To Pick Up or Let Go

December 29, 2016:

Zatanna visits Az after receiving a text from her; too exhausted from the travails of the week to resist any filters she may have, she ends up telling her where Bucky Barnes might be and rejects Azalea's implied confession.

St. Lawrence Cathedral - Gotham City


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Winter Soldier, John Constantine

Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…


St. Lawrence Cathedral.

Time had ticked by in the Devil's Sanctum at the back of a church, and hours stretched into almost a full day. In the time between it should have given her a chance to calm down, but the Devil Inside was not so easily sated by anything so simple as the ticking hands on a clock.

It needed violence.

The night before was a whirlwind of it. She'd taken to an older pastime of grilling the Bonesaw Gang with her knuckles, and punching her way to some small measure of satisfaction. It wasn't until she returned in the small hours of the morning that she saw her tree again. The hole punched in the wall to expose raw brick beneath, and her reflection waiting for her accusingly in the mirror. She hadn't gone out to met out justice. She'd just gone to work off frustration.

It wasn't until she was in a cold shower that she realized what Zatanna's magic had given her - and it wasn't just a sense of calm and focus that had let her live through two confrontations with The Winter Soldier, but rather a sense of reflection and perspective that lingered long after the magic had faded. Never before had she been so mad at herself for losing control, and in the hours that came after, in the restless dreams of exhausted sleep, she saw herself in the Devil's history, but no longer as the triumphant monster. Instead she was the victim.


The knock will wake her, and she won't really be able to account for the time, a glance given to that pathetic Christmas tree of hers, the clothes strewn on the floor, and the damage to her wall.

Knock. Knock. Knock.

She doesn't know who to expect, but steals herself for the best and the worst. When she opens the door she'll look like a shadow, but much better than she had the day before, her bruises and small cuts clear as day on her knuckles and her arms, though her tank top and a pair of workout sweats will spare Zatanna from seeing just how bruised she'd gotten in tangling with Gotham's nightlife.


She looks tired herself, but triumphant, still riding the vestigial high left behind by Jessica's successful retrieval. Zatanna at the very least doesn't look injured, if anything, whatever gaping wounds she's still nursing are all internal, emotional; the kind that lingers and festers like cancer if not sufficiently lanced and purified.

She's clad in her usual attire; black jeans, a designer winter coat and boots that pushed up her height just a couple of inches shy of six feet. She carries a book bag with her, the thing that always accompanies the young magician when she's out and about. Seeing Az when she finally opens the door, she musters a small smile that falters slightly when she sees the bruises on her. She doesn't look at all happy when she glimpses those, but she has long since given up on actually trying to stop the other woman from going out there and getting herself in trouble.

It would be hypocritical, on top of everything, remembering how she just brazenly walked through the front door and asked to speak with Mammon's soul broker in New York.

She lifts up her smartphone, Azalea's text on the LCD screen, but she doesn't press until she is let inside the Dark Devil's borrowed rectory room, setting her bag somewhere down on the nearest convenient spot.

"Hey, Az. Sorry it took me a bit, I was….dealing with a few things that needed taking care of." As exhausted as she is, she doesn't burden the other woman with it either, raking her fingers through her hair. "Sit down so I can take a look at you. I can make the bruises and stuff go away."


When the light edges through the crack of the door she can't help but open it all the way, a light no one here can see, breaching the physical distance between one too-bright soul and pair of entangled entities that roil with a sudden hunger. The dull, dumb blink she gives in the face of that feeling again is as muted an expression as she's ever managed in the face of delicious power. Up and up she looks at Zatanna's terrible height, and somewhere in her mind's eye she is reminded of The Obsidian Butterfly, her dagger dripping red.


Dutifully, she steps back and to the side as her stupor fades, watching her drift by and into her borrowed space and the minefield of her discarded uniform on the floor. Instinct might tell her to pounce, to take what she wants, to revel in a morsel placed before her, but her mind beats it back with an ease she could not have found prior to Zatanna's infusion of good will. But there's something else.

She can't see it so much as sense it, a hand reaching out, hovering near Zatanna's shoulder, her covered arm. The sensation is electric, like the moment just before a static discharge. SHe gasps audibly, and the look on her face tells the tale. She can feel the ward. Sure, she could bask in the light of her all day, but it wouldn't be like the moment they had kissed. She couldn't /take/ from her even if she let The Devil Inside run wild.

"Something's wrong."

She sounds harrowed, and as she lowers herself to perch on the edge of her little bed, she lets her eyes move from Zatanna's still-covered arm and back up to her face, searching for some answer to a question she doesn't know how to ask. That's how it always is when she runs face first into something the thing inside her can sense, but she can only experience as a pale shadow of understanding.


Sparks fly on contact; it hops and skips over Azalea's fingers as she touches Zatanna's arm, cutting through fabric and making her skin pop and crackle with discharged power. It doesn't repel the young magician in any way, and a slight twitch on the corner of her mouth suggests that while she feels it, she has grown accustomed to the occasional jolts such gestures generate. The network of sigils branded on her skin expands from her wrist and up the entire length of her left arm, hidden currently by the long-sleeved attire she wears in the winter, and radiates pure power, raw mana shaped and smithed by a young spellcaster's inexperienced hammer. While it provides a more durable protection against whatever it is trying to end her from afar, it came with the cost of hours of research and experimentation, tirelessly hunkered over the grindstone as she dives body and soul to the very imperative business of saving her own life.

She knows she isn't without her own resources; the past few weeks have been grueling, but she charged through them with the bullheaded tenacity of someone who has yet to know what it is to quit, young and reckless as she is in breaking through the gates of countless obstacles and surviving what lies in the end. She is pretty good at it, she finds, and that has earned her not just progress, but her own contacts, friends along the way who would drop almost everything to come to her aid if she asks.

As Azalea takes up a seat on the bed, she follows, easing her body next to her. She says very little, save for a whispered word, exhaled in a sigh that lets her magic do its work; her bruises fade, the aches on her body lift like curtains from wide windows and she would feel the onset of relief working around the ball of tension that always remains inside her, though there is nothing Zatanna can do about that - Xiuhnel was a persistent bastard, and she knows by their very brief conversation that he was determined to keep Azalea and take her.

Well, fuck that.

She lets her words hang in the air, for a moment unsure of what to say. It would be easier to pretend not to see the question in her eyes, but she was never built to hold things in for very long, never acquired the taste of it - that was the purview of men and women harder and more cynical like herself.

"What and who I am generally attracts ludicrous amounts of trouble," she tells her friend instead. "It's always been that way, since I was young, being the only child of my father. My earliest memories were never peaceful, stable ones. I was always running into the muck, but that's what happens when you're on the road all the time, I think, followed by the things Daddy tends to fight. This isn't any different. It'll be alright, Az."

It isn't just a platitude; there is determination there, a reckless confidence that was very Zatanna, borne of a fiery spirit that wouldn't be kept down for too long.


For The Dark Devil, pain is just one more way to say 'I love you', and so that sparking abstraction as Xiuhnel tries to reach out past her fingertips sends a shock down her arm and through her spine. The aftereffects leave her eyes closed, and leave the creature inside her content not to try again, instead eating at her calm, right up until that backwards whisper fills her with a renewing energy.

Az leans forward, fingers curling into the sheets at either side of her, and as the magic fades and the Beast roils in it, swallowing her pain and what's left over from that healing light, she looks to Zatanna with mask mixed of afterglow and pain. Finally, she leans in, and this time when she rests her head on Zee's shoulder, there will be no sparks. No one is trying to drain her away this time, the monster at her core apparently having gotten the message. And so too, did Az. Zee wanted to handle this herself, and unlike so many others who had the resources to press the issue, she was at the mercy of her faculties, both material and not.

"I saw him again, after our fight. Bucky. He came to the church."

It might be bone chilling to think of that man here, in this place. He had to have come for Az, right? The Church didn't seem any worse for wear, but can one imagine those two meeting without a fight? "I confused him. Told him about his life. What I saw in his head. He seemed… I think he remembered his boyfriend, Steve. I think he remembered he used to love someone. It was so powerful to watch. And then he left and ran away, and I felt so impotent."

When she swallows she curls her fingers into the hem of her own shirt, and her eyes fall shut. "I need to find him, to make it right. Just like…" When she trails off it takes her a long moment to struggle to the next few words, solemn, and pained. "…I need to make it right with you."


She almost has to, now, after all of her bluster. After all of the other shit. After…

Zatanna lets this happen; the memory of the other things Azalea has confessed to her flitters across her exhausted mind like moths, but they do not cling to anything and the last thing she needs to think about are stolen kisses and the non-regrets associated with them. She doesn't react when she lowers her hand, and the Dark Devil seeks the solace her shoulder, her very essence can provide, feeling her very foundations crack and strain under the weight they continue to carry. She is so young, dragging around so much, burdens that have only accumulated steadily, exponentially within the last three nights and it is a wonder, still, how she can manage to press forward. Blood is thicker than water, however, she always associates the best parts of herself to her father, a legend in the mystical world, the very center of her universe lost in whatever perils he was facing on his own, not in the least because he wanted to spare her from its grasp.

Or the sight of watching him die in the attempt.

She feels it then, letting it well up within her chest, hitting her ribcage and sending her senses spinning at the fresh wave of pain that produces. She embraces it, acknowledges its presence. The way she is, her emotional, reckless fearlessness, comes at a cost; when it hurts, it hurts very much.

She listens to Azalea as she mentions Bucky Barnes, remembering the steel grip around his throat and the spark of life it brought to her dying soul, reminding her that while she feels like sinking into the Earth, she really doesn't want that to happen - it will always be her most prevailing memory of him, now, the day he reminded her that she wants to live, above all else. However, she says nothing for a while, finding the wall across from her, because a few of her words strike too close to home and she struggles to find her balance again.

"…there's something to be said about not giving up," she says at last. "But there's really only so much you can do when someone keeps running away from you. I guess it depends on the kind of person you are, if you're the sort to pick up and chase, or take the hit and let go. Either hurts, I think. The question is how much you can bear."

She doesn't know if she's telling this to Azalea or herself.

Zatanna tilts her head back and closes her eyes.

"Bucky'll be at the GAC centennial," she says. "If you really want to find him, you'll find him there. But if you're going to that, you're going to have to find your way in, I already squandered all my favors to get in myself."


It might be the spaces in between words that save them both, allowing for a quiet reflection as they slowly churn through the uncharted waters that they both seem to savor. Azalea doesn't know what she likes anymore, or what she wants, her desires a mingled, tangled mess. Zatanna doesn't seem to pause and consider anything, so willing to dive in, to be honest and caring and everything anyone might need in that moment of desperation. Even now, when she talks about Bucky, and about making things right in the complicated mire of the friendship she holds so dear, she gives one piece of advice that resonates against both of her missions at hand.

The sensation of breath against Zee's pale skin will be the first indication that her friend has tilted her head, and then fingertips that call into question the stuff she's made of - to delicate to belong to a fighter - reach for her opposing cheek, a teasing touch to draw Zee's attention down to meet the lifting sightline of icy, determined blue. Maybe Azalea wasn't made for this ancient being's soul, but if any part were it's her eyes and the way they melt through stress and strain to deconstruct. She used to avoid looking people in the eye. Now it's the nicest place she can point her attention.

There's something to be said about not giving up.

It resonates through her, to both halves of her strained being, and as her eyes drift lower, over every detail of her face, she lets her lingering touch tease down and along her jawline.

"I know you already forgive the things I say and do. Part of running after Bucky is running after myself. Because I don't forgive them. I used to think it wasn't his fault. I used to think the things I do now aren't mine, but I'm wrong. This is who I am now. I'll never look at a man and think about how strong he is, except to think about how I can take him in a fight, and I'll never look at a girl to wonder about her makeup, or that cute dress she's wearing, except to think about how much I want to rip it off. All I can do is try to be better. I wanted to tell you I'm sorry, for the things I said, for the things I did. The next time I kiss you, I want you to want it too."

By the time she's done speaking, she looks for all the world like the weight has lifted from her soul, even if the darkness inside will never go away, and though her eyes linger on Zee's mouth, they do find a way back to meet the Magician's gaze.


Outwardly, she doesn't react to the touches, her heavy eyes staring on that same wall. That isn't to say she feels numb, the hole inside of herself partially filled, at least, by one major victory against those on the other side of the board; it is the total opposite, when she feels that familiar spark of frustration, dangerously flicking against the pile of dried and volatile kindling that has accumulated in the last few weeks. There had been a mad, frenzied determination that after John's final exeunt from her life that the pile would have been completely and utterly consumed, but she realizes that there is more, always more of it, always more to burn, and she isn't sure whether to be horrified or relieved. There is no way a person can keep going on like this, not with this much and at such a short time.

Can she?

Azalea would feel no resistance there when she reaches up, her fingers drifting over her cheek, tracing the line of her jaw. It is a caress, and as Zatanna willingly follows the line that guides her to meet Azalea's eyes, she sees them there - apology, determination, but most of all, longing.

Her mind drifts back to the summer and she wonders if that was what he saw.

She follows the track of Azalea's stare, lowering to her…

Her own hand comes up, curling her fingers on the Dark Devil's digits. She draws it down from her face gently, guiding it back to her lap. The press lingers there, not because she wants the contact to last, but because she wants to emphasize her next words with not just their syllables, but with whatever actions she's still capable of making now.

"You don't have to be sorry for anything," she tells her. "Not for what happened, I know it's hard, I've seen it…I felt it. And I'm glad you're trying to be strong and you're determined to do the best you can. But the rest of it…. I can't. I can't, Az. Not right now. Not for a while."

Her hand lets go at that, though to her credit, she doesn't leave. The rejection she had just delivered weighs heavily, swallowing at the back of her throat because she knows what it's like, for her adoration to be cast aside over and over. Friendships, she can handle. She could stand to have more of those, she welcomes them, embraces them, and some part of her hopes that even after what she has said that Az will still remain a friend, though it probably won't be easy at first.

But anything else, anything more…

"I don't feel like being with anyone that way, right now," she says quietly, making it absolutely clear. "Perhaps not for months, or years. I don't know when, but I know that I just can't. I haven't been properly put back together yet and it's probably a bad idea if I do something like that. I don't want to hurt anyone anymore than I already have."


She'd had trouble remembering parts of her childhood ever since she joined with the creature, but in that moment when her apology becomes more than an apology she remembers Tommy Ingram from third grade, and how devastated she was when he threw out her Valentine's Day card, all because she didn't have blond hair.

God damn you Tommy Ingram, you superficial fuck.

But this isn't like that, and as viscerally as the creature inside her tries to turn defeat into anger with a dangled memory from her past, she remembers that when she started her apology, she had meant it only as that - everything else slipped through the fringes, and her tendency to speak with her hands let it get to far. But Zee knew right away what that longing in her eyes meant, a loneliness that latched onto the only person in the world who had taken the time to really help her.

It was just a disaster waiting to happen. But pain is just another way to say 'I love you', right? In this case that may be far more true than The Devil Inside could ever know. This is better than what might have happened otherwise.

"You're right."

It isn't snappy or filled with resentment, and when she looks down to where Zee holds her hand, her other comes to rest on top of it for a squeeze. "You got your shit to deal with, whatever that is. You know my catastrophe." She smirks, to make it clear she's making light of her situation, and not drowning in it. And then, it is awkward.

It's just hard to move on from that spot, and Azalea looks sidelong to her tree, the one place she keeps going to to find her humanity. Finally she turns in leans in. Is she breaking her rule? Kindof.

She rises when she presses the kiss to Zatanna's forehead, whispering against her skin. "I'm probably going to fuck up our friendship, maybe I already have. Try not to hold it against me to much, because I'm still going to need your help." And then she turns to pick through her things on the floor, trying to find the best pieces of both copies of her costume to put together - she hadn't had time to properly repair it after her last excursion. "Batman said he's going to train me. Whatever that means. He's kind of.. intense. I need to let him know about the GAC thing. I bet he can get us in. Somehow." When she peeks back, her lips part just a little, hesitating before she speaks. "I'll have your back."

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