Throwing Stones in Glass Houses

December 14, 2016:

On the way home from Gotham University Campus, Zatanna finds out that she has caught the attention of Gotham's Caped Crusader….and proceeds to unload one of the most epic rants she has ever said in her life.

Chelsea - Gotham City

In a maze of alleys in Chelsea.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Jessica Jones, Dark Devil, Michael Kazinsky (NPC)

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

For all of her current exasperation with how her life has been going in the last two weeks, she is just as comfortable with the night as she is with the day.

People would probably find that strange, if they knew, if they even knew her just a little. The darkness was where most of Gotham's most unsavory characters thrived, executed their ill intentions through the barrel of a gun, or a few pounds worth of explosives. It was where Evil incubates from all of the small sips of sustenance it was provided during the day, for it never starts big, but always with the littlest things - ignoring a homeless person on the street, a broken promise, a husband slapping his wife. It incubates there because the shadows provide anonymity, which almost always emboldens the human capacity to indulge in its most depraved impulses.

It is the same with those from other worlds - Limbo, Heaven, Hell, the holes and spaces in between. She remembers assisting her father with these hunts, not just because she wanted to learn but because of her constant fear that her father would never return from one of these excursions. She is seldom driven by self-interest, after all….she has always been this way.

Zatanna Zatara isn't hunting now, but she can sense the stirrings around her, the whispering, ephemeral tugs of wrongness here and there of demons and angels doing their work. So far, however, they are leaving her alone.

She cuts a quick clip through Gotham University's sprawling campus, taking a short cut through one of the alleys, passing by the dumpster that she had first found Azalea in but barely sparing it a glance. Her thoughts wander, because she can't help it, chewing on her bottom lip as she tries to think about the next steps. But how does a civilian, a young one, to boot, manage to reach one of America's greatest heroes?

And how will she even start that conversation? That his best friend, declared dead in the 1940s, was alive?

She doesn't get a chance. From the darkness, someone reaches out and grabs the strap of her satchel.

"Hey—!" she begins, keeping a firm grip on her belongings, but the mugger advances with every intent to relieve them from her anyway. A blade flashes in his hands, his wiry, black-clad body surging forward. She supposes she looks enough of an easy target, young, female and clearly just walking home from school.

"/Seriously/?!" Zatanna exclaims, her patience straining until it snaps like fine thread. She palms the knife hand away with her left, and plows her fist right into the man's Adam's apple. A rough exhale paints the air between them in fine, but fetid mist as her attacker drops on his knees, gurgling and hacking around the pain.

She leaves him there as she storms off, fuming. "Sorry, but I don't have time for any /more/ shenanigans right now," she grouses.

—-

Abruptly a man staggers out from behind a blind corner in front of Zatanna. One might think him a second attacker as he hits Zee's shoulder at an angle, but he glances off like a demented pinball and fetches facefirst into a dumpster with a dull *thump*. A knife skitters across the pavement from the dark shadows, before a boot steps on it and snaps the cheap Chinese blade between a broken brick and the old, decaying asphalt.

The boot disappears into the shadows that emerge from the alleyway, which resolves itself slowly into a twisted column shape— vaguely humanoid, one might think, but missing all the common indicators of such. Legs, arms, dimensions, all concealed by a cloak that completely conceals the physique from view. Twin points jut up from atop a cowl, the only discerning features of the person's helmet— save for featureless white lenses that narrow pointedly at Zatanna, wicked slashes of awareness, and the cold, angry point of a chin under a heavy scowl.

"Muggers usually work in pairs," Batman rasps at Zatanna. "You need to learn to watch your back." He doesn't straighten or crouch— but somehow, despite being mostly man-height, he seems to loom over the girl like a shadow climbing a brick wall.

—-

There's another; that one surprises her, though it isn't as if she isn't equipped with other tricks up her sleeve once she realizes this. Still, she has not spent a lifetime patroling the streets of this city, or prowling its rooftops searching for criminals and evildoers. While she has had some self-defense training, clearly, she is no staggeringly impressive physical specimen like Red Robin, or even Azalea, who can tear into men three times her ssize or more.

Or the Batman, who keeps the whole of Gotham in line.

She has heard the stories from the time she was young, from her checkered, childhood years in Gotham. The Batman and Robin, his young protege - public opinion tended to swing, they either cleaned up the streets or opened the city up to more strife and conflict due to the challenge they presented. From her encounter with Red Robin, she knows that the city has only spawned /more/ of them, especially after his assertions that he's not the Boy Wonder she heard about growing up.

But stories are seldom as terrifying as real life.

Shadows writhe around the Batman as if they were alive, as if his very presence commands them and brings them to heel. She takes several steps back, feeling the cold, hard wall behind her, her heartrate ratcheting upwards. Her fingers tighten into the strap of her book bag and for the moment, she attempts to work around the knot that has suddenly stuck to the back of her throat. Her breathing escalates; if he can't hear it, he can see it, how her exhalations pour from lips as red as candy.

"…I'm…" she starts, forcing the words out from her throat. "…I was just walking home…" she says, trying to inch around him, toeing the chilly ground as she slides her slender body over the surface in a very real attempt to keep as wide of a berth as possible between herself and the crouching vigilante. "…um…thank you for…getting the second one. I'll keep an eye out I promise. I'll…be going…now?"

Damn it, Zatanna, you're not supposed to pose it as a suggestion.

—-

Batman walks forward towards Zatanna. His step is purposeful and unhurried. It is neither skittering nor predatory— and so flowing that it almost looks like he's coasting on bearings, not walking. With his boots concealed by the cloak it's an eerie, inhuman motion, and a student of the mind would recognize— somewhere, in the depths of the lizard brain— that Batman seems to be moving the wrong direction into the Uncanny Valley.

Something not quite human anymore.

He maneuvers himself to answer Zee's question for her— cutting off her escape down the narrow walkway ahead of her. There is no retreat for her, save for her to put her back to the Batman and run like a rabbit.

"You've had a busy two weeks, Zatanna Zatara," Batman says, invoking her name as surely as one invokes a genie into a trap. "Daughter of Giovanni Zatara, one of the great performing magicians of the last century. In closer circles," he rasps, those lenses becoming mere slits, "known as one of the great Homo Magi of the modern era."

"You've been travelling with your father as part of his act for ten years. Fluent in several languages. Expert in arts and antiquities. Cited multiple times for disrupting the peace, fined multiple times for possession of cultural artifacts without a license, and arrested once for petty larceny, and once again… for impersonating a nun."

"And then, your father Giovanni abruptly disappeared under extremely suspicious circumstances," he remarks, pacing slowly towards Zatanna, cutting off her line of escape as she pins her shoulders to the wall. His cowl seems to flare, making him even bigger, filling her vision. "You packed your bags, moved to Gotham, enrolled in the University— and you've been spending your nights associating with vigilantes, encountering murderers, and hanging around with a PI with a reputation for alcohol abuse and a heavy hand."

He leans down to glare at Zatanna. "You're familiar with the concept of a highly suggestive pattern of behaviour, I trust."

—-

If his sheer size, presence and absolutely terrifying reputation hadn't been enough to freeze her in place, the invocation of her father's name would do it. Zatanna goes so still, she makes a fine impression of a statue, those large, expressive eyes filling with the reflection of the Caped Crusader as he moves unhurriedly towards her. She can feel herself flattening against the wall, to try and reclaim every inch that he eats up between them as he approaches, though there's only so many ways in which she could defy physics in that regard without some /special/ aid.

He recites her record like a gallows man, ready to pull the lever soon after to let her body dangle from the neck until dead. Blood drains from her face, growing even paler than her usual wont, her skin as white as alabaster now, soaking up the light of the moon hanging above their heads. Even when frightened, she gleams like a gem, some bright, errant creature determined to navigate dangerous waters to find her way back to the light - back to home.

Her 'crimes' were minor infractions at best and none of them having occurred stateside, suggesting that Batman had access to a few authoritative organizations in Europe…or at least a very good informant. And all within the last few months, after her father had disappeared.

The thought that he was there for /her/ does occur to her. Did the Batman extradite delinquents to other countries, too?

He leans over her, moving so close, he eats up the surrounding air. She feels herself unable to breath, suffocating slowly around her fear.

"…H…Homo Magi…?" she whispers.

She doesn't know.

Zatanna Zatara loves her father above all else. She knows his tricks, his moves. She knows his spells, the history of his heroism, his struggles as a single father and most of all the unconditional care and affection he has given her all her life. But she does not know that. Per the wont of every parent in the world, Giovanni Zatara has seen it fit to keep his mystical heritage secret from his little girl.

Why?

"…I….there's a really /really/ good explanation for the nun thing," she continues weakly. "It's actually a funny story and…um…I decided not to take Psychology this semester, so I couldn't really give you an educated response on the 'highly suggestive pattern of behaviour' thing."

Oh god, she was going to die. Or if she somehow manages to survive this, she won't survive it intact.

So she takes a deep breath.

She straightens up against the wall, her book bag dropping on the ground. It puts her closer to him without meaning to, but she has her pride and she knows that those who do wrong should be met by Justice, one way or another. Tilting her head back, she looks up right into those disconcerting white lenses and wonders what the eyes of a hyperviolent man look like behind the mask. She sees the hard chin, the displeasure stitched over his mouth. He isn't happy but she can't help but wonder anyway.

Slowly, she closes her eyes, long, thick lashes kissing her cheeks.

"….not the face, okay…?" she pleads, softly.

—-

"Then start talking," Batman growls, giving her just enough jackhammer heartbeats that the anticipation starts to niggle at her resolve. "You've been here a month and you are up to your eyebrows in trouble. Now I understand that not only have multiple civic community leaders been assaulted, you've developed a laundry list of known associates that have all been listed as suspects in those investigations."

"You're right in the middle of this, and I want to know what you're really doing here in Gotham," Batman growls, the low baritone rumble so resolute it vibrates in the pit of her belly. "Because Zatara sure isn't here, and his daughter is. That tells me if you're not running towards him, then you're running away from him."

The silence falls as heavy as a death knell, castigation, scorn, and supreme accusation in his voice as he stares down at the woman cringing away from him.

—-

She is waiting for a punch.

Or some manner of blow, anywhere on her person - even the face, despite her plea. When it doesn't happen, Zatanna slowly opens her eyes; she had been hoping the silence meant that he has disappeared again, but her luck doesn't hold this time around. He remains, as black and solid as the wall behind him and he demands answers, because of course he does. He makes it his business to know everything about this city, otherwise he wouldn't be so effective.

The fear tempers, but only slightly; Giovanni's daughter is no coward, as crippling as this experience is, she can stil look someone in the eye and not shake even when the odds are against her.

"I can't tell you what I don't know," she tells him firmly, quietly. "I don't pry into Jessica's business because I respect her privacy. I only managed to meet the Dark Devil because I found her broken and alone and it isn't in my nature to leave anyone in that position no matter who they are. I was out dancing in a nightclub when Kazinsky put something in my drink. And I don't know why the Commission members are getting attacked - Jessica tells me it's by a man with a metal arm, a professional assassin, but I don't know what he's looking for, or who."

Her fingers flex, balling into fists on her sides, before loosening again.

"I'm back in Gotham because I'm looking for my father," she continues. "His trail across Europe led me to here, to a book I intend to win legitimately at the auction. I'm no master criminal, sir. I don't intend to steal it, nor do I even intend to break into a party I wasn't even invited to. It's the only lead I have left."

—-

"Across Europe, into Gotham. To find a book," Batman says, supreme disbelief in his rasping, low voice.

"You should leave town, Zatanna," Batman growls, stepping back a pace from the girl, slowly. "You're in over your head here. And the company you are keeping is going to get you in deeper. Leave finding Giovanni to the professionals. You're an amateur who's in over her head and I don't want to have to waste my time looking after an entitled European party girl with delusions of competence."

—-

Her head snaps up at that.

Leave town?

Entitled European party girl?

Delusions of competence?

Zatanna moves before she even realizes it; from fearful to furious, that pale, elegant hand lifts to deliver unto the Batman a sharp slap across the face.

Color rushes to her cheeks, those soft arches glowing rose in the dark, ice-blue eyes reflect her ire with all the burning incandescence of a distant star.

"In over my head?" she hisses lowly. "Coming from you? What the hell do you know about the world I was raised to understand /all my life/? Because whatever is happening to my father, /that/ is what's at play. Not your gangsters, or your crazy clowns, or your ridiculous Scooby Doo Masked Man of the Week menagerie this city's penned up with!"

Both of her hands come up, in an attempt to shove the Batman further away from her.

"You don't carry a badge, and I'm /pretty sure/ bat costumes aren't standard issue in any law enforcement body /anywhere/ on this god damn planet!" she exclaims, shouts in the alley, frustration from the last two weeks bubbling outward, a gas valve screwed on too tight that has finally reached its limit. "/Jessica/ at the very least has a private investigator's license, so between the two of you, who's the professional, huh?! Have you taken an exam to really ascertain that you're qualified to do what you do?! Tested on the laws that you /shouldn't be breaking/ doing what you do?! You're right, Jessica's probably a mess - she's damaged and an alcoholic, but that's quantifiable! That's /understandable/! That's /diagnosable/! YOU?"

She gestures up and down at him and his costume.

"No mental health professional in the world probably knows how to begin with /your/ mess, so before you cast any stones on any on my associates, maybe look at the mirror, talk to somebody and take a few pills!!!"

She snatches her bag off the ground.

"I don't recall asking you to look after me!" she practically shrieks, turning with every intent to storm off. "And it's /Miss Zatara/ to you! Because I don't need a fancy degree or a genius intellect to know that you don't know a /god damn thing about me/ and we /aren't friends/, so you have no goddamn right to be familiar!"

Passing by one of the unconscious muggers, she kicks angrily at a knife, sending it flying.

"World's Greatest Detective, my /ass/!"

—-

Batman doesn't move, doesn't flinch— and behind those lenses, it's impossible to tell if he even blinks. He stands there unmoving as a statue, requiring Zatanna to shove him repeatedly and then, if she wants to leave, blade herself sideways and slip past the narrow gap between him and the wall— a vulnerable, narrow position between his Charybdis to the Scylla of the alley's muck and dirt.

He remains a cowled, looming figure in Zatanna's peripheral vision until she's a dozen yards away— and then he's gone, back into the shadows, leaving Zatanna with two sure feelings:

One, that he'd deliberately provoked her, and the unsettling and growing certainty that she'd been played by an expert into venting her furious spleen— as if testing to see if she had any self restraint.

Two, the much more disturbing feeling of a pair of white-lensed eyes boring into her back and chasing her down the alley, to a car, and then all the way to Shadowcrest, no matter how many turns she makes or doors she slams on the way to the safety of her home.

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