The Devil You Dunno

October 14, 2018:

Pepper's been in a panic room since the demons took over Manhattan, and someone has finally found her.

Stark Tower, Manhattan

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Tony Stark, Darkedge

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

It's been several days, though it feels like infinitely longer. What had started as a normal day turned out to be… some manner of doomsday. She'd been just starting a conference call when the phone cut out. At her indignant question, FRIDAY simply informed her that there was an emergency, refused to explain, and had one of Tony's bots practically shove her into a panic room just off of her office's washroom.

The bot ran out of battery about three days in, and without a way to recharge the poor thing, she set it carefully into one corner of the panic room. The rest of the room is surprisingly comfortable for a panic room, with an unlimited supply of water in its tiny but completely functional washroom.

The food leaves much to be desired.

And the complete lack of communication with anyone or anything outside of the room. Even FRIDAY appears to have been locked out.

*

'Infinitely longer' might be stretching it, but the demonic invasion has been close to three weeks strong… and Pepper's faced it alone. Or at least, hidden from it alone. No way in or out. No lifeline, prospects for rescue: low. At least, low until contact is restored with Stark Tower and a more general liberation is underway— and who knows how much longer that will take. The surveillance linked to the panic room is long since dead, a bank of static-displaying monitors linked to long-useless cameras.

Even within the Tower itself, Pepper is cut off. At least knowing Stark, she has enough meal-bars and MRE's for awhile! The warding on the panic room is good— expert even, but the kind of forces arrayed against her in here? They probably could have found a way in; if they cared. Some people just can't recognize an opportune deal when they see it— John Constantine is not one of those people. He's also one of a very, very select group capable of even -finding- Pepper here— much less reaching out to her.

So it is that one of the posh chairs in the people vault is occupied by a disheveled Englishman in slacks and a mostly-white button-up accompanied by a tie that looks loose enough to be ready to fall off, all half-covered over by the classic brown trenchcoat. He's smoking a cigarette, but curiously, the smoke it gives off does not seem to permeate the room with any particular odor.

John kicks his feet up on an adjacent table and lounges, making himself right at home. "Nice place innit?" He observes, patient for the point Pepper notices him, and if he's a lucky asshole, starts half out of her skin. "Then again, there's no nice place to die." Sugar coat it why don't you, John?

*

Having grown accustomed to there being no one and nothing else in this room, Pepper steps out of the tiny washroom area wearing only two things — a towel around her torso covering from underarms to knees and a towel wrapping her hair like a turban.

That's another thing this place lacks: laundry capability. There's only so much she can do with the washroom sink for a laundry basin and the shower door for a clothes line.

It takes her an almost embarrassingly long time to notice there's anyone else in the room with her, and he's even got a cigarette in hand. Her yelp of surprise is anything but dignified, but then, there's a strange raggedy man in her panic room and a glance at the sealed door proves he didn't enter that way.

"Who the… how did you get in here? And put that disgusting thing out." Wait. She can't smell the cigarette smoke. Her realization is visible in her expression as her eyes narrow at John.

*

A better man, a man with shame would clear his throat, avert his eyes. John just grins, and chuckles quietly to himself. A whimsical shrug is expressed by his scruff-accented expression and not his shoulders, brows rising, eyes implying Constantine's just as puzzled as Pepper is. Which is, of course, utter nonsense.

"Quite a pickle." John observes, keen master of the obvious that he is. "Not much position for strong bargainin'." Which he punctuates by taking a long, defiant drag from that cigarette, its smoke dissipating some feet from him, still odorless to Pepper. Which does tend to lend a certain impotence to the rebellion; but that's anarchism for you.

"But you're in luck, luv. You've got a serious demon-scented flavor to your pickle, and that just happens to be a speciality." He'd bow, flourish, but John's busy lounging. He just kind of makes a half-hearted little sleight of hand with the non-smoking limb, instead.

"Exorcisms, cleansings, god's work. 'cause fuck knows He ain't doing it. Little help sound good about now, Miss Potts?" It's definitely a step up from beseeching such demons to honor a pact, but John's a little devilish nonetheless.

*

Somehow, despite being dressed in only towels, Pepper manages to stand a bit straighter and look at the smokestack of a Brit with every bit of executive dignity she would have in a Chanel business suit. "So it's demons. As luck would have it, I was recently preparing for that eventuality. There was a stock of road salt and some gallon jugs of holy water that a friend of mine was helping me collect. Get in contact with him — there are two tumblers in my office. They look like they're made from yellow and purple glass. Take either one of them, put yourself in a dimly lit room, and think loudly. The maker of the tumbler will find you."

She pads over to sit primly on the trunk of food supplies, as the man is in HER chair. "Or did you have some other harebrained idea, Mr. Holographic Man?"

*

"Probably easier to just give me a name, luv." Free roaming of Stark Tower is perhaps not -entirely- beyond him— but it certainly promises the likelihood of complicating John's life considerably, and his life is complicated enough. Kicking his feet off the table, Constantine uses the momentum to languidly rise, cracking his neck; or rather, not cracking his neck.

"I'm definitely an idea man. Now an' then, I even get a good one." The self-deprecating wit certainly holds its elements of truth. "You're half right. See— a hologram is fake. Just an illusion, a parlour trick, eh? This.." the Laughing Magician indicates his scraggly projection, "This is as real as you, luv. Just a little sans flesh, at the moment." Even the projection of John's soul is haggard; or maybe he just paints it that way.

"But yeah, I can find your friend, I can put this predicament in the past…" John's quite confident.. but there's always a cost. "You're going to owe me a favor, and I won't lie to you…" it's magnanimous of him, truly. "How big a favor it winds up depends on how bloody mad your boy billionaire decides to be." In other words: she's gambling.

John offers up both his hands, palms up, gesturing for Pepper's. "You can always hold out for a better offer, Virginia Potts." Name it, claim it. There's magic implicit in the bargain, a geas of that odd unearthly honor that both compels adherence and invites deceit. Constantine doesn't honey it up, it's a selfish motive at the end of the day, and he owns it readily.

*

Real, sans flesh. An astral projection. Though in her mind they're close enough to be the same thing at the moment. Incorporeal and thus ineffective.

The moment the man starts making bargaining noises, she rolls her eyes and doesn't bother trying to hide it. "Great," she sighs. "I get the used car salesman hologram." She also stands when the man does, though she doesn't approach him or reach for his hands.

"I am fully aware of the power that names hold, and bargains like you're offering. I might be trapped in this room, but I wasn't born here." She pulls the towel from her hair and starts scrubbing the ends to dry them a bit further.

"I will not tell you my friend's name, as that risks giving you some manner of power over him. But, you should be able to identify him easily enough. Tell me your name and who you work for, and I might consider agreeing to your offer of assistance and tell you how to identify my friend. With an agreed upon and fair contract, of course."

She disappears into the washroom again to hang her hair towel over the shower door and returns a moment later with hairbrush in hand. "Is this counteroffer acceptable, or are you going to leave now?"

*

"John Constantine." The name is offered easily enough, nonchalantly, for all the weight it might have if Pepper knows the right people, has heard the right whispers. It's not a legacy that always does him justice, but it -is- one that entirely supports the rest of what he summarily posits. "If I can find it easily enough, it's not much of a power to share." he observes firstly.

"I'm not shining you on, luv. I'm a helpful man, and the man I answer to is me. I'm a liberator, not a slavemaster; shit like this ruptured pustule of demonic limbo I can't abide. Sad thing is, there's always a crisis on the horizon even at a time like this, and I've got more fates to worry about than just yours." He does the sorrowful puppy look -very- well, and it probably helps that it's at least partially sincere. Constantine doesn't particularly -like- this element of his duty, expert at it that he may be.

"So: you can either decide to trust me and help me out, be the connection I need to stop more bad shit down the fuckin' line, or you can stick your nose up and eat protein bars while I go try and figure out another solution." It's a high-stakes world John plays in, and he makes no pretense otherwise. It's perhaps the only non-negotiable barrier in reaching agreement.

*

Pepper looks at the man seriously for a moment, her head tilted slightly to one side. "If you have so much more to deal with than one person in an admittedly well-appointed panic room, then you're only bothering to approach me because you want that favor I'd owe you. That doesn't really instill a lot of confidence.

"I'll accept your agreement on one condition, and it's a big one. You keep me apprised of what's going on, who you're facing off against, and why. In exchange, I have access to resources that can possibly help you do your job, and not just on the short term."

She watches the man's expression as she's relating this, to see how he feels about her suggestion. "What do you say?"

*

"It's a bonus." John admits. "Saving your pretty little hide is, of course, the first priority of any stalwart protector of the innocent." Which, while also a bonus, just doesn't sound like Constantine's prime consideration in triaging his own line of work. Something in the sarcastic bite to how he says it.

"Like I said, there's high stakes beyond this round. I'm not gambling everyone's souls on Tony Stark listening to me." He's played too many games to be that naive.

What does he say? Well. "The sorceress behind this current kerfuffle is one Illyana Rasputina, toppled the demon-lord Belasco… awhile ago. Time is complicated between worlds, this demonic realm is… let's call it shunted aside from the timeline proper. With the rift opened here, tough call if even Stevie Strange could face her down right now."

It all does lend question to his own certitude of resolving any of it, but it certainly fulfills her terms for the moment, his expression plaintive, earnest. "Any harm comes to you, it'll be because the alternatives were far, far worse." He further offers, somberly, along with his hands anew.

*

Pepper makes mental notes of the names John just shared. Rasputina. Belasco. Strange. "Fair enough." She sets the brush aside and reaches for John's non-corporeal hands. "I would also like to know how Tony is doing. Last I knew, he was in the Tower's medical floor. I think I can safely guess he's not there now."

*

"Done." John agrees. "Normally for a pact like this, a proper kiss is most fun, but I'm limiting my lascivious ways these days, luv." He says it like it's an apology. "Plus it's just no fun ethereal as I am." He flicks the cigarette off to the side and it disappears in a flash of intangible sparks, his intangible grasp crossing with Pepper's.

It's an odd sensation, there's no touch, but a sensitive tingle of energy; electric. John's thumbs align over the pulse points on each of Pepper's wrists, and for a moment, there's a sensation of searing, scarcely long enough to register pain.

Runic brands course outwards in serpentine patterns on each forelimb, as if etching themselves into flesh before fading from the eye's view entirely. "And this mystic ally of yours, how do I find 'em? Assuming they're not already in my rolodex." It's hardly an empty boast.

*

The searing of the runic brands startles her, but it's gone almost faster than she could register it. "Sorry, but I don't kiss strangers. One too many crossroads demon stories. Now. My friend, I'm still not sure about giving you his name, but I can tell you enough about him to make him immediately recognizable."

She starts ticking off the facts on her fingers as she says them. "He's an elf, from Avalon. He's tall and thin, and has hair the color of christmas tree tinsel. He's allergic to iron and sunlight, and thinks in base eight numbering because he only has four fingers per hand. I've never seen him dress in anything other than black." She pauses, debating what else she's willing to share, then nods. "If that isn't enough to go by, I don't know how else to help you."

*

The Crossroads draw a chuckle from John, an entirely reassuring phenomenon. "Good enough." the wiliest warlock agrees. It may not immediately bring an associate to mind, but it's plenty to track one down. Particularly with the enchantment on an object in Pepper's office as a backup plan. "I'll do what I can Miss Potts." And to his credit, John does entirely mean that. It's just that he'll also do what he /has to/.

"Sit tight." Terribly clever, John Constantine. In a flicker of retreating light, the image of John seems to retreat to a faraway point, as if drawn through a wormhole like the eye of a needle. John's consciousness returns to his body, slouched in darkness over a golden bowl etched in ancient, celestial words of power. Within the bowl is his own blood, drawn from a fresh gash in the warlock's hand, and sacred oil.

As Constantine gasps, the mixture turns black and acrid, and promptly dessicates to ash. The chain thread of purest silver in his fingertips, the other end dipped in the bowl's contents, incinerates in blue-white flame, failing to either burn or startle the jaded sorcerer. Instead, he promptly leans over and pukes his bloody guts up into an adjacent lined trashcan, clearly placed just for that purpose. It's an elegant life he leads.

The next moment, there's a stillness to the room's /everything/ that Constantine notices immediately, closing his eyes and letting out a put-upon sigh. "That woman is an innocent, John. A good soul, marked for the path to paradise." The tall, dark-skinned man is, contrary to John, in a perfectly pressed suit, pristinely coiffed. His words are full of disapproving consternation.

"She's a corporate wolf." John retorts simply, like it says volumes. "We both know good and evil is relative in that great cosmic chess game your bosses play, trying to gather up every mortal destiny in their stables, proving just how much better their dogma is than the other. We both know there's a lot more 'good' and 'innocent' people wrapped up in how this plays out, so don't get all sanctimonious on me 'cuz I'm willing to get my hands dirty." It's unclear how much of the protest the angel on John's shoulder even stayed to listen to; he's gone when the warlock glances back. "Bloody typical." John lights a cigarette.

*

Pepper watches the astral projection disappear like an old cathode ray tube TV powering down, then shakes her head to herself. Nevertheless, she gathers up her clothing and steps back into the little washroom to get dressed. And even then, she uses the old 'get dressed under your towel' thing she learned back in high school on the swim team.

Because that man might be planning to get her out of here, but he also proved pretty might right away that he's got exactly zero of the old school manners that Steve Rogers does.

… and now she's wondering how everyone else is doing, knowing that the reason she's in here is demonic in origin.

Why can't fiction be real? She'd give just about anything within reason to hear the V8 growl of a 1965 Chevy Impala or the Rituale Romanum being recited over a PA speaker right now.

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