Singular Choices

February 21, 2017:

Red Robin and Jessica Jones begin the hunt for John Constantine and Zatanna Zatara. Red is presented with a dangerous deal.

Begins at Alias Investigations, moves to Chinatown.

New York City, NY, which is not nearly as bad as Gotham, so that's something!


NPCs: Wong

Mentions: Zatanna Zatara, John Constantine, Peggy Carter, Captain America, Elinore Ravensdale, Batman, Daredevil, The Winter Soldier, Jane Foster, The Dark Devil, Trish Walker

Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

Though Red Robin had proceeded… Mostly directly to Alias Investigations after his sudden arrival in New York, timing had worked against him.

That was an irritant, though basically an irrational one: He couldn't honestly expect Jessica to just sit around waiting for him to appear out of thin air when she might not even know that anything was wrong, and doubtlessly had her fair share of other things to worry about. She was a private investigator, after all. She had to make a living.

So the vigilante has spent most of the past few days on a fruitless stakeout, crouched on a shadowy rooftop by the Abyss with his surveillance equipment set up. Learning the places rhythms even as he tries to look into it through other means. Whatever it is, it doesn't seem to be a typical club, no matter how exclusive… Even a few cautious inquiries using the Wayne name hadn't gotten any traction, and that was a surname that could get him into all sorts of elite places.

The equipment is, of course, still running even though he isn't there. Feeding information to the computers at his penthouse loft in downtown Manhattan, the systems eternally watchful and programmed with face and voice recognition software that will alert him if certain people show up. There's still no response on his phone - he checks periodically, as though it wouldn't start buzzing if he received a message; he was always thorough - no anything. As though certain people had just dropped off the face of the Earth.

He hasn't slept since Friday.

Having grown impatient, the caped and cowled young man decides to instead wait at Alias Investigations rather than taking off and hoping to have better luck when he returns; dark outside and dark inside, whenever Jessica comes back she'll find him just there, his black cape curled around himself as he leans against a wall. On the upside, at least he doesn't seem to have been looking through any of her stuff while she was out.


Jessica did indeed have a living to make, and one of the largest and most lucrative cases to cross her desk has indeed been capturing much of her attention. She arrives dressed as Jessica Knight; in a brand new suit with a red power blouse, her hair in a bun, though the little glasses are folded up in her pocket.

Really, she's pretty much just getting used to people just sort of being at her place. She never bothers to lock the door unless it's night time, and even then she is more or less her own security system, as are the two girls living with her. Her laptop has been retired since she started using the Stark Phone, reserved for Cindy's use, now, though she hasn't had time to get it to her. The primary tool of her livelihood is now small enough to fit in her pocket, and any more expensive equipment is locked up in a storage room. People could get the furniture, but that's why she has both a renter's policy and a business policy. If he had looked through her stuff he'd have found not-much exciting anyway; she carries her pills with her. She supposes there are underthings, but…whatever.

And because he is in front of her, and not behind her…she doesn't even start. She does however look at his body language…the cape curled around him almost like a blanket, so very different from the "I am Always In Control Legendary Shadow of the Night" persona that he usually carries with him.

Really, they just need to set up some sort of internal social network, these heroes, and be done with it, so they can contact each other at need.

She closes the door gently behind her and asks, "What's happened, Red?" He doesn't show up for social visits; the cases they've worked on together are, as far as she knows, stalled, and something about his stance is setting off her 'something's wrong' alarm bells.

"And when's the last time you've eaten?" It might be odd to hear something so…motherly? Big sisterly? From the PI, especially when Red watched her make a big, messy, embarrassing scene the other night. But…taking care of Az and Cindy has awoken the instinct, whatever it actually is, and working brings out her better self nearly always.


Because his brain is pretty much always working, Red Robin in fact spends much of the time while he waits thinking about an actual decent security system for the place; nothing too fancy or obvious, since that would just signal that there was something potentially worth looting, but…

Really, it's just something to keep his mind busy, because everything else is currently going nowhere. Which is frustrating, and he knows that giving in to frustration won't help anything.

Thus, self-distraction.

The leaning against the wall is an unconscionable lapse in self-control, as bad in its way as when he let his information security slip all those weeks ago and told Jessica something there was no way he should've known as Red Robin; he convinces himself that it won't matter, that there's nobody to see him, that he'll straighten up as soon as he hears someone at the door… But he doesn't, missing the cues that should've had him shifting into a more upright position.

And then there's Jessica, dressed all… Respectably. His head tilts slightly to one side, almost birdlike in keeping with his name, the PI's disguise looking remarkably incongruous with everything else he knows about her. There's a temptation, briefly, to make a joke about it. Is she moonlighting as a librarian? Getting a normal 9 to 5 job and hanging up her gumshoe's license?

But she asks an important question that refocuses him, rather than bothering with social niceties. He straightens up, his cape shifting slightly, though before he can answer she asks him something else, apparently concerned about him, which is strange. Of course, Red Robin didn't see that embarrassing, messy scene; it was just Tim Drake, some friend of Zatanna's from school. And, fortunately, he didn't see the messiest and most embarrassing part of the scene.

"I'm fine," he says, which is not an answer to the question about when he last ate. Perhaps he was trying to project that sense of control, to behave like someone like him did not eat, as though Jessica hadn't seen him do exactly that at Constantine's, after the first encounter with the utopia machine. "When was the last time you spoke with Miss Zatara, or Constantine? I have reason to suspect something might've happened."


Jessica walks over to her desk and leans against it, letting the issue of Red and his need to eat go. She reaches behind her to pull the bun out of her hair, letting her long, ebony locks trail free. "I last spoke to John a few nights before Valentine's Day, while he was getting Zee her gift. A day or so after that Zee and I were at the grocery store together…and that's it. I hadn't worried because believe it or not they usually contact me in what I would call fairly predictable 7 to 10 day cycles, and it hadn't been that long yet."

But she can't hide the concern in her words.

Nor does she even bother to hide the way she goes on-point like a bulldog ready to hunt. "If you think something's happened, it probably has. What have you found?"

She pulls the phone out— grimacing with a bit of embarrassment because he gave her money and now she's equipped to the nines, noting, "New client, very free with equipment," before she hits "3" on her speed-dial.

She puts it on speaker.

It's a formality.

It's due diligence. She's dialing John Constantine, but the way her eyes track Red, not the phone as it rings and rings, she already does not expect an answer at all. She trusts Red's instincts, his skill as a Detective, far outstripping her own in ways she can't even track.

If he says something is wrong…something is.


Of course, Red Robin recognises the Stark phone immediately, because he would.

He doesn't say anything about it, though Jessica does, embarrassed it appears to be showing off something shiny and new after he'd gone to all the effort to help shore her up when it came to her housing situation. He shakes his head slightly. Don't worry about it, the gesture says; he'd done what he'd done, after all, to make sure she could get her feet underneath her properly. Without the looming specter of eviction, or having to spend all of her money - especially when she was refusing to take any from Zatanna - on repairs, she would be able to do exactly that, and if she needed a better phone to do her job, who was he to say otherwise?

Of course, he'd also done it because it would be one less thing for Zatanna to worry about, when Jessica refused to accept payment from her. An action often has multiple motivations behind it.

"She hasn't returned home since the fourteenth," that electronically modulated voice says, stripped of much of what would make it recogniseably human. "On its own, not necessarily anything to worry about since she was with Constantine, however she was also working on something of her own before then. Expanding her occult contacts. I tried to contact her with some information I learned about Steinschneider, but she hasn't responded. And the last time I spoke with her…" He trails off, consdering. Should he, or shouldn't he? As always, there are secrets to consider, secrets that aren't his. "…She seemed afraid," he settles on. "Some encounter she and Constantine had shook her."


The voice mail clicks on. Jessica leaves one out of rote. "John, call me," she says. "We're worried."

That's it.

Then she slips the phone away.

"I assume you started looking before you ever came here," she says slowly. "Flattering as it might be to think I'd be your first call at your first sniff of trouble, it seems more like you to poke around, do your own investigation until you'd reached the end of your own rope. So walk me through it, Red. What have you already tried? What do you already know?"

She crosses behind her desk, swallowing against a sudden lump in her throat. But she's going to remain in control. She's going to remain calm and ready, because the only thing that might protect their friends now is the ability to think. Her mind is trailing through possible courses of action.

She takes solace in familiar things, withdrawing a yellow legal pad and a fresh pen. She writes JC & ZZ on the top and underlines it three times, not because it needs underlining three times, but because it's something for her slightly shaking hand to do.

Zatanna Zatara saved her, and is as close as a sister.

John Constantine is in many ways her best and closest friend in the world.

They were the first people she learned to love besides Trish Walker, and the first people she really let back into her life after she'd decided she couldn't trust either herself or other people. And now something might have happened to them while she merrily went about her business.

Her stomach twists, but she takes a deep breath and looks up at Red expectantly.

There is nothing to do but work the case.


'What do you already know?'

"Very little," Red Robin admits, his hand moving under his cape, getting something out of his utility belt. "Miss Zatara… Was concerned that I wouldn't ask for help unless I was actually dying," which was a fair assessment, really, but he's not going to admit that. "So she marked me with a spell. If I use it, it should take me to within line of sight of her, in case I need her to put me back together. I figured that was the easiest way to find out where she was, so I used it, and it took me here."

He puts a small object on the desk; it looks like a smartphone's angry cousin who gets into lots of fights, the case black and angular. It's the same device he used at the Cold Flame's stronghold, though whether Jessica would remember that given all the everything else that happened is an open question. He fiddles briefly with it, and then a blue-tinged image appears in the air over it: The entrance to the Abyss, with its imposing, unmoving tuxedo-clad doorman.

"Miss Zatara was nowhere to be seen. Either she made a mistake when she set up the spell," in which case he'll have to have a long conversation with her once they save her from whatever it is, because she carved it into him with a knife, "or something went wrong. Maybe that place has some kind of magic on it that blocked me from entering, and so the spell dumped me outside. The closest place I could get to where she was. It's some kind of nightclub, though details about it are scarce, at least through conventional means. Miss Zatara told me that New York has a thriving supernatural community… Maybe the place is designed to cater to that community, instead of ours."


Abyss Nightclub, Jessica writes.

"Zatanna would not mess up a spell. She's a goddamn prodigy and we both know that. And she'd certainly answer calls if that's all there was to it. Would that spell try to do anything if she was dead?"

Her voice is tight, but steady. It's the most important and most obvious question. Proof of life. Are they still alive. Because she can consider other angles as soon as she knows that.

She starts scribbling down courses of action though, making mind maps, asserting as much control over this situation as she can. She'll address those in a moment; she wants that most important question out of the way now. Her pen moves, but her eyes are totally on him; splitting her focus without much effort, dumping her brain on the page while he talks as she's done so many times before.


"Everyone makes mistakes," Red Robin says. He knows that he certainly does, and even the Batman messes up or miscalculates. "It's unlikely that she did, but we can't dismiss it entirely. The spell itself should function as long as she's alive, and it's…" He might as well, he figures. In for a penny, in for a pound. "…it's etched into my skin." Pushing his cape back, he presses the fingers of his right hand against the inside of his left forearm, where vital veins and delicate tendons work.

'Do you always go for the most dangerous route?' she'd asked him, then.

'Only when it's the best option,' had been his reply. But maybe Zatanna was more right than she'd realised.

"If she dies, I'll know, Miss Jones. So for now, we operate under the assumption that they're both alive, but unable to contact us." Red Robin considers, because up until now he'd been avoiding considering too much, hoping that Jessica would have some information that could help him add context to what he knew. "Held captive, maybe. We need to find out whatever we can about that place," he indicates the holographic image still floating in the air. "And if we can get access. I have the entrance under surveillance, but there hasn't been anything useful yet."


"I can tap someone to get us access, I think." Jessica says quietly. "I hope. I know one more wizard. Fortuitously, she lives right down the hall. I owe her way more than she owes me, but…she's a good person. I think she'll help."

"I do also have a lead. There was a weird encounter with a gang in Chinatown. I'd already been working it, but…I wasn't getting far. They spoke to Constantine by name, and then they attacked us. We fought them off, they ran away, that seemed to be the long and short of it. They were mundane. Latinos in the wrong part of town. So…here's what I propose."

She gets up, walking into her bedroom to hang up the suit jacket. She closes the door and drags on her jeans, speaking through it. "First, you and I are going to Chinatown tonight. We're going to go see Wong, the contact John saw directly before the attack, see if he knows anything or is behind it. I wouldn't have tried to burn one of John's contacts before, but now? Now he's missing, so dude can pony up."

The jeans are new, as she walks out. So is the leather jacket. Boots are the same. She's pulled on a dark green t-shirt too. She looks far more herself, if a cleaner version of herself. Then again, hasn't she mostly been trying to get clean?

"If he doesn't know, we might be able to trade with him for hedge spells. All he can get. Zatanna said you'd been studying how magical objects move across the underworld. We need a locator spell, or a communication spell, or anything we can get. Maybe as we get books we can let Jane go through them while you and I work. If you bounced, and she's not dead, my guess is alternate dimension. I know it's a weird thing to jump to, but considering I've been tossed in two of them now…" She shrugs. "It seems to be a favorite tactic in wizard warfare. And they wouldn't just go on a jaunt to one of those without telling us. So we go see Wong, you work your other contacts to see what else we can shake out, and I see if Elinor Ravensdale can get one or both of us into Abyss…or go in, and have a look for herself."

She also starts pulling out her phone, creating a group text message. "Meanwhile, I'm texting all the other people who went looking for her blood in Switzerland that I can. Get more minds on the problem. I'll have to wait for Spidey to show up; I have no way to get to him unless you do, but…" Jessica shrugs. "We're all stronger together than apart."

Such an odd thing for her, of all people, to be saying, but…that's the lesson she's had hammered home to her again and again, since November.

She realizes, suddenly, that she's totally just taking charge, and she clears her throat, keenly aware that in the past she hasn't always shown that she's someone who ought to be doing that. "Sound good?"

Group Text:

Be advised - Zatanna Zatara, John Constantine - Missing. Working a lead. Will touch base in person later.


When Jessica goes to change - exploiting the flimsiness of the internal construction so she can keep talking to him while she does so - Red Robin retrieves his phonelike device, locking it and returning it to its spot on his utility belt. Out of a curious kind of politeness, he doesn't even look towards the door, but the vigilante does listen attentively, his cowl's enhancements making it all the easier to hear her. It's only when she reemerges, looking more like herself and less like a schoolteacher that he turns his attention visibly that way, the inscrutable white-lensed gaze falling on the PI.

"I can contact Spider-Man," he says, with a brief nod. "I'm not sure how useful what I've learned from Miss Zatara's books," although he supposes they are more aptly her /father's/ books, "will be, but it's better to have some idea of what's going on than none at all." That's why he wanted to learn in the first place. He has no interest in becoming a magic-user himself, especially after what Zatanna told him about the costs of such things, but…

Well, if it came down to rescuing her, there's quite a lot of costs he'd be willing to pay.

There's a small, tight smile on the visible part of Red Robin's face when Jessica clears her throat, when she turns her take-charge attitude around and asks him if her ideas sound good.

"Don't second-guess yourself, Miss Jones," he says, booted feet moving across the floor without a sound, no matter how creaky certain sections might be normally; he opens the window out onto the fire escape, slipping out onto the metal structure before looking back in expectantly.

"It's a good plan. My usual inclination would be to keep things smaller, I'd be leery about groups like SHIELD finding out too much about what's going on." As someone who likes to know as much as he can about everything going on while letting on as little as he can about himself, it's probably unsurprising that he isn't a big fan of organisations like that. "Come on, we'll get to Chinatown faster this way."

He holds one hand out to Jessica; his other hand is holding a grapple gun.

"Hold on tight," he says.

"…Not too tight, though," the young man adds a moment later, because he knows Jessica is ridiculously strong.


Jessica steps out onto the fire escape and closes the window behind her. "Not SHIELD. Just Peggy, though I'm sure she'll pass it to Captain America." Jess could, she supposes, just call Captain America on the weird direct line she has, but that seems wasteful when she can just text Peggy. The man is busy.

"She likes John, and she has resources we don't have." It's Peggy now, where it had been Agent Carter before; and there's some actual affection there, in addition to real admiration and respect. "She won't spill to SHIELD. They're on a need-to-know basis, and they don't need to know."

She eyes Red a little incredulously for just a moment as he offers this set-up of his, her expressive face saying 'Are you shitting me?' clear as daylight.

But in the end, she takes his hand. When she does, her grip feels…exactly like a normal woman's would. "My control is better than you think," she says, self-consciously. "And I'm pretty intense about not misusing my powers. It would kill me to accidentally harm someone, or to harm someone on purpose if they didn't deserve it. Especially a friend." She has seen some of the wariness people have exerted around her. She's seen Red do it. It's made her intensely uncomfortable, and here is a chance to address it with at least one other person.

She could probably leap it herself, but…meh. Why get separated? Granted, she's a control freak, and having someone else in control of the ride will be a challenge for her. She already knows this. So she breathes in and out until she's got herself 100% ready to go, then says, "Alright. Go."


Though he's consulted with Agent Carter before, Red Robin isn't as certain about that as Jessica is… But, it's her choice who she confides in. He certainly isn't about to contradict her or tell her what to do, instead quite willing to let her operate under her own discretion. After all, she could very well be right.

What she tells him about her strength, though, gives the cowled young man a bit of pause, though of course it's difficult to tell just what he's actually thinking when that getup hides so much of his face, especially his eyes. That's kind of the point of the cowl, reducing him to a cipher, to something inscrutable and inhuman. But… Well, he has a better idea of some of the things Jessica has been through than most people do, especially since his uncomfortably close to the mark deduction the last time he'd visited her office. And…

'Especially a friend.'

Guilt is something he's used to feeling, ever since he first put on the costume of the Boy Wonder what seems like a hundred lifetimes ago. And now, he'd been so laser focused on needing to find out what had happened to Zatanna and Constantine, he'd failed to consider that might be an additional source of raw emotions for Jessica, someone who could use another person's faith more than anything else.

"I'm sorry, Miss Jones," he says. "Sometimes my mouth gets out ahead of my brain."

He lets go of her hand, slipping that arm, armored and gauntleted, around her waist so she can hang onto him… And then he lifts the grapple gun, a quiet *paff* in the air as it launches its line at a nearby, taller building.

And then it starts reeling them in, building speed and momentum, before the line actually releases, leaving them to float in the air as his cape stretches out, the memory material briefly becoming kind of a glider or parachute… Until he fires another line, to swing them around towards Chinatown.

And to think, he does this all the time, with no superpowers at all.


"Only sometimes? Well, fuck, Red, lucky you. That's mine 24/7," Jessica says, her mouth curving into a wan half smile. The words are sincere. Jessica has a lot of forgiveness to spread around. She pulls off too much bullshit herself, needs forgiveness far too much herself, to withhold it from others she cares about.

She hangs onto him, again feeling like a normal woman. The muscles in her arms and body do all tense, but it's all internally directed; she doesn't so much as squeeze. She doesn't scream either; she's used to watching the world speed by beneath her. Just not quite like this, not in ways that are in someone else's hands.

She is not going to be fun on the plane.

And to think indeed. Jessica's commentary on this flight is an affectionate, "Jesus fuck, you've got balls of solid rock, Red. Mine's all vertical. I think I'd have wet myself the first time I launched myself at a god damn building." Of course, despite her tension she's not wetting herself now; a measure of trust. She also rattles off Wong's address.


Truthfully, doing this with another person isn't the usual way of things, and it really makes it a lot more dangerous… But you'd never know that from the way Red Robin is behaving, as though he swings across cities on a flimsy line carrying someone with one arm all the time.

It's a relief that she isn't screaming or anything - Zatanna ended up using some kind of spell to muffle herself the last time he carried her, and then got her revenge by making him teleport on the way back - and doubly a relief that it doesn't seem like she's about to lose her lunch either as they arc low swing high, or those moments of no gravity at all when they float in the air between swings.

"I did, the first few times," he admits, though it's difficult to say if he's being serious or if it's some attempt to lighten the mood despite his gnawing concern. "I was only fourteen, though."

As they get closer to Chinatown, the caped vigilante starts reducing their forward momentum, looking for a likely rooftop to land on. Where they do eventually come down is not too far from the address Jessica provides him: He actually has a pretty good map of New York inside of his head, these days.

As for the way down, he's pretty sure Jessica can handle herself on that, so he just jumps off the side of the building and down into a dingy alleyway, using his cape to slow his fall and let him land easily on his feet, before heading in the direction of this Wong's place; he's careful, still, because he remembers the first time he met Spider-Man, the latter getting shot at in costume because he tried to get a hot dog.


Fourteen? A look of startlement crosses Jessica's face.

And then, briefly, her mouth tightens in anger. She has definite Opinions about people who throw children into things they shouldn't be in. To her it's tantamount to abuse, and that's something she has no tolerance for. However, she's wise enough to keep her mouth shut on that one…she won't start trashing Red's mentor. And. Well. The results are undeniably phenomenal.

She does indeed, landing beside him, her feet hitting trash which spins away as she looks up to regard Wong's Chinese Restaurant and Takeaway on the intersection of Canal and Broadway. It hardly looks like the type of place which would lead them to their quarry, but she nods to him and goes right in past the warriors in their perpetual battle on the window; black and white, good and evil.

The food smells pretty freaking amazing. Jessica waits for Red to go in with her, and then makes a beeline for the elderly woman working the storefront. "We need to see Wong," she says, full of confidence that she will be seen.

She is no John Constantine. They might remember the tarted-up version of herself who walked into this place playing bodyguard, but they don't remember Red. Jessica has no credibility, and it shows.

She says nothing as she just leaves them standing there, walking into the back.

Jess slides her hands into her pockets, lifting her chin, planting her feet, squaring her shoulders, subtlety communicating that she's not to be moved. Oddly the customers don't really pay them any overt mind, most of them. Red can pick out one or two that have given them immediate attention. The type with guns, pointed in their direction from under tables or behind counters. There's even one from behind a curtain, trained on Jessica's head.


Naturally, Red Robin looks deeply out of place, standing in the middle of a Chinese restaurant in his full getup, but there's that confidence about him that makes it unlikely to be questioned all on its own; that keeps it from being outright ridiculous, and to some people might even push it to the degree where they feel that /then/, in normal clothing, are the ones who don't look right. His cape hangs around him, hiding his hands, hiding everything in a shroud of shadow except for that yellow and black logo on his chest, the bird's head in silhouette.

The smell of the food makes him hungry.

But the response to Jessica's statement makes him think that they won't get the chance to try any.

"Are you bulletproof?" he wonders of Jessica, quietly. The answer probably doesn't really matter.

He steps forward, putting himself in front of Jessica, having already mentally counted the guns, plotted the trajectories. If he was alone, he could do it. Having to account for another person makes things a bit more awkward, he can't predict everything she could or will do.

"<I believe we've gotten off on the wrong foot>," he says in perfect Cantonese, his accents right off the streets of Hong Kong. "<My associate here made a peaceful request to speak with Mister Wong, a mutual friend of theirs by the name of John Constantine is in danger and we were hoping to get some information. We aren't here for any trouble, however please rest assured that if it comes to violence, she and I will be the only people in here still conscious in the next five minutes.>"

He almost wishes it would.

He might have some anger to work out.


"No-pe," Jessica mutters, drawing out the No part, under her own breath. "The clothing is, believe it or not. Should have worn a helmet and a facemask, clearly, but that would ruin my friendly and approachable image and shit." Said ever so deadpan.

She lets him step in front, arching her eyebrows, tensed and ready to leap up so that bullets hit her legs and not her noggin. But then he's speaking in Chinese, and she…chuffs a laugh. Oh. Of course. Red the Polyglot.

Really, if he ever disses himself for not having powers she's going to have Things To Say.

The woman stops at the door to the backroom when addressed in her own language. She narrows her eyes, but it's obvious John Constantine has caught her attention. As…has the threat.

Her lips thin, and she appears to be considering. She points one long, gnarled finger at Red and answers in the same language. <You come,> she says. <And I will retrieve Mr. Wong to hear you out. The woman stays, and sits there…> Right at the intersection of all three guns, where they can easily, in their minds, perforate her every organ if need be. <And remains on good behavior. With respect, my young caped visitor, if either you or she displays anything other than the utmost respect for Wong or our fine establishment, rest assured that she will only be conscious long enough to know what it feels like to die.>

She arches a thin eyebrow as if to ask if these terms are acceptable to him.


Years of operating in the Gotham underworld has taught Red Robin a lot of lessons about how to deal with the shadier side of the street: He knows he can't always come in like the Bat, a full on wrecking ball, especially when he needs something… But it's also important to project a certain amount of strength even when you're playing nice. The threat is quite possibly just a statement of fact, and the cowled vigilante certainly projects the idea that he believes he's more than capable of doing what he said, even if it means beating up a little old lady, though he doubts that this Wong would make for an amiable conversation partner afterwards.

Still, it's nice to present people options. Honey offered with one hand, vinegar with the other.

"<That will be fine, thank you>," he answers the woman, with a short bow, before he turns his attention to Jessica. "Bad news, you're a hostage," the vigilante tells Jessica, quietly, reaching out to guide her towards the indicated table. "You need to sit right there in the eyeline of the gunmen and play nice while I go speak to our host. Play nice, maybe try the lo mein. If things look like they're going to go down, get out of here."

She might not notice - and definitely nobody else would notice - the way he palms something into her pocket: A smokebomb. Just in case.

And then he turns and walks, at a measured and nonthreatening pace, towards the old woman.

"<We'll both be on our best behaviour, I assure you. We have much more interest in information than trouble. If you please?>"


"Sure, I like lo mein," Jessica says, shrugging her shoulders. If she's frightened by the fact that she's now a hostage she doesn't let it show. Of course, Red knows her pretty well by now; and knows that there's a lot of very real, very human emotions under the surface, and that her shutting down outwardly is no guarantee they're not churning inwardly. But they both know their business, and Jessica sits and looks plaintively up at a waiter like she hasn't a care in the world.

The woman shrugs at the waiter and gestures to her, silently ordering him to serve their guest. Jess may or may not get a bite to eat. Smoke will ruin the Lo Mein. But this might be a long meeting on Red's part too.

She's not really that hungry, even though this is exactly the kind of food she loves. But she's now had time to learn that failing to eat means triggering the DTs, something she can ill afford right now. She orders to go for Red while she's at it.

The woman inclines her head when she feels Jessica is appropriately secured, and takes him through a beaded curtain into a back room. A single, circular table sits in the middle of a dimly lit space, surrounded by bookshelves. Incense curls out of the burner on the back of the room.

<Please have a seat.>

And then she is gone.

He is not left to wait long. Wong emerges, dressed impeccably in a business suit, a frown playing over his features. Since Red has done them the courtesy of speaking in Cantonese, he keeps right on in that language.

<I ought to have known that it wouldn't be enough to ask John to take himself out of my shop. I ought to have known he'd bring trouble right back to my doorstep anyway.> He offers a hand though. <I am Wong, as you might have surmised. Whom do I have the honor of addressing?>


In a way, it's a show of faith in Jessica: If Red Robin didn't think she could handle it, then he probably would've just had the pair of them back out as quickly and safely as possible… And lose a possible lead on what had happened to Zatanna and Constantine.

Which might open up the question of just how much of it is a show of faith, and how much is pure necessity. How much would he risk to help the two magic-users? Especially the gothic Princess of Prestidigitation?

But the PI hides whatever concerns she might have well, and similarly Red Robin projects calm, confidence, control. As though he had no reason to be worried, as though he weren't the one potentially in far greater danger than Jessica: She might end up getting shot at, true, but between her natural abilities and the smokebomb he'd left in her pocket, she had good odds of making it out alive. He was heading into the belly of the proverbial beast, and potentially dealing with a dangerous magic-user who might not be charitably inclined towards this intrusion.

Which was all the more reason to keep the little present he'd gotten from Gerry Craft, by way of the Spoiler, hidden and close at hand. He'd been furious earlier that she'd managed to sneak it back onto his person after he'd done the same to her earlier, but at the moment the possibility that he might need the ward was too high to ignore.

"<Thank you>," is his polite response to the old woman, before he does indeed settle himself down on one of the chairs. Red Robin permits himself only the briefest glance at his surroundings - more to gauge any possible escape routes or angles of approach than anything - before turning his attention to the table itself, again not wanting to project any uncertainty. Besides, he isn't left alone long.

He rises again, taking the offered hand for a brief but firm shake, privately not surprised that Wong had told Constantine to get out previously. He knows from multiple sources that John Constantine is not often a welcome guest to people who know who he is and what he represents. But Red Robin would be an enormous hypocrite if he cast aspersions on someone else for bringing trouble in their wake: Trouble follows /him/ as closely and as surely as his cape.

"<Red Robin>," he introduces himself. "<Thank you for taking the time to speak with me, Mister Wong. I would've called ahead, but this was a bit of a surprise trip. I wish I could say that your insight wasn't accurate, but I'm afraid you're right. Constantine and a young woman named Zatanna Zatara have both gone missing, and I may need your help finding them. The furthest I could track them was to a nightclub called the Abyss.>"


It doesn't matter. Jessica has told the Princess she'd take a bullet for either one of them. It's a decision she agrees with. If they'd been offered a choice she'd have sent him ahead anyway. If anyone is going to eat a bullet tonight, it's going to be her: the older alcoholic with super-powers. And the smoke bomb.

Wong has a poker face, he listens.

<I had nothing to do with that,> he says at last. <I know that might be a natural conclusion to draw, but though I do not like for John to hang around for very long, neither do I bear him ill will. Our association is, for the most part, both an amiable and a profitable one. It seems strange that anything would happen to them in Abyss, either. It's usually considered to be a sort of…neutral territory. Not a place where grudges would play out openly, not a place where violence would be tolerated. Otherwise it would be in flames every other night. He came to me for a Dragon Pearl; we completed our transaction and he left with…> He glances up at a camera. <His bodyguard, there.>

<Still, there may be ways I can help. For the right price.> He doesn't look at all apologetic at making it clear that there will, in fact, be a price.


'I had nothing to do with that.'

Like Wong, Red Robin has an excellent poker face. Sure, the cowl helps, but so do years of intensive, brutal and often literally life or death training: The Dark Knight wasn't the harshest teacher he had, not when he regularly had to deal with the sorts of people who would take a momentary flinch of weakness as all the excuse they needed to torture and kill him. But whatever he thinks about Wong's words, he has every intentions of trying to verify them, rather than blindly trusting… The problem is, it's a rather small circle of people who could tell him anything pertinent, which makes it tougher to keep any fact-checking from getting back to the man in question.

He is, of course, memorising everything said. Every word, every inflection. About his working relationship with Constantine, about the Abyss and its purported neutrality, about what he sold to Constantine.

But, like all businessmen, he offers help for the right price.

Zatanna had told him there was always a price, but Red Robin knew that already. Not just magic; it's a rule for nearly everything in life. Most people are not selfless, especially in the places he does his work. Most of them want something.

"<I wouldn't have expected otherwise>," the costumed young man replies. "<Which leaves us with the question of what sort of help you might be able to offer, Mister Wong, and what you might want in return>."


Wong steeples his fingers for a long moment, for there is the matter of what he's willing to offer. And the fact that he is starting to want Red out of his shop almost as badly as he'd wanted Constantine out of there.

He says, "<I can offer one of three things, and you may decide which you wish to partake of. The first…a reading. Not some back-alley fortune teller's reading, but a reading of the true I Ching, which may give you next steps that you might not otherwise receive, and help you skip steps that you might otherwise have to take.">

He pauses to let that sink in. "<I might also be able to arrange an invitation to the Abyss. For one such as you it would otherwise be impossible for you to go. I do not know what you could accomplish there on your own; but you seem resourceful. Perhaps someone there knows something.">

"<Finally, there is what is perhaps a wild card option. I can obtain magical goods of all kinds, even things you may be able to use in your search. Depending on what has happened to them, something I can procure might be useful to you. I might also be able to broker conversations with certain entities who might be helpful, though you would have to do your own dealing with them; I would merely take my cut and leave you both to it. That last would take a significant amount of time to do; such negotiations are delicate, especially if they're going to take place in a way that leaves your blood inside of your body doing what it does best.>"

He spreads his hands. "<Or all three, I suppose, though that could get…expensive. For you.>" The way he emphasizes the word 'expensive' indicates it's not money he's after, but…then again, Red's own research and talks with Zatanna had already told him that good old fashioned American Dollars were very rarely the coins of these realms.


It would, of course, be much easier for Red Robin if good old fashioned American dollars /would/ be any use here, because that's always something he can easily lay hand on.

But, things rarely work out that way.

Weighing the possible offers is difficult when there's still so much they don't actually /know/. Access to the Abyss might get them all the information they need, or it might get them absolutely nothing. Magical goods would indeed be a wild card, and there was again no way of knowing if anything Wong could procure would be useful, and brokering conversations with 'certain entities'…

Zatanna had warned him about that. He didn't need the warning, of course: Atheist or not, he knows that there are powerful, dangerous things out there, and that trying to make any sort of arrangements with them can be extremely hazardous to one's person.

What he needs then, first and foremost, is information. Something to go on, rather than drifting aimlessly.

"<You're gracious to offer so many options, Mister Wong>," is the respectful reply from Red Robin. Even with the books he's been lent from Giovanni Zatara's library, he still feels out of his element, and of course the people he would normally contact under such circumstances are the very ones who've gone missing. "<Suppose that I was interested in a reading, then, in the hopes that it would provide some useful information about the whereabouts of these two missing people. As you said, your association with Constantine has been profitable… It doesn't seem to me that there's much upside for you if something unfortunate and permanent were to happen to him. But of course, you're a businessman. What would you require in payment>?"


Wong's eyes are serious. "<A single day of potential, sun up to sun down.>"

He holds up a finger, and here, he does Red a courtesy in turn by switching to English, for he wants the young man to be very certain that he understands.

"Our futures are not set in stone. They are made up of the choices that we make. When one sees the future one is seeing the outcome of those potential choices, the most likely choices, both the choices you make, and the choices others make. Each of those choices generates a certain amount of potential, and that potential is energy, force, magic—power."

He takes out a small black bag, rubbing his thumbs over it. "Arguably, the very act of hearing a True Reading can cut off some of that potential, leave it wasted forever. The very act of hearing what must be heard will lay paths for you in the dust of your choices. You will have knowledge you would not have had; therefore, you will be far more likely to make certain choices. However, just because it seems as though something will be wasted does not mean that it will not cost you. Bargaining with potential like that can bite you in the ass. There will be exactly 12 hours during the course of your life where you simply will not have choices at all. It could be dribbled out in minutes. It could come at you over the course of hours. Or it could be one long sun-up-to-sundown stretch where you desperately want choices…but they will flee from you. Twelve hours throughout your long life, spun out unpredictably, where there will be but one path, and Fate being what it is…the singular choice before you will not be a pleasant one. Worse, you will recognize each moment as being of your own making…there will be no deceiving yourself that this was not a position you put yourself in."

He shrugs. "It is not a kind offer. But as it happens, I need potential right now, and I cannot think of much more that someone with no magic could offer me. I've no use for your soul, nor for days of your life, nor even for your luck. It is your potential I need. And someone like you…you have much of it to offer. The bodyguard too, if you wished to divvy it up. The threads that swirl around you both say your choices impact more than most people's choices would. Though yours is stronger. You are both younger and more versitile. Nevertheless, whether you take all 12 or do six and six…it matters not to me."

The incense flairs as he sets the bag down; he twirls some of its smoke between his fingers as it drifts absently over to him, his eyes dark and unreadable in the low light. "But if they can be found, my reading will point the way towards the opportunities which will allow it."


It's a weird price.

In the back of his head, Red Robin is struck with the thought that this is complete insanity, like something out of a fairy tale. It's always something cautionary in a fairy tale, isn't it? Don't go around making strange deals with people who possess abilities you don't understand. Though in plenty of those sorts of stories, the plucky young hero outwits the offer. Figures out the trick, the loophole. But that's just in stories.

As mad as it all might seem, Red Robin listens attentively to what Wong has to say, the unkind exchange that he offers. Twelve hours of 'potential', which could be claimed all at once, or in drips and drabs. In which he will not have choices. It sounds horrible, worse in its way than the idea of simply giving up a day of his life.

Though he isn't unfamiliar with moments in which one has no choice. Where there's nothing to do but something painful, something unpleasant.

He could call this moment one such.

The idea of sharing the burden with Jessica doesn't even find a moment of purchase in his thoughts. It's probably not surprising that he isn't the type to foist the costs of the things he does onto other people. The thought of saying no /does/ occur to him, of leaving and trying something else. Gerry Craft might have a better suggestion…

But what if he didn't?

What if Red Robin found himself back here? Would Wong be willing to help then? Would the price increase? What other options does he have?

He thinks about ice-blue eyes, about a young woman terrified of what might be after her, and what the truth about herself might be.

'And if you're ever scared, remember that you've got a badass superhero looking out for you,' he'd told her. 'Demons, unspeakable horrors from the chaos before existence, ancient wizards, it doesn't matter.'

"Done," he agrees; the pause to think was perhaps two, three seconds. "Twelve hours of my potential, Mister Wong."

And if it saves them, he'd consider it cheap at the price.


Wong looks patently unsurprised but then he is a man who reads the lines of the future with effortless grace through the mechanism of the ancient I Ching, and has learned to turn that information directly to his own advantage.

The smoke swirls in his fingers, and he begins to weave with them, as if the incense were making threads. In and out, until the threads form a shape; the shapes form links, the links form a chain. Link after link after link, small and impossibly fine, currently made of little more than a fine brownish smoke, 720 links at all…720 minutes, 12 hours.

"You will need to bare your arm for me," Wong says dispassionately. "The sensation will be unpleasant. Do not scream; doing so will no doubt make your friend outside do something rash." If there is any sympathy in him he does not show it now. He just waits; the bargain is struck, the deal is done, and now the execution of the deal is all that remains.


Again, no hesitation: Red Robin has made his choice, and now he's going to follow through on it, live with the consequences. Removing the gauntlet on his right arm takes only a little bit of work, and then he rolls back the right arm of his bodysuit, baring his forearm. He's pretty sure he knows what's coming next, that this is going to include a /reminder/ of the price he's paying, a kind of arcane receipt. That way he'll always know just how much time is left on this particular bargain. How many minutes of 'potential' he still has to give up.

A grim little smile tugs at the mouth visible below Red Robin's cowl. Well, he figures, something like this ought to hurt. Fortunately, he's no stranger to pain.

Especially not if it gets him the information he needs.


The chain winds around and around his arm. It flashes from brown to silver. The first link slams into his skin, implanting itself. The others follow suit. It's like holding one's arm out to be branded 720 tiny times; it's not an all-consuming agony, but it's not fun either. It works pretty much precisely as he has guessed.

When it's done it shines out of his arm, an unmistakable tattoo that experienced mystics might well be able to identify.

As the chain settles into Red Robin's skin Wong brings out a small, silver dagger and a vial. He doesn't draw blood, but he lays the point of the dagger very carefully against the final link of the chain on Red's skin. Swirling, chaotic color pours out much like blood would, were that what he was after. It's like looking at mother of pearl; it pounds with power that Red can feel easily, for this…came from him.

Wong momentarily looks rueful. He can't imagine John will be particularly pleased should he find out, but the man had the poor grace to go and end up missing, didn't he? And with what is coming, he and his need all the protection they can get. This potential will go a long way towards providing that protection.

So no votes for John. He'll just have to suck it up, or do what he always does later. Try to help the young man cheat, should he find out.

He produces a soft black cloth and sets it on the table between them. He smooths it down with practiced fingers, then reaches into the bag. He with draws six identical ivory tiles. They are blank, at first, every single one.

Then he lays a finger against each one in turn; they shimmer, and black lines appear, different sets on each, possibilities arranging themselves before their very eyes.

It is a reading, however, and readings are not straightforward.

"The raven must speak to the weeping whore in the ruins of the glittering ashes," he says.

"The robin must follow these signs: the broken clock, the windy vale, the woman in white."

"The foster child must comb the fruits of the robin's labor for the opportunity within."

"The broken jewel must seek the god-fearing devil in the dark of the night."

"Venture not alone into the lair of the lost ones. The robin must fly with winter, the jewel must hold the sky serpent, and the devil must lead them, or the fanged children will take a life before you earn the answers you seek."

And finally: "Only the winter wind is fearsome enough to drive answers from the mouthpiece of midnight."

He allows Tim to study the reading all he likes; and when he does he'll find he's not just looking at lines. He's seeing images that match the man's words; ravens and robins, broken jewels and winter winds.


A small comfort: Red Robin has felt worse things before.

So he doesn't scream, or cry out, or really make any noise at all. He doesn't hide from the pain, or push it away; he draws it in, lets it flow through him. His extended arm doesn't twitch or shift at all, his prodigious control over his own body letting him hold it almost unnaturally still until the process is complete. And then, he's left looking at the thing now marking his right arm, a curious counterbalance in its way to the spell carved invisibly into the flesh of his left forearm.

He'll have to be very careful. No t-shirts for a while. Though, given the unpredictability of the timing, it could just be no t-shirts ever again.

The masked young man lets out a slow, steadying exhalation, which is roundabout when Wong presses the blade carefully to the last link, drawing not blood but something else entirely. The power of that traded potential, twelve hours that could mean almost anything in his future.

He doubts that either of the two magic-users that they're trying to help are going to be particularly pleased about this, though the thought of cheating or trying to avoid the price he willingly paid doesn't occur to him, perhaps at least in part because the idea of /how/ that would happen is outside of his current understanding; he is pretty sure that Zatanna is going to have some choice words for him when she inevitably finds out, but as long as she's around to get mad at him it's fine by him.

Pulling back his arm, Red Robin only briefly surveys the brand on his forearm before he rolls his costume's sleeve back down, and starts fitting the gauntlet back into place. But all the while, he watches. He listens.

It's fascinating to him, really. He might not have any ambitions to sorcery himself, but he can't deny that the possibilities of it are remarkable, that observing it done is curiously thrilling.

Of course, it's cryptic; behind the featurless white lenses of his cowl, his dark blue eyes hood in annoyance.

Annoyed or not, he studies what's in front of him. Memorises it, the sights the reading creates, the words Wong speaks. Carefully, carefully he puts it all away inside of his head, a new room in his memoriae regis. Specific and vague all at once, the dangers of fortune telling. But this is what he paid for.

And it doesn't really tell him /where/ they are.

"I don't suppose any of that makes sense to you?" he wonders, and now it's his turn to be rueful. "Beyond the obvious one." The 'robin' is probably him… Unless he needs to go find Damian and get /his/ help, but he's pretty sure his replacement would be uncooperative just for a laugh.


"You're the robin. That's the broken jewel." He nods at the camera again. "I can see that much just from looking at you," Wong says quietly. "Usually with these things it's good to do what you'd normally do next, keep following the trail you'd follow…but look for the opportunities. The places where it fits. When you see those things, seize on them. But do not try to force them. Even now choices could change everything."

"Nevertheless…" Wong waves his hand slowly over the tiles. "These are the places where your best opportunities are built." He flips out another six tiles, a bonus reading, perhaps, given how very much Red paid for his glimpse into the future. "It was not a bad deal." He touches the other six tiles, reading an entirely different line. "Had you moved without it, much time would have been wasted chasing dead ends. There would have been five or six rumbles with street gangs who had nothing to do with anything, for example, all in the hopes of identifying the right ones, and any one of you and your friends could have been shot dead in any of those. For starters. Yet both chains of events, both the most fortunate one you have purchased and the least fortunate one you have avoided, started more or less at the same place."

He clears all that away and says, "So. What were you going to do, after you finished with this meeting? What would your choice have been, had you not chosen to pay the price you have paid?"


That clicks into place. Jewel, yes.

Red Robin remembers, in the chaos of the abandoned hospital. Jessica's 'perfect world'. She'd been a superhero, named Jewel.

There's a faint sound of acknowledgement from Red Robin at the advice, the reminder to not become so fixated on the reading that he tries to force the details. Now he just has to hope that he's able to use what he's paid for. It would be a real kick in the pants to go through all that for nothing.

He's shown what might've happened if he'd chosen differently, if he'd declined to make the bargain; and then Wong wonders of him what he would've done otherwise. What would his choice have been, if he had chosen to not pay the price for the information he now has?

"I would've tried other sources. More removed from what's going on, so less likely to be useful. Then I suppose I would've started turning the city upside down. But in truth, that wasn't really a choice. I don't have the foothold in your world that I need to get information easily, and time spent developing contacts is time for things to go wrong. I could start beating on every ganger who matches the description of the ones who jumped Constantine and his bodyguard, but New York isn't that far behind Gotham in its population of dead-end kids willing to rumble people for money. But all of that would've been an unncessary risk. The more time I spend chasing shadows in the dark, the worse things could get for Constantine and Miss Zatara. And if I get my brains splattered all over some back alley in Hell's Kitchen, there might not be anyone to help them at all."

Wherever they are. That was still frustrating. Of course, it wasn't as though he'd precluded seeking other sources of information, with this.

"If this information helps me save them, Mister Wong, then I'll consider twelve hours a cheap price. Though you'll understand if I say I hope I don't become a repeat customer of yours."


"You would be mad if you wished to." Wong says. He turns and speaks to the woman in Cantonese. <Tell them to take the guns off the woman. Our deal is concluded.>

<As you wish,> the nameless old lady says. She's out front again, chattering away to the people out front in her native language, basically carrying out his orders.

"Nevertheless, I hope you will not have cause to feel I have cheated you this day. I pride myself on equitable deals."

And with that he turns, heading back to wherever he was when the woman retrieved him in the first place, saying, "Farewell." He'll apparently let Robin show himself back out, and to his companion.

Jessica is calmly eating the food, and there's a bagged up box of takeout that's apparently for Red. In the time he's taken she's definitely made her way through a plate. Her face is utterly difficult to read, and her left hand remains firmly in her lap; the one that's probably still clutching his smoke bomb. Not that she'd have 'gotten out of there' without him; they both know this. But she'd have sure as hell used the advantage. There are no more guns on her, but she appears to have made it a point of pride to pretend there never actually were until her companion emerges. She's already paid the ticket, if the receipt at her elbow is any indication.


Red Robin doesn't linger, of course; he's on his feet as Wong leaves, glancing around briefly before he heads towards the beaded curtain that leads back out to the restaurant.

'I pride myself on equitable deals,' the man had said.

Unfortunately, as the costumed vigilante well knows, the people who say that are most often the ones with whom you need to count your fingers after shaking their hand. Tim Drake might not take the most active hand in the businesses he has interests in, but he's learned a thing or two from Lucius Fox in his time. And Red Robin, well, he's seen how equitable deals are done in the deep dark shadows of Gotham City.

But it doesn't matter. As long as they can help Zatanna, and Constantine, it won't matter what it costs him personally.

"How's the food?" wonders that electronically modulated voice as he approaches Jessica in otherwise near total silence.


"Pretty damned good, all things considered. How was the info-gathering?" Jessica drops her fork in an instant though, and stands. She snags the bag, ready to get out of here. Not that eager to sit around lest they decide to bring out the guns again.

Once outside, she'll offer him his smoke bomb back. And the food, though she says, "I can carry it if you're not hungry now. You were back there long enough that I almost threw this thing and came in after you, but…my gut kept saying to stay put, so I did." She looks him over, open worry casting over her green-flecked brown eyes, silently wondering if she did the right thing. She also breathes a sigh of relief the moment they're out of there, because she actually really doesn't enjoy being held at gunpoint— go figure.

Granted, of the two of them…he definitely had the worse evening.


"Yeah I dunno if I'm going to give them a very good Yelp review for the service," the cowled young man says, taking the smokebomb and returning it to wherever it goes in that mysterious utility belt. The food, at least, can probably wait until they're further away from the restaurant. It wouldn't be the first time he'd eaten takeout food on a rooftop.

He frowns faintly at Jessica's perfectly reasonable sentiment that she nearly charged in to try and help him a few times, knowing that it probably would've ended badly for everyone concerned.

"It was the right call," Red Robin tells her. "Wong was perfectly civil, though his information was a bit… Cryptic. Even if you'd gotten in there without getting shot, I don't know what he would've done at the intrusion, and anyway we wouldn't have anything to show for it. It's more like… Clues to look out for. But it beats rolling every latin gang in New York City trying to find the ones who were paid to harass Constantine."

Assuming whoever hired them left them alive afterwards.

Any Gotham villain worth their salt probably wouldn't have, but New York isn't that bad.


Jessica relaxes a little bit at hearing Red thinks it was the right call. She frowns at his assessment and says, "Well, what were these clues then? Cause yeah…beating up every Latino gang close to Chinatown was probably on the list if that's what we had to do. Though I guess barring that there's still seeing if Ravensdale will help us."

She slides her free hand into her pocket. "I thought about having Peggy pull traffic camera footage from the streetlight I uprooted over there," she pulls a hand out long enough to gesture vaguely, "but they're so notoriously bad, especially at night. A black and white image of a few seconds of a few kids running out of an alley. Not to mention me not really wanting to call attention to just who uprooted the god damn streetlight, no matter how well-intentioned."

It hasn't even occurred to Jessica yet that their quarry might be dead, not given the way she's been doggedly searching for them night after night.


'What were these clues then?'

A reasonable question.

"He did an I Ching reading, though it was a bit more… Vivid than that. Lots of referring to people allegorically. 'The robin,' two guesses on who that is. The broken jewel seems to refer to you. You need to 'seek the god-fearing devil in the dark of the night,' and…"

Wait what was it that Jessica said? Red Robin stops, and turns to look right at the PI. Not because of the streetlight thing, although it might seem like that at first. Not the cameras, not the gangs, it was…

"Ravensdale," he repeats, pensively. "There was a raven, that was part of the reading. 'The raven must speak to the weeping whore in the ruins of the glittering ashes,' whatever any of that means." The young man shakes his head; it's not that he isn't used to dealing with cryptic clues, it's just that they're more often obtained by more mundane means. Even the Riddler would probably think this was silly.

"Still, she might be who we're looking for. And following the leads on the gang might still be a good idea, just in case it turns anything up. A better solution would be to find someone who knows a lot about gang activity around here. Have you got any contacts in the police? Or anyone in my line of work?" Maybe Spider-Man, though he isn't sure if the webslinger really investigates gangs as much as he leaves them gummed to walls for the cops to arrest.


"Broken?" Jessica huffs, offended. "Who the Hell does that son of a bitch think he is? Do I look broken to you?"

That's probably a proverbial 'don't answer that.'

No complaints about Jewel though, even though the name brings a touch of embarrassed flush to her cheeks, for many, many reasons. "The name was seriously not even my idea," she grumbles. "It was Trish's."

This is mostly all gallows humor, fun poked at her own expense; the worry for their mutual friends is churning away at her stomach. But she can't plunge into it, can't fall in there; they have work to do. "The police and I have never really been sympatico," Jessica says grimly.

"However, there is one local expert who knows plenty about gangs. It's pretty much all he does. He kept me from getting kidnapped right off the street once. By space aliens, but gangs are his specialty. Hell's Kitchen gangs, but…I bet he'll know more. I can't give you a name, he hasn't picked one yet. Going to track him down was also potentially on my list. So yes, someone in your line of work who knows gang activity, for sure. It might take me some time as he didn't exactly provide me with a phone number or an e-mail address, but…I know where to start. I say we talk Elinor into helping us and try to hit up Abyss first though. I don't know about glittering ashes or anything, but…we know we've got clues to unlock there. And the weeping whore sounds…well. Right up her alley. She's a ghost therapist. Our only contact in that place might be someone who is dead."

She rubs the back of her neck thoughtfully. "Alright, we can't keep making Red Surprises Jessica At Her Place our only means of communication, okay? Not that your visits aren't lovely, but what if you're the next one to disappear, or I am? Encrypt something for me, or…whatever it is you do. An e-mail, a 5-digit text box, a number that goes to one of your burners, I don't care, but we need a way to reach one another."


Because he is a genius, Red Robin doesn't answer Jessica's rhetorical question at all.

"It's not a bad superhero name," he notes, when she deflects the blame for the choice of Jewel in the first place. "They don't all need to be intimidating… Though Red Robin isn't exactly a scary one, either." Nor was it even originally his, any more than Robin was… But, well, that's a long story, and like many elements of his heroic career actually explaining it could point too closely to dangerous secrets, especially to someone like Jessica, whose job involves figuring things out. She already knows one thing that could be deadly enough, after all: That it's quite likely that Zatanna knows who's under the cape and cowl.

"A local vigilante, huh? Well, if he's good enough to rescue you he probably knows what he's doing," Red Robin decides. Someone else that needs to be tracked down, it seems. He has his own ideas about the right way to find another vigilante, but this is still Jessica's turf. "You could always try going into Hell's Kitchen and getting some negative attention. He might find you before you have to uproot a telephone pole in self-defense."

Still, perhaps she's right. Perhaps their next target needs to be this 'ghost therapist' who might be the raven from Wong's reading. The young man nods in agreement, willing to go with Jessica's recommendation on this.

As for the rest…

"Oh," Red Robin says. "Did I not…?" A moment later, his hand slips out from underneath his cape, holding… A plain white business card, with a phone number on it and nothing else. "You can reach me with that number. Think of it as my business phone."


Jessica smiles faintly at his note that Jewel isn't that bad. Honestly she doesn't really think so either, or she wouldn't be wearing the necklace she's wearing, the shout-out to the costume, worn for all of 2 minutes before she gave it a hard pass. It just…doesn't fit who she is, precisely. Jewels are shiny, and pure, sparkly, and easy to get along with. Jess has never been any of those things.

Yet that's the person she still somehow finds herself aspiring to be; the woman who might have been trusted to be at the side of some of the very best.

She keeps all this to herself, double taking as Red puts that emphasis on 'you'. As always when he or any of their friends pays her a compliment, she seems pleased almost all out of proportion to it; a positive she can hold on to, to take out later, to remind herself that there's more to her than the mountain of suckage and failure she so often sees when she looks in the mirror.

"I'd rather not do anything manipulative like that," she says, to Red's suggestion. And it does feel manipulative, since when space tasers aren't involved she can handle herself against most threats. Or, on the flip side, she can't, because she's busy getting shot, thus reaching the end of what her powers will do for her. With no Zatanna to insta-heal them, that's counterproductive in the extreme. "I'd rather play it straight with him. He told me where a lot of his work is going down. It's a broad area, but if I walk it every night, I'll zero in on him eventually."

"You hadn't," Jess says with a smile. She hesitates for a moment, but then pulls out her phone and pulls up the speed dial. She puts Red right at #5. Because of the robot voice. But he's definitely been more than enough of a friend to find his way onto the spots, which are stupidly important in Jessica's mind. "You've popped out of nowhere, knocked on the window, met me upstairs, but I think this is the first time you gave me a number. Course. Usually when we get together we just get straight to getting shit done."

She pulls out one of her own, for the phone number, since he damn sure knows her address. Still he's never just called her, so she assumes he doesn't have that. Not that it's not on her website. Her card says Gotham City in addition to New York City, now…but given how often she's in Gotham, that's probably not entirely unfair. And of course she has Azalea working as a subcontractor these days; the true recipient of most of her Gotham cases.


Doing things manipulatively is often Red Robin's first instinct, though; probably this has to do with his training, Batman being in his own way an excellent manipulator and chessmaster… Though his own genius and the complex nature of his thinking is definitely a contributing factor as well.

Still, he's been making the effort to not manipulate quite so much, at least with certain people.

It isn't always the best way to build working relationships.

"That's fair," he decides, when Jessica says she'd rather play straight with this mysterious vigilante. Maybe she's moving on a little from that Murdock guy, Red Robin thinks to himself. Really, with the sort of life she lives, maybe a Hell's Kitchen vigilante would be a better choice for her anyway than some blind lawyer who might get caught in the crossfire with people who don't approve of her activities.

There's a faint chuff of amusement from Red Robin at the list of things he had done that weren't giving her his card, after he'd done things like given Spider-Man a phone just for contacting him, or making a braille card specifically to give to Gerry Craft. Even for him, sometimes things slip one's mind.

"I guess I'm just bashful about phone numbers, Miss Jones," he remarks, not at all seriously. Still time for a little levity, before the storm truly breaks, perhaps. For now, he slips the card he's given away, though, making it disappear as though by magic.


"Not a bad way to be," Jessica says.

She looks up at the sky, and down at the time on her phone. She shakes her head, grimacing. "Ravensdale will be out on rounds till dawn, and then she'll need to sleep— late afternoon is the best time to catch her." she predicts. "I've put in a full day of work on a pretty nasty stolen tech case."

That she's still going to have to work around looking for John and Zee, because that's going to keep the bills paid. And because letting it sit presents other dangers, almost as bad as some of the stuff John and Zee were wrapped up in. As both she and Red had observed before, there were never enough hours in the day. And while she can go three or four days without sleep, she doesn't put in her best work that way.

"And 'fine' or not, this is good food. That you ought to put in your mouth. Yelp reviews or no. Sadly I don't think this is going to be a fast path to victory. We're going to have to trust that wherever those two are, they're holding their own. They're probably not even counting on us to get them back, either assuming we won't realize what's going on or that we simply can't handle it. One way or another, they're coming home though. If I survived a shitty alternate dimension for 2 weeks, they can survive while we look and find them a way back home too. So my suggestion is…let's both go get some rest, and tackle this again later tomorrow. I know it's counter-intuitive. I know you want to drive yourself like a damned mule until they're found. But you can't do your best work that way, and you know it."

She keeps her tone quiet in the hopes of taking any potential sting, or even the appearance of lecturing him, out of her voice, but she's trying to convince him nevertheless.


'Stolen tech case,' she says, which almost worms its way through to piquing Red Robin's interest.


However, the way things have worked out over the past few months, 'Zatanna Zatara in danger' has become one of those things that crowds other concerns out of his mind, no matter his usual preference for keeping multiple cases going at once, as though he were trying to see just how many plates he could keep spinning at the same time.

It isn't as though what Jessica was saying was wrong, of course, and while things were currently not great, there was still enough unknown about the current disposition of their missing friends that Red Robin hadn't fully lapsed into an obsessive mode yet. Maybe they were stuck in the tropical beach dimension, or a world full of kittens.

It could happen, right?


"They might not be in a position to worry about whether anyone's coming for them or not," he notes. "If they're being held captive… Well, there's no point in making too many assumptions. So I suppose you have a point." After having not slept for a few days already, he can't imagine that a couple of hours will really disrupt all the no progress he'd been making on his own.

"I'll email you a copy of the readings after I get back to my base of operations," he adds, because of course he has a base of operations. He doesn't say that it's a lavish penthouse loft apartment that he bought to have somewhere in New York to crash so he could better keep an eye on Zatanna, because that's weird. And also one of those dangerous facts. "And I'll be sure to eat, it does smell very good."

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