A Rooftop Visitor

August 05, 2018:

Batgirl crosses paths with Daredevil while tracking Frank Castle.

A Church in Hell's Kitchen

A half-destroyed church in Hell's Kitchen.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Frank Castle

Mood Music: Emerge (Part I), Ruelle


Fade In…

Another night in NYC, and Barbara Gordon is starting to feel homesick. She spent months away from home when she went to Barnard College, but that was before she was brought into the fold by Batman. It felt like another life, and now it was her new life in Gotham that she missed. But she was here on her own self-appointed mission, out to prove herself. She wasn't going home until the stage had been set.

It's a mistake to assume that all rooftops in any major metropolis are the same. Her longing for the familiar has her gravitating to the the only major structure in Hell's Kitchen that feels almost like home: the flying buttresses of the neighborhood's Catholic church. There are no spotlights on its elaborate architecture, and yellow hazard tape closes off the doors which have been secured in heavy chains and locks. The damage from the bombings was not the church's undoing, but it left enough damage to be almost symbolic — a metaphor for the damaged spirits of Hell's Kitchen.

She looms on the buttress, still as a gargoyle with her scalloped cape draped around her and posture supported in a low, balanced squat. She was perfectly still, eyes closed to focus on the sound being filtered in through her directional microphones. Her nano-computer had been coded to pinpoint a very specific series of tones that would be associated with the weapons she saw in Frank Castle's arsenal. In addition, her computer was scanning the police channels for a simple keyword: Punisher.

Even to those parkouring vigilantes who aren't far from home, the skyscape of Manhattan is less familiar than it was a month ago. For Matt Murdock, who lives and dies by a strange form of echolocation, it's still all wrong. Sound passes through great gaping voids where tenenments used to be, bounce off of new planes and angles. And even when the neighborhood is rebuilt, it won't be the same.

But as unfamiliar as it's become, it's still his, and he still feels a deep sense of ownership over it. Enough to the point that the arrival of newcomers to the scene are almost sure to draw his interest. Some, like the bizarre band of idiots the DEO brought in the bombings' aftermath, he ignored. This woman, this caped woman, who perches on his own battered and broken church?

Some scuffling sound on the slanted rooftop above the butress she looms upon will be the first thing to announce him. His voice is the second. "You seem far from home," the Devil of Hell's Kitchen says in that low rasp of his as he steps to the rooftop ledge and casts a long shadow down below. "No clowns around here." A beat. "At least, not the type to get riled up about."

The Batgirl had heard the scuffling, but doesn't turn her head until the Devil has spoken those raspy words. With a tap to her bracer, she quiets the output of her microphones so that she's not battling between multiple auditory streams. She doesn't rise up from her squat yet, but the comment about no clowns being around draws a low and amused chuckle from the masked and caped woman. "Small mercies." Her words are not quite the rasp that male vigilantes choose, but instead just a lower pitch to her already alto voice. "Though if you ever want your own circus rejects, I'm sure we can send them your way. After all, you've been sending us your gangbangers lately."

The woman finally stands, turning slightly to fully face the Devil of Hell's Kitchen. She maintains a well-trained balance, and advances several steps before she leaps, digging in a boot sole into the exterior of the wall before she pulls herself upright to join him on the slanted roof. She resumes her balanced squat as she regards him, head tilted, blue eyes thoughtful. "A handful of your Mexican Cartel boys showed up in Gotham a few days ago… they were being followed by a man your police call The Punisher."

Know him? is the unspoken question at the end of that statement.

"We're doing just fine on our own," Daredevil says of the Batgirl's 'offer' to send the Joker's rejects his way, with an indicative lift of his stubbled chin towards the devastation literally next door. Much of the rubble has been cleared, but it's still unmistakably a ruin. And there are more — many more — like it littered around the west-side of Manhattan's Midtown.

He watches her leap up with a kind of professional curiosity. When he was a kid, before he lost his sight, he'd had a powerful hero-worship for the young caped crusader who was just making a name for himself in Gotham. Safe to say that those lingering sentiments had served as an inspiration for his own brand of theatrical vigilantism, with its shadow-stalking and gargoylish crouching on rooftops. To see another one of the Bat's acolytes here in the flesh is something.

He hears her turn the mic off, the sudden lull in ambient noise. That close to her ear, that soft, even he couldn't make out what she was listening for — but then she's telling him. His jaw sets and resets. "Yeah, he's a newcomer to our city too, but I've heard of him," he says lowly, and for a moment that's all he says. Then: "Did he get them? The Cartel boys."

At his chin-nod toward the state of the neighborhood and its connected blocks, Barbara returns her gaze back out to it. Her expression is unclear, though her eyes flicker slightly over each detail in what little light brightens the blocks. The shadows are darker here than she remembers, and it's worth noting. Some of it isn't literal darkness, either. The city feels like it's holding tight, breath held, and waiting for the next strike.

"Perhaps as The Punisher, but Frank Castle is not a newcomer to your neighborhood. This is his home as much as it is yours." If there's any hint that Barbara might know who the Devil of Hell's Kitchen actually is behind the mask, it's accidental. Only Bruce is obsessive enough to know everything about everyone; her obsession has only been Frank.

She shifts slightly beneath the fall of her cape, and her new posture is a casual kneel with an arm draped across the bent knee. A small updraft from the heights they have chosen catches the cape, and it flutters theatrically. Castle had choice words for her cape, but the cape makes the Bat almost as much as the ears and half-faced cowl does. With her eyes turned out to the city, she shakes her head. "No. He watched, and left." She looks to Matt now. "They weren't on his list."

Daredevil breathes out a sigh of relief when she says Frank Castle didn't kill those young cartel soldiers, and he almost can't believe it when it comes. Should he really feel anything like relief that a bunch of gang members who tried to set a bomb underneath Foggy Nelson's middle school dodged a literal bullet? But he does, and if anything it's for Foggy. No accessory counts, no complicity in the most extreme ends of vigilantism.

This time, at least. What the hell did I get you in to, Fog?

But this Punisher kept his word for now, and suddenly Batgirl has given him a name. Frank Castle. "The name doesn't ring any bells," says the masked man with a roll of one red shoulder. "But I guess it makes sense." A native of Hell's Kitchen decides to clean it up by any means necessary. Where has he heard this story before?

"What's your interest in this Castle?" he says as he lowers himself to a crouch alongside her. "And if the cartel isn't on this list, who is?"

Barbara chuckles wryly a bit. "Mmm, that might say more about you than you wanted, D." The diminutive comes easily to the woman who turns her gaze back out to the city. "From all I've learned, Castle was smart enough to cause just enough hell to be a troublesome kid, but not enough to actually get in actual trouble. Then he became a Marine."

Detectives. That's what the Bat Family is. Here's another vigilante roosting in the same territory as Castle, and she knows enough about the Daredevil to pin him as one of the do-gooders. Being wrong here would cost her, but she trusts her instincts. She considers Matt for a long heartbeat before she looks back out at the city once more.

"He's gaining interest… mostly in the Internet. Some see him as what Hell's Kitchen needs: the kind of vigilante who doesn't deliver criminals to the doorstep of the police in hopes that the system will take care of them. He's cleaning the streets with a bloodied mop, and people are desperate enough that some think it's the only right course." She pauses. "He isn't a vigilante, though. He's an Edmond Dantes. He's out for revenge." She glances slightly back toward him. "It isn't that the Cartel isn't on his list, it's just that his list is… specific."

The masked man smirks. "I've kept a lot of secrets from a lot of people, lady, but I've never hid the fact that these are my streets," says the so-called Devil of Hell's Kitchen to her quip about revealing more than he should. It's rueful banter, sure, but there's something wistful in it, too.

Then he's listening. Some see him as what Hell's Kitchen needs. A desperate, shell-shocked population is looking to him as some kind of literally bloody savior — one who won't pull punches. To a man who believes in his bones he's failed the neighborhood he loves, and has wrestled with the efficacy of his tactics and how far is too far, the words can't help but sting. Could this Punisher be what Hell's Kitchen needs, and not the motley crew of 'Defenders' they've put together?

He doesn't have time to mull the question before she complicates it further. He's not a generalized vigilante, guns trained on all manner of injustice. He's a revenge seeker. Of course, she says it in a way that draws out a puff of distracted, humored breath. "A bookworm," he says with another twitch of his lips. "Now who is revealing more than they want?"

That quip made, he goes to the merits. "So he's the good count, avenging a life others ruined. How?"

Now it's Barbara's turn to turn rueful. "Every tenth grader in America has read The Count of Monte Cristo." Though, not every tenth grade in America uses it as a reference. Touche, Devilman.

She can almost sense the internal struggle. She's been around Bruce Wayne long enough to see when the self-doubting begins, though Bruce has fallen into that trapping less and less. Perhaps it makes a vigilante jaded after a while, to be constantly trying to do what is right in the face of criticism. Regardless, she does offer him an understanding look before she resumes their topic of interest: Frank Castle.

"They killed his wife and two children. A couple months ago, at the Central Park Carousel, there was a three-sided shoot-out between the Dogs of Hell, the Mexican Cartel, and the Kitchen Irish. Frank's family was the collateral damage. He's only interested in those who were there, but all I've found so far suggests nearly all of them were. Someone or something brought all three of the gangs together, and the results were the death of a Vet's family."

Her expression darkens, sinking into a serious — and yet strangely sympathetic expression.

They killed his wife and children. Her expression isn't the only one that darkens. It's a gradual hardening likely visible despite his mask and the low lighting. She brings the image of this Punisher he's been slowly developing in his mind into sudden, sharp focus, and unwittingly touches on themes he's been wrestling with for weeks now.

"Dogs of Hell, Mexican Cartel, and Kitchen Irish," Matt repeats grimly, choosing for now to focus on the details rather than anything they say about Frank Castle's motives. "All in Central Park, all at the same time. That's seems like the sort of place you go when you don't expect a shootout. So maybe a — what. A parlay." And, if so, one gone terribly wrong.

He blows a weary breath out into the humid summer air. "You're looking into this Castle, then," the Devil says after a beat. He can't see her sympathetic look, of course — his sightless gaze is turned outward towards the looming towers of the Manhattan skyline. But it may be he can hear that grace note of compassion in her voice, or sense it through some inscrutable, ineffable way with his other senses. "Looking for him, maybe. To what end? I know he went chasing some cartel out near you, but this seems pretty far outside your, uh, family's chosen haunt."

"I don't know," Barbara admits when Matt asks the question she's been trying to tease out since she learned of the shoot-out, and now Frank. Why did the three gangs come together, and to what end? "Truth is, I think the only one who may actually know is Frank Castle. And if he doesn't know, he's making it part of his goal to find out. He's not looking just for revenge, I think he's looking for answers, too."

Then the Batgirl casts him a dubious look at his prying questions. She is quiet for a moment, almost thoughtful, and then she shakes her head. "It wasn't my intention to chase Frank from Gotham to here." Which is a half-lie, though she graces over it casually. How is she supposed to explain to another vigilante that she's also here as Barbara Gordon, special correspondent for VigiWatch. She took the job to stop Zane from taking it; had Zane been trying to get a tail on Frank, the amateur journalist would be dead. Frank showing up in Gotham before she intended to go to NYC was just a chance.

"I'm not here to stop Frank Castle," she finally admits. "He's yours to handle." Then she reaches out toward him, and abruptly — perhaps thanks to a very well-practiced sleight of hand — she's handing him a sleek little flash drive. "Here's everything I have on Castle… everything I could find." While the city scape had been her focus, now its Daredevil who has captured her intense blue stare. "There's something deeper here, D. It took the media two weeks to run the story on Castle's family, and Castle was hospitalized as a John Doe despite the media coverage."

Then with a tilt of her head and rueful smile, she circles back to his point. "But, you're right… this isn't my haunt, this isn't my beat… its yours."

This isn't my haunt, this isn't my beat… it's yours. And with those words and that little flick of her wrist, Batgirl lays the problem that is Frank Castle at his feet. And Daredevil is quite sure that whatever else he is, he's a problem.

"I wondered why I hadn't heard about him up to now," he says of the media coverage, or relative lack and strangeness there of. An uncooperative media and law enforcement apparatus are nothing new to him, though. Not in the age of Wilson Fisk, who has somehow managed to keep his empire and its ugly works out of the news for years.

"Alright," Daredevil says at last, taking the offered thumb drive with two red-gloved fingers. "I'll look into it." Look into him.

"Thanks for the head's up, Batgirl." Those are words that — whatever his night-life — he never imagined he'd utter. Now nearly two years into his career as a costumed vigilante — a cape, as 'Captain Boomerang' had called him derisively — he still can't wrap his head around it. This is my life.

He's pushing himself up to a rise, finding his footing easily on the slanted roof. "I don't have a bat signal, exactly, but you know where to find me." Here, that is: along Hell's Kitchen's battered and broken skyline.

When he takes the thumb drive, her chin dips in a small nod. Her blue eyes cut toward the neighborhood below them, and she watches the shadows of people moving far below at the corner. With her focus downcast, she can speak the words more easily, and they come in a soft whisper, "We are all misguided now and then. All Castle knows is what to do with those who killed his family, and those who get in his way. But, remember… he's doing what he thinks he must."

Then she slowly begins to roll to her booted feet, and int hat moment, a bit of breeze picks up the edges of her scalloped cape and it flutters around her like the iconic wings of the Bats. "You'll find an embedded chat program on the thumb drive. Launch it on any computer, and will open a direct line to me. You let me know if you need me, D." She offers a gloved hand to him in solidarity.

Vigilante to vigilante.

He's doing what he thinks he must, she says of the former marine, who has lost everything that anchored his life and gave it purpose.

The words resonate, not the least because of Matt's own not insignificant losses, lapses, and recent forays into near-line-crossings. And because of that ongoing, ever-present temptation to end his own current shadowy war against Wilson Fisk with one lethal strike. "Yeah," says Daredevil, wry and grim. "There's a lot of that going around right now."

To what extent that empathy and common ground will affect the Devil's approach — it's too soon to tell. Likely if you asked him, he couldn't say.

She rises to meet him, and don't they a pair of shadowy silhouettes there on the church rooftop? A bat and a gargoyle. To her offer of help, he gives a noncommital sort of nod. Territorial, this one — not unlike some other brooding vigilantes she knows. But when she offers her black-gloved hand, a crimson one takes and shakes it in respectful kind.

"Thanks," he says. "Safe trip across the Hudson."

Barbara flashes the Devil a surprisingly warm smile — particularly for being a Bat protege. "Good hunting."

She smoothly unholsters the compact grapple gun from its place at her back, and then steps up to the edge of the roof. Then she fires off the grapple, it launching across the street to the what remains of a ruined brownstone. She swoops off the angled roof of the church along the slender cord of batline. When she alights on the opposite brickwork, she bounces into the shadows of an alley. The line releases, and Batgirl drops out of sight with the softest rustle.

He can't see that smile, but he can hear enough of it in her voice. The warmth doesn't actually surprise him; he's already familiar with one atypical and unusually skittish protege of the Bat to know that they're a mixed lot. But it's not unwelcome, either — especially during what's been a brutal few months for Hell's Kitchen's ostensible protector.

She offers well wishes, and Daredevil nods slightly: silent repetition of those prior thanks. He listens to her fire off that grappling gun and swoop gracefully into the night.

"I've got to talk to Jane about one of those," he mutters under his breath when he's sure she's swung far enough out of earshot. He turns on his heels, running in the opposite direction — up up the side of the rooftop church and down its battered spine before he's diving off into his streets.

Good hunting, she'd said. There's no time like the present to start.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 License