Barbara, Meet Frank

August 22, 2018:

Barbara Gordon finds Frank Castle — not Batgirl and Punisher, just Babs and Frank.

Central Park Carousel

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions:

Plot:

Mood Music: None.


Fade In…

Dusk gathers in Central Park, the coming night a sweltering one. The lights of the park begin to turn on, casting brighter glows across the fading sunlight. While most of those watching the carousel are close against the railing, anxious, happy, or bored parents, Frank Castle is slumped in a bench a score of paces away, his hands shoved into the pockets of his unseasonable hoodie. There is a pistol in the pocket with one hand, but it is covered neatly by the balled fist. He scowls into the distance beyond the carousel, looking straight through it as his mind struggles through the weight of the past.

She hadn't meant to be back here. Barbara had thrown herself back into her work in Gotham, balancing each little compartment of her life with practiced ease. Then her adopted father announced that he was going to be going to New York City on some Tri-State Law Enforcement Coalition to help manage the uptick of organized crime in major cities. He asked if she wanted to tag along. He must have seen that flash of hesitation pass her expression, because within moments of offering, Jim Gordon was talking himself back from the offer, and Barbara surprised herself on how eagerly she chased after it. She'd come along, she had no real plans.

This wasn't about Frank Castle.

Or at least that's what she told herself as she took the twilight walk into Central Park, following signs pointing her to the carousel. She just wanted to see the crime scene — even if the police tape was long taken down, blood scrubbed, and bullet holes patched. Dressed in jeans and a light Gotham City University hoodie, she doesn't look the part of the fearsome Batgirl. Perhaps it's the lack of cowl and cape that gives her pause when she realizes the brooding figure on the bench is Frank. But, then curiosity overrides hesitation, and she's making her way toward him and the now-infamous attraction.

Not all the damage of the crime scene is gone… Frank Castle is present, a human wreck honed to a knife's edge. He has a badly bruised eye, a split lip, and he's sitting a little awkwardly, but with the bright lights of the park sharpening the soft shadows of dusk, most of that is not readily apparent to a casual observer. Of course, the person observing him is not a casual observer. He doesn't notice the approach of the redhead — there are plenty of people passing by, despite evening's fingers touching the park — until something in his subconscious picks up on the fact that the redhead isn't just passing by, she's actually approaching him. Turning his head a little painfully, he looks her over, then dismisses her for now, looking back to the whirling animals and the squealing children upon them.

What am I doing? This isn't walking away. Barbara adjusts the fall of her knapsack, tugging at the cloth strap until the weight of the bulbous bag rests more on her rump instead of her hip. She doesn't reverse this until she is sliding quietly onto the bench beside Castle. She ducks her head, a thick lock of that lovely red hair sweeps across her cheek before she unconsciously tucks it back. The bag opens, and she withdraws a thin, crinkly plastic water bottle from its inside's.

"Hi," she greets quietly, simultaneously offering out the water bottle.

And there she's sliding onto the bench beside him, and Frank looks up sharply, wincing just a little as he does. The shift on the bench brings his hand a little more readily to the small pistol in his pocket, but it also straightens him up a little. The offer of the water bottle and the quiet greeting throw him off his scowling stride, however, and his left hand comes across his body to take the bottle instinctively. He does not, however, drink from it or even open it. Instead, he looks to the bottle, then back up to the young woman suddenly sitting next to him. "What's this?" His already-gravelly voice rough with recent misuse.

"Dihydrogen monoxide," Barbara replies without missing a beat. She turns her blue eyes to him, and her expression warms with a gentle smile. "Water." She takes out her own bottle, the thin plastic crackling as she twists off the tiny cap. Looking back out at the carousel, the woman takes a sip from her bottle. It fills the space between her first words and the next to come. "You looked like maybe you could use it." Then she takes another sip before she recaps her bottle.

Frank blinks once at the first response, then grumbles, "Water," just as she explains. Tilting his bottle slightly, he looks at the seal, frowning despite the fact that it's still closed. After a moment, he too cracks the water bottle. Poison isn't really the style of any of the people he's pissed off. "Yeah, maybe." He takes a sip, looks at the bottle again, then looks up to the carousel. "There no other benches?" He's quite the charmer.

Barbara can't help but wonder if Bruce Wayne was this kind of charmer soon after his own tragedy. The moment the thought pops up into her mind, it's followed quickly by the more disapproving thought that Bruce would hate being compared to this… murderer. She looks away, rubbing her hands around the bottle. It's hard to miss the way her jaw works, chewing on the words that build on her tongue. When she looks back to him, her smile is softer. "Pretty sure there are. Seems like poor park design for there to be only one bench in the entire 840 acres." She's walking a delicate line. He could get up and walk at any second. So, she turns to him again. "But this is the one closest to the carousel."

To be fair to Frank, once he's done with his list, he won't have to do it again every time there's a jailbreak at Arkham. But yes, he's definitely a murderer. A mass murderer, by some definitions. The veteran Marine shifts his gaze back and forth between water bottle and carousel, but he catches the hesitation, and a small part of him twists inside. He doesn't have to ruin some woman's evening just because he's in a shitty mood. "Yeah, sorry." He shifts down the bench a little with a grimace of suppressed pain, giving the redhead a little more room. "You watching someone?"

The small break relaxes Barbara — a small change in her demeanor that might be perceived as letting go of anxiety that comes with interacting with a stranger. For the unmasked vigilante, it's that she has room to just be for a few moments. She offers him another light smile before she looks back at the carousel. "No. I mean, no one in particular. Just visiting, but this is one of the places on my list." Lies buried in truth. She drags a knee up to her chest, old sneakers catching the edge of the bench while she loops an arm around the limb; she takes a sip from her bottle again, keeping the cap loose on the mouth. "The first Central Park carousel was powered by a mule, back in 1924. Mule and a horse, I think, actually. They were kept in this underground compartment, and would start and stop with a tap of the operator's foot." She pauses, head tilting a bit to look back at the carousel.

Frank Castle is staring at the bright lights of the carousel when the redhead comes up with the factoid about the whirling animals. He blinks once, his frown for once more puzzled than angry. "A mule?" Snorting softly, he shakes his head to cover a wince, "Wonder how many times it didn't start when the operator tapped." Because mules — like Frank — are stubborn as all hell. "They look happy, don't they?" For a wonder, he's actually looking at the families, not through them. Despite the pleasant-enough words themselves, his brows darken again, his lips pressing tightly together.

Barbara has to smile at that, and her blue eyes tick back to him. "Mules are stubborn for good reason." She crinkles the bottle a bit in her hands, rubbing at the plastic. "But, when you're trained to do something, I don't think you think too much about whether or not the reasons are good ones." Then she loses her focus from the carousel and instead looks at the families. She takes note of the happiness that darkens Frank's mood, and she feels a deep pang in the center of her chest. She hides that flash of pain with another sip of water. "Yes, they look it. Hard not to be in this place, I guess."

Frank takes another sip of his gifted water, scowling over her words, and then he notes, "When all you've got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail." Grunting softly, he takes another sip, "When you've got a bunch of nails though, everybody wants a hammer." A low chuckle accompanies a twisted, smirking grin on his hard-edged face, although it fades rapidly there-after. "Everywhere's got someone who doesn't much like it." He's talking more than he's used to, and he takes another swig of the water she gave him.

"Sounds like all you need is some lumber." Something in how she says that sounds like she's quoting someone. She wiggles her foot back and forth slightly on the bench edge. She watches as the carousel slows, its colorful lights becoming a beacon in the settling dark. Barbara smiles almost ruefully at his observation, and she looks back to him. She takes in the bruises, the split lip. She starts to sit forward, dropping her sneaker back to the ground. "I like it. I mean, particularly now that it isn't powered by horse and mule. Sounds like a pretty awful place to be… trapped underground, commanded by a simple sound, walking around in circles all day."

Frank grunts in faint amusement at the quoted response, but his eyes settle on the slowing carousel again and go a little distant once again. He's silent for a long moment, hefting the half-empty bottle, and then he notes, "Most people like it. It's shiny, it's fun. The carousel, not walking in circles all day underground." Steeling himself almost visibly, he draws in a long, slow breath, then pushes himself up to his feet, "Something pretty coming from something ugly. Sometimes it goes like that. Thanks for the water."

Barbara closes both hands gingerly around the bottle. She tracks his movement as he stands, though she makes no move to stand with him. "Sometimes it does." The words are spoken softly, almost gently. She nods slightly at his thanks. "Take care of yourself." It would be such a casual statement from anyone else, but from the woman, there's an actual ask there. No. Really. Take care of yourself.

Taking another slug of his water, Frank lifts the bottle in a little sort of salute, "You too, ma'am." There's a pause as he works through a persistent lump in his throat, and then he adds, "Enjoy the carousel." And then he's gone, into the sparse crowds and the gathering dark. A couple of Kitchen Irish are supposed to be making a deal a couple of blocks west of the Park in an hour. He's got an offer they can't refuse.

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