To Make an Omelette...

May 09, 2017:

…sometimes you've got to break some eggs.

John Constantine returns to the penthouse in Berlin after a week of absence, and Jessica Jones tries her level best to give him both comfort and advice, finding out in the process that John may not be the easiest person to comfort. After all, how does one soothe the feelings of a person who spends most of his time wishing he didn't have any?

Berlin Penthouse

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Zatanna Zatara, The Winter Soldier, Dr. Jane Foster, Red Robin, Captain America

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

It's Tuesday evening, and late. Beyond the bridge point at which late transitions into early, in fact, and all sane souls are sleeping — which may only mean Bucky and Jane, assuming that they aren't out of the penthouse and painting the town red (hopefully only figuratively, but with those two it's probably difficult to say). Literal Red is probably in his penthouse room staring at computer screens instead of sleeping because he's a thoroughgoing masochist. Zatanna…

Zatanna left for Brandenburg this afternoon.

Last night she disappeared in the evening hours to find John and tell him that he was needed back at the penthouse, a courtesy call to inform him of current events and ensure that the gang in Berlin weren't left without someone who had magical acumen. She intended to make it a quick exchange.

Maybe it was. Maybe she met up with John, said what she had to say, and departed for Brandenburg immediately. She certainly didn't come back to the flat that evening. Neither did John, though. It takes him nearly twenty-four hours to make himself known, and this is the time at which he intends to do it: the dead of night, when he's statistically least likely to run into anyone and have to face odd looks containing bountiful, unasked questions.

So there he is, dressed not in his 'undercover' Normal Human Being clothing but the trenchcoat, dress shirt, slacks and tie, every inch himself — right down to the vaguely hollow look that says he hasn't been sleeping particularly well. The bleaching quality of the fluorescent light in the fridge does nothing to mask the shadows under his eyes, granted; he's standing there staring into it at whatever remnants of groceries and take-out remain, letting all of the cold air tumble out of it and across the floor.

—-

Yeah. Jessica Jones? Not really sane. Despite being hooked up with Jana Brody, which makes her sleep at least a little more than she otherwise would, despite popping a ridiculous amount of Benadryl to try to achieve the same function. Despite the incredible luxury of a full-sized, real, not-couch bed to sleep in. Sometimes? She just can't.

She's up. She's in bare feet, almost soundless in the evening hours, sweat pants and a tank top but she's awake. She's not waiting up for him; she in fact wanders in with her phone in her hand, frowning down at a series of texts in pensive fashion.

A pause as she finds herself staring at John Constantine's back.

She at least has very few questions. She held Zatanna's head while the girl vomited. Caring about them both as she does and judging neither, seeing both sides, she has no judgment to levy. Not her, for the love of Christ, who acts so very badly on a regular basis.

"If you want, I'll make you an egg," she offers, pitching her voice very quietly. Bucky is, as she's had more than ample cause to learn, a very light sleeper. She tries not to wake anyone else.

With John, especially, she figures material support is the way to go. She sets the phone down on the counter.

"That way you don't have to think about it so hard."

—-

He doesn't startle, so it's fair odds that he knew she was coming even in quiet bare feet. Men who have a lot of enemies tend to be particularly aware of any part of any room they can't actually see at any given time. Once she speaks he goes on looking for another ten full seconds before turning his head, one starkly blue eye fixed on her. The movement of his shoulders is subtle, but the fabric of the trench coat slackens between the shoulder blades enough to highlight the shrug. "Sure."

He lets the door swing shut-ajar, then rolls his shoulders and snaps the lapels of the coat toward them to slide it down his arms and gradually off of himself, dropping it over the back of a chair when he pivots away. There are fresh marks on skin otherwise typically only marked with the occasional tattoo of some kind of protection or other: hand-shaped prints on his forearms, dark red in color — like a burn, though it lacks blisters, peeling, or any other kind of texture. Magical tomfoolery, in all likelihood, connected with whatever task he'd set for himself in his interim absence.

He shifts sideways into a chair, settling with a boneless backward tilt into the backrest, shrugged down to rest his head against it and let his eyes lid so heavily that it may at a quick glance seem as though they're closed. Only a thin glint of darkened blue remains visible.

"Alright then, Jones?"

—-

Jessica pads to the fridge in his place. She pulls out the carton of eggs and the butter. No salsa, so she'd better not near-burn these. She gives no sign that she has only known how to cook this meal for a few months, and that it's one of only 3 she can make consistently edible. She pulls down a frying pan as quietly as she can, with some measure of authority; she puts the stove on medium low, she starts melting butter.

Alright then, Jones, he asks, and she gives him a wry smile. She tilts his finger at his arms and says, "I could ask you the same thing. You look like death warmed over."

Blunt, but you know. In the 'I give a shit about you looking like death warmed over way'.

Her eyes flick to the phone, but briefly. Shit is going on, of course, but shit's been going on; she has resolved to do shit about shit when she gets home. And whatever it is hasn't really harmed her stability for now. She might share, in a bit, but for right now he's clearly in the worse way.

She cracks three eggs into a bowl and whips them up with a fork, grabbing a little milk to dash in there. A little salt. A little pepper. She finally adds, "If you are not…I know that talking about shit that is bothering you, or you know, burning freaking handprints into your arms, or whatever…I know that's not usually your thing. But you could. If you wanted. Or you could just eat these eggs, when they're ready, and I will kind of hang out and drink coffee with you, and try to offer you whatever support my sipping my coffee and feeding you food might be good for."

—-

John has no idea that Jessica is a fledgeling cook, so she isn't on the receiving end of the same skeptical look he gives Jane whenever she talks about driving them anywhere. Once in the car with that tiny little force of nature was enough for him.

Nothing save John's gaze moves, and then it's to track down to one of the arms resting on those of his chair, irises shaded by honey-dark lashes traveling over the distinct contours. "Cultists," he says, without elaboration. Given all that she's seen, all that she's confronted with regard to the Cult of the Cold Flame, explanation seems unnecessary. Context might be appreciated, but then it's linked up with the things she asks about next, and John spends a good amount of time after that sitting in silence. Long enough for the kitchen to start smelling like cooking eggs and hot oil, popping and hissing loud in the near-silence of the penthouse.

"Usually," he says finally, "I'd ask you how she'd been when I was gone. Don't need to do that these days, though." Even now he can feel her, sixty kilometers away in Brandenburg. Faint twinges of movement and life that travel the tether that links them, emotional echoes. Enough to know that she's alive. She isn't terrified. She's not in pain.

She misses him, though. She's relieved. There's a hollowness in her that he understands, because he houses it, too: one night wasn't enough. Framing it, guilt. He understands that well enough, too, though he made no apologies to her, and has yet to decide if he intends to do that at all.

He senses all of those things as he sits there, simply by turning his thoughts in her direction — as though he were checking a barometer outside of a kitchen window. And while it's true that John is famously unwilling to go into great detail about his feelings

They are friends, and what's more they're here on business, and the business is dangerous. It behooves him to some degree to begin the work of restoring a status quo, and it may as well begin here, with her. "She stayed with me last night," he says finally, tone subdued by the hour but conversational. "Off and running today. I suppose that means…" He pauses, grimaces. "Something."

—-

The revelation that John and Zatanna have some sort of connection that lets him know how Zatanna is quirks Jessica's eyebrows.

She plates the egg, adds a fork, brings it over, sets it before him. It's a simple thing. It's just a scrambled egg. But she focused on it. It's light and fluffy, basic though it may be, cooked just right. The simple scrambled egg is a dish she has now practiced over, and over, and over again. Eggs are cheap, eggs are easy, and to her it seemed like scrambled eggs were surely the basis of some sort of functional adulthood.

She pours him coffee too. She pours her own. She doesn't speak right away. She contemplates that, them just knowing. Some would think it romantic. Jessica doesn't, and not just because of her history. She thinks it sounds like a terrible burden. She imagines what it might be like to have someone aware of your every last flash of temper or irritibility or hurt or insecurity. To be, on some level, functionally unable to choose what to respond to, and what not to, because it's all there, zig-zagging between the both of them like a feedback loop. An intensity to something that is already perhaps intense to a point of pain, the way any pleasure can begin to sear the nerves if taken too far.

She cradles her coffee in her hands as she sits across from him. "It sounds like it means neither one of you is really ready to give up on the other yet," she says at last. "But that it might take some distance to heal the wounds you gouged into each other."

It may sound like a statement, but it's said in a way that is more like a quiet prompt than a pronouncement, an encouragement to speak a little more.

—-

One look at John's face is like a dissertation on the burdens of the tether. Any lovelorn soul might fail to sleep well during a feud with their partner, but John looks exhausted in entirely a different kind of way.

He still furnishes her with a slight smile as she sets the plate down, lifting his eyes and slowly peeling himself up off of the back of his chair. "Ta."

As she did, he sits with what she's said for some time while slowly eating what's in front of him, unhurriedly — and gingerly — probing his thoughts and feelings on the matter, many of which are unsettling at best, for reasons he almost articulates, in what for John amounts to a very personal remark: "We've waved the white flag, if that's what you mean. I don't know that we fixed much of anything."

The worrying thoughts ride below that: that he isn't sure they can fix some things, fundamental rifts in their expectations. Zatanna expects equal treatment, as any rational human being would: 'you can't tell me you'd be fine with it if I did this thing that you did to me,' is a common refrain, and it's true. He probably would not be fine with it. But he expects her to be when things are the other way around, and he's not quite able to bring himself to apologize for that. The double standard is real and, in his view, actually important.

He stabs his fork into the eggs more heavily, hefting a sigh off of his chest that feels as though it has density and weight, though it's near-silent. "I don't know, Jones," he says, words that try to represent the whole of a complicated, delicate situation. "But we're…" Another pause. Anything he might follow up with dances along the line of intimate things about which he might have honest-to-god feelings, and typical of the Englishman they stick in his craw. "Slightly less fucked."

This is what he settles for. This is what 'opening up' is like with John Constantine.

—-

Jessica doesn't seem to ruffled by John's version. He is opening up. It's what he can give. In some ways this is far more familiar territory than the clumsy and sometimes disastrous attempts she's been making at 'opening up' to others. This is also more like opening up at a pub somewhere, and if she's been avoiding those for the most part she nevertheless is familiar with how that works too. You sit, you drink, you get things off your chest in dribs and drabs, and sometimes you even feel a bit better for it.

All of her friends are not the same. Zee needed her to sit and help her understand, perhaps, where John was coming from, John needs different things.

"Slightly less fucked is less fucked then you were a few days ago," she encourages him, quietly.

Despite knowing they need different things, she tap taps her fingers against the coffee cup in internal debate. Finally: "She doesn't want you to remember she's only 18; she's good at making all of us forget that because she's so old for her years. But she is, and so she's still often in that shit where it's all about push-pull with someone percieved as an authority. Push the buttons, push the envelope…but approve of me, accept me. Thriving, a bit, on the drama it causes, even when it guts her. You were her teacher, first. Maybe that dynamic is still screwing with you guy's ability to communicate in ways neither of you even realize."

There's no judgment for the age difference; Jess doesn't particularly care. It won't be a huge deal in another decade, and she imagines wizards can live a good long while if they want to, anyway. It's just an observation. She even adds:

"I mean, grain of salt anything I say about this, because my nearly-non-existent love life is ridiculous."

—-

The pair of them have some resonances, and for the most part things between John and Jessica have been copacetic almost from the outset. Unusual for John. Unusual for Jessica too, or at least it used to be, before she began to find her feet and make some strides toward a normal life.

But John, while functional, gets by for the most part because he doesn't allow himself to have strong feelings about too many other people, and he's nowhere near as zen even as Jessica Jones. When Zatanna mentioned John would never, ever consent to see someone like Jana Bodie, she was guilty of outrageous understatement.

All of which is to say: he's never really snapped at her before, but after the last week his emotions have been passed tightly through a wringer more than once and the patience he's usually able to summon for polite discourse is threadbare at best. She encourages him quietly, and leaned over his plate, fork in his eggs, head bowed to look at his food, he pauses and slants his gaze up at her, the rest of him motionless. "That's what I just said."

It's not the kind of apoplectic display of which he's on rare occasion capable. A reminder, if anything, that the man sitting adjacent to her at the kitchen table has a reputation that didn't emerge from absolutely nothing and nowhere. A tiny, quiet little rattle of the rattlesnake's tail.

He seems to at least recognize it, because although he doesn't apologize, after he reanimates and takes another bite of the eggs on his plate he moderates his tone and continues rather than shutting her out: "Eh. I don't know, luv. 'tanna resents being thought of as incapable, and to her age is a bloody stupid reason for anyone to count you out. I was the same. Made the biggest mistake of my life as a result, but it's not something you can tell someone. She's got to learn it for herself. I don't think she gives half a tit about the drama, but she wants me to see her as my equal, and I — "

He stops abruptly, having gone further than he intended to, veered a little bit too far into honesty. After three seconds of heavy consideration, he continues, albeit more slowly: "Don't. Not when it comes to my work." He lets that stand a moment, sucking his teeth behind closed lips with his tongue, and then continues: "That's different from her potential as a magician. She'll put the lot of us to shame one day if she keeps working at it. All of that power she's got, what she was born with, none of that is craft. The things she can do, she learned. Hard work. But that's different from knowing what I do and why I do it the way that I do it."

He pauses in his eating, picks at his eggs, pensive. "There are a lot of things 'tanna's able to do that I can't, and I'm not talking entirely about magic, either. Plenty of things she's better at. I get why she chafes at me treating her differently than I expect her to treat me, but I've got reasons."

—-

If rattles from his tail bother her, she doesn't show it. He hadn't said it exactly like that, after all, so she doesn't even get particularly defensive. She just hadn't realized right away that he was driving at the same point, more or less. It's clearer, now, with what he says, how it fits together. Communication is hard shit.

At any rate, he's certainly endured her slings, arrows, withering gazes and snappish remarks from time to time. Now she's placid as he has been placid for her, sipping her coffee. That much resonance still exists, strides or no strides, and truly, Jessica's strides are like a baby trying to walk. Step step KERBOOM fall on face. Step step wobble FALL ON BUTT. That is her whole life right now. It would be almost comical if it weren't so honestly nervewracking.

She also gets along best with people who can either let her roll off them or keep up with her temper for temper. In a lot of ways John is both, even though they've never really done that much snarling at each other.

She nods when he points out the young witch is right at that point where he birthed his greatest regrets, and incapable of seeing where her recklessness could lead. It makes sense. Even more than what she told Zatanna. She hadn't even considered his need to spare her not just from killing, but from the kinds of cataclysmic disasters that leave other kinds of scars in the soul, scars John Constantine bears even now.

"It sounds valid to me. So you want her to see, basically, that you've got experience, that you know where the pitfalls are, and maybe it's even a little galling that she expects to be treated like she's done her time in the school of hard knocks. You're happy to guide her around the pits if she'll listen; you're not so happy to have her drag you and her both down into them. Hard work or not all that inborn talent can be a detriment, maybe exposes her to some…hubris?"

—-

John rolls one shoulder, finally conceding that he's full enough to put his fork down, and as he settles back in his seat he waves off what Jess says with one eloquent gesture. "There are things I don't want her doing, and they're things that I have every intention of going to do when the need arises. This isn't 'fair,' but it's not a fair sodding world, is it?" He draws a long breath and lets it leave him in a slow leak of a sigh, that elegant hand lifted to sift back through tousled strands of gold and brown. "Question is, how much of that is she willing to stomach? There's a reason I don't usually take up with people for long. I do things people aren't willing to put up with me doing, but I'm not going to change that any time soon."

There's more to it than that, of course. John, eminently flawed as a creature, has driven people off for an infinitely wider number of reasons than just that one, but it's a repeat offender in the litany of reasons he's not often in a lengthy relationship of any kind.

—-

"How much? Dunno," Jessica allows, shaking her head. Sounds like a fine question for Zatanna, but for all she knows he's already asked it.

Or shouted the statement version of it. That's possible too.

"But maybe going in hard, head-on, and my-way-or-highway baby isn't going to get you what you want. It might get you what you think you need, but it might lose what you actually want. You know she's got a lot of pride. Maybe there's some other way. I've noticed she responds to a couple of things, relents in a couple of instances, changes her behavior in response when a few conditions are present. One, and not really your strong suit, is letting her know how you feel, how what she's doing impacts you, but in a non-angry way. The other? The one you do excel at? Engaging her brain, her curiosity, asking her questions. Maybe she'll find the answer you want her to find for herself, without having to make the physical mistake. If you go white hot you guys are just going to explode. Maybe you gotta listen for some things you don't expect, too, cause you'll lose a great deal if you don't let her creativity and ability to see the world different than you do sometimes change your solutions, cause maybe your best shit comes from how you're different. She's gotta relent, absolutely, but maybe you gotta relent a little too, maybe. Maybe you gotta find it in you to have a little more patience. You are, after all, the wiser and more experienced one."

Her lips curve into a faint, self-depreciating smirk. "Not busting your chops, by the way. Just…speaking as a woman, you know, who usually isn't too goddamn fond of being told what the fuck to do, what she can or can't do, or how to do it, herself, thank you very fucking much."

—-

"She knows how I feel." More than just a defensive brush-off, John says those words as stone-cold fact, lending supporting evidence to the implication that there's something between them that eliminates the second guessing, or at least changes the rules of that game.

John manages to hold his tongue for the rest of what she says, sliding back down in the seat until he can rest his head back, and his gaze remains trained on the table — or, more accurately, on some invisible point in space somewhere above it, unfocused and seeing little enough of what's actually in front of him. He's dipping a mental toe into subtle things on the astral link and letting Jessica spool out her lines of thought, and when she ends them the way she ends them his lips quirk to one side with a knowing smile, his eyes finally lifting to rest on her.

When his expression is controlled the way it is now, even though that control stems from a place of quiet and not one of aggressive emptiness, it makes those eyes inscrutable. The intensity remains, but it's subdued. "I've let her change my mind about things. Gone with her way of doing them, from time to time, when I think they're right. There's no room for fucking about with the things I do, and I'm not such a bastard yet that I let my pride get in the way of the best solution to a problem."

Yet.

"But Jones…" A pause. A solid one, after which he speaks quietly, but with buried iron underneath it all, words containing some fundamental truth. "What I need is always going to trump what I want." He lets that hang, eventually softening the moment with a slight movement of the shoulders. "Always. The few times I've done things the other way…" He intended to finish that sentence when he began it, but something in him rebels at the last moment. Two, three heartbeats pass as he floats in the uncertainty, and then something visibly clangs shut in his expression. "Anyway, we'll see."

One hand out, he taps the table beside his plate. The shuttered look abates, replaced with something tired but wry. "Thanks for the eggs."

—-

'What I need is always going to trump what I want.'

"It's a hard life you guys live," Jessica replies quietly, putting that out there; acknowledging that yep, she can only really understand so much. There are parts of what they do that are utterly inscrutable to her even now, and probably always will be. There are actions they can take that she's not capable of taking or even fathoming. They exist in this plane of deadly deals and strange solutions that are both infinite and limited in every way. And it all comes with a price.

Maybe their price is they can't actually be happy. The thought saddens her, because she'd like to see them happy. But then, she can't even solve that equation for herself, now can she?

She picks up the plate, intent on taking care of washing up after them, reaches over, squeezes his shoulder. He is yet another that just doesn't get the feather-light warm-up treatment, that she believes might trust her, know her control over her strength well enough to know she won't hurt him.

"Probably should have stuck to those," she adds wryly, acknowledging, too, the inadequacy of her own verbal offerings this evening, "but you can have my eggs, or or my bullshit, any day, as needed."

—-

John is absolutely positive that Jessica Jones might hurt him someday — he's sure of that with everybody he takes a chance on, and lets get within a certain radius of who he is — but it isn't her hands he's worried about, at least. "We've all had a lot of poxy shite to stomach, Jones. There are things that keep me up at night, sure, but it's not worrying that somebody's going to get into my head, or try to turn me into some sort of Soviet killing machine, or — whatever the hell Red's baggage is, because I'm bloody sure he has some. Nobody who does what we do is going to have an easy walk through to the end, are they? Not even Steve Rogers. He's shiny enough on the outside, but I'd bet you twenty quid you open him up and there are things in there that keep him awake nights, too, other than kids who don't know your country's anthem."

It's the most he's said all night in one go, and it sounds more like him than anything else has — probably because they've safely coasted out of more personal waters.

When she reaches for his shoulder she wins another small quirk of the lips from him, his eyes lidding, and when he pushes himself out of his chair he leans over and busses her cheek in that casual European way. "Sometimes it's good to know that somebody gives a shite enough to ask. So, ta."

He reaches out to pick up his coat, slings it over his shoulder as he turns toward the hall leading further into the flat. To face down, one assumes, the room he and Zatanna had been sharing — a room she isn't in, now. "I'm knackered, Jones. I'm turning in. I'll owe you a late night snack one of these nights."

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