September 16, 2018:

Babs lets Frank know about her "contact" into Blacksmith.

Riverside Park, NYC

It's a park along the Hudson.


NPCs: Max

Mentions: Owen Mercer

Mood Music: None.

Fade In…

Unlike other attractions along Hudson Bay, Riverside Park is opened twenty-four hours a day. It's a stretch of green alongside the water with a wider block of pavement separating the grass from the railings that overlook the murky waters. It is just about sunset that Barbara asked to meet up with Frank, promising coffee and, quoted, "no bat ears or concussion grenades." While it is impossible to read self-deprecation in text, it's there in when Babs typed it out before sending it to the burner she passed off to Castle.

She sits on a bench looking out at the bay as it glows with the last orange and purple light of sunset. As promised, there's a two steaming cups of coffee beside her in a carrying tray, and the Bat is dressed solely in jeans, a loose sweater, and her motocross boots. Her cycling backpack is leaning against her side, helmet in her lap. Music leaks out of the helmet through the imbedded speakers, and it sounds of 80s hair metal.

Frank is looking rough, and he aches from head to toe, but his dog has to piss, and he's only ended up with bruises once after speaking with Barbara. He wears a black baseball cap pulled low over his eyes, a gray hoodie worn under a simple black jacket. At least his outfits are more weather appropriate since the season has begun to turn. His brows furrow as he approaches the bench, "Really, Red? Don't you know that stuff gives you hair cancer?" One hand is tucked into his pocket, but the other hand has the end of a leash wrapped around it, leading down to a short-haired brown mutt looking up at the Bat with his head cocked and his tongue lolling out.

When he says her name, Barbara breaks her gaze from the skies and turns toward Frank. Her jawline is speckled in her own bruises, and there's a little nick under her right eye where a heavy trashcan lid was chucked at her a couple nights ago. Her lips start to curve in a smile. "Nice to see you, too — " She arches her brows at him, but then her eyes drop to follow the leash down to… "Frank. You have a dog." She slips off the bench, setting the musical helmet on the seat she just vacated. She holds out her knuckles to the dog, kneeling on the cold pavement with a gentle smile on her lips. "Hi there," she says to the dog, and Frank is definitely now second on her list.

"Yeah." Frank looks down to the dog, leaning over to scruffle its ears and then straightening up again. Max, on the other hand, pants at Barbara's, then leans in to give her knuckles a lick. And then another dozen or so. Looking down at the interaction, Frank gives the leash a little tug, "Easy there, Casanova." Looking to the pair of coffees, he grunts slightly and crosses behind the dog to pick up the carrying tray, sniffing one, then the other, and picking up the plain black drip. He sips while he watches Max flirt with the Bat.

"Your name isn't Casanova, is it?" Barbara doesn't talk in a babying tone, but instead uses a light and gentle timbre that is calm and at-ease. She gathers up Max by his big, boxy cheeks and smiles down at him with the kind of affection of a woman who has always been at home with animals. She ruffles up Max's ears with her fingers, rubbing at his cheeks and jawline in big, rolling movements. Then she looks up at Frank. "He's cute."

Max gives a little 'whoof' that could be agreement, denial, or a proposal of doggie marriage. Frank takes another sip of his coffee, then shakes his head, "Nope. He's tough." Relenting a little, he responds, "Max. I didn't name him." There's a pause, and Frank's smile goes very, very dry indeed, "You could say he's a stray." Max is enjoying the face massage, giving another wuffle of pleasure, his tail wagging wildly.

"Hi Max," Barbara says with genuine warmth for the dog. She smushes up his face before she gives him a kiss to his wet, black nose. Then she starts to stand, drawing in close against Max so he can lean bodily into her leg while she continues to massage his head. If there was any doubt that Barbara would have a soft spot for animals, this moment dashes it. She might just take Max home with her at this point… if she didn't think that Max was better for Frank than he would be for her. The mention of him being a stray ticks her gaze up to his. The fact that the dog probably belonged to one of the gangers Frank has been hunting and Frank didn't just leave the animal seems to soften Babs. Then she looks him over from head to toe, and the way he holds his body is enough to tell her that he's hurting. "How many? How many are left?"

Max either doesn't read his presumptive owner's moods well, or he just doesn't give a rat's ass, because he leans against Babs' leg and thwaps it with his tail. Frank shifts his stance a little, grimacing as he does and looking down at the ground in front of his boots as he considers the question. "Eleven." There's another pause, and then he changes his answer to, "Twelve." He nods uptown toward Hell's Kitchen, and notes, "There was a late addition to the list." Looking down to Max, Frank adds, "Come on, drool-bag. Do your business." Taking another sip of coffee, Frank gravels, "You had something, Red?"

"He must like you," Barbara says down to Max. Then she steps forward, reaching out for her own coffee — which is actually a chai tea. Frank would have hated to accidentally drink that Teen Vogue/Cosmopolitan drink of choice. She turns to sit back down on the bench, and then she looks up at him. "Yeah, I do… I have a guy looking into the Blacksmith. He will have information for me soon, and maybe we will find out where he's operating." She continues to scratch fondly at Max's ears, and it gives her a distraction from what needles at her — and has been needling her since her visit to Stark Tower. When she looks back up at Frank, her blue eyes are serious. "You're sure? You're sure that every body you've dropped was at Central Park that day?"

"We get along." Max looks up at Frank, whining a moment, and then wanders over to a nearby lightpost in a little patch of grass, lifting a leg and starting to urinate. Frank looks back to Babs, drawing in a slow breath and letting it out in a little huff, "And you trust your guy? Because nobody's given him up yet." His voice continues its low growl, "And they've given up each other plenty good. Everybody who was there knows who else was." There's another of his characteristic pauses, "So yeah, I'm pretty damned sure everybody on the list was there. Sure enough." Which isn't exactly the same as 'everybody I've killed was there,' but then again, even Frank Castle has to act in self-defense now and then.

Barbara's eyes follow Max, and her brow arches slightly at the whine as the edges of her mouth twitches with a smile. Then she sobers as she looks up at Frank, nestled back on the bench with her tea between her hands. "Trust? No. Know he'll do it? Yes. Let's just say that trust is still being earned." On both sides of the Gordon-Mercer partnership. "He's another… what do you call us? Masks? Capes? Pains-in-the-ass?" She smirks ruefully up at him before she takes a sip of her tea. It lets her think on Frank's explanation of his, um, detective skills. The vague suggestion of self-defense tightens her smile into something more like a grimace. "Alright." She looks up at Frank. "As long as you're sure." She looks down, and the gathering of storm clouds is impossible to miss. She looks tired being tugged in all directions at this crossroads that Jones says she's at. Maybe sometimes being at a crossroads means cutting your own path…

"Capes." Frank subsides again for a moment, then adds, "Could be worse. You could be Underoos." He doesn't bother to defend his own choices — he explained himself once, and apparently he doesn't feel the need to do it again at the moment. Instead, he studies the Gotham detective from under the brim of his hat, the shadow adding even more depth to the nasty shiner he's sporting on his right eye. Max finishes his business before Frank speaks again, coming back to the pair of humans and sniffing around between them. Eventually, he inquires, "You having second thoughts about this, Red?"

That breaks Barbara's clouds for a moment — like a small shaft of sunshine before it is swallows up once more — and she smiles up at Frank through the fall of red forelocks. "I'm not one of the Metropolis Super Friends." She plants her elbows on her knees, leaning over her legs as she rubs at the back of her neck — a worrying gesture that is becoming more and more commonplace. When Frank asks her that question, she glances up at him once more. "No," she says softly, breathing out her nostrils as her lips press together. "No." The repetition is a bit more steady as she squeezes the back of her neck and then straightens up. "I said I would help, and I'm going to help." She then reaches out to Max, offering him her hand again.

Frank snorts a laugh at the mention of the Metropolis Super Friends, "Man… Delaware." By the tone of his rough voice, those two words say everything that needs to be said about that. The physical manifestations of her worry wipe out his dry amusement, and he frowns, waiting through the response, the repetition, and the confirmation. Max focuses his attention on Barbara again when she offers out her hand, going back in with more doggy kisses and tail wagging. Evidently, despite being some combination of pitbull, rottweiler, and who knows what else, the pup likes bats — or at least one bat. "Thanks." Frank's tone is grave, serious, and quiet. "Without the guy who caused it all…" the veteran Marine looks down, closing his eyes and pulling his left hand out of his pocket to rub the back of his thumb up over the bridge of his nose and his forehead, "…it's gotta be done." The strain is clearly audible in his voice, "It's gotta be permanent. It's gotta be finished."

Max's comfort of kisses and tail-wagging sparks a warm smile on her lips, and she rubs at his ears and face again with the kind of deep affection a dog lover — no, animal lover — has for something quadrupedal and soft. She looks up at Frank, catching that truly human moment — the way his expression shapes his grief, the way his shoulders give weigh just an inch to their weight. She furrows her brows deeply together, and then… she touches his hand gently with hers. It's a pass of fingers that grace his knuckles, and then curl around his palm. She squeezes gently if he doesn't pull away the instant their bioelectric fields cross. She doesn't say anything with the touch, and it is brief as she drops her hand back down to the dog beside her. She looks down at Max. "Whosa good dog?"

Frank's eyes open again at the touch of Barbara's fingers to his knuckles, and though his lips purse, he doesn't pull away. Instead, he draws in a breath that is a little shakier than he would really like, giving his head a little roll and toss, and then curling Max's leash around his wrist so that he can use both hands to re-seat his hat on his head. "Yeah, she means you, buddy." Max knew this already, looking between the two humans with his tongue lolling out of his mouth and giving a low little 'whuff' sound in response. "Assholes who had him didn't deserve him." Yes, it's a more-than-slightly-transparent attempt to reassert his 'badass' status, to plaster over the flash of vulnerability that he showed just a moment ago, but his voice is steady again, no rougher than it ever is.

Babs flashes Frank a lopsided smile. "Yeah, sure I'm talking about him." Then she relaxes back into her seat on the bench. She drops her eyes as she lets Frank get his bearings back, and she doesn't look up until he gives that grunting response. When she looks back up at him, it's to nod soberly at his assertion. "I think you'll do him some good." She says this while looking at Frank and Max with a gentle glance between the two. Then she refocuses on Frank entirely. "You know how to contact me if you need me," she says quietly as she starts to stand, dragging her helmet with her as she stands. She reaches down to ruffle up Max's ears again.

"Hell, he ain't no Devil Dog." Because of course the Marines have a dog-associated nickname. Frank grunts at her assertion of the benefits of dog-ownership for dog and owner alike, then crouches down a little, waiting until Babs has ruffled Max's ears and collected more doggy-kisses, and then gives the mutt another ear-scruffle and picks up his coffee cup, "Yeah. Lemme know as soon as you hear from your guy." His right index finger twitches a little on the side of the cup, a subtle physical manifestation of his apparent itch to be well and done with his crusade. "Thanks, Red."

We have to stop meeting like this.

Those words echo in her head but go unspoken. She shoulders her backpack once her helmet is hooked beneath her arm. She glances down at her feet briefly, motocross boots scuffing against the pavement. Then she looks up at him, and nods. "Yeah, okay." She's tired again, and the storm clouds resettle above her. She turns away from him as she shoves her hands into the pockets of her jacket. A gust of wind off the bay catch her red hair in a chaotic toss as she starts to walk away.

Another man might have butted in to buck Babs up, but when there's a semi-permanent cloud over Frank's head, he isn't really in any place to try. Instead he lifts his coffee cup in salute and takes a sip as he watches her depart, his brow furrowing darkly. Max 'whuff's quietly and hurries over to rub up against Babs's legs once more before she's out of leash reach, whining a little and looking back to Frank.

The weight of Max's head against her legs incites a half-hearted smile. She forces herself not to look back to Frank as she walks away, tucking hair behind her ear. "'The nicest thing about the rain is that it always stop… eventually,'" she says softly, and entirely to herself and the wind.

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