Batquisition

December 27, 2016:

The Batman has some questions for John Constantine, who has yet to emerge from the aftershocks of his misadventures on Christmas Eve.

A pub urinal

It probably stinks.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Zatanna Zatara

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

It has been several days since John Constantine's explosive confrontation with one dark-haired sorceress — days that he has spent alternately too drunk to function in public or asleep. He's had to tell Zatanna, sitting even now in the warded, hand-built vault in his new flat, that he'd caught the flu — but he's pretty sure that she doesn't believe him, and has only been playing along because the fiction is infinitely more comfortable than the truth, which is that something significant stress-fractured in the uneasy peace between them, and something worse than that was catalyzed in him by his time in Muller's dungeon of mind-fucks.

He emerges into the sunlight only with great reluctance, passing through a door that typically leads into a Mexican restaurant. For the few seconds that he's using it, it does not lead into a restaurant at all, but once the door swings shut behind him it's just a door, nothing more, nothing less.

He shoves his hands into the pockets of his coat and ducks his head. The sunlight jabs fingers through his retinas at the tender meat inside of his skull. If he weren't out of all of the essentials (food, liquor, cigarettes, not in that order), he'd still be hidden away, but there are only so many errands he can ask Chas to run for him before even he starts to feel bad about it.

—-

Constantine and his hangover make it through the sunlight and down to the corner market for smokes and food, most of it salty enough to block an artery with a few bites of microwaveable deliciousness. The nicotine addict puts fire in his face before he's quite out of the store, and the singing relief of chemicals in the bloodstream help lessen some of the biting sting of the cruel sun overhead.

Naturally, to balance out the humors, the next stop is a nip into the pub for a pint of something that wasn't bottled on the slopes of the Rockies by Americans with poor taste in lager. It's not as if Zatanna's going to be any more pleased to see him if he's sober, after all. One pint turns into two, and two turns into a pressing need to water the azaleas quickly enough.

Constantine is about five seconds into sighing, sagging relief in front of the urinal when the bathroom lights cut out, the only illumination provided by the dim flare of his cigarette leaving cherry illumination around his face. Left, nothing. To his right, nothing. To his left—

—a pair of eyes with no pupil or iris, narrowed to furious slits, and a mouth set in an angry, downwards slashing scowl.

"We need to talk," Batman rasps at Constantine.

—-

Curious thing:

John's all out of shocks. Adrenal fatigue, alcohol, abject misery. Post traumatic stress. /Failure to thrive./ Deathwish might be taking it just a little bit too far.

The effect is much the same. He snaps his head to the side, reptilian brain responsible for that much, but there is a total (and absolutely irrational) lack of fear to go along with the reflex of surprise. Not because he's brave. Not because he's a tough bastard. John knows intimately the value of fear, and he's never been able to completely shrug it off or become inured to it.

This is something completely different. This is the leaden flatline of a man who is not well, and a body doesn't have to be the World's Greatest Detective to see that. The difference between the man standing at the urinal and the man so recently engaged in investigating Kazinsky's apartment is night to day.

"Yeah?"

He takes his time, says nothing else until he's finished, zips. "Bloody strange choice of venue, but sure. Let's talk."

—-

"Let's start with why you've got Zatanna Zatara locked up in your basement," Batman says, walking towards the bathroom door. He locks it. Firmly. And then turns to face John Constantine. This is not a friendly visit. This is a ghoulish, paranormal specter that is manifesting as a man— wrapped in cloak and shadow, and with those inhuman, blind eyes that obviously don't miss a thing. He's a trip the wrong way into the Uncanny Valley, and he is between John and anything like a quick exit.

"Let's talk about Muller and Mammon. About Kazinsky. I twigged to you when you first showed up in Gotham." His scowl deepens— somehow, he even seems to loom a little taller. "Now you're out getting drunk while one of the most powerful magi in history is in your basement drawing on herself in a desperate attempt to stave off the inevitable. You've got a reputation, Constantine. You play others. You've got your own game. I would have let that go, until…."

A chilling silence. "I don't know what Zatara or his daughter are to you."

"But if you want to walk out of this bathroom, you better start spilling your guts." There's no threat in his tone of voice— which of course, makes the implication of violence all the more chillingly sincere.

—-

Batman. /The/ Batman, capital T, thank-you-very-much. Better men have soiled themselves. John's irreverent at the best of times, though, and none of the glamour or mystery matter to him even when he's at his best, which he most certainly is not, presently. He drags a long breath in as the man in black begins to enumerate a list of issues he has with current events — things he shouldn't be able to know — and he exhales it as a sigh, tilting to one side, leaning into his shoulder against the wall. Smoking. Waiting.

"First of all," he says, "If you're such a big fan of 'tanna, I'm gonna go out on a limb and guess you're not gonna be ending me here, eh, mate? Cos yeah — she's in my flat, in a vault that's saving her life. Without me? She's brunch in Hell. So leave it out with the threats, unless you want to just skip to the violence and get it over with. Save me the fuckin' trouble of having it out wi'you, wouldnit?" One brow goes up, just a little. "Which is it gonna be? Are we talking or are you gonna paste me?"

Okay, maybe deathwish isn't taking it too far.

—-

"Didn't say I'd kill you. Said you wouldn't walk out." Batman stares at John. "You can still help me with a broken L4 vertebrae."

"You can't keep her locked up forever. Your wards are good— but not indestructible. A determined enough adversary can find it and bypass them. That's the danger of siege mentality." He paces a half step to the side. "Zatanna's being attacked via blood magic. She's using the Ritual of the Skylit Seas to try and ward it off, but even for her, that will come at a price. And if you keep her sequestered forever—" Batman looks at Constantine. "You're staving off the inevitable, at best. At worst, you know you're failing her and you're desperately trying to find a way to make up for not being adequate for the task."

"Hiding her forever won't work. Drawing wards on herself won't work. You and I both know that when one is being attacked by an enemy in concealment, you have to bait them out or they'll wear you down by attrition."

"I want to know why you haven't put her out in the open."

—-

Blue eyes drift ceilingward, not quite a roll, not exactly petitioning a higher power — hah, as though anybody up there is taking /his/ calls.

"The wards /are/ indestructible, unless some arsehole shows up in me flat and physically defaces them. And that's unlikely, because it's about as secure as a thing can get. So if that happens, you're gonna be the first person I bloody look for, as you seem to know more about it than you should."

He takes a long drag from the clove in his hand, flicks ash on the floor, watches it fall. "Anyway, you're making a lot of assumptions. Who said I plan to keep her there forever? An' who said I was keeping her there in the first place? She's not my bloody prisoner. She's there because it's buying her time to come up with a better plan than the one she had, which was absolute dog shite."

He blows smoke off to one side, eyenarrows. "What's it to you, anyway? This isn't exactly your wheelhouse, is it?"

—-

"Some of the most indestructible bastions in history have fallen to three things," Batman tells Constantine. "Diseases, starvation… or betrayal. They built taller walls, so engineers learned to tunnel. The stone was made thicker, then cannons were invented."

"No walls are indestructible. And your entire defensive strategy is predicated on— what? Being perfect? Making no mistakes? Never being tricked or subdued? I got the drop on you in a restroom at the pub around the corner," Batman rasps at Constantine.

"You're putting too much faith in Zatanna. She's barely old enough to fly alone on a plane, let alone try to work out a sustainable defense against what's happening to her. You're letting her situation dictate your response to her."

"I don't have my foot nailed to the floor playing babysitter out of a misplaced sense of guilt. So if you weren't stuck playing nanny— where would you start looking for Muller and his hitman?"

—-

John is slowly starting to rouse to the needling, but probably not in the way that Batman intends. What appears in his flat, hollow expression is impatience more than anything else; impatience at being lectured, impatience with being insulted.

"There are always risks. You do what you can, hope it's good enough, watch for what might not get caught, but you can't dodge black swans, mate. That's why they're black swans in the first place, eh?" He flicks ashes, pulls another drag, briefly warming the light nearest him, highlighting the circles underneath his eyes. Not sleeping well either, then.

"I know Zatanna better than almost anyone other than her da. An' while I appreciate that you wanna white knight for her — " He pauses, gestures loosely. "Black knight, whatever, it don't sound to me like you know much about what it's like to grow up the way we did."

John cannot possibly understand how wrong he is about that — how similar the trials by fire and swift maturation in the name of survival really were, for all three of them.

"'tanna's whip smart but she's got a hot head. I'm not lockin' her up and planning to do it all on me own, and I'm not washing my hands of it and leavin' her to it on her lonesome, either. There are shades of grey in the middle, you know."

The cigarette dwindles, and he drops it on the floor, steps on it. "If I wanted to find Muller, I would. I've got a chunk of his flesh laying around now. There's nowhere that sorry Nazi prick can go that I won't be able to find him eventually. But he had a room at the Excelsior, if you really feel like digging about. Friendly bit of advice, though: death threats aren't gonna work. Bloke's got himself a case of the ol' immortality, hasn't he?"

—-

"There are worse things than death, John Constantine," Batman says— and whether it's luck or intention, he manages to say John's Name with almost perfect inflection. Most people would only feel a vague uneasiness at being hailed properly, but with Batman's surprising knowledge about the field of the mystic… it suggests that the Dark Knight might have been holding some cards to his chest that no one suspected.

"It's time to take a more secular approach to these problems. Muller's spent too long indulging himself. He needs to be dealt with."

"Immortality is a curse when you're stuck in a room with the hungers that dwell on the wrong side of eternity," Batman tells Constantine— and then, without any warning at all, all the lights go out, striking the room completely black.

When the lights come back up, presumably as generators whirr to life— Constantine's alone in the restroom again.

—-

The lights flicker on, harsh fluorescents. John squints. It causes his headache to spike.

"Whatever the /bloody hell/ that means," he says, just in case the man with the cloak is still listening.

He probably isn't, but…still, though.

He can be petty when he wants to be. Maybe that's a sign that there's still some fight in him, somewhere.

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