Drinking and Dancing

March 22, 2017:

Bucky Barnes catches up with Zatanna Zatara in Shadowcrest, in where she introduces him to Sidhe whiskey and gives him a belated birthday present in the middle of discussing Jane's dangerous transaction with Midnite, and how things were in the 1940's.

Shadowcrest Manor - Crest Hill - Bristol - Gotham

The ancestral home of the Zatara family.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: John Constantine, Dr. Jane Foster, Papa Midnite

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

As he promised, John had left in the morning after spending the night, and she spent most of the day finishing up her attempts at catching up on her studies. With her books and notes set away, Zatanna has managed to finally return to the very serious business of preparing herself for what's to come - not just for the inevitable trip across the pond to Germany, but the rest of it; the possibly apocalyptic repercussions of the Brujeria's re-emergence in human history. John remains skeptical of it, and quite frankly, she can't blame him - the Flood had supposedly wiped them all out. But the fact that he can't dismiss the possibility is worrisome, when excising improbabilities is somewhat of a specialty of the British magus.

She is in the living room poring over her father's library, stashed in electronic form in her laptop, her lips pursing faintly as she scrolls through scanned arcane text. Whenever Bucky comes calling, the will of the house, in the form of a broad-shouldered Hindu man with a snowy-white beard that could rival the most lovingly rendered portraits of Saint Nicholas, opens the door for him. For all that Bucky has never set foot in the ancestral Zatara home before, Kasim seems to know precisely who he is, for some reason that could probably be simply quantified as magic. With a dusky hand, he leads the man into the sprawling interior of the old gothic mansion.

Its insides do not match what the outside looks - too wide, for something supposedly built as an homage to popular Victorian styles, with almost too many rooms. The front atrium is dominated by a staircase that reaches up to the second floor, where doors leading to various rooms stand as ornate sentinels to whatever secrets they keep within. There is a pair, in particular, that is visible from the front of the house - double doors flanked by floor-to-ceiling statues of a demon and an angel. A showman, himself, Giovanni Zatara is not immune to drama, and he often relies on it to invoke his legend whenever necessary. His inner sanctum is thus denoted with all the embellishments that may as well function as a sign: GIOVANNI ZATARA'S PRIVATE SPACE. DO NOT ENTER.

He would eventually be led to where Zatanna is. Given the house's owner, it's not surprising that the decor is more masculine than feminine - rich dark hardwood line the floors, its furnishings antiquated, but fashioned with bold lines and made out of sturdy, impeccably varnished lumber. The fireplace is cavernous and by all rights, the room looks straight out of old photographs of sitting rooms English or American gentlemen back in the early 1900's would be at home in, smoking cigars and talking about the press of business. Past the large pool table is a heavy oak bar, filled with an array of bottles, boasting alcoholic spirits from all over the world. Many a houseguest has abused this specific point in Zatanna's house.

The young woman herself is already on her feet, moving over to greet Bucky with an enthusiastic hug and a light peck on the cheek.

"It's good to see you," she tells him warmly. "Do you want anything to drink? Name it, you can have it. The bar doesn't run out of anything, I'm pretty sure it's the only reason why Peter hasn't moved out."

—-

Count James Barnes duly impressed.

It's not that he hasn't seen grandeur before. He spent years of his young adulthood in London— which had its dignity and splendor even in its shelled, bombed-out state— and in Italy, where occasionally the troops would camp in abandoned castles and roam through looted, ruined manors in their march up the peninsula. But he's never before seen grandeur tailored to the tastes and sensibilities of a classic old world magician.

Especially grandeur that is way bigger on the inside than it looks on the outside. As someone who once did drafting work, what feels like— what was— lifetimes ago, Bucky has an eye for this kind of thing, and he can tell that the exterior doesn't match up to the interior at all.

By the time he is led to the sitting room where Zatanna is waiting, there is the obvious gloss of familiar memory in his eyes. The classic decor resonates with him, reminiscent of sitting rooms he remembers from his own childhood and youth. All that's really missing is the heavy veil of cigar smoke, really, and it would be a welcome throwback to a simpler time. A time far away from modern decor, which James frankly finds rather antiseptic and flimsy in comparison to what he's accustomed to.

He returns Zatanna's hug and accepts her peck warmly when she greets him. Her gift to him is visible on his right wrist, the ID bracelet apparently a permanent fixture of him now. She offers him anything to drink— anything— because the bar doesn't run out of anything, and he laughs. "No shit? I should have come by earlier. Whatever's the strongest you have is good. Nothing works anymore except Asgardian mead, and I feel like an asshole drinking 'nectar of the gods' all the time."

He pulls back, hands on her shoulders so he can inspect her for health and happiness. "Well," he says gruffly, and lets her go after a moment. "We were all worried. You two know how to make a mess. Jessica was running around like a chicken with her head off. I wound up shooting Red. It was all kinda chaotic."

—-

"I hear it's powerful stuff, let's see what I can scrounge out of Daddy's private collection." There are memories associated with that particular cabinet, and while she would never outright tell anyone, the man has not had a drop of liquor since a good decade ago. Those bottles will only go to waste, and should probably go to someone who would appreciate them. She beckons Bucky to follow her, moving to the large oak bar, taking out a pair of glasses and shifting to find a key hidden the bar itself - a press of a thumb on one of the raised designs and the handle of a key pops out.

She draws it from the wood, and looks for the hidden cabinet; it takes her a while to remember where it actually is, perfectly camoflauged within its ornate carvings. It is a rectangular shelf, that slowly slides out with a hiss of smoke, curling upwards towards the ceiling in white-gray smoke as she presents Bucky with an array of dangerous looking bottles. None of the labels, meticulously embossed on metal plates, are in English, and there are quite a few in arcane languages. Pale fingers dance over them and brows lift upwards to catch sight of a nondescript black glass vial on the very back. She retrieves it and takes a look at the label.

"Sidhe whiskey." Promising a possibly deadly combination of two things - the decadent sensibilities of fae-folk and Irish drinking habits. "You know, on any other day, I wouldn't even dare, but two months in Hell tend to make someone appreciate the finer things in life," she tells Bucky, popping the cork and pouring them a shot each on a pair of short glasses. Unlike most whiskeys, the color looks like actual molten gold when poured in clear, transparent tumblers.

His reminder of the entire debacle has Zatanna grumbling faintly under her breath. "John wanted to do something nice for me on Valentine's Day," she tells him. "Even went through the trouble of setting up a big production, something nostalgic but also something new. And fucking Midnite ruined it." Irritation underscores her expression. "Did John tell you what he thought about it? About how he was making a play by looking like he was trying to help you guys get us back? What an asshole."

The look gentles afterward, lifting to touch his forearm lightly. "Thanks for coming to get us. I nearly had a heart attack, seeing you all in Hell, that's the last place I ever wanted you guys to see, much less go. But I was so relieved also."

She hands one of the glasses over to Bucky. "John told me about what Jane promised Midnite," she continues with a small frown. "That nearly gave me a heart attack too. I told John maybe we ought to find something that Midnite desperately wants to see if we can use that as leverage to release her from their deal."

—-

If there's anyone who would appreciate them, Bucky Barnes certainly would. More than one person has observed that James Barnes seems to have been put on Earth by God specifically to complement and balance out Steve Rogers, as what Steve was never able or willing to do in the department of smoking, drinking, cursing, and 'miscellaneous,' Bucky was certainly willing to make up for.

He follows her interestedly as she heads over to the bar— and pops up a key to access a hidden compartment. The bottles within certainly don't look like your average liquor, something that brings his brows to lift in obvious interest as he surveys down the line.

"I'll… let you pick," he says, as she does just that.

The Sidhe whiskey is ultimately chosen— Bucky knows enough to pale a little at the word combination— but there's no going back now. He accepts his glass, admiring the color, holding his silence as Zatanna explains exactly what the hell happened that fateful Valentine's Day to plunge the two of them into Hell. "Sounds like just John's luck," Bucky observes, as he lifts his glass and tries a sip.

Did John tell you what he thinks? "He did," Bucky says with a grimace. "It makes sense, as far as a play."

Zatanna gentles a moment later, however, reaching to touch him to convey the earnestness of her thanks. His blue eyes flick downwards, a little reserved as one might expect from a man his age, though he does smile ruefully. "Well, both of you did the same for Jane and me. Even if you didn't, though, it was only right."

He sobers visibly when the topic turns to Jane. "I tried to prevent it," he grumbles. "I'd have made my offer better if I knew she was going to put her oar in, though in typical fashion she went straight from zero to 'what the fuck, Jane,' so I don't know if it would have worked. Now we're going to just have to find a way around it."

—-

Sips of the whiskey, once taken, would prove to be somewhat deceptive; it goes down smooth, the burn mild to the palate and warms the stomach once it hits. But the moment it does, a subtle sensation akin to euphoria is left….and one that will grow in quiet increments the more one imbibes. It is, as they say, a different kind of drunk, the kind that is appreciative of all mortal senses instead of dulling them to a numb, senseless stupor in a flash - an unhurried sink into the inevitable.

Zatanna carries the bottle with her, and invites Bucky to take a seat on one of the leather couches, though given his sensibilities, she is sure that he will remain standing until she sits first, and so she does. Her weight depresses one of the cushions, the dangerous vintage set on the coffee table in front of them as she pulls her legs up, sitting cross-legged; she never does sit properly in a place she feels safe in. Taking another, very careful pull of her drink, she nods soberly towards her visitor and what he says about Jane. "I'm just worried because Papa Midnite is dangerous," she confesses quietly. "I've never met him, but I've heard of him and he and John have a pretty bloody, contentious history." Her lips press into a thin line. "He kills women, his 'handmaidens', and he deliberately anchors their souls to Hell to be his spies. He has the gall to call them his sisters."

This is the kind of man Jane has brokered an agreement with; as genteel and well-spoken as Midnite seems to be, with his impeccable dress and polished diction, he was brutal and savage underneath. Her lips curl faintly in distaste.

"We're going to have to, and quickly," she says, frowning down at her drink, but after another small swallow from it, she decides to venture away from that subject. "Aside from that, though, how are you doing? You and life with Jane? She seemed better when I saw her, I heard she was the one who figured out the gate that got all of us out of Hell. She seems to be taking very well to this new kind of work."

—-

He does, in fact, wait for her to sit before he even thinks of sitting herself. Perhaps related: he visibly restrains himself from double-taking at the super-casual posture she assumes when she DOES sit. Hmm. Millennials, he guesses.

He occupies himself, briefly, with slow sips of the whiskey. It's certainly an experience, and his expression reflects as much as he gazes down askance into his glass. "Asgardians," he grumbles. "Sidhe. Why does everyone make better alcohol than humans do? You say it's neverending?" He chuckles. "I might have to live here myself. Move Jane in and everything."

A pause. "Though if Quill is still hanging around, maybe not."

He sobers, however, at the talk of Midnite. "I gathered as much," he says, of her brief introduction of him as a dangerous man with a bloody history with John Constantine. "Surprised I haven't heard of him before, but then: different circles."

Bucky goes dead silent, however, when she speaks of Midnite's women. His 'sisters.' Killed and sent to Hell to spy for him. "Motherfucker," he exhales. "I knew the way he said 'better place' was all goddamned wrong." He looks briefly sick to have been part of such a transaction, even if it was not ultimately his hand that killed the woman.

He blinks back up at Zatanna, eyes hard. Much of that lingers in his gaze even as Zatanna tries to change the topic, though he does make a visible effort to reroute himself out of that bleak mood. "Jane was the one who figured out the gate," he says, and a brief glimmer of pride is finally what breaks the ice of his anger. "She's learning fast. I think it's good for her to be applying her mind to new work." He hasn't said anything about himself!!

—-

"You could if you need a breather away from New York," Zatanna says with a smile. "I'd love to have the both of you, though Peter and the Guardians do also still live here. There's a lot of room. As for the alcohol thing, you know, I have absolutely no idea. I have a feeling it's just time and experience….from what Peter tells me, Asgardians are pretty long-lived, and if they're careful, Sidhe are downright ageless." They were immortal, as far as she knows, unless killed by cold iron.

"Meanwhile, humans didn't even really start fermenting until…well, nobody really knows, but I think the earliest booze archaeologists ever found was in China dating back to 7000 BC, and even that's pretty young compared to some of the stuff that's out there. But yeah, it's neverending, so if you need to imbibe, you can come as often as you like."

The tone changes as it inevitably must. At Bucky's expression, she shakes her head. "Yeah, you would think he'd be more of a gentleman, right? With the way he talks and the way he dresses. But he's brutal under all of that. That's why when John told me about what Jane brokered with Midnite, I was…" She sighs, and takes another swallow of her drink; it goes down harder in her throat.

The pride she glimpses on the man's face has her smile returning, however faint. "I wish I could take a picture of your face and show you," she teases him. "You're so smitten, Grandpa Bucky." There's a slight cant of her head at him. "The four of us should try and get together at some point, though, try and actually see each other without some other crisis driving us to share the same space. Maybe dinner before we head over to Germany? We can talk about some other things too…did John tell you what brought him to New York in the first place?"

—-

Zatanna welcomes them to stop over anytime they need a breather from New York. Bucky smiles at that, his eyes briefly distant with memory. "I dunno that I'd call it a breather," he says. "Being back in New York after so long is like… the post-war homecoming I never got." Which he should have had, seventy-odd years ago, and not 'only a few months ago.' "It's not the New York I remember, but it's not a battlefield, and that works well enough for me. It's good to come home and get to stay home."

He sips pensively at the Sidhe whiskey. "So, I dunno, it'd be more like a vacation. What with how exotic everything is here." He tilts the glass. "Fairy whiskey and all. Well, I guess you have a point they've had a lot longer to perfect the art." He peers into the glass, already feeling an effect despite the serum in his veins. "I still think they must be cheating in some other ways, though."

Not that he'll complain.

He'll complain plenty about Midnite, however. You'd think he'd be more of a gentleman, how he dresses and acts, she says. Bucky shakes his head thoughtfully. "Lot've Krauts— sorry, Germans— you'd run into, fighting over in the war, would look genteel as hell too, talk nice, act nice. Then they'd start talking to you, in their pretty rhetoric, about the Final Solution. You can't ever trust appearances."

His demeanor softens, inevitably, to speak of Jane, however. Then Zatanna teases him about how smitten he is and he clams right back up again. "Well," he says, far too gruffly to disprove the grandpa appellation, "there's plenty to be smitten with. We do need to have dinner though, the four of us. More than enough to discuss, since John did tell me a bit about why he came to New York but was not specific in the least."

He cants an eye at her. "And I hear food is much better these days. People figured out how to not just boil and hope for the best. No rationing. You can introduce me to some to apologize for making fun of me."

—-

He speaks of homecoming and it does nothing but soften her demeanor further; Zatanna pulls up her knees, bare feet resting on the cushions, arms wrapping around them as she listens. "Whenever we'd get to the World War II chapters in my history classes, there'd be whole passages detailing how terrible it was, but in this really clinical, detached sort of way, you know? Numbers, maneuvers, what got destroyed, who got killed. I never thought I'd meet anyone who actually lived through something like that, much less fought in it." Her voice grows quiet. "I'm glad you were able to come home, Bucky." Especially when so many have not been able to do so.

He's most definitely not wrong about cheating. His comment earns him a faint grin. "Yeah, well. That's one thing you ought to remember around magicians and magical folk all the time, especially the ones you don't know. We cheat. We cheat all the time." Hence why agreements in their community are such tricky, tenuous things - it's just as much a chess game as it is an actual transaction.

Ice-blue eyes widen just a touch when Bucky refers to the krauts, though he corrects himself quickly; she can practically see Jane's hand there. But there's a hint of a sheepish grin that follows after. "You'd think that living a lifetime in this kind of world, I'd be able to appreciate that more. But after everything that's happened in the last four months, I guess I really can't rule anything out anymore."

She takes another sip of the Sidhe whiskey, a more concrete nod given to his confirmation that yes, they should have dinner. "New York's become a super foodie town," she tells him enthusiastically. "One of the top destinations in the world for eats from all over, if you can believe it. There's a few amazing steakhouses…John loves steak and most of them have fish and vegetarian options so it's not like I wouldn't be able to eat." She doesn't eat meat, what is wrong with kids these days?? "But yeah I'll see what I can find, and speaking of making it up to you…"

The young woman suddenly lurches off the couch, draining the glass suddenly and setting it aside - this is already a mistake - and she darts out of the room in a rush. "I'll be right back!" she hurls over her shoulder, just before she vanishes through the archway.

She returns after, with a brightly wrapped box and a bow on top. Situating herself back on the couch, she presents the package to Bucky. "Happy belated birthday! I had these grand plans to get a group together and drag you to one of the swing dance halls out here for your birthday, but…you ended up turning one hundred in Hell. This probably doesn't make up for that, but…I tried." She looks somewhat sulky at that, denied from seeing Bucky cut up the floor, from an era that prompted its young people to learn how to /really/ do so.

—-

"I'm still getting used to people calling it World War I, World War II," he grumbles. "So pessimistic. It's like you're all gearing up for III and IV. We were happy to just call it 'the Great War' and 'the war.'"

His gaze goes distant. It is a long time before he draws breath again to continue. "It was terrible," he says softly. "In a way numbers and pictures and words can't describe. I've been to the exhibits and even I feel sanitized, looking at it all under glass, in bullet points. People walking by bored, barely even looking." He shakes his head. "The worst part was how banal the dying got. I came home seventy years late, but I still did, and that's more than many men I knew could say."

He shakes his head again, not wanting to dwell much on the topic. Zatanna speaks of their ilk— magicians and the like— cheating all the time, and he huffs a short laugh. "I could have told you that from just watching street magicians," he says. "But you know, my kind cheat too. Just in different ways." Courtly rules of engagement stopped applying to men like James Barnes a long time ago.

He takes another sip. "So you really shouldn't rule anything out. Especially in this day and age. I notice people are just a lot less trusting in general. More suspicious. Less genuine."

Well, at least the food's good. He brightens with interest as Zatanna speaks of how New York has become 'super foodie' — the phrase is not in his lexicon, but he can guess — though he isn't given much time to ruminate about that when Zatanna suddenly remembers HIS BIRTHDAY and jumps off the couch to charge off, leaving a bemused Bucky behind before he can even think of rising in a genteel manner for her exit. Kids these days.

She comes pelting back soon enough with a box, which Bucky takes with an increase in his general bemusement, holding off from opening it unless she urges him to do so. "Well," he says. "There's still time enough for the dancing another time, once things've calmed down. But you didn't really have to get me anything. Even if you and John did make me turn a hundred in Hell." He grins. "There's nothing to 'make up for.'"

—-

His remarks about the Great War leave Zatanna somber and quiet for a few moments; of course she would be, given her softhearted nature and her ability to empathize no matter who it was sitting across from her. Ice-blue eyes flicker down to the bracelet in his hand, reminded of the significance, how such a small bit of metal encapsulates so many losses. Her hand reaches out again, to give his forearm a squeeze, just over the links that have found a permanent home on his wrist. Deferential to his experiences and suffering, she says nothing.

"No wonder we get along so well," is what she says instead, at how men of his ilk have their own tricks. She can certainly appreciate that; black ops and clandestine operations dominated his life in the last seventy years. That alone would make anyone a sneaky bastard just to survive.

The box itself has a solid weight to it, and his remarks on that causes a sheepish grin to curl on her lips. "I knew you were gonna say that," she tells him lightly, mischief filling her eyes. "But just humor me anyway, since I like giving presents." She nudges her shoulder lightly against his. "Go on, I hope you like it."

When he undoes the wrapping and opens the lid, he'd find a compact phonograph - modernized for the current age, as well as a few records, carefully selected. Music had been a big part of her life growing up - one of the very first things Giovanni Zatara had taught her about magic was that music was everything, and ever since then she had immersed herself in a variety of genres. Falling in with John had only expanded that appreciation to include the greatest of the British punk bands like the Sex Pistols and the Clash. The vinyls included in the package are all classics; Benny Goodman, Earl Hines, Billie Holiday.

"Technology's come a long way," she tells him. "You'd think we'd be able to come up with something better, but to this day, nothing holds sound better than vinyl, still. I figured since we've delayed our trip to a dance hall that this could stand in for a little bit." She grins broadly. "Maybe you can show Jane some moves in her apartment."

—-

Zatanna says nothing aloud, but she reaches over to touch him, just above the links circling his wrist… the plain plate of metal identifying him antiseptically by name and number. He was identified with similar coldness when he was the Winter Soldier, except then he did not even get the bauble to wear. Just the name and number. How funny it is, that one method of tagging should be worn so much more proudly than the other.

He does not react effusively to her nonverbal comfort— nor, likely, would she expect him to— but he does smile at her light statement of 'no wonder we get along.' "I hope you're not too similar to me," he says, and his smile turns briefly sad.

It is an evanescent expression, passing on quickly when he is handed a box to open. "I'm gonna have to pick you up something ridiculously nice eventually to cover all these things you keep giving me," he says, as he carefully opens the box. "You know it's very forward for a lady to send a man so many gifts, don't you?" He sounds like he's joking. Hopefully.

But he goes silent when he sees the contents, his eyes distant with sudden memory. He pages through the included vinyls, transparently recognizing each name, both touched and a little melancholy to see them and know that the people attached to them are now dead and dust.

Technology's come a long way, Zatanna says, but vinyl still holds sound the best.

"That it does," he says, carefully closing the box again to preserve its contents. "Sometimes the old ways really are best," he adds, and he even manages not to sound smug about it.

His eyes gentle afterwards. "Thanks. I'll teach her how to dance proper, with these."

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