The Things That Can't Be Fixed

May 13, 2017:

John Constantine and Zatanna Zatara regroup after the destructive events in Brandenburg and the close calls they've endured in the last week.

Some Swanky Hotel - Berlin - Germany

Says in the location name.

Characters

NPCs: None.

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

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Given the extent of John Constantine's injuries, she had seen to him first before coaxing him into the shower, and then using the second bathroom in the suite that she procedured for the two of them. Undoubtedly the rest will want to return to New York posthaste by the morrow, but fresh after their troubles in Brandenburg, the group reached a consensus that they'll stay another night in a hotel before making the trip home, in order to rest up and regroup before whatever lingering tensions remain cause Red Robin's plane to explode…or something. He already had to blow up the penthouse he purchased specifically for this operation.

Thinking about it can't help but generate a twinge of guilt; just because Tim was wealthier than God didn't mean that they had to keep trashing his multi-million dollar properties like they were spent kleenex. She had heard about it on the way back to Berlin, though her conscience was assuaged only very slightly by the fact that Red made the decision himself.

These are random thoughts, scattered and fragmented by their impact against the wall of exhaustion that suddenly hits her the moment hot water from the shower does; the fading threads of adrenaline in her system have only given the rest of her body room to remind her as to how painful everything feels. Her muscles feel like lead, her bones like concrete, their very marrow rendered into cement. As steam rises and water cleanses her skin, fingers push into her mouth and come away with traces of blood from where she had bit into the inner lining of her cheek. She is young, however, the youngest in the group of five that decided to make the trip to Germany. Even without her healing magic, she knows that she'll recover relatively quickly.

When she finally leaves the bathroom to head towards where John is lingering, her steps are slow and careful, raven hair hanging in damp, inky rivers down her back, clad in a t-shirt and a pair of shorts that she hastily bought from the gift shop in the lobby, knowing she would need a change of clothes - everything she brought to Germany save for the items she packed in the bag she took to Brandenburg has been reduced to ash, and all that's really left is her laundry. And so John would be confronted with the rare sight of Zatanna wearing something other than black in the months since their reunion, the white t-shirt bears the words I <3 Berlin upon it, clearly a riff on the famous I <3 NYC shirts that dominate the landscape of the city that they left behind.

As ice-blue eyes finally find him, she hesitates in her steps. She slowly unwinds the towel from her shoulders and leaves it on the couch, and for a few heartbeats, she does nothing but look at him. Though while silent and unmoving, the silver tether that binds them together is almost painfully alive; guilt is prominent, but relief threatens to drown it underneath its currents, and the wave of overpowering affection twisting from her end and lancing into his.

Before she knows it, she's crossed the distance with steps so quick that spikes of pain ripple over her calves and thighs, shooting up the small of her back and crackling through every link of her vertebrae. Her arms curl around his neck, a set of fingers burying into the mess of gold and brown at the back of his head, the other splayed between her shoulder blades. Her eyes screw tightly shut.

She says nothing, still, but for once, she doesn't want to open her mouth - not yet, anyway, unapologetically sinking herself against his chest and refreshing her memory with the shapes of him, as if she hadn't been near him for years. The single night after their row before she left for Brandenburg was not enough, a paltry salve to the wounds they rent into each other in the week prior. Heat pricks the corners of her eyes.

—-

It's not the ghostly memories of John's own pain that he carries with him off of that battlefield. He had turned their attempts to kill him into an offensive benefit to himself, poisoning his own blood and sending it winging after any magic to leave him wounded, in what is probably the most fitting magical approximation of his usual way of doing business imaginable. It had been his choice, and though it took the form of an expenditure of power out of character with the man he tries to be, the shape and psychology of it were as familiar to him as the fit of his coat.

It's hers that he remembers. That shocking dose of suffering he'd felt when he was out in the graveyard experimenting with the jar containing a piece of Muller (gone now; he'd examined the bottle in the aftermath of the fight and found it empty save for the same kind of useless dust Jane foster had applied her shoe to with a well-deserved kick). Because she was alone; because things between them had been so delicate by the time she explained her plans that he didn't want to risk upending things again by insisting she take someone with her, even if he himself couldn't go. He'd put Them before Her, needing that night of reconciliation, as careful and quiet as it had been.

If someone had been with her, maybe it wouldn't have been so bad for her. Maybe she'd have had enough help —

But he knows, even so, that he wouldn't change any of what he'd said. Isn't sure that he'd change how he'd said it, though underneath his stubborn pride he suspects it would be the fair concession to make. Were they always going to wind up that way? Separated, on ice, so that when the time came and everything went sideways he wasn't there to help her? Will it happen again? Hot water runs rust red with blood from wounds that no longer exist, stains washed away to leave no indication they ever existed at all, and swirls with soap down the drain, as circular as his thoughts.

Like Zatanna his personal belongings at the penthouse were destroyed in the explosion, and unlike the rest he's never bothered to set up that handy app spell on his phone, typically lacking any need for anything other than what he has on himself at any given time. The result is less than ideal for John, who would prefer not to have to wear souvenir-shop sweatpants and a t-shirt, most especially not shirts and sweatpants that state that he HEARTS BERLIN, because just at this moment he doesn't particularly HEART BERLIN at all. One garment with that motif would have been bad enough. Two seems to suggest that he HEARTS BERLIN more than anyone else has ever HEARTed it before.

He's standing at the window that looks down onto the street when she reappears, and she'll see him already turning by the time she's in view of him. Sensing her coming, a side-effect of what they have.

One of many, as the last week and change have demonstrated altogether too well.

She stops and stands there, just looks in spite of everything he can feel coming from her, all of the things mirrored in him, leaving him wondering about the condition of the ice under his feet. "Zee…I…"

And then she's there, and he abandons whatever he'd been about to say in favor of banding his arms around her tightly, turning his face into the damp tendrils of her dark hair and releasing a held breath. He ought to resist showing his hand — things are still not wholly settled between them, are they? — but he can't do that. Does not know how. Everything in him coils like the winding length of a serpent around the relief of having her close, and every last nuance of that is blared across the open line of the tether as though from a loudspeaker.

So he cleaves her to him, makes no show of feeling any way other than he does, and instead when he finally lifts his head to press hard kisses to her temple, her cheek, and finally her mouth he pours the whole of that maelstrom of tension into it. That kiss contains everything: all of the grief and regret and all of the intensity of missing her, all of the worry and guilt, all of his fury with the Cult, all of his frustration with her, all of his grasping need to save and protect her even if he has to hurt her himself to do it — all of it. Every single piece of it all is there somewhere. Tender adoration and dizzying relief war with force and aggressive possession, eventually finding a balance point between the two that should probably not be possible — much like the rest of what they have should probably not be possible.

And is.

—-

Things are not wholly resolved between them, no.

But none of it really is and the fact that the thread remains hanging and hopelessly truncated is perhaps the reason why every single row they've had since their first one is always catalyzed by this same issue; her safety, her protection, what is ultimately best for her and how the methods in which John tries to do this tends to run afoul with Zatanna's developing sense of independence. She knows the roots of all of that run deep, touches on the fundamental aspects of John and herself, on their vast and very significant differences that the divide may remain forever. Now that she has unwittingly been given the kind of access to the Englishman that nobody else in the world can boast, she can't ignore the fact that they exist, or the possibility that, for all that they love one another, it can't be fixed.

While in his arms now, however, she is all the more cognizant of the fact that it is tremenduously hard to let go of him.

She has never had the desire; even when he had just up and disappeared the first time, her attempts to move on with her life were half-hearted at best, driven largely by pride and stubbornness without giving herself the requisite means and avenues in which to heal from those wounds. Even when things had been at their worst, the thought of actually leaving him had not crossed her mind, not when they've been through so much, so quickly, in such a short amount of time. They've been through Hell together, a ridiculous bonding experience, if there ever was one, and while confronted by the idea of losing one another, it has only forced her to cling all the more tenaciously to what they have.

Most days, she doesn't think it is enough; even when it is too much. It does not help matters, when they would rip each other open all for the sake of getting closer.

It is not the healthiest state to be in. She knows that. She knows.

But as he grips her tightly and presses those unforgiving, insistent kisses on her hair and cheek, she finds herself unable and unwilling to care about all the follies and mistakes that have driven her here. Her restless mouth opens under his as nails raze electric paths over his scalp and her other set bunches the fabric of his shirt underneath his grip. She rises on her toes, ever cell of her radiating urgent need and the edge of desperation only such can cause, aiming to blur the boundaries between their bodies as she kisses him, and kisses him, and kisses him.

"John…" she breathes somewhere in between. "Oh, John, I…"

Her hands shift to frame his face. "Does it still hurt?"

It's a whisper, and one that's not all too specific. She could be referring to his physical state, or something else entirely. But the question is phrased deliberately, knowing him well enough that it gives him the room to answer it in the way he deems fit.

If he wants to.

—-

Accelerated, shallow breaths create the only movement in him when he feels her cradle his face in her hands. They're too close for expressions but his hangs on the delicate edge of something troubled, tilted only barely askew from neutral. Phantom pain, even though half of the pain of it all arises from how good things can be.

'Does it still hurt?'

His chest moves in a tight contraction, air pushed out of him in a single whisper of gallows humor. "Always."

That's the safest path forward with her, he knows. The Constantine mask firmly in place, truth half-buried in it. What's the line from Dickinson? 'Tell all the truth but tell it slant?'

Yeah. That's John, alright.

But before he forgets — walking his fingers over her spine, droplets of cold water running through his fingers where the still-damp ends of her hair accumulate all of the moisture lured by gravity, the press of her into him, the allure of something soft after a week of absence and hours of pain — before he lets himself forget, caught up in all of those temptations…

"We need to figure out a way to lock it." Quiet words bent around Liverpudlian enunciation, strangely intimate for something that sounds like a practical concern. But it is strangely intimate, as practical concerns go, and it's also a tacit admission of…something. Something about himself, possibly, that he doesn't want to think too deeply about.

"What you gave me." Sacrificing some of the pressure between them, he brings one of his hands from behind her up to gently lift her fingertips from one side of his face, opening the angle of her wrist to him. His lips linger there but don't kiss; eyes mere slits of cobalt beneath almost entirely lowered lashes. "I can't keep using it."

—-

Always.

She knows it's true, however painted by his typical darkly humored delivery, but he'd feel her smile faintly against his mouth just before she gains enough distance between their faces - though there isn't much of it - to look him directly in the eye. Fingers strafe down her back, plastering her hair and wicking it into pristine cloth; this state is familiar to her, but strange in its own right, to be so aware of him and the way he touches her, but to be so arrested by his face and eyes that plenty of the other details are lost. Some thing do remain, however, in spite of that - his warmth, his closeness.

And his words. Soft confusion ripples over her expression when he tells her that they have to lock something, and when he finally clarifies, it drains away, replaced by a furrowed brow. There's no resistance when he moves her hand, the heat of his mouth burning on tender flesh; against the press of his lips, even her blood refuses to lie to him, rushing through the blue-purple line of her veins, so visible in the right angle and through the right stress under such fair skin, imprinting him with the staccato beats of her heart.

I can't keep using it.

She knows why this is a concern, but she has others to bring to the table. Ice-blue eyes wander towards the point where his mouth rests against her wrist, lips parting though it is a few moments before the words actually find the shadowed space between them.

"…what if you need it?" she asks softly. "If the keys stay with me, and I can't get to you somehow, what if…"

She falls silent after that. Her lightning-pale stare lifts to meet his eyes again.

"Things're only getting more dangerous around us," she continues. If Brandenburg was any indication, and the false Zatara is still running about and worse, John had a direct hand in foiling whatever the Cold Flame's plans are.

—-

It is the question he expected, but it isn't one for which he has any answers. Ever self-aware — moreso than most would believe, given his bull-headed determination to ignore all sense and civility from time to time and bull onward with terrible deeds — he can see the parallels between this conversation and countless others he's had with her, save in reverse. His concern for her safety, her reluctance over some point of contention to do with it, and in an abstract sense it's about his independence, just as things usually revolve around hers.

His, in this instance, because of what it does to him when he taps into it. How it unmakes him.

"I can't be trusted with it, Zee, I can't. I'm not myself." He whispers that secret to the fluting rhythm of her pulse, so quietly that it barely employs more than a margin of his breath. Competence and mastery over the Art are his bastions; an open admission of his fallibility is practically unheard-of (barring loud declarations about how he's unfit for the company of children, anyway).

"When I use it I forget everything I know about why I shouldn't."

He does finally punctuate all of those confessions with a kiss to her wrist, then releases her fingers and opens his eyes, his hand returning to the swell of her hip. He finds his voice again, quiet but more audible. "And I don't know what it could do to you. There's no theory on this." The corners of his mouth turn ever-so-slightly upward, eyes apologetic. "It's too easy, luv."

There's momentary silence while he studies her, consulting with his own thoughts, before he offers her a compromise: "Maybe we can come up with some other contingency plans."

—-

She knows that, too. John has never been enamored of the power magic gives to an individual; she knows on some level that he saw it as both salvation and shelter, in a time when he was lacking in either. With her hand released, it returns around his neck, fingers drifting in an absent, but soothing stroke through his hair. The whisper, his admission, is made so softly that despite their proximity, she has to strain to hear it.

I'm not myself.

Something about that sentence resounds somewhere within her, the ominous drip of an inexplicable twinge rolling down her spine and forcing goosebumps to crawl up her spine, like ripples from a lake. As the silence stretches, she watches him with slightly-hooded eyes, stilled from all movements save for the way her fingers drift through the close-cropped strands behind his head, and the rise and fall of her chest against his. He can't be faulted, after everything, for thinking she is doing her best to calm whatever turbulent waters there are, to prevent herself from trying to assert the equity that she seems to believe she is not receiving from him. But there's no anger or even the slightest bit of annoyance from their tether, though there is plenty of apprehension.

But unlike the issue with her false father, she knows why. She lives with that endless well inside of herself every day, knows how seductive the temptation is when things are dire and she's driven back into a corner. The weight of her father's seal presses into her soul in those remembered moments, with the full knowledge that if she pushed with all of her might, she could shatter it and overwhelm the elegance of her father's magic with brute force. And then…

And then…

"Okay," she relents, turning her face into where his neck meets his shoulder, grasping him tight against her. "Okay."

Eyes directed to the spot of wall above a hard curve of muscle, she continues. "If I lock it maybe there's a way to unlock it long distance in the times I feel that you need it. It'll be another tether trick, but it makes sense. The thing connects our souls, not our bodies. Theoretically, I have a direct line to yours. I should be able to reach it."

Eyes directed to the spot of wall above a hard curve of muscle, she continues. "If I lock it maybe there's a way to unlock it long distance in the times I feel that you need it. It'll be another tether trick, but it makes sense. The thing connects our souls, not our bodies. Theoretically, I have a direct line to yours. I should be able to reach it."

—-

If she needed any confirmation of the seriousness of this request, she'd find it in the way he answers her proposition that they tamper with the tether, even after the disastrous results of their first attempt. A solution that would allow her, even remotely, to influence his soul.

"Good enough."

Casual words and casually said, given the depth of the relief that flows across the live wire that links them. And for a moment — just a moment — he experiences the tiniest, most insignificant fraction of what James Barnes must have felt, on being told that John could bridle him with a spell to put him to sleep, should the worst happen. The kind of relief that can only come from knowing that the restraints will keep him from becoming the worst kind of monster.

It's only one step forward, but given everything they've suffered over the last week — most of that self-inflicted — it's still something. Enough, maybe, that he can gird himself to ask what needs asking, even though he isn't sure he knows how to answer it, himself:

"Are we…" In the pause he tightens his hold on her hip. "Alright?"

—-

He sees it one way and she sees it in another - Zatanna views it as influencing the part of /her/ soul that has been stitched into his, and from what he has told her about what he did, it isn't in any way assimilated to the blackened seas of his own (and neither of them know how that would affect her, should that happen), which is probably the reason why she proposes it in the first place. She is very familiar with John's own overpowering sense of autonomy, and were she not her, chances are his answer would be in the negative. But his answer is given readily, and without the resistance she expects - it is enough to surprise her.

She watches him for a moment, wonders if he's being careful because things are hardly mended between them; simply patched up quickly, to reassure one another that the most important question between them is resolved before heading their separate ways. Their one night together before the Brandenburg trip had been too short and the rest of it is bound to remain, barbs under their skins.

His reaction is a curious one, that small argent drop of relief; it would seem insignificant considering the waves of emotion flitting through their bind, but real and she tastes it when it reaches her. He'd find it in her eyes, but she doesn't give it voice, all too fresh from being reminded as to what happens when she runs her mouth when her emotions are running red.

Ice-blue eyes fall to fix into the center of his chest, that uncomfortable twinge resting in her stomach. She is not accustomed to holding back.

But then again, she might not have to.

Are we….alright?

His grip tightens on that slender curve; she chooses to interpret it as his unwillingness to let her go, perhaps no matter what she says. Chewing on her bottom lip, she finally tilts her head back to meet his eyes again, her expression soft and somber.

"I don't know," she tells him quietly, honestly. "I think so…"

Her voice trails off, brows stitching together in an attempt to collect her thoughts, to actually think about her words, for a change, before she says them, and goes with: "Whenever we fight like this, it's always because of the same thing at the end of it. It makes me feel better to know that it's never really out of animosity, or hate, even though it's still excrutiating."

She chews on her bottom lip. "I don't know if this is something we can fix. Like you said, this is who and what you are, this way of doing this, and I think I'll always chafe when that conflicts with who and what I am. But…I think that's how any relationship is, really. The question is whether we're willing to let things fall apart, or keep trying. And when I think about that, I ask myself again whether I meant what I said…about the reason why I'm with you. I asked myself that the entire week we were apart."

—-

It's surreal for him, this conversation. That he's having it in the first place is surreal all on its own; he's shown people his back for far less discomfort and inconvenience, and the blue eyes that watch her so attentively as she worries her lip and picks her way with care across the minefields have always been quick to lose interest, historically, easily led off in some other direction by another pretty face, another meaningless embrace. Safer waters. Social shallows.

He still marvels that he doesn't want to, even now. Even after six months of being with her again, packing in another person's lifetime of trials, experiences, and emotions — wanted or unwanted.

The reasons to stay with her are legion. She intuits his moods well most of the time, knows when to call him on being unreasonable and when he's only barking like dogs do, and that in spite of doing little to help her read him properly — though the tether, of course, puts paid to a great deal of the guesswork of late. Her competence in the world he inhabits will only continue to grow; she keeps up with him most of the time, yields to his experience when it's appropriate, and isn't afraid to challenge his way of doing things…a quality that may rock the boat from time to time, but something he can inwardly acknowledge is a whetstone to sharpen his own edges against. He finds her devastatingly attractive and the sex is — well. The mile high club hardly has its appeal anymore, does it? And she loves him, in spite of everything; in spite of his reputation, in spite of her father's warnings, in spite of their conflicts and his flaws and the horrible things in his history, some of which she's seen, now. Miracles, really.

But he'd always believed that after a certain threshold of interference, nothing would ever be enough. Arguments about his purpose top the list, and likely always will. She knows that and says as much; outlines their impasse as neatly as he would have if it had been up to him to do.

His gaze tracks down her expression as she finishes speaking. "I'm going to guess," he begins, in a subdued tone of voice that nevertheless preserves that fragile thread of dark humor, "Based on the evidence…" His gaze trains on her mouth, silent reference to their embrace of minutes ago, "That you didn't change your mind." Intoned as fact, not query, though he does gradually allow one of his brows to rise, the question printed there in webs of sky and silver.

—-

The fact that he hasn't left after everything acknowledges certain, deeper truths that she finds both exhilarating and frightening in equal measure, and save for the one reason that she gave him as to why she stays, Zatanna hasn't outlined any others. Not because they don't exist but her attraction and awe regarding his intensity flower into all the other reasons why she does, the very root as to why her love has endured for years after being dismissed, for months after being inexplicably left, and all the other fights that threatened to tear them apart before anything could even start again. On top of everything, it is one of the very few commonalities they have in which they intersect, part of the white-hot fault line that she described to Jessica, that keeps the ground underneath their feet unsteady when the tremors begin. In that, they are the same - on top of all these other reasons, she knows that very well about herself. Her intensity, too, has driven people away, and nearly did so to the one presence in her life that she couldn't do without.

In John, she finds someone who doesn't just reflect it, but one who revels in it. Someone who doesn't think she is too much and in fact doesn't think that is enough, the results of which often lend to this; the instinct to bare their teeth and tear into each other to expose what's in the next layer. Anything and everything to get to the core of what they are, if not just to fulfill the need to understand what exactly it is that they have.

His wry remark has her smiling at him; nothing faint, its familiar brilliance peeking through the slightly parted seam of her lips.

"I haven't," she tells him, emphasizing it by the brief caress of her mouth on his. "I remember almost everything I said to you after you came back into my life, the promises I made. While things like this tend to make me re-evaluate, because I can't help it when I hurt that much, I've never once regretted being with you. I've never wished to take back any of the things I told you when things are good. John…what we have…whatever this is…I don't think I'll ever find this with anyone else."

Her smile tempers, slightly rueful now as her gaze drops to the hollow of his throat. "It'd probably obliterate me, if we ever decided to walk away." He knows from prior conversations that she is very much aware that could happen, confident in the fact that while it would be devastating, life would continue for the both of them. But that was before the birth of the tether and all of the amazing and worrisome things its existence means.

—-

Her kiss softens his expression, lids his eyes again. He can hardly fault her for 'reevaluating,' with how inclined he is to ask himself at virtually every turn if he's sure this is a good idea — to the extent that he almost tore them apart before they could even get started. And for good reason, as she swiftly points out: it would probably destroy them both, each in their own ways, to lose what they have.

And losing it is so very, very possible, as events have conspired to remind them again and again.

"I'm making an executive decision, luv. Can't speak for you, but I've had with looking over my shoulder for a bit, yeah?" The sharp upward tilt at one corner of his mouth is pure John, quick and edged. "I'll just assume you're also sick of me looking over yours. Don't bother to confirm or deny, just go with it. So…" That brisk tone takes a sharp turn into sly, humid territory, well-paired with the way he walks her unhurriedly backward and only seems to refrain from nosing in to kiss some piece of her because if he did, he wouldn't be able to see her expression or meet her eyes. "Whatsay…you and I take a little holiday? Hm? Berlin was a bust, I think we can both agree on that. Hong Kong? Or do we save Hong Kong for celebrating something? There's always The Box." It's possible to hear in that very British enunciation the capital letters that initiate each word, dressed up in a quietly theatrical, ominous tone, as though he were presenting it as part of a magic trick to a captive audience of one.

"The others are fine on their own, and you and I have a hard slog ahead of us. South America's still on the calendar, but pissy Aztec gods make for poor sightseeing, and given how much the one of them likes you, I'm not sure I care to share. And all of this business with the darkness, with Ritchie…"

His mouth opens, closes. "They'll chuck you out of University at this rate, but think of everything you've learned outside of the classroom as it is! Sure, they can show you pictures of the Brandenburg Gate, but I guarantee you'd never have seen it from that specific angle without this little field trip."

He pauses, and in that pause solicits her with relidding eyes, tilting his head, scraps of mischief still in him — simmering playfulness that floats just under the surface, softening but not in the least bit diminishing the intensity of his focus on her. The corner of his mouth wants to rise, but he keeps dissuading it for no immediately obvious reason, as though toying with his own mood. Quieting, gradually; still subtly wry, but more intimate in the touch of his thumb to the place just beside her mouth. "C'mon. Let's let the world take care of itself for just…a little while, and run off to do something irresponsibly enjoyable, for once."

—-

There's a look directed at him when he declares that he's making an executive decision, but when the proposal rolls out, Zatanna can't help but blink once, staring at him; surprise parts her lips, enough that as he walks her backwards to the interior of the hotel, she doesn't resist. Bare feet pad quietly over the lush carpet underneath when he moves her, and she follows - that hasn't changed, despite their earlier difficulties, when she would still retain that willingness to follow him in that guilelessly trusting way to wherever he deigns to place and arrange her. It may also be her exhaustion and all the other physical hurts that she still retains, evident by the way she lists slightly to the left.

It's difficult to say what it is about the moment that softens her expression considerably, the white-hot lance of affection spearing through their tether and threatening to obliterate those thrumming underpinnings of guilt. But to her, it's everything - the words themselves, the look on his face when he says them, so impish and almost boyish that it encourages her heart to skip a few beats, the fact that it even occurs to him to propose the idea in the first place. Her mind backtracks to the other trips she has taken with John before, though they can hardly be considered holidays - even after they decided to break her father's rules, they had to disguise those road trips in the form of hunting expeditions, investigations that furthered her education in their world, and she had to report back to Giovanni regularly during those excursions.

This would be different, the first time they'd be able to venture out into the wide, wild world that never fails to hold her fascination, openly as what they are. It instills in her a different kind of electric thrill, and a need that she didn't even realize existed until the possibility was offered just a few moments ago. It doesn't seem like much for anyone, hardly an impressive thing to give to someone, but that bright, adventurous spirit rouses immediately at the thought of it. He'd see it flare in the depths of those eyes.

Of course, the first thing she ventures is: "Even Sumatra?"

Because of course she would.

Fingers wreathe over one side of her face and she gravitates to the warmth he provides immediately, a slight tilt and lashes lowering. "Not the Box," she tells him. "Let's go someplace warm, and real. If we're going, I want to really be there. Someplace exotic that neither of us have been before. What about Singapore? Thailand? Morocco? I've never been to any of those, we can go to Marrakesh and pop into Casablanca and Tangier…"

Her smile brightens; he can practically see the way her imagination runs through all the possibilities. "Do we want to leave tomorrow? I mean, you said it yourself…the rest will be fine now that this job is over. The two of us can board a flight to elsewhere tomorrow and we can just grab what we need along the way."

—-

Her sudden surge of warm regard floods him like the heat of the sun through suddenly opened windows, melting things in him locked solid and iced over by the winter of their feud. He'd understood when she'd asked him if he still thought all of this was worth it that 'worth it' no longer applied; that want had become need, need balanced against his ability to survive having it — like a drug. What sings across the tether is a distilled dose of precisely that, all the more potent for having gone cold turkey for a week of painful uncertainty.

It's magnified a thousand times by the change in her eyes, pale depths lit with the radiance particular to her spirit. By seeing it there at all, and by knowing that he's still able to strike that spark in spite of everything he's done to hurt her.

Those two things are probably responsible for the incredibly reckless way that he first responds, quietly, with embers buried in his tone.

"Even Sumatra."

She bubbles over with possibilities, and he lets the stream of ideas come, one after another rolling past him, earning the occasional quirk of his brow — Singapore..? — but none of her suggestions meet with a single note of protest or argument, because for John the destination isn't the point. A nice perk to have, a little cherry atop the icing, but not the point, because he knows that wherever they choose to go, they'll find some way to make it more than it is in essence. They'll pry back the covers of whatever story they choose and find something of value between them, sheerly because they're willing to look, and Fate has a sense of humor.

The point is her: one half of that alchemy, and the only necessary piece.

He pays out the line on the restraint he's been employing, enough to lean in and stitch soft-lipped, pliant kisses between his words. "Any of them. All of them. Anywhere you want." His mouth wanders away from hers, across the angle of her cheek. "Tomorrow. After a late check-out."

And that would usually be that: segue into John devoting the rest of his evening to making her toes curl, and fin. It isn't, tonight. Like a splinter lodged deep that needs coaxing to remove, the words leave him on a breath that feathers the shell of her ear, prefacing the closure of his mouth on her throat.

"I'm sorry I hurt you."

…Not that he asked what he asked. Maybe never that. But that he hurt her in so doing is a truth he's able to acknowledge…

…now that his outsized pride has been pacified.

—-

Most of their friends and acquaintances would probably never believe her if she ever said that John Constantine a very indulgent man when the circumstances suit. As kisses rain down on her lips, she clutches at him, returning them with all that brazen, youthful enthusiasm, fueled as they are by the prospect of a new adventure. She sinks into each, savors them, sinks into the realization that while things aren't resolved, perhaps they don't have to be at this very moment. After what happened in Brandenburg, and she wasn't sure what, still, considering how chaotic everything was, she is eager to get back to enjoying and being thankful for what she still has. He pointed it out several minutes ago, himself - they have a long slog ahead of them, and in spite of their week apart, mired in pain and fury, she still remembers what he told her that night on the beach, that the memories of good times may be the keys to saving their lives and souls repeatedly.

And not just.

If the good constantly outweighs the bad, doesn't that mean something is worth saving, no matter how bad the bad gets?

It may be an altogether too simplistic thing to consider, it barely acknowledges the complexities that defined their interactions since their relationship changed from teacher and student, but Zatanna is young, embroiled in the first serious relationship of her life - and one so devastatingly intense that she already knows it will shape whatever others she falls into, no matter what type they are.

He'd find that as always, it doesn't take much to make her happy; just the words - anywhere she wants - is enough to flood their tether with those constant, rapid pulses of that eager, singleminded affection and the sheer intensity of her joy, punctuating the movement of their kisses until his mouth drifts along her cheek. Her eyes close, her head tips back at an angle to better receive it. The rasp of his stubble against smooth skin generates those spreading sparks of sensation, more than enough to resuscitate nerves gone dormant at missing his touch, and for a moment she does nothing but take a breath and embrace the moment.

Though those eyes open again when his apology drifts into her ear, when her head follows the silent commands of his mouth, moving back to give him room. Fingers tighten over his shoulders.

"I hurt you, too," she acknowledges quietly. "And it wasn't just incidental to what you said…I wanted to hurt you back." The thought of it curdles deep inside of her stomach, turning her head to bury her mouth against his temple. "So much that I was just running my mouth to try and punch everything in you that I could reach. I knew it was wrong. I knew it. But I was so angry, I couldn't help but…"

That is familiar too, remembering their last devastating row.

She turns her head far enough that her face finds his hair, burrowing into the gold-brown strands. "I'm sorry…I know my lack of control over my temper didn't help, either. I wanted to throw my arms around you the moment I saw you again, but I went all crazy Italian on you instead."

—-

Anywhere she wants.

And why not? He can afford to be indulgent, now; they've done what they could with what they were able. Her father's doppelganger escaped — a thought that he avoids because it needles him, a more disconcerting loose end than Muller in the grand scheme of things, particularly after he saw what burned in the man's eyes after John had the temerity to interfere with his plans — but they can do little about that until they've made strides in learning more about what the Cult is planning, and that will require time. Time and work.

But there's always work to do. Unending, unceasing, rolling tides of it, even without the rising darkness to consider; the foibles and follies of humanity will always keep John busy. If he never pushed back against the onslaught he'd never be doing anything but working — and that has, in recent years, more or less been the case, his whole life a blur of crisis management tinged supernatural.

And they're still intact. For that reason, too. They both want to be, clearly. It's enough.

He writes that confession over and over again on her throat with hot, drowsy kisses, open-mouthed and prone to lulls several breaths long. When she says she hurt him on purpose there's another one, but it has a different quality, a frozen, held-still quality, a hitch in the fluid progression of his ardor. At length his lips lift from her skin, though he assuages that retreat with fingertips that curl pressure into her hips.

"I know."

And he does. Knows that she was lashing out. Why she said what she did — to wound.

Knows that there were pieces of truth in most of those right hooks, though, and the knowing of that means they still sting, because for her to use them to cause him pain means that she, too, knows that they're true. And that wounds him as much as the saying of them. More, maybe.

How can he stand in judgement of that? He knows full well he'd destroy her emotionally if it meant keeping her safe from something dangerous enough to warrant the effort. Is it any better if it's justified by those circumstances, really, than it is if it's brought on by pain…? He tells himself that it is, but there are destroyed relationships in his past that shattered explosively around that same kind of lashing out from him, only it stemmed from far less rational places.

"It's alright, luv." He's not sure that it is, but when is he ever alright? He's certain that he's within acceptable margins of fucked up over it, at least, and with John that's as good as alright. "I need you to know that it wouldn't ever be easy to leave you. Doesn't matter what bloody happens. It wouldn't. I can't make a lot of promises, 'tanna, but I can promise you that."

—-

That, too, is something she is trying to avoid thinking about, and to John's infinite credit, he makes this easy; each press of his mouth on her throat causes the expressions on her false father's face to fade in increments until he's rendered into a pale shadow at the back of her mind - a worry to think about another day. It is enough, for her, to revel in their successes this evening. After all, Muller was dead and whatever the Cult had been trying to do had failed. She remembers the way the moon bleeds, suddenly reminded of her own attempts at divination a few months ago. If this was what her waking visions referred to, it only stands as additional evidence that the future is malleable, with the right toss of the dice.

Thoughts about why the Cult would want to bring about the Mystic Moon ten years earlier than it ought to be is something they'll have to consider later.

The way his breaths paint her throat drives her senses into a gradually dizzying spiral, the scrape of his stubble and the humidity of his breaths only serving to remind her that they have a lot of catching up to do, nevermind that they've only been separated for a week. Certainly nothing like the two-month absence they endured back in Hell, but this is certainly the first time they've done so after a particularly bad fight. She is suddenly recalling how good it feels being with him, a more potent salve to the burns she suffered at the wake of their blistering argument, eradicating the memory of those open welts with every caress.

Until he lifts his head to look at her, and the way he says those two words has the back of her throat constricting, watching that conflict pass over his eyes and bleed through their astral link. A hand cups the side of his face, thumb tracing the ridge of his left cheekbone as he speaks. The fact that he says it's fine draws a hint of skepticism over pale features, because no person would actually claim that is alright. Who could ever abide by it when someone hurts him out of spite?

But he dives right into the point of contention that finally made him snap when they were struggling in the fountain together. Ice-blue eyes lower to fix somewhere by his chin.

"I know," she says softly. "It just came out, I didn't….I didn't really mean that. After everything, it was unfair. I could have said a lot of other things, but that was the lowest blow I could think of and I took it without thinking."

After a pause, she looks up, smiling at him ruefully. "I know you can't. That doesn't mean I would ever want you to." Her face tilts, to capture his mouth into her own - softly, unhurried.

"I don't know what it is," she confesses. "You'd think that I would know enough and try and make things better especially when we're having a row. But I never do." Her instincts are keyed in a different way, buckling in with every instinct to fight back instead of resolve a problem. Then again, this is John, and she knows him well enough to know that he oftentimes makes it too easy. But that doesn't mean that she shouldn't try.

—-

So often their exchanges are byplays of near-understanding, fractured and set just far enough askew to produce cataclysmic tectonic rumbles as the two of them push forward, believing they're in synchrony. Those small half-steps in either direction are everything.

He said what he did because he wanted her — needed her — to know how difficult it had been; that he hadn't been treating her fears of abandonment cavalierly, that he —

But maybe she does know, even if she takes her response in the direction of a confession of complicity. Has to know, he supposes. The tether. The things he'd felt that week had made focus almost impossible save in those moments he felt things capable of overwhelming all else: the drinking, the violence, the anger he white-knuckle grasped as a life raft against an undertow of misery. It can only have been the same for her.

He lets it go. There are countless fragments of what they are that have no easy taxonomy, parts of their whole that don't fit neatly onto any shelf or into any box. The fight they had remains imperfectly resolved, but they're together again — it's impossible to file that as finished, but neither does he have a perfect solution, so what more is to be done? The tether's influence over everything is a hurdle they have yet to clear, but they have no system for mitigating that, and John is still unsure that attempting to mitigate it is even what he wants to do — another element of who they're becoming left out on the floor to be tripped over again. The longer they're together the more of these unclassifiable complications accumulate, and his footing begins to feel uncertain, but what can he do? She tilts her head to kiss him that way and every last nagging thought perishes in the ache he feels in his chest.

"I know what it is, so it doesn't matter if you do or not." He says it wryly, but he's only half in jest. "Forget it, Zee. It's over." For now. "In two days we'll be on a beach somewhere, you'll be turning the color of a bloody hazelnut and I'll be trying not to fry like an egg, because they don't have sunshine where I come from. There'll be drinks and hopefully an absolute lack of dolphins, and we'll get up to a better breed of mischief. Alright? For now let's just…mark this one up as a win. You're not dead, I'm not dead…"

Such standards, John has.

—-

When he tells her to let it go, she does. Zatanna moves, twisting on her heel and pushing to move him back this time, towards the large bed patiently waiting for them on the other side of the room. Every word he says in the interim are those she listens to, but does not reply to when she so busily tries to maneuver them towards more comfortable quarters. Once he hits the edge of the mattress, she gives him a push, and should her gambit work, follows suit, fair skin and long, black hair shifting to move on top of him until her knees frame his hips. Leaning forward, arms bend by the elbows, limbs forming a triangle around his head, with enough reach to let a set of fingers drift into his hair as she looks down at him, damp, midnight-black tresses veiling their faces.

Her lips find his and demonstrates just how much she's taking his words to heart, about not rehashing their fight in an attempt to make sense of their differences. A soft mouth and humid breaths paint his skin when it is her turn, this time, to taste the parts of him that she had been forced to do without for a week, tracing over his perpetual stubble and sinking an open-mouthed kiss into the hinge where his jaw meets the side of his throat, the edges of her teeth present - enough to be felt, but nowhere near enough to hurt. The flat of her tongue presses against his beating pulse.

Finally, she speaks, though it takes some effort to drag her attention away from the side of his neck, to murmur lowly into the inner ridges of his ear. "So you're opting out of exotic deserts and reaching for the coasts, instead? I don't know if I'll be able to guarantee an absolute lack of dolphins in those places, but we can certainly try." He'd be able to feel her smile against his earlobe. "French Polynesia? I hear Tahiti is amazing this time of year."

She can't help but grin afterwards. "Though we can't have you frying like an egg. I think it's well established already that I, too, like your face and if we're going to be irresponsible adults, I'd rather not have you hurting because of massive sunburns. Maybe we ought to stop by Maria's place here before we go, see if we can't ask her where the vampires hang out in Berlin."

What?

"We'll need to get ahold of some of their sunscreen if that's the plan."

—-

Only an idiot would resist that sort of maneuvering, and John, though he has his moments, is nobody's fool on this score. He yields to her pushing and when the backs of his calves make contact with the end of the bed he gamely allows himself to be toppled, rewarded for his compliance by everything that follows. Their last evening together had been…fragile. Careful. Exhausted, not to mention uneasy. That night had been about basking in the relief of reassurance that they might salvage things between them. There had been a lot of closeness, but also a lot of silence. It had been triage, in short.

Different tonight, of course. The minute she follows him and he feels her weight depress the mattress lightly to either side of him his heart turns over like a revved engine. He finds the sensitive hinge of either knee with his fingertips when she brackets his hips and slides his hands upward, over her backside, down into the shallow dip over her lower back and along the channel of her spine, between her shoulder blades, up — beneath her arms, still, as she settles with her elbows on either side of his head — to tangle and splay in damp vines of dark silk, jailing her into that first kiss. There's hunger in it. In him. Not force, the way he'd been with her when she'd come out into the suite, but undisguised sensuality. Heat spools out from his core through every limb, rousing dormant nerves with anticipation of more.

No rush. Thank god.

He gives her a shuddering exhale when he turns his head, eyes hooded and unfocused, to let her — ask her to? — play her lips over throat and ear. It turns into a subdued chuckle, something that emanates into her more as a vibration in the chest she's resting against than a sound. "Last I checked Tangier was a port city, luv. Thailand's got beaches. Singapore's a bloody island. …Maybe we shouldn't take you out of University. Is this a case of what you always hear about in Europe? That Americans have abominable grasp of world geography?"

Giving her shit about these kind of pedantic details when they've just collapsed into bed and he's got ideas about how to take advantage of that arrangement might qualify as foolish, actually.

She mentions Maria — that's the first reason for John's skepticism to suddenly take hold, creeping up into his features and stilling them in that watchful, wary way he once looked when Jane Foster told him she was spending a lot of time with Zatanna — and then she mentions vampires, and his concern magnifies visibly.

It's sunscreen, though. She takes it in the direction of sunscreen, and he laughs outright — a short burst of humor that he corrals quickly into a thinned-lip 'really?' sort of look. "Oh, very funny. I did well enough the last time we were on a beach." At night. In Scotland. Which reminds him of the clowns, as it always does. "Though I suppose you'd know from white face paint, wouldn't you."

—-

His hunger magnifies his own, and she spends those next few moments after impact dragging her mouth against the parts of him that she has missed; the hard line of his jaw, the angular cheek - an ear in which she has spent countless hours in the past drawing certain images for him with a tongue skilled in speaking backwards, igniting his imagination while the rest of her pressed all of his other buttons. These gestures are well-remembered, rushing in a sudden flood, eager to make up for the hours that they spent apart and uncertain about their survival.

She doesn't do this right away, too enamored of their present state of closeness, recognizing how close they came never experiencing this from one another again, that she relishes every inch of him that she manages to reach, to take her time in the meandering traverse of her mouth over his skin even as he gives her his usual crap about their present plans. His crack about University has her nipping his earlobe with her teeth in rough, but affectionate chastizement. "I'm pretty sure when you talk about being irresponsible adults with your girlfriend on a beach, you don't think of Tangier, or Thailand or Singapore. You think of the Caribbean, or Fiji, or Tahiti, so don't…" Her mouth drifts lower, the briefest press of teeth applied into where hard muscle strings between his throat and shoulder. "Even try to give me lip on that."

But he will. She expects it. Asking John not to sass is like asking her to do the same thing, it will just keep happening.

Her laughter escapes her lowly. "If you're looking for any and all excuse to see me half-naked, in which case I'll have you know at the rate we're going, you don't really need to do that." Her eyes lid. "Definitely no halfing here, at the very least. Eventually."

That short expulsion of mirth from him is like a shot in the dark, a spark that catalyzes various unseen reactions that are more sensed than anything, effectively burning away the lingering ghosts of the last week's difficulties. At the reference to their last time on the beach has her expression growing flat, already anticipating what he's about to say. And when he does, she pulls back to give him a look.

"Oh, yes," she murmurs. "As white as…this."

A pillow snatched in an instant, she brings it down on his face.

"What else were you going to say, love? I can't hear you."

—-

It's laughter floated on relief that until tonight had only served to hold the fragments of him together, waiting until they could inventory their mutual hurts and decide whether or not their triage had worked. The prognosis seems optimistic, whatever bruises may remain, and the levity is something he reaches for and grasps with as much eagerness as anything else.

There's more laughter for her to claim as her winnings when she slaps that pillow down between them — or maybe it started when her expression began to sink into flatness that anticipated the punchline, or the look that he gets only a glimpse of, just before she murmurs and her body coils with the tension that says she's about to mete out her revenge.

Doesn't matter, really. There's laughter and a humored tussle against the pillow, a few words with outlines that blur too much to be understood, smeared into meaningless noise by a layer of intervening down feathers — though she knows him well enough that she can probably field close guesses as to what they must be like. Probably unfit for small children.

So is what happens after that, ultimately.

He gives up on trying to push the pillow away and instead rolls them over bodily, grasping one side of the pillow and hauling out to the side to be tossed carelessly on the floor. Settling forward, weight pressed down and upward into her to pin her where she lies, he mimics her earlier posture in part by settling on his elbows to either side of her, slid up from underneath her arms to avoid catching any of her hair beneath. Shadows fill the space between, enough to darken blue eyes into nearly inscrutable crescents of color, which is just as well, given the delicacy of what he utters into that sudden shade. Humor sloughs away, clinging only around the edges, most of it vented in favor of that combination of intensity and tenderness that he seems to summon only for her.

"I said I love you."

Somehow, it doesn't sound like a lie.

—-

He tussles and she uses her superior position to make it a true sport, until his bigger, broader body levers the two of them upward momentarily. Laughter, rendered dizzy by a sudden rough bolt of euphoria, drawn there by the idea that they can still do this in one another's company despite the last week, fills their suite as the world tilts in a lazy loop. She finds herself on her back eventually, greedy fingers attempting to grab at the pillow that he keeps away from her, until it's discarded, forgotten, somewhere on the floor. With her arms up and useless, she redirects them instead, linking her fingers into his nape.

She makes a very good attempt at flashing him a long-suffering expression, but those ice-blue eyes are practically brimming with barely-suppressed mirth.

"You're lucky you're cute," she tells him. "Otherwise, I wouldn't even dream about— "

The rest of what she's about to say dies on the vine, when the shift in his expression tells her that some of their earlier levity has been set aside for whatever is coming. Under the hazy light of their suite, her stare drinks in the way his eyes darken underneath the way his face eclipses her own and the intensity that she professed she loves about him manifests, seen and felt within those encroaching shadows. In the intervening moments between the beginning of that look and the words he utters, her heart starts to race, a touch faster than when he had started plying his mouth against her throat before, that life-giving vein ticking insistently underneath pale skin.

I said I love you.

He says it so rarely; since the first time he said it, she has never insisted on hearing it again - but it is precisely that fact that makes it all worth the earning when he does, the thrill of it rushing hot and burning through the rest of her. It isn't just the words. It is also the way he looks when he says it, the way he shapes each syllable, peppered with his accent. It is the way the link between them explodes and clarifies their meaning well beyond what she actually hears.

It is everything.

What follows is a cascade of her own mirrored emotions, threatening to melt their tether into drops of hard mercury. Her face lifts and tilts, angles her mouth against his in a ferocious press.

I love you, too. This close, it is easy for the astral whisper to carry.

And, more audibly: "I think you should take my clothes off, now."

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