This Terrible, Beautiful Life

January 26, 2017:

Cutscene. Takes place a couple of days after Saudade.

Brooklyn Bunker - Brooklyn - New York City


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Bruce Wayne, Peter Parker, Jessica Jones, John Constantine, Tim Drake, Bucky Barnes, Dr. Jane Foster, and a slew of dead people


Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

Once she had re-written the symbols in the magic circle that she constructed, Zatanna hesitated, chewing on her bottom lip. Today marked less than seventy-two hours since a team of four, comprised of herself, John Constantine, Jessica Jones, and Red Robin, had undertaken a joint operation with SHIELD to reclaim the three fragments of her stolen soul that had been scattered across New York, and in spite of the surprises and overwhelming power of the machines constructed by HYDRA, fueled by the massive potential that had been her birthright, they managed to reclaim it.

But it cost. As always, the Work costs, and she was fairly sure that none of them came out of that encounter unscathed. Resting her weight on her heels, she tried to process all of it, the idea of a world without misery or sadness or pain, a world where everything that went wrong in this reality had been reversed. A world that reclaimed the tragic losses of souls that were important to her close associates, a reality in which nobody died - Jessica's family, John's mother, Tim's parents. Her mind went even further - what if Dr. Thomas and Martha Wayne had survived? What if her own mother hadn't died in the violent car accident that took her life? What if Richard and Mary Parker were still here? The possibility that this could even happen was enough to ball her fingers on her knees once again, in tight fists. Great, she knew, in theory. She would give anything for those she cares about to be happy, but…


I'm not saying I think suffering's noble, John Constantine had told her in the aftermath. That's a bloody stupid thing to say, or think. Pain is just…incidental to existence. But a man does get to be proud of not being destroyed by it, and when he somehow, in all of that senseless shit, manages to get a thing right, it's—

This. This beautiful, terrible life, where things and circumstances, friendships, relationships, connections mean that much more because a person has to fight tooth and nail for it. Because the odds were perennially stacked against them, and nothing is more worth it than the thing one had to bleed for in order to have in the first place.

He didn't like it, she thought, staring at the circle. The idea of jumping back into the breach so soon after her life nearly drained away to the second wouldn't make any of them happy. But now that she had reclaimed her power, tore it away from those who would use it - who have used it - it would be unconscionable not to try. Because underneath all of the noise, the open wounds that entire experience had dealt the four of them, the collateral damage sprayed across the tri-cities area because HYDRA had distinct ideas about what a utopia should be, there were still a couple of her people that needed saving.

Whatever conflict she had felt, remembering Bucky Barnes' resolute, but blank eyes as he put her to the floor, as he held her down on the chair while the old man with the Tarnhelm ripped most of her soul and power out of her, had vanished almost entirely once she heard the experimentation logs that Red Robin pulled out of the computer in that abandoned hospital. How his handlers had managed to strip away any semblance of his humanity, how they poked and prodded at him until the only recourse for the pain was to stop fighting and break under their calculating hands. And Jane, who might be suffering the same thing, feeling her heart lurch once again at the thought of her, tiny and fiery, ever fascinated with the possibilities presented when magic and science collide. The sympathy in those large, dark eyes when she mentioned her father and knowing that she, too, knew loss. The kind that HYDRA intended to repair, probably, along with a systematic destruction of everything she liked about the diminutive physicist.

There it was again, fury lancing through her in white-hot spikes, her teeth clenching tight from behind closed lips. She wasn't done. She wasn't done making these people pay for what they stole from her and tried to steal from her. Not just whole decades of her life, the eternal wellspring of the terrifying power trapped inside her, but her people. They took two of her people, and hurt the rest.

Tim, and the way the needless deaths of the technicians and what he heard from the logs, having had to listen to her scream as she ripped her soul back into her clutches, had driven him to a rage. Enough to beat people senseless. Enough to destroy computers in the hospital.

Jessica and how long-suppressed emotions nearly overwhelmed her when faced by the ghosts of her family, and the future she never got to have.

John and the sob he tried to quell when the mother he never knew greeted him happy birthday. The nightmares that followed him home from those mortal wounds.

And to add insult to grievous, numerous injuries, the bastards even tried to take Peter Quill's ship and everyone who knew the man knew that it was practically the love of his life.

No. She wasn't done. Not by a mile. She decided. All nine circles of Hell, she had said, until she ripped Sergeant James Buchanan Barnes and Dr. Jane Foster away from their clutches also.

She eyeballed the circle, the thing she intended to use to tether herself back into that concentrated cluster of leylines in New York. Cold sweat dribbled down her back, reminded of all of it. How she nearly lost control and the indescribable pain of all of it just to retrieve the rest of her life back from the aether. How someone had took it and forced her to make a connection, promising that wherever Bucky and Jane were, they were going to have to face whatever monster HYDRA had created using her power. But that meant bits and pieces of her were floating around somewhere, parts of her that still called to the rest. And if she could find them, then maybe she could figure out where to start, and end this once and for all.

It was dangerous to go alone. The look on John's face when she revealed her intentions floated into her most conscious memories, the sensation of his tightened grip on her. I don't want you to do this, his expression said. As always he would never just say what was inside of his head.

But it had to get done. They were her pieces. Even if John had wanted to track them down himself, he didn't have the connection to do it. They were part of her. They would call to her.

Taking a deep breath, she kicked off her shoes, and rolled up her sleeves. Padding barefoot into the heart of the circle, she plastered her back onto the concrete floor, her ice-blue eyes finding the ceiling. She shifted, her hands tilting up until her palms faced upwards. She made sure her head pointed north, her feet slightly astride. To say that she wasn't afraid would be a lie, because she remembered all of it, the excruciating pain of being torn asunder, the struggle to put herself back together again. To feel her control slipping away from her until she put not just her, but everyone around her at risk.

You remind me of someone.

Any friend of James is a friend of mine. You're ever in need of help, I've got your back.

She pushed down the knot in her throat with one hard swallow.

Zatanna closed her eyes and felt it work. The familiar strains of her magic seized her, propelled her into the vastness of the fabric. The sigils she etched around the circle flared a searing blue-white; one at a time, they encircled her as she activated them through incantations whispered from barely parted lips. The tangible world blurred in the corners, slowly fading away in a sea of color, like paint smeared on gray canvas. And as she sent herself off to look for her last remaining shards, she didn't look over her shoulder, didn't look back at her prone, physical form lying catatonic on the ground, because she almost never does.

Deep within her heart of hearts, she hoped the both of them were hanging on.

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