Full Measure

December 28, 2016:

Seeing as Muller clearly didn't die properly, the Winter Soldier tracks John down again to have a bit of a conversation about that.

Gotham City

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Zatanna Zatara

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

It has been a long week for John Constantine, though he isn't sure how many days of that week it has been, precisely. He transitions seamlessly from the blessed non-thought of being good and drunk to the necessary but unpleasant state of higher functioning that allows him to go out into the city and conduct what business he has. Until now that has largely consisted of acquiring things he needs to survive, but this afternoon is a different story. This afternoon there's a book he needs to track down for the young woman living in the blast-proof, magic-proof cell in his flat, and he just so happens to have stopped by a familiar place to inquire.

Honestly, he had expected Cienzo Basile to read him the riot act when he came through the door. After all, the last time he was there, someone pulled a gun on Basile during an exchange with John, and John never did pay for that thing he broke — the thing containing the bizarre Alice in Wonderland porn set. To his surprise, Basile had been more than just willing to help, he'd given John the book at no cost, and that has John in a slowly worsening mood, because it means Basile's done something that he knows John would skin him alive for, and he isn't sure what that thing is.

Bollocks.

Still, he has the book. He shoves the door of Basile's shop open and steps back into the street, sliding sunglasses on over his eyes to protect against this perpetual hangover.

—-

As if the week weren't already bad enough, it conspires to deliver John one more blow. Though, frankly, given their interactions to date, it's still hard to say whether the Winter Soldier is a net boon or drawback in Constantine's life so far.

There's no one outside when he goes in. When he steps out, there definitely is someone: a familiar nondescript man, leaning against the exterior wall of Basile's shop, just to the right of the door. He's idly fiddling with his phone, an action which immediately renders him broadly indistinguishable from the many other casually-dressed young men out and about this fine afternoon.

Of course, appearances are deceiving.

"Been waiting," he says as John comes out. He pockets the phone, straightens up from the wall, and glances over at John. "I have some questions. Well— one question."

—-

John certainly pays him no mind and would have kept walking had the assassin not actually said something, which speaks to both the assassin's proficiency and John's state of mental disrepair. He stops dead, scuffs his shoe as he draws to a halt, and heaves in a deep breath. He's not even facing the man against the wall, maybe a half-stride forward, and he doesn't turn around. He does reach into his pocket, dig for his pack of cigarettes.

"No, he's not dead," John says, fairly sure that this is the thing that his former co-conspirator is here to ask about. He speaks in a flat drawl. He just seems so goddamn bored with it all. "Can't tell you why, don't know where he picked up the curse of immortality, but I'm guessing it's something to do with Hell, as usual." Slaps the pack against his hand, ejects one. Looks for his lighter.

—-

John's state certainly doesn't escape the operative's notice. The Soldier is silent for some time, studying it. His eyes on John's back are a palpable thing. There's a certain tension there, as well, that was not there previously.

It leads the man to— well— not really have much patience for the small talk, himself. John knows what the question's gonna be, and he answers it. No, he's not dead. The Winter Soldier's head lifts slightly, eyes narrowing, as if that personally or professionally affronted him in some way. Maybe it does. He took the shots— both of them. Saw the man die. For someone to come back from what the Soldier does to them… kind of a spit in the eye, really.

"You don't sound thrilled about it either," he remarks. "You got any ideas how to get around that kinda thing?" His voice turns dry. "I'd be obliged."

—-

"I'm not," John says, cupping a hand in front of his mouth, the lighter, speaking around the cigarette. "In addition to just generally disliking genocidal Nazi pricks, he's messing about with the life of somebody I actually like. And there are few enough bloody people of that description around as it is." It's all understatement, really, emotional emptiness. He drops the lighter into his pocket and finally half-turns back to look at the man so good at blending in, in spite of everything. "Tell you the truth, I'm not sure I'm keen on stripping him of it. It just means I'll get to kill him as many times as I like. Tally's still going up, mate."

—-

"Trouble is," the Soldier replies calmly, "I need him put down permanently. Probably in your best interest too. It probably seems like a real gratifying idea at first, killing him over and over, but that's messy. You gotta get it right over and over. He only has to get it right once. Eventually you slip up. He gets loose. He fucks over your friend. That's it."

He does not take guesses aloud who the friend is. But he has a very good guess, and his eyes are a few shades too knowing— the inflection on friend just a little too deep.

"What do you want? It to be slow?" The Winter Soldier's eyes are remote and blue as the peaks of mountains hundreds of miles off. "You catch him, I can make it slow."

—-

John drags in another of those long breaths, exhales it in mist and smoke. His fantasies of inflicting suffering fuel the anger that's keeping him from worse things, but they can't stand up to that kind of logic: 'Orlov' is right, of course. They slide out of him and leave him tired again. So does the extra inflection on the word 'friend,' which he otherwise chooses to ignore.

Through the lenses of his glasses, dark enough to protect his aching eyes, he studies the expression of the man built for murder. Truth is, he /does/ want Muller to suffer, and that's not like John. He's petty, spiteful, often a raging bastard, but usually that's when his emotions have got the better of him and all of the things he's been repressing just…snap. Afterward he castigates himself for it endlessly, but this? This is different. This is a cool and self-aware malice he feels, and it unnerves him just as much as the way in which he is so casually offered the option, as though they were negotiating a cable package.

He ducks his head, pulls his glasses off. Has to squint when he looks up again, but it buys him time to think. "What I want is to figure out how to save this other person's life. Everything else has dropped several spots on my priority list, yeah?" Even as he says it, it's clear he understands that is not going to be an acceptable answer.

"Look. Muller wants the book. I can find him for you anytime, sure. No problem. As long as he's not hidden in some heavily warded spot, and even then he'll have to come up for air eventually. Trouble is, /you can't kill the bastard/. Not for lack of tryin', don't get me wrong, but it's complicated, innit? So starting there don't make much sense. And if he dies, it's going to be more difficult for me to find out which one of his associates is driving nails into my friend's soul with blood magic."

Last time they met, John gambled heavily on this next piece, and he still isn't sure how it will play out. Nothing like rolling dice on the fate of the entire world to buy yourself some time, eh John? "I think next step is the book. It has things in it relevant to his…condition. It might have answers. And if he gets it, well…maybe the world will end, and so none of this will matter anyway, eh?"

—-

There is… briefly… something else behind that cold logic. Something passingly human under the murderer's killing mask. Not just experience, not just pragmatism— though the assassin clearly has reams of both— but also something more indefinable. A sort of age. There is a brief sense, in the way the Soldier looks at John and makes his answer, of a tired older man advising a younger: recalling times when he too was angry, spiteful, and emotional to the point of violent fantasy. When he too wanted to do something that didn't make sense, but would feel good—

Then it passes, and the Winter Soldier offers John slow torture like just another service package.

John ducks his head and looks away. That's answer enough for the Soldier. He folds his arms and leans back against the building again, thinking. John's greater interest in just saving his friend's life versus viscerally gratifying revenge doesn't really concern him; he's contemplating the news that no matter how he tries, he just won't be able to permanently KILL the bastard. Not without undoing that 'curse' of immortality.

And for that they need the book. All comes back to the book in the end, huh?

"Guess he wants it so nobody can figure out how to kill him," the Soldier eventually deduces. "Suppose that makes sense." He tilts his head back and forth, processing this. "All right. Next step then. Don't got that much ammo to waste anyway."

—-

"Yeah, maybe," John says, but he doesn't seem convinced, and it shows. He frowns at some of the calcifying ice crust where the sidewalk meets the building's brick, filthy and brown. "Don't know why he'd need to link up with a Prince of Hell in that case, though. Sometimes immortality's not what a person expects. Or maybe something went wrong with the casting, and it has a side effect he wants to get rid of. Don't know. Better not to assume."

John is speaking from experience. As a youth, he once learned that one of his male ancestors — from a line of magi going back to the 6th century, A.D. — had been made immortal somewhere along the line. Harry Constantine, served with Cromwell in Ireland at the Drogheda massacre. Did it for the loot, apaprently. But there'd been a mixup with the Ribbon Queen, and she'd put him in the ground. Couldn't kill him, so she buried him. So what had John done, this young man full of himself, ready to go out and make a name for himself? He'd dug him up, obviously, and had a chat. Learned what he could. And then, when he had answers, heard about what a curse their line's magic was, he had…buried the man again.

Nasty business.

"I want to know who's putting their knee in my friend's back. You get me /that/ information, and I'll owe you a favor, and that's no small bloody thing. That's not usually how this goes. Queen of bloody England owes /me/ favors. But it's not your business, so consider that a — what. Optional objective? Ah, fuck it, you don't look like a video game kinda guy."

—-

Sometimes immortality's not what a person expects. The Soldier looks away briefly, frowning, as if feeling that something about that is important, but he just doesn't know what it is.

He shrugs it away. Better not to assume is pretty safe as operating procedure, and the grounding of it brings him back to reality.

John has another offer, in fact. Find out who's jamming their knee in his friend's back, and he'll owe a favor. The Soldier might be a pragmatist, having lived his entire life on battlefields, behind enemy lines, in the deadly-grounded world of espionage and counter-espionage, with little to no experience in the world of magic… but he's seen enough by now not to underestimate it. And that pragmatism of his makes him real interested in having some link to resources that can help him parse it.

Besides, even if he gets the book, he'll sure as shit need John Constantine to actually do the voodoo to unravel the curse so he can make his kill.

"Gonna need a little more information on the circumstances surrounding the knee-jamming," he says, "but I can dig up what I can."

—-

"What Muller told me while he was laid up there in the snow bleedin' out is that he's been 'checking in' regularly with an associate of his by phone, an' that when they missed a call at the appointed time, said arsehole was instructed to start casting, using a bit of my friend's blood." John lifts the cigarette for an unhurried drag, blows the plume of smoke away, off to one side. "Muller's not dead, but he hasn't stopped them from casting. Maybe he figures it'll keep me busy, which — good on him if so, because he's bloody right. Anyway, I don't know if Muller bothers to use disposable phones. Most magicians worth a shite don't bother, because we're hard to find if we want to be, even if you're looking right at us. Eh? But that's all I can tell you. Chances are good he's going to turn up at the auction looking for that book, an' if he doesn't, he'll send someone, no doubt."

—-

The Winter Soldier absorbs this information in silence. Regular phone check-ins as an insurance policy against being killed aren't that unusual, though the added twist of 'or else my associate will start doing blood magic,' isn't typically in the Soldier's wheelhouse. Still, it's only the outcome that is different; the methods are largely the same, either way.

"If he had a cell phone that you took, get it to me. If not, information on where he made these calls that'd lead to the numbers he used. Anything I can use to check records." He looks off to the left, his sharp profile thoughtful. "Whatever you got. If you got nothing, I can still find out, but it'll take longer."

His gaze turns back to John, pensive. The magician says it's hard to find their kind when they don't want to be found. The Soldier's eyes flicker like he's taking that as a challenge.

"Either way," the Winter Soldier says as he unfolds, stands up straight, turns to leave, "looks like I'm finding a way into the auction."

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