The air smelled of autumn and Zatanna tightened her coat around herself, happy for the warm rays of sunlight making it a lovely day. But even that couldn't make her smile today. It was Halloween and she was staying in a little motel, preparing for a show this evening. She hoped there would be kids; many, many excited kids, enthusiastic about Halloween and magic tricks.
Usually Zatanna loved Halloween. So had her father, always saying: “What's better for us than Halloween, darling? Hiding in plain sight taken to a whole new level,” and then he had smiled at her and winked. The memory made her sad all over again. Because this year he wouldn't get to say it, wouldn't make her smile by fooling the normal folks into believing they were playing tricks on them instead of doing real magic.
No, this year her father wouldn't say anything. He was dead, had in fact died protecting her.
This was the first Halloween without him and she missed him terribly, her overprotective, sometimes annoying, powerful sorcerer dad.
The pain of grief hit her like an almost physical blow and she staggered. It was all too fresh and raw and she wasn't sure she'd ever get over it. Trying to get herself together she sat down on a bench on the way back to the motel, took a deep breath and just stared before her on the ground, determined to control this pain and let it pass.
Of course she knew she wasn't alone, had know he was there long before he made himself known in any obvious way, but she wasn't sure she even wanted to see him again just yet. Perhaps not ever again. Still she asked: “What are you doing here, John?”
He stepped in front of her slowly, looking down on the ground at the same spot she was staring at, as if he was trying to figure out what it was she was seeing. From the corner of her eye she could make out the lapels of his slightly rumpled trench coat. “Finished here. Just on my way back to England. Thought I'd drop by, before I drop out again.”
The last time they'd seen each other, she'd been so shell-shocked, so angry, so empty. Now she realized, she wasn't angry at him at all. “Why?”
“Doesn't bring him back,” she said, not accusing, but stating a simple fact. “Have you asked yourself why the two people attacked by that power were the ones sitting right next to you, Sargon and me?”
“I was the instigator,” he admitted. “It was trying to get me.”
She nodded. “And you protected yourself. And father protected me. He knew what he was getting into. He warned me.” They both knew the rules of magic. It always came at a price and sometimes when the stakes were high, then the price was also high. Sometimes higher than you were willing to pay. Her father had known it, too.
“Doesn't make you feel bloody better about it, does it?” John asked and their eyes finally met.
“No,” she admitted.
He reached into the right pocket of his trench coat. She expected him to pull out the ever present cigarettes. But it was something else. He stepped forward before she could protest and took her hands into one of his, still rummaging in his pocket with the other. This close she could smell the lingering, cold tang of tobacco smoke about him. His hand was warm and his fingers elegant and strong like the fingers of a pianist, although it was likely that they had seen more exercise in pick-pocketing than artistry. She'd always liked his hands.
He finally pushed a bunch of wrapped sweets into her open hands and she stared at the colorful wrappings.
“Happy Halloween, Zatanna. Go and have some fun. Live a little.” When she looked up to meet his gaze, he looked at her solemnly. For John Constantine that could mean a number of things, but he didn't have the look of danger about him today, just some strands of guilt and exhaustion. “You always loved Halloween and so did your old man,” he added, when she didn't say anything.
“You never liked it.”
“Not part of my childhood, love.” He made a one handed salute into her direction, simultaneously stepping away. “But part of yours. Don't forget that.” Somehow without her noticing he had managed to pull a pack of Silk Cut from his left coat pocket, a cigarette already dangling from his lips. “I'll go see the green fellow now and then I'll be out of your hair.”
She stared down at the sweets, the brightly colored Halloween themed wrappings and remembered her father, smiling at her, winking, laughing. “I'm not blaming you,” she said, for the first time really sure it was true.
“Doesn't matter,” John said cryptically, waving at her, already vanishing down the same way he'd come. “The world's still here's what matters.”
Perhaps it didn't matter. She felt it did. But she knew John had too many ghosts following him around to belief that.
A moment later all that was reminding her that John had been here, was the lingering smell of cigarette smoke mingling with the fresh autumn air. Her father had always warned her about John Constantine, had always cautioned her to not get too involved where that man was concerned. She had never figured out how much of that was looking down on the magically adept conman, fear of the danger that followed him around and how much had simply been a father disliking the men his daughter found interesting.
What would he have to say now – about John coming here to cheer her up and put her back on track?
He'd probably be annoyed and tell her to put him out of her head. “Focus on the show!” he would have said.
She grinned, sprang up from the bench suddenly and walked off towards her motel determinedly, not even looking back at where John might have walked off to once. There was no point in that anymore. And she was sure now that she would see him again anyway. In their circles it was going to happen sooner rather than later.
And maybe next time the world wouldn't even be at stake, but how likely was that?
Time to enjoy the moment.
It was Halloween and she loved Halloween.
Her father had also loved Halloween and nobody could take the memories of that away.
So for both their sake's she would put on a magic show and the kids would love it. She would love it; not just any show, but one her father would have been proud of.
Back in her room she lets her coat fall away and watches herself critically in the mirror, fishnet stockings, white blouse, black vest.
She was ready.
No better night for magic.