Even if she’s already less than steady on her feet. That might simply be because she hasn’t been off them since that nurse tried to kill her in her hospital bed, and, in fact, she’s been running for much of the time since. Up to the roof of the hospital and over a few more roofs, her leaving her feet only when she was airborne (how can anyone without at least Jessica Jones’ jumping ability not be terrified doing that?), to her apartment, where it was too dangerous to stay. They did only long enough for her to change into the first blouse she could grab and a really old pair of jeans, and throw a few more things together, including all the evidence she’s gathered so far.
But she’s pretty sure it’s also because Matthew Murdock is currently back in his old apartment with her, stopping in the middle of it and standing still for a moment after removing his mask. It’s a standard ski mask, and he’s in a nondescript black getup not unlike what Frank might wear, but she knew it was him as soon as she could get herself to believe it, even before he finally spoke.
Now he’s speaking again. “No one suspicious around here. They have no idea it was me, and they haven’t paid attention to the fate of this apartment, or else they would’ve bombed it by now. We can stay here at least tonight, maybe for a day or so. No one’s going to mistake me for Frank Castle, but maybe they thought I was Danny Rand. You should probably call him if you have his number, make sure he’s on his guard. But you can’t say it was me, Karen. Right now, you can’t tell anyone else I’m still alive, not even Foggy.”
“Like Hell!” Karen yells back as she slams her various things down on the empty wood counter and pulls open the fridge door. Damn it, empty. “You don’t get to do that, Matt! You don’t get to just swoop back down here and start giving me orders without a word of explanation for why you let us believe you were dead for nearly a year!”
“I was in a complete coma for over two weeks, and it was a few more before I was able to stay awake for very long, or remember very much of even who I was. And by the time I was really able to basically function, I’d also heard…well, Karen, your theory was right. Fisk is behind everything that’s happened to Foggy. The money getting frozen, the accusation of witness tampering, the bombing of his apartment, all of it. I’ve been spending the last few months trying to bring him down, and I have a much better chance at doing it if no one knows I’m still alive.”
At least he’s answering her questions at the moment. Karen decides to take advantage. “Where were you? How’d you survive? Where’s your…” It still hurts, to think about his other woman, even though she’s told herself already she should be beyond that by now.
“I don’t know everything that happened,” Matt says softly. “I don’t even know how Elektra knew where…where my mother was.”
“Your mother??” Matt said once that he didn’t know much about his mother, that his grandmother had claimed she’d tried to kill him as a baby, and as a child he hadn’t believed her, though as an adult he thought maybe she’d suffered from post partum.
“My grandmother was telling the truth. She had post partum, really badly. Neither she nor my dad or his mother understood that back then, of course…she became a nun, and according to her, Elektra dragged me up to the door of her nunnery, refused to come in herself, and left me there. I don’t know where she is now.”
He sounds haunted at that last part, and Karen isn’t entirely without sympathy. But she has to say, “That’s an absolutely crazy story.”
“Do you really think I would try telling such a tale if it wasn’t true?” he points out. “Besides, I’m done with lying to you.”
“After this lengthy lie of omission?”
He doesn’t have a good response to that one. She watches him grope for a second or so before realizing she had another urgent question, “How closely have you been stalking us, and for how long? Have you been reading the Bugle’s exclusives about me?” She can’t keep her voice from trembling just a little.
“Yes, and Fisk is behind those too.” Matt’s is steady.
“All the facts they’ve published so far are true. Most of the innuendos aren’t. But yes, that is exactly what happened with my brother. And they haven’t even reported about my full association with Frank. I don’t know if they haven’t gotten hold of that or are just holding it back for the final blow to my reputation. Do you know what I’ve been up to with him?”
“A good deal of it, yes. I, uh, know everything about what happened in the hotel, of course.”
“Taking me hostage to get past the police was my idea, by the way,” she throws in.
“Of course it was.” Still unphased. “And, uh, actually, Frank’s the other person now who knows I’m alive. As I’m sure you know, he’s after Fisk too. Was even before I was, I think. He found out, I don’t even know how, and sought me out to give me information. Though he seems convinced there’s something about this whole thing with Fisk you haven’t told him…”
And now Karen has to be mad at Frank too, for keeping this from her. For a moment, she wants to regret ever letting any overly protective vigilantes who are too male to listen to her into her life at all, even if she didn’t know that one of them was a vigilante until it was pretty much too late.
Then again, she thinks, there is one thing that maybe she should tell them both, just in case Fisk ever finds out too. Not to mention she’d better get it established with Matt completely who she is and what she’s done. No more condescending illusions, and no more ability of anyone to say she’s not been honest with him either. “There is. I killed his right-hand man.”
So that’s how she finally makes her confession, short and factual, although maybe emphasizing his and Foggy’s behavior and blatant lying to her at the time a little. She tries to keep up her anger, use it to mask her fear and pain, but she can’t really do it. Especially not when, on hearing the threat he made to her, Matt’s shock visibly turns to fury, then to sadness. There’s an ache growing within her, one she can only suppress so much, one that just wants to reach out.
She doesn’t, though, as she finishes, “That’s all of it; the Bugle’s published the rest of my secrets. You know, I spent a long time, both before and after you let that building fall on you, wondering if the man I thought I loved ever existed. But maybe he half did. The woman you…the woman you thought you loved then, for a minute or so, so innocent and pure, so unlike your Elektra? She didn’t.” She has to turn her voice hard again, because it’s either that or break. “She’s not me.”
“No, Karen, you’re just the woman I know I love now.”
Karen didn’t think up to that moment that anything he could say could bring her up short like this does. It’s not even just the words, it’s the way he says them, so quietly, simply, and resignedly. He clearly doesn’t expect this to change anything.
She has to believe him.
“Maybe…” His next words are more hesitant. “I haven’t been stalking you as much as you might be thinking right now. Honestly, I’ve been too busy stalking Fisk and his allies. But I have known what you’ve been trying to do, what sources you’ve found. All the articles you’ve been publishing trying to bring his people down, I’ve been prepared and kept myself on site for the arrests, kept a couple of people from escaping. I, uh, I was listening in on that long talk you had with Lieberman. I don’t know if you know how much he knows about stalking, by the way…”
She had a serious heart to heart with that man, sitting with him for hours by the river in that chilly night, as they struggled to get that computer to work. She supposes Matt keeping watch made sense for that one, since they were out in the open and vulnerable to attack. “So you remember what I said to him? About being found out?” That was right after the Bugle had published the first article, outlining her entire painful family history.
“Yes, but that wasn’t all I heard, Karen. I…I heard you cry when he talked about how lonely he’d been, could tell how proud you were of all you’ve accomplished, legal and otherwise, and I knew why you were too. And of course I got to hear how your quick thinking saved the day when the computer crashed. Except thinking about it since?”
He walks over to the kitchenette, where she's still standing, though he keeps his distance. “I didn’t learn anything about you that night I didn’t know already. The woman I was drawn too back then? I was drawn to the heart I knew stayed warm, even when her mind went cold. I knew she was reckless, that she had priorities more important to her than obeying the law, or even never manipulating people, and that her anger could have a hard and even dangerous edge. I knew she was brave, if maybe not quite how much yet. I…I may not have known what you did, Karen, but I wasn’t that much in the dark about who you were, even if I didn’t quite realize...”
His voice is so full of affection Karen’s feeling her anger lose more ground. It feels like a desperate parry when she retorts, “Didn’t quite realize I’m a killer who’s spent the past year protecting a mass murderer and…”
“Karen,” Matt’s shaking his head. “If you’re trying to get me to reject you because you’re scared, that’s not going to work. You…you have every reason to reject me, but…but you’re going to have to do it yourself.” He actually gives her a weak smile, the first one she’s seen on him since he manifested in the hospital room with a whack to the back of the nurse’s head. She’s forgotten what that smile can do to her. “Remember, I’ve loved Elektra Natchios. I’ve forgiven deeds far worse than yours.”
“Loved.” There’s one last barrier Karen’s clinging to, one last reason to not do what she let herself want to do once it was seemingly too late to. “What about now? If the two of us stood before you and told you to choose, who would you choose?”
He must know what answer she’s been assuming, after that whole thing that happened at Midland Circle. He’s silent for a moment, before saying, “Karen, you have to understand, I’m not who I was when I chose to stay down in that basement. I’ve had time to think, to realize a few things, to renew my relationship with God…I know who I am now, and I know what I want. I know I can’t not be Daredevil, though I can’t not be Matt Murdock either. And I know what I can let go of. Mind you, if I ever find Elektra brainwashed again I will do everything I can again to save her, and I’d do the same for you, or Foggy, or anyone else that I care about. But if I were offered the choice? I’d choose you.
Not that I expect either of you to have me,” he then hastily adds. “We agreed when we were down there we could never make it work, really. I think she walked away because of that.” And no words on why Karen herself won’t have him. She’s pretty sure he’s honestly assuming that’ll go without saying.
He has no idea how tired she is of being proud and alone, and how done she is fighting it, even her anger given way to sadness, and exhaustion, and a willingness for this battle, at least, to end.
Time to make him aware of a couple last details about her. “For nearly a year,” she says as she walks the rest of the distance to him, “I have regretted not talking to you sooner, not trying to push to find out how you really are…”
“Karen, don’t blame yourself for my lies, you…you really shouldn’t…”
He’s right, but that’s beside her point. “I don’t know if we can even make this work past tonight,” she says, which brings another possibility of rejection, if he won’t have her on those terms. But, again, being honest. “But if Wilson Fisk shows up and shoots you tomorrow, I don’t want to regret having not done this.”
He’s kissing back almost as soon as her mouth reaches his, and things turn frantic fast. He’s more handsy than he ever was with her before, though they aren’t even going down too far, just getting tangled in her hair, and curling around her ears, and running up and down and all around her shoulders, before one settles on the back of her neck and the other on the side of her face by her chin. She gets her tongue into his mouth and his soft moan goes straight to where she’s already getting hot.
They part to the sound of Matt desperately hissing her name, and a moment later he’s pressing kisses all over her face. She tilts her head down to kiss the side of his neck, trying to poke her nose under the collar of his vest. Rough fabric; she suspects he’s pretty uncomfortable in it. Her hands grope at the vest, wanting it off. She’s had a good deal of opportunity since learning about the enhanced senses to dwell on how they might affect him in the bedroom, and already she’s starting to wonder if Matt held back with her during all the kissing and cuddling they got around to last time, and if he’s not doing so anymore.
She’s definitely never heard him make the noises that he makes when she licks the sweat-damp skin, or seen him so undone when she lifts her head to look. He takes the opportunity to kiss her again, and this time he’s freer with the hands, until their skirting the edge of her blouse, fumbling as they avoid slipping under.
“We should get our shirts off,” she murmurs to him between kisses. “Maybe pants too?”
Matt pulls back and starts wrestling with the vest. Karen’s nails click against the buttons of her blouse and she thinks she hears his breath quicken. Obviously he can hear her jeans hit the floor, maybe even smell that her wet panties went with them, and he abandons getting off his own to join them there, down on his knees, and starts kissing his way around her thighs, before he starts pushing at them, urging her to turn around. It takes her a moment to realize he’s trying to get her to lean against the counter, which she gratefully moves to do, him following her.
It’s when she’s in position that she realizes one of his hands has stopped on the middle of her thigh, and a moment later that she sees where. She doesn’t even think about that scar much anymore; it’s been so many months. But Matt is kneeling there, just tracing it, looking confused.
“I was in an explosion at the bottom of a hotel,” she reminds him. “One of the shards got under my skirt. I was lucky, really.”
“You were,” Matt agrees. Then he leans in and tenderly kisses it, then up. Karen spots a scar near the top of his back as his shoulders move; she knows there are plenty out of her sight right now, but she’ll likely touch them all later.
He stops when he reaches her crotch, and Karen finds herself stunned by the sight of it, his head positioned almost close enough to nuzzle, looking like he’s trying to get a hold of himself. She’s had two kind of men go down on her, the first kind all in that category that she’s since decided doesn’t really count, because even if the physical act happened, the rest of it wasn’t reality. The other kind were the few boyfriends she’s had between then and Matt, and they all seemed reluctant and often clumsy, though one of them was better at it.
Certainly none of them breathed her in like this, as if he couldn’t believe he was getting to do this to her, like even the smell of her is overpowering. It’s making Karen’s knees feel weak already.
A minute later, they’ve gone useless, and her arms are flung back around the counter, her hands gripping the far edge to try to keep herself up. Matt’s tongue is doing things to her that are making her body curl and her mind short out, spine shivering and toes twitching as she feels soft, wet heat all over her most sensitive spots. He finds them all, and licks and flicks and teases, and makes tiny noises, too small for her to even mean to hear, like this is the best thing in the world. Karen’s had men make shows of being eager; that felt nothing like this.
She tries to keep quiet, she really does, but it’s impossible. By the time she’s coming there’s no way everyone on their floor doesn’t know there’s someone having sex in here, and it feels so good she doesn’t even care. Her arms have gone slack, but Matt’s got her pressed against the counter as he works her through it. She feels like she’s almost flying.
He finally eases off as she comes down, though he keeps his hands on her even as he stands back up. Karen takes it in, the red, sweaty face, the muscular chest and the tapestry of scars she doesn’t know the stories behind yet, the bulge in the pants he still has on. Also, a growing smile of utter adoration.
After a moment’s final hesitation, although that’s probably ridiculous at this point, she says, “There’s a condom in my purse.” It’s right next to her arm, put down with all her other things.
When he goes to get it out, Karen’s content to watch his bare arms move, those clever fingers, their tips glistening, fishing through her purse. For about ten seconds.
She manages to hold herself in until Matt pulls the packet out with a slight hum. Then she’s on him again, drawn to where the light is playing off his neck, starting her kisses there and then moving downward.
Ardor mixes with moments of uncertainty; she outright pauses when she reaches his nipples. But on Matt’s, “It’s all right, do it,” she does, and when her tongue flicks the bud, it’s his turn to groan and grip the counter. She strokes a hand down his side, and he sighs. Having his skin below her hands is thrilling enough, but what it does to him, well.
As she starts making her way to the other nipple, Matt lets go to put his arms around her, and then starts walking backward and pulling her with him. He has to stop and take hold again when she reaches her destination. “At….this rate…” he gasped out. “We’re…we’re not going….going to get to…”
“The couch?” Karen pulls away to suggest, because that’s much closer than the bed. Matt promptly starts dragging them there, though when she pulls her head up he steals more kisses, deep and hungry. At some point Karen discovers Matt whimpers when his shoulderblades are stroked a certain way, and when they round the counter they stagger off the wrong way and nearly collide into the far wall.
Eventually, somehow, Matt lands on the couch in a sitting position, and Karen lands on top of him. She opens her mouth to tell him to lift off so they can get the pants off, and a moan comes out instead, because now he’s the one who’s found her nipples. But good as his mouth feels on those, it’s causing the fire in her loins to reignite, and when she finds herself grinding against his hot erection, she groans, “Oh my God, Matt, get these off.”
At some point the condom fell near the couch; Karen moves off to retrieve it while Matt hastily pulls everything down. He doesn’t even get properly free of them, leaving pants and underwear both bunched around his knees. Taking a look at his thighs as she pulls the packet open and hands it to him, Karen can’t resist running her finger down one. Matt outright bucks, struggling to concentrate enough to get the condom on.
It’s when she’s taking him in, watching his head roll around the top of the couch, one arm holding her while the other is tearing at the couch surface, that it finally all becomes real. “You’re alive,” she gasps it out, hands running over the scars around his ribs, over his stomach, then again as she kisses his mouth, his cheek, his chin, presses her hand to the right part of his back and she can feel his heart hammering. “Alive…”
She can feel him pulse inside her too, and before she knows what she’s doing she’s riding him hard, trying to give him more kisses but her coordination’s gone, and when his free hand moves from the couch back to her breasts he fumbles the one he’s trying to touch. But that just gets her hotter, especially when his hips are moving too now, each thrust lighting her up and making them both moan. She doesn’t have another orgasm in her tonight, but the lack of that distraction just makes everything else more intense, passion and tenderness consuming her even more, and she holds Matt close as she works to push him over.
She’s pretty sure he’s been holding on as long as he can, but inevitably he breaks, and it’s the most beautiful sight Karen’s ever seen. She watches the slackening of his features, the way his body tenses and then sinks into the couch, and how he just stays there looking so dazed afterwards, and she feels it all coalesce in her chest.
“I love you.” It’s the first time she’s ever expressed the sentiment in so many words, even though it’s not like everyone hasn’t known it already. It feels impossibly dangerous to say it now, even when she’s not the first one to proclaim her love tonight, to make herself vulnerable to a man in a way she hasn’t been for years. Though she knows Matt won’t take advantage. There are many things he does, but he doesn’t do that.
He weakly pulls at her, nudging her forward until their cheek to cheek. “I want you to stay with me,” he whispers. “But I can’t demand that of you.”
“I don’t want to go,” she whispers back, but then they lapse into silence, because they both know she can’t make that decision tonight. Even if she has a pretty strong feeling of which way it’s going to go.
Eventually he says, “You still need to call Danny Rand.”
“Yeah,” she agrees. “I’m going to try to get a message to Frank, too, though that’ll be more complicated.”
She ends up spending a short time on the phone with David, and a longer time on the phone with Danny. Foggy she texts, to avoid having to lie to him in real time. “We’re still telling him,” she says to Matt after doing so. “I won’t do it tomorrow, necessarily, but I’m not going to hold off for long, either. Hell, he might just guess I’m hiding here and come over in the morning to demand why I haven’t told him where I was, and I’m not trying to hide you. He’s kept your biggest secrets longer than anyone, Matt. He can keep this one.”
Since he got off the couch, Matt has mostly paced and stood around obviously monitoring the goings-on around them. Now he just nods.
Karen has slept twice before in Matt’s bed, both times alone. The second time was only three months ago, on an exhausting night when it was just too much trouble to make the rest of the way back to her own apartment, and when she woke in the morning, it was a struggle not to cry. Tonight, she slides between the silk sheets none of them would remove from the apartment with their rightful owner, and holds him to her with his head leaning against her chest, right by her heart.