And The Truth Shall Set You Free

April 27, 2017:

The Berlin Team, after giving Bucky Barnes a few days to shadow her, finally come face to face with Giovanni Zatara's contact, Maria Krueger, who is more than what she seems.

Downtown Berlin - Germany

An apartment building in downtown Berlin.

Characters

NPCs: Maria Krueger

Mentions: Giovanni Zatara, The Red Skull, Batman

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Spring in Berlin is as expected to those who have been here before, which is most of the five-person party that has decided to embark on the hunt for Steinschneider. Exhaust from automobiles mingle with the scent of flowers and greenery from the old-but-young metropolis (as most of it had been leveled during World War II, so most of its skyline is relatively new compared to the rest of the continent), and as it approaches eight in the evening, they'd find the streets teeming with individuals looking forward to engaging in the German capital's vibrant nightlife. It is an atmosphere that they gradually find themselves leaving behind, however, the closer they get to Maria Krueger's building - for someone who lives right in the middle of the city, she seems to have managed to find its quietest corner.

They would find it eventually - an apartment building with six floors in which her flat is situated at the very topmost; John and Zatanna would be able to sense immediately that the construct is situated in an intersecting point between three leylines - probably the reason why the woman chose to make this her humble abode.

Before they venture inside, however, Bucky Barnes will have an opportunity to brief the rest as to what he has managed to find out about Giovanni Zatara's contact; dangerous times call for prudence, and a hefty amount of due diligence. It speaks to the nature of their endeavour that even Zatanna agreed that Bucky should shadow the woman for a day or two to make sure that there aren't any nasty surprises waiting for them, no matter how much she trusts her father's word that the sexagenarian was a legitimate source of information. With the Rising Darkness creeping up all over, it's only a matter of time when their pool of trusted contacts in the magical community becomes even smaller as everyone else in the know starts to take sides.

Should the rest decide to go up after receiving Bucky's information, they would find flights of narrow stairs waiting for them, contrasting sharply with the generous width of the hallways of the sixth floor when they finally reach it. Maria Krueger's apartment is at the very end of the hall, facing East Berlin, and where the famous wall once stood.

The frame surrounding her door appears to be carved out of a single piece of very white wood; it looks much like everyone else's in the floor, so much that the fact that it is made out of different material from the others present in the hallway. Mystical senses will be able to detect a hefty amount of magical protections imbued on the grain itself.

John and Zatanna can identify the signature immediately, given the relationship they have with the original caster: It is Giovanni's magic.

—-

"She's got some kind of aura on her," is the first thing Bucky Barnes says, because it's probably the most important thing up front. "Makes you feel real at ease with her. Gets stronger the closer you are. So just be aware of that. I could ignore it once I realized it was there, but I got no idea if she can turn it up, intensify it, what. Seems to work on animals. They love the shit out of her."

There's a shrug afterwards. He'd led the rest to Maria Krueger's building with the fluency of familiarity— he's been watching it for the past two days, waiting patiently in the shadows to tail the woman as she came and went— but at the threshold he'd stopped them all to give them this brief warning. "Other than that, seems normal enough, beyond the fact she's sixty-something and lives in a walk-up. Though that's not that unusual in certain cities." Like Bucky's own hometown, for instance. "Likes all the things old ladies like. Routines, farmer's markets, flowers, little bookshops— used to own the one down the street."

He shrugs again, grimacing briefly. They're closer to East Berlin here, closer to where the wall once was, and it's transparent it dredges up some uncomfortable memories, being here. He did a lot of work here.

With a gesture he indicates they might as well go up, at which point he lets John and Zatanna take point. He hangs back a bit, with Jane, hands shoved in his pockets.

—-

John's been scarce since they landed in Berlin, keeping odd hours and characteristically taciturn about his activities. In his strangely contemporary attire he's presumably been able to keep a low profile — certainly there haven't been any sudden failures to the integrity of reality or bizarre happenings couched as more mundane things in the morning news, so he must be behaving, at the very least.

He still keeps his hands in his pockets by default — they just happen to rest a little bit higher in this jacket than they do in the coat or his trousers — and they stay there even as they ascend six floors to the apartment in question. Blue eyes rake over the narrow walls of the stairwell and the hallway into which they emerge, pinned to the door at the end before the soldier leading the way begins his prelude. Familiarity radiates from that pale surface even at a distance, and as he closes in on the door itself and passes into the strongest core of the field of that energy his eyes tighten and his face hardens: forgiveness isn't on the table yet, after this latest dust-up with the Zatara patriarch.

He silently listens to the briefing, and once it ends he turns back to the door, eyeballing it with something very like suspicion beneath the obvious displeasure already there. He has his reasons. Clairvoyants, psychics — they usually take great joy in opening doors just as he's about to knock on them, and it never fails to tweak his todger the wrong way.

Eyes narrowing, he lifts his hand and goes to do just that.

—-

Jessica Jones has been hard at work on due diligence, searching for the journal in genealogy and old book rooms in library branches across Berlin. She hasn't found anything yet, a fact which she's reported on to the other five, but she looked. It's about being thorough. Dunce and her translation app have made it easy to rule out old books as she's located them. She is about ready to say that yep, this avenue is dead. But at least it was checked, and to Jess that seems almost as important.

She listens to Bucky's briefing and frowns. Her hands go into her pockets. Auras that are designed to make a person feel at ease are a thing which will actually do the opposite for one Jessica Jones. It smacks of trying to influence the mind, and while she won't be overt about her suspicion and risk losing this woman as a source, it does tell her to be very wary indeed.

She is, at least, well rested and looking far more relaxed, thanks to a certain teen witch's recommendation to a certain dream therapist. Whatever they talked about has eased some of the internal pressure considerably. She still gets a strange look of shame on her face whenever she looks at Jane, but she's more than capable of working now. And right now she's not looking anywhere but around this building. As Bucky indicates he wants to hang back with Jane she slips past them both with her head down, letting her hair conceal her face for a second as she settles in somewhere behind John. She'd seen his face harden and had wondered at it, but…now was not the time to ask.

—-

Even bereft of his usual costume, Red Robin is hardly without his expected array of toys… They just have to be concealed in more interesting ways. The cowls and domino masks he usually wears don't just serve to hide his identity, after all - a task which, currently, falls to a lot of subtle costume makeup and a few other tricks, a hundred tiny little changes that make him look nothing at all like Tim Drake - but also provide him with a constant feed of information, and the ability to see things that normal eyes can't. Which is way, today, he's wearing a pair of Wayfarers, the sunglasses a fully concealed rig that lets him watch the flow of electromagnetic energy through the building, wary as always for more mundane problems that might creep up while they're focused on the mystical ones.

Plus, he can't sense any of that stuff anyway, so he might as well focus on what he can.

The arrangement of bodies puts him in the middle of the group as they head up the stairs, though of course he's also watching the outside of the building simultaneously, invisible bat-drones all but silent in the spring air, providing another feed on the inside of those sunglasses.

—-

With her nose in her laptop in some capacity or another, unable to stop on of her incessant work binges even if she could, Jane Foster has been a regular fixture at the penthouse in Bucky's absences, readily conducting research in any sort of capacity others need, and when not, happy to resign to many of her other backlogged projects — namely that of dealing with the leagues and leagues of data coming from Ritchie Simpson. She only took break from work in time to listen carefully to Bucky's sitrep, taking it in largely neutrally — though always in her way, with a mixture of fascination and reticence. And then comes time for everyone to suit up.

Suiting up for Jane, at least, is no different than just her coat and a messenger bag, following Bucky's lead to hang back — let the magicians take the forefront on this.

Whatever shameful glances Jessica has Jane's way, the scientist seems not to notice, in that oblivious, innocence-is-bliss sort of way. Her bearing is untroubled, no different than it usually is, and halfway up the stairs, she slips her hand on the crook of Bucky's elbow and tilts her head, probably to try to make him smile.

—-

Clairvoyant? Psychic? Maria is neither of these.

John would know what she is the moment she opens the door to answer his knock, though her outward appearance hints at nothing unusual about her save for the aura that Bucky has already warned them about. Anyone within the vicinity of the woman would feel immediately at ease, something they know is strange, but can't help but feel. Her curly white hair has been pulled back in a neat coiffure held by pins, blue eyes peering out from underneath darker lashes. She wears a simple white blouse and a long skirt, with a pair of perfectly serviceable shoes on her feet. With the grandmotherly smile that she directs to the group, she looks very much like an ordinary human being.

But she isn't.

Not fully human anyway.

Warheitwesen living and interacting freely among humans are so rare that they are almost unheard of, much less ones that crossbreed with humans to produce half-fae children, and with good reason: such unions tend to have unpredictable results. Maria is fortunate enough to have sideskipped the usual downfalls of that kind of genetic roulette - disfigurements, extra appendages, unwanted psychological issues and the like - but she does embody the double-edged primary trait of her fae-half, aside from a natural aptitude for magic, namely the reason why Giovanni Zatara trusts her and why people feel that comfortable aura around her: Maria Krueger absolutely cannot lie.

…unfortunately, being part Warheitwesen, it also means that people within her vicinity also cannot lie.

Zatanna is staring at her openly, her jaw agape; the raven-haired witch has largely been silent as they moved up the stairs, though she radiates her typical restless energy borne out of curiosity than anything else. She has heard of Maria from her father, but he has divulged very little details other than the fact that he trusts her. This isn't really her first exposure to a member of the fae-folk either, but she has never come across this type before, nevermind that she identifies it immediately, a recalled tidbit buried underneath all the other lessons and adventures her father had taken her to in this part of the globe. She had, in fact, mentioned this to Red Robin just the other day: Germany is teeming with fae.

"…you're a…" she utters, stunned.

"Why, yes, dear," Maria says in perfect, if not accented English. "I hope I haven't disappointed anyone with my distinct lack of extra body parts and homicidal psychosis." After a long, considering look at John Constantine, she turns her eyes heavenward, heaves a sigh, before she waves a hand fo the group to enter. "Come in, come in. Giovanni said you might be visiting. Would any of you like anything? Tea? Strudel?"

The inside of the flat is quiet, and decorated with tasteful, if not somewhat antiquated furniture - most of it old, fragrant wood, and a variety of knick-knacks occupy the shelves. The space is dominated by a comfortable living room that leads into a kitchen. Another small hallway branches out from the side, towards the bedroom and bathroom.

"You've all come at a good time," she says, waving for the rest of them to sit, moving to the kitchen anyway. "Or a bad time, I suppose, depending on what side of the street you're on. There's been plenty of activity in Berlin lately, though nothing overt. It's like a…how do you say…" Fingers gesture vaguely until they snap. "A balloon waiting to pop, with everything that is happening underneath the surface."

—-

Jane drops back to this side, taking his arm and trying to coax a smile. He gives her a brief one, but his focus is clearly on their environs and on her safety. He watches the others as they head up the stairs, particularly John and Zatanna, as they seem the most likely to react to things he himself can't see.

He exchanges a brief glance with Jessica, and though no words are exchanged, after a moment he pulls out a box of what looks like really nice cigarettes, and taps one out. Sorry Jane, but this act is doing double duty as an 'I accept your apology gesture' to Jessica without him having to say it outright.

He's just lit it up when they step in upon the invite of Maria Krueger, and he smokes suspiciously as he scans both the woman and the apartment with a critical eye. He doesn't respond at first to Maria's greetings and offered tea.

"A what?" Bucky says instead to Zatanna's trailed-off statement, cranky as hell that people are just standing around with gobsmacked expressions and not actually telling him what's going on. "I'm suspicious enough already without you acting like I have cause to be."

There is a distinct surprised pause, because Bucky clearly hadn't meant to phrase it that way. Then he glares at John, as if this is his fault.

—-

Europe is teeming with fae, really. It's like that comedian says: you can hardly move for castles. Castles just laying about the place every which way. It's not necessarily strictly the age of the place, though that factors in a roundabout way. The real reason there are so many fae in Europe is that they're the consequence of a mystical diaspora event.

It's one of the few things about Europe that John has not missed since picking up to lightweight-live in New York City, actually — the lack of fae. They give him instant headaches. He might once have been wide-eyed and filled with wonder at the thought of their peculiar ways, their unusual connection with the divine and their convoluted cultural laws — many of which are designed to entrap the unwary — but that novelty has long since fled in the face of well-earned cynicism and enough experience with them to recognize that the fae are essentially a bedlam. There are only so many conversations you can try to have with cryptic pillocks doing a jig every three sentences before you want to choke yourself to death on all of the whimsy. And that's still better, somehow, than the way things get when they're not being whimsical, which is enough to keep a man awake nights.

All of which feeds into John's expression as the door opens and he finds himself face to face with this.

This woman.

"A bloody fairy," he says, for Bucky's benefit. "Well, it's early yet," he says dryly, of Maria's potential homicidal psychosis.

He follows her inside with the rest, and throws out a splayed, staying hand. "No. No tea or strudel. Nobody," he adds firmly, with a glance over his shoulder at the others, "Takes anything she offers them." He shoots her a flat look, exasperation around the edges. "No offense, luv, but you know how the game's played and so do I. It's not personal."

Hands in pockets, he lingers just inside, uneasy.

"Yeah, well. That's the Primordial Darkness, innit? Great big rising tide of shite, floating all god-awful boats. That's not why we're here, though."

He only notices very belatedly that Bucky's looking at him that way, and finally pulls his hands from his pockets to splay them out palms upward. "Wot? I'm not responsible for every stupid thing that happens."

—-

Bucky pulls out a cigarette, and Jessica sees it. She ducks her head and gives him a quiet little smile.

Then? They're in this woman's orbit.

Utter honesty from Jessica Jones is not an asset in some situations. Though the results might be kind of amusing? To the offer of tea and struedel? "No thank you. I have deep concerns that I will feel perfectly comfortable around you while you feed me something magical that puts me to sleep for 100 years like Rip Van Winkle. I would like a hug because you're triggering some intense Mom issues right now, but that's of course ridicu—"

Jessica snaps her mouth shut and says, "You know what? Never mind. Tea would be fine. Just fine. Because it will help me shut the fuuuuu—- frack up." What? The woman is OLD. "And I feel like that's a good thing right now. So! Thanks! Tea is great." Then John says NO TEA and NO STRUEDEL and no gifts of any kind! And Jessica adds, "Whoops, no tea for me then. Nope, just fine, apparently the Rip Van Winkle thing was a legit concern. Sorry for the confusion. I'm an asshole, it's a thing."

And then she just facepalms. There have been many instances over the past months where her dignity has been shattered one way or another. What the Hell is one more, right? A stupid thing to happen indeed.

—-

He'd been told, but of course there's a difference between being told something and really knowing it. The closest Red Robin has come to dealing with anything remotely like a creature of faerie - at least, insofar as he knows - were the once-human residents of Limbo Town, and fortunately it's been ages since he's had to navigate an encounter with something that… Alien. In comparison, the old woman at whose door they've come knocking seems positively normal.

A fact which is itself unsettling, when put into the perspective of what Bucky told them earlier, about the aura of ease that the woman generates.

He can't help but feel it, of course, but there's part of him that's… Removed from it. Distant, aloof. That considers the effect it's having on him.

It's fascinating.

"No thank you, ma'am," is Red Robin's polite answer to Maria's offered hospitality, having every reason to trust Constantine's warning. It sounds like something out of an old storybook, but maybe those old stories were written to warn people. He does, however, aim a curious glance from behind his sunglasses at Jessica, whose mouth seems to have taken on a life of its own. Well… She has seemed pretty stressed lately.

—-

That brief, flicker of a smile from Bucky Barnes is more than enough to warm Jane. Mission accomplished.

Hanging back, she even — this time — seems to give him less shit than usual over his cigarette. It earns a glance, knowing in some ways, exasperated in others, but Jane says nothing. She only, well, finds herself immediately at ease the instant Maria shows herself to all, gentling at the corners, offering up a comfortable, if-slightly-shy lift of her hand. Hello.

And then the magician shop talk. She glances among the group, transparently confused, before her eyebrows lift — /fairy/, those are apparently real now? — and Bucky is saying something about being suspicious, that's weird, and Jessica has mom issues, that's also weird, and don't accept anything.

"I really want a strudel because I have a guilty love for poptarts that ties back to my dead father complex," Jane answers matter-of-factly. Her eyebrows knot. "I also am unsure why I just said that. I want to know why everyone is speaking so literally, and this abnormality seems to be a confined phenomenon that has me hypothetizing the quantum nature of determinism and whether I should solve it for the micro or agential level. James also really needs to put out his cigarette too because aforementioned father issues gives me regular nightmares about cancer and it kills me he doesn't seem to care about that enough to stop, not to mention guests in someone's home, oh my god."

—-

James, so called out, slowly and awkwardly lowers and puts out his cigarette.

—-

"…she's a warheitwesen. Or part," Zatanna tells Bucky quietly as they're all ushered inside. "She can't lie."

She would say more, but Jessica's mouth comes alive and she can't help but stare at the private investigator from where she stands.

The raven-haired witch moves in further, and curiously takes a look at the knick-knacks dominating the shelves of the simple, but surprisingly roomy flat. She seems perfectly content for John to take the lead on this, though there's a furrowed-brow glance at him and his expression. Still, she can't help but hide a smile, all too familiar with just why he's wearing that face.

Well, it's early yet, John says, regarding her potential homicidal psychosis.

"Ja, well. Somehow I suspect should that arise, it will be less to do with my nature and more to do with yours, John Constantine," the older woman replies dryly, identifying him by name, because everyone in the magical world knows him or of him. When the rest are warned not to take anything from her, her brows lift. "Not even whatever you've come to me for, then? Should I expect this meeting to be short?"

She doesn't seem to have much of a problem sassing the Brit for his overt exasperation. Maria waves a hand dismissively. "No offense taken. You can't blame an old woman for being hospitable, can you?"

Shuffling steps take her to the window, which she opens given that people seem to be smoking cigarettes. She doesn't seem to mind this either, and is really only reminded of her own craving. Reaching for a lighter and her own pack resting on a bookshelf by the window, wrinkled fingers deftly works a flame from the green plastic affair, cheeks hollowing out to enliven the embers on the end. Turning around, she takes a seat right on one side of the sill, smoothing out her skirt.

"Well, I only meant partially that," she begins, with respect to the Rising Darkness. "But I mean more recently. Word has it that the Cold Flame is turning the city inside out for a very special boy that's also being hunted by his immortal great-grandfather, though I suppose I can hardly call him that anymore. He's about your age, I think." She gestures towards John, Bucky, Jane and Jess. "Anyway, as you can imagine, it's been causing ripples. Never thought the Swiss could generate this much noise, but I suppose there's a first time for everything."

Jessica's remark about Rip van Winkle earns her a bemused smile. "If anything I've always considered that more a cautionary tale of drinking too much booze offered to you by strange men. The story was written close to two hundred years ago and yet very little has changed in that regard."

And then, Jane. Brows furrow a little at her, and then, perhaps in a show of that hospitality that she has just mentioned, because as stated, she cannot lie and was being truthful in that regard, also slowly, quietly, puts out her cigarette.

Turning back to John, her brows lift towards her hairline. "So why are you here, then? Giovanni said you might need my help, but he was evasive as to what exactly." Typical.

—-

John finally explains— the woman is a fairy. Or half-fairy. She can't lie, Zatanna adds. It seems obvious that her aura includes 'no one else can lie, either.'

This visibly upsets Bucky, a man whose entire life is built on lies— even more so because now he can't even smoke the agitation away thanks to Jane's incredibly awkward reveal. At least Jessica appreciated the cigarette gesture for maybe two seconds, though she promptly got herself a case of honestmouth as well. Bucky looks even more upset about his current situation.

John pipes up that what, he's not responsible for every stupid thing that happens, and Bucky snorts. "Only every other stupid thing," Bucky grumbles, and he doesn't really need a truth-fairy to make him say THAT. He does take John's warning not to take anything offered to them seriously, however.

This apparently doesn't include information, however. Bucky listens in searching, watchful silence to what the half-fairy has to say. He does not interrupt, save for a sardonic aside midway through when she cites that the Cult and Steinschneider both are after a 'very special boy' about their age. "Doubt it. I'm probably more contemporary with the goddamned great-grandfather."

Honesty!!

She wants to know why exactly they are here. Bucky wants to know things too. "I wanna know why you agreed to help," he says. "What you get out of it. Whether you can be trusted." Wellllllll… she supposedly can't lie, right?

—-

"I'm responsible for enough tragedies that I don't need you saddling me with whatever else," John ripostes — with a glance at Bucky that does not even begin to argue the point any further, words that hang on a shrug — once he's finished staring at the other people he's come to the apartment with. Their confessions hang in the air like the smoke of the cigarette Bucky is already putting out, and the look on John's face as he listened to each one in turn would be difficult to describe. Faintly knit-browed, slightly inconvenienced, otherwise the kind of iron-clad neutral that withholds whatever opinions he may actually have. He has every intention of pretending he never heard any of it.

"Christ. No wonder Giovanni thought this would be the height of hilarity," he mutters. As long as he can stay on-topic, things should be fine. He doesn't have to open his mouth…he just needs to be careful.

Which he is, mostly, though the Rip Van Winkle talk has him sighing in a way that suggests he gets more tired of explaining this kind of thing for the muggles than he's usually willing to let on. "You take something given to you by one of the fae, you owe them whatever they feel like asking you for in return. It's bad business and she should know better, and she probably does. I bloody well hope Giovanni didn't ask you to meddle about with questions on his behalf. I'm half a tick from putting my boot up his arse as it is." Even as he articulates the last word he's pulling his face into a faint grimace. He's got decades of experience and it's still maddeningly easy to let his thoughts sidetrack down side alleys to places they don't belong, carrying his mouth along with them. It makes him visibly bristle.

The fae. God.

"Look," he says, the cutting gesture he makes in the air with his hand meant to express a determined focus on the task at hand, "We're—"

He pauses. He'd been about to lay the whole thing out for her, but Bucky's question likely deserves answering, so for the time being he bites his tongue, shoving his hands once more into the pockets of his jacket.

—-

Jessica winces visibly. Her sorry gift to Bucky triggered issues for Jane. Shit.

But Bucky is asking great questions, and John gets his own truthmouth going, and she decides she's done enough. She will wait till she has questions, but Bucky's needs to be answered first. So slowly, deliberately, she reaches into her pocket and withdraws a candy. She found some in a shop while wandering around libraries, and while sugar is no substitute for booze it's the one she can legitamately reach for, either to keep her from lapsing on her own cigarette habit, an addiction she kicked years and years ago but which does occasionally present its own cravings, or her booze habit.

It's taffy, it's chewy, and it should keep her mouth very busy indeed. She resolutely unwraps it and sticks it into her mouth. Nom nom nom. Of all the things she could have babbled on about, at least Mom issues were the least damaging and embarrassing. John's comment about Gio and the boot makes her frown faintly and cut a glance to Zatanna. Has she unknowingly caused some other kind of damage by suggesting John should pass on her offer of help?

Ugh. Well that can be dealt with later, if so. She takes her leather-clad muggle butt to the edges of the room at this point, and chooses to listen.

—-

To Red Robin, at least, it sounds like Maria already knows exactly why they're here. She didn't bring up the Cult of the Cold Flame, or Steinschneider, or his great-grandson, for no reason. It might seem like casual conversation, but he doesn't buy that for a second. Even if she can't lie, even if her presence is soothing in a peculiar way, that doesn't mean she can't obfuscate. Can't let what she does and doesn't say draw them into making erroneous conclusions.

There is, after all, a world of difference between 'not lying' and 'telling the truth'.

The young man remains quiet, watching from behind those sunglasses as Constantine almost lays their proverbial cards on the table, but defers to Bucky's sensible paranoia even in the face of Maria's relaxing aura. It's a very good question, in Red Robin's mind, especially in light of what the magus told them about accepting things from faeries and their ilk. Of course, the lion's share of his observation is directed at the older woman. Feeling at his ease or not, part of his brain simply won't let go of his own healthy sense of paranoia.

Which, thanks a lot, Bruce.

—-

And now, half a minute later, it truly starts to sink in to Jane Foster what indeed, in the good god Hell, she just said. For a woman who likes to pick and choose her words in mixed company — save for the dreadful moments they all choose to fall out of her — this is very not her definition of her best moment.

Totally mentioned the dad thing, yep, twice, she sure did, and Jane flushes pink at the cheeks, receding somewhat to the background for these moments as the others take to engaging Maria. She might need a few for the count, if just to compose, but for now has done well to protect herself by covering her right hand over her mouth. Can't say anything more if she can't speak. Right now, she's just happy to listen to someone, anyone, speak who isn't herself.

—-

"Oh?" That's interesting. The woman peers at Bucky Barnes. "…well, you look very good for your age, dear." Followed with a wink.

But he asks good questions and Maria sighs, suddenly wishing that she didn't put out her cigarette. "Giovanni and I are friends," she tells him. "One of the few that he has in this world, and in others. There was some trouble here around forty years ago when the two of us were still young magicians, that was how we met, in fact. To those of you who pay attention to history, the Wall was still up - located the way it is, and how it was built, it was pushing the flow of Magic one way towards the West while those living in the East were denied access. It impacted my folk a great deal, those of us who are inherently tied to the magic of this land, and Giovanni was tasked by the All Stars to try and broker a truce. Just because humans are fighting on the surface didn't mean that the rest of us had to, and all of that. But fae died on both sides anyway and in one of the worst parts of it, he saved my life. We've been assisting one another ever since."

There is a hint of a smirk. "But as you can probably tell, I am very much happily retired from the front lines."

John's remark about Giovanni, though, has her lifting her brow at him. "Trouble at home, dear?" she wonders, with a pointed glance at Zatanna. "What did the prodigal son do now?"

"They had a fight because Daddy wants him to stay away from me and we can't help ourselves," Zatanna offers, and given how she usually is, it's really hard to determine whether this is the woman's influence or just the raven-haired young lady being stupidly open and truthful self.

Maria frowns visibly. "What. Isn't he too old for you?"

Color flushes on Zatanna's pale cheeks. "A little but that doesn't matter to m— " She forcibly claps her hands over her mouth and the rest of it is muffled in, poured into the waiting cups of her palms until she ends her self-inflicted torture by finding a tootsie pop in her pocket and shoving it in her mouth…without unwrapping it.

The older woman sighs. "Anyway, as I said. I'm retired. Meddling is not in the cards, and after our years helping one another, I doubt that Giovanni will begrudge me a quiet retirement. I'm availing myself to you as a resource for information, and nothing more."

—-

Oh for Christ's sake, the old half-fairy woman just hit on him. Bucky's eyes narrow a little at the wink. "Considering how I kept the youth, I'd rather just look my age," he says— and winces. That was not what he intended to come out. This fairy stuff sucks.

It seems the safest thing to do is to just try talking strictly business, and he has questions he wants answered before anyone else starts telling this woman anything at all. He listens, sharp-eyed, to her response, his willpower in a constant battle against her aura's attempt to soothe him out of being suspicious as all hell.

No. He refuses. He's operated far too long to be coaxed into carelessness.

Her answer seems satisfactory to him for now, though. He doesn't relax per se, and he still doesn't really trust her, but he seems ready to listen— and to let transactions transpire. He falls silent, a glance shot at John in a silent 'I'm done' look; underneath the business-like aspect of it, it's also a bit searching, a little commiserating, because he can identify with being responsible for enough tragedies.

He physically recedes as well, noticing Jane melting into the background. Moving to her side, he reaches wordlessly to take her hand in a brief squeeze.

—-

Salacious fairy talk doesn't seem to surprise John in the least. It doesn't even rate a glance. The story about her association with Giovanni — where they met, how and why — is something he is interested in, always attentive to revealed pieces of a life with meaning to him, largely shrouded in mystery as it is…but it's a complicated thing, that listening, colored as it must be by the present state of that relationship's disrepair.

Disrepair that Zatanna does not even hesitate to discuss. John's mouth opens, closes. He looks momentarily at a loss, and then his brows knit inward, shadows of irritation suggesting themselves. "It's more complicated than that," he says, and then he begins to second-guess himself. Is it, really? "I think," he adds, and feels the overwhelming urge to put his head through the wall, those two words more of a concession than he would ever typically make.

It all just goes from bad to worse immediately after that. He shoots Zatanna a look of something very like betrayal, though there are other things that swirl around in it for the breath or two of time that it exists visibly in his expression. Guilt, because of course. Unease and pique, as well.

He vents them on the half-fae, one hand lifted to point. "Look, you cheeky bint, I don't need editorializing from you. That's none of your bloody business and I'll thank you — "

He tries to fight it. He makes a good showing of it, but it defeats him: "No I want —"

Frustration wells up into the space behind his eyes, pale blues gleaming like flint. He is SO READY TO LEAVE. "— to keep your nose out of it. We're here for the immortal nazi. He came very close to killing 'tanna, and this Cult's gotten the notion that it'd be a good idea to have someone impersonate Gi and go running about. If I didn't know him as well as I do, I'd never have been able to tell the difference. Whatever you can tell us about Steinschneider and the Cult, we'd appreciate it. And I don't like having to ask for a favor after I just called you a cheeky bint, but you are one and we still need the information, so there you go. If it weren't for your sodding honesty aura I wouldn't have called you one, so it's basically your fault anyway." He squares his jaw, pushes a hard exhale out of his chest, supremely annoyed.

—-

Jessica Jones is kind of happy she's not the only one who got a case of honesty mouth from this entire affair. She really is. She swallows her candy, having thought this through a bit more, and starts trying to think like a detective again. "And his family members. The two he was keeping tabs on. What does he want out of them?" This time she speaks very slowly and deliberately, focusing only on what she needs to ask. Questions can't be true or false, they're just questions. And she finds when she focuses on singing bowls and pools of water, her version of the void state Bucky was trying to teach her, she can stick to the basics without embarrassing herself again. The PI has slid her hands back into the pockets of her jacket, but after a moment's thought she withdraws a little notebook and a pencil, poised to take notes just like

—-

Given the way Maria's presence seems to be affecting people - not merely the inability to lie, but the way she's putting them at ease causing them to be more forthright than they would be under other circumstances - Red Robin is increasingly glad that he's at least wearing sunglasses. They aren't a patch on the cowl for hiding his expressions, and he finds himself worrying that his face might betray him. But he's kept back, out of the center of the room, so he can observe.

It's childish, foolish, stupid that he still lets it get to him, especially in a time or a place like this. He takes that twinge of sour envy and he shoves it into a box in the darkest corner of the back of his mind, castigating himself for thinking about things that don't matter. Focus on the work. Don't be distracted. Batman was right.

"Any information you might have about them could be useful, ma'am," he says from where he's standing, all business. Especially if you know what Steinschneider's motives are, generally. Despite everything, he's remained a bit of a cipher."

He pauses, considers. It might pay off to take a bit of a gamble, while they're here.

"Or if you might know what connection he had with a woman named Greta Muller, before his original death?"

—-

Holy shit, the old half-fairy woman just hit on James. Jane's eyes widen a little at the same wink. Between that strange comfort and something else that's loosened her tongue, it's literally only her own hand clapped over her mouth that stops the woman from blurting something /else/ out. The mercurial urge passes, and realizing a second later what she even wanted to add, she just presses her hand down over her lips all the harder. Oh god, oh god, oh god.

Perhaps the only thing to stir Jane out from her brief, inward mortification, is to hear Bucky's response to Maria's question, far more brazen and revealing that anything she knows he'd say — and it twists up her heart.

She listens however she can, even if it is the passive absorption of information for later recall — though some of it has Jane cursing her eidetic memory, because some facts and embarrassing reveals of her friends she'd much happier never, ever know, oh God this is the worst —

Eventually, finished with his questioning, and no doubt with the rest of it, Bucky retreats to find her and silently take her hand. Jane looks up at him, her fingers still touched ashamedly over her mouth to keep her from speaking, but her brown eyes shine grateful. Her fingers thread his and tighten.

—-

Zatanna has officially checked herself out of this conversation at the look John flashes at her. With the covered lollipop still in her mouth, she attempts to actually…well. Hide behind Jessica surreptitiously, who speaks up with questions of her own.

Maria puffs out her cheeks; being called a bint, cheeky or otherwise, doesn't cull much of a reaction but a slightly exasperated smile, especially at the annoyed Englishman's face.

"I don't know much about the Cult," she replies. "Only that it and Giovanni have had bad blood across decades, largely to do with the people who founded it to begin with. One of his best friends, I believe. You know as well as I as to what a private life that man leads, all he's told me about them is that he intends to end it or die in the attempt, he believes in its destruction that strongly. The Steinschneiders, however, I know more about. The entire family is gifted, from what I've heard in the circles I used to run with, but that community is entirely different from ours - the clairvoyants, but I have heard a few pieces of news that may be relevant to your search. I don't know how credible they are, but there are rumors that the boy knows the whereabouts of the copy of the Spear of Destiny that the Nazis made when the real item was in their possession and this is probably the reason why the immortal is looking for him. But these are rumors, mind. If there's any truth to it, I believe it might serve your interests to speak with him. There may be some complications with that, however. Namely that the boy, Reiner Steinschneider, is missing. At least, officially."

The half-fae stands up and moves towards her kitchen to look for a pad of paper and a pen. She scribbles a name and an address on it, before ripping it off the pad and handing it to Constantine.

"When Hitler was basically feeding his occult obsession, he scouted out mystical talent all across Germany. Some joined the cause willingly, due to Steinschneider's influence, but others rebelled. The clairvoyant rebels, in particular, hated Steinschneider with a passion and did what they could to undermine the work he was spearheading with the Nazi occult division. The cell called themselves Das Auge….and it still exists to this day, largely comprised of the descendants of its original members. It's become more of a social club in the later half of the twentieth century and most of this one, but considering what's been happening everywhere lately, they've become much more active. I heard that they're the ones responsible for the boy's disappearance…but who knows. They're clairvoyants. They're just as secretive as any other magician, some say even moreso. They can, after all, see bits and pieces of the malleable future."

To Jessica's question, the older woman shrugs. "There's plenty of underground chatter on Reiner, but not much on the woman. That's not surprising, though. She married into the family, so she doesn't have the gift. I did hear, however, that the Cult is keeping tabs on her also, though for what, I don't know, but they haven't touched her. Either they're keeping their distance, for some reason, or their resources are presently being spent looking for Reiner in hopes of him leading them to Steinschneider….or use him as bait to lure out his great-grandfather. Equal odds, really. I don't know the boy personally."

The mention of Greta Muller, however, triggers a bolt of surprise, washing visibly over the woman's face. There is a long considering look towards the young and mostly silent man at the back.

"I haven't seen or heard that name since I was an apprentice," she begins, settling on her loveseat, this time. "From old records. If I recall correctly, it was Fraulein Muller that created the copy of the Spear of Destiny. She was a brilliant engineer, and alchemist. She was Steinschneider's partner in the division."

—-

Seeming to think that he has done his part for the time being, Bucky retreats to Jane's side to take her hand in quiet reassurance. He's also feeling guilty about the smoke thing; it's never something she's said so bluntly to him outright, and it sobers him to imagine that was what she was thinking and feeling, every time he shrugged off her protests about his persistent habit.

There are many other things others are saying too, in this little bubble of unwanted candidness, that he kind of wishes he was not hearing.

He listens intently to what the half-fairy has to say, in lieu of thinking too hard about those unpleasant personal revelations. All the talk about Nazis, and what the Nazis did, and the little clubs they made… all of it darkens his eyes with hard, cold memory. "I thought I was done fighting Nazis seventy years ago," he grumbles, "but they just can't stop ruining my life."

He sighs a little. "Das Auge… didn't know it was still around. Though we didn't know much back then either, other than Schmidt hating the shit out of it." He doesn't look thrilled about what he is learning about it, decades later.

—-

"On the table first, thank you," John reminds Maria in a murmur, and he doesn't pick up the piece of paper until it's set down first. He was obviously being extremely literal when he said 'do not accept things from the fae.'

Once she does set it down he plucks it up, listening to her explanation while he skims the contents of the page, then folds and tucks it away. It gives him time to school that look of overt irritation back into something more typical of him — which is not to say it lacks tension, only that the tautness there is more the product of the intensity he brings to his professional work than any kind of remark on his personal life.

It won't save Zatanna, whose link to him is a kind of perpetual honesty field of its own; she'll have to suck on that wrapped lollipop and contend with the knowledge that underneath his facade of businesslike lack of enthusiasm, John is several different kinds of irked, and that's probably going to be A Thing later.

In the meantime:

"You know a hell of a lot about what Steinschneider and Greta Muller were doing. Why were they trying to make a copy of the Spear? Why did Steinschneider wind up being jabbed with the bloody thing? And how do you know so much about it?"

—-

Zatanna is hiding behind her? That's strangely gratifying actually. Jessica smiles a little, ducking her head. It just causes a surge of warmth she can't even explain. Not that Zee truly needs protection from John, but it's a gesture that speaks of someone who nevertheless trusts that Jess can be some sort of shelter in some sort of storm, and since that touches on the type of person Jessica would at least like to be, it's a nice thing.

She resists the urge to say so though, writing furiously to capture every word that Maria says, even if it makes her handwriting twice as hopeless as before. Once upon a time, before her life was turned upside down for good, she was an expert note taker and a straight-A student. That quality helps in her work. She probably could just record it all on her phone, but the act of writing helps her remember, and who knows how the phone would interact with the fae?

The reveal that Greta was an engineer and alchemist causes Jessica's eyebrows to shoot up. She tilts her pencil at Red. Point to you, it seems to say, because he was the one that said 'stop assuming it was just the mistress.' "And," she says, adding to John's flow of questions, "Any chance she stabbed herself too and is running around hoping to become a brand new kind of problem?"

As for things she wishes she wasn't hearing, well…

It seems…she's…compartmentalized them.

—-

Silence is useful. Silence keeps you from revealing too much when you're around someone who projects a field that both causes people to be at ease despite themselves, and makes them unable to lie. They've seen how easy it is to let your mouth run away from you under the circumstances, so it's probably not surprising that Red Robin waited, that he chose his words and their timing carefully.

All to the good, it seems. The gamble paid off.

There's a subtle shift around the young man at Maria's surprise, at what she says about Greta Muller and her involvement in things. Until right that moment, the woman had been a mystery, a complete cipher. Now, to get an answer from someone who by all accounts can't lie…

He leans forward, just a little bit. This, now, is something he can sink his teeth into. But he has to be careful, still. That aloof part of his mind, paranoid and wrought perhaps in the image of the man who trained him, reminds him again of the gulf between 'not a lie' and 'the truth'. Maria is hedging, after all. From old records, she says. If I recall correctly.

He barely notices Jessica's acknowledgement of what he said before; right now, his attention is fixed on the half-fae woman.

Maybe time to take another chance. A fresh hunch, filtered out of what he just heard.

"Steinschneider's son, Armand. What side was he on?"

—-

Everything, at the moment, is ridiculously tense in ten ways among everyone, and Jane tries to endure it the best way she knows how: good old awkward silence. And well, the whole hand-over-her-mouth muffle still in play to keep herself from saying anything else she will immediately and absolutely regret. She can even sense, in some vague way, Bucky's quietly guilting away at her side. Definitely a discussion for later. For now she holds onto his hand, punctuating it with a swipe of her thumb over his knuckles: seriously, no guilt needed, she knows you're doing it.

Still maintaining a polite, if very necessary silence, Jane still multitasks listening on — her eyebrows knit with brief fascination at the talk of engineering a facsimilie of the Spear of Destiny — in better spirits and more trusting of her own words, she'd be chattering interestedly about that. As for now, she leaves the questions to the detectives.

—-

"Oh yes, they still exist," the half-fae tells Bucky. "Considering Steinschneider's thorny history with Das Auge, they're either keeping the boy safe out of goodwill, or hiding him out of spite. They try to live up to their forebears' reputations."

She sets the piece of paper on the table with nary a blink before she takes a seat. When John picks it up, he'll find a name:

Derrick Keller
Das Auge

And an address to a whiskey bar somewhere in the northern quadrant of West Berlin.

You know a hell of a lot about what Steinschneider and Greta Muller were doing.

John's suspicions resurface - all very good questions, really. But the older woman nods to the bookshelves by him. "I would like to think I'm familiar," she murmurs. "Because my father was the division's prisoner for most of the war. They kept him in a cell like an animal. He barely had any magic left, when he was finally rescued by the Allies. And by rescue I mean, they hit its headquarters and found him in the basement cells. Once he was freed, he took as many of the documents as he could and ran. At that point, understandably, he didn't want anything to do with humans."

There's a thin smile at that. "That didn't stop me from wanting to know what happened at that time of his life, as he would never talk about it. I found the papers by chance, but before I could read all of them, my father discovered my impertinence and torched them." Her thumb absently rolls over the back of her left hand, over a scar, faded by time and age.

Her fingers fold over her lap. "As for the rest, I don't know. I don't know why they wanted to create a copy of the Spear, just that one was created and it's in the wind. You know as well as I that the real deal was reclaimed several years ago, so it's probably more difficult to retrieve the original than the copy, which is still missing. I don't know for certain how Steinschneider got stabbed by it or why, the popular theory was that Goebbels' assassination attempt went south and the killer used it out of desperation.

Jessica's question next: "I don't think so," she says with a furrowed brow, blue eyes squinting with every effort to recall. "From what I understand, she's been long dead. They found her body outside of Berlin, I believe it was a gun that killed her."

The quiet young man's question has Maria regarding him for a long moment once more, brows still lifted. Whether she is surprised or impressed, it is difficult to discern. "Truthfully, I don't know," she says. "All I know about him is that he was a powerful clairvoyant like his father, perhaps the most talented of the bunch. Ambitious, also…some say he recorded his visions and his discoveries in a journal, but that's hearsay, so I don't know whether it actually exists or not. There were rumors during the…" She pauses to remember. "…around the 1960's that he actually found the copy of the Spear, but lost it. Nobody knows exactly what happened, or the circumstances of the hows and whys. Sounds like family secret territory, really. Thankfully for the rest of you, you have at least one member of the family you could ask."

—-

John's silence stretches throughout all of the explanations, standing in absolute stillness save for a brief glance at the shelves, across which blue eyes tick in swift but thorough inventory. Not that it much matters, when she reveals the lot of documents has long since been reduced to ashes, but he's not beyond feeling curious about what sort of reading material she's keeping.

Mention of how Greta was found just outside of Berlin causes his brows to momentarily knit, recalling something in the information passed to him by Jessica on that night they met in the deli after hours, what feels like ages ago. The tenuous chip of shadow at his crown doesn't linger long, though. Confirmation of the journal's existence is more alluring, and possibly more actionable, at any rate.

It's a very long moment before he speaks again, once she's finished answering Red's question. "When— " Not if, but when, "— we get our hands on him, there are going to be a lot of questions that need answering. You'd be useful to have in the room for obvious reasons. I'll understand if you'd rather not, but maybe a bit of a kick in the bollocks on behalf of your da is in order, hm?" He flicks a glance through the window because it's safer than looking at Jessica, Bucky, or Jane directly, given what he's about to say and the fact that he knows the half-fae's presence is going to force it to come out of his mouth in a way he would rather it not: "I can make him cough up what he knows in other ways, but given some of the personal history of a few of us it'd really be better if I didn't have to go to those lengths. I will if I have to, because I am through with playing silly buggers with this prat, but I'd prefer alternatives."

—-

It only cinches Red Robin's earlier determination: They need to find that journal.

It was enough to begin with that it was something Steinschneider had wanted, a piece of information he'd been passed by Spoiler weeks before, and temporarily lost in the shuffle of more immediate disasters. If the rumours the old woman speaks of are accurate, if it does contain the visions and discoveries of a powerful clairvoyant, then that's all the more reason to keep it out of the hands of the man they've been chasing. And, perhaps Zatanna was right. Perhaps if it came down to it, they could use Armand's journal as bait to lure Steinschneider out of hiding.

Still, plans about what to do once they have the journal are just mist and smoke until they've actually got their hands on the thing.

"If the Cold Flame has eyes on Reiner, then things are going to get hairy once we try to talk to him," the vigilante muses, thinking out loud more than he would normally. "They didn't seem like big fans of meddlers that last time, and there's how this Das Auge group will react to consider, too. Add in Steinschneider himself who, if he does have an interest in his great-grandson, might take advantage of the chaos to make a move…"

He shakes his head, slightly; he doesn't really have anything to interject about Constantine's concerns, because he's not entirely sure how the presence of someone like Maria would alter the landscape of an interrogation, and instead he contents himself with listening and observing on that one.

—-

Of course Tim's already strategizing. Zatanna glances over at him with a quiet nod - all are concerns that they'll probably need to consider when they try to get to Reiner and talk to him.

The reading materials are probably not the reason why the older woman glances at it. Amidst mystery bestsellers, travel guides and grocery store romances - mundane reading materials at best - is a grainy photograph of a man and woman taken in front of the cafe/independent bookstore that Bucky said Maria once owned. For a member of the fae-folk, Herr Krueger looks remarkably human, though given the race's predilection for glamour, that probably isn't surprising.

"Mhm," Maria says, to the rest of Constantine's suggestions. "I'll see what I can do to be there."

With that, the older woman rises, suspecting that the meeting is at an end. "Well, then. It was lovely meeting all of you. I'm certain I'll see some or all of you sooner rather than later." Taking a few steps towards the front of the house, she opens the door and shows her guests out.

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