Look, Foggy. I’m running.
Fisk knows… about Matt. I just… I just wanted to warn him before I run.
Do you have someplace to go?
No, I was just gonna get the first bus out of town.
She keeps adjusting her hood. There’s too many people standing idle in the hub, and she knows that none of them are looking at her, but it’s still a struggle to keep it up when it continues to slide across the crown of her head.
Karen chooses a seat away from the windows and picks at the skin beneath her nails to pass the time because she doesn’t have a phone to mindlessly scroll through anymore, and reading celebrity drama in magazines doesn’t quite cut out the terror building a home in the base of her spine. She ends up buying a couple of energy bars and water from the vending machines with the change jingling in her pocket to look busy.
The first Express bus out of the Port Authority station is aiming for Minneapolis-St Paul. It will arrive shortly and promptly leave in twenty minutes.
Sister Maggie had offered her sanctuary. Give me a day, she had begged, still not registering the urgency written in clear and precise capital letters all over her face that she needed to absolutely leave the island of Manhattan like four hours ago. If the Daredevil secret was out, then nowhere in New York was safe. She wanted to tell Matt - to warn him about Fisk and what she had cost him - but if he wanted to stay below the radar and out of reach then so will she.
There’s about seven other people on the Express with her. The seats smell of day old hot dogs and rust and she’s finagled a route map from an older woman a couple rows ahead, going to visit her new grandchildren up by St. Paul. They’re twins, she whispers to her with a smile below the whir of the engine. They’ll bring us all good luck.
It’ll be enough luck to her if she gets off the bus and makes it to the next day without incident, she thinks, but nevertheless smiles back and hums softly in thanks. Night chases the back wheels of the bus, arriving slowly but surely, quieting everyone and everything beyond the squeal of brakes at occasional stops. She still has quite a few more hours before they hit the first destination hub in Chicago, and she’s at least been lucky with her choices so far.
There is no rest for her in this just yet, though. The fear branches out like a weed, filling in the empty spaces of her chest - a dandelion persisting over concrete. It’s almost four AM when her stomach growls, finally ready to digest something other than the energy she’s using to try and breathe and not cry at the same time.
With blind direction, she digs into the duffel bag on the seat beside her, reaching for one of the breakfast bars she shoved in there. She touches her toiletry bag, the water bottle now at room temperature, the sweaters she packed, and -
A stiff pile of cardstock slides beneath the pads of her fingers.
Karen had been hiding his postcards, tucking them in between clothes in her bureau to avoid any prying eyes that could spot that she was still in some kind of contact with… She slipped them in between her spring sweaters after reading them - avoiding the fridge magnets and the corkboard she used at home to tack up grocery lists and lines she could use in her articles. It’s been a few weeks since the last one. She must have forgotten that had been the drawer she used in all that packing panic.
Nutrigrain bar now forgotten, she pulls the stack out. They’re bound tightly together with a green rubber band - it’s only here she realizes just how many he’s sent her over the course of a few months. Frank had gone all over, it seems. A few staple landmarks along the east coast cover a few, the southern skyline in a couple more. A Milky Way shot over Utah’s Arches gives her pause, reminding her briefly of the night sky back home in Vermont. Of then her father, gruff and stunted in her ear, echoing agreement when she had been gasping back tears, it went all wrong.
Frank’s messages were short, the ends of them always the same.
Hope you’re okay.
It’s four AM somewhere in Ohio and she’s sobbing six seats from the back row, the surprise caught in her throat.
Karen gets out and spends a bit of time in the Chicago station bathroom, trying to figure what was next. She wants desperately to call Foggy, to find out if he’s heard from Matt, if there has been development now that she was out of the way. Changing her clothes in a rickety stall and using the sink to wash her face gets the stench of bus out from under her nose, and that’s at least something she’s able to handle for now.
From here, she’s unsure. Desire to stay in one spot for now is nonexistent. Fisk will be looking for her - she could get off halfway through the next destination, again, maybe, but -
Karen rifles through her bag again for inspiration from the postcards, accidently popping the rubber band holding them all together. They scatter like 52 Pick-Up over the tile, and she falls to her knees to bundle them up again. Frank’s words look like a jumble of chicken-scratch as tears prickle at the corner of her eyes in frustration. She needs a plan to escape her still-hammering heart, and the next bus that doesn’t head back east arrives in another four hours. She figures a train station may give her more chances to leave sooner.
God, she wants to call Foggy. She needs a shower, to eat something beyond stale breakfast bars, she can’t even think about how grimy the floor could be -
With the postcards - and her composure - together again, she leaves the bathroom. She moves them all like a flip book when she settles at a table in the hub, breathing in the nearby coffee grinds. It's about noon at this point, the chatter amongst friends, family, and station workers hitting her ears louder than the pounding in her chest.
Her hood goes up again, head lowering. She ducks a hand into her pocket for her phone, going to search for the nearest train station before her fingers twitch, remembering. I don’t have a phone.
A voice calls to her, clear, and without judgement. “You look like shit.”
Karen looks up, spotting the barista hovering around the sugar and creamers. He nods when their eyes meet, and trails the line of her body. The slightly bared teeth at the shock of acknowledgement, the tense shoulders, her knees facing the door, feet lifted to the toes - ready to run at any moment. Fisk could have anyone, anywhere.
She bounces her leg a few times before she abruptly stands. Not that she thinks this tall and pimply teenager working the coffee bar at a bus station states away is on his payroll, but it gives her just enough push to get out of there before someone else might. “Thanks,” she says bluntly. “You got a map of the area around here, somewhere, I could use?”
The kid shakes his head, muttering quickly in a Slavic language before sighing. "You want a coffee or something?" He points to the fridges stocked with orange juice and bottles of soda, ignoring her request. Karen is of two minds - tired, hungry - and ready to snap. "Water? I could get you that."
She’s already hopped off the main track. If she’d at all been watched by Big Brother getting on a bus aimed for Minneapolis, then she could already be ahead of him. There were other stops along the way - short ones for gas refills, but stops nonetheless. If he had people looking for her, they would have started there. God. She remembers, she had told Foggy in a breathless plea, Do you know what happens when you make a plan? Her nails dent half-moons into the cards, tucking them into the side pocket of her hoodie, and she freezes. There can’t be any assumptions.
Fisk has already thought of it, and he’s made it a part of his plan.
Drop the destination.
“Uh,” she says shakily, blinking around the busy room and resting on the front doors, leading out into bright Chicago streets. “Yeah… yeah, water sounds good.”
Karen doesn’t stay long.
She hoofs it. Taxis have cameras and ride shares require phone apps and credit cards. She finds a shitty hole-in-the-wall motel that will avoid questions when she doesn’t meet their eyes, handing over a small wad of bills. It's enough for the weekend, but she'll probably leave at first light. The office is ratty, smelling of stale cigarettes, with wood paneling and a smudge of some kind of grease lining the glass that separates her from the attendant. She’s handed a genuine key with a scratched wooden tag relaying her room number.
There is no actual plan, she wants to declare into the world minutes later, pressing her forehead against the cool metal door of her room. Her eyes close, cheek turning to touch it, to let her hear the way the deadbolt on the door latches deep into the frame. It slips into position and her jaw vibrates with the finality of the move.
She's not safe - she'll never be safe from Fisk, but she'll still slide the latch on the chain at eye level, and she'll pull the curtains tight to block out the sun.
The bed squeaks, and the sheets are stale from sitting idle. Karen places her gun beneath a pillow and holds onto it, finding solace in the weight and how her thumb rests against the grip. That deadbolt is another warm blanket to the thought that for maybe just a moment, she can be lucky.
She sleeps for fourteen hours.
There's a soft chirping of cicadas over the brief kick of the room's heating unit when she wakes.
Her mouth is dry, teeth indented to the edges of her tongue. She works through the disorientation, keeping a list in her mind as she picks through the pile of assorted take-out menus strewn across the night stand, looking for any ideas to what she can do next.
One - she's alive.
Two - she forgot to turn the lamp off.
Three - her gun is holding a full clip.
It takes all of her to not touch the phone and call Foggy - it’s too soon. She showers and changes to take a walk to find food. There's an all-hours gas station down the road, and she keeps her head low when she nabs a local newspaper on her way out with a pre-wrapped sandwich. It may be only local news, and she flips through the first few pages to get a glimpse, but it wouldn't be totally uncommon to find something about New York on an FBI scale in a different state. She thinks anything to read would be better than nothing at this point.
The motel lot is relatively dark and empty for this time of night when she gets back. As she arrives, she can hear the thunder of an older engine pull in close behind her - the lights on its roof heavy and illuminating everything. It's just massive enough to lift the hairs on the back of her neck when it stops just shy of her door.
Karen knows she should be rational about this. The driver is just going to bed for the night, maybe he’s on his own long journey and it’s been a hell of a day for him, too. She was always the one to think logically in situations where Foggy had an issue, or when Ellison gave the bullpen instructions that fell on deaf ears. Even with Matt… She knows.
But she also knows what she’s up against. As she scrapes and misses the key against the lock, and the driver slams his door shut - the engine is turned off, the lights disappearing and hey, now they’re both cast in darkness - she feels her heart race, betraying her own thoughts. This guy could be here to kill her. This would be the guy that she’d been waiting to show up at the station when she impulsively let the bus go on without her. Some guy Fisk hired to kidnap her and steal her back, the creepy murder van aesthetic only a bonus -
The keyring ends up on the ground in her quiet yet frantic fumble. “Shhhit,” she says softly, leaning her forehead against the metal and holding her breath, hearing the crinkle of the plastic bag from the convenience store hit it shortly after. She thinks of how she can just turn and run if he gets too close. Everything she owns right now is in the small duffel bag on her shoulder. A secondary pair of jeans, a couple sweaters, a makeup case full of mascara and Foggy’s gifted cash, a collection of postcards...
If he steps any closer to her door she’ll do it, she decides as she bends at her knees, reaching into the shadow at her shoes to find the key. She's at the end of the goddamn row, there'd be no reason for him to come near. Fight or flight - she’ll throw the sandwich bag. She’ll pull a rabbit and dart into the back alleys, brandish her gun, anything -
The gravelly tone of his voice registers before she even recognizes her own name from his mouth, and the air she had been holding in her lungs releases in a shuddering gasp. Her eyes peer up at the silhouette. In the dim light gathered from the street, she sees him - broad shoulders, the subtle lift of his dark eyes in surprise, then a question buried deep in the furrow of his brow. His hand is gripping his own plastic bag of items, but he drops it just as she launches herself at him to catch her.
His arms wrap her in close, and she squeezes a fist around the hood of his jacket. He sways back just a bit, planting his feet while she presses her cheek against his. “Frank, what -” It’s coarse leaving her throat after the relief crashes through her. “Oh my god.”
Frank’s got a hand cradling the back of her head as she shivers from the adrenaline, leaning further to lose his nose in her hair. “ Christ, Karen, hey,” he tells her gently. “You know, I’d ask how you found me, but you seem just as surprised.”
“I didn’t,” she closes her eyes when she feels his hand brush across her back. He's warm while it rests upon her spine, and the sound of her teeth chattering in her skull subsides when he grunts at her admission. It vibrates against her. The shock of seeing him makes her head spin. “I - I wasn’t... I really didn’t,” she whispers. The rest of the words she wants to say can’t form on her tongue, so she breathes in the scent of him instead.
He’d lingered for a bit of time in her hallway after telling her his plans to leave New York. Curt thinks it might, you know, do me some good, Frank said to her. See some sights, maybe.
It had been an after, if he at all wanted to consider it. She never expected - with the way the world worked against her - to be a part of it, but that never deterred her from still wishing one for him. The look and sigh he gave her after gently thumbing the gray ‘T’ shaped scar on her forehead told her he was still hesitant to go, though.
Karen had given him her old travel books then, plus a map she’s used and collected on her way out from Vermont. She could see him cataloging the scribbled bus times out of Fagan Corners from 2004 in the margins, the small stick figures her brother had drawn swimming in lakes and the animals penciled in among state forests along a few routes. The memories of handing order slips off to Kevin at Penny’s Place with corners littered with her own stars and flowery doodle marks had flooded back - and Frank had not missed the faraway look.
I’ll tell you all about it, she had promised, returning a prolonged kiss upon his cheek. When you come back.
If he were to let go of her in this moment, she may not stay on steady feet. Even in the dark, as she pulls back just enough to see, she holds tight to his shoulders. She has to recount her day and recall each moment, remembering the instant she woke tonight. This can’t be real. “Hey hey, hey,” Frank says softly, bringing a thumb up and across her cheek - it’s wet. She doesn’t realize she’d started crying. His eyes trace along the rest of her face, the blown-back hood from her sweatshirt, and the duffel bag hanging off her arm.
“I - uh…” she has to tell him, just to let the words fall and hope to smooth out the ridge in his forehead, but she knows that what she could tell him would only crease it further. “It’s just… It’s really good to see you,” she says instead. She steps back from him then, legs a bit stronger, waving a finger to the peeling gray awning overhead and wiping her eyes with another, a laugh stuck in her throat. “Are you seriously telling me we picked the same shitty motel?”
He scoffs at that, a flash of teeth showing before he bends down and picks up her forgotten keychain from the pavement beside her. "Ahh," he groans. "They've got a certain charm, I guess." The key tinkles lightly as he reaches, pressing it into her hand. “What’s going on,” he asks then, squeezing an elbow to catch her gaze. “How are you here right now?”
His voice is a mixture of worry, disbelief and awe - and she’s not going to lie to him, but she can’t do this out here. She can’t just spill every secret she has into the cool Chicago air and expect everything to be okay after. That’s not something she’ll take a chance on. Not here.
Her thoughts are trying to come out all at once while she sticks the key into the lock and turn the knob. He follows her in close behind, flicking the light on. “It was the first bus out of New York, Frank. I couldn’t… It wasn’t safe for me anymore.” The words taste bitter leaving her mouth, and instantly she feels the guilt of disappearing weigh her down further. For me - like Matt, like Foggy or even Sister Maggie aren’t still wildly in danger -
Oh, god, and now Frank -
“You weren’t supposed to be here,” she whispers worriedly before he can respond. Karen doesn’t look back at him as she drops her things onto the bed, pressing her fingers against her eyes when he slides the chain into place on the door. She knows the moment she reveals to him what she’s done - to Wesley, to Matt - it’ll be her fault, then, too, to what could happen next.
He pushes away from the door before situating himself into the chair at the small table nearby. She can feel his eyes on her back, and Jesus Christ it takes so much of her to remember to keep breathing. There’s almost a touch of humor in his question, she can hear it. “Where am I supposed to be?”
“I don’t know,” tumbles out too quickly. She turns and sees him, feeling an ache in her chest when he clenches his jaw and looks up at her. “Away. Far away, maybe, where you’re not gonna run into trouble again.” He’s not bleeding, and he doesn’t have any shrapnel sticking from his limbs. He’s healthy, and sporting white knuckles in place of his standard purple ones. His hair is only a bit longer up top, reminiscent of their courthouse days - something Karen’s fingers twitch at her side to unashamedly touch before she buries them in the strands tangling at her neck instead. “Go… go see a local band in Seattle, or have a beer at some fancy place in New Orleans. See the Pacific, I don’t know, okay? Something… you gotta -”
“Karen.” He’s in front of her then, holding her in place. “Hey, c’mon, all right? Will you just tell me what’s going on?” Her eyes close for only a moment as he hooks a thumb around a loose piece of hair, resetting it into place. It’s not lost on her when his fingers run through it again at her shoulder. She briefly wonders if he’s missed her as much as she’s missed him - a selfish, fleeting dream before reality rushes back to her. He’d been building a life again, and she’ll only make a mess of it from here, she knows it.
That’s what you do, Karen.
He covers her hand with his, anyway.
“I fucked up, Frank,” she exhales. “Everything… everything’s shit. I - I went to see Wilson Fisk while he was under protective custody.” She tells him all of it - about the fake Daredevil and the attack on the Bulletin, and then when she confronted him in the penthouse - all while feeling the grip he has on the front pocket of her hoodie tighten just a little more with each recount of the last few weeks. “And - and everything’s being recorded in there, right?”
“Jesus, that’s -” Dangerous. Reckless.
“Yeah.” She hears the recognition of his own strategies in her actions, feeling tears begin to burn in the corners of her eyes. Her body moves, fumbling away from his grasp to climb onto the bed and steady her legs. “Yeah, and, and he’s so high up, right now, with the FBI in his pocket. I… I needed him to admit to them the things he’s done so they'd send him back to jail."
She can see him work through what she tells him, his breathing a little too deep, his feet letting him rock before her - the way his finger hits his thigh, tap tap tap. “What’d you do,” Frank whispers, as if he could read her mind and see where it goes, how clear it’s written all over her face. It’s a soft request though, gentle as he comes closer and settles himself within reach.
God, why couldn’t he be in Bumfuck, North Dakota or something. “I don’t want to risk you,” Karen confesses. She can hear the tiny whine in her tone, but she means it. She ran from Fisk, if only to protect Matt, to protect Foggy. If Fisk is coming after her for what she’s done, then that’ll give the two of them more time to collar him the right way. But this -
Frank leaves a dusty boot print on the comforter when he moves, leaning back on the headboard as well. He slides his fingers down the arm closest to him and entwines their hands. His is calloused and rough upon hers, but she squeezes anyway. Her cheek falls limply to his shoulder. It’s as he breathes in against her hair does she realize that maybe he did miss her just as much as she did him, and it only breaks her heart further. "I wanna hear you say it.”
Karen informs him of a kidnapping. Of a warning, a threat - of seven bullets and an empty clip.
This is her luck running dry, she thinks. He tells her otherwise.
They had fallen asleep before day came. Light trickles in between the wall and the curtain, and the heating unit kicks, startling her upright and awake from a nightmare.
She has to figure out where she is for a second time as he chases her shocked gasp, his hand already searching for wounds - trailing her cheek, down her neck, and over her shoulder. With her heart pounding, before she's even able to pry her eyes open, she focuses on the low rumble of his speech and the gentle warmth of his hand coming to rest at her side. She's safe. Secure. "I got you."
He does, even after she had tried to tell him he shouldn’t.
“Dream,” she mumbles, claiming the fault and settling back down against him. The memory swims as she tries to process it, already feeling it fade at the nape of her neck and escape.
He grunts a little in acknowledgement, leaning to rest his lips back on her hairline. It’s almost easy to imagine that this could be normal - and it sets Karen’s mind racing in another direction. That Frank can simply lie beside her on a musty comforter, his arm circling her in close, his breathing steady and deep. That she’s able to slowly nuzzle across his chin, feeling his stubble scratch along the skin of her nose with each drag.
It’s not right to want this, now. She should be running like the wind, chasing the sharp curve of his handwriting aboard a train to South Carolina and not the curve of his ear with her thumb. She could be halfway to Arizona, counting cacti from another bus window rather than allowing herself this semi-quiet, stolen morning. It’s not what she deserves, not when she’s a risk to everyone she cares about.
The timing is all wrong.
He grunts softly at her touch, his mouth lifting from her brow. “What’s Murdock got to say about all this?”
Her hand stills on his neck, feeling her cheeks burn. He’s fishing, she can tell, and the implication still bothers her enough to scoff. Did he have to do this right now? Can Frank not feel how fast her heart could beat against his chest? Where did his mind go when she claimed she wanted to keep him safe?
“I don’t know,” she tells him. Karen hadn’t seen Matt since he walked away from her with a pair of scissors in his collar at the Bulletin. He had run from his truths, later, according to Sister Maggie, disappearing on his own. “He doesn’t know what I’ve done,” she whispers then, the fear of being judged climbing her spine and spilling from behind her teeth. Whether Frank wants to attribute that to her leaving New York, or what she did to Wesley, it doesn’t matter.
He’s quiet for a long time. Karen knows he hasn’t fallen back to sleep again when he starts to trace patterns along her shoulder blades, sighing onto the crown of her head. Her fingers tighten to a fist between them, curling on his shirt and pulling the warmth of his skin onto her knuckles. She can feel him lift bits of her hair to twirl them in his grasp before smoothing them flat again. Every gentle skim of his hand is softer than the last.
The last time she laid beside him at all had been in the aftermath of an explosion, their knees hitting tile flooring and their lungs choking on smoke, smelling burnt flesh and tasting metal on her tongue. He had held her then, too - if only to carefully check for shrapnel damage. His touch now is more of a comfort than a vitals check.
When he finally speaks, his words are too. “You did what you needed to.”
The reflection of her face in the bathroom is blotchy, and she doesn’t want to make eye contact with it while she brushes her teeth. Frank appears in the doorway, so Karen focuses on the way his arms cross in the mirror instead, his trigger finger rubbing into the bend of his elbow. She recalls that it had kept relatively still before she ruined it all. That tap tap tap had merely turned to a series of light strokes to her arm.
She catches him follow the line of her body, a slightly amused expression in his eyes when he reaches her double-socked, mismatched feet. It’s quick to disappear, she notices, but it was there all the same. She equally wants and doesn’t want to be standing in this particular moment, because it’s causing a blush to rise so sharply over her shoulders, and the flickering light above her reveals just how pink in the mirror.
He meets her gaze, watching him wipe at his face. She knows he’s already settled his mind on what will happen next - she can see it in the easy way his back leans on the frame, in the way he sets his jaw. God, she never should have stopped. Never should have gotten off that bus. Where is the luck in this, she wants to tell that old woman. A man - overdue to live a new life, ready to lay it down again.
“Red really thinks he’s just gonna bring this asshole back to jail?”
She moves into the next room at his incredulous question, adjusting the strap on her duffel laying on the bed to give her fingers something to do besides drill half-moons into her palms. Karen won’t admit out loud how eerily similar her thoughts had been because she has to believe otherwise. “Frank -”
“You know, Fisk - he… he had that whole place wrapped around his goddamn -”
“- listen, um, I -”
Karen’s breath is heavy as she sees his eyes trail over her again, focusing on the way she grips the bag against her side. Frank’s hand begins to waver at his thigh - the tilt of his head and furrow in his brow becoming prominent when she spots her shoes tucked halfway under the bed and shoves them on without a second thought. He can see it then, she realizes, as panic starts to build in her chest, all the wants and the needs she can’t have choking her throat. I need to go, she tries to say. I need to leave you behind.
“Hey.” His voice is gentle and nearly a whisper, and she takes a step towards the door when he gets closer. He's looking at her not unlike how someone would a wounded animal, all soft words and careful hands, and she can see the concern in the way his throat bobs. "I say something wrong?"
"No." It is the easiest thing she’s been able to tell him all day. “God, no.”
You want secrets?
I can tell you a secret, Wilson.
What was it like for you when he disappeared?
She did this to herself, there was no doubt about that. She just couldn’t let anyone else get hurt. “I can’t be here.”
“What’s the plan then?” She can’t have one, and this was never planned, anyway. It’s too soon out of the gate to be able to linger anywhere. It’s too soon to feel calm. Her leaving meant they were all safer. If she says there’s even an inkling of one now, what exactly would she be conjuring?
Frank sways a bit on his feet while she shakes her head, stepping outside and onto the pavement. He follows close behind without hesitation, picking his jacket up from the chair on his way out. “I just… I don’t know, find a payphone? I have to call Foggy -”
“Jesus, Karen, what year is it?”
The murder van smells faintly like vanilla bean car freshener, and she notes that as she digs a thumbnail into a frayed slice in the leather bucket of her seat. They drive out of Chicago and into Indiana, peering over piles of melted snow on sidewalks to find a working payphone.
She can see him looking at her for a few seconds every couple minutes when she focuses on her reflection in the window.
He wouldn’t cater an argument, before, when he shoved both their bags into the back, watching her try to explain to him one more time that she’s a danger to everyone around her and he should split. The clench of his jaw hollowed his cheek, but he said nothing further beyond the simple request to buckle up.
She can feel the acid build behind her tongue when her eyes follow the way Frank’s hands move over the heat controls. He's too calm for this.
"If we hadn't seen each other," she starts, seizing any opportunity to make him see sense, maybe, "you'd still be writing postcards every few weeks, and I -”
“I can’t write home if you’re dead, Karen, fuck,” he tells her quickly, his grip slipping from the wheel before he steals an exasperated look her way. “Don’t do that,” he demands. “Don’t even fuckin’ say that.”
The town they roll through next seems to be as disappointing and desolate as the one she grew up in. Anger and worry still brew in her gut, and she tries one last time. “This is Fisk, okay?”
“All the more reason,” he nods in agreement, bringing his attention back to the street again. The van swings left in a turn, her knees rocking against the side. “Red, he won’t be able to cross that line, okay, and if I never left -” He cuts himself off, hesitant. Her heart breaks as his knuckles tighten on the steering wheel.
“If you never left? You can’t know if things back there would be any different.”
“I know it would,” he bites, his eyes hard and his lip curling just a little. “I’d make sure of it. I made a promise before, back when I was at Rikers. Fisk, he… you know, he’s got legs to stand on, but a bullet’s a bullet.”
“This situation isn’t on you, though,” Karen says, turning in her seat to look at him. “You don’t get to take responsibility for what’s going on there. Dinah gives you a pass at a new life and you, what, you just toss it away, first go?”
“If I needed to.”
“I take care of myself, Frank.”
“I know,” he whispers gruffly, hitting the brakes and switching gears. She believes it - he’s the only one who has, in the past. “Let me do it anyway. Please.”
He’s not just asking in this scenario, now, she can tell.
She reaches to touch his arm after a moment - trying to still the shake radiating from his wrist, because this is her fault now - the stretch between their seats a bit too far for her liking. Her thumb rubs soothingly on his forearm, her eyes watching his heavy sigh fog up the driver side glass before he looks her way. The glance is brief, flickering from her face to her hand, and before she can slip it away Frank entwines them.
He mutters incoherently, tracing over the curve of her knuckles with his trigger finger. The hum of the van’s engine mixed with the heat blowing on their cheeks nearly drowns out the words he does finally get out. "I can't… I can't do that again. If anything happened to you..."
She knows. Jesus Christ, she knows. It’s why she’s almost eight hundred road miles away from New York, just for a start. Let Fisk and his minions hunt her blindly across the country, if only to think he may have the upper hand in this. Let her lead them in a wild goose chase to protect her friends.
Karen pulls his hand towards her, pressing her mouth over the rough calluses and old scars on his knuckles, closing her eyes. He’s done so much already. These hands have given shelter, and cradled babies, she thinks sadly. They've held his loving wife, killed men, and caressed her cheek. She lingers on the thought for a second before telling him with a soft hum against his skin, “Hard same, Frank.”
The surprising chuckle that follows rises slow in his chest, climbing to his throat with a sputter - a scoff - shaking his head lazily as if in undeniable belief. "Shit." He knows her well enough. “Hard same, huh?” His thumb presses on the dip in her chin when she looks up again and releases her hold on him. She can see the way his gaze hovers just over the spot when he slouches back in his seat, lip twitching as he tries to hide his newfound amusement.
Karen mimics him, leaning back in her own chair and marveling at how his whole body seems to get lighter with each word.
A finger trails up over her cheek just as she catches his eye again, and he turns further into the edge of his headrest to get closer. She leans into his palm, allowing herself this one small thing. Frank sweeps gently over her bottom lip then, his mouth parting slightly with unwavering fascination before he drops his hand into the space between their seats shortly after. “That right?”
She sighs in reply, if just to attempt to alleviate her jittery nerves when he lets go. A blush begins to form on her chest - feeling hot and suffocating as it grows under her sweatshirt from the heady look he gives her just for a moment. It’s here, though, when she realizes they’ve been sitting idle and haven’t moved for quite some time.
“Why’d we stop?” Her eyes scour the empty road in the side mirror, checking for oncoming traffic in the distance. They’re alone in a Dairy Queen parking lot, half-plowed out for the off-season.
He taps the glass beside him and she sees the payphone, a pile of snow melting atop it and just off to the side of a sunbathed sign advertising ice cream sandwiches. Karen cannot resist the urge then to push herself forward and thank him, kissing his cheek.
Foggy answers her call after three rings.
His voice in her ear is warm cocoa in comparison to the cold air brushing against her face, even if it keeps an edge of wariness. “Foggy,” she whispers into the receiver. “Hey, it’s me.”
Ka - hey, uh, hold on. There’s a loud, scratchy fumble and she assumes he’s tucked his phone into a coat. I’ll be right back, he tells whoever he’s with, the sound muffled and faraway.
She can feel her knees bouncing, the tiny crunch of ice and snow beneath her boot getting louder with each second of crackling pocket noise. It’s been days since she’s been able to see him, to know what’s been going on. What else has Fisk been able to do while she’s been away? Her hands are beginning to shake when he becomes clear again.
Are you okay? Where - he stops suddenly, sighing heavily into the phone. Don’t tell me, okay? Just… Are you safe?
Karen tentatively pokes a finger into the coin return slot a few times and hums, imagining him running a hand through his hair with the stress she is causing him. “I’m alive,” she says, keeping her eyes down and away from the van beside her if only to not distract herself. “Are you? Have you talked to Matt?”
Yeah, yeah. He came back after -
“Is he okay?”
- he’s gonna be fine. Listen, just... tell me you’re a thousand miles away, at least. At least that.
She skims a thumbnail under a pulpy smiley sticker on the side of the machine, and brings the phone closer. “Almost,” she admits. “What’s happening?”
There’s hesitation from him, and finally a tiny groan on his end that ends up sounding metallic in her ear. A pit starts to form in her stomach at the thoughts that begin to build. They’re all in danger. Fisk’s got a gun on everyone she’s ever cared about -
Father Lantom is dead.
He tells a story of how she was spotted outside the church with Sister Maggie, how the fake Daredevil arrived during evening Mass to kill her. How witnesses told police the Father took his own steps to protect the congregation after the guy found out she wasn’t there. “Oh, god,” she gasps. This is her fault, this is her fault, he died because of her. How many more people will be hurt because of her? “It should have been me, Fog,” she starts to say. “If I hadn’t -”
It hurts to breathe, just then. And why does she still get to, she wonders, after all of this? After Daniel, Elena, and Ben? After the rest at The Bulletin couldn't go on - why her?
Don’t be crazy, he tells her sternly. None of this is on you. Her hand covers her mouth to hide a sob anyway. None of it. It’s Fisk. He has this... FBI agent doing his dirty frame jobs.
Karen turns around so her back presses into the brick of the building, hearing her jacket grate against it when she slides down to sit on a mound of hard snow. He can say it however many ways he wants, but the fact is Father Lantom is dead. Father Lantom died with Matt’s baton wedged deep in his chest and if she’d been there instead, there’s a chance none of this could have ever gotten this far south. If she had just taken Maggie’s offer, if she had stayed at the church -
Hey, who’s that?
She looks up from staring at the space between her knees. Frank is in front of her, crouched low and swaying a bit to meet her gaze head on. She doesn’t even recall him getting out of the van, but he’s there, brown eyes trailing quickly over her tear-stained cheeks. He doesn’t ask if she’s okay when she looks back, feeling shame eat away at her heart. There’s no way she’s able to hide this from him, and it’s laughable to think she’d even be willing to try.
“Uh… Well - think of the one person only I would run into in the middle of all of this,” she huffs into the receiver, wiping at a tear that’s become cold halfway down her face. He doesn’t react at her mention of him - but when she lifts a hand in his direction after, he doesn’t hesitate to take it. She’s able to close her eyes and feel her heart finally beat a steady tattoo rather than the hammer it's been the whole time.
Right, Foggy whispers back, an abrupt barking laugh following. There’s a tinny echo, and she finally realizes he must have hid in a deserted bathroom somewhere. Of course. In that case, as your lawyer, I can’t advise you to associate with murderous prison escapees.
She chuckles too, despite herself. It's watery and short, but she could always count on him to make that happen. “And as my friend?”
“C’mon, stand up,” Frank mutters low. His free hand finds her elbow, lifting her up to stand straight. She is vaguely aware of how wet her jeans feel over her ass when she gets her footing.
As your friend, I don’t think you could be in better hands.
Karen thinks she could bite back that she can take care of herself, but she notes how absolutely literal his words end up being when she sees that Frank still holds onto her arm to stop her from slipping. He can have this one.
Foggy’s voice fades a little in her ear when the stiff metal cord doesn’t allow for stretch. “What?”
I said - there’s an APB out there for you. Agent Nadeem announced yesterday you were seen heading south from the bus station. Matt overheard him, somewhere, you know, like he does, right, and - his voice lowers to another whisper, he knows the guy was lying.
“Do you think we can trust him?”
Matt seems to think so, now. And - and he’s willing to testify in front of a grand jury against Fisk today.
She squeezes the phone hard enough to hear the old plastic creak. There was always the small possibility of getting that asshole back into the courtroom, and she imagines that Foggy would shut her down again if she brought up the prospect of premeditated murder, even if he deserves it.
“You’re already at the courthouse?”
Please deposit five cents for the next three minutes.
Shit. “Foggy, I gotta go -”
If five cents is not deposited within twenty -
“- I don’t have any more change.”
- five seconds your call will be automatically terminated.
You're calling me from a freaking payphone? Jesus, Karen, what are you - Okay, hey. I’m glad you’re still alive, he rushes out. After a moment, he speaks again. I'll let Matt know.
“Tell him… tell him I’m sorry.” For Father Lantom, she leans on, but thinks of her betrayal too. “I’ll call you soon, okay? I promise."
Karen, wait. He shuffles, mouth getting even closer to the speaker. The guy in the mask - his name is Benjamin Poindexter. Okay? Be caref -
A popping sound in her ear cuts through as the call disconnects.
If the false tip told the FBI team back in New York that she went south, then she wanted to be anywhere but there. Frank didn’t ask her which direction she wanted to go instead when they got back into the van, and she didn’t question him when he ultimately decided for her, either.
Karen knows Fisk will never stop hunting her. With Agent Nadeem giving her a chance - a miraculous kind of head start - she frets, wanting to know if anyone has already taken a second look to really figure where she went. It's only a matter of time before someone puts it together that he lied.
They’ve ended up at a diner for a late lunch that is just as empty as the last one they went to with each other. He’d given her his baseball cap this time, though, because for once he’s not technically the one on the run. Still at large, he joked lightly. Just not the priority.
Wood paneling line the walls inside, boasting with tchotchkes and a layer of dust. The faded green vinyl on the back of her seat is full of old cigarette burns, revealing the foam padding beneath to be in rougher shape than ones she remembers. A handwritten sign over the pastry cabinet tells her that on Tuesdays, someone named Cheryl makes homemade blueberry scones and mini cherry pies.
She dumps the contents of the jelly caddy onto the table and reorganizes it by flavor while they wait for the waitress to come over with fresh coffee.
He’s flipping through the menu with his trigger finger rubbing at the plastic cover. If she were anyone else there in the restaurant, she would think they were just two normal people on vacation, in from the cold for a bite. Admittedly, they looked the part - Frank is even sans bruises, and she has just a touch of pink at the end of her nose - but from where she sits, she can tell he’s been formulating a plan since before he put the van in drive .
Karen kept all of his postcards. He’d passed through so many places, and she had traced routes he may have taken between cards on a map she kept hanging in her room. There were brief mentions of local bands, historical landmarks and views he had seen. Where had he been before when he pulled in the other night? Was he coming or going?
“You must have had a plan, before.” It takes her a second to realize he’s probably asking about lunch, when he glances at her over the menu.
The waitress arrives with generous pours, a side-eye stare at the teetering stack of apple jellies in front of Karen, and then disappears just as quick when they give her their orders. He reaches for a mug and leans back into his side of the booth, taking a gulp. “You’re not upending anything,” he says to her. “If that’s what you’re worried about.” The words come out so simple, like he’s reminding her that the sky is blue, or her hair is blonde.
She deposits the small pile of mixed berry into a slot, unbelieving. “Frank -”
“No,” he says, flicking a rogue grape packet back to her side of the table. It bounces off her coffee cup and slides into her lap. “Listen, you… You wanna go, and - and drive off until you can’t anymore, we will do that.”
Karen lets herself imagine a road trip west, where they’d be able to roll the windows down in the van and feel the sun on their faces. It’s far out of place for them, she thinks - for sure. They’d sat beside one another in a courtroom, a jailhouse, and in the moments before and after the war he’s waged - to have a train of thought include a bit more peace between them seemed almost unreal, but definitely not unwanted. “You gonna take me to the beach, Frank?”
He chuckles, the surprise of her light tone lifting his eyebrows and tilting his head, as if considering. His hand reaches for the mug in front of him again without another word. She’s suddenly thankful the brim of his cap is long enough to hide the growing blush on her cheeks when she catches him peeking, his gaze low.
“I’ve only been to Coney Island once, before,” she explains, hearing herself laugh, too. She can’t recall the last time it had been as real as this, but it’s one of the first good things she’s felt in some time. “I think even then it was considered too early in the season.”
She bought a hotdog - because that was the Thing To Do when she got off the subway. Foggy had puked up his while getting off one of the coasters, and Matt had - at the time, before she knew - such a bizarre knack for the carnival games, leaving a stand with one of those ridiculously oversized stuffed animals. Her toes in the damp sand felt cool and inviting in the Spring weather later on, but she remembers how warm the sun had been on the back of her neck. She wonders briefly if California waters would ever let her feel the same.
“You wanna go back -” Frank quietly offers her, then. How clear must her face be that he can read where her mind goes? “We’ll get in the van, we’ll go.”
“Would it be that easy?”
“I’m not leaving you.”
The waitress eventually drops off their plates and refills their mugs, disappearing just as fast as she arrived to chat with another customer. Karen thinks that this time around it’s maybe because the two of them have started to lean into the table at each other, their voices hushed.
“Say… say we do go back,” she theorizes a few minutes later, picking off the chewy bits of bacon from her turkey sandwich and setting them aside. The ‘we ’ in all of this talk still makes her anxious. She left New York to protect everyone she cared about - that includes him - whether he was there or not. There’s an APB out for her. There’s an innocent man lying dead in a morgue somewhere, and Fisk won’t stop - she had seen that decision in his eyes up close. “That, back there, it’s not your war to start.”
Frank nods his head with a small laugh, chewing on half of his pastrami on rye. “You’re right, it’s not. You took the fight to him, it’s started already.” He continues while she lets out a tiny huff, keeping his eyes low on the table. “You gonna eat those?” He points to the side of her plate, lifting a piece of bacon when she shakes her head. “You and me both know Murdock won’t be able to cross that line. If we go back, I'm gonna finish it.”
The drawling mock of his name, Mur-dock, makes her pause, looking up at him in the midst of licking sweetener granules off her thumb from her coffee. His head bobs slightly to the side as he tracks the waitress, the older man sitting on a stool at the far end of the counter, and the swing of the door to the kitchen, naive to her stare. He knows. He knows about Matt. She shakes her head, thinking it shouldn’t matter any longer, not at this point - not with Fisk knowing being the real danger. Matt didn’t tell her a lot of things, least of all this. Her mouth opens to say so.
“Trade for your steak fries,” she requests, instead.
“What is it you wanna do?”
That particular question has been brewing in her mind for a few hours now. Foggy's making a fantastic effort with Matt in gathering evidence against Fisk, and she feels like a sitting duck no matter how quickly she would move, and regardless of how desperately he'd begged her to stay away. All she has to show so far for being out right now in the middle of Backcountry, Indiana is just more panic for who she's got to lose. Agent Benjamin Poindexter has already taken a life in pursuit of hers. How long would it be before Matt or Foggy end up in a morgue, too? What really could stop Fisk from killing two more birds when he's got an endless amount of stones?
“I want a lot of things,” she whispers softly.
Frank stops walking across the parking lot when she reaches for his arm. He rocks unsteadily in front of her, his gaze leading to where she settles her fingers into the crook of his elbow, and then up to trace her face. Something he sees there has him nodding absently. The only noise Karen can hear at this moment is the rustle of wet pebbles beneath his boots.
She can feel the weight of him step closer as his eyes shut. “Yeah?” He breathes deeply, his forehead meeting hers and knocking her hat slightly askew.
Fisk dead, she thinks darkly. Poindexter, out of commission. “Yeah.” You, she wants to say.
His hand grips the flap on her jacket pocket before fumbling its way to her waist. They sway a little, her mind mirroring the moment to one with alarm bells ringing far away in her ears, their collective breaths shaky and her nose filled with the scent of singed hair. The cold is quiet, though. It smells faintly of hash browns from the diner behind them, and yet when Karen rests her hand high on his shoulder, he still shudders.
There's no rush right now. No immediate panic of armored cops ready to strike with guns just on the other side of anything. Her heart pounds in her chest regardless, aware of how his hand manages to get lost in the hair at the nape of her neck. The wind picks up enough to knock her hat away, whipping blonde tendrils up and across his cheeks. He chuckles lightly, and Jesus, it’s so good to hear coming from him.
Emergency sirens go off distantly in town, getting closer as a vehicle maneuvers through traffic. Locals, she thinks. Maybe someone’s cat is trapped on a roof, or some poor kid slid and skinned their knee. Anything else would catch her breath. Frank lifts his head to watch the ambulance pass, crossing the intersection and fading when it turns out of sight.
“We could go up, you know, take the 55, then the 70 going west, to start,” he mutters after the street quiets, glancing her way.
And they would do it, should she say the words - there could be no questioning it now. They’d live a life on the run from a shitbag mob boss and all his hired cronies. His gifted one-way ticket to a new and free life from Homeland merely tossed into the depths of Lake Michigan, willing to never look back if it kept her safe.
Her gaze softens while she feels him stroke her hair, aligning it back into place as the wind dies down and caressing her cheek in the process. His gaze darts from her eyes to her cheeks to chase the path of his thumb, to then her lips when she smiles at him gently.
They have a right to live life without always looking over their shoulders.
“Yeah,” he breathes, continuing. There’s something feral and faraway in his voice. Karen’s fingers stroke the growing scruff on his neck, trying to grab his attention. She wonders briefly if they’re on display for whoever is left inside the diner, but she doesn’t care. He looks as unapologetic about it as she feels. “Yeah. We can get enough away -”
She silences his words with a kiss, surprising them both. The murmur of his name repeats, falling from behind her teeth as she shuts her eyes. A contented noise escapes him before she can pull away, his arms drawing her close and breathing her in. Their noses brush in the break, and she runs a thumb over his stubbled cheek before her fingers curl tight across the collar of his coat. She thinks he may be holding her a bit too flush to his chest for a very impromptu parking lot peck, but then again, she’s clutching on to him just as strongly.
He’s staring when she looks at him again. Something about it sends a shiver up her spine and meets the tip of his finger resting on her neck. Disbelief floods him - she can see it, how endearing - his mouth parting and his breath heavy against her. “Christ,” he manages to say, letting it melt on her lips as he leans forward, kissing her once more.
It’s a bit overwhelming, to say the least.
His hand slides out from her hair to caress her jaw, and she’s so wrapped up in the thrill of his mouth - the ghost of his tongue - over hers that she nearly forgets she has something she needs to say. When she steps back to take a breath moments later, she keeps a hand tight against his jacket with a fist to ensure he’s still there. “Take us home, Frank.”
She wants a life without either of them needing to ever look over their shoulders again. He deserves more than this. They both know what that will entail.
He’s quiet, hovering close with hooded eyes before huffing a short laugh. It brushes over her nose with warm air. “I won’t lie to you,” he admits, fumbling to grasp the hand she left on his arm and head towards the van. “I gotta say, I was really looking forward to the beach.”
Karen picks up a tiny ball of ice off the lot on her way around to the other side and chucks it at his leg to distract him from her creeping blush. It misses, skidding across the gravel pavement and breaking into even smaller pieces before colliding with the tire of someone’s Prius. Frank looks over at her fondly, crossing his arms and chewing on his bottom lip like he didn’t just miss being fired upon. She figures they’re both a little high on each other - still a bit breathless.
Jesus, she actually kissed him. She kissed him and - fuck, he had leaned in for more. Took her in his hands and pressed her further against him. No questions asked, no answers needed, like he was meant to do it all along.
They're found just outside Toledo.
It’s another two hours before they hit Cleveland, and it’s dark when they get out for gas and things to chew on at a truck stop. Karen disappears inside to use the restroom. A couple of guys in freshly bought hats and winter puff jackets are grilling a cashier up front, pointing to a folded state map on a shelf nearby. The price tags are still swinging off their snap-backs.
“- skinny,” she hears one guy say. “Pretty tall. Headed west, probably.”
“Blonde, too,” the other supplies, leafing through a local hunter’s guide from the spinner rack by his shoulders. “She’s a person of high interest back in -”
She bolts the door to the womens’ room shut behind her, releasing a breath she hasn’t realized she’d been holding when she rounded on them quickly, passing their backs and an endcap of spicy jerky. The familiar click of the lock settling itself into position is a heavy reminder, and it echoes in the large empty space, a hammering heartbeat of its own.
These guys - poorly disguised undercover FBI agents, bounty hunters, local panderers on Fisk’s payroll, whatever - know she’s not headed south. A chill runs down her spine, wondering how long it’s been since she left Hell's Kitchen that they must have figured out her route. This place had been a brief fuel stop for the bus to Minneapolis. She had gotten out to stretch her legs only a couple times along the way - how many pimply overnight cashiers were able to identify her to get these guys this far?
Her hood is up when she later unlocks the door, hands shaking with anticipation of what could come from this. The blonde hair they’re searching for is buried against the nape of her neck. Frank’s gruff voice can be heard from her hiding spot in the tiny hallway, asking for thirty on pump 5, ma’am. His black hat hangs low over his brow, but Karen doesn’t miss when he peers over at the two hovering at the other end of the counter, still describing her to the tired-looking clerk. The way she sees his shoulders square up tight, the shadow on his cheeks darkening when he clenches his jaw, she recognizes that he’s on the same page as her - and sizing them up for threat levels.
“- think it was just a few days back,” the first one says.
“If you see her, give us a call,” the second one finishes, reaching a hand into his crisp denim jeans and pulling out an already-folded business card. He slaps it upon the countertop and leads the way out into the parking lot. She can see them walk along the sidewalk before disappearing behind a sale sign for energy drinks and bagged ice hanging on the windows.
Frank spots her in the narrow hallway, already reaching for the brim of his hat to cram it onto her head again, his steps large and calculated. His easy going temperament had fizzled out quick at the counter.
“No, no,” she whispers in a rush when he meets her, placing her hand on the top of her hood and shaking her head. Her escape plan is to slouch and duck her head until she’s able to tuck away into the van. “Keep it, we’re getting closer to home, you’re gonna start being recognizable soon.”
“You go out that door and those guys’ll see you,” he growls, pointing at the windows. The vein on the side of his neck splits like a branch below the collar of his jacket, further evidence of his panic. She breathes sharply through her teeth in frustration, knowing what he says is a giant possibility.
Her eyes scan what she can see of the parking lot, feeling her knees bounce with nervous energy before his arms slowly rub along hers, soothing circles into her elbows. A redhead with a high ponytail and an unlit cigarette in her mouth takes a walk a little too close to the backside of the van, her stare a bit too thoughtful on the glaring yellow and blue New York license plate.
The two men inside were not working alone, Karen realizes, watching the woman incline her head to peek under the vents that make up the back windows.
“Go get gas,” she decides, taking a step back out of his hold and kissing his knuckles quickly. The longer they’re there in that hallway, the chances of being caught become greater. She points briefly at the woman, quietly wondering how she’s faring in the cold night air in a pair of worn off-brand leggings and a windbreaker.
He follows her gaze, the sharp exhale from his nose the only auditory thing she can focus on. They could lose the low profile act if he took action.
Her gun is tucked in her purse, just under the passenger seat - she can nearly picture it - kept within arm’s length if needed.
If she were there.
“I’ll figure something out,” she mutters, pushing him gently toward the threshold into the rest of the travel center. “If all else fails, we… we take a side trip somewhere else.”
Three then, so far, she thinks absently. In her fourth day - noted as she spots the marquee clock above the cashier’s head give off a dazzling 2AM scroll - out from Hell’s Kitchen, a round of three lackeys have been lucky to follow her close behind. It does not go over her head that if they’re being found along the bus route, then Agent Nadeem is probably in danger.
In danger. That’s their best case scenario.
Karen bruises her lip at the thought of the worst, feeling another tally on the list against her slowly carve itself across her chest. She watches Frank disappear back into the cold, swinging the car keys on the loop around his finger. He greets the redhead with a small nod, a touch to the brim of his cap, lowering it just so over his eyes, his boxer’s nose. She can only guess what he says to charm her into a dismissive chuckle, stepping out of sight and toward the direction the two hunters went.
The wind hits her like an afterthought on the heels of a group of teens leaving the store, bags of hot fries and licorice under their arms. They’re shouting a story of multi-colored celebratory slushies and iced coffee spills to another at the pump just in front of Frank’s van - and for a moment things are actually okay. The hairs at the base of her neck still rise with paranoia, Frank’s obsessive and blind clicking of the unlock button on the key fob still brings a ringing to her ears, sure, but it only takes two tries to get the sticky van door open to climb inside.
He continues to pump gas on the driver side as the kids speed away, leaving them alone in the fluorescent spotlights under the canopy. The excessive clicking suddenly switches from unlock to lock , the brief honk of the horn echoing inside, the doors giving a muffled thunk with each attempt to lower a now already-lowered knob. Karen peeks at her mirror, spotting the two men from before approach him.
For a second, her eyes meet theirs in the reflection. The shorter one pauses, a creeping smile rising to dimple his cheeks.
“Can I help you?” His voice is calm and full of easy inquiry. There is an edge to it, though. A warning - something she recognizes from the back of her mind, a memory of him attempting to pacify the madman holding her captive from across a hotel’s kitchen. Her stomach turns.
“Well, sir,” she hears from his open window, “we’re looking for a woman -”
“Ahh, you know, the good ones are hard to come by, these days,” Frank interrupts lightly. There’s no humor behind it. In the angle the driver side mirror gives her from her seat, she can see the tic of his finger repeat over the gas pump. The vent on the windows in the back gives her a choppy outline of them - a hand coming up to rest on the edge.
“- out of New York, if you can believe it,” the guy finishes slowly, slapping the back door.
“City alone’s got about eight million people, bud.”
“We’re looking for just the one," says the other. "She’s dangerous. Got a lot of good people killed. We’re asking around if anyone’s seen her, on accountta some cameras got her hopping on a bus headed this way. Pretty thing, shame. Goes by Karen Page.”
“You think so?” Frank points to something close and out of her sight, the soft thrum of gas heading into the tank quieting. “Could I get one of those?”
Hearing her own name come out from a stranger's mouth nowadays isn't entirely uncommon. The Bulletin kept editorial photos of staff on their website like some kind of high school yearbook, letting readers put a face to every byline. Nevertheless it gives her chills to hear her name this far from home. Her hand squeezes the space in the door handle to ground herself. What else could these guys even know about her, beyond what they’ve been told by Fisk's men?
She spots the redheaded woman knock on a door to the single tractor trailer parked across the lot with one final blow of smoke from her cigarette. She stomps it into the cement before the driver lets her slide inside, the dome light going dark with a final slam of the door. Oh.
“Sure,” the shorter of the two men says, breaking her train of thought, bringing her mind back. “Ain’t a problem, friend.” Karen scoots into the driver’s seat to get a better look, watching Frank stick an offered cigarette into the side of his mouth. His eye catches hers in the mirror as a lighter flicks in a chummy pass. He is decidedly not friendly now - his gaze growing dark, his stance a little predatory.
“What are you gonna, you know, do if you find her?” He lets it burn between his fingers, the ash flaking in their hesitant silence, the wind carrying it their way.
A solid and sudden thunk against the back of the van makes her jump, hearing a man cry out in agony. In the rearview, Frank is reaching across the man’s belt and pulling a silenced handgun, muttering something harsh and full of rage against his cheek before firing at the retreating back of the second. He doesn’t get very far - a yelp of pain reaches her ears before the hard crack of his skull hits the pavement, his hat tumbling away. She has to clasp her hand over her mouth to cover the ohmygod that escapes. The blood quickly pooling under the fluorescents begins to reflect the station's logo from the highway.
“I don’t know, Kingpin’s offering a reward! Dead or alive, c’mon, man,” the guy still pressed against the van shouts with panic. It echoes under the empty canopy, followed by another muted gunshot, another body dropping heavy like a sack of potatoes.
Her heart is in her throat, her mind only now remembering where her own gun went, her body bending - reaching -
The keys are tossed through the open window and bounce off her thigh before she can say anything more, her head rushing and her breathing harsh through clenched teeth. “Start this thing, yeah?”
“Jesus Christ,” she hisses at his back. “Frank, get in the goddamn van.”
“Just a sec -”
They're still out in the open. She eyes the remaining gas pumps and how empty they all are at this hour. So many questions run through her head. What would he have done differently if those kids were still idle? If the sun had been out? Did the cashiers even look under the brim of his hat to get a good glance at him - will they recall the time of night when they saw these men arrive, when someone else rolls up and discovers the bodies? Will the redheaded lot lizard be able to identify Frank if she's asked?
“I swear to god, Frank -”
Her fingers shake, but Karen hears him click close the latch to the gas tank as the engine roars to life. It's deafening, and her knuckles turn white to feel how strong the rumble is through the steering wheel. The scent of gasoline is wafting in her nose then -
He coughs out a thick cloud of tobacco before he climbs in the passenger side, the cigarette now missing, a gun in his hand to replace it. She peels out from the pump with a brief glance his way, the tires screeching only for a moment before she gets them back on 90 going east. They can’t stay on it for very long. Anger and worry sweat through the cold on her skin, but he’s in one piece, slowly wiping leftover ash onto his jeans and breathing deeply.
A fire burns brightly on the concrete in their wake.
They’ve got to find a better route, she thinks.
Once they hit signs for Cleveland, she keeps driving.
She drives until the gas tank meter wavers halfway, until it feels like no one else is on the highway with them, until she feels his hand cover hers on the wheel. “We can stop,” he tells her softly, lining them back up with the road and away from the rumble strips. “C’mon, hey.”
She's so tired -
The phone in their room is an ugly shade of avocado green. She notices that first when they arrive. It sits on the nightstand between two beds, their matching floral comforters a bit too on the nose of a reminder to her mother’s taste in patterns growing up.
Karen’s hand skates a few times over the receiver, a silent debate. Morning pushes against the curtains, the start of dawn creeping in through the corners. She’s absolutely exhausted, but she can already tell she won’t be able to sleep well without knowing whether or not Agent Nadeem has been compromised.
Frank watches her from his seat on the opposite bed, unlacing his boots. “Counselor's gotta wake up sometime, right?”
She has to know for sure.
It takes two rounds of her dialing to get a hesitant but very awake-sounding Franklin Nelson.
Jees. He’s quiet for a moment and the wind blowing into the speaker displaces his voice. You’re safe, right? Both of you, you’re good?
“We’re good, yeah, for now.” She can feel her fist tightening into the blanket. “Is he… is Nadeem - Did he…?”
Yeah. He sounds tired. Echoes of police sirens beyond his side of the phone fill her ears before a car door slams shut, cutting out the extra fat. FBI is posing Ray as mentally unstable. They found his body earlier. Fisk is throwing a bunch of shit out to get people to forget everything and move on.
Karen limply drops the phone from her ear, catching Frank’s eye. His gaze hardens at her wilted look before glancing away, muttering softly to himself. Of course they’d be pulling that card. Irritation crawls up her spine. Her fingers itch to read their press release, to then scroll through Ellison’s newest op-ed and hope he’s keeping his head low for the time being. Her face burns.
Matt left late last night to go on a warpath, he continues. I just talked to Brett, they’re hauling away one of his guys right now. Told me he was found dangling off the side of a building. I had to warn him someone might go after Fisk next.
“Fisk is gonna get away with all of it,” she whispers. "If he isn't stopped soon."
You mean unless Matt kills him, Foggy says bluntly. Her sigh is audible, blowing wind into his end. She knew his objections to the idea of killing Fisk, but she also knows if he ever did the deed, Matt would never be able to forgive himself for it. There was no coming back from that. She never wants that for him.
Her eyes follow Frank as he organizes their bags by the door. He had already decided what his next move would be if the original plan went south. If not telling Foggy those plans kept him at ease, then she'll keep them on this side of the phone line.
There's a groan. I’m just glad you’re not here to see all this. At least one other good thing came out of your escape, right?
She winces in reply, the prolonged silence his only confirmation that she’s tacked on another worry for him.
No. No, no no.
“We’re still far,” she rushes out. “Just not as much… anymore.” Frank hums in amusement, digging in his duffel for his toothbrush before disappearing into the bathroom behind her.
How did you even figure out about - no. He breathes out heavily into the phone, static in her ear. I don’t wanna know, okay? I can't… We've been hiding out at his dad's old gym in the meantime, for safety. It's been a long week.
There are so many other things she could tell him that could only stress him further. "I love you," she says to him instead, feeling as if lately she hasn’t been able to say it enough.
Well hey, I love you too. Stay safe, hear me?
Later, after she's braided her hair for bed and splashed water on her face, Karen stares at herself in the mirror. The back of her hand is cool as she smudges it across her cheeks, trying her best to calm down. Ray Nadeem had been killed last night. Her heart still races at the fact, wishing the knowledge of that wasn’t so bitter to figure and would just let exhaustion take over.
The lamp between the beds illuminates the shadow of his face and the curve of his bare shoulder upon the wall when she turns to look at him. She always thought that she was a good liar, but Frank isn’t someone she ever intends to hide from. His brow furrows a little when he sits up against the headboard. She can feel her fingers twitch with the desire to smooth it down as she gets closer to her own bed.
Even so, he already knows the answer she'll give - it’s written in the tense way he holds his hands at his blanketed knees, in the way he can’t stop staring at her. “No,” she admits anyway. "I thought it'd be easier to know for sure," she continues. "Now it's all I can think about."
They’re not even far enough off from her original bus route that it would be fitting to consider they’re guaranteed a few hours of restful sleep, so she places her handgun from her purse onto the nightstand - just in case.
“Hey,” Frank says softly, quickly moving his own from under one pillow to another within reach and sliding a little deeper into his bed to lift the comforter. “Karen, c’mere.”
A shiver runs through her, and she's not certain if it's from standing barefoot on the cold floor or from his request.
They had done this before, she reasons, gripping the end of her braid tight within a fist. He hadn’t hesitated to comfort her then, either, stamping a boot deep into the mattress to get alongside her. With barely a moment to second-guess a decision, Karen takes his proffered hand and climbs in beside him.
He’s radiating warmth before he even drops the blanket over them, slipping his knee between hers and keeping her close. She wonders guiltily if she should have put socks on earlier when she hears a quick huff escape his mouth and brush across her cheek, her toes touching his. “Sorry.”
“Don't be,” Frank shakes his head, the lamp light catching the humor in his eyes before he sets his head onto a waiting fist. “Not my first run-in with arctic feet.” His hand spreads across her back after she makes a noise in distracted amusement, his fingers fueling a fire that crawls along her waffle knit top and up her spine to settle between her shoulder blades. The air he sighs into her skin a bit later is cool, and despite the heat of him, it leaves goosebumps against her. “It’s gonna be okay.”
Her mind is too busy to agree. How many more people will be added to the pile of bodies already rotting away at Fisk’s feet before he’s finally taken down for good? The list in her head continues to grow like wild ivy, tangling around her and pulling tight. Daniel, Elena, Ben, her friends at the Bulletin, Father Lantom - “He had a family,” she mutters dejectedly then of Ray Nadeem. “A little boy. His wife, she -"
“It’s gonna be okay,” he repeats in a gruff whisper. “Guy must have figured something, you know,” he goes on. The edge in his voice trembles against her fingertips as he looks her over for a moment. There’s worry in his eyes, and she feels his thumb comb through the end of her braid, leaving circles on the bones of her spine. “Kept them safe, somehow.” She knows he won’t lie to her, but this sounds more like their own desperate wish spoken aloud rather than a confirmation.
Her hand brushes along his ear before resting on his neck. “Is that what you were doing back in Toledo,” she asks a little darkly, “with those guys? This why you’re so calm right now?”
He scoffs in surprise, turning against his palm to wipe at his face and avoid her stare. A short and bitter laugh rises past his throat when he can’t for very long. “So call me selfish, then, Karen. Yeah? I... If I can’t protect you, I got nothing.”
Karen shuts her eyes and bites back a groan. “You are so far from being selfish, Frank. It’s exhausting.” She knows he knows she can say more, her mouth opening to ready for another argument, she’s capable -
“Shh, shh shh, hey,” he pleads, a quiet rustling of sheets the only sound she gathers when he leisurely skates further shapes along her arm with his fingers. It’s soothing, despite the irritation she feels. “Exhausting enough to get you some sleep?”
“Maybe,” she hears herself admit after a long moment passes. He hums a little into the hush to hide another chuckle behind his teeth. They still have a ways to go before they hit the state border, and the jury is still out if she’ll be able to sleep once they get back. “This helps,” she says, gesturing blindly in his direction, wanting to explain it further. It’s the most she can muster up, though, trying to focus away from the red on the back of her eyelids, onto his steady heartbeat pounding against her fingertips - and not how long it may have taken for the police to discover Ray Nadeem's body.
“You want the light off?”
Her arm grasps him tight while he rolls them to her back, reaching over for the switch on the nightstand. The darkened room becomes still when Frank settles around her, his hands sliding between her and disappearing high under the pillows. Their legs are tangled together. Karen feels the weight of him surrounding her - the ease of his breathing, his cheek resting gently against the exposed skin of her shoulder - and knows with absolute certainty she’s never felt more calm in her life than she does right this minute.
She’s safe, she thinks, nodding slowly and stroking the soft fuzz of his hair behind his ears.
Their guns are within reach. The deadbolt is set in place upon the motel door. They’re off the beaten path. His mouth presses a delicate, lingering kiss to the edge of her collarbone before she can lose herself to the feeling, to sleep. He’s safe too.
Temperatures are a bit higher here than when they left Nomansland, Pennsylvania earlier.
Exhaust fumes begin to fill her nose when they slow to a near crawl in the Lincoln Tunnel later on. Someone somewhere ahead of them honks their horn - long and angry and echoing - but it’s no use against the Friday mid-afternoon traffic. The bass in one car rattles the van before laughter takes over, a squeal of delight when the song changes to a 90’s female country-pop tune and the volume is lowered only by the raising of their windows.
“- and I’m not letting you skip out on your father’s weekend to -”
“That’s not fair, Mom, c’mon, you know he won’t let me leave the Village -”
“- go to some concert in - Jesus fucking Christ, he’s allowed to make that decision, Reggie, he’s your father -” A brown haired woman in a beat up gray Taurus saddles up next to Karen’s open window, her arm gesturing wildly at a grumpy teenager in the passenger seat and to the cars as she goes on. Another blast of a horn, an angry shout of impatience, and their eyes meet. An awkward flush blooms over the woman’s face as she hits the automatic button to close the window, continuing with her argument. There's a double take, but her lip forms decisively into a grimace at her angsty kid and the car scoots even further up the lane.
She half-wonders if the toll workers could recognize her beneath his hat - or if the combination of his beanie, his charming smile, and dark sunglasses at the entry were good enough to disguise him to be considered Pete and not Frank. Her sudden desire to scroll through the Bulletin’s news app leaves her twitchy. She’s not about to introduce herself to the raging ball of frustration in the next car and ask to use her cellphone for confirmation.
The walls on either side of them begin to spell out the states as they creep across the border. NEW JERSEY meets NEW YORK with a painted line one hundred feet below the surface of the Hudson. Her next breath is staggered, nervousness and surprise that she's back so soon locking tightly together in her throat.
They make it enough of the way through before he speaks again. “I did not miss this,” Frank mutters matter-of-factly, tapping a thumb on the steering wheel and lolling his head to the side. He’s antsy, too.
Karen looks at him, the other half of her thoughts selfish and hopeful, asking herself if anything like this - traffic, or road trips - would ever be a thing they could do together without the terms of life or death attached to them.
“Next time we’ll know better than to leave right at rush hour,” she replies, flicking the radio on only to hear a mattress commercial, which drowns out the echoing sounds of irritated voices and the muffled singing of late 90’s Shania Twain once they break sunlight.
Their five hour nap wasn’t long enough - she knows that now.
It had been her idea, of course, to leave as soon as she could get rid of the fog behind her eyes and she stopped getting away with pressing her nose against the stubble on his jaw. The way his thumb dragged lazily over her cheek in the early moments of waking had given her hints that he'd been awake for some time, too, watching her sleep.
Her chest suddenly blooms red, a blush growing wild at the thought.
A daydream builds at the front of her mind. The two of them are taking the subway back to her apartment after lunch some simple weekend, avoiding the stalled taxi line and not at all minding the minor-but-not-actually-minor delays of the A train because their bellies are full and she’s laughing at one of Frank’s jokes. They've got nothing else planned, the crinkles deepening around his eyes as he watches her tell him so. An easy smile transforms his whole face at her implication. She’s got a hand in his coat pocket to yank him closer, the curve of her finger beneath his chin, and he kisses her soundly against a pole as the doors finally close -
"Next time," he agrees lightly.
There’s a midday news update stripped from the radio’s sister television network just as she begins to point their way through streets to get to Fogwell’s. Her name is called amongst the chatter. It's strange to hear - enough to pull her from her head and glance down at the volume controls to try and focus on what’s being said.
- and what about Daredevil’s apologists like Blake Tower and Karen Page?
She should be in jail.
We have breaking news that Fisk has invited many of New York’s powerful figures to the Presidential Hotel for some kind of surprise announcem -
Karen flicks the knob again, silencing the cabin.
“If he thinks he’s just gonna go and…” Frank’s knuckles tighten over the steering wheel for what seems like the hundredth time, trailing off before huffing to himself. “Asshole.”
“Do you think it was a mistake of me to leave in the first place?”
“No,” he says without hesitation, his voice hoarse and his eyes glancing her way. He looks heartbroken. “No, you know that. You gotta know that. You… God, protecting yourself will never be a mistake, Karen.”
Foggy's laptop is heavy in her grasp as she waits for Ellison to formulate some kind of response to seeing her on the couch in his office. On its hard drive is a copy of Nadeem's final testimony, set and ready to play for another pair of willing ears. She’s heard it about forty times in the last hour.
She’s heard Foggy’s plea to keep out of sight just as much.
Frank hadn’t stayed very long after Foggy filled in the gaps for them, checking the locks on the doors to the gym and gathering his jacket. With a brief jab against the nearest punching bag and a calculated ease, he assured them that he’d see them before the end of the night. That gave him a few hours to, as he put it, find Red, knock him around a few rooftops for old time’s sake, and see some friends about a couple of things.
What are those things? You know I can’t condone -
That’s for me to know, counselor, he answered low.
To Karen, he buried his fingers into the hair at the nape of her neck, had drawn his thumb just beneath her ear, and rested his forehead against hers. Her mouth wanted to form words, to ask him to give this path a chance, Frank, knowing which direction he’d be headed next, but what came out had only been hope that he would be careful, please. Watch out for him.
She had felt his resolve shake upon her skin, his breath a little unsteady. He hesitated only to look her in the eyes. I’ll find you.
He meant it. Plus, they both knew she would not stay behind in the gym.
Ellison’s mouth still hangs open as she stands from her seat, his arms pulling her into a hug without waiting another moment. “This totally doesn’t mean I forgive you, by the way,” he says into the cotton of her hood. Karen has to close her eyes just to stop the burning, the urge to tear up and stain his already slightly wrinkled shirt. He means well, anyway - she can tell - his fingers grip her tight. It means nearly everything to hear his sigh of relief.
“I’m trying to keep a low profile,” she manages to tell him.
“You-know-who’s people are looking for me, so…”
“Well, after what happened at the church,” he begins, pulling away to look at her and ultimately trailing off. She imagines he sees the dark circles she herself caught by chance in the van’s side mirrors. The chapped lips and the stringy blonde hair, maybe, too. Her hands fiddle with the edge of the laptop, a thumbnail digging into a rubber cushion on the bottom. She’s not sure how much time they have. “Jees, Karen,” he whispers. “Everyone is looking, there wasn’t a trace of you anywhere."
“I have something for you.”
“Is it… Are we really doing this?” His eyes widen only slightly, and then she suddenly remembers, she knows what he’s asking for.
“No,” Karen says firmly, planting the laptop on his desk and turning it on. Ray Nadeem’s sullen face stares back at them, waiting to reveal all his secrets. “I won’t give you Daredevil. But I did come bearing a few unfortunate gifts that should hopefully make up for that.”
She hits play.
The crowd quickly building outside the hotel courtyard is pushed back to make room for a couple ambulances. A handful of people shivering in formalwear have started rewatching the Bulletin’s breaking news alert. She can hear Ray’s voice over the sirens and continuous authoritative shouts to step back. I’m guilty of a number of criminal acts, and I was in no way acting alone.
No one is telling them anything about what’s happened.
Foggy nearly chews through his bottom lip beside her while they wait for Brett to come back into view, to maybe get some kind of clue as to where they are in finishing this. There’s a wall of officers waving a police car through, though, and the cop behind the wheel gets out quickly to say a few hushed words to another, her arm pointing, sweeping it skyward, and nodding. The front doors open.
FBI agents she’s only recently seen in press conferences are carted away, a short walk of shame ending in the back of an NYPD transport van.
A woman is shrieking, the angry sound trapping itself in her chest. It cuts the dull roar of noise around them in half, and a collective gasp to the sight follows. Karen tries a few times to grip Foggy’s coat. Her fingers are too numb to curl around his wrist.
She’s cuffed, stumbling on the front stairs, and trying to escape the hold Brett has on her arm. “Wilson,” she cries out, turning away from his grip. Her eyes are not on the looming guests but blind with tears as she struggles. “Please, please let me see -”
Flashbulbs spark on the red stains soaking deep into the satin threads of what looks to be her wedding gown. Shouts to call her attention erupt from a line of reporters left on the sidewalk. Karen knows Ellison parked at least two photographers in that pile, ruthless and desperate for a front page shot. They all want to know who else the police will cart away. They want to know if she knew of Fisk’s nefarious dealings around the city. Who’s blood coats her shoes. If Daredevil is dead.
They want to know who designed her dress.
“Please, Wilson, tell me,” Vanessa begs, filling the backseat of a cruiser. Her voice fades against the slam of the door. “My… my husband -”
“Your husband’s dead, Mrs. Fisk.” Brett says curtly - and with a little bite - slapping the curve of the hood to alert the officer that it was time to go.
Karen releases a breath she didn’t realize she’s been holding as the car departs. An unforgiving pressure is lifting from her shoulders, but a million terrible scenarios of everything else that may have gone wrong grows, racing through her mind anyway. Had he been up there? Could they have killed each other?
Is Matt -?
Oh god -
Foggy’s breath hitches, his hand dropping, quickly reaching to hold hers. Their eyes meet, the pleas of her own heart echoing in the harsh lines of his face.
The EMTs cart out two stretchers, the body bags shining bright over the flashbulbs. There’s a hush over the pit, jaws dropping at the scandal. Wheels clatter loudly onto the pavement, the weight of its passenger jostling the legs. She can make out the imposing shape of Wilson Fisk within the dark plastic, his body pressing against the restraints keeping him in place.
He leads even in death, she notes, as he is the first to be wheeled over to the back of an ambulance. The other holds a pile of evidence bags atop the flat of their knees - a red spattered groom’s jacket, a bloodied and broken billy club - and a thick clipboard with the NYPD logo painted across the edge.
It can’t, it can’t.
“Brett.” She manages to keep her voice steady despite the panic rising in her throat. Her ears muffle out the sounds around them. He’s got his back to them, directing officers in place, speaking into his radio, demanding for verification that the department is ready for deliveries. “Brett, h-hey.”
He hears her then, sparing a glance at them over the collar of his beige trench coat. “I’m not up for giving out any comments, Karen,” he says, the edge in his voice letting her know it’s not the first time tonight he’s turned down talks with the lingering press. She watches as his head swings to the side to monitor the body bags being placed in the ambulance, his eyes narrowing for just a moment. “I got this whole shitshow to take care of first.”
“Just…” she murmurs softly, trying not to choke on the words, trying so hard to complete her thoughts aloud. It’s not, it can’t. Foggy’s hand squeezes hers even tighter when Brett steps near. She’s not sure if she’d be able to hold a pen at this point, if she were even here to do what she usually does best. Her head nods weakly to the second bag. “Who else?”
“It’s not our guy,” he huffs out just as quietly, their eyes meeting briefly, reading the two of them like a book. She sees the truth there, in the way he sighs a little lighter, a little easier. The worst to come out of this is over. “That’s about all I can say for sure, right now.”
The confirmation is enough to finally catch her breath. She’s not exactly sure how she’d be able to handle the news a second time if it were any different. They’d already mourned him once.
Foggy wraps her in his arms when Brett heads back into the fray, a tiny sob she suspects he’s been holding for quite a while releasing against her neck. “He should be here, then,” he tells her after a bit, turning to watch the rest of the cops begin to pack up a bag of leftover zip ties to replace the handcuffs they’ve already used. She can hear the solace in his voice. “Matt should be here.”
There’s relief in his words and it washes over her, stretching the moment a little further as she looks up around them. Cool air whips at her neck, her gaze spanning the rooftops with a guess to where Matt could be hiding out and watching. “Well, after this, I’m pretty sure he is.”
Karen’s eyes catch the light of the flashbulbs across the way again, most the crowd on the sidewalk pushing into the bike lane to get a better look at the drama spilling amongst the perennials and the stonework of the courtyard. Camera phones flash and record beneath the streetlamp, the reporters and bystanders alike calling out to a few guests trying to bundle up by the transport vans.
One stands apart from them, though, lingering near the inky black of an alley. His broad shoulders are pretty still against the stonework of the building in comparison to their clamoring, his baseball hat pulled down just enough to cover his eyes. It’s not enough to hide the shadow blooming over the side of his face. “I’m…” She’s already stepping away from the pulse of police lights, eyes tracking the way the man pats a darkened knuckle against his swollen lip. The light glistens against it as he lifts it in her direction.
He did say he’d find her.
“Foggy, are you gonna be okay?” He scans the sea of heads before nodding, squeezing her hand one final time. “Can I meet you back at the gym?”
The brisk walk over to Frank is its own experience - her heart pounds even as she cuts through the evening’s halted traffic. Phones on his side of the street are still filming the scene, photographers are adjusting their camera settings, and reporters are nervously asking if their hair looks okay before they go live with the local news stations. No one sets their sights on her but him.
For the first time in a long couple of days, she feels the anonymity she’s been craving with each stride.
“I was starting to like the idea of not having to see this shade of purple again,” Karen murmurs, her fingers wavering slightly over the edge of his bruised cheek when she gets close enough. He lets out a small laugh, the cloud of evidence bursting from his nose. “Seems it was too soon.”
"This?" His tongue darts out to lick the bloody split at the edge of his lip, watching her lean beside him against the cool stone with a half-lidded stare. She hopes for a moment that the streetlight isn’t bright enough on her face to reveal the way her eyes follow to witness it disappear again. “Nah, this is nothing,” he whispers back. “You should see the other guy.”
“Yeah? How’s he holding up?”
"He'll live." Frank keeps his gaze on her for a moment longer, like maybe he’s got something else he wants to add about it, but then he turns to look to the skyline ahead like she had done. She doesn’t miss the way his jaw clenches. “Gonna preach at me later for it, I’m sure.” His voice is raw, like he’s been shouting, like he’s had a hand gripped tight around his throat. “Guy’s a fuckin’ asshole.”
He’s angry. The fury ripples beneath his skin - she can see it in the sway of his head, how it’s unsettled his feet. His fingers tremble at his thigh.
With the ambulances loaded and the transport van taking a turn out from the courtyard, the paparazzi pit is buzzing louder. The TV reporters are spewing limited facts, and cameras lift high to get any kind of shot of the doors that separate them from the bodies. A few bystanders cross the street towards the hotel, loud and curious if the lobby bar was available, if they could finagle a couple secrets spilled with their evening pours.
She knows they’re too close to talk about any of it where they stand, so she pushes away from the stone and leads the way down the sidewalk. “Tell me what happened?”
“You lookin’ for an exclusive, Miss Page?”
“Strictly off the record.”
He mentions with a tilt of his chin that the van’s a couple blocks away. The walk is relatively silent, their boots hitting pavement and the distant laughter of a night on the town their only soundtrack.
There are two more dead men to take into account as they make their way in the dark. Karen takes a deep breath, realizing then - as Frank aggressively presses a button for a defunct walk signal to change - that everyone she cares for is safe. Alive and breathing and safe. Maybe a little more worn out and bruised than she would prefer, she thinks, but nevertheless it doesn’t diminish the fact.
He starts to tell her the front page-worthy story when he cages her between the open door of the van and her seat.
“Red said he’d found some lady’s body Fisk had stashed in a freezer somewhere. She was a something or other to that piece of shit who stole his get-up. Thought… thought the shock of it, of knowing, that… that that'd change this guy's tune, you know, make him see sense and help him take down Fisk.”
Hello Karen. It’s nice to see you again.
The scent of iron fills her nose at the memory. Her heart is racing, her breath is short, and her friends are out cold on the floor. Jasper’s blood coats his chin in ribbons, dimpling into his masked cheek when he smiles at her. He’d never quit.
She just saw them cart his body away, she won’t -
“Hey,” he mutters all of a sudden, steadying her with his hands pressing into her elbows. He’s keeping her on her feet. “You wanna sit?”
“That man was a psychopath, Frank.”
“I know, I know. Hey,” he tells her just as softly, soothing a hand down her arm before lifting hers to his bruised cheek. It’s swollen at the bone, and it’s not difficult to imagine her fingers are just as cold as the air they stand around in when he grunts gently. He guides her hand anyway, tracing blindly to where the color turns red by his ear. “Feel that?”
She nods, not ready or able to discern what he’s trying to say, still trying her hardest to follow.
Her thumb charts the sore outline, drawing across his skin. It’s a good sized bump, she notices after a while. Karen’s whole hand presses against him like it’s an ice pack, like it’ll soothe, and his eyes close beneath the brim of his hat, breathing in out in out , the air warm upon her wrist. Her cheeks burn. “Here?”
“What’s it from?”
“Off the record, right?”
“Your boy got lucky with some kind of bullshit flying ninja kick -”
Her laughter is a surprise - something abrupt and full - but Frank makes no moves to stop her, shaking his head with a short and amused huff while he waits. Karen can’t recall the last time she's almost doubled over like this.
She feels him hum quietly against her palm when she calms down, his eyes a little inquisitive, scanning her face. “You okay?” Another moment passes before she's able to realize he’s been trying to pull her out of her head this whole time. She gingerly replaces her thumb with a kiss, pressing long and lightly onto his cheek in thanks because she can’t seem to find the right words just yet.
He takes her to the waterfront to stop from staring up at skyscrapers and explains the rest of the story.
He tells her he had a scope on the penthouse about a click away once the Man In Black left him behind, watching the scene unfold, watching it turn bloody and full of panic. Glass had shattered, and the place was destroyed in a matter of minutes between the three assailants. “At one point, the guy in the suit stopped throwing shit at Murdock and took aim at the woman in there -”
“Vanessa,” she supplies, her only guess.
“Had to have been Fisk’s old lady, looked like, yeah. Screaming her head off before it was all even happening. Fisk took hold of him and threw the guy into the wall, right? He just... dropped like a goddamn brick.” Frank rubs a knuckle across the armrest on the park bench, irritation coming off him in waves. His head rolls just a bit to the side to look at her. “He got lucky.”
Karen doesn’t think landing hard enough to die is all that lucky, actually, even as it seems like it was originally planned to be a bullet. But god - a dark part of her hopes he felt some of the pain before he went, for what he’s done.
He tells her how the Devil nearly painted over some shitty wall art with Fisk’s blood until they were both exhausted from the fight, gasping while on their knees and half-dead across the floor. Of when he held Fisk’s neck in his hands, and how he had let go almost just as quick, pointing fingers, accusing. How Murdock revealed his face in the aftermath of it with a harsh yank of his mask, each of their mouths forming snarls with every passing word between them. Fisk had welcomed the shouting, arms spread wide to bait him further before he launched himself forward. They toppled a coffee table in a battle to keep swinging jabs. Murdock dodged a punch, but in a scramble to gain the upperhand, caught himself on the edge of the coffee table. “I could see his head practically spinning from where I was.”
Once looking unbelievably immaculate during her own brief visit, with the chandeliers and all of the artwork, the dining table overlooking the city, she closes her eyes to try to figure what state the penthouse ended in before Matt got out of there.
He’ll live, Frank told her.
Regardless, she worries. It’s too loud in her ears from the silence in the park, and there’s an ache growing quickly in her chest when their eyes meet again. He looks as he did in that smoky hotel hallway so many months back - alive and alarmed and desperate.
“He’s been playing around with corpses like, like they’re fuckin’ bargaining chips and still going after a belief that these kinds of people are gonna turn their life around at some point,” he says incredibly. “Or, or just end up doing their time in a jail cell. This - Karen, this isn’t stopping a bank robbery or some shit. This isn’t him beating up local scumbags and leaving them for the police to find, you know? And Red, there’s no distinction to him. Like… like Fisk wouldn’t turn up, right, like if this night went any other way, and just buy the goddamn prison they’d take him to like he -” Frank suddenly breathes deeply through his nose instead of finishing his thought, his legs moving restlessly, boots scraping across damp leaves on the pavement.
“Foggy believes there's a part of him still buried under Midland Circle,” she whispers after a while. It’s not enough to justify what’s happened.
Her eyes track an incoming fishing boat making way beneath the bridge. Listening to Frank’s breathing in the quiet, Karen doesn’t want to wonder about how the night would have gone, had it have been any different. Not about Fisk lying lukewarm on a morgue table, not even about where Matt could be instead of out on some roof somewhere, licking his wounds until the crowds and sirens faded.
When at last the boat’s lights get closer, its arrival horn sounds and breaks her from her own thoughts. She takes a peek at him then, watching him scrub at his bruised face with one hand.
He’s too far away. She imagines that at any moment he may get up and start pacing along the East River.
“You wanna know what I think? About all this?” Frank’s words are sharp, his tone a little low and dangerous, but she can hear him breaking beside her nonetheless. “I can’t think, all right? Karen? I can’t fucking think. He was up there making declarations at me about justice, and what’s right, and good, and jesus christ, I nearly shot at him just to keep his mouth shut.
“And if Fisk, if he had found you after all that, I… I don't -” His eyes shut tight as he leans back for a second, and the heavy exhale that follows billows up towards the flickering streetlight nearby. The gnawing in her chest climbs, making a home high in her throat. “All I have nowadays are… are memories and a couple of tombstones,” he mutters into the night. She hears the fabric of his hood rustling, his head turning to look away.
“You’ve got more than that, Frank,” she says bullishly, thinking then of Curtis Hoyle - bruised to shit in a police station lobby and proclaiming fiercely to a Bulletin intern that Castle’s a good man - and David Lieberman, who quietly went back to his family after everything but would occasionally send her encrypted emails asking if she’s heard from him lately, because the bastard’s not sending me any souvenirs. Of -
“Yeah, well, none of it matters if you’re dead.”
She stands, feeling the cold winter air rush across her cheek and a restlessness settle back in her bones. It’s a little shocking to her that she’s the one who ends up pacing, when all the while - when she finally turns to face him, finding him staring - his whole body rises and falls with great precision.
“I killed him, Karen,” he confesses breathlessly. The tone he gives, the steady way his eyes continue to follow her back and forth all seem to calm her bit by bit. He even sounds a little relieved as the gravel returns to his throat. “I fucking killed him. Before the asshole could even try and bash Red’s head further into that table.”
“Yeah,” she’s only able to get out, nodding mostly to herself. If she’s honest, she had been figuring it was him. His tale of Matt’s hesitation, and his actions in that penthouse, she knew it had to be him.
It breaks her heart.
Frank pulls her in between his knees when her feet pause in front of him, and buries his face against her. In the silence, she briefly wonders if he’ll give himself a bit of peace as she wraps her arms around him and hears his breath stagger. His exhale is deep and warm - bleeding into her coat and through the sweater she’s wearing, his fingers digging into her hip.
“Christssakes,” he whispers after a while, gripping her even tighter. “Your hands are freezing.”
She strokes her thumb over his sore cheek in response, humming softly when he leans in to press a kiss to her palm.
There’s really only bad things to think when spotting the murder van wedged into a parking spot between a sturdy family sedan and a small SUV. It smells heavily of warm vanilla bean and gun oil from a crack in the window, and there’s still a gnarly dent in the back door from their quick stop in Pennsylvania.
The one good thing she’s realized about the imposing vehicle, though, is the double glove compartment. It’s big enough to store pretty much anything. They’ve shoved a box of bullets beneath the owner’s manual, an inch of napkins from the coffeehouse across from Karen’s new office hidden in Foggy’s family butcher shop, a few pocket flashlights, and a spare legal pad for any notes she could ever come up with.
Right now, she’s got both hands sifting through everything, looking for the sunblock bottle she had tossed in just before they stopped for a mid-morning caffeine refill.
“Last stop before the beach, right?” He can be seen over the dashboard from her crouch in the passenger seat, his body leaning against the hood and squinting behind his sunglasses at something out in the distance.
“Yeah,” Karen says firmly, thumbing at a pile of colorful state brochures he must have collected earlier. “I’m gonna make you get on the Cyclone with me, you can’t stop me.”
She can’t take all the credit for the idea. The barista that usually makes her cold brew - with three pumps of hazelnut, Amy, please - had been lamenting to the girl preparing a fresh pot for Frank - black, please, thank you, sweetheart - that she was going to be late to represent her diving school at the annual summer parade along Coney Island’s boardwalk if she didn’t leave right when the new kid showed up for his shift. She’d mentioned wanting to ride the swings all day afterwards.
He'd figured out that their original plans for the afternoon - sorting through the shelves at her apartment to donate books to Curtis’ free library at vet meetings - were put on hold pretty quick. An ocean breeze seemed a hell of a lot better than long echoes of car horns and the occasional whiff of an alley dumpster through an open window. Suffice it to say the keen glance Karen had given him by the pick-up counter wasn't as subtle as she thought.
The back of her thighs burn against the leather while she tosses a handful of midwestern to-go menus out of her way and onto the crate of paperbacks at her feet. Her tongue slides over her teeth. She just threw it in here, it can’t possibly -
“Nah,” Frank says, his head lolling side to side with a slight turn of his mouth. “Wouldn’t stop you even if I could.”
Karen spots a familiar row of flowery doodles in the margins of a map near the back and tugs it out without a second thought. A family of stick figures swim on a lake right on the crease. Sunblock temporarily forgotten, she unfolds the old thing to find one of Kevin’s attempts at a forest of trees, at a Bigfoot hiding at their childhood campground.
Something else slides off her knees.
“You find it yet?”
It’s a postcard, she realizes. The image of a deep river stares up at her from its resting place against her ankle, and a block of green text along the edge tells her Greetings from St. Paul!
Despite the summer heat, a shiver runs up her spine not at the incomplete address on the other side when she picks it up - her name, her apartment building number - but at the message. Her fingers run over the indented strokes, noting his marks are rough over the cardstock.
See you soon.
There is such a vast difference between this note and the ones she’s collected. He’d been tentative with each card, a gentle hope you’re okay after glossing over what he did that week, but this -
“I didn’t want to send it,” Frank explains before she could ask, suddenly beside her and nodding towards the postcard. His hand grips the edge of the open door and the van groans when he leans against it. Another rubs briefly at the scruff growing on his jaw. “I remember… I’d been driving most of the night already. No cars on the road, had a full tank of gas… I was moving like the wind, right? Felt like I was gonna make it back to New York before it could even get to you.”
"What was the rush?"
His eyes soften for a second, and his hand reaches up just shy of her cheek before she hears him release a sigh. “C’mon,” he whispers with a chuckle, like the answer is so simple. And maybe it is, she thinks, when he leans into the shade of the van’s interior and his fingers find their way to the curve of her neck.
She has an inkling, but god only knows what could be running through his mind.
The look in her eye gives him pause from his distracted petting. “I told Curt I’d give it a chance, you know,” he starts, hesitating. “But everywhere I went to felt like a pit stop until I could leave for the next. I didn't care about seeing a lot of it.”
“You didn’t stay long anywhere,” she confirms, understanding now that he may have spent more money on postcards than they did on their breakfast.
“I didn’t stay long, yeah.” Frank traces a line across her skin, connecting one mole to another and back again. “By the time I hit Minneapolis, and, and St. Paul, I knew, you know, I already decided the trip had gone on way too long. I knew where I wanted to be, okay, and each place was just taking me further and further away. I remember, I was stuck in some shitty downtown tourist traffic, figuring my way back to the highway, and I opened the glove compartment, trying to find a map -"
"We should clean that out, by the way -"
"- that's not the point I’m -"
"- I mean, you can barely find anything in there, you know -"
"- trying to get at here, all right?"
"- can't find my sunscreen, let alone another -"
"Karen," he breathes against her lips, shaking his head while he kisses her amongst her giggles.
Her body moves towards him in the passenger seat, an arm sliding up and across the expanse of his shoulders, the cotton of his shirt surprisingly cool in her tightening grip. Innocent enough, she thinks, until his free hand slides under her sundress and caresses the bare skin of her thigh.
It’s slow, and exquisite, and his kiss is full of everything she won’t let him finish saying.
Soft and appreciative sounds vibrate through her when he hikes her leg over his hip and presses closer. The sun may be burning her knees, but his fingers and tongue spark a rivaling warmth so strong that she debates pulling him into the back of the van and forgetting the Cyclone altogether.
“Hang on, hang on,” he says gently into her skin, pausing his ministrations now at her throat and breaking the spell. “Hey.”
In her haze, she’s half aware of the delicate pink shade rising behind his ears, because it’s the only thing she can see when he leans, muttering even further, going for the glove box.
“- saw you throw it in here, I think,” he continues, shutting the lower and hiding the mess she left to tap open the much smaller compartment just above it. Inside is a pair of sunglasses, a handgun, and -
Later, after they ride the iconic wooden coaster, wander the boardwalk, and eat shitty food, they find a decent spot in the sand.
She imagines the two of them blend well with the afternoon crowd when Frank sets up an umbrella. No one gives them any mind as they disappear beneath it to sit on just-purchased towels and read a couple books Karen’s nicked from her donation crate. Someone closer to the water loudly plays Top 40 on a portable radio, and she can spot tiny sandcastles bordering a blanket and chairs just ahead. A few others nearby are baking in the sun.
They’re not particularly dressed for the occasion - they didn’t buy swimsuits and he’s wearing a pair of dark sweatpants covered in dusty fingerprints from her bookshelves - but she doesn’t think it matters much when she watches him bury his bare feet in the warm sand and lay his head against her side. If he wanted to go down to meet the waves at all, it wouldn’t be for some time.
Which is fine with her, she thinks, taking in the salty breeze and feeling his hand lazily play with her own on his chest, her back to the umbrella pole. She’s content now just listening to some seagulls fight over a couple of discarded curly fries and flipping through an old noir she’s forgotten the plot of.
"You think Curtis will forgive us for ditching our errands?"
"Two peas in a pod, the two of you, I tell ya," he mutters, and she feels his head bob side to side. "Yeah," he chuckles then, scoffing just a little. "He will. Son of a bitch’ll love hearing about this, too.”
"Mm,” he grunts low, entwining their fingers and closing his eyes. “We can still drop those books off later, if you want. Group’s not until Tuesday.”
She lets the plans for the rest of the day fall like the sand between her toes. They're easy to come by, nowadays. There's no Fisk-shaped boogeyman waiting around the corner anymore.
He saw to that.
His breathing slows after a while, and Karen begins to suspect a little of the way through her book that he’s fallen asleep. That is, until he nuzzles her bent leg with his stubbled cheek and presses an open-mouthed kiss to her thigh once, twice. “Hey.”
“Well, hey,” she echoes. If Frank notices a ripple of goosebumps chasing his touch, he doesn’t mention it.
He moves then, an arm hooking around her, scooping her to lay flat beneath him. "What uh..." he starts, planting a brief kiss across her shoulder, as if to try and convince her. "What do you say to us doing this more?"
It’s silly, the way her heart races at the idea. “We will.”
His crooked smile spreads over her in the sunlight, making her dizzy, making her blush, making her lean in for another kiss.