Too Close

April 30, 2017:

Miserable from her last fight with John Constantine, Zatanna Zatara receives a shoulder and an ear from one Jessica Jones, and the ensuing conversation triggers enough creativity in part of the young witch that may just solve a pressing problem she has been struggling with.

Red Robin's Penthouse - Berlin - Germany

Red Robin's swanky penthouse in Berlin, Germany.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: John Constanine, The Winter Soldier, Red Robin, Dr. Jane Foster, Giovanni Zatara, Trish Walker, Azalea Kingston

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

She was all sound and fury when she returned to the penthouse at the wee hours of the morning, stalking into the darkness of it before moving into one of the other spare bedrooms in the complex, and giving the room she shared with John a wide berth. The door slammed shut, and for a few blessed hours during the day, there was nothing but silence from the door.

The morning shifts to afternoon and then the early evening, and there's no sign of her.

When Jessica finally knocks on the door, or at the very least threatens to break it down if she doesn't answer it, there's a soft, answering click of the lock disengaging, letting the woman inside the dimly-lit space. There is a lone lamp turned on, situated on the desk next to copies of the documents that she and Red found, as well as a map of Berlin with red marker lines, with which she has charted the leylines that criss-cross the city. Maria Krueger's apartment has a glaring crimson check as well as the hill in which the UNION JACK Whisky Pub once stood. There are notes with Zatanna's quick, nearly unintelligible handwriting, detailing her own observations on the false Zatara and what she could glean from his magic, put down on paper in order to recall the moments in which his sorcery and her own had intertwined. There is a book, pulled from Zatanna's digital copy of her father's library, on dimensional magic, dog-eared on the passages most relevant to her search. Her laptop is open, her e-mail box visible, the glow of it casting white-blue illumination in the otherwise shadowy space.

There is a lump on the bed, covers drawn on top.

It shifts, a pale limb drifting down to a shotglass on the floor, standing next to a bottle of fine tequila, which Jess would know is a liquor that the young woman absolutely detests, and can't stomach no matter how high quality the bottle is, but given this latest foray into self-destruction, it's probably not surprising to find it there. Fingers fumble over until she finds the lip of the bottle blindly, pouring some of it on the floor before a few splashes manage to hit the glass. It nearly tips over on its end when it finally reaches the floor again, and after another few fumbling gropes, those deft digits fall over the tiny glass receptacle, which disappears back into the covers.

After a few moments, a hoarse, quiet voice filters through layers of fabric, frayed on the edges and laden with misery. Often uninhibited with her emotions, she runs the entire spectrum of human feeling every day, but something this severe is rare, and the private investigator would probably realize the cause immediately.

"Could you close the door, please…?"

Polite as can be.

—-

It was a knock, promise. Just a knock.

Jana Bodie's therapy has been helpful for one Jessica Jones; whatever coping mechanisms are being taught are immediately helpful at putting her on an even keel. It means she has reserves to spare for others again at last, and she had indeed noted the tell-tale signs of things being very wrong, from Zatanna's unusual behavior to John's conspicuous absence.

Zee has been there for her both physically and emotionally dozens of times. The least she can do is return the favor, if she can. And as leery as she is of her own abilities in this area after making her missteps with Bucky, well…she can't let that stop her. She'll wade into this fray, try not to do any damage, try to actually help…and deal with it if she somehow makes it worse.

There is a wealth of information sitting there; the word 'dimensional' definitely catches Jessica's eyes. But she's already gotten her briefing. And gave one of her own: Weir is probably legitimately what she seems to be. She left Dunce to play surveillance drone; her phone will ping her with video clips if anyone gets too close to the house, and Jess has traced the fastest route there and back.

Thus, she can pay attention to the lump on the bed. Her nose picks up the scent of liquor immediately; it burns her nose and tempts her lips, forcing her to fall back on Jana's advice to simply observe feelings in the moment, allow them to pass, take a deep breath, and consciously decide how to respond. In this case, she consciously decides to gently cap the tequila and move it away into the bed the moment Zatanna is done sloshing it into her shotglass, making sure it's out of reach once more. Zee has already said things that indicate she's dealt with an alcoholic in the past, which could only be her father. For the first time it occurs to Jess that the younger girl might just have a tendency to alcoholism herself, should those buttons be pressed. And she's well familiar, oh so familiar, with drinking stuff that one despises just to stop feeling the pain.

She does not try to take the woman's glass though; that's sacrosant. She might gently try to encourage Zatanna to stop, but she won't get pushy. Sometimes, as Trish said: one just needs to get out of one's head.

She steps over, closes the door, and locks it again. Then she sits next to Zatanna on the bed. She reaches out to start rubbing slow circles over the witch's back, offering physical comfort, offering her presence. She does this for almost sixty full seconds before she finally speaks, choosing her words carefully. Her alto normally tends to hard-bitten edges; few would guess at the depths of gentleness she's actually capable of. That gentleness comes through now, however.

"Wallowing?"

—-

Wallowing?

The last time Jessica had been in this position, she was in Shadowcrest, drunkenly propositining Peter Quill until Zatanna intervened. She had told her then that she needed to wallo, and that there was nothing wrong with it. While most people do not often follow their own advice, this one, at least, is one that she throws herself in, body and soul. The comforting touch through the blanket has her curling up tighter on the mattress, the sound of something tight and choked filtering through. Save for a few locks of raven-black hair spilling over the end of the mattress, nothing else of the young woman is visible. For a moment, silence punctuates the first few minutes after Jessica says the word.

Finally, the teenager croaks from underneath the sheets: "…yes…"

Never one to start conversations without looking at the other person in the eyes, the sheet slowly peels back, leaving Jess with a full view of ice-blue eyes wreathed with bloodshot veins. Paler than her usual wont and wan, Zatanna looks almost sick, the light in her eyes more feverish than her usual jubilant spark, the picture she presents is reflective of the potent cocktail of heartbreak and tequila in her system, her nose red and her lips chapped from the pervasively dry chill lingering in the room by way of the open window. Her body shifts, blankets bunching around her as she slowly, sluggishly twists over the bed to look at the other woman, fingers lifting to gingerly test her blotchy nose.

It proves to be a mistake. The sight of Jessica's gentle expression, so rarely glimpsed even by those closest to her, only coaxes tears to brim over that scarlet-rimmed stare. Turning her face into her pillow, she buries the sob into it.

"Oh, Jess, it was so horrible." The words manage to escape her through clenched teeth and a fresh wave of pain. "I don't understand how we manage to keep doing this. One moment things are utterly amazing, and in another moment it just…it just comes apart so suddenly neither of us can breathe and we just…you'd think we'd learn how to hold back, but we never learn and now I just…oh god, how else was I supposed to react when he asks me something like that? Daddy was all I had for the longest time and he just asks me how he can tear him apart. I don't understand why I can't just be the one to try. Did I just not act fast enough for him?"

A hand comes up, dragging knuckles over her eyes. "Oh, god, I don't know how…it hurt so much the first time he left and I thought things would be different this time. But the moment things get difficult, he just…threatens to throw it all away. And I have to wonder if it's gonna be this way from now on. That if…the moment things get difficult, he'll just put a gun to whatever it is we have and threaten to kill it right there. It's not fair."

—-

Jessica keeps rubbing Zee's back for awhile, even as the distraught young woman flings herself back into her pillow. Zee looks awful, like another piece of her soul has been ripped away from her.

Then again. In a way perhaps it has.

They're not broken up yet, by that narrative, but they're clearly on the rocks. Her investigator's mind starts sorting through the garbled statements, reconstructing them into a narrative, rearranging them until she thinks she has the shape of the conflict that is currently raging between them. Somewhere in there she starts stroking the back of Zee's head instead, gently massaging, sifting through the ebony strands.

She decides she'd better make damn sure she understands exactly what's going on before she even tries to contemplate or comment, even tries to offer comfort. And perhaps restating it will help Zatanna talk about it a little more, help her get more of it out of her system to a sympathetic listener.

Her voice is still gentle, her tone is super-soft. This is the Jess who gently bounces babies in the chilly New York night, who clasps the hands with recovering assassins and teaches them to ice skate, the side of her who loves fiercely and who tries to take care of everyone around her, however clumsily…this time given without restraint, without fronting, for once letting all her walls drop to show the softer person who she usually works so very hard to keep hidden, even from herself. Zatanna gives of herself in this way without fail; in this moment it doesn't even seem difficult to do the same.

"So…John wanted to know Alter-Gi's weaknesses so he could take him out. But— "

Her eyes flick to the word 'dimensional' again, all the way across the room. She considers Bugette, babbling about Jewel.

"He's not a clone, or a simalacrum, or a doppleganger. He's actually Giovanni from another universe. So his weaknesses are your Dad's weaknesses. The only solution safe enough is the final one, and you're not comfortable disclosing that information, so you said you'd do it yourself. He rejected that proposal, and you two let loose. By the end, he was threatening to leave you?"

Once Zee's glass is empty, she gently takes it away and puts it on the bedside table, just a little bit out of reach.

—-

"That's our theory anyway. John was the one who faced him outside of the UNION Jack and he got enough out of the fight to able to talk about that theory with me. It makes sense. His magic feels just like Daddy's down to the very molecule." And Zatanna would know, the one person in this world who could be said to be intimately familiar with the living legend's sorcery. "And I think he's right, too, about the weaknesses."

After another long moment of silence, Zatanna nods her head from underneath the tangle of raven hair plastered on one side of her face. Through the haze of this latest row, she still finds it within her to marvel at how quickly Jessica manages to piece together a scenario with just a handful of clues. There are pieces missing from the middle, but the gist of it is sound. She manages to recreate the story as to what happened on top of that cathedral roof, in a nutshell.

"He tried to tell me that this is the Work," she whispers. "That I had to learn how to pick between two uncomfortable choices before it was decided for me. I lost it first, because I couldn't help it. I haven't seen Daddy in months, I have to rely on John to act as our go-between because of the curse. These days, they aren't getting along so well and…after seeing the way he cut loose on something that looks like Daddy, I don't think I'm being unreasonable in being hesitant. This isn't about trust, Jess…it's about knowing how those two are, when push comes to shove. John doesn't hold back. It's one of the things I love the most about him." But is also clearly a double-edged sword, especially when coupled with the jagged pieces of him cobbled together that somehow makes up the whole of him.

"I was unkind, because he put me in this position. Through it all I felt like he didn't think I could cut it, despite everything we've been through and all the other things I've done." She admits this at least, ever-so-honest with her own failings. "I told him that it must've been a relief not having to make the choice for a change and that's when he lost it and just decided for me right then. I don't even understand why I couldn't just handle it myself…I'm not a killer, but I can try to find another way, or try to end it if I can't. With that option, why do I have to pick between betraying Daddy and leaving the love of my life on the lurch, where he could get killed because he doesn't know how to take down my father? So when I insisted on it, that's when he said…we'd be over, if I did."

There's no resistance when Jessica takes the glass; it slips away from nerveless fingers.

"I said we were over already, if that's the kind of shit that he'll say the moment things get hard." Because of course she did, she wasn't the sort to hold back her nasty edges, either and that never fails to make things worse. Bile curdles within her stomach at the recollection, leaving her breathless and naueous, the world swimming in front of her eyes. She closes them and presses her face back into her pillow in an attempt to hold back the tide.

"Oh, god, I think I'm gonna be sick."

—-

She probably wouldn't have been able to, had she not been ass-deep in an alternate dimension problem on the Stark case. If she hadn't met Bugette, if she hadn't been to Hydra-world, if she hadn't had a dead woman stare across a dimension, call her Agent Jones, and entreat her to help, if she hadn't had another woman die in her arms with the same name on her lips, leading her to wonder why all of her alters were functioning adults, when she herself was such a hot mess. If she hadn't spent hours contemplating how they were her yet not her, how she is the sum of her choices but also a person who can be identified and known as her despite making entirely different choices. If she were truly amazing she might have made her way to the same theory when the subject of Evil-Gi came up before, at the pool, but the realm of possibilities was still wide open then, an unlimited mess of Magicky-Wagicky stuff.

She listens to Zatanna explain the very definition of that 'white hot fault line' she told Jess about at the self-same pool. Listens to some measure of the ugly words exchanged between them, many of them unnecessary, and not germane to the point at all. Something she knows all about really; she's certainly slung her own share of unfair and hurtful jagged barbs. Love is no bar to that; the fact that Trish Walker usually bears the very worst of what Jessica Jones has to offer is certainly proof enough of that.

It is the curse or blessing of her nature that she seems eternally to walk a thin line in all of her dealings; she understands both sides of the dilemma, can see the merits and the flaws in both arguments, and finds herself unable to truly make judgments.

That doesn't mean she doesn't see some insight. Experience to draw from, Zatanna had said, is really the key to being able to offer some comfort. Perhaps that, in addition to failing to ask enough questions, was why she had screwed up so badly with Bucky; the experiences of the Winter Soldier are so extreme and far beyond her own that she has nothing useful to offer to him. But in this case?

As it turns out, Jessica does have some experience to draw on, she thinks. But she holds off on that for now.

Because first thing's first. Always far better at offering material support than emotional, she springs out of the bed in a heartbeat, snatching up a trashcan and kneeling by the bed with it, ready to catch vomit if it comes. "Don't hold back," she advises. "It's just vomit. You'll feel better when you get some of that shit out of your system."

She really is as blase about vomit as she seems too; she's woken up absolutely covered in her own in the past. A little bit of contained puke is nothing at all.

—-

"No," Zatanna whimpers, when Jessica tells her not to hold back. "Oh, god, don't tell me that, I…"

The tide rises, and the private investigator manages to get the trash can over to the edge of the bed just in time for the young magician to tilt her head in and unleash it all. Her stomach contracts as bitterness pours from her mouth, body working unhindered to expel the toxicity with which she recklessly flooded inside of it. And she doesn't stop, not for a while - she had consumed most of the bottle of tequila and throat and abdominal muscles work in tandem to purge it out of her system as quickly as possible, her entire being rejecting the spirit. Shoulders bunch between the blades, tremors and the ghost-traces of her sobs rolling down her spine. Fingers splay on either sides of the makeshift bucket, already making a silent apology to Red for ruining his penthouse.

"…my dignity…" gasped in between convulsions.

When she finally stops, she's coughing, wiping her knuckles over her mouth as her lungs and stomach burn from tandem exertions. Her body falls sideways once more in a boneless drape on the mattress, a fresh wave of tears stinging her eyes.

"I have to wonder if I still want this," she tells Jess, her voice barely a breath. "If it's going to be like this. If I have to listen to him say something like that every time things get hard. I've already had to watch him walk away from me twice and I don't…the idea that he could just easily say that after everything we've been through. I felt like he slapped me. It might be for the best, it's another kind of masochism to be blackmailed that way, you know? But every time I think about us ending, I feel so sick and desperate and…"

Moisture spills from her eyes again. "Oh, god, Jess. Oh, Jess. Nobody should be allowed to love someone this much, when all that's left is ash and this…this…crushing self-loathing because you realize you've fallen that hard and that badly, and it hurts so much that you could barely give a shit about your pride. I hate that I love him this much when he doesn't even blink while he guts me - guts us like this."

The words are like a spell on their own, because that's when she feels it. Across the city, the distance, in the aftermath of drunkeness so complete that there was nothing but black after, John Constantine turns on his rented bed and reaches for her only to find her gone, and memories from the evening before flood in full force. The white-hot, all-consuming bolt of misery that generates coruscates through the argent tether that binds them together even now, draining the breath from her lungs and causes the world to spin. It draws forth another peristaltic reaction, brewing from deep within her stomach.

She turns her body over the edge of her bed again and uses the trash can for what feels like a hundredth time.

—-

True to her word, Jessica Jones holds the trash can steady through it all. She expertly pulls Zatanna's hair back from her face, holding it in her other hand in a makeshift ponytail, making sure not a single strand gets soaked in tequila-soaked awfulness. She presses her tongue to the roof of her mouth to cut off her own sense of smell; the last thing Zee needs is for Jess' own gag reflex to engage. This is an expert's move too.

The moment it's done— and she hadn't even moved through Round 1, though she has no idea what actually caused Round 2— she caps off the bag and pulls it, putting it in the corner of the little bathroom. She rinses it in the bathtub. Then she comes back for the glass. She fills it with cold, clear water, and brings the trashcan back. "Rinse," she advises gently, but firmly, clearly not interested in taking no for an answer. "Then spit. Then a few more times after that. Then I'll bring you some water to drink, and some tissues."

She is true to her word. She also rinses the trash can a second time, and brings it right back in case it's needed again.

Then she kneels beside Zatanna's beside and takes her hand solemnly. Now it's time for some words.

She prays it won't be too many.

"Love obliterates dignity."

She squeezes Zee's hand slowly.

"When we talk about it, we talk about flames. The warmth, the comfort, the life— all there. And the parts of it that sear you to ash, burn your walls to nothing, force you to suffer and bleed and endure situations that are not shaped like anything you want…all there."

She doesn't have to be in a romantic relationship with the man she loves to have learned this much. There is no dignity there. There is no dignity in knowing she will fight with everything she has to preserve his happiness, even if that means smiling and hiding everything she feels for him while watching him, someday, marry someone else, in knowing she'd mean some part of that smile if it meant he was happy. No dignity in knowing all of that is a distinct possibility, and yet still wanting, relentlessly, to just be around the man. That is the very opposite of dignity.

And if Zatanna had meant it for vomit, it applies here as well.

"Don't hate yourself for that. You were the one who taught me that."

She squeezes again, thoughtfully. "I can't tell you what to do, whether this is workable for you. Only you can decide if the flaws, the pain of it, is as beautiful to you as the good parts. Because, however, John and I are a bit alike…I can maybe at least offer perspective on what you've told me, some way of looking at it you can't see. I can't speak for him. But… I can try, if you want, because that other way of looking at things might help, a little."

—-

It takes her a while to realize, in the throes of that newest flood of blistering emotion, that it hadn't come from her but from John, somewhere in Berlin, doing his own wallowing and with her in the midst of pouring her bleeding heart out to Jessica, the lance of it catches her between the ribs and skewers her savagely against the wall of her own malcontent. It renders her numb, immediately regretful of the things she had just said about him not even blinking, coupled with the slowly-burning embers of white-hot fury, recalling the words and how uncalled for it was for them to even be said. But it does make her malleable, a marionette with her strings cut, following Jessica's direction blindly. Chilly fingers move to grasp the water glass offered to her, rinsing out her mouth as instructed.

When that is done and she feels relatively clean again, she takes the fresh water offered to her and drinks. She almost does so too fast, suddenly aware as to how parched and painfully scratchy her throat has become. Pins and needles shoot down the slender column of her throat as she pours what she can into her body in a futile effort to drown the lingering bitterness away. She's right, she finds - Jessica's expertise in all matters alcohol-related proves beneficial when she feels a little better now that most of the tequila has been expunged from her stomach.

The glass is empty when it dangles limp from her fingers. Her cheek finds her pillow again, the beginnings of a throbbing headache flowering at the back of her skull. Her tongue darts out to lick at her chapped lips.

Love obliterates dignity.

She knows it's true. A sardonic chuckle twists at her chest, but her voice is too spent to actually give it much of a sound. She has the good grace to look sheepish when Jessica reminds her that she had taught her not to hate herself for loving someone, reminded yet again of her tendency to say things without truly meaning them. Guilt, remorse and the remembered images of the night before continue to spill before her swollen eyes and she can't help but sag against the mattress at the strain of it. All the signs were there, memories of the months following their blissful summer coming back in sharp, torturous relief, only this feels a thousand times worse. For the life of her, she doesn't know it's whether because things have only intensified between them, or because she can't profess ignorance as to what he feels anymore when they're this connected.

Too close not to know how one is doing without the other.

Too close to prevent themselves from burning each other up.

Too close.

How can two people be too close, and yet still feel like it isn't enough?

"Okay," she croaks at Jessica's offer.

—-

Okay.

Jessica slowly gets up and back on the bed again, the better to gently stroke Zatanna's hair once more.

"Ok. On the matter of why not you, to handle Evil-Gi."

Long, thin, pale fingers sift through strands, combing them out. Her voice is so gentle, still. "It doesn't have anything to do with whether you were fast enough, or your capabilities at all. We all know what you're capable of. You are the woman who tells gods to heel; you are the woman who made herself into a conduit of raw magical force to bring us back from other realities. And you haven't even grown into all you can do yet. It's not what you can do, it's how it's shaped."

Jessica shifts, leans back, gets comfortable. "After you kill someone," she says quietly. "Everything changes. It doesn't matter how it happens, or who it was. Some part of you dies with the person you kill. That's what happened when I killed someone. Some part of you is never the same after that. It's like it extinguishes a piece of your light. And aside from the emotional agony of killing someone you love— because you are going to love Evil-Gi like you love good-Gi, because he's still that man— well. I imagine he wants to spare you from that. And as for finding another way? If you can, find one; if it will work, he'll listen. You don't have to face him down in the moment to find one. You can use your formidable brain, research right here, and bring him a proposal that doesn't involve blood on either of your hands. When he's cooler, calmer, more ready to listen. But the idea of you flinging yourself against him with the determination to find another way and the safest solution as your very last resort? Risky, honey. Very risky. Death, manipulation, magical enthrallment, emotional shattering— all very real possibilities. Deep down, you might even have trouble believing he could truly be evil. If I saw an evil Trish from another dimension, I think I'd love her just as fiercely; I think I'd want to try to help her, I think I'd have trouble doing more than dodging if she shot a gun at me or worse. I'd probably search for another solution until she defeated me utterly. And I think if I had to kill her, had to watch her body fall and know I was the one who did it, that I'd have trouble looking at my Trish ever again. I think above all else, John wants to spare you these things. And I think he'd rather leave than allow you to throw yourself head long into that lava, than to watch you burn in it, and to feel he could have, should have, stopped it. John and I are already warped. We would rather not see you become warped with us."

She's picking through it so slowly, so carefully. "But he's also wounded. And when you're wounded, you can only stand so much pressure. It's like having a broken arm. Someone squeezes it…you can't take it. I felt like running away the other night, for no other reason than I couldn't stand the idea that I might have hurt or disappointed you guys."

Knowing she'd hurt or disappointed.

"If you don't want him to run away, the answer is not to say 'screw you, we're over if you're willing to do that.' Because that's not even what you really want. The answer is to recognize when you're squeezing a broken arm, and to stop squeezing. You can be mad. You can hold to your guns. But…maybe you gotta watch how you say things, what you use to make your point. Maybe…you also gotta be really careful about assigning motivations. Maybe try always thinking about what he's doing from the perspective that protecting you is his first, best, and only priority, and let your responses flow from that. If you want his protection. If you don't? Well, that's probably the thing you gotta figure out, about whether you stay together, because asking him not to protect you is like asking him not to breathe. He won't dishonor who you are or what you can do, but as he sees it, I think: blood on his hands before yours, blood from his body before yours, his pain before yours, always. That's what you gotta be okay with, really, to stay with John Constantine."

—-

To her credit, Zatanna listens quietly because she makes a good point. Out of all of them, Jessica is the most similar to John - not the same, because the private investigator is more willing to make personal strides that John never would. Whether she disagrees with the woman's assessments or not remains to be seen, however, when her ice-blue eyes fix past her and onto the wall.

She says nothing for a very long time.

This is the first time she has heard about Jessica killing someone; she would think that she would be more surprised, but considering her talents and how insistent she is not to take a life, she can see why a death would influence that choice later in life. Strangely, it doesn't diminish her in her eyes, most of the people she loves had blood in their hands - her father, most of all. John. It has not stopped her from loving either in spite of that and her own views on taking a life. But the confession of it has her ice-blue stare gravitating back to the private investigator as she speaks, quietly taking in the nuances of her expressions when she recalls that trauma.

When everything has been said, and once silence falls yet again in her room, the young woman tries to lift her head, and finds it too heavy to do so. Raven tresses fall back against her face, though she finds a certain comfort in Jessica's treatment of them. There is absolutely no resistance, as always a sucker for affection, letting the older woman stroke her hair even as she views the situation from John's perspective the best she's able. Some part of her winces, because most of it rings true.

"I don't know how well that parses with everything he says about making tough choices and how this is the work," the young woman finally whispers. "The decision to kill is something I don't take lightly, but how am I supposed to prioritize the state of my own soul when the people I love are so willing to stain their own to do what's necessary? What makes me so special that I can't do that, too? If I compare it to the other alternatives - betraying my actual father, leaving John to possibly die because I'm not comfortable divulging Daddy's weaknesses like that. If this is really it, if this is the job, why am I prevented from assessing all of my options so I don't have to hurt anyone close to me? The false Zatara might be my father from another dimension, but he's still not my father. And yes, I'll probably be traumatized by it. But the way I see it, the effect on me would probably be less than the alternatives - thinking that every time my father looks at me, I'm the daughter that gave the keys to his destruction to someone else - someone who is more than willing to use everything and anything at his disposal, when push comes to shove, and as much as I love John, I know too much about him to be ignorant of that side of him. And thinking that if John dies because I didn't give him the information he needed, it would be my fault, because I chose to keep my father safe over the man I love."

Her eyes blink back another flood of moisture. "He talks down to me and calls into question my ability to be part of this, in the same breath he tries to tie one hand behind my back. You say he wants to protect me, but he's also forcing me to choose between two choices I don't have to make. How does it make sense, Jess? He wants me to be sure I'm capable of doing what needs to be done, but when I try to prove I am, he threatens to leave? I don't understand." She lets out a humorless laugh. "And nobody can even tell me he won't be pissed if you tell him he can't do the one thing that goes around the worst alternatives, because you know he would."

She closes her eyes. "As for the last…he's the one who said that, not me. He's the one who put the gun to us. I told him a long time ago that if anyone was going to be walking away from this, it would be him, not me, Jess. You would never hear me threaten the way we are that way. I have no issue with him trying to protect me, because I want to protect him, too and that's part of the reason why this issue is so thorny, I think, because he's trying to make it that I can't do that and protect Daddy at the same time. We make it impossible for us to protect the other."

After a pause, she continues, quietly: "I don't think this would feel so painful, either, if we weren't so terrified for one another. This was how it was last time, too. Every time we fight this badly, it's always…"

Her fingers tighten into her pillow.

"I love him so much, Jess. I don't think I can live without him."

—-

Jessica has a habit of dropping things in medias res sometimes; she hadn't considered any other part of that story germane to what they were discussing tonight, so she simply drops the tidbit and moves on; she's killed, and she doesn't like that she has.

As it stands, she grapples often with the idea of crossing that line again, this time of her own volition.

But her nuances of expression? Focused entirely on Zatanna right now, gentle, attentive. Today is not for her own pain of yesterday, for all that she carries it with her like a stone she can't release. "It is your soul to stain or keep clean as you see fit," she agrees quietly. "But…it's…until you've crossed that line, Zee, you don't know what it means to cross the line. You just can't. We can't explain it to you or make it make sense to you. We'd just rather you didn't ever have to know. And…I mean…it's not going to be entirely rational; this is at least 75% emotional, messy. I can't untangle all of it, because this is sort of where the line diverges. There are a lot of ways I'd have handled this scenario differently than he did, similar as we are, so…here the analogies break apart. I think it's…enough to ask yourself questions, and to try to think like him for a moment, and to do what you can to start a conversation, you know? You don't have to understand everything about why he does what he does to open yourself to the possibility than the ideas your brain has served up about it are counterproductive to what you both want. And eventually maybe you can work your way into an agreement that him threatening to leave you has to be off the table as a bargaining chip— but probably not here and now while this shit is hanging between you."

She keeps right on with that hair stroking; it's a rare thing for her to give so much physical affection, but here, now, it just…makes sense.

"I mean— I have a concern or two here simply because I have to wonder why this has to be all you or all Constantine. My guess is Because Magic, but you two showed up with a team. You showed up with Bucky Barnes, master assassin, with Jane Foster, master scientist, with Red Robin, master everything, and you've got me. So…I mean…maybe I'm just a goofy PI, but I gotta wonder why you maybe don't just parcel out bits of the solution so that all of us only have a portion of it, have us each promise we won't divulge our pieces to the other, and let us go to down and do this shit, together, like the team we've become. I mean if I gotta get naked, paint myself blue, scream Kcuf at the moon a few dozen times while banging a gong to remove his super-shielding, I won't like it, but I'll get it done!"

She smirks, because really, she knows that ain't it.

"But I am willing to acknowledge there may be reasons you can't do that…even as I can't help but note that you two basically went and had a big row about a tactical issue that impacts all of us, boiled it down to this either-or scenario without stopping the train to bring other minds in on the problem. Presumably the rest of us are all here because we have things to offer, otherwise, you two could have come on your own. With that being said…were you my kid?"

Jessica shrugs. "Were you my kid— hell. You're my friend and if you were holding the ultimate keys to my destruction and needed it to destroy Evil Jess Clone who was out harming people I care about, including you? I'd say 'give the man the info.' I wouldn't see it as a betrayal at all. Now I don't know your Dad, I'm not saying he wouldn't, but I think that would be an unfair thing. I think in some ways the idea of watching your own hands do terrible things, whether you're piloting them or not, might be worse in some ways. I get why you see it that way though. And…if it meant someone who might kill me could kill me I'd still tell you to do it, cause that would be a bridge I could cross when and even if I ever came to it. Course, I can think of 150 ways to kill me with no special preparation, so that might color how I work that equation."

—-

"I didn't say that murder would be my go-to option," Zatanna says quietly. "It's just his. I would be exhausting all of my options first before I even considered that possibility and him dying is just the most comfortable one for John because it means he won't be coming back." After a moment, she slowly sits up from the bed. It is a mistake immediately, the world spins around her in a dizzying loop yet again. But she manages to hold the urge to vomit this time, hunching over on the mattress. She reaches out for her glass once more, calling up enough magic to fill it up with cold water.

Cradling it between her fingers, she listens quietly to what Jessica says next. There's a nod at what she says at the first. "You're right," she tells her softly. "I won't really know unless I've been there and I can understand why that's not something either of you would want for me." She tips the lip of the glass to her mouth, draining half of it in a few swallows. Wiping her mouth with the back of her hand, her eyes wander over to Jessica again.

At the point that they are a team, she smiles ruefully. "Because the urge is strong to treat all of that trouble as a family affair, I think. It's different if it's the Steinschneider family, which is why we've brought all hands on deck. But with the false Zatara…that's a separate issue entirely, nevermind that he's embroiled in all of this. When John was just starting out, Daddy took him in. He owes him a lot and he was the closest thing he ever had to an actual father. If you hadn't noticed, we're pretty jealous when it comes to our private affairs. But you're right though, Jess. There's no reason why we can't resolve that piece of the problem together, even if it's just me and John. It's just that he's hell-bent on killing him because it's the safest solution, and as you said, he's probably driven to protect me. If I was involved in any way of bringing him down, it…I dunno. Maybe it would count because it'd mean I was an accessory."

There's a small smile when Jessica comes from her perspective, this time and she shakes her head. "I know you would," she says softly. "But I would never do it. I'd be finding a way to get around it, too. I understand very well that there'll be times that I'll be forced to make very uncomfortable decisions, but I refuse to believe those are my only two choices. There has to be a middle ground, Jess. Just because John's used to thinking one way doesn't mean I can't think of other options on my own. And I think I have."

She was wallowing, yes, but that didn't mean she wasn't working either, as the older woman could probably tell by the state of her desk.

"It's risky," she tells Jessica softly. "I probably won't be able to do it alone, either. But I was thinking about it and….John's right. I know enough about my father's magic to figure out how to destroy him. And because I know my father that well, I know for a fact that you can destroy a magician without killing him."

Ice-blue eyes lift to lock into Jessica's own. Her smile lifts up the corners of her mouth.

"You take away his ability to perform magic."

Her eyes fall back on her desk. "But to do that, I'm going to have to tie the seal to something absurdly powerful and which I'm assured the longevity of. It can't be an object or anything tangible. That's why I thought….I could give him a magical lobotomy, of a sort, and tie the keys to it inside of myself. Directly into my soul. If it works…if I'm able to pull it off…so long as I'm alive, he'll never be able to cast a single spell. Of course, if something goes wrong, I could die. I suppose that's a fair trade, right? If nobody's willing to risk my soul, the very least I can do is risk my life."

Inspiration from her own father's magic, her mind returning to the locked cabinet in the Sub Rosa, deep within the underbellies of her father's massive collection. The thing that houses, among other things, John's inheritance. With tumblers and dials that they have no hope of breaking until Giovanni Zatara dies. There's some kind of beautiful symmetry in that, she thinks. To fell the false Zatara using something from the real Zatara's playbook, used to safeguard something for John.

Determination hardens her expression. "You said despite all of this, it's not my ability that's in question. That I'm someone who can bring gods to heel. I know I can do this, Jess."

—-

Jessica listens quietly to all of it. Zatanna sits up; her hand falls away. She had actually shifted to get another glass of water, but Zee's magic fills it up rather effortlessly. Drinking it is good. She squeezes Zee's shoulder and sits up a bit with her, finally sliding off the bed to go look over all the research.

"I'd wondered," she admits. "If it was possible to burn the magic out of the wizard. Course. The flaw in that plan is that it sounds like this means he simply has to have someone put a bullet in your brain to get his magic back, and if he knows that he'll have every incentive on the planet to become your mortal enemy for the rest of time."

Time for more questions. "Could you tie it to any other soul? Does it have to be yours? Could you tie it to multiple souls? Does he get to influence you in any way if you do that? Like do you end up semi-possessed by him, as with Az and Xihunel? What could you to do make it something he didn't expect? What could you do to make sure he doesn't know what he has to do to get his magic back? Are there other potential consequences?"

More familiar ground, out of the waters of relationships. Audacious as it is for Jessica to even try to navigate the waters of romance, but…it seems to her this isn't about romance but love, and while she's never had a romantic relationship she has certainly had at least one long-term love relationship, one with its own share of volitility; she and Trish are often like oil and water, and have plenty of blow-ups. And besides, some of it was just…educated guessing and the luxury of emotional distance from the problem.

Zee seems to be calming, anyway, which was the point of the exercise, one way or the other.

"I believe," she feels compelled to add, "that you can do it. That part is not in question."

She hesitates. "Whether or not your relationship with John survives that attempt, I don't know. At the very least it might be worth another conversation or 7 before you simply take the hail Mary pass."

—-

"Yeah well, that's where we differ," Zatanna tells Jessica dryly. "I don't just run off and do something that might kill me without letting him know. John's the one who's more used to not giving a shit when he vanishes for days without a word."

Jessica's concerns about the plan are sound. To do what she proposes would mean even more of a concentrated effort to gun down her hide, whether by magic or a bullet. "What I'll be planting in me is the seal, not the man's soul. Essentially, I'll be locking him away from his access to mana and planting the keys inside of me, instead. I'm not tying his soul into mine. But you're right in that, it doesn't have to be my soul. It's just the one source that's powerful enough that we can trust, because I'm sure as shit not going to turn around and give it to him. Theoretically, we could bind it to Xiuhnel also, he's a god so he'd have enough juice, and I can send it off and the false Zatara will have absolutely no idea where I sent it off to. Unfortunately, it still puts Az at risk and there's no guarantee that Xiuhnel won't just turn around and give it back to him."

Her mind turns it over. Were she less ill in the stomach, she would be pacing around the room. Ice-blue eyes fall on the window, mind backtracking through their conversation thus far, reassessing two questions from her quick review of the problem.

Why can't it be an object?

Why does it have to be just John, or her, or her and John?

She has the knowledge, and Jane made it damn sure that they had the technology, and took it with her to Berlin.

A germ of an idea forms, nascent and pulsing at the back of her skull in time with her headache, but it continues to grow. "Oh, shit," she says, burying her face into her hands. "I'm an idiot. I'm a fucking, god damn idiot."

Pushing the sheets off her legs, she groans as she swings them over the edge of the bed. "I need….a fistful of aspirin," she tells Jessica. "And I need to get back to work. I have an idea. I don't know how possible it is, but…it might be enough. It might be enough."

She leans in, pecking Jessica's cheek, and curling her arms around her neck. "Oh, Jess," she murmurs. "You're the best. Thank you. Thank you."

—-

"Oh no, I wasn't suggesting Xihunel. That's crazy. I just wanted to make sure you wouldn't have Evil Gi babbling along at the back of your brain," Jessica says, raising her hands in mute denial of anything like that, shaking her head fervently. Suppressing a shudder.

She really needs to call Az.

She really isn't sure if she can. Not yet.

But Zee is already moving on, and Jessica allows her attention to return to the young witch. She needs a fistful of aspirin, and again the material comfort comes easily to her. She withdraws her phone from her pocket, clicks over to the bestest app ever, the STUFF app. She withdraws, seriously, a 1000 count bottle of Ibuprofin. She counts out 5 of them; 1000 milligrams is routinely given out at hospitals and given Zee's abilities she figures the girl won't get an ulcer and die from it, or even probably get very sleepy. Jess herself takes an obscene amount more when she needs painkillers, but no need to address just how many she needs to get past her tolerance. When she's introduced to a new drug it tends to impact her like anyone else, but over time her tolerance grows to ridiculous amounts, which is why it takes six or seven bottles of things to get her drunk now when once it took only 1.

She gets her hug and her kiss, recognizing someone who has come to a revelation and wants to go work on it without having to explain it. She hugs Zee tightly (but not ridiculously or painfully so) and says, "Any time. I'm glad I could help."

And she is. On dozens upon dozens of levels.

She steps back and peels off her jacket. "I'll be up for awhile if you need me again."

And with that, she lets herself out, pausing only to discreetly take the tequila, intending to return it to the bar (an intent she actually will follow through on) slipping through the door, and closing it gently behind her.

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