Karen felt her heart pounding as she slid her key into the lock of her apartment door.
She was nervous — there were lots of people looking for the man waiting inside. Harboring a fugitive wasn’t exactly for the faint of heart.
She was a little angry — how dare he show up after months incommunicado and make her take in his injured ass? (Well, injured torso. Don’t think about his ass, Karen.)
And she was a little excited — she couldn’t help it. (Because she was thinking about his ass. And the abs she had seen up close as she tended to his wounds. And those big hands of his and the way he’d used them to cover her own as he thanked her, a little woozy from the pain or the blood loss. And it was totally wrong to be thinking this way about an injured man.)
Karen tried to calm herself, but her ability to mask her feelings was wearing thin. The workday had dragged. Luckily, Matt and his super senses were out of the office for most of the day, but her struggle not to give anything away, even in their brief encounters, left her drained. He had to know something was up, but she didn’t think he suspected she was actively helping Frank evade the police. She wasn’t as sure about Foggy. He looked at her a little too closely at one point, but in the end, he kept his mouth shut. God bless Foggy Nelson.
Karen took one last deep breath before walking through the door and locking it securely behind her. Then she turned around and stopped short.
She wasn’t sure what she had been expecting to see when she got home, but it wasn’t this.
Frank was sitting on her couch. He wasn’t wearing a shirt, though his bandages obstructed most of the view. Still, she would have found it incredibly distracting if it weren’t for the mass of plastic lying wheels-up on her coffee table.
“We need to talk about this, Karen.”
“What did you do?” she gasped.
“What the fuck is this thing?”
“It’s a Roomba.” At his blank look, she added, “A vacuum cleaner.”
Frank chuckled, rubbing his hand over his face.
“Did you hurt it?” She bit her lip.
“I...mighta kicked it. Lucky I didn’t shoot the damn thing.”
Karen rushed over to check out her possibly damaged robot vacuum. “Poor Scooter.”
“You gave it a name?”
She raised her eyebrows. “I did. In fact, I almost named him Frank. Y’know, 'cause he sucks.” She looked into his eyes with a smirk. “I was mad at you at the time.”
Frank cracked up. The beauty of hearing him laugh like that made her chest ache.
“What the hell’s wrong with a regular vacuum?”
“Nothing. But obviously, this one runs by itself. I have it programmed to sweep once a day.” She shrugged. “It was a gift.”
In the aftermath of Daniel Fisher’s murder, Karen had gotten a little obsessive about keeping her floors clean — even after she moved to an apartment with mostly gleaming hardwood instead of wall-to-wall carpet. The Roomba had been a present from Foggy back when he was making Hogarth money.
Frank shook his head, still amused, his smile warming her through. “Coulda warned a guy.”
“Yeah, well, I was a little too worried about the guy to think about it.” She put Scooter back on his charging base. She could assess the damage when she didn’t have Frank sitting on her couch. She hoped Scooter wasn’t hurt, though the mental image of the goddamn Punisher scared shitless by a vacuum cleaner was quite possibly worth it.
As she moved back toward Frank, she left her heels behind and shrugged off her coat. “Do you need me to check those bandages?” She’d done the best she could the night before but she knew her work had been sloppy.
“I took care of it.” He stood up and pulled on a shirt. “Thanks for letting me rest up.”
She nodded. “You’re going?” she asked, pressing her lips together.
“Soon as it’s dark.”
"So that’s it?” She couldn’t keep a little waver of pain out of her voice. She'd told him that what he did wouldn’t change how she felt about him, and apparently, that included him breaking her heart. This wasn't getting any easier.
“Karen.” He walked over until he was standing right in front of her. He sighed. “If I was an asshole, I’d ask you to come with me.”
Her hand made its way up to press against her mouth, stopping herself from asking him to...she didn’t even know what.
“I can’t stay here right now,” he continued. “Too many cops on my ass. Thought maybe I’d go down to Florida to look up a friend.”
She felt the anger flare up again. He was just going to give her hope like that — I’d ask you to come with me — and then waltz right out of her life again?
“What about your war, Frank?” she said bitterly. “The one you chose, instead of…”
He swayed a little back and forth as her question hung between them.
“You watch the news today?” he said finally. “You see what I did? Killed a whole bunch of guys who were asking for it. And all it felt like was...breaking. But seeing your face when you opened that door?” A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth and her heart skipped. “Shit.” He looked down at the floor, then swayed a little closer. “We don’t get to pick the things that fix us. We just get lucky sometimes.”
He was so close now, close enough to kiss. But she held herself back, despite the rush she felt at his words. His face was clouding over again.
“I’m not stupid, Karen. I know I’m not the kinda guy you want.”
“Frank—” she began to protest. Not this again.
“C’mon, no smart girl from a little town in Vermont dreams about a guy like me, a guy who’s probably killed more people than she went to high school with. But this thing...” His voice was low, husky. “It’s real, right? Even though I don’t deserve it?”
Her eyes were watering now.
“You’re a good man, no matter what you think of yourself,” she said softly. “You deserve to be loved.”
He swallowed, inching closer still. He reached up and touched her jawline, rested his thumb oh so lightly on the bow of her lip, then let it drift away.
“You really think that you could…?”
And then she couldn’t take it anymore. She leaned in and kissed him softly. “What do you think?” she said breathlessly.
He pulled her back to him, slanting his mouth over hers intently. She wrapped her arms around his neck and leaned into his body, almost forgetting to be careful of his wounds. After so much waiting, so much dreaming about his moment, it seemed impossible that it could be even better than she imagined.
But it was.
Around them, the last of the sun was fading from the windows. But she couldn’t let him disappear into the darkness. Not this time.
“Frank,” she said between kisses. “I don’t think asking me to come with you would make you an asshole.”
“No?” He met her gaze and tilted his head. His eyes were sparkling but she could tell he was trying to play it cool. “Murdock and Nelson — they give you vacation time?”
“There’s no giving about it. I’m a partner now, at least from a business perspective. So I don’t ask, I tell."
“Tell 'em, then. Tell 'em you’ll be gone a few weeks, maybe the summer?”
Karen smiled. “My cases are in good shape. They can bring in Jessica Jones to take over anything they can’t handle themselves.”
Oh god, they would hate it. But Matt owed her one. And if Foggy could forgive Matt for playing dead, she thought he could forgive her for...actually trying to live.
“Sounds like it’s settled, then.” Frank rested his forehead against hers, his hand sliding into her hair.
“The only question left is whether we should bring Scooter,” Karen teased.
He pulled back a fraction, his face crinkling up. “Fu—”
But she kissed him before he could get himself into any more trouble.