A Father's Reluctant Assistance

April 13, 2017:

John Constantine contacts Giovanni Zatara for his assistance regarding the astral link that has developed between him and Zatanna Zatara, in hopes of capitalizing on his former mentor's knowledge and personal experience about the subject. Things come to a head when Giovanni tells John to get rid of it completely.

A Park in Gotham City

It's a park in Gotham City, lying on top of the bones of a dead warlock.


NPCs: Giovanni Zatara (NPC'd by Zatanna Zatara)

Mentions: Zatanna Zatara

Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

Where: Gotham. Robinson Park, specifically, in one of the more impoverished neighborhoods of the sprawling metropolis, a kind of shabbier analogue to New York's Central Park. Certainly at this time of year the verdure has yet to recover from the winter weather, still drained and sleeping. Within Robinson Park, on a cold bench dampened by cold, pale fingers of mist, a heavy fog laid low on the city, turning all of the overhead streetlights into haloes of color.

When: Late enough to be inconvenient to anyone who might have a weekday job. No one intended to participate does.


…Well? Why?

…That is the question, isn't it? John's toyed with that question all the way to the park from his visit with Zatanna at Shadowcrest earlier in the evening. The library at the manor is extensive enough that it would be folly not to delve deep into its shelves in search of answers concerning the obsidian blade still fouling up the atmosphere in John's flat, now securely locked away in a safe with an interior that doesn't exactly behave like normal space. His plan is to return there after the meeting he intends to have with Giovanni Zatara, which:

Why: To talk to Giovanni Zatara about the astral link between he and Zee, and find out whether or not the man has any information for them about how to manage that connection sensibly.

It's not a meeting that he's looking forward to. It's safe to say that he waited this long after the disaster of he and Zatanna's attempt to learn about it themselves only because he knew he'd need distance from his failure before he could converse with Giovanni about it and avoid losing his temper sheerly because he resents having to ask in the first place.

He sits on the bench in the gloom with the empty glass bottle that notifies Giovanni of his presence in one hand, fingers fiddling with it endlessly, turning it this way and that, gaze unfocused where it trains on the gleams of orange light that spill over the glossy contours. Striving, it can be said, to organize his thoughts, knowing that it's unlikely Giovanni is going to be thrilled to learn that the two of them are tangled up in this new and more lasting way when he'd gone to such lengths to keep them apart. Giovanni was almost always fair with John, but unforgiving, and while he may never have punished John without cause, his consequences were not always proportionate to the transgression — at least, by John's estimation.

Under the heavy tan fabric of John's coat-sleeve, the circular sigil pulses in time with his heart, visible in spite of the intervening layers of cloth and brighter, he's noticed, in Gotham than it was in New York. Not in the searing, brilliant way that indicates a nearby source of Primordial Darkness, but a generalized response, almost as though the atmosphere of Gotham were universally darker. Which, if it's true what they say about a dead warlock being buried underneath it, may, John supposes, be true.


It only takes a few moments for reality to split open before John, the tall, slender figure of an older gentleman in a frock coat and a top hat emerging from it, one step of a long leg before the other, wisps of familiar magic curling in the air and impressing upon those who are sensitive the ephemeral might behind it. It is not because Giovanni Zatara deliberately wants to make it known to his former pupil that calling him is something that ought not to be taken lightly, but due to the distance he must travel, and the effort it takes to get here from wherever he is. This is not the first time he has conferred with John back into the planet in which he was born and claims residence - the British magus knows that whatever errand he has been on in the last few months, it has take him to another world…perhaps other worlds since then, chasing after a not-insignificant threat and finding a way to break the curse that prevents him from being around the one thing in the world that he loves unconditionally.

He looks the same as ever, cool and resolute, though the limp he had before has not gone away. The man has healing powers at his disposal and the fact that the injury remains is indicative enough that whatever caused it was something serious enough to be this long lasting. But he moves as if it is more of an annoyance than anything pressing, a trifle that impedes him from the elegant, efficient movements for which he is known. John would know, however, just by looking at him, that he is exhausted, more felt in the air and around the eyes than anything truly overt.

Giovanni stops in front of his seated former protege, ice-blue eyes - Zatanna's eyes - falling on the cuff of his frock coat, as if his very stare could pierce through the textile barriers to inspect the ominous detector that has become part of John in excruciating detail. There is recognition set on the man's face - it is John's magic, yes, but traces of his daughter's own efforts linger somewhere within the pulsing indigo aura. There's a twitch on the corner of his lips, though as always, the older magician is a difficult read. Either he finds no fault in the work, or does, and has elected to keep the opinion to himself. It is guaranteed, at the very least, that it is no way out of displeasure for having exposed Zatanna to pieces of the Primordial Darkness. The man had never been shy exposing his students to the dangers of their world.

John knows not to call him unless it is absolutely necessary; tangents can wait.


The man slowly takes a seat on the other side of the bench, putting aside his walking stick and crossing gangly legs by the knee, one ankle braced against it. There is a slight tip of his head towards the Englishman's direction.

He pointedly does not bring up his daughter, as it is always a point of contention between them - a sign that he expects this meeting to be about something else that is important and difficult enough to warrant his advice or possibly his intervention, and also elects to ignore the lure before he can be reeled in. If nothing else, it is roof positive that while the legendary mage is many things, he is not a mindreader or clairvoyant.


It took John months to grow accustomed to Giovanni's stare. The disconcerting lack of color in the Zatara irises had nothing to do with it, really; it was the penetrating, humorless quality, radiating self-mastery and more than that, judgement — two things that John associated, at that hot-blooded time of his life, with authority, a thing for which he held no love. It had been necessary for him to recalibrate himself to accept being looked at in that way, scaling his emotional responses back into something that approximated normalcy, when his whole life had engineered him to spite and rebel against those very things.

They're lessons that remain with him, perhaps conditioned into him now, after years of doing this differently — but only with this man. He bears the scrutiny with good grace and even has the sense not to wonder overlong about that subtlest twitch of the lips: if Giovanni had something to say, he would say it. Wondering whether he approves or not is a fool's game without answer and, at least in the context of this particular thing, is a bit late to the party to have any value. Instead, he spends his time giving, as it were, as good as he gets. Zatanna will want to know how her father is, and John intends to tell her.

The limp's continued presence shocks him in a way that few things can. The question sits on his tongue like a stone, but as Giovanni takes his seat, opening their conference with little other than John's name, he decides against it — for now — and instead turns his thoughts immediately to business.

As any good con knows, it is occasionally important to avoid getting too directly to the point. Witness:

"Been a while since we talked about what's going on, Gi. 'tanna's…" A parade of images from Limbo flicker through his head, bidding for his attention. "…doing well. We're to Berlin soon, off on that errand I mentioned before. We'll be looking up that contact of yours." A beat, two, but not long enough for the man beside him to think he's meant to respond. "Last time we talked about all of this, you said you'd be in touch with me about getting your situation sorted. Well past time, don't you think? Going on five months, mate."


"You will have to pass onto Mrs. Krueger my regards," Giovanni tells John without skipping a beat. Despite his advancing years, his memory is still sharp, as demonstrated by the fact that he remembers that conversation and speaks of it as if they have talked about it only yesterday. "It has been a few years but I trust much like everywhere else, Berlin will be rife with activity and undoubtedly, she is involved. Though I surmise that I need not tell you that as you have been placed right in the middle of it." Not placed himself in the middle of it. There are very few others in the world who understand John's role in its continued existence in the way the older magician does.

John brings up his daughter in his own accord regardless of his own effort to skirt around difficult subjects in favor of business, but there is no softening of that scrutinizing stare save for a passing flutter in those eyes, like the way a piton chips away at bits of rock once driven in. He doesn't address it, though, and instead focuses on the man's own inquiry about his troubles.

"It has. I have not forgotten." He slowly leans back against the bench, gloved fingers resting on his thigh. "Though there is very little that one can do while here and assisting me in this endeavor involves venturing out in other dimensions. The journey has taken me far, John, and it takes me farther still. Worlds I have not even known about until circumstances drove me to this." Meaning that he is taking the opportunity to learn more, despite the purported limits of his own magic. "But that is entirely the consequence of the change in my approach. She is more challenging a quarry than I initially thought and after our last bout, I have decided to look into other avenues with which to neutralize her. Either way, you are needed here."

He gives the man another glance. "I trust my daughter is assisting you on that as well." He wouldn't expect anything less. "Is that why you have called?"


It's difficult to describe how such a simple thing can be such a balm to a spirit constantly being chafed by circumstance. John probably doesn't even notice the subtle difference in Giovanni's phrasing, something someone else may not have phrased in that way, but there's a certain kind of ease that comes along with knowing someone understands some deeper, underlying piece of one's self, and whether he consciously realizes it or not he experiences a slight easing of the tension in squared shoulders beneath the well-cut lines of his coat.

It leaves his expression intent and focused as small details of Giovanni's current activities pass between them…

…only for that expression to flatten entirely when those small details are all that he's given. "Bloody hell, Gi. Are you short on your quota for being ominously mysterious this month?" He mimics his former mentor's more sonorous, expansive voice, and not without proficiency: "'She is more challenging a quarry than I initially thought, but don't ask me for a sodding name, because I won't give you one.'" John's brows knit. "What is that? Foreshadowing? You don't need foreshadowing in real life, right? It's not done."

For all his complaining, however, he doesn't actually ask, as he doesn't expect he would be told if he did. Being John, he just cannot help himself when it comes to calling it as he sees it.

Besides, soon enough he's being asked the pertinent question — it was always going to come — and when he is, he drops back against the back of the bench, tucking his hands into his pockets and exhaling a long, slow breath that curls into barely-visible mist in the chill fog. Blue eyes sweep away from Giovanni, out and into the dark. "Nah. Part of it, but not the pressing reason. I'm sure you're not going to like this and, you know — let me assure you in advance, Gi, that I like asking you probably half as much as you like being asked, but…" There's a moderately long pause, John stewing in his annoyance, girding himself to bite the bullet and get it over with.

"'tanna and I seem to have wound up with this link. Trouble is, it's dangerous for one or the other of us to suddenly feel the other one's in hot water without knowing if they need help. We need to manage it, and she said you…might…" Oh, he hates this. Jesus christ does he hate this. His shoulders hunch, and a small thundercloud appears in his expression. "Might be able to tell us how."


The very British rant washes over Giovanni like water, and he responds to it by simply adjusting his shirt cuffs under his frock coat, two fingers absently rolling over the metallic studs that hold them in place. There's the briefest pause at the word foreshadowing, but otherwise the older gentleman takes it in stride. "I found it necessary to give you something to take back to my daughter, as I anticipate that you will," he replies. "And you are indeed, correct about my reluctance to give you a name, because you are, as always, perennially inundated by the need to fix everything that you believe needs fixed and I do not put it past you to investigate further. I appreciate your offer of assistance, and I do intend to accept it once the time is right, but that time is not now and I do not wish to divert your focus on anything outside of your own circumstances. You are in the middle of something extremely important and just because I am unable to be here does not mean I do not feel obligated to do what I can to assist with that in turn."

Even if it means staying out of it and not to burden his former pupil than anything else.

Diverted, handily, by the real reason he is called, the older man turns his full attention, finally, on John. He shifts in his seat so he can look at him right in the face, and in that regard, he and Zatanna are alike - the way they focus, and become so attentive that it unfailingly gives the other the impression that at the moment, he is the only thing in the world worth listening to and acknowledging.

It's when John finally gets to the crux of the matter that the older man goes still.

It isn't a pause, not a casual stuttering of a person when surprised by something. It is not an easy task to drive a man like the older magician to render him so…something that everything about him becomes that way. And it is nothing like the kind of stillness that falls on a placid lake on a windless night, but rather the kind that hints at something downright stormy under the surface. For a few long moments of silence, Giovanni does nothing but look at John.

The hand on his thigh curls unconsciously into a fist, leather creaking within his surprisingly able grip.

It is the sound of his distressed glove that alerts him to the fact that his fingers have moved on their own accord. The man turns his head to glance further out into the park, jaw set with steel-hardness.

"Get rid of it."

He does not address the rest.

"There are other ways to be able to determine if either one of you is in danger," he continues; the change is subtle, but the fact that there is one is telling enough of those overt traces of internal tumult. "If that is the aim. If you need my assistance in that regard, I can provide it. But sever it now, John."


Patience is something John employs not as a result of an innate character trait but as a tool or a weapon, which is why he's so easily able to remain patient in his work, in tantra, in subterfuge: he understands its value. It isn't a native quality of the man himself, though, and that's apparent enough as Giovanni gives his explanations. He doesn't roll his eyes, but he stops only just shy of that, flicking his gaze off and upward to one side, giving the impression that he's bearing up under an expected degree of resistance, everything in his posture reading 'Yeah, yeah.'

A cavalier attitude that cannot survive the currents of the conversation that will follow.

Both pairs of blue eyes drop in unison to the gloved hand emitting that white-knuckle creaking, and when John's rise again one of his brows rises with them, a slow upward drift that has in it something of the London street punk he used to be — the way he might look at a man who sat down next to him at a bar and led off by saying something confrontational. It's the look of a man wondering whether or not he needs to be on his guard for trouble.

And it darkens, that look, quickly when he's given four words that he can't claim he's surprised by, but had hoped not to hear, nevertheless. His brows dagger inward.

"There was no aim. That makes it sound like you think we did this deliberately. We didn't. It happened on its own."

The silence that follows that is longer by a wide margin, and John's sky-blue gaze remains pinned to the hardened profile of the man he's known for over a decade, searching fruitlessly for some sign of what seethes beneath.

He'll tell himself that it doesn't matter to him whether or not Giovanni approves of his relationship with Zee…but it does. Of course it does. More than he's probably willing to admit even to himself.

"And if I say I'm not going to do that? Sever it?"


It happened on its own.

Given the way he focuses on the man's profile, John would not be able to miss it - the way Giovanni's lips press into a thin, hard line underneath his mustache. No matter what is within the calm face, however, and there is guaranteed to be something, his hand no longer moves against his pant leg.

He knows that an astral link only comes into being because of one reason. There are many combination of circumstances that eventually lead up to it, but the why is always the same. He is well familiar with the rarity of it, because he is a rare case himself, to be able to forge not just one, but two in his lifetime, though his curse had forced him to sever the chain that binds him to his daughter. The one with his wife remains, and while he attempts to ignore the thorns that wrap around his heart at the thought of Sindella, the discussion of the tether can't help but bring her to mind and the thought of it always brings…

His teeth clip together at the last remark from John, turning his eyes, finally, back to the younger man.

"Nothing and no one can break the tether but the two people that are bound by it." Words that come through between teeth that can't quite relieve themselves from each other's edges. "Even if I wanted to, I will not be able to tear it asunder, though rest assured that if I had the power, I would without question."

He doesn't ask him why he would want it intact; he knows why John would want it to remain. His own argent connection with his wife still remains and it is both balm and heartbreak, a thing he carries in the jealously-guarded corners of his own heart. He understands more than John himself can probably imagine.

But his case is different, isn't it always? John Constantine's life has been plagued more by the unusual than not, all the more complicated by…

He gives him a level stare from the corner of the bench. More words remain, begging to be released, and once again finds himself silenced by his own rules, and what it would mean should he break them.


John meets the stare with every ounce of the bulldog stubbornness he's able to muster, and that is a not-insignificant feat, because being at the center of the displeasure of Giovanni Zatara is not a safe or enviable place to be. The man has a great deal of forebearance for John — far more than most in John's life have ever shown him — but his patience has limits, and most particularly where matters concern this one, particular thing.

And yet, not a month ago John was pinned to the hot, filthy wall of a demon's bunker in the depths of Hell by the disowned conscience of God, one claw poised above his beating heart. So:

He's faced down worse.

Something in his expression chills when he's told unequivocally that Giovanni would rend the tether to pieces, if only he were able. That's when John rises, pushes himself off of the bench and takes just a few steps as he palms and rubs at his squared jaw, a subtle and slow-moving but substantial anger building in the cauldron of him. His expression splits around a sudden smile and a short laugh that's all breath, really, putting his hands on his hips and aiming that look of false amusement at the ground. He's still wearing it when he half-turns to look back at the man behind him, scuffing one shoe on the winter-wearied ground.

"Unbelievable," he says. "I came here to ask you for help that we need, and you're going to tell me you won't help? That I've got to get rid of this…thing. And you — you have absolutely no idea what it is that you're asking me to do."

The sharp blade of 'amusement' in his face wanes, replaced with something he curates to be as close to neutral as possible, though it would be impossible to miss the coiling tension invisible to the mundane senses. "I don't give a shite if you have one with your wife or not; you still don't understand, because you're not me."

His expression tightens, hardens. "You didn't come up the way I did, did you, Gi? Got your box of tricks from good ol' grandpop Luigi as a boy. All the wealth, all the contacts, the acclaim, the fans. Took one look at your wife to be and fell in love, that's what 'tanna says. Just like that. How lovely and fairy-book for you. Know how many of those things I've had? None. 'tanna and I? We've had to fight every bloody step of the way for what we've got, and it's…" Mid-flow in his lambasting he hesitates. Delving into what that means to him is not something he would do lightly with anyone, and though he might have found the will to do that on any other occasion, he's still smarting from having been told so angrily to just destroy the thing in question. The moment's debate he has with himself is swept aside as though it were the whole contents on the top of a desk, roughly and recklessly. "It's not yours to destroy. Christ. To know after all this time, all the shite we've done, and seen, and — I saved her life. Fuck's sake. It would be nice if you could put even just the smallest shred of faith in me, but I'm not under any illusions, am I? So I'd settle for you not telling me you'd kick me in the bollocks if only you had the opportunity, even though you sodding well know what it's like for me."

The sound of his voice takes on a different quality, less angry, more solemn. "And even if I wanted to, which I do not, you have no idea what it did to her to lose the one she had with you. I can see it in her face when she talks about it. And you want me to just…abandon her like that?" Pause. His eyebrows get angrier: "Again?"


In the midst of John's furious litany, something cracks.

It's something more felt than actually heard, the unmistakeable expulsion of ozone by the very brief, very unintentional surge of magic. It is difficult to detect just when Giovanni started moving, only that he is suddenly right there in front of the British magus, a hand reaching out in an effort to grab him by the collar with a firm grip; not to choke him, but to hold him in place for a blow that looks inevitable at this point, because of a wholly uncharacteristic expression that dominates the cool, icy older gentleman.

Fury twists his face. His eyes burn like bottled lightning, lips lifted faintly under the fringe that lies above its upper to bare a hint of his teeth. Words, so many of them, rise within his chest in a tidal wave to match his rage, towering with every intent to catch John within his currents and drown him in it. Because while all of what he just said about his origins is true, he is not unaware of how things are between his former pupil and his daughter. And how could he not? He knows John, perhaps better than he could admit, and he knows Zatanna.

It threatens to spill. All of it. His circumstances with Sindella and what it costs him to know what he does while the link persists, what it cost him to sever the link with his daughter, the only thing in this world that he permits himself to have and therefore the recipient of almost the entirety of his affection and to live these next months depending on someone else to protect her. How he is, more than anyone, aware of how the apple of his eye can change someone because of the way she loves, and how he notices those differences in John - that he is absolutely wrong about not acknowledging the fact when he can see them and he is hardly unobservant. The erroneous assumption that he says what he does lightly, because he knows what it was like for his daughter; it mirrors what it had been like for him to let go of her in order to save her life, and most of all, wrong in that he is operating from a place of callous indifference of the younger man's suffering when he knows what will happen and he is trying to prevent more of it.

His lips part. It almost happens.


His fingers tighten reflexively. "I told you once," he says through clenched teeth. "That it brings me no joy to cause her pain, and none to cause you any, either." The slow, deliberate words do their work - he reclaims the reins of his control within the time it takes to say them, fingers unwinding from the Englishman's collar in a sudden gesture that is more geared towards getting that hand away from John than pushing at him, though that is what happens. "You know nothing, John."

He looks away from him, vestiges of that temper remaining, evident by the way his pulse ticks like the beats of a hummingbird's wings against the crisp white collar visible from his coat's lapels.

"But since you seem adamant about keeping it, I will render the assistance you are seeking, if nothing else but to prevent any disastrous experimentations the two of you might decide to undertake on your own."

You ought to reconsider, for your sake and hers.

Those are the words he knows he should say. But he's seen the look in the other man's eyes and knows already that there is no dissuading him…and the only recourse left to ease whatever follows is this. If not just a little.

He hopes.


It should shock John, this outburst from a man so typically restrained in his every gesture, expression, and word, but it doesn't. Or it does, perhaps, but only on some level deeply buried underneath layer upon layer of…other things.

Giovanni rises from the bench like a whipcrack, bringing with him forces beyond the understanding or perception of most other people — but not John, who feels its typhoon fury as though he were standing in the path of a lethal storm. That leather-gloved hand gets into John's lapels and curls into a tight fist, promising a hail of blows to follow, and John…

…holds the pale, pale eyes of Giovanni Zatara with silent insolence, refusal to bend, and the kind of resignation that can only come from a childhood in which this dynamic was the only thing he understood. A father's wrath, meted out through violence.

The look on his face is one he must have worn countless times as a boy. It promises nothing in the way of retaliation, but burns like cold fire in hard eyes that spite the suffering he anticipates, rebuking it: you may beat me bloody, but there are things in me you'll never break, no matter how hard you hit me. It may be the first lie he ever learned to tell, and it almost assuredly earned him more and worse whippings than he would have gotten otherwise.

So he waits for it, locked into decades-old patterns of behavior like a mouse in a maze, but the blow never comes. Instead, after struggling, after spitting words through his teeth, Giovanni releases him in a way that pushes John away. That too is familiar, and carries with it a different set of hurts — none of which have room to manifest in him in the moment, when adrenaline is spiked through him like a war horn. He snaps his coat back into place, and his shirt, and lids his eyes. "Then allow me to give you permission to stop bloody doing it," he says, of the pain Giovanni has caused him and claims not to enjoy delivering.

He pushes a breath out through his nose, purging himself of the exceptionally complex bundle of feelings brought on by that near-miss of violence. Enough for him to school his face, if not the emotions underneath. "Good. Tell me what I need to do."


Then allow me to give you permission to stop bloody doing it.

Giovanni doesn't rise to the bait this time. Barely impercetible tremors run over his fingers, which he quells by summoning his walking stick to him and folding both hands on top of the heavy metal head, using that, instead, as a conduit for his unrealized frustrations. His palms tighten over them, even as he takes a slow, quiet breath.

He still says nothing for long moments, ice-blue stare set on the surrounding shadows, though not at them directly - a point past them, somewhere deep in the surrounding ether, and the miasma of mystical energy that engulfs Gotham.

When he finally speaks, his voice has reclaimed its usual calm.

"Reaching out to one another directly is inadvisable without taking into account where you are in the Astral Plane," he begins. "Think of it like the atmosphere encompassing the earth, and its different layers - troposphere, stratosphere, mesosphere…and so on. The higher you climb, the clearer your connection and considering the nature of the tether and how it develops, that is the last thing you need."

He angles his head back towards John, face impassive. "You need to attune yourselves to the mid-level before attempting to communicate. Any higher and you will run the risk of bleeding into the other, and any lower would risk so much external interference that it would render the attempt useless and not as accurate as either of you would like. The layer you want is called the In-Between, as descriptive a term as you will find."

His eyes shut briefly. "On that layer, you can communicate with one another using mental holographic images of yourselves, as if you are in the same room speaking with one another. At first it will take a massive effort to do so, but it is possible to practice enough to make such a task instinctive."


The time that Giovanni spends silent remains that way; John was never one to fill silences with words unnecessarily, and that's doubly true when he's seething with anger and the seeds of injury tantamount to betrayal, all of which will take root later, once the crisis has passed. He nurtures the fires of anger that keep him from having to think about it until Giovanni begins to speak.

Emotion has never kept John from being a gifted student. He was never angrier or more impassioned than in the years he spent with Giovanni, escaping his shipwreck of a homelife, and they were arguably the richest years of his study, when he had to make all of the largest mental leaps in his craft, building foundations for everything that would come later. He soaks in what he's told, and needs no repetition.

The pause that follows the last of Giovanni's instructions is long enough for John to find some semblance of his usual speaking voice, though it's audibly taut. "Fine. Anything else I ought to know? Other resources to consider?"


"Practice often. The first few attempts will take a toll."

With that, the older man turns. A gloved hand lifts, a single word uttered before reality's sheath splits apart again to make room for an opening into another world. This time, it is lush and green, dotted with alien trees.

Giovanni says nothing else after that, long legs adopting a brisk, but unhurried clip. Stepping through the portal, it shuts decisively behind him. Not once does he look back.


Sky-blue eyes track the lean man's retreat from the sphere of the earth, and they remain focused on the point in space at which the portal had been for almost ten seconds after every last trace of magic in the air is gone.

It's not until then that he folds.

He bows his head, brings both of his hands up to rake through his hair, swirling through tousled locked, eyes lidding. His clothing conceals the hard bunching of muscles in his shoulders and back, all of the repressed tension in him still coiled clockspring tight, fed by the things he wasn't able to say or do and this new memory, still so fresh, of the moment that Giovanni almost hit him, looking at him the way his father had. The way Giovanni never had, until tonight.

It needs an outlet, this torrential force of wrath and bitterness, and he finds that in the side of a tree, slinging enough force through the hook of his fist against the rough, cold bark. He doesn't know how many times he hits it — enough, and hard enough, to break the skin on every last one of his knuckles, briefly dislocate a finger, deaden all of the nerves there, though shooting pains lance through the center of his hand and up toward his wrist. He'll be lucky if nothing is broken.

He braces himself against the tree with his unmaimed hand, leaning forward and catching his breath, and for those few precious moments feels better.

It doesn't last.

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