As usual, I watched a film and thought about it a lot. I liked both John Wick 1 and 2, and not just because Keanu Reeves is extraordinarily good to watch, and still criminally underrated. There was a scene in the first film that got me thinking, and a short piece of fanfiction was the result. What I love about this film, apart from the balletic grace of the fight choreography, the beautiful camera work and the wry humour, is the way it packs an emotional punch when you least expect it. Reeves is adept at bringing troubled characters to life, and John Wick is no exception. It’s mostly in the eyes, of course, but he has a grace that just screams vulnerability in certain roles.
So what was the scene that got me thinking? The one below. It’s brief, but Addy, the barmaid, hits the nail on the head with one word: vulnerable.
I got wondering, then. What if, in addition to the obvious services for its clientele, the Continental offered a slightly different service? And Addy was the main provider? The result was this fic. I make no apology for the fact it plays shamelessly on a hurt/comfort riff (a trope that I don’t often play with, but actually, it works here). I wanted to explore the idea that the Continental offers an emotional service as well as a commercial one. To me, Addy was the perfect character to use for this. In the minute and a half of their onscreen conversation, she reveals an affection and an empathy for John (her ‘Jonathan’) that suggests a bit of a backstory, and while I didn’t want them to have been romantically involved, I did want her to be someone he trusts. Perhaps, in this universe, she is indeed an empath, and that’s what Winston recognises in her?
Now, of course, there’s a lot of writerly projection in this fic, too. I mean, all I wanted to do for virtually the entire two films was to sit JW down and give him a massive cuddle (which, I’m sure is what the director intended a lot of the audience to feel at certain points!) so this is a little self indulgent. However, I needed to give myself a warm up for the serious editing of Little Somerby book 2 that I’ve been doing this week, and this was a great way in. I make no apology for this fic, even if it is a touch self indulgent. Enjoy :).
Summary: What if Addy was an empath? Aside from being the barmaid at the Continental, she performs a vital service for the wellbeing of the clientele. Her biggest challenge will be untangling John Wick.
A/N: As usual, watching a predominantly action/adventure film got me thinking! I was intrigued by Addy, the barmaid, and wanted to give her a bigger role. This fic assumes that more time in John Wick’s room elapses between the doctor’s visit and Ms Perkins’ ambush on John.
The Continental caters to its clients’ every need. So long as they abide by the rules of the institution, they can access exactly what they require. Most of the time, it’s straightforward; guns, contacts, dry cleaning services, occasionally a medical professional. The ‘usual’ things that any self-respecting assassin might call upon.
There is one service, however, that is a touch more unusual, and not often called for. Some might misinterpret it as something grubby; in actual fact, it’s more noble and pure than you could imagine. It is what is known within the Continental’s walls as Holding. Winston himself thought of it; beneath the habitual sang froid of the Manager’s exterior is the remains of what was once a warm heart. And whatever the years have done to try to extinguish that, a spark of humanity still remains. While that humanity may be misdirected, it does show itself as empathy for his guests when needed.
Like its venerable Manager, most of the Continental’s clientele are adept at putting things into boxes. It goes awith the territory. You don’t do what the guests do without learning to compartmentalise. The business of killing for money invites a certain distance; otherwise, all would be madness. John Wick was always one of the best at this. Once he put on the suit, picked up the gun, he was a total professional. Tonight, however, is different. He is different.
Addy notices things. She’s been in her job for a long time. When Winston first approached her to discuss Holding, she was sceptical. Surely it would lead to more, to a muddying of the professional waters, to complications? Winston assured her not. Any guest transgressing the boundaries would be excommunicado, without question. Likewise, if she crossed the clearly defined lines, she would be dismissed without references. She herself is unusual; her empathic nature, which was once a source of fear and confusion to her, has been honed and allowed to flourish in this rarified environment. She works, ironically, perhaps, for the powers of light these days by performing Holding.
She remembers John Wick from before; she knows how good he was. How the bloodstains on his clothing after a job, when he returned to the Continental, were, more often than not, someone else’s. But something has changed. She can see it in his eyes. When he approaches the bar, she feels that familiar lurch in her stomach that tells her, immediately, that he is bleeding on the inside.
‘I’ve never seen you like this before,’ she says, after she’s kissed him. The kiss was spontaneous and is, technically, in contravention of the Continental’s policies; but something tells Addy that Winston will overlook it for John Wick. This once.
She considers him for a long moment. Meets his gaze. Sees the wounds that lie there, realising that even if her stomach hadn’t lurched, she’d be able to recognise his emotions a mile off. ‘Vulnerable,’ she says softly. As the word passes her lips, she swears she’s not imagining it but his eyes are flooded with both tears and memories. He breaks their eye contact and turns away. Addy does the same, to give him a moment’s breathing space. When she turns back around she places a drink and a serviette on the bar. ‘Compliments of the house,’ she says. Glancing at the serviette, but leaving the drink, he leaves. Addy catches Winston’s eye. Winston nods, almost imperceptibly. John is the perfect candidate for the Holding service tonight.
Later that evening, Addy takes a deep breath and knocks at the door to room 880 . There is a long pause before the door, chain still in place, opens an inch. Through the gap, she can see that John is wearing a white t-shirt. Off duty, then, but only just.
‘May I come in?’ Addy asks. John has never requested this service; indeed, he hasn’t tonight, but, as with so many things, he has put himself in Winston’s hands. Winston knows this, knows him, very well, after all.
‘Of course.’ The door closes, the chain is removed, then opens wider to admit her into the room.
‘Winston called you,’ Addy says as she steps over the threshold. She notices his pallor, the livid red bloodstain on his t-shirt from a wound to the abdomen. The eyes, hooded from her now, but, she suspects, still so very wounded. Apart from the t-shirt he’s wearing light blue boxer shorts but nothing else. His feet are bare. Addy tries not to feel unsettled by the incongruity of this; she’s never seen him in anything other than his trademark black suit. His vulnerability touches her heart again.
John nods. ‘He told me what you do now. And about the confidentiality clause.’
Addy gives him a small smile. ‘It’s OK, Jonathan. No strings. No complications. Total discretion guaranteed.’
He lets out a long breath, and as he does so, he sits down on the edge of the large double bed. Addy feels the first flutterings of the emotions he’s trying so hard to control. She notes the tension in John’s shoulders, the knuckles gripping the bed linen that are as white as the sheets themselves. This is a man in more than just physical pain. But that is her stock in trade, now.
‘It’s all right,’ Addy repeats. ‘I’m here. For as long as you need me. I can’t make the pain go away, but I can share it with you for a while.’
Slowly, he lifts his head to meet her gaze, and all of the pain and vulnerability that she’d merely glimpsed from the other side of the bar earlier that evening is reflected there. Hands still gripping the sheets, he looks, for the first time since she’s known him, and she’s known him a long time, afraid. She says nothing, simply taking two steps towards him until she’s just in front of him. She reaches out a hand and brushes her fingertips down his cheek, sliding her palm around to the back of his neck. He bows his head and she slides her fingers into his hair, easing him towards her. Her other hand raises to touch his face, and she breathes in. As she does so, she feels the first waves of emotion washing over her. It’s deep rooted, as she knew it would be, and dark. Emotions could be any combination of colours, scents and sensations and his are the darkest she’s felt in a long time. No wonder she could see them in his eyes.
‘Addy,’ he murmurs. He’s unsure about this process, she can feel it.
‘It’s all right, Jonathan,’ she replies. ‘What you’re feeling is totally normal. Trust me.’ She moves a hand from his cheek to his forehead, sensing the ever-present dull ache that resides there. The tension is emanating from him in waves as he struggles to maintain the façade. This is not coming easily to him.
‘I feel…I can feel…’ but he can’t find the words to end the sentence. Addy, however, can feel the tension in his muscles as he leans into her, pressing his face into her stomach, and, with an effort, releasing his hands from the bed to that his arms can wrap around her waist.
Addy brings her hand from his cheek to John’s back, stroking in gentle, circular motions until she feels him start to relax against her. ‘It’s all right,’ she whispers again. ‘I’m here. Don’t fight it.’
‘I can’t…’ his voice is muffled against her body, but she can feel he’s beginning to release it. The waves are building, the darkness is emanating like evening clouds towards her, and she identifies the scent of blood and steel, tinged with something less easy to identify, roses, perhaps, in the atmosphere. The roses, she realises a split second later, must be Helen.
‘I’m here, Jonathan. Let it go.’
And in that moment, he does. The scent is almost overwhelming, and she finds herself holding him more tightly as the torrent of emotion that has been contained, boxed up in one particular corner of his psyche, is released. It crosses the many divides between the professional and the personal. Addy feels it first in his shoulders, as he slumps towards her, the tension beginning to drain. Then she feels it in his breathing as it shortens and releases in choking sobs. Then she feels it in the warmth and wetness of the tears that fall. The sobs are silent, but deep; all she can do is hold him. The shared pain is like nothing she’s ever experienced with any client before, and she’s holding tightly to her own sense of self as she helps him to make sense of his. But deep within the darkness, more powerful than the grief and the anger and the sadness and the loss is the love; Helen’s love for him, and the raw space that it has left inside John Wick.
A little time later, he raises his head to look at her. Bloodshot eyes meet her own. She brushes a strand of hair back from his face and gives him a gentle smile. ‘It’s all right,’ she says again. ‘You’re safe, Jonathan.’
John shakes his head, gives the ghost of a smile back. ‘That’s the one thing I’ll never be.’
‘For now you are.’ She feels his arms drop from around her and she takes a step back. ‘You should get some rest,’ she says, seeing at closer range the wounds that have been inflicted on him. The hotel doctor tended to his physical wounds; she, now, has given some relief for his emotional ones.
John stands up, and once again Addy’s sent slightly off step by the sight of John Wick in nothing but a t-shirt and boxer shorts. In bare feet he’s a little shorter, too, although still toweringly tall and solid. She finds her eyes drawn to the bloodstain on his t-shirt.
‘Thank you,’ he says. ‘I needed that.’
‘I know. You’re welcome.’ She smiles at him again. ‘Any time, Jonathan.’
As she exits his room, she wonders if he’ll call upon her services again. They are all damaged in some way or other, the clientele of the Continental; some more than others. But none more vulnerable, it seems, than their most successful and infamous guest. Baba Yaga on the outside he may be, but on the inside he is pouring blood.
She hears the hotel door close behind her, and, secure that she’s out of range of the spyhole in the door, she slumps against the wall of the corridor. Holding takes it out of her, leaves her with symptoms not unlike a hangover, and she usually needs half an hour to ground herself again. Her head is spinning, and her stomach is still unsteady. John’s pain is the most acute she’s experienced in a long time, if not ever.
‘Take the rest of the night off.’ The comment comes from the direction of the elevator down the hall.
‘Thanks, boss,’ Addy replies, dragging her eyes in the direction of the voice. Client confidentiality forbids her from discussing her Holding encounter, even with Winston, but at the unasked question in his eyes, she bends a rule. ‘He’s bleeding to death, Winston.’
Winston nods. ‘I know.’ He looks suddenly, unbearably sad himself. ‘But he will heal.’
Addy smiles briefly. ‘In the end.’ Pushing herself back off the wall, she walks, on slightly unsteady legs, to the elevator that will take her to her quarters. She wonders when the end will come for John Wick, and whether he’ll be alive after it has.