A Stray Cat Named Stan

November 24, 2016:

On the way home after stumbling into a crime scene and breaking into a morgue, Zatanna finds a hand peeking out from behind a dumpster, which is attached to an arm…and that's it. But it's not the only thing waiting for her in the shadows.

Soft Paws Veterinary Clinic - Queens - New York City

It's a veterinary office, specializing in cats.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions:

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Ice blue eyes stare in disbelief at the limp hand that she finds peeking out from behind a dumpster, halted in her tracks by the sight of it.

Zatanna Zatara looks from one end of the dirty, lengthy alley she is in, slowly turning to look at the other. With the darkness lying around her so thickly in this cold, Autumn evening, she can't blame anyone for not seeing it, and even expected some semblance of apathy. This is New York, after all. It has seen some shit.

Dead bodies, especially these days, were regrettably common.

As she slowly leans towards the visible appendage, she takes a few steps back quickly when she sees the thumb twitch, denoting signs of life.

"Oh, shit." The words leave her cherry-red mouth in puffs of mist.

What does she do now? Should she call the police?

She glances up and down the empty alley again.

"…..now what…?" she mutters.

***

A FEW MOMENTS AGO

New York City prides itself for its reputation as the city that never sleeps.

Even close to three in the morning and there was still a crush of activity in its streets; there has always been a rougher edge to Queens in comparison to its other burroughs, lined with pawnshops, organized crime storefronts, bars and nightclubs that pulsed with loud music up until the break of dawn when even the city's most sleepless denizens went home, or populated the local twenty-four-hour McDonald's. But to say that Zatanna is walking back home from such an excursion would be a fiction.

It would be a blatant lie, as she just spent the last two hours in the local morgue, having broken into it with one Jessica Jones to subject the caustic private investigator to one of the weirdest, and grossest, interrogations she has ever witnessed in her life. After the fire and the murders they stumbled into together in Chinatown, to say that this has been an absurdly long day is an understatement of the highest order.

And she has not had a lick of coffee in her.

She wants a venti Starbucks pumpkin spice latte.

But while the franchise tended to close early, New York has no small shortage of artisal brewhouses that kept their doors open late, out of the tacit acknowledgment that New York will forever be the city that never sleeps.

So she decides to take a shortcut, heedless of the dangers a young woman such as herself could attract when venturing in the darkest places of such a metropolis without an escort or a guide. She crosses the street in a quick trot, ignoring the lights - jaywalking is a way of life in New York, also, and ducks into an empty stretch of alley that would take her closer to more familiar thoroughfares.

And that is when the twitching hand catches her eye.

***

NOW

Gripping the dumpster with both gloved hands, and with a quiet grunt, she manages to push the steel receptacle away from the wall, its wheels grating loudly into the concrete as rust flakes off its axles. Her eyes cast downwards at what she would find behind it.

She smells the blood first, before she sees anything, its copper-tangy notes lacing the chilly air.

Some part of her wishes fervently that it was a whole body and a breathing one. She has already had to wield a severed hand tonight, if any like situations was something she could spare herself from right now, that would be /great/!

—-

Good Samaritans always get their just reward. Zatanna gets hers when she pushes back the dumpster just enough to get a good look at what lies behind it.

The shadows are deep this time of night, even despite the fact New York's lights never dim, and most of what lays behind that dumpster is lost in the darkness cast by its large, rusted-metal frame. But the thing that first caught her attention is readily visible. Her eyes will track up the hand she saw, past a wrist and a forearm and to the welcome sight of where it attaches onto the shoulder of a real, intact human. Not another severed arm to deal with, then. But still an arm broken, visibly, in three places, the bones coming through the skin and clothes. But still an arm, despite that earlier twitch she saw… not attached to a live body.

That twitch was likely the last, spasmodic reaction of a body as it turned into a corpse, and the instrument that effected the transformation? A knife buried to the hilt in the man's chest, straight into the heart.

From whence the knife? The answer comes soon enough as the grating of the dumpster stops and silence cloaks back down. There is the sound of someone breathing in the dark behind the impaled corpse, raggedly and unevenly— but steadily. A piece of the night moves, the motion suddenly resolving a man's shape amidst the shadows, and eyes not unlike a wary animal's register Zatanna's presence before they cloud into that dreamy place right before the brink of unconsciousness.

Neither man looks distinctive enough to offer any explanation for why they are where they are, both bleeding, one dead. Both are in street clothes, though there is a certain bulkiness to both their jackets, and the one still alive seems to have some kind of heavy pack with him.

—-

Oh god there isn't just one body, but two.

Zatanna practically presses her back against the opposite wall, her pale face draining further of color as details of the scene come tumbling into her very surprised and so-not-prepared-for-this mind. As strange as it is to be so shaken by the sight, after years of a childhood marked with the supernatural and the mystical - monsters and undead and demons that most of the world decries as nonexistent - she has yet to grow calluses to the kind of violence one human being is capable of inflicting to another.

And what she sees now is superbly violent, the sort she would expect to see in Gotham, in its dirtier, nastier trenches.

She is no detective, but she knows enough to know for certain that this is a crime scene and that the circumstances could be anything - an assassination, a mutual altercation or self defense. She has no forensics background to be able to tell, but what she /could/ manage to discern is the fact that one of the bodies is still breathing on top of the gory pool accumulated underneath them, the half-moon over head making crimson appear black.

The young magician also already knows what is about to happen, knowing herself rather well, and that her better nature tends to propel her into making some really questionable decisions.

Whether she is helping the murderer or the victim is a consideration that holds perhaps /too/ little weight on her part as she moves forward towards the Winter Soldier's unconscious form, stripping off her gloves and dipping her fingertips into the pool of blood soaking into the concrete. It was still warm.

"Urgh." Her expression is one of distaste, but she has never been the squeamish sort, moving over to trace a symbol on the man's forehead, under the fringes of…..

…/surprisingly/ amazing hair. What product does he use?! She'd have to ask later.

"Senob nekorb s'nam siht tink," she mutters. If he broke anything, and he could have, it would be unwise to move him.

The spell does its work, so quietly and invisibly, it barely stirs the air surrounding them. Bones knit, though the act does not alleviate trauma to his muscles and ligaments. She waits for a few minutes, before she reaches for him, to curl her forearms underneath his armpits and haul him bodily from the wall.

He does not move.

She nearly topples on her backside in her attempts to pull him away.

"….oh my god, has this guy ever heard of body fat, no wonder he feels like ice!" Zatanna groans, tilting her head back to the sky.

"Ydob s'nam siht etativel."

He lightens almost immediately….and almost floats away from her.

"Jesus Christ!" Her hand snaps out to snag him by the leg, weighting his body down with her own. Pulling the metal arm around her, and staring at it disbelievingly for a moment, she makes as convincing of a show as possible that she's simply helping a drunk man get home at night.

"Come on, Six Million Dollar Man, let's get you out of here."

—-

Which one IS she helping? Murderer or victim? It's impossible to tell, with this little information about the events that led up to this blood-soaked tableau.

What IS certain, however, is that she is helping the winner. The other man is certainly not moving anymore. His open eyes stare up into the sky sightlessly, already clouded over.

The strange man does not move as she draws closer. His consciousness circulates fitfully around the event horizon of that long spiral down into the singularity of blackout. Zatanna steps forward, putting her hands into the still-warm blood, then reaching towards the forehead of the Winter Soldier.

Puzzlement flickers in the assassin's mind that she hasn't run for it. Puzzlement and paranoia. Invisibly to the layman's eye, the assassin tenses, his right arm preparing to leap for the blade within reach…

…only to relax as he feels himself being helped instead of harmed. His puzzlement intensifies, jumping from broken neuron to neuron in the scrambled landscape of his mind.

Not one to look a gift horse too much in the mouth, however, he holds still and feigns unconsciousness as he listens to her do her work, offering no assistance or resistance to her as she tries to move him. At first she tries to just pull him— not happening, considering what's in his pack and grafted onto his left shoulder— but then she says some nonsense and gravity decides it wants nothing to do with him anymore.

Only long training keeps him from reacting to this unexpected turn of events. Though as she starts to draw him away, the assumedly-unconscious man does spasmodically reach out and lock his grip down on the knife in the other man's corpse, drawing it out and reclaiming it. This stuff is not easy to replace.

—-

Perhaps it helps that Zatanna takes a lot of guesswork out of the current situation because she seems to have the tendency to talk to herself, especially when she's stressed. Especially when she knows she's not supposed to do something.

Even more especially, when she's about to do something illegal, which tends to happen now and then. She may be the only spawn of Giovanni Zatara, but his abrupt exeunt from her life has left her floundering for role models to take her cues from.

Still, she is not above improvisation. She half-tugs, half-drags the Winter Soldier through the cold streets of New York, looking for familiar landmarks. "I guess going to a hospital now would be a tremendously bad idea, huh?" she murmurs. "I mean…with what just happened and everything. It's not like I'll be able to answer any questions. So where to take you…?"

She finds a sign: SOFT PAWS VETERINARY CLINIC.

"Alright, then, next best thing," she tells him, moving in that direction. Another string of quietly muttered gibberish grants them entry through the back door, slipping through from an alley winding past yet another series of dumpsters - furry creatures in their cages stir from their sleep, but thankfully none of them bark. This was, it appears, a cats-only establishment. Her leg lifts, toeing the door shut.

"Okkkkaaaaaaay, on the table you go, I guess." She lets him drift on it flat, before releasing the spell. The resounding thud of his heavy, muscular frame rattles the surgical equipment set on the corner.

She has no medical expertise to call upon, save for her rudimentary knowledge of first aid. After drawing the blinds shut in all of the windows of the back room, she inspects the unknown man's condition, reaching up to turn on the overhead light.

"Oh god, I really hope you're not bleeding to death," she mutters, poking gently around his ribcage.

—-

At the state of semi-consciousness the Winter Soldier currently inhabits, not much of Zatanna's constant stream of chatter is getting through. One word does, however, a word that causes the man she's toting in her wake to stir.

"No hospital," he grates. That trope fulfilled, the man goes silent again as she finds them a nice alternative.

The Winter Soldier has patched himself up in even worse places than this. The cats all around don't even make him bat an eye. At least, this time, it's a place where reasonable sterilization is even possible. He's had to give himself first aid in a literal sewer before. He festered until he could get back to a base and get properly cleaned up and clean out.

This is luxury, compared.

She drops him on a table, and he doesn't react save for a grunt. His right arm finally slackens, letting his pack hit the floor with a heavy rattle.

I hope you're not bleeding to death, she mutters as she starts to poke around. He continues his silence for a few moments, before his eyes abruptly slide open and he turns to look at her, fully cognizant, his cool gaze appraising.

"Not yet," he says, seeming to have finally chosen to cooperate with this most odd form of assistance. He's not much of a talker though, and his startling blue eyes remain guarded and remote as he speaks to her, calling to mind the wary stare of a wolf. "Liver shot. Slow. Especially since it was small caliber." Her fingers poke his ribcage and he grunts, a soft metal whir heralding the movement of his left arm. "You're in the wrong place. Lower. You got any fancy nonsense words for that?"

—-

She nearly screams when he suddenly talks.

"Oh my god, you're conscious!" Zatanna exclaims, her hands suddenly pulling back. "This isn't rape, I promise! I'm not trying to get you naked!" She pauses. "Not yet….I mean, for your injuries since I have to actually see what I'm doing, I'm not that kind of girl!"

She glances down at herself and her open jacket, where her red-and-black lace corset peeks out from between the folds of fabric.

The young woman /groans/.

It doesn't help that his own eyes are open now, and hold within them a degree of sharp alertness that should not be there with all of the injuries that he has sustained. In spite of all of her protestations of innocence, she can't help but /look guilty/, not because she has touched him without consent but rather because she had thought that he was unconscious this entire time, and had used her magical talents freely. Why she chooses to hide them is an instinct long since instilled by the desire to have some normalcy in her already strange life in an age of miracles, but getting busted for it by a stranger couldn't help but interject some measure of uneasiness.

She shakes her head, though, banishing the urge to turtle. She starts shedding her jacket, dumping it on a chair to prevent blood from splashing onto it, not that it would ever show; she is dressed almost entirely in black, with tight jeans ripped in strategic places, a leather belt stitched with thick, silver links, calf-lengthed boots and rows of necklaces.

And the corset, cinched tightly on the back in ribbons.

The Winter Soldier was probably born a hundred years too early to understand goth fashion; to him, she probably looks like a crazy person. And she might just be, with her gibberish that makes things happen in no conceivable way that's logical or sane.

But then again, he, too, has probably seen some shit.

"Okay, show me where it is," she says. "You're so lucky blood doesn't faze me. I knew a friend of Daddy's once that couldn't stand the sight of blood. He'd always faint dead away after he gets a paper cut."

Her hands drift lower, picking up a scalpel from the container on the side of the table. Carefully, she cuts the fabric apart to better take a look at the wound. Peeling back ruined cloth, she stares as black blood pours from a hard stomach, leaving hot streaks of ichor on her skin.

"Oh….oh. This is bad. I read somewhere that you have twenty minutes once you see black." And she knows that does not count the minutes he spent huddled behind the dumpster.

She cups her palm over the wound, her other hand pressing onto those knuckles. "This might hurt a little. Well….a lot, because I'm not a doctor. Let me know when you're ready."

—-

Zatanna promises emphatically that this is not rape and that she is not trying to get him naked.

The Winter Soldier stares narrowly through her, a vague lack of comprehension on his features. It's debatable whether he even understands her concerns. For decades he has been conditioned not to care whether he is clothed or not when he is being worked on, repaired, enhanced, /maintained/. This is just another maintenance session. Violation in every possible way is already the fabric of his existence. Whatever access she requires will be granted, for the purposes of his repair.

The lack of comprehension takes on a slightly different aspect when she sheds her jacket, revealing a style of fashion he is much too old to understand. Brief confusion flickers in his eyes as he regards her, his broken mind trying to catch up with yet another decade and all its changes, before programming kicks back in and makes him not care.

Show me the injury, she says. For all his frightening aspect, there is something very docile and obedient about the way he responds to her tone of voice, certain of the inquiries that she makes that sound very much like the typical demands of his handlers. He grips the edges of his shirt and pulls it up, peeling the blood-stuck fabric away from skin to expose a neat small hole drilled into his belly. Blood pulses from it regularly with every beat of his heart and breath he takes.

This is bad, she says. You have twenty minutes once you see black. The Winter Soldier chuckles, a sound that seems more like a subroutine that never got deleted rather than a genuine expression of amusement. "That depends," he says, in the tone of one who has seen so very much of this before.

She grabs a scalpel, palming down over the wound. This might hurt, she warns.

The Soldier's head tips back, his eyes staring up at the ceiling, the line of his jaw tightening. There is something rote about the gesture, as if he has done it many times before. Something comes and goes across his mouth: a ghost that might once have lived life as a smile. "That doesn't matter," he answers, and waits.

—-

It doesn't matter, the strange, metal-armed man says, his eyes staring up at the ceiling as he patiently waits.

"Sure it does," Zatanna tells him with a small frown. "Nobody likes feeling pain."

There's a pang of worry there, and one she would attribute as natural to anyone who considers herself a citizen of the world - not just the words, but the way he says them and the way he looks, his handsome face wrought with the kind of long-suffering ambivalence that suggests that he has done this more times than a person should endure.

She manages to shove that in the back of her mind, making careful incisions on either side of the entry wound. More blood pours, mingling black with the red. Chewing on her bottom lip, she braces her cupped palm over it and takes a deep breath, mulling the words carefully and turning them over. For as long as she can remember, she has always managed to harness the power of words to affect her will into the world, but never before has she attempted to use them to save a man's life.

Especially one that could be a murderer.

"Dnah s'annataz otni lenparhs sti lla dna tellub eht llup ylwols."

It does hurt.

She can't simply use her dominion over the ephemeral forces of this world to yank the bullet and its associated debris out quickly. She doesn't know how deep, she doesn't know whether it will eject from the back or front if she carelessly said the words without the necessary specificity. So that is what she does - she makes her command very specific, at the expense of speed. He would feel it, the metal turning in his bowels, moving in excrutiating increments up the channel through which it originally plunged inside him. She tilts her fingers gently, her touch light and airy, graceful in a way that suggests hours of practice rather than any degree of prodigious talent.

Finally - painfully, finally, the bullet and its shrapnel makes it into her bloody palm. She drops it in an empty plastic cup.

"What now? Stitches?" she asks, looking over at the older man. "I think there's needles and thread in here somewhere."

—-

It does matter, Zatanna insists, because no one likes feeling pain.

This idea runs counter to his indoctrination. Lines form between the Soldier's eyes when he frowns, seeming to struggle momentarily with a novel idea. His programming gets stuck temporarily in a loop— and then suddenly resolves. His expression clears, resetting back to that patient endurance that troubles Zatanna so much to see.

"I've felt worse." Now that is a programming-approved response.

In line with his stoic indifference, he makes no sound or reaction to her incisions. The extraction of the bullet and its shrapnel, however, elicit a grunt. His body tenses beneath hers on the table, equal parts the normal strain of muscle and the unnatural soft whir of his metal prosthetic. It seems he has felt worse, however, because his reaction never grows any more intense than that.

What now? she finally asks, when all is said and done. The man looks up at her. A few beads of sweat stand out on his brow, the sole concession to the tunneling pain he just experienced. "Stitch if you're sure you got everything." He's already trying to sit up. "Or bring it to me and I'll do it myself."

One glance out the window seems enough for him to tell the general time of day. "Don't have forever here," he murmurs, "and this time there's a trail." Probably… meaning… the body he left out there.

—-

As he speaks on the makeshift surgical table, the black-haired girl was already moving to a supply cabinet, opening it up and letting her blue eyes roam over the shelves. Under the fitful light, bright enough to sear eyeballs that have spent a few hours being accustomed to darkness, he would discover that his Good Samaritan was young - too young to be out here by herself, almost. Too young to wield the kind of reality bends she just subjected him to. Certainly too young to be rescuing questionable men in the deep underbellies of New York City. Was she even at the very least out of her twenties?

"That sounds sad," Zatanna replies, the simple statement doing nothing to suggest that she is any older. There are cosmetic miracles in the modern world, after all, millions of items produced for the purposes of appeasing mankind's vanity. She could only simply look young, but that's definitely not the case here. "Just because a guy with zero body fat like you looks like he can take a lot of punishment doesn't mean you should."

She is presently oblivious to the strange loops of static twisting inside of his broken mind; at the moment, she has committed herself into the role of looking after his body, retrieving bandages and a clean needle that she tears out of its protective case. After threading it, she snaps her fingers, a single flame appearing on her fingertips as she pulls the length of the metal through the purifying heat. It should kill bacteria, she thinks. At least that's what she has seen in movies.

The flame itself was sleight of hand; she is just as adept at faking miracles as she is exacting actual ones.

"I kind of feel like I'm in a movie," she tells him conversationally with a hint of a grin. "Jason Bourne. Mission Impossible. That kind of thing, you ever see those?"

Misdirection - distraction from the pinprick as the needle enters his flesh, pulling thread through his skin. She wasn't kidding when she said she wasn't squeamish.

"You shouldn't go back there," she tells him. "Someone could have called the police already and you're already in heaps of trouble. I don't wanna know what happened and it's probably safer for me if I don't ask, but you should take care of yourself first. I know you're tough, but look at this." She lifts up her bloodied hands. "You need sleep, and probably something to eat after that. You lost a lot of blood."

She gives a momentary glance at the containers of cat food on the other cabinet, giving them due consideration.

Nah. He's suffered enough.

—-

Zatanna turns her back on him. That in itself says something to him as he watches her, studying his odd 'helper' as she roots through cabinets to find needle and suture. He is programmed to be pragmatic about preserving himself as a valuable asset, using any available resource as needed— but only as long as necessary. Only as far as is safe to conserve his anonymity.

Perhaps he is considering where the cutoff point is when he will kill her. Perhaps something else more complicated and troubled circulates behind that pensive blue stare.

Her youth does not bother him in the least for that mental calculation. It's much more likely that he is concerned about her odd magic. It seems to rely on the spoken word, however. A hand over the mouth and a knife in the throat would solve everything handily—

That's sad. Just because you can take punishment doesn't mean you should.

The words interrupt his train of thought, derailing him in an unwelcome way. He closes his eyes, that knot appearing again briefly between his brows, before smoothing out. She feels like she's in a movie, she says, something like Jason Bourne or Mission Impossible. His blank stare at both references answers her handily enough as to whether he's seen either. Probably the last movie he saw was Wizard of Oz. In theaters.

Struggling to understand what she means does distract him from the sensation of needle going into skin, though he wouldn't have noticed much even without the assist. He frowns as she suggests self-care in lieu of returning to the scene of the crime— as it were. "I'll figure that out," he says, watching her work the needle with a critical eye. "Always do."

Something rises up in his mind. It's hard to say whether it's programming or something else that makes him say, "You ought to just go home and forget having seen me."

—-

There's a small laugh at that, when he says he always figures it out. "I'm sure you do," she tells him, that hint of a grin forcing a normally hidden dimple to escape to the light, creasing over her left cheek. "Furrowing your brows like this and that, it's like you're perpetually trying to find an invisible rubik's cube I can't see. And if there /is/ one that you can see, and I can't, you can pay me back for this by showing me how your trick works. I mean, look at my manicure!" Zatanna wiggles her fingers at him dramatically. "Now I really look like a vampire!"

It's all in jest, and the fact that the cheerful, if not somewhat puzzled air remains attests to it. She closes up his wound with a flick of her wrist, ridding the extra length of thread with a swipe of the bloody scalpel. She looks down at her handiwork and then back at him, clearly proud of her handiwork.

When he looks down, he'd find that the pattern of her stitches resemble a crooked cat face.

"It's something to remember me by!" she explains. "I tried to give it a little bow tie and everything but I ran out of thread."

She places everything back exactly where she finds them; for all the levity she exudes, the fact that she bothers makes it obvious that she has not forgotten about the situation she is in, acknowledging through actions and not words that the man she is tending to is probably the worst sort of dangerous. The blood slowly trickles back into itself on its own accord, as if watching Time reverse, leaving the table clean. "I'm not like, a forensics expert or anything but I've seen a couple of episodes of C.S.I. I figured if there's a place you should be cleaning up, it's this one."

She washes her hands, watching blood drain down the sink. "So what do I call you?" she asks, a common enough turn of phrase but a deliberate one - she does not ask for his name, largely because she's not an idiot, but is availing herself to the convenience of calling him something other than 'dude' or 'mister' or 'hey you'. "And are you sure you don't need a sandwich? A coffee? There's a calzone place that's open all night down the street."

She dries her hands with paper towels, and tucks them in her pocket. Moving over to the table, she produces another moistened with cool water, patting it lightly on the sweat beads dotting his forehead.

"I'll go home once I'm sure you're okay," she says, giving him a rueful smile. "I'm not the kind of girl that doesn't finish what she starts, either."

And because she can't help herself, she reaches out, poking the metal arm.

"Wow, it's /real/. It's not a Halloween costume or anything!"

—-

The Soldier finds his brow furrowing again when Zatanna chatters at length about something called a rubik's cube, and how he always looks like he's trying to find one, and he should teach her his trick if he can see all these invisible cubes floating around. With a conscious effort, he stops it now that she's commented upon it, smoothing out his features, though he does lean back out of instinct when she presents her hand in his face.

The motion has the cagey wariness of a temporarily tamed animal. He does not seem to understand touch that is not either utilitarian or painful.

He does not seem to understand the cat face either. He looks down at it for some time. "…What the hell is that?" he finally asks. …Is her artistry that bad?

He remains staring at it while she cleans up, his damaged mind genuinely stymied by something so small, up until something actually within his sphere of mental capability happens. She asks for something to call him by. His gaze flicks up to her, wary again, like the sidelong glare of an eagle poised to fly. "You don't need to call me anything," he replies, flat and pragmatic. "You are not likely to see me again. I will leave once this has sealed sufficiently." He talks as if he expects this to take place within thirty minutes and not the thirty hours it would take anyone normal.

He glances out the window again, restless and obviously wanting to be gone. This means he isn't expecting it when she comes over and starts to pat away the sweat on his brow. He turns swiftly, eyes narrowed… only to pause, at a distinct loss, at the gentle sensation and the equally gentle words. This is outside anything allowed to exist in his mind. He has no idea how to interface with it.

He does know how to interface with her poking at his arm, however.

The soft, smooth whir of gears and metal belies how fast the arm can move— and how hard it can clamp down. It's a manacle around her wrist within fractions of a second, holding her immobile, its cold metal grip a few pounds per square inch short of actual pain. He holds her there a moment, blue eyes regarding her as if to say: Yes. It is real. It is very real.

"Actually, I think I could use a coffee," he finally says, still maintaining eye contact.

—-

"…it's a cat," Zatanna replies, looking terribly disappointed that he doesn't see it. "See? There's the whiskers, the ears— you know what, nevermind, like you said, we don't have a lot of time."

She can't help but frown though. And here she thought she was a pretty good artist!

"Okay, I'll just make something up, then," she tells him, more of a warning than anything, while she pats his sweat dry and stows that paper towel in her pocket as well. "…Stan."

Well, he just looks like a Stan.

The metal limb moves too fast for it to be anything completely mechanical, causing the young woman's eyes to widen to dinner plates. The click-click-click of near-silent gears echo like thunder in the painfully silent space, her heart lurching into her chest with enough force that it could stage a jailbreak out of her ribs. She hasn't lost sight of what she is dealing with, and perhaps she is canny enough or has quite a bit of experience in dealing with wounded predators not to be pushy, or be anything other than gentle and well meaning when jaws could snap and rip out her jugular at any moment. But danger rears its head again, the Winter Soldier's stare gleaming bright blue from the surrounding shadows - like an alpha wolf, or worse, a bleeding one.

She swallows quietly.

"Well, all the Starbucks shops around are closed, now," she tells him. "But there's a diner. We'll get some food in you too."

She isn't immune to it, the thrill of doing something ridiculously dangerous - curiosity gets the better of her more often than not, and it's when she feels the press of that ever-present loneliness that gets her in trouble.

"Come on," she says, though she doesn't pull or yank or tug at her arm. "Can you stand? If we're lucky, we can get there before the really early birds show up."

—-

It's a cat, Zatanna says, crestfallen. The Winter Soldier looks down at it again, pensively, as if he is not quite sure what a cat even is. Something is really up with this guy.

The moment passes, however, overtaken by a greater urgency. They can't sit here forever— and Zatanna seems, against all common sense, quite determined to see through her duty to care for her particularly dangerous charge. To do that, it seems, she is determined he needs some kind of name, and therefore— she warns— she will assign him one.

'Stan' looks up at her. His head cants slightly, before he seems to shrug and accept his new designation.

He is less copacetic with her touching the goods, however. Her fingertip makes contact— and then with a whir of metal, her wrist is captured in a titanium-steel vise. The stare of the Winter Soldier meets hers, electric blue in the dark, suddenly sharpened from its obedient passiveness into something much more raw— the look of an animal warning against too much comfort in its presence.

This close, he can hear her heart speed up. That seems to mollify him, an indication the point has been received.

Perhaps it's that concession she makes. Perhaps it's some latent aspect of his buried personality. Perhaps it's just pragmatism, his programming agreeing that he'll have a better chance getting back to his designated check-in point if he replaces the blood loss he suffered. But for whatever reason, he seems to decide to go along for just a little longer.

He finally releases her wrist— and uses the arm to lever himself up, standing with reasonable ease despite his injury. He even hefts his pack, the contents of which rattle quietly. "I want to be gone before they do," he says, resigned it seems to the temporary company of this odd and persistent girl.

—-

"Gotcha."

Once released, Zatanna rubs her wrist; it's a show of weakness that most people wouldn't dare reveal around a clearly dangerous individual, but the young woman has absolutely nothing to prove to anyone. Metal clamped around one's wrist like a vise, especially on an appendage as slender as hers, will hurt and bruise, but she takes her chastisement with the good grace of someone who knows full well that her curiosity has burned her here.

"You're really invested in your mystery, huh?" she tells him. Reaching out, she pulls on her own jacket. "Alright, alright, we'll get there, scarf as quickly as we can and then go. Do you have money for the subway, at least? Do you need a couple of dollars? I'm trying not to judge, but I thought I'd ask since…you know. Where I found you."

She did find him behind a dumpster.

For all she knows, she simply stumbled into a fight between a couple of hobos, one of whom has very nice hair.

But she'll lead the way, making sure the door locks behind them, the room left in the exact state as they found it with nothing but the ghosts of their presence, to be ambivalently pawed at by convalescing cats. The street leads them to Tommy's All-Hours Diner, a staple in the neighborhood, sparsely populated this time of night; even the most hardcore clubbers have gone home by now.

END CREDITS SCENE

It is awkwardly silent as Zatanna picks on her eggs. A few moments later, the Winter Soldier takes a slow sip of his coffee.

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