Reminisce

December 15, 2016:

Bruce Wayne returns home to find Zatanna Zatara visiting Alfred Pennyworth, who subsequently remembers her promise to the old butler and once more complicates everything with her unfailing kindness.

Wayne Manor - Crest Hill - Bristol - Gotham

The stately Wayne Manor.

Characters

NPCs: Alfred Pennyworth

Mentions: Tim Drake, Dick Grayson, John Constantine, Giovanni Zatara

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

When Zatanna Zatara finds herself in Wayne Manor for the second time in as many days, she is technically paying Alfred a visit.

The idea may be a bewildering one, especially because whenever Bruce returns from his day job at the Wayne Foundation (or so she would think, having absolutely no cause to think differently), his olfactory senses would be able to catch the unmistakeable scent of food being prepared. A quick investigation in the kitchen would find his butler and the young woman wearing matching aprons, though considering Alfred's significant height, the thing practically covers the whole of what Zatara's daughter is wearing, though she once again favors black with the occasional pops of color, once again effectuating the sharp contrast between the darkness of the fabric and the alabaster-white of her skin.

If he lingers in the doorway, he'd be able to eavesdrop a little, light laughter pouring from the interior of the warm kitchen:

"I tried to get out of learning how to cook," she tells the old butler conversationally as she checks something in the pot. "But Nonna absolutely /refused/ to let me escape. She'd keep me in the kitchen for hours and even insist that I stay the night before holiday dinners so I could help her prepare. I can't blame her for wanting to pass down secret family recipes, you know? She was Sicilian, after all, it's kind of their thing. /Now/ I can make a mean ragout, though you can't tell anyone what's in it, okay? You have to promise m—"

The young woman's slender form straightens up from the stove; in the midst of turning, she catches a glimpse of the master of the house. Blinking once, she greets Gotham's favorite son with an impish grin, wide enough for light to catch the pearly surfaces of her teeth, and chase a secret dimple from its hiding place on her left cheek. "Bruce! Alas, outed immediately, now this'll have to be a conspiracy of three. I honestly thought I'd be gone by now, but Alfred convinced me to show him how real Italians cook."

Well, Italian-American, though Zatanna's heritage is certainly a lot more exotic than that.

"I originally just intended to deliver a few things," she explains, giving Alfred a look across the counter. "I was catalouging some of Daddy's old things when I stumbled across some delightful blackmail material from when he and Alfred were much younger men and he was /insistent/ that I bring them over immediately before I showed anyone."

—-

Bruce moves quietly for a big man— and he watches Zatanna and Alfred bustling around the kitchen like old hands, laughing and exchanging the pleasure of two fast friends discovering one another. Alfred is of course a father to so many— and a smile tugs at the corner of Bruce's face while he watches, unbeknownst even to him— memories of others in the kitchen, pitching in with meals and sharing fun and fond times with one another.

When Zatanna notices him, the smile shifts just a little. Wider. Less sincere. In an eyeblink, too, so fast she might not notice the change not something that positively 'looks' more engaged.

A big gesture, from a fellow inclined to small ones.

"Alfred plays dirty pool, Zatanna," Bruce remarks, walking into the kitchen. "Particularly where cooking's concerned," he adds. "If you've got a recipe he doesn't, he won't quit until he's badgered the secret out of you."

Bruce walks into the kitchen and reaches for a small dipping container, taking a piece of cheese and swiping it through the sampler. "hmm. Not bad at all," he remarks.

"So, blackmail? What was it? Pictures from Alfred's college days? Did he secretly lead a review at an all-men's cabaret for the lonely women of London?" Bruce inquires.

—-

"Ah, well, that's not a problem, is it Alfred?" Zatanna says, sneaking the butler a wink from where she is. "Nonna tended to lament to me constantly about how it'd be impossible for me to bring home a nice Italian boy if I didn't know my way around the kitchen, but considering the way /that's/ going these days, I won't be cooking for anyone anytime soon so I might as well share the wealth." She makes room for Bruce at the stove, considering how much space he takes up, despite his effortless grace and ease in moving - though that will occur to her later once she leaves the house, as it was often difficult to concentrate on much of anything when Bruce Wayne's star was in the room, as to the strangeness of such a large, imposing man moving so quietly in his own house.

Or maybe he had to train like a ninja in order to sneakily keep an eye on his boys.

She waits expectantly for the man's verdict, before she gives him a mock-gasp, curling her fingers into a loose fist so she could brush her knuckles playfully on the man's shoulder in a tap. "/Not bad/? That's because I haven't added the secret herb blend yet," she advises. "Trust me, it'll change your life."

She moves to the marble mortar and pestle where said herb blend rests, the young woman shaking those long, elegant artist's fingers out so she could grind them together into fine powder, pressure and friction working in concert to release much needed oils and a signature fragrance. "Oh, pictures of all kinds," she says with a laugh. "Though I'm pleased to report that Mister Pennyworth still looks amazingly dapper in bellbottoms and a tie-dyed shirt. I couldn't believe it when I saw it - and you know Daddy, he loves his suits, but he was wearing something similar. I swear, it was like seeing two unicorns trundle out of the forest, I couldn't believe my eyes."

Inclining her head towards the Wayne heir, her lashes hood, an expression both feminine and feline rippling over that delicate mien. "You didn't get away unscathed either," she teases him. "I brought pictures from your past birthdays also when Daddy performed for you and your friends. There was one of you with a bowtie, knee socks, loafers and suspenders, who knew Gotham's favorite son was so adorable back in the day?"

—-

"Yes, she's been quite a bit of fun," Alfred remarks, in his driest of tones. "And I told her, Giovanni's earned himself a right rap on his pointy jaw, for not destroying those pictures like he promised me!" He hefts the stew cauldron to make his point and moves it to a lower gas range, stirring carefully and adding in the last of the ingredients.

Bruce chuckles, rubbing his shoulder at Zatanna's punch and his eyes twinkling at her commentary about the birthday photos. "Careful with those, Zatanna. I'm pretty sure I can lay hands on pictures of you, too— Giovanni sent a Christmas card about ten years ago, you were wearing a cute little white jumper and had a pink bowtie in your hair," he remarks, musing whimsically. "A few photos from thirty years ago won't hurt my image, but if Life and Style's favorite goth-glam fashionista has that picture published…"

He steals another bite of food and drifts out of easy punching range.

—-

"Oh, Alfred, I think Daddy was only thinking about his survival," she begins. "When he's told me /you/ have certain memories involving his bachelor party before he married my mother." Admittedly, if anything, those would be terribly interesting to see, if not somewhat traumatizing for the young lady. The last thing she wants to think about is her father attempting to knock coins off an exotic dancer's pert derriere in a posh gentleman's club in Montreal.

With the herbs ground up in the marble pestle, the young woman picks it up carefully with one hand, though Bruce's next words has her turning around, her lips rounding in a near-perfect circle. Light blue eyes grow wide; Bruce is right of course, and for all of her occasional maturity and looks, Zatanna has yet to reach her twenties and the idea of anyone seeing clothes upon her that are decidedly out of her current palette is downright scandalous to her. "/No/, he didn't," she says in a low aggrieved gasp. "That has to be a lie, I've never worn pink in my life!"

Right?

She gives Bruce a suspicious look as she wanders closer to Alfred, handing him the marble bowl. "But /thankfully/ I'm such a well-meaning young lady that I've brought these items here in order to rid myself the temptation of showing anyone," she says, finally untying the apron from her waist and folding it neatly on the counter. Fashionista is right, with how the young woman take goth-glam to a whole new level, clad in a pair of black jeans strategically ripped in places, the gaps wide enough to hint at the fishnets she wore underneath them and tucked in expensive leather boots. Her top is Edwardian-era inspired, the neckline low enough to bare the sensitive dip of her collarbones, though it stops short from revealing even a hint of her decolletage, with fitted sleeves that end with lace cuffs - she was there to see Alfred after all.

"But yes, I'll gladly relinquish them. In return you have to promise me that your boys never get to see those obvious photographic fabrications."

—-

"As you say, miss, "Alfred remarks, accepting the bowl from her. The last of the ingredients get ground up, sorted, and added to the mix. "Master Bruce, dinner will be a while, so I've set it simmering." Alfred addresses Bruce by squaring his shoulders and giving a short nod in lieu of a bow— with a wink at Zatanna, the butler buttles off to find something to do in another part of the house, leaving Bruce and Zatanna in the kitchen as the leggy magicienne finishes doffing her apron after her cooking spree.

"Uh…" Bruce watches Alfred abruptly leave, a bit puzzled— wasn't she here to see Alfred?— and then focus back on Zee's train of thought. "Oh. Oh! No, no worries. The boys," Bruce says, chuckling and waving off Zee's concern. "Don't worry. I probably couldn't find them anyway." He seems to relax a little when Zatanna mentions his adopted scions. "I'm afraid that Tim and Dick only come around when they need to do laundry or they forgot to go shopping," Bruce apologizes, wryly. "Alfred's a soft touch for a home-cooked meal. I can tell Tim you stopped by, though, looking for him?" he offers to Zatanna. "I'm sure he'd be happy to hear it."

—-

She /was/ here to see Alfred! Where was he going?!

The wink gets a puzzled smile at first from Zatanna, a slender hand planting on her hip as she watches the butler go. "Well you better come back soon, it's almost ready and you should have the first taste of the final product," she tells him as he leaves, though she mulls over the expression for a moment, her lips pursing a touch. What did he…

Her mind casts back to their conversation in the towncar, in the foggy night in which Alfred drove her back to Shadowcrest - when Bruce acquiesced to her request to be let into the GAC's centennial event. She did promise him that she would do her best, but with the man's quick exit, she's at a loss as to how to approach it. It was a sensitive issue, one that she isn't quite certain she has a right to pry into, but Alfred wouldn't have told her if he didn't believe she could lend /some/ sort of aid….right?

Right.

His mention of Tim has her inclining her head, lifting her brows in surprise. "…he would? Why?" she wonders with a laugh. "I wonder sometimes if he can't get away from me fast enough. I must slow him down a lot, it's like his brain works in the speed of light…if that's the case, I can't say I blame him though. We're not all child geniuses like he is."

Her hand finds the counter, the click-click-click of her dark red nails finding the sleek, granite surface; tiny staccato beats that pulse in time with her thoughts, to summon her courage for what is to come. "Did I tell you I was taking Criminal Justice?" she wonders. "We had a guest lecturer yesterday - a Detective Richard Grayson from Bludhaven PD. But it wasn't until the end that I realized he was your oldest boy, I'm starting to think you do this on purpose - taking orphaned boys with the same dark hair and blue eyes as you under your wing." Mischief and mirth light up those lightning blue eyes. "I'm still laughing about how the first thing he tells me after all these years is an apology for trying to foist me off on Alfred the last time we saw one another when I wouldn't stop pestering him."

Falling silent, she looks up at him, delicate features softening in a way that only accentuates those large, expressive eyes. "Aren't you worried?" she ventures carefully. "Isn't Bludhaven….I mean…I've heard stories. You hear a lot when you travel as much as I do."

—-

"Tim runs deep," Bruce explains, with a negligent shrug. "He tends to be thinking several minutes ahead, most of the time. You'll be trying to come up with a good argument to something he says, and he's already thought of it, countered, and moved on to the next argument. His leaps are a little hard to follow until you get used to it."

He almost looks like he's about to leave, but Zee presses him at his weak point— by appealing to his manners and his parental pride. "I bet he was a little shocked when you introduced yourself," Bruce chuckles. "It's been… what, more than a few years since the last time he saw you."

His smile fades a little at that penetrating question, but he shrugs it off, then shakes his head once on the horizontal, for emphasis. "I— well. I worry, of course," Bruce admits. "I'd be crazy not to. But if I sit around focusing on it too much, that'll drive me crazy, too. But, he's smart, he's well-trained, and people genuinely like him. Even the criminals do, from what I hear— he's got a way of talking to people, even the bad guys."

"So yeah, I worry. But I'm too proud of him to distract him with me being worried."

—-

She has a way of touching on the soft spots of another even without meaning to; a consequence of the unfailing kindness and concern that she shows others, especially the very few who she considers as her 'people,' and set with the reluctance to take those relationships for granted. There's a faint smile, affection playing over the pliant line of her mouth, tugging on the corners as he fumbles over the bumps presented to him by his paternal pride. He always seems to be so proud of them, his boys - the way he talks about Tim's intellect, and Dick's gregarious way with others.

"He hasn't seen me in almost ten years," she replies. "According to him, I made him feel old." She rolls her eyes skyward at that, laughter hinted in her tone, but it is nothing overt. "Aged. Wrinkled and decrepit in his mid-twenties. I refrained from saying I've dated older and asked him whether he's developed a fondness for early bird specials at the diner instead."

She props her chin on one hand, watching him from across the counter. "I can't help but wonder if he's doing this for you, though," she murmurs quietly. "For what happened to his parents and yours….for what happened to Jason Todd."

Before Bruce says anything, she straightens, lifting a hand. "I wasn't snooping or anything," she assures. "I felt there was something off about our last conversation so I asked Alfred if you were okay and he was honest with me. I'm sorry, Bruce…I didn't know you were having a hard time. And I know I just came back and I can hardly ingratiate myself into your confidence so soon, but I at least wanted to say that…."

She hesitates.

"It's not in my nature to force myself on anyone," she continues softly. "And I know you probably think I'm just a kid. What do I know about life, right? But if you need….you've done so much for me already, it wouldn't be right if I didn't say I'm here for you, too."

—-

Bruce's smile grows tight, and he grips the doorframe he's leaning against. "I… yes. Well." He clears his throat. "Thank you, Zatanna."

A line of clenching muscle on his jaw belies his pleasant tone, and it visibly takes him a moment for that waxy smile to relax a little. "I appreciate the gesture. There's… nothing to be done. But it's kind of you to offer." He clears his throat and makes a show of fishing his phone from his pocket to look at a non-existent text. "Uh, 'scuse me."

He ducks around the corner into the entryway, and looks down at his hand as if it betrayed him. Out of sight of Zatanna he allows himself not just anger, but surprise at the sudden /intensity/ of that emotion. The master of himself as few other humans possibly can be, Batman finds himself in the unsettling position of having experienced a surge of temper with no clear source or motivation. Robin— Jason— was a sore spot that very few dared to tread on around him, though Zatanna couldn't possibly know that. Anger gives way to wary unease as he tries to suss out how the slender, lovely raven-haired woman in the other room managed to get so under his skin, so swiftly. Something to meditate on.

Breathe. Discipline. All control flows from the breath. He inhales slowly— a one, two, three— and the emotions are banished, and Bruce steps around the corner, making a show of blinking once or twice and putting his phone away. Can't hide the emotional reaction— sell it as grief. The cynic in the cowl is a better actor than perhaps even Zatanna in this way.

"Text from the office," he says, by way of polite excuse. "I really haven't done anything for you here, Zatanna," Bruce remarks. He closes the gap to Zatanna, then stops with his hands resting in his trousers. "I called in a favor to get your friend added to a guest list, and I'm not going to eat two servings of steak au poivre at an overpriced charity auction," he remarks, a bit wryly. "And it sounds like you're a little keen on Tim, so I should probably be thanking you for pulling him out of his shell a bit."

Another conflicted emotion flickers in his gut. The father wanting to give Tim advice about girls; Batman needing to caution his pupil against ambitious women.

—-

Her eyes - Giovanni Zatara's eyes - stare at him from where she stands.

There is nothing intent about it, on its own a marked contrast compared to the others that he must endure in his day to day, of sharks swimming around him during board meetings, afternoon coffee spent with important people, or the scores of masked psychopaths that attempt to make Gotham City a nightmare for the ordinary folk. It doesn't seek to peel through the layers of his outer shell to see how fast or slow his heart beats within his ribcage, or even to ascertain whether one exists to begin with. All she wants at the moment is some acknowledgment, some understanding, that she means what she says….and the pure, innocent hope that maybe one day he'll give it the due consideration he needs.

It doesn't even really have to be her….just someone, anyone, so long as he or she cares as much, if not more.

Her lips part when he suddenly stands up, to leave the room when a convenient text hits his phone. "Bruce…" she begins, but he is already gone. Part of her wants to follow, indeed she's already taking a step, but something stops her - something akin to self-preservation.

You've done enough, Zatanna Zatara.

She sighs, glancing down at the counter morosely, wondering if she's truly overstayed her welcome now. She tries to tell herself that she has grown accustomed to it - people tend to leave her after all, no matter how hard she tries to get them to stay.

Her head snaps up when he walks back in, turning to face him. Her /immediate/ instinct is to apologize, and her lips part to do just that. He would see it in her eyes, the contrition on those pale, delicate features…..

And then, that flash of determination crossing those ice-blue irises, errant lightning over clear, summer skies. No. She's not going to apologize for it. She meant what she said. She meant every word.

His shadow falls over her, and once again she is reminded as to who he is - Bruce Wayne, Gotham's favorite son, whose star tended to shine brighter than all others in a room. Billionaire, philanthropist, proud father of three, grieving father of one.

"Tim's my friend," she tells him with a small smile, allowing his surprisingly indelicate deflect to another topic. "One of the first I've made in a very long time, and truthfully he's a source of comfort to me, given the craziness of the last two weeks. I can breathe while I'm around him and I've already thanked him for doing that much for me, in spite not knowing him very long. And while I've victimized him already with my flirtations, like I said…it's really not my nature to force myself on anyone. And really, that honestly shouldn't matter." The last is said with a small scoff. "I flirt with /everyone/. Even girls. It's perfectly harmless. You of all people should know that, you weren't exactly exempt!"

At that strange flicker passing over his eyes, she takes a step forward, close enough until she's toe to toe with him; despite being three inches taller than she is, given the heels of her expensive boots, he still manages to tower over her by a few inches. Her hand reaches out and if allowed, her fingertips touch his cheek; it barely grazes his skin, ghosting over the side of his jaw until her thumb presses into his chin, to tilt his head down so he could look at her in the eye.

"You need to give yourself a little more credit," she reminds him seriously, lowering her hand and giving him a matter-of-fact look. "I waltz in after an eight year absence asking you for a favor, you grant it without batting a lash. I say I intend to procure the book myself and you say to save my money and you'll do it for me. And God only knows what else you're doing when I'm not looking." Her fingers hook into the belt loops of her jeans. "Like maybe sending the most infamous costumed personality in the city to look after me."

—-

Bruce meets Zatanna's gaze and in that moment, she might realize a bit of why he's the force he is in Gotham— he's fearless. Fearless, and despite his relatively pleasant mien, there's something in him that's a little untouchable. Just a bit behind the eyes, something forceful and charismatic that subtly underlines everything he says and does with emphasis. It's what gives him the influence he has in the boardroom, why so many flock to him, even if they're unaware of it on a conscious level.

It's something even Zatanna wouldn't have noticed until she dared to get so close to him.

He doesn't object to the touch but there's a bit of resistance in that granite block of a jaw, letting Zatanna know that he moves because he wishes to, not because he's bidden. "I told you, Zatanna. Giovanni was good to me. A mentor, when I needed one." The word Father goes deliberately omitted.

But then a chuckle slips past him and he straightens, shaking his head in bemusement— a whiff of his cologne, drifted onto his lapels. Lemon, citrus— a suggestion of sharp herbs, buried in the nose. Precisely what one would expect a gold-plated bachelor to wear, with a drifting suggestion of lavender. Not enough to really be detected except by someone daring into his space like Zatanna does. "You're overestimating my influence /and/ my connections.," Bruce tells Zatanna, wryly. "I don't even like the fact that the police commissioner has that light on his rooftop. Why?" he asks, suddenly a bit wary. "Did— did you meet the Batman?" he asks, one brow lifting. "Good lord, that's… something else. What /are/ you getting up to at night?"

—-

Did she meet the Batman?

The change in that gentle expression is swift and sudden, those summer skies suddenly beset by a storm. Zatanna sniffs, irritation crossing her face as she pivots around suddenly, loosely bound tresses snapping lightly over the lapels of his Saville Row suit as she flounces back to the stove to check on the simmering pot. "If you could call it a meeting, I was walking home from school and decided to take a shortcut. A couple of muggers thought I was easy prey - he intervened, as he's wont to do, and started demanding answers regarding my father's case, which I'm /extremely/ baffled about him knowing, by the way, because I've only told a grand total of three people what's happened to him."

She finds a wooden spoon, giving the ragout a few careful stirs. "I was perfectly cooperative, Bruce. I honestly thought he was going to hit me after he cited a few of my European indiscretions and what's even more ridiculous, I was willing to let him, if not just to get him to appease his raging Justice Boner and leave me alone, but then after all of that he /insulted me/ so I slapped him and stalked off! I know they call him the Dark /Knight/ around here, but really that's /pushing the term./"

Tim had been stunned as well, when she told him. She remembers the look on his face, but she doesn't address that, her focus fully concentrated on the event and giving Bruce a small hint of that Italian temper.

She lifts the spoon and tastes it lightly, letting the sauce roll on her tongue before nodding in approval, setting the cover back down and lowering the burner's flames even more.

"It was completely unnecessary," she continues, the following words a low, throaty grouse. "It didn't help that John showed up immediately after that."

—-

Bruce swallows a chuckle at 'slapped', eyes dancing a little as he gets to hear Zatanna's version of their meeting. Discipline, discipline— by the time she turns around, his face is one of stunned composure.

"I— wow," Bruce says. "I mean, the muggers, for one— you do need to be careful, particularly around South Point— " he admonishes the younger woman— "But that's unreal. Do you think he knew Giovanni, too? I mean— " Bruce holds a hand up to forestall any outburst. "I don't mean it like -that-. I know your father did some strange things in strange places, and— I don't know. Lots of people in Gotham think Batman is some kind of ghost or mystic or something."

Finding himself staring a little bit at Zatanna's quarter-profile as she busies herself with the stew, he moves to distract himself by fetching a decanter of cucumber-infused water from the refridgerator and pouring it into a glass.

"European indiscretions?" he asks, a beat later, with a humorous lilt to his voice. Perhaps a safer topic of discussion than John— and again, Bruce wonders at a rather irrational reaction to 'John', who the detective immediately pegs as being almost certainly John Constantine, a drunk, washed up layabout of a man if he'd ever met one.

And one of the few people weirdly capable of not soiling himself in the face of Batman's ire.

Bruce catches his reflection in a polished pot, checking momentarily to see if he /is/ getting old.

—-

"I don't know," Zatanna grumps, all youthful, fiery bluster, and while typically not the sort to hold grudges - her ability and curse to be kind wouldn't allow it - the incident remains so fresh that she can't help herself. "And I don't care. He spoke of him familiarly, so I wouldn't be surprised if Daddy did and for all I know, he probably knows who he really is on top of it. He ran in some very illustrious circles, my father, I wouldn't be surprised if they teamed up for something important back in the day, when the Batman was younger perhaps. I mean, he did take the occasional trip back to Gotham without me sometimes. But that doesn't change the fact that assaulting me that way when I was being perfectly agreeable was complete bullshit." She turns around, her feet astride, one hand falling on a cocked hip as she glowers at Bruce. "I don't know what the hell he really wanted from me that night, but I let him have it in my own way."

When Bruce wonders about said European indiscretions, she groans. "John's probably the top of that list. Daddy didn't approve, but I fancied myself in love and I have a fatal flaw when it comes to things that are bad for me. And I impersonated a nun in Madrid." She speaks of these incidents candidly, a testament to the proclivity to be shaped by her past, but never ruled by it….unlike certain people standing in the room. "Which I maintain has a /perfectly good explanation/. It was the only way to…"

There is a pause, remembering the quiet convent at night, and the mute priest in isolation that she wanted to see, but was prohibited to. It had to be done.

But the reasons why might be too strange even for Bruce, so she leaves those details out.

"…make this really cute initiate pay attention to me," she concludes with a sheepish grin. "He had a /very specific type./" It wasn't a complete fabrication, there was one such individual there, but he wasn't the reason why she had stolen a habit and pretended to lead a chaste, virtuous life for all of thirty minutes.

—-

"Impersonating a nun." Bruce purses his lips, nodding slowly, not… sure what to make of that, it seems. "And John's a… former boyfriend?" he guesses, one brow lifting. An interesting statement, given that he'd pegged John as being at least forty, if not a little older, during their meeting. Zatanna must have a type.

Bruce drags his mind from that train of thought, reaches for a spoon and doles up a little taste of the stew to sample it, cupping carefully under the flatware so it doesn't drip on the floor.

"For what it's worth— and I've never met the guy," Bruce admits— "Batman generally seems like he's looking out for people. But that's just what I've heard." He samples the cooling broth, makes an 'mm' sound, and puts the spoon into the sink to be attended later.

"Batman, an ex, dalliances with a priest. You live an exciting live, Zatanna. Not remotely sure why you'd want to clatter around a drafty old house," he says, resting his hips on the low chef's table behind him. "But I'm glad you feel comfortable here when you're not out rousting every ne'er do well in Gotham."

Something low and sly tugs at the corner of his mouth. "I guess just don't make a … habit.. of it?"

—-

"John's…." Zatanna hesitates, thinking back even as Bruce wanders back to her general orbit, absently uncovering the stew for him so he could reach for the wooden spoon and take a taste. These are memories that she has forced herself to stop thinking about after the requisite, feminine mourning period of eating nothing but ice cream, emptying boxes of Kleenex and watching romantic comedies until heartbreak and self-loathing started the cycle all over again. She remembers the aftermath of the spectacular destruction of their ill-fated relationship all too clearly, most especially the fact that she gained twenty pounds in said mourning period that took what seemed like /forever/ to work off, somehow finding the anger and fire to fuel her motivation by mentally calling herself 'Fatanna' until she shaped up.

But the way Bruce delicately inquires about him while she is unprepared unlocks that forbidden Pandora's box; humid nights in London, taking shots directly from the bottle of whatever liquor was available, boxes of Chinese takeout and hours naked and panting on the bed.

"….honestly, I don't know what we were," she says truthfully. "But what did I expect, seducing a man ten years older than me? I signed up for it. I know better now."

She thinks. She hopes.

She shakes her head, slamming the lid of that box shut, throwing it back into the forgotten corners of the attic of her memories, turning to look up at him, grinning impishly at his profile. "As usual, you're a charitable guy. I'm not discounting the idea that he does more good than harm, but he was a douche to me for no reason. I'm sure I'll get over it eventually, though I meant what I said to him then….I don't recall ever asking him to look after me." Her nose wrinkles. "And really, I can take care of myself."

She takes the cheese knife from the nearby board, cutting a wedge, slender fingers plucking it up so she could place it on the edge of the small bowl Bruce was nursing - just as he offers his terrible pun.

Her expression flattens. Slowly, she reaches out to try and take the bowl, the spoon, and with them the cheese she so considerately cut for him, away.

"That was awful," she deadpans. "No ragout for you."

The expression wasn't meant to last before that brilliant megawatt smile returns, teeth gleaming white on her dark-cherry mouth. "You shouldn't say those things," she tells him, moving so her fingers twine over the strap of her book bag, shouldering it. She is about to leave, it looks like - she is cognizant of spending enough hours here already, so she elects not to stay for dinner. "You make it easy to be comfortable here, and it helps…" Her eyes wander past him to a distant point in the wall. "…I don't have a lot of connections, Bruce. Barely any of my own, anyway. All my life, it was just me and Daddy. So what I do have, I try to keep close and not take for granted."

Tilting sideways, she lifts on her toes to land a chaste peck on his cheek, a brush so light, it's barely felt.

"I'll get Alfred back in here, but I really should be going."

—-

"Of course, Zatanna." And Bruce is back— smiling, a little enigmatic, but generally of pleasant disposition. She's made up her mind to go, so— she goeth. Apparently he's too much the gentleman to insist she stay, particularly with the discomfort visible on her face at the topics floating around.

Maybe it was the bad punning.

He rises and gestures with a wave of his arm, returning Zatanna's kiss with a peck to the open air. Very chastely European. Alfred intercepts them at the door, opening it for them both. "Took the liberty of hailing you a car, miss," Alfred tells Zatanna, smiling at her kindly. A luxury towncar— driven by a discreet fellow in a suit— waits for her outside, rumbling quietly. Better than the cab she took into the Manor. Farewells are exchanged and Bruce waits until they've cleared the gates before he closes the door and turns back to the kitchen, only to be interrupted by a beady-eyed stare from Alfred.

"Yes?" Bruce asks, brow lifting.

"Master Bruce," Alfred says, taking on the tones that usually precede a lecture. His hands clasp at the small of his back. "The young lady was not here to see me, nor was she here to call on Master Tim," he informs the older Wayne. "In fact, she spent most of the last hour asking me a great deal about -you-."

"Alfred, don't be absurd," Bruce says, lapsing into his more natural gravel. "She's a young socialite. This isn't exactly a new thing for me, y'know."

"Not some mere trust fund child. She's the daughter of Giovanni Zatara, one of my good chums and a fellow you rather look up to," Alfred says, firmly. "Not to mention a perfectly lovely gel with a sunny disposition, and even I'm not quite so old and drafty I can't appreciate the legs on her."

Bruce gives Alfred a level look. "Alfred, she said she had an older boyfriend, that drunk Brit that I ran into the other night— John Constantine. I could smell the bourbon on him— he's got a bad reputation in the mystical communities, from what I read."

"And," he says, cutting off Alfred. "She said she seduced him, it ended badly, and she knows better now. Her exact words. I'm obviously not her type." His hand falls, and there's a silence between the two men, Alfred's jaw working back and forth as he manages not to overtly grind his teeth at his charge.

"Master Bruce, as bright as you are," he says, slowly, "You are a colossal daft /twit/ when it comes to young women." He turns on a perfectly polished heel and stalks off to the kitchen, muttering darkly under his breath about Buckingham Palace.

Bruce blinks at Alfred's departing shoulders, looking completely taken aback, hands spreading in mute supplication to the heavens.

"I— what? Alfred? Alfred, what did you mean?" he calls after his butler.

"Alfred?"

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