Shite Always Happens in Arkham

December 14, 2016:

Fresh out of her confrontation with Batman, and keeping up with his distressing tendency to appear in the most inconvenient times, John Constantine manages to convince Zatanna to visit Michael Kazinsky in Arkham Asylum.

Arkham Asylum - Gotham City

Arkham Asylum. You all know what it looks like.

Characters

NPCs: Michael Kazinsky, Mammon the Demon Prince of Excess

Mentions: Tim Drake, Bruce Wayne, Jim Gordon

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Evening of John's first day back on the eastern seaboard. The night in Gotham is always thick, like viscous darkness skewered by the occasional blade of light. Pedestrians exist, but are few in number. Just as well, because that ought to make him all the easier to spot.

It /had/ been a long day. Longer than he'd anticipated, truth be told. Initial surveys of New York's most prominent figures in the occult underworld suggests he may have a more protracted effort on his hands than he thought, and he was not optimistic to begin with.

('That's impossible, John.' Variations on a theme from all of them. 'They don't exist.')

To listen to them whinge on in skepticism, you might almost think that he'd never shown up unexpectedly with news of impossible things before.

Blimey.

There had been nothing for it, then. He'd put it off long enough. Finding her in a sea of millions was the easy part. Divination was child's play, not least because when he began going through the motions, he felt her presence suddenly unfold like the mushroom cloud of a nuclear bomb. Somebody'd put their foot in it, obviously. Poor sod.

After that, it was only a matter of situating himself in her trajectory, in this case a crumbling brick support for an overhead streetlight, leaned up there with his hands in his pockets and one heel braced on the wall behind him, wearing his default expression: the lid-eyed one. It isn't boredom, quite, but it exudes the air that the universe is unfolding precisely according to his expectations, as though there isn't a joke in the world he isn't in on, somehow. Cocky, possibly. Self-possessed. A little wry—but only a very little, the kind of arid wryness achievable only by the genuinely British.

—-

When it comes to finding the people he needs to, there is perhaps no one better at it than John Constantine. With the know-how that he has accumulated within the last several years, coupled with the fact that he simply isn't above collecting biological samples from people who he simply knows he'll have to speak with in the future, so long as he can speak and has a fingernail, or a strand of hair, or a drop of blood, there is no escaping from him. There was a point during their flashfire relationship when she thought the practice was dishonorable, dishonest, and more than just a touch creepy, but the last several days have instilled upon her a newfound appreciation for the sheer practicality of that bit of foresight, nevermind that it seems to have mired her into deeper waters than even she has expected.

So she shouldn't be surprised, then, that the moment she stomps out of the alley in which she left the Batman, the second she rounds a corner, the mist parts and he is standing there waiting for her - John bloody Constantine. John bloody Constantine, who /should/ be in the U.K doing Heaven-and-Hell-Knows-What instead of here in the middle of Gotham.

Zatanna doesn't register him at first, though she certainly pings in his supernatural senses - not just a blip, not just a beacon, but a raging supernova of pure magic, as if the Source has deigned to store a large fraction of itself in the body of a young woman completely and utterly oblivious to the true magnitude of what she is and what she carries with her. She doesn't know it at this moment either, has no way of knowing, because she can't see herself - he can, however, see her, with her burning eyes and her darker-than-midnight hair wildly whipping around her face, spurred to life by the winter winds as they slashed further color into her already heated cheeks. The street practically thrums with her frustration and ire.

When she sees him she stops dead in her tracks. Ice blue eyes widen into dinner plates, surprise parting her dark cherry-red lips.

The /rational/ reaction would be to pivot around and go /back/ to where she came, but at the moment she is hardly that, and before he knows it, she is stomping towards him, fashionable and terribly expensive boots clicking on the pavement. When she stops, it's toe-to-toe with him, the air in between them turning white, the ghosts of her escalated breath teasing his perpetual stubble.

"Where's the nearest bridge," she asks him shortly.

Before he responds, she continues. "Where's the nearest bridge, so I can /jump off it/ before you open your mouth!"

She spins around after that. "No! No, nevermind! I just remembered /I'm/ the local, and I'd probably find one before you did! /Goodnight/, John!"

—-

His expression doesn't change as she tears into view, leaving an invisible but not intangible comet trail of agitated reality behind her. That much he expected. It doesn't surprise him anymore, the amount of raw, unsmelted mana in her, like the super-dense heart of a collapsed star, only it's made up entirely of mystical energy. Still fascinates him, though. Always had a soft spot for the ones with secrets.

When she starts stalking his way, though, he slowly lifts his head and lets just enough about his eyes and mouth change to suggest lazy amusement, and something like affection — the kind that's oblivious to the slings and arrows of its object. That's the kind of affection John does best, the only kind that's safe: the kind that isn't being reciprocated. By the time she gets around to asking about the bridge, there are teeth involved in the smile, and when she clarifies her reason for wanting one, it finally cracks, splits, glittering, like a geode inside of something rough.

He aims it at the back of her head, lets her get a few feet away, even. Rolls his head over to the side. "She missed me," he decides, to himself.

And then more loudly, for her: "So you /don't/ fancy a stroll up to the asylum, then?"

—-

Through the red haze drawn there by the Batman's grating words, and the certainty that she has been deliberately provoked, not at all assisted by the fact that she knows it and fell for it anyway, she misses whatever glimmer of affection is there. She's already turning around before a spark of it manifests visibly, her boots working over the concrete in a sheer, concentrated effort to get away from him. And when he doesn't follow, she allows herself the tiniest bit of space to feel beautiful, blessed relief.

And then she hears the words, but she keeps walking.

Don't turn around, Zatanna tells herself, turning her nose up in the air as she clomps over the sidewalk. Don't turn around, don't turn around, don't turn around, don't turn around…

Asylum? Arkham Asylum?

Everyone has heard of it, even those who live outside of Gotham City's limits - a living nightmare, recognizable and unmovable, a structure that has somehow managed to become the sum of all of its hideous, corrupted denizens stuffed in its bloated bowels. And yet despite its oppressive environs, she was certain that John would barge into it anyway despite its infamy - houses for the insane are familiar environments to him.

But why does he want to…?

She knows that the moment the questions pop up that she'll /ask/ them anyway and despite her best intentions to walk away, she slows and stops. She tilts her head back, flashing the dark skies above their heads a resigned expression, kicking herself repeatedly in the stomach.

God damn it, Zatanna. You almost made it.

"Why?" she asks, the single word expelling outward in an exasperated cloud. She turns sideways, slanting a single-eyed look towards his direction, as if reluctant to face him fully, as if she believes that if she keeps part of her tilted away, she'd have a chance to go and get some sleep, and dream about Bradley Cooper and a tub of cocoa butter.

"It's Arkham," she continues. "Are you crazy?"

Yes, yes he is.

Stop asking questions you already know the answer to!

—-

He's got a grin like a lightning rod. It crackles. And if she expected him to be modest about having hooked her on the line as she turns around, then she's been away from him too long, and she's beginning to forget who she's dealing with, exactly. The victory glitters in his bright blue eyes.

He slides a hand from one of his pockets, a newspaper clipping held between two surprisingly deft and elegant fingers, like a playing card from his eternally stacked deck. Even at that distance, the photographs on the newsprint are probably visible, and doubtless familiar to the young woman who was at the epicenter of their importance.

"What d'you mean, 'why?' Thought we might have a little chat with your new friend. Ask him about this new hobby of his." He folds his fingers down, and the folded bit of newsprint disappears.

He leans forward, slowly lets gravity tilt him up and out of his lean, spends a moment rolling his shoulders back hard. Pops his neck. "Long as I'm in the neighborhood, that is." One brow goes up, invitation or challenge. Tough to tell with John. "'less you'd rather I go it alone, luv. I can always give you the juicy details later. It always…loses something in the retelling, though."

—-

He smiles like he's won. Every nerve in her body screams at her to walk right up to him, pull him close….and throw him off the nearest bridge. Forget about jumping off it herself. Why does /she/ have to suffer?!

Zatanna's own eyes catch the newspaper in his hands and suddenly remembers what he means; her latest flood of Things That Need Taking Care Of has drowned out that horrific incident, not after what the supposedly dead Bucky Barnes had told her and how her encounter at the train station has somehow led her to Steve 'Captain America' Rogers and she has yet to figure out just how the hell to approach him without sounding insane; what remains of her sanity is currently being tested now.

In retrospect, maybe she /should/ go to Arkham. Yes. She should go to Arkham Asylum with John, and never leave it.

She should leave him to his devices. She knows she should. But images dance in her head, of a horde of dangerous, masked vigilantes descending upon her mentor and former flame, reducing him to paste, because she /knows/ deep down in the pits of her benevolent, but extremely exhausted soul that without supervision, he was going to piss off /every single last one of them/ and she wasn't sure that for all of her exasperation that her conscience would be able to handle it.

This is an old trap. A few months ago, she had been convinced that there is absolutely nothing she wouldn't do for him. That she would take care of him no matter what.

"I hate you," she grumbles instead, stomping back over, reaching out to take the paper from his hands and squinting at the article, though really, that wasn't necessary. She /gave/ the details to the reporter after all, though she left out the juiciest bits - not that it mattered, John managed to read between the lines anyway.

She looks up at him after that. "So what, you think there's more to it than the lure of unlimited wealth?"

—-

The man is an encyclopedia of the occult. Dead languages, obscure implements and catalysts, mythic spells, forgotten histories both real and esoteric. In spite of his sometimes cavalier way of interacting with supernatural events, he could go toe to toe with just about anyone when it comes to mystical academia. His rough edges conceal a vast library of knowledge, thorough and disciplined. It's just that he's got this /other/ knack, and it lets him be a an absolute twit if he wants to be, which he often does: like he's a tear in the fabric of the universe, a rupture in the veins of Fate, through which spills the blood of Lady Luck herself.

Besides, the whole thing's to do with demons, and John practically has Heaven and Hell on speed dial. Practically his stomping grounds.

When she poses her question, he tilts his head one way, then the other, just a fraction of an inch in either direction. His gaze aims out over the top of her head and northward, toward the distant madhouse. "Maybe not. But maybe. Could be he's an idiot novice, but there are a lot of intermediary personalities you can work with, you don't have to try to work with the biggest prick directly. Doesn't make much sense. It's not a typical risk-reward equation, is it? The price of doing business is always the same, and most people have only got one to trade." Souls, of course. 'Most people' is an oblique nod to his best mate, Chas. How many souls is he sitting on, now? Thirty-something? John should really keep better track of that.

"Only one way to find out, I'm afraid."

—-

"Right." Zatanna folds the paper over and hands it back to him. "I know you already know that you're stepping on some very humorless toes poking your nose into what goes on here, John," she says - the entire world knows that this is the Batman's turf, and from what she understands from the two weeks since her return to her childhood home, he's managed to raise a veritable army of likeminded individuals who operate similarly to him. "If we're going to /stroll/ in there this late at night, let's at least do it right and call ahead first."

We.

Irritation wells up once more, loud and unbidden. She once told Tim Drake that she never doesn't want to care, but this is one of those times when she almost hopes she has the capacity. Almost.

She pulls out her phone and accesses not her contact list, but her father's - a handy digital rolodex of some of the most well-connected people in her world and John's, as well as a few outside of the 'community'. The names of these outsiders are relatively few in comparison, but still rather helpful - Bruce Wayne was on the top of the list.

Followed by Gotham Police Commissioner James Gordon.

She selects his name and moves away from Constantine's earshot, waiting until the man picks up the other line.

This will require some explaining, but much like her companion, she isn't without her powers of persuasion.

***

The night watchman takes a look at his clipboard, and waves them inside.

The sprawling complex of Gotham's most infamous institution lurks before them like a patient beast, lights within flickering every so often due to the frequently unstable power surges in this part of town. The hairs at the back of Zatanna's neck are rising already, and while she hunkers her face further into her scarf, she manages to lead the way anyway. The daughter of the Great Zatara is no coward, despite of her very healthy respect for fear - but she already hates this place, does not want to be here and the spectral strains in the air left behind by its former inhabitants rake over her skin and makes it crawl.

Their bootsteps echo even as they're buzzed in, the loud sound scratching at their eardrums before the heavy metal door closes behind them. Another representative leads them through another thoroughfare, and another still, like metal appendages shutting behind them one by one until they reach the cellblock in which Kazinsky was held, on the very last door to the right.

The young woman ignores the catcalls levied at both of them, the crazed, slavering and disgusting suggestions, though she certainly takes the brunt of it, the words sloughing off her like water without even so much as a comeback or two. She is no stranger to unwanted attention and she does what she always has - ignore it.

"So who gets to be the good cop and who gets to be the bad cop?" she asks him.

—-

He doesn't say a single thing — just takes the scrap of newspaper and makes it disappear again. If she wants to pull strings to get them in the door, so much the better. He's got his own ways of getting into places he shouldn't be, but if someone else is willing to do the heavy lifting, he's certainly not going to stop them…as long as he trusts that they know what they're doing. In a way, being invited along for the visit is high praise from John. The highest, possibly. The man is notorious about giving the slip to well-meaning would-be accompaniment so that he can handle things on his own, alone. …Not that his praise would be much comfort if shit decides to tilt sideways, as it so often does.

While she's on the phone, he taps a clove out of the pack in his pocket and lights it behind a cupped hand, biding his time and squinting disinterestedly at the street. Once she's off of the phone, he keeps his own counsel, silent for the duration of the walk north. John, as everybody knows, doesn't drive.

***

He's still silent as they follow the wardens into the bile-pit, though, which is an unusually protracted amount of time without some sort of one-off crack. What he feels is not easily gleaned from his expression, but his shoulders are tight even though his walk is loose. As one of the few people acquainted with some of the less charming details of his personal history, she could probably hazard a guess as to why.

/Bloody asylums,/ he thinks. /Why do they always smell the same?/ In the back of mind he can hear the soft whine of juiced coils, taste the hard plate of the tray they shoved into his mouth to keep him from biting his tongue off, moments before he rode the lightning into oblivion, greased temples tingling for hours afterward — hours he would spend struggling to remember why, his memories short-circuited. Bad as many of them are, they're still better than the yawning hole left behind when they're torn away, a ragged socket that still contains all of the sickness in him without any of the context to explain it.

Fuck.

He glances at her sidelong, takes a moment to process what she asked him, an echo in his ears. He flicks his gaze down and up again, assessing her attire, evaluating odds. In the end, he lifts his shoulder on that side, along with the corner of his mouth. "I'm feeling lucky, luv, and you've obviously had a bad time of it tonight. Why don't you choose?"

—-

She knows - anyone who has managed to become up close and personal with John is familiar with the events that occurred in Newcastle, and what John chose to do with himself afterwards in one of the most extreme cases of self-flagellation she has ever heard of in her life, but despite the tension she detects on him, Zatanna says very little. She has always been a fast learner, quick, sharp and eager to soak in new knowledge, and the first thing she has learned about him was never to poke at those memories; not out of the expectation that John would withdraw, but to avoid the inevitable caustic backlash that would occur - the wounds that would be left open would be her own, and never the other way around.

At the lopsided smile and the reply she receives, the young magician sighs. "Ugh, you're no help at all," she says, her exasperation returning, but softened on the edges, keeping ahold of her annoyance if not just to keep him focused on everything else but the atmosphere of their current environs and engage him in the kind of interactions that he is familiar with. But she has always been this way; she cares, and would never stop doing so, no matter who it is or what is involved, saint or sinner, the best person or the worst, man or woman. It is first and foremost her defining trait as well as her greatest curse - to care, sometimes too much, even and especially for those who don't deserve it.

She stops in front of the door, the viewing panel left open for them; they can see Michael Kazinsky and he could see them, his face half-shrouded by the darkness of his cell, fitful illumination providing shafts of color over his standard issue jumpsuit. He is nothing remarkable - average height, average weight, average looks….average age, at least for a serial murderer, somewhere in his late twenties to his early thirties.

He recognizes her; his brows knit, his expression wary and suspicious. "….you," he begins, rising from his cot to take several steps closer, a hand curling over the separating bars. "What are you doing here?"

"A friend of mine wants to talk to you," she says, inclining her head to John. "This is John Constantine."

"Who?"

There's a glance to the Brit at that. The reply is telling enough; she had expected Kazinsky to be at most a novice, but the fact that he was unfamiliar suggests that he is /less/ than.

It was a satisfactory suggestion that someone had been pulling strings.

—-

"I'm saving my help for something that matters," says John, deadpan enough that it isn't clear whether or not he's joking. Depending on how he intends to 'help,' he may very well be.

It's all he has time to say. They draw up to the cell in question. She stops, he slows, his approach drawn out into a casual, staggered step by the way his entire focus is on the lone figure behind the bars in front of them. Blue eyes circuit the man's body, then slide away, off, around every surface of the cell itself, scrutinizing everything through a canny squint. He does finally draw to his unhurried halt, and pushes back the open edges of his coat, sliding his hands into his pockets again. He is introduced. She's being polite, so one supposes she's playing the 'good cop' — unless introducing him is in itself a minor evil, which might be fairly argued.

/Who?/ John smiles, though it pairs uneasily with the intensity of his gaze. "John. Constantine. Doesn't matter. See, I was browsing the papers when I landed in New York this evening, and your /name/ came up. Looks like you and I have a few things in common — a very few, but they do hit a few of the high points. Understand you were recently in the market for a /roommate/." The newspaper article reappears, is spread dextrously, held open to be viewed. "You've got terrible taste in friends, though. How /is/ the old boy?"

These are not really the questions he wants to ask, but he isn't sure yet what he's dealing with. A few exchanges are required before he can fill in the blanks for himself. Always better to know where the gaps are before you brandish the knife.

—-

Kazinsky's eyes flick towards the paper in the other man's hand - there's a blink, and a spark. Even if Zatanna didn't recognize it, John would; as he says, he has several links of commonality with the man on the other side of the barred door.

Greed. Something hungry, nasty and practically salivating for revenge, his mind casting backwards to the night he spoke to the shadows, the first time he was brought into this very room, condemned never to see the light of day ever again. Neither of his visitors could be blamed, really, for thinking that there would be deals that would be made, some sort of barter - maybe a commuted sentence or some other way to save his soul. But several days in the asylum was enough to force his acquaintanceship with several harsh truths, the first and foremost of these being the glaring fact that there is no saving him. Not in this life or the next.

His thin lips twist upwards in a slash of a smile, his eyes like daggers.

"Ahhhh," he muses, bracing a forearm against the bars, leaning forward so he could look Constantine in the eye. "You're wondering whether Beelzy had grander plans other than taking my piddly little skinsuit for a drive around town." Beelzebub, he sticks with the pseudonym - true names have power and if he was consorting with people who could bring the infernal fat bastard down, he isn't about to call any attention to it.

"Sorry to burst your bubble, ol' chap." He mimics a passable accent at the last. "But if he had a grander game to play, I wouldn't know about it. Maybe you'd wanna talk to the guy who hooked me up." His eyes move over to where his female companion stands. "All I know is when he realized I brought her, he practically came. Something about you /really/ speaks to the wrong sorts, girl."

Zatanna lifts a brow at that, giving Kazinsky a look sidelong, one pale eye trailing over the side of one shoulder. If she's discomfited by the reply, she doesn't show it, though John can taste it from her direction. It isn't the first time she has heard something similar, but the growing frequency of it in the last few months pulls at her stomach. "So who's your benefactor?" she asks.

Michael lifts his shoulders. "Don't know if it would matter," he replies. "He gave me a name but it's probably fake."

—-

"Mate I /know/ he's up to something. We're talking demons. Besides — you obviously had no idea what you were doing." He turns the paper around, skims the photos, and then slides it back into his pocket, tching softly. "Sloppy work. I can't figure what your so-called 'benefactor' — that's rich, by the way," he asides in deadpan to Zee, "— tried to sell you when he suggested you make the attempt. Hell's happy to grant all sorts of wishes in exchange for your soul, and you don't have to let a demon sodomize it to make that happen. There've got to be at least a dozen soul brokers within fifteen minutes of where we're standing. You can sell your soul in a posh office in ten minutes or less. No, somebody knew you could be exploited because you had absolutely bugger-all experience and didn't know any better. I'm going to guess they didn't tell you that you'd be getting your consciousness shunted out of your body by its new tenant, eh? Express elevator to Hell."

He draws a slow breath, exhales it just as slowly, emanating…what, exactly? Pity? Sympathy? The false pretense of both?

"Unhappily for that bloke, we'd like to have a word. Tell us what you know and I'll pass along a little message for him, if you like." The last words offer a service of violence, playing on that hunger for vengeance.

—-

"Well, I know that /now/," Michael retorts to Constantine. "S'not like the /full extent of my fuck-up/ hasn't been visiting me at nights while I'm here."

The inmate takes a breath, scrubbing his palm over his unshaven face. "He was some kind of German," he supplies. "Tall, blond. Dunno if he's Swiss, Austrian or what, but he had the accent. Crisp, well to do. He showed up in my apartment a little over a year ago telling me that there was a way out of my shitty life if I was consistent and careful. Looks like he came out of money. He told me his name was Gottfried. Gottfried—"

The world slows to a stop; it is a gradual thing, a whisper so quiet that it manifests as a short breath at the back of Constantine's right ear. The ambient rattling from the other cells while other prisoners shifted, moved or otherwise caused a ruckus in their beds cease altogether, plunging the dank, narrow hallway in deafening silence. It could only mean one thing, for him and for Zatanna, who he can practically feel stiffen in readiness somewhere just out of sight of his periphery.

Time moves differently in Heaven and Hell, and considering the subject matter at hand, they can both guess fairly quickly that the former has not come to call.

The young woman moves, nearly barreling into Constantine as she reaches out through the bars to grab at Kazinsky's wrist.

"Gottfried who?!" she grates, urgency filling her voice. "/Who/, Kazinsky?!"

"M— M— " Michael's head twists sideways, audible pop-pop-pops pinging off his backbone like notes on a xylophone. In his right eye, a single bright green iris slowly pushes up from underneath the serial killer's darker own, its slitted pupil focusing on John and Zatanna's faces from its awkwardly angled position. His grip reverses, seizing the young woman's wrist with bruising force and holding it there, distended muscles and tendons on his forearm showing overt signs of a sudden influx of inhuman physical strength.

"Ah, ah, ah," rumbles the Demon Prince of Excess, from a mouth not his own. "Thankfully, Mikey's grace period ran out just in time. Lovely to see you again, John, but I'm afraid visiting hours are over."

Veins of black and red tear fissures into the serial murderer's body, like magma rising from underneath, cracking through the malleable earth above even as the magician cries out, struggling to pry free of the man's grip. Michael Kazinsky's mouth parts in a bloodcurdling scream, smoke pouring out from the back of his throat as his body grows brighter and brighter, a human bomb stuffed with infernal energy, expanding quickly until the inevitable.

The sort of inevitability that takes a life, and the lives of everyone within proximity.

—-

The fulcrum of existence creaks, reality's momentum grinding to a slow halt all around them. Zatanna leaps for the bars, but John just lets his head tilt slowly back until his adam's apple shows, eyes rolling back. "Ah, shite," he mutters. He sounds immensely inconvenienced.

Then comes the sound of flesh being violently displaced, fiendish malevolence blooming sick petals inside of the unfortunate prisoner, a kind of swift-growing, virulent cancer, and John's head snaps up, all of his 'why me' lassitude gone in an instant. It's too late to warn her, though — by then the demon has Zatanna by the wrist. "Oh, leave it out, you smug bastard," he says through gritted teeth. Michael's body begins to split, an imperfect vessel never intended to contain such immensity. Suppurations, boils, crevasses in flesh.

There's no time for a pretty exorcism, so he does what he always does when things go tit over teakettle: he improvises. He wraps an arm around her shoulders, pulls her away from the cell with a twist to the side — threading the splitting flesh of Michael's arm through the gap — and then aims a hard kick at the place where that arm meets the bars, shearing the dissolving mortal flesh off like a broken lever. Tension released, he rolls with that bodily twist. It places him between she and the cell, and then as gravity pendulums hard, it places her between he and the ground, and not gently…but John's a canvas of wards. He's got more than just a few tattooed directly into his skin, and there's no telling what he's done to that /coat/. He's clearly banking on those being enough to shelter them from the blast; if it isn't, it's probable that all of Gotham is about to go up in felfire, and, well…if that's true, he can think of worse ways to go out than 'on top of Zatanna Zatara.'

—-

No, no, she won't let go of this so easily. Keeping a firm grip on Kazinsky's arm, blue and white crackling energy thrums from her limb to his, Zatanna's lips baring her teeth. "Give it up, you fat sonuvabitch!" she cries hoarsely once she realizes she won't be able to overpower him by brute strength alone - if it was a supernatural battle the Prince wanted, so be it.

She isn't immune to recklessness, especially when her blood is up - young, alone, badgered by deranged vigilantes and distressed over her father's disappearance, frustrations from the last week has left her nearly spoiling for a fight. But Constantine moves quickly, as he is prone to do when his survival is on the line, pulled to the side with a twist. His kick finds its mark, slamming right into the elbow joint, bone, blood and muscle practically disintegrating on impact when he manages to rip his companion from the serial killer's convulsing grip. They find the ground, Zatanna sprawling unceremoniously on top of the concrete chest-first, John's wiry, solid body throwing on top of her with every hope that the mystical protections carved on his skin would save them, or at least give them a fighting chance at it.

The explosion rocks the cellblock, fire and thunder rolling over concrete, blasting metal off its hinges and melting holes in walls. Startled screams from crazed prisoners join the cacophony, jolting the rest from sleep as the potent cocktail of adrenaline and madness propel them to shake and rattle the bars of their own cages. Alarms, red and angry, clamor all around them as heat and shockwaves pour around them, hugging the amorphous shape of the protective bubble his wards have created. Smoke rises to the ceiling and while drowned out by everything else, they know that it won't be long until the guards of Arkham flood the cellblock, that the usual suspects would be called - additional backup from the main precinct, sirens from hastily approaching firetrucks. It all leads to one thing in the end - answering a set of very uncomfortable questions.

And as tempting as it is to just suddenly vacate the premises, Zatanna knows it wouldn't be possible - Gordon allowed this; if she disappears, it would result in a very uncomfortable visit. Or worse, Bruce would be demanding answers, as he was the one who reacquainted her with the Commissioner in the first place.

Ugh, she thinks, dropping her forehead on the floor.

At this rate, this night was never going to end.

***

Statements given and with the requisite warnings not to leave town received, Zatanna moves past the line of police vehicles and fire engines, her hands tucked into her pockets. Her expression is flat but once she finds John again, she leans on the surface next to him and exhales slowly.

"We didn't get much," she tells him, her lashes drooping to her cheeks. The winter air does its work, clearing out the stench of burning, melting human flesh from her sinuses.

Emergency personnel do their work; ultimately background noise, but to them, this is routine. Arkham has had more than its fair share of violent incidents and their responses to this one is clockwork by now. If ever informed that things were weirder than usual, these members would probably only shrug, with all the apathy borne from the consistency of the addage that Shit Always Happens in Arkham.

"If there's anything else, I should probably go home and get some sleep." She flashes him an accusatory look. "It's a school night, you know."

—-

Her forehead hits the ground — gently, anticipating what's to come — but he lifts his head, plants his hands on the ground to push himself up enough to look around at the blasted-out, charred remains of Kazinsky's cell, where still-molten concrete slowly oozes and drips in clots from the walls, popping and hissing as it cools. "They should /really/ have called in a specialist," is all he has to say.

He deals with the questions with good grace, though as is typical of his wont, he gives a brusquely honest accounting of events. It matters very little to him whether they believe him or not; their reactions will not have much to do with his plan of action going forward. For John, even the laws of Hell are ephemeral; mortal authorities do not hold much in the way of horror for him.

He doesn't apologize for involving her, but he does keep a watchful eye on her, solicitous of her condition, physical and otherwise. It's not a small thing to be manhandled by a Prince of Hell. Even if she doesn't bruise, it's bound to leave a mark. That's what he's doing when she casts up against the wall beside him.

"Tough to say, luv. Won't know until we start looking. The tie to the flat is a solid lead, even if the name doesn't pan out. I'll do what I do, let you know if I turn anything up." He slides up and off of the wall with a limberness that defies having just survived an explosion of that magnitude. "Truth to tell, though, this isn't why I'm here. I've got much bigger and much more worrisome shit to deal with right now than that fat wanker, so the sooner we can sort this out and get back to it, the better." He refers to Mammon with dismissive contempt, typical Constantine irreverence. And although he fails to share with her what sort of thing could be so much worse to deal with than a literal Prince of Hell, from the way his jaw hinge tightens as he goes through the motions with the pack of cloves in his pocket, he is not indulging in hyperbole.

"Anyway." Smile, sudden, bright and cold as winter sun. Like they didn't just watch a man detonate; like he's just run into her on the street. "Good catching up, 'tanna. Drinks next time." The pavement grits under his heel as he turns to go.

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