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red lips built like a tomb

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First thing, they run.

(They don’t look back.)

Later, Elektra will think of the sound their feet made, hitting the pavement in determined strides as they retreated from the chaos of the roof and slipped away, moving between the spines of tall buildings to make their escape. She’ll think of how there hadn’t been a cloud in the sky, the lights of the city bleeding out the edges of the universe, and the short, even pants that Matthew made as he ran beside her.

She’ll think of the way their hands fit together, refusing to let go even for speed, now or ever.

(She’ll think of the price they paid, and what she left behind.)

If Matthew thinks of it as well – he doesn’t say.

+

They’d made their escape on a ferry boat across the channel to New Jersey before taking a truck from a darkened parking lot to the airport. They’d rumbled along the highway, quiet but for the sound of the straining engine, Matthew’s hand clutched tight in hers.

(Even now, the edges of the world are slipping around her; unsteady.)

“Stay with me,” he says, his voice gravel, and she blinks, focusing her gaze on the wet road ahead.

“I’m here,” she says – but doesn’t let go. Her head still aches and the wound in her chest lingers, more than a memory, but she keeps her focus on the lines ahead. They’ll run, by plane, train, or boat.

They’ll stay alive.

Matthew doesn’t speak again, but the steady rub of his thumb against her hand grounds her, keeps her to this plane.

Stay with me.

She does her best.

+

A month slips by in anonymous hotel rooms, moments stolen around healing limbs as he recovers (she recovers). He’s protective in those first days, more so than usual, and though he’s restrained as always, she tugs at his strings, pulling him loose.

You. I let you in.

Even now she cannot stop herself from counting his scars, tracing them with the tips of her fingers as Matthew watches her, bemused and unquestioning.

“There’s a new pattern here,” she says, sketching out the lines above his waist and he bucks beneath her touch, glaring.

Elektra,” he says, a note of warning, and she shrugs.

“Is there a problem, Matthew?” she asks, and dips down to retrace the lines with her tongue. He lets out a curse, hands clenched in the sheets, and she grins. It’s been too long since she’s had him like this; had him at all.

“It’s not that new,” he manages to say as she trails kisses along his skin, pushing the waistband of his sleep pants away. “I got that one fighting Fisk’s men. Russians.”

She shrugs, not particularly interested. “What about this one?” she asks, switching tacks as she moves higher, her thumb outlining a scar below his heart. “Is this one new?”

He’s perfectly still below her, almost enchanted.

“New,” he admits and she hums, leaning down to kiss his neck and delighted at the sound that escapes him, her hair drifting over his shoulders.

“Who gave you that one?” she asks and he tilts his head back as she settles over him, hands drifting over her arms as he tries to close the distance between them.

“You did,” he says and his mouth twists as she kisses him, heat blooming in bright spots on his chest, his restraint falling away. “You should apologize.”

“But I’m not sorry,” she says, and laughs as he flips her over.

(She’s really not.)

And she almost feels alive again.

+

When she’d been stabbed, she managed to stay on her feet, stumbling into another fight, her movements more erratic. By the time Nobu had fled, Matthew had picked up on the injury and they’d disappeared.

(She’d never seen the man he’d taken her to before, and hoped to never again.)

“She might not make it through the night,” she’d heard the medic say as he injected her with a mystery substance. “Might not be the same after anyway. She barely came back last time.”

“No more excuses,” Matthew had said – and then she’d blacked out again. By the time she’d come to, he was carrying her, trying to stay on his feet but refusing to stop or keep cover. Later, she’d learned the city was still swarming with the Hand, and he’d had Foggy bribe three several police blockades to get them out.

“Stay with me.”

She’d gotten to her feet, had forced herself into a run that kept pace with Matthew’s, and whatever medicine had been poured into her system finally seemed to be keeping her on this side of death, if only just. The adrenaline probably helped too. Above them, the city lights battled with the blanket of stars, both losing out to the creeping dawn.

She’d stay alive. She’d stay.

(She’d try.)

+

By the time she’s recovered, she makes them move again. The Hand had more resources than either of them could imagine, and even her resources had their limits in one place. It was easier and safer to stay on the run, and if they never stayed too long in one place, well – it was harder for Matthew to find a cause to fight for.

(She regrets it.)

“Come on,” she urges, crouching by the side of the bed as he ties his shoes. “Let’s walk the city, find some trouble. Your sticks, my knives.”

He tilts his head, focusing on the echo of her wound.

“Is there trouble?” he asks, and her hands itch.

“There’s always trouble,” she says, and pulls at her lip with her teeth. “Matthew – I’ll be fine.”

He pauses, listening, and then –

“Maybe tomorrow,” he says, his voice hollow. There’s a note of grief in it that hasn’t healed as much as she has, and she frowns, bouncing up on her heels and wanting to be angrier than she feels.

“I thought you said you wanted this life,” she says, backing away, and he reaches for her hand. She doesn’t pull further back but doesn’t lean in, and only the edges of their fingers brush each other sending familiar static through her.

“I want a life with you,” he says. “However we make it.” He slides his fingers through hers and pulls her a step closer.

It should be enough – but doubt scrapes at her.

(Neither of them, she thinks, are built for a life with doubt.)

+

She adjusts. He adjusts. They adapt to the change of the surroundings, their new environments, and she practices restraint just as she’d practiced everything else Stick had taught her. Her trust fund barely registers the drain of funds, hit from server connections bounced around the world and back, and she finds a new hobby.

If she can’t fight with her fists, she’ll find with her wits.

She’s been tracking the Hand around the world, hitting their bank accounts and any other weak spots she can find. They rebuild and regenerate and regrow, but it can’t be infinite.

(The wound inside her whispers otherwise.)

She’s not alone. Matthew slips out in the middle of the night, comes back with fists bloodied, and lies out next to her once more. He disappears on errands and lingers at whatever church is nearby their lodgings and she wonders, is this what it was like for them?

It’s not, because Matthew never lies to her about it. He just seems to have her afraid with her there.

“I can handle myself,” she says flatly the next time he comes back, and he turns in bed, his hand drifting up and down her arm. “And if you can’t trust me to fight next to you, there’s no point in what we’re doing.” Gooseflesh spreads across her skin and she shivers, curling back into him. “It’s not fair,” she adds, and he tucks his chin into the crook of her neck.

Finally, he answers.

“You died, Elektra,” he says, and she shuts her eyes, burrowing against the thought. “More than once.”

I know, she wants to say – but it’s a stone sunk deep inside her, not to be shared.

“You can’t protect me,” she says instead, turning her head to look at him, and the look on his face isn’t resigned or worried or anything else she might have expected. It’s determined. “The sooner you accept that, the sooner we get to work.”

“Why haven’t you gone out on your own?” he asks instead, wrapping his arm around her waist, and she shivers. “You’ve never needed me for a fight.”

This is not the end.

It’s a fair point, and one she can’t – won’t – answer. Instead, she just shifts closer to him, aching for something they’d both once had.

“I’m coming with you,” she said instead, and he nodded, agreeing. Wherever you go.

The knowledge of her death stays with her, a warning weight against the future.

She ignores it.

+

It feels good to be in a fight again; feels good to slice her knives across the edge of an assailant’s throat and step back, alive; feels good to be outstepping her opponents and breathing deep lungfuls of fresh air; feels good to hear Matthew’s even grunts as he knocks out attackers beside her.

“See?” she says, breathing hard and smiling as they stand in the middle of the vanquished, “just like riding a bike.” He dips his head to kiss her, a shock to her system, and she makes a muffled noise, pulling him closer, wind in her hair.

Alive, alive, alive.

She should have done this weeks ago.

+

The months pass, city to city, as she works out side attacks on the Hand from lavish hotel rooms in Paris and sprawling haciendas under skies that stretch on forever. It feels like progress. Even Matthew seems calmer, more settled as he adjusts to life outside of the only city he’d known.

One bright autumn morning she wakes to the sharp shock of his lips on her throat, a soft touch that fires her from tip to toe as she stretches out beside him, drinking him in endlessly. It’s unfair how holy he looks, even here. Especially here.

“You’re awake,” he mumbles through a grin, unable to contain his delight, and she locks her ankle around his knee, rolling him back into the sheets. She wonders if he can hear her grin too, or if that’s just more cocky bullshit.

“Did you want me awake?” she asks, rolling her hips and relishing the sound he makes in answer, his hands gripping her hips in restraint.

“Always,” he admits and she feels his heartbeat pick up beneath her as she drops her mouth to swirl a kiss above it. “Always?” she murmurs and he chokes back a laugh as her hands drift lower.

“My whole life,” he says, sitting up to kiss her all the way awake. Outside, the bells chime for morning prayers and Elektra times her movements to match them, sacrilegious.

(If Matthew notices – he doesn’t complain.)

+

He’d never been further north than 116th Street and never further south than Newark. It didn’t matter at first – it was a benefit – but the longer they’re away from New York, the quieter he gets.

(The more, she thinks, he misses it.)

“Are you sure you don’t want to talk to them?” she asks after every move, after uprooting to another city, another hideout. “I could make it so they won’t find us.”

He shakes his head, shoulders straight with determination. “It’s not worth the risk.” He’s right; it’s not worth the risk, if only to them, but it doesn’t deter her. Risk, she’d found, was relative. Either the Hand got you, or something else did. She could never be sure the Hand wasn’t onto them, that they weren’t just slipping out of their clutches, or that Stick wasn’t lurking in the shadows waiting to pull them back, but Matthew had given her his word.

What if, from now if we make it, wherever you run, I run with you?

If he kisses her a little more fiercely, if his touches burn a light inside her, if their lives don’t seem even more desperate now than before – they don’t talk about it.

(And with every step they take away from New York, from his city – she feels more alive.)

+

She puts them on a plane back to Moscow, and then south through Georgia to Istanbul.

“What do you see?” she asks, still curious about exactly how his abilities work. He shares less, but there’s a hunger inside her that won’t be sated with fists or food. She’s soaking up the world as much as he is.

“Nothing,” he says and she sighs.

“Matthew,” she says, the tone of her voice its own lecture, and he shrugs.

“I hear and smell a lot of things, Elektra, but I can’t see anything. Not even that red dress you’re insisting on wearing here, where nobody else is wearing anything like it.”

“What else?” she asks, steering them down a side street. The vendors are less tightly packed here, and ahead of them, the sound of the canals beckon. Ahead of them is their next stop; a grocer by day and money launderer for the Hand by day and night.

“Fewer people,” he admits, slowing the tapping of his cane as his attention drifts. “Away from the center of town.”

“You’re damn right,” she says, sensing opportunity, and pulls him down an alley, pulling him back against a building with her.

“Did you see someone trailing us?” he asks, mistaking the rhythm of her heart and she shakes her head. Her hands trace the lines of his face as she brushes her nose against his, inviting.

“Just staying in practice,” she says before she catches his mouth, nipping at his bottom lip with her teeth. His cane drops to the cobblestoned street with a clatter as he pushes her back against the wall, hands at her ass and doing something with his tongue that she’s going to need done again.

“Where – ” she asks, breaking free, before he pulls her back in and slides a hand up her thigh, a trail of heat following his touch.

“Practice,” he finally says, letting her breathe, and her head tilts back as he finishes what she started.

(The feeling between them is achingly familiar and she clings to it, steady-handed.)

+

A building explodes in New York.

+

He finds her in their cramped rooms, stuffing their few belongings into suitcases, heartbeat raised, and perspiration on her throat, her movements angry and shaky as she ignores him.

“Hey, hey,” he says, moving over to her and catching her hands in his to stop her. “What are you doing?”

“It’s New York,” she says, as if that explains everything. “Didn’t you see?”

He shifts on his feet, nodding, and she pulls her hands free to continue packing. “So we’re going back, right? ”

Suddenly she realizes that he’s not moving, not helping her, and he hears her heart jump. “Why aren’t you packing, Matthew?” she asks, reproach in her voice, and he wants to smile but just now – he’s upset, sure; he’s angry; but he’s also smarter than he was. Wiser.

“Because it’s not our fight anymore,” he says, stepping closer and focusing on her breathing. Uneven, hopeful. Alive. “And whatever’s happened, happened. We might not have stopped it, but if we go back – ” He pauses. “It could be bait. And I’m not going to bite.”

“You can’t do nothing,” she says, and he doesn't disagree. “It’s your home.”

“You’re good at hiding,” he says, smiling at last, and she laughs, a huff of a sound that lightens the air between them. “But you’re even better at finding a fight.” He breaks, listening for her reaction, a creaking ship of signals. “And I know you’ve been working towards one.”

“I can find you a fight in New York,” she says quietly. “I’ll fight with you wherever you want to fight.”

Wherever you run, I run with you?

“We can make our own fights,” he says, dropping his forehead against hers and comforted by her staccato breaths. “Fights we’ll win.”

“Yeah,” she agrees, swallowing. “Anywhere but New York?” she asks again and he nods, wrapping his hand around her waist to pull her closer.

“Only the best,” he says, feeling the beat of her life twine with his, alive, alive, alive. He can barely hear the echo of her death wound anymore. She smirks, curling her hands in his shirt, and pulls him closer, stealing a kiss. He lingers after she breaks it, his lips ghosting over hers, and feels her smile.

“Let’s get out of here then,” she says, and he thinks again of their last night in New York City; steals another kiss. She leans into him, eager, and sharp shocks blush through him. It almost feels like a prayer.

(If she’s thinking the same – she doesn’t say.)

Finis