The Darkness and the Light

February 07, 2017:

As Red Robin delivers much needed information to Jessica Jones, Zatanna Zatara does the same with John Constantine, but a sudden reaction on the Darkness compass on his wrist quickly sends them deep into New York City's thoroughfares chasing after a possible lead that could shed some light in the growing mystical disturbances felt everywhere, and fall into some terrible discoveries.


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Jessica Jones, Bucky Barnes, Jane Foster, Ribbon, Red Robin, Azalea Kingston

Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

While she was not expecting to be back in New York so soon, recent discoveries in the Excelsior Hotel have prompted the trip. Zatanna spent the last few hours on the train with Tim Drake, to finalize the notes and the translations of the entire portfolio before divvying up their tasks in the city - to deliver a set to Jessica Jones, and one to John Constantine. She has also spent the ride scrutinizing the dossiers of Steinschneider family members in front of her quiet, particularly those of the deceased. Illnesses and accidents, mostly due to excess. The only pattern she's able to discern is that most of the family, blood and through marriage alike, had been killed by excess: too much rich food, too much drinking, too much partying, too much drug abuse. It could be nothing, or it could be something. Tim claimed once before that he doesn't believe in coincidences anymore; it is doubly true for herself, so inured as she is to the strange and extraordinary.

When she arrives at the Brooklyn flat, it is dark, indicative enough that Chas and John were both out, though she has already expected this possibility - the former loved New York, and the latter was constantly working; she suspects he has thrown himself back into the business of wondering what the hell was going on with…everything, as she was almost certain he felt the same thing she did even when he was in Switzerland and away from the known mystical hot-spots in the tri-cities area. Still, after the night she had carved the sigil in his left wrist, she hasn't heard more about his contact back in Louisiana, who had been responsible for handing him fragments of Primordial Darkness for his personal use….some part of her doesn't want to know just /how/ said contact managed to get his hands on it in the first place.

Questions for another time, or maybe never. John will, as always, tell her if she truly needs to know.

She makes a pot of coffee, using some of the hazelnut-dusted roasted beans that Chas keeps in the space, adding her usual two creams and two sugars in the mug before she removes the papers from the folder she brought and peruses its contents again, though she relies on the German copies instead of the English ones she and Tim had worked on together. Languages are what they are, there are times in which nuances are lost in the very act of translation. Maybe there was something she missed…

Finding none, though, she sighs, easing her back against the couch. Picking up her phone, she swipes through its contents, furrowing her brows at the dozen or so new notifications she received from her iDoL app. She scrolls through them quickly - more likes from her newsfeed, Arnie has been working double-time in assuring her fans that she is not /dying/ as rumors suggest, considering she hasn't put on a show in a while (ha ha ha how on Earth did they get /that/ idea?) and that she was presently hard at work in putting together something grand and jaw-dropping, that it would be worth the wait. There was even a promotional poster out.

Great. Now I'm definitely going to have to deliver.

The last notification is a post from one of her friends. Brows lift as she recognizes the handle, scanning the contents.

Her jaw drops.

She lifts a hand to scrub her eyes, before attempting to read it again. Horror and incredulity tumble over her face.




Among the litany of complaints that John's many former lovers have lobbied with the Department of John Doesn't Give a Shit — to, unsurprisingly, no avail — is that he's often inaccessible in ways other than his emotional reticence, to wit: he is often out and about, doing things he does not discuss when he comes home at whatever godforsaken hour his body finally decides that it needs food, rest, medical attention, or some combination of all three. Zatanna once took him to task in the most complimentary of ways for his 'tortured lone wolf act,' but the truth is that since Newcastle he's for the most part worked alone, and has accustomed himself to the kind of life led by alley cats. He comes and goes at his whim, and he resents impositions on that freedom.

Which is not to say that he's been unavailable to /her/. It's safe to say that Zatanna Zatara is not like the vast majority of women littering his past — not like /any/ of them, to be fair, but in this particular way not like most — in that she inhabits the same world he does, and her knowledge of what he's doing is therefore not only less dangerous to her, but more useful to him, as he values her perspective and is not shy about soliciting her thoughts. At any rate, the link between them has had its own influence over his awareness of her, no matter how much his work might vy with his affection for his attention: more than once over the last week a thought about him has been followed not long afterward by a text from the man himself, the content of which suggests that he isn't aware he's responding to any kind of link. And he isn't. All John knows is that, periodically, some reminder of her arrives, like a droplet of water plummeting into a still pool, rippling through his thoughts, and he finds himself with his phone in hand amidst towering stacks of books or surrounded by less-than-savory persons in places that aren't supposed to exist, taking the time to satisfy a sudden desire to reach out.

The real miracle, though, is that this hasn't put his teeth on edge. A year ago he'd have called himself whipped and made her wait.

The bricks in the far wall rattle as they fold open like architectural origami, a fascinating swirl of aggregate and mortar that sweeps aside in order to permit him entry. The sound of Chinatown at night leaks through this planar bridge, alley light spilling across the muted grey of the concrete floor before John's shadow blots it out. The wall tumbles inward again behind him.

His steps stutter, then slow as he finds not Chas on the sofa, but Zatanna. She's busy being horrified, but had she looked up she would've seen the quick calculation pass through his expression: were they supposed to meet? Did he forget? Is he in trouble? …Is he in trouble for something that didn't have to do with meeting her or forgetting to meet her somewhere?

Quick thoughts cycle through the possibilities, and eventually his hesitation wanes. No…he's pretty sure he hasn't fucked anything up.

Pretty sure.

"And here I thought I'd have to eat all of this poison by myself," he says, pale eyes sweeping over her, the brown paper bag under his arm crinkling as he draws to a stop. His brows knit slowly, taking in the look on her face. Wryness ebbs, replaced with cautious concern. "Alright?"


His sudden words and trademarked accent has her bolting up on the seat with a start, having for the time being forgotten where she was. Her phone slips from her grasp, clattering on the concrete floor. Ice-blue eyes gape at him uncomprehendingly, but this expression is fleeting, replaced by one that's more rueful and slightly sheepish. "John! Hi, um…I figured you wouldn't mind the sudden visit, Red and I found a few things while rooting around Steinschneider's old digs in Gotham, it looks like the Cult has been tracking his movements there, according to one of his contacts." She reaches out sweep her phone off the floor, her other hand reaching out to rest her fingertips lightly on a stack of papers. "It's really not much, the stack looks double the size because of the English translations he and I made. I didn't know he was fluent in German until we started sorting through the pile. It looks like the man's got a deep-seated interest in his family members, some of these records go back decades. And there's a will also, but it hasn't been filed with the court, it doesn't look like his last wishes even got close to— "


Zatanna's lips part, but as she looks at the British magus' face, the words halt on her tongue. He'd find it there easily, her face is too expressive to hide much of what she feels, perhaps one of the reasons why she acts the way she does; on stage, in gambling tables, even her 'poker face' is laden with a veritable dearth of inscrutability, though in those instances, she makes people see what she wants them to see. But outside of a handful of circumstances, her face lends too easily to the act of mirroring what is inside herself, much like it is now: hesitation, and worse, /indecision/ - a thing even rarer than her now-and-then blushes of embarrassment. The phone in her hand suddenly feels like dead weight, anchoring her on the couch and rendering her unable to get up and greet him with a kiss.


Ice-blue eyes fall on her phone. Tossing it on the table, she /groans/, leaning forward, elbows on knees, her face buried into the protective nest her digits make against her face.

"…why are you with me?" she asks suddenly, apropos of nothing - or something, her voice muffled against her fingers.

After a long, drawn out silence, she sighs and lowers her hands. "No, no…that's not really what…situations like these, I can't help but wonder what the hell it is about me that makes people go off the deep end. You're the only person I want to drive crazy! And in the good way! Even though sometimes that doesn't happen! Not…others. Not anyone else. But this is…I don't…"

She stares at her phone helplessly.

"I don't even know where I ought to /begin/ with this one. If I should be /furious/ or offended or /creeped out/ or all of the above, I…"

Arms fold, fingers rubbing over her upper arms in an attempt to ward off the unmistakeable prickle of goosebumps rising up from under her skin.


John is entirely prepared to accept that whatever was on her phone was connected with the information about Steinschneider, though he'd have expected her to lead off with whatever it was that could put an expression like that one on her face — or at least, he'd have expected her to get around to it in short order, unable to contain the visceral emotions painted across those oh-so-expressive features.

She doesn't, though. He listens attentively nevertheless, his curiosity forestalled by her efficient relay of information; she keeps his gaze most of the way to the table, where he leans to set the paper bag down carefully, with a soft thump containing a rattle and clink that suggests it contains multiple items. He begins to slide his arms out of his coat as he straightens, and that's around the time she hesitates, suddenly reluctant. She starts a sentence and lets it hang, staring up at him indecisively, and his movements — neat, economical, meticulously aware of his own physicality — slow down, inhibited by wariness that comingles with his mounting concern.

Slowly, slowly, he lets the garment drop free of his shoulders, snaring it in a hand, and reaches out to drape it over the back of the armchair, his other hand lifted to work at the knot of his tie…

…and then she asks that question, and he freezes.

He is above letting his eyes widen, his expression schooled enough to avoid that kind of carelessness, but his emotional state approximates something like the sudden widening of someone's eyes, that universal physical expression for 'oh my god, what is this and why is this happening to me?' His heart rate ticks up, instincts sent into a well-concealed panic, running around the interior of his skull, smashing plate glass in boxes that read EMERGENCY USE ONLY in order to jam the alarms on: ALL HANDS ON DECK, MAN YOUR BATTLESTATIONS

Into that deer-in-headlights stillness, she offers some small, introductory explanation, and the wailing klaxons of his internal alarms subside. He draws a long, quiet breath, blinks once, twice, and then shifts around the table to slowly sit down beside her on the sofa. With the ominous introductory question for the moment having been denoted the consequence of someone else's actions, he finds himself torn as to which part of what she says he ought to address first. He slants his gaze at her phone, the object of her obvious unease, and then brings it back, sky blue irises entirely unshaded, the usual hood-eyed look eschewed in favor of absolute attention.

In the end, he chooses to address both at once. He extends a hand toward her phone, but his focus remains on her, and he doesn't pick it up. It's a gesture that asks for permission; he would never look through her phone uninvited.

And speaks: "You really don't know?" Curious, mostly, rather than offended. The words come easily enough that the subject doesn't seem delicate for him; it's obviously something he's willing to discuss.


As he extends a hand for her phone, there is, at least, no hesitation there. Zatanna reaches out to take it from the stack of papers, knocked askew by the way she tossed the device on the low coffee table, and hands it to him without a second thought. Her smartphone's wallpaper is of father and daughter; in a rare display of open affection, Giovanni Zatara is gamely making cross-eyed faces with his only child, a selfie taken in front of a landmark that John would find tremendously familiar - the London Eye, the day she turned eighteen years old. They are, of course, holding ice cream cones, mourning or not, the younger Zatara has always been fond of the stuff. Perhaps /too/ much. Other apps have been left open, though they are largely text messages. His window is at the very top of these, suggestive of the fact that she had been reading their last few rounds of texts again, though there has been radio silence in the last few hours while he worked and she traveled. Texts from Jess, about meeting Trish Walker. Texts from a 'Tim Drake' about Physics notes and lunch on campus.

But the app on the foreground is the new iDoL app, currently in its beta-testing phase, growing in popularity now that word of mouth is going around on its utterly sophisticated GUI and how it makes any attempts at having a social media presence even easier. The post appears to be a wanted ad, Zatanna having received a notification because she is friends with one Azalea Kingston - something that wouldn't be out of place in Tindr, or in the Women Seeking Women section of Craiglist.

It is descriptive.

She turns sideways to give him the full measure of that helpless expression, once leather creaks and cloth whispers upon it, cushions depressing to accommodate his more significant weight. "No," she tells him. "I mean…I /do/ know. Or at the very least I can make a few logical guesses. After everything you've said to me, the things that keep you up, and everything we've been through, it's not as if…you wouldn't have bothered, yeah? If there wasn't something. Not just finding me irresistible, as flattering as that is, or that you find me beautiful, or that I make you feel that you're…" Not completely worthless, which she has yet to fully parse how she feels about. "…I mean, you know my ins and outs better than anyone else outside of Daddy, so you know I'm just as ridiculously imperfect as other people you know. But you're with me in spite of those flaws because you care about me. If you didn't, we'd be in a completely different place."

She nods to the phone in his hand. "I at least know where I'm coming from with you, or at least I know where to begin," she continues. "But Az is…"

Slowly, she leans back against the couch.

"I saved her life, a little over two months ago," she says. "I knew right away she had a passenger, so I did what you would do, I gave her my number after I recognized her as someone from school. She tangled with Bucky, when he was doing operations in Gotham - he nearly killed her and she was stubborn, she wouldn't stop trying to bring him down. I had already met him at the time, so I knew who she was talking about, not a lot of people going around with metal limbs after all and I tried to discourage her from pursuing him. But she wouldn't listen. I'm…not…particularly familiar with her family situation, just that she was cut off and she was squatting at an old apartment building and when she texted me one night to ask for help, I went and…the thing inside her came out and took over and tried to…"

She shifts, the look of her uncomfortable. Restless fingers move up to pull through her hair.

"I thought I was going to have to perform an exorcism right then and there. I fought her off me and pinned her down and addressed the entity inside her. It was crass, but it also kept /reaching/ for me and I could taste the hunger and the want and it managed to pull me inside and that's how I figured out I wasn't talking to a demon, I was talking to a god. Xiuhnel. He had Az trapped while he was showing me his life and all the blood and fire and the raping and killing and the goddess who tore out his heart. I didn't take kindly to being molested so I bound him up and subjected him to Az's will for a time, so he could experience how the other half lives. And then I was going to figure out whether I could find a more permanent solution, but you came back and…"

Her voice trails off at that. She lifts her eyes to meet his pale blue ones.

"I thought it was just the god. His influence, somehow. But after we…after you left, I went to see her because she was asking for my help again and she told me she regretted everything but the part where she got to kiss me and I told her no. That I wasn't ready for anything like that. That I wouldn't be ready for years."


Handed her phone, John flicks the screen on and splits his attention between she and the screen. He does not snoop, does not let his focus wander. It isn't a forced effort to respect her privacy, or a demonstration of how trustworthy he is; if he felt he /had/ to pry into her things for some reason, very little on earth, including whatever opinion she might have of that, would stop him. It's just his way: he has secrets and he appreciates that people leave them alone. It would not occur to him not to grant her the same sort of privacy, for as long as he felt he had no pressing reason to do otherwise.

There are things he cannot help but see, though, and the photo of she and Giovanni is one of them. As bent as he is on discovering whatever is at the heart of what she's saying — because as lenient as he is with her private business and the company she keeps, he nevertheless mislikes the idea of this horde of nameless individuals being inappropriately driven crazy by his woman — he's given long pause by that photograph, his other aims momentarily forgotten. The image reflects itself in the dark mirrors of his pupils and the pale sea glass of his irises, a wedge of light painted with the warmer hues of their faces.

He's never seen Giovanni like that.

Almost no one, he would be willing to bet, ever has. Zatanna. His wife, perhaps. Beyond that…? John would not be willing to put money on anyone else ever having access to the man in a moment of anything like silliness. But there it is, incontrovertible evidence, the two of them standing there with their starkly beautiful crossed eyes, Giovanni looking more human than John has ever seen him look, the older magician's impeccable, flawless, unassailable facade deliberately set askew. He feels something in his chest shift, a poignant pang of affection for the man whose status within his life has become so complicated. Of late John seems to have the kind of relationship with Giovanni that resembles a rebellious child's, chafing at the restraints imposed on him, the two negotiating endlessly the terms of John's independence; John simultaneously resentful of the mistrust he feels resides between them, and still possessed of the need to earn Giovanni's esteem. Things have become contentious, often, even if they remain civil.

The photo eases that, some.

But she's still talking, and he's still listening, and he can't linger long. He focuses his attention on the iDol app — not something he has, or has any interest in, either, which surprises no one, though Chas was quick enough to sign up — and the want ad. He reads it once, fails to grasp the significance of what he's reading. He recognizes the name, of course, but aside from the obvious kink, he isn't sure what he's supposed to find so horrifying — and given some of his interludes with Zatanna, he's /pretty sure/ it isn't the kink that upsets her.

He lowers the phone after that, sets it gently down on the table and turns his head, slanting his eyes her way. That is how he remains, silent, expression caught up in that slightly knit-browed, typical intensity. One brow rises when she says the words 'took over and tried to?' without finishing the sentence, though - John has an outstanding imagination and a propensity for imagining the worst in a vacuum. Neither reassure him as to the possible conclusions.

She's looking at him by the time she says the words that allow him to unlock the underlying implications of the iDol post, so she'll see the realization as it occurs - both brows arching slowly, very slightly, and his gaze flicked off in the direction of the phone resting on the table.

He straightens out of his forward lean, directs his focus across the room toward the temporary screens partitioning off his living space, and brings his right hand around to the left side of his jaw, fingertips sliding down over the hinge and along the line of the cut of it, rasping on just-appearing stubble. "Bloody hell," he says, the words toneless.

There are so many things to respond to. Too many, almost. In the silence that follows he lets his thoughts roam back over everything she's said. They want to collate what she's told him about her experience with Xiuhnel, but they spend a great deal of time circling the more personal things, the stumbling, careful things she says about them, about what she believes keeps him with her, and even more to his surprise, the things implied in what she says last. That after he'd walked out, she'd told Azalea that she wasn't ready for-

Wouldn't be, she'd said. For years.

He turns that fact over in his head, examining it from every angle. It coils warm bands around his chest, fills him with something like wonder. Truth is, he'd not known before how she'd taken everything - not really. He'd known she felt badly about taking a jab at him, but Chas had been tight-lipped about those days alone with Zatanna in the flat, adhering to a personal respect for her privacy and also, John thinks - knows, really - doing his best to stay out of the equation, not least because he has mixed feelings about the arrangement. He doesn't know that John knows that, but of course, John does. He knows Chas better than he knows himself.

It takes a deliberate shift of thinking to bring himself back to the immediate issue. And since there's so much there, he decides as he often does to foist the responsibility for choosing off onto her shoulders. "I can tell you what I think about this," he says, one hand extending so that he can tap the now darkened glass of her phone's faceplate, "Or what I think about this," he adds, the thumb of the hand between them turning one way and then the other, indicating her first, then him. "Which do you want first?"


Something like dread coils in the pit of her stomach when realization dawns on the man's features, as he scrubs his face with one hand. It is the closest thing she has ever seen an outright facepalm from him. Her teeth depress faintly on her lower lip, suddenly seized with that same fear - the thing that stays with her, constantly, the ghosts of remembered rain sheeting against a window, wondering whether she is once again being too much for someone to handle. It was easy, maybe, to think of the events in the last few weeks as a series of interconnected events, rooted from the same source of trouble - her, or what she contains, what she represents. It could be argued that Xiuhnel had only surfaced that forcefully because he sensed it too, and if there was anything the god did well in life, it was to covet. To take, no matter how many protests she might offer.

And she doesn't know how she could stop it, or fix it. This might very well be her /life/ now, as she slowly becomes more aware of her everything else….

Her hand reaches out to reclaim her phone, setting it to the side and collecting the papers on the coffee table. She carefully deposits these in the separate loveseat before reaching out for the paper bag he had brought. He said it was poison that he intended to eat by himself before she had decided to wait for him, and whenever she feels burdened, heavy, weighty things pressing on her shoulders, she, without fail, looks for something to consume. She is a /stress eater/, ridiculously shoved in that direction by habit and genetics; not only was she Italian, her mother was Turkish and John Constantine is /extremely lucky/ that Zatanna holds onto her own considerable vanity. All the running and workout trends she follows just to fit in her jeans and to prevent herself from getting stuck in public toilets again.

Besides, she has interrupted his dinner. And in an obvious attempt at some degree of domesticity while they are speaking of things not quite so domestic, she withdraws whatever packages are in the paper bag to set in front of them, curiously looking at the labels and identifying quickly the items he prefers versus the ones he wouldn't miss. Which isn't hard, considering her cheeseless and meatless existence, though her present eating habits have not precluded seafood from her diet, which she tends to obliterate /with a vengeance/ (and would probably explain why she tends to curse trespassers by turning them into some kind of shellfish). She does like her oysters. He has reaped the benefits of that plenty.

There's a curious glance at the way he gestures between them, wondering whether her earlier explanations, as halting as they were, had dissatisfied him in some way, but she is clearly more worried about what is in her phone.

"I don't know if it means that the god is bleeding more into her, or her bleeding more into him," she says. "The last I saw her…and I was furious with her then also, because she had the gall to get mad at me for shutting her out, because I kept her away from my blood and soul problem and I honestly thought it was one of the times in which I wasn't being reckless. She mentioned nightmares before, but these days she can…control that dreamscape, in some way? But the dream always ends the same. I have some theories as to what that could mean, but I don't know whether it's possible to separate them anymore. And I certainly don't know…" She sighs, frustration evident there. "…I don't exactly like the idea that she's…throwing girls who look like me around to appease whatever the hell it is inside her." Presumably whatever responses Az got from it would be consensual but the fact that there are unresolved issues there is a /glaring fact/ that she can't seem to get over.

"I'm…not overreacting, am I?" she ventures finally, looking at him. "I mean I rejected her. I don't know if I sincerely begrudge anyone doing what they can to get over…" Inwardly, she winces, because it isn't just Azalea, though Tim appears to have adopted the 'repress everything' route. "…it's not as if I don't know what it's /like/, but at the same time…"

She makes a small grumbling noise.

"At the same time it's kind of creeping me out!"


Unless John Constantine has radically changed his diet in the last several months, she is going to have a very difficult time discerning which of the items in that brown paper bag are the items he 'wouldn't miss.' It's also probable, even taking into account her Italian and Turkish heritage, that Zatanna, even at her lowest of low moments, would take a pass on consuming most of what that bag contains.

For one thing, most of it is /literally/ poisonous. Mercury, sulfur, salts of mercury and arsenic, each carefully bundled into vials plugged with stoppers. Some are not edible at all: jade, cinnabar, hematite, amber, stones that rattle in a small, drawstring linen pouch. Some are edible, but not food, like the vial of gold dust, gleaming brilliantly in comparison with the rest of the bag's contents — most of the remaining of which are dried animal parts or products. Dried seahorses, dried and powdered organs from larger animals, horns, bones. There is a bag of silkworm excrement.

John doesn't object to her unpacking of the items, but he doesn't pay them much attention, too focused on the discussion. "I met her. I didn't have much time to have a look, but they're pretty well bound up together as far as I can tell. Which isn't to say nothing can be done about it, but it's going to take more than a young priest and an old priest." He gradually tilts back into the cushions, props the elbow of the arm closest to her along the back of the sofa and braces his head with that hand. "It would have been barking mad to let her get involved. You were vulnerable. It's a predator. If she can't understand that, then she doesn't understand what she's carrying around with her." Which is worrisome, but then the whole situation had smacked of trouble, generally. He'd had the luxury of not being worried about it until now, though; he'd not understood before that the connection between Azalea and Zatanna was so substantial. Troubling. And they have a lot of troubles as it is — but when has trouble ever lined up in an orderly queue?

He snorts delicately at her hesitant query. "'tanna, it's fucked up. It's one thing to be hung up on somebody, and another to — what, beat the shit out of people who look like them? That's just bloody mental. An' sure, maybe it's Xiuhnel. Could be. But that's not exactly reassuring, is it? Doesn't really matter who's doing the piloting. At the end of the day there's still somebody out there getting their kicks from— "

It had all been academic to him until he gets that far, but his own phrasing needles him. 'Getting their kicks from hurting somebody that looks like you,' is what he'd meant to say, and the thought of that, taken in isolation, causes an ugly fist of something in his stomach. He stops talking abruptly, lifts his head from his propping hand and tilts it back, eyes lidding, the center knuckle of one articulate index finger hovering in front of his lips. Some heartbeats pass before he stirs, speaks again, ticking pale eyes her way. "I don't think you're overreacting," he concludes, tone measured. "An' we can deal with that however you like. I did tell Jones I'd look into her situation."


"I can understand being hurt to get shut out," Zatanna says as she sets the vials and boxes on the table. "But she tried to make me feel bad about having to do what I had to do and I /lost it/. I didn't even come there for that, I was just…and now all of this is just…"

What a mess. But really, at this point she shouldn't be surprised. Even her longest, closest friendship she has made since arriving from Europe had turned into a sudden minefield of emotional bombs and triggers. If that could happen to Tim and herself, the fact that it could happen with Azalea should not be startling to her. Though she knows; it's not the fact that this is happening but how she /chooses/ to expend her frustration, or unresolved feelings.

Much like him, she is clearly distracted by the discussion that she doesn't even realize that /this is not food/ that she is unpacking from the paper bag. She thought she had smelled Chinatown earlier when he walked in, and he has referred to takeout as poison before. But when he trails off, she glances over at him, inclining her head and furrowing her brows at the truncated thought, the thing he doesn't finish. At his expression, however, she knows better than to ask. Instead, she sighs, turning the jar in her hand as she speaks. "Well it's not as if she's going to stop unless we do something, yeah?" she wonders - resigned, but decisive and determined also. "I gave her my word, John. Even with…it's weird, yeah." Fucked up, like he says. "But I don't want it to escalate either. Even if it's not really me, it's still someone being offered up to Xiuhnel in a way." If it is Xiuhnel that is driving her to slake these urges.

God, she hopes so.

"Anyway, I'm sorry, this just…I didn't know. It surprised me, is all. Reading that. Why don't you tell me about the other thing and I'll get some— "

Not chopsticks. She stares at the jar of seahorse bits in her hand.

This isn't food.

Large, ice-blue eyes wander back up to him, her expression full of youthful, pure, crestfallen /betrayal/. "You were serious about /eating poison/?!" she demands. Admittedly, she said it herself, didn't she? His solution to almost everything seems to gravitate around shoving the strangest things in his mouth. "Why do you hate me?! Do I need to break out the defribrillator again?! Because if you're serious, I'm going to have to and I'm all out of epinephrine needles! I thought this was di— oh my god, I— "


"…I need potato chips."

With that, she is off the couch, booted feet making quick strides to the kitchen, with every intent to gnaw on the first edible thing she sees. She opens a cupboard where she knows Chas keeps the snack food and—

"/Organic raisins/?!" comes the dismayed exclamation from somewhere around the corner. "Chas, /why/?!"

But by the telltale crinkling of wrappers coming from that direction, he would know she's eating them anyway.


Whatever emotional kilter the conversation has imbalanced in John, it isn't so urgent a problem that his displeasure is going to stick. Azalea's choices for dealing with her disappointment may not thrill him, but they haven't involved Zatanna — though he wonders, and thus he's certain Zatanna wonders, whether or not these little assignations are rehearsals of some kind — and for as long as things remain that way, he can suffer the knowledge that they're ongoing until they've put together an actual plan for dealing with it. "We'll sort it," he says, settling his head back into the prop of his hand. The statement lacks bravado, containing only the understated confidence of someone with a long history of tackling the strange and terrible — and that's on his own, with no help. The two of them together ought to be against the law in combination, and it gives him no small degree of pleasure to imagine the cold sweat that partnership is likely to cause some of his colleagues to break out into. "It's not something that needs an apology. /It's surprising/. I've had a few nutters take an inordinate amount of interest in me before, but I can't say I've ever— "

He blinks, glances at her as she points that shattered look at him, one of his brows scrawling upward.

'You were serious about /eating poison/?!'

"I— "

'Why do you hate me?!'

"I d— "

'Do I need to break out the defibrillator again?!'

"Probably not, it's— "

'…and I'm all out of epinephrine needles!'

"That's f— "

And then she short circuits. That's how it seems to /him/, anyway, everything about her suddenly veering off in the direction of complex carbohydrates, leaving John sitting on the sofa and staring at the place she was. After five, ten seconds, his head quickly tilts, his brows screwing together, and five seconds after that he hears the lamentation of the raisins — and the crinkling of the wax paper in the box.

The couch hisses as he slides out of it, occupying his fingers with the effort to undo his cuffs and begin to roll his sleeves back, unhurriedly tracing her steps from moments ago.

He stops once he's within sight of her, watching her lid-eyed and deadpanned. "Sooo…are you hungry?" Pause. "I'm getting the feeling that you might be hungry."

Raisins — if one were to ask John — are not /food/. They are a garnish. That opinion is amply expressed by the look on his face as he closes in and reaches for the box—

With his left hand. Which gives the both of them a spectacular view of the symbol on the inside of his left wrist as it erupts in a molten display of brilliant indigo light and whorling darkness. In its active state the glassy substance beneath his skin seems less like a tattoo and more like a window into some other place in which liquid globules of the void roll and ooze against the symbol's transparent surface, like oil in water beneath a glass plate window.

John freezes with his hand outstretched, the box never claimed, blue eyes locked to the sudden riot of responsiveness in his arm. The dark spots whirl lazily like bits of debris in a whirlpool or zip suddenly across the length of the delicate geometry like shooting stars, but they gradually begin to amass in one particular place around the circumference of the outer ring - a place that changes when he draws his arm back and turns slightly, wrist turned upward. Or, rather: the darkness remains drawn in the same direction, in spite of the shift of his arm, much like the needle of a compass.

Two beats of silence, and then a glance snapped up at her. "Field trip, /then/ dinner?"


She is already popping a handful of raisins in her mouth by the time he gets to her. He thinks she might be hungry, and she blesses him with a glimpse of the flattest expression ever. "I wasn't before," Zatanna tells him; she had her coffee, and it was by all rights a natural appetite suppressant. Unfortunately, they ended up exploring Azalea's coping mechanisms and she can't help but compare the two of them - to do that, or eat. She figures that the latter was infinitely safest, so long as she puts in the work to burn the calories the net day. And now that she is actually thinking about this, she's suddenly glad that Chas hasn't replenished the flat's potato chips supply as of yet, or has that he defers to more nutritional choices. He does have a daughter, after all. A daughter who likes cake.

But John is being, in his own way, indulgent. With this current issue exorcised for the time being, with his promise that they will take care of it - /we/, that great, blessed word that suggests an acknowledgment of their growing partnership (and oblivious, really, to the small hint of sadistic pleasure he harbors when he breaks that out to the rest of his colleagues) - she finally smiles, closing up the box properly and reaching out to hand it to him. Her face angles, following the lean, with every intent to press warm lips on his cheek…

…only for ice-blue eyes to suddenly veer off to land on his arm when the stirrings of magic draw her attention unerringly there, that mouth parting in surprise. Box forgotten, set handily aside and forgetting about it immediately, she reaches out instead, to cup the back of his wrist and turn it up so the two of them could see the way indigo light moves, shifts under his skin as if alive. She has never seen it react this way before, has never really paid it much thought after she had followed his instructions and cut the script into his skin. The way it leaks, shifts, the fact that he has a piece of the Primordial Darkness bonded to his skin has never failed to cause her hair to stand on end and now that she's actually seeing what it does, she can't help but feel it again.

Suddenly the idea of ingesting all of that poison on the coffee table wasn't so bad.

Field trip, he says. Then food, but truth of the matter is, the idea of eating now has vanished, apprehension curdling in the pit of her stomach, watching the way it moves under his skin.

"Field trip," she acknowledges. "Then dinner."

Gentle fingers ease away from his limb so she could reach behind her and pull the obsidian obelisk she has been using to store her magic; every time, a reminder of the thing that she is too afraid to touch unless absolutely, utterly necessary. It gives her something to look at for a moment, before curling it within those long, elegant fingers and letting her hand fall to her side. She gives him an expectant look - this is his space, he commands the magic here. The rules that govern are his. She's not about to open a portal inside of it without his permission, she has seen what happens to people when they try to mystically trod upon the things John Constantine has marked as his.

"Where are we going?"


The reaction within the symbol is so powerful that not even the close proximity of her fingers to the edges of the sigil can draw the darkness away from that concentrated locus, where before it was always so eager to try to lick at her fingertips as they trailed over his skin. He watches it with the same fascination she does, though he's seen it do this once before — recently, in fact. And the thing he'd been tailing had gotten away, because a young woman he'd bumped into on the sidewalk had suddenly displayed command of abilities he'd never seen the like of before, extending her soul as substance in order to lock down his foot chase. His target had tried to consume her utterly, and he'd broken its connection with her, shattering part of her soul to do it. By the time he'd gotten to his feet, it had been gone, and he'd had to content himself with taking an interest in the girl with the peculiar abilities.

So it's out there, somewhere. The thing he saw. The thing that shouldn't exist, should not be /possible/.

His gaze unhitches from hers to track down to the implement in her hand, then it circuits back up to find her looking at him with open expectation that her question clarifies the purpose of. "I don't know," he admits, lowering his eyes to his wrist. Thin scrims of lash cast mild shadows into the wells of his irises. "Try to get us as close to the city center as possible. We'll have to use the compass after that." He looks down at her shoes. "Could be a lot of walking."

…Could be a lot of /running/.

He breaks away from her to return to the living room, crossing to the chair and lifting his coat, swinging it around to drag it up one arm and then the other, resettling the sharp lines of the shoulders over the breadth of his. His gaze plays over the shelves now ensconcing the sofa, the host of books, the objects of mysterious purpose that populate whatever space is left. He finds what he's looking for in the small ebony chest that he drags down off of one of the higher shelves, cold iron bands fixed with three padlocks in the front keeping it securely closed. Deft fingers begin to manipulate the tumblers, scrolling through not numbers but a series of symbols on each — eighteen altogether, six per lock. When he finishes with the third one, all three locks disengage at the same time. He carefully removes them from the rings they're hooked through, setting them aside.

The moment he cracks the lid, the energy of the flat begins to wobble, not unlike the way he'd manipulated the spell matrix in the underground Hydra facility — a kind of mild oscillation, like magical feedback. It ceases when he places his hand on the cuneiform clay tablet inside, though his eyes tighten at the corners, trace evidence of discomfort. Whatever the tablet had been doing to the energies of the space, it is now doing to John, instead. He tucks it into the breast pocket of his coat, swallows, shrugs off the full-body shudder that wants to follow, and then pivots, clapping his hands and rubbing them together and pushing a sharp smile into place. "Alright. Let's see what the evening holds, shall we?"


"I can do that, but…" Zatanna watches as he moves further into the flat, following him because of course she does. Ice-blue eyes watch his progress, the chest and the cold iron bands, the tablet he tucks into his pocket - what it /does/ to the room before it disappears within folds of clothing. Her lips purse, feeling her hackles rise - she has always been acutely sensitive to magic, but especially /this/ kind. Bad enough to cause some manner of discomfiture to a man who has done countless of uncomfortable things in his life. She feels it seep into her, the cold brush of goosebumps twitching over her shoulders and mottling in icy pellets down the trench of her spine. But she presses her lips in determination; her willingness to learn some very hard lessons is present here, remembering the night he slid the blade between her ribs, taking in the full measure of his professional pride while she clutched the hilt of it to her chest.

She turns sideways to point to a vacant area of wall, which warps and twists around itself, now that she has tacit permission from the man of the house to change the magical calibrations of the space around them. Like a pebble thrown in very still waters, reality ripples in very much the same way around them, concentric circles rolling and waving out from the point of impact lacing from a thin spool of blue-white magic emanating from the tip of her stone instrument, causing the sigils carved in the dark surface to flare to life. The mystical doorway expands outward - the opening reveals the familiar rush of traffic, foot and vehicular alike, and the broad, interactive panels that makes this particular place one of the most iconic destinations in the world, photographed and filmed constantly.

After handing Constantine a pair of gloves, as the world has gotten colder again despite the scant traces of Spring, the young woman shrugs on her own jacket and twists her scarf around in a careless knot around her neck. She takes a few steps forward, going first, confident enough in her own physical prowess to lead the charge if necessary. A long, slim leg hikes over, stepping over into the glare of lights cast by neon signs and interactive digital images flashing over…


It is crowded, because it always is. Her breath escapes her in heavy puffs of mist, glorious signs of life when just a few days ago, she wasn't emitting enough body heat for such things to register as visibly as they do now. And when Constantine manages to get through, for the doorway to shut again, she glances down on his active wrist again.


She waits until he points at the right direction, but adrenaline does not. The thrill of the chase, to delve into the night's mysteries, dumps hot and molten into her bloodstream, ratcheting up her heartbeat and causing the cold-rendered flush on her cheeks to deepen, eyes practically crackling with lightning at the anticipation to sink into the night's Work. And when he does, when he tells her, or shows her where to go, an arm comes up, hooking around his neck and sealing her mouth over his; heated, but brief, and uncaring of the myriad eyes that turn to their direction, and look away instinctively. Some superspies have said that public displays of affection make people uncomfortable.

"Race you," she quips, breathless, with the devil's own smile - not with those lungs, she knows.

With that, she's spinning around on booted feet, and starts moving quickly through the crowd. She is fast - a young woman who gets up every morning or whiles away the afternoon on long runs. But in true show of the fact that the last few weeks /have/ marked her as permanently as any outward scar, she does not go so far to lose sight of him, or him her.


Passing through the rift in space, John tugs the gloves she's handed him on, squinting as he emerges into the glossy, neon glare of Times Square, immediately buffeted by the electric energy of not only throngs of people sprawling out in every direction but a fresh resurgence of the activity in his wrist. Once they step into the biting cold the symbol on his wrist shines so brightly that it's plainly visible through the heavy material of his coat sleeve, freeing him of the necessity of peeling back the cuff to expose it in order for them to get their bearings. The direction in which they're headed is easy enough to spot: it's the only place that isn't glowing, and it rotates fluidly around the outer ring of the mark in his flesh as he turns in place, a vacancy of light nailed hard to the southwest.

It is not a painful sensation, but it remains alien, foreign, the substance infused with the stuff of the Liber Sacer /pulling/ toward its like, a physical sensation beneath his skin. "Not in midtown. To the Garment District at least. Maybe further."

There is tension wreathed around his shoulders and a certain hardness to his expression, both conjured to the fore by his ongoing exposure to the forces within that clay tablet and the bizarre feeling of something else, something alive, seething over the veins of his wrist. She shatters it when she winds her arm around his neck, tugging his gaze up from his arm in time to catch the most fleeting glimpse of her as she fills his field of view: pale skin, flushed lips. His eyes close on reflex, stillness trickling into the harassed character of his stance, and as he tips his head to answer her he draws a breath that seems to push out the worst of that taut discomfort — as though she'd sipped some of it out of him, bled a little of what ails him away. That is not an inept metaphor, as it happens: when she makes contact with him that way, some of the tablet's resonance passes between them at the point of their contact. It feels…invasive, like something following the radiance of her power down toward the seat of its origin.

There's something softer in lidded blue eyes as they open again, backlit with a modicum of wryness. From the way he's looking at her, it's clear he could not care less what anybody in Times Square thinks, of that public display of affection or much of anything else, for that matter — but as delightful a distraction as she may be, there is work to do, and a combination of ill influences working against his ability to sustain any kind of humid thoughts.

He still manages to be surprised by what she /says/.

"What." Not a question. "You've got to be joking."

But she turns and moves just fast enough for him to think she's absolutely serious, and what is he going to do — let her /win/?

Long strides carry him after her, closing the distance of her lead, and she can probably /feel/ his narrowed gaze on her back, the mind behind it calculating, no doubt, how to tilt the odds of this impromptu contest in his favor.

Like, say, the crosswalk she's aimed toward suddenly blinking over to let cars whip through the intersection, as he cuts across the adjacent one.


When it comes to things like this, when has Zatanna Zatara ever joked?

They are on the prowl of something exceedingly dangerous. Something connected to the roiling mass of Primordial Darkness writhing over John's arm. It has almost erased her from existence and only a very desperate play had managed to stop it from happening. She should be scared. She should be giving the weight, the heaviness, the burdern of this charge with all of the solemnity every cell in her body possesses. She should be more like her father, grimly stalking gods and demons in paths where even experienced magicians fear to tread. She is his legacy, she should not be acting differently.

But she is buoyed by the look in his eyes and the way he looks at her when distance between their faces has been reclaimed; by the way he flatly says what he does, but gives chase anyway. By the fact that he /cheats/, because of course he does. He is John bloody Constantine and whether they be matters professional or personal, he never plays fair. The weight that /should/ be there, ever-present in the very serious business of guarding the world they live in from situations that would curdle anyone's blood, and make his hair turn white, is not, filled with something much lighter instead. Liable to make her soar without any other aid than the way her heart hammers in her ribcage, and how white-hot biochemicals drip into everything inside her that is capable of feeling.

She /burns/.

She doesn't stop when the cars hit the crosswalk, when lights suddenly change and they speed through. Her obelisk tilts sideways as one step hits the pavement, espying the way his blond hair cuts across the way on the other side. There is a word, just as she throws herself in the gap between cars, a transparent wall rippling over the space, to slow incoming vehicles the moment they hit the intangible, invisible screen, like pulling through sheets of water in a car wash. Spare drifts of snow fall like molasses as she peels through the intersection, twisting onto that curb until she makes it onto the sidewalk opposite of John, his unique, trademarked trenchcoat marking him clearly from the rest of the suit-and-ties crowd in New York's rapidly pulsing heart.

The curtain drops, and traffic rushes past again. Above the din, he would hear her laugh, argent peals cutting through the drabby dark.

"If /I/ win," she calls out over the street. "You and I are going to hit the /karaoke/ bar with Jane and Bucky, and you're going to have to /sing/ one of your Mucous Membrane songs!"

She cuts in between spaces, the first opportunity she gets, throwing herself forward and weaving through spaces in between the endless flow of bodies. She's still laughing.


To be what they are in this place is a unique condition, a confluence of disparate influences. New York City is leviathan, and it is exceptionally rare that any one individual in this modern age of bottomless populace can impact the cityscape enough to create marked change. By the same token, born magicians are children of an alternate reality more real than the one that most people know. They have noticed the workings of the world and been noticed in turn, and events often bend themselves around their presence, their gravity within the web of existence greater, their threads within the tapestry of history brighter, than most of those around them.

That might go double for the pair now engaged in what has become a very suddenly high-stakes competition — each for their own individual reasons. Even across the busy street, over the shining roofs of passing taxis and between the hulking outlines of impractically large luxury SUVs, she'll be able to see the subtle shift in the arch of his brow. "Oh, you think /so/." He doesn't have to lift his voice; projecting it is a simple affair, aided as it is by a minor magical knack. It puts his voice beside her ear, quiet and wry and utterly familiar, subdued in spite of all of his dry, cocky wit.

This is a negotiation he carries on without stopping, of course, somehow finding all of the openings in pedestrian traffic that moves in his direction without actually having to try. It takes him only moments of consideration to come up with his counter-condition:

"If /I/ win, I get /five/ of those stories. The deep, dark ones that you said everybody only ever gets one of. And I get to cash them in whenever I feel like it."

A hot dog cart lurches out of the alley in front of her, rumbling and steaming, stinking of salt and delicious mystery meats.


For a while she is sorely tempted to say nope to the entire affair and turn around and go home. Because if John Constantine nearly died hearing about the clown story, she doesn't know what will happen to him when he finds out about the toilet incident in Barcelona, or any of the other embarrassing shenanigans she has gotten up to in the four months apart. Getting wedged in ceramic, the time she impersonated a nun, that incident with the twenty one year old seminarian…

Oh god, is she actually considering it? Plus wouldn't John reliving his glory days as a punk rockstar induce suffering of /everyone else/ and not just himself? She needs to think about this!

And of course, when she ought to stop and think, she bulls recklessly forward anyway.

"So long as they're my stories and no one else's!" comes the brazen, reckless statement before she could even stop herself, her words spilling over his shoulder when she's nowhere closeby. "You're on, John Constantine!"

She nearly crashes into the cart, and it's only with a quick flick of her obelisk and a whispered word that she manages to go visible, but intangible for just a moment, prompting a /shriek/ from the hot dog cart vendor who could have sworn he just saw one of the other pedestrians go /through/ his cart. And while it's tempting to stay this way, to bear all the handy qualities of a ghost, to maneuver her way around the city, she cannot afford to expend the magic necessary to keep it up. She /could/, but that would require tapping into her reserve and the idea of it terrifies her, still.

And she still doesn't know what's waiting for the both of them beyond the Garment District.

She hurdles over a fire hydrant, dashing across the space. She directs magic into his path, snow rising and hardening into a sudden incline, to break the fluid pattern of his stride. She twists into an alley, to romp over stacked crates, to land on the cover of a dumpster and keep moving to vault over the dead end waiting for her and landing on the other side. Now that the stakes have risen, she can do nothing else but to try. After all, he doesn't play if he can't win.

She has always wondered which would prevail, in the end - whether will would emerge victorious, or chance. Two powerful, but dissimilar forces in their world. The unpredictability of Luck against the gamechanging power of Intention. Tonight was a good moment as any to find out.


The truth is this: Luck /always/ wins.

That's why it is what it is. That's why it's luck in the first place. It is the unexpected, unpredictable force that determines the outcome of events. It bypasses variables entirely, ensures a specific end. But the thing about Luck — even with someone like John, Fate's prodigal son — is that it belongs to no one. By definition it exists beyond the ability of mortal men to control. It's said that John Constantine can generate his own luck, and perhaps that's true, but one might shift their perspective and ask themselves whether or not that means John Constantine is simply an avatar for the needs of destiny, put on this earth to be its agent in all things. Perhaps the luck he 'generates' is, or always has been, merely whatever influence Destiny has preordained /must/ come to pass, and thus he himself an unwitting pawn in some greater cosmic game.

For his part, John doesn't often think about it, because the important bit is that it does what he needs it to in the most serious situations, even if, as he's said before, it seems to be doing anything /but/ that.

At this juncture of his life, he does not have extensive control over this ability, however. It's unpredictable. Often what he believes he needs is not what he needs at all, and it fails to support his efforts, only to suddenly come rushing into his life in spades as he follows some seemingly insignificant path forward to some ultimate end he could never have seen coming.

It fails him tonight for entirely different reasons.

Somewhere across town, buried in the depths of a real estate office owned by a not-insignificant power broker in hell (through multiple intermediaries who exist entirely to obscure the fact of his ownership), a file with John Constantine's name on it flutters in a file cabinet drawer, and a single drop of John's blood — there are seven — sizzles, bubbles, steams, and disappears.

Back on the street, engaged in his improvised contest with Zatanna, John moves toward the barrier of snow, lengthening his stride to ascend it; as he nears the top, he gives a flick of the fingers at his side, and the top of the ramp spills over and forward into a decline that ought to have carried him across the next intersection…

But a car barrels down the street going in entirely the wrong direction and smashes through it, laying on the horn. Chunks of compacted snow spray across the intersection, and the driver lays on their horn. John twists to the side, skids down the broken decline half-sideways, and slants Zatanna a glance, having assumed that was somehow her doing. /That's dirty pool,/ says the look.


Tonight, she is on fire. She doesn't know why she feels this way, but after her prior visits with Bucky, with Jane and even Bruce, the fact that things with John haven't just been good, but incredibly great, she feels like she can actually soar. To leave her fetters behind and shoot for the stars. So enthralled she is by the near-overwhelming sensation that things are going /so right/ for a change that she does not notice that John's normally crazy luck has failed him - a stutter in the constant fabric that protects him from small mishaps that could prevent him from a solid victory.

She is still ahead of him and the whiff of his own magic, rarely used as it is, tingles in her senses, thrums through the silver thread that binds the two of them - the thing that keeps her connected to him in life, that will remain when the both of them die. When she ascends to heaven and wherever he ends up in the afterlife, whatever they've shared and will share solidified in this seemingly fragile thing that manifests as a consequence of a deep connection. She still feels the absence of the other one acutely, the other bond that has connected her and her father for almost all of her entire life. But the death of it has flourished into new life with someone else; as Alfed Pennyworth imparted on her before, a death doesn't mean that life can't blossom from it, can't exist outside of it.

For a moment, her heart leaps into her throat, because what she sees is the very real possibility of John taking the lead when he manipulates her own tactic to use against her. But something else happens that douses it /fast/. It has absolutely no connection with what she did, and for the moment at least she manages to dismiss what happens as a miscalculation by John. Things on the street are moving too fast for her to catch what happened, only the look that follows and she flashes him an befuddled look, one that implies that all of that, she thinks, was his fault.

That does not stop her, though, from seizing whatever victory she can. Boots end up crossing the Garment District and she dives further into it - he said that it was in this direction, and perhaps beyond. Unlike John, she doesn't have the advantage of the compass in front of her, but she has a good memory, and the Englishman isn't all that far away.

She skids to a stop, but only momentarily. To gauge which direction she ought to follow next, before tearing into the trail again. They ought to be getting close, and she braces herself for it, for what could be waiting for them in the next block, the next street.

Whatever it is, it's bound to be dangerous.

And it's something that she intends to take on directly. After all, after everything, what could possibly go wrong? They were due, weren't they?

What's the worst that could happen?


She can feel his magic across that silvery cord. He can feel her joy.

John would say that the exchange was far from equal, if he were asked, and he would value his boon as the greater of the two. Things have been great because effort has been expended to carefully keep it that way, and both of them are trying to respect hasty boundaries erected in the midst of hot-blooded disagreements…

…but also because of this feedback loop, communicating, amplifying, reflecting all of the things they generate between them. The affection, the gratitude, the desire, the rapt focus.

It will no doubt have its downsides when things take a turn for the worse, but that's a bridge they can cross when they reach it, and in any event, the benefits have thus far vastly outweighed any potential drawbacks.

If anything, his fumble with the bank of snow only serves to redouble his determination not to let her win. He skids the final length of the downhill slope and breaks across the road in a dead run, twisting to avoid a knot of onlookers, ignoring entirely the driver of the car, standing in the middle of the intersection and yelling about lawsuits — not that there's anyone to direct that wrath toward. All of the pedestrians agree: the snow must have slid off of some roof high overhead, and it's frankly a miracle that nobody was hurt when it all came crashing down. Long live the human capacity for reinventing events to make sense within the context of the known.

They have gone blocks, but John shows no sign of stopping — save when he's forced to. And he /is/, with alarming regularity. There's the sudden upending of a homeless person's shopping cart of belongings, forcing him to take a sprinting leap, stumbling for strides afterward; the sudden sorority group that spills out of a bar after he crosses the street, a swirling vortex of shrieking and intoxicated stumbling that he cannot simply elbow his way through. He gets caught by the elbow by someone with a clipboard asking him if he'd like to support some sort of cause — whales? AIDS? Birth control? He doesn't stick around long enough to find out, and they shout profanity at his back as he races to try to catch up with her, by then having achieved a remarkable lead, to the extent that she might have to slow down /just to find out if they're going the right way/, because every single thing in New York City seems to want to slow him down.

They pass /through/ the Garment District, out the other side, and eventually draw up to the tiny, fashionable Meat Packing District, long since having shed its literal meat markets for figurative ones. The Meat Packing District crams an absolutely obscene amount of nightlife into its high-fashion corridors. New York Elite totter down the sidewalk on six inch heels, and the air on an evening like this smells like cologne and French perfume.

And on, and on, but he cannot catch her. He comes within striking distance more than once, only to be waylaid by some other improbable development, and by this time he's flagging, his lungs aching around the presence of a suspicious knot of cells he does not yet know exists — not to mention baffled by the way in which fate seems determined to throw road blocks up in front of him no matter how he jukes.

It's as they near one of the more recent installations in the city — the High Line, a garden and promenade built atop an historic raised train track — that the throbbing in his arm changes. He can feel it before he can see it, slowing in his doomed effort to win their contest so that he can look down at his wrist. They're close enough to their objective that even slight turns of his body produce significant swings in direction from the patch of darkness within the indigo-lit whole.

Standing there, drawing breaths to replenish those he expended fruitlessly in his chase of her, he squints and flicks his gaze up the long flight of stairs leading into the darkened aboretums dotting the raised park, then brings it around to find her. The look on his face says everything:

/Whatever it is, it's here./


Alarming regularity, but one that comes with a multitude of explanations; it is the evening, in the city that never sleeps, aptly referred to as such because activity flourishes in all hours, and no matter where one turns, it is always packed. The miasma of humanity stretches out wherever they turn, at every corner, pressing against their shoulders and threatening to crush their toes at the slightest misstep. New York can be exceedingly overwhelming, especially the later the day gets, when darkness heralds hours meant for revelry and disreputable things people tend to hide during the light of day. The chase continues despite that, and since she is at present oblivious to the fact that something is not as right as it should be, she is ahead of him, the glare of her crimson scarf fluttering in the wind, waving about; a goodbye that she is always ever so reluctant to give him.

They reach the High Line and even Zatanna slows; enough for him to catch up to her, her victory secure. But with the throb of indigo light emanating from his sleeve, the surge of joy singing in her veins tempers in favor of more serious endeavours. She is staring up at the elevated tracks, her hands in her pockets, her back to turned to him when he finally stumbles around the corner and reaches her, slender form encased in her usual blacks, her booted feet astride. Her obelisk is nowhere in sight and her loosely-bound hair droops heavily from the back of her neck, those series of loops lending an artful spill down one shoulder and twisting between her shoulderblades. Her breaths escape her in ragged spurts, staggered puffs of mist leaving her, but indicative of strong lungs and a healthy heart. She was young, after all. Some would say almost too young.

The crunch of snow underneath her has her turning, a smile on her lips despite what they're about to do. All thoughts of food, thankfully, have been banished, the lingering taste of sundried grapes forgotten on her tongue.

"I've heard of this place, but I've never been here before," she says, words implied: this is interesting to her already.

She leans in, a consolation peck on his cheek. "Don't worry, at least one person wiill happily ask for your autograph during your comeback tour." Because she can't /not/.

As always, the young woman does not hesitate in leading the way, tracing a ward in the air, blue-white lightning charging the air, small quiet pops of sound emanating from the tip of her instrument before it fades into the air. Just in case, a metaphysical shield that could remain in front of them as they traverse up the stairs. It will, at least, let them know that something is coming at them.

She moves at that, planting a boot up the stairs. She makes the slow climb up to the risen track, a hand digging out another thing that she keeps with her in the zippered pocket of her jacket - a penlight, the thin beam shaken out to illuminate what is in front of them. It slices through the darkness like blade to butter.

"Any idea what we could be looking for?" she murmurs, a single bright, blue eye turning towards him over the line of one shoulder.


'Karma' is a bullshit concept.


There are scales and balances, costs — as they are so deeply aware — for everything, but karma as a stored balance of one's moral worth that persists through death? No.

It's one of the few superstitions John knows to be false that he occasionally wonders about, however, as it seems to hold some sway over his life. This is, he understands intellectually, cognitive bias: he has been introduced to the structure of that pattern, and thus his very human brain has become adept at identifying it where it does not exist.

Even so, as their foot chase comes to its conclusion, he cannot help but wonder if he's done something in the last week to /really/ tick the universe off. He's so accustomed to — spoiled by — the way the universe clears the way for him in the small ways that he notices quickly enough when it ceases to do that. Usually, those are signposts, hints from the hereafter that he's on the wrong track.

Of course, the sigil on his arm says otherwise. Which means it's only bad luck. Coincidence.

…John Constantine doesn't believe in coincidences. Or, rather: he does, but he doesn't believe that they don't /mean/ anything, or weren't meant to happen in precisely that way, wherever he's concerned. He strives to shake off the feeling that he's overlooking something, and it helps when she leans in and presses her lips to his cheek, a feather-light touch followed by breath, the scent of her, the warmth of her proximity in the otherwise frozen air. He is gracious enough about his loss, though it stings his pride. He consoles himself with the thought that her win might preserve her good mood — and ultimately, that's a win for him, as they're both happier when she's happy. "You bring the Sharpie and I'll sign any body part you like," he says, as though /he's/ doing /her/ a favor.

He eyes her insistence upon going first, but makes no protest, ascending behind her. His feet ought to ring on the hollow wooden boards of the stairs, but they do not. He is making a conscious effort to be quiet.

"Mmhm," he says, splitting the focus of his gaze between the raised park and the fluorescing symbol, monitoring the latter as they negotiate the former. "A person made entirely out of Primordial Darkness."

Which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, people being the opposite of what Primordial Darkness is. Nevertheless, he does not seem to be joking.


"What an obliging John you are," she tells him, in response to the Sharpie comment. There's a quick grin levied in his direction, a hint of teeth.

With the traverse upwards, she keeps an ear tilted towards his direction, hungry for whatever details he may impart. What he does, whenever he gets to it, has her pausing to swing the full measure of her stare towards him.

That doesn't make any sense, intellectually - the Primordial Darkness is /nothing/. The absolute lack of existence. The idea of it taking any form other than a void, much less a human one - and one would argue that the Darkness had been banished in the first place in order to pave the way for humans to exist - is hard to parse and swallow. But Zatanna has been inured to her world, a real in which the impossible is possible and that there is no such thing, and can accept the fact that it still has much to teach her about what could be possible. And while there's a quick glance at him to suggest that she doesn't accept what he says at first, what she finds in his expression is enough for her. She believes him.

Which means that her quick, but quiet steps slow, and there is more caution on the bent on her slender frame. Gradually, the young woman ascends up the steps until her boots find the landing. The thin beam of light she carries sweeps over the skeletons that the past season's plants have left behind, all the indicators and accoutrements that suggest that virid life had existed there until the change of seasons eradicated it for the time being, leaving nothing but forgotten drifts that soak up the light of the moon above.

She takes a few steps forward on the concrete walkway leading in between patches of frozen earth. Ice-blue eyes cut a quick path through the darkness, though if this something is /made/ out of shadow, in the deep night, it would virtually be impossible to spot.

So she taps her obelisk against her flashlight, strengthening the beam, letting it sweep across the path in wide, gradual arcs, eyes following the wake of it carefully. She doesn't want to miss anything.


"I know," John says, in response to her obvious incredulity. He'd seen it for himself, and didn't believe it. Still does not believe it, truth be told, though elaborating would make more noise than he's willing to chance. Whatever it is, he strongly disbelieves that it could be human — but that was the most expedient way to explain what it is that he thinks they might be looking for, as that is, at least, how it presents itself…whatever it is.

There is an ominous beauty to parks within urban landscapes. They don't belong. The contrast their organic messiness creates, set against the meticulously planned right angles and flat planes of any city, causes areas like the High Line to be wreathed in mystery, like small portals to other places. Like snow-laden evergreens and lamp posts glimpsed in the back of an ordinary wardrobe. The High Line possesses more of this eerie quality than most, as it makes the most of its stripe of summertime greenery and winter bracken, set within the rigid canyons of the city like a river of color-changing stones. It has no boundary fence or marching parade of screening trees to preserve the illusion that it is in any way a /natural/ space, unlike the breadth of most of Central Park. It is artifice, pure and simple, a plaything of humanity.

It lends the space some of its own interior magic, even with the view greatly diminished by ceaseless snows and bitter cold.

Around them, the streets are noisy with debauchery. There is a vital force in the Meat Packing District, created by the arcane patterns of feet on dance floors and the rituals of sex and oblivion taking place on virtually every street corner, but here there remains a tiny pocket of privacy and quiet — here amidst the rest of that excess. It is perhaps an explanation as to why something that craves the eradication of existence might be drawn here, a silent bridge from which to plan its next meal.

They're in the center of the span when John stops suddenly. "Hang about," he says quietly, knitting his brows down at the symbol in front of him. The clot of darkness, pointing the way toward their objective, has suddenly swung around to a point /behind/ them.

He turns that way, probes the thickness of the shadows with pale eyes. The dark knot in his arm swirls around with that turn.

Two steps in the other direction, and the knot swirls again: behind him. He glances up sharply: there is nothing overhead.

He turns around again, watches the liquid presence beneath his skin wind around the circle, back to his front. Whatever they're looking for, it is somewhere between them.

Blue eyes drop to the raised railway beneath their feet, and then slowly creep back up the inkstroke silhouette of her, seeking her gaze. She has often noted that he and Chas are capable of spooling entire conversations between them without a single word in utterance, and months ago, in the heady days of their first intoxicating entanglements, she'd felt some mild envy. It happens now, though, as easily as breathing: whatever it is may be beneath them. They'll need to split up in order to corner it, and his look solicits consensus as to how to do that.


There is a curious glance at the compass, the way it swirls and spins underneath John's skin, her hackles rising again as she watches it drip through his veins like an unwanted oil slick, something that doesn't belong - writhing as if alive, biding its time to consume. He'd see it plainly on her expression, how much she really doesn't /want/ it there, and the force of her worry is excessive enough that it bleeds over that argent, astral tether. Her crimson mouth presses together in a tight line, when she realizes just what the thing is telling them; she is not so worried that she could deny that the thing is useful, and in such a situation, she will take everything that she can get, use anything they have at their disposal - she just really wishes that they could have found some other way other than /brand/ John with it.

But she manages to shove that down, her gaze tracking to the raised rail underneath their feet, and then lifting to meet his eyes. Lips part to exhale quietly, tilting her head back to look at the faint silhouette of cloud-edges hanging low over the horizon, as if an attempt to call up some divine inspiration as to how to do this. There is no open field in which they could approach - she can't simply just will them upwards into the skies, fly over centuries-old monoliths, and drop them in the middle of trouble; what she had done the last time they ever fixed a problem together, before their first break. There is too much in the way, and surrounded by teeming New York nightlife, there is no way to guarantee no disturbances if their ambush fails.

If it runs right into the surroundings blocks, the crowds, people will vanish. Whole buildings could disappear.

She remembers the last time the Primordial Darkness has tried to erase her - her layers of wards simply vanished. It gave her some time, to prevent her from fading away as she desperately cobbled together a plan to get out of that surprising bind. But in the end, she knows protections will ultimately be worthless - at best, they'll be stumbling blocks, and they would have to move quickly.

She thinks back to her trick with the hot dog cart, passing through the solid construct and solidifying once she was through. Glancing from one end of the walk to the next, it would take too long to corner the thing by the old fashioned way.

Zatanna drops her head, meeting John's eyes again. Both hands lift, obelisk tucked away for the time being, to fashion a triangle with her index fingers and thumbs - the universal magician's sign for a barrier. Ones that their kind use for formal duels, to seal off a part of the real world from whatever that could happen within it, to prevent innocents from getting caught in the crossfire. If the worst happens, if it runs loose into the crowds, setting one up would at least make it stumble. It could be enough time to draw it back and figure out what to do with it, if it tries to run.

If it elects not to erase them.

She then gestures between the two of them, her palms flattening over the air, slowly lowering. An indicator that she will attempt to sink them through the layers underneath them, once they've positioned themselves. There is an inquiring lift of her brows. Between the two of them, he is by far the more experienced strategist, but he /did/ just 'ask' her what she thought.


He did ask.

In the darkness pocked with pools of light tinged orange by overhead halogens, his eyes are as colorless as her own, pools of pale intensity banded by stark rings. They lose some of what they might otherwise communicate, but his answer to her proposal is clear enough, even so: the slight twitch at the corner of his mouth, a flinty smile that carries up into his glare-muddled gaze.

Tacit agreement, efficient, concise. If she had any doubts about what that meant, they would evaporate as he lifts the lapel of his coat enough to slide one gloved hand into it, noiselessly retrieving the ancient clay tablet textured with cuneiform script minute enough that it is difficult to make out at any kind of remove.


She nods once, using the heel of her boot to mark the spot where they /think/ the Primordial Darkness creature may be lurking, before turning around to head away from him, to plant herself on the opposite end. Not too close…but not so far that she would be worthless. She remembers the reach, from the last time she encountered this pure, undistilled essence of nothing. She uses it as a benchmark. Once she reaches a good few feet away, Zatanna turns around, to watch him and wait until he positions himself to where he wants to be.

The barrier first. The obelisk moves, the point flicking upward - she is every bit the showman her father is, every flourish refined, elegant in their own way. Lips part, every misty exhale painting the quiet words that leave her lips, too far away for him to hear. These ephemeral strains twist, leaving ripples behind, pinpricks that any mystic in range would sense, like tiny droplets of water dripping spent from a faucet, scattering outward. They expand, grow, to cover and sheathe over this stretch of green space, pulsing with these mystical traces of her. Her simpler tricks are often bright, showy, meant to be seen…but what she classifies as her "A" tricks tend to be invisible. A sorceror's misdirection, for the consumption of those within the community.

The dull echo, of the final cog locking into place, whispers over his senses and hers. She lifts her hand, palm forward, lifting three fingers: a countdown, ticking away the seconds.

Around him, she's suddenly everywhere, in time with the far away words she shapes with her mouth. For a few moments, the discomfort of being transfigured, of /changing/, of growing more and more insubstantial, permeates through him. The bite of cold air, the feel of solid ground fade away as he sinks, and sinks, and sinks…through the rails, eyes passing through growing darkness once his head passes through the floor…or the ceiling, depending on a person's vantage point.

He is solid again once he hits the ground.

Zatanna is nearby - the link is sufficient to alert him of her presence. Somewhere on the other side of the point in which his compass has detected the Darkness' agent, or a piece of it, /whatever/ the hell it is, her weapon is out and ice-blue eyes are intent, feet shifting to keep herself astride and knees slightly bent to anchor her balance as much as she can.


He is neither immune nor inured to her worry. He feels it as acutely as he felt the feverish rush of her high-spirited bolt through the city, a muted whisper against the periphery of his senses. No longer intrusive, he's begun to expect them; would find himself more troubled by the absence of that link — as she is with the void left behind by her father's — than he is by the myriad impressions to which he is subject throughout the course of the day, as she conducts her life at any remove from him.

It would be a stretch to call the shift in his expression /apology/, as he views the brand's presence as a necessity…but it contains something sympathetic to her stance. He would feel the same, if their positions were reversed.

Like a conductor of the world's most silent, esoteric symphony, she raises her wand and bids the world to obey her, forming something from nothing, manufacturing security for the city in the form of a sphere that gradually shells them — not just above but also below, because the ground, such as it is — even concrete, even steel — poses not obstacle to something that is itself the antithesis of all matter, indiscriminate in its ability to consume. It takes time, and John watches her throughout, waiting in absolute stillness. His heart churns away in his chest, fed on anticipatory adrenaline. Unknown quantities concern him, and her presence here makes that doubly true — this encounter could easily be lethal for the both of them. As is typical for John, though, in the moment his thoughts are only of what needs to be done, blotting out all other concerns and distractions to leave only the call to action, only the instincts and reflexes that have kept him for so long in the land of the living, against all odds.

Of course, he's accustomed to being inextricably linked with luck and synchronicity…

Not even the sensation of her soul, resonating through the magic she weaves around them — and then /through/ them, tilting their flesh out of phase with this plane — can turn his thoughts from the task at hand, though its familiarity would on any other occasion be a welcome envelope, as familiar as the scent she leaves behind on the pillows she sleeps on.

The effect is different. Mandatorily so: her magic presses him slightly askew to reality in order to allow them to sink through the surface on which they stand, but the symbol in his arm is not part of him, but instead a prison embedded within him, and her magic cannot touch that — though it does not exist in the way that the rest of him exists. His body adopts the ghostly transparency of her art, but the symbol does not. It remains real, solid, a blazing torch of light and welter of darkness in the space where his wrist is, and even remotely she will feel it like a tickle against the expulsion of her magic, like the fluttering of moth's wings: it would tatter her soul if it could. It would consume her utterly. The symbol keeps it contained, but what exists within ripples against the tide, causes a swirling of energetic vapors, like a tiny dervish centered over that wrist.

He passes through unscathed. The symbol does not snare on the material world any more than the rest of him…but he's nevertheless glad when he regains the majority of himself, once more firmly entrenched within the laws of physics.

The area into which they've descended is a series of parking lots, broken up by corrugated metal fences, two of which separate them. Overhead, the spanning High Line track, retrofitted with that winterized, weather-menaced park is much the same as any other overhead track that cuts its way through the city's multiple boroughs: a structure thick with shadows. Cars sit like frozen lumps of metal in the lot, each one an obstacle behind which anything might be hiding, windshields spiked with brilliant stars of reflected light. All is quiet.

And then it isn't.

John's voice shatters it. The syllables are speculative language, in that it's impossible for modern scholars to say with any precision just how Sumerian /sounded/, phonetically. It is an offshoot of Sumerian, in fact, Akkadian, and he speaks it — recites it, chants it — with a command that belies the mundane assumption of its impossibility. There are resources for those who travel in other circles than academia for the obtaining of such outre knowledge. John's skill with linguistics is exceedingly strange: he has concentrated only on those dialects important to his work. A smattering of modern languages and pidgins — Haitian French, for example — but in the main, he is only a polyglot of the dead and dying, with a mastery over tongues long since abandoned, and some of those never used by man in the first place.

The effect is immediate. The tablet's inherent nature is exacerbated by the recitation, that ill snapping and lashing of power straining at the barrier erected by the foresight of her shield. It swirls through the sphere like a tornado in a snowglobe, threatening to unstitch the seams of her protective construct, and then suddenly dwindles down to a point of directed force. She'll sense it first, a kind of pressure tunneling through the interior of their cordoned space, and then she'll see it, a twisting serpent of pale energy that links the tablet with—

It is as John described it. Bipedal, humanoid in shape, but subtly wrong, it appears more like a hole in the world than a being, outlines blurred in a way that makes looking at it uncomfortable, the eye incapable of holding onto the shape of the thing. It is clinging to the span of the High Line above them, creeping slowly and with spidery movements across the underside of it, and the sage-hued tube of power that ascends to it originates, one assumes, from the place where John must be with the tablet, on the other side of that fencing.

There is no immediate effect from the funnel of power. The — whatever it is — does not seem unduly troubled. It pauses, rocks from one side to the other in its dangling position in a movement that communicates something almost like indecision. One might fairly get the impression that its head is twisted around the wrong way, tilted to look down at the Brit below. It studies him unhurriedly. Tendrils of tenebrous darkness curl around it, tasting the air.

As is so often the case, when things happen, they happen quickly. There is a sudden pulse of darkness from the impossible thing on the underside of the High Line, a clot of emptiness that bullets along the link between the tablet and itself — and, to judge from the sounds that follow, from the tablet into John. He lets loose no cry, but there's a tremendous /BANG/ — dull but hollow, like that of a body hitting something solid, like, say, an Escalade — and the twister of energy dissipates. The chanting stops.

It picks its legs (?) and arms (?) up off of the surface to which it is so unnaturally adhered, pivoting in place like a scorpion, to direct its attention toward /her/. And when it moves — which it does, very suddenly — it moves like lightning, flinging itself down to the ground amidst the cars like a leaden bundle of sooty scraps, the fel whispering of its predatory circling carrying to her from beneath the undercarriages between them.


In the University, she learns both - modern languages and dead ones, practiced through the course of the every day, exercising those muscles nightly with books and flashcards to further refine her ability to speak backwards. It is a signature she shares with her father, another element of the showmanship cultivated in her, but the truth of the matter is, she doesn't need it - it is another level of focus. With the raw power present inside her, she never truly has to. But her father has insisted on it, and much like every directive he has given her on the ways of sorcery, Zatanna adheres to it, another built-in limitation to ensure that she doesn't do the dangerous, deadly thing of going over the limits of her control. She remains oblivious to it, all the myriad reasons why, happily accepting it as just another way to be closer to him, to follow in his footsteps; another way of showing her devotion, her love and the pride that comes with being of his blood - the only thing in this world that he unconditionally loves.

She recognizes the language for what it is, she has used Akkadian spells before and recently in fact - when she stumbled into the bedroom in Kazinsky's horrific tannery, the spellbowl left there, its original purpose crudely perverted. John's mastery of it, however, is something else entirely and she doesn't have to be nearby to hear the gutteral inflection and the commanding way he rolls the syllables from the back of his throat. It has been a long time since she has seen him work in the real world, she had been denied the way he dismantled HYDRA's spell matrix and what he managed to pull off in that Hong Kong fantasy, for all she knows, could have been completely borne out of the imagination entirely. The Work is always different in the Real; it smells different, sounds different, feels different. The incantation washes over her like a wave, lighting up all of her mystical senses like a tree on Christmas, from the top of her head to the tips of her toes. Every cell in her reacts to it, every hair. Her breathing shortens as if she has run a mile, electric anticipation thrumming through her, triggering her natural restlessness to the point where she's bouncing on the soles of her feet; a boxer spoiling for a fight.

And the fight in her only grows when adrenaline mixes with dread - the cry and the heavy thud of a body rebounding against sheet metal, the sudden silence that follows his chanting, tells her enough of what has happened to him that she barely thinks about it when she acts. The obsidian obelisk snaps its point towards where she heard his impact, the spell rushing out of her lungs: "Mih tcetorp dna Nhoj dnif!"

The red dot erupts from stone, sigils flaring a bright blue-white. It cuts through the darkness like a laser, homing in on the British magus before erecting a protective ward over where he has fallen, but she doesn't stay in one place when she /feels/ it direct its predatory trajectory over her. She is already running once the spell has left her lips.

It slashes in between cars, black lightning given form and the young woman vaults up on the hood of a Cadillac, dashing across it to leap towards another car. Her body folds, letting Physics run its course, the fabric of her jeans enabling her to slide over metal and landing on the ground. There is another command, barked, makeshift wand snapping forward. Cars lift, flung through the air towards it. Her other hand is not idle, weaving patterns over the air in American Sign Language, backwards still, even while her mouth is occupied with one spell - misdirection, with the flying cars, to mask the next trick of two cars suddenly moving sideways towards one another, in an effort to crush or pin down the thing in between.

It could slow it down. She needs the time.

She sets up her next piece as she dances backwards - never towards where she thinks John has fallen, and always away from him. She weaves the same intangible screen she used to slow down the cars at that intersection, invisible and planting in between herself and the thing coming after her. She will need it, in order to set up her next trick. The weight of her penlight feels heavy in her pocket, but she is /not/ familiar with how creatures bred from the Darkness work, for all she knows it could simply eat and tear through the screen and it wouldn't slow it down at all. She will have to find out the hard way.

Her heart hammers wildly in her chest, so fast it threatens to break out of it, to smash through her bones and skitter away, leaving nothing but her bloodied corpse behind. But she does not intend to die here; her blood sings with it, come alive with determination and she is always, unfailingly at her best when there are insurmountable things to conquer. She is no master tactician, no genius plotter, or even a talented negotiator - her deceptions have largely been confined on stage, hardly ever used unless she intends to deliver the performance of a lifetime. But the magical battlefield has always been the arena in which she is most proficient, and she hopes, prays, that it is enough.

It would have to be enough. If not just to collect on the bet she made with John.

"Virq a butmon levithmong!" she exclaims, insulting the thing in Enochian, the oldest language she knows, not even certain whether it could understand /any/ language and thus hedges her bets. "Come get me, you oily piece of shit!"


One must assume that the parcel of magic she sends gliding off into the darkness achieves its ends in some manner. Separated by that sheet of fencing, faced with a hidden threat the precise nature of which remains unclear, there is simply no way to tell, and there is no further sound from John's side of the lot.

The thing they've come here to hunt remains out of the sight, but she'll hear its presence in spite of the sound of her boots striking the pavement as she runs. It whispers in the tongue of nothingness, promising the everlasting peace of absolute oblivion: not a language but an inversion of all meaning, heard not by the ears but by the soul. She'll hear it even as she spins around to move backward, drawing ever closer to the bounding sidewall of the sphere she created to contain this threat. She'll be able to feel it straining to maintain its efficacy, the mere presence of this rent in the fabric of everything enough to abrade it and wear thin its resources, as boundless as the depths of her peculiar soul may be.

Massive forces collect themselves at her bidding in order to wind like powerful vines around several of the vehicles in the lot, invisible hands that lift them as though they weighed nothing at all. Light winks and glides over their highly-polished, painted surfaces, their glass and the gleam of metal in the undercarriages, a display redoubled as their motion-sensing tamper alarms are triggered by this sudden reduction in gravity. The headlights and tail lights begin to flash, white-red-amber, the horns blasting sirencalls into the evening, two conflicting patterns of alarm warring with one another to create migraine-inducing, ear-drum-shattering amounts of noise. As a misdirection, one could not hope for a more effective means to draw attention — particularly when she gives them that push, flipping them end over end through the air and further into the lot. The noise produced by their collision with other vehicles is beyond description, a cacophony reverberated back at her by the overhanging solidity of the High Line. Glass detonates explosively in warping window frames, pieces spewed out across the ground of the lot like glitter, to wink dangerously in the cracked asphalt and grime. Metal shrieks and twists, snarls and tears open. Other alarms join the first two. Lights are beginning to cut on in nearby buildings.

She succeeds in drawing it out just enough that she'll be able to watch as the two cars she commands to crush into one another in hopes of pinning it there do just that — catching the lower half of its outline.

The sound that peals through the lot slices through the din of a dozen car alarms with the grace and ease of folded steel through soft flesh, different from — but every bit as unnatural as — the dark whispers of the void that preceded it. If the sound of grief in its purest state could be distilled a thousand times, if all of the pain and suffering of the world were to be braided together with all of its heart-rending beauty, it might sound something like that haunting, ethereal cry, a note that sings out into the dark like a plume of stardust, shining and perfect. No one who hears it will be able to forget it. In their last moments on this earth, there is every chance that what they'll hear as they slide off into the darkness of forever, and whatever lays beyond, is that sound. Most will hear it for weeks to come in the depths of sleep, waking with faces wet with tears and no memory of what it is that made them weep.

The dark shadow twists, writhes pathetically, and then /explodes/, unfolding somehow. It is still trapped between the cars, but from some part of it burst /massive/ shapes, hinged crescents that fold halfway along their curvature, suggestive of wings. No, not suggestive: they /are/ wings, or some analogue; they tilt gracefully overhead, repositioning with the boneless grace of a water bird, and then lash downward with one powerful thrust against the air that tears the shadow-wreathed body free of its containment.

It is a violent separation. Pieces of the shadow figure remain behind, the form that emerges into the air much-diminished, bent and in places entirely broken or stripped away. It bleeds the unlight she has the misfortune to witness when she carved into John's arm the symbol he requested, a viscous material that reduces everything around it to the negative polarity of itself. It spatters thickly on the hood of the cars, and where it lands it renders the metal of the hood transparent, leaving a full view of the unlight-bleached contents beneath.

The second heave of those massive wings sends it into a dive toward her and stirs up a veritable mushroom cloud of dirt, stirring powerful winds within the snow globe of her protective shield. Two lengths of shadow extend before it — arms, hands with fingers too long — but her foresight in erecting those barriers to slow it proves dreadfully necessary. They are all that keep it from descending on her.

The display as it finds itself caught within her slowing fields is almost beautiful. Droplets of unlight spray from its mangled lower half. There is immense power in the muscular movements of the wings that emerge from its narrow back, and a kind of unbearable grace to its twisted body in flight.

Slowed that way, it is possible to see what effect John's casting may have been having on the creature: there is a remnant of the funnel of grey-green energy dangling from its chest, twisting off into nothingness where it was broken, like a magical dart in a great predator. Where it connects with the shadows, there is a kind of small portal, and through that portal…

Chanting. Shadowy figures. A remote scene, connected with the animating force enclosing the flesh of the darkling — one that stutters, showing an altogether /different/ scene moments after that. A pale sky, a green field—

The connection of the tablet to the source of the magic fuelling the thing is took weak to show much of use. John was interrupted before he could complete what needed to be done.

Her fields will not hold for long. All around the outline of the spiralling, twisting thing in flight, those slowing barriers are beginning to boil in the air, the magic that created them being digested by proximity to the thing that should not exist.


"TEIUQ!" The deafening screech of multiple car alarms prove this to be a necessity, as Zatanna is finding it difficult to concentrate and she needs all of her focus directed to where it matters. Any misstep, any slip and she could /die/, eradicated from all existence without so much as a bang or even a whimper and there are many reasons she could think of as to why this eventuality is one that she can't entertain or tolerate at the present moment. The command ripples out, shutting down the alarms, though it does nothing for the shrieking twisting of metal, the panes of glass shattering at impact when cars lift and barrel towards the dark thing attempting to get at her. But they do their work, the attention it generates manages to distract the Darkness-thing long enough for the rest of it to get pinned between two cars - what happens next, however, is something that she doesn't anticipate as it seems, for a moment, to expand; shadows lengthen and writhe, the world around her going darker as part of it rips /away/ from itself, spiraling upwards and nearly punching a hole in the elevated train tracks running above her head. Ice-blue eyes widen from where she stands and for a moment, all breath ceases from her lungs.

She hears it singing - nothing that could be sensed by her actual auditory senses but something broadcasted directly into her supernatural ones; one of the first things her father had taught her about magic is that music is everything, and what it promises within the depths of its non-words cause her hackles to rise, tension to form unforgiving chain links across the line of her shoulders. There are many things in this world that she and John occupy that are terrible and beautiful at once, and this is no exception, and is perhaps its penultimate example. Her head tilts slowly back to watch its progress up, and up, and up, screaming as wings unfurl - she doesn't have a more fitting term than that - and encompass almost everything on the ground, as if its very nature allows it to eat at every pocket of darkness available, to assimilate it within itself. Fear runs cold and ice down the dip of her spine and fingernails dig into her obsidian apparatus.

It moves so fast that she wasn't even aware it was screeching towards her where it not for the field she erected between herself and it - a pocket in which Time slows down and buys her some time and for a breathless half-second she is staring at it right in the eyes…if it had any, watching the beautiful oscillations of pure Unmaking swirling in front of her, trapped in the dragging seconds with which she constructed her delay…

She's already thinking of her next steps when she catches that twisting, tenuous thread, shooting sideways into the shadows and the small portal that she didn't even notice until she took the time to take a look at the creature in front of her. Chanting and robed figures; the idea of sending a magic bomb through the connection fills her head immediately, but it vanishes to reveal something else - another landscape, a clearing…

One thing at a time. And Time is something she is running out of.

A knee drops on the snow, shoving her penlight up at an angle and letting ice brace it, solidifying the construct with a flick of her obelisk. She turns it on, angling the thin beam towards the center of the thing's chest. "Yfsinetni!Thgil eb ereht tel!"

Bright, white light cuts away from her at a diagonal angle and she turns her face away, letting it sear on the writhing mass of shadow. Another delay; her first experience with the Primordial Darkness had her fighting it back with words spoken since the dawn of Time, with the fullness of her endless well at her disposal. She is too afraid to do the same thing now, a fact that grates at her when she has no excuse to hold back, but for the time being, her terror over what she has cannot be hurdled by the situation. She was just going to have to find another way.

And she has to act fast.

She sprints, wand turning sideways to shoot a ball of fire into the portal to see if that does any good - a brief experiment, but otherwise she does not stop moving, deferring to John's experience - he was trying to do something and whatever it was, she would probably have to finish it. While her time screen holds the creature and with absurd amounts of bright light pouring into it from her penlight-on-magical-steroids, she follows the wake of her red dot towards the back, in an attempt to find John. A knot forms somewhere at the back of her throat, a fist clenching over her guts. She doesn't know how badly hurt he is, and she knows she doesn't have time to check, because once it's free, it's going to turn its attention back on her and by that point, she's going to be near him. She could try and summon the tablet to her, but she is well aware of the limitations of her stored magic object - she is already expending plenty of magic and it might run out when it's time to /really/ send the thing back to where it comes from. Difficult decisions; decisions she wouldn't have to make if she wasn't such an /idiot/ and a /coward/ and she really should just get over it but every time she tries, she remembers…

Tim. Nearly killing Tim in those tortured moments when Jess and John were still lost in the Other Worlds. Feeling her control slip as he held her, encouraged her while she was too agonized to tell him to /get away from her/…

She drops on her knees on a patch of ice, skidding across it in an attempt to get to the Englishman whenever, whenever she finds him. Hands reach for him, ice-blue eyes sweeping over in a cursory effort to discern his condition, but she doesn't dwell on it too deeply, doesn't let her concern linger for overlong, because they are running out of time and she is no good to him if she dies. "It's okay, baby, I got you," she whispers, looking around in a desperate, frantic effort to find the cuneiform tablet, snatching it up whenever she does to scan the old markings. She has to do this quickly and oh god, oh god, why the hell didn't she /ask/ him what it does? Nothing ever goes according to plan!!

"God damn it!" she hisses, gripping the clay tablet tight as she examines it as quickly as she can.


Terrible and beautiful at once. She cannot know yet how true that really is, but she's probably going to find out.

Once she sets her penlight in the snow and uses magic to amplify its intensity a thousand times over, she's already moving, so her view of what happens next is sadly restricted, and further occluded by the fireball she whips in the direction of the portal — which does nothing. It's clear that the light has an effect, at least; she'll hear hissing, sense the ozone tang of magic meeting the darkness that gloves the creature, pieces of both being mutually eradicated, opposing forces sizzling away: the light shredding the darkness, the darkness consuming the magic that powers the brilliance of her flashlight.

Had she remained, she might have seen more of its transition, but time is unkind, and does not allow her the luxury. It's clear that her barriers will fail eventually, and may fail catastrophically or without warning. Better, then, to sprint to the opposite side of the car lot and seek out the thing John had been using, the clay tablet radiating intrusive, uncomfortable sine waves of energy.

She will not have difficulty finding him. The little red sphere she sent his way is circling him like a furious hornet, incapable of touching down on him to provide him with the protection she demanded it give, and the reason for that is as evident as his fury: he is pinned to the ground by the left wrist. A spike of darkness pierces the symbol in him, nailing him to the asphalt beneath; around that skewered limb is a swirling cage of opposed energies: darkness that cycles through and around the spike, and something else, something blindingly white, tinged with other hues, prismatic and delicate. These two different forces are at war with one another, twisting and spitting, and in the meantime there is nothing he seems able to do to free himself, though he's certainly tried: there are dark strokes cut across the dusting of ice where he struggled to free himself, rents in the ground left behind by the heels of his boots. By the time she reaches him he's exhausted himself in the effort, and in any case appears to be fighting ill effects from whatever exposure he's had to the manacle of energy keeping him where he is. He is sweating and no longer struggling, his focus turned inward, to pushing away whatever's being done to him.

Finding the tablet once she's next to him will not be difficult, given the /feel/ of it. The moment she touches it, that invasive sensation magnifies ten-thousand-fold: whatever it is, it bridges a connection between itself and the heart of her power, tunneling its way to the ultimate source. It does not seek to /use/ that power or in any other way manipulate it, but it is an obscene sensation, to be penetrated by something of such vast antiquity, one's deepest corners exposed by the connection it makes.

"It'll show you who's responsible," says the Brit, through a pounding headache. "I 'ope you've been studying, love."


It feels sick, once she grabs the cuneiform tablet and feels the ephemeral lance skewer through her; unlike John, Zatanna has not learned to school her expressions and she nearly drops it when its influence reaches inside her and attempts to tether into the seat of her soul, that too big, too powerful thing that nearly killed her and a few people she cares about in New York. She hangs onto it though, because there's simply no time for hesitation here. She grits her teeth, struggles against the urge to hurl the thing away from her. Instead, she fights against every clamoring instinct, and draws it closer to her chest.

The feeling is only exacerbated by the state John is in, eyes ticking over the dark shackle skewering him to the ground, shoving the urge to look at it for too long in favor of concentrating on what's in front of her. His words have her nodding, though it's a distracted gesture and made with clenched teeth, scrutinizing the symbols in front of her and feeling her magic somewhere in front of her, snapping and coming apart slowly by the seams.

"Just because you were fired doesn't mean I stopped," she says, her words as tight as her smile, but determination burns along with the lightning in those eyes. "Though we definitely ruined any chances of Daddy ever hiring a handsome young instructor for me to learn from ever again. Hang on, John. Don't go anywhere."

She rises from her crouching position; she takes advantage of the fact that the thing isn't freed from her screen yet, struggling as it is, like a fly caught in sticky paper. Booted feet take her forward, bringing up the rear of the Darkness-creature, holding the tablet out and crossing her palm over it. The invasive sensation remains and her expression twists, emphatic in her discomfort. But as John has said to her many times before: needs must.

She doesn't use her backwards chant; there is enough on the tablet to focus her spells. She whispers a spell, to recall the last one used on the tablet - wisps of John's magic emanate from the clay slab, though what she sees with her mystic eyes makes her frown. The regular haze of John's red-and-black Synchronicity energy is…

You can't worry about that right now.

Zatanna takes a breath, and picks up where John has left off:

"Innana u Ishara…"

The syllables roll off her tongue, practiced and as gutteral as anyone could expect from an ancient tongue borne from some of the world's oldest civilizations, calling up images of rolling deserts and rising stones. She invokes these old deities of magic, gods and guardians of old sands, life and blood. Sigils vanishing from the tablet one by one, crawling up her skin, encircling her wrist. The penetrating sensation deepens and she girds herself to keep going. To finish.

"Utammiki, adi zawarsu. U zawarki, la etamda, la tapassahi!"

The passages burn red on her flesh. The empty tablet drops onto scuffed up snow as she clutches her forearm with her other hand, pins and needles of sensation coruscating up skin and bone. Her limb feels asleep, as if it has spent the last hour pinned under something heavy, but she extends it outward, trembling fingers reaching for nothing, digits spasming, twitching. At the moment, it is not her own and she feels it build, the growing force that means to show her the source of the creature's power and who sent it here.

She directs whatever happens towards the open shadow-portal.

"Who are you?!" she demands. "Show yourself! Flesruoy wohs!"


'We definitely ruined any chances of Daddy ever hiring a handsome young instructor for me to learn from ever again,' she says.

"What a shame," John says. He doesn't deadpan because he's caught in a permanent wince, but his words manage to remain dryly toneless anyway.

'Hang on, John. Don't go anywhere.'

He picks his head up off of the ground in order to shoot an incredulous look at her beneath knitted brows that she absolutely will not see, too preoccupied with the things that actually need /doing/. She will also fail to see the way he drags his gaze from her profile to the welter of otherworldly forces nailing him to the earth, and then its slow return to her, everything about him exuding the same sentiment: /Really??/

The kinetic barriers she hastily erected are holding, but they are frayed at the edges, and pockets of emptiness exist within the density of them, places where movement is no longer slowed, whatever pieces of the creature are situated within them behaving normally, the darkness seething around it more quickly. It remains trapped like an ant in honey for the time being, but that isn't going to last.

As she draws up behind it, chanting, she'll be able to see the energy projected by the tablet begin to coalesce again, spurred outward by her words. The connection the tablet has with the center of her being extends, and the spinning twister of energy spears outward, a long, silvery, narrow tunnel that bridges the gap between the tablet and the darkling thing in her snare. It finds the torn end of the bridge John had been forging when he was so rudely incapacitated, and when that happens —

When that happens, just as she's dropping the tablet, now channeling the force of the incantation through her own flesh, the shadowy figure arches its spine, the wings splay, push, and like a sleek gymnast it bridges over backward like a high diver backflipping from the board: weightless, unconstrained by gravity. Its head reaches the apex of the arc and then tilts into view, cycles downward, followed by throat, shoulders, chest —

That is when Zatanna will be able to see the work her light has been doing in her absence.

The majority of the dark sheath encasing the figure has been torn ragged in the front, exposing the flesh beneath. Skin like mother of pearl, so fair as to be almost transparent, emanates a gloriously beautiful radiance…corrupted, made sick, by the branching pathways of blackened veins beneath. The face was once handsome beyond all comprehension, though alien in its proportions, and the darkness-clotted hair that swirls in the watery field she's created glimmers like a thick, gently waving tousle of hammered gold. Eyes once too blue to be comfortably looked into radiate feverish intensity from within blackened whites. Dark liquid pours from between full, flushed, but masculine lips, running up the chiseled contours of a face that belongs on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

It is —

It /was/…

An angel.

This goes some distance toward explaining why it has lasted as long as it has, made of far sterner stuff than any mortal flesh, though there is evidence that the Primordial Darkness has been eating away at it, corroding and dissolving layers of its body. It also explains why the scene that comes into sudden focus as it rotates toward her and exposes its chest to the seeking, probing funnel of the tablet's energy is not something connected with the darkness, but instead a scene of halcyon beauty: a window onto heaven. The fair skies, draped with silken clouds and dawn hues, the endless expanse of a perfect field. Intoxicating perfume bleeds from the connection. The light that pours through and bathes her eases all of her hurts, imbuing all that it touches with flawless peace.

She has exposed enough of the thing beneath the void to connect with the seat of /its/ power, rather than that of the eternal emptiness that has been trying desperately to consume it.

Something happens, then. Not that Zatanna will notice. All of existence draws to a halt so that a celestial agent can appear at John's feet and /make him want to punch it in the face./ Which is business as usual for those two, really. What transpires in that pocket of non-time will remain John's secret to keep, but the ultimate result is that John is freed from his pinning on the ground, and the next thing Zatanna will see, watching the fields of heaven through the chest of an angel, is the dim outline of John Constantine in the darkness behind that gleaming wedge of perfect, seraphic torso. The mortal hands that thrust themselves into the field of slowed motion, reaching, expanding with heart-stopping slowness to grasp the root of either wing where they meet the angel's back. Molten light begins to accumulate, making the elegant lines of his hands and fingers visible even in the slurry of shadows, illumination that ramps upward through rose to gold and thence into colorless, searing brilliance.

There is a torrential gout of unlight into the pavement as the massive wings are rudely amputated from the rest of the body. Whatever sound the angel might have made as it falls is mercifully stifled by the sudden inrushing of darkness to cover the exposed figure within. Had her spells not held this long it might have consumed the doomed angel almost instantly, but her spells /are/ holding, and as the darkness wraps that holy flesh, the view onto heaven shifts, changes to reflect the source of the darkness' hold. The chanting figures, again. Skin bronzed by sun, draped in leathery, faintly luminous skins, they are each marked with a symbol like a rounded letter 'U,' the tops of which fold out and split into two prongs, a dot to the inside of which suggests an eye — like a double-ended serpent.

The chant continues, but the eyes of one of these wizened mystics suddenly sharpen, turning toward the portal linked with Zatanna's soul. One shaking, long-nailed hand lifts, pointing, strands of dirty silver hair snared on gnarled knuckles. The gender of the speaker is not clear. Their mouth moves, shining and wet, and the grating whisper crosses unfathomable distances:

"Zoht. Ahn. Ah."

She has, it is safe to say, been seen.

Something begins to thread its way back through the link.





Or Heaven, in this case.

The raven-haired woman has absolutely no idea what she is expecting, at present already engrossed in the Work, in picking up where John Constantine had left off because she doesn't know how much time she has left, and she needs to /put this thing away/ so she can go back to the serious business of unskewering him from the concrete before all magical stamina drains from him in whatever it is he's trying to do. But as she directs the energy build-up of the incantation scrawled on her body, markings of one of the oldest spells in the world, ice-blue eyes go wide as darkness shreds off the winged form, its mass tilting and twisting, facing towards her and…

…it is the most beautiful creature she has ever seen in her life.

Shadows splatter down from it, melted by her trap, akin to a swan struggling out of an oil-slick, its pristine beauty marred by darkness. For a moment, she forgets that she is embroiled in something extremely, exceedingly dangerous, her lips parted but no sound coming out as her gaze wanders down, down, down…to the panoramic view of paradise present within the celestial being's chest cavity. It is beyond imagining, how perfect it is, how peaceful, how beautiful. Tears accumulate at the corners of her eyes..

And then John Constantine gets up behind it and rips its wings off.

"John!" she cries, horror cutting over her enthralled expression like a blade, jaw agape as the angel collapses on the snowy ground, to be sacrificed to the burgeoning dark. Were things not happening so fast, her mind would be filled with questions. It was just moments ago that she found him spiked onto the ground, unable to move. Her intent was to finish this and find some way to free him, confident that she would have to, because he looked /spent/. But now he is on his feet and she didn't even sense any lash of magic from his direction, just in time for him to /maim an angel/. That horror only intensifies; she doesn't know what the price is, if there is any, of destroying something so holy when her own spells have been able to carve it out of the shroud threatening to consume it. Was there going to be a backlash? How bad was it going to be—

The vision of heaven vanishes, and she finds herself staring into the yawning void. The chanting is familiar, what she has seen earlier, and the symbols on their clothes. It looks familiar. Where had she seen…

One of them turns to her and identifies her by name. Cold sweat rills down her spine.

But she is young, fiery and reckless. Her own fingers extend, all hesitation bleeding away, the ephemeral strains of her own power surge into the portal in an effort to grab onto that pointing hand, those spent tresses of tainted argent and /pulls/.

"Eman ruoy em llet!" she commands. Because she can't /not/ try. White-hot blue light starts leaking from around the corners of her eyes. "EM LLET!!"

She can feel it start. Something is coming up, pushing through. It's crawling over the tether that connects her and her vision and she knows she has to let go before /something terrible happens/. But she hangs on for as long as she can in an attempt to wring out answers from the person-thing that saw her. That knows her name. Oh god, it knows her name.

At the very last second, the very last moment, her right hand pulls violently at her left, to slam into the empty clay tablet and pour the spell back onto it, to dispense with the sick, invasive feeling that claws at her stomach, and to savagely cut herself away from the vision and the thing attempting to crawl through the bridge she has made.


The Fallen angels' body rotates, writhing with manufactured slowness, in the slowly failing fields of her kinetic magic, and when the wings break free, John falls along with them, though it will be moments still until he hits the ground. He sees none of what she sees: neither the glimpse of heaven nor the dark, firelit tableau of the chanting figures in their ominously thin, leathery garments. Caught wholly in the slowing effect, he is temporarily disconnected from the outside world.

Zatanna taps the pieces of her that dig down into the reserves she's been so reluctant to use, and for her trouble, this ancient, withered creature on the other end of the connection /laughs/ at her, insulated from the effects of her spell by sheer distance: it is a window, and not a door. She cannot, they believe, touch them where they are. Not without delving through the tether itself.

And yet…

And yet.

She is a Zatara. More than that, she is the hybrid offspring of one of the world's most potent magical races and a man who achieved no small magical acclaim in his own right.

The shriveled face stops laughing abruptly, and its squinting, glassy eyes, filled with cataracts, widen: the force of her will curls its fingers into them and /pulls/. Brittle bones crack as the body of her tormentor tilts over, toppling to the ground. The view through the window shows every detail. The fury that results from this indignity is terrible to behold: curses and invectives spit from worming lips over blackened teeth, and the shadows on the periphery of the vision begin to waver, as though being summoned to some other purpose..

…and then she shatters the connection.


There are more massive holes in the suspension fields in front of her, and wherever the blackness passes into them, it shrinks inward and dissipates, consuming utterly the contours of the body it contains. Holes are pierced through the ravaged thing that was once an angel, turned to slices and slots as the body rotates, and eventually there is so little of it left that it would be impossible to say what it had ever been. It, and the darkness ensconcing it, cancel one another out. Eventually, there will be nothing left but the viscous, corrupted blood drizzled down the back of John's neck, and splattered over his hands.


She finds some grim satisfaction in seeing those glassy, soulless eyes widen when she yanks, pulls. When her power beats against this window in an attempt to get her answers, with every intent to shatter it if she believes that she can hard enough. But with the connection broken, Zatanna is left panting on the ground, fingers clutching her left forearm and wincing inwardly at the pins and needles sensation crawling over her muscles. There is a breath - several, grappling with that sense of foreboding dread, the confusing images and what she had just seen. What had just /happened/. All of her life, she has heard of angels, but she has never /seen/ one of them. Not in the flesh, corrupted as this one was. She is familiar with the lore, but to experience it wholly is something else entirely.

The raspy rattle of the caster on the other side of the portal pounds in time and rythmn with her heart. The laugh. The shriek when she delivered that insult long distance and the sight of those hideous, blackened teeth.

Her name. The way it said her name.

She has never come across these people before. How the hell did they know who she was? At this point in her life, she isn't even as famous as her father, still climbing the ladder to stardom. And judging by what the members of that circle were wearing, she doubts they go out very much. They are /old/. They've probably never even heard of the Internet, or /cars/. Just who the hell were…

Her head shakes vehemently. Steeling herself to ignore the discomfort that she knows will follow, she grabs up the cuneiform tablet and shoves it deep in her pockets, shuddering when she feels it react to her touch, her presence. Breaths leave her in aggravated, white puffs as she quickly moves over to where John has fallen - her focus in those last moments has shifted entirely, there is nothing left of the time screen. Her arms are out immediately, to try and help him up, to inspect for damage. She still doesn't know how he managed to rip himself off the ground and she fully expects something on that injured wrist.

"John," she murmurs, voice tight with worry. "Are you alright…?"

Ice-blue eyes wander back to the angel, or what is left of it. She barely hears the words she speaks, drowned out as they are by the blood-rush, and she is barely aware of the white-blue wisps of power curling upwards from her skin. Faint, but there; nothing like the spectacular displays that he has seen before, in the days when she was more willing to use what she has more freely.


What is left of it by the time she looks is little more than sodden, blackened pinions, the soft pieces of the feathers long since dissolved, piled in dirty heaps on the ground amidst — not bones, but something like bones. And those, too, are swiftly decaying, disappearing into nothingness.

Amidst the smoldering, rotting ruins of an angel, John Constantine rolls off of his hands and knees and onto his tailbone, looking down at the mess on his hands, distaste creeping into his expression. It doesn't last long, ousted forcefully by the intensity with which he lifts stark blue eyes to look at her. "Did you get it? Did you see?"

Usually, his first question would be: 'are you alright?' But he knows that she is. For the first time, he's spared the necessity of probing her physical condition, because she isn't radiating any kind of severe pain across the slim thread that links them, and he knows without having to ask. The knowing is so natural that it does not occur to him in the moment that he hasn't needed to ask: he will realize later, and marvel all over again at what they've managed to create.

There is no evidence of pain in him safe the pinched look of someone with a persisting headache, and there's no blood soaking through the sleeve of his coat, which suggests that the skewering was not physical, but metaphysical.


She tries to school her expressions there, when John asks her if she 'got it'. But he'll feel that waver through their astral link and one that speaks of hesitation. It is rare that it lasts, in the last few days, he's probably come to expect it to vanish in a few moments, suggestive enough that despite the young woman's willingness to be open, it is /not/ as easy as she makes it seem. Her tendency to be honest simply overrules her stilted sense of self-preservation. Tonight, though, it holds as she watches those intent pale blue eyes. Though even without the link, he'd be able to read that expressive face clearly - one that already anticipates that he's not going to like what he hears.

"…yeah," she says quietly, finally. "I got it."

She offers to help him up if he needs it. He seems fine, save for the pulsing ache that indicates less of an actual injury and more of a consequence of whatever it was that he was doing when he was pinned down. "What was that thing trying to do to you?" she wonders instead of the metaphysical shackle, curious and concerned both, and once he is righted up - with her aid or without, she turns to will her penlight back to her, cracking away from the ice brace she made of it, tucking it in her pocket. It proved its usefulness tonight in spades, she is attached to it now.

Turning the obelisk upwards, she recalls her barrier, the tattered remains of her shielding fading, recycling spent power and letting the glassy stone absorb it back, to replenish its stores. In, and out, and in, then back out again when she traces a doorway in mid-air, ripples of her magic waving outward as reality bends and twists to her whims. After days without it, feeling it again with her reclaimed potency brings her some semblance of relief, reminded of the good things that happened most recently - namely the reclamation of her soul, her magic in all of its endless, terrifying glory, that Bucky and Jane were retrieved. Blessings and others that she does not intend to take for granted.

She opens the door; it reveals the alley right beside the Brooklyn flat. She takes a step through, and waits for him to get to the other side before the door seals shut, and reality returns to the way it is.

Zatanna says very little else until they get back into the warmer confines of his abode, shedding her jacket and scarf and hanging up on the hooks Chas mounted on one wall, moving further into the bigger living space. Pulling out her phone, she flips through the digital photos until she finds what she is looking for, drawing out her laptop and its borrowed repository of data from Shadowcrest's ridiculous masses of rare tomes - Giovanni's absurdly priceless collection, accumulated after decades and decades of adventuring, study and experimentation. Certainly worth more than the ten million Bruce spent on his arcane library before the legendary magician put it all to the fire.

It hasn't been completely digitized - her father has collected so much that even with Abelard, Chauncey and Hassan's combined help and knowledge of the inner sanctum's ins and outs that it is taking quite some time for his entire library to be ported into a computer. But she is hoping that there is enough in there that she can sort through references, trying to remember just why the symbol is so familiar.

"There were people…old, brittle. And kind of gross looking," she tells John absently. "They were almost indigenous…their skin was so brown and they were wearing these robes. They had symbols on them and they looked familiar, and I'm trying to see if…"

She clicks through an image. "…yeah, I think this is it." She turns the screen around to show him - the U and the dots.


Hesitation, that rarest of things in the raven-haired woman John has cast his lot with. The effect that sensing it has on him is evident, an undisguised nick of shadow into the otherwise smooth skin between his brows. "Uh oh," he says, the words quiet, sotto.

As typical of the man's pride, he elects to pretend he didn't notice her offer to help him up, gathering himself up to his feet with a limberness that has yet to desert him in spite of the hard life he's lived. He makes a cursory effort to dust off his trousers. Bits of angel feather crunch under his feet, ground into dust, quickly evaporating into nothing. What remains behind on the pavement is an outline, a shadow, like those left behind in the wake of an atom bomb: a battered body, torn to shreds in the lower limbs, with glorious, massive wings that sweep away above it and dwindle into nothing.

She asks him about the reason he'd been pinned to the ground, and he glances down at his wrist, tugging back on his left sleeve to expose what little of it he's able, given his loose but reasonably fitted cuffs. The skin is red, but there doesn't appear to be any lasting damage. "The dark bit was keeping me down. Using the sigil to do it, too. Bloody hell, that's a complication I didn't expect. I won't be communing with the overlords of the Primordial Darkness again." Regret there, delicate, in his musing tone of voice. Only John Constantine could ever /regret/ an inability to connect with something that foul.

"The other bits were, I think, from the seraph."

The explanation takes long enough that by the time he's finished they're in Brooklyn, and after that descending into the flat, where he shrugs off the coat and makes a quick beeline for the sink in the back. He has drippings of putrid, corrupted angel blood on him, and that is not the kind of thing he cares to be exposed to for long. He twists the tap on and waits for the water to begin steaming, unbuttoning his dress shirt and stripping it away, the collar soiled. He washes up while she peruses the library she's been devotedly preserving, updating and cataloguing for the modern age, and by the time she finds what he's looking for he's already drying himself off with a dish towel that he uses to wrap up the stained shirt, setting both aside to be washed.

He turns toward the screen glow as she turns her laptop to him. Blue eyes gleam with the reflection of what she's called up, and gradually narrow enough that his lashes interfere, casting shadows over wedges of light. He looks…


"It's either a very bad joke or the end of days. That—" He points and jabs in an articulate way at the symbol on the screen with one index finger, "Is a bastardized symbol, and what it means depends on who it is you're asking." He places a hand briefly on her lower back as he slides past her, crossing to the bookshelves and scanning the cracked spines of those books he deemed worthwhile to have sent to New York from London, once he decided to stay. Unsurprisingly they have much to do with his current focus, and he selects one of the heavier tomes, dropping it on the narrow shelf above the cabinets that line the bottom with a heavy, irreverent thump. He flips the cover open, splits a large chunk of the first pages away and folds them onto the open cover, and then pages more slowly through the ones that remain. "Looks like a thousand other marks because there are only so many sodding ways to draw a simple squiggle, but of course, things being what they are…it's probably this impossible thing."

He lands on the proper page, rotates the book. The symbol is there, depicted much as it is in her father's book, beside sketches, coordinates, information disconnected from any kind of prose.

"Argentinian shamans. That don't exist."

Why would anything ever be easy?


"Could be both," Zatanna remarks, dryness in her tone to mask her growing apprehension, the touch on her back causing her to turn and watch his progress through his flat, to look through his own collection and bring out a heavy book that later finds a place on the table she is leaning against. Ice-blue eyes fall on the symbol that he points out, scrutinizing it carefully and the short passage. There isn't much, but she doesn't read it, her stare finding his profile, lean musculature beaten into deceptive toughness most would not anticipate from him, half-illuminated by the flat's golden vintage bulbs, shadows cast from the other parts of the room enhancing those hard planes and angles. Those irises gravitate towards his left wrist again, but for once, she doesn't say what she's thinking. Not yet anyway.

There is /some/ relief that despite the state she's found him in earlier, that he is fine, moving around as he is with that effortless, restless grace. She slowly sinks on a chair adjacent to the table, scrubbing her fingers through her hair, dragging them through the tousled mass. She ends up hooking her fingers into the tie, pulling the bindings free, letting those near-endless midnight streams spill down her back, ends curling at the humidity, brushing against the very top of her seat. The elastic dropped next to her laptop, she slowly leans back against her chair, wood creaking under the shifting of her weight.

"Brujeria." She catches the term from her father's book and John's, her Spanish inflection flawless, complete with the soft rolling 'r' that unfairly suits her contralto. Out of all the languages that she has learned, it is her favorite. " 'Witchcraft', huh? Not exactly the most original name in the world to call an order of Argentinian shamans bent on…the apocalypse?"

Her face tilts towards him, confusion there. "But I thought the Brujeria were Chilean? Some all-male order of Latin wizards that live in the southern coast? Are they an offshoot, or something? What are they after?"

She can read the books, but John has the benefit of traveling to distant parts of the world to acquire his expansive knowledge of the occult. She'd rather hear the story from him, if there is anything more to tell.


'Could be both,' she suggests, which wins a frown out of him. Not because she's /wrong/, but because there is a distinct possibility that she's /right/.

He likes none of it. It does not fit in the scope of what he knows or understands to be true, and though he's unwilling to rule out impossible things — by now he more than knows better — he does not /like/ it when things buck convention to this degree, particularly not with similarly strange deviations taking place everywhere he looks.

He aims the frown down at the page, turning to prop his weight back against the ledge topping the cabinets, arms banding loosely across the breadth of his chest. He's always been toned, blessed with that quality by a physique built more for swimming than hauling mass amounts of weight, but the holidays had softened some of that in him, gentling some of his harder edges and lightening the shadows that cut along the definition of his musculature. There had been a lot of reasons for that, and she'd rated fairly high on the list; his concern for her, his lack of sleep, his poor diet, his more-frequent-than-usual indulgence in whatever the bottle had to give. It's clear to look at him standing there that the period of softness has passed, though: between his all-day journeys across the span of the city, the amount of sleep he's allowing himself to get, and their…extracurricular activities…he's back in fighting form.

He fails to notice her interest in the brand because he's too busy cocking a wryly appreciative brow at her enunciation. What's /not/ to like about the inherent poetry of romance languages? "Mmhm. Chilean, a smattering of presence in Peru. Like you said: it means witchcraft. It's not an organization, it's a catch-all. Like 'shaman.' 'Medicine man.' It's a convention, not a doctrine, as such. These— " He tilts his head then, indicating the book beside him, "Are in Argentina. Were. Maybe? It weren't Argentina then, though, and— " Some of that dissatisfaction crests into his expression again, interfering with the clarity of his gaze. It rubs him the wrong way. The whole thing does. "But this shite is stirrin' up all sorts of things that shouldn't be possible, innit? So maybe it's feeding into legends about a beyond-ancient cult, making that possible, or…" The sentence trails off, unfinished. His eyes unfocus. After a span of heartbeats he stirs, the corner of his mouth pulled in, taut, to turn and unfold his arms, flip the book closed. "There's not enough to merit a trip that way. We've enough going on as it is. There've got to be thousands of tiny little cults being fed on whatever this is."


"Well, whoever they are, they're creepy," Zatanna says, folding her arms on the table and chewing on her bottom lip. "They were chanting, when I saw them. I can't quite pick out what they were saying, but it…it's hard to describe, John. Everything they did felt beyond old, I sensed it when I strapped myself in using the tablet. Far away, like peeking through a window into something. Even the language didn't seem human, or anything I've heard before, and I've studied /plenty/." She was, broken down to the basics, a Logomancer - words are her life, it seems logical to her that she learn as many words as possible, given the nature of her primary Art.

She fidgets in her chair; it could just simply be her restlessness. Her fingertips work loose, absent patterns on the wood of the table, his dissatisfaction fueling her own worries. But maybe it was better to hold onto that skepticism now, to believe in it. Because the passage on her laptop's screen is telling her what John is; that this is impossible because the Argentinian Brujeria /no longer exists/.

It has to be a bad joke.

But if it was, it was a convincing one, because she isn't sure if there are many out there capable of summoning Primordial Darkness, or, she assumes, orchestrating events to ensnare an /angel/ into its grasp and turn it into something else entirely. The remembered sight of it, of darkness tainting something that used to be so pure and beautiful, oil-slick marring otherworldly, /perfect/ beauty, makes her shudder. Makes her tear up, as her memory recalls how lovely it was, the picture of paradise she glimpsed. So perfect, in fact, that her memory wavers, her human mind unable to grasp the sheer /flawlessness/ of the landscape housed within the creature's chest, for a time.

Before John Constantine ripped off its wings and turned Heaven into Hell.

"Well, I'm hoping you're right," she says, looking over at him. "That it's something else other the real thing. Because one of them knew me."

She pauses, and frowns down on her fingers. "Or at least, he…she…it? Knew my name."

A look that is more apologetic than anything else wreathes over her pale features. "I tried to get more," she tells him. "I demanded questions. I tried to will it to happen and I reached in and grabbed the one that addressed me by name, and the more it laughed, the madder I got. So I reached, I pulled. Hard. I thought I could get something, but it just tipped over and it was /furious/, it…" Again, it was hard to describe. Brittle bones cracking against the floor, the shrieking, spitting curses. The black teeth.

"I hung on for as long as I could, but I felt /something/ crawling back up to me, through the link. I had to let go, because I didn't want to find out what would happen if it got to the end where I was standing. I'm sorry, John. I wish I was able to get more."

She looks away abruptly, a marked effort to blunt the visible traces of her horror, her arms folding, palms rubbing up and down their upper regions to quell the rise of sudden goosebumps. Her lips curl faintly in distaste.

"Bad teeth are /so gross/," she mutters instead.


For John, the one to one connection between the impossible Brujeria and the Primoridal Darkness does not exist. Plenty of other vectors of the supernatural have been interacting with it. Why they should be connected to that particular scrap of it, how that darkness came to possess the body of an angel — those are things he doesn't know, but he's leery of filling in the blanks with too many assumptions.

As she fairly points out, however, they are /old/ beyond the capability of most people to understand, and so is the Darkness, and that is a link worthy of note. The fact that he cannot /dismiss/ the possibility continues to rankle, sitting uneasily in him, a thorn, a splinter.

He's mulling over his own malcontent thoughts until she says that they knew her name, and then she has the full of his not-inconsiderable attention, blue eyes snapping up, locking into the here-and-now. He rotates at the waist enough to look back at her, but everything else about him stills and remains motionless as she continues to explain. The cast of his expression is hard, flinted, and it may be that it grates uncomfortably against the apology threaded through her recounting, but he'll dispel any notions that he's displeased with her when he turns from the shelves in order to rejoin her, sinking into a slow crouch beside her chair, a familiar shape in her peripheral vision. Blue eyes trickle down the tight bind of her shoulders, the cross of her arms over her chest, slender wards against an existential chill.

He doesn't touch her. Not yet. Most of what they were to one another during the time of his tutelage — before her birthday and every confusing evolution it would bring — has long since been turned to ashes on the bonfire of what came afterward, but certain things remain. Among those is a lasting commitment to her education, not least now because he has every incentive to arm her with the weapons that will keep her alive. She has enough raw power to slag city blocks — enough to kill herself a thousand times over, if she overexpends — but there are things that only experience can teach. She may have the raw potential of a star cradle, but the gifted students often hold themselves to impossible standards. They are aware of what they might be able to achieve, and it's not uncommon for them to castigate themselves with perceived failures, even when that's unnecessary.

It's the man who once placed her education at the forefront of his professional life who tilts his head, angles his gaze up to find hers in all of that evasive discomfort. "You did good work. You got it done, an' I know it wasn't the most comfortable feeling, usin' that tablet — which, by the way, I've got to return tomorrow, so we'll be needin' to put it back in its box. You paid attention and remembered what you saw. You put that together with what you'd seen before. You didn't lose your cool coming face to face with part of the Host, which — it's a bit of a shock the first time, innit?" The twinkle in his eyes is muted, but there. It fades quickly, edged out by solemnity. "You…may have caused some property damage," he allows dryly, managing somehow to quell his humor, "But you're alive and I'm alive and it's not out there consuming everything. Seraph's not suffering anymore. I don't know how they knew your name, but we'll bloody well find out. Maybe something to do with the angel. I…" He hesitates. "I'll ask a contact of mine next I see him. In the /meantime/…give yourself a break, alright? It's a dirty business, but it went well."


Shoes tap on the concrete. Wood creaks. His familiar shadow takes over her periphery but even without her eyes, she would know that he's close. The link they've managed to develop over all their other trials have ensured that she will always be aware of him, in some way, no matter where they are in the world - beyond death, if her father could be believed. And he would know, or so she thinks. He held the same tether with her mother, and it was probably the reason why even after over a decade after her death, almost two, he still dreams of her and speaks to her as if alive in the darkened confines of his bedroom.

Zatanna turns in time to watch him crouch by the chair, ice-blue eyes falling on his as his own pale irises angle upward. The rubbing her fingers make over her upper arms cease, and she quietly listens to what he has to say, expecting some kind of advice. It's an expression that she remembers well, but has not seen for quite some time, re-coloring the faded photographs in the back of her mind, sixteen and confident, but eager to please. The fundamental bits of her personality remain - her openness, her precocity, her recklessness and her capacity to get into /so much trouble/, because their kind can't help /but/. Her knowledge base from then to now, though, has grown exponentially. In their four months apart, she has amassed even more.

But she clearly doesn't know enough. Not yet. Most of what would help have been revelations that she has only discovered a few weeks ago, and chances were that she would have remained in the dark for years were it not for extreme events pushing her towards the direction of answers and more questions. So the expression she holds now is attentive; she may have had some choice things to say about his earlier attempts to bull back into her life, but she has never dismissed him when it was time to learn something /new/. And really, after a life as Giovanni Zatara's apprentice, John at least knew how to acknowledge whether she did something /right/.

There is no relief to be had here, though. While she does take his words to heart, and her barely-there smile and the drop of pleasure rippling over their link make that true enough, the tight-coiled tension over her shoulders doesn't abate. "I wasn't expecting him…her? To be so beautiful," she murmurs of the angel. "Everything about him was so….perfect. So perfect that I'm trying to remember and I don't think my memories can do it justice. I almost forgot what I was doing, and I wasn't expecting that at all. I didn't know…Darkness could do that, to the likes of the Host. Was there…" Her expression turns regretful, solemn. "…was there really no way to save him?"

She asks, because she can't not, watching his face intently.

The words about giving herself a break has her hesitating. Her head tilts, her stare falling on his left wrist. Unwinding her arms from her body, gentle hands reach out, one to cup over the back of his knuckles, the other to splay light fingertips on the tender flesh over life-giving veins.

"I just thought the more answers I got with one shot, the closer we could get to what the hell is happening," she confesses. "After being on the receiving end of it, twice, I just…I /really/ want this thing off you, John. I know we need it, but…"

Her voice trails off, but something tells her that she doesn't have to finish the thought.


There is some solace to be had in John's frank confession. She says that she didn't know that darkness could do that to an angel, and John shakes his head slowly, though his gaze remains locked to her, angled upward. "Nor I. I'm not sure there's ever been another incident like it."

The look on her face as she asks the follow-up question, the question he'd known must have been coming eventually, tugs at his heart. Would not do from anyone else. She'll be forced to see so many worse things in the course of her life merely by dint of what she is, and it has become abundantly clear that the universe has no interest in allowing her to drift away from that identity, for better or worse. It's necessary that she see the ugliness, a stony weight to counter the beauty of which her magic is capable. Still: he doesn't relish that. Would protect her, if he could — if it really would protect her, rather than damn her to worse.

"No," is the simple answer, gentle but firm. "It was gone. There's no coming back from that. And…" This is not a comfortable confession, but it is /true/, and he forces himself to give it: "We needed to do what we did." A pause. "So we gave its end purpose, and then saw to it that it had a swift end, rather than lingering on." That silence spools out into a longer thing, punctuated by his drawing of a deep breath and an exhale that sloughs some of the heaviness of the moment away. "Don't let the pretty faces fool you, though. They're bastards." In spite of the shard of humor embedded in his gaze, he sounds entirely serious.

Soft fingertips coax his hand into her care, and his gaze is drawn unerringly to her cradling of it, the passage of her touch over the symbol there. Quiescent now, having gone dark moments after the last scraps of darkness underneath the High Line dissipated, those droplets of spectral ink are once again happy to chase the prospect of her fingertips, eager for her. He watches it as he listens to her, feeling the typical response begin to mount: defensive, unapologetic, dismissive. This is his work. This is what he does. The speeches he's given old flames: if you can't handle the risk, then go; this is what my life is. Take it or leave it. /I'll never apologize for doing what I have to do./

They don't last long, even in his thoughts. They're an old reflex, an outdated mode of dealing with the few genuine emotional entanglements he's permitted himself, and he knows without having to contemplate matters that they don't apply to — this. Whatever this is, whatever it's becoming.

What he does have to think about, then, is what he intends to say in place of those well-worn chestnuts. Pale eyes rise, searching her face. In her position, he knows, he would feel the same: helpless, worried for her, willing to try to support the necessity but unhappy about it. It would pull at him, something mildly draining. What would he want to hear from her, if things were the other way around?

His right hand settles lightly over the top of the one she has atop his knuckles, thumb swept across her skin. "I know, Zee. I promise you, the /moment/ it isn't necessary anymore, it's gone. And after what happened tonight…" His unanticipated shackling to the ground, the way the figures on the other end of the tether had exploited its presence to lock him in place. "…I'll try to keep my distance unless I have no choice." He looks up at her for long moments afterward, searching for some other reassurance, but that is — he thinks — all that he can give. He can only hope that it's enough.


The fact that things that shouldn't happen are in fact happening makes her uneasy, though to her infinite credit, Zatanna manages to quell the urge to fidget at it. It was acceptable enough, if she hasn't seen something like this happen before. But John has a decade of experience on her, and she knows that he hasn't stopped hunting for secrets ever since he decided that magic would be his lifepath, voracious consumer of information of all things occult and arcane that he is. The revelation that /he/ hasn't heard of such a thing, to her, is plenty worrisome and it manifests in the press of lips into a crimson line….but the firmness of it goes pliant again, when he tells her that there was nothing they could do for the Seraph, and the other bitter truth that follows, bastard or no.

The realization also, by the end. Her fingers tighten over his knuckles, over his wrist: "Did you intend to spare me from having to do it myself?"

Her mind replays the incident, the discomfiting feel of the tablet in her hands, the way he was suddenly there, savagely amputating the seraph's wings, tainted blood spraying all over his fingers and the collar of his dress shirt. How the Darkness consumed holy flesh so quickly that it didn't even have time to scream, and it would have, probably, because he wasn't being kind when he tore those appendages off. Had John not been able to free himself, would she have been able to do it? To do what was necessary? Her bowels knit, choking themselves somewhere in the deepest niches of belly. Now that they have distanced themselves from the events at the High Line, she can't say for certain.

"…what about the tablet?" she says, uncomfortably pushing the thought away. It is difficult, to wonder whether she would falter at such a pivotal moment. "You said we needed to return it…what is it? I felt it…/burrow/ in. To the very depths." Was the angel a sacrifice? Blood offering of a kind? She has never been shy about asking questions, especially of this nature; the things she handles and does while operating under his direction or supervision, or picking up where he left off, just as she had done this evening.

His eyes lift from their watchful traverse of the way her pale fingers chart absent pathways over his inner wrist. He'd find her own sweeping over his face again and her own is full of them - concern, yes, but that ever-present affection also, clear confirmation that if he had thrown her those stale, outdated nuggets, she would have no shortage of words. That she would have her own rocks and slings at the ready, twisting in her hands and ready to fire.

He doesn't though; he gives as much reassurance as he can, and to anyone who knows John Constantine, that is not nothing. Concern gives way to resignation and acceptance - determination also as she gives him a firm and resolute nod, a sign of her willingness to support it and shoulder the burden of whatever complications and dangers that brings them. It wasn't as if she would ever demand that he remove it and while she can profess her own degree of selfishness, matters such as these are too important that they make any demonstrations of it utterly impossible. She is Giovanni Zatara's daughter, and Giovanni Zatara has always done what was necessary. She can't, and doesn't, expect any less from the man she loves.

Silence follows, the space in between filling with aching tenderness, present within those large eyes and the way her lips ease away from that firm linear press. When she speaks again, her words are barely audible, but unlike earlier, there is no hesitation, as always so willing to communicate what lies within that vulnerable heart.

"I'm terrified, John."

Of what they're dealing with, and what they will have to bring other people into, once whatever it is could no longer run unchecked. What's inside of herself, the things she has discovered, the idea of freezing and being unable to act when things are their most dire. The thing on his wrist and the liability it represents, now that they know it /could/ be used for such a purpose. The sound of her name hissed through blackened teeth, of brittle bones cracking and derisive laughter followed by spitting, inhuman epithets. The eradication of existence, bits of cars just /disappering/ the moment the Darkness touched them.

But there's a smile. It is faint, but warm, and it touches those eyes.

"But I've been afraid before."

And she will deal with it the way she usually does.


He sees the realization play out across her expression, and curiously his own becomes guarded by a scant few degrees, enough to ensure that nothing displays itself on his face that he doesn't want there. It's a strange moment for his features to turn taciturn, but they do, and the wake of her question sees him crouched there in silence for moments longer than strictly necessary. "I don't know if there's a price for doing what I did. Putting a thing like that down, when it was a lost cause, anyway. There's no sense in taking chances, though. Your soul's got no stain on it. Why take the risk? An' as I said: we needed to see what you saw. It had to be reclaimed by the dark for that, and…" After a helpless silence, he shrugs, shadow playing over his bare shoulders. "You take the wings, they fall. It was the quickest way."

The buried truth, the sideways truth adjacent to the question she's asked, is that John hadn't been the only one interested in sparing her. John's celestial contact had made that point very clear; they could not anticipate what the corrupted viscera of an angel would do to her if it spilled over her skin when she lacks the symbol that John has embedded in himself, the thing that defends him against being consumed by the void.

He keeps that piece to himself…/for now/.

"The tablet's effective. It's simple and crude, but time's made it strong. It traces lines of power between things, and it chooses the strongest influence. That's why it feels so bloody awful; just holding it lets it start doing all of that /digging/. It's harmless on its own, but it's a bit like 'aving your nethers checked at a doctor's office. You'd really just rather not."

If it were not for the way she's holding his hands, he'd take the longer silence that chases his reassurances as a cue to rise, or at least find seating better than his temporary position beside her. Linked that way and in full view of the conflict that troubles the delicate lines of her face — her resignation, the weight of being made to bear that worry — he wouldn't dream of moving away from her. She looks at him with stark, expressive eyes full of poignant, wordless things — things he feels reverberate between them, in any event — and he lifts her hand and smoothly turns it over, raising it as though to place her fingers in a cradle against the side of his face. He doesn't, though: it's a movement designed to bring the tender inside of her wrist close, where he can press his mouth to the point of her pulse. His eyes lid, but they stay with her, and it's just as well that they do, because otherwise he might never have heard what she says, words formed on a mere mirage of a breath.

"I'd be worried if you weren't." He imparts the words to her skin, featherings of breath that vibrate with only the softest intimation of his voice. "You'd be mad not to be. It has its purpose. Fear. I always know when I'm most fucked up, because I stop feeling afraid of much of anything. But you're not alone, 'tanna. And if I had to put money on who might be able to put paid to this business before it gets out of hand — and I've got to put a hell of a lot more than that on it — I think the safe money's on us."

The way he lowers her hand into her lap again is painstaking, a slow trajectory that gives his left hand time to turn over, to fold her one hand between the both of his: warm, careful prisons, as capable of handling her fine-boned limbs with care as they were of shredding the wings from the back of a dying angel.

She never followed up with him about the other things she'd asked. Why he's with her. He hasn't, in spite of all appearances and distractions, forgotten; like many difficult things, he let that conversation drift off to one side to be neglected in the course of events.

The list is long, and it changes by the day, but situated there and looking up at the brave, small smile, the enduring warmth in it in spite of the high stakes, the terror and the peril, he's reminded of the conversation they didn't have, and it's altogether too easy to call to mind his litany of causes. Many reasons, but this one must sit high on the list, he thinks, that chain of thoughts changing the tenor of his expression and the feel of him across that silver thread. Warmth, depth. Solemn devotion, paired with an almost wry affection.

It's a lonely path, and few even have the means to walk it, much less the nerve, and fewer still the skill. She has all three — and, miracle of miracles, a heart capable of finding room for the difficult shape of him in it.

Why is he with her? How could he make that choice?

How could he /not/?


He seems to believe that her soul has no stain on it, and she can't help but wonder, privately, whether that's true - the nuances of a spirit's scales and balances are his area of expertise, but she hardly considers herself the kind of perfect creature that's able to leave it pristine. Certainly she's done things in her life that has tarnished its overwhelming luster, hasn't she? The question is there, evident in her eyes, but what she sees on his expression is nothing but certainty and when it comes to those matters, John is a master, considering how many times he's bartered with the denizens of both sides of the line. Still, doubt worms right into her gut - as much as she is constantly exhilarated by their excursions together, engaging in the Work as partners in occasions when John manages to curb his tendencies to be a lone operator, she knows that there'll be times in which John won't be there. She supposes that she'll find out, eventually, whether she'll balk or suck it up.

The way he describes the tablet has her furrowing her brows, paired with the slight wrinkling of her nose. She knows that time could destabilize a magical artifact, but the inverse is also true and she realizes that this is one of those instances where the rule goes the other way. It /does/ remind her, though, that she still has it, and she reaches with her spare hand to dig it out of her jacket pocket, feeling its influence worm its way through her again, digging into the very core of her. She quickly sets it on the table next to her laptop, and pushes it away from her. There's a faint shudder, he'd feel it given how his wrist is cradled with that one hand basketing his knuckles.

"Well, whoever wants it back is welcome to it," Zatanna says. "Though…hopefully we won't need it again." And if they do, then at least John knows from where and who to borrrow it from, but she is more than happy to send the thing as far away from her and her own as possible. Just looking at it makes her uncomfortable, and she tears her eyes away from the morbid fascination such a small, dangerous thing can hold to focus on his face instead. She doesn't ask where it comes from, or who, but really in the end, those questions are immaterial to the broadening picture before them.

He'd find no resistance when he changes positions, finding her hand lifted instead, his breath leaving a tingle on her skin. Her eyes lid at the press of his mouth against the pulsing center of her wrist - he's had a few weeks to rediscover that she has always been sensitive there, her heartbeat ticking faster at the gesture compounded with that lock of gazes. Even without the link, being this close, he'd be able to sense how much just one touch and that intensity unique to him profoundly affect her. How she finds it slightly galling, an insistent chafing against all her instincts keyed to her newfound sense of independence.

"No doubts, there," she concurs, a response to what he says about the two of them and the sordid business of possibly saving the world. "If not just because I'm determined to help get that thing off you and pretend we didn't have to rely on it in the first place." It's true that the world can't wait, but her involvement has seen it fit to include some hefty personal investments that she wants to see a return on. "Though I'm curious about what else you'd put on the table on that bet other than money."

She lets him do what he wills with her fingers, as always oh-so willing to follow. At the careful rest of her hand on her lap, the warm envelope both his fingers make on it, she curls her digits across his palm and holds. And while she tries not to dissect the feed of emotions coming from his end overly much, cognizant of his privacy even then, or perhaps all too accustomed to the habit of never prying, it is difficult not to notice the sudden warmth, the reciprocated affection - devotion so serious that she feels the weighty presence of a burgeoning knot at the back of her throat, rendering it difficult to swallow. She doesn't know what brings it on, the events of the evening having caused her to forget the bit that the evening started with.

So what he gets is a small laugh, her other hand lifting, to sweep back strands of gold-brown back with a butterfly-light touch, to make room for the warm damp of her mouth, resting lightly over his brow as she leans in.

"What did I do now?" she asks, inflection stamped with good humor, the sound, for the time being, banishing the burden of darker subjects.


What else would he put on that bet, aside from money?

"Everything," John says, in a tone of voice that lacks much in the way of inflection or emphasis, far too shallow a vehicle to represent the truth that it contains: he is — they are — gambling the world on their ability to push back against what's happening. This plane of existence, and nothing less.

He does not linger on the subject. He's learned the hard way that dwelling on the titanic stakes does nothing to prepare him for the moments of truth when they arrive, and serve only to sap valuable hours of sleep from a life that allows him little enough sleep as it is. And, in any case…

His eyes close ever-so-briefly as she presses that benediction to his crown, and when they open and lift again, some of the seriousness has been ousted with humor, though the warmth remains — amplifies, even, across their ephemeral bindings. Sharp blue eyes glitter, softened with all of the things he doesn't say. He rises, canting his head to take advantage of her lips in passing. "Nothing," is what he tells her, wry, aware of the vague simplicity of the remark and the way it counters the only other answer he had for her. He stands not because he wants to tear himself away but because the tablet is prying into the confusion of ley lines that nest around the flat, and the wobbles of energy are bound to be headache-inducing before long. Once he's extracted himself, he reaches for the relic, returns to the bookshelves, and tucks the artifact into the small, thrice-iron-bound chest, dropping the locks he extracted earlier through the rings that keep the whole affair closed. The unfortunate oscillation of magical energy in the space ceases almost at once. Each lock clicks audibly as he fastens them, spinning dials arrayed with complex symbols to scramble the combination. "If you find you need it, I borrowed it from the library under Studio Fifty-Four."

He pushes it back into the niche it occupied before their sudden call to arms, and then pivots, returns, extending a hand, palm downward, out to be taken. "That's the field trip, then. If memory serves, the next item on the agenda was /dinner/. I am /famished./" As usual, no matter how deeply grotesque the work becomes, John's stomach remains iron-clad, and absolutely insatiable.


He /has/ to know of the tether's existence. As she watches him, some degree of amazement becomes visible; not just that he hasn't addressed it, but he seems relatively fine with it being there.

But she is afforded little room to wonder about it, to pose her queries. Her head tips back, lips caught for a moment, but it doesn't linger and she watches him pack away the tablet in the chest, curious at the iron bindings and the dials, but when he identifies just where the thing comes from, realization sweeps over those delicate features immediately. "/Oh/," Zatanna replies. "Right…" It isn't as if she's forgotten that there was something underneath Studio Fifty-Four, but it has been a while since she's been there.

She seems to have forgotten about dinner also, until he brings it up - exercise has a way of divesting her of an otherwise monstrous appetite, in many ways still riding the spectral traces of her earlier battle high. But with all the magic she expended tonight, she knows she /should/ eat, and she reaches out to take his hand and levers herself back up on her feet. "I almost forgot," she confesses, shooting him a look. "To think I really thought I was going to have to spend an evening shoving seahorse bits with gold garnish into you. What /is/ all of that for anyway?"

Whether she wants to know is probably the better question to ask. The odds are fifty-fifty.

She ducks into his 'room' momentarily, returning with another clean dress shirt for him, which she hands off in passing. She finds her jacket and scarf again, doffing on both, moving to take a few steps to wherever the night leads them next. "Tacos," she decides. "Mama Sita's is great, though it's cash only. It's open late, Peter seemed to like it….Parker, not Quill. A friend of mine who goes to Columbia. It's in Queens."


'To think I really thought I was going to have to spend an evening shoving seahorse bits with gold garnish into you.'

John knits his brows around an obvious note of skepticism. "This is a lot of judgement coming from a woman who was standing in my kitchen decimating a box of raisins."

He extends his hand to take the shirt she brings, pulling it on and mulling over whether or not to delve into the details of just why it is that he was roaming Chinatown, buying poisons. "Elixir of Life," he says, finally. It is, and is not, an answer. "Amrit. Soma Ras, Aab-Haiwan, Dancing Water, Chasma-i-Kausar. The Pool of Nectar or Philosopher's stone. Mansarover." He flicks a wry look at her as he fastens his shirt buttons. "Uisce beatha! …That's whiskey now, but it does mean 'water of life.' There are about a billion things to call it, but they share common ingredients."

Shirt buttoned, he glances in the direction of his screened-off room and contemplates whether or not he cares enough to find another tie, eventually deciding against, though the lack of it is strange with all of the other elements of his attire in place. He fastens his cuffs, then lifts his coat and trails after her toward the brick wall that ripples aside at their approach, its exit located in the depths of Queens.

Nearing the threshold, he closes in enough to wind his arm around the back of her, and to all appearances in those moments they look like nothing more than ordinary citizens of the metropolis, out for a casual bite to eat. The slide between worlds is easy, effortless, and none of the weight of what they've done or may still have to do remains on his shoulders or in his gait, a lazy stroll that emanates satisfaction with his lot.

"Tacos it is," he says, affably, and then he blinks, aiming a dubious look down and sidelong at her. By the time he opens his mouth, the wall is already closing behind them. "…Though why you of all people would want tacos is a mystery to me. What's the point if you can't have meat or cheese? That's all Mexican food is, for Chrissake."


"That's why I go for the fish, so I wouldn't miss the cheese so much," Zatanna says, though she gives him a very resigned look that reminds him that she has maintained the idea that she had become a vegetarian against her will. Circumstances have doomed her to it.

With the flat behind them, a hand reaches out to tuck into his inner elbow, a pivot steering him to the right direction.

He isn't wrong about Mexican food, though, or what passes off as its facsimile on the continent's northern borders. The night air fills with her laughter, a sign that she is willing to leave the earlier events behind for the time being.

"Apparently you're supposed to differentiate them based on the kind of tortilla they come with. Corn for tacos, flour for burritos….fajitas too, I think. And…"

All of this supplied helpfully as they lose themselves in New York's endless traffic.

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