Monequiltia

May 29, 2017:

John Constantine and Zatanna Zatara stops by Jessica Jones' office to discuss Azalea Kingston's case, and Itzpapalotl's meddling.

Alias Investigations - Midtown - New York City

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Azalea Kingston, Tony Stark

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Alias Investigations is usually decently clean these days for two reasons. First, Cindy lives there, and having been hired as a kind of secretary, she basically does a lot of the cleaning. Second, Jessica tries not to be as much of a slob while providing a home for two— recently, of course— one— young ladies.

If John hadn't texted ahead though, he and Zee would have stepped into pure Case Chaos. Having taken her version of a "day off" by taking a security gig at a college science fair, she had launched back into it, which would have meant they walked into a room that looked like photos and case notes had vomited everywhere. Despite digitizing them, and despite sending logins to the digital database to every member of Team Getting Shit Done, plus a few more whose identities she didn't disclose, she still works best with papers, and photographs, and all of that good jazz. They would have walked into music blaring from one Ace (formerly known as Dunce).

Now Ace burbles around behind her as she shoves the last of the case notes into her phone. "I'm moving so fast," she tells the little robot, "Because when John says he's coming that could mean thirty seconds from now, and you don't greet guests with photos of severed heads. Now go on, make the coffee, I showed you how."

"Burble beep!" says the robot…and thus, one tiny drone zooms to the kitchen to make the coffee…which really just means he bumps his little side into the 'on' button, as Jess usually has it set up and ready to go.

On the wall, however, is one thing she didn't pull down or clean up. It's a giant map of NYC with push-pins stuck in it, marking the locations of various events. The thing is clearly labeled with a post-it note. It says: Bullshit Nasty Magical Events.

—-

Not like the sight of severed heads would bother John Constantine, who once had his couch become the birthing ground of some half-angel, half-demon hybrid, but it might bother Zatanna, though these days, that is unlikely also. One doesn't go into business with the likes of him or Giovanni Zatara without having developed a castiron stomach and a strong constitution against all things macabre and kind of gross.

They arrive half an hour later; not just because the raven-haired witch is familiar enough with Jessica's proclivities to know that she would want to clean up a little before receiving guests, especially friends, but also because it is a very nice day outside. The sun promises a much more humid summer, though by the end of May, the heat is a little more bearable than in the months that would follow, white-gold light streaming down from a sky so blue and clear it is downright crystalline. The city outside of the windows of Alias Investigations appears, for the time being, to have forgotten about the dreary months that came before - an unseasonably long, unreasonably cold winter that encroached well into the Spring - surging back into a palette of riotous color: flowers in rainbow shades, parks laden with a sea of different striations of green, each more vibrant than the last.

In fact, it is such a beautiful day outside that they decide to arrive in a cab, instead of any other magical means.

Whenever Jessica answers the door, she'd find John and Zee, the latter caught in the act of pressing red lips on the former's cheek and dressed in a short black sundress splashed with violet and silver - more color, really, than anyone has ever seen her wear, and a pair of strappy sandals with modest heels. Considering how the young lady is built, however, even just an inch or two make pale legs go from long to seemingly endless. Her mass of midnight waves has been pulled up in a loose knot, haphazard in a way that is more deliberate and artistic than anything truly careless and with the way she beams at Jess, she radiates about a thousand times more joy than she had in Germany, where the days have been as black as her mood. She, too, seems to have forgotten it in light of the brighter days of the burgeoning summer.

She also comes bearing gifts: fresh coffee in a egg crate, from an artisanal brewhouse down the street, and a bag of fresh-baked bagels with cream cheese.

"I hope you don't believe in a low-carb existence," she tells her gamely, pecking her on the cheek and breezing into the office, situating what she has brought on the nearest flat surface, and makes a beeline to the windows. Now that Jess has put away her papers, she intends to open them and let some of the breeze from the outside filter in. "I think you need a crystal on a red thread hanging from one of these, though." Looking over a bare shoulder, she winks at the private investigator. "Feng shui thing. Brings in good luck with the east wind, and wards off the bad."

—-

In spite of traveling in the company of the Mistress of Magic, there are times when John prefers to take the scenic route — and luckily enough, being a creature that craves liveliness, Zatanna finds that agreeable, herself. New York City mass transit and a short walk make the most of the (finally) palatable weather — it isn't hot enough yet for the streets to have become concrete ovens that smell vaguely of urine and baking garbage. When that time comes there's no chance he won't complain about it, but inwardly it'll be a reminder of home: there are days, after all, when the Thames makes an impressive run at mugging passers-by.

It is warm enough for him to shed his coat, though, and it's slung over one arm when the door opens, cuffs unbuttoned and sleeves rolled up his forearms to the altitude they'll likely remain for the rest of the fair-weather year. The occasional spidering lines of some tattoo or other — wards, some of them; weapons others — are evident on the skin thus revealed. So is the color he acquired when he and Zatanna disappeared after Germany for a much-needed week of rest and recuperation — even if, as ever, it involved significantly less rest than it should have. Either of them are magnets for the weird all on their own; paired together, Weird Shit Happening is practically inevitable.

He has somehow, and it isn't clear exactly how, managed to even more severely derail his tie from doing its job. Why he even bothers to wear it is a mystery for the ages.

"She wouldn't let me carry them," he says, pre-emptively defensive, as Zatanna foists an armload of edible presents onto their hostess. "I offered. Honest."

The witch sweeps past, all percolating energy and shining charisma — a definite counterpoint to John, at least, who tosses his jacket over the back of a chair and slides his hands into his pocket. The looseness of summer hangs on him differently: it keeps the tightness out of his shoulders, makes him misleadingly lazy in appearance. "I hope you've been outside today, Jones. You've got two weeks before the place is a swamp."

—-

Zee looks lovely as usual. Jessica is wearing red baggy boxer's shorts that go past her knees and a white tank top. Her hair is messily pulled back, with dark strands of it clinging to her face or flipping wildly out of the hair tie. And she probably hasn't even noticed how nice it is outside, cause her shades are drawn. Her feet are bare. She had been hitting things between staring at case notes when the text had come through. She cleans up her apartment, but forgets all about herself. She's not nasty or sweaty…it really takes a lot of exercise to work her into that kind of sweat, so there's that.

Zee's brilliant smile does something to her. Brings some feelings— good ones, but intense ones— rushing back to her. The same feelings she had when she first got the text from them at Stark Towers, the one that was the 'third time's a charm' (the first being Daredevil's actions, the second being Tony's) that…there are people in this world that she can trust to take care of things she cares about taking care of, of people she cares about taking care of…

Whether she knows it or not…

Whether she asks— pushes— or not…

Whether she helps or not…

Whether she's there, or not.

Trish of course has been trying to hammer that lesson in for years, but Trish Walker is rather kind of a special case, and the truth is Dorothy Walker's influence had a similar effect on both ladies in one regard— they are both fiercely independent, and both, deep down, brace themselves, and often, against the idea that they will eventually be let down.

Zee kisses her cheek, opens the shades, opens the windows, lets the sun in, brings a bit of New York's magical food into view…and her gaze follows the girl. It's a look that's hard to read, a soft-eyed look that speaks to intense emotion.

She looks to John, who asks if she's been outside, with the same look. On the matter of carrying the food she is silent— she certainly has no thought that the man should always do the carrying-of-things, after all. He asks, and she shakes her head mutely, saying, "I…didn't realize it was so nice."

It almost has a double meaning. Suddenly there's a flurry of Jessica; sweeping first Zatanna, then John, into hugs that might be a little…tight. Not rib crushing, but they're strong enough to remind that the woman can lift a car over her head, strong with sudden emotion she can't get out of her mouth but can maybe get out of her arms. It's an apologetic hug too, because…she'd spent a lot of time quietly doubting, as was her nature, and now? Now she feels like crap for that.

As for Tony Stark's droid, he simply lets out a sound that could for all the world be an electronic sigh of pleasure, and settles down on the sunny window sill like some sort of cat.

"Crystal, red thread," she says hoarsely. "I'll remember."

—-

And ever the frenetic whirlwind of activity, Zatanna is about to check out the map that catches her attention, pinned up on Jessica's walls, which charts the locations of all the magical asshattery that has been going on, or might be going on, after the private investigator had been informed by John that something big was coming…when she doesn't reach her intended destination, swept up in the hug as it is. Ice-blue eyes widen faintly as she's quite literally swept off her feet, the older woman also being a couple of inches taller than her. She is quick to hug her back, arms tossed around her shoulders, and there's a bewildered laugh. "Whoa, hey! I mean, I know Sal's Bagels are really good but I didn't think they were that good," she jests, once she's lowered and able to catch her breath. "Everything okay, Jess?"

There's a glance at John when it's his turn to get the ribs-compression treatment, before moving to the spot on the recently cleared desk where the bagels and coffee are. She opens up the bag, letting the scent of fresh baked goods waft into the office to mingle with the summer air. Pulling out a stack of small paper plates hidden within its confines, she lays out three, and starts pulling out a few. She even cuts into them, so she could pick and choose among the various flavors of cream cheese that she brought. She takes care of Jess' first, and then John's.

"We were going to talk to you more about Az's sitch," she tells her; whenever she's released John, she hands her a plate with warm bagel and cream cheese, and a cup of coffee. She then offers John's afterwards. "Presumably she's going stir crazy where Tony's got her, so the faster we get her out the better, though we were talking about precautionary methods first considering….you know. Your visitations from the obviously crazy heart-ripping bint." There's a frown at that, taking a seat on a chair and crossing her legs, dragging her own plate towards her so she could slather it with cream cheese.

—-

Hands only moments ago slid into pockets are suddenly displaced as John takes an enthusiastic Jessica Jones to the chest, staggering backward a half-step and getting his arms around her partly to return her hug, but in at least some small part to keep them both from bowling over. His wince is playful, offset by the silent shaking of chest and shoulders with a chuckle he doesn't let escape. "Oi, Jones," he manages, the air that escapes him on those words representative of some degree of air he won't get back until she's no longer an affectionate, bipedal python. "You know something we don't? This feels like an 'I'm never going to see you again' hug." It's not John, really, if he isn't downplaying every last emotion with humor.

When she releases him he claps her on the shoulder and will encourage her to return to Zee, and the food. There's already an aroma of coffee in the air but given the situation with the blinds it seems entirely possible to him that she may not have eaten anything yet, either. While she's served he avails himself of the opportunity to pause in front of the wall with the map and its scattered reports of supernatural disturbances. He folds one arm across his middle, braces his elbow on it and props that hand near his chin, thumb sliding over clean-shaven (!) skin. If anything, it's a pointed reminder that the world isn't going to wait for them to finish sorting one mess so that they can move onto the next.

He keeps his sigh contained to avoid blemishing the otherwise fine mood of the day — no telling if that will last, granted, given why they're here — but it leaves him able to turn a kiss and murmur of thanks into the messily-gathered tresses on the side of Zatanna's head when she hands him a plate.

"It's not safe to have her visiting Azalea that way. Or you, or us, assuming she takes exception to our meddling with things. I doubt there's much we can do to keep her away from us all the time, but we can fortify up the flats and Stark's oversized aquarium, at least. 'tanna and I have already started working up how to do it."

John is a plain bagel and cream cheese guy, turns out. Who knew? Once his bagel is sorted, he pivots and braces his weight in a half-sit on the desk's edge, sky blue eyes flicked Jones' way. "We're wrestling with this shite about her being in love with Xiuhnel, though."

—-

John makes his joke and Jessica gives a sheepish grin, allowing herself to be steered to the bagels…at which point…Jessica then further realizes that they brought Sal's and her heart melts a little more. It really is her favorite food place on the planet. She sits down at the desk and reaches for her bagel when Zatanna's done. Zatanna might know she favors the sun-dried tomato kind, because at Shadowcrest she would often request it of Kasim.

Zatanna asks if she's okay, and she says, "I've got Sal's. I've got friends. It's a beautiful day, apparently. Yeah. I'm okay."

Behind her, the robot-formerly-known-as-Dunce pops a little solar panel out of his back and burbles contentedly.

But when Zatanna mentions Az and her visitations…well.

Anyone else would just see a woman with an expressionless face. But they have known her for quite awhile. They know the slight shade of pale she gets when she's afraid. They know the way the mouth and jaw tightens. They know the way that her body stiffens. The way her eyes go dull and hard, like she's bracing. When she's only a little spooked, only some of this happens.

She's afraid now, and deeply, because it all happens now.

"Can you make sure…I mean if I start talking to you guys about this she's going to lose her shit again if you don't do Something to make sure she can't hear us. If she even knew I were in here right now…I mean she could be here, right now."

John says they're wrestling with it, and Jess shakes her head helplessly. "I could be wrong. She didn't say she was. Do you want me to tell you about my interactions from her straight up from the top? They're both long stories but I can, if it helps."

—-

There's a smile, as always whenever his lips touch any part of her, and that lingers in spite of the topics they've come here to discuss, or the reminders that the Work is never ending, with it so prominently displayed on Jessica's wall. She finishes with preparing her bagel, picking up half of it with long, black-tipped fingers. Her eyes lift to move over to where the private investigator is standing, when she assures them that she is fine - not to say she would pry anyway, even if she didn't believe her, but they gauge the other woman's expressions to try and find the truth of it, and sees that it is.

As is her fear, when they bring up Itzpapalotl, though she already knows that it isn't due to the fact that she is a goddess from a particularly bloodthirsty pantheon. She was there that night on the roof, where Xiuhnel was about to unleash ruin in New York. She knows Jessica well enough to know where the paths of her mind take her, as far as the Obsidian Butterfly is concerned, considering the state of how she found Matt Murdock.

Zatanna likes dill; her cream cheese is specked with green bits, like confetti on snow. Equally white teeth turn towards the very serious business of demolishing the fresh-baked multigrain bagel she has in her grip, the satisfying crunch of its toastedness filling the confines of her mouth. There's a thoughtful chew, though she doesn't say anything for a while, content to eat as she thinks.

"I think we're okay," she says. "Or will be, if you have a white candle nearby that I can use."

Whenever presented - and she knows, by now, that Jessica has a stash, given the books on hedge magic that she has loaned her, she quietly requests to borrow John's lighter, and once she has it, she situates it and a holder in front of the window, the pretty silver thing flaring to life as she touches the single tongue of flame on the wick, murmuring a few words. Hedge magic spells are like recipes, anything an ordinary person could do so long as he or she follows the step-by-step procedure. But Zatanna is quite literally magic personified and she's able to amplify the effects of those incantations by just the act of performing them.

Nothing seems to happen, however, just a single candle burning on a windowsill, though upon close inspection, the wind fails to touch it and it burns steadily, neither flickering or giving off any light, no movement to touch the shadow it casts on wood.

There's a nod to John, though she remains by the window; it's a signal enough that this will, at least, mask their present discussions.

—-

John, who was not there the night that it all went down, gleans hints of the unease in Jessica's expression and notes them largely because he's never really seen them there before. Not even in Berlin, when she'd been thoroughly maimed by Cultists.

He hands Zatanna the lighter she gave him over the holidays without a word, and while she prepares whatever it is that she's going to do to secure their conversation he continues to eat, eventually leaning over to gently wrest one of the to-go cups free of the holder.

When Zee lets him know she's finished, he lifts the cup and gestures vaguely. He doesn't ask her what's been done, which is, from John, probably the surest indication of faith in anyone: to trust in their work implicitly.

"Been following you around, has she? You'd better give us the lot, luv. With magic sometimes the important bit is some small sodding detail that's easy to overlook."

—-

Jess sure does have a white candle. And red ones, and black ones, from that book. She has white ribbon too (and red, and black). It's all in her desk drawer these days. There's a half-finished protective gris-gris in there too, a red flannel bag that isn't full yet, but she couldn't find the piece of the High John the Conquerer root or the powdered jellyfish that the spell called for, and she eventually abandoned the exercise altogether in favor of something else. Still, it's evidence that Jessica not only read the book but began putting it right to good use.

If she'd done the spell she'd think it laughable that it could keep Itzpapalotl out, but Zatanna did, and though she can't feel any change, she trusts it's there. If they say the place is free from the goddess' influence, then…it is.

Jessica wets her lips and puts her bagel aside. She clutches her coffee instead, mostly for the feel of it between her hands.

"Okay. The date is April 17th."

Orient by date, by time. "I'm coming home from work. I see a beautiful woman I've never seen before and a blonde headed child that look vaguely familiar getting into an elevator. The child, I'm about to learn, is Annette Anders, daughter of a murder victim in the Stark Industries case, ward of another murder victim, same case, foster child of two more murder victims I don't know about yet…same case."

It's so hard to figure out how to orient them here, because all of this is criss-crossing into a snarl. It is, as she's observed before, as if five 1,000 piece puzzles were dumped on her floor, and as if people she loved have guns to their heads while she frantically tries to figure out what goes to what. No boxes, no hints.

"I greet her, we share some light chat…and then I realize the elevator is on the 9th floor. This building has six. 12th floor. 15th floor. We were well into the 300s by the time this part of my evening ended. I thought she was perhaps from the Agency, a team of extra-dimensional assassins I've been chasing, who in fact were behind some of the murders touching on Annette Anders. She seemed to realize when I had properly identified her, because she just started speaking. She kept…touching me. Straightening my hair, my clothes."

Jessica turns the coffee over and over again. She's not sure how much she wants to say about quite a few parts of this evening. Two, in particular, really make her uneasy. This is the first. She says, "'I'm proposing that you leave Azalea Kingston be,' she said to me. "'Watch over her if you must. Play your little hero games and use her power for your purposes, I care not. but dabbling with their souls, letting the— sorry, John— the Hedge Wizard poke and prod at things he does not understand, will bring only ruin. He was never meant to walk on this world as anything but a shadow, and a shadow he must stay."

She looks down, frowning, and continues repeating the Goddess' words. She doesn't have a true eidetic memory, but what she does have is very close…especially in times of high stress.

"'In return, my purview is yours, Jessica Jones. I could make certain—"

She doesn't wnat to drag Matt's name into this. Zatanna may know, but that's too much of a detail, it might out him to one more person.

She exhales.

"She offered to make the person I'm in love with love me back at that point. I hope you both know me well enough to know that wasn't even a consideration for me. I told her that deal was abhorrent and why, and told her that she ought to help save Az without bringing that ruin, asked her how we might go about doing it. I maybe wasn't as polite as I ought to have been."

—-

By the time Zatanna returns to her chair by the corner of the desk on which John is half-sitting, the story is over and her dark brows are knitted in the middle. Taking a seat and crossing her legs by the knee, she decides to skip the other half of her bagel and goes for her coffee instead. Simple - two creams, two sugars, all of which usually has her running for an hour or two around Central Park, having not have returned to Shadowcrest since their arrival from French Polynesia, but something that she needs to have in her coffee, unless it is espresso.

She takes a contemplative sip, teeth worrying compulsively against the plastic cover of her cup, her imagination taking her up with Jessica up to those three hundred and something floors, the image of the woman straightening up her clothes. There's a spark of temper there, only briefly glimpsed on the young woman's face, but that John will undoubtedly feel - like a white-hot bolt of coruscating fire, shooting across the astral distance to fill the more dormant spaces of him - at the way the Obsidian Butterfly describes the Englishman. Ice-blue eyes burn brightly from underneath dark lashes.

"Her purview is worth fuck all," she mutters. "For decent people who actually know what Love is, anyway." It's uncharitable, perhaps, to say that a love goddess doesnt know what the hell she's talking about, but in the end, she's starting to find, they never really do. Deities operate on a different wavelength - their perceptions are different, their rules are different, and more often than not, they have absolutely no concept as to how humans actually work.

Hence, perhaps, the jealousy that tends to make their lives more difficult because while none of them understand, it doesn't actually prohibit them from meddling in their affairs and using their bodies.

Fingers grip tightly into her cup, with enough vehemence behind it to dent the styrofoam.

"Anyway it doesn't sound like it to me. I could be wrong, but she seems more invested in keeping Azalea unstable. But if she thinks we're going to leave it alone, that's not going to happen. I've been there when Az loses it. Not just at Itzpapalotl's prompting, but Xiuhnel's. If her body was meant to cage him and keep him from going apeshit across the world, it's not doing a very good job of it and if anything, the unpredictability of it makes everything a helluvalot worse than finding the necessary means to control what she's got. She's also wrong about John. Goddess, my ass. Daddy's mortal and he knew what he was looking at when he saw John for the first time."

The last comes out seething, but the young woman manages to take a deep breath to quell the spots of temper that have emerged from her cheeks. Casting the British magus sidelong, she affords him a small smile. "Though you are pretty talented in letting higher beings underestimate you," she tells him.

—-

By the time Jessica finishes, John has finished the half of a bagel he was eating, and he's sitting with the cup of coffee in his hand, leaning forward in his half-seated position and focused. At one point Zatanna's ire comes twisting over the tether and it's enough to turn his head to look at her, but he thinks it's for different reasons entirely; he suspects it's because the descriptions of Jessica being forcibly touched repeatedly may remind Zee of the uncomfortable degree of intimacy and violence wrapped up in Azalea's iDol posts, amongst other moments of friction to precede it. That probably explains the answering thrum of tension from him, and the lid-eyed look of what he intends to be reassurance.

Little else changes about him during that time, though subtle things pass like shadows through his expression more than once. It's the final offer that Jessica describes that gets anything more than that out of him: a disgusted tone and literal roll of the eyes, his to-go cup lifted to his lips. "It's a good bloody thing you're not that type, because that kind of shite never ends well."

His earlier mistaken assumption is corrected thoroughly when Zee takes the opportunity to clarify a few points. She'll get a nod tacked in somewhere amidst her speculations about Itzpapalotl — whether about her efficacy in controlling Xiuhnel or her motives is not clear — and then he double-takes as those remarks veer into a scathing defense of him. He looks briefly astonished, one brow arching, and then surprise melts into something complex: amused, touched, maybe even grateful in a subtle way. Wicked all over. "Like you," he says, a boomerang compliment that he needs no time at all to come up with. "Thought you'd be able to just tidy up a loose end on your birthday, and look what happened." He punctuates that with a fleeting wink.

—-

Jessica smiles a little as the very first part of her story sends Zee into a temper. "I feel a little less bad for telling her off about what love actually is now, thanks," she says. Because she'd been feeling a crushing weight of guilt— the stupid PI who stupidly basically told a goddess to go fuck herself.

She's quiet while they defend each other's skills, feeling no need to add to it— they know she trusts those skills implicitly— taking the opportunity to slowly chew on food that has— and what a waste this is— gone to ash in her mouth. She hasn't gotten to the parts of the story that have screwed her up the most yet, but she's getting there, and she knows she's getting there, and what's more, she knows she has to tell them because these details may be important, and she knows they reveal things about her she'd as soon not have revealed. And yet… if they're going to fix the problem, she's going to have to have the courage to do it anyway. She's trying to gather it, marshal it, even as she reports the story in a fashion that is starting to sound more and more…dissociated. Like she's speaking about someone else, like the real Jessica is just observing all of this sort of at a distance. It's a rumbling hint of something ahead, a thunderhead in her mental sky.

"At any rate, we go back and forth a few times…her trying to convince me her help wouldn't be so bad, me trying to convince her that the only thing I want her help with is saving Azalea Kingston. She gets pissed."

She closes her eyes a little as a memory of that conversation plays out for her.

The truth is, Jessica, he already has feelings for you. She just got there first.

The lies of a mad goddess, whose purview is worth fuck-all. It hurts, but it hurts a little less. The energy has shifted between her and Matt, mostly, she thinks, for the better; she has felt it. She's still in love. But the unrequited part of that equation doesn't hurt like it used to. What's the saying? You're who you love, not who loves you back?

Back to the important parts. "So after all that she says, 'I will not help you tamper with the lock that could end the world. I did what I did to him for selfish reasons, but they were not unjust. When an Elder God decides it wants to know humanity, to walk on worlds, it leaves giant footprints. Species-ending footprints. It is the curse of a species that is bound for greatness. I was there, a minor aspect upon this great universe, while Titans like Xihunel painted the sky with their raw power. I've seen so many rise, so many fall. When logic runs into emotion, sparks fly. Where the embers land are key to your survival, Jessica Jones. I chose this world to care about because your personal experience often overrides what you know is right. Feeling. Love. Perhaps you are right. Perhaps it should be your instinct I stroke, your rush to reason. Perhaps because you do not know or understand what it means to play with this very powerful soul, without plan or any real understanding, and hope for the best. I suppose I shall have to help you understand.'"

—-

Like you, he says, with a smile and a wink, barely half a second to think of a proper riposte. Classic John Constantine. It puts a cramp around the relentless engine caged within her ribs and a growing smile on her face that she tries to quell for the sake of present company. Zatanna ducks her head instead, to take a sip of her coffee.

When the rest of Jessica's encounters pour out, her teeth remain clipped at the edge of her cup. She doesn't seem to understand what follows, and she doesn't think it is bias against Itzpapalotl that triggers it, when the goddess talks about love and considers herself a minor aspect in the universe in comparison to Xiuhnel. But that was a supernatural being all over, cryptic misdirection to hide the truth. If they were all going to compare one another to powerful forces in the universe, her father tends to talk in similar ways.

"Was that what she said before she unleashed Xiuhnel on the rooftop?" she wonders. "And just let you try to handle it? What the hell was she going to do if I hadn't shown up? Do you think she would have done it herself?"

—-

John will take some satisfaction in being able to produce that kind of reaction in the young lady in the chair, but it's necessarily subdued by the continuing story. When Jessica says 'she gets pissed,' he makes a quiet sound not unlike a snort, but he keeps his mouth occupied only with this cup of coffee.

The faint suggestion of a knitted brow that he puts on while she repeats — if not verbatim, then as closely to verbatim as possible — what Itzpapalotl had told her is not because he objects to what was said, though he might, but instead because he's trying to remember every last particular, probing what's said for meanings greater than may be immediately evident.

In the end, he can barely restrain a second roll of the eyes. He drowns that urge in another sip from his cup, then sets it down beside him on the desk and straightens, loosely folding his arms. "And did she? Help you understand?"

—-

"She made me figuratively piss myself," Jessica says flatly, in response to John's question. She gives a nod to Zee's. "Yeah. Suddenly I'm on the sixth floor with the baby in my arms, and Azalea is screaming about killing the devil and bursting out the window. Thank God Cindy was close enough to take care of Annette. I give chase…Xihunel has picked up some article about DHK and doesn't like him going by the devil's name or something. I go to try to talk Az down…but Az has left the building. Xihunel, he…"

She swallows, and she pushes all the food away. She folds her arms around herself and looks away from them. And now she sounds even more dissociated. This is the part she doesn't want to talk about. "He had me paralyzed in one blow. He made it very clear he was going to kill DHK in front of me, defile his corpse, and rape me." The cords of her neck tighten a little bit. "So I'm laying there, fucking helpless…"

Again— fucking helpless again— Can they see? Can they tell? Do they know that Xihunel's threat is something she's already lived through, repeatedly? She hopes they can't, prays they can't, holds herself stiffly in the hopes that it won't show even a little… but she fears that it's written all over her skin, as if someone took black marker to every inch of her and wrote it all in large, ugly letters.

"DHK is giving Xihunel a real run for his fucking money, but…Xihunel keeps healing. The tide of battle turns and he starts losing. Itzpapalotl comes and heals me a little, asks me if I understand yet. I just…don't say anything. I was afraid that whatever I said could be construed as a bargain, a deal, and figured if I'd just kept my fucking mouth shut the first time maybe this wouldn't have all gone to shit. So to answer your question, Zee? I don't know. Maybe I fucked up by not just saying, 'Yes, I understand'. Instead I used the Pinch on DHK, told him to choke Xihunel out, and played decoy. It looked like that was working for half a second too but Jesus, by the time he caved my solar plexus in for me he'd reached Thor strength and counting. That's when you came in, Zee, so you kind of know the rest there, save for this…I think I was dying."

Jessica looks up. "I mean it was a killing blow anyway. But she appears behind me, heals me just a little bit again, says like…not yet, dear shepherd, you have to make them understand. And she sticks a fucking note in my pocket…here, I have a copy."

She goes digging through her files for it, the simple action of being able to do something as simple as dig for the appropriate paper file giving her something she needs…the ability to do something, no matter how simple or slight.

"After that I knew I couldn't stick her back in her fucking bunk bed here, so…I called Tony. I knew he had a facility that could contain her."

This is not the end of Dancing with the Obsidian Butterfly, she's only halfway through her interactions with the woman really.

—-

Zatanna says nothing through that, but her jaw is clenched and the expression around her eyes tightens, especially once the threats of rape fall in. There's an uncomfortable shift on her seat. She doesn't look at John.

Her mind backtracks to that night, though she has revisited that moment about a dozen times since she's returned home from Tahiti, knowing that there will not be any further delaying in tackling this issue any more than the others waiting for them. But try as she might, she can't find anything else that's helpful in what she does know. Her hope is that there'll be something in the bits she doesn't.

"No, I'm glad you said nothing. You're right, you never know what could happen if you tell her the wrong thing, even if it seems like the right thing," she says. A hand lifts, in a silent prompt for the note that Jessica scribbles on a piece of paper.

—-

John's expression stops being an expression while he listens. It hardens and empties, an iron mask that bodes poorly for…someone.

Probably not Jessica Jones.

He adds a short nod to Zee's confirmation that silence was the smartest choice, but aside from that he has nothing to say — yet. The way he's looking, it's very likely he's going to have a great deal to say afterward.

—-

John's expression stops being an expression while he listens. It hardens and empties, an iron mask that bodes poorly for…someone.

Probably not Jessica Jones.

He adds a short nod to Zee's confirmation that silence was the smartest choice, but aside from that he has nothing to say — yet. The way he's looking, it's very likely he's going to have a great deal to say afterward.

—-

There's no scribbling, she has the original, which she passes over. She doesn't catch their reactions because she still can't meet their eye. Her expression is caught in some sort of look of greasy, deep shame, but she's holding it together.

The letter reads:

When you teach a child a lesson, it should not have final consequences. But there is also something to be said for making sure the lesson is well learned. You and your friends could destroy the soul of Azalea Kingston, and unleash a monster upon the world. Unstoppable. Unkillable. I do hope you now understand, and if you will not leave her be for selfish reasons, then perhaps altruistic ones, or at the very least self preservation.

While you were fighting Xiuhnel I struck a deal with Decimux, the Infiniplex, and convinced him that Annette Anders did not need to be redacted. His lackeys should now leave her be, though I cannot promise your own safety if you meddle in his affairs further.

I leave you a final balm. For seven days, alcohol will turn to water in your grasp, and you will not know it's craving. You are a champion of the world I love, the world I would see saved from the meddling of the uninformed few, and this world, so very fragile, still needs Mothers Like Us.

She mutters, "Decimux is the being behind this Agency. She had told me— and I'm sorry, I forgot to say— that she also killed the Agency member who killed Annette's foster parents. I checked out the crime scene. She did, but not before he got to them. I don't know if Decimux is another god or what, but I might have a break on finding out. But I've got two really skittish witnesses between me and that answer. And then we went to Germany and I didn't hear any more from her until I went to visit Az."

Now they might realize why she was such a pain in the ass in Germany, she supposes.

—-

What.

The expression on her face is stamped with that single word that encompasses everything she doesn't say.

Zatanna hands the letter to John before she takes another contemplative sip of her coffee. "I'm confused," she says. "I don't know what the hell this Infiniplex is, and I've never heard of a Decimux before either."

She doesn't know what to do about that piece of information. She was just trying to do what she has promised and that was help Azalea with her present problem. And now this goddess is stomping on everything and making something sensitive and complex into something infinitely more confusing.

"Okay, well. One thing at a time," she murmurs. "Did you have other talks with her after that?"

—-

John reaches for the letter when Zatanna finishes reading it. Spends the next few moments flicking his gaze across the contents, and for just a moment there's a shadow chiseled between his brows that echoes the confusion in the teen witch's expression. And then it clears, and he tosses the letter down on the top of the desk as his eyes lid.

"You know, standing in Stark's laboratory, I thought, 'why bother with the goddess? We can just make him a new bloody heart. A better one. Who needs her, anyway?' But all of this rubbish…" He gestures loosely at the document, at Jessica, "She's got to go, obviously. I don't know what sort of fucked up 'lesson' she thought she was teaching you but she's talking shite top to bottom."

His tone is level, and his expression stops short of anything other than distaste, but both of those things are lies. John is angry. It coils like razorwire on the tether, simmers as a background ambiance in the restrained precision of his every gesture.

There's more there, clearly, syllables all piled into his mouth and waiting on his tongue, but for now he keeps the rest corralled, leaving space for the answer to Zee's question.

—-

"The Stark case is confusing, I mostly suggest you don't even try to understand it in relationship to this," Jessica mutters, shaking her head. "I've been working on it since February, me and Peggy, and neither of us fucking understand it. It crosses into a parallel universe, it crosses into this Infiniplex, it's all one big fucking mess. I've got a mind controller running around between dimensions and yeah. Just— I think it's enough to know that she chose to involve herself in my case, which has 7 bodies on the floor and fucking counting."

Jessica puts her elbows on the table and scrubs her fingers hard through her hair, hard enough that some black strands curl down to hit the desk. Fortunately none of them hit the food. She smiles vaguely when he says that the woman is talking shite top to bottom. She wishes it made her feel better, but right now she feels like seven kinds of shit. Recounting this whole story is doing a number on her.

"No, that was my last interaction until we got home from Germany. I made myself go see Az. I— it's really hard for me to see anyone other than Xihunel. She was wearing the tooth necklace that T'challa gave her. So I started asking her about it. That's when she showed up again, and told me she was about to give me another lesson, would put Az into a coma. I basically begged for motherfucking mercy. And what I told you on the texts about how like…like she said it killed Az every time we had her access Xi's memories, she said that. I'm trying to see if T'challa won't talk to me about it. He was a client of mine for a little while, so he might." If she's proud of the fact that she's moved from photographing bare asses in flagrante to taking cases from celebrity businessmen-turned-heroes and kings, it doesn't show.

"And maybe you should just throw out the part about her being in love, I don't know. Maybe it was a trick. A manipulation. Xihunel called her something after she knocked Az down. Um…it was…Mon…money…no, not money. Moniquita? No…Monequilta…that's not quite right either. And she just…looks at him. And I don't know. The look in her eyes reminds me of how I feel sometimes when I contemplate this person I've stupidly fallen for and realize it's never going to happen. But maybe she wanted me to feel that way. I—"

Jessica makes a scoffing sound. "I suddenly felt so bad for her that I found myself trying to hug her, wondering if she hadn't been looking for an answer to get her own love back all these 10,000 years…maybe she really was manipulating me. She was crying. Obsidian Butterfly Stockholm Syndrome maybe? I don't know. I just don't know anymore, guys. I'm a fucktard idiot, I'm sorry."

And then, "Did I do a bad thing? Taking Az in? Did I make this worse?"

—-

When John mentions that Itzpapalotl has to go, Zatanna nods grimly, though at the strange word that Jessica tries to pronounce, she pauses from sipping at her coffee. "Monequiltia?" she wonders. "It's Nahuatl for love. To love, actually, so I don't know whether he meant to call her beloved or calling her out on how she shows the sentiment. Either way, John's right, she's in the way and we probably won't be able to make any headway with Az at all if she keeps interfering."

She hesitates. "Though we're working on a solution regarding that - to keep her away, anyway. We can ward our respective places and Stark Tower, but I proposed to John that we chain these protections somehow and turn it into a full barrier to keep Itzpapalotl from even so much as breathing in our direction while we work on it. It's not a permanent solution, but at the moment, it's the one we've got. Though I think it'd be better if we figured out what to do about Az immediately afterwards, because something tells me she won't take too kindly to being shut out of her pet project. I don't know what she's going to do once she starts throwing her weight against the glass walls we call up, screaming to let her in."

There's a glance to John at that. "Anyway, I don't think you made this worse and you don't need to apologize….when this was still going on from the beginning, I already anticipated that we were going to have to deal with Itzpapalotl sooner rather than later, it's just that I thought our interactions would be limited to bargaining for Xiuhnel's heart. Not so much anymore, if she's going to keep messing around like this."

She drains her coffee at that, and courteously places it back into the egg crate, to recycle for later.

"We'll be in touch, especially once we figure out a framework for the wards, since we'll have to stop by here and get to work on them. John, I'd say we test it on Shadowcrest, first, but other people are living there and it's just us at the flat while Chas is away…and it occupies a different space, so if anything goes wrong, it'll be contained. What do you think?"

She slowly rises from the chair.

—-

Jessica advises them not to even worry about the other case, and John is happy to take her at her word, because frankly dealing with two uppity minor gods is two more than the number he'd like to be as it is. He lets it go.

"Don't second-guess yourself, Jones. You were trying to be decent to somebody else, and the world's got enough pricks in it. Leave the dicking people about bit to me." What he doesn't say, but acknowledges to himself, is that if Jones and Zatanna weren't invested in Azalea, by this time he'd probably be looking for a more expedient and almost certainly less optimistic way to solve the problem of Azalea Kingston's mutant soul. It's for them that he's still committed to trying to find a more complex answer when there are other ways he might have neutralized the situation.

"Now that Azalea's secure in Stark's basement, 'tanna's going to take over dealing with her. They've got things left between them to resolve. I still need to have a chat with Xiuhnel under hypnosis, but that's best saved until the wards are in place." He nods at Zee, confirms her plans to use the flat first. "Yeah. Makes sense. The ley lines can fuel some of it, anyway."

Zee rises, he remains seated, if only because he's mulling everything over and trying to decide whether or not there are other avenues he wants to pursue. He regards Jones while he considers, but says nothing yet, thinking through the angles.

—-

They reassure her that she hasn't created a big steaming pile of mess, and Jones nods her head, finally looking up at them. Zatanna, ever on the go, is ready to spring into action. John is more circumspect, trying to decide if he has everything he needs from this interaction yet. Some of the discussion about wards chained together and such, and even building new hearts, just goes right over her head.

It's not like she hadn't contemplated expediency herself, but that's nothing that she says either. She just nods a little at them and says, "Sorry for the infovomit."

She knows that's what they asked for, on some level, but on another the feelings all of this has dredged up in her has her back in a mode where her impulses tell her to apologize for breathing, and she doesn't quite have what it takes to push them aside just yet.

"Or not telling you guys sooner I guess but it all seemed a bit much to go into in Germany. We couldn't do anything about anything from there anyway. Or rather you couldn't."

—-

"I get that," Zatanna says, smiling at Jessica ruefully. "Besides, the rest of us were….we wouldn't have been able to turn this over our heads as well as we could if we listened to it, then. We were all handling a lot, and I know Jane was also working on other projects while she was tackling that one as well. So really, this was all for the best, I think. Like I keep saying - one at a time, right?"

There's a quiet glance at John, watching him sit and think. She says nothing to him, not chancing to derail whatever thoughts he might have there. But she does wait for him even as she moves back to the white candle, to double-check its state and make sure the ward is still active. She won't take it down until it's time to leave.

—-

As always, Jessica's moments of self-loathing tend to produce in John characteristic reactions aligned with light, even careless dismissal. "I asked you for everything, didn't I?"

He remains seated, drilling the fingertips of one hand into the side of the desk where they curve over the edge, but eventually that pensive look wanes, and he does regain his feet. Not to leave, but to close the distance between himself and the private investigator, and reach out to clasp her shoulder. Months ago he wouldn't have chanced it, but they've seen many, many things in that time. Done more. Besides, after someone picks you up and bounces with you across the city like some sort of jackrabbit…

"We're gonna do whatever we can, luv. No promises, but we'll give it the best we've got, and if I get to thinking someone else could do it better, I'll pull them in. In the meantime, I want you to stay away from her. Seems like you being there draws her out, and I don't want them pulling what we talked about out of your 'ead, even if it's only loose plans. If you get to being worried about staying here, like she's going to be popping by and giving you trouble, you come to stay at the flat with us. Alright?"

He holds that eye contact and that clasp for a silent moment more, then turns the clasp into a pat and turns, crossing to the place his coat is slung over the back of a chair. "Anything happens, let us know. What she put you through — that's not fucking alright. I don't care what she said she was doing. I know what it looks like she was doing. And I'm not buying this 'love goddess' shite either, but that's neither here nor there. Just…sit tight, don't panic, and stay in touch."

—-

Jessica Jones takes that comfort from John, putting her hand on his own for a moment and squeezing. He gives an invitation to the flat and really…there's this moment where it looks like she's just going to pack a damned bag and follow him right there, because one of the things that has sucked about this…

Has been the sensation of being watched. Always being watched.

"I'll stay away," is what she says instead, with deplorable relief. It gives her an out.

An out to stay away from Xihunel, god forgive her, because Azalea has no such out. But she's doing all she can, and he's the subject of many a nightmare now.

"I'll let you know right away." Their anger on her behalf is warming, if a bit embarrassing…she's used to being the defender, not the defendee

But sometimes it's nice. To be the defendee.

"Thank you both."

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 License