What's on the Inside

January 23, 2017:

John stumbles across Azalea Kingston by chance, and his professional curiosity gets the better of him.

A dive bar

It's not very special.


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Jessica Jones, Zatanna Zatara

Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

She should have brought more clothes. After the battle last night, and with only a few items shoved into a backpack, she was ill-prepared for this trip. Ill-prepared for the news she received. Ill-prepared to be a hero. At least she could make a really, really bad decision and spend her last few dollars on the cheapest drink she could buy down the way. A liquor store might treat her better, but she needed to be out, around people, and away from the impromptu cage that was Jess's apartment.

When she leaves she doesn't bother locking the door - she has to get back in and as far as she can tell there's nothing worth anything inside anyway, and she's wearing her vigilante costume. Well, everything save the mask and gloves. Over her top, she wears an old army jacket she salvaged a long time ago from a Goodwill pile, and so really she won't look /all/ that out of place. Most of her gear isn't much more than repurposed clothing anyway.

She will not know the attention she's attracted by simply existing, the creature inside her far to busy reveling in anticipation of the coming freedom, the coming drink, and the fight she is absolutely guaranteed to get into later when she has to much.

And so she makes her way down the hall, and if she's allowed, she'll take the stairs down, her destination: Farley's, a shit hole pub just down the block.


It had been his intention to check on Jessica Jones. Not in so many words, of course, and not in any perceptible way — neither he nor the detective were much for having long, protracted conversations about their feelings — but they'd been through a strange assortment of small hells together, and there are few enough people John can say that he likes, without caveat.

She will forgive him his digression down another path for the sake of his occupation. She would, he is sure, understand.

Most of New York fails to see him. A neat trick to have. It helps him tail the object of his interest, his pursuit leisurely, unhurried. When she veers into the depths of a dive bar he views that as a good omen, a tiny little reward from Fate to her favorite whipping boy. Twenty seconds after the descends the stairs he follows, hands in his pockets, expression caught somewhere between contentment and the ghostly sort of background amusement that only British people seem to be able to manage.

An old hand at this sort of thing — a veteran of a thousand cons — he does not look for her right away. He finds the /bar/ and he orders a /drink/ because that is what you do, and waits for it with an affectation of disinterest in anything else. All the while, tendrils of his rarer senses are folding out through the space, ephemeral tongues with a refined palate for the supernatural.


There's a moment in the pursuit, a brief pause, where she looks. It's not something she's aware of, a glance over her shoulder. A narrowing of her eyes. Not even a sixth sense, more like an eighth, so far removed from her conscious thought that she does not notice him in the remainder of the walk, or once she's inside.

It takes her a moment, to take in the smell of this place, and the feel of it. Her haunts these days are less social and more.. means to an end. Just function. It's miserable, and so she promises herself this moment, tonight, won't be. She wavers, waffles. A chair alone in a corner? A place in the open that might invite someone else to sit and talk? The bar becomes a happy medium, and Fate puts only a single stool between them when she finally sits.

"JD, straight." She has her ID on the bar before the old man has a chance to even look, and as those ephemeral tongues lash in her direction she seems completely oblivious.

But really, only half of her is.

John Constantine's going to need a spiritual breath mint. There's sulfur there, a predictable, mystical taste, like something from hell itself. But it's bullshit, the top layer of camouflage that Xiuhnel, the Sky Serpent, uses to convince the worst things in the world that it belongs. That it is one of them. Below is fractured glass, sharp enough to cut back at those senses, obsidian layers that shifts and clank like armor around the luminous soul of Azalea Kingston.

She is the bright light fused to his dark, outer shell, and what is left of her takes up a place in his humanoid, spiritual bulk, where a person might have a heart.

The drink hits the back of her throat, and a twenty hits the bar.


A rallying cry for simple escapism, if ever there was one.


'Why does everything you do involve putting gross things in your mouth?' Zatanna Zatara had asked him once, exasperated. It's an exaggeration, but like most things worthy of a chuckle it has its roots in truth: the man has had some seriously foul things in his mouth, to the extent that sulfur barely rates. It's not /pleasant/, but then that's what the alcohol is there for, isn't it?

The subterfuge on the part of what's within her does not surprise him. There are minor gods and other spectacles of the occult which masquerade themselves as one thing or another, typically a convenience for interactions with some segment of humanity. Sometimes, they even start to believe the myths they've made about themselves.

What does surprise him is the unique configuration: two things, but not two. Not separate and distinct; not something he could tear out of her, the way he purges genuine demons from the brittle bodies of their beleaguered victims.

John is finally served his drink — a porter, nothing heavy — and he spends a moment reacquainting himself with just how much he hates American beer before he dips his hand into his pocket and retrieves a business card, which he places down on the bartop, sliding it over to her beneath one elegant index finger. It reads:


The only other information on the card is a phone number, beneath the rest.


The shot glass hammers down, and it's only then that she notices this very new thing and the retreating finger, following it with her predator's gaze all the way to the source. Her snarl is an easy thing to trigger, but she holds it in reserve as she snatches up the card, narrows her eyes on it, and has the only reaction a person can have to such a thing.

She practically bursts at the seems with incredulous laughter, flipping the card over in her hands to make sure there's not something on the back that says 'HAHA J/K, SEND NUDES'.

Of course, it just earns her a bunch of odd looks from the local alcoholics, and she's still smiling when she swings in her stool so that she's squared with him, pupils growing to take in the measure of the exorcist. Nostrils flaring to see if he smells like deceit. There's something about him. That eight sense again, some oddity her eyes get caught on, but she can't really see.

"You know… I was going to bust your balls for how having a business card on it with this kind of /shit/, but with as many times as I've had to explain my shitty life to people over the last few days, maybe I should get one myself."

She makes a broad, sweeping gesture here, and flicks her shotglass down the bar, towards the bartender again, a not so subtle way to say she wants /more/. "It could say Azalea Kingston, stupid fuck who wandered into the wrong alley and came out an actual, mother fucking rapist, murdering, genocidal monster. Do you think all that shit will fit? Or maybe I just shrink it down to 'Monster. Crime Fighter. Fuck up.'"

Her rant ends and her stool falls over as she nearly launches off of it, immediately at his side. The commotion will draw attention, but her mirth shifts to anger in a moment, her body a ball of trembling tension. "Why are you following me?"

It's all she can assume. She doesn't know how Fate works. If she did, she might feel better about her situation.

Or maybe worse.


John — elbow on the bar, glass braced in front of his mouth, taking patient sips of dark swill, never once having looked aside at the young woman he's given his card to — answers her laugh with a quieter, knowing sort of humor, the corner of his mouth on the side of his profile visible to her drifting absently upward, his gaze lidding. There are crow's feet just beginning to form at the outer corners of those eyes, trace aging in an otherwise still-youthful face.

Because people do laugh. Often, in fact, and long, and loudly.

Until they stop. Which they usually do. John does not give his card out without reason, and the reasons — like blood — eventually must out.

She solicits his opinion about this hypothetical business card of hers and he turns his gaze ceilingward, to all appearances mulling over the answer, though she doesn't leave him with time to provide it. She creates a noisy scene, furniture upended, and the brow on that side of John's face travels upwards by mere degrees. He does finally turn his head, then, slants a gaze the color of a pale blue sky down at the fallen stool, and then drags it back up to her.

There's something about the quality of his gaze that conveys solidity, density, immobility. It isn't the bravado of a street tough, it isn't ornamental or ostentatious fearlessness, bolstered by undercurrents of theoretical violence. But it /is/ fearless, at least for the time being.

John Constantine has seen some /shit/, and though the world holds many horrors in it capable of moving him to terror or revulsion, as it seems so keen to remind him of late, they are /rare/.

In short: he seems unmoved. The quip he might usually answer her with does not come, replaced with something more candid, if only because he wants to know more. "Saw you on the street. Noticed you've got a bloody hitchhiker in your soul, didn't I?," he says, the accent thick — Brit, scouse to be exact — but intelligible. "Sort of my area of expertise." He over-enunciates the last word, and brings his glass to his lips, then hesitates, glancing back down at the stool. "You'll be wanting that I expect."


It's really a good thing that the people who meet Azalea Kingston, save maybe for one, are all calmer people than her. Especially now. Especially today. Whatever's been swirling around her, the slices of normalcy, the bitter, brief moments she had where she felt good about the hunt for Bucky Barnes, it's all evaporating.

And so is her anger, when John becomes the rock against her crashing wave, when he shows a maturity that she simply cannot, her expression faltering as he explains in that sharp Brit way of his. There's still a heave of her chest, an annoyance that isn't really /her's/, but John can see that to. The coiling, tensing musculature of a creature that gives her strength and takes almost everything else.

There's a long moment where she thinks about the door before the stool, but then there's a shot of JD for her, and she resigns herself, shoulders slumping as she sits next to him, staring down at her drink with a slow exhale.

"It's been a long couple of days." It's an apology without an explicit apology, and she stews on what it means to have an expert on the occult sitting next to her, while her mind races to all the things that caused her outburst in the first place. "I don't think it's a hitchhiker anymore. They either get off at a stop or murder you and take your shit. Pretty sure this is just me now. Pretty sure I'm just going to have to deal. Which means.."

She looks upward, at the ceiling for a moment, as if summoning her strength. Time to be a human. "Sorry. For getting in your face." There, a /real/ apology.


Non-apologies are something John trades in very well, as it happens; he knows them when he sees them, and he issues them enough that it would be in poor taste for him not to accept one, so long as the offense was minor.

And it was, all things considered, as he's happy to illustrate. "This one time, my mate moved into an awful flat in a building where we used to know a guy who had a dog," he says, a seeming non-sequiter, "Guy who had the dog beat the living hell out of the thing. Killed it dead I imagine, as he turned up one day with a different one. And so this mate of mine who moved into dog-bloke's apartment, his gran started having fits on the regular. Epilepsy in the whole family — in my mate, too — but not like /that/. Took one step inside and I could tell it was the dog. Possessed an apartment. Just doing what dogs do, wunnit? Defending its 'ome. Nearly took me head off, though."

He sets his glass down with exaggerated care, and then slants her a look that simmers on the edges, amused. "It's a whole /thing/."

His gaze lingers this time, ticking over her, like slightly aloof crowbars made of ice. "It's certainly /different/," he says, in a tone that implies he's speaking about her situation again. "Which is why it's interesting. There are all sorts of ways to 'deal,' but it all depends. Any event, it's not the way things are supposed to be, so there are gonna be problems. Comes with the territory."


There's a shift of her gaze sidelong when he begins telling his story, and slowly she turns to regard him in much the same way he does her, but she can't see in him what he will see in her. The way it looms around her, to big for her tiny frame. The way it postures one moment and laughs at the sky the next, and only in it's moments of distraction does she seem her most focused. Like now, as it cackles madly, mutely to most ears, but not to John's.

Xiuhnel liked his story.

Azalea isn't sure what to think, blinking in stunned silence as he goes on to explain how she is so very lucky to have drawn such a special, smoldering short straw from the grip of Fate.

Somewhere nearby a waitress makes a pass, and the Murdered God looks at her, dragging Azalea's gaze with it, and it's in such a unique position to understand how it works her, because it /is/ her, melded around the edges, except The Creature does not feel the shame she feels when she finally looks back.

Another shot down, and she winces at this one. "Do you charge a lot of money for what you do? I mean, you said there are ways to deal. Maybe you could help me just figure out exactly what the fuck I'm hauling so I know the best ways to do that. I have a friend who deals with some of this stuff, but she couldn't really do anything about it."


Does he charge a lot of money?

John lets that question and everything after it hang a moment, but not too long, because the amount of alcohol he's seen her put away in the last minute is going to catch up with her eventually, and he intends to extract himself before it does.

"Sometimes. If I feel like being a prick," says John, and he permits a quick, sharp smile to give his face a foxish look that suits his character. "Sometimes I work for free. Sometimes I trade in favors. It all depends, luv. But yeah. I might be willing to help you wi'that. Like I said, it's interesting."

And it is. But it's also broken, and wrong. It's a Thing That Should Not Be.

He gives her another moment of study, then turns back to his glass, lifts it to his mouth. "'oo's this friend of yours, then?"

The way she watches him is a study in predatory appreciation. Deconstruction. She can't help it, and when she tries to explain to people what she is, it comes in bits and pieces about being a monstrous, about nightmares, about urges. But almost no one gets to understand the little things that she puts on display right now, so close.

Or maybe it's just that John looks so much like her Ex. The Ex. Thank god he has an accent and an air of something less than proper, or she'd be really angry and conflicted right now.

As he tells her his very fair payment scheme, she sets her jaw as she considers what she can offer someone who has real power, because as far as she's concerned, she's nine tenth's curse and one tenth punch. It's a thought that's broken up by the question about her friend, about the girl with all the power.

She doesn't say anything at first, but Xiuhnel does, a groaning, laughing word that translates through barriers of mortality:


The alcohol helps when she really thinks about her, about finding out the danger she trades in, and getting to worry all about it - but only after the fact. "Honestly, I don't know much." There's a certain downward cast to her eyes, and a softening around the edges, like all her former humanity is creeping back in. "Right, I guess you guys all have each other's cards. /Real/, you know.. whatever it is. Magic? Demon-stuff? I wanted her to teach me about it." It never occurs to Azalea that she shouldn't just be talking about these sorts of things to whoever happens along with a friendly gift horse, but the hubris of The Devil Inside and a certain morbid bent really just make her, sometimes, not give a fuck.

"Her name's Zatanna. She lives - we both do, in Gotham."


It ought to surprise him, but it can't quite, and for more than one reason.

There are plenty of magicians in New York. It's one of the largest melting-pots (as they're so fond of saying) in the world, and like every such place on the face of the earth, it has unique things to offer individuals sensitive to accretions of power. There are streets within it that trace out ley lines, intersecting in the pattern of wards, small patterns in alleys that act as culverts for the psychic emanations of the population above. There are almost no occultists worth their salt who don't know John Constantine, though, even if only by name, and as a bad omen, something they never want to see darken their doorsteps.

So it stands to reason that he'd be familiar with Zatanna, wouldn't it? And on top of that, John's connection with Synchronicity makes happenings like these almost inevitable, given enough time and the right kind of reasons.

Marvelous poker face, John's. "We've met," he says, and good humor puts a shine on the words. "Small world, ours. Best you probably /don't/ go arming yourself with knacks, though, until you've got a bridle on that bit of you that isn't you. Because it isn't you, sunshine, no matter how much it might want to be." He takes a long pull from his glass, striving to finish it, and sets it aside, foam sliding down the sloped interior of the glass.

"It's like /piss/," he mutters. The bartender hears him, but could not care less.

"As to what it is, well — that's the question, innit? I'm curious about the answer. Could be willing to poke, but you know it'll take some time. And probably some hypnosis." He shifts on his stool just enough to suggest that his departure is, if not imminent, then at least intended before the hour drags too far along. He was serious about extricating himself before the liquor takes hold. "And, if you're naughty, possibly some restraints. Because I tell the story about the dog and I can have a giggle about it now, but I'm fond of my own hide, yeah? I'm not keen on bleeding my own blood."


It's super fortunate that Azalea is being trained by The World's Greatest Detective. Zatanna even sent her a text about helping someone in New York named John. Sure the name is common, but from her world view, directly opposed to the actual reality of the situation, there are like five people in the world who can really do what they do. She should probably make the connection, but doesn't.

Okay, maybe there are ten magic people. But half of them are German Immortal Nazi Fucks and at least one is now TeleBucky, the Transporting Soldier.

When John comments on the beer, her smirk turns up one corner of her mouth, and though she's well on the way to learning that she drinks outside her weight class, she takes in his description of how they might go about it with rapt attention.

Fuck, it all sounds so cool.

"Right, I'll… no knacks. Or whatever. I didn't get past Wicca For Dummies anyway. Shit was fucking useless. Look, I can't offer much.. probably, but, if you'll help me out, I'll pay you back. Hypnotize me, tie me down, whatever. I'll keep your card."

Azalea swallows away whatever that was that got caught in her throat. A lump maybe. Emotion. Talking about figuring this all out makes her think back to when she was not at her best, but it also gives her a glimmer of hope for a future where she might be a little less monster, and a little more human.

"Thanks for not turning me into a frong when I got in your shit."

Did she say frong? Was that supposed to be frog? Clearly she's slurring.


It does genuinely surprise him, finally, when she just /agrees/ the way she does, particularly after he mentioned restraints. Of course, whatever it is caught up in some kind of unnatural symbiotic relationship with her soul might very well confer on her abilities that make her feel that restraints are nothing she can't overcome — those things exist — but even so, she's only just met him. In a shit bar, no less. He has a card. He said some things. And she's just…./fine/ with it.

John Constantine does not have a paternal instinct in the whole of his body, but the phantoms of those murdered things stir, aware that something is off about that. "Frogs are overrated," he says, clearly assuming that she was slurring. He drops off of his stool. "And, eh, listen. I'm not the only guy in town who'll be able to tell you're not just a very angry person by nature. Some of them are probably not good guys." There is a brief reappearance of the fox's smile. "'Course, you'll have to take my word that I am. Or 'tanna's, if you like. Any case, there are people 'round who might take a fancy to /collecting/ a curiosity like the one you've got. Stay on your toes. And use that— " He points at the place the card was made to disappear to, brows lifting, "— when you feel ready." With that, he tosses her a last close-lipped smile, a wink, and turns to go without another word. Mission accomplished.


Maybe John will find out why one day. Maybe he'll understand that she'd accept a deal from the Devil about now, but oddly enough, the actual Devil wants Not A Fucking Thing To Do with Xiuhnel.

They're no longer on speaking terms, you see.

At the warning, she smiles, and the creature inside her ripples, as if to show it's power, but all Azalea has is the confidence of her violence, something John can't know about yet. Not that it would help if she just, you know, stepped into the wrong parlor and laid down on the sacrifical altar in the back.

"Yeah. See you around."

It might be a miracle, though it's far to long after Christmas to really relate it to the holidays. But it could be, just maybe, that Azalea Kingston is going to get out of this bar tonight happier than when she left, without a fist fight even.

And it's all thanks to John fucking Constantine.

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