Time Doesn’t Love You Anymore
Read on AO3
“I got the magic in me, every time I touch that track it turns into gold!” his phone rings out from the makeshift nightstand that’s actually just a stack of old yellow pages.
Zatanna groans reaching out in an attempt to silence the damn thing, not even lifting her head from under the covers. She pushes out a little too hard dislodging one of the yellow pages from its Tetris style stack nearly knocking them all to the floor. Sometimes she really hates staying in one of John’s so-called safehouses.
Above her she hears a deep sleep addled chuckle and feels the warm press of skin against her back as John stretches for the phone. The motion moves the covers down past her shoulders and she grumbles as the sunlight rudely hits her eyes.
“What?” John says answering the phone, she grumbles again moving her pillow from under her head to over her ears. The conversation goes muffled after that until she hears the distinct snap of John closing his ridiculous drug dealer flip phone.
“Zee?” he says rubbing a warm hand up slowly up the back of her oversized Star City tourist t-shirt. With his other hand he slowly pulls the pillow from her grasp she only yields when his fingers start trailing up and down her spine slowly, a touch she always just melts right into.
She flips over and John’s hand stays put on her skin resting on her stomach. “What?” she says finally opening her eyes to look up at him.
“That was Chas, a friend of a friend gave him a tip on that cup Midnite’s been after,” he says slowly moving his thumb back and forth against the delicate skin of her abs. Zatanna hums in response. “It seems it’s right here in New Orleans and in a mausoleum not far from here.”
“Good for it,” she says and pulls the blankets up over her head again. John chuckles again tugging at the covers a bit just enough to uncover her eyes again.
“We should go check it out, last thing anyone needs is for Midnite to get his hands on yet another magical artifact to hold over everyone else,” he says. Zatanna sighs cracking open her eyes once again and lifting herself up to lean on her elbow mirroring John’s position.
She concedes his point, any chance to have something over Midnite and actually be able to bargain with is a good thing. Especially for her boyfriend, he’s always getting himself into tangled deals with the man.
That being said she has no intentions of leaving this bed just yet, they were out far too late last night dealing with some League business that had been floated her way by Diana. She was happy to do it, she’s has to keep that Justice League membership card up somehow, but that doesn’t mean she’s not going to catch up on her sleep in the aftermath of it.
She trails her fingers along his collarbone and starts traveling down, down, down until her fingers trail through the dusting of hair on his chest.
“Okay, but five more minutes here,” she says trailing her finger and eyes lower and lower.
John’s breath catches when her fingers move the cover even further down and she reaches his belly button.
“Your hand gets much lower and it’s gonna be a hell of a lot more than five minutes,” he says not trying to stop her in any way.
Zatanna shrugs lifting her eyes up to his and showing him an innocent little smile. “And that’s a bad thing?”
John lets out another stuttering breath as her fingers stop their path downwards bypassing the spot he wants them most. She trails to the side lingering back and forth at the top of one of his thighs.
“And everyone thinks I’m the devil in this relationship,” he says with a smile shifting so that her back is pressed into the mattress. He situates himself so that he’s comfortable between her legs and she smiles lifting a hand to run through his hair.
“Not my fault you’re such a sucker for me,” she says cupping his cheek with her hand and running her thumb along his lower lip. John moves just a bit taking the digit into his mouth and swirling his tongue around it slowly once, twice. Zatanna’s breath hitches this time.
Slowly he releases her finger and her hand drops as John leans down placing slow open-mouthed kisses on her neck trailing a line down, down, down.
He doesn’t mention going to a mausoleum for a long, long while.
It’s the latter half of sunset by the time they reach the mausoleum, the bright summer sun low in the sky minutes away from welcoming night. The outside of the crypt is warded, but not too heavily at all; John places one sigil on the weather worn stone and it all drops.
Inside there’s not a single protection, Zatanna steps in first and waves a hand across the air forming a trail of glowing lights along the ceiling to illuminate the space. The place is largely barren, no caskets empty or filled, nothing but some broken down old gates and a few hundred cobwebs.
And there in the center sits the cup nothing special or seemingly magical about it. It looks like a normal silver chalice, worn and aged by however many years it’s been sitting in the same exact spot for. There’s not a whiff of magic in the air, unusual for any corner of the entire city.
“That’s it?” Zatanna says scrutinizing the thing, her arms crossed.
John shrugs stepping closer to the stand where it rests, “Chas says it is.”
Zatanna hums, Chas is usually right and despite its outward appearance and its lack of any sort of energy signature this wouldn’t mark the first time Zatanna has seen great power come from something so mundane.
“What’s it supposed to do?” she asks.
“Supposedly drinking from it will grant one powers unknown,” he says continuing towards it. “Sounds like a bunch of shite to me, but Midnite doesn’t think it is and I’m always happy to have one up on Mr. chose no sides himself.”
He tilts his head and smirks over his shoulder at her before he takes the final step right up to the stand.
John doesn’t even touch the cup, just hovers in its space his foot still a full inch from the base of the stand but before he so much as lifts a hand fully over it, before Zatanna can even say a single backward word John goes up in flames. The sick crackling of skin and the unnatural falling into ash happens in an instant, he doesn’t even have the chance to scream.
Zatanna rushes to his side but it’s far too late not even a full second has passed and as soon as her fingers reach him she brushes through ash drifting in the air, his bones shattering to the ground with a loud crack in the quiet echo of the empty mausoleum.
Zatanna falls on her knees to the floor alongside what’s left of him eyes wide, breath heavy, she’s fairly certain she feels the track of wet tears from her eyes, but mostly she just feels nothing. She feels vacant, like she’s not even here like this isn’t even real, like this is some horrible nightmare she’ll wake up from at any moment. She digs her hands hard into the cobbled stone beneath her the ash of the man she loves, loved, seeping underneath her fingernails.
She’s not sure how long she stays there, she’s not sure how much time passes, but eventually she’s not alone. Doctor Fate settles by her side taking off his helmet and then it’s just her friend Khalid settling a heavy sorrowful hand on her shoulder. She’s so out of body she’s not certain if he asks her what happened or just figures it out for himself, she vaguely hears him say something about feeling a surge of magical energy and tracing it to her, but none of it truly registers.
A dark gloved hand that belongs to some bat settles on her shoulder in passing and she replays the morning when everything had been okay. A red cape flits past the corner of her eyes and she thinks about how she should have not let him step inside this place without checking it more thoroughly. A ghostly energy with a flash of red hovers around her tentative and frantic at the same time and she finds herself replaying the last milliseconds of John’s life and hollowing out a little more when she realizes just how similar it is to when her father burnt to a crisp in her arms as well.
Another pair of fishnets kneel down beside her before leaning in and placing strong arms around her shoulders, blonde hair brushes against her cheek and that’s what breaks her from her semi-catatonic state, the proverbial dam breaks and she just sobs and wails and she’s certain it’s a horrible sounding affair.
Eventually between the trauma, crying and dehydration she tires herself out passing out between one last hiccupping sob and the next.
“I got the magic in me, every time I touch that track it turns into gold!” his phone rings out and Zatanna twists and bolts upright. She looks at her hands first, clean and not marred with the ashes of the man she loves. To her left the covers rustle and John curves an arm around her gripping the phone with is fingertips and flipping it open.
“What?” he says his voice muffled by his face still buried half in her pillow. Zatanna just looks at him as he talks to whoever’s on the other end of the line waves of shock and relief washing over her. He slowly sits up as he talks noticing the way she’s staring at him; he raises an eyebrow moving the conversation along before shutting the phone and dropping it somewhere in the tangled sheets around them.
“Love?” he starts and she doesn’t even give him a chance to breathe before she’s on him, the kiss is a little desperate and John hesitates to return it at first, no doubt a little worried about her sudden reaction but between one press and the next he gets with the program responding to every movement.
She pulls back after a few more beats and touches her forehead to his.
“Whew,” he says and she feels the puff of his breath against her lips still so close, warm and real and alive. “What was that for?”
Zatanna just shakes her head. “Bad dream,” she says raising one had to rest over his heart, happy to feel the steady beat underneath her fingertips. “Very bad dream.”
Because that’s what it was, no matter how real it felt, she’s had some doozy dreams like it before so she’s not unfamiliar with the feeling. She lingers close for a few moments coming down from the shock of the nightmare before pulling back.
“You gonna be okay?” John asks quietly reaching out to brush the hair that’s fallen into her face away. She nods feeling the tension that the nightmare left behind exit her body, her shoulders loosen. “Want to talk about it?”
She shakes her head and gives him a small reassuring smile. Maybe later, right now she just needs the distraction of seeing him right in front of her.
John smiles one of those rare bright smiles he lets out and kisses her on the cheek.
“So, what was that phone call about it?” she asks.
“Chas has a lead on that artifact Midnite has been after, right here in the city,” he says and starts going on about it. Zatanna listens carefully and a little worried, it’s exactly the same thing that led to that horrible nightmare.
It’s a coincidence though, definitely. He’s been talking about this cup a lot lately so of course it was on her mind, of course her dream latched on to a thing that’s been near the top of their to do list for weeks now. It’s purely coincidental.
But just to ease her mind Zatanna plays things out differently, she doesn’t talk him into lingering in bed. John makes them a late breakfast; she puts on a completely different outfit than the one that ended up covered in ash and convinces him to walk through the city to the mausoleum instead of portaling over.
There’s a weird air of deja-vu around it all, a weird lingering of the nightmare at the edges of her mind. Everything is playing out differently than the dream, but only because she made it that way and when the mausoleum comes into view her uneasiness grows. It looks exactly like it did in her nightmare and she’s certain she’s never seen it before.
They get in just as easily, there’s still barely any sort of magical signature around it. John puts one sigil on the stone and it falls away like there was never a thing in the way in the first place. It’s the same as it was in her dream she just doesn’t brush it off this time.
“Wait,” she says tugging John’s coat before he can step inside of the crypt. John raises an eyebrow in question. “I’ve got a bad feeling, my bad dream it was just like this and it didn’t end pretty.”
“How not pretty?”
“Like you dead not pretty,” she says eyes lingering over his shoulder looking into the mausoleum, it’s just as dark but she’d bet money that cup is sitting in the exact same spot on the exact same pedestal.
“You think it was a prophetic kind of dream?” he asks turning fully towards her his hands on her shoulders.
“I mean that’s not usually my thing, but it’s way too similar,” she says reaching up and holding his forearms a sense of urgency in her voice. She does not want him going inside of there.
“Okay, then I won’t go in,” he says easily. Occasionally stubborn as he can be sometimes he just listens to her and she’s never been more grateful for those moments until now.
She breathes out a sigh of relief tugging him further back from the entrance.
“Let’s run a few more spells over it, make sure nothing’s off,” she says hand already outstretched to start a few more scans.
John nods his head. “Alright, I’ll take the back you take the front,” he says with a wink as he turns back to shut the mausoleum gate he’d easily broken into. He shuts the gate fully and winces.
“John?” she says turning back to him and he pulls his hand away and looks down.
Flames crackles at his skin and not the bright orange ones she’s familiar with him carrying.
“Shit,” he says and just like in her nightmare they take him over completely.
This time she screams his name when his body succumbs to the flames to the ashes, she screams because this time there’s no way it’s not real; this time she won’t wake up and it’s a nightmare, maybe it never was in the first place.
When Khalid shows up this time she’s sitting with her back to the mausoleum her fingers gripping into the grass tightly. She’s crying still when he leans down and reaches an arm out to comfort her, crying because she could have stopped this, she saw this coming. Something out there gave her the foresight and she brushed it off as a dream. She knows better than to ignore something like that, goddammit she knows better.
She knows better and now John’s dead because she didn’t listen to it.
When Khalid takes off his helmet Zatanna can’t bear the look of sorrow, of pity on his face so she shuts her eyes tightly and curls her fingers even tighter into the grass.
“I got the magic in me, every time I touch that track it turns into gold!”
Zatanna sits upright in an instant watching as John stretches out behind her for his phone clumsily.
“What?” he answers it and Zatanna snatches it from his hand.
“Chas?” she says confirming it for herself.
“Hey, Zee,” he starts and she cuts him off hanging up the phone immediately. She moves to throw it to the end of the bed, but changes her mind flipping the phone over and taking the battery out for good measure. Her phone is somewhere around here and she vaults from the bed to give it the same treatment for when Chas inevitably tries her next.
She can’t blame him if he does after that display of panic she just provided, but she has good reason to be in a panic.
She finds her phone in a pile of last night’s clothes and dismantles it as well. She lets out a breath as she tosses the battery to the other side of the room.
“Um, Zee?” John says voice filled with concern and confusion. She turns standing to a full height to look at him, him alive and well at least for now.
“I think I’m stuck in a time loop, and that cup you’ve been trying to find, well Chas found it and it started this whole thing,” she says running a frustrated hand through her hair.
John runs a hand across the stubble on his jaw and nods as he works to get out of bed himself.
She’s not sure if it’s the worry in her voice, the no doubt look of fear on her face or just his unstoppable faith in her, but he doesn’t question it, doesn’t second guess it or think she’s crazy for a beat. He just simply says, “Tell me about it.”
So she does, she settles down at the kitchen island a cup of coffee in her hand grounding her to the now and not to the what could be and tells him everything about her past two Wednesdays.
“So we don’t go to the mausoleum,” he says easily when she’s done. He curls a hand around her wrist stroking the skin lightly.
“John I don’t think that’ll work, it’s all connected to there, so there is where answers might be,” she says moving her hand to link their fingers together.
“It is, but the only way to know if breaking it is just not going is to not go,” he says. “I don’t die maybe it’s over.”
Zatanna shakes her head. “You know it’s not that easy, it’s never that easy.”
John shrugs, “Maybe just this once it will be.” It sounds borderline optimistic which means it must be really bad, she’s the optimist not him.
“But the day doesn’t reset when you die, trust me I have to live with it for a while,” her voice cracks a little when she says the last part. John shakes his head and rounds the counter pulling her into his arms.
“I know this is gonna be hard, but it’s the only way to know for sure that it’s not this easy,” John says. He presses a kiss into her hair. “If the day starts over again whether I make it through today or not then you tell me all about it again and we figure it out together.”
She pulls her arms around his middle tightly and takes a deep breath.
“We need to look up more about that cup, I need to know everything I can about it no matter what,” she says pulling back and looking up into those deep blue eyes she’s seen burn up right before her twice now. She can’t stomach seeing it again.
They spend the day buried in a few hundred books she conjures up from every library she has access to and a few she doesn’t but can’t be bothered to ask permission for right now. This is a time sensitive situation she can deal with the fallout if the day doesn’t restart.
The cup has barely made a peep in its years of existence, most of what they find correlates with the vague knowledge that John had given her on the first day.
It’s surrounded by myth more than fact. No one’s ever had it in their presence for longer than a few minutes. It’s powers, if any are largely unknown. Most of the accounts even the ones from some of the greatest magical minds in history have chalked it up to nothing more than a totem of luck at best. She disagrees, she’s had the opposite of luck since they came into contact with it.
She hovers over him a bit more than she should brushing her fingers across his skin or through his hair every time he passes by. They make it all the way to 11:50 without incident and for a bright hopeful moment she thinks that maybe he was right, maybe this will be easy to get through.
So of course, just as she thinks that it all goes to shit. They’re sitting on the couch surrounded by books and Chinese takeout boxes John has a cigarette hanging from his lips his focus on an old weathered book when the window rattles. Zatanna notices it not eager to brush it off as something as simple as the wind. She stretches out her hands magic already brewing at her fingertips.
The weather picks up lightning strikes and thunder rolls, the window shatters and Zatanna ducks. The last thing she hears is John shout.
“I got the magic in me, every time I touch that track it turns into gold!”
Zatanna groans into her pillow and reaches out an arm shoving over the entire makeshift nightstand. She doesn’t know what the fuck happened last night, or this night last night, whatever the hell it is, but she’s pretty sure John wasn’t going to survive or if he had midnight was going to trigger a restart one way or another.
“Damn luv,” John groans leaning over to look at the tossed about stack of yellow pages and his phone. She lifts herself up and flips over rubbing a frustrated hand over face as she looks at the ceiling staring angrily at the crack that’s streaking along the discolored white paint.
She turns her head looking him in the eyes with a sigh. “We need to talk,” she says praying to someone that this will be the last go around.
This time they decide they have to go to the mausoleum, staying at home didn’t achieve much. They scan and spell and do a million little ward checks and safety sigils on John before they even get within a hundred yards of the place.
This time he makes it all the way in, even picks up the cup, only to end in ashes and flames.
Ten days pass much in the same way. She wakes up, screams bloody murder at John’s phone, tells him everything and then they get to work. For ten days they call friends for leads, friends of friends, even a few friends of friends of friends much to no avail. Very little new information comes their way about the cup itself and as for time loop well every time loop spell is different every time loop spell has its own eccentricities and lessons to be learned.
Every day she watches him die, sometimes it’s just like the first time, sometimes like the second, every now and then they don’t even get inside and he still bursts into flames. Once they spend the whole day going through the entire graveyard, checking for anything that might have a connection to their mausoleum and somehow a zombie pack rises from a corner of graves tearing into John’s flesh and hers before midnight even hits.
Every day that passes she feels a little more broken, a little less hopeful.
She doesn’t even stand a chance this time, John’s dead before breakfast. She ignores the phone ringing; she just stays in bed and lets John kiss her and slip out the door by himself this time. She doesn’t feel like explaining the time loop, she doesn’t have it in her to watch him burn today.
Just one day, she needs just one day to try the one thing she hasn’t, to reach out to the one person she hasn’t yet.
Tracking down Doctor Fate is never an easy thing to do and he never appreciates when people just summon him up without warning, but she’s beyond caring about that now. She gets dressed quickly and pulls her hair into a ponytail and moves the couch and coffee table out of the way to draw the sigil to summon him on the living room floor all while trying not to think about John dying alone.
She says the words and the sigil lights up gold and blue with an angry Doctor Fate floating in the center, or she assumes he’s angry it’s not like he has facial expressions.
“You know I don’t like to be summoned this way Miss Zatara,” the voice inside the golden helmet booms. “I have no-“
Zatanna raises a hand, her eyes cold and hard cutting him off.
“Listen, you can give me the whole respecting the laws of my magic and interference speech later,” she says knowing there won’t be a later. “I don’t need the all-knowing Doctor Fate to tell me he can’t tell me things right now; I need my friend Khalid. So, if you could drop the helmet and let me talk to him that’d be great.”
Fate tilts his head in consideration. “That’s quite demanding of you,” he says his feet finally settling to the ground.
“Yeah well I tend to feel pretty demanding when Constantine keeps dying,” she says frustrated, she doesn’t have time to argue or listen to his philosophy.
The glow around him settles and finally the helmet comes off at that. Khalid looks at her concern overtaking his young features. She’s seen that look on a lot of faces lately and suddenly she’s missing the unfeeling glow of a golden helmet instead.
“Keeps dying?” he asks stepping outside of the sigil and placing a comforting hand on her shoulder.
“Time loop,” she says and tells him everything, well not everything, there’s a lot of useless information she’s learned over the last few days. He listens to it all and she’s pretty sure the helmet does too.
“You’ve learned a lot,” he says when she’s done. “And you’re certain no one has specifically placed this curse on you, it’s the cup?”
She nods. She’s already gone through the list of usual suspects; Midnite stays neutral so it can’t be him even if he wants to get his hands on the cup, Nick is locked away tight, Faust isn’t clever enough for something like this and anyone she’s fought with the League is preoccupied with trying to destroy other League members or the world at large not just fucking with her.
Khalid is thoughtful for a moment his arms crossed, the helmet glows from where he’s sat it on the coffee table.
“I don’t have any answers that you haven’t already found, but he might,” he says gesturing to the helmet. Zatanna sighs, Fate tends to be more ominous than helpful, but she relents.
Khalid puts his hand on her shoulder one more time giving a comforting squeeze before he puts the helmet back on. A burst of light and Fate is once again floating before her.
“You know as well as anyone, that sometimes you cannot fight magic. Sometimes you must let it take its course,” he says and with another burst of light he’s gone. She shields her eyes as he goes, dropping her arm when the bright white light fades.
She huffs angrily at the space where he’d been.
“That’s all he’s got, let it take its course,” she says flopping down onto the couch. “Fuck that.”
Letting it takes its course will get John killed and she’s not about to let that stick anytime soon.
The days start bleeding into one another from there. She can’t remember what number day things happen on, but she remembers every excruciating detail. She tries to act like she doesn’t know just how many days it’s been on the ones where she decides to tell John what’s been happening, but she can tell he sees right through her.
She knows exactly how many days it’s been; she knows exactly how many times she’s watched John die. She remembers when the hellhound showed up and tore him to shreds, she remembers every flame that’s burned him away, she remembers the day he slipped in the shower and cracked his head open bleeding out and she didn’t even know it and for as long as she lives she won’t ever be able to forget the sight of him taking a magical lance to the heart to save her from another Faust scheme.
Every day she’s given some new horrific memory that if she ever does manage to get out of this will haunt her for years to come.
She feels stuck, he always dies and it’s not always the cup anymore. Today she lets it happen doesn’t even fight him to stay in bed a moment longer he picks up the cup and he’s gone just like that. She doesn’t scream or cry this time; she just freezes and clenches her fists so hard that she feels the skin break and blood drip down through her fingertips.
She turns her phone off and covers herself in enough glamours that no one will be able to find her unless she wants to be found.
She wanders through the city, aimless and uncertain for hours, blood drying on her hands. She just walks and walks until her legs are as tired as the rest of her. She falls heavily onto a bench and watches the people pass by. Couples hand in hand pass her and she wishes so desperately that could be her and John. Today, the first today, should have been an easy day off in a city with good food and instead it’s become all this.
A girl in all black and a boy in a trench coat pass by her and it’s too much, she opens up a portal, not even caring if anyone sees and rushes through. She doesn’t realize where she’s sending herself until her feet land on cobbled sidewalk and she literally walks right into a familiar yellow cab.
Chas must hear the thump of her running into it from the driver’s seat because he’s out of his seat in an instant, already standing before her.
“Zatanna!” he says happily, that big smile of his she’s always glad to see. He wraps her up in his arms in a big bear hug that she easily returns lifting her off the ground a little. She smiles a little sadly wishing she could be just as happy to see him. He’s always been, and always will be, her favorite of John’s seedy friends. He’s a good man, maybe the best man she knows choosing to help and stay good even if he’s not really superpowered in any way.
Any other day she’d smile right back, she’d ask him about Renee and Geraldine and they’d laugh about whatever new stupid thing John’s gotten himself into. But today something about his warmth about his joy makes her break immediately.
It’s been quite a few days since she let herself have a good cry she guesses it was inevitable the dam would break again. She sobs into his chest as he settles her back down on the ground, his arms go around her a little tighter.
“Woah, Zatanna, you’re okay,” he says reaching his hand up to brush against her hair soothingly. “You’re okay.”
She’s not sure how long she stands there crying into Chas’ flannel shirt making it a mess of tears, fading makeup and snot. She calms down eventually pulling back a little but he keeps her close his hands rubbing up and down her arms comfortingly.
His face isn’t pitying, she’s gotten a lot of that over the days, it’s just kindness and care.
“I’m fine,” she says hastily wiping the tears from her face.
“You’re not,” he says lifting her head up with a gentle knock under her chin and a smile. “And that’s okay.”
“I should tell you,” she starts sounding the most tired she thinks she’s ever sounded.
Chas shakes his head. “Only if you want to, you sound tired darlin’ and you sound like you don’t want to have to say it all right now and that’s fine.”
Zatanna smiles gratefully brushing a hand uselessly across the damp spots on his shirt.
“Sorry I ruined your nice shirt.”
Chas snorts looking down at it for a moment, “I think being with John all these years has made you forget what a nice shirt on a man looks like.”
Zatanna starts to laugh, but it comes out with a small sob. Just the mention of John gets to her now, especially from someone who loves him as much as she does. She’s glad he’s okay with her not talking, she doesn’t have it in her to break his heart too.
He notices the slip and reaches out again taking one of her hands between his own.
“Hey, so what do you need? Need to cry some more or would punching me in the face relieve some of that heaviness you’re carrying even, I’ll let you have three good hits for free,” he says and Zatanna smiles a little. “Or maybe we can take a drive and just be, I’ll only charge you for half on the meter even.”
Zatanna laughs at that a real genuine one.
“A drive sounds good,” she says and he squeezes her hand once before walking her over to the passenger seat. He opens the door for her and she soaks in the familiar comfort of his cab while he gets in. He turns on the radio, some oldies station that he’s obsessed with and they just drive.
He doesn’t push her for answers about her behavior he just hums along with every song that’s on and drives.
“I’m totally not paying the meter,” she says long into their drive, the sun has gone down and she’s starting to nod off. Being comfortable like this she’s staring to wonder how much sleep she’s actually gotten through all this, if she’s gotten any.
Chas chuckles warmly and that’s the last thing she hears before drifting off with her head against window. When midnight comes she doesn’t know not until she wakes to the loud ringing of John’s damn phone the next morning.
She beats him to the phone; it’s been a month, a full month and she’s so tired. She’s tired of losing him, tired of fighting to stop it for it to only happen no matter what she does. She’s tired of going to everyone she knows for help and coming up empty on answers. She feels powerless, like her magic is a waste of time and space right now, like she’s just a waste of time and space. What good is magic and being a supposedly all-powerful witch if she can’t even save the person she loves most in the world.
She talks to Chas longing for the day she had with him where she didn’t have to go through explaining all this to someone; she nods and agrees with what he says at the right spots leaning far enough away that John can’t hear a single thing he says on the other line. She parts with a cheery goodbye and lies straight to John’s face making up some story about his cab that won’t get John moving to go anywhere.
She wants to make the most of this day, it’s a depressing time loop anniversary for her and she wants to forget for a little while, forget with him.
They waste away the morning in bed, if the sex feels a little more desperate than usual, a little more intense John doesn’t say a thing. They have breakfast in bed, feeding each other in the sappiest ways. She glamours a book that has some stories about the cup into the latest novel in a mystery series she’s been into and sits on the couch all afternoon. John lingers reading something of his own and giving up eventually choosing instead to rest his head in her lap with a cigarette in his mouth. She runs a free hand through his hair tickles of sparkling blue magic playing across her fingertips. They walk down the street to a little bar that makes a damn good veggie burger for dinner and she pulls him back into the bedroom as soon as they’re in the door.
Soon enough he falls asleep. She watches him sleep for a while, his sandy hair tousled, the eyeliner he fell asleep in from the night before still smudged under his eyes and only half his nails painted black. She wants to sear this into her memories, not the horrific visual of him burning to a crisp in her arms.
He shuffles in his sleep a bit, instinctually rolling just a little bit closer to her. She reaches out running her fingers through his hair slowly before she glances at the phone that has become her greatest enemy seeing that the time still gives her an hour till midnight. She slips from bed quietly and waves her hand over John letting some sparkles of peaceful sleep fall all over him to make certain he doesn’t wake.
She gives him one last lingering look as she slips out of the room, he may not remember each day but if there’s any lingering pain when all is said and done at least this time she hopes he won’t even wake up to feel whatever takes him from her this time.
She goes to the mausoleum alone, she shouts backwards words and walks in without a single check, she steps up to the cup and just stares at it.
Nothing happens. No fire, no brimstone. At least not to her, maybe she unknowingly just lit her boyfriend on fire in bed which feels and sounds terrible even if she’ll get another day to stop it.
“What do you want from me?” she shouts at it the sound echoing into the empty mausoleum. Nothing, it just sits there like a boring old cup.
She picks it up from its stand curling the stem hard in her hand.
“Tlem yawa dna ekat lla ruoy cigam htiw uoy,” she snarls at it and nothing happens her magic just fizzles out around the cup. It’s not the first time she’s tried something of this nature, but it’s the first time she’s been here alone.
She lets out a frustrated shout and tosses the cup into the nearest wall hard, it doesn’t even crumple. That’s not new to her either, she’s tossed it into walls, sidewalks and everything in between. It doesn’t even seem to care if she takes it out of this mausoleum the same thing always happens and it never even bends. She picks it up tossing it again and again until her arms are tired, until she feels her phone vibrate in her pocket the five-minute warning till midnight she’s started setting each morning letting her know her time is up.
She uses it wisely taking her frustrations out on the cup again and again and again.
She tries to save him every day and fails.
So one day she just leaves. The phone rings and she’s up out of the bed in an instant, tossing on the first pair of pants she can find. John chases after her ignoring the phone that keeps on playing that same damn song.
“Love, where are you going?” John asks hastily following her. She’s barely dressed and she’s already halfway out the door, she just has to get out of here.
She sighs pressing her forehead to the half-opened door before turning back to him.
“I just need to get out of here,” she says and it comes out a little more desperate than she intended.
“Alright, well just give me a minute and we’ll leave town if you want,” he says already turning to get ready and get the hell out of dodge with her. She appreciates his unwavering loyalty to follow along with her no matter what more than he’ll ever know, but she just can’t be with him today.
“No, John, I just need to go alone,” she says grabbing his hands that are reaching for his own discarded pants from the night before. He looks at her his face a mask of worry.
She steps closer and cups his face in both of her hands.
“I swear I’ll explain everything when I get back,” she says knowing that she won’t be coming back and even if she did he won’t be here when she does. She leans in kissing him soft and slow, she savors them all a little more these days, fearful that one will become the last.
“Just trust me, okay?” she says when she pulls back from his lips. He lifts his arms up holding her wrists and rubbing his thumbs into her skin.
“Alright,” he says letting her go. She slowly runs her hand down from his cheek and along his chest before she turns away.
“I love you,” John says. He doesn’t say it a lot, but when he does he pours everything into it and it breaks her heart and pieces it back together at the same time.
She turns quickly to meet his eyes, making sure he knows she means it just as much. “I love you too. I evol uoy oot.”
She catches sight of a small raised smile at the corner of his lips before she shuts the door behind her. She portals to San Francisco, smashes her phone into a hundred tiny little pieces, puts up a glamour spell to protect her from being found and spends the whole day in her old bed. She doesn’t know if it’s the cup or something else that kills him that day, she doesn’t want to know.
She stares at the bright red numbers on the clock beside the bed until it turns to midnight and the day starts all over again.
“What if it’s me?” she asks studying the ash underneath her fingertips. It was the cup again this time, just far earlier in the day than usual. She ran before any Justice Leaguer could show up not needing to once again see and feel their sadness and pity alongside her own.
She still had four hours till midnight so she’d wandered and wandered until she ended up here in the House of Mystery leaning back against the bed that’s sometimes theirs, a bed she hasn’t gotten to wake up in in fifty days.
Boston found her there about two hours ago and settled down beside her the best he can. He hasn’t said a word, he’s just listened as she’s spilled out the condensed version of the past fifty days to him.
“What if what’s you?” he asks.
She sighs dropping her hands between her knees. “What if it’s me, what if I’m the one who’s supposed to die?” she wonders, it’s not the first time it’s crossed her mind. Aside from the zombie incident she’s never even been physically scathed on any of the days so maybe it’s her. “Maybe if I die, he doesn’t. Maybe this finally fucking stops.”
She’s so tired, so fucking tired.
“Tanna,” Boston says with so much pain in his voice. John’s his friend and he’s dead and here she is talking about her own death so casually. Just because everyone else gets to start over every single day with no memory of this doesn’t mean they don’t still hurt in the moment.
“He’d never want that, he’d never want you to die for him,” he says. He reaches out hovering his hand over one of hers, the closest to a touch he can muster in this form.
“He’d die for me,” she says and she feels the tears coming, she keeps thinking she’ll run out, but she never does.
“Yeah, well the bastard is a hypocrite that way,” he says with a chuckle and for a moment Zatanna smiles. “Plus on a selfish note, I’d miss you.” She turns her head to look at him, his white eyes look serious and caring.
It’s a good reminder that she has friends in all this, even if she feels completely alone.
“No dying okay,” he says holding her eyes. “You’ll sort this, or the universe will or something, you’ve never been beat and you never will be.”
Zatanna smiles a sad smile his way and lifts up her hand her palm hovering under his, very nearly holding hands.
“No dying,” she says as she leans her head back onto the bed keeping her hand steady beneath her friends. She stays put like that till midnight feeling a little bit lighter just for having him there.
She’s decided that this is hell. Knowing the fate that awaits someone you love and not being able to do a damn thing to stop it. Despite the pickup of Boston’s optimism days ago, she still feels too defeated. She’s done a few thousand spells, played the day out fifty-six different ways and she’s still got all that’s left of John under her fingernails.
She’s sitting in a bar on the far side of New Orleans well on her way to finishing a bottle of whiskey the bartender has kindly left for her.
She doesn’t even flinch anymore at the bit of ash at her fingertips she catches sight of as she tosses back her latest glass, she’s becoming more and more numb to it all which is more than concerning. Problem is there’s no one to be concerned about her anymore, anyone who is will just forget to be when the clock strikes midnight.
“Hey, gorgeous,” a voice beside her says sliding into the stool next to her like he belongs there. Zatanna eyes him, he looks like his name is Chad and she’s instantly annoyed by his presence.
“You look lonely, maybe I can help,” he goes on and yeah she may have infinite time these days, but she doesn’t have time for this. Her patience is thin at best fifty-six days into the same day.
She gives the man a fake joyful smile and for a moment she can see he thinks he has a chance.
“The love of my life has died in front of me fifty-four times and this bottle here,” she pauses pouring herself another glass. “Isn’t for sharing.”
He looks like a deer in the headlights and opens his mouth surely about to say something that will just make her more annoyed.
“Og yawa,” she says flicking her fingers in his direction. A blasting magical wind takes hold of him flinging him across the bar and out the door. Everyone in the bar freezes and stares, she ignores them turning back to her bottle and sliding an extra twenty towards the bartender for his troubles. He just shrugs pocketing the money and moving along.
Slowly the other people in the bar decide she’s not a threat to them and go back to their own business. She slowly sips on her refill until someone else slips into the stool she just flung Chad from.
“Well that was quite the show,” Papa Midnite says tapping the bar once signaling the bartender. He slides a drink in front of him without hesitation.
She hums in agreement, she’s not surprised to see him, this is his bar after all.
It's the second time she’s seen Midnite since all this started, the first time had been confrontational Zatanna still holding on to some little bit of hope around day twenty. She’d confronted him fast and violent with John’s blood still drying on her hands from where he’d been mugged of all things. She’d held magic flames close to his face, a thing she usually wouldn’t do, and forced answers out of him about why he wanted this cup so bad.
“Because I like the illusion of power, even if it’s just an illusion,” he’d said. He knew less about it than she did at that point. Whatever that damn thing is it’s not an illusion of power at all she knows that all too well now.
This time though she’s not here to fight him she’s just here to drink.
“Don’t worry I won’t throw you out a door too,” she says taking another sip and looking at him from the corner of her eye. He raises his glass to her in appreciation.
They sit side by side quietly for a few beats before he puts down his drink and turns to her.
“So, where is your lesser half?” he asks.
Zatanna swallows the last of her drink hard. “Dead,” she says feeling her heart lurch at the word.
Midnite’s head drops a little and he hums. “I’m sorry to hear that,” he says running his hand over his goatee. His tone is surprisingly genuine, so much so that she has to turn and look him in the eyes. He looks genuinely sorry, maybe even a little sad with the glow of the bar lights in his eyes.
“He was a right bastard,” he continues on raising his glass and tipping it to her empty one still tight in her grip on the bar. “But he always kept things interesting for me.”
He takes a sip of his drink before turning back to face forward.
“You don’t want to know what happened?” she says refilling her glass.
Midnite shakes his head and waves a hand dismissingly in her direction. “Why bother, you’ll find a way to fix it.”
Zatanna snorts. She wishes she had the same belief in herself that Midnite seems to have.
“Not this time I don’t think,” she sighs running her fingers along her glass, a bit of the ash slips into her drink and she feels bile rise in her throat pushing the glass away from her fast.
Midnite laughs a deep, smooth thing that sounds like how French press coffee would if it could chuckle.
“Bullshit,” he says. He twists a ring on his finger and hovers his hand over Zatanna’s glass. It disappears in a cloudy whisp replaced with another fresh clean one already filled for her.
“Stubbornness is the thing you two have always shared in common,” he says tilting his head thoughtfully. “You show it in different ways, different reactions, but when it comes to each other it’s the same. He’s slipped through hell for you and you’ve put a beat back in his heart against the better wishes of the universes magic, he’ll be back annoying me soon enough.”
Zatanna shakes her head gulping down the new drink in one go. He will be back, that’s true, but it won’t matter because it’ll just end the same way it always does again and again. She doesn’t have to tell him all that though, she doesn’t have the energy too, so she just deflects.
“Is the neutral party encouraging necromancy?” she says trying to make it sound teasing, but it falls flat. This time loop has beat all the humor from her.
Midnite lets out another low chuckle. “Not encouraging, just being smart enough to know to stay out of your way if you choose it.”
He downs the last of his drink and pushes up and away from the bar leaving her to it. She’s drunk enough this time to not even realize when midnight comes.
For a brief unexpected run of days, she’s given some new fight. Somehow encouraging though without context words from someone who’s not a friend gives her new drive to fight.
But that drive turns into anger eventually.
One day she just snaps and the only person around to take it out on is the person she’s trying to save. The phone rings and she tosses it against the wall immediately shattering it into a hundred pieces.
John looks at her like she’s gone crazy and before he can even so much as question her she’s railing into him.
She doesn’t know why, it’s not like he planned this, it’s not like she blames him, but she’s just so angry.
Angry at the world, angry at this curse she can’t seem to break, angry at Midnite and Chas and everyone who’s ever mentioned this cup. Angry at John for dying. Angry at herself for not solving this yet. So she picks a fight, yelling at the cup isn’t cutting it anymore evidently, she doesn’t even know what she says first to provoke it, but it’s something harsh enough it stuns John silent. She shouts and says things she doesn’t mean and walks out eventually with a loud slam of the door.
It hurts her to hurt him, but she’s just so damn angry.
The upside is tomorrow she’ll get another shot. She’s not worried about running out of chances to redo this anymore, she can say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing, act as out of character as she wants because tomorrow she’ll be the only one who remembers it, the only one who has to live with it.
She’s out of fight, she’s out of answers, she’s just out. So when the phone rings the next morning she’s determined to just make the most of every second even if it means she’ll lose him again before midnight strikes no matter how hard she tries not to.
Seventy-eight days, seventy-eight deaths most of which she’s seen and she’s finally decided to listen to what Doctor Fate said to her what feels like a lifetime ago.
She lets the magic takes it course. She’s done everything she could think of, she’s altered every course she could and the result is always the same. So this time she just lets the magic dictate the day.
She just accepts fate, destiny whatever the fuck it wants to call itself, she accepts she can’t save him even if it breaks her heart.
The day goes much like the first had just with a few different bumps and changes here and there. She doesn’t fight anything, she doesn’t argue. She just takes it all in in ways that she hasn’t allowed herself to on any of these repeats.
She doesn’t bother checking the time on her phone, she slips it in her pocket out of sight and out of mind. She just keeps her fingers twined with his and listens to him rattle on about finally having an upper-hand against Midnite the next time they have to see him.
She soaks in every word, every bit of his accent, the way he says her name and the way his chuckle sounds when a cigarette is dangling from his lips.
She just soaks it in, accepts whatever this day brings. She’s done being reckless, she’s done fighting. This day has been the closest to the original one yet and she’s letting it go.
It’s a little closer to midnight than usual since they decided to shower together after breakfast when they finally walk into the mausoleum, easy breezy just like it always is.
She lights the place up and feels her minutes to midnight reminder vibrate in her pocket. She ignores it, silencing it quickly as John investigates the space. He steps up to the cup and Zatanna closes her eyes, just because she’s accepted what’s inevitable doesn’t mean she has to watch it.
There’s no sound. No shouts or screams, no sick burning flesh, no ash floating in the air. Just the sound of John making the start of a humming sound.
She opens her eyes as John touches the cup and nothing happens, just nothing. He picks it up and passes it around between his hands back and forth, back and forth like he doesn’t have a care in the world. He’s breathing, he’s whole and he’s humming a fucking Metallica song under his breath tossing an ancient magical artifact around like it’s a tennis ball.
She pulls her phone from her pocket and there in bold letters across a picture of her and John from that day they borrowed the Wayne mansion pool for themselves is the time.
It’s a new day, it’s Thursday.
She doesn’t know if she should scream or cry or laugh, but evidently her body chooses for her, chooses the thing it thinks will be the most cathartic for her. She laughs, hard and loud and frankly maniacal. She feels like the final girl at the end of a horror movie, like she’s riding off in a stranger’s truck as a man with a chainsaw can’t quite catch up, like a girl who just watched the rich bastards who spent all night trying to kill her explode one by one. She won, she fucking won and she doesn’t have a clue how and it feels impossible, but she did and all she can do is laugh.
She probably looks and sounds crazy, cackling like the witch she is, tears of joy? Relief? She’s not sure which, streaming down her face. John freezes with the cup in hand staring at her a look of worry on his face. Something about the look on his face makes her double over in laughter even more, she crouches closer to the ground head down and hands on her knees.
John comes over to her side a gentle hand on her back.
“Luv, you alright?” he says sitting the cup down on the ground. She catches sight of it and falls further to the ground flat on her butt, her legs kicked out on the ground purposefully kicking the cup away from them.
“I’m fine,” she says through hiccupping laughs as she finally starts to calm down. John settles down beside her a hand on her thigh. “Best I’ve been in seventy-eight days.” She giggles a little lifting her head to the ceiling. She wipes under her eyes clearing her face of the tears that fell during her unexpected laughter.
She curls a leg under herself and turns to him lifting her hands to his shoulders.
“I need to tell you something,” she says shaking her head in disbelief.
And tell him she does, everything. She tells him all the little details from day one to day seventy-eight. She tells him the good, the bad and every bit in between. She tells him about the days she didn’t handle it well and the days she made the most of.
She tells him the things she regrets, even if he doesn’t remember them. She even tells him about the day Boston talked her out of letting herself die to save him and he holds her hands a little tighter. She lets it all pour out, seventy-eight days of heartache, frustration and anger and he takes in every word.
It’s well after midnight by the time she runs out of steam, runs out of things to tell him and he pulls her in close. He presses a soft gentle kiss to her forehead.
“You are the strongest woman I know, strongest person I know,” he says his eyes looking a little glassy. “I never could have survived all that, I never could have handled losing you so many times.”
He’s said that before, he doesn’t remember of course, but it’s more comforting and fulfilling today than it was before. Because today he’s alive and she won’t have to go through this same damned day again.
“Let’s go home,” he says rising from the floor. He holds out his hands that she accepts immediately and pulls her up alongside him. “Forget this cup ever existed.”
The cup. Yeah she’s not leaving without dealing with it first.
She drops his hands and raises one of her own putting a protective wall around John. He opens his mouth to argue about it and she silences him.
“Nope, this thing has killed you, so bubble boy it for a minute for my peace of mind,” she says turning and picking up the cup from the ground. She doesn’t bother with trying to destroy it, it’s never worked before and she has an inkling it won’t today either.
She sits it back where it started and closes her eyes. She twists her hands in a complex movement and speaks loudly echoing across the mausoleum.
“Dnes siht raf yawa dna reven tel enoemos eb deppart nihtiw s’ti sehctulc niaga!”
A swirl of her magic, a kaleidoscope of colors swirl around the cup and lift it into the air and in the next second it’s gone puffed out of existence, or at least her existence, in an instance.
She breathes out a sigh of relief waving a hand to drop the protective bubble from around John. She walks over to him and wraps her arms around his waist.
“Home now?” he says rubbing his hands up and down her back. “You need some rest.”
She nods her head into his chest, her nods matching up with the beat of his heart.
Day Seventy-Nine (aka Thursday)
“I got the magic in me, every time I touch that track it turns into gold!”
Zatanna shoots up immediately from where she’d been curled comfortably in bed her head against John’s chest. No, this can’t be happening.
No, no, no, no, no.
She saw the time, it passed midnight, John’s alive. It’s a new day and this can’t be happening.
John grabs his phone from his own nightstand, not hers where it usually sits, and silences it quickly.
“Sorry, luv, I should have changed it, I didn’t think,” he says reaching out and putting a tentative hand on her shoulder. She deflates with his words and his touch, reaching up to curl her fingers around his.
“Never use that ringtone again,” she says turning towards him. “I never want to hear that song for the rest of my life.”
“Consider it done,” he says moving their joined hands to his lips and kissing the back of hers softly.
Day Eighty (aka Friday)
She spends more of Thursday, Thursday god isn’t that a nice thing to be able to say, than necessary trying to work out what exactly it is that broke the time loop.
John never leaves her side as she pours over her memory and over the books she’s already memorized but nothing quite adds up. All she can chalk it up to is the cup protecting itself, why it cursed her instead of John who got closest first she’s not certain, but it’s the best she’s got. Hopefully the spell she cast on it will keep it from ever putting someone else through what she went through.
She eventually decides to settle on what Doctor Fate said all along, sometimes you can’t fight magic. And maybe when she finally stopped fighting the fight stopped for her.
She wakes on Friday to a normal alarm and John’s arms around her. He presses kisses across her shoulders, he indulges her need to be a little more cautious and her occasionally overprotective moments as they come one by one.
He definitely doesn’t complain when they shower together and only snorts a little every time she bubble boys him. He even doesn’t bat an eye when she won’t let him use the toaster. She already saw that electrocute him once and she’s good without witnessing that again.
John’s in the kitchen now flipping some stir fry in a pan over the oven’s open flame. Zatanna had only flinched a little when he lit it and the protection spell she sent his way when he did, well it was a small one.
She uncurls herself from the couch and joins him slipping her hands up under his barely buttoned shirt. She warms her hands rubbing them slowly across the light trail of hair on his chest. His skin is always borderline fiery and it’s soothing against her cold hands. She’s so glad she won’t have to go without this anytime soon. So glad he’s breathing and still just as hot blooded as he’s always been.
She drags her nails just above his waistband and his breath hitches a bit.
“So handsy,” he says with a wink over his shoulder to her his focus still on the food in front of him. She shrugs, she’s going to be very tactile for the foreseeable future just to remind herself this is real.
She’s also going to need to make a few of those therapy sessions she’s been skipping up, but that’s a job for Monday. Because there actually will be a Monday, and every day of the week after that. It just feels refreshing to think about.
A few minutes later their food is done and she backs away from him slowly still trailing her hands across his back. They curl up comfortably on the couch with their plates in hand and some cheesy Godzilla movie on tv, Zatanna’s legs thrown across John’s lap.
When she’s done she leans over to sit her empty plate on the table alongside John’s just as a flame appears on the coffee table. She pulls her hand back quickly and John’s grip on her thigh tightens as the flame dies out a piece of crisp burnt at the edges paper appearing in its place.
Zatanna grabs it slowly and brings it up so that she and John can both read it.
The note is written in delicate, old style cursive that she doesn’t recognize.
‘Thanks for getting that cup for me, New Orleans and its superstitions happen to be all too true for me. Too much hallowed ground and all that, especially with an artifact so shrouded in mystery. Sorry, the process had to be so daunting, they do say that cup can be unpredictable, but hey acceptance is important, right? – your favorite enemy, Circe.’
A second piece of the flaming paper appears on the table as they finish reading the first and she snatches it up.
‘P.S. I’ll let you know if I figure out what it does, or if it’s really good you’ll just hear about it ;)’
Zatanna turns from the notes in her hand and meets John’s eyes.
“Midnite never did say where he heard about the cup from did he?” John says. He takes the notes from her hand where she’s started to grip them a little too tight. He crumples them up and tosses them into his half-filled glass of water.
“She whispered in his ear and he didn’t even know it, she knew you’d find out and want to beat him to it and she knew that I’d help, she knew we would make it safer for her,” Zatanna says gritting her teeth. This whole time she’d been so angry at so many things and it never crossed her mind that Circe would want something so inconsequential. A cup that for all intents and purposes is nothing more than a trap.
“I’m gonna kill her next time she makes her way to this dimension for putting you through that,” John snarls.
“Imprisonment seems more fitting,” she says in response drifting her hand up and into his hair. She moves her fingers along his scalp and feels his anger simmer down just a bit.
John turns from where he’d been staring at the soaked notes in the glass and looks into her eyes. He leans in and kisses her hard.
“I’ll hunt her down,” he says fiercely pressing another quick kiss to her lips.
Zatanna smiles resting her hand at the base of his neck. “Okay, but can you do that tomorrow?” she says because the word tomorrow won’t lose its novelty any time soon. “I just want to keep basking in your aliveness for now.”
“Tomorrow,” he whispers into the space between their lips. Tomorrow. Isn’t that a beautiful thing?