A/N: This story is part of the CATverse. If you don't know what that is, you might want to have a look at catverse. com to find out.
This story takes place a few scant days before Somebody Snitched on Me in arc seven. I deliver it to you with my compliments and a sheepish apology or two to the Rolling Stones.
The Captain didn't want to get drunk. Really. She had no desire to get plastered while her comrades were sleeping.
But the fact of the matter was, she was bored, there was a bar right down the street from their motel and--other than wreaking general havoc on the townsfolk (which would have been less fun without T&A along--and no, she still hadn't let that particular bad pun die)--there was nothing to do. They didn't have any books with them, which would have been her first choice of leisure activity and Kitten was sleeping, so there was no way she could do anything noisier than that.
It was a little after midnight when she snuck out of the motel, slunk down the stairs and made her way to the bar. A full moon hung fat in the sky, shining down on the freshly fallen snow and she pulled her coat tighter around herself, breathing through her mouth just to watch the fog rising in front of her. Even after all these years, part of her was still impressed that it got so cold she could see her breath.
As she got closer to the pub, she mused about just how long it had been since she'd gotten well and truly scnockered. Since Kitten had been born--and of course, while she'd been pregnant--the household had all but given up alcohol. Not that they'd been lushes before that. Sure, she and the girls went on the occasional bender for old time's sake, but if you were a criminal in Gotham, you couldn't really afford to give up your faculties very often. Civilians could drink until they couldn't see straight without a care in the world, but if there was any possibility of running into Batman or the other capes, you wanted to be sober. As such, the benders had become more and more rare as the years went by. It would be nice to feel that old familiar burn of alcohol again.
The bar was a small, unassuming brick building, and it looked respectable enough, save for the fact it was lacking windows entirely. A sign hung near the door with a friendly looking Scotty dog in a kilt on it. Beneath the picture it read, "Scotty's: A Clean, Well Lit Place" and wrapped around the wrought iron hanger were Christmas lights--the ones with the old fashioned bulbs the size of golf balls. None of the Captain's internal danger alarms were going off (not that she would have listened to them if they were) so she approached the door and clutched the handle. The metal was surprisingly warm to the touch and the welcoming whoosh of warm air that greeted her made her skin tingle in the most pleasant manner.
She stepped inside and found that he sign lied: Scotty's was a grimy, poorly lit place. It looked like the sort of bar where people came for the express purpose of stabbing each other.
The Captain loved it instantly.
The place was completely empty--not surprising, considering it was the Monday night before Christmas--and solitude didn't bother her in the least. She might have liked having someone to drink with, but she wasn't above drinking alone.
"Storm's comin'," the bartender said, motioning at a barstool in front of him. "What'll you have?"
She plopped down on the stool and her brow furrowed. Generally, she liked straight vodka, but there was no sense in starting on the really hard stuff this early...
Of course, the sooner she started, the sooner she could get to that pleasant point of drunkenness where happiness was all but guaranteed. Plus, she'd always had bad luck ordering cocktails.
She decided to go the safe route. "Vodka, straight and keep 'em coming."
The bartender, who was a short man with thinning black hair and a formidable beard, gave her a winning smile. She couldn't help but grin back as she watched him set up four shot glasses and fill each one.
She grabbed up the first, pressed the glass to her lips and threw her head back, swallowing the tasteless liquid in one fell swoop. Her throat burned but she didn't grimace, just enjoyed the feeling of heat crawling up her esophagus. She picked up the second shot glass and killed it just as quick. The third, she swore to herself, would be the last for at least half an hour. When she tipped her head back, the door to the bar opened, letting the wind in.
The chill it left in her bones made her reach for the fourth shot glass. She brought it to her lips and started to tip her head back.
"Call me Ishmael."
The Captain snorted and then dissolved into a coughing fit, sputtering and flapping her hands. Vodka in the nostrils was not a pleasant sensation. She scrubbed at her face with her sleeve, eyes scrunched closed. When she recovered sufficiently and opened them, they were watering fiercely. Through the fog of tears clouding her vision, she saw a man, shorter than average--only about five foot nine--in a sharp, well tailored black suit, a skinny black tie breaking up the stretch of immaculate white shirt. She blinked a few times until he came fully into focus. There was something familiar about him, but she couldn't put her finger on what.
His face was friendly, open, and had a boyish quality to it despite the fact he was obviously in his late forties. His nose might have been a little too large and a little too round beneath his shining hazel eyes, but it fit him. It was a face that belonged in a spaghetti western or a heist movie, mostly harsh angles but with complimentary, contrasting softness. A face full of character. Not a pretty face but undeniably a good face.
"I never could get through Moby Dick," she said with one last cough, dashing the last of the water from her eyes with her hand.
"It seemed as good an opening as any." He sank down onto the stool next to her and motioned at the bartender with two fingers. The man behind the bar delivered a double scotch on the rocks without hesitation. 'Ishmael' must have been a regular.
The Captain almost shrugged but decided it was too much effort, so she returned her attention to her shot glass and took a proper swallow. Not all of it, just a taste. The burn was nice. It kept her grounded. Already, the alcohol was making her feel pleasantly disconnected from reality. She felt like hugging somebody because all was right with the world.
As quickly as it had come, the feeling of contentment left, only to be replaced with brooding. It was funny how that always happened when she was drinking.
Her new companion said nothing for several seconds, just rolled his scotch glass between his hands, the bottom of it easily sliding across the smooth surface of the bar and then he took a drink. He grimaced a little, but it was an appreciative grimace, followed by a look of pleasure. He liked the burn just like she did.
"So," he said finally, "what's a girl like you doing in a joint like this?"
This time she did summon the energy for a shrug and turned on her barstool a little. "That depends. What's your definition of a girl like me and a joint like this?"
"You seem like a nice young lady. This joint is a sinister hooch parlor."
The Captain was very careful not to snort more vodka. She couldn't decide what was funnier: the way he classified her as a 'nice young lady' or his roaring twenties vernacular. "You read a lot of pulp fiction, don't you?"
"With the pin-up girls being terrorized on the covers?" His expression was almost a smile, but not quite. He was holding it in. "Never touch the stuff."
She giggled. She could hear that it was a rather tipsy giggle. "How about you? What's a guy like you doing in a joint like this?"
"I'm in town on business." He tipped his glass back and swallowed another mouthful of scotch.
"What business are you in?"
"Collections? But it's Christmas," she said, "or, it will be in a couple of days. Shouldn't you be at home with your family?"
"No rest for the wicked, as they say." He shrugged and gave her a smile that warmed her right down to her toes. "And I'm married to my work."
"That's a shame," she said genuinely. "Everybody should have somebody. You know, somebody to love them and hug them and give them sandwiches and make them happy."
He smiled at her fondly. The expression reminded her of her father. Her father, whom she missed immensely and should really call…
For a second, the Captain thought she might burst into hysterical tears like she usually did when she was this inebriated, but miraculously, she fought it and got control of herself.
"Shouldn't you be with your family?" he asked.
"Eh, they're nearby…and they don't need me all the time, anyway," she said with a dismissive wave of her hand. Seeing that hand waving about reminded her of her manners. She offered the appendage to him. "I'm Laura, by the way, but everybody calls me Captain. You are?"
He took her hand and shook it, smiling impishly. "Oh, I don't know, I think I like being a man of mystery."
She withdrew her hand and looked at him severely. "You're going to make me guess."
He pointed at her and gave her a smile. "I'll give you a hint: it's not Rumplestiltskin."
"That's not a hint," she said sourly.
"Well then, I'll give you a proper one." He reached into his pocket and retrieved a quarter. Disconnectedly, she watched him pry her fingers from around her shot glass and press the coin into her palm. "My name is a song."
She stared at the little silver disc for a few seconds before looking back up at him, not understanding.
He smiled pleasantly and jerked his thumb over his shoulder, indicating the rundown jukebox against the wall behind him. She hadn't noticed it when she'd come in; but then again, she hadn't turned around to give the place a proper once over.
Her gait a little clumsy, the Captain hopped off the barstool and wobbled over to the jukebox. She leaned forward, braced her arms on the clear glass case over the records to stay upright and glanced over the songs. She stuck her tongue out between her lips for a second and squinted, concentrating on the letters. They swam in front of her but with some effort, she forced them to stay still long enough for her to read them. She frowned. With only three or four exceptions, all the song titles were names.
"I think," she made a conscious effort not to slur her words, "it's a pretty safe bet you're not a Roxanne, an Enid, a Mrs. Robinsin or a Little Susie...and I highly doubt you're a boy named Sue."
The Captain glanced over her shoulder at him and made a thoughtful face. "Not a Mr. Bojangles, either. Or a Bobby McGee. Henry Lee?"
Nothing about his expression changed, so she turned back to the jukebox. The world tilted for a second before righting itself once more. Okay, no more sudden moves if she didn't want to throw up. Once the world stopped turning in front of her eyes, she focused on the Jukebox and continued scanning the song titles. She mentally discarded a dozen that were dedicated to the wrong gender and a handful that didn't fit the man at the bar.
She finally settled on B7: Jesse's Girl and inserted the quarter into the coin slot. It that was the only name that sounded remotely possible and, satisfied she'd given their game the old college try, she wobbled back to the bar as the jukebox set the record into place.
The bartender delivered another shot of vodka as she plopped down on her stool and she turned to watch 'Ishmael'. If she chose correctly, she'd be able to read it on his face, drunk or not.
The sound of bongo drums, beating in a familiar pattern, filled the bar. A maraca and a few howls and grunts overlaid the jungle beat. This wasn't the song she'd selected. The Captain grumbled to herself when recognition hit. "I hate this song."
(Please allow me to introduce myself, I'm a man of wealth and taste…)
Ishmael straightened the cuffs of his shirt and then moved to do his collar. "That so?"
(I been around for a long, long year, stole many a man's soul and faith…)
"It's a good song," she explained, "but it is not the end-all, be-all of the Stones."
(I was around when Jesus Christ had his moment of doubt and pain…)
"I'm rather fond of it." He smoothed his hair and slanted his eyes at the Captain as her brain caught up.
(Made damn sure that Pilate washed his hands and sealed his fate…)
In unison with the song, he offered his hand and said without a trace of irony, "Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name."
"Sympathy for the Devil." She looked at him. "It's you."
He smiled pleasantly. "You were expecting Bugs Bunny?"
The Captain got irritated and downed another shot of vodka. "Always with the theatrics."
She was at the point of drunkenness where her voice of reason had long since been drowned and she didn't have the sense to be scared. "Why? Why don't you just step out into the light and shout, 'Hi, I'm Satan and I'm going to fuck with your head today, tremble in fear for I am the prince of darkness'?"
He tugged the lapels of his jacket, straightening the fabric into its most flattering position. "The fire and brimstone flash-bang-wow shtick? Eh, that works for some. It wouldn't do anything for you, though...and honestly, it doesn't do much for me. How many times do you think I've done this over the course of human history? I'm immortal, kiddo. Would you want to do the same job, the same way, every day until the end of eternity?
She was starting to sober up. Panic always did that to her. She wasn't sober enough to be scared, but she was definitely sober enough to attempt a smart aleck remark. "So, what, this century you're giving theme music a shot?"
"Theme music and famous faces." He moved his fingers down over the sharpest part of his jaw line, turning his head this way and that. "I make a decent Harvey Keitel, don't you think?"
"The eyes are wrong," she said automatically, finally realizing why she thought his face was familiar. "You were Errol Flynn before."
"And Henry Fonda. Last week, I was Steve McQueen. I take whatever form is expected of me." He sat back down on the barstool heavily and reached into his breast pocket for a cigarette. "Usually."
"What are you doing here?" she spat.
He propped a cigarette between his lips and it flared to life of its own accord, no lighter necessary. "Having a drink."
"Let me rephrase," she said. "What do you want?"
He blew a few smoke rings. "Absolutely nothing. Well, nothing more than to deliver a friendly reminder."
She sat up a little straighter. "I'm listening."
"Go home. Spend Christmas with your daughter. It's the last chance you'll get."
The Captain couldn't decide if she was going to cry or fling something at his head. "What do you care?"
"Don't believe everything you read, kid. I'm not as bad a guy as the good book paints me."
"Oh yeah, you're a regular prince," she growled, lifting her empty shot glass threateningly. "Coming here to tell me I'm not going to have another Christmas--"
"The trouble with making deals," he said from around his cigarette, "is that somebody's always going to come and collect."
She threw the shot glass at him. It passed right through him and crashed against the wall opposite, shattering on impact.
In an instant, the bar was dark, the walls scorched and covered in graffiti. The building was abandoned, the leather of the barstools torn and the jukebox ruined. This place hadn't been inhabited in years. He still stood before her, but the bartender was gone. An icy wind blew through the holes in the decaying building. It whistled and howled, making the place even more eerie.
The man in black extinguished his cigarette, stubbing it into his palm. "You have one year. Use it wisely."