January 22, 2017:

GMed and NPCed by Jane Foster and Winter Soldier. John Constantine assembles a team of four - consisting of Zatanna Zatara, Jessica Jones, and Red Robin along with himself - to spearhead a joint operation with SHIELD to investigate three locations in New York City that house the split fragments of Zatanna's soul. The misadventure later sends John and Jessica to worlds that present them with beautiful alternate versions of their painful, beleaguered lives, while Zatanna and Red Robin struggle to prevent the former's soul from being used for nefarious ends, and bring their lost companions back.

New York City

All over New York.


NPCs: Tasha, Karl, alternate universe versions of dead parents and present acquaintances

Mentions: The Winter Soldier, Dr. Jane Foster, Bat Family members


Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

Saudade - n. is a deep emotional state of nostalgic or profound melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves. Moreover, it often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing might never return.

Over the past few days, that faint pinging of Zatanna's lost soul has come and gone. Here in Queens, there in Brooklyn, a few times in Manhattan, once in the Bronx. It even pinged from Staten Island one evening, briefly, before the impression of it faded away.

It never left New York, however. It has circled around the city, almost as if searching.

Tonight, it pings from three locations. One is John F. Kennedy Airport. The other, Citi Field. The last… East Flatbush, a mostly residential area of Brooklyn.

The pings do not dissipate this time. They only seem to grow stronger over time. There is a distinct sense of tethering to them, as if each of the locations were anchor points set down by some malignant central entity. It's no wonder, too, because a cursory investigation of each of the three areas would reveal high concentrations of latent energy: leylines written deeply into the bones of the city by the energy of those living and working there.


Somewhere in the middle of all of these points, their team has managed to converge on top of a rooftop; the better for Zatanna to feel the waves of latent energy attuned to the pieces of her soul, scattered in three different directions. With a quiet tch, she plants her hands in her hips, tilts her head back and sighs. Her breath coalesces into mist at that single expulsion, but there is not much of it - indicative that the chill she has been fighting off has seeped into her lungs.

"Ahhh, life," she murmurs, staring up at the darkened skies accusingly. "You /really/ know how to make us work for it, don't you?"

She turns around to look at the rest, her expression wan but determined - her skin is so colorless now that she stands out in the dark, her hair reduced to a dark gray and those eyes barely blue. But she is dressed to unleash hell regardless - black jeans with their strategic rips, her favored fishnets worn underneath to grant an additional layer of texture, black boots, a long-sleeved shirt with a wide neck pulled over a dark violet tanktop and a very warm, hooded jacket, its high collar left open. Her hair has been tugged in a careless sideways knot, the better to keep her hair from tangling much into anything.

Working something metallic from her backpocket, she slips the brass knuckles over her right hand before cracking it against the cold air. Sparks fly on impact, an arcane symbol burning to life in the dark for a few precious seconds of red-and-gold light. Tilting it over, she watches the etchings burn over metal before they fade. Lashes lid.

Significantly diminished, she's going to need to compensate for her lack of magical firepower. This set of brass knuckles is just one of the implements she's brought, hidden in her pockets, in one boot. She is as ready as she ever will be.

"We're probably going to need to split up. I don't like it either, but I don't see any other way we can do this efficiently. Unless anyone has any better ideas." There's a glance towards Red Robin. "JFK's the biggest area, with the most electronic systems, and at the moment, I'm not my best. If we're dividing and conquering, I should probably go with you there, Red."

There's a glance at John and Jess; it's a prompting one - while never one to shrink away from any decisions she makes, this is a group effort and she is attempting to curb those reckless tendencies by throwing out suggestions instead of directives.


Jessica had looked approvingly at those enchanted brass knuckles. She had meant it, the day she'd said she honored the fighter in Zatanna Zatara; this is just more evidence of it. She has brought nothing along but herself, as per the usual, her breath just as chill on the air.

One magical person and one non-magical person made sense to her, personally, but she had not been kidding when she'd told John Constantine to lead, and she would follow. She only quirks the eyebrow that says she doesn't see a problem with this plan. Whatever else the Ninja Bird had done, he had impressed her with his skills; she figured Zee would be as safe as she'd ever be. The thing is, she can't read all these signatures, has only their word for what they're feeling, and has no idea what it all means, so…she's only going to weigh in by throwing the decision back to John. Sometimes she bulled ahead, took charge, and bullied everyone into doing what she wanted, but that was when she was in her element. This is not that time.


The ephemeral tug of Zatanna's soul on John became a torrent as the sun sank behind the corrugated concrete silhouette of New York's skyline, provoking the flurry of texts that followed: that the signal was uninterrupted, solidified, and it was time to move. He barely slept the evening prior; he was up early to coordinate with SHIELD, and with Jessica, conferring about optimal group composition — something they'd not yet solidified when the moment to decide finally arrived.

The situation's unanticipated change makes a liar of him. He'd told Jessica Jones only the evening prior that her map would likely be of no use to him, because he didn't believe he could use that astral connection to affix an accurate location without following it to its source. The ley lines change everything. The flat, located between two vortices of that very same magical energy, is an amphitheater for tremors along the network of mystical power lacing the city together — amplifying the signal, lending it concrete direction. Directions that he has well-memorized. Most people receive a floorplan when they buy a new apartment. John received a map of the ley lines of New York City. He placed it over Jessica's map, followed the lines to their natural conclusions, and three pins were driven into the pair of maps together. What he found there made him glad they'd gone through the trouble of conscripting SHIELD's help, in spite of his prior misgivings.

"We've got two teams of SHIELD operatives on stand-by. My vote is sending them to the high-priority locations and sticking together for a third. SHIELD has pull with the government. They can close down the field and the airport if need-be. It'll be more difficult for them to do anything about Flatbush," John says, from his place seated on the edge of the building's roof. "But if you want to go with Robin to JFK and assist SHIELD on the technical end, I'm not going to argue. You can give them some direction."

He tilts his head, but his gaze remains locked outward, over the spangle of lights gradually assuming the sole role of illuminating the city in the growing dusk. "That would mean you and me, Jones, on our own."


Red Robin had been quiet, though that was probably not very surprising. He was /good/ at being quiet.

He still hadn't slept enough, but that didn't matter; there were bigger things at stake than how he felt, a mantra he'd repeated to himself fairly regularly over the past five years. Weariness would be dealt with, when he had the time to. Everything else… Well, who knows.

It was difficult to tell that about him, of course, or much otherwise. Caped and cowled, he was an all but unreadable cipher, his eyes hidden by the featureless white lenses that provided various enhancements to his vision, the only human thing visible his mouth and chin. The suggestion to split up, and the planned teams, and the expectation of cooperating with SHIELD, elicits a slight tilting of the costumed vigilante's head, but like Jessica he's well aware when he's out of his element. Well aware of when he should let other people take the lead.

"Here," Red Robin says, the word electronically fuzzed to inhuman harshness, holding out one gloved hand, palm up: Three small earbud devices, with no branding or markings anywhere to be seen on the casings. "These should let us stay in contact through most interference."

He might've had to hijack a few cellular towers, and maybe a communications satellite, to ensure the signals remained suitably boosted in case of shenanigans, but it's okay.

He knows the guy who owns them.


She reaches out to pluck one of the earbud comms Robin provides, slipping it in her ear. "I'd be more comfortable if pairs of us covered at least two points," Zatanna opines, largely because she doesn't trust SHIELD, despite their aid, much less whether they know what to do in the face of whatever mystical shenanigans they might come across. At least there's a chance that two pieces out of the three would be in the hands of people she can count on, and if complications arise on the third, they can tackle it then. There is, however, a hint of relief when Jessica pairs up with John; the latter isn't much of a fighter, though he has cleverness to spare and if there is anything the private investigator knows how to do, it's to bust heads.

But the makeup is solid - mages paired with non-magical fighters. If she was more of a gamer, she would find this about par the course for any forays into high adventure. She activates her comm, and murmurs to test. There's a thumbs-up towards Red Robin at his gear, but considering how she has a fairly good idea as to where he gets his toys, that isn't surprising.

Digging out a piece of strangely iridescent chalk from her back pocket, she stoops on the ground to draw a quick circle, though there's already frustration there tugging at the line of her mouth. Instant teleportation was one of her more useful skills and at the moment, she has resolved not to use it unless absolutely necessary. The chalk and a lighter will have to be sufficient for now.

"Alright, any last requests?" she asks lightly. "/Aside/ from a good bottle of whiskey when it's all over? Fries? Onion rings?" There's a slight cant of her head towards her party.


Jess puts the earbud into her own ear, nodding her thanks to Bird. When John says it's her and him, she nods. "I've got your back," she promises.

"No whiskey for me." Jess says, trying yet again to keep her precarious seat on the Proverbial Wagon. "But I'll take you up on the fries." They're working with SHIELD. That's a fine way to test the earbud, to make sure it's in good working order for all of them.

And then she looks to John, ready to move when he does.


One of the many consequences of being stoic and speaking rarely is that when a taciturn individual speaks, those around them pay more than the modicum of attention they'd pay someone who never has the sense to shut up. John actually turns his head when that heavily-filtered voice pipes up, and he extends a hand from his seated position to take one of the small devices in the offing, giving it only a cursory examination before putting it where it belongs. "Ta."

And then it's past time for pleasantries and plans. He'd told Zatanna he felt ready for this — /beyond ready/, he'd said — and that was and remains true, but there's still a sharp knife of apprehension through his guts at the thought that the moment has arrived. Because it's do or die now, isn't it? Literally.

He hoists himself up off of the building's edge to stand, turns to face the others, and ticks a dusk-darkened blue gaze from one face to the next. He doesn't intend for it to linger longest on the young woman being slowly reduced to a greyscale imitation of herself, but it can't be helped.

This could be the last time he ever sees her.

The last thing he ever gets to say. The last moment.

Everything he might say flips through his head like the text on the pages of a thumbed book, but nothing seems right. The time for that has come and gone. So he does the only thing he can do: he is John. He shoves all of it behind whatever vault door allowed him to send Gary Leister to his screaming fate, setting aside everything but the work that needs doing. It leaves a bone-chilling hollow behind, terrible and necessary. The corner of his mouth turns up, the intensity of his eyes gains enough edge to overshadow whatever else might lay therein. "Just that you give'em a little bit of hell from me."

He meets Jessica's glance sidelong, short-nods, and with one last flick of eyes at the other half of their rescue party, turns and strides off toward the point of roof access.


'Apprehension' might be the general mood of things at the moment anyway, though of course Red Robin keeps his well-hidden. It's not a thing that ever really goes away, unless there was something deeply wrong with a person's brain: Fear and apprehension can be useful things, after all, things you can use to push yourself, or things you can listen to when you're doing something that maybe you shouldn't. The costumed crimefighter frowns faintly, watching Zatanna trace a circle on the ground, not entirely sure just what she's up to with that, but figuring it's probably some kind of magic thing. He frowns more deeply at the topic of 'last requests', though he doesn't say anything one way or the other about drinking or eating a bunch of fatty foods in a celebration of their surely inevitable victory.

Though really, he just /looks/ like someone who never drinks. It would probably interfere with the grim seriousness he wears as armor, as sure as the plates and ballistic weave of his costume.

His eyeless attention moves elsewhere during the almost-moment; certainly, Red Robin seems to be pretty /polite/, as costumed vigilantes who break into people's homes without a by-your-leave go, only returning his gaze to the group to watch Constantine and Jessica leave.

"So," he says, finally, looking at the circle traced on the ground. "Now what?"

He kind of bets he won't like the answer.


She stands up and dusts the chalk off her hands, iridescent motes drifting in the air. Their egress and entry fashioned on the ground below them, all it'll take is one little spark. For all of the way she seems to be fading before everyone else's eyes, this is the first time in days where the young woman actually looks /alive/, or at least the closest approximation of her old vitality that they've missed for over a week. Dull-blue eyes are downright incandescent in the dark, the stirrings of adrenaline dripping white-hot through her veins and setting every nerve on fire. Connected more than ever to the slowly disappearing strains of her magic, Zatanna is clearly committed, determined, in expending everything she has just to get the rest of it back.

There's a look over to where Jessica is, mouthing a few words to her across the distance. Her attention shifts, once John addresses her; she finds something in his expression, only discovering it because of her insight, whatever rare piece of him that he has given for her to keep. For a moment, just a moment, the beginnings of her battle high tempers and ebbs. Something about her demeanor softens.

But only for a moment before she tilts her chin up in a defiant angle, brows winging upwards. Her mouth cuts a wild, reckless curve.

"A little bit?"

She turns sideways, a look flashed at him from the corner of her eye.

"All nine circles, John."

She pivots at that, walking up to where Red Robin is looking at the circle with a wariness she can practically taste. And with all the casual comfort and familiarity of someone who knows him well, her hand lifts…and gives him a light shove into the boundary.

"Sorry, Red. We're getting from Point A to Point B /my/ way, today. You can scare the crap out of me with your tether lines later."

A plastic lighter rolls up from her knuckles, seemingly from mid air. Snapping the flint, she curls her other set of bare fingers over the resulting flame, rolling tongues of blue-white heat between her digits and dropping the build-up on the floor. She utters a single word, and as fire erupts upward, the two of them are gone before smoke has a chance to touch the ground.


Jessica watches John Constantine drink in his last gaze of Zatanna Zatara. She doesn't have to be a mystic or a mindreader to guess what he's thinking, so she gently and quickly puts a hand on his shoulder, much as he'd done for her. It's very fast…touching others is still weird for her at times, just as it's weird to be touched.

She drops it by the time he's speaking, and smiles faintly at Zatanna for whatever she mouths. "Bonus points if you leave a perfect knuckle indent with glowing runes and all directly in the balls of some Hydra punk."

Then she's striding after him, no longer acknowledging her awkward-ass attempts to give comfort or encouragement. That's not really what she's built for anyway. She's built for the heads she hopes to be busting very soon.


An overt response to Jessica's touch would be out of character for John in his present facade, but he doesn't eschew the contact, and that is probably enough to commend it. That, and the solicitous look slanted down at her as she catches up with him and he holds the door to the stairwell for her. It opens onto his flat — because of course it does. The fastest route back to Brooklyn without having to expend the mana to get there.

Once she's through he follows, and after the door closes and the brickwork of the flat seals behind them like a shifting, tangible tetris display, he turns to begin climbing the ladder, to exit through the hatch that leads to Brooklyn's pedestrian-spotted streets. "If something goes wrong on their end," he says, "I'm sending you to the airport."

Just so that everybody's clear on that point, before they get started.


JFK airport moves and bustles like any average Saturday night: with its usual, unparalleled chaos.

It is dark where they arrive, and winter-cold, the night heralding the distant, deafening burn of airplane jets. Under cover of darkness, it seems they've missed the hustle of actually arriving /inside/ any of the main terminals (not that TSA wouldn't appreciate Red Robin's get-up, might have to check in the cape though) and instead are out on the landing strip.

They're not entirely alone, not for now, as workers distantly carry luggage carts past, others waving in fuel cars for incoming flights. Jets scream overhead on constand landing and take-off.

Not noticed, but it's obvious they soon will be if they linger. JFK takes its security serious.

Hanging above the cold bite of the air is, to Zatanna, that familiar, haunting taste of mana — some familiar, some /hers/, like hearing an echo of her own voice inside her head — braiding invisibly through this area. It ripples unseen through the strip, and seems to have a tether, and end point sutured toward some of the farther landing strips. Distant, unconnected terminals away from the main, public clamour, catering to the rich. It leads to one such airpark meant to house and fuel their private jets.


The moment they arrive, the first thing Zatanna does is trace a word on her arm, backwards of course, to mask the sounds of her movement. The second thing she does is draw the hood up her head and secure it, to keep her features shrouded in the event that things go sideways with the civilians hauling luggage around the strip.

She feels it then, the strains of her own power calling her to the far side, towards the more distant strips where the wealthy have their own personal aircraft. There's a step or two undertaken to get to the nearest cover, crouching low on the ground before anyone sees. "Over there," she tells her companion quietly, eyeing the distant lights leading to where they need to be. It looks dark, over there, with only a sparse smattering of light.

Were she in her full power, she would be doing more scouting, to use her mystic eyes, but she doesn't know how much power she has left and expending too much if she's not careful would render this entire exercise fruitless before it even starts. So she sticks close to the cowled young man's periphery and there's a hint of curiosity there as well. This is the first time she is seeing Tim work up close, and he seems very comfortable in the dark.

"Your turn," she tells him quietly, indicating that she'll follow his lead - between the two of them, he's probably the expert in keeping out of sight so as not to alert security. "You're the ninja."


Once again, Red Robin was right.

He did not like it.

There are different ways to move through an area stealthily, of course, but some of them go off the table when you run around in a costume like his. They can't simply pretend they're supposed to be there and go on about their business in the hopes that anyone who saw them would just ignore them. But he moves immediately, getting his bearings with a quickness that most humans would be unable to match, settling in a decent hiding spot as Zatanna does likewise, scanning around with his cowl's lenses enhancing his vision, his suit's fairly limited onboard collaborating with the Bat-Computer through the wi-fi router on his utility belt. It helps him pick out things more quickly, finding where the other people, the civilian workers and security guards on the airport tarmac collect the most thickly.

It's cold; none of them want to be out there. Maybe that will help. It would be easier to sneak alone, but that's not an option. Especially since he hasn't the faintest idea what he's looking for, and despite bleary and possibly hallucinatory efforts on one of his sleepless nights of late, his attempts to build a soul-finding gadget have met with utter failure.

Fortunately, Zatanna is there, as a part of this extremely literal quest to find herself.

"Damn right I am," Red Robin replies just as quietly, the voice she knows lost in the shrouding, obliterating effects of the device he wears under his cowl's neck. He moves with care and caution, true to Zatanna's expectation, watching carefully for movement before he indicates it's safe for them to proceed, darting from cover to cover.

It's slow going, but haste spoils this kind of work, and it is indeed do or die time. It might get darker as they approach the private airfield, but in truth that just makes Red Robin /more/ cautious. From what little he's been told about the people behind this, the guards there will be /much/ less friendly than the airport's own rent-a-cops.


The trail to East Flatbush brings them to the cold, wintry sight of a Brooklyn night, only few dozen blocks from where they began. Distantly, a street away, looms the massive, familiar body of Downstate Hospital, its spine splitting out with a dozen vestigial complexes and clinics. Cars move along the icy roads. Pedestrian traffic is no different than any New York weekend night, the hour still young, and the moon hanging bright in the sky.

The city moves sightlessly past and through the leyline pull that sighs the taste of magic through the air, something tasted naturally on the palate of someone like John Constantine. Usually the nearby network of cemeteries carry this leyline, energy draw, powered by life and death both, the transition between and the requisite grief, but tonight its drink has been spiked. This mana, however, carries a note of flavour along its current all too familiar to the man. It's Zatanna, her very stolen life, spun along that energy flow, weaving to strengthen it in ways it has never been before.

This tether triangulates to the strangest of places. On the outskirts of the hospital stands a simple, nondescript medical imaging clinic, signs pasted over and clouding its windows — UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT. No one, suspicious or not, lingers at its perimeter, and its entrancepoints are a pair of main, glass doors at the front — locked, of course — and a bland service door at the back.


John's earliest memories of occult work recall a time when he'd have found this dichotomy strange: they are chasing the phantoms of a world most consign to myth and fantasy, while all around them the urban landscape heaves and bides its time, changed by a tidal flow of humanity. It used to be difficult for him to reconcile the two worlds as one and the same. The mundane world had seemed so tedious, the world of magic so seductive — but if experience has taught him anything, it's that pedestrian human existence contains more wonders than he'd ever given it credit for in his youth, and the allure of magic so often turns out to be cheap glamour meant to dress something worthless up as a thing of value or import.

The tide is incoming at the end of the day, a rush of bodies preparing for a night of hedony to distract from the otherwise endless grind of commutes and work. There's a kind of magic in that — the rush of pheremones, the pumping of hearts. Violence, chemical distractions, carnal satisfactions — the whole panoply of temptations, there for the taking on any given night of the week in this most inviting, punishing of cities. Enough that it can almost compete with the channel of power they follow to its source, cutting across blocks more heavily draped in shadow, John ever leery of observing eyes. He stops in a cut-away alley across the street from the building in which he senses that anchor-point, lingering in the darkness thrown by the wall beside him. Tightened blue eyes scan, find nothing especially valuable. His breath paints the dark air white.

"That's it." After a beat, he turns his head to look at the dark-haired woman with him. "I'll be following you in. I go in first and ten to one I get clubbed over the head. How do you want to do this?"


"Understood," Jessica says, following John up the ladder.She was mildly impressed as she saw the expanded capabilities of the flat…John seriously has the most badass of all badass houses, but now was not the time. She was focused, now, ready to do what needed to be done, whatever that was.

Both John and Zee wanted her to take care of the other. It was warming, really, the trust they were both putting in her. Sadly she could only be one place at a time. Unless they had a spell for that.

She wouldn't put it past them.

Her eyes sweep about where they've just landed; instinctively looking for the less-mystical signs of impending trouble. There's something niggling at the very base of her skull. Some twist of intuition that's worked its way through her brain. There's something about staring at the hospital and the building John indicates that puts her hackles up. But it doesn't matter if something about all of this suddenly seems…off. Maybe it's just her nerves. Maybe it isn't.

There isn't any choice anyway. Do or die. Failure not an option.

"Service door," she says instantly. She crosses the street, hands in pockets, looking for all the world like she has every right to walk around to the back of the building. Upon getting there she simply grasps the handle of the door and pulls /up/ until the lock breaks. It makes a lot less noise than one might suppose, a sort of crunch-click that at least out here is swallowed by the city noises. There's a trick to making sure it doesn't alert the whole building; a finesse she's had time to perfect. Then she slips inside, hands up in her bar brawler's guard, ready to respond if someone attacks.


It's practically a dance in itself to navigate the chaos of the main landing strip of one of America's most populated airports, lit and busy even under cover of an icy night, framed in the constant, unpredictable paths of airport personnel, baggage handlers, and security guards. Every few minutes the relative silence cleaves under the sonic roar of another jet pulling off into the air.

But the two come skilled and knowledgable, and there are brief pockets of darkness and shadow even among this clamour, and the farther they move from the main airway the darker and more merciful the night closes around them.

Away from the public and into the realm of the private, the airstrips catered to the super-rich are a different affair, its terminal positioned away in the distance, situated comfortably away from the noise of air traffic. Along the strip, however, narrows the roads for the use of smaller, private jets, leading into a small, sparse population of airpark warehouses, most of them at this time silent.

No one fancy or famous is scheduled to take off or arrive at this time.

The leyline flow leads directly to one airpark, one situated the farthest from all outlying activity. A simple, one floored structure existing for the sole purpose to store a jet, its bay doors are shut, though light from its few, too-high windows, its perimeter also illuminated by outdoor lights.

Slow movement scrapes through that light. Two posted men, milling in well-tailored suits and expensive winter coats, hands folded and faces stern. To the average eye, they look no more than private security hired by someone with money. Maybe keeping an eye on a pre-boarding plane refuelling happening inside.


/It's useful/, John thinks, as he drops into a loose-gaited walk behind the detective, /to have a friend like Jessica Jones./

…Friend? Are we saying that now? Apparently. Friend it is, then. He slides his hands into his pockets and avoids rushing. He, like the PI, is inordinately gifted at looking as though he has every right to be where he's not supposed to be: bullshit makes up the bulk of his stock in trade. It is nevertheless an unintentionally sobering gesture, reminding him — as he feels the tepid, frictionless surface of a glass vial slide past his chilled fingertips, the contents no doubt hurling themselves against the point of their contact, eager to sip from him — that his fall-back plan has a heavy price tag, indeed.

Jessica does what she does best, and John watches her do it with interest, though there's little chance he could ever replicate those methods, shy of a double-shot of unusual radiation or whatever it is that today's modern hero uses, like metahuman steroids.

And then, just like that, they're in.


They slowly navigate their way all the way back - to the airstrip set aside for the rich and famous. Crouching in shadow, somewhere behind and to the side of Red Robin, she inches her head up to look over the hard line of his shoulder and towards the building guarded by two men. There's a bit of a frown, inclining her head slightly. The urge to just kick the door down is nigh-near overwhelming, but they might alert whoever it is that is holding onto the cluster of her soul inside of the building. The fact that they're at an airport is worrisome, wondering deep down whether they intend to fly pieces of her out of the country.

Then again, does that even make sense? The man with the Tarnhelm can vanish and appear at will. If they wanted to do that with her soul, they wouldn't need JFK. And the way they set it in three place where leylines converge….

"What are they powering here in New York…" Zatanna murmurs softly, close to Tim's ear.

It's something to think about for later. There's an incline of her head at her friend, a small, lopsided grin tugging on the corners of her mouth. "So is this the part where we knock those two guys out and wear what they're wearing and pretend we belong here all along?"

Pale blue eyes track upwards, in an effort to gauge whether there's another way inside /without/ alerting anyone.

But there doesn't seem to be any.

"Really?" she mutters. "The one time I actually bother to look for another way inside and it's through the front?" She exhales quietly. Play to your strengths, darling.

A hand lowers, touching Red Robin's shoulder lightly.

"I think you're still up."


Two. Less visible guards than Red Robin had worried, but perhaps what he should've expected. Even here, too many goons would cause a problem if they're out in the open; even if they could simply kill whoever noticed them and decided things looked awry, sooner or later there would be more, and more, and more. A nuisance, at the very least. Better to not draw attention.

"Not this time," he replies in an undertone to Zatanna's joking remark. "Could probably fit both of us in one of those suits." That made sense, too. You wanted visible muscle to be visibly muscle, to deter trouble before it even started. Bodyguards, bouncers… Big and scary was the order of the day for jobs like that.

He's watching the two men, watching the area around them - looking for heat signatures, looking for other movement, any signs of other guards or personnel - when Zatanna touches his shoulder.

'I think you're still up.'

"Sit tight, I'll be right back," he tells her, his arm slipping out from under his cape, brandishing a grappling gun. A quiet *paff* of compressed air is the only sound at first, the line unfurling at a rapid pace, the hook clamping decisively onto the edge of the hangar's roof, and then there's a *whirr* as Red Robin allows it to pull him along up and through the air, over the heads of the two guards, vanishing between the lights as he clings to the side of the building.

And then, barring anything going drastically wrong, about five seconds later one of the guards disappears into the shadows above, quiet as a whisper and whatever the man might've been holding in his hands dropping to the ground.

Unless the other man is smart enough to run, a few seconds later he'll likely be claimed too.

The Gotham City Horrorshow has come to New York.


The guards do not suspect anything. Like most humans, they exist primarily in two dimensions: left-right, forward-back. People just don't look up very often, the instinct to do so bred out of them over millennia. It's been a long time since any modern man had to fear serpents or great cats dropping from above.

This works to their detriment as the Red Robin claims one of them without a sound or whisper. As he disappears, something falls from his coat: a modified carbine.

His companion swings around, another of those carbines appearing in his own hands, but Red Robin makes fairly short work of him too with his advantage of height and cover. He manages to keep hold of his weapon, and he fires it wildly upward in the direction of his assumed attacker.

It doesn't fire projectile ammunition. It fires shots of crackling blue light. Each shot resonates back against Zatanna, vibrating in the emptied corridors where her soul used to be.

They used her soul for imbuements.

There do not appear to be other guards outside, and the lack of sound means no one appears to have been alerted. The bay doors are shut, but there is a control panel that presumably will get them to open. There are windows, but they are quite high, up where the walls meet the ceiling of the hangar.


Looking up as one by one the guards disappear, Zatanna can't help but marvel as to how silently and effortlessly Tim makes this seem. "I'm starting to think I worry about you for nothing," she murmurs through their earbud comms. "/Silly me/."

It's a jest; she'd do it anyway, no matter how lengthy Red Robin's skillset.

The resounding pulse of her own soul being used as /bullets/ rips through her and suddenly it bubbles back up again. The sensation of being stalked in her own mind, of being held down while they carved her open. The astral hand reaching in to grab the endless well of her spirit and /pull/ as she screamed and fought and kicked while she held onto pieces of herself, strips vaccuumed out into the waiting, soulless parasite sitting on the old Russian man's head. Righteous fury, the overt reminders of her violation, sears into the back of her skull like a white hot blade…

Before she knows it, she's moving. The brass knuckles are spun out of mid-air as if by actual magic, fitting it into her right hand as she moves for the control panel.

That was it.

That was it!

She slams her palm into it forcibly to open the door, her narrowed eyes turning towards it.


The lock breaks. The door opens.

No one attacks.

There is only silence and darkness, and they enter into the dusty supply room that fills with tied and stowed objects: chairs, overturned desks, the hacked and dissected pieces of a MRI scanner. The device alone has to be worth millions. It sits in rubble, picked apart like scraps, left to die.

All the necessary equipment of a medical imagining office, gutted out and pointlessly thrown aside.

No active security cameras. No posted watch of guards. Only a darkened office saturated with the heady, intoxicating taste of magic.

The back room leads in through a hall to the husked clinic's front reception, similarly emptied out save the remains of a front desk, the lights left dark, and the only other way forward towards, one would presume, the clinic room. Where patients once would go to have imaging done. Where —

— someone speaks loudly, blandly, in annoyance. A man's voice, high and nasally. "Tasha, where the hell is the rest of the milk?"

"What?" calls a woman. "It's in there."

"You, you crap almond milk is in there that you never even use. Where is /my/ milk?"

"Jesus Christ. Just drink the almond milk. You are such a princess."

Silence and any cursory peeks would not gain notice, not from a simple, nondescript team of man and woman, unarmed, dressed in jeans and ill-fitting sweaters rather than any tactical black, the man with his back turned on the door, grousing as he stirs a cup of coffee, and a woman, a pen shoved through her two-days-and-no-breaks ponytail, bathed in light from a computer terminal.

The entire clinic room has been emptied and transformed.

At the center of the room, the floor is broken into and cement uprooted, and cleaved down to freshly-turned, black dirt, and uprooted electrical lines connected directly to the myriad machines, cabled into a monstrosity that occupies most of the room. It looks like a power transformer Frankensteined into something else, grafted steel antennae fanning outwards like fingers to a giant hand. The machine sits in the heart of a drawn circle, painted down, scribbed with strange runes.

"You hear what the dog did?" calls the man, apparently chatty, looking up from his coffee.

The woman glances back, glasses reflecting the light of her screen. "Yeah. Wait, you've seen it?"

"No. God no. Ziedmore got a bit, uh, careless with the new intake. I hear he doesn't have a wrist anymore."

Tasha snorts, scratching at the skin behind her left ear. "I'm sure the only one affected by that is himself."


Unsurprisingly, Red Robin is not particularly /gentle/ with the guards.

The first was bound quickly and quietly, left to dangle by his ankles from the edge of the hangar's roof, from a height that will probably cause him and his expensive suit some distress when he comes around. The second guard produced more of a scuffle, holding onto his weapon and firing, and Red Robin can feel the 'bullets' coalesced out of the very energy of Zatanna's stolen soul breeze past him and into the night sky before they (one hopes) dissipate. The shots are /close/, the guard proving to be a bit more than the ordinary run of easily-panicked goon, but the soul carbine is soon ripped from his hands, Red Robin holding him by the collar of his shirt with one hand, the carbine gripped in the other. He looks at the weapon, curiously, before turning those featureless white eyes on the guard.

The lenses of Red Robin's cowl start to glow, faintly. It's pure theatre - but he always excelled at that part of the Batman's methodology. A grim smile tugs at his mouth, the only human thing visible about his face in that costume. He uses the weapon he's taken from the man.

Not as a gun, no. But there is an efficient savagery in the way he hammers the guard in the face with the stock of his own carbine, feeling the terrible mingled sense of revulsion and satisfaction that come with the application of violence one knows isn't strictly speaking necessary.

But it leaves the man subdued, no doubt.

As Zatanna lets her flashfire temper get the better of her and decides to cut the 'subtle' part out and just leave 'quick to anger', Red Robin drops nearly silently to the tarmac, still holding the sorcerously modified carbine.

"Zee, wait—" he starts to say.

She doesn't.

As the door starts to open, Red Robin moves with immediacy and force, to grab Zatanna and pull her /out/ of the way of the opening door, so they can peer around it and get /some/ idea of what's going on, instead of standing there brazenly and probably getting shot with soul guns.


It's surreal, listening to evil people bitching about almond milk and pet care. If she knew they were actually talking about Sargent Barnes it would infuriate her, but she hasn't made the connection…she just thinks they're going on about a pit bull or something. After all, they were just going on about /almond milk/. Seeing the—whatever the fuck that is? Also very surreal. Jessica can't even begin to figure out what she's looking at.

Well. Constantine can't mess with it with scientists in the way. A moment of thought, and she strides into the room with a big smile. "Um, hi, I'm here to inquire about the $700 one bedroom shithole?"

That's when her hand snaps out to try to grab Tasha's ponytail, the better to sling her into Princess, the better to try to grab both their heads and just shove them hard into a wall, the better to knock them out. They can always slap one awake again if they need answers, but for now she figures giving John unrestricted access to the Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Machine is the way to go.


The guards hang uselessly like bait off hooks.

Wasting no time, and even drained of soul, there is no end to Zatanna's bottomless /fury/. The bay doors, large but left unlocked, perhaps trusting the posted guards and the relative seclusion of the location, begin to gamely slide open by her hands.

Their motor, incited by her initial push — the rich enjoy everything simple and easy, even hangar doors to hold their pet jets — churns to life, and they slowly, leisurely begin to slide open. Even as Red Robin grabs her away, out of the mouth of could-be danger, they roll open, uninhibuted, flaring out interior light that reaches out into the January dark.

No one waits inside. No more guards and no more guns.

Just the cement floor chiselled through and broken to expose dirt, and an identical machine planted down to tree outward, hinged out of transformer ripped from New York's power grid, and christianed with its three-point antennae. It sits in a same circle, painted along husked cement and ground, arrayed all around that machine and studded in detailed runes hailing from the scripts of Old Norse. Perhaps even older. The machine sits silent, though the leyline runs around it like a serpent, a current begging direction.


Jessica's intuition proves itself out: the service entrance leads them to a room that is deserted and dark, both of which things come as a relief for John.

He moves through it slowly, quiet as a whisper when he needs to be. Every last gesture is deliberate, movement economized down to his eyes for the most part, those thorough but efficient in their scrutiny. Exits, entrances. Possible makeshift weapons. Cover, items heavy enough to use as a barricade, anything potentially hazardous. His itemized list of things to take note of is tuned specifically toward wringing every last advantage out of his environs — a skill honed over years of improvising his way to improbable victory.

The feeling of magic here would already be throbbing through him without the additional overcharge of Zatanna's soul fragment, the presence of which causes his teeth to feel as though they're floating in his gums, a soft pressure behind his eyes. He is not prepared for the way it affects him: it is the indescribable but essential nature of her, imbued with her character. More than just raw power. Its sudden presence after such a harrowing absence rattles viciously at the gates behind which he's barred the pieces of himself that feel rather than think. They hold, but it's a heady moment of listening to the hinges creak, rolling that ghostly flavor across the palate of his sixth senses.

They arrive in very short order on the threshold of a room containing…Something, having edged closer and closer to it while people talk about dogs and almond milk and whatever the hell else lab rats whinge about in their downtime. John is only listening with half an ear, too busy studying the paint on the ground. His eyes crinkle at the corners, pale blue irises slashed into thoughtful narrows. It's…different. Unusual. There are entire swaths he doesn't recognize, though the runes have a character he feels he ought to understand. He grasps why quickly enough: something Nordic, before Norse were a thing. Precursor language, perhaps? Modified heavily enough to occlude his understanding of most of them. Advanced stuff: it isn't easy to stump him when it comes to dead languages. The man has a symbol on his wrist that contains the language of the Seraphim.

The few he can tease the meaning out of do not reassure him. Rift magic.

They can pull of acting like they have reason to be here. Assessors, something to do with the management company or — maybe hospital staff, mixed up and turned around, people with keycard access—

Before he can so much as finish the thought, Jessica is a blur of poetic, non-lethal violence.

/Yep,/ he thinks, bracing himself to assist if necessary, which, let's be honest: Very Unlikely.



She is ready to break some heads when Red Robin decides to err in the side of prudence. Both hands seize her, yanking her away from the sight of the doors - perhaps a good idea, considering they haven't had a chance to see what's in there. Zatanna lets herself get swallowed back into the shadows, glints of crimson red flickering within their stygian bosom and with a slash of his cape, they are gone again, silent with nothing to show for their presence but open bay doors and dangling guards.

When nothing else happens, Zatanna peers over Red Robin's shoulder to what's inside. What she sees earns a faint furrow of her brows.

"What the hell…?"

Slowly, once Red Robin releases her, she starts to move towards the machine, and hesitates. There is a frown, and she glances over towards her friend.

"Red," she tells him. "Do me a favor and keep your distance for a little bit. For all I know, this could be a trap."

And if it is, he'll have to pull her out of it. Not because she knows for certain, but because even if it isn't, she is absolutely /not/ above triggering the entire mechanism just so she knows what she's dealing with. It's foolhardy and reckless, but she is /running on borrowed time/ and she has no room to be indecisive.

There's a hint of a smile; she tries to be reassuring. Turning around, she moves, close towards the machine, where it pulses with her magic. Her life. The burning supernova of just /one/ of her three soul fragments scattered in other points in New York. She feels the heart of her soul throb within her, aching for the rest of her missing pieces. Just feeling this, being in this space, returns some of her lost vitality. From behind her, Red Robin can see the change - the gray in her hair was slowly seeping towards rich, midnight darkness again.

She pauses at the circular perimeter the sigils make. She slowly lowers herself on one knee on the floor to inspect it. Pale irises roam over the sigils, the etchings.

"….yeah, Red, I think you better stay away from this thing. These are Old Norse runes but they're…" She squints. "It's a gateway. Of a kind, these inscriptions are for rift magic. What are they trying to open in New York?"


"…Huh," Red Robin muses, quietly, in that electronically distorted voice.

That is not what he'd expected.

With the lack of any immediate danger, especially in the form of more guards armed with more of those guns, the costumed young man does indeed release Zatanna, watching as she somewhat recklessly heads towards the mystery machine. He's about to follow her, when she asks him to stay back, and against his better judgement, he does as he's bid, standing a bit further back, though still inside the hangar.

His lenses cycle through different imaging as he looks around. Thermographic, another search for sources of heat; then to visualise the electrical currents in the warehouse, the wires and cables, perhaps searching for a more mundane clue to what's going on. Then, a brief ultrasound pulse from a device in his palm, letting him 'see' the room that way as well; looking for weak spots, hidden things.

Zatanna, to his sight, shifts through these as well, dimmed smears of body heat as her current state chills the very furnaces of life inside of her; a skeleton and faint crackling impulses of electricity, and then lastly the young woman herself as she appears in the flesh, when he returns to normal vision. But where she stands, surrounded by the life force that is hers by right, he can see some of it return to her, a withered flower regaining the strength to bloom.

"A gateway? Are they trying to bring something here? Can you… Stop it? Get part of your soul back with…" He trails off vaguely, just kind of /gesturing/ with one hand. 'Some kind of magic thing,' he presumably means.


"Can you imagine it, Karl?" Tasha intones, her voice lowering to a conspiratory hush, as if just thought of the dog — the thing — inspires one to speak in sotto voce, "Having your wrist crushed in that metal thing? And it's not even leashed anymore? Seriously, how does that rate on fucked-up ideas?"

"High," answers Karl. "Rates pretty hiiiigh."

"No shit! Now it just attacks /anyone/ and it's deranged about it's girlfriend I guess?" She looks revolted at the thought. "I'm just glad we're /here/ and don't —"

Both technicians turn when Jessica Jones loudly inquires about neighbourhood rent control. Their faces share an identical look of shock.

She grabs man and woman both, and they offer no resistance, faces meeting the wall. It knocks both of them clean out.

Silence ensues in their wake in that strange room. The left-on computer screen flares light. Almond milk warms, left out on the table. The machine is silent.


Back in the airpark hangar, an identical copy of that machine waits in identical silence. Red Robin's scan indicates deep, subterranean cabling, far enough to ground the machine off the power grid, leeching power from the good infrastructure of New York City. Power runs through it. Even detactivated, it's certainly live. Live and ready to be used. It is the only source of power he can detect, with no other technological links. The rest appears to rely on that strangely-written sorcery.

Zatanna wanders closer to inspect its painted runes, walking in and through the leyline current, energy mixed with that of her stolen light circling aimlessly about. A soul without vessel. Given no direction. Given no command. Given no navigation than to be lost like an errant ghost. Lost and —

She bends close to the circle.

The machine turns on.

It activates with no more than an abrupt, deafening HUM of power, activated, activated by her, by the fragment left of her soul. It thinks she is the Tarnhelm. It thinks now is the time. It responds as was built to do.

Electricity currents and crackles among its antennae. The circling mana KNOTS, and snarls past them, over their heads, into the air, and far, far away —

— and into East Flatbush, through the distant hospital, across the street, down into that vacant imaging clinic —

— and the second machine WHIRRS to life beside Constantine and Jessica.

Magic steeps the room like a slap across the fast, its too-sweet ozone thickening the air. Those painted runes wreath with unnatural light, one activating after another. They will only have moments to react.

Spacetime tears.

The world opens on both John Constantine and Jessica Jones, pulling them, separating, drawing them down into new realities.


When the PI realizes who they are talking about, her lips curl in a sneer. "Douchebags." She rifles through their pockets for the moment, looking for keys, wallets, keycards, IDs, money—and if she finds money she's keeping it, seriously. She has a sneaking suspicion she won't understand anything on that computer screen. She graduated high school with a very low GPA; she's smart, but if it's a bunch of science gobbledygook, Jessica Jones will be lost.

Then that machine kicks on, and her head whips up. "Shit…"

And then she sees what's happening. "SHIT! John!" She's less worried about what will be her third trip into Somewhere Else than she is about losing her partner; she tries to fight the pull, tries to grab for his hand so they at least go to the same place. She did, after all, more or less promise Zee she'd look after him and that means not getting separated from him. Whether or not her strength is up to the challenge, or her speed, is uncertain, but she /tries/, even as her heart sinks to her toes, even as she loses sight of him, all in the blink of an eye.


They were talking about Barnes, John realizes. Metal thing, girlfriend — it processes for him through the chaotic non-time that is Jessica's brutal dispatch of the speakers. The thought makes him queasy, contradictory feelings cycling on one another. His wrath over Zatanna's situation, his logical understanding that this was not /Barnes/ but some recontoured avatar of that man, no less a victim than she, for all his complicity. They had both been plundered, the very essence of each stripped away for the sake of /utility/. Foster too, for all he knew. Used. Tools, nothing more. His anger for that is a sicker thing: deny as he might, John is self-aware in spite of appearances, and he sees some of himself in that. Some of the worst of himself.

Of course, facing the machine, he looks and does not touch. Their electronics expert is at JFK somewhere — figures. When the room quiets, his voice transmits across the earpiece given to him by Red Robin, shared with that other team. "Oi, Red," he says, opting to adopt Zatanna's nickname over 'Robin,' which is just so much less badass sounding, "We've got some sort of machine here. It's being powered by the ley lines, but it's cobbled together from what look like…" Hesitation. "Transformers?" Pause. "This isn't exactly my wheelh—"

There is a blast of static. It happens simultaneous to Zatanna stepping close to the machine, and through the static are staccato drips of open mic, through which Jessica can be heard shouting. Runes flare. Adrenaline spikes. Then John: "JONES, hold o—"

And then nothing.

The sledgehammer of magical force that hits him is like a tsunami. He can dimly feel Jessica grabbing his hand and he tries to firm that contact, but everything about his reality is bleeding away into some other place, leaking away through fissures in the actual. They are unsubstanced, the matter of him evaporating, silting through her and away. He fights, but it is not enough to prevent his transience.


And the moment she comes close to the machine, it activates.

Magic suddenly pours from everywhere, making every hair stand on end. Her back arches upwards, sensation fountaining in a violent rush from the small of it and upwards, lancing through the base of her skull. Part of her brain /throbs/, opening the floodgates of her pain receptors and it /burns/, red heat cleaving through her skull.

Fragments of her soul whip around her, coalescing in ephemeral tethers that actually manifest in the visible eye. The darkness within the airport bay washes in a sudden flood of bright light, searing her eyeballs until spots and after-images remain. Tipping sideways, Zatanna attempts to stay on her feet, but the world lurches violently and she collapses heavily on her knees, fingers lifting to dig into her scalp, as if she could flay skin and follicles off her head so she could get at the /thing/ inside that hurts so much at this sudden, resonating influx of power, torn between sucking in the rest of her and reversing to pour back into her as the heart of her soul /screams/ to get back her missing pieces.

Her lips part in a cry; tears of pain blur her vision as she grinds her forehead into the cold cement floor. She hears John's and Jessica's voices through their comlink, somehow through the sound of a disturbed hive that fills her cranium with bees. Something was happening and…

It was something she did. Her presence.

Panic wells inside her and blindly, she scrambles to get back on her feet. /She/ is still here, but something is happening, which means whatever rifts were opening, it was /elsewhere/ and if she wants to fix this, she has to /get/ there and judging by the cries on the other end of the line, she knows where. The beginnings of an idea attempts to fight through the foggy haze of overstimulation and when she rounds on Red Robin, she is wreathed with a strange underglow, siphoning what belongs to her back inside her.

Just enough for two.

She rushes at Red Robin, because they have no time. Her lips part, unleashing her command, and exultation and /relief/ swell painfully in her ribcage when she feels reality twist to obey her.


The space behind Red Robin tears open. She leaps for her friend and classmate, and tackles them both into the opening, following the sudden, dizzying rush through time and space /just/ as Jessica and John get swallowed up in the other side of the city…

…and into the silent, converted hospital.


What Red Robin sees doesn't really give him anything useful to go on just yet, unless he wants to just shut down the entire New York City power grid, which… Would probably not be a very good idea, on the whole.

The sound of Constantine's voice over the comlink draws his attention away from making vague suggestions about whether or not Zatanna can retrieve her lost lifeforce from the machine and the lines surrounding it, and even before the British man goes beyond 'some sort of machine here,' the young man in the cowl knows what the other team is looking at.

Then there's a burst of static cutting off the rest of what Constantine has to say, the sound in Red Robin's ear making him flinch, but there's no time for him to tell him that yeah, they've got exactly the same thing here and it's just woken up, because so many things are happening. "Constantine!" he calls out over the link, geniune concern filtering through the electronically shrouded voice. In front of him, Zatanna collapses in agony, the machine is doing /something/, and it sounds as though its twin, wherever Constantine and Jessica are, is doing something as well. "What's happening over there?!"

And then Zatanna is rushing at him, and even he, as mundane as they come, can feel that swell of power, as a hole in time and space opens up behind him, and Zatanna throws them both through it.

He doesn't like this method of travelling, either.

On the other side, Red Robin reflexively moves to take the impact of the landing, made all the simpler by their relative positions, already trying to figure out where they've ended up without giving his brain or his body time to readjust; just laying around would be dangerous, a vulnerability he can't afford.

It is made somewhat more difficult by the fact that the room seems to be spinning, and his most recent meal (energy bars and a smoothie) is making a concerted effort to escape.


Zatanna and Red Robin tumble to a stop in a room dominated by a runed machine much like the one in the hangar they just left. The two techs lay on the floor, silent, knocked out— though they probably won't stay out for very long. Already the man is starting to twitch a little.

They lay beside the terminal that they were using previously. The screen is still active, logged into some sort of network, though that might not be the most interesting thing in the room just this moment.

What is the most interesting thing is that the mangled blend of machine and magic is very much active. It's alive with power, humming and crackling with grid-drawn electricity and magic alike, its runed circles glowing. /Something/ is happening out there, at all three points of this great triangle: a great funneling of sorts.

A triplicate tethering, at the center of which a great force strives with all the power Zatanna's lost soul can give it. Strives to reach and touch something else—

Whatever it's trying to do, one of the side effects is visible right in front of them.

There are a pair of rifts torn in space before the machine, each a window into another reality. It must be a viewing window only, because they cannot be passed, much as Zatanna and Red Robin might wish to.

Wish to— because on the other side of them, in one, John Constantine can be seen… and in the other, Jessica Jones.


Reality warps among them, an inexorable force parting John Constantine and Jessica Jones' outstretched, clasping hands. It is not like any sensation quantified by the world, nothing like falling, nothing like being pushed, nothing like being thrown — but to be held in a perfect, embryonic sensation of utter weightlessness. Held in place, safe, untouched, as the very fabric of the universe rearranges itself around them.

Their memories run liquid before their eyes. And then it stops.


He opens his eyes to the familiar sound of his phone. Same as always. It drones and rattles the top of a night table.

He's back in his flat in London, his bedroom unchanged from the last he left it. He's out of his clothes, today's clothes, exchanged for what he usually wears to bed — if anything at all. It's morning out the window, the cloudy-grey skies of familiar England.

His phone keeps ringing on. The signal activates his screen: a background snapshot photo of Zatanna Zatara, grinning, one arm outstretched like she's holding the camera like a selfie, her other arm thrown over the shoulders of a blond-haired young woman, her maturing face one he both does and should not recognize. Astra.

The call drones on. The caller says Mary Anne Quinn.



In a matter of weeks, this happens to her a second time.

She opens her eyes to her familiar bedroom, lain around her in careful arrangement no different than the nightmares wrought by Hanussen. Idyllic suburbia sings its carefree notes through her window, children laughing outside in the freshly-fallen Saturday snow.

Her teenage posters are the same as she left them years ago, that day everyone died and everything changed, a mausoleum hung for loss. Only there are additions. Graduation photos. High School Valedictorian. Old track and athletic medals. Degree from Columbia. A framed letter, its old-timey cursive formal and elegant, addressed to "Jessica" and speaking heartfelt of her kindness and strength. Signed, honoured to be her friend, Steve Rogers.

Downstairs, muffled through her shut door, come in the ordinary sounds of breakfast.


For a moment Jessica feels like that big rock guy in the Neverending Story, the one who mournfully tells Atreyu: "I held them all…in these…big…hands…"

She savagely banishes the thought. She's alive, so it stands to reason he is too. The thing to do is to push forward, to deal with the situation now before her. These are the thoughts that run quickly through her head in the moments before the new dimension resolves itself around her.

This time when she finds herself in her bedroom her heart clenches, twists, enters her throat, and for a moment all she can feel is fear. "I can deal with this," she snarls in defiance to the ceiling, before she sees a thing. "Screw you if you think I can't." Whoever 'you' is.

She rises…and then her stomach twists again as she sees…

She stares at the photos in raw shock. High School Valedictorian? Her?

She picks up the framed degree from Columbia. Her. At an Ivy League school. She'd wanted to be a journalist, distantly, so very long ago, and there it is. Journalism.

She bites her lower lip hard, and picks up the framed letter. She swallows hard, clutching it. Honored to be her friend, Steve Rogers. Honored. To be /her/ friend.

It's all so seductive it hurts. She takes the letter out of the frame, sliding it out, feeling the weight of paper between her fingers. She puts it in her pocket with a shaking hand, wanting it and everything it represents, otherworldly fantasy or not.

But it was the accident that gave her powers, wasn't it? She glances at the door, at breakfast being cooked, but first goes to her bed, carefully trying to lift it up with one hand.


The impact is bone-jarring, limbs intertwined helplessly as Zatanna Zatara and Red Robin spill inside of the room, slowly skidding to a stop. For a while, she lies there, unmoving, her own senses spinning, breathless and nauseated by what she had just endured back in JFK Airport. There's a small cough, a hand slowly lifting to touch the back of her neck, the base of her skull. Somewhere within those hard, heavy bones, something feels hot and heavy, barbs of red-hot pain dribbling jaggedly down her spine. It keeps her from inhaling deeply, and her lungs feel like they're burning - as if she had just run a mile.

Save for the thrumming of strange machinery and wild magic, she senses her soul fragment, its emanations spilling around her. Somewhere in the growing, empty chasm slowly consuming her, the pitiful beats of her soul's core tick rapidly, sensing new life. It coaxes her to move, bleary eyes fixing upwards as she slowly, carefully extricates herself from her classmate, burying her face in both of her hands in an effort to regain her center, her focus. Her skull pulses in time with the ebbing of magic around her.

"Red…" she croaks, reaching out in an effort to try and help him up. "Are you okay…?" Her voice trails off as her gaze tracks up and up and up. Past Tim's cowled head and the two portal-like viewing screens hovering above thick, vibrating air. While she doesn't recognize Jessica's surroundings, having not been able to accompany Peter Quill's adventure in Steinschneider's labyrinth in order to retrieve her, she /does/ recognize the place John ended up. A nagging sensation tugs at her stomach, then. She is no seer, but while nothing has happened yet, she registers the sinking sensation that if they don't do something, she will lose them in these portals.

She closes her eyes. There is enough power here to extend her mystical senses, snaring the floating bits and pieces for herself to keep, to stuff in the hole inside of herself. She taps into the cluster of leylines present; like an electrician, she wires these together, bunches them in a web. In front of Red Robin, staring blankly at some point behind him, her fingers lift, index curling against her thumb….and strikes a thread. She follows the resulting ripples, feeling them spread outward, further and further away from where they are until…

She feels the nexus. The center of this entire construct, in between these three points of the city. It sings for her to come home.

Shaking her head out of her trance, she will assist Red Robin up if he needs it. There is a pivot, her blue eyes falling on the two unconscious techs.

"I have an idea," she tells her friend, quietly. "I might be able to get it all back, and bring them out if they can't find their way out. But first thing's first….we need to know more about the machine."

A booted toe nudges Tasha's side. There's a slow, rolling incline of her head towards the caped vigilante.

"So who gets to be the good cop, and who gets to be the bad cop?"


The bed lifts easily, no contest against Jessica's strength. It only creaks a little, in protest, along with the floor.

"Jessica!" a familiar voice calls up from downstairs. The voice of her mother. "What are you doing up there? Phillip's going to eat all your bacon if you don't come down soon."


One might expect weightlessness to be peaceful. It is not. There is no traction against which John can brace and leverage his desire to push back against the absence he becomes. There's nothing to /fight/. He tries, but it's only so much mental and spiritual lashing and futile, frictionless struggling, which eventually becomes a concerted effort to focus and retain his wits.

And then he snaps awake in London, sitting up with a sudden gasp of breath as the void releases him back into himself. His wardrobe for sleep is what it usually is: white t-shirt, dark grey sweatpants pushed just a little way up his lower legs. Socks. Black all-star chucks with empty lace holes and white toe-caps on the floor beside the bed (slippers, as he's fond of telling people, are no good for making sudden escapes).

He is struck by two things at once: the nostalgic familiarity of his London loft, with its massive banks of factory-floor windows, and the human but unproductive urge to wonder if he's been dreaming.

/Bollocks to that,/ he thinks, with a sharp dive inward of his brows. /You're not a bloody amateur. Pull your shit together./

It is with well-deserved trepidation that he looks at the phone ringing and vibrating dully against the gloss-polished wood of his nightstand. As the long lengths of dark hair trigger awareness of who it is on the screen he reaches to snap the phone up — she's found a way to contact him, somehow, through the tear, he thinks — only to hesitate as something about the blonde in the photo gives him pause. He knows her. He knows her someh—

The revelation of her identity socks him like a fist made of ice. Creeping fingers of dread wind their infinite knuckles through the cage of his ribs and bind up his spine.

He throws the covers off, swings his feet over the edge. Thinks: /Who the hell is Mary Anne Quinn?/

…and then somewhere, down the long corridors of memory fogged and stuffed with gauze by a childhood woven from verbal and physical abuse, her name settles on him like prayer, a promise of something better that he was never able to find. His mother. The mother he killed, the missing piece to his everything. His first victim.

/It isn't real,/ he tells himself, but there's just enough uncertainty that he can't know that. What if he slid sidelong into another timeline, what if —

/It isn't fucking real, John. It's too on the nose. Three of the only things on earth you give a shit about other than your own hide, all at once? Don't be a tit./

But the breath he draws is a shudder, and he slides his thumb across the screen of his phone, lifting it to his ear. He looks across the expanse of the room, at nothing.



Jessica sets the bed down with a soft click. The first time she opens her mouth to answer, no sound comes out. And then, "Coming, Mom!" She's trying not to cry already. God, she was such a terrible daughter.

She'd thought she'd resolved much of this, the guilt, the loss, the gaping hole her family had left behind, but really she'd just found a way to live with it after seeing the accident again and again in the nightmare realm, to forgive herself for throwing that Game Boy, for being a teen.

But having them all right here brings it all back, a fresh wound, torn in a different way.

Jessica Jones wants to see them so badly, and yet she's almost afraid to. Still, she moves, drawn on by her mother's voice, first walking as in a daze, then /leaping/ over the banister to get there faster, to burst into the kitchen, half hoping to see what she thinks she'll see, half fearing it, eyes wet and shining but a bit of a smile starting to take over her face too.

Because for these dangerous moments, unlike John Constantine, Jessica Jones doesn't care whether it's real or not. Not even a little bit.


Focus. Breathe. Remember what you were taught.

Red Robin is as mundane as they come, a mere fragile mortal man with no superhuman abilities, no vast trove of knowledge beyond the grasp of ordinary people, but he does have his tricks. If it's difficult to focus outward, focus inward. Find a steady point inside yourself. He was trained - partially, in any event - by one of the few true qi gong masters to be found outside of mystical lost cities, and he taps into that knowledge now, trying to steady the flow of energy through himself. It's difficult, because there is little about himself that is calm or steady lately, and he has to push the distractions away. Pain, nausea, exhaustion, the headache he's had for about two weeks straight, his conflicted storm of emotions… He pushes them down into a small part of himself, walled off, a mild buzzing rather than the deluge of internal demands they would be unchecked.

He looks up at Zatanna, hears her question.

"I'm always okay," the former Boy Wonder lies, pushing himself up to his feet on his own as if it were of no great consequence, while Zatanna is distracted by something else. That something else proves to be like windows in space, showing them the other two of their little team, currently somewhere… Else. Very mundane looking, really. Very normal.

Zatanna is doing Things. Red Robin doesn't distract her with his amateur's questions, instead looking around at the rest of their surroundings, performing the same kind of scans and sweeps he had at the hangar. He expects roughly similar results, but he was trained to be thorough, and recent mistakes have made him more mindful despite his current state.

'I have an idea,' he hears Zatanna say. The idea involves one of the people apparently responsible for the maintenance of the machine. And then she asks him…

"You're joking, right?" the costumed vigilante asks, slightly incredulous.

With a bit of brief fiddling, Red Robin turns the glow in his cowl's lenses up, and distorts his voice further, into something all the more sinister. Barely even recogniseable as a human voice, anymore.

"WAKE UP," demands the that terrible voice of the fallen Tasha, pressing his fingers just so against the side of her neck: A pressure point, changing the flow of her energy just as he could himself. A healing technique, as it happens, and honestly she should thank him, because getting knocked unconscious and /staying/ unconscious is really bad for you.


Tasha sure wakes up. With a scream, once she sees the horrible visage looming over her.

She jerks back to wakefulness, kicking her companion spasmodically as she does: this agitation fully wakes up Karl in turn, the man groaning as he rolls over on the floor and clutches at his head.

"Oh God!" Tasha emits in a tiny scream, holding her hands up before her face as if this would ward off Red Robin. "Don't— we just— we just work here…"

Karl groans again. He doesn't have a good vantage point of Red Robin's horrifying face, but he does have a vantage of the rifts. "Oh… that's new…"


The blatant lie has Zatanna giving him a look from where she is and one that he will know well. But she doesn't belabor the point, exhaling quietly. Her next remark, however, is slightly petulant, after glancing down at herself, and looking at Red Robin's very intimidating costume.

"I can be a bad cop," she mutters.

Hearing another groan from the room, the young magician turns around on booted feet, reaching over so she can grab Karl by the collar and drags him towards where Tasha is. She lets him go there, then takes a few steps back. A slender finger points at the machine.

"Talk," she says. "Don't worry about getting technical, I want to know how this thing works. If you lie, Red here will know, and he'll rip your arm off and beat your coworker stupid with it. And if we ask her a question and /she/ lies, he'll rip /her/ arm off and beat /you/ stupid with it. So don't mess with him. He's had a long day. I just watched him string up a couple of your other buddies in about five seconds because he was bored and wanted to play with a couple of human pinatas. He's not bored now, he's /working/, which means he'll be worse. Like dropping babies and kicking puppies worse."

She tries to ignore what is going on in the portals behind her. She hears the sounds, images of prospective, unbridled happiness depicted in the swirling vortecies. Apprehension and something closer to sorrow, and the unfairness of it all, grips tightly at her ribcage.

But she does her part. If Red Robin is playing the part of the bad cop, she's trying to make sure that he does come off as an /absolute monster/ before he even does anything.

She's helping!



"Happy birthday, my sweetheart!" sings immediately from the phone, the voice old, soft, a little weak, but suffused with fierce spirit. Each spoken word carries unequivocal life. "Oh, am I the first to say it? Do assure me I am. A mother's right and all that. Can you imagine it, thirty years ago, right this time, I was changing your nappies. You made an awful mess. It was everywhere! Bits of it — you'd never seen such a thing. Not like Luke — can you tell your arse of a brother to answer his phone? I know he's busy with that girl of his, but it's no excuse — oh! How is yours, John? She's a darling, that girl. Are we all still on for supper?"


She wastes no time to open that familiar door. Descend those familiar stairs. Little has changed, but there are differences, an update made to a life missed: pictures hanging in the hallway walk down. Family photos. A framed front page newspaper, dated five years ago: JEWEL STOPS ATTACK ON UNITED NATIONS.

Her father passes by, ipad in hand, its screen lit on some careless touch-screen game of popping balloons. Brian Jones is the same man she lost decades ago, alive again, age in his face, new laugh lines added to the crinkles around his eyes. He gives her a wry look. "Too late, pumpkin. It's all gone."

The scene opens to their kitchen. Breakfast plates, eggs, toast, orange juice. The seating for Jessica Jones is missing its bacon.

A young man, all grown up, a few years older but with her eyes, with a smile from her dreams, and no blood on his face, looks up from his chair. "Yep. Ate it," Phillip says proudly. He glances aside, however, cringes without sound, and none-too-covertly points away, mouthing 'NO IT WAS HER.'

A young woman, his age, wearing the other half of his matching wedding bands, and uncomfortably eight months pregnant, talks away on her phone. She gives Phillip the finger, then waves a familial hello to Jessica.

"I can make some more," intones the voice that called, her mother in the kitchen, grey-haired, but aged beautifully. "It's not often we get to have you back home. I do what I can to convince you to stay."


In fact, he's not having fun at all.

He actively ignores the things he hears from the two portals, the windows into lives that weren't; he doesn't need to think about the things he's lost, or the things he'll never have. Those things don't drive him. Those things don't consume him the way they do the man who trained him.

He will not /let them/.

Red Robin looks briefly towards Karl after the other technician is caught and dragged by Zatanna to where she wants him, before he returns his attention down to Tasha. Zatanna's threats are, by any metric, ridiculous - the only one of them capable of doing any arm-ripping is Jessica Jones, and she's too indisposed at the moment to do her Chewbacca impression - but he won't accomplish anything by undermining her or contradicting her.

Instead, he just grins down at the technician, showing those pearly whites in an expression rendered all the more terribly sinister by the whole everything else he's got going on at the moment.

"Don't worry," that horrible voice grates out, the sound and the light from his lenses all designed to add to the fraught sensory experience Tasha is currently dealing with. "I'm very good at making sure you won't die. No matter how much you might want to."

He chuckles, then.

It's awful.

"Answer the lady's questions, or… You know, actually I'm kind of in a finger mood today? Which of yours would you most want to be made to eat?"


Between Zatanna and Red Robin, Zatanna certainly looks more amenable. Tasha looks a bit frantically at her, perhaps hoping for clemency— though her face falls when the young magician grabs Karl and just DRAGS him. The man offers only feeble protest to this, more than a little discombobulated.

Told to TALK, the techs look back and forth, exchanging about five panicked looks in that many seconds. "W-we don't know exactly what the point is!!" she stammers. "The runes, the circle, the magic-y… bullshit! The mystics were here for that, and they— they're gone now, we just maintain the machinery—"

"It needed a vast amount of power to get started," Karl puts in. "T-this is just one big jump. I-it's just a tap into the city power grid, we just have to keep it running—"

They are threatened with finger eating. They crumple at this into terrified shaking.


It's not real.

It isn't. It can't be.

John knows that. He knows.

He'd been drilling that thought into himself over and over again because it's his defense against the unreality of it; because he can't afford to get caught up in the lie, the way he did in Muller's labyrinth. He thinks it's going to protect him.

Instead, it tears him open. Cracks the plate of his sternum and rips him apart, reaches between the broken bars and effortlessly extracts his heart, with skewering, flaying claws that sound like love. Like home. It is nothing to eviscerate him this way: a single thread pulled, and the whole of him unravels.

He has no idea there is a window onto this world of exquisite suffering. He does not guard his expression. Astonished grief slashes across his usually ever-so-carefully curated face, the hand that isn't holding the phone lifted to barricade his palm across his mouth, brows thoroughly knit over closed eyes. He holds his breath, and the seal of that is responsible for the fact that the sudden, single, breathless sob that's shaken out of him only causes his shoulders to round and his chest to hollow, no air to carry to it.

He can't speak. He is maimed in absolute silence, fingers growing slick and wet with the tears he will not accompany with sound — as though his body cannot contain his anguish, and distills it down to liquid.

It shouldn't have worked. He never had a brother—

(Something stirs in him uneasily.)

— and she's talking about /nappies/ and there's nothing in it but the kind of mundane transaction most children have with their parents. The embarrassing personal details, the light inquiries into his life, with interest and even affection…

Things he never had. Never. Not once.

He listens, soaks it in like water to quench a lifelong drought. It fills him with paralyzing gratitude. It destroys him.


Really? She went with Jewel? Christ.

The thought is fleeting, cause God damn, she stopped an attack on the United Nations like a BOSS, and suddenly Jewel doesn't seem really very stupid at all. It seems like someone who wanted to be a shining example, to defend beauty and truth and people's lives. It causes her to stop for just a moment, to bite her lip at this proof that she has been stunting her own potential for a long, long time. But that can't keep her fixated for long.

Her mother. Her father. Her brother. Her brother's /wife/. She's going to be an /aunt/.

Jessica doesn't even know where to start. Her face breaks into a broad grin, but she suddenly seizes her mother in a fierce hug. "I /love you/," she says. She buries her face in her mother's shoulder for a moment, inhaling familiar scents. Tears prick at her eyes, then she's moving to throw her arms around her father's neck, careful not to hurt his iPad.

"I love you all /so much/."

You get one chance to say these things sometimes. She hadn't said them in over two years when her parents had died, too busy being the surly grouchy teen that she'd been, too cool, too angry at the world, too busy blasting The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Nirvana at top volume through her firmly shut bedroom door. Too stupidly unaware that one day she'd never, ever have the option of saying it ever again. But she knows now. It's why she said it to Zatanna the other day, because her fading countenance had served as a stark reminder. Say it, or miss the chance forever.

Remembering Zatanna causes a pang of worry in her stomach. Is Zatanna dying while she's here…here /enjoying/ herself? She should be looking for a way to get out of here…

But she can't stop herself from launching herself at her brother next, going in to hug him too, all grown up, no doubt doing something amazing with his life.

She knows she's probably coming off like a crazy person, but her racing mind has already come up with a way to explain it.


Somewhere behind her, she hears John's anguish and Jessica's jubilation; she is familiar with the tragedies that have marked both indelibly, and while John was less forthcoming with the nuances of his, the private investigator recently provided her with a window in which to glimpse her life. The last week, she has been inundated with nothing but the stories that have changed the lives of her closest acquaintances, and even while Red Robin threatens the two technicians in front of her, she knows his story too. Zatanna has always been an emotional mirror, a livewire, a conduit - she can't help but be, when she so recklessly bulls through the most volatile aspects of human interactions, dashes across without heed of the injuries she may suffer along the way. She reflects emotion, amplifies it….that boundless, vulnerable heart enables her to /feel/ everything from everyone around her and she can't help but do so now. One has to wonder, in the end, how she manages to survive being the way she is, when it is such a danger to her, remembering how her father and John conspired to keep her away from Switzerland because what she saw could have been too much to bear that it could affect everything she is; her personality, her magic.

Her life has granted her some semblance of mercy there - while she isn't a stranger to tragedy, she manages not to be ruled by it also.

She keeps her back turned to these images but she hears them, knows Tim can hear them too, and considering how his fresh grief and urgency have only dredged up old ones, she feels her fingernails cut into her palms, hands balling into fists. She blinks back the rapidly accumulating wave of moisture behind her eyes - god, how many times did she cry this week?

She focuses on the technician's words, which do nothing but solidify a growing theory. She turns her head to look at the machine, the waves of pulsing magic emanting from it, sitting in the heart of the circle.

The heart…

Her heart.

"Red," she says quietly. "I need to hook myself up and you need to strap me down."

She closes her eyes. Somewhere deep down she's apologizing to everyone in this room.

"When it happens, the surge might be too much. Everything's connected here, there's power in the middle. I need to get it back but I don't know if I'll be able to control how fast it flows in me. It might be too much. Too much magic. Too much electricity. My heart…"

She lifts her head to meet Tim's eyes. Her lips press in a determined line.

"If it happens, I need you to bring me back."



In the middle of his mother's conversation, the door to the flat swings open and a pair of long legs stride inside.

It's Zatanna, the same, but different; older by two years, her manner of dress is still the usual, still clad in her dark colors, her favorite items - the changes time have wrought on her are subtle; the beginning strains of adult maturity defines her cheekbones and the set of those large eyes. She's even included some pops of color now, the deep purple of her scarf, the matching loose-knit cap clinging to the back of her head, dark tendrils half-stuffed in its confines in that artfully careless way she favors every time she puts something decorative over her head. Ice-blue eyes search around the room quickly, mischief and anticipation there…

"Babe? You ready to go?" she calls, situating her bag on a chair and wanddering further inside. "Chas and Gary /just/ texted me, and at the same time! They said you're two hours late for— "

Booted feet stop. Her lips part at seeing the expression on his face. Her steps quicken, alarm writ on her expressive face.

"What happened?" she asks, reaching out in an effort to grasp him by the shoulders. "This….this isn't the turning thirty thing again, is it?"


"Y-you're going to what?!" Tasha stammers, seeming to find a temporary backbone somewhere inside herself at Zatanna's declaration. "Y-you can't! You can't stop this! It has to happen! We were promised happiness—"

"Tasha," Karl tries to interrupt, his eyes wide.

"— promised our own paradises, no more sadness, no—"

Tasha cuts off. Her face twists in first agitation, then pain. Her hand lifts to her ear, nails digging in behind it, clawing at something that seems to itch and pain her all at once. Karl regards her, sober, his own hand clutched at the same spot behind his own ear in involuntary sympathy.



"And here I am, prattling on! I truly am an old bloody woman. Tell me to shut up, would you? I don't want to waste your birthday having to listen to your /mother/ — I'm not disturbing you, am I? You're far too patient with me, and — "

The voice on the line goes quiet. It isn't real, he wants to tell himself. It's a lie. This is a lie, this world, this moment, this bedroom, this voice on his phone call —

— and still it senses with a mother's intuition that something is wrong. Mary Anne goes hushed on the line, and that brief silence saturates with fussy, helpless worry, a mother who senses something amiss and hates she is just out-of-reach. "John," she implores, voice tighter, and gentle. So gentle with him, as if he were made of glass. "Darling, what's happened?"

There's a pause on the line, as if his mother can distantly, through the receiver, overhear the familiar cadence of Zatanna's voice. "Is everything all right?"



"Oh!" replies Alisa Jones, torn briefly between breakfast-making and overzealous daughter, but wastes no moment in making her choice. Her surprise — hugs aren't so often with adult children — melts away into fierce delight, and she returns the embrace, laying a quick, loving kiss on Jessica's forehead, a peck right between the eyes. It's warm. Alive. They are alive. They are /here/. "I love you," she answers, maternally indulgent. "You should go eat. It's getting cold. Tell me if it's all right."

When it comes his turn, her father yields immediately to the hug, welcoming it as if he's starved, and receives too few of those these days. Surprise opens his face, but Brian Jones forgets his iPad immediately, one heavy hand curled around the back of his daughter's head. He lets out a surprised laugh at her sudden warmth, sarcastic in the way she's well-inherited, but his eyes are lit with transparent delight. "What's this for?" her father asks. "Either you've broken something or you've dented the car again. Do I need to go look in the garage?"

Phillip intones, a familiar cluck to his voice that's years missed, "Didn't she dent it once ripping that fart?"

"Seriously, Phil?" asks his wife, hand clasped over half her phone, eyes rolled.

Her brother exults absolute innocence, though goes shock-still, eyes a little wide, when Jessica does the absolute unthinkable and violates every known existing rule of Sibling Awkwardness Prevention, and steals him into a hug. He grunts a little, tolerant, laughing at the back of his throat. Also alive. Not twisted among the pieces of their car. Not left to go cold on the side of a road.

"You're seriously on something, Jess," Phillip announces matter-of-factly.

"Probably guilty," adds her father.

"Quiet, you two," Alisa orders, in for the anti-sarcasm save. "There's never any pressure, Jessica. We know you're… you're busy. And the door is always open. You can visit whenever you like. It's just… it could be a little more often."

Phillip's grin hooks up. "Speaking of. Any stories? You're like, what, forming that team with Captain America? Is it done? You know it /kills/ me I can't say crap about this." But there it is. Light in his eyes. Light that's familiar — sincere, utter worship. His big sister is his hero. "Anything happen you can tell us about?"


The information seems useless to Red Robin, by and large. He wasn't really expecting more, not under the circumstances, but he had hoped. The thought of leaving Constantine and Jessica trapped in their lives that never were is abhorrent to him; he's read both of them as people who would prefer the difficulties of reality to a sweet lie. Both of them deserve better.

But of course, the answer is obvious when Zatanna starts to speak, and behind the gleaming white lenses of his cowl, dark blue eyes slide shut. He takes a single slow, deep breath. He's fine.

Red Robin turns to the technicians, at their outburst, at the sudden pain that wracks them, and he changes his initial plan to send the pair of them packing.

"They lied to you," the costumed vigilante tells them. "There's no such thing as paradise. Either help or stay out of the way, but if either of you try to leave, I'll break your legs."

He doesn't know if he means it anymore. /They/ certainly won't be able to imagine that he doesn't.

The gleam in those lenses dims back to normal, and he adjusts the device that alters his voice, turning it back down to its normal level. He looks at Zatanna, his eyes hidden, his expression a cipher.

"I will," he promises her.

He doesn't pace, or actually seem to move at all, while Zatanna does what she must: Instead he waits, and watches.

It's better this way.


'Are we still on for supper?'

John is struggling to formulate a response when his door opens. He knows her by the cadence of her footsteps on the landing, even before he sees her — sees the subtle changes wrought by time on features he knows to the last detail.

They're supposed to be saving Zatanna — but just as it was on the night he and Chas kept their careful vigil over her unconscious form, recovering from the assault on her constitution and her heart by a man she'd trusted, the saving is more mutual than he could have anticipated. Because this isn't real.

And unlike the impossibility of his mother, or Gary being alive and well, a brother he never knew, an Astra alive and well in the world instead of shrieking for eternity in a Hell she did not deserve…

She is real, for him. And unlike every last one of those other things, she is waiting for him on the other side of this beautiful lie.

He drags in a breath that feels like knives. His voice is low and grates, roughened by grief and slightly hollow, but he produces a convincing facsimile of self-control. On the other end of the phone, the voice that does not belong to his mother asks every question he ever wanted her to ask him. If he stopped to answer any of those questions, it would be the end of him — so he answers her earlier question first:

"Yeah, mum. We're still on." His throat tightens around what feels like a stone. "I'll see you soon."

It is the most painful lie he has ever told.

Why he bothers, he could not say. It's foolish, whatever the impulse. It makes no sense to lie to a lie. Still: all of the twisting regret and longing in him drain out of him as he slides his thumb across the screen to end the call, emptying him out. He is impatient with the evidence of his own suffering, wiping liquid from skin as though it were an inconvenience, an irritant. He aims what he hopes is a reassuring smile up at the woman who isn't Zatanna, tries for a rogue's half-smile. "Yeah, well. You can't blame a man, can you? After this it's wrinkle cream and little blue pills, innit?" He leans down, gets his feet into his laceless shoes, and pushes himself up off of the bed, tossing the phone into the swirling topography of disturbed sheets and blankets. I'm just going to wash up." He extends a hand, touches the point of her chin lightly, and then retreats to his restroom, saying as he goes: "I'll be out in a minute."

By which he means, he hopes, out of this sweet, pointless hell. His gallery, as Zatanna likes to call it, of regrets.

There is a window in the bathroom. A fire escape. He locks the door behind him, and is silent as a ghost as he raises the glass and extracts himself from someone else's life — some better version of him, doubtless. It's time to go. Beyond time. And now that he's been roused, all he can do is hope that somewhere out there, the others are alright; that they're doing what he's doing. Finding a way.


Jessica smiles, one of her true smiles, one with shining eyes and picks up her plate. "Just a rough mission. I'm still in the middle of it, actually, but…I'll stay awhile longer." She can still feel the kisses, the hugs, the contact from all of them, and she savors it. She savors the eggs, her mother's cooking, some part of her wistfully aware that this is a rare chance to have them again.

Maybe she can choose to believe that in some reality, this is exactly what's happening. But…if she's going to be a real hero, if she's going to be the kind of person who could ever be on some sort of permanent team with anyone, let alone Captain America, if she's going to be worthy of the partnership and trust she's been granted by Zatanna and John, who she can still remember…she has to come to terms with this. And she knows it.

"I can at least tell you we assaulted a stronghold in Switzerland," she says. She touches the letter in the pocket of her jeans. She needs to go out and earn that. Because though she can't hear or see Red Robin, he's right…painful as it was, the sweet lie…or at least the life that isn't hers, that she didn't earn, is not something Jessica wants to hold on forever. She'll take it now, right now, like smelling flowers in spring, their fragrence sweet but too swiftly gone. It puts a lump in her throat, both sad and happy at the same time.

She can be the kind of person her mother and father and brother would be proud of. It doesn't matter what's happened in her past. She can be that person moving forward, if she can find the strength, and do what's right.

"Cultists," she adds. "It's a big, ongoing thing, and one of my friends is danger, really bad danger. She needs me. There's a lot I'd like to do with you all, today, all week, all year, but…I'm going to get the call soon I think, and when I do, I just…want you all to know you're never far from my thoughts." She smiles down at her plate. Bittersweet. So bittersweet. A tear splashes into her breakfast.

She will never put on a costume or mask her face or call herself anything other than Jessica Jones. She is who she is, and she will embrace both the good and the bad of what she does bare-faced.

But that doesn't mean she can't work her ass off to be more than she is today.

"You should name the baby Zatanna," she says, to the sister-and-law she doesn't know.


'We were promised happiness.'

Zatanna's fingers curl tighter into her palms.

'— promised our own paradises, no more sadness, no— "

Something inside her snaps.

Diminished, weak, desperately siphoning sips of her own essence from the air to bolster her, Zatanna suddenly moves, grabbing Tasha with both hands by the collar. Taller than the average woman, even taller in her boots, she surges forward until the technician's back slams into the wall. The flare of her old spirit is back, once more resuscitated by her dying, but still present intensity. Fury shrinks her pupils and her pale, near bloodless lips peel back to bare a hint of her teeth. The air stirs inside the room, a sputtering acknowledgment of the force of her anger.

"What? No pain? No /misery/?" She shakes her collar vehemently. "You're /how many years older than me/ and you actually believe that's a good thing?! Do you know what happens when you can't feel pain?! When you don't experience it at all?! You don't know when you're bleeding out! You don't know when it's time to save your life, or someone else's! You don't know when you're /about to die/, and you're no good to /anybody/ if you're /dead/!"

The last leaves her in a furious shriek, shoving Tasha back, whirling around to storm to the magical circle and its Frankenstein device. She turns around and shoots the technicians a look; one that promises fire, brimstone and sulfur. All nine circles, if she does not get her people back.

"This is painful," she tells them. "I feel it. And I'm…" She lets out a laugh, it sounds humorless, and slightly unhinged. "I'm going to take /more of it/. Because I'm alive so that means if I do this right, if I /live/ this right, I'll maybe do some good. And it'll probably drive me crazy. It might even kill me. But I'm going to do it anyway and do you know why that is?"

She turns around and plunks herself down in the middle, her eyes full of it - of everything.

"Because I'm not a /fucking pussy/."

With that, she lies down, her back pressed flat to the floor - her head pointed north, arms to her side, palms tilted towards the ceiling. Her legs spread just a little, and as she looks up at Red Robin, she somehow finds it in her to smile.

"I'll be back."

Her eyes shutter, turning her face to the ceiling. Taking a breath, she ensnares more of those loose threads, a cat's cradle of molten power. Somewhere inside herself, she binds them to her, reaching longer and longer, further and further away from her body. Strung up, she reaches again, for those glowing masses of volatile, ephemeral stuff and for one breathtaking second, she pauses.

Gritting her teeth, her mental self /shoves/ both fists into them, fingers splaying open to curl around them and latching on - like leaping into an electric fence. The lights grow dim, the leylines snatch at her, pierce through her. The pain is /indescribable/.

She screams.


Red Robin actually gives a little start when Zatanna flips out on the technician, because DAMN.

Seeing her snap, seeing her lose her temper like that, he… Well, he honestly can't blame her, as his own response to Tasha was pretty much the same, only more succinct. But with everything she's been through, and how hard she's fought to keep it all under wraps, he can't blame her in the least, no. He makes no effort to interrupt her or stop her, no attempt to exert any sort of moderating influence. He simply watches.

But still, he can't help but thinking as he turns his attention to those windows. Still, it's tempting, isn't it? Wondering what it would be. What would the device have culled from his heart and his memories? His parents, alive and whole? Jack and Janet Drake beaming with pride at their only son as he came home from some prestigious school for the summer? Would the others be there? Would they be happy, for once? Bruce and Dick, even Jason and Damian? Stephanie or Cassandra or Conner or Bart?

But it would be a lie. The dead should stay dead, and the others are still out there, alive. They can find happiness in the world they've got.

He feels ashamed for ever letting his mind dwell on it, however briefly. All they were promised was a chance to run away.

'I'll be back,' Zatanna tells him with a smile, before she reaches out for the rest of herself, the parts of her that were stolen to fuel this mad plan. He watches, though in truth he doesn't truly comprehend what she's doing in any practical sense. He can't help her. All he can do is have faith in her, and stand guard against the myriad things that could go wrong. All he can do is listen to her scream.


They lied to you, Red Robin says. Karl holds his silence, his flat expression, but Tasha's mouth draws into a straight, shaking line.

Zatanna takes the information much more poorly. Tasha screams as the girl suddenly puts her hands violently upon her. Karl startles back, pressed against the wall. shying away as the magician bulls the tech against it beside him. Tasha puts up a game struggle which quickly evaporates, her horrified eyes staring up into Zatanna's as the girl rails into her face.

"You idiot girl," she shudders out. Her one free hand still claws at that scar behind her ear. Blood is starting to collect under her nails. "Do you imagine it's something as simple as total absence of pain? It's just life— the way it was supposed to be, if nothing went wrong with /everything/, one day— if things went they way they should—"

She screams again as she's shoved away, falling back against the wall. She offers no more resistance, curling up on herself. Her expression breaks apart.

"You're crazy," she sobs. "She's crazy. Why would you want pain? Why would you want to suffer? Why do you want to live in a world where everything has gone wrong?" Her tears come faster, harder. She sobs into her hands. Karl puts his own hand on her back, after a pause.

"I want my father back," she sobs, rocking back and forth. "I want him, I want him…"

It is, unless, stopped, the backdrop noise for Zatanna's attempt to reach out to reclaim what is hers.

It is not excessively difficult for her to find loose ends of her own lost soul to pull, to seize, to wind about her astral fingers. They are there, threaded through the conduits of power that stream from the mishmashed machine-spellcircle beside her. She takes hold, grits her teeth… and then grips down.

Agony obliterates her existence as she willingly places herself into the live wire of that active torrent of power.

Her soul resists her. It has somewhere else to go— work to do— some greater source to which to flow. There is some sense that her soul is serving as a… boost, of sorts, lifting up some striving power towards a connection it must make.



Zatanna's hands leave him when he straightens up from the bed - as always, she's quick to let him go when he doesn't want to be touched. Confusion, however, flits over her face as she observes him slip his feet in his shoes. "Oh, don't exaggerate," she tells him lightly, pecking his cheek. "You don't look a day over twenty-five." Eyebrows dance teasingly. "The patch must be doing you some good."

When he excuses himself, she lifts a hand, digging her phone out of her pocket. "Alright well, don't be long," she says. "We're already late, Chas, Gary, Anne-Marie and them are waiting for you at the pub and I /think/ Astra even baked you a cake. Apparently she tried at least eight or nine times to get it right. God, what a sweetheart. She just /adores/ you." There's a frown. "Wish she'd make that much of an effort for /me/ in /my/ birthdays, though…"

But it's clearly a jest. She wiggles those elegant fingers at him as he closes the door to the bathroom, swiping at her phone as she looks through the pictures she has just taken a few moments ago. Turning the selfie-camera on, she makes a face as she takes a picture of herself, grinning at the expression she makes once she reviews the image…

…which fades, just a touch. Ice-blue eyes move back towards the bathroom. Ever perceptive, she starts moving towards that direction, reaching out to turn the knob.

"John? Are you sure you're alright? Whatever it is…you know you could always talk to me."

She waits. But only for a moment. Because she never does, especially when it's time to have it out.

"John, I'm coming in." After a quiet word, the latch lifts, and she's opening the door.


All that the bathroom contains is sunlight. A breeze — no doubt fragrant with every missed aroma from the city that gave birth to the man John became — stirs the thin, gauzy privacy curtains that hang in front of it. There is no one on the fire escape. He can move when he wants to. When he /needs/ to, as he does now, to put distance between himself and the assembly of all of his hurts. He's on the pavement, an urban ghost, encrypting his presence in pedestrian traffic, moving without thought because he knows every last vein and artery of this faded, once-Imperial bastion of the western world.

To think. To shore up the holes bucked through him like bullets, hasty triage. There will be time for him to think later about how shockingly easy it was for this mirage to peel him apart, and consider means by which he might address his own vulnerabilities. Urgency makes room in the moment only for thoughts of egress: to return to the shabby life on the other side, dinged as it is, broken, mistreated, cobbled together and hastily rebuilt, like a piece of furniture long since discontinued. Stapled. Polished to a shine, as though that might disguise the poverty of it. But whatever he might think about it, or himself, however aware he might be of its inadequacy and the places it fails, it is /his/. The messes are his mess, the flaws — so many, many flaws — all undeniably, inescapably his. And the rare triumph. The rare thing of beauty, cultivated in the urban warren of him like an improbable flower growing in a seam between cracked pavements.

He sharpens. He solidifies inside of himself. Rift magic. He knows some, which isn't saying much: John knows an endless tide of occult information, but the vast majority of it remains purely academic for him, things he has at his disposal but may never have even attempted to use, eschewing flagrant use of magic save in the most dire of emergencies.

"Well, if this isn't that," he says to no one, startling an old couple as he passes by, "I don't know what is." For no reason he can name, the nonsense helps anchor him inside of himself.


She grits her teeth when her soul resists her.

/Oh, no/, Zatanna thinks, somewhere deep inside of herself, she keeps reaching. /You get back here and come home./ Tears spill free from the corners of her eyes, her body stiff and her muscles locking, every single nerve screaming at every torturous, white-hot brand applied to them. It's like sticking one's tongue in a socket, or taking a bath with a toaster, somehow cranked a hundred fold and it takes everything in her not to shatter to pieces at the strain. She stretches out her hands, following the surge, plunging through a field of stars and exploding nebulae of color, chasing after her own ghost.

She needs to get ahold of it, /some/ part of it. An arm, a tail…/somethng/. If she can manage that, if she can through the blistering heat and the spines of sensation raking through every part of her, evanescent talons shrieking as they try to rip her asunder, she can pull - pull and take it all with her, just like what the man in the Tarnhelm had done…

Her eyes snap open and through the red-and-white haze, she remembers the airport bay, Red Robin's shadow watching over her as she moved towards the machine, where it inexplicably activated. As if it recognized her. As if it thought…

Her bootheels scrape on the concrete floor as her body spasms and jerks. Tasha's sobs for her father, something that /resonates/ with her and even amidst everything, she still manages to feel that stab of guilt, slowly fade in the backburner of her own torment and there's nothing to do but to embrace it and push through. Much like she has done in the last few weeks, the last few days, what she'll keep on having to do in the future, if her /stellar track record/ was any indication. She stops pulling. Stops forcing.

"…come…back to me…" she hisses through clenched teeth. No, this is unacceptable. It has to be more. She has to /command/ it.

"Em ot kcab emoc!" she gasps. "Kcab emoc!"

It roars. It struggles to break free. And she digs in deep, expends what she can. She needs more. She needs…


She lashes out. Somewhere within, her own surge is blinding, recklessly, relentlessly unspooling the last of herself to reach as far and as fast as she can to seize it and not let go, to bridge herself in, to tie herself to it completely. And if she can do that, if she could just…





He promises his mother he will see her soon.

That seems to assuage Mary Anne. Not once has her son ever lied to her. Not in the way that counts. "All right," she replies, worry running pleats all through her voice — a promise of her own that he won't escape her in-person fussing later that evening — but she lets it go. Lets him go.

But not without what is important.

"I love you," whispers his mother's voice into his ear.

The call ends. And with that, he decides this ends too, all of it, even the version of Zatanna Zatara that folds effortlessly into this retelling of his life, closing and locking a door on it. Escaping out the back window of a promised utopia.

It opens up to London, winter-rainy, but real — every inch of it, burning cold and extending out in every direction. Countless lives. Countless activity. An entire world, a real as the last, not a farce wearing an artifice mask, but tactile and complete —

— and centerpieced with one different.

A new building stands against the distant London skyline, something not of his memory, something not of the world he came from, the world he occupies. It towers larger than the rest, fierce and stern and fixed, a sentinel on guard to maintain this perfect world.

Then it flickers. As if gone, disappeared from the skyline, then back again.

The air tastes differently on his escape down the fire escape. People dot back and forth, Schrodinger's Londoners, occupying two states at once.

Zatanna calls from his flat. From above. There is only one direction to go — down. Down the fire escape to London that awaits. Down to the ground. Down to hurriedly walk the streets of London. Down to —

"John?" asks at his turned back, a man's voice. A familiar voice. Sounds like his.


'You're crazy,' Tasha says to him.

Red Robin supposes he can't really say anything against that sentiment, all things considered. What sane person would do the things he does? What sane person would be here, now, in the midst of forces that could crush him without a second thought, just for the sake of one other person's life?

"You're wrong," the Gotham vigilante says. "Look at them." He looks. He can't help but look, at the happy family Jessica Jones never really got to have, and how she's interacting with them. Telling them the truth, smiling and happy and wanting to linger longer… But she knows.

At the Zatanna of Constantine's utopia, and the engineered happiness from which he flees. Red Robin feels a sickly sour sensation curling up his insides, one that he has no right to. He pushes it away. It doesn't matter, he reminds himself. Now, most of all, it doesn't matter.

"They know it isn't real. You would too, in their place. You'd feel it, the wrongness. It would nag at you in every moment, as you were faced with all the things you wanted in life. You'd know that you don't belong, that it isn't right. Paradise? That's not paradise."

He gestures at the scene in front of him. The two windows into other lives, and the screaming young woman trying to pull herself together.

"That's Hell."

He exhales a slow, shaky breath through his nostrils, letting his arm fall back under his cape, letting the black material coil around him, a tall lean shadow in the middle of the room.

"And the cost of your little delusion? Your masters stripped away the very soul of someone I care about. They left her to die slowly, to fade away feeling every moment how her death was coming closer." His anger wants out. It wants to be let loose. But what good would it do? He could beat and batter these two technicians, he could vent his fury… And then what? "As far as I'm concerned, the two of your are culpable. And I am very close to forgetting some promises I made."

He doesn't want to watch. He doesn't want to listen. Not to the agony of someone he cares about more than he should, nor the bittersweet tortures visited on two people he respects. He makes himself do it anyway.

"So if you're the praying sort, pray. Pray that she succeeds. Pray that she survives."



The food tastes of decades ago. Familiar. Seamless. And, worst of all, real. Every bite is real. Every mouthful of food bringing weight and warmth to her stomach is /real/. She can eat her breakfast and savour the time with her family, and then promise them a return and then /actually keep that promise/ — and go off and be, in her alter ego, one of the few close, trusted friends of Captain America.

The comrade in arms he solely needs. The one that was there for him, there to help him, in that dark time after that loss of James Barnes.

One truth comes for certain — after her baby brother's question, Jessica's entire family waits in rapt interest for her response. They are veterans at hiding their expressions, busying themselves with the facets of normal, daily life — cooking, reading, swiping news articles along the screen of the iPad, today's headline: CHARITY GALA FOR EVE GOLUBEV MEMORIAL FOUNDATION — but truly she owns their attention, their awe. Their Jessica Jones, one of America's superheroes.

Their faces wear surprise at Jessica's story, surprise but not skepticism, apparently well-versed in this permutation to her secret identity, and that second life she leads.

"A friend?" asks her mother, thin-mouthed, frowning. "Will she be OK?"

Tears in her breakfast. Water making runny her mom's eggs.

"Jessica — " entreats her father, no anger in his voice, no exasperation, not the way he yelled that last time in the car. On his face is only worry.

"Are /you/ OK?" asks Alisa, cutting off her husband, lingering close with building concern. She tells her family they're never far from her thoughts. Not the sort of words you casually tell anyone, not unless — "Something's wrong. Tell me what's wrong. Baby, we can fix it."

Even Phillip, with his perennial grin, is pale with seriousness, his world immediately in disarray the moment his big sister looks anything but composed. He shares a look with his wife at the suggestion of the baby's name. Her phone is long turned off, gazing up, her eyes soft with worry. He stands up from his chair. He's as tall as she is, taller, with concerned eyes the same colour as hers. He flickers, here and gone. In and out. He doesn't seem to notice the knots and skips in reality's seams. "Everything cool? You're acting like you're leaving the country and not coming back."


Gobulev. That name nags at her. It's a little jarring shard of wrongness. Where has she heard Gobulev before? German…or Russian…neither great things lately.

"Oh god, I'm sorry. No. No. I'm just really scared for her." She musters up a smile for them, lying to them because she is going to leave the country, essentially, and never come back. She's about to try, anyway. That smile aches with the love she bears for them, but she has other people she loves now, too. "They took her soul. She's fading away. She's dying, and I don't know if I'm going to be able to stop it. I promised to protect her."

The taste of the best breakfast she's ever had, warm and real in her mouth. She has to believe it's all real somewhere. Somewhere they're happy. Somewhere, they're safe.

Jessica Jones stops at the door of her kitchen and puts her hand gently on the door frame, where takes one last look at her family. She puts all her love into that look, a look of farewell.

"I left my phone upstairs," Jess says gently. "And I'd better check in with Cap before we make any plans today."

She didn't, of course. It's in the pocket of her jacket. But she doesn't want to distress them, because the truth is, she can no more sit and do nothing about the need to get home from her utopia than she could from her nightmare.

She slips upstairs and into the bathroom, grabbing a razor. Then into her room.

She locks the door. She doesn't want to alarm them with what comes next. She sits down with her old friend, the mirror. She pauses as she sees a little three-d silver diamond shape on a silver chain. It looks a lot like what was on the "Jewel" belt that Trish had shown her. She lets the chain tumble over her fingers and takes the necklace, clasping it around her neck. She'd keep that, if she could. A reminder to try harder, to do better. She thinks about those coffee and donuts, reassuring words while she sat covered in glass and paint. A reminder to reach out to her friends, not to push them away, because if she did that it would probably all work out.

She takes the letter out of her pocket and puts it back in its frame. "Maybe someday, Cap." Maybe being told in person she did pretty darn amazing was enough. Back in her real life, she has a little something like that.

She remembers John leaning forward, imparting the real secret of magic to her, reminding her that it was will, that will would do in a pinch. But the blood and the mirror had worked before, if only to send a message. She'd have to do a little better this time. She sliced across her palm this time. She had only her own small, non-magical soul, but will she had in abundance.

Hers was the will that had defied Kilgrave in the end, when the casualties of his sickness had grown too high for her to tolerate. It wasn't just her walking off in a daze. She knew from the nightmare…it had been her /walking off/, period. Hers was the will that had fought Steinschneider's magical invasion of her brain with every breath in her body. Hers was the will that had reached out from a place of fear and pain to claim what was hers. Hers was the will of a hero.

She had will.

Before she hadn't known if anything she did would work. Now she knows it can.

Hand to mirror, blood to glass.

She wills herself to go back to it all. To her eviction notice and her trashed apartment. To Zatanna, struggling to live. To John, struggling to trust. To a life where Captain America was sad and closed off, where Sargent Barnes was living a 75-year old Hell, needing good people to help him come in from the cold, where an innocent scientist writhed inside her own mind. Where she'd met an irreverant pirate, a talking raccoon and a Groot. Where the smile of a good man left her wanting to give love and trust, not just a night in the sack, producing enough of a change that her friends noticed and teased her. Where Bug would never let that damned Ass-ley thing go and where Bird stood grim watch over the night. A girl with her dragon. A man making sandwiches. A world where a frightened woman had trusted her with her secrets, where a teenager, a robot, and a man in black had come out of the blue to selflessly prevent her kidnapping. A world full of wonders and terrors, thunder gods and immortal wizards.

Her world.

Go back Jessica, she thought, nearly to the second, unbeknownst to her, to when Zatanna began saying 'come back' to the strands of her own fractured soul.

Go back now. It's going to be okay. It's all going to be okay. You have the strength. Go back.


John's stride breaks. Something seen out of the corner of his eye, glimpsed like an oasis. Something not right. Like moving through the dark and discovering something where it shouldn't be, it disorients him. He stares at the place he thought it was, letting go of thoughts of surgical incisions through the fabric of different worlds. A— door, maybe, the way out…

And then he hears /his/ voice, coming from a place behind him. It sounds ridiculous to him, the way all people feel their voices sound ridiculous when they hear them coming from anywhere other than the seat of themselves, but he recognizes it without effort, purely on instinct.

For the second time since arriving, he tells himself prudent things that he knows full well he should listen to. And he does listen, in the way that John Constantine often listens: by fully and completely taking in what's said, and then discarding it in favor of doing something else.

He only half-turns back, but it's enough. Enough to turn his head, bring blue eyes around to bear on whatever other tragedy this world has coughed up for him to see.


Through her sobbing, Tasha listens. She can't help but listen. "I wouldn't," she says, but there is a lack of conviction in her voice. "I wouldn't feel it. It would be worth it. Just to see him again."

They have nothing to say to his reminder of the price of their dreams. Their expressions curdle, especially at his threats, but they cannot acknowledge another's pain when they have so much of their own.

But the true light show, here, is Zatanna. Zatanna on the floor. Zatanna screaming in agony and command as she demands her recalcitrant soul back to her.

It does not want to come. It bucks and fights her grasp. Another will has hold of it, a will as powerful as her own. An old will, forged by decades, intractable and strong as an oak. That will forces her soul to bridge some critical, devastating, connection.

For one horrible second, she feels her soul join /something/ to the fabric of reality. Something that should NOT be joined to the fabric of reality.

Then with one last roared command, Zatanna extends everything she has in one titanic, final PULL. And her soul tears free of its shackles, uproots its moorings. It comes heeling back to its rightful place, flooding back into her and filling her with revitalization, with life.

The entire ritual collapses into silence, its power source drained from its veins. The machines fall quiet. The racking agony ends. The taste of magic leaves the air. Nothing is left but the two shuddering techs, the computer terminal still sitting patiently open, screen flickering, and the two rifts.

The two rifts which have lost their impassable shimmer…


Jessica waits. She wills. She stands and deamnds of the world to change, to provide her a way back to the reality to which she knows she must return. And before her eyes, a door opens in nothing, showing her the way back to the room she left what seems a lifetime ago.


John, bent on leaving, walks in urgent search of a way out. A voice behind him— too familiar— is the only thing that can make him stop. He starts to turn around, to look, to see what new thing this world could do to him… and a soft sound in front of him heralds a door back opening for him as well.

Will the door remain for him if he chances one look back?


'Between thought and action comes temptation, always.'

That, too, circles through his head, in his voice. He said it once. He meant it.

The temptation is there, to turn and look, but this place — this mockery of his ability to have survived everything it shows him he might have had, if only he'd been better, stronger, different, anyone other than himself — is a guttering candle, now.

"I never had a bloody brother," he says to whoever it is with his voice, as he pushes through the door.


The doorway opens.

Jessica Jones clutches the necklace of a heroine and stands. Here's what's going through her head, when she does:

In life, you get one shot. To say you love someone. To do or die. To make things happen.

Sometimes you fell flat on your face and fail spectacularly. Sometimes you rise to the occasion. And the real trick to it, she is learning, is to just…get up and put one foot in front of the other the next day, no matter how hard it was, or how humiliating the failure had been, or how painful the wounds. That is her obligation, her duty, the source of anything good she can carve out of her life.

She stands now. And she steps forward, through the doorway.

She had said her good byes. She'd come to terms.

She puts one foot in front of the other until she's through.

She does not look back.


With one last scream, she feels it give. Reality rubber-bands around her, ripples rapidly ping through the ephemeral fabric that underscores everything as Zatanna breaks her soul free….and feels it all coming back to her in a rush.

As the magic circle crackles and strains around her body, that endless wellspring pours into her, threatens to drown her, and she struggles to contain it, to control its flow to prevent it from submerging her completely. But as she does, she lets it fill her, to patch the hole inside of herself. And there is so much of it. She has never attempted to dive as deep as she should, explore her boundaries, peek under the cover of the thing that caps her potential because she is /terrified/ of it, for somewhere in the back of her mind, she always knew what it represents. Seduction. Addiction. She remembers stories about her Uncle Sargon, born of magic, himself, who let himself be taken in. No matter how pure the source, no matter how free, the danger is always there which is why she has never touched it this deeply. Never tried to look…

But now she is /forced/ to. Forced to feel and embrace the vastness of it. As cement cracks underneath her, the circle breaking apart as all that power is fed back to her, the veil parts for her again and she can /see/ everything - all the magic expended in the room, the intangible imprints left by the mystics who had been working it, stretching beyond….across the leylines and threads connecting all three machines. And she draws it in, draws it /all/ in, blinding light emanating at every pore as that pure, too large, too powerful soul fills and obliterates the dreadful black vortex wedged in the core of her. Until it ceases to exist. Until it brims to /overflowing/ and every cell inside her sings with it, vibrates with unbridled sorcery.

More. Deeper. /Faster/. Lights die at the wake of her hunger and desperation to get it all back, and she is horrified by the vastness of it. What she has. This is the first time she is experiencing it. She can feel the ripples, like the ones her father leaves behind every time he moves, like radar pings across the universe…

Her head twists to the side, cold sweat breaking out of her skin. There's so much. /Too/ much. She has to…

She pushes. She digs her heels in and pushes. She draws the seal over, the cover that prevents her from reaching too deep and pry the contents of her own mysteries well before she should. She fights it. Her head twists the other way, her body contorting in agony. Her eyes open and light spills from those pure white irises. She is open. /Too/ open.

She has to close the well.

She chokes at the effort and nearly bites her tongue off. Blood rills down the sides of her mouth.


He should feel pity for the two techs, perhaps, roped in by whatever they felt they'd lost in life, in a desperate attempt to get it back.

But there was no sign of contrition, of truly acknowledging what they were a part of, even when Red Robin laid it out for them. All he can spare them is disgust.

Whatever's happening, it's definitely something, something big and presumably very magical as the machine itself grows quiet at last, the power that fueled it drained away, returned to its rightful place. The rifts, the portals remain, but for how long? Something about them has changed, though, they no longer seem impassable windows, voyeuristic viewscreens onto the lives other people never got to have, but doorways. Doorways back to the real, as imperfect as it was.

They'll be coming back, he can see them.

Which leaves…

"Zee," Tim Drake says, crouching beside her. He doesn't pull back his cowl, there are too many eyes to see, and those secrets still need to be kept, but he turns off the device that modulates his voice. He drops the grimness of the Red Robin persona. It's the normal, normal voice of the young man with the unenviable task of tutoring Zatanna Zatara in conventional real world physics. "Zee, it's okay." He doesn't care if it's dangerous, being physically close to her while there's still so much going on. Her body twisting in agony, her eyes aglow. She's hurting herself, trying to control it, he doesn't need to be a wizard or whatever to understand that much. His hand seeks hers, his other arm gathering her up by the shoulders. "You did it, Zee. You did it. They're coming back, Constantine and Jones. You saved them."

He's pretty sure, anyway. He doesn't know /what/ she did, but he has to hope. To put his faith in her.

"You can do this, too. You've got this. They're coming back. Now you have to come back too."

And then quietly, quietly. Barely a spoken word at all:



For some time after the door, there is nothing. From within the room it must seem he strides right out of that other existence and back into the one he was so unceremoniously ripped from, but for John there is a moment of being untethered, free-floating consciousness. And what that consciousness thinks is:

/Please let them be safe./


/Don't let it be too late./

His emergence is akin to surfacing from the depths of dark water, outlines and contours gradually resolving, mere shapes and colors tightening in focus until they gain identities. Until the puzzle, flat and two-dimensional, realizes it's meant to be more than that, expanding into a third and giving him a place within it.

What he sees is Zatanna Zatara writhing on the floor in utter agony, lofted partially from the unforgiving floor by Red Robin. There are so many things that move in him, a muscular contraction of half-understood emotions as complex as the tightening of a fist, that they become indistinct hybrids of one another. Whatever relief he might have felt to find her moving and therefore alive is incapable of overpowering the fear that he's returned just in time to see her die — and in someone else's arms, at that, insult to grievous injury. Because he wasn't here, was he? He was somewhere else, mourning a woman he lost twenty-eight /years/ ago, instead of finding a way to protect the one he loves /now/. He'd come here to fix this. To fight with her. It is an utterly irrational torrent of guilt, applied on instinct: he is always ready to see his own failures.

It takes everything in him not to descend on that tableau and push aside someone wholly undeserving of such an abuse, because he /should've been there/, he could be losing her, it could be the end, and there's nothing he wouldn't do to prevent it, nothing, nothing—

But he does. Restrain himself. He masters the panic. It carves away at his selfish heart not to hold her in those cataclysmic moments of her suffering, but he can feel the power oscillating through the space, and he doesn't know that there's anything he could do for her yet that Red Robin isn't already doing. He is not the only person here who cares about her, not the only one to feel every last scream like a dagger in the ribs. He barely breathes, chest constricted, barrel rings of endless tension squeezing.

/Please god,/ he thinks. A mockery: he does not believe, really believe, that anyone up there is interested in taking his calls. He believes in God. It's just that God, he thinks, does not believe in John Constantine.

Still: /Please don't take her./

And after a beat, a vicious thought: /Or I'm coming up there, you fucking wanker, you tit, I'm coming up there and I will set your fucking beard on fire, you cunting— /


Booted feet hit the real floor and Jessica takes in the situation quickly. Tim, begging Zatanna to come back, telling her she'd saved them, when the whole point had been to save /her/.

But wasn't that just like Zatanna Zatara, really?

She saw the look on John's face, saw how the sight of her paralyzed him, watched as he just seemed to sort of freeze in place. She can understand the feeling. Her own heart twists in her chest, but action— or at least words—were all she could give.

She went to one knee, crouching down, pitching her voice low. She had no way to help save to be present, to lend her voice to Tim's. "We're here," she agrees. "And you've got this. I told you I wouldn't leave you— don't you leave us. You're a serious bad-ass, Zatanna Zatara."

"And then: C'mon, Zee. You promised French Fries. All the good places are gonna close." She has learned that between them, at least, a bit of humor, a little silliness, builds the bond between them, when she can offer some smirky comment without tainting it into caustic acidity. She offers one now, for whatever lifeline it may represent to add to Tim's own.


She can't see him, but she feels him, her spasm-locked body half lifted by the arm around her shoulders and her other hand grasped tightly with leather and bone. Zatanna gasps while struggling, her chest caving in at the force of her exhalations. She barely registers the rusty tang of her own blood flooding her mouth and staining her teeth and all she can do is dig deep and squeeze. Her twitching, shaking fingers clutch into his knuckles like talons, thankfully blunted by the gloves he wears. But she recognizes the voice and hears the plea, tears of pain leaking out from the corners of her eyes in hot - oh god, they're hot again, she is alive - silver streaks, droplets clinging to her jaw and mingling with her sweat. What she should do is tell him to keep his distance, because it could be dangerous, and if she loses control, he would be the first to go, though in retrospect, the idea of killing Tim accidentally while she's trying to stabilize herself is impetus enough to try harder.

So she does. She does, and it hurts.

"Tim…" A low, hoarse confirmation that despite seeing past him, beyond him, she recognizes him. "It's too much…it's too much…I have /too much/…"

The discovery is overwhelming and she attempts to fight past her terror, to scrabble for her internal reins and grip them tight, to snatch at those tumultuous waves of magic and shove them back down where they belong, under the seal, the thing that she keeps shut and tightly locked so nobody knows. So nobody ever could know. But that was too late now, too, wasn't it?

Her heels dig thin grooves into the concrete and she takes desperate gulps of air. It hurts. It /hurts/.

Somewhere in the room, she feels reality split. Heavy boots, crashing unceremoniously into the space - Jess. And then…Synchronicity. Distinct. /Unique/. The red-black haze dotted with gold and multi-hued supernovas, the indigo of the very ancient thing that she carved into the flesh of his inner wrist. Tim was right. They were back. They came back…

Shuddering, shaking, she lifts her head with effort. Light continues to pour from her eyes, but she turns her face towards Jess. Towards John.

"What…" Breathe. "…/took you so long/."

Her other hand lifts, grabbing ahold of Red Robin's shoulder for a brace. Disengaging her hand from the cowled vigilante's grip, she extends it blindly, but not blindly, following the threads of his unique signature more than anything, towards the British magus.

"Help me /shut this thing before we all explode/!!"


The magic surrounding Zatanna, pouring through her and out of her, could destroy him.

It's the sort of thing you understand without knowing, the looming possibility of imminent destruction often having a way of impressing itself on the most ancient and instinctive parts of the human mind. Tim Drake has no peculiar senses beyond the awareness cultivated in his occasionally esoteric martial training, but under the circumstances even /he/ can tell there's a lot of mojo going around, and that he's put himself in terrible danger by placing himself physically close to Zatanna now.

But, he's okay with that. He's hardly suicidal - at least by the standards of normal humans who jump off of buildings and fight armies of ninjas - but he's always known that there might be a situation that would require him to lay down his life for the sake of others. If he had to die, torn apart by the eddies of pure wild magic, the edges of the storm that raged inside Zatanna, at least it would be in the attempt of saving /her/ life.

"You can do it, I believe in you," Tim tells her, as her fingers nearly manage to pierce through the leather and ballistic weave of his glove, but whatever pain he might feel is a distant thing, of no matter. He told her before: He wasn't going anywhere.

The others are there, which is a source of distant relief for the cowled young man, his attention briefly flicking upwards to Jessica, moving in to add her own encouragements, and past her to Constantine, internally cursing the heavens.

As the awareness of their return filters in to Zatanna, she shifts against Red Robin, slipping her hand from his to reach for Constantine, her other hand pressing against the caped shoulder of the vigilante's costume, to help push herself up, and away, and towards the one person who has the knowledge and the ability to help her now.

Barely noticeable, his hand moves to his throat again, clicking the voice modulator back on. Tim Drake vanishes back under the armor that is Red Robin, knowing that he's done what little he could.

Maybe it was enough.


Something he can /do/.

It is a lifeline for John, for whom the sensation of helplessness is anathema. He doesn't have any idea what she's talking about — shut /what/ thing? — because he doesn't know about the safety measures she keeps in place over the veritable aquifer of her power, but not knowing does not stop him from instantly moving. He throws his coat off, leery of exposing some of its contents to the massive tide of energy passing through the center of the room and the woman laying there. Crossing the borders of the circle turn what was a merely overwhelming amount of magic into a crushing thunder of it, like standing beneath an immense waterfall. He hits his knees beside her and reaches for her hand and whatever may come after that, his first thought is that /it's warm/, her hand is warm again, a tiny spark of hope allowed to be struck somewhere in the icy cavern of his dread.

And then he's connected to a network of staggering complexity, through the conduit of her. The ley lines of the city, and the silver threads that bind them — untwisted and split by the portioning of her soul, but here slowly being braided back together again. It is a deluge of…

…of her.

It sears away whatever passes for the nervous system of his sixth sense, and the only reason he doesn't lose himself is that it isn't the first time she's used him like a circuit, passing power through him. Never this much, never this much at /once/, but he knows it. They are whitewater rapids rather than a docile river, but the waters are familiar, and John is not afraid.

He gathers what puissance is his to claim and /pushes back/ against the tide.


Jessica Jones stands and steps back. She has infinite trust John and Zee will finish that together, safely. She turns her attention now to the two scientists and the computer. She moves, simply stepping between them, making sure they /don't/ get any funny ideas, fixing them with a narrow-eyed gaze. She hears Bird click his emphysema machine back on and understands there's something profound happening there. Well, he's the only one with any skill with computery stuff, so maybe he'll get a nice distraction in the form of decyphering Windows 10, The Evil Magic Version or whatever program they're running there.


The helping hand, the second push, is what she needs.

Her fingernails rake down the kevlar weave of Red Robin's costume, over the shoulder, something to hold onto as another searing, white-hot bolt of agony claws her open, but this time she doesn't scream. It hurts but the pain is thankfully overshadowed by a sense of overwhelming relief when a familiar hand seizes her own and holds fast; her black lacquered nails /bite/ into John's knuckles and twist through his digits. Suddenly connected, his own will joins her own and in this torrential sea of power, somewhere in the confusing jumble inside her, he'd find the seal and the tugging, yanking, desperate sensation of her own attempts to shut it, like trying to stuff a cat-five tornado in someone's basement. It's an old practice, something they've already done a few times - unlike the Englishman, Zatanna pays no ephemeral price for her magic and whenever possible, whenever they were in the same space, she shoulders the brunt of it, if not just to prevent him from clipping his mortal life even shorter.

He has ten years of experience over her. It is not surprising that his control is better, honed from whatever toils he has suffered himself. The struggle becomes easier, less, and after one final push, the last of it draws deep into the well, the seal - he would recognize it as Giovanni's work - slamming shut over it, locks and bolts latching immediately the moment it is completely closed. And that, on its own, brings a veritable geyser of relief.

The raven-haired magician - her coloring is back, skin luminescent from perspiration, her hair molten darkness once more - unspools like a wet noodle, her head tilting back limply over the cowled vigilante's bracing arm and tension leaving her legs, feeling her bones go liquid instead. Her hand in John's grows slack and all she does for several long moments is gasp for breath, her chest rising and falling rapidly from inside of her jacket.

It is suddenly quiet in the room, save for what she hears - the thrumming of active leylines, but everything, what she lost, the rest of her life, is back inside her.

She licks her chapped lips. Her eyes nearly roll to the back of her head. Her mouth parts to take a breath and speak. Because she always says what she is feeling in a given situation.


They didn't explode!


Having only just reminded her of his earlier promise, it would be pretty crass of Red Robin to try and get away from this situation, especially since Zatanna never entirely left his support as he figured she was trying to. Her hand clinging to his shoulder rather than pushing off, the cowled young man is given a curious perspective on the two spellcasters' collaboration, although he can't really 'see' it. Pooling their strength to help Zatanna handle her out-of-control powers, he assumes, which seems to work given their continued not-exploded state.

With Zatanna sagging against him, Red Robin gives her as much physical support as he can manage, helping prop up her neck by moving his arm, while she recovers from the terrible effort she just exerted. The quiet 'yay' is all the confirmation he needs that things basically worked out, especially since the life, the colour and vitality has visibly returned to her.

The relief he feels nearly takes out the last of the discipline that's been carrying him through the past weeks of minimal to no sleep, not enough food and too much physical and emotional punishment, like a balloon torn asunder. But he hangs on.

He needs to. Everyone else has already endured too much tonight.

"I'm not… Entirely sure what just happened, but I'm glad we're all not dead and didn't explode," Red Robin's modulated voice says, into the general quiet. They're not done yet, he knows. There were things he'd been ignoring, to focus on the three lives at risk: The technicians, and the computer.

Now, it seemed, was the time to deal with them.

"Miss Jones, since you're already there, would you mind taking those two in hand? I'm sure our new friends will know what to do with them." He certainly can't imagine taking them to the police… What on earth would the NYPD do with them? SHIELD, though, probably has some questions to ask them, and personally he wouldn't want to be interrogated by Peggy Carter, that lady is /hard/.

The computer, though, he'll have to handle himself.


Like an eclipse he can feel the incinerating tide of raw force disappear beneath arcane mechanisms that bear the touch of a man whose Art he knows very well, indeed, having been an unhappy but resigned vessel for one of his creations for some months, himself. There is no time to admire the masterwork of it all, only the gross effort of driving what belongs in that cauldron back into its place. When it goes it goes with a suddenness that leaves him feeling as though it's still rushing through him, limbs tingling and head helium-light.

She collapses, a puddle of loose limbs, gasping for air, and then it's…


John's knuckles are bleeding, small red stains around the place she cut into his hand with her nails. He feels none of it, notices only because he looks down at the hand in his. Solid. Pale, because she's fair, but it has color. Saturation. It is more real than it was when they arrived.

And if he had any lingering doubts, what she says — so classically her, so ridiculous, so guileless — puts them to rest. He lets himself exhale, drops his head, and threads his free fingers back into the short muss of his hair, eyes closing. Five, ten rapid heartbeats to luxuriate in the sudden abatement of a fear that has been eating him alive, and then Red takes control of the situation — something for which he aims a grateful look at the figure in the mask — and it reminds him that they're not finished, here.

He stirs. Brings that hand to lips, then folds it over her middle.

"I'll get something for the blood. Something for her blood sugar."

And so he does.


The system, when Red Robin approaches it, appears to be logged into some sort of network. Some sort of intranet. No GUI: only text. The default permissions on the account currently logged in are not high, but that is what a hacking talent like Red Robin is for.

With his access, he is able to hop to different user accounts with progressively more access. Some reveal the locations of other Hydra cells, hidden in plain sight in banks and corporations and hospitals across New York, though for some reason there sometimes seems to be a layer of security even between the accounts which he is able to access, and those other Hydra cells. Almost as if some of these users— including the two techs here and now, themselves— were trying to disguise themselves from their own sister cells and from the greater body of the organization.

There reaches a point where there is no farther he can go, however— no higher permissions he can grant himself without detection. The user account he has currently hijacked seems to be the account of some kind of… intake officer. His notes open as an audio log. The voice is familiar. Zatanna heard it briefly, in the room, when she was first strapped into that chair to have her soul torn out. The young asshole who was speaking to the Winter Soldier.

The audio sounds closed in, claustrophobic, underground. Occasionally in the background there is a faint rattle, as of distant trains passing by.

'Phase One. Breaking. Subject is to be segregated and isolated from all human interaction. Food and water is to be withheld except the minimum to sustain life. Subject is to be refused light and kept in darkness. Sleep is to be permitted only in one-hour intervals. Physical exhaustion is key to achieving an initial compliant state of mind. In such a perceived crisis state, the brain becomes willing to accept anything in order to sustain its own life.

'Phase Two: Erasure. Subject's memories and individuality are repressed forcibly via repeated hypnotic suggestion, and the application of negative stimuli at any indication of recollection and independent personality. Expressions of independent thought are to be immediately punished so that it associates the punishment properly with the infraction.

'Phase Three: Implantation. Performed on those most at risk of compromise. Subjects receive Pythia chip via a minor invasive process to place it in the skull, behind the left ear.'

'These have been our conditioning techniques in standard use for decades. These methods were first trialed, to great success, in the Winter Soldier Program. Apart from occasional lapses, the Winter Soldier has subsequently performed without hitch or issue apart from a regular need for re-conditioning, as it is inclined to naturally begin to recall its birth nature as 'James Barnes.'

'Under guidance of AVG a new process flow has been developed. Phase Two: Thought reform. Subject is taught to accept a replacement narrative as reality through reinforcement of implanted ideas. Refusal of the narrative is punished immediately— electroconductive stimulation is the preferred mechanic— while acceptance of the narrative is rewarded with absence of pain. This replacement narrative is broadly similar to the subject's own life, save altered appropriately, to reduce or entirely forestall inevitable mental rejection.

'Procedure appears to be successful thus far, as performed on the Winter Soldier. Second subject is to be Number 13727, Jane Foster. We anticipate observing the performance of this new process upon an individual without existing damage to memory, nor prior history with our previous procedures. A list of potential future candidates, pending successful conversion of Foster, follows—'

The log stops.

The techs in the corner start to moan. It is an odd, animal sound, a visceral instinct sound. Like a dog able to feel a storm approaching in its bones.

Their apparent realization of their plight precedes the wet, flesh sound of holes being blown out the left sides of their heads, right behind their ears. They slump, staring at the ceiling, smoke from the holes emanating slowly upwards.

The system begins to lock down. Presumably there are other safeguards set to erase this place in case of compromise…


Jessica nods to Red; she'd really only been waiting to make sure the people here were done with Tasha and the Princess before she made the call. "Get on your knees, hands laced behind your head, and if you twitch you won't have teeth." Well, that's what they do on TV. It seems good policy.

Her phone to her ear, she dials SHIELD. It's a quick call, which is good, because that recording starts, getting her full attention now that Zee is going to be okay. Her eyes go distant as she listens.

The phone slips from nerveless fingers, hitting the floor. The Otter Box that protects it is smeared with the blood from the hand she cut in that other world. She doesn't seem to notice it fall as a plethora of dark emotions dance across her face.

Contempt, for people who can look themselves in the face every morning after doing this to other human beings.

Sadness, for Sargent Barnes and this Dr. Foster, who she doesn't even know, deep sadness that makes her eyes shimmer, threatening tears not for herself, but for them. And for everyone else they've done this to. So many, so so many, if they've tested it on countless subjects.

A sick, cold feeling, like Kilgrave is behind her again, touching her again, though she's worked through enough over the past few months that she doesn't react, recognizing the feeling as unreal, where before she might have reacted, tried to attack someone that wasn't there. As episodes go, this one is mild, for she is locked firmly in the here and now.

The expression turns even sicker when she hears the end of it. God, what if Kilgrave had just started telling her to 'believe' new things? He could have gotten to a point where she stopped fighting, where she believed she was his beloved close second, his partner in crime, his most loyal and treasured friend. He never bothered, either because the domination thrilled him more or because he was not a subtle man, but he could have. He'd told her he loved her to justify his own actions, even whispered strange words of comfort in her ear from time to time, but he'd never once thought to demand that she /believed/ that he loved her. Thank all that was Holy. Because in this dark moment she realizes if he had, she really wouldn't have escaped. She'd wanted to be loved almost as much as she'd wanted to be a hero.

Will Barnes and Foster ever escape?

She'll never stop trying to make sure they do. This is no longer something to be left to people she views as vastly more important and competent than herself. In this moment, Sargent Barnes and Jane Foster really do solidfy as being part of /her/ fight, for all that she never knew them personally. She knows enough to know they are both good people trapped in their own minds, some part of them screaming, straining to get loose, praying someone would come for them. That's all she needs to know.

Rage. Deep and dark and /personal./

Because to enslave another human being is evil enough, one of the worst evils she can think of, worse even than murder in its way. But even the weakest of child slaves in mines around the world at least had the sanctity and privacy of their /thoughts/. Hydra takes even that much.

The look she turns on the two technicians, the only valid targets in the room, is deadly. Her hands are shaking, and for just a moment it looks like she is going to do something absolutely terrible in response, despite the necklace now hanging around her neck, her one takeaway from another Jessica's world. Despite the fact that they are likely to be victims themselves. They'd been scratching at their ears.

She goes absolutely stock still, exercising Herculean control over her own anger, but the look in her eyes might be scarier than 1,000 threats. It might be just as well for them that someone else decides to end them.

The sensible thing to do would be to get the Hell out of there. To clear everyone out before Hydra sends a team to start shooting at them.

But she does not do the sensible thing.

The PI is suddenly out the door, running, silent but focused. Nothing in her body language says she's running /away/, though. For once there's no verbal snarling either, no smart ass remarks. Her throat is too closed to offer words, either to friends or enemies.

She leaps, soaring searching. There must be an agent around here, someone who is hitting the button, wiping computers, triggering implants. She leaps for a rooftop, trying to find them, trying to see, her hair blowing in the wind as she stands upright, scanning, searching, looking, surveying. If her friends cared to look, they'd soon see her silhoutte on a rooftop, a stock-still Jess-shaped shadow who is not bothering to hide from a damn thing, who is on the job.

She knows, distantly, such a person could be very far away indeed, that they're responding to the sudden restoration of Zatanna's soul, not to anything they're seeing directly. But she can't stop herself from trying, consumed by the idea that if they can't have the scientists, SHIELD will have their murderers, if one Jessica Jones gets her way.

Maybe it's even what Jewel would have tried to do. For it wasn't the death of her family that derailed her attempts to be a hero.

That came later.


Warm lips find her knuckles and through the haze of pain and relief, Zatanna turns her head to look at John. A smile, tired - because how could she /not/ be? - and somewhat delirious ghosts over her rosy mouth. "…one day…" she murmurs. "…I'll be in some other state that's not sweaty, bloody, burned or gross around you. One day."

She doesn't fight it when her arm is folded over her stomach, and while the rest of her team move to fulfill their respective objectives, she lets her head roll back on the concrete floor, biting back a groan as aches and pains, needles of sensation, and the ephemeral bruises inside her, reassert themselves, slowly bleeding back into her more conscious thoughts now that the effects of adrenaline are slowly fading. A slender shadow suggests that Jessica is moving for the techs, Red Robin was taking charge of the clean-up, and John was off to get something for her blood and her blood sugar and she…

"…okay, well," she croaks from the floor. "— if nobody minds, I think I'll just…lie here for a bit and…maybe close my eyes. Because I feel like I spent the last two lifetimes as Muhammad Ali's punching bag. If someone can wake me up when it's all d— "

Red's fiddling with the computer produces the last thing she expects. It sounds like a recording - a log of observations, detailing various experiments and test subjects. It filters in eventually, through her pained delirium, that they are talking about people she /knows/ and she turns her sweaty head to look at Tim by the console, and Jessica by the techs. Her lips part; pale enough, the evaluations she hears drains her face of color, for the moment returning to her very pitiable state in the last few days. She knows who James Barnes is, and she knows that wherever HYDRA was now, they took Jane. Conflict wars inside of her, painfully, violently. Her brain attempts to churn through this new deluge of information, to reconcile what she hears with what she remembers, what she /saw/, Bucky's face looming over hers as he took her to the floor while she begged him, /begged him/ not to do this to John…

But the moans are what has her rolling on the floor, to push herself up with shaking arms. Ice-blue eyes - vibrant, alive - fall on the techs and fix on Tasha. The one she yelled at. The one who would resign herself to doing horrible things because she cannot fathom a world without her father…

Horror dawns on her face when blood splashes on the walls, when the sides of their heads explode from the inside out. When she watches them die and she remembers the itching, the scratching behind their ears..

She knows it's fruitless. She knows. But her body moves because she can't help but latch onto her first instinct, a distressed cry escaping her lips as hands reach out for Tasha, falling face first to the ground before she can even reach her. Fingers scramble, weakly struggling with the body. There has to be something…

"No! No you…oh god…oh god, what did they /do/?! What did they…"


The corpse, still warm, moves bonelessly under Zatanna's knuckling hands, limbs shifting, hands falling open. That brief, malleable time before rigor mortis. Glasses long knocked askew, Tasha's dead eyes gaze somewhere else, somewhere far away, as if asking for something no one can give her. Tears still shine their wet paths where she cried for her father, cried hopelessly for her loss. Smoke vents from the hole behind her left ear. Her head lolls forward like a broken-necked bird, and blood pours from her nose, from her left-open mouth.

She feels normal under Zatanna's hands. She feels… regular. Not a soldier. Not a killer. A civilian, a technician, a daughter, a victim, a body.


He can do something else, at least.

"Here," Red Robin mutters in that modulated voice, easing Zatanna down and then pressing the logo on his chest, which makes it release his cape. With quick, efficient motions he folds it up, the fabric layering on itself easily, and then he gently lifts the magician's head before sliding the makeshift pillow under it. He gives her a tight little smile, incongruous on the otherwise intimidating mein his cowl and its featureless white eyes create.

And then he goes back to work.

A device inserted into one of the USB slots on the computer, a seemingly featureless black case thumb drive that starts flashing blue lights once it's plugged in. Gloved hands dance over the keyboard, doing things that probably he's the only one in the room who understands. Seeking permissions, authorisations. Trying to crack through Hydra's security, but like any good mysterious organisation they're very good at compartmentalising. Keeping different cells separate from one another.

He backs up everything he can, even the things that seem mundane, useless. He'd dump the entire hard drive if he could, to later sift through the data when he has the time. He knows he won't have the time, now. He can /feel/ it. Whoever these people are, they're too good to not have more safeguards. Locations, information, copied wholesale. And then… And then…

Even as the audio logs begin playing, the cowled vigilante is already copying them, as well. What they hear is a horror, for anyone. Nobody can resist conditioning forever, everyone has a breaking point somewhere, no matter how much they might want to think otherwise. These people could do it to anyone, and…

Wait, did the voice say implants behind the left ear?

He looks up, looks over at the two techs, having been taken in hand by Jessica as per his request; hears the woeful moaning from the two technicians. Zatanna pushing herself up to check on them, crying out and reaching for the woman.

"Get away from them!" Red Robin barks, but it's both too late, and doesn't matter. The suicide implants are… Precise.

He feels sick, watching people die again. He feels furious, at the organisation that would do that to people. People who were not working for them out of their own free will.

The system begins locking down.

Seething, Red Robin starts grabbing everything he can off of the computer, as fast as he can, the lights on the little thumb drive flashing furiously. He was hoping for further data on just what this project actually /was/, but there might be other bits of gold to be sifted out of the dirt and trivia. Some wheat to shake out of the chaff.

There's no time left. He pulls the drive out of the computer before the lockdown can damage it as well. The small USB device vanishes, somewhere on his costumed person.

And then with a frustrated, angry roar, twisted into something monstrous by the concealed device at his throat, he tosses the computer aside, smashing it, destroying it.

Jessica was gone, sure that the lockdown was being triggered by an agent; Red Robin was fairly sure it was an automated system, but if he's wrong and the PI is right, they'll all be glad Jones decided to cover their asses, won't they?

"We need to leave," Red Robin growls to Zatanna and Constantine. He doesn't look at the corpses of Tasha and Karl. He doesn't need to: Their faces are burned indelibly in his prodigious memory, added to the list of casualties in the War, whether they were controlled victims or unfortunate quislings.



'Something for the blood' turns out to be a stack of paper towels, one of which has been dampened. Hospital grounds or no, there had been little call for first aid in the imaging wing. 'Something for blood sugar' turns out to be almond milk — the only thing in the employee refrigerator that hadn't gone over — which John, in the next room, is side-eying, as though it had just personally offended him. He carries these with him back to the imaging room when he hears voices begin to float down the short hallway, and he never does make it back to Zatanna with what he's brought — a mercy, maybe, depending on how she feels about almond milk.

The recording illustrates for him just how it is that an interested party might go about producing something like The Winter Soldier, using the raw material of a man like James Barnes, two things that could not be more different, if the newspaper clippings are to be believed. He had known it would require excessive psychological trauma, and he might have had some inkling as to the involvement of electroshock therapy, having had more than his fair share, but the deprivation, the /torture/ described in such a clinical, offhand way makes his skin crawl the way those objective guesses had not been able to.

They called him 'it.' They did not even permit him his own humanity. No wonder, then, that he took so eagerly to this modified protocol: after such scarcity, even the most pitiful scraps must have seemed like a banquet.

The worst for John, though — sheerly because he can't get his head around what Barnes /is/, having lived a life he cannot properly imagine, the way trying to imagine vast sums feels impossible — is hearing Foster's name. Confirmation of the worst. In his mind's eye he can see her: small and delicate but a force unto herself. Pushing past him through a brick wall gone soft on the idea of its own nature, and when he'd followed her through, she'd been giddily, clumsily twirling in the darkened warehouse beyond, effervescent for having done something until then only possible for her in theory. Swerving across two lanes of New York City traffic because he said something about taking her memories of magic from her if she became reckless — a visceral response that recent events have underlined the significance of.

He imagines them doing all of those things to Jane Foster, breaking her down so that she can be rebuilt, and everything in his stomach curdles.

Things happen quickly after that. A wet popping sound from the other side of the room, Zatanna's plaintive questions of the dead. Tim, tearing a thumb drive out of a computer and shoving it to its demise, pent up frustration spewed like a snarl through whatever he uses to filter his voice, and the blur that is Jessica as she passes John at a dead run. He stands aside for her. He gets it.

There does not seem to be anything more to say; a nod in agreement with Red's assessment suffices, carton and the bulk of the stack of towels set aside on some surface in passing. The bodies of the techs draw into view. Red spray. Crumpled, like puppets with their strings cut — which, he supposes, they were, in a sense.

His touch on Zee's shoulder is light. "C'mon love. It's time to go."


Nothing and nobody but the night, no target for her shaking hands. Fine, that's fine. So Jessica does the next best thing, speaking into the earbud. "Clear," she says. Maybe she's been spending too much time around SHIELD agents already, but the truth is, they need to know there's nobody in the street about to shoot at them, however they choose to leave. "I'm keeping an eye out." She isn't ready to leave her post just yet. Though: "Red, grab my phone on the way out, would you?"

This business keeps getting damned hard on phones. Just for the record.

As she speaks some of that tension uncoils, snaps back to just doing the job, her emotions packed up and put back in the box as she gets back on track.


Data flows onto Red Robin's USB. It is difficult to get as much as he would want— one would expect nothing less of an organization like this— but he is able to get some things. The audio logs and notes of this one intake officer— the one they heard, plus a few more— some other operating locations of this particular Hydra cell— a few names of people who are sleeper agents, embedded in various mundane professions and lives around the city.

All too soon, the system begins to lock down. Just after he pulls the drive, the terminal goes dead. It is an ominous sign.

Whatever systems are in place here, they are certainly automated— remote triggered at the slightest hint of compromise.

Very soon, there shall be nothing left of this place. Fire cleanses all things.

The sudden explosion of Tim's rage causes tired shoulders to stiffen. Zatanna turns her head to look at the costumed vigilante, lips slightly parted in astonishment. All the time they've known one another, she has never seen him as anything other than composed - careful, collected, almost clinical, interspersed with the smatterings of actual friendliness in more social situations. It's only the last few days that she was made aware of the fissures that exist and even then, he has managed to take everything with the cool-headed aplomb she unfailingly associates with him. So to her, the sight of him losing his cool isn't just startling, it's almost shocking.

She almost calls him by name, but remembers that the costume is there for a reason. There's a glance down at Tasha's dead eyes, the expression within her own shadowed by her fringe of tousled bangs. Her thumb rolls in an absent motion, reassurance for someone no longer present to feel it, over her cheek, the tears tracked over her skin, reminded of the way that she sobbed about her father. About how all she wants is a paradise, and a life where everything didn't go wrong.

"There's a Heaven," she tells Tasha's corpse quietly. Even now, after everything, she hopes that in her case, it will be merciful.

She hears Red Robin's directive to go and somewhere deep inside of herself, she knows Tim is right. She senses John's return before she feels his hand on her shoulder. Slowly, she tilts her head back, and the look behind those expressive eyes is indescribable, indicative of the fact that she is /not/ done making these people pay for what they did to not just herself, but /everyone else/ around her, that she knows she has two other people to save. It is one that promises merciless, white-hot retribution. It is one that promises the full force of that endless, dangerous potential brought to bear.

All nine circles.

All of them.

She lowers Tasha and pushes up, reaching over to grab Red Robin's folded cape, because much like her, John and everyone else she cares about, she is starting to learn that it is imperative that he does not leave a trace of himself wherever he visits. How she manages to still stand after what she has just endured, she chalks up to the same burning, unyielding, relentless fury she ascribes to everything else once she /decides/. And with that, she turns to head out of the building, picking up a quick clip. She doesn't tarry.




Regain control.

It takes only a few moments, but those few moments might as well be an eternity in this situation, for Red Robin to bring his temper back to heel. Between the exhaustion and so many things twisting up inside of him lately, it's difficult to keep a rein on his anger, but losing control will do no one any good. He doesn't even notice Zatanna's shock at his outburst, the magician not drawing his attention to herself by calling out his name, being mindful at the last moment of the secret she keeps for him, and the presence of someone who does not know.

"Copy," he replies into the earpiece. "We're on our way out. This place won't last much longer." He stops long enough to get Jessica's dropped phone, since Zatanna gets his cape, the folded swath of black memory material currently quite soft without any current running through it, though she probably could've hoped for a more comfortable pillow while she was laying on the floor regardless.

The leaving is quick, just ahead of the destruction of the building's interior, where the masked vigilante is able to return Jessica's phone to her, hopefully none the worse for the wear. The others will want to be somewhere else, he's sure. The talk of drinking and greasy food was probably more than just talk; they'll want to celebrate Zatanna's survival, they'll want to try and forget, at least for a little while, what had nearly happened. What /had/ happened, what they'd seen and heard.

But Red Robin knows he won't be going with them. He can't.


'There is a Heaven,' Zatanna tells the technician.

Who must already know, John thinks to himself — unless her path to the afterlife forked in another direction entirely, one supposes.

He meets her look of willful intensity, all blades and promises of the wrath of justice, and softens. Not for the sentiment, but for the way in which her will — which she'd never lost — has something behind it, the engine of her nature ticking along as though it had never been bled dry, no matter how spent she may look.

What else can he do? He gives her a small, single nod, just fractions of an inch. Their work isn't done. Having heard what they've heard, seen what they've seen, none of them could possibly turn their backs on Hydra now. Maybe not ever again.

He follows her out of the building at a quick clip, stooping on his way to snare his coat up off of the floor in the middle of the circle, and drags it on as he steps out into the frozen air. There are more dead bodies in that building for John than the technicians can account for, but he's just as eager to see those set ablaze.


Jessica leaps off the roof to join them; landing soundlessly behind the group; she can protect everyone better from up close. She's silent, lost in her own thoughts, hands free of her pockets only because she might need them. Not that any of them really need protection. The other three are extremely formidable people. But…they've also all earned the right to be protected. To have their backs watched. And until she's reasonably sure they're safe…

(Probably right around the time she's inhaling fries or schwarma or the like)…well, that's what she is going to do.

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