Therapy Dog
Roleplaying Log: Therapy Dog
Participants
IC Details
Synopsis:

Max (and Frank) help Babs with some of her anger issues, or at least with a temporarily-better mood.

Other Characters Referenced: John Constantine, Dinah Lance, Tony Stark, Jessica Jones, Dick Grayson, Owen Mercer
IC Date: January 02, 2019
IC Location: Central Park, NYC
OOC Notes & Details
Posted On: 04 Jan 2019 23:24
Rating & Warnings: PG-13 for language
Scene Soundtrack: [* ]
NPC & GM Credits:
Associated Plots

Skull Heads maybe not at Ball. Might be outsiders. Investigating.

The text message had come in, in the last minutes of New Year's Day. She would have responded sooner, would have asked more questions, but instead she was taking out the tires of a drug-dealers tricked out Honda Accord as he tried to flee her wrath in the Narrows. She hadn't even seen the text until the next day, after a hard, exhausted sleep. But once she had coffee, and the last bowlful of Lucky Charms, she finally noticed the unread message. Frowning, she texted back:

OK. OMW to NYC. Meet you at Central Park?

At Alice? Gimme 30 minute warning.

When the warning comes in, Frank grabs his coat, pulls on his boots and laces them up, and then gets Max's lead and a couple of plastic bags. There are actually a few snowflakes falling down when he reaches the statue of Alice in Wonderland and her friends, and he pulls up the collars of his coat and then sweeps up his hood as well, crouching down to give Max some attention, scruffing up the dog's fur and rubbing behind his ears. He hasn't learned a whole lot more since he sent the text, and he's starting to question his methodology already.

She's not dressed in her motocross gear, which suggests she took the train up rather than the bike. Instead, she's favoring a pair of jeans, laced-up hiking boots, and a heather gray peacoat; the loose turtleneck collar of her sweater gathers at her throat like a scarf, and her red hair is capped by a knitted beanie. She spots Max first, and is only reassured it is indeed the rot-mix when her gaze settles in on Frank. Her smile is tired, and comes nowhere near her eyes as she crosses the last bit of pavement to the pair. Bruised and nicked knuckles are offered out to Max first, and she accepts the doggy licks over her scabs and bruises. "Hi Max." Then her blue eyes lift to meet Frank's darker gaze, and her smile turns sad and tired, tightening and loosening with the small knot of tension she swallows down into her belly. "Hi Frank," she croaks quietly.

Max greets Babs without restraint, whacking Frank in the shoulder with his wagging tail as he goes to give doggy first aid. Frank glances to the redhead and frowns, "Rough New Years, huh?" He's holding himself a little carefully, and there's a bruise on his brow, but he seems whole enough. The croaking greeting — and the tension and sorrow behind her smile — causes his burgeoning smile to fade away entirely. "Shit, Red. You look like hell." Max's leash is shifted to his left hand, and he reaches out with his right to squeeze her shoulder, wary of any signs of pain from bruising covered by her bundled look. "You know you can call me before it actually goes to shit, right?"

Doggy first aid is the best first aid. She can't help but ruffle up Max's ears, and then she leans in to smooch his nose fondly. Then she leans into the squeeze to her shoulder, and her weight almost topples into him in her squat. She may be bruised and beaten up, but the squeeze does not seem to spark any winces or anything like that. Instead, she just resumes scratching and rubbing up Max's ears. "New Years was awful," she admits quietly. "John got some evidence from the Christmas party, and I wanted a follow-up sample… tracked some Hellraisers in Harlem — " Her throat tightens. "We got there too late. There was some kind of standoff between them and some Jamaicans, and there was a lot of collateral damage. Barely showed up in time to save a couple of kids." She leans in close, pressing her forehead into Max's. "What is the goddamn point?"

When Babs leans into the squeeze, Frank grounds a knee and accepts the lean, wrapping his arm around her shoulders and giving a squeeze before he looses the one-armed hug, just letting his hand rest on her shoulder as he listens. A scowl gathers between his brows, and he thinks for a long moment before he gravels, "The point? You can't save everyone, Red. But those kids're alive because of you two. They're gonna grow up because of you." Max can definitely tell that something is wrong, and he nuzzles into Barbara's face, neck, and chest, licking and snuffling as he does. "Their parents aren't gonna have to live without their kids." Which, of course, has particular weight for him.

The redhead just embraces the dog after Frank releases her from the hug. Max is a good follow-up to the hug, licking at her face and neck and hair and she just lets herself lean into it while she listens to Frank's comforting words. Her eyes remain closed, and she barely nods when it punctuates it with the realities — they saved someone, just not all. Her jaw works through her words, thinking over all that Matt has said, and John, and now Frank. She lifts her angry blue eyes up to meet his. "I couldn't let it go… I hit the Narrows… hard. I just… I wanted it to stop. We're accepting it… making excuses. Could be worse, there's greater demons, bigger threats… and so we let all the little stuff go." And that appears to be the worst wound. When you're dealing with demons and faeries and mob bosses and exploding gangers… you forget about the abusers, and rapists, and drug dealers. The little thorns that do small, but lasting damage to the invisible, the unseen. It eats away at her in ways she didn't recognize until she was on her patrol.

Frank meets the pale fire of her gaze with his own darker, steadier look, "Sometimes you gotta cut loose." Frank has always counselled that anyhow, even if he hasn't pushed it with Babs. As she settles in to sharing warmth with Max, Frank rocks back to give her a little room, leaving his hand on her shoulder but no more contact than that. "Yeah. Some shit's gonna slip through the cracks." Evidently, he's not going to sugar-coat things for her right now, going for a little low, growled reality. "If the cops can't catch it all, the Big Bad Bat can't catch it all, the Robins and the Birds can't catch it all? You think you can catch it all? You figure you're perfect or something, Red?" Evidently, that's a rhetorical question, because he continues straight on, "But everything you do, everything you do stop? It's one less person who gets hurt. One less family that gets broken." There's a pause then, and he asks just above a murmur, "You break any rules in the Narrows, Red?"

Sometimes you gotta cut loose. Barbara rocks back slightly from the affections of Max, her blue eyes a bit red-rimmed now in the wake of the comfort that comes from Max and his owner. She scratches a bit more offhandedly at the ears and neck of the dog, his tongue lolling out happily at the redheaded vigilante. When she looks up at Frank, it is hard to miss the weight that has settled into her. The rhetorical question causes her to wince slightly, and her chin ducks reproachfully. Then he gets to the heart of it — the center of his comforting words. One less family that gets broken. When he murmurs that question, her eyes close again. For a heartbeat, she thinks back through every blow, every kick, every fling of a batarang. Then she slowly shakes her head. "No." The word is hoarse. "Almost, though. A really stupid brave GCPD patrol car showed up, and I had to get out of there." She wipes the back of her hand across her nose. "Don't think that guy is going to stalk many women again, though." If he ever gets out of the hospital.

Frank nods, "Good." Because his over-protectiveness outweighs his principles of incarceration versus removal, apparently. Or he just knows how badly it would wreck Babs to for sure kill someone. He studies her, catching the way her shoulders sink under the weight of the world — or at least a city and a half. "You haven't looked like that since right after I finished my list, Red." He tilts his head to one side, "You think you failed 'cause you saved a couple of kids who woulda been dead without you there? When it wasn't even in your city? Shit, Red… those kids are lucky as hell you and John were up here." His fingers squeeze at her shoulder, then release, and something occurs to him, "You think you failed with me, don't you?"

Subconsciously, Babs tugs the sleeves of her sweatshirt down a bit over the bruised and scabbed knuckles. Her eyes flicker up toward him just as he tilts his head, voicing that thinking — that reality. She looks around the park, the statues of the Wonderlandians. Her hands rub down over her hips, the outsides of her thighs, and then she spreads her hands open with a half-hearted shrug. "Sometimes… we should have… we should have arrested Blacksmith. We should have handed him over to the NYPD… cleared your name, got you… your life back." Her words choke a bit, perhaps because in the very afterimage of those words she realizes that there is no getting Frank's life back… not without resurrection. And while her world has grown in its schema what with magic, even she knows bringing back someone to life always has consequences. She's seen Pet Semetary. She gets the jist. "We could have at least have you living your life as Frank Castle," she amends reproachfully.

"Red, you didn't fail me." There's a low, flat insistence in Frank's gravelly voice. By the choking-off of her words, he knows that she knows there was no getting his life back, and he looks down to the leash wrapped around his left hand. "By the time you caught up with me, I was goin' away for life if I turned myself in, and the Blacksmith'd already be back in his house runnin' more product." He scratches Max's back idly, then looks over to the young woman, "You know what I did New Year's Eve? I caught a Hellraiser. He told me they weren't the ones at the Ball. Told me they don't mess with magic, but they were workin' with Jennings. I believe him." Which probably means he tortured the ganger. "They're still shit, but you know what I did after I was done with him? I sent him off to the cops, made sure he got there, so he could sing."

You didn't fail me. She wishes she could let those words sink in, let those words take. For now, they settle in around her to be assimilated later, when she's not got such a wall around her that not even John has really torn down — chipped away at, bored out a hole or two, but not actually broken through. The mention of what Frank busied himself with on New Years Eve draws her eyes back up to him, and immediately her brows start to furrow. Her mind hop, skips, and jumps over the suggestion that Frank may have tortured the guy, and into the intel itself. "But they… they looked exactly the profile… demon bones for armor, crazy. And they had been threatening Jennings for weeks. If they were working with him, why would they be giving out death threats?"

"For show?" Frank shrugs a little helplessly, "Can't look like they're workin' together, can they? And like the guy said, anyone can put on demon bones. They do nasty shit, but carvin' people up? Magic? Not their style, is it?" Letting her work the problem for a moment, he speaks quietly, "But that wasn't what I was hopin' you'd hear. I tried it your way. Not because it was easier, not because he wasn't worth it. Because however much you think I changed you, dragged you down with what you helped me did, you changed me too, Red. That's another life you saved." Well, for a little while, but he doesn't know that the guy is already dead in police custody. He pauses for a moment, thinking back, "A bunch of 'em now, actually."

Now, that hits. It hits in an odd way that kind of rocks her back a bit. Her eyes flicker up to meet his, and she casually tucks a bit of fallen red lock behind her ear in a common, tired gesture. "You didn't kill him." The words are said softly, and in a dawning of understanding. She gets it then, and she reaches to touch his arm, gripping his forearm with her bruised and scabbed knuckles. "Frank…" Then her mouth sets into a weary smile. "Thanks." The word is said in a soft, meaningful whisper. He did something for her, or because of her. Her shoulders fall a bit, eyes dropping to the ground. Her mouth tightens. "We need to find out who those other guys were, then." She glances around, taking in Central Park. Then her eyes close briefly. "But I got to get back to Gotham…" Her mouth tightens before she gives Frank's arm a bit of a shake. "Talk to Jess… she's a great detective. Get Jess involved, and maybe you two can figure out who these guys are."

Frank watches the words settle in, and he nods slightly at the half-question, half-statement. "Don't mention it. Just remember, you're changin' the world, Red." Shrugging a little, he goes with her topic change, "Snow White's outta town with Luke. Or she was. Don't know when they're back." There's only a little grimace at the suggestion that he actually go talk to Jess, rather than Luke. "But good delegating, Lieutenant." He shrugs slightly, "I'll handle it from this side. Hell, maybe I'll even reach out to that friend of yours that's up here — Grayson. Clue one'a the good cops in so it can't be kept quiet." He pauses for a long moment, then lowers his voice a little. "And I get the whole 'don't let 'em see the cracks' shit, and it's a good idea on-mission, but Red… you gotta let someone see 'em. I'm good to be that person if you want, but it doesn't gotta be me. But it's gotta be someone. Someone who'll listen."

The mention of Grayson actually lifts her brows in surprise. She hadn't thought about that — sometimes, her vision of Dick is solely isolated to Gotham. But it is a good reminder that there are more allies here, more people who can do the work she can't. Shouldn't, even. The comment about good delegating carries her a bit, and she ducks her chin with a small smile. "Thanks, Cap'n." Because she's assuming that's his rank by now; no way she is taking the lieutenant spot from him. Then he's admonishing her — though it is really far from an admonishment. Reminder, maybe… that going this alone can be hard on the soul. She smiles at him wearily, and gives his arm another squeeze before she lets up. "Alright. Dick's not going to trust you, so you better come with some kind of peace offering." Or drop her name, but Dick and Babs haven't said a word about Frank Castle since the explosion on Pier 41.

Frank grunts as he's made a Captain, "Oh hell, Red, don't fuckin' promote me." Still, he smiles a touch at that. The weary smile and the squeeze at his arm draws a slow nod, and then he chuckles, "Of course he ain't gonna trust me. I figured I'd let him know where I was when TCLEC, Reyes, and Tepper happened. Probably can get security cam footage and clear me of those." Which isn't really a gift for the police officer, and Frank adds, "Plus I'd make sure he got the news from the Hellraiser. In case it gets silenced in the precinct." Frank may have taken some of Barbara's descriptions of the Gotham PD a little too far to heart, and applied them to the NYPD, or it's just the result of growing up as a hell-raiser himself in Hell's Kitchen. "Thought maybe I'd see if I could figure out some way to work with him like the Big Bad works with your dad." Because Babs hasn't told him of Dick's other job, or at least Frank hasn't remembered about it.

"Too late. You're promoted. Deal." The words are said good-naturedly — even if it is just a tired cover to the still wearied state of her heart. No one can provide the perfect fix. But, combined efforts, different angles, anewed perspectives… all good ways to start getting her back on track. The mention of how Frank is going to get past Dick's suspicion is good. She'd give him more. She'd tell him that Dick is a Bat, that he has been with Batman since before her. But, that's not her secret to tell. Instead, she just drops her head and rises back out of her squat. That's settled achingly into her bones and muscles; she shouldn't have stretched her tired frame too long. The pitch of Dick being the Jim Gordon to the Punisher has her laughing warmly, and she shakes her head slightly. "Dad did that in desperation… but I'm sure you can get Dick to work with you." Perhaps because Babs now plans to give him a head's up.

The little teasing is good, but the laughter is very good. Frank stays crouched down with Max for a moment as she stretches, scruffling the dog's ears before he too pushes to his feet. "Did he have to deal with demons and idiots and assholes?" Probably the latter two. Still, he'll take the win, even if it's just a partial one, and he reaches out to clap her lightly on the shoulder, "If he doesn't go for it, at least he's got the intel. You want to pick up some coffee to take back on the train, Red? We'll walk you back."

"He grew up in Gotham," is all Barbara says in reply to those three possible things that Dick's had to deal with. Then she smiles down at Max who decides he's missed Red, settling into her leg with his monstrous, but compact weight. She welcomes him with a ruffle of his ears. The offer for coffee eases her smile back into place, and she nods. "Yeah, coffee would be great. Maybe a cookie?" She could use a cookie.

Frank shrugs a little helplessly at her rejoinder, "Best two outta three." Max's mooching and snuggling draws a chuckle and a shake of his head, and Frank offers out the leash, "Yeah." There's a moment's pause, and then he asks, "You had any food in hours, Red? Real food? If not, we're goin' somewhere you can get at least a sandwich." He pauses, then allows, "And a cookie." Squeezing her shoulder lightly again, he starts to turn, gesturing off to the ease, "Good deli and coffee shop over there."

"Burnt pancakes," is all she offers in reply to his questions. It was a really bad morning before she hauled herself out to journey up to the city. She takes the leash, tugging on it lightly to let Max know who was now the bearer of his freedom-restraint. "Mostly burnt pancakes," she amends after a thoughtful moment. Then she starts to guide Max after Frank, letting him lead the way. She chuckles slightly, thinking for a moment as she orients herself with where she is. "Yeah, I know the one. I think Owen confessed his true love for me there." She's kidding, and it is easy to hear it. She goes on to explain, "Dinah let slip that I'm Oracle to Tony Stark. Owen overheard. He was… overprotective and ragey about it."

Frank grimaces, "Do I gotta teach you how to cook, Red?" Still, he sounds like he's mostly joking. Mostly. He's happy to lead the way, moving away from the little fountain statuary. Her news about Owen draws his brows up, and he chuckles, "Better watch out, his girlfriend is nuts." Literally, but Frank doesn't need to be clear about that. Still, there's something else to consider in what she said, "Well… he's Iron — " and then he stops talking, frowning for a few steps, "Huh. So he knows how overqualified you are for an internship now." That gets shrugged off, "See, you're helping Owen already, right? But why was he pissed at you?"

"I'll risk breaking my hand on your face, Castle," Barbara grouses at his almost-joke. The warning against Owen's girlfriend has her rolling her eyes slightly, and she falls into stride with Frank. "Tell me about it." Then she laughs lightly at Frank's casual shrugging comment about her over-qualifications. "I haven't talked to him yet. I keep waiting for him to show up at my work, or end up hanging around the florist shop. Or hanging out on my favorite rooftop." Not that Stark has figured out she's Batgirl, and Kamala promised not to tell him. The question about Owen's moodiness causes her to shrug, and sigh. "Apparently the second I called him in to help you, I got myself a new big brother-type. He's just being overprotective…" There's a quiet that falls over her for a moment, and then she shares more honestly, "He thinks that if I die now, the Family will blame him."

Frank snorts at her grousing, "Yeah, but you need your hand workin'. I don't need my face." Her angle on Stark, however, has him shaking his head in mock dismay, "You're playin' defense, Red. Hell, you're not even doin' that. You're turtlin'." A chuckle accompanies the words, "Why don't you show up at his work, under your own name, and see if he's put you in the system yet?" He nods at the mention of Owen being overprotective, and Castle shrugs a little helplessly, "It's catchin'." The honest statement causes him to frown thoughtfully despite the faint grin, and he nods, "I can see that. Guess you'll just have to not die, Red. Good thing you got plenty of help with that."

The challenge from Frank for her take the next step with Stark has her stalling her steps a bit, blinking at him. "You… think I should just show up?" That surprises her, and what's worse: she didn't even think about it. She takes a heartbeat before she's back in stride with Frank, frowning to herself. "I hadn't thought about that…" Then she glances to Frank once more, particularly at the topic change to Owen. Her shoulders lift and fall slightly, and then a small wearied chuckle escapes from her at the guess you better not die part. "Guess not." Then she looks toward him one more. "I never try to die out there, Frank…"

"Hell, why not?" Frank lags his steps so that she can catch up, "Best defense is a good offense." Her quiet words cause him to nod slowly, glancing down to where Max paces them at Barbara's side for a moment. Then he looks up, "Not even last night?" It's not a question he needs a direct answer, evidently, because he continues, "You ever get the urge, get Dinah to knock you out and call me. I'll bring Max down for some dog-therapy." There's… probably more weight than Frank intended to the words, more urgency. Certainly, his voice catches a little there in the middle. It's not like he hasn't just lost two different families or anything.

The question startles her a moment. It hadn't crossed her mind, hadn't been a conscious thing. In fact, she hadn't… then her mouth tightens a bit. She wants to refute him, but the she fears how she could do that, how she could refute it. Maybe she wouldn't sound convincing… but Frank keeps onward, not letting her try to convince both of them that she wasn't self-destructing out there in the Narrows. Her shoulders work slightly, and she offers a small smile. "Alright. I'll let Dinah know what the protocol is." Beat. "Can you bring Max down for dog therapy without the call though?"

Frank can read the startle, the thoughtfulness, and the worry, and he reaches out with his left hand, giving her elbow a squeeze, "I think you're a long ways from that, Red. But I also think you gotta do what you gotta do to make sure you don't get to that point." He nods at the little smile and the request, "Yeah. I can bring the little beggar down there in a couple of days. Just don't let Dinah cook anymore bacon for him," there's a little chuckle there, and he finally drops his hand from her arm as they reach the diner and he pulls open the door. "I'm assumin' the visit's for her, 'cause you're way too hard to need anything like dog-cuddles."

The reassurances from Frank that, in his current assessment, she is not actually on the path to self-explode is a good one. Outside perspectives are important. She smiles a little in silent thanks before she steps into the diner at his polite behest. She laughs at the mention of bacon, and her head dips slightly. A soft laugh shakes her shoulders. "Alright, I'll tell her no bacon." Then she slips her hands into the pockets of her jacket as she looks over the diner, and then starts toward a booth with him. "The visits are definitely just for her… I have zero interest." But just in case Max hears her, she ruffles up his left ear again.

Finding his way to the booth, Frank gives Max a look and points to the floor, and the dog lies down, enjoying the added warmth of the diner. When the waitress comes over, Castle nods politely to her, "Two cups of coffee, ma'am. Mine black, and…" he looks to Babs for her to give her order, taking the menu without really looking at it. Once the waitress has Barbara's order, he adds, "And a bowl for the dog?" and she heads back to get the coffee, and Frank turns back to his human companion, "You want to talk about the Narrows, Babs?" The question is quiet, barely more than a murmur, "or you want me to butt out?"

"Also black," Barbara says quietly. She picks up a menu, and — in contrast to Frank — she actually skims over the contents with her cheeks resting into her bruised knuckles. She looks up after the question, and she leans back a bit with one hand crossing behind her neck to rub at the back of her neck. Her eyes drop back to the menu, and she shrugs slightly. "Just went to the extreme… didn't let up when I should have… didn't… make the right calls." She rubs her fingertips across her lip. "I really don't want to… go into all the details… can we just leave it there?"

Frank studies Babs as she gives the brief description, watching the changes come over her freckled features. At her request, however, he nods simply, "Yeah." He gives Max a little nudge with one foot, and the dog stands up long enough to put his chin on Barbara's lap. Good dog. "We need to get you another holiday." There's a pause, and then he nods to himself, "Christmas was nice, Red. Had my own problems, but dinner was good. I'm glad you and Dinah came up."

"Yeah," Barbara repeats quietly. Then she has the heavy weight of a jaw on her thigh draws a smile down to the dog, and she ruffles up his ears. "He's got you well trained, Maximus." Then she laughs softly at Frank's remark of the holidays and its effect on her cheer. She shakes her head. "Christmas is the only holiday I get excited for." She looks up at Frank with a small smile. "It really was nice. I wanted to make sure that you had someone there with you, too. I guess, really… the guitar and everything else aside… my Christmas gift to you was having people around." She smiles a bit sheepishly.

"It's because I feed him and don't make him fight anyone," opines Frank dryly. Still, he leans forward to give Max a pat, and then the waitress is back with their coffee and to take their orders, "Scrambled eggs, bacon, hashbrowns, sourdough toast, please, ma'am." She looks to Barbara for her order, then heads off to put them in. Frank looks back to the redhead across from him, "Gotta find some more to get you excited about then. Make you a regular Holiday Inn." Wait, how the hell does he know that one, and not anything but kids movies from the past decade? Her sheepish grin draws a small smile from Castle as well, and he nods, "Yeah. I figured. You kinda nailed it, Red." He looks down for a moment, breaking his usual almost-unsettling eye contact, "Had some worries 'bout how it was gonna go. Some trouble the night before." He looks up again, "But it was good. Real good."

"I think it is probably more than that," Babs replies with a dubious smile. Then she leans back from Max just as the waitress comes back with their coffee. She cradles in the mug between her hands. She looks up after Frank has his order in, and goes for, "French toast, side of bacon." The latter may or may not be for Barbara. She then blinks in surprise at Frank's reference to that movie. "Did you just reference Bing Crosby?" She actually looks amused at that, and then she shakes her head. "Well, Valentine's Day is a hard pass. I never liked the holiday." Particularly since she started her vigilantism. It's an ugly day for some. "Not really into Easter." She would go through all the holidays that she could remember if not for the way Frank subsides a bit. She drums her finger lightly against the side of the mug, and then shrugs. "What kind of trouble?"

The order of bacon narrows Frank's eyes, but he lets it slide without comment, taking a slug of his coffee as she questions his movie knowledge. He shrugs a little helplessly, "I said my folks were old, right?" The mention of Valentine's Day draws a grunt, "Yeah. Domestics." As in, Domestic Abuse. And of course she would follow up. He had to know that she would follow up. So why did he say anything. Turning the mug around and around on the table in silence for a moment, Frank seems to notice what he's doing and clasps his hands about the white porcelain, grumbling, "Nothin' big." Bullshit. "Bad dreams." Looking back up to her features, he draws in a breath and just continues, assuming she's going to press. "Keep dreaming of that last morning. Maria waking me up." Max looks back over to Frank at the quaver in his voice, and butts his shoulder up against the man's knee. Frank drops a hand to Max's head, scruffling at his ears, "And then someone walking in behind her. Shooting her in the head. Except it's me. Doing the shooting." The words come out a snort little bursts, "Christmas Eve? It was like Thanksgiving. The new family," a little gesture across the table to Barbara, "and the old, all around the table. Guys march in, bang. Everyone's dead. Except this time… that was me too. All of them."

Domestics. She lets the talk of holidays, old movies, and the worst part of the lovers' holiday all slide away; instead, she's focusing on the heart of Frank's own weariness. She frowns slightly, and her head is already shaking as if to dismiss the mere idea that Frank is to blame for Maria. She reaches for his hand across the width of the table, and her fingers lightly grip at his wrist. "Frank — " Then her lips tighten into a hard frown. She lets him get through each burst, each note, and then she shakes her head slowly. "I don't… I don't think your dreams mean anything, Frank… beyond that perhaps you're worried that you're going to get us killed, but that's not true. Alright?"

The grip at his wrist gives Frank something to focus on, something besides the flashes of his face behind the ruin of Maria's. His eyes close tightly, and his shoulders expand with a heavy breath. "I dunno. Once? Twice? Sure." He looses the coffee cup with his unclaimed hand, pressing his fingers to the bridge of his nose and then up to his temples. "It's been every night since I finished the list." Not many people get to — or have to — see Frank Castle this way. Dragging his hand away from his face, Frank leans back a little in his seat, shaking his head and then opening his eyes, "You're probably right. Hell, at least one of the guests wouldn't even notice a bullet. And I'm pretty sure you'd see it comin' and get outta the way." There's still a haunted look around his eyes, though.

Every night. Barbara's grip tightens on his wrist before she gently releases him, her hand slipping back to her side of the table. Her breath settles with a slow exhale, not sure when her heart started pounding and nerves thrumming with sympathetic anxiety. The idea of sleeping every night, waking only when you shoot your own dead wife — that's a nightmare that Barbara can barely stomach. "Frank, I'm…" The words die on her tongue, and she ducks her head to look down into her coffee mug. She looks up only after a steadying breath, and then she nods. The idea that she was in his dreams, that Frank sees her killed in his dreams, it sends an uncomfortable chill through her. "Frank, I'm sorry… I… have you talked to Curtis?"

There's a reason Frank doesn't sleep much. Well, several of them, but the worst is definitely the nightmares. Her faltering words cause him to grimace, and he shakes his head, "Sorry. Supposed to be cheering you up." Rubbing a hand across his beard, Frank actually looks relieved when the french toast and eggs arrive. It gives him an excuse to delay saying 'No' for a little while. Frank nods his thanks and murmurs, "Ma'am." And then he's left with a plate of late-breakfast and an unanswered question. He pushes his eggs around for a moment, then shakes his head, "Naw. Don't worry about it. Just nightmares. Like you said." Gathering up eggs on his form, he looks up again, "So you think I should talk to Snow White about the bone-heads?"

"No, Frank — no." Barbara shakes her head, holding up her hands. She would say more, but not until the food is delivered and then the waitress moves off. She hesitates, breathing out a slow exhale. Then she shakes her head again. "Frank, it is okay… you're my friend. You need to be able to tell someone about this." Then she grabs up her fork, straightening up to look at the thick cuts of toast that have been fried up in custard and then covered in a snowfall of powdered sugar. The butter and syrup are liberally applied. She doesn't speak again until she's chewed through a bite. "I think you should. I think Jess is the right person to get involved in all this."

Frank shrugs slightly at Barbara's demurral, but her reassurances cause him to nod slightly as he works his way through the plate of food. It's a nod of acceptance and thanks. For a man of generally-few words, he can be eloquent in his gestures and expressions. "Yeah. Just have to make sure she believes me when I say I'm not lookin' for a target this time." He offers up a little smile at that, just a bare curving of his lips, "Think I can do that. I'll think of it as practice for gettin' Grayson to help out." A couple of bites in silence, and then he notes quietly, "I know I've gotta be able to tell someone shit like that, by the way. That's why I told you, Red."

Her smile twitches gently at the idea of Frank using Jessica Jones as his test run for talking to Dick Grayson — which means Frank is more worried about convincing her vigilante-turned-cop ex-boyfriend than the don't-call-me-a-vigilante detective. She shouldn't be quite so amused by this, but her smile shows that she is. "Jess will do it because it is the right thing to do." Then she also slips into silent eating, chewing through several bites of French toast. When he notes quietly, Barbara looks up from her meal, her head tilting slightly with a newer, if not still sad smile. She nods soberly. "I can be that person for you, Frank," she offers quietly. "You tell me when it gets really bad, okay? Maybe we can figure it out…"

"Yeah. If she's done with the job down South," Frank agrees. "If not, I'll make Owen help." Because nothing can possibly go wrong with that. And by the little smile on his lips, he knows that everything is likely to go wrong with that. Her offer causes him to chuckle dryly, "Just what you need, another job: Pete's shrink." Still, he's not exactly turning it down. A few more bites, and he nods again, "I knew you could handle it. My bet's on guilty conscience." And grief. But, well, that kind of goes without saying. "So besides admittin' to things I might or might not've done, what shouldn't I say to Grayson?" Because apparently he thinks he can handle recruiting Jess, even if he's not happy about it.

That has Barbara laughing brightly. The idea that Owen and Frank have a really positive (ish?) working relationship is more than a source of amusement for the Bat. She shakes her head, and her mouth curves into a dry smile. "Just don't tell him I suggested it, or he'll get all wiggy again." She takes another series of bites, and the idea of being Pete's shrink causes her to smile a bit ruefully. She doesn't speak on it, but she wonders with a tilt of her head if Frank is missing being Frank. The question about what Frank should or should not mention draws her brows up a bit. She balances the fork between her fingers for a moment before she shrugs. "Honestly, Frank… I don't know." Her eyes drop a bit. "Dick and I don't talk as much as we used to… but… maybe just not mention how much work we've done together. You saved my life when Blacksmith came after me, and I tried to get Dad off your tail when the manhunt started."

The bright laughter is an improvement, even if she goes rueful again almost immediately, and Frank smiles faintly himself. "Well hell, if we're usin' my real name, Red, you can be Frank's shrink." He continues working through his breakfast, "I thought that was a no-no for a vigilante." Now he's just teasing her, although it tails off along with her comments about Dick, and he lets out a breath, going quiet for another pair of bites before he points the blunt end of the fork across the table to her, "And is that because you're embarrassed of the work we did, or because you figure he wouldn't understand tryin' to make sure someone doesn't go bad?"

"Frank, you're a complex enigma. I'm not sure what exactly is a no-no when it comes to you." It's the truth, and is accompanied by a small smile that just barely reaches her eyes again. He is. And she has no idea what will happen as Frank gets closer and closer to the Bat Family. When he asks for clarification, she starts to shake her head. "Dick knows who I am." Which is at least some afforded share. No point in trying to hide that. "I think he would be more worried that I almost got myself in more trouble… for you. Like you, and Dinah… Dick is protective."

Frank snorts at the initial statement, clearly disagreeing on his enigma status even if it's the truth from a more objective point of view. "Frank's no-nos include bad trigger discipline, not takin' care of your weapons, and killin' innocents. See? Simple." Of course, there's the whole complex definition of 'innocents' to be taken into account. When she mentions that Dick knows who she is, he nods. The explanation of why he would be worried draws another nod, "Well, I did get you dinged by shrapnel, so maybe he's got a point. And I'm good with overprotective friends, especially when I'm a couple hours out." Which he's said before. Something about the list causes him to frown just a touch though, and he sets his fork down to finally give Max a piece of bacon to inhale. "I'll keep just how much you helped out in the field quiet."

Barbara smiles gently at his simple rules, and she nods. Yes, those are Frank Castle's rules, and they — for the most part — make sense. Though they will have to get to the complex definition of 'innocents' at some point. Down the road. When there's space between them and the deaths on Frank Castle's soul. "Yeah… Dick was there that night. Afterwards… I think that rattled him." She taps her fingertips on the edge of her plate, most of the toast and bacon destroyed. She does offer what's left of one strip to Max, ready to take the fallout that comes from Frank over that good-will offer. When Frank promises to keep somethings to himself, she smiles up at him after a moment. "Thanks, Frank… really."

Frank Castle is a hypocrite more often than he'd like — he lives in 'do as I say, not as I do' sometimes, but he doesn't chastise Babs for giving Max bacon after he just did it too. He nods slowly at her description, "That wasn't a good night. For me as a teammate. Got me a little more air to breathe, but it wasn't a good look on me." Which is probably progress if he's willing to admit that. The thanks draws a helpless little shrug from Frank, "Anything you need, Red." As long as it doesn't contradict with a name on the list, apparently, but when he makes the promise, he's not thinking of that. He shifts in his seat, digging into his pocket to pull out a narrow roll of bills and starts peeling enough off to pay for the meals and a healthy tip too. "Let me know when's a good time for me to bring Max down to see you and Dinah." That comes easily enough, but there's more weight to, "And any time you need to talk, I'm right here, or there, or on the phone."

Frank's words draw her eyes up to meet his eyes once more, and her blues hold an honest, if not a little sad smile. She gets it. She gets it more than anything else, a promise like that from Frank Castle. When he delivers it, she meets it with a nod. "I know, Frank." Then she's digging out her wallet. "I should get back to Gotham. I'm going to give Tony Stark a call." See? She listens. She will even follow-through — or that's her intentions. Strange how Tony manages to beat her to it with a well-timed phone call on her train ride back to Gotham. She digs out some cash for payment for the meal, and will give Frank a serious glare if he dares to suggest she not treat him to the brunch. "Come down soon… I might actually have some work for you."

"Yeah, you should," Frank confirms. He's stymied by the serious glare and the Mexican payment standoff, then suggests, "You get the food, I get the tip?" Because he recognizes that look, and that getting into the knock-down drag-out argument necessary to change her mind is seriously not worth breaking the relaxation she's gained. The comment about work draws a little frown of curiosity, "Alright. Lemme know if I should pack light or heavy. Maybe three-four days if that works for you? Crew's been off a while, foreman wants to bust some ass to catch up to schedule. And maybe I'll have a chance to talk to Snow White between now and then."

"Alright, you can get the tip," Barbara concedes. Then she puts out the cash, lets Frank add his tip. The frown of curiosity is met with a slight smile. "Rail gangs in Gotham are meeting… means we need to figure out why." Then she pops one last bite of French toast in her mouth before she glances back toward Frank. "I think it isn't going down until early next week, based on my intel. So that should be fine." She starts to slide out of her booth seat, but not before she ruffles up Max's ears.

Frank's brows raise sharply at that, and he starts cataloging in his head, "In the tunnels, or somewhere that I can actually get some range?" Because in his mind, rail gangs means 'heavy,' and now it's just a question of the type of heavy. He counts off a healthy tip, and puts the thinner roll of bills back in his pocket, draining off the last of his coffee and starting to slide out of the booth himself. "Just let me know in time to pack." Max looks between the two, then dives in for another couple of slurps of water from the dish under the table before he's ready too. "I'll walk you back to the subway. Ain't as fun as ridin' bitch, but it's what I got."

"Somewhere you can get some range," Barbara promises him with some amusement. She nods at his request, and she gives him a slight quirk of a smile. "I can do that." Then she looks down at Max, giving the mutt a bit more ruffles and fond pets before she takes his lead so she can enjoy the company of the pooch and his surly owner a bit more. "Thanks, Frank." Then she leads the way out of the diner.

"Good. I can provide some cover, and you don't have to worry the other Birds about me." There's a self-aware smirk to Frank's lips, "Unless you want me there with the vest on for close backup." He steps forward to push the door open for her and Max, following behind. He pulls his hood up against the cold, he shoves his hands into his pockets. "How was the party before those assholes wrecked your dress, by the way?"

Barbara's brows lift together in a curious, open expression. "Frank — " Then she smiles a bit, and nods. "Why don't you bring the vest, but we can start you in cover. If you need to change that, you can get in closer." Then she steps out through the opened door, and she gives Max's head a soft scrubbing while they walk. She glances toward Frank at the question, and she shrugs a shoulder a bit. "Didn't get to enjoy it much," she admits. "So, I guess it was like every other job I've been working since I was sixteen." She smiles ruefully.

Frank nods, maybe a little mollified by the smile. The shrugging admission, however, has him frowning, "Need to find you some parties that don't include big names, so you can actually enjoy 'em." As they walk toward the subway station, he glances over at the rueful smile, "Thought you liked the work. Or at least some of it. You sure talk like you and Dinah loved it early on." He shrugs that off, "Who knows, maybe there'll actually be enough security at Stark that you'll get to enjoy work there. At least as much as you loved the library." Evidently, he's assuming that she'll be quitting work there when she theoretically goes to work for Stark.

"The only party I want is a party with a good book," the nerd says casually. Then she shrugs her shoulders slightly at the comment about the work. While her hand works the leash, she looks down at her bruised knuckles. Then she shrugs again. "Yeah… one can only hope…" Then she tips a small, if not slightly sad smile up at him. She falls into easier conversation with Frank all the way to the subway station so she can begin her journey home.

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