Magic, Mayhem, Mystery

January 07, 2017:

Peter Parker meets Zatanna Zatara in the New York Public Library to catch up. She updates him with what happened at the GAC centennial bash, and Peter shows her the pictures he took of the event, but perusing them yields yet another mystery.

New York Public Library - New York City

It's a huge library in a Greco-Roman-inspired architectural wonder.

Characters

NPCs: Ben Urich

Mentions: John Constantine, Jessica Jones, Gottfried Muller (Hanussen)

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

The New York Public Library, despite its age, remains one of the most easily recognizable landmarks in the sleepless metropolis, a behemoth of white stone flanked by Corinthian columns and modeled as closely as possible to its Grecian forebears. Most days, no matter what weather, it is packed with people, its very air vibrating with the low hum of murmured voices carrying over its built-in acoustics, most of which is centered on the main floor, a sprawling space littered with equidistant desks and chairs, flanked by shelves, dominated by high ceilings from which well-maintained murals and antique chandeliers hang. Compared to most of the city though, it is quite possibly the most quietest public space available, outside of the city's morgue and its plethora of gothic cathedrals.

Sometime the day before, Peter Parker received a text from Zatanna Zatara, asking him whether he'd show her some of the pictures he took from the disastrous gala - it hardly seems like a social call, as the young woman was well aware that he had been in attendance in an official capacity, and a clever sort like him would be able to deduce almost immediately that Something Is Up. Unlike that day's encounter with Tim Drake, whom she still has no idea is also part of the masked crimefighting community Peter is in, she has no qualms just flat out being upfront with the young photojournalist as to what she was after. Whatever old or new trouble is lurking around now, they were in this together, and unfortunately for Parker, Zatanna is shameless enough to take him up on that offer.

But pictures, though?

What could possibly be in there that's useful?

She has arranged to meet him in the library's public archives, far away from the main room where most of the building's visitors congregate. Situated somewhere in the east side of the sprawling construct, it is the perpetual home of several of some of New York's more famous names, Ben Urich of the New York Bulletin being one of these. The top of the older man's head could be spotted in one of the dusty microfiche viewing machines, engrossed in whatever research he is working on. Not many people recognize him, though Peter probably would.

Zatanna herself occupies one such machine, several tables down from where Mr. Urich is working, flipping through old newspapers dated back to the 1940s. The grainy letters from antique typesets fly past her ice-blue eyes as she hunches over her small seat, her teeth chewing faintly on her bottom lip. She has her bag with her, the ever-present satchel that she always carries and one that Peter would recognize from the first day they met. And from a distance, she seems…

….actually, she looks fine. Intact, and not dead, though her posture implies a certain weight, as if the very air conspires to push down on her shoulders as she flicks her mouse's button through the articles. She doesn't even seem to be reading them anymore, looking at some point beyond the screen in front of her, her index finger doing the occasional mechanical clicking on the button, her body running on autopilot. Long, midnight tresses have been gathered up in a not-quite-ponytail behind her head, several strands looped and draped over one shoulder, and she's clad in another black, longsleeved shirt, though Peter would know precisely why she wears such things, other than the fact that it's winter and even for New York, it's unseasonably cold. Her booted feet are crossed by the ankles.

Click. Click. Click.

Her pale cheeks puff up faintly at the ghost of a half-suppressed breath.

—-

Peter Parker is not what one might call a 'man of resources.' To put it mildly. There's no Fortress of Solitude for him. No secret Spider-Cave (which really just sounds weird, who wants a cave full of spiders??). No compound he can maintain and hide away for his secret vigilante needs with his vast swaths of finances.

He has floorboards. And an attic. And a long-lived skill at squirreling things away where they can't be found.

All of these things have worked for him so far, mainly because he just hasn't had to deal with other people as Spider-Man. He made his own dark room at home for developing photos with time and ingenuity and (a lot) of savings, and he (discreetly) uses the internet when he needs to look something up for his crimefighting needs.

But it's an entirely different ballgame once someone knows who you are and you start collaborating with them, a fact Peter Parker is swiftly learning the second that text comes in on his phone. He is at once confused, excited and dismayed. Excited that he can do a SUPER HERO TEAMUP like he's secretly always wanted; dismayed at remembering he has no secret chambers of awesomeness to conduct secret superhero business in; and confused at —

"Photos?" he asks himself as he squints at his phone with a slowly growing, thoughtful frown. "I swear, if she asks me for pictures of Spider-Man— "

NOW!

"I really gotta get a secret hideout."

This is Peter Parker's astute observation as he stands at the steps of the New York Public Library. Bundled up in a few layers of clothes capped off with a beat up, blue parka, a dark gray knit cap, worn down shoes, jeans, and gray, the young university student peers up at the grand sign as he holds a pair of cups in his gloved hands. He looks at the people, coming and going, most of them largely oblivious to his existence — but still there. In, like. Abundance.

"Maybe there's a condemned building or something I could squat in, that seems safer…"

And so with a huff of white, vaporous air, the young man makes his way inside, hands shoved into his pocket after shouldering the backpack he's hauled along with him. It doesn't take him that long to find Zatanna, in the end; she's hard to miss, what with the tracer that pings his spider-sense helpfully.

Oh, and the ever-present feeling of lingering doom around her. That helps a bit.

Regardless, it doesn't take long (barring Peter taking a slight detour to loop around Ben Urich to go unnoticed because yep, he does know who he is and nope, he doesn't need any attention from the Super Reporter at the moment, please thank you) before a cold cup dewing with condensation slides out in front of the hopelessly zoned out-looking Zatanna's line of sight in a subtle way to get her attention. Leaning at the side of the desk the magician currently occupies, Peter Parker's lips are tugged into a small, lopsided sort of smile — though it doesn't hide the way his brows knit in curious concern at her seemingly thoughtful state.

"So, uh — I dunno what you actually like, so I got you one of those sugary cookies and cream frappuccino abominations that make you so jittery you can't even feel bad about drinking them," he helpfully explains with a hopeful thumbs up, seconds before he lifts his own to sip ever-so-gingerly. Cotton candy, it looks like.

Shut up. He needs it.

—-

She is not immune to the lure of sugar. Mistress of Magic that she is, she was still female.

So it's not at all surprising that the cold cup that he dangles in front of her captures her attention immediately, jolting almost violently from her troubled reverie and ticking those eyes up at Peter's familiar hazel ones and he would be rewarded, at least for a moment, by the way the darkened miasma of Doom splits in the middle to make way for the sun; her expression brightens and she's up on her feet in an instant. Taller than the average woman, her fashionable Jimmy Choo winter boots put her on eye-level with the neighborhood friendly crimefighting arachnid, reaching out with deft fingers to pluck it lightly from his grip.

He also gets a hug, a one-armed thing that snakes behind his back and squeezes him into her, her eyes shuttering while her nose anchors over the top of his shoulder. Happiness is there, yes, but also relief, the cause of which becomes evident by the way she whispers, taking advantage of the close proximity. It's almost an exhale, enough for the ball lodged within her chest to slowly bleed its tension out.

"Do you always go after the biggest bad in the room?"

She is, of course, talking about the second eldritch thing that has tried to eat him from the last week.

But Zatanna pulls back finally and gives him a quirky half-smile, nudging the nearest chair out for him and plunking back down on it, taking a sip (which quickly becomes two, three, four) from the cookies-and-creme concotion he so considerately brought her before setting it aside and grabbing her bag. Long, pale fingers search through the items, finding what she is looking for in one of the pockets, lifting it up for Peter to see.

It's a phone.

Nothing like his smartphone or his, small enough to fit the palm of one's hand. It looks like one of those cheap devices that anyone could purchase from a kiosk at the mall, and once he has it in his hands, upon perusal, he'd find a single number already programmed in it:

John Constantine.

Who?

She keeps her voice lowered, scooting her chair close so they don't have to talk too loudly. "He's a friend," she tells him quietly. "He was responsible for teaching me a few things, in fact and he built something that's preventing…" She gestures vaguely, he'd know what she means. "…them from getting to this." She nods to her left arm. "He knows about what you saw when you touched me, but I didn't tell him about you, just that my special Spider-friend saw a haunted house and he'd like to be able to coordinate because the city's huge. But I didn't want to give him your number because…well, a promise is a promise, right? So just keep that on you and only turn it on when you're on duty."

She hesitates, a resigned expression falling over her face.

"Though if you have better ideas as to how to keep a line of contact between the two of you I'm all ears. Technology isn't exactly my specialty."

—-

Hugging. Parker's still not used to displays of affection, awkward kid that he is; at the very least, he manages to return the gesture: it's a somewhat stiff thing, but his arm still finds its way around Zatanna to pat his hand against her back, hovering in a strange limbo between bumbling and reassuring — awkward and friendly.

It's to his credit and perhaps Zatanna's as well that he eventually does relax into that brief hug enough to snort a little laugh at the magician's whispered question and/or condemnation. His reaction, of course, is the roll of his shoulders in a helpless shrug.

"Err — I guess I just live my life according to the wise words of our ancient ancestors:

"'Go big or go home'?"

The fact that he phrases this whole bold declaration as a question fits so very perfectly with the embarassed quirk of his lips into a helpless sort of grin. Rubbing the back of his head with his free hand, he loops around to that offered chair and, as if unable to ever sit on a chair properly, just perches himself on the back of it, letting his worn-down shoes plant onto the seat as hazel eyes peer curiously at the screen Zatanna's been perusing.

"Is that like a thing though? Do those — things find the kind of — thing I am tasty — or something?" Oh yes. He's very good at vagueries and subtle conversation. "Because like I'm starting to think I should just get a sign that reads 'I AM NOT PHONE'— wait, what?"

This is Peter's train of thought being derailed helpfully by the sight of that small, older phone being presented to him. He's familiar with the kind — he's actually had to use something similar for a while, at least until recently. "A burner?" he helpfully elucidates, tilting his head as he swipes the phone from Zatanna to start browsing through it. One number. One name.

"John… Constantine?" he asks, wonderingly. "… Kinda sounds like the name someone'd use for some kinda super-gritty exorcist action movie hero, or something."

Astute as ever.

He looks back up towards her, and just before he can ask — Zatanna is already clarifying things. "Oh! — wow, I was pretty close," he says, with hushed whispers, feeling quite proud of himself. "So he like — does all that crazy backwards-talk voodoo you do?" He's not really good at phraseology, but he's not even remotely accustomed to magic, give him a break. His hazel eyes drop to her arm for a moment, brows furrowing inward. He feels compelled to ask her what she told this Constantine guy — but once more she reassures him before he can even start to ask. He looks up, a small but grateful smile touching the corners of his lips.

"Thanks," he offers, sincerely. "Um — really. Thank you. I don't— t t" He considers a whole bundle of things he could say, and in the end, he just ends up lamely repeating, "… Thanks."

Clearing his throat, he looks to close the phone and pocket it even as he quickly speaks once more to distract from his expert conversationalist skills. "So he'll know what to do when we find the Amityville Horror House, then?" Taking a sip from his cotton candy pink affront to nature, he looks back at that screen for a moment with the purse of his lips. "No. What? No. This is like — totally fine. I did say thank you three times, right? I don't have a lot of — I mean, it's not like I've got some kinda Spider-Signal I can shine into the sky or something." He's not bitter. Nope.

"Ionlyhavetheoneonmybelt." And definitely not some giddy nerd, either.

"BUT! This works. This totally works. I can maybe set up a — well, I mean, something, so that we can all keep in touch." LIKE A REAL SUPERHERO TEAM STARRING SPIDER-MAN AND 'PEOPLE WITH NORMAL HUMAN NAMES (and zatanna)'. "But this is great for now. Really."

Another cough. "So uh! You wanted photos, right?" And there Peter goes, rifling through his backpack to produce a stack of photos — all developed the night before. These are things he definitely can't just trust a store with.

"Here. —Why do you need the photos, again? Looking for clues?"

—-

"He's a demonologist, exorcist, and master of the dark arts," Zatanna explains with a chuff of breath that sounds both exasperated and affectionate at once. "At least that's what it says in his business cards. He's actually a former student of Daddy's, and when I got to around his age when he first started learning under him, Daddy took me to the U.K. so I could learn from him, though knowing him he was probably just testing us both. That was how we met…around two years ago. His voodoo is a little different from mine, though he knows how to do it if he has to, much like I know how to do some of the things he does, but he's got a decade of experience more than I do and his specialties are…unique. Anyway, when the two of you meet, you don't need to hold back on him. I trust him with my life."

She hesitates, and turns to look at him. "Just….don't tell him I said that."

The microfiche display in front of the two of them includes a grainy photograph of Adolf Hitler, standing on the balcony with his fist in the air. Two other figures stand behind him in prominent display - a man in a dark military uniform, Nazi regalia emblazoned on the fabric, and a tall, fair-haired man dressed more conservatively in a dress shirt, tie and long coat. The latter, especially, is a figure Peter would find familiar - it is the man who caused all that trouble in the GAC's centennial gala; he would look a little different, given the ghastly blue light that Batman's batarangs have painted him with, but the nose, the bold aristocratic features are most definitely the same.

And the date makes it impossible - the article is from the 1940s, and the man in the party couldn't be no older than his middle years.

Zatanna flashes Peter a half smile. "I promised you," she reminds him again, taking the photographs and sorting through it. "You said I was stuck with you, the least I could do is honor it, yeah?" Her head tilting back a little, she winks at him and makes room for him in front of the machine. "Look familiar?"

She goes through the shots, her teeth worrying her lower lip faintly. "Sort of….I was curious because I didn't know there were any other…" She slowly inches up from her seat to make sure nobody's paying attention to them (in the most blatantly obvious manner, Christ, she's so bad at this) before lowering her head again. "…'interesting' relics at the party so I was wondering if you took any pictures of them. God, though, I wonder if the Commission even /knew/ what they had. The cursed urn, whatever that helmet was…."

Her voice trails off. Dark brows knit, and pull downward at the middle as she sifts through the pictures again. Confusion, with the way she tilts her head, grows all the more pronounced as she examines the photographs before her.

"…Pete…? Do you have a stalker or something?"

—-

Just don't tell him I said that. Little requests like that say volumes as much as they muddy. It inspires the half-tilt of Peter's head, the blink of his hazel eyes as he peers at Zatanna for a few, quiet moments.

But the way he lifts his hand in a silent thumbs up of acknowledgment and understanding is simply as inevitable as the empathetic smile that reaches the young man's lips. After all — they're confidantes, now.

He'll shelve any lingering curiosities about Constantine and sorcery for now in favor of something more curious and immediate in his field of vision. Immediate being a relative term, considering what he finds himself staring at is a picture over seventy years old. He leeeeeaaaans in gradually from his position at the top of his chair, wooden legs groaning slightly with the steady shift of his weight. "Yeah, I know. And I super appreciate it. Seriously. I just — sometimes I kinda expect the worst, y'know? Better for my health— " His hazel eyes peer at the fair-haired man. His lips purse. It's a testament to his quick wit that it takes him only a couple seconds before realization widens his eyes.

And it's a testament to how new he still is at all of this that his first reaction is to yelp, "Holy -crap-!"

A second passes. Again, more hushed, "holy crap!"

There. Better. He's learning!!

"That's the guy!!" he insists, as if Zatanna didn't already know. But of course she does, which is why his follow-up is an eloquently stated, "Why is that the guy??" It made more sense in his head.

They're both not that great at this.

"Is it — like — a clone? Hitler's Super Pal, in clone form? Or like — some kinda — weird Elizabeth Bathory kind of thing — or or or — Patrick Stewart gave him a line to the same devil he sold his soul to— " Sometimes Peter has a hard time filtering his thoughts. It doesn't mean that he's not thinking, though, wheels turning in his head as he tries to puzzle this all out. Those relics, that guy, those… Shadow… Nyarlathotep… things.

"That had to be the least safe least normal auction in the history of ever," is his first conclusion. "You think that has something to do with all this? Was he there after something? I dunno what an ancient evil relic looks like versus, like, an antique. It'd be nice if they all glowed with ominous evil like those other ones, that'd be really handy. Or maybe some kind of… stalker… wait, what?"

Hazel eyes peer incredulously at Zatanna. Peter's lips purse in a frown. "Stalker? I mean — look at me." Emphatic gesture. "Who's going to stalk this?"

Wait, no. "Wait — are you serious? What did you see—?"

Oh god, he thinks, did he screw up with his secret identity -again-? Is someone spider-stalking him? A crazy fan?! Is he going to get dead spiders sent to his apartment and have to bumble his way through explaining it to Aunt May?? He's a little lost, at the moment, his brain circulating through way too many doomsday scenarios and self-recrimination at once to be healthy.

Why is he so bad at this?!

—-

"Pete, don't— " His exclamation has her wincing, Zatanna looking around immediately in case someone was looking at their direction - and there are, quite a few, people doing their own research for their own reasons peering at the two teenagers by their own microfiche viewer. Ben Urich's graying head slips up from his cubicle, his glasses pushed upwards by his fingertip to get a better look - but seeing at what he assumes are a pair of easily excitable kids, he lowers his head to focus on his work.

The raven-haired girl's cheeks puff out in the effort to suppress her laughter, lifting a hand to tug at the side of Peter's sleeve to get him to hunker lower. "He's a little complicated," she tells him quietly, to explain the image in the microfiche. "I only found a picture so far, but this guy's name is Hanussen….that's what Captain America's date called him before he really flipped his shit at the party. And he's…" Her expression changes, as if /fully expecting/ the insanity of the words that follow. "…he can't die."

There's a pause.

"/Apparently/ John's already tried," she whispers. Because what's magical murder on top of this convoluted, crazy mess. "But he keeps coming back. There's no way to /neutralize/ this guy, not what we've found anyway. So that explains the…" She gestures. "I mean, he should be a hundred years old by now but he doesn't show it, yeah? He looks exactly the way he did before he died. And the only way to reverse the onset of late-stage immortality is….figure out how it happened in the first place, but this obviously happened around seventy years ago so it's….not going to be easy,"

Not to mention her prevailing blood problem. She's still being held hostage from afar.

Nudging him with an elbow, she grins at him sidelong. "Also don't joke about that, people /do/ that you know. In my world. Sell bits and parts of themselves to demons for an advantage. If it makes you feel any better I don't think Sir Patrick Stewart's made any deals." She hesitates, mulling over it, before concern seeps into her expression. "…I mean, I /hope/ not. I spent a good amount of time in the U.K. and if you think /America's/ weird, mystically, just London'll age you for sure." Another reason, she supposes, to suspect infernal forces at work. She'll have to ask John later.

But when he asks for the photographs, she leans in and sets a few shots on the table - a total of five from the complete roll of thirty-five that Peter has brought with him. They are all from different angles, but the face she points out /does/ belong to the same man; tall, older and dressed in a dark suit - what David Duchovny would look like if he didn't make a deal with the devil to keep the stamp of his Fox Mulder days on him. In the photgraphs, he remains on the fringes, and in the surrounding lights of the glitz and glamour of Gotham's elite, he is clearly, directly, looking at Peter's camera lens in varying distances, and different parts of the ballroom.

One shot would be a coincidence - perhaps two or even three, it was a crowded event after all. But five?

"…Pete…" Apprehension, it thickens her contralto as she looks at her friend sidelong. "You…do you know who this guy is?"

—-

After the initial shock and mental cursing at that kneejerk response, Zatanna's barely-contained laughter manages to bring a grin to Peter Parker's lips. He snorts, once, as he corks up his own growing amusement, lowering down in an overly conspiratorial way as Zee offers her helpful encouragement.

It's an amusement not destined to last, unfortunately. Both because of the nature of the subject — this man is -dangerous- after all, even if Peter's only been on the fringes of his activities so far — and, well. Because of what Zatanna says next.

"Wait," he utters back. His brows furrow inward. "That John Constantine guy — tried to kill him?" Something between unease and disapproval paints Peter's features; he can't help it. It's just what he is. The smile on his lips dies as he looks back at the microfiche, focusing on it. "That's not — that's not the game plan here, is it?" He looks like he might press further, but this is far from the time or place.

"This magic stuff's been around for a long time, right? There's gotta be some sort of… sorcerer-prison to put him in, or something. Like Azkaban for Nazis. Nope I didn't just make that reference. Ignore that. Nevermind."

His covering up for his geekdom aside, this is still a trouble that nags on Peter, expressed in the way his teeth sink into his lower lip. Not a nervous gesture, but a concerned one, echoed in the faint tensing of his body as he stares at the would-be immortal's picture. He drops it for now to focus on more pressing issues, but — it's obvious it's not something he'll let go of. Not easily.

It means his thoughts are drifting off somewhere far away by the time he feels Zatanna's elbow nudging him. "Huh?" he utters, half-aware, before the words catch up with him. "—Seriously? Is that like, smart? Man, if I ever sold a part of myself to a super devil Mephistopheles for something, I'd feel like some kinda supervillain."

-Yeah-.

Still, the troubling possibility of Sir Patrick Stewart being demonbound is enough to shake Peter of his concerns for now as he turns his attention towards the photos with a -new- worry beyond how completely deviant and depraved and demonic Britain probably is and how many funny quips he could probably make about that. As it is, he has a bigger problem, like why Agent Mulder is apparently stalking him.

He blinks, looking from photograph to photograph, and with each photo he peruses over, his frown just deepens, more and more. His brow just knits, more and more. Until his face is practically scrunched in on itself with the weight of his disturbed unease.

"No," he utters, voice soft and cautious. "I've never seen that guy in my life. Have you? Like — is he part of your… magic… circle, thing?" Really, he's sorry, he has no idea how any of that works. Is it like a convention? Are there meetings? Self-help groups? Magical medieval faires? Man, how cool would that be— "

He continues to stare. And after a few seconds of tense silence, he adds, with a croak of a voice,

"This is like… the creepiest photo bomber, ever."

—-

"To be honest I don't know what the game plan is anymore," Zatanna mutters around her very visible consternation at that low admission, their mutual amusement fading in favor of the business at hand. "Apparently this assassin running around Gotham was after Hanussen and he and John teamed up to take him down, but he was alerted to Daddy's involvement so he attacked a friend of mine in Gotham U beforehand while I was walking with him back to the dorms, and that was how they got my blood to do…this." She wiggles her left arm a little bit at him. "That kept John off him for a bit, his priorities shifted after that and…honestly I even proposed maybe just cutting our losses there because as far as I know, we can't /do/ anything about him, save encase him in cement and dump him in the ocean and that's assuming we can keep him unconscious forever. But John's…"

Her expression softens, eyes filling with worry and something else as she stares at the frozen image in the microfiche viewer.

"…we have a history, so he's angry," she confesses to Peter quietly. "And I'm not exactly excited about the idea of him running off to tango with a hundred-year old sorceror because of a grudge. I told you, Pete. Magic has a cost….that kind of spellwork…it /drains/. Fate, life, souls. It doesn't take anything material, it sips at some very important things that make us…/us/. But it's not like I can stop him either. I know him. When he's got his brain set on something, he's downright /impossible/ to live with." Pressing her elbows on the table before them, she sets her face in the cradle of her fingers and releases a long, drawn out breath.

"…but one thing at a time, though, yeah?" she murmurs, looking sidelong at her friend, a half-smile turning up her mouth, before she sticks her straw back inside it and takes a long drain of her cookies-and-creme frappe.

"There's a few," she says, though she does have room within their discussion to give Peter a look; she's impressed that he even thought about a magical prison. "But the most effective ones are…well…off-world." /As if this conversation isn't weird enough, what does that even mean?/ "The question is if we can even find a way to deliver him there, if imprisonment is even possible. We just….it would really help, I think, if we knew more about the guy. There are a few people on it though. My friend Jessica…Jessica Jones, she's a local too, she's a pretty good investigator. I think she's trying to find out if she can dig up more based on what we already know."

Her head shakes, at the question of making infernal deals. "It's /never/ smart," she tells him seriously, ice-blue eyes wandering up to stare directly into Peter's; the sudden seriousness of the look of her is startling, given her usual cheerful veneer. "Never. Demons have been conning mankind out of the most important parts of them for as long as humans have been walking this Earth, so if you ever get tagged with a deal, don't take it Pete. I'm serious. I know a few who can deal with demons and their soul brokers safely but even then, it's extremely risky business and they don't get off completely unscathed either. So promise me you won't even consider the option if it's presented to you, no matter how tempting the prize is behind the door….and it can be /very/ tempting. But you can't ever do it. Okay?"

Her gaze holds him there, weighty, heavy, those eyes filling with something - apprehension yes, but something more elusive as well.

But before Peter can ask, she's looking away to glance at the discomfitting photographs and the dark-haired man in the five shots. She picks one up and scrutinizes the mysterious man's face carefully.

"…no, definitely not," she tells Peter at last. "I don't recognize him either. But he seems….do you think he knows you? As…you know." She doesn't say it out loud, but Peter will probably understand what he means.

What she doesn't say out loud, but what he can divine from her expressive face, is a much more worrisome thought: That the man knows /Peter Parker/, not Spider-Man, and may have followed him to the event.

—-

She doesn't know the gameplan anymore. Peter snags the straw of his drink between his lips and slurps thoughtfully at that caffeinated, sugared slush as he listens. It's like watching a flip book, the way his eyebrows steadily rise the further Zatanna gets into her sprawling, complex explanation of what's gone on so far. Assassins, friends, evil wizards, complicated relationships that he'd make a joke about if this weren't -really serious-. He keeps on sipping, making something like a Zoolander-style Blue Magnum face of quiet surprise. He releases it with a dramatic gasp, and declares —

"Agh! Crap! Brain freeze!!"

… It takes about ten seconds or so of Peter Parker rubbing at his temples vigorously before he manages to cast Zatanna an apologetic look and a dumb smile. "— Listen," he begins, tentatively. "This John guy sounds like he's stubborn and all but he probably knows what he's doing, right? But… when I meet him, or whatever, I'll keep an eye on him. If it looks like he's gonna do something crazy, I'll stop him. I have a pretty good way with words!" Yep. He said that. Legitimately.

"And, y'know, there's— " He carefully twitches his wrists and makes a tiny little "*thwip*" sound as if to (terribly) indicate his webshooters. It's not great.

"Uh. I'll watch his back. Is what I'm saying. I'm sure it'll be fine." Yep. Yep yep. They're going to get along great.

But she's right. That's something for another time. And so Peter's attention returns to the microfiche, setting his devilishly cold frappe aside to let his hands fall gingerly into his lap. Feeling those distinctive eyes on him, Peter just gives a modest shrug of his shoulder, as if to just wave humbly wave off his thoughts on that prison as nothing. Which, of course, sets him up perfectly to just sort of stare blankly, mid-shrug, as Zatanna continues. Off-world. Off-world, she says. As in, not on this world.

"Oh right well of course the best ones would be in some sort of not this world that totally makes sense okay."

Not that he doesn't believe her.

He's just— just— WHY DO OTHER PEOPLE GET COSMIC ADVENTURES AND HE GETS RADIOACTIVE SPIDERGENES

THE WORLD IS CRUEL

His internal scream of dismay aside, Peter nods quietly along to Zee's words. He's already taking into consideration his options. He could try to find that house, try to look into this Hanussen guy — but Peter's ability to find information is limited without the kinds of resources others might have. Still — it's something that gets the wheels in his eyes turning as he chews on his lower lip, growing increasingly lost in thought until Zatanna speaks up once more.

It's never smart. She's serious. Peter might say something about the fact that he kind of put two and two together about demons and deals being bad, but the gravity of Zatanna's stare steals his words away for a moment. There's something there that he can't quite place as he searches it with a slow blink of his hazel eyes. Caution, certainly. But something else…

He's staring, held there, for a long pregnant moment of silence. And then he lifts a hand. And extends his tiniest finger.

"Pinky swear," is his solemn vow to her in the midst of her grave words, "I will never, ever do it." But he sounds entirely serious. And the smile that decorates his lips, sincere and reassuring.

A little bit of levity to bring home the simple fact: he trusts her opinion. Especially on these matters.

Those photographs, though, earn a very different sort of levity from him — the one spawned from concerned caution. That man — his first and most pressing concern is, 'What if he knows I'm Spider-Man?' It's the most obvious thing he can think of, the most immediate, even if he doesn't know how or why he could know. He must be after Spider-Man. It's the only thing that makes sense.

It's clear by the way his mouth slowly gapes and those expressive features of his gradually contort in confusion that Zee's alternative theory never even occurred to him. Do you think he knows you?

As… you know.

Peter Parker?

"… What?" is his eloquent response. A second passes.

"What?"

Give him a second here.

"He doesn't look like anyone I'd know. He looks like a creepy evil secret agent guy. Do I look like I'd be hanging out with creepy secret agent guys? Don't answer that. I just— why would he be interested in -me-? I mean, again— "

And here, he once more gestures at himself.

-Emphatically.-

—-

The promise to look after John has Zatanna's apprehensive expression melting away in a warm smile; it softens her features, the look in those near-unsettling eyes. It's almost strange, how such a statement can affect her so profoundly, but it has less to do with the complex, torridly emotional labyrinth she harbors for the man in question and more to do with how Constantine is - he doesn't have many friends, and those who would willingly look out for him simply because it's the right thing to do are even fewer (especially once they meet him). His network is largely comprised of people who /owe/ him, those who relied on his magical expertise in the past, and those travails hardly if ever turn out a hundred percent okay, so calling in these favors tend to get reluctant, grudging responses even as he tries to hold disaster at bay.

Not many would look out for him and care about what happens to him, like Chas.

And none of this is something she could explain to Peter without opening up some thorny heartbreaking hatches that might make her friend uncomfortable.

So gratitude is what he receives, along with her hand reaching out to curl over Peter's knuckles and giving them a squeeze. "I appreciate that," she tells him quietly. "Thanks, Pete, but I wouldn't like it either if you took on /all/ of the risks yourself, yeah? You gotta look after yourself, too. You won't be able to help anyone if you're dead, so don't make me storm the Pearly Gates to try and get you back. Because that journey's pretty dangerous, even for someone like me."

It's partially a jest, but considering the content of their conversation, she is /serious/ as well.

Leaving his hand, she reaches out to quietly snatch the photographs from the table, slipping it under the pile and plucking a couple from the pack - one with Bucky and Jane Foster, and two more of the close up of the artifacts Peter took pictures of while he was wandering around the gala. She hands them back to the photographer wordlessly.

He is still mulling over what she says about infernal deals when she finally turns back to him, the pregnant pause giving her the opportunity to scrutinize every tic and nuance his brain transmits to the minute muscles of his face; as far as expressiveness is concerned, Peter Parker can go toe-to-toe with her, but like the emphatic creature he is, her seriousness is reflected in his own and the tense gordian knot she feels in her stomach loosens faintly as she watches him.

Zatanna has no idea what could possibly tempt Peter Parker into a demon's hands, but he is human and she knows that anyone with a heart is not immune to temptations only Hell could provide. But she delivers the warning because she knows, rooted from darker shards of memory that slip through her mind like half-remembered dreams, of foggy London streets and grisly, macabre discoveries hidden in the dark. Her time as Constantine's student was short, but she has learned plenty; the lesson that anyone can succumb has been drilled into her bones, she remembers the screams and the nightmares that follow those who fail.

Peter's own hazel eyes are steady on hers and she wonders what she would see if he was ever afraid, or pained, or furious; these are things she doesn't know but she is certain that she doesn't want to lose him to the darkness either. So when he lifts his hand and offers his pinky, she takes it, curling her own against his and letting the conjoined digits bounce in the air once or twice.

"That's a lock," she tells him, her grin returning. "You can't take it back now."

Letting go, she tucks the other pictures in the back pocket of her jeans, picking up her frappe and taking another long sip.

"…Honestly I don't have a clue," she muses when he asks who in the world would be interested in him.

/Ouch/.

"I mean…not like you aren't interesting!" she appends before he could say anything. "I mean you are, you're great, you really are! But I don't know what evil secret agent guys would want with you. Unless they know something about your…accident? Maybe? You said it was something messed up right?"

She falls quiet at that, and with a shrug and a sigh, she lifts a hand, flicking her hair off her shoulder and angling a sharp-eyed look at him. She smiles again.

It's that smile. It's wide, and open and reckless, the kind that promises only the sort of trouble Zatanna Zatara can bring.

"I guess we'll just have to look for him and ask," she says nonchalantly, her distressing tendency to /go through the front door/ armed with nothing but her charm, sass, and phenomenal cosmic powers in full display.

—-

The squeeze of fingers on his own stirs Parker's attention back towards Zatanna in time for her to offer her gratitude. The would-be vigilante(-in-training) just rubs the back of his head and laughs it all off in that unassumingly easy way of his. "I'm not - like - in a rush to to go take a selfie with Saint Peter or anything," he assures. "… though that would be pretty cool. I could tweet it, with the caption 'Pete & Pete'…"

His smile that comes after is one of those endearingly lopsided ones he gets when he kids. But despite his reassurances, there's still the evidence of tired bags under his eyes, the little ways he squirrels away yawns now and then, the general fatigue he carries himself with. Peter Parker is a young man who pushes himself as much as he can. Why that is is anyone's guess. But at the very least, he looks very confident in his lack of desire to die. So there's that.

With that fatigued but friendly face of his, though, it's hard to imagine just what Peter Parker might look like when angry, or frightened, or distraught — or what might inspire those in the easy-going young man. He just looks surprisingly… normal. But normal people get tempted. Get angry. What might it look like, for someone like him, with the abilities he has?

Perhaps it's best that it's not an easy question to answer, or that he looks steadfast even as he bobs his pinky alongside Zatanna's. As much as he might be new to all of this supernatural face of the world, he seems to trust Zatanna's words — perhaps especially so. His hazel eyes are curious as that little pinky promise binds them, as if wondering about Zee herself. What has -she- seen, to make her this serious?

The possible implications are both humbling and concerning in equal measure, but he doesn't ask. Doesn't pry. After all, at the end of the day — it's not his place. He just trusts her word.

"Damn," he laments at her grinning condemnation. He lifts his other hand, his index and middle fingers bent against each other. "Crossed my fingers just a -second- too late." And a smile returns to his lips, too.

With that, the spider-vigilante-slash-college-student slips down from his position at the back of his chair, falling into the seat of it with a youthful little slump of ease as he considers the photos — considers that man. His look is more troubled the longer he thinks on this, and if anything, Peter is very good at thinking. Which just makes him look even -more- troubled at all the different possibilities. But the thing that concerns him most about all of this — are all the possibilities he -doesn't- know. All the things he's completely unaware of about this. That man — is a mystery. Completely. Which is why he's so clueless. Why he gestures to himself. Why —

— Zatanna completely agrees with him about his lack of interesting qualities! He nods firmly in agreement. Exactly!

A second passes.

"— H-hey, wait—"

But then she's following it up seconds before Peter can sulk away, pride broken. "Man, and here I was going to silently hold that against you for the rest of our lives," he confides, most solemnly, though there's that spark of levity there in those hazel eyes, offsetting the worry that's otherwise seeped into his features. His gaze returns to the mysterious 'Mister Evil Secret Agent Guy,' frown tugging at his lips. "What, this is like, some kinda — spider-conspiracy, or something? That's weird. That sounds weird."

He might be picturing a secret cabal of people wearing spider-masks like they were at some creepy rich person orgy.

He -might- be.

"But I dunno, it's not like I could just hunt him down, walk up to his door, knock on it, and be all like, 'Hey, I'm Peter Parker, you looked creepily at me in my photographs I took at a gala for Gotham's richest weirdos, you know, the ones where the monsters ate like everyone, how am I alive, don't worry about it, anyway I wanted to know if you were creeping at me for a reason like maybe spider-bite related reasons'— "

Peter Parker's rambling slowly starts to trail. He sees her. Sees that smile. That Trouble Smile. He knows it.

"… ahhhhhhhh crap that's exactly what we're gonna do, isn't it."

'I guess we'll just have to look for him and ask.'

"Yep, great, I'll start getting our earthly affairs in order. What kind of stationary d'you want your will on?"

—-

The quips have her choking on her straw, her fingers coming up to pinch her nosebridge and rub off her own brain freeze. But they do generate a laugh, color flushing into her cheeks at the deluge of humor, from taking a selfie with Saint Peter, to crossing his fingers behind his back to negate their pinky swear, to holding a grudge against her for the rest of their lives at her confirmation that there's nothing interesting about Peter Parker. Only Zatanna knows better than anyone that isn't true, having just recently occupied the unique position in his life as his first confidante just as he's managed to slip into hers with the same role. This is the sort of circumstance that forges a bond and one that sinks deeper than the typical artifice that marks most young friendships, and given her lonely life, the young magician fights tooth and nail to keep the few of this type that she has.

'… ahhhhhhhh crap that's exactly what we're gonna do, isn't it.'

Zatanna flashes him a thumbs up, her smile remaining. "You bet."

The implication that they might have to leave their last requests somehow has the young woman pushing his shoulder playfully on the side. "Oh /come on/," she says, laughter implied rather than heard, mirth twined over her hushed syllables. "Like it's any worse than the other crap we've been up to lately. I mean…" She points at Hanussen's face on the microfiche screen. "You spent the last week nearly getting eaten by things pulled out of Lovecraft's worst nightmares, we're /literally/ dealing with someone who can't die on top of everything and you're worried about harassing some David Duchovny lookalike in a suit? This might actually be a welcome change of pace for the both of us. I mean…how bad could it be? What's the worst that could happen?"

It's a jinx.

She just totally jinxed them.

And she /knows/ it too with how that precipitous expression only grows in its mischief, dangerous determination flaring in those near-unsettling eyes to compliment the flush of laughter flitting over her pale cheeks like rosy ghosts. While she embodies the best traits of the Zatara family line, she also exhibits some of its absolute worst…like the tendency to set things on fire, as a few people have learned in the last week, and a disturbing propensity to spit at the devil's eye.

Reaching out for the pictures, she takes one of the better ones of Peter's stalker, and slips it in her pocket.

"I know what he looks like and I know where he's been recently." The Gotham City Opera's ballroom. "That might be enough for me to scry for him. I can do it myself and I'll let you know what I find." There's a pause, and she gives him a look. "Unless you want to come with me for some truant breaking and entering."

—-

Peter Parker listens. Really, he does. Rocking with that push and an incredulous expression, he listens explicitly to every horrible thing Zatanna details that they've been through and likely will have to continue dealing with in the near future in excruciating detail. Like a checklist of the worst of the worst scenarios that could happen. His mouth opens. A second passes.

"— you literally had to make sure to mention all of that just to make sure the universe knew how to step up its game, didn't you?" he finally says, hazel eyes squeezing into slits of a squint. "You just… had to do it. I'm blaming you. Alright? When David Duchovny like, locks us in Area 51 or banishes us into the Twilight Zone or turns us into My Little Ponies."

He points at her. Jabs her right in the collar.

"You. Your fault. I want it on record."

Plucking up his frappuccino once more, Parker sips at it like it's his only life raft in a sea of crazy — even if there's still amusement tinging tellingly at his expression. Eventually, he laughs too, an easy thing — the nervousness of it dwindles in time and becomes more genuine the more he forgets about how -weird- it is that David Duchovny is stalking him. Really.

He kind of hopes it -is- him, he could really go for his autograph—

"Huh? You can do that? Really?" Peter starts gathering up his photos even as he peers at Zatanna curiously. Breaking and entering, she says. Probably in Gotham, from the sound of things. He pauses in the middle of hefting his backpack and standing up, to stare at her. This is a bad idea. He's well aware of that.

"Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh."

But he's also a teenager who -really really- wants to see some magic that's -not- trying to -eat him- for once.

He hopes.

He really hopes scrying can't end up with giant space jaws trying to eat him.

"Yeah sure okay, someone's got to make sure you don't get caught with all your craziness."

Worse comes to worst, he figures, he can probably just get people to blame Spider-Man if they get caught. Right? Right.

—-

"I can with enough anchors," Zatanna says. "It definitely helps that I know what he looks like."

She slowly periscopes her head again, lifting it up, turning her head this way and that to make sure they aren't being looked at. Gathering up her things and her precious frappe, she nudges Peter to do the same, shutting off the microfiche screen. "C'mon, let's take a shortcut."

A what?

After another surreptitious glance over her shoulder, she motions for Peter to follow her, to slip away from the viewing room and towards the back stacks of the archives, towards the deepening shadows that would function just enough to keep them from view. She puts a finger to her lips, to signal him to be quiet - admittedly, it's already a library, but that goes without saying.

"Keep a lookout," she hisses softly, turning to face the very back wall. Stretching out her arms, she fashions a pattern with her fingertips, graceful motions of her digits carving out the shape of a doorway with those sweeping gestures.

"Moorllab esuoh arepo ytic mahtog ot nepo etag," she whispers. To the likes of her, teleporation is easy - one of the first skills that she has mastered, as it was useful, and Giovanni wanted to make sure that his daughter always had a handy exit available, considering just how much trouble she gets into….a tendency that has not left her from when she was younger and more precocious.

A patch of the wall falls away, as if empty air, as if it never existed. Peter gets his wish at the very least, to see some magic at work, and through the intangible doorway he would find the remains of the Gotham City Opera's main ballroom, /still/ a ruin from the New Year's Eve debacle. Its former, architectural grandeur ruined by eldritch shadows, possessed civilians and one mad, immortal Nazi sorceror, the scars from that evening remain on the walls, the ruined furniture and stage, the chalk outlines and rust-red stains left coagulated on the wooden dance floor.

There's a pause, the only sign of distress Zatanna exhibits returning here, but she squares the line of her shoulders and looks over at Peter.

—-

So nudged, Peter resumes his packing, securing his backpack and swiping that pink frappuccino. He's already making a mental layout of the time it'd take to get from New York City to Gotham, when they'll realistically arrive at the opera house, and the potential presence of security or police detail or even higher level, government interference. The best ways to sneak inside without attracting attention, possibly how long they'd have until someone notices, just what snacks he ought to bring along for the trip over, whether he should even bother making a good faith effort packing healthy stuff—

"A whatcut?"

This is Peter's dumb question to the open air, delayed until they come to a stop and he realizes he's sort of standing in front of a wide, blank wall. He's standing in front of a wall. This is not a shortcut. He's about to protest this very fact, when she hushes him.

And he had something -witty- lined up, too.

One hand shoved into his pocket, he does his best to look casual, rocking on his heels, looking back and forth suspiciously, cautiously sipping on his pink frappe until it starts to make stuttering sounds as it sucks in more air than caffeinated treat. He doesn't do a particularly good job of not looking suspicious — but with that extrasensory awareness of his, at least he's not -completely- useless.

Really!!

And there it comes. Hazel eyes widen in something straddling surprise and elation as he sees that exit create itself like a little welcome mat across time and space. His brows lifted, he stares into the ruins of Gotham City Opera's ballroom, a place he was only -just- almost getting eaten alive at. He can remember exactly where everything was when all hell broke loose. And it's -there-. In front of him. Even though he's in New York. It's baffling. Slowly, his frappe lowers. Lips part. He has so many things he could say. He chooses:

"So like, serious question — did you have to take special classes to speak backwards, because I can't do it for the -life- of me."

And off he goes, following Zatanna into a foreboding portal of warped space.

"Like, seriously, I tried for at least five minutes— "

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