Divide and Conquer

August 29, 2017:

Jessica Jones and Zatanna Zatara catch each other up on their cases.

Wakanda - Africa

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: T'Challa, Sizani, Matt Murdock, Tony Stark, Captain America, John Constantine, Red Robin, Bucky Barnes, Azalea Kingston, Spider-Man

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

If a certain witch tries to teleport directly to one Jessica Jones, she will find the investigator sitting in a high-tech investigator's marvel that would put some of Batman's equipment to shame.

The SHORO Investigation Deck is suspended over a vast expanse of the city of Birnan S'Yan, offering a fantastic view. But it's not really the view that matters. It's a bank of computers capable of processing an enormous amount of forensic data gathered both by drones and people. It allows a person to walk through and recreate crimes, and is capable of chemical analysis, facial recognition, and more.

Jessica doesn't get to use the main bridge. She gets a smaller room with basically the same equipment, though she's pretty sure she's been locked out of some of the functions. This thing won't spit out anything she doesn't feed to it, for example…

But she's been feeding it quite a bit.

She stands there, waving her hands to command the thing, pulling some holograms closer, pushing some farther away. Recent events have put her back in bulletproof jeans, but the heat of Wakanda is such that she's put on a bulletproof tank top and not much more. A panther tooth necklace that Zee has never seen before rests prominently around her neck. Her pale face shows shadows beneath the eyes, the lines of worry and hard living that have always been on her face unconcealed by make-up and deeper than usual.

"I'm an idiot," she mutters suddenly. "I can't just focus on who did it, I have to prove he didn't. That was why. That was why T'Challa said what he said."

She sets her S-phone onto the console and downloads a photo of Bucky Barnes. "SHORO. Give me all the drone data on this man's activities that day. If I can create a timeline of what he did, maybe we'll have more luck proving what he didn't."

This is not the only search running…there's some sort of hologram in the air that flips through multiple pieces of footage surrounding some sort of protest by Wakandan natives, for example. But this thing is capable of spinning lots of plates, and Jessica won't waste a second here. For one thing, the privilege of using it could be revoked at any time.

—-

The SHORO Investigation Deck is a thing to behold; especially so for a young woman who spends most of her life surrounded by Antiquity in all of its shades and shapes. While certainly not a dinosaur compared to her father, as her generation has a better appreciation for technology than those that came before, she has it in her, still, to marvel at the constructs the twenty-first century have managed to invent and innovate over the years - there are still times when she would walk into the Titans Tower and still marvel at all of its automated security systems every time she enters the premises.

This is precisely what Zatanna does when she arrives. She walks over to one of the presently recreated holographic crime scenes available within the space, staring wide-eyed at all the data scrolling upwards on the fringes while translucent images layer over the other. Her friendship with Red has given her enough appreciation over this as well - forensic analysis and crime scene reconstruction, though she would hardly call herself an expert.

But she doesn't linger by the display for long. She wanders over to where Jessica is, taking in the look of her face, her physical state. Ice-blue eyes wander over the tooth necklaces she wears around her neck.

"Jess, when was the last time you slept?" she wonders. "Or ate?"

She digs into her pocket to produce her own smartphone; nothing like the high-tech device that Jessica has in her grip. She flips through the photos within before she pulls out a Snickers bar from an image of assorted candy that she had managed to take a few days ago. Her impromptu, and unwelcome, trip to Hell had been an excellent test case to the boundaries and limitations of her bookbag spell - what Jess, Jane and Bucky have lovingly called the Stuff app - and that entire soujourn into the unholy has only taught her that she cannot take too many pictures of food. It serves her now, when she offers the private investigator a Snickers bar.

"You know how the ad goes," she tells Jessica. "Eat it before you turn into Batman in a Superbowl championship."

—-

Jessica jumps a little at the sound of Zee's voice. She startles far more easily than she'd ever like to admit, even now, with anti-anxiety meds and Jana's tender help to guide her out of some of the worst impacts of PTSD. Especially when she doesn't expect anyone in there with her. She looks relieved, and even offers the faintest half a grin, when she sees it's Zee, accepting that Snickers. As it happens, she herself stuffed food into that app like a chipmunk preparing for winter, but remembering to eat it, or having the appetite for it, is something else again.

Zee, however, makes a fine argument for putting something into her stomach. To wit:

"Man. Me turning into the Batdouche. A fate worse than death."

And so she tears that thing open appreciatively. And explains, "I have been sleeping, but I've had to take and make phone calls back to New York, and that means waking up whenever and sleeping whenever. There's just no time. It's good to see you. I wasn't sure if you and John were skulking about the country running down your own angles on this thing or if you had popped back home after dropping Daredevil off."

—-

"I take it you're still holding a grudge for when he told all metahumans to stay out of Gotham," Zatanna observes, a brief spark of amusement kindling over her expression, before it fades once more to seriousness.

The lack of time is a concept that she knows well, especially these days when she finds herself torn between a variety of cases, Titans business and trying to ensure that she doesn't fail out of university. "We intended to," she replies, pressing her lips together. "But Azalea's declining quickly - we've made progress on her case, but it doesn't change the fact that she's on borrowed time in Tony Stark's basement. So we decided we're going to do what we can for her and then help out with the situation with Bucky once we stabilize her condition. It's rough going, I know if John and I had a choice we'd clone ourselves and work both cases, but considering both people involved are in danger…" She means Azalea and Bucky Barnes. "We decided to pour as much effort as we can in Az's case and then let you, Matt and the SHIELD party tackle the boots-on-the-ground stuff with Bucky. That's one of the reasons why I'm here, actually. If there's anything you need our expertise for."

She leans against one of the consoles, crossing her arms over her chest. "The other thing is whether you can manage to pull yourself away from this to face down Itzpapalotl and end this once and for all…hopefully. I don't know…at the moment, Azalea's so weak that we might not even be able to guarantee her survival once this comes down the wire. I'm hoping not - John and I have a pretty solid plan, but the entire thing is egregiously experimental based on something else we've tried a few months ago." With devastating results; a fact that she keeps under wraps.

"So I was wondering whether you could help." And so Jessica could be there in case the worst happens. "If not, that's fine - but I do need the bones so we can enter Tamoachan. For all I know, we might not even have to do that, assuming the best case scenario happens. But in the event that doesn't happen, it'd be good to have all of our arsenal on site."

—-

"Hey, if Batman is going to out himself as a giant bigot then I'm going to remember that. Also, he treated Az abominably."

She sits down in a chair to finish off that Snickers bar, listening to the rest. The lines on her face deepen a little more, and she looks down. What they say is in line with what she'd rather thought was happening, to be honest, what she'd told Luke Cage she thought was going on. But the news that Azalea is declining even more hits her hard.

She'd love to be in two places at once too. She promised Bucky she'd never leave him alone, and she promised Az she'd fix the problem. And she can't. She cannot do both. She knows it before Zee is even done saying her piece, and she hates it.

Her answer comes, first, in the form of actions, not words. She reaches into her own phone to withdraw a storage room key. "They're in Unit 104 at the CubeSmart Self Storage at 444 W 55th Street," Jessica says softly. "I didn't want them to get lost here, so I stowed them there."

She will get to the case in a moment, but for now she has to process this. She wraps her hand around the panther necklace and looks up at Zee.

"I can't. Tear myself away, I mean. I…"

She swallows, because what she's about to say sounds really weird in her mouth on about 500 counts.

"Two reasons. First, this." She lets her clenched fingers fall away from the necklace to lift it up instead. "It's a long story but…King T'Challa has named me as an agent of Wakanda's interests. It's given us access to this…we haven't even tried to see if anyone else will be let in. It let me talk Peggy out of jail the other day. I— it's unique. I'm the only one who's got it. And..um. Second. Nearly everyone seems to have appointed me leader here. Some flat out, some indirectly. Zee," and this sounds a little aghast. "Even the 100 year old MI-6 guy is deferring to me. Even the SHIELD agents are doing it. I feel like an asshole saying that if I pop off and die in another realm, or even end up trapped there longer than it takes to complete a slurpee run at the Circle K, this whole case is going to fall apart and Bucky might die, but um. If I abandon this for even a second, this whole case might just fall apart and Bucky might die."

For someone with no confidence, for someone who almost always believes herself to be the big Downy paper towel of their circle (durable and disposable), this is both a bold and an unusual statement. It twists her lips, colors her cheeks. "I think nobody else can do what you two are doing right now, and I think…I think maybe that's true for me right now too."

—-

A pale hand reaches out to take the key offered to her, though she does this carefully, slowly. The deliberation in her movements, however, is less out of the suspicion that Jessica might not want to let go of her piece of Azalea's problem, and more because Zatanna is presently taking in the flutter of various emotions slipping through the other woman's pallour. Frustration, no small degree of self-loathing; her own softens upon seeing them, as always an empathic creature, all too willing to step into the shoes of the other to better understand what goes on inside their hearts. Considering her own connection to the case at hand, she knows

…but what to do about it is another matter, if there is anything she can do about it at all.

That small ember of frustration blossoms, overtaking the confines of her stomach - something sick and bitter twisting there, but one that she swallows if not just because Jessica's words from earlier are more dreadfully accurate than even she anticipates: there's no time. There isn't enough time. And all they can really do is do the best they can with the cards they've been dealt. She knows this, but that doesn't mean that she is pleased with it. She, armed with a ridiculous share of reality-warping abilities, and yet she can't give herself - give the both of them - the thing they need the most, unless she wanted to utterly ruin the space-time continuum.

And it's probably not a good idea to do that, no matter how overwhelming the desire is to be able to do everything.

Instead, she closes those long digits over the storage compartment key.

The raven-haired witch's eyes fall back on her necklace again once Jessica gestures to it. For a few moments, she says nothing.

When she finally speaks: "Well, I mean. No pressure, right?" Because she can't help it.

After another pause. "I get it, you probably took the offer so you could use his resources here in Wakanda to make sense out of Bucky's case here," she continues. "But what else does that mean, Jess? Being an agent of his. I mean…doesn't that mean that His Catty Majesty can just flat out order you to…I don't know. Make his situation here worse? I'm not all that sure as to what his history with Bucky is, but he's a king." The implication is there, the abuse of authority - must be all of that infernal punk anti-establishment music that John's gotten her to listen to since the first time they've met.

Raking her fingers through her hair, she nods. "I mean, like I said, I understand - if anything, that's what John and I figured also, that we could just divide and conquer both cases and pop in on one another in case we needed something the other could provide. I just don't know about this entire agent of Wakanda thing, is all. It sounds like a pretty…tricky position to be in."

—-

"No. Bucky's already in prison, already scheduled for execution. There's no making that worse. Back when it happened T'Challa made it sound like he was going to send me after him, but he either was saying that for political reasons, or I circumvented him on that count, or both."

The detective scrubs her fingers through her hair and says with some frustration and contempt, "Like I was ever going to let him use me to make his snatch-and-grab easier. I was on a plane five hours after the verdict for a reason."

She exhales. What else does it mean? She has been aware, on some level, that she has not entirely been living honorably on a heart level. It's been about Bucky. Not Wakanda. But she had pledged to look out for Wakanda's interests as if she were a native of the place.

"It means I'm tied to Wakanda for life now," she says. "On some level, some part of me is always going to be bound to this nation. The Dora Milaje have welcomed me as a sister. It means that even if they kill one of my dearest friends, I'm going to either come when they call or be executed as a traitor myself. It means…well. What it always meant from the moment I set myself on this path. It means the only good outcome here is to save his life. The only one. Because the truth is, Zee, T'Challa's a good man. This nation— well, I don't love the system of government, but there's a lot to love about it. Some part of it…gets under your skin. Beats in your veins."

She may be the only person who feels that way. Maybe it's because she's so loony. So in need of a sense of belonging that keeps slipping through her fingers. Or maybe there is something in her that really does resonate with the heartbeat of this place. Dryly she says, "I don't think they'll make me move here or anything. Just probably means Wakanda gets a shit ton of free PI work if they want it, I guess. We've all made some tough deals trying to save one another. I guess it was just my turn. I think it's probably less onerous than what Red gambled away, or whatever Jane did that I've been afraid to ask about. It makes me feel like a little bit of a traitor, to be honest, but. I think I did the right thing."

To say that surprises even her. She second-guesses her own actions so very often. It's rare to look at one and go 'no, actually, I did this right.' But for all that, this is the first time she's been able to talk about this in full, to express those feelings. She finds herself immensely grateful for Zee's presence all of a sudden; the girl has always been a phenomenal sounding board. "I'd count it a high honor really, if they didn't have a spear to Bucky's throat. They don't welcome outsiders so easily.

"Divide and conquer. I have some thoughts about that, come to think of it."

—-

…or I circumvented him on that count, or both.

Unbridled skepticism washes over Zatanna's face, too expressive, really, to hide it. "Like I said, he's a king," she replies. "As in, the head of state. I'm sure the succession rules are similar to every other monarchy in existence, but I've never heard of a predecessor-king who didn't insist that his heir take on some lessons in politics or whatever chess games people swaddled in the blanket of power get used to growing up. All I'm saying, Jess, is…well, you know what I feel about deals. You get all the perks now but that doesn't mean it won't get difficult later. I don't know. I'm just worrying, I think."

If nothing else, the resources that Jess has access to has been paying dividends, but she knows such advantages do not come without proportional costs, and she doesn't trust T'Challa - having never met him - not to make those onerous when the time comes.

"I get that he's probably a good man," she continues softly. Probably. "But he's a king first, Jess. Not saying you don't know what you're doing, but…you know me. I get uneasy when someone's made to get placed in a subordinate position."

In this room, at least, the private investigator is probably the only one who feels that way, but the witch can't help her displeasure - and her bias. T'Challa did extradite Bucky, after all, after a jury had cleared him of all charges, and is keeping him in a country that is hostile to his history, nevermind that he had seventy years of his life stolen and the decisions he made were not his own during those dark, tumultuous years. Perhaps it would be different, for her, if she had met the man face-to-face, but such roadblocks are difficult to get past, especially for one so young and powered by emotion.

"Well hopefully that's all they'll require of you," she remarks, letting the rest of the subject drop, but the uneasiness of the arrangement lingers, settling in the bottom of her stomach; a stubborn, heavy stone that she is presently unable to dislodge and forget about. She shifts on her feet, readjusts the way she leans on the console.

Divide and conquer. I have some thoughts about that…

"Yeah?" she wonders. "I'm all ears. I figured that's what has ended up happening, anyway, with you and Matt taking the lion's share of Bucky's case here in Wakanda and me and John taking care of Azalea's."

—-

Jessica winces, and whispers, "Hey, careful." Winces, in fact, in response to Matt's name. He's here as Daredevil and only as Daredevil, to the point where she's not even sure where he's staying, or how he's doing his laundry, or paying for anything at all. She had almost mother-henned him about it before deciding that he'd just say 'I'm fine, Jones' and end it right there. But such is her protectiveness that she all but tries to treat Matt Murdock and The Devil of Hell's Kitchen like they are two separate, distinct entities.

As for T'Challa, Jessica says, "Yeah. Well. I didn't set out to become an Agent of Wakanda. I set out to get access to the Wakandan Intelligence Service files. Which I didn't. I ended up in a duel, and then I ended up an agent instead. The bill will come due, and I'll have to deal with that, but better that than lose even one, even one tiny scrap of anything that could help here."

It's not even that Zee is wrong.

It's that Jessica Jones didn't see anything else she could do. She'd been pinioned by her own attempts as surely as a butterfly gets pinned to a board. And it's not like the stubborn panther is her favorite person in the world right now either.

She decides to just jump into what she can do, rather than continuing to focus on things she cannot change. "I can put in some calls," she says quietly. "I think Captain America would be here if he could, but the moment he steps foot here it's all like. Official American Intervention. He might appreciate being able to go help Az where I can't while I help Bucky where he can't. Or at least. Be willing. And…I'll call Tony too. Tony, at least, would like to get Az out of his basement. And he'd have fun shooting the goddess in the face with his giant hand canon. If I can't be there, getting you guys some more back up is the next best thing, I think. And…maybe it's for the best. Xiuhnel terrifies me. For all I know that could work against any effort in that realm in some real, palpable, pain in the ass ways."

—-

At the wince, the young woman claps her hand over her mouth. An apologetic look pushes aside the skeptical mask, Zatanna glancing around quickly. Not that they would know what she was talking about, anyway, if there are people listening; there are a billion Matts in New York City, but she understands why Jessica is being protective.

Much like the private investigator, she elects to move on - no sense in trying to change the things that are too late to change, focusing instead on the implication of an offer that Jessica provides.

And provide she does. The idea of additional backup has the raven-haired witch grinning ruefully. "I don't know what Cap would feel about punching an Aztec goddess," Zatanna remarks. "And considering after what happened in the trial, he might be better served staying where he belongs in case he needs to put out a few fires on the homefront. Tony, though….Tony can go anywhere and after everything he's done to help Azalea, it would be unfair if we didn't give him the opportunity to kick the source of all of his mystical problems right in the face. I'll ask John, see if he's willing to have Tony along and then…I guess we'll do this thing."

A small laugh escapes her then. "Might be worth it, though, to see Tony's face when John and I do our thing, and hear him mutter about how he can recreate it with his precious StarkTech."

—-

"He might be, but…I'll ask anyway. Cap was pretty great in Switzerland, you know? And in Ozone Park. At least give him the opportunity to say for himself what he wants to do," Jessica muses quietly. "He and Az had some ties, there was this really weird meeting in my apartment months ago, back before I replaced all my furniture."

She lets out a gentle laugh as far as Tony goes, and says, "Well, Tony, I think, is— well no. He'd kill me if I said that."

If she said that he was perhaps pretty insecure deep down, deflecting any criticism by criticising himself first, deriving so much of his self-worth from his inventions, his identity as Tony Stark (TM) instead of as Tony. Instead she says, "Tell John I'd trust Tony with my life. He didn't flinch when I asked him to take Az. He took care of Trish for me back when we were in Germany too. He was actually the one to call me when Trish took a bunch of weird pills and developed powers. That was a fun text to get, standing in Berlin. When I told him I was putting his case on hold to go to Germany the man asks if he wants to know, I say no, and he says, here are some panic buttons. I mean can you imagine this? He just decides to trust me, to commit resources to helping— massive, expensive resources— just for being asked. So don't let his demeanor fool you. He's a good man."

Jessica Jones, after all, knows a thing or…eighty…about wearing masks. About needing masks. Her own gruff, sarcastic, tempramental demeanor, her high walls, certainly hide a terribly soft heart.

She then sighs. "I'll call Azalea too though. She…should know why. Why, after I made her all those promises, I ultimately won't be there for her."

—-

"She was in Ozone Park also," Zatanna reminds, though her lips lift in the corners; a mere half a year ago, and it already feels like another lifetime. If nothing else, these recent-past nuggets of history only serve as a gauge as to how quickly they all rush past the days of their lives, tackling one problem after another, with barely any rest and with scarcely room to breathe. Not that they regret any of it, if nothing else, these constantly adverse circumstances have only forged these connections into tighter bonds - something that she has missed since her father's disappearance - but she can't help, always, but wonder about the point when someone, or something, becomes too much.

Too much to handle. Too much to cope. Too much to keep track of.

Unbidden, she remembers the last time she held an actual conversation with Peter Parker, at the wake of the events at Ozone Park; the ghost of his Uncle Ben, and how with great power comes great responsibility.

Maybe the world gives them so much, almost too much, because a dead man has managed to touch upon one of the more immutable laws of the universe - that maybe this is a truth that none of them can escape, having been born or grown 'special' in some way.

She considers the opposite; what if all of that just simply disappeared? Would they even be able to cope with mundane life after everything else they've seen, and experienced, and have grown accustomed?

Ice-blue eyes lift when Jessica turns her attention to Tony Stark, dark brows winging upwards. "I knew he provided you with tech before, and that you were handling some of his cases." She had no idea her regard had extended from beyond client-contractor and to something infinitely more significant. "I'll let him know." There's a long look directed at the private investigator's way. "Are you sure you're not getting less crusty and a little more optimistic about the human race the longer you run with this crew?" she wonders, unable to hide that growing hint of mischief playing on the line of her mouth. "I mean, this is the second name you've called a Good Man in one conversation. You're not leaving John with the role of being the resident jaded cynic are you? He'd be so lonely."

But that, too, fades; Zatanna's expression sobers at the last. "I think she'll understand," she tells Jessica quietly. "I know she's the sort to throw herself in a situation no matter what's required but I think in this instance she knows it can't be helped. Besides, she cares about Bucky, too. If anything, she might even get pissed if you decided to abandon him here for her when two experts and a Tony are already tackling her case."

—-

"My soul remains a black, charred thing," Jessica says dryly, clapping a hand to her chest as if to defend its status. "But no. No, I'm not sure. Because I keep meeting good people. I haven't been able to work myself into a truly good asshole froth that I enjoyed in months. Every time I aim my cutting wit at someone they turn out to be golden-hearted, and I feel like I'm kicking a motherfucking puppy. I'm losing my touch and shit. John really will be lonely. But…I guess I don't hate it."

Actually, she loves it. She feels halfway normal sometimes.

She nods at Zee's assessment of Az, looking down with a pained expression. "Yeah. Yeah she would be. Kid's still a hero at heart."

Don't look now, but there's a third one, apparently.

Still, talk of kicking puppies and who she has been an asshole to recently brings a grimace to her features, deepens the worry lines on her face, adds some tension to her shoulders— but she banishes whatever it is in favor of looking at all of the still-running attempts to cobble together simulations. It takes forever, bits of footage being patched together like a quilt. "As for this case, you and John shouldn't worry. Right now we're in 'wait' mode. That point in a case where you're running surveillance, or this sort of stuff, or waiting for contacts to get back to you, and you're doing that on every lead you can possibly find. When any of that starts bearing fruit we can proceed, but for right now? There's nowhere new to go."

—-

My soul remains a black, charred thing.

Another laugh escapes her, Zatanna turning eyes brimming with mirth towards Jessica. "Right," she tells her dryly. "I'm going to do you the favor of not pulling images from there." She taps her finger lightly on the woman's chest. "And reveal to the world that unicorns and rainbows are living in harmony inside of it." Clearly a jest, but that visible grin dances on her lips, unable to help a measure of levity - she hasn't seen Jess since the trial, after all.

Her reassurances go a long way, there's a glance sideways. "Honestly, it's not like I don't feel horrible about it," she tells Jessica. "I wish we could be in two places at once too, working each case with all of the zeal and drive that normally grabs us when something needs solving. I don't know if it's just piss-poor timing or what, but in the end…that's what a network is for." A rueful smile replaces her earlier brighter expression, slender shoulders pulling up in a shrug. "We've given each other so much shit not asking one another for help when things get too burdensome, and now that we're actually doing that, we're beating ourselves up not being able to do more. There's something ridiculously wrong with us, I think. And I don't mean just us two."

A hand pushes a lock of hair from her eyes, before it returns into the confines of one pocket. "Okay, so we're in wait mode. But if there's anything you think John and I can do, you know how to reach us, yeah? And who knows, chances are good that we might resolve this before things come to a head here, in which case John and I can be around and support you with whatever you need, full-time. Until then, though, it's enough that we keep both camps posted."

—-

Jessica Jones pokes at her chest suspiciously, as if concerned those unicorns might be poking their heads out. She's clearly just playing along at this point. She could use some levity, even though she distantly feels like shit every time she engages in any emotion that is not focus, or concern for Bucky Barnes. Even though it was Bucky who told her that kind of thinking was bullshit. And she had cocooned deeply at some point during the trial, shortly after her bare-all testimony. If Zatanna had been there watching in the stands that day Jessica hadn't noticed; she'd not really wanted to know who was listening to her lay bare almost every detail of her own past with mind control, hadn't wanted to see their faces, had tried to focus on being professional, believable, and most of all, not crazy.

She listens to what Zee has to say about networks versus doing more, and she says at last, "There's nothing wrong with us. You— we— can't do the stuff we're doing without…some sense of responsibility. Otherwise we'd be off trying to live normal lives, and damn our powers— " something she herself tried to do, but maybe it offers some perspective " —or we'd be using all this shit we can do for personal gain. The fact that we question ourselves is a good thing. Just…can't let it become self-abuse I guess." That one is so painfully a set of stolen words from Jana's mouth that Jess just flushes in embarassment.

"As it is, I'll call you if there is, yeah. Knowing you're on standby for sure is a good thing. I had been afraid to sort of— well. I didn't call you two right away because I'd already dumped Az on you both, you know? I…John's seemed a bit distant. Since I did that."

There's a lot packed in to those last two sentances: concern for John, bewilderment, concern that she might be imagining something, a lot of uncertainty. John and Zee were the first two friends Jessica ever made, and even now she's not sure entirely how to read certain signs or navigate certain waters.

—-

Can't let it become self-abuse.

"You're right," Zatanna replies, though really, in the end, that wouldn't be her. In spite of her upbringing under the watchful gaze of a brutal taskmaster, she has somehow managed to evade this pervasive affliction embodied by most of her closest acquaintances - this inability to love oneself, rendered impossible by past sins, countless deaths and the endless rivers of guilt and self-loathing from crimes both accidental and deliberate. Then again, these primary drives have also become the fuel in which they thrive as well, to push themselves to do everything and anything that is necessary to keep the world as is, so more innocent hands can remain pristine.

Hands like hers, she thinks with no small measure of remorse, unable to let go of the issue that started the row on top of a church roof in Berlin.

John's seemed a bit distant.

"He's working," is what she offers as an explanation; to assume the worst of John has burned her more times than she can count, though he would be the first to say that she wouldn't be lacking of a cause in thinking or acting that way. However, that does not change the fact that she has been and she remembers these instances all too well - painfully so, though it is miraculous enough in itself that any deleterious effects have been staved off by the fact that neither of them could be without the other for too long before everything else collapses like dominos. Oh yes, she learns….or at least, she is convincing enough of this when her temper remains placid and unriled.

"And you know how he gets when he's working. It's not because of you or what you did, Jess." In this, she tries to be sincerely reassuring. "It's just the way he is when he's embroiled in a situation where the stakes are relatively high. If you think he's bad now, wait until we really start cracking on the Brujeria." Another spate of darkness and trouble waiting for them in New York.

"Anyway, I mentioned this to you before, I think. I took on Az's problem well before you and I even got close. If anything, you just reminded me that I also have promises that desperately need keeping." Taking several steps over, she reaches out in an attempt to wrap her arms around the woman. "So stop fretting about everything, okay? We'll do our best with her, and you do your best with the goon squad here. And if you need anything, I can be here in a literal second."

She squeezes her tight at the last.

—-

She accepts the explanation with some relief. She hadn't been thinking the worst of John by any stretch, so much as worrying that she had in fact misstepped, but it's good to have some outside perspective. It's one less thing to stew over, to be sure, one less little worry to poke at her brain. "I know you did," she says, in response to Az and her problem…but. Sense of responsibility. And, in Jones' case? The fear that she's always asking more of others than she's giving to them.

Jessica Jones will never turn down hugs from certain people, and Zatanna is on the list. If anything, she's hungry for contact, even though it's been offered several times by one hand in particular, and she's shied away from it. She wraps her arms around Zatanna in turn, and for a moment just takes refuge there. This close, the woman smells of Marlboro Reds as much as the vanilla soap she favors, especially as sensitive as Zee's nose is to the hated cigarette smoke. Some bad habits are back on the docket, it seems, though there's no tell-tale hint of whiskey on the clothes. She closes her eyes and eases in, squeezing the other girl tight. "I don't fret," she grumbles, even though that's patently untrue.

On a more serious note, she murmurs, "Be careful, Zee. I'd hate to lose any of you guys there, and going to punch a goddess in the nose is a tall order. Call me with the outcome as soon as you can, okay? I don't care what time it is." She lets go, brown eyes serious.

—-

I don't fret.

"Yeah?" Zatanna remarks, closing her eyes and dropping her forehead on the taller woman's shoulder. "If you don't fret, then I'm the Queen of England."

She had read somewhere that smell is the most effective sense in triggering memory; it holds true for the absence of it, and while other scents pervade Jessica's proximity - cigarettes and all - it is the lack of that then-ever-present hint of whiskey that stands out from all the rest. Her position enables her to hide a smile, and she squeezes the private investigator all the more tightly because of it, a silent gesture of encouragement as well as a momentary indulgement of the inner emotional turbulence that make up the raven-haired witch. She has never shied away from physical contact; she even remembers the months when Jessica has.

And now…

"I'll let you know ASAP," she promises, taking a step back. "I figured after spending time in Germany and now in the secret depths of Africa that time differences don't mean shit to you now."

With that last tease and wink, she opens up a portal back to Brooklyn, stepping through it. "I'll be in touch."

And with that, it closes, and she is gone.

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