To Be Too Much

July 12, 2017:

Jessica Jones and Zatanna Zatara meet up for lunch to catch up.

Veggie Bistro - Hell's Kitchen - New York City

A vegetarian cafe in New York.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Red Robin, John Constantine, Bucky Barnes, Dr. Jane Foster, Trish Walker

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

At the end of the phone call that alerted Jessica to the need for she and Zee to go poking around in Oregon, of all places, Jessica did two things. The first was look over her schedule for a day that seemed safe to try to go out there. The second was asking offhandedly if Zee wanted to catch lunch a few days prior. "It's been awhile," she had said, in those offhanded tones that said she's trying not to be a pain in the ass, "since we've seen each other. Wanna catch lunch? I'm buying."

Because really. People have to eat. So that's not wasted time on either end.

All of this culminates in a neat little vegetarian bistro hidden away in a corner of Hell's Kitchen, chosen both because Jess figures Zee might like it, and because Jessica herself has been a bit put off meat for a few days for Reasons. She keeps hoping that will go away, but so far, no dice. She's chosen a cozy little table and a teriyaki tofu panini which she at first eyes a little dubiously, then sort of tastes uncertainly, and then shrugs like oh hey, this is pretty good, and then takes a big bite out of. She'd also ordered a lemonade, which required no dubiousness.

With Constantine she was a bit more circumspect, but…the young witch is a personality that lets Jessica admit things she can't necessarily admit to the wizard of the pair.

"I've missed you," she says, simply.

—-

Things have been busy on her end.

The spate of rush activity; saving the world, dodging the Cult, Azalea's circumstances and Red Robin's new project have all culiminated into all of her grades declining in Gotham University, to the point where the dean of her college had taken her to the side and told her in so many words that she will have to do some major catch up work or she will fail out. It is a fact that she has not mentioned to Tim, as he has plenty on his plate as it is, and she is once again curious as to how he manages to do it all - whatever social calendar he keeps as a Wayne, to keep up with appearances, getting amazing grades and somehow fighting all the crazies that menace Gotham at night. Now that she has also run into Spidey again, another secret identity she is familiar with, she wonders how he manages to do all of this also while going to an Ivy League college. It didn't seem fair, really, that every other superhero her age seems to be doing fine in school, juggling their heroics with their other obligations, while she is struggling.

Never had a certain Disney movie been more accurate on her part: phenomenal cosmic powers, itty-bitty living space.

And so she has been relatively under the radar, hitting the books. With Chas back in London visiting family, she has been living with John since their return from Tahiti; it made her accessible, at least, to her new friends headquartered in New York. It also gave her life some semblance of normalcy and surprising domesticity (and most likely nobody in her acquaintance would believe her if she said that John, outside of his work, is quite a normal person around the house), though this does mean that the crazies have a run of Shadowcrest every time she isn't there. At least none of them would be able to access the library, where Bucky and Jane's secret remains carefully hidden.

Sitting here in the vegetarian bistro, after having greeted Jess with a tight hug and a kiss on both cheeks, she is enjoying her grilled eggplant sandwich as well as her Diet Pepsi - a vice that she hasn't managed to shake in spite of her relatively healthy living.

"I missed you too," she tells the private investigator. "I'm sorry things have been so busy, I feel like I'm drowning underwater these days with everything I need to do to catch up on school. How have you been, Jess?"

—-

"Drowning," Jessica says with a chuff of a laugh, one that dismisses the apology— or offers an answering one of her own— in a single, succinct word. Though the truth is, things are slowing down for her; investigations grinding to a halt, grinding to dead ends, or hitting implacable cat-shaped stone walls until she wants to throw things, and scream. But she doesn't.

She practices her meditation, instead.

She smirks and teases, "Want me to steal you some test answers?"

She wouldn't, really, and she already knows that Zatanna wants to do this on her own, to earn the degree she's trying so hard to get, but that won't stop her from joking about it. "We can call it a 'keeping people's asses alive handicap.'" She winks at the girl across the table from her, dark eyes taking on that hint of mischief that gets to come out so rarely, and with so few people.

—-

The offer to steal test answers has Zatanna grinning faintly and shaking her head. "I'll never live it down from every genius I know. And John. Admittedly he'd probably be the last one to judge, but when it comes to the subjects he's actually interested in, he's a genius, also." She sighs as she glances down at her sandwich. "I honestly have no idea how they do it. Maybe if I consistently drank the water in Gotham all my life, I'd be a genius also."

She takes another bite, chewing thoughtfully. Summers in New York are downright sweltering, but today is actually quite nice; sunny enough to make people watching a legitimate activity, and cool enough not to fry on the sidewalk.

"So what about you?" she wonders, pushing her sandwich to the side momentarily, folding her arms on the table. "How's Trish and your other cases? Word on the street has it that you're getting some serious cred. More clients, these days." Which would explain why the investigator is drowning, also. But if business for her is booming, that is a good thing, isn't it?

—-

Jessica shakes her head, smiling, at Zatanna's lament. "Get me some of that genius water while you're at it," she replies, amused.

Jess has thrown on a plaid shirt of thin green fabric, the sleeves rolled up, the jeans ripped. Comfortable clothes, rather than her bulletproof 'working' clothes. Indifferent to heat or cold though she may be, not even she wears leather jackets in the height of summer. She opts to answer about Trish, first. "Trish has told me a few times now to convey to you that she'd really like to have you on her show, and I keep forgetting," she says. "When you're not drowning, and probably when this trial bullshit is brought to some sort of successful fucking conclusion."

She looks faintly embarrassed at all this word on the street stuff. "Yeah, business is good, though I've been careful what I take. Other than the occasional one-off I've only got a few cases right now. But if I had any serious cred I think I've gotta owe that to you, Zee…I didn't start getting all these surprising— and completely unlikely— new clients until you hired me for the first time, after all. I still think some of them are nuts for trusting me at all. Though I did account for 6 out of my 7 murders."

—-

"Me in Trish Talk?" Zatanna wonders, pointing to herself. "Really? I mean, Daddy's the real star, I'm just starting out. She really wants me on there? Arnie would probably scream at me if I didn't do it." Arnie being her red-haired manager, constantly lamenting over her present state of busy as he has been trying to get her to come back on stage for months. "It'd be really good exposure, he would say. Promote the new stage act he's been hinting at to everyone who would listen. I miss performing a lot, but I mean…the drowning thing, yeah?"

When Jessica confirms that business is good and where the credit lies, she smiles and rubs the back of her neck. "I needed someone who I knew could handle herself and who got shit done," she tells her lightly. "You fit the bill, you shouldn't be so surprised. But I'm glad it all panned out, Jess. Before you know it, you're gonna be just as famous as Captain America."

She has heard about the murders before and her brows lift upwards. "So there were more breakthroughs on that end, then? You think it'll be resolved soon?" she wonders. "I haven't managed to talk to Matt yet about the trial stuff but I figured he's so busy prepping Bucky and Jane that he hasn't gotten to the rest of Archer's list yet. I looked him up, by the way. He's a very intimidating looking guy - with the reputation to match."

Drawing her soda to her, she takes another sip. "At least we're making headway into the other stuff, like Az's case. I had to plant separate wards around her cell room in Stark Tower when Itzpapalotl tried to get around our defenses. That crazy bitch's really gotta go. She's making this entire thing more complicated than it has to be. And I really should get back into the Brujeria stuff now that we're back in New York….no sense not doing what we can while I'm not too embroiled in the trial yet. Did John tell you Chas went to London probably because of the non-disintegrating corpse we're keeping in the cell?"

—-

"Are you serious? She's dying to have you and thinks you've got plenty of star power, and she also wants to help you get more. She's dying to meet you too. She'll probably fangirl all over you, Zee, as far as she's concerned you're another superhero and she loves superheroes." Jessica's tone is fond as she speaks of her sister, as is the look on her face— fond and a bit exasperated, perhaps, by what she describes as fangirling. "As far as she's concerned you'd be doing her a favor, so take advantage of it, seriously."

"I don't know if it will be, but it's moved from being a case into a whole…deal," Jessica admits quietly. "I stumbled onto something way larger than myself. Right now it's in other people's hands— I don't know what to do next, but I've been kept on to help deal with whatever comes. In a way it's just as bad as the Rising Darkness stuff but— it's also thankfully dormant at the moment."

On the matter of Matt Jessica says, "He'll get to you, I think he's been prepping everyone." She picks at the top of her sandwich.

And on the matter of Az's case, Jessica says, "Yeah, he told me. He told me he thought he and Red should do the heavily lifting on that case until we're done with the trial. And on Az's matter…man. I can't tell you how happy I am to have something productive I can do on this. I feel like I've utterly abandoned her, just…completely left her behind. She's got to think I don't give a shit anymore…or that I'm too scared of Xihunel to come around anymore."

Though that latter bit— the too scared bit— is almost truth, because she is scared.

—-

"Ah, well…" Zatanna rubs the back of her neck, looking girlishly sheepish. "I mean, I've been wanting to meet her too since you first mentioned her, so…yeah, sure! I mean, it sounds mutually beneficial so no sense saying no, right? Now I'm going to obsess over what I'm going to wear when I meet her." Because Trish Walker is gorgeous and it wouldn't do her any favors to show up in her studio looking like a scrub, or anything remotely resembling a gothy reject. Silently, she is thankful for two things - she hasn't been struggling with her weight, lately, as she's barely found the time to eat, and that it's the summer. She can wear the other half of her ridiculous closet-suite again.

"Well, I won't press if the details of your case are confidential," she begins, when the investigator struggles to explain without actually telling her too much about it. "But that's usually what happens, right? I mean…look what happened with Daddy's case." A straight-up missing persons case blossomed into something incredibly convoluted. Admittedly, however, when Magic is involved, it often is. She wonders, looking back, just what about those initial months of their acquaintance made her believe otherwise.

As the conversation shifts to John, she smiles faintly. "Well, it'd be good for the two of them to get to know each other also. John mostly just considers him my friend but I'd love it if the two of them became friends also. They can learn a lot from one another, Red's a good student, and John's a good teacher."

With Azalea's case, however, she props her chin on her hand. "What did you think of it? The stuff I told you. I didn't….did you know about the cult when her parents asked you to look for her? And I don't think she thinks that, Jess. She knows better than anyone how complicated her situation is. That's not saying it's not taking a toll, it is. But she understands that we're trying to get her out of her predicament as fast as we possibly can."

Watching Jess dig into her food, as usual, ever straightforward: "Are you?" she wonders, though her tone is gentle; there is no censure there. "Scared of Xiuhnel enough that you haven't been visiting?"

—-

"They're not that confidential," Jessica says dryly. "That's why I gave you and most of Team Getting Shit Done those logins. The case files are digitized. If you really want to read all about my weird tangle with a dimension eating god, you just have to pull up the Stark industries case." Some of that information is very anonymized, scrubbed, or even locked down to a few select people thanks to needing to protect a certain hacker, but Zee can read the gist of it if she really wants to. Some of the cases are locked down too— her current dance with Wakanda among them— but most of them, both the fantastic and mundane, are available to read.

Though Zee might well have missed Jessica's text with the login link and password, given how swamped she's been. "Kind of decided I was done with my friends getting blindsided by shit I was trying to handle. I just don't want to launch into a long-winded and nightmare inducing tale if you feel like you've got e-fucking-nough to worry about. Or drown you in my angst if you don't need that bullshit either— I can turn angsty on a dime, talking about some of this shit." Jessica herself was sure traumatized, watching a whole world die. "I've already written a bunch of blather about how you guys are all 'Alias Consultants' which means I can share with you as if you were a case resource without creating confidentiality problems."

But they turn to more practical matters, and Jessica's features turn a lot more thoughtful, gaining that Hunter's air that she so often takes on.

"The cult was news to me. I thought they were the type of folks who listened to K-Love and professed themselves to be Bible Believing, as if that phrase made any sense. "I think there's probably a connection though. I can't wait to find out what's going on at those secret bonfires."

But on the final question, Jessica shakes her head. "I haven't been visiting cause you and John told me not to visit. Because Itzpapalotl. Has that changed? I am scared of him, but fuck him if he thinks he's going to keep me from providing comfort. I've stayed away because I thought it was the best way to make sure I didn't screw her over."

—-

She recalls, dimly, that e-mail while buried under the pile of books she has perpetually scattered on one of John's tables. When reminded of it, Zatanna flashes Jessica a sheepish grin. "Ah, I remember - yeah I could, couldn't I? It's a neat system, Red probably uses it constantly. But I really should digitize some other files and put it in the network too so we're all in the same page." She laughs, rubbing her face. "I remember when John, Daddy and I were a team of our own, we didn't have that fancy technology stuff, though it certainly makes keeping the rest of us up to date more efficient. I'll be as organized as you one day."

Or just hire a personal assistant, though to find someone with the qualifications and the stomach of being able to deal with and survive macabre and nasty business may very well be a tall order.

When Jessica remarks about being angsty at the drop of a hat, a sympathetic look crosses her face. "Hello, goth teenager," she says, gesturing to herself. "I know how that goes. But if you need to unload, you know you can talk to me anytime, yeah? I mean…you were able to talk to me about Matt. I can listen to you about other stuff too." She would never force the investigator, but the offer is on the table. As always, she encourages confidence while braving those thorny emotional minefields that most people in her life do not dare to tread, especially with others.

With that said, as their conversation shifts to Azalea's situation, pale fingers pluck her sandwich off the table again to take a bite. "So am I," she tells her. "We might have to stake out the place after hours, follow the counselors around and see just what they're doing in the woods when they think the kids are asleep. It's the right time for it anyway, she described it as a summer camp." And that is the season they are in.

"As for visiting Az, I think it's safe now. The network of wards we've been building is all set up. You can text John to confirm, but when I visited, Itzpapalotl tried to get in and couldn't, so I think you wouldn't be interrupted now if you wanted to tak to her. She'd probably really like to see you."

—-

"Thanks," Jessica says sheepishly. "Cindy mostly set it up for me. And I mean it doesn't replace talking about stuff and bouncing ideas in regards to what we're all working on…but it stops us from playing 'information telephone.' So any info you wanna add would be great. I have one set up for the Rising Dark case already. Organized is only true on cases."

And really, some of those notes are messy. There are log entries which are succinct comments on what's been done and what happened, peppered with swear words. There are to-do lists that are considerably less clean, as well as theories, speculations, questions, and the occasional rhetorical cuss-laden snarl. She cleans them up for clients, and those versions are in there too…but in a way the files are very much a personal peek into how Jessica thinks while she solves cases.

She winces at the mention of Matt, just a little. "Yeah. I think— you're maybe the only one left who remembers what a thing I had for him. Probably just good to keep it that way."

Here, in her natural habitat, a woman trying desperately to convince herself she's completely over someone.

But, more gently: "You've always been a good confidante, Zee. I'd never disparage that and trust me, you're one of the first people I think of. Just…sometimes I get tired of hearing my own fucking whining, too. At some point if I'm going to do this shit I gotta grow the fuck up and suck it the fuck up. In this case, though, I cried to Jana, and Trish, and Jana some more. I'm mostly okay with it right now. Feeling weirdly stable, actually. I just hope you know you can come to me too."

—-

"I'll include what I know," Zatanna remarks. "Regarding Az's case and the Auspex one anyway, though the next few days will probably have Red and John picking away at it, too." Leaning back on her seat, she has the grace to look slightly smug. "At least the Muller case is closed, now. For good." A small frown tugs on the corners of her mouth. "Though the piece regarding the Cult of the Cold Flame is definitely still active." Especially with the doppleganger of her father running around.

But she makes a note to look at the network, finally, after she is done studying for the day.

Assured that she's a good confidante, the younger woman flashes Jessica a small smile. "I know, but no matter how old you are or how experienced you become, you still need to vent. We all do, though I'm glad you're able to confide in Jana. There's a reason why almost half the community come to see her, even though we don't get along with some of our brethren. Her waiting room can be a little tense when familiar faces run into one another, but they all respect Jana's limits, at least."

Jessica's description about being weirdly stable earns her a grin. "Well hopefully that'll be more the norm than the not," she says. "We can all stand to love ourselves a little more." And while not immune to doubts and other negative human emotion, she does love herself. She does not look at the mirror every morning and loathes what she sees staring back at her.

"So when do you want to set out to Oregon?" she wonders. "Not like it'll be difficult getting there." Teleporation remains one of the most useful tools in her arsenal.

—-

"Let's go with Friday," Jessica replies, after a moment's thought. "I've got a couple of commitments tomorrow that I can't really wriggle out of."

Thursdays, as it happens, are her AA meeting days, and she is not in any position to allow herself to miss those. Not now, when she fears alcoholism might be another bit of dirty laundry flung out to discredit her on the stand. "Will that work for you? After your classes? Do you have classes on Friday?"

She doesn't comment on the matter of self-love. Jessica still finds plenty of reasons to hate, blame, and get down on herself.

That thought leads to another, and she says, "I will tell you one thing." Her voice turns soft. "I think I really have started sympathizing with you on that 'feeling like you're too much' thing. Even more than I already did. That's how I feel all the time. In people's face, always…too overinvolved, too…I don't know. Like I'm trying to attach myself to all these people's orbits. Yours and John's, Jane and Bucky's, all our friends really, until I suddenly look up and think, fuck, I'm just stifling everyone. Doing too much, saying too much…"

She makes a frustrated face and stabs a finger down hard into her sandwich. She sucks the sauce off of it, almost grumpy about finding it there. Though it is good sauce.

—-

She continues eating her sandwich, finally finishing it, though she pauses when Jessica tells her what she does; words that she often thinks in the privacy of her own mind, remembering a rainy night in Paris when she was but a girl. She glances down at the wrapping left on the table, before she shakes her head and takes another drink of her soda. For a while, Zatanna says nothing; indicative that she is either thinking about her response or, most likely, attempting to figure out the right way to say something without opening those doors.

She is an open book, most of the time. Save for other people's secrets, she has nothing to hide. In many ways, the memories she locks behind that door are more her father's than her own, as always overprotective of everything about the older Zatara - including his human faults and failings. In many ways, being larger than life suits his reputation. It is beneficial. His words and presence offer a considerable amount of weight, and she is reluctant to tarnish that image of him.

When she speaks, her tone is quiet. "I…I mean sometimes, all you can really do is recognize it and pull back when you feel like it's necessary. It just depends on what you would rather do - would you rather be more absent, or be too involved. For me, I choose the latter. I don't like the idea of me not being around, even if someone doesn't need me at that particular time." It also speaks to a considerable number of abandonment issues.

"It does make me doubt myself, now and then. The last thing I want to do is scare someone away, because that's happened and almost happened in the past more times than I can count. In fact the only person I tend not to worry about that these days is…" John, to whom it is never enough, even when it does get too much.

"I mean, when you think that's what's happening, then…you can always ask. I'm sure whatever answer you get, it'll be truthful. I mean, at least if the answer is 'yeah you are' you can take steps to correct the behavior, right?"

—-

Jessica is listening, and Zee's commentary on the matter is even helping— as evidenced by the fact that she once again picks up her sandwhich and eats it rather than savaging it. It's done in a few bites; she'd only had a bit of it left to begin with, even before she started playing with her food. She sees the way the girl picks her words so carefully, and grimaces a little— the last thing she wanted to do was create a scenario where Zee felt uncomfortable.

The advice is sage and sound. She is wise for her years, but then…she is a wizard. The root of the word itself is 'wise'. Jessica had looked up the entymology of it one night, simply following a random thought in another direction. Philosopher, sage. It applies to Zee in ways that go ever so much further than the girl's command of backwards-talking reality control.

"Elegent solution," she says, suddenly amused. It's as blunt, to the point, and bullish as Jessica herself is, really, which means it ought to be really, really easy to implement.

"Good solution," she adds, raising her lemonaid in toast, before draining it. She supposes hearing it seems somehow less bad than sitting there wondering over it, agonizing over it, trying to make guesses about what the people in her life may be thinking or feeling or wanting out of her. And while she'd love to just know, love to have the easygoing sense of the ebb and flow of social interactions that she's seen others manage, well…it's maybe never going to be her strong suit. And maybe, like so many other things in her life that she's discovering, maybe…that has to be okay. It's not like she doesn't have friends, despite being rough around the edges.

After all. Some of the proof of that is sitting there, right across from her.

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