Better Wards and Bardoms

May 08, 2018:

Jessica Jones stops by John Constantine's to ask a favor.

John's Flat, New York City

It's 4 AM, it must be lonely.


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Trish Walker, Luke Cage, Jane Foster, Zatanna Zatara

Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

The universe has few constants. Ask a magician, and they might tell you that it has none at all, probably in that smugly superior way that suggests they're actually implying they could change the immutable at whim. But it does have some, anyway; paradoxically one can be constantly sure that things will change, for instance.

Also generally a constant: John isn't getting enough sleep, and he's embroiled in something that has him keeping odd hours, spending time in strange places, doing bizarre things with weird people.

Four in the morning. That's the time he tells Jessica he has available: four in the morning. It's a practically nonexistent time of day for sane human beings, but there it is. And here he is, once she finds her way to the door he tells her will be set to grant her access to the flat: shirtsleeves unbuttoned and rolled up, tie ever-loose, hair slightly more mussed than usual and the cut of his jaw dusted over with what must be close to two days of stubble. He's standing at the long, low desk near the shelves along the right-hand wall, past the sitting area, staring down at an array of books, and rather than issue any kind of usual greeting when he hears her come in, he lifts a hand and beckons her silently, without looking up.


As it happens, Jessica is still up at four in the morning. Sometimes her sleep schedule resembles a vampire. Much of a PI's work happens in the dark of the night, and lately it's happening that way moreso than usual.

She has a big box tucked under her arm.

She's also got the hood of her hoodie pulled up, tightly tied around her face in a way she doesn't normally wear it. The reason why may become apparent, if only because she's just given up on hiding it from friends even though she has to keep it covered on the street for the persona she's building to stay a built persona. Problem is, it looks terrible, the hair she now reveals. It's the most amateur bottle-bleach-blonde dye job anyone has ever done ever, with about six colors of blonde unevenly worked in and the particular burnt quality that happens when someone just manages to ruin their hair with a home dye kit.

Meanwhile, Jones takes one look at John and his stubble, his furious work, his silent beckoning greeting, and she winces, feeling a bit guilty. "If I'd known you were deeply embroiled," she says, "I might have waited. Though…can I help? With anything?"

Yeah, sure, she's planning on going undercover in a dangerous location where she could be in deep serious shit in a heartbeat if she's caught, but there are people she will always stop and help no matter what's going on, and John's one of them. Both because he's John…

And because everything she mostly has worked on with him has been some level of near-Apocalyptic to really-freaking-Apocalyptic.

It's a factor.


"Mmmmmno. Not unless you—"

And then John looks up.

The sight of her catastrophic bleach job leaves him speechless, mouth open and every word he'd been planning to say presumably having fallen out of it unsaid. The pause is not long, but it probably feels that way. "Well, I was going to say 'are an expert in arcane offshoots of Sumerian cuneiform,' but maybe I ought to lower the bar a bit. Christ, Jones, you look a mess. And the last time I saw you, somebody had just finished trying to turn you into jam, so that's really saying something."

Always tactful, our John.

He pivots, folding his arms, and visibly tries to decide whether or not to ask her what the hell happened to her hair, sucking his teeth behind closed lips. In the end, he does not: "So, what's got you out at the ass-crack of dawn, mate?"


Jessica sighs and runs her fingers through it. She knows. Boy does she know. But the tactlessness doesn't seem to upset her. "I'm gonna ask Trish for help. It's for a job. Which is also what has me up at the ass crack of dawn. And…seeing your smiling face, of course. I am not an expert in offshoots of Sumerian cuneiform, but I did bring you these."

She puts the box down by his elbow. "Might be useless to you, but I thought I'd bring them over anyway. Payment from a client who went bankrupt and couldn't pay anything else, but who wanted to put something in. A bunch of really clear, really nice semi-precious stones. Some of them were types that I remembered reading in some of Zee's books were sometimes useful for purposes I didn't really get. I also have a favor to ask, but these things are unrelated. I had these set aside for you awhile back."

She rubs the back of her neck, mentioning she's come to ask a favor. Not her favorite thing to do ever, and he has long known her reticience to ask for magical favors beyond either pointing him towards things he'd want to know about anyway or his one major one of warding her head, a thing she has blessed him for every single day.


Here she is.


John's brow perks as he watches her tote the box over to set it down, tilting sideways enough to angle sharp blue eyes down into the depths of it — curious, but not curious enough to unfold his arms. "Ta." That is about as effusive as thank-yous from the scouser magus every really get. "I'll let her know."

By the time he's looking at her again she's cupping her nape with a hand and generally looking abashed in a grudging sort of way. It gets a single twitch from the corner of his mouth. "Look, Jones. The kinds of favors you're likely to ask for don't worry me, savvy? You don't know enough about magic to ask for the really fiddly stuff, so, out with it." There's a pause, during which his eyes visibly angle slightly upward. "Though if you've come to ask me to try to fix that debacle on your head, I'm honestly not sure even magic's up to the task. Are you certain your sister's not made some kind of pact with dark forces beyond the ken of all mankind?"


"Of course she's in a pact with dark forces beyond the ken of all mankind. She's a celebrity," Jessica says dryly, smirking. "But no. It is not about my hair. Promise."

She hesitates. She's glad the types of favors she asks for don't worry him, but there are a whole host of reasons that she is maybe reticent. Starting with, "So I um. Have a boyfriend."

See? All the reasons. In her weirdly compartmentalized life she thinks there are only a handful of her friends who know that she is no longer single, that she's in something semi-stable at all. She is possessed of a host of weird reasons as to why she feels weird about revealing this part of her personal life. It's not like John and Zee didn't see her develop her first crush in literally years and years over a year ago. But that's different from actually stepping forward into an actual sort of thing with an actual, living, breathing, available person. And doing it for more than two weeks before she dumps him via text, a debacle which also did not get widely advertised to…much of anyone.

"And he had this bar. Which a shithead blew up with a bomb. And he is now rebuilding. Said bar. And I was wondering if you'd be willing to maybe. Protect it. When it's built all the way."


So I have a boyfriend.

The response is immediate, monotone and dry, delivered deadpan: "My condolances."

And…that's it, really. No questions. Questions, after all, invite questions.

When she gets to her actual ask, he hoists his shoulders in a non-committal shrug. "Possibly. What sort of protecting are we talking about? Something like the wards on Barnes' and Foster's place? I'm going to assume you don't want me to take up bouncing at the door."


Jessica snorts a little bit as he says my condolances. It's such a John thing to say.

"Yeah, wards," Jess says. "I mean if it's possible to do that for a public building? I don't know if a zillion people walking in and out of a place weakens the…things…it needs."

But he didn't tell her out of hand that it's not possible, and he probably would have if that were the case, so she just stops. And relaxes a little bit. Despite his snark, which she doesn't seem capable of matching tonight (it must be the freaking hair), he's taking it all in stride.

"I'm not even sure what would be a productive way to set them up. Apparently whatever they used last time was really hard to detect and piggybacked on the booze, though I wasn't there so I don't know for sure. I think they got everyone out before anyone got hurt, but nobody would probably be so lucky the next time. And he and some other friends pissed off his enemy trying to help me. Succeeding in helping me."

Sure, Luke also had a lot of personal stakes in the raid, but…

Well, this is news worth sharing. "Among other things, they got rid of Kilgrave. For good. So it's not just about…you know. Me being. Schloompy."


At some point his eyes wander away from her, focused front, toward the other long wall of the flat as he unfolds one of his arms, elbow propped, to rub at his jaw, cheeks, and chin thoughtfully. It would be easy given the distance that slides into his gaze to assume he's tuned her out, isn't hearing what she's saying, but that doesn't appear to be the case: "Good. One less nasty prick in the world to worry about."

Two heartbeats later he sucks a breath in as he tilts suddenly up out of his lean against the table, pivoting — that hand still on his chin, the other propped low at his hips — to look at the shelves behind him, browsing spines. "Whether it's possible depends on what you want it to do. Obviously, 'keep strangers out' doesn't work. Neither does the thing I've set for Barnes and Foster, precisely — not to let anybody in that they don't want there. In that case, it hinges on the wanting, and trouble is your bloke's got strangers coming in off of the street and no way of knowing whether he wants them there or not. Something like, 'nobody can come in if they've got ill intentions toward the owner' may work, but 'ill intentions' is quite vague, innit? And then you've got the difficulty of explaining why it is that some would-be customer with a grievance against his beer selection has suddenly gone all mollusc on the sidewalk."

The sound of his fingertips rasping in stubble whispers for a moment before he finally reaches with that hand to tug a book from the shelf, cradling it in one arm and opening, then paging through it, with the other. "Is it just blowing the place up and burning it down you're worried about? Could set something up that prevents fire from catching at all, but it won't distinguish the difference between a bloody bomb and some pillock's lighter, you understand."


Jessica listens to the explanation, to the tactical problems of setting up magical wards on such a thing as a bar. She finds a chair and spins it so she can straddle it, draping her arms over it. She never fails to be fascinated by the ins and outs of John's trade, even though she has sense enough not to grow too fascinated. And she often listens closely so she can ask good questions anyway.

But in this case, she doesn't need to. He hits on what seems to her to be the perfect solution at the end of his musings.

"That would work perfectly. He'll have mundane security measures too. It wouldn't be solely responsible for defending the bar, your spell. He's literally bulletproof so someone wandering in with simple ill intent is gonna find they messed with the wrong bartender on the wrong day, but keeping it from catching fire for any reason is just fine. Ruined is ruined whether it's a dude with a lighter or a bomb. Even if the bomb is more freakin' dramatic."

She quirks a smile. John is as intent and thorough in the large and the small alike. Warding a bar or saving a city block. Diving into the problem and giving it his full attention. It's a quality she appreciates about him.


"Easy enough." Still, John doesn't immediately reshelve the book, and after a moment he glances up at her again, hand splayed atop the page the book is open too. "But, listen. I don't know shite about whoever was responsible for trying to blow up the bar, mind, but I know a thing or two about bad sorts. It's possible they'll try the same thing twice, yeah? Another bomb? But it's just as likely they'd try something else, instead, because they've done the bomb already and you're all a bit piqued about it, I expect. They'll know you're thinking about it. It may bear thinking about what else they're likely to try, before you settle for putting the damper on fire and calling things good. Yeah?"


This is also true.

Jessica rocks forward in her chair, pulling the back two legs up. She balances there, thoughtfully, as if some part of her just takes great joy in abusing chairs. Then again, she's holding most of the weight of this exercise on her ankles, and not on the chair itself.

Think like assholes.

"Jesus I don't even know. Poison gas, poisoning the booze, crazy bio-agents, telling Luke playing my sister's music is a great idea…"

She thumps it back down, stands up, and paces around a bit. "So far this guy…he's hit back all kinds of ways really, already. Hmm. Someone could shoot up the bar too. Wouldn't hurt Luke but would hurt his patrons which is about the same thing. And they're building an apartment complex over it, there's all sorts of people who could be living there."

She does a whole host of things that are not very nice, sometimes, to stop people doing even worse things, but she has to stretch her mind for a sec to really think her way through this sort of maliciousness.


"Bulletproofing is going to be something you want to do with fancy glass and building materials, not magic," says John, rolling one strong, wiry shoulder upward into a shrug. "Foster can probably help you with that, though if she gets it into her head to involve magic you ought to let me know, because I've frankly bloody had it with Jane Foster, quantum bloody magician." He sniffs. It's the sort of sniff that contains worlds of opinion beyond the stated, though he elects to spare her the full extent of his grievances.

"Couldn't say when it comes to the poison. May be able to whip up a little knick-knack to detect a variety of the common ones, at any rate. Inanimate canary for the coal-mine, so to speak."


"I kind of got the impression she was done after that Demon Bear bullshit," Jessica says.

She doesn't need his list to guess at them. As it is, she found the whole thing disturbing. Jane running that line into her arm, spilling her blood, going into the Machine, then doing a lot of vomiting. Of more blood. Needing a spit covered finger in her ear to snap her out of it, that was extra fun.

Well. Actually that part kind of was. The vomit? Not so fun.

She pulls out a pack of cigarettes and starts tap tapping them on her hand. She slides one out, and then puts it in her mouth. And offers one out to him as well. It's not his cloves, it's her Marlboros, but she's polite. Not that the whole cigarette in her mouth combined with the terrible dye job doesn't make her look just like a dive bar floozy, but it is what it is. The hoodie downplays it a little bit. That just combines with those two things to make her look like a Person of WalMart.

"And if that wasn't a wakeup call, I don't know what the fuck even would be. But I have bulletproof windows these days at Alias, I'll just tell him to get some of those, you're right. They just make them and sell them now. No need to put Jane on that one."

She contemplates the canary for the coal-mine. "That's a cool idea too," she says, another flash of a grin appearing around the cigarette now clenched firmly in her lips. The hand not occupied with offering John a cigarette is searching about for her lighter.


John, incredibly enough, waves off the offer of a cigarette — but after who knows how many days awake, he's probably pushing the upper limits of what even his lungs can handle. "I ought to point out that the anti-combustion ward is going to affect everything. If he's got a kitchen, it won't work, you understand. All electric, or it's going to be useless. And if someone did happen to break in and try to cause a scene, guns a'blazing, they'd very quickly find that their guns can't do any blazing at all. Though that works both ways, Jones — you'll not be able to use firearms of your own in there. Not that it sounds like he needs to, what with being bulletproof, but…" He lifts that splayed hand and tilts it at the wrist, a gesture that says: there you have it.

"All of that's simple enough to do. It'll need to be periodically refreshed unless the bar's on top of a ley line. He can pay me in pints." The thin smile says this is a joke, but chances are good that John will eventually come calling for those pints — joke or no.


"I don't think he had a kitchen before," Jessica says thoughtfully. "And if he does put one in I don't think he's gonna go for gas. For all the reasons we're now discussing. Still, they just dug out the sub-basement, so there's plenty of time for him to choose fixtures that will mesh with this."

She tucks the cigarette away and says, "I of course have no idea about the ley-lines, but I'll tell him about the pints." Because she thinks that's pretty reasonable, the pints. She makes the note about the guns. She may be really damned new to carrying one, but it's good to know when it's a line of defense and when it is not a line of defense. "Thanks John," she says. "I really appreciate this."

She pulls out a piece of paper and scrawls down the address. "I'll text you when there's actually a building there to ward."

This was kind of non-urgent, but something Jess wanted to get out of the way before a host of urgent things ensured she never got around to actually asking. But she takes in his general state again and furrows her brow. "Is the Sumerian cuneiform dangerous and urgent or are you just rocking the insomnia, man?"


A quick glance at the address, and then John drops it into the book he's holding, marking the page in question — presumably something related to the wards they're discussing, though the page itself is, as one expects of a proper grimoire, basically indecipherable to any uneducated eye. He tosses it aside next to the mess he was browsing previously with the carelessness and lack of reverence that have made him a reluctantly tolerated pariah amongst his contemporaries, and refolds his arms, sinking back into his lean. Her 'thanks' receives another one-shouldered shrug, short on ceremony.

The look she gives him after that earns a cocked brow and note of skepticism. "By the time people are desperate enough to involve me it's always serious as an 'eart attack, I'm 'fraid. Exorcism's bgrueling, awful work, but it keeps the lights on." Pause. Grudgingly: "…So to speak." His cocked brow knits with its opposite. "Do you know how many sodding people in New York are possessed? It's mad, Jones. At least as many as you'd expect if you were making a joke about the New York frame of mind, and probably twice that. But it's the city that never sleeps, they tell me, so I've got to stay ahead of the curve if I mean to get a drop on the rest." He winks, then, and after a moment of stillness and silence he's up on his feet again, pivoting around, back to the books he was looking at when she arrived. He can be a patient man, but only in select ways…and now that he's in the thick of an investigation, he can't tolerate even the quiet that comes along with socializing with one of the few individuals he'd actually call a friend. "T'any rate, I'll put it all together. Get 'tanna to help, maybe. It'll be ready to go when you are."


"I did not know how many possessions were in New York City, but now I'm questioning every last one-night stand I ever had, so thanks for that," Jess says dryly. "Still, good to know you're ahead of the curve."

She lights her cigarette and stands up as she tucks the pack away, letting out a brief breath of smoke. He goes back to his book, says he'll get on it, and she takes that for a dismissal. "Still. The city never sleeps, but you should, eventually. I'd be more worried, but Chas will probably just crunch up a bunch of Benadryl into your insanely delightful breakfast in a few hours."

She stifles a yawn, then another, and says, "But perfect. Tell Zee to come see me when she comes up for air, I miss her."

Not that Jess is any better in the coming up for air department. Workaholics all, the lot of them, doing best when they're all brought and bound together by…well. Work. But hey, that makes her feel like less of a freak for her own tendencies.

With that, she starts wandering towards the exit of his flat, still stifling yawns.

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