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Brett tells her to stay out of trouble. “For the tenth time, Karen—for my sake, if you won’t do it for your own—I don’t want to see you at any more crime scenes in the next month. The next year. I’ve got enough stress in my life as it is without worrying about your skinny ass.”


The thing about staying out of trouble is that Karen’s always had a nose for it. It’s something she and Ben had in common, that she and Ellison have in common now. Before New York, Karen’s sense of right and wrong, of what constitutes justice: well, it had been absolute. Her parents raised her well. People who do bad things should be punished. And bad things always start with a hint of trouble.


Karen’s good at sniffing out trouble.


She’s a smart girl: always has been. She knows, someday, that this talent of hers will kill her. If she could live her life quietly, she would.


It’s a compulsion.


“It’s why I hired you,” Ellison muses over his mug of coffee at her. “You don’t stop until you get that look.”


“What look?” Karen asks.


“That you’ve got your hit,” Ellison smiles. “That adrenaline rush of hitting the nail on the head of truth. It’s addictive.” He sighs through his teeth, eliciting a quiet hiss as Karen considers protesting. “Trust me, I know.”


Working at the paper is a lot like working for the firm (she calls it strictly the firm when her mind drifts to it, can’t bring herself to think about the names attached to it for too long): it’s a lot of putting the pieces of a story together. Sure, she doesn’t see the inside of a courthouse, but considering how things went the last time she was there, maybe this is the better choice.


She writes a piece on the murdered hostage: a long obituary about his military service, but more importantly, his desire to stand up to bullies in the face of mortal peril. It’s the last piece she writes before Ellison authorizes a mandatory break. “Keep writing. I just want to see the bags under your eyes go away. Send me the good shit you come up with.”


Foggy tells her he’s still her friend, but he’s up to his eyeballs in work at his new job and one too many last minute bailouts has left Karen wary to text him.


And Matt—





Matt invites her to the old office and she can’t stay away. Figures.


Then he drops the vigilante bomb, and Karen’s brain practically explodes.


The first words that stumble out of her mouth are, inexplicably, “But it’s Christmas, Matt.”


She tells him she needs space, and it’s hard: because hell, she’s always known that Matt Murdock is trouble. And now—now he’s Daredevil too, of all things. It's outlandish, outrageous: a blind superhero?


And yet it’s the only thing that’s rung true from him in a long time. It doesn’t mean she’s not mad.


“Did you enjoy playing me like a fool?” Karen has the mask in her hands now, and it shakes in her furious grip. If she could tear it in two with her bare hands, she would.


“It wasn’t like that, Karen. No one could know. It was too dangerous.”


“Dangerous?” Karen spits the word like it’s poison in her mouth. “More dangerous than the life I’m leading now? More dangerous than getting shot at over and over and over again? Or getting taken hostage? Or being framed for murder? Because I think we both know that that’s bullshit, Matt.” She doesn’t add actual murder to the list of grievances because she’s not ready to tell that story, and she’s not sure she ever will be.


“I know. That’s why I’m telling you now.”


She throws the mask at his chest. He catches it easily.


“I used to think the city needed me. You once said the same,” Matt says quietly. “Do you still believe that?”


“I don’t know what I believe, anymore,” Karen tells him. “And truth be told, the last time I had my beliefs examined by you, I got fucking skewered by the wrath of your goddamn Catholic guilt. So excuse me if I take the fifth.”


Matt is silent for a moment: his face is full of unexpected grief that Karen isn’t prepared for. God, that boy knows how to break her heart, even when he doesn’t mean to. Especially when he doesn’t mean to.


“I’m sorry, Karen. About everything. You deserve,” Matt pauses. “You’re better than this.” He grins at her. “I’m glad you got out. Before it...tainted you.” She’s not sure if he’s talking about her job or their relationship, but either way: it’s too late for that.


It’s a coverall apology, but at least it’s something. At least it’s not another lie.





She opens up a blank word file when she gets home and types the words, “MATT MURDOCK IS DAREDEVIL by Karen Page,” before immediately erasing them. She’s not that cruel.





For all intents and purposes, the Punisher is dead. The police identify the remains of a charred corpse that vaguely resemble Frank’s body, and the DA hops on the opportunity to put the myth of the Punisher to rest.


Karen knows better. She’s seen trouble, this time with a capital T, walk away with her own two eyes. A dead man walking, in his own words.


Karen drives past Frank’s house in Ben’s car and gasps at the ruins. She asks at the convenience store across the way what happened. “Burned overnight. Real fast, too. They say there was accelerant. Gasoline, probably.”


Karen gets it, she does. He’s burned away his old life: all the things anchoring him to his city are up in smoke like a blazing pyre until only the essential parts remain—and even then, some things that should stay behind get stripped from you. Rip out the root: that’s how plants die. But boy are they beautiful in the vase.


He told her he was already dead. Now, she believes him.





So Karen does right by Brett, and by Ellison, too: she stays out of trouble. She gets some sleep. She eats three meals a day and doesn’t drink coffee until she can feel it pumping through her bloodstream. She still jumps at loud, unexpected noises, which is a bit of a pain in the ass, living in New York City. But she’s working on it.


Her apartment door is open when she gets home from the office.


She considers just walking away, going to Foggy’s place and crashing there. She thinks about calling the police.


Instead, she slips inside. The living room is empty, but the light in the bathroom is on.


She grabs her gun from her dresser before asking in a shaky voice, “Hello?”


She walks toward the light.


It’s Frank. He’s in her bathtub, fully clothed and covered in blood, and he’s certainly seen better days. His layer of perma-scruff is caked in blood, blood that she’s not sure belongs to him.


“I left the front door open so you wouldn’t spook,” he tells her.


“A real gentleman.” She doesn’t put the gun down, but she does put the safety back on.


“Just need a place to stitch myself up. I’ll be outta your hair real quick.” Frank pulls up the hem of his shirt, wincing as the sticky fabric tears up from his wound.


“Jesus, Frank,” Karen winces, laying her gun on the bathroom counter. She reaches for him and then thinks better of it. “What do you need?”


“Needle and thread. Whisky, too.”


For such a violent man, Karen notes that Frank’s hands can be delicate. They are gentle when he takes the sewing kit from her hand, bloody fingers brushing over her knuckles. They are gentle as he brings the bloody folds of his skin together, gingerly threading the flesh together with a low hiss every time he pierces his own skin.


She sits down on the the toilet cover and puts her hand over her mouth. She’s seen far worse gore, but still: she can almost taste the blood in the air. “I won’t ask what you did tonight, because I know I won’t like the answer.”


“Smart woman,” Frank shrugs, setting the knot at the end of the suture.


Karen hums something to the affirmative and watches as he takes a swig of whisky before pouring it over his sealed wound and down his abdomen. It’s not the cleanest method, but it’s not like she has a more than a modest first aid kit in her apartment. This disinfecting will have to do.


Karen gets up. “Stay, or don’t. I want you gone by tomorrow morning.” She can’t exactly kick him out by force and she’s not sure she particularly wants to, either.


Regardless, she locks her bedroom door behind her.





He’s gone when she walks into the kitchen the next day. When she checks the bathroom, it is spotless: bleached clean.





Karen is bowled over by a dark haired, pale woman on the doorstep of Foggy’s new office building. “Eyes up, Bambi,” she mutters, sticking out a hand and hoisting Karen to her feet like she weighs nothing at all. She’s on the phone, the device crooked against her shoulder, and Karen hears the last part of her conversation as she walks toward the subway: “Yeah, tell them to meet me at the office, Malcolm.”


“You meet Jessica on your way out?” Foggy asks her when he finally makes it down to the lobby. “Private investigator Hogarth’s got on retainer. Total badass.”


“I have enough badasses in my life these days,” Karen shrugs. “I need more smartasses.”


Foggy takes a bow. “You’ve come to the right place.”


She doesn’t tell Foggy about Frank’s sleepover. She does jump when someone behind the bar drops a glass, letting it shatter across the floor. Foggy gives her a knowing look that Karen shrugs off. “How’s work?” Foggy asks her. “Read your piece on the new DA. Tower’s gotta be pleased about how clean you made him look.”


“He was clean. Mostly,” Karen amends, when Foggy gives her a look. “I think we’ll take mostly clean in this city, these days.”


They only reference Matt in passing. He’s disappeared for the past few months, but Karen has enough to worry about without adding him into the mix. She assumes that the man who parades around as the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen can take care of himself.


“So when are you gonna invite your brother to town? I’d love to meet him,” Foggy offers.


Karen stiffens before forcing a smile onto her face. “Oh, I don’t know. I’ll give him a call.”





She doesn’t see Frank again for another month, but sometimes she feels a gaze on her, like she’s got some kind of guardian angel.


Karen calls Matt one night, late, while she’s walking from the subway to her apartment. “I don’t want you watching over me,” is how she opens up the conversation.


“I’m in London, Karen.”


Well. That’s gonna be hell on her phone bill.


“Do you think someone’s following you?” His concern is tinny over the line. “You should call Detective Mahoney. He can give you a police escort—”


“It’s fine, Matt,” Karen shushes him. “My paranoia’s just acting up again.”


“Most paranoid people have a reason to be paranoid, Karen. It’s okay to feel scared.”


“I’m not scared.” Karen bites her lip. “I’ll tell Foggy you said hi.” She walks inside her apartment building and trudges up the four flights to her one bedroom.


As she’s fitting her key in the lock, she calls out into the dim hallway, “You gonna come in or what?”


Frank appears, silhouetted in the hall. “Sure you want me in there again?”


Karen shrugs, opening the door for the two of them. He takes a few steps down the hall toward her door. “I’m not really sure about anything these days.”





Frank’s hunt for the real Blacksmith—whoever Schoonover was taking orders from—has proved fruitless over the past three months. “I get close, you know. Not close enough.” He shrugs his shoulders back, one large hand cradling a container of fried rice Karen had ordered from the Chinese place around the corner.


“Sounds like it might not be a one man job.”


Frank narrows his eyes at her. “It is exactly a one man job.”


Karen slurps up her noodles. “Okay,” she says, mouth full. “So what happens when you come back in three months with the same pile of nothing you’ve got now?” Frank makes an angry noise in the back of his throat. “I’m just saying that the Blacksmith has an army at his fingertips. It’s okay to ask for help.”


“From you?” Frank asks, clearly amused.


“Hey: you’re looking at the girl who took down Union Allied.”


“All on your own, huh?”


“I had help. Which is why we won.” Karen throws back some seltzer. “You vigilantes and your lone wolf acts.”


“Vigilantes?” Frank asks, curious. “You know Red?”


Karen stiffens. “Well, he saved me a few times,” she demurs. “Don’t really know him.” And as much as that’s a lie, she doesn’t really know Matt. Not really. She thought she did, but now she’s certain that she barely scratched the surface. Probably didn’t even leave a mark on him.


“How’s the boy?” Frank asks her. The non-sequitur spooks her a little.


“There’s no boy,” Karen says darkly.


Frank shifts on the couch. “I already told you about not letting the people that hurt you get away.”


Karen puts her noodles away, snapping the lid shut on top. “I know you don’t get to choose what hurts you, Frank. I know, and I’m so sorry. You know I am.” She grits her teeth before continuing on. Frank remains very still. “But I have that choice still. It’s not the same, what you and your wife had and what Matt and I had. I get to choose who hurts me.”


“That’s a nice thought,” Frank says roughly. “But you know it ain’t true.”


“Well I can damn well pretend I get some goddamn say!” Karen nearly shouts, her voice raising louder than she’d intended. “Sorry.”


Frank shrugs, leaning back into the couch. “Takes a lot more than that to hurt me, ma’am.”


Karen tilts her head up at him from where she’s sitting on the floor on the other side of the coffee table where all their Chinese food is laid out: a veritable feast. She’s not sure the last time Frank’s had a real meal, so she’d ordered nearly half the menu.


“I have a connection. A private investigator, through Foggy’s new firm. She might be able to help you find out more information on the Blacksmith.” It’s her final offer, and Frank looks curious enough to bite.


“Who says she’s any good,” Frank shrugs.


“If she works for Hogarth, she’s the best,” Karen tells him, handing over the card she’d swiped from Foggy. “Jessica Jones. Call her.”


He sleeps on her couch that night. It opens up into a trundle, but by the time Karen wakes up the next day, the couch has been folded back into itself: pristine and seemingly untouched.


There’s a note on her kitchen counter in a neat, tight scrawl: Thanks for dinner. I’ll be seeing you.





He stops by every couple of days. Karen isn’t sure where he sleeps when he’s not on her couch, but she doesn’t bother asking him. He won’t lie to her, but she also doesn’t want to embarrass him. His house isn’t there anymore, that’s for sure.


Sometimes he goes away a few days at a time, but he always comes back. “New lead from Jones bore fruit,” Frank grins when Karen gets home from the Bulletin. He’s cooking something on her stove and it smells amazing.


“Feed me,” Karen sighs, stretching out her back. She spent the whole day at her desk typing up what will be tomorrow’s headline editorial piece and her whole body aches from being in one position too long.


Chili is what’s in the pot, and Karen eats enough of it that she’s nearly floating in the stuff. “I’m gonna need to roll to bed,” she groans, and Frank smiles a private grin. “Like that blueberry girl in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”


Karen does the dishes while Frank goes over the Jones intel. “She’s a hardass, Jones. Gets shit done.”


“You’re welcome,” Karen grins, the warm water from the sink running over her hands. “Any leads that we could, I don’t know, tip the police on?” The look Frank gives her is unimpressed, but Karen has to try. “Frank, you can’t just keep on leaving piles of bodies in your wa—”


The loud rap on the door is jarring in contrast to their fairly domestic tableau.


Karen drops the plates to the bottom of the sink and falls to her knees, covering up her head with her wet hands. “Shit,” she murmurs. It hasn’t been this bad in a while. She just—she wasn’t expecting anyone. Frank just lets himself in and she tells delivery men these days specifically not to knock.


She feels Frank behind her, grazing his fingertips gently on the crown of her head. “I got it. Do what you gotta do.”


Karen nods and turns herself to lean back against the kitchen cabinets, legs pulled up against her so she’s small and tucked away. She gets her breath back after a few long moments of clenched tightness in her chest. She’s safe. She’s safe. She’s—




“Frank? What the hell are you doing here? Where’s Karen—


Of course it’s Matt.


“I’m here,” she calls with a shaky breath. “You, uh. Spooked me with the knock.”





“He’s a mass murderer, Karen. Have you lost your mind?” Matt’s got her by the shoulders and he’s practically shaking her. Frank is long gone, having left soon after Matt had stormed into the apartment. Karen just wants to sleep for days.


“I don’t know, Matt,” Karen says blankly. She looks him up and down and gives him the filthiest look she can manage. “Sometimes you have to pick your poison.”


“You know, the more you try to rationalize him, the further you get from God’s grace.” Matt reaches out to touch her, but Karen bats his hand away. “I can’t bear to see you become that kind of person.”


“Maybe it’s not about becoming something else at all,” Karen says quietly. “Maybe I’ve always been this way.”


“I don’t believe that,” Matt vows. “You’re a good person, Karen, and you’re trying to see good where there is none.”


She asks him to leave, and he does. “Welcome back to the city,” she calls as he taps his way down the hall.





She calls out of work the next day, tells Ellison she’s too sick to come in.


“About time you took a sick day,” she tells her over the phone. “Get some rest, Page.”


She sleeps through the day, well into the late afternoon, and wakes up to a text from an unknown number.


Frank said not to knock. It’s Jessica Jones. I’m outside your door.





Jessica grins at her when Karen opens the door. She’s just as striking as when Karen had last seen her: a truly beautiful woman who’s seen some shit. “Hey, Bambi. Frank’s checking out a couple of guys by the new shipping container I scouted, but he wanted me to drop this stuff off with you before the end of the day.” She drops a packed file in Karen’s outstretch arms. “Tell him, when you see him, that I’m not a delivery girl. He can pick up from Alias Investigations or he can suck my dick.”


Karen cracks a smile. “I’m sure that’ll go over well. My name’s Karen Page.”


Jessica nods at her, surveying the apartment. “Frank live here?” she asks.


“No,” Karen frowns. “No, this is my apartment.” She bites her lip as Jessica turns to leave. “You know every time you give him a tip, he goes out and kills people, yeah?”


Jessica’s expression darkens. “I’m not an idiot, Karen. I know who Frank Castle is.”


“So you don’t care,” Karen surmises.


“Some people deserve to die.” Jessica says the words coldly, resolutely. Like she’s killed before and meant it. “I’ll see you around, Bambi. It’s been enlightening.”





She leaves a note on her kitchen counter in case Frank stops by while she’s away.


Be back in a few days. Feel free to crash here as necessary.


The drive up to Vermont in Ben’s old car is long but cathartic. She doesn’t love making the trip alone, mostly because she’s reminded of the road trips she took with Kevin before the accident.


“Drive faster, Kar.” His words echo around her head, and she finds herself breaking the speed limit as she crosses state lines.


Her parents don’t live in Winfield County anymore: they left for the West coast after Kevin passed, and Karen gets it. Leaving the tragedy behind made it easier for them to cope.


Karen pulls up onto main street and finds herself wandering into the local diner for sustenance. She drove as far as she could before stopping for the night, staying in a cheap Motel 6 for a few hours before waking up and hitting the road once more.


“Coffee,” she requests, sliding into an open booth.


“Make it two. Black,” says a voice from behind her. Frank slides into the booth across from her: a familiar sight, with his baseball cap and everything. This time, though, his face is clean of bruises and cuts.


So Karen stopped looking for trouble, but trouble? Trouble tends to find her.


Karen grips the edge of the table tightly. Even if she might trust Frank, she doesn’t like being followed. “How did you find me?” she asks.


“Tailed you out of the city. Was dropping by just as you were taking off.” The diner waitress swings by with two empty mugs and fills them up quickly. Frank takes his coffee and sips it with a groan. “Okay, that’s a decent cuppa.”


Karen holds her coffee mug between her hands, the warmth radiating against the skin of her palms. It’s early spring, but Vermont still has its frost. “Winfield is beautiful in the summer. Shame you’re missing it at its peak.”


“Don’t doubt it. Pretty things seem to grow up here.”


Karen feels her eyes welling up and she looks away from Frank. “You couldn’t just let me have this secret,” she chokes out.


“Hey,” Frank murmurs softly, reaching out for her hand across the table. “Hey. Shh.”


His palm is large against her knuckles, and as he brushes his thumb atop the skin of her hand, she tries to steady her breath to the rhythm.





Kevin is buried on a hill next to Karen’s grandparents. The Winfield County cemetery is small, even considering the town’s tiny population: it seems the people who grow up here don’t stay here barring dire circumstances.


“He was sixteen,” Karen says, snotty and dripping. She’s on her knees by his headstone, and there’s snow that she brushes off the top with her bare hands. “It was my fault.”


Frank doesn’t tell her she’s not to blame, just remains quiet and solid behind her. “Your friends know about this?”


Karen shakes her head. “I told them he was still alive. I don’t know why. Just seemed…” She shrugs. “Easier to lie than to relive it.”


“Like you don’t relive it every night,” Frank scoffs. “I know that look.”


Karen lays a rock atop the headstone: a shiny, smooth one the color of her pale hair. “Maybe I do.”


Frank shifts behind her and suddenly he’s on his knees beside her in the grass. “What was he like?”


They trade anecdotes: Karen tells Frank about how Kevin was the smartest person she’s ever known—smarter than Foggy and Matt, really heading places—and Frank tells her about how Lisa loved stealing Frank Jr.’s trucks and hoarding them under her bed when she got real pissed off at him. Kevin had red hair that Karen once dyed green as a St. Patrick’s Day prank. Frank Jr. wanted to join the army, just like his old man. Of course, Maria had hated the idea. Frank himself had been proud as hell. The last words Karen ever spoke to Kevin were a slurred, “Can you pick me up?” Lisa never learned to ride her bike.


They talk until the sun starts to fall in the sky. Karen lets out a long shiver. “It’s been three years to the day since it happened,” she whispers. “If I could—if it could be me, Frank, I’d—in a heartbeat, I’d do it—”


“Don’t,” Frank says roughly. “Don’t go down that road.” He says it like he’s been there, and Karen nods, stifling a sob.


He takes her under his arm and they walk back to her car. It’s a long walk, and they travel in comfortable silence.





Frank leaves the car he jacked behind in Vermont, electing instead to drive Karen’s car. “What? You’ve got the tunes,” he grins, popping the old cassette tape in.


They stay at a Doubletree in the middle of Massachusetts. The room they get has two queen beds, and Karen doesn’t mind sharing the space. Frank probably won’t sleep at all.


She sleeps in an oversized shirt and shorts she packed for the trip in her dufflebag. She waits in the quiet for him to speak. He's got a look on his face like he wants to say so much, but cannot find the words.


“Karen,” Frank says at last, his voice as soft as he can manage. “Why do you need me to be good so bad? I’m not the guy you want me to be. You want a superhero, Hell’s Kitchen has already got a guy in a mask jumping around. I’ve met him. He’s the good you want, Karen. He tries.”


Karen looks at the ceiling. “Because if you can be good, I can be good.”


She can hear the frown in Frank’s voice. “‘Scuse me?”


“I know you’re on the far end of the spectrum,” Karen says steadily. “I know we’re not the same.” She pauses. “But there’s blood on my hands.”


“You can’t count Kevin—”


“I shot a man last year,” Karen interrupts him. “I shot him seven times in the chest with that .380 you’ve been admiring. So just shut up about what I can and can’t count.”


It’s odd to finally say the words she’s been holding in for so long. She knows Matt would tell her to turn herself in, to get ahead of the legal repercussions that so surely awaited her in the not-so-distant future. But Frank—she’s not sure at all how Frank will react. And maybe that’s why she tells him: for the surprise.


“He hurt you?” Frank asks curtly.


Karen tightens her grip around the comforter. “Yes.”


“He try to kill you?” Frank continues.


Karen nods.


“Well, then. Okay,” Frank says. “Sometimes people deserve to die.”


“If Matt were here, he’d say it’s not up to us to decide,” Karen sighs.


“Well, if not us, then who?”


“God, probably,” Karen says quietly.


Frank sits on the edge of her bed. “I’d like to see God come down here and tell me that my family deserved to die.” He grins a little to himself, though there’s no mirth in his expression: only the rough grimace of grief. “The way I see it, the only thing deciding who lives or who dies is us, and anyone unwilling to take the final step is just delaying the inevitable.”


His hand brushes against her calf through the blankets. Karen shivers a little. “The inevitable?”


“Scum always comes back. You can’t just knock it out, lock it up, and call it a day. You have to eradicate it.” Frank hisses out a sigh through his teeth. “Let the punishment fit the crime.”


Karen knows that Frank is wrong, but she’s not certain Matt’s right either. Either way, she finds Frank’s simple ideology effective in soothing the scar in her soul that’s pained her for a long, long while.





They arrive back in Hell’s Kitchen the next day. Frank disappears for a few days and Karen writes a piece on beautiful Winfield County and how it’s a perfect weekend getaway for city-dwellers hoping to escape the noise for a little while.





It’s a week after Vermont and Karen can hear Frank rummaging around her apartment. It’s three in the morning and she’s not sure what exactly she’s thinking when she opens her bedroom door. What she does know is that laying eyes on him fills her with some kind of weird happiness, and she doesn’t get that a lot these days.


“Hey,” Frank waves. “Sorry. Did I wake you up?”


Karen doesn’t respond, just steps a little closer. “Hey,” Frank repeats, his voice real soft and rough in his throat.


Karen nestles her face into the crook of his neck, threading her arms beneath the fabric of his jacket. He smells like sweat and leather and gunpowder, but when he wraps her up in his arms, she can’t help but find comfort in it. “Shh,” he quiets as she finds her face wet against the skin of his cheek. “Shh, I’ve got you.”


Karen pulls back a little and asks: “Stay. Please.”


She uses his own words against him like a fishing lure she knows he’ll bite.


He hangs his jacket up in her closet and takes his boots off with two short kicks at the foot of her bed, right where she knows she’ll trip on them in the morning. He pauses, and that’s when Karen reaches for his fly, undoing his jeans and zipping them down. “Is this okay?” she asks, the question just a murmur in the dark.


“You’re already close enough to hurt me,” Frank says finally, after chewing on the thought for a long moment. “So hurt me.”


It’s easier than she thought it would be, kissing Frank: in the end, he is just a man, no matter how much he wants to shed that aspect of himself. He wants her, and it’s the closest she’s gotten to discovering the man at the center of the Punisher myth she’s ever gotten. His kiss is gentle until Karen threads her fingers into his hair and pulls him down against her, nails scratching against his scalp hard. “Come on,” she murmurs against him, and he laughs.


“Okay,” he huffs, and then his kiss grows rougher, losing its tenderness. Karen supposes she’ll want that, someday: but not now. For now, she wants to get lost. She wants to smother herself in him. She wants—


He pulls down her underwear and her id hisses out a, “yes, please.” She wants that.


There’s something heady about getting off with Frank, to indulge herself with a man like him. Sometimes when she looks at him, all she can see is the broken man. Sometimes when she looks at him, all she can see is the Punisher. But there, tonight, in her bed, he is something else entirely.


His scruff is rough against her thighs. She can’t help but let him spread her open, knees wide. She still jerks when he tastes her. “You’re safe,” he whispers up at her when she jumps. “I’ve got you.”


“I know,” she whispers. “I know, Frank.”


She relaxes around his fingers and against his tongue, vulnerable and open and aching. He thumbs against her clit with an ease that belies real experience in bed, and God is it a turn on, being intimate with someone who knows what they’re doing. “You’re pretty good at this,” Karen praises as she feels her orgasm building, and Frank laughs against her thigh.


“Practice,” he smiles, pressing kisses along the vee of her hip to her cunt, where he laps at her in earnest as she rides the beatific sensation out.


She holds onto the bed frame when he takes her from behind, slotting himself inside her tight heat. He holds her around the waist and at the hip and she lets him pull her back against him as far as she can go. He moves her hair off her shoulder and presses his lips against her neck. “You’re good, Karen,” he murmurs softly. “Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise.”


He shakes when he comes and Karen is glad that she’s not facing him. The moment, though so obviously a joint effort, seems private for some reason. This brief moment of happiness in a life so scarred by tragedy ought not be shared.


Frank spends the rest of the night running his fingers through her hair. His touch is so gentle that it manages to soothe her into a peaceful sleep.





Frank’s gone when she wakes up, but she’s not surprised by that in the slightest. She reads, a few days later, about a group of cartel members blown to smithereens by a mysterious gas explosion by the pier. It’s strange, the things men do to convince themselves they’re still monsters.





“I really liked your Vermont piece,” Ellison tells her offhandedly. “Nice fluffer article for the Tuesday edition. The hometown edge was cute.”


“Well, like you said, we’ve got to fill space on the page,” Karen shrugs.


“Damn right we do,” Ellison smiles. “Not all stories are life and death, Page.” Karen quirks her head at him as if to ask, aren’t they? Ellison laughs before sliding a folder on her desk. “But this one’s got teeth. Sniff around and see what you can come up with?”


You see, Ellison wants her out of danger, but near enough that she can sense it. That’s why she likes working for the Bulletin so much. She’s got a taste for the darkness of this city, and it seems the feeling is mutual.


“I’ll keep out of trouble,” Karen assures him.


“Yeah, you won’t,” Ellison laughs. “Good luck, kid.”