Broken Things

August 10, 2018:

Barbara returns from New York City, and Bruce redirects her focus back to Gotham.


It's the Batcave.


NPCs: None.

Mentions: The Punisher

Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

It wasn't her intentions to be gone for almost a week, but by the time her black Yamaha zips its way into the garage at Wayne Manor, she's tallied a good six days away from Gotham.

For Barbara Gordon, it was an emergency business trip on behalf of the library. There was some meeting-of-the-minds that Barbara miraculously received an invitation to, very last minute. In fact, it was a bit puzzling to most everyone at the meeting that a Gotham librarian showed up to a NYC Libraries event. Oh, well… she at least was ready to contribute.

For Batgirl, it was all about tracking down Frank Castle, scraping together what little else she could find on the Punisher, and then handing it all over to Daredevil. She had to trust that the Devil of Hell's Kitchen could manage his own turf; she didn't need to expand her territory. She could let this go. Right?

Barbara walks her motorcycle into an empty spot, kills the engine, and engages the kickstand. She unfastens her helmet, pulling it free from her red-haired head with an absent-minded shake of her long braid. She looks lost in thought as she swings off the cycle, and begins the ceremonial undressing of her safety gear. Everything has a place when she's at Wayne Manor, stuffing her gloves into her helmet and shucking off her jacket and riding pants. These two things are placed on hooks. Then it's all about grabbing her gear bag so she can replace her Batgirl suit and equipment down in the cave. She's hardly taken in her surroundings — an uncharacteristic behavior for one of Bruce's proteges.

Quite a mishap, as far as Batman is concerned.

Bruce Wayne is seated in a cushioned chair in front of a wide array of monitors. There are various versions of analysis, video surveillance and other things Batman might wish to check in on in front of him. The unmasked man sits straight backed in this chair. It was not as if he was expecting Barbara's bike to arrive, however, seeing her approach on the cameras he certainly was not taken by surprise.

As Alfred is something of a legend, a tray with glasses of water and a pot of coffee is already sitting at Bruce's elbow. It's possible this was here only for him, but there are other cups there. He waits until she is almost entirely past the parking spots and close enough to him that she should have seen or felt his presence. Only then does his voice cut through the silence and echoes off the cave's walls:

"Something on your mind, Barbara?"

From someone else, it might be a question of pure curiosity. From Batman - even unmasked - it sounds like something of an admonishment. She did not see him sitting there.

Barbara's heart speeds up at his first syllable, and she spins around sharply toward Bruce with a dangerous whip of that braid of red hair. She holds her hand at the stitch in her chest, and she shakes her head as her body uncoils. Her other hand drops from the hidden place at the small of her back where she keeps some insurance in the form of a pocket razor. "Jesus, Bruce… must you do that?"

Then she advances toward him, glancing up the row of cars to the entrance into the manor and then back to Bruce. She spots the tray of waters and coffee, and her shoulders loosen that last degree while her smile turns rueful. She silently thanks Alfred as she grabs a cup, and starts to fill it with straight black coffee — just like her dad drinks it.

"But, since you asked…" She sets down the pot, and turns to rest against the desk that hosts Bruce's intricate monitor setup. She cradles both hands around the cup of steaming coffee, letting it warm her face a bit. Her mouth is set in a serious line, and her expression is thoughtful. "Once you're done avenging someone, what usually happens next?" Despite her attempt to sound generalist, there's a certain hint of unspoken context present. For Barbara, being a vigilante has never been about revenge, but… she's talking to someone who has something to avenge.

Bruce does not move from his chair as Barbara spins on him, eyes quickly taking in the hand on where he is quite sure she keeps a concealed weapon. That, at least, gets a look of satisfaction, if not approval.

"Do what?" Bruce's voice is wry, a single eyebrow quirked in something akin to amusement. "Sit in my own chair on my own property?" Barbara, after all, is the one sneaking into the Batcave guiltily.

Still, he does not shift when Barbara approaches to get a cup left for her by Alfred, nor does he but briefly turn his attention from the monitors to the red haired woman as her expressions shift from wary, to relaxed, to thoughtful. His own posture is never truly relaxed, however he doesn't have the same posture he has while in the Suit. By design Bruce is more approachable than Batman ever could be.

"I don't know, as I do not avenge people." There's a shift of his eyes to her when she uses that phrase. "What we do isn't in the search of vengeance or punishment. Our mission is to bring people to justice, to protect those the police cannot. What happens after we capture criminals is up to the law." She knows this. It doesn't take a detective of his caliber to wonder what exactly it is that she has been doing to ask such a question. Sneaking back into the Batcave with those sorts of questions certainly paints something of a picture.

"Who have you been helping avenge?"

The wry retort from Bruce Wayne has his protege looking a blend of amused and pensive; her lips are slightly pursed together despite the hint of a smirk, and her own brow is just slightly lofted. That's her only reply before she resumes a meditative ritual with her coffee cup. She's always enjoyed the simplicity of the dishes in Bruce's house. It's heavy and straight forward, and could easily brain someone with enough force. Through the thick ceramic, she warms her palms.

She would have been alright staying in a silence contemplation with Bruce there in his seat, but his response and joinder causes her shoulders to fall slightly. She taps a fingerpad against the ceramic before she meets Bruce's gaze. Despite her almost reproachful expression, there's a steadiness to her blue eyes that has really matured in the last year or so within the young woman. While the vibrance of the young, spunky college kid is still there, experience is starting to manifest as a steadfastness… and intelligent defiance.

"You've heard of those gang killings in New York City… a man singlehandedly seeing to the extinction of the Kitchen Irish, Mexican Cartel, and the Dogs of Hell." There's no real question there, just statement of facts. "His name is Frank Castle. He came to Gotham a week and a half ago, hunting down some Cartel boys who had fled Hell's Kitchen after the bombs. I was tracking him for VigiWatch, and then he came our way. I followed him back to New York."

Her mouth tightens. "He's a former Marine. Came home from Afghanistan three months ago. During a family outing to Central Park, his wife and two young children were gunned down in a three-sided shootout between those gangs. Castle was shot, too. Ended up comatose for several weeks. When he came to, he started these revenge killings." By Barbara's tone, there's no doubting that she's been putting some research efforts into this. She's almost reciting the perfectly remembered bulletpoints she's compiled on Castle.

While Wayne Manor has quite a bit of fine china that's used for expensive parties, Bruce himself is partial to the dinnerware that Barbara also enjoys. He feels more comfortable with solid things in his hands rather than something easily breakable. Bruce watches her for a moment as her shoulders fall and her expression turns reproachful. There's no shift in his body posture, nor does he prompt her other than that original question. For a few minutes, the glow of scrolling text going by on the screens plays over his face while he waits for her to answer him.

When she finally does start talking, his facial expression doesn't change. The text shifts from a bright white to another color, giving the cave more of a greenish tint than the bright white it was a moment ago.

"And do you believe there may be some justice in his actions?" The tone is even, measured, like a professor quizzing a student.

Something nags at Barbara — like a deep itch. She gave everything to Matt Murdock — a proverbial washing-of-her-hands of Castle and his revenge. But she kept a copy, and it occupies a file folder on her computer in the Belfry. CASTLE, F. - THE PUNISHER. She could have just dragged and dropped the whole thing into her trash bin. But, something nags at her.

"What we do… we seek justice. We trust that we can protect this city through stopping wrong, not just righting them. I can't… compare who Frank Castle is to what we are." She hasn't answered his question, she knows. There's a build-up of reasoning there, trying to separate who Frank Castle is from who she is, who Bruce is, and Dick, and Bette.

"I interviewed the nurse who tended to Castle. He received no visitors, except for a handful of suits. The nurse thought there were government agents." She gestures up to her ear. "Earpieces. They provided a DNR, all signed and neat. But when the doctors pulled the plug, Castle woke up and bolted, rambling about going home."

Barbara's expression remains pensive. "I think he went home, realized that his family was dead, and set out to complete his revenge. I don't know if he sees what he's doing as justice."

"You have told me that he has killed, that he believes his own sense of revenge should circumnavigate the law." There is no sense of irony in his tone when Bruce responds.

"And yet you asked me what will happen to a person who has finished a mission of revenge? In my experience, a man who believes his only recourse is murder and has killed all those he believes are deserving then finds more people to take revenge upon. He finds other causes and keeps killing." Finally Bruce gives a change in posture, he folds his hands on the desk, chair still turned toward the woman he has helped train.

"A man like that needs to be apprehended so he can receive help. The loss of his family is a tragedy, but that does not give him a license to kill."

Her blue eyes look up at Bruce's words, and by the tightening of her lips she had suspected that this was going to be his advice. She had to let go of all the things she saw in Frank's house — the dried up flowers, the dust-gathering dishes, the darkened rooms. But she couldn't stop the itch.

"Revenge is not the same thing as justice," she says quietly, almost as if she's reciting something she's heard before. Her fingertips rub against the ceramic of the mug in her hand, the coffee now forgotten.

"I gave everything I have on Castle to the Devil of Hell's Kitchen. I told him to call if he needed back-up."

The tightening of the lip, the rubbing of her fingers on the unfinished coffee cup: these are both things that Bruce observes in the offhanded way one may read a headline of a newspaper.
'Revenge is not the same thing as justice,' she tells him. The words are certainly familiar. He drilled that into anyone he taught. The continued change in his demeanor continues, if only slightly. His voice turns less professorial. Instead, it is merely a deep resonance as he watches Barbara think things through. "No, Barbara, it's not." His tone is not soft - there is not much about Bruce Wayne that is soft - but it is kinder.

The information that she gave the case files to the Devil of Hell's Kitchen is met with a quick nod. "That's a good call. I'm sure he'll look into it properly. Our main concern is Gotham."

The kinder, softer words seem to release that last bit of tension held in her shoulders. She looks down into the black coffee, waiting a heartbeat to stare into the shadow lines of her reflection in the dark liquid. Then she takes a sip, ripples disrupting her image.

He brings her out of New York City, out of that white house with the dead flowers, toys gathering dust, and the framed photos. She straightens up a bit. "Yes, it is." Both hands resume their loose grip around the mug. "Guess we should talk about that ghost hunter, or have you wrapped up that one without back-up?" Again. The unspoken word is accompanied by a light smile. She's burying Castle. For now.

Continuing to pull Barbara out of New York and keep her focus on Gotham, Bruce turns back to the monitors. There is no gesture, no grand sweep to bring her into his space. Instead, he simply starts talking. There is little shift, however, for now? He also puts New York to bed.

Now, with famous focus, he is on this other mystery in front of him and he attempts to put Barbara on that path with him. "No, not yet. She remains elusive. I had hoped you would run a deep search on whatever we can get on her. Also, anything you can find on mystical tattoos"

Confident that this is, at least, a big enough mystery to keep her focus in Gotham, he explains what it is they should be looking for and how she can help in the search.

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