Get Back Out There

October 11, 2018:

Jessica Jones checks up on Zatanna Zatara in the aftermath of the events of Ties that Bind. She finds Zee may not be physically injured, but she's wounded nonetheless.

Titan's Tower

The shiniest of consonants.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Azalea Kingston, Bucky Barnes, Jane Foster, Red Robin, Matt Murdock, Danny Rand

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

She is in the Titans Tower - she hasn't left it since The Incident.

Contemplative silence enshrouds Zatanna Zatara today as she spends her time alone in the group's considerably enormous kitchen, bankrolled by the seemingly endless flood of cash that powers the secret machinations of the Wayne family. Dressed in her signature blacks, she's on one of the high chairs that surround the granite island in the middle of the space, her cup of espresso untouched. Pale fingers listlessly swipe through her tablet, to take in the headlines of the day, the news cycle has been dominated by the demonic invasion and as usual, every publication has started simply regurgitating what everyone else already knows.

Her sandwich is untouched, a delicious combination of seasoned eggplant and other vegetables; clearly yet another Chas Chandler creation, sent as a care package from John Constantine's best friend. Thankfully she hasn't been to the flat just yet, the man is one of the few people on earth she didn't want to disappoint, and the quickest way to ensure it is not to eat his food.

*

"Is that from Chas? Cause if you're not going to eat it, gimmie." It's a familiar voice, if one who is wholly out of place here at Titan's Tower.

Jessica leans in the doorway of the kitchen, looking about as signature as Zee does in her grey tank top, leather jacket, and battered jeans and boots. She is watching Zee with a critical eye, and makes no actual move towards the sandwich in question. Her voice dances with wry and gentle humor that does little to hide the concern in her dark eyes, the way her brows draw down at what she sees.

She doesn't launch in with anything else though, not wanting to dive in too fast. Based on what she sees right now, alone.

*

Jessica's familiar voice has her lifting her head, Zatanna's expression shifting from maudlin to surprised. "Jess!" she says, reaching out to give the woman a quick and tight hug. "Sure, it's all yours. Another famous chaswich that shouldn't be left to languish unconsumed. Seriously, it's practically a felony." With that, she pushes her plate towards the private investigator.

She also nudges a chair out for her, so she could sit. "What brings you here?" she wonders. "Do you need stronger wards? I was just reading…" She gestures on her tablet. "It's getting worse by the day, but the rest of my team are out trying to shut down the portals."

They are….and the fact that she isn't with them is telling enough. Normally she would be in the front lines of any and all things magical, but now…

…now…

She glances down at her detachable keyboard. "I should be with them, but…"

*

Jessica Jones is all too glad to hug Zee back. It's been too long, and she'll all but bear-hug her (though, of course, she does not over-do it or anything). When they part, she smirks and sits and takes the sandwich. Zee's questions will be held hostage to the way her eyes roll back in pleasure. Between Emery and these occasional Chas-treats she is definitely a woman who is not in danger of starving.

But once she's done with that, she admits, "I didn't even know there were portals. I figured you guys were on it, would call if you had special need of someone, and figured clean-up punching was the best way to help out on that front. So I'm pretty woefully underinformed."

She tilts her head and says, "What brought me to Titan tower was the word of a locust-person telling me Az was still alive. From her, I realized shit had hit the fan for you pretty hard over here. I only really got the part where she was compelled into trying to suck your blood our something? Anyway. I'm checking on you, trying to deal with her. You don't look any worse for well, but the whole listless tablet thing and the way you trailed off just now saying you should be with them says you aren't exactly okay either. So what's going on with you? What happened?"

*

What happened?

Zatanna looks away, her fingers finding the handle of her cup and she falls silent for so long that it might be that she elects not to answer her question. But when has she ever balked at this kind of questioning? She is one of the rare individuals in Jessica's circle who isn't an emotional cipher, when all of it is plain and worn on her sleeve. It does take a degree of patience to wait, however, and when she finally speaks:

"It all came out," she tells Jessica softly. "All of it. The dragon and its…wife. Lover. Whatever. They did something to me. It broke the seal that Daddy placed on me and…it shuttered away the part of myself that's capable of caring."

All of it. All of it.

"Jess, I nearly killed them. The Titans. I broke nearly every bone in Impulse's body. I told Nico to bleed and she did….nonstop. Endlessly. She nearly died. I told Raven to feel all of New York's suffering and Red and Spidey…and the worst part is that at the time, it felt…"

Good, she finishes silently. It felt so good. To embrace the endless fountain that has resided inside her since she was a child. To not fear it.

After a moment, she continues. "Nico and Raven figured it out, in the end. They managed to turn me back to myself, but…they say it's not my fault, but I'm not blameless. I was afraid of what I had all my life, and I just kept running away from it. If I had just womanned up and dug into it instead of just….avoiding the issue all the time, maybe I could have kept it all from happening."

*

Many people don't credit Jess with having patience. It's an easy assumption to make. Her ready temper and her take-no-shit attitude don't really bring patience to mind. They miss the hours sitting and staring at nothing. Wedged between buildings, sitting on rooftops, lurking in cars. They miss the hours carefully combing through public records or filling out endless FIA requests to find the leads buried in the boring. And they miss moments like this, where she knows getting the answers to her questions means keeping her mouth shut.

Easy enough to do. It is now occupied with the sandwich.

But whatever she was expecting, that wasn't it. That Zee would have her own story of deep, intense guilt to share had not made it onto her internal radar as being on the list of possibilities. But there's nothing but empathy in her eyes as she listens to Zee tell the tale of her loss of control coupled with a sudden inability to care, a sudden desire to do nothing more than revel in the power she's run from all her life. She flashes on Bucky and Jane, completely remorseful after having a similar experience with too much power coupled with too little conscience, all artificially imposed.

She puts a hand on Zee's arm, if allowed, and says quietly: "Zee. The most important phrase in there was they did something to you. That wasn't you. That was something done to you. And why shouldn't you have been afraid of it? All your life your father, the person you respect, love, and admire the most, sealed it from you. All your life you've been taught that you don't touch shiny magic until you're damned good and ready, that you pay your dues and take your time, or you unleash terrible consequences on yourself and others. Blame is sort of a weird concept to begin with, but the thing is you and John have always taught me that having a healthy degree of real caution around magic is the only intelligent move, and the more powerful the magic the more healthy that caution had best be. So while this could and maybe should inform what you'll do differently in the future, how you'll handle your power?"

She tilts her head to the side. "Blaming yourself for it, trying to time travel back with 20/20 hindsight? Makes about as sense as me freaking out because something I crushed like a pop can and stuck in a potted plant ended up hurting you. Someone exploited a weakness. Things went wrong, the way they sometimes do. You would never hurt anyone if someone weren't fucking with you."

*

She allows it; Jessica's hand on her arm is welcome, and the consideration there prompts the burning sheen of traitorous moisture in ice-blue eyes directed elsewhere. Zatanna has always had an expressive face - even if she could hide behind impassivity, she never elects to do so, her own masochism apparent in the way that she leaves herself so open to others - open enough to be scratched, burned or skewered by rejection, hate or worse. She heeds Jessica, of course, she listens despite it all, knows that on some level that she is right.

But not completely.

You would never hurt anyone if someone weren't fucking with you.

She thinks back to a cold winter two years ago, sitting next to the man she loves, looking him in the eyes after another row that threatened to destroy whatever bridges they made with one another over the course of their lives.

I wanted to hurt you, John.

"I'm not a saint," she admits to Jessica quietly. "I think…the last few months, I've been learning as to how painfully true that really is." Her journey within the battlefields of Herself have only made her learn the hard way that she isn't as selfless as she wants to be. Not as brave as she wants to be.

She takes a deep breath, and finally looks over at Jessica again, smiling ruefully. "You're right, though. Mistakes are how you know to do better next time, right?" And nobody knows that better than Jessica Jones.

After a pause, she continues, switching tracks. "So what do you think, about Az? I haven't talked to her yet…I've been trying to get up the courage to do it. I nearly incinerated her from the inside out, when she fed on me. The fact that I hadn't been there for her when she disappeared…it's just been hard."

*

“If you were a saint," Jess says with a twitch of her lips, "you'd be so fucking annoying. Sainthood is not the criteria for entry into the hero game. Wanting to make things better is. Giving a shit about people is. You've got that covered."

But the conversation turns to Az, and she says, "Az is in the same boat you are. For different reasons."

She sighs, troubled. "I thought she was dead, you know. In the bombings. I thought she was just straight up dead. But what really happened was she was in Alias when it blew up. Saw one of our clients get blown to pieces in front of her eyes. So she went after Wilson Fisk herself, intending to kill him. Everyone who touched the Fisk thing wanted to kill him, seriously considered it, at one point or another. But Fisk was not stupid. He knew we had an Aztec god, so he got his own. Mimich. Xihunel's brother. He somehow managed to convince Mimich to try to kill Az. And Az didn't want him unleashed on the world in any case, not as mad as he seemed to be, so she went full on god and swept him into the void. They were struggling there, she says, and Mimich got the bettter of her. Here I don't exactly get it, but I guess he…bit her? And she lost a bunch of her juice? Anyway, before he could finish her off this thing calling itself Gorr the Godslayer came along and finished Mimich. Az says the stars of the void were practically dripping with his blood, and that the kind of power it takes to do that borders on the obscene. That even gods have trouble killing other gods. So here she was. Alone and afraid in this void, and this creature tells her gods have basically ruined her life, that she shouldn't be tainted with god power. That if she agreed to do just one little thing for him, he'd take that from her and send her back. She didn't ask what he wanted, she just said yes. I'm not sure she had much other choice really, but…bad bargains with bad supernatural things being bad, she was geased to it by the time he dumped her back on earth. And apparently the task in question was…biting you? Feeding on you? Anyway, she feels pretty shitty about all of it. You two sound exactly like one another right now. She didn't want to hurt you any more than you wanted to hurt your other friends."

She hesitates and says, "Red's got her locked up tight. He was closer to the cell than you were. He said he'd release her to me as long as it was okay with you."”

*

What Jessica says about Azalea's plight is disturbing enough that Zatanna brows knot in the middle, the line of her mouth deepening into a frown. "What— wait… what?" A testament as to just how ridiculous the story would seem to anyone even within the magic and mysticism community. She falls silent after that, however, because frankly, this one needed a few more minutes to parse.

"…so she had to bite me in order to fulfill the geas?" she wonders. "Well, that's not concerning at all. You've been in enough weird runs for me not to have to remind you that blood is potent." For magical workings - most things that are connected invariably to Life and living usually are.

As for Red, the fact that he has her locked up isn't surprising. Not just the fact that Azalea has always been dangerous, but he was also one of the very few people privy with her tumultuous history with her repeatedly god-cursed friend. "I'm surprised he hasn't locked me up," she mutters. "Then again, he's from Gotham. Mind-control and other similar shenanigans happen there every other Tuesday."

She takes a breath and looks over at Jessica. "You talked to her," she begins. "How is she? If we did remove her from lock up, would you be able to keep an eye on her? You're one of the few that she loves and ever listens to."

*

"She can't stop crying. She says she should have just died. And I don't know if bite is the right word, Zee, all this shit is a little over my head. Whatever she did to you? That's what she was supposed to do. She seems…fragile. I want to take her, well, not home, but…I guess close enough. Back to where I've been staying. There's a whole bunch of us over there right now. I think being around people will be good for her. Especially people she can mostly…get a fresh start with. I don't think anyone who is staying there has met her except Matt."

Jessica exhales and says, "She's not reverting, or anything. She's still fixed, the way you guys fixed her. I don't think she's dangerous. To you or to others. I think it was a one-time mindfuck from a cosmic entity. Could happen to anybody."

It's not just Gotham where this shit seems to go down every Tuesday anymore. Just a cosmic entity. How things have changed.

"And I can keep an eye on her, yeah. I already told her I think we should work more closely together. I have some ideas about getting her a new place to live, once we finally all stop abusing Danny's hospitality, and, well, when I get my new office I'm going to get her a desk. And Danny already said it was okay for my to bring her over there."

*

That doesn't skip her notice. Just a cosmic entity? Zatanna can't help but smile, however faintly.

"I trust you," she begins. That, at least, has not change since the first time she stepped in Jessica Jones' office two years ago, believing that she could help her unravel the mystery of her missing father. "If you think getting out would be even helpful to Az, I don't see why she should remain in lockup any longer. Plus at this point, you know her better than I do. She really loves you, Jess. Even if I had no other cause to extend my faith, that one, I could always hang my hat on."

*

Jessica looks relieved. "As it happens, I really love her too," she says. "Thanks, Zee. I appreciate it."

And with that, she leans forward and asks, "Do you need my help closing these portal things? Because you know I'm on it if you do. You are gonna get back out there, right? Every time I sucker punch a demon I think: this is fine, John and Zee are on it." This is seriously what she does, by the tone.

But she also knows Zee could use a laugh. Even if it means sacrificing her own dignity. So she adds, "I promise I haven't punched even one of them in the ass. Not even the spider-shaped ones."

If nobody's gonna let you live a thing down anyway, and all evidence has pointed in the past to that being the case, one might as well use it for a good cause.

*

You are gonna get back out there, right?

Zatanna can't help but laugh, picturing it, and reminded of their more harrowing encounters back in their first year of acquaintanceship. Ashley will live forever in infamy, despite her messy end.

And after a moment's deliberation, she nods firmly, her expression taking on a more determined cast. "I will," she says - crushing her misgivings under the weight of that promise.

*

Jessica smiles. "Good," she says. She leaves it at that for a moment, letting the fact that Zee is going to get back in the saddle have its own air to breathe. It's an important thing, that two word promise. And it deserves a moment.

But then she speaks again, sounding contemplative.

"You know," she says, "I honestly don't remember if I ever got gooshy enough to tell you that you and John saved my life. You started it, walking into my office, believing in me despite how it all had to look, how I treated you, how I smelled. You guys just believed in me, and it made a huge difference. Helped me change. And I'm getting gooshy to tell you this now because…well. Today I am precisely, and I mean precisely, one month away from being sober for a whole year. And it never would have happened without you. You made a difference. A huge one. In my life. And if I have told you before, well…it's just that…you should remember stuff like that. Hold on to it. On balance, you've helped way more people than you've ever hurt. You've made a huge difference in all kinds of lives. Just…kind of let those wins find their way back inside you when something like the other night start making you feel like crap."

She tilts her head from side to side, a little embarrassed. But it bore saying. Once she hits that actual mark she intends to at least say something to everyone who made that kind of a difference. It was a group effort, helping her along the way, but she wouldn't have gotten here without her friends, intervening, helping, inspiring, all at different points along the way.

*

She's heard similar from Tim Drake - not that she's saved his life, though she would like to think that they've saved each other's lives in the years they've known one another, but how she's made a difference. The fact that it's coming from Jessica Jones, however, is surprising and ice-blue eyes turn to the private investigator, lips parted slightly in astonishment. If nothing else, it only hammers home all of Jessica's changes.

It's almost too much. And yet, not enough. Out of nowhere, a hard knot coalesces in the back of her throat, rendering it difficult to swallow. Eyes take on a suspicious sheen.

Finally, she extends a hand, to tangle her fingers into the other woman's own, and squeezing it tightly. Her jaw works, in an effort to find something eloquent to say that wouldn't reduce her to a messy, sobbing mess.

And finding none, a rarity in itself, she opts for a simple: "I needed that." Her voice is raw and hoarse. "Thank you, Jess."

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