Six Degrees of Frank Castle

October 01, 2018:

Nine years after Barnard sophomore Barbara Gordon threw a milkshake in Matt Murdock's face, she enters his office seeking help for one Frank Castle.

Nelson & Murdock

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Frank Castle, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, Foggy Nelson, Wilson Fisk, Owen Mercer, Batman

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

It's literal Hell to get into New York City. Bridges are being shut down, tunnels closed off. The whole of the city and its islands is starting to become quarantined from the rest of the world, locked away by its brimstone, hellfire, and fear. Once you're in New York, getting into Manhattan is almost impossible. Luckily, Barbara Gordon is resourceful — particularly when she uses all the resources available to her as part of the Bats. Her motorcycle cuts through an empty tunnel, dodging dead cars and the smoldering remains of demon carcasses to get to where she needs to go: Hell's Kitchen.

When she pulls up outside of the offices of Nelson & Murdock, she pulls off her helmet and looks up at the familiar brownstone. She had argued with herself for the better half of a day before she decided to look up Matthew Murdock. She hadn't seen him since the end of her freshman year of college, back when he was a law student and she the roommate of Donna Keane — another Gothamite who had fled to New York City in hopes of forgetting all about the strange childhood she had in the Jersey city. Her last vivid memory of Murdock was throwing a strawberry milkshake in his face in some act of solidarity with her heartbroken friend.

Now, here she is, asking for help.

She swings out of the saddle of her bike, and secures her helmet to the designated carbineer on her backpack. She heads into the building, and chooses the stairs over the elevator. With the city in its current state, there's no guarantee the lift even works, or if she might get stuck inside for hours. She trudges up the stairs, and steps out onto the hallway that bears the door to Nelson & Murdock. She had called ahead, making sure Matt would be in, even had a small meeting penciled in. She steps into the lobby, ready to apologize for the Great Milkshake Attack of 2009, and to ask Murdock to consider helping yet another mass murderer..

It's good she made an appointment. Matt and Foggy have built a thriving law practice, but few small businesses can weather a bonafide demonic invasion. Lately the doors and windows of Nelson and Murdock are shuttered more often than not. The office manager is on paid leave. The partners have told the paralegals and clerks they can work from home, and encouraged them to make that home somewhere safely outside the New York City area.

Even Matt and Foggy are scarce. Mostly they only pop in when they need something, or when they have a client meeting.

Barbara Gordon is not a client. She's a college acquaintance, and that acquaintanship ended with Matt's face dripping milkshake. If you had asked him a week ago the odds that he'd ever see her again, he would have put them at slim to none. If he had run into her on the street, he would have pretended he didn't see her. Call it a perk of his disability.

But in the last week Barbara Gordon's name has come up, and piqued his curiosity. So he confirms the appointment, and is already in office by the time her motorcycle roars down 42nd street.

When she enters the foyer she'll hear some shuffling of papers from the door on the left, a voice calling out: "Hold on a sec!"

It's actually about five seconds before Matt emerges and stands there in the doorway.

As with any old college friend (friend?), some things are the same, and some have changed. The clothes have seen a serious upgrade: a slim-cut navy suit and a white button down, brown oxford shoes. He's kept his boyish looks, even if there are new lines and creases. His hair is still a mess, though his new stubble helps to balance it out.

But what stands out most are the small cuts, bruises, and abrasions that mark Matt's features. It sets him worlds apart from the fresh-faced and blind sophomore years ago. One injury looks like a claw mark: three parallel lines running along the slope of his jaw.

Still, he smiles, as affable as if they weren't in the middle of actual Hell, as if they hadn't parted on bad terms all those years ago, and as if he weren't so very scuffed up. "Hey, Barbara," he says in the general direction of her footsteps. "It's been forever. How are you?".

For Barbara Gordon, plenty has changed. She had been studying criminal law when Matt saw her last, hoping to either be an attorney for the city or perhaps a detective like her dad had started out. But, now she's a librarian — a quite successful librarian, which perhaps is a bit of a odd thought because no one really thinks of librarians on a spectrum of success. But, she's revitalized the Gotham City library systems, and has put a bit of space between being the daughter of Jim Gordon and being who she wants to be as Barbara Gordon.

Then there's Batgirl. When Matt knew her, she wasn't her caped alter ego yet. In fact, the one thing that Matt and Barbara had in common was their slight geek affection for the Dark Knight of Gotham himself. Matt may not be able to see the bruises and wounds, but they are there: a cheek scrape and bruise, a ginger way she holds herself like she's got herself a broken rib, but… there's dark times afoot and plenty of people end up in the crosshairs. If the news is to believed, she barely escaped the fury of the Punisher just a week ago. She's in demonville, and so the claw marks are easily associated with the things she has so far avoided.

She smiles affably for Matt, stepping forward to meet him near ins doorway, returning in a confident voice, "Nice to see you, Matt." Strikingly, those words are genuine. She shoulders up the strap of her backpack, her helmet a weight in her other hand. "And thanks for seeing me. I hope that you can help me out with something.

Matt can't detect all the changes between the college student he knew and the woman in front of him, but he can suss out more than a few. It is good to see her, no matter how awkward their parting, or how much he regrets the behavior that made him awkward. It's a reminder of simpler times. For both of them, it seems.

"Well come on in and let's talk about it," he says in that quiet clip of of his, waving her deeper into the empty foyer. "Oh, there's a pot of coffee in the kitchen if you want to get yourself some. We're a little short-staffed on account of everything, uh, out there."

He turns around and makes his way back to his office with a careful kind of grace. His fingers find touch points on the door frame, the back of the guest chair, the corner of his desk, which guide him around to his own seat. He slides into it and leans back.

"Take a load off," he'll tell her whenever she enters, gesturing to the chair across the desk from him. "How's your stomach? Heard you were injured the other day." Then ruefully, almost apologetically, he explains how he heard that: "Luke Cage is a client. And our firm often works with Jessica Jones."

Barbara declines the offer for coffee with a slight rueful smile. "I'm trying to kick the caffeine, but thank you." Then she glances out the window at the dizzying red hue that holds New York captive — and all the demonspawn it brings. She's been fortunate so far… she hasn't come across a single demon, or at least not one up-close. She's not here to battle it out with hellspawn. She hopes to get back to Gotham without having a single run-in.

When she enters the office, she skims over it with that detective's eye. She watches how Matt maneuvers the room, the way he touches the various things to map his way back. She glances at every little piece of personality that Matt allows to color his work space. Then she slides into the seat that is offered, and she sets down her heavy backpack and helmet down at her feet with a light thunk. Or it was meant to be light, because Matt mentions the gut wound she's still got stapled and heavily bandaged under her shirt, and her helmet clatters a bit louder than anticipated.

Crap…

"Oh…" Her throat tightens a bit, and she tucks a bit of hair behind her ear. "Yes… Cage was…" She huffs out a soft breath, searching the area around her for something to help stabilize herself, stabilize her lies. She can't seem to find anything useful, because she doesn't know what Luke had said. So she goes with the truth. "I hired Cage to help Frank Castle take down the Blacksmith who was bringing in heroin into Gotham." Her tone is a bit flatter than she had hoped it would be, and she works her hands across her knees. "I asked Jessica for help, and she suggested Luke."

Matt sits back in the chair, hands clasped together over his sternum, his crisp blue tie. That note of apology registers on his features as well as his tone. Part of his job — any good lawyer's job — is to set people off balance. It's the quickest way to get to the truth… especially for a lawyer who can pick up all kinds of 'tells' most fellow members of the bar would overlook.

He listens to her. Not merely the content, but the tone with which she relays it, the beat of her heart during the telling. She's being honest. He nods shortly at the end, almost to himself.

"First thing's first, because you came here seeking legal help, anything you say here is protected by attorney client privilege," he assures Barbara quietly, putting up a staying hand. "I can't reveal it to any third party, for any reason, unless you allow me to do so."

His head cocks to the right. "So, that said, why don't you tell me what kind of help you need. Does it involve this Blacksmith? Or Castle?" There's no judgment in his quiet tone. It's neutral, with a grace note of empathy.

The look from Matt — particularly with the accent of the red frames — sets off a particular air. She can see his good-naturedness, but she can also feel it settled just on the edge of something else. Something she can't quite pinpoint. Then she breathes out another slow breath, and this settles her fluttering reaction to being cornered with the blunt assertion from the lawyer.

No wonder her dad hates lawyers.

She leans her elbows down into her knees briefly, rubbing at the back of her neck beneath the fall of red hair. When she straightens up, she is a bit more relaxed. "Castle." That name causes a slight catch in her heart despite the steadiness of her words. There's an emotion there — not anger, or frustration, or sadness. Worry, and a hint of tenderness. "And I suppose Blacksmith… but only how he relates to Castle." She cracks open her backpack, and pulls out a file folder. Barbara — ever thoughtful — has printed her work on braille, and she sets the entire folder on his desk and pushes it forward. "Here. It's everything I have."

There's a lot of duplicate information that Batgirl had given Daredevil — but there's new information. The sting Reyes had flubbed in Central Park, the connection between Blacksmith and the three almost-extinct Hell's Kitchen gangs, and the incoming of metric tons of heroin. It is organized though, the same way Barbara had taken notes in college. "I do research for VigiWatch. Gotham has a lot of vigilantes, I'm the daughter of the Commissioner. I'm a library nerd; I know how to research. I researched Castle for Zane Oldman. Through my research, I got connected with Castle. I told him I would help him. And now I've hit the point that…" I need a different kind of help. "Look, Castle was framed. District Attorney Reyes, the TCLEC shooting… the shooting at my apartment… those weren't Castle. And I know it wasn't Castle because, if he hadn't showed up at my apartment when he did, I would be dead. The Blacksmith shot up my apartment; Castle got me out of the line of fire."

Matt's hands seek and find the folder she places on his desk, sliding it the rest of the way across. He flips it open, and his lips twitch towards an appreciative smile when he finds the braille there. But he doesn't dive right in, looking for new pieces in the often unsettling puzzle that is Frank Castle. Instead, he give Barbara the full, sober weight of his attention.

The lawyer's eyebrows drift upward in mild surprise when Barbara says she's involved in VigiWatch. Though it can't surprise him too much, given her their mutual bat obsession in college. "Those weren't Castle," Matt repeats, brow creasing. His voice is still soft-spoken, careful, deliberate. His hands speak along with his voice, one rolling once with each iteration of: "Reyes, TCLEC, your apartment. As opposed to the others."

That mountain of bodies Frank Castle has amassed with his rampage through gangland. Is it possible for a man to be both empathetic and relentless at once? Somehow, Matt maintains that tricky balance. "Let's be clear here, Barbara. When you say you're helping Frank Castle, what is it exactly that you're helping him to do?"

Those weren't Castle.

It doesn't take a blind man — obviously — to follow Matt's train of thought. Barbara Gordon shifts in her seat almost uneasily, and she casts another look out the window to the skies of the demon-infused New York City. She can almost taste the sulphur on the air, and it makes everything bitter. "I don't approve of what Castle is doing." There's an honesty there, but also a level of confused complexity. "I don't think that his… decision is wise, but Frank Castle… he would not have killed Reyes, he would not have killed those people at the conference. He would not have killed me. It doesn't follow his code. Even if Reyes set up a sting and then just sat there and watched as the Dogs of Hell, Mexican Cartel, and Kitchen Irish gunned down Castle's family… he wouldn't have killed her."

What is it exactly that you're helping him do?

Her nostrils flare slightly, and she rubs her hands down the thighs of her motocross pants, stopping where she can cup her knees. She stretches her shoulders, arms, and relaxes a bit. "I haven't… I almost… look, I tried to stop him from killing some of those men. I tried, and I'm going to keep trying. Your neighborhood… the Devil of Hell's Kitchen… he has found a way to do the job your neighborhood needs because — like Gotham — the system in place fails the people who need it the most. No one said a word about Frank's family for weeks, Frank was issued a fake DNR because Reyes wanted him dead, and he woke up… he couldn't even bury his family. And he doesn't even hold Reyes responsible, or the medical examiner who forged the DNR… but the Blacksmith, and the gangs who shot up Central Park… those he does. There were three dozen gangers there that day, split between the Dogs, Cartel, and Irish. And by my count, Frank's almost done. But Reyes, TCLEC… he didn't do those."

And Barbara's brain still itches around the idea that it was only Frank's family who died there. Somehow, everyone else got to cover or was wounded. Three dead in something that could have been a bigger tragedy.

Matt listens to Barbara thread her way through the various needles that marked her path to this point, and this time there's more than empathy in his expression. There's understanding. It's not easy to be there for someone while at the same time trying to mitigate the damage they're doing, much less to show them a better way. He knows this not because he's tried to do that for others, but because others have tried to do that, be there, for him.

In the Barabara Gordon before him he sees Foggy, Kinsey, James, Jane, Jessica, Luke. All the people who tried to help him when he was on the road to becoming —

Well. Frank Castle.

Finally he leans back in his chair and folds his arms over his chest. He looks tired. "I'm not going to lecture you on the difference between the Gotham vigilantes we followed back in college and Castle, Barbara," Matt says with a quiet voice, a slight shrug, and a shake of his head. "You know the lines they draw, and why. I get that struggle. I represent a few over on this side of the Hudson, and it's been hard to hold to those lines. Not just with one family dead, but —"

Eight thousand people.

The words go unspoken, but the mere memory of that four-month-old attack makes it fresh again, marring his already-marred features. "Look. All I'm saying? Be careful how much you help this guy, Barbara. If a jury could be persuaded that you helped him enough, helped him materially in even one of his killings, then…" his eyebrows lift and drop. His expression is pained. "…you could be considered an accomplice."

There's a long beat. "Now, you're telling me he wasn't responsible for the worst of it," he says, and it's more of a question than an assertion. "And you want to know — what? How he can be absolved of those killings?"

The weight of Matt's stare is hard for Barbara to reconcile. She doesn't know the thoughts that run about his head, but she would have quite a bit of empathy for them if she knew. In some ways, it was Owen Mercer who stopped her from taking a step with Castle she couldn't come back from. She's become too sympathetic for Frank's story. But she's also started to care about Frank.

You could be considered an accomplice. Those words sting worse than anything else thrown at her in recent months. As Batgirl, there's plenty of laws she's broken, plenty of lines she's crossed. She's knocked out cops before, broken into places, stolen information from sources all around Gotham. Hell, she has a tap right now on the entire computer system that GCPD is using. Add accomplice to murder? That is a solid nail in her coffin.

She rubs her hand across her mouth, closing her eyes briefly. In some ways, Matt being blind gives her the space to ride out her emotions without anyone seeing. Hearing is a different matter. Her voice cracks slightly when she speaks next. "I know." She clears her throat. "I'm being careful."

Then she breathes out a slow exhale, rubbing at her thighs once more in a nervous gesture. Then she nods. "Yeah." The word is soft. "If Frank Castle ever stands trial, those killings shouldn't be on the list of charges. I have the evidence, but I need to give it to someone who… can present it to the DA, get them to see that it wasn't Frank. It was Blacksmith." She hesitates. "If… if it helps, I know who Blacksmith is."

Was.

It's Matt Murdock's biggest con in a life full of them: a pretense that other people are safe to relax themselves and show parts of themselves he can't see. The truth is that he can perceive them, and more. Not the nuances of facial expression, but the rythmn of her heart, the cadence of her breath, the waft of cortisol in the air.

It's not weird, Dr. Jane Foster once assured him when he'd described his powers as freakish. It's incredible. It's every insight into the human stain.

He sees in ways others can't. And so he knows now, without question, who she is. It's not that he's been in her company under both guises, though that helps. There's enough similarity between the bundle of sense impressions that make up the girl on the churchtop roof and the woman seated across the table from him now.

More importantly, two men have now told him of red-haired women, one with a mask and one without, who are trying to help Frank Castle. It's that, more than his strange senses, that allow him to realize Barbara Gordon, Batgirl, is caught in a web.

His eyes crinkle when she tells him she's being careful. He believes her, but it's impossible to mask his concern. When she goes on to say she has evidence to help Frank, Matt's jawline shifts right and left and right again. "If Blacksmith is convicted of a crime, chances are Frank Castle couldn't be," he offers in his customarily quiet tone. "Why don't I take your evidence to the authorities and they can press charges?"

He isn't baiting her. He's just not psychic, for all his sensory powers. So he can't know that the door he's knocking on was recently shut.

Barbara lifts her eyes to stare at Matt now. If she knew that he had found her out, there's no telling what she would have done. Her identities are spilling into each other, twisting and blending, and soon she's going to forget where one ends and the other begins — and that may be more dangerous than just becoming Frank Castle's accomplice. If she isn't careful, she's going to lose herself.

She shakes her head then, resting back into the chair as — at first — all there is between them is silence. "You can't charge a dead man." The words are said softly. "He's dead." Then she narrows her eyes slightly, as if to test the lawyer across from her. "His name was Ray Schoonover. He was Frank Castle's commanding officer."

Maybe Matt should be more surprised that it was a black ops vet from Afghanistan who was trying to take over the New York drug trade after Fisk's fall. But he's always been skeptical of institutions, and he is familiar with human foibles and weakness.

If anything, it's welcome news. If they can prove the identity of the 'Blacksmith' in a court of law, they could wipe some murder counts off Frank's ledger, while providing a sympathetic media narrative to strengthen their hand in plea negotiations.

That is, if the Blacksmith were alive. Matt's face, filled with sympathy for for her, and even for frank, closes shut when she says the Blacksmith is dead. That little twitch of his stubbled cheek is the only sign of his exasperation he'll show.

That and the lengthy pause. "We should still provide any evidence of the Blacksmith and his plans to the NYPD," Matt murmurs, spreading his hands. "It won't stop them from hunting Castle. Some people won't ever be convinced, and he's already made too much of a name for himself on those other killings. But it may take some of the heat off."

He leans forward in his chair, clasping his hands on the table and leveling as intent a 'look' at Barbara as he can. "You know this only ends two ways, right?" he asks her with quiet intent, and some of that prior sympathy. "Even if Frank strikes every name off that list, there's no riding off into the sunset for him."

When Matt shines a light on the truth — the complex, bitter truth — it doesn't so much as deflate Barbara as it just takes the last little bit of energy she had been holding onto. She exhales a tired breath, reaching out to rub at her forehead and along her jaw. She looks up at him after a heartbeat, nodding gently. "I've give you everything I have," she says softly. "There's enough there…" She stalls a moment, mouth thin. "You need to talk to Assistant District Attorney Blake Tower. You need to tell him that you know about the sting in Central Park, that Reyes faked the DNR to try to Castle murdered in Metro General. You tell him you have a client who heard Reyes confessing this entire story to Commissioner Jim Gordon. He was in the room with Reyes when she was talking to my father." She nods to the folder of braille-printed sheets. "It's all in there"

Barbara's voice tightens a bit. "If you put all of that together, I think we can give Frank a pathway out."

Matt's last words draws her eyes back up to him. "And what two ways are that?" She thinks she knows them, she's probably ran them around in her head several times already. But she asks all the same.

"Yeah, we work with Tower," Matt says with a distracted puff of breath, leaning back in his chair and placing one palm flat on top of Barbara's folder. Even agreeing to do as little as Barbara asks of him much puts the law firm, and a few of his clients, at risk. N&M is the firm of record for many of the Defenders. Does representing Castle put the firm's reputation under even further suspicion? The broader crew?

The calculation lasts only a moment. "Alright, I'll go to him," he assures her quietly. "But it won't give Frank a pathway out of everything, Barbara. That's what I'm trying to say."

It leads him right into her final question, his final point. "Whether he killed Reyes or not, he's already killed dozens besides her," Matt says, softly and soberly. "This story ends with Frank in custody — I'd prefer an institution where he can get treatment and not a prison where he'd just languish — or dead. By a bullet on the streets or lethal injection at the end of a long legal battle. There's no — rebuilding his life."

He sighs, tips his head back. "If he were a career criminal it'd be easier, is maybe the worst part," he adds. "He'd probably have intel on criminals he could hand over in exchange for witness protection, or leniency. But Frank? He's clean."

A beat. "Aside from all the killing."

"I'm not looking for a pathway out of everything, Matt. I'm just looking that Frank Castle is only accused of the crimes he has actually committed." Her fingers tighten together briefly before she looks down at her hands. She opens her palms, staring down into them, letting her focus fall onto the lines and edges of her skin. She traces a small scar that trails along the edge of her thumb where her first batarang had nicked her skin. She trails it for a long moment, letting the memory settle over her shoulders. Then she looks back up at Matt.

"Is that what you think Wilson Fisk is going to do?" Her blue eyes are hard. "Give some intel on the other big movers and shakers in New York? Get something in exchange?" Her mouth tightens. "You tell me how that works, Matt… Frank Castle — who unfortunately isn't some career criminal with the right capital to buy leniency with — will probably end up on a life sentence or lethal injection, while Wilson Fisk… who murdered eight thousand without any discrimination… probably has enough capital to buy himself any number of reduced sentences and comforts."

She reaches up, rubbing at her brow and then she began to stand. "Frank Castle… he's doing the only thing he knows how to do. No one was looking out for his family, and they're dead, and we're asking him to trust us that if… he would only just give up these criminals to the authorities… then everything is going to be right with the world." Her hands shove into the pockets of her motocross jacket in an almost defensive stature. "I'm sorry that Frank Castle isn't another James Buchanan where you can use a foreign government as the scapegoat to why Barnes killed twenty-something people. My guess is you had more than just a passing hope for institutionalization for the Winter Soldier."

She folds her lips together, nostrils flaring. When she speaks next, her voice is softer. "Frank is a man whose family was gunned down in Central Park while the NYPD watched on. He took a bullet to the head, and was comatose while his family was buried. Then he woke up instead of dying when Metro-General tried to use Reyes's fraudulent DNR. He begged to go home, and when he got there… all he was greeted with was the hard reality that the ones he loved most were dead." She looks at Matt. "So, yeah. I guess you're right, Matt. There is no rebuilding the life he had. But… are you trying to tell me there's nothing that Nelson and Murdock can do to help him find some life after this is over?"

Matt listens to Barbara lay out what she wants for Frank Castle. And more, the ways in which the system is failing Frank, while often rewarding others who have done worse than him. References, even, the case that put Nelson & Murdock on the map, in which two young lawyers defended an infamous mass murderer.

The lawyer listens actively, hands clasped over his stomach and the long straight line of his skinny blue tie. When she's done, his chin dips, and it's a moment before he replies.

"I know you feel for Frank Castle," Matt murmurs. "I feel for him too. I understand what he's trying to do, even if I don't agree with the how. He's, ah — not the only one, who has lost family to violence."

Matt's hard jawline works, there's a twitch of one cheek. He doesn't talk about the ugly end of Jack Murdock with much of anyone. Stick, Foggy, and Elektra are the only people to whom he's done anything like confide.

The moment passes, his cool returns. "I'm not saying there's nothing we can do for him, as fucked up as the system we're working in can be," he adds, his voice returning to its careful cadence. "We can expose and hold accountable the people who were responsible for the awfulness in Central Park. We can make sure he's not framed for murders he didn't commit. But… there are a whole lot of murders he did commit, without remorse. And with vengeance as his only motive."

He draws in a breath, lets it out. "What I'm saying is that neither you nor Frank should expect the same results we saw in the Barnes case. Unless you're telling me HYDRA tortured Frank for decades and rewired his brain."

Barbara stops, now standing with her eyes on Matt Murdock. The woman breathes out a slow exhale, and — perhaps taking a moment since Matt can't see her — rubs at the back of her neck through her hair in a nervous, calming gesture. "There's vigilantes in this city, in mine, in Metropolis… they all do things that break the law because the system is messed up, Matt. Think of your Defenders, my Bats, Metropolis's capes. Vigilante justice comes with a price that they are all going to have to pay should they ever get arrested." Her mouth tightens. "But some people get it and find a way to work with them. My father does, you do."

She breathes out a slow exhale now, looking back out his window as she sinks back into her chair. "I don't think Frank is making the right choice… but, like you, I understand why he's doing it. There was no one there to tell him what he could do… and now, you're right that it might be too late, that when he gets arrested, he's going to face this messed up system." Her mouth tightens a bit.

When she speaks next, her voice carries a heavy weight to it. "No. And you're right that Barnes and Castle are not the same men, with the same circumstances… but they both deserved a chance at redemption. Barnes didn't become a car salesman, living in some suburb, living a life away from the one he experienced before his trial… but he's living a life. I think Frank deserves the same. He deserves a life after this is over, and he needs people who believe he deserves one, too. If you're not one of those people, Matt, then I'll find someone else." Her words stay grim even as she adds, "I won't even attack you with a milkshake this time for making an asshole choice, either."

Matt listens, not just to her words but to the telltale signs of frustration that come along with them. He makes no move to interrupt. When Barbara brings up the Defenders and the risks they bear, Matt's eyebrows lift and drop in the semblance of a shrug. Point taken there, the expression says.

Otherwise, his features betray little of his thinking until the very end, around the time she makes reference to strawberry milkshakes. That gets a little smirk, but it's subdued.

"I'm a Catholic, Barbara," Matt finally says, soft-spoken as ever. "I believe everyone deserves a chance at redemption. Including Frank Castle." After a pause, he adds: "And the people Castle is hunting down."

The lawyer lets out a breath, spreads his hands, a gesture of mild exasperation. "Look, Barbara, I'm not saying Frank doesn't deserve a chance at a real life. And sure, my firm would help. But if he were here right now, asking for my legal advice on how to avoid going to jail or a mental institute for the rest of his life, I'd tell him that the single best thing he could do is to stop killing people. Including killing witnesses who could exonerate him of the murders for which he was framed!"

He puts his hands up, shrugs. "We'll get this information to Tower. Plead Frank's case and see if we can get them to call off the dogs. But at a certain point, there's only so much we can do without Frank's buy-in. On some level, he's got to want that future to have a real shot at it."

Says a man who knows, even if she has no reason to know it.

Barbara's arms cross at her chest, and she shifts slightly from foot to foot while her motocross boots give the smallest hush of leather. Her head drops slightly, and then she nods slowly. "I know." Her voice is soft, and resigned. "I know what Frank needs to do…" She glances toward Matt. "I don't know if I can stop him at this point; he's almost done." Her head drops a bit further, eyes closed. "He cares about people." Her words are soft. "He has a code that he follows, but that code isn't infallible, and it can be changed." She glances toward Matt now, mouth tightening slightly. "There comes a point where… I don't know if everyone deserves redemption."

She is wrestling with that as the smallest hitch in her voice suggests. How many villains has Batman just trusted into the hands of Arkham, and how many have been set loose again? She has always trusted Bruce Wayne's system of justice, his fear-driven way to keep the criminals in line, and now she struggles to know where the line is, and if there is even a line that isn't imagined, or does not move with each passing day the soul is tested.

Barbara closes her eyes as she settles into those thoughts, letting a long silence stretch between them before she breathes out a slow exhale. When she looks back to Matt, she tries for a sad smile. "Thanks, Matt." Her words are soft, genuine. "He's not a cop killer… he doesn't gun down amature journalists and librarians in their apartments… he doesn't kill cowardly District Attorneys or fraudulent Medical Examiners." Her mouth relaxes into a soft frown. "Pedophiles, organized crime leaders, people who push drugs and weapons onto our streets? He kills those people. I'm not saying it's right… I'm just saying that maybe… it isn't wrong either."

Then she reaches down to grab her helmet, hesitating with it heavy in her hands. "The world isn't so black and white these days, is it?" The question is said softly, almost in a hush. "Used to be there were good guys and bad guys and the good guys always did the right thing and the bad guys always did the wrong thing, and now… sometimes there's no path of true justice."

Matt's dark lenses re-center on her when she says Frank's almost done. "You think so?" he asks, his voice quiet and speculative. It's not a question of whether Barbara is sure Frank's done with his list; she's obviously become deeply enmeshed in his affairs. It's more a question of whether he'll ever really be done, even when all those names are finally crossed off. Matt has his doubts.

The rest of what she says prompts his eyes to close behind their shades. All this has caught him at the strangest moment. He just came as close as possible to becoming like Frank Castle, and then recoiled. That brush with extrajudicial killing gave him perspective and empathy, but it also reinforced his personal lines. What's more, he's now learned that an old college acquaintance shared a trajectory with his own, and even become a discipline of the vigilante who inspired him to take up the mask, only to fall into doubt about those very lines.

It all makes for a heady brew of conflicting feelings. "Maybe it's the difference between helping the law work better, and side-stepping it to become the law yourself," Matt says after a beat, with the slightest of shrugs. "That could be necessary sometimes, when there's no other recourse or justice. But there's also the risk that, once you go down that road, everyone looks like a target for extreme justice. Blood makes for slippery slopes."

He takes the file and tucks it away. "I'll make sure this gets into the right hands, though," he says quietly, before adding: "It's good to see you again, Barbara." And it is, actually, for all the strangeness of the reunion.

"Historians might say that sidestepping the law is how we get new laws — for better or for worse. Enough vigilante justice, and eventually the law will have to change." Then her smile softens into something lopsided, tired, but slightly humored. "But I'm just a librarian. What do I know?" Then she hefts up her backpack onto one shoulder and nods. "It was good seeing you, too, Matt. Say hi to your hetero-lifemate for me." Which is to say Foggy, who probably only remembers Barbara as the fiery redhead with a milkshake as a projectile weapon of sister solidarity fury.

She steps for the door, giving Matt one last glance before she shows herself out. She has one last stop to make before she heads home, and this time around, she doesn't plan to go looking for Frank.

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