Fate of a Murdered God

April 01, 2017:

A forgotten souvenir from Limbo creates a potential crisis for one Azalea Kingston. John Constantine arrives on the scene to do what he does best, getting the situation under control. Jessica Jones grapples with her emotions as she attempts to help where she can.

Alias Investigations, Hell's Kitchen, New York

You never know WHAT you're going to find in that creepy laundry room downstairs…

Characters

NPCs:

Mentions: Silk, Daredevil, Bucky Barnes, Peter Quill, Kitty Pryde, Zatanna Zatara, T'challa, Juno Hart

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

New York City, New York.

Half past six. The time the three of them had agreed to meet and talk about, a minor problem of life, death and the soul.

Alias Investigations is in a building full of apartments, and they aren't exactly high rent, and one assumes that a certain atmosphere of despair might linger in the lobby. It might be hard to tell if it belongs to the lobby itself, or the man half passed out, head down, and sitting below the mailboxes. It's up to John if he stops to consider either, but the sense of it will permeate his flesh and bones. A despair that runs deeper than the depressed residents of this place. Something dour and dark and more dangerous than the three years out of date inspection sticker that would great him in the elevator, or the way it lurches with a sudden grind mid-way between each floor, an essence that is old and anguished.

Inside the apartment-turned-office, there is a different tale, but one just as alarming to the informed. It's the kind of thing that should draw sirens for the emergency it might represent, that can make blood run cold and bring fever sweats like the temptation of a good glass of old scotch.

It is silent.

No bickering between Az and Cindy. No teasing or accusations that someone in the home might be a Spider-Demon. To many this would be bliss, except for the fact that Azalea should be here, and she is not. The window to the fire escape she uses more often than the door is closed. Her things are all present, her costume folded and stuffed in her bag, and her keys and cellphone are sitting on the table.

What is there, but only something one of them can sense, is a smell that only just breaches the soul-sick despair that seems to run the length and breadth of this place, oozing from beneath the door to Alias Investigations. What is there, is the lingering scent of sulfur, but not the kind that comes from any Earthly realm.

This is the stench of Hell, and it's oozing from somewhere very nearby.

—-

Jessica Jones has been working her ass off lately, though that's not exactly where she was today. Today, she'd rented a car and driven down to Maryland in the wee hours of the morning, where she'd quietly slipped into the very back of a funeral home, just one of the mourners saying good-bye to Cassandra Marx. It was something she wanted to do, something she needed to do now that the police had released the body from the morgue and a funeral was allowed to proceed. She'd been scared someone would stop her, ask her who the Hell she was, but nobody did. She'd listened to people from this woman's life talk about who she was, and had stared at a litany of photos from back when she was alive.

Nevertheless she's certainly on time to a meeting she asked everyone to come to. She usually figures John will just come through her wall, or just appear, as is the way of wizards, but she herself comes through the front door. She'd left it locked today for being out of state; she fits the key in the lock now. She twists it, but then stops.

She is no Devil of Hell's Kitchen, to sift smells and identify them, but something doesn't smell right. Did she leave rotting meat in the garbage can before she left? Maybe the remains of the tacos went rancid. She is no wizard, to sense magic, but she does have great instincts, and she senses danger. Something is not right in Alias Investigations, and that something freezes her for a moment before she resolutely pushes the door wide open, adopting a fighting stance just in the hallway. An…actual fighting stance, now that Bucky has taught her what one of those looks like.

—-

There is a pattern typical to when John travels via magic rather than on foot: when he's got an emergency, or when he's departing from the flat, where he can use the convergence of not one but two networks of ley lines to fuel any casting he may care to do, sparing him the necessity of paying that cost in some other way.

Neither is true today, so he arrives the way most New Yorkers arrive anywhere: mass transit disgorges him onto the street from the sprawling labyrinth of tunnels below, and it's a short walk to the building he's become reasonably familiar with over the last several months.

Familiar enough to know that something is amiss even before he sets foot inside of the building and senses things more particular to his professional expertise.

He pauses in the entryway to withdraw a clove from the pack in his pocket, retrieving the engraved silver lighter with it and flicking it to life, warm, clarifying orange glow cupped between his hand and the cigarette in his mouth, eyes narrowed, blue irises flinty. It's a pretty little thing, that lighter, with its cold iron emblem on the front and eye-defying etchings delicately enveloping its form with web-thin lines. A Christmas gift from Zatanna. The engravings are ritual spells of her own devising — a kind of magical swiss army knife. But in addition to those, and things he has yet to discover about its capabilities…

Its flame purifies anything it touches. Makes it holy. Handy for holy water in a pinch. John once used it in conjunction with a can of spraypaint to flamethrower a demon menacing Peter Quill and Kitty Pryde in a closet in some godforsaken warehouse.

Standing there in the lobby, exhaling curling tendrils of blue smoke into the tainted air and watching what they do, he puts that function to another purpose entirely: divining the source of the Bad Fucking Feels in Jessica Jones' building.

—-

There will be no monster for Jessica to fight. But she'll hear something like one, from a room away.

"I remember making the sky."

The voice is hoarse, dry, but familiar. It echoes from not far away - just inside the room that Cindy and Azalea share of the time being. Small and cluttered with most of Cindy's things, Azalea has had little to add. But she does have a laundry basket, half spilled over and ignored on the floor. Perched on the edge of their bunk bed, which allows so much room for activities, is The Dark Devil, her grey sweats and white tank top clinging to her in a cold sweat. Legs pinched together, posture hunched, she holds on to something so black it seeks to devour the light from the room, with only tiny hints of a glassy reflection to mark the substance for what it is: Cold obsidian, a shard of volcanic glass shaped and chipped into a dagger. A dagger covered in hell-soot and caked on blood from eons ago.

A dagger Jessica Jones has held before.

"I'd fly with my brother, who created all the sea anyone could ever need. Those who claimed realms of land would come and scoop up a piece of our creation, and in doing so promised us free reign to hunt their lands. To swim their rivers and sky, given so freely."

There's a sharp intake of breath, and when her eyes open the crystal blues that seem to cut through one's very soul are gone. Now they are a burning gold, otherworldly and reptilian. These are the eyes of a Sky Serpent.

"…can't harm a creator. A creature so magnanimous as me. Lesser creations are for the feasting, live and breed and die under blazing suns that and cooling moons. Each given. Each.. each given.." Her breath turns heavy, a tremble aches her slender frame.

John's clove smoke rises, a pillar and extension of purified flame that cuts through the haze of this place and very suddenly acts like an antenna. He'll hear it all, a dark echo bouncing against leylines. Pulling at them. Echoing in the magical dark of an entire city, he will hear the true voice behind the reverie, a dark growl of someone who has lost everything, but perhaps only now understands it to be so.

"Mimich?" Azalea looks up, her gaze fixed past her open door, on the silhouette of Jessica Jones. Jessica, her sister. Her aunt. Her would-be mother. Jessica, who she wronged in their first meeting, but was so easy to forgive. "Mimich… is that you?"

—-

"…"

At first Jessica Jones can only stare. She smells John's clove behind her, knows it's him, but she has moved into her apartment, dropping her hands. She opens the door to the girls' room, once her bedroom, and her eyes widen.

"Shit," she says. "Ohhh, shit."

She had forgotten. All. About it.

It had been in her belt, that knife. She'd stuck it right in her belt in the sky; had taken Zatanna down to earth with it already forgotten, and then they were a-tumble and a-jumble in the public library. She'd stripped off her clothes that night and had fallen into her couch and had thrown the jeans into the laundry pile, where they'd sat, forgotten. Jess has had way more on her mind than laundry, in fact, and some days she's just thrown whatever she's worn the day before into her sink, hand washed it, thrown it over the shower rack and worn it damp the next day because she simply has not had time.

She didn't realize she had a bomb in her laundry.

"John, that…that's the knife I used to cut Zatanna out of the beast. In Hell," she says, face white, hesitance in her frame. She whispers it, as if afraid that doing anything else will draw Xihunel's attention. It sounds like Xihunel in there. Xihunel, and not Az. The thought dumps figurative ice water straight down her spine.

—-

John is not hurried. He stands and listens, smokes and — what? Thinks? Waits? In any case, it isn't until Jessica addresses him that he finally makes his way to the threshold of the room the girls share, at which point he tilts slowly until his shoulder finds purchase against the frame. Pale eyes make a thorough tour of the room's interior, though they eventually do come to rest on the figure at the gravitational center of it all — and the obsidian knife.

"Mmm. Quite a morbid souvenir, Jones. If I'd known you'd wanted one, I'd have nicked you a postcard," he says, a quip without much emphasis driving it. Most of his attention is, one expects rightfully, on the unfolding scene in front of them, though his demeanor — his energy, even — is perfectly casual, and that's in spite of the caiman-gold eyes in the young woman he's come to see. "Well, I'm sure all of that's fascinating," he begins, tucking the hand that isn't holding the cigarette into his pocket and raising his voice enough that it's clear it's not Jessica he's speaking to, "But I've got an appointment with Azalea and I'm rather pressed for time. I'm sure you and I will be chatting quite a bit in the next little while, Xiuhnel, and I solemnly swear I will give all of your reminiscences due consideration, but just now I would be obliged if you'd send Azalea back for a chat."

—-

Nostrils flare against demeanors both terrified and casual, and Azalea's head tilts up, as if having caught hold of the scent of something delicious. Fingers curl just a little more, and obsidian cuts deep enough to draw blood, to mingle it with hell ash and the layers of blood that will stain it forever. It drips to the carpet, splatters against her bare feet.

One hand slides away, revealing the bright color of the blood that she leaves behind, a handprint left in her sheets as she rises.

"You smell like something from ..her world. A stag, with six legs, galloping towards it's gallow's end. It does not look up to see my sh.."

The creature that stands before them, dagger in one hand, eyes alight against the dark, stops mid-sentence. It's the scent of clove, billowing around her, touched with purity that dips against the bond she has with that dagger, one of spiritual importance.

Azalea's gaze shifts, a recognition dawning on her when she looks to Jessica. "…I know you." A hand rakes down her face in dreary frustration, blood painting her like she was made for war, until she sees it on her hand, and stares at it. Through it. "Oh my god. Is this a dream?"

—-

Constantine quips about the morbid souvenir; Jessica can only shake her head helplessly before he's even done making his casual joke, a mute denial of the fact that the knife's possession had been intentional in the least. But she doesn't interrupt either. She just looks stricken, all the blood drained from her face, hands at her side as John addresses Xihunel and orders him to bring Azalea Kingston back.

"Az, honey," Jessica implores, stepping just a little closer. "That's right, you know me. It's me, Jessica. Let me have that, okay? Just…drop it, kick it over, let John help you. We're going to help you, okay? It's not a dream. You just cut your hand and…it's not a dream. Please, just drop the knife."

She's drawn a conclusion: knife=problem. Therefore, telling Az to drop the knife seems reasonable to her. It might be wrong, but it's there. It also strikes her that Az with a weapon right now is a situation begging to spiral out of control. But neither one of them might ever have heard the gentle softness in Jessica Jones' voice like they hear it now, tinged though it may be with something desperate.

—-

Nothing that is said, no gesture, will go unmarked. For John to interact with the scene before them in the way that he does might seem appalling and heartless at worst, irreverent at best, but whatever his posture and tone may say, his focus is wholly here in this room, in this moment.

It's not the first time he's found himself face to face with a fragment of long-lost antiquities. It won't be the last.

"Azalea. Good to 'ave you back, luv," he says through a quick, warm smile, close-lipped but full of ease and softer things more difficult to name. "If I didn't know better, I'd say Xiuhnel was showing off for company, eh? But it's alright. Nothing to panic about. We'll just get you cleaned up and get something with sugar in it down you. Get you some dry clothes, and that, and then we can sit down for a wee natter, if you think you're up for it. If not, eh…" He glances sidelong at Jessica. "Well, I could come back after you've had a nap, or something, I suppose."

—-

There's a waver, as if a tug of war is playing out in front of them, and a sharp intake of breath pulls with it not just air, but power from across the city. John will feel it passing like a cool breeze, a tug at the lines of energy he knows so well, and then the rebound, an echo that calls out across the cosmos for familiarity. When Jessica speaks, Azalea's eyes find her, and she takes another step forward, truth immaterial welling like tears. "He'll always have hold over you."

John's words will draw her attention, and the shadows that seem to curl against the lines of her face stretch back, making her look like a mockery of her former self. "She'll never forgive you."

But no matter Xiuhnel's words, or what Azalea gleans by touching the stuff that makes up all reality itself, it's the very presence of people familiar to Azalea that draws her back, along with the anointed air that John carries around him. She shakes, her eyes squeeze shut as she wavers, and the dagger drops to the floor in a dull, resounding thud as it sticks through carpet and into the wood beneath.

Whatever the form of the creature Azalea shares a body with, it has learned to be lulled by magics great and small, and at the mention of a nap, John can see it's form, hulking like the monster it is, just beyond normal sight, slump over. Maybe it thinks John will go away if it sleeps!

Azalea swallows hard, reaching up to place a bloody hand on Jessica's shoulder, her eyes, once more blue and crystal clear, finally find real tears. "I found it. I found it downstairs. It was between the washer and drier and I could hear it rattling. Then I heard.. fuck I don't know. I… Constantine? What the fuck are you doing here?"

It seems in all the trips down memory lane, all the rumination of things past, Azalea had indeed forgotten all about this little meeting.

—-

Jessica Jones' face twists when she is told he'll always have a hold over her. She knows who 'he' is. It twists because now she's thinking about him again. It twists because now, yet another person knows the deep dark things she'd just as soon keep hidden and locked away. But when the knife drops, she snatches it up. "It's not your fault," she says grimly. "It's mine."

She hands the knife backwards to John, hilt first, and touches the girl's hand. Then she gently steers her towards the table.

John has a prescription. Something with sugar. Jessica takes out a plate of brownies, having figured out that brownies from the mix is actually not that hard. She'd made them with dinner the other night, not the taco dinner, but just dinner. The dinner had been inedible in the extreme, resulting in a call for pizza, but the brownies? Those had been salvagable. She plates two, and pours a glass of milk. She sets them down beside Azalea.

The rest of the prescription was…dry clothes. Jessica whips off her beloved leather jacket. She fishes the phone out of it, along with the other items she carries in the inner pocket, one of them being the Pinch— that item John has given her which has been so carefully preserved because she hasn't asceratained a need to use it yet. Her steely-grey tank top has no comparable pockets, but her jeans do; it all goes inside. She wraps the jacket tightly around Az's shoulders, squeezing.

Then she goes after a first aid kit from the bathroom. Her stitches may be ham-fisted, but maybe this will do okay with her usual stand-by: butterfly bandages. She sits down next to Az and starts rummaging around, looking for the items she'll need to finish carrying out said prescription so John can launch into the aforementioned 'wee natter.' To the service of this she adds, "I asked him to be. I told you about this. We even set up a time, an appointment. Hold your hand still for me okay?"

She wonders, vaguely, who Mimich is, but she pushes the thought aside. Someone from another era, a forgotten age.

—-

He'll always have a hold over you.

She'll never forgive you.

John's expression remains impassive. There's no ripple in the atmosphere around him, no sense of anything being cast into the still waters that make up who he is. He waits with a patience most would not credit him with possessing, until the knife falls and Azalea overcomes the ongoing tug of war between the two halves of her soul.

Once she does, he lifts his hand to take a drag from his cigarette, expelling the smoke to one side and tching. "That's all bollocks." His tone is light but business-like. "That's the thing with these minor, man-made deities — they've got revisionist history and they're like their own most devoted zealots. You don't want to make the mistake of listening to them. Remind me to tell you about the time I went a few rounds with the Rainbow Serpent in the Dreamtime."

Most of that sounds as though it was for Jessica's benefit, though his eyes never once leave the young woman with the dark hair. He extends a hand to take the knife nevertheless when it's handed to him, expression tightening until it's tucked away in some pocket of that trenchcoat of his.

"Anyway, it's nobody's fault. These things have a way of winding up in the mix and complicating everything."

One last drag on the cigarette, one last full-bodied cloud of smoke, and he makes the remainder disappear with a gesture that might have been sleight of hand, or may have been actual magic.

"Azalea, Jones was hoping you and I might get started on figuring out a way to make your situation tenable in the long-term. We talked about doing that a while back, but things with me have been…" His lips twitch, the movement resolving into neither a smile nor a frown. "…complicated. At any rate, from the looks of things, we're well overdue to get started. I hope you haven't changed your mind since I saw you last."

—-

As Jessica ushers her and John gives her the rundown, Azalea sits in a passive state that seems almost catatonic as she tries to reach back into her mind for some frail remnant of what just happened. It's all a haze, one that makes her want to find the thing that made it so clear again. She swallows hard, and looks around with a slow measure, like they might notice if she panicked.

Instead, Azalea settles for a brownie, chewing over it as if it's mere consumption might provide her with all the answers, eyelids falling half shut as she tries to center herself in the embrace of sugar and chocolate.

Meanwhile, her other hand is caked with half-dried blood, and once wiped away Jessica will see only a thin red mark where the wound should be. Before her very eyes it disappears, though Azalea seems oblivious. In long gulps the milk disappears, and she uses her arm to wipe her mouth, finally looking to John as if she means to drill a hole in his head.

"I change my mind all the time. But not about this. I need to fucking.. get rid of, control, I don't fucking know. It just needs to stop. And where is Zatanna? You're going to need someone strong, and she's…"

Candy.

The low rumble of the creature from it's slumber inside her is like a snore, but John will hear it, even as Azalea trails off. She's still disoriented. But she knows the truth. This can't happen anymore.

—-

Jessica is listening to what John says; she nods like she might just do that— ask about Rainbow Serpents. He waves away the idea that the dagger is her fault, and she lets that lie for now, something to examine later, but not right now. She puts the matter of 'him' back where 'he' normally goes…in a small mental box where it can just sit and rot. Instead, there's…

Well. There's no wound to tend. Jessica frowns down at that line. Not even her own healing ability works that quickly. She'd never known Az even had a healing ability.

She moves from wiping the hand to wetting down a cloth so she can wipe the bloody handprint off Azalea's face, gentle enough with her motions. Even a little bit unobtrusive. She allows no more expressions on her face, a sort of stolid, stoic, steadfast blank taking over everything. She's focusing on the task, however simple a task that might be, focusing on the practical motions, doing what she can do, no matter how little that is. Getting over her reaction to those words about her personal nightmare is the extent of the thinking she's willing to do. She's listening, she's focused on paying attention, but focus is all there is to it, no longer allowing herself any emotion at all, shutting right down on that front so she can remain as useful as may be.

—-

"'Tanna's around," John says, sliding his other hand into his pocket as well, posture against the door's frame lazy. "And she'll be involved eventually. The two of you have things to resolve. Not yet, though. You're not ready." A faint half-smile, touched with something almost but not entirely like apology, finds a home on his angular face, eyes lidding. "I appreciate the concern, but I'm pretty sure I can manage on my own until then. Well: on my own, with your help. Because in the end, Azalea…this is going to come down to your will. If this were a routine exorcism, it'd be one thing. I'd give your lodger the boot, and that's that. It's not, though. What you've got isn't something I've seen before. According to conventional wisdom it shouldn't even be bloody possible…but conventional wisdom and I don't usually get along, anyway. Thing is, Xiuhnel seems grafted to your soul. I could slice the two of you apart, but the best case scenario there is that you'd be…"

He squints. Faint crow's feet form at the outer corners of his eyes, and he sucks his teeth a moment behind closed lips. "Incomplete. More likely, you'd just top it. Worst case scenario is beyond me to speculate about. So that's last-resort material. The remedy is suggested by the situation: if you're bonded that way, you're probably missing something 'e's got, and likewise the other way 'round. But you're still both holding onto what you used to be, an' that's a non-starter, because you're bloody well not. Trouble is, speaking from experience, deities, even man-made ones, tend to think they're the fucking tits, don't they? All ego. Getting one to acknowledge that it's now part of something else, that it has peers — not terribly easy, in my experience. Possible, though. And it clearly has a will to survive, or it would never have attached itself to you in the first place. Survival has to become more important to it than the myth of itself."

—-

The doting attention from Jessica reminds her of a time when her mother just to treat her wounds. A scraped knee. A cut above her brow. It makes her think of the part of herself that isn't him, and as John breaks down possibility there's a hard swallow. It isn't the unfinished business he mentions. That particular conflict weighs heavily in the back of her mind, and draws her gaze distant, past them both.

It isn't until he mentions the symbiosis that her and Xiuhnel enjoy, and the consequences of separation that she looks to him. John Constantine, who would help her, even knowing the awful things she did to Zatanna. Her arms cross, finally, almost defensively as she lets his words linger and swirl, until finally she can form a thought past the haze of Xiuhnel's dagger-driven reverie.

"So you're saying all of this stuff.. it's all just made up? He isn't a real God? He didn't.. do all that shit? Create all the sky for all the realms or some shit? What about her. The one that killed him? I remember her. He loves her and hates her. Is she even real?"

The desperation creeps into her voice, and tension grips the muscles around her jaw. "I don't even know if he's whole enough to understand. If he's just fucking broken, what do we do then?"

It dawns on her that she's asking questions that can't have immediate answers, but it helps her to air her train of thought. Her gaze shifts back to Jessica, and her brow furrows. "Where is that glass? Did I drop it? It was black. It made me see things. We should find out why."

—-

Jessica finishes wiping Azalea's face. Nobody's ever described her as doting before, ever, but there's a first time for everything. She's blissfully unaware as she tosses the wet cloth into the hamper. Azalea spins out possibility after possibility, dark what-if after dark what-if. She comes back and stands behind her, squeezing her shoulders very gently, though the pressure is palpable.

"You have to stay calm," she says in a low, quiet voice. "Investigation 101, remember? Stay calm, stay cool, stay analytical, don't assume, don't speculate. This is an investigation like any other investigation. If we think it through together, we'll find a solution."

The dagger. A possible lead or a giant liability? She glances at John, her eyes tight. She has no suggestions. Her ability to brainstorm seems to have temporarily suspended itself, but then, how helpful is it anyway? She focuses on being the rock that people have from time to time so laughably named her, as if they can't perceive the ever-swirling, ever-howling tempests inside of her, the mercurial emotions, the self-doubt. As if they can't see the panic attacks, the anxiety attacks, the times when she can barely get out of bed. But some people see it. Az has been one of those people.

People live up or down to expectations. She believes that. She offers the expectation that Az will be okay. Az offers the expectation that one Jessica Jones will be her rock. Jessica tries to live up to her end of the bargain.

—-

The questions that Azalea asks don't surprise John: they're the right ones, after all, for anyone dipping a toe into the strangeness of the world she's been inducted into, without consent. "Like a lot of things once you step across the line of what most people understand as being real, the answer is 'it's complicated.'" He tilts his head over slightly, allows his lidded gaze to trace the silhouette, seen and unseen, of the dark-haired young woman, and his pale eyes are not unkind, for all that they remain somewhat inscrutable. "He did, and he didn't. Yeah? You go back far enough, to a point where there were no people…there was no Xiuhnel. Humanity, seeking meaning, gave birth to creation myths, populated those inexplicable phenomena with godlings and monsters. Belief is a powerful thing. Moreso at the dawn of the world. Enough people believe something, enough people ritualize around that thing, mix in a bit of magic…sometimes, things become real. To Xiuhnel, the difference is immaterial: that story was his genesis. For him, it's real, and everything it involved, he did. Right? The sky existed by the time he popped into being, but his creation of it is a necessary part of the fact of his ability to exist…so he must have."

The half-smile returns, knowing and threaded through with a cutting wryness. He hoists his shoulders beneath the well-cut lines of his coat. "Bit of a 'chicken or the egg' scenario, innit? And for now, at least, it doesn't matter. We're not out to convince him to revise his history, necessarily. I've done it before, but we're not out to oppress him, we're out to…ehhh." He takes a hand from his pocket, gestures vaguely in Azalea's direction. "Blend you together. You can't go on being two distinct individuals. But we want to blend the best parts of you both, and leave out as much of the bad shite as possible. You've got something 'e needs, and the reverse is also true. It's not just him who's broken, I'm afraid. It's both of you. But you can understand that this can't go on this way, yeah? So there's hope for him, as well. It's just…as I say. Gods and their bloody egos. They can be petulant as toddlers, only when they throw fits people tend to die. We'll need to be careful. Find you some common ground to begin from."

Very pointedly, he doesn't delve into the 'what do we do then.'

"Mm. The knife. Obsidian, I should think. We should find out why. I'm going to go and have a look-see in my library. It's safe where it is. Could be I'll be bringing it back to you soon, but until we know what we've got on our hands, I'd rather not hand you one of the sharpest cutting implements on earth, eh?" After a beat, he cocks a brow. "Soon, I'll be needing to have this same talk with Xiuhnel. The tone of the pitch will be a bit different, granted, but we all need to be on the same page before we can go any further. If he's got outstanding business he's not willing to move on from, that may need settling first…assuming that's even possible."

—-

As John lends some explanation and more confidence than she ever could have mustered she leans into Jessica's touch. It's everything she can do to not start crying again, now that her Dark Passenger has drifted off, leaving her to her own device.

Her own weakness.

Her lips curl in, dry and cracked from the dehydration of what she just went through, and she licks over them, her expression drawn through the emotional sludge that she's leaving in her wake, a hand meekly coming up curl over one of Jessica's. She looks every bit a person lost, overwhelmed, but also there is something John might see in those he helps from time to time. Rare and precious, and perhaps the key to any chance of success. He will see her hope.

Eyes tick up, and she finds him again, lips parting to show her teeth as if fighting back something, because she can only imagine the expression on the face of the woman behind her. "Alright. We'll do it. Whatever, however we can. Talk to him, figure out what you can. But all of this, if it doesn't work, or it takes to long, you have to kill him. I told Jess to kill me if I became a monster." Her hand squeezes at the woman who has become her big sister, but she doesn't look back or up. She can't bring herself to.

"But.. but John." The fear in her eyes supplants any hope, and one of legs begins to bounce with a nervous tick. "He comes back. You can't just kill me. You have to kill him. I don't know what the fuck is going on between the Devil or whatever the fuck it is that controls Hell, but when I was arguing with Jess about going to bring you and Zatanna back, Xiuhnel laughed at me and I remembered something. Something disgruntled and angry, but he's been there before, so many times. Pulled there with.. whoever the fuck he was with at the time. He'll find someone else. What if he found someone that's like him, like he always used to? What if he found someone like The Joker? Or Muller? Fuck."

—-

The expression on Jessica's face is indeed a fairly terrible thing by the time Az brings up, again, her promise to kill the girl if she has to. A promise she made, in part, because of the merger the two of them seem to be involved in, in the hopes that the entity couldn't jump again. She looks down and to the side, a mess of pain and self-loathing crawling over her face. She squeezes Az's shoulders one last time and pulls gently free from her hand, unable to touch her while contemplating her…her fucking murder.

Not long ago she grappled with the idea of killing Kilgrave in the nightmare realm. There, she never did, always searching for some other way, some other path, because killing Reva was enough of a black mark. But then Peter had come, and Peter had done it for her. And the sheer freedom and relief she'd felt at seeing that son of a bitch's head simply explode had laid bare her own hypocrisies. Her willing eagerness to let Bucky or John kill the self-same man for her again should he ever show up again. Her willingness to make such a terrible promise to Azalea Kingston because the mind-controlling son of a bitch inside of her needs to be stopped or managed, one or the other. Merc, who she'd killed by accident in one terrible moment of panic, and who had risen again due to some space-time-chaos-theory strangeness she still didn't understand. Agent Holmes, who she'd begged Peggy to issue a kill order on. Who she'd point Bucky at knowing he'd take care of the newest mind-controlling monster, who she feels she must kill herself if she runs across him first. The masterminds behind the Red Room program that abused children like Juno Hart, and produced the monstrosity of a teenage killer who feels it right and proper that she be an owned and managed slave, the latest assignment of T'challa, who made it clear if she accepted it that he fully intended to slaughter every one of them, and her own resolve to go because simply delivering the information knowing his intent was as good as doing it, so she had to have the courage to go and face down the results of her own actions.

Murderer or monster slayer? Hero, or someone who is rapidly descending down a rabbit hole that will turn her into someone terrible? At least there's a motif, at least they all seem consistent via her internal set of rules.

But only one of the people on the list is someone she's sheltered, mentored, fed, laughed with, given a damn about, loved like blood.

Azalea Kingston is dehydrated. Jessica Jones finds a bottled water, opens it up, and puts it in front of her.

She says none of the horrible things crawling through her brain.

What she says is, "John won't let that happen."

—-

John listens to what Azalea has to say — things that other people would find mad, incomprehensible, beyond belief — with an expression of solemn focus. There's never question there, or doubt. And when she's finished, that apologetic half-smile reappears. He doesn't glance at Jessica, though he does nod very slightly when she offers what she does. "There's a Hell for everyone and everything. It's not usually a place you'd find a dead god, because gods were never mortal, and Heaven and Hell are places for mortal souls, recruits in the ongoing Celestial War of Wankers, but it's not impossible. If he winds up there, he must think he belongs there. The rules of his existence must for some reason dictate that that's where he'd belong. And that is, for a certainty, worth looking into."

He leans up off of the door frame, retrieves his hands from his pockets, and loosely folds his arms. "Gods can die. They can be unmade. If it comes to the worst scenario, Azalea, I'll do whatever it bloody takes to make sure this doesn't happen to anyone else — but you've lived with him this long without much help, so I'm counting on that not being necessary. He's not taken you over completely, and you need to lean on that. As bad as things may have been, you've held him off better than most might. Alright? This is practically unprecedented even for me, but if I really believed we didn't have a shot at fixing this, I'd never even offer. I'd put you down if I thought I had to, and that would be it. I'm not in the habit of charity, luv. I don't play if I can't win."

He sucks his teeth with his tongue again, sniffs, spends a moment flicking his thoughts into order. "So. You need to spend some time thinking about your history with him before I see you again. Start…figuring out where the lines of you are most blurry. Where you agree about things. The places where your impulses and thoughts, and his, are most alike; that maybe you're not always sure which of you is responsible. I want a list. Events where the two of you agreed about something. Put the bits in that you're not happy with just so I'll be able to see the big picture, but focus on the pieces that didn't make you feel regret, or shame, or whatever — things you still agree with or believe. Alright? And then, next time we get together…I think it'll be time for a spot of hypnosis, and a chat with your roommate." He pauses, flicks a glance to the other bed in the room. "By which I mean your sky serpent."

—-

In just a short amount of time, she has come to understand why John has such an absurd business card. He should add Inspirational Speaker to the byline for sure, because as he speaks she looks between the strength and impossible to see worry in Jessica, and the casual way John walks her back from her greatest worry: Her failure to contain Xiuhnel will lead to the destruction of others. Somewhere, beneath grim realities and the battleplan that John has drawn for them both, is still the absurd notion that Azalea Kingston is still a hero. She clings to it like a life raft, and cannot fathom the horror that would unfold if Xiuhnel were allowed to roam free.

His advice to find the blurry lines draws her gaze away, because shame haunts those memories. How good did it feel to be around someone who could suppress him? Someone kind and gentle and caring, and how much did he desire her for how good she might taste? Was that the same thing? Was it circumstance and loneliness that made her think so? She swallows it all away, and gives a curt nod. "I'll write it all down for you. As much as I can remember. All of it, no matter how.. all of it."

Azalea does catch his glance to the top bunk, and her brow furrows a little before she looks up. Finally she stands, taking the water that Jessica provided to completely demolish it in a long, gulping gurgle. Finally, she leans in towards Constantine, whispering in his ear. "A spider demon sleeps up there. Sometimes." She's joking, but it might not sound like it. "I'm going to get a shower. Thank you. Both of you, for not giving up on me." She'll pause to give Jessica a hug before she leaves the room, a long held sigh of pent up emotion blowing back some of Jessica's hair.

—-

The casual way John speaks of putting Azalea down oddly gives Jessica a little hope. She admires John, sees him as a hero, just as she sees the same in Bucky. Maybe there's room for the kind of expediency thinking that's been edging into her own thoughts when the problem is just too great, too capable of hurting too many people if left unchecked.

Such a thin line to walk. Such a thin, thin, dark line, a tightrope balanced not between good and evil, but between greater good and lesser good; and the damned sides keep changing, making it impossible to tell for sure what is what.

But John is presenting what looks like a very comprehensive, simple, and sensible course of action to fill up the time being. This clears more of the terrible expression from Jessica's face.

Az hugs her. Jessica enfolds the girl into her arms and murmurs, "Of course we're not going to give up on you. And we're not judging you either." Her hair is blown back. She smiles a little and ruffles Az's in turn, and says, "Don't throw my jacket on the floor. Use the hook."

Many things hit the floor at Alias Investigations sometimes, but not that jacket.

She waits for Az to avail herself of the bathroom before hastening to assure one John Constantine: "Silk's not a demon. She's got the same power set as Bug, is all." Then again Silk did get a mouthful of magic-sounding mumbo jumbo from the guy who kidnapped her or whatever, but…Jessica still doesn't think that is an indication that the girl who makes her cocoa when she's tempted to drink is any kind of spider demon.

Lest John Constantine think Jessica is collecting girl shaped demons and trying to raise them as some sort of…habit.

She exhales then, and leans hard against the doorframe, rubbing a hand over her face and looking over at him. "I can see why you're the go-to guy for shitty soul issues." And she can; he was calm, steady, giving off the air of a doctor who simply understood what to do without becoming emotionally invested or overwrought, but without ever crossing into cruelty, even when he spoke of the final and last-ditch solution. Like a doctor suggesting pulling the plug on life support might not only be medically necessary, but humane and kind.

"Anything I should be doing?"

—-

If John were privvy to Jessica's thoughts — which he's not, because of all of the things that John is, he isn't a mindreader, which is for the best for everyone — he'd find the disconnect between her sense of the pragmatism involved in doing the hard thing, and the belief that this someone how makes someone a hero…and also, through that, the belief that doing something heroic in some way makes a person a good person. Always the first to say he'll do what needs doing, he has no illusions about whether or not this makes him a good man, and it's this understanding that has allowed he and James Barnes to find shockingly common ground: they understand that they are not good, but that they are occasionally necessary.

"Nobody ever needs to see it but us," John assures Azalea of the things he's asked her to write down. When she makes to leave the room, he slides out of the doorway, lets her pass, watches her over his shoulder as she retreats. When she's gone, the door to the bathroom closed, he turns his gaze Jessica's way, quirks a small smile that doesn't quite manage to climb all the way up into his eyes. "Yeh, well. There aren't many better options about. Not exactly the kind of thing you put on a business card, but true's true."

What he doesn't say is that he has no goddamn idea whether or not any of this is going to work, but what point would there be lingering on the unknown? Ninety percent of his professional life consists of making things up on the spot, hypothesizing, improvising, and somehow coming out on top in spite of terrible odds. He owes some of his success to his bizarre connection with the raw stuff of Fate, a great deal of it to his habit of accumulating occult knowledge like a magpie, and the rest, probably, to whatever mechanism allows a magician to lie to reality and have those lies believed.

He was serious, at least, when he told them that he doesn't play if he can't win.

"I'm going to take this blade back to the flat and find out what's what with it. Xiuhnel was mostly quiescent when we were talking, but he knows what she knows. There could be a reaction to the conversation later. Something changes, you let me know," he says, and half-turns, obviously preparing to head out.

—-

Somewhere from the other room is the sound of Jessica's jacket falling to the floor. "Fucking Christ. JESS! CINDY IS USING HER SPLOOGE AS GLUE AGAIN! This fucking hook." A pound of her fist, trying to push it back into place. Honestly, she's impressed with Cindy's webbing but it doesnt last forever.

Nevermind that Az broke the hook in the first place.

Finally, she disappears into the bathroom, leaving John and Jessica to conspire.

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