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He's only lied to her once. 

It was the hardest thing he's ever had to do. Karen was looking at him with those big blue eyes, and she would have followed him to the ends of the earth. He knew it. And god, he wanted her to. He wanted her by his side, this passionate, fierce woman who looked like an angel and gave him hell. 

But that isn't the life he's living. So he lied. 

“I don't want to.”

The words were like a slap. And he knew she believed him. They don't lie to each other, so why wouldn't she?

He finishes this war. Starts a new one. He's good at it, but something is missing this time. That sense of purpose, of completion — it's not there. Not like before. He's fighting the war, he's making a difference, but he feels empty inside. 

He doesn't think it's that he feels different than before. It's more like he's noticing the emptiness for the first time. She’d told him he was lonely, endlessly, echoingly lonely, and he’d thought she was nuts. He’d had his war, after all. 

He still has his war. He lives in a shitty apartment that he pays for in cash — cash he gathers from the scum he puts down. He tries to put at least half of all of his ill-gotten gains into charities — pit bull rescues, at-risk youth programs, veterans support groups. The rest is enough to keep him in black coffee and bullets.

Eventually he realizes he is lonely. He misses Maria and Lisa and Frankie. Sometimes he even misses Bill. Not the real Billy Russo, but the fake one, the one that never actually existed, the one he'd thought of as family. 

He misses her.

He texts the kid occasionally to check in, because of course he misses her too, and she always asks about Karen. “She's fine,” he texts back. He’s never been one to lie, he’s always been honest even when it’s hard, but lately everything has been harder. And anyway, it's a safe enough assumption that it doesn’t really feel like a lie, and it's enough to keep Amy mostly off his back.

 

“Frank!” Amy says when she calls him one day. “Oh my gosh, how are you? How's New York? Does the Big Apple miss me?”

“You know it, kid. How’s diving school?”

“It’s great. I’m learning so much, and the other day I got to help on an actual recovery dive! It was so cool!”

“That’s great, kid. I’m proud of you.”

“Thanks, Frank. How's Karen? Is she there?”

There's a beat of silence. He should've known this was coming. Prepared for it. 

Maybe he was hoping she’d call him on it. 

“She's, uh… no, she's not here,” he says. 

“Frank! What the heck? You haven't spoken to her in months, have you?”

“Uh.”

“I knew it! I knew all those ‘Karen is fine’ texts were too easy!” He runs a hand over his face, tries not to groan out loud. “You have to call her, sheesh, you're such an idiot. Here, I'll call you back in a couple days so you can call her now!”

“Wai—” he tries to stop Amy from hanging up, but he's too late. 

Click. 

 

He doesn't call her. 

 

He starts going back to Curtis’s group. It's hard to listen to some of the guys complain about their wives and kids.

He'd give anything to have his family back to complain about.

But he also gets it. He does. It’s not like he and Maria never had problems, he’s honest enough that he doesn’t put her on a pedestal like that. She knew what he was, and they had plenty of fights and hard times. But they’d been strong enough to work through it. She’d known who he was and loved him anyway, and it had been enough. More than enough. 

Until who he was got her killed.

Curtis draws him out in group. Gets him to share when he wouldn't otherwise volunteer. Group helps, even when it's hard. He's still lonely, but it's good to be around other people who get some of his issues. And it's always good to talk to Curt. 

Even when he keeps harassing him about Karen. 

“You been talking to the kid? You two made some kind of pact to gang up on me?”

Curtis just laughs. “You know, if you would just get your head out of your ass, we would leave you alone.”

Frank rolls his eyes. 

“Why don't you want to call her, man?”

“She doesn't need me, Curt. Doesn't need my bullshit in her life.”

Curtis thinks about that for a minute. Shrugs. “Let's pretend that's true. Did you ever think maybe she wants you in her life? Bullshit and all?”

Of course he's thought about it. Fuck, it keeps him up at night. But he's trying to do right by her, and he's pretty sure the safest option is to leave her alone. 

He says as much to Curt. 

“Safest for who, Frank? For Karen? Or for you?”

“What's that supposed to mean?”

“I think you're scared to let her in, because if you let her close — that means you could lose her,” Curtis says. “It's safer for you not to risk it.”

Fuck.

He hates when Curt is right. 

 

He starts to think about giving it up. Give up the war. It’s not enough anymore. He used to feel at home in the blood and the muck, and now he just feels… tired. Exhausted. 

Lonely.

Now that he’s noticed the emptiness, he can’t seem to ignore it anymore. It echoes all around him, vast and dark. Endless.

He just doesn’t know what he should do, instead. He doesn’t remember how to live.

 

It's a news headline that finally gets him to take his head out of his ass. FORMER JOURNALIST CAUGHT IN GANGLAND CROSSFIRE — the words scream up at him from the page. His heart stops in his chest. 

“No,” he says aloud. No, he wasn't in her life so she was supposed to be safe. That was the whole goddamn point — he's not safe, but he's not there, not bringing his bullshit into her orbit, so she should be safe. What the fuck was she doing, getting in between rival gangs? Why didn't she get Red to back her up?

He can barely read the article, he's shaking so bad. A few phrases jump out at him: rival gangs — shootout — civilian caught in crossfire. The parallel is so strong to what happened to his family that his knees go weak. He catches himself on the counter, shakes his head. Pulls himself together with an effort. 

He calls David. “Where is she?”

“Frank?”

“I need to know where she is,” he snarls. “Right now.” 

“Okay, man, calm down. Just give me a second.” David's voice is placating, and Frank can hear sound of a keyboard clacking faintly in the background. David doesn’t ask who she is. “Uhh, okay, she’s in Metro General. Room 2805. You want to be careful, she has a police detail.”

“Thank you,” Frank says, and hangs up. 

It takes him half an hour to get to the hospital. He goes in the front door — he's there as Pete Castiglione, and Pete has a clean record. He's careful with the nurses and the cops, stays calm, shows them his ID, says he's there to see Karen Page. When they try to turn him away — “Family only,” the nurse says — he almost loses his carefully maintained calm.

Please,” he says, the word wrenched out of him. It burns his throat on the way out. “She’s my fiancée, please.” He doesn't have to fake the desperation. His feelings for Karen Page have always been pretty goddamn obvious. 

The nurse takes pity on him. “Well… alright, she doesn’t seem to have any other family, poor dear.” This hits him like a punch to the gut. How does Karen, Karen, have no family? 

The nurse is still talking. “She's asleep, but I'll let you in to see her. You can't get her worked up, though. She needs rest.”

He promises the nurse, is appropriately grateful, follows her down the hall. It feels like a dream, like it isn’t real. He could have snuck into her room, but he wants to be able to stick around. It’s not something he’s ever been good at, but for Karen, he’ll try. He doesn't want her to wake up in the hospital alone. 

The nurse talks to the cop, explains who he is, opens the door to let him in. “Thank you, ma'am,” he tells her, voice gruff. He's fucking terrified. 

She looks small, in the bed. There's a bruise on her forehead. The telltale lump of a bandage shows on her rib cage under the hospital gown, another on her left shoulder, peeking out of the neckline. 

The room goes a bit blurry and he realizes he’s tearing up. He looks away for a moment, takes a few breaths. 

He crosses the room in a few long strides, reaches for her. Stops himself. He doesn't want to wake her. He doesn't even know if she'll want him there, if she wants to see him at all after the way their last meeting ended. 

He lied to her.

He allows himself one touch, just the ghosting of his hand over her hair to confirm she's real and alive. Then he settles in the nearby armchair to wait. 

Chapter Text

She wakes up slowly, disoriented. Her shoulder hurts, and her side, and she has a splitting headache. Either this is the worst hangover she's ever had, or the vague memories she has of a shootout at the docks are real, not a nightmare. 

She drags her eyes open slowly. Tries to turn her head and look around. The movement sends a stabbing pain through her neck and shoulder, and she groans. 

“Hey, don't move,” a gruff voice says — a voice she recognizes, but doesn't believe she's actually hearing. But then he's there, leaning over her, hands braced either side of her shoulders so she doesn't have to move to see his face. 

“Frank,” she breathes. 

“Karen.” He's so close, his dark eyes worried but steady. She reaches for him with her good arm, her hand sliding over his jaw to cup the back of his neck. He's really here. His eyes flutter closed at her touch, and he drops his forehead to rest gently against hers. She sighs at the contact. 

She should probably be pissed at him. She actually tries, for a moment, waits for the anger to come. All she feels is relief.

“I should get shot more often,” she says softly, and he jerks away. Her hand tightens on his nape, but he doesn't try to go far. 

“You should never have been shot to begin with,” he growls fiercely. “What the hell are you doing getting into that situation in the first place? Where the fuck was Red?”

“Just doing my job,” she mumbles. “Who's Red?”

“Daredevil.” It sounds like a curse on his lips. “Matt Murdock. Sanctimonious pain in the ass, maybe you remember him?”

“Huh. I didn't know you knew who he was. When did that happen?”

“I've known since the three of you walked into my hospital room and he opened his mouth. Prick asshole really likes the sound of his own voice.”

This startles a laugh out of her that quickly turns into a groan. “Don't make me laugh,” she whispers. 

“I'm sorry,” he says. He says it with more gravity than she's expecting. It sounds like he's apologizing for much more than making her laugh with a gunshot wound to the ribs. 

But maybe that's just wishful thinking and pain meds talking. 

“How are you here?” She asks him, because she'd bet she's in police protective custody, and he's a wanted man. He looks suddenly… embarrassed? Sheepish? She can't quite nail down his expression. 

“I used my fake identity. And, uh… I told them I was your fiancé,” he says, voice low. He's not looking at her, his eyes fixed somewhere around her left earlobe. “I'm sorry, I didn't know how else to get in here and be able to stay.”

“Why?” It's all she can think to say. Why, when he'd been so adamant about her staying away, was he here watching over her? Why, when he kept pushing her at Matt, was he here pretending to be her fiancé? 

She doesn't understand him at all. 

“I saw it in the newspaper,” he says, still not meeting her gaze. “‘Journalist caught in crossfire.’ Fuck, Karen, I haven't been that scared in years.”

“But… I don't understand.”

“You were supposed to be safe, without me,” he says, finally looking at her. He looks… wrecked. Just completely wrecked. Like he did in the elevator. “The only place in a newspaper I was supposed to see your name was in the byline.”

“I was doing my job,” she says again, words coming out slurred with exhaustion. He's trying to tell her something, she can tell that much, but for once she's not able to understand his nonverbal cues. She blames her sluggish thoughts on the undoubtedly copious amounts of painkillers flowing through her system. “And I don't work for the Bulletin anymore.”

She can feel herself falling asleep again, despite her efforts to stay awake. Frank's eyes are soft, and one hand strokes through her hair. She manages one more sentence. 

“Stay, please.”

The last thing she sees is Frank nodding, a flicker of something like pain crossing his face. 

“I'm not going anywhere.”

 

Karen's eyes slide closed and he doesn't think she has any idea what he was trying to get at. She makes a little whine of distress in her sleep when he pulls away, so he drags the chair over to the side of the bed and wraps her hand in his. She settles down after that. 

This woman is going to be the death of him. He has half a mind to go hunt down the Devil and beat the shit out of him, but he promised Karen he'd stay and he'll be damned if she wakes up alone in this room ever again. Matt Murdock's reckoning will have to wait for another day. Which is a pity — Frank could really use the catharsis of knocking the man around on a rooftop for a while. 

He's also starting to realize just how little he actually knows about Karen. She's always been so open and honest and he's been so wrapped up in his own fucked up problems that he never noticed how little of herself she's actually shared with him. 

No family — though he thinks she'd argue that her two lawyer friends count. He wonders if she's working with them again. Wonders if she ever patched things up with Murdock — but, no, she would have told him when he confessed to posing as her fiancé if she was in a relationship. Wouldn’t she?

He didn't know she stopped working at the Bulletin, either. He used to read her articles, back before he left the city the last time. She was a good writer, and a hell of an investigator. 

He barely ever reads the Bulletin these days. Part of his “stay away from Karen Page” policy. He tries to think of the last time he actually saw her name in a byline, and can't. 

He picks a new mission, right then: he's going to actually get to know Karen. As much of her as possible. Which means he really has to stick around, indefinitely. 

It's an easier decision to make than he thought it would be. 

He pulls his phone from his pocket with his free hand and calls Curtis. He picks up on the third ring. 

“Hey, man, what's going on?” His voice is as cheerful as ever. 

“I'm at the hospital.” He hears Curt’s swift intake of breath. “I'm okay. It's uh. It's Karen. She's been shot.”

“Shit,” Curtis says. “She gonna be okay?”

“Yeah, she's in a lot of pain but the nurse said she'll make a full recovery. Listen, I was wondering if you could do me a favor, bring me a few things from my apartment.”

“Yeah, of course, whatever you need.”

He definitely does not deserve Curt. He rattles off a few essentials — some toiletries, a change of clothes, his coat since he'd run out of his apartment without it — and Curt says to give him a couple hours. 

“No real rush, I'm going to be here a while,” Frank says. “And hey. Thanks.”

True to his word, Curtis shows up a couple hours later with a small duffle. He takes in Frank's position by the bed, his hand still clasped in Karen's, and he smiles. Frank rolls his eyes and stands up, gently extricating his hand from Karen's. 

The movement wakes her up, and she groans a little. 

“Shh, shh, hey, I got you,” he says, leaning over her and cupping her face in one hand.

“Said you wouldn't leave,” she mumbles, opening her eyes drowsily. 

“Meant it, too,” he says, and gestures over his shoulder at Curtis. “Got a visitor, is all.”

“Who's this?”

“Karen, this is Curtis Hoyle. Curt, Karen Page.”

“It's nice to finally meet you,” Curtis says, coming to stand at the foot of the bed. “I've heard a lot about you.”

Karen cuts Frank a look. “I wish I could say the same, but I assume you know how much Frank talks,” she says, and Curtis laughs. “It's nice to meet you, too.”

“We'll have to all get together sometime soon,” Curtis says, smirking at the look Frank gives him. 

“I'd like that, Curtis.”

 

She keeps expecting him to disappear. Every time she wakes up she has a moment where she's afraid to open her eyes in case he's finally gone. 

She still doesn't really understand why he's here, but she hasn't asked him about it again. For now she's just enjoying having him around. She's never been hospitalized before and isn't enjoying the experience, but Frank is attentive and doing everything he can to ease her stay. 

Foggy comes to visit her on the third day. 

“Karen! I came straight from the airport, how are you feeling?” He says as he rushes into the room. He'd been on vacation with Marci, and she'd told him not to cut his trip short on her account since she was obviously going to pull through. 

“I know, Foggy. I’m okay.”

He stops short when he catches sight of Frank, who is currently sitting in the armchair and reading a book. “Um,” Foggy says. “Why is the Punisher reading Shakespeare in your hospital room?”

Karen starts to shrug, aborts the motion with a wince when it pulls on her shoulder wound, and clears her throat instead. “He's… um. My friend?” The word feels strange in her mouth. Whatever she and Frank are, it isn't friends. But that's too complicated to get into with Foggy right now. 

“Fiancé,” Frank corrects, turning a page. Foggy’s eyes about bug out of his head. 

“He's kidding,” Karen says quickly, cutting Frank a look. He smirks. “Well, kind of. He told the nurses we're engaged so they'd let him stay. You know I don't have any family.” She sees Frank frown slightly at that.

“Right,” Foggy says. He looks back and forth between her and Frank a few times, frowning. “Alright, I'm game. I'll pretend this is normal. Hell, it's you, Karen, it probably is normal. I should just be grateful it's not an undead ninja assassin or something.”

She snorts. “Speaking of Matt, have you heard from him?”

“Yeah, he's staying with his nurse friend until he can get back on his feet. Said he'd come see you in a couple days.”

Karen is happy to put off that confrontation for as long as Matt wants. She doesn't think he'll be as sanguine as Foggy is about Frank's presence. 

Chapter Text

Frank,” the kid practically shrieks when he picks up. “I just saw the news! Is she okay?

“Jesus, kid, keep it down,” he says, keeping his voice low. “She's fine, she's sleeping.”

“I don't believe you,” Amy says. She's left the realm of banshee but is still definitely shouting at him. “You put Karen on the phone right now or I'll never believe anything you say ever again!”

He pinches the bridge of his nose and squeezes his eyes shut. 

“What’s all the noise?” Karen mutters. His eyes fly open to find her blinking sleepily at him. 

“Damnit, kid, you woke her up,” he says. 

“Well, good, that means I can talk to her,” Amy says, completely unrepentant. Karen holds out her hand for the phone, and he reluctantly passes it over. 

No good can come of this, he thinks. 

He listens to Karen's half of the conversation — now that Amy is talking to her, the kid’s voice has returned to normal decibels, and he can't hear her. 

“Hi, Amy.” Pause. “Yes, I'm okay. Still in a lot of pain, but the doc says I'll make a full recovery.” Longer pause. A frown directed at him. “He said that, huh?” Even longer pause. Amy must be getting agitated because he can hear her voice now, though he still can't make out what she's saying. Probably ratting him out. “Don't worry, he's taking good care of me.” Pause, followed by a burst of laughter that turns into a groan. “Okay, Amy, I'm going to go now. Here, let me give you my number.” 

He tries not to let her see his horror, but she notices, and sticks her tongue out at him. She tells Amy her number and says the kid should text her so they can keep in touch. “We'll talk soon,” she says, and hands the phone back to Frank. His fingers brush hers as he takes it, and he maybe lets the contact linger a little longer than he should. 

“Kid?”

“Frank! No more lying about Karen, okay? And don't do that thing where you get scared and head for the hills, either.”

“I didn't—”

“Yes you did, and yes, you do, and I'm saying you better not, this time! Let yourself have this! Gotta go, I have class, bye!”

She's definitely been talking to Curt, he thinks, rolling his eyes. 

“What was all the laughing about?” He asks Karen. 

She smirks. “Don't worry about it.”

Too late. 

 

All the nurses have a crush on Frank. “Your fiancé is such a sweetheart,” one of them whispers to her on the fifth day of her hospital stay. Frank has only left a handful of times, never for more than an hour or so — mostly just to grab something to eat from the cafeteria or a cup of coffee from down the hall. A couple times to run home and shower. She thought she’d get sick of him being around so much, but so far she just really likes it. It feels good, and safe, and at least this way she knows he’s not off getting shot up by some drug dealer or other.

She knows what the nurses see: he's tall and stupidly attractive. He looks like he could kill you with his thumb (now that she thinks about it… he probably actually can) but he's also unfailingly polite and soft-spoken. He spends all his time drinking black coffee and reading Shakespeare and taking care of her. He's basically every woman's dream… except for the all the murdering and the way he pushes everyone who cares about him away. Which, to be fair, the nurses don't know about. 

One of them caught him napping in that awful armchair and had a cot brought in so he could get some proper sleep, so now Karen knows what Frank looks like when he wakes slowly in the morning, a sleepy smile lighting his face when he catches her gaze first thing. She knows he snores, though not nearly as loudly as she expected based on that poor abused nose of his. She knows he still has nightmares but that he wakes from them quietly, usually with nothing more than a small gasp and a jolt.

Karen smiles at the nurse, her eyes finding Frank across the room. He’s standing by the window, steam from his latest cup of coffee curling into his burgeoning beard. He glances up and catches her staring, quirks an eyebrow. She smiles and gives a tiny shake of her head. Looks back at the nurse.

“He is,” she agrees. She wonders what the woman would think if she realized that Karen’s sweet, attentive “fiancé” was really the city’s most wanted mass murderer. She’s glad other people are seeing this side of him, even if they don’t know what they’re really seeing — it’s nice not being the only person to know that Frank is like this.

“When can I go home?” She's been lying in this bed for five days that have felt like a century. 

“The doctor should be in a little later — she can answer that for you,” the nurse says. 

The doctor ends up telling Karen that she can go home the next day as long as she takes it easy for the next month and isn't alone in her apartment for at least the first ten days. Lots of rest and fluids, no bending over, no lifting anything heavier than a gallon of milk, and so on.

“This young man of yours looks like he's up to the task,” the woman says. 

Well, fuck, Karen thinks, eyes drifting to Frank, not sure what to say. She can hardly explain to the doctor that he's not actually her fiancé so she can't ask him to play nurse for ten days. He's sitting by her bed, a small smirk in the corner of his mouth when he looks at her. He turns to the doctor. 

“I can handle it,” he says. “I have some basic medical training from my time in the Marines.”

“Perfect,” she says. “You seem to be in good hands,” she turns to Karen with a wink. “You hang on to this one.”

Karen smiles weakly as the woman leaves the room. She's tried hanging on to Frank before, and it brought her nothing but heartache and bare feet on cold linoleum. She waits until the door has shut behind the doctor before turning to Frank. 

“I can't ask this of you, Frank,” she says, not meeting his eyes. “I'm grateful you're here, you didn't have to stay with me, but—”

“Karen,” he says. Something in his tone makes her look up. His gaze is steady. “I want to.”

“But—” 

He cuts her off again. 

I want to,” he says, his eyes serious. “If you don't want me to, if you don't want me around, I get it, I do not deserve your time, but please don't act like I'm doing you a fucking favor.”

Karen is readying protests almost without active thought, and then she stops herself. 

She's tired. Has been since she was nineteen years old, it seems like. No, longer — since her mother died. She's exhausted — of always being strong, of fending for herself, of never leaning on anyone because she doesn't trust them not to let her fall. She can take care of herself, and she knows Frank knows that — but that doesn't mean she always has to. For once she can let someone take care of her. She carefully uncurls her right hand from where it's clenched in the blankets, opening it to Frank. He reaches for her immediately, calloused fingers twining through hers. 

“Okay,” she says. He holds her gaze, something impossibly soft in the way he's looking at her. 

Which is how Matt finds them when he bursts into the room, apparently ready for battle, brandishing his folded-up cane like a club. He's halfway across the space before he seems to realize that Karen isn't under attack. 

What is going on,” he demands. “What is he doing here?”

Karen blinks bemusedly at him for a few long moments. 

“Uh, hi Matt,” she finally says. “He's my friend.” 

(It's still the wrong word.)

Neither she nor Frank has let go of the other’s hand, and Frank is looking at Matt with a mixture of amusement and disdain. He eases his free hand out from behind his back (of course Frank brought a gun to a hospital, again, she almost rolls her eyes) and slouches down in his chair a bit, long legs stretching out in front of him. He's suddenly the picture of leisurely nonchalance, and she's sure he's doing it to annoy Matt. 

“Karen,” Matt's voice is strained. “You're holding hands with a mass murderer.”

Her gaze falls to the hands in question. “Yeah, it certainly looks that way,” she says, looking back up at Matt. 

“I ran up two flights of stairs because I thought he was here to kill you.”

Frank laughs. Karen can't help an answering smile from curving her lips, though she tries to suppress it for Matt's sake. She can see Matt's jaw clenching from halfway across the room. 

“Well, as you can see, I'm not in any danger from Frank.” She mentally adds like always to the end of that sentence. 

Matt frowns at her. He turns toward Frank. “May I speak with Karen?”

Frank shrugs, the gesture clearly conveying what the hell's stopping you? She finds herself wondering, as usual, exactly how much of it Matt is getting. Apparently he gets enough to be irritated about it, judging by his response. 

Alone,” Matt snaps. Frank turns to her, clearly waiting to be dismissed, and she can't help but smile at him.

“I'll be okay,” she says, nodding. He squeezes her hand and rises slowly to his feet. 

“I'll be outside,” he says quietly to her. He nods at Matt as he walks past him. “Red.”

“Frank,” Matt says, voice grudgingly respectful. He waits until he hears the door click shut before turning back to Karen. “Why is Frank Castle here?”

“I told you why,” she says. 

“Karen, he still kills people.”

“You think I don't know that? Matt, I worked the crime beat for over a year, I work as an investigator now, I probably know better than you do exactly what he's been up to the last couple of years.” She’s pretty confident that she does know more than Matt, but she never told him or Foggy that she saw Frank at the hospital the previous spring. 

“How are you okay with this? You think it's acceptable, what he does?”

God, Matt is exhausting sometimes. “It's not about that,” she starts, but Matt cuts her off. 

“How is it not about that?” He demands, and Karen snaps. 

“I love him,” she says quietly. Matt jolts as though she hit him. “I love him, and he came here the moment he heard I'd been shot, and I couldn't send him away. I didn't want to.”

“Karen,” Matt says, his voice sounding strangled. 

“You look at him and all you see is a killer, but that's not who he is. It's not all he is,” she says. “Two years ago he asked me for help, and then when it got too dangerous he cut me out to keep me safe. Then he dropped everything he was doing so he could come throw himself in between me and a bullet. He saved me from that terrorist, and then he disappeared for a year. And the next time I saw him he was helping this kid, and he thought he'd killed three unarmed women.” She remembers how Frank had looked, lying in that hospital bed, believing he was the monster everyone said he was, and she starts crying. “It broke my heart, Matt. I've never seen him so— so broken. So defeated. Not even that first time we met him, you remember, strapped to that hospital bed. I helped a friend of his prove he didn't do it, but Frank still wouldn't let me get involved.” She leaves out the part where Frank broke her heart. It’s none of Matt’s business. “He's not who they say he is. He's not a monster.”

Matt looks like he's completely at a loss for words. She dashes the tears from her eyes, knowing that he must have been listening to her heartbeat the entire time. He knows she's not lying — about any of it. 

“Wow,” she finally says. “Matt Murdock, speechless. Never thought I'd see the day.”

He actually chuckles a little, the sound short and surprised. “It's just a lot to take in, Karen.” He turns his head toward the door, and she wonders if he's listening to Frank — he's probably out there charming the nurses into bringing her a cup of tea (she hopes it's not that, she hates tea) or an extra blanket or something. “You keep a lot of secrets,” he says, frowning as though he's just realizing something. “You can… you know you can talk to me and Foggy, right?”

“I think Frank is the last big one,” she tells him, skirting around the question. She gets why he's asking — this is the third massive secret she's revealed to him in the last year. It's not that she doesn't feel like she can talk to her friends — not exactly. It's more that Frank is hers. And he's not an easy secret to share. None of her secrets are. “You already know my other big secrets. Oh, and Foggy came by the other day. He knows Frank has been here with me.”

“I haven't talked to him in a few days,” Matt says. “Does he know…?”

“Ah, no, I didn't tell him that part,” she says, blushing. “Um, Frank told him that we're engaged.” 

Matt sputters, and she laughs. “We aren't, really,” she says, taking pity on him. “It's just what he told the nurses so they'd let him stay with me.”

Chapter Text

Frank studies Murdock's face when he opens the door to let Frank back in. He seems to have relaxed considerably in the last fifteen minutes. Frank wonders what they talked about. 

He takes one look at Karen's tear-streaked face and rounds on Matt. “Jesus, Red, I can't leave you alone with her for five minutes without you making her cry?”

Murdock frowns, opening his mouth to retort. 

“Frank,” Karen says softly. Both men turn towards her. “I'm okay.”

He shoves his free hand into his pocket and rocks back on his heels, considering her. Nods. “Okay.”

There's a slightly awkward silence. “You sticking around, Red?” Frank finally asks. 

“Just for a little while,” Murdock says. “I have a deposition to get to later.”

“That reminds me,” Karen says. “You probably want to call Jessica and put her on a temporary retainer. The doc says I can't work for at least a month.” Frank snorts — he doesn't see Karen staying inactive lasting more than two weeks. He's honestly surprised she's stayed in the hospital this long. “And you or Foggy should stop by tomorrow to get my files on our current cases. I'll have Frank box them up for you when we get home, they're discharging me in the morning.”

Murdock frowns at this. “He's taking you home?”

“Yes, Matt,” Karen sighs. “Someone has to stay with me for the next ten days, since I'm not allowed to lift anything heavier than a glass of water for the foreseeable future.”

Frank watches Murdock's frown deepen, but the lawyer doesn't argue — interesting. Frank shrugs and ambles over to his chair. He hands Karen the small cup of coffee he talked the nurse into letting her have. 

“Oh my god,” she says. “Marry me.”

“Pretty sure that's the point of being engaged, ma'am,” he says, settling into his chair and picking up his book in one hand. He reaches for Karen's hand with the other. She wraps her fingers around his with a sigh, settling a little more snugly into her pillows and taking a sip of her coffee. 

The sound she makes is sinful. 

“How’s Claire?” She asks Murdock a moment later. 

“Uh, yeah, she’s good,” he says. “Annoyed with me for letting you get shot.”

“She’s not alone, there,” Frank mutters, scowling at his book. Karen squeezes his hand slightly, and he looks up at her out of the corner of his eye. She’s giving him a look that clearly says stop baiting him. Murdock, for his part, ignores Frank, and he turns back to his book with a smile.

 

Karen gets discharged the next morning, and he can tell she’s starting to feel better by the amount of complaining she does. She gives him hell for calling a cab to take them the three blocks to her apartment.

“It's not that far,” she argues, like the self-respecting New Yorker that she is. 

“Karen, you cannot walk three blocks,” he tells her. “You have abdominal trauma and you’re not supposed to exert yourself.”

She grumbles, but eventually lets him help her into the cab. The ride seems to put things in perspective for her — he doesn’t think the cabbie could have hit more potholes if he was trying, and Karen gets paler with every jolt. He makes her wait in the cab while he takes their stuff up to her apartment.

“Can you stand?” He asks when he returns to the street.

“Sure,” she says, sounding anything but. He gives her a look. “Just… help me up?”

“Come on, I’ve got you,” he says, leaning down to slide an arm around her shoulders. He hands some cash to the driver at the same time, and Karen sticks a foot out of the cab. She sucks in a breath when she tries to shift her weight to stand.

“Fuck.” She’s grimacing in pain, and he makes an executive decision even though he knows he’ll catch hell for it later. He scoops an arm under her knees and hauls her out of the cab, kicking the door shut. “Frank!” She hisses.

“Sweetheart, you were never getting out of that cab, otherwise,” he says. 

“S-sure, I was,” she says through gritted teeth. She has one arm hooked around his neck in a death grip, and he can feel her shaking.

“Come on, we’ll be upstairs in a minute and you can lie down again, get some sleep.”

“I’m sick of sleeping,” she says, yawning. He grins at her. “Ugh, shut up.”

“I didn’t say anything.”

“Didn't have to,” she grumbles.

He gets her upstairs and deposits her gently in bed. “You need anything? Something to drink? More pillows?”

“Glass of water?”

He nods, pressing a kiss to her forehead before heading for the kitchen. He kicks off his boots and shrugs out of his coat on the way. Karen is already dozing off again when he comes back with her water. He sets it down on her bedside table as quietly as possible. 

He's turning to leave the room when she grabs his wrist, grip surprisingly strong. 

“Hey,” she says sleepily, patting the other side of the bed with her free hand. “Come here.”

He leans over her. “You need to rest,” he says. 

“So do you.” She tugs on his wrist a little. “Come on, put on some comfy clothes and take a nap. I know you slept like shit on that cot.”

“You noticed that, huh?” He slides one hand into her hair — she shifts her grip on his wrist to accommodate the new angle of his arm, but she doesn't let go. He's been having a hard time keeping his hands to himself, being around her so much. He's always been a tactile person, and Karen is so damn touchable. She responds to the slightest touch — like right now, she's leaning into his hand, a small sigh escaping her to brush his lips. 

Which is when he realizes how close he is to her, leaning just inches away. Karen looks more than half asleep, her eyes barely open, so he doesn't think she's noticed yet. 

“Get some sleep,” he murmurs, easing away. Or trying to — she tightens her grip on his arm, a small frown creasing her brow. 

“I'm serious, Frank,” she mumbles. “Nap. Now.”

“You trying to get me into bed, ma'am?”

That wakes her up. Her eyes fly open and a pretty flush stains her cheeks. 

“I— um. I wouldn't… um,” she stammers, avoiding his gaze. “Frank.”

He can't help it — he laughs, a big, full belly laugh that he feels all the way to his toes. He thinks it may be the first time in years that he's really laughed. 

Karen glares at him for a moment, but she can't seem to hold onto it. “Oh, shut up and come to bed,” she says, but she's smiling.

Chapter Text

Karen is a terrible patient. 

She knows she's being a cranky brat, but she can't seem to stop herself. She's lived alone for more than ten years now, and she's not used to having anyone else in her space. The last time she brought a man home she woke up covered in his blood next to his cooling corpse. She's intensely private because her secrets are all huge and painful. 

And now she's more helpless than she's been in the last decade and she hates it. She needs help to get up and help to walk and help to sit back down. She's too tired to read or do any work but not tired enough to sleep constantly anymore. It hurts to talk or laugh or breathe, and she can’t remember ever having spent this much time in her apartment, and she feels out of sorts and disgruntled about it. Frank is an extremely polite houseguest, but he's still also the first houseguest she's ever had, and she's going a little mad from never being alone. 

Frank puts up with her griping and doesn't take it personally when she snaps at him. Which honestly makes her even crankier — she's spoiling for a fight, it would at least be something to do, but he won't give her the satisfaction. She never thought Frank would be the more even-tempered of the two of them. 

When he finds out the main reason for her temper is how bored she is, he offers to read to her. He seems surprised by how quickly she says yes, but Karen doesn't own a television and she can only watch so many YouTube videos on her phone before losing her mind, so being read to is a welcome distraction. He pulls out his book of Shakespeare (she can't believe he's been lugging that tome around, it must weigh a ton) and lays on his side, head propped up on one hand while he flips pages with the other, one long finger carefully tracking his place on the page as he reads. He still hasn't gotten under the covers even once, but he at least quit arguing that he could sleep on the couch or the floor (or, during one particularly memorable argument, out on the fire escape). Karen lies still and watches him through half-closed eyes as he reads her the sonnets in a slow, soft voice. She's never really liked poetry, but she decides to revise her opinion as long as Frank is reading it to her. 

She's been thinking about their relationship a lot. Sometimes it hits her, that the first interaction they had involved him shooting at her witness (and her, by default) with a shotgun while she tried to get him away. 

Hardly a meet-cute. 

But then she remembers their first conversation, and how he'd opened up to her. All those hours she’d spent with him, going over his case and helping him research what happened to his family. How he'd always noticed and acknowledged her feelings. How he kept pushing her away but then coming back to her. 

She looks at him lying there on his side of the bed — he’s only slept there a few times, it should freak her out how quickly it became his side, but it doesn't — his sock feet hanging off the end and his hair a little tousled. It's back in regs again, not as short as the first time she met him but closer to how it looked when he came to the hotel. It makes him look younger somehow, and she reaches out to run her fingers through it. 

He stops reading in the middle of a word and looks up at her, big brown eyes wide. 

“Hey,” she says. He smiles at her. 

“Hey.” He looks back down at the book. Back up at her. She likes how dark his eyes are, and she likes the way they crinkle at the corners when he smiles. 

She wants to ask him again why he's here, now that she has her wits about her and might actually be able to understand what he doesn't say. The silence stretches out, but it doesn't feel uncomfortable. 

“What is it?” Frank asks. 

“Frank,” she says. Tries to think of how to word it. “Why'd you…” she trails off. Tries again. “Why'd you come back to me?”

He goes still. After a moment he looks down, slips his bookmark out of the back of the book and marks the page, and he sits up, scooting closer to her and setting the book aside. 

“Do you want me to go?” He says quietly, and she knows if she said yes he'd leave and never come back. 

She shakes her head. “Never. I just… want to understand. Why you’re here, when you…” she doesn’t finish the sentence.

He glances at her and then away, and she sees his trigger finger start to twitch. She wraps his hand in hers before it can really get going. This seems to make him more tense, so she moves to let go, but he holds on, wraps both of his hands around hers. 

“I lied,” he says. 

She stares. “What?”

“That day. When you… when you said…” He can't seem to get the words out. 

“Which part?” She’s pretty sure he's talking about the hospital all those months ago, about the day she doesn't like to think about. She said a lot of things that day. 

“You said I could choose.”

Oh. That. You could choose to love someone else, instead of another war.

“You said you didn't want to,” she says, and oh, they hurt, those words, they still hurt, and taste bitter on her tongue. 

He looks at her now. “I lied.”

She shakes her head. It doesn't make sense. Frank doesn't lie, not to her, Frank is honest. 

“I did, Karen. I said I didn't want to choose you, but I— I don't think I've ever wanted something as badly as I wanted to choose you right then.”

“Then why didn't you?” Here at last is the fight she's been trying to have for the past three days. 

“I thought I was keeping you safe.”

“Bullshit, Frank. I already said you didn't have to—” he cuts her off again, just like the last time she tried to say it. 

I do. Karen, I will always try to keep you safe,” he says, voice rough. “I have so little family left, I can't, I can't let anything happen to you. And I thought pushing you away was the safest option, see? But you, Jesus, you see danger and you run right toward it. You did it with me, and with Red, and that piece of shit witness, and god knows what else you’ve been up to the last couple years.”

If only he knew, she thinks, but she's barely listening to this part. “Stop. Back up. What did you just say?”

He blinks at her. “Uh, I can't let anything happen to you?”

“Before that.”

“I… I have so little family left.”

She stares at him, eyes filling with tears. “You count me as family?” He nods. “Do you push all your family away?”

He looks down at their still-entwined hands. She's never had a fight with someone while holding onto them before. She kind of likes it.

Frank shakes his head. “I didn't always,” he mumbles to their hands. “Not before. But… since the carousel… the ones I can’t stand to lose, yeah, I try to protect by staying out of their lives. I keep my bullshit to myself — it’s supposed to keep you safe.” His eyes flick over her, pausing on her shoulder and side. “Didn't work too good,” he says, accusatory. 

“For fuck’s sake,” she says. This man is completely exasperating. God save her from the men in her life trying to protect her. “Can we not do that anymore?”

“What, you getting shot? I would fucking love if that never happened again.”

“No— well, yes, me too, but I meant the part where you push me away. You don't want to be around me, just say so, but don't stay away to keep me safe.”

He looks up at her, then, and the look in his eyes takes her breath away. He nods. “I'm not doing that anymore,” he says, voice low and fierce. “You want me gone, say the word, but I'm not going otherwise.”

“Good,” she says, relaxing a little. “Did you lie about anything else?

He actually has the nerve to look affronted, and she glares at him. 

“It's a valid question, Frank.”

After a short pause, he nods, acknowledging her point. “That was the only time,” he says. “I hate lying.”

“Don't do it again.”

“I won't,” he promises.

Chapter Text

It takes him less than three weeks to fall in love with Karen. 

Okay, if he's honest with himself he's loved her for years now, but this — this is different. This is more. More, because now he really knows her. He's always known who she is, has never fallen for her porcelain-doll facade the way everyone else seems to, but it's always been in broad strokes. He's never allowed himself close enough to fill in the details before. 

Now, though, he knows that she drinks nearly as much black coffee as he does, and that she detests tea. Her favorite time of day is late afternoon, and she hates to be idle. She doesn't own a television. She loves dogs and old movies. She sings in the shower. 

It takes a while, but eventually she tells him about Fisk and the fake Daredevil, and he paces around her room, holding onto his trigger finger to keep from breaking something. “I should've been there,” he says, over and over, fighting the panic that rises in his chest like a flood. 

“No,” Karen says, her calm assurance cutting through the static in his ears. 

“What?”

“No, Frank, you shouldn't have been there,” she says, holding his gaze when he turns to stare at her incredulously. “It was messy enough as it was, and you were out clean. I never would have wanted to jeopardize that for you.”

“I fucked it up anyway,” he says. “I couldn't even make it one year without jumping back in with both feet. At least I could've been there for you. I said I'd come for you, and I meant it, Karen. I meant always.” He didn't realize it was true until he said it out loud. 

“It's okay,” she says. “I'm fine, I made it through fine, Foggy stopped Fisk from killing me and Matt got him back behind bars. It's over.”

“Why'd Fisk want you dead, anyway?” He asks, and Karen freezes. Her eyes snap up to his, and he almost stumbles back at how haunted she looks. 

“Hey, hey, shh, Karen, it's okay,” he says, forgetting his own panic in the face of this sudden change in demeanor. He's at her side in an instant, kneeling down by the bed to take her hand in his and look up into her face. She turns away but her grip on his is vice-like. 

He waits a few long moments, one thumb rubbing circles into the back of her hand, before he speaks again. 

“Karen,” he says, tugging on her hand a little so she'll look at him. He waits for her blue eyes to turn his way. “You know you can tell me,” he says, as gently as possible. “You can tell me anything. You're safe.”

She nods. Takes a deep breath. “Fisk had this… friend. His right-hand man. His name was Wesley. James Wesley,” she says. Her voice is low and a little hoarse, like the words are jagged, scraping her throat on the way out. “This was before I met you, the first time Matt and Foggy and I took on Fisk. I was getting too close, so Wesley kidnapped me.”

It's good he's holding onto her right then. The physical contact grounds him in the moment, actively reminds him that she's alive and well. 

“I woke up in a basement, and he tried to blackmail me into spying on Matt and Foggy. He said if I didn't, he'd kill everyone I ever cared about and then kill me, and I believed him. He had a gun, he put it on the table and I—” she breaks off, tears filling her eyes. 

“You shot him,” Frank says evenly, because it's obvious. The man underestimated Karen and it was the last thing he ever did. 

She nods. “Seven times.”

“It was self defense, Karen. No one would ever convict you.”

“Maybe not of that one,” she whispers. “There's more.”

He climbs up onto the bed, then, sits cross legged beside her, his knee pressing into her thigh and his hands wrapped around hers.

She tells him about her brother, and his heart breaks for her. “You know I don't have any family,” she'd said to Nelson in the hospital. No living family, she'd meant. Her father clearly doesn't count. Her tears spill over now, and he pulls her into his arms, careful not to jostle her. She presses her face into the crook of his neck, and he smooths his hand through her hair. 

“You have to forgive yourself,” he tells her, pulling away to look at her. 

“Have you?” She counters. “Could you?”

And he looks away, because of course he hasn't. He can't. 

Now, at last, he finally understands why she fought so hard for him, again and again, year after year. They carry the same guilt, the same burden, the same loss that never fades. 

Knowing the darkness in her past, he’s all the more amazed at how deeply good Karen is. It shines out of her all the time, in the way she treats the people around her and judges no one and even in the way she investigates. He doesn’t know how she’s remained so open and kind.

A fairly steady stream of Karen’s friends cycles through her apartment once she’s starting to feel better. She introduces him as Pete to anyone who doesn’t already know him. Some of them seem to accept it without question — surprisingly, her friends from the Bulletin are the least suspicious. Trish Walker — yes, that Trish Walker, he shouldn’t be surprised Karen is friends with the radio star — recognizes him immediately, but surprisingly doesn’t say anything about it. She gives him a nod, approves of his treatment of her friend, and that’s that. Jessica Jones laughs when he opens the door, refers to him exclusively as The Marine, and tells him “don’t do anything I wouldn’t do” when she leaves — whatever that means. 

Curt shows up one day, leaving Frank to wonder how he and Karen got each other's numbers without tipping Frank off. The two of them get on like a house on fire and tease Frank mercilessly about being a grumpy old man with a gun fetish. He takes it in stride because it's good to see Karen feeling so much better, and because Curt could cut off Frank's left arm and he'd thank him for the honor. 

Nelson comes to visit as well, and a pretty nurse named Claire comes with her enormous boyfriend, Luke, and Jesus fucking Christ, does Karen know every fucking vigilante in the goddamn city?

He wonders how he ever thought he was the most dangerous person in her life.

Chapter Text

When her ten days of bedrest are up, Frank stops spending the night. 

She tries not to be upset about it, but she liked having him around and has gotten used to sleeping next to him. Her room at night seems deafeningly quiet now that his soft snores aren't filling the darkness. She wonders how she could have missed being alone in her apartment. Now it just feels lonely. 

He still comes by every day. Some days it's only to check in, others he stays for hours. She made him keep the key he'd been using while he stayed with her — he argued but seemed shyly pleased when she wouldn't take it back. 

“For fuck’s sake,” he says one day when he walks in and catches her working. She's sitting in bed, file folders and legal documents spread around her in a circle, a highlighter in one hand and three pens stuck into her hair and behind her ears. “You can't stay out of trouble for more than a few hours at a time?”

“I'm not in trouble,” she protests, gesturing at her papers. “These are all the boring, safe cases.”

“You're in trouble with me,” he scowls at her. “You heard the doctor. No work for at least a month.”

“I'm going to die of boredom before then.”

“Don't you have any hobbies? Do one of those.”

“I can't go to the range in this condition,” she counters. That gets a smile out of him, just a tiny quirk of his lips. 

“Come on, let’s take a walk,” he says. “It'll make you feel better to get out of the apartment, get some fresh air. You should probably start moving around more, anyway.”

That perks her up a bit. 

“Is it cold out?”

“You're going to want a jacket, yeah,” he says, helping her out of bed. She's still a little unsteady on her feet, but the pain has receded to a dull ache that she can ignore most of the time, as long as she takes it easy. Frank stands close to her, one hand lightly touching her waist and the other cupping her elbow. His grip is gentle, not really supporting her but ready to do so if she needs it. 

She likes the way he treats her. He's always ready to lend a hand, but he waits for her to let him know she needs the help before jumping in. She's never had a man show her so clearly with his actions that he knows she's capable. She steadies herself with a hand on his shoulder, and he's warm and solid beneath her palm. 

“How're you feeling?” He asks, his voice low and warm, and she looks up to find his dark eyes on her face, a small crease of concern between his brows. She presses a finger into it and laughs when he blinks in surprise. 

“I'm fine, Frank,” she says. “Still sore, but I'm not going to die.”

She gasps in surprise when he pulls her closer and drops his forehead to rest against hers, both hands on her waist now, fingertips pressing into her like brands. Her eyes flutter closed and she loses herself in the contact. He touches her so often now that it's easy to forget how distant he used to be. 

“Good,” he says, his voice barely above a whisper. They stand there for a long moment, and it feels good, to just be close. Frank pulls away first, and a small sigh escapes Karen at the loss. She hopes he won't notice, but the small smirk on his lips says she isn't that lucky. 

“Come on, put some shoes on,” he says, one hand lingering on her waist. 

They walk to the tiny park one block from her apartment and sit on a bench for a while. Karen is grateful that Frank doesn't seem to be in any sort of rush so she doesn't have to admit that the short stroll wore her out. He probably knows anyway, as observant as he is. He was right about the fresh air doing her some good. It's a crisp fall afternoon, the sun peeking in and out of fluffy clouds in a brilliant blue sky, the leaves just beginning to turn. She snuggles closer to Frank on the bench, and he wraps his arm around her shoulders. 

“I got a job,” he says abruptly. She looks at him in surprise. She hasn't asked where his money comes from — she can guess pretty accurately — but she knows he has enough that he doesn't need a day job. So this is something different, something unrelated to his nighttime activities. Which, now that she thinks about it, she hasn't heard anything about, either from Frank or her various contacts, since he found her in the hospital. 

“That's great,” she says. “Where? Doing what?”

“Mechanic,” he says. He doesn't elaborate. 

“Where?” She prompts. He looks over at her and away again.

“Kitchen,” he says.

“What’s with the one word answers?” He cuts her a look. “Don’t give me that, you’re the one that brought it up. If you didn’t want to talk about it then why’d you say anything?”

He scowls at his boots. “It’s an auto shop here in the Kitchen,” he mutters. “I’ll be apprenticing for about six months, then move up to being a full time tech, as long as I don’t screw it up.”

“You won’t,” she says, reaching for his hand. “Frank.” She waits for him to look at her. “This is good.” Some of the tension leaves his shoulders. She lets the silence settle between them for a few minutes.

“Why now?” She asks, and he twitches like he was about to bolt but restrained himself. “Hey, relax, it’s not an interrogation. Why are you being so weird about this?”

She hasn’t seen him this tense in weeks. 

“I’m giving it up,” he says, voice low. “The war.”

She can’t have heard that correctly.

“What?”

“I’ve been thinking about it for a while,” he says. He’s looking everywhere but at her. “Months now, even before you got shot. I think, for a long time, the war was easier. Easier than living.” He glances at her and away, so fast she almost misses it. “But now… I’m tired, Karen. I’m tired of fighting, I’m lonely, and the war is just… emptiness. Blood, and darkness, and nothing inside me. I don’t want to live like that anymore. It’s not a life. You said… you said I could choose.” He turns to her now, takes both her hands in his. He’s shaking. “And I want to choose you, if I’m not too late.”

Finally,” she says, and kisses him. She meant it to be quick and affectionate and chaste — they are sitting on a public park bench, after all — she meant only to show him definitively that he was not too late, but she’s waited so long for this that she can’t stop once she’s started. Frank is warm against her, and he growls deep in his throat when their lips meet, and she gasps when his tongue touches hers. His hands are in her hair and his mouth is hot and demanding against hers, the slip-slide of their tongues slowly driving her mad.

She rakes her fingers into his hair, reveling in his gasp when her nails scrape the sensitive skin at the nape of his neck. He tugs her own hair lightly in retaliation, one big hand moving to cup the back of her head. His lips leave hers to trail kisses along her jaw, his nose nudging into the sensitive spot under her ear.

“Are you sure about this?” He asks, pulling away to look her in the eye. They're both breathing hard, and he looks a little dazed.

“I’m sure,” she says. He holds her gaze, nodding slowly in agreement.

“Me, too.”

She smiles at him, then, leaning in to cup his face in her hands and lean her forehead against his. “Take me home, Frank.”

“Yes, ma'am.”

Chapter Text

He tells her he loves her two months later, completely by accident.

He’s known for ages now, of course, but he didn’t want to rush things. They’ve been slowly building a life together, going on dates, spending more and more of their evenings together, integrating into each other's friend groups. He settles into his new job, and when she goes back to work, they meet for coffee on their lunch breaks, or he brings her lunch on his days off. He needles Red when he sees him, and begins a cautious friendship with Nelson (he refuses to call him Foggy — Karen jokingly dubs them The Franks, which neither of them finds amusing in the slightest. Their identical, slightly offended expressions only make her laugh more).

It slips out without any prior planning one afternoon — he got off work early, and stopped by the firm’s offices to bring her a cup of coffee. Murdock is at the courthouse, but he chats with Nelson for a few minutes about the book the lawyer had lent him — Nelson likes epic fantasy, and while it isn’t Frank’s preferred cup of tea, he’d dutifully slogged through all six hundred pages of The Name of the Wind over the past few weeks.

“I’ll see you tonight?” He asks Karen as he's getting ready to leave. “Yours or mine?”

“Yours,” she says. “I need a change of scenery.” He snorts — his apartment is tiny and sparsely furnished, and they hardly ever spend time there.

“Alright,” he says, leaning down to kiss her. “Don’t work too late. Love you.” He turns to leave.

“Frank,” she says, and he stops in the doorway to look back at her. Her eyes are shining, a soft smile lighting her face. “I love you, too.”

It’s only then that he realizes what he said. “Come on,” he says, grabbing her coat off the hook by the door. “I think you need to take the rest of the afternoon off and come home with me.” She grins at him and gathers up her stuff while he sticks his head into Nelson’s office. “I’m stealing your investigator for the rest of the day,” he says, and Nelson blinks at him in surprise.

“Where’s the fire?” He calls as Frank and Karen beat a hasty retreat.