Push and Pull

May 09, 2017:

Takes place before To Make an Omelette..., Zatanna Zatara seeks out John Constantine after their fight almost a week ago to update him on recent developments on the Steinschneider case, with every intent to convince him to go back to the penthouse while she chases a lead in Brandenburg, as the others will need a magician. Except the intended, quick discussion blows up under the strain of everything they aren't saying to each other.

Marchenbrunnen - Berlin - Germany

The Marchenbrunnen, a pretty open-aired park in Berlin.


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Giovanni Zatara, Jessica Jones, Red Robin, Dr. Jane Foster

Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

In the daylight hours the arcade of the Marchenbrunnen would have been thronged with visitors eager to spend a few pleasant spring hours out of doors, but now, during that window of time when 'late' turns into 'early,' it's virtually deserted. The grounds are accessible twenty-four hours a day, but the terraced water features of the Marchenbrunnen contribute enough humidity to the air to make this part of the Volkspark Friedrichshain just that little bit too cold this early in the season.

Walpurgisnacht — Witches' Night — came and went with the turning of April into May, and the traditional associated May Day riots in nearby Prenzlauer Berg have been over for days, but the charged atmosphere remains as a lingering hum in the fabric of everything. A good time to be in arguably self-imposed exile and on the hunt for Cultists, really, and one of many reasons that John has been haunting this particular part of Berlin.

The other reason has to do with the Marchenbrunnen itself. Ostensibly a whimsical fountain display of sculptural homages to fairy tales and their characters, the grand arcade just behind it seems to the educated eye perhaps a touch grand for the purpose, and they would be more onto something than they could possibly know. Standing stones unrecorded by history once stood on that point of the ground, connected not with ley lines but slightly different lines of power. Older, deeper, less exploitable by the hand of man, they represent a siphon for local energies in particular, tied inextricably to the immaterial and secret worlds of the places in which they belong.

Contact with the old myths of Germany is what brought John to the Marchenbrunnen, and he's ten minutes out of a tense, frustrating, inconclusive meeting with one of its less sympathetic beasties. Still: he's not been slit open, had his insides ripped out, and been stuffed with straw, so as frustrating as things may have been it's safe to say they didn't go as badly as they could've.

He decided after that to take a walk, have a smoke, and think over the exchange. That's what he intended to do, at least, and he began by passing through the long half-circle of arches and pillars that formed the arcade, and then he was stopped dead in his tracks by an additional, smaller fountain just beyond.

Because it's dolphins.

A low, shallow ring inset into the ground, filled with water, ringed at intervals with cherubs, and dolphins.

His first instinct was to laugh. The next one was not as kind, and no doubt transmitted the fine texture of his grief across that terribly open line. But ten minutes later he's sitting on a park bench on the periphery of the paved area, clove stubbed out, hands loosely laced and elbows on his knees, watching the fantails of water endlessly dribble into the basin.


She does not want to do this.

Though in retrospect, that might be an exaggeration; she hasn't spoken to John in a week, and while they've been separated for longer than this, given their latest foray in Limbo, circumstances had been different then in the sense that she was doing everything she could to find him and a way out of the first circle of Hell, if Dante's map of it could be believed. And while this is certainly not the first instance in which they've planted distance between them after a particularly vicious row, this is most certainly the longest. It is enough to have her grind her teeth at nights, when work is finally finished and she's alone again with the company of her own mind, refreshing herself with the growing sickness at the pit of her stomach, similar to what she had felt the days before the New Year when John threatened to go back to London, only amplified a thousand-fold.

You do that and we're finished.

How can a person miss someone so terribly but not want to see him at the same time? It didn't make any sense. Zatanna knows, perhaps better than anyone with whose company she keeps, that human emotions aren't always rational. This is certainly one instance, though, in which she wishes it did, that she had the capacity to retreat to cold logic the way Tim does. But she is not able to do that, to deny herself an open heart is to deny herself the breath she needs to live, and so she spends most of these hours in the darkness of a separate bedroom; it had been too painful to sleep in the room they shared, where she could still smell him on the pillows. She does manage to find some evidence, however, that this situation, while similar, is not the same.

She hasn't gorged herself on anything with Haagen Danz on the label, for starters. And she hadn't spent the late evening crying herself to sleep looking at old pictures.

Not to say she wasn't tempted.

But there is no helping this now, with a fresh list of things to do in Berlin and with so many avenues to chase that the rest of their motley Berlin crew have no choice but to divide up the tasks. She would have to fish him back out from the brackish waters in which he has cast himself and have him return to the penthouse, for reasons that will become apparent in the next few moments. Tethered as they are, he is always able to feel her, now, no matter how great the distance. Unless some higher power interferes, there is no escaping that.

She is suddenly there, though, as he sits at a park bench watching water spills from a fountain made up of chubby angels - and having seen the real deal, she can say with confidence that these facsimiles barely do justice to the members of the Host - and dolphins. She had registered that shot of misery from the penthouse, though she has tried to shut out any speculation as to what caused it, to no avail. The last seven days have been torturous, with the tether functioning as a closed-loop circuit of heartbreak and all the things they aren't willing to say to one another through the hazy veils of anger. Ice-blue eyes wander over to where water trickles into the basin and feels her heart lurch into her sternum in a last ditch effort to escape her body, a twisted defense mechanism, in a way, if not just to spare the corpse it leaves behind from whatever grief that might follow if it stays inside.

She doesn't join him on the bench, somewhere behind it and to the side of where he sits. Trembling fingers tighten over the strap of the small bag slung over her shoulder, her lips moving but releasing nothing. There are so many things she wants to say, always so willing to pour the contents of her heart at his feet for him to do as he will with them.

You do that and we're finished.

"You need to come back to the penthouse," she tells him instead. "They're going to need a magician, and I need to leave Berlin and I don't know how long this detour's gonna take me."


Under other circumstances, suddenly feeling her presence close in on his position wouldn't be cause for him to turn around. If they weren't fighting, or if they were but somehow — by some seemingly impossible miracle — the fight hadn't been quite so bad, he'd have stayed in the position he was in, let her come to him. It's explicitly because things between them are so bad that her sudden arrival reads one way and one way only to him: that something is wrong, and she needs help. He cannot conceive of any other reason for her to come.

So he's up and out of the bench before he realizes what he's doing or has time to gird himself, already on-guard for whatever fresh crisis was sufficient to propel her back into his company, and it leaves him ill-prepared when he turns and discovers no urgency in her expression. It's just…her. And that, for John, is worse.

What follows is the finest practical demonstration of the extent of John's capacity for external subterfuge that any human being will ever have the opportunity to witness, and it's all possible only because of the traitorous silken thread that ties them together no matter how hard they push one another away. The momentary surge of adrenaline is just a prelude to one empty, floating second of confusion, and then there are two narratives about him being told, only one of them true. The first can be read in a face that hardens like iron, a flawless facade, tight and impervious and a vault door. Perfect in its neutrality, subtle with the nuance of anger that seems to percolate just beneath the surface — so subtle that it's possible to wonder if it exists there at all — it is a formidable, unassailable, inaccessible, unemotional wall of a look. And it is a lie.

The tether explodes with the truth, shocking fireworks of not just hurt but longing, far worse than anything she's caught from him in the time since they fought. It's the kind of ache that claws at the throat with hot misery and plungers the air out of the lungs from underneath, and it cannot possibly have anything to do with what she's said. The sight of her is enough all on its own to cause the heavy chains he's been trying to bind up his regrets with to strain and burst apart, pieces of self-control turned to shrapnel. That these two things are capable of happening at once — this kind of suffering, masked so efficiently — illustrates very well John's outrageous capacity for concealing what he feels.

He ought to know that it doesn't matter with her, but a lifetime of habits die hard, and for the first time in a week he isn't thinking about the tether, most of his thoughts shaken out of his head by the shock of seeing her unexpectedly. She'll feel it when he reaches for anger as a way to gain control over everything else: little wobbles of that exquisite need, tiny heated curling flames that he tries to fan to usefulness, though each attempt fails.

The park is bizarrely quiet as compared with that inner tumult.

His first response is to give her a tight, single nod — fine, it says and briefly one of those sparks of anger seems like it might almost survive — and then, following a tension-laden silence, he poses an equally tense question: "Where are you going?"


She had expected that; his acquiescence, some curt promise that he would do it as there was no way he would abandon the rest when they really needed him. She expected this meeting to be brief. She expected not to have to look him in the face before she left.

Zatanna does not expect the suddenness of her arrival to shove John Constantine to his feet and turn to face her, and seeing his hard expression and the pale-blue flints of his eyes hits her like a fist to the stomach. The crashing, white-hot waves of misery and longing, the sheer intensity of everything that he has endured without her in the last week, ends with what feels like a two-punch combination that rattles her senses and sends them in a dizzying spiral of lightheadedness that robs her of breath. It fountains up from the small of her back, lancing into the base of her brain even as it slits her from belly to breast to plunge into the vulnerable, relentless engine encased within. It nearly kills her where she stands.

He ought to know that it doesn't matter with her. He also ought to know that most of the time, he doesn't need the tether to gain some knowledge as to how she feels. That expressive elfin face twists, eyes incandescent with mirrored anguish, lips parted faintly but enough to glimpse the way her teeth clench and her jaw hardens against the overwhelming urge to cry and come loose with all the words that she wants to say. The associated emotions unfurl with its own answering storm, their link shuddering at the force of it - the choking, burning need to see him again. To see for herself that he was, if not fine, then at the very least still alive. How much she wanted to look at him. How much she missed him. How much she hates this. Nails rake into the strap of her backpack, desperately attempting to find some anchor in plastic and nylon, to keep her there before she flew off the handle, every cell of her thrumming to do something.

Because she isn't used to this. She is not accustomed to holding back and her struggle with it tightens everything about her. Their differences are vast and numerous and while John expresses nothing outwardly, all of her brims with the pain of it. From the look in her eyes to the way her breath has shortened at the astral punches she's soaking. Lids screw tightly over her eyes, turning her face away, throwing her stricken expression in the darkness as she fights to swallow the knot that has suddenly coalesced to the back of her throat.

Oh god. Oh god.

Where are you going?

She doesn't know what it is.

She doesn't know whether it's the way he looks, a fortress buttressed against all comers. She doesn't know whether it's what he says, or the way he says it, because she should have expected the inquiry. He would want to know whether she intends to leave to face the false Zatara, that she had somehow found him and intends to do what she had threatened to do, nevermind how it could finish them. But holding back has never been her way and before she knows it, her backpack has gone flying away from her, landing in a thump on the grass, and she's on him, fingers bunched into fists and flailing. Grief is enough to take much of the force associated with it, that Italian temper running wild, snapping free from already tenuous restraints and driving a laser-point bead into the object of her tumultuous affection and ire.

"You bastard!!!" she shrieks, the words cleaving through the deathly-silent evening. "You impossible, unreasonable— after everything and you would say that to me?! You would actually— you…you— ! Oh god— !"


Even across the distance of the city of Berlin the tether has been a kind of feedback loop, the sudden miseries of one provoking or magnifying the suffering of the other, around and around in a cycle broken only by inebriation or sleep. It had done that without anything to remind him of her anywhere near him save his own busy thoughts. With her present, standing there, it's infinitely worse. He can already feel the way she buckles inside around the impact of the moment; seeing it is a visual accompaniment that he did not need, does not want, and which hits him hard enough that he stops wondering whether or not she's going to do him the courtesy of answering his question. The sheer intensity of that outward display of emotion practically causes his skin to crawl, twenty-eight years of being highly allergic to everything about that suddenly all weighing in — alongside newer pieces of him developed in the time since things between them began to stretch his capacity to feel things like any other human being, most of them the product of investment in her well-being…enough to keep him rooted to the spot.

He wasn't sure he could get an answer at all for his question, but it's safe to say he didn't expect what he does get, not least because he doesn't get out of the way. And it isn't that he doesn't get any warning, either — he does. The warning is actually what causes him to lag in the response. He's so busy emotionally soaking the surging typhoon of her response to him that he's too distracted to field the physical manifestation of it.

He takes her full-force to the chest and reels, shoulders shrugged upward and hands lifted to shove at her swinging fists, small, knuckled jabs that arc perilously through the air near his face, to which it has already been amply demonstrated he's quite attached. She is a slim hurricane of dark hair and familiar scents, eyes he's known the smallest details of in fair weather and foul, lit by the blazing sun and barely illuminated in the dark shadows of a shared bed. Her stammered tirade, anger overlapping thoughts and truncating them halfway through to make room for new ones — familiar. The furious shoving and lack of force that come along with anger that really only acts as a shell for a deeper sadness — that, too, is familiar. Tracing the lineage of their relationship backward through encounters breathtaking and heartbreaking leads him to a very similar moment, the one that in his mind turned them down an unanticipated side-route after his arrival in New York.

He defends himself and retreats, stumbles in backward steps as she drives him before her with the force of her need to expell some small part of the poisons of their separation, but mingled with his own rivers of feeling about what happened — the grief, the regret, and still that dominating anger, unrelenting and unapologetic — and his alarm over being literally attacked, is something very much like relief. It's the relief that comes with having her back in the circle of his arms, even if she's only there because she wants to rip his throat out, put her fist through the stretch of hollow between the low curvatures of his ribcage, find the heart there and tear it free.

It consumes him. All of it. All of her. The tiny little voice that speaks up in moments like this with things he'll never say or do tries to provide him with ripostes to her ridiculous half-fragments of sentences, most of which he doesn't need to hear in full to understand, but it has as much success now as it had when they fought in the first place: none. That's doubly true once one of her swinging hands actually lands a solid strike on one side of his jaw, the pain of which focuses him out of his reeling enough for blue eyes to gain sudden fire, appropriate to the jetstream of anger that it ignites — as though her fist were stone striking the flint of him. It prompts him to finally take a more proactive stance against her aimless, haphazard violence, getting his hands around her wrists and preparing, visibly preparing, to resist her efforts to continue doing what she'd been doing or any effort to withdraw.

In the end all this means is that he's submerged in the moment's intensity, heart pounding, tether screaming with everything they're not saying, and he doesn't notice that she's chased him right up to the edge of the sunken-in fountain. When he takes a step backward that doesn't connect with anything he wobbles only briefly, and then he falls, and takes the proverbial tiger he has by the tail with him. The basin is shallow, probably no more than six inches deep, and made of stone, so it retaining some amount of the day's heat. It still arrives as a shock for John, now at risk of being torn apart by an angry Italian and drowning.

He elects to solve both of these problems at once by rolling them over. What he will do after that, he isn't sure. As the song says: the adage tells you to grab the bull by the horns, but nobody ever has any advice for where to go from there.


The blistering, all-consuming agony of the moment eats through the astral bind and nothing coming from Zatanna helps alleviate it for a second. The moment she decides to unleash, to give into that reckless way she does, charging through emotional battlefields with nary a care as to whether bullets and cannonballs tear through her arteries and sever her limbs, more of it just pours into the damning circuit they've managed to develop between them. It renders her breathless, her heart racing, her veins pulsing hard with the rush of blood that they threaten to burst underneath her own skin and drown her. In this moment, blinded by everything and clinging to that first instinct to release what is bottled in order to purge the week-long sickness in her belly, she does not realize that she is driving him back, his face slowly dwindling into nothing but a mess of colors while moisture, hot and traitorous, floods her eyes and threatens to spill over at every wild, aimless swing of her fists.

She's screaming at him in every language she knows, as if attempting to find the most appropriate words to punctuate just how badly he scared her, how deeply he wounded her, by threatening to end it the moment they came at an impasse - and so filled with uncharacteristic indecisiveness as to what to use that she elects to use all of them and it renders her all the more nonsensical. Torrents of wildly circulating crimson to go with her heightened temper push up from underneath her cheeks, fragments of vibrant color in the frenzied chiaroscuro she makes in the dark looking all the more so when paired with the lightning in her eyes. Wisps of magic escape her, as undirected as the way she flails her limbs at him, ephemeral bits of her expunged along with whatever emotional cancer she's trying to excise from her body, left lingering in the breeze while it stirs and sifts over it.

He moves back but like every other part of her life, she moves forward because that was always her way, to keep pressing on and on until something stops her. His surprise, that unrelenting anger, regret, all of it fill her and it does nothing but fuel her movements, as if she could take the contents of his own beleaguered heart into herself, and do for him what he is unwilling to do. All of it but that undercurrent of relief and one that she does not have the capacity yet to understand the cause of, so wholly sunk in the storms they generate together that all she can do is let herself be draagged under them and scream.

She manages to catch him in the face, with enough strength behind it that befuddled amazement and shock gives way to a mirrored spark of the roaring tempest she has become. His fingers, some of the most elegant parts of him, curl over her wrists and she resists, because the fight in her only grows whenever she's cornered, whenever her blood is up and conflict and passions ignite everything about her, a fireship doused with napalm and sent careening into a destructive path towards whatever unfortunate thing or person is in the way.

The world tilts. Her boot slips first, over the rim of the fountain. Lighter and weaker than him physically, his lean, solid weight drives them both down into the shallow basin of water, knees hitting stone hard, breaking capillaries under skin and guaranteeing ugly, mottled black and purple splotches on fair skin by morning. They frame his hips, though whether she has the presence of mind to realize that she's drowning him, one can hardly say, but she is at least not pushing down nevermind that the rest of her negligible weight pins him underwater. Her hands are pulling up in an attempt to disengage them from the shackles that his fingers make around those delicate joints.

The evening will have some respite from her shrieking when he turns them both over and the back of her head and its raven spill find water, the splashing of their struggles lost by the way arcs of liquid spout out from surrounding dolphins. She gasps and gurgles; her limbs tremble against his grip as she attempts to rip them away, fists tightening all the more - maybe to keep flailing at him, the moment she comes free.

"You sonuvabitch!" At least this latest, agonized cry is in English. "It's so easy for the goddamn lot of you to say that to me, isn't it?! To just…just…just fuck off no matter how hard I try to be there and do everything I can and give everything I am when you all know, when you all know that's the one thing I can't— and it isn't fair! And maybe I should let it happen but every time I think about it I feel sick and twist away from it because even when crushed into the very worst of it, I STILL MISS YOU and I'd rather…" She attempts to jerk her wrists away from him, though every tug gets weaker as the dam continues to break, to flood between her bones as her chest caves in with the force of the sobs that she is miraculously able to suppress. "…watch your back than turn my own goddamn heel!"

Defiance flashes through the film of tears.

"So if you're gonna do it, just do it already!!"


Very few of the languages she tries to use are languages he understands. He has a smattering of Spanish, a few critical phrases in common European languages — enough to get a hotel, find a bathroom, order a meal, no more than that, all necessary kit for someone living in the civilized western world — but nothing extensive enough to encompass the depth of complex emotion she's charging those countless tongues with conveying. Not that he needs to know: the look her face and the unholy shrieking are enough to convey every last sentiment all on their own. Truly, even that is unnecessary, given the bond they've forged between them, an open channel transmitting whole worlds of things that language tries and fails to be a symbol for, interior universes of unique sentiment, things that only the pair of them could ever understand.

The line of his jaw has an ache the shape of the bony comb of her knuckles, points of intensity that radiate an anger cultivated through surprise and resentment. Dully glowing, that anger, like super-heated but banked embers that cause everything in his abdomen to tighten and constrict, the muscles of his jaw to clench.

That changes when she slips back into a language he can understand, and says something that he cannot.

"Easy?!" His expression becomes a stage for furious disbelief, and he seems to have had enough of her fighting and flailing because the oh-so-careful hands around her wrists tighten as cuffs, holding them together with a sudden bearing-down of what strength leanly cabled arms have. Knees beneath him he leans over her and shakes her once, a shove-yank of the wrists he's holding. "EASY?" disbelief evolves, becomes incredulous revulsion, something about the sentiment so deeply repellant to him that he ends the moment by roughly dropping her and rocking back off of his knees to stand. Cold water pours off of him into air given sudden teeth by the soaking, but he doesn't feel any of it, chest heaving, breathing hard and looking at her that way. "With everything you know about me? About what this is? After everything you saw inside my goddamn head you think that was easy for me? Fuck off wi'that stupid shite! I'm sure it's easier to believe it was easy for me than that I might just have bloody limits and maybe you fucking crossed one!" That fury boils up in him enough that he turns and aims a kick through the water, every muscle from foot to chest bent against the reciprocal pressure, a broad, curving scimitar of liquid flung out into the evening in vent of wrath he cannot safely express in many other ways. Both of his hands lift, raking back through his hair, the water sheened over his fingers left behind and leaving texture in the cut and tousle of it all.


Dropped, water splashes violently when she falls back in after being shaken that way, drenched from head to toe, but like him, she doesn't feel any of it. White-hot fury surges through her veins; she had hoped to find some blessed relief once it finally takes ahold of her, but the agony remains and she manages to pick herself back up. Standing up, she swipes her hand across her face, pulling her hair away and watching him kick at the fountain, spilling its tears across stone and cement, leaving nonsense patterns that will fade once the sun rises and the garden has once more reclaimed its calm. Knowing her temper and his, though, that won't be for a while yet.

He's right there, too, about what she knows versus what she had just said. Regret wells up immediately, throbbing over the silver tether - it must be downright luminescent now, given the intensity of the emotional currents shooting back and forth between them - but his remarks about limits has her flinging her arms wide on either sides of her.

"Did I?!" Zatanna exclaims. "While resolving to do something that you would do?! After all that shit about not being able to cut it, about how this is the job, about how difficult the choices are?! You're really going to burn me for reading from your book and pull that shit when you suddenly decide that's unacceptable, or not good enough, or whatever the fuck your issue with that is now?! After all your god damn talk about me looking down my nose at you! Well, I'm sorry! I'm sorry for not being able to easily accept that I can't find a way to protect Daddy and you that fits the oh-so-secretive and effective cerebral paradigms of the great John bloody Constantine!"


Did I?!

The look he gives her is all wide eyes and arched brows as he turns back to her and throws his arms wide, palms splayed, the universal look-and-gesture combination for OBVIOUSLY.

"Maybe if you'd spent less time telling me what a bastard I am for asking a question I had to ask and more time listening to what I was saying you would know what the fuck my issue is with it! And yeah, Zee, I am. Going to put my foot down about some things, when it comes to what I do. What I've done all of my bloody life, while you were tagging along after your father and, I don't know, having Kasim wipe your arse for you. How many times? How many times since we last fought have I put my foot down about something? How many times have I said no to you, Zee? HOW MANY?"

It's rare that he colors even in anger, but then it's almost impossibly rare for anyone to get this sort of rise out of him to begin with, so often impermeable to the slings and arrows of others. "I haven't. But it's not good enough for you, is it? That I might know what the fuck I'm talking about, and yeah, I get to have those limits. I barely even like myself most of the time, I don't need to be in love with somebody determined to do the same horrible shit I have to do. Standing there on that roof, telling me you thought it was about me needing to be right, sneering fuckin' imperiously with your chin up in the air about going to do it anyway — fuck off with that, 'tanna. That's the goddamn last straw."

As always, that degree of explosive, outwardly-directed fury burns so hotly that it goes out quickly, and this time when it drains from him there's more than just numb restraint ready to rush in. The pain and grief flood in eager to fill every space left behind, compounded by the growing suspicion that this rift can't be fixed, a faint and nagging thought that threatens to open him up and end him on the spot.

It roughens his voice when he opens his mouth again, breathless words not hoarse but textured by it, shot through with exhaustion. "I don't fuck about with my work and I learned everything I know about it the hard way, through suffering you can't even begin to understand, and if you're going to do that, stand there the way you did and just throw things like that back at me as though this is about my trying to spite you somehow, then I can't do this, Zee. This is who I fucking am. I have limits and good reasons for them. And I don't care if they seem fair. I didn't invent them to give myself a wank, they were set that way by — "

The last of the fight drains out of him all at once. He closes his eyes, roughly rubs at his face with both hands, and then drops to sit on the shallow edge of the fountain. "Whatever. Go do whatever you feel you have to do. Stick a knife right in the side of his neck and get yourself good and covered with his blood, then. I can't promise I can live with that, but I'm not the sodding boss of you."


"I didn't call you a bastard for asking me to betray Daddy," Zatanna breathes, temper shortening her breath. "I called you a bastard for putting a gun to us the moment things got hard and we couldn't agree!"

She jabs a finger towards him. "And while you stand there and rail at me about how following what you say in something so important isn't good enough for you, if you were in my position, would that be enough for you? Even if you weren't, if I just decided to flat out fucking tell you no, you can't do this, because I bloody said so with no explanation, would you?! You would tell me to cram it up my ass and hare off to do it anyway! How was I supposed to take that, John?! I try to give your secrets a wide berth, but don't be surprised that I'll get pissed and fly off the handle when I slam into a wall and try to find my way out with a bloody concussion! When I try to make sense of it all when you turn off all the god damn lights! If there was something else after all, why the hell didn't you just tell me that when I first asked instead of giving me some half-baked bullshit about putting patricide on my conscience when he's not even my father, when I see you and Daddy throw away pieces of yourselves for the Work and here I am wondering why the fuck I can't do the same and what makes me either so special or lacking that I can't?! It was the first thing I asked you! I asked you why it can't be me!"

She whips away from him, scrubbing her face with both her hands. Turning her face up to look at the sky, she watches the starry expanse, though she barely sees them. The tether reacts to his realization, bringing with it a new flood of pain and she screws her eyes tightly and takes a few deep breaths.

Her face remains averted from him, ice-blue eyes searing pale lightning into the water. As the fight drains out of him, her jaw sets.

"You're right," she says through clenched teeth. "You're not the sodding boss of me."

Several steps later, her shadow falls over his, head tilted to look down at the top of his head. Her pale, pained expression remains in the shadows, silhouetted by the grim smile of the crescent moon hovering somewhere behind her head.

"…but I'm not a murderer, either," she tells him quietly. "Jess told me recently that I'll never really know unless I'm right there with a knife. Maybe if I was really pushed. Maybe if there was no way out. But I'll never really know unless I'm in it."

A hand lifts to scrub over her eyes, to rid the last of that traitorous sting. "I know enough about my father's magic to be able to lobotomize him from casting magic, but that's risky…it won't be unlike what Daddy did to the cabinet that holds your inheritance, and what I did with what I gave you in the dolphin. Everyone else already put themselves in the line for me a few times, I thought maybe it'd be my turn."

She turns around then and takes a seat next to him, her eyes falling on the fountain and its dolphins.

"But I think I found another way without resorting to that. You'll get your chance, since you seem to be of the belief that it has to be you to do it. You'll get the help, but I don't have to be there for it to happen, and you won't have to know the method. You just have to end it when he sputters out. I get the sense that'd be preferrable anyway, if I'm nowhere near. Jane and I are working on it."

After a long moment of silence, she turns to look over at him. "I didn't mean to think the worst of you again," she says, once the realization sinks in that they've managed to somehow fall into old mistakes in new and ridiculously explosive ways. "But it was difficult to avoid the impulse when it felt like you were talking down to me."


All she gets as she points at him and answers his tirade with one of her own is a short shake of the head, his gaze wandering off into some other part of the darkened gardens, elbows on knees, skin still shining in the twilight with the water that weighs his clothes down and causes them to stick uncomfortably. The gesture says he objects to at least one thing she says or asks, likely more than one, but he's no longer willing to engage her on it — so once again they find themselves in the delicate moments after the worst of the storm appears to have passed, when John stops yelling, pointing, gesturing, and subsides into a silence as tight as a drum….save that tonight he appears to be too exhausted to maintain the quiet fury beneath the surface, or even bar the doors that usually close in him as he turns from unleashing what he contains to struggling to contain it.

It's still a dangerous moment. Nothing is resolved and the quiet is misleading. His threshold for coping with too many strong feelings too quickly is still as low as it ever has been, and she's already seen what happens when he feels needled beyond that point: he pulls the pin on whatever grenades he has to hand. He doesn't look up at her when the darkness cast by her proximity shades the air in front of him, nor does he look at her when she sinks down to sit beside him and takes a sudden turn toward the practical, and she furnishes him with vague details of a plan she's been contemplating that seem promising, though he'd have to know more. And that would require engaging her on the subject, and that would require —

He's just not ready.

The inside of his head is a hive of wasps. It is loud in the house of himself. Too loud for him to think. But the alternative is circling back to the fight they were having, the small details that are, in the end, really the big details as well — things he's just run out of steam to do — and that seems unthinkable. The result is a crushing vise of paralysis: he cannot fix the problem, he isn't ready to just move on. The magnitude of the schism, the things he hasn't made peace with, the pressing need to address time-sensitive issues — it all begins to cascade into a kind of internal avalanche, overwhelming to a man who spends most of his time striving not to have feelings in the first place. Irrationally — particularly in the face of her willingness to talk about something else, about her plans, or really do anything other than stand there and scream at him — that despair in him gets a foothold and begins to whisper things into the cracks in him. That what they have can't survive this. That even if they manages to pull through this one, there'll just be another, and another, and every time it happens he'll be deeper and deeper into the hole, the suffering worse and worse, because every time he thinks they've found the limits of what he can feel for her he has been wrong.

He braces his elbows on his knees, shuts his eyes and bows his head into the cradle of his hands, the heels of his palms pressing the bone ridge of either brow, slowly sliding away and upward with taut pressure. He fights for some kind of balance, and doesn't trust himself to say anything. And while the rest of the world might see an obstinately silent man ignoring someone offering him a peculiar olive branch — while it might be more straightforward for her if that's what she were able to see, too — Zatanna has no such luxury. She has box seats to all of that wild internal play of emotion, as riotous and chaotic as the exterior of him is restrained. Silent not because he's cold but because he's not; because every part of him is fighting, and the parts of him that aren't fighting what They are are busy fighting what he is.


The arcade falls quiet once more, the occasional croak of nighttime insects drowned out by the rushing sound of water. To the rest of the world, that is what it is, but there is no such respite for the raven-haired witch who feels it all, that wild rush of emotion threatening to blast their tether apart and leave them broken, but secure on either sides of the line. It is enough that it once again leaves her breathless, the sensation akin to knuckles to her solar plexus, slowly grinding in deep until muscles give way and bones are pulverized and she's left writhing and whimpering from the agony of it.

The idea that it could all be over, that they've finally managed to cross the threshold as to what they are, blossoms in the back of her mind, poisonous fruit ready to drop and fill her with the same, burning need to put herself to the pyre and somehow reinvent herself in the way she thought she had the first time he had left her. But it somehow doesn't fill her with the same, shaking fear that had gripped her in that moment in her room with Jessica stroking her hair. She wonders if it was because she thought she has managed to gird herself, prepared for the punch to the face. She knows she'll barely survive what follows, when the reality of it crashes down all around her, the house of cards that it has always been, doused in kerosene and set on fire, but at least she will be able to look him in the eye and do what she said earlier in the midst of her shrieking; watch his back without turning her heel.

Grief hits her then, drowning out the feel of chilly fingers raking down her spine; there is no room in her expression to reflect the sheer magnitude of it. It rises up with all the crushing force of a tsunami, threatening to destroy everything and submerge their failings into the tides and leaving absolutely nothing to show for it. The urge to suddenly turn around, to throw her arms around him and cling while she's buried in it, is nigh-near overwhelming, and she prevents herself from doing this by wrapping her arms around herself, locking her fingers into her inner elbows.

There might not be any fixing this, the root of the problem so ingrained and inherent in who she is and who he is that it has always been a crapshoot that they'd manage to find a way despite them. Ice-blue eyes lower to the water, willing for the chill to numb some parts of her in order to give her some relief for whatever the hell else will follow. But she finds none, when she's busy soaking in the streams of John's own tumult, and the growing realization that as beautiful as They are, They might also be the problem. That they may be better apart, after all, than they ever are together.

The moment the thought rises up, however, all of her recoils at the notion, rejects it so viscerally the sickness at the pit of her stomach returns in full force.

Finally: "Do you think this is still worth it?" she asks quietly.


In that deceitfully silent interlude John throws himself time and time again at the problem and every time he runs headfirst into the problem at the center of it, summed up so succinctly in their latest barrage: this is what he is. The pieces of him that reject certain things outright, the parts of him that don't care if his limits are fair because he knows that he has them, and everything beyond them has been a swift plummet into madness because there are things he can live with and things that he can't, and those parameters have been so badly damaged by everything he's been through — and done, and done to himself.

The counter-thought is there, of course, a product of his surprisingly prodigious sense of self-awareness: maybe What You Are is shitty and needs to change.

But it doesn't arrive as any kind of surprise and seems to offer him no solution. He knows that what he is is shitty. He has been trying to change — recently, and for her, more than he can ever remember having tried to before — and obviously it has not taken. Has not been enough to avoid this and, as that insidious whispering voice reminds him, may not ever be enough.

A wise man would probably nod at that, accept the impasse, and try to make a graceful exit from something that had moments of sublime beauty. He'd try to set aside the fury and frustration of the moment as an ultimately inconsequential beat in their lives save as the final sign that what they have won't work and that the merciful thing, the thing that best honors all of the good things they were, is to try to make some peace with her so that they can go their separate ways remembering better days. Bitter-sweet, but at least something sweet in the final moment.

John isn't that man. For all his selflessness in the pursuit of redeeming himself through his work he is still a fundamentally selfish creature, and whatever parts of him realize he could walk away are drowned out by those parts that don't want to, for no other reason than that he loves her. Underneath all of it she still — even in these bone-shaking, heart-rending, soul-shattering moments of crisis and self-doubt, she gives him things he gets from nowhere else. The thought of leaving her is difficult, the thought of being separated from her but bound to her with the tether is unthinkable, and the thought of being forced to experience remotely the way it feels as she moves on is —

He still can't look at her, but he lifts one hand to touch her arm below the shoulder. If she lets him, he'll follow the line of it all the way down to the hand at the end.


Underneath it all, she acknowledges the very real possibility that he would say no - not because he is callous, but because of his tremenduous sense of self preservation. Zatanna has always known that he was a survivor, but recent events have conspired to let her know the very dark, bloody, morbid extent of how far that goes. His difficult life has been hammered into shape by this teeth-gritting determination to keep going, and if there was any part about Them that could destroy him completely, the risk will always be there. She has avoided thinking about it, especially after that disastrous experiment with the link that binds them, but she can't not now, after this latest blow up.

She braces herself for it, knowing that the flood of self-recriminations will follow. That what brings them to Berlin will at least stave off the pain of it for a while, but upon their return to New York, they will be just as uncertain as they were when they started. She dimly recalls their conversation a few months ago, tangled up in the ruined sheets of the cell in his flat the hours after their assault in the Cult's stronghold in Switzerland, how Fate wasn't finished with them. She had thought, perhaps, that if Life were kind, it would be years before it was.

The tether gives her more insight into John's inner workings than she ever had, though if nothing else it's only made things harder for them and not easier, if this was any indication. But its existence does not mean that she's able to divine his thoughts from it and so she doesn't know what he is thinking. But she is familiar with the contents of her own skull, Jessica's words tumbling within it. That she ought to approach arguments with him from a pair of more empathetic shoes, view the problem from the vantage point of John's desire to protect her. But there are reasons inherent to her that prevents her from doing that, for she, too, has her pride, and really, what the hell are her phenomenal cosmic powers for if she can't at least use them to protect herself?"

So if you're gonna do it, just do it already, she had told him earlier.

The words don't come, though. Rough fingertips track the line of her shoulder as she watches the cherubs and the dolphins, the warmth of his palm encompassing hers. It is her turn to feel that overwhelming sense of relief. It pierces a thin, laser-hot filament of sensation through the hurricanes that have dominated their link. Slowly, her fingers tighten over his, her other hand moving to close on top of his knuckles, thumb tracing over the point just above his index. She doesn't say a word.

After a moment, that covering hand falls away. Interlocked digits lift their conjoined hands to her lips, pressing lightly into the back of his hand, as her eyes close.


It's no desire to leave her wondering that keeps him silent, it's the lack of knowing what to say. He's certain of nothing — not his ability to change, not her ability to ever entirely trust him or know — because how could she be expected to know? — the difference between the moments when he's being unreasonable because of fears he harbors, and the moments when experience makes him unreasonably difficult for what are actually excellent reasons. He doesn't know if he'll ever be that accessible, even if he wants to be. He doesn't know if she'll ever be content to respect the boundaries of him, knowing as he does that they're infinitely more demanding, less forgiving, more dangerous than the boundaries of virtually anyone else he's ever met — and who would blame her, really? They're just one of many reasons that none of his love affairs have lasted more than a handful of months, with the exception of one other — and that was before Newcastle, when he was substantially easier to live with.

They have reached, he realizes, the point at which he's no longer capable of understanding their relationship in terms of 'worth.' Worth it, not worth it — those words no longer make sense to him, implying a straightforward balance, two things that can be compared to one another. That seems impossible to him now. What he knows is a deep-seated need that terrifies him, and the understanding that need may trump his ability to survive what they are. As well to ask any junkie if that last syringe was 'worth it.' Worth it, beyond a certain point, is entirely immaterial. They needed it. It was — it is, and will be — everything.

His interleaved fingers tighten, chilled with the wet but warm at the core. The feel of her lips on the back of his hand seems to pull a drain plug from the bottom of his skull, most of his thoughts and interior battles leaking out of him, leaving him empty-headed and tired.

When he does finally speak, so quietly that it has only enough volume to carry to her over the sound of water jetting into the fountain, it seems as though it's a non-sequiter.

"I should've given you failing marks in Christian dogma." The muscles of his throat tighten when he silently swallows, viewed in profile. "For the Commandments, specifically. I know it can't be that you actually enjoyed our vacation in Hell. I'm pretty sure it's not because you want to follow me there when it's all over with." After a long pause he draws a deep, slow breath and lets it leave him in a slow exhale. He doesn't quite have it in him to meet her eyes, but he turns his head toward her and looks down, gaze fixed to the wedge of space between her upraised arm and its captured hand and the slope of her chest and throat.

"If you kill him, though…" Pause. "'Thou shalt not kill.' Pretty explicit."

Which is part of it. Part. Another long breath later he's threading the fingers of his other hand into his hair, trying to crystallize coherent thoughts through the mess of himself. "And as a man responsible for the deaths of both of his parents, I can tell you that it's…just…it's different. I've gotten a lot of people killed, and it's still different. Worse. Just…worse."


Her lips eventually ease away from his knuckles, letting their interlaced hands fall back somewhere between them, hovering just above the surface of the water soaking their ankles and ruining their shoes. Zatanna turns her eyes back to the fountain and its idealized statues meant to reflect the innocence of angels (which they're not) and the playfulness of dolphins (and how). Her fingers grip his own tightly as she watches water fall, pale irises tracing the arcs they make above them even while they do their best to catch a cold in the middle of an open-air park that's unseasonably cold for this time of year. With the adrenaline of the earlier fight fading away into the background, her sodden clothes feel heavy, and sheeted with ice.

His quip about giving her an F in Christian dogma has her casting a resigned expression to the heavens. "Yeah, well," she mutters dryly. "If there's something that'll bring Nonna back from the afterlife to haunt me, that'll definitely do it." Italians being what they are, especially those from the old country, most of them Catholic to the bone. "And it wasn't that, John. At first I was acknowledging the possibility that I might have to, but I would be finding other ways first. You're the one who was insisting that he has to die. And…it's not as if I don't get why you think that, I do. You're here to tie up a loose end. He'll just be another one, if I soft-hand it. And I know that you want to protect me, so the solution has to be final. But as usual…"

All of that gets lost in the white noise of their anger.

"Anyway I'm not going to kill him," she tells him. "You said we were finished if I did and I believe you. We're inordinately gifted in making things between us ridiculously bad without even accounting for the outside world, but that doesn't mean I was going to go out and deliberately make things even even worse. This is painful enough. This hurts enough, though I'm not sure if that's even enough to even describe how the last seven days have been. So I'm just gonna do what I do best and get creative, cross my fingers and hope that it works."

She turns her head to look at him, silently examining his profile. She knew about his mother, but save for the abuses inflicted on him by his father, she isn't all that certain as to just how Thomas Constantine died. She doesn't ask, though the question is in her eyes.

Instead: "What about you, then? Once you come face to face with the other Zatara? It's not as if you're that all that far removed from this also."


She doesn't ask. He doesn't offer. There are still dark corners in John in spite of everything they've shared, intentionally and inadvertently. It's far from the worst of the lot, but it's personal in a way few of the other skeletons in his closet are. Even if he wanted to tell her — and he might be willing, if the stars aligned — tonight is not the night. There are enough wounds involved in what they're wrestling to overcome as it is; there's no need to involve pains only tangentially related.

He sees it when she turns her head to look at him and the fingers woven through her own tighten again in answer, the only point of warmth uninvaded by encroaching frost. He's trembling in the core of himself, shivers that he's crushed down into a thin cord by tightening everything in his abdomen and back, but he barely notices those, either. He lives in his head at the best of times. This is a long, long way from the best of times, and his head is for the time-being an all-consuming blender of difficult things.

She might be able to guess his answer the moment he finally lifts his eyes, summer irises ticking upward to meet her wintery own, but he gives it anyway after a beat of time, the only answer he could possibly give, now or ever.

"I'll do whatever I have to."

Once he does meet her eyes, he finds it difficult to turn them away again, caught there, complicated things etched like engravings in the way he looks at her — the surface manifestations of the deeper currents still churning, some of which stir across the silken thread playing such a bizarre and pivotal role in everything they do. They've come far enough from his silent struggle against the voice that despairs of finding a way forward through all of the tangled weeds of them that he can, finally, ask again what he tried to ask in the earth-shattering moments before she came flying at him all fists and fury: "Where are you going?"


His eyes finally meet her own and once again, she's caught by how long it feels since they've occupied the same space. Her heart throbs painfully when he looks at her, the fine ticks and nuances of his expression even as the maze of his own emotions invades the insides of her through the tie that he has refused to sever, and keeps even now despite this first real instance of all of its outrageous drawbacks. She attempts to take a breath, only to find that for a few moments, she can't, and for a while, after the last words he utters, she says absolutely nothing. Ice-blue eyes track over the way shadows play over his face, how splinters of moonfire illuminate one side of it and catches the fine filaments of blue on blue in his left eye. Longing and regret, the delayed overlays of guilt, generates a twisting cramp within the center of her ribs.

I'll do whatever I have to.

He'd find a flicker in her expression then, should he look, and even if he does not, it bleeds through the link, that undercurrent of devoted affection that remains, even as the rest of the tumult thrumming through it threatens to bury it under the muck of everything else. Words, she knows, that sum up the best and worst parts of himself. The intensity that she professes keeps her with him. The last week could have proven her a liar in that regard, but that would be hard to believe after those savage, ruthless punches of mourning stirred within the throes of burning anger and need.

He asks her where she's headed and she sighs. "We managed to talk to Reiner, Red decided keeping him in the penthouse and well in hand to answer whatever other questions we might think about might be the best. Jess has reservations, of course, we don't know the guy. But the alternative is to stash him elsewhere and even if we decide to round-robin keep watch over him, there's no guarantee that we'll be able to keep him safe that way and it takes at least one of us out of circulation at all times. Anyway…we managed to find a few leads. The others talked to Adelaide Weir and they were attacked there, but they managed to get Armand's journal. Apparently they lived in Italy for a while before they moved back to Berlin, and you said that your contacts said it was last seen there. Reiner mentioned that the guy who was supposed to move him to another safehouse never showed up when the Cold Flame agents attacked the pub, so Bucky is going to look into that. We looked at Reiner's apartment and I used a flashback spell….Daddy's copy was there, though I don't know when he visited and his living room was saturated with magic….faded, too. I can't place the time. But I couldn't find anything that might point as to why."

She exhales. "Anyway, the last lead was the Berlin Cathedral. Apparently Armand and his older brother, Gerhardt, had a fight there and he was killed. The priest in charge at the time went missing. Given what Red found out about the Spear and talk of churches, we thought to look into it and it took us a while, but the missing priest is still alive and runs a church somewhere in Brandenburg. Since I've got the teleportation and there's a lot of shit to do in the city, still, and since I speak the language, I was the best bet to go check it out, so I'm going."


It's the first time in his memory that he can recall a return to business falling somewhat short of being able to entirely distract him. His work has been his life raft in countless personal upheavals, something with which to distract and anesthetize himself. It still does, but only incompletely; the balance of things they have yet to resolve still weighs heavily on him, a clutch of stones in the pit of his stomach. For all that, he still manages to listen with the solemn focus with which he arms himself professionally on any other day, enough of that momentum available to him that his brows twitch toward one another as she describes finding her father in Reiner's apartment. He even has a question:

"Your da's copy, or the other one's?"

She is inarguably the best choice for the trip, and the rest of the others undoubtedly require a magician to remain, but she won't need the astral link to know that thought of her going alone leaves him feeling more than just uneasy. It's a coil of weightless apprehension in him that makes his skin crawl. He sits in silence, watching her and wrestling with his useless objections, not all of which are without merit. What if something happens? What if the priest is compromised? What if the false Zatara finds her there, takes her beyond the veil of this dimension and into another — somewhere John may not be able to follow? He understands that they have little choice, but those questions and more will plague him all the while she's gone.

"Don't be gone long." The words are quieter than the turbulence in him, phrased like an instruction and delivered like a plea, or as much like a plea as John Constantine is ever willing to allow himself. There are other things in him that want saying, but he's bottlenecked by his weariness with his own feelings. There are things they have yet to sift through, broken pieces of things, newly discovered hurdles they haven't learned how to clear or negotiated the terms for dealing with. There are updates for him to give her — a not-unamusing story about his recent conversation with Berchta, for instance — but it all feels too business-as-usual, and they aren't there yet.

He finally moves to extricate his hand from hers, but only so that he can reach for her, leaning to close the distance of his crown with hers, his more broad-shouldered silhouette intent on maneuvering hers backward and down, something to trap between himself and the solidity of the ground. It's a movement that creaks with the quantity of instinct and urge it contains, no room for any agenda: just the desire to be close to her and in some way cage her with the reality of his body, as though he could fix her in time and space and that might be enough to shore them up against all of the intangible, immaterial things that threaten to rip them away from one another like existential whitewater.


"The one you and I need to deal with," is what Zatanna says regarding the copy. "It looks like him anyway, long enough that his signature was no longer in the apartment when I came."

She is aware that he would have misgivings; if Jessica was right and this fight had been rooted upon the desire to protect one another, she is certain that the idea of going alone despite her candidacy as being the most able to do so would not sit well with him, especially after everything else. The idea of being ripped away by something before they could take the time to regroup and resolve the shattered base of whatever they are was an unacceptable one, and were she in his shoes she is certain that she would be feeling the same things….and would probably say so. The look in his eyes is enough, but the tether makes it definite and what she feels there makes her swallow. Especially when that damning epiphany sets in that while she has doubted their ability to stay together, she has never doubted his love, or his investment in her well-being.

And he makes that evident enough with what he says.

Don't be gone long.

Hot, damp spikes sting her eyes, but nevertheless, she flashes him a smile - daring, reckless and confident in her ability to be able to do this at least, no matter his apprehensions. It is meant to reassure him, that in spite of the pieces of them that they've managed to break, some things will forever remain constant. "I'll be careful," she tells him. "I didn't intend to get in there guns blazing anyway. I was thinking of pulling a couple of pages out of our friends' playbooks and case the place for a while before making a move. And the moment I think something's off, I'll come back and grab backup."

A far cry, in the end, from the days in which she'd do things like barge into Benji Raymond's office and shake him down for Mammon's phone number, so to speak.

His hand shifts, and upon realizing his intention to be free of her own, she slowly releases his. She turns her body in time with his and when he reaches for her, cold, wet limbs twine around his neck loosely, forearms braced against his shoulders. Lashes flutter shut when the shadows of his face eclipse her own and the welcome weight of his forehead finds hers. They are nowhere near fixed, but she manages to find the room inside herself to succumb to the all-encompassing relief that threatens to pull her back under when he closes the distance and she meets him halfway, pressing into him as fingertips find the back of his neck, climbing up to bury fingers into the sodden mess of his hair.

She pulls away, eventually, and only a scant few inches. Her lips graze his forehead, before she pushes even closer to bury her face against his shoulder. Unable to help herself and unwilling to resist, fingers ball into the back of his shirt as she finally allows herself to act on the desire that assailed her the moment she decided she was going to sit next to him. Her body tightens with barely-subsumed desperation, clutching him like a lifeline, the deep breath she avails herself only serving to remind her of his scent, diluted by water and the Spring, and the film of old magic that blankets the entire park.

"I'll be back before you know it."

She knows that the next few words aren't enough. The last week has only illustrated that the intensity of them can be so profoundly destructive that the single truth that had driven them together in the first place is just one band, one strip of tape, that keeps the mess of them together. She knows, now, that they'll somehow need to find others to keep whatever it is they have secure.

But it is the core of what this is and so she whispers it against his shoulder, lashes falling shut.

"I love you, John."


All he can do is try to find some comfort in her promises, though they're meager enough as an offering, if only because he knows she's capable of dealing with most threats, and it's only the very serious ones that worry him. Those, it's difficult to do much to prepare for — the proverbial black swan problem. There are dangers to her that he'll never be able to stomach the thought of, situations he'll always grit his teeth through, nauseated by a slightly more subdued but by no means defeated tendency to fear the loss of everything and everyone that he loves. Many of those he'll have to accept. A very few within his power to avert will provoke steadfast opposition and, just as it did one week ago, some of those may give rise to more bitter clashes between them, each determined to slice through the complications of who they are and what they do in some specific, contradictory way.

Holding her is a different kind of pain.

It's the pain of having a bone re-set, a dislocated limb socketed back into place or a deep wound flushed clear of debris: it does make things better, but braided together with that necessary effort toward healing is the reminder of the essence of that injury. Whatever balms it may offer him — and they are legion — it still resonates with just how close they came to making this impossible, and alongside that all of the other things represented by such a simple act of intimacy.

His hands transmit soft aches into his chest as they settle on well-known and well-loved contours along her back, the circle of his arms closing and then tightening into her promise of a swift return — tight enough to feel the way his breath sits shallow in him, abbreviated by delicate, complicated things. He turns his head and tilts it toward her own, the whole of his posture bent around her, as though he could draw her into himself and shelter the pieces that remained beyond him.

He's told her how he feels only once in any direct way at all, and since then been reluctant to field the words again. Saying them once has not made them any easier to say a second time, so the words may never be destined to become a token of affection he's able to give freely. The stubble-roughed kiss he places against the side of her head — firm and held for a handful of heartbeats, one of his hands splayed to cradle the back of it, rivers of wet black hair running like rivulets of ink through his fingers — is not quite the same as an answering 'I love you' and, to all outward appearances, they're back to where they were: a place where Zatanna gives and gives, an outpouring of open love, and John, shackled, stunted, can only hope she knows.

It isn't the same at all, though.

He doesn't say them, that's true. But he doesn't have to.

Everything he's ever been unable to say in moments like this comes ripping across the filament of astral webbing between them like a silk thread made of molten star-stuff, a fireworks display of things that exist beyond the capacity of four letters to contain.

Maybe this has always been the landscape inside of him, when he's been silent into that exchange, and she contented herself with that silence, somehow. Maybe he's always been rockets and bombs without the words to carry them.

"Are you leaving tonight?" Pause.

"Don't leave tonight."


This time, she knows the source of that fear. He's been up front with her before, but now she has as complete of a context that goes into those fears and now that they're here, she wonders why it's so difficult to make these necessary concessions. He had earlier, in a blaze of fitful, righteous fury, told her that none of this had been to spite her and the words have at the very least given her a new window of understanding into the endless well of broken shards that make him up - his ego and arrogance make it easy to fall into the default assumption that he finds very little value in the experience she does have, as paltry as it is when compared to his own. It isn't as if she forgets that he has lost, and lost plenty, but rather her own conceit gets in the way of understanding that the fear is there and will continue to exist no matter how loudly she insists that she is not like the others that came before her. She is only starting to realize, in that stubborn, relentless heart, that doesn't matter.

His shallow breaths, the tightening of his own arms around her, the kiss, they all serve to tighten her throat and force small trickles of moisture to finally escape her lashes, the heat of them soaking into his cold shoulder. It only serves to make her grip him tighter when her words are returned by the riot of emotions twisting through their link, conveying similar sentiments but with the force of an atomic device behind it, liable to devastate her utterly and leave the other side of them ruined and in shambles, waiting for the equally crushing fallout once its overwhelming brilliance and heat have faded away. It may have been always like this, but it is difficult to think about what came before the tether when it is so busy pulling her back into the torrents of feeling that threaten to pulverize her bones to dust and shatter that ever-open heart. To her, it is the sweetest and most savage of torments and she drinks it all in like a woman left to die on the sands of the Sahara. Her greed echoes through the link, brazen acknowledgment that John Constantine may very well be a prophet on top of everything - nothing is and ever will be enough.

Are you leaving tonight?

She hesitates.

Don't leave tonight.

Furious affection compounded with a heavy twist of sorrow and regret associated with her complicity to their ruin rockets through their bind, and it finds a pale shadow-mirror of it in the real world with the way her arms tighten around him in a fierce embrace, eyes squeezed shut and teeth gritted behind closed lips in a futile attempt to fortify herself against the tremors that rake down her spine at those three words. Blood rushes through her veins, filtering the pain of it through her nerves and igniting every single one like Christmas lights. She suddenly finds it very difficult to swallow, the barbed sensation sticking to the back of her throat, clinging so tenaciously that she is certain to bleed when it's time to dislodge it.

Slowly, she pulls away to lift her head. Her eyes meet his as hands lift to cradle both sides of his face, suddenly regretting the errand she has to run.

"Okay," she tells him softly.

After a pause, she continues: "Do you want me to come back with you to the penthouse?"


Such a seesaw of mirrored emotions. It's his turn to broadcast relief, a thick and potent gout of it, when she consents. As she leans back and cradles his face his exhale shudders into the seam of space that opens up between them, tendons in his arms creaking as he eases the tension in them from having cleaved her to his chest that way.

He gives the question she asks him a moment's thought. In his mind eye he imagines the penthouse, full of well-meaning but curious friends, the solicitous looks or forced efforts to act as though they hadn't noticed something was wrong and that now John is back; the silences, the polite fictions…

He's still so exhausted that the thought of those little niceties and the intricate little dances of sharing space with other people only serves to leave him feeling weak with his own inability to stomach it all. Pale eyes meet paler still, shadows between them shifting as he shakes his head. "Not tonight. Let's find somewhere else. Just…take an evening somewhere quiet." The fingers threaded through her hair at the back of her head slide free, the side of his thumb touched lightly to the outer corner of her mouth. "…I…want you to myself. Just tonight, Zee." It isn't a humid statement, nothing silken and leading or suggestive of plans for physical entanglements, though with John that sort of thing is probably always in the cards as a possibilty. It's born entirely of the desire to be alone with her. Alone with what they are, without having to think about any of the others or the events a week ago that still linger in the minds of their friends.


This time, there are no words. Not for a while. When he tells her that the penthouse wouldn't do this evening, Zatanna simply nods, glancing down at the sodden state of her and him though the touch at the corner of her mouth rivets her attention back to his eyes immediately. She chokes back another hard swallow, finding what she does on his face, internally slammed by a wave of relief so strong and so distinctly his that it threatens to carry her away.

She leans in, because she can't help it, impulses followed and driven there by a sudden, aching need. There is nothing forceful about the way her lips touch his own lightly before she draws away. A hand lifts to slip gentle fingers in the niches carved between his knuckles, her face turning to brush a mirroring token against the heel of his palm, before she's slipping away from him. Booted feet finally rise from the basin of the fountain, a single world called up to drag her backpack from the grass and into her waiting grasp.

"It's cold and the last thing we need is the two of us getting sick on top of everything else," she tells him. slinging her bag on her shoulder. She waits for him to get up, but whenever he does, her free hand extends outward, seeking his. A week without him, left shattered in the debris of their own doing, she is starved for the touch of him, shameless in indulging in whatever excuse she manages to find to fill the holes punched into her spirit by his absence. If taken, her digits curl securely into his.

She remembers a hotel close to the Reichstag on the other side of the city from where Red's penthouse is located. Lips part to bend reality to her will yet again, a doorway opening before them into the streets of Berlin, the ornate facades of the Hotel Adlon Kempinski beckoning at them from an insignificant distance.

"Come on," she tells him quietly, taking the steps necessary to the portal she had just made.


What are you doing? he asks himself, lips haunted by the ghost of hers, and for once — for once and perhaps the only time it will ever be thus, being kissed by her soothes him and slows the rapid beat of his heart.

Because they aren't fixed, are they? There are still broken ends in them, injuries that each of them caused the other, and throwing themselves together again before all is mended or at least patched up in a more thorough fashion is just asking for other accidental wounds.

That's what the pragmatic little voice says as he pushes himself up off of the cold ground, leaving behind shadows of water on the pavement, and winds his fingers through hers. It insists, tugging at his sleeve: isn't this incautious? Shouldn't he wait? Shouldn't they — ?

He presses another kiss to her temple as they step through the portal and into the radiance of the facade of the hotel.

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