To Find Purpose and Meaning in Suffering

February 11, 2017:

After a few nights of wallowing in her heartbreak, Jessica Jones returns to Shadowcrest to apologize (needlessly) to Zatanna Zatara for her behavior, and asks her for a personal favor that takes the magician to the caustic investigator's past.

Shadowcrest, then Other Places

This log jumps locations from Shadowcrest, to Birch Street, to a cemetery.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Matt Murdock, John Constantine, Peter Quill, Bucky Barnes, Dr. Jane Foster, Red Robin, Kilgrave, Trish Walker

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Jessica had been too shame-faced to show up at Shadowcrest again right away. She'd actually called ahead when she had. Her emotions have been up and down after the trip to Bucky and Jane's…sometimes going back to despondent, sometimes just dully pushing forward, and sometimes, to her own surprise, finding reasons to be okay for a little while until she started thinking about Matt again, or, just as bad, her Great Shadowcrest Meltdown.

She goes looking for Kasim, because she figures that's the polite thing to do. To let him introduce her like a real guest or tell her where to find Zee. Being here puts an uncomfortable look of guilt on her face; she slinks like a naughty dog slowly approaching the back porch. But she's here, all the same, to try to offer something more than a poor excuse for a note.

—-

"Mistress Jessica," is Kasim's greeting, his baritone rolling over the syllables of her name. He offers to take her coat and things. "Mistress Zatanna is in the library, you can join her there if you like."

Once the woman heads up the spiral stairs and through the double doors flanked by floor to ceiling demon-and-angel statues, the private investigator would see the raven-haired magician poring over some old scrolls on the viewing table and carefully setting aside a few books, divided into two piles. The two groups are categorized, it seems, a stack that seems to be concentrated on alternate realities and states of being, the other more to do with traditions and places - social etiquette, laws across different magical cultures and even a more modern treatise on black market antiquities, which is more relevant to her field than anyone has the right to expect. The latter was probably something Tim would sink his teeth into rather eagerly as it outlines just how crime and magic intersect.

She's dressed, still, in sleepwear, suggestive of the fact that she did manage, finally, to get some sleep, her long, raven hair spilling in a curtain of tangled curls down the small of her back, clad in a sheer black robe hemmed with soft black feathers, and a spaghetti-strapped camisole with hems so short that they make her already long legs look downright endless. Now that she is in the confines of her own home for the first time since /forever/, she has celebrated her homecoming by wearing some of her favorite things - the entire suite set aside for her clothes alone is full of shiny, revealing things, the entertainer in her /loves/ to dress up, and her misadventures as of late have pushed her into wearing the more practical side of her designer wardrobe.

It's just as well that it's Jessica that sees her dressed this way, though, instead of any of her male acquaintances who would probably appreciate it more. She anticipates that even if John came to call, something would happen seconds before he stepped across her door to ruin her appearance, because it /always happens/. More than seventy percent of her interludes with John have involved her sweaty, bloody, gross or dying. The one man she wants to impress and she always looks less than put together. If he showed up at this very moment, her robe will probably, spontaneously turn into a flight of crows, camisole magically transformed into a pair of baggy sweats with holes in it.

There's no justice.

Looking up, she gives Jessica a smile. "Hey!" she says, slipping a rolled up sheet of parchment back into its scroll case. "It's good to see you, Jess." A more concerned look slips over her features. "How are you feeling?"

—-

She lurks awkwardly in the doorway, looking unimpressive in a grey flannel plaid shirt and black tank top, ripped jeans, old boots. The Jewel necklace does hang at her throat, a reminder that she's trying to be less of a piece of shit. Zatanna's warm greeting straightens her spine just a little bit; she had been expecting something…well, something less warm, certainly, after she'd screamed and carried on and made a mess of the mansion.

Sadly, she's the last person who is going to understand how great Zee looks; she just notes that Zee is wearing some clothes and stuff.

"Remorseful," is what Jessica Jones says. "I'm feeling remorseful. There was no excuse for me to behave like I did, barging into your home, harassing your guests, denting your walls, making messy scenes. No matter what was going on with me, that was not okay, and I hope I can make it up to you."

Her foot hesitates over the edge of the library, either because she does not want to go somewhere she shouldn't, or out of hesitation as to whether or not she should approach the young wizard even now. Her eyes are sincere, and so is her face, twisted up into a wince of an expression. She slides her hands awkwardly into her pockets and hangs her head a little.

—-

"Oh, Jess," Zatanna sighs. "Shadowcrest is my birthright but it's Daddy's house, and if you've been involved in the things he did, you'd be making sure that your abode can withstand the worst of what this world and other worlds can throw at it, especially when you have the power to do so. A few dents isn't going to make it unlivable, and I'm pretty sure Peter and the Guardians have done worst to it. I think the house has become fond of those that live here, really. I haven't heard any complaints…it's been empty for a very long time, all the noise and chaos are probably welcome."

Were it any other woman, these words would probably sound like an exaggeration. But it's the young magician, who almost always says what she means. And she's never really operated in the same wavelengths most others do, anyway.

She leaves the table at last, so she could come over and give the slightly taller woman a warm hug, her slender limbs curling around her neck. "Come on in, welcome to Daddy's inner sanctum. It's normally sealed shut unless I'm living in the house. Really, Jess, stop acting like a stranger, because you're not. I'll have Kasim bring up something. Coffee? Cheeseburgers? You name it, I'll have it sent for."

And just like that, she tugs the private investigator into this very important space.

"Besides, didn't I tell you? You need to wallow, Jess."

The space emanates its own energy - tranquil, peaceful, the place in the house in which a legend escapes to whenever he needs to. Shelves dominate the large expanse, extending up and up and up, with hanging stairways and displays full of artifacts. It looks like a library, yes, but a museum as well. A golden object, a glowing astrolabe on a pedestal, sits close to where the dodo named Abelard makes its home, nearby a mounted griffon's head with 'Chauncey' embossed on its personal nameplate. The sarcophagus that holds Hassan dominates the wall on the left, the mummy silent and decidedly not moving at the moment.

—-

"Coffee and a cheeseburger sound amazing." Jessica Jones loved anything cheap and filling. She was not a woman who wanted fancy wine and cheese; she wanted hamburgers, and Chinese takeout, Sal's Deli. She did have a palate: she loved Bahn Mi with just the right amount of crunch in the bread, the kind made lovingly by the hands that had passed those recipes down from mother to daughter or father to son. She hates Italian food on principle. But it's warming, knowing Zatanna has picked up on her love for the simple things, and she finally steps inside, reaching out to snag Zee in a one armed hug.

The strength is tentative and light again, brought under almost too much control now that she's sober, always afraid to either hurt others who did not deserve it…or frighten them.

"I guess when I told you I'd stick around always," Jess says wryly, "I did remind you I bring fantastically large buckets of shit. And I have been wallowing, I promise."

She chuffs a bit, finding that promise funny, because who promises something like that? But she did, and here she is. "Wallowing, and…basically just trying to distract myself and maybe remind myself that he's not the only thing going on in my life, and certainly…" here she turns shy, almost, clearing her throat.

Her heart aches for a moment, but this time it's not for Matt. It's for the realization that she's very lucky indeed, to have people in her life who look right at those buckets of shit, shrug, and pick them up to carry them with her. "…certainly not the only good person I know. Reminding myself there's all kinds of ways to love people." Now quick, move right past that before this gets all mushy. Zee can figure out she's loved from context, right? Right.

Now, she looks over the library with undisguised book hunger that might be surprising to anyone who had dismissed her as little more than an occasionally clever thug. Not that Zatanna ever had, but she is sure those individuals are out there. "Is there anything in here I could even understand?" she asks, real curiosity in her voice. "I keep picking up the least floofy of the New Age shelves, even knowing most of it is crap, just because sometimes it gives me context when you two start talking."

The tranquil energy is nice. If there's one thing she needs it's more tranquility. There's a subtle change in her posture as it seems to seep into her heart, move under her skin.

—-

'I did remind you I bring fantastically large buckets of shit.'

Zatanna stares at her incredulously. "….Jess, I'm in love with John Constantine," she points out. "You really think at this point large buckets of shit will scare me? I'll deal with it the way I usually do." And she emphasizes it by pressing her lips warmly on the private investigator's brow, before releasing her from her arms.

The other woman's words are halting, but the implications are clear, and the magician's lips curl upward faintly at that. "That there are," she acknowledges with a nod of her head. "Words I live by. I'm not going to lie, it's not easy. And half the time it hurts, but half the time, your experiences while you're in it are irreplaceable also." To describe how difficult would be impossible without seeing inside of her head, or without direct access to that large, vulnerable engine beating within her ribcage. Perhaps only John truly knows how much she struggles, though she outwardly makes it seem easy, and only because of their astral link - a silver thread of connection that develops between two mystics by chance; rare, impossible to duplicate or to manifest by spell or will, and will remain beyond their deaths.

Thinking about it now, it still amazes her that John has accepted its existence without triggering his usual tendency to set everything else on fire to escape a trap.

Watching that appreciative sweep of Jess' eyes, though, she grins. "There's plenty," she assures her. "Anything by Da Vinci is a good start. Daddy's a direct descendant. He had his notebooks translated into English, so the prose is formal, but direct. He was a scientist /and/ a magician, after all, and he's one of the very few mystics in his day who gave it straight. And if you wanted to borrow a few, I don't mind, so long as you take care of them and return them. I've sent a few off with Jane and Red already, though their fields of interest are more specialized. Jane's working with a quantum magician named Ritchie Simpson, an old friend of John's, and a pioneer on the field, and it's basically all about alternate states of being and realities. Red's more interested in the rules of the game, but that's not surprising. He's a detective. His interest really isn't in the magic but how to get around all this weirdness without making things worse or getting people killed."

She picks up one of the books on the desk, lifting it for her to see. "Like this one. It's not an ancient tome or anything, but it's written by someone in the community. About how antiquities are moved around in the international black market and how the occult sphere is involved in those transactions. Very relevant to his interests, I think."

—-

Jessica smiles and closes her eyes as Zatanna kisses her. She just holds it for a moment. The smile is sad and ragged and tired still, but so very genuine and warm.

"I suppose I have observed, from time to time, that John and I have our similarities," she says wryly. Though of the two of them, he is by far the more intelligent and subtle; one of the reasons why Jessica is content to let him call the shots in the field. No matter how uncomfortable he is with that.

"I met Simpson. I helped him move," Jessica agrees, fascinated. She runs her finger over a spine. "I'd love to borrow some. A Da Vinci notebook for sure…can you make copies maybe? Given I have an Aztec God and a Spider-Child living in my apartment…they destroy shit all the time and then try to fix it before I get home, and since they mostly do I pretend not to notice…and given I can't claim nobody will set things I own on fire…I would hate to be the person who lost something priceless. Red's interest is interesting but…I am not going to limit myself either. No knowledge is wasted. I've found many times the right stupid tidbit has been the thing that saved my ass."

It's why she'd spent a full 2 hours researching cheese before the gala.

"Granted, I need to research the actual black market before that one would help me. Believe it or not what I don't know about organized crime could probably fill a book that thick." It's why she'd accepted the skepticism of the Dark Dude when he'd given her the side-eye over offering her help.

"Do you have…Oh I don't know. Wards for Non-Magical Dummies: 25 Quick Ways to Save Your Ass in a Pinch, Even Without a Bone of Magic in Your Body?"

Now there's a winning, best selling title if anyone's ever heard of one. But while Red wanted the sophisticated and Jane wanted the theoretical, Jessica Jones wants tools she can use. It's an interesting study in the way each of Zatanna's friends think, she supposes.

—-

"Sure, I can easily make copies."

Zatanna wanders in further, gesturing for Jessica to follow, closer to the heart of the space where her father's desk and a circle of comfortable couches and chairs reside. The double doors open, with Kasim wheeling a cart laden with an espresso machine, and a plate full of cheeseburgers and a few fixings, like pickles and fries. There's also a large salad bowl and a large pitcher of ice water with lemon slices floating at the top. These are set to the side, before the broad-shouldered, Hindu man bows to them and vacates the space to give them privacy.

The young magician knows precisely where to look for the books Jessica mentions. Shadowcrest's library is large, but this space has practically raised her, left to while away lonely, evening hours while she waited for her father to get home from some urgent excursion or another….when she had been too young to take along for those adventures, and even then, he kept her away from his most dangerous ones. She finds Da Vinci's collection, drawing out a few of those translations.

"My Criminal Justice class in the University covered a few chapters on organized crime," she says, glancing at Jessica. "Maybe take a night class or two on procedure? There are programs in New York like that all the time, I think."

The last query gives her pause. "I think there might be some. Hedge magic is something anyone can do, though against serious sorcerous firepower, they might not do much but give you time to get away." She wanders into another section, deft pale fingers dancing over the spines. "Hedge magic is like…a cookbook for the home chef. So long as you follow the recipe to the letter it works." She finds a thin manual on basic wards, which she shows to Jessica - it has a blue cover, with a pentacle embossed on it in silver.

"The most basic protection spells I know involve candles, cardboard or a length of white ribbon, to reflect ill will against you back on the caster. That kind of thing. I think that's probably your speed, yeah? Basic day to day items?"

—-

Kasim clearly has reasons to believe Jess is the type to be dehydrated.

He's not wrong.

Jessica shoots him a thankful smile and pauses to fix herself a cheeseburger with all the fixings, though she wraps a napkin around it to catch anything that might be a problem to the library. A cloth napkin, more's the pity for the cloth, but…it is what it is.

She takes some of the water and drinks it down too before following Zee; she'll get more of that in a bit.

"Thanks," she says, with her mouth a bit full. She's suddenly ravenous, in a way she hasn't been for about two, maybe three days now.

Yeah. Fuck you broken heart. Jessica Jones is going to eat this cheeseburger and LIKE IT, thanks!

"That's a good idea," Jessica says, and means it, when Zatanna suggests the courses. One bright spot in the Stilt-Man affair is she suddenly is getting lots of paying work. She can afford to do stuff like that, suddenly. Well. That and because Red subsidized her rent.

She feels a flash of shame. She'd owed it to him not to drink again.

Well, she'll make her amends later.

"Most forms of self-defense don't do much more than let people get away, if they're smart," Jessica points out quietly, eagerly. She reads the recipe, trying to decide how simple it is to follow. "I'd definitely like a copy of this one," she says. "Yes. Basic day to day items. Stuff I can carry on me especially. That's perfect, Zee. I can't keep coming to you and John to renew protections on me every time we jump into the mystical fray, and from what John's told me about all this…wrongness…well. I don't want to be a liability to you two. Maybe I am priding myself on being marginally useful." She gives a flash of a fast smile. She doesn't touch the book, hands full of cheeseburger, but since she's taking copies that's no problem.

And then her traitorous brain pipes up, and the words sort of filter to her mouth. "Maybe…make a second copy? In Braille?" Oh god, there goes her heart, there goes her stomach. She definitely takes a bite of the cheeseburger. It is too good to waste on feeling the need to crumple again. Her face takes on a kind of fixed, shining eye determination.

—-

As Zatanna watches Jessica Jones consume a cheeseburger in front of her in record time, there is no judgment. There is even a very potent, not-too-subtle look of sympathy there. Because she has perfected the art of stress eating, and some part of her is actually kind of glad that someone else she knows pigs out in the face of stress or a broken heart. Look, a girl can get a complex while surrounded by superhero bodies all the time. Her best friend's a member of the world's most unforgiving vigilante boot camp, after all.

She takes a pickle from the cart ('PICKLES AREN'T FOOD EITHER', she hears Chas' exasperated voice in her head), chewing on the wedge as they wander in between shelves, to supply Jess with the basic knowledge that she needs. "Anything more than that and you'll need a power source," she tells her. "Some people are born with inherent magical power. Those who don't but want to be part of the world tend to go out and seek how to grab some for themselves, for good or for ill. But the human will, intention on its own, is a potent magical instrument as it is, so theoretically anyone can do magic, so long as they know how. The potential is just different in everybody."

There's a nod; of course. Were she in Jessica's shoes, she would be doing no less. She finds another manual, and includes it in the growing stack cradled against her. "You're hardly a liability to us, Jess, though I can understand why you'd want to arm yourself. Because you're not dumb." She winks at her there. "But seriously, you and Red's ground-level insight is pretty valuable for the likes of me and John. We're surrounded by this…" She gestures to the shelves. "All the time that sometimes we can't help but tunnel vision into the things we do. And the two of you have officially supplied us with the most information on our current troubles than everyone else. That's not nothing."

Mention of the 'wrongness' though, has her pausing. "John told you a little bit, then?" she asks. "Not just with…Germany but. The white noise in the mystic radar?"

The request about converting a couple of them in Braille has her smiling faintly - not just out of the sheer consideration, but that Jess clearly has not decided to cut Matt out of her life out due to his rejection of her. "Of course," she says. "I hope he finds it helpful."

—-

Jessica licks mustard off her fingers and goes back for the water. Sadly, super-hero physique has blessed her as well, through no valor of her own. Given her drinking habits she should rightly weigh nearly 300 pounds instead of her normal 120. But her body just metabolizes everything like crazy. It's the same reason she has neither liver disease nor cancer from her stint as a smoker. Her body just conspires to keep her in peak shape no matter what she does to it. "I don't want or need extra power," Jessica says fervently.

She grins softly at the compliment. "Well, thanks. It has been useful sometimes…sometimes cross-referencing what you guys do versus what I do…it works out. It's taken a lot of both I think."

But Zee can see it, the way that the simple words straighten Jessica Jones' spine just a little.

Her mental landscape is still a desert really, a place with cracked earth where positive things are trying to grow. Every splatter of rain matters in those kinds of equations.

"He did," she says. "He said he had some people to shake down soon; I agreed to watch his back and/or slam some of them against the wall on his behalf. Or on yours, for that matter, but I figured the crawling into seedy places and shaking people down part of the plan was probably all him."

"Or that it doesn't upset him cause he's Catholic, but he's seemed open-minded," Jessica says softly, relieved Zee doesn't just call her on it. She drains more water. "I…told him we were still friends. That means being a friend." She grimaces. Her fucking heart actually hurts. A broken heart is really a thing. She'd never known. But it's hurting now, the literal organ is hurting, something her physiology just can't touch. She's unlikely to die from it, but she can feel it, and it baffles her.

God, on to something else.

"I…had another favor to ask of you, actually. Once you've made the copies, if you're not busy…"

Really, Zee could take them anywhere in a heartbeat, right?

This is painful stuff too.

But stuff she needs to do. "I know I have no ri— " She cuts herself off. Zatanna has already expressed she doesn't need this self-effacement from her. She tries to honor the other woman's choice by not launching into how she has no right to ask for favors.

—-

"Please take care of him."

Any other woman would fly off the handle. Say not without me he's not and grab his tie and shake him, shriek about how dare he venture off into dangerous territory and make arrangements with someone else who wasn't her. But John has been a lone wolf operator for a very long time, and the fact that he has asked for back up is noteworthy in ways that would surprise anyone who has had the years of knowing the British magus. There are only a few of those left, and Zatanna is one of them, and she is not about to discourage this. Besides, how could she demand for him to respect her independence and not respect his? Especially when he's been doing this a decade more than she has?

Not to say she doesn't worry. She does. Constantly. But she made her choice, to shoulder the burden and share the responsibility in whatever wreckage they might become together.

"John's constantly embroiled in dangerous business, so I'm glad he's got some muscle looking after him. Normally, he brings Chas, and Chas is…unique…in his own right, but he's definitely not super strong or durable, nor can he leap across whole city blocks in a single bound in case a quick escape is necessary. I'm glad you're going with him for these shake-downs, some of them can be extremely violent." His past dealings with Papa Midnite, for instance, have had her hairs standing on their ends for days.

She gestures for Jess to follow her back to the table, so she can eat some more, and she can make copies of these precious books - easily done, and perfectly distinguishable, as the copies she makes have white covers, and additional ones for the manuals in Braille. She hands them to Jessica to put in whatever bag she has brought. She tucks her obsidian obelisk back into the pockets of her robe.

The words regarding another favor has her turning her ice-blue eyes to Jess, though her expression flattens emphatically when she starts on yet another avenue of self-effacement. Thankfully, she stops, but she confirms it anyway: "You have every right," she points out. "Anything you need, Jess. I meant what I said to you before."

—-

'Please take care of him.'

"I'll protect him with my life, and it's my honor to do so. You and John are important to me, Zatanna," Jessica says, with grim solemnity. "You know I'd take a bullet for you, well. Know I'd take one for him too. And I ain't bulletproof. That's one gift I didn't get." She got to learn that one when the Milano got attacked, though she was still lucky enough to just get grazed.

She doesn't get into why she feels so strongly, but she does, and that's that.

"I just hope I won't upset Chas. I like him. I don't want him to feel like I'm trying to take him away from his best friend." Jessica frowns thoughtfully. Should she talk to him? "Or…will he kind of be glad to get a break from that?"

Jessica's appetite is gone, but she goes back for more water. She ignores the salad. That is not food.

She takes them and puts them in her laptop bag, which she carries with her more often than not; she needs it for work. It's a good place for the books. Her fingers linger over the Braille book for a moment, but she then puts it away and quietly closes the clasps on her bag to deal with another day.

"I know you did," Jessica says softly. "And am grateful. I…would like to go back to my old house on Birch Street and get permission from the owner to walk around. It…kept coming back to that old bedroom. That's the first place I ended up in the nightmare realm too. There, K— "

She stops short. She doesn't want to talk about Kilgrave in her kitchen. Or Kilgrave at all. She'd relaxed too much, and while she's willing to lean on Zatanna more than she ever could have predicted, she's not emotionally capable of going back to that story. Not today. Not while the words 'damaged goods' are eating at the deep dark portions of her soul, and not if it could make Zee cry the way it had made Jane cry. That story could do little more than damage Zee, and other than passing her secret to John so it would not destroy them all she saw no productive reason to go there.

It wasn't the point of the favor anyway.

"Someone else was there. But the fact that it turns up in both my nightmare world and my fantasy world tells me I need to get closure. I need to go back there and see that the furniture is someone else's furniture now. My old stupid posters are not on those walls. The pictures are all gone. Some other family lives there now, and it isn't part of my story today anymore. I might need help convincing the homeowner. And then…then I'd like to grab some flowers and go to my family's graves. I…have never been. I know where they are. But they were a year buried by the time I came out of the coma, and Trish's mom would never let me go, and after it had been years I just…didn't go. I felt like it was all my fault, that they were in the ground because I threw a Gameboy. In a way the nightmare helped with that…with an adult's perspective I could see my Dad needed to stop worrying so much about bickering in the back seat and worry more about keeping his eyes on the god damn road but…for the longest time that's how I saw it. I threw a Gameboy, and people died. I want to wish them well wherever they are, and tell them I love them for real, as best I can. And…if you'd go with me and hold my hand for that I'd…really like that. I can't ask Trish…I'm always nervous if I talk about my old life she'll think…I dunno, think that I'm sad to have her, which is stupid, but she might think it."

She claps her teeth shut, realizing she's spilled all this emotional shit in one great rush.

—-

"Chas is whatever John needs him to be," Zatanna tells Jessica. "Because he knows him so well that he can just divine John's reasons by a few words or just looking at him. Honestly, I'm kind of jealous that they have that kind of connection. Would certainly make my life a little easier if I understood him the way Chas does." So well in fact that oftentimes, it is Chas that interprets John's reticence, whenever that is necessary. Whenever things fall through the cracks in communication. "Anyway, it won't upset Chas. If anything he's probably happy that John's network expanded a little here, that he can rely on people who don't get injured or die too easily. You've seen how dangerous our world gets, that kind of stress breaks connections. He's probably really relieved that John's found people who are willing to stick around."

That is rare, too, for a girlfriend to confess to that kind of jealousy, or even admit to someone else that she isn't the one person in the world who understands the man she loves the best. But that was also her all over, as always a slave to the truth, as much as she can, no matter how much it nags at her.

She waits quietly, attentively, soaks up the words that Jessica communicates to her. She had done her best not to look into those damning portal-windows, to tread into what could be the darkest hopes and wishes of two people she cares about, because that was never her way. They are not mysteries that need solving, and she would rather slit her own wrists than treat other people that way. If anything, she would rather be let in freely, and now that the private investigator is offering more of herself to her, she embraces this opportunity to get to know her better, to take a look at the contents of her heart.

When Jessica finishes, the young magician's face has softened considerably. "Of course I'll come with you," she says quietly. And hold her hand, do all of those things. Judging by her expression, she would know immediately that she didn't even have to ask. "As for Trish…maybe one day, you can. When you're ready. She's been with you for most of your life, well before any of us came to the picture. I know you only keep her away because she's the one person you can't stand to chase away from you…but if she loves you as much as I suspect she does, that won't happen."

A smile lifts the corners of her mouth. "Alright, well, let me get changed. Meanwhile, see if you can dig out a picture or a Google maps streetview thing of your old house. I'm going to need it to get us there."

With that, the young woman does just that. She goes and change, returns clad in her signature, designer blacks, though she has slowly started including some color to her otherwise gothy ensemble. Her scarf today is a deep, sapphire blue that only enhances the striking-unsettling color of her eyes.

It takes a flick of her obelisk and a few words to take them from Shadowcrest to Jessica's old house. Through a rush of cold wind, they'd find themselves standing on pavement, on a familiar sidewalk and a house. Normal, ordinary. A hand reaches out to rest lightly on the other woman's back, but she will let her go first. She is there for support, after all. She will let Jessica lead.

—-

Jessica had listened to Zatanna's remarkable openness, respecting it. That's really how she knows those two will last. Because if someone wants to be with you, she figures, they'll be with you. If they wanna be with someone else, they're going to do that. And there's nothing you can do about it either way.

She respected anyone who could let people make their own choices.

But by the time Zee was back, Jessica had indeed pulled up a streetview on her phone.

For a moment she just stands there on the sidewalk in the snow next to Zee, staring at the street that is the first in her line of mental defenses. Finally she swallows and takes resolute steps to the doorway, knocking thrice.

A nice professional Korean man answers, blinking at them in some confusion.

"Hi," Jessica says.

And then she gets no farther, her throat closing over, her eyes brimming suddenly. She looks at Zee quickly in a panic. The woman who has talked or broken her way into a dozen ridiculous situations or more can't simply look at this man and say what she needs to say to gain them entry into his very nice home.

Her old home.

—-

The magician glances at Jessica, sees panic sift over her expression. Zatanna lifts a hand to touch hers gently, before giving the Korean man a smile - stageworthy, with teeth like stars bursting over a crimson horizon.

"I'm so sorry to bother you," she tells the man. "But this is my friend, Jessica, and she grew up here in this house. She's lived abroad for a few years now and she just moved back to the States and we were just walking past to get to some place else, but she got nostalgic. I was the one who convinced her to knock on the door and see if the previous owners would let her see her old house."

There is a pause, and she puts on her most cajoling face. Ice-blue eyes widen slightly, her lips growing a touch more pliant. Her smile gentles at the corner.

"Please? It's her birthday today, also, and she was just telling me about how she had so many amazing childhood memories here. It would mean so much to her. We won't take long, I promise."

—-

Dimly, Jessica realizes Zatanna has a great head for pretexting.

"Hey, you're Zatanna Zatara!" the resident says suddenly, snapping his fingers and smiling, apparently convinced they're not just trying to rob him by the fact that it's two women, and one of them is someone he recognizes. Apparently he's a fan."Sure, come on in." And then he's stepping aside and letting them in while Jessica shoots Zee a relieved look and enters.

The walls are a different color. That's the first thing Jessica notices. She moves slowly to the hallway where the pictures were, finding the man with his wife and one small, very adorable little girl, which makes a ghost of a smile pass over her lips. The kitchen has been renovated. Different cabinets. The furniture is all very masculine and modern, not at all like the aesthetic her mom had preferred.

She waits for Zatanna before moving up the stairs.

"My room," she says softly, pushing the door open. She takes in a guest bedroom, wholly impersonal, not at all a domain that a young product of the late 90s would have enjoyed spending time in. She chuffs a laugh.

Then she stops before a closed door. "This…this would have been my baby brother's room," she adds softly. She pushes the door open to reveal a Frozen-themed bedroom with a ginormous Barbie dream house. Her face tightens as she stares at it, reaching now for that hand she'd said she'd need. She squeezes, though never hard enough to so much as bruise, and lets out a long breath. A few small tears leak out of the corners of her eyes, but it is, at least, not the wild messy sobbing of the other night.

She sniffles them back up.

And says the obvious. "He's not here."

It's obvious, and an odd thing to say, but…perhaps it conveys what matters anyway, a confirmation of the things that do.

—-

"Yeah! That's me, Mistress of Magic! You a follower?" There's surprise there, considering Zatanna hasn't performed in a while, but her Youtube channel is still popular, and Arnie's busy putting together some sort of comeback tour. A hand extends for a shake. "It's nice to meet you, Mr….?"

She does, but is that so surprising? As honest as the young woman is, she is a performer who specializes in misdirection and deception, and while these skills are typically confined on stage, they tend to come out to play when she is prompted to deliver the performance of a lifetime. It has helped on many occasions - the last four months by herself has driven her into circumstances where she often has to pretend to be someone else (like impersonating a nun in Madrid, but that is another tale for another time). And she does know how to spin a story, tapping into her creative, imaginative mind.

The young woman lets Jessica wander in, chatting up the friendly Korean owner, but it isn't long when she's retracing her steps back to the private investigator, making the rounds with her in this converted space. Old, familiar, but ensconced in the trappings of a fresh and different life. Ice-blue eyes watch her friend carefully as they head up the stairs, to bear witness to this very personal tour of Jessica's old life. Silently, she reaches out a hand, in time for Jessica to do the same, as if connected so intrinsically to this one purpose that this coincidence happens naturally, to lace her fingers into the other woman's.

She gives her hand a squeeze.

"What was he like?" she asks quietly. "I tried to ignore what was happening in the portal-windows. I'm…you know me. I'm confrontational and I always say what I feel, but I always wait for someone to let me in. So even if…I could've, I didn't. Tried not to, because I'd rather hear about all this from you."

—-

"Park," the man says, shaking her hand enthusiastically. "Sam Park."

And chat he does, going on about the last show he saw, how much his wife really loved it, and his little daughter. He speaks of specific tricks that he especially loved, and seems happy to just shower her in his appreciation.

"It's appreciated," Jess says, in response to the comment about waiting to be let in. "Though I wouldn't have been mad if you'd seen something you couldn't help seeing. I don't know, it wasn't all horrible to see. It just sort of showed me who I could be if I tried, even if I found that specific vision was no longer right."

Jessica considers the question, though, about her baby brother. "Phillip? He was a little know-it-all," she says, fondly, softly. "Always commenting on anything I did too. Jessie's being slow. Jessie's just being dramatic."

Nobody really calls her Jessie anymore. "But he was a smart kid. A sweet kid, under all of it. The comments were his version of the family sarcasm. I don't know if he'd have grown all the way into it. Probably. I mean he was probably going to turn into a teenager eventually." She looks down. "God, that stupid toy seemed so important at the time. I was so mad that he wouldn't just leave me alone for half a minute; I was about to level or something stupid like that. But I guess that's brothers and sisters." Knowing Zatanna was an only child, she adds, "Just…you bicker over everything. It's all a territory battle. Attention, objects, space, each other's business. But you love them too. I mean that was how it was with him and me."

She pulls the door gently shut, listening to the soft click. "Let's get out of here before we wear out Mr. Park's welcome."

But fortified, she squeezes Zatanna's hand one more time and goes to thank him, less paralyzed about that part.

She'd trust Zatanna to get them to the graves after pulling up a Google map of that too. She had realized flowers in February were dumb, so she just sort of skipped that, staring down at the remains of the Jones family. She looked for a long time before she simply placed a hand on each one.

She doesn't seem to mind Zee hearing what she has to say though.

"I'm still working on it, guys," is what she says at last. "I'm still trying to do my best to make you proud. To make this all mean something."

She looks up at Zee.

"That's the stuff I keep thinking about lately," she admits. "How all this bad shit swirling around sometimes…gives us the tools to save people too. To help them. It's nothing any of us would have chosen…all this stuff we all have in our past, but…sometimes, when I'm not feeling too shitty to see it, I think about how maybe it's because…because we were all strong enough to bear it so others wouldn't have to, that we could stick our hands in those fires and withdraw the sword inside and use it right…and as long as we're more or less using it right, the fact that there was a fire at all, those burns…that has some meaning. It's just…something I think about."

—-

There's a smile, but a sad one, when Jessica recalls her little brother - a young life cut down all too soon. Her mind wanders back to John's own lectures, about Fate, how everything else is bound up by it. How it is a Wheel, occasionally influenced by the choices human beings make, but always set in motion by the needs of the universe at the time. She can't help but wonder whether there had been any compelling choices on that day of Jessica's life - enough to provoke the Wheel into deciding something else other than allow the destruction of her family. Knows, deep down, that there probably wasn't. After seeing what the woman is capable of, now, Zatanna knows that the universe needs Jessica Jones the way she is.

"I wish I could have met him," she says, softly. Because she means it. In another life, maybe they could have.

At the investigator's own urging, she follows. She signs an autograph with Sam Park, takes a selfie with him to show his little daughter and wife. At some point, it'll find its way on her iDoL feed, but not for a couple of hours yet. She follows Jessica out of her old house in K-street, and towards the sidewalk. After a glance at the Google streetview of the cemetery in which her family is buried, it takes but her obelisk and a whispered word to take them there.

There are many who hate visiting graveyards, but Zatanna is not one of them. Death is a part of life, the end of a journey and given her own transient living, she can appreciate the poetry that comes with the end of one. Final, yes, but a celebration also of a kind, because the last reminders of the lives buried under the dirt are often manifested by the words that the people they've left behind have chosen to commemorate them. Some are truthful, some are fiction. 'Loving husband and father' may not have been the reality while the deceased was still among the living, but it is a reflection of how the survivors choose to remember that departed soul and that is not nothing, also.

She is quiet when Jessica addresses the graves; in any other time, she would be letting the person she was with say her piece in private, but since Jessica needs her by her side, she remains exactly where she is, hand threaded into hers and her ice-blue eyes taking in the names and dates embedded on the gravestones. Her quiet confession has her turning her head to look at her friend, and those pale digits tighten on hers once more.

"Yeah," she tells her quietly. "The human heart is stronger than anyone gives it credit for. Not to say that there aren't times when I think Life doesn't give a person any more than he or she can handle. That's just not true, I've seen people break." Memories of dark rooms and John's twisting body surface, unbidden, queued by the words. "But I've seen broken people keep moving forward also. Not because they believe they're just that strong, but because they're all the more determined to find meaning and purpose in all of their suffering."

Her eyes find the graves again. "Not many can do that, though," she says softly.

—-

Jessica stands, and holds Zee's hand, and listens to what she has to say. She looks at the graves with her, watches the snow fall against their clothes, and thinks about how someday, they, too, will be gone, both of them, no matter how hard she'd like to deny it or fight to make it any other way. Maybe they'd survive in some form or another, or maybe they wouldn't. Maybe she'd go exchange jokes with John in Hell while Zatanna looked down on both of them from Heaven and shook her head. Maybe God would have mercy on her and John alike, and he'd give 'em a pass. Maybe they'd be spun out into other lives, to learn other things, to do other things, to find meaning, to dance to the song of Fate one more time.

She didn't know. She had met gods of two different pantheons on one form or another, had seen the exact ways in which her hurts or scars had translated into one of the keys to unlocking the doors of victory, and had literally no explanation for it. Her parents had been Methodists, but the real truths seemed both simultaneously so much breathtakingly bigger than the old Doxology would allow for, and at once so much more simple than anyone dreamed, when taken out and examined one at a time.

"I don't blame anyone who breaks," Jessica agrees. "Sometimes at the time you can't help it, and sometimes the damage is so bad that the breaking never really ends. But…if you're lucky enough to get free of whatever's breaking you, well, that's when you get choices again. And there's nothing more precious than that. Choice."

She's ruminating, teasing this out of her own thoughts slowly, sharing them with this sister of her soul who helped to mend some of her own broken places.

"And I guess, seeing as I've got choices…I guess I can still keep choosing who I want to be."

She finally looks at Zatanna at last and squeezes her hand, a silent signal that she's ready to go, even as she finishes her thought. "I choose to be that," she decides. "I don't know if I'll always find it, but…that's what I choose to be. The person who keeps looking for purpose in the dark."

She turns to face Zee, and leans over to press a gentle kiss to Zatanna's forehead, much as the younger woman had done for her.

"Thank you."

—-

"You've always had a choice." Zatanna tilts her head up to look at the skies above them. "I told Red recently that free will is probably the most powerful magical instrument given to mankind. The only thing that can convince the Wheel to turn a different way, when the choice on the table is compelling enough." Turning her eyes back to Jessica, her lips quirk upwards in a faint grin. "I'm not even going to pretend that I'm wise - it's not in me to tell someone older than me how to live her life. So I don't know if I can tell you whether the choice you're making is the right one…but nobody knows you better than yourself. And as your friend, I'll trust it wholeheartedly."

She squeezes her hand; lashes drift shut at the affectionate token pressed on her forehead. When the investigator pulls away, the magician is beaming at her, with her eyes like lightning, and a smile full of stars.

"Anytime," she says.

Tugging on that hand, she takes a couple of steps backward. "Come on," she says, letting go of her hand, but only to swing her arm around her shoulders instead.

"Let's go get some food. I know this amazing taco place in Queens."

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