To Find What's Missing

May 25, 2017:

After meeting with Tony Stark about Azalea Kingston's condition, John Constantine and Zatanna Zatara discuss next steps.

Manhattan - New York

A park in Manhattan.


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Azalea Kingston, Jessica Jones, Tony Stark

Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

The briskly refrigerated, aggressively purified interior air of Stark Tower could not be more different from the atmosphere into which John and Zatanna step when they finish their meeting some unknown distance below the surface. New York has finally decided to acknowledge that the season is no longer winter and begun to concede temperatures in the mid-seventies, and in the late afternoon the sun is at its hottest, humidity misting up from the baked pavements. Breezes begin to stir as the shadows cool, and the buildings of Midtown are gold-plated by the early overtures of what promises to be a spectacular sunset — for those elite few who living on a high enough floor to see the horizon.

That canyon of concrete does provide respite from the glare, though, so that the blue eyes that slant her way as they leave behind that bubble of technological superiority are very blue indeed.

Blue, and apologetic.

"Sorry, luv. Didn't come prepared for JARVIS, an' there's just something about the thought of that over-evolved chatbot playing voyeur that does terrible things to my hydraulics."

'Tony Stark's private elevator' will have to, for now, remain an unchecked box on the ever-growing number of destinations on The List.

Rather than immediately hailing a cab, though, he offers her one of his hands, and tilts his head, an invitation to walk. "What do you make of the texts from Jones?"


There's a blink when he turns that pale stare to her direction, snapped out of whatever reverie she had been in just then. Zatanna blinks at him for a moment. "JARV— oh!" Realization comes swiftly, and she laughs. "I'm sure we'll find a way to defile Stark Tower another time," is what she offers, amusement curling over her expression, a pale hand reaching for his offered one and interlacing long, graceful digits within his.

The warmer climate makes the afternoon walk pleasant, though summers in New York will be what they are - a week or two and the heat will be absolutely intolerable. She eagerly takes the opportunity to indulge in more temperate weather before the onset of all of that begins, long-legged strides keeping her abreast of the taller Englishman as they cut through the surrounding foot traffic and further down the block. The deep green of a nearby park beckons the eye; it probably isn't a surprise that the young woman steers them there.

When asked about the texts, the young woman sighs, her boot kicking out to nick a pebble off the path they're in. "Honestly, it's confusing," she tells him, eyebrows knitting in the center as they make a slow traverse around a pond. "If Itzpapalotl is in love with Xiuhnel, but she took his heart to save the world, why would she prevent us from trying to fix Azalea? I mean…obviously the world won't stay saved if we just leave her as is, Xiuhnel constantly takes over when the stars align and whenever he does that, people and things pay the price. I don't understand. All I'm getting from Jess' texts is that she's trying to discourage us from figuring out a way from obtaining his heart. Nothing else made sense to me but that. Because who wouldn't want to keep that in her pocket?"

She mutters under her breath. "Or nothing made sense because she's crazy. If God is crazy, makes sense that every other deity out there is on some level…"

There's a sidelong glance aimed at John. "What was that earlier that you didn't want to say in front of Tony?" she wonders.


There's a certain luxury in being able to do what they're doing. The loose weave of fingers may draw the occasional glance from more conservatively-minded observers, but they've earned far more than the right to take those public liberties, and the lulls within which to do that are few and far between. Normalcy can feel so novel to someone living lives like theirs.

Sunlight and contact with other people are occasional necessities even for a spook like John. Without any particular destination in mind he's easily enough encouraged toward greener spaces, following the subtle cues that pass along the link of their hands, most of his attention on the answer she gives him. She sighs, and he watches the pebble she kicks go skittering off across the pavement, bouncing and winking with sparks of light on flecks of mica. It rolls off of the sidewalk and is immediately lost in the grass.

"I'd hoped something she said or did on the rooftop might have made it clearer to you than it is to me. Seems not. I've never seen her, though Jones appears to be getting routinely menaced. We ought to have a natter with her about it soon." The sun's rays are shredded by occasional overhead canopies of trees now bursting with leaves and blossoms, and these ragged wisps of light make him squint, cause the colors of his irises to fluctuate, dark and light. Her mutterings about the state of God's sanity causes his lips to quirk, though he has the decency to wince with apology, or perhaps guilt, and tightens the press of his palm against hers. "I don't follow the logic either. Either Jess has got it all wrong, the Goddess is lying — or mad, I could buy that, yeah — or there's something we don't know. Maybe a combination of more than one." Hell…maybe all three.

There's a protracted silence after she asks her question. Joggers pass them to one side, then a bike. Geese bray obnoxiously off on the other side of the pond. He chuckles, though, when he finally gets around to it. "I'd been about to say 'hearts don't just grow on trees,' and then I realized who I was bloody talking to." His free hand lifts, and he taps the center of his chest indicatively, more or less in the location of Tony Stark's Arc Reactor. "I still don't know whether Xiuhnel having his heart taken is why he became a genocidal rapist, or if that was incidental. But maybe we don't have to deal with Itzpapalotl. Maybe we can just build it a better heart."


"I only saw her for the briefest moment," Zatanna tells John, her displeasure hinted at by the line of her mouth as she remembers the night of her intercession. "Hovering behind Jess, whispering something to her before fading into the wind. The only reason why I knew it was her was because her signature was the same from when Xiuhnel pulled me into that waking dream, the day I realized Az wasn't possessed. She didn't stick around long enough for me to pull her back and ask her some questions. Though really, I wish I could have."

The words are laced with her usual bravado, this infant trickster who once decimated Mammon's standing legion with water, a lighter and a handful of diamond dust. But blood doesn't lie, considering whose daughter she is. For all that the subject matter of their present discussion is serious and deadly, as it often is, the young woman takes her time exploring the park with her eyes. Back in New York, Germany seems so far away, and the rest of the day holds promises that seemed so cold and remote just a few weeks ago. Once again, she can't help but marvel as to how quickly things around them change.

She wrinkles her nose faintly when they pass by a horde of geese, before her attention fixes on his profile, leaning in along his shoulder to press soft lips on the high arch of his cheek; much like him, she is uncaring for whatever conservative opinions there are. It's a small detour, accompanied by a drop of molten adoration thrumming through the astral tether linking them, but it isn't long until she speaks again.

"The old myth says that to take his heart is to take the seat of his power. Obviously not true considering how much damage he can wreak without it, so I'm guessing it's a way of keeping him under control. It's why I thought maybe we ought to retrieve it from Itzpapalotl in the first place." But the possibility he puts forth on the table draws lifted eyebrows and surprised eyes towards his direction, falling quiet for a long moment.

And then: "Alright," she says slowly, but clearly willing to explore it. "Do you think it can be done? Is there precedent for it?" Not like that's ever stopped them before. "What would we need? And do we have any idea as to how we could convince Xiuhnel to accept it? I'm imagining it'll be like some kind of actual organ transplant, even if we do pull it off and build him a new mystical heart with all the bells and whistles we need to keep him under control, we'd have to go around the potential of him rejecting it. Plus his actual heart is still with Itzpapalotl….we'll have to also see if we can build something that doesn't have a risk of it being overridden by the real thing."

As always, she does what she usually does when posed with a new problem, examining it from all angles - a mental Rubik's cube to be turned over and poked at, and rattling off everything that pours into her mind the moment they enter it.


As ever, small tokens of affection like that one produce a startling effect with John, momentarily softening around the edges, the quality of his lidded gaze changing to reflect things that live much deeper in him than most of what it's usually made to carry. And as ever, it doesn't last long, though warmth continues to linger on the tether, low levels of what with John approaches a kind of peace.

Every fresh question and observation she makes adds another degree of intensity to the small smile that begins when she aims her attention at it and begins to pull it apart. By the end it's a wide, tickled look, lacking the sharper, darker edges he often favors. "It's not going to satisfy you if I say 'I've no idea,' is it? But I've no idea. The difficulty with minor gods like this, especially when we're talking about extinct cultures, is that they don't often have very clearly established rules. They may've had, once, but by this time Xiuhnel is half whatever it was and half whatever it thinks it is. There aren't a lot of Aztecs running about reinforcing things by believing in them." He ticks a glance at her sidelong, arching that brow. "Lends a lot of support to your 'they might be barmy' theory, doesn't it? But 'tanna, really…I don't know. I do know that Xiuhnel bonded with Azalea's soul because they were both missing things essential to themselves. I don't even know what effect restoring it could have — artificial and constructed or real. Maybe Xiuhnel gets put back together and leaves Azalea split in half, soul-dead."

He sidesteps a group of college students walking shoulder to shoulder, free hand splaying back through the tousle of his hair. "Maybe it's possible to give them something that fills the hole in both of them." It's a thought he chews on for some moments. There are other thoughts in his eyes when they return to her, trickling down the sculptural lines of brow, cheek, nose, chin. "What Xiuhnel is missing is obvious, but what about Azalea? What got nicked from her?"


As they walk, she turns her attention to that last query, Zatanna moving past every conversation she has ever had with Azalea. "She told me she used to have a boyfriend, once," she tells him quietly, turning her face up to look at the sky and the bands of vibrant color slashed over it. "She had parents who cared about her. Her music. She was a music major in Gotham University, she composed pieces for the theatre group. All that went away when Xiuhnel chose her…I don't know what happened to the boyfriend, and I know that Jess was hired by her parents to look for her. I remember her squatting in an old apartment. She also mentioned that her inspiration dried up…when I bound Xiuhnel for the first time, that first attempt, she told me she could play and compose music again."

She frowns at the recollection, ice-blue eyes falling on the street, her natural sense of empathy stirring over those memories. She was artistic, herself, and she can't help but wonder what would happen if she suddenly felt all of it gone - that creativity, her inspiration. "I can't help but wonder if all of that wouldn't feel like how I did when most of my soul was taken away. Just this yawning empty void that I did my best to desperately fill however I could. All she told me about was how it felt after Xiuhnel invaded her life, not before. What she did tell me about what came before sounded normal, but I'm not discounting the possibility that something happened and maybe….whatever it was she lost, that was how Xiuhnel found her, to fill up whatever it was that was missing."

Zatanna lifts her shoulders in a shrug. "Or maybe it's what it is, staring at us in the face. What's getting nicked at present is her sense of self."


What begins as professional, even academic interest in the story she tells him about Azalea becomes very suddenly personal when the comparison is made to that bleak stretch of time during which he'd watched the young woman beside him dwindle away, barely a phantom by the last. How near that miss had been. He's never really let himself think about it too deeply. Not even in the immediate aftermath, when she'd tearfully confessed that she'd begged James Barnes not to 'do this to John' — a shocking thing he still can't really process in full. He'd avoided thinking about it then because he'd already been so close to cutting and running, right up until the very night before her soul was siphoned, when everything between them finally came to a moment of definitive crisis (and, more fondly remembered, catharsis, too).

"Without a doubt she's missing that now, but I think…for them to have…" Rather than unknit his hands to demonstrate, he just lifts their interlinked pair, flexing elegant fingers in indication. "Gotten melded together this way, she needed something that Xiuhnel's got. I think they've grown together, like two sides of a broken bone." He sounds confident, but that's John all over. His expression is more nuanced, leaving room for him to be in error. He's thinking about Azalea's case, but the grim spectre of Zatanna's pale, colorless apostrophe on the couch of his flat, huddled under blankets that couldn't keep her warm, somehow lacking all of her substance, will not quite leave those thoughts in peace.

Abruptly: "Do you think we should have a chat with her parents?"


Do you think we should have a chat with her parents?

Zatanna hesitates, and with good reason - what could they tell Azalea's parents that wouldn't get them thrown out of their home? It was an age of miracles, to be sure, to the point that ordinary people are largely considered outsiders, now, to the strange, wonderful and terrible forces that surround a world that is rapidly being filled up with other humans and beings that can't be matched. In that, she doesn't have much experience either, though John has managed to work in this sort of environment for years. Deep down, she can't help but wonder what his initial approach is.

"It can't hurt," she allows slowly. "Especially with Az being in the state she's in, maybe they can shed some light as to what she ended up missing. I'd rather we ask her directly, and Jess' texts indicated that she ought to be fine since we're really only going to talk about her and not Xiuhnel, but….he'd still be listening. Might shed some light as to what happened, I mean…we've done good, whenever we decided to return to the beginning and figure things out from there. Though we'd also have to acknowledge the possibility that they might not know anything, also."

She gestures vaguely on one side. "When I met Az, she was already living in Gotham. And not with her parents. She talked about her encounters with Xiuhnel as if they were recent developments, so I assumed that it happened while she was already moved out of their roof. But that might not be the case after all. So…yeah, I think so. Leave no stone unturned, right?"

She is unfamiliar with the nature of his thoughts, but the troubled thrum through their link has her furrowing her brows faintly at him. She gives their interlinked fingers a warm squeeze, flashing him an encouraging smile.

"We'll figure it out. I bet Jess has their address, they're the ones who asked her to look into her disappearance, after all."


Whatever she sensed of his inner weather, her choice is to try to bolster him with optimism — a gesture that tugs at his heart. Sky blue eyes drop to the sidewalk just ahead of them, though he answers the squeeze of his hand with one of his own. "No stone. Maybe save that one for last — if South America and hypnosis and whatever else don't get us anywhere. First things first, though; you and I need to put together a comprehensive set of wards to try to keep Itzpaplotl out of that room. Maybe set it up in Jones' place, and at our flat, and Shadowcrest." It does not seem to register with John that he's referred to his flat as our flat, preoccupied as he is.

"Once that's done…I was hesitant before to bring you in until we had a better handle on Xiuhnel, but she's pretty well bloody contained in there. You've got a relationship with her that I don't, and the two of you still…" Even though the cadence of his speech hitches, he does an admirable job of keeping his irritation out of his face. Sadly, that isn't enough these days; it trickles over that open line like little static shocks. "…have things to resolve. With Azalea and Xiuhnel locked up tight, I think you've probably got a much better chance of making progress with her than I've got." His brow ticks up, his gaze solicitous in its study. "You alright with that? You know if you get uncomfortable…"

She knows. He knows that she does. He leaves the rest of it unsaid.


"Alright. Last resort," Zatanna agrees; as happy as she is to be back in New York, she knows that her wanderlust will overtake her eventually. By the point that they'll have to, she will be itching to go to South America. Besides, now that the two of them know that the Brujeria were on the move, maybe their visit there would shed some light on that entire trouble as well. No sense not to try and kill two birds with one stone.

She nearly misses what John says about the flat, turning her mind as she is to the subject of the wards. "Maybe we could chain them all together somehow, we can cast a wider net that way," she tells him. "Would be able to cover more ground if we link up the wards in Shadowcrest, Jess' place, Stark Tower and…" Our flat. There's a sidelong glance at him then, before a teasing grin curls up the corners of her mouth. "Our flat," she continues, leaning sideways to nudge her shoulder against his. "You know, Chas put a lot of work into that flat, you're going to hurt his feelings if you get too accustomed just having me around without him."

But what he says about Xiuhnel and her unresolved issues with Azalea is sound. "Well, we decided the two of us are going to work on this together, so we will," she reminds him. "It'd be a little uncomfortable, but if we find a solution to all of this, that would go a long way into…you know. Fixing what's broken between me and Az. So yeah, I'll see what I can do. I'm sure it'll be fine."

As fine as anyone could be, being called candy by a bloodthirsty god. All that time away, she still remembers what he called her on the rooftop. John's irritation is understandable, but she does what she can. Lifting their interlocked hands together, she presses her mouth lightly over his knuckles and closes her eyes.

They open again after a moment, looking up at him from under dark lashes. Her smile hints around the corners of those lips against his skin.

"I'll start working on the wards once we get back home," she tells him.


It isn't a bad suggestion, the one that she puts forward about the wards, but the thought of linking anything in Stark tower with his own flat makes John's paranoia — which is prodigious — tingle. Probably for the same reason he so flippantly declined to have one of Stark's wonder-phones whipped up for him: he doesn't trust anyone with that much power.

It's probably nonsensical as a worry, he decides, tamping down on his natural inclination to avoid linking aspects of his life to other people so that he can nod instead.

…into the sudden realization that he's just linked an aspect of his life to another person without even realizing that he was doing it. Old habits die hard: his knee-jerk reaction arrives as a sudden, heavy thud of the heart, the better to usher adrenaline along, part and parcel of a fight or flight response that seems woefully outdated given present company and current circumstances. He can see it all unfold as though standing somewhere up on high in the balconies of his better nature and marvels that even after everything they've been through, some part of him still thinks the safest thing, the thing that will somehow hurt the least, is to run. Berlin should have put paid to that idea, but the shrieking piece of him in question is buried deep with the trenches of his disastrous history. Difficult to root out.

"Hah," he says, covering for this bewildering moment of self-awareness with characteristic humor. "I don't think," he says, tilting his head her way and murmuring the words as though they were a confidence, "I'll ever get accustomed to having you 'round."

It's meant to be a compliment. It's also, he knows the moment the words cross the threshold of his lips, a lie. What is his attachment to the tether's existence, if not precisely that? A rebellion against the emptiness that would follow any severing?

It's easier to make peace with turning over the helm of working with Azalea to her now that there are heavy precautions in place, but the thought still twists at him the wrong way. Protective in the way he usually is — to a sincere fault, most would say, bordering on smothering at times, for which he occasionally requires a push-back — but in other ways, too. The ways that have had him throwing punches in pubs as a young man because someone said something to his bird that he didn't care for.

Except, you know.

With a god.

'I'm sure it'll be fine,' she says, and all he can think is, It had better be.

Almost as though she's able to anticipate these darker flickers of shadow in him, she chooses that precise moment to be fetching, and after an almost unconscious debate with himself as to whether or not he wants to nurse his annoyance or let it go he chooses the latter. Tension goes. "Maybe a little bit after we get home," he says by way of counteroffer. "We can't let JARVIS win, luv. We've got to do our part to combat the machine uprising."

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