Serious Business

January 07, 2017:

John Constantine meets Giovanni Zatara to deliver onto him the Liber Consecratus and discuss additional, recent complications.

New York City Pier - New York City

It's a pier, with docks, ships and gross seagulls.

Characters

NPCs: Giovanni Zatara (NPC'd by Zatanna Zatara)

Mentions: Bruce Wayne, Spider-Man, Captain America, Jessica Jones, Chas Chandler

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

It's a surprisingly nice day in New York — for January, anyway. The sun is out, its weak winter sunshine just enough to start slightly melting the snow encrusting the curbs of every sidewalk, making the ground wet enough that John's had to find a bench to sit in rather than seating himself on the seawall at the piers.

Returning here has been a peculiar experience, with all of the distance travelled since he was last here. It has only been a week since that miserable time, but things have changed so radically that it's a miracle he hasn't gotten whiplash.

…not that he's come through it unscathed.

Accepting the new condition of his face has been…difficult, to say the least. John's life has been hard, and one of the few things in hit he's been able to count on remaining as a point in his favor is that whole 'young, handsome punk' angle (well, alright, the 'punk' bit has gotten a little bit lost underneath his shift in wardrobe and occupation, but as anyone to listen to his music library can attest, it's far from gone). Having to accept that he now looks like a soft clay figurine that someone accidentally ran into a wall with has not been easy, and knowing that he would have to make this handoff today in that condition did not make it any easier.

Still, nothing for it. It has to be done.

So he sits, and waits, and wonders if Giovanni will show his face. The book is not on his person in a /technical/ sense, because it would be mad to carry it around with Muller running around, and who knows what else might be drawn to such a thing. Power attracts.

He has his methods, though. It's waiting, just under the surface of everything, for the man who intends to claim it.

—-

Reality warps and bends, the familiar signature tickling John Constantine's magical radar, and from the cold underpinnings of mist and brine hanging in a pervasive cloud around the pier in open defiance to the rest of the lovely weather that New York is enjoying, Giovanni Zatara arrives.

He hasn't changed much, at least, since he had last spoken with John - the charcoal-black long coat flaps against lean, long legs, the blood-red scarf slashing diagonally from the man's high collar. The top hat, ever the legendary magician's trademark, rests in a low angle over his head, his gloved right hand clasped over the handle of his walking stick. The modern age has yet to leave a mark on the man, who almost always looks more at home in London's Edwardian era than twenty-first century America, but there's something to be said about consistency.

Still, that's good; it is at least indicative that whatever trouble Giovanni is in, it has yet to touch him in any way that is significant, other than the curse preventing him from being in the same room as his daughter. Ice blue eyes - Zatanna's eyes - ratchet upward to find Constantine's own familiar trenchcoat and his Oxfords carry him there in brisk, businesslike steps. One hand tucks into his pocket, the walking stick swinging faintly against his ankle.

The walking stick finds a point by his shoe when he stops right next to where John sits, though he doesn't join his former pupil. The sharp-featured face tilts down to give the Englishman a sidelong glance.

He recognizes his daughter's glamour, Constantine's face radiates with her magic, but it is what it hides that he's also able to discern, those eyes peeling back the veil to reveal the damage underneath. Lips press in a tight line underneath the fringe of meticulously-trimmed hair over his lip, but at the very least, he doesn't presage this meeting with eldritch lightning from his fingertips, to lash against the man who sports some very obvious signs of having touched his flesh-and-blood in very specific and prohibited ways.

Instead: "You simply cannot help yourself, can you?"

It's enough that John knows he noticed, and that he is not happy.

—-

"Yeah mate, laugh it up," John says, well-prepared for that initial sally. He has his hands in his coat pockets, and he doesn't get up. He does tilt his head though, looking up at Giovanni with the eye compromised in its lidding by the distortion of his features. In spite of the conversation's leading edge, he does spend a moment using that eye to examine the older magician, looking for differences and finding him at least outwardly whole. That's something to take back to Zatanna, at least. "Always assuming it was my fault. She's a Zatara, you ought to know better than anybody that she doesn't give much a toss for /rules/." And in spite of himself, that comes out as being more amused than anything. The chilly remark and his own self-consciousness about the condition of his face do rankle, but unexpectedly he feels a little bit smug, too. The punk, as previously mentioned, is still in there, and for a moment it feels very like the way he used to feel after a fist fight brought about by his running his mouth, refusing to take shit off of the bigger guy in the room: he may have got his lip bloodied, but he gets to walk away with his soul intact.

"Told me she loves me, how about that? Can't fathom why. Seemed a bad show to just say 'thanks,' eh?" He retrieves his hands from his pockets, opens the left side of his coat, and retrieves a creamy envelope containing the letter Zatanna wrote for her father, sealed. John did not ask what was in it, has not attempted to look. He holds it up, squinting into the sunlight.

"Thought you might want something from her though. You're welcome."

—-

There are hints of exasperation there, the man drawing up to his full, considerable height, practically scenting defiance in the air like a bloodhound. The fact that the younger man wears his smugness so openly earns him a quiet tch, a spindly arm moving so as to tuck his walking stick underneath one arm. The world continues to move, and shift - boats leave the harbor and people stroll on the other side of the pier, but a whispered breath and an arcane word backward is enough to keep their conversation away from any prying ears that may be listening - mystical or physical.

"I am most assuredly not laughing," Giovanni retorts in that same, unflappable tenor, though his eyes do cut like daggers as they fall on John, an absent hand reaching out to take the envelope he hands him with a slight nod of acknowledgement. "Though while a father always hopes that his child will learn from her mistakes, I suppose when it comes to you, there is simply no accounting for taste."

One would almost expect that the older man would tuck the letter in his coat and leave it at that, but after a flick of his wrist dispensing one glove, he edges his fingernail in the flap, opening the letter with a deft drag at the corner that tears at paper as neatly as a blade. Drawing out the sheet, he unfolds it with long fingers, his brows furrowing in a hint of confusion. Yes, a letter, but there's an enchantment enclosed and what could possibly be—

Zatanna's voice emerges from the sheet.

It is furious.

Giovanni's surprise, rare as it is, is worn openly as the magical telegram starts yelling at him:

"DADDY THIS IS COMPLETELY UNACCEPTABLE!" the letter exclaims. "YOU'RE ITALIAN FOR GOD'S SAKE HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO APPEASE NONNA'S SPIRIT AND GIVE YOU ANY GRANDCHILDREN IF YOU KEEP LOCKING MY LEGS LIKE THIS?! IT ISN'T LIKE I HAVEN'T BEEN WITH ANYBODY ELSE, I WAS SIXTEEN WHEN— "

The man hurriedly slaps the paper shut. His expression is downright /mortified/, giving John a glimpse of the proverbial unicorn wandering the forest.

A heavy silence follows.

The man /coughs/ into a fist and tucks the letter back into his pocket, giving a John a glance.

"Where is the book?"

—-

Strangely enough, John's expression is almost /exactly/ like Giovanni's. His eyes widen and his jaw hinge goes lax, head snapping up to look at the /very loud/ and /very personal/ letter.

Giovanni closes it and John turns his head again quickly, to look out at the sun on the dull water of the bay, but his eyes are still wide enough to show the whites all around the outside of his chilly irises. This is apparently what it takes to mortify John: the embarrassment of a man he did not realize could be publicly embarrassed.

After the letter stops yelling, it is /very/ quiet.

Very.

Giovanni coughs, and John clears his throat and bends, reaching for a duffel bag at his feet. He plucks it up off of the ground, sets it on the bench, and places a hand over the zipper. Quietly muttered words link the inside of the bag with the vault in his new flat, a tiny rift in space, But he doesn't open it just yet.

It takes him a moment to reorient himself to the subject of business. "There's something in the book I want to keep. I didn't remove the pages because I wasn't sure how much of it you needed, but I'll want them for what's coming. A way to…ehh. Sound out the veil, if you want to be melodramatic about things. My mate's program is good at collecting information about events after they happen, but what I need is a way to see'em coming, and I think I've figured out a way to do it."

—-

While he cast the null-bubble to protect his conversation with John, it has also done the work of ensuring that this embarrassing moment stays between mentor and student. Giovanni, however, has managed to reorient himself quickly to the business at hand, though the way he carefully folds the enchanted paper and tucks it in his breastpocket suggests that he fully intends to take his verbal evisceration like a man - just not in front of John.

He eyes the duffel bag with interest, but what captures his attention, ultimately is the fact that John needs a part of the book. Moving towards the bench, the older man settles carefully on the other side, taking a curious glance at the rift inside of the duffel back and its contents. It's empty, of course, save for the pocket that will enable the boy to reach his hiding place. It's what he expects - the Liber Consecratus is not an ordinary tome, and thanks to the highly publicized trouble in Gotham, everyone knows it now.

But it is in the hands of allies and that's all that matters. Tilting his head up, he regards John carefully at his straightfordadly-stated intention to keep parts of the book with him. As usual, the Brit never asks.

"What do you intend to do with it?" he wonders, just as frank in asking. "Pulling the pages you need will have to be delicately done but I would like to inquire about the methodology you intend to use. It's old, John, and as it does with everything else, Time makes a thing more unstable and not the opposite."

—-

The question Giovanni asks once he sits earns him a flat look from John, who drops his chin and knit-quirks his brows. "I'm not seventeen years old anymore, mate," he points out, with something verging on patience. "I wouldn't try if I didn't know I could do it. Compared with some of the shite I've been up to in the last few years, this is nothing. You can look askance at my character all you like, but credit me with being capable, yeah?" He lets that ride for some seconds. "I learned my lessons the hard way."

Newcastle. Of course.

John doesn't talk about it. Even saying that much, an oblique reference to what happened, is more than he would give most people.

"I'm going to use part of the book, a few pages, in combination with something else to…/anticipate/…incidents. Ritchie — you remember Rich — is tracking what's going on and it's a bleeding mess. We need to get out in front of it. I'm going to do that and this'll help. I told you I didn't come here for 'tanna, and I wasn't kidding. I'm working."

He reaches into the bag, feels the cold, numb tingle of his body bilocating in space, the soft, static-cling pressure where the puddle of nothing laps at his wrists. He extracts the book just enough to lay it down inside of the duffel bag, heavy and gleaming with its linked chains.

One of his hands stays splayed atop it, pressing gently. There's a soft tingle in the air, subtle magic clinging to his lean arm. He is suppressing the book. Having it out in the open makes him nervous.

After a beat, he flashes Giovanni a quick knife of a smile. "I'm going to eat the pages, obviously."

/Obviously./

—-

He reminds him that he isn't seventeen years old anymore.

Giovanni's stare is level on John, and if he had any choice words for the advisement he receives, the older man doesn't say them. The words even sound a little accusatory, small, sharp darts seeking out scraps of acknowledgment like heat-seeking missiles, through the distance he has maintained between himself and the boy and while he isn't immune to them, the small twist within his ribcage is one that hardly manifests anywhere on his person.

He prizes his role as a father above all else; he can hardly expect those without children to understand why he says what he does.

"I remember Richard," he confirms instead. "Still in the same college campus, I assume?"

His long legs shift, tucking his knee underneath the back of another, a long arm draping on the back of the bench as he tilts his head back to keep track of the sea birds drifting over the pier's icy air. There's a cant of his head, the only confirmation John gets with his declaration to eat the pages, and says nothing - the boy knows what the risks are and while he expects some arcane assimilation there, this is not something unknown to him or John. He has performed and invented similar methods himself, though it has been years since he inscribed a whole spellbook inside of someone.

Four, in fact. Inside of his own daughter, his secrets stitched in her blood, her bones, her marrow.

John's proposal is slightly different - he intends to consume the essence of the thing and incorporate it in his own, which opens up different, but no less numerous avenues of risk.

And so a brow perks upwards over his right eye.

"Obviously," he confirms. "But if that is the purpose with which you intend to use them, you will not hear any objections from me. As I stated the last time we spoke, there is a considerable amount of traffic - the kind that cannot be ignored. I do not have any specific designs for those chapters in the book, take them and put them to good use."

—-

"Yeah Ritchie's not much for adventure these days," John answers grimly. He gestures at the book. "It's more than you think. I'm not being lazy." He slips his hand into one of his interior coat pockets, retrieving a scalpel with a cap on it. He thumbs the cap off, drops it into the duffel bag, and the blade is…different. It gleams, is barely visible. It's a shard of—

Of the stuff that winds its way through John's body, in fact. A piece of a plane that isn't this one. It's an unusual implement, although the blade itself would hardly be unknown to someone like Giovanni: it cuts the silver cord of astral wanderers. A nasty tool for a nasty purpose, only John's blade isn't lodged in some sort of ritual device engraved with runes and bathed thrice in virgin's blood under the who-knows-what kind of moon during the seventh conjunction of the so on and so forth — he's just stuck it in a scalpel and called it a day.

"We had time to look at the book. We were able to figure out the pattern to the hidden passages quickly enough. Different colors. /Wavelengths/, actually," he says, and slowly begins to open the cover of the book, paging through it toward the section he needs. "Light, color, same difference. Different magical resonances. And I realized I knew the colors. Chakras. Bunch of bollocks, that, but magicians like their mystic rubbish, don't they? An' that's how they did it. The book is /literally/ a body of work. Body, mind, spirit. The bit you can straight off, the body. The bit you can't, the mind. And the magic holding all of it together, spirit. Funny thing is, I'm pretty sure there are more of these 'individuals,' but this one just happened to have something I can use in it." He stops at the section of pages he needs. Four, altogether, each one thin as a whisper. Beautifully illuminated, the script.

"'tanna and I could've done it, but I promised you the book, so I 'ad to ask. Anyway, give it a bit of juice, would you? Transfusion, like, while I do the cuttin'. This'll cauterize it quick enough it doesn't bleed out everything you need, but better safe than sorry, eh?"

—-

"Modern mystics tend to have a certain flair for the theatrical," Giovanni muses. "Their ancient counterparts were no different. Xianmei…" Madame Chong, recently deceased. His ice-blue eyes tighten at the corners in remembrance. "…clued me in on the true nature of the tome when I came to see her almost a month ago looking for information on it. I take it my daughter already told you of the other things that it is supposed to be, but its bones are of tremendous importance to my current predicament. Not to say that it cannot also assist us in what is happening now." The older man tips his head back, his top hat staying miraculously in place, his eyes gravitating past the point between fluffy winter clouds and cerulean skies.

His mind wanders, but whatever his thoughts are, and they are most assuredly related to their present circumstances - the big 'thing' that John intends to work on - nothing manifests visibly but a slight twitch of his mustached lip.

He's already peeling off his other glove when John asks him to aid in the procedure, as if he had already anticipated it, tucking the lambskin affair with its other half within the pockets of his long coat and rubbing his hands together to ward off the winter chill. The older magician's fingers hover over the pages, just away from John's scalpel, curiosity burning away in favor of recognition when he espies the implement, but he says very little about that as well. The boy is capable enough, he knows even without the reminder, and he smoothly takes on the role of an assistant to the lead surgeon when he asks for…

…a boost.

His lips part to draw a breath:

"Ub-bug-seh a-oiugn-ad ag-gas ammald ag-gas gudu."

Old Babylonian magic, spoken backwards; it's a cerebral juggling act, but Giovanni makes it seem effortless.

The change is subtle, but John can feel it - a circle of protection etching underneath them, above them, to the sides of them, invisible to the mortal eye as he invokes the blessing of some of the world's most ancient protective deities to seal them in an ephemeral bomb chamber in the event that someething goes awry. They are, after all, in a public place, handling something powerful and dangerous that they're about to /cut into/. Even with the caliber of magical knowledge present here, Giovanni's concern is always for the public and he takes no chances.

His other hand lifts, flicking his wrist, his palm turning upwards as the other remains facing down.

He whispers; the words are gibberish and difficult to understand, but the pages grow warm in John's hands and the effects are subtle. They pulse, throb with Giovanni's magic and the older man uses his upturned hand to weave and pluck and rearrange these intangible threads of power with the practiced ease of a seasoned philharmonic conductor, directing the resulting ebb and flow at will.

—-

In spite of everything — in spite of John's resentment about his face, about Zatanna, about being treated like a mongrel stray that must be kept away at all costs, a resentment which is very real, even if he's managed to keep it subordinate to his respect — John feels, just briefly, as though they're rubber-banded back into the old days, when they did things like this more than just every now and again. Back when he thought he'd grow into being the kind of magician that Giovanni is. Newcastle had put a quick stop to that. They made him leery of using magic without excellent cause, to the extent that his modern colleagues believe he is nothing more than a /gutter mage/, as one of them said not so very long ago. That he's a man who has stolen secrets from the hands of his betters, like a fox in a henhouse, incapable of working greater mysteries of his own accord. Even in Hell, even amongst those who ought to know better.

It suits him well enough, most of the time. All the better to surprise them when they come calling.

There are times he misses it, though. Times when his ego itches and he has fleeting fantasies of showing the magical world his fist. Only ever fleeting, never truly touched with temptation. Beyond his ego, he grasps the value of magic better than most and openly derides his contemporaries, those who use it 'like water.'

In spite of everything that followed, his memories of the days when he would openly flex the muscle of his mystical abilities are not tainted. He ascribes the horrors that came to the appropriate source: himself. His time with Giovanni remains a chapter in his life where the lure of power was not yet curdled for him, and here, working alongside that man, however briefly, he samples a sweet, ghostly taste of what that was like.

It's over in seconds. John has deft hands, the blade is sharp enough to slice the soul from the body, and the Great Zatara's command over the stuff of magic makes child's play of the operation. The pages separate from the whole, still thrumming, still /alive/. It's very probable that the pages are stable in that state, that he could take them with him, but John does not care to chance it.

He regards them for a long, uncomfortable moment, and then thrusts them into his mouth and chews. The hand that held them curls into a fist in front of his mouth and his eyes close. It is…an effort.

Swallow.

One heartbeat. Two.

"Well," he says, hoarsely. "That wasn't so—"

The force of his stomach's rebellion brings him off of the bench and down onto his knees. What he throws up over the seawall is not /paper/ but instead a combination of what looks like flayed skin and ash, flesh and char. The ashes drift away, the bloody skin floats on the water. Fish will eat it, probably, he thinks, dizzy. His stomach is a pit of coals.

"Some days I— " He chokes down a gag. "— really hate this job."

—-

That, too, was calculated and one of the reasons that propelled him to send his daughter to John Constantine in the first place; much like his contemporaries, Giovanni Zatara occupies the planes of higher magic, his art elevated to the extent that he barely has to bother with the cruder mechanics of John's methods. And while they have clearly influenced Zatanna's own spellcasting, that was, in the end, what he had been truly after - there was no one else best suited to teach her the respect that magic demands, no matter the form, /especially/ when the girl remains unaware that every breath she takes is magic onto itself. That sort of natural ability is easily squandered, easily abused, another item in the list of motivations that has the older man keeping secrets from the one thing in the world that he unconditionally loves.

He isn't immune to it, either, this - his memories are long and in spite of the number of novices that have shadowed his door in various attempts to get him to teach them, he has only taken three students in his life, and one of them had not been privy to the more mystical aspects of his art - those were passed down to John and Zatanna, and whatever mistakes he made with John, he tried to curb with his own daughter. Perhaps, in the end, that had been his greatest error, remembering Newcastle, referenced so obliquely earlier. Perhaps he had left John to the world too soon.

But to linger around the boy was to court his attachment, and the boy has suffered /enough/. More than another human person can understandably bear. Even now he feels it - scorching heat, his wrinkled skin blistering from underneath. Excrutiating agony and the look on John Constantine's eyes as he burned away, his last command ringing in the seance chamber in which he was to meet his ultimate destiny.

Even now, he does. The great maestros of art suffered for their craft, and every magician worth their salt does the same. Giovanni watches as John falls on his knees and vomits.

He stands up from the bench, moving to get down on one knee next to the Englishman. A hand lifts to pat his back, thumping it solidly - not the most comforting of gestures, but it'll do the work of encouraging more of the book's viscera to eject from his body. Another hand, bearing a small glass bottle, offers it to John.

"Drink it." It's not a request. "As stated before, John. It is /old/."

He prizes his role as a father above all else.

With that, he rises again, moving to secure the book, closing it with a heavy thud and capping the scalpel very, very carefully. He sets this inside of the duffel bag, and cradles the tome of Saint Honorius under his arm.

"Is there any other word on the agents who have my daughter's blood?" he wonders, shifting on his feet, turning to glance back at John.

—-

The thump on the back /does/ do that work, not that John's particularly grateful. He spends another moment emptying his guts of the leavings of a living book, spits several times, and eventually, passing the sleeved crook of his arm over his crown to wipe the perspiration away, manages to get the bottle open and drink it. He doesn't even ask what it is. He'll find out once it's in him, whatever it is.

Trust. Still. After everything.

He glances down into the water at the mess, wishes he hadn't, and then sits back and rocks up onto his feet, returning to the bench, which he drops back onto without any grace save that which nature has provided his default state of being, careless in its way. "Yeah. Some Spider-hero of some sort has a line on a building. Knows what it looks like, knows it's on the waterfront, but not where it is. She's—" He hiccups behind his fist, still perspires. His metabolism is on fire.

"She's putting us in touch with him. Myself, a detective she knows, Chas likely. Had a chat with Steve Rogers this morning as well, and he's willing to help, so we'll have a little bit of muscle if things turn south." Hiccup. Mutters a soft, 'ah, christ.' "And we've got more information about the Nazi, as well, we just need to sit down with the detective."

No more hiccups after that, which is just as well, because something in his mood turns.

"There's something else."

He uses his feet on the ground to push him more upright, out of his loose sprawl on the bench, curling forward to brace his elbows. "'Tanna told me you've got history with the Wayne family, but something's not right. The other day she found a hidden passage in'is house because he'd been playing at magic. Not even /Earth/ magic, Gi. So he finds her snooping, and leads her upstairs, and she's got a bad feeling. Carves a spell into her back for a quick escape with her own bloody fingernail. And Bruce Wayne attacks her. Hits her in the throat, pumps her full of drugs. Chas found her face down on the sidewalk in front of the flat comin' home from groceries, and she's /lucky/ that he did. We got the drugs out of her system and she's /fine/, albeit obviously /hurt,/ because it sounds like she trusted this bloke. And I asked what she wanted done about it, and she said nothing. This being business between your families, that's fine, but I swear to Christ, Giovanni, if he touches her again I may not be able to look the other way. Maybe that's something you'll be able to straighten out before things get ugly. They're ugly enough as it is, mate."

—-

It isn't exactly Tears of the Host but it settles his stomach almost immediately, leaving a sweet, almost chalky, cloying sensation in the afterburn; the mystical world's equivalent to Pepto Bismol.

Giovanni waves a hand, a wordless gesture for John to keep the glass bottle with him, though his explanations on that will have to wait. He returns to his place on the bench once more, now that Constantine demonstrates that there is more to cover in this meeting, the tome placed carefully on his lap and his graceful fingers splayed protectively over the hard leather-and-metal cover. The trust that John demonstrates is noted quietly, as these small gestures are often the loudest indicators of John's emotional state at any given time. But his word from before stay true even now; it brings him no joy to see the boy suffer.

At the report on the search for Hanussen's agents, Giovanni's expression becomes all the more inscrutable, if that was even possible - a sure sign that he's about to tell John something that he isn't ready to elaborate upon when the inevitable questions start pouring in. He deliberates internally, but even then that is silent - unlike his daughter, he has long mastered the urge to quell any sign of restlessness, there is no tapping of his fingers on the book, no rolling back of his head. His breathing doesn't even change. When he wants to, the man's tells are absolutely impossible to evaluate.

"When the time comes to confront these elements, I will have to insist that you find a way to convince her to stay behind." He turns his face, settling those eyes on his former pupil. "She loves you." A surprising acknowledgment in itself, but he was never the sort to shy away from the truth anyway. "If you intend to face this yourself, it does not matter how big the group, or how august the company. She /will/ attempt to inject herself in the middle of this, and you must not let her. What she may potentially find at the end of it…" He hesitates. "After what she has suffered, if she faces this without adequate warning, she /will/ lose more than she bargained for, and I will not countenance you witnessing that either. It will be easier, if she hears from you whatever discoveries you find. She must be prepared for it, before she sees anything else."

He falls quiet at that.

"I wish I could explain, but I have meddled too much, too dangerously already."

/He still trusts you, Giovanni./

The 'something else' has him quirking a brow, and for the second time today, the rare surprise slashes over the impassive mien. Brows furrow and he gauges John's expression carefully - through the ice, he finds it, that flare of offense, that deeply hidden temper. His jaw pulses at where the hinge meets the high collar.

Even rarer than the surprise, but John would recognize it.

Conflict. Warring impulses.

Ever deft, ever perceptive, Giovanni looks away and stares out at the water, his fingers curling loosely into a fist.

"I know why Bruce acted the way he did," he says, finally, slowly standing from the bench. "But he has grievously overstepped. I will handle this myself."

—-

John takes the advice he's given with solemn, focused attention, but he smirks slightly as he's told he has to convince Zatanna, somehow, to stay behind. Not because he finds that a ludicrous suggestion — he could not agree more, frankly — but because it's obviously more difficult to accomplish than it is to say.

"I'll do what I can."

The rest…

John's eyes are crowbars on the man's typically unassailable countenance. He isn't usually interested in prying into whatever sits behind that mask. He has his own secrets, and men ought to be allowed to bury their skeletons if they can. This, though, is personal; while he may defer to his senior's history with the Waynes, what he /wants/ is a reprisal he has been asked not to be the architect of.

Whatever he sees in Giovanni's face must satisfy him, because his lingering dissatisfaction with that state of affairs wanes somewhat. "As you wish." He knows better than to ask after Wayne family secrets, no matter how much he might like leverage to use down the line.

Which is not to say that he has no hackles left, and his abiding malcontent not only with Wayne but with the man beside him manifests in a glint of something pointed in his expression. "Bruce Wayne was her /date/ on New Year's Eve," he says, sliding off of the bench and to his feet. He slants a look down at the man in the top hat. It would have more bite if his face hadn't been so recently ruined. The subtext is clear: and you're still worried about /me/.

"Anyway, I'd like to let you know about whatever happens, but I still have no way to get in touch with you, so when it's all over I suppose I'll just come back here, shall I?"

—-

At the slanted look, Giovanni gives John a returned stare of his own. "Bruce Wayne is perpetually surrounded by beautiful women," he retorts flatly. "I find it difficult to believe that he has same intentions towards my daughter as you do."

He can't. Right?

/Right/??

If he feels any uncertainty there, he doesn't show it. But John knows very well that he isn't just a father, he is an overprotective one. Given the state of his /face/, the man has proven how far he would go to prevent anyone from touching Zatanna in ways he doesn't approve of. That and perhaps, given the craziness of his entire life and his present circumstances, there has to be a rationale out there that he could clutch to keep himself /sane/, perhaps incapable of coming to grips with the idea that his little girl is /out there/ with grown men sniffing after her wake like sharks scenting blood in the water…

He remembers the screaming letter in his pocket. Slowly, slender fingers lift to /pinch/ at his nosebridge, the universal sign that he is already starting to feel the headache bloom from the back of his skull.

He turns, to banish the sound-nullification field, reality bending between his fingers again to cut open a gate, opening to another world; John would glimpse…sand. An endless desert under an alien sky.

"As for keeping in contact with me, your visits here will no longer be necessary. Keep the bottle with you, John."

And with that, he steps into the desert and moves up the sand, just before the rift seals shut.

—-

John quirks one brow, watches Giovanni disappear through a hole in space. He gives the landscape beyond a cursory glance, but there are many, many more worlds than these, and there's no point in being too curious, is there? Infinity exists.

The signs of an oncoming headache give John a warm, fuzzy, deliciously spiteful feeling. If he's going to have to suffer physical privations through this ridiculous arrangement, he's damn well going to enjoy making that as difficult as possible on the man responsible — within limits, very obviously.

And once he's gone, John bends, retrieves the duffel bag, slinging it over one shoulder. The senior magician's disbelief lingers, at once amusing and baffling.

"The way you carry on, a man might think you'd never had working tackle in your life, Giovanni Zatara," he says, rejoining the pedestrian traffic, and in the process alarming three of the people near enough to hear what he says.

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