Beauty and the Beast

November 05, 2018:

Frank surprises Babs at her first derby bout.

Somewhere in Red Hook

A warehouse in Red Hook.

Characters

NPCs: Various.

Mentions: Jim Gordon, Dinah Lance, Bat Family

Plot:

Mood Music: None.


Fade In…

Usually, fresh meat doesn't have signs for them in the audience when they first hit the track. At Barbara Gordon's first bout with the Gotham City Derby Girls, however, there's a dark blue piece of poster-board with white-stencilled lettering: 'BELLE ICOSE!' It's held up when she's first introduced, the dark-eyed, hard-edged lines of Frank Castle's face clear underneath the sign. He has a faintly amused look on his face, and whistles loudly amidst the cheering.

Her dad had shown his support for his adult daughter's new hobby by buying her new skates. They are brown with dark blue laces — not Barbara's favorite color, but it matches her chosen persona well. Embodying the bookish Disney Princess, she wears a blue apron dress that has been cropped into a mini skirt that flashes white petticoats and white fishnets that are interrupted by the white knee pads. The tunic beneath her blue dress has elbow-length sleeves that have been slit from shoulder to fly loosely around her arms and over her matching elbow pads. Good at alter-egos, Barbara has also gone with a brown wig that hides her red hair and completes the look. She's skating around the rink with the other Lit Chicks, crouched low so when the announcer calls their names, each girl straightens up to wave their fists in the air.

"And, now we get to the fresh blood," the announcer calls over the speakers of the warehouse arena. "Let's hear a big welcome to the Lit Chicks newest baby derby girl… Beeeeeelllllleeeeeee ICOSE!"

When Barbara pops up to put her hands in the air, one is carrying a book. She catches sight of the sign, and the man beneath it. And she starts to smile, almost beaming a full dimpled grin toward Frank before she ducks back into the huddle with her teammates.

Frank gives another whistle as Barbara spots him, but it breaks down as he takes in the details of her costume, chuckling and reaching up to touch the watch-cap covering his short-cropped hair. His jaw is blurred by stubbled growth, and he growls aloud, "Throw the book at 'em!" That is apparently the limit of his ebullience, however, because he watches the rest of the bout relatively quietly, clapping or whistling here and there, but otherwise not drawing attention to him. Except, of course, the one tripping penalty called on Barbara that he thinks is total bullshit — an opinion he shares loudly with everyone nearby and the refs as well.

And that tripping call was totally bullshit, but it was balanced out because the refs missed the elbow she threw when one of the Sinist-HERS's blockers tried to hook her back into the pack when she jammed herself right through the cluster of skaters. Unsurprisingly, Gordon proves to be fast, agile, and just a bit vengeful on the track. In the end, Barbara comes off the track with just a bloodied nose from a fall that had her running into the ref so violently, they both ended up almost in the stands. She accepted the cheers for taking out the ref while she was escorted to the bench so the medics could check to make sure she didn't break her nose and staunch the bleeding.

The Lit Chicks win the bout by ten points. On the total adrenaline high from the match, Barbara blows Frank a kiss from the cluster of celebrating Lit Chicks before she gets swept off to the locker room to continue celebrating. Only once she gets to her locker does she hurriedly drops a text to Frank: OUT IN 5. She doesn't even change out of her skates as she grabs her hoodie jacket with the Lit Chick's logo on the back — a bruised and smiling pin-up girl reading Pride and Prejudice — and her duffel bag. She promises the girls she'll meet them at the bar, and then skates out to find Frank, hoping he's stayed back.

Frank is there in his own hoodie, leaning against a concrete support pillar and holding the 'BELLE ICOSE' sign like he's waiting for her at an airport. When he spots the fresh meat skating through, he gives a little whistle, waiting until she closes the distance before he chuckles, "Not bad for an FNG." Nodding upwards, he adds, "How's the nose? That tripping call was bullshit." There's still a weight on his shoulders, but it looks a little lighter, despite the fact that he skipped the overpriced stadium beer.

Barbara skates right for him, smiling at the sight of the Punisher with his sign. She catches his shoulder when she's close, using him to stop her from sliding past. "FNG?" She tilts her head slightly with a bright smile still dominating her lips, and her dimples full. His question is met with a laugh, and his gripe turns that laugh brighter. "Yeah, but did you see the elbow? I think that we can let the tripping call slide." She takes the sign from him, sliding to and fro on her skates as she admires it. "Thanks, Frank." She looks up to meet his brown eyes.

"Fuckin' New Gal," Frank gravels as he braces her arm to help her curl to a stop. "I saw the elbow. That was bullshit too." Beat pause, "You gotta hide that shit better, Red. Next time you'll get flagged." Giving up the sign without question, he shrugs a little helplessly, "It looked like fun. Havin' all the signs up for you. Figured you should have one." He scratches a little at his nascent beard, "You've been there for me, Red." He pauses and gestures up to her hair, "If I still get to call you that." Shaking his head a little, he adds, "Least I could do to show up for you."

Barbara is all smiles as she admires the sign, and there's almost something a little affectionate there. It's a gesture that is unexpected, and it warms her. The mention of her nickname makes her look up slightly, and then she goes, "oh!" She reaches up, tugging off the wig and the netting beneath to send her hair into a tumble down her shoulders. "I'll always be your Red, Frank. It — "

But Barbara can't tell Frank the thought that surfaces in her mind. Instead, she hears her name called out across the arena, and she turns slightly toward where she spots the familiar young man with his almost perfect do of blond hair. Her brain kind of stalls out until she is turning toward Frank with a half-panicked look in her eyes. "It's Jake. GCPD. Give me a few minutes." She hands him back his sign, sliding her hand down to his wrist to squeeze it gently.

She skates toward the young GCPD officer — one of the officers that Frank knocked out right before her apartment was shot up. When Barbara gets close, he catches her forearms before drawing her into a hug. The two drop into conversation, Babs speaking with her hands while she stays balanced on her skates. She turns slightly toward Frank, and the name 'Pete' is dropped casually as she gestures to him. Jake glances toward Frank, and then his shoulders shift slightly beneath his jacket before he gives Frank a casual salute with two fingers. Then he's back to looking at Barbara.

Frank snorts a laugh as she tugs off the wig, starting to shake his head. But he hears her name too and he looks over, only to quickly look away again. "Oh yeah… Nutshot." That's cruel, Castle. But kind of funny, at least to him. He reaches his hand across her body to pat her shoulder as she squeezes his wrist, and then he turns around, "I'll be over here." Giving a little wave over his shoulder to Jake, he gathers up the sign and steps around to put his shoulders against the far side of the concrete pillar.

That Nutshot thing is said just as she's on her way to Jake, and she captures the laugh and hides it away while she talks to the young officer. Jake is far more interested in keeping Barbara engaged, while the redhead tries to shake the young man so that he doesn't try to figure out who Barbara's Pete is. Jake makes some kind of offer to Barbara, touching her forearm gently with a smile. For her good graces, she smiles to him and offers a vague nod. "Alright," she says as she starts to skate backwards. "See you later, Jake."

She keeps skating backwards, waving as Jake starts to turn away from her so he can leave. He looks back, and Barbara waves to him with her last encouragement of Please, Jake, Get Out of Here without that kind of cruelty actually embodying her person. Only once Jake turns away and heads to the venue exit does Barbara also turn — skate over skate — and heads back toward Frank. "Sorry," she breathes out a slow exhale. "Dad told him about the bout."

Frank waits, his shoulders back against the pillar and his watchcap low over his brows. He is an extremely patient impatient man, and doesn't seem particularly put off waiting and watching the crowd disperse. As the skates roll back toward his position, he offers out an arm to help her stop again. "You been practicin' hard. You gonna go rooftop skatin' soon? Pretty Gotham to go all skate-vigilante." At least, he keeps his voice low. "Don't gotta apologize for admirers hangin' around. He's cute. Nice hair." Weaponized snark, thy name is Castle.

Barbara catches the offered arm, twirling around Castle for a half-turn until she's face him. She balances on her skates easily, though the comment of her becoming a skating vigilante has her smirking a bit. "Yeah, okay… you can shut up now." Then he says something about Jake, and Barbara's cheeks warm with another dismissive snort. "He's got a bit of a blond Danny Zuko going on, I know." Then she shrugs a shoulder a bit. "Jake went to Gotham High. He was a total jock, and I was the nerd… I think he only realized I existed after he was in the police academy." She finally loops an arm around Frank, and starts to work her laces loose on her skates. When she gets the first one off, she drops a good four inches to her petite height and then works off the second — this time without leaning on Frank. She tucks the skates into her bag, and takes out a pair of worn chucks.

Frank shrugs, "Not my fault your city's FUBAR." Considering her description of Jake, he nods slowly, "I can see it." Evidently he actually gets that reference. "The big jock stars, they've got no discipline. Gotta watch out for them." He's chuckling now, and then shakes his head, "Do you think he noticed you when he realized you were the boss's daughter or that the library student could probably kick his ass?" Bracing her up, he shakes his head, "You gonna meet up with him or the derby girls?"

"I don't know." Barbara shakes her head slightly as she shoves her feet into her chucks, tightens the laces on both, ties them, and then stands. "Probably the boss's daughter… I stopped officially taking martial arts classes when I was eighteen. I don't think anyone really associates me with ass-kickery." Then she glances back after Jake once before she looks back up to Frank. "I told Jake we could get coffee this week, and the girls are going to be at Toby's until closing time." She hesitates a moment. "So. You weren't a jock in high school, and you weren't a nerd." She shoulders back up her duffel now that she's on walking soles instead of wheeled soles.

"I was a little shit in high school. Marine Corps was the best thing that coulda happened to me." Frank folds up the sign along the crease he made for the train ride down. "Pretty sure there aren't many soldiers who don't think you can fight, Red." He pauses, then admits, "Unless they're not lookin' for it." But he gets back to the earlier point, "My folks, they were older, and their idea of discipline was… well, it was soft as hell. I ran wild as a kid and a teenager. Total little shit."

"No one looks for it. I'm the librarian daughter of the commissioner. No one looks for it." Then she looks at the sign, and she smiles again. It's a brief smile that turns into a little laugh, and she smiles up at Frank with a tilt of her head. "I think I can see some of that shine through now and then, because… you're a pain in my ass sometimes, Frank." Then she gives his elbow a squeeze. "Come on. There's an all-nighter coffee shop down the street. I know you're probably jonesing by now." She glances behind her, checking to make sure that Jake has indeed moved on, and then her focus is back on Frank.

Frank shakes his head slightly at her assurance that no one looks for her to be an ass-kicker, but doesn't comment on it. He grunts at the accusation of being a pain in her ass, "Hey, you're the one who picked me as a project, Red." Still, he nods slightly at her suggestion, tapping at a long metal tube in his jacket pocket that sounds a bit hollow, "I could use topping up. They need better security at these things. I only brought the knife and a thermos to this one, but you could damn near bring in a rifle if you wanted." Still, he's headed toward the door, keeping his head down a little rather than looking around for any GCPD Zukos who might be watching.

"I did." Barbara smiles gently at that. Still in her pads and Belle Icose get-up, the redheaded Bat leads the way out of the venue with her duffel slung high and her steps in time with Frank's. They don't run into Jake, and are only stopped a couple times by some fans who give Barbara compliments or playful threats. She takes both with smiles, very little getting through that thick social skin. Then they are on the sidewalk, and Babs is leading up a short hill to the top of Red Hook. "I think you need to re-evaluate what Gotham City is. Rifles are the least of our troubles." She glances sidelong to him as they walk. "I didn't actually mean to throw the elbow," she says, harkening back to a previous topic. "Just instinct. Someone grabs me from behind, I want to throw an elbow in their face. I almost knocked out a boyfriend once who came up behind me at the library." She smiles ruefully. "I've gotten a bit better not going immediately into fight, but it isn't exactly an easy instinct to turn off once it's been turned on."

"You mean something crazy like a… what's it, a pumpkin bomb or a giant ice gun or…" Frank shakes his head in something between amazement and exasperation, "This city is fuckin' weird." The mention of instincts draws a nod from the veteran Marine, "I get that." And so would other soldiers and vigilantes and… not much of anyone else. "Some things are just second nature." Perhaps imagining the scene, Castle smirks just a little, nodding, "His own damned fault. Library's no place for grabbing someone." He might even be teasing with that last line. "Besides, fights a hell of a lot better than flight most of the time." Nodding his head back to the arena, "So you like it? Derby? Or is it just gonna be somethin' you do to cover the bruises?"

Barbara continues the upward trudge, feeling a bit of an ache in her legs from the skating. That tells her something, considering how active her life is. Frank's comment about Gotham has her laughing, and she looks to him with a smile easily curving up her lips. "Well, yeah. Always has been… even back in the early days. There's something in this city's very birth that makes it weird, though Hell if I know what it is." Then she shrugs her shoulders slightly, shifting the weight of her duffel. She just smiles slightly at the comparison of fight and flight, and she looks down a bit. "Gotta know when to fly, though. When to get out of a fight, because it's going to be the last fight." Then she puffs out her cheeks, breathing out a slow breath as she twists her gaze over her shoulder back to the arena. "I don't know yet. I like it. It's a new rush. We'll see if it sticks." She shrugs a bit. "Hard to split my attention all the time. Feels like I always have too many balls in the air. It's really no wonder I can't keep a boyfriend." There's a hint of loneliness that filters through her voice. "Black Canary and I talk about that a lot… that our life doesn't really make relationships stick. I can see why we all feel a little lonely." Unless you're Tony Stark, who is probably never lonely.

Frank starts to respond to the comment on fight or flight, then just shakes his head and lets it go. Instead, he nods, "You're already watchin' the rooftops, workin' the library, makin' sure I don't turn into somethin' you figure the masks up there'll have to put down… I can see how derby would be a bridge too far." He looks aside as they climb the hill, studying her face as she walks. "It takes a special sort to stick with someone like us. Vigilantes, service members…" His voice trails off, his thoughts clearly drifting toward the person who stuck with him and what it got him, but he drags himself out of that emotional whirlpool at the last minute, his voice a little rough as he adds, "I dunno, maybe Beefcake and Snow White have a chance. That a big thing in vigilante circles, Red?"

Barbara swings her duffel back to her low-back, letting it bop along and it gives her a chance to shove her hands into her pockets. She keeps her eyes on their feet, watching the dirty pavement pass as they continue up to the top of the hill at Red Hook. It takes her a heartbeat to link Beefcake — Luke — to Snow White — Jess. It actually makes her laugh a bit, shaking her head. "Yeah… we all can hope for a Jesuke relationship." She hesitates. "Caones?" Then she laughs at how the word sounds very close to cajones; she characteristically blushes at the realization. Then she continues along. "But, yeah. It's a thing. I mean, look at Jake? I'm sure he's a great guy, and I probably would like him if I gave it a chance… but is he going to tolerate getting stood up because someone is robbing a bank? Or if there's nights I don't come home, or when I do come home, I look like someone tried to make my entrails my out-trails? I don't know." She shrugs again, looking morose. "Is what it is." Then she gives Frank a nudge to the little all-nighter coffee shop. The sign reads: Voodoo Brew; it's chosen mascot is a rather legit skeleton sipping some coffee. Inside, there's a feel of New Orleans, and there's several people occupying the seats at the bar and tables.

"Jesuke?" Not-Cajones takes Frank a moment too, his brows knotted in confusion, and then he gets it, "One of those Brangelina things?" He's way out of the pop culture circle. Still, he lets that slip away, nodding slowly, "Figure it'd be worse for a cop, really. I mean, technically, he should be tryin' to put you behind bars." Castle goes quiet as he steps into the coffee shop, taking it in a moment before he nods, "They got those… whaddya call 'em? Donut like things? Ben-yays?" That gives him time to make sure no one's really listening in, so he can continue, "I always thought, you have a job that comes home with you, you gotta be able to talk to whoever you're comin' home to about it. I was lucky, get home, I'm not on-mission anymore."

"Yes. One of those things." Her amusement is muffled behind her light smile — a smile that falters after a heartbeat when she thinks over Frank's words. Worse for a cop. "And that's romantic, isn't it?" Barbara's bitterness shows through. There's more to that, too — because Jim Gordon would be forced to arrest his own daughter if he knew. Keeping secrets, that's all Babs does. It's exhausting. She smiles slightly at Frank's observation, and she nods. "They do. You want one?" She steps toward the counter, nodding Frank to go find a seat. She knows he's strapped for cash, so she doesn't even offer. She just does. She stops at his words, turning toward him slightly. She frowns thoughtfully. "I guess so." Then she stifles anything else she has to say so she can order them coffee and beignets, and the barista behind the counter gives her a discount because she's a derby girl — and even asks how the bout goes. This all gives Frank a chance to find them a seat, and for Barbara to think through his words while she waits for the coffees and plate of pastries.

Sometimes it's a pain in the ass that Frank doesn't varnish the truth. "Pretty sure it's only romantic in the movies, Red. And yeah. Always wondered what the Big Easy'd be like." He offers to take her duffel to the table, and is two steps on his way when he realizes that she's buying. He slows, glancing behind him with a grimace spreading across his face, then continues to his chosen table. You win this one, Gordon. The sign and duffel are set down alongside the table, and Frank settles into a place where he can watch the windows. When she arrives with the caffeine and simple carbs, he meets her with, "Sorry. Forgot." That your dad would be hunting your alter ego if he was following the letter of his job. "Who else came to see you get knocked around?"

Barbara unshoulders her duffel and passes it off to Frank as she stands at the counter. She makes small talk with the barista, smiling and head-tilting with his words. He says something that sobers her smile and she shakes her head. "Not interested, but thanks." Then she takes the coffees and simple carbs, and ignores the slightly rejected scowl from the guy as she makes her way to the table with Frank. The apology softens her expression a bit, and she shrugs slightly. "Always going to be a prickly issue." She sits down across from Frank with the plate of powdered-sugar-covered pastries between them. She hooks her elbow onto the table, cheek pressed into her knuckles. "Oh, um. Don't know. Dinah's busy tonight, and Dad is doing some desk work. Zane wanted to come, but he's still doing some major coverage of the vigilante response to the demon-infestation. I think the VigiWatch crew will get together for the next bout." She curls her hand around her coffee cup, feeling the warmth through the paper. She looks up at him after a heartbeat. "You're wrong, you know. About the romantic thing. I mean, sure… there's lots of fiction to it… movies, books… but I don't think you need to be sweeping and epic to have a romance with someone, or for something to be romantic. Romance is just the mystery and excitement that comes with being in love with someone." Then she laughs, shaking her head. "So maybe dating a vigilante is very mysterious and exciting."

"There's been a lot of vigilantes hittin' the demons. Pretty certain Hornhead has been at it. I dropped a bunch. Ran into some girl with electricity and swords. Twitch has been doin' stupid stuff about 'em too. Hell, I'm pretty sure I even saw Thor." Frank shakes his head a little, "Sometimes, I think they picked the wrong damned city to fuck with." Pulling a simple metal thermos out of his jacket pocket, he unscrews the top, pops the top off the cup of coffee, and pours it into the insulated cylinder, then sets cup and lid aside. Barbara's input on romance causes him to chuckle a little ruefully, looking down at where his fingers lace together around the rapidly-heating thermos. "Yeah. I just meant, I'm pretty sure that one person chasin' the other for work ain't that romantic." His eyes close slowly, the skin around them tightening, "You're right though. Romance doesn't gotta be sweepin' and epic. It's lettin' the other person in. So that can see who you really are. All the scars and warts and ugly." He's not talking physically, clearly. "Bein' that kind of vulnerable to someone. Lettin' 'em hurt you because you can't bear the idea of keepin' them far enough away that they can't. That's romance."

"I think if they came to Gotham, they'd probably just become part of the norm." In a smooth slide, she gets to her feet, crosses to the station with the sugars and creams, and picks up the half-and-half. She brings it back to the table so she can turn her black coffee into a soft shade of chestnut. Then she returns it. The lapse of conversation gives her time to think, time to consider Frank's words, and her own reply. When she sits back down, she takes a sip of coffee and then looks up at Frank. "Yeah. I think you've defined it." She lets him take a moment to think about Maria, about their romance. Then she reaches to gently touch his calloused knuckle with her own rough fingertips — roughened by books, and cardboard, and leather, and concrete, and stone. It's just a gentle touch, a kind of reminder that someone is still with him, and then she's back to her coffee cup. Then an amusing thought crosses her memory, and she's speaking to it before she can think twice, "Uncle Harvey says that's why you need to find someone who keeps the lights on when you — " And then she stops, and she blushes. She gestures off-handedly. "Same idea… in Harvey's weird, not-school-appropriate way."

When Barbara's fingers touch his, he finally looks up, drawing in a slow breath and letting it out. Much of the anger he felt when his family was mentioned seems to have bled away, at least for now, but there's still a deep well of grief. Still, he starts to smirk, perhaps a little weakly, at her repetition of 'Uncle Harvey's' advice, and when she cuts off, he actually chuckles, "Fuck?" He considers that, taking a sip of his coffee as he does. "Yeah. Same idea, I guess." Shaking his head, he chuckles again, "Jesus that's a bad influence on a kid." Still, he sounds at least faintly amused.

Barbara's red cheeks deepen a shade, and she gestures her affirmative. "That." Then she starts to laugh, shaking her head. "Hm, well… Harvey and Dad were partners. Harvey is evidence that the system even fails its cops sometimes, too. He followed all the wrong, dark rules before Dad joined the force. They became partners, and… I don't know. Jim rubbed off on him the right way." She looks up with a smile. "He's now just a different kind of dirty." Then she takes one of the pastries from the plate, and starts to tear it into bites and eat it. It's a slow process, but it fills the space a bit. "He looks out for me. I think it does him good to have someone that calls him Uncle Harvey. I don't think he's ever really had a family that grounds him to the world, and Dad and I do that." Always Barbara and Jim. No mention of anyone else, even if Barbara always carries with her memories of Aunt Barb and her cousin Jimmy — but they are gone now. "We're social animals… we want to belong to something… call it family, or a tribe, or a clan, or… whatever. We need it, even if it drives us crazy sometimes." She glances aside a bit, beyond Frank. "I think that's what Derby is, too… a family. For some of the girls, it's all they have is the family derby gives them. I can see it."

The disassembly of the beignet reminds Frank that they're there, and he nabs one for himself, taking a bite and considering as he chews the pastry. Swallowing, he nods, "Yeah, that's pretty damn good." He certainly wasn't ignoring her, however, even if he was giving her room to blush and recover. "Sounds like your dad's been a pretty damned good influence on Gotham. Hard to imagine what it'd've been without that." He's quiet for a long moment before he answers her more direct comment about family, hefting the fried dough as if considering it. "Yeah. Some people do good as loners, but they're pretty damned few and far between." By his phrasing, he's not including himself in their number. "The Corps was that for me for a long time. Then Maria, Lisa, and little Frank." The last statement is stark, raw, but he doesn't let his gaze collapse this time, for all that he squeezes his eyes closed for a moment. "And Billy and Curtis." He lets out a humorless chuckle, shaking his head, "Now I'm too hot for them. I'd wreck what they've made for themselves if I came 'round too often. The only people lookin' to stand next to me are you and Beefcake." There's a pause, and he admits, "And maybe Twitch, in his own asshole way."

Barbara actually smiles a bit at Frank's compliments, though she just shrugs her shoulders a bit. "I'd love to visit New Orleans one day. It's on my list." A list that grows in length, but never gets any shorter. She takes another sip of her coffee, enjoying the flavor of the half-and-half mixed with the coffee. She listens to Frank, eyes lifting to watch his expression with that half-tilt of her head. "Curtis is still there for you, Frank… and will be. I know that. You just have to go see him. He would drop anything to help you." Then she indulges in another sip of her coffee, letting it hush her for a moment. It gives her a moment to actually laugh. "Fuck. Owen Mercer." She shakes her head slightly. "Yeah… in his own asshole way." She then smiles gently, and she reaches up to brush along the back of her neck. "Thank you," she says quietly, looking up at him. "For coming tonight."

"I'm guessin' that you don't get much time off." Frank shakes his head a little. "A librarian leaves the stacks, the kids'd run wild." Adding to his caffeine-deliver system with another long slug of coffee, he smirks a touch, only to have the amusement fade away, "Yeah, I know Curtis would be there if I needed. That's the problem." He finishes off the begneit, "If I showed up with him too long, the cops'd take him in too." His shoulders rise and fall in a little shrug, "But I had to be here, Red. You've been here for me more than I deserved. I'd be a real shit if I didn't show up."

That has her laughing, and she shakes her head with a rueful smile. "There are other librarians in Gotham City. I'm not the only one. It's my other job." Which is bullshit, and she knows it, and she half-wonders if Frank will call her out on it. How many strong is the Bat Family? She takes another bite of her own pastry, savoring it while Frank mows through his. "I don't know if I ever told you… I went to see Curtis." She shrugs her shoulders a bit. "After the church fight. I have this deep-rooted issue of being really curious. Makes me a good detective, but probably gets me in more trouble than it should." She shifts slightly in her seat. "I like him. He's a good guy, and a good friend." She hesitates then, rubbing her hands around the mug. "Billy's in Gotham, you know." She lifts her eyes to his now. "Runs a security company called ANVIL."

Frank snorts in amusement, "I was tryin' to be subtle. That's what I meant. I mean, the Big Bad did the job before you came along, right? And he's got help now. But I don't figure you're the sort to take vacations." He pauses with his thermos halfway back up to his mouth at the mention of seeing Curtis, his amusement fades for a moment until she explains herself. Only then does he nod, perhaps a little grudgingly, "You didn't. Kinda nosy, but I'm pretty sure that's just part of who you are, Red." Which is to say, 'not so much of a problem,' by his tone. The report on Billy causes him to nod, "Yeah. Snow White was pokin' around him. I told her to back the fuck off." There's a little anger in that latter statement, showing perhaps that he still has some of the fire that nearly consumed him. "I don't want to fuck up what he's built here."

"You were obviously being too subtle." Barbara holds a soft smile at that, and then she shakes her head almost ruefully as she takes another sip of her own coffee. "I should really take a vacation… I'd even take a working vacation." Then she looks up at his grumpy observation, and her smile twitches slightly. "Glad you can accept me for who I am, Frank." Then she ducks her head slightly before she takes another bite of her pastry and sip of her coffee, and just relaxes into the habits of eating. Mention of Jess looking into Russo has her frowning slightly. Why would she do that, the Batgirl thinks to herself. Jess would only poke around something if it meant something important. She looks up at Frank. "I'm sure that there's nothing Jess could really find on Billy if she tried." She pops another bite of beignet in her mouth, and it leaves a dot of powder sugar on her nose.

"I thought that's what you were doin' every time you came up to the Big Apple?" A working vacation, that is. "And I dunno. If I'm on vacation, I don't think I wanna be workin' too. How shitty would it be to be lazin' around on a beach and then have to suit up and deal with somethin'?" Getting back to Billy has Frank squaring up his shoulders a bit pugnaciously, his forearms braced on the edge of the table and his hands wrapped around his thermos, "She had some crazy-ass conspiracy theory just because he named his company ANVIL. I told her to back the fuck off, because he's my brother." There's a bit of a warning to his words as well, although the heat evaporates as he spots the patch of powdered sugar. He resists doing anything about it for now, even if he has to tighten his lips to keep from smiling.

"Are you trying to tell me that you are my working vacation?" Barbara snorts, looking away with a bit of a grump. "Worst vacation ever." Then she tilts a look to him, her eyes narrowed. The look subsides as she shrugs, shaking her head. "I don't want to go to the beach." Beat pause. "No, okay… I want to go to the beach, but I don't think I would enjoy it. I want to go… I don't know. Anywhere but Gotham City, and New York… I would go to Buffalo at this point." Then she shrugs. "There's some conference with the American Library Association in New Orleans this year, actually…" The thought tapers off when the topic turns back to Billy, and her expression softens a bit. "I know, Frank… she will leave him alone, but my point is there's no reason for you to worry about him."

"Hey, I didn't choose it for you." Frank shakes his head, "But you've gone up there half a dozen times in the last couple of months. Goin' out of town, working." He shrugs a little, "That's a working vacation, right? Unless you work on the road." Collecting a napkin, Frank reaches across the table, pausing just a heartbeat in case she wants to pull away before trying to swipe the powdered sugar from the tip of her nose. "There's your excuse then. Get the fam to cover your night job, go on-the-job to the Big Easy, drink hurricanes and eat beignets." Another little shrug, "I just don't want anyone fucking up what Billy's built for himself. Especially not because of me."

The napkin-wielding Punisher gives Barbara pause, but then she holds still so he can daub away the powdered sugar. Despite his successful desugaring, she still reaches up and brushes at her nose self-consciously. "Thanks," she mumbles almost sheepishly before she shakes her head. "Maybe." She looks up at Frank, and she nods slightly in agreement. "No one will… Billy has a good thing here. He's… liked. I hear he has been trying to get in on the mayor's security." She smirks. "Biggest risk there is that the goons the mayor does hire might actually feel threatened." Because the main reason Jim Gordon can't actually cause real change is there's corruption above, as well as below.

"Got it." When she brushes at her own nose again, Frank snorts, "I said I got it." Shaking off his amusement, he adds, "I hit what I'm aimin' for, Red." A faint smile touches his lips, a bit of pride showing through, "Billy usually gets what he wants too. I wouldn't worry about goons goin' after him. Just masks." He drinks coffee in silence for a moment, then adds, "What's a librarian's conference like, anyhow? All stereotypes? Or a bunch of woo girls and boys?" Hey, at least he acknowledged that there might be male librarians.

"I don't know. I proved to be a hard target to it." Barbara narrows her eyes slightly at him, but at least she's amused by almost being shot… by now. Then she rolls the cup between her hands, it now a third from empty. Then she looks up at him when he asks after the conference. "Oh yes, we all sit very quietly in a ballroom and shush each other repeatedly. And then we do a gentle chant about the glories of the dewey decimal system." She sips her coffee, keeping a sobered face until a smile breaks out. "Authors come and preview their books, there's workshops on encouraging community literacy, and how to build reading programs. And librarians are actually really good at throwing parties." Her smile redoubles a bit. "Nothing like a bunch of drunk librarians taking to the streets."

"Did what it was supposed to," Frank counters. When she mentions chanting, he shakes his head, "Now I know you're shitting me. Librarians don't chant. It's too loud." Still, he listens, "So, woo girls wooing about books." Shaking his head in amusement, he leans back in his seat, "I didn't mention it before, I like the costume. You should get a Beast scalp at some point. Show you don't take any shit from any man, even if he is a beast."

"I don't like your tone," Barbara says with a narrowing look at Frank. She continues to glare at him while she takes a sip of her coffee, but then her brows shoot up over her blue eyes at his comment on her costume. Then she breaks from her glare to smile at him, head tilting a bit. "I don't know. I take a lot of shit from you, and if there's anyone in my life that is the Beast, it is definitely you, Frank." She gives his foot a nudge with hers under the table, and then she takes another drink of coffee before she reaches to pat some powdered sugar on her fingertip off the plate still between them.

Frank shrugs his shoulders, wholly unconcerned by the narrowed eyes. The comparison of him to the beastly prince causes him more consternation, and he frowns, "Really? Not… I don't know… the Crocodile?" He shifts at the nudge, taking another sip of the coffee, "And in this version of your life, is the Big Bad or Twitch the French guy?" I mean, technically, they're all French, including Belle. "What's his name? Guston? The guy with the gun and the bad attitude? Shouldn't that be me?"

"The Crocodile?" Barbara shakes her head with a rueful smile, and then she tucks her hand behind her ear, leaning into her elbow. She narrows her eyes thoughtfully now, and — decision made — she shrugs. "No. Gaston… definitely not." She then finishes off her coffee, and tucks some napkins in the cup — but not after patting up some more powdered sugar and consuming it off her fingerpads. "I like the idea of the beast pelt though." Then she gets back to the heart of his words, and she smiles. "And thanks… I like the costume, even if the wig itches. Might not be a lasting addition. Though," she looks thoughtful again, "I dunno. Do I make a good brunette?"

"I don't know, the big guy in the sewers who's all scaly and likes to eat people." Frank Castle hasn't studied Gotham villains yet, so he doesn't have Killer Croc's name down. At her decision, he nods, "Well, I guess I don't get to complain about Belle Icose's own reading of her own damn story," a chuckle is buried beneath the gravel of his voice. "Figured it'd add to the girl-power image. The pelt, not the wig. Maybe you can use the wig to make the pelt. I think they'll get the idea even if you aren't a brunette out there, Red." He takes another sip of his coffee, then starts gathering up the pieces of the thermos and screwing them together. "You gonna go join the team for drinks? Got the rest of the fam on call?"

"Oh. Killer Croc." Barbara actually grins ruefully. "Never ran into him." Then she finishes off her coffee, and her second pastry, and she's setting everything onto the plate for her to bus. She then smiles lightly at Frank's grumpy, but chuckled response to her Derby persona. "Damn straight, Beast. Deal with it." Then she shakes her head, curling her hand around her empty cup. "Yeah, I might just stick with the no-wig look. Besides, it'll go flying one day…" When Frank starts getting ready to go and mentions that she's got a date elsewhere, she sighs and nods, and then smiles. "Yeah. They'll give me a hard time if I don't go." She stands, grabbing up their trash to dump and to return the plate to the dishwashing tub.

"…and you'd probably get a tripping penalty if someone fell over it, right?" Frank snorts amusement. He finishes up closing the thermos up, standing up and tucking it into his jacket pocket. "You don't seem all-in." Scrubbing at his stubbled jawline, he shrugs a little helplessly, "I'd walk you over and give you an attaboy if you thought you need it, but I'm pretty sure you don't want your teammates to see you hangin' 'round with me."

"Probably." Barbara grabs up her duffel, and she swings it up across her shoulder. Then she tucks her hands into the pockets of her derby hoodie, and she tilts her head at Frank's words. A small smile tugs at her lips, and then she steps in closer to Frank so she can turn a kiss to his cheek. "I'm pretty sure my teammates already saw you at the arena, but I hear what you are saying." Then she nudges her shoulder gently against his before she starts to lead him toward the door. "I like the beard…"

Frank tucks his hands into his jacket's pockets, one cupping the side of the small thermos as he does, and he starts to chuckle, although the sound dies away at the press of her lips to his cheek. The faint smile that accompanied the chuckle remains, however, and he nods, nudging his own shoulder back into hers, "Yeah, but there's seein' me, and then there's meetin' me. And thanks. I figured it'd help with the seein' me thing." One hand slips out of his jacket to catch the door and hold it open for her.

Barbara tips out of the coffee shop, hands still in her pockets. Then she looks up at the stars that shine brighter in Gotham than in New York City. Perhaps there's just a gloom that hovers around Gotham that keeps the starlight shining. His comment about why he has the beard turns her smile toward him. "I liked seeing you." Then she ducks her chin slightly, hands in her pockets. "Alright. I should get going, or they are going to think I bailed." She takes a backward step.

Following Barbara through the door, Frank nods his agreement at her smiling words, although he doesn't respond verbally. The somewhat bashful stance that follows causes him to snort another laugh, "Don't want the other Chicks thinkin' you think you're too good for them." He sobers a little, and as he turns toward the corner of the nearest street, he adds, "Watch your six, Red." It's somewhere between a warning and a benediction, an earnest expression of concern.

"Always," Barbara says as she watches im begin to turn away. She smiles gently to him, hefting up her duffel before she turns to depart the other direction. She walks with confidence, comfort — particularly for a woman in this time and place dressed in fishnets, mini dress and sneakers. She glances just once over her shoulder to Frank, and waves gently to him.

Frank watches her head off for a moment, then shakes his head, "Poor bastard who tries to hassle her." When she glances back and waves, he touches two fingers to his forehead, then turns away himself, hunching his shoulders against the autumn night and headed to pick up a bus to the train station.

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