Kill Your Darlings
Roleplaying Log: Kill Your Darlings
Participants
IC Details
Synopsis:

After the Crossroads, Barbara comes home to find a John Constantine drinking away the painful consequences of the cost of magic.

Other Characters Referenced: Zatanna Zatara
IC Date: January 08, 2019
IC Location: Sherwood Florists, Gotham City
OOC Notes & Details
Posted On: 12 Jan 2019 07:29
Rating & Warnings: R
Scene Soundtrack: [* ]
NPC & GM Credits: None
Associated Plots

There's no answer to the text Batgirl sends John when she's finishing up her patrol, this particular evening. No ping to let her know where he's at, or where they ought to meet up. It's radio silence, an unusual response to say the least; at least as the time drags on. He doesn't turn up at the Belfry when she arrives to stash her gear, and there's still no reply by the time Barbara is heading home.

She does, however, find her room at the Florists occupied already. His trenchcoat is in a pile on a chair— likely containing the forgotten phone, and John himself is seated next to an open window, his back up against the sill rather than next to it— it looks terribly uncomfortable. The only light in the room filters in from the Gotham night through that window, the rest of the shades drawn fully, and none of the artificial lights tripped on. John's only motion is the periodic rise of a nearly-spent cigarette to his lips: the latest of /many/ if the stale hang of uncleared smoke in the room is any indication.

His other hand grips— almost clings to— a liter of whiskey that's nearly half-drained, and at this sitting as evidenced by the seal sitting haphazardly near him. The magician wouldn't even seem to recognize Babs entering the room, his attention /fixed/ on an apparently fascinating section of floor between himself and her bed, the statuesque spell broken by a final hit of cigarette, its ejection from the window, and a ragged, punctuating cough that Constantine tries to quell with liquor.

His shirt is partially undone, his tie hanging loose, and it's downright /chilly/ where he's sitting— not that the rakish man seems to /notice/, just now. The gulp of liquor prompts a further, hoarse, aggravated cough, but does little to draw him back to reality, to focus him on the now. He sits slouched against the intervening angle of hardwood, frozen once more, and stares.

The radio silence — it's long stretch into the early hours of the morning — is a worrying change of routine. For Barbara, changes in routine are warning signs. It distracts her thoughts as she parks and secures her batcycle in the garage pretending to be a dumpster in the alley outside the library; it distracts her thoughts as she gets her gear on the arming dummy and stashes her weapons in their drawers. She picks up the phone countless times throughout the process, waiting for the crude, and something error ridden messages — you try successfully typing a message while fending off a knife-wielding poltergeist. She gets it. But usually, she at least gets something from John, even if it's just a weird emoticon.

She takes her civilian bike home, traveling all her usual shortcuts. When she gets back to the Victorian-style house behind the florist shop, she's got herself worked into a deeper worry. She sits on the saddle of the bike, balancing the heavy machine between her feet. She texts one more time, adding a fifth unanswered blurb: Home now. Her helmet is stashed on the shelf, bike locked, and then she's crossing into the quiet house. There's zero indications that she should find the warlock in her room, but the scent of his cigarettes when the door opens actually relaxes her.

Until she spots the slumped silhouette of the warlock, the rumpled discarded trench coat, and the half-consumed bottle. "John?" It has been a while since she's seen John like this. It is disquieting. She shuts the door behind her, turning the handle to minimize the sound of the solid wood settling into its frame. She drops the duffel down beside her overloaded bookcase. In a strange instinct, her blue eyes cut first to the undying rose. It is a gauge — though she's still not sure she knows for what.

Her steps carry her to the bedside, sliding onto the unmade edge of sheets. It puts her feet in his staring square — socks an accidental mismatch of canary yellow and hunter's orange. She leans forward, hands anchored onto the edge of the mattress. "Bad night?"

'Disquieted'. It's a nice, unassuming word. At a first glance, it describes John Constantine now. It's far from the affable, affectionate warlock that greeted her the -last- time he was shitfaced in one of her hides. Even when she speaks, John doesn't immediately react. It's like it's on a time delay, catching up with his brain several moments after she sits down, several moments after she speaks.

He doesn't even seem to notice the mistakenly picked socks smack dab in his line of sight. Instead, his gaze snaps to her in an abrupt, singular motion— like he's surprised. … or alarmed. For a moment, John sits there frozen, then he coughs again, and takes another swig off the bottle. Because that's clearly what he needs, right now. "We're all just goddamn puppets, you know?" It's a hell of a lead-in. Bad night isn't a bad guess, even if it's a terribly incomplete one.

"Daaancing on fucking strings." He gestures with the bottle, it wobbles around like a haphazard marionette before him, and then thuds hard back to the floor. John lets out a heavy sight, and drops his head back and to the side, thunking it in turn into the window frame as his eyes settle on Babs. "And the worst part, the fuckin' worst part—" John trails off for a moment, and blinks with a glance aside into space.

He momentarily forgets what the worst part is, cut him some slack. "— you don't, don't even see it fuckin' happening, that's why there's no miracles, we got psychology, we got th— the goddamn internet." Are you sure you're making sense, John? "Nobody even sees it, what the fuck. What the fuck." What the fuck, indeed. "Where's the countdown timer, right? Where's the goddamn manual with the costs and conditions laid out square. Even with demons you -know- what kind of r— fuckin' raw deal you're bloody getting, yeah?"

That natural intuition, refined and groomed over years of training and experience, is tingles with warning, that this isn't quite right. She hasn't seen John like this. Ever. Her brows furrow together, tightening her expression into an ever-growing worry. "John, are you — " The question barely escapes her, almost lost to the abrupt lift of John's eyes to hers and the sudden spill of monologue from the lost warlock.

" — What?" Her mind races, trying to fit together what would have John in such a state. She slips from the bed, dropping to her knees on the hardwood floor. She reaches for the bottle, fingers closing around the neck to begin to extract it from the man's grasp. "John, you're not making any sense. What happened? You were griping about some call you got." Her detective mind is just not making the pieces fit.

The redhead knee-walks forward closer, and the absolute stench of the cigarette smoke that permeates his clothes and lingers on his skin is the worst she has smelled yet. It has a depth to it that suggests that John has been here for a while. Feeling suddenly out of her depth, she asks a quiet, and yet serious question, "Should I call Chas?" Maybe there's something she's missing, maybe there's a reason for the abrupt spiral.

Babs gets the bottle away, largely because John doesn't seem to notice she's taking it for a moment, before blinking down at his empty hand. It prompts a hearty, "Fuck Chas." He might not mean it quite as adamantly, given the level of slur and general malaise, right this minute.

Let's hope, anyway, because: "Fuck you. Fuck everybody. Fuck everything." When you're on a roll, you might as well go with it. "A strong enough feedback loop, on a big enough source, the whole thing goes up, I bet. Or enough to totally rewrite reality. Just glitches in the system across the whole bloody iteration." There's potential for a pretty ornery supervillain in John Constantine, and it's not really that far beneath the surface, at the end of the day.

The Hellblazer's jaw clenches, unclenches, and his eyes seem to focus on Babs for the first time, red-rimmed and still vaguely moisture-lensed. It's not just drinking and smoking going on up here, and somehow, the whole thing is probably several shades more disturbing than most things John has gotten, or Barbara has imagined him getting up to.

The magician lifts his bottle-less hand and reaches for Barbara, and the first thing he snags, rather gracelessly, is one of the redhead's hands, which he squeezes, balled, into his own palm. Tightly. Too tightly. "I told you there's always a goddamn price, yeah?" He leans into the grip, or more accurately, John slouches forward, turning that tortured look unsteadily onto her own. Of course he's told her— he won't shut up about it, some days.

It’s a stark contrast to the previous moment, like he’s forgotten his ire at the universe, for a moment. And just wants to tell her haunting truth. "Did you know it's not always what you -think-? What you know? What you're bloody prepared to sacrifice? Did you know the bloody cosmos itself will punish you for reachin' beyond yourself, even if you're tapping nigh-cocksucking-unlimited, god-like levels of power?" Beat. John swallows, hard. "Did you know you can trade a life for a life and no one actually fucking dies?" It's probably still not all that clear, John; but bless you for trying, you drunk bastard.

Barbara is lifting onto her knees to put the bottle on her nightstand beside the bloomed rose and carved bat when John starts vehemently rejecting the entire whole of existence — starting with Chas, and then her, and then everyone else. It is hard not to be ruffled, not to be abruptly rankled by the blunt ire — even if she's not the actual target. "John." His name is said in a new, forceful tone.

Then he's looking at her, really looking at her. Her expression is set in a hard press of her lips, tightening of her jaw. She looks ready to retaliate until those red-rimmed, watery eyes meet hers. It lets up — the immediate anger. The obvious spiral, the way he's back in one of her safe spaces to just let it all loose. She should be complimented, should be comforted by it. But, there's nothing that seems to be loosening the tension in her chest, and how that tension strangles at her heart.

He grabs her hand at the right second, stalling her from rising to her feet — to get the phone, to call Chas. It grounds her knees back into the floor, settling her butt down into her heels. The tight grip on her hand is shockingly painful, her fingers writhe a moment in his grip until he hits her with that serious look. Her blue eyes meet that haunted gaze. Something clicks then. He had warned her many times about the cost of magic, about that everything has a price. He's paid that price before, and she's never asked, never needled to find out how expensive some of his magic runs. Now, in this heart wrenching moment between the mortal woman and her mortal warlock, she's unfurled at least something.

While he tries to numb her fingers with his grip, she breathes a steadying exhale that only causes a tremor to move through her. It's like coming down from a rush of adrenaline, and the anger suffused by John's rough demeanor and unfettered ire. She lifts her other hand, and that gentle palm and spread of fingers rests across his stubbled cheek. She wanted to spare him the tremble of her fingers, and yet they quiver against his cheek until she presses her fingers more firmly against the familiar line of jaw. "John. Look at me." Those words are said gently, barely masking the continued recovery from her own threat of emotion.

John doesn't really get the choice to bait the redhead's anger or not to— he doesn't really notice it, just now. Maybe if he gets to rewind all this, later. He's on a tear, trying to explain his state of mind, but in the end just running off the train of thought, the roller-coaster of emotion and reaction. If she had seen him at the end of the night during his long string of benders before they reconnected these rants would likely be familiar; if no less notably worrisome.

He's already looking at Barbara— at least some of the time, in between furtive glances here and there around the room— but the hand at his face is pressed into reflexively, and while the warlock first closes his eyes, he opens them more evenly on her.

He heaves a heavy sigh, and while it gives pause to the mania, the ranting, the whole mess settles into his frame with enough tension to flex, seemingly, every muscle in his body, an uneven and coiled slouch around bent legs. His overzealous grasp on her hand does loosen, however, fingers hooking to snare with Barbara's. Then, there's another, more resigned, equally deep and resounding sigh.

"Oh god, Blue." John shakes his head, shocked and appalled not by realization of the situation he's in, or how crazy all this likely sounds, but something so much worse. "Why is fuckin' -reality- so eager to be worse than the worst bloody case?" It's not a question that has an answer; it's not even anything close to a truism. But boy, does it seem like it, some years. It threatens everything else that hasn't fallen apart… yet.

He sees her then, and their eyes settle onto each other with that more familiar stare. Her blues are not as calm as she would like, not as stabilizing. They're searching, weighted with her own worry. She sees the harried emotions, the rips and tears, fresh wounds that shred open scars. She doesn't break their connected stare even while his hand releases hers; though, her lashes do give a relieved flutter. Her joints ache and she wishes she could shake the ache loose. Instead, she feels his fingers coil hers up, curling around her own.

"Because we never really can imagine the worst case scenario, John. Too many factors." The words are said a bit too instinctually. He probably isn't seeking her logic, her passing moments of pragmatism. She bites her lips together then, realizing the slip a bit too late. She remains seated beside him, facing him and the opened window that chills her room, but also helps air it of the scent memories of these hard, terrible moments.

The redhead curls her fingers behind his ear now, holding onto his blond, disheveled head. It's a gentle squeeze along his ear and jaw before she relaxes her grip. "What happened, John?" This time her words are softer, a little more prompting. She's bracing for the worst — wondering what could be a price greater than a life of someone beloved.

Her logical rejoinder prompts, of all things, a bark of laughter from the magician. It's not a particularly heartfelt thing, not a lingering chuckle, but a moment of darkly amused levity nonetheless. "Ain't /that/ the fucking truth." Constantine agrees, the tone rather numb and forlorn. Of course, just who died or didn't die isn't quite the worst case he's talking about— but it's easy to forgive Babs for her decided lack of context.

He lifts sorely out of his slouch, leaning back against the window and resting his head aside, into her hand. What happened, John? His numb expression drifts towards a frown, the rakish warlock expressing no joy at the prospect of explaining that. But here they are. "Magic, it's a right bellend, yeah?" Did he mention that? The askew look meeting hers, his head canted against her touch, vanishes in the tired closing of his eyes. "I told you 'tanna burnt our tether." He thinks. It's all a little swimming, right now— either way, it's said now.

"Turns out I was right." For once, there's zero pleasure in that assertion; none. It's only tragic, in retrospect. "But she burnt it doing something Impossible, trying to save this god damned world. She didn't even know." The way he says it, it hold torrents of grief behind an inadequate dam. It might be hard to understand, for the layman— but Barbara has unusual perspective and empathy, and John gives it a shot, anyway.

It's all implicit between the lines: Where Babs found him— grief-stricken, abandoned, and reeling. Where she found him lost and told him it was alright, that he had shelter with her no matter /how/ fucked up he was— it was all on Zatanna, too, and John didn't even realize it. Scarcely even considered it. He did nothing. The guilt is etched all over his face, much as he bites back the more dramatic outpourings of emotion, just now.

The laugh just tugs a bare smile to her lips, but it — like the laughter it inspires — carries a weight of sadness. Her sorrow is that empathy, at seeing him lost to his demons. Her fingertips brush casually along the edges of his hair, feeling it bristle lightly along with her touch.

Then he mentions Zatanna, and her fingers still. When his eyes close, her own chin falls, slips of fine red hair coiling loose from her shoulder. Her hand slides free of his cheek; those long fingers settle down along the hand still looped with hers. She traces the back of his hand a moment before her hand settles flat against it, sandwiching her hand between hers.

John is right: he banks on her empathy. But, everything has a cost. Empathy is more than just understanding what someone feels; empathy is sharing it. The magician she has called her own sits before her in anewed grief, loss, and heartache. Hers aches with his, and her heart aches because of his. Jess said that Zee believed John broke it; John believed Zee broke it. The moment the inconsistencies in the stories came to light, she buried her instincts — buried that nagging feeling that something had been behind their reconnection.

Now she feels a different ache, and she sits quietly on the floor with John, head bowed and his hand resting between hers in her lap. When she looks up, it is only after a soft breath that deflates her shoulders. She then rubs softly at the back of his hand, tracing his knuckles, the faint nicks of scars. "I understand," she says softly, perhaps misreading the moment, misreading the source of his guilt.

"John, we got through December." Her voice catches, and she looks down again with a hard swallow before she can find her voice again. They found new memories for the month that cut their first try those six years ago. They gave it another try, but only because John thought that it was oven with Zatanna. "But you know now… she didn't break the connection because she wanted it to be over." Her smile resurfaces — and she bears to him her own pain in that false curve of her lips. She squeezes his hand, trying to rally him, trying to comfort.

A watery laugh seems to cut through the choke in her throat, and she finally says in a somewhat dismissive tone, "Only two Magicians would bank their entire relationship on a cosmic link." She squeezes his hand one more time, and then — softly, slowly — begins to release him.

When Barbara drops her hand away, it takes only a moment for John to open his eyes again. At first, his gaze is fixed on his hand in hers, then something clues him in to the painful shift within the vigilante— maybe it's a catch of breath, maybe it's the weight suddenly borne in her stance, maybe it's something intangible or an instinct from years upon years of reading people and dealing with bullshit. Either way, John looks up at Babs as her eyes drop, and taking in her words has him /squinting so hard/.

It's his turn to wonder what the hell she's even talking about, for a moment. When she starts to relinquish his hand, John snares the upper one instead, wrapping his fingers across her knuckles and pressing his thumb firmly against the redhead's palm. "No." It's possibly the most important syllable he's ever spoken to her, but it's not fiery, it's subdued. But resonant in that whisper, utterly adamant. "You don't fuckin' understand." But it's spoken with sympathy and remorse; not frustration or indictment.

"It's not about what she wants. You don't renege on a debt like that, not unless you're ready to pay the goddamn vig, too." He sighs, and pulls her hand to him, and likely Barbara too, depending how firmly she decides to plant her ass. "I /should/ have done it different, right from the start; it was me who put the fuckwitted scheme in her head to begin with." There's plenty of guilt without the intention Barbara reads into it, the quiet insecurities burbling to the fore. "But I didn't— and none of it's shit you just take back."

John pauses, he raggedly seeks a breath. "Blue." There's another beat as he makes sure he has her gaze, lifts his free hand to tip her chin and lightly trace a thumb along her mouth. "None of it." It's a two-edged sword; likely more to his soul than to hers. But it is what it is, and while the impulse runs through him, he's far too greedy a man to just let Babs believe that, to walk too, even if she might— almost certainly will in the warlock's estimation— pay for it in the end.

Barbara had almost been pulling back — both with the physical release of her hands and with the intangible retreat of her heart. Then his other hand snares hers, and the space around her heart feels like it's redoubled its stranglehold in that space in her chest. Her blue eyes lift to meet his as he says that single syllable. Her own emotions are worn in that raw, simple moment; tears catch at her lashes, and she would swipe them away if not for the fact that John has both her hands now.

When he tells her in that sympathetic, remorseful tone that she doesn't understand, her jaw sets in a momentary flash of annoyance. Her brows start to settle together, her chin dipping as she starts to shake her head. "Magic isn't everything," she starts to protest, those words carrying the frustration that already colors her expression. But then he's tugging her forward, and her rump lifts off her heels slightly to rock forward toward the magician.

She's been here before, but it was morning light streaming in, not moonbeams. This time? She isn't sure whose words are going to be the one that breaks through, to unravel the stress and carefully and barely maintained panic. When he speaks her petname, she lifts her eyes to meet his, a cut of red forelock intruding across brow and along her nose. The weight of his thumb against her lips does not inspire the soft kiss it has in the past; it does loosen the frustration from her expression, which is something, a small break.

"You love her," the words are said softly. "I don't know why you wouldn't try find a way." Those words speak to their biggest failure since that night after Alysia's exorcism: neither of them had been bold enough to give this a name. Names have power. She asked him after the Ball — Do you love me? — and he had given his most John response; he had said yes, hadn't he? Or had it been just enough misdirection to think he had.

Then she relents, and she untangles her legs under herself so she can turn, rolling slightly to settle beside him beneath the window sill. Nearer to her, the nightstand looms ahead of them, and the blue petals glow just slightly out of sight. Her head rests back into the sill, and she finds herself almost staring in that same spot he had been lost to when she came in.

"You mean you don't know why we didn't." It might not actually be what Barbara means, but it's the reality John quietly asserts, either way. Two of the most resourceful, experienced sorcerers in the wizarding world, and when an unexpected twist of fate reverberates off arguably unwise-but-necessary spellcraft springs its head, what do they do? Hide in opposite corners and be paralyzed idiots about it. The magician is loaded down with the guilt of it, alongside serving as one of his rare but monumental sources of shame.

"It's done— it's not as simple as walking it all back." Even if there /were/ a way— and let's be honest, there's always a way. And there's always a cost. Part of that complexity comes in the form of a worried, aching redhead who settles into fugue next to him. Her head doesn't have to find the sill for long, because he bears it for the both of them, wrapping an arm around Barbara's shoulders and drawing her into one of his.

"You found me there at that fuckin' abysmal place, luv. You found me there and even after I shined you on to get what I needed, you sat down by the dumpster fire and had a goddamn drink. Hell, your stubborn ass wanted to cuddle by it." It's a phenomenon John still regards with no small measure of appreciative disbelief. He toys with a lock of hair on her far shoulder, leaning into her rather than looking across, amd drawing in a deep, steadying breath. Motorcycle leather and subtle fragrant shampoo, the unique pheromonal blend that evokes /her/ across his senses.

"Fuck." John observes, clearly running off at the mouth a bit; shocking. "You wanted to do a lot more than cuddle." Again: count on John Constantine to make it dirty. He lightly kisses her brow. "I know how hard you've tried; I know how you fuckin' feel about me. You found a way; we found a way. I haven't forgotten that, and I'm not bloody likely to." Beat. "Unless some fucking thing sucks out my brains." Then it's a very real possibility.

It isn't what she means, but then John has that unique way of twisting the perspective. She would get into it with him, argue the semantics, but then she just can't bring herself to start that argument. What would it yield, anyway? John would probably win out in the end, because she still is grasping onto the concepts of a world that the two Magicians have lived in far longer.

So, all she's left to do is sigh when he brings her into his shoulder. He may have meant to just cradle her head against that deceptively broad shelf of bone and muscle and his musky shirt; what he gets is the full-bodied curl of the redhead into his side, her head slipping along his collar until she's tucked under his chin, knees and torso tucked against his side and chest. Her fingers curl at the collar of his shirt — a familiar place she's anchored herself before, shirt and trench coat both.

You found me there John reminds her. Her eyes close tighter for a heartbeat as she tries to hear him, really hear him. Then he gets to the dirtier observation, and she leans her head back to look up at him just as her knuckles barely punch his shoulder. "I hate you," she says, and there's no weight to those words. She doesn't. He knows she doesn't. In fact, they are in this whole mess because she doesn't hate him.

The fist that bumped into his shoulder unfurls so she can grasp the space just at the back of his neck. Her lighter blue gaze does not shy from his again while her strong fingers knead where spine and skull meet. She carries that steadiness forward, and her lips touch his in what starts as tentative and inviting as the first kiss on the couch, but she's the one being tentative this time, waiting for him to accept it.

At the end of the day it doesn't matter who has the argument that carries more weight: it's not a question of right or wrong. There's no way, or no way that John Constantine knows, to tell which is which from inside some messes, and this is one of them. All he can do his find his way; and hope he doesn't botch it too badly. Though it might be a -little- late for that…

Barbara's close curl is welcomed, and drains a noteworthy amplitude from the sheer tension stockpiled in the magician's frame, a few slow breaths coming easier. When she 'hits' him, John's features lighten along with them, the slightest quirk of a smile on his lips, not quite reaching his mournful blues. He'd offer a retort— he always does— but the redhead is kissing him, and there's no hesitation in reciprocating it. In this case, it's more like escalation.

Desperate, deep, his hand is immediately on the back of her neck in turn, drawing her closer despite the fact that Babs is rather tucked as close as she can realistically get. John puts in the effort anyway. The reaction she probes goes well beyond acceptance, the same glimmer in the dark she was drawn to in the first place, grown in luminescence and synergy by ample degrees. His other hand drags curled fingers into and along her back, settling into a clenched, needy caress.

It's a reaffirmation that only builds for its duration, leaves his intoxicated brain reeling all the more throughout, but burns with notes that are anything but the echo of his extant grief and loss. He clings to her even in a moment's pause to gasp for breath that's coming faster, all of a sudden, and presses his nose lightly along the line of hers. "You /so/ fucking don't." The magician observes in a quietly amused, weary, scarcely murmured whisper.

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