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By Any Other Name

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There were many ways in which Karen could have welcomed Frank back into her life. She could have broken down into tears, grateful to have him bruised but alive. She could have told him that no, she couldn’t be a part of the chaos he brought into her life. She could have thrown her arms around him and finished what they began that day in the hotel elevator. She did none of these things.

When Frank Castle showed up on her doorstep on a chilly winter morning, announcing he was now Pete Castiglione and he was finally, finally finished, that it was over, Karen invited him in for a drink.

They finished two pots of coffee and talked well into the night, through the pain and awkwardness and uncertainty. They came to an understanding that neither of them were ready for anything more than this moment, right now. Yet.

So she suggested he give her a call next week, and he smiled at her a little hesitantly, a little tenderly, before thanking her for the coffee and taking his leave. It wasn’t perfect, and she wasn’t sure were their relationship was headed, but she did know that he was alive, and mostly well, and he had come back to her.

She looked at his empty mug on the coffee table for a long time before she could bring herself to put it in the sink.

--

True to form, Frank called her up seven days later. The phone number didn’t look familiar, but when she picked up she was almost sure who it was.

“Hello?”

It’s Pete, came the response. She felt the tension drain from her shoulders at his voice. Karen realized distantly that she had expected him to disappear again, and that the last week had been the constant worry that she would never hear from him again.

“Hi, Pete,” she said slowly, tasting it, considering it. The name felt wrong in her mouth; Frank Castle was Frank Castle. He was The Punisher, a Marine, a grieving father, a widower—and calling him by anything other than Frank left her feeling unsettled. Nonetheless, it was for his safety, and she knew there was no point in fighting it. She may as well get used to it.

Wanna get breakfast? he asked after a hasty pause, and his tone was hopeful.

Karen paused for the briefest of moments, then grabbed her coat and shrugged it on. “Where?”

The smile in his voice was palpable as he listed off the place and adjacent streets. She hung up and then, after a moment, saved his name in her phone.

The name PETE sat innocently in her contacts, harsh against the white background. It disconcerted her, and she switched off the screen before she had to think about it further.

--

A couple of days later, Karen stood in line waiting for her coffee, lost in thought.

It took the disgruntled barista saying Pete three times before Karen remembered that was her order. She walked up and gave him an apologetic smile, grabbing the two cups of coffee and hurrying to the door.

Frank was standing outside, holding the leash to a gray pitbull. I’m fostering, he’d told her when she met up with him and looked at the dog in surprise, ’til the pound can find him a good home. She didn’t ask why he didn’t keep the dog himself, just pet him and smiled widely at his eager bark. Karen came over to them both and nudged Frank’s arm, holding out the cup. He took it and they began walking, the dog trotting excitedly in front of them, their coat sleeves brushing.

“Busy in there?” he asked with a crooked brow, glancing at her.

“Just uh…I told them Pete. Kind of forgot that was us.”

Frank blinked at her. Karen flushed. “Um, I mean I forgot that was you.”

He turned forward without another word, expression cool but distant, and Karen took a sip to hide her blush.

--

Karen felt eyes on her the moment she stepped out of the Bulletin, coworker chatting beside her. She glanced around before her eyes settled on Frank’s easy smile and relaxed demeanor, half a block away and leaning on a light post. It had been over a month since Frank (or Pete, rather) came into her life, and she was getting used to him turning up in random places. Her face lit up in greeting as the butterflies erupted in her chest, and her coworker glanced over curiously.

“Who is that?” She asked, grinning at Karen. “And why do you both have that same, dopey smile on, huh?”

Karen felt the heat rise in her cheeks and she started toward Frank after half a moment’s consideration. He had grown out his hair and beard, and the lack of bruises and blood was honestly a disguise of it’s own. She couldn’t imagine her coworker recognizing him—or so she hoped. “A friend, that’s all.”

“Uh huh.” Her coworker rolled her eyes good-naturedly, “and here we all were thinking you didn’t have a life.”

Frank glanced between the two women as they approached and straightened respectively. “Ladies.”

“Jody, this is Pete. Pete, Jody. We work together.” Karen watched as they shook hands, tense for reasons she didn’t want to think about. Jody smiled widely and gave Karen a teasing laugh.

“Nice to meet you, Pete. Maybe Karen will finally bring a date to an office party, huh?”

Frank chuckled easily as Karen rolled her eyes. “Yeah, yeah. See you tomorrow, Jody.”

Jody walked off with a small wave and Karen turned back to Frank with an awkward laugh. “So you’re my escort tonight, huh?”

Frank lifted a shoulder, amusement clear on his face. “These are some dangerous streets to be walkin’ alone, ma’am. Thought you could use some company.”

Karen shook her head with a huff and set off down the sidewalk, missing the way his eyes lingered on her crimson cheeks pensively.

--

There weren’t many days where Karen seriously considered leaving her job; today had been one. After almost being attacked by one of her sources for a story she was being assigned a fluff piece—it was Ellison’s way of trying to protect her. He meant well, but the only thing Karen hated more than fluff pieces was getting sent home at a normal hour due to the “stress” of the day.

She trudged up her apartment stairs, in a sour mood, until she saw who was sitting outside her door.

At her footsteps Frank looked up and smiled at seeing her. “Hey,” he greeted, “didn’t expect you this early.”

She couldn’t help her smile, and gestured for him to stand so she could unlock the door. “Guess we’re even then. What’s in the bag?”

He lifted the grocery bag that was at his feet and followed her inside. “Ingredients. Thought I could, dunno, cook you diner. If you wanted.”

Karen paused and looked over at his no-pressure smile, at the bag in his hand. She was speechless; no one had bothered to take care of her like this in a long time. Not since she’d left home all those years ago. Frank frowned at her silence and backed up a step. “If this is a bad day—“ He let out a surprised grunt as Karen launched into his arms, burying her face in his neck.

She heard the bag hit the ground and his arms came around her without hesitation. They remained there, swaying, a loaded reminder of the last time he’d came into her life so unexpectedly, when he was still Frank Castle, the Punisher. She felt his heart beating against her skin, felt the soft itch of his beard on her neck. It was comforting.

After what seemed like moments but was most surely longer, she pulled away and laughed self-consciously. She felt the same tense uncertainty she felt last time she’d hugged him, but Frank shared none of those emotions, from the look on his face. He was looking at her with surprise, a little understanding, with a softness she knew was reserved for her. His knuckles brushed her cheek lightly. “What was that for?”

She gave him a vulnerable smile, shifting on her feet. “Just…thankful. For you. You’re always taking care of me and I…forgot what that was like. It’s…it’s nice.”

When she looked at him again, his expression had changed entirely. His eyes were burning, and the attention in his gaze shocked her from the toes up. He reached out to her again but this time his fingers grasped her chin and he pulled her towards him without delay.

Their lips met and Karen’s brain promptly short-circuited. This is what they began, the day in the hospital room, and with every secret meeting, every emotional confession by the riverside. This is where they had left off, that day in the elevator. Her knees felt weak and she grabbed his coat for support even as his arm came around her to hold her to him. His body was a hard line of muscle and fabric against hers and she was burning at his touch.

She decided with sudden clarity that they were wearing far too many clothes, and began fumbling with the buttons of his coat as his tongue brushed her lips, questioning. She opened up to him as their coats joined the bag on the floor. Frank’s breath was hot in her mouth. He backed her up until she was against the wall and her shirt was off the next moment.

He ducked his head to kiss her jaw, her collarbone. “Are you—are you sure?” she asked, closing her eyes as his lips moved south, pressing hot kisses to her breast. Frank made an appreciate noise and unclasped her bra, glancing up.

“Are you?” he murmured, tossing the bra over the arm of the couch. He was smiling wide and that alone made her heart skip a beat faster. She nodded quickly, and he leaned down to take her nipple in his mouth.

“Fuck,” Karen sighed, burying her hands in his hair happily, “Pete…”

She felt him still against her, and when she opened her eyes we was staring at her with a pleading expression. “Don’t…please. I can’t…I hate it when you call me that.”

She blinked at him in surprise and let out a breathy laugh. “You…you told me to, remember?”

“I know, just…please.” The expression on his face widened her smile. She scratched her fingernails down his chest lightly, amused.

“You want me to call you Frank?” she asked tauntingly. Testing him, watching as his expression heated. “You want me to say your name while I cum, Frank?”

Frank’s eyes sparkled with obvious satisfaction. She felt his hand creep up her thigh, under her skirt, brushing over her panties. She hissed as he watched, smirking. “No,” he said, his voice rough, “I want you to scream it, Karen.”

Karen choked as he tugged her panties down and shoved them in his pocket, and then took her hand. He led her to the bedroom and pushed her gently so that she was half laying, half sitting against the headboard. Her heart was beating a million times a minute as he threw his shirt to the side, then unzipped her skirt and pulled it off quickly.

Karen watched as he ducked his head to press a kiss to her inner thigh. The intensity of his stare made her feel as if there was a sun inside her, burning her up until she would just burst into flames. Frank’s finger brushed against her clit tauntingly and she felt her toes curl involuntarily.

“Ohh, fuck,” she breathed as he licked a line up her folds. Her hips bucked in time with his tongue and she felt the pressure quickly building deep in her belly. All coherent thought was gone but she recognized that she was talking fast, gasping gibberish as he pushed a finger into her, curling it against her insides.

It wasn’t long after that—she felt her orgasm sweep over her, stars sparkling in her vision. Frank rode it out until she was pulling at his hair with desperate fingers, whining. “Frank, Frank, please—“

He pulled away and let out a laugh, wiping his mouth and crawling his way up her body. He pressed a tender kiss to her jaw, her cheek, her mouth. She kissed him back lazily, completely and utterly content, as his hand went to his belt buckle.

“Condoms in the drawer,” she told him, pushing at his chest. He was gone and back in a moment, and she waited as he kicked off his jeans and underwear, and then beckoned him over. She grasped his cock gently, running a thumb over the head, and watched the desire shutter across his face.

Karen had been with her fair share of men before, but never had she taken as much joy in making another person feel pleasure as she did now. She stroked him until he was hard in her hand, and then pushed him onto the bed, straddling him. He rolled the condom on smoothly and looked up at her, eyes half-lidded, face flushed. She leaned down to catch his lips with hers and sunk down onto him slowly.

Frank groaned, eyes slipping closed. “Shit, Karen.”

“Hmm?” Karen smiled at him, braced herself on his chest and picked up a rhythm slowly. “How’s this, Frank?”

His fingers twitched on her hips and she felt his hips jerk against hers, back arching. She grinned and pushed down against him, then sucked in a breath as he hit a spot that made her vision go temporarily white. Her hips stuttered to a halt and he took the opportunity to flip them. Her head landed on the pillow and he pulled her leg against his waist, panting. He thrust into her at a pace that had her gasping. Frank peppered kisses on her skin as he moved faster against her. She heard the sounds she was making but couldn’t force herself to stop, grasping at Frank’s shoulders.

She came a second time and tightened around him, mouth falling open. Frank thrust a couple more uneven times before letting out a soft noise of his own.

They lie there for a long time after, silent but for their breathing. Karen stared at the ceiling, dazed, with Frank’s arm around her loosely. He nuzzled her hair until she looked over, and then smiled lazily at her.

“Hey,” he said with a chuckle.

Karen stretched to kiss him, cutting off his laughter. His fingers tightened on her hip before letting go. He pulled away to grin at her, and she couldn’t remember every seeing him like this. The way his eyes crinkled in the corners, how his lips pulled over his teeth as he laughed, the little scrunch of his nose.

Karen gave him a playful smile. “So…that’s a no on the whole Pete thing, right?”

She let out a shriek of laughter as his fingers dug into her side, tickling her. He was trying hard not to laugh, attempting to force a stern expression onto his face.

“That’s definitely a no on the Pete thing.”