Promises To Keep

December 24, 2016:

After her visit to Wayne Manor, Zatanna confronts John Constantine about his mysterious text, which leads them into thorny emotional territory and an astral labyrinth of nightmares.

Constantine's Secret Flat - Brooklyn - New York City

A magical bunker with mysteriously moving doors.

Characters

NPCs: Chas Chandler

Mentions: Bruce Wayne, Alfred Pennyworth, Jessica Jones, Peter Quill, Giovanni Zatara, Gary Lester

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

It takes for quite some time for Zatanna to respond to John's text; warding herself against a potential attack, no matter how temporary the measure, entailed a considerable degree of complex incantations, weaving power and will into a series of tattoo-like etchings on her left arm all the way down to the wrist. By the time she has finished visiting Bruce, most of those on her wrist and up part of her forearm were gone, indicative that whoever was playing chicken with her long distance has not yet given up on breaching her defenses.

The visit has given her enough clarity to proceed in the very serious business of saving her own life; Bruce wasn't wrong about the importance of planning and foresight and now that she was away from him, she can't help but kick herself inwardly at having been so careless.

She fires a quick text off to John, once she is back out into the winter cold:

'where do i meet you so you can explain?'

—-

The text that John whips back to her gives the address of a shoe shop in Brooklyn. It has a side entrance that he directs her to use, and when she does so, she finds herself looking at much the same picture that the Winter Soldier did not long before: a fairly large space with brick walls that round upward to a high, curved ceiling, the portion closest to the door comprised of a detailed deco mosaic. There are still unpacked boxes everywhere, still strands of lights filling the interior with soft illumination, as though it were a candle-lit church rather than some forsaken and reclaimed utility junction of some kind. There are differences, though.

For one thing, Chas is here, and it smells like there was recently food being eaten, which is borne out by the takeout containers on one of the stacks of boxes: no working kitchen yet. For another, the atmosphere in the room is…taut. John is sitting on a leather sofa pushed back against one wall, canted back deeply into its plush cushions, trying to restrain the coil of lashing energy he's carried with him since his encounter in the park earlier in the day. He's showered since then, even shaved — anything to get Muller off of him.

In one of his hands is a small jar containing a chunk of something wet and red, the glass smeared with drying brown. It's a piece of Muller, and John has the jar held up in front of his lidded eyes, circulating thoughts about all of the things he could do to the German in reprisal. Not because he intends to do that — not immediately, at least — but because it gives the dark viciousness of his ire something to be channeled into for lack of a sensible target. The fantasies that play out behind his chilly blue eyes are grotesque beyond comprehension.

Well aware of just what kind of mood John is in, Chas has taken to unpacking in the back, in an area designated to eventually be his room, though they lack anything like walls as yet. The silence is filled by a radio: the usual punk stuff from Chas.

—-

Getting to New York is easy for the likes of her.

She knows the city well, the smell of exhaust and history mingling together to give its very air something distinct, enough to trigger some of her sharpest memories - Chinatown where she found Madame Chong's body, the seedier corners of midtown where Jessica Jones keeps her office, White Light Pentacles in Greenwich Village where Virginia Townsend holds dominion over the city's biggest coven and GOLD's Gym in Brooklyn, where she accosted Captain America. It is the latter in which she chooses to place her anchor, transported from Gotham to New York in an instant before picking her way out of a dark alley and towards the nearest subway tunnels to get to the nondescript shoe shop that John has fashioned as his latest headquarters. Some part of her can't help but be curious as to how different it would be from his flat in London.

She arrives with little fanfare, opening the door and stepping into the space - in New York, but not in New York, similar to Shadowcrest's status in the physical world. Setting her bag on the nearest table, as well as a larger bag laden with wrapped gifts, she strips off her coat; black, but fashionable as usual, though by the signs presented by those layered necklaces, she had been out on a social call. The top is short sleeved, drooping off one shoulder to expose the straps of something dark and sleeveless underneath.

Those sigils wind up her left arm, vanishing underneath black fabric.

Zatanna moves over to where she has spotted Constantine, though Chas gets a quick greeting; a hand on his shoulder, a quick squeeze.

"I got you, Renee and Geraldine something," she offers, nodding to the big bag, before her boots make quick work over the hard floors towards the Englishman. There's a glance at the wet and red thing in a jar, gathering quickly that it is a piece of a human being, but what captures most of her attention is his mood; behind those ice-blue eyes she can see it, taste it, how the fabric of reality twitches at the force of his ire.

"Do you know who's got it?" she asks - her blood, she means. She assumes he has information she doesn't, given the nature of his text.

—-

John's eyes snap up and across at the door, and the jar disappears. He closes his hand around it and it's gone by the time he's standing up (incidentally, so is the door she came through, the shoe shop door once again leading into…well, a shoe shop). He slides off of the couch and crosses to meet her, watches her exchange with Chas with as much patience as he can muster.

"Chas, would— "

"/Yes/, John," Chas says, already sliding one arm into his coat. "I might as well hit the hardware store."

"Good." And then, as though only just remembering: "Thanks."

Chas reaches across to squeeze Zatanna's shoulder on his way out. The concern in his dark blue eyes is obvious, but he says nothing else — just dons his cap and begins climbing a metal ladder inset into a round duct leading upward into the brick facade.

"Sort of," John says. His attention returns to Zatanna like a physical weight, slashing mercilessly over her, finding what he's looking for on some of the exposed skin of her arm. A subtle tick at the corner of his mouth is the only visible response capable of surfacing through his tight look. "One of Muller's cronies. Muller was temporarily dead this afternoon, and on his way out he couldn't keep from grandstanding about how you're some sort of /Plan B/."

—-

"….later, Chas," Zatanna says, confusion rippling over her expression as the man takes his cap and leaves the magical bunker, though she refrains from pressing her lips together in consternation. It was cold outside, and it was /late/, what does he need to go to the hardware store for?!

The weighty stare John levies in her direction has her lips pulling further downward in a frown, her eyes locking over his face - it's a stare meant to push back even as those chilly blues whip over her clothes and skin, raking down her left arm. The gesture might as well be physical and she can't help but feel her hackles rise, tension braiding over her pale shoulders and throbbing at the base of her skull.

"What do you /mean/ temporarily dead?" she replies, though it's more for the purposes of venting the growing bubble in the pit of her stomach, and of course she focuses on that first, something like resignation seeping into her expression. Of course. Of /course/. Far be it for her to hope this would be simple.

Her molars clip in the back of her mouth, grinding together. "Plan B, huh?" she mutters, already pivoting sharply away from him to start moving /back/ from where she had come from. "We'll see about that."

She reaches for the strap of her bag, rummaging around it. "I have questions of my own anyway," she tells him. "Jessica went to check out the Excelsior a few days ago and I haven't heard a damn thing from her, so it sounds like I've got two things I have to ask him about."

—-

John does not use grossly obvious magic very often. He tends toward smaller tricks, things that give his natural ability to think his way through a situation an edge: illusions that confuse people long enough for him to have the initiative, means to unlock doors, hypnotic suggestions that gain him entrance to places he shouldn't be. His arts are /subtle/ — usually. In cases of dire need, he's every bit as capable of tearing down the veil as any of his colleagues.

And does. The door Zatanna used is gone, but there's very clearly an exit. Chas just used it, didn't he? The moment she turns, picks up her bag as though to go, she gets three strides in before the metal of the ladder slams back into the rounded niche it lives in, and the metal is absorbed directly into the brick.

"Not a fucking /chance/. You're not goin' off half-cocked and sticking your neck out where that Nazi prick can wring it. We have things to bloody talk about. Not even going to ask the pertinent questions, are you? Just taking offense and bollocks to sense, time to go to war."

Hands on hips, shoulders squared, the air around him seethes. "Try this one on for size: why would /Muller/ make you his insurance policy after hearing that /I'm/ in town? There's no way in hell he knows about— "

Us.

It's a speedbump in the momentum of his outpouring of speech. He comes to a sudden, silent stop, and the muscle that hinges his jaw flexes once. "— any connections." The flame of his anger guttered, but only briefly. Soon enough, it's glowing again. "Mammon wants you. Kazinsky said as much. I understand cutting a deal with that piss-arse for your soul in case he fails, but he's not even dead, is he? So why would he assume I'd give a shite about collateral damage? That's not exactly my reputation, is it?"

—-

She finds the thing she is looking for; a small box with a little bow on it - simple, no frills and fits into the palm of her hand. Zatanna sets it on the table before she buckles her messenger bag back to closed, slinging it over her shoulder as she pivots around to…

…not leave. She blinks as the ladder moves away from her, tucked away by the lord of this domain. The slam is enough to have her jerking to a stop, her shoulders stiffening, that tension bleeding all the way down the arch of her spine, to freeze into the small of her back and render her motionless for a few breathless moments.

The fingers on her left hand ball tightly, knuckles pushing up from under her skin.

She turns to look at him, hairline fissures webbing over her carefully cultivated calm. Whatever goodwill she managed to accumulate within herself after her visit to Wayne Manor depletes quickly, flammable gas burned away by the flashfire nature of her temper. It's irrational and unfair, she /knows/ it is, but John is inordinately talented in presenting himself as a target and as he stands there radiating frustration, he makes for a considerably tempting one.

"My father," she supplies between her teeth. "That's what you're getting at, isn't it? If Mammon's been feeding Muller information for whatever arrangement they've got going, he would know that much. My father's one glaring weakness is known throughout Hell - I've known that all my life and I can't even /begin/ to get into how much /shit/ I've seen because of that. And how you are isn't all that unknown of an element, yeah? Your reputation doesn't speak highly about your regard for your environs but you are as equally infamous as to the lengths you'd go to /survive/. It's /not/ all that hard for me to put together, John, I /know/ my father, and I /know/ you, I'm not a stupid kid!"

She should stop. She should stop /now/ but as the words spill rapidly from her lips, she lets the tide carry her away instead. Like she almost always, unfailingly does, color bleeding out from underneath pale cheeks, instincts wrapping around her own frustration, her fear, bubbling over the hypertensive cauldron that has been struggling to keep its lid on since her return to the States.

"But that doesn't really change anything, does it?!" she continues breathlessly. "Jessica still needs to be found, too many days have passed already! And if I don't find who it is, /I'm over/!"

—-

'My father,' she says, and John lifts his arms, spreads his hands, the rise of one brow enough to say what he doesn't have space to say out loud: 'Duh, among other things.'

He might've enumerated those things, but between the two of them she's always been the more openly passionate, and it doesn't take much time for her to join him in his state of pressure-cooker tension.

Nothing she says changes his expression. It's the same stubborn, hard-as-nails look he was wearing when she walked in, and he brings it with him as he advances on her, closes the distance she managed to reinsert — and then some. He stops just shy of the toes of her boots, and between them is his index finger. He doesn't touch her, but he /points/, the universal gesture for 'am I making myself clear,' and he's lowered the volume of his voice, quiet and smooth. "It changes /everything/. I'll not sit here while you run off to give him exactly what he wants. Fuck's sake, 'tanna, do you think he didn't realize I'd be telling you what was happening? He's had plenty of time since Kazinsky to prepare. The best way to send this situation from bad to worse is for you to think you need to storm the bloody castle. And this?"

His anger coils in his gut, twisting barbs of it, mixed with things more poisonous and less straightforward. He lowers his head just enough to unfocus his eyes somewhere in the vicinity of her necklaces, brings his pointing hand up to pull down over the clean-shaven line of his jaw and chin. "This is my fault." There's just a single beat of time during which that naked statement remains, a strangely vulnerable grace note in what is otherwise a stubborn tirade, if perhaps a quiet one, now.

It doesn't last long. He lifts his head again, arches both brows very slightly, and fixes her beneath them with blue eyes full of hell. "He's not getting what he wants from you while I'm breathing. Thought /this/ was the right way to avoid underestimating me? He's about to find out the hard way how wrong that is. By the time I'm through with him his descent into hell will feel like a /holiday/." He pauses, weighs something carefully. Words. "I promise you, Zee."

It always was, and still is, 'tanna' in public spaces, and for most of their acquaintance. It was only ever Zee in moments of rarity, small, stolen glimpses of something intimate from a man who tends to be emotionally evasive even in intimacy. Truth is, if polled, none of the women he's been with could say honestly that he's ever uttered an 'I love you' in his life, and that was true with Zatanna, as well. But 'Zee' — even though that's what almost everybody else in the world calls her — was from him always something of the most delicate privacy.

—-

He closes the distance she has placed between them and if anything, that does nothing but strengthen her resolve. Every inch of her screams defiance; tall for a woman, even taller in her boots, he may still tower her by a few inches but the added boost enables her to look him dead in the eye even as he points, as he tracks his gaze down at her from his superior height, her jaw locking stubbornly, her face tilted in a way that juts out her chin. He lowers his voice, carrying with it the ghosts of his cigarettes…cloves, even now he was still using them despite living these last few months bereft of her insistence that he not tar his lungs.

"Just what are you proposing here?" she hisses lowly; his new proximity does nothing to repress the heightened color of her cheeks and as every inch is burned away, her eyes pick up the slack, near incandescent with frightened fury. "That I stay put? That I do nothing? Just let you….what? Take care of this? Take care of my father and me? You're being pretentious, John…when you were so emphatic just a few seconds earlier that my involvement has everything to do with my father and only a little to do with you! This much!" She pinches the space between her index and thumb. "Maybe…I don't know. /Ten/ percent! Maybe /fifteen/! /At most/ twe— "

Zatanna falters when his stare leaves her face, to focus somewhere at a point between the silver-and-gold arrays dangling from her neck. Passionate, yes, but sensitive also, her anger stumbling over the brief glimpse of raw, genuine emotion - quiet, understated, but all the more intense due to its rarity and from who it is coming from. He would see the change in her face in those brief seconds, her eyes filling with something else other than anger…

…until he claims this is his fault.

Her anger comes roaring back, and intensifies exponentially, burning crimson temper giving way to molten white heat. A few months later and /nothing/ has changed; he still thinks he has all the answers, still wholeheartedly believes that every single disaster is on his shoulders.

Her eyes widen when he makes that promise, uses /that/ inflection in his accent, uses /that/ name, pupils shrinking into pinpoints and making the striking, almost unsettling color all the more pronounced. Shaking fingers reach out to grab at both ends of his collar, devoid of a coat with which to seize his lapels. Red lips curl to bare her teeth, visible tremors wracking her frame.

"It's /my blood/!" she practically shrieks, fear spilling forth along with the shaky determination /not/ to be ruled by it. "It's mine and he has it because I wasn't /careful enough/! The two of you…you, Daddy, you're both the /same/! You teach me, all smug confidence that I take to all of your lessons well but when things get serious, /neither/ of you trust me enough to handle anything, not even with help! Maybe this /entire affair/ isn't exactly boosting your confidence in that regard, but I've /handled worse/ and I'm not gonna to let you take all the credit for this all on your own /again/ to let it function as your /ridiculous justification/ for /keeping me out of this/!"

Her fingers tighten further into his shirt, their shaking tugging at fabric.

I promise you, Zee.

She lets go of his collar suddenly, turning sideways; moisture, traitorous and vile, stings from underneath her lashes. A hand flattens on his chest, pushing once, but there's no strength behind it - just enough to nudge him an inch away from her as she lets the nearby wall take the brunt of her stricken expression.

"God /damn/ you, John," she chokes. "The fucking balls on you to give a shit about me, now."

Her hand lowers against her side; she feels the twitch on her bottom lip, those volatile strings of emotion tugging on it. The curse saves her, in the end, feeling the pop and crackle of another attempt against her skin, sparks flying upwards and dying in the air in glittering motes as another portion of her protective sleeve fades away, skin rendered free up towards the middle of her forearm. She lifts the limb and stares at it; from his vantage point, her eyes narrow before her face tilts to look at him again.

"If you want to make it right, help me find Jessica," she presses. "I'll deal with me later, but she's my first priority."

—-

Christ.

He had known this wasn't going to be easy, but he'd grossly underestimated just how difficult it could get.

She gets him around the neck via his shirt and he lets her shake him with all of that understated fury, cheeks flush and eyes like blue daggers, both of them on fire. He soaks it because that's what he does, and because she is who she is, and he owes her at least that much.

At least.

And anyway, he can take that. Her anger is something he understands both the source and the quality of, and it comes as no surprise. He is steadfast, angry but determined, and that's what persists beneath his veneer of cocky humor most of the time: the core of his being, so to speak, with the velvet exterior slit away. It's honest.

But then she veers hard into emotion, and John Constantine feels the ground begin to erode beneath his mental feet. It was his deliberate choice to push her in that direction, but the scale of it, the /intensity/, the —

She shoves him and he's never been more grateful to be pushed away, letting it carry him that half-step backward as his eyes lid, and he tilts his head back. His pulse is visibly ticking away in the hollow behind the hinge of his jaw on one side, faster than usual, driven by adrenaline and fury and — now that she's showing any emotion whatsoever aside from anger and fear of her own — something else.

He'd never call it fear. He'd flat-out deck anyone who did.

And he can say /nothing/. Nothing he would say, if his lips hadn't been magically sealed with a threat against his vanity. Nothing to reassure her, nothing to explain why it seems he runs so hot and— and not even /cold/, just hot or /gone/, a ghost, no forwarding address, no apology. She cusses him out soundly for suddenly caring again and he can't say a single word to reassure her that he /never stopped/, that it was out of his hands. Still is. That it's a non-choice, enforced by one very canny father who loves his daughter very much, and who — upon doing a rough calculus of his own — decided that this temporary pain of abandonment would be infinitely better than the inevitable consequence of getting close to a man like /John/.

The worst part? John gets that. He understands it. He can't even find fault in the logic. But standing there with Zatanna Zatara wringing his collar, terrified and furious and now bewildered and injured to boot, none of that seems forgivable.

Her arm crackles and spits, saving him — for now. He brings his head back to level and reaches for it, holding it up in one firm but careful hand. "/This/ is my 'ridiculous justification' for keeping you out of it. And it don't look so bloody ridiculous to me, love. This isn't about /not trusting you/. It's about trying to keep you /alive/."

He draws a long breath, lets go of her arm. There are things twisting around one another in his chest, things that he strives to keep sleeping, and after he finishes saying that he turns his head to the side, not quite ready to look at her. "I'll help you find Jessica. I've got her business card. Shouldn't be difficult. But once we /do/ that…there's something I think we can do to keep you safe until we find out who it is putting the thumbscrews on your soul, and I swear to Christ Zee, I need you to hear me out about it. There's no room for /pride/ here. Not unless you want Mammon to eat your soul like a goddamned scone, and leave me here for your da to catch up and commit to a /bloody eternity/ of unpleasantness."

—-

His fingers close over her wrist, her limb pulled upwards for both of them to see the wards and how they deplete by the inches as the long distance threat keeps smashing at her ephemeral fortress. "That doesn't change the fact that my life is my own responsibility, John," she rebutts. "Not yours."

She moves away once he releases his grip on her, her fingers brushing over her own skin, applying pressure through her thumb and forefinger to flatten the way static causes the fine hairs on her arm to rise, to absorb the horror that comes with another rune coming down from the supernatural onslaught she is experiencing. Like him with her, she finds it difficult to look at his face, though she is too proud to do anything /but/ after inwardly acknowledging that bitter truth.

The physical distance she manages to reclaim from him loosen the bands constricting her lungs, ease their painful grip on her ribcage. She sets her bag down on the table again, indicative that John has at least managed to get her to stay in his magical bunker for the time being, lured by the prospect of utilizing his aid to rescue her friend. Unlocking the bag, she produces something else - a hairbrush, its spokes twined by a small mass of very black hair.

For a while, Zatanna says nothing, setting the brush down next to the small box she had brought - for him, outlining their differences once again; John had been content to send Chas as a proxy, it may have even been something opportunistic, taking advantage of the fact that he had been going that way. But whatever Yule tidings she intended to give him, she has brought with her to give to him directly.

Not that it matters /now/, still reeling from the earlier torrent of things she hadn't meant to unleash, so determined to keep them under wraps even when he showed up again….but between the two of them, John was the expert at it. It was never her way to let things lie for too long, if not just to force something definite - a new resolution, or a more stalwart determination not to let him get under her skin. /Something/, anything.

"Fine," she says at last, giving him that much at least. Now that some pressure has been released, the space it leaves behind fills with reluctant fatigue. She waves the brush at him. "Do you need this or is the business card enough?"

—-

He moves when she does, brisk and efficient. It takes him some moments to find the card in amongst all of boxes signifying his uprooted life, and they give him the time and space that he needs to find the pieces of himself that he can fit over the hole punched in his armor by the exchange. They aren't good pieces or kind pieces, neither to himself nor to anyone else, but they're hard and opaque and he's spent a lifetime honing the ability to withdraw into that shell when he's taken a hit that made him feel something. Feel anything, really. He prefers to bleed in private.

Later he'll augment that numbness with godless amounts of alcohol, but for now he settles on lighting one of the cloves from the pack in his pocket and returning with the card in one hand. The other lifts, fingers twitching just enough to invite her to place the brush in it.

"Every little bit helps," he says, and he sounds precisely like himself again, no more or less. That explosive personal digression might never even have happened at all. "If it doesn't work, I still have some of Muller's things, and a little bit of the man himself. Let's just hope this works instead."

—-

She starts pulling Jessica's hair from the brush as he bustles around the space, to find Jessica's card as well as mentally prepare himself for whatever needs to be done - whatever of that needs to be made, twisting the glossy strands between her fingers until she manages to make a small coil out of them. Those digits play with them as she moves further into the flat, to place it where it needs to go. Biological and personal traces have always been part of John's craft, implements that others tended to scoff as crude, usually by those who consign themselves to the higher planes of magic, but she is quick to learn under his tutelage just how potent they really are, always emphasizing the costs of power; something that usually forces a healthy respect towards the process, for those who were taught to be conscientious.

Zatanna moves to sit on the floor, her legs bending at the knee, sitting cross-legged and making herself comfortable, every intent to join him in the search made emphatic by her gestures. The chalk and the candles remain out of sight, however, and deep down she /hopes/ they wouldn't need them, because that could mean other, more complicated things.

Whenever John takes a seat across from her, she extends her right hand, her fingers spread, a direct invitation for him to link her digits into her own; for all what transpired earlier, she offers her power, and the endless well of potential inside of her without any hesitation, even if it means touching him.

Once there, she'll tighten her grip, her fingertips folding into his knuckles.

"Yfilpma," she whispers, closing her eyes.

The hit surges into him, twisting into his own reserves and fueling them, easing the inevitable cost on his body and lighting up his nervous system like the Christmas tree Chas is convinced that they need; akin to sticking his tongue into a live socket, or taking a bath with a plugged-in toaster.

—-

He takes the hair, although distaste flickers through his expression ever-so-briefly as he does. It's /far/ from the most disgusting thing he's ever done in the name of magic, granted, but…

She sits, he joins her. For now it doesn't matter where they sit: this is exclusively utilitarian. And when she offers her hands he doesn't hesitate, as businesslike in taking them as he was with the assassin here only a handful of hours before — or at least he makes it look that way.

Being close to her brings with it a deluge of sensory memory, brought on by the way she smells — the same reason the smell of a favorite childhood dish can put a person back at that dinner table, reliving the textures of those memories, for good or ill. It is in a way its own powerful magic — it plays with the psyche and the will; it can be, has been, a tool for him in the past — but here, now, with her, it's not just a distraction, it's a danger. For one brief moment his thoughts threaten to wander into that particular cinema, and he can think of no better way to distract himself than to put Jessica's hair into his mouth.

It's hard to think about much of anything else with someone's hair in your mouth.

Once Zatanna turns on the juice, it's impossible.

His muscles stand up beneath his skin, locked and tight, eyes rolling back, but he doesn't thrash or collapse, which is one thing this method has definitely improved on over the way he /used/ to do things. But from his perspective, from the inside? It's all the same. He feels his consciousness roll back along with his eyes and just keep on rolling, back and away, into near-oblivion. Like an anesthetized patient he slowly awakens to blurry images and indistinct sounds, but the world he awakens to isn't his, it's Jessica's.

Or so he thought.

A small girl stands in the darkness, outlined with livid flames. Her eyes are as accusing as they've ever been in his nightmares.

He recoils away from that, and the vision skews, blurs, dissipates. Something else begins to form in the darkness, something that stinks of beer and wrath, and John, shocked, snaps back to himself, yanking his hands away from her, reeling to the side and spitting that foul, now-singed mass out of his mouth.

"Bugger /that/ for a lark." Spits. Spits again. Looks down at his hands as though they were the reason things had gone unplanned, but the wheels are turning, and after a moment he slants a look up at her. The memory of a half-remembered dream surfaces for him, of a mirror, and a woman asking for help. Only it seems unlikely to have been a dream now, doesn't it, John? "Ah shite. I'm an idiot. He's got her someplace that isn't real. Not inside of herself, anyway. Or maybe /only/ inside of herself. I'm saying, I don't think we can find her in physical space until the rest of her's out of…whatever that is. We'll have to help wi'that."

—-

The power of memory, the potent magic it contains, is a lesson that she learned early on - not through John, but through her father and it was probably a principle that the older Zatara has passed onto Constantine himself; fitting for a man who has lived his entire life battling the demons roused by his terribly potent sense of responsibility, to use his sentiment and suffering as an advantage rather than view them as detrimental hurdles like others would….and passing that onto a disciple that shares more in common with him than he would like to admit.

There's no mirrored distaste, when John shoves the wad of Jessica's hair in his mouth - she's never had to resort to such methods herself, not even the last time she has attempted to scry for someone not all too long ago, and it isn't as if she hadn't used her own methods to search for Jessica. It's just that once her efforts have been expended with no fruit to show for it and only then did she think to turn to someone more experienced, holding onto the hope that John would succeed in where she has failed.

There is nothing overt or anything too noticeable about her scent; the strains are subtle, planted there by the incidentals of her grooming regimen rather than a deliberate bait for male attention - fabric softener on her clothes and the barest hint of her shampoo's honey-vanilla flavor. Her hands are soft, set with long, limber, elegant digits, but they are rougher than he remembers from the times she absently mapped her way through the savage network of his scars or let them drift through his hair; signs of a life of adventure indelibly marking her skin, more prominent now from the toils visited upon her by the last few months where she had been on her own, scorching a blazing trail throughout Europe on her quest to find her father and leaving cosmic ripples at her wake.

She grips his hands tightly when Zatanna registers the change in him. She holds on while his supernatural senses take him away, her eyeballs rolling from underneath closed lids as she follows his progress, expanding these intangible tunnels so he could cross unimpeded through the invisible sea of power that sheaths the world and the spaces in between.

There is no resistance when he yanks himself back, jarringly, violently, her eyes flying open to look at him as he rolls on one side to spit out Jessica's hair, and confirms that yes, this is going to be more difficult than they initially anticipated. It figures, again, but that resigned look returns once more as she slowly stands up from the floor.

"I'll get the candles, and the chalk."

She finds them easily, setting the large, heavy wax cylinders on the ground, handing John a glass of water for the taste in his mouth. She also deposits the small box she brought for him on his palm. "Use that."

Zatanna gets on her knees after that, her fingers working on etching white symbols on the floor, her pale skin caking with chalk-dust quickly. This is his domain, but she immerses herself wholly in the intricate work of ritual preparation, calling the necessary symbols out from the depths of her surprisingly vast memory for arcane knowledge. The hieroglyphics come to her easily, but she has always been a visual and creative person, with a natural affinity for the arts.

The thing in the box is a lighter, though not the sort that could simply be purchased from peddlers of like merchandise, occult or otherwise - the body is pure silver, its front inlaid with a raised, arcane emblem wrought from cold iron, the engravings within each loop part of a pattern that extends over the cover and around the back, some he would find familiar, but others not, the rest of the surface taken up by mystical inventions of Zatanna's own devise. It does the work of a priest, to purify whatever flames come out of it, and then some, though he wouldn't have time at present to figure out what else it does. Though knowing the young woman, she would let him figure it himself through his own experimentations.

What it /isn't/ however, is a ward, or protection of any kind - he has enough of that on his skin and his coat, its functions more offensive and meant for aggressive action; a veritable magical Swiss army knife.

She thrusts a candle out to him for him to light. Another spark flares off that arm, her protection fading and baring pale skin, leaving an empty patch just underneath her elbow. She looks at it, her expression unreadable, before her stare ticks back up to his face.

"Only one other way to find her, I guess," she tells him, determination hardening her features. "I'd be more comfortable if Chas was around to supervise our bodies, but what the hell? What's the worst that could happen?"

It's a jinx. Whatever look he gives her after that, she returns with a reckless grin that intensifies the look in her eyes, that internal promise that she was about to storm someone's castle one way or another, and heaven help anyone that stands in her way.

—-

He takes the water and is in the process of standing up, pouring it into his mouth, when she puts that other object into his hand. Without looking at it, he crosses to the sidewall where they're in the process of dismantling the wall to retrofit kitchen appliances and other necessities, the sink already installed, running water already piped in illicitly from the city supply. He rinses and spits more than once, wishes it was something stronger than water, but if he started to drink now he might never stop. It'll have to wait.

When he finally sets the glass aside on the tile-less brick of the makeshift counter, only then does he drop his attention down to what she handed him, and finding a gift spends compounding moments standing there, facing the sink, looking at the box in his palm. Uncertain that he wants to open it, at least while she's here. But he has no choice, really; she told him he should use it, and the scene plays out in his mind: how he's going to have to unwrap it, this token of thoughtfulness, and thank her. How any other day he might've been able to communicate something through that thanks, turn it into a step toward reconciliation, some demonstration that he's not a heartless bastard — a hug, a smile, a joke, something — but he's just finished throwing all of those bits of himself into a pit. What's left is the steel of his ire doused in something sour because it's easier to be angry than it is to be anything else. Christmas in a matter of days — which he thinks is bollocks generally, not religious, John — but he can get behind the 'good will toward men' bit, and the thought of some reprieve from personal woes. That opportunity? Well pissed-on now, isn't it?

Nothing for it, then.

He pries the box open. The glint of the lighter is sharp even in the soft light cast by the strings of lights hung in low crescents from the vaulted ceiling.

He's still looking at it when she holds the candle up to be lit. He glances aside at her, then at the candle. Tries to find something to say to bridge the way things are with the way he'd wanted them to be, but before he can even make the attempt, one of the sigils goes up in ephemeral sparks. He plucks the lighter from its place in the box, lights the candle with a flick of the thumb. Still thinking. Still trying to puzzle his way through it.

And then the window has passed, the moment is gone. She tempts fate, grins at him, and even if he could've thought of the right thing to say — which he can't — it wouldn't have been right to say it anymore, anyway.

He answers her grin with a crooked one of his own. "Spitting in the devil's eye, as usual." Wonder where she learned that?

"Our bodies ought to be safe here, but we need to hurry. I don't know what would happen if those," he nods at her arm, "fail while we're gone, so let's not find out."

—-

Her father, of course.

The candles lit, Zatanna repositions herself in her place; no need for them to hold hands this time and she finds it a more prudent course of action not to use the same spell from earlier - it has a beneficial effect of juicing up any spell, intensify its effects while reducing the cost for any practitioner who isn't her, but the realm in which they intend to visit is a place where the rules are controlled by the whims of its creator. There are many like it, small pockets meant to function as out-of-body sanctuaries for visitors, to create or do business at will. Jana Bodie, a well-known psychologist for those who act within their world, is one such person.

But the attempt now involves Muller's space - something guaranteed to be more volatile and foreboding than the sphere of safety that Jana provides for her clients. For all of her lofty words and the way she so brazenly tempts fate, she mentally, physically, girds herself for the challenges that would soon follow, once their bodies are out of their mortal shells, drifting into unknown but certain peril. Is there any other kind, for the likes of them?

The young woman rests her wrists lightly on her knees, her eyes closing, lips forming the words.

"Tiuhs ible nerrak meka tawud," she whispers, feeling the tug almost immediately, locking in on the smoke rising from the wad of Jessica's hair spat out into the middle of the circle.

"Taam meka tawud."

English is difficult enough for the every day person, to speak it backwards is a little more challenging, but doable for the likes of her, who spends her spare time playing Words with Friends with increasing difficulty levels, using flashcards in the dead of night to find various ways to make her Logomancy more efficient. To speak Ancient Egyptian backwards is not just almost impossible, but downright ludicrous and Zatara's daughter manages to do it without any audible stumbling. But they haven't had a chance to catch up; had they been able to, he would have learned that she was in school, majoring in Theatre and Languages….including the dead ones, the obscure ones, those that others do not know have real, existing tethers to some of the world's oldest magic.

The combination is potent; she barely breaks a sweat, nevermind that this is an act that entails that she pull /both/ their souls out of their bodies and sends them following Jessica's evanescent ghost-trail.

When she opens her eyes, John is no longer there.

What she finds is a series of corridors instead, looking nothing like John's flat in Brooklyn, or her own not-so-humble abode in Gotham. Dusting off the seat of her jeans after rising up, she moves quickly down the way. This isn't her first visit in the astral realm, and she has a sneaking suspicion this won't be the last; her boots echo strangely here as she hurriedly calls up the 'rules' of the game - more nebulous than she would like, but the first priority is always the same and that is to try and find the person you came with. Only the truly reckless comes here alone.

"John?" she calls out, her voice sounding loud, amplified in the dead silence.

—-

When John slides sideways through gaps in the fabric of the world, he's usually en route to very specific places within the celestial spheres specifically — but he often ends up in realities slightly askew to his own, not by his choosing. People who play with things they aren't supposed to make up the bulk of his work, and he's had to follow them down roads paved with mistakes more times than he's any longer able to count.

Case in point: the last thing he wants to do is delve into whatever creation Muller has put together to entrap Jessica Jones, but what else is there to do? Contrary to popular belief, he has a conscience. Jessica had been nothing but cooperative, pragmatic. The world needs more people like her in it, by his estimation. And even if that had not been true…

He closes his eyes, settles in. He's about to begin recitation when Zatanna takes the responsibility on for herself. It isn't surprise that feels, though he is briefly surprised. She's always been studious, curious. It was only a matter of time before she threw herself into the study of symbols and languages, things without which making heads or tails of the occult would be impossible beyond a layperson's means.

Examining that feeling for a moment, he recognizes it as pride. Not that he had the least thing to do with it, but as a person once intimately invested in her education, no pun intended, he can't help himself. This must be what keeps Ritchie at that abysmal school.

Everything swirls away, as expected.

It's an absolute warren, he thinks to himself as he returns to some semblance of consciousness. Doors in every direction, hallways leading off toward horizons he can't fathom. He sighs, long-suffering engraved into every last second of the exhale. Could Muller have made this any more of a pain in the ass?

On his feet, he dusts his hands, turns slowly in place, and turns on whatever it is inside of him that /knows things/ — like the part of him that sensed Zatanna's anger from half a city away on the night he dropped unceremoniously back into her life.

Nothing.

Pick a direction, then, Johnny-boy, and get moving. "'tanna?" Extending a hand, he raps on one wall, but the sound seems dead and flat to him, with little hope of carrying. "Bollocks to this."

—-

She flattens her palm on one of the walls, letting it slide along as she walks; the narrow passage closes in on her, thoughs she knows it is more ambience than anything - each wall seems to pass over the microscopic hairs on her arms, to crush her bones between them though they do nothing but stand as she moves. The claustrophobic feel threatens to suffocate her, as always quick to lash out whenever something starts to threaten her precious freedom, but she presses on, attempting to tap into her endless well of potential in an effort to reach her companion.

Zatanna feels him, but it doesn't help. She tastes frustration, exasperation and exhaustion peppered with the hint cloves; as if she had stolen a hit from one of his cigarettes, as if he had crushed her mouth in one of his bruising kisses, the kind that only cemented her (stupid, idiotic, ridiculous) mistaken belief that what he had felt for her was genuine and as heated as the caress of his tongue…..but all of it doesn't come from a specific direction. It feels as if it was /everywhere/, that John's present state, the very essence of him, cloaks the corridor and clings to it, as thick and viscous as pitch.

It only increases her anxiety, that too would be something he would whiff in the air, the spice of her temper and the bitter undertones of her regret; the fear and knowledge that the longer she delays in saving her own life, the closer she is to saying goodbye to a world that has only begun witnessing what she could do, what she could blossom into.

Ghosts do not always have to be people, the leavings of the dearly departed. These fill the nooks and crannies of the increasingly dizzying corridor - his cynicism, her fury - passion, melancholy, uncertainty, disappointment.

The miasma starts to choke her; Zatanna reaches out blindly, stumbling forward and miraculously finding a knob. Relief surges in her veins; Constantine would sense those knots as well.

"John, I found a door!"

She doesn't know if the words reach him - they float away from her lips and hang heavily on dead air. With a grunt, she shoulders it open, suddenly falling into empty space, white light enveloping her in a flash.

She screams.

—-

The only thing John hears are the sounds of his own footsteps as he moves through otherwise silent hallways. For him they are inert, mundane, not the stifling prison of her personal hell but the bland lack of importance common to what he thinks of as reality.

Eventually he stops in front of one of the many doors, for lack of anything else to try. There are so many that choosing one at random is bound to show him something he isn't looking for and probably doesn't want to see, but this is Muller's world, and the house always has the better odds. Fact of life, that.

So he reaches for a handle, pushes it down.

The door swings open to reveal a seemingly endless plain of barren land, shaded dark blue by an unseen moon. Spines of jagged stone knife upward into the sky, backlit in silver by flashes of lightning. An endless downpour of blood streaks from the heavens, and an ill wind blows some of it through the doorway. It spatters his shoes and the arm with which he opened the door.

He closes the door.

"O…kay."

"John, I found a door!"

He spins an about-face, finds her standing at the end of the hallway, where the sight of her strikes him momentarily dumb. It must be something to do with the environment, Muller's latent magic, but she looks practically luminous. Dark hair, fair skin, flashing eyes. /Bloody hell,/ is all he can think. A single drop of molten lead falls into the hollow between his hipbones.

She catches him at staring, because of course, but even her disapproval is beautiful. "Jesus Christ, John. Here? Now? Honestly? Do you think you could focus for the time it takes to /save somebody's life/?"

"I'm focused! Sorry, 'I've found a door' just doesn't do much for me, there're bloody doors everywhere."

"I think I found the right one."

His brows go up. "Oh? 'Atta girl, then. Maybe we'll be back in time for nightcaps."

He leaves the only door he opened behind, following along behind her. She doesn't linger for him to catch up, and he jogs the several steps necessary to do so. "What tipped you off?"

They round a corner, and she folds her arms, looking first at the door and then at John, arch.

The sigil of Mammon is scrawled across the front of the door in still-wet blood, a hasty job. Meant to mark things, contain them.

"Ah," he says.

"Come on," says Zatanna Zatara. She reaches to open the door.

—-

Zatanna recognizes it immediately - the pale bedspread, the soft colors, the trim….all in varying shades of pink, which curdles something deep in her belly as a horrifying thought enters her mind, remembering the picture Bruce has in his possession of her in a white jumper, with a ribbon in her hair, and how she had sworn up and down in front of Alfred and God that she has never worn pink, or even liked pink, in her life. But that past exaggeration proves itself false in the end when these environs have been dug out of their forbidden boxes, set in prominent display around her. She even finds the small top hat hanging by her frame, her little magic wand - even in that age, she had resolved to follow her father's footsteps.

There is rain; it patters on the white-framed windows and she knows without looking that she would see Paris outside, a city that she had grown to loathe, precisely because of this reason, this moment.

Thankfully, her clothes haven't changed, and after opening yet another door, she quietly descends from the second floor landing, booted feet taking her further into the townhouse; her steps are muffled on carpet, the incoming storm dense on her nose and vibrating over her skin and she feels her heart sink further into her stomach, to simmer in the pot along with everything else that she had endured in the last two weeks, most notably the torrent of /stuff/ that John Constantine had managed to yank out of her without even trying.

She finds him at last, his coat draped over the back of his chair, his worn fingers lifting the second bottle of scotch and pouring it in his glass. The good stuff, the bad stuff, it didn't matter. These days, he imbibed whatever swill he could, anything to numb the pain.

Her knuckles ball on her sides. Zatanna closes her eyes and takes a deep breath.

"Hello, Daddy."

Oh god, just get this over with.

Giovanni's blue eyes turn towards her - they match her own, near identical down to the little striations of an even paler blue that criss-cross his irises. "Get to bed, Zatanna."

"I wish I could, but it's impossible here."

He slams the glass into the table and the heat of it washes over her as every nerve in her body freezes, watching the growing crack splinter crystal. The older magician hunches forward, both his hands cradling the damaged receptacle, his salt-and-pepper head lowering into his collar.

It wells up in her chest, then, bone-crushing and bitter….it is /painful/ and the fact that she knows what is coming doesn't soften the blow in any way. Zatanna presses her lips together, taking a breath, marshalling every strongest part of herself for the blow that she is sure to follow. Because she has lived this, has seen this before, tended to this wound that hasn't closed since several years ago.

"I need…" She clears her throat, a futile attempt to eradicate the growing lump sticking to the back of her craw, barbed and hooked and liable to leave her bleeding if she tears it out forcibly. "I need to find John, Daddy."

"So go find him."

She closes her eyes at that, a scorching drop of moisture searing down her cheek.

"I can't," she whispers. "Not until you tell me again, what you told me before."

—-

Years later and an infinite, infinitessimal distance away, John Constantine follows Zatanna through the marked door. The room beyond looks exactly as it had in the dream he forgot to remember: a bedroom, a mirror smeared with the blood of Jessica Jones' desperate efforts to reach him. The wasted-away bundle on the floor near the wall has a familiar tumble of dark hair, and his stomach sinks.

"No. Oh, no. Jessica?" Zee breaks away from him, crosses over to knee, reaching to feel for a pulse even before she rolls the young woman over.

/Dead/, John thinks. Shit. Shit, shit.

But not dead. Not quite. Head lolling to one side, Jessica opens tired eyes, anemic with blood loss that never stopped. She curls stained fingers over Zatanna's. "Late," she croaks, weak.

And then those eyes find John, riddled with confusion. "Why? I thought you…heard me. Why not soon…sooner…"

"Just hold on, we're going to get you out of here," Zee is saying, sparing only a moment to flash a look over her shoulder that drills a nail into the block of ice that John has become. Because it's true, isn't it? He did hear her, but he didn't think it was /real./ A dark-haired woman asking for his help, blood — that describes practically every one of his relationships, doesn't it just?

"I didn't know," he says through numb lips, watching Zatanna struggle to get the dead weight of Jessica's arm over her shoulders, all purpose-driven strength.

"/Who cares why/, John! Just get over here and /help/ me! You can martyr yourself later, but right now we need to— "

A thick torrent of black sludge erupts from the mouth of Jessica Jones, and Zatanna's cry runs him through the heart. He's moving, feels himself helping to lay the detective back down, but it's all happening the way a nightmare happens, a blur characterized by denial.

"No! Pick her up! We have to get her out! We have to— "

"Zee, she's gone. She's /gone/!" He reaches for Zatanna's wrists to try to keep her from struggling with the corpse. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry, we can't do anything, we have to go."

"We can't just leave her. I won't leave her. You go ahead and leave, that's what you /do/, isn't it? But I'm not leaving! I would never— let /go/ of me! Don't you /dare/ touch me!" Eyes wide as she spits vitriol, his wide as he receives it. He wants to argue with her, but a sudden crackle of potent magic spits beneath his hand. He /feels/ the sigil on her arm — the last one — disappear, a squirming beneath the flesh of his palm. Both of them stop dead in their struggle, look down at her arm in mute shock, and then slowly up at one another.

"John," she starts to say, little more than a breath. He hears the terror in it, the unfathomable horror of not knowing what's about to happen to her — just the certainty that it will be final, irreversible.

He promised.

That's all he can think as her form starts to crumble into pearlescent dust, motes of energy that whisk away on some incorporeal wind. /I promised. This can't happen. I promised./

"There are still things we can try, if we can get back to the flat I— " Only there won't be time. He knows it, and so does she. The knowledge of his failure is the last thing he can see clearly in her eyes before they begin to erode with the rest of her, flesh gone to dust, winnowing away over the accusing bleached-bone white of the skull beneath.

After precious seconds of staring in open-mouthed refusal to believe that this is happening, he gathers his wits, begins to viciously sever his own ties to this fabrication of a world. Return to the flat. There's something he can do if he can just protect her body, just keep it safe—

He slams back into his own body roughly. Nausea overtakes him in a potent wave, but he shoves that away, clears his head enough to lean forward, reaches for her, finds only empty air.

In the place where she sat, a pile of dust that he stares at uncomprehendingly. /Not possible. Not possible, not possible./

"You always were bad at following directions," says the voice behind him, sonorous and elegant, rimed with ice. The voice of Giovanni Zatara.

—-

"You always were bad at following directions."

Giovanni stares balefully at the cup in his hands, unable to look at his daughter in the eye as he watches his reflection on the amber liquid before him, ready to keep drowning himself in it. Standing, he always seemed larger than life, being so tall and lean, as if his shoulders could stretch up and onto forever - but in this state, he folds himself in half, wallowing in the kind of guilt and misery that she had no prayer of understanding at that age, but is so intimately familiar with now.

"The rabbits, Zatanna," he mutters. "You couldn't handle even that?"

Lucky I turned into multiple Luckies, filling the stage in the gallery of memories she guards so jealously at the back of her mind, scattering like the scared rodents they were and ruining her father's show, the first they've managed to book on the road after Thomas and Martha Wayne's joint funerals. They had left Gotham in a hurry, the older Zatara having finally caved under the weight of it all, losing his wife and his best friends in the span of months, forced on the road to escape the pain while saddled with the burden of single fatherhood, left to wrangle a precocious child blessed and cursed with a power of such magnitude it defied even his understanding.

"I'm sorry, Daddy," Zatanna finds herself saying, her voice quiet and small, an older echo of what she had said to him as a child. "It won't happen again."

"It will," Giovanni tells her bitterly. "It will happen again, and again, and again. Over and over. There won't be any rest for me, Zatanna. There hasn't been ever since you came into this world. Without your mother, without Tom, I…" He leans further into the table, his spindly, elegant fingers curling upwards, clutching his hair as he buries his face in his hands.

"I don't think I can do this," he confesses, hoarse voice laden with sorrow, with guilt. "I promised Sindy, I swore on her grave. But it's so hard….you make it so hard, Zatanna. Every time I teach you, every time I talk to you. Every time I /look/ at you."

Her bottom lip trembles, her front teeth digging into it in an effort to seize back some of her unraveling control. She has seen this before, has lived it, has tended to the wound ever since it was inflicted, left open and stagnant somewhere inside of herself. "Say it," she whispers, the plea choking the words at the back of her throat. "Say it so I can /go/, Daddy."

He lift his head to meet her eyes.

"I can't take care of you anymore," he whispers, his face twisting, his expression pained at the admittance, the acknowledgment of his burgeoning failure as a father. "I don't want you here anymore, Zatanna."

It is nothing dramatic; there is no end of the world, no apocalypse, no threat to battle. There was a time when she thought her worst fears would manifest themselves as demons under the bed, ready to consume her flesh and rip her soul asunder, to cast into Limbo with no hope of reclamation. But in this room, she feels the open wound bleed anew, pain seizing up all of her motor functions as she stares into her own eyes.

"….you don't mean that," she replies quietly, barely managing to hold back the rest of her tears. "I know you don't."

The glass rockets out from his fingertips, shattering into the wall behind her head. Fragments burst on impact, a sliver cutting her cheek. It was years ago, so many years ago, but she remembers the pain as acutely as she feels it now, the warm wet drop or two of blood trickling down her cheek. From behind her, white light filters through the hole the snifter has made, searing her bare shoulder with heat.

"How do you know?!" he roars, half-rising from his chair. "You're a /child/! You know nothing about the world! You— " He falters visibly, his eyes falling on the cut, rounding into saucers as he remembers himself. The legendary magician was normally a creature of strict, deft control and he manages to regain some semblance of it, his jaw working around the words curdling on his tongue.

"Baby…" he utters, helpless, guilt-ridden. His arms reach for her. "Baby, no…I didn't…I'm so— "

She remembers turning tail and running, but in this cracked and hollow, terrible world, she doesn't. Zatanna reaches up to brush her knuckles over her eyes, over her wounded cheek. She pulls her mouth upwards forcibly, bending it in a small smile.

"I have to go, Daddy," she tells him, pivoting around to face the hole in the wall. "It's alright….it hurts, still, but I forgave you a long time ago. I always do."

With that, she puts her booted foot forcibly through the wall, bracing her hands on top of the iron fixtures holding lights in place. Agitation, that volatile, emotional spring, wells up again, that earliest and most painful rejection rendered fresh and real as she pounds her limb into the widening opening, crushing plaster and insulation with her heel until she manages to tear down enough of the wall to push through the growing film of illumination before her, flooding into the dim interior of the gloomy Parisian townhouse.

On the road, it had just been the two of them. Her father is the only thing she had….still has. For all the languages she has learned, there is none that exists that could accurately and efficiently quantify how it feels to hear that from him.

So she doesn't even try. Taking a few steps back and with a pained, frustrated cry, she dashes forward and throws herself bodily against the ruined construct, the walls warping and exploding outwards in chunks on impact.

—-

The voice of his old mentor stitches lightning up his spine. John is on his feet with no memory of how he got that way, spun around, shoulders square and hands slightly out from his sides as though he were a gunslinger in a stand-off, not a magician with a perfect track record of getting everything and everyone he cares about destroyed. It's a fighting stance, but there's no fight in his face, color drained out of it. He's still seeing her crumple into nothing, over and over again.

Giovanni Zatara looks like an artifact from another time, anachronistic in his performance dress. "Maybe if you'd learned to listen to wisdom, she'd still be alive, and so," says the magician, ever-so-quietly, skinning his threat in silk, "Would you."

"At least I was /there/," John spits back, channeling fear and suffering into that tried-and-true standby: bitter rage. "Where were /you/?"

"I'm glad you asked," Giovanni says coolly. He turns, extending one pristine, white-gloved hand, to indicate the corpse behind him, obscured by his taller, caped silhouette.

No, not a corpse, John realizes, with a shot of dread to the kidneys. His eyes pick out the swirls carved into the hollow, bony features, around the bright and feverish and /living/ eyes.

"Gary." He isn't sure if he says it or it's just a hoarse denial inside of his own skull. "Not possible." None of it. None of it possible. "He's /dead/."

"Wouldn't that have been convenient for you? I understand you didn't stay for the funeral."

"There /wasn't one/, he was — the demon consumed him, there wouldn't have been anything left to— "

"And yet, here we are. John, there is not a council or coven in the world that would deny me the right to subject you to a lifetime of suffering for what you've done. Not just to me, not just to my daughter, but everyone you've ever managed to drag into the sorry catastrophe of your abhorrent existence. And yet, I have never been anything if not fair to you, in my own way. So I've come to offer you something: something you offered Gary, isn't that right? The thing that made him so willing to allow you to fill him up with the worst of all agonies."

The wasted figure nods, a painful movement from jerking, dessicated tendons. "Redemption."

John's knees give out on him then, slowly, one at a time. The elder magician gently guides Gary's wasted body nearer, slowly helps ease him down to kneel, too. John can see the way his flesh moves with the things he contains, sliding beneath skin like dried leather, but none of that is worse than his /eyes/. Gary's eyes. Same as they ever were: full of suffering, desperate for escape. He looked the same way every time John found him with a tourniquet on his arm and a needle still stuck in the crook of his elbow, forgotten once he floated off on that white horse.

"Gary has suffered long enough, don't you think? And you, well…you will suffer for me, John, that I can promise you. But I am offering you this one chance — just this one — to redeem yourself, to give your suffering /purpose/. Am I not generous?" Giovanni's hand is gentle on his shaking shoulder.

The old survival instincts are there, but they've been shattered by too many shocks in a row. A knot forms in his throat. "Will you…" The words are difficult to force out. "Will you tell…tell Chas…"

"I'll tell Francis that your passing had meaning. Yes. If you like."

He feels the tears spring up into his traitorous eyes, hates himself for the way he looks up at Giovanni's silhouette with sick gratitude. /At least there's that, then./

"It's time, John."

That's it, then.

He'd always thought there's be more sense in it. Something at the end to make sense of the rest. Who can say why? He'd never seen any sign of sense in anyone else's meaningless ends, so why should his be any different? But he'd thought so, anyway. Just as much a fool as the rest of them, in the end.

He lifts his shaking hand, curls his fingertips against the back of Gary's too-thin neck, pulls him in, crown to crown. His heart is pounding, his chest aches. The terror is there, but so are apathy and resignation. Regret. Too much grief for one lifetime. It had to end eventually. Why not now?

"I'm sorry, Gary," he manages to say.

And Gary leans in, touches his chin with one hard thumb. John waits for forgiveness.

"Not as sorry as you will be."

It looks like a kiss, the way he opens his mouth and presses his lips against the shriveled aperture of his former friend's, and maybe in a way it is, but that is not its /purpose/. Beneath the hand on Gary's neck the flesh heaves with sudden activity, a rush of small bodies moving upward, pouring outward, through the mouth. Insects, a swarm of them, each one a tiny fragment of the hunger demon John bound there years ago. They flood into John, choke him, stuff his lungs, drown him, and he is being /devoured/ but he can't scream, they're in his throat, in his everything—

He collapses backward, lost in his agonies.

Back in the flat — in the /real/ flat, and not the one of his imagining — he falls in unison with this other astral self, eyes open and empty. Liquid rills from the corners of his eyes, but his face is a mask empty of emotion, only the frantic rise and fall of his chest any indication of the hell his mind has been imprisoned in.

—-

Zatanna's own traverse back into her body isn't a thing of beauty or grace, but certainly less violent than John's; a consequence of being a young woman shaped by tragedy, but never ruled by it.

Her body remains seated where it is, cross-legged with her wrists draped on her knees, and once her struggle to free herself from a painful memory is proven to be victorious, she, too, falls into her body. Her waking is a choking, gagging thing, prefaced by a loud gasp and huge gulp of air, turning to the side to dry heave the remaining traces of bitter misery into open, empty air. Her body shudders, she forces herself to take calmer inhalations, her left arm bracing her up and the reminder of her present troubles tells her, at least, that whoever Muller's accomplice is hasn't tried anything further against her…for now. The marks remain etched just under her elbow, all the way to her shoulder.

Her body trembles from the shock, of falling through space and time back into her body, of being forced to remember the twisted pain on her father's beloved face even while he was hurting her. Her fingers lift, to touch her damp cheek, feeling the drying salty streak wicked into her skin, the bits of dried blood from the cut inflicted by intangible dream-glass.

She freezes even as she attempts to collect herself - if she had seen that….

Zatanna whirls around quickly, feeling the world lurch, her discombobulated senses tilting images dizzily before her eyes and nearly causing her to sick up all over John's new floors in truth. "John…" she breathes, half-stumbling, half-crawling to where he has fallen, leaning over him to watch his eyes, his face hardened into a blank mask. It isn't as if she has forgotten how this all started, the words they've exchanged - time, and what each of them suffered in Muller's twisted hellscape, but at the moment, none of that matters.

All that matters in these few, precious seconds is what she remembers; of waking up at night, her eyes heavy with sleep, observing his body as he wrenched about in the sheets, nonsensical words spilling from his usually cocky mouth, his muscles wracked with the kind of agony that isn't physical as his ghosts and demons lashed at him from a place she couldn't see. She knows they could come from anywhere - the graveyards in which he plied his trade, the sanitorium in which he spent some time….Newcastle, always Newcastle. Astra. Everyone else from his small, misguided group of worshippers who went and suffered with him.

Her hands cup his cheeks, her thumbs attempting desperately to wipe away those tortured tears, moisture within them replaced by her own. She was always so quick to do that, Zatanna Zatara….to dive into the muck with him, to share in the dirt, to bleed with him among the brambles.

She grits her teeth, feeling it all over again - frustration, anger, though more directed at herself. She hates this.

For once in her life, she wishes she didn't care.

Her arms pull him up, slip around him, cradling his heavier, broader body against hers as she buries hia face into the crook where her neck meets her shoulder, her traitorous, burning eyes fixing on the far side of the wall. "It's over," she tells him quietly, her fingers drawing over his hair. "It's over now, John. I'm here…come back. Come back, John."

Her hand cups the back of his head, her face tilting back to stare tearfully at the ceiling.

"Kcab emoc."

—-

Heavier than he looks, is John Constantine. He's lean, spare, but what muscle he has is dense and strong. Has had to be, to keep him alive. She has no help from him at all in trying to resituate his insensate form, forced to wrangle him upright in the ungainliest of ways. And just asking? That isn't enough. Wherever he is, he can't hear her.

Then, instead of asking, she commands, and as it so often does — as it will continue to do with increasing consistency as she gains mastery over the legacy of magical potency that belongs to her — reality bends to accommodate her will. John, buried in tortures of his own devising, feels his consciousness fade and is dimly grateful that the end seems to be coming so soon. More than he deserves.

He awakens abruptly, sucking a breath into lungs that still feel as though they've been scoured by thousands of tiny, pincered mouths, pointed insect feet dancing over tar-slicked alveoli…

Awakens and struggles, fights. It's lucky for her that his fight is to get away, and not to do harm to thing with its arms wrapped around him — the thing he assumes is Gary Leister.

So he tumbles out of her grasp and onto the floor, comes back to his senses with panting intensity. Sees her for long seconds before his head clears enough for him to really /see/ her, at which point he freezes. The cords in his neck stand out with his held breath, the pale blue eyes locked on her wide with shock. The way he tears them away from her, snaps them around the room, looking for — what, exactly? — suggests distilled fear. The heels of his shoes scrape the floor as he gains another few uncoordinated inches backward. He does not trust his surroundings, does not trust /her/, the reality of her. He says nothing.

What happened, with Gary — it wasn't real. But is /this?/

—-

She lets go of him immediately once he takes a breath; the loud rasp of air returning to his insensate body lets her know that she has managed to wrench him away from whatever was waiting for him in Muller's labyrinth of personal hells. He struggles fitfully, but he would find no resistance, unceremoniously half-dumped into the ground by his panicked scramble to get away from her and her surprise that whatever she did, it worked. It was no ancient incantation, with decades of sorcerous tradition behind it, it was a command, with no power foundation but whatever it is that lurks inside her and her typical willingness to tell the world to /step off/ when she wants something done.

Zatanna lifts her hands, stares at them disbelievingly.

What…

The mad clatter of his joints and bones on the floor has her turning her attention back towards John as he attempts to regain his bearings, shifting until one knee is braced to the floor and inching closer to where he is crabwalk-stumbling, closer and closer to the fall wall. She makes no move to touch him, but she gears herself up for it, her body tightening with the tension necessary in the event that she must overpower him to calm him down.

"John? John!" Her hand lifts, her fingers spread. "Calm down, you're back. It's me….we're back in Brooklyn."

She looks over her shoulder briefly, half-expecting Chas to come through at any moment, but he remains vanished, leaving the two of them alone to their own ill-advised devices. Her jaw clenches, ticks at the corner. He better come back with an entire toolbox from the hardware store!

Her deflected attention rivets back into him, taking in the fear reflected in his eyes and how fright knots over his body. Anger returns, and this time she hangs onto it, for later use.

—-

His back does eventually touch the wall, keeping him from moving any further away. The cold solidity of it, the roughness, give him something by which to anchor himself, his thoughts like panicked birds trapped in a greenhouse, desperate to find the way out. There is nothing in his posture to suggest he's a danger to her; if anything, he looks as though he's worried about her doing /him/ some sort of harm.

It's moments more before he believes her. It takes time and quiet and some part of him sensing the core of that mana in her before he's willing to accept — to even /dare/ to hope — that this is the truth. That she's still alive.

His belief transforms his face. The fear recedes, rolled back by a tide of relief so vast he could drown in it, and on the crest of that wave rides a need etched into every line of his face. He reaches for her, grasps her, pulls. He crushes her against his chest with that embrace, not tender, not romantic. It contains none of the complicated feelings remnant from their brief affair. It does not consider the hex her father placed on him — not even for a moment does the thought occur to him to worry about that. It is a visceral thing, the way a man clings to piece of something he thought lost in a shipwreck, and anyone else might think, 'thank God — thank God!'

John, who knows that God exists, thinks no such thing. His head contains only a hive sound, like an animal instinct. She is solid. She is whole. For those few moments, wrapped up, he has her, she is safe, and he's a man who hasn't failed her yet. It's nonsense to think of it this way — it wasn't real, it was bollocks, nonsense, nothing — but it still /feels/ like a second chance.

John does not get many of those.

"Oh fuck," he says tightly, somewhere into the crown of dark hair on her head.

—-

His hand is suddenly snapping out, closing over her outstretched wrist.

Zatanna barely has time to react when raw, wiry strength drags her forward, her knees sliding across the floor and her smaller, slender frame crushed into his chest, wringing breath out of her lungs while a small squawk escapes her. Her large, surprised eyes stare over his shoulder, picking out the scuffs on the wall, her arms pinned to her sides by his grip - he's more solid than he looks, stronger than he looks. The rest of her is flat on the ground, like some kind of baby seal, clubbed over the back of its head and left to flounder in disorientation while the big, bad hunter cuddles the shit out of it, the rough gesture stamped with naked relief.

Silence falls between them, heavy and awkward - or at least, it is to her as she remains against him unmoving, her mouth opening and closing in shock and for a few minutes, she's at a loss as to what to say.

And then, she hears it, rasped hoarsely over her hair, stirring into her scalp.

'Oh fuck.'

Her expression flattens immediately, hidden against the white of his shirt. Her hand reaches up to curl her fingers over a bicep.

"No, thanks," she tells him, her voice muffled against fabric. "For all I know, you've been to Mexico after you left me and I remember the hallucinogenic pineapple story."

Slowly, she curls her knees underneath her, extricating herself from his grip, giving him a look, though it isn't one that is remotely irritated or furious - it isn't as if she hadn't divined the purpose of the nightmare labyrinth they bumbled into earlier, crawling with shades and monsters constructed from their own minds; despite their collective experience dealing with the dark, they were still their own worst enemies.

She sits up, her hand absently rubbing over her left arm, grimacing faintly as she looks down at it before turning her attention to his face again. Seeing the remaining vestiges of that powerful relief lingering upon it, her expression softens.

She doesn't ask - doesn't ask about what he saw, what he experienced and endured. She knows better, remembering those old burns and while old, they remain tender. "You can't go back in there, John," she tells him quietly, lifting a hand to thumb away a bead of cold sweat off his brow. "I'm going to have to find another way."

Alone, if she has to.

Raking her fingers through her hair, she moves to stand, wincing as her knees pop, her spine uncoiling, feeling the brunt of stress tickle down each vertebra like mallets on a xylphone.

—-

He ought to appreciate that kind of humor, John, but whatever he went through makes it early for laughing. He lets her go when she stirs, but all that does is give him room to lift his hand, press thumb and index finger to his brows with fingers that still have the shakes.

He can still remember how it felt to have the demon crawling down into his innards.

"No argument from me there, luv," he manages to finally say, when she forbids him to retry that particular escapade. /Get your shit together, John. Your arse is hanging out./

He's exhausted. Too many emotions compressed into too little time. They'll need sorting — or whatever passes for such a thing with a man who represses basically everything — but for the time being he welcomes the exhaustion in. Like shock, it's a cushion that keeps other systems functioning, all of the more complex but unnecessary ones shut down for the interim.

When he looks up at her he's looking for the marks on her arm, but eventually his gaze makes it all the way up to her face, where tiny flecks of drying blood remind him that it would probably be good if he could /unstick his head from his own misery/ long enough to worry about someone else, for a change.

He gets up. He's steady, but sore. That invasion may have been psychological, but it left its marks nevertheless. "'tanna. You're bleeding. Are you..?" Alright? Who knows what she saw? He doesn't ask because he appreciates that courtesy from her, himself,

—-

Bleeding? Her fingers lift to brush over her cheek - the cut is already drying and she barely feels the sting. Just a nick, like before when her father's temper had given her that jagged little kiss. But he wouldn't be wrong about reopened psychological wounds, her eyes reflect his exhaustion and the depths of some profound sorrow - most days, they are unfairly expressive, but especially when she is determined to press forward anyway. Zatanna, like her father, moves ahead no matter how many muscles are bruised and how many bones are broken.

"It's nothing new," she tells him. "So it's nothing I can't handle. I'm fine, John. Not to say I can shrug it off as if it was nothing, but you know me. It isn't just lip service."

She nods towards the leather couch. "I'll pour us a couple of glasses," she says. "And I'll stay until Chas gets back. Just take it easy, okay?"

There's a faint quirk on her mouth, a slight twitching at the corners, already turning so she could move towards the in-progress kitchen area. Soon, she's rummaging through the cupboards, rising slightly on the balls of her feet to peer at the higher shelves. She finds a bottle eventually, and a couple of clean glasses.

—-

In spite of that hellish nightmare, he knows her well enough to take her at her word, and nods. Sustaining unnecessary concern over her well-being feels like an improper use of what threshold for stress he has remaining for the evening, anyway.

He watches her still, but only for a moment. He's remembering how real everything had seemed to him. The things she said, the way she fought back, the way she moved — all the perfect picture of her, or at least perfectly representative of the way he sees her.

He crosses back to the leather sofa and drops into it with shoddy grace, letting his gaze unfocus on the ceiling. "Muller's cut-rate house of 'orrors walked off with my wits like a blood /amateur/." That stings. How had he let it get under his skin that way? Where had the critical point of failure been?

He'll identify it later, but for now the concept of failure brings to mind only the fates of the two women caught up in Muller's game: Zatanna, yes, but also Jones.

"I'm sorry we didn't find her."

—-

She takes the whole bottle with her, moving over to where John has parked himself. Zatanna takes a seat on the coffee table, not out of some lingering reluctance to share the same couch, but because they were still in the process of fixing the place up, and she wants to be able to look him directly in the face during the inevitable dissection of their experiences. The young woman pours a double shot of the whiskey she found in the glass, offering it to him, and gives herself half the amount she has given him. Much like the night at the Tin Roof Club, she knows herself, limits the amount she takes in. Not just because of her past experiences with her father, but also because alcohol tends to get her into mischief….something that John remembers very well.

"It looked to me as if it was walking off with more than just your wits, John," she tells him straightforwardly; there's no hesitation there, always been the sort to call it like she sees it. But still, she doesn't ask, taking a whiff of the whiskey before taking a sip, feeling it burn down the back of her throat and hit her belly, suffusing it in warmth…like slowly sinking into a bath.

She leans forward, her elbows resting on her knees, both sets of fingers cradling the glass. "I brought Jessica into this, it's only right that I be the one to handle it. She's done nothing but give a hundred percent to helping me, I can't not do the same for her in turn. We just need someone who has some connection to her, who won't bring too much into the maze. It seems to react to regret….to sins."

She looks up at him, a wry turn pulling at her mouth.

"Sounds like a job for a certain alien to me. Besides, he owes me."

—-

There is no mucking-about with John and alcohol even at the best of times, which this most certainly is /not/. He accepts the glass blindly, then lifts his head long enough to throw back the entire lot of it at once, enough liquid to cause a cramp in his chest. He grits his teeth, sucks air, hands her glass with just enough of an up-nod in the direction of the bottle to indicate that his moratorium on drinking has officially ended. And, in line with that, he begins to pat down his pockets, searching for his pack of cigarettes and his lighter, the shape of the latter of which surprises him because it's different.

Her gift. Right.

He applies one to the other, drapes the hand holding the clove over the arm of the sofa, and in his canted-back sprawl turns his attention to the lighter for probably the first time, holding it up and tilting it to let the light catch on the engravings, making them easier to see.

His eyes are still hooded when they lift back up to look at her.

"The one with the bizarre tackle?"

—-

"The bizarre…what?"

Zatanna lifts the bottle, and hesitates, before she just passes the entire thing over to him, considering it the more efficient course of action now that she's seen him down the first double shot she has poured him in the evening.

The words hang in the air, but she is simply too exhausted to correct him, grousing a little bit. "More bizarre how he's so free around the house with said 'tackle'," she grumbles as she takes another pull of her drink. Certainly, this won't haunt the alien later. Surely.

"Peter's a good guy and I think he'll help. I'll need to improvise, but I think I have a pretty good idea how to swing this. Don't worry about that for now, that you can leave to me." The Guardians of the Galaxy were her house guests, they've been drinking her out of house and home for a few weeks now. She decides, really, that there's no better time than to put them to work.

She lifts the glass to her lips, though her fingers suddenly grow numb and slack. The thing tilts over her hand, falls on the wooden floor with a dull thud, though it thankfully doesn't break. Her right hand closes over her forearm, turning away from him as she leans forward, a sound hissed between her teeth as crackling sparks erupt from her covering digits, the disappearing ward crawling up and up, baring more skin until it stops right at her elbow, her carefully crafted symbols fading before her eyes.

She presses her lips together; exhausted, emotional, the fact that she's able to keep a lid on her rising panic is downright miraculous. She doesn't look at him, her stare locked on her skin.

"I have time," she tells him quietly before he says anything. "There's no way he can keep doing this today." Looking over her shoulder, she smirks faintly at him. "Merry fucking Christmas, yeah?"

—-

John takes the bottle instead of the glass without any complaint whatsoever. It's probably just the start of a long evening for him. His brow quirks after her riposte about the alien's…equipment…but he doesn't dwell on it. He's got limited SAN points left, and more important things to spend them on.

He's also happy to let her go on doing the talking, taking sips from the bottle and nodding where it's appropriate, but otherwise a boneless pile taking up space, enjoying the numbness for as long as it lasts, and knowing full well that it won't last long enough for his tastes, really.

Until she hisses, in obvious pain. He sets the bottle down on the floor with a hollow /thunk/ and curls to lean forward, over his knees, down on her level. He can't see the source under her hand and with everything else, but when she looks back she'll find him leaning on his elbows, those braced on his knees, grifter's hands dangling loosely and brows knit.

Several heartbeats pass before he turns his head on an angle that lets him fix an eye on the cell at the end of the room. It lingers there for long, indecisive moments before returning to her.

"My plan today was to try to convince you to stay in the warded cell Chas and I built for Muller until we could sort your blood problem," he admits, voice husked with the drink and the strain. "And if you didn't agree, I was, to be honest, prepared to put you in it whether you liked it or not." Blue eyes drop to the glinting glass mouth of the bottle. "But I'm knackered, love. Got no scuffle left in me." And no taste for it. Not after everything. "So I'm offerin', but that's all. You can go an'ave a look at it if you like. Some good work, if I do say so myself. An' I did." He reaches for the bottle again, plucks it up. "Won't shut the door on you. Promise."

—-

He leans forward and she can't help but lean back, Zatanna's eyes locked on his face; it would be the sort of expression he would expect, with that concentrated effort to gauge his sincerity but as he quietly, solemnly offers his confession, the young woman's lips twist faintly in a line that is stitched with half a grimace and half annoyance. "Are you really that tired of life?" she retorts, dryly. "You /know/ I would have been obligated to kick your ass and make sure you felt it until the next year if you tried, right?"

It isn't just bravado - the last few months outside of her father's direct supervision has had her banishing demons to committing minor felonies and impersonating people of the cloth. This is a side of her that only a very few people get to see, much less know about.

She cranes her head to take a look at the cell and now that her attention has been fixed on it, she can see it, feel it, the dark, yawning hole of nullification registering in her magical senses, the kind of thing that would put the fear in any sorceror. It is the worst of both worlds, rendered unable to use magic /and/ in the physical custody of John bloody Constantine.

Her hand leaves her arm, reaching out to take his free hand and giving it a squeeze.

"I'm still pissed at you," she tells him, honest and quiet, letting go of his fingers after that small conciliatory token is dispensed, looking at him directly - she's fearless, even here, once again stomping her merry way through volatile, emotional minefields without a care as to how many ways it could eviscerate her. "But I'm grateful too, John."

She takes a breath. "Let me send Quill on his errand and then I'll come back here, so long as you don't lock the cage. Okay?"

—-

"Strangely, 'tanna, I'd rather taking a hiding from you than from your /da/. Can't imagine why," he says, of her threat. He sinks back into the cushions with a soft whisper of cloth on leather, and a quiet creak from the seat, bottle propped atop his thigh.

When she clasps his hand his eyes travel from the nebulous point near his knee at which he was not really looking over to the point of contact, and then they lift. There is no return squeeze. Too tired, maybe, or the day's events have stripped him of whatever frisson may have been stirred up by their earlier emotional exchange, or maybe he's just becoming a decent human being who likes to respect the boundaries of—

…yeah, no. It's just the hex.

But he /is/ tired. And he is /not/ feeling frisky.

She promises enduring anger, but also appreciation, and so the status quo is instantly restored.

'You're the kind of man who inspires maximum loyalty for minimum effort,' someone said to him once. It feels more true on some days than others.

"Fair," says the magus on the couch, deal made. He lifts the bottle for another long pull, but stops before it reaches his lips, remembering something. Turning his head, he cocks an eye over at the round depression in the brick wall, and with a twitch of fingers, the ladder re-emerges, popping into place with a metallic bang.

Almost instantly the top of it opens. Snow trickles down, along with a wet and cold-looking Chas.

"Nice of you to /put the goddamn door back,/ John, I've only been standing out there for an /hour/ — " When Chas hits the bottom of the ladder and turns, reshouldering a heavy backpack, he takes in the mood of the room at a glance and hesitates. The mood of /John,/ really. "Uh, on second thought, I think I forgot a few things — "

"Nah, mate. Come on. Sorry. I just forgot to put it back." John spends a moment looking at his roommate, and something seems to uncoil just a little bit inside of his chest. "What in the bloody hell is that?"

There are evergreen needles poking out of the top of the rucksack. Chas swings it around, pushes down the sides of the hiking bag to reveal an only-slightly-maimed evergreen. Maybe just the top of one? "It's our tree."

John cocks a brow. "You take it down the pub and get it pissed before you brought it back? It's well flogged, innit?"

"There aren't a lot of trees /left/. You wait until the last minute for everything, what do you expect?" For a moment, there's something of real agitation in Chas.

John's expression admits to a note of regret, apology. "Ah, nevermind it. Bring in your wee mangy shrub then, and we'll merry the place up."

—-

"Don't you dare leave," Zatanna says, her eyes /boring/ right into Chas as he starts to make excuses, finally feeling it - it is her turn to look relieved, the bands loosening from around her chest as she hops up from the table with renewed vigor. "I was just about to head out."

Picking up the glass on the floor, she sets it on the table, moving away from the couch and pulling the strap of her satchel towards her. A glance at the wilted tree makes her grin faintly, but broadly enough that it draws her normally hidden dimple from her left cheek.

"Don't listen to him, I think it suits the place somehow," she says, bussing Chas' cheek lightly with a kiss and pulling her coat over her shoulders. "Let me know if Renee or Geraldine would like their gifts exchanged, okay? I gotta get going, I'm on a bit of a tight schedule, but I'll be back soon."

The idea of going to bed is extremely tempting, but she has to find Peter before any more of her protections are siphoned away, not to mention a great deal of research before she could close her eyes without having to worry about being unable to open them again.

Reaching up, she grabs the ladder, and starts clambering further up, to leave the bunker and head back to her home. Once again, she finds herself resigned to moving about in late hours, but the evenings have always suited her best. It's the mornings that burn.

—-

Chas gives her a brief, one-armed walk-by hug as she goes. "I'm sure they'll love them. Thanks." He waits until she's ascending, boots on the rungs, before shooting John a bemused, knit-browed look. "She'll be back soon?"

"We need to set up one of the beds in the cell," says John, contemplating the shards of light in the bottle in his hand. "Put mine in it. I'll sleep out here."

That statement does nothing to make Chas look less skeptical, but he nods, puts on a vague look, and then turns his attention to unpacking not only the tree but everything else he brought back with him, leaving John free to do what he's wanted to do since the moment Muller hit the pavement with blood gushing out of his leg:

Get absolutely /smashed/.

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