“Thanks, please.” Outside the office, he can start to make out their words, and they both fill him with dread and send him hurrying up the stairs to the lobby faster. They do not actually surprise him, though. Really, eight months of working with Jeri should’ve made him realize that sooner or later something like this might happen.
When he clears the stairs, Jeri is driving on, “…and I’m sure once I’ve had a word with Mr. Ellison, Ms. Page, he’ll come straight to you and I doubt he’ll be very pleased with you…ah, Franklin. Will you please tell your girlfriend why she shouldn’t libel me, since you seem to be the one person in our firm she’ll listen to?”
He can tell by the way Karen turns she didn’t even notice him until Jeri called her attention to him. She’s deeply flushed and her eyes burning. She looks triumphant. Also fetching, but that’s not important at the moment. “It isn’t libel if I have proof. The same proof her late wife got her hands on before she conveniently tried to kill her and forced the girlfriend who has since called her a liar to kill her in Ms. Hogarth’s defense.”
Okay, that insinuation’s one Foggy didn’t see coming, and unlike Karen, he’s not willing to make those kinds of assumptions. He sidesteps it for the moment, asking, “Proof of what, exactly? I heard you mention an old email as I was coming up here?”
“Very old.” Karen’s practically crowing. “Relating to how Ms. Hogwarth bribed a juror in her first capital case.”
“It was fabricated.” Jeri’s smooth as ever. “Created by a woman who saw herself as wronged. She tried to kill me when I told her it wouldn’t work. You’ll have the sense to realize that, Franklin.”
She knows better, of course. There’s no way she doesn’t know there’s only one of these two women Foggy has any trust, affection, or even true respect for, and it isn’t her. But she also knows he really wants to keep his job.
And he does. Not to the point that she’s probably hoping for. But to the point that he swallows his disgust at her and responds, “Look, you two can’t just yell at me about a situation and expected me to make a conclusion without even seeing this email. Seriously, Karen, can I talk to you in my office alone?” He glances at the clock. “You can go home a little early today, Cheryl.” She doesn’t need to be in the vicinity for the immediate fallout of this. Foggy knows he surprised everyone here(except Marci, of course), choosing her out of the various candidates for his PA, the middle-aged black woman who went to school late, and they know she’s close with Karen. The next few days might be harder for her than him.
He can tell by her quick strides down the stairs, how she’s almost slicing the air in half, that Karen’s already guessed what he’s going to ask, and isn’t happy. That doesn’t make him very happy with her either; what can she expect from him?
When the door’s closed behind them, he says, “Look, Karen, off the record, I believe that she did bribe that juror, I think it was a terrible and unethical thing to do and an insult to our profession, I would be willing to think she might have committed murder, if any concrete evidence shows up of it, though not before, and either way, I sure hope you take that bitch down. But you can’t get me involved in this, unless someone’s summoning me for testimony, which I would gladly give, but I doubt I’ll have much of it.”
“Really, that’s your answer?” Karen demands, though at least she keeps her voice down. “You’re outright refusing to do what’s right?”
“How much use would I be to you anyway? I really did know nothing about any of this until five minutes ago, and you know Jeri’s going to make sure I don’t know any more from her besides that line you heard her give.”
“You and Chao and Benowitz can make sure she doesn’t have the resources of this firm. They may go that route. I know they tried to force her out when her wife got killed; the PAs here love to gossip.”
“They’re in a position to do that. Karen, in case you’ve forgotten, I am still the *very* junior partner here, and they’ve been making comments about how many pro bono clients I take as it is.”
“Oh?” He’s made a mistake, handing her that ammunition. “I know you’ve turned some away thanks to them. How many?”
If he gives her that number, she will kill him. “Please believe me,” he tries instead, “I’m doing what I can.”
“You could leave.” She’s finally said it. Foggy’s seen this coming for nearly a month. “Do you really need them anymore? You’ve got your reputation higher than it’s ever been, you’ve made plenty of money, and you know that most of your particular clients would follow you out. You might even get somewhere with Chao and Benowitz if you threatened to leave, especially if they already have to deal with this coming scandal.”
“Actually, I think those two might just be glad to be rid of me and my clients. It’s Jeri who got them involved with Jessica in the first place. And no, I can’t leave yet. Most of the money I’ve made has gone towards paying my debts off, and I’m not going to pay all the bills just defending the vigilantes, that’s not how that thing works. Also, I’ve got Cheryl to consider. Even if I could afford to keep her, I’d have to give her a salary cut I don’t think her family can afford.”
“You could help her find another job. You might even talk Marci into taking her, if she’s willing to work for her. I’d help if she wanted me to. Ah, but then you’d have to give her up, wouldn’t you? Why don’t you go ahead and admit that you like this too much, Foggy, having what you always wanted?” She sweeps her arms around his office, then strides over to his desk and leaned back on it with her hands holding the edges. Again she looks way too fetching, especially given how mad he is at her right now. “The money, the corner office…”
“I don’t care about the corner office.” She knows that, he’s sure, knows that he wasn’t lucky enough to get all of this before he’d grown up too much to care about it anymore. The view is nice to have on long days, but that’s all.
Yeah, there are things he really likes about his current job. He likes the respectability. He likes the feeling of confidence and success. He likes not having to worry about money, even having a scheduled and a set date for when he ought to become debt free. He likes Cheryl; she and her family have been the best friends he’s had these eight months, and likes being able to give her the job she wants and needs and deserves.
Foggy is not about to mention to Karen that there are nights when he wakes up from vivid dreams of being back at Nelson and Murdock, of it being the three of them again, doing right no matter the cause, and then he cries because he wants to be back there so badly. He knows better in the morning, of course, when he remembers the struggles, the worries, the times he instead cried at night because he didn’t know if he could do this anymore.
And of course he can’t ask Karen to return to that anyway. She’s moved on to bigger and better things, after all.
There aren’t going to talk about Matt, either. They haven’t since they all got the confirmations that neither man minded if Karen saw both of them at once. That’s also the last time he and Matt communicated, him writing an email to explain. “There’s only so much I can ask for her,” he wrote. “I’m not asking her for exclusivity.”
He also told Foggy a few things about Karen it definitely hadn’t been his place to tell. He understood Matt had simply been worried about him accidentally retraumatizing her, and Foggy himself was glad to know how not to, but he still was left to hope Karen gave him a talking to for that one.
He’s paused too long, letting his emotions catch up with him. Karen was good at spotting that even before she started honing her skills. “What do you care about?” she asks. “Money? Success? Doing the right thing?”
“Can’t I care about all those things?” he protests as he comes over to join her. “Some of us don’t see the world in black in white all the time.”
“I don’t always do that,” she hisses; they’re standing close enough she can. “And if I do sometimes, well, that’s because sometimes I’m right to. For God’s sake, Foggy, look around you. I know what you learned about Jeri today didn’t surprise you in the least, and you’ve already said just what you’ve thought of it, and have long established that legal ethics are a big thing with you.”
That you care about them more than Matt. That’s the next line she drifts off to avoid saying. Not the first time that’s happened, but every time it does, they feel his presence like he’s right there in the room with them. The truth is he’s never far away.
“I do care,” he pleads. “Like I said, I hope you take her down. But that’s not all I have to worry about. Besides, are you even sure you can do this? Have you talked to Ellison yet?”
“He seemed pretty confident when we last talked about it. Although that’s something you can do for us; could have provide us with legal analysis. Noone would have to know. I could attribute everything to...” She stops, then manages to finish, “…Marci, maybe, if she’s willing to glance at it.”
“No, can’t be Marci; remember she’s not even partner; she’s much more vulnerable than me,” he has to say, even if doesn’t matter, because that’s not who Karen’s actually thinking of.
“Of course she is. She wouldn’t anyway, would she?” Karen can’t keep the disdain out of her voice, despite its completely irrationality, that she judged a woman by a single meeting and refuses to change her view of Marci no matter what she does. Part of it’s probably sexual jealousy, but also just that Karen’s angry and judgemental and amazingly unforgiving at times, and that she never likes women like Marci. “Tell me, is she still seeing that asshole from Queens?”
“Hey, now, Ted is not an asshole!” Now she’s just being contrary, which makes Foggy’s anger flare up again. “Hell, it’s pretty much thanks to him that poor Pam’s okay now, and anyway, shouldn’t you be glad Marci’s not going to be fucking me again while he’s around?” In theory she could; it would be allowed. Even if Foggy hasn’t slept with anyone besides Karen since they got that permission from Matt, and he's pretty sure they haven’t been sleeping with anyone else either.
“Just concerned for her.” Which, bullshit. Also, there’s a slight shakiness to her voice.
“Karen,” Foggy makes an effort to speak more slowly, “What are you not telling me?”
There’s a split second when he regrets pushing her, when she looks down in that desperate way she did when he told her the contents of Matt’s email, before she told him the rest of it, the things she’s done more recently he’s not sure she’s told Matt about.
Then she said, “When I come to Matt from you, he’ll sometimes just sit near me and breathe deeply.” Foggy just stands there, not sure what shocks him more, what she’s saying, or that she’s saying it. “He’ll do it in bed too, he’ll come near places you’ve put your mouth…this morning, I finally got him admit he’s doing it on purpose. When he gave you permission, Foggy, it wasn’t because he felt he couldn’t object, or even because he didn’t mind. It was what he wanted. And I don’t exactly think that’s because he has some sort of cuckold kink.”
“Karen,” Foggy starts, “that can’t be why he’s sleeping with you. You two started that a good deal of time before I came into that particular picture. He loves you. We both do.”
“I know. But when I consider that we can’t even know if he’d have any sexual interest in you or if he’s just that desperate for any contact with you he can get, even indirect…”
“You’re not asking me to go back to him?”
No verbal response from Karen, and he knows she was about to. Foggy’s anger fled when she told him Matt’s confession, but now it comes back, and fiercely. “Look,” he has to force his voice back down, “if you don’t want to sleep with both of us anymore, say the word.” It’ll shatter his heart, but he’ll deal. “But I can’t go back to him. Please don’t ask me to.”
“Why not? I know how badly you two miss each other. Even if you really can’t work with him anymore, why can’t you two see each other for drinks or something?”
Because it wouldn’t stop there. He is dead certain of that. But Foggy isn’t about to mention to Karen all the thoughts he’s had about the possible outcomes of even so much as having Matt and his sad face in his line of sight again.
“Or,” she breathes, “are you afraid…”
Foggy kisses her then simply because those are words he can’t stand to hear the rest of. Even though he knows she’ll slap him and get even angrier, but that’s preferable at this point.
Except she doesn’t. Instead she grabs his hair, the hair she’s lamented the shortness of, and kisses him back hard, almost biting. They’re both of them kissing, lust mixing with anger and pain, and Foggy can’t stop. He pushes forward, and they topple back and onto the desk, knocking his cup of pens to the floor. He pushes her down, she pulls him after. A couple of pieces of paper waft around them. They kiss and kiss and kiss.
She groans when he rubs his erection against her. Then she breaks the kiss and whispers, “Are you doing to do this, Mr. Nelson? I know for a fact you wouldn’t be the first partner of this firm to indulge in office sex, even during the day. Is the rich lawyer going to fuck the aggressive reporter on his desk?”
“I’m not rich, Karen,” he retorts, grasping onto that as her words send his mind flying a zillion different directions. “I told you, most of the money I’ve made so far has gone towards dealing with my debts.”
“Fine, then, is the well-paid lawyer going to fuck the aggressive reporter on his desk?”
They’ve never done anything like this; it’s always been sweet and tender. Karen having suffered what she did in the past, Foggy’s never dared to be otherwise, but now she’s looking at him eyes bright, and her voice thick with want: “What, think I can’t handle that? That I’m too weak and traumatized to know my own mind?”
Of course not. “If this is what you want, well, don’t be too loud.” He presses still angry kisses to her mouth, her neck, fumbles with the buttons of his blouse until she starts pulling them open, her own too, until he can push a bra cup down and get his mouth on a breast, determined to take her to pieces, reduce her to a writhing mass of primal need before he gives her anything she wants.
It’s happening; she’s squirming beneath him, tiny sounds escaping through gritted teeth. He thinks she might start begging, although pride might stop her. Nails sink into his shoulders; he refuses to react, even as it makes him harder. She tries to push up into him; he shifts to stop her and keeps his tongue going, relentless. It’s only when her heels start kicking into the desk hard enough to send more loose paper into the air that he finally slides a hand under her pencil skirt, flicking his fingers over pantyhose-covered underwear, barely touching.
“Don’t damage the tights,” she gets out, a reminder she knows he doesn’t need. Foggy pulls off her, dislodging his stapler, which slides off the edge, and makes a point of very slowly and methodically pulling her pantyhose down; they come off without a single run. That does it more for her than he was actually intending; when he follows it up by giving each of her ankles a long, slow lick, her arms flail, and he hears a pair of thumps, the folders of the two cases he should be working on right now hitting the floor, over the sounds of her struggling both to breathe and to keep quiet. He’s tempted to dive in between her legs and really undo her, but his dick is throbbing with the need to be inside her, so he stands up and tries to spot where on the desk his wallet is.
He’s brought up short by the sight before him. Karen is sprawled out on the desk, laid among papers now knocked into complete disarray, her clothing even more so, her hair slung carelessly out to one side. Her skin is heavily flushed, her left breast especially reddened; both of them rising and falling rapidly. But when she opens her eyes, he can tell she’s still angry.
Yet he’s still shocked to hear what comes out of her next: “Do you know how many times I’ve made Matt look like this? He loves it, you know. I fear sometimes that he really wants more domination than I’ll ever be comfortable giving him. Except then I sometimes think it’s you he’d want it from more; you’re so big and strong.”
He can see it, in his mind’s eye, Matt there and desperate. He saw Elektra macking on him once, and that was even against Matt’s desk in their dorm room. He’ll never forget the sight of Matt half-bent back over it, hands pressed flat against the surface as if they were the only things holding him up. He face was visible for a moment of it, it was so red and messy with pure need. Foggy remembers the sound of his breathing too, sharp inhales as if she’d kissed the air of him. He ended up retreating to the bathroom to jerk off after seeing that. He told himself at the time it was because Elektra was hot, but now he can barely remember the sight of her that day.
Foggy wouldn’t be about to mention to Karen that Matt’s not the only one thinking too much about who else has touched her and not out of jealousy, but from the look on her face, he’s pretty sure his reaction has given it away. “Again,” he says, “if you don’t want to do this…”
“That’s just the thing.” Her voice is laced with her fury, but disturbingly matter-of-fact like. “You two have made a show of letting each other go, but I can’t get myself to do that. Why do you think I took Matt back in the first place? You both still have no idea what you mean to me.”
That brings his anger straight back up to the surface, and he can’t help put bending down to get in her face-knocking some more paper off-to growl, “You think Matt means any less to me than that? You think I still don’t feel like half my heart is ripped out?” It might hurt her to hear this in this context, but fuck it, she pushed him to it. “You think I’m staying away from Matt for any reason other than that I don’t trust myself to do what I need to if I saw him again? You don’t think I’m fucking hiding in this law firm?”
Well, now he’s confessed to way too much. He stands back up and takes a step back, ignoring the protests of his still hard dick, because he needs to flee as soon as he can gather himself up.
But Karen stops him with a taunt far more worthy of Marci: “What’s wrong, Foggy? Were *you* fucking me for any reason other than to get your hands where Matt’s have been?”
He reverses polarity and goes back downward, and this time he just kisses her until she’s truly breathless when he says, “Stop making accusations you know aren’t true.”
“Shut me up.” At some point she must have scanned for his wallet, because in another moment she’s grabbing it and she knows where in it there’ll be a condom; multiple affairs with Marci have made his habit of keeping one there permanent. “Or at least give me something else to think about. She’s wiggled the packet out. She’s also knocked it off the desk, along with his pile of business cards. “Or I could tell you exactly where he touched me. It’s not fair, you know, that he knows and you don’t.”
God help him, even in his anger the thought is making him harder still. He fumbled with the buttons of his pants, pulls everything down, and simply asks, “Where?”
“Last time he was actually on top. He had a hand on the small of my back,” and she actually takes his hand and positions it; Foggy swears he can feel where Matt's fingers have been. “Kissed my neck,” she brings his head down, “then buried his face in my hair and his ragged breathing was right in my ear as he fucked me….”
“Enough.” He can hear that breathing in his head, and he’s so turned on he can barely concentrate enough to roll the condom down, but this hurts too, too much so. “Believe it or not, I’d rather think mainly about the person I’m fucking when I’m fucking them.”
“Go for it, then.” Although there’s not just anger in there; there’s a tiny bit of relief she won’t admit to right now. She probably wouldn’t even admit to the surge of her hips upward, even as she snakes a hand down to help guide him in.
He doesn’t give her the usual moment to adjust, just obeys the urging of her hands and fucks her hard and fast, sealing his mouth back over hers to muffle her ah-ah-ahs, as well as his own cries when she shoves back. They’re rocking the desk hard enough his cellphone also somehow clatters off and to the floor, and Foggy should worry they might knock the landline or even the monitor off, but he’s beyond caring. His world narrows down to the woman beneath him, this stupid, reckless, crazy, judgemental, brave, noble, strong, clever, all too good woman who’s so hot and tight around him, and to the phantom of the man between them whom his mind strays to for a moment when a harder thrust makes her grunt, or when their eyes are both open and hers are full of hot, perfect fire.
But he forces himself to think of her, of her legs kicking as he pounds her still harder, her nails threatening to draw blood even through his shirt, how if it wasn’t for his weight on top of her she would probably be downright thrashing. Her thighs spread wider, knocking into the mouspad, and when he takes the invitation to go deeper, she moans so loud that even with it muffled he hopes to God Desmond isn’t in his office next door. Her hands move down to his ass and squeeze hard, and he comes, still fucking her through it, pushing deep as he can get.
Karen’s close; he can tell. “Foggy,” she gasps out, and for the first time that day she doesn’t sound angry at all, just desperate. Her skirt’s completely inside out, and when he can move again it’s easy to get his head down and her tongue into her folds, caressing flesh made tender by what he’s just done to her. He waits until he hears her clamp her hands over her mouth before pressing in and using two fingers to pinch, and she comes hard enough he can feel her legs seize up against his head, again loudly enough that even muffled anyone next door will hear it.
He thinks vaguely he should still be mad, but then he hears her whimper, and a moment later he’s watching her curl in on herself as if in pain. The guilt finally hits, and he lies down on top of whatever papers are still left and wraps her up in his embrace. “You actually do believe we love you, right, Karen?” For the first time he’s not sure she does.
“I told you, I do.” But she sure doesn’t sound like it.
“We do. I love you, Karen.” He presses a kiss into her hair, and then another. “Please…”
She doesn’t really cry, thankfully, but she lets out a couple of quiet sobs before going still. He goes on holding her, and now his thoughts can truly be only of her, and how glad he is to have her in his arms, and how much he hopes it makes her feel better.
Foggy still isn’t about to mention to Karen that sometimes he thinks he’s only himself nowadays when he’s alone with her.
“You can keep hiding in here if you need to,” she finally says. “I’ll ask Matt for the legal analysis first, and give him sole credit, although Ellison may insist on your opinion as well. We can say you just spent the past hour trying to dissuade me. It’s not like anyone would expect you to succeed at that, right?”
“Nope.” It’s good to hear amusement in her voice. “But don’t push it too hard, because the minute I think can get away with it, I will very much be on the side of forcing Jeri out of here. And you know, I may well leave here and start me own practice sometime in the future. Maybe when the debts are all paid off. If all goes well, I should be able to do it at that point. Cheryl's youngest will also be an adult by then; he gets a good enough job and she might even be able to go with me if she wants.”
“I’ll be glad,” she whispers. “I think you really will be a lot happier that way.” All she’s saying. Neither of them will bring up the other possibility they’re both thinking of.
But now the taboo’s been broken, Foggy will go crazy if he doesn’t ask: “How is he?”
Too long a silence, and then, “I don’t know. He’s taking a few cases again, although I still don’t know what’s going to happen when the money Elektra managed to leave him runs out. Still going out almost every night. I’ve given up arguing with him about it.”
“I’m sorry.” She knows, of course, what he’s apologizing for.
When they finally climb down from the desk and put all their clothes back in place, Karen carefully rolling her stockings back on, it’s late enough that no doubt at least some people have followed Cheryl out, though it’s rare for the firm offices to be completely empty; there’s always someone working late. “I’ll walk you out,” he offers. If Jeri’s still here, he’s happy to put off having to deal with her for the extra few minutes.
“Thanks.” She takes his hand.
He takes a glance back at his desk as they walk out. There are three pieces of paper left on it, as well as the landline phone, the monitor, which at some point got knocked sideways, the mousepad, and the cord for the mouse, although the mouse itself is dangling off the edge. It’s not the kind of desk that shows when it’s been sweated on, but Foggy thinks he can see where their bodies were on it anyway.
He likes that look. It feels more real and concrete than it ever has.