Two Steps Forward

January 19, 2017:

Jessica Jones visits Zatanna Zatara in the Brooklyn bunker at John Constantine's suggestion.

Brooklyn Bunker - Brooklyn - New York City

John Constantine's headquarters in NYC.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Red Robin, Spider-Man, Batman, Chas Chandler

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Jessica had spent the morning helping Ritchie move and learning Google Translate kind of sucks as she'd tried to buy her way into a German equivalent of the American TOL public records database, one of three databases which scour billions of public records and which are only open to private investigators and others who can prove they have a legal right to know. She finally found the right one, and went through a headache-inducing verification process that was worse than the passport office. This done, she'd returned to Shadowcrest, but only briefly; the subject of said visit being the large duffel bag now in her hand. Then, she'd texted John the warning he'd asked for and had made her way to the address he'd provided.

Just open the door, he'd said, and it would lead her to the right place. She did. And it did.

She steps inside the bunker looking hale and healthy, a marked contrast to the last time Zatanna saw her. The irony does not escape her. Her thick waterfall of shining black hair has been pulled back into a tail. She removes her coat, revealing a blue and black flannel collared shirt over a black tank top and ripped but clean jeans, comfortable clothes that somehow don't seem so…armor-like, today.

She heads to the cell, figuring that's where Zee will be resting, but calls out, too. "Zee? It's Jess."

—-

She would find her on the floor, her hands caked with chalk. Somewhere at the very end of John's flat, she is etching symbols on the floor. It is painstaking, time-consuming and very detailed work, sweeps of her fingers bringing arcane symbols to life, rendering them visible and real on the bunker's concrete floor. It's the space that she has set aside from herself, as she can't very well do much magical work inside the anti-magic chamber which holds the bed that she has been sharing with John in the last few days. Her back is to her visitor and she doesn't look up when she feels that wisp of magic, that tells her that she is no longer alone; she is in no hurry to do that, for several reasons. Her preparations are almost done, and she knows how she looks. Pride, sorrow, they bite at her viciously - she can almost picture Jess' face after when she has to turn around and look at her in the eye.

But she remembers the older woman's words and they would have to be enough to shore her up. Leaning back until she is sitting on her heels, she squares her shoulders and sets her face, slowly standing and turning around. There's a smile, and to her credit, it is still genuine, a slight pull on the corners of her mouth.

"Hey, Jess."

She is fading.

The effect is made all the more savage by the dark clothing that she prefers and while Jessica has no mystic abilities, the fact that she can tell speaks of just how much damage had been wrought to her soul. Her pallor is sickly and wan, those striking-unsettling pale blue eyes all the more lacking in luster, like icicles fogged over by breath or mist. Even her hair looks more charcoal than the deep midnight that allows it to blend so seamlessly with shadows, the very late hours of the evening. Exhaustion, manifested as a slight hunch of her normally proud posture, as if something invisible weighs upon her shoulders, or trying to suck her in from the inside, which may be the more accurate comparison. Somewhere inside her is a hole that is growing by the day, threatening to consume even the last scraps of light that she has managed to hold onto after desperately fighting for what she has been able to keep.

She moves over, padding on bare feet. A towel lifts from a chair, to wipe her fingers with it before she sets it aside and moves so she could curl her arms around her neck and hold. If she's close then maybe she won't have to see.

"John said you might be stopping by. How are you feeling? Is SHIELD hospitality everything they say it is?"

—-

Her hands tighten on the strap of the duffle bag. She studies this woman, and rage and sadness well up in her all at once. The emotions leech color out of a face that can't afford to lose much color, making her lipstick look more like a slash of blood. They put fire in her eyes, suddenly wet. She just stands there.

Stands there and remembers that this won't help Zatanna. What Zatanna needs is hope, and strength, and something to help her fight and hold on until they can put an end to this absolute clusterfuck.

So from somewhere inside her, she summons a tight smirk, even as she enfolds Zee in a hug, holding her good and tight. Zee, one of perhaps three people on earth who can touch her, even now, without producing a flinch.

"Zee. Seriously. You're taking this goth thing too far. Keep it up and I'm going to break in and swap out every piece of clothing for its pastel counterpart, perfect in every detail save for making you look like a walking bubblegum machine, and /then/ where the Hell would you be?"

She pat pats the other woman's back and says, "Don't worry about me. It takes more than some douchebag light show to put me down. It was cushy. Took me five days to wake my ass up. But…Captain America sat by my bedside the entire time. I think I have a sudden and bad case of hero worship." As if she didn't before, with all of her social anxiety at the mission itself but…as far as she knows nobody realized that and she can at least pretend nothing of the sort went on.

"I stopped by Shadowcrest and asked Kasim what he thought you might want from around the place. I hope he chose well; I just kind of trusted him to get it right."

—-

"You did?" There's a glance at the duffel bag once Zatanna lets go. "Wow, you didn't have to…thanks, Jess! This is great, and really I can't keep wearing John's clothes forever, and it's not like I can fit in Chas' either." Chas is a /very big man/ and every shirt he wears would probably hang on her like a tent. If allowed, she'll take it from her visitor and move towards the table so she could sort through what's inside. Seeing the change of clothes, her own, is a welcome one, keeping them in folded piles, as well as a few toiletries and DVDs. She stares, horrified, where amidst the other blu-ray discs is a copy of Bridget Jones' Diary.

"What the….this isn't mine! Ha ha ha…"

It's totally hers. She's surprised it's even still intact, having watched it on a constant loop in the days when she was mourning her break-up with John Constantine and gained twenty pounds thanks to Baskin Robbins' Rocky Road.

She shoves it under her clothes.

"So what do you know?" she asks, her back turned to the private investigator as she busies herself with yet another thing, small gestures, made desperately - as if she could slow down the growth of the black tumor inside her by constantly filling it with something. Work, emotions, sensations. "I know you, Jess, you don't really call anyone unless it's extremely important. I have things to tell you also, about what's happening. You first though, I'm curious."

There's a nagging sensation, tugging into her stomach. But it's vague, has yet to take on a definite shape.

—-

Of course she lets Zee take the bag; it's for her. She smirks again at the movie, but she decides a tease about that is a low blow.

"Nothing," she says, shaking her head. "I don't know anything new. I compared some notes with the Red Robin last night, but he didn't fill me in on anything you don't already know. I didn't come for that."

Restless, she pads her way to a seat, and curls up in it. Usually she carries herself larger than her body is, but in reality she's a relatively small woman, and when she folds herself into the large chair it shows.

"I'm not great at this, but I came to visit. Just to see you. Of course I want to hear anything you want to tell me, but…"

A pause. "You know, quite a few times I would have dropped in, checked in before. But…I didn't want to bother you and John. I wanted to give you both your space." Though the answer was more complex than that of course. Workaholism was a thing…Jess worked and she drank. Just 'dropping by' wasn't really in her vocabulary, but given the circumstances, here she is, trying it. Trying to be respectful, of course, which in part was linked to professionalism and in part was linked to the low self-esteem so few suspected and which she herself would never verbalize, even in her own head. Just relaxing, just being present, just spending time with someone…things that come really easy to almost everyone else, did not come easy to her.

But Zatanna is dying, and that has given her real cause to re-evaluate this stance. To at least try.

—-

She lets Jessica settle on a chair. Zatanna moves from the table and into the kitchen, not completely devoid of the urge to be hospitable. She emerges later with a bottle of Jameson and a pair of tumblers. Underage drinking has been a way of life since Europe, where she spent most of her adolescent and teenaged years, so much so that she barely remembers that the rules in the United States are completely different in that regard, when she does this so openly in the company of others much older than her. Taking a seat on a chair adjacent to Jessica, she uncorks the bottle and pours them both a couple of shots, setting the bottle in between them.

Fingers pluck at her glass, though she doesn't drink from it yet.

The mention of Red Robin draws her confusion out of her; it is plain in her expression, suggestive that whatever is happening now, she did /not/ tell the cowled crimefighter about it. "But…how did he know? I didn't tell him." Or did she? She remembers having to dump so many bugs out of her satchel the last time. Save for the bug that she kept so that Spidey would always have a bead on her at all times in the event that John couldn't find her using their astral tether, she's been completely clean.

Right?

She has told no one else about what has happened to her, save for John, and Chas, the latter out of the necessity of being John's roommate. The only other person she's managed to talk to about her present predicament was…

There's a glance down at her glass. Tim Drake's face floats to the forefront of her memories, with that spark of anger and determination buried deep in his eyes.

She takes a slow swallow of her alcohol.

"You can call me any time, you know that right?" she says, looking up at Jess and pushes down at the barb that she feels in her stomach, wondering if there is, or has to be, some kind of explanation. "John's not really big on social calls, but I'm not him and I love them. We can always hang out whenever you want to, yeah? So don't worry about the entire space thing, if I'm busy, I'll tell you, but don't….don't keep away if you don't want to, Jess. I like this. I like people. This is…" She hesitates. "…well, I told you about all of it before, the last time we had a serious conversation. Despite the miracles you think I can achieve with difficult personalities, I'm really only successful a handful of times. So why would I reject you now? I love you, Jess."

Said without preamble, without warning, that boundless, endless heart once again offered to someone who spends her time shying away from everyone else. Someone who might not want it. But she's never cared, her views on the necessity of reciprocation more stilted than most, overwhelmed by the desire to establish something significant and lasting with another person.

—-

"Well, initially he came to talk to me about the Spear of Destiny and to talk to me about trying to figure out if the great-grandson of Steinshitter was a priest. Coached him through a pretexting call since he can speak German and I can't. Didn't turn anything up. But yeah, that's how I found out about…" She trails off and picks up the glass. Solemnly she says, "I'm thinking of going to AA."

But not today, apparently, because she downs it in an instant, not able to resist the liquid comfort in front of her, not when things have gone so thoroughly to shit.

"John asked me to ask him. And I will."

When Zatanna tells her she loves her Jess actually does damn near melt into tears. She blinks rapidly and quickly pours herself another glass. "I love you too," she says roughly. "You have no idea how much. As much as love Trish, my only family. Someday I'll introduce you. You'll like her." She blinks again, wincing as she forces tears back. Zatanna is boundless emotion. Jessica is a thorny mess with emotions that roar in and out like the tide, sometimes held back by her considerable walls, sometimes crashing out of the cracks in them all in a rush.

"And I will /never/ leave you. It will never be too much for me, Zee. Never. And you were able to put up with my shit."

Time to get real. Jess puts the glass down, deciding she doesn't want to get drunk. Not now. Not even to numb the helpless pain she's feeling.

—-

The remark about AA has Zatanna lifting her head up to look at her. "…really? That's…that's great, Jess!" she says. "I mean…you know, I do worry, but I was always hoping you'd make that decision yourself." Because she knows what happens when she forces someone like her into a course of action, when it's more effective for circumstances to impress that suggestion into her. In many ways, she and John were a lot alike, in the sense that they dig their heels in instinctively the moment someone tries to tell them what to do, and how to deal.

Much like the private investigator, she drains her glass, though she doesn't refill it. The burn of potent whiskey traversing into her and setting the more tender parts of her on fire is a welcome sensation, letting it fill the yawning empty. There is part of her that is still distracted, tumbling over the Red Robin issue. She finds it hard to believe, perhaps there's another explanation. Maybe he had been keeping tabs, but her abduction happened in /New York/, well out of Gotham City, the territory of the Batman and his underlings.

"I'll talk to him."

The words slip out before she can rein them in.

"Red Robin rescued me from Kazinsky's butcher's operation," she continues. "I might be able to convince him to answer me honestly." She thinks. Oh, god. She hopes. She doesn't know how well she'll fare, dealing with another lie. With another friend who might be…

She shoves the thought violently in her head, sending it off the edge to be dug up in another time. A better time. Not right now, not when Jessica was…

Her following words fall on a window of absolute silence, Zatanna turning her head to look at the private investigator, that expressive face looking as if the other woman had just punched her with all of her incredible strength, sending her crashing through a few walls until she's left to bleed. It isn't because she returns the sentiment - save for her father, nobody has ever said the words to her before, nobody has so confidently returned the three words she expresses so freely…or at least, not /just/ because of them. But it's the other part, the words following that resonates deep inside her, sends their shockwaves through that stretching, empty space and fills it whole for a few glorious minutes.

I will never leave you.

Spoken to a young woman who has been abandoned more than once. Who has been betrayed more times in the last several weeks than anyone ever endures in whole lifetimes. Whose own father, once, in a rainy night in Paris, had expressed the desire for the opposite, weakened by drink and his own personal tragedies…the one moment in her young life that has cast a pall over her interactions with others.

I will never leave you.

She's rising, before she even knows it. She crosses the distance. The chair barely has enough room for the two of them to fit, but she forces it, squeezes in. Her arms reach out for Jessica and she holds her tight. For a few precious, breathless minutes, she doesn't let go.

For once in her life, she doesn't know what to say. She doesn't know how eloquently she can explain just why those few words mean so much to her. It would need context, go back to her history, pour into the other woman all the reasons why and oh god, let her through the door that houses the most painful memories involving the person she loves the most in the world, locked in there for her sanity and also for Giovanni Zatara's protection. How imperative it is that the world sees his untarnished image as a veritable, world-saving powerhouse.

When she speaks, her face in her hair, it's hoarse and quiet.

"I'd…love to meet Trish. Who is she? A sister?"

—-

Jessica catches her and just sort of sinks to the floor to spare her the indiginty of having to sit in her lap like a child. There on the floor, clinging, eyes closed as she just holds the girl.

She and John are scary alike, but the love they share for the younger woman is wholly different, each wholly their own in their own way. And yes, telling Jess anything is the surest way to scowls and snarls, not progress.

"My adopted sister," Jessica murmurs, after a deep breath. She's letting this person in. God. She is. She hardly knows what to do with that, but she stubbornly pushes ahead. She's chosen this action, and now she's going to do it. Not all at once. There's plenty she's still not ready to discuss. But to push Zatanna out /now/, after saying what she just said knowing at least a fraction of what it means, given what was said in this very bunker before, would be criminal. And Jess can't do that.

"My parents were killed in the accident that gave me my powers. My little brother too. Trish's mother decided to adopt me as a publicity stunt. You…might know her as Patsy. Or that show might be a little before your time, I don't know. She has a radio show now, Trish Talk. We /hated/ each other at first. She was this preppy little starlet. I was— " Jess suddenly snarfs a laugh. "I was the 90s version of a Goth. Actually. But back then it wasn't lace and leather, it was flannel and grunge."

Wait, does she dress so differently now?

"But her mother, her manager, was abusive. When I discovered what I could do— by leaning too hard on the very expensive sink and just snapping it off the wall— I decided to protect her. We've watched each other's back ever since."

Though…

"I treat her like shit sometimes," she admits. "She tries to help me. She's my /big/ sister, one year older than me, and she does what big sisters do: bosses me around and says she knows best, and I just give her all kinds of shit, especially when I was going through a rough patch. But I guess that was causing her pain of her own sort. I should apologize to her."

It's the most she's really sat and told anyone about herself in one long go. "She'll adopt you too, once she meets you. Not legally but…just be prepared for her to earnestly care about you until you want to scream."

—-

They end up on the floor and privately, she wonders what it is about this flat that draws out words that difficult people like Jess and John would typically never say. It's a distant thought, half-humored but quickly forgotten as the older woman clutches her in her grip and doesn't let go.

Neither does she. With her father gone, Zatanna craves the affection that he freely dispenses behind closed doors and it could be argued that this is the reason why she has made so many connections so quickly ever since her return, regardless of what they would do to her in the end - like what happened with Bruce Wayne and Bucky Barnes. She is only starting to get that back, from the most unlikely persons - Jess, John, Tim…even Peter Parker, whose connection to her had largely been forged out of necessity and slowly developing to something much more genuine considering everything else.

The story tumbles out and she can't help but be reminded of everyone else in her life who has been orphaned so tragically - John, Tim (whose own connection to the occult had been imparted to her recently), and now Jess. She can't help but wonder whether almost everyone in her life is, or whether she ought to make more of an effort to get to know them instead of just simply /waiting/ to be let in. She only has a month, after all, if that, and…

No, she thinks. She can't afford to think that.

"She sounds great," she says instead. "I don't mind that at all…being cared about. I mean, I love it, it terrifies me also, and I don't always react to it well despite craving it." As it is almost the first thing that drives her to death-defying recklessness. "But I do. I'm sure Trish and I will get along fine whenever I do meet her. Hopefully she doesn't treat me too much like a kid."

She wonders if she conducts herself as such these days, wondering if these events have forced her to leave the more girlish aspects of herself behind. But that is also an occupational hazard in her world, as tenaciously as she digs her heels to try and prevent it. Maybe it was time to let it go.

Maybe.

She wants to ask for more. More details, more about Jess' life. The memory of what she said about mind control rises to the surface, but instincts prevent her from saying the words out loud. That one, she knows she can't touch. Can't.

Slowly, she extricates her arms around Jess. "Let's get off the floor," she says with a laugh. "And let me heat something up for you. Have you had any of Chas' cooking? He made veggie curry for me last night and it's /amazing/."

—-

"I can't believe he just up and gave me his bed. I could have slept on the floor that night, and like a rock," she admits. "And I am famished."

She lets the girl go at last, and scrambles off the floor. "I want to hear about some of your travels around the world," she orders. "Some of your happiest memories." Keeping Zee focused on happy memories seemed like a good use of their time. Jess found she wanted to stay for hours, feeling like if she could just pour enough…enough…enough /love/ into the girl, all at once, that maybe the flickering, guttering candle flame of her soul might catch and roar into the bonfire it should be once more.

Cooking and talking, though she was done talking about herself if she could help it. Still, she had one or two big guns ready to distract Zee if something sent her tumbling into anything like worry or fear. If she had to, she'd even admit to having a bit of a thing for that lawyer, as little as she was given to gushing girlishly about any man. But it would make Zee laugh, and she'd enjoy it, and that alone made it worth doing.

"And tell me about your first magic show," she adds, deciding she'd better give Zee /lots/ to talk about just to prolong the moment where she might have to take out the big guns.

She herself just had to hold to the absolute /certainty/ they'd fix this, because no other outcome was acceptible. Failure was not an option under any circumstances.

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