Magical Ballistics

May 09, 2017:

Takes place before Push and Pull, Zatanna Zatara visits Dr. Jane Foster in her workspace in Berlin to enlist her and Bucky Barnes' help with a project that might be able to solve her present conundrum regarding John Constantine and her father's secrets.

Red Robin's Penthouse - Berlin - Germany


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Giovanni Zatara, John Constantine, Bucky Barnes, Red Robin, Jessica Jones

Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

The penthouse, today, is relatively quiet, if not a little more crowded than they initially thought. With Reiner Steinschneider and now Adelaide Weir bunkered in for their own protection from the cult, they are steadily running out of bedrooms. Thankfully, there is enough space in the lavish flat that it doesn't feel especially crowded. Through wide, floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Berlin, the sun makes its slow, fat descent over the horizon, bands of red and gold steadily pushed down by striations of blue and indigo. With the rest hard at work tracking down their leads, there doesn't seem to be enough hours in the day.

It has been close to a week since John Constantine had left the penthouse, leaving Zatanna to explain to everyone else that he was out attempting to shake down agents of the Cult of the Cold Flame for answers, though it's clearly not the only reason why the British magus had left. The simmering tension brewing just under the surface of the storms in the raven-haired witch's eyes attests to the fact that there had been another lovers' quarrel between the two, though she would never use such a simplistic term for the really bad blowouts that constantly cracked and splintered at the foundations of their relationship. Still, she was grateful that her friends know them and love them enough to give that white-hot fault line a wide berth; the young woman herself has been especially focused in her own work - a quick assessment after Bucky, Red and Jessica delivered Armand Steinschneider's journal to the penthouse revealed that there had been some powerful demonic magic sealing it shut. Given that she was the only magician left in the penthouse, it was left to the young woman to determine whether they can read the diary in the first place.

Strangely enough, their current problem with Hermann Steinschneider is not what brings Zatanna to Jane's workstation today. The last apocalyptic fight between the two of them circled the drain of a single question, and one which she has been attempting to find a solution for, also. She can only hope it works, but she'll need the help.

"Coffee?" she wonders of Jane, wiggling the fresh pot in her direction, the scent of roasted hazelnuts spicing the air as she walks closer. Ice-blue eyes wander over the organized clutter curiously, though she makes no move to touch any of the physicist's instruments and scientific accoutrements - given the way the diminutive brunette spoke of her lost lab in the times in which she visited her, she knows that the older woman's space is important, her tools as sacred as any sacrificial dagger, crystal ball or obsidian scalpel. She makes sure to stand a couple of feet away with steaming liquid in her grip, and two ceramic mugs securely in her hand.

"I was wondering if…" She chews on her bottom lip. "I'm trying to wrap my brain around another problem but I need someone who has a very thorough understanding of ballistics, I think. I know you're terribly busy, but I…didn't know who else to ask."


Though she can play oblivious quite well, helped by the whole workaholism tunnel-vision, Jane Foster hasn't missed the tension saturating the penthouse: seriously, it's like walking through knee-deep mud.

Neither has the woman attempted to broach that tension, however, being foremost someone who deeply values privacy and respects the same in others, knows it's not her place, and, really — her own priorities have kept a watchful eye on James Barnes and his complicated reacquaintance with Germany since the second world war.

So Jane plays absent-minded scientist. She plays it really well, because get her on deep enough a work binge, and she is the absent-minded scientist, who has in the past few days comandeered her bedroom shared with Bucky as an informal workspace. Her many projects is a slow but virulent creep over every available surface of the room, from desks to tables to even the bed (only on his side too, poor Buck).

Entropy rules the bedroom when Zatanna enters, and it's not exactly a mess — Jane calls it a theromodynamic equilibrium conveyed in a state of perfect internal disorder — but it's sure something, with the woman herself centerpieced among her things like a conductor over her orchaestra. Her attention turns up from several screens at talk of —

"Yes, always — always coffee," she greets amiably. There's always a degree of tension haunting Jane when others linger too close or too long when she's in her palpable work-mode — Bucky's witnessed the worst of it — but she taps down the old impulse, putting on an encouraging smile to welcome Zatanna in. She doesn't want to add to the obvious John-related tension she knows is there but /is not going to say anything about./ Work, however? Thrilled to talk about work. "Ballistics?" she asks, eyebrows shot up. Possibly Jane thinking there are better candidates — Bucky, absolutely, or Red, but instead her? "I'm not too busy ever if you need something. Find a place to sit. What properties of ballistics are you talking about?"


Unfortunately for Jane, to give her some context as to why there is a problem in the first place means to go into the root of her argument with John, and Zatanna can't help but cringe inwardly at the thought of it; she is thankful for their friends' careful respect of their privacy, the two of them have a distinct tendency to jealously safeguard the conflicts that define them from any and all comers - to John, especially, outsiders are not welcome unless he opens the door first, and even then it's barely a crack most days. But in order to illustrate the problem, some background is necessary and she silently girds herself to look for the right words.

So she takes her time. She pours a mug for Jane and herself, setting the fresh pot someplace where it won't touch any of the scientist's precious instruments and equipment if it makes an unfortunate spill. Moving further into the room, she finds a safe place to sit, cradling her mug between both of her hands and staring at the black brew for a few moments. Lashes lid in quiet contemplation, the white edges of her teeth worrying over her lower lip.

"The man leading the Cold Flame agents in the Union Jack - the older magician…John and I suspect he's my father from a parallel Earth. It would explain why his magic is identical down to the soul," she murmurs. "It's the best theory we have, as to why he exists when Daddy can't occupy the same space as me because of the curse inflicted on him. But following that line of logic, that means that the weaknesses to his sorcery are also identical to my father's….and nobody knows its intricacies better than I do. As you can probably guess….that's not something I'm willing to share with anyone."

She sighs and lifts a hand to rub the side of her face. "But that means leaving John to deal with him without the information he needs to defeat him, and I'm not willing to do that either. I wanted to deal with him myself and do what's necessary, since I have the know-how but for some reason, John doesn't want me to. He's adamant that he has to do it and…"

Her jaw tightens at that. She scrubs her fingers through her hair.

"So here's what I'm thinking. I want to protect Daddy's secrets, but I also want to help John since he's so hell-bent in doing this himself…but in a way where I don't have to be involved. And the best solution I could think of is some kind of double layered bullet - the outer layer inscribed with the incantations necessary to generate a null-magic field, large enough for it to pass through a magical barrier and whatever force or repulsion that would generate. When it enters the body, I want that outer casing to shatter once it hits muscle and bone, but leave the inner layer intact…that inner layer will carry a seal that will temporary cut off Daddy's doppleganger from casting magic. If it works, if we design this right, he won't be able to use magic so long as it's inside him. This is why it has to be a bullet…it'd be impossible for him to dig out….with the right shot."

She looks up at Jane. "So I need advice…what kind of metal, whether it can be done. I've made magical artifacts before, but I don't have any engineering expertise and I imagine the calculations that would have to go into this are pretty complex and delicate. That I don't have any brains for so I thought…maybe you could….and if it is possible. If we're able to pull this off…I'm…hoping that if I can't be the one to hold that copy of my father down so John can rid the world of him once and for all, if Bucky would."


Coffee gratefully in hand, Jane nurses sips of the liquid between longer drinks of all the information Zatanna has to convey her — a long story what ties all of this together.

Interest and fascination cross the scientist's face in regard to a parallel Earth, with a tightness to her features only coming to bear when it's explained why it makes this so sensitive: this Giovanni is and is not her father. Quantum properties imposed on the absolutes of magicians.

Of course, this ends up at the crux of all the tension, and though she did not and would not ask why, Jane gets the answer to the whole 'why John Constantine disappeared like Jimmy Hoffa' question. Empathy shadows her eyes briefly; she doesn't say it out loud, but she understands Zatanna's conundrum. She understands that sort of promise to keep a secret: to be prepared to die with that secret. She knows she'll do the same for James.

"Sounds like you want a full metal jacket," Jane replies thoughtfully. Her mouth hitches up at one corner. "James has been teaching me a lot of the trade. I can consult him on what would be the most effective place to aim on — he'd know where in a body you can keep shrapnel stuck — but what I can guess? Let's see."

Just like that, the woman swings up her legs to cross them, lotus-position, into her habitual 'thinking position'. Her hands cradle her mug of coffee, leaning it comfortably down on the bone of her ankle. "Something I gleaned from those books you gave me: a lot of metals that surface in spells and curses and — wards, you call them? I see silver and iron on repeat. They're transition metals, which makes me gather that — I think there's a link between magic and atomic orbitals. Unpaired electrons making quantum jumps: this is a theory, definitely, but it might be one of the bridges between magic and science. And that magic, too, is a wave function, with its own spin quantum number."

There's a moment that Jane looks on hopefully, absolutely adamant the rest of the world, Zatanna included, shares her enthusiasm. Then she sobers. "Yep, I'm talking in tongues. But, otherwise, it means you might want to core the bullet with something like silver that carries whatever seal you make. The outside will need to be something else. Brittle. Steel alloy. Lead works. A hollow point will make sure it expands on contact. It'll shred from the inside out. Only downside is it isn't going to penetrate far, but James… James would know where to aim to mitigate that."

She pauses, holding a careful silence. "The only side effect is… if this Giovanni wouldn't have any magic to summon up against it, it might very well be a killshot on its own. You're all right with that?"


The moment Jane moves, Zatanna is already leaning forward on her seat, fingers lifting her mug to her lips to take a quiet sip of it. Ice-blue eyes fix on the physicist with interest and there's a slight nod regarding the mention of the books. "Yeah," she says. "Silver and iron are staples…natural stones, also, there are many that have elemental ties, like diamonds. They have powerful connections to wind, the sun and fire, for instance." The only stone strong enough to hold just a tiny drop of her soul, and the basis of her Valentine's Day gift to John. The thought of it, and how it ended up saving his life and spirit, forms a cramp somewhere within her ribcage. She pushes it aside by taking another swallow of the bitter brew.

Mention of the full metal jacket has her chewing on her bottom lip. "So…like the movie…?" she wonders, because she has absolutely no expertise with guns either, hence the consult and the request for help. But the talk of quantum jumps, wave functions and spin quantum numbers go over her head immediately; undoubtedly Red would understand everything Jane had just said. The lesson can come later, but for the moment, she lets the scientist rally her thoughts and put them in order without interruption.

But she seems to realize this and she laughs. "That just lets me know I came to the right person," she tells her, emotional exhaustion shelved momentarily to allow a note of pure, warm affection to seep over her words. "This is me, a balloon of faith in that you said something absolutely brilliant." She points to herself in emphasis.

She is careful to outline the limits as well, and she nods. "That's part of the reason why I'd have to ask Bucky for help also. He would know where to plant it, and while I'm a little better with Biology, whatever I do know probably doesn't hold a candle to someone who's had almost a hundred years of handling a gun." And bombs, grenades, knives…the entire legendary black ops kit.

And Jane wouldn't be Jane without the caveat as well; there's a sudden surge of fondness there - gentle, yes, but unwilling to sugar coat the consequences. There's a small smile. "I figure so long as I don't see it, it won't affect me too much. I'm perfectly willing to let John and Bucky handle this one. John claims he has good reasons for keeping me out of the actual…you know…" She gestures. "Jess keeps trying to remind me I have to look at it from the angle in where he's just trying to protect me. From my conscience, the guilt, blackening my soul….he's serious about it, but at least this way, he'll still have the benefit of my expertise. Just through Bucky."

She takes another sip of her coffee. "All of that sounds great, we can work on the components together and while they're being built, I can start imbuing them with the necessary magic. Was thinking of only two bullets, with a spare just in case something goes wrong and the first shot doesn't go as planned. I'd have to ask Bucky to keep them away from John or any other magicians so they can't pry the secrets out of the bullets. And if Bucky ends up with one extra bullet, I'll just ask him to give it back to me. What do you think?"


"Natural stones," Jane echoes, in that way she does. Filing things away to the repository of her memory for later. She's not finished with that thought.

But shelved for now for the more immediate tasks at hand, she lets a genuine laugh go at 'balloon of faith.' Jane tries to do those words proud with a ratifying sip of coffee. "I try."

The scientist leans back in her chair, listening. Her eyes soften against acknowledging talk of Bucky's vast, vast expertise. Doesn't she know it. "He definitely will know. I memorized anatomy years ago, I can get into the pharmacology of human physiology, but what he does… it's just not something you get from a book. We'll leave that part to him. I'm sure whatever ideas I'd offer he'd shoot down — literally — so I'll save myself /that/ embarassment."

Yet, as Zatanna goes on — some of the levity drains visibly from Jane's face. It is not disapproval, or tension, or even distaste for the subject matter at hand, but instead something deeply pensive. A thought comes to mind, and it troubles her enough to make a decision.

She sets her coffee aside, and stands. Without warning or explanation, Jane moves to the bedroom door, and silently, decidedly closes it. It may be a meaningless gesture with the company they keep — enhanced, special people — but it is necessary for her. The symbolism inherent in that shuttered door communicates one thing: what is spoken cannot leave here.

"There's one thing that could get in the way of it. Something you may or may not already know," Jane says, her voice low, sombre. Her dark eyes turn on Zatanna, deliberating: this is not something she would otherwise speak aloud of, or share freely. But it needs to be shared in this case; and knowing the depth of connection between John and Zatanna, possibly something too important enough for the young magician to know.

Jane reassumes her chair, but no longer with folded legs. Her feet plant on the ground, her hands twined together, every bit of her serious. "You could trust James and to do this for you. If it's a secret you want kept, we'll keep it. But the matter of keeping it from John." She bites briefly down on her bottom lip. "He did something for James. It was James's request. There's a switch in him that John controls. Turns him off —" her blunt words do not betray the transparent sickness that crosses Jane's face, she's no fan of this, hates it, really, "into a deep sleep. If John really wants those secrets, and knows James has it… let's just say it wouldn't be impossible for him to get it."

She holds a deliberate silence. "If he wants it bad enough, is John someone who'd do that?"


Jane's glowing summary of Bucky's own capabilities in the regard of knowing what parts of the body to hit long distance has Zatanna smiling. While her current state of internal affairs isn't the best, that doesn't mean she can't glean some degree of happiness at watching a friend indulge in the bits of her relationship with another. It even relaxes her in fact, tension winding away from her shoulders, bleeding out into the open air and draining her of a moment's apprehension - she had doubts that what she had been asking wouldn't be possible, but the physicist's assurances give her some hope that this will work. She sinks further into her seat and takes a quiet sip of her coffee.

But when she watches the scientist's expression change, and move to close the door, she sits up straighter again. Red had done the same just a day ago, before he confronted her about her decision to tell Jessica and John about his deal with Wong - decisions she wouldn't walk back on for all the magic in the universe, considering the deal nearly killed him and that was how she found out in the first place - but when Jane prefaces it with what she does, some semblance of relief returns. At least the brunette isn't angry at her too.

The confidences that she communicates to her, however, are serious enough to warrant a widening of Zatanna's ice-blue eyes; she has always had an expressive face, there is no hiding the fact that this is the first time she is hearing about this. John had kept that secret even from her. "…what…?" she whispers. "When? Wh…" She almosts asks why, but remembrance of those heartbreaking weeks suddenly flood her more conscious thoughts in full blast; only a handful of months ago, and it already feels like another life, when so many things happen constantly around their group. She knows why Bucky asked, and why John did it. "…I won't say anything," is what she says instead, meant to assure the physicist. "I can swear it in blood if you like."

She can understand why Jane hates this also. The look in her eyes makes it clear enough.

There's a glance down at her cup. "I love him so much it's hard to bear, sometimes," Zatanna confesses quietly. "I rarely ever talk about it because every time we think we hit our limits as to what we are and what we could be, something else happens that erases those boundaries. The things we've been through together…" Her voice trails off. "But John's the kind of person who will throw everything he's got, and all that he is, into something he deems worth doing. When it comes to his work, he becomes less of a man and more like a force of nature liable to destroy as much as he saves. For all that I feel for him, I'm not blind to that part of him either. If pushed, if cornered, he will do anything and everything necessary to come out on top. He's been through too much to do any less."

She lifts her head. "With that said, in this circumstance, he won't push it. He doesn't have a reason to. All he wants is my help to take my father's doppleganger down, and he knows and understands the reasons why I won't hand over those secrets. If I told him Bucky has it and that he's keeping the means safe for me, he won't go so far as to do that." There's a bit of a laugh. "Besides, could you imagine if he did?" Eyes sparkle with her old mirth as she looks at Jane. "Then he'd have to deal with the both of us being explosively angry at the same time, and I don't think any city is ready for that."


"I know you won't say anything," Jane reassures quietly, with a fond pinch to her eyes. Zatanna has her full trust, and has done nothing to ever make her doubt it. Blood oaths are not necessary for the scientist.

"But, yeah. They brokered that deal a few months ago. I'm the only one James told. It's not something… others need to know. Should it ever come up, and be a thing, well — then they will. I wasn't certain if John had told you; I don't like to share James's secrets, because they don't belong to me…" That brings Jane to sigh softly, fidgeting with her own fingers, twisting some imaginary ring that does not exist on her left hand. "If I didn't bring this up with you, though, I wouldn't be doing right by him."

The dilemma in Jane's browne eyes is clear: she trusts John. But as she fought once with James months ago, she does not — cannot — trust someone to the degree to hold reins over someone's very freedom and autonomy. She trusts John, but cannot, for James's protection, afford him an infallible trust. And though Constantine has been there for him, for her, helped them all — she doesn't know him well enough to make that sort of character call.

But Zatanna does.

So Jane poses a very blunt question, and she listens with a needly intensity to the magician's response. She stays perfectly silent, uninterrupting, and takes in every word.

"All right," she says at the end, when Zatanna gives her word that it won't be an issue.

Could you imagine if he did? asks Zatanna, and Jane goes quiet, her overactive mind forced in that moment to imagine something the rest of her is not so prepared for —

Jane forces on a smile to try to answer Zatanna's levity, but it doesn't last, and it never reaches her eyes. They shine at the same time with intensity and apology. "I'd be… more than angry," she says briefly, lowly, glancing down. When her eyes cast back up, they reflect her truth: it would be her line crossed. No forgiveness.

But she sighs it out, rubbing wearily at the back of her neck, happy to move that topic along. "But I trust what you say. That won't be an issue, then I don't see why we can't move forward on this plan. I'll go over it with James and see if there's any details I missed he might catch on. We can make us some bullets. They stay with James, and when this is finished, any remainder left goes back to you."


"No, I understand….I think Bucky would too. You wanted to warn me," Zatanna says with a quiet sigh, though she still looks somewhat floored that Bucky had asked John to place that kind of mechanism in him. There is no surprise, however, on her features at the idea that John would allow it, or even convince him that this was a good idea. She knows what the man had been through in those stressful weeks in the Brooklyn flat, she had been there, unwilling and unable to leave him in what could be her final moments.

The intensity of Jane's stare as she looks at her twists at her stomach. The words could be construed to be unkind and there are parts of her that feel guilty and conflicted of saying such things about the Englishman when loyalty and devotion are important characteristics to her, foundations of her effervescent personality. But her fiery sense of independence simply cannot fathom willingly blinding herself to those facets of the British magus out of love. She wonders, somewhere deep down, whether this would only make things between them worse, but what she says is true. She is not so devoid of survival instincts that she will willingly turn her back to the parts of John Constantine that make him a very dangerous man to know and keep close.

Her attempt at a more lighthearded angle was doomed to failure, as it is bound to - the subject is clearly a thorny one and she can at the very least empathize in Jane's position. The scientist's confirmation that the plan will go forward has her exhaling a quiet breath, an easier, grateful smile easing the corners of her mouth upwards.

"Thanks, Jane. I'll thank Bucky too, when I see him next. I wouldn't be able to do this without you both. This way, I won't have to choose." Between her father and her lover.

After a longer pause, she looks up to meet Jane's eyes. "The failsafe….do you think there'd be a more permanent solution to that? For Bucky's….I mean, if there was one, then there wouldn't be any need for something like that. Right?"


"It's what we're here for, Zatanna," says Jane to that thank-you, softly and purposefully. She means every word. "You were there for James, for me. Now it's our turn."

Despite that lingering shadow alleying her eyes — that last topic still haunting the corners of her mind, the edges of her thoughts — the woman's smile is genuine.

But with that question settled between them — Jane determinedly believing and trusting Zatanna's word about John, and with only her own mental note in place to bring this up with James later, and get his own OK on it — she gentles out of that moment of dead-seriousness, leaning back into her chair. She begins reaching for her nearly-forgotten mug of coffee, the movement arrested only by Zatanna's follow-up question. It lifts her eyebrows briefly.

She ventilates out months of frustration in a single, windy sigh. "There's going to be a permanent solution," Jane answers uneasily, her face equal parts doubt and conviction. No answers, but as if that's ever stopped her. "What James and John have — it's not going to be permanent. It /can't/ be permanent. It's… I'm actively looking for leads." Her mouth crooks up; her smile betrays an insomniac's unending exhaustion. "It's one of my projects."


"One of many, I imagine," Zatanna says with a smile as she finally stands up. Moving over to where Jane sits, a hand reaches down to close her fingers over her slender shoulder, squeezing warmly, the gesture all quiet, but overt affection. "Hey, if you ever need help with that…with Bucky's…you can count on me and John, too, okay? Just let us know how we can help."

Straightening up, she grins faintly at Jane. "Anyway, I'll get out of your way, I need to get back to packing, I'm heading to Brandenburg tonight. Thanks again, Jane….this….you have no idea how much this means to me." The last is quiet, and for a moment, it looks as if she's about to say something else.

But she changes her mind. With another smile and a wave instead, unless stopped, she'll move for the closed door, to finalize her preparations to her side-trip outside of Berlin.

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