Exercise Due Caution

March 20, 2017:

Jessica Jones catches up with Zatanna Zatara in Shadowcrest Manor, as well as asks her for her aid in an unusual, magic-related case.

Shadowcrest Manor - Crest Hill - Bristol - Gotham

The ancestral home of the Zatara family.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Trish Walker, Grymalkin, John Constantine, Bucky Barnes

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Jessica had wanted Zee and John to get proper rest before she began visiting them. There was also the matter of casework that had sat neglected. And she knew Zee probably had school work she wanted to do too. But eventually she gets antsy to make sure the young witch is okay; she wants to see her hale and whole and good again.

Thus, she finally hopped a train to Gotham, pulling on her spare jacket over an old blue and black flannel shirt with a soft black tank top, and an older pair of jeans. Fate willing, she was not going to get shot at on the train or walking from the train, and if she did her only remaining un-ruined bulletproof jacket would have to do. New boots click-clack across the hall; she actually hangs the coat up after digging her phone out of it. This was her second home for a couple of weeks; she still relates to it that way. A safe place. One of the first places, in fact, she ever felt safe, when one gets right down to it. It's thus a balm to her soul to be here for other reasons too, for shadows have returned to her eyes, and a grim cast to her face. She catches sight of it in the mirror outside the library and stops. The burn mark on her face is nearly gone save for one little livid red spot. But she's always getting scrapes, cuts, bruises and other things that come and go quickly. She takes a deep breath and lets it out, centering herself, not wanting Zatanna to see the thing that's crawling about the back of her head today riding shotgun on her expression. Find the void, Bucky had said, and Jessica doesn't, but she does compartmentalize it.

Whether or not this will be enough for someone so empathic, Jessica couldn't say. But she focuses on the good for a moment. Zee is alive. Zee is safe. Zee is not trapped in Hell. That, at least, brings the smile she needs to make her way into the library. She has come bearing gifts for Zee, too, but…not food, like she brought to John. She felt inspired to bring something else; something that rides in her pockets.

"Knock knock," she calls softly, much as she had for John…though John had gotten jovial instead of soft. Zee gets soft because Zee might be working on something delicate in that library, and Jess doesn't want to startle her.

—-

"Come in."

Zatanna's voice sounds strange; like different cadences to the young woman's usual contralto layered over one another, rippling over the walls and floors of this most sacred of spaces within Shadowcrest's heart. Once Jessica slips in, the double-doors shutting behind her, she'll find out why.

In the middle of the circular space in the very back of the library, furniture pushed away, is the raven-haired magician. Seated crosslegged in the middle of the carpet fashioned as a stylized rose over rich, dark hardwood, blue-white wisps of energy swirl around her while her eyes are closed. It could be a ritual, or something else entirely - meditation, perhaps. Her eyes are closed and she's dressed down in her typical, fashionable sleepwear; a satin chemise spun out of black silk with spaghetti straps, and a Chinese-style robe left open and embroidered with a black dragon with silver thread. Her hair is pulled back in that loose topknot that she favors, stray tresses framing her face.

It will not be apparent until Jessica shifts closer, but the young lady is also hovering an inch or two from the surface of the carpet, fingers curled loosely on her knees. Her eyelids flicker, irises moving fitfully under the shutters they make.

She doesn't explain what she is doing. Once she's ready, she slowly lets go; the glow she is radiating recedes until it seems to emanate from underneath her pale skin and that, too, eventually fades. Her body settles fully on the ground and she opens her eyes after that. Standing up, she pulls her robe around herself, belts it on the slender taper of her waist. A small grin finds her lips, bare feet padding over to Jessica before arms wind around her in a quick hug.

"You're a sight for sore eye— " Her ice-blue stare widens at the state of Jessica's face. "What the— Jess, what happened?!"

—-

The sleepwear is pretty enough that even Jessica notices. For a moment she just admires it, the look on her face weirdly feminine (for her). When…did she start noticing clothes? Damn it, Trish.

She smirks to see Levitating Zee though, dark eyes sparkling. It just…brings a spark of warmth, for reasons she can't even begin to express. It helps to chase a shadow or two out of her eyes. It's the sight she wanted to see, the sight she fixated on for all those weeks, one of two: Zee, just…being Zee, vibrant and alive and ever-striving. Whatever it is Zee is about, whether it's a spell, meditation, or simple self-improvement, Jessica knows that it's purposeful.

And then she's being hugged. Zee offers quick. Jessica sort of bear hugs her before letting go in embarrassed fashion. Not hard enough to break her or anything, but it's…definitely a heartier hug than Jess hugs have been in the past. A hug that communicates hours of love directed Zee's way while the girl was missing, and the intensity of her relief at getting to hug the girl one more time. "Sorry," she adds, flushing. After all, Zee offered quick…so she should have accepted quick and moved on. Her consciousness of touching anyone for any reason without permission remains in tact.

And then Zee picks up on the one thing she was trying to downplay right away. Foundation. She should have worn foundation. Damn it. Zatanna Zatara misses nothing. Jessica's brow furrows just a hint.

"It's fine. It's already healing." Jessica says, waving it away. "It'll be gone by tomorrow." It's irregularly shaped, though, like a birthmark. A burn mark, however little is already left of it. "Just a little injury I picked up the other night on a paying case." An injury that would have exploded her head had it gone two milimeters to the left. Shadows flicker through her eyes again, but she smiles past them.

She digs into her pocket, bringing out a small white box with a little silver bow tied on the top, obviously professionally wrapped, because if Jess had wrapped it the thing might well have ended up carefully concealed in a page from The Daily Bugle.

"I brought you a little welcome home present," she says. Shyly, like she's not sure how this is going to be received, as one unaccustomed to giving gifts, primarily because other than Trish she's never had anyone to give them to…and Trish, for the most part, is someone she knows like the back of her hand, someone she can give gifts to without really having to concern herself with how they'll be received. Gifts of food are a little different, but Zatanna has access to just about any food she wants here in Shadowcrest, given the fantastic cheeseburger spread Jess herself had enjoyed on a day that seemed…really a lifetime ago, now. This level of sentimentality also might have made John truly uncomfortable— after all, even sentimental words were uncomfortably received— whereas with Zee, she can offer just a little bit more.

—-

The bear hug lifts the young woman off the floor, and Zatanna's arms tighten; she manages to laugh, surprise and pleasure accentuating the sound. "Woof! Well, I'm glad to see you, too!" she says with a laugh. "Is that a blush? Oh my, /Jessica Jones/. I didn't know you actually /had/ blood vessels on those cheeks!" Anyone else would pretend not to notice it, but given the young woman's mischievous streak, /of course/ she would call attention to it instead.

Jessica's dismissive note on her injury has her furrowing her brows at her. "Well…yeah I figured you were working." She has long since accepted that those closest to her would always be mired in some manner of dangerous Work or another, but her natural tendency to worry is difficult to shake. "I mean that's one of the reasons why I retained you in the first place - I knew you'd be hard to bring down." And her world is dangerous. "That doesn't mean you have to suffer, though. Especially when you have friends who can take some of that away. Come on, sit, let me have a look at it."

And possibly all the other injuries that Jess might have, because she's certain that there's more without even being actually able to read minds.

No doubt Kasim will be around in a few moments to bring the tea cart; the will of Shadowcrest is tied to her own, and that connection enables the construct to anticipate its mistress' every demand. She leads the private investigator to one of the sofas sitting in front of a large, ornate, antiquated desk - nobody has ever seen Zatanna sit on the chair behind it and with good reason; it is the Great Zatara's place, not even his daughter makes herself comfortable on what is indubitably his.

Once Jess is settled, Zatanna joins her and accepts the box and bow. The gift lights up her eyes, well before she even opens it to see what it is - the young woman loves surprises, no matter good or bad. "What's this? Oh, Jess, you didn't have to get me anything! Your visit is a nice surprise already!" She works the bow off the package, and picks apart the paper to reveal what's inside with deft and careful fingers, her expression both enthused and curious.

—-

Jessica smirks as Zatanna calls attention to her blush. Something has shifted in her, steadied in her. "I guess they come back when one hits the 6 weeks dry mark," she says. It's a battle for her, that dry spell, a triumph she wants to share, especially with those who have suffered through the worst of her drunken binges in the past. Given that never-ending liquor cabinet, Zatanna has suffered more than most in that regard. "Blood vessels in the cheeks, tastebuds, emotions— that last bit is a messy pain in the ass by the way. I feel like a fucking…bipolar chipmunk." She winks.

She's…only half serious.

Only half.

She also consents to let Zatanna fix her after a moment's thought. She takes off the outer shirt and sits on the sofa, revealing a pink splash about the size of a baseball on her right arm, definitely something burny, maybe explody, maybe liquid, like napalm. The chest above the collar line of her tank top shows a larger one, some sort of possible direct hit that might have been deflected by her clothes. Some sort of weird energy is around all of it, should Zatanna be able to pick it up. It's not magic, but it's not natural either, and it's already been healed once by some sort of strangeness. Whatever this is should still be a goopy, bloody mess, even with Jessica's accelerated healing.

"I know," Jess says, with dry mischief. "If I'd had to it wouldn't be a gift."

The gift is a small charm braclet, silver, with heavy accents of gothic black. There are only a handful of charms on it right now though. A silver book. A little sword. A pair of clasped hands. And a small silver door.

Shyly, Jessica explains. "The book was the case, our first successful adventure together. We kept it out of Steinschnieder's hands and you got to find out what happened to your father. The sword is for when we squared off against Hydra: getting your soul back, finding Bucky and Jane and giving them back their minds. A sword because…what else would you use to stab a hydra? The pair of clasped hands is my promise to you…that I won't leave, that you won't be too much. I might become too whiny and obnoxious for you…" Jess has become aware she does whine, sometimes, especially when she's having a panic attack, or a heartbreak, or any other emotional shit storm really, overcorrecting, perhaps, for years of holding every horrid shard of glass close to her chest and letting it cut her at will. "But you will literally have to throw me out on my ass and tell me to never see you again to get me to go. And finally, a door. Because this is what we do for each other, no matter what: when one of us is trapped behind a door, the other is going to kick it the fuck down, no matter what it takes. You did it for me when I was in the nightmare realm— I know you went in first, and when you couldn't, you found people and expended magic to get it done— and I'll always do the same for you."

A faint smirk that says she's already had the lecture from John as she adds: "Whether you like it or not."

—-

"Six weeks?" Affection softens her features. "Oh, Jess, that's great! I'm so…I'm so /proud/ of you! I mean, I know it's not easy at all." Though she doesn't explain this; Giovanni, once, had been a slave to the bottle himself, but this is a side of her father that she hasn't revealed the details of to many others. "And sometimes it could get really bad but…I'm so glad!"

The gift first. Zatanna is inspecting the silver charms on the goth-black bracelet when the explanations come. The book is an easy guess, but the rest? The young woman is silent throughout it all, touching the small, precious objects carefully, almost reverently and it's only once the private investigator finishes that she finally looks up, her expression unreadable - not because she has managed to school her normally expressive face into inscrutability, but because there are simply too many emotions visible that it would be difficult to quantify all of them.

A thumb rolls over the interlinked hands dangling from one of the bracelet's links, feeling heat prick the underside of her lashes. To never go, to never leave. Does Jessica even know the sort of promise she's making with that? To accept her for all of her blessings and flaws, whatever dangerous thing was caged inside of herself - the trouble she brings to everyone around her, and not always by her choosing. It means a great deal to her, not to be left, though the root of that remains tightly sealed, out of deference to whatever it is she has with her father; she is an open book, she rips her own ribcage open to expose her heart to those who would want to hold onto it, without fail…

…but not that story.

Instead, she clasps the pretty, cherished little thing around her narrow left wrist, and moves to hug Jess again. For a moment, she says nothing, just holding onto the older woman and blinking away the moisture from her eyes.

"I love it. It's so pretty, I….I didn't think it…" She swallows, and after pulling away, flashes her a brilliant smile. "I'll wear it all the time," she promises, twisting her wrist this way and that to hear the charms clink against one another. "See? Perfect fit!"

After a few more moments of examining the bracelet once more, she turns to Jess, withdrawing her obelisk from her pocket and starts working her usual suite of healing spels on the private investigator. She frowns at the baseball-sized injury on her arm, but she doesn't ask just yet. She concentrates on stitching her friend back together until she is nearly as good as new, though as usual, it is not painless. She is, however, quick - she has had plenty of practice using these when she had been stuck in Hell for what was two months in it, though anyone would tell an outsider that just two minutes in Hell could feel like an eternity.

Once she's finished, she scrutinizes Jess carefully. "Okay, I think I got everything," she confirms. "So save for work, how are you? Are you doing okay?"

—-

Jessica Jones has a pretty good idea what it means to never leave Zatanna. Given all they've done together she's kind of gotten the crash course. She holds Zee close as she gets another hug, closing her eyes, drinking in comfort as much as getting it. But the fact that Zee likes it and will wear it produces a real, genuine, happy smile that chases every shadow away. She'd been so nervous that it would be…

Too corny.

Or. Put another way?

Too much.

Zatanna isn't the only one who worries about it.

"I'm glad," she says, warmly, softly. That softer side of her is coming out more and more, no longer so tightly held behind lock and key. Now if she can find the happy medium she might just learn how to become a functioning adult, but…progress takes time.

The pain isn't what it could have been because of the partial heal, though it still causes Jessica's breath to hitch uncomfortably. It's as much for the memory of the injury as anything else. "Thanks, Zee," she says, exhaling. She smirks. "How are you on destroyed jackets and ruined shirts? I should have brought what the guy trashed, but I didn't give it any thought."

It's only a half serious question; she's ever leery about asking Zatanna, as with John, to use magic on her behalf. But…those clothes aren't exactly easy to replace either.

'Are you doing okay?'

Head on the floor, seething with maggots, the body slumped over yards away…

Jessica swallows. She savagely shoves the flashback away.

"Yeah. Yeah. I'm doing fine. Case is a little rough is all." She knows Zatanna can't have missed the reaction, so she simply downplays it. "Actually…if you're up it, I could use a little assist on a case. Not…this one," she waves her hand around on her shoulders and face, "but…a different one. I don't want you to think I came with ulterior motives but…a quick library search on a thing would really help me out, and since I'm already here I figured I'd ask." She waits for assent, though, before launching right in.

—-

"Sure if you needed it, I could have repaired them," Zatanna says easily; unlike John, who was stingy with magic most days and often looked down on others who expended it like water, there is no hesitation coming from her. She will use it, no matter how small the task, in order to help a friend.

Her query dovetails into a brief window of silence; sharp ice-blue eyes tick over Jessica's expression. While she is no mind-reader or clairvoyant, and she doesn't know what images dance in Jessica's brain, the fact that she is discomfitted by something does not escape her. Her hand seeks her own, laces her fingers through and holds. She notices that swallow, and her grip tightens. She doesn't push for answers, however; the private investigator shares a lot of mannerisms with John, and she knows how he reacts when pressed to give answers he doesn't want to give. The same is true, probably, for Jess.

The expression gives it away, though; the fact that the girl knows, but chooses not to force the issue. Her concern is worn openly on her features, despite the nod she gives the private detective. "You know you just need to name it and I'll help," she tells her. "What do you need, Jess?"

There's no talk of what's owed, of balancing the scales. Zatanna is quick to dismiss it whenever she hears it - she's done the same with Bucky, with Jane, and it is the same for Jess. When it comes to her friends, the concept of a social ledger is downright nonexistent; assistance is not a thing to be considered a repayment, but something one offers freely to a friend, without expecting anything in return.

—-

Jessica squeezes Zatanna's hand, grateful both for the support…and the lack of ask.

In many cases, she'd tell Zee everything, but this time she has her reasons to play the card close and tight to her chest. The time may come where it's needful to share, but right now…not so much. "I'll bring them, they're bulletproof fabric and he seriously fucked them up." The injuries aren't the issue, at least.

Jessica smiles as Zee dismisses the ledger. It's true for her too of course, the nonexistent ledger, but…something in her still tries to keep track of what she owes others, even if she is utterly indifferent to the other side of the ledger. It comes from entering a home not her own, feeling like she was taking up space, wasting space, unwanted but convenient. It tends to build a complex of owing and not owing. A complex that only grew when she in fact leeched off Trish for years and was well aware that was exactly what she was doing, but found herself unable to figure out how to stop it, with all of her life and career plans hitting a hard stop after the coma sent shockwaves through her academic career and guaranteed that graduating from high school was as good as it got.

"I need to know about what might be a magical creature. He calls himself Grymalkin. He shapeshifts into a cat, a black cat with one yellow eye and one blue. He can make illusionary things, like money, that people believe in. I am looking, because I think…"

She exhales. "Well it's a guess. A stab in the dark. But I think he might be under someone's thumb. That he might be enslaved somehow. I don't think he's like a demon or something that really needs to be bound. He's got a conscience; I've seen it. I think he needs help. And I don't think he runs into a lot of people who want to help him. I was originally hired to find him for other reasons, but that's resolved. Now, I'm hiring myself. If someone has him leashed, I intend to cut that leash."

That is the one thing that will get Jessica Jones' attention faster than anything, it seems…the idea that someone is leashed, bound, enslaved, caged, or tied to the will of another. No matter how it's done. "I thought if you could identify him, you might be able to tell me how I could help him."

—-

Well, what Jessica brings up does sound like her wheelhouse. Zatanna furrows her brows faintly as she leans against the back of her couch, crossing her arms in thought as she chews faintly on her bottom lip.

"As far as magic is concerned, anything can be enslaved," she begins. "So something doesn't have to be magical, really, to be a thrall for someone else so long as there is magic coming from some direction, whether it's from the master or something the master has. You said that he shapeshifts? That could be anything, too. Seelie and Unseelie can change their appearance at will with glamour, and so can certain demons." Thoughts of the Third of the Fallen sends rills of icewater down her spine, though she shoves that thought away in favor of this latest exercise. "Plus there /are/ metahumans that can shapeshift also, so he might not be a magical creature on his own either. Anyway, I don't think I'd be able to really know unless I get a good look at him. Also…"

She hesitates, but only briefly. She was never shy of expressing her opinion, her feelings, no matter how difficult they could be to hear, especially to someone who can relate to a situation on a personal level. And while she is not familiar with the details of Jessica's enslavement to Killgrave, that brief mention of mind control so many months ago has hinted at the shape of it.

"If you're right, and this Grymalkin guy is some kind of magical creature, I'd be careful about being so gung-ho about releasing him," she continues. "There are a few who have been bound against their will, but there are also ones who have been bound because they deserve it, and because they have to be. There are dangerous things out there that have been imprisoned because they can't be destroyed, and these beings tend to be eons old and have had enough exposure to humanity to be extremely crafty. Tricking people, tempting people."

She pauses, recalling what John had said to her in Hell - about being kind only to those that deserve that part of her.

Maybe he's rubbing off on me, too.

"What makes you think he's bound to anyone or anything?" she wonders. "The more you can tell me about him, the more ably I can figure out where to start."

—-

"It was how he reacted." Jessica replies.

"He was…playing with me, at first. Sending me illusions, basically acting like a capricious little fuck. He made words appear on the wall, and voices sound like they were right behind me. He taunted me. He sounded ancient. He gave the name, Grymalkin. And he showed himself, speaking right out of the cat's mouth. He walked on air. He said he'd done what he did mostly to see how people in this age would react. He compared Superman to Icarus and expressed interest that there were still so many poor, desperate people in a world where people had mastered such wonders."

Jessica sighs, aware she's hearing truth… she'd even perhaps expected this answer. But…

"It was when he asked me if I'd been hired to capture the cat that could print money. I told him exactly the truth. That I'd punch anyone in the face if they tried to hire me to make a slave of anyone."

She releases Zee's hand, which she'd clung to all that time, and sits back, pensive. "His whole demeanor changed. He said he would stop taunting the humans, because I'd criticised him for it. That he'd leave the girl alone that sparked the whole case. And then asked if I had any other demands of him. I told him I didn't care what he did if he didn't harm people and suggested he use his powers for good. And then I asked him if he needed help."

Jessica gives a sardonic smile. "He gave me the most bitter little laugh and told me I was soft hearted— which I refuse to cop to by the way— and told me that would get me killed. He left. That convinced me more than ever. The old…nobody can possibly help me bit. I kind of know a thing or two about it."

—-

She can understand, and emphathize, why all of that would drive Jess to help the shapeshifting cat dude, but Zatanna's expression remains skeptical, and with good reason. The world of magic is both terrifying and amazing, and such descriptors apply to ancient beings of untold power, especially one that could forge illusions and wield the ability to make people believe that those illusions are real. Magical imprisonment for one such as that can be tremendously tricky - something as ancient as what Jessica is describing is bound to be tremendously dangerous. And while she respects Jessica's instincts and her ability to relate to those she is trying to help, she can't shake the feeling that there just might be a very good reason why this being is enslaved the way he is.

"I'll look into it," she promises slowly. "What he might be. And again it'd be helpful if I get a good look at him also." At the very least, Jessica hasn't promised to outright help Grymalkin, at least not yet. She seems to be making independent inquiries on her own, especially if the man-thing's reaction to her question about assistance was to laugh bitterly and leave.

"I'm leery about this, in case I haven't made it obvious." There's a glance at the private investigator. "So I'll help unless I find something that convinces me I shouldn't. Believe me, Jess, I understand. Where I in your position, I'd probably feel the same way." And Zatanna /knows/ and fully accepts the fact that she's soft; it's one of the many reasons why John feared so much for her survival in Hell, on top of it being her first time there. "But…I hope you understand why I'm apprehensive, also. Like I said, if what you say is true, that he's magical and he's ancient and he's imprisoned and he's a capricious shit that's overcritical of humans until you somehow got him to stop, or he /says/ he'll stop, there might be a good reason why he's in the bind that he's in. So I think until we manage to verify that the best thing to do is release him, his bindings should stay."

She inclines her head at Jess. "That work?"

—-

Jessica Jones has a little private war with herself in response to Zatanna's words.

On the one hand, her response is not to care why he was imprisoned. He is, and he shouldn't be.

On the other, there are monsters in the world. Humans who turn themselves into monsters, and actual monsters.

They deserve imprisonment or worse.

In some ways she straddles a line between Zee's end of the spectrum: soft hearted and empathetic no matter how much she would like to deny being these things. Especially when it comes to anyone or anything she percieves as having shared her awful experiences. It clouds her judgement. She even knows that it does. It makes her take risks she shouldn't.

On the other, she is as cynical as John in her way. She has seen the worst of human nature. She's made a living off of it. She knows you don't often have to scratch the surface to find that worst…and the world of magic can be even worse. She's even seen far more of the 'terrible' side of it than the wonderful side of it. And she knows how very little she knows.

Furthermore, what goes for John goes for Zee. She had appreciated his unwillingness to tell her what she wanted to hear, his unwillingness to blow smoke up her ass. If anything it is a relief to see cautiousness out of Zatanna Zatara; it indicates a new maturity, really, very different from the dying girl who wanted to go Scrappy Doo at her tormenters against all reason. That is all to the good as far as Jessica is concerned. It heralds a day when she'd go to the couple, together, for all the same things, instead of parceling out a bit here, a bit there. And she trusts Zee's knowledge. Zatanna is smarter than she is, especially in this world.

"It works." She says solemnly. "I trust you. If you tell me to leave it alone, I will leave it alone. I don't want to be responsible for unleashing a monster, and I know you know your business. I appreciate your willingness to research it. That's all I ask."

Her stomach rumbles then, and she changes the subject with pathetic hopefulness. Since quitting the booze her appetite has more than tripled as her metabolism has begun revving up in ways she's never noticed before. Of course, the fact that she's actually pushing herself to run, leap, jump, and…get the shit beat out of her by Bucky on the regular so she can learn, along with supplemental activities (even, embarrassingly, yoga, in the hopes of gaining flexibility) has something to do with that too.

The subject change is this:

"What do you suppose Kasim has cooking?"

Shadowcrest has, as has been covered, really good food.

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