Parts to Play

January 12, 2017:

John Constantine brings an enchanted box back to the bunker to prevent Zatanna Zatara from growing stir-crazy in her imprisonment. An adventure to Hong Kong ensues, where both magicians face its secret witch-queen, Graceful Moon, and Zee learns more about John's connection with Luck and Synchronicity.

Brooklyn Bunker - Brooklyn - New York City

John Constantine's magical bunker in Brooklyn.


NPCs: Chas Chandler

Mentions: Tim Drake

Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

Perhaps out of equal parts desperation and determination, Zatanna Zatara has somehow managed to keep herself occupied in the bunker for the last several days.

While she has given up on her tireless experimentations to bolster the failing magical defenses on her arm, she has not halted furthering her own education in her own accord - her assignments in Gotham University have filled the hours, with Tim's help, who has been relatively fastidious in sending her information on her coursework every day she has skipped class (to the point where she has joked that he was more invested in her graduation than she was), as well as readings that she has set aside for herself, catching up with tomes and treatises that her father has always impressed upon her to read. When constant study bores her, she does something physical, going round after round with the punching bag that she has set up at the furthest point of the flat (occasionally animated to give her more of a challenge), or wheedling Chas to string her, tie her, or chain her up in different positions so she could practice escaping bonds, or subjecting him to card tricks to keep her skills sharp. Performing is out of the question for a while, to the point when she has been dodging Arnie's calls - so much that he has decided to send her numerous texts and e-mails instead wondering if he had been fired as her manager and didn't get the memo.

Because really, she doesn't even know how she is going to explain all of this.

Whenever John returns from his daily excursions out, he'd find her with her body contorted on a sash hanging from the ceiling, the loop giving her enough support on her lower back so she could, literally, hang herself while she peruses what appears to be a very old book, bound in leather and old rope, with yellowed pages that have adopted the texture of onion paper. Ice-blue eyes scan the passages, there's a faint wrinkle of her nose. For a Qabbalistic mage that lived in the fifteenth century (a period of great upheaval everywhere), Tenebrus' diary was a boring read, though some of the passages are interesting enough, namely what it says about how every true mage faces a speciific life-or-death crisis at each step up in the mystical development. One in seven, he claims, survive the first one, and one in seven of the survivors live through the second, and so on, and so forth, with the costs rising every time.

She knows this conceptually, but today is the first time she has ever read about the actual term for it - Metamorphoses in Extremis.

"Huh," she mutters, groping around for her water bottle and taking a swig.


New York is still a snowy, muddy, filthy pit, but John hasn't had the opportunity to stay in the flat. He's been working, out doing…whatever it is that he does when he's laying the foundations for an assault on the impossible. She'd have more idea than most, having accompanied him on more than one of his excursions into the breach: talking to people (getting a foot in the door before they can close it), assembling resources (calling in endless numbers of favors, or outright stealing and scamming his way into possession of what he needs), doing research (and this one could mean literally anything).

It means he's been gone more than he's been around, and Zatanna has had to defend her sanity largely alone, though Chas has made an effort to be there when he's able. It's no small signifier of trust for John to leave anyone but Chas alone in the flat with all of his things; even Chas would be a stretch if the man were interested in magic for any more reason than staying alive. Not that the novelty of that silent compliment will do much to keep her from losing her mind, a firefly trapped in a bottle, whirling around and around, flashing and burning for nothing and no one.

Needs must, John has been telling himself. And he's right about that: he /does/ have work to do and it /does/ matter, and in any case it's keeping him preoccupied enough that he hasn't had time to brood about his damaged face or let his mind wander in unproductive and inaccessible directions vis a vis his new roommate.

Eventually, though, his conscience (with Chas' help) makes him feel badly enough about her predicament that he makes arrangements to help alleviate some of that crushing ennui. It requires burning through another of those oh-so-precious favors of his, but if it makes her smile, then why not? She deserves a distraction from what is otherwise her imminent doom.

It wouldn't hurt if it extended his line of credit with her, either.

The brick wall briefly ripples and John walks through it, bringing with him a gust of icy air. Flakes of snow cling to his shoulders and speckle the rough tousle of his hair, most starting to melt the moment he's inside. He tracks wet shoeprints across the concrete floor. Meltwater drips from a plastic bag in one hand.

"Knew a bird who was really into that," he says, with an eye to her suspended state. ""Aerial yoga' and that. Wanted me to give it a go. Can you bloody imagine?"


"It'd be disastrous," Zatanna replies without skipping a beat, her eyes still on the tome she's reading. "Though it'd probably be pretty entertaining to watch you try. No time like the present, yeah? You can put your ass on the sling and serenade Chas with 'Wrecking Ball' when he comes in."

Those pale irises tick upwards to watch him track wet footprints on the concrete, but seeing him does earn him a smile, setting the book aside so she could brace her hands on the mat underneath her, lifting herself up to dislodge the sash from the small of her back, following the arc until she's righted up on the floor - testament, really, to the idea that if nothing else, the Great Zatara's daughter is more than physically capable of performing her own stunts, at the very least, and break a man's nose, adam's apple, or balls at the most. Giovanni was too much of a seasoned operator to not insist that she learn how, back in her tender years.

She picks up a towel off the ground, slinging it around her neck and scrubbing her face with the ends. The cold air from the outside heightens the color of her cheeks as she pads close to him, though thankfully the bricks return to their regular state shortly after he's made his appearance. Rising on her toes, she plants one on his cheek.

"Welcome home, dear," she tells him, with enough seriousness to mean it, but with a heavy dose of exaggerated sweetness to let him know that she is teasing him.

She wanders towards the kitchen to open up a few cupboards for a bottle and a pair of tumblers.

"So how many specific life-or-death crises have you had so far to get you to where you are?" she wonders. "It's from my reading, today. I figured you'd be in the fourth or fifth degree by now."

She finds the Jameson. Tucking the signature green bottle under her arm, she wanders back over to where he is.


It is, by far, the strangest thing to happen to him all day. The peck on the cheek, the rampant /domesticity/ in what she says. And even as a joke, even as a parody of a life that neither one of them will ever, ever be able to live, it gives him pause, makes him wonder not for the first time: /what the hell am I even doing?/

Not for long, though. He tracks her progress to the kitchen with blue eyes that reveal nothing, lingering in places they shouldn't, and existential questions evaporate. His smirk is for himself, twitched into place as he turns to set the bag down carefully on the table and peel his coat off, draping it over the back of one of the tucked-in chairs. He's undoing his cuffs when she reappears, brow cocked and gaze slanted sidelong and down. Deft fingers fold back one sleeve with mindless efficiency, a thing done every day, sometimes multiple times a day. "Tenebrus, is it." Not a question. "I don't know how much faith I put in the old codger. I've had life or death crises loads of times and I've barely changed at all." He's able to maintain his deadpan for seconds after that, though humor eventually gets the better of him, changing the angle of the corner of his mouth and the shape of his eyes, darkling amusement there.

"You must be getting truly desperate if you're digging around in his fusty memoirs."


"I'm gradually running out of reading material," Zatanna tells him, setting the tumblers and the bottle of Jameson on the table, folding her body on the couch. Drawing her legs up, she sits crosslegged, though straight-backed, leaning forward so she could work the cork off the bottle and pour one shot each on the glasses she has brought. "And I don't want to risk popping in and out after what happened the last time. For all I know they've found a way to get to me even in the middle of teleporation, and you know what happens when someone times that sort of interference just right, the results are never pretty." Frustration simmers from underneath her words, but she at the very least manages to make it seem like she's making some serious attempts to take strides towards the right direction.

But that isn't very surprising - sometimes it takes just the right amount of shock to crack through the young magician's determination to be reckless.

"I tried to do some divining today," she continues. "But the visions were messy, as usual when you try to tap into the future." And they both know that the future is harder to predict than anyone imagines, even for the likes of them. "A lot of the images were from New York but there were others. Blue mountains, a red moon. I didn't recognize the former, but the latter could be the mystic blood moon." A mystical eclipse, occurring every hundred years and usually on the thirteenth day of the secret thirteenth month of the sorceror's calendar. "But from what I can remember, it's about…what? Ten years out still?"

Her stare finally wanders towards the bag, her brows quirking upwards. "Did you bring work home with you, then?" she asks, shifting so she could poke the bag lightly with her index finger. There is a hopeful expression there, at the idea of something to chew on while she whiles away long hours in the bunker. "Anything in there liable to eat me? Because I'm ready for it."

Likely. Maybe.

A little.


"Honestly? I don't know. It's going to be as much an adventure for me as it is for you." He slides his hands down into the bag, folding the excess down around the base of what it contains, which is an elaborately carved wooden box. The scene depicted on the lid is of a starry night outdoors in a meadow dominated by one enormous tree. Its branches and canopy grow more abstract the further they travel away from the trunk, eventually spilling off into other images: animals, faces, waves, clouds. A tiny, anonymous figure is sleeping in a nook within the roots of that tree.

Unveiled, John leaves it to sit, turns enough to lean back against the table's edge, hands to either side of his hips and legs out in front of him. It sinks him the necessary few inches to regard her more levelly. "I've a friend who makes an obscenely good living crafting little scenarios for clients who have enough money to escape the gravity well of reality. It's what Midnite would call witchwalking. It's not a dream, but it isn't real."

He cants his head over to the side, tilts it to look down at the carving on the box. "Most people use it for predictable reasons. Pretending someone they love is still alive, living out fantasies of wealth or power or having some gigantic six-titted harlot cover you up in strawberry jam, or something. Waste of magic. But I felt bad, your having to stay here this long. I'd be going barking if it were me. So…I called in a favor. Had her put together a couple of adventures. 'Surprise me,' I said." His gaze glitters. "'Make it exciting.' An' as far as I know she's not into six-titted mega-tarts. 'sides, she knows it's not just for me." His brows lift, just a little. "Better than Netflix, innit?"


If the early play at domesticity had been surreal to John, /this/ latest development is somewhat of a Dali landscape to her, Zatanna watching with avid curiosity as the box is unveiled and the carvings are revealed. The mention of Papa Midnite is one that earns him a perk of her eyebrow, well familiar with the voodoo/gangster that holds most of Manhattan in his bloody grip. Fingertips reach out to touch it gingerly, letting them drift over the corners, the shape of it. She takes the explanation in stride as she lowers herself by bending her knees, to inspect the item on eye level, already hungry for its secrets and what it contains. Adventures in a box, and the more she learns, the more amazed she is, anticipation falling like a drop of acid in her blood and sending it bubbling through her veins.

She didn't expect this at all - she was fully prepared to launch into a discourse about his latest errand, but the fact that he thought of this at all is downright staggering. It twists something inside her, generating an ache that's sweet instead of torturous and before he knows it, she's throwing her arms around him, her sudden laughter filling the flat, startled, yes, but also appreciative - so much so that she defaults into the first impulse she feels that she must act upon. Her eyes are like stars; her grin as bright as the high noon sun.

"You know, I /would/ have been fine with Netflix and Chinese takeout, but /this/!" she exclaims, letting him go to whirl towards the box again. "Oh, John, what an idea, this is amazing!"

Said while she's opening the box, before they could even prepare themselves.

As usual.

She has enough time to grab her boots and jacket and to hand him his coat, all indicative of the fact that now that she can be loosed into a sea of fantasy, she is not wasting a single moment, lacing up her footwear even as green-white smoke causes ripples in the flat and folds over them, a silken caress to the senses, with all the charge characteristic of magic at work. It fills the flat, the entire room, and for a brief moment, they'd lose sight of one another as the intangible layer becomes denser, so thick it's almost solid.

And when the smoke clears, they would find themselves on a crowded thoroughfare, red cabs and vehicles driving on the left side of the road, the din of a city's bustling nightlife pouring from all directions. Older tenements are crushed in between newer, more modern constructs, skyscrapers rising above their heads donned with moving lights, the scent of cigarette smoke, exhaust and food - oh god, food is everywhere - tugging at their noses. Zatanna recognizes this place immediately. They are on Wellington Street.

…in Hong Kong's financial district.

Hong Kong, infamous pirate port, and one of the oldest meccas of magic - the stage and otherwise. A place steeped so deeply in those traditions that even the city planners have taken great care to construct its most significant buildings in points where it would do the most good for its Feng Shui, guaranteeing the flow of prosperity well into the modern age. That is what she is expecting, that perpetual feeling of good vibes, of great fortune; the thing that she remembers most about Hong Kong.

Except she doesn't feel that this time. Something is /wrong/. Whatever has happened, that aura, the exhilarating sensation that anything can happen here - good things, amazing things, has vanished.

Something, or someone, has sucked the well dry. And the city is /screaming/ to get it back.

"….your friend…" Zatanna tells John as she looks around. "….is /very/ good at what she does."

She didn't expect this at all!


And he didn't expect /that/. Her effusive hug has enough impact that he has to steady his prop against the table with one hand, but he has time to get the other one up to touch the place between the wings of her shoulderblades before she twists away again, and in that brief, sweet little moment, he has space enough to feel /good/ about something he's done. It is as alien a feeling to him as any feeling could be, but there it is, and there's something genuinely satisfying about having been the architect of something that could bring out of her, in the blink of an eye, to the effervescent young woman he's accustomed to. With all of the tragedy and suffering of the last month to consider, not even John had realized how badly they all might need a little vacation. Not until she looks at him that way, all vibrating energy and anticipation. It's like a floodlight that bathes the grim, drab determination of their recent day-to-day existence and reveals it for the threadbare thing it has become.

This had been something he'd been planning to do for /her/, and he'd expected to extract his enjoyment from two places: the flawless craft of a friend of his, and her own pleasure in the experiencing of it. Her enthusiasm kindles something in him, though: he finds himself actually looking forward to seeing what it'll all be about.

Of course, he'd expected a little bit more /time/ to prepare.

"Going /now/ then, are we?" He sweeps up his coat and drapes it over his shoulder as it's handed to him, and then in what little time he has left, he does the most sensible thing: he picks up the tumblers and the bottle of Jameson.

Where they land is…familiar.

That was years ago, though. Not long after Ravenscar, in fact.

"Yeah," he says, in answer to her observation, stepping up onto the curb and out of the way of the vehicular traffic, opting to take his chances with pedestrians, instead. His tone of voice is not easy to read. "She is."

And then he lifts the glasses held in one hand, and winks. "I get the feeling we're going to need this."


There's a history, from the evasive murmur, but whether she notices or cares, Zatanna doesn't show it. Her smile remains and she reaches out to pluck the short glass from his hand, her other reaching out to take it instead. She downs the shot in one go and she leaves it on top of a random food stall, to be forgotten as she tugs him through the rush of foot traffic, occasionally looking over her shoulder and flashing him a grin. Winter may have New York City by the brass ones, but in Hong Kong, it is balmly and cool, characteristic of land masses situated so close to the equator. It is the summer that is murder in the archipelago.

The lack of good fortune robs the vibrant city of most of its mystical luster, to civilians, Hong Kong remains brightly lit and full of possibilities, but those who live in their world would feel its emptiness, as if its very soul had been ripped out with the corpse left to languish, to rot under its lack.

"I was still really young the last time I was here," she tells John conversationally as they move. "But I remember everything so clearly - it's old but modern, and there's magic everywhere. I remember Daddy took me to this /place/ - some old building past the Temple Night Market in the Kowloon side and that was the very first time I ever saw real dragon pearls…"

She stops at the crossroads; up a hill and through an intimidating crush of bodies is Lan Kwai Fong, a district popular with expatriates, a maze-like mess of drinking holes, restaurants and antique stores should one get on the higher levels. But the /lack/, the hole where the city's heart used to be, is pervasive, massive enough that she feels it in every direction.

She releases his hand and lifts her fingers to unlatch one of her silver charms off her neck. Twisting the black cord in her fingers, she lets it dangle and spin in the air, turning to look at him.

"Do you remember this trick?" she asks, nodding to the pendulum swing of the trinket. Worthless, at best. Unless…

She waits for John to blow smoke onto it.


With John, there is /always/ a history. With everyone. And it's always complicated, and usually messy, and he'd probably just shrug and make a vague quip that said nothing while pretending to say something, so what's the point of asking, really?

He barely manages to throw back /his/ shot before she gets him by the hand and drags him along through the twisting serpents of pedestrian traffic, bottle and glass left behind. A small part of him wonders what will happen to them when they've completed their journey and the fabrication fades — but only a very small part. The greater part is carefully readjusting the knit of his fingers through hers and trying to take in the vibrant chaos around them. 'Make it exciting,' he'd said, and he didn't doubt that his friend would deliver, but he'd never specified the kind of excitement, and that means it could come from virtually anywhere, anytime. From anyone, or anything. /It isn't reality/, he'd said, /but it isn't a dream/. It sits somewhere between the two, in a place just real enough that you can carry it with you when it's over. That it has the potential to have meaning.

That makes it worth staying on one's toes for.

Funnily enough, John can do quite a lot with an object at the end of a string, though none of them have applications here, so the initial lift of the thing prompts only a slight upward tick of one light brown brow. "Is it the trick that winds up with you taking half of my shite, luv? Cos I'm not interested in that one. You're not going to get down on one knee, are you?"

He can feel it — emptiness where there used to be thrumming life. It had been a threnody of mystical energy, conduits that flowed freely, like underground rivers of light. The lack is strange and hollow, everything dimmed and muted, like a photograph left too long in the sun, colors bleached away. Is that a part of the scenario tailored so beautifully for them, or a limitation of the magic itself?

He keeps the lighter she gave him in breast pocket of his coat, and retrieves it, along with the pack of cloves. "Last time we did this I seem to remember you swearing we'd never do it again," he says around the cigarette, hand cupped in front of it, lighter flicked on and lifted. But what's life without a pile of regrets to hang one's hat on?

He obliges her silent request, sending a stream of smoke through the ring that most people assume is nothing more than mere ornament, along with the rest of the kitsch on those cords.

Always assuming in the wrong direction, people are.


Taking half his shite?

Zatanna blinks at him once, then turns her ice-blue eyes at the silver ring dangling from the cord. "What are you— oh. /Oh/." For a moment, she actually looks somewhat flummoxed, dovetailing immediately to the rare embarrassment that floods color to the high arches of her cheeks. A hand is up in an instinctive gesture, swatting his shoulder and giving him a look. "This may be very difficult for you to swallow, but not every man or woman in the history of /ever/ is out to marry you or worse bear your children. Besides, did you ever stop to consider that maybe /I'm/ not the marrying type either?" Her brows perk upward at that, and while there is mischief there, the truth rings from under the brassy syllables.

But he brings up the last time and the memories are there, and her exasperated expression fades in lieu of a laugh, inclining her head at him; there's a smile, winsome in its bent. "Only because it never leads to anything but trouble, but considering your friend made this for you and me and if she knows you well, that is precisely what we're doing while we're here, so no use holding back, yeah? Come on…" She wiggles the charm. "Thrill me, John Constantine."

He obliges her at last, white-gray smoke clings to the silver charm like a ghost, gathered there and lingering. It clings like incense from a burner, ready to swing when the holder is ready, and swing she does. Fingers knot on the black cord as she spins the length deftly with one hand, the silver charm and its spectral burden whirling around and around in empty air as smoke trails spills from it, threads spooling further and further away the longer she spins. They all converge, eventually, twisting into one another like rope, leading towards a narrow road heading east - towards the very heart of Hong Kong's central district and its myriad of luxurious hotels.

There's a grin.

"Well, there it is. Come on, John. It's not every day we get to recklessly trod in a vortex of good fortune. What's the worst that could happen?"

Always the jinx. Always the propensity to kick sand into the eye of the universe.

Light steps take her down the road, tilting in a lazy, graceful loop so she could walk backwards, her hands in her pockets. She hasn't stopped smiling since she arrived.

Hong Kong will always, always have a special place in her heart.

The smoke trail leads them to the Gold Peak, though the Cantonese symbols may very well spell something completely different - her Chinese on that end is somewhat rusty, though she can get by conversationally. The glass double doors part to grant them entry, and just by the lobby alone, one could immediately sense that the place oozes money. It adopts the Eastern minimalist-modern aesthetic, though outside of the fine marble floors and the towering columns, what makes the hotel distinct are the mirrors - paneling the walls, the ceiling, interwoven with clear, crystalline glass and red and gold satin accents.

There is /something/ here, an underlying pulse, thrumming all over and making their hair stand on end - in a good way.

The thing that is missing in the city is here, stuffed into such a smaller space that it is practically bursting with it. And Zatanna isn't immune to it, her exuberance plain for everyone to see, nearly glowing as she breathes it in. All the good energy, the concentrated power of Fortune, emanating somewhere in the bowels of this building.

"Excuse me, are you guests here?"

The security guard is there, and unlike the western hemisphere, they are allowed to carry firearms. He squints at the new arrivals.

"You're going to have to check in at the front desk."


"Are you saying I'm not already thrillin' as it is?" He watches the ring whip around in a circle, waits for her to work her knack, and puts the rest of that cigarette to good use, flares of ember from the end bathing his expression in golden light that triumphs over even the neon haze they find themselves standing in.

The vision they occupy accommodates this twist in the narrative seamlessly, unspooling a veil of smoke that tunnels, tightens like a tornado and barrels off into the comparative darkness of another avenue — toward an island of light in the distance.

'What's the worst that could happen?'

John heaves a sigh, scuffs one shoe on the ground and lets his head sloooooowly tilt back, aiming blue eyes at the night sky, stars hopelessly obliterated by the sheer amount of terrestrial light that Hong Kong emanates. No one will answer his beseeching gaze heavenward. "Always, with the tempting fate. You oughta know better than that with me around. An' I know this is scripted, but bollocks to that. If anybody could derail it it'd be /us/."

Particularly when he contemplates the ramifications of placing himself, Wedge of Destiny, at the center of a wellspring of luck.

He can't find it in himself to be more than superficially exasperated. The heavy weight he's seen hanging on her shoulders has sloughed off. When she's happy, she practically floats.

He feels it long before they step into the lobby, like a golden bell ringing in his chest, the resonance of which increases with every last meter they close on the hotel. It makes the hair follicles of his scalp tingle, swirling up from feet to skull, distracting enough that the grandeur of the room and the question they're being asked come in distant second and third as elements vying for his attention.

One hand dips into his pocket, lifts a playing card, aims it at the querent. Nine of diamonds. "'Course we're guests," he says through the slash of a smile.

And that's John: he doesn't even hesitate to lie to a lie.

The fingers of his other hand twitch in the air, playing in the almost magnetic force of Hong Kong's stolen fortune.

"Best guess, luv: up or down?"


The security guard squints at the Nine of Diamonds, dark brows furrowing - but the tension eases and he nods, waving them in.

"Sorry about that," he tells both. "Had to check, you know how it goes." And with that, he pivots to head back to his patrol.

"Best guess?" Zatanna wonders, chewing on her bottom lip as her eyes cast over the mirrors, the red and gold regalia, and glass so clear it was almost invisible. "I'll have to take a look at the elevator," she says, reaching out to tug the cuff of his coat before she takes off again. Her boots click over fine marble, her steps blending in seamlessly with the rest of the ambient noise - the air is full of chatter, in different languages. Hong Kong was as ever a melting pot, even in a state between dreams and reality.

The elevators are large and modern, though the doors are steel instead of glass, but there is plenty of that here - a dragon with its never-ending coils is carved in painstaking detail in the back, precise work by a master in the art. The elevator buttons are unusual in the sense that there are numbers clearly skipped over in spite of the building's towering height. Close perusal indicates that no digit carries the number 4, a token of ill luck in Eastern ideology.

"…it's an engine," Zatanna remarks in sudden realization. "The mirrors, the colors, all that glass…" To siphon all the good fortune, while keeping out the bad….and as a consequence, letting it bleed out into the streets.

But if this entire construct is a never-ending spring of Good Luck, then…

She turns her back to the buttons. Without looking, her hand moves to push one - it falls on the ninth floor.

To John, there's a wink.


John arches his brows at the guard as he's tugged by the lapel, and the guard does his dead-level best to look as though he hadn't noticed. He's whistling something meaningless as he trails along behind her, taking it all in. The luxury of the place. Red and gold: the richest palette in human history. And he looks so incredibly out of place in it, in spite of the fact that his mode of dress is actually several notches above the average American male's, even disheveled: a tie every day? Even one he wears as though he can barely stand it at all?

Which is why it may come as a surprise when he steps in and the doors close and he opines, "We should see about booking a stay in the real deal once we finish saving the world again."

The shot he took ten minutes ago is doing its work, keeping his shoulders loose in spite of the way that force is filling him up like an overinflated balloon. He has no criticism for her methods: this isn't a learning experience, it's supposed to be an adventure. One does not adventure carefully. It defeats the purpose. He watches her pick a floor and rolls with it, though he gets another wry look when he sees which number she's chosen. "Nine, huh. You sure you're not planning to propose? I'm just saying, white's really not my color."

The shot is also inducing what might fairly be described as 'poor impulse control.' A little thought occurs, dropping into his skull like the distillation of a bad idea, mingling with Jameson and the mild endorphin high of doing something new and different, and she might have just enough time to see him consider it in the slight squint of his eyes before he's moving to act on it.

It's just a half step to put him into the space in front of her, back to that panel, and then it's warm hands on her hips and his tilting head, thin slashes of brown lash over thinner crescents of pale eyes, leaning in and pausing just long enough to allow himself a Puck's smile, and then in, and in, and —


The feeling of hot filaments in his face is still present, even here, braiding throughout the hollows of his skull and the marrow of his bones. His lean veers off at the last possible moment, crown pressed to the cool inside of the elevator, which he heavily mists with the world's most long-suffering sigh.

"Bollocks," he tells it, voice muffled.

Well, it had been worth a try.



"Sure," Zatanna quips, because any excuse to go back to Hong Kong - the real city - is not something she could resist. "But you're gonna have to warn me ahead of time whether it's going to be a two-bedroom suite, so I can sufficiently /curb my expectations/." She's unable to help it, throwing him a look that's exasperated but also amused, referencing in so many words their failed attempt at sharing the same bed just a few nights before, and how she woke up the next morning confused to find him sleeping on the floor near Chas' couch. There's a hint of a laugh there, and a vaguely apologetic expression, knowing full well whose fault it actually was that things turned out the way it did. She /did/ warn him though. She did protest. But it doesn't change the fact that everything was fine until she decided unbuckling his belt for him was a good idea. How, in the history of the universe, is that supposed to alleviate /any awkwardness/?

Anyone who spends any amount of time with John Constantine knows that he is a veritable font of bad ideas most days, and with it comes a certain look - it's nothing overt, not at first, but the tell is always in those eyes. Pale in their own wont, but a shade darker than hers, they gleam the spark of it, liquor and anticipation inducing some volatile alchemy. She feels the charge in the air before he closes the distance and a boot takes a half-step back, feeling it wedge against the metal panels behind her. Her eyes grow wide, her pulse ratcheting up immediately, the beat of hummingbird wings thrumming at the tender hinge where her jaw meets her neck. Warmth and the breadth of his hands span over her hips, causing her stomach to dip along with the lift of the elevators…

But he's going for it and she doesn't find it in her to resist. Lashes drop like heavy ebon curtains, her head tilting back against the panels behind her. A hand lifts to twist into the length of his tie.

"…this is a bad idea, Constantine," she murmurs, practically tasting his smile.

Maybe Luck. Maybe /all that Luck/. Maybe…

And he veers off. She hears the thud he makes on the space by her head, and she sags against the wall with a quiet groan, an exhalation of frustrated breath. Against his /ear/, brushing over the inner shell.

/This is what he gets/.

A hand lifts to cup the back of his head, fingers skimming over his hair.

"Maybe you should drop all implications of a proposal," she tells him. "It's probably a curse. You're already cursed. Do you really want to double down?" She does plant a consolation kiss on his temple as the elevator signals that they've reached their destination and the double doors open….

…to the face of a very large - very monstrously large - amalgamation of several fantastic beasts. The head of a dragon, the body of a lion, it takes up the front courtyard of what appears to be a /massive/ asiatic palace in the background. The Qilin is known, at the very least, as a benevolent creature, but it's clearly a guardian in this stolen wellspring of luck.

It practically /jams/ its face into the elevator, taking a deep whiff of these unannounced visitors. The intake of breath nearly sucks in the both of them right into its right nostril, and really, that'd be pretty gross.

There's a yelp from Zatanna, bracing one hand on the elevator's back rails while the other clutches at John.

"Wh- what do we do?!" she cries. "I don't want to hurt it! Do we talk to it?"


"I," he tells her, very matter-of fact, "Am going to lose my mind."

And now that everyone is aware and has been fully informed, he plants his hands on the wall behind her and levers himself upright, away, resignation writ in the line his shoulders make. He tilts his head and grinds his ear against one of those shoulders, scraping off the lingering ghosts of that momentary contact with a brief flash of annoyance. Those are the kinds of things a man ought to want to make last as long as possible, and Giovanni is just —

/Ruining./ /Everything./

He'd dwell, but he just doesn't have time to. The doors part, and then there's a massive nostril that he can see an arms' length into, inhaling a breath so deep that he feels it tug at his coat. Blue eyes widen, then tighten.

She grips at him, asks his opinion, and he glances down at her and /shrugs./ "I don't think hurting's in the cards, luv. This'n isn't the one we have to worry about, I expect."

Very gently, he encourages her up off of the side of the elevator and shifts to a place more central to the doors. "Go easy on the huffing and puffing, Falcor, we're non-narcotic," is how he chooses to begin this conversation with one of the most ancient mystical beasts in all of human civilization. "Just, eh, we couldn't help but notice the rest of the city's got dead-leg from all of the luck being squirreled away here, and we were wondering what that's all /about/."


She would be quicker in the very real assertion that he isn't the only one who is suffering, but old, mythical beasts from legend take priority even as she clings insistently to the back rail of the elevator. It's only with John's gentle guidance that she manages to release her grip and take a step towards the doors, her eyes wide as dinner plates. Surprise, shock, bleeds away almost immediately as both of them move out of the elevators and into the courtyard. Curiosity replaces it instead and while not a stranger to strange things in the world, this definitely takes the cake. She has yet to encounter her first dragon, though she has come across many fae, and a Qilin itself is rare, ever solitary creatures, only appearing to herald the coming of a great sage.

Which she is most certainly not. But John does qualify. Either it is present because of /him/, or whoever sits inside of that palace.

It is massive - like any other dimensional anomaly, its presence here makes no sense, and once the beast has ascertained that they don't appear to be armed, and that they come in peace (maybe, hopefully), its four legs move to let them pass, wandering over to the fountain in the middle of the stone courtyard. It flops there, tail flicking, and proceeds to lick at its paws like a giant dragon-cat. It doesn't seem all that inclined to answer John's question but it is at least letting them pass, presumably to speak with the person who has these answers.

Zatanna feels it acutely, the thrill, of going through the front door and seeing what's beyond. Her smile is back and after a glance at her companion, she's already moving, moving, moving…

And throwing the double doors open, announcing her presence like….well, a Zatara. The wooden appendages bang thunderously against either sides of the massive doorframe.

A thin cloud of jade butterflies drifts along with the scent of peonies. Within the central sanctum is a massive chamber, with ceilings so high they are rendered invisible by the clear, white light spilling down at them from an indeterminate source. Banners made from crimson silk criss-cross the space, draping over columns, twining around the palace's circular heart. Monkeys, wrought out of mother of pearl, gleam as they do their work, rolling out more and more of those crimson sashes, stark against white stone and splashing them like blood trails over the intricately carved floor. A golden phoenix drifts overhead, circling lazily but never perching anywhere.

It is beautiful. It is incredible. It is…

…a /massive/ magical cheat, and as Zatanna's astonished eyes find Constantine's, he would know she reaches the same conclusion he does. A /palace/, with all the bells and whistles, crammed in a building fortified and transformed into an engine meant to suck Hong Kong dry of its great well of Fortune. The Qilin standing guard outside, the phoenix, the butterflies made out of jade, the monkeys made out of pearl, the golden, intense, /impossible/ threads of potent magical energy filling this place to bursting. The vastness of it, the /complexity/. Whoever had done this must be /insane/, fighting tooth and nail every moment to keep from getting torn apart by these magical ambitions, for it always costs, and with the grand tableau before them, it is obviously /very expensive/.

A pale woman sits amidst where the crimson banners converge, a silken throne in which to rest her slender frame, long bare legs dangling in the air. Endless rivers of black hair, ornate headdress, her red cheongsam directly attached to all of these crimson banners. She is beautiful, in a very otherworldly way. While Zatanna has heard of her, she has never met her in person.

Graceful Moon - the secret witch-queen of Hong Kong.

Hoarding all of the city's Fortune magic to herself.

"My, my my," she muses, long fingernails tapping on her knee. "John Constantine, the mage who never knocks. And you've brought Zatara's daughter to me as well? Is she to be your tribute?"


John is not a stranger to dragons, but that story is..

…it's awkward.

He's more familiar with Dragon Lines, the fingerprints of God left behind during the making of the mortal plane. Like, and yet unlike, ley lines. And something altogether separate again from the channels of luck running like the liquor of Fate through Hong Kong, funneled here for who-knows-what-purpose. So many different strands in one massive web of power, always under assault by the Host's most favored creations, mortal mankind. It's like humanity simply cannot help itself: it scents the everlasting in the air and rather than embrace all of life's richness, made the more potent by the knowledge that it will not last, and their time to sip from that overflowing cup ever-so-brief…they spend all of their time fighting, railing against the inevitable end.

Buddhists say that the origin of all human suffering is attachment, a sentiment that Young John (with the world at his arrogant fingertips) found repellant, and Present John understands altogether too well, though he views that truth through the filter of his own cynicism. It's not attachment to /things/ that causes suffering, as Young John so flippantly assumed, it's attachment as expectation. The desire or expectation that something be other than what it is. Attachment to people and things, but also ideas. Events. Beliefs.

And what is magic, if not the will of one person, imposed upon a world in order to alter it to fall in line with that single soul's expectations of it…?

John doesn't spend his time crossing the courtyard thinking those things in any conscious way, but he does get the vague feeling that he's been here before, and that interests him: this is all false. It shouldn't trigger his sensitivity to Synchronicity. And yet.

As Zatanna does what she always does, grasping the barrier to further mystery and simply prising it open without care or caution, he stops in his tracks, a yard or two behind her.

/That/, he recognizes.

"Aw, Christ," is the mutter underneath his breath. Hands go into pockets. He strolls. Slowly. And he stops at the threshold, the place just before the floor yields to pristine white. Pale eyes track gleaming, milk-green butterflies, sweep across the grandeur of sumptuous red on white — always liked that combination, him — and take in the rest of what there is to see without much in the way of wonder.

"I'm not the one who opened the door without knockin' this time. Shouldn't think I /need/ to bring you tribute, but I'll let 'tanna decide for herself if she wants to be some sort of…tariff."

Behind closed lips, he tucks his tongue up along the side of his upper teeth, sucking for a moment. Squinting. "Quite a show you're putting on," he says, casually. "'Oo's it for?"


"That would be a resounding no. I'm not currency. And really, that assumption's starting to get mighty annoying," Zatanna tells Graceful Moon with a sniff, though she angles John a look that unmistakeably says: 'You've /met/ her?'

This is Graceful Moon's domain, however - her will governs this space, so it is perhaps expected that a few of the crimson banners manage to snake around the young magician's form, tugging her forward and up, her surprised yelp echoing in the chamber as she's brought to the other woman up until she's eye-level with her. Those blank eyes peer at Zatanna's face, a long fingered hand moving to seize her chin to tilt her cheek this way and that.

Nothing else to it. While the black-clad young lady doesn't struggle, the inspection does yield her usual brass: "Keep acting like a grandmother and I'll start to assume you're much older than you look."

"I suppose that in the eyes of an /infant/, everyone would look old."

"Well, you know. Age before beauty and all."

The barb to her vanity has the corner of Graceful Moon's lip twitching upwards. The expression is not pleasant. Those blank eyes leave her to rest on Constantine.

"She's just as interesting as you are, Constantine," she says blandly, snapping her fingers. The crimson banners drop Zatanna, though she manages to slow her descent, landing on the pristine white floor, her knees bending to soften the blow. "I'm surprised you haven't broken her open yet to inspect the contents and take those secrets for yourself. But perhaps Fate has deemed it fit to give me the privilege, instead."

But the /question/. She leans back against her crimson slings, one leg hooking the back of her knee on top of the other. Those long fingernails keep tapping.

"If I said it was all for me, and me alone, would you believe me?" she wonders, canting her head sideways. "…no, no I suppose you wouldn't. That answer would be so terribly unsatisfying, wouldn't it? We magicians are a highly egotistical lot, no matter what brand of cloth we're cut out of, so while that wouldn't be surprising at all, the appeal of whatever game there is would be virtually non-existent."

She taps her fingernail against her bottom lip.

"What would you offer me, then, for a truthful answer?"

There's a glance at the young Zatara. "Or you can reconsider, and make his life a little easier," Graceful Moon remarks. "I'd love to examine you thoroughly. I might even let go of all this…" She waves towards the massive chamber. "…for the chance."

"/No/," Zatanna replies emphatically. "You expect me to believe that? The moment you let go, the city'll eat you alive. It's screaming for what it's lost."


John catches that glance out of the corner of his eye, and turns his head to meet it. The movement of his shoulder is so slight it's barely there at all.

It's complicated.

(It's always complicated.)

And then the beautiful /harridan/ in the chamber is taking liberties with Zatanna that she wasn't given permission for, and John finally crosses the boundary between the courtyard and the interior of the room of glamours, brows gathering together just enough to imply distant thunderstorms.

/It's not real,/ comes the thought. /It's only cinema./

For whatever reason, though, he can't quite convince his hackles.

He does manage to hold his tongue — at first. Zatanna is more than capable of giving as good as she gets, verbally and otherwise. His tension as she's dropped is waylaid by the mild interference of all of those winding, eeling sheets of silk.

'I'm surprised you haven't broken her open yet to inspect the contents and take those secrets for yourself,' says Graceful Moon.

"Who says I haven't?"

He dons a lid-eyed smirk as she muses about her purpose. "Honestly, Moon? I would believe it, yeah. Who else would even be /interested/ in all of this kitsch? I mean…don't get me wrong, I like Wuxia as much as the next bloke, but…pearl monkeys? Come on. It's a bit much, innit? The real crime is the Qilin, though. Poor bastard. It's not a bloody guard dog for your dollhouse." Disappointment, mostly, in his tone of voice.

Alleviated, somewhat, by Zatanna's pointed remark. "'tanna studied with me a while," he says, taking shameless credit for her cunning. Giovanni isn't here to dispute the point, and, well — bollocks to /him/.

Still, he's been asked a question, and he drags in a very long, deep breath, arming himself with it for the sigh he just knows is going to follow engaging this individual on any kind of level playing field whatsoever. "What can a man possibly have to offer a woman with so /many/ toys? So many glittering, lifeless, pointless, meaningless, lovely toys? You 'eard 'tanna. She's off the table, an' you know better. That's not a hill you want to die on, luv. Besides," he adds, with a flick of eyes in Zee's direction, "Looks like you've built yourself a fine house of cards here, and if there's one thing our Zatanna knows, it's how to knock those over."

It's a compliment! …probably?


'Who says I haven't?'

Zatanna's lips have parted to deliver another scathing commentary - something she can't help, the woman is gorgeous, was clearly looking down at her, and she has a past with John, which could really mean anything but a passionate creature such as herself is if anything susceptible to envy and the occasional stirrings of insecurity that slip through the walls of her raging self-confidence now and again - when those white-hot fires sputter out and she turns her head to gawk at him, unsure whether to take it literally or as an innuendo. Both possibilities are equally mortifying.

The visible reaction from the younger woman and the smirk from John has Graceful Moon slowly lifting one elegant eyebrow. A look that says: /Speaking of houses built of cards/.

"I'm rather surprised that you're censuring me for being theatrical when you're fully capable of that yourself," Hong Kong's witch-queen replies. "Almost as surprising as your belief that this stripling can best me in my own domain, when I've been sitting here bathing myself in the endless fountain of good fortune that this city provides for years. No deal, then? And here I was looking forward to negotiations. Have you lost your taste for it?"

There's an irritated twitch on Zatanna's brow. "Didn't think you were the golden shower type," the young woman remarks. Despite the flash of that visible flashfire temper in those eyes, she manages to keep her voice level. "But sure, let's assume that I can't figure something out. That always works out /so well/ for everyone who's dealt with me before." Those old frustrations bubble forth, recalling the most recent events - Hanussen and the book, Bruce and his attack, the hellementals in Benji Raymond's office. There's something to be said about appreciating the way people underestimate her constantly, but taking it from a breathtakingly attractive, exotic witch who was also sassing John in her own way makes it all even more unbearable somehow.

"You've not dealt with /me/ before, child," Moon replies with a narrowing of those all-white eyes. "So I suggest you stay out of this conversation between your /betters/."


What John meant isn't written clearly in the lines of his face, and he doesn't look at Zatanna when she gawks, either. Nor does it change much when he's criticized by the woman in the red cheongsam. For whatever it might ultimately mean, John is playing his cards fairly close to the chest.

But then the ladies start to…

…to do that thing ladies do.

"Come on, leave it out," he puts in, with enough volume to — he hopes — forestall any further dangerous bickering. "I'll play if that's what you want, Moon, but here's the crack: Zee's out of bounds, an' I'm not having a giggle about that. I will tear this bloody theme park of yours down to the sodding ground first, and piss on the rubble for a finale. It's not negotiable, luv." One hand slides from his pocket, lifts to scratch at his sternum. His mood has tilted, aided in large part by that continuing background hum of deja vu, or something like it. This was supposed to be /good/ for Zatanna, something revitalizing, to help her forget that she's been locked up in a cage that doesn't even have the decency to be gilded.

She does not seem as though she's having a good time. That, more than anything to do with the miserable cow in the chamber of wonders, bothers him.

/Maybe that's what she needs. Somebody to fight. Something to overcome./

Yeah, and maybe she's sick of having to do all of the above. Maybe he should've been more specific about what kind of excitement he meant.

/Maybe it's too late to worry about it./ And maybe there's a reason things are happening this way, rather than any other. Maybe there's something here.

"You're the one who wants to haggle. You set a price, and I told you bollocks to it. What's your counter-offer?"


Is it though?

Looking at her now, with her eyes bright and her cheeks flushed, Zatanna is /raring to go/ and all she really needs is an excuse to do it. It could go either way, and there's really no way of knowing until he asks, but she is always at her best when there is a mountain to scale, or a puzzle to solve, to further her education in the mystical arts and hopefully, in the process, unravel her own mysteries. Adventure is the fuel that drives the engine of that wild, reckless heart and she has energy to burn. Maybe somewhere in the back of her mind, she remembers this is all imagination brought to life, wondering how the real Graceful Moon actually is in and whether their interactions out in the world would be the same or different as here…

(Oh who was she kidding, she'd still hate her guts.)

But when John speaks up and makes no bones about the fact that his companion is off the table, the young woman pauses, staring at him openly from where she stands. She knows what John is capable of, has seen him in action, but his arts tend to be extremely subtle - manipulations, small tricks. The idea of him tearing down Graceful Moon's chamber of wonders and pissing on the ashes - she knows he can do it, though whether it is out of faith or a tremendous bias, even she doesn't know, but the declaration and the serious intensity behind it takes her breath away. It feels like an age, a lifetime, since she's seen him actually /work/.

And judging by the other woman's face, Hong Kong's secret witch-queen is also intrigued.

"Interesting," she murmurs, settling back against her scarlet cradle, her fingers steepling together. "Very well, if you're so confident that you could indeed bring down my sanctum, by all means, I'd like to see you try."

She lifts a finger. "/Not/ literally, of course. I'll give you ten minutes and if you manage to tell me how my defenses can be breached, I'll answer whatever questions you desire. Is that a fair counter-offer? That way, we both benefit. And /trust/ me, Constantine, the configurations here are significantly different from the last time you were here, so don't expect whatever trick you devised in your head the last time you came calling at my door to work. You're going to have to find another way."

It could be the truth. Or it could be a bluff. There's no real way to tell with Graceful Moon, it isn't as if her eyes could give it away.

The challenge is a curious one; Zatanna's irritated expression gradually fades, though there's a hint of disappointment there that /she/ won't get to show the woman what for. But it fades entirely when her ice-blue eyes level towards John from across the way. Amidst frustration, temper and curiosity lies her faith, her pride.

The fact that some things have not changed - she is still /thrilled/ to watch him work.


A not-insignificant amount of John's work begins with sheer bravado; bluffs, boasts and threats that he somehow, incredibly, manages to pull off in the end. It usually requires leaning on his connection to Fate to make the impossible happen, and the results are not always clean — Pyrrhic victories and John are two things that go hand in hand — but even so, not even John is always sure just how many of the things he says are true, and how many are lies he's told himself that he believes with absolute conviction.

In this particular case, he feels he's on solid ground. The state of affairs is outrageously unnatural, and everyone involved knows it. Imbalances like this one yearn for rebalancing. That, in and of itself, is enough to suggest vulnerability.

He lifts a hand, extends it in Zatanna's direction. "Think I'll have a little natter with my partner in crime, yeah? Outside."

Near the Qilin, maybe. Something about that situation doesn't quite sit right.


Graceful Moon gives a sidelong glance at Zatanna, as if pondering whether she ought to allow it, but considering her words from earlier, she can't back down now. To prevent the young woman from assisting Constantine might lend the impression that she /does/ see the infant trickster as a threat, and she won't countenance that kind of humiliation either. As she stated before, mages, no matter what cloth they're cut out of, are an egotistical lot.

Zatanna takes her silence for acquiescence meanwhile, taking up a quick trot towards the entrance of the palace and down to the courtyard to join him. Those striking-unsettling irises are already sweeping through the palace, its environs, mystic senses stretching out and following the intersecting, layering, golden threads that she sees - the entire place looks like an intricate loom of the shimmering, gossamer stuff, Fortune and its favors rilling down the endless strands like dew slipping down fine spiderwebs. But she finds no loophole, not yet. She already has a theory, judging by the look in those eyes, but the nature of it changes as she espies something in the woodwork that changes her mind entirely.

"I thought about displacement," she tells him quietly, her hands slipping into her pockets. "Cutting her off from her feed and squirreling her magic away for just a few seconds and let the city take care of the rest, but I think she's already thought of that." She nods towards the chamber and its intricate floor carvings. "She was careful to put down anchors, so any incantations of that kind would only tug and drag at her power, but not remove it, they render it too 'heavy' to lift and put elsewhere."

She follows his gaze towards the Qilin. "What are you thinking?" she wonders. "You think it might be trapped here?"


It says something about Zatanna that she spends the first few moments of their solitude, outside of Moon's mystical boudoir — shrine to self-importance, more like — engaged in the act of seeking answers, rather than becoming a fountain of cutting remarks. He wouldn't have begrudged her the latter, but the choice she makes goes some distance toward settling some of his growing reservations.

"I think it might be /high/." One of John's brows dips inward, but it relaxes as he tucks his hands into his trouser pockets and turns to face her, keeping his voice low. "They're supposed to be able to sense wickedness. Makes no sense, does it? Hanging 'round here, looking out for /Moon/, of all people. She gives me a run for my money in wicked. Or did," he adds, thoughtfully, glancing over his shoulder at the blaze of white light slashed with red, a wedge of the room beyond visible through the doors.

"There's not supposed to be this much luck in one place. I don't know, maybe it's pissed off it's 'ead. An' you know there's got to be another locus like this one out there somewhere, or the potential for one. Yin to all this bloody Yang." It's the mere fragment of a thought, not even — as Zatanna's spider-monkey-wielding tenant from space would say — twelve percent of a plan. And it's with that in mind that he pulls his focus back around to the pale-eyed young woman in front of him, ducking his chin. "You said something in the elevator on the way up about the configuration of things, and I was too busy being disappointed to ask. What've you got, then?"


Her efforts, now, are focused on beating the beautiful harridan in the room and the thrill of the challenge is even more intense now that she tastes the spite behind the motivation to do so. Zatanna practically radiates with the desire, situated so close to him, those eyes burning to the point of white-blue luminescence. There's a hint of a smirk too, just a touch, on the corners of her mouth as she looks at him, the ticking of her pulse suggestive of an elevated heartrate, throbbing at the side of her throat and inched into the sensitive hollow. The fact that the Qilin might be /high/ does have her pausing, giving the creature a more considering look as it worries its paws, long, reptillian tongue flicking at the soft, feline pads and the long, dangerous claws.

"…the peonies," she says, taking another whiff of the air. "It's for good luck, yeah, but for memory also. Maybe the smell's messing with him - animals are more sensitive to scents, yeah? Maybe it doesn't remember Moon's wicked ways, or maybe….I don't know. Maybe it doesn't remember that it's a Qilin?" She is no expert, she's never seen one before, and walking over to the beast, as always reckless, and too willing to /touch/ something alive, she rests her hand on the lower end of the voluminous mane.

It keeps licking its paws, doesn't even seem to register the way Zatanna is stroking its mane. A visible frown tugs on the raven-haired woman's lips.

Wandering back over to Constantine, his question gives her another pause, trying to remember what she had been trying to say before he….tried to do what he did. "That it was an engine," she says, recalling it. "Everything about the building is designed to hold good fortune - the red, the fact that there's no 4 in any of the numbers, the…"

A germ of an idea worms into her head.

"John, the place is designed not just to keep good luck in," she begins slowly, chewing on her bottom lip. "…but to keep /bad luck/ outside also. So what happens if bad luck manages to come in anyway?" She takes a step forward, tilting her head up to his ear, whispering softly.

"How much for just /one/ broken mirror? Seven years?"


"Hell if I know," John says, looking at the Qilin, of its memory. He watches her reach out, fearless as ever, to stroke some part of it, and be roundly ignored.

Though he makes a good show of being disaffected by all of the glittering showmanship on display — and his disdain for such lavish waste is /real/ — he can't help but spend a moment admiring the great beast, curled up like a great cat, all muscle and magic. There's a part of John left that resembles the young and impertinent magus he used to be, hungry — always hungry — for wonders. That would cost him /dearly/ eventually, but he's not so far gone from himself that he can't taste awe anymore.

Focused, serious blue eyes remain with her while she muses her way through their earlier, truncated conversation, and when she asks that last question there's a subtle change to their shape. He keeps his voice low. "I think you're onto something. I'm not exactly brushed up on my /Feng Shui/, but there's a lot to do with mirrors. They reflect Chi, but if I'm remembering right, they don't really discriminate between the good and the bad. So it can't be a straightforward funnel, yeah? Because otherwise it'd just be taking everything in through the front door, or pushing it all out. It must just be completely isolated from all of that outside energy, for now. Cycling, like. A pond. And you can't just reposition the mirrors to push all of it out into the street. There's a Qilin here. Maybe she'd just replenish. So I imagine," he adds, brow sliding upward, "If you were to do that instead, bring in the bad luck, you'd poison the bloody well. Maybe you'd run off the Qilin. Maybe—"

He hesitates. There's a long moment of nothing, followed by a gaze that seeks hers, blanched almost white in the light of the courtyard. "Are we sure we actually /care/ about the answer to my question this much? Because the condition was to tell her how someone could bring the place down, it wasn't doing it. And then she gets to patch the hole. Constantine and Zatara, security consultants?" Skepticism paints itself across his brow.


'Are we sure we actually /care/ about the answer to my question this much?'

He sees it blossom, bloom like a rose - that megawatt smile, bright enough to put the wonders in the other room to shame. That same soul-burn only intensifies at the question, and as Constantine furrows his brows at her, she eases back just a little so he could see the expression on her face. Fearless, as always, and mischievous, even more dangerous - armed with the necessary skills and means to cause a hefty amount of destruction whenever she chooses. The world is indeed blessed that more often than not, the younger Zatara is governed by the better angels of her nature, driven to do good, to see the good in others, to encourage it. And it is probably not all too surprising that her motivations would be more altruistic than not, because even while he wrestles visibly with the choice, just by looking at that pale, comely mien, that she already made the decision well before she stepped outside of Graceful Moon's boudoir to join him in the courtyard.

That smile. Always that smile.

"/Nope/," she tells him, as cheerful as can be.

"The deal she made was with /you/, John," she reminds him. "Not with me. Once you figured it out, I /fully intended/ to bring down her golden chamber of self-indugence down around her head anyway. Feminine posturing aside, I don't know about you, but I /love/ Hong Kong and the fact that it feels so empty outside grinds my gears."

With that, she holds up her hands, her palms facing towards him.

"If she complains," she tells him deadpanned. "If she's /intact/ enough to complain, just give her your usual smile and go 'sorry, love, I tried to talk 'er out'o it, but she's just too damned irresistible.' "

She lifts her chin, a defiant tilt to her jaw. She wiggles her fingers in emphasis.

"Come on, baby," she murmurs, not even bothering to suppress another smile that follows. "Use me hard."



John does not immediately look disapproving, but his face does allow for the rise of something like doubt, or at least hesitation. "I know all of this is just.." He lifts one hand, wiggles his fingers, in stereotypical imitation of what most people think magic-casting looks like, "Shadowplay, but it's convincing, innit? Striving for authenticity, like. And Moon's no pushover. Sort of a heavyweight. I'll follow you down this hole, 'tanna, but somehow I don't think she's going to be won over by me smile after we burn the 'ouse down."

Still: Hong Kong. There's some truth to that, though his memories of his visit are hardly as untainted as her own. He had not been at his most stable, and in spite of trying to hide from himself in Ravenscar, he'd become an overstuffed lockbox brimming with Synchronicity already, coming into the fullness of whatever off-brand power is his to claim. Wandering Hong Kong with a bullseye on his back, desperate to believe in something that could make him believe in himself.

Dangerous days.

He leans in just a fraction of an inch, voice sotto. "You shouldn't let her get under your skin. You got under hers or she'd never have shown you her claws in the first place. Walking in there, making the most beautiful things she could imagine into existence look shabby by comparison." In the shadows he drops her a quick wink, and then lifts his hands and slides them into hers. "That means you won before the two of you even started bickering."

He's prepared for whatever chaos is about to ensue, but not for her /mouth/. Which is business as usual, isn't it? She slaps him with that sultry invitation and he stands there dumbstruck, waiting for his heart to start back up again, clenching like a fist when it does. "Why." Not a question. Not even remotely a question. A flat and unemotional declaration of despair. "Why, 'tanna." He has to let go of one of her hands and lift it, roughing through his hair and then dragging down over his face in agitation that only barely begins to express the twisting restlessness under the surface, a knot of desire that is rapidly filling the cage it has been placed within, more at risk of outgrowing it by the day. "You'd better /pray/ your da's little cantrip stays where it is, because the moment it goes, I will /utterly/ ruin you." He snaps her hand out of the air with the one that strayed, huffs a tight, short breath out of the breadth of his chest, and closes his eyes, trying to focus. "Bollocks to that. And you, and your — everything — and your bloody da." It's sullen murmuring on his part, theatrical petulance without any real bitterness behind it.


His reassurance as to who he thinks the victor was in her catty spat with Graceful Moon has those lips twisting to a more wicked bent, dark brows lifting at him in emphasis. The smile turns into a full-blown grin, the normally hidden dimple on her left cheek manifesting at her pleasure and the words that follow. "John Constantine. Are you telling me you think I'm pretty?"

That isn't the word he used, but that isn't the point.

Her fingertips splaying over his in a light array, girding herself for the wake of potentially incredible destruction that will follow at this course of action. Flexing her wrists, she slowly flattens both of her palms against his, her own eyes closing. His quiet lamentations trigger a wave of suppressed laughter, which she manages to swallow at the back of her throat. She is not above using humor as a defense mechanism, another something that they share, but considering the fact that they were /both/ suffering, it probably wasn't the best idea to keep poking that particular bear. Thankfully, the lack of actual bitterness does let her relax; considering how good she is suddenly feeling, it would be a pity to dampen the mood.

The longer this goes on, the more she can't help herself, ever the one to let a specific experience swallow her whole no matter the consequences. It's difficult to determine, if Zatanna even remembers that all of this isn't real, with the way she acted towards Graceful Moon, but to her, perhaps it doesn't matter. This was a gift, of a kind, from John Constantine, who has taken great strides to have something customized to keep her from going crazy while trapped in his bunker. Admittedly he /does/ get something out of it, namely he won't have to deal with her going stir-crazy in his flat and that's never fun for any of them, but she chooses to believe that the Englishman was being considerate. This is /rare/, and it is something that she intends to take with her to her dying day.

She feels it seize her, that wave of emotion, threatening to carry her away, even as he swears her utter ruin should the hex ever fall off. Her lips twitch upwards faintly.

"You already wreck me," she confesses, all sweet, aching tenderness.

She doesn't open her eyes as she taps in deep inside of herself, to begin the process of threading her essence with his, to bolster it, to not just lighten but take up the load entirely while he uses his own signature brand of spellcasting to focus their conjoined will; it costs him to do magic, but in all of her life, she has never once paid the ephemeral price that often comes with tremendous power and potential - something that terrifies her, though she has never confided such with anyone. This is familiar too, but it feels new somehow, recalling what he said before about how everything has changed. She tastes the differences, as if their four-month separation had cleansed her palate in that regard.


The surge burns through him, weaves through his blood and sinks deep into his bones; a jolt that tethers his magic to hers and lets it feed, draw from the endless well that resides inside her, to let her pay the cost, because to her, this is free. This process always leaves a tingle, somewhere in the base of her skull, feeling it heat from underneath her skin. She doesn't know whether the same rules apply here, but she does not take any chances and in like circumstances, outside of this non-reality, she would have done the same.


A brick through one of the mirrors might have been enough, but why stop there? The place is covered in them, top to bottom. If you're going to make someone extremely dangerous angry, you might as well go the full mile and make them extremely angry.

He's got an inkling as to how he can do it. As with most of John's magic it comes along as a small sliver of an idea, a piece from one school of thinking that he messily welds to another, somehow making all of it work — will alone, if he's asked, though there's room to debate that point.

It's the sheer saturation of luck as energy — as magic. It plays strange games with the core of who he is: a strange cog in the mechanisms of Fate, a bizarre inhabitant of the center of the Wheel of Fortune, the weight of his life tilting it one way or another in accord with some cosmic purpose he cannot always grasp.

All of this good fortune, pent up in one place by a woman who has somehow managed to achieve absolute mastery over its flow, using it to impose her will on the nature of reality. Not content with the magic available to her in any other way, she's taken something never meant for /this/ and repurposed it to her own ends.

On the night of the gala, when Zatanna tore open the cap on the wellspring of her inhuman connection with magic, she came back to the flat — triumphant, steaming — and found John standing there at the crossroads of a thousand intersecting panes of ephemeral glass, spinning and rotating through and into one another, reflecting the ever-changing dimensions of this plane of existence, all of the different threads that connect it with the possibilities of the infinite. Existential roulette.

When travels Synchronicity waves — when he turns himself over to it, follows on instinct the paths laid out ahead of him to reach some predestined end (if only predestined by his own existence — IT'S COMPLICATED), these interwoven plates and planes align, a path in the labyrinth of possibility forming ahead of him, leading him to the heart of what it is that he's meant to find.

Luck is an integral part of that process, inextricably bound up with the fabric of his soul. He doesn't have to reach out, extend himself. He doesn't need telepathy or telekinesis. He doesn't need to transfigure the mirrors. All he has to do is place the hands of his power on the swirling vortex of luck in the room — hands made massive, vast, empyrean by the infusion of raw power she funnels through him — and turn himself over to Synchronicity.

John is more accustomed to feeling luck move through him than most. He is its conduit and avatar as often as not, although he rarely has any control over it. This tidal rush of fortune, though, potent beyond expression, staggers even John: like leaning to take a sip from a hose, only it's a fire hose open to full blast. It fills him like hot blood made of molten gold, overfills him like a water balloon. It feels as though his ribs creak to contain it, like it pushes outward against the inner confines of his skull. Golden light spills out of his eyes, his nose, his mouth. His flesh illuminates, lit with torchlight from the inside. After that he stops sensing much of anything, because the ghostly transparencies that slice through him and through one another slowly change their orbits, reconfiguring into organized patterns. As the last one slips into place, the Wheel of Fortune tilts and spins. All of the hotel's misbegotten power finds vent through the hole in destiny that he creates: not to hold onto that luck for himself but to make it available to the universe, all control yielded.

The swirling energies become a whitewater rapid. Resonances change, folding back on one another, until things begin to pop loose: not just the anchors so carefully placed to weigh Moon's magic down, but also the foundations of the structure designed to house it. Like watching a bridge in the midst of an earthquake: the ripples amplify one another until the breaking point is reached.

The shattering is immense. Not just mirrors but also glass. Everything, every reflective surface vulnerable to the physical manipulation of Chi is explosively destroyed, metal crumpled, chrome slagged.

It's her raw magic that keeps him from being literally torn apart by the magnitude of what passes through him, though John is, for as long as it lasts, insensate to the effects: adrift, floating somewhere in the non-space he always mentally occupies when Synchronicity slides into the driver's seat.


She shoulders the burden and it barely taxes her, her own essence twisting and binding him tightly, holding onto the pieces of himself before he threatens to break apart under the strain. Somewhere deep inside of herself, Zatanna feels it thrum, the tremors spilling like hot oil dripping down her spine and left to sizzle at the small of her back, matching the burn at the base of her skull where her extraneous Medulla Jewel resides - currently undiscovered, but tapped into whenever she decides to grant access to another mage in this most intimate of mystical connections. Waves of Synchronicity, and the fuel that drives it, spin around her, torrents of power brushing over her skin and setting every nerve on fire. Her heart /pounds/, fast enough to leave her breathless, hard enough that every pulse threatens to shatter her ribs. She shivers with it, shakes with it - the sheer magnitude of it rattles her teeth between closed lips, her brows scrunched together in concentration.

While John remains oblivious to what happens, having given himself over to the great machine that dictates how the universe moves, she feels it all, unable to help it. The quake that shakes the very foundation of this building, the ripples that roll over steel and concrete, stone and glass and finery, hairline fissures spiderwebbing over fragile pressure points and twisting upwards like ivy on trellis. They grow, they spread, and Graceful Moon's inner sanctum is /not/ immune as those cracks split through the anchors that she has placed on the floor, destroying the integrity of those protective circles. The pearl monkeys screech, the cloud of jade butterflies disperse, and the golden phoenix unleashes a wailing cry.

Next to them, the Qilin raises its head, giving it a shake, and opens its mouth to belt out a thunderous roar…

….in time with every single mirror, glass and reflective surface in the hotel to /shatter/, thousands and thousands of them bursting outward and sending glittering shards spraying across the air, transformed to pulverised dust. Time itself slows, gradually freezing the moment they bend and explode. Perhaps it is unsurprising that in such a beautiful space, its destruction would inevitably be just as dangerous, just as lovely, bits and pieces of it showering over them, catching into their hair, their clothes, grazing the exposed lengths of their skin before the seconds catch up, and everything is chaos again.

Within the palace's circular heart, Graceful Moon /screams/.

Her fury manifests as a wave of golden Fortune energy as it destroys the double doors and fells the front columns, beautiful, brilliant and incandescent with /rage/, eyes glowing pure white and the endless lengths of her ebon tresses writhing around her, snakes wrought from ink. An imperious finger points at the both of them, lips curled to bare her teeth in a snarl.


The build up slams into the golden phoenix, enlargening it, converting it into pure, destructive force as it streaks towards them, a screaming comet of burning feathers. Zatanna, having had some practice in splitting her control, no matter how preoccupied she is with one task, disengages a trembling hand from John, calling up a ward to soak up the brunt of the impact. Her feet dig into stone, the shockwave it produces nearly ripping her away from John, but she bends her knees and pushes in, holding it if not just out of pure, spiteful determination.

But she can't do anything else - she's still tethered to him, to tear away from him now would be disastrous to his body, and her forearm shudders at the strain in keeping the shield up, manifested as an intricate, blue-white circle flashing in a suspended state in the middle of her palm. Golden light, intense and extremely capable of obliterating the both of them, circles around them wildly and presses in, with every intent to squeeze into the young woman's defenses, to shatter it like how John shattered every single breakable surface in the Gold Peak Hotel.

The Qilin keeps roaring, thrashing. Its twisted wake brings its tail above their protective bubble, slamming hard on top of it before it slides away. The younger Zatara still manages to hold, despite the attacks on all sides, and she's yet to fully uncap her well.

But it is /taxing/ and her knees start to lock together.

"John…!" she gasps.

She would feel it too, the rush - the deluge is intense enough, hard enough, to break through the sheer, sensory overload she is experiencing as several thousands of years worth of misfortune crashes into the building, the shriek of it deafening, nearly enough to make their ears bleed. The city itself rises from its torpor, as if sensing the sudden hole in Graceful Moon's defenses.

But it doesn't strike. Not yet. It needs more time to process this, more time to recover, and to prepare for the repercussions it is bound to unleash on its secret witch-queen.


The moment she releases John's hand, he drops to his knees, but that does not interfere with the ongoing cascade of power.

The luck here was never meant only for Moon. It belongs to the tapestry of the world and — through that — to other souls and other lives. Its absence has affected the timeline in too many ways to calculate: the heirloom dish that fell from a shelf, destroying the last token of memory an old man retains of his long-deceased wife, sending him into a spiral of apathy that eventually claimed his life, when to have caught it as it fell might have left him alive. Might have left him home when he needed to be, to hear the intruder breaching the window of his young neighbor's house, her muffled cries for help.

The student who was bumped into the street at the wrong moment and run down by a car. The important academic work cut short alongside that life; the disastrous guilt and lingering suffering for everyone in the car, and the impact the accident would have on their relationships, and —

Luck is /important/. It matters. It is not extraneous. It changes history, perhaps more than any other phenomena, because it remains a force beyond the control of men.

'There but for the grace of God go I,' people say. John is not sure that he would ever consider Luck the Grace of God, but it is not an inept description, whatever his feelings about the Heavenly Father may be.

It is exceedingly unwise to take advantage and abuse anyone's good graces. God's most of all.

As the city begins to slowly rouse from its torpor, reawakening to itself, whatever it is that sits on the other end of the conduit that passes luck through John slowly and deliberately takes off its jacket, and throws an upper-cut into the melange of misbegotten creations summoned by Graceful Moon. They are aberrations, trespasses against the cosmos. They were Never Meant to Be. The font of the force that birthed them notices them through the open window of John's soul, and takes issue with their continued existence. It lashes out, rips and tears, slices, shreds, a mystical blender of energies, punishment on the divine scale.

It will do nothing to stop the impending flood of misfortune. Ill luck is no more vital to the meanderings of destiny than its benevolent opposite; it is not an intruder here, but equally a victim of Moon's hubris, its purpose denied without any counterbalancing force at work in the city beyond.

It is dangerous, though. To them. The Wheel of Fortune may have become a Catherine Wheel for breaking the phoenix assaulting Zatanna's ward and alleviated the worst of the peril there, but the inrushing typhoon of misfortune poses grave threats to the pair, mere mortals caught up in a far less pedestrian war.

But John is — well.

Every last cell of him is full to bursting with good luck. He just needs to recover himself enough to vaccinate her against the devastation that's coming.

He pulls. Pulls on her hand, pulls her close.

Years later he'll do this for other reasons: exhale into a mirror, of all things, breathing out the pieces of his soul worn threadbare by his sins, to funnel them into another vessel. He will describe it as 'a supreme moment of spiritual chicanery.' Perhaps this moment is why; perhaps it will serve as a precursor for that later gambit, which will spare him a screaming descent into the pit for the third time.

This time there is no ritual. Just a free hand that reaches for her head, as gilded light pours thickly from his eyes and mouth and gains purpose, seeking a second vessel in /her/.

If he'd ever been asked, John might have described the sensation of Synchronicity as a manipulation of chance, a misdirection of coincidence. Linear time, he would say, melts into a jumble of half-remembered sights and sounds when he's following the path it lays out for him, ignoring the world just enough that it ignores him /back/. An autohypnotic state.

For just a few moments, being invaded by tendrils of luminous material, there is the sensation of everything being /just/ as it's meant to be: for better, for worse. That Zatanna and John are resting in the palm of God.


Everything comes apart at the seams in the only way it could when a mage decides to pervert a force that belongs to everyone for her selfish gain - the devastation that occurs is catastrophic.

Not that the two of them could see it; Graceful Moon is still shrieking epithets somewhere within the cacophony, the minute details awash with searing, golden light that it threatens to blind their human eyeballs. The Qilin is still in there somewhere, having finally had enough of its hallucinogenic prison, breaking away with another roar and slamming through the wall, spilling out into the street and streaking into the skies far above Hong Kong. The demands of the universe, furious, offended beyond all reasonable sense, manifest in the crumble of concrete, wood and glass above their heads, crumbling like an avalanche over Graceful Moon's temple to herself.


Mages are an egotistical lot, she said, and she is cut short when her entire palace breaks apart, crushing her brutally under its collapsing weight, tethered in place by the sudden backlash of intense, magical power as she savagely pays the tremenduous costs of her hubris. The deluge of light floods all around them, pulsing with the darker waves of Misfortune as it invades the building, beckoned there by countless shattered mirrors, and drowns out the crimson blood the witch-queen makes, her body reduced to a shower of muscle and bone. The entire engine above their heads, miraculously enough, still manages to keep upright, saving the few hundred lives that are staying in its luxurious rooms - situated close to the ring of fire, they all probably, hopefully, think this is just an earthquake.

But in the epicenter of it all, they are in danger and they could very well die, or the closest approximation to it in a state that is not quite a dream, and not quite a reality.

Zatanna can't look away as she stares at the magical devastation their gambit has wrought, her heart in her throat and her eyes wide - the entire display, all of it, is both beautiful and terrifying at once. Her hand is still out and her awe, her wonder, slowly shifts to horror when she watches her ward start to crack and splinter, breaking apart under the strain.

She's suddenly pulled, her hand gripped tightly into John's own. She lands hard on her knees, pressed close against him, the cradle of his fingers cupping her head and knotting into the loose strands of her hair. This close, she can't help but stare at his face, her lips parting at what she sees - the golden light of Fortune is almost blinding, tears form at the corners of her eyes at the strain, but in all of her life, she has never seen the man before her give into his own power. She has never seen him work light this before, and it is…

His invasion isn't subtle. Light pours into her own mouth, seeps through her nose. Her eyes drift shut and she /feels it all/, the hot rush of Luck flooding her body and lighting up every single synapse, setting them on fire and filling her with the sense of invincibility, of endless possibility. It digs and drinks deep of her endless potential, pooling into it and flaring out to sweep through every sense. Her back arches, her trembling hands reach out to grasp tightly into the front of his coat and her head tilts back further to receive all of it, to drink in everything he gives her. She yields in his grasp utterly, wholly, submitting to it body and soal and lets it carry her away…

Eventually, all the noise stops.

Graceful Moon's palace lies before them in shattered ruin, her creations ground to dust. She is nowhere in sight and outside of the hole that the Qilin has made in its escape, the full moon leaks pale shafts of light over the sudden darkness, a different kind of illumination, cooler, calmer, slashing a line across the darkness just past their intertwined bodies. For a long, heavy moment, all is quiet save for heavy, labored breaths, the timpani-drum parade of thundering hearts. Sounds from the outside world slowly, but surely filter in, smatterings of Cantonese and English, astonished by what the hotel must /look/ like outside now.


The single syllable is hoarse and breathless. Thin wisps of gold filter from between Zatanna's lips. Her hands reach out to cup both sides of his face, scrutinizing it carefully for any worrisome signs of a condition less than intact. Though while concern is paramount, there are other things in those eyes - wonder, most of all, irrepressible amazement.

"That was…"


/What a rush./


If only it ever looked like this at any other time, instead of like 'John, sitting on a bus, walking down the street, not entirely within himself as Fate's invisible hands guide him where he needs to go.' That sort of thing tends to get askance looks from pedestrians who suspect he's /on something/.

Then again, it's for the best that it doesn't. His body was no more meant to be a channel for that much raw fortune than Moon was meant to have it, and it's only because of his absolute surrender, and the iron bands of her raw power, that he was able to allow it to pass through in such quantity at all.

The light evacuates as pressures of destiny equalize on the scale of one of the most vital cities on the planet. It leaves him like a ghost, dissolving into the air, the remaining quantity boiling out from between his lips on his next exhale, like white mist on a cold night.

His eyes, distant, sharpen slowly as he blinks, growing aware of everything again: the ground beneath his knees, the hands that shift from his coat lapels to his face. The sounds, growing in the silence, of panic in the building as people struggle to make sense of the cataclysm that just befell them. He looks at her for a long moment, then ticks his gaze off to one side, taking in the ruin that seems to have fallen everywhere around them save for the space they occupy.

"Oh," he says. "Well, I guess that worked, then. Too bad I didn't have more to drink before we came up here. I'm not sure I've got enough bladder for a finale."


She stares at him mutely, her jaw hanging slightly open.

" 'I guess that worked, then?' " she repeats incredulously, her hands lowering to his lapels again to give a slight shake. "Are you /kidding/ me? What /was/ that? That was incredible! You just….did you even know that would work?"

The world catches up to her in a rush. Zatanna tilts her head back and exhales, letting out a sudden, relieved laugh. "All that Luck," she remarks. "I guess this isn't exactly the sort of maneuver that could be replicated. I mean where else would we ever find a vortex of Good Fortune just like this, right?" Her fingers slowly disengage from his lapels, standing up on shaky legs. Both hands drop down, to offer him the help up.

His words about the finale, though, gets him an exasperated look. "Is that really necessary?" she wonders.

Maybe it is, she doesn't know. But far be it for her to deny him, really, in spite of her words. Still reeling from the demonstration, she stumbles away from him, moving over to the hole the Qilin has made on the wall to stare down at the pedestrian traffic below. She sees a large cluster of people, pointing at the building and taking pictures.

Her head slowly tips back upward to catch a glimpse of the full moon, and the dark shape of the ancient beast streaking across its surface. Lingering there on the edge, heedless of the drop, her hair whipping around her face, she feels Hong Kong regain its lost vitality. She closes her eyes and basks in it.

"So…" she begins, inclining her head over her shoulder, loose, dark tendrils clinging to her cheek. "Is it always like this in one of these boxes? Because I can get used to it."


John shakes when he's shaken, as loose and relaxed now as he was rigid and strained as that torrent of energy ran through him. The results are all around them for him to see, but the magnitude of the event is entirely lost on him, clearly: he wasn't around to watch it happen, exactly. He may dream of it later, but for now all he can do is shrug, helplessly, as she peppers him with all of those questions. "I was pretty sure?"

That's how that works: instinct over knowledge. You can't /know/ the future — or, if physicists are to be believed, you can't know the future without changing it, because it changes upon the very moment that it's observed — but sometimes you can feel your way to the lightswitch in the dark.

"Let's bloody hope it doesn't get replicated. The real Moon was worse, by my memory."

While John isn't above accepting help when he absolutely needs to, he's got too much pride to have her help him to his feet. In any case, almost all of the power being expended was /hers/: her wards, her amplification. John only opened himself up, a tear in the fabric between reality and destiny. It leaves him feeling as though he's been lightly carbonated, a bit dizzy, but otherwise fine.

Fine enough to follow along behind her, drawing up behind her only as she turns her head to look back, strokes of ink painted across her face.

"Not always," he says, looking over her shoulder, down at the accumulating crowd. He dips his head, presses his nose against the place just behind her ear. "Sometimes it's enormous six-titted tarts, innit?" Warning tingles in his head force him to lift it again, the desire for parted lips to sample the taste of the side of her throat to remain as unsatisfied as the rest of him. "There are whole rooms done up this way in the getaway house of a mate of mine. Expensive, though. And it's easy to get mixed up and start believing this is more real than what's actually real. Maybe that's fine for some, but not for us, luv. We've got parts to play."


Her lashes fall shut once again at the token pressed against the back of her ear, a brief flutter of a smile pulling on the corners of her mouth, though she doesn't dare touch him for fear of escalation - she's already teased him too many times today, and the last thing she wants is to drive his face to further ruin. "We certainly do," Zatanna agrees quietly; she can't help but be enthralled, imaginative creature that she is, but the call of the inevitable troubles that lie outside of the box are those that she can't ignore. After what she had just placed on his arm just a few days ago, she can't imagine them to be anything less than serious.

But this excursion into semi-existent fantasy was much needed - she feels rejuvenated, alive in ways study and exercise simply can't match. Her heart is still pounding inside of her chest, and despite her conscious restraint, it was difficult to ignore the urge to throw her arms around his neck, and drown herself in the hard line of his mouth.

"I hear Dream Magic is addictive in similar ways," she remarks, apropos of nothing, remembering a case a few years back, of a beautiful, beguiling young woman who smiled while she rotted away from within.

Slipping her hands in her pockets, she turns slowly to face him. "So, I think that's enough adventure for today. I don't know how much my heart can take if everything in the box is similar to this. How do we climb out of here?"


It's a good question - out in the world, all they had to do was open the lid. From inside of it, she isn't quite sure.

"All alternate realities are dangerous. You don't even need to use magic get lost in fantasy."

As she pivots in place to face him, he slides his hands into his pockets, coat pushed back behind his arms. Lidded eyes meet her brighter own. For him, the greatest satisfaction still comes not from their defeat of this simulacrum of Moon — thought for him that was cathartic in its own ways — but the changes in her, a small fragment of the vitality that lights her like a candle restored.

"We go back to where we started, unless she's decided to be very clever and change the rules." He turns just enough to separate one arm away from the angle of his torso, offering it for her to take without actually taking his hand out of his pocket. "You might as well get a last eyeful of the city on the way. Take in your handiwork. It'll all fade when we leave. Who knows when the next time you'll see Hong Kong could be?"


"So Wellington Street," Zatanna remarks, the name brightening her expression, attaching it to a few childhood memories. While John spent his first trip in Hong Kong as a wanted man, she was a child wholeheartedly immersing herself in the awe and wonder that came with her birthright. "I'm for it, I can show you where we used to live, when Daddy and I stayed here for a few months."

She takes a few steps towards him, her hand slipping out of her pocket to curl into the inside of his elbow, walking with him out of Graceful Moon's shattered temple and down the street. "So when was the last time you were here?" she asks curiously once they find open air, managing to slip past the dense crowd to take their business elsewhere. "What were you after?"

The walk back is peppered with memories. John will forever be less forthcoming about his history, but his female companion has no qualms sharing - a gesture here, a point there, she fills the path with whole fragments of her life, precocious, curious and fearless even then, already getting into trouble whether due to circumstance or her own mischief. How she managed to foil a purse snatcher in these very streets by forming a cage with her much hated braces, but only after she tried to ask for help and sprayed whoever listened with spit and inundated them with garbled words - and the only reason why she managed to pull this off was because she stumbled into a shop display full of Speak-and-Spells.

Finally, they end up in the start of their journey in that specific point in Wellington Street, though before they step into the haze of green-white smoke, she points upwards to an adjacent building in one of the higher floors, towards a lit window - another family lives there now.

A few minutes later and they're through.

The hum of electricity emanates from the flat's vintage bulbs, the wet footprints he has tracked earlier are now gone. The bag underneath the open box is now dry as bone, indicative of the passage of the hour. With careful, reverent care, Zatanna reaches out to take the lid, so she could fasten it shut once more over this carved box of dreams, letting her fingers drift over the images carved on the top.

"I learn something new every day," she murmurs - for someone who has spent a life mired into the mystical workings of their arcane universe, she still manages to find the room to be affected by the horrors and wonders it can bestow.


'What were you after?'

"Myself," is his answer. And it's short and personal enough that it's maybe enough to usher in that slide toward her own stories and away from his own, to dwell on memories that are happier, and thereby preserve the levity of the evening. The suggestion of a smile stays with him for most of their descent back down to the place they first arrived, and more than once she's actually able to tug a chuckle out of him, the quick, bright flash of something more than a smile.

He follows her point with his eyes, lifted to the window in question. It's easier for him to imagine her here than one might think. She's not so far removed from the precociousness of youth that it's hard to imagine her as truly young — certainly easier to do than for him to rewind his memory to a time when /he/ was wet behind the ears, and time hadn't stripped him of his faith in the dignity of living. Where would he have been when she was here? London already? Probably. Already well on his way to making the first of many major mistakes. Already under the wing of her father's tutelage, perhaps.

He releases her arm as she passes through, gives the street one last glance, and then follows her back into a reality less glamorous. The ungilded cage made of century-old brick. The cell. The domestic smells of cooking food and laundry detergent, dryer sheets, personal toiletries. The ozone of expended magic. "That's how you can tell you're still breathing," says John, eyes twinkling.

Chas, in the kitchen, is standing there on the far end with a knife in his hand and a dishtowel over one of his broad shoulders. "Uh, hi," he says, a dry drawl, watching John shrug out of his coat and drape it over one of the chairs at the table.

"Cooking? Top, mate. I'm famished."


That one word answer is more illustrative than anyone expects, and Zatanna as usual doesn't pry, cognizant of their delicate equilibrium and the eggshells that remain under their feet. Still, there is a flick of her eyes towards him at that, the myriad of questions present there. Words that she doesn't say, queries that she doesn't pose.

Re-emerging back into their world already has her missing the contents of the box, knowing full well that she will have to remain here for a few days yet. But now, those frustrations have been quelled, elation and excitement filling the space instead, and while normally she would be raring to tell someone all about it, like Chas for instance, she is in no hurry to do so this time, still percolating in the memories this foray into a non-dream have added into the vast galleries of her mind. To say that she is presently in a ridiculously good mood would be an understatement; the experience leaves its indelible, visible stamp on her, with those bright eyes and the smile that won't fade.

All the more, especially, when Zatanna takes a whiff of the air and realizes that Chas has returned and is cooking. There's a quick grin at John at his comment, nudging her hip against his playfully in wordless acknowledgment. She leans back against the table where the box sits, her arms crossing loosely over her torso.

"It'll hold," she promises him. "The breathing thing, I mean."

Raising her voice, she directs it kitchen-ward.

"Chas, you need help with anything?"


John's eyes tighten with subtle humor as he's hip-checked. He leans back against the table's edge, too, shoulder to hers, and turns his head toward her just a little bit, gaze slanted her way out of the corner of his eye.

She'll keep breathing, she says, and it sounds like a promise.

Uneasiness trickles into him on the heels of something else: the twist of investment, the barbs that everything have in him again. Suffering, the Buddhists say, is always a consequence of attachment.

He strives to keep his expression the same, and largely succeeds; it's in the voice that things are different. Delicate. "It had better."

"Nah, I got this. Maybe get the table set. Should be ready in ten. Unless you two aren't hungry after…" Pause. "…whatever you were doing." He tries not to sound judgemental. He tries.

John uses that as his cue, using the tilt of his head to roll himself up onto his feet and head for his half-assembled, bedless 'room,' already undoing the knot in his tie. "Wouldn't you like to know, mate? I'll have double portions."

The look of skepticism and then suspicion on Chas' bearded, open face pass in quick sequence, followed by the very obvious, very deliberate decision that he doesn't want to know, and isn't going to ask.


'It had better.'

His shoulder nudges hers, and Zatanna drops her head, her temple against the hard curve and there she stays while Chas remains out of sight, despite the words bandied about from the kitchen. She says nothing for a while, but the quiet words roll in her mind, picking out the subtleties delivered there by his tone and his inflection. He always keeps his voice low in these moments, as if imparting some manner of important secret, or reflective of some underlying apprehension that the universe would be alerted to it and muck things up as usual just to spite him.

"If one of us is leaving the other, it'll have to be you, John," she tells him quietly. "I'm not so good at letting go unless I'm given a very compelling reason."

And even then, sometimes it doesn't take.

She lifts her head just in time for Chas to peer at the two of them from the kitchen, giving him a blithe, easy smile, easing herself away from the table and carefully picking up the box. "I'll get it set in a minute," she promises Chas, and much like John, she doesn't go into detail about the evening's adventure. For at least the rest of the day, she would like to hoard it to herself.

She moves to one of the shelves, setting it carefully within, pushing it in so it won't accidentally tip into the floor and break. With John having vanished in his bedroom, she joins Chas in the kitchen to retrieve plates and utensils.

Returning to the table in short order, she lays them out on the table without any unnecessary ceremony. Pausing at the corner where she engaged in the delicate task of carving John's newfound detector on his inner left wrist, she thumbs at a dried patch of blood, scraping it off with her fingernail.

We've got parts to play, he said.

We sure do, she confirms again, silently.

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