A Man and His Dog Walk Into a Bar

September 18, 2018:

Frank Castle happens by Luke's bar. The two meet. There isn't bloodshed.

Luke's Bar

Shiny new grand re-opening! Without the fanfare.

Characters

NPCs: Max

Mentions: Owen Mercer, Harley Quinn (mentioned, not named), Jessica Jones (mentioned, not named)

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

It's been nearly ten months since the original bar burned to the ground, taking his livelihood and a part of his soul with him. Tonight, both are renewed.

The neon lights in the window finally flicker on. The door is unlocked. The internet jukebox is playing a blues song on low and the set of three televisions - a new addition - are tuned to a local sports event and put on mute, the announcers' words scroll in teletype along the bottom of the scene.

It should be a grand reopening, but after the chaos of recent events, Luke opted for a low key return to the scene. Opting to take the first night's shift alone, he figures it will be slow to start until the regulars get wind of the grand reopening, and being a weeknight the Bridge Bunnies shouldn't be venturing this far into Manhattan. He's behind the bar now, leaning against a bare slice of wall next to the liquor shelves with a little self-satisfied smile on his face as he waits for the first customers to roll in.

*

EARLIER:

"Come on, it's a tree, just piss on it." Max, Frank Castle's inherited mutt, looks up in the face of the grumpy command and just gives a little whine, tugging on his leash. Frank sighs heavily, powerless before the canine complaint, and then nods, "Fine. But it's gonna be a short walk, you mooch." Within half a block, Max is panting happily and wagging his tail hard enough that his walk is as twisty as a drunk man's stagger.

NOW:

The bar normally wouldn't call to Frank, not when he's close enough to the end of his list that he can practically taste it, but Max's panting has gone beyond 'having fun' to 'thirsty as heck.' He's built for power, not distance. So Frank gives a sigh, adjusts the black ball-cap he's taken to wearing to hide the nasty shiner circling his right eye (and the yellowing bruises layered beneath it and all across his face) and heads for the door of Luke's Bar. Pushing it open, he takes half a step in, "Hey." His dark eyes settle on the bartender, "What's the policy on dogs?" The rasped question isn't entirely necessary, because Max immediately pushes his head and shoulders through the partially-open door and gives a little 'whuff' of greeting.

*

Luke thumbs over his shoulder to a sign on the wall that says, 'No Goats. No Exceptions.' And then beneath is another one that says 'Talking Raccoons Welcome.'

"Guess it depends on the dog." Luke says with a wide, easy grin. It also depends on someone evoking health code violations, but the big man doesn't seem too concerned. "We'll just say it's your service animal. C'mon pup." He doesn't have a bowl handily available, but the pooch can slurp easily enough from a pitcher and so Luke starts filling it from the tap. "Something I can get you, man?" He asks the human on the end of that leash.

*

The first sign Frank reads elicits a snort and a grumpy, "Fuckin' hipsters." With approval granted, he lets Max lead the way into the bar more fully, only to have the second sign catch up to him. Shaking off the puzzled frown, Castle offers up a faint smile as the bigger man starts to fill up a pitcher for Max, "My seeing eye dog says thank you, sir." There's nothing subservient about the title, just being polite. There's the military training coming through. Coming across to the bar proper behind the very eager dog, Frank glances at the stock behind it, "Coffee if you've got it. Black. If not, a beer, whatever you've got on tap."

*

Luke sets the pitcher on the bar and makes a very manly set of kissy noises for the pooch, encouraging the dog to hop up onto the stool if he will or Frank'll have to take it and set it down on the floor on the other side. "Coffee, huh? That kinda night?" Luke asks conversationally as he goes to the pot on the back bar. They just opened, so it's guaranteed to be fresh. Just a standard glass carafe instead of one of those fancy cappuccino makers or single cup brewers.

It takes twice as long to do simple tasks, his left arm in a cast, but Luke manages not to spill anything as he sets a plain white diner mug down in front of Frank. He finally catches sight of the man's face underneath the brim of his baseball hat, and the injuries collected there. "Shit, man. You look how I feel." He lifts his broken wing with a smirk.

*

Max scrabbles and scratches for a moment, but manages to climb up onto the stool, to the evident surprise of his human. Frank grunts in surprise, then shrugs and sits down next to the mutt, tucking the leash under him. "Always that kind of night. Just a coffee guy." Collecting the mug and cradling it in both hands, he takes a sip, considers the flavor, then nods, "Homebrewed always better than in a paper cup." The commiseration draws a slow shrug, "I was gonna ask if you wanted a hand," a crooked, dry grin touches his bruised features, "but I figured I didn't need to be that much of an asshole." There's a moment of silence, and then Frank almost grudgingly indulges in the niceties of civilization, "Fall? Or you take out too many loans to open this place up?" The last question goes all dry again, the veteran doing his best to suggest that he's not actually asking if that's the case.

*

"Just don't ask me to clap." Luke replies in that deep amused rumble of his, that vibrates the entire barrel of his chest with the threat of laughter. "I just got on the wrong side of some divine karma is all." Which is kind of true, considering the godly aspect of his injury.

A delivery man comes in through the front door, drawing Luke to the end of the bar to sign for a package marked 'Perishable Items. Refrigerate Upon Delivery.'

It's odd to get a delivery this late in the afternoon, but seeming how it's perishable, Luke accepts it and finagles it down near Frank, setting it on the bar and flicking open his pocket knife. Apparently Owen ordered something fancy that requires special treatment and so the tape is sliced neatly and the flaps of the box are unfolded so the perishable items can be tended to.

With a confused twist to his brow, Cage fishes past the protective first layer of brown paper to pull out … a double ended purple dildo which would rival any Equine in both size and realistic detail. It wobbles obscenely in his ham fist and stares at him with one unblinking eye. "OWEN!" Gets bellowed at the ceiling, as if the man in question can hear him the several floors up should he be at home in his apartment.

It's followed with a sudden bark of laughter of levity as he sets it aside, curiosity driving him deeper into the box until a male celibacy device, a questionable strand of beads and something that vibrates and looks like the mouth of a Sarlacc is unpacked on the bar's top.

Suddenly he decides he knows WAY TOO MUCH about his bartender's sex life, and he quickly shoves everything back into the box and snaps a picture of the contents.

And, just in case: the box gets shoved into the cooler.

Luke snags out his phone and shoots Owen a text that reads: Got a delivery addressed to you. Keep your kink out of my bar, I don't have enough hand sanitizer for this. Attachment: image001.jpg

His phone pings shortly there after with a return text. "Sorry about that." He tells Frank. "Apparently my employee is in a prank war with his Ex. I think she's winning."

*

Max puts his paws up on the bar, lapping noisily and messily at the pitcher of water, his tail wagging hard enough to cause the stool to totter a little. Frank looks over to the dog and shakes his head, chuckling just a little before he puts one big combat boot on the rung of the stool to keep it steady before nodding at Luke, "Everybody gets what they deserve, I guess. Sometimes it sucks."

Frank tenses just a little as the delivery guy enters, because it's definitely not a usual delivery time, but he relaxes again almost immediately. He's evidently curious enough to peek inside the box just as he's taking a sip of the coffee… and promptly spit-takes. It takes a lot to make Frank Castle waste coffee, but that will do it.

Setting the cup down and wiping his mouth on the back of his hand, he eyes Luke, "I'm afraid to ask what kinda bar this is now." That's just the double-ended dildo too. The Geigerian horror causes him to lean back slightly, "Yeah… I really don't wanna know what the hell that is." Beat pause, "And yeah. I think that prank war's over."

*

Luke gives an exaggerated shudder, "It's at least over as far as my bar is concerned. If Owen knows what's good for him." There are some things it's going to take a very long time to scrub from his memory. Absent minded, Cage picks up a bar rag in his good hand and starts mopping up around the pups water splatter and a bit of coffee spray that made it that far. "So when'd you serve?" It's easy to spot that Frank was in the military by bearing alone, but it also falls into the takes one to know one category. The question is just posed light, conversationally.

*

Frank nods companionably at Luke pronouncement. Thankfully, there are enough 'Owen's in New York that Castle hasn't made that particular connection yet. Max leans forward as Luke starts to wipe up the bar, adding some slobber to the bartender's hand too if he's not inclined to dodge doggy-kisses.

As the coffee is wiped up as well, Frank has the good grace to note, "Sorry. Not every day that…" one hand gestures toward the box, and then he tenses in response to the question, however lightly it was posed. Taking in a slow breath that does absolutely nothing for the tension, he notes, "Got out a couple months ago." Right when his whole family was killed in front of him. "You?"

*

Luke flips the towel over his shoulder so he can give the dog a good friendly scratch in return for the friendly kisses. "No worries, not like you broke anything." There is the light implication that there would be a capital 'P' problem if that were the case. There's a slight tilt to the bartender's head as he notes the tensing in Frank's shoulders at the question. It's not that he's trained to notice these things, but enough years on this side of the bar has been ample experience in reading people.

"Seems like a whole other life time ago." Luke answers with a twist to his own lips that is slightly sardonic. "Sorright man, it takes some time to adjust back to civvie life. Top you off?" He asks of the coffee cup.

*

"Yeah, please." The cup is pushed forward a little to make it easier for Luke to attend to, and then Frank frowns thoughtfully, "That's a good cup of coffee." That might be a little apology for his own for the tension, for all that it's still there. "No, just… return didn't go well." That's a complex statement, with anger, grief, and tension. A whole lot of all three, in fact. Max looks over to Frank and whines just a little, then goes back to lapping at the pitcher. Taking another deep breath, Frank rolls his shoulders, silently telling himself that he's almost there, almost there. "Pity the guy who breaks this place in?"

*

"Thanks, man. I only serve Cafe Bustelo." In the prototypical yellow can of Cuban-style coffee with the red band that touts: Always pure and flavorful, like no other. "Roasted right here in Harlem." Luke heats up Frank's coffee by topping it off, "Not that I'm really known for my coffee." After all, there is no 'World's Best' sign in his window like half the places around NYC.

"Sorry to hear that." Luke says of Frank's return, actual sympathy in the words rather than leaving them empty. "Let's just say even with one hand tied behind my back, they'll leave here looking worse off than you do right now. Luke Cage." The last must be an introduction as he juts his big paw across the bar at Frank.

*

"Bustelo? I'll have to look it up." There's not a ton of enthusiasm behind Frank's words, and he nods in thanks for the sympathetic words. At the introduction, the former Marine actually hesitates for a moment, then takes the larger hand — although his would likely dwarf 2/3 of the hands in New York, just not this one. "Frank." It seems shabby, just using his first name, but with that article out on the Internet… but he's with another vet. The consideration is clear on his battered face as Max looks up from his pitcher, whining a little at Frank. "Castle."

*

Thankfully the name Frank Castle doesn't hold a stigma with Luke, as he's not really up on the local news thanks to his own efforts to keep himself and his friends alive lately. That, and he doesn't like seeing mention of his own name crop up from time to time. "Castle." Luke repeats, more out of committing it to memory than it sparking any recognition. In true military fashion, he focuses more on the last name rather than the first. The shake is brief but firm, the power within restrained so it's just a normal, strong grip. "And does your little buddy here have a name too, or do you just call him Dog?"

*

Despite the care, there's a tenderness to Frank's grip, a suppressed wince from the layers of bruises mottling his skin. Frank looks mildly offended at the suggestion that he wouldn't name the dog, pointing over to the mutt's collar, "He's Max." Beat pause, "He's adopted. Recently." This time, the pause is thoughtful, "Luke Cage. Luke's. This is your place." He looks around again, nodding slightly, "Besides the sex toys, it's a nice place. Quiet though."

*

Noticing the wince, Luke holds up his hand palm first towards Frank in silent apology, "Max. Good name for a dog. My girl'd love him. I'd consider getting her a pet, but between the two of us, I'm not even sure we could keep a house plant alive." There's a chuff of laughter that becomes more hardy at the mention of the sex toys again, but he glosses over that by saying, "Yeah, she burned down at the beginning of the year. So. Welcome to my grand re-opening. Now with 100 percent less fire, guaranteed. It'll take some time to build the client base back up." He eases into his normal lean against the back bar, resting his casted arm over the cross of his uninjured one. "Big service guy like you, must've been rolled by a whole gang to look that rough. That happen in Harlem?"

*

"I don't know… food, water, and a place to piss, a dog pretty much takes care of itself." At least, Max does, thank goodness. Frank lifts up his coffee cup in a salute at the welcome, but the terminology intrigues him, "After Hell's Kitchen, that's a hell of a promise." The commentary on his bruises drops Frank's eyes down, and he shrugs slightly before looking up again, "Nah. Not here." He hesitates again, then shrugs once more, "Couple of problems. They're settled though."

*

"This time I have insurance." To most that would be through an Agent and a company with a catchy jingle, but in this case, it has to do with a little Lithuanian spirit that lives in his furnace, but those sort of details are left out of casual conversation. Cage's head tips back slightly so he can look at Frank with partially narrowed eyes as he assures it wasn't done in Harlem. "Good, cuz I like to know when shit's about to go down in my own backyard. You need a brother to get your back, you let me know." The friendly term eludes to their common military background instead of the color of Luke's skin.

*

Insurance means a shotgun under the bar to Frank, or the money that got taken out of his paycheck every month, so he nods simply and sets it aside. He takes the offer in the spirit it was intended, along with the suspicious look. He's getting used to those. "I think I've got it under control." The smile that follows is somehow both wry and sorrowful, "Besides, I doubt your girl'd like it if I dragged you into something while your arm's fucked up."

*

Luke flexes is fingers past the cuff of 3D printed material and plaster, the latter of which is criss crossed with signatures and pictures, one of which spells out 'Sweet Christmas'. "Eh, give it another week and I'll be right as rain." But he literally shrugs off the notion that he's debilitated in any way. "Bet it's going to ache like a bitch every winter though. Haven't broken a bone since I was a kid." He fishes underneath the bar with his right hand, pulling up a bottle of aspirin and thunking it on the bar next to Frank's coffee for the other man's own aches and pains. "That why you got this vicious attack dog?" He says with an amused tilt his his lips again and a mental note to stock dog treats from now on.

*

Frank Castle says, “The worst ones do," Frank agrees about aching in the winter. The appearance of the aspirin causes a little grunt of amusement from the veteran Marine, and he nods, reaching out for it to pop it open and pour a few into his other palm — definitely more than the recommended dose. Putting the bottle down, he pops the pills and downs them with a sip of coffee. He then reaches over to scruffle Max's ears, the mutt actually looking like it could be fierce, if it could be bothered. "Didn't want to leave him alone. People say he's good for me. I think I'm better for him."”

*

"The good ones are." Luke parrots back Frank's words, twisting them so they apply to the dog now instead of broken bones and aches. He scoops up the bottle and lid in the wide expanse of his palm, transferring the top to his left hand. It's not good for much, but it can at least hold it steady while he screws the pieces back together and stows the bottle for the next patron who has more pain than can just be chased away with a bottle. "You find him at a shelter or on the streets?" It's an easy conversation. A light conversation. Oh, how Luke has missed this casual banter.

*

It was an easy conversation, a light conversation, but that's a question that could be troublesome, so Frank tries to keep things a little vague. There's a slight upward curve to his lips, the faintest hint of a smirk, and he shakes his head, "Back room of a bar." It's not that he's ashamed of anything he's done in the slightest, it's just easier if big ex-service-members with 'bar insurance' don't know the details. "Abandoned by his owners." Because they were all dead. "Pretty sure he was a fighter who didn't win. Maybe a guard dog."

*

"Well, we'll just chalk it up that it's good you found each other." Luke leans forward to give the dog a petting again, scratching his scruff and behind his ears. "You're just a big ole softie who's too strong for his own good, aren't ya boy?" Clearly, Luke relates to Max on some level, judging by the fondness in the Man Mountain's eyes. "You and Max are welcome here any time. Coffee's on the house." Which is really no way to run a business, but it's his business, so.

*

Max luxuriates in the attention, giving another little 'whuff' of pleasure and once more trying to topple the stool with his tail-wagging. The mutt ducks his head into the super-tough hand, then starts applying doggy-kisses liberally. Frank looks from dog to bar-owner, then gives Max's stool just a little nudge with the toe of his boot, "Get a room, Max." And just like that, it's a light, easy conversation again. The wonders of a happy dog and a bartender willing to 'chalk it up.' Castle nods his thanks for the invitation and the comping of his coffee, "Thanks, Cage." Despite the comping, he digs into his pocket, pulling out a ten and tucking it into the nearest tip jar. "I should get this little asshole home before he decides to move in." Frank rises from his stool, gathering up the leash, and Max gives Luke's hand another couple of licks, and then hops down from the stool.

*

"Oh, hey. Thanks man." Luke says of the tenner dropped into his tip jar. Uncouthly, he goes fishing for it right away where normally it'd remain there until the end of the shift to entice others like it in joining its monetary brethren. Luke, however, has something in mind for this particular ten dollar bill.

It gets taken over to the naked cork board behind the bar and gets stabbed through with a blue pin, marking it as the first spent in this establishment and thus gaining a spot of honor. "Take care of each other!" He calls out over his shoulder to the departing man and his dog, still admiring the newest addition to the bar with unmasked pride.

*

More than likely, someone will be by to collect that evidence later, considering that the bill came from the Mexican Cartel by way of the Punisher. Frank, however, just glances over his shoulder, lofts his eyebrows at the impalement of the ten-spot, then chuckles dryly and nods, "Watch your six. And maybe think 'bout advertising." Since the place is still empty. Squaring off his ball cap again, he gives Max a little tug to keep the dog moving toward the door, "Good luck." And then he's pushing his way out the door to head back home.

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