Three Degrees of Separation

November 25, 2016:

A latecomer arrives in Tim Drake's Wednesday morning Physics class. Never one to resist the lure of the unknown, he later finds out that he and Zatanna Zatara have Bruce Wayne in common.

Gotham University - Chelsea - Gotham City

A sprawling college campus somewhere in Gotham City.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Giovanni Zatara, Bruce Wayne

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Professor Benjamin McGillivray's only Physics class in the semester was a small group.

It was held every Wednesday mid-morning on the west side of campus; the size probably isn't surprising in a time when it was every college student's priority never to have to attend class before noon. Normally there were only two sorts of students who take up his morning class - those who have more important things to do in the afternoon, and those who don't have a choice but to take it. Much like most colleges in the Western world, Gotham University expected students to fulfill a certain number of credits in the humanities, arts, maths and sciences - subjects that supposedly constructed a well-rounded education.

There is someone late to class, as Tim would observe - the group of a dozen or so college students are already there in the classroom's tiered seating, arranged more like a movie theater than a high school classroom.

The latecomer is slender, fair-skinned and black-haired, dressed in a short black coat and thigh-high boots; long lengths of midnight hair have been spooled around a single hairstick, tucked into the back of her head and pieces pulled to frame her face. She also appears known to the professor as he looks up from his seating chart and staring at the young woman reprovingly. "Your first day after crashing in mid-semester and you're already late, Miss Zatara," he grouses. "I hope whatever elucidations you have to offer in class today will make it worth my while."

'Miss Zatara' grins sheepishly at the professor. "Sorry, prof," she says. "I've never been on campus before so—"

"Oh hey, it's the Youtube magic chick!"

The heckler grins in a self-assured manner from his chair, long legs stretched out in the front and dressed casually in a t-shirt and jeans. Lucas Henderson has been captain of the University's lacrosse team since his Freshman year, athletic and confident and in spite appearances, was smarter than the jock stereotype has ever afforded him.

"You can make the delay in class up to us by showing us a trick. That's kind of relevant, I think, right professor?" he continued, eyeing the newcomer sidelong. "Let's see if she can defy physics."

Professor McGillivray frowns mightily at Lucas. "That isn't the way to—"

He stares at his new student as she tosses her bag to the side, busily stripping her coat off her shoulders. Eyes round behind his spectacles as 'Miss Zatara' strides over to Lucas, long legs making quick work of the distance; without the outer layer, she is clad in more black - a short, form-fitting sleeveless cheongsam with a scarlet dragon coiled over the curve of one breast, its tail ending somewhere on the curve of her right hip. One hand reaches out, pressing the heel of her palm flat into Lucas' desk, her other hand planting on her hip as she looms over him.

"Hazing the new girl, huh?" she utters, foregoing the professor's attempt to defend her and coming face to face, almost literally, with the man himself, Cherry-red lips tilt upwards in a lopsided smirk. "Challenge /accepted/."

Silence falls over the classroom.

But that isn't to last, a resounding "/OOOOOOOOOOHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH/!" exploding from the other students. If some of them were asleep, they were certainly awake now.

—-

In Tim Drake's experience, there are three kinds of mornings: Either waking up bleary and exhausted, waking up full of energy at six in the morning to face the day… Or the kind where you never got to sleep at all.

For most college students, type 1 and type 3 would probably be caused by late night studying, or late night partying.

Tim Drake wasn't most students.

At his seat towards the back of the amphitheatre, the young man sat with his head cradled against one hand, and he definitely wasn't the only one in the class who looked like he'd rather be somewhere else, preferably somewhere else that was soft and fluffy and generally bedlike. But focusing even when he doesn't want to is one of the many important life skills he'd learned thanks to his unusual choice if extracurricular activities, and he's good enough at it that he doesn't /seem/ to be only barely clinging to consciousness out of sheer stubborn-mindedness.

He's even managing to take decent notes.

The late arrival, though, is enough of a change in the usual pattern of a day that it draws Tim's attention unerringly, his dark blue eyes turning towards the rather striking figure whose arrival was far worse than fashionably late. A faint, pensive frown tugged at the corners of Tim's mouth while the professor spoke, but then of course someone had to go and run their mouth, adding to the list of distractions in what had started out as a suitably boring class - that Professor McGillivray had lost control of the lesson was increasingly evident to even the most half-asleep of the students.

The newcomer looked almost like a black and white photograph, pale as she was and with her dark hair and clothes, though her eyes and lips and the embroidery on her short dress gave her eye-catching pops of colour. She wanted attention - which was hardly a new thing on campus, colleges being notoriously full of young adults on their own for the first time, figuring out their own identities and how to get social validation in a world that didn't cater to them the way home and highschool had - and she knew how to draw it where she wanted. Tall boots and a short skirt to make the most of her legs, a form-fitting bodice to better frame her assets.

Rather than wilting under the sudden focus of the whole class, she reveled in it. She went after her heckler rather than trying to blend back into the crowd, like going after the biggest person you could find on your first proverbial day in prison.

Tim's notes had, at some point, ceased to be about physics, and were now about the mystery girl; under his desk, his phone was already open to Youtube, so he could search for 'Zatara' and 'magic'. He did this sort of thing by autopilot these days, investigating coming to him as naturally as breathing; he was also, perhaps notably, one of the only students not on the edge of their seat.

—-

The first hit in Tim's search is a Youtube channel; Lucas had been right, the young woman had some manner of presence over the Internet; videos of her tricks and illusions taken in multiple countries - there is plenty from Italy, street footage close to the Trevi Fountain, the Colosseum. Barcelona, Madrid, on cobblestoned streets and antiquated back alleys. France, though not in Paris…Cote d'Azure where she performed magic in a bikini, entertaining children and adults alike, all smiles and mischief even as she performed a backflip on the surf, raising her arms over her head and giving her captive audience a stately bow amidst the salt-spray of the ocean.

However, there is another figure pulled from his search - older and male, footage of live performances clearly a little more dated. Perhaps a father, or an uncle.

"And just like that, everyone's awake," says a classmate behind Drake, leaning over his forgotten notebook to grin at him - Joshua McCallen was the delinquent type, hence he always stays at the back, but he would know him as the person on campus to approach if anyone ever wanted a very convincing fake ID. He leans back again on his seat, his eyes on the front.

From the front, Lucas blinks at the young woman who accepted his challenge, his mouth working open and closed before his confidence once again takes over, grinning wickedly - it isn't every day that someone calls him on his shit. "Yeah that's right," he says. "Whatcha gonna do about it, then, Youtube magic chick? Gonna turn me into a frog?"

'Miss Zatara' shakes her head, leaning back on her heels to stand up straighter. With her sleeveless getup, there is nothing to suggest there is anything up her sleeves. Turning sideways, a flick of her wrist sends a deck of cards flopping on Lucas' desk, a dark eyebrow raising at him though that smile doesn't fade.

"Syllabus says the lecture is about temporal displacement, yeah?" she wonders. "And you wanted something relevant? Okay." Dexterous fingers pluck the deck off Lucas' desk, shuffling them quickly - complicated, graceful movements that would rival any cardsharp in Vegas. She fans the array of diamonds, clubs, hearts and spades in front of her chosen victim. "Pick a card, any card. Return it in any place on the deck." She turns to the rest, lifting her spare hand up. "And I will then /project/ my current consciousness into my future self to place it somewhere in your person. Some place I can't possibly reach where I'm standing. You ready, golden boy?"

"Bulllllll-shiiiiiiit," Lucas returns gamely, but he does what he's asked. He plucks a card from the array, and returns it in another part of the deck.

Zatanna snaps the deck back together, taking several steps backwards to where she left her coat and bag. Shuffling the cards yet again, she shows the pile to the rest, the suits facing away from her. "There, now I can't possibly know what it is," she says. "Is it still in here?"

"Yep," Lucas confirms, after squinting at the card-fan.

"Excellent!" Zatanna closes her fingers around it, and presses a finger dramatically against her forehead. "Now, my mind is traveling into the future," she says, her tone cheesy and exaggerated, marked with the usual showmanship of most stage performers. "Give me a moment of silence, please."

After a pause, she turns back to Lucas.

"I have now finished telling my future self to sneak your card somewhere on your body, and believe me that isn't easy, traveling to a possible future just to do this. It should be in your shoe," she says with a grin. "How do you like me now?"

Lucas frowns slowly. He checks one shoe, and then another. "You almost got me, Legs," he retorts. "But there isn't any card here."

Whispers filter over the audience - had the trick been botched?

Zatanna furrows her brows. "What the…I could've sworn I…" At the moment, she looks unsure, the very real possibility of having embarrassed herself in front of her new classmates looming before her. She visibly falters, chewing on her bottom lip.

But her mouth tilts back up, suddenly, in a brilliant smile. She snaps her fingers.

"I forgot. Blondes were never my type, so I probably asked someone cuter to hide it for me."

"Wha— hey!"

"Let's see…." the black-haired girl's eyes roam over the audience, Zatanna lifting on the balls of her feet, making a dramatic show of searching for the right candidate, her palm pressed against her forehead, as if looking across a vast ocean of faces.

Her clear, startling gaze land on Tim, who at the moment is playing with his phone. "Hi! Hey, over here," she calls, folding her arms behind her back, mischief writ plainly all over her pale face. "I think my future self would have wanted to fold you into my typical shenanigans instead, could you do me a favor and check your notebook to see if the ghost of my future tucked golden boy's card on you? Maybe your pockets? Or your notebook?"

—-

It's a wonder she had any time to go to school to even get into college, Tim thinks as he reviews some of the videos.

Of course, the same thing could've been said about him.

That she went so far as to perform magic in a bikini does catch his attention, though… It would be tough, after all, to do much of the way of sleight of hand in such a little stringy thing, though it probably kept people pretty distracted, and…

"Huh?" wonders Tim as he realises that the tenor of the room has changed. The other students watching the impromptu magic show are whispering among themselves, though Drake didn't really catch why, at first. The new girl looking uncertain, giving the suggestion that her trick had failed. He could practically feel the suspense in the room, the differing responses among the audience to the possibility that the new girl had made a mistake: Some empathetic, some cruelly amused, some smugly satisfied.

She had them eating out of her hand.

And then, she was all smiles again, managing to turn the whole thing into an insult to the guy who'd been giving her a hard time in the first place, and turning her attention to the rest of her 'audience' instead. Looking right at him, in fact.

"Uh," Tim nearly repeats himself, checking his pockets quickly - he's pretty sure he would've noticed someone reverse pickpocketing him, anyway - before flipping through his notebook, finding the card there to his own surprise. How could she even have done that, Tim wonders to himself. She was never anywhere near his notebook.

Still, he holds up the card for everyone to see.

"If this isn't it, your future self might just be messing with you instead," Tim suggests, darkening his phone's screen with a flick of his thumb to better avoid any awkward questions.

—-

The quip from her impromptu audience participant culls a laugh from the new girl; when she smiles, everything about her seems to follow suit, from the look in her startlingly blue gaze to the rounding of her cheeks as the corners of those cherry-red mouth turn up. Her teeth blaze white against the crimson surface. "I wouldn't put it past me to do that either," she tells him, swiveling on one leg to give Lucas a look, arching a brow at him.

"Well?" she asks.

"Holy shit, how did you do that?" Lucas wonders, turning around in his seat, arm draping over the back rest. "Yo, Drake, were you a patsy this entire time or what?"

Astonished murmurs drift over the audience followed by a sharp clap of applause, slow at first before it quickens. Tim's look of confusion seems to have convinced everyone in the room enough - even McGillivray looks interested, his brow furrowing as he tries to parse what just happened.

"Thank you, thank you, I'm here all semester!" Miss Zatara says, giving her classmates a deep bow. Snatching her bag and coat off the floor, she proceeds to move quickly towards the nearest vacant seat, cognizant of the way she has taken up enough of the class' time, as welcome as the distraction it might be from another boring lecture on Physics.

"As Miss Zatara helpfully pointed out," the professor begins, shooting a look at her general direction. "Today's next topic is about temporal displacement, and it does indeed involve time travel. Though if Miss Zatara actually /did/ have magical powers, she could have seriously disrupted the fabric of space-time by meddling with the future and we're going to explore why that is. Turn your text books to page five hundred and seven…"

***

The lecture ended precisely at noon; for all of his mousy demeanor, Professor McGillivray was one of the longest tenured scientists in the University, and he worked around the clock.

"Class dismissed," he calls, packing up his own bag and reaching for his hat. "I'll be talking about the end-of-year project next class, so find a partner and send me your names by e-mail."

The crush of foot traffic was almost immediate - Lucas was one of the first out the door and the crowd of twelve or so students empties out rather quickly outside of the classroom. With so many people moving, Zatanna elects to remain in her seat, taking her time as she stands up from her chair and draws her coat over her shoulders, leaving it open while she digs into her bag. The Physics textbook disappears into her satchel, just as a classmate knocks it over in her haste to get to the door.

"Sorry!" the brunette calls - to her credit, she looks genuinely apologetic. "Hey Lucas, wait up!"

"One of those days, huh," Zatanna sighs, getting down on one knee to gather up the spilled items; a few notebooks, a smaller one bound in leather as well as a strange collection of subjects. Somehow, the complete works of William Shakespeare and a book on basic stagecraft find themselves in the same pile as Biblical Aramaic, Advanced Farsi and Modern Interpretations of Egyptian Hieratic.

—-

Tim having secretly been in on the whole thing from the beginning would be the simplest solution. Lots of tricks worked that way, with an audience plant to make sure things went the way they were supposed to.

The only problem with that, of course, is that Tim knows he wasn't a plant. So how did she get the card into his notebook in the first place?

"Dammit," he muttered to himself, letting out a slow exhalation as the class settled down after Zatanna's display of legerdemain. It was /bothering/ him, and tired as he was it was more difficult than usual to avoid focusing on that particular mystery when he ought to be paying closer attention to what was going on in class… But perhaps that was part of the 'Youtube magic girl's' plan, too. Making sure her new classmates remembered her, that she made a strong impression on her very first day, but a mysterious one.

She was theatrical. Tim knew theatrical.

***

"It's a pretty eclectic set of books," Tim notes, crouching to help Zatanna gather up her things. It's the polite thing to do, to help a girl who's dropped her books, and no doubt looking as she does it's not difficult for the new girl to prompt chivalrous impulses in guys wherever she goes. It might've seemed otherwise, with the rest of the class hurrying on out to get lunch, but Tim was curious enough that he stayed behind. "You don't see a lot of people in college studying Aramaic. Well… Maybe in the faculty of divinity," he allows, dark blue eyes looking suspiciously at the gothette.

"Are you secretly studying to be a nun?"

—-

Theatrics in the end were all about the effective use of misdirection, and Giovanni Zatara was a master at it. Traveling the world, with no one else but his daughter to heap his affection upon, it probably isn't surprising that Zatanna has become an expert at it despite her age. Sleight of hand came to her just as naturally as her other arts.

A slender, pale hand reaches for the book on Biblical Aramaic, only for someone else to retrieve it for her; dark hair, worn slightly long, eyes of a blue that is several shades darker than her own. He isn't imposing, and she hasn't had an opportunity to see him clearly during her little act, but now that he is this close, his boyish good looks surprise even her.

And a gentleman, to boot. Zatanna's smile returns, though it is nothing like the megawatt flash that she directed to the rest of her classmates earlier. While no less warm, this expression is slightly rueful, another facet unveiled from a face that is capable of producing hundreds more. The overhead lights glint on her blood red manicure as she takes the textbook, stowing it inside her satchel.

"You could say dead languages are currently being resurrected by the liberal arts college," she tells him. "Besides, if this entire stage illusionist thing doesn't work out for me, I could always lend my expertise to the Smithsonian or the Vatican studying their impressive collection of old documents. You can say I'm a bit of a reader."

His quip earns him a wink, hooking a pinky on the edge of her thigh-high boot, tugging it lightly in emphasis. "Please, could you imagine what would happen if I even tried to step foot in a convent? The land itself would probably viscerally reject me, launch me up in the air and out of there way too fast for me to give my most convincing Superman impression. It'll be 'up, up, and awa-aaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh!' instead." Graceful fingers come up, index and middle fingers kicking like legs in an exaggerated pantomime of what she would look like while sent flying.

Her stare lowers towards his shirt. "Awesome," she says, recognizing the logo, reaching up to tug lightly on the center of the fabric. "You a Jedi, pilot or spy?"

With her things retrieved, she slowly straightens up, shouldering her bag. "Thanks, Blue Eyes," she tells him with an easy smile. "You're sweet."

—-

Never in his life has Tim Drake been imposing, it's true. He was small for his age when he was younger, when he strapped on that distinctive red and green and yellow outfit for the first time… And while he would hardly be called 'runty' now, he would never be a towering figure whose very presence intimidated.

But perhaps that was for the best. Average height, not a huge bulky build… Easier to blend in, easier to look just like everybody else when he needs to. Plus, he can fit in smaller spaces than Batman can.

Close as he is, it makes Zatanna seem more… Real, might be the word. At a distance she could be an illusion, all boots and pallor and red lips, too pristine to be an actual person. Perhaps that's part of the showmanship as well, remaining in complete control of the image she projects to the rest of the world. Which is something else Tim understands extremely well, having learned from one of the absolute masters of the art. He can only imagine how much time she spends getting her appearance /just so/, though, from her hair to her makeup to her gothic fashion. Maybe that's why she was late to class. The boots in particular, as his attention is drawn that way by her demonstrative tug, were probably a pain to wriggle into.

His brow furrows a little at Zatanna's comedic depiction of what would happen to her if she stepped foot in a convent; not the traditional bursting into flames, no, but instead being hurtled through the air, in a way that tells him she /really/ needs to pay attention if she wants to pass Physics. He doesn't say that, though. That would be rude.

"So… You're saying you have too many bad habits?"

Instead, he makes a pun.

Tim's shirt gets a tug, as Zatanna proves that she's more than willing to just reach out and touch a guy she's only just met, drawing his attention down to the logo as well.

"I'm pretty sure everyone thinks they're a Jedi at heart," he responds, with a wry, boyish smile tugging at the corners of his mouth, his teeth clipping lightly into his bottom lip in the expression. "Plus, what's cooler than a laser sword?"

Nothing, not even Bat-gadgets.

With the new girl's things gathered, and her rising up to her feet, Tim does likewise, as she thanks him and calls him sweet. It's been a long time since anyone had called him /that/. Maybe trying to have some kind of a normal life, or at least the appearance of it, was doing him some good.

"It's Tim," he tells the gothy magician. "Tim Drake. And maybe I'm not sweet, maybe I'm just buttering you up so you'll tell me how you got the card into my notebook when you were never even near it."

—-

"Zee," Zatanna offers. "Zatanna Zatara, so you can understand why I shorten it. Kinda unfortunate, yeah?"

Goth fashion, to her, is what it is - fashion, the candy outer layer to whatever lies underneath. This close, she smells like the air outside, reminiscent of Fall foilage, and traces of sugar and cinnamon with which she laced her morning coffee, a strange combination of earthy and ethereal with those eyes that look like lightning, and skin as pale as marble. That wouldn't be too far from the truth, if Virginia Townsend was to be believed, that while she is human, something about her speaks of something….more. Mysterious more. Unknowable more.

The pun earns him an appreciative laugh. "That was terrible," Zatanna says, giving him a chastizing look - one that fades quickly, and isn't terribly serious to begin with, though the smile returns once more at the boyish expression that appears; he hadn't been paying much attention to the front of the class earlier, and she has pegged him as the serious and studious sort right away. That was a gift from her father also, the ability to read people quickly, and read them well.

But she isn't prepared for the endearing way his teeth clips on his bottom lip as he does. Or how he unabashedly expresses his preference right away. She isn't a stranger to male attention and most, at this point, would lie and deny any touch of geek in his blood.

"Very few things are cooler than a laser sword," she agrees. "Though my heart might be swayed with an X-wing. Just a little. Maybe this much." She holds up her index and thumb, pinching the air in between, flashing him with a wink.

Of course, he asserts that he might not be sweet, prompting another laugh, turning to start heading down the steps and out of the classroom, her stride marked with every confidence that he would follow. "Are you serious?" she wonders. "I just met you and you want to know that? To magicians like me, that's like proposing marriage, or skipping past foreplay. Do I need to educate you? Should I tell you to buy me dinner first?"

She tilts her head back, exhaling once. "You know, if I told you that, I'm almost /sure/ men in top hats will come swinging into the windows like your famous Batman and rip up my membership card to that oh-so-exclusive club."

Checking the wall clock, she groans. "Augh, I'm starvi—" She digs out her phone, feeling it buzz in her pocket. Her expression lights up, seeing what's in it.

"Tell you what," she says, heading down the hall and out into the campus' open air. "Give me your best guess, and I'll honestly, cross my heart, explain it if you get close enough to the truth. Meanwhile, I'm going to get some tacos….and you should try them too, they're amazing."

She turns as she walks, so she could face him, the maneuver as airy and effortlessly graceful as it comes.

"Come on, thrill me, Tim Drake. Thrill me and help me catch this taco truck on sixth and third."

—-

She did seem like the type who expected people to follow.

It was easy enough for Tim to gather up his things so that he could, indeed, follow after the goth girl, in her candy coating of red and black, shouldering his bag and his jacket.

She jokes about how she managed to get the card into his notebook being some kind of intimate secret, and while Tim understands very well the importance of keeping secrets, especially when it comes to your mystique and methodology, he's not sure there's actually some kind of secret enforcement group of stage magicians who would come bursting in - probably with a flock of doves - if Zatanna were to spill her secrets.

She already spilled an important one, after all, naming herself.

He should probably just leave it, rather than bother actually trying to reason out how she'd pulled it off, but his attention was caught, now… And that meant it would end up just /bothering/ him if he didn't actually investigate, and the last thing he needs is to have a magic trick keeping him up at night. She doesn't seem particularly worried about it, of course; rather, her attention appears to be more on being hungry for lunch.

Tim is still thinking while Zatanna's phone gets her attention, and whatever she sees there brightens her expression (one wonders why, if she's so worried about stage magicians cracking down on her for admitting to simple tricks, she's not equally concerned with being tossed out of the Goth Girl Collective for smiling so much) and seems to turn her thoughts towards tacos.

His dark blue eyes watch her as she walks backwards in front of him, no small feat given her perilous choice in footwear, heels high enough to put her at eye level with him. Give her his best guess, she tempts him.

'Come on, thrill me Tim Drake.'

"You should be careful what you wish for," the young man notes wryly, though he's not making the dirty joke it probably seems like he is. Most of the thrills in his life aren't the sort of thing you'd wish on some cheerful girl from school. He's focused on thinking, rather than ogling, looking up at the late fall sky. She was never near his seat, or his notebook. His notebook… His notebook…

"You had it all worked out before class even started," Tim says, dark blue eyes fixing on Zatanna's lighter, icier. "You were late on purpose, either because you knew you were going to end up the center of attention turning up in the middle of the year… Or because you wanted to be, to make an entrance. You used Joshua to plant the card ahead of time in my notebook. What I'm not sure about is… Was Lucas in on it, too? There's no way you could guarantee that someone in the class would just /happen/ to recognise you from Youtube, or that they'd challenge you to perform an illusion. A good magician doesn't leave anything up to chance, right? They just create the appearance that they do."

He knows all about that part, too.

"Anyway, I guess I'll try your taco," Tim says, feeling immensely better now that he's pretty sure he figured out exactly what happened. Only a few moments later does he realise how that came out.

"No, wait, I mean—"

—-

She doesn't appear to be the sort to worry much about anything, her carefree demeanor worn like second skin, visible and felt by everyone she meets. Zatanna's bootsteps easily keep up, scrutinizing his expression as he continues to think now that the challenge has been posed, no matter how difficult it is to walk backwards - on that end, she seems to have excellent peripheral vision regardless though she eventually turns around again with a light twist of her heel. The small gothic cross charm hanging from her hairstick clicks lightly against it as she reaches the end of the sidewalk, checking her phone once again before stowing it in her pocket.

She doesn't rush him; he seems to be invested in unraveling this particular secret, letting out another laugh when he warns her to be careful for what she wishes for. "If I had a dollar every time someone told me that, I'd have a million in my bag," she tellls him, her tone light and breezy as she hops onto the pedestrian lane to cross the street, luring the young super detective further away from campus - like faerie lights, luring a wayward adventurer towards both wonder and peril. "But I mean it, give me your best shot and let's see how this plays out. You can't be great at card tricks without knowing how to gamble."

It's only when they reach the taco truck that Tim finally presents his deductions, a bright orange vehicle with a sparse line, having just parked at the intersection on Sixth Street and Third Avenue, with bright lime green letters spelling out PACO'S TACOS splashed across the side. The proprietor, Paoc himself, is portly, middle-aged and tanned, presently taking orders from hungry customers. He catches sight of her as she walks towards his truck, squinting at Zatanna and her companion.

"You again!" he exclaims. "You stalkin' me or what, chica?"

"Paco, if you didn't want me to stalk you and your amazing truck, you wouldn't have put up an app that was free for download," Zatanna replies easily, her grin growing more mischievous. "Two vegetarian tacos, please, with the grilled seasoned tofu and— oh, you know what I like by now. And an orange soda."

She digs out her wallet, taking a step aside so Tim could look at the selections; she was watching him sidelong, her smile laden with that same, impish edge. "So you did remember Joshua," she says, looking suitably impressed. "Close enough…he's pretty notorious on campus and when I was grabbing my morning coffee in the GU Starbucks, I saw he had the same textbook I did. I knew our Physics class was the only morning one Professor McGillivray has this semester, so I knew he was a classmate right away. I paid him twenty bucks to slip a card in a fellow classmate's stuff in the event I was asked for a trick, it didn't have to be you - he would just give me a signal while I was performing the trick. As for Lucas…"

She gathers up her tacos and her orange soda once handed to her through the window. "He wasn't in on it," she says, which could be surprising to Tim. "I've been on the road for years, last couple had me studying for my GED in between gigs, though I've been enrolled in school a couple of times before then - people just tend to ask when they recognize me. This was a preemptive strike on my part." She winks at Tim, taking a bite from one of her tacos. "I've gotten pretty good at anticipating people, for all of my happy go lucky nature. Still, not bad, should I start calling you Sherlock?"

She's teasing him, clearly, until he tells her that he's willing to try her taco. There is a pause, her eyes fixing on his as he attempts to ward off the innuendo, her expression flat.

Did he manage to offend her?

Slowly, she offers him a bite of her taco, laughter returning in her eyes.

"Okay," she says seriously enough, a tone that doesn't quite match her obvious, bubbling mirth. "But if you're gonna put your mouth on it, do it gently. It's pretty hot."

—-

Being a fairly enlightened and modern young man, Tim doesn't recoil in horror at Zatanna preferring a vegetarian taco - besides, maybe she knows something about the quality of the meat at the taco truck - however he does look a bit disconcerted when she goes for an /orange soda/.

That's not a real soda!

At least he has the knowledge that he was mostly right to comfort him in the face of this strange revelation about Zatanna's drink preferences, turning his attention slowly up to the menu. It's lunchtime, after all, and it isn't as though he'd want to have to trek back across campus to get something when there's a taco truck right here, and all. He'd really been leaning towards the expectation that Lucas had been in on the game. The way things had unfolded had been almost /too/ perfect, the odds of her having been recognised when she stepped into the classroom a little too low. What if she hadn't been challenged in exactly that way? Would Joshua have held onto the card, or would Tim have just discovered a playing card in his notebook after class?

Though perhaps that expectation says more about Tim Drake than it does about the general nature of magic shows. In Zatanna's position, he would've tried to control all of the variables, or at least as many of them as he could. Why leave something to chance if you don't have to?

"Just Tim is fine," he assures her. "I mean if I was really a Sherlock, I would be making some really outlandish deductions about all the time you spent in Europe based on the way you're holding your taco, or something." Of course, he knows about her time in Europe because of his brief Youtube search, but just like with a magician one of the most important things about being a detective is making the mundane appear fantastical.

The remark about trying her taco was completely unintentional, but his attempt to cover up for it doesn't seem to have panned out, the perky gothette giving him a rather flat look. It would just figure if he managed to piss her off on her first day in class, wouldn't it?

Well, he's never been as smooth with the ladies as Dick. Or as Bruce could at least put on the appearance of being.

Of course, then she offers him a bite of her taco.

Briefly, Tim leans back in surprise, having not expected her to roll with what he'd said quite like that. He can't balk, though, he can't go backing down. If he did that, she'd be able to use that to her advantage over him.

So he leans forward, and he takes the offered bite from her taco, regardless of its current hotness or juiciness, never breaking eye contact the whole time.

"That's pretty good," Tim says as he chews, nodding a bit before swallowing, and then he orders his own food, beef tacos with cheese and lettuce and tomato, and a bit of hot sauce. He also orders a Coke.

—-

Chances are that Joshua would have simply kept the card for later use, in the event that someone in class later asks her to perform a trick; it has happened more often than not and she is content to simply be prepared for the eventuality that it would happen. Controlling all the variables presented in a circumstance was certainly not her way - her job after all, is to amaze, and she would rather actual participants feel the thrill of being had than not.

"Hey, if you wanted to try, feel free. I'll be interested to know what you could tell about me just by looking at me. In return, I'll try and use my magic powers to slip inside your head and make some guesses about you." She grins at that, broadly enough that a small dimple creases over her left cheek, her head tilting slightly and a darker-than-black lock of hair curling against the alabaster curve. "How's that for a thrill, Tim Drake? How many girls in your life are so willing to tell you what she really thinks about you? Are you brave enough to delve into the mysteries of the magical female mind? I have to warn you though, when you stare into the abyss, it often stares back."

She's still holding out her taco for him to try, though he would find a flicker of surprise passing over those pale irises when he leans in and takes a bite from her offered food. For a moment, ice blue meets cobalt, locking there for a minute.

Zatanna doesn't take a step back, nor does she look away; that aura of confidence doesn't wilt when he answers her challenge with the physicality of his own reply. He has already seen the way she reacted to the heckler in class, and she doesn't even blush.

Instead, she even /closes in/ on the already scant distance while his teeth have sunk into that crispy tortilla shell, so close that their noses almost touch, lashes hooding in an expression that is more feline than female. He can practically taste the smile on her cherry-red lips, breathe in her amusement along with those sugary cinnamon notes.

"Was it good for you, too?" she asks him.

He confirms it after he pulls away, and she lets out another laugh, indulging in the rare occasion to simply bask in the wake of her shameless flirtations, shooting verbal bullets through the openings her current companion provides her and making mild sport out of her attempts to make him balk or blush. It doesn't matter if she's only just met him, she doesn't think about whether her impressions on him are favorable or otherwise. She was having fun…and she has enough confidence to suspect that her classmate is, also.

With their lunches acquired, she moves again, never one to stay in one place too long, the transience of her life marked by the quick steps she takes across the street and towards the park adjacent the sprawling Gotham University campus. She juggles the container with her half-eaten tacos and the can of her orange soda deftly in her hands as she looks for a place to sit, opting for a bench on which she dumps her bookbag on one end, sitting down and crossing her long legs by the knee.

"So Drake as in Drake Industries?" she asks, looking up at him while her dark ruby manicure cracks open her orange soda. "Unless that's a coincidence? What's one of Gotham's favorite sons doing in GU and not the likes of Columbia or Harvard?"

—-

"Believe me," Tim says. "Most of the women I know don't hold back at all about telling you what they really think of you." Besides, in his experience, women don't need much in the way of magic powers to figure out a lot of what's going on inside your head, either; a masculine tendency to wear most emotions openly, perhaps leading to that old stereotype. He, of course, tries hard to not play into that stereotype, because people knowing what he's thinking is dangerous and not just for him… Many of those women who wouldn't hold back about telling him what they thought of him would, in the end, only be able to manage it to one of his guises. Figuring out who other people are behind their masks, proverbial or literal, is what Tim Drake does. It's not what /happens/ to Tim Drake.

Rather than pursuing that line of conversation any further, the young man just goes for it, taking the offered bite of Zatanna's taco, and what happens next, well…

Tim probably should've guessed she'd do that.

He doesn't flinch, though, no matter how close she gets, her nose brushing against his and her ice-blue eyes hooded with dark, dark lashes. Flinching would ruin everything. He wouldn't flinch in front of a dangerous psychopath - well, Red Robin wouldn't, but he's never created quite the extreme false self certain other heroes have anyway - so there's no reason for him to be terrified of a girl. He can't decide if her lips look more like candy, or like blood.

Though as a suprisingly cheerful goth girl, perhaps she'd approve of either comparison equally.

Still, he can't help but feel a curious mix of relief and disappointment when she moves away from his face without further incident. The disappointment worries him a little. Zatanna is pretty, but he doesn't have time for that sort of thing.

He follows her over to find someplace to sit and eat, amusement and curiousity still tangling him up with the strange young woman (though it would also be rude to just take off on her, anyway). Once they were seated, she showed that she knew more about the city than most bothered to, correctly guessing… Well, at least /part/ of who he was.

"Gotham University is a perfectly good school," Tim answered with a faint shrug. He doesn't bother pointing out that, from a strictly legal perspective these days, it's really more Tim /Wayne/ than Tim Drake, which would put him under even more theoretical pressure to go to some fancy Ivy League, not to mention the funding and the name recognition to get him into basically any school he wanted, even if he weren't also incredibly brilliant. "Besides, it doesn't do the city any good if its favourite sons run off to go to school somewhere else and then probably never come back, does it? The more people leave Gotham, the worse it'll get."

That was probably too serious. Maybe a bit too intense.

"Anyway, what about you?" he wonders. "You're a long way from performing illusions in Europe, wearing nothing but a bikini. Gotham doesn't even /have/ bikini season."

—-

"No wonder you seem like the serious sort," Zatanna replies, quirking her brows at him as he describes the women in his life, reading between the lines that they're more often straightforward than not. "I mean, I'm sure it's a relief, but I wonder if there's an ingrained expectation there that others would follow suit if you're accustomed to that. But no, don't tell me." She lifts a hand to stay him before he answers that question. "I'd rather see for myself. We have at the very least an entire semester after all, no sense in delving into the unknown bits within the first day. I'm adventurous like that."

She finishes her two-bitten taco with a few savoring bites, her stare wandering away from him so she could inspect her food, marvel at the color and the way hot sauce drips from its innards. A tactile creature, she unabashedly takes her time savoring bits of her surroundings that tickle her senses - the way people move across the park, couples strolling, children playing and individuals walking their dogs, canting her head slightly at the rustle of the nearby trees and how the grass slips under her boots.

Picking up her last taco, she returns her attention to him at last, giving him a sidelong glance; her earlier assertion about his serious demeanor is only confirmed by what he says about Gotham. "You mean the more /good/ people leave Gotham," she replies. "I'm certain it doesn't need more of the bad." Reflective, really, that while she has been gone for perhaps quite some time, she is very familiar with the city's history. "Though that's a relief, that I'm having lunch on my first day of school with someone who thinks he's a good person. I knew someone once who was so convinced that he wasn't that he couldn't help but /do/ bad. There's something to be said about self-fulfilling prophecies."

She takes a bite, turning sideways on her seat so she could face him a little more fully. "Do you Google everyone you meet?" she asks with a hint of a laugh. "I suppose I /do/ look a little bit like a vampire, but I think you're more familiar with that famous saying about appearances than you look. Anyway, the Cote d'Azure gig was one of the best times I've had performing in a while."

Setting aside the remains of her lunch, she sticks a straw into her can of soda. "I used to live here," she tells him. "A long time ago, my family owns property on Crest Hill. I even went to grade school, though I was in and out so much that Daddy just decided to pull me out entirely, those days, we didn't really stay in one place for too long. All adventure, not enough stability."

She pokes his shoulder lightly with a finger. "Though if that's a roundabout way from discouraging me from wearing one around here, it isn't going to work. I'll sun on my own roof if I have to," she says with a laugh. "I've been around the world before I was sixteen, Tim. If there's anything I learned in those travels is that if there's a will, there's a way….and nothing is impossible."

That spark of mischief returns in her eyes, her cheeks hollowing impetuously as she takes a sip from her straw.

—-

"I could be delusional," Tim notes.

He doesn't confirm whether he /does/ think of himself as a good person or not, at least not in such a crassly specific way. It's an interesting philosophical question though, isn't it?

"Most people who are bad consider themselves to be good. Not all of them, sure, but there's more who do than who don't. Who think that what they're doing is the best for the world, for the people around them. That they're just doing what they need to do to survive. That they don't have other options, that it's a life of poverty or a life of crime. So I could be just like that, too. Thinking I'm good, that I'm a basically decent person, while rationalising away whatever bad things I might be doing."

He grins, again, a little bit self-consciously.

"Sorry, been getting really into philosophy classes," Tim claims, which is far safer - and, given most university students, far more believable - than the reality that those sorts of questions weigh on him because of his /other/ activities. "Ethics is a fascinating field of study. Sounds like this guy you knew had a real self-image problem, though."

Tim settles in to enjoy his own taco, having gone for a soft shell, after dropping the 'revelation' about her previous activities. She wonders if he Googles everyone he meets - not /everyone/ - and compares her appearance to that of a vampire, which is ridiculous because she's outside at noon, and real vampires can't do that. That this is a realistic concern only speaks to the kind of life that Tim Drake leads.

"I checked Youtube on my phone while they were talking about you in class. You're not the only Zatara to be involved in stage magic, huh?" That would be the 'Daddy' she refers to, a curiously girlish and cutesy way of talking about her father from a striking and rather obviously grown woman such as herself. The family name doesn't really resonate with Tim, though he too lived on Crest Hill most of his life, but even he doesn't expect a perfect recall of everything he saw or heard when he was a toddler. His own father had been out and travelling a lot in those days, part of the reason why there were no other little Drakes… But travelling archaeologist that he was, Jack Drake never took his son with him out on digs.

The poke on his shoulder draws a curious look from Tim, his brow furrowing faintly.

"If you do a lot of sunbathing, won't that ruin the whole Daughter of the Night look you've got going? Goth girl with a tan doesn't work… You'd have to dye your hair blonde, start showing up to class in tennis gear. You know, the full Crest Hill girl look."

—-

He admits that he could be delusional, or that he might just be rationalizing out the bad parts of him, like what most people tend to do.

"Or you could be dangerously self-aware," Zatanna says, her grin returning, those red-candy lips turning upwards on the corners as she takes a few more sips of her soda. "I say dangerous because you look like you're about my age, and if you're older, you're not too much older. Self-awareness comes from two things, in my opinion - experience and hours spent scrutinizing at your own demons in the mirror. And I really hope that's not the case, because what that tells me is that you've seen some shit. It's not a crime, you know, to embrace your youth."

Her grin softens at the more self-conscious expression he gives her, after taking in his spiel about humanity's capacity to do good and bad. She sets her empty can to the side, linking her fingers together and leaning back against the back of the bench.

"I'd like to believe that people are inherently good," she confesses. "That our fellow men and women don't exist just to screw us out of what's due to us. Maybe it's naive, and it's not like I haven't seen the consequences of people's selfishness while I was out there traveling - I have. More than my share, believe me, but…I don't know. I always thought to myself that one day, I'll get incredibly cynical and then I'll care less….but it never seems to happen. I keep waiting for it, but it never comes."

She angles her head at him, flashing him a wink. "So maybe you're not delusional, maybe I'm a masochist, setting myself up for disappointment like that."

His confession about his fascination for his philosophy classes earns him a chuckle; if she even suspects it is an exaggeration, she doesn't show it, draping her elbow against the back rest of the bench. "Is that your major, then?" she wonders. "Philosophy, or political science? I would have pegged you to be the computer engineering type." It's the Rebel Alliance logo on his shirt - look, she's not immune to stereotypes, either! "Or, let me guess….Art History?"

That last one has to be a joke.

Mention of her father has her turning her eyes away from him momentarily, following the wake of a colorful frisbee tossed about by a couple of kids who decided to strike up a game - the better, really, for him not to glimpse the look in her eyes at the mention of her missing father. "Daddy's been performing well before I came into the picture," she tells him. "If you thought my performance was good, he's on another level entirely. A force to be reckoned with on the stage. Nobody can escape death traps the way he does. One day I'll surpass him, though. That…" With that sudden bout of melancholy passing, She turns back to Tim, gesturing at him with her index finger. "Is an absolute promise."

His overt confusion about losing her goth girl look has her laughing, her spare hand lifting to rub her cheek. "I don't know how long this look is going to last me, to be honest," she tells him. "In a couple of years, I might outgrow it, but you're right. Daddy says my mother was Turkish, so I'd definitely tan. If that happens maybe I should go for the exotic harem girl look instead. Walk around in coin scarfs and belly dancing outfits. God, could you image? Those Crest Hill girls are going to /hate/ me."

—-

"Psychology, actually," Tim explains, giving a straight answer to what is at heart a kind of teasing line of questioning. It makes perfect sense to him, anyway, because it's a useful skillset in both his official and unofficial activities, and besides which there's not much the computer engineering faculty at Gotham University could teach him, at this point. He could probably show the professors a thing or two on the other hand… Just so long as nobody asked him to explain where he learned any of it.

"Maybe as a pre-law, that's what all us rich kids end up doing, right? That or an MBA, but that seems pretty boring." Which isn't to say that he doesn't take an interest in business dealings, but it suits him to seem disinterested in how the proverbial sausage is made. It would only make sense to anyone who knew who his foster father was, which helps more… It's easy to believe that he learned from Bruce Wayne the importance of letting people who like the nitty-gritty run the company, letting him focus on more important things, like lingerie models.

Though his 'big brother' ended up becoming a cop, so who knows how far any of Wayne's adopted apples might fall from the tree.

That Zatanna takes the advantage of a distraction to look away from him when she talks about her father speaks volumes on its own, even if he doesn't get to see the look in her eyes, the sadness speaking about her missing father elicits. He can tell it's not a case of parental resentment, otherwise she probably wouldn't call him 'Daddy,' but she also speaks of her father as though he were still alive, which is something Timothy could envy her. But the mood that takes the gothette passes, and she looks at him as she promises that one day she'll be an even better stage magician and escape artist than her father.

He's not sure anything keeps Zatanna down for long, which to him is more than enough to explain her lack of cynicism. Some people just don't have it in them.

Others, of course, do.

"I'm not sure they'd let you walk around the school dressed like a harem girl," Tim says. Universities are fairly lax when it comes to dress codes, but there's always such a thing as 'too much.' "But if you want to give it a test run, probably wait for the weather to get warmer. In the meantime, I dunno… I think this suits you. Very striking and mysterious."

—-

"Oh? Do you like people that much?" Zatanna wonders, looking at him in surprise. Tim was friendly enough, but there was an atmosphere around him that she can't quite parse - as if he was more of an observer than an actual participant in the world around him. It's a vibe that confuses and fascinates her, and one that makes her inwardly frown. She was hardly every wrong in her observations of people and really, the subject is one that she has contemplated on studying herself, if not just to refine her tricks in mentalism. However, she genuinely likes people, enjoys spending time with them, investing herself in the nitty-gritty details of their lives out of the desire to connect with someone and ease her loneliness.

She does not get that impression from Tim.

"Both of those sound pretty boring," she corrects with a hint of a laugh. "Though I suppose some types of law can be pretty interesting. So I guess…what, you intend to choose whether you like the sound of 'Doctor Timothy Drake' better than 'Timothy Drake, Esquire'?" She assumes it is Timothy, anyway, it's rare that she actually comes across a man just named 'Tim.'"Does that mean you don't have any desire whatsoever in taking over the family business?"

As always the case, her companion deconstructs the social calculus she presents into smaller, more digestible parts; her father is still alive, but mentions of him ellicit a type of sadness more felt than seen - it could be that he was /dying/, which would fit the criteria, or imprisoned, though certainly videos of that would have surfaced in his quick Youtube search. Or, perhaps the worst of these, he could have abandoned her after giving her just enough childhood memories to secure some degree of fondness and admiration for him.

Though if one twists it the right way, all of those guesses would, in some fashion, be extremely accurate. He won't know for sure, really, unless he digs deeper or he asks.

His compliment on her present aesthetics has her giving him a brilliant smile; akin to witnessing the birth of a star, white practically bursts against cherry-red. Her eyes reflect the glamour, brightening to such a degree that they are almost luminescent. "Well the harem girl thing was mostly a joke, though I'm certainly not above it," she tells him. "But thanks…see? I told you that you were sweet! Honestly, it's a little bit unexpected that you would think so. Rich boy and all of that, I thought what you'd find 'striking' would lean towards the more conservative templates, blondes and redheads in tennis skirts or jeans, that sort of thing. The part about being mysterious also….what, has the mystery not vanished despite me being so chatty?"

She finds some measure of amusement there; her poker face is nothing stoic - her expressiveness, most days, is its own effective misdirection.

Zatanna purses her lips in thought, before rounding back on him. "Does this mean you have a type? You better be careful with what you say next, I might sell this bit of information to the tabloids and soon, you won't be able to walk across campus without girls throwing their panties at you with their digits on them. Though if you're into that, I /could/, but you'll have to get me a really nice present afterwards as a thank you."

She digs into her pocket, producing her phone yet again, wiggling it at him. "You've done it now, though. Turnabout is fair play," she says. "I wonder what'll come up if /I/ Googled /you/."

—-

It's a good question.

/Does/ he like people that much?

There are different ways you could interpret that after all, as he's hardly a social butterfly; Zatanna isn't wrong when she notices his aloofness, the way he behaves as though he were observing humanity rather than participating directly in it, but that might not necessarily be because of /dislike/. Perhaps he prefers other people in the abstract, rather than specific individuals. Given his secret career, it would be difficult to say that he didn't like people, but it would be just as incorrect to accuse him of having an optimistic view of them at the same time. People were what they were, after all, and Tim Drake had developed a hgealthy cynicism over the years he'd spent in the muck, dealing with the worst of them.

"Well not everyone can perform on stage," Tim noted. If they did, who would there be to perform /for/? "Drake Industries probably does better without me taking over the family business anyway," he adds, with a rueful grin. His financial interests had become more diverse since he was taken in by the Wayne family, and no doubt the board members and the employees alike were happier without the worry of Wayne Enterprises gobbling them up. "Not to mention, the world has plenty of corporate executives. I'm sure I could find something better to do with my time."

It's a near certainty that he was going to investigate more deeply into Zatanna's family later on, but for the moment it was simpler to just let the matter drop rather than trying to interrogate her further about her father. It's not as though he didn't understand that there were times you'd rather not talk about your parents, especially if you could only speak about them in absentia.

Besides, Zatanna gave him something more immediate to be concerned with when she aimed that gigawatt smile at him, after he calls her striking, and generally compliments her peculiar appearance. But even though she thanks him and accuses him once more of sweetness, she reminds Tim that she isn't beyond making assumptions about other people based on their appearances or their perceived role. Which is to the good, really. People are supposed to make assumptions about him, it keeps him from having to create a more outlandish secret identity.

Of course, then she wonders if he has a 'type', and threatens to give a tell-all interview to the tabloids that would certainly love to print an article about the sordid affairs of Timothy Drake, who had no doubt been corrupted by his foster father's notorious playboy ways. His head tilts slightly to the side when she creates a rather bizarre scenario of girls throwing their panties at him with their phone numbers written on the fabric.

"Knowing the girls at this school, they'd probably have to write very tiny," he noted, actually giving some thought to the logistics of that improbable situation.

And then, Zatanna has her own phone out. She wonders what she'd learn from googling him.

"My parents are both dead," Tim tells her preemptively. "I was taken in by a friend of the family, Bruce Wayne. He has a thing for adopting strays, I guess, since he doesn't have any family of his own. Also one time I won a year's supply of jelly beans by guessing how many beans were in this big plastic jar. It was actually pretty easy, I just figured out how much volume the average jelly bean would occupy and then how large the jar was, and…"

—-

" 'Knowing' the girls in this school?" Zatanna wonders, not letting him off the hook /too/ easily in said ridiculous scenario. "As in, biblical knowing, or knowing by reputation? It would be just like my usual, you know, to find myself someplace with the campus playboy purely by accident." She hangs her head in an exaggerated fashion, exhaling a big sigh. "My reputation ruined at my first day of school," she remarks forlornly, but not so seriously that he wouldn't pick up the jest - Tim Drake appears to be a quick study after all.

She's already putting her phone back after her joking threat; as Tim's mouth opens to answer her questions, the smile vanishes from her face, her eyes rounding in astonishment. "Hey, wait—" the black-haired girl starts, but it's too late and he spills the proverbial jellybeans, so to speak, about what Google might say about him. To her credit, she looks /tremendously/ guilty throughout his litany of stories, and when he finishes, she lapses into silence.

For once in this entire conversation, the goth girl looks suitably embarrassed, rubbing her cheek in a self-conscious fashion - it is as rare an expression from the confident magician as it comes, like glimpsing a unicorn in the forest.

"I was half-expecting you to call my bluff," she confesses contritely. "Oh, Tim, I'm sorry…I didn't mean to push you into explaining anything. I wasn't really going to - I mean, Google is great, I'm a college student, I depend on it quite a bit. But if there's anything you have to know about me is that I'd rather someone tell me about his life freely. I wouldn't really poke around the Internet for it. Like…I mean, exceptions do exist, especially if you're Chris Evans, for example. But if it's someone I know personally….you get it, right?"

Red-tipped nails hook into a stray lock of hair, tucking it behind her ear. "With that said, I hope I didn't make you uncomfortable. If I did, I'd feel terrible, though your jellybean story does make me feel a little better. That's really cute, how old were you? I'm sorry also…for your parents. I never knew my mother, she died in an accident when I was very young, and Daddy's…" Her voice trails off at that, looking up at the sky.

She doesn't continue the thought, glancing at him sidelong. "Though we've totally got the six degrees of separation thing going. Daddy was close to Thomas and Martha Wayne, when they were alive. In fact, he performed during Bruce's birthday parties as a kid. When they died, Daddy felt so guilty he couldn't do anything about it, so he left Gotham. I didn't really meet him until much later when he showed up in our doorstep one day to ask Daddy for a favor."

—-

If Tim is offended, he doesn't show it. Any biography of his life, no matter how impromptu, would certainly include his parents' fates, having lost his mother as a young teenager, and his father a few years later. Maybe nothing as dramatic as the loss of the Waynes, a signpost for how far the city of Gotham had fallen into the hands of the criminals and the insane, but you can't rerally compare personal disasters.

It's always the end of the world to the person that it happens to.

"I get it," Tim assures Zatanna, though whether he /agrees/ with the sentiment is another topic entirely. Investigating, gathering information about other people comes as naturally as breathing to him, and at times that leaves his sense of boundaries a little… Wanting. But doesn't the exception she make apply quite clearly to her? She's a kind of celebrity, after all, with her illusions and escape artistry performed in videos on the internet, a stage magician who can be her own lovely assistant standing out in a field that is otherwise kind of a sausage festival.

Anyway, Tim did feel a certain grim satisfaction at seeing actual embarrassment show through Zatanna's carefully husbanded cheerful appearance. She doesn't seem like someone who's caught wrong-footed very often, and it's always nice to have confirmation that he's still got 'it'.

"I wouldn't worry too much about it, though… Around here, everyone's got a tragedy or two weighing them down. Otherwise, it wouldn't be Gotham, would it? As for the jellybeans, I was… Seven, I think. A year's supply of jellybeans seemed like a really big deal at the time. About three months in, I was pretty sick of jellybeans."

Tim doesn't, of course, supply the actual circumstances that took his parents from him, because heartfelt admissions from young women deserve better than 'my mother was killed by an evil houngan' and 'my dad was killed by a guy with a boomerang'. The pain and tragedy are no less real, of course, but it lacks the gravitas of a nonspecific accident, or being shot by a desperate criminal.

"A favour?" Tim repeats, surprise creeping into his voice and expression. He can't imagine Bruce asking /anyone/ for a favour, either in his pretend playboy persona or the more serious mein better associated with the Dark Knight, mask or no.

—-

"Yeah," Zatanna replies, her head still tilted up, watching the clouds pass them by. It was too beautiful of a day to spend in doors, with the sun high in the sky, a bright spot in a field of clear cerulean, filtering through the red and gold leaves hanging overhead. "I know. People say Gotham was built on pain, tears, and the rush of blood but I don't want that to happen to me either….grow calluses to it. I never want to not care."

She eyes him skeptically from where she sits. "/Seven/, though? So you're telling me you knew geometric formulas and how to use them before you were ten?" She lets out a laugh, shaking her head. "Jesus, what do they put in the water around here these days? Maybe I should've stuck around for a few more years before we left, then maybe I'd be a mathematical genius also."

She leaves his own tragedies well enough alone - not because she isn't curious, not because she doesn't care (and in fact, she may be prone to the self-destructive tendency of caring too much), but rather because she means what she had just said: She would rather that Tim tell her himself, rather than snoop around behind his back. While there's no way she could know that this is precisely what Tim does with anyone who catches his attention, it simply isn't her way.

But the look he wears now is new; surprise, plain and open, on the young man's face. Zatanna sees it from the corner of her eye, turning her attention back on him fully. Her smile returns, though it is a shade of its earlier, sunny self - it's rueful, now, and somewhat puzzled.

"Yeah, a favor," she tells him. "Remember I made a dramatic big deal out of you asking me how the trick was pulled earlier? That's what Bruce wanted from Daddy….he wanted to learn how to escape traps. Handcuffs, straightjackets, sealed containers full of water, how to get out of chains upside down, cages, man-sized safes thrown into the river. All of it."

The deck of cards is in her hands again, though Tim wouldn't have a prayer in pinpointing just when she got it back out, the young woman shuffling it between her fingers; it gives her something to do while she talks. "When it comes to that stuff, Daddy's one of the greats - he's a tough act to follow when it comes to the art of escaping certain death by the skin of your teeth. So you'd think the Great Zatara would just laugh Bruce Wayne off his doorstep when he asked. But he allowed it, Tim….I think out of guilt. He knew him as a boy, he was close to his parents, and he felt helpless to do anything for him when he left, I guess now that he had a chance to do something for him, he wasn't going to say no." She smirks faintly. "Even if it meant breaking the code."

She looks sidelong at Tim, lifting an elegant brow. "What confuses me in the end is just why the hell Bruce Wayne wanted to learn that sort of stuff. It's not like people are going to ask him to perform stage illusions during board meetings."

—-

It isn't as though Tim didn't realise, even then, that he was a bit… Unusual. It's a testament to the superior strangeness of the life in which he found himself that for the longest time he was the most normal of his newfound social circle. Brilliant, sure, but he wasn't an acrobat who'd been training since he could walk, and for all of his family's wealth he'd still grown up in an environment comprehensible to most of his peers. Boarding school had eventually given way to a normal public junior high, and then high school.

"Wasn't really that complicated," Tim muttered with a kind of sullen defensiveness at Zatanna's skepticism. Once he had a puzzle in his mind, the only way to rid himself of it was to solve it… And, like he'd said, at that age he thought jellybeans were pretty much the best thing in the whole world. It wasn't long after that when Tim turned his nascent brilliance to another, more serious mystery though, so maybe jellybeans are the first mover that put him where he now is.

Tim's own surprise melted away as Zatanna's puzzlement grew, because while she couldn't fathom why fabulously wealthy Bruce Wayne would want to learn escapology, it made perfect sense to /him/… Especially since he'd learned those very skills from the Caped Crusader in turn. It was a lifestyle where being able to slip bonds could mean the difference between life or death, where being thrown into a river in a man-sized safe was distressingly possible.

Of course, he couldn't tell Zatanna any of that.

"Maybe it was one of those weird phases," Tim suggests, with a faint shrug of his shoulders. "Bruce… Went through a lot, obviously. Maybe it was something to get his mind off of things. Maybe he thought an eccentric billionaire needed eccentric hobbies… Or he was worried about getting tied up by lingerie models."

—-

"Right," Zatanna tells him, her voice a touch dry when he tells her it really wasn't all that complicated to figure out how many jellybeans were in a jar. "You know what I was doing when I was seven? I was getting fitted for braces and I hated every single minute of it. My teeth were so terrible that the dentist gave me the whole apparatus - the chin brace, the headgear and everything. So while you were astounding the jellybean judges with your beyond-your-years brilliance, I was spraying spittle on everyone I met when I was trying to talk. I never really had a lot of opportunities to make friends, even as a kid - whatever chance I had in doing that tanked /immediately/ when I was turned into a saliva fountain."

His sullen expression earns him a small laugh, nudging him playfully with her elbow. "Oh, don't give me that face," she tells him lightly. "You're a Psych major, you should recognize jealousy when you see it. I wish I was that smart; I was never all that academically inclined, you can thank Daddy for that. I've attended an actual school a total of five years before I was homeschooled instead, and it was a trial for my tutors to get me interested in math, or science or any of that. I did well in English and history, and I'm a visual person so Geometry came easy, but other than that, I'm nothing special there. Maybe my life would be a little easier if I was smarter."

Crumpling the cardboard boat that held her tacos, she tightens her grip around it, turning so she could aim and launch it into one of the nearby wastebaskets, sinking it in unerringly. She rattles her soda can around, and at the sound of liquid within, she sticks her straw back in her mouth, finishing it off.

"I actually thought that the demands of business might've taken him in more dangerous parts of the world where kidnapping rich Americans are all the rage," she tells Tim. "With nobody else to take up the mantle, maybe he was just being cautious. Though…" She can't help but laugh. "…I honestly should have thought about the lingerie models thing, too. Is he as bad as they say he is?"

Giving him a look, she slowly stands up, picking up her book bag and slinging it on her shoulder.

"Well, now that I know, don't be surprised if I show up at your new digs," she tells him. "Talking about Bruce reminded me that I need to see him for something that'll probably require me cashing in the chip he gave Daddy several years ago, but I'm not exactly such a big name yet that I don't need connections to where I need to be. He probably won't remember me, but hopefully I'll be persuasive enough for him to pull one little string for me."

—-

Since Tim Drake is largely a good person, perhaps even 'sweet' as Zatanna herself described him, he does not show any amusement at the surreal image the young woman creates, of herself as a child stuck in a whole orthodontic apparatus looking like something out of a horror movie or a medieval torturer's wishlist. It's not just bizarre on its own, but it's particularly incongruous with the magician as she is now - poised and self-assured, in full control of the face that she presents to the world around her.

Though perhaps that's the real point of the story, a cynical part of Tim wonders. The 'ugly duckling' is a powerful social construct, the idea of some young unfortunate blossoming into a striking beauty, and perhaps she was trying to invoke it intentionally. Maybe she'd always been a beauty, one of those girls that the other girls all hated.

Or maybe she means exactly what she says, and her confidence now is well-earned, from having to deal with near social suicide until her teeth were perfect.

"Well, if you need any help at school, you can always ask me," Tim suggests, latching on to her description of her academics instead of wandering into the dark and dangerous waters of the childhood tragedy that she'd described to him. No comments about picking up radio signals, no wondering if anything else about her was fixed by doctors. Not that it doesn't occur to him to be a smartass, but Tim knows that there's a time and a place.

And he knows that in a conversation with a woman, there will always be some landmines.

"You might be right, there's always the danger that somebody would want to get their hands on the heir to the Wayne family fortune for their own gain," Tim agrees subsequently. "I dunno about the /demands of business/ though, Bruce has always been more interested in the charitable side of Wayne Enterprises, and uh the lingerie models. Though no, he's not as bad as he used to be, before he started taking in strays." Just imagine the sorts of things Dick Grayson must've seen as a young Robin! …Actually that would explain a lot, wouldn't it.

Tim isn't sure what to make of Zatanna turning up at the Manor to get Bruce to 'pull one little string' for her, but he just has to hope it wouldn't be anything too outlandish. After all, she's just some civilian, right? There's nothing weird about her at all, right?

—-

All of those could be possible, but perhaps the most simplest explanation is the most accurate; to provide a contrast between the two of them as to how they were at similar ages, and that while Tim was already exhibiting his brilliance at such a young age, Zatanna was still struggling with more typical childhood problems - like bad teeth, and her inability to make friends due to the lack of stability in her home life. If anything, the story does nothing but illustrate their glaring differences, where Zatannas's overall point seems to be that her companion is cerebrally gifted, and she is not, but sometimes wishes she was.

His offer to help her with her studies does earn another surprised look from the young gothette, turning her ice-blue eyes back to his, strangely hesitant and gauging his sincerity. For a young woman who still calls her father 'Daddy,' Zatanna prides herself for her fierce independence, though it is hard to determine at present whether it was out of necessity or simply her nature. Even the favor she intends to ask Bruce wasn't anything large, and something he could do with a simple ten-second phone call.

"Are you sure?" she asks, instead, laughter returning in her voice. "You might want to take that back after a couple of weeks. Thanks, Tim….for the offer. See? For a non-Psych major, I'm not a bad read, yeah? You /are/ sweet. It's either that or you just like girls who wear short skirts. Do you have a partner for that Physics project yet?"

It was probably time to head back for other classes. She seems to be waiting patiently for him to finish his food so they can start walking back to campus.

"Maybe now that he has a family, he's looking to settle down," she suggests with a dramatic sigh. "There comes that point in every man's life and all of that, and good looks fade with time. Not to say he still isn't hot now and were it a few months ago, I'd be making jokes about angling myself to be Mrs. Bruce Wayne, but I made myself a promise that I wouldn't go after men much older than me anymore. I already got burned on that road once."

Once he gets up, she tucks her hands in her pockets, walking next to him in an easy, unhurried pace, the thin heels of her boots clicking on the cement. With them on, she's just as tall as he is, though he casts a broader shadow. "I'm really surprised to hear that though, I would have thought he'd be a little more hands on with Wayne Enterprises. That's good though, that means he might do me the favor of getting me in a gala I've been wanting to attend. It's a closed auction held by the Gotham Antiquities Commission and the Wayne Foundation is one of the sponsors."

—-

"Considering the only other person you know in the class so far is a career criminal," Tim notes, "I could just be trying to keep you out of trouble." Which isn't to say he's never made use of - or just plain /made/ - false identification before, and really on the scale of criminality the guy who makes fake IDs for college kids so they can buy beer is really nowhere near a blip on the radar, but you never know. "I guess the short skirt doesn't hurt any, though."

He's probably kidding about that part. He doesn't have the time for /entanglements/ right now, given the twin pressures of his studies and his peculiar choice in extracurricular activities. It's impossible to deny, though, that Zatanna was a likeable and charismatic young woman, and Tim was hardly immune to the desire to make friends. He knew the dangers of really isolating himself, knew the sort of person he could wind up being.

And he was still curious. Curious about what was driving her, and what she wanted to ask Bruce about.

"And as it happens I do still need a partner for that project, if you don't mind convincing everyone in the class that we were colluding on your little magic trick." He's sure they already believe it, no matter how surprised he seemed at the time. But, maybe that isn't so bad either.

Finishing his own food, Tim disposes of the cardboard tray but is still nursing his can of Coke as he gets up to walk along with Zatanna. Again, of course, the goth girl makes a statement that piques his curiousity, about going after men too much older than herself 'anymore'. She's still basically a kid (but then, so is he) which leaves him wondering what other sorts of mischief she was up to in Europe. Or if her absent father is the only one she ever called 'daddy'.

"An antiquities gala?" Tim repeats, and even to him, an inveterate nerd, that sounds /super boring/. "You didn't come back to Gotham just to steal an ancient book that's going to revive a mummified sorceror or anything, did you?"

—-

The young magician snickers appreciatively at Tim's description of Joshua, quirking her eyebrows at him while they walk. As far as crimes go, making fake IDs and propagating underaged drinking and gambling through them seems terribly minor in the tidal wave of crime that sweeps Gotham on a continuous basis, but perhaps it could be considered a stepping stone for other felonies. "I suppose if he isn't a career criminal now, he might very well be in the future," she replies. "Poor Joshua. If you only asserted your good influence on him early, then maybe he wouldn't be terribly doomed to the life."

Reaching for his arm, if he allows it, Zatanna tugs Tim closer, looping her own through his and letting her fingers curl lightly on the inside of his elbow; the picture of a gentleman walking a lady to where she needs to be. "But your regard for my well-being is very much appreciated, Mr. Drake," she says, mimicking an extremely convincing British accent. "To think that I presumed erroneously that Gotham was a city that demanded its knights to be dark and frightening, not shining and amiable!"

Her other major /was/ Theatre, after all; Tim might have been able to deduce it while he was helping her pick up her things. And if he isn't sure, her words and actions simply confirm it.

His confirmation that he still needs a partner in Physics class has her grinning at him broadly, the small dimple reappearing on her cheek once again; it is ever a fickle thing, not the sort to bestow its presence on anyone constantly whenever she smiles. Waving a hand dismissively, she lifts her shoulders in a shrug. "They can assume what they want," she tells him. "I'm not fussed either way - if I'm going to get any grief about it, it'll be from Lucas, and I can take him easily."

She seems confident about that, nevermind that the captain of the University lacrosse team towers over her by at least half a foot, and outweighs her by eighty pounds or more. Certainly, she doesn't mean physically, but the comment may very well add yet another question mark in Tim's growing mental profile of his new classmate.

"Still…" She pokes him lightly on his shoulder with her free hand. "Like I said, you may regret offering. But you needn't worry. I'm not as brilliant as you, but I'm industrious…I'll pull my weight. Plus, if I ever slack off, I'm sure you can convince me to move my ass with those dark blue eyes of yours. Either they'll scare me into action, or endear me into it."

The main campus building looms before them, the two of them stepping back into the promenade and its circular centerpiece. His quip about mummified sorcerors earns him a (slightly hesitant) laugh (while cringing inwardly, remembering a certain trip with her father to Egypt a few years ago). "Me? Do I look like the type to read from the book?" she wonders, flashing him a wounded look that fades almost immediately.

"Actually, no, don't answer that," she grumbles. "Anyway, the aim isn't to steal anything, the aim is to purchase something that caught my eye. It isn't as if I don't have a sizeable trust fund in turn, I'm sure I can give would-be competitors a run for their money…and no, I didn't return to Gotham just for that, though it's definitely one of the reasons why." Her free hand tucks back into her pocket. "Rare books, archaeological artifacts, priceless art. The proceeds are going to charity, I think, since a few orphanages in the city could use them. It's one of those stuffy, black tie things with an exclusive guest list…but since the Zataras haven't been stateside for a long time, I missed my chance to get an invite. I'm hoping Bruce would put in a good word for me since the Foundation is one of its sponsors and slip me in as a last minute addition."

Her voice grows absent; her mind can't help but backtrack to the grisly scene in Chinatown, the seance in the morgue right after and the corpse's hissing, disembodied voice. Unconsciously, her fingers twitch, tightening faintly around Tim's elbow.

"I might not have this chance again if I don't go," she murmurs, more to herself than to her companion.

—-

Of course Tim Drake, normal college student, is easily caught by Zatanna's grasping hand, her pale skin and red manicure curling into the crook of his elbow as she tugs him closer. Being perfectly normal in every way, it's not like he would've noticed what she was doing ahead of time and easily avoided being caught; and being a perfectly normal young man, it's not like he'd actively resist her effort to pull him into her orbit. They wouldn't be the only people walking arm in arm anyway, though odds were they were still an unusual pair in other ways.

Like the way she speaks to him in a British accent of all things, jokingly thanking him for his concern over her not getting embroiled in a life of crime.

She's all brilliant, dimpled smiles and assurances that she isn't bothered by what their classmates assume, at least in regards to whether or not Tim was secretly helping her out with her little magic trick earlier. She can take Lucas, she says, and it's easy to construe that as social in context. Why would he assume she was talking about getting into any sort of a fight? Unless, of course, she has some other kind of secret training, but Tim wouldn't know anything about that kind of thing, naturally.

Naturally.

"Hard work is more important than brilliance, nine times out of ten," he assures her; natural talent is great, and there are definitely some situations where it can't really be substituted for by anything else, but schoolwork is rarely one of those. "Still, if you need somebody to keep you in line, you should know I'm kind of a harsh taskmaster." Another one of those things he learned from the best. Still, he's probably exaggerating, right?

The explanation for Zatanna's interest in the gala proves to be less about heists and ancient tomes that should never be read by mortal eyes, and more about wanting to buy an antiquity that caught her eye, which might still be an ancient tome that should never be read by mortal eyes - she never actually denied that part.

Her fingers tighten on his arm, and Tim can tell she's distracted, focused on something else, but likely related.

"Well, it can't hurt to ask," Tim assures her. "Just smile like you did before, maybe flutter your eyelashes a little. I've never known him to say no to a lovely young woman in need."

—-

"And you should know I don't scare easy," Zatanna ripostes, giving him a sideways glance, though her tone is light and that perpetual air of mischief remains. "So if anything, studying together wouldn't be boring at the very least." It strange that she's almost looking forward to it, the possibility of butting heads with some boy genius that she just met when he tries to poke her into putting the necessary effort into her studies.

Tim couldn't be blamed if he ever thought that her bravado is mostly theatrical. There's no way he could imagine that she had lost any semblance of squeamishness at a young age, and has already witnessed horrors that no people their age should; immortals, extra-dimensional beings and eldritch terrors straight out of Lovecraft's worst nightmares. Her irrepressible air of confidence and cheerfulness isn't just a facade to prevent others from even suspecting the existence of a supernatural background, but a testament to a bright, unyielding spirit - marked by tragedy and yet somehow manages to rise above it.

" 'Lovely,' huh?" she teases him, and even bats her lashes at him as an impromptu 'test drive' of her charms. "Will that work on you if it doesn't pan out with him? You're technically a Wayne now, after all. Normally I wouldn't be so blatant about it, considering we just met, but you can say what I've got my eye on is one of a kind, and if I don't attend the function, it might slip from my grasp entirely…and I'm not the sort of person who passes up a golden opportunity when it's presented to me."

They finally reach the front steps of the main campus, the young woman slipping her arm from Tim's own. Tucking a lock of black hair back behind her ear, she turns so she could face him fully, digging out her phone and offering it to him.

The wallpaper on her smartphone's screen is a picture - of Zatanna herself and her father, a selfie taken with London's famous, giant ferris wheel at the background. The two of them are making chipmunk faces on the camera, their cheeks puffed out and their eyes wide. The older Zatara looks /nothing/ like his little girl, balding with a salt-and-pepper fringe and a mustache. Most of their resemblance was around the eyes, both pairs a startling shade of ice blue.

—-

There's not a lot of people who /would/ say that they scared easily, especially not in a city like Gotham, but Tim at least appreciates the point that Zatanna is trying to make. It's obvious that she's another stubborn person, in her own way… But by and large, those are the only sorts of people who really make it. Especially someone who's pursuing a life in entertainment like the magician, doubly especially while both trying to find her way out of her father's shadow and, Tim suspects, trying to find her father.

But it could be simple bravado, that's another important thing for anyone who means to make their career on the stage in front of people. You can't do something like that without being able to at least wear a certain fearlessness, a certain arrogance. You can't do that unless you can make people believe that you belong up there in front of them, that their attention is rightfully fixed on you and not somewhere else - like their phone, these days - and bravado feigned or real is certainly an important ingredient to drawing those eyes, to fascinating.

"No," Tim answers Zatanna's query; it's at least half true, that he doesn't see himself as the sort of person susceptible to charms. Of course, neither is Bruce Wayne, really, but he does have a certain image to keep up, even if he's 'settled down' thanks to his crop of orphans. Not to mention, if Zatanna were cashing in the favour her father was owed, it didn't seem likely that Bruce would deny her anyway… It seems a pretty easy way to pay off an old debt. Maybe even too easy.

It's fitting, then, that Zatanna's phone wallpaper would be a picture of herself and her father, before the latter disappeared. The elder Zatara certainly /looks/ the part of a stage magician, of an extremely oldschool variety, and it would be difficult to say on a casual glance that the pair /were/ father and daughter, except for the eyes. Those alone told the whole story.

The first thing he does once he's got Zatanna's phone in his hands is check, and memorise, her number. The second thing he does is enter his own into what is an extremely lonely address book, a testament to her recent return to America, perhaps… And to the loneliness of her existence, definitely. He doesn't comment on it, though, instead handing the gothette her smartphone back… And only then does he pull out his own, and enter her number onto his contact list.

"At the very least, I can help you get a good mark in Physics. For the rest, maybe you should work on your eyelash-fluttering? Practice in a mirror, or something."

—-

Well, that was kind of mean. He was the one who suggested the method in the first place - and would anyone who was after something really make it that obvious?

Still, there's no huffiness. Instead, she quirks a brow at him, smirking faintly. "What? Don't tell me you believe girls actually do that when they want something," Zatanna retorts, plucking her phone from his grasp. "I prefer other methods, take from that what you will."

His contact information flashes on her phone; a brief glance is enough to arrest her full attention as she stares at his name and the corresponding digits. It isn't just the fact that his is the only entry in her personal contacts folder - it is also a glaring reminder as to how empty it really is.

A wave of self-loathing, sudden and uncontrollable, washes over her as she toys with the device for just a moment, forgetting for the time being that she was still in the presence of someone else. It was downright pathetic, really, that such a simple thing - and probably one that Tim had just done on a whim because he was nice at best and unwilling to be rude, at worst - could make her so…

…happy.

She manages to pull herself out of that momentary fugue, however. Tucking the phone back into her pocket, she smiles at Tim - a ghost of an expression, but one that accentuates the pliant, dew-clung line of those red-candy lips.

"I'm sure if there's anyone who could, it's you," she replies simply, wiggling her long, pale fingers at him as she takes several steps back. "I'll see you later, Tim."

She doesn't wheedle him to text her, as she had done previously with Caitlin and Eli. The last thing she wanted was for him to believe that she was as lonely as her contact list implies.

Pivoting around, she starts walking towards the eastern end of campus, loose, darker-than-midnight locks drifting with the chilly Autumn winds while her head turns, watching a few skateboarders sail past in irresponsible speeds, her boots picking up that unhurried pace that enables her to slow down and take in the passing scenery with the savoring relish of a tourist. A visitor who never expects, or has given up on, finding a reason to stay in one place for too long.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 License