Here's to Us

February 05, 2017:

John Constantine meets with Jessica Jones to discuss next steps. The conversation turns to deeper things, strengthening the trust between two friends.

Hell's Kitchen, NY

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Zatanna Zatara, The Winter Soldier, Jane Foster, Trish Walker, Elinor Ravensdale, Captain America

Mood Music: Here's to Us


Fade In…

The events that took place in the underground Hydra facility left many of those who participated reeling, fighting with the emotional collateral damage of having been thrust into that perfect world simulation, where every hurt they'd ever known reversed itself, and false promises of eternal joy were offered — only to be stripped away. Such was the commitment of those involved that none of them decided to remain behind, even before John and Jessica successfully shattered the spell matrix that held them there, but nevertheless, even the willful decision to turn one's back on happiness of that order is not easy, as John and Jess know altogether too well.

But John, for all that it was difficult for him, came away from the experience in the grips of a profound relief:

Nobody died.

Zatanna's blood magic situation was resolved, Muller had fled the country and would soon be, if John had his way, sorted out. Barnes and Foster had been reclaimed. There were sufferers amongst them, but they were still /breathing/. For John Constantine, that is about the best result he could ever have hoped for.

And he and Zatanna are…

…Things have been good.

He's thrown himself into the long-neglected work that brought him to New York in the first place, but as he's recovered physically from his exertions and mentally from the strain of the month previous, he's finally begun to turn his thoughts to the others. Zatanna has already made her rounds, of course— she never waits, when there's something that needs resolving— but John is a different creature, to say the least. It takes him almost a week to get around to seeking out Jones, texting in advance to tell her he'd like to catch up with her, and suggesting a cafe closer to her neighborhood than to his own. At the appointed time he's already sitting at a table near the window, slouched down into the booth seat against the wall, his coat draped over the back of the seat beside him. There's a steaming cup of black tea in front of him, but it's for the most part untouched.

She's glad he suggested a cafe and not a bar; it's hard to stay dry in a bar, and Jessica is trying.

She'd walked away from that experienced relieved for much the same reasons. She was the least scathed of all. She hadn't been hurt, emotionally or physically, other than that sick feeling at the end to see more of what had happened to Jane and Bucky. The ploy with the EMP pulses either did exactly as it should have or didn't hurt the people they were there to rescue. Indeed, there'd been a strange sensation for her, a sense of meaning. If she and John had not been the exact people to go into the Perfect World the first time, it might not have worked out. The solution had needed precisely one very strong person and one very strong mage; other combinations may not have managed to pull off such a good outcome. She thinks of that, from time to time, as she contemplates that night. Thinks on that, and thinks on other things…how some things that happened to her that were bad in one way have set her up to do a world of good in another.

Perspective is hard earned, but when it comes, it changes a person.

She arrives right on time. "You look worlds better," she comments. After all, he'd looked pretty shitty when she'd last seen him, raw and ragged from trying to stretch his magic across dimensions to touch Zee's in turn. She strips off her coat, scarf, and gloves, revealing the red flannel shirt underneath. She orders a coffee when the waitress zooms by, settling across from him rather comfortably.

Things have actually been good for her too. And while the anxiety she lives with whispers the other shoe must therefore drop at any moment, for now it's easy to ignore. The set of her shoulders is as relaxed as they've ever been, and most of the habitual shadows have cleared from her eyes, face, and mien. They sleep, for now.

He seems to know she's coming some handful of seconds before he can actually see her through the cafe's front windows, as he's already looking at the place she appears. Pale blue eyes track her progress as she winds through the door and over to the table, and they crinkle at the outer corners with the small half-smile he gives her for her observation. "An' here I'd been hoping to start a trend. 'Saving the world chic.' Don't think it's catching, though."

Leaning back in his seat, he reaches to loosely array his fingers around the hot ceramic of his teacup — tea bowl, really; American portion sizes being what they are — and flicks his gaze over her, a quick, efficient assessment of her condition. She seems…fine. Using the metric of her pre-rescue blow-out at Alias Investigations, she seems spectacular. It'll do. "I've been working. Believe it or not, none of this shite is why I came to New York in the first place. We've still got a few things to do before I can really tuck in, but for as long as we're waiting to gather the troops and cross the pond, there's plenty to do." Graceful fingertips manipulate his cup in the saucer, twisting it around where it sits in its shallow depression. "You?"

Spectacular indeed. Will it last? Hard to say. It's ups and downs. Two steps forward and one step back. Highs and lows.

She chuckles at his joke, and a smirk lingers on her lips. "Next time you might want to try making sure your eyes are just a little more bloodshot; I hear that's in fashion. More wheezing breaths too. That'll sell it."

Her coffee arrives, and she frowns. "I wish I could have helped you more back there, John. Lent you some of my strength, anything. I almost suggested it, but I didn't want to break your concentration, waste time tossing out ideas that might not have any basis in reality. I wish I could have done more than just stand there while you ripped yourself apart. But if that's something you can do, draw power from another person, well. It's not like I don't have the stamina to spare, and I trust you."

She takes a long swig of her coffee, listening as he tells her there's more to be done. "I'm fine," she says. "I did some paycheck work, checked in with a few people, have fixed the apartment. Normal shit. Even touched base with my sister."

A brief smile touches her lips before she pushes that aside. She fixes an intent gaze on him, the one that says she's ready to get shit done, the one she normally wears. "Is the shite that brought you to New York in the first place something I can lend a hand with?"

She won't hear his chuckle, but it's easy enough to see his chest shudder as he exhales, the play of shadow over his throat, the increase to the narrowing of glittering eyes. "I'll keep that in mind for next time."

Point B gives him pause, but his ultimate response is to lift his hand away from his cup and wave off her almost-apology with a neat gesture before returning it to where it was. "Nah. If you hadn't been there to turn it, it would've been curtains. Good enough. The other bit's my job, innit? You had other things to do."

Quiet, for a few moments. He fills his silence during her update by lifting his cup and carefully blowing air across the top of the still-steaming tea, taking a cautious sip that ends in a small wince. "Didn't know you have a sister." The urge to ask her whether or not her sister can leap tall buildings in a single bound is there, but he restrains it.

He's more animated when she asks about his latter question. "Probably. Whatever's coming is big, luv. Getting bigger all the time. Something's muckin' about with the way things ought to be. Used to be I'd get woken up out of a dead sleep every couple of months, knowing I 'ad to get on a plane and fuck off to someplace remote to deal with something unpleasant. It's almost all the time now. Like standing under a leaky faucet full of ice water. It'll be more magic, of course, but there'll be overlap with other things, if I don't miss my guess. Exceptional strength and durability are pretty bloody useful for just about everything."

She'd nodded while he'd said they'd each done their parts, it was true, and if she'd really done all she could do there was no sense holding on to guilt. It had been hard to watch, but…it had all worked out. He was fine now, they were all fine now. The fact that some of them were going through emotional maelstroms was just…life. A privilege, for being alive to feel those shitty emotions.

"I'll introduce you sometime. You've seen her face though; it's on every other bus and bus stop in the metro area. She has a local talk radio show. She won't try to publicly pry into your business though. She's got more of a…lifestyle NPR type thing going on than a hard-hitting newscast." If her sister can leap tall buildings, she's apparently not making it a lifestyle choice the way Jessica more or less has.

But then he starts explaining what he's tracking down, and as he might predict, she's got questions. She seems pleased that he's going to keep letting her help; her fists are absolutely at his disposal. "And it's all centered here? In New York? It would have to be, or you'd be wherever it's centered. So as you've been working, what have you found already?" He knows what she already knows, now she probes into what she doesn't. "This sounds like it's way bigger than those Cold Flame shitheads." If nothing else, perhaps she can be a sounding board, but maybe she'll see a thread they can tug on to unravel more of what's going on.

"Eh? That blonde tart?" One of John's brows goes up, and his expression takes a turn for the wry. If he weren't already all tangled up in as much romantic engagement as he can handle, he'd probably be following that remark up with something else: Trish Walker is very easy on the eyes, which is probably one hundred percent of the reason he knows who she is in the first place. John has no interest in talk radio whatsoever.

He leaves it be, though. There's more pressing business, and he's not inclined to give Zatanna reason to flay him alive so soon after everything's been glued back together again.

"You'd think it would be, right? 'Centered here,' as you say. It's not. Which is the problem, and also the reason I'm involved in the first place." He leans slowly forward, braces his forearms on the table and cups his hands around his mug. "It's everywhere. I mean literally bloody everywhere. Completely global." There are trace remnants of an expression that suggests he finds the prospect of such a widespread phenomenon exciting, at least in a strangely academic way, but that look is handily overpowered by genuine concern, even though he strives to minimize the amount of apprehension on his face. "Bad news for everyone. In light of that, New York seemed as good a place to begin as any. It's an epicenter of mystical activity. Lots of heavy hitters here. I planned to stop by, do some recruiting, and keep moving, but…"

He tilts one hand, reclaims the mug. The gesture stands in for 'all of this crazy shit happened' with an elegant concision he could not replicate verbally.

Jessica snarfs. "She's not a tart!" She doesn't know whether she's amused or scandalized. The urge to protect and defend her sister wars with the urge to laugh because she's never heard Trish described that way before. In the end she settles for 100% amused, though perhaps only because she knows damn well he is entangled with Zatanna.

But he leaves it be, and so does she.

"Global," Jessica murmurs, trying to even imagine it. Imagination fails her.

"You were going to recruit other mystics?" she guesses. "There's one that lives down the hall from me. Elinor Ravensdale. She's some sort of ghost-whisperer, and is really hard on a person's privacy, but…she seems a good sort." She's reluctant to talk about Ravensdale, even though she finds herself doing it for the second time in as many days. The truth is, if something horrible and global and magical is going on, and it's all hands on deck, it would be pretty unconscionable of her not to send him her way. Still, the uneasiness about the woman is clear, even as she adds: "The sort to want to help people."

Her mind clicks through his explanation. "Do you have any leads? And…has all this shit been going down now because of this? Because that's been nagging at me. Wondering why now. I mean you know, Steinschneider had decades to go after that book, as an example, but he chose now."

"'Ghost whisperer,'" John repeats, the subtle aspects of his face changing, though it's difficult to describe just how. It may ultimately be easiest to call it 'indecision,' but he seems to have a mild tug-of-war with himself about the prospect of involving — well, it's unclear. Either Elinor, or a 'ghost-whisperer,' or possibly just 'anyone else that he doesn't know.'

"Ehh. I can talk to her," he says, which is exceptionally noncommittal, but probably as good as Jessica's going to get from him.

His receptivity to Jones is atypical, to say the least; John makes acquaintances easily and temporary — what Chuck Palahniuk described as 'single serving'— friends almost as readily as breathing. Becoming more than that to him, though— filling any social offices that require even a modicum of trust— is uncommon, and usually subject to long years of thankless effort.

"It's all interconnected, but it's tough to point to 'cause' or 'effect.' As far as I can tell, some of these things would have been happening anyway, but what's going on in the background is making those things…more. Yeah? Worse or easier than they should be. Feedin' it, and being fed by it. Cyclic rubbish." He lifts his cup and takes another tentative sip from his cup, and finding it less likely to boil the inside of his mouth, takes a longer pull, debating with himself about how open to be. "It's something to do with the Primordial Darkness. You know— what there was, before God said 'let there be light' an' all that. The opposite of existence. I know that mostly because I've— " He hesitates. "When I was down in Louisiana, before I flew up to New York, I was contacted by someone with a stake in the proceedings. Someone with inside knowledge. 'e asked me to look into it. An' here I am."

She doesn't need committal; she doesn't look particularly eager for him to do that. Scenarios where Elinor starts spilling all about the woman she killed make her uneasy. She'd dropped it as a need to do what she can, to provide him with anything useful that she can provide him with. If he never talked to her she could walk with a clear conscious, knowing she'd put the tidbit out there, all while being relieved that the potential complications were never going to show up. She only nods when he says that, frowning down at her coffee, unwilling to even delve into why she knows for a fact this woman is the real deal.

She listens to the rest of the story though. Louisiana of course has even more of a reputation for the mystical and weird than New York does, at least to a layperson like herself, saturated as it was in old world legends, Voodoo, and bayous which held their secrets close. Not that she'd ever been, but it certainly screams 'magic crap' to her moreso than, say, Columbus, Ohio would.

She frowns. Something to do with Primordial Darkness. "Are there sects that are known to worship the Primordial Darkness?" She suspects he's been tracing the ephemeral lines of magic across the city, trying to learn more, but she grounds to the practical. "And would this sort of thing…produce more, say, occult murder cases? Because that's hard data I can dig in to for you. And if there are sects, maybe we can find them conventionally, pull some surveillance. I mean there has to be someone. If there are people like us, people who oppose what's happening, then there are going to be those who hope to help it out, hope to gain from it somehow. Those people might know a lot more than we do, so…you know, finding one and letting you bind them up with magic while I hit them in the face a few times might spur some answers too."

Besides, this wouldn't be the first time that's worked well for them: cross-referencing what his senses and abilities tell him with concrete data points to produce solutions.

"Plenty," John says, rolling his shoulders and slanting his eyes away from her, out through the plate glass of the front window. He watches people pass by, countless different types of people, the broad spectrum of New York locals, all going about their mundane business, oblivious to the significance of the conversation happening just feet away: a conversation about the possible end of the world. "That's not much help, though. Cults, mystical orders, churches, philosophers, it's all zealotry. They'll all claim responsibility for whatever's going on, and there'll be too many to count. There are a few more worth looking into than others, but the problem I'm finding is that because this is happening /everywhere/, all of the usual cues are mixed up, yeah? My mate, Ritchie—"

He says 'my mate,' but Ritchie Simpson no doubt spent the entire time Jessica was helping him to move his complicated computer equipment to an undisclosed hiding location complaining about John and being genuinely furious with the Englishman.

" —datamines for things like that. It's what he does, it's what all of that gear was for. And recently, his averages have been shifting. We're talking about information on a massive scale. Percentages like that don't just pick up and bloody move like this. So it's throwing everything off, innit? Too much noise. Once we're through with Herr Muller, I think it'll be time to pay a few big names a visit. Could use you for that." His eyes narrow a little, going distant, then sharpen and slide her way, his smirk small and cavalier, but leaning toward a peculiar hardness. "I don't have the best relationship wi'some of them."

Sometimes mates don't do anything but complain; Jessica kind of gets that. She'd listened very patiently, and had tried to get him to talk about his work whenever possible. When that hadn't been possible, her answers had been, "Where do you want this?" and "Should I move that one next?"

"I'll be there," Jessica promises, quiet and intent. "You just tell me where and when to be, as always. You know you can just call me up at four in the morning and be all like, so shit's hitting the fan, get over here, and I'd do it." Every wizard, Jessica decides, really ought to have their own brawny partner to do the hitting stuff part for them, even though is vulnerable to the magic itself. He looks fairly vulnerable to the 'being hit by things' part, so it works out.

"When do you want to leave for Germany, John? I took care of the passport issue pretty much the day after you said you wanted me there."

In the back of her mind she's struggling with something, still contemplating Ravensdale. She should tell him, because if he learns second hand it might break the trust between them. She's having to gather up scraps of courage to even contemplate it. But maybe it will be okay. John's carrying his own guilts, his own scars.

She lets the waitress refill her cup and lifts it to her lips. It may look like a bowl to him, but she's already bloody done, drinking coffee to excess in true American fashion.

Aside from whatever protections John's peculiar connection with Synchronicity afford him, he is definitely vulnerable to the bit that involves 'being hit with things.' He's scrappy in the way that most kids raised on the street in poor families are scrappy, but his advantages lie in surprise and a nasty, cunning mind rather than in any kind of raw strength or tutored technique. If he doesn't get the drop on someone and he hasn't got any tricks up his sleeve, he's probably going to wind up in a world of hurt — just like any other normal human being in a fight.

"Noted," he says, and the quirk at the corner of his mouth is smaller than usual, this time, but more genuine than usual, as well. …Probably smaller for that very reason. "You're going to regret that." He does not elaborate as to why, but Jones is possessed of a detective's capacity for imagining scenarios that would not occur to most people, so he probably assumes she can speculate with some accuracy.

The rest: "Soon. We're just, eh…" He sets his cup down, rubs at the stubble appearing on his chin and jaw. "Letting people catch their breath. Some of the others didn't come through things easily. Muller's an ugly piece of work, as you well know. It'll be better if they've got their feet under them again before we try. Mentally as well. Feeling vulnerable around Muller's just asking for trouble."

Jessica smirks and says, "What, because you'll take me up on it and there might be like shit demons? Well, you can rest easy, I get what I'm signing on for." In a less jovial tone, "I appreciate your trust. I like being able to watch your back. So…while shit will definitely happen, even sometimes literally, on one level I will never regret that."

Letting people catch their breaths. "That's good strategy," Jessica says, nodding her head. A very good strategy, actually. "Gives me some time to get a few more things in order here, too."

Speaking of feeling vulnerable…

She sighs. It is asking for trouble. She needs to excise this fear. What would it do, if an enemy dug this up and flung it at them at the worst possible time? If he's going to stop trusting her, let it be now, in a coffee shop, not when someone's life is on the line.

Even so, she can't come at this head on. She lets silence stretch out for a moment, frowning down at the Formica as some of her jovial mood seems to come under the shadow once more. Of course, that shadow has been stirring sluggishly awake since she mentioned Ravensdale's name.

She can't come at it directly though, so she asks, "John? Do you think you're ever going to be able to forgive him? Barnes. I mean."

The changes in John as Jessica thanks him for his trust are subtle, but visible— much like the night she gave him a lecture about how he was the leader they needed, and one she would be willing to follow. It makes him uneasy, something lobbed into his peculiar, heavily damaged emotional machinery that it doesn't know how to chew up and spit out. On some level he finds it flattering, but he can't quite accept it, fighting with his urge to warn her away from him, tell her that she has it all wrong and that his trust isn't something that anybody should want. At least at this point he knows enough to keep those things to himself, gradually learning not to impose his self-loathing on other people…but it's still a fight for him. It's just a quieter fight than it used to be. He drops his gaze down to his cup, watches his fingertips turn it in place.

So he's preoccupied when she hits him with that last question. It makes him blink, glance up at her again, and then his brows tuck together very slightly, an expression of mild confusion. "Wasn't Barnes who did it, was it? Took 'tanna, an' that. You saw the tapes. It was this…" He lifts his hand from his cup, gestures eloquently. "…Winter Soldier prick. Him? No. Barnes? Doesn't need forgiving, because he didn't do it. Easy-peasy." The troubled look remains, though, and after a few heartbeats pass, he finally elaborates as to why. "Trouble is, the two of them share one body, and it's a bloody dangerous body, innit? No telling whether he'll be triggered again, an' that's something worth minding. It'd be stupid not to acknowledge that he's dangerous, even if he doesn't really want to be. But, eh…" He drags a long breath in, exhales slowly. "Might be a way around that. Don't know. I'll find out when I see him…whenever that is."

She'd know that self-loathing well. Perhaps she even on some level knows he carries it. They're more alike than different, though they've never touched those waters at all. They don't need to. It's for Zatanna to balm up his hurts. Though if she knew she were hurting him by trying to offer that trust so verbally she might well lay off. She herself was transformed by trust, and for the positive, but that doesn't mean it's the same for him. Alike, but not the same.

His answer unknots her shoulders. "I think that's help he'd want," she says, quietly and simply. "Making sure he could trust his own body again." She sounds so sure. Bedrock sure.

This is going to be okay. And she doesn't have to get into gory details. She can just…tell him.

She's silent for a long moment. "I have to tell you something," she says at last. "It's about Ravensdale. Indirectly I guess. It's mostly about me. I want you to hear from me. Not from her. Not from Steinschneider, who ripped every secret I had out of my head. I don't want this to be the thing that trips us up, later, that makes you wonder about me, makes you think I lied to you."

Her grip tightens on her coffee cup, but she stops short of crushing it. She drops her voice to the barest of sounds, not wanting to announce this to the entire cafe. "I'm like him. Barnes. I mean. Last year, I was mind-controlled. Methods were different, and that's not important. What's important is…the guy who did it forced me to kill someone. And Ravensdale's seeing her ghost now. That's how I know she's legitimate, not just some cold-reader running a scam. She described Reva to me, down to the last curl. Reva's ghost, hanging around me. I wonder if she blames me. Sometimes I still blame myself, even though logically I know there was no way to stop it. He was just too powerful."

A pause. He might get even more uncomfortable as she admits, softly, "It scared me. It still does. The thought that you or any of our friends might see me differently. The idea that I could go to jail, because, well. Nobody believed me after it happened, other than pretty much Trish. It's…why I got so passionate about helping Bucky and Jane." She speaks with easy familiarity now, he's not really 'Barnes' to her. "Why hearing the tapes and seeing Tasha and Karl die by suicide switch hit me as hard as it did."

She can't quite meet his eye, watching the coffee studiously.

It is very unfortunate that John has led a life that leaves him looking, as Jessica begins to hedge her way toward something she clearly believes he won't approve of, wary; that all of the friendship they've thus far managed to cultivate might be put temporarily on hold, because he expects her to say something that will shatter their alliance— some sort of betrayal, some kind of duplicity. She's been on the receiving end of that look once before, when he found her crumpled in the midst of her destroyed office and she told him that Zatanna's condition had been her fault: everything in him withdraws to the core, leaving only a cautious, watchful mask in place, waiting for one or both shoes to drop.

He's more used to things going irreparably bad than any other possible alternative.

Not that he needed to worry. That becomes clear almost as soon as she begins speaking, his expression of wariness yielding to something less standoffish, more attentive. More sympathetic.

True story: John can see ghosts.

He chooses to insulate himself from that ability as often as possible, a skill he developed out of necessity, because he is visited almost nightly by what Zatanna refers to as his 'gallery of regrets'— active phantoms all sent to an early grave, or worse, by John Constantine in the act of practicing his craft, doing his job. They are not a pleasant group. He could choose to change that now, open himself up, have a look at Jessica Jones' ghost, but it is perhaps indicative of the nature of their relationship that he does not.

"Ghosts have an eternity to nurture their grievances," he says slowly, some moments after she stops speaking. "Not every piece of a person always sticks around to be a ghost, either. It's complicated, like most things to do with the afterlife."

He says nothing about what gave rise to the murder, uncertain what there is that he could say. Instead, he offers the thing he knows he can give: "We could help her move on, if you want. This 'Reva.'"

She sees the look, sometime during her recitation, but charges through anyway…much like she did that night. Once she's decided to take responsibility for something, she takes it, even knowing what the consequences might be. It's the consequences that have driven her to do it, to touch on this thing she'd rather not touch on. His acceptance doesn't completely chase the shame from her eyes as she reopens this wound for the sake of honesty, but it eases the expression on her face.

As does this: as he decides to start explaining ghosts to her. And as he makes his offer. Something clears out of her eyes, and she exhales.

She should have known John Constantine would be nothing but kind. And yet telling him has done what she needed it to do. It has let that poisonous fear drain away, left her knowing that she hasn't left any land mines buried in the ground that covers their friendship. It has been a good friendship, and she's often afraid she'll be the one to tank it.

"I'd…like that," she says, when he says Reva can be put to rest. "When there's time, when it won't drain resources you might need for, you know. Preventing the end of the world. I'd like that a lot. Thank you, John. For offering, for…just thank you."

She exhales again. The others in their little band of German-going heroes aren't owed this explanation the way he and Zee were. There's being someone's ally, and then there's really and truly being in a friendship of trust.

"It won't be any trouble. It's standard stuff, that. Most of what I do when I'm working is shuffle things that are somewhere they're not supposed to be back to where they ought to go." John hoists his shoulders, a casual gesture that underlines his lack of concern with the burden of the task. "I think we're in for a long haul with preventing the end of the world, so we'll get around to it sooner rather than later, yeah? Whenever you're ready."

It's a good point for him to occupy himself with his cup of tea, lifting the cup and directing his pale gaze down into it. Glossy streaks of light reflect in the surface, shining from the overhead lights and the daylight spilling through the window beside them, and he contemplates their liquid wriggling, trying to decide whether or not to pry.

He is curious, and he wants to know about what happened, but he's also emotionally inaccessible and uncertain how to approach asking in the first place, particularly given all of the ways in which they're similar. So he settles for a half-step in that direction, still choosing utility, action, as his vehicle. "Is that something that you…need taken care of?"

"In that case, then yes, whenever you can," Jessica says, relaxing. "I just…am leery of maybe asking you to do something that's going to eat whole days of your life or something." Still a little fuzzy on magical economies, she's only gathered that it all comes with a price, as in the words of one gold-skinned goblin guy on television. She's always a little careful about asking her friends to pay said prices.

John watches the tea and inquires about whether Jess needs it taken care of. She feels warmed, even as her stomach turns uneasily; this much vulnerability is hard with those who haven't walked through this road, but at the same time she appreciates that, how he wants to take care of her. "He got hit by a bus," she says quietly. "That's the only reason I got free."

And Bucky Barnes will explode the back of his head with a high-caliber rifle if through some madness he comes back, but no need to go there. Still, it's nice to know there's someone else she can call on, another person who her own personal boogeyman would never see coming. He could probably silence the man with a wave of his hand.

She sips her coffee, contemplating. "In a way, you've already taken care of it anyway. Sort of. Not him, specifically."

She frowns, trying to find words. "You and Zee and the others made me feel human. Worthwhile." She can see his curiosity for herself. She's just not sure she can manage to lay it out there.

"I think Zee suspects," she says, looking out the window of the diner for a moment. "I let something slip, just once, when we went to see Captain America. But…I mean…she just has so much empathy, doesn't she? She hurts with everyone else's hurt. She's been hurt enough. I kind of like being steady for her. Some kind of big sister she can lean on. Just…I kept thinking, ever since Ravensdale talked to me, that presented in the wrong way, that's the kind of thing that could have…" She shakes her head, grimacing. "That's all." As if that was all very coherent, even though she suspects it's more a disjointed mess than anything else.

John could, in fact, silence the man with a wave of his hand — and that would be if the man were lucky. While John is no killer — he prefers to negotiate difficult situations using his mind, spilling as little blood as possible along the way — he's never shied from doing whatever he thinks is necessary. Whatever it takes, no matter what that thing might be. He has a yen for solutions that contain a poetic kind of justice — perhaps because of his connection with Fate…or possibly just because it tickles him.

Something complicated passes through John's expression as he listens to her, though it lands, ultimately, on a gentle humor that's deeply tempered by the seriousness of the subject matter. "You are worthwhile," he says, and the twinkle gathers itself in his gaze. "Even though you're human." After that the humor wanes slightly, edged out by something pensive. He's debating with himself.

It is a long debate. She's just given him a dark piece of herself because she feels they need doors opened, dark things beyond them expunged.

John has dark things of his own. Many, many dark things. Things so bad that they drove him literally insane. With the unburdening of her own private freight of horrors, the relationship is no longer equal, but for John to tread that far backward into his past means travelling through the blur of Ravenscar to the seat of the thing that has made him into who he is. The thing that broke him. That breaks him every day, in new and different ways.

He swallows. "You're not alone, Jones. When I was…younger…" He hesitates. Fingers of nausea slide into his stomach at the prospect of talking about Newcastle. He knows already that he can't give much detail, but he intends to try to give a rough outline— enough to feel he's given her something. "…I did a bloody stupid thing. Got people killed. Got a—" His insides twist. Astra's face floats into his mind's eye, tormented and screaming in everlasting hellfire, and he balks. Closes his eyes, just for a moment. "…I got people killed," he says again, though that's clearly not what he had been about to say. "The ones who survived weren't all happy about it. Ritchie was one. We don't…talk about it. Ever. But I'm not…"

He grimaces. He is not accustomed to fumbling with words. "I'm not a good man, Jones. I'm just not. An' I'm not saying that because I'm looking for reassurances, alright? I've accepted my lot. I know where my soul's going when I die an' I earned that. I'm just saying…I'm the last one to judge anyone. 'tanna, she's a different story. She's not like me."

She smirks a little at his joke as shadows in her eyes retreat a bit. Then he's speaking a lot more seriously.

She listens, turning her eyes back to him again, her own face softening from the strange, embarrassed place it had gone to, offering sympathy of her own. The idea that he might go to Hell seems fundamentally unfair to her, but she tucks that reaction away; now isn't the time and he doesn't need that kind of outrage. He needs her to listen.

When he's done talking, she gives him a gentle smile. "Well, that seems a good foundation for us. No judgment between us. I can live with that." She exhales, knowing suddenly that the mistakes of her past, at least, are not going to be the things that drive her friend away. And she can't imagine holding his against him. She doesn't pry into what he couldn't say. The unsaid thing seems so painful, so raw, that she can't even bring herself to feel curious about it.

And there's so much she doesn't want to say either.

Meanwhile, she speaks slowly, choosing the words of her response carefully. "Looking for reassurances or not, you're not a bad man either. You may have made mistakes, big mistakes, sure, but you're no monster. Monsters never admit mistakes…monsters feel no remorse over them. Monsters don't do a damn thing to make amends."

She knows monsters, knows what they do, and John Constantine does not fit the bill.

"You didn't set out to hurt those people. It seems to me that you make every day about making different choices, to helping people. I don't know about Heaven or Hell, but I know you put your life on the line for strangers. I know you care when people get hurt and try to keep that from happening. I know what you do today. And everything I've ever seen you do is damned worthwhile, even as it's often thankless as fuck. Heroic."

She knows heroes, too.

She raises her coffee cup in a kind of toast. "So. Here's to us: the broken, fucked up and fucking up, but still getting out there every damn day to sling spells, knock heads, and take some names in the hopes of doing a little better today than we did yesterday, making things a little better for the people who can't do the things we can do."

He would like to believe those things.

He would.

He knows the inside of his heart. He knows its craven byways, the pieces of himself that drive him to lash out when he's made to feel pain, the parts of him that send him packing when things get too complicated and people get too close. He can acknowledge, at least, that he spends his life trying to make up for the things he's done, but he also knows that in the course of that work he is as ruthless as a man can be, and he's seen the lengths he'll go to— the people he will sacrifice— in order to achieve the ends he believes need to be achieved.

He is not sure that his methods do anything but compromise his intentions.

It would be uncharitable of him to dwell on those things, and unlike him to give vent to the thoughts in the first place. He witnesses the parade of his misgivings in silence as they wind through his thoughts, but what he has for her is a small smile— one that tries to believe in her narrative of his life, however tentatively, however imperfectly. It makes, he thinks, for a good story.

If he could somehow become the man that Jones and Zatanna believe he is, he might actually have a shot of redeeming his soul. He feels the gulf of difference between that phantom and himself as a crushing weight, but that does not preclude his gratitude for the both of them, willing as they are to fill his hollow spaces with better things.

He lifts his mug, taps it to hers.

"If the hero thing doesn't work out for you," he says, "You could look into giving pep talks for a living." As he brings his mug to his lips, he tosses her a wink over the lip of it.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 License