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The morning Lewis Wilson attacks the Royal Hospitality Hotel, Frank wakes to the sound of humming.

It’s David. Of course it’s David Lieberman—humming Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go because of course he is. Frank sits up; he’s grown used to sleeping on a narrow cot, smelling the damp cement of the bunker, and listening to David’s off-key humming. David hasn’t spoken much to him since he returned last night to find Frank’s face plastered all over the news and headlines. Frank should lay low—he knows he should lay low.

But he can’t—not with Senator Ori giving his speech today. Lewis Wilson as good as told Frank he was going to show up.

Frank has very few people left in the world that he cares about, and in the course of twenty-four hours, Lewis Wilson managed to badly injure one, threaten another, and is planning to attack the place where the third is currently working.

Some men need to be put down.

Frank rises from his cot and reaches for the gun he keeps beneath his bed. The weapon is a comfortable weight in his palm.

“You still planning on hunting this guy?” asks David. He’s made it clear he considers this a detour from their mission—but he won’t protest. He’s got his own secrets written across his face in big, guilty letters. If Frank had the time, he’d try to pry them out of David. He’s probably done something stupid. But Frank has other concerns at the moment.

“Yeah,” says Frank, eyes on the Bulletin’s front page. Lewis Wilson’s face—alongside his. Karen didn’t write that article, at least. For all that she snapped at him on the phone, he knows that she would never do that to him.

David nods. “Be careful.” He hesitates. “When—when you’re done, we need to talk.”

Frank inclines his head slightly. “Okay.”


The day is an absolute clusterfuck.

Wilson attacks the hotel; Frank gets shot—by Billy, goddamn fucking Bill, who talks like Frank is something to be removed—and Madani’s voice rings through the stairwell like that of an avenging angel; Frank can’t feel his shoulder all that well and he can taste the cooked meat smell of Lewis Wilson after he blows himself up.

Bill know something about his family; David Lieberman went to Madani behind Frank’s back.

Two people Frank thought he could trust, and they both betrayed him. The fury of it has to be tucked away, shoved out of sight for the moment because there are other priorities to take precedence.

Karen.

Karen is the eye of the hurricane, a single point of stillness at the heart of the storm. He rips through the hotel to find her, to keep her safe, and when it’s over, when they’re standing in an elevator and there are tears in her eyes, the weight of the day seems to crash down upon them both.

He’s shaking and so is she.

Her hand finds the uninjured part of his arm and holds on, and there isn’t time for this, but Frank cannot force himself to step away. Her breath is soft against his cheek and she smells like burning metal and sour smoke—with the faint underlying scent of a lily perfume. Her forehead to his, the press of her fingers against his shoulder. He wants to stay in this moment for as long as he can, because he isn’t sure he’ll ever have another moment’s peace again.

But it’s Karen who steps away, who urges him up the elevator shaft, because she knows better. He can’t stay here forever and nor can she.

There are a thousand words weighing on Frank’s heart but he only manages to speak two: “Take care.”

Her eyes spill over and he wants to wipe those tears away, but there is no time. He forces his fucked up shoulder into action, hauling himself up and out of the elevator, up the shaft, to the roof—and away from the hotel. Smoke billows from some of the windows and there are EMTs and cops everywhere.

None of them are looking up.

Frank stumbles away from the hotel, bleeding and exhausted and barely able to think. He ends up beside the Hudson with other people who have nowhere else to go, a blanket drawn around him and flames flickering before his eyes.

He’s tired. He’s so goddamn tired. He blinks once, twice, and then he must fall asleep for a few moments because he jerks awake.

David Lieberman is humming Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.

Frank is on his back, on a narrow cot. And the pain is just… gone. No throbbing in his head, no terrible numb ache in his shoulder. The shrapnel has vanished.

Frank blinks at the ceiling, wonders for a moment if he just had the most realistic and fucked up dream of his whole life.


It takes a repetition of the day for Frank to understand.

Frank sneaks into the hotel, watches Karen nearly get shot, then nearly blown up, then act as a shield. Madani’s gun barrel presses up against his forehead; Frank gets shot by Bill—getting shot in the head hurts, dammit—and he gets out of the hotel, staggers down to the river and wonders what the ever-loving fuck is going on.

Frank blinks several times, trying to clear the exhaustion from his eyes. He pulls the blanket a little tighter around himself, the scent of the river and burning metal still lingering in his nose, and then—

Then he’s on a cot.

Listening to David hum Wham.

He lived this before.

He lived this before.

“Jesus fucking Christ,” Frank says, and he finally gets it.

David glances over his shoulder. “Um, you okay, man?”

Frank staggers to his feet. Because this is real, this happened, this is happening, which means—

“You,” snarls Frank, because he knows, he goddamn knows. “You fucked me.”

David pales—which proves he’s smarter than he looks in that rumpled bathrobe. “What?”

“You went to Madani without me.” Frank bears down on him, hands fisted.

The anger is half for David—half for Bill. If it’s all true, if everything that happened will happen again, then this is the painful truth Frank has to face: nearly every person he ever trusted betrayed him.

Bill.

David.

Schoonover.

“I don’t know how you found out—did Madani call you?” asks David, confused.

“I know,” snaps Frank, “because I lived this day before. It’s happening again, and again, and you fucked me over.”

David frowns hard, lines digging furrows into his forehead. “What—what? Talk to me, Frank.”

Frank explains.

But no matter how hard he tries, I lived this before; I’m living it again, doesn’t sound all that plausible, even to his own ears.

David thinks he’s lost his mind—which Frank can’t really blame him for. Frank paces back and forth for a good few minutes, trying to relay everything that has happened, that’s about to happen. David watches him with the careful stillness of a man who is sure he’s dealing with a violent nutjob. “I’m not crazy,” says Frank. “I’m not. This shit happened before—you were singing that goddamned song and Bill betrayed me and Karen nearly died—”

David ends up making him a cup of chamomile tea—which tastes like drinking a garden and Frank can’t understand why David tolerates the stuff. There’s an odd grittiness to it, but Frank downs the cup just so David will stop looking at him like that.

“I’m stuck in a goddamn time loop,” says Frank. “Just—pretend you believe me for a moment. What would you say?”

David squints. “That you’re better looking than Bill Murray.”

Frank glares at him. “There has to be an explanation. You’re supposed to be the smart one—explain this.”

“Okay, okay.” David raises both hands in surrender. He appears to genuinely think on it for a few moments. “You ever heard of the Gödel solution?”

“No.”

David toys with the belt of his bathrobe, fidgeting with it. “Well, it was proposed by this guy, Gödel. He managed to come up with an exact solution for the Einstein field equations, and part of it was the theorized existence of closed time-like curves. Basically, instead of the Big Bang theory of an expanding universe, he proposed that the universe rotates, and thus, a person could travel through space-time if they could just use the right path.”

Frank shakes his head; the words blur together. “David,” he says, voice level and deadly, “tell me in five words or less.”

David considers for a moment. “Time travel is possible. Maybe.” He counts off the words on one hand, seemingly pleased when he’s gets it in five.

“Maybe?”

“Well, no one’s ever really worked out the math,” says David. “And honestly the black hole theory of time travel seems way more likely to me.”

“So you’re saying I could be traveling back in time?”

“It’s possible,” says David. “It would bring up all sorts of questions, like if you’re creating a paradox because the only way for you to know you’ve traveled back in time and have reset things would be to continually do it again and again—or maybe you’re spinning off a different parallel universe every time you wake up. It’s also possible that this entire reality is a video game being played by aliens in a different dimension and you’re respawning. Anything’s possible, Frank, but honestly…” He gives Frank a sympathetic look. “Listen. You haven’t been sleeping much, and—”

“I’m not crazy,” Frank begins to say, taking a step forward.

That’s when the world swims a little—and Frank understands. He runs his tongue across his gums, tastes the remnants of tea. And something else—something sharp and chemical.

David drugged him.

Again.

“You son of a bitch,” he manages to say. The world rises up to meet him, and the next thing he knows, he’s face-first on the ground.

“Sorry. Frank, you’re not well. You need—” David is speaking, but the words blur out.

Everything goes soft and fuzzy and dark.

When Frank wakes, he’s on the cot again, arm dangling over the edge. He feels drunk and groggy and furious because fool him once, shame on them—fool him twice, and someone’s going to get their fingers broken.

But at least the sound he hears isn’t David humming Wham. It’s a news caster, saying in a shaky voice that there was an explosion at a hotel. Frank drags himself up and out of that damned cot, shuffles toward the computer screens. David is sitting there, white-faced and aghast as the camera pans over bodies being dragged out of the building. He hits something on his keyboard and the image freezes.

“Shit,” David whispers. “Shit—shit.”

And then Frank sees what David does.

One of the bodies has dark, curly hair speckled white with plaster and dust. Frank takes an involuntary step toward the screens, eyes intent on her. She looks small against the other rows of victims.

Madani.

Madani was at the hotel. She died there.

“W-what do we do now?” David says, very quietly.

Frank considers a few answers; the drugs are still in his system. They’ve numbed him out. He turns, trudges back to the cot, and lays down.

“I’m going to pass out again,” he says. “And in the morning, you’re going to find a different fucking song.”

When Frank opens his eyes, it’s to David humming Wham.


On the fourth day, Frank decides to operate on the grounds that he isn’t insane.

Frank spent months railing against that conclusion—against Red calling him a psychopath and even Nelson clearly thinking that Frank belonged in some mental hospital. After all, his lawyers seemed to think, how could a person simply start gunning down criminals?

Frank doesn’t know how a person couldn’t—not after the things he’s seen.

And yeah, maybe his methods haven’t always been the cleanest, but for a while the criminals retreated back into the nooks and crannies of the city. He made the murderers afraid to pull a trigger—for a while, anyways. And that’s something he still can’t feel regret about, not really.

So he isn’t insane. Not even after taking a bullet to the brain, not after Kandahar, not after finding out that his family died because of him. He hasn’t lost it yet.

Which means. Which means that he’s stuck in a goddamn Groundhog Day-style fucked up time loop and he has no idea how to escape.

If this is some kind of time loop, then it means something’s gone wrong. Something he has to fix. He just has to figure out what.

He makes a list.

Goals:

• Kill Bill

• Kill Wilson

• Keep Karen from getting blown up and/or shot

• Keep Madani alive, too

• Figure out way to escape this fucking time loop

• Stop getting shot in the head (optional)

All right.

He can do this.


This time, he doesn’t say a word to David. Doesn’t tell him to stop humming Wham or confront him about Madani, because honestly Frank doesn’t really give a shit about any of that anymore. His mind is cataloguing the way the day will play out, trying to fix things. He knows, he just knows, that if he can make this day happen the way it’s supposed to, he’ll get out.

Frank goes into the hotel unnoticed, wearing that uniform and his brisk step keeping him all but unseen. And when the explosion comes, when Lewis Wilson goes in to kill Senator Ori, Frank stops him. Watches Karen get taken hostage, promises to go after her, then he rushes for the stairwell.

But he doesn’t head down to the kitchens—not yet.

First things first.

Bill.

And yeah, maybe Frank is allowing his emotions to get the better of him. But this knowledge feels like an ulcer, acid deep in his gut, burning a hole through him.

Bill was in on it.

Billy Russo, his best friend, his brother, the man he would have trusted his family to—he was in on it. And Frank may not have the specifics, but he can make a few guesses. The pieces slot together too well—Billy was there, at the park with them, until he wasn’t. Until he had to go. A fine coincidence, leaving before the bullets started to fly. And before now, Frank was grateful for it. He actually thought back to that day and was relieved Bill left when he did. Because it was one less person he loved dead.

And now—now he’s wondering if Bill ever actually left that park.

Bill was the one to pull him off of Rawlins. Frank attributed that to Bill wanting to protect him, but now he knows better. Bill was protecting the man who was probably paying him off, who was keeping Bill in designer clothing and cars and women. Frank always teased him over liking the finer things in life, but he never thought—

He never thought.

And that’s the problem, isn’t it? Frank never thought about it. Because he thought he knew Bill, knew him like a brother, like family, and it turns out Bill only kept him so close because it made it easier to slide in a knife.

It hurts. Fuck. It hurts to even think about.

Frank heads toward the stairwell entrance he remembers Bill using. He has to do this—maybe this is what will set the universe right again. Tipping the scales back to balance. Ending the man who let this all happen.

He goes to the stairwell entrance, slips inside, and waits. He hears the familiar sharp gait of Madani. She’s one floor down, heading toward the basement. Chasing a ghost, chasing someone who is one floor above her. He breathes a little easier once her footsteps fade; Madani is a wildcard in all of this, and one he isn’t sure he trusts. David went to her behind Frank’s back—and again, there’s that sharp sting of betrayal. For all that he claimed he didn’t do partners, he and David have become something akin to friends.

The stairwell door swings open and Frank sees his shoes first—those shiny, expensive leather shoes. Frank hits Bill with all of the force of a runaway truck—wrenching his gun away in one smooth motion and pinning Bill to the wall, forearm to his throat and gun up against his temple.

Shock and anger chase themselves across Bill’s face—so fast that once upon a time, Frank might not have seen them. Bill arranges his expression into one of careful neutrality. “Hey, it’s me,” he says, soothing. “Didn’t mean to startle you, brother.”

Brother. He wears the lie so well.

There are so many things he wants to know—answers aplenty, but there’s very little time. “Did you know?” The words are little more than a feral growl.

“Frank?” Bill says. Calm, so calm. “What are you talking about?”

A muscle works in Frank’s arm and he jams the barrel of the gun a little harder against Bill’s temple. “Did—you—know—about—my—family?”

The smallest of flickers goes through Bill’s eyes. It’s something ugly, far back in his gaze. He understands. There’s an eternity of deliberation. Frank watches as Bill seems to consider playing out the lie, weighs all the possibilities, then he comes to a decision.

“Frank,” he says, twisting the name with a terrible kind of tenderness. A concern that he has no right to offer.

Fuck. Fuck it hurts more than being shot, more than every death he’s suffered so far.

“Goddammit, Bill,” he breathes.

“Is this why you came here today?” Bill asks quietly. Then, even more quietly, “Who else knows?”

Damage control. Even now, with a gun to his head, Bill thinks there is a way out of this.

“Why?” says Frank. The word comes out more helpless than he intends—all of his anger is tangled up with pain. “Why did you do—how could you—”

“Frank,” says Bill, as if he should understand, but Frank doesn’t.

“You were family,” he whispers. “God, Bill. I’d have died for you, after all this time—”

Something slams into the wall beside them—chips of wood and paint hit Frank in the cheek and he whirls, startled and trying to find the new threat. Madani stands on the stairwell, gun at the ready and face like steel. “Gun on the floor, hands behind your head,” she says.

“Dinah,” says Bill, smiling warmly.

But Madani snaps, “Hands behind your head. Both of you.”

Bill’s smile freezes in place.

Frank doesn’t move, the gun is loose at his side and he doesn’t know which way to point it. He doesn’t want to hurt Madani; she isn’t a bad person—she just got caught up in all of their shit.

“I didn’t have anything to do with this, Madani,” he says, voice ragged.

“I believe you,” says Madani, like she always does. “Now put your gun on the ground and—”

Bill moves faster than both of them. He slams his knee into Frank’s thigh, knocking him off balance long enough to claw at Frank’s eyes. He ducks beneath the blow, slams Bill up against the wall, but Bill knows him. They trained together, fought together, and bled together. Bill throws his head forward, slamming into Frank’s nose and there’s a crack and blinding pain. It stuns him for only a fraction of a second, but it’s long enough.

Bill hits one of his knees, drives him to the ground, and yanks the gun free. Bill whirls and without so much as blinking, fires two shots.

One hits the wall.

The second goes through Madani’s forehead.

“No.” Frank hears the word—it takes a moment to realize he’s the one who uttered it.

Madani collapses in on herself, crumpled. She’s too limp, all of her vitality gone in a moment.

Bill just—

Bill was sleeping with her and he executed her without so much as hesitating.

The last of Frank’s doubts dissolve in a moment.

Frank swallows a mouthful of blood and lunges for Bill, grabbing him around the waist. Bill rolls hard, driving the gun into the back of Frank’s head twice. The punches land hard, and Frank doesn’t bother to block them—rather, he kicks Bill’s leg out from under him, wrenches the gun from his hand, and drives him to the ground. Bill hits the floor and rolls, avoiding the blow that would have slammed into his jaw by half an inch. The stairwell is too narrow to aim without retreating and Frank doesn’t want to give Bill that space. Bill has always liked just enough room to maneuver, to lunge and retreat.

They’re evenly matched. Too evenly matched.

“How could you,” Frank says. The words are slick with blood, streaming from his nose, and his teeth are coated with it. He doesn’t know if he’s talking about Madani or his family.

“Because,” Bill pants, chest heaving. His hair is askew. “I won’t—I won’t be that person again. I can’t go back.”

Frank feints to one side, but Bill doesn’t fall for it. He blocks a punch and tries to go for the gun. Frank throws his face against Bill’s—it isn’t like his nose can get any more broken. The pain is bright, a burst of agony, but it’s worth to see Bill’s head snap back and hit the wall. Frank just needs a moment to raise the gun, to—

An explosion rips through the hotel.

Frank’s ears pop, the change in air pressure dizzying. Dust and rubble blow up from the lower floors and there’s screaming.

A bomb. A second bomb. Which means—

“Karen.”

He staggers to the railing, looks down. He can’t see much besides the white and gray dust and rising smoke.

“No,” he gasps. “No, no—fuck.”

He let the fight go on too long. He didn’t get to the basement in time, didn’t talk Lewis Wilson down, didn’t tell Karen which wire she needed to pull. Which means she died down there—died alone, because he doesn’t count the man who murdered her.

I will come for you.

Except he didn’t.

Frank gets down two stairs before Bill catches up to him.

“Sorry about this, Frankie,” Bill pants, and then his elbow catches Frank around the throat and he pulls tight.

A blood choke takes only seconds.

When Frank blinks his eyes open, he’s on a cot in David’s bunker.

And David is humming Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.


The next time, Frank is smarter.

The first thing he changes is this: when he’s in the hotel basement, he doesn’t call Bill to warn him about Wilson. He calls Karen, instead.

“Hey,” he says. He keeps his head ducked a little, hat covering his face. Even wearing a janitor’s uniform, he still feels conspicuous. He presses his phone tight against his ear.

Karen inhales sharply when she hears his voice. “Frank. Are you okay? I saw the footage of you on the news.”

Of course she did. “I’m okay,” he says. “But listen, I need you to do something for me.”

A hesitation, a moment of silence. “What is it? I’m on my way to interview Senator Ori—”

“Don’t,” he says. “Karen, don’t come to the hotel. Wilson’s here. I tracked him here. Please—stay away.”

There is the distant sound of traffic on her end of the call; he imagines her walking up a street, going still out of confusion and surprise. “He’s—he’s there? Shit. Have you called the FBI? No, of course you haven’t because it’s you.”

“Karen,” he says. He sounds a bit like he’s pleading and he doesn’t care. “Just—go back to your office. Go home. Go anywhere but here, all right? I’ll take care of this.”

“By killing him?”

Frank doesn’t answer. She knows his answer, regardless.

“Frank,” she says, and he can’t decipher that tone. It isn’t exactly a rebuke, isn’t exactly sadness, but it’s something in that neighborhood. “You could—”

There are a lot of things he could do. But right now, all he can think about is how it felt know that she was dead. And he isn’t doing that again.

“Stay away from the hotel,” he says, voice like iron, and hangs up.

He can’t think about Karen.

Because Frank then spends the next two weeks trying to kill Billy Russo.

He tries. Oh, how he tries.

Once, he tries to snipe him from a nearby rooftop; he bribes a barista into putting some of David’s sedatives into Bill’s coffee; he drives a stolen car into Bill’s shiny Mercedes; he chucks a grenade into Bill’s apartment; and finally, he corners Bill in one of the hotel restrooms.

Here is the thing—it feels as if the universe is course-correcting. When Frank tries to snipe Bill, there’s a gust of wind that blows the bullet off course; the barista ends up giving the cup of drugged coffee to Madani of all people; he doesn’t manage to kill Billy when he crashes into his car, but the collision does injure people in a nearby taxi; the grenade Frank tosses into Bill’s apartment is fucking defective.

And finally, Bill nearly drowns him in a hotel toilet before driving a knife into his spinal cord.

Frank is glad that no one was around to see that.

Whatever power is running this show seems to get off on watching Frank try—and fail—to kill his former friend.

Finally, after losing track of the attempts, Frank hears Billy coming down the stairs and rushes him—

Only for Bill to pull the trigger… and the graze isn’t a graze this time.

When Frank wakes to the sound of Wham, he snarls at the open air, “If I get shot in the head one more time…”

David looks up from his computers. “What?”


Finally, on the thirty-third day, Frank dresses like an Anvil employee—might as well take a page out of the kid’s fucked up book—and tries to head Bill off in the hallway. Bill won’t want to cause a scene; he’ll probably try to keep things quiet, to get Frank out of sight.

Frank keeps his head down, Anvil cap low across his brow, striding forward like he belongs here. So close—he’s so close—

The elevator doors ding and Karen Page steps into the hallway.

Frank sidesteps, turning down a hallway before either of them can see him.

It takes him a moment to catch his breath, to remember if he called her in this timeline. He didn’t. She doesn’t know that Wilson is in the building or that Bill is a murderous son of a bitch.

Frank lingers out of sight, eyes downcast and hat tugged low. He can just make out a bit of conversation—and he’s never heard this before. Then again, he has never tried to lurk in this specific hallway before.

“—Anti-gun senator being interviewed by a journalist with a concealed carry permit,” Bill is saying. “Life is full of little ironies.”

Karen sounds amused. “You checked me out.”

“I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn’t.” Bill’s voice has a softness to it, that intimate quiet that tends to make women lean in to hear more. Frank knows that voice because he’s played wingman for Bill countless times—and now that tone makes his teeth hurt. He forces himself to remain still, not to draw attention. He can’t go barreling into the hallway now, not with Karen there. If a firefight breaks out—

He won’t let her die again.

So he waits for all hell to break loose.

It does.

It does every damn time. The explosion goes off, Senator Ori starts yelling, and then Frank rushes into the room to catch a few bullets on his vest.

The rest goes as it always does: Karen is taken hostage, goes into the elevator with Wilson, Frank rushes down the stairwell, talks to Madani, gets grazed along the head—he is losing track of how many times that’s happened now—and manages to evade the police long enough to get to the hotel kitchen and keep Karen from being blown up.

“Take the gun,” Karen pants, when they hear the sound of the cops outside. “Even if you’re dressed like one of Russo’s people, the cops will recognize you.”

He’s still wearing the Anvil outfit—although the hat got blown off in the explosion. Frank nods, accepts the gun. They’ve done this a few times now, and he’s used to the routine. He puts the barrel beneath her chin, feels her trying to maneuver in front of him, to cover as much of his body as she can.

They stagger into the hallway, ungraceful.

Mahoney’s voice is soft and pleading, asking Frank to let Karen go.

Frank isn’t sure what causes it—maybe it’s the Anvil uniform. That’s the only difference he can think of. But one moment, they’re walking along—then something slams into Frank hard and he staggers, hits the wall. He must black out for a few seconds; that head injury is screaming at him, every nerve in his body raw and furious, and he has to blink blood out of his eye.

That’s when he sees the bullet fall from his vest. It’s a deformed little thing—golden and smeared with crimson. Smeared with—

Blood. But not his.

“No.” He whispers her name even before he sees her—because he knows, he just fucking knows

Karen is on the floor. One of her arms is beneath her, and it looks awkward and painful. Her back rises and falls in jerky little gasps, and the blue of her blouse is swiftly darkening, the spreading stain too large to be anything but deadly.

They shot her. The bullet passed through her and hit him. They shot the hostage to get at him, and it didn’t even work because he’s armored and she isn’t.

“Karen.” He barely recognizes his own voice. He reaches for her, turning her over.

The bullet must have hit one of her lungs because she’s gasping, eyes wide with panic and realization. That’s the worst part; she knows. He can see the panic in her face, the realization that she isn’t coming out of this. Her mouth moves, forming the first sounds of his name, but she cannot continue. “Hey, hey, hey.” He says the word like a litany, trying to ward off the inevitable. “Karen.”

She looks at him—shrapnel in her chest, in her lungs, eyes on his. He holds her through it, his forehead to hers, matching their breaths. He has thought about what he would have said to his family, if there was time. There had been no time—one moment things were normal and the next, bullets were flying and they were cut down, severed at so many points Frank won’t ever quite be sure which wound killed them.

On some nights, he has tormented himself with all the things he could have said. Reassurances, utterances of love, apologies. He doesn’t know what he would have said if he were given the chance.

And now he’s here—with Karen dying in his arms and he has no words for her.

Distantly, he hears Mahoney snarling at someone, telling them to put their fucking gun down.

Karen’s chest jerks. There’s a terrible wheeze to every breath. One last shaky exhale—then nothing. Her eyes—those gorgeous eyes that have always been sharp and bright and knowing—are glassy.

For a moment, Frank doesn’t move. He can’t move. He kneels there, one hand to her cooling cheek and forehead still touching hers. He is shaking all over, a building collapsing at its foundations. Her hand rests against the floor, fingers stained with her own blood. He can still feel those hands on him after the explosion. He was the first thing she reached for.

“Frank.” That would be Mahoney’s voice. “Frank, I need to you step away from her. We might be able to get help, we could—”

There is no help. Nothing they can do.

She’s gone.

Just like everyone else.

Frank kisses her cheek, tastes blood and the faint lily scent of her perfume. He picks up the fallen gun. His aim is steady—it’s the only part of him that’s steady.

He raises the weapon, but someone gets there first.

Frank has become intimately familiar with being shot in the head.

This time, he welcomes it.


When he wakens to the sound of Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go, Frank lets out an exhale that is all relief.

He’s alive, which means she is, too.


The next time they’re standing in the rubble and the smoke, when Karen says that Frank has to pretend to hold her hostage, he refuses.

“Frank, if you walk out there, they’ll kill you.” There’s blood on her forehead form the explosion and he keeps looking at it. It’s something else to look at, besides her bright eyes and pale mouth. “They won’t shoot me, not if—”

“You don’t know that.” The worst come out harsher than he intends. “All it takes is one panicky trigger finger.”

She frowns at him, but he won’t budge.

He doesn’t know what made them shoot last time. He can’t risk it. He can’t.

Instead, she goes out first—hands up and voice trying for steady. Frank listens as Mahoney gets her behind his guys, and thank fuck for that. He wants all of those guns pointed away from her.

It’s about twenty feet from the kitchen to the elevator. Twenty feet—and Frank has made it farther distances than that, managed to survive worse situations.

Frank checks his pistol. He won’t aim for the cops; he doesn’t want to kill them, and he won’t risk hitting Karen. But shooting over them, hitting one of those industrial lights overhead—it’ll spark and explode and the flickering lights will provide cover.

He takes a breath and then another, then he runs into the hall. Shoots out the light—and the hallway is plunged into dimness, glass cracking and voices crying out.

He might make it.

He doesn’t.

He isn’t sure which cop gets the lucky shot—it could be Mahoney, for all he knows. Cold burns through Frank’s throat, and there’s a weightlessness, a dizziness that he’s only ever felt when he’s lost blood. And he is losing blood—carotid artery severed. His heart is beating too hard, trying to make up for the sudden drop in oxygen, but it’s a giddy way to die.

He does hear Karen, though. Her voice rips out of her so loudly that it must hurt. Must tear up her throat something awful.

“FRANK! FRANK! LET ME GO, GET OFF OF ME—FRANK!” There’s a crashing sound, then warmth against his neck. A hand, trying to stem the flow of blood. “Hey, it’s okay—you’re going to be okay, Frank—Frank, look at me. No, no, no.”

There is blonde hair all around him. Golden like sunlight, and he smells the faint scent of lilies. Her cheek is against his forehead, and it is the last warm thing he feels.

“Dammit, Frank,” Karen whispers. “I wasn’t—wasn’t worth this.”

Frank wants to tell her she’s wrong.

But he wakes on a cot, the sound of David’s humming in his ears.


Finally, Frank decides to stop. Just—stop.

He doesn’t steal a janitor’s uniform—he steals a car instead. He drives it to Karen’s apartment and waits for her to emerge. She does—sunlight catching on the sheen of her blouse and her lips painted a delicate pink. Frank rolls down the passenger side window and says, “Get in.”

Karen, to her credit, doesn’t hesitate. She opens the car door and slides inside so he can drive away and get out of sight of the traffic cameras. “Frank, what are you doing here?” she says, clipping her seatbelt into place. “I—your face is all over the news. If anyone sees you—”

“Just tell them I took you hostage,” he says, making a left turn.

She frowns. “That isn’t what I’m worried about.”

It should be.

“Where are we going?” asks Karen.

Frank shrugs. “Out of the city. Away.”

“Frank—I have a job, an interview—”

“With Senator Ori, I know,” Frank says. “Which is exactly why you’re not going.”

Her frown deepens. “Talk to me, Frank. What’s going on?”

“I will,” he says. “I promise, I’ll explain everything. But—can you just trust me, for now? Listen, if you want out, I’ll stop this car and let you go. But—believe me. It won’t end well.”

He won’t blame her if she doesn’t trust him. These aren’t the actions of a stable man.

Karen studies him, and not for the first time, he wonders what she sees. He knows what the rest of the world does—his mugshot and trial pictures are plastered across news articles and the internet. He is the Punisher, the shadow that makes criminals think twice, the blood-soaked creature that Red tried to stop. But Karen has never looked at him like he’s a monster.

“All right,” she says.

Frank exhales, and it is all relief.

They drive and drive—out of New York, out of the city and far from the hotel.

They drive into New Jersey and then a little east. They drive until the city sprawl has fallen away and they’re surrounded by greenery and fields. Around noon, Frank pulls off into a tiny town. It’s little more than a gas station and burger joint—the same building, which is a little worrying. But Karen’s stomach has started to growl and he could eat.

They get burgers and sit outside at a picnic table. Frank brushes dried pine needles from the surface and a cat lingering around the dumpster looks at them with consideration. The air is damp, a little chilled, and Karen shivers when a cloud passes across the sun. She’s dressed only in that skirt and blue blouse; she thought she’d be spending the day at a hotel. Silently, Frank slips out of his coat and hands it over. His bulletproof vest is clearly visible without it, and Karen raises her eyebrows in question. Frank shrugs, glances around the deserted back of the gas station. “Who’s going to see us?” he says reasonably.

Karen slips the jacket on with a murmured thanks, and then rolls the sleeves up to her elbows.

It’s comfortable to eat with her. They devour their burgers—which are surprisingly good—and drink coffee out of paper cups. Karen tears open a packet of mustard when she goes to work on her fries. That’s something he didn’t know about her, and it makes him smile.

“So what is this, Frank?” she says quietly.

And because they’ve always been honest with one another, he tells her the truth. He gives her the broad strokes: that he’s caught in some kind of weird ass time loop and doesn’t know how to get out.

When he’s finished, she has mustard at the corner of her mouth and a limp french fry dangling from her fingers. She looks at him and he can’t decipher her expression.

“Yes,” he sighs. “I know I sound like a nutcase.”

She blinks several times. “You sound—scared, actually.”

That throws him. “Maybe,” he says. “Yeah, I am. Because I don’t know how to stop this. I just—I keep living it. I know exactly what people will say, what they’ll do, but if I do any small thing, then things change. Someone dies or something else goes wrong.”

She nods, sets her fry down on the paper bag, then wipes her fingers on a napkin. “How many times have you… done today?”

“Thirty-five.” He doesn’t mention that it probably should be counted at thirty-six—but somewhere in the mid-twenties, he woke, heard the first few bars of Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go, and shoved the barrel of his gun into his mouth before David could stop him.

She gazes at her fingers for a few minutes, twisting a hangnail off her thumb, then she finally says, “Okay, so if you’re trapped in a time loop at the hotel, why are we here?”

He shrugs. He could say it’s because he’s sick and tired of the fighting. Because that hotel is almost as etched into his memory as his childhood home. Because hearing Bill talk about Frank like he’s a loose end to be cleaned up hurts every time. Because Frank can never be sure if this is the time he’s going to have to watch someone else die.

“Couldn’t do it again,” he says, with more raw honestly than he intends. “I just—couldn’t. I don’t know what’ll happen if I break the pattern this drastically.”

“What happens if you don’t go?” She speaks the words like this is all a thought exercise, which it is to her.

He thinks about it. “I don’t know the particulars. There was only one time I didn’t make it—David drugged a cup of tea. Madani died—I know that for sure. I think… I’m pretty sure the senator would have been shot. That’s where Wilson goes. He breaks into the room with the senator, shoots him.”

Karen goes a little pale. “I—I was supposed to interview Senator Ori today.”

“Yeah,” he says. “I know.”

He watches as her thoughts seem to run at full tilt. “So you’re saying I’m one of the casualties?”

“If I don’t get there in time, yeah.”

“And if you do?”

“You don’t get shot,” he says. “But Wilson takes you hostage. Threatens to blow you up along with himself. We all end up in the kitchen downstairs, and I manage to distract him long enough for you to pull this white wire and shoot him in the foot. Then he blows himself up in the freezer. You pretend to be my hostage long enough for us both to get into an elevator—which usually works except for one time it didn’t and a cop shot you in the lung. But most times, we get into the elevator, you hit the emergency stop, and I crawl up the shaft to the roof to escape.”

Karen looks disconcerted. “That is… surprisingly detailed.”

“For a delusion?” he says.

“I didn’t say that.”

“Wouldn’t blame you if you did.” Frank takes one last swig of his coffee. It’s cold, but he doesn’t care. “I know how it all sounds.”

“If you didn’t expect me to believe you,” says Karen, “why did you tell it all to me?”

“Because I need help,” he says. “I’ve been trying to figure this out again and again, and I’ve gotten nowhere.”

Karen considers the last of her french fries. “All right. So let’s figure out the why.”

“The why?” he repeats.

“Why you,” she says, nodding. “If this is some weird time loop thing, then it’s centered around you. You’re the one reliving this day, which means you need to fix something.”

“You’re saying that I’m trapped in Punxsutawney for a reason.”

She breaks into a grin. “So you did see the movie?”

“Maria liked it,” he says, with a fond smile. “She had a thing for Bill Murray.” He sobers. “I’ve thought about this. I thought I had to kill Bill Russo—to avenge my family. But I can’t, no matter what I try. Killing Wilson doesn’t do a damn thing. I’ve kept you and Madani alive—most of the time. So that isn’t it. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.” The confession spills out of him, and he has to look at the table for a few moments. He has been on a mission for so long to find himself in this position is more than a little disconcerting. He doesn’t know the end goal.

“Okay,” says Karen. She reaches into her purse and comes up with a small notepad and pen. “So let’s sketch this out. What you remember—what you tried and what you haven’t.”

She looks so earnest that a startled laugh escapes him.

“What?” she says, brows drawn together.

“It’s just—” He gestures at the notepad. “I didn’t know you actually carried one of those. I thought it was just something reporters did in movies.”

Karen points her pen at him. “Phone batteries can die, digital back-ups can be lost, and writing in shorthand takes far less time than typing.” The corners of her mouth quirk upward, and her smile is mischievous and bright and so lovely it hurts. “But if you want me to take notes on my phone, I can do that instead.”

He holds up his hands in mock surrender. “No, no, I’ll defer to your expertise.”

“As you should.” She looks down, still grinning. “All right. Let’s start with what you remember.”

They spend two hours going over everything. Frank relates every day he can remember in order—some of the details are a little muddled, and he breezes over the details of her deaths. His own are of little consequence.

At least, he thought they were until Karen puts her pen down and looks at him incredulously. “Bill Russo tried to drown you in a toilet?”

“Yes, and I’d like to just skip over that one, please.”

“Understandable.”

When they’re finished, Karen has about fifteen pages of notes and keeps flipping between them, her forehead furrowed with concentration. The wind has picked up and Frank gestures them back toward the stolen car. Karen nods, and Frank drops the crumpled bags into the garbage as they walk back to their ride. Karen seems far more preoccupied with her notes—she presses her pen to her lips, murmuring one or two words aloud, her gaze slightly unfocused. They should keep moving; he isn’t sure where they’re headed—it probably doesn’t matter. He’ll wake up on that cot with David humming and all of this will be gone.

He feels a pang of mourning for this day—this one good day amidst all the others.

“What if it never stops?” he says quietly.

That gets her attention. Karen looks at him sharply.

This is the thing he hasn’t uttered, not even to himself. To acknowledge the fear is to make it real, to give it power.

“You mean, what if you never stop living this day?” Karen still seems to be treating the whole thing like an elaborate thought exercise, but he can’t blame her for it. If she came to him with this story, he isn’t sure he’d believe her.

“Yeah,” he says. He pulls the car back out onto the road. It’s a rural highway, winding slowly out of town. He keeps the pace even, so no cops will have reason to pull them over. “Like some kind of fucked up purgatory. What if this is my punishment?”

Karen’s fingers drum across the door handle. “I remember reading about Sisyphus—and how his true punishment wasn’t the work of pushing a boulder up a hill, it was the repetition. He knew he could never stop doing it, and that was the true horror.” Out of the corner of his eye, Frank sees her turn to look at him. “But you have one thing Sisyphus didn’t.”

“And what’s that?”

“You don’t have to do any of this,” she says. “If none of it matters, stay home. Stay in that cot, listen to Lieberman sing… what was it again?”

“Wham.”

“Okay, now that does sound kind of like purgatory.” She flashes a smile at him. “But seriously—you don’t have to keep doing this. You could… I don’t know. Drive somewhere. Go eat whatever food you want. Travel as far as you can. Stay inside and watch movies. Do something different every day. Live. And if you have no consequences, the world could be kind of interesting.”

Frank’s fingers slide along the leather of the steering wheel. The stitching rubs up against a scar along his thumb. “I—no. I couldn’t do that.”

“Why not?” Karen asks.

Frank frowns at the road. “I couldn’t just sit at home and do nothing. Not knowing… what was going to happen. You go to that hotel. You’d die—get shot or blown up.”

She shrugs. “But if we’re going with the Groundhog Day logic, then it doesn’t matter.”

Frank runs his tongue along the inside of his teeth—he can still taste copper and smoke when he kissed her bloody cheek.

“It matters,” he says curtly.

Karen leans back in her seat. “Then take me with you.”

That throws him. “What?”

“Do what you did today,” she says. “Grab me, then do whatever it is you want to do. All those things you haven’t had time to do.”

He snorts. “And you’d just—what? Go along with it? Skip the most important interview of your career to hang out with a mass murderer who’s on the run?”

“I did today, didn’t I?” she says simply.

And fuck—she did. Frank has to think about that for a few seconds.

“That’s your solution?” he says. “If I can’t fix this, then I just drag you to the movies or the zoo or something else every day, until the sun burns itself out?”

“I can think of worse ways to spend eternity,” she replies. “And hey, if this is true, we should think of a password or something. Something you could tell me that would get me to believe it faster.”

“Like what?” he says, still skeptical.

“Something I’ve never told anyone,” she says. She bites down thoughtfully on the edge of her pen. “I once broke my wrist jumping out of a tree so my dad wouldn’t catch me smoking pot up there.”

Frank breaks into a startled laugh. “Jesus. Rebellious teenage years?”

“Yes.” Karen grins ruefully. “I told him I was trying to put a bird’s nest back in place. Never told anyone the real reason before.”

“I’m honored.”

“You should be.” Karen’s smile fades, becomes something a little wistful. “If I don’t believe you next time, just tell me you know that.” The car lapses into comfortable quiet, and for a few minutes, they just drive. “You mind if I turn on the radio?”

“Sure.”

She reaches out, flicks on the dial.

“—Massive explosion in downtown New York. Excavations are under way to find survivors, but so far Senator Ori and his staff remain missing—”

Karen draws in a sharp breath and presses a hand to her mouth. It takes a few seconds before she can speak. She didn’t believe him—not until now. He can see it in her face when he glances at her.

“How many people were in there?” she asks, her voice barely a whisper.

The road comes to a four-way stop, and Frank eases the car to a halt. “Hundreds.”

Her throat works, as if she’s trying to make words but doesn’t quite know how. “It’s true. You were—you weren’t lying.”

“Yes,” he says. She reaches for him, fingers falling on his arm. Even that contact feels like a live wire between them.

“Frank,” she says. “Shit. I—I’m sorry, I—”

That’s when another car slams into them.

He hears the scream and isn’t sure if it’s Karen or the tires, but the impact drives all the sound from the world. He feels weightless, and there’s an odd pressure on his stomach and shoulder.

When he manages to open his eyes, it’s to smoke and glass. His hair is skimming the car’s roof; the car flipped. His thigh is slick with blood—and he realizes that a shard of glass is embedded in his leg. The shard twitches in time with his heartbeat—which means it probably hit the femoral artery.

“Karen,” he gasps. He twists his neck, ignoring the agony flaring in his back, and sees her. She’s limp in her seatbelt, and her blonde hair is sticky with blood. He croaks her name a second time, then fumbles for his own seatbelt. He is all tangled up, and there’s not enough room to truly maneuver, but he manages to turn himself over, to crawl toward her. He gets her seatbelt unclipped and she falls atop him, utterly limp.

Her neck is broken.

Death followed them here. Frank tried to outrun it and failed. Tried to change things and couldn’t.

He can’t escape this. And if he tries—

“I’m sorry,” he says, again and again. “I’m sorry.”

This is purgatory. A punishment for all of the lives he took.

Frank reaches down, feels the shard of glass in his thigh and pulls it free.

It doesn’t take long for him to bleed out.

Small mercies.


The next time he wakes to David humming Wham, Frank loses it.

He doesn’t eat another bullet, although the thought is damned tempting; he doesn’t throw something at David to shut him up; he doesn’t suit up and go hunting. Rather, he sits on the cot, elbows resting on his knees, and he makes a terrible, terrible sound. A keening noise, like that of a wounded animal.

David goes silent at once.

Frank presses a hand to his eyes, trying to ignore the burning moisture, the shakes—all of it.

“You—you okay?” says David, his voice soft. Like he thinks Frank is the breakable one.

And hell, maybe he is.

“I—I can’t,” says Frank, his voice rough with grief. “I can’t do this anymore.”

David watches him, brows drawn, looking lost and concerned. And Frank can’t even truly be angry with him for going to Madani because David just wants his family, and Frank can understand that.

Frank glances to the computer monitors, where an image of the Liberman’s kitchen is bright and cheery. David catches him looking.

“How—how do you do this?” Frank says. “Just… every day you wake up and you watch them. You watch them every goddamn day, and you can’t change things, can’t touch them. How do you do it?”

David blinks. Then he leans against the doorframe, crossing his arms. He looks ridiculous in that bathrobe of his, like a philosopher on his day off. “I—it’s all for them, you know? That’s how I’ve stuck with this for so long. It’s for them. Because I know, when it’s all over, they’ll be alive and well, and sure this sucked, but I’d do it all again if it means they were safe.”

“And what if you can’t,” says Frank. “What if you can’t change anything?”

David frowns. “I can’t think like that. I have—I have to believe it’ll make a difference.” He rubs at his beard. “And if I do die, then I just hope they know it was for them. Everything I’ve done, it’s because I love them.”

“And that’s enough?” says Frank.

David meets his gaze, a small rueful smile on his face. “Shit,” says David. “I hope so.”


The truth of the matter is, Frank has lost people. He has lost a hell of a lot of people—and he regrets each of them for different reasons.

He regrets he never had more time with Maria, regrets not making the choice to stay home sooner, before his shit followed him home.

He regrets not being around more for Frankie, because he should have been the kind of dad that a son could depend on.

And for Lisa…

One batch, two batch, penny and—

It’s those unspoken words that hurt the most. Because that would have been the easiest thing to fix. The simplest change to make. If he could reach back through the years and take hold of one loose strand, one frayed edge of his past, it would be this one.

He knows what he would have said to her, if he’d had the time. If he’d known he wouldn’t ever get the chance again.

I love you, I love you, I love you more than anything.

He never got the chance to say those words, and he’ll never stop regretting it.

And for the first time since all of this began, Frank wonders if this is purgatory at all. If perhaps—this is something else entirely. It’s someone giving him the opportunity to change things.

A second chance.

Well, more like a thirty-seventh chance.

Better late than never.


This time, he does everything the way he remembers it that first time.

He calls Bill and bites out a warning. Dresses like a janitor and goes up the stairwell to save the senator’s life. He watches Karen be taken hostage, and it doesn’t matter how many times it has happened, his heart throbs with fear. She keeps her hand held out to him—trying to ward him off, to keep him from getting hurt. It’s the first time he’s really noticed that, and he wonders how many other little details he has missed, even after all this time.

He meets Madani in the stairwell. Tells her to do what she has to, because he certainly will.

He gets shot in the head. Again.

It’s almost getting routine.

Bill and Madani scream at one another, and Frank hears his own betrayal in her voice, sees the fury of it in her face.

She’ll be a good ally, when this is all over.

And then he is fighting his way free of the cops, descending to the kitchen by the fastest means possible. He arrives with a crash and a stunning impact, and then he’s there and so is Karen and Lewis Wilson.

His voice is steadier this time, because he knows Karen. Trusts her to grab the right wire, to keep calm. She always does.

And after the bomb goes off, when Karen insists on playing the hostage, he lets her. His heart pounds hard and he can feel the blood streaming across his neck, into his shirt, and fuck, he’s terrified of feeling her crumple against him, but this time, Mahoney keeps his people from firing. They get into that elevator, falling apart from one another, and Frank hands her the gun. He gets the hatch off the top of the elevator, then Karen is touching him, concern written across her face.

“Frank,” she says, and her gaze goes to the shrapnel in his arm, to the cut along his scalp. He can see the thought in her eyes—why would you do this?

It’s the same reason he keeps coming back to this hotel. Why he’s lived this day again and again.

To finally say what needs to be said.

“It was for you,” he says.

She looks at him, her eyes red-rimmed.

“Karen,” he says. “I’ll always come for you. No matter what happens, no matter how many times you need me—I’m gonna be there, okay?”

Because this is what he realized: if this is his purgatory, then so be it.

There are worse fates than spending the rest of eternity keeping her safe.

“Frank.” She says his name like she doesn’t know what else to say. This time, when their foreheads touch, he feels her anchored to her.

Her hands tighten on him. Holding on—and it’s only then he realizes she’s using both of them.

All it takes is the slightest tilt of his head and then she is kissing him.

It’s tentative—a little clumsy because they’re both breathing hard and shaking. But then Frank wraps his hand around the back of her neck and her mouth opens beneath his and—it’s everything he hasn’t let himself feel. It’s comfort and safety and home and he wants to drown in it. If it all has to end again, let it be here in this moment.

But then Karen is pulling back. “Frank,” she says. “The cops—you have to get out of here.” There are tears in her eyes and she is looking at him as if she fears never seeing him again. “Go—go on.”

He forces himself to take a step back.

There are things he needs to do. He has to help David with his family. He needs to find Bill. Nothing is finished yet—but it will be. He’ll finish it.

“I’ll find you,” he says. “After.”


‘After’ takes a while.

The Lieberman’s are taken hostage. Leo gets away. Frank massacres Bill’s men—because fuck it, Frank isn’t getting shot in the head again. He does allow himself to be taken hostage, because Rawlins and Bill need to be taken down, and during that time he spends tied to a chair, he isn’t wholly sure there will be an after for him.

But there is.

With Bill in a coma, with Madani recovering, with David Lieberman at his home, after he attends Curtis’s group—Frank drives across the city. He knows he looks like shit: he’s held together with stitches, staples, and a few cups of hospital coffee. He should probably wait a few weeks, until he no longer looks like a horror show. But if he has learned one thing, it’s that he can’t let moments slip by.

She meets him at the apartment door. She is dressed in a loose t-shirt and jeans, and it’s the most casual he has ever seen her. He can feel her gaze sliding across him, taking in every bruise and cut, lingering on the ones that vanish beneath his clothing. Probably wondering how many more there are. “Hey,” she says softly. “I heard about the carousel. Are you…?”

“I’m okay,” he says. His hand goes to her forehead, thumb lightly touching the edge of a bruise. She didn’t escape the hotel unscathed. “It’s over.”

Her apartment is a little dark but not uncomfortably so. The walls feel like safety rather than a cage. She has a window open, and one of her neighbors must be playing a radio because he can hear some early nineties rap. Karen makes coffee for them both, and then they sit at her small couch.

He thought it might be awkward, but it isn’t. The quiet is comfortable, warm enough to wrap himself up in.

“I never thanked you,” Karen says quietly, when her mug is empty.

Frank takes one last swallow of his coffee. “For?”

“Pulling a Die Hard.”

At that, Frank chuckles. “That—you don’t have to thank me for that.”

“You saved a lot of lives,” she says. “I tried to get Mahoney to understand, but… even Ellison wouldn’t run the story like I wanted.” Frustration clouds her expression.

“Hey, it’s fine,” he says. “Didn’t do it for them.”

When her eyes meet his, it feels like every bit of armor is stripped away with a glance. He is utterly vulnerable here—she could hurt him, if she wanted to. He’d let her.

He loves her. And this time, in this universe, he’s going to tell her that. 

Karen reaches for him. Slow, careful. A gentle brush of fingers across his bruised cheek. Her hand is shaking a little. As if she isn’t sure she has the right to touch him.

He doesn’t know how to tell her she is the only person who has that right. So he kisses her fingers instead. The pulse point at her wrist smells like lilies. She inhales, and it sounds jagged against her teeth. “Hey,” he says, “if you don’t—I’d understand if you didn’t want—hell, I know how different things can look after you’ve just nearly died.”

Steel slides into Karen’s eyes. She straightens, and when she speaks, her voice is low and certain. “I know what I want, Frank.”

She leans in close, her hair brushing his neck. Her mouth is a whisper against his, the lightest of sensations, and his stomach clenches with the pleasure of it. He groans a little, and the sound seems to delight her; he feels her smile into the kiss, the curve of her mouth wicked and pleased, and fuck, if that isn’t the sexiest thing. She is going to wreck him, and he knows it. Looks forward to it. He catches a strand of her hair between his fingers, toys with it as his tongue strokes into her mouth and this time she whimpers. Her fingers tangle in his shirt, holding on, and he kisses her harder.

And then he hears it.

“—Before you go-go

Don't leave me hanging on like a yo-yo

Wake me up before you go-go—”

The sound is coming from the open window, from that neighbor’s radio, and Frank jerks upright. He is off the couch in an instant, shoving the window shut. The apartment goes quiet. He leans against the wall for a moment, breathing hard.

Karen just looks at him.

He looks back.

“I hate Wham,” he says.

A smile twitches at the corners of her mouth, and then she’s giggling, like this is the most adorable thing she’s ever heard. “Come here,” she says.

And he does.