Loose Ends

January 01, 2017:

Zatanna Zatara wastes no time delivering the Liber Consecratus to John Constantine and Chas Chandler, and gets a hell of a lot more than she bargained for in exchange.

John's Brooklyn Bunker - Brooklyn - New York

It's John's magical getaway in Brooklyn.

Characters

NPCs: Chas Chandler

Mentions: Spider-Man, Bruce Wayne, Gottfried Muller, Peggy Carter, Captain America, Winter Soldier, Dr. Jane Foster

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Just a few moments ago, the Gotham City Opera House was wracked with massive surges of magical energy; enough to tickle the senses of the occult communities in the tri-cities area.

Constantine's magical bunker manages to keep these at bay, assuring that John Constantine and Chas Chandler will at the very least have a quiet New Year's Eve together making amends and catching up. It has been around two hours since New York exploded with its usual midnight revels, with the massive party clustered around the tower in which the Times Square crystal ball has descended to commemorate this occasion for decades. The parties in the city that never sleep are still going on in full bore, and it's liable that its populace will keep at it until all alcohol has been consumed and fatigue overcomes the urge to continue. It isn't surprising, then, than when a young woman in a black evening dress suddenly appears coatless and shoeless in the Brooklyn bunker's familiar not-quite-storefront, nobody bats an eye as party poppers keep on popping, and the spray of cheap champagne showers over the crowds.

The metal lid opens up, the ladder coming down and a raven-haired young woman suddenly descends into the magical construct at a few minutes past two in the morning.

Wisps of smoke are still emanating from her skin, hair and clothes, melting snowflakes into wet patches and clinging drops on her complexion; her skirt tied haphazardly on one side to help with her movement. Her top hat remains on her hair, its feather still sticking out of it, but sodden and limp from the outside's falling ice. There is blood, clinging to the line of her jaw and her toes are bare, her black pedicure gleaming under the warm light within, though thankfully they don't look frostbit - she emanates more heat than usual, a consequences of the amount of magical power she had just expended moments before to protect herself and open the rift into a frozen, alien world in her attempts to assist in Jane Foster's rescue. She smells like ozone, elecriticity and the sludge of eldtritch hell.

This isn't the first time John Constantine has seen Zatanna Zatara in a mess; in fact this is the second time in a span of a few hours that she has appeared here looking gross.

But she is /shaking/, not from the cold but from the residual high of whatever recklessness she had just engaged in, her eyes spitting sparks of ice-blue fire and crackles of energy slipping now and then through the darker-than-midnight hue of her hair. Her cheeks are in full color, flushed despite their moisture. In trembling fingers, keeping close to her chest, the way she /grips/ the thing as if a life preserver, as if it is somehow the very thing that keeps her anchored in the present world, is a book.

A book that has its own potent, powerful magic signature, rolling over the young woman's wildly whipping arcane essences.

"John!" she exclaims, breathlessly, her head whipping around to try and look for him, stumbling further into the room and nearly tripping over her ruined, knotted skirt in haste. "I /did/ it, John! I have it! /I have it/!"

Triumph, victory. As always she throws herself body and soul hard into the emotion, her expressive face open with it as she approaches. Her soul burns like a supernova, threatening to obliterate every other ephemeral strain inside the room, her heart maintaining its tortured, lightning beats inside her bones.

After everything she has endured within the last week, could anyone begrudge her of it? Suddenly, all the pain, the suffering, the tension was all worth it. /Suddenly/ a large patch in their complicated tapestry of ordeals has whipped off the loom, beautiful and colorful and real.

/Worth it/!

—-

Chas is still in the bunker come two in the morning. Granted, he lives here now — for the time being — but he'd have long ago insisted that he and John at least go out and find a bar to spend the evening bullshitting in, if not for the fact that John knows full-well he can't leave, and Chas intends to keep him occupied. The temptation to head out into the snow, track her at a distance, watch, observe, /be ready/ to help in case something went wrong, has been overpowering since long before all of their complicated exchanges in the last week, and the aforementioned clashes have done nothing to ameliorate that urge.

The assassin is there, he tells himself. If all else fails, maybe that's enough.

The drinking they've been doing has helped to take the edge off of his nerves, but he's had less than he usually would on a night like this, aware that if she doesn't come back by the time it starts to get light, he's heading out into the city and someone is probably going to die. Given the forces involved in this intrigue, it's best if he do that with at least eighty percent of his wits about him.

Happily unnecessary, however. The moment the seal on the magical bunker is broken and the door opens, both men break off from whatever they were talking about and look up, Chas twisting in his chair to look behind him. John's on his feet long before her bare toes touch the concrete of the floor. As soon as she pierces the bubble of protection ensconcing the flat the wild magic hanging onto her whips at the sensitive instrument that allows him to perceive even subtle, lingering traces of the same. Blindly, catching sight of her tied-up gown and the lack of shoes, he reaches behind him to snare the throw blanket draped over the back of the leather couch.

"Chas, get her something for her blood sugar," he says, "Juice, whatever." The bigger man is already up and moving further into the space, back toward the gradually forming kitchen in the rear, leaving room for John to meet her halfway, this pylon of crackling aether that advances on him like a pale, raven-haired storm.

Always good with his hands, John. He can lift the watch off of a man's wrist without anyone ever the wiser, so it's nothing to draw close, wrap the blanket around her shoulders and dispense with her soaked hat all in one brief span of time. He's seen the book — he /feels/ the book — but now that it's here, it can wait.

"So I see. Looks like you had a more interesting party than we did, luv," he says, dry and amused: the John she's used to. It was only hours ago that he looked at her with such guarded apprehension, uncertainty. None of that, now. If anything, what lurks behind his brisk efficiency and the perpetual sense of arid humor is a fairly well-disguised concern. Pale blue eyes slide over the trail of blood, seeking its source. "Alright, then?" He keeps it light, but that intent study remains. Searching for bruises. Cuts. Burns. Evidence of hostile magic. Anything she may not have noticed, intoxicated as she is on the raw power of whatever it is that happened.

—-

The hat falls forgotten on the floor, the tendrils of the long feather clinging on the surface and leaving a wet spray. It tugs off her hair, its pins coming with it, leaving a wet tendril of hair falling heavily on one shoulder and making his fingers tingle with razor-edge static.

If she is cold, Zatanna doesn't show any sign, still vibrating with those wild wisps of arcane energy rolling inside her, all wide, rash smiles tilted up at him when the blanket is drawn over her shoulders. At present, all of her senses feel off the charts; it's almost miraculous that she was able to make the beeline that she does when she probably isn't used to this state - colors seem more vibrant, strings that govern her senses of touch and taste tightened to the near breaking point, and her blood rushes through her veins at a breakneck pace. Her eyes look at him and /past/ him, into the coccoon of evanescent stuff that wraps around John, himself - Fate's prodigal son, whose own magical ancestry is nothing to scoff at. The small bursts of black and red, some blue and green, has her tilting her head slightly. Were she not grasping something incredibly important, she'd be reaching out and trying to touch them in a manner reminiscent of someone who just took a hit of LSD and singlehandedly destroyed all manner of filters programmed into him by human propriety.

She's a little high.

Well, a lot high.

The trail of blood has dried on her pallor, a stark crimson thread that winds up from the corner of her mouth. She stands somewhat awkwardly, bruises already forming on both her knees and the back of one thigh where Bruce Wayne had shoved his own against it in order to bring her down to the floor, but she doesn't feel those all too much - she'll understandably be sore tomorrow. Muller's magic lingers, old and sick, and John would find it familiar, vestiges of it streaked over her forehead and tangled up in her hair where his fingers had grabbed her; partially the reason why her mana-well is so open at present - the sorceror had forced his way through, a crowbar violently shoved into a door hinge, and tried to leech off some of her power in the seconds he had her in his grasp.

But otherwise, she is mostly unharmed and /alive/. And within John's own supernatural senses, more than alive.

"I wouldn't call it a party," she tells him. "I have to tell you what happened, whatever I could remember. It was so dark and everything was so fast, there were civilians and the book wasn't the /only thing/ that was— "

'Alright, then?'

The query takes the wind out of her sails for just a moment, those wide eyes staring up at him; without her usual boots and without her heels, he towers over her a little more significantly, darker blue irises peering at her from the shifting haze of black and red that twine around John Constantine's soul, pinning her down with his signature, scrutinizing intensity.

'Be careful, will you?'

The magical rush collides breathlessly with emotion. The book swung against her side with one arm, her freed one comes up to snake around his back, her fingers hooking into the back of his shirt, yanking until she's crushing him in her embrace, her cheek and nose pressing into the wall of his chest, lashes shuttering tightly as she nods against his tie.

"Yes. /Yes/!" she tells him. "I'm fine…I think? I am! Oh, god, I haven't felt this good in /months/! And you won't believe what's in this thing! I had to use it while I was there because— "

Her eyes snap open.

She draws back, her arm falling away as something else other than her high breaks through her features. Her brows knit at him, her expression listing towards questioning and confused.

"Bucky Barnes asked me to deliver the book to you," she continues, her mind diving straight into that flash of remembrance, his shadow walking away from her while carrying the half-frozen form of Dr. Jane Foster, though she hadn't been given the chance to inquire as to what her name had been. "Dark hair, blue-gray eyes, metal arm. How….John, how do you know the guy?"

—-

Synchronicity energy is not precisely mana — that essential fuel for the working of magic — or if it is, it's magic of another kind, something else. It /looks/ nothing like mana, that silting veil that emerges from the environment in raw purity like a bubbling spring: the heart's blood of the magical universe. It looks nothing like the maelstrom of luminescing spectral winds about her, either — Universal magic, the stuff of existence itself, the fabric of reality. The muscle tissue, bones and flesh of the body of creation, fed by mana; the motes that he saw rising like particolor pearls from her flesh in his personal Hell within Muller's labyrinth of suffering.

There is mana there too, of course, hanging on him in places, concentrated like stars around trinkets carried on his person and in certain of the tattoos stitched into his skin with particular inks — every mage uses it; it is a staple, and the ley lines that give this place its value are practically a wellspring of the stuff — but John is a different sort of creature entirely. His most potent magic is neither the lifeblood of mana nor the flesh and bone of universal magic but instead something else — cellular memory, perhaps, some foundational intelligence that provides the means with which all of those parts are able to work in concert with one another, becoming a cohesive whole. Beneath everything, beyond the glitter and spangle of pedestrian magic, transparent geometric planes slash through him and one another like intersecting panes of glass, configuration fluidly ever-changing. He is a crack in the world, a crossroads of potential. An event horizon…

…and he has so little control over it.

In those fleeting few moments before she'll be forced to return to more mundane sights, when her senses are stretched beyond the beyond, she might glimpse something in one of those infinite, swirling, rotating planes: a reflection of John — or someone who looks very like him, less worn, less damaged; perfect, in fact — suffused in a halo of golden light.

And then that is gone.

None of this is anything John himself is aware of. His focus is first on her condition, and then unsurprisingly on the fierce hook of her arm around his back, strength enough in her embrace to reassure him that she is whole.

The impact against his chest sways him very slightly. The hand that isn't holding the blanket closed at her shoulders lifts, hovers, slowly reaches to cradle her head, but before it can settle she's already leaning back and away, saying things that don't make sense to him.

/Who the hell is Bucky?/ he thinks.

Slow realization follows. "Oh. That's…a bit of a long story, luv, and you're practically climbing out of your own skin." Chas appears at his elbow, offering her a glass of orange juice, filled practically to the brim.

"Glad to see you're safe, Zee," he says.

—-

She's barely listening to him.

This is her first encounter with Synchronicity, of the raw materials that make up what John Constantine is and why the universe shifts and moves around him the way it does. There is color, /density/, and unlike the lightness of her own essence, his is heavy and weighty, pulling down at her bones and dragging her into the swirling vortex he presence makes so close to her. He would see it on her face, that growing confusion, easily catch a glimpse of his own face while those big, expressive eyes stare at him unblinkingly, her lips parting in both apprehension and awe. Zatanna isn't looking at him anymore, the stitch between her brows an indication enough that she sees something on him, though he wouldn't be able to discern whether it's something significant or some strange delirium brought upon by the threads of wild magic pouring out of her well. And while he tells her that it's a long story, and she /is/ interested in hearing it, she can't help but push forward, deeper, reaching out.

She doesn't resist the urge this time, though she is not conscious of her pale hand lifting, her fingers hovering inches from his cheek; the touch is nothing physical, following the glittering motes of golden energy as she recklessly stumbles into the illuminated path before her. They're like faerie lights, meant to lure some brave, adventurous soul into the woods, perhaps never to be heard of again. None of this makes sense to her, for past his scrutinizing mien is /another/ that looks exactly like him. John, but not John.

Not her John.

His flaws are an indelible part of him and if asked, they are some of the reasons why she was so drawn to him in the first place; not some broken thing that needs fixing, but in a world where wonder and the impossible lurk in every corner, they made him all the more /real/ to her - real and human - and not just real, but /present/, qualities of ridiculous importance to a young woman so terrified that what she is makes her anything but. If he could look at her, if he could touch her, then…

"John…" she murmurs in a daze. "…why are there two of you….?"

She could also be hallucinating.

Other John, Golden John, vanishes back into the aether, his image dissipating into smoke by the appearance of Chas Chandler and a glass of orange juice. Her hand redirects, to take it absently but her unfocused stare remains locked on Constantine's face as Time manages to recalibrate itself in her tense, dialed-up systems, leaving her with a slowly burgeoning headache blooming in the back of her skull like a burst balloon.

"I have time," she tells him. "I have time for long stories."

She seems to have forgotten her orange juice.

—-

For his part, John /does/ think she's hallucinating. Or possibly concussed. He slants a worried look at Chas as she numbly grasps the glass of juice, and finds himself on the receiving end of one from the bigger man. Nothing he saw in his quick, hard examination of her — visible and metaphysical — explains her sudden dreamy absence, and his free hand wraps around her back, under her shoulderblades, in case her knees suddenly go out.

"You'd better bloody hope there aren't," he says, cracking the joke in spite of the underpinnings of his concern. "You can barely handle the one as it is."

'I have time,' she insists. His eyes tighten ever-so-slightly at the corners. "Hey. 'tanna. Focus. Look at me." He lets go of the blanket edges — Chas takes over seamlessly, hoisting the weight of the fabric up to settle more of it over her shoulders — and puts a hand lightly around the one she has holding the glass of orange juice, drawing attention to the nerves bundled into that limb. "You need to sit down and drink this. Get stable. We can talk then. An'…maybe you should give me the book, eh? Think you've got enough juice in the circuits already without having your hands on something like that."

—-

He tells her to focus and the sudden shift; of Chas moving behind her, John's fingers splaying over her back in a five-point array, has Zatanna's glassy look sharpening, turning her head to take a visual bead on the room. While the well remains open, she finds herself caught in the rainbow threads only she can see, emanating from places in which John has stored magical artifacts, or imbued magic in the flat. But unlike the earlier curious experience, she doesn't follow. Chas' big hand, warm, welcoming, but gentle above all else, turns her attention down on the glass in her hand and she gives both men an acknowledging nod.

"Okay," she tells them. It's docile, absent acquiescence, stamped with confusion now that she's slowly coming down from whatever high has managed to ensnare her, and certainly not like her spirited, energetic self. She would have moved away, but some of her usually sharp wits remain - from underneath the blanket covering her shoulders, she lifts up the tome and hands it to John.

It is unexpectedly heavy.

Saint Honorius' tome is thick and covered by worn leather bound over metal, the spine made up of a series of interlocking rings, the yellowed parchment within preserved by the hundreds of incantations woven over it to ensure its survival over the ages. Upon further persual, John would gauge just why its heft makes no sense - past the veil, he'd find another tome, scrawled in between lines of faded ink written in very old English, but one that could only be uncovered if someone had the requisite sensitivity. What he has in his hands, past pages that detail some dangerous necromatic rituals, methods to summon celestial entities, and countless techniques to force the universe itself to answer any question one could think of, is a book within the book, and it stands to reason that this is what Zatara is truly after, he who probably already knows the backwards and forwards of Necromancy and how it's usually a ridiculously bad idea.

The raven-haired magician moves towards the couch and takes a slow seat, fabric pooling around her as leather creaks under her weight. She cradles the juice in her hands and takes slow, careful sips. The well is slowly closing again and her supernatural luminescence fades in time with it until it becomes her usual signature; it still remains as it is, like witnessing the birth of a star, but certainly not the wild and crazy burst it had been earlier.

"Chas?" she asks, looking up, burrowing further into the blanket. "Do you have aspirin, too?"

She could wish it away with a breath, but considering how unstable she is, using magic on herself right now is probably not the best idea.

—-

John takes the book and watches Chas escort her to the couch for some few moments before finally turning away, trusting that she's going to make it there under her own power and not collapse on his floor. When he turns it's on a sharp pivot, off on an angle to the far side of the long space, where there are early efforts to construct a place to store the many books and items that pass through his possession at any given time. One of those items is an old, heavy safe, not yet mounted in the wall, sitting on the floor amidst boxes. He drops into a limber half-kneel, props the tome on his raised knee, flicks through the combination as well as disarming the sigil on the door, and swings it open.

Hesitates.

Elegant, sensitive fingertips skate like whispers across the book's cover, slide like a breath over the worn edges, barely enough contact to register, but he doesn't /really/ have to touch it to sense what it is — or what it contains.

He'll need a few hours alone with this. He has every intention of giving it to Giovanni, as promised, but there is absolutely no way in Hell or any other sphere inordinately interested in complicating his life that he would let it pass through his possession without extracting from it what he could.

Not now, though.

He draws a long breath, slides it into the safe, spins the physical combination wheel carelessly and with greater care reapplies the sigil designed to open onto an empty safe for anybody not proficient enough to open it properly.

Pushes himself to his feet, looking down as he does so, and catches sight of a smear of flaked brown blood on his shirt, where she pressed her face.

While John diverts on the way back to the sofa to get a washrag and run it under the warm tap, Chas has gotten up to root through boxes in search of something to ease her headache.

This being John's flat, well…aspirin just isn't on the menu. He finds a box that has an alarming assortment of other prescription bottles, though: painkillers, muscle relaxers, more than one kind of antibiotic. Things for treating malaria, even.

Eventually he selects a few drugs he vaguely knows are intended for pain, and returns to sit next to her, holding them out.

He's big, and Zee is a puddle of blankets and wet black, and that leaves John no room to sit next to her, for which he flicks his best friend a dry look. He has to settle for handing her the wrung-out, warm washcloth, and once she has it, sinking into the matching chair adjacent, his focus on her watchful.

"Why don't you tell us what you can remember?"

—-

She has left just enough juice in the bottom of the glass to make swallowing anything Chas finds for her an easy task, though she furrows her brows a little bit at the prescription bottle that Chas hands to her. Zatanna manages to regain just enough dexterity in those pale, ivory tines to pop the cover off the bottle and roll a single pill into her palm. Scrunching her nose up a little bit, she pops it in her mouth, washing it down with a solid swallow and putting the glass on the coffee table.

She suddenly aches; the adrenaline burns itself out in her systems and all that's left is bone-deep exhaustion that seeps directly into the marrow - the warm blanket and Chas' presence only draws out the tremendous desire to turtle face-down into the cushions and sleep for a week. Still, she draws more of the blankets around herself to stave off the cold, though she should sink into a hot bath eventually and change - things to take care of later, but first thing's first.

There's a small smile when John hands her the rag, touching it on the corner of her mouth and mopping away the most visible sign of strain on her person; that feels good also, hot water leaving its mark on chilly fingers. Leaning back, she allows the plush cushions to swallow her up, rolling her head sideways so she could address John directly, lashes curtaining half-shut. She's tired, but it will take more than fatigue to completely stamp out the spark of pride, accomplishment, in those striking-unsettling depths.

When she rolls out the story, it starts out slow.

She details how she managed to get into the exclusive event in the first place by providing John with a background on the Waynes, close family friends of Giovanni who died several years ago and survived by one son, the only other one outside of the two of them that Giovanni had taught. She had asked him for his help to get her and Jessica Jones in the event, which Bruce obliged, and Jessica's later rescue had only ensured that she would be there when the entire thing unfolded. By the time they arrived, Muller was already there with the rest of the bidders, as well as a few other big names such as Steve Rogers; the mention is curious enough in itself, as the presence of Captain America doesn't /seem/ all that relevant to what they're dealing with, but she's getting there.

"Muller attacked once Lot #617 was called out," she continues, linking her fingers together over the warm washcloth in her grip. "He was prepared, I guess we weren't exactly subtle about knowing who he was and that he was going to be there. What I didn't know was that the GAC had other artifacts other than the book being auctioned off, and I don't think any one of them had a clue as to what they had." She describes the helmet, the urn and the attacks that followed; how she'd been shoved under the table for her safety, though knowing her as well as he does, John would already know that she didn't stay there - but the way she describes making her way to the podium by crawling under all the other tables suggests that she didn't see much of the actual attacks themselves, save for what was happening to Muller as he got tag teamed by several others, including…

"Bucky got to the book around the same time Muller did," she says. "But when he touched it, it hurt him. I heard him scream and it really pissed off his date - a woman with dark hair, tiny, big eyes. She kind of looks like Natalie Portman. Muller grabbed her and then cut a rift open and threw her in some frozen wasteland, then sealed it shut. That was when I made my move. I summoned the book to me then told the other capes to keep Muller and everything off me while I opened the portal back up. I saw Bucky engage him and I locked into the bits of Muller's magic that was still on the book and used the book itself to open it, I had to improvise there wasn't any time for me to dawdle."

She purses her lips.

"….someone else in the crowd /knew/ him," she tells John, meeting his eyes. "Muller, I mean. Captain America's date. She called him…." Her teeth chews on her bottom lip faintly. "Hansen? Hanussen, I think that's it. And when she called him out in front of everyone he /flipped his shit/. I think Batman did something to him beforehand but he was /furious/ and he tried to kill her right then and there. Meanwhile, Jess, Peter…" The alien with the weird tackle. "And Spider-Man were just trying to keep other shit off the civilians and me. He's another one I need to talk to you about, by the way. He has a thing that…" She gestures vaguely. "He can sense danger and in one of my trips outside of the bunker, he felt something attack me so he came up to me but he /touched/ me while it was trying to get me and while my own magic was fighting it off and that's how he saw the house. But we'll get to that later."

The shadow-urn, another magical relic, was destroyed and someone had turned the lights back on. Muller was down, but when she had turned to look back on the stage, he had disappeared.

"So he's still out there, but I have the book," she finishes. "Bucky was able to grab his date and come back and when he saw me, he came up to me and asked me to deliver the book to you. How do you know Captain America's dead best friend?" Her lips pull down in a frown. "He's an assassin, and he's really dangerous. He's not….all there. He has a hard time remembering things, his past. I've tried to show him what I found and I even stole some pictures from the archive in Washington D.C. for him to take a look at - originals, so he would believe me. But he tends to…go in and out of these /states/. Jess thinks it's some kind of mind control and….John, you've been /careful/ in dealing with him, right?"

—-

Periodically throughout the retelling of what is, to put it mildly, an extremely involved story about what was supposed to be a simple thing (it's never simple, is it?), Chas and John exchange glances, but both remain silent, letting her get through what she needs to uninterrupted. The words 'she looks like Natalie Portman' do cause John's eyes to tick off to one side momentarily, brows touched by the merest suggestion of movement, but whatever it is that flits through his thoughts, he dismisses is readily enough.

/….nahhhh./

"Hansen. Hanussen. Hm." John's fingertips drill rhythmically, softly, on the cushioned armrest of his chair. That's something to look into later. That, plus the chunk he took out of the man's leg…

Well. Later.

What he really wants to ask about is this /house/, this place where the individual threatening her life might be casting from, but she fixes him with that set of questions again. The broad flat of his chest rises, lowers in a long breath that doesn't quite turn into a sigh. "I'm always careful," he says, with a knife as quick and sharp as a sudden blade to the ribs. He ignores Chas rolling his eyes, shrugs himself down lower into his seat, cocked on an angle into one corner of it, arms arrayed on his chair's, though he props one on the elbow and spends the duration of /his/ storytelling using that hand to loosely gesture on occasion. "I met him on accident. I was down Basile's place looking into the book. I'd got the lot number and a few other things from that bloody bat menace the first time we met. In comes the assassin — 'Bucky Barnes' is not the name he gave me, though Christ knows if I were trying to be intimidating I'd go with something else as well — and one thing led to another. You know how 'tis, love, I can't go anywhere without someone sticking a gun in me face." His eyes crinkle at the corners with implied humor, and he puts on a small smile, but it's a cutting one, and so are the eyes. Hard. Unafraid. "Had ourselves a lovely chat in— well nevermind where. Came to an arrangement, of sorts. I'm the one who helped him to find Muller so he could put bullets in the man, on the condition I got to ask him questions first." His gaze wanders away from her, over to some non-point in space near the wall. He doesn't see that. What he sees is the white of snow, the black of Muller's coat, and the spray of steaming red blood against both. Feels the man's life running out through his fingers. "Killed him too fast. But that's how I learned someone had your blood. He told me. It's also why they started casting on you in the first place, though from the way I can tell he had his filthy Nazi hands all over your head, I'm guessing he'd have put you at risk one way or another in the end."

Those distant eyes sharpen, return to her. "Anyway, Muller — Hanussen — didn't stay dead, and while my end of the agreement has already been held up, I suppose it's personal now he's trying to send your soul to Mammon. I don't think my business with him is done. We both want that bastard in the ground. An' if he told you to give me the book instead of doing who knows what with it himself, then…" That thought tilts John's head a bit, lifts both of his brows. "…I suppose that's a better result than I expected."

He does wonder why touching it had such an impact on the man with the metal arm, though, and the pensive circling of his thoughts around that tidbit shows on his face as his eyes unfocus again. His expression admits a subtle frown.

—-

As Chas rolls his eyes at John's 'I'm always careful,' his exasperation is mirrored by the young woman next to him, her flat stare telling him everything he needs to know about what she thinks about /that/ absurd lie, but it fades soon enough due to the call of business. Shifting, Zatanna pulls her feet off the floor to tuck them into the bundles as well, looking very much like a fabric lump with a pale face and big eyes, but she's comfortable and warm and the man's seen her look worse than this, she can repair the damage to her vanity later once she's sunk into a tub full of bubbles and probably falling asleep among them.

Soon, soon, my precious.

"His name is James Buchanan Barnes, sergeant….back in the 1940's. He was part of the Howling Commandos unit in World War II," she remarks, filling in the gaps of John's knowledge. "I only knew this because I met someone who got tagged by an Aztec god and when she fought him, she saw a bit of what's in his brain and pulled out a name - Steve Rogers, which I followed and that's how I managed to get the rest." She grins broadly, giving him a cheeky wink. "Not bad for someone who isn't a full-blown detective or private investigator, huh? And yet, somehow, he hasn't aged since then. I guess whatever got Captain America got him also? They say they chiseled Steve Rogers out of ice, so I'm wondering if the same thing happened to Bucky somehow. I saved his life…I knew he was dangerous considering I found him with someone's dead body and /severed arm/ but it wasn't as if I could just leave him there either." Ever gravitating towards troubled, lonely souls. "When I asked him, he says he kills people, but not for a living….whatever that means. While I know his story before his supposed death, I don't know what it is now /after/. He certainly didn't have a metal arm during World War II." Her brow furrows. "So you're saying he was after the book also? But why would….when Jess put forward the possibility I dismissed it right away since his trade is more…you know. People-related rather than old artifacts of power-related but I guess it depends on what he's hired for."

That sharp blue stare find hers and what she sees in it makes her shift somewhat uncomfortably. "…John, he can't die," she says, concern softening her already tired expression, filling her eyes. "Maybe…maybe we ought to just cut our losses there. Once we find his agent, or whoever's got me hostage, maybe that could be the end of it. Couldn't it? Maybe we could just circle around him and try to figure out /why/ Mammon wants it and, I don't know. If we find out why maybe it'd make dealing with him easier."

But dealings that involve Demon Princes of Hell are seldom that straightforward; John knows this, and so does Zatanna herself. But the idea of the Englishman tangling with some unkillable, resilient, clever sorceror with decades of experience in the mystic arts unnerves her and she isn't quite certain how to express her worries without rehashing the root of why they had been fighting in the first place. She /has/ to trust him to know what he's doing, and most of the time he does, but she can't help the knot in her belly, sitting like a stone in the lowest point of her bowels.

—-

John takes in everything in silence until she voices her puzzlement over what an assassin could possibly have wanted with the Liber Consecratus. "He was after the book because Hanussen was. He didn't care about the book, he wanted the connection. It was incidental."

After that, the next thing that gets a response is 'John, he can't die,' which actually causes John Constantine to break out into a sharp, rough laugh. "Oh aye? No shite, love. He melted inta the snow in broad daylight. Not subtle. But /bollocks/ to that." The humor remains, albeit muted, even as something with barbs in it surfaces in his blue, blue eyes. "/Anything/ can die."

Having watched the slim, pale lines of her legs disappear beneath the blanket, he uses that moment to curl his fingers over the ends of the arms of his chair and haul himself back up to his feet, sidestepping around the chair and unhurriedly crossing to the place his room will be, when all is said and done. He leans, roots around in a box. "Remind me to tell you sometime about the angel that got disintegrated in my living room while the succubus he got pregnant gave birth to fuck knows what on my couch." Eventually, he comes up with a t-shirt, a pair of boxers, a zip-up hoodie that fits his lean frame and will still somehow be too big for her, too wide in the shoulders. It's hardly the goth-chic aesthetic she expends such care in the management of, but they /are/ warm, clean and dry. They don't stink of singed magic. And at any rate, it isn't as though she has to walk home in them through the snow, is it? Just pop across town and done.

"Might as well put this on," he says, propping his hip against the tall back of the couch, the clothing draped over the sofa's arm. "And then, eh…" He brings a hand up, gently scritches at the hard line under one side of his jaw, stubble just beginning to reappear. "Maybe you want to write a note for me to take to your da." Pause. "He could touch the gift you gave me just fine. Don't see why he couldn't have a letter."

—-

Anything can die, he says, with a smile that cuts like a knife, and eyes that hint at hellfire.

"…." Her lips purse. "What, don't tell me you're making grand plans to…I don't know, tie him up on a stake and somehow find, then open the Ark of the Covenant on his face." Because that's what Hollywood tells everyone is the most effective way to defeat Nazis that are way too interested in the occult for anyone to be comfortable with. "…..unless you actually know where it is, in which case I definitely want to see it."

Zatanna's eyes follow him as he finally unfolds himself from the chair and wanders over to the area that will eventually be his room, her jaw slacking faintly before curiosity and disgust assail the fine lines on her face, causing her to scrunch up her nose and /eyeball/ the sofa that she's sitting on, wondering if this was the same one that had up close and personally witnessed the gruesome birth of whatever found its way out of a succubus' birth canal. "Wait, was he fallen?" she wonders. "I thought angels were as anatomically equipped as Ken dolls?" Unless the rules in Heaven have changed, which wouldn't be surprising to her either. It was from where all things were created, or so old lore tells them. Even if the Host's constituents didn't have the built-in means to procreate without falling first, the methods in which to obtain the right….apparatus….was probably not all too far beyond them.

She's still mulling over it when John wanders back in, her fingers reaching out to take the clean, warm, folded clothes with a grateful look, the blanket's folds parting over her wrists when she takes them. Without any of the external influences and accoutrements boosting her already significant reserves, the glamour that she had cast on her arm to keep it clear has faded along with whatever strange hallucination that caused her to see that other John. It leaves the iridescent-blue network of protective wards visible on her skin.

And a strip of it missing, the area around her wrist clean and clear, the bare line cutting through her inner wrist like a suicide mark.

"…how many people are /involved/ with this," she mutters. "Nobody can cast this many without…"

She exhales, closing her eyes. One thing at a time.

She slowly stands up, leaving the blanket on the couch. "Thanks," she tells Constantine, flashing him a quick smile. "I'll doff these off, and when I get back, let me know what else I need to tell you." She gives him a /look/. "And I'd like to take a look at the book also. You're not the only one who wants to pry into it, you know."

With that, she twists on her heel, to make her way to the privy so she could strip off her sodden clothes and get into some dry ones, it will help with the chill, and prevent her from commenting on John's suggestion to pen a letter to her father, or see the expression on her face when he mentions it. She has yet to fully process the British warlock's confession just a few hours ago, and her father's betrayal remains sticky and uncomfortable between her ribs. She'd have to think of what exactly to say to him, if anything.

The door closes behind her.

—-

John's hands go into his pockets, as they usually do when he's nothing better to do with them, and he remains leaning where he is as she passes him by, drafting a small, knowing smile over her insistence upon looking at the book. None of that comes as as surprise. He can hear her bare feet on the floor all the way back to the bathroom and then the closing of the door — which it does have, now; things move quickly when Chas is involved in organizing them. He's angled in such a way that he and Chas are looking at one another across the empty space she so recently occupied, complicated things exchanged between them in absolute silence. Concern for her well-being, first. Seeing double is never a good sign, medically or metaphysically.

Then the tilt of Chas' head, the angle of his eyes toward the bathroom door, there to hang for some moments before they return to John, one dark brow edged upward.

Even in silence, John has no answer for that look. He narrows his gaze, lifts it off of his roommate, bites the inside of one cheek. In spite of the earlier instability of the day, he's recovered enough of himself to be largely inscrutable when he wants to be, thoughts or feelings garnered only through the minute micromovements of muscles in his face, and even then, sometimes understanding them means translating one apparent feeling into another, everything shuffled like a deck of cards.

It does get him thinking, though, that question Chas asks with only the look on his face. Because John doesn't know. Has no idea what this is, where it's going or why. Isn't sure those are the right questions to ask, because as he told Giovanni hours beforehand: he's pretty sure it isn't up to them.

"Some of the wards are missing again," Chas observes out loud, once he's waited long enough that he understands he isn't getting anything more than that.

"Yeah."

"She should still stay."

"Won't, likely. An' I can't ask."

"I can."

"Then have at, mate. I've got three days left at the hotel."

"You think that's necessary?"

John considers, shrugs. Doesn't know that, either.

—-

Somewhere in the bathroom, Zatanna tugs up the zipper of the hoodie, rolling her shoulders underneath and watching the way the cuffs fall past her fingers. This is certainly not the first time she's ever worn John's clothes in her life, but it's been so many months since the well-loved Ramones t-shirt that these items on her skin feel somewhat alien - certainly not unwelcome, but they do trigger memories the way scent normally does and she is too tired to hold them at bay, letting them run through the tortured corridors of her brainspace. For a minute, she stands there, staring at nothing, sinking in that familiar ache, and wonders whether the next time she gets a glass of orange juice if she could have it spiked with some vodka, instead.

She finds her tired expression in the mirror, frowning at the mess her hair has become, tugging the triple braids free and working her fingers through the sodden mess in a haphazard attempt to make her look /somewhat/ normal and less bedraggled. She twists the locks between her fingers, wringing them out in the sink, her stare catchingthe way her eyeshadow has smeared in streaks on the corners. So that also takes a few minutes, running hot water in the sink and dunking her face directly into it, scrubbing her makeup off and dying a little bit on the inside. She may not be twenty pounds heavier anymore, but she could stand to look /less/ graceless in front of those who make this bunker their home.

Ugh.

Get your shit together, Zatanna Zatara.

She wipes her face with a towel and wanders back out; the thought of transmuting a couple of sheets of toilet paper into socks was something she considered, but ultimately dismissed, unsure whether she ought to be casting magic at the state she's in and decides she has been in enough dangerous situations in the last few hours to chance any of it. No magic, for the time being, until she's gotten some rest, and she's yet to cover what she needs to with John and Chas.

She stops on the edge of the main living area, glancing in between Chas and John, taking in the subtle tics of their expressions, the arched eyebrow from the bigger man, the dent on John's cheek when he bites its inside. They tend to do this, she knows, and this wouldn't be the first time she's wondered whether Chas has any other tricks up his sleeve other than being a crucible of several lives. But they've always managed, somehow, to communicate wordlessly with one another; something she can't help but envy, in those summer days.

She could ask them what they're 'talking' about. Ever perceptive, she has a good inkling as to what the subject matter is anyway. Instead…

"Now kiss," she tells them both solemnly.

—-

John's head turns as he hears the door far behind him open, enough for her to see his profile, a half-crescent of blue iris, and the slight rise of his eyebrow. She's not quite in his field of view when she stops and delivers that grave command, and the silhouette of his face turns contemplative a half-second before he turns to look at the man on his couch.

Who looks up at him and, slowly, over the matter of two, three seconds, begins to shake his head. "Don't even think about it." And Zatanna can only see the back of John's head, but she can see the look on Chas' face, and it goes from flat warning to slow-dawning incredulity, eyes widening, hands starting to come up, defensive: "John. No. No way! J—"

But it's too late. John Constantine gets ahold of his very married, /very straight/ best friend by the nape of the neck and with his usual, artful ability to insert himself where he's been warned off, manages to get two seconds of locked lips in and a rough ruffle of Chas' swept-over crop of dark hair before he reels away, half-shoved, half-stumbling because he's laughing too hard to stand still.

"Seriously?" Chas is saying, wiping at his mouth with the back of his hand, his face the very picture of long-suffering exasperation, disgust that isn't more than superficial. He's known John long enough that he can't possibly take it seriously, but he still manages to be utterly affronted by the antics. "Seriously!? I am nowhere near drunk enough to deal with this. You."

"Oh come off it, Chas," says the Brit, humor putting a polished shine on his tone. He's decided it's time to refill their glasses: Zatanna is safe, they're speaking again, Chas is completely embarrassed, it's a new year — he's got plenty of reasons to celebrate and he's put that off long enough for the night. "It's New Year's Eve. Everybody gets one. Bad luck otherwise. An' I hate to disappoint a lady." He tucks a wink in there for her.

Three tumblers on the coffee table, after he snaps one up from a shelf for her, and the bottle neck completes a circuit around them in constant pour, splashing on the table because who cares, really?

"You're a goddamn menace," Chas grouses, reaching for his glass.

—-

While this is certainly /not/ above John Constantine, the look on Chas' face is enough to let loose the floodgates. Zatanna /laughs/ when the bigger, terribly married man sputters, leaning against the wall with her head tilted back; what starts as a small thing graduates to a full roar, once John is shoved away and he's laughing too. In a time in the near future when she looks back on this moment, she may feel a touch of guilt at putting the thought in the fair-haired magus' head to begin with. However, the act of laughing - really laughing, in a way that causes jagged pains up her ribcage as her side splits - for the first time in what feels like ages, is enough for the time being to dispell whatever troubles there were.

For it /was/ a new year, and in her opinion, it was starting out rather smashingly; considering how 2016 was going, it would understandably pull the rest of them into those low points before granting them a bit of reprieve in a few small victories - Jessica's return, John's confession, and now, the Liber Consecratus safely tucked away in the safe; one small step in aiding her father in whatever he's battling now, and perhaps in getting him back as well.

"Yeah, well, if only he was this quick in my other requests over the years," she says. "I don't think he's ever kissed me as willingly or as quickly as he just did with you, Chas. Don't worry, though, I won't tell Renee."

Tucking her hands in the too baggy-for-her hoodie, she pads barefoot closer towards both men, sinking into the chair John occupied earlier, wagging her eyebrows suggestively at him so /he/ could sit next to Chas. She takes her own glass, grinning widely enough to draw out that dimple on her left cheek.

"We didn't even /get/ to the champagne when shit hit the fan in the opera house," she tells them both. "I'm glad I'm not completely bereft of the chance to engage in some underage drinking before the night's over though, so cheers."

She lifts her glass, and knocks back the whole shot.

—-

"Most of your other requests didn't sound as entertaining," John says in his own defense, plucking his glass up in an array of fingertips. A splinter of something wicked: "Some, though."

The next thing she says strikes him at an odd angle, and somewhere in all of that glimmering good humor there's a thread of something less airy, more solid. "An' the rest of it is unfounded slander." Bright eyes tick over her, dressed in all of his things. He's not immune to that and never has been. Some apology tilts the scales of his obvious mirth. "Would if I could, love."

He watches her take his seat, turns to look at Chas, and Chas pops straight up off of the sofa as though someone had lit a bottle-rocket under his backside, pointing a thick index finger at Zatanna. "You're a menace too," he tells her, with overblown seriousness. "And I'm going to make some food."

"And so everybody wins," John says, sinking into the place Zatanna previously occupied, just adjacent to her chair. "Because of me. And my mouth. You're welcome." Whether he toasts himself or the toast Zee proposes is not clear and likely does not matter. A healthy swallow of golden-brown liquid puts the fire in him again, enough to let him drop his head back against the plush, overstuffed leather of the back of the sofa, eyes lidding, angled toward the slip of a magical star in the chair. He ought to get her to have her father remove the entire hex. She wants to make her own decisions, has no idea that some of those are off-limits, and — well, so she may not want to make them, but what if? What if Giovanni disappears into nothing? John would never remove the hex himself. It would violate whatever trust Giovanni has in him, and that is not an easy thing to earn.

"So…'tanna," he begins casually, lifting his glass and looking down into it, as though he might find the words there.

And realizes, in that moment, that there is no appropriate way to do this. 'By the way, your dad's hex is still there, and it means I can't touch you if I'm enjoying myself too much when I'm doing it without something terrible happening to my face.' There's no way to put things so that it doesn't sound as though that's all he's after, even after everything they've just been through. 'Is that what you're after?' She'd been asking about something else, but his motives are obviously in question.

Two beats too long afterward the corner of his mouth quirks. "Ah, nevermind. Look, Chas wants you to stay, and I think it's safest, but I'm not going to push. You might break his 'eart, though."

—-

'Some though.'

Zatanna rolls her head slowly, deliberately towards John, her lashes hooding and her expression taking on a more feline bent; the kind that implies terrible, feminine mischief. "I didn't think you'd remember half of those, since I managed to convince you I was only that creative when I was drunk, and you found it terribly amiss if you let me drink alone."

But his calling out her slander earns him a grin, the kind that puts all the bunker's lights to shame, her teeth digging into her bottom lip and leaving it will telltale dents. Long legs pull back up on her chair, her feet resting on the cushions, knees angled towards John and watching as Chas immediately shoots up from the cushions when the Brit sits next to him. She laughs all over again as his best friend wanders over to the kitchen in a grouse. "If you had left any faster, Chas, you'd have left some speedlines over here! Just 'whoosh'!" She presses her fingers together, and makes a cutting motion through the air.

Food sounds good though, glancing down at her stomach, hidden by John's overlarge pockets. There's a slight touch of regret there; apparently the food was amazing in the gala, and she didn't even have a single bite before the lights went out. Thankfully, whatever Chas makes is always incredible, and she finds herself looking forward to it.

Left alone with Constantine for the time being, Zatanna angles a curious glance at his profile, and the contemplative tilt, the silent interrogation he gives his tumbler. Her hand reaches out for the bottle on the table, pouring herself a couple of fingers' worth of liquor.

"So…John," she echoes, mimicking his inflection perfectly, and whatever look he gives her is returned with one of pure, feigned girlish innocence. Her answering grin is smothered for the time being when the glassine edge of her tumbler finds her lips again, taking a slower sip of the amber liquid within.

"What, you mean the wards?" she says, turning her left arm until her bare wrist peeks out from the cuff. "I think I might have to…see what I can do to repair this, but I'm not holding my breath. This is the strongest solution I can find, for now. Unless I somehow devise a way to find an even more potent combination. I thought I'd have two weeks at least, but I might have been overestimating their willingness to get to my father and it might get worse now that they know I have the book." If they didn't earlier, they're bound to later.

Leaning forward, she peers at his expression, the line of her mouth softening. "I'll stay, but only if you come back. I've had to sit here for a few days watching Chas when you just up and vanished and while he tried to keep busy taking care of me the only way he knows how, he was extremely worried about you. You brought him all the way here, and I'd feel better if the two of you stayed together also. The tortured lone wolf thing is pretty hot, John, it's one of the reasons that attracted me to you in the first place, but I think you and I both agree that all this is leading up to something more, especially if you're throwing your weight in the ring against the likes of Hanussen and Mammon. It's been way too /noisy/ out there lately."

Her mouth turns up wryly. "If it helps, I /am/ willing to give your bed back to you," she quips. "I can take the couch." Her expression shifts to one of consternation. "Er….it's…not the same one the succubus gave birth on right?"

—-

"I remember everything."

It's said with such equanimity that it encompasses all of 'everything,' not just /their/…everything…but in spite of the cocky self-assurance with which it's said, it cannot possibly be true. He's spent too many nights pissed off his head and blacking out, too much time in a literal mental hospital, for that to be true. And he's probably the better for it, sad as that may be.

He props his glass on the arm of the sofa, uses the light presence of his fingertips around the rim to keep it balanced on the yielding surface. All the while she speculates, he holds his tongue. It may be that the pendulum of his involvement has swung too far in the opposite direction — from being intensely involved in every last thing, to being as close to hands-off as it's possible for him to be without washing his hands of the situation entirely — but things being what they are, he is, /for once/, erring on the side of caution. And whatever ease may have returned to the superficial layers of their interactions, the wounds are still there.

Her request surprises him, and he makes no effort to disguise that, brows perking, then settling, eyes thoughtful where they rest on her solicitous look, her forward lean. Guarded enough that her digression toward the flirtatious doesn't register much of what it causes in him.

He remembers a time when her coquettish nature didn't do that. When she was just his student and the things she said were charming, even endearing, but something he could shake his head at, knowing it was like much of what they studied: smoke and mirrors, illusion. And he knew himself by then; knew what a mess he made of things with women. Knew that was entirely impossible for so many reasons, Giovanni not least of them.

And then he'd done the impossible thing anyway. In retrospect, having done several impossible things, he probably shouldn't have been so surprised.

That had catalyzed something in her effect — as though she'd learned the proper name to use while trying to cast those little spells — and after that it was work, real work, not to feel it when she did those things she does with everyone, so far as he can see: slips in the little wink, the suggestive remark, like her slim finger pressed into his stomach to twist and coil his insides around it the same way she twists the locks of her hair.

Mixed feelings this time. Mixed sensations. The allure, but also the leaden weight, because his disappearance had been so much more than an act. But she didn't mean it that way, and he knows that, too, and—

Christ, he hates having to think this much about it. And yet, the thoughts circle like sharks: sharks made of memories of dark rooms sliced through with bolts of light, picking out curves on pale skin, and maybe they do have teeth but it's almost, almost worth it.

Eyes with embers in them linger overlong in the final silence following her voice, then transition gradually to humor, abandoning whatever thoughts he's been having. "Nah. I sold that one for a pretty pound. Sold the afterbirth, too. People will buy anything." He adds an upward twitch of the lips to the end of that. "You stay in the bed. Chas would lose his mind if I had you sleep on the sofa. Chivalry, an' that."

In the kitchen, fridge door, cabinet doors, drawers open and close. Things are unpacked, washed. Set out to be chopped.

"Let's focus on getting your blood problem solved, and then we'll worry about the rest. You mentioned a house?"

—-

She has almost forgotten - forced herself to, really - how intense he could be up until he fixes his eyes on her.

It isn't just the color, or the way the lines surrounding them grow taut; there was always something more, unique and distinct to John Constantine and she remembers the taste of it when he finally decided to give into her - knows that when he decides, he throws himself body and soul into it much like she does. As the silence stretches, Zatanna is all too aware of the quickening taps on the life-giving vein on the side of her throat, pulsing feverishly under her skin and thankfully hidden by the way the hoodie's collar covers much of it. It reminds her of the bruises, the wounds that have yet to heal, and the sensation of standing with her back pressed up against a cliff-face and staring down at the yawning pit below, seized with indecision in making the choice between clinging as hard as she could or simply let go and meet what's on the other side.

Her heart cramps around it, digs in hard, and her lips part because she's always the sort to say what's there, as if there was some extraneous muscle or vein in her body that permanently attached her mouth to the strongest and yet most vulnerable of human devices. That she had missed this, missed him - not even just his touch or the way those eyes pull her in, but before she had decided she loved him, he was her teacher and her friend, whose demeanor provided a rougher, more interesting texture in a life flooded with showmanship and her father's brand of unflappable sophistication. Adventure, a breath of fresh (…well, that was pushing the term sometimes) air, the way they sparred with words like the flicks of dangerous foil-points.

And chickens.

Lots and lots of chickens.

But something stops her, and she is simply too weary to fight it. It isn't as if conveying her emotions comes easily to her, she only makes it seem effortless due to her willingness to be open, and at the moment, it didn't seem like the right time, or the right circumstance. And she had lingering doubts that he'd appreciate it either, not when he knows she had set out to deliberately hurt him just a few nights ago.

"I suppose anything biological coming from a demon or an angel…" Or some unholy seed of both. "Would be rather valuable, that doesn't make it any less gross though." It's said blandly; between her father and Constantine, whatever squeamishness inherent to Zatanna had been burned away a long time ago.

She straightens, drawing her nails through her damp hair and twisting a tress between her fingers, ever restless. "Spidey called it a haunted house," she tells him. "He touched me while I was being attacked and I was confused at first, how he managed to tap in. But he got his…." She gestures vaguely. "Abilities? From a 'messed up' spider. He's definitely not magic, but you know as well as I that there are animals and insects out there that're highly susceptible to the arcane. This place is /here/, though. In New York. He would know because he spends his time slinging all over the city, but he's having a hard time remembering an address. I told him to get in touch with me if he remembers more."

A small smirk curls upwards. "He tried to bug me too, but he felt so bad about it that he confessed. I decided to keep his though, just in case. I mean, it can't hurt having someone else as a back up to know where I am, like you said. I know you can almost always find me anyway, if the worst comes about."

She lets go of her hair, drawing another sip from her tumbler. "He said it looked derelict, abandoned. Shattered windows, old building. He said he smelled stale bay water."

—-

"That's gross, John," Chas puts in from the kitchen, in a moment when chopping sounds aren't happening. Spices, garlic. Scents begin to carry. Pots are found, set up. John simply shrugs with his uninjured shoulder. "I don't make the market, mate, I just profit from it," he says, but it doesn't carry to the kitchen.

'Spidey,' she says. He can't help the skeptical knit of his brows. Capes and John simply don't mesh well. High-drama, theatrical, cloaked in deliberate mystery, sometimes sleek and well-funded, they are virtually everything that he is not, and he regards their costumed antics bemusedly even in the best of cases, uncertain about all of the /faffing/ involved.

He is a pragmatist, however, and they have their uses. This one in particular is of personal interest, and it places this spider-altered metahuman in a tentative place on the 'probably alright' page of his vast mental tome of social contacts. Given John's cynical view of most of humanity that's a step further along than average, which is probably saying something.

Another one-shouldered shrug. "Could be anywhere. You have a way to get in touch with him? It might move things along if there are more of us looking, and he can point us in likely directions. Chas'll help."

There is a waffling moment of internal debate before he continues: "The vault you've been sleeping in ought to tell you there are some places even I wouldn't be able to find you, 'tanna. So be careful about thinking that way." After a pause, he adds a quiet addendum: "I would always try."

—-

Oh god, it smells so good already and Chas hasn't even started putting things to the fire.

"I do," Zatanna confirms. "I'll ask his permission so I can give it to you. I'll talk to him tomorrow." Ever so courteous, though there are other reasons here that are in play. What she has is Peter Parker's number, not a handy Spidey-signal that she could shoot out into the heavens like the Gotham Police Department has for the Batman. And she has given him his word that she would not, under any circumstances, reveal his identity. Admittedly, if he had accepted the blood pact, it would certainly make things easier to keep his secret, but the look on his face when she described it, either too blessed or cursed with such a good nature that he said he'd feel terrible even if /she/ was the one doing the oathbreaking, it makes her all the more determined to take it to the grave.

She might have to give him a burner phone. She makes a note to stop by the mall the next day.

His warning has her chuffing quietly. "That's why I said almost, and why I elected to keep his to begin with." Her fingertips roll over the air, producing the tracker; no larger than a fingertip, it is small and cool, a small, winking red light denoting its activity, but it has no hope transmitting from here when the wards are fully up.

'I would always try.'

It isn't the words that give her pause but the quiet inflection, and her eyes gravitate to the glass tumbler and the liquid within. There's a rueful smile, tilting her head up to look at him directly.

"I know," she murmurs. "Me too."

She takes a hard swallow of her whiskey.

"I…" She hesitates. "I gave you what I did because I wanted to make it clear that I wasn't out to protect you, John, or shelter you from whatever you decide to smash your face into next. I…didn't know how, still don't know how, things're going to work between us but….I was sure, very sure, that I wanted some part of me to fight next to you. No matter what happens."

—-

All he can do is accept her plans with regard to her newest hero friend and bide his time until concrete plans are made. It is not ideal — he's capable of playing a long game, as many people have discovered to their own misfortune — but his patience typically depends upon having a plan, no matter how rough. This barely qualifies, and that impatient, fearless character of his is exacerbated by the fact that her safety is sand in an hourglass, and the sand is trickling ever-away.

Everything else is hard. Hard for him to hear, impossible for him to know how to respond to. So the silence that follows is long. Very, very long, spooled out as he just /looks/ at her. Lidded gaze, and no movement save the subtle rise and fall of his chest when he breathes. If there were not so much of him present behind it, it would be almost drowsy. By contrast with that stillness the eventual slip slightly away to one side is a visual shout in silence, the single tic of a muscle high near his cheekbone, below one eye, a scream. He eventually tilts his head away from her some scattered few degrees, scythes his gaze downward, and with deliberate care sets the glass he's been balancing on the arm of the sofa on the side table so that he can slip his hand into one pocket and retrieve the lighter with its Gordian knot of mystical engravings. Props the elbow of that arm on the chair's, uses it to support his hand, articulate fingers turning the object over in front of slightly tightened eyes. The soft light from the strands overhead catch in the etchings, picking out some of their subtleties. The metal is warm, heated by the side of his thigh.

He hasn't spent time investigating the significance or purpose of what she's done. He can tease the meanings out, he's sure, but when he was away he could barely bring himself to look at it and now that things have been mended there's something about the mystery that pulls on him, so that it almost seems a shame to pierce that veil and reveal all of its secrets.

He holds it between index finger and thumb by the top and bottom and uses his middle finger to rotate it, pushing it slowly around and following the continuation of the lines.

Silence, silence. Over in the kitchen Chas pauses in his chopping, glancing over his shoulder as though worried something may be going wrong. He obviously sees nothing that gives him pause, as he goes right back to it.

When he does so, John finally opens his mouth, still quiet. "Someday you may change your mind about that. It's not a good place to be." Far from being the lamentation of a tragic anti-hero, he delivers those words the way he once told her about the purpose of certain symbols from forbidden apocrypha, or showed her how to navigate reading the Grimorium Verum — a directory for Hell, more or less. It's incidental, offhand. Fact.

"And I shouldn't let you. But I'm a selfish bastard. You can ask anyone."

Time teeters, spins on an edge. He makes a choice, and it is not the kind one.

He flips the lighter over his knuckles like a coin until it tilts and is collected with his loosely curled hand. When it disappears, his gaze returns to her.

"I still want you." Also fact, but not in the least bit incidental. He lets that sit a moment, lets one brow lift, as though to say, /how about that?/ — as though some trick had been done. And then he tilts his head away again and drops his gaze to his knee, a much harder angle. The long, distant intensity of his stare sloughs away, replaced by something more immediate, his more usual energy: self-deprecating, cynical, sardonic, not unamused, a little bit grim. He turns the lighter in his hand over, an empty gesture, a neat fidget. "Bad idea though. Everybody knows it. You make your choice, you let me know. Meantime…"

His lips quirk, the ghost of a lighter smile, actual muted wryness carrying up into the eyes that flick over to her. "Thanks for the gift. Don't know as I ever said as much."

—-

The quiet ticks away, heavy and uncertain, but as always, Zatanna's eyes don't move away, even when his own do - slanted away from her, moving to the floor, and she takes in every subtlety in his body language, though unlike others, she finds him difficult to parse. He's made it an art form, not to be an easy read, all too aware of the tricks other magicians use to somehow divine the intentions and desires of their audience. As far as emotional inscrutability was concerned, there are shades of her father in John, and while their methods are different, Giovanni Zatara was a puzzle - what John has the potential of becoming the older he gets.

Light dances over the mostly silver surface - the purest of the stuff that she could transform with her own hands, whatever illumination present swallowed by the cold iron brand in the front, pitch-black under warm, golden hues of vintage bulbs. There's relief there, that he hasn't chucked it out into the sea, especially after what they had put each other through in the last week, but seeing him fiddle and play around with it jostles some warmth in the pit of her stomach, utterly unconnected to the amounts of liquor swirling inside it. That rueful smile remains, despite the quiet words that follow, things she has already heard before, but she listens to them anyway.

"Yeah, well," she begins, draining her glass and setting it on the table. "Like I said before, I was never afraid of making mistakes, and I'm not above making the same ones over and over because I'm reckless and optimistic, and maybe I'll grow out of it, but right now I'm happy with the way I am so I'm not even gonna bother worrying about it. Destiny's overrated, John Constantine. Once we're born, we start to die and all that, I might as well make the most of it, yeah?"

She cants her head.

"I think everyone just wants to be happy, John," she continues, contralto suffused with somber gentleness, at the remarks on being a selfish bastard. "I only know a bit. I'm not even going to pretend I know what else is in there, though if you ever want to tell me one day, I'll gladly listen. But I've seen you get whipped at night, when you thought I was sleeping…you suffer, too. Perhaps even more than I could imagine, or bear without crying myself. So I say be as selfish as you like, if I ever take issue with it…" A smile quirks back into visibility. "We can have it out like we usually do and let the chips fall where they will."

She shifts, crossing and retucking her ankles underneath her, leaning back and folding her arms over her stomach, head leaning sideways against the back of her chair when he turns his attention back on her directly. The words that follow have her blinking once; it's hardly an expression of amazement, but there is a hint of surprise there - not because she didn't expect his interest, she recognized the look he gave her a few hours before, but rather because he was so upfront about saying it.

"John…" Her stomach pulls downward, her heart plows savagely against her sternum, but save for the breath that forms his name, she falls silent, unsure, and in her eyes he would find a passing glimpse of those old wounds.

He's, thankfully, not looking for an answer right then and there, having learned the lesson of pushing her all too well, but now that he's made it clear, it only guarantees that the words will sit there in her brain for her to stew over and dwell upon. Frustration bubbles in her gut, but there's affection also - joy, most dangerous of all…he was being honest, yes, but it was also /dirty pool/, something she should have expected.

Reaching out, her fingertips slip over the shorter strands of blond by his temple, leaning forward enough to touch the seam of her mouth against his brow.

"One thing at a time, yeah?" she tells him. "Besides, I'm not going anywhere."

Leaning back, that flashfire grin returns. "Oh hoh, a thank you from the Great John Constantine. I knew you're some kind of herald for world shaking events, but I never realized you're able to do it so /subtly/, and in ways that'd make a girl get the warm fuzzies! You're very welcome, and thanks for yours. I was having a difficult time of it, so you returning a piece of Daddy to me…" There is a pause. "It meant a lot. It still does. Though I noticed it was addressed to you, and Chas told me the story behind it. John…if you ever want it back, just say the word. I figured I'd keep it safe just in case, anyway, if you did."

—-

The /dirtiest/ of dirty pool.

John doesn't play if he can't win, though. And he's as up front about that as a man can get, really. That's the most remarkable thing about magicians. Street magicians, stage magicians, the kind that work sleight of hand and rigged tricks: they'll tell you up front that that they're about to fool you, and then they manage to do it anyway. That's why it's magic.

His eyes drop when she leans in, enough to give almost the appearance of being closed, but they lift again after she bestows that token of affection to his crown — something he takes in stride, without any of the steel-cable tension it might have had earlier in the day. Placing the onus of choice in her hands has freed him of the necessity of warring with himself about anything, at least until the next hairpin turn life decides to lay out in front of him. The alcohol, the hour, the unburdening: it is as at-ease as he ever gets.

Into that mask of calm comes something more involved, brows knitting as he twists his head around to the side, as though he could look over the back of his seat toward the kitchen, which he cannot. "Did he? I bet he didn't tell it as well as I would've. Wind right out of my sails, Chas."

Chas, in the kitchen, stirring something in a pot, flicks off the general direction in which John is positioned, never once looking up.

Righting his head, John leans to the side enough to replace the lighter in his pocket, lace his hands over the flat concavity of his reclining torso. "Nah. It's in a better place. I've got the notebook, still. And the playbill."

What he wants to say, when she says she's not going anywhere, is that nobody can ever know such a thing: that life is short, often brutally so, and that is never more true than in the circles they traverse. That the consequences of that incontrovertible fact are what lash him in his sleep and drive the cilice of his memories into his psyche night after night, all of those restless dreams she confesses to having observed. These are true words. And wise, even, if a bit dangerous: swim too far out into those waters and a body runs the risk of winding up like John, stranded on an island, unwilling to count on anything at all, not even the ground beneath their own two feet. Because things change. One minute they're there, everything is an opportunity, and the next they're gone, broken or cast-off for something better.

But why knack up a promising evening with wisdom? It's such a /downer/.

Instead, a twinkle of knowing humor, and a gloat. "Should have seen your face. Like I soiled your bloody carpet."

Lifting his voice: "Chas! Are we ready to eat yet? I'm fucking /knackered/, mate."

"Two minutes, Turkish," is the dry response.

—-

"Alright, then it's mine," Zatanna sniffs. "No takebacks."

The carpet quip has her expression flattening. "And consider me warned," she says, shifting so she could rise from her seat and nudging his leg with her toes. "Because I don't think you're actually /above/ that either. At least you switched out your cigarettes, I count it as one of my more enduring victories."

The promise of food, though, brightens her face considerably; it's past three in the morning, and she really shouldn't eat while it's so late, fully aware as to how well her metabolism sleeps in the very late hours. But she hasn't had any dinner, and the smells coming from the kitchen are almost enough to make her salivate. She exchanges a look with John, before she slips her hands in her pockets and wanders over to the kitchen.

"Chas, you need any help?" she wonders, with such sweet, cloying innocence every court from here to the next world would convict her on the spot.

Because she totally wants the first bite.

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