“I don’t want to.”
Karen stares at Frank in disbelief. After everything they’ve been through together, everything they’ve done for each other — after years of being brutally honest with each other, now is when he decides to lie?
He stares up at her, as if daring her to call him out, and she snaps. Her impulse control is normally pretty good, she’s had years of practice from dealing with Matt, but she’s also in the middle of getting her heart broken by an idiot, so she thinks she can be forgiven for what she does next.
Which is sucker punch Frank Castle.
Her fist flies out and his eyes widen in surprise in the split second before she hits him directly in the nose, snapping his head back into the pillow.
“Fuck!” She cradles her hand against her stomach as she turns away from Frank’s shocked stare. That fucking hurt.
“The hell was that for?” Frank demands, the bed creaking as he struggles out of it. She glares at him over her shoulder, blinking when he’s a lot closer than she expected.
“For lying,” she snaps, and feels a surge of vindication when he flinches. Still, when he touches her, gently turning her toward him and examining her already-bruising knuckles, she lets him. It’s rare that she’s this close to him. She can see the faint smattering of freckles across the bridge of his nose, the sunspot under his left eye. Every bruise and cut standing out in high definition. He’s a wreck, he’s always a wreck.
“Looks like it hurts,” he murmurs, running a thumb over her knuckles and pulling her fingers out straight to test her mobility. She hisses a little, grabbing his shoulder with her free hand.
“Feels like I punched a dumbass.”
He glances up at her and away, so quick she almost misses it, and nods slowly.
“How’s your nose?” She asks dryly, and is rewarded by the slight curve of his smile. He looks up at her under his eyelashes, almost shyly.
“I’ve had worse,” he says. He’s still gently caressing her fingers, and her heart is pounding in her ears, and she doesn’t care that he lied or how mad she is, she loves him. He’s difficult and stubborn and honorable and when he walks out of here it could be the last time she ever sees him.
So she kisses him.
She leans in, slowly enough that he could stop her if he wanted to, but he stays where he is and she presses her lips to his. She feels the tremor run through him under her palm, and she pulls away slightly before kissing him again softly. He whispers her name like a prayer against her lips, and then his arm curls around her waist and his hand is cupping her jaw. He kisses the same way he does everything else: with a single-minded intensity, careful and thorough and passionate. She nearly sobs with relief, wrapping her arms around his shoulders, holding onto him as hard as she can.
The door opens and closes, but neither of them notice. Frank’s hands are hot on her skin, and his mouth fits perfectly against hers, and she doesn’t want this to end.
“Well, this is adorable,” Amy says, making them both jump.
Karen turns to look at her, and Frank drops his forehead against her temple, his breath tickling her jaw.
“We need to go,” Amy adds, and Karen nods, Frank’s arm tightening on her waist.
“I’ll be out in a minute, kid,” he says, and the girl rolls her eyes and leaves the room again — but not before Karen catches the girl’s smug smile.
Karen turns back to Frank, and he rests his forehead against hers, and this is how she knows he loves her. No matter what his mouth says, his body can’t lie.
“I gotta finish this,” he whispers. “Please. Just let me finish this.” She’s not sure what he means — the war, now, or whatever they’ve just started, later — but she knows he’s begging for her to walk away, at least for now. She opens her eyes, holding his gaze for an eternity that lasts only a moment, and nods.
His shoulders slump. “Karen... it means a lot to me that you came here, that you stayed with me.”
“So make it mean something, Frank.”
“Yes, ma’am.” He nods, and lets her go, and she tries not to feel like her world is ending. He doesn’t look at her while she shrugs into her jacket and gathers up her bag. He doesn’t ask her what happened to her shoes. Neither of them speaks again — they’ve said what there was to be said. She nods at Amy as they pass in the doorway, wishes Dinah good luck. She pulls the fire alarm to give them some cover, and then she goes home.
She doesn’t wait for him. She tells herself she’s not waiting for him, even as she counts the days that turn into weeks without any word from Frank.
She’s not dating, but that’s because she never dates — she’s too busy with work, and with her friends. She spends her days at the law firm or chasing down leads, and her nights with the avocados at Josie’s or in Trish’s apartment with her and Jess.
It takes him forty three days to reach out, not that she’s counting.
She’s been carefully monitoring crime in Hell’s Kitchen, and she’s pretty sure Frank has not been murdering criminals. When he shows up on her doorstep, bruise-free and holding flowers and a bag of takeout, a look on his face like he’s about to face a firing squad, she snaps again. She punches him hard enough that he rocks back on his heels, and she’d never admit it but she’s impressed that he doesn’t drop anything.
“I deserved that,” he says while she stands there, glaring at him and shaking out her sore hand. Apparently she learned nothing from the last time she punched him, because she’d forgotten how much it hurts.
“Ow,” she replies, but she lets him in. He puts the takeout on the table and digs around in her freezer for a bag of peas.
“I’m sorry,” he starts, but suddenly Karen realizes she doesn’t need to hear it.
“Are you going to ghost me again?”
“Never,” he says, that earnest Frank look on his face, and she drops the peas.
“That’s all I need to know,” she says, and kisses him.
The food has long gone cold by the time they come back to it, but it’s still the best lo mein she’s ever eaten.