Who knew? Apparently I am still updating here. Chapter title is from Rob Thomas' Pieces. I've also played a bit fast and loose with New York's geography.

Frank doesn't come back on Thursday and the rain still falls heavily. The drains overflow on ninth, fourteenth and twenty-seventh, buses are cancelled and the subway has severe delays on some of the lines.

One of the underpasses gets flooded too and the homeless shelter is overwhelmed by the afternoon until Smirnov turns up with a truckload of supplies. The paper runs a story on his generosity and while Ellison doesn't say anything he does give Karen a long, meaningful look, which conveys all the gravitas his words would have. Likely more.

It's not all bad though.

Joe, seemingly bearing no ill will from her gentle rebuff on Monday, tells her the weather should start clearing on Friday but there's another storm expected by Sunday and he doesn't know how long that one will last nor how much miserable weather is destined to follow it. And when she purses her lips and gives him an exasperated look he hastily adds that, since he's been so incredibly accurate in his predictions since last week, there's really no reason to doubt him now.

She tells him good-naturedly that even a stopped clock is right twice a day and he makes a face.

But stopped clock or not, he's right. By Friday afternoon the rain is all but gone and the sun is shining weakly behind the clouds and, as she's heading home, she suddenly stops and thinks how pretty and vibrant the city looks. It's clean and it smells fresh, of petrichor and sunlight and no longer of blood and gunsmoke, chemicals and decay.

She knows it's fake. She knows that the seedy underbelly is still there even if it's just camouflaged for the time being. That said, she can't help the way her heart lifts when she sees the puddles sparkling and the hint of a rainbow's vivid colours against the blue-tinged sky. And she chuckles when a little girl with bright red wellington boots splashes her shoes and runs off shrieking to her mother.

It doesn't matter what Joe says. She's choosing to believe that summer is coming, that there'll be a little sunshine in her life. That Frank will come home and for a while they can just rest, figure this thing out between them, find a way to make it work. And maybe that's not possible, maybe she's living in a fantasy world, but, as she watches the sunlight glitter across the wet streets and sees the last of the dirt washing away in a storm water drain, she finds she can hope.

She can also hope that this thing with Matt is sorted soon, that there is some plan to be made, some way to expose this farce and let everyone move on with their lives. To put Vanessa and the rest of them behind bars where they belong.

Just a break, all she wants is just a fucking break.

And she can't deny she's getting edgy about Frank too. It's not that she spends all her time pining for him. Apparently that is another hold he doesn't get to have over her. But she worries and she misses him and she wonders if she'd ever know if something were to happen to him. Something bad. Something tragic. Something like if she hadn't found him in time that horrible night two weeks ago.

It's not like she couldn't see herself taking a trip to Jersey if the need arose - the shelter itself shouldn't be very hard to find - and retracing his footsteps in this instance shouldn't be difficult either. But the thought of even having to make that decision fills her with dread. And she realises that for as long as this thing between them lasts, she'll probably have some lingering part of that anxiety with her whenever he's gone.

It's not like he even went to Jersey to punish, to kill. It's not like he was even putting himself in any danger really. But when she thinks of her luck and she thinks of how the fucking universe has been treating her and everyone in her considerably small circle of late, she wonders if it wouldn't be a fucking sick cosmic joke for Frank to get taken out by a car accident on the way back. The Punisher ended by a drunk driver or someone texting and not looking at the road.

And that thought fills her with more foreboding than if she knew he was destined to go out fighting. She thinks she could live with it if he died punishing, if he died doing something he believed in, even if she's not sure how to feel about that. But going out in something as mundane as a car crash, something so ordinary, so regular, seems wrong somehow - a bad tagline to a terrible joke.

And she has to push the thought away. Because she knows she doesn't have the fortitude to think on it now. The city is bright and beautiful and she's not going to let wholly unfounded fears get the better of her. She guesses when you love someone, regardless of who they are and what they do, it's always served up with a side dish of fear, of hurt.

He said he'd be back and he doesn't lie to her. He doesn't. And she believes him.

But he doesn't come home on Friday and she goes to Claire's place with a bottle of wine and some overpriced sushi takeaways and they spend the night chatting and laughing and playing with their food.

They don't talk much about Frank or Matt or Claire's love life such as it may be right now. Instead Claire tells her about work, that they lost three of the victims of the bus crash from the previous week. Says she doesn't know why as they all seemed to be doing so well but as a nurse she's seen just about everything. She says it's sad though - their families are all devastated and delivering hard news like that never gets easier, especially as in all three cases the deceased was the main breadwinner. There's some good news too though. She's being promoted to head nurse at the hospital and she's started yoga and feels great about it. She's also thinking of taking a holiday at the end of the year if the goddamn vigilante population of Hell's Kitchen will take a fucking break and let her have a week or two off. She wants to see Argentina in their summer. Wants to spend her days tasting wine and riding a bike through the vineyards, lying in the sun in the afternoons and going to sleep with the windows open. And it sounds wonderful. And Karen tells her she'll do her damndest to make sure that happens. She'll lock the whole sorry lot of them in an underground hole, station some knucklehead guards at the door if she has to. Because if she can't get Claire Temple's goddamn likeness into the Vatican she's going to find another way to sanctify her - even if the best she can do is give her a long, lazy and carefree holiday. Because dammit, she deserves it more than any of them.

Claire laughs, says she'll hold her to it.

And then Karen goes home to her empty apartment and her bed that feels too big and she curls around herself and tries not to think of all the reasons he's still not there with her.

Joe is right about the weather.

When she wakes up on Saturday, the sky is clear and clean, a gentle blue that makes her feel better just looking at it. She stands at her window and stares down at the street below and she can feel how the mood of the city has changed, how it's lighter and happier and there's a spark of something close to hope in the air.

And suddenly she wants to be out there stealing the sunshine. Not cooped up in her apartment with a moody little black cat who's stretched out on Frank's side of the bed, paws over her eyes, like she's had a hard night and isn't even remotely close to recovering.

"You better not be a vigilante too," Karen says sternly to her. "No secret cat identities. Claire is not going to be patching you up."

Pickle rolls over, kicks a little at the pillows and ignores her, which is to be expected. She's missing Frank too and Karen thinks again it's not a surprise that they've formed this kind of bond. In his own way Frank's been a stray since Maria died and well, Pickle has a lot of rage. And they both gravitate towards her, like she's some kind answer to their questions, a treatment for their condition. She wouldn't have known how to feel about that before, but she does now and it's a good feeling.

It's the best feeling.

She showers and gets dressed: a short flower print wrap skirt and a sleeveless button down black shirt, wedge sandals that are a little high but she doesn't care about that. Not at all.

Pretty matters.

She checks her phone as she gets to the door. There's a message from Claire complaining about a hangover even though they didn't drink much at all, and another from Foggy, which doesn't say anything but is just an endless block of poop emojis. Finally, there's a reminder from Elektra to call when Frank is back and ordinarily that kind of thing would annoy her - it does when Ellison does it, when he gets himself tied up in knots that she's going to forget the obvious things - but this doesn't. And she's not sure if it's more because she's also worried about Matt or if it's because she understands some of the anxiety that Elektra is feeling.

She feels a kind of kinship with her; an understanding that doesn't really require them to like each other or be friends but exists nonetheless.

For now at least.

But she's not going to spend her day dwelling on that. The truth is she's not sure what she's going to spend her day doing. But she's determined it's not going to be in here. It's going to be out in the sunshine because, if what Joe says is true and they can expect another storm tomorrow, she doesn't want to miss a second of this.

So she grabs a light cardigan, stuffs it into her purse and heads out, and not even Irene's judgy look at her short skirt and bare legs can sour her mood.

Outside it's just as pretty and warm as she hoped. The puddles have mostly evaporated and the light is clean and bright and the colours seem a little more saturated and vibrant than usual.

Hell's Kitchen can be beautiful when it wants. Not gaudy like the night of the fireworks, not the cathouse madam. But something else. Something pure and innocent, something good . And she wants to revel in it, live in it and never let it go and maybe keep a part of this for herself.

And yes, she knows she's waxing lyrical and no doubt in a few days time some shit will have gone down and it'll be as seedy as it's ever been, and she'll find more reasons to hate it and want no part of it. But not today. Because today is perfect.

Or at least it has the potential to be once she's got some caffeine in her system.

So she heads around the corner and down the street to her local haunt, a small patisserie she often stops at in the morning on the way to work. It doesn't even compare to the one near Foggy - it's completely without chic decor and there's nothing artisanal about its coffee - but it's still good and its eclairs would give even Foggy's apricot slices some stiff competition.

It's busy and noisy inside and the baristas look frazzled but they still wave to her and she waves back.

It seems like the whole street is here demanding iced frappuccinos and various over-the-top milkshakes for their kids. But she finds even the queue and the yelling children can't destroy her mood. Today is going to be a good day. It just can't not be. And it doesn't matter if she's alone or if she has no plan, she can make her own happiness.

And she is.

At the counter she orders a latte and when she pulls out her card to pay, the cashier, a young college student who could well be related to Foggy's doorman judging by his red hair and general state of inebriation, narrows his eyes at her, turns away and has a brief discussion with one of the baristas.

"You're Karen right?" he asks.

She frowns. "Yes."

He grins wanly at her, puts a hand to his head like the noise is painful and to be fair, it probably is. "It's on the house."

And she guesses this isn't that uncommon. She knows they get a certain number of free coffees to give away every month for the faces they recognise. But this feels different if only because he asked her name first.

She smiles, cocks her head. "Why?"

"Well okay, it's not exactly on the house," he says it like she's caught him and his fuzzy brain out. "Guy in here a couple of minutes ago paid for it. Big. Dark hair. Spoke like he'd be happy to kill me if I asked him too many questions..."

He stops, frowns for a second like he's considering something. "...or if I fucked up his order."

And then he covers his mouth. "Sorry Ma'am, I didn't…"

But she shakes her head quickly and he seemingly leaps at the opportunity to smooth over his language and change the subject.

"Sound like anyone you know?"

Yes. Yes it does. And it hasn't been that long since this happened but it feels like it has. Feels like it's been decades since she's arrived here to find her coffee paid for, compliments of the man dressed in black.

And truthfully it's only been six weeks, and she's had him in her home for two of those give or take a few days. But she's missed this and she's missed him and she's missed the bullets on her windowsill and Shining Star in her car. She's missed all the little ways he let her know he was thinking about her, that he cared. And sure, she's got something better now. She knows she does. But this… this is them. This is their origin story as opposed to his or hers separately. This is what stemmed from all those fateful days and nights. This is how he makes it real.

"You okay Karen … I mean ma'am… miss?"

She nods, blinking rapidly and she doesn't know why she wants to cry all of a sudden, doesn't know why she wants to fall to her knees and sob. It's just coffee. It's just a fucking latte.

But it isn't. It isn't just anything . It means he's back and he's here and he's waiting for her. It means the universe didn't use her wild card and she didn't let the nightmares come true. She has her Punisher and maybe, just maybe that means Karen can have her Frank.


The possibility is slim but she'll take it.

"Yeah, yeah, I'm fine," she says. "I'm good."

"You sure?"

He's still watching her and seemingly unconcerned about the growing line behind her.

"Yeah I'm sure. Do you know where he went?"

"Oh yeah," he turns and points towards the side of the building. "He took his coffee and went to the tables at the back. Couldn't be more than 10 minutes ago. You could probably still catch him if you want."

And she does. She does want. She wants so much.

She doesn't remember if she says goodbye or if she thanks him, but she does remember thinking the queue is too long and too stoic and struggling to get through the people to the outside. She does remember a kid nearly wiping chocolate fingers on her skirt and she does remember having to push her way out the door and the wonderful feeling of sunshine on her face as she does.

And she walks, she walks fast as she can even though her legs feel like jelly and her chest is tight and she's telling herself not to expect any damn thing, not to get her hopes up. But she does. She does because what else could it be? What else other than him could it possibly possibly be? So she heads round the corner and down the alley that runs behind the coffee shop into a small open area where there are a few rickety outside tables and a couple of unkempt plants which seem to be both the responsibility of the shop and the council, which means no one really gives a fuck about them. And she doesn't know why she's registering that, why something as inconsequential as the overgrown inner city foliage is even beeping her radar. She ignores it. She ignores everything.

He's there.

Oh god, he's really there.

Sitting alone at one of the tables, reading the paper, a half full coffee cup next to him.

There's a moment when she doesn't believe he's real. A moment her fucked up brain won't let her accept it and she's convinced she's seeing things and he isn't actually here. That this is a dream or a fantasy and he's dead on the highway somewhere and she's going to go home and see it on the news.

But it isn't true. It's not. And she hates that she convinced herself otherwise, that she's so goddamned dramatic about it.

They're just people. There's no cosmic conspiracy against them.

He looks up then, tilts his head towards her.

His hair is slightly shorter than it was and his beard is gone and it makes him seem harder, angular. He looks good but it's not just that his bruises have faded and he's not frowning. It's something else, something that completely overshadows pretty much every other thing about him. And it takes her a second to define it, to name it and when she does, it almost floors her.

He's happy.

And no, it's not a word she ever thought she'd use to describe him. Frank Castle and happiness seem too juxtaposed, nonsensical almost.

And yet...

And yet she's 100% sure she's correct. He is genuinely and unapologetically happy. Maybe it's just the sunshine or maybe it's because he's back or maybe it's her, but the look on his face is almost joyful. And again it's one of those moments when she sees him. The real him. The person he is in his bones. Frank Castle. The husband and the father and the man who makes bad jokes and loves dogs.

There's no destruction, there's no war, there's not even rage. There's no Punisher either. He's just a man, a good man, a decent man, reading the paper on a Saturday morning.

And then he stands and his movements are deliberate and graceful, and she likes the way the light glints in his eyes and how she can see he's trying so hard not to grin at her like an idiot.

But he does.

And it's that joy that gets her walking again, moving faster than she should in her heels, not caring that she's slopping her coffee or that it's burning her hand, barely registering as she dumps the cup on one of the empty tables and promptly forgets she ever had it.

He closes the distance between them in a few short strides and he's already reaching for her, hands sliding over her hips, thumbs tracing the line of them and then he's pulling her tight against him, burying his nose in her hair and kissing her cheek and her jaw, that tender spot on her throat he's found before but hasn't really concentrated on. Hasn't had the chance to until now.

Oh god. Until now.

"My girl," he says softly and she winds her arms around his neck, and tucks her face into his shoulder, pulls him closer and presses some kisses of her own into his flesh.

And he smells so good. Soap and coffee and some cedarwood aftershave she wants to drown in. That hint of gunmetal so faint she barely notices it.

"Missed you," he growls, lips ghosting over her cheek, nipping at her earlobe, and she feels her knees go weak, goosebumps flaring on her skin despite the sunshine "Missed you every fucking second. Couldn't stop thinking about you."

"Missed you too," she whispers and he rubs her back, hands huge and warm and moving slowly over her, fingertips trailing down her side, missing her breast by a fraction of a millimetre.

She wants to take him home. The idea enters her head and pushes every other damn thought out like it was never there. Fuck the sunshine and the gorgeous day and how the air is warm and comforting and seems to hold them in place. Fuck the happy people and the fact that today of all days they should be outside. She thought that was what she wanted - it was what she wanted. But now she has this. Now she has him. And she wants something else. She wants him in her apartment, in her bed, the lights dim and the windows open. She wants his hands on her, his mouth. She wants him naked and needy and a little bit overwhelmed. And she wants to be the one overwhelming him.

And maybe a month ago she would have laughed at herself for even entertaining the idea but not today. Because today she could.

She knows she could.

Hands in his hair now and she's angling his face to hers. Gentle kisses on his lips and cheeks, and his fingers tremble on her, dig into her hips and ass, and he groans softly in the back of his throat.

And when he pulls away, just enough to look at her, just enough so she can see the flare in his eyes, the set of his jaw as he chews on the inside of his cheek. And she stares back. And she sees it too. Sees that he wants exactly what she does - to go back to her place, take the day and have her any goddamn way he wants.

And he teeters on the edge a little, there's a moment she thinks he'll throw himself off and just let her decide how she wants this to play out. Absolve himself of making decisions and let her lead, but then he catches himself, lifts his hands from the small of her back and rests them on her naked arms, rubs firmly like he's trying to keep her warm even though he must know part of her is already on fire.

"Come away with me," he says touching his knuckles to her jaw. "Just for today. Please."

He doesn't have to ask. She'll go with him anywhere. And earlier she might have worried about that, might have found herself irresponsible and love drunk but right now she doesn't care. She can be responsible, salt-of-the-earth Karen Page tomorrow. Today she's not. Today she's the woman that loves Frank Castle more than anything and today she's going to go wherever that takes her.

So yes, yes, she'll go anywhere with him. All he needs to do is name the place. And he grins at her, tells her to get her coffee, and then he leads her to his truck where it's parked down the street.

And again, he looks happy. She can't even begin to describe what it does to him, how it transforms him. He's always been attractive to her with his dark eyes and square jaw, but looking at him now and seeing that at least some of the pain is not present gives him something else, a calmness she doesn't expect, a genuine playfulness that's not hidden behind sarcasm and despair.

He holds the door for her and she climbs up, slides across the seat so she's sitting close to him when he gets in, doesn't miss a beat when he leans over and plants a kiss on her lips.


She nods.

More than ready.

He smiles again and turns the key, pulls into the traffic and heads north out of Hell's Kitchen; out of New York and into the world beyond where she hopes for a while they can forget who they are and the things they need to do.

They don't talk much and she doesn't ask where they're going and he turns up the radio and hums along to Bruce Springsteen who's waiting on a sunny day.

It's rainin' but there ain't a cloud in the sky
Must've been a tear from your eye
Everythin' will be okay
Funny, thought I felt a sweet summer breeze
Must've been you sighin' so deep
Don't worry we're gonna find a way

She laughs and he shoots her a mock warning look and then his mouth twists into a smile and he gives her a gentle shove with his shoulder. And she wonders if this was the Frank Castle from before. The one who romanced Maria with a box of kittens, the one who bought his kids noisy toys and read them bedtime stories. The man oblivious to the torture the world had in store for him.

Except that's not quite right. Because that man doesn't exist anymore. He can't. This - what she's seeing now - is an approximation of it, an outline. Maybe as close as she'll ever get.

And it's enough.

She loves him. She loves him so much.

(Don't you know?)

She does. She knows.

He does too.

She opens the window, leans back in the seat and watches the world rush past, listens to Bruce chasing some clouds away. And when she feels Frank's hand come to rest tentatively on her knee and then rise more decisively up to her thigh, fingers pressing into her flesh, she shivers and she doesn't bother to hold back a gasp.

She's not going to hide how much she wants him. And she's not going to debate the merits of this. He sleeps in her bed, he kisses her and he touches her and a good solid portion of her thoughts involve fucking him.

She's in too deep. She couldn't pull back even if she wanted to.

And she doesn't want to.

"You look nice Karen," he says and his voice is thick and she shifts deliberately against his palm so that his hand slides hot and smooth further up her leg.

He gives her a knowing look, a little smug, a little lewd. He doesn't push it though. Doesn't move too high even though she's convinced he can already feel her damp heat in the air; that there's no way he couldn't know what he's doing nor how she's not even going to bother feeling shy about it.

It's not like his hand is having anything but the absolute desired effect anyway. Not like this isn't the final stretch of something that started one night in a cold cabin when she was naked and he didn't look at her and she wished he had.

Frank Castle has a way and this is a tease, but then again so does she and she can tease right back. She can move against him so that her skirt rides up her legs and when she speaks she doesn't even have to add a huskiness to voice.

He notices. He notices every goddamn thing.

Even when he pretends he doesn't.

The city eventually starts giving way to the countryside. The bigger houses in the suburbs slowly disappearing to open land, bright little cerise and yellow flower buds already pushing through the earth after the rain; an incomplete yet still spectacular floral carpet and she hopes Joe is wrong and they're not in for another storm so soon. That these buds can blossom and grow and have a few days to lift their faces to the sun and cover the ground with their bright colours.

And Frank's hand stays where it is, a warm pressure on her already flushed skin, rubbing tiny circles into her, venturing slightly higher so that her skirt folds over the tops of her thighs, ruching up against her underwear.

It's not like he's unaffected by this either. Whether it's the shortness of her skirt or the smoothness of her skin or just her and the fact that she's here with him, she can't be sure. But she catches him staring at her more than once, has to tell him to keep his eyes on the damn road, that she doesn't want this day to end in the emergency ward on account of her legs.

"Shouldn't be showing off legs like that then," he tosses back, fingertips sweeping along the soft flesh on the inside of her thigh, from her knee almost all the way up and back again. "Ain't remotely fair."

And no, maybe it isn't. But she's not here to play fair.

He does, however, keep his eyes on the road. And she has to remind herself to breathe, to draw in some of that sweet sun-drenched air. Not lose herself to gasps and sighs. It's okay though. And she realises as she's sitting there with his hand on her and her skin flushed that maybe not caring if he sees or knows is the wrong phrase. Because she does care. Because she wants him to know. She wants him to see.

And he does. There isn't much you can hide from Frank Castle anyway.

"You been this way before?" he asks as they pass a sign for Poughkeepsie and she shakes her head.

"Oh yeah, you haven't lived in New York for all that long have you?"


He doesn't say anything to that. He seems to have realised on some level that this is one of those things she doesn't really want to talk about.

"There's a place I wanna show you," he says. "We took the kids there once or twice…"

And even though he sounds okay and his excitement is genuine, she can't help it, she has to ask.

"You want to take me there?" she whispers and his hand goes still on her leg and when she looks at him he's frowning, chewing on his lip.

(I want them back)

But when he speaks his voice is warm. A little cracked, but warm.

"Yeah I want to take you there." He glances at her briefly and she recognises the shadow crossing over his features, the sudden flash in his eyes.

And he sighs, runs his thumb over her knee. "Karen, no matter where I go or what I do there's always gonna be something to remind me of them. If it ain't a place then it's gonna be a smell or a feeling or the fact that Lisa's favourite colour was purple or Frank Jr had a thing for black fluffy cats and they seemed to have a thing for him too, no matter how bad tempered they were."

He looks pointedly at her then and she swallows. She didn't know. She knew about Lisa and the grey tabby she wanted, but she didn't know about Frank Jr.

"If I look hard enough there's always gonna be something to remind me. Hell, I look in the fucking mirror and that's a reminder. They were my life. They were everything. And maybe the only thing that I had separate from them was the military. And well…"

He trails off. She gets it. The things he can do now, the things he was trained to do - they might have been separate as they could be from his family back then, but now he's the Punisher and it's all become muddied and grey.

"I can't avoid everything because there'll always be something. People with their kids, men with their wives, children's stories, black cats, grey cats, girls in pretty dresses …" he goes quiet again for a second before glancing at her, "being with a woman…"

She can't help the little sound she makes in the back of her throat, the almost involuntary way her leg splays outwards.

"And it's hard. Course it is. But it ain't gonna go away, there ain't some cure for it," he shrugs. "Maybe that's a good thing."

They come to a stop at a lonely intersection, the road empty except for an enormous truck laden with logs pulling out in front of them and he takes the moment to look at her again, long and hard - and she puts her hand over his, slides her fingers between his.

"I'm here now. I'm here. With you." His voice is low, earnest.

And she leans over to him, touches his jaw and plants a kiss on his lips that's gentle and chaste but still lingers longer than it should, that still makes him dig his fingers into her flesh.

He takes a deep, ragged breath, shakes his head and turns his attention back to the empty road, starts driving again.

"I ain't some asshole who's gonna try and keep all this bullshit separate - like you need to be kept away from all the stuff that happened before, like somehow that was real and this isn't. I already told you, this means something to me."

That's true too. And for a second she doesn't really know how to answer. Whether there are words for it.

But there are. She's a writer and there are always words, even if they're small, even if they don't seem to hold the full weight of what she wants to convey.

"Me too," she says softly and he swallows heavily, bobs his head and doesn't look at her, keeps his eyes firmly on the road.

And it's not awkward. Not even a little bit.

The landscape changes from fields to forest and back again. They pass some small towns, either occupied by those too poor to live in New York or those too rich to want to, but they're soon swallowed up by the countryside again, the speckles of bright colour, the blue skies and the dramatic clouds.

She fiddles with the radio once and he gives her a mock warning look so she laughs and she leaves it, lets Bruce sing his heartland heart out and watches Frank's hand tap on the steering wheel in time. And she doesn't think about anything - not any of the conversations they need to have about any of the drama going on, not the fact that, in its basest form, something is happening that she never thought possible and she's on a honest-to-God date with The Punisher. Frank Castle: Scourge of Hell's Kitchen, Meathook Connoisseur and Hopeless Romantic at Heart. It doesn't make sense. But it also doesn't have to.

So instead of worrying she just sits back and enjoys the scenery, the feel of his flesh pressing hers and yes, even the sound of Bruce dancing in the dark on the radio.

Eventually Frank takes a turn off, which leads them past a few meadows and forests and winds back around so she can see some open fields, the river shimmering in the distance and some brightly coloured tents dotted along the promenade, people like little dark specks gathering in groups and clusters nearby.

"What is this?" she asks and he grins, squeezes her thigh hard again as he pulls off the road and into a stone parking area.

"This," he says, "is lunch. And it's really fucking good stuff they've got here."

She glances over at him and he looks so fucking happy, so excited to be here with her and show her this. And it's like he doesn't have a care in the world, like he's taken the Punisher and packed him away in a box and completely forgotten about the existence of that part of his life.

And she finds she doesn't know what to do with that. Because she wants to give into it too, throw herself into it and let him do this. Let him take her on the dates she thought impossible. The birthdays, the anniversaries. Pretend for just a few hours that they can have this. That it's not destined for disaster.

She wants to. She really wants to. But she knows how hard the journey back to reality will be. She knows how hard and how far they'll have to come down.

Fuck it.

If he can do it, so can she.

She leans over to kiss his cheek as he stops the truck, moves to his jaw and lets him feel the hint of her teeth against his skin, just enough to make him swallow hard and tighten his grip on her leg.

"Well come on then," she says moving away and pushing her door open, leaving him with his hand stuttering in the air where her thigh used to be. "Don't stand between me and good food, I could take you if I needed to."

He doesn't even bother with a mock withering look, doesn't even try. Instead he nods his head as he climbs out of the truck.

"I don't doubt it," he says and he's not even remotely close to lying or indulging her. He honestly believes it. And again she's struck by the fact that she could be the one to overwhelm him, that he's the big bad Punisher but the power here is hers, that somehow she is the woman strong enough for him to love.

The only thing that remains to be seen is if she's strong enough to love him back.

But that's not a question for now, so she won't think about it. Instead she lets him take her hand, press his lips to her temple and lead her to the promenade where people are forming messy lines near the food stalls and children are chasing each other through the grass.

She takes a moment to just absorb everything: him at her side, the fresh smell of the sunshine, obnoxious seagulls cawing overhead, the way the light reflects off the river turning it blue and shiny instead of the dull khaki she knows it to be.

It's beautiful. It's beautiful in a way she didn't realise.

She read once that the Danube looks grey and drab until the moment you fall in love. And then it becomes a mix of cerulean and teal, bright aquamarines. She wonders now if that's true of all rivers, wonders if this is the reason she's only ever seen the Hudson as uninteresting and, if she's honest, something of an eyesore in the wrong light.

And then Frank slings an arm around her shoulders and draws her close, brushes his lips against her neck and she's sure it's true.

Not even an iota of doubt.

She's in love and the sun is shining and the water is blue. And everything is wrong but nothing on Earth can ruin this moment. She won't let it.

"It's so pretty," she says and next to her he nods, drops a hand to her hip, fingers almost absently tracing the thin line of her underwear through her skirt.

"Haven't seen it like this in a long time."

The big bad Punisher … the big bad Punisher and the girl that loves him.

So they walk for a while, dodging the families with their kids, couples with stars in their eyes, the brightly coloured tents and the delicious smell of the street food. They watch jet skis on the river, the gentle lapping of the waves and Frank snorts when he sees a fluffy Maltese walking past with pink polka dot bows in its fur.

And it just feels so fucking normal. It just feels so damn ordinary, even though it's the most out-of-the-ordinary thing to happen to her in a long time. He's a murderer, a mass murderer. He's angry and frightened and, if she's honest, probably not 100% in his right mind. And the only reason he's not on any wanted lists is because only a select few people know he's alive - a number which seems to be steadily increasing. And no, that hasn't escaped her notice either.

But here they are. Here they are like any other couple, couples that have homes and jobs and pets and lives, and anyone who saw them wouldn't think any different. They'd believe the fantasy.

Fuck, she believes the damn fantasy.

He tugs her a little closer and she wonders how dearly they'll need to pay for this. What they'll need to give up or give back because she doesn't think they get to have this for free. She just doesn't think it works like that.

Then again, today is so beautiful that she thinks if they ever had a chance it's now. So she doesn't hold back. She won't . She holds him tight, touches him, lets her fingers creep under the edges of his shirt so that her fingers can brush his skin, make it prickle. Watches him out of the corner of her eye and sees his jaw get tight, feels how he moves closer to her, presses against her hands.

He tells her to pay attention to the scenery. She tells him she is.

"How is Luna? How did everything go?" she asks eventually, and he flashes her a smile which is equal parts happiness and anguish.

"She's great," he says, voice soft and low like he's worried he'll jinx it if he talks too loudly. "She's going to be so happy there. The kennels, they ain't that sad shit you see on TV. They're big and clean and fucking amazing. Kat's even got aircon and heaters and shit in there."

She cocks her head, and seemingly encouraged he carries on.

He tells her about the farm, how big it is, how pretty it is, how Kat has a really good thing going on there. And again she wonders about this woman, wonders what happened and how Frank came to know her. What he did and who he killed that she'll take his dog in no questions asked, let him stay for a week. But she doesn't ask. She doesn't think she's ready for the story that'll bring up, doesn't want to taint the day. So she lets him talk, tightens her grip around him when he tells her about leaving Luna there, when she hears the tremble in his voice.

"I took her walking in the woods there, along some of the trails. She loved it… she's a great dog. She's a really great dog."

His voice is measured, and she can hear how hard she's trying to keep it that way.

"They ain't gonna adopt her out," he says. "She's too old and she needs medication. And people don't really go for pitbulls especially when their history is… like hers."

He lets her go then, leans his forearms on the railing and looks out into the river, watches the sunlight glitter across the surface, making it sparkle and shimmer. She moves next to him, touches his hair and then trails her hand down his back to rest between his shoulder blades, rubs gently, slowly.

And he closes his eyes, arches slightly.

"It's not a bad thing," he says, more to himself than to her. "Means she has a home forever now with Kat. Don't have to worry about other people not treating her right."

She runs her hand downwards and then under his shirt. The small of his back is hot, slightly sweaty but she doesn't care and she trails her fingers over him, feels the hard muscle and the smooth lines, the fact that there are fewer knots than she anticipated.

Again the desire to abandon this excursion flares within her. In her head, in her belly. Between her legs. But she pushes it away because it's not real. It's nothing but blind lust and this is important. She wants it. She wants the romance that she knows he can't give much of. It's got to be right. He showed her that.

"We can go see her sometime then," she says and he nods, opens his eyes, stares at the water for a few long seconds. "It's not far. You can show me everything."

She's making plans. She realises this. And they might seem small. They might seem insignificant but they're plans nonetheless. They're workable ideas that involve the two of them in the not too near future. There's history to be made here. There's the admission of something more.

He feels it too. She doesn't have to ask him to be sure.

But he doesn't say anything, and she's not really sure he's even mulling over the implications of it. And then he pushes himself upright, pulls her close and kisses her lips gently.

"Let's go eat."

They do.

They find a bench in the shade a bit away from all the people where they can see the river and eat. And like he promised it's good. Really good. He's got himself some kind of duck burger and she's eating a shish kebab - a bowl of cardiac arrest which might just worth it.

She tells him about the party, Smirnov and his new plans for the city, about Elektra. About Vanessa - and his eyes flare at that but he doesn't interrupt. He lets her speak, waits her out. Listens.

She also tells him about Matt, how determined he is to find something, how Elektra is equally determined to keep him out of harm's way. How those two things are looking increasingly incompatible. The lengths she's going to.

"She wants to know if you can't go around there? Speak to him," she licks some mayonnaise off her thumb. "Keep him out of trouble. I think basically she wants a plan that doesn't involve taking on every mobster in Hell's Kitchen all at once."

He rolls his eyes. "For fuck's sake Red…"

She shrugs. "I'd feel better if you did too Frank. So would Foggy."

It's true. She's not going to pretend that Matt is of no consequence to her. That he doesn't matter. Because he does. And maybe he doesn't matter to her in the way he wants. Maybe he wants more and maybe he won't get over that. But she does care about him. She does want him safe. She doesn't want to be the one writing about his downfall or worse, his demise because he's over eager, reckless.

Frank looks away, chewing thoughtfully, eyes on the river where a couple is kayaking.

"I wasn't wrong - what I said before," There's a catch in his voice but it's not jealousy. It's not really even concern. But it's something, something she hasn't heard before, something she's not sure she likes. "He still loves you."

She nods. She doesn't have the energy to fight it and it would be pointless too. It is what it is.

So she nods. "He does."

He looks back at her and his eyes are dark, unreadable. "How does that make you feel?"

Any other man, even a boyfriend, and she'd tell him to fuck off, tell him it has nothing to do with him. But this is Frank. This isn't any other man.

She shrugs. "Flattered I guess. But maybe a little sad too. Guilty. Responsible."

"Ain't your responsibility."

"I know but that doesn't change anything," she glances at the kayak too. "I want him to be safe.

"Matt helped me when no one else would. He believed me when no one else did. He's idealistic and righteous but he's a good person - you know that."

He takes another bite of his food, nods. This is the first time since that night at the diner that they've ever discussed Matt openly and honestly. He's not being used as a taunt or a weapon. He's not being used as a way for Frank to justify deflecting his own feelings. He just is. And even though there's something a little disconcerting in Frank's tone, it feels good and mature and almost like they've overcome a hurdle to talk about him like this - as someone they both know and care for. It doesn't have to be weird. And it almost isn't.

"I'll go round there later tonight. Find out what the hell is going on. Talk to Elektra too and see whether there is something we can do. Sounds like anything is a better plan than the one he's got."

He's quiet for a moment, like he's trying to figure something out. But then he looks back at her.

"This thing has gone on long enough anyway. If they're trafficking people like Elektra says we need to end it and we need to do it properly."

She knows his idea of "properly" differs vastly from Matt's. And she hates how this makes her feel because a few minutes ago she was making plans to go and see Luna and now he's making plans he might not survive. At the same time she gets it and she hopes that somehow between him and Matt and him and her they can find something that works. Mahoney is still a good cop. And he knows other good cops and maybe they don't need to fight this alone. Even Frank would see the value in that if the stakes are too high.

She touches the back of his hand.

"Thanks, I'll send Elektra a message now."

He nods. "One condition though."

"Name it."

"We don't talk about Murdock for the rest of the day."

She grins. "Fine by me."

And they don't.

They eat and when they're done, she leans into him and he puts his arm around her shoulders, rests his chin on her head, hand back on her knee. They don't talk, there's no need, and for a while it's just peaceful. The sun, the water gleaming in front of them and the gentle breeze lifting her hair, the strangely removed buzz of the crowd further away.

And him. Always him. Quiet and comforting. Present and engaged.

She concentrates on the little things: the way his trigger finger taps her knee in a gentle but broken rhythm; a scar that cuts across his knuckles, the line of it turning silver in the bright light; the soft smoothness of the skin on his neck and how he shivers when she presses her lips to it - how that just makes her want to do it even more.

So she does, all the way along his collarbones - not kisses, not in the truest sense of the word, but brief fluttering touches with her mouth, touches that make him hiss and swallow hard. And he eventually stops tapping on her knee and just covers it with his hand, squeezes, and her skin feels hot and flushed beneath it.

She can overwhelm him. It's not a question anymore. There aren't doubts. And when he turns his head to her, nuzzles her jaw and then her throat she knows he can do it too. And again she feels that liquid heat between her legs and she has to press her thighs together, shift on the bench to get comfortable again.

He notices. He notices every damn thing. And she wants him to. He deserves it. He deserves something other than pain and suffering, whether it's the type he's inflicting or the type he carries deep inside. He deserves any peace he'll allow himself.

(And then I'm with you and somehow it feels okay)

She brings a hand up to his chest, then higher to his shoulder, slips it into the front his his shirt and he breathes deeply, angles his body towards her, watches silently as she undoes a button, then another so she can rest her palm flat against his skin and feel his heartbeat hard and heavy against her. It's not racing, not yet, but soon.


He shivers and his teeth scrape along the skin of her neck, nipping at the juncture of her shoulder. She thinks of Monday night when she lay in her bed with her fingers inside her, how she thought of him and his kisses, his hands on her and how then it seemed almost abstract and incorporeal. How even though she'd just kissed him and touched him, imagining it happening again seemed both beyond her capabilities and also something she didn't really want to do.

And she still doesn't really want to do it. She doesn't want to imagine the tangible aspects of fucking Frank Castle, because she wants to be surprised, she wants to be taken.

He wants to take her too. It isn't even a question.

His tongue is on her now, hot and wet and yet still tentative as he tastes her skin, presses kisses into her and he smiles against her as she shivers, bites down again gently, slowly, and she's glad they've chosen this spot away from the crowd.

But then he seems to get a hold of himself again and he shifts back a little so he can see her, frowning and worrying his lip with his teeth like he has something to say and isn't sure how.

He lifts his hand from her knee and touches her face with his knuckles, thumb sweeping along her cheekbone.

"I did some thinking while I was in Jersey," he says slowly and his voice is low and thick. "About you and me. This thing between us…"

(We have to let it go)

Fireworks in the sky and Frank Castle's blood on her. The wall against her back and how he nearly let her fall.

But no, he doesn't say that. He's not going to say that again, won't let her fall. He's here now with her. He made promises. He doesn't break them.

He sighs, fingers moving into her hair, sliding along her scalp.

"Look Karen, I don't know where this is gonna go. I don't. And maybe one day you're gonna come to your goddamn senses and kick my ass out."

She wonders what he could do to make that happen, what horror he could visit on her that she hasn't already seen. Because she's seen him at his worst and she's still here, her body and her heart and her mind all tangled up in him, all part of him as he is of her.


"No," he says and glances down, to the side, biting his lip. And when he looks back at her he meets her eyes, stares at her long and hard for a good few seconds.

"You… you stayed. And I don't know why the fuck you did that. After the graveyard … after that shit I said. Shoulda sent me packing. But you didn't. You stood there and you took it and then you kicked my ass and let me cry it out like a fucking baby and you didn't judge me for any of it. Ain't anyone but Maria who ever did that before. Ain't anyone but her who could fucking grind me into the dust like that and then make me carry on going… make me want to..."

"That's okay Frank. You needed…"

"But that's just it," he interrupts. " I needed, I wanted. Every goddamn thing is about me and fixing me."

This is hard for him. So she's going to let him take his time and say it, get it right. So she waits. She rubs her thumb in small circles against his chest, feels his skin prickling under her palm and hears him suck in a hard, ragged breath.

"We don't get to pick the things that fix us. We don't. I told Red that once and I'm telling you now.

"But it ain't your job to fix me. It ain't right for a man to put that on his girl…" Hand back on her face now. "It's my job to be fixed for you."

He says it with such certainty, such utter belief that she almost feels her heart break right open. It's that little monster again, the one from the cabin that had to eat its way out of his chest so that it could speak to her, so that he could say the words. And yet… and yet, it seems easier this time. Almost like he's helping it, like he's stopped fighting it.

He's done some bad things. Some terrible awful things, she just never realised he thought he did them to her.

"And I don't know when that's gonna be Karen," he continues. "I don't know when I'm gonna be right again. I told you I thought I could let this go, I wanted to let it go. But I can't and I'm not gonna give this up because of bad timing or some lame ass shit that people say when they're looking for a story to tell themselves."

And all of a sudden he looks away from her, squeezes his eyes shut and like this hurts, like it causes him actual physical pain.

And that's when she realises that he's asking her if she'll have him. Fundamentally, underneath all the bullshit, underneath the rage and the suffering and every horrific thing he's ever done that is his ultimate question.

But it isn't a question. It isn't a question at all.

(Don't you know?)

So she slides her hand up his neck into his hair, tilts his face to her and when he opens his eyes she can see the fear in them.

He's begging. Without saying a damn word, he's on his fucking knees and asking her to let him try.

"I'm here," she says. "I'm here with you after all this. After everything. And that's real. That's important."

She's not sure what she expected. Relief, tears, maybe even more rage - at himself, at the world. But Frank Castle never does what anyone expects. Until he does.

He looks at her for a long time, his thumb tracing the contours of her cheek, her brow, fingers gentle on her jaw like he's trying to learn her lines, learn the shape and feel of her. And he's frowning like he's not sure what any of this means and he's trying to find an answer that's just not there. That'll never be there.

He's very close to her, so close she can see the flecks of gold in his eyes, the sheen of saliva on his lips. He wants to kiss her. She knows this. It doesn't take much to figure it out. He wants to kiss her long and hard and deep like he did before he left. He wants to touch her and taste her and drown in her. And she wants that too. She wants it so much that she doesn't know if she'll be able to stop when it happens.

Doesn't know if that's a bad thing either.

It seems like ages before his speaks, like they've been sitting there for decades staring at one another, his hands on her head, hers on his heart.

"This is about you from now on," he says solemnly. "Know that."

He doesn't lie to her. He doesn't lie to her ever. And she believes this with as much faith as she's believed everything else he's told her.

And then he nods. Short and sharp. Like he trusts that she's got it, accepts it. That it's right . It's the same look her gave her in the shower that night, when he wiped the mist off the door with his hand and looked in on her like he needed to confirm something. And even though she knows she couldn't live with herself if she wasn't there for him, if she wasn't his first port of call when he hurts or when he's distressed, she realises that this is a need for him too. That he wants to be there for her. That he wants to stop hurting all the time.

So she leans in and brushes her lips against the corner of his mouth, lingers. Once she broke the skin there with her hand and now she can heal it, turn it into something good.

"Us," she says softly as she pulls back. "No you or me. Us."

There's a second that he doesn't do anything. Doesn't talk, doesn't move. He just watches her, deep and intense, eyes flickering over her face, her hair. She stays still too, staring back, feeling a gentle breeze blowing against her back, ruffling her top.

She gets it. She's done it again. Made plans, spoken about them as if there's a future for them. And maybe that's presumptuous. The man is, after all, still mourning his wife, his one and done, the love of his life. But she doesn't feel worried or guilty, doesn't feel concerned because they both know that there's a part of him that will always be grief. She can accept that. One day, maybe he will too.

"Karen Page," he says roughly. "You make a man weak."

And then he releases her, stands, and for a moment he blocks out the sun, casts a shadow over her. She thinks that's fitting somehow - part of them always in shadow, never fully being in the light. But she doesn't think on it long because he's holding out his hand, palm upwards, and she doesn't hesitate as she takes it, lets him pull her up and lead her to the stone railings so they can look at the river.

It's still blue, that hasn't changed. And if she keeps the sun behind her, she can almost believe they're the only two people here. It's beautiful and he's beautiful and she loves him so much and she realises that it doesn't matter if the rain is coming back, if the storm isn't done with them yet. They've beaten worse odds.

And she hopes the universe won't take that as a challenge.

"Penny for your thoughts?" she asks after a while, bumps his shoulder teasingly with her own and he snorts, glances at her and then back at the river without saying anything.

He has that way of his. And that's about 90% of the problem.

But right now he's preoccupied, watching intently as the surface of the river ripples and swirls, as the kayakers come back and their bright orange boat stands out starkly against the gentle blues. He's working up to something, she realises, gathering courage.

It'll come. Whatever it is he's planning or thinking. It'll come. It always does.

He's like a rock next to her, solid and unmoving and she leans into him, lets herself enjoy the press of his shoulder against hers, his hip, thick and hard in the curve of her waist. She could stay here, she realises, stay here forever, with him. She doesn't need much else. For the first time in ages, she, Karen Page, Intrepid Reporter, Lover of Vigilantes and Holder Back of Tears Under Extreme Duress, is content. There's a mass murderer at her side who thinks she hung the moon and the stars, a mass murderer who she loves more than life itself and she's never felt safer.

She rests her head on his shoulder, feels him shift to accommodate her. He's tense but at the same time, there's also a strange calm anticipation in the air. She'll wait. They have time.

She's not remotely cold, but she shivers anyway, and his fingers tighten on hers.

And then she swears she feels him change next to her, transform in a movement she can only describe as "unfolding". And suddenly he's standing up straighter, taller letting whatever magic he was hoping for fill him, those few seconds of courage he so desperately needs

"Frank?" she says softly as he turns his head to look at her.

He smiles. And it's warm and sweet and slightly uncertain.

"I'm sorry," he says and his voice is thick and warm, moving over her like a wave and lighting her up from the inside. "I can't stand here anymore pretending I'm not thinking about kissing you."

He turns fully to look at her and his fingers twitch as he brings a hand to her face, the other to her elbow, tugs her close so that she can feel the heat of his breath on her, see smallest hint of crows' feet around his eyes.

Thumb running along her cheekbone, then her jaw, across her bottom lip.

She looks his dead in the eye and there's a moment that this newfound confidence fails him and he glances away quickly, briefly, bites his lip and seems to almost laugh at himself, shake his head in some private joke.

She knows what it is though.

The big bad Punisher shy in front of a girl.

And it's so ridiculous. He's kissed her before and hours ago his hand was high on her thigh, under her skirt. They've slept in the same bed and at night he holds her so tight she can hardly breathe, he buries his face in her hair and presses kisses into her shoulders and yet now, now he's nervous as a schoolboy with a girl behind the bleachers for the first time.

But then he regains his composure, stares at her for a second and it feels like he's looking through her, seeing all her secrets. And she wants to show him. She doesn't want to hide them anymore. She won't. He can have them, take them and keep them and discard all the bad, hold onto all the good.

"Can I?" he asks softly. He's not asking about kissing her, not truly.

She swallows heavily, meets his gaze, black eyes boring into her.

"You don't have to ask Frank," she whispers surprised by how thick and low her voice sounds. "You never had to ask."

His mouth twists into a smile.

"Just this once then," he says and she nods.

"Just this once."

She catches a glimpse of his eyes, dark, pupils blown, the ruddiness of his skin, the faintest hint of his bruises, the slight stubble that scrapes against her cheek and then his lips are on hers and that's all she knows.

She's had so many fantasies about this. Not just since Monday when she found out what it was like, but since the cabin, maybe even before. But, like before, the reality of him always surprises her. Everything screams that he should be hard and demanding, desperate and rough. And even though she can feel the hints of all these things - the outlines and the promises, his kiss is soft, chaste even, except for the slightest hint of wetness on his lips, smearing onto hers.

He lingers though, hand fluttering at her cheek, fingers flexing in her hair, before he pulls back ever so slightly, takes a breath and then angles his head to kiss her again. He's harder the second time, hand sliding from her jaw to her throat and settling there like a subtle demand, a question even, mouth heavier on hers but not nearly heavy enough.

He retreats again and that's when something unfurls inside of her too - something that's been lying inside her benign and waiting, something that's slowly been stirring, making itself known, waiting. Waiting for him.

She surges forward, hands gripping his arms like claws, then sliding up to his shoulders, his neck, and dragging him back down, mouth arching hard against his. There's a moment, infinitesimally small, when he hesitates. It could be surprise, it could be something else but it's so brief she's not even sure he registers it. And then she parts her lips under his and he groans as his tongue slips into her mouth, licks at her teeth. Tastes her and her lipgloss, sugar sweet and then something more, something that's all her judging by the strangled sound he makes in the back of his throat. And it's like something inside him snaps too and his hands move together down her arms, thumbs brushing firmly and deliberately along the sides of her breasts, over her ribs and settling on the flare of her hips, fingers bunching the fabric of her skirt.

And then he's moving her, walking her backwards into the barricade of the river, the cold stone hitting hard against her ass, before he slides his hands down over her hips, to her thighs so he can lift her up onto the railing. He hesitates briefly and then puts his hands on her knees, pushes her legs apart and moves between them.

She thinks she hears him say sorry into her mouth but she ignores it and pulls him closer, wraps her arms around his neck and hooks her ankle behind his knee. The truth is she has no idea what the fuck she is doing - she's not vastly experienced and she's out of practice and there must be some part of him that knows that - but she doesn't care and he doesn't either. It doesn't matter. All that matters is his mouth on hers, the taste of his tongue, the way his hands are dropping low on her back and he's pressing into the cradle of her hips and she can feel him hard and throbbing against her.

He told her to hold that thought and she did. She held it all through the week, through Monday with Ellison and his nonsense, Wednesday at the party - speaking with Elektra, dancing with Matt - he was always there. The taste of his mouth, the feel of his hands and the fantasy of the rest of him. And she almost can't believe the reality of it. That they're here in the sunlight and the fresh air and it's the most beautiful day this year has given them yet and it seems like the world has stopped just for them.

So she kisses him. She kisses him hard and firm, rough and tough. She lets him see and hear and taste how much she wants him, how desperately she needs him and he does the same for her. He holds on, he holds on tight and she lets herself go loose in his arms, let him move her and adjust her how he wants, hands groping at her the undersides of her thighs as he tugs her closer so that she's teetering on the railing and her hair falls over them like a veil. A shield.

She can give him this. She can give him a safe place. She can let him be hers like he asked.

It isn't even a question.

None of his questions truly are.

(Don't you know?)

They stay like that. They stay like that for a long time. Fierce kisses followed by gentle ones, his hands on her running down her arms, her legs, back to her waist, like he can't decide where he wants to touch her first; hers on him, acting much the same.

And when he eventually stops he does it slowly, gently, like he's winding down and he leans his forehead against hers and his hands move to her hips, massaging circles into her flesh, his breath is coming out fast and hard.

If he let her go now she'd fall. Not only a few centimetres and catch herself on a stupid ledge but really fall, maybe even into the river depending on how he moved. But he won't let go now, she knows he won't. He won't drop her. He doesn't lie to her and she trusts him with everything.

He loves her. He does. She doesn't know how and she doesn't know how he's finding room for it inside him, somewhere in between all that hate and rage and pain. Somewhere in his suffering, there's a reprieve, a respite.

( And then I'm with you and somehow it feels okay)

He looks up at her and wipes his saliva off her lips with his thumb, touches her jaw again, her cheekbones, leans in and presses his lips to her brow, her temple, moves down to her throat and scrapes his teeth along her skin.

And she shivers under his hands, says his name, buries her face in his shoulder.

It's just like she thought: she doesn't want to stop. She doesn't want to stop for one second.

"Take me home," she whispers into crook of his neck, hears him groan at her words. "Take me home now."

(No you and me. Only us.)

He pulls away, looks her up and down and then takes her hand, kisses her knuckles gently, one by one, and leads her back to his truck.