Road Trip!
Roleplaying Log: Road Trip!
Participants
IC Details
Synopsis:

Frank and Babs take a two-day road trip. It involves relaxation, feelings, and a bar-fight.

Other Characters Referenced: Dinah Lance, Tony Stark, Billy Russo, Luke Cage
IC Date: June 10, 2019
IC Location: Gotham to Pennsylvania and back.
OOC Notes & Details
Posted On: 11 Jun 2019 06:47
Rating & Warnings: R for language and mild suggestive themes.
NPC & GM Credits:
Associated Plots

By 6 AM Saturday morning, Frank Castle has already woken up — a little late, actually, at like 4 — gotten coffee, shaved, gotten coffee and breakfast, and checked over his 'borrowed' motorcycle. When the appointed time comes, he's sitting in a booth in the diner, having added a leather jacket to his usual jeans and t-shirt summer attire, and working his way through another cup of coffee. Look, he's got a problem, okay? Several, but that's the one on display at the moment. Outside is a hog with heavy panniers, within easy sight of where the Punisher tops off his caffeine tank. He's evidently been working on resupply and logistics since he talked to Babs last, because he's fiddling a little idly with the belt-pack of a small two-way radio — another one sits on the table alongside his coffee cup.

Outside, a redhead is looking over the hog with serious look on her pale, lightly freckled features. A motorcycle helmet hangs from one hand, and she's dressed in snug jeans, a fitted tank top in sunshine yellow, and a dark purple motocross jacket to match her motocross boots; her hair is braided and rolled at the back of her neck with loose forelocks splayed across her brow. Her own bike is parked just beside his — black and sleek with slimmer panniers that do not take away from the shape of the motorcycle. She stops giving Frank's cycle a studious look and steps into the diner with a smile for the waitress behind the counter. She points to Frank and heads his way, slipping into the opposite side of the booth. "Hey," she greets simply before she turns over the coffee cup on the table, inviting it to be filled while she grabs a menu. "I forgot to mention no vest, no suit, but I think we both wordlessly agreed to that stipulation."

Frank looks up at the motion around the bike, and watches Babs study the bike. It's not creepy, just taking in the color scheme with a chuckle and then waiting for her approval of his choice. "Mornin'." He chuckles softly, gesturing to her attire, "So you just went with the closest thing you could to a your old suit. I see how it is." He grins and upnods a little, "Yeah. Not really gettin' away if you've got to carry your suit with you." He slides one of the radios across the table, "You probably got better already, but I figured that bein' able to talk while we're riding without calling would be good." He snorts softly, "Just so you can point out all the pretty foliage we're whipping past." Even if it's entirely the wrong season for colorful foliage, and he's the one who suggested the trip.

"I did not," Barbara argues without much conviction. When the radio is passed to her, a smile twitches into place — perhaps at his thoughtfulness. She will keep the sleek little earbuds she brought with her in the pannier, and instead enjoy the tech that Frank has looted. She shakes it a little at him and nods with thanks. "It is good to be able to check-in." Though then she just slightly sticks out her tongue at him. "I'll avoid pointing out the pretty things we're looking at along the way. Just pee and food breaks." When the waitress comes by to fill Barbara's cup, she turns down creamer and instead orders herself some pancakes and eggs, and gestures for Frank to put in his own order — if he hasn't. That done, Babs sets down the menu and folds her arms over it. "I have to be back early Monday."

Frank shakes his head at the gesture to him, pointing to his coffee cup instead, "Just keep it comin', ma'am." Once the waitress has gone off, he looks back to Barbara, "I ate an hour ago, Red. I've been up since 4." He sounds amused by this, rather than upset. "I'm surprised you don't have those millennial colored jeans. I bet they come in purple." Oooh, that might have been a low blow, and Frank appears to know it, by the boyish grin that touches his lips. Shaking the teasing off, he shrugs a little, "Really, though? Just pee and food breaks? What the hell kind of road trip is that. No sing-alongs or slug-bugs?" How they might play that on motorcycles is left to her imagination. "And Monday ain't a problem. Two full days should be enough to take some of the tension outta your shoulders." Or add more of it from the awkwardness.

"That's because you're crazy," Barbara tells Frank bluntly at the idea of him being up since 4 AM. "Now, I sometimes don't get home from patrol until 4 AM, but no way I wake up at that time. I was up at five, and out the door to meet you here." And considering she has almost no make-up on, that's pretty legit. The boyish grin and jab at her generational status has her kicking him under the table. "No purple jeans." Then she takes a sip of her black coffee, drinking it just like her dad does. She laughs at the idea of sing-alongs and slug-bugs. "We can do sing-alongs, but slug-bugs might have to be cashed-in at breaks." Then she nods at his agreement to Monday. "Good. As long as we're back in time for me to get to work in Metropolis."

Frank grunts as she kicks him, then reaches down and rubs at his shin, scowling a little. Look, when you're a badass vigilante, kicking someone who is an unaugmented human hurts. "Damn, Red. You can put your nightlife on pause for a vacation, but not your day job. Somethin' about that's fucked up." Still, he sounds amused. "Four is late for me," he admits. Which may have something to do with his habitual nightmare being somehow lighter today, fainter. "But I guess your boss isn't real big on days off for himself or anyone else, is he?"

"Do not judge me, Frank Castle," Barbara says, though his name is half-whispered. Then she straightens up, and a bit of a concerned frown traces her lips. "Frank, you still not sleeping?" This is a neat deflection of talking about Tony Stark and being Tony Stark. She'll come back to that soon enough. She touches the side of his coffee cup. "You know that this doesn't help much."

"Mornings suck." That's Frank's story and he's going to stick to it. "I get enough sleep." For some strange definition of 'enough.' Her attack on his coffee habit, however well-intentioned, causes him to curl both hands around the slightly-dingy white porcelain, "This does its job, Red." Which is to keep him awake. Because being too tired to do something he needs to do, that he wants to do, isn't going to happen again. His hands constrict around the cup, and then he shakes his head, "It's okay. I manage just fine." He shifts in his seat, taking another sip of his coffee, and then murmurs, "Still nightmares." It's a quiet admission that maybe two or three other people on the planet would get from Frank Castle.

Barbara snorts slightly at his first comment, then his second. The reaction to her threat against his coffee has the redhead giving him an arched look. Then she's reaching out to touch the back of his hand. "Your coffee is safe, Frank." She's just about to cross her arms in front of her again before she hears that quiet admission. Her brow settles into worry, as does her frown, and she's just about to speak before the waitress drops off the plate of pancakes with that dollop of butter and a side of eggs. Babs waits until she's left before she looks back to Frank. "Frank — " The soft murmur of his name is met with a frown. She folds her arms in front of her after touching the back of his hand just at his wrist. "Same ones?"

The paired touches to the back of Frank's hand causes him to shrug a little helplessly, dropping his gaze away. He looks up and offers a tight smile to the waitress when she refills his coffee cup, "Thank you, ma'am." He's silent for a moment after the waitress leaves, and then he looks across the table to Barbara, nodding slightly, "Yeah. Same one. Just the one." With his wife waking him up, and then being shot in the back of the head by… him. He takes another slow sip of his coffee, then puts in, "I think the others are holiday specials." Suddenly he's not sure if he shared the others with her. Just sharing the one was terrifying enough. "I'm good though. Promise. Not sure I'm quite ready to say I can keep up with anything you do on that bike, Red, but I won't be drivin' off the road or any stupid shit like that."

The note of holiday specials surprises her a bit, but then she sinks into silence. A fragile, brief smile ticks into place at her lips before it collapses back into something quiet, and uncertain. She settles into her food, not looking up for a long moment as she fixes up her pancakes with butter and syrup — a treat since she's usually pretty good about a tight diet. Only once she's taken a few bites does she look back up, blue eyes serious. "Once I'm done, we can hit the road. I got the first leg mapped out, but I also tried very hard not to make this into a schedule or that takes away from what we're doing, right?"

"Well there's a shit way to start a relaxing vacation." Frank's humor is as dry as dust. Still, he nods slowly, settling back in the booth and sipping at his coffee again. "No hurry, Red. I got all day. And tomorrow too." Faint amusement brushes over his features, "I'm believe you don't have us scheduled from dawn to dusk when I see it." He shrugs, his eyes crinkling with deeper amusement, "And if you scheduled us too tight, I'll just take off in another direction and you'll have to keep up."

The dry, dusty reply has her smiling at him ruefully. "It'll be okay." Then she takes in a breath before she eats another few bites of pancake, chewing through them before she speaks up again, this time with a scowl. "I have some plans but not all the plans. Give me some credit here." Then she laughs at his threat if she's got everything too tight, and she shakes her head. "Fine."

Then she tucks into her food so they can get going.

Frank subsides into comfortable silence as Barbara reassures him that she isn't going to go all micro-manage-y, waving off another cup of coffee so that they can depart.

It's a lazy, easy ride, what would be four hours from Jersey City to the mountains in Pennsylvania along the interstates takes six with a few diversions and a stop for lunch. Then it's a couple of hours of just zooming along twisty, turny mountain roads, the pair staying out until darkness starts to fall. This leaves them in the middle of nowhere in the center of the state, and as they drive past a combination motel-diner on the side of the road, Frank reaches up to touch the key on the radio somewhat unnecessarily, "Whaddya think, Red? Call it a night? Bet you could do with an uninterrupted night of sleep too." He probably could as well, if he was going to be honest with himself.

Barbara has perhaps loved this ride more than she should; Frank got to see her taking turns fast, almost leaning into a 45-degree angle as she banked the roads. The hills were equally fun, but since she wasn't about to go jumping the tops, she kept her wheels on the ground. Their breaks were welcomed, but so was getting back on the road. The further away from the world they got, the better Barbara looked. Soon, she was coming to those dimples far easier and her steps were light when they took their breaks. When the sun began to set, she had found a lazier speed that was comfortable enough that she sat more upright with one hand braced on her thigh. She hears Frank's voice in her ear, turning her helmet toward him. She nods once before she speaks into her own radio, "I could. Next motel?" Which ends up being a Days Inn with a surprising amount of trucks and vehicles in the lot, but there's a spot upfront that is just the right size for two bikes. It hugs a diner that looks local owned with no actual signage.

"Done," Frank agrees. Some of his knots and lines of tension have unwound as well, even if his own 'borrowed' bike — and his own skills — aren't up to the extreme leans and moments of weightlessness that Babs enjoys so much. Instead he settles for trailing behind on the more extreme curves and catching up on straightaways. He points out the Days Inn as it comes up, and then turns easily into the parking lot, bracing the big hog up on its kickstand and pulling off his helmet. "Food first?" Which will turn out to be a mistake, given that everyone currently eating is going to need a room too. He chuckles low in his chest, "Man, truck-stop food. I think I started to miss it in the city. They've always got a killer gravy." Either killer-good or killer-bad. He carries the helmet toward the diner, pushing the door open for her to enter before him.

Barbara is looking up at the Days Inn as if trying to scout which rooms are already taken. Then she is kicking down her own stand, letting the bike lean toward Frank's as she dismounts. She takes her own helmet, tucking it under her arm as she falls into stride with Frank. She speaks quietly into what looks like a smart watch on her wrist, "ALTHENE, secure bikes." And even though Frank's is not outfitted with the AI, there's a soft beep of confirmation before ALTHENE's soft voice says, "Secured. Enjoy your dinner." Then the watch goes silent. Babs expects a look from Frank, and she shrugs at him as they enter the diner. It is a mistake, but there are two seats at the counter that Barbara hones in on. She points them out to Frank. "Really? Miss it?" And here's where it shows how little travel Babs has done.

Frank looks in surprise from the watch to the bike, and then to the coder, shaking his head in amusement. "Damn, Red. I just figured I'd trust that no one's dumb enough to dig into a hog's saddlebags." He moves up to the counter, slipping onto the stool and immediately turning the coffee cup in front of him upright. He waits until the woman behind the counter is taking a breath between fetching, carrying, and checking out, then taps the cup, "Ma'am? Thanks." He waits until his cup is full, and Barbara's if she wants coffee too, then gathers up a menu, even if he's not really looking at it yet. "Yeah. There's something just… I don't know. Gravy covers up a lotta sins. And mess sections got a lot of sins to cover up." That is to say, it doesn't feel like home, but it feels familiar. "So whaddya think, Red? Kind of fun out here, yeah? I think I caught you actually smilin' there for a minute or two." Or several hours straight.

The hacker turned coder just quirks another smile at him, this one a little bit warmer and proud. "I got gear in my bike, and I'm assuming you do, too." She didn't bring her suit! But that doesn't mean she didn't bring other just-in-case gear. She falls into stride with Frank before she takes the seat beside him, and to her other side is a little old lady with some serious ink and her hair is a powder blue. She's wearing trucker gear, and her to-go coffee mug reads 'Honky Tonk Woman.' Barbara gives her an appreciative nod, and the lady smiles at Babs before she leans to look at Frank. When the lady leans back, she says to Babs, "You're too good for him, honey."

Babs feels heat in her cheeks, and she shakes her head with a bashful smile. "He knows." Then she glances back to Frank before she takes up a menu, saying no to coffee, but asking for water. City girls. She starts to look over the menu, taking in the choices. She looks up to Frank, and her smile returns light and easy at her lips. "Yeah. I'm having fun. It's been… good. I should do this more often. But… you know I don't have much time for this kind of thing. It was hard arranging it to begin with."

"I got all my gear on me," Frank responds, although that's not quite true. There's ammo for his pistols in the panniers. The burly, overweight man on Frank's other side seems non-communicative, which is just fine with Frank, but the eyeballing and commentary from the Honky Tonk Woman draws Castle's attention, and he glances to Babs a moment before he gravels, "Ma'am, you've got no idea how true that is." The comment, and Barbara's blushing response causes a grin to dance around the corners of Frank's eyes. It doesn't take him more than a glance at the menu to make his choice, and then he tucks the laminated sheet aside. Resting his forearms on the side of the counter, he takes a long slug of his coffee, nodding at the easy smile, "Couple of times a year. Even in the Corps, they gave us leave. No good to anybody if you break down from stress and tension and constant," combat, but, well, that's not the sort of thing you say at the counter in a roadside dinner, "work." The waitress comes back, offering Frank a warm smile, "Okay sweetie, what can I get for you and your," she glances to Barbara, starting to say 'daughter,' and then reading something else about the pair, "gal?" The warmth in her smile fades from something with purpose into merely polite.

The Honky Tonk woman just smiles at the pair before she settles back into her plate. Barbara glances just once at the woman before she looks back to Frank. "Did you ever take vacations when you had leave?" She hesitates, deciding in that quiet moment not to mention Maria and the kids. She would wait for an answer but then the waitress has swooped in. Ever attentive Barbara catches the almost moment, and she clears her throat slightly before she sinks down into the menu. She licks slightly at her lips before she offers up to the woman, "I'll start with chocolate cream pie, and then I'll take a cheeseburger and fries." She hands tucks the menu away as she lets Frank put in his order.

"Mostly, we just went over to the Park," Central Park. "Vacations with kids take money." He mentions them, with the attendant tug at his heart, but it doesn't crumple him. Not anymore. He glances over to Barbara when she's proclaimed his 'gal,' but he doesn't protest, just smirking faintly. Her order causes him to laugh, "Chicken fried steak. Mashed potatoes, not fries. Whatever you got for veggies. And apple pie." Another glance to Barbara, amused weight behind it, "after dinner." Back to the waitress, who has offered a silent apology by way of a lift of her brows to Barbara, "Thanks, ma'am." Frank looks over to Babs again, uncharacteristically indecisive for a moment, but then he takes another sip of the coffee and adds, "No more of this. I'll take a beer with the food." Whatever they're serving, apparently. When the waitress wanders off again, Frank gets back to the thread of conversation, "Spent a lot of time in the fields, or at the carousel," there's a little hitch in his voice there, but he powers through, "Went out to see Lady Liberty a couple of times. Nothing big. Always had plans, but they never fit 'round leaves so well." There's a pause as he pushes the cup around, then he looks back over to her, "You manage vacations growing up? I don't figure your dad was any better at taking time off than you are, yeah?"

There's something almost odd the way they've fallen into this conversation. Not once since she's known Frank has he just… talked about stuff. Not about Maria, or the kids. There was always something deep and emotional while also being almost detached. She watches him carefully with those blue eyes, almost trying to decide if there's something more to this — some angle he might be playing. Dinah's words, warning her that Frank always has irons in the fire, has her looking more thoughtful and dubious than she should. Then she lets it go — all go — and she just savors a human moment with Frank. They've been rare, so embrace it. Mention of the carousel has her looking a bit apologetic, but the diversion to the follow-up question. "Oh, yeah. Um. No real vacations… Coney Island, or maybe to the Met. Mom always wanted to go to the west coast, or even down to Florida. Never really panned out with Dad's work. I think that's sometimes why she left — Dad was married to his work. She felt more like his mistress. He would always choose Gotham's security and safety first, even when he was a Lieutenant." Her brows tighten at the memories. "Right before Mom left, she came into my room, woke me up, told me we were going to leave on a special vacation. She didn't tell me where. I remember asking if James was going with us." Odd to call her father James. "She looked really odd then. A few days later, she packed everything up and left."

Frank has settled into something relaxed, something he hasn't felt since… since before that day at the carousel. He recognizes it and blinks a little, his shoulders starting to tense as she responds, and then he just… lets it go, and savors a human moment with Babs. He draws in a slow breath and lets it out through his nose, something in his shoulders slumping out of the instinctive threat response. "Yeah. I get that. Even when you're livin' in the same house instead of humping through the bush in the 'Stan, you can be gone all the time." And then he quiets again, just listening. His dark eyes sharpen, staying on her blues even as a bottle of Bud is set in front of him. He lets her story sit for a moment, and then he asks quietly, "You ever think of what would have happened if you'd gone with her? If the two of you would have run away, left your dad to do his job on his own?" There's a pause, and his eyes narrow again slightly, looking over to his beer and then back to her, "Who's James, Red?"

Barbara folds her arms in front of her, and her gaze drops away from his darker, steadier eyes. She shifts slightly a bit in her seat before she takes another sip of water. "Dad works hard, always had… and I never, ever questioned if he loved us. His work, the focus — that was love for him. He cared about us by working and making sure that we felt safe." Her fingers loosen and she looks back toward Frank with a tip of her chin. "No. I don't ever wonder that. I was going to stay with Dad because he would never leave us. Why would I leave him?" The question about James has her wincing slightly, and she looks away. "Brother." The word is quiet. "James, Jr. He's younger than me by about six years." She looks into her glass. "He's in Arkham."

Frank nods slowly at the description, "Yeah. I get that." His own service was — if not love for his family, to keep them and others safe. Her claim to have never thought twice draws an even slower nod, "You didn't, did you?" He smiles, appreciating the sentiment, but then stops as she winces and looks away. He starts to say something, but just subsides. He's silent for a long, long moment, then offers out the sex-in-a-canoe beer. "You don't talk about him." It's obvious, but he still says it, "We've all got something we don't talk about much." Their food is delivered, and Frank looks his over, evidently finds the gravy-soaked beef acceptable, and then turns his attention back to Barbara, "Thanks. For telling me."

Her arms fold in front of her as she looks at her hamburger and fries. She picks up a couple of fries, eating them with a tilt of her head. She isn't as dedicated to her meal, taking her time with the food. "You say that I collect broken people. James was someone I couldn't fix. He did things… bad, horrible things. Things that — " Her words taper off, and she takes another bite of a french fry. "But it's okay. I trust you." Then she picks up her burger and digs in, surprised that it's good. She spares them more conversation, settling once more into quiet eating.

Going back to his beer, he takes a pull and then starts cutting up his meal, mixing all of the parts together on his fork. But he doesn't eat right away. Instead, he looks over to her, "James and Jason." He takes the bite, and keeps working through the food with machine-like efficiency. After a little while of taking on more fuel, he glances over to her, pausing in his eating. "You know there's a hell of a lot more people you've saved, right Red?" There's a pause, "You're good at what you do, Babs. Real, real good. And you make a difference. A damned good one."

The mention of Jason Todd has her throat tightening, and then she nods. "Yeah. Jason." She licks at her lips. More bites of burger and fries fill the silence until he offers her some comfort. "I know." She tightens her lips for a moment before she says, more quietly, "But you remember the failures more than the successes." Then she sighs out a breath, and she stirs a fry in the ketchup for a moment. Her eyes drift back to him. "Thanks." She takes another bite. "Doesn't always feel that way."

"Yeah, you do," Frank agrees. He doesn't interrupt the silences, working through the food on his plate. A long while later, he adds, "Yeah, it doesn't. But you're still doin' it." He finishes his dinner, then glances over, smiling faintly, "They didn't bring your pie before your burger." Turning his fork over on his plate, he pushes it aside slightly and takes another pull of his beer, "I guess they don't believe in dessert before dinner either." He chuckles softly, shaking his head in amusement, "I think she must be a mom."

"I thought I was on vacation." Barbara protests this because she wanted her pie, but she waits for it after she's finished her own meal. Her eyes drift across the counter before she looks up to meet his eyes again. "She'll bring it once she brings yours." Her nose wrinkles good-naturedly before she looks aside once more, and her fingers slide up behind her hair which long ago cascaded into just a messy braid of red. Then she looks back over at him, tilting her head as she does. "She probably is."

"You are. And I didn't say you couldn't have your pie first," Frank points out, and hey look, the pies are being delivered, as he watches Barbara play with her hair. He looks back to the waitress, offering up a smile, "Thanks, ma'am." He shifts for a moment, starting to say something, and then just closes his mouth, looking back to Babs, "There. Now you've got your pie." He digs into his pocket, pulling out several bills and tucking them under the edge of his plate. Then he gets down to his own apple pie, taking a few bites and then glancing aside to Babs, shifting the plate over slightly to offer her a bite silently. "How's that for vacation?"

The offer of pie is again a little surprise that she does her best to mask. Barbara smiles softly before she cuts a bit of a bite from the apple pie but only before she offers hers out for a fair exchange. "Eating pie from the infamous Punisher's plate would probably cause some of your worst friends take notice. So, secret?" Then she turns back into her own pie, whether or not he takes a bite. She chews through the chocolate and cream and pie crust, and then she is sliding out her own wallet so she can pay for her meal. "It's a good vacation," she says quietly.

"It's good," Frank explains, "Shouldn't keep that to myself." He hesitates before taking the bite of hers as well, considering the flavor, "Good, yeah. But sorry, I like the apple better." So he takes another bite, considering, "Yeah, I won't tell anyone you got Punisher cooties from my pie." Her quiet words cause him to smile, "Good. You deserve it." He pauses, "Let's get a couple of rooms before they're all taken." He nods around the full diner, "See a few more roads on the way home tomorrow." There's a pause, and he adds, "Max likes the warehouse."

So, Barbara pays for her meal after finishing up most of her pie. "Chocolate is better." She would turn this into a fierce argument, but she doesn't have much heart in that. She's hauling herself up to her feet and nodding. "Come on." She gives his shoulder a passing touch before she's heading for the door with her helmet tucked under her arm. She keeps in stride with him until they are outside. There's storm clouds overhead, and the rains do not sweep in yet. She glances up just once before she heads for the automatic doors that open into the lobby. She's heading for the counter where a balding man who might just be Santa Claus is manning the overnight services.

Frank gathers up his helmet as well, grinning over to her at the touch on his shoulder, "Chocolate is great. Apple is better." But he's chuckling when he says it. The sky gets a glance, and he starts to reach for the door — only to have it whoosh aside like a starship door. Shrugging a little, he nods upwards to the man behind the counter, "Couple of rooms, sir." There's a low gravel to the request, but no anger. Unfortunately, Santa Claus would prefer not to be working, so he grumbles back, "Nope. Can't do it. One room left." He looks up, and his eyes take on a not-kindly twinkle, "But that won't be a problem, will it?"

Barbara is getting out her wallet to pay for the rooms, but then she is blinking up at the news that there's only one room available. She opens her mouth to object to the mere idea, but then she finds herself saying, "Shouldn't be." There's some hope that if the room has two beds, that will fix a lot of those problems. She glances to Frank briefly before she digs out some cash to pay for the room. It won't be much because there's some stains on the carpet she's not paying attention to. She pays for the room, and Santa Claus slides over a keycard.

Frank reaches over to touch Barbara's forearm when she reaches for her wallet. "Nope." His other hand digs his own wallet out, even as he scowls at Not-Santa, "You're kidding me, right? All of this, and you've got one room left?" Not-Santa shrugs helplessly, looking between the two, offering out the keycard. Frank looks between Babs, Not-Santa, and back to Babs, "This — " he stops, stymied a moment, then shakes his head, "I got it, Red." And then back to Not-Santa, "Yeah, fine, we'll take the room."

"Not his fault," Babs murmurs to Frank — of course, that's only true if Not-Santa isn't trying to be the worst matchmaker on the planet. Then she puts away her wallet, not willing to fight Frank on that. Once he pays for the room, Babs offers a little smile at Frank before she checks the little envelope for the room number — second floor. She notes the elevator, but instead diverts her steps toward the stairs. She slings her duffle over her shoulder. "It will be fine," she promises him. "Two beds, and if not, we will make it work."

Slinging his panniers over his shoulder again, Frank takes the key, gives up the envelope readily, and then heads for the stairs. Elevators are kill zones. Once more, he takes a couple of quick steps to push open the door for her, but he's stuck behind her on the stairs, and can't do anything about the door there. "Hey. Red. It'll be fine." He chuckles a little dryly, "Pretty sure a place like this doesn't have a bridal suite." He glances up and down the hallway on the second floor, calculating angles of fire, methods of assault and breaching, then looks back to Barbara, "It'll be fine." The repetition may not bode well. At the door, he waits for her to unlock it, then glances in — and there are two Queen-sized beds. There's also peeling linoleum in the bathroom, another unidentified stain on the floor, and, well, it's clean enough besides that. "See? Nothing to worry about."

"I wasn't worried," Barbara tells him pointedly as they both take in the beds. "I figured if there was only one bed, we would rock-paper-scissors for who has to sleep on the floor." Then she steps inside with a twitch of a smile; she heads for the bed nearest the window, assuming that Frank would prefer the other one. She drops her duffle and sets her helmet more carefully in a chair. She takes in a breath, and is pleased that there's no smoke smell. She lifts her eyes to his briefly before she offers him a smile. "At least now I won't stay up all night, reading." With a little shrug, she starts to unpack her duffle, she tugs out her PJ pants and a loose t-shirt. "I'll change in the bathroom. You can let me know when I should come out." Assuming he will change, too. She slips passed him with a little smile as she heads for the bathroom.

"Yeah, you know I'd end up on the floor, Red." Frank heads over to the corner beside the second bed, setting the panniers and helmet down on the floor. He shucks off his jacket and tosses it over to the others, then stops at her words, blinking, "Oh yeah." He shrugs slightly, "I ain't exactly worried, Red. You've seen my wounds." The physical ones and the emotional ones alike. He probably means the former. Dropping down onto the bed, he starts to unlace his boots, "You can come out whenever you're done, Babs. I'll be in bed with a book." He ducks his head to hide a grin at the direct comparison between what she says she won't be doing. When she goes into the bathroom, he pulls off his jeans as well, climbing under the covers and staying sitting up, a book gathered in his lap as he stares at the door to the bathroom, frowning thoughtfully. "What the fuck, Castle?" The words are a murmur, and he shakes them off, looking down at the book — one of the Richard Sharpe books.

"Okay, then," Barbara says with a little laugh at his direct defiance to her words. Then she's in the bathroom. There's very little sounds from inside the bathroom — the flush of the toilet, the light rustle of clothes. Inside, she's combing her fingers through her hair as she loosens it in to its soft red waves. She stands in the bathroom for a long, breathless moment. Then she grimaces, chiding herself under her breath, "Don't do anything stupid." Those words steady her, and she takes out her phone to text Dinah, letting her know they got to a motel and all is good, and that she will check-in before they head out in the morning. Then she gathers up her clothes, folding them up before she steps out in soft gray PJ shorts with little white polkadots. Her vintage t-shirt is old and weathered, and it is big enough to blur her curves. She catches sight of him in the bed, and she offers him a little smile at the sight of the book. "Nerd." Then she's dropping her clothes into her duffle and peeling back the blankets. She checks them once before she crawls into her bed. That's when the awkward sets in.

"Don't do anything stupid," Frank mutters to himself, and has just turned away to look to his book when Barbara slips out of the bedroom, "Wait. You're calling me a nerd? Seriously?" He is only there for a moment, and then he pushes up, heading for the bathroom himself. He doesn't have PJs, just his boxer-briefs and his t-shirt, and so his steps into the bathroom come a little quick. "Don't you have some glasses to wear, nerd?" The door closes behind him, and there's the sound of water as he deals with his own bedtime routine. In addition to the book on the bed, there's a pistol under his pillow. He raises his voice to call out, "Nice shirt, by the way." He drops his eyes to meet his own gaze in the mirror, rolling his eyes at himself.

"Uh huh," Barbara tosses back dismissively when he tosses that comment about glasses over his shoulder. Then she is sinking down into the bed as she gets out her glasses case as well as the contacts case. Out go the contacts, on goes the glasses. She pushes them up the bridge of her nose briefly. The compliment about her shirt catches her off-guard a moment, and she looks down at the shirt before she calls back, tone a bit too casual, "Thanks." Then she's settling down beneath the top sheet and comforter and her head sinks into the pillows with a soft exhale. She doesn't go for a book, but instead looks like she's settling in to sleep.

A moment later, Frank's out of the bathroom, drying off his hands and setting the towel back on the counter. His steps over to his bed again and slips in, "Okay, the glasses…" he stops whatever he was going to say, then just shakes his head, gathering up his book again, "You going to crash, Red?" He hesitates a moment, then adds, "You want me to get the lights?" Distractions. Distractions are good. Frank sets the book aside, then considers for a moment, "Thanks, Red. For inviting me along. The break's good for me too."

When he steps out of the bathroom, there's a great swell of awkwardness between the two — and Barbara is sitting up enough to take off her glasses to fold them up. "I should. You can keep reading. The light won't bother me." Then she gives him a little smile at his thanks. "Thanks for coming along, Frank." She hesitates just for a heartbeat before she offers quietly, "Goodnight." Then she's curling up under her blankets, and rolling on her side so he can continue to read if he likes.

Frank shakes his head, "Naw, I should try to sleep too." Thankfully, he really only has to scoot over to shut off the lights between the beds, and then he settles back in the dark, looking up at the ceiling, "Night, Red." But it takes him a good long while before he finally falls asleep himself, hearing the breathing of another human being in the same room as him for… well, for the first time in a while.


The dream is new, but there are familiar themes to it. He sits alongside Barbara Gordon, sharing the same couch with their shoulders and thighs comfortably pressed together. They each have their noses in a book, her look completed by the glasses he's just seen for the first time perched toward the end of her nose. Wisps of cinnamon hair have fallen away from her casual bun, framing her face, and he smiles, looking back to his book. It's a comfortable, intimate moment, something between two people who are certainly more than friends. There is a sound behind them, and suddenly Frank can't move his arms or legs, can't do anything but twist in his seat to see a blocky man in camouflage fatigues and a balaclava stepping up behind her, leveling a pistol at the back of her head. "NOOOO! Red!" A shot rings out, and blood, her blood, patterns each of their books, the couch, and his legs.

Frank sits up in bed sharply, his waking silent but for the catch of his breath, the whisper of sheets around his t-shirt-clad torso, and the faint creak of the bedframe. The red light of the clock burns steady on the bedside table between their separate beds, reading 3:58. He almost made it to 4.

"Frank?" His name is soft, and there's movement that becomes a silhouette of someone sitting up in a bed that's only three feet away from his own. Maybe he had been making noises in his sleep, or maybe Barbara had been woken by her own dream, but she's moving carefully from the bed to sink her knees down on his. She waits until he looks at her before she touches his face, her own calloused fingers — softer maybe, less pronounced due to gloves — resting at his cheek. "Hey… Didn't mean to wake you."

Frank twists in his bed, eyes wide in the darkness as he bunches himself — only to have the tension in his shoulders and arms release as he recognizes Barbara's voice, her features dimly lit by the light filtering through the room's thin curtains. His eyes close when her fingers touch his cheek, and he draws a breath into a chest suddenly tight against the expansion. "You — " his voice is even rougher than usual, and he clears his throat, "You didn't, Red. Sorry. I didn't…" no, she already said she was awake, at least in some way. "You didn't wake me up." He grimaces hard, "Dream. Nightmare." But there's a little puzzlement in his voice as he realizes that it wasn't the nightmare. It was something else this time, something not related to Maria at all except that both women were shot at the end. He scoots back into the pillows and headboard, staying upright and reaching out to touch his fingers against the soft jersey material over her shoulder so she doesn't think he's withdrawing from her. "What the hell were you doin' up, Red?"

At first, Barbara is puzzled. She wants to ask what didn't she do, but she instead holds back her questions to watch him. He settles once more, and she feels his strong hand on her shoulder. "Dream. Nightmare." Her smile is barely seen in the dark of nearly 4 AM. She looks at the clock in passing before she is slipping in close to join him against the headboard. "I was trying to get back to sleep when I heard you — it was a change to your breathing. Then you were sitting up." She tilts her head, taking in what little she can see of his face in this shadowy light.

"You too?" Frank grunts, shaking his head in amusement. There's a slight tension when she leans back beside him, his eyes flickering over to the door and his hand shifting the pillows at his side, finding the comforting weight of the pistol (safety on) there. But then he relaxes into it, looking over to her, "Didn't know you were having nightmares too, Red. Shoulda told me." He shifts in his seat just a little as he looks over to her, seeing even the faint light from the window painting her face in start contrasts of brightness and shadow. "You're gonna try to sleep more?" His eyes flicker to the clock, and he considers the time for a moment, his lips tightening and loosening for a moment, "Probably should, if this is a vacation." He might not be able to though, not after that dream again — no, not again, after the new dream.

"Yeah. Disorientation — being away, out of a space that I know is safe. Happens." She looks away, down the length of her legs. "One thing they never tell you is that deciding to help people means you see the horrible things people do to each other." Her smile is fragile in the half-light as she looks back up at him. She can sense his tension, feel it spilling around him. That little moment of telepathy — where she can sense him — is rare, but quiet. She feels it, and she lets it in. Barbara is touching his hand, drawing it open so her fingers can slide into his palm before unfurling to weave with his. She squeezes his hand. "We both should." She feels an awkward tension fall around her, but she swallows it down, forces it away. "Keep me company? I don't think I'll do all that hot trying to get to sleep in that bed again. And, I trust you… feel safe with you." It's cliche and terrible, and she knows it — but cliche and terrible doesn't make it less of a quiet, earnest need.

Frank takes in the explanation, nodding slowly. "Yeah. People are shits to each other." Probably not what he was meant to take from that description, but there it is, some of his frustration with the world — neatly diverted when her fingers touch his. He looks down, surprise tensing his shoulders again, but again he relaxes quickly, his fingers closing loosely around hers. At the request and the cliche that follows it, he swallows once, but there's only a heartbeat's hesitation before he nods, "Okay." He starts to settle down into the pillows, only to realize that's not going to work so well with his fingers still entwined with hers. His lips quirk upward just a hint as he squeezes her hand then slips away, shifting the light hotel covers about him as he lays out on his back, then turns his head to watch her lay down as well. "Pretty sure you're pretty safe with most anyone, Red. The way you can handle yourself." There's a pause in the gravelly murmur, and then he reaches out for her forearm under the covers, sliding down it to give her hand another squeeze, "But yeah. You're always safe 'round me." There there it is. Frank shared a bed a few times on his travels, but he hasn't slept with anyone else but Max in… somewhere around a year.

"Yeah." The first reply is soft. Barbara squeezes his fingers once more, but then as they settle, she releases his hand before it gets awkward. The okay is met with a little nod of her chin, and then she is shifting around to get under the covers just before she realizes she shouldn't. It's too late now, and she sighs out a slightly self-deprecating breath before she settles down into the pillows with a slight nod. "I know," she smiles to him with a quick, gentleness. Then she rolls up on her side, back to him. "Thanks, Frank," she murmurs, hesitating before following up with, "Get some sleep." Then she curls into her arm and starts to drift. Or at least, that's what she hopes happens when she closes her eyes.

They're both clothed. It's totally fine. (It's not totally fine.) On the queen-sized bed, there's plenty of room between them, room enough to lay a sword — or a rifle — down between them. But it's still close enough that Frank can imagine feeling the heat of her form radiating across the intervening distance, warming his side. "Yeah, you too, Red." The words catch in the gravel of his throat, but he doesn't try again, curling his right arm under his head and letting his left hand sit on his stomach. He stares up at the cheap popcorn ceiling, listening to his breathing, to her breathing. It's twenty or thirty minutes before his eyes finally close and he sinks down into sleep. It's a pretty solid confirmation that even this paranoid man trusts the woman beside him.


Morning comes brilliant in the windows that are just shaded by the gauzy outer curtains. It brightens the complete shittiness of the motel room, the tousled sheets of the empty bed where Barbara had been tossing and turning against her own nightmares, and then the two prone figures in the bed furthest from the window. Shifting had happened in the night, and now Red is curled up on her other side, nestled up closer to Frank. There is no sword nor rifle laid between them, and she has gravitated toward his warmth in the night. Her head is bowed toward his side, hair splayed out in a red bloodied wave against the pillow. It's the feet is where the most touching has happened, her knees bent in enough to press the tops of her feet against the side of his calf. Her arms are tucked under the pillow protectively.

Frank isn't quite on his side, but he's curled in toward the warmth across the bed as well, half-up on one shoulder to face the freckled features and fan of red hair. It's the feet where they've crossed the unspoken neutral zone, and his right hand, which has crossed his body to rest his fingers on the smooth skin just above her knee. For once, it's the light that wakes him, not a screaming nightmare, and his dark eyes unshutter, blink heavily and in confusion, and then focus on the pale features before them. His hand carefully retreats back to his own side, and he just lies there for a long moment before he slowly rolls fully onto his back, not drawing away from the warmth of her feet and shins against his calf, letting himself come fully awake without the shock of horror. It doesn't take long, and he settles in for a few minutes before he stirs once more, carefully pushing himself up on one elbow to reach over Barbara, past the clock showing 7:42, toward his book.

Frank reaches across her, stretching a strong limb toward his book. He triggers some honed, instinctive response, and suddenly he's being grabbed by the redhead, seizing his arm both below and above his elbow. She leverages him, throwing her entire body to the edge of the bed in hopes of sending him over her and onto the floor; this is probably helped by him being on his elbow rather than completely flat—

He probably should have expected that. Frank is neatly leveraged, dragged across her curling body, and he gets his free hand up in time to get between his forehead and the bedside table, still thumping heavily into the furniture and sending the lamp teetering and tottering. "Fucking hell," he snarls as he ends up on his back on the thin carpet, his legs still draped up over the side of the bed. "Goddamn it, Red." There might even be a little chuckle behind the cursing, however, as he tests his forehead with one hand.

Barbara is still moving, her brain not roused from instincts. She's aiming to roll off the bed to get herself sitting on the big man, and she's almost down astride his stomach with her hand pulled back into what would be a powerful punch, but then she hears her name and it shakes her out of that moment. She blinks down at him. "Frank?" Confusion blurs her eyes for a second and then everything from last night snaps back into place. "Shit," says the woman who almost never uses such language! She's pushing off him quickly, using the other bed to leverage her up onto her feet and freeing him from what would have been a full-throttling from the Batgirl. "Sorry!" The word is breathed sharply before she's offering him a hand-up.

When Frank finds Barbara in his lap, he shifts beneath her, twisting aside — and then she's up and bouncing back up to her feet. "And I thought I woke up hard." He's reaching out to take her hand before the phrasing hits home, and he grimaces a little, using her lean strength to drag himself up to his feet. "I was going for my book, not your throat." Her hauling him to his feet leaves him closer than is strictly comfortable at the moment, and he gives her hand a squeeze before he steps past her, around the base of the bed toward his panniers and the clothes within, "You okay, Babs? You went from zero to sixty in like zero seconds there."

"Sorry." The apologies flow easily — perhaps too easily — from her. The redhead is taking in a deep breath, straightening up her shoulders once he's up, and close. The squeeze to his hand is returned, and she's taking in a breath to settle that adrenaline-kicked heartbeat. Her eyes lift up to meet his briefly before she's also stepping back, and there's some threat of running into each other awkwardly. Then she is tucking a bit of red hair behind her ear, glancing around the room as he steps toward his clothes. She clears her throat slightly, and she glances slightly over her shoulder. "Sorry," she repeats. "My dreams have been rough lately. The Whispers — and demons." She rolls her shoulders a bit beneath her oversized t-shirt, and then she hooks her hands loosely at her hips.

Frank manages the shuffle-step-stop-arch-eyebrows-shuffle-step to get around the likewise backing up Babs with a little chuckle. The amusement fades, however, at her explanation, his hands stilling on the cover of the leather saddlebags. "Yeah?" There's a pause, and he grunts, "I get that. Shit you don't understand… it's scary as hell." He idly shifts some of the clothing in the bag around, then stops, "You want the first shower?" Since they'll have to share the bathroom. "We can also just get on the road. If you wanna get away from them." The dreams.

"Yeah." It's a little quiet monosyllabic reply — far more common to Frank Castle than to Barbara Gordon. But, the awkwardness is mounting and Babs is feeling herself shuffle from one foot to the other. "Sorry about last night. I probably should have coped, not invaded your space. I know that you're not…" What? Warm and fuzzy? Available emotionally? Whatever the reason tapers away into silence. "We're cool," she settles on. Then she is nodding slightly at his offer. "Yeah. I reek." It's a casual toss-away comment as she grabs up some clean clothes from her bag. "I'll be quick." Then she's stepping past him for the bathroom with just a glance over her shoulder to him and a little smile.

"You don't gotta apologize," Frank promises. "It was…" he stops, considers, a frown gathering around his brows. 'Okay' seems wrong, as does 'fine,' but 'nice' just… he can't say that. Even if it's true. "First time in a long time that I've gotten back to sleep." There's an implicit compliment there, but he doesn't make it explicit. "Didn't even notice," is the response to her complaint about smelling, but he doesn't follow up, just dragging out a change of clothes for himself and laying them out on the bed. He sprawls on top of the bed that they shared for part of the night, dragging over his book and flipping it open, trying to get his mind off the fact that the bathroom is occupied.

"Yeah. You needed it." It's the best Barbara can do. Then she's disappearing into the bathroom and letting the door fall shut. She doesn't lock it — perhaps as another sign of trust with Frank. He won't, he wouldn't, he probably doesn't even consider it. She's not that someone. So, she rolls out of her shirt and shorts, and folds them. She looks suspiciously into the shower, but it is surprisingly cleaned — scoured and bleached down to an off-white. She checks the shower head before she turns it on, full blast and hot. She keeps her promise, staying in just long enough to wash the road grime and sweat from her skin and scars. She checks over bruises that are yellowing at her side, tender still at the ribs though they stopped aching about a three days ago. The gnarly bruise and scrape at her hip where she hit the pavement is still unsightly, but otherwise — she's fine. She's always fine. In the shower, she rests her forehead against the cool plastic as the shower beats up her back in a sharp, needle-like pressure.

Frank doesn't exactly consider it. He does have a moment's flash of pale, freckled shoulders being pelted with warm water, the scar at her side, and then he shakes his head hard, focusing on the book in front of him. Sharpe is doing his usual fool-hardy stunts that get shit done, and Frank only looks up to the door once more before the shower shuts off, tucking one arm under his head as he waits and reads. And grumbles under his breath, "Don't be an ass, Frank." Still, she's very right that he needed the extra sleep, and he's feeling energized, restless, even eager.

The shower shuts off, and Barbara opens the curtain before grabbing for a towel. She rubs at her face, and shoulders, and takes care around the bruises and scrapes. Then she's stepping out onto the mat, toweling off more vigorously before her hair is twisted up in the towel. Dressing is fast and efficient, and she's stepping out of the bathroom in lean, black cargo pants and a fitted ivory t-shirt with a cartoon kitty stuffed into a medicine bottle with the words 'ANTIDEPRESSANT' printed across the bottle's label. Her socks are bright blue and thick soled for her boots. She calls to the front room, "Tag, you're it." She grabs up her PJ clothes until she's stepping out into view. She catches sight of Frank with his book and it inspires a warm smile. "All yours."

Frank carefully keeps his eyes on the book even as Babs steps out of the bathroom, only looking up a moment later, "Yeah?" He folds the book around a marker, then sets it on top of his panniers, gathering up his dop kit and clothes and pacing over toward the bathroom door. That involves another careful little dance in the doorway, Frank turning sideways to slip past Barbara, "I like the shirt." There's a beat pause, "You get more than one?" Because they talked about buying multiples in case of bloodstains. Without thinking about it, one hand reaches out to touch her shoulder as they pass, shepherding her out into the larger room. "I'll just be a minute." Despite the claim, he strips off his shirt, wiping down the molting mirror with a towel and studying his own sparse (for now) collection of bruises, and his much less sparse collection of scars. He draws in a breath, shakes his head, and mutters, "Yeah, no." That apparently decided in his own mind, he sets to shaving briefly, then shucks off his undershorts and steps into the shower himself.

"Thanks." Then there's laughter and she tugs lightly at the hem. "Yeah. Just three though." Then she's back in the main room, and starts prepping her bag while he gets himself all washed up. "Take your time. We have the room until 11." Then she's stuffing her folded clothes into the bag, and grabbing a comb so she can get her hair combed out and braided. The wet towel is thrown on the bed, and she plops down to start the grooming process. She glances just once in the direction of the bathroom before she goes about splitting her wet hair into three thick strands and braiding them together.

Frank washes quickly despite her words, trying to keep his attention on what he's doing rather than thinking about anything else. Soon enough, he turns off the shower and steps out, toweling himself dry and wiping the mirror again so that he can look himself in the eyes. This time he doesn't say anything, just shakes his head. It doesn't take long to get dressed again, pulling on jeans and a plain black t-shirt. And he's pretty much ready to go except his holstered pistol under the pillow and packing up his panniers. He glances aside to watch her braid her hair once, "Never got the hang of that. Hard to do when you're always deployed."

Babs looks up at him as he steps out just as she's tying off the long braid. Her smile settles warm and high in her cheeks at his comment, and she shrugs up her shoulders as she hauls to her feet and grabs for her boots. She tightens up the ankles of her pants before she cinches the boots into place; that lightweight armor over the lower shin and ankle keeps the boots not so clunky as your typical motocross rider. She tugs on the jacket. "I can show you how," she offers. "The big bad Punisher knowing how to braid someone's hair would be a pretty killer look. No one would see it coming." She wrinkles her nose at him before she zips closed her bag.

Frank settles in to get his own boots on, lacing them up and tying them off, "Yeah, not a lot of need for that in the Corps." The dry response is accompanied by the flash of a little smile, "Or with Capes or Masks or Underoos. I mean, I can do it. It's just messy as all hell." He slips on his jacket as well, rolls up his pants leg to strap on his ankle piece, and then covers it and slings his panniers, "You ready to ride, Red?" There's a pause even as she responds, and then he adds in, "I'm kinda glad there was just the one room left. Let us both get a little more sleep." Ignoring all the awkwardness, of course. Because acknowledging it would acknowledge that there's a cause for it.

"I do not wear underoos," Barbara objects with a little smile. Then she's stepping up to him with her duffle slung up at her shoulder. "I'm ready." Just a couple steps to the door, and she's glancing up to him. Her smile softens and she gives his shoulder a little nudge with her knuckles. "Yeah. Me too." Not acknowledging the awkward — no way. Then she's waiting for him to open the door, because she's been pretty on the nose about getting to it first. It's almost a gracious moment — a little nod. "Let's ride."


They grab breakfast at the diner, and there's more companionable silence. Barbara sticks to protein and caffeine with just a bit of fruit.. They're out just after 9 AM, and back on the road. The morning is spent running away from storm clouds that continue to build and brew behind then with low rumbles and distant lightning. Barbara is on the radio when that thunder gets a bit louder, and she tells Frank, "It starts to pour, we're going to need to find a place to stop until it passes." On the road somewhere where there's long stretches of wildflowers and farms, it is hard to say where that will be.

"You don't want to try to bike through a wall of water, Red?" Frank's voice is tinged with dry amusement, "Where's your sense of adventure?" Considering they're both wearing jeans and t-shirts under their leather jackets, getting totally soaked probably wouldn't be a great idea. "Yeah, I hear ya." Raindrops start to speckle the road around them as they approach a river with an old covered bridge, and this time the lightning is right overhead, followed quickly by thunder. "Shit." It's surprise rather than any actual dismay that wrings the word from Frank's lips, and he follows it up with, "Covered bridge." He twists the accelerator on his hog, and it roars in defiance of the thunder, racing into the enclosed space just as the heavens open up and start a deluge. Frank swings the bike into a tight hook to stop before he shoots out the other side, then shuts down the bike and lets it tick down to silence.

"I only do reckless things when on patrol," Barbara fires back over the radio — even if it isn't exactly true. She's roadtripping with the Punisher, after all. Then the rains come, and she's turning her head upward once toward the skies just as the rain speckles her visor. She shakes her head slightly, and is just about to give a reply back to Frank before he points out the bridge. "See it," she confirms and hits her own accelerator to blast toward the cover. The rain gets heavier the closer they get, and Barbara doesn't slow as Frank does, drifting into a 90-degree turn to stop the bike dead a few yards from him. She sits there, posed on the bike in what is almost predatory in the black and purple leather and the dark helmet. Then she walks the bike closer to Frank's and tight against the side of the bridge. There's opened windows that look out over the river that is now bombarded with rain as the skies just open up in a fierce early summer storm. Babs kills the engine and kicks down the stand before she leans the bike down and dismounts. Her helmet comes off, revealing dry features and she sighs out a breath. "Well. Maybe we should have taken a car."

Frank walk-pushes the big bike aside as well, tucking it in close to Babs's sleeker machine. "Damn, Red. Never really looked at how it must be to get chased down by you on the bike. Even without a cape." He flips his bike's kickstand down, but stays in the saddle, looking from her to the nearest opening in the bridge. He shakes his head slightly, "Why?" Lifting up both hands, he pulls off his helmet and hangs it from the handlebars, looking back to her even as he gestures out to the wall of water hammering the surface of the river, "We were in a car, neither of us would have had nearly as much fun. And we'd miss out on this." Shaking his head, he lets a tiny smile touch one corner of his lips for a moment before it fades away again, "Take a breath, Red. Just listen. Look. Take it in."

Her chin tucks as she smiles, laughter caught behind her eyes. "Now you'll know not to incite me when I'm on my bike." She hooks her own helmet on her saddle, wiping off some water from her jacket. She steps up to the window that overlooks the storm, and she rests her hands on either side of her sacrum as she stares out at the dark clouds and shadowed landscape. "Yeah." She smiles over to him before she looks back out at the rain. "It is really nice. I like the smell… that petrichor. Smell of earth and rain meeting. It's nice… you don't get that scent in the city." She folds her arms together as she leans into the window frame. She decides to stop talking then, just listening to the rain.

Frank finds himself watching the watcher rather than the rain, then shakes his head hard and pushes off the bike, tugging on the bottom of his jacket to shake off some of the raindrops collected there. "Petri-wha?" Look, Frank's not a dumb guy, but he's also not as well-educated as Barbara is. He nods at the explanation, grunting thoughtfully, "I was just gonna call it the smell of the rain. Didn't know it had a name." He comes around to the other side of the window frame, looking out over the rain-swept countryside. A fish rises up to try and eat a raindrop, thinking it's a fly, and he grunts in surprise, only then starting to feel the chill of his wet jeans start to soak its way up his legs.

"Everything has a name," Babs tells Frank, quieter in this little moment in the rain. "I think I like 'smell of rain' better anyway. Feels more… poetic. Though I suppose a good poet could make beauty from petrichor." Then she catches sight of the fish, and she smiles to herself. "Fighting against the rain to get what it wants, even if it isn't there." Metaphor, much? Her eyes look aside to him, and the rainswept landscape is forgotten as she takes in Frank in profile from his broken-too-many-times-over nose to the long and lean lines of his shaven jaw, the dark set of his eyes beneath his brows. If he catches her staring, she immediately looks away to the rain again.

"Yeah. I bet the Boss could manage something good with petrichor." Because his idea of poets is Bruce Springsteen, apparently. We won't get into his little Tennyson binges. "Yeah, but that fish can't go out and find itself a bug. It has to wait for them. Me, I figure that's a piss-ass annoying way of going about things." It's a minute or so after she looks over at him that he glances over to her, catching the blue eyes looking his way and then immediately darting his eyes back to the rain-swept landscape. He grunts amusement, and smothers a chuckle, then glances over to her again. At least he's pretty sure that she's not going to be looking at him now. Which means that he can look over the elegant line of her nose, the stubborn jut of her jaw, the spray of freckles across her cheeks. "I say fuck the barrier. Break on through and go get what you want." But he doesn't do that, frowning instead and looking back out to the water.

Barbara shifts up closer toward him as the chill sets in on their wet clothes. It's an unconscious gravitation toward the heat of his side, and soon their elbows touch. She doesn't catch him looking at her, as by the time she's set her gaze back on his profile, he's back to staring out at the water. His words has her taking him in again, this time with a more analyzing eye. She wonders at him with that look, and for a heartbeat, she almost does what he cannot. But, then, like the fish breaking the surface only to get a mouthful of rain, she settles to just press her side lightly against his and engage in nothing more than a simple companionable settling of their bodies. "Fish a little limited," she offers. "They can only survive in water." She looks out at the darkening skies as lightning streaks through the clouds in great tears, and thunder soon resounds with it.

The warmth is appreciated, and Frank glances over to Babs as she settles in at his side. Once more, they miss one another's gazes as he looks back out into the rain. "Yeah. They are. They also taste great with tartar sauce." He shifts an arm around her purple shoulders, turning slightly toward her to share that warmth more readily. There's a long moment's silence, and then he grunts softly, "You figure you're a fish, Red? Only survive in Gotham? In a bat-suit? On your own?" The questions are quiet, almost lost under the thunder. "Me, I figure you can do whatever you set your mind to."

She breathes out a bit of laughter out her nose. "Never really was a fish person. Then again, I didn't exactly have a lot of great fish-eating experiences." It's a great topic, but it only detracts from their actual conversation for a moment. Then she feels his arm settling around her shoulders, and she turns into him just as he turns into her. Her hand instinctively slides to rest at his low back. His questions draw her eyes up to meet his gaze. "I don't know," the words are whispered. "I do spend time in Metropolis, too. And New York." She bites slightly at her lower lip, frowning as she does. "Frank, I don't think much about that. What life will be like in a year, six months, hell — a month. I don't picture myself being anything but Barbara Gordon by day, Batgirl by night… and I don't picture myself being anywhere but in Gotham." Her blue eyes meet his. "What do you figure I am?"

The laughter looses some of the tension in the covered bridge, but it seeps back in as they turn toward one another, arms encircling the close stance. "That's how you think in combat," Frank confirms. "You can't think of anything but what's going on right now and maybe that one thing that's gonna get you through it." He considers her question, dark eyes searching past her brighter ones, over her features, and back to her baby blues. "I figure you're the smartest person I know, and the most selfless. So unless you take what you want, you're never gonna get it, because there's always gonna be something more important to someone else." His free hand shifts in the empty air to his left, starting to come up toward her cheek and then falling away again. Lightning flashes overhead, he opens his mouth, thunder rumbles, and he closes it, looking up toward the window again.

"Are you trying to say that I live my life like I'm constantly in a combat scenario?" There's some amusement that trickles into her words before she meets those searching dark eyes. In the wake of his compliments, she settles into something thoughtful. She almost misses the track of his hand, the way it almost settles on her cheek. Then she catches his wrist before his hand falls away entirely. She presses forward in a sudden, sharp movement that has her arching into his solid, steady frame and catching him in a kiss that does not wait for permission to breakthrough; but it also does not linger. As quick as she advances, she retreats. "Sorry," she starts to apologize, and she drifts backward a step.

"Yeah," Frank responds to the amused question, more concern than amusement in his eyes, and perhaps a little surprise. He hadn't thought of the life of other vigilantes in those terms before. He draws in a sharp breath as she arches close, his wrist twisting in her hand to break the grip with the same instinct that had her throw him to the hotel room floor earlier in the day. But by the time his other fist has balled up and gathered itself for a blow to her head, her lips are pressing against his, and the violent reaction loses all need. Even as she's stepping back, he sees her words on his phone again, 'hadn't dreamed like that about you in a long time.' His eyes open again, watching her face for a change as she steps back, as she withdraws. He opens his mouth to say something, and then stops himself again, pressing his lips together tightly and giving a little shake of his head, "It's fine, Red." Speaking of awkward. Frank has never been nor will ever be a smooth talker. But his right hand comes up to grasp her shoulder, prevent her from retreating too far, and he misreads the situation, letting out a little breath and assuring her, "You're not gonna be alone, Red. Promise."

He breaks the grip, and Babs's hand holds up like she's placating him, or surrendering. She's already a step back when he reaches for her, and something about the companionable and fraternal way his hand rests on her shoulder sends a high, awkward blush into her cheeks. Frank is reading her expression, and she's reading his. His first words, then his second has her looking away, even turning away. She puts a bit of space between them, and her arms fall heavily onto the window frame. She looks down now, and her head nods silently. Her eyes flicker over to him briefly, and that wearied and tired expression resurfaces — something she hasn't worn in so many months. Now she looks away, taking in the rain that continues to fall. "Forgot. It's fine." She clears her throat. "We're cool."

Frank's hand tightens a little on her shoulder as she continues to retreat, trying to halt that backpedal. And when the tired and weary expression comes back, it's Frank that steps up to her, his hand shifting to slip from her shoulder to her back, "Babs." The words are hesitant, awkward, but they come, "I'm not trying to brush you off." He's stymied for a moment before he shakes his head, "And I'm not gonna give you any bullshit, Red." He searches out her pale eyes, looking for some sort of anchor as the sky is torn apart by lightning and thunder again overhead, "I don't know, maybe I was tryin' to say that," the fingers of his left hand gesture between her lips and his, "but I'm pretty sure I'm a shitty rebound unless it's on my way out of town, and I don't wanna leave town."

The hesitant, awkward words stop Babs as much as the hand to her back does. Her blue eyes trace up to meet his, and then she offers a little, but not quite mirthful smile. "I know you weren't." Her eyes shift aside briefly, hesitant to meet his. He promises not to give her any bullshit, and he doesn't. The gesture between them causes her eyes to drop down, and she closes them briefly while her thoughts ricochet about. I'm a shitty rebound, he says, and part of her interprets that the same way she's always done — Frank is unavailable; there's no space for her. "Yeah." The word is dry in her throat. "I know. Not the first time I've stepped in it. Probably won't be the last." She ducks her chin just as another crack of lightning colors the skies. When she looks back up at him, her smile is light, almost vague. "Nothing's changed, Frank. Really. We're good."

'Nothing's changed.' Except that it has. And it has been changing for a while. Frank frowns, his hand still close at the back of her rain-slicked jacket. "We're good." That much he agrees with, even if there's a distance between them again, something that he shoved in there with his instinctive reaction, with his inability to make words work the way he wants, with his inability to reach out to her. "Something about being a second choice." It's tossed off as a throw-away, a joke, and he lets the hand at her back slip away. "You didn't step in anything, Red. Promise." And as his hand slides off her back, he reaches out to catch her hand and squeeze it, something between an attempt to reestablish that connection and reassurance.

"We're good." The repetition is supposed to reassure both of them. Frank shoves things in that space, and it drives Barbara back to allow him the distance and fill it with obstacles. But then he throws that comment in, and she blinks back in surprise. It literally sends her backwards a bit. "Frank — no." Then she drifts quiet as he slides away, and when he collects her pale, cool hand to squeeze, her fingers squeeze back. She looks away, turning her back to him briefly as she steps from the window-framed storm. "So, um." She clears her throat. "Storm clears, and we should head east. Find a place to stop for the night." She rubs her hands under her jacket across her low back and then down her hips before they brush off her thighs in a nervous motion. "There's this little bar I told Dinah I'd stop at and get her a t-shirt. I could use a beer." She casts him a smile over her shoulder, but it doesn't reach her eyes.

She meets his retreat with a retreat, and it opens up too much of a cap to keep the connection between their hands. He looks aside, up and down the water-shrouded bridge, checking the pistol at the small of his back with a quick, instinctive touch. "Yeah, something close by, so you can get down to Underoosville for work in the morning." Her half-smiling claim to need a beer causes him to grunt a brief laugh, "Damn, Red. I musta stepped in it pretty hard if you need a beer." But he nods, "Yeah. We can get over there and get Dinah her shirt and you your beer." He looks back out to the sudden shower, then shrugs a little, "Once the rain stops." There's a pause, and he studies her, standing there nervous. Then he reaches out one arm, "C'mere, Red. You come down with a cold, Stark's gonna kill me." Either Frank has no doubt Tony could find out why his Girl Friday is sick, or he's looking for an excuse to cut down the distance between them, literal and figurative alike.

Babs misses the instinctual touch to his sidearm with her back mostly to him. She turns to him slightly at the words about getting her to Metropolis, and a little snort of laughter is afforded to the comment. "Look, Metropolis is shiny and beautiful and hides its crap real well, but — it isn't a bad place to work." Then she ducks her head slightly at his slight admonishment — both at her and himself — at the comment of beer. "Just not cheap beer. Dinah keeps stocking the fridge with Coors." And considering how rare it is that Babs drinks, she would very much like to enjoy it. "Once the rain stops." Her hands slide over her hips again just as he reaches out for her, and she lets it linger there for a moment as she debates what would happen if she rejected the offer, what would happen if she accepted it. She catches the edge of her lip before she smiles slightly and steps in closer to him. Her eyes close as she tucks in close to him, her head sliding against his as she sets her chin on his shoulder.

"Yeah. Hate to live there, okay to work there," Frank allows for Underoosville. Her comment about beer causes him to actually laugh, breaking the tension for a heartbeat, "Shit, Red, beer's beer." A hipster he is definitely not. When she lingers just outside his reach, the moment stretches long, and his eyes are just starting to tighten, his head to turn away, and his arm to sag when she steps forward. He was expecting a companionable side-arm stance, but when she steps in close, his eyes close, his arms wrap about her, and he lets out a long, slow breath. The tension and strain bleeds out of him like a headwound, and his arms tighten for a moment before they loose to something more comfortable, leaning against the side of the bridge and holding her close until the rain eases.

Her arms sweep around just under his arms and she holds him just as tightly as he holds her. Then the loosening, the softening of the embrace into something persistent and comfortable releases her own breath against his shoulder. He leans into the side of the bridge, and she leans into him. Her eyes are closed as she just listens to the rain and feels the steady breath and heartbeat of Frank Castle. It's a fragile moment that no one would believe her if she told them about. She doesn't dare interrupt it with words, and just waits to hear the rain soften.

It does, after a time, and it clears and thins into dark skies — sunset is looming near. Babs had adjusted herself against him at some point, her forehead leaned now against the side of his throat. She hears the rain slow and almost stop, and the thunder had long ago passed to the west. She starts to lean back, her hands sliding free from his sides. She looks down at her watch and the time startles her a bit. "Crap. It's getting late. At this rate, we're going to end up camping."

The patter of the rain on the roof above and the water below adds a beautiful white noise to the delicate moment. He can feel her breath against him, their warmth soaks into one another, and time almost stands still. Except it doesn't, and her start causes him to raise his eyebrows and check his own watch, "Huh." One hand drops away from her and the other slips free to squeeze her shoulder lightly, "Yeah, if this shit's gonna come back, it'd take a while to set up a camp we don't drown in." The ghost of a smile passes over his lips, "Easier to find a crappy motel again." His second hand falls away, and he offers up another brief smile, studying her for a long moment as if he were going to say something more, but eventually just settles on, "Let's get you your beer, Red." And Dinah her t-shirt. "And then we can find a place to crash."

The squeeze to her shoulder draws her eyes up to his briefly. Then she looks out at the dark skies and soaked world around them as she eases back a step, and then another. "Yeah. Maybe this time without Santa manning the counter." Her steps carry her away from him just as her fingers touch the back of his hand gently. It's a passing gesture that joins a little smile. She is then heading for the bike, and grabbing her helmet where she left it on the saddle. "Follow me, and then you can pick the motel." She taps the helmet into place, and he can't see her eyes close as she breathes out a slow exhale while she snaps the helmet straps back under her chin.

Frank meets her eyes easily, nothing evasive about the dark, intent gaze. It takes the touch to the back of his hand to cause him to look away, glancing down. He nods, plucking up his helmet as well and settling astride the low-slung hog as he pulls it into place, "You got it, Red." There's no self-reflection before the engine roars to life in that enclosed space, but once he's following her tail-light out into the gathering dark, a thoughtful frown settles over his heavy features, and he runs through that near miss, or near hit, in the bridge. Over and over.


It takes them a long time to get to that tiny bar in the middle of Nowhere, Pennsylvania. It's close to the Jersey border, but still far enough to matter. It hugs up against an adult video store, its XXXs glowing proudly in day-glo. In fact, the parking lot of the little corner is lit only by the neon signs from the video store and the bar; the bar's sign boasts proudly that it is Little Songbird and has a bird's silhouette tucked behind the glowing letters. No wonder Dinah wanted a t-shirt. Barbara parks her bike next to a slew of others, tipping it to kick the stand out and plant a boot on the gravel. If she's been running through the events on the bridge, it doesn't show in her steady expression. She's staring up at the sign and then around at the exterior of the dive bar. "Dinah," she just sighs, and there's a touch of amusement settling into place. She glances back for Frank as she dismounts her bike and rolls out of her helmet.

Too long to think. Some way through the drive, Frank guns the engine and edges up on Barbara's quarter, pushing the pace even as darkness descends. He pulls up alongside her in the parking lot and looks up at the sign himself, shaking his head as he pulls off his helmet and sets it on his thigh. "Yeah. Dinah should just get her ass out here. She'd own the place." He braces the bike on its kickstand, then carefully sets the helmet onto the seat to protect it from a shower. He gives the porn store a look, shaking his head, and checks he pistol at his back as he re-settles his jacket. "This should be fun." He's the first to the door, of course, pushing it open for Babs and then stepping in after her. It's not as bad as the exterior would suggest, actually a number of people enjoying live music at one end of the place, a long bar running the length of the room, and restrooms opposite the entrance. Leaning close and raising his voice a little over the music, he inquires, "Merch at the bar?"

"I'll let her know," Babs cuts him a smile before she collects her helmet under its edge and carries it in with her, but not before she grabs something out of her pannier — wallet, or something. It gets shoved into her jacket pocket with her hands while she follows him to the door. This lets him get to the door and open it up for her. When she steps inside — that long-legged redhead with that too cute smile and the unassuming carry of her frame — she gets looks. She doesn't meet a single one, ignoring them or perhaps not noticing them at all. The voice in her ear turns her head toward him, and she nods with a half-shrug. "Maybe," she says before she starts for the bar with him, hopefully, in tow. She slips up to a barstool, and she smiles at the motherly-like woman behind the counter. She smiles for Babs.

"Hey there, birdie… what can I getcha?" She glances toward Frank, but unlike the waitress at the diner, she doesn't make an assumption about who Frank might be to Babs. Others in the bar? They are making some decisions.

"Whatever you have on tap," Babs says, and she holds up two fingers to indicate one for her and one for Frank.

Great, maybe they can tell Frank who he is to Babs. He can see the predators, feel them in his bones, and his right index finger twitches slightly at his side. He offers up a polite smile to the woman behind the bar though, pointing to the redhead beside him as he settles onto a stool, "Just what she's havin', ma'am." He spins slowly on the stool so that he can look back out over the room, resting his elbows back on the bar and looking up to the live band. His head starts to bob at the classic rock sound, and he nods his silently-approving judgment. There's something off about the crowd movement, pulling at his subconscious, settling a tension into his shoulders. He shifts on his stool, but doesn't say anything.

He hasn't spotted it yet, but there's a square box of fit young people around a young woman in the crowd. She huddles against a pillar, watching the band with most of her attention and occasionally casting glances at the door. She missed the entrance of the people subtly moving around her, keeping her at the center of a box nearly the size of the room.

The subtle way that Frank takes up the space catches Babs's attention first, and she glances toward him with a little arch of her brow, but then she's smiling as she accepts both pints of beer. It isn't Coors, but some microbrew that is at least not piss water. In fact, Babs kind of likes it. She doesn't go for the open bowl of peanuts because she watched that episode of Myth Busters. What she does do is glance toward the live music when Frank starts bobbing his close-cut head of hair. Something in that glance tugs at her own subconscious — something that sends a cool shiver across her. Someone just walked over her grave, and she can feel it clearly. She licks at her lips as she takes another sip of beer, and her eyes travel slowly around the room to catch sight of the woman and then men.

Barbara's feet fall away from the rungs, and something becomes liquid in her frame like she's roused some part of her that usually sleeps when the cape's not on.

Frank half-turns to collect the pint glass when it's delivered, slipping a couple of bills onto the bartop in a move that would be smooth from a smoother man. He takes one sip as he turns back to the music, tilting his head in question to Barbara's silent smile and arched brow. It's not until the young woman, dirty blonde hair halfway down her back, mousy in a way that looks vulnerable, and carrying a battered backpack, stiffens and starts toward the front door — and the square shifts around her — that Frank actually catches sight of the trouble. He nods to Babs, having spotted the change in her stance, "Yeah. Lemme check it out." It's not a particularly brilliant plan, especially when the woman diverts toward the restrooms as a fifth too-fit person steps in the front door, three women and two men — at least. The beer is set down on the bar, and he pushes up off the stool, his shoulders squaring and his right arm trailing him slightly, leaving the way open to either the pistol at his back of the knife at his side.

"Okay," Babs says to Frank, her eyes tracking the movement casually as she sips at her beer. Then, Frank is getting up, and the redhead doesn't stop him. Instead, she's pressing her boots into the rungs so she can pop up high enough to lean over the bar. "Hi!" Barbara brightens at the bartender. "Could I get two of your shirts? An extra-small and an extra-large, please." The maternal woman offers Babs a quick smile and disappears to the other side of the bar to get the shirts. Babs leans further forward until she can grab an eight-inch length of metal, about an inch-and-a-quarter in diameter with heavy grooves and teeth at one end — a muddler. She spins it and tucks it down into her jacket sleeve. Then the bartender is back with the shirts. She's taken out her wallet to pay for them. Dinah's shirt is tucked into the back of her cargo pants before she tugs her jacket back over it, leaving her with a tail of black cotton. She waits, turning her eyes to the restroom while she sips at her beer, left alone — Thanks, Frank — in the bar. She can feel more eyes on her back — sticking that t-shirt down the back of her pants didn't help the matter, but she has something she's prepping.

Well shit. The young woman ducked down the hallway to the women's room, followed by two female members of the square-turned pentagon. And now the three male members are closing behind him. It's not a good tactical position, but it certainly makes some things more straight-forward. They become even clearer when he sees a knife-blade being bared by one of the women as she enters the restroom after her quarry. As Frank walks past the men's room (patriarchically placed first in the hallway), one of the men behind him reaches a hand under his jacket and calls out, "Hey!" Frank doesn't slow, however, because he knows that government agents don't draw knives when they outnumber their prey two-to-one. That's an assassin's move, or an enforcer's. So he ignores the call from behind, and the man hurrying after him, leaving two more at the mouth of the hallway. A scream rises from the bathroom ahead of him, lost in the din of the music, and Frank staggers into the door to the women's room, driving it inward — and into one of the women inside. One hand goes to the woman's wrist, even as he slurs — rather well, all things considered — "Hey, what're you doin' 'n here? Where's th' urinal…" It's enough to buy him a moment's time, to see the other woman down a line of three closed stalls, her quarry trapped against the back wall between the last stall and the last sink, a narrow window open over her head. The huntress holds a heavy knife low at her side, but she stops her advance, looking back and trying to hide the blade, even as the woman backed up against the wall before her screams, "Oh my god, help!"

No one was paying attention to that scream, but Barbara lifts her blue eyes as she hears it on the edge of her hearing. She takes a longer drink from her beer, chugging down about a third of it. Dinah would be so proud. She takes a breath then, closing her eyes for a moment. Since last July, she's been balancing different sides of her — the stubborn and dedicated Barbara Gordon, the relentless, adrenaline junkie Batgirl, the brilliant Oracle… and Red. Being Red, seeing Red — that's something she would never let her Family see. But Frank's seen it. She takes another long drink from her beer, and then she's out of her stool. Her stride carries her confidently toward the bathroom door. In her bare hands, she's starting to spin the extra-large t-shirt into a rope of cotton. It's an all-too casual motion that might not catch anyone's attention. Her gait turns to a saunter — Dinah really would be proud. She flashes the two men at the front of the hallway a brilliant smile, full of dimples. "Excuse me," she says casually, aiming to sandwich past them.

Frank's been exploring another side of himself as well, but when the cards are down, he defaults back to who he is at his core: a man willing to do anything to complete the mission. And those knives, the plea for help? That made this a mission. The fact that the young woman looks to be in her teens doesn't hurt. While the woman by the door is still getting over her disgust at a drunk bumping into her and pawing at her arm, Frank's free hand snaps up to her elbow, exerting pressure there and at her wrist, and the combat knife goes skittering away with a cry of pain. She doesn't hesitate much, however, swinging around on Frank and slamming a knee into his hip. He grunts, his elbow strikes for her ear, sending her staggering back, and then he's darting away from the thrusts of the other woman's blade in the narrow space between sinks and stalls. The man in the hallway hurries after Frank, getting to the doorway to the ladies' room, his eyes widening at the sudden chaos and his hand reaching into his jacket for a machine pistol with a long, extended clip.

Outside, the bigger, bulkier of the two men more or less ignores Barbara, just frowning slightly at her, while the wiry one with the goatee steps up in front of her, hand going into his jacket for the pistol there, "Sorry. Restrooms are out of order, Miss."

"Bummer." Then Barbara is moving swiftly. She hooks her foot abruptly behind the wiry guy's knee, yanking him down before he can grab that pistol. As he goes down a foot or more, she twists the rope of cotton up around his neck like a garrote. She uses it not to choke him, but to instead drive his face down into her lifting knee to break his nose in a spurt of blood. The twist of cotton around his neck is enough for her to whip him aside, letting him tumble off as the cotton unwinds. Then she's wedging herself past before the big guy can figure out what just happened, spinning down into a cartwheel that turns suddenly into a round-off so she's got her feet planted facing the big guy and her stance drops low with the cotton twisted around one fist. She shifts to glance behind her at the other guy at the bathroom door, and then back to the other. "Okay. Didn't think that one through entirely." Then she shakes the muddler out from her sleeve.

Goatee goes down, both hands reaching for his face as he spins off the twist of cotton, and the big man is chasing after Babs — a little more cautiously. He whips an extendable baton out from his sleeve, snapping it to full extension. The man in the door shares a look with him, but the big man shakes his head, "I got this," and Mr. Machine Pistol goes into the bathroom. That still leaves Babs trapped, but just between the big guy and the end of the hall. "Don't know who you are, girl, but you made a big mistake." The baton darts out with deceptive speed, a testing blow aimed to snap down on her forearm, the big guy careful not to over-extend himself.

Inside the bathroom, Frank makes no exceptions for gender. The woman with the knife comes at him a little too hard with one of the thrusts, and he twists aside — his t-shirt catching the blade but his skin un-pierced. One hand locks down on her wrist, the other on her throat, and he shoves her back against the stalls. Two doors blast open, rattling loudly, and she grunts as her back and wrist each strike partition, that knife too clattering away. The machine pistol is up then, and Frank shoves the woman at the pistoleer, stopping any immediate fire on his part, only to have the first woman come back at him, having snatched up her knife again and transferred it to her left hand. This time the knife cuts through leather and his skin, slashing across the back of his forearm, but he slams a hand into the side of her head, palming her face and driving it into the nearest sink. The porcelain breaks, she doesn't get up, and water begins to spritz from dislodged plumbing. That just leaves a guy with a machine pistol and a woman drawing a semi-automatic pistol gingerly facing down Frank.

"Girl?" Red then shrugs her shoulders. "Close enough." This is quipped off before she's twisting her arm so she takes the hit on her reinforced forearm, the baton smacking against armor sewn along her sleeve. Her blue eyes — fierce and almost luminous — dart up to the big guy's, and her smile brightens. "Good news is… I always learn from my mistakes." Then she is showing teeth as she slips into closer range to fling out a punch that has the toothy end of the muddler thrown at the guy's face. It gets her too close, and she knows it. She's without her arsenal, so she's got to improvise. So, she tempts him to grab at her, because she's going to break his wrist once he goes predictable on her. The rattle from inside the bathroom tugs at the back of her mind, but she can't afford the distraction.

Frank isn't wearing any armor besides the leather jacket, and he's already proven that it won't stop a knife. So when the guns come out, he takes advantage of the close quarters, ducking to his right into the nearest stall. It confuses the pair long enough for the woman to start to level the pistol instead on the cowering young woman at the end of the restroom, and for the man to pull down the trigger and start chewing through stall material with the small-caliber bullets. But he starts at the far end simply because of how his hand is moving, and so before he starts to chew up Frank, the Punisher comes bursting through the partition with a roar, slamming it off its supports and driving the panel straight into the gunpeople, driving them into the wall and the dispenser behind them. There's a clatter of one of the weapons falling to the tile, and a patter from a veritable flood of tampons and pads from the dispenser.

In the hallway, the big man draws back from the strike that isn't nearly as effective as he hoped, but she's coming after him, and that's something he doesn't expect. But she's coming at him with the sharp, pointy ends of the muddler, and he jerks his head back instinctively, his grab during instead into an attempt to shove her back and away from him, to gain room to work with the baton again. The gunfire from the bathroom spreads screams and panic through the bar, the bartender ducking down and coming back up with a shotgun, most of the patrons running and panicking, but another three 'patrons' drawing machine pistols. One draws on the bartender, the two shouting at one another to drop their respective weapons, and the other two headed for the restroom hallway.

Barbara unintentionally herds him backwards after her swing goes too wide, so she advances with him as she reverses the grip of her muddler so she can use its backend to parry the strike with the baton that rattles through her arm because the dude is far larger than her. It causes her arm to drop away, and she spins aside with a threat of losing her feet. She turns that into a pivot that lets her kick out in a more muay thai strike that has her knee coming up before she kicks out with her foot into his ribs. It connects, but she's still pivoting with that continuous motion and she spins out to hit the ground with a hard thud on her stomach and chest. She groans as she starts to haul herself up onto all fours, her braid cascaded over one shoulder.

A second stymied strike, and this time the big guys comes after the redhead — only to come straight into the knee and kick, staggering back with a whuff of expelled air and slamming into the wall. He slides down it, holding his chest, then starts to push himself back toward his hands and knees, slow to recover from the double blow and without his baton now. The other two from the main barroom coming to the entrance of the hallway and looking at the chaos in the hallway, one looking down to the bloodied goatee of Babs's first victim, the second looking between the big man and the lithe redhead in shock.

That weapon on the ground draws Frank's attention, and he gives the partition a shove, then looses it to scoop the pistol up. The woman is unconscious behind the plastic, and so it's the machine-pistoleer struggling free and towards the hallway who gets the flat of the pistol slammed into the back of his head, sending him falling halfway inside the bathroom and halfway into the hall. Frank's advance kicks a few dampened and rapidly-expanding feminine hygiene products into the hall in the wake of the would-be-killer who is still struggling to get to his feet.

The sudden movement draws the attention of the man starting to draw down on her, and three quick shots lash down the hallway, biting chunks off the doorway into the women's room and whipping past Frank's face.

Babs is starting to push herself to her feet, but then the gunfire resounds in this space, and she's back to being flat, particularly as she realizes some civilians have gotten involved. She darts a look behind her before she is pushing up faster, more confidently. She turns to see the big man trying to get to his feet, but she doesn't let that happen. He gets a sudden boot to the face as she drop slow to make the most confident contact. Then she is picking up his fallen baton as she straightens up. She has a reddening mark on her cheek where her face had smacked against the floor. She points her baton at the two coming for the hallway. "Back off." Then she's turning toward the bathroom door just as she takes note of the fight in a mere millisecond analysis. Then she's charging at the man who has lost focus on her, and suddenly the t-shirt cloth is being whipped around his wrist, and Barbara catches the edge now that its looped around his arm. She yanks it down hard only to drive her elbow up into his face. There's several more shots at the floor, and Barbara suddenly looses her footing as pain tears down her knee and calf as a bullet grazes across her cargo pants and splits the side of the motocross boot open.

The shots cause Frank to jerk his head back, but Babs is out there. He comes around the corner with a wordless roar, one booted foot swinging to give the struggling ex-pistoleer a soccer kick that snaps his head back — a broken jaw and a serious pain in the neck if not a cracked vertebra or worse. Then the pistol comes up, and even as another pair of bullets rip down the hallway from the gunman Babs isn't currently disassembling, one clipping Frank's neck and sending a wash of blood down over his shoulder but not actually doing any lasting damage. His pair of return shots, on the other hand, hit chest and throat, and the man crumples. The the redhead in her purple jacket stumbles, and Frank's roaring charge speeds up. She loses her footing, and clears a shot on the man's head, but Frank's not going to take that chance, and instead he throws the pistol, the weapon smacking right into the man's face and sending him staggering backwards — at least as far as the t-shirt around his wrist will allow. He's on his feet, but just barely in the wake of the elbow from Babs and the ballistic pistol from Frank — and Frank is closing fast, pure rage on his features.

The last gunman seems to have decided that a gunfight with the bartender certainly isn't going to help anyone at this point, and ducks past the entrance to the bathroom hallway, headed for the front door.

Barbara is on the ground, and that is serious the safest place to be as Frank's roaring charge slams into the offender. She hears the bloody collision, and she only looks up when the hallway becomes quieter than the chaos in the bar itself. She rolls onto her back, and her chin angles back as she winces through the pain in her leg. Then she is opening her blue eyes, pale skin splattered in red beneath the faint freckles. She searches for Frank briefly through the halos in her vision, mostly because of the blast of the overhead lights. Then she's rolling over, ignoring the scream of her body to stay down. "Frank?" His name is hoarse in her throat, but she manages.

Blood washes the side of Frank's neck as he leaps over the fallen redhead and slams into the staggering man's chest shoulder-first. He's never going to be a football player with that form, going for the impact rather than wrapping up, but it's certainly impressive as the two crumple to the ground, the veteran Marine getting in a forearm to the temple as well just to make sure. He rises up to his knees, cocking a fist to smash it down into the man's face. Barbara's voice cuts through the red rage, however, and the fist never falls. He watches the door swing shut behind the last man, and his legs twitch as if to drive him up after the runner, but instead he turns, wincing as the motion draws another trickle of blood from the graze wound on his neck. "You okay, Red?" His eyes go straight down to her knee as he steps over to her, crouching to touch the inside of her knee, away from the blood, "How bad is it?"

"Now this is a proper date with Frank Castle," she says in a blurred voice. He settles into her sight, and she winces at the slight twist of her leg to shift in her prone posture. Then she is looking up at him, and she spots the bleeding. "Frank!" She gasps that, and she's sitting up immediately through the pain and discomfort to touch the opposite side of his neck so she can immediately press the black t-shirt into the wound. Her movement might at least let him know it isn't that bad. In fact, good news is it doesn't look deep, though her pants are ruined from the knee down, and it looks like the bullet tore down the outside of her boot deep enough to expose a bloodied sock and blow out the bottom the boot's sole — they are useless now. Her eyes now meet his that short distance; her breath flares out her nostrils as she tries to get a handle on her pounding heart and exerted breath.

Frank's eyes tighten when she dabs at the wound — it's shallow, just bloody, and he locks a hand behind her neck as she sits up, using it to support her rise. "It's fine." He probably actually means it this time. "Pretty sure a date requires me playing guitar." That's how he got his late wife, after all. He leans in to press his brow to hers for a moment, then looks around the nearly-empty bar, to where a few patrons still huddle under tables or behind the bar or the speakers by the stage. That reminds him of the catalyst for this whole thing, and he grimaces, "Shit." He looks to take the extra-large t-shirt from her and wrap it around her knee as a makeshift bandage, not particularly caring at the moment if it smears their blood together. "I'll be right back, Red. Think you can ride?" There's a moment's hesitation, and then he presses his lips to her brow just for a moment, and surges back to his feet, bracing a hand on the wall as he makes his way back to the women's room. One of the women inside is starting to stir, and gets another almost-casual kick, but their would-be victim is just… gone. He growls a curse, then comes back, "Window's open. Think she went out that way."

By then the bartender has come over, the shotgun still held in her trembling hands, "Cops are on their way. Think you two better just get the hell out. We don't want any more trouble."

"That sounds nice," Babs murmurs at the mere idea of Frank playing a guitar for a date. She'd probably think about that more if her brain wasn't worried about pain and sustaining her function right this second. Then she is leaning into the press of their brows, and her eyes drift closed briefly in that quiet, short intimacy. "Next time," she murmurs. Then she is taking over the bandage to help the cloth get tied around her knee tight enough to keep her from bleeding too much all over the place. Then she is looking up at him; she nods at his promise to return, but the question about the ride has her grimacing. "No, not without patching up first." Then she closes her eyes at the kiss against her brow, and it settles her against the doorframe. She looks up at the bartender, and she nods slowly. "Can we go out your back door? And did I see a motel a quarter mile down?"

The bartender shakes her head, jaw set firm. "Out of business. Next motel is fifteen miles west." The opposite direction they need to go. "You both just move along." She gestures with those still-trembling hands. "Back door is thatta way." Then she's retreating back out to the main room, leaving Babs looking up at Frank.

"Breaking and entering?" Her lips twitch slightly.

Frank looks from the bartender to Barbara and back as they talk, his lips tightening and his hand shifting over to check the cut on the back of his arm. Barbara's suggestion draws a grimace, then a nod, "Yeah." His eyes flit up to the bar, but then he shakes his head and instead crouches down alongside Babs, "Come on, Red." He reaches to guide her arm up and over his shoulders, grimacing as it drags across the graze wound there on his neck, but looping his arm around her back. "Here we go." There's no delay, no hesitation, just a drive up to his feet to haul her with him. He waits a moment, letting her make sure the makeshift binding is still on, then starts out — right to the front door. "Need a kit from the bike," he explains. Because of course he has at least a rudimentary first aid kit in the panniers. Two steps toward the door, he gravels, "Lemme know if you need me to pick you up, Red."

Her arm slips around his shoulders so she can keep that t-shirt pressed to his neck. Good news! Dinah's t-shirt is still a lovely tail at her butt that is safe and sound. Her forehead presses to his jaw for a moment. Then she nods slightly against his head as he explains why he's headed for the door. "I'm doing okay," she promises him. Then she is hobbling along out the front door with him, and she lets him put her somewhere so he can grab the pannier with the kit. She looks at the bikes, and then she does the same trick she did at the last stop — she tells ALTHENE to secure the bikes and the AI does just that. "Frank, we need to keep moving — one got away."

Nodding sharply, Frank grimaces, "Yeah. And the others are gonna live to give descriptions." Most of them. The woman who took a sink to the face might not be so lucky, and the one he shot is definitely dead. He braces alongside his bike to take off the saddlebags and soon he has them slung over one shoulder and Babs over the other, the pair of them making a slightly awkward procession away from the front of the bar, "Don't like leaving the bikes here. Hate it. Makes 'em bait for an ambush. But if you can't ride yet, we gotta." He doesn't wait any longer, starting out into the dark and the drizzle in the direction of the abandoned hotel. "Get you — " he pauses, grants, " — us, fixed up, come back to pick up the bikes before there's trouble. Then hole up." A little burst of mordant humor touches his lips, "Man, work's gonna suck for you tomorrow, Red." The amusement fades away quickly, and he adds in, "Sorry."

Barbara is quiet, almost blurred while she waits for him to get the gear. Only when he's easing her back up does she breathe out a hard breath, and then her arms is tightening around his shoulder. "Us," she agrees. Then she nods to bikes. "Good plan. They'll still be here." Though she can't promise there won't an ambush. Their steps carry him down the street toward the dead and dark motel. She turns her head toward him, and her hair is sweat-matted and skin a bit pale. Though she does smile at the mordant humor. "I bet Iron Man will understand if Batgirl calls in sick because of Reasons." Which might be the first time Frank's heard that Tony knows who she is. The quick add is met with a little smile, and then she's curving her arm just enough to press the side of his head with her hand, and their heads meet briefly. "Yeah, you will be." Then she goes back to holding the t-shirt against his neck.

When they get to the motel, it is one of those classic buildings with the entrances to the rooms all on the outside. The sign hanging on the sign of the Wildflower Motel informs its former guests that it closed March 2019 — so not terribly long ago. She lets Frank pick the room, but she asks him to let her handle the lock — and she does. It's an easy keycard lock to activate, while maintaining the door's integrity. No boots, Frank. No boots.

"Thought he just knew you were Oracle." Frank snorts faintly, his own skin a little pale and cool although the blood has mostly stopped by the time they arrive at the hotel, "Lemme guess, he's one of those annoyingly smart guys who figures all that shit out on his own." His head tilts over toward hers at the touch, and he snorts again, "That a threat, Red?" He goes about midway down the row of rooms, and is just starting to look for a wall to lean her so that he can put boot to door when she claims right of first entry. His brows rise, but he walks her over to the door, grounding one knee so that she can use him as support. Fine, no boots. Inside, there's dust over everything, but there might have been dust over everything to start with. But the bed's still made and there's actually one towel and one washcloth in the bathroom. Whether or not the water's on is another thing. He closes the door, flips the bar lock into place, and then leads Babs to the bed — well shit, it's a single king bed. He glances aside to her, then just shrugs, starting to ease her down and swaying a little himself before he drops to a seat beside her, the panniers shoved off his shoulder, "Okay, let's get that boot off. Duct tape'll keep it together for tomorrow."

"He's one of those annoying smart guys who figures all that shit out on his own," Barbara confirms in so many words. But, at his question, she shakes her head. "No." It's all she needs to say. Then she is being settled onto the bed without even noticing that it's the only one there despite his shrug. Sitting is good, but she starts to slump back only moments later before he's telling her that it's time to get off that boot. She breathes out a little groan, and sits back up with some effort. Then she nods. "You cut my pants off and I'm going to beat the crap out of you, Castle." Not that they aren't already shredded on one side down to its cuff. She braces herself as she lets him slip off that boot, holding back a sharp noise as he does. Her sock is bloodied and shredded, stuck to her skin by blood alone. It's easy to peel away. The muscle is split nicely, and he can just see the edge of her ankle bone. That's the worst of it; her foot is grazed, but the bullet must have gotten caught up in the latches and soles and didn't bite much skin.

Sinking down to the side of the bed before her, Frank is perhaps surprisingly gentle working the boot off, bracing her ankle so her lower leg doesn't move while he loose's the boot's clasps and slips it free, "Shit, Red." Concern creases his brows as he pulls aside the sock, then gives the cloth a yank to tear it further apart so that it's easier to peel free, but then he looks over the jeans, shaking his head, "There's easier ways to get you outta your pants, Red." He starts with peeling the flaps of denim apart, however, then notes, "I'm gonna have to at least cut this up a bit, so I can see the top of the wound." He uses the t-shirt to wipe off his hands, then digs the first-aid kit out of the pannier, spilling a few of his clothes over the top of the bed as he does. "It's ugly, but it ain't too bad. Probably gonna be off your feet for a while, and I'm worried that it nicked your ankle, but I'll get it bound up at least. I can stitch it here if you want, but it's gonna hurt like fuck." A small silver flask is drawn out of the kit and the liquid within is shaken, "Or I can get you back to your SAS guy and he can get the real anesthesia."

That's when a flaming blush has the decency to color her cheeks. "Yeah, I bet," she says in a little murmur. "Try the easier way." But then she's distracted by his analysis, and she nods a bit more soberly at the realities of her poor cargo pants. Her throat tightens a bit at the mention of her ankle, and then she grimaces. "It's alright. I went roof-top swinging with a broken ankle. Just get me stitched, Frank." She tries to keep her voice casual even while her jaw gives a little tremble. "No. He's all the way in Gotham — and I call home, you know Dick is going to show up. Just… do it. I'll get you back for it later."

Frank doesn't blush, apparently, looking up at her pale features where they're dusted with his blood and blazing with her blush. He's silent for a moment, just studying her, and then nods, "Lay back." He sets the flask down within easy reach and then his hands move to the waist of her pants, "So we know that you're an idiot." In response to swinging with a broken ankle. But there's a fondness in the words, especially when he adds, "Like me." Assuming she allows him to unbuckle her pants, he reaches up to draw them over her hips, moving with perhaps more care than is strictly necessary. It means that there are no accidental caresses, and no intentional ones either. "Dick'd come all the way down from New York? Of course he would." Once he has clear access to the wound, he gets a little squeeze-bottle of water out and washes the blood away, nodding slowly, "Yeah. At least a couple stitches, Red." He doesn't urge her to drink, allowing her to be her own judge of how much pain she's interested in putting up with. Instead, he gets a curved needle and surgical thread from sterile packages and threads the needle, his fingers now touching bare skin around it as he studies the wound. "And yeah, you'll probably get a chance to get me back. Why, you lookin' forward to sewing me up, Red?"

You know — a man like Frank Castle taking off someone's pants should really be a lot more exciting than it actually is. Babs is wincing and flinching slightly as he shucks her out of them. Long limbs are mostly pale, but there's some fresh bruising to go with the scrape across her hip from a few days ago. "I'm not an idiot," she breathes, but again without actual conviction. Then she's out of her pants, and she's taking in a breath she doesn't intend to actually hold for as long as she does. She breathes it out when she's given the flask, and she takes a bit more of a careless pull than she normally would. Only then does she look down to meet his eyes with her torso propped up on her elbows and her blue eyes meeting his across the long distance. "Yeah. I kinda am right now." Then she is settling down, trying to calm herself for when Frank starts to stitch her skin back together over that shallow wound.

There's a lot more attention paid to not jostling the wound than how exciting the removal of her pants is, and he tries to ignore the fact that she's wearing just her panties and one sock, long legs right there in front of him. "There were way more of them than I expected." It's a follow-on from the 'sorry' earlier. "I only saw the four." There's no being gentle when you're stitching flesh together, so Frank goes for direct and fast instead, his hands moving with practiced ease. He may not be a corpsman, but he's stitched himself and a few others up often enough that he has practice. It's not the neatest lines, but it's capable and it's fast. "Didn't really need to worry about you, did I? You deal with yours just fine except this bad luck." Talking helps, right? Because that's why he's going on in that quiet, gravelly voice, working in near-darkness with only a small flashlight to illuminate the area, "Maybe it'll be your lucky day though, and my neck'll need a stitch or two."

Yup. Just panties here and a single sock, nothing to see. Barbara is definitely ignoring all that in favor of being stitched up and hearing Frank's voice gravel out his questions, words, and answers. "God, I can only be so lucky," she grimaces out as he continues to stitch down that line of shallow, but long wound. "What are that many grunts doing going after a teenager?" Her breath is tight, hard. Then he gets to her ankle, and she's throwing her arm across her head so she can grab onto the bedspread and not wriggle. Only once he's done is she able to collapse back and give a little whining breath. She misses Alfred, but she's stitched up and now her nerves are basically numb from the shock. The beer and flask alcohol is making her head spin a bit — or maybe that's just the wound and adrenaline. "Please tell me you're done," she says in a dry, hoarse voice.

"No idea," is Frank's response to the tactical question, "Don't think they were military though. Or least not specops. The women were using stilettos, not ka-bars. Criminal's weapon, not a serviceperson's." The thread is tied off, cut neatly, and then he sets it aside and reaches for bandages, "No more stitches. Just wrapping it now." The flask is just well whiskey, nothing great, just high in alcohol content. The wrapping goes even quicker than the stitching, and soon her ankle and lower leg are bound up in a bandage, and he gives her knee a pat — only then really noticing that it's bare. He grunts thoughtfully, but then vocalizes, "You're all set, Red. You want a shot for the pain, or just some pills?" Given his proclivities, he's definitely going for the pills himself, nothing that will leave him cloudy-headed. "With the girl in the wind though, and without a prisoner, don't know how we'll find out. Unless you got an ace in the hole somewhere."

"Yeah." The word is hoarse, choked out from a throat that probably would have liked to have let loose as the pain coursed through her system. Now she starts to sit up, looking paler and a bit less steady beneath the splatter of blood on her cheeks and forehead. She looks down at him from her new vantage, and she touches his shoulder. "We should find her. Maybe see if we can get some back-up. Those guys weren't just your street thugs — that means she's a target." Then she starts to look him over despite the little tremble in her hands. She tightens her fists, flexing her fingers, and then she relaxes with a breath. "Pills." Once he gives them to her, she pops them dry, tilting her head back hard to get them down her throat. Then she shakes her head. "I can have ALTHENE pull up the bike cameras. See if we can spot her, get an ID." Then she shakes her head, and gently removes the t-shirt from his wound. "My turn. Just the neck?" She offers him a little smile. "Want me to cut you out of your shirt?"

Frank looks up at the touch to his shoulder, frowning from under his heavy brows. "Yeah?" He considers the suggestion, "Don't know if we're mission capable right now, Red." Which probably means that he doesn't know if she's mission capable. "High class thugs," he suggests. "Maybe a tour or two, but probably not." He shakes out four extra-strength ibuprofen, well over the recommended dose, and offers them out to her along with the irrigation bottle, only to have her dry-swallow them. "Your bike's got cameras?" He barks a little laugh, then hisses a breath as she pulls the t-shirt away from his neck-wound, "Pretty sure you just want me to take off my shirt, Red." He shrugs painfully out of his jacket, revealing the slash on his forearm a little better, and tilts his head to one side with a grimace, clearing her to look at the neck wound. "If the girl's smart, she'll do what we are, lay low. She runs, she's likely to be in the wind unless your bike's got something." That idea amuses him more than a little.

"You mean you don't know if I'm mission capable right now," Babs says, skimming that thought right off the top of his mind. "Frank, I'm about ready to use inappropriate language with you." Then she's leaning back to give him the space to take off his jacket. The sight of both wounds steadies her expression with a tight frown, then she is nodding slowly. "Hand me the kit. Take off your shirt." She smirks at him. "You're such a pain, Castle." Then she is scooting forward, draping her legs on either side of him so she can really look at the wounds. "She went out the window, so let's bank on her being at least somewhat smart." Then she starts to rifle through the kit. First thing she does is take the irrigation bottle to the neck wound, spraying it clear. "You're lucky. Could have nicked an artery there."

"You ready to go running, Red?" Frank's amusement is tight, stretched over the concern in his dark eyes. He gives up the kit without complaint, but looks at her for a long moment at the repeated demand to take off his shirt, then reaches up with his right hand, pulling the t-shirt over his head with a grunt of pain. Shedding it from his arms, he tosses it after her shredded pants, then tilts his head to his right, baring the wounded side of his neck for the water. "Yeah. Couple inches to the right, would've gone right through my throat." There's a disquiet there, but he discards it with a minute shake of his head, "Can't linger on would'ves." The bullet wound is bloody, but it just clipped skin and muscle, nothing critical. The slash to his forearm is deeper, but likewise not critical. His hands shift, reaching up as if to settle on her knees where he would if a corpsman was tending to him, only to realize that he's hemmed in by lean, well-muscled legs in all of their pale glory. He clears his throat, shifting on his knees and carefully letting his hands settle down on his own thighs. He searches for something to say, his eyes shifting about the dark room before finally going back to the harshly-lit angles of her face. "Whaddya think, Red? It gonna need stitches?"

"Don't give me that look, Castle. I'm not trying to strip you down." There's that blush again. "You think I'm looking for twice rebuffed in less than twelve hours?" She tries to keep that well-humored, casually discarding the failed kiss at the bridge. "That shirt has to go anyway." She daubs up the water as it streams down his back and chest. She then has him lift his arm so she can spray that one clear of any debris. "I linger on the could'ves, because they stop the might-still-comes. It's how we learn." Then she is looking down as he shifts, settles, and then she clears her throat. "I'd love to pay you back, but I think that just some suture tape and bandages will be okay. You need to keep them cleaned." Her blue eyes lift to meet his before she is looking away just as fleetingly to gather up what she needs from his kit. She avoids his eyes for a period of time as she works, trying to keep this businesslike and detached.

Frank winces as she daubs at the wound on his neck, but it's an expression that doesn't go past the corners of his eyes. When she has him lift up his arm, then he sets his hand on her leg, just above her knee. It's her wounded leg, so the touch is feather-light, stabilizing rather than resting the weight. "Next time, Red. Next time you can sew me back up." He meets her gaze without flinching away, steady, intent. His hand doesn't drop away once she's done cleaning his forearm. and when she looks to his wounds, he continues to watch her face. "Maybe I could do with a little more lookin' back. I don't know. I guess I like to keep lookin' for the next obstacle, the next challenge. Look back too much…" he lets the gravelly words trail off… if he looks back too much, all he sees is tragedy.

"Something to look forward to," Barbara says dryly. The touch to her leg does draw her attention up to meet him, and she nods soberly. Her eyes fall away then, and she is focused on his neck. She doesn't warn him of pain, because he knows it's coming. Instead she just tightens the skin as she places the suture bandages into place before she works on cutting some gauze pads and tape so she can cover the wound. Her hand is gentle, but firm as she works. One hand presses the opposite side of his neck as she makes sure the tape sticks. She looks up after its secure. "I know. Maybe just a small rewind back instead of a larger one." Now she gathers up his wounded arm, having him twist it in such a way that she can do the same. She speaks quietly as she works, "You know that whatever happens, you got me, right?"

The pulling at the edges of his wound causes Frank to draw in a hiss of breath, then lock down his features, blinking against the pain slowly but otherwise letting her work. When she goes back to his arm, he shifts it as needed, bracing his hand instead on her opposite knee so that she doesn't have to twist around to tend to his arm. "I know, Red." He draws in a slow breath that inflates his chest and shoulders, then lets it out just as slowly. "I know you're not goin' anywhere." He searches for the right words to follow that up. "And it's…" his lips press together a moment, and then they just flood out, "It's what keeps me goin'. Knowing that you and Bill and Curt and Luke have my back, no matter what. That's the kind of bond that doesn't waver, doesn't falter. Someone's seen you at your worst, and they didn't look away." Despite the tightness it draws around his eyes, his fingers squeeze at her knee, "Anything happened to you, Red, I'd be there. I'd burn the world down if that's what it took to get you back." And then he clears his throat again, trying to rid it of the tightness that came with the words, "Right. Small rewind. Look at how they fought, what they did, what they wore, figure out who they were?"

Barbara is wrapping his arm when he starts to speak, and she stops just as she's settling the tape into place. She looks up at him, just letting him speak without interruption. Then she's smiling a bit wearily at him until he squeezes her knee and makes those promises — or perhaps just states the reality of being this close, this intertwined with Frank Castle. He tries to move on from those words, tries to make sense of what comes next. Analyzing the attackers, identifying them, making a plan of action for the next stage of the mission. But she just glides her fingers behind his head and leans her forehead into his. "In a minute." Her words are soft. "You need to pause for a few minutes first."

She stalls his attempt to move on, and it's probably for the best. A statement like that, it needs to breathe. Frank lifts up off his heels, sitting up on his knees when she slips her fingers behind his head. His eyes close, feeling the fragile peace in that moment where their foreheads touch, that moment of intimacy that has nothing to do with the fact that she's without her pants and he's without his shirt. His unwounded hand comes up to the side of her neck, brushing back the cinnamon locks to set his fingers along the graceful arch of pale skin. He just breathes for a moment, and then growls, "One thing I know is, the only way out is to find one thing you care about. You find that thing that you can grab hold of, that gets you through it."

They rest there for a moment, just letting their foreheads press together. Her fingertips tighten briefly at the strong muscle that runs down the back of his neck. Her forehead tilts slightly so that their noses just touch, her long and slender nose just resting against his larger, bulkier one. Her eyes stay closed as they just be there for a few long moments, letting them stretch out into the quiet of the empty motel room. "I know. Why do you think I keep coming back around, or keep bringing you back around?" There's a ghost of a smile at her lips. "It isn't Max, Frank."

Frank's fingers slip to the back of her head in that long moment. He breathes, feeling the air around him loose and uncoil. "I know, Red." A little chuckle touches his lips, and he gravels, "Don't tell him." His fingers tighten at the back of her neck for a heartbeat, and he leans forward ever-so-slightly to press his lips to hers. It's a slow thing, light but not tentative, whisper-faint and barely moving. And then he draws back again, letting their brows and noses rest together once more. "I know. But I didn't know it was this."

"I wouldn't dare," Babs says in a little laugh. "Max's feelings are safe — " She would say more but then there's the softest whisper of Frank's lips against hers. Her heart catches in surprise and then something else. She's tightening her fingers against the back of his neck briefly before she swallows down those nerves. Her lips lift to just softly touch his in turn, following his lead. Then when they come back to rest together, she exhales out her nose slowly. "You can tell me it shouldn't be, and I'll respect that. Nothing will change. I'll always be there, rainy rooftops, exploding boats, hotel kitchens." The corners of her lips lift, but it isn't really a smile. Then she whispers, knowing how fragile this moment is, "I know I'll only ever have a chance at a quarter of what you can give." Maybe less.

Again, Frank's hand shifts at her neck, drifting forward so that the rough pad of his thumb can brush across her pale cheek. The quiet response draws a little shake of Frank's head, the whisper letting something close to a sigh gust past his lips. "I don't know about should or shouldn't, Red. I just know about is." He draws in a slow breath then, his fingers moving over her scalp and thumb over her cheek, "And you might've noticed, I don't do shit half-way." There's a pause, and then he admits, "There's always gonna be a part of me that wants Maria and the kids," His voice catches, but he struggles on, "And needs to make sure the people who killed them pay for it," whether that includes him or not is up for debate, "but when I finished my list, it was like there was extra air around me, Red. Like I could breathe again. Except I'm startin' to realize it wasn't finishing the list. It was you."

The brush of his calloused thumb against her cheek draws her eyes up to meet his. The sighed words are met with a little smile, and then she nods gently against his forehead. "I know. All or nothing with you." Her lips twitch a bit, and then the mention of Maria and the kids has her taking a deeper breath before she nods. "I know. I know that. I'm not expecting that to change." Then she leans back just a bit to meet his eyes more easily. He gives her some credit, and she feels her heart take on a new rhythm in her chest. She tries to respond with words, but settles for something a little different. She leans closer to him, and that's when her lips touch his; this time, they settle softer against his mouth and lingers there while her eyes slide shut.

Frank returns the kiss with patient affection, breathing through his nose as he slowly rises into the soft play of lips. And then his next breath washes over his lips and hers, just a hair's breadth between their lips. "You need to rest, Red." And then he allows, "we need to rest. Even if you ain't goin' back into work tomorrow." His dark eyes contain a subtle dance of amusement as he opens them, seeking out her paler ones from so very close, "Dinah's gonna try to kill me, isn't she?"

The quiet intimacy is welcomed, and Barbara is hesitant to let it pass. But then he speaks truer words, and she feels a little laugh escape her with a deflating sag of her shoulders. "Yeah. We should." She lifts her eyes to meet his as he questions his mortality, and she bites softly at her lower lip as she smiles. Then she shakes her head. "Probably, but she never approves…" Then she takes in a breath before she offers up, almost hesitantly, "She will worry you're going to get me killed more than anything else. And maybe turn me into Punishette." Then Babs touches his cheek tenderly. "You won't." Then she kisses his forehead softly before she nods. "I'm going to go clean-up. You can have the bedroom to get cleaned. I have no idea if there's water, but I'll check. Help me up?"

Frank blinks at Barbara's response about Dinah, then looks down and taps the top of her knee gently with one finger, "I meant about this." The touch and the kiss draws his eyes up again, and he shrugs, his eyes tightening as the motion moves his neck, "I know I won't. Hell, you already bent me, instead of the other way 'round." Pushing himself to his feet with a grunt, he offers out both hands to help her up. "Should turn off the flashlight too. Don't want a light showing in here if anyone comes lookin'." Despite his words, he scoops up the little light in one hand, offering it out to her. "I got a water bottle in my bag if we need it. I'll see how bad the sheets are."

"I know." Dinah's a complex friend. That's all there is to say. Love her, but complex. Then she gives him a little smile as he stands, and she takes his hands to let him pull her up to her feet. She hobbles a bit, not ready to put too much weight on her foot. She grabs one of Frank's shirts — because he's a smart man and packs backups and her bag is still with the bikes. Then she starts toward the bathroom. The offer of the light stalls her a moment, and then she takes it. "Thanks." She then leaves for the bathroom, disappearing into it so she can see about water. To her surprise, she finds frigid water coming out of the bathtub faucet, and she lets it run for a few minutes before she soaks a towel to get it wet so she can wash off. She wipes away the blood on her face, cleans up around her legs, and then shucks out of the shirt to finish wiping her skin clean. She pulls on Frank's t-shirt, which does wonders to make her more modest. She calls over her shoulder, "How's the sheets?"

Frank loses a shirt. Already. This utterly-undefined-relationship thing is hard on guys. He holds out an arm for her to steady herself on at first, but once she hobbles away, he uses the backscatter from the flashlight and the faint light from outside to open up the covers of the bed, brushing them down for anything that might have… collected… since the place closed. "Huh. Not bad, actually." The sound of running water is a pleasant surprise, although once again it reminds him that there's someone in the other room washing. His mind shies away, he stops, considers, and then looks at the wall between the bathroom and the main room as if he could see through it. "Water's clean? Wonder why this place shut down." There's a pause, and then he adds, "Besides the fact that there's nothing for miles." In East-Coast space, at least. He shucks off his boots, tucking his ankle-gun into the panniers and putting the remains of the first aid kit away as well. The gun at the back of his belt goes under one of the pillows, and then he loses his pants too, then pauses, suddenly awkward again. And that's where he is when she returns from the bathroom.

Rough. Two shirts down — not counting the one he wore yesterday. Barbara has cleaned up as much as she can, her hair braided back into that long rope and her complexion looking a bit less like death warmed over. "Might have had people on site until recently, doing clean-up. Or the water company just hasn't gotten wise to the water still being on." She guides herself along the wall and shines a light toward him, finding Frank Castle in a state of mostly-undressed. The light falls away immediately, shining to her feet which catches her silhouette oddly. "Sorry," she breathes. "I should have asked if I could come out." She teeters there, somewhere between taking a step back and then a step forward, and she settles into the latter as she advances toward the bed. She settles down onto its edge, turning her back to him. The little flashlight is tucked toward the middle of the bed to give them some faint lantern light. She simmers in that awkwardness for a moment before she asks, almost casually, "How's the book?" That he isn't holding or reading.

"Yeah, but you didn't." Frank sounds amused, lowering himself down to the bed and rubbing at a heavy bruise forming on his side, "It's okay, Red." And those aren't just words, it sounds like he actually means it. "I don't know, it's just a body." A battered, scarred, and world-worn body. Of course, considering the attention he paid to her long legs coming out from beneath his black t-shirt, it would probably be pretty hypocritical for him to comment on her walking into his near-nakedness. The question about the book draws his eyes down to the panniers at the foot of the bed, and he shrugs, "I dunno. It's pretty good. Gets combat, but the guy's a fucking dumbass. He'll chase anything in a skirt. Or tight pants. Even when he's married and on deployment." He reaches out to put a hand on her back, his fingers splaying out across the worn material of his shirt. "Lay on down, Red. Come on. I'll keep an eye out for a bit in case anyone comes lookin'." Under the covers. In his underwear. Apparently.

Her eyes lift toward him at his reassuring words, and she looks over her shoulder toward him. In the harsh and subtle light of the flashlight turned upward to the ceiling, she takes in his frame and its bruises. She has seen all those things before, having tended to Frank in several modes of panic and adrenaline. But there's some quiet here. So, she takes a breath and then offers him a little smile. Then she is hearing him speak about Sharpe, and she has to laugh softly. "Mm, reminds me of a few I've met." Then she is pulling herself onto the bed more fully at his encouragement, turning into his touch so she can face him as she scoots down under the blankets. "No one will be coming," she offers him reassuringly before she settles down onto the pillow, breathing out a sharp little breath as she does. Then she tries to find a comfortable way for her to lay with her hurt leg. "Should I read them, or skip them?"

Frank nods, "Yeah. Like, I can't really give him shit. Bill…" he pauses, then shakes his head in fond amusement, "Bill's a character." He watches her shift this way and that, then shakes his head, "You might have to roll over or sleep on your back. Leg wounds suck ass for sleeping." There's a pause, and then he chuckles, "You know that almost as well as I do." There's something about the fan of dark red hair catching gleaming highlights from the flashlight, the oversized t-shirt, her high, round cheeks. He smiles faintly, looking down at Barbara, and one hand slips aside to touch her shoulder, "They're pretty good. Well written, I mean. I don't know if you'd get into them, but reading one wouldn't be a waste of time." He looks down to the pannier again, then back to her, "This is my third one, I'm pretty sure they all have the same story, just different places. But they're still fun." He doesn't challenge her assertion that no one will be coming, and neither does he suggest turning off the light again, remaining upright in the bed, sheets around his waist and hand on her shoulder.

"Haven't met him," Babs confesses. But, the only one outside of the vigilantes she's met is Curtis. "If he's a friend to you, though, I'd like to." Her smile takes on a softer edge as his hand drifts to her shoulder. Then she arches her shoulders a bit, trying to find a comfortable position on her back. It sucks, being a side-sleeper. But then she takes a breath and settles. Her blue eyes drift toward him, dark in the half-light. "I'll give them a try," she promises. Then she sits up slowly, reaching for the light. She thumbs the button, sending them into darkness. She doesn't have to say that this will make it harder for someone to figure out they are here; he's a smart guy. She rests back with a rustle, and then she touches the edge of his leg. "Come on, lay down. You can play watchdog on your back." Then she shifts just enough to curl one arm beneath her head.

"I don't know, Red. He'll probably try to charm the pants off you." Frank's hand moves with her shoulder, maintaining that light pressure. The are plunged into darkness, and his quad flexes a little, tightening and loosening, when she touches it, an unconscious reaction to the momentary connection. "Yeah… alright." He winces a little as he scoots down the headboard and transitions to the horizontal. His hand slips off her shoulder as he goes, and butts into her forearm between them, a moment of unconscious awkwardness as they settle in. He stays on his back, letting his head roll slowly over toward her, and his hand settling over hers to wrap it up, his knuckles brushing against her leg as he does. "You know whatever this is… it's gonna be rough, right? Pretty sure Pete can't spend much time around any of the bigshot events Babs gets invited to. Too many people gonna recognize this mug."

His fingers fold up around hers, and she welcomes the gentle connection. Come tomorrow, Babs may seriously worry about how this all will play out — the ride home, as they say goodbye, as they return to their domains. Maybe this one is just for the road. But then he's spurring her from those thoughts, and she turns her head toward him on the pillow. She squeezes his fingers gently. "Yeah." The word is murmured. "I know." She looks up at the ceiling that is distant and in shadows. "There's no way to be Babs and Pete." Slowly, her fingers tighten around his as she speaks. "Red and Frank then." Her eyes flicker back to what little of his face she can see in the shadows. "Batgirl and the Punisher. Two out of three isn't bad."

Frank's smile is faint in the darkness, maybe even a bit sad, "You think Batgirl and the Punisher can be seen together without causing you too much trouble?" He's running into the problems of not having a mask, even if he might not see it that way. "And you don't think Babs and Pete could get coffee or a drink some time? Jesus Christ, Red," exasperation joins the fondness in his voice, "You've got me as many damned identities as you have. How the hell do you do it?" He shifts on the pillow, his shoulders twisting a little toward her to take some of the strain off his neck. His breathing comes slow and deep, responding to the slow tightening of her fingers with a little squeeze of his, "We'll… I don't know… we'll make it work however it's gonna."

Now Frank is afforded a dimly-lit smile. "Oh, it will be trouble, but it will be trouble that I'll manage." Then soft laughter comes next, and she leans slightly toward him until her head rests softly against his own. The quiet intimacy is just too easy in the dark, away from realities. "Is Pete asking Babs out on a date?" Welcome to having multiple identities, Frank. No, it does not get easier. Then she shakes her head. "Frank, it's always just you and me — doesn't matter what we're calling ourselves in the moment. It's you, and it's me. It has been… since the beginning." Since that rainswept rooftop. Now she rests her head back and breathes out a soft exhale. "I'm here, Frank. Now, get some sleep."

Frank nods at her smiling words, but he's stymied a moment at the teasing question. Thankfully, he's temporarily saved by the quiet words that follow, and he lets out a breath, "Yeah. You and me. And yeah, I'd like to go out for coffee or a drink some time." He chuckles, reaching up to brush his fingers along her hairline, making sure that her face is clear of cinnamon strands. "Or hell, maybe I'll cook dinner for you." He's not going to ask either Dinah or Babs to do any cooking more complicated than tater tots — he's seen their kitchen. He stares at the ceiling for a long time, feeling her shift and breathe at his side, listening for cars passing by and if any of them turn into the parking lot. Eventually, he closes his eyes and drifts off to sleep.


He wakes again to sunlight streaming in the curtained window, the dim, filtered light shining off dark red hair before his face. Some time during the night, he rolled over on his side, one hand slung across Babs's jersey-clad abdomen. The position doesn't do any favors for his neck, and he winces as he shifts slightly, but he wakes without a start, a slow, smooth transition from sleep to wakefulness.

Barbara should have known — the simple and amazing optimism of this whole thing should have been a warning. Talks of coffee dates, drinks at probably Luke's or O'Rourke's, and Frank putting his kitchen in the warehouse to use — it's all too simple, too hopeful. Give them a few days, and the dark clouds will come back. For now, she smiles at him with a little nod. Then she is looking back up at the ceiling while her eyes close and she finds some stability in her breath. She's slept through worse wounds, and it doesn't take her long for her eyes to relax and her expression to soften, and sleep to come.

There are dreams.

But those are for another story.

When she wakes, she's still on her, back, but her arm has curled up around her head with her head tilted toward him. The sunlight catches her soft, sleeping features with her red braid a rope against the pillow. She doesn't wake when he does, but takes several longer minutes before her own eyes start to flutter open, and then she squints like she's coming through from a hangover. She tightens her fingers over her head and then relaxes as she takes in the room, and the man beside her. With the sun streaming in, it dawns on her they slept through the night. "No nightmares?"

"Probably." Frank watches her swim up to wakefulness, his voice even more of a gravel pit in the morning as he answers her question, "But I don't remember 'em." He grunts a chuckle, then adds, "And it looks like nobody slipped past the world's shittiest guard dog." He tries to turn his head, winces a little, and shifts again with a grunt, not exactly getting up, trying to twist around to ease the ache on his neck and arm, "How's your leg?" Because as usual, he feels like about 50 miles of bad road in the morning, even without much in the way of major injury the night before. There are no complaints, however, just minute tightening around his eyes as he rolls fully onto his back and starts to gather his limbs, the sort of detail that a genius-level bruiser usually pegs as weaknesses.

At the question, Barbara stretches out her foot, elongating muscle and boat until the tug on the stitches has her pulling back a bit with a little groan. "Great," she lies as she turns her head into the pillow more. "I can ride," she says, mostly because she doesn't have a choice. "I should be able to get back to Gotham." She rolls over so she's facing him, wincing as she does. Her leg is stiff, but she moves all the same. "I didn't feel you have nightmares," but that means nothing. Her hand comes up to rest against his cheek, feeling the light stubble from a long day and night. "I'll take a night without you having hard nightmares."

"Bullshit," Frank responds cheerfully enough (for seven-something in the morning) to her claim that she feels great. But he nods at the statement that follows, accepting it. She's a badass in her own right, and he's had to put her into the category of 'female combatants' in his head. The touch of her hand to his cheek draws a faint smile to his lips, and he nods, responding a little hesitantly, "Yeah. It was good." Another pause, "Strange. I almost got used to them. But good." Drawing in a slow breath, he studies her blue eyes, "How 'bout you, Red? You have any problems, or did you get enough sleep for once in your life?"

"Language," Barbara says in the airs of Steve Rogers. Then she is brushing her fingertips across his cheek, following his jawline. Her fingertips then scrape up a bit more to nestle behind his ear. It's an easy affection that is supported in this quiet, empty motel room. Word that he was getting used to the bad dreams — the nightmares — has her shaking her head. "A reprieve, that's all this is." Then nods slightly against the pillow. "I slept." Her eyes search his. "I've had dreams — where everything is fine, peaceful, easy… then the whole world is consumed in shadows and the screaming wakes me up." Her eyes search his. "Quiet, good dreams are rare. Either it's darkness, or nightmares."

Frank snorts at her chiding, shaking his head even as he closes his eyes under the influence of her fingers, letting the quiet moment settle over them both. "Yeah. I don't think a couple of sweet kisses are gonna fix everything, Red." A chuckle rumbles in his chest, "Don't know if anything will. But I'm sure gonna try." But he listens to her own sleep report, opening his eyes to meet hers, the weight of his dark gaze heavy, "And you had these before all the shit," that for her language chiding, "with the Whispers started up? Or are they new since Thanksgiving?" Frank is nothing if not a fixer (even if that sometimes means breaking everything in sight to fix the one problem he was focused on), and he narrows in on the 'why' right away.

Her wounded leg bents slightly toward him, and her shin settles against his while she keeps her wounded calf safe from too much touch. It also lets her rest the unwounded side against the bed. Barbara curls both arms under her head. She settles her gaze into his darker, heavier gaze. "Nightmares? Yeah. Once I put on the cape, I started having nightmares. I managed them." Which means Babs pushed through them, fighting harder and narrowing her focus; that's unlike Dinah, who turned to the bottle. Some drink it away, some turn their face into it and weathers it. "But — I dreamed horrible, real things — now I dream about shadows, darkness, glowing eyes." Her head tilts down slightly, but it's a brief sink before she's looking up again to meet his eyes. "You think they were sweet kisses?"

Her words get a slow nod, "Like I'm managing mine." Which is to say, ignoring it, living with it, not managing it. Frank draws in a breath and nods, "Changed your nightmare. Traumatic events." Fancy that. She got hers a few months after he got his. The little dip of her head and the question that follows breaks the heaviness, and he chuckles, his hand finally coming up to tease around the hairs before her ear, "Yeah. Pretty sweet." He shrugs his unwounded shoulder, "I don't know… simple. Warm. Sweet." The chuckle returns, "I don't know, how would the brainiac put it?"

Fancy that. Barbara spares him — their nightmares will come back, and she will lean into them just as she always done. She will lean with him. The touch of his fingers against her ear and the fine red hairs there has her eyes drifting closed briefly before they open again. Then he's asking her for her own description, and she shakes her head slightly. "I can take warm, simple, and sweet." Then she is leaning in closer toward him, and with the softest touch, she sets her lips with his. Her eyes drift closed as she just savors that quiet moment, leaning into it for as long as he will let her.

Frank starts to smirk as she takes his descriptors without adding her own, but it's wiped away when she leans in to touch her lips into his. His fingers curl against her cheek, and he tilts his head slightly to brush his nose against hers, but once they're there, as close as breath, he doesn't move, letting the softness, the sweetness, wash over him, eating away at the base of his walls like the sea beneath a great bastion. He lets the moment grow, mature, and relax again, long minutes stretching out, and then he finally settles back just a touch, opening his eyes again. "Yeah." There's a pause, "That's close-enough-to-hurt-ya." Close enough to hold onto. The heel of his thumb brushes over the apple of her cheek, and he leans his forehead into hers, "Let's get you through this and to some real medical care, Red." But he doesn't make any move to get up right away.

Her mouth is soft against his, and there's no pressure for anything but the gentle connection of lips with the softest brush of noses and grace of bodies — close, but not too close. Her fingers settle behind his neck, and she squeezes there with some hint that there's a need there just at the edges of the sweetness, and softness. Then he's lifting away, and she's left breathless in the wake of the loss of him. Her eyes open when he speaks, and then she nods with a sober, light smile. When his forehead connects with hers, she closes her eyes. His words are met with a subtle nod, and then she takes in a breath, "Alright." She lingers, like him, for just a heartbeat before she begins to roll away, aiming to scoot herself to the end of the bed.

The need warms him, sets anchors in that dusty bed, but Frank is nothing if not mission-driven, and he rolls slowly up to sitting with a groan. He reaches down to the pannier, strapping the ankle holster back to his leg, and starts to draw on his pants. "I get the feeling there's gonna be a lotta people pissed at me." He casts a look over his shoulder, adding the holster to the back of his belt by touch alone as he studies her, "You ever get blamed for gettin' hurt yourself? Or is it all the fault of whoever else is with you?"

Barbara takes stock of herself at the edge of the bed. The bandages need to be changed, so while Frank gets himself some pants, she worries about that first. She replaces the gauze and sterile pad, and then rewraps it comfortably tight with heavy strips of tape. Only then does she remember she doesn't actually have pants that will do her a lick of good on the bike. "I like to blame the guy who shot me." She looks up at him through the loose fall of forelocks. "You going to care if anyone blames you for me getting shot in a bar fight I participated in as much as you did?" Her brow arches slightly at him, and then she looks away so she can worry about putting on her shredded pants. It's painful — and she keeps it from him as she works her pants up to her hips and then back into place.

Frank lets his own bandages sit, apparently willing to deal with them later on, when he gets back to the warehouse. "Naw. Do I look like I care if someone blames me for something?" Probably, depending on the person. "Bet you're glad I didn't cut those pants before, aren'tcha?" The pants she insisted he not cut up. He watches her pull them on, his attention on her face rather than the motion itself, and he frowns, shifting, but swallowing the question of whether she'll be able to ride back to Gotham. He pulls his last shirt out of the panniers, pulls it on, then gathers the saddlebags and offers out a hand to Barbara, "You're not gonna be an idiot, right? Things get too bad on the ride, we'll find some place for your fancy program to guard your bike and you can ride double. I'll come back with Dinah to get the bike."

The tall redhead pulls herself to her feet so she can do the button and fly. Then she's sitting back down, and grabbing for her boots. This is when shit gets gnarly — she opens the clasps on her boots all the way so she can ease her foot in. Her eyes flicker over to Frank at his question, and she offers him one of those high-cheeked smiles. "I won't be an idiot." Then she is tightening her foot into the boot, before she ties off the shredded straps of her pant leg around the boot to protect her leg and not let it dangle. She tries not to let him see how the boot pains her foot and her leg. She works on her second boot. Then she breathes, eyes closing briefly. "Okay." She's not sure who she just said that to, but then she's getting up to her feet and pulling on the jacket over his t-shirt — it's an awkward fit. Her eyes cut back to him. "Ready."

Frank watches her prep her boot, shaking his head a little and digging into the pannier and its first aid kit again to get out an Ace bandage. He kneels down at her feet, wrapping the tan, elastic cloth around and around the boot and her bandaged leg to keep everything in place and protected a bit from the wind. He glances up here and there to check on her as he wraps, tucking the end in and clipping it with practiced ease. "Better than duct tape." There's a pause, "For this." He stands again, and before he can offer his hands, she's already rising and getting her jacket on, "You don't got to play the badass with me, Red. I know you're a badass. Be real with me, yeah?"

Frank looks after Barbara, and it's a warm and quiet thing that causes her to smile at first, but then sober into something more serious at his words. She lifts her chin a bit before she gives him a nod. "I know." Then she takes a breath before she takes his hand with hers. "Walk me to the bikes. I start to slow down, you pick me up." Then she squeezes his hand before she looks around the motel room, as if checking. She will forget the bloodied t-shirt half-under the bed — not hers, but the one she used to staunch Frank's blood. Give it half a day and someone will find it. But that's not on her mind. Instead, she steps in close to tuck herself under his arm. She lets him guide the way back to the bikes.

Frank is too used to leaving DNA traces at the scene of so many of his crimes… what's one more? He loops his arm around her back, nodding as he does, "Deal." The rain and drizzle of the night before has settled down to a low-lying fog, and Frank takes it slow the quarter mile from the abandoned motel to the bikes, even slower as they get closer. He makes sure that his right hand is free, his index finger twitching slightly as he looks up and down the road, checking for anything out of place. He freezes at one point, as a car comes rolling past slowly, but it's a station wagon with clear windows, the mother in the passenger seat turned around to chastise the kids in the back. Not a threat. "Small town cops, yeah?" Just enough to scare off pursuit, but not enough to pursue themselves — at least for now. Probably.

Back at the bikes, all is quiet. There's two other vehicles in the quiet Songbird lot — two abandoned pick-up trucks from driver's too drunk to go home. As they near the bikes, Barbara lifts her wrist to tell ALTHENE they're back and there's a little shimmer across the exterior of Barbara's bike as it deactivates. Then she is leaning back against her bike a moment before she unloads her pockets into the pannier — she had tucked a bollas and throwing razors. She apparently didn't think she needed them. Now she's looking back up to him, and she reaches for her helmet. "Straight shot back to Gotham. Right?"

Frank watches the interplay between woman, AI, and bike with smirking bemusement. Once she's leaning against the bike, he circles his own, drops to one knee to check under it and the helmet on the seat, then nods and slings his panniers over the back, buckling them down and pulling on his helmet, "Yeah. Nothin' but commuters to stop us now." He grins, tucks his radio back into place, and checks it, starting up his bike and walking it backwards, "That's a pretty badass bike, Red. And lookit the badass rider gettin' rid of her weapons. Didn't even need 'em." Of course, his own pistols stayed in their holsters too, as did his knife. "I'll stay on your tail, you need to pull over, just let me know."

When the radios are tested and she places hers back on, she rolls her head into her helmet. Her eyes close behind the dark visor, and she tries not to think of the pain that's to come, riding this bike from here to Gotham. It will be a few hours, and she hates the mere idea of Frank having to baby her to get there. So, she tightens the helmet under her chin, and swings herself gingerly into the saddle. She nods to him, head tilted slightly. "Don't underestimate a girl and her bike." Then she's walking hers back out, and he cannot see the pain that tenses up her frame at the weight she puts on that calf. Then she's tucks in a foot, guns the engine, and starts out toward the highway once again.

"Never."

It's still a couple hours to Gotham, but they skip the side roads and scenic route, so it's not nearly as long as the way out. The two bikes pull up outside the Lance household, and as Frank cuts the engine to his borrowed hog, he spreads his hands, gravelling, "Why am I even here?" Because clearly she didn't need him. He pops off his helmet, then puts down the kickstand and comes around toward her bike. Only then does he start tugging at his the knuckles of his right hand with the fingers of his left, a clear nervous gesture. "I ain't even gonna bother tellin' you to let Dinah give you the good stuff, Red. Just take it easy for at least a couple of days." Medical advisement, several weeks, no doubt. Punisher advisement for Batgirl, a more realistic couple of days.

"Because a gentleman sees a lady home after a three day road trip and a violent bar fight," the redhead quips back as she pulls her bike up the drive where she can knock down the kickstand and rest into the uninjured side of her body. Barbara's looking pale as she takes off her helmet, and she sets it down in her lap as tension bleeds out of her frame and her eyes shut. She waits several long heartbeats before she smiles up to him. "I'll let her coddle me. But yeah. I won't have much downtime." Now something settles in around her shoulders — no longer on the road, no longer away from their realities, the redhead feels uncertain. "Th-thanks, Frank. The ride was good." She offers him a little smile, still not getting off her saddle.

"Right. Forgot that was in the officer-and-a-gentleman lessons in the Corps." The nerves sink their teeth into Frank as well, and his hands trade jobs, the right now fiddling with the knuckles of the left. "Right up until the end of the bar fight." Because apparently the start of it that involved bruises and a knife slash was just fine. He offers out a hand to help her up from the bike, his features setting a little to hide the nerves and the feeling of uncertainty, unsteadiness that they inspire. "Have to work on the dismount for next time."

Their both nervous, tense. She finds herself waiting for him to dismiss her, turning away to head back to Jersey City without much interest in sticking around; he's waiting — for what? Babs isn't sure. She takes his hand almost unconsciously and painfully swings out of the saddle to be on both feet — or, well, one and a half feet as she is still ginger with that leg. She smiles up at him with a rueful tilt of her head. "Rough dismount, but hey… you stuck the landing." Then she stands there, fingers working slightly at his knuckles. She looks down at their hands — both pale and calloused, but hers softly freckled. "So, um."

"Not yet." At least Frank is clear on just how awkward the landing is right now. He starts to turn toward her bike, but his hand stays with hers, and he stops the turn, looking to her, "So, um." There's a hint of teasing behind the nervousness, but it fades away as his eyes flicker up to the windows of the house overlooking them, "So I'd, I don't know, give you a kiss, but I'm pretty sure Dinah or Tell are watching, and we didn't want to get you messed up with me as Babs, right? Or is Pete okay for that?" He looks a little confused, but… okay, that teasing edge never quite faded away, "And I don't know if I can grab your bags off the bike, or if it's gonna shock me or some shit."

The flickering glance to the windows prompt her own glance, and then Barbara shakes her head slightly with a bit of amusement. "Dinah's probably in the shop." This amusement just redoubles when he asks about her bags, and she nods slightly. "You can grab them, just try not to jostle them to the left." She's kidding. Right? She releases his hand, letting him grab her bags if he's so inspired.

Frank gives Babs a wary look at the instructions and… tries not to jostle them to the left. He's pretty sure she's pulling his chain, but you never know what sharp, bladed gear might pop out if he shakes the bags wrong. So he gathers them up and slings them over his shoulder, then slips an arm carefully around her back so that he can help her up the steps to the front door. "You know that only answered part of the question." He waits another couple of steps, then adds, "You can think about the rest."

She's pulling his chain, but watching him manage the bag does have her smiling. Then he's got his arm around her, and she slips hers the same to make it easier to guide her. Soon enough, they are at the front door, which has given her lots of time to think about that other half of the question. "You can set down the bag," she tells him, and only once he's done that does she step in close — with a bit of a hobble — and curls both arms around his shoulders. She's just on the ball of her uninjured foot high enough to meet his lips in a kiss that is unlike the sweet, softness from the motel. It's full of everything she has left in her after the long trip home, wounded and tired. To call it a kiss of need would be underselling it.

Carry the girl's books, drop her off at her doorstep, it has all the hallmarks of an entirely-too-wholesome '50s movie date. Frank settles the bag down, straightening up — straight into a not-safe-for-'50s-TV kiss. He weathers the storm for a moment, staggering half a step back, and then shuffles straight back into it, one hand clasping up behind her braid, the other enveloping her shoulders more closely to crush her to him. He makes a low sound of reflected need, his lips caressing, brushing, pulling hers, parting and closing time and again as he takes that fire of need, nurturing it and stoking it.

With his arms around her, pulling her tight to him, she lets go of her footing a bit to just be held against Frank's sturdy frame. The kiss goes on until Barbara is breathless, and she pulls back enough to press her forehead to his. Her smile turns into short laughter before she tightens her arms around his shoulders. "That kiss… was for Frank." Then she's pressing her lips against his cheek before she sinks back. "Get in touch — I'll come up for dinner."

Frank's eyes stay closed even after his brow drops to hers and he lets her sink the bare inch or so back to her one-and-a-half working feet. His breath comes quick, his pulse loud in his ears. "That was a damn good kiss, Red." His voice is huskier than gravelly, and he slowly opens his eyes, "I will. You still gotta start installing your wonder-robot some time." There's a pause, and then he offers up a little grin, "I'll make you dinner while you work." He's… probably teasing. About her having to work. He lingers close to her a moment longer, then presses a kiss to her brow, ducks low to scoop up her bag and hold it out to her, and then turns to walk down the steps, back to his bike.

"It's a date," Babs says to his retreating form. Then she hugs her bag against her chest, watching him leave.

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