The Strangest Alchemy

January 02, 2017:

Fate plays Secretary, bringing John Constantine and Jessica Jones to the same bar. A discussion of magical theory and next steps morphs into rare shows of mutual respect.

A bar in Hell's Kitchen, New York City.

A pub with football on the telly…er…soccer on the HDTV.


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Zatanna Zatara, Giovanni Zatara, Spider-Man

Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

The New Year has arrived, and with it a fresh set of complications, although these are vastly to be preferred over the ones John was laboring to settle as 2016 breathed its last. Most of them are work-related, and although it's true that John's work spills over into other spheres of his existence — all of them, maybe — it's his element.

An immortal Nazi sorcerer, a Prince of Hell, an undercover magician casting blood-magic on Zee, his meeting with Zatara and their mutual acknowledgement that things are about to go tits up everywhere…

He'll take all of that over problems with his personal life any day. Any. Damn. Day.

The bunker is convenient, but its wards lock him out of sensing the ongoing ebb and flow of power in the city. For that, he needs to be out and about, and a perk of having to be out and about is that there are plenty of bars in New York to choose from. None of them can stand up to the pubs he's accustomed to, but they'll suffice. The noise, the raucous ambient sound of human life and energy help him to focus, sharpening his purpose.

Presently he's seated at the bar, flipping through windows on his phone, a glass of half-finished ale on a coaster on the bar at his elbow, steadily dripping condensation. There's a football — that's /soccer/ — game on the telly overhead, which may be why he chose this particular bar, as nothing whatsoever about it is in any other way special.


After the auction, that feeling of being "at home" in Shadowcrest had slowly evaporated for one Jessica Jones. She couldn't put her finger on what it was, exactly. Maybe it was the fact that technically, the case she'd been hired for was more or less over. Giovanni Zatara wasn't precisely missing anymore. And while the auction may not have been the end of all the troublethe man she still thought of as Muller was still out there, after allit just marked a subtle shift for her. All in a rush, she had begun feeling extraneous. And considering in her own mental tally she'd caused as many problems as she'd solved by going in and getting trapped in the nightmare realm…well.

She'd simply taken the train quietly back to Hell's Kitchen. The bill was more than settled by her advance, in her estimation, considering she'd gotten a posh vacation at Shadowcrest for the parts were she hadn't been trapped in mystic mumbo-jumbo. And if Zatanna wanted or needed her help with the problems that remained—well, she had to know Jessica would be there in a flash if there was any actual help she could provide.

Besides, she needed to check her mail, see if she couldn't pick up some jobs from Hogarth, she needed to pay some bills if she could. And she had returned some voicemails, explaining mostly to Hogarth and Trish that she'd been locked in a basement during a case, enduring their disparate reactions grimly without giving any other details. At least she'd picked up a quick process service job for her efforts.

When she'd gone to her apartment/office it had been with every intention of staying sober. Her time in the nightmare realm had given her unexpected benefits, turning gaping, open psychic wounds into mere scars. She'd even scoffed, "Who the fuck lives like this?" at the sight of her own apartment, before stomping to Home Depot to get some paint, intending to attempt to make it look like something other than a shithole.

But then she'd come across a bottle of whiskey with a few precious sips in it. Her throat had itched. Then her skin had itched. Then her skin had /crawled/. Addiction and depressive tendencies don't just go away with wishes and good intentions, and before she'd known it, those few precious sips were in her mouth. Then she'd dropped everything and gone to the first bar she could get to, which just so happened to be /this bar/.

When she slides in next to John she doesn't even look at him initially.

"Scotch, neat, yesterday." It comes out a snap, a snarl, a growl. She's angrier at herself than she is the bartender, but…that gets the poor fellow hopping.


"'llo luv," says the man beside her, never once looking up from his phone. It would be reasonable for most people to be surprised by this chance encounter, but for John almost nothing is ever chance; he lives on a razor's edge of coincidence and low odds, and for him it's almost more unlikely that she wouldn't have suddenly toppled through the skylight of his life eventually. She's been on his list of people to speak with, and Fate just /loves/ to play the part of his secretary.

Besides: Muller's magic still hangs on her like a shroud. Sick, abnormal. Dead magic, cast by a man who should've shuffled off his mortal coil long before. He felt it the moment she set foot through the door.

He looks much the same as the last time she saw him — maybe a little like he's recovering from a week without much sleep, which is true.

He finishes reading something, thumbs the screen-sleep button on the side of the slim, glassy phone so that it goes dark, and then reaches for his glass, lifting it, bracing it aloft with his elbow on the bar. The tilt of his head is small, but enough to fix one pale blue iris on her, where it ticks over, probing her condition. "Bad day?"


She's surprised at least, and it shows when she does her double-take. For a moment she doesn't know what to say. The drink arrives; she slides her credit card across to pay for it, and she grimaces, maybe out of embarrassment, or awkwardness at having been startled, or just any number of reasons really. "Just. A day," she says, shaking her head. She tones down the growl, though, to a tone that's more in line with the matter-of-fact practicality she'd given him before.

She takes some real fortification from that drink, noting, "Zee said you took a mental boot to the face, trying to come in wherever-that-was after me. I'm sorry. I was as careful as I knew to be, but it wasn't enough. The stuff you gave me helped, though…I could tell it was good stuff, as much as someone like me can tell." She owed him that, at least.

As for her condition, physically she's fine, other than the addiction she is now feeding. The rest is the same complicated bundle of emotions she was before, though without the target to pursue. Before, like a bull dog, she'd been focused and purposeful, and that had given her one kind of energy. Without that target to aim at, however, the energy is now back at its equilibrium, and…well. Here she is. Barking drink orders to bartenders some 5 days after her resolution to never touch the stuff again.

Well, all New Year's Resolutions are doomed anyway, right?


A day.

John knows what it is like to have…a day. So he presses his lips into a line, tightens those eyes of his into a slight squint, and gives a nod small enough that she wouldn't have seen it if she weren't sitting right there beside him, finally bringing his glass up to drain half of the half that is left.

Makes a face as he puts it down. /American beer./ Christ, this has got to be the darkest timeline.

Then she's talking, and /apologizing/, of all things, and he's grateful that he was grimacing already, as it conceals the one he'd have found himself wearing inadvertently. "No need your apologizing. You were doing your job and I was doing mine. There are risks, an' I imagine you accept that as well as I do." Square shoulders roll within the comfortable, well-cut lines of his coat, expressing his unease at leaving things there. It prompts him to turn his head, looking at her more fully, contemplation writ in the otherwise inscrutably lazy quality of his gaze. "Only your job hazards shouldn't look like mine. Muller's little funhouse isn't exactly the kind of thing you signed up for when you decided to become a detective, eh? I shouldn't have let you go by yourself."

That is as close to an apology as most people get from John Constantine, and he regards her another two, three heartbeats, then turns back to the glass in front of him. "Not that there's any point wibbling about it now it's done, but that's a mistake I won't make twice."

The next question is harder. Not because it's hard for him to ask — he can be shockingly considerate, for such a bastard — but because he gets the feeling it's not one she always likes to answer. And, being himself, he knows how /that/ is, too. "You alright, then?"


Jessica chuffs, finishes her drink, and signals the guy for another. When it's poured and he's wandered off again she considers it—what /did/ she sign up for, when she became a detective? Solemnly, and with a wry, dry face, "I dunno. The time State Senator Ritchie caught sight of my flash in the window of his hotel might have been a little worse. I stopped, looked down to take a text. Next thing I know he's right in front of the bush I'm in, screaming his head off, hadn't even put pants on. Easier to understand, but ugh." She gives an exaggerated shudder. "At least Muller had pants on when he just suddenly stepped out of precisely nowhere. So, bonus."

As for answering his final questionand he'd be right about her willingness to answerwell. He's not wrong.

But she considers it as she gets to work on the next drink. "Despite what this looks like, yeah. More or less." she says, lifting the glass just a little to indicate the 'this'. "And yes, I /did/ know the risks, so…no. No…wibbing…for you. At least not about that."

She's now equally uncomfortable, because yeah. She's not inconsiderate either (though she'll pretend she is all day long). She addresses /her/ next question somewhere in the direction of the taps, doing what to her is the courtesy of not looking at him while she asks, "How bout you? From what I've heard, this case has been crap on toast for you too."


/That/ is more like the bar talk John is used to, and he actually lets him turn his head again, taking in her expression as she relates that story. It changes him in subtle ways that still somehow mean everything: a glitter in the eyes, an undercurrent of biting humor, held at a low, low simmer. At least until she talks about Muller having pants on, at which that subtle face of his yields itself to a more theatrical look. His brows knit, lines appearing between them, and the rest is all contemplative disgust as he turns back to face forward. "Too fuckin' right," he says, as though the thought of the Nazi with no pants on might haunt him well into the rest of his week.

Not a chance, of course. He's got far worse things to think about. But…still, though. It's enough to have him drain his glass, set it down on the bar, and attempts to get the bartender's attention.

"What this looks like is another bloody Tuesday in Britain. We live down the pub." It's a meaningless aside, quickly overshadowed by her question, though he doesn't immediately answer. The bartender either doesn't see him or, as is more likely, is trying to keep his distance from that end of the bar. With a twitch of muscle in his cheek, he drops his eyes and idly traces a little shape in the glittering liquid puddled on the polished, sealed bartop with one elegant index fingertip, and then the bartender is just…there, and he's getting his refill, and that's /cheating/, but then, that's John. And in any case, it gave him time to think about what she said.

"I've 'ad worse," he tells her. It's exactly what he told Jane Foster, and it's true. But while Jane may have chosen to interpret the rough, rakish smirk that accompanied that statement as an indication that he's perfectly fine, someone like Jessica might be able to see it for what it really is: a distraction from the deeper underlying truth, which is that he's had better weeks, too. "Which is just as well, because I don't think this is over. 'tanna's still in a bad way. Someone's pissing about with her blood."


"Clearly I should consider moving to Britain," Jessica says lightly. She also eyes that trick. Damn. Now /that/ bit of mumbo-jumbo looks pretty useful. Oh well. She'll just have to rely on being growly. Being growly gets her drinks fast enough, most of the time.

She considers what John says more seriously. She pushes her drink away, getting into serious mode. That much healthier bull dog energy coming to the forefront. "I got some sort of vague bit that someone was still after her," she says slowly. "I thought it was just that jackass, refusing to die."

She shifts slightly on the stool, turning to face him a little bit. She thins her lips in contemplation, then says slowly, "So…I know I don't do what you do. But…it's still /her/ blood, right? Possession doesn't change ownership. It just means it was stolen from her. If whoever can use her blood to try to screw with her…can she or you use it right back at them? Use that link to burn the shit out of someone for trying, or even just to track wherever it is? Or is it like…"

She waves her hand around until it lands on the TV, fortuitously interrupting the soccer game for a advertisement about the New York Lottery. "Like a scratch-off ticket. Once someone's doing one thing with it, nobody else can do anything with it?"

She grimaces.

That was a fantastically bad analogy.

But she figures she got her point across.


"Sadly not," John says, of the jackass, and his refusal to die.

What follows produces an interesting reaction in him. She turns on an angle slightly more open to his direction, and he accommodates that by doing a little of the same, bringing his lean into the elbow on that side back to the very edge of the bartop, giving her the whole of his focus. That's normal enough, for John. It's what she suggests that produces a flicker of change in his expression that is indescribably rare: surprise, and impressed approval. Civilians — non-magicians — do not often impress John in any way at all. They are cattle with blinders on, and really…he prefers them that way. They're something normal, something endearing, if perhaps incredibly frustrating, but they are, by and large, not clever. And that is nowhere more true than when they begin to try their hand at thinking about /magic/. Too literal. Too narrow. Too…too stupid, why mince words? Too bloody stupid.

"Maybe you missed your calling, luv," he says offhandedly, with another flicked once-over of his drinking companion. Reassessing. Recalibrating her place in his estimation. "That's a question most novice magicians wouldn't think to ask, and a bloody good one. You're thinkin' about it the right way. The link. Unfortunately not, though. The blood's on a piece of something external to the mage doing the casting, and 'tanna can't just remotely burn up what he's got. That said, there's still a link — obviously — and someone 'tanna met, some Spider-hero, managed to get a sense of the building they're doing the casting from. She's going to put us in touch, see if he can't direct some of us into areas of the city likely to have buildings like the one he saw in his…" What? John doesn't know, so shrugs. "Vision?" He lifts his glass. "You oughta get in on that, maybe. I can sense magic, but I'm not a New Yorker, right. The more eyes, the better."

Pause. "Unless you'd rather not stay involved, which. Look. Nobody's going to blame you."


To his reaction, she can't help but give the little half smile which is pretty much the most she ever gives. "Maybe. Or maybe asking good questions is the common bond between both our callings."

To the Spider-Hero, she lifts her eyebrows, then nods thoughtfully. Well, that explains the presence of /that/ particular cape at the auction.

And then he asks if she's still in, and…all at once the subtle shift she'd felt that morning isn't so present anymore.

There's still work to do. "Of course I'm staying involved," she says quietly, firmly.

"So it was here, and not in Gotham? That, in itself, is interesting. And yeah, depending on what he describes…well, we might not even have to wander around too long to narrow it down. There are some old fashioned ways to zero in on it that I might be able to take advantage of as well, make the search quicker. Especially if it's /in/ the city, and not in a suburb or something like that."


She commits, and John just nods once. No spiel about how it's dangerous, she could die — none of the usual disclaimers for people who get a whiff of what he and the rest of his ilk get up to, thinking it sounds like a grand adventure. She's been in the thick of it now. Had herself a big, fat bite of what it can be like. If she's still willing to put her teeth into it, she knows what she's getting herself into.

"Thought that's what she said, but she wasn't specific. Waterfront area, though, so at least on the bay, which ought to narrow things a bit. I'll — actually." He pauses, reaches for his set-aside phone, flicking it on and quickly navigating to his text messages, swipes of the tip of his thumb sending Zatanna an update about Jessica's involvement. "Might as well make sure she hits you with the update when the rest of us get it."

He takes a sip from his glass, sets the phone down again, and all of a sudden says, "I did get your message. I don't know if 'tanna told you." Blue eyes, shards of bleached lapis, train on the splinters of light that slide around the ring of the top of the glass. "I didn't realize what it was. Woke me out of a dead sleep, but I don't have easy dreams, and I thought it was just another bad one. It worked, though. What you did." The shape of the angle of his cheek changes shape as he bites it, and the corners of his eyes crinkle as they tighten. "Thought you ought to know, in case things go sideways again. It's always worth trying."

No apology, but he'll be whipping himself with that particular failure for a while to come.


She starts in surprise at that. She takes her glass, not to drink, but to contemplate what he's said. Her own dark eyes peer down at the amber, but…strangely the itch is scratched, and she no longer desires it. It's just a convenient place to look, a place to collect her thoughts.

"It was such a long shot," she says at last, chuffing a little in amazement. "I didn't know if it would alert you, or just create some sort of circumstantial opportunity, or…just do /nothing/ at all. I just knew I had to try something, and…those were the tools I had. But…thank you." Not words she says often.

"For telling me. And of course for acting on it when you realized. But right now, for telling me."

She grimaces. Because…this stuff needs to be said, but it's not comfortable to say it. "Not to get all woobie, but. I'm not normally a helpless person. Normally, I take care of my own crap. And believe it or not, in some ways this isn't the weirdest or the worst thing I've ever been through. So…knowing that my shot in the dark actually got somewhere makes me feel far less ridiculous."

Then she thinks of something else, and she taps her fingers against the bar. "And now that I think more on this…I have more questions, if you're willing to indulge them." Because all this has gotten her thinking about the sum total of what went on again, and she sees what might be the glimmer of an opportunity…depending upon how things work.


He's quiet while she speaks, at least until she says she's not normally helpless, at which point a chuckle rumbles in the flat of his chest, and his eyes get those crows' feet at the outer corners again, his smile crooked. He aims it at the mirror behind the bar, in which he watches her over the lip of his glass as he nurses it, something to keep his mouth occupied while she's talking. "You don't say."

She has questions, and he /maybe/ has answers. But first:

He sets his glass down with a delicacy that seems out of character, given his reputation for recklessness. Hands made for theft, for making things suddenly appear. He could've been a surgeon. A pianist. Something else, instead of whatever the hell he is.

Tilts his head a bit in her direction, but doesn't look that way. "I'll tell you something about magic that most people don't know," he says, voice pitched low, both in tone and volume. It has the air of a confidence, which is what it is; John Constantine is not in the habit of casually sharing trade secrets with people on the outside of his circles. "All of the faffing about, the circles, the symbols, the concoctions — some of that's important, yeah. There are rules. Amplifiers. Natural talent and ability, too; some people can't cast no matter how many arcane tomes they page through of a bedtime. The most important thing, though, is will. And sometimes, even without following the rules, even without the right ingredients, you can make magic work…if the will is sufficient to the purpose."

There's a little silence after that, a rise from one of his brows, and then he takes a sip of his beer and the moment passes, his gaze open but inscrutable as it turns her way directly. "No promises, but you can always ask."


She looks thoughtful, because—well. As on that day, she'd sometimes bashed herself as being /weak/ willed. But…here she'd gone and made something work. She isn't sure she'd ever need or want to try it again unless the situation were similarly dire, because breaking the rules also seems like something that could blow up in one's face pretty bad. But it's another brick in the slow foundation that she's been able to rebuild since Zatanna first walked into her office; a brick of confidence, even if she'd feel weird ever saying so out loud. It helps her see things in a different perspective…

She didn't fall to Kilgrave because she was weak willed, for example; she broke his hold and let him get hit by a bus and maybe was one of the few who could have done so.

Thinking that way is so foreign to her that she shies away from it, pushes it down to /far more/ important matters. She nods her thanks, apparently both for his confidence, and his willingness to answer questions.

When she speaks, she does so slowly, reasoning it out. "I already know space isn't what I'd always thought, because Zatanna treats it like a big joke. She waves her wand, I'm somewhere else. And…I know this stuff leaves traces, because, if that worked…well. One thing I focused on, really hard, were that your wards might have left magic of yours that was still there. Stuff I could piggy back off of. And…maybe time is as fluid as space, because they're related, and because there's all those stories of people getting visions off of objects and things."

She frowns, because she's trying to get at something, but she has to organize her thoughts. "So…given all that…maybe there's an opportunity. Because before he threw me into Fucked Up Never Never Land, Muller did this other thing. He cut my face, then shoved his way into my brain, and this required eye contact. Pushed his way into my memories."

She's at the moment saying this very matter-of-factly, like reporting the weather, because at the moment, it's part of a puzzle, a bigger question she's trying to ask. "Eyes…windows to the soul, right? So…he dug around in there, despite my efforts to think nonsense at him. This was his interrogation. Well. So okay. Maybe he left something behind. In my head. Which is completely disgusting to contemplate. But. Maybe he leaves something behind. And he looked into my eyes, but I looked into his. And I couldn't exploit that, but…maybe you or Zatanna or both of you could. Maybe…slip past him in that moment of time somehow, follow that little trace back to the inside of his head for a moment. Probably not to get the same dig about, but…maybe you could get something of use, some additional information we don't already have. About him, something that might help us put an end to his immortality problem, or an asset he has, or who he passed blood off to."

She grimaces. "A convoluted question. Another long shot. But…just…first rule of investigation is they always take something, and they always leave something behind. I guess the concise version of the question is: can anything useful be done with what he might have left behind?"


While she probes and finds her way through her thoughts out loud, John's gaze remains locked to her, all of his not-inconsiderable intensity affixed to her like a nail. Partway through the construction of her question something guarded seems to slide into place just beyond the solemn neutrality of his expression, making whatever takes place behind it less available even at proximity to her.

He isn't quick to respond, either. He looks at her for a long time afterward — not in an effort to intimidate; it's probably clear enough that he's toying with something inside of that skull of his — and eventually shifts his attention to his sweating glass of beer, a very faint shadow appearing between brows that barely shift inward toward one another.

He has to make a decision, here, about whether or not to tell her the truth. As is so often the case, the lie is safer.

Maybe it's professional respect that influences the result. Maybe it's the way she managed to impress him, earlier. Either way, he makes his choice, narrows his eyes, and lifts his hands, wrists braced on the bar's edge in his forward lean, fingers spread. Gestures, as he speaks. "Y…es. It is theoretically possible. The man you know as Muller, his magic is strong, and he's got a unique signature, himself, because he's — well. He's bloody immortal, presently, as you've noticed, and he was never meant to be. That kind of invasion is bound to have left something behind. It's not easy magic, that. But."

The 'but' topples from his lips like a pebble, and there's a measured silence afterward. "That is nasty magic, luv. Dangerous. Yeah? This is your /mind/ we're talking about. It's luck as it is you didn't go barking mad after everything as it is. You have to ask yourself how much you think can be gained from fucking with it, don't you? You've already been through enough because of that prick. Are you so sure you want to give him a second chance to finish the job? Because somebody uses that connection to get to him, he'll know. And he /will/ push back. And that's assuming it can even be done, that there aren't other factors we don't know about."


Now it's her turn to be silent, considering this, because her mind is a pretty messed up thing as it is, and…she knows it. As adept as she is at putting herself back together when she breaks, she's not really in the mood to see just how many times and different ways she can screw herself up, or to see what it would take to really take her all the way down the mental illness rabbit hole. It's arguable that she's not entirely mentally healthy, but at least she doesn't need a straitjacket.

So, while the lie might be safer, the truth goes farther with Jessica Jones; baldly stated and pointed out. She swirls the amber liquid around in the glass again, frowning at it without drinking it.

"Not when there are other options. We've got that vision to go off of, we will probably get other leads as soon as we find the house, in addition to recovering Zee's blood and shutting down whomever is using it. The assetsuch as it isis there. If our asses are up against the wall, if it might make the difference between saving Zee's life from this blood problem, or a city block full of innocents are about to be hit by a magical nuke or something and we are out of options…well, I'd give what I've got to give if it might make any kind of difference, and only if you could tell me that was the only card we had left to play, which…now that you know about it, at least, you theoretically could. But until then…"

/Now/ she drains the glass. Well. It was there. And it was expensive. And it's really very good Scotch.

"Nope. Not in /any/ hurry."

She was most certainly NOT going to insist that this needed to be done like some overly earnest, overly eager type might, no. Her initial thought was that it might be possible /without/ the prick knowing and without giving her anything worse than a hangover headache, after all. There are limits.


John is the last person on earth likely to judge anybody's brushes with mental illness. He's been hospitalized four times. /Four./ Last week, he was considering going for round five.

It's a thing.

"I think that's the prudent choice, luv," he says, propping one foot on the bar's low rail and picking his glass up again. "I'll look into what it might entail, and we can keep it in the back pocket. But I'd rather not. I've got enough bloody pointless deaths on my conscience as it is."

That thought is not welcome, and as she's going bottoms-up, he decides to take her cue, and follow suit. It takes him longer. The glass was mostly full. Still: down like a /champ/. This is clearly one of his natural habitats. "Alright. I'm on the move again, then." He slides up off of his stool and to his feet, and it puts him a little bit closer to her, wedged in the space between her stool and his, but that just gives her a better read on his eyes. Pale blue, but darker than Zatanna's, and full of…things. As though some of his inscrutability comes not from an emptiness of expression, but too many subtle things edging one another out. "It was good to see you're on your feet. But listen: if something comes up, you start having problems, aftershock effects, whatever, or you think Muller's creeping around — you get a bad feeling, whatever — don't try to be a hero, yeah? You're tough, I get it. You lived, didn't you? So you don't have to prove anything. You start thinking something's off, you call me. Alright? Whenever. Think of it as letting me do my job."

He concludes that with the merest ghost of a smile, and a wink that has an edge to it, and then steps clear of the stools to adjust his coat.


She studies him for the longest time as he says that, then…believes him. "Understood," she says. "Your number, now officially on speed dial."

Though that gets her skin crawling in a way that tells her she's probably going to go right back to crash at Shadowcrest again tonight, suddenly feeling like being alone in her little apartment with its shitty security is not /at all/ appealing. To say nothing of her moronic neighbors who might get caught in the crossfire. The paint job will have to wait.

"Take care of yourself, John."

She gets to her feet as well, then, because while there's nothing to be done on Zatanna's still very-much-open case right now, there /is/ some bozo to go serve down in Manhattan, and she'd probably better go get that done.

But before she does, she pauses. She takes out her phone. She /does/ program his number on the speed dial; frowning thoughtfully down at the phone as she does as she reflects just how few people in the world she'd feel comfortable asking for help. But lately…it really hasn't seemed like that big a deal, like it's actually kind of a /good/ thing…

And for her, at least, this progression of working /with/ people, not only helping them, but letting them help her in turn…might just be the strangest alchemy out of all the strange and terrible wonders she's seen in the past 30 days.

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