Belated

October 21, 2018:

Barbara stops by Luke's to give a belated thanks for helping Frank.

Luke's Bar

The bar, with bar things, and bar stools and bar flies.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Owen Mercer, Frank Castle, Jessica Jones

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Barbara Gordon had checked the bar's hours, and had shown up a good fifteen minutes before opening. She's dressed for fall in a deep forest green sweater that pairs with her jeans and boots; combined with her open heather gray peacoat and the coffee cup held in her hands, she looks like a Pumpkin Spice Latte advertisement. Her red hair is braided into a loose rope that has already frayed a bit from her motorcycle ride to the public lot a block down.

She cups both hands around the unmarked paper cup, shifting from foot to foot while she waits for the bar to open. Occasionally, she looks up, usually in time with someone passing her on the Harlem street.

*

Luke doesn't usually stay in the apartment building despite his name being on a buzzer with a /Jones next to it for the penthouse, yet that's the direction he happens to come from today. He's busy wiping grease off his hands with red garage rag as he comes around the corner to the front door, not bothering with a jacket on the short walk or in pretending he particularly needs one. He shoves the stained piece of material in his back pocket so he can fumble for his keys, glancing up just shy of about to bowl Barbara over.

"Whatever it is this time, Red, I can't have any part of it." Because clearly she's just here to ask for another favor, right?

*

Barbara looks up when she spots Luke coming around the corner. She rocks up from her lean, stepping off the wall a short stride. She blinks in surprise at the words from Luke, and it actually gives her pause, mouth opened with unspoken words. Then she starts to shake her head, clipping her mouth shut. She has the good graces to actually look a bit abashed at the accusation. She's a better ally, she's a better friend. Her world has been upside-down for too long.

"Not here for a favor," she confesses quietly. She looks down briefly, finger tapping at the insulated paper. When she looks back up, it's to squint slightly at the autumn sunshine. "I didn't come see you after the boat. New York went to literal Hell, and… I have been a really shitty potential ally." She shifts slightly, worrying at the smooth cardboard of her cup. "Maybe we can talk inside." She casually thumbs at the door to the bar.

*

Luke touches Barbara briefly on the shoulder, a light and friendly gesture. "Sorry. Knee-jerk reaction. Jerk being the important word there." He cuts her a smile that seems to warm by the second, his keys jingling as he unlocks the bar. With all the fancy technology available these days, he still goes with the old deadbolt for the front door. Sometimes old dogs hate new tricks.

He pushes open the door, arm tented far above her head to allow her to enter first. With the afternoon light slanting through the windows, there's enough illumination in the main room to get around without him needing to immediately switch on the overheads. "My lawyers put me on lock down from any vigilante stunts for the time being." He explains as they step in from the chill. "They nearly had a collective heart attack when I told them about Rook and the boat."

*

The comforting touch to her shoulder unknots the bundled-up tension, and she releases a slow exhale that sinks her into her feet once more. She smiles in return to the big man before she steps back to watch him unlock the doors. The sheer analog of his security makes her smile a bit, and she says not a word toward it beyond that light sound of amusement before she steps inside. She glances around as they enter, taking in the lay of a quiet, unoccupied bar in the daytime. The words my lawyers has her looking up with a vague smirk. "Nelson and Murdock?" She figured this out already, but confirmation would be nice.

Rook. The nickname has her brows furrowing a moment, and then she puts two and two together. Castle, the Rook — the piece on the chess board that moves in sharp, direct lines. How well it fits actually makes her smile a bit, and she nods. "It's alright… but I'm really not here for any vigilante assist." Her mouth tightens a bit. "I wanted to thank you… you stepped up when you didn't have to."

*

"That's the firm." Luke says of his lawyers, having no issue with giving out that information. After all, if shit hits the fan, people will know who to contact to get Luke bail money, right?

He reaches past her to lock the smaller of the locks for the time being, so he can finish setting up the bar in peace without an over eager regular coming early, and he turns off the alarm (he's not /that/ archaic to only rely on analog locks). "Of course I had to. It was the right thing to do. My girl gave you my number for a reason." And now Barbara knows his main motivation for stepping in. "So, really. No thanks necessary. Can I get you a cup of coffee?" Of course she's free to ask for anything she wants, but it seems he's going to make himself a cup and it would be rude not to offer.

"I'm glad you stopped by though, good to see your friends seemed to fix you up." Luke is behind the bar now, futzing with making a pot of coffee. It's the old fashioned coffee filter, can of coffee, glass carafe sort. None of that silly single cup brewing for this establishment.

*

"Coffee sounds great." Barbara starts toward the bar, hands sliding into the pockets of her peacoat as she approaches. "Jess is a good friend. She's part of my network, and someone I rely on now and then." She steps up onto the rung of the stool before she sits down, shucking off the coat as she does. "Frank needed to see that people can step up and help him, and I'm glad for that. He's… well." She shrugs her shoulders helplessly before she glances up toward Luke once more.

Comments on her state of being draws a small smile on her lips, and she nods agreeably. "Yeah. He got pretty mad at me when I got into a tussle with some of your new residents. Popped a staple and Frank had to fix it." She folds her arms across the bar. "You guys getting a handle on this whole Hell on Earth thing? Gotham's getting nervous that you're going to out-weird us."

*

"How ya take it?" The smell of the rich brew starts to fill the air as the coffee maker does its thing, pumping water through the grounds and filter. Luke, ever busy with getting the bar ready to open, starts working on slicing fruit and tossing it into the iced tray for drink garnish.

"Frank is what? Damaged? Broken? That tends to happen when you family is killed. I wasn't there so much as to help him achieve his goal as I was there to get a fellow Marine's back, and make sure he didn't end up dead for his troubles. But I'm glad he only needed me for that one job, that was dangerously close to crossing the line for me." The knife slices cleanly through a lime, quartering it and then slicing it into eighths. One benefit of having unbreakable skin is he doesn't have to be too careful about how he wields the blade, but he's still practiced enough at this task that he makes quick work of it.

"I don't think any of us," Meaning his inner circle, apparently, "Have any idea what's going on. We're doing our best to stand our ground and protect what's ours from this demon infestation, but I don't know if any of us are actively looking into the source. Got a lot on our plate, you know?"

*

"Black with two sugars." The Commissioner's daughter gets her coffee order from him, though she has changed it up over the years. Today is black and two sugars, tomorrow maybe she'll add some cream. She puts aside her paper coffee cup from a few blocks over, ready to be recaffeinated by the coffee that Luke brews up for her. She brushes her hands back through her hair, catching both palms at the side of her neck as she leans into her elbows. She watches Luke work.

"I think 'broken' is better than 'damaged.' I think he's always going to be a little like that, and people are going to sympathize but never really empathize." She looks thoughtful for a moment. "No one can experience someone else's pain. I think he'll heal, though." She glances up at Luke. "He burned his house down. At least, I'm pretty sure that was him. Means he's done… he destroyed the last thing he needed to." Her mouth thins. "I think the only person left is Wilson Fisk… and he has nothing to do with Frank's family." She looks at Luke. "Which means that he's thinking about what it means to revenge the suffering of others. Fisk blew up the kitchen, killed thousands, displaced thousands more… Frank wants him punished. Eventually, someone's going to have to tell him not every crime must be a capital punishment. I've already got one of those running around Gotham… vigilante who thinks that robbing a convenience store means getting a bullet to the head." She is quiet for a moment, then she continues softly. "He's going to need people who give him a way out from becoming like The Red Hood."

And it can't always be me, is the unspoken clause to that sentence.

Talks of Demons is easier, and she sinks into it. "Well, I've watched enough episodes of Supernatural to assume that obviously some horny teenage boys tried to summon a succubus or something. Or maybe it's the start of Armageddon. If it is, then I guess I have to give Jake Toredelo that date he keeps asking for." Her smile is a bit lopsided as she looks his way.

*

"All I know is I've started carrying holy water around in a little metal vial on my keychain. I never thought I'd have to say that." Luke gives a little shake of his bald dome. "It's amazing how much you miss, when you're keeping your nose down. I've seen some shit in the past year." Some cherries and olives are added to the tray and then set down closer to the speed well.

"My wife was murdered, but even I can't really empathize." She might be comfortable switching to another subject, but Luke is carrying on both conversations. He's used to juggling topics, but that comes with being a counsellor vis a vis bartending. "I can't imagine what it was like to have to bury a kid. Hell, I can't even imagine having kids in this day and age, so." That's a conversation that he and Jess haven't had, but then again they never talked about marriage either, and now she's wearing a ring. "Fisk though. He's going to have to either wait for Fisk or join him in the Penn. And I don't recommend either. But then again, I've made my peace with the Kingpin. Speaking of horny teenagers, what is it with you and Frank anyways? How'd you get wrapped up in all this?"

*

They've all lost someone. That's what it is about vigilantes. Somewhere, there's loss. Barbara is quiet for a long moment before she looks up at Luke. "I was thirteen when my parents died. Jim Gordon is my uncle." She shrugs her shoulders a bit awkwardly. "We can never experience someone else's pain," she repeats quietly. Then she breathes out a slow exhale, it catching as she thinks back to the comment on holy water. "Watched enough episodes of Supernatural, I think I know how to make holy water, too." What? Girl's got a guilty pleasure, and if Dean Winchester had come by and asked her out before the end of the world, she wouldn't have to hesitate.

As Luke circles back around to her and Frank, the speaking of horny teenagers bit causes her cheeks to suddenly burn and the red color flushes right up into the roots of her hair. No one — no one — has even tried to put two and two together like that. She clears her throat. "Well, it definitely wasn't acting like horny teenagers," she croaks quietly. Then she shakes her head, rubbing her hand back across her neck. "He came to Gotham… hunting a Cartel kid down. But I had already been looking into him. When I was in high school, a few of us big nerds started a podcast about the Gotham vigilantes. When we went to college, we kept it going — but this time we were in places like New York City and Metropolis and Detroit… places with other vigilantes besides Batman. Zane's the big forerunner now, and I do some research for the group. He was going to start looking into Castle, but I told him I would… at the time, I just knew Castle was shooting up gangers left and right without any hesitation. I worried Frank would shoot Zane if he started poking around."

She segues a bit. "Zane covers Jess, by the way. In fact, there's a group of four that are dedicated to Defenders coverage." Her smile is a bit rueful then. "They mean well, and are actually pretty awesome journalists."

Then she gets back on topic. "So, I was researching Castle, and ran into him in Gotham. That got me interested, and so I dug deeper… found out about his family, found out about the DNR… I gave the info to Daredevil, but… he was dealing with Fisk and the bombings. So, I kept going." She looks down a bit at her hands as she knots her fingers together. "The more I learned about Frank, the more invested I got… in Gotham… I've seen good men become the villains. There's people in Arkham that the Bats put there… people who lost someone, and just couldn't find the line that you don't cross. Innocents died. I didn't want Frank to become someone that had to be put away, put down… all because the system failed him."

*

"Aha, but you're not denying it!" Luke crows, mainly to add some levity to this conversation. Finally her coffee is delivered with two packets of granulated sugar in the generic packages and a spoon that he puts on a napkin. "But if you're not into him, that means my boy Owen still has a shot." He gives Barbara a wink before he turns and starts pulling glasses off the drying rack, stacking them back on the lower shelf beneath the liquor bottles. "So Rook started off as a story and became a cause. Unfortunately, he's embraced this Punisher name a little too much, which makes it difficult for the rest of us to publicly support him. Unofficially, however, he's got access to the basement here, if he needs a place to lay low."

*

"I can safely say that we have not done anything." She takes the offered coffee now, curling her hands around the mug in a familiar, comfortable gesture. Then Luke mentions Owen Mercer and that blush just goes from a pleasantly adorable strawberry to something more like a beet. It just turns her monotone with her hair, and she tucks a bit of lock back behind her ear. "In case you haven't heard, Mercer hates everything that makes a Bat a Bat. I'm pretty sure that your boy Owen has zero interest." Which, again, puts Barbara in the awkward place of not denying anything about any single male participant in her recent break from the Bat Family norm. Taking either Owen or Frank home to meet the family would be at the same level of Hatfield and McCoy. Thankful for the slide back to Frank's situation, she nods slightly. "Please don't use this metaphor around Frank, but… he's an abused shelter dog who everyone thinks should be put down because he bit the person who was beating him." She shifts a bit in her stool. "He just needs… people." Then she closes her eyes, grimacing a bit. "Which means I guess I am coming to you for something… even if that something is just looking out for Frank."

*

The mugs are just plain diner white mugs. Strong, utilitarian and without any flare. Give Owen a month and maybe they'll have funny sayings on them to go with their shirts.

Sadly the blushing just makes Luke's grin grow wider. "I'm pretty sure he's starting to protest a little too much about that Bat thing. But I'm just looking out for my boy, he had a pretty bad break up recently and he needs someone…well. A little like you. The girl who adopts shelter dogs." Cage pushes off his lean in front of Barbara, dragging his coffee with him to count out the starting till. For an owner, he certainly is very hands on in his business, but then again it's a pretty small business.

"Like I said, Frank is always welcome to flop downstairs but right now I gotta keep my distance. I'm going to be up to my neck in legal shit here real soon, and I can't have any black marks on my name. So if you want me looking out for him, it's going to have to be on the sly. I like the dude, I don't want to see him pine-boxed. Hell, part of me respects him for doing what he's doing. Not going to throw any stones in that glass house."

*

They are the type of mugs that Barbara likes. She admires them actually before she dresses the coffee with her sugars, and then stirs them in until it melts and sweetens the black brew. It gives her something to immediately stop doing at the mere suggestion that Barbara might be just what Owen needs. Her blush has melted away some so she can fix Luke with an almost incredulous look. "You want me to date Owen Mercer?" Her brow arches slightly before she goes back over all the recent conversations she's had about dating, and her love life, and… she just sighs. "Alright, if you want to fail at matchmaking, go for it. I give you my blessing."

As if she hopes that might be the end of that conversation, she loosens her shoulders a bit and looks down into her coffee at the blackened reflection that looks back up at her. "I understand." She looks up at him after a moment. "I really do. On the sly is better than not at all. There's too many miles between here and Gotham. Even if he just has someone who checks in on him… and tries to make sure he doesn't do something stupid." Those words are said with a slight sigh. "I figure since you're also looking after Owen Mercer…" Then she gives him a hopeless smile.

*

"That I'm already good at herding cats?" Luke snorts a little as he counts out the Ones and Fives, Tens and Twenties before he starts in on the change, each getting a little notation in the computer. "I think you're giving me too much credit."

A glance is afforded over his shoulder, "And I said someone like you. I'm not a matchmaker. I'm lucky enough I got my own relationship right. I'd rather not break that winning streak. It's just that Owen doesn't tend to bicker like that with someone he doesn't like. Could just be a friendly thing. Forget I said anything."

*

"Forgotten." Which is the easiest lie she's told in a long time. She takes a drink from her cup, and then breathes out a contented sigh. She thoughtfully examines the bartop, admiring its smoothness for a heartbeat. When she looks back at Luke, she's at least settled back into a small smile. "I like Owen. Which is a relatively new thing…" The words are gentle, but earnest. "But I haven't had a good relationship since my thirty-six hour streak with Bobby Jensen back in seventh grade." She looks up at Luke. "And a really fantastic no-strings attached setup my last term at Barnard. What I do… when I'm not being a nerdy librarian… isn't compatible with a sweeping romance. You and Jess… you guys are really outliers."

*

"I asked her to marry me." Luke rumbles the words deep in his chest, sounding deeply pleased so it must be that she said yes. It's a private little smile at the memory of the moment that he gives the cash drawer before slides it closed.

"I guess the trick is finding someone who truly accepts who you are and vice versa. She says she's not a romantic, but she actually describes our relationship better than I ever can. And the fact that we can give each other shit is a definite plus." Luke shrugs, unable to explain it any better than that.

*

Barbara's whole expression changes. She gasps, and then brightens with a full dimpled smile. "Shut up! Really? When? My guess is she said yes, because you're sounding like she said yes." Luke has found that small corner of Barbara that gets absolutely excited about the happiness others can experience. Give Babs a cowgirl hat, a shot of Jager, and three-to-four other girlfriends, and she'd be a "woo girl" in a heartbeat.

"That's the best news I've heard in a long time, Luke. Congratulations."

*

Luke sort of sheepishly raises a hand and starts scrubbing at his head, running his palm over the shaved smoothness. "Couple of days ago. But when she tells you, act all surprised. She'll be mad if I start telling all her friends before she gets a chance to." He doesn't blush like Barbara does, but he momentarily looks a little flustered at her enthusiasm, unused to it. "Thanks, though. Guess we could all use a little good news nowadays."

"I'm going to have to open up soon, so this is the last brief moment of privacy we have. Sure you don't want to proclaim your undying love for Captain Boomerang?" Okay, he had to get one more shot in. Likely because it takes attention off his own awkwardness.

*

"You have no idea," Barbara says, basking in the good news. "We have to celebrate the bright points, Luke… or we will get lost in the dark places." Then she smiles gently at Luke before she takes another sip of coffee, only to be stopped by the last bit that Luke has to say. She gives him a hard smirk, tilting her head slightly. "Why don't you tell him I did, and we can take it from there." She takes another drink before she sets down the mug and starts to swing out of her stool. She hesitates a moment, shifting from foot to foot. "At the very least, you can tell him I said 'hi.'"

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