The Catalyst

December 13, 2016:

Cutscene - takes place after Cancelling a Debt

The Third Eye, Shadowcrest Manor

Characters

NPCs: Gerald Craft

Mentions: Tim Drake, Jessica Jones, The Winter Soldier, Cassandra Craft, John Constantine, Bruce Wayne, Captain America

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

"…and a jar of cloves," the middle-aged man said behind the counter, ringing up her purchases in an antiquated cash register.

Gerald "Gerry" Craft was the owner and proprietor of the Third Eye; yet another one in the long list of names her father knew from his very long career defending the world from mystical threats. It was easy to assume that legends such as the Great Zatara would have enough firepower behind his name to call any heroic spellslinger to his cause, but a man who came from humble beginnings would always carry those lessons throughout his life, and often got along with those with similar life experiences.

Gerry was one such kindred soul, and while he was no practitioner, his talents were in other things; whenever Giovanni needed an artifact analyzed or identified, he eschewed the other big names and called this mild-mannered family man in his forties. No one would suspect anyone who looked so unassuming to be one of the foremost experts in finding, acquiring and assessing magical items. Then again, he was also uniquely equipped for it.

Nobody knew that either, save for a select few.

His pale, watery blue eyes fixed unerringly on Zatanna despite his very obvious blindness, giving her a smile as she handed him her credit card. "So who're you trying to protect?" he wondered, packing her items in a box before slipping it in a handled paper bag.

"A family friend," the young woman replied readily, taking the bag and slipping her hand in her pocket. "And his son."

"Yeah?" Gerry wondered. "They believe in this stuff?"

"The father does," she replied. "The son, not so much. I'm going to have to be sneaky with him, which might be a little harder than it looks."

"It always is," the blind man said, folding his arms on the counter. "Teenagers are always difficult." After a pause, he squinted at her. "He /is/ your age, right?"

Zatanna groaned, turning to head towards the door. "I'm not even gonna dignify that one with a response," she said, shooting a look over her shoulder - an expression, she knew, that Gerry wouldn't register. Those eyes saw only one thing, and one thing only. "Say hi to Cassie for me, will you?"

"You should visit her in San Francisco sometime," he called out. "Balmy, sunny, you could have landed anywhere in the world and you picked Gotham?"

"/Goodnight/, Gerry."

The door closed, the windchime above it jingling quietly. The store's proprietor exhaled a quiet breath.

"Just like her father," he muttered, picking up his his ledger, rough fingertips finding the raised bumps. "A sucker for punishment."

—-

It took staring at Tim Drake's face the entire time they were compiling notes for the semester's Physics project that finally made her realize just how much stranger her life had become in the last two weeks. Two weeks that had already involved her breaking into a morgue, raising the dead, fishing contract killers and demon-augmented vigilantes out of dumpsters, getting captured by and escaping a serial killer who worshipped and tried to summon Mammon, the Demon Prince of Excess, and having her house broken into by aliens who swore that Asgard was in space. After mentally catalouging all of it, it wasn't long before it dawned on her that her study sessions with her classmate (who proved himself to be what he promised to be - a harsh taskmaster who had no qualms snapping her attention back in place whenever it threatened to wander off) served, if nothing else, as a respite from all of the encroaching strangeness.

She was starting to /enjoy/ studying, and being a regular college student. And with it came the near debilitating fear that all the weirdness would just follow and take Tim with it.

So, the implements - the dried herbs, the enchanted oils, fragments of stone chipped off from sacred ruins in the most forgotten corners of the world. As she swung her bag listlessly against her side while she walked, she couldn't help but frown contemplatively, her foremost thoughts ensnared by the memory of cold, narrowed eyes slanted at her from a hard shoulder before Stan the Super-Assassin disappeared within the sea of humanity that flooded Gotham City Station. That was a huge worry, too, now that her debt was thus cancelled, meaning she could no longer enjoy the protection her favor had given her from the Man with the Metal Arm.

She could have asked him other questions. Questions that mattered. Questions that mattered to /her/, something that would make hers and Jessica's lives easier as the two of them dove deeper into whatever the hell was going on - was going to happen, she was sure of it now - at the Gotham Antiquities Commission's centennial gala in the New Year. Instead, she asked something else.

"Really, Zee?" she muttered, having walked all the way home, tossing her bag on a chair and sprawling face-first onto her bed.

Who is Steve? That was the question she elected to ask. Not about why he was attacking the Commission's members, not why he seems to be targeting the centennial celebration, not whether his efforts had anything to do with the Liber Consecratus.

"You're an idiot," she told herself, her voice muffled into her pillow. "He looks at you and you see that lost, wounded look and you fold like a Vegas poker table plant. Who is Steve? Really? /Really/? You could have asked him anything and you go 'Who is Steve?' You're stupid. You're stupid and you should feel bad."

But what else was she supposed to do? Tell him to stop killing people? Did that ever work? Has anyone ever really /stopped/ when that's all they believed they should do with their lives? The only way she saw his attacks in Gotham ceasing entirely, getting hurt and hurting others - hurting people /she knew/ - in the process was if he fixed whatever the hell was wrong with him.

Who is Steve?

/Argh!/

But he was true to his word - he managed to give her a response, /struggled/ through the haze of the strange bouts of lapsing consciousness he exhibited whenever she asked him about something particularly difficult. As Zatanna peeled herself off her covers, she frowned, dragging her laptop towards her. The last name was so familiar, where did she hear that name before?

Her Internet browser had been open, reminding her that she had been perusing cocktail dresses for the event now that she managed to secure a way in for herself and Jessica; thinking about it caused another wave to hit her then, reminding her of just how /surreal/ the last two weeks had been, her brain struggling to process that she was Bruce Wayne's plus one - it wasn't anything like that, but the gossip rags weren't going to care, and she already knew that based from the conversation in the Third Eye that she was going to get /so much shit/ from Gerry afterwards.

Oh well, it could be worse.

At least John was still in the U.K.

Clicking on a new tab, she typed the name. She wasn't an investigator like Jessica, and she wasn't even effortlessly brilliant like Tim. She was no great detective, but it stood to reason if the name 'Steve Rogers' sounded familiar, then it had to be familiar for a reason. She had heard it before, she just couldn't remember where. As the results came up for her query, she squinted at the the first search results.

CAPTAIN AMERICA - WIKIPEDIA

"….what. No way."

She brought up the article, taking in the photograph attached to it - blond, handsome, all-American. Real name, Steven G. Rogers. Steve Rogers.

"No," she said again, poring over the other articles. "No way."

She sorted through old newspaper articles reproduced for the digital age, pictures, historical footage uploaded on Youtube. She fell into the rabbit hole of Google Images and finally the Smithsonian website that had an entire exhibit dedicated to him and his World War II exploits. Scrolling through the virtual tour quickly, she paused from her mouse clicks, rapidly going back through a few display cases. Technology had come along way; for all of her expertise on magic, she was still a college student and she could appreciate the conveniences that Science provided.

She stopped in the middle of the panoramic view. The face before her was grainy, the way that old photographs were. She was used to seeing him in color, but back in the day his likeness was immortalized in black and white, and a glowing excerpt dedicated to his memory.

JAMES BUCHANAN "BUCKY" BARNES
1917 - 1944

"…..well, shit," Zatanna mumbled. "Now what."

Was this seriously happening? After raising the dead, providing aliens safe harbor, escaping demon-worshipping serial killers and god knows what else, she was actually, seriously considering looking up Captain America? How the hell was she even going to start that conversation?! According to the Internet, his best friend was dead! Was he even listed on 411.com?!

The young magician slowly fell backwards on her bed, sprawling across it, her ice blue eyes staring at the ceiling. She took a deep breath, felt her ribcage expand as air filled her lungs, and very gradually released it.

It didn't make her feel any better.

"What the hell are you doing with your life, Zatanna Zatara?"

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