December 29, 2016:

John regroups in the aftermath of a devastating confrontation with Zatanna Zatara.


A posh, upscale hotel near the New York cruise terminal.


NPCs: Chas Chandler

Mentions: Zatanna Zatara

Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

When he wakes up he's still drunk. Sensory information seeps slowly through the fog of his disorientation, bringing the world back into muzzy focus: ship's horns, gulls. Near water, and that teases at a memory that slips just out of his grasp. Why?

The bed is comfortable, enormous, the sheets soft. There's a down comforter, a small wooden lamp with an enormous, white, modern shade. The room is quirky-minimalist, natural materials in neutral colors — mostly white — struck with points of color here and there. Urban contemporary. Posh. Not like him at all.

He rolls over and spends a moment fighting a wave of nausea. When it passes, he reaches for the bedside table, fumbles blindly until he finds the little pyramid of a folded welcome card, dragging it over and propping it in front of one squinting eye.

A Kimpton Hotel
653 11TH AVENUE NEW YORK, NY 10036

It is a crude tool for jimmying open the stuck lock on the door to his memories of the day previous. He'd been plastered by the time he checked into the hotel. The hotel on the waterfront, near…near the cruise terminal. A cruise terminal where he drunkenly bought himself a ticket to London with money he got…from…from a bank. A bank he walked into, sat down in, and slid a playing card across the desk when they asked him for identification, and then they'd just handed him the money — oh Christ, so much money. He'd been sober then, stone-cold sober but planning to be anything else, because he'd just…what? He'd left the flat, just walked out on —


Drawn backward down the spiraling tunnel of his memories to the locus of his hurts, he finds the core of it, white hard and sharp as a diamond, and lets his eyes close, dropping the folded card on the floor beside the bed. His head throbs, promising hours of misery.

You were actually going to leave, you tit.

He lets that thought circulate a while, waiting to see if it stirs up any dissent in the chorus of his internal voices. He expects some debate, something along the lines of: Well, why not? What's the point? …and is slightly surprised when none of that happens. The council of Johns is silent.

You self-involved pillock. He can't leave. He knows that, at least now that he's got proportionally more blood than alcohol in his brain basket, but he remembers what he felt when he made the choice to buy the ticket and he doesn't think it was selfishness. For once. The decision to leave, wash his hands of someone and disappear, has always been accompanied by a feeling of heady, breathless anticipation, the kind of rushing freedom a person feels when they throw themselves from the edge of something high: weightless, unfettered freefall, sudden infinite possibility. Relief from every burden. But there hadn't been anything like that, had there? He'd been sick to his bones. He had paid for his ticket and he remembers that it had felt the way a man must feel paying for his own coffin.

Doesn't like that thought. Doesn't like remembering that. Doesn't want to think about it. He pushes it away. Forget it. You're not using it anyway, who cares why you bought it. You can deal with that on the other end of another day of drinking yourself blind. Or several.

The sound of his phone ringing on the bedside table drives nails through the boiled-egg softness of his skull. It vibrates, dances across the wood like a jackhammer. He paws for it frantically, answers it more to get it to stop making noise than anything else.

"What." His voice sounds like a rusty hinge. A rusty British hinge.

"John…" Chas.

Christ. John says nothing.

"John," says Chas again. "Where are you?"


"Zee says you're not coming back."

Is he not? John considers that a moment. "Nope," he agrees. He's not.

"Well…" Chas sounds truly at a loss. He founders. "Well, what the hell? I can't do anything for her. What if we need your help?"

"You can keep an eye on'er. S'good enough. Just don't actually try to help. She'll have your bollocks in a tin," John says, words mushy from the pressure of his face against the pillow.

"Look…" Chas is struggling to balance his frustration and concern: "So I get that things didn't go so well last night—"

John snorts.

"— but she could die. And usually I'd let you wallow in self-pity, but I think —"

John's eyes snap open. "Piss off wi'that. You don't know what you're talking about. You have no idea. You an' her both, thinking this is all just— oh, it's just John having himself a tantrum, innit? Maybe I'm just sick of tragedy. Maybe there's more going on than you think. Bugger me, Chas, just leave me alone for a few days, will you? I come back I'll just make it worse. Every bloody time. She needs me to cast something you can tell me but otherwise just piss off, alright?"

There is a long, long silence after that. Long enough that John is starting to set the phone down on the bed when he hears Chas' tinny voice pipe up through the distant, tiny speaker, all frustration eschewed in favor of carefully moderated worry. "Where are you right now?"

John thumbs END CALL and drops the phone. It lands beside the hotel information card, a tiny graveyard of irrelevance.

Eventually — after a second round of uneasy sleep — he sits upright, swings his feet over the edge of the bed. The world is spinning with slightly more restraint than before. The bedside alarm clock reads 2:34p. He catches a glimpse out of the corner of his eye of a chalk design on the carpet and gets a bolt of adrenaline — drunk dialing Hell, that eternal occult faux pas? — but no. It's just something to keep people from scrying him out.

It does remind him that none of this is why he actually came to New York in the first place, though, and for some reason that memory provides an unexpected salve to the raw welt of open wounds he's become, a little bit of something to catch onto in the debris of his presently shipwrecked state. Something to keep his head above water. He's got work to do, hasn't he? And he's been so caught up in everything around Zatanna that he's not been doing any of it. Convinced himself he needs Zatara to make headway, or Zatanna at the very least, but that looks, in this hungover light of surreal day, like it may have been a flimsy excuse to reinsert himself into her life. That would be just like him, wouldn't it? Use the pretense of giving a shit to get close to something he wants. Because he's over it, really. He has other things to worry about, things big enough to bring the whole world crashing to pieces around him. There's no time for pissing about with the leftovers from some ill-advised summer fling. Never was. He just sensed weakness, scented blood in the air, couldn't help himself. She knows it, too. Had asked him: 'Is that what you're after?'

He sits there for a while, trying to convince himself that all of that's true. That he was just playing the game — as usual — and let himself get caught up in his own lie, to the point he almost believed it himself.

He's so good at this process, rewriting himself, that it almost works.


The persisting ache in the cage of his ribs refuses to be rewritten, though.

It took four months for my heart to finally break. Doesn't that just make me the toughest bastard there ever was?

He's more prone to emotional brooding than most would credit him for. People do not look at John and think 'there's a sensitive man,' but the sorry truth is that he is, always has been, and that's what makes him such a colossal prick: failing at dealing with how much he hates to /feel/ things. He doesn't let people in on it, but he always takes his losses hard. Even his closest associates would probably find the degree to which he's moaning and aching about last night a shock — he'd die before he let anybody see or know — but in privacy he tends to his grief with an honesty he's believes makes him weak.

Fuck you, John, she said. As in, goodbye. As in, over. Which it already was. Can a thing be over twice simultaneously?


He gets up off of the bed. Well to hell with it, anyway, he thinks irritably, finding his way in the curtain-made dark to the bathroom. You can't fix it. Buy the lie and run with it. He splashes his face with ice cold water, an act of violence against his own senses. Snares a towel from the rack to the side.

You have work to do, John. You came here for a reason. Don't waste time on things you can't fix. Focus on what you need to do. The rest will fix itself, or it won't. Climbing back into a bottle sounds fantastic — god, doesn't it just? — but it's just a holding pattern and you know it. You have people to follow up with, leads to chase. You've got enough money now to buy a ticket to anyplace in the country — might as well, if you can't stir up support here. You should hit the library. Not the New York Public…the one beneath Studio 54, or the place it was. Whatever it's called, now. He can't be bothered to keep track. The one for people like him.

He looks up into the mirror from the towel in his hands. His reflection stares back at him, hollow-eyed, but he can't see any of his hurt there, and that helps, too. Good.

What he sees is a body made chiseled and strong by the need to survive, marred extensively by scars, stitched in places with the ink of protective wards. Little symbols of suffering, but of sufferings he lived through, wounds that couldn't put him down for good. Most of them were his fault: carelessness, or he wasn't paying enough attention, didn't dodge quickly enough, shouldn't have been poking his nose in. But half of them he can't even remember the story of. He could stand here for an hour playing 'try to guess where that one came from' and never even get close to remembering half. Eventually the memories fade, and all that remains — one hopes — are the lessons learned along the way.

This isn't any different.

And just like before, sitting on the bed and telling himself he'd just been playing with fire because he likes to watch things burn, he almost manages to convince himself.


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