Calling in a Favor

December 12, 2016:

Zatanna Zatara pays a visit to Bruce Wayne to ask for his help regarding her missing father, Giovanni.

Wayne Manor

The stately Wayne Manor is a staple on Crest Hill, an exclusive neighborhood in Gotham City.


NPCs: Alfred

Mentions: Tim Drake, Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, Winter Soldier, Jessica Jones


Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

While the Zataras could be arguably said to fall in the same, wealthy social circles as the likes of the Waynes and the Drakes among the Gothamites, the young Zatanna has spent the last few years abroad, juggling her more mundane studies with the mystical ones. Lay all of that on top of a rather busy performance schedule, whether assisting her father or forging her own path to the limelight, it seems reasonable enough to assume that when it comes to the more mundane social graces back in her hometown, she would sweat a little in trying to remember what acceptable etiquette is these days. Should she call first and set an appointment? Should she just show up at the residence? Should she be super formal and call his personal assistant in Wayne Enterprises, and see him in his offices there?

But she remembers her conversation with Tim, her classmate and Bruce Wayne's adopted son - that much like him, Bruce preferred to be more hands on with the philanthropic aspects of the Wayne empire than its flagship conglomerate. It was a tidbit of information that was somewhat surprising to her, having assumed that he would go the other way and take a more hands-on approach, as typical of the sole heirs of companies deemed too big to fail.

It doesn't seem to be all that far-fetched; Tim doesn't seem to be all that interested in taking over Drake Industries either, despite his presumed controlling shareholder status.

So after much careful deliberation, she calls ahead and requests an appointment through Bruce's butler, Alfred Pennyworth, who promptly calls her back with a date and time.

She has significantly toned down her trademarked sense of fashion once she shows up at Wayne Manor, though she doesn't go out of her way to appear older than she actually is. She wears a pair of fitted designer jeans, expensive Gucchi stiletto boots, and a button-down dress shirt underneath a black cashmere sweater. Overall, she looks like a college student, but a fashionable one.

She smiles at the butler when he greets her at the door, and carefully scuffs her boots on the doormat before venturing inside Wayne Manor, presumably towards the room in which Bruce would be expecting her.


Alfred is the picture of impeccable British propriety— groomed to his eyelashes, white gloves, and wearing a butler's tailcoat that went out of vogue in America fifty years ago— but somehow, he makes it dapper and supremely fashionable in his understated way.

"Miss Zatara. Welcome to Wayne Manor," he remarks, swinging the door open. "Do please come in. Master Bruce is looking forward to seeing you— he'll receive you in the west Atrium, if that's quite all right."

"Master Bruce wished it be known that he remembers you and your father quite well, Miss Zatara," Alfred adds, his steps long but with the slight shuffling step of a man creeping into his latter decades. "He's pleased you're back in Gotham. Might I inquire— are you staying long, then?" he asks, his tone one of polite and even friendly inquiry, without being supercilious.

"Ah, here we are." He knocks twice on the atrium door and swings it open, stepping aside for Zatanna and gesturing with one gloved hand. "Mister Wayne, the young miss Zatanna Zatara," he announces.

The atrium's a cozy room, with a round perimeter that's at least three-quarter floor-to-vaulted-ceiling windows. Dark woods and old, rich mahongany cloth and tanned leather abound, and a row of bookshelves brackets one side of the door while a five-foot painting of a horse rampant stands opposite. Under the far window is a low brazier, burning with low red heat, and the chairs are arranged so two people can sit and talk at an oblique angle without the confrontational overtones of facing directly.

Bruce Wayne rises from one of those chairs. He's a big fellow, easily six feet tall, and with shoulders even the modest cut of his Saville Row suit can't quite contain. He smiles easily at Zatanna, moving to greet her in person and offering a polite, gentle handshake.

"Miss Zatara. I'm really pleased you're here. You've grown up quite a bit," he says, eyes sparkling approval. "Do please come in. Tea? Coffee?"


"Mister Pennyworth!" Zatanna greets warmly, reaching out to shake the butler's hand. "I recognize you from my father's old photographs…you've not aged a single day. Thank you so much for arranging this, to be honest I wasn't quite sure how….I've not been to the States in so long." She hands him her coat, letting the butler take care of it even as he leads her further to the manor's interior. For all of Shadowcrest's mystique, much like her father, the younger Zatara was an incorrigible aesthete, taking in the decor and design - minimalist and masculine, though she finds a touch of color and art here and there to soften those edges; Martha Wayne's spectral fingers at work, maintained as if she were still living.

"I recently enrolled in Gotham University," she tells Alfred, answering the older man's question. "So hopefully Gotham will continue to be my home until I receive my diploma."

While pleased, and downright relieved, that Bruce remembers her and her father well, she is not prepared for the man himself; tall, larger than life and devastatingly handsome, Zatanna easily forgets herself, or even appreciate the rest of the room when he comes over to offer his hand in a gentle handshake. It was a face that graced many publications ranging from legitimate business prints to celebrity gossip rags, always accompanied by distinguished persons or some of the most beautiful women in the planet. To say that he radiated a presence that would intimidate someone so young and untried as herself would be an egregious understatement.

But her hand does clasp his with long, slender fingers - the bone structure and the complexion of an artist, though he would feel calluses here and there, suggestive of a life with its fair share of work and adventure. "Mister Wayne," she says, somewhat starstruck, a rare flush of color blooming on her cheeks (a proverbial unicorn in the forest, with how shameless she generally is), that grows all the more apparent at the compliment he gives her. "Wow….you're so much taller than I thought you would be! …I mean, it's just…" She finishes, somewhat sheepishly, "…the photographs don't do you justice."

"Tea would be great," she says, /now/ taking the chance to look around the tastefully furnished atrium. "I'm…I know this is very sudden, thank you so much for taking the time in your undoubtedly busy schedule to come see me. And I'm so relieved that you remember me! How have you been?"


"Lifts in my shoes," Bruce says, with a deadpan so dry that only the flickering of one eye turns the self-disparagement into a sly bit of humor. A grin spreads quickly as he shakes Zatanna's hand, politely making no mention of her blush, either, one hand clasping atop her knuckles in a brief squeeze as their hands meet. "You've grown into yourself, it looks like. I can see a lot of Giovanni in your face." He examines her with a brief but somehow penetrating scrutiny. "But I think your mother took some of the sharp edges off." Another quiet piece of dry humor, given Giovanni's lean features.

"Service for two, Alfred," Bruce directs the butler, who bows his head and slips away unobtrusively. Bruce invites Zatanna to take one seat and settles into the other, crossing his legs comfortably and relaxing into the high-backed chair. "Of course I remember you, Zatanna. And it's no trouble at all— I'm doing very well. How are you finding Gotham? I understand you've started studying at the University?" he inquires, folding his hands on his lap with a surprisingly focused attention.


"Oxfords, not brogues?" Zatanna banters back easily as she returns the warm squeeze on her fingers, her earlier nervousness eased by Bruce's easy display of humor, following the taller, older man like a lost puppy in the woods until he gestures for her to take a seat. "I was often told that I favored my Italian side over my Turkish one, though my mother was the rare, soft blonde in that part of the world. That's certainly a relief, though - I much prefer my mother's nose to my father's!"

She does have Giovanni's eyes - startling, pale ice blue, curious and keen, but something about her softens that as well.

Her slender form folds into the chair a short distance across from Bruce easily, crossing long legs at the knee and linking her fingers together on her lap. "…well it's…" Drab, colorless, as if the corruption in its heart leeched most of its luster; a place where the nights seemed downright endless. "….really come a long way culturally from when I was here last. I hear the arts scene really flourished in the last few years, but I haven't had much time to indulge my curiosity on that end just yet. Daddy would be very happy to find out that you're doing very well, he speaks of you and your parents quite fondly, in the times we reminisce about home. And yes - the university. I'm double-majoring in theater and languages, modern and ancient. I thought that if my designs as an entertainer crash and burn that I could always lend my growing expertise to the Smithsonian or the Vatican."

There is a pause, her expression brightening some, her grin reflected in her eyes. "Tim's my Physics project partner this semester," she informs him. "Honestly I was really surprised, I didn't know you had adopted anyone until he mentioned it."


Bruce grins, laughing once— an easy sound. "So /you're/ the girl disrupting class with magic tricks," Bruce says with a wry chuckle, shaking his head. "He came home from school and told me he met someone /very/ interesting— a dark-haired girl who was doing card tricks to bully all the jocks. That's a new one. In my day, we just egged lockers and streaked the qaud." An effortless lie. Bruce's time in college was entirely an extremely artful fabrication. Doctored yearbook photos, a few falsified documents, and the very human tendency to alter memories have convinced more than a few folks that Bruce Wayne spent four years at Yale.

"Theater and languages, that's an interesting combination." He considers quietly. "That'd be… Professor Yashiro, still, I believe she's still the dean of the language department?" he inquires of Zatanna. "Pick her brain sometime on the Edo period dialects. Bring a pen— you'll need a flow chart," he chuckles.

"How /is/ your father?" He asks, shifting topics. "Aside from a rare christmas card and a phone call, we haven't talked much lately." He doesn't offer much apology for it— life gets busy for adults, particularly two powerful men, one running a corporation, one managing a daughter.


Bruce's teasing ellicits a reaction that is all mock surprise and unrepentance; Zatanna's red-lipped mouth circles in an 'O', her fingers brushing over her chest - were she wearing pearls, she'd be clutching them fitfully to complete the look. "I was /challenged/, good sir!" she breathes in an exaggerated gasp. "As a modern woman, I couldn't let it go unanswered!" There they are, those errant glimpses of a natural actress. But that shared mirth fills her eyes; if she was hesitant before in engaging him, she barely recalls the moment as it is, basking in the all-too rare experience of interacting with someone who could go toe-to-toe with her in social environs.

"Tim made an impression quickly in his own right," she says, falling in the easy assumption that any father would like to hear about his son when he's not under his careful, watchful eye. "He was confused as to how I did it at first, so I told him that if he made an accurate enough of one that I would let the secret slip. He got very close to the truth, so I was forced to live up to my part of the bargain. Did he ever tell you he knew geometric formulas and how to use them by the time he was seven? I wish I stayed in Gotham longer, then, I think the water might have properties in it that turns people into geniuses."

His words on Professor Yashiro gets an eager nod. "Dr. Yashiro is still the dean, yes, I had the grilling of my life during my orientation. For someone so tiny, she can fill the room with her presence with no effort at all. I'll definitely keep that in mind, I believe I have to take Advanced Japanese next semester."

The conversation's progression towards the heart of the matter was as inevitable as the fall of a tossed penny. There is a pause from the young woman across from him, and while her smile remains, something else dampens her overall good cheer.

Life does get busy indeed for two powerful men, one running a corporation, who has his own family, and one with a precocious daughter, who somehow juggles those responsibilities with stardom, and a legendary status in the annals of the heroic community for having saved the world multiple times in his long career.

Something that Bruce Wayne would have absolutely no knowledge of, but one that Batman would.

"I…" She clears her throat. "Honestly, Bruce, that's why I've come to visit. Daddy's been missing for months. Aside from the fact that I wanted to ask you if you've heard from him, I wanted to ask you for a favor so I could find him."


A pleased expression— paternal and proud— crosses Bruce's face when Zatanna launches into such high praise of Tim. It's a peculiar expression, lacking the pleased grin that one would normally expect. Sober, quiet, but Zatanna's instincts would almost certainly twig to it being vastly more sincere.

However, his face falls when Zatanna tells him her father's been missing— very missing— and concern crosses his features like a dark mask. "That's— no, I haven't heard from him," he remarks, shaking his head. "I'd ask if you thought he was just travelling again on some dig for another fossilized trinket in the desert, but…" he examines Zatanna's face shrewdly. "No, it's not that. He's missing."

"What can I do to help?" No question of cost— no qualifiers. Bruce's tone makes it entirely clear that there's no check he won't cut to help Zatanna recover her missing father. "And… I know a little bit about your father's… side hobbies," he says, delicately. "Don't feel like you have to hold back or that I'll think you're crazy. I've seen Giovanni pull some literal rabbits out of fake hats and I'm— well. I won't think you're crazy," he repeats.


Out of all the words they've exchanged thus far, Bruce's last words are the ones that cull a profound change in the young woman. Even as her smile gradually fades, the expression generated upon seeing the proud expression on the Wayne heir's face when she speaks of Tim, those sharp detective's instincts would taste it in the air before sorrow and worry manifest visibly. It starts with the way she balls her fingers tightly on her lap, the near-impercetible tremble crossing the young woman's shoulders. It is in her nature to appear fiercely independent at all times, if not just to contrast her upbringing, to prove to the world that in spite of her emotional dependence on her father's presence, she could rise above it.

But it is tremendously difficult. Unlike Bruce Wayne, Zatanna fears being alone above all else. Loneliness is no solace, it is the most terrible of tortures, the most unforgiving of cages. It is the worst hell that she can possibly imagine.

So when Bruce confesses that he /knows/, that he isn't so far removed from her father's extracurricular activities like she initially thought, he would see those large, expressive eyes fill with tears. Oh, she tries to prevent them from falling, when she blinks so rapidly to stem the tide. But it is a losing battle and she tries to retain some semblance of dignity by focusing on her hands.

"I'm sorry," she says, levying a considerable effort in making her voice sound steady. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to…I'm just so /relieved/ that I don't have to hold back." That someone else who knew her father, enjoyed some manner of closeness to him, /knew/ and was receptive to lending aid. "I wasn't sure how much you knew. Daddy….oh, Bruce, you know Daddy. If the world was on the verge of ending, he would be in the front trying to stop it. And that's what happened. I /think/ that's what happened. Someone called him away shortly after I turned eighteen, and I haven't heard from him since, and he's never gone this long without saying anything to me, and I don't even want to think the worst has happened because…because…"

Because it would end her. Her father is all she has.

She takes a deep breath. "I heard from a contact that the last anyone saw of him, he was looking for a book. It's the Liber Consecratus, it's Lot #617 in this year's catalogue for the GAC's annual auction. But invitations are out and I was hoping you'd be able to pull some strings to put me on the guest list. That's all I wanted to ask…for an invitation. For me and a female friend who's an investigator that I asked to look into my father's disappearance. I don't…" She wipes her eyes. "I don't want to be of any further burden than that. I thought if I could win the auction for the book that I'd be able to figure out why he needs it and that'll be another lead for me to follow."


Bruce's eyes light up in interest. "A caper! How about that, this is turning into a real detective novel. You ever see the Maltese Falcon? Same thing, except this time, it's your father." Only the keenest of ears would sense the pain behind that last word.

He offers Zatanna a handkerchief from his pocket, just as Alfred arrives with the tea. Alfred gives Bruce a look of level remonstration at the sight of Zatanna's visible distress. "Already badgering the young lady to tears, sir?" Alfred inquires, disapproval in his voice.

Bruce gives Alfred a flat look, at the butler cocks a brow back at him— but starts pouring the tea. "A nip of brandy or cointreau, miss Zatanna? We won't tell the bobbies if you won't— good for the nerves," he offers, solicitously.

Bruce gives Zatanna a few moments to comport herself, then reaches over and pats her forearm with a gentle reassurance. "I happen to be on the GAC board, which I'm sure you knew already," Bruce says, flashing a quick grin at Zatanna. "An invitation would be very easy to wrangle. As for your friend— well, every book I've read suggests that you should have someone go in undercover, right? How would she feel about disguising herself as part of the waitstaff or something?"


He can tell immediately that she's embarrassed - she had meant to put her best face forward today, if not just to convince Bruce Wayne, one of Gotham's most important people, and its most eligible bachelor for a decade, that she was worth indulging. She takes the offered handkerchief, though she seems hesitant to soil it with tears - but anything, really, to fix her face. She dabs the corners of her eyes with the edges, folding it neatly afterwards.

While distressed, she's certainly shameless enough to take the offer of brandy when the option is presented for her comfort. "No, no, Mister Pennyworth, he wasn't the cause, I promise. While I'm certain Bruce has driven women to tears before, I'm sure it's just from the lack of his very sought-after attentions. I will take that brandy though, thank you very much." And just like that, the young magician is back to her old self, though given her considerable theatrical talents, it could simply be a convincing show, giving Bruce a small smile from where she sits, the flush returning to her cheeks at the comforting pat on her forearm.

"Well, I'm afraid I won't be much of a thief," she says with a small, hoarse laugh. "Daddy frowned on crime." Probably why he and Bruce got along so well. "I was going to purchase the book legitimately with my own funds - besides, the auction ultimately benefits an orphanage, doesn't it? So much the better if I can assist the community in some way as well. As for my friend - Jessica Jones, I think she'll actually prefer that. She doesn't like wearing dresses."

She takes the cup of tea when Alfred finally hands it to her, murmuring a quiet thank you. "I…thank you so much, Bruce. Honestly I felt so guilty, calling on you like this because I needed your help. I really hope it's not much trouble." And she really, really didn't want to expose the billionaire to more risk than absolutely necessary. Giovanni Zatara dealt with dangerous entities across realities and dimensions for most of his life….if she got him more involved than he had to, and something happened to him, she would never forgive herself.

Boy, if she only knew what Bruce gets up to at night.


"Well, I'm pretty sure if my date for the gala stole the book, I'd at least not get invited back to their events," Bruce tells Zatanna. He muses on that for a moment. "Well— at least let's /table/ that and maybe come back to it."

"And I won't hear of you spending your money on a moldy old book. You're in college— save your money for education and building your show business career. I'll just take it out of Tim's allowance," Bruce says, deadpanning again.

"Besides, I've always wanted a copy of the … er, Liber… something," he says, gallantly. "It'll go just fine on my shelf next to all my other forbidden Latin-sounding textbooks."

"If you summon another demon, Master Wayne, I'll have some short words with you," Alfred chimes in, setting brandy next to Zatanna's tea. /Good/ brandy.

"That was one time, Alfred, and I was a kid. Let it go already," Bruce says, his dry tone a lazy, bantering match for Alfred's dry wit. Alfred winks at Zatanna and withdraws.

"Alfred, please contact the GAC and inform them I'll be bringing a +1 after all," he adds. "And then call the Regal Hotel and inform the manager we need a women's waitstaff costume for— " he glances at Zatanna for confirmation "— Jessica Jones, who's investigating a missing person's case."


"That would be…"

Pause. Record scratch.

Around her, the world continues spinning; Alfred pours the tea with all the pomp and exactness of a proper British gentleman in an impeccable suit, though not so much that he outshines the master of the house, who carries on a difficult conversation as easily as some of the most prestigious conductors of the London Philharmonic, directing the social strains around him with the elegant finesse of one with several years of experience and dedicated study. Her blood roars in her ears as she watches Bruce's profile with a slightly dazed expression. Her relief at this moment can't be quantified in any known language on Earth, to be sure. Bruce has been very amiable in lending his assistance, but…

…did he just suggest that she be his date?

Was he inviting her to be /Bruce Wayne's/ date in the first and one of the most exclusive events in Gotham City in the coming year?

Her fingers freeze on the cup as she stares at him with all the wide-eyed wonder of an explorer finding a veritable cave of wonders in her own backyard. What was she supposed to say to that without sounding like…well, every other woman in Gotham City? What /could/ she say? What does she do from this point?

And oh god, what should she wear?!

Three floors of clothes and she has absolutely /nothing to wear/ as Bruce Wayne's date. Oh god. Oh god oh god oh god oh god. What if she embarrassed him? Should she go elegant? Should she go conservative? What if she trips on her heels? Oh god, she's totally going to trip on her heels!!

"….I think you're about to put me on the hit list of every woman in the city," she quips with a nervous laugh, before promptly swallowing her tea and its very good, very potent shot of brandy. "Thank you again, Bruce…I apologize. Normally I'm more /articulate/ than this, but I'm so…you're being so good to me."


Bruce's smile is reassuring, but it fades just a little, growing wistful. "Giovanni was very kind to me once, Zatanna," he reminds the blue-eyed woman— so much like her father. "And not willingly. I needed a— well, I'm not sure what. I wanted to learn some magic from him. Sleight of hand and card tricks." How to slip handcuffs without a key, how to dislocate a shoulder to escape restraints. "He ended up teaching me a lot about having a code of honor. And other things— stagecraft, vocal projection, even how to dazzle an audience. He showed me that little trick— " he demonstrates, moving his hands left and right in a surprisingly eye catching flutter— "to make people look at you, and I've literally hypnotized board rooms full of sharp-eyed people with it."

"So yes, I'm being good to you, but I'm also trying to pay back a big debt to your father," Bruce admits, candidly. "I figure I'd owe him anyway if he were in trouble— and especially if you're here looking for help, I figure that'll count double in his book," Bruce says, grinning again.

"As for the hit list, all I can say there is, either dress like a nun and tell everyone you're a friend of the family, or dress for maximum effect and tell the collective to chew on their collective jealousy," he advises her. "I stopped paying attention to the tabloids after I adopted my oldest son, Dick."

"Stopped going on dates, too," Alfred mumbles, just quietly enough that it'd be hard pressed to call him on it. Bruce gives Alfred's profile a level look— the butler pretends not to see anything, focusing on tidying the tea up. "Thank you, Alfred, that'll be all."

"He's got two left feet, miss Zatanna," Alfred whispers to the dark-haired girl. "So watch yourself on the dance floor."

"-Thank- you, Alfred," Bruce says, pressing fingertips to his brow in mild consternation.


The wistful expression and the reminder pulls her out of her panicked mental catalouging of the interior of her closets, her blue eyes finding Bruce again when he attempts to explain in added detail the debt he owes Giovanni Zatara. She listens with interest, how could she not, if not just to try and discern just what about the man before her propelled the older Zatara to break the most sacred of the rules that govern being a magician and stage illusionist. She remembers the conversation with Tim, how baffling it was that he would even ask, but there's clearly something about the man that convinced Zatara to do just that.

Maybe he saw some of Thomas Wayne in his son, the friend he was close to. The friend he missed. The friend whose death he took so hard that he vacated Gotham just to escape the pain.

"I'll do my very best to put those women at ease, then. If anyone asks, I'll say you're my godfather and that you were present for my christening. If that's /too/ hard to swallow, I'll say you're looking to adopt me also," the young woman says with a laugh. "Tim and I actually talked about it, why you would ask my father to teach you. I thought maybe your business took you to dangerous places, where kidnapping and ransoming wealthy Americans are common. Still I'm glad that you're putting his lessons to good use."

She exchanges a quick grin with Alfred. "Daddy always said you were quite sassy, Mister Pennyworth," she teases the butler. "He was very fond of you for it."

Cradling the cup in her hands, she lets its vestigial warmth leech into her hands. There's another flare of curiosity there, when he mentions his other son. "Wow, you have two? I had no idea….honestly, I'm relieved to hear it. Wayne Manor is so large….with just you and Mister Pennyworth, it'd feel so empty."

She smiles ruefully, her attention directed to her cup. "As for Daddy, you helped him too, Bruce," she confesses quietly. "He was in a bad way for a while, wearing himself so thin. He was raising me by himself, he missed my mother and….he took your parents' deaths very hard. But I think seeing you again helped him find his center. Reminded him that he couldn't go on the way he was. He'd tell me sometimes that he saw Tom in you, past all the glitz and glamour and magazine covers."


Bruce winces at 'godfather' and 'adopt'. "Oof. /Now/ I feel old," Bruce chuckles, rubbing a hand against his jawline. "I'd almost rather you just make them feel a little insecure. I'm supposed to be bringing beautiful young debutantes to these things anyway, it'd almost help my cover."

He sips his tea, and his smile softens just a little at Zatanna's question and remarks— but there's a deep, abiding pain in there, too, one that's almost impossible to miss. "I adopted Dick about ten years ago. Tim ended up in a similar situation and I felt— I don't know. Like he needed a father, too. Then you can't adopt two boys without girls falling out of the woodwork, so next thing I know the house is full of teenagers and noise." He laughs easily.

"I think that's your father's influence, really. Reminding me that nothing we do matters if we don't pass on our knowledge."


"I'm sorry!" Zatanna says, looking absolutely horrified at the wince he sends her way. "You're not! You're still /really hot/— I mean, handsome! You're not old, you're /distinguished/, and…and, oh come on, Bruce, you know you are." The last said with a groan, burying her face in her hands as she goes completely and utterly crimson beneath her fingers - not exactly a dignified expression, so she attempts to hide it before she realizes that doing so only makes it all the more embarrassing. "You're doing me a favor, the last thing I wanted was to embarrass you! That would hardly be a way to show my appreciation."

Still, she can't help but laugh - those earlier tears seem to have been forgotten, banished so completely it's as if they didn't exist. "Well, if you don't mind a little mischief on my part, I'm sure I'll change my story as the night goes anyway, that way people won't know what to believe. And really that's no less than what gossipmongers deserve anyway. I'm not above it, mind, so I hope you're ready for it."

The description of his family life draws from her another smile. "I've not met Dick," she begins. "But I've had whole conversations with Tim and I don't know, he's cute but he doesn't really give off the ladykiller vibe to me. He says that's more your deal - otherwise he doesn't really seem to be all that interested in girls. He /swears/ being charming doesn't work on him, but I guess any boy would say that if he values his sanity."

Then again, she could be wrong. There was something about Tim Drake that was elusive and difficult to peg.

"If this is his influence, though, he'd be very glad to hear it. Once I find him again, I'll let him know. It…I'm really glad, Bruce. I wasn't sure what I was expecting coming to see you but I'm happy that you're not lonely. That you have a family again."


Bruce's smile turns… a bit enigmatic. It's a flickering, and so fast that Zatanna might doubt that she saw it. Doubt? Even some self-realization? Not at the blusting compliments, which he acknowledges with a graceful ease and polite dismissal— but at the comment around his family. And, again that sense that there's some pain that goes with the word 'family', and not all of it old and dusty, either.

"/We'll/ find him, Zatanna," Bruce says, focusing the topic back on the lovely magician's woes. "I'm in this for the long haul. Giovanni is a good friend and I owe him. So I'll help out however I can, and consider every resource I have at your disposal. You and Jessica can take the jet to Asia, if that's where this goes. I'm also friends with the local police, so if you run into any stonewalling, you let me know and I'll call the commissioner. He knew your father too, if memory serves, so I am sure he'll pitch in."


If she glimpses that momentary crack in his polished facade, there is no sign - if anything, the young woman before him is all smiles and gratitude, though certainly she is decades too early to be able to pull one on Bruce Wayne; if she is anything like her father, her powers of observation have been cultivated while young, and to be a master of misdirection entails being a hungry student of human nature.

And he would be right, all of it. Some part of her tastes the pain, because she is attuned to similar wavelengths - unresolved issues regarding her parents, the way she views family as the cornerstone of her existence, and the darkness that lurks at the back of her mind at the fear of losing them. It isn't because she is a mind reader, or has some profound insight in Bruce Wayne's life; it is a sense that is more instinct and intuition than any fruit borne from facts and knowledge.

Perhaps she could help, in some small way, not the sort to let something lie when she believes she can do something about it. Maybe simply being present is enough. Maybe she could try and do for Bruce what he had done for her father, so many years ago.

"I…yes. Jim Gordon, I wasn't sure if he would remember me," she says, overtly humbled by the man's generosity. Why didn't she think of that? "That would be…that'd be amazing, Bruce. I know I've said this /repeatedly/ all night, but thank you so much. I'll keep you posted, of course."

After a few moments, her brows furrow. "Um….my investigator friend started looking into the recent attacks on the Commission members in case there was a connection. She isn't sure either, if there is any, but apparently a man with a metal limb has been responsible for the attacks. I told Jessica that one of Gotham's vigilantes told me that he's some kind of super assassin, so I don't think his interest in the Commission is about an artifact but a person. I think there might be trouble coming, then, if he's looking for someone. But…" She plasters a smile on her face. "…I read in the papers they're beefing up security in the gala, so I'm sure things'll be just fine. ….right?"


"I'm sure," Bruce reassures Zatanna. "And don't put too much stock in the vigilantes. To be honest with you, they're a real pain when it comes to keeping the city safe. A lot of the civic leaders feel like they attract an even more dangerous element. I say, let the cops handle things, or the League when it's a real national emergency, you know?" he tells Zatanna. "But don't worry about it. We'll have Gotham PD on site, and there'll be some of the real movers and shakers of Gotham there, so bodyguards, maybe even a few military types depending on if some of the local National Guard commanders make a show."

He rises, offering Zatanna a hand up that turns into a gentle handclasp. "Don't worry, Zatanna. I promise you, I'll do whatever it takes to get your father back," he assures her, his bright blue eyes filled with resolute earnestness. "And you won't face this alone."


He offers his hand, and Zatanna takes it - his sheer presence and easy, charismatic manner aside, what truly overwhelms her is his kindness, and the gallantry he unfailingly shows her. Standing up with his help, his other broad hand covering her own has her turning pink on the cheeks again, her embarrassment having very little chance to fade during the entire meeting. But she's able to tilt her head back to look him in the eye, and smile with the same genuine warmth that somehow tended to pull even the most difficult souls to her orbit - Azalea, Jessica and Tim being the prime examples of these, an expression that softened the glare of the most boisterous parts of her personality.

She squeezes his hand in acknowledgment.

"I don't deserve it," she admits softly, the look in her eyes testament enough that she believes her own words, for all of her good intentions and unfailing benevolence. "Your kindness….at least, not yet. But I'll earn it, Bruce. I promise you, I will."

She slips her hand away after that, her lips pulling further into a grin. "We should do this a couple of times a month," she suggests as they walk to the atrium's door. "I'll /totally/ tell on Tim, I think he might be the sort to get into more trouble than he looks, if he's willing to follow a girl he just met trying to poke at her secrets and chasing taco trucks."


"You better be careful around Tim," Bruce advises Zatanna as she saunters off. "The quiet ones always have more going on than you think. You might be surprised to find out he's a step ahead of you before you even realize it."

He goes to hail Alfred— and the butler's already there, a chauffer's cap in hand. "Miss Zatanna, I'll give you a ride home then, if you like," Alfred offers, quite courteously. "As I figure Master Wayne was going t' offer soon, anyway. But mostly because unlike Master Bruce, I won't pass up a chance to spend a little time flirting with a pretty gel." A grin spreads on his features, and he winks at Zatanna before inviting her to precede him out the door— clearly playing at flirting in order to get one more dig in at Bruce, who rolls his eyes and smiles tolerantly.

The minute that Zatanna is safely in the back of the towncar and it's rolling away. Bruce opens the front of a massive grandfather clock, adjusts the time to 10:48, and ducks into a secret passage that leads into the heart of Wayne Manor— to do his own 'investigation' into the missing magician.

In the car, Alfred drives exactly three miles over the speed limit, accelerating and stopping so smoothly that the ride is almost cloudlike. He seems content to drive quietly to wherever Zatanna directs him, and doesn't offer to intrude into her train of thought unless she prompts it.


"I think he's all /too/ comfortable with the idea that he's ahead of me at all times," the young woman mock-grumbles at Bruce. "Geometric formulas at /seven/, jeez…"

At Alfred's quip, Zatanna laughs openly, giving Bruce a wave before trotting after Alfred. She takes it a step further, reaching out to link her arm through the older man's; the picture of a dapper gentleman properly escorting a lady to the car. "I'll flirt with you anytime, Mister Pennyworth," she tells him agreeably. "And I'll even do it in a British accent! I've been practicing, you know - I was cast as Viola in the University's production of the Twelfth Night. If you hear me doing it wrong, you'll let me know, yeah?"

As the towncar drives off, and when Bruce ventures through the grandfather clock to pursue his own investigation he would find a few things of note:

There has been no consistent sign of Giovanni Zatara in the last four months; hie credit cards indicate that he has visited various establishments all over Europe; an antiquities store in Paris, a laundromat in Rome, several small shops in Barcelona, Spain. But the most worrisome of these is something closer to home - a sighting in New York's Chinatown, stepping out of an establishment called Madame Chong's, another antiquities dealer that also ran mahjong games that weren't strictly legal - always, when the Triad was concerned.

Madame Chong was found murdered a few days later after the sighting, her store burned down and her body horribly, unusually dessicated before the flames tried to erase all traces of her. The coroner's report is full of more questions than answers; a body as dehydrated as it was, there was no possible way three days of decomposition would leave the body in that state.

All in all, it leads to one conclusion - that there is something wrong, and knowing his old friend, Giovanni is most likely trying to stop it….and someone was after him.

The road to Shadowcrest takes the towncar up a hill - it may surprise Alfred to realize that the ancestral home of the Zatara family isn't all that far from the Wayne Manor. Through a film of hazy mists that make the winding roads all the more perilous to the unwary, he would be able to glimpse old steeples beckoning at them from a distance.

Zatanna remains at the back of the car, her effervescent demeanor fading in lieu of a companionable silence. Her eyes take in the familiar environs surrounding Shadowcrest, situated much like old, stately English country estates that Alfred would easily associate with his home country, but the feel of it, the taste of it remains, lingering in the back of her mind and tongue.

"Mister Pennyworth…?" she begins tentatively. "…is he okay? Bruce, I mean."

She gives him a small smile, easily glimpsed from the rearview mirror. "I usually read people pretty well, and I'm sure you know better than I how overwhelming his presence is. He fills up a room so effortlessly that a person can't help but be blinded by his star, but we were talking about Daddy and I told him I was glad he had a family, since he was worried constantly about how lonesome he was. He mentioned Dick, and Tim and how his house is constantly full of teenagers but I don't know. There was pain, there…and nothing /old/. So…is he okay?"

She twists one of her rings around her finger. "You don't have to tell me…I know it's not any of my business. But Daddy and Bruce helped each other, and since he's not here…I think he'd want me to be concerned."


"You can call me Alfred, miss Zatanna," Alfred assures the woman, eyes flickering to the rearview mirror. "I'd prefer that, actually, if you don't mind."

"Bruce takes after Thomas a fair bit, y'know," Alfred remarks, driving with a focus so effortles it looks easy. "But— oh, that's right. You've only been back in Gotham a few weeks now. Mayhaps Mister Zatara didn't mention it."

"Bruce's got four sons, y'see. Dick came along first, and Tim about six years ago. And 'is boy Damian, though he's away at the moment."

"But after he adopted Dick, he met a young lad named Jason. Jason was a street urchin. Full of piss and vinegar. Tried to lift Master Bruce's wallet, and then blustered his way out of it. Bruce was rather 1a bit taken with him, so 'e raised him up. Ever see 'My Fair Lady?' Just like that," Alfred explains.

A heavy, unbearable sadness fills Alfred's voice, but the Brit's tone never changes, otherwise, stable and bland. "Jason ran afoul of a mugger a few years ago. Lad wasn't even out of high school. Wrecked Master Bruce quite badly, y'see," he tells Zatanna. "Was hard for all of us, of course, but Bruce— well, he took it quite badly. That's part of how he adopted Tim, y'see, though if you ask me, Tim was the one who adopted Master Bruce. Kept him from going completely over the edge. It still hurts him quite a bit to think about it— had a family for the first time in his life, since what hapened to his parents, and… well. Of course it's been hard on Dick, too, losing Jason, but… I think Bruce might never get over it."


"Alfred it is," Zee murmurs. Because Zatanna would never refuse such a request, especially when put so courteously and in a posh, British accent. "And yeah, I knew that about him before I came to see him. Daddy isn't the sort to talk about the past too often, he's seen and endured too much and I think part of him doesn't want me to be so affected by what he does outside of the stage. But whenever Bruce comes up, he can't help but talk about Tom, too…how they look alike, sound alike…"

But it must be painful for the butler, too, who she understands has served the Wayne household for years - he had been there to see Thomas' heir grow up. She hesitates at the mention of the deceased Wayne, but decides to go ahead anyway, listening to the older man's words as he tells her what happened to Bruce's….

/Second/ son?

"I…didn't know…" the young woman utters after a long bout of stunned silence. She had been too young to remember her mother clearly, removed enough by age and memory not to be so haunted by her death. But the idea of losing her only family, interposed over the knowledge that Bruce had been orphaned and later losing a child…

The drive continues on, silence stretching for seemingly an eternity. When the young woman speaks again, it's quiet.

"….would it help him if he was able to talk to Jason again?"

The last is posed haltingly, hesitantly.

"Bruce knows Daddy's capable of….very fantastic things. But he's not the only one in the family who can. I…you probably think I'm /extremely crazy/ but…with the right implements, I can make it happen, Alfred."


"Miss Zatanna, I appreciate the thought, and believe me, I've seen a few things in my day m'self," Alfred says.

"But no," he says, shaking his head as they pull up in front of Shadowcrest. "There's no closure the dead could give him, I think. Bruce has convinced himself Jason died because of him. And I don't think any force in the universe can overcome Master Bruce once he's decided on a course of action."

"But then again, I'm just an old butler," Alfred remarks, once the car's in park. He turns and looks over the driver's seat to the expansive backseat area, looking at Zatanna with keen, knowing eyes. "I might be inclined to think the best thing for Master Bruce would be someone reminding him that life doesn't stop with a death, and that he's got a few good years left in him before he starts slipping after me into senility." He winks at Zatanna, a sly grin crossing his face, and exits the car to open her door for her.

"If you ever need anything, miss Zatanna, you be sure to call Master Bruce, or myself," he tells her, passing the woman a gold-embossed card with his cell number on it. "The Zataras have always been friends of the Waynes. Master Bruce is sometimes better at the big gestures, but that means you can call on me for some of the smaller ones." Another encouraging, paternal smile is given to the lonely young magician.


"But there has to be a way, Alfred," Zatanna says, clearly not all that accepting of what she has been told. She does not doubt the veracity of the butler's assertions; Alfred Pennyworth may be the only soul on the planet who /truly/ knows Bruce Wayne. But what she can't grip so easily is the sheer, tremendous possibility that Bruce will /never/ forgive himself.

It is a harrowing thought, and one that makes her fingers clutch tighter at the ring on her pinky, remembering her early childhood and Giovanni nursing a bottle, the propensity to dig so deep into his memories and stare at his ghosts. While she has not experienced that kind of despair, she has /seen/ it fall on the one person she loves most in the world.

The years separate her and Bruce, but they were both legacies left upon the world by two very great men. Out of all of Giovanni's connections, Bruce was special, unique in not just what he had inadvertently done for her father, but he shares one other commonality with Zatanna herself - he was the only other recipient of the great magician's secrets. In a life where her own personal connections are lacking, it only makes her more determined to keep and support what she has.

But when Alfred turns to her, shows her the mischief he is capable of despite his advanced age, the young woman smiles faintly - /that/ at least, she understands. Not just comprehends, but lives it every day and while not a stranger to tragedy, Zatanna is inordinately gifted with the ability never to be ruled by it.

She gets out of the car once the door is opened for her, stepping out lightly and bundling into her coat. "I'll do what I can, Alfred," she promises him. "Thanks….for letting me know. Bruce might wonder why I'll insist on bugging him every week at this rate, but that's what he gets for being so nice." She winks at the butler. "It'll be our secret."

She takes the card, which vanishes as if by magic - a smooth, legerdemain trick, serving as a reminder that the gothette was just as much of an expert in faking miracles as she is in creating actual ones. "If I ever do, I will," she says, and the older man will know she means it, not the sort to take support for granted when she has had very little of it.

Taking a few steps forward, if allowed, she plants a light peck on Alfred's cheek. Rocking back slightly on her heels, arms behind her back, she offers the old butler a brilliant smile.

"Drive carefully on the road, okay Alfred? I'll see you soon!"

With that, she trots up the front steps of Shadowcrest's front porch.

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