The Lies We Tell Ourselves

August 24, 2017:

John Constantine and Zatanna Zatara finally have a face-to-face with Xiuhnel the Sky Serpent, and arrangements are made in an attempt to fix Azalea Kingston's problem once and for all.

Stark Tower, New York City

Tony Stark's home away from home.

Characters

NPCs: Xiuhnel the Sky Serpent (NPC'd by Azalea Kingston)

Mentions:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

The cage as seen better days. Once pristine, the cylindrical structure that is made of something far stronger than glass is smeared with blood here and there, and what might count for furniture has been all but destroyed. Two training bots that Stark had given her to take out her frustrations lay in utter ruins, their structures marked by bloody knucklprints.

The only thing that does remain is the little mat that Azalea sleeps on, her hair a tangled mess and her frame a slip of it's former self. She's lost weight. For someone as slight as she is, it is a sign of how dire her situation is, her rib bones showing through her stained and dirty tank top, though the words "This Time It's On Purpose" still show through on the front in black letters against disheveled white material. Grey sweatpants hang off of her, baggy and sunken around her disheveled frame.

Silence fills up the room, save for the sound of a small device that Az stares at in her fevered state - a StarkTech desk ornament, meant to serve as a workplace distraction or desk toy, it is a cylinder that holds magnetized sand on a plane in the middle of the device, while a holographic man walks across it, only to be dropped through as the sand opens, leaves him to fall to the realm below, and then look up as the sand closes over him like a ceiling. As sand does, at least in the mind of the Stark Engineer who made this thing. The little holo-man looks incredulous for a moment, and then stomps off. Then, the cycle begins anew.

There is a fitful breath every time the cycle completes, strained against her fever, against her blood pressure, both of which are quite high and displayed on a display only those outside the prison can see. Is she laughing? Finding some bemusement.

—-

The elevator that takes John and Zatanna down to the floor on which Azalea has been imprisoned is silent — uncharacteristically so for the couple that occupies it, usually given to companionable chatter. John is silent and focused, arms crossed in a way that half-obscures the security badge he's forced to wear when he's on the Tower grounds, a note of formality set strangely against his usual scruff.

They've been receiving regular updates from Jessica Jones, and the declining state of Azalea's health means that they'll be forced to take definitive action sooner rather than later. There's a life on the line that isn't John's, and he's never more deadly serious than when that's the case.

So it's businesslike and brisk, the way he strides into the room containing what he's referred to as Stark's Aquarium once the elevator doors have opened. He has nothing in his hands: no metronome, no pocket watch to swing in front of someone's eyes, none of the stereotypical props required by hypnotists in popular entertainment. What he does have, presently concealed from view within the interior of his coat, is a last-resort option, an item to employ only if things get well and truly desperate.

His grim expression is not aided as he draws up to the glass and plants his hands on his hips.

"Right then. We're going to try to make a deal with Xiuhnel today," he informs the young woman, side-eyeing her vital statistics. He's no medical expert, but none of them look right to him. "For that, we need to speak to him. You remember, back when we met, I said hypnosis might be in the cards? That's today." Pale, stark blue eyes trickle over her assessingly. "Do you think you're up for it?"

Translation: do you think you'll survive that?

—-

Knowing John as well as she does, even if she were given to idle talk today, Zatanna has not succumbed to the urge if not just to aid his focus, and when she follows him, her expression is both concerned and determined - not just for what they are to attempt today, but also because she's unsure as to what she is expecting. The last time she had encountered Xiuhnel one-on-one had been dangerous, especially for a young magician fresh out of the shadow of the stern hand that has guided her her entire life. Now, she and John will be revisiting that, and hope that it will yield some fruit.

She, too, has a security badge, pinned on the top half of her black tanktop, the weather outside too hot, really, for anything else. In tall bastions of high technology and science such as the Stark Tower, she can't help but feel out of place, too accustomed to the smell of must and the ephemeral leavings of magical workings, ancient artifacts and thick tomes with yellowed pages. This holds a different kind of wonder to her, for a soul who embraces all new and novel experiences, but there is something less organic about these places than she prefers.

Her sneakers squeak on pristine floors and when she arrives at Azalea's plastic prison, she stops walking, letting John move forward so he could look at Azalea right in the eye. Her fingers lift in a silent greeting, somewhere to the back and side of the Englishman, her lips turning up in a small smile, but the concern in those ice-blue eyes grow all the more evident. She doesn't look well; she knew this already, coming in, but it is, as usual, different when one sees the changes for herself.

The last question is an important one; teeth worry over her bottom lip faintly, but it stops there. It's easy to say something in the affirmative, but not when Azalea looks like she does. If nothing else, she knows that John is at least giving Azalea a choice.

—-

She apologizes.

John sweeps the air with the back of his hand. "Trust me, luv, you can't say anything I haven't heard worse than. Neither can he." There's a brief pause, and then he turns his head, glances over his shoulder at Zee, the brow over that bright eye slightly cocked. "'tanna's here. Between the two of us, we should be able to keep things under control."

Should is the operative word. No guarantees, of course — those only tempt Fate to prove him wrong.

He doesn't want to close the distance to glass, or stand so close to her on the other side of it, but he does. None of his reluctance bleeds through that impenetrable air of authority he tends to carry with him into situations like these — a very able mask for a life that keeps him feeling anything but in control most of the time. As much a part of what he does, really, as the trench coat; just another kind of ephemeral armor against the dark.

Besides, the last thing the weakened, frightened young woman on the other side of the glass needs to see is weakness in the people who've promised to try to pluck her from the jaws of her own personal Hell.

Hypnosis with John is underwhelming to look at: a lift of his hand, palm toward her on a slight angle: "You just take a bit of much-needed rest, and let me talk to The Entity Inside." The last few words contain the magic — a slim bullet of command that massages the psyche into fresh configurations, subduing one aspect of the self and bringing others to the fore, instead. In her case, it's making space for the enormous thing she contains, creating a stage onto which Xiuhnel can be invited to step into full view.

—-

It's starting.

When gestured to, Zatanna gives John a quiet nod, taking a step forward, though she doesn't approach the glass. "Hopefully two sets of hands are better than one," she tells Azalea, her voice meant to be as reassuring as she's able. "Let's see what we can get from your passenger, yeah?" She doesn't tell her that it'll be fine - she has seen these things go awry and as far as things like this go, anything, literally, can happen.

The raven-haired magician falls quiet again when the British magus starts addressing the minor deity within her, the attempt to draw him out of the crucible of Azalea's soul apparent. Despite herself, and everything she has promised herself before she arrived, she feels tension knot her shoulders and twist down her spine. There's no going back now, but this has to, needs to get done. The body isn't going to last long this way.

She sucks in a breath.

This isn't unlike the beginnings of other exorcisms she has seen performed over the years; she has never tried her hand at one herself, though she is familiar enough with the words and rituals and the mindset the agent needs in order to make it happen. In many ways, what they're trying to attempt, in the end, is the reverse - the sort of thing the talking heads in the Vatican would balk at and never allow. Full integration, she knows, is often the path of no return - but in Azalea's case, it's really the only path they can take.

What it means for the young woman, though, is up in the air.

—-

Years of being trapped in a fractured mind, the mind of the man that carried Xiuhnel before Azalea, had left the Murdered God unable to impose his will. His incompatibility with Azalea had left them both at odds. Instinct and need and desire pushing on a soul that simply could not focus such vile intent. But she could anchor it. Redirect it. Keep it from overwhelming, most of the time. So much had happened since then that had changed the dynamic, brought them closer, made visions clearer. Given Xiuhnel /more/ power in their relationship. But always, she kept the worst of him in check. Something no one knew until the rooftop, a spiraling situation that could have eaten the entire city alive.

Only John Constantine could be the one to force her back into that state on purpose.

"Yea-" Her reply to Zatanna, the hope in her eyes, is interrupted. There is a slow exhale, and Azalea's eyes roll back, a tremble curling her fingers and the air around them all stiffening as if the pressure in the room has tripled.

Her eyes open, golden and unnatural, pupils dilating as Xiuhnel's senses are suddenly brought back to the world, one he sees and feels only in a second hand nature. And it is a drive to feel that fills the Murdered God.

Azalea leaps, even from that kneeling position, slamming into her cage with a terrible echo that flashes a red alarm outside the cell, that shows the sudden, powerful strain she just put against it. It does not break, but the entropic energy that spills around the creature tests it's integrity.

This is not like the rooftop. No one is pushing on Xiuhnel this time, and the escalation of power plateaus, but it does not change The Sky Serpent's demeanor. Through Azalea's eyes he stares at Zatanna, nostrils flaring as her lips pull back from her teeth.

"Candy." The most disturbing part is that she does not sound different in tone at all, Azalea's voice laced with malicious desire, and those hands scrape down the plastic between them. Nails rake into it, damaging it. The Stark Tech is already working to repair itself, filling in the channels she left, but that entropic energy stops it short. Right now, Xiuhnel could break free. Right now, Xiuhnel is as dangerous as he's ever been.

"I can taste you already, and when I get out, I'm going to…to…" There is a distracted measure to Azalea's voice, and she leaves one hand so close to the plastic where Zatanna stands, but turns her gaze to John, her gaze narrowing, as if she's uncertain what she sees.

"Mimich? I remember…" Her voice trails off, and she presses her face to the plastic. Plastic that bends, warps.

Then, it utterly fails. The systems that should cover her in gas to knock her out, alert security that she's free, or perhaps even drop the ceiling on her fail too. Delicate things don't last in these moments when he's first returned to the world, and though there is now no barrier between them, Xiuhnel does not leap again at Zatanna, instead fixated on what he sees in John Constantine. A familiar convergence of Fate. The same, but different, and for a memory like Xiuhnel's, twisted and layered in paradigms not his own, it is a haunting reminder of a time before he walked the world in other people's skins.

Her head tilts in an alien display, and one hand lifts, delicate fingers reaching out for John's face.

—-

There are things that John can't afford to do in moments like this one.

One: he can't look shocked at the transformation that takes hold of Azalea and, in truth, he isn't. Not really. He meant it when he said he'd seen worse. Far worse.

Two: he can't afford to flinch when she hurls herself against the glass of her enclosure, though that takes an iron will. Not because he's afraid of Xiuhnel — though he is, in the sense that he has a healthy desire to survive — but because he's afraid for Azalea. Her body is wracked with exhaustion and injury already, feverish with the infection of that fragment of Aztec history. He has no idea how much more abuse it can stand, and if she dies — aside from the grief that would settle on people who care about her — Xiuhnel would only escape, and leech itself onto someone else.

Three: He can't afford to overreact when the systems fail. Overreaction is for later, when he storms into Tony's office, assuming everyone survives, and tears him asshole to adam's apple for letting them walk into a situation where this is even possible.

And that's the most difficult thing to suppress, really, though again, not so much because he's afraid for himself, but because it puts Zatanna at risk.

The shift of his body posture is subtle, but conveys readiness. He will blow Azalea's failing corporeal form into a thousand greasy red chunks and send Xiuhnel whipping back into the ether before he lets either of them lay a hand on the young woman beside him.

"Do you?" The challenge is muted. "Your host is failing, Cloud Serpent, but you're closer than you've ever been to retrieving your heart from the one who stole it from you. You're running out of time. We're here to offer you a chance to reclaim what belongs to you — and the one who took it."

—-

The change is immediate; Zatanna tastes it more from the air than sees it on Azalea's face. It is the words that come out of her mouth next, however, that confirm it. The moment the word is uttered, the tension cabling over her bones becomes more pronounced and ice-blue eyes narrow immediately. Fingers fall to her side, a subtle shift in stance and for a brief moment, instincts take over, readying herself for the worst if need be. The obsidian obelisk falls into her hand, fingers closing over it, so practiced with her sleight of hand that she isn't even aware of performing it until its chill bites at her skin.

"John— " she begins, watching as the other woman hurls herself against the plastic barrier, nails gouging into it. But it is when the distraction occurs that has her frowning visibly. Her hackles are already up, and when Xiuhnel slowly turns to John…

Her heart leaps into her throat when all the careful security systems that Tony has provided are suddenly just gone.

A hint of ozone laces the air at the expenditure of magic - on the cusp of being sent into the ether and only held back by every single shred of willpower the young woman is capable of applying to an already tense and unstable circumstance. Her teeth grind together from behind closed lips when Azalea turns on her to fix on John instead, the urge to grab that pale wrist and wrench her away from the Englishman so overwhelming that her hand has already risen to do so and it is only through sheer, herculean effort that she hasn't reached out to act on it.

But she's done enough already. This is John's arena, now.

All the other images from the last few months cascade in a rapid rush, reminding her of that devastating confrontation in Berlin; reminders of what happens when she tries to question him, tries to interfere with his work. Instances that came before, what happened in Switzerland. None of it is fixed and something hooked and barbed clamps over the relentless engine underneath her ribcage, squeezing so tightly she can barely breathe.

She chooses to trust, this time. Her hand slowly lowers, but she is clearly unhappy. Her lips press in a thin line and irises fix dangerously on Xiuhnel, twin mirrors filled with bottled lightning and ready to unleash the moment he and his vessel step out of line.

—-

The air stills in the wake of that initial surge of power, and John's words widen Azalea's golden eyes. She looks for all the world like someone caught in the vague recollection of a dream, but it is no dream. It is fractured bits of who and what Xiuhnel is, from a time that The Obsidian Butterfly tries to mask in every way she could. Somethings you never forget. Some things define you. And it was murder that defined Xiuhnel so long ago, after being given the barest taste of the mortal coil, and all the joys that could exist in finite form.

The wheels turn behind those eyes, because they must. Wheat fields, warm sun, warmer skin. Then, the blade. The time in between becomes a blur, because John has focused Xiuhnel on The Moment of his recreation. Where his power was stolen, and what was left was set upon the world. Her breath quickens as it flashes across Xiuhnel's mind, and her hand comes to rest against John's chest, fingertips spreading out.

"She took…"

It's there, all over her face, pain that should not be in such a vile being, but it exists because Xiuhnel is forced to remember what it is like to be vulnerable, what it is like to be whole, a memory buried away because it can only fill that empty space with emotion stolen from others.

There are a series of blinks, and Xiuhnel steps back. There is no attack, no clawing shove of a hand that might try to take John's heart as a replacement. It ends with a startle, wincing as she looks through the man in front of her, and then to the source of power just beside him.

The hunger in her eyes is a testament to the creature's condition. It needs power, but not for itself. It aches for more, always, but not just because it's heart was stolen. The moment hangs, because it could give in, but John's words echo in Xiuhnel's twisted mind.

"I could make the sky again."

The smile is everything a human being might want to see in a friend, but it is terrifying on the face of The Devil, and her gaze shifts back to John, as if the possibility of success has finally dawned on the Murdered God. "Tell me who you are. Tell me my you smell and taste so different from the others. Tell me… how you can help me make the sky again."

—-

He smells it, that ozone tang in the air — the coil of magic readied and unspent. He knows where it came from, and he knows why, and while John would never, ever admit as much…it braces him. Shores him up.

There's nothing quite like knowing there's a small sun of magical energy standing guard at your back to sharpen the steel in your spine.

Those moments of silence after the cleaved godling begins to remember are fraught with tension, wound clockspring tight. Everything in him expects the sudden explosion of violence, a cataclysmic reaping, as the thing inside of Azalea gives into its particular madness and attempts to consume what doesn't belong to it. John's heart rattles the bars of his ribcage, but he waits, stone-silent and stock still, employing a patience that his itching fingers do not even remotely share.

I could make the sky again.

The corner of his mouth quirks up, but it's a tight, flinted expression. "Could be."

Cabled tautness eases in his shoulders mere microns when Xiuhnel's focus returns to him again, sliding away from the pale witch. Candy.

"My name is John Constantine." Hesitation. "Couldn't tell you what you're tasting and smelling, though after so long in that bloody box it's anybody's guess, innit? You could really use a shower, I'll tell you that. But after we talk about Itzpapalotl. After we talk about your heart."

He wants to look behind him. Catch ice-blue eyes with his own. The urge shocks him: he's getting used to having her there. Accustomed to soliciting her thoughts.

He doesn't look. Nothing that might draw Xiuhnel's attention back that way. Instead: "I'm told the two of you share a tether. Funny thing, I did a little bit of experimenting with one of my own not long ago, and nearly wound up fused with the soul on the other end. Not so terrible a deal for me. Bit of a raw one for her." He lifts both hands, but slowly; spreads them palm up. "Got to thinking: maybe we could do that for you and Itzpapalotl. Blend your heart into the mix, as well. But here's the thing, mate: she's not going to want it, I expect. The only way that's going to work is if you do. And for that, you've got to make peace with the fact that you need Azalea. She's bloody strong. Yeah? She's kept you this long. And I've got bad news: her da? He doesn't like the idea of what she is. The two of you are stronger together than apart. You lose her now, you're going to go zipping off into nothingness again, and this whole sorry state of affairs is going to start up all over again. You may never have a better chance than this one." Quiet, for a beat. "But that's all on you. You've got to want that. You've got to…evolve. Once, you created things, like the sky, rather than destroyed them. Right now, you've got the opportunity to create something the world's never seen before, as far as I know. You, and Azalea. Reinventing yourself. Recreating a god."

—-

She is still bristling when John starts to talk; she can't not, with the inhuman smile widening the breadth of Azalea's lips - not the friend she knows, but the creature that shares her body. Zatanna forces herself to swallow, working it around the knot at the back of her throat and nearly choking on it. It isn't like her to sit in the sidelines, committing no action. It's difficult, so accustomed to seizing the reins in any given situation and launching herself in head-first.

Zatanna takes another breath, focusing on what is said, instead. The desire to remake the sky has her brows knitting slightly, her face too expressive, really, to hide her confusion. She doesn't feel all that free either in exhibiting her emotions in this environment, and showing her cards - anything could be used as a weapon when tangling with a god, after all - but she can't help herself. It could simply be the way he talks, or he means something else entirely.

But she is no mindreader.

She shelves her guesses for now and when the proposal drops, she speaks. The words are driven out of her half by impulse, the desire to help shoulder the burden, and half instinct, because going against her nature is difficult enough. "It's her blood oaths," she begins. "Her father told us of your history with him and his….comrades. Your former vessel went out specifically to look for Azalea because she was the only other one who could contain you, so I think it benefits you to at least consider what John has to say."

Not just a better chance with Azalea. If the Knights of Almeus were to be believed, she is his only chance.

—-

The Sky Serpent stalks, turning his attention back towards Zatanna the moment she speaks, a step. Then two, maneuvered between them, where the buzz in the air from her readied power is. The creature's back is to John, and Azalea's golden gaze shifts up and down Zatanna's form. It is so much different than the other times it has looked at her though Azalea's eyes. Then it translated to the only urges it knew how to revel in, here with just a bit of skin and bone between this creature unleashed, with no humanity at all to weigh it down, it hungers for the core of the burning light in front of it. It could have this, a brief blissful moment of hunger sated. Or it could have the future John promises.

Oddly, it is John and Zee's words about the blood oath that seem to turn the corner. As if it knows it has no greater future, no greater chance. They played every bit of their hand and it seems to sink in.

There is a visible slump to the creature's shoulders before it glances back over to this John Constantine, a mortal with a plan to create a God. If Azalea were still there to cloud Xiuhnel's mind, to dull him to little more than thoughtless revel and unrestrained emotion, their play might have failed, but they can both see it.

"When I am restored… " Her hand lifts, slides up to cup the side of John's neck. It is a gesture that Azalea has used often, something imprinted from Xiuhnel's time among the Aztec. "You will join my Pantheon, for you John Constantine are the Moon that reflects her Sun." Her other hand finds the side of Zatanna's neck the moment she says the word sun. It might be a line crossed, despite the answer Xiuhnel seems to be giving, but moreso, it literally crosses other lines.

Two tethers touch, for the briefest of moments, a pulse, a heartbeat. Because Xiuhnel's tether is anchored to The Obsidian Butterfly by that which she stole, and they will all see it in that brief moment, in the mind's eye: Itzpapalotl carries the source of Xiuhnel's stolen power.

If they want it, they will have to tear it from her chest.

The veil that the two magicians have places over this place keeps the Obsidian Butterfly's attention stifled, and she will not know their prying, an all to brief touch as Xiuhnel stumbles away, brow crinkling as it slinks back towards it's ruined cage to pick up the little sand toy.

It is almost comical, the way Azalea tucks it under one arm and looks between them, as if she had just taken up a weapon of war. "Tell me what I must do to reclaim my power."

—-

The moment Azalea's ruined body interposes itself between John and Zatanna, everything in him changes. To the casual glance nothing changes at all save perhaps the tightening of the muscle that straps his jaw, but across the astral link he shares with her surges a torrent of compressed tension, something held on a leash only because he's had a lifetime of punching up: the scrappy little street kid from Liverpool had to learn how to bide his time as he was pushed around by boys bigger than he was. Had to learn how to store that fury for a moment when he could unleash it as vengeance successfully.

There will be no similar catharsis here, but the mechanisms that allow him to restrain himself are nevertheless the same. Zatanna has no choice in the matter: she becomes a receptacle for the icy knives of malice that grow in him, all of his instincts twisted around desires not unlike hers, earlier — to reach out and rip that creature away from her entirely. But this is what they do, now. This is what he has to be, and so by extension Zatanna as well, for as long as she chooses to throw her lot in with him. If he can count on anything, it's that there will be far worse to face in the days ahead.

A bitter pill to swallow, as truths often are.

So there he stands, still as a signpost, when Azalea's passenger turns back to him and reaches to cup the side of his throat with her slim, battered hands. His imagination is remarkable, and vividly he can envision the impulsive curling of those fingertips, biting into flesh, around critical arteries and tendons, driven by supernatural strength, to clutch at countless life-giving cords and strands and tear them like faulty wiring out from within shattered drywall —

He smiles, thinly.

"As long as the two of you are at odds in your desires, or at least the expression of them, you'll go on destroying one another. You've got to blend. The seam where the two of you meet is your weakest point. When you become one, then you're solid. Then you're strong. And if it's only the best bits of you both? Twice as good. After that, after you're unified, then…" Behind closed lips he cuts his tongue across his upper teeth, sucks. Hands go into pockets. "Then we invite the Butterfly to play." Even mentioning her seems to open him up to a split-second vision of the entity herself, and the thing she carries: a first for John, as it happens. He's had no contact with her at all til now.

His mouth opens, then closes. Gaze ticked sidelong, he takes a chance: "Do you love her, still, or have you not forgiven her for what she did? Do you think she loves you?"

—-

For someone who has had it being touched without her leave, Zatanna manages to remain calm when Xiuhnel's hand finds the side of her neck. Underneath her skin, blood doesn't lie; like a river, it rushes through her veins in torrents. Whatever she thinks of the gesture, black drops of unhappiness bleed through the tether that binds her to John Constantine and unable to help herself, her fingers close tightly into fists at her side.

What she feels from the British magus doesn't help, and slowly, deliberately, the black-haired witch draws a slow breath through her nose, and out of it. Her lips press in a thin line; ice-blue eyes do not wander away from Azalea's face. It does much to center her, as her pallor and the emaciated state of her reminds her very clearly that there is a life at stake, and not just anyone's - a friend's.

The vision, too, is taken in stride - it is both helpful and daunting, though she doesn't look at John there. In her mind's eye, Xiuhnel's heart pulses like a beacon within Itzpapalotl's chest. While John's idea makes it possible that they might not have to worry about it, should the worst happen, the implications are clear. And while she had seen the Englishman rip the wings clean off an angel (a real angel, oh god, holy shit), and she has no doubts that he would be able to tear the heart out of a goddess, she can't help but wonder whether she would have the stomach to should the task fall on her hands.

She can't know how their thoughts fall on parallel lines, when John is already imagining the possibility.

Still, the last question has Zatanna turning to look at him despite herself, half-startled out of her reverie. She turns her attention back to Xiuhnel soon after, falling silent. She's already interjected earlier in what is a delicate question and answer session, she is doing her very best not to say or do something that would drive Xiuhnel to retreat.

Or, worse, attack, now that Tony's carefully cultivated security measures have just been neutralized.

—-

When John Constantine speaks of the split souls and the subtle war they play with each other inside Azalea's body, Xiuhnel lifts a hand to draw fingers down along the vessel's chest. Nostrils flare with an exhale, and her fist curls. No matter how much sense the Brit makes, Xiuhnel does not like to be told it must become something else. But the mage appeals to power, tells the Murdered God that only the best parts of both will be joined.

Clearly this means one hundred percent of Xiuhnel and perhaps some tatters of Azalea's feeble soul to keep it grounded.

It has decided, this plan is good.

Or it would have if not for being asked that punishing question. One might wonder how a creature of such supposed power, a creature that crafted the sky itself, could be felled so very low. Something grows distant, and they know what they see here and now is a creature of malice and rage wrapped in the body of a girl, but that expression as his mind pushes backwards, etched on a freckled face, bears more humanity than it should.

The conflict there is almost palpable, it's dark, void of a soul thrashing through memories that it only knows as fragments. He is dying in the grass again, crushed by the overwhelming prospect of a newly formed humanity. She had told him of paradise, on another world. Showed him all it's pleasures in another form, then all it's final pains. Later, after a time of rage, she stood before him again atop a Temple.

"I wanted to destroy her. Push myself inside her like she pushed her blade inside me. I wanted to tear her heart out. I wanted…" Lips part and breath quickens as a hand comes to Azalea's chest again. "…she was so beautiful. They loved her. She had won no battles.." Tears fall, streaking down her face to impact the floor and bore into it like acid.

"..but they loved her. A fever in the air. A song on their mouths. Blood lust. Blood lust for her, to feed her and Tamoachan. I wanted to hate her…" That golden gaze turns to Zatanna, a stand in for someone else, because that burning soul reminds her so very much of Xiuhnel's beloved.

It should be dangerous, to look upon Zatanna Zatara and imagine her as a lost love, a target of such turmoil, such hatred and regret and everything in between. Murderer, lover…captor.

"…I loved her instead. Stood at her side." That gaze, finally, moves to John, and fingers curl a fist, crushing the Stark Toy Xiuhnel had thought to take into battle, throwing it aside as much as he might throw aside the past that had betrayed him.

"No more." He is lying. "No more. She will hold nothing of me, no longer my love. Betrayer and murderer! I know how she feels by the dagger she used to steal from me! To curse me to this realm and burden me with this…with this!!!"

Xiuhnel shouts at John, but the anger he has is not directed at him. It is angry at being angry, at feeling at all. Because he can remember now, the faint hint of something more, pulled to the forefront by John Constantine. A time before feeling, where creation alone was it's purpose, spinning starstuff into hot flame, curling scales through dust until it fell in on itself and exploded with light. An existence so pure, until the curse of curiosity and one woman's hubris stole it all.

Finally, the creature is slumped, dejected, but shakes his head. "I do not care if she loves me. I do not want to love her. I want.. I want to be free."

—-

Once John asks that question his eyes never once leave Azalea. Can't afford to. He tracks every last nuance of emotion there as though his life depended on it, because it may — and not just his. The astral link confirms he's aware of the glance Zatanna shoots him, but the luxury of meeting it is beyond him until the time that Xiuhnel quiets, subsiding in the wake of an emotional tempest he finds altogether too familiar. Far too familiar for comfort, especially when one weighs the source.

To be a deity defined by literal heartbreak and betrayal: talk about getting the short end of the metaphysical stick, he thinks.

And it complicates things endlessly, of course, as emotions do. He knows that very well. In the outrage and fury and denial he hears echoes from Berlin, a kind of cosmic suffering. Something that cannot be borne, impossible to accept or reconcile, and still somehow unthinkable to live without.

Shit.

"Then we'll find a way to make that happen," he says, for the most part sure that's impossible — that what's wanted and what's needed are different; that maybe getting the one means flying in the face of the other for a time and, god damnit, nothing is ever simple. Nevermind, it's not the time. They'll figure it out as they go.

As usual.

"We need a little bit of time to prepare the circles. Not long…" A glance, finally, in Zee's direction. Circles like those, but meant to contain gods, whipped out in a day and a half? No problem, right? No pressure. "And then we can start. In the meantime, if you and Azalea can come to a few agreements about things, that would speed things along." Pause. "We'll need you to stay here until then. It's as much to protect her as anything. Itzpapalotl hasn't taken kindly to being denied conjugal visits, mate."

—-

Patience is not in the creature's blood, or more specifically it's soul. It's emotional pit is washed over, mostly by the urging by Constantine to come to some agreement with Azalea, to bargain with that mortal. A sneer, finally, as Xiuhnel sits in the middle of it's ruined prison, rage piling up on Azalea's jaw with the rapid fire beat of her heart.

"I will give her skull a conjugal visit!"

The creature cackles then, a mad thing, as it drifts from that reminder of what it once was and what it could be and back towards petty revenge. By the time the laughter dies away, Xiuhnel leans back, planting Azalea's hands on the floor before looking, with a cruel tilt of her head towards Zatanna. Yes, Xiuhnel is checking her out, lips pulling back from her teeth before finally looking to John once more.

"Very well clever mortal. But tell the bearded fool who runs this castle I would have the very best from his harem this night, piled upon me in celebration before the bloody battle to come. Tell him I would have every drink at his disposal, and when I have had my fill of celebration, I will sleep and speak to the girl and strike an accord. This, I promise you.. and you, as well."

They can both tell, it almost hurts the creature to make a promise. Perhaps because it's word must be bond, and lying is not some great part of it's purview. "Both of you. We will be allies, and I will remain in this place until the time for battle comes."

—-

I want to be free.

What is familiar to John is also familiar to Zatanna, though it finds its roots past what they have now and towards what they had before, the first iteration of their relationship and how that ended. Like an unwanted friend that has decided to visit, shades of those months alone resurface in the back of her mind and the moment Xiuhnel utters the words, she knows that it is a lie, for she has said the same things over and over, when she had been at her emotional lowest. It helps, in the end, that John keeps his eyes away from her; he wouldn't be able to see how her expression contorts sympathetically. She can't help it.

But at John's promise, that they'll find a way to make it happen, as usual opening the door to what they do best - improvise when there are no concrete answers to be had - the young woman falls quiet. She doesn't promise anything, doesn't guarantee anything, because she knows what happened the last time they tried to experiment with the tether. Trying to do the same, but with deities instead of mortals, opens another realm of impossible possibilities that she cannot contemplate until she is actually in the middle of it. These were purely uncharted waters.

She finally animates when John finally looks at her. She gives him a nod. "It'll take some doing, but we can do it," she tells him. They're going to need to modify the designs she made; she makes a mental note to dive into Shadowcrest's collection on Aztec magic - they're going to need to make sure the circles will be compatible to those that hold them, after all, but without being too familiar to Xiuhnel or Itzpapalotl. She doesn't want them to break free once they were in, after all.

Xiuhnel's promise to discuss things with Az, and make some agreements, has her spine stiffening a bit - but there is something about the Murdered God's tone that has her softening slightly. Perhaps she, emphatic creature that she is, hears that reluctant note of sincerity and interprets it for what it is.

Though what the Sky Serpent says about Tony's harem has her wrinkling her nose.

"We'll be in touch," she tells Xiuhnel. And after a pause: "Thank you, for coming to speak with us. Hopefully this'll all be resolved after we've got everything set up."

—-

It's right that Zee should be the one to conclude things, really. She's got the human touch that John has never had, a heart made for sentiment that steps in to do the courteous and even kind thing while he stands there, thoughts already all bent toward things that don't exist in this room. He has only a distracted quirk of the lips for the threat to Itzpapalotl's skull — usually the sort of thing he'd find grimly funny, actually — because he's internally already on to the next task. Already gone.

She thanks Xiuhnel, and it drags him back to himself. "Right. Yeah. Thanks. Back in you go, eh? I'll see what we can do about the harem. And the drinks. But no bollixing up the security system again, eh? Stark might feel like he has to do something rash, and you're not ready for your close-up yet."

As farewells go, he has a long way to go, obviously. Goodbyes have never been John's strong suit.

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