering that Foggy had no idea what he looked like. 

“Oh- thank God.” Foggy exhaled, hand settling on his stomach briefly before reaching out to shake Frank’s hand. “Glad to put a face to the name. You look… exactly like your voice.”

Frank squinted at him, no idea what to make of that. 

“Mr. Castle.” Frank turned to see the extended hand of the other lawyer. He was attempting a smile to be polite, but his face was grim. Frank felt the same way. “Matthew Murdock.”

Frank shook Murdoch's hand while scanning the room. There were two more occupants. 

The woman, she had to be Madani. He offhandedly noticed she was gorgeous. She had sharp, calculating eyes. Frank’s gut was good when it came to people, and his gut told him she was ferocious.

“Madani.” He nodded his greeting. 

“Castle.” She returned, sizing him up.  

Frank set his eyes on the last guy in the room, but Madani spoke up before he got a chance to introduce himself. 

“This is Agent Ray Nadeem. FBI. He’s taken lead on this investigation.” Madani spoke the truth, the FBI had rank and jurisdiction on all of them, seeing as this was a domestic kidnapping case, but everything in Madani’s voice told the room ‘I’m in charge here.’

Frank looked between the two agents wondering if Mr. FBI was going to give Madani any grief, but he had an easy smile and seemed comfortable taking the backseat and letting her drive. Madani had probably gotten him here on a favor. 

Motion at the door revealed two more people. One of whom made Frank’s pulse slam with relief. Tall, lanky, the bed-head that never smoothed out... David.

The two men shared a brief back-slapping hug. Frank couldn’t say it, not on his best day, and certainly not with all of these other people in the room… but hoped his eyes conveyed how grateful he was. He didn’t even know what intel David had, but he knew his friend had risked his job and his security by doing this for Frank. Frank would never forget it. Thank you, Buddy.

The man who’d brought David closed the door to the conference room and rounded on them all with a completely unreadable expression. He was the only person in the room with a badge on his hip. Ok - the Detective. Mahoney... Frank recalled Foggy mentioning. 

“So- it looks like we got 2 lawyers, NYPD, FBI, Homeland, Special Forces, and now somehow… the CIA.” Mahoney gave David the side-eye, somewhat disapprovingly. “This must be one hell of a reporter.” 

Frank’s eyes darted around the room. He knew it was questionable to have CIA involvement, but he didn’t give a shit. He searched the other faces in the room, looking for anyone who might give him any problems. Madani’s eyes narrowed, but she didn’t question him. Instead, she took a step forward making it seem like they were all suddenly standing in a circle. 

“She is.” Madani settled her hands on her hips. “This is our team. Agent Nadeem is now in command.”

Again, Agent Nadeem nodded, but said nothing. 

“Detective Mahoney, what do you have so far?” Madani continued, her gaze warning everyone in the room to keep up with her. Not to waste time. Frank was liking her more and more. 

Mahoney thrust his hands in his pockets. 

“I wish we had more to go on. But we haven’t unearthed anything new.” He said, clearly frustrated. “We believe she was abducted in her home around 48 hours ago. There were signs of a struggle. No blood. Only fingerprints in the apartment were her own, and those of the lawyers, which is understandable seeing as they entered her apartment and searched for her.”

Murdoch was still as a stone, but Foggy nodded up and down rapidly. 

“None of her neighbors say they saw or heard anything. Typical that neighborhood…” Mahoney shook his head. “And unfortunately her building doesn’t have security cameras. Neither does the closest intersection.”

“So- you have nothing?” Frank snarled. 

Goddamn, he should have just gotten David’s intel and taken care of this himself. Jesus. 

The Detective glared at him but had no comeback. Foggy spoke up.

“Well, not nothing. We all know this has to be Fisk’s affiliates.” 

“OK- so what do you got? A list of everyone he knows? Addresses of every property he owns? Anything useful?” Frank spat. 

The lawyer too, had no come back. Frank could feel his blood starting to boil. What the fuck good was this then? Why the hell did he even come here? They were wasting time!

“Alright- David. Tell me you got something.” 

David nodded and pulled out a flash drive. 

“I think I know where she is.”

My man. Frank’s lungs felt like they could finally inflate after so many hours of suffocation.

Every gaze in the room narrowed in on the flash drive. 

Mahoney crossed his arms. “I’m not even going to ask how you got whatever’s on that drive.”

Everyone ignored Mahoney’s muttered comment. 

David moved to hand the flash drive to Frank, but he waved it off. 

“No time to watch it, man- just- where is she? Tell me.” 

It was an address down by the docks. 

Frank and Madani grilled David for a few more minutes grabbing all the intel they could. Size of the building, orientation, defenses, what was nearby, how many people in and out… 

While David gave them the download, Mahoney grabbed the flash drive and plugged it into the open laptop nearby. They watched blurry the video of Karen’s unconscious form being hauled out of a van and into the dank warehouse. It made Frank’s gut twist, his vision tunneling for a moment before he fought it back so he could focus. 

The building was huge- she could be anywhere inside. Watching in fast forward, they saw several vans come in and out throughout the day… hard to tell how many guys were in there. 

Frank had seen enough. 

I’m coming, Karen…  

He was ready to go. Itching to get moving- he needed a gun. He spun on the Detective. 

“I need you to release me some weapons.” 

Mahoney raised his eyebrows. “Hold on a minute, now is not the time to rush this kind of operation. I got the entire NYPD spinning over this Fisk story, mobs trying to make moves in the power vacuum, and vigilantes in my streets. I’m not going to let this become some sort of wild west shoot out here.”

Frank wanted to wring the guy’s neck. Wasting his fucking time. Frank stepped up to the Detective, inches from his face.  “I need weapons. Now.

The Detective was uncowed. “Mr. Castle, we are not prepared to just…” 

“NO!” Frank shouted. “YOU aren’t prepared! But this is WHAT I DO. Stealth, reconnaissance and recovery. Precision. Give me a goddamn weapon so I can go in and get her. Stop wasting my fucking time!”

Frank was twitching. Every second they spent here talking, meant they could be too late. These goddamn people hadn’t faced death the way he had. They didn’t fucking understand that the only way to beat the devil was to sprint straight at him. Guns blazing. Catch him off guard. Rain destruction. Send him back to hell scared to ever show is ugly face again. 

Mr. FBI finally spoke up, “We’re in the middle of New York, Mr. Castle. We need a clear plan. You have to understand-”

Jesus fuck-

“You have to understand! Karen’s been out there- for 48 hours!” Frank was still shouting, pointing his finger in the FBI agents face, shaking with frustration. “There’s no time for a big fancy FBI plan. We know where she is. We go get our girl and bring her home. Now. Right now- or I’ll go get her myself. You hear me?”

Frank was almost breathing smoke. Everyone in the room was looking at him like he was a loose cannon. These people weren’t soldiers. They didn’t fucking get it. 

Fuck this.  

Frank whipped around toward the door. He’d get his girl by his goddamn self. With the fire in his veins right now, he didn’t need guns, he was ready to tear the sons of bitches apart with his bare hands. 

He was halfway through the door when Madani’s voice cut through the ringing in his ears.

“Castle.”

He stopped but didn’t turn around. 

“We’re with you. We’ll follow your lead.” 

Frank turned enough to lock eyes with her over his shoulder. He saw it there- that fire. That was a fighter. She got it. 

“Agent Nadeem.” She said, and the way she said his name was an order. The agent sprang to life. 

“Detective Mahoney, we need weapons released and access to SWAT’s gear. Now.” Nadeem said, not confrontational, but not asking.

Mahoney looked annoyed as hell, but he nodded, then tipped his head for everyone to follow him. 

Thank Christ. 

 

 

They were geared up and huddled in the back of an unmarked tactical van within minutes. Frank regulated his breathing, slowed his heart beat, focused his mind. 

I’m coming, Karen. Hold on…

Frank’s irritation with his team disappeared the moment the van doors closed. They were his unit now. They were all risking their lives to save his girl. And he owed them. He’d get them all out alive or die trying. 

David was driving. Foggy sat shotgun, chewing his nails nervously. Mahoney had really tried to put his foot down when Foggy climbed in the vehicle, but Madani was as passed the point of rule following as Frank was. She just shut the shaggy haired lawyer into the van and ordered him to stay quiet and keep his ass in the van. Frank would have thought the other one, Murdoch, would have insisted on coming too… but he was nowhere to be found. The guy had disappeared while they were all getting geared up. Murdoch’s absence was barely a flicker in Frank’s mind now though- he didn’t know the guy and didn’t give a shit where he wandered off to. 

Frank’s entire being was focused on the brief bit of strategy he had time to come up with while they drove. This was his second time running through it and his team nodded along. 

Seeing as they were likely way outnumbered, they had to aim at stealth. They needed to avoid being detected as long as possible.

If there was a way to eliminate a threat without discharging a weapon, they were to take it.

If there was no way around firing a weapon, they were to make it count.

The warehouse was sprawling, they had a lot of ground to cover and the search could take a while. They had no choice but to split up. Not ideal. There were two visible floors. Nadeem and Mahoney would take the second floor. Madani and Frank would cover the ground level and if there was a basement, which there likely was, Madani would remain on the ground floor and Frank would take the basement as it was the most dangerous option. If shit went sideways in a basement, Frank was the only one who stood a chance of making it out alive.

There weren’t any entry points on the ground level that they could consider as options- they’d be heard or seen right away. So, their best option was a second floor fire escape on the side of the warehouse near the back. The fire escape ladder was broken off halfway down the building, so he doubted the door was ever used or guarded. 

It wasn’t much of plan. But it was what they had to work with. Failure wasn’t an option. Karen was waiting. 

David was driving slow without the headlights on. He pulled over in a dark shadow a few blocks away from the warehouse. Frank was sure that somehow David knew this was a blindspot from any cameras in the area. David turned to Frank over his shoulder. The two men locked eyes for a moment, then Frank nodded. 

“Let’s move.”

They piled out of the car in complete silence. Mahoney and Nadeem grabbing their ladder, Frank and Madani- weapons drawn- scanning the area. Frank's senses went into overdrive, eyes not missing a thing, ears catching the slightest whispers of sound. Every muscle coiled to spring as he lead the way down the dark alley toward the warehouse.

All seemed clear. Frank flicked his hand indicating Mahoney and Nadeem to set up the ladder. Frank climbed up first, making the precarious transition from the ladder to the fire escape platform in a quick pull up. He was glad to find the platform steady, the metal wasn’t completely deteriorated, it should be able to hold them all. He turned quickly to help Madani but she’d already hoisted herself up and jerked her head at him to keep moving upward.

They climbed the single flight of steps and Frank holstered his weapon, grabbing the heavy crowbar he’d strapped to his back where a shotgun would normally be. The door probably hadn’t been opened in years. It could be rusted shut. Frank felt an icy drop of sweat roll down his back. He knew he needed to pry this door open on his first try. Busting it open would be loud, it could draw attention even if there was no one really close by. Twenty seconds of rattling at the door could mean a dozen guys would be waiting for them on the other side. 

Frank dug the crowbar into the metal door jamb as deep as he could without making too much noise, then looked to his team over his shoulder. They all had their weapons drawn, aiming at the door, ready to unleash hell if they encountered an attack on the other side. 

Frank nodded at them all, indicating his countdown so they’d be in sync. 

One… Two… Three... 

And he slammed himself forward with every ounce of strength he had. 

The metal groaned.

He grit his teeth and pushed harder, blood pounding in his head. 

There was a cracking sound then a loud BANG as the lock broke away from the door and it swung open. The other three rushed in as Frank hit the deck. They scanned the surroundings looking for threats, listening for the sounds of footsteps running their way… No one breathed. 

Nothing. They heard nothing. 

No one had heard them. Or, somehow, this was a trap. Or, Frank shuddered to think- maybe no one was here. Maybe they’d taken his Karen somewhere else and he’d lost her. 

She’s here. Focus. 

OK- they were on the second floor. It was completely dark save for the bit of light that crept in behind them from the open door. From what he could tell, it was an open floor plan, typical of a warehouse this large. There were probably offices on the far end or along the side walls, but to get to those rooms they had to navigate aisles and aisles of tall stacked storage. 

Plenty of places for enemies to hide.

Frank pointed at his eyes, then out at the aisles. Mahoney and Nadeem nodded back, understanding his silent order. Watch out. Frank jerked his head at them to proceed and they moved- weapons ready, nearly side by side but angled out to protect each other’s blind spots. 

Good.

Frank was about to put the crowbar in its strap and switch back to his gun, when something in his gut told him to keep the crowbar handy. He didn’t question the instinct. He trusted his gut on this like he did with everything else. He gestured for Madani to follow him to the stairwell along the side wall. She gave him a suspicious side-eye when she saw he’d preferred the crowbar to his gun as his weapon of choice, but she didn’t question it. She nodded, her calculating eyes flickering to every dark corner. Frank could practically hear the gears in her mind turning. He was grateful to have someone so aware and prepared for action on his side. 

They made their way downstairs slowly, Madani taking the lead because she had the gun. Frank following close, gripping the crowbar with white knuckles. It was a relief the stairs were concrete- they didn’t have to worry about creaky floor boards or rickety metal. They were silent as the night. Frank was squinting into the darkness as they neared the bottom, sure that the ground level had to have some guys nearby even if these goons left the second floor abandoned. 

Madani’s hand flew up. Frank froze, not seeing whatever it was she saw. His blood roared to life, ready to GO. Madani whipped her weapon toward the floor and Frank spotted what she was aiming at. Finally. The first sign of life. It was a guard… or at least… it had been a guard. The guy was flopped over on the floor, dead or unconscious- they weren’t sure. Madani kept her aim trained at the guy’s head as they crept slowly closer, like the guy might go off like a timebomb… but he seemed dead. 

This wasn’t right. 

The guy wasn’t bleeding out. Frank didn’t see a wound. And- what the hell- the guy’s hands and feet were bound with zip ties. Frank knelt and felt for a pulse. Yep. He was alive… just bound and unconscious. 

Frank looked up at Madani and shrugged. They stared at each other, now knowing what to think, but knowing they couldn’t waste time here trying to figure it out. 

Fuck this guy, he wasn’t going to give them any trouble. 

Frank stood up and looked around. Just like he predicted, there was another set of stairs leading further down. Karen was down there. He knew it, his gut was screaming it. He had to go now

“Stay sharp.” He whispered to Madani, flicking his head for her to take over the first floor while he headed below. 

“You too.” She nodded back, repositioning her weapon and heading deeper into the dark. 

Frank took the stairs as slowly as he could, but it was taking everything in him not to break into a run, not to start screaming Karen’s name. She’s here. She’s HERE.  

At the bottom of the stairs was a long hallway lined with a few doors on both sides. The only light came from the flickering red exit sign above Frank’s head. This was a death trap. 

Didn’t matter. 

Through the dark, dense silence, Frank finally found a noise to cling to. It was a humming, or a buzz, or… no- that was the sound of a TV somewhere down here.

Bingo.

Frank’s lungs expanded, he was ready to breathe fire. He stalked down the hall, listening at each door for the noise. But the door he wanted was actually cracked open a bit. Almost completely dark except for the light of the TV, briefly illuminating the room, then flickering back to darkness in random patterns. Through the crack in the door Frank could see one scumbag asleep in a recliner… nothing else. All of his rage, the full force of his fury narrowed and honed in, became as sharp as a blade. 

Frank entered the room silently and kept walking until he was standing right in front of the sleeping, sprawled out, soon to be dead man. Frank lifted his crowbar until it was right under the scumbag’s chin and tapped. 

The guy gasped, jerking awake, his eyes flying open and darting around the room before landing on Frank’s shadowy form looming over him. 

“Where is she?” Frank whispered, his hate having transcended into a form of zen. 

Idiot tried to scream. 

Frank stabbed the crowbar forward into the guy’s neck. Probably crushed his windpipe. Didn’t matter. Frank didn’t need him to talk, he just had to point. 

The guy writhed in his chair, grabbing at his throat making an awful gasping, drowning sound. Frank leaned down, grabbed him by the hair, and in the warbling light of the TV, was able to tilt his head and look him straight his watering eyes. 

“Where is she?”

The guy just shook his head wildly, still clutching at his throat. Not helpful. 

Frank ratcheted back to hit him again, but suddenly there was an arm around his throat, the weight of a full grown man on his back. Frank dropped to his knees and flung himself onto his back, trapping whoever had attacked him underneath his body weight. He jammed his elbow back once, making solid contact, he did it again and felt it in his elbow as the guy’s rib fractured. The stranglehold on Frank’s neck slacked immediately and the guy let out a shout. Frank rolled back over into a crouch. At the exact moment he got his feet under him again, the TV flickered bright, illuminating the entire space. Frank heard a roar of blood in his ears.

This room was much bigger than he’d thought. And it was not empty. 

In the wavering light of the TV Frank spotted 6 guys running at him. 

Alright. 

Frank swung the crowbar down on the guy who was moaning on the floor next to him. He felt the skull crunch under the weight of his blow. He barely had time to fully get to his feet before the next goon reached him, launching himself at Frank in a full body tackle. Frank was slammed back down to floor. He hooked the guy by the neck with the crowbar and pulled him off, but two more arrived, one kicking him in the kidney, the other diving on the arm with the crowbar and wrenching it out of his grip. The guy kicking Frank dropped down with a knee on his chest and started pummeling him in the face over and over. Frank’s one arm was pinned down and his vision swam as his head bounced between the guy’s fist and the floor. But the guy punching him made a rookie mistake. The moment he felt like he had the upper hand- he slowed down, let his foot off the gas. Asshole. He didn’t know- that was the moment to push the pedal through the floor, to end it. 

His loss, Frank’s gain. 

In the instant the goon leaned back to give his arm a rest, Frank launched forward grabbing him by the side of the head, jamming his thumb into his eye socket. Frank felt blood oozing down his hand. The goon screamed and started scrabbling at Frank’s fingers, but it was no use, Frank’s grip was iron. Frank screamed back and swung his entire body around, slamming the guy’s head into the floor and feeling a skull crack under his hands for the second time in a matter of three minutes. 

Frank vaulted back to his feet ready to face the other two dead men, rapidly scanning the room for the rest. He knew there were more guys in here than just the 3 who attacked him. 

The TV flickered bright again, lighting up the room for a split second, and on the other side of the room Frank couldn’t make sense of what he was seeing. There was another brawl over there… four guys fighting. The light burst bright again. No, it wasn’t 4 guys fighting… it was three guys fighting against one. The one… he looked like he was in body armor or something… and a mask? Who the hell-

Pain exploded across Frank’s back as he was reminded that he had his own fight to be dealing with. Frank spun on the guy who was reeling back to slam Frank with the crowbar again, but Frank caught it mid-swing. Frank stomped forward, making the guy stagger back into the wall, locking him there with the crowbar against his throat. 

A new set of hands appeared behind Frank, choking him and pulling him off the man on the wall. Frank didn’t even bother trying to break the guy’s grip on his throat. He reached down for the gun on his hip and aimed it backwards, where he knew the guy trying to strangle him’s head had to be. 

Bang. 

And Frank was able to breathe again. He swung his arm forward. 

Bang. 

Down went the asshole with the crowbar. 

Frank’s head swiveled back around to the other fight in the room. He was already breathing hard, but his jaw still dropped at what he was looking at. Even in the strobing effect of the light from the TV, Frank could tell he’d never seen fighting like this in his entire life. 

The masked man was an artist. Every move powerful and precise. Lightening fast. He jumped up, kicked off the wall, and spun down taking out two attackers at once. It was the most amazing combat Frank had ever scene. But, he didn’t have time to waste watching it. He felt instinctively that the guy in the mask was no threat to him. He had no fucking clue what his game was, but Frank’s gut told him to move on and let him continue… whatever it was that he was doing.

Frank turned back to his side of the room. All his assailants were down, but he’d fired his gun. Anyone left in this building would have heard that and were probably headed down here. There was no time to lose. A small groan caught his attention and he stepped around the now overturned recliner to find the first scumbag wheezing there on the floor. His face was almost purple, not able to breathe through the windpipe Frank had crushed. Frank stepped up to him again, gun aimed straight between the guy’s eyes. 

“WHERE IS SHE?” 

The guy didn’t respond. 

Frank cocked the gun, aiming it back at the useless asshole. 

“Don’t.” 

It was the masked man- holding his hand out as if to freeze Frank in place. Frank squinted in the half light. The guy had a bloody nose and a split open lip, but behind the mask Frank couldn’t see any identifiable part of his face. 

“Don’t do it.” The guy panted, taking a step closer to Frank. “I’ll take care of him. Go. She’s down the hall- second door on the left.” 

...what?  

Frank knew in his gut that this guy wasn’t his enemy, but he wasn’t just going to listen to-

Bang. Bang.

Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang.

Gunshots. Down the hall…

God- Karen- NO...

Frank took off, the stranger in the mask completely forgotten. He didn’t waste time checking other rooms, he didn’t wait at the door and listen. Frank barrelled straight into the second door on the left, busting it off its hinges and staggering into the room to find… 

Sweet, Jesus- thank you God…

Karen, ashen faced, sitting at a table. Arms outstretched, fingers still pulling the trigger of a now empty gun. Across the table sat a man in a suit. His life dripping out of him, onto the floor.  

No one else was in the room. 

“Karen.” He breathed, flooded with a relief like he’d never known before in his life. Heart thundering in his chest. Everything in him wanting to run to her, but he knew he needed to move slow, he didn’t want to spook her. 

He walked cautiously, hands up. “Karen.”

She was wild eyed, tear marks streaked down her hollow cheeks. Her hands were shaking. Karen’s eyes settled on Frank slowly, she seemed unsure if he was real.

“Sweetheart.” 

That did it. She blinked, suddenly back in her right mind, dropping the gun like it had scalded her fingers. She couldn’t tear her eyes away from him.

“Frank…” she whispered, her voice cracked, instantly sobbing. 

He finally allowed himself to rush to her, dropping to his knees when he reached the chair where she sat. His eyes taking in every inch of her, scanning for injury, feasting on the sight of her- as thin and exhausted and slightly dirty as she was. So beautiful. So perfect. Frank reached up as slowly as he could, so as not to startle her. He cradled her face in both hands, wiping at her tears with his thumbs, carding his fingers through her hair. So gently. So soft. She felt so fragile under his fingers. 

They stared into each other’s eyes. Communicating more in that stretched silent moment than they could have in a thousand phone calls. Karen’s shaking hands rose to grasp his wrists. 

“Frank- how?” She couldn’t get the words out, her throat seized up with her tears. 

“I came for you, Karen. Of course, I came.” He said, still searching her face for any sign she was injured, for any sign his relief might be premature. 

His hand floated from her cheek to her neck, settling there. Her pulse pounded under his hand as if trying to prove to him that she was alive and well. Karen gasped as another round of sobbing shook her thin frame. She slid out of her chair into his lap where he knelt on the floor and clutched her arms around his neck, pulling him as close as she could. Frank’s arms latched to her, crushing her to him. Hardly aware that he was rocking her, whispering little comforts into her hair. 

If he had his head on straight, Frank would have been forcing Karen up on her feet. He would have been securing their escape from this place. But his entire being had pressed pause the moment Karen clung to him and all he could do was cling back. Luckily for them both, the next person to burst into the room wasn’t an enemy. It was Madani. Quickly followed by Mahoney and Nadeem, all of whom had heard the gunshots and raced to find the source. 

Frank stared up at them, his panting breath starting to return to normal. His gut unclenched, knowing they were all here in this room, apparently unscathed. His girl was in his arms and his team had survived. 

Mission accomplished. 

He didn’t want Karen to have to spend another second in this awful place, only a few feet away from that dead body. 

The group of them made their way out of the warehouse. Frank was limping and Karen was shaking, but they held onto each other as they walked, each seeming to require contact order to stay upright. The only thing that could separate them was, apparently, Foggy, who ran at Karen and hauled her into his arms. Frank watched the embrace and felt his eyes smart just a tiny bit. They looked like brother and sister. It was so clear how much they cared about each other, how wrecked Foggy had been the entire time she was missing, how relieved he was now. Frank realized he really liked that kid. 

Foggy blanched when he got a look at Frank, who appeared to be the only one in need of medical attention. No one else seemed to have a scratch on them, aside from a dull green bruise along Karen’s cheekbone that made his stomach twist every time he looked at it. He wanted to make it go away. He wished he could fix all of this. She had so much more healing to do than waiting for bruises and scrapes to fade. She’d killed a man tonight. He could see it in her haunted eyes. Frank knew those ghosts. He squeezed her hand.

The next few hours were a slow motion blur. The time for fast action and ignoring the rules was over. The reality of regulations and procedures slammed down on them all like a judge’s gavel. 

There were dead bodies in that building. The authorities had to be called, an investigation launched, questions to be answered. Mahoney was a good guy. He gave David some time to make himself scarce before calling the cops and sending every siren in the city their way.

Frank sat stiffly down with Karen in the back of the van where the doors were opened wide. Adrenaline wearing off, Frank started feeling the deep ache settle into his bones. Every place he’d been hit or kicked prickling with small spikes of pain that would only grow until he got some medicine in him. His face was throbbing. He knew he must look awful, Karen’s eyes kept sweeping over his face, focusing on what must have been bruises and cuts. This was not the look he would have preferred for seeing her again for the first time. It almost made Frank want to laugh. Life, goddamn. It deals us our cards, we just have to play them the best we can. 

Franks eyes flickered down to Karen’s hand as it rose to his cheek. She seemed almost afraid to touch him, but let her thumb slide over his cheekbone. Frank angled his face away so she could see whatever it was she wanted to see. Her touch. So soft. Karen’s thumb traveled lower, brushing across his lips, her fingers floated to his chin and turned his face back toward her. 

Their eyes met. And after all these stretched out moments of clinging to each other, of staring at each other, of searching each other’s faces… it was like they finally found each other. That connection. That shared heartbeat. And suddenly they both could breathe easy. Frank wasn’t sure who moved first, but he found his forehead touching hers. A mutual lean. A private peace in the middle of all this mess. 

It couldn’t last. 

“Castle.” It was Madani. She gave him an apologetic wince as he slowly broke away from Karen. “You ok?”

“Yeah, Madani. I’ll live.” He gave her a little smirk, once again allowing pure relief to rush through him knowing their team hadn’t suffered any losses. He scanned them all.

“So- looks like no one gave you any trouble? You didn’t come across anyone?” He asked.

Nadeem, Mahoney, and Madani looked between each other. 

“I encountered 4 more men, clearly lookouts from their positioning.” Madani said, frowning. “But- they were just like the first one we saw. Unconscious. Tied up. Like… they were set there for us to find.”

Nadeem’s eyes went wide. “Us too! There were 7 guys on the second floor, but all of them were just like you said. Knocked out and zip tied. What the hell?”

No one had an answer.

Madani focused back on Frank. “Clearly, the ones you came across were not incapacitated. I saw the room. There were 7 bodies. How the hell did you make it out of there?”

All eyes lasered onto Frank, but he just shrugged. 

“I took on about half. Didn’t bother with zip ties. Those guys won't be waking up.” Frank’s mind jolted. “Did anyone else see the guy in the mask?”

Madani and Nadeem looked at Frank like he was insane, but Mahoney just rolled his eyes.

“Figures.” 

Everyone’s gaze whipped from Frank to Mahoney like they were watching a tennis match.

Mahoney raised his hands in a ‘nobody get too excited’ sort of way.

“I didn’t see him tonight, but if you saw a masked man who could fight like hell, but didn’t kill anyone… I know the guy.”

The Detective had Frank’s complete attention. “I’ve never seen fighting like that.” 

Mahoney nodded. “I know. I’ve only seen him in action once or twice, but it’s a sight to behold. They call him the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen. This is his move. Taking out entire operations like this, but not killing anyone… leaving them all unconscious or tied up for the police once they arrive.”

Mahoney shook his head. “All this vigilante nonsense.”

Frank wouldn’t call that nonsense. Though, why this Devil wouldn’t end the shitbricks he took down seemed like an opportunity wasted… 

There was no time to discuss it anymore. The sky lit up with red and blue flashing lights. The quiet was pierced with shrill sirens. The cavalry had come. 

Mahoney did most of the talking, the rest of them tried to say as little as possible. Except for poor Karen who needed to give her statement. It was a long, drawn out process where she had to go over everything in excruciating detail. Frank hadn’t wanted to be separated from her, but allowed the EMTs to take him away for a while- Foggy was glued to her side and guarding her like a junkyard dog. Good man. 

The EMTs poked and prodded at him, making a fuss over things Frank knew from experience could only be healed with time and rest. They pissed him right off when they asked him to turn around so they could get a look at the contusions on his back where he’d taken that hit with the crowbar. He turned for them and the next thing he knew- they’d cut his shirt off. Goddammit- that was the only one he had. He hadn’t taken the time to pack a bag or anything. The young EMTs cowered under his glare looking scared for their lives. One of them supplied him with a grey Metro General Hospital sweatshirt and made no attempt to stop him as he stalked away to find Karen. 

His chest ached when he saw her. Hooked up to fluids, snacking on a little bag of whatever the EMTs had given her. She was still answering question after question occasionally rolling her eyes and looking to Foggy, who would take over and give her a little break. Frank didn’t know how long he stood to the side, slightly out of her line of sight, watching. 

Color was returning to her face. Her hair was up in a messy bun and the EMTs had somehow replaced her heels with fluffy looking slippers. Police work was busy all around them, an ant farm of processes being carried out in their orbit, but for Frank- the world stood still. The only thing he could see was his girl and how she still somehow managed to glow like an angel under the fluorescent lights in the ambulance. He’d never seen her eat before. Never seen her smile at a friend, the way she smiled at Foggy now. So beautiful. Better than he’d imagined. So much better. 

When Frank finally had his fill of watching from afar, he approached. The way she looked at him… it sent sparks down his spine. He stepped up into the ambulance and slid on the bench next to Foggy.

After what seemed like an eternity, and the sky was tinged with the neon blue of impending sunrise, they were all released to go home. More official actions would follow, but that was for another day. 

Madani and Karen shared a hug, leaning close and talking so low that Frank couldn’t hear what they were saying. They glanced at him a few times though. It made him a little nervous. 

Frank had nowhere to go- he hadn’t made hotel arrangements or anything. The thought of not being with Karen tonight was torture, but he also didn’t want to impose. She’d just been through some hell, she might want some alone time. Or she might want someone closer to her to be with her tonight- after all, this was still only the second time they’d met face to face. Frank didn’t want to make the wrong move. But when Mahoney offered Karen a ride home and she held out her hand for Frank to get in the car with her, he took it without hesitation, knees almost wobbling with relief. 

The Detective dropped them off and Frank felt like he was in a dream. This was Karen’s building. These were her stairs. This was her hallway. He was still absorbing it all when he noticed she slowed. She looked pale again. Frank followed her gaze to the door she was looking at. The door that hadn’t been fully repaired yet, and was cracked and splintered near the locks. 

Shit. That had to be traumatic to see.

Frank wrapped his arm around her and continued forward. She slid her keys into the locks with shaking hands. The door swung open and they both stepped slowly into the apartment, like something might jump out at them if they moved too fast. Frank wrestled the door back into place and locked it. They didn’t need to turn on the lights as they walked further in, there was enough morning glow coming through the windows for them to see. 

In the living room, papers were scattered everywhere, a table overturned, a bit of broken glass on the floor. Karen’s fingers fluttered up to her lips as she took it all in. Frank watched her eyes scanning back and forth, filling with tears. She gasped. 

In an instant Frank had her in his arms. He swayed with her, rubbing her back, whispering into her hair. It’s alright. It’s ok. I got you. I got you. Karen let herself go. She wept into his shoulder and clung to him, her body shuddering against him. She was sobbing in a way that spoke more of being utterly overwhelmed and exhausted than of any specific grief. She needed to get it out. She needed someone to catch her as she fell. And Frank was there. Solid and strong. Not unscathed, but sturdy. 

He held her like that for a long time, swaying and soothing. Until there were no more tears. Until it was almost a strange sort of comforting slow dance. After a long while Karen lifted her head and looked at him. Her eyes were swollen, the tip of her nose a little pink. She stared at him so long that the hairs started rising on the back of his neck. He had no idea what she was thinking. She leaned forward and pressed her lips to his.

Whoa.

Such a brief touch. But it rocked him. Frank eyes floated closed. 

Karen took a moment to breathe. The air drifted along his jaw. He felt her lips again, so soft, puffy from crying. Frank returned the kiss. As lightly as he could. And he felt everything swirling inside him, electricity and pins and needles. 

Frank leaned back, to keep his head on straight. This wasn’t a moment for anything sexual, it was simply connection. He planted little kisses on each of her cheeks, her forehead, her temples, her nose. Each kiss silently sang. Thank God. Thank God. Thank God. 

Frank ran his knuckles along Karen’s cheek to get her to open her eyes.

“Bed.” He whispered. 

She nodded and led him to the bedroom. The room was neat and tidy. Untouched. Frank was grateful that whoever had abducted Karen didn’t seem to have entered here. Karen found an oversized tee shirt, then began unbuttoning her blouse. 

Frank turned his back, giving her some privacy, and sat on the bed to remove his boots and socks. Listening to her undress behind him was heady. Like a dream. Frank peeled off his sweatshirt and stood so he could lose his jeans as well. The motion behind him had stopped. Frank risked a look over his shoulder. Karen was watching him. He turned. They faced each other across the bed. Her, in a billowy shirt, with what he presumed were only panties underneath. He could see all of her long legs. Him, in no shirt at all. Her gaze roving everywhere. 

When her eyes drifted back up to meet his, she blinked slowly, giving him the softest smile. Karen climbed into bed under the covers, never taking her eyes off him. Frank removed his jeans as she watched him. She wasn’t shy, openly staring. Frank felt a little woozy. But still, it was the easiest thing in the world to slide into her bed.  Simple as breathing, to open his arms to her. Natural as blinking, how she tucked herself into him, how her skin slid against his.

Karen was asleep within minutes. Frank was awake for a long time.

Chapter Text

Bright daylight was streaming in through Karen’s window, but it wasn't what woke him. What woke him was the whisper of a touch, fluttering fingers on his skin. Frank kept his eyes closed, enjoying the feeling of his skin tingling awake wherever she touched. 

Frank was on his back and Karen’s fingertip was gliding along his chest. So light, he almost thought he was imagining it until she laid her palm flat over his heart. His eyes flickered open. Karen met his gaze for only a moment before she focused back down on her hand, his chest. Frank closed his eyes again. His mind a little too hazy with sleep to handle the overwhelming reality of waking up in bed with Karen Page. Frank was almost a little embarrassed about how hard his heart was suddenly thundering beneath her hand. 

But there was no use trying to hide it or deny it. Karen needed to know the power she had. How the slightest touch from her could bring him to his knees. 

He loved the feel of her hand on his skin.

Karen’s fingers floated to his jaw, his chin, stroking the three-day growth of stubble there.  

“I still can’t believe you’re here.” She whispered. 

“Me either.”

Frank dragged his eyes open, taking in the sight of her. She was laying on her side, facing him. Hair wild. Lips red as berries. Sky blue eyes. Everything about her was so vividly colorful, so ultra real. 

Karen’s fingers kept exploring his face. She traced his brows, his nose, his cheekbones. Very lightly because the side of his face was pretty bruised and swollen. Frank stayed still, wanting to see what she would do next. 

“Your face, touching you. It’s so new.” Her hand floated to his neck, then back to his heart. “So different.”

“The face is definitely different.” He smirked. “Always hoped I’d see you again, but I definitely hadn’t planned on being beaten half to hell when I did.”

Her hand slid down his belly to his side, where he’d been kicked. Those bruises were nasty, almost black this morning. She winced. 

“Don’t worry about those. They’re not that bad.” He sighed, turning toward her.

She looked up at him, suspicious, like she wasn’t sure he was telling the truth. He wasn’t. But he didn’t want to see her frown. 

Karen switched her focus to his hand. She studied it, tracing the lines of his fingers, mapping the various cuts and scrapes. Her touch got his blood bubbling like champaign. She made him feel light headed. He felt like a teenager. Losing his mind from holding hands with a girl.

“Did you get some sleep?” He asked, almost to distract himself. 

She nodded, still staring at his hand. 

“I had some bad dreams.” 

Sweetheart. He entwined their fingers.

“I- I killed someone.” 

When she looked up at him, her eyes were glassy. 

“I had to…” Her lip trembled.

It tore at him. 

“You did what you had to do, Karen. You survived. You got yourself out of there. Never regret that.”

He shifted, looking her directly in the eyes. 

“You can regret that this whole thing ever happened. You can regret that you’ll live with some fucked up memories and bad dreams. But never regret that you were strong enough to survive. Never regret that you’re the one who made it out of that room alive.”

A few tears finally spilled down her cheeks as she nodded. 

This was a conversation she’d need to have again and again. Frank understood that. Killing is the kind of demon that carves out a place inside you and doesn’t stop there. It’s a bastard that makes a big ruckus, shakes all your other sleeping monsters from their caves, gets them all out to play. To deal with shit like this, Karen needed to be surrounded by people who love her. She needed to talk about it.

“How did it happen?” 

Karen pressed her lips together. Frank thought she might not answer. He wasn’t sure if he should press her. 

“He set the gun down. It was on the table... between us.” Her eyes lost focus, like she was watching the scene play out in her mind. “He was threatening me. Again. Saying he’d kill everyone I love... if I didn’t print a retraction... if I didn't refuse to hand over my research to the DA. He wanted people’s names.”

She shuddered. 

“I wasn’t going to do it. No matter what. But then… we heard screams down the hall.” Her eyes darted to Frank. 

He nodded. Yeah, that was me. 

“He looked away for a second. And I grabbed the gun.”

Attagirl.

“He didn’t think I would do it. He laughed.” A few more tears spilled down her cheeks. “He even said the gun wasn’t loaded. But… I shot him. And I didn’t stop. ” 

She gasped, past the point of fighting off her emotions. Frank pulled her in. Karen's tears fell on his skin, she shook in his arms. He’d never held a woman like this. A woman he cared about this much, a woman he’d die for. There was a storm inside him. So many things conflicting and colliding. 

He was proud. Not many people would have capitalized on their captor’s momentary distraction to grab the gun. Not many people would have held up under his taunting and pressure. So many people just can’t pull the trigger. But she did. So strong. So brave. But, she was clearly agonized over what she’d done. That was killing him. 

“You did good.” He whispered into her hair. “You did good. You did good.”

Karen let him hold her until her tears stopped and her breathing evened out. Her body relaxed against his. 

She moved so she could see his face. 

“I still can’t believe you came. You were just there, out of nowhere, like a dream.”

“I got there as fast as I could.” His hands make fists in her shirt. “I was going out of my mind. Losing my shit.”

Frank shook his head, knowing she had an up close view of the tips of his ears turning bright red. 

“I’m so glad I found you.” 

He was holding her tighter, couldn’t help it. Her shirt rode up. Frank could feel the hem of her panties as his hand slid to her bare hip. 

“I’m so glad you’re safe.”

“Me too.” 

She was looking at him that way. That way that sent sparks down his spine. Her fingers fluttered up to his face again, tracing his jaw. 

Frank’s hands drifted slowly under her shirt, exploring the smooth expanse of bare skin. Tracking up her spine. His pulse started swirling. Karen’s breath hitched. She slid her leg around one of his. Hell.  

Ping. Ping.

They froze.

Ping. Ping. Ping. Ping.

It was Karen’s phone. She hesitated. 

“Might be important.” He said, releasing his grip on her. 

Half of him wanted to throw the phone out the window and get back to whatever the hell it was that he and Karen were about to do, but half of him knew there were a lot of people who probably needed to talk to Karen about all sorts of urgent things. And somehow, a third half of him was relieved because he didn’t want to rush into anything. She was traumatized. He should give her space… right?

Who the hell knows.  

Karen sighed and rolled to grab her phone from her night stand, her face instantly softening when she saw who was calling. She smiled at Frank.  

“Hey Foggy.” 

Karen stared at Frank, listening to whatever Foggy was saying, giving him occasional yeahs and oks. Frank watched her, wanting to tickle her or something to make her laugh, but resisted the urge.

“That’s probably a good idea. When?”

More listening, but her eyes never left Frank’s face. 

“Sounds good. See you soon. Bye.” 

She hung up and took a breath. 

“OK, so to make sure we slam the new criminal charge of my kidnapping in to the rest of the Fisk case with the DA, it looks like we need to move today. The guys and Ellison are going to come over. Ellison is the best interviewer on the planet- so he’s going to take my statement for a follow up story while the guys take notes for our case.” 

Holy shit. This girl moves fast. Frank sat up.

“You sure you’re up for all that?” 

Karen raked her fingers through her hair. “No. But I don’t want to waste any time in getting the DA everything she needs. We’re taking Fisk down. Now.” 

“Attagirl.” Frank grinned. His girl is so badass. 

Karen’s eyebrows shot up even as she smiled, probably having assumed Frank would fight her on this. But no- he was beyond that now. Fisk had already made the unthinkable move. Now they had to fight back with everything they had. Tooth and nail. Or, if Frank had his way, a bullet would do.

“They’ll be here in a little bit. I need a shower.”

She climbed out of bed and Frank got another look at her long legs. Bare and smooth under that tee shirt. Frank followed her with his gaze like a hypnotized man as she moved from one room to the other. It wasn’t until he heard the water turn on that he snapped out of his daze. 

Goddamn, this girl really spun him around. He wondered what she would do if he just knocked on the bathroom door right now, followed her into the shower, and did any of the fifteen dirty things that were running through his mind. Part of him thought she’d be completely ok with that. They other part… still wasn’t sure that now was the right time. 

Frank leaned back against Karen’s headboard and huffed a laugh at himself. God- Bill would rip him apart if he saw him right now. 

Frank let his body cool off for a minute, then got out of bed and slipped his jeans back on. He didn’t feel like wearing the Metro General sweatshirt, it was too tight. He headed for the living room, treading carefully because he knew there was broken glass. 

That was the first thing that needed to be cleaned up.

He poked around until he found Karen’s broom. It looked like the broken glass was a vase. Frank made a mental note. She needed a new vase. And some flowers to go it in. 

Once the glass was cleaned up, Frank righted the overturned table. He was almost finished gathering all of her scattered papers when Karen emerged from the bathroom. The mist from her shower billowed out the door behind her, making her look like an angel. A wet angel wrapped in a white towel.

Frank- thank you.” She looked a little shy, combing her fingers through her wet hair. “I set some towels out for you, if you want to take a shower.”

Frank set the messy stacks of paper he’d gathered from the floor onto her coffee table and walked over to her. Slow. Liking the feeling of her gaze flickering over his chest. He didn’t stop until he was close enough to smell her skin. Clean and flowery. 

“Thank you.”

She blushed. He loved that he could make her blush. 

“You’re going to need some new clothes.” 

“Yeah.” He shrugged. “Didn’t have time to pack a bag.”

The look she gave him made Frank a little weak in the knees, but then her face split into a small smile. The brightest smile he’d seen since he’d found her yesterday. It was like the sun coming out. 

“Ok, this might seem a little weird.” She turned and headed into her bedroom. 

Frank watched her from the doorway, only halfway listening to her because the sight of her in a towel, stretching up on her tip-toes to reach something in her closet made his brain short circuit. He blinked slowly and by the time he opened his eyes again Karen was standing in front of him with some clothes in her hands. 

“These are for you.” She said, still blushing, almost laughing at her own nerves. “Benesh told me it was starting to get really cold at night… so I wanted to send you something…”

He stared down at bundle of clothes in Karen’s hands. Frank had no words. 

She… She bought him clothes. Frank searched his mind, pretty sure that no one had bought him clothes since he was probably… 14 or 15 years old. He felt a lump in his throat. Another thing that had barely happened since he was a kid. 

Karen thought about him. She thought about him enough to worry  if he was cold and buy him something so he could stay warm. Karen cared about him. How could he possibly have denied that? The defenses he’d tried to build up around himself were coming down around his ears. How many times had he told himself not to get too invested? Not to dare to hope? But he was wrong. 

He’d told himself that his gut was in knots over this girl, but that was a lie. He’d known. From the moment she got him talking in the armory. From the moment she told him about her family. From the moment she laughed at him, glancing at him over her shoulder in the desert sunset… he’d known. 

This thing between them was real. And it was shared. 

“Take them.” She laughed. He’d been just standing there staring at her for way too long. 

Frank took the little bundle and captured her hand beneath his. Karen quirked her brow at him, probably wondering why the sight of a hoodie had apparently given him a stroke. Frank felt jittery, but he leaned in. He kissed her on the cheek. Just a whisper of a kiss. 

She froze. 

He hoped she understood all the things he couldn’t say. The softness in her eyes said she did. Her mouth tipped up.

“All this for a hoodie, huh? I wonder what’ll happen if I make you a cup of coffee?”

He laughed, shaking his head.

“Ma’am, that might be a dangerous idea.” 

They grinned at each other. 

“I’m not scared.” She said, giving him a little shove in the general direction of the bathroom. “Go on.”  

She shut the door to her bedroom, a maddening little smirk on her face. Frank stared at the closed door for a minute vaguely wondering if she’d dropped her towel yet.

He tried to get his head on straight in the shower, but it was difficult. Everything smelled like Karen and flowers and pretty feminine stuff. Don’t focus on that. He didn’t need to get all riled up thinking about Karen in here. He wasn’t about to jerk off in her shower. It just wasn’t gonna happen. 

Karen had bought him a zip up hoodie and some joggers. He felt a little reverent putting them on and halfway wanted to smack himself for being such sentimental shmuck. But still… these were his new favorite clothes. He was glad they fit. He would have worn them even if they didn’t. 

Frank exited the bathroom and followed the scent of coffee to the kitchen. Karen’s back was to him. She was in another loose shirt, but this time she had skin tight leggings on underneath. They looked silky and smooth. He wanted to feel them under his hands. She must have sensed him behind her because she turned, and her face lit up. 

“It fits!” 

“Yeah, thank y-” but he barely got the words out before she ambushed him, slipping her arms around his middle in a hug. Frank’s arms hovered only a split second before he wrapped her up. 

Frank internally barked an order at himself to stop letting every little thing she did blow his mind. 

But he couldn’t help it. She made him feel… what even was it? She made him feel like he was important. Like this was his home and he’d been gone too long. Like he was supposed to be here. How did she do it?

Frank held her. Loving the feel of her in his arms. Finally able to notice the details of having her so close. They were almost the same height. She was very thin, he could lock her against him with one arm. She liked to rub her forehead into his neck right under his jaw. She did it every time he got his arms around her.

He liked it too. 

The little moment of peace was broken by the sound of a key rattling the janky locks on her front door. Frank tensed, but Karen didn’t even lift her head from his shoulder. 

“It’s just the guys. Foggy has keys.” 

Karen was still in his arms as the lawyers entered the kitchen. Foggy was carrying two big bags of groceries and Murdock looked like he had a giant box of donuts. Frank felt a new feeling wash over him. Him and Karen, in soft clothes and bare feet, having people over. Something in his chest was purring. It felt like they were welcoming people into their home. His and hers. Together. 

Foggy set the groceries on Karen’s counter and launched himself at her in a hug. She was laughing. It made Frank smile. He looked over to greet Murdock. The hair on the back of his neck started standing straight up. What-

Murdock had those sunglasses on, but he faced Frank directly. The blind man's face was grim as ever. He looked a little worse for wear. Like he’d been in a fight. Split lip and swollen cheek. 

Frank recognized that split lip instantly even as his mind shouted him down, saying it was impossible. There was no fucking way. 

Karen took a look at Murdock and gasped. 

“God- Matt! What happened to you?” She sped to him, grabbing his shoulder in concern. 

Murdock forced a laugh. “I didn’t know my way around the police precinct. Took a spill.”

Frank couldn’t stop staring as Karen hugged and fussed over Matt. That voice. He knew it. It was the masked man. Murdock was the vigilante Mahoney told him about. How the hell?  

Frank could feel the tension spiking off Matt. Frank sure as shit recognized him, and somehow, Murdock could tell. Frank felt it in his gut- Murdock was silently screaming at him, begging him not to say anything. 

It was the damnedest thing. Just like last night, when they were essentially fighting side by side… he sensed this guy was a friend. He’d saved Frank’s life. And probably everyone else’s by taking down all those guards. Frank would do him a solid. He’d keep quiet. For now. 

Frank was still staring wide eyed at Murdock and was stiff as a board as Foggy came up to give him a quick bro hug. 

“Well, don’t worry, Matt.” Foggy said. “You don’t look half as bad as Frank over here.”

The big cheesy smile melted off of Foggy’s face instantly as he turned back to Frank.

“Not that you look bad or anything. I mean- you look great. Very handsome.” Foggy stammered.

Karen laughed. Even Frank had to crack a smile. 

“At ease, Nelson.” 

Foggy breathed a sigh of relief.

Frank turned his attention back to Murdock. 

“It could have been worse.” He said, meaningfully. “It could have been way worse.”

Murdock nodded. Frank could feel his relief from across the kitchen. Relief that his secret was safe. Frank’s mind was still spinning. 

Karen was selecting a pistachio donut from the box as Foggy started running through the plan for the afternoon. Ellison would arrive in a bit for the interview, but in the meantime the three of them needed to re-organize everything they already had for the DA. They needed it to be 100% perfect before they handed over their research and evidence. 

As he was talking, Karen visibly deflated. 

“It's all a mess right now. When they grabbed me… they kind of ransacked everything.” She sighed and walked over to the living room coffee table and grabbed a messy stack of paper in each hand, shrugging at them all. “Everything is all mixed together. And this isn’t just our Fisk research… it’s all my other stories mixed in too.” 

She tossed the papers back onto the pile, starting to look really upset.

“I don’t even know what’s here. I mean-” She ran both hands through her hair, gripping it at the top of her head. “I tried to keep up and digitize the documents… but I know I didn’t get everything. And I’m sure those bastards took a bunch of it...” 

A few rogue tears escaped down Karen’s cheeks and she swiped at them, irritated. Frank’s stomach lurched at the sight. But before he could tak his first step toward her, Foggy was there in a flash with his hand on her shoulder.

“Hey - we’ll sort it out. It’ll take some time, but I’m sure we still have most of it. We can ask the DA for an extension too if we need to.” Foggy said, reassuringly. 

Murdock was at her side too. 

“Karen, even if we lost some stuff- we have enough on Fisk to bury him forever.” Matt said, his voice fierce  with certainty. “We’re taking him down.” 

Frank looked at the three of them. They were a unit. Like him and Curt and Bill. 

Karen nodded. Eventually smiling with a little prodding from Foggy. She and Foggy knelt down to start sorting through the massive mess of paper. Frank saw his opportunity and took it. 

“Murdock.” He called. 

Matt’s head whipped in his direction. 

“Want some coffee?” 

Matt nodded, somewhat warily. He made his way back to the kitchen with an agility that Frank wasn’t really sure he’d have noticed before, but now it completely fascinated him. 

...How?  

Matt met Frank in the back corner of the kitchen. The two men were silent as Frank poured their coffee. 

“You really blind?” He muttered under his breath, his back to Karen and Foggy over in the living room. 

Murdock exhaled a shallow version of a laugh. 

“Yes.”

Frank gave him the side eye, not completely sure Matt couldn’t see it. 

“How the hell do you fight like that?” 

“It’s a long story.” Murdock said. Kind of like an asshole. 

Luckily, Frank kind of liked assholes. He smirked. 

“I’d like to hear that some time.” He said, holding out Matt’s coffee in mid air, not bringing it straight to his hand as if he were an actual blind man. 

Matt smirked too, snatching his coffee out of Frank’s hand in a flash. 

“Ok.”

They both turned and faced the living room. Watching Karen and Foggy. Keeping their voices low. 

“Devil of Hell’s Kitchen, huh?” 

Matt shrugged. “I didn’t choose the name.”

Frank took a slow sip of his coffee. 

“Do they know?” He asked. Knowing Matt would understand “they” to be Karen and Foggy. 

“No. They can’t know.” For the first time, Matt’s voice got edgy. “It’s to keep them safe. They’d be in danger if they knew. You have to understand that, Frank.” 

Frank nodded. He got it. 

This was a different New York than the one he’d left when he headed out to war so many years ago. It was a different world. There were people with abilities- good and bad- springing up all over the place. To be connected to someone like that would be dangerous. But Frank was watching Karen and Foggy sorting through those piles of paper, taking on an enemy who was every bit as dangerous as any person with “abilities” could be... and it really felt like Matt was underestimating them. 

“I see where you’re coming from, Murdock. Believe me- I do.” Frank said over his mug and took a quick sip. “But those two over there- they’re your team. Wear your mask while you’re out there doing your thing, but don’t wear it with them. You won’t survive.” 

Matt set his jaw stubbornly. Frank knew the look well.

“Listen, I won’t tell them. At least for now. But you should.”

“Thank you.” Matt breathed, leaning back on the counter in relief. 

“No, thank you. ” Frank said, still keeping his voice as low as he could. “You saved all of our lives yesterday. You were there to rescue Karen. I owe you.”

Matt started to shake his head, but Frank cut him off.

“Seriously. You ever need my help- I’m there. I got your back.”

Matt sighed. 

“I don’t think that would work out, Frank. I don’t kill.”

Frank tipped his head, waiting for that flash of irritation to sweep over him the way it did whenever a civilian started talking to him about the ethics of taking a life… but it didn’t come. Murdock was… not really a civilian, was he? No. He was a warrior, with his own code. A code that Frank didn’t really understand, but then again, the only code a man ever understands is his own.

“Well, I do kill.” Frank muttered. “And what I said still stands. You ever need help- I’m there.”

The two men fell silent again. At an impasse, but somehow allies nonetheless.

A burst of excitement drew their attention back to the living room. 

“Yes! Thank you God! Matt, I’m coming to church with you on Sunday!” Foggy shouted. 

Karen was giggling, clutching a giant stack of paper to her chest like a child holding her favorite toy. 

“Matt! We have your braille copies! Those bastards didn’t even touch them!” Karen was overjoyed. Shouting to Matt, beaming at Frank.  

Matt’s stern expression broke into a grin for the first time since Frank met him. He made his way over to the other two.

“Are you sure? It’s all there?” 

“Well, I guess only you will really know once you check it all out.” Karen said, flipping through the pages she had no idea how to read. “But it looks like a complete set- it's still all clipped together.” 

“That’s amazing.” Matt said, settling down between Foggy and Karen on the carpet in front of all the entire paper mess. Karen handed him the stacks and he began running his fingers over the pages. 

“That’s at least 90% of all of our research right there,” Foggy said, pointing at the pages in Matt’s hands. “We’ll still need to sort the rest of this out- but what a freaking stroke of luck! Matthew Murdock saves the day!” 

“Cheers to that.” Frank said from the kitchen, tipping his mug toward the living room before taking another sip.

Frank was feeling uncharacteristically fond of the lawyers. They put smiles on his girl’s face. And importantly, they brought donuts. 

Frank was starving. He polished off a glazed in 3 massive bites, but tried to take a little more time on the bear claw. He closed his eyes, savoring it. Coffee and donuts on an afternoon in New York. Goddamn, he’d missed small things like this. And to top it all off, he got to enjoy it all while watching his girl smile at him over the rim of his mug. 

There was a knock at the door. All three heads in the living room popped up, but Frank waved them down. 

“Got it.” He called, swallowing a mouthful of apple fritter. 

The man on the other side of the door peered at Frank over his glasses looking a little bored. 

“You’ve got to be Frank Castle. I’m Karen’s boss.”

Ah, Ellison. 

Frank almost extended his hand, but held back as Ellison sized him up. 

“I pictured you taller.” He said, then cracked a smile. “But everything else seems just about right.” 

Frank had no response. He just stepped aside and let the guy in. He followed Ellison to Karen’s living room and watched as Karen got all choked up at seeing him.

Ellison looked down at her with a grumpy set to his face that was proved null and void as she popped up from the floor and rushed at him with a hug. Once they broke apart he resumed his bland, slightly exasperated demeanor, which apparently everyone was immune to at this point- so Frank decided to be immune to it as well. 

Ellison took the armchair, the lawyers spread out on the floor, Frank joined Karen on the couch. The other three men in the room got out notebooks, recorders, and computers so they could jot things down as Karen spoke, but all Frank had to do was sit there and be supportive. He had no doubt that it was probably too soon for Karen to be forcing herself to relive the nightmare of the last few days, but this was what she wanted to do. He wasn’t going to fight her on it. He just needed to be there, next to her, ready if she needed anything. 

At Ellison’s prompting, Karen started with the abduction that had happened here in this very room. It had been terrifying. Four men in ski masks, busting through her door, tackling her down even as she fought with everything she had. None of her neighbors responding to her screams. The last thing she remembered was one of the men covering her nose and mouth with a cloth while the others were tearing her research apart. 

She was shaking by the end of that. Frank got up to grab her a coffee. Just holding the hot mug might make it easier for her to talk about all this shit. He doubted anything would make it easier for him to hear it.

Frank could barely handle it as she described the next 2 days. She’d woken up in a pitch black room, handcuffed to a chair. She had no concept of time in there. Frank knew what torture that could be. Hearing her describe it made his chest ache, it was hard to breathe. It sounded like there were two interrogators. Classic technique. One would scream and threaten and terrorize. The other was civil, kind in a way. This was Wesley. He hadn’t introduced himself, but Karen knew him from all the digging she’d done into Fisk’s life. Wesley was Fisk’s number two. The only one Fisk truly trusted. A protege and a partner, and perhaps some version of family. 

Karen told Ellison exactly what she’d told Frank: Wesley wanted her to print a retraction, refuse to work with the DA, and hand him all of the evidence she had on Fisk- including names of sources and collaborators. She refused. So, every so often Bad Cop would bust into the room where she was being held, blasting lights into her sensitized eyes, shouting and cursing and scaring the shit out of her. Then, Wesley would follow with kinder words and some sort of gift, like uncuffing her, or a glass of water. One time, Bad Cop had even started slapping her in the face and Wesley came in like her knight in shining armor and called him off. A fantastic performance by both actors. 

Frank was nauseated. He could see it on Murdock’s and Foggy’s faces as well. But Karen… she was so strong. She was clear eyed, concentrating on getting Ellison all the info he needed. She was alive and in the moment, her confidence growing- not waning.

Goddamn. She’s incredible. She’s super human. 

Ellison was a master. His interview was a work of art. His questions were perfectly timed, flawlessly in flow. He kept her focused, veering away when something had the potential to tangent or get too emotional, leaning back in when the time was right. He managed to be almost invisible while still guiding Karen along. 

Karen was so in the zone. It was surreal listening to her describe her experience of seeing Frank burst through the door, of how she felt when he touched her, and held her, and taken her away from that terrible place. Frank hung on every word. He wished they were alone. He wished could hold her, or kiss her, or do something .

Once Karen’s story was over, the atmosphere relaxed remarkably. 

Karen, the lawyers, and Ellison naturally turned their conversation back to their case and how they were going to package up all of their research to present to the DA. Matt and Foggy seemed to have very different opinions on strategy for this and they all needed to come to a consensus. 

At this point, Frank truly had nothing to contribute to the conversation. He could have felt like a 5th wheel, but Karen wouldn’t allow that. She kept him along for the ride, sometimes completely stopping the flow of the legal conversation in order to give Frank more context about whatever the hell they were talking about. Other times she kept him connected in more subtle ways, just eye contact, a touch to his hand or leg. She eventually scooted closer so she could lean into his side. Frank draped his arm around her on the back of the couch. From there… he wasn’t even listening to what they were discussing anymore. He was paying more attention to the rise and fall of her breathing, the feel of her pressed against him, the shapes her mouth made as she spoke.  

Karen was in his arms in front of, essentially, the most important people in her life. It was an honor. 

It was a turn on. 

It was something about possession. He didn’t want to believe he was such a caveman… but hell. A woman this strong, this smart, this brave and good and gorgeous, leaning on him, welcoming him, wanting him. It made him want to beat his chest, to roar, to plant a flag on the top of her building. 

She’s mine.  

Jesus Christ- ease up… Frank internally checked himself. Now is not the time to be thinking all that. They haven’t even really discussed their relationship. Not really. Besides, there were three other guys here- all working right now to help Karen out. He should be helping to. He could do something useful. 

“I’ll make dinner.” He said, pressing a quick kiss to her hair before getting up. It was almost an accident, an instinct. 

Karen nodded after him, blushing. 

Frank headed to the kitchen with his ears burning and was grateful to hear Murdock heroically turn their conversation back to the case and the task at hand. Goddamn, Karen turned him into a nervous red faced teenager. And shit- it felt good.

Frank distracted himself by sorting through the groceries Foggy had brought over. Between what Foggy brought and what Karen already had in her kitchen it looked like he’d be able to make some fettuccine alfredo with chicken and garlic bread. Nice. Frank got to work. He loved cooking. It was one of the things he missed most when he was on active duty. 

The conversations in the living room still drifted over to him in the kitchen, but he mostly tuned it out. He focused on his noodles and the sauce and mincing garlic. He liked poking around Karen’s kitchen and finding all her stuff. He set the table for five, noting how none of Karen’s plates and cups matched. Everything was themed- a plate from Niagara Falls, a bowl from the The Smithsonian, a wine glass from Vegas… they were probably all places she’d visited. It was cute. 

He didn’t have to announce dinner was ready for everyone to suddenly gather around the table. It had gotten dark and Karen turned on all her lamps, casting a warm glow over everything. Living on base, Frank had grown accustomed to eating at a table full of people, but this was different. This was a home. This was a family table. This was a family dinner. 

It felt significant. It felt nice.

There was no more talk of the case. They were laughing and gossiping about people from work. Everyone was piling on Foggy about some girl. A fast-paced, high-priced uptown lawyer lady who’d apparently set her sights on Foggy and everyone else could see it except for him. Frank couldn’t help but laugh as the kid blushed and stuttered and tried to argue. It reminded him of Curt and Bill pestering him about Karen. It’s what good friends do. Apparently. 

The food was good, but Frank wasn’t able to eat much. Karen’s presence at his side was distracting. She kept looking at him. Catching his eye in this way… it was doing little things to his belly. He was trying not to stare, but he loved looking at her. Seeing her face was not something he was ready to take for granted yet. He loved watching her eat the food he made for her. Loved watching her fingers flutter up to her lips while she laughed and chewed at the same time. Her eyes held so many different colors of blue.

Everyone’s plates were pretty much clear and they were all sipping wine out of mismatched glasses when Karen’s hand slipped under the table to find his. She entwined their fingers. It sent sparks through him. She was smiling, her eyes a new shade of cloudy blue. She watched him drink his wine. Frank silently thanked his sniper instructors that the hand holding his glass didn’t shake. 

Eventually Ellison rose, saying he needed to get home. The lawyers stretched and said the same. 

Karen walked them to the door to say her goodbyes, but Frank was stuck to his chair. Suddenly nervous. His lungs filling with butterflies. 

He and Karen were about to be alone. Really alone. And no one was crying, no one was scared or hurt. They had time. Alone. Together. Even from across the world, Frank found himself in a constant state of wanting Karen all to himself. Now he was finally going to have her.

And he was breaking out into a sweat. He felt like a goddamn teenager again. Karen Page was going to give him a heart attack. 

Get it together, man.

Karen was still staying goodbyes and making plans with the guys at the door. He needed distraction. The butterflies in his chest were starting to feel more like caged birds, flapping all around like crazy. He started clearing the table, bringing all the plates and cups to the sink. 

This helped. Action always helped. 

... Maybe he should go run a few laps around the block. 

Frank was standing at the sink rinsing off the dishes when he could feel Karen, suddenly close behind him. 

She popped her head around his shoulder. “I thought the cook wasn’t supposed to clean.” 

The fluttering in his chest spiked again. He couldn’t even turn around to face her. He felt like he was fucking thirteen. 

“I’m not about to leave a mess in your house, Ma’am.” 

Karen laughed and took a few steps away sliding herself up on to the counter so she had a good view to watch him work. 

“Well thank you, Sir. It’s so nice to have a full service houseguest.” 

Full service… God. Frank tried not to react to that, glancing at her from the side of his eye. She had this mischievous little smile. She was messing with him. He loved it, despite the havoc it wreaked on his respiratory system.  

He kept working and she kept watching. He knew she was fully aware that her staring was making him nervous. Riling him up. After a while, it felt like a challenge. And there- that felt familiar. Frank’s blood started to hum with the familiar warmth of adrenaline. Frank liked a challenge. His girl put a little fight in his veins. Much obliged, Karen.  

“You missed a spot.” She chirped from her perch on the countertop. 

Frank turned off the water, trying to keep a straight face. “Where?”

“Over here.” She said. Daring him. 

Sweetheart… 

He refused to break eye contact as he stepped up to her, as he made space for himself between her knees. He set both hands on the counter, trapping her inside his arms. 

“Right here?”

She nodded, biting her lip. She probably had some more sass to fire at him, but he didn’t give her the chance. He kissed her. Really kissed her. 

Frank kissed Karen like he’d been wanting to, needing to, for months now. He slanted his mouth over hers and drank from her like she was the sweetest water. Karen let out a little gasp that made every fluttering, flailing thing in his chest take flight and he was filled back up with pure heat. His arms locked around her, his hands finally able to touch and feel and squeeze. Karen’s hands made fists in his sweatshirt, then drifted up to his neck, his face. 

Frank couldn’t get enough. Her tongue dancing with his sent his blood swirling around in his head. His hands skimmed down her back, over her hips and thighs. He grabbed her under the knees and dragged her to the very edge of the counter so her body was flush against his, so he could feel all of her. She sighed at the contact reaching to work the zipper of his hoodie. Once she got it down, Karen was scrabbling at his shoulders wanting it off him, wanting his bare skin. Frank threw it, his skin sparking under Karen’s hands as they slid and carressed and grabbed hold everywhere she could reach. He was covered in bruises, but embraced the pain. Somehow, as he felt his body lighting up under Karen’s touch, even the aches felt good. 

Frank broke the kiss, dropping down to Karen’s neck, finally tasting her skin. His hands made their way back up her body, under her shirt this time, loving the silky smooth of her skin. A couple of pounding heartbeats later and her shirt was on the floor with his. 

It was like an out of body experience, watching her reach behind her back, tracking the decent of her bra straps down her shoulders, the flick of her wrist as she tossed it away. Jesus, Karen- 

She was too beautiful. 

Her breath hitched as he touched her, both hands cupping her. It was a moment in slow motion before he crushed her to him again. Frank groaned at the feeling of her skin against his, her breasts sliding against his chest, her thighs tight around his hips as she crossed her ankles behind his back. 

God. 

It was incredible. 

Franks mouth took hers again and again and again. And Karen keened the first time he took her breast in his mouth. She shivered as he toyed with her nipple using his tongue, his teeth. Frank felt like his entire body was coursing with electricity, like his energy alone could power on every lightbulb in New York. 

Karen was wrapped around him so tight. Making such sweet little noises. He needed more. Her legs were already locked around his hips. It was the easiest thing in the world to grab her ass and squeeze. He picked her up, ready to take her to bed. 

He made it through the bedroom door when Karen moaned. She could feel him pressed right up against her heat. She could feel what she’d done to him, how hard she made him, how completely at her mercy he was. She ground down on him, nearly making his knees buckle. Frank slammed her into the wall with a groan, grinding back against her, unable to stop himself. He was panting against her neck, grazing her collar bone with his teeth. 

Holy shit - he wanted to fuck her against a wall. Not this time, but soon. Soon.  

He pushed away from the wall and set her down on the bed gently, hoping like hell he hadn’t been too rough with her against the wall. Judging by the look in her eyes and her nipples so tight and hard, pointing straight at him, up against the wall had been just rough enough. 

Karen looked up, her eyes so hungry it made his blood boil. She reached for the drawstring of his joggers but he caught her wrists quickly. He had to close his eyes to gather his thoughts. He didn’t even have an extra set of clothes on him, let alone anything else useful… 

“Kare… condoms?” 

She blinked at him, breathing heavy.

“I have some. But I have an IUD so…” She bit her lip. “I just want you.”

Franks vision tunneled. If he was any more turned on he might just black out. 

The joggers disappeared in seconds. He dropped to his knees running his hands along Karen’s thighs, squeezing her hips, and finally sinking his fingers into the waistband of her leggings. They were so tight. Watching her shimmy to help him peel them off was… god damn. He’d be replaying that in his mind for the rest of his life..

When the leggings were finally flicked away with one last wiggle of her toes, Frank made his move. Kissing and licking her belly. Nipping at her thighs, spreading her legs so he could settle between them, determined to make her forget her own name. To make her scream his. Hell yes, Sweetheart…  

But before he could plant his first kiss at her center, Karen called to him.

“Frank…” Her voice was all breath. “Next time. Please- next time. But I just can’t fucking wait any longer.” 

She was trying to pull him up the bed by the shoulders even though he was too heavy. It made him want to laugh, but he didn’t. He climbed up the bed where she wanted him. Fuck- he’d do whatever she asked. She rolled him over onto his back and straddled him. Whoa. Frank dug both hands into her hair and kissed her like he’d been starving for her, like she was the air he needed to breathe. She matched him. Karen’s kiss was just as ravenous, just as desperate. 

Karen leaned back, sitting up tall on his lap. She raked her hair all to one side, letting him feast his eyes on her. She wrapped her hand around his cock, stroking him while he struggled to remember how to breathe. She rose. Line them up. Frank’s hands curled around her thighs. She waited until they locked eyes before sinking down on him. Slowly, inch by inch, rocking her hips until she had all of him.

Holy- God. 

Frank groaned, not sure if he’d called out to the heavens in his mind or if the words had actually left his mouth. She felt so fucking good. So hot and wet and perfect… Karen.

She was rocking up and down, up and down, occasionally throwing in a swivel in her hips that made Frank see stars. He was lost to it, to the whole thing. The feel of her, the sight of her, the sounds she made, the synchronicity between their bodies. Perfect rhythm. He was thrusting up meeting her right as she ground down on. Even their breathing was in tandem.

This woman.

Frank sat up, clutching her to him, kissing her breasts, her neck, her mouth, anything he could reach as he sought leverage to give it to her better, harder. Karen moaned. Fucking beautiful. 

Frank fell back onto the bed and Karen leaned over him, riding hard and fast. Frank’s body was on fire. If she kept this up he was going to lose it. Too good.  

The little noises slipping from Karen’s lips were growing sharper, needier.  And suddenly she was rolling them over. Frank hovered above her as she stared up at him, biting her lip. 

“I need you, Frank.” She whispered, like it was a dark secret. “I’ve thought about this so many times, in this bed… imagining what it would be like.”

Frank focused on her mouth, not wanting to miss a single word as she murmured and moaned under him. 

“But now you’re here.” She breathed. “And… I need you to make me feel it. I need to know you’re really here.” 

Frank nodded, shuddering with how insanely hot she was in this exact moment, and completely understanding how she felt. He felt the same way, this entire damn thing… it was like a dream. He was constantly reminding himself that this was really happening.

He kissed her, and she moaned into his mouth. He could feel and engine inside him roaring to life, revving up to peel out. Sweetheart, you’re gonna feel it… 

Frank wound one hand into her hair, the other slid down to her hip, grabbing hold. He reared back. So slow. He waited until she whimpered, practically begging him with her eyes to give her what she wanted- and then he slammed forward rocking her entire body. 

The most gorgeous sound burst from her lips.

He reared back again, let it build, then slammed forward with a powerful thrust earning another one of Karen’s sweet moans. 

“Like that?” He grunted.

Karen nodded, her mouth still open in a gasp. He thrust again.

“You feel that?” He whispered against the side of her face. 

“Yes!”  

And Frank let himself loose. He made sure she felt it, made sure she knew this was real. He gave it to her as hard and fast as he could. It was euphoria- he’d never felt this freedom in his life. And Karen was right there with him, taking it so good. Clinging to him and egging him on. It was chaos inside him, the good kind. The kind that made him stronger, better, more alive. 

Karen’s body was fused to his. At one point she dug in with her nails right into the big bruise on his back where he’d been hit with a crowbar last night. Frank hissed in pain. Karen let go immediately, wincing.

“Shit- I’m sorry!”

Frank shook his head, not slowing his pace one bit. 

“I don’t care.” He kissed her, his tongue delving into her mouth, tasting her essence. “Hold on to me. Hurt me. Just don’t let go. Don’t let go.”

She circled her arms back around him, holding on tight. God- it was perfection. Frank could feel the tightening inside him, he was nearing his end. He could feel Karen tensing up too, her breathing getting more and more sporadic. He needed Karen to come with him. He fucking craved it.

“Feel it.” He groaned. “Feel it, Sweetheart.”

She whimpered, she arched.

“Yeah, Karen- feel it all.” He urged her on, summoning strength from who knows where to thrust a little harder, a little faster…

And then she was shivering, shaking with her release. It set him off like a goddamn cannon blast. Her name ripped from his throat. He thrust. He shook. He spent himself completely before he finally floated back down to earth and collapsed next to her.

Neither of them moved, neither created space. They laid, side by side. Each watching the other’s breathing return to normal. Each studying the other’s skin. For Frank, looking wasn’t enough. He needed to touch. 

Karen was on her back with her hair fanned out over her pillows. Frank leaned up beside her so he could lay his palm flat on her belly, run his knuckles along her ribs, caress her nipple with the tip of his finger. She let him touch, smiling so soft. 

She was so open to him. 

Her vulnerability rocked him. Everything she said… it made his heart expand and ache. How did she to it? How did she just open her beautiful mouth and tell him such sweet, honest, real things? To be in bed with a woman and have her tell him exactly what she needed, to have her confess how many times she’d thought about fucking him, the way that made him feel…  Karen Page was amazing. There were no words for it. 

Except- maybe there should be words for it. 

The ‘Karen’ spot in his chest ached. She made it so easy. She was so damn transparent with him. It doubled his confidence, tripled his desire. He wanted to make her feel that way too. 

“Karen.” 

His fingers tracing the lines of her body had almost lulled her to sleep, but her eyes flickered open when she heard his voice. Her eyes were a hazy blue this time. 

Frank was running his fingers on a slow track down the valley between her breasts to her belly button and back up. He focused on that, not quite able to look her in the eyes while he tried to say what he wanted to say. 

“I want you to know… that I thought about this just as much as you did. Probably more.” 

He let his eyes flick up to hers for a second. She was wide eyed, listening. He looked back at his fingers on her body.

“From the day we met- I never stopped thinking about you. And I told myself to stop. To have a professional relationship with the pretty reporter lady, but I couldn’t help it.” 

She let out a little laugh. So did he.

“Professional or not. I thought about this.” He spread his hand wide over her belly, moved it slowly over her silky skin, to cup her breast, rubbing his thumb over her nipple. “This.”

Her lips parted, she started breathing a little faster. “Really?”

“Yeah. You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.” Frank let his hand drift away from her breast, down her side to her hip. He squeezed. “Every time I closed my eyes, just picturing you. Imagining.” 

Karen bit her lip. Her nipples pebbling. She liked this.

Frank felt a zip of heat run up his spine. He let his hand drift lower, all the way down to her knee, then back up her thighs. Slowly. 

“After that time with you on the phone, hearing you breathe and moan… I was done for.” 

Franks hand reached the apex of her thighs. He and Karen locked eyes at the exact moment he dipped his finger in. 

Shit. She was soaking wet and scorching hot. His girl… so fucking hot. 

Karen whimpered as he started circling his fingers. His pace was relaxed, but Karen was so keyed up, she already looked halfway gone. She was so damn responsive to him. Christ. It was intoxicating. Franks blood was starting to sizzle. 

“It’s been all I can think about. You, here in this bed, touching yourself like this. Wishing it was me.” 

She gasped as he began circling a little faster, her hands starting to make fists in the bedsheets. 

“That’s what you wished, wasn’t it?” 

Karen nodded rapidly.

Frank didn’t know how he was doing this, but he couldn’t stop now, the words just kept coming to him. 

“That’s so fucking hot, Karen.” He murmured in her ear. “You, writhing in this bed, thinking about me. Getting to make you come from halfway across the world.” 

Karen moaned again her fists moving from the bedsheets to her hair. Frank rubbed faster.  

“And now I finally get to touch you, Sweetheart.” Frank looked into her eyes. “You like my hands on you?”

“Yes. So much.” She whimpered. 

 All he could do was growl. She was so fucking perfect. Karen was close- so close. He could feel it. 

“Good. That’s so good.” He kissed her neck, her jaw. “You like it so much that you’re gonna come for me, aren’t you?” 

She gasped.

Frank’s fingers pressed and circled, he didn’t dare take his eyes off her face, wanting to watch it all play out. She was starting to shake.

“Yes.” Faster, a little harder. “You’re gonna come for me. Right now. Come on, Karen-”

She came unglued. Writhing against his hand, burying her face in his neck and nearly sobbing her release. It was beautiful. So intense. So real. 

Frank kissed her hair as she came down. Too damn satisfied with himself. 

Once she could breathe again, Karen leaned back, studying Frank like she hadn’t seen him in 10 years. It made him nervous. 

“Lt. Castle.” She drawled out, blushing and smiling. “Holy shit.” 

Frank laid back, hoping like hell he didn’t look as smug as he felt. He shrugged.

“I’m a full service house guest.”

Her laugh probably woke the neighbors.

Fuck ‘em.

Chapter Text

Frank was barefoot in the kitchen, scooping heaping tablespoons of coffee into Karen’s machine. He was making the coffee out of ritual, because he loved coffee and he wanted it. Not because he needed it. He was 100% wide awake. His mind sharp. His blood humming in his veins. Feeling better than he’d felt in… no idea how long. 

Frank pressed ‘start’ on the coffee maker, not knowing exactly why he was fighting against the smile tugging at his lips. There was no one around to see his shit eating grin, no one around to call him out on looking like the most arrogant bastard alive. 

He looked over his shoulder towards Karen’s room. The door was cracked open. His girl slept inside, beautiful and exhausted. His grin grew bigger. If Bill could see his face right now… 

He couldn’t help it. Frank was feeling smug. Last night had been amazing. So perfect. So unbelievably hot. Frank hadn’t had sex in… shit- a long time. He was proud of himself. Karen’s blissed out expressions flickered behind his eyes, the sounds she’d made echoed in his ears… He’d done well. 

Despite the fact that they’d worn each other out, the time change between here and Afghanistan was doing Frank no favors. He woke up around 4:30am feeling like it was midday. He watched Karen sleep for a long time, memorizing the lines and curves of her face, but eventually accepted that he was not going to be joining her in sleep again. His military trained body wouldn’t allow it. So, he crept out of bed for a shower. He’d worked up quite a sweat last night. 

Frank searched the kitchen cabinets looking for a mug, but his gaze was unfocused. His mind’s eye was picturing something else entirely. 

He was reliving the moment in the shower when his eyes were closed, head bent down under the warm water as he rinsed sweet smelling soap from his chest, when he’d heard a soft click . Frank’s eyes opened to see Karen slipping into the shower with him. She gave him a small smile before stepping under the water herself, tipping her head back under the spray. His eyes tracked all the the little rivers than began trickling over her body, down the smooth curves and planes of her. Quite a sight. She was not a temptation he could resist.

Frank bit the inside of his cheek, remembering. 

He devoured her, loving the combination taste of clean water and Karen’s skin. The taste of her. He’d gotten one of her thighs up on his shoulder as he licked and kissed and served her on his knees like she was his queen. Karen had to grab for anything she could hold on to, his shoulders, his head, her own breasts. She was holding on for dear life. She shattered against his tongue. Not just once. Frank didn’t stop until she was gasping his name, begging him for a break. 

When he got to his feet, his face was more wet from Karen than from the shower. She’d kissed him with some fight in her, nipping at his lower lip, taking his earlobe between her teeth. That set him off. He had Karen pinned to the wet tiles, his body reacting before his mind could catch up. Finally fucking her up against the wall like he’d imagined a thousand times. The warm water spraying at his back, Karen so deliciously slippery at his front. It was so much better than any day dream. 

What a way to start the day. 

Frank poured his coffee, smiling to himself again, thinking of Karen as they came down from their high. She’d been putty in his hands, wrecked in the best way possible. He had to carry her back to bed. He dried her off enough to make sure she wouldn’t be uncomfortable, getting the sheets all wet. She was asleep again before he finished tucking her in. Understandable.

Frank had put Karen back to bed around 6am. It was nearing 7 now. He knew Curt would be up. It was so damn good to hear Curt’s voice when he answered the phone. Frank filled him in on everything, that Karen was ok and every single asshole involved was either behind bars or buried by now. Curt had the decency not to make a big thing of it when he asked Frank where he was staying and Frank told him he was at Karen’s place. But he could hear the grin in Curt’s voice. Frank inquired about the beautiful, bossy Nurse Claire and Frank knew Curt could hear his grin, too. They made plans for Frank to come visit tomorrow. 

Now he was on the phone with Bill, explaining much of the same things he’d just told Curtis. The glaring difference in the conversation was that once Bill knew everyone was alive and well, he was completely focused on digging for dirty details. Typical. 

Frank stretched his neck from one side to the other. 

He was never one to participate when the guys would start talking about their sex lives, bragging about their conquests and wild nights and the ladies that had starred in them. But in this moment, Frank kind of understood why the rest of the guys couldn’t shut up about it. To make a beautiful, powerful, sensual woman moan… It made him want to shout it to anyone who would listen, to howl it at the moon. Hell, maybe he really was some sort of caveman.

“Good?” Bill asked, incredulous. “That’s all you’re going to give me? Good?”  

Frank rolled his eyes. 

“Dammit Frank- I drove you to the airbase at about 100 miles an hour- you owe me more info, man.” Bill paused. “... You guys have hooked up, right?”

Frank didn’t answer, knowing it would annoy the shit out of Bill.

“You’re not playing some sort of old fashioned, polite, waiting for the third date sort of thing, are you?”

Frank’s mind flashed to a few images of this morning in the shower. He laughed. Still not answering.

“... Frankie.”   

“Alright, alright.” Frank huffed through his laugh. “Yeah. We did. We... are.” 

Frank could hear Bill’s sigh of relief.

“Thank God. And?

For a split second, Frank wanted to tell Bill absolutely everything, in explicit detail, but the urge passed as soon as it came. 

“She’s amazing.” Frank said, his heart filling up just thinking about Karen. “This girl… she makes my knees knock. I’m crazy about her. I think… “

I don’t want to leave.

Frank didn’t say the last part of that sentence, but he was pretty sure Bill heard it anyway. Instead of some wry comment or joke, Bill was silent for a while. 

“That’s great, Frank.” Bill said, his voice as sincere as Frank had ever heard. “This is big.”

Frank nodded. “Yeah. This is big.”

“So, what are you going to do?” 

“Not sure.”

“That’s ok. You’ll figure it out.” Bill said, reassuringly. “Just enjoy the time you have now. Live it up. Oh- you should get her to call you Sir.” 

Frank froze, his coffee mug halfway to his mouth. “What?” 

“In bed. Trust me- you’ll love it.” Bill said, having flipped a page in his mind so quickly that Frank could barely keep up.  “Any military word play, really. Always good.”

Frank snapped his eyes shut, grimacing. Bill was on a roll.

“You know, you’re the Drill Sergeant and she’s the recruit… or hell, the other way around if that’s what you’re into-”

Frank hung up. 

Jesus Bill.

Frank almost had his coffee to his mouth again when a pair of thin, soft arms wrapped around his middle from behind. He felt a warm kiss on his bare shoulder. That good ache spread through him. 

“Good morning.” Karen said, lovely and low. 

Frank turned in her arms so he could face her. Instead of returning the greeting, he kissed her upturned face. 

“Who were you talking to?” She asked as he pulled away. She pressed her forehead into that spot she liked right underneath his jaw. 

“Bill.” 

“And you hung up on him?”

Frank huffed a laugh and pulled her close. “With Billy, sometimes that’s for the best.” 

Frank could feel her smile against his skin before she kissed his neck. God. It felt so natural to be with her. Like they’d already had a thousand mornings in her kitchen. Like he was supposed to be here. Like he’d always been here. 

“I like this look, Frank.” She said, giving him a once over. He was only wearing joggers at the moment. “No shirt. No shoes. Full Service.” 

Frank’s laugh was choked off as she leaned to kiss his collarbone, her fingers skimming his hips in a way that threatened to make him break out into a sweat. 

He tipped her chin up with a finger. “Plans today?” 

She smiled at him. Just a small smile, but it pierced through him like rays of light. 

“I just texted Ellison and the guys. Cancelled all my plans.” Her eyes grew dark somehow. “It's just us all day.” 

Frank’s mind could have gone all sorts of places with this new information, but Karen’s kiss sent his thoughts fluttering away like startled birds. 

She rocked him. Karen came at him slow, almost calculatingly slow, but every move was so hungry and heavy that Frank felt like he was being ambushed. 

Overwhelmed. 

Her kisses were stealing his breath. Her hands were lighting him up. Every time he tried to grab hold of her, she’d surge, retreat, out flank him in some way to the point where his head was spinning. He didn’t know what was going on. He was caught up in her whirlwind.

Frank didn’t notice she’d been walking him backward until he hit the counter, and he found he was glad to have something so solid behind him, something stable to ground him as Karen swirled all around him like smoke. Frank snatched her face, holding on with both hands, wanting to find his footing, but Karen had no mercy. The moment he found some semblance of control holding her in place, her hands dipped into his pants. She caught him so off balance. He hadn’t even realized she already had him hard as a rock. Her hand wrapping around him was a sudden shock and so fucking good- he barely recognized the grunt that erupted from his throat. She had him weak in the knees.

Frank had never known how much he depended on being in control until this moment, how it kept him safe in his comfort zone. His girl taking charge was blowing his mind. He was hers. All hers. 

She didn’t give him a moment to breathe, not a moment to get his head on straight. Her hands worked on him as he screwed his eyes shut and made fists in her hair. He was lost in it, when suddenly she retreated again, leaving him dizzy and disoriented. Without knowing how she got there, Karen was on her knees in front of him. 

Frank felt like he’d been kicked in the head. Karen…

She looked up at him, still working him over in her hands. In that moment, Frank felt like he needed to tell her something, but he had no idea what… and his mouth couldn’t form words anyway. All that came out was a growl. She smiled, gave him a little kiss. 

Jesus-

She took him in her mouth. His hands went to her hair automatically, it was just a reflex. Karen’s eyes closed, but Franks were wide open. He didn’t want to miss a moment. Of all the things he thought about in the armory, the hundred scenarios he’d imagined a hundred times… this is probably what he’d thought about most. He couldn’t help it- even while he was trying to deny how he felt about her. She had such full lips and… It was something about being wanted. Something about the way he’d imagine her looking up at him with those sky blue eyes- the way she was looking up at him right now. God… 

Frank was barely aware of the sounds coming out of his mouth, but when he did hear them they were desperate… was that even his voice? 

Karen was so good, playing him like an instrument, dragging it out. She’d get him right to the brink and then slow down to the point he thought he’d have to beg her, to plead, to promise her anything. But she never let it get that far, she was sweet to him and gave him what he wanted. She waited until he was muttering a nonstop stream of filthy words under his breath and one hand had to leave her hair in order to grip the countertop before she finally pushed him over the edge. 

He came hard. And loud. As Frank recovered, panting and leaning back on the counter because his legs felt like rubber, he found himself vaguely hoping that none of Karen’s neighbors were home. They would have gotten an earful.

Karen rose with a smug little smile, probably just about as smug as Frank’s had been this morning as he was priding himself over wrecking Karen in the shower. She should be smug. She’d just wrecked the hell out of him.   

She leaned in like she was going to kiss him, but passed his lips and whispered in his ear, “Did I make your knees knock?”

Frank’s eyes popped wide. She’d heard him on the phone with Bill. The back of his mind started flailing, trying to remember what he’d said, what else she might have heard. But the bulk of him saw the humor in her eyes, the affection. Whatever he’d said had been well received. 

“Yes Ma’am. I may never recover.” 

She smiled and winked and took cute little barefoot steps across the kitchen to get herself some coffee. Frank glanced at the clock and his eyebrows rose in an amused, dazed sort of way. 

8:23am.




The fairly heart pounding morning led to a soft, relaxed day. Karen and Frank hovered around each other, talking like they normally did in their phone calls. A stream of consciousness back and forth, floating on a river of connection with no particular destination in mind. Hours wonderfully wasted.  

They ordered food. They curled together on the couch and let the TV carry on the conversation for a while. They enjoyed the simple pleasure of being so close, of laying together. Frank was stretched out and Karen was draped over him, her head on his chest. Frank’s fingers carded through and twirled her hair absently as his mind wandered. 

He wanted to freeze this moment in time. Right now, the world was perfect. This was everything he ever wanted. Live it up, Bill had said. Frank closed his eyes, trying to memorize this exact moment. 

It was hard though. Frank’s mind, his every instinct, was bent toward strategy. Frank lived in a perpetual state of assessing his status, of figuring out the best next steps and charging forward. In the back of his mind, like a dripping faucet, was a constant little reminder that this wasn’t real life. This was some fluke, a diversion from his true trajectory. 

Frank had been alone for almost half of his life at this point. A Marine at 18. No family, no commitments, nothing to lose. In a way, Frank had been invincible. Fully devoted to his mission and his team, he had no fear. Now, holding this girl in his arms… he had something that could tear him apart, but he didn’t want to let go. 

He didn’t even know what he would do as a civilian… Last time he applied for a job he’d been 17 years old, bussing tables at the diner near his house, working longer and longer hours because when he went home the house was empty. Frank’s eyes squeezed tighter even though they were already shut, remembering how he couldn’t wait to graduate, to get the hell away from that cold, dark house. 

The Marines had saved him. He found his place there and truly hadn’t imagined leaving. Shit- not too long ago Frank had felt a little acid in his belly thinking about what it would be like to retire- even the thought of having to retire in the distant future had made him nervous about what he would do with himself. The thought of getting his discharge, of choosing to leave… it was new and insane. 

But the thought of not being with Karen was worse. Way worse. 

Frank’s arms tightened around her and Karen wiggled her forehead into that spot under his jaw. 

Of course, a lot of this depended on a conversation they still hadn’t really had. He shouldn’t get ahead of himself and start worrying about getting his discharge while he hadn’t even heard her say she wanted him to stay. Yeah, he was beyond the point of worrying if she cared about him or not, but he didn’t want to just blindside her by rearranging his entire life to be closer to her. It was pretty intense. He didn’t want to freak her out or scare her off. 

He kissed the top of her head, wishing he had her gift for words. That he could just open up his mouth and tell her what he was thinking, ask her how she felt, lay it all bare. But the words choked him. They got all tangled up in his chest. 

Karen chose that moment to stretch on top of him, leaning up so she could peek at him with a little cringe. 

“I just remembered some stuff I wanted to prep for Ellison. Do you mind if I work a little bit?”

He stroked her cheek with his knuckle. “Go get ‘em.” 

She smiled. They both readjusted so they were sitting side by side rather than laying together in a lazy pile.  

Karen dug into a stack of papers she’d organized yesterday. Frank watched her eyes darting all around the pages until she seemed to find what she was looking for. She grabbed for her laptop and popped it open. The moment she started typing Frank could tell she was so deeply in the zone that she wouldn’t have noticed it if the room started on fire. Damn, she was amazing. 

Never able to sit idly for long, Frank was suddenly feeling useless. There were a bunch of things he should be doing. He should go get himself some more clothes. He should get to a hardware store so he could fix Karen’s front door. Or a replace it altogether. But all of the things he should be doing involved him leaving this couch and allowing more than 2 inches between him and his girl… and he straight up didn’t want to. 

He could make himself useful in another way. There was still a massive pile of paper on the coffee table that needed to be re-organized. And he could do most of that with Karen still pressed up against his side.

Frank leaned over to grab a big stack of papers and start sorting them like Karen and Foggy had been doing yesterday. He couldn’t sort them as clearly as they could, but at least he could scan the pages. If they were Fisk related he’d put them in one pile, if they were something else, he’d put them in another. Karen sent him a little thank you smile. 

Frank glanced over page after page sending most to the Fisk Pile, when all of a sudden, he hit a new batch of other material. One quick scan and he knew he’d found a bit of the story. His story. He glanced at karen out of the side of his eye. She was consumed in her work. 

Frank was too damn curious- he couldn’t help himself. He had to read it.

There was a ton of material about Benesh. Karen had developed a beautiful relationship with the girl. It was gripping, and a little funny, and a little heart breaking. It was provocative and powerful writing. After a few more pages, Frank found a long sketch of conversations with Madani. These sections were much rougher drafts, lots of red pen and scratched out lines. It was all much more cerebral, more intellectual. Frank couldn’t wait to dig into the final version of all this. If the sections on Benesh hit you in your gut and made you rethink your responses to a new side of a story you already thought you knew, the sections on Madani hit you in the head, made you re-analyse your beliefs and philosophies. 

Frank turned a page and saw his own name. He felt a little flip in his belly and glanced back at Karen, she wasn’t at all paying attention to what he was reading. 

Here goes…  

He had to read the first few paragraphs twice in order to sink in to it. At first he was just too distracted by self awareness. He was the person he was reading about on the pages. The woman immediately to his right had written all this. It was a strange feeling. 

Luckily though, Karen’s writing was so engaging. Pretty soon he was caught up in it.

She described the day they met. How nervous she’d been, hung out to dry by Schoonover in the face of a bunch of straight faced soldiers. She wrote a brief but beautiful description of Curt that made Frank want to laugh and cry and kiss her all at once. 

Karen’s recount of her first impression of Frank was fascinating. She described how he stood, how he moved, what he looked like. She was fairly accurate, for the most part. But it was so much nicer than he’d ever imagined being described. He’d never thought of someone paying such close attention to him. She wrote about his voice and how he made her laugh. She wrote about how nervous she’d been to give him her number and how she’d lost hope that she’d ever hear from him again by the time he finally called that first time. 

She continued on to tell the story of how they kept in touch. Frank was surprised to find that Karen rarely mentioned the actual things they’d talked about, whether it was the war, or their friends, or whatever else came up. She mainly talked about how he felt. His emotional state when they talked. Reading it made him feel naked. 

Frank felt his face getting warm. He couldn’t even hear the drone of the TV anymore, he was fully focused on the pages in front of him. 

Karen wrote about his highs and his lows. When he was talkative and teasing. When he was distant, only giving one word answers that, at first, made her worry he didn’t want to talk to her anymore. But then she realized that those times were when he needed her most, when their phone calls were like a lifeline and he was barely hanging on. 

Frank closed his eyes, needing a little break before continuing. 

She was right. The way she wrote about his thoughts, his feelings… it was like she knew him better than he knew himself. 

At one point she’d written that he was brave, but then crossed it out with red pen and swapped in the word “relentless”. Frank wondered why, but found that he agreed. She could read him like a damn book, understanding all the things he didn’t say. All the things he couldn’t say even if he tried.

She wrote about Curt getting hurt, or at least, Frank’s reaction to it. How devastated he’d been. How it ripped him apart for so many reasons. Not just that his best friend had been irreversibly injured, but how it was tearing at his mind. How part of him just wanted to go home, to put as much distance between himself and the bombs as possible, but the other part of him doubled down on his need to stay. His fear of leaving his team, of not being there when they needed him. How the desert was had become his home and he had nowhere else to run.  

How had she...  

He’d never said this to Karen. He was barely able to admit it to himself.  

She was in his head. 

The next page had a bunch of text crossed out in red pen, but in the margin she’d hand written a few lines. They were scribbles, probably more notes for herself rather than anything actually meant to be included in the draft. 

 

He’s a family man without a family. 

He wants to come home, but doesn’t know how.

A soldier through and through. He fights for what he loves. But he needs love. He is love. 

He is loved.  

 

Frank’s eyes stung. 

He’d never felt so exposed. So seen. So known. It… hurt. But not necessarily in a bad way. 

He felt like she’d pried open his rib cage. She could see everything- his heart and his fear and all his bullshit and all his reasons. And he was grateful. So grateful. No one in his life had ever understood him like this. Definitely not his parents. Not even Bill and Curtis. Frank’s shit was laid bare in front of this woman, and she made sense of it all. 

It didn’t scare her off. 

That was the thing that was getting at him most. It was making his eyes itch and his mouth dry. Every paragraph, every line- they sang with acceptance. She saw him so clearly, and it only seemed to make her want to dive deeper in. 

It was like she loved him. 

Frank’s chest tightened. 

Karen…  

Frank blinked against the stinging in his eyes. He refused to change the rhythm of his breathing. But somehow, Karen sensed something was off and looked over at him. Because in addition to being beautiful, and strong, and kind, and smart, apparently she was psychic, too. 

Karen’s eyes went wide at the look on his face. He must have looked gutted. Or maybe he didn’t. Clearly, even if he’d been smiling at her, she’d be able to read the truth before he even realised he’d been trying to hide it. She leaned up so she could turn fully toward him, concern putting that wrinkle in her between her brows that he remembered so well from the first day they met. So pretty.

Karen searched Frank’s face. He had no idea what to say. She looked down and realized what he’d been reading. Her eyes jerked back up to his, the color draining from her cheeks. 

“Oh Frank-” She whispered, looking horrified. “You don’t like it…”

… I don’t like it?

Karen started grabbing for the papers in his hands. 

“I’m sorry. It’s just a rough draft… I don’t have to use any of this.” Her voice was jittery, like she was getting upset.

She didn’t understand. 

“Karen.”

She looked back at him, eyes starting to glisten. “I’m sorry. I just-”

Frank leaned in and kissed her. There was nothing else he could do. She was the one gifted with words. He let his actions speak for him. Her lips against his. It was like they pressed pause on the entire world. No other sounds, no other thoughts. Only the feel of her and the tingling in his skin. 

When he pulled back Frank felt renewed. There was a peace in him like he’d never known. But his girl was biting her lip, still afraid that somehow the beautiful things she’d written, the wonderful, insightful, powerful words had offended him in some way. Her eyes were worried. That won’t do. Sweetheart...

Frank tugged the papers back out of her hands and set them aside. He took her hands. It was so much easier to focus on her fingers. Her face was like a blinding light. 

“Karen. What you wrote…” 

He didn’t know where to start, but he knew exactly what he needed to say. The words were ringing in through him like a bell tolling and he was absolutely certain. He kissed her fingers. 

“I don’t know how you see me the way you do. But,” He was suddenly fighting a lump in his throat. “I’ve never felt less lonely in my life.” 

His voice cracked. 

“I’m glad you see me. And I see you.” It was true. His eyes flickered up to hers. “I love you.”

Karen’s eyes started swimming, but in a happy way. The lip she’d been biting was released into a trembling smile. Frank’s heart started pounding against his ribs. His thumbs were running over her hands as he held them and she squeezed him back.

“I love you.” She said, but he could barely hear the words over the sound of his own pulse in his ears. It was more like lip reading in slow motion. 

She loved him. 

Frank was floating. 

Frank had her in his lap in the time it took her to blink. He kissed her. Crushing her to him. Pouring his out all his love and his hope and his anxiety into the kiss, knowing she’d understand it all because she could read him like no one else in the entire world. Only taking a moment to breathe because she started saying it again, I love you, Frank … and he wanted to listen to it forever. 

“I don’t want you to leave.” She breathed, looking so deep in his eyes. “I want you to stay.”

BOOM. Frank felt that in his chest like a bullet. He felt his eyes getting hot. His girl. She’d known he needed to hear it. 

“I want to.” 

The moment the words left his mouth, it was like they both sighed in relief. Karen lowered her forehead to his and the world slowed down. 

“I don’t know what I’ll do. All I’ve done is fight the war. I don’t know another way…”

She stopped his spinning with the lightest touch to his shoulder. 

“There’s a better way. There is. You and I, we’ll figure it out together. Ok?” 

He believed her. “OK.”

“Ok.” She whispered back. And her eyes were a bright sparkling blue, and her smile was so sweet.

Their kiss was even sweeter. It grew and it burned brighter and brighter until the two of them were pressed together, dancing like a smouldering flame. As rushed and rough as their previous encounters had been, this time it was so gentle they ached. They undressed each other like they were fragile, like every inch of skin was precious and needed special attention, delicate care. As verbal as they had been before, this time there were no words big enough. Frank stared up at Karen, beautiful and naked and glorious, an angel above him. When she sank down on him there was no thought of talking, there was only shared breath and skin rejoicing against skin. 

Frank was dragged under the waves of it all, lost in her ocean. This moment burning into his memory for all time. Their faces so strained with bliss it looked like agony, their voices so full of pleasure it sounded like pain. This was pure worship. Raw need. They couldn’t get close enough. Their bodies struggled together in an endless grind that left them both gasping, both teetering on the edge. Their eyes were locked together as they came. And it was beautiful. Holy. Like falling into each other’s soul. 

Frank had never been one for religion, but Karen had changed all that. Frank suddenly believed in heaven. 

He believed in being born again.




A few days later Karen dropped Frank off at the airport and he knew he wouldn’t have been able to get on the plane if his girl wasn’t so damn strong, so brave. She was smiling at him through her goodbye tears. He needed to finish out his contract, end his service right. Then he could come home.

Home to Karen. 

He flew commercial and fought not to white knuckle it the entire way. It was hard getting used to this new found healthy fear of death. 

It was the longest 4 months of Frank’s life. He got to talk to Karen almost every day, but it wasn’t enough. Nothing would ever be enough until she was back in his arms. Everyone noticed the change in Frank, and he was genuinely touched at how happy his unit seemed for him. Even Schoonover was taking it easy on him, knowing Frank couldn’t wait to get home. 

The hardest thing of all was leaving Bill. Bill wasn’t done yet, he still had some war in him. On his last few nights at base Frank found himself waking up in a cold sweat, almost sick to his stomach with nightmares about every terrible thing that might happen to Bill once Frank was gone. Horrible images flashed through his mind. Bill was his brother… how could he leave him? Curt was already gone, Billy was going to be alone. 

Bill laughed when Frank tried to explain it. 

“I’m not alone, Frank. I’ve got the whole unit at my six. There’s no such thing as a one man war machine.” Bill’s eyes were sparking with his special brand of sincerity mixed with bullshit. “I mean, you used to be one… but now you’re all soft.”

In the end, Frank took that final flight, the one that all soldiers eventually take if they’re lucky enough to leave the war on their own two feet. The flight where he sits on a plane in uniform surrounded by other people in normal clothes and everything feels like a dream. The flight where some strangers come up to shake his hand while others just look uncomfortable, and all he wants to do is sleep but he can’t, so he halfway watches whatever idiot movie the person next to him selected. The flight where his lungs squeeze tight every time the plane even jitters because all he wants in the world is to just land safely because the only important thing in the universe is a girl just a few hours away and he needs her.

Frank’s flight landed just fine. And for the first time in his entire life… there was someone waiting for him at the airport. He spotted her in the crowd like she’d been emitting light. Her blonde hair whipping all around as she ran to him. He knew it looked dramatic, him still in uniform, this beautiful woman squealing and jumping into his arms, but he didn’t care. He spun her around and kissed her and held her close for way too long. He felt like he could breathe again for the first time since she’d dropped him off here months ago. It didn’t even bother him that it looked like some people were filming them with their phones for some reason. Karen Page was in his arms. And he could see the rest of his life in her smile. And he was busy learning a brand new shade of blue in her eyes. 

 

:::

 

Frank would come to know all the different shades of blue in Karen’s eyes.

He watched them go all turquoise the day she asked him to move in. 

Karen had had no problem with Frank staying with her the first few weeks after he came home, but Frank was starting to feel guilty. He didn’t want to put her out. It’s New York. Apartments are small and rent is insane. He didn’t want to take advantage of her generosity. So as soon as he found a job, shooting and special weapons instructor at a range in Brooklyn, he started looking for a place that would set him in a good spot between Karen’s place and his work. 

Karen was curled into him on the couch watching over his shoulder as he clicked through apartment listings on his laptop. Everytime he stopped on a promising one, Karen would huff and come up with some reason or another why it wouldn’t work. Each reason flimsier than the last.

It’s too many floors up. 

The kitchen is too small. 

It’s not close to any parks.  

Frank was watching her out of the side of his eye, wondering at her mood. 

“This one doesn’t allow dogs.” She sighed. 

He’d been trying not to laugh, but now he couldn’t help it. 

“I don’t have a dog.”

“But you might want one sometime.” She said, fiddling with the zipper of his hoodie. “My apartment allows dogs.” 

Frank froze, wondering… hoping. When Karen finally looked up at him her eyes were a turquoise swirl. 

“I won’t like any apartment you pick. I want you to stay here.” She said, building up steam. “I know it's kind of fast, but really- its not. It us. And I think that-” 

Frank closed the laptop.

“Sweetheart, you don’t have to tell me twice. I’m here. I’m in.” 

Goddamn, her smile lit him up like fireworks in the night. 

...

Frank saw Karen’s eyes become a dark stormy sea. 

Several months after he’d moved in, shit hit the fan with Matt. 

Frank had never wanted to keep secrets from Karen, and one of her closest friends being the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen was a big one. But he never found the right way to tell her. Or he never found the right time. It didn’t matter either way. There was no option of hiding it from her the night Murdock and Frank staggered into the apartment covered in blood. 

Matt got into a bad situation. Frank had meant it when he offered Matt his help, and didn’t hesitate when he got the call. Long story short, they’d stopped some gun runners and the only person who’d been seriously injured was Frank. Stabbed in the shoulder. They couldn’t go to the hospital without incriminating themselves. Frank knew they had to face the music and head home where he had his own suture kit. 

Karen was scared out of her mind when she saw all the blood. 

Once she realized his life wasn’t in danger, she’d been in shock. 

Murdock took off his mask and Frank watched Karen’s eyes grow dark as she added it all up in her head. He’d never seen these eyes before. She threw Matt out of the house without giving him the chance to explain, then she circled on Frank. 

She looked at him like she didn’t even recognize him. Frank felt himself go cold. Karen… 

She didn’t let him explain either. Every time he opened his mouth, she just held up her hand shaking her head- too angry at him to even speak. Frank kept his silence, not knowing what to do to make this better, but 100% sure that talking right now would make it worse. Pissed off and shaking and fighting back tears, she still cleaned the wound and stitched him up. Frank felt like such a fucking asshole. What the hell would make this right? 

The instant she finished his sutures Karen turned and left without a word. The felt bedroom door slamming shut more than he heard it. It was like a thud in his chest. For the first time since Karen welcomed him into her home, now their home, Frank slept on the couch. Without his girl in his arms.

Blood loss was a bitch. Frank slept in late, woke up feeling like dog shit. By the time he was up, Karen was already gone. He spent the day pacing the apartment, cleaning, cooking her food, cursing himself because he knew none of these idiotic gestures was going to make it better. 

By the time she got home Frank was twitching with anxiety. Remorse locked and loaded, he came straight at her. Apologizing profusely for the secret, for the lie, for getting hurt, for all of it. She watched him with those stormy eyes. 

They sat so he could explain it all- from the moment he’d recognized Murdock until now. She chose the chair instead of the spot next to him on the couch, and listened with fluttering fingers pressed to her lips. When he finished, she was quiet a long time. And when she finally spoke it was with a choked voice that made his gut twist. 

She was so hurt. By Matt and by him. Trust meant everything to her and she felt like she’d been tricked. Loyalty was foundational to her, and Frank keeping this from her had broken that baseline. Then she started crying. Really crying. 

“You’re my family, Frank. It’s supposed to be you and me. Then everyone else.” 

Sweetheart-

“And god dammit- how could you just put yourself in that position? If anything happened to you… do you know what that would do to me?” Her blue eyes burned him. “Do you have any idea? ” 

Fuck. Karen… 

He reached for her hand, but for the first time ever, she pulled away. Frank felt like he’d been stung. He panicked and grasped again, and though she didn’t pull away, her fingers hung limp in his hands, unresponsive and cold. It was even worse. What the hell could he do to make this right? He’d do anything. He’d cut his arm off if she asked. Feed it to a dog.

That night she left the door to their room open and he slept in their bed, but Frank didn’t touch her. Everything in her stiff posture was shouting stay away . 

This cold war went on for an entire week. It wasn’t just Frank in the doghouse, it was Murdock too. Karen had told Foggy and now the lawyers weren’t even speaking. Frank didn’t have the energy to care about Murdock’s problems though.

He was too busy going out of his mind. 

Living without Karen’s warmth, without her touch… it was torture. She was speaking to him, she was near, but she wasn’t close. And Frank knew she wasn’t doing it to punish him. She wasn’t vindictive like that. This was all his fault. He’d finally rattled her. 

She was so sweet and kind and good, he sometimes forgot that she was in pain, too. Karen had lost a lot. But she’d been able to love so deeply, to give herself to him so completely… And then he went and put himself in danger like that? He made her mind go to a place where she could have lost him? He made her think that he was holding back from her?

Goddammit, he was the world’s biggest asshole and he had no idea how to fix it. He needed to. Her love, their connection, had become the center of his universe… living without it was like floating untethered through space, blackness all around. 

At the end of the week, Frank’s sutures were ready to come out. He stalled as long as he could, not wanting to make a wrong move, but eventually he asked her for help. Karen nodded and followed him to the bathroom. 

The moment Frank took off his shirt he felt the energy pulse in the room. Karen was still cool, still barely meeting his eyes, but the pull between them was too strong. He knew she felt it too. He watched her in the mirror. Her eyes were focused on her work, her fingers fluttering on his skin, sending sparks through his entire body. Once she got the last thread out, she brushed the scar lightly with her fingers. Her eyes met his in the mirror. They were glassy. Karen leaned closer pressing a kiss to the wound. Frank’s lungs felt like they were filling up too full. 

“I’m so glad you’re ok.” She whispered, and her breath caught in her throat, tears spilling down her cheeks. 

He spun, capturing her face in his hands and kissing her with so much desperation he barely realized there were tears running down his face too. She didn’t hesitate for a second. Karen clung to him, finally kissing him with everything she had, holding on with all her strength. 

Frank probably apologized to her a hundred times that night as he strove to make it up to her again and again and again. Once he had her back in their bed, he devoured her like he’d been starving. When his mouth had a second to spare, everything poured out of him. How much he loved her, how much he needed her, how sorry he was and how he’d never make her cry again, how she was everything, everything, everything. 

And the sun was set back in his sky. 

Though, it did take another week or so for Karen to get Foggy talking to Matt again.

Karen’s eyes were happy little blueberries the day they got married. 

They’d briefly talked about just going to the courthouse and making it official, after all they didn’t have families. But they waved away that thought like a fly. 

Of course they had families. They’d built an amazing family. 

And that’s how Frank ended up in upstate New York, with Bill and Curt at his side and Murdock officiating, watching Karen Page walk down the aisle toward him in a white dress with flowers in her hair. The sight of her ranked right up there with the seven wonders of the world. Screw the pyramids. 

It was a beautiful summer night and there were lights strung up everywhere and everyone was drinking too much wine. It was a small group, but a good one. Leiberman’s and Mahoney’s kids were playing in the yard. Ellison brought his wife, which was entertaining as she seemed to be the only person on earth besides Karen who could get a rise out of him. Curt brought his Claire, who was just as beautiful and bossy as Curt told Frank she was the first time he’d mentioned her on the phone. Foggy brought his lawyer lady, Marci, who'd caught Karen’s bouquet and would not let Foggy forget it. Even Murdock brought a date, which was a surprise as he spent most of his nights running around on rooftops getting in fights, much to Karen and Foggy’s exasperation. Murdock’s date was feisty and it was good to see a smile on his so often overly serious face. 

Frank’s only buddy who came stag was Bill, and Frank was trying hard to keep a straight face as he watched his friend. Bill was always tenacious flirt, but his move was usually smooth confidence and playing it cool. Right now though, Frank couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Bill was following Madani around with big dopey moon eyes. So openly smitten that a blind man could see it. 

Bad example, as the only blind man here could see much better than everyone else… 

But still. Bill was fawning over her, and Madani, while always hard to read, was smiling. 

I’ll be damned.  

Well, good. If there was any woman who could handle Bill, it was Madani. 

Frank pulled his gaze away from The Bill and Madani Show to search for his wife. His wife. He spotted Karen, already watching him from the dance floor. Moving to the music with her hands in the air prettily. The look on her face said come here, dance with me.

Yes Ma’am. 

… 

Frank watched her eyes turn to silver blue glitter. 

She was swaying back and forth to the sound of the Christmas carols she’d put on. Mariah Carey at her best. She had on some holiday themed red flannel pajamas that made her look like Santa Claus and big fuzzy socks with candy cane stripes. 

Frank took a break from the impossible assembly instructions for the toy he was working on and couldn’t help but just watch her move. She was so damn cute. Karen almost had the tree finished. She was hanging a silver snowflake with one hand and reaching up to place the big star on top of the tree with the other. She was up on her toes, somehow still trying to dance to the music. He couldn’t have fought his laugh if he tried. Plus, he didn’t want to. 

She looked over her shoulder to grin at him, then turned enough so he could see the bump in her belly. It was still small enough that others might not notice yet, but Frank was aware of it with every fiber of his being. His smile grew. 

“Are you laughing at me?” She accused.

“No Ma’am. Just enjoying the show.”

“Well, good.” She said, blowing him a kiss. “Its ready. Can you crawl under there and plug it in? If I get down there I might never get back up.”

Frank nodded, as she stretched her slightly aching back. He crawled under the tree, but made sure he’d be able to see her face at the exact moment he plugged it in. 

There.

The tree lit up, but not nearly as bright as Karen. Her eyes turned to glitter in the twinkling lights. Her smile was huge and she was reaching for him, wiggling her fingers for him to come to her. And in the few seconds it took for him to get to his girl, all Frank could think was that he was the luckiest bastard alive. 

He saw her eyes turn midnight blue, so dark they were almost black a few months later. 

Karen was 5 days past her due date, feeling huge and hot and crabby. Frank’s good mood was probably annoying the shit out of her, but he couldn’t help it. 

Frank had been feeling useless for days, following Karen around the apartment like a puppy, knowing she was uncomfortable but not really able to do anything to help her. Until now. They’d been on the phone with Claire looking for advice when the nurse gave them some straight talk. 

They needed to have sex. 

That was the most likely thing to get labor started. Frank took it like an order, 100% on board. 

There was something about seeing Karen’s pregnant body, about seeing her belly swollen with his baby. It did something to him. Plus, 9 month pregnant Karen was bossy, and demanding, and sometimes mean as hell in a way that was driving him out of his mind. He loved it. 

The moment they hung up with Claire, Karen scowled at him.

“No. Absolutely not. I’ve never felt less sexy in my entire life.”

But he was patient. He worked on her. And what had started as a cajoling kiss, an offer of a massage that started at her feet and had worked its way over every inch of her body, had ended in the beautiful sight Frank now had before him. 

Gorgeous, naked Karen, laying on her side, breathing heavy and staring at him over her shoulder with those midnight blue eyes, all but demanding he give her what she wanted. 

Sweetheart, I’ll give it to you…

But first he wanted something else. It was something he’d joked about earlier in the kitchen. Yes, he had been joking, and he laughed when she rolled her eyes at him… but he’d also seen that blush. The blush he knew all too well. 

Frank moved behind Karen, angling himself just right. He slid into her heat. God damn… still- every fucking time...

He took a breath through his nose knowing he needed to keep his cool, he wanted this to last. He held himself still even though her body was calling out to him. 

“Frank.” Karen moaned, needing him to move.

He didn’t move a muscle. 

“Say it.” 

“...What?” She glared at him.

He grinned back at her, still resisting the urge to thrust. So hard when he knew how bad she wanted it. 

“You know what I want to hear.” He nipped the back of her neck. “Say it.”

Frank saw her eyes widen in understanding. Her blush was exquisite even as she scowled at him. 

“Goddammit, Frank.” She whined, refusing. 

Karen started grinding back on him, determined to take what she wanted if he wouldn’t give it to her. Frank groaned, but moved quickly to grab her hip, to hold her still. 

She wanted him so bad. She needed him. Fuck- he needed her just as much. Come on , Karen.

“I’m gonna give you what you need, Baby. I’m gonna take care of you.” He growled in her ear. “Say it for me.”

Karen moaned, biting her lip. Frank bucked into her, just once, but it made her gasp. He thought he heard what he’d been waiting for. 

“What was that, Sweetheart?” He breathed over her skin.

She writhed back against him. 

“Daddy.” She whispered. 

Shit. The soft word hit him like an electric jolt. Frank finally started thrusting for real, making both of them moan in relief. 

“Again.” 

Karen turned back and looked him straight in the eyes. “Daddy.”

FUCK. He almost lost it right there. Every muscle in his body tensed as he couldn’t help up rock his body harder, faster against her, so turned on he could barely think. Karen’s eyes lit up and Frank knew he was done for. 

Please, Daddy.” 

He was melting, about to combust.

This game was a double edged sword. He’d wanted to play with her a bit, to make her beg, to get her to say something that would make her blush. But she could read him too well. Karen flipped the script, seeing how those few words from her lips had destroyed him. He was at her mercy. 

Karen reached back so she could run her fingers through his hair. He’d grown it out longer. Now she could really grab hold. 

She was chanting little yeses and nothings under her breath. She knew whenever she wanted more, all she had to do was sigh in his ear, to whimper for Daddy, and he’d deliver. Somehow harder, somehow faster, somehow deeper. Frank was barely holding on by the time she snapped and they both tumbled over that beautiful edge, sweating and gasping and completely tangled together.

They were still breathing hard when they both turned to each other, wide eyed, and burst out laughing. Apparently they could still surprise each other after all this time.

Karen was in labor within 4 hours. Many thanks, Nurse Claire. 

Frank couldn’t help but note, in the absolute happiest moment of his life, that his wife’s eyes were appropriately baby blue as she handed him his baby girl. 

...

Frank learned every facet and tone of Karen’s eyes as they swirled and sparkled over the years. But most of the time, they were the same sky blue as the day he met her. When she was a mirage, that turned out to be a reporter, that turned out to be an angel who came to him in the desert and showed him the way home.