Piss On Clarke's Third

December 20, 2016:

John, hunting the demon accidentally loosed by Kazinsky's ritual rehearsal, manages to get an innocent bystander involved. They drive the demon off in a most unusual way. There are arguments about science versus magic, and in the end, John makes a terrible mistake.

Brooklyn

Somewhere near a Trader Joe's…

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

"I know what these are. I didn't ask you to tell me what they are. I asked you to tell me why they're coming up for twelve dollars!"

"Because they're Asian pears."

"Are you not hearing the words out — did you just not hear my question?"

"Asian pears are three bucks for one."

"I'm not paying that!"

"So you don't want them."

"I didn't say that! Of course I want them! But I'm not paying three bucks for a damn pear! It is fruit. A PIECE of fruit. Three dollars for a piece of fruit. Are you seriously mad?"

"No…" replies the long-suffering cashier at Trader Joe's, staring vacantly into space. Between the fifteen piercings, what's left of his zippered face wears resigned boredom.

Not that it stops the ranting, raving, spit-fire little thing at his till, with flaring brown eyes that seem to want to usher in the apocalypse. Right now, she seems adamant to fight to keep her small bounty of Asian pears among her purchases, slamming them back into place each time the cashier tries to set them aside.

He exhales noisily that rattles through the chain hanging from his nostrils. His eyes roll up like a cow's to stare at the ceiling. "Please stop reaching over. You have to stay on your side —"

"I am on my side!" Jane blurts back, temper well and truly lost. "And so is /God/! This is a rip-off, seriously! This whole city! Listen. I don't want to talk to a manager. I don't want to talk to ANYONE. Just do this for me, and I've had a REALLY long week, and —"

The line-up between her raving madness has grown to fifteen. The person waiting ever-so-patiently in behind helps it along by ramming Jane in the ass with her cart.

Jane sputters and turns like a hundred-pound tornado. "Did you just do that?! You back that crap right up! What the hell is with you people! Can you not wait? Or no one waits here, right? I've seen about six people piss on a six different walls, so if a urinal is considered a time-sink, then this is out of the question?!"

The cashier sighs the last bit of his soul free. "Do you want to talk to a manager?"

Five minutes later, Jane bursts free from Trader Joe's, her armful of groceries clutched in hand, stomping fiercely down the snow-dusted Brooklyn sidewalks. She takes all of her temper, all of her anger, all of her frustration, all of her homicidal impulses, and just evacuates it all out in one, long, HUFF of a breath that chemtrails her cloudily on the freezing air.

—-

/It's here somewhere./

Even if he didn't have the information on good authority, he can /feel/ it, worming its way across the exposed skin of his forearms, his coat removed and slung over his shoulder so that he can better sense what he's doing. It makes the fine hair on his wrists stand up.

He looks absurd, obviously, but it never occurs to him to consider. John Constantine has a long history of engaging with impossible things in very public spaces, and he's long since stopped caring about whether it makes him look a twat or not. Once you've been in and out of a high-security sanatorium more than twice, you learn to make peace with your reputation as a madman.

Not that he looks mad, precisely; it's more that he looks like a talentless hack of a busker. He looks like…a mime with no makeup on. Hands out, held up, palms facing a blank wall, he steps toward and away from it, retreats, slants his focus up toward the roof, estimating, measuring by eye. Two steps left, a half-turn away to look at the wall out of the corner of his eye — no, that doesn't work. Turns away from it entirely, minds his business, watches the street traffic, then /spins around quickly and strikes the wall/, only to cuss under his breath on a plume of white mist and shake out his now scuffed hand, his expression tilting toward the definitively irritated. People who pass by are giving him a wide berth, striving to avoid eye contact. New York does not want anything to do with him. They've seen worse, but they'd really just rather not get /involved./

"Come on, you absolute pillock. Open fucking sesame."

—-

Hefting up her paper bag of groceries, turning envious looks on fellow Brooklynites wearing backpacks — why didn't she think of that, and she's supposed to be a god damned genius — Jane sighs another misty fog into the air. She has a semi-considerable walk ahead of her, and her load is already getting too-heavy for her arms, and did she mention she misses New Mexico, misses her truck, misses a technological level of society where people can /drive/ to where they wish to go and use those same glorious machines to cart and transport their goods?

She supposes she'll be gaining some muscle in the far future, seeing she doesn't die of starvation first.

Already feeling wind-nipped in the face, cheek and nose numb, and stumbling a bit to try to kick some snow out of the heel of her flats — boots, Jane, you wear boots now — she speeds up her brisk walk-of-hell, turns a corner, and —

— witnesses some strange man punch a brick wall.

Jane's face screws up skeptically. Must be having the kind of night she is.

For a sensible few moments, she folds with the rest of New York, obviously not wanting anything to do with a crazy blond guy apparently having fisticuffs with the architecture, gripping her grocery bag an inch more tightly as she very respectfully looks instead at the garbage bags lining the streetside.

She swears she overhears him speak. Oh, Jane, just keep walking. Don't do that thing you do, when you get a question in your head, when you get curious and want to pry, when you just can't let shit go.

New York quickly bustles by. But Jane Foster isn't really New York, not officially, so she lingers, glancing back over her shoulder, switching her groceries to her other arm. "You know that isn't a door, right?"

—-

The /look/ that Jane receives in answer to her helpful clarification could scrape paint off of a wall, so flat and sharp is it. John begins to open his mouth, no doubt flicking the safety off in order to fill her with all six chambers of caustic retort, when his expression suddenly shifts. The faint suggestions of crow's feet at the corners of his eyes appear as he narrows them thoughtfully, head tilting oh-so-slowly. Seeing her. Seeing possibilities in her.

The smile surfaces slowly, crooked and disreputable, but it has nothing lecherous whatsoever in it — which may not be reassuring, exactly. "Is it not? Love, I don't suppose I could ask you to do me a favor? Nothing /untoward/, I promise. I'll pay you for your time. Flag you down a cab, send you on your merry way. All /you/ have to do…"

He straightens, unclasps a bit of battered metal from about the bones of one of his wrist, and holds it out. It winks in the light, small grooves breaking up the uniformity of the tarnished surface. "Is put this on, and ah…touch the wall. Just…you know. Wherever it seems like you ought to."

—-

Her words are saucy, but Jane's expression is close to guileless. At worst, a little sactimoniously superior. In her life, she's learned nothing helps a lingering bad mood like being right about something.

The look she gets back — expected, but at the same time, Jane's eyebrows raise so high they reach forehead escape velocity. She looks on, lingering still from her spot, lips tightening against the way the maybe-crazy, OK-definitely-crazy, wall-punching strange man gentles into a more charitable smile.

Then he speaks. Hearing him much clearer this time, Jane tilts her head, taking note of the far-from-home accent. Though, at the same time, not the first she's heard in this city. He asks for a favour. Immediately, she cringes like she's already well-past realizing she's made a mistake. "I, ah, probably not. My ice cream is melting." Her eyes twitch around at all the snow. "Or freezing."

It'll be nothing untoward. Jane really needs to invest in pepperspray. Though, if she didn't buy it after an actual home invasion —

"I probably should…" She re-hefts her bag. He proposes paying for a cab. Jane struggles with clear, transparent indecision. She really did just overspend her contract's monthly allowance on new equipment, and anything more would mean an in-person, bartering visit to one of SHIELD's fake-smiley Pense-haircut goons, which is the last thing she wants to waste her time on — and the groceries in hand are the last bit of aggressive spending until after Christmas.

She weighs this. Seriously, it's a strange man. She's not supposed to talk to strangers. This is kindergarten, Jane. This is stupid, and she is wasting her evening and he is —

— taking something off her wrist and proffering it forward. Jane, ever curious, the soul of a crow half-stepping her forward to squint at the first something that shines, gives it a good stare. A pensive frown curves her mouth. The instructions that come with don't help her confusion. "Serious?" she asks, peeking back up at the man. A quirk hitches at the corners of her lips. "Is this one of those Youtube street magic things? Are you Kurt Angel? Or is that a wrestler. Chris Angle?"

—-

Up close, the bracelet, shaped like a roughly-hammered, time-worn letter C, reveals the nuances of its notched markings: something that looks like runes, transitioning into — what, some sort of desert script, Arabic, Aramaic, something — and then markings even less clear further along the bend, until it disappears around the curvature, out of sight.

He's just waiting, really, while she makes excuses. She will, or she won't. One of his brows arches enough to communicate that he'd like an answer sometime in the next minute or so, but he doesn't press the issue, and until she asks him if it's street magic, he remains more or less still.

That, though, gets a laugh, a little rasp of dark humor. "Something like th—"

But she isn't done. She keeps going. She goes straight to 'Chris Angle.'

The transformation of his expression is astonishing in its scope. He looks /appalled/. Not merely taken aback, not just offended, but utterly scandalized, even wounded, jaw hinge lax and brows cutting hard together over his nose. "Am I— am I /what/? Am I /what?/" Straightening, his held-out hand with the bracelet settles more into the general space in front of his chest, momentarily forgotten. "Criss /bloody/ Angel? Do I look like that tight-pants, lube-haired, man-liner wearing— /ultra-minge/—"

John stops. He closes his eyes. Lifts a hand, holds it out as though to stop her, stop the situation, petition for a moment of silence and decency. "Bloody yanks. No. Listen — forget it. Sorry. Never mind that. You don't know what you're saying, obviously, it's fine. Just…can you do this thing for me, or not? Because I've got someplace I've got to be and it's /extremely/ important. If you're not feeling up to it, I'll hire somebody else, alright? But there's a bit of /time pressure/."

Eyes open, he holds the bracelet up a second time, and the brow goes up again, querying.

—-

Jane tilts her head, eyes drawn down on the bracelet. She's never been one for jewelry, and has never worn anything more ostentatious than a necklace or two, but finds herself momentarily engrossed by the strange, metallic thing, writ with a script she cannot read. It reminds her of one doctoral grant that got her to see a few of Nasir al-Din al-Tusi's works, in the flesh, old and beautiful and perfect.

That happy memory helps keep her lingering, when the far more sensible would already be laughing awkwardly and backtracking away.

Of course, she yammers the first thing that comes to mind. Street magic, right? She's seen a video or two of it. Proving her cultural awareness, Jane rambles on — and then goes absolutely silent, because there's no feasible permutation in the universe that would allow her to react the way this man does. He goes 0-to-60 indignation, climbing and climbing to the full crescendo of a complete rant, and the tiny woman just stands there, taking it in passively, staring in shock through it all. Her face is undisguised innocence.

Because, seriously, it's magic tricks. It's stupid and not real and really, really, stupid. Who the hell gets offended about comparisons to street magicians?

Jane looks one way, then the other, a little nervously, as if begging for help from any nearby onlookers. New York gives them a wider berth. She made her bed. She's on her own.

Fortunately, he stops. Calls her a yank, but stops. Jane has, in those moments, graduated far past skeptical and gone into pitying-the-legitimate-crazy-man, her lips moving like she's trying to figure out how diplomatic to say if she needs to call help for him, like a shelter, or a hospital emergency, or a therapist. She doesn't get a chance. That whole Criss Angle-Angel mistake filed for what it is, he goes back to his proposal, and she pauses in clear indecision, unsure if this is some set-up, if he's an over-elaborate busker, or something far worse.

Her arms ache. She really would like a cab home. And, well, she's… curious.

"Fine, fine, fine," Jane blurts, eyes rolling, though she's not annoyed at him — she is at herself. Because this is a bad idea, and she knows it. She allows a single moment of clear sobriety, to wonder how her evening has now become /this/ — and puts it away, in favour of ambling closer, glancing aside to see if there's some safe place to set down her groceries. She seems reluctant to. The first day here, she set down her last phone on a bench and lost it two seconds later. She grumbles, "You better be good for that cab fare, or I'll show you a magic trick of my own. So I put on the thing and touch a wall? I don't punch it?"

—-

/Good./ Fine. Yes.

John puffs out a breath and short-nods, extends his hand that much further so that she can take the bracelet without having to get any closer to him if she doesn't want to. He could literally not care less what she thinks of him, but he does have a sneaking suspicion that he needs her to either confirm or deny, so keeping her placated is probably wise.

There isn't really any good place to put the groceries, but John knows better than to offer to hold them for her. He does, however, dig into his pocket with one hand and retrieve a wad of bills that would be enough to get her from here to Connecticut, probably. Constantine has little enough use for money, and it's not difficult to come by when the universe is rigged in your favor.

He holds it up to show her — he's good for it — and then pivots to look at the wall, taking several steps back. "You put it on, and touch the wall," he repeats, confirming.

/I don't punch it?/ she asks. He slants her a look, then shrugs. "If you want to. Just…do whatever seems like the right thing to do. Alright? Don't overthink it, love."

—-

The sight of money definitely placates Jane Foster. She no longer believes she's stepping into some situation that will have her mugged; at worst, maybe hustled. Hustled for what, she's not sure, she's not really good for anything save four Asian pears and her own shoes.

The woman struggles with her bag of groceries that's easily a third of her size, reaching a breaking point where she frowningly, and with great reluctance, sweeps a clear spot along the pavement with her shoe and sets it down. She leans her leg against it in clear territorial tag, because New York City is ready to run off with anything left unaccompanied. Finally free of her burden, Jane pauses, then daintily picks the bracelet free.

Like any good scientist, she turns it in her hands, tilting her head to get a better read of the script she still cannot parse. Her fingertips feel it over, but in the end, it's just as it is — a bit of metal.

"This is definitely the second weirdest thing to happen to me this week," Jane quips, resigned to roll back her coat sleeve and free her slender left wrist. She slips it over her hand and swivels her arm to test the trinket's weight.

A chuff of air mists visibly from her mouth as Jane faces the wall. Somewhere, back in her mind, the doctor part of her chides: this is so dumb. Doesn't she know it. She lingers, only to glance around her — still a little paranoid she's being set-up, though for what, who knows — and double-takes again at the Briton calling her 'love' again. Austere Yanks aren't used to endearments from over the pond.

"It's my job to overthink," Jane replies, as she outstretches her right hand to lay on that wall.

—-

'This is definitely the second-weirdest thing to happen to me this week.'

"If I'm lucky, it's probably about to be the third," says John, tugging his draped coat off of his shoulder and dragging it on one sleeve at a time.

The bracelet is nothing special in her hands. It's still a little warm on the top where it was resting on his wrist, but the ends are cold again. The script is very obviously a pidgin of languages, but it wasn't engraved with any remarkable degree of care. It is not beautiful.

And when she slips it on—

…well, that doesn't change much of anything, either. There is no sensation of power tingling its way into her fingers, no guiding force drawing her hand inexorably toward a specific place. It sits on her wrist, lumpy and a bit cool, maybe a little bit heavier than it looks, but otherwise as mundane as a sack of dirt.

So is the wall, when she touches it. Brick. Dirty. Probably pissed-on, if her earlier stories about public urinators are anything by which to surmise.

John watches intently through clouds of his breath, eyes narrowed. Waiting.

Two seconds. Three seconds.

He starts to sigh, a long stream of air bleeding out of him. "Ah, shite. It was worth a try, anyw— oh, there now. Hang about."

The brick yields. It /exists/, but it yields anyway. Her fingertips disappear into the gritty facade, as though the particles with which the wall is made up simply slide aside, her own physicality more real and imposing, the way an icebreaker ship slides like a knife through a floe.

John's footsteps from behind her. "Hah! Right after all. Thought so. Here you go, love—" He's there beside her, slightly in front of her, far shoulder now encased in brick wall, all brisk and businesslike movement. Stuffing the fold of bills in her hand. The other one aims to slip the bracelet off of her, touch as gentle as a master pickpocket's — because that's what it is, frankly. "Now off you go."

—-

The wall yields and parts beneath her fingertips. Her hand, palm-flat, long fingers splayed, disappears into. the. brick.

Jane stares. She stares like she doesn't need a strangely-written bracelet at all, because her EYES are going to burn a HOLE straight through solid matter. Her mouth opens. Twitches at the corner. Her lips move a bit. And then she says, eloquently, "What. The. Hell."

Her silence is a clear and uninterrupted window for the Brit to approach, speaking along enterprisingly like she managed to coat-hanger jimmy a car door open for him, and ta, off with that, love. Her free hand clasps weakly down on the money planted there, a motor-loop reflex, not really reacting, not really realizing what is happening. She just stares forward. She blinks now and then.

There is where the normals in his life usually decide to up and get the hell out of Dodge. There is only so much abnormality a delicate mind can take, can deal with, before it must deny, deny, deny, delude, delude, delude, forget, forget, forget.

Then Jane Foster just chirps like she's gotten her Christmas present early. "This is quantum tunneling!" Her head turns and cranes up, dark eyes lit with such raw /joy/. "It — it — it exists! Through Schrodinger's equation, but even the probability coefficient is near-negligent when dealing with electrons escaping barriers of nanometres! Do you even REALIZE the probability of this happening? It's — I could calculate it now. It's nothing. It's NOTHING. It's impossible! It's about as likely as me willing my digestive process into a thermonuculear exchange of energy!"

She begins to burst out laughing. Then, just as fast, she shuts up. If only for a moment. Jane's eyes burn up at HIM, that man, with the blond hair, and the accent, and the proposition, and the bracelet, and how — how did he manipulate the Schrodinger equation? How COULD —

About then she begins to notice the money in her hand. About then she begins to hear him saying incredulous, odd, strange, strange, strange! things like 'off you go', when she is wrist-deep in the scientific discovery of the decade.

Jane gives Constantine a look like he's stupid. Then she walks right through.

—-

Normals in John's life do have one of two responses, typically, when they find themselves confronted with things that they don't understand, though their reasons for those reactions can vary. Some of them do leave. Most of them. If not because they're threatened by what's happening — and it is often legitimately threatening — then because they don't trust John Constantine, of all people, to be a safe companion with whom to explore the fringes of the known universe, and John would probably not argue the point.

The others do what Jane is about to do. They throw themselves headlong into it, often at his objection — but we'll get to that.

Bracelet in hand, swiftly in pocket, he ought to just slip through the wall and disappear, and that was his intention. It's her reaction to what's happened that stops him. He's used to the blank stares, the open mouths, the 'that's impossible!' or 'I must be dreaming!' and other such mindless, tiresome exclamations of the obvious. And Jane /does/ say that it's impossible, that's true, but she gets there via a scenic route he's never encountered before, suddenly a fountain of words that he roughly understands the contours of, even if he couldn't do the math.

John knows about quantum /magic/. Quantum /science/ is beyond him.

So it stops him where he's standing, a curious soul at heart, to watch her have her gasping epiphany. He finds it sort of endearing, really; the same sort of feeling one gets while watching a puppy leap up and down against the inside of a doggie gate when they spot you coming, tiny little tails wiggling, filled with pure, innocent, animal joy.

It's a mistake, though, and he realizes that one moment too late to change the outcome. "N-no-nonono, you d—!"

She's through.

His breath leaves him all in a rush, all of the muscles in his face letting go at once, eyes rolling heavenward and closing. "—don't…want to do that," he finishes, wearily. The hand still on the city side of the wall lifts, pinching at the bridge of his nose and then rubbing his face in restrained agitation. He blinks his eyes to clear the resulting blur, finds a small child staring agape at the man half-buried in a building.

"Oh, piss off," he says, and then slides backward through the wall, into a place Jane will already be confronting.

It might be easy to believe at first glance that this space could exist on the other side of the wall. It looks urban enough. It's just that the size is all wrong: it's a warehouse, not an apartment building, and it's full of piles of junk, half-constructed stalls like improvised storage units. The wall they passed through enters through one of these. To the right-hand side of them is a pile of merry-go-round horses, paint peeling off of them like leprosy. Dust is thick in the air. Rafters are thick overhead. There isn't much light, though there's enough to see his expression as he rounds on her.

He squints over her head, smirks. It's a hard smirk, one that threatens to evolve into a biting laugh, chased with a roll of his shoulders, quick tilt of his head, squint, sniff, thumbing of his nose, jut of his jaw, hands on his narrow hips as he takes a scuffling single step in no particular direction — token gestures of an impending confrontation from a man who grew up on the streets of Liverpool.

"Oh, sure, of course. Just…coming along for the ride, eh? No bloody idea what's about to happen, just thought you'd /walk through a wall with some man you don't bloody know/, no idea what's on the other side? Do you have the survival instincts of a fucking /lemming?/"

—-

It may be a warehouse, dark and desolate, with each peripheral movement sweeping dust motes into the air — but Dr. Jane Foster is about two steps away from making snow angels.

She's twirling like a ballerina when he arrives, all passion and zero form, stumbling a bit with a half-choked, drunken giggle. Her arms spread out as she spins in place. SHE JUST QUANTUM TUNNELED! She crossed matter! She WAS wave-particle duality! She went from one place to another! This is actually happening! This is actually real! She DID this and she can write a paper and — oh god, the math, she has to do the math, she has no paper, she has no laptop, does she have her phone? she has to tell SELVIG, he won't believe this, or maybe he will, and she'll dance some more, and oh my god, oh my god, oh —

Jane sobers as a voice rises up through the dark, drawing to a stop, having enough self-awareness to look, at the edges, mildly embarrassed for her behavior — but the rest is just too damn happy to care. She beams him up a million-watt smile, the brightest source of light in this entire dark, dank room. There is NOTHING that could kill her mood.

Then John Constantine starts to speak. Little by little, the pleasure deflates out of her like air squeezed from a balloon. Jane listens on, brow furrowing, lips wrung up, back straightening like a rifle, all rigid and taut with a dozen little indignities. How does she even START to respond to this?

"OK, first off, I'm an astrophysicist," is Jane's valiant attempt. "This, here? This is my specialization. So can the patronization, because I probably know a hell of a lot more about this than you. Second? The ride? The RIDE?" She flings her arms out to either side, a universal gesture of ARE YOU SERIOUS? "How about I am the DRIVER of this ride, because from what I recall, you were having slight difficulties even getting this to happen. Weren't you? You needed me — and that bracelet? Why would that be? Does it have to do with the transmission medium? Am I right?

"Either way," Jane babbles, giving no time for a response. Not finished. "What was I saying — you wouldn't have been able to do this without me! So I'm as integral as you are! Whoever — actually, who the hell are you? I think our relationship has progressed — SOMEWHAT — that I deserve a name. And a hell lot of answers! AND —

" — And I am not a lemming." That bucks up her stubborn jaw, armed with a pointedly superior frown, because she is the academic, and she will LECTURE this point by striding back to the wall in question. "The propagation of a wave would remain /constant/, this is elementary Newtonian law, so just as easily as this occurred, we can simply —"

Jane very educationally reaches to put her hand through —

— very hard, very abrasive, solid matter. She stubs her fingers and scrapes her knuckles, pulls her hand quickly back, frowns, and then tests it again, pawing bemusedly along a wall that just isn't going anywhere. "Oh. Um."

—-

There is a tiny tirade from a tiny human.

John just stands in front of it, all perfect stillness, everything in the eyes, which track her twirls, her stop, the flinging outward of her arms. His brow perks as she insists that she knows more about it than he does — that's news to /him/, obviously — and then the other one joins it as she declares that they have a /relationship./

/Our relationship/, she says, as though this is a permanent state of affairs, rather than an accidental interaction, a mistake, a fluke. She was a /tool for a job/, and he didn't do what he ought to have done and just leave her on the sidewalk, safely to travel home to whatever sort of bizarre but predictable world she lives in. And now the hammer is indignantly demanding that the carpenter give it his name, because /they have a relationship/.

It's barmy.

(One might imagine that John Constantine would know better than to dismiss people that way, as coincidences in his life are rarely pointless affectations of fate: there is usually a reason that things happen the way that they do. But witness: the power of denial, from a man who believes he's better off alone in every conceivable circumstance.)

Still, he has the satisfaction of watching her walk over and poke the wall, and he revels in it for a smug few moments before remembering why he's here. He advances on her, and pitches his voice down into a rasping half-whisper.

"One out of…what, four? I lost track. Could be worse. Yeah— I needed you to get in. As it turns out, the lock wasn't going to open for a man, right key or not. You had the right 'equipment' for the job. Ta. That somewhat narrows down the field of what I'm after. But in what is likely going to be /very/ bad news for you, love, it means you're now stuck in here with me until I find it, and I'm going to guess that a /demoness/ doesn't fit anywhere in your textbook roadmap to the cosmos, eh? Bloody /normals/. This is all just a great big adventure to you, innit?"

There is a heavy, distant sound — /SCHLACK/ — somewhere far off in the shadows in the warehouse, like the unfurling of canvas sails on a ship, or a large piece of leather being shaken out.

John, who was only just warming up to his lecture, spins around, throws one arm out to the side, himself between she and the rest of the cavernous space.

"Bollocks," he whispers.

—-

For the next many moments, Jane seems well-content to continue fondling the wall, her searching hands feeling it over with both fascination and irritation. She chews on her bottom lip, put-out, not one to be Brutus'd often by scientific law. Et tu, physics?

Unless — she tilts her head and replaces a few variables among the calculations spooling through her head.

For such a fierce, raving, emotive slip of a thing, the woman clamps back up into strange and pensive silence, tunnel-visioned, distance in her eyes to suggest she's momentarily even forgotten the Briton man —

— until he advances well enough toward and through her periphery that his presence can no longer be ignored. Jane turns her head, so tiny she has to crane her head to look up this close, her dark eyes bright, animal-hungry, starved for answers. He concedes needing her — and explains exactly why. He lacked the equipment.

Jane squints with outrage, interrupting with a quick and angry, "You're disgusting."

But she listens. She gives him the benefit of the doubt and actually, studiously listens, appearing not one of those people who refuse to acknowledge, refuse truths, refuse information, refuse data of any form — she wants to know how this happened, and she REALLY wants to know how he is the strange centerpiece to all of it. "How is this bad news? Do you not realize what this is? And you said 'stuck in here'. Where, exactly, is here? We're still in Brooklyn, are we not? Through that wall. And find what? Are you ever going to tell me what's going on? Do I need to put another bracelet on for you to do that? Or give YOU money? And why are you whispering?! Are we whispering now?! And —"

Jane glosses through several of his words, shaking her head through the rest of it, already done listening right around when he calls this an adventure. Makes it sound like she's some foolish schoolgirl. "Excuse me?! Adventure? More like scientific discovery! And did you seriously just say 'demoness'?"

Asgardian aliens, she can understand. Alien elves and dwarves, a stretch, but OK. Demonesses? What the hell is going on, and can Jane just go back to trying to quantify how she quantum tunneled into a warehouse and then —

The room echoes with a violent clap of some opening sail — a sound the very land-dwelling Jane Foster has never before heard in her life — and she twitches toward its source, her narrowed eyes turned on the darkness.

It's his reaction that animates her, the suddenness of it, the snap-outstretch of his arm, and Jane's heart hitches, every muscle stretching taut, every nerve on end. Now she whispers. "What was that?!"

—-

There were no answers to her questions because John wouldn't have been able to get a word in edgewise, even if he'd wanted to. Which he hadn't. So he doesn't. He does not even bother. He can already feel the tight pulse of the veins that thread his skull blooming into pressure at the temples, and while he might typically commend that kind of inquisitive nature, this is /so/ not the time.

Or the place.

Whatever the time and wherever the place may be. Which he hasn't deigned to say, so, who knows, really?

"That," he answers, syllables carried on little more than breath, "Is trouble."

The rest of him remains in stillness as he slowly slides his outstretched hand into the inside of his coat. He retrieves a small flashlight from an inner pocket, and with a neat, soundless flick of the wrist flips it around in the same hand to aim the beam end with the heel of his hand, as though the light were the point of some endless dagger.

It is impossible to move with perfect silence on the dust-filmed, concrete floor, but he makes a remarkably good effort. He moves slowly but with purpose, head tilting this way and that, listening. His expression has been stripped of all of its cocky dismissiveness, all of its practiced boredom with the world, and all that's left is hard, raw focus, underpinned with a simmering and weirdly sourceless anger.

As he moves further out into the broader, emptier center of the space, a shadow moves on the periphery, between stacks of junk that loom like bric-a-brac golems. He pivots sharply to face that way, only to spin a second time as something clatters out of the rafters behind him — a can? Something.

Whatever it is that's in here with them, it's fast.

Fast as Hell, maybe.

—-

"Trouble?!" is the sputtery yelled non-yell whisper at Constantine's turned back. "What the hell did you do?!"

The best part is that little, indignant upswing to the last word — outrage. Like it's his fault, and it is, to have PUT something right in the middle of HER scientific discovery.

Still trying to play mental catch-up with what could be happening, not helped whatsoever by her adrenaline already on overdrive, Jane lingers a moment more near the wall, then, after five long seconds of watching his forward stride deeper into the warehouse, takes a deep breath and follows. She doesn't want to be left alone. Not when he's acting this way, nervous and tense, which is making /her/ nervous and tense. This is supposed to be a time for celebration, for discovery, for work, not —

Jane swallows against a throat gone dry. Her moving eyes follow the way her strange new acquaintance turns on and points a flashlight, looking around, past him, to peer into the beam of light. Not a person whatsoever to squeeze-shut her eyes and hope for the bad things to go away, even now she's rapt with curiousity, regretful of every reflexive blink of her eyes that takes away the unimpeded need to /witness/.

"Why aren't we looking for a way out?" demands more of Jane's thin, reedy whispers. She looks frowningly behind her own shoulder —

— and startles when sound clatters in a entirely different direction, something that when Jane yanks up her wide eyes, comes met with only more darkness and silence. It does move fast.

Her presence hovers a pace closer, officially graduated from ornery to concerned.

—-

It /is/ time for work.

It's just that it's time for John's sort of work, which is everything that Jane's sort of work is /not/.

She's following him, though.

She's — she's following him.

John's brief glance behind him becomes a double-take. She's /following him/.

The look on his face can't seem to decide how it wants to resolve: whether he's exasperated or impressed; whether he's in disbelief or relieved, because truth to tell, a wallflower might actually be an even greater liability than a madwoman.

"An' why would I do that? Eh?"

He turns back to the fore, tracking the beam's angle with his gaze. "This is why I came."

The circle of bluish illumination breaks up across ragged shorelines of discarded rubbish comingled with artifacts from some earlier urban period. Shag carpet in color palettes that could only ever have belonged to the seventies; vinyl diner booths, cracked and splitting, foam and stuffing spilling out of them like entrails made of soiled clouds. Car tires, filing cabinets from the fifties in every color of khaki and institutional green. Cobwebs hanging from everything like silk handkerchiefs. Networks of spider webs, spotted through with clots of dead, drained insect.

Glass tinkles in the corner off to the right side. In the moments before the flashlight swings that way, there is a peculiar glow splashing off of the warehouse walls, like the unsteady flickering of a flame. The light from the flashlight blots it out entirely.

His voice at full volume seems to thunder through the warehouse by comparison with those ragged whispers. "I know you're in there. No sense playing hide and seek. Let's have a look at you!"

After a weighty silence, their quarry obliges. Flame belches upward, cresting the appearance of a head some eight feet off of the floor as a figure uncoils in the shadows beyond that far pile of useless junk. There are suggestions of scales, of digitigrade legs, something heavy and metal that sings against the hard floor. The flames consume the head, swirling in a noxious pyre, and then the massive outline is barreling toward them with a howl that sounds like a car alarm played back on a turntable being savaged by a pack of angry dogs.

And John, the man who presumably knows all about how to deal with something like that, something that must weigh as much as a draft horse, leaps into action by—

Chanting something.

He holds one of his hands up, raises his voice to be heard over the unholy shrieking: "Nulla enim est virtus vel in /coelo/, vel in /terra/, vel in /inferno/, quae non descendat a Deo, quo non fauente nihil quod habet, dare, et in actum traducere potest!"

…and that would be great, very dramatic, if it had any effect whatsoever.

It does not.

—-

The woman's brown eyes move in a dozen different directions. It seems as much as Jane Foster sees, assesses, and appraises, she also compiles, her picture-perfect memory mapping everything into order. She codes it all furiously into the synapses of her head with the precise awareness of someone who is going to be sketching this out on paper, angle for angle, detail for detail —

— give, well, she survives it and all.

They step past and through and among countless, strange, and untouched objects, things that speak of decades long past — things that are familiar only to Jane from the afternoons she'd spend going through her father's estate, tallying photos and yearbooks and personal things, the 1970s heralded in the strangest and most eclectic colours and shapes — little reminders that jog her memory and clutch her heart so incongruously to the fear she knows she should be feeling now.

What's worse is Jane has to touch everything. Deliberately, never on accident, brushes of fingertips here and there, smearing dust between her fingertips and remembering that too, making sure she truly and purposefully inhabits this space and time, and does it well — because of what tonight's discovery means to her.

She reaches out and breaks up cobwebs with her palms, rubbing them off dismissively on the legs of her jeans. She keeps her head up, and her eyes open — and, most of all, Jane stays close. She does not know John Constantine, does not know him, does not know his name, does not know what it is that has bestowed him with executing tonight's scientific impossibility — but even with what little she seems to know, she chooses to trust.

Perhaps because she has to. Perhaps because, to Jane, true fear is being left behind, and all alone.

Or, perhaps not, perhaps true fear is REALLY just the way John Constantine declaratively YELLS out toward the terrifying, moving-too-fast, slithery movement in the darkness, speaking with such a challenging confidence that Jane stares an incredulous hole through the back of his head. Again, her needle-thin, ANGRY whisper: "What are y—"

Fire brings light to the dark.

Jane looks up. And up. And up. Her eyes widen. Her pupils shrink. The colour goes out of her face. And of all things, all things she should be thinking of, she thinks of that strange soldier of hers, and how she really, really, really wishes he were here right now. Him and all of those guns.

Scales. Legs that do not bend they way they should. Fire — living fire — not possible — somehow is — evidence in front of her — has to be —

The SOUND it makes. Jane shudders, hands lifted to her ears, balked backward and folding on herself, feeling her mind rip apart with dissonance not meant in language, not FOUND in anything human, and she forces her shaking hands back down, to hear —

And bears abrupt and involuntary witnesses to the man, the reason for all of this, lifting one hand and engaging with with REHEARSED LATIN. He speaks with such furor that something is expected to happen and —

— when nothing does, Jane tries, oh, tries, TRIES to do something with her hands, but can't seem to decide WHAT, there's about ten ways she wants to fist and flex and curl and shake and gesture at WHAT THE HELL, SERIOUSLY, SERIOUSLY WHAT THE HELL. "I think it's levi-ro-SA, Draco," she sputters incredulously, soft and breathless, "what was — what are — what — is — this some screwed up Harry Potter LARP, what are you DOING."

—-

John can hear Jane's panting disbelief, her incredulous asides — hah, yes, Draco Malfoy, very funny — but he has no time to answer them. A demon the size of a brick shithouse is bearing down on his position, streaking felfire and unfurling clawed hands with fingers as long as his forearms. The black mineshaft of its ever-widening mouth contains thin, translucent spines, teeth that recall those of some foul, deepwater creature, barely visible in the darkness save for the gleam of light that reflects against each. The cacophony of its approach broadens the closer it gets. The ground trembles, shudders with its weight. Chips of concrete are chiseled from beneath it as one of its feet strikes, sending up showers of sparks: one foot made of some sort of metal, a bronze spike?

For a moment, even in recitation, John begins to worry, but just as it seems destined to pluck him from where he stands, it shrieks unhappily and veers off to the side, pelting into the shadows.

He pauses, catches his breath, and turns to shoot the small woman behind him a cocky rake's smile. "You were sayi —"

He doesn't get to finish his sentence. Blinding movement streaks past his opposite side, and one of those massive, spidering hands folds over his shoulder. The claws bite deep, puncturing coat and shirt, skin and muscle. He's bodily lifted off of the floor, both of his hands grasping at the one holding him up as though to ease the weight of his body on his own wounds, teeth bared in a tight grit.

This close, the beast has a reek, but it's not the animal reek one might expect. It smells of dust, dirt roads, unwashed bodies. Its mass is solid, even feminine, though there are elements of the serpentine in it, eyes almondine and inhuman, vertically slit, nictating as it raises John up to have a better look, or perhaps to take a bite.

It's hard for him to find the breath to try something else, but he does. He transitions away from Latin and into — what? Arabic? That accomplishes nothing, either, and after a faltering moment he dredges up something else, some gutteral African ritual recitation.

Still nothing.

Dark shadows expand around the nails of the claws embedded in him.

—-

Jane babbles the most sharp and inane things she can say, all she can say in the moments of seeing some THING that should not be real actually REALLY heading their way — and she has to talk. She has to talk because otherwise there will just be silence, silence and the horrible noise it makes, and she'll start to scream. She'll start screaming and not stop.

Her eyes tear up because she refuses to blink. She refuses to shut her eyes against the sight of it. She survives this — she somehow survives this — and she'll never shut her eyes again.

The mass of it carries through the ground, rattling vibrations up through her too-thin shoes. Oh, she should have worn boots. The woman hitches a step backward, heart hammering in her chest, her blood hypothermic. Everywhere, every bit of her body, ices with that same, disembodied chill, and her skin and flesh and bones feel even strangely faraway — like how a pillow gets cool because you're not using it, not touching it, not there — not /here/.

But Jane is, as much as she hates to admit it, she's right here. Right here, right now, and forced to come to grips that she's seeing the first true monster of her life, and that the man next to her is trying to stop it with SPOKEN LATIN.

And it — makes the huge, slithery, terrifying thing cry out and recede back into the dark. Jane's jaw drops. Her face says it clear: you're shitting me.

He has either the time, audacity, balls, or all of the above to actually look back and SMILE at her. Her eyes just widen to their whites. Maybe she's seeing something he isn—

Now Jane screams, good and loud, when claws rake out of nowhere skewer him on their points — and lever him up, straight into the air, with her only helpless to watch. She claps a hand over her mouth and digs her fingers in. This isn't happening. This isn't happening! But it is, it is, oh god, oh god, he's going to die, and it's so close, and it's so huge, and it's so real, and its face, and its eyes, and its spike for a foot, why does it have a spike for a foot, and —

AND HE KEEPS SPEAKING TO IT. Speaking AT it, in languages she can't parse, old, dead tongues, and is he fucking kidding her?! He's not attacking it, it's not fighting for his life, and he's going to DIE mid disc-two of a Rosetta Stone lesson.

Gazing up, eyes unfocused, Jane feels absolutely helpless.

She acts without really thinking. It's the only idea she has. The only way she might be able to take its attention off KILLING HIM HORRIBLY, as she violently slaps her pockets until she hits true, pulling free her phone and illuminating it on with shaking hands. Jane manages to hit the one icon she needs. Her playlist. She picks her favourite. Her thumb mashes hard on volume up.

Most girls groove to pop songs. Jane has converted radio feed from a distant pulsar.

"HEY!" she yells up at it, because she's crazy, she knows, but she isn't going to watch someone die. Jane holds aloft her phone, eyes wide, jaw set, and hits play.

The sound is impossible to be described. Impossible to be TOLERATED, Like a pneumatic KNOCKING from inside your own head. Like women and babies screaming backwards. And those are just the frequencies human ears can hear.

—-

The pain is excruciating. The only reason John isn't screaming is that pain is really a spectrum, and he's experienced aspects of it well beyond the ends of that spectrum survivable by most other mortals. Hell /loves/ John Constantine.

He is also /furiously angry/, deeply frustrated. He meets its snarl as it dips its face toward his with one of his own. "/WHAT ARE YOU?/"

He does finally utter some kind of ragged sound as he's forced to let go with one of his hands in order to try to reach something in one of his pockets, one of his wards, a trinket, something else to try, anything, but just as he feels it dance past his searching fingertips, Jane does /something/.

He can't tell, personally, what that something is, although the racket being caused by that phone is something unique that he would, under other circumstances, be hard-pressed to ignore. It's just that when she begins to play it out loud, when it rips through the tiny speakers of her phone, never meant to broadcast such a thing, it gets the attention of the whatever-it-is that's holding him up. The tendons on the back of its hand stand out as it /squeezes/ him reflexively, and then he really does scream, a ragged, barely-there hoarse sound that ends abruptly as it pitches him off to one side like a spiked football. He hits the ground hard and rolls, skips like a stone, stopped by a wall.

It does not /like/ the sound of background radiation. It does /not/.

It approaches her more slowly, lips drawing back into an ever-increasingly more menacing snarl, its titanic height slowly decreasing. It leans forward, down, a massive and slow movement, into a posture that implies it means to pounce at any moment.

Near the wall, the bundle of shadows that is John rolls, tries to right itself with one good arm, one eye tracking the demoness' slow stalk toward that brave, brave, /stupid/ woman. "Bugger /me/."

Another innocent bystander, about to be dragged off to hell or worse, because you can't help yourself, John Constantine, and you can't help her, either. A human curse. A cancer. /Just your weekly reminder of what a piece of shit you really are./ Wouldn't want you to forget that, Johnny-boy. Wouldn't want that at all.

But what is it? /What the hell is it?/ He desperately searches for the answer in the encyclopedia of his occult knowledge. He ought to know. He ought to be able to tell, but it's difficult to think through the sensation of hot liquid pouring out of wounds inflamed by unholy malice.

—-

In the end, Jane gets an idea. An idea not even she has time to fully parse, fully vet — something carries through her synapses and she acts.

And it works. It works a little too well. Because she doubts she will ever, ever forget the sickening noise that escapes John Constantine, a twisted sound of agony not meant for the shape of human vocal cords: sick, awful sound that she feels deep in her viscera, a punch to her heart, a wringing-out of her stomach, a squeeze that pushes the burn of bile up into her throat. Her eyes sting, hurting along with him, because /she does/, because she's never heard pain like that to make a human being sound like that. It's not right, not right at all, and she's so, so sorry.

She loses sight of him. She hears him hit something, somewhere, with that heavy sound of meat, and twitches with it, tightening up her jaw as her eyes sting. She doesn't even know his name, but she's worried, worried because she doesn't know if he's alive or dead, or in between, and needing help. She can't look to see.

Jane can't turn her eyes. Can't close them. Can't do anything but stare directly forward, forward and up, and up, and up, meeting those of the thing that looks directly at her.

She's not sure what to do. She didn't plan this far ahead. Not past the idea that perhaps his stupid, stupid, STUPID chanting maybe had something to it, that initial way it made this thing shriek and recoil as if burnt. Maybe it's not so much words as frequencies, and she has a lot of those — maybe enough to buy a bit of time.

It stares at her. It's moving towards her. Step after step, lured by the hateful noise beating from the speakers of her phone.

Jane struggles not to quietly hyperventilate. She holds it forward, her phone, the way she's seen priests bear crosses in old vampire movies, trembling from her hands down into her knees with the instinctive, driving desire to run. Her blood runs her limbs like jet fuel. She wants to run, and run, and run, because she might make it, might escape, probably won't, will die. She's just a person. She isn't a protector. She isn't a hero. She isn't brave.

But maybe she can pretend to be, she decides, re-asserting her shivering self with a tightening of her hand around her phone, her too-bright eyes meeting those of a monster not of this world. Jane finds herself again thinking of that Soldier, the one with the name she knows is fake, and almost always looks at her with cool, machine eyes. She can do that too, maybe just try to for a little while, breathing in deeply, breathing out, and meeting the demon's slow, liquid stalking with clearer eyes. She holds her ground. She shifts her thumb and hits next on her playlist.

The constant, head-rending hammer of a spinning, collapsing star distorts to a different recording, a furor of plasmic wave dissonance, as the twisted, matted noise screams free of her phone all the piercing frequencies of a trillion charged electrons, ionized radiation made into pure sound layered in endless, steeped notations — droning among screams, screams among whispers.

—-

The skull of the thing is flattened like the ears of a cat, back and away from the torrent of cosmic shrieking emitting from the phone. The flames are a lurid color, threads of purple and black spooling through deep red, growing darker the closer it gets to where she is. Gradually the monstrous, hulking, sinuous thing is close enough that the blue screen glow of her phone begins to blush across its hide, illuminating the way the skin pulses with shifting patterns underneath translucent dermis — like a squid, like chromatophores, ticking and pulsing nauseatingly — and reflecting back at her in eyes the size of softballs, as beautiful and empty as the eyes of a caiman crocodile. Mundane squares from a different reality, hung against a backdrop of something utterly eternal, something beyond taxonomy.

For some moments, quiet and menacing, it may seem almost entranced by the discordant whispers from light years away, its jaws slackening, not quite so much of its ribbed throat visible in the radiant light…

…and then it shrieks a second time, a sound that shatters glass in the banks of mill-factory windows ringing the high, dingy upper reaches of the warehouse, every last pane blown out like an eardrum. Pieces of it rain down on John, who has managed to get to his feet. He ducks his head, feels pinpricks trickle down the back of his collar.

It has no less dramatic effect on her phone. The glass crumples inward as though hit with a hammer, and the songs from some remote place in space die instantly. Those golden, slit-down-the-middle eyes refocus on Jane with hunger and unrushed anticipation. It does not need to hurry to consume her: it is the apex predator in the room.

Well…mostly.

"/Come on,/ you pathetic, pox-addled " Wince, spit. " halitosis-reeking, tick-bitten —"

It writhes as though he'd thrown acid on it, suddenly all flailing limbs, flame-tongue tresses boiling upward to scorch the high, corrugated roof. /Now/ it rushes. It grips Jane with sudden violence and there is a rush of sudden movement as it yanks her up and off of the floor, toward the shadows, the mounds of forgotten things.

And John…stares. And John realizes. And John doesn't laugh — there's no time, it isn't funny, it's too serious — but he wants to, as he kicks himself. /Of course. Obviously. The leg. You're losing your touch, old son./

He does something infinitely more helpful: he yells after her, "INSULT THE DEMON!"

—-

There is nothing like this in the evolutionary record, some part of Jane thinks, as she stares back and up at the thing. She's paralyzed all over, needle-mounted helplessly into place, but her traitorous mind seems unwilling to join the terror — it only confuses her horror with a dozen stray, distracted thoughts.

Even now it has questions. Even if she is going to die, she wants to know /how/.

Is it extra-terrestrial? Wouldn't be the first species she's encountered. He called it a demoness. A /demon/. Like of the Earth, fighting for men's souls? It's ridiculous, and without grounding, so it only means this — creature — is something else. And it's coming closer.

Terrified and fascinated, though for all the same reasons some people squeeze-shut their eyes, Jane forces hers to remain open, fearful of dying but fearful of missing anything — missing one aspect of a discovery she would never have believed to be real. She can't look away; won't look away.

Of course, the only hypothermic dunk to this moment of science is staring, reflected back on those pitted eyes, is Jane's encroaching mortality. She needs to keep it away. It is in her best interest to keep it FAR away. She doesn't know Latin, doesn't know dead languages; her fluency is in numbers. And her only empirical evidence, thus far, is that she has the creature's attention riveted — whether positively or negatively — and decides to test variables.

The scientific process is a road paved with mistakes.

Galileo blinded himself. Curie irradiated herself. And Foster, well, loses her phone to the glass-shattering scream of an extra-dimensional horror.

Cringing back from the terrible sound of it, startling with shock against the feel of her phone's screen crunching and mulching inside her own hand, Jane looks beseechingly at her device, sputtering out, going dead, killing her playlist mid-plasmic waveform.

Silence crowns the darkened warehouse. All that is left is the rattling, chitin-hollow hiss of the creature stepping forward, claws clicking hollowly on cement, slithering with all the knowing patience of a predator already won the hunt — already cornering its helpless prey.

Now Jane, bravery forgotten, begins to back up. Her eyes widen beggingly. She realizes she can hear herself, her own panicked, shallow breathing, and in her last moments, the only thing she wishes for is some kind of NOISE to fill the silence of her own death —

— and prayers answered, it comes, bubbling up in a string of muttered insults. Out of darkness, Constantine begins to curse, low and grumbled and familiar, and Jane thinks "thank God," because it means he's ALIVE.

Then, rather, she thinks "AHHHHHH" and probably says as much, as anyone would in her situation, grabbed up into claws probably thicker than her legs and feeling the entire world tilt nauseatingly as she's pulled straight into the air.

Jane stares directly down a living nightmare's vantage point, unable to speak, unable to move, unable to THINK, for how her entire world eclipses only into that face, those eyes, those jaws. Something compels her to hang limp, because it's all she can do, all she has left is to find a curious sort of acceptance in all of it, because this is going to happen. She is going to die. She is going to DIE. She is going to —

— insult the demon?!

High up into the air, there is only enough time, breath, and sanity for Jane's disembodied voice to shriek: "WHAT THE WHAT"

—-

The demon isn't waiting. It's retreating, Jane in hand, no doubt to look for some quiet space where it can consume her — or whatever it wants to do to her, frankly — at its leisure. Given it was capable of creating an illusory access point to this nest, if it disappears with her in its clutches, it's no certain thing that John would be able to find her swiftly enough to prevent the inevitable.

He can't let that happen. He can't have another innocent's life on his already very bloody hands. It's too much. It doesn't even bear thinking about.

His entire life is an exercise of pushing through the pain. It's not a life that most people would want, but it does prepare him for moments like this, when his only choice is to get his shit together or watch helplessly as another black mark is made for the opposition on the scoreboard overhanging the celestial game for his soul. To watch him run, one would never know he'd been so recently skewered.

"I SAID INSULT. THE BLOODY. DEMON."

The Empusa snaps left, around a cluster of half-erected stalls, and John cuts right, aiming to head it off at the pass. He'd never keep up with it in a straight pursuit, but he can try to keep it away from the walls, try to keep it roughly in sight, interfere — maybe — with any effort it might make to escape through a tear in the fabric of reality, or — Christ, who knows?

"/Do you not know what insults are?!/ Tell it to piss off! Talk shit about its mam! Pretend it's someone you hate, I don't give a toss but if you don't start running your mouth /right now/—"

—-

The air rushes by as Jane feels herself towed along, carried as though she weighed and mattered no more than a pillow, hanging from the claws of an animate monster pulled from the dregs of Hell. Her entire life has equipped her for many things, but not this, not anything CLOSE to this, and she doesn't know what to do. She doesn't know if there's anything left for her but to hang feebly, embrace insanity, and hope for a quick end. She's terrified, helpless, and beyond reason — beyond the point where any of this makes logic. Makes sense.

She's going to die with questions in her head.

Of course, John Constantine really isn't helping any of it either, especially when, and somehow back to life, back to his feet, back in the fray, orders her to INSULT THE BLOODY DEMON.

From within the demon's claws, Jane fixes him with a distant but very familiar look. He'll know it. The one where she's looking at him like he's stupid.

"WHAT DOES THAT HAVE TO DO WITH —" she starts to scream back — only for her voice to hitch halfway. Jane decides to scream something far more logically, and not so much to him, but to the warehouse at large, at God, at the universe, because Jesus Christ.

"DO YOU NOT JUST CARRY A GUN LIKE EVERYONE ELSE IN THIS COUNTRY?!"

Anger reanimating her, Jane remembers herself to punch a bit feebly at the demon's claws. Her attempts are futile. She jerks as it carries her one way then another, cut off by Constantine's herding, trying to block its avenues before they're both lost to him. She glares at him from where she can. None of this makes sense. Insult a demon? WHY? Someone please tell her WHY!

He questions her ability to insult, and her mouth twitches. Jane knows she's running out of options, but even against the fresh threat of death, it still feels so stupid. She opens her mouth, moving her jaw a bit uselessly, lost for words. How do you insult a /demon/?

"You're… insensible?" Jane tries. "You, um, shouldn't exist! You're not real at all, and — maybe I'm asleep, or crazy, or the four-day-old coffee is coming back — you make no sense, and this makes no sense!" She pauses, purses her lips, and something in her face flips like a switch. The words start to roll free. "No, you know what makes more sense than you?! /Four/ /dollar/ /Asian/ /pears/! And leotard-wearing caped what's-its, and Batpeople, and aliens looking like a freshly-vomited Renaissance Fair, and my entire LIFE that's lead up this point —

"Do you want me to LIST how absolutely RIDICULOUS you are?" Jane graduates to a full-blown, breathless rant. "You should not exist. Your biology, which I'm only assuming is endoskeletal, stretches — very thinly STRETCHES — the acceptable deniability of physics, as you should be buckling under your own weight right now, not to mention clearly dislocating every joint in your body. Someone put RUM in your gene pool. And seriously, you're on fire. YOU'RE ON FIRE. You can't be ON FIRE. Nobody is just ON FIRE. You are either NOT on fire or you are BURNING ALIVE UNCOMFORTABLY. All of this — ALL of this — makes so little sense that the me being murdered is the only part of this I'm coming to terms with!"

Jane only stops because she's run out of air, huffing and panting and wheezing. Then she adds, breathless, "And you seriously need a bra!"

—-

A gun?

/A gun??/

Bloody Americans! "Does it /look/ like it would give a half-shite about a /gun?/ There are other answers to problems than guns, you /suicidal yank!/"

And he'd have gone on insulting the all-pervasive culture of firearm worship in the Colonies if she had not /finally/ begun to make some pretense of effort in the recommended direction.

John stays in pursuit, but it's just so much faster than he is, and its enormous body is tireless, muscle from top to bottom. And John, well— John's a pack-a-day kind of guy. There are times when he can only find sleep at the bottom of a bottle, once he's had enough to drink that his memories fuzz up too much for him to be assaulted by that persisting zoetrope of horrors. He has determination and resilience, but he's also injured, and in spite of his reputation for being harder to kill than a two-headed cockroach, he is only human.

So it's a shot of cool, blessed relief to hear her finally start to give that thing the /business/.

What kind of business it is, he would be hard-pressed to say. Something about the sound of her voice dredges up distant memories of schoolteachers in Liverpool that he'd barely bothered to listen to, droning on and on about 'we shouldn't hit other students, John' or 'did you really run into a doorknob again this week, John' or 'why did we find a dead frog in your desk, John,' as though he could be expected to remember all of the many good reasons for holding onto a dead frog.

There's something in there about pairs of Asians — not sure what that's about — but then she moves onto shrilly disapproving of Batpeople and people wearing capes, and he finally lets himself slow, following at a more reasonable pace. /That/ one he can get behind, no question.

Having shuddered uncertainly as she began to dress it down with uncertainty herself, by the time she hits her stride there is a noticeable effect on the Empusa. It holds her out at arms' length, twisting and curling away from her but unwilling to let her go yet, its animal greed still winning out over whatever visceral discomfort she's beginning to cause. Soon enough she's yelling some words so emphatically, and with such impassioned disapproval, that the beast is driven to its knees, thrashing massive limbs, gripping her desperately, barely able to hold on.

The coup de grace is when she moves away from all of the things that are broadly true, and takes a step in the direction of actual, petty, personal insult. That, it seems, is too much for the creature to take. It utters a high-pitched keening sound, almost a sound of grief, and with suddenness bordering on the dizzying it drops her, and whipcracks off into the darkness. On the far side of the building comes a /CRACK-BOOM/ sound, daylight flooding the interior, as the Empusa barrels directly through the wall in its haste to escape the pointed daggers of Jane's ire.

And John? John drops his back against the wall, closes his eyes and slowly slides down to sit, catching his breath and letting the relief settle over him like a heavy blanket. He tucks one hand into the inside of his coat on the wounded side, palm pressed over hot, wet divots in flesh.

"Oh, thank Christ."

—-

This is, without question, the most insane thing Jane Foster has ever done.

When the shock wears off, and probably after she has herself a few good three or four panic attacks, she's going to sit, she's going to stare at a wall, and she's going to say out loud, just to herself: Today I harshed a demon.

For now, Jane doesn't think. She somehow turns off her mind for once in her life, sucks in a deep, heavy breath, and just talks. And TALKS. And talks, and talks, and talks, letting insult after insult spit free, yammering any such thing she can say until she finds herself actually WANTING to say them, actually WANTING to, for the first time in her life, corner all the implausibility in her life and just TELL IT OFF. TELL IT OFF for how DUMB it is and how ridiculous her life has become. Her temper wells up, and she just snaps barb after barb, not just to save her life but because she can't turn it off.

It takes the Empusa screaming noise not meant for human ears, and letting go of Jane Foster as though she were scalding. Insults broken with a surprised yelp, the woman drops like a rock, grunting where she lands sprawled across the dusty concrete ground. Blinking her eyes, remembering herself, remembering what's even happening, she sits up, head craned just in time to watch the demon vanish from sight. Too fast to track — she shudders with a jump as it punches straight through the wall.

Straight through and gone.

Silence falls, swept-up dust motes moving though beams of daylight. And Jane among it all, still left strewn along the ground, panting noisily, her dark eyes lost in the middle distance.

Movement prickles her periphery. It's John moving that brings her back, and for a beat she gazes right through him, passively absorbing the deliberately-slow, painful way he helps himself to a sit.

Realizing he's still alive, but maybe not for long, Jane sobers, scrambling back to her feet to quickly amble to his side. He looks one piece to her, but she can't forget that way he /screamed/.

"Are you OK?!" she asks, urgently lowering herself down to her knees. Jane's skin is still a little too-pale. Her eyes blink compulsively, manic and too-bright. She stares into his face. "What the hell was that animal?! With all that — on it!" Her hands flail in the worst game of charades. "That was — that was not traditional fire!"

—-

John tilts his head to the side to look up at her as she nears, out of the corner of his eye, and her question — the /first/ one — gets a mild uptick of his brow on that side, He moves the hand slid under the shoulder of his coat, dips his chin, squints into the dim of shadow underneath cloth. A small gout of blood follows the removal of his palm, but it isn't followed by a second, so he recompresses the wound. "I've 'ad worse."

He blinks several times into the flurry of movement, so much better at articulating the impossibility of her afternoon than the vocabulary she's grown up with.

"An Empusa. Greek. /Empusae/, plural. Guardians of crossroads, goddess of roadsides. Daughters of Hecate, if you go in for that kind of thing." He cocks a lopsided, tight grin at her, still watching her out of the corner of his eye. "Which I do."

His heel grits on the floor as he pushes himself more upright in his lean against the wall, and his expression takes a dive, annoyed. "Should've realized sooner, what with the metal leg, but I wasn't expecting /Greek/. Makes perfect sense, though. Chap who summoned it did so by accident. Cast a wide net off of this plane into the next and I suppose you're only likely to catch whatever's hanging about the crossroads at the time. Bloody stupid. I'm getting soft."

This monologue is not for her. It's self-chastisement. As much would be evident as he glances at her again, as though realizing for the first time that he needs to figure out what to do with her, now that she's safely in one piece. "Ehhm. Well. Good job surviving baby's first demon attack, then. Gave me a fuckin' 'eart attack, though. I'll bet ten quid every report you took home from school read 'does not follow directions.'"

—-

Jane's eyes follow Constantine's motion down. Down to how fresh blood pools out of him without a compress and active pressure. She frowns.

"Jesus," she says, and with real sympathy vicing-tight her voice. "Here, let me help. I'm trained in this sort of thing."

Trained-ish. More like one semester of medical school before she dropped out, realized it was about to be the worst mistake of her life. But Jane remembers her gross anatomy texts. Either way, permission granted or not, she's a grabby little thing, reaching for the lapel of his coat to better try to see beneath. Plus, she figures, the protocol for proper etiquette is out on its ass after spending quality time hurting a demon's feelings.

She's still a bit down for the count, lost in shock, thinking and moving and speaking far more mechanically than she should. Jane pilots on automatic until her head catches up. She /insulted/ a /monster/ to make it /run away/. She's somehow alive. Him too. "Empusa," she repeats, testing the word uneasily, the sound of it off her own lips not quite fitting. She makes a face. "Well, I /don't/ go for that kind of thing, because it's, well, absolutely insane. And there's got to be some explanation. That I'll… get to. It's not coming back, is it? Did we throw enough shade? Is that what kids say these days? It's shade now?"

Jane rambles and rambles for the sake of making sound. Her slightly out-of-focused eyes blink now and then. It's a wonder if she's even listening to him, can listen, and — "Summoned it?" She's listening. "Someone /summoned/ that? Like, what, from a magic spell? Hocus pocus?"

He slowly rises back up to his taller height. Jane, leaning back briefly on her heels, peers up at John. Then, with another frown, levers herself up after. She still needs to figure out where they are. He's going to need a hospital. He's going to catch about fifty different staph infections from this warehouse alone. About to nag that point, her mouth opens — just as Constantine compliments her on baby's first demon attack. And how she doesn't follow directions.

"Excuse me?!" Jane blurts back. "You're giving ME lip?! After everything? And — oh. Ohhhhh. Oh, no." She draws back, just a step, to throw up her hands in the universal gesture of IT'S ON. "You know what, Draco? I'm not finished, and now it's your turn! How about how all of this is YOUR fault for not explaining things properly to people! You just come on out of nowhere with IMPOSSIBLE SCIENTIFIC PHENOMENA at your personal DISPOSAL and, what, I'm supposed to just write it off, cheerio?! Then you bring in all this weirdness and you seem to even KNOW what that animal was, and you don't carry weapons or instruction manuals or give a head's-up like SANE PEOPLE, no, no, instead you TALK IT TO DEATH? Who DOES that?! And how about when I just saved your life! Where's my thank you?! And, and — and this isn't even a crossroads! Or a roadside! It's a store — house — a room! What the hell is there to guard! Nothing you say makes sense!"

—-

Perhaps surprisingly, John lets her pry beneath his coat, and the tatters of his white dress shirt, now gone a sordid shade of scarlet. Less for his benefit than for hers. He knows what shock looks like. He's got more experience dealing with that than he'd like. If it gives her something to focus on, well— why not? He just needs to catch his breath, that's all.

While she pokes and prods he watches her, shrugs his good shoulder as she refuses to /go for things/ like the Empusa, the general sentiment that it doesn't matter whether she does or not. She does ask a pertinent question, though, which has him looking out across the space toward the shining glare of white light, December sun flooding through the ragged hole in the wall.

"Don't know. Probably. My guess is it's going off to find somewhere better to roost for the time being. Lick its wounds, or — whatever."

He slowly peels his coat off, cautious on the one side, and drapes it over a dusty, empty baroque frame, lacking the mirror it once contained. Why he bothers to carefully unbutton the top few buttons of his shirt when the shoulder is well-past shredded, who can say? Maybe popping them off felt melodramatic. Maybe it's a holdover of some sort of British propriety. Either way, he undoes it just enough to fold the top of the sleeve and shoulder back and away, to have a look at the wounds.

"Summoned, yes. Accidentally. He was practicing for a different summoning, doing a bit of a dry run. Probably didn't use any of the right materials, just the recitation, maybe drew a circle — anyway. He probably didn't think he'd catch anything, but it's a damn stupid thing to do. Got more than he bargained for, din't he?"

He's gingerly touching the puffy skin around those puncture wounds when she bridles, and he pauses, hand hovering where it was over the site of his injury, brow cocked skeptically as he watches her launch into another of her tiny tirades, petite figure too small to contain the hurricane of indignant exasperation with the state of reality.

And he stays that way, still and silent, second brow joining the first, the two drawing together in a bemused knit.

When she finishes, he rubs his fingertips together in a flurry and then presses his thumb to one of the holes in his chest with a soft crackle-hiss of cauterizing flesh. There is a wisp of smoke. It smells like…well. Bacon, actually. And burnt hair.

"Thanks?" It's a statement, but he inflects it like a question. "Though you realize half of the reason this went tits up is because I hadn't really counted on having a /tag-along/. It does make sense, love, but not the kind of sense you like, I can tell that straight-off. Why worry about it? It's over, eh? Forget all about it. Go buy yourself some new groceries and a new phone —" Something occurs to him, twitches the corner of his mouth suddenly upward. "Actually, that was quick thinking. I won't ask why you've got something like that on your phone, but ta, it was worth a try, wasn't it?"

He thumbs the next wound over. The previous one remains a tiny, angry welt, burned closed, already smooth. Swelling, though. Seriously pissed.

—-

Definitely appreciative to have something to fixate on, something that isn't demonic entities not of this world, Jane's eyes scour out Constantine's injuries. There's more blood than she would like, but she deals with it, with a discerning, doctor-of-a-different-sort practicality about her. It just feels good to do something halfway normal.

He doesn't strip all the way for her, nothing really past his coat and some of his shredded, remnanted shirt. Usually one for shyness, here the woman just affects halfway impatience, much less worried about skin as she is about /internal bleeding./

For lack of any kind of medical supplies, or even a working phone, she searches her coat pockets. Jane comes up with something good enough, a pinkish-purply scarf, and bundles the material pragmatically to help wad against the hole made in the man's side, when his own cloth soaks dangerously through. Her frown is deep and unrelenting, her eyes searching, probably trying to recall old anatomy classes to guess what internally might be damaged.

"That's good," Jane at least mutters back at sign of the beast not returning. Though her eyebrows do knot. "It's not going to hurt anyone else though, will it?" She really, really doesn't enjoy the thought of that. A thought like that may keep her up at night.

But conversation moves on to things like demon summoning, and recitations, and — and circles. It's so much. It's too much, really. Enough that once just the barest bit of sass wells up from the Brit, just a hint of it… and Jane lets go. Lets it all go, temper triggered and blood up, just rants the entire right right out of her lungs. And her response?

Thanks?

"…you're welcome," Jane replies, deflated and grumbling, choosing to take that as sincere. Then she's just staring, really, gazing on with her head tilted a near ninety-degrees, a puppy in front of its very first television set, as Constantine rubs two fingers, touches his own wound — and she balks, don't do that, don't INFECT it after touching God knows what — and somehow CREATES MORE NON-TRADITIONAL FIRE.

Jane twitches backward, jaw wide. He speaks to her, and she's listening, osmosising word after word, but really she's just staring, just watching, just comprehending how another, precious bit of her normal word has just got septic and rotted off forever. Her lips work a little uselessly, searching through a mess of a thousand thoughts for what even to say. Eventually, she finds them. "That… 'try' still saved your life. So you owe me. Enough to tell me your name. And… and maybe — maybe not all today, but explain all of this to me. All of this. Every bit."

—-

The thing with the thumb? That is an unusually ostentatious use of magic for John. He /might/ be doing it on purpose, just to watch her mentally flop on the deck like an out-of-water fish, because he's met plenty of people who have trouble grasping that reality may be a bit broader than they ever previously knew…but none who took such /personal offense/ to that fact.

It's /hilarious/.

He doesn't say whether or not it will hurt anyone else. Can't. Doesn't know. Suspects the answer is one she might not like, though.

"Hey," he puts in. "I was serious. It /was/ quick thinking. Useless, as it turned out, but you never know 'til you try, and in this business " This is a business! " it pays to think out of the box." He pauses, considers. "Well. 'Pays' is a bit strong."

He /wishes/ he was getting paid for this.

"Sometimes it's worth trying things you think are going to be useless. Like insulting a big poxy bitch of a demon. Eh?"

His smile is tired, but in good spirits — at least until she starts asking questions, and frames them under the pretext of his being in her debt…which he can acknowledge is at least in small and heavily-debatably part true. The first part is easy: "My name is John Constantine."

The next part, not so much. He stares at her in silence for just that much longer than polite social rhythms dictate is comfortable, gradually frowning. "An' why would you want something like that? This, here?" One brow soars upward as he turns his head, casting his gaze across the unlikely arena of their encounter, gesturing with the hand already getting sticky as his blood dries, "This is nothing. This is a bloody Tuesday for me. You're going to think I'm having a giggle, but that's not exaggeration, mate. That's fact. And you can barely stomach any of it. Eh? You're obviously an over-educated bird, but everything you know makes you a bit of a /poor fit/, dunnit? A week of this and you'd be chewing drywall and soilin' yourself."

—-

He calls this a business. Jane adds that question to the box. She has a box of questions for this man, this strange, strange, incomprehensible man, and when he's less bleeding out, when she's less coming down off the adrenaline rush of being possibly nearly eaten alive, she is going to open that box and upend it right on top of his god damned head.

For now, she busily fish-flops after how he seems to have produced an explosive force strong enough to cauterize flesh out of — out of nothing. Jane shares that expression he's doubtlessly witnessed hundreds of times over, save with a minute difference — her dark eyes twitch back and forth, like she were reading words out of thin air. She's thinking. The wheels are turning.

"Compliment accepted, then," Jane replies, voice inflected with a bit of a sigh, though her eyes do angle momentarily away. If insults repelled that thing, do compliments bring it back?

Assured, after a moment of tense watchfulness, that it isn't, the woman relaxes a little, returned to her minor role in trying to watch and hold closed the man's wounds as he seems set on — for the love of, she's having to mentally parse this as if it's real — burning them shut. However the hell that is even possible.

Either way, the tiny woman comes with demands of her own. And, somewhat to her surprise — well, one of them is met. Her brown eyes flicker with a raw filament of hope… which does not linger long for this world for as John deigns to keep speaking. And speaking. She doesn't like the words he says, and it shows, immediately dismissing them with an impatient frown. Jane wheels one hand as if to waft it all away like a bad smell.

"I can /stomach/ this," Jane counters, voice raised, deciding to take particular offence to that. "And that is no meter how to gauge competency — your logic is /painful/! Whatever — John Constantine? I'm Dr. Jane Foster. And thinking outside boxes is basically my professional specialization now. It's basically my life. I am literally making the impossible /real/, and just tonight you let me witness quantum tunneling, POTENTIAL extra-dimensional evolutionary ladders, and just now? That thing? With your hand? It's nuclear fission, isn't it? Unless you're invoking some sort of vector, like a fuel, then you just made /heat and kinetic energy/ from colliding atoms. This is the world being manipulated in ways that we can only infer on paper — and it's real. I'm seeing it, and I can't… can't deny it. And you're asking me to go on and pretend I didn't? Or worse, like I won't be able to understand it?! This is knowledge. And I… I need to know."

—-

Skepticism, /intense doubt/, meets Jane's assertion that she can handle this. The way he's looking at her, it's clear what's going through his head: basically their entire experience together up to this point, to the extent that he even sneaks a glance over her shoulder in the direction of the wall she was /absolutely sure/ would open up to permit her to pass back through it.

To his credit, he doesn't say anything until she finishes speaking — he's actually a tremendously good listener, John, for all that he usually dismisses everything that he hears after the fact in order to do things his own way — but in the end he does dip his chin, and reaches out, seeking to grasp the outside of her shoulders with all of the care and caution someone might use if they were steadying an hysteric. It will let him level his gaze on hers pointedly, beneath arched and emphatic brows.

"All of that," he says quietly, with great compassion, "All of those things you just said, quantum tunneling, evolutionary ladders, nuclear fission?" Quiet, just for a beat. And in the same gentle, sympathetic tone of voice: "It's absolute bollocks."

—-

Oh, but the so-called Dr. Foster is a tiny thing. With her standing this close, it takes an angling down of a chin for a man as tall as him to meet her in the eye. Her little shoulders swallow into his hands. She is just so tiny, like a literal roll of snake eyes on the genetic craps table, but even then, Jane's stare is level and the look in her eyes is fierce. Stubborn. Determined. Like she's already decided she's right, and nothing short of the hand of God may bow her to reconsider.

What makes it all the more worse though, especially in a moment like this, is how writ on her face is raw, guileless hope. Hope, for just a moment, she may have finally been able to convince /one person/ of her worth in all the —

Nope.

Jane Foster twitches backward, a stricken look slapped across her face. She gives the Empusa a run for its demonic money in terms of expressive pain to such a hurled insult.

Then her eyes narrow. Her shoulders square. And she decides remarks as intelligent as /that/ deserve equally intelligent replies. "Your FACE is absolute bollocks!"

Angrily trying to shoulder out of his hands, refusing to be patronizing, she steps back, body language clicking like a lock with the angry close-fold of her arms. "For a man who preaches about thinking outside boxes, that is an incredibly close-minded thing to say! Fine, here, let me put it out: when it comes to weird things? Tonight wasn't my first dance. I've seen things that tested my limits of comprehension — until I made those connections and founded the science! You really think I'm unable to factually explain anything that happened tonight? Anything you personally seem capable of doing? Like that finger trick? Given enough time to study and experiment, I can provide an answer for anything. Why the hell would you want to sit on knowledge like this? And that's what you'd be doing! It's priceless!"

—-

He lets her go the moment she twitches away, lets his hands fall to his sides, and when she slings back at him that way draws a long breath, eyes rolled up and to one side, a smirk edging in. Oh, here we /go/, says the look.

Comfortable, though. Relaxed, even in the face of her strident argument. These kinds of interactions make sense to him; the caustic back and forth is familiar territory for John. Far better than the deeper waters of genuine emotion. Conflict, friction, argument, people giving him a piece of their minds: those are all easy. He's in his element.

Does he think she's incapable of explaining what happened, using only the facts? "I /think/ —"

But on she goes, and he bides his time, raking his fingers back through the short crop of dark blonde hair on top of his head, rifling it carelessly. His posture remains lax and dismissive until the very last two words she says, at which point something changes in him like an alchemical thing, his post-endorphin lassitude sharpening all at once. He turns a little, one shoulder toward her, and he /points/ at her with one bloody index finger, eyes like blue nails, face like an anvil. She's tapped into something, some buried coal of endlessly smouldering anger. "No. That's exactly /not/ what it is. It has a price. A high one, and that's if you're lucky. Which is why people who don't understand what they're dealing with shouldn't be pissing about with it."

Aware that he has, from her perspective, likely come back over the top with needless aggression, he visibly tempers his own expression, trying to summon up some scrap of patience. He doesn't apologize, but he does moderate his tone, taking on a more deliberate cadence of speech, one that entreats her understanding. "Look. In your model of the universe, where nuclear fusion is a thing that you can make happen in a laboratory, you can puzzle out all of the little bits and pieces, right? You can do the /maths/. You know what'll be gained or lost when you go smashing tiny, invisible pieces of reality together. Magic isn't like that, love. What you saw? Didn't come from any kind of evolutionary system. It just is. And what I did to myself? /Not/ nuclear fusion. It's /magic/. Magic is its own answer to itself. What you're doing? That's like…" He casts about for a metaphor, struggles. "It's like those little bugs in the Amazon, the wozname. They look like leaves. And they hang about in trees. So it must be a leaf, right? But it's not. It's a fucking bug, and it will eat you alive the moment you start trying to treat it like a leaf."

Silence. "I mean…that's not really the kind of example I was going for, but I'm tired, alright? Point is, just because all of these other rules apply to all of these other things you like, don't mean you can't just apply them to this. /You can't./ And I get the feeling that's going to make you miserable."

He reaches for his coat, drapes it over his forearm on the good side. "You've really got to ask yourself what it is that has you wanting to know more, don't you? Would you still want to know, even if it meant accepting that you'll never be able to make sense of some things?"

—-

There is a sea change in him, that man suddenly now with a name — John Constantine.

To Jane, for as little long as she's known him this one night, he feels to her like someone who's laughing at the punch like of some joke she can't even see. It's not that he seems incapable of seriousness, but upon that is a certain level of consciousness, knowledge gained that changed the stakes forever — knowledge that rewrote him. Knowledge she /needs/.

But the change comes so quickly and unexpectedly, that an ember-burn of the man's anger warming through his cooler layers — did it begin or was it always there? — that Jane gives pause.

Her jaw tightens with a visible flutter of muscle against her neck, forced to bite words of her own in order to listen, but the woman does. For all her strange impetus and willful passion, she seems to possess some — some — sense to know when to stop. She will weigh an argument and give it mind, even if in the end, she decides to dismiss it.

"So you call it magic?" she asks, for clarification's sake, and not judgment. "Everything you do? Everything that I've witnessed tonight? Comes from that source?" Jane purses her mouth, hands flexing, like a private decision has been made. "You — you don't realize, but you are the person I've been /looking for/ the last three years. Maybe my entire life."

In any other world, on any other day, in any other place, and to any other man — that might have sounded romantic. What's worse is how Jane speaks it so /guilelessly/.

"If you — if we get out of here. And you look me up. And read about who I am, who I'm doing, you'll know what I mean. My life's work is bridging magic and science. I believe in both, I do, not like — parlour tricks — but as the same thing. Because, in the end, everything you do, it's all matter and energy. The rest is just constants and variables. Infinite permutations! Things we — I — once refused to believe, because science is incomplete, and there was no pathway /forged/ to give me comprehension. But I know it's possible."

But, in the end, Constantine does stage a real problem. The burden of knowledge. The possibility — no, the fact — that of his world may come something she may never be able to understand.

Jane's mouth tightens at the corners. Every inch of her face struggles to disbelieve. He has seen this look before, and often, only on the pious. On those whose God and Kingdom have been cast in double. And to her, science is God. But even then, should science fail her, would she still want to know? Could she live with the regret of willfully turning her back on enlightenment?

"Yes," she says, and with complete conviction.

—-

/You're the person I've been looking for my entire life./ In a movie, there would be a groundswell of string instruments. Someone else would be deeply flattered, no doubt, even if they didn't misconstrue that remark as being romantic.

John does none of those things. When she says that, he pauses in the hauling-on of his jacket and lets his head fall forward, directing his gaze down at the ground, though it's turned deeply inward, seeing nothing.

Because he's been here before. He's heard this, he's seen it. Back before Newcastle, barely turned twenty and so full of himself there hadn't been room for anything else, with his group of friends — a rag-tag bunch of novice magi who literally worshipped the ground he walked on, poor sods. They followed him everywhere. They were his constant shadow. /John Constantine/: they all wanted a part of him, like it might transfer some of his power, some of his /cool/. He'd lapped it up like a cat laps cream, torn through tome after mystic tome and not, in all of that time, found a single thing he couldn't understand, not a single spell he couldn't learn or cantrip he couldn't cast. Magic flowed like water through him and he /used it/. And he /used them/. So when he'd told them about Newcastle, they'd all been along for the ride, hadn't they? All eager to go, to prove themselves. To curry his favor.

There was no scale with which to measure the suffering that followed, but the memories play on an obsessively-curated loop for him while she talks, filled with that kind of open-eyed wonder, so innocent and pure. Believing that he's the answer to— something. And he feels the twinge of pride, even now; even after everything, some part of him quickens to the excitement of the uninitiated, a mirror held up to reflect a version of him he liked better than the one he's become.

Self-loathing rises in his chest like acid. Maybe some parts of him know before the rest of him what he's going to do, the way you know in a nightmare what's going to happen, lucid enough to see it coming, helpless to keep from doing it anyway. Hating himself. /Hating himself./

/It should've been you in Newcastle,/ says Richie's voice, floating spectrally through the interior of his skull. Full of sick bitterness. Full of despair. /It should have taken you./

"I can tell you're not going to let it go," he says, and his voice sounds as though it had just been dragged a half-mile down a gravel road. "And if I say no, you're just going to try it on your own, and I'll be as much to blame for that tragedy as I'm going to be when you inevitably snuff it. Because that's what happens to people who get friendly with me, love. They get topped."

It's justification so good, he can almost believe it. "So fine. But we do it /my/ way, and the minute I catch you up to something you shouldn't be—" He lifts his head. His neck pops. The emotional crucible bleeds out of his gaze. "Just don't, alright? I'm a nasty piece of work. Ask anyone."

—-

He can tell she's not going to let it go.

Jane stares levelly at that. Yep, say her eyes.

If he says no, she's just going to try it on her own.

Yep, say her eyes again.

"Vote of confidence noted," the scientist says breezily, waving a hand to dispel any such concerns like someone's ill-passed gas. Noted, doesn't care, won't happen, if she stays true to the scientific process, she has nothing to worry about. Plus Jane knows prudence. Jane knows caution. Jane can be logical, absolutely. "I'm not looking to be friendly with you. I just want some outside consultation."

Some part of her wants to yell at him to, because all of this needles like him treating her like she's some /child/ in all this — and Jane is new to this, absolutely, novice, completely, but she's not a child! She's a professional. She's a pioneer. But Jane holds it in, that little vein of venom on her tongue, because she remembers she's trying to convince the man. Trying to get on his good side. Or trying to believe she possesses one iota of inhibition.

Either way, it all seems to work. So fine, he says. So fine.

So fine! Never have two short, clipped words felt like a door being unlocked, deadbolt clicking open, for her to only reach forward one shaking hand, and under her own power, under her own will and momentum and /decision/ to push open.

Jane doesn't smile. The shock doesn't allow it. But delight suffices her, winking in and out in countless points like a starfield among her features, and a greedy hunger trembles her hands so hard she has to curl them shut. Good. /Good/. She says the only thing she can, in a moment so victorious, so drunk on possibility she cannot even comprehend. "Deal."

A manic half-laugh huffs free, "How bad could you possibly be?"

—-

Jane is effusive. He can sense it: the building disbelief. He remembers, dimly, what it was like: the first time he tried working magic and it /worked/, it /worked/, it was /real/. The universe felt limitless, all possibilities unbounded, and the shabby, sorry, violent little life he'd been forced to live suddenly seemed as though it might be worth something more than that. There had been stars in his eyes. In his heart. His blood had run gold.

Slowly, he drags the other arm of his coat back on, carefully resituating it with hands that aren't rough like the rest of him. They're hands that make things disappear, reappear, hands you can't trust around a deck of cards, and they are delicate with their rearrangement of his clothing.

He finishes just as she says, 'How bad could you possibly be?'

His answer is a sidelong look in a tired, hollow expression. He draws a long breath through his nose, his eyes slide off of her open, eager face, off to one side. A muscle in his cheek twitches. And then he turns and starts for the hole blasted into the warehouse wall, saying nothing.

Even if he knew what to say, she'd never believe him.

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