The Night We Met

September 04, 2018:

Babs buys Frank a coffee, and their partnership cements a bit more.

A Starbucks

A 24-hour Starbucks in all its coffee shop glory.


NPCs: None.

Mentions: The Red Hood


Mood Music: The Night We Met (Lord Huron)

Fade In…

This time, Barbara took the train to New York City. It was actually a lovely ride, nestled up in the second story passenger car, watching the world fly by her as her mind picked away at other things, other worries. Zane's coverage on the Punisher is a hit, and he's already told her about his special guest he is planning on having on this evening. He won't tell her who it is, but she promised she'd listen in. After her "unfortunate camping accident" — one of the many cover stories the Bats have in their list — the library agreed to give her a few days off. It was Labor Day weekend, anyway. She could enjoy the government holiday plus a couple bonus days. Telling her dad she was going to go visit Bette, she packed a small bag and headed to the train station. She left Frank a text message when the train left Gotham on the north bridge. She wrote and rewrote the message several times before she committed to it: "Corner of 43rd and 7th. Be there at 10:30PM. —B.G." She didn't ask if he wanted to meet her, or even invited him to meet her. She'd be at the corner of 43rd and 7th.

Believe it or not, finding a 24-hour Starbucks in Manhattan was more difficult than expected. She found one though, and leans against brick facade of the building while she waits for Frank. She's dressed for the hot summer night — a loose t-shirt, flattering jeans, and motocross boots. Her left arm is pinned across her chest, and her shoulder heavily bandaged. She wears her hair loose, letting the red flood the pistol-whip bruise at her cheek and temple. Someone wolf-whistles at her as they go past, offering some comment that she pretends to be deaf to. Even one-armed, she knows she can handle herself.

There's a bit of dumb luck involved that Frank even got the message before 10:30, since he's keeping the burner phone tucked away under the eaves of a building several blocks from where he's currently lying low — no sense giving the Gotham crimefighter an easy way to find his flop if he doesn't have to. It's nearly 10 when he digs the phone out of its hiding place, wincing a little as he stretches for it, and then turns it on and checks the messages. He's not expecting anything, so to have a summons waiting for him sets him back a moment. His raccoon eyes have faded somewhat, but there's still some shading around his eyes, and a little pain as he scowls in thought. Eventually, he turns the phone off and checks his watch — still time to get there.

He actually gets to the area a few minutes early, but doesn't go straight to the appointed corner. Instead, he finds a bus stop a block and a half down and across the street, leaning against the inside of the shelter to spot the redhead and then to look for anyone else hanging around the area. The streets are busy enough that it's not easy, especially when he's looking up at overlooking windows too. Eventually, he decides to just go for it, and so seven minutes late, he strides across the crosswalk, his hands shoved into the pockets of the unseasonable hoodie, his head down and hood up. He nods upwards a little as he approaches Barbara, pitching his gravelly voice low, "Ma'am."

The fact that he's arrived early ensures that she's doesn't have to use her ten-minutes-or-bust rule. She spots Frank within moments of him crossing the street, her senses not failing her. She watches him, watches his body move — his shoulders closed in, his eyes down, his steps purposeful. There's something that warns against interrupting this guy, which does Castle all kinds of favors. For Babs, all she can do is watch him until he's close to her. The upnod is awarded with her own, and she offers a half-smile when he calls her 'Ma'am.' Not some teenage detective now, is she?

"Hi." She pushes off the wall, stepping forward awkwardly with her arm bound. She tucks a bit of hair behind her ear as she glances down the street, and then back to Frank. "Get you a coffee?" She nods inside. The Starbucks has some night owls already inside, and the lights are dim to give a kind of 'caffeine after dark' feel.

It's not Frank's fault, you spend that long in the military, you call civilian women 'ma'am.' Unless you're trying to make them piss off, of course. He considers the offer, then shrugs, "Yeah, sure." And he actually holds the door for her — and the woman coming out after her. There's no heavy weight in the pockets of his hoodie, but that doesn't mean that he's unarmed, given the looseness of the hoodie around his waist. He catches up with her quickly enough and shoves his hands back in the pockets of the sweatshirt, finally nodding to the bound arm, "I don't remember that when I saw you last." There's a hint of a scowl gathering between his brows as he notes, "You get mugged?"

The gesture of chivalry throws Barbara off for a heartbeat, and she actually hesitates before she realizes someone is waiting to leave. She hustles inside, tucking her hair behind her ear again — even if it was already tucked. It's a nervous gesture, and she has to talk herself out of doing it again. When he looks to her arm, she glances down at it briefly; forelocks slip past her ear, fanning out across her bruised temple. Her lips twitch with a smile. "Bad fall during a camping trip. I'm very clumsy." Her tone is dry, suggesting that even she knows that's a bald-faced lie. She steps up to the counter, smiling brightly to the barista — a bouncy girl who is probably an hour from her shift being over. "Hi. A venti black coffee and a venti chai latte. Could I also get a pink frosted cookie?" She reaches into her front pocket, tugging out her phone and tapping it against the reader.

"Guess so." He glances sidelong to the redhead, considering, "Dislocation, bullet, or knife?" That gets a shocked look from the person behind them in line, who immediately tries to listen in without being obvious. Frank rolls his eyes a little at the guy, then looks up to the rows and rows of options on the board behind the barista, "What in the hell ever happened to just… 'a coffee?'" Shaking his head, he looks back over to Barbara, "Is all that for you, or am I drinking whatever you order for me?" There's a bit of sarcastic amusement in the last question, although he doesn't protest further than that.

"You going to try to tell me that you're not a black coffee kind of guy?" Then she casts a dubious look to the kid behind Frank before she pivots, tugging on Frank's sleeve so he follows her toward the tables. Frank's coffee and Babs's cookie are already waiting for them on the bar, and so she grabs up the large cup and hands it to Frank. "Surprise me and tell me you take it with sugar and cream." She rests her good side against the bar, waiting for the barista to get her chai. She knows she hasn't answered Frank's question yet. He'll get his answer soon enough though.

Frank reaches for the cup, but Babs gets there before him, "You ever meet a service member who didn't drink coffee?" He takes the big cup, shifting it from one hand to the other and just not bothering to reach for one of the little cardboard sleeves. Maybe he doesn't know about them. "Just black." He takes a sip from the cup, grimacing a little at the heat and the familiar bitter taste. He keeps silent after that, waiting in apparently companionable silence despite the fact that he keeps his head a little down and glances about the coffee shop whenever someone enters or leaves. One that that Frank Castle is is patient… until he isn't.

"One, but he was part of the Royal Navy." Her voice is warm. An eavesdropper would not think twice about this little late night coffee date. When the barista sets down her chai, Barbara tucks her cookie into her back pocket with a crinkle of the cellophane. She collects her own drink, sliding a cardboard sleeve over the white and green cup. She steps down the length of tables toward a little, almost intimate booth near the faux fireplace. She sets down her cup, tugs out her cookie, and then slides onto the bench. Only when settled does she look back up to him, blue eyes serious. "Knife." She pops off the lid of her spiced black tea and milk. She leans over it, closing her eyes to inhale the warm vapor. Then she takes a sip. "A knife with my literal name on it."

Frank doesn't do 'cover story' as well as Babs does, his shoulders hunched as he follows her to the booth. He slides in opposite, taking another sip of his coffee and then gathering it in his left hand, turning slightly in the booth so that he can watch the room. He considers her response, tilting his head to one side a moment, then noting, "You get all the crazies in Gotham, don't you?" Says the crazy. At least there's a little self-aware, self-deprecating curl to one corner of his mouth. "You got something for me, ma'am? Or you looking for help with the knife-guy?"

"It — " Barbara looks up at him. She finds herself on the verge to tell him everything — about the Red Hood, about Bruce Wayne. She draws herself up a bit, and then shakes her head. "Just a stalker problem. I can handle it." The slight curl to his lips is met with her own, though the warmth has bled out of her. "You don't need to call me that. Barbara is okay, or even Babs." Or 'Red'. She shifts slightly in her seat before she takes another sip of tea. "Your story is out there." She says this quieter, tapping her fingers gently around the paper cup. "Got picked up by a journalist." She looks up at him, gauging his reaction to this carefully.

Frank studies Barbara as she considers, draws herself up, and then shakes her head, nodding slightly, "Okay. And you'd probably take it as an insult if I offered you a pistol." He keeps working on the coffee, drinking steadily along… until she mentions his story. Then he straightens up sharply himself, his feet shifting under the booth and his right hand dropping off the table — although he doesn't grasp whatever weapon or weapons he has under the hoodie. "How…?" The veteran Marine considers a moment, then shakes his head, "It doesn't matter. Makes it harder to move around, but… it doesn't matter." His dark eyes settle on her paler gaze, and then he gravels, "It's not going to stop me." There's a bit of challenge in his voice, a vague accusation that she arranged the leak.

Barbara stalls at that, blinking at him. "Would be more puzzling than insulting as I don't know how to use a pistol." This coming from a cop's kid probably says more about Jim Gordon than it does about Barbara Gordon. She takes another sip of her tea, but it's more or less to fill the space between his reaction and her response. "He didn't release your photo, and it hasn't been picked up by the other media outlets — probably because he called out the media outlets on not covering your story earlier." She meets his gaze, but something about the steadiness triggers her shyness as she looks back into her cup. "I was supposed to be covering your story for VigiWatch… it's a vigilante-based podcast. I gave my files to Zane, who ran the story. He doesn't mean any harm." She looks back up at him after a heartbeat. "I didn't do it to stop you, Frank. It will help you."

That stalls Frank in turn, and he frowns in thought for a moment before he nods, "That explains a lot." About why Jim Gordon doesn't know about Barbara Gordon's night job. His frown gathers like a distant thunderstorm, but there is no crackle of anger, just the dull rumble of disquiet. "Vigilante-based podcast?" Shaking his head with a touch of wonder, he grunts amusement. "What will they think of next?" And then he connects a few more puzzle pieces, "So you…" swing around Gotham dressed up like a bat, "and…" work for a vigilante-based podcast. "Kind of handy. Point people away from things you want hidden." His amusement is gone again, replaced by that intense, steady gaze once more, "How do you figure it'll help?"

Barbara's brows arch high at the first comment. That explains a lot. What does it explain? She lets that slide though, tucking it away for a topic for later. When he rumbles onward, she shrugs her shoulders — only to wince at the pull at the double-sided knife wound. She settles back into her seat a bit more. "The… vigilante-journalist thing happened first." Then she sets down her cup, reaching for the pink cookie. She begins to tug at the wrapper, opening it to reveal the delicious baked good with a thick pink frosting that Babs seriously believes is laced with crack — it's the only thing she can think of to why it tastes so damn good. It gives her something to occupy her hands. "Some people will support you, the cops are going to be less-likely to kill you outright, and it may make the person who brought the three gangs together make a move that we can track."

"I always figured that the fact I don't kill cops was going to make them less-likely to kill me outright." Wry sarcasm twists Frank's voice, but he nods, "Flushing the connection could work." There's a moment's pause, "No picture? That you, or did you guys just not get anything from a security cam? I know that I can't miss them, I'm surprised that your guy didn't use some picture as a header." Clearly, he doesn't know how a podcast works, not exactly. "They don't understand what I'm doing, do they? The people who you think will like it."

"That helps," Barbara replies with that same dry tone. "But only a little bit. This helps more." Then she breaks off a bite of the cookie, and — without thinking about it — offers some to Frank. Maybe he has a sweet tooth. She chews on her own bite. The question that comes lifts her brows slightly. "No, that was me. I didn't give him everything. I kept some information to myself." She continues to chew through the cookie, though she stops when she comes back to his comment about the header. "Well, he did… for his page on the website. But he used your skull's x-ray instead." Her smile is ghost-lit. "Zane has a flair for the dramatics sometimes. But he's a good guy." The appeal is there, unspoken. He won't get in your way. Then she starts to shake her head. "No… not many people do, Frank." Her voice is softer now. She looks up at him with those steadier blues. "It's an attempt to empathize when someone claims they do understand." She tucks a bit of hair behind her ear. "Truth is, we can't wear someone else's pain."

Frank looks down at the offered cookie, considering for a moment, then shakes his head, hefting his coffee for a moment to indicate it, then taking another slug of the bitter brew. The mention of his x-ray draws his frown deeper, and then he raises one hand, touching the faint crater left by the bullet's impact. "I should take a look at the page, see how much is wrong." Finally, he looks down and away, studying the top of his coffee, "He doesn't get in the way, he's stays off the list." It's part promise of protection, and part warning. "And yeah." He's silent for a long moment, and then looks up again, "So you think it's more likely the cockroaches scatter from a boogieman, or… whatever your guy has?"

Now Barbara looks just a hint perturbed. "I did most of that research, and I'm telling you now that it isn't wrong." Her eyes follow his touch to the scar, but it's a passing glance before she's breaking off another bite of cookie. The part protection, part threat is all Babs really needs. She settles into the silence that he provides, and it is a strangely companionable silence. When he looks up again, she's sipping at her tea. It gives her a moment to think through her answer. "The boogieman is always scarier." Her mouth thins a bit with a frown. "Who do you want to be in this story? The boogieman… or you."

Frank smirks a little at her surety, but doesn't contest her claim. The answer to his question draws a little nod, "That good then. Maybe they don't run so hard when they learn it's just a vet." There's anger rippling under the words, but her frowning question forestalls the gathering storm. He blinks sharply, then frowns, "I don't want there to be a story. Too much story, and there'll be copycats just because someone pissed them off. I don't want that. I just want to finish what needs doing, Red, and be done." There's a weariness to the last part of that statement, but it's the hard weariness of a truck that's lasted two hundred thousand miles and is still kicking hard.

Barbara offers a quiet, short chuckle to that. "Maybe." The redhead shifts slightly in her seat, rocking a bit to adjust her aching frame. She looks up at him through a cut of red hair, and she uses her good hand to brush away the forelocks from her bruised brow. "I know," she says softly. There's something there, just beneath the surface of those two little words. "I've got an ear on those still left… if I get something, I'll let you know."

Frank's brows lift slightly at the soft pair of words, and then sink down into a thoughtful scowl. Her offer, however, causes him to grunt in surprise, and he takes a slow sip of the coffee to buy himself a little time. "Thanks, Red." There's a moment's hesitation, and then he starts to slide out of the booth as well, lifting up the now-rapidly-emptying cup, "For the coffee too."

At his thanks, Barbara looks up — to see him begin to leave. Her lips part with words that are quickly swallowed back. She offers a quick nod instead. "Any time."

"Just remember not to let those tents get you next time." And then Frank's bunching up his shoulders again, heading for the door.

Tents? Oh… "camping." "Not something I'll easily forget," she says to his back. Barbara watches as Frank leaves. Only once he's out the door does she sink back into her bench, looking down at the remains of her cookie, and tea, and the tight cross of her left arm along her torso. She breathes out a slow exhale, speaking more or less to herself. "Alright, Babs… what's next?"

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