All Heaven in a Rage

January 20, 2017:

As Red Robin desperately searches for clues regarding the organization Bucky Barnes works for, Zatanna Zatara, acting on word from Jessica Jones, confronts him about his possible connection to Tim Drake, and once again gets more than she bargained for.

Chelsea - Gotham

On a rooftop several blocks away from the Third Eye and the Gotham University Campus.


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Jessica Jones, Giovanni Zatara, Mammon, The Joker, Guardians of the Galaxy, Bruce Wayne, John Constantine, The Winter Soldier, Spider-Man

Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

The investigation continues. The war continues.

At night, in Gotham City, the war never ends.

Red Robin knows he made a mistake. He wasn't careful, he wasn't cautious, and he slipped up. He's pretty sure he can cover for the mistake, if anyone noticed it, if it's brought up, but… He hasn't been sleeping enough. It's got him twisted around in knots. Anger, fear, a gnawing growing sense of despair, a terrible dark monster lurking inside of his own heart and waiting to gobble him up, just as he'd tried to prevent it from devouring Zatanna Zatara.

Not enough sleep. He's been turning Gotham upside down in an attempt to find something, /anything/ that will give him a lead, a loose thread to pull on until he can get names, until he can get some kind of a clue about the people who captured Zatanna, who tore off parts of her soul and left her slowly dying. All he's gotten for his efforts is a throbbing headache, fresh bruises and a cracked rib. There's no sense of satisfaction at having taken more of Gotham's dangerous denizens off of the streets, because they didn't know anything. It didn't accomplish anything. It didn't /help/.

He knows he's losing control of his emotions, the tight rein of discipline slipping from his tired grasp. Not enough sleep.

But every time he does sleep, he sees those big, pale blue eyes. Open, sightless, staring at nothing.

She may not be dead yet, but Zatanna's ghost haunts him already.

"Damn it," he mutters to himself, sitting on a rooftop. It isn't far from the Third Eye, as it happens. He doesn't want to trouble Gerry Craft again, but the name of the artifact that did this to Zatanna is the only other lead he has left. He shouldn't hesitate, he should just do it. Go in, ask, thank the older, blind man whether he has any useful information for him or not. Then leave, and try to never darken the man's door again.

The ribs don't matter, the exhaustion doesn't matter, he tells himself. He can't permit himself human frailties, not now. He just needs a moment to center himself, to gather his reserves, seeking a meditative focus that will allow him to ignore the pains in his body, the way his muscles burn because the flesh can only do so much no matter how determined the spirit. One more stop, and then he'll have to go home, to try and catch a few hours of sleep.

Maybe he'll be so exhausted he won't have any dreams.


It is difficult to scry for someone without a piece of them.

A bit of hair, blood, fingernails…a name. And for the latter, it needs to be a true name, and she's pretty sure that Red Robin is an alias. Call it a hunch.

She does the best she can, focusing on his image, whatever she can cull from her memories, on the emotional impressions left over from the night he rescued her from Kazinsky's clutches. The search takes her across Gotham, over rooftops, dizzying images of soaring great heights before plunging in irresponsible speeds below. Like flying, but not, as if tethered to something….like a rope, or…

It ends on a familiar block, the faded sign of the Third Eye catching her attention and holding there before Zatanna shakes herself out of her trance. She had left Brooklyn earlier that day, with every intention to return later that evening, stopping by Shadowcrest to assemble her implements and do what she can to find him. Now that she has a /vague/ idea as to where he might be, though…

She risks teleportation, stable enough thanks to John's triaging attempts to prevent more power from leaking out of her. But every day, she becomes less and less, struggling to maintain the scraps of light that remains from the black chasm lodged inside her, growing by the minute. She is starting to feel it; she sleeps longer, the drive to go outside less and less. She forces herself - sets alarms, goes out on a run, no matter how late she gets up. Anything and everything to keep her moving and active. Anything to feel alive.

The cold does that, when she arrives, electing to manifest on top of one of the higher vantage points around the area. It whips at her cheeks, slashes color into her pallor, giving it some convincing facade of the vitality that she has lost. It is still a rather sizeable area, however, so where…? How…?

This is when she decides to let go. She is no expert like John, who can sink under Fate's radar and misdirect it when it is absolutely necessary, and rides its train like its favorite passenger, enabling him to be where he /needs/ to be at a given time. This is something similar, but not the same, fixed on the image in her head as she lets the wind carry her in a drifting wake from one rooftop to another. She can still do this, at least. Some control over the elements…very basic sorcery.

She finally finds his shadow after the tenth building, moving and stopping, glimpsing a cape flapping like a dark banner in the winter wind. She recognizes the red weave, the black accents and somewhere inside the back of her mind, she was back in that dingy warehouse again, threatening him with a crowbar that she transfigured out of a piece of wood.

"Red Robin," she greets somewhere behind him. "You've been busy."

She pulls her jacket tighter around her, tucking her hands in her pockets as she crosses the distance. Accosting one of Gotham's masked defenders is always a tricky position, the city eager to lend them a reputation for fanaticism and hyperviolence. She is /not/ immune to this, no matter how many times he has involved himself in her business. Adrenaline drips hot in her bloodstream, coalescing into dread. She has questions, but she isn't sure whether she wants the answers.

But she keeps moving forward, because she can't not. Because no matter how afraid she is, she somehow manages to find it inside of herself to keep pressing on.


Slow breaths, drawn through a partially opened mouth. His collapsible staff fully extended, his gloved hands tight on it as he leans forward onto it. He needs to focus. He needs to keep going. He has to. He can't… He can't…

He isn't alone.

It's sudden, far more sudden than Red Robin would've expected even from someone else as skilled in the shadow arts as he was. A more abrupt awareness of their presence than he would even expect from someone who outclasses him, like the Dark Knight himself. As though whoever had just arrived on the rooftop with him simply hadn't bothered moving in a natural way.

Magic, he thinks to himself, distant and feverish.

But the new arrival waits precious seconds before speaking, before doing anything. Gives him the time to not be surprised when she speaks, when he hears that familiar voice, even more faded now than the last time he'd heard it. A thousand thousand jagged shards cutting him open inside, the pain far worse than the mere physical hurts he shuts out, isolating his body's reminders of exhaustion, of cracked ribs and bruises into a tiny corner of his mind where they won't disturb him. He didn't need this, not now. He didn't need to be scourged further.

He knows why she's here. Jones would certainly have spoken to her, would've told her where she'd gotten the information from. It was a stupid mistake. Amateurish. Amateur mistakes get people killed.

Behind the white lenses of his cowl, his eyes squeeze shut. He doesn't let her see it, the pain and the weariness, straightening his shoulders under the cape, collapsing his staff with a flick of his wrist, returning it to its place at the small of his back.

"Miss Zatara," he says, not trusting himself to look back at her. The electronic device he wears strapped to his throat, hidden perfectly under the cowl of his costume, shrouds his voice just as it did before, lowering the pitch, fuzzing it into a voice that could never be traced. It hides any emotion, he thinks. He hopes. Please, he finds himself wishing - though he doesn't believe in anything that might answer him out of benevolence - don't let her hear it.

"I'm sorry about what's happened to you. I'm guessing you spoke with Miss Jones. Unfortunately, I haven't turned up anything useful yet…"


She stops somewhere behind him, a few yards, barricading herself from the cold and her faded eyes finding his back. The urge to look away, or to turn back and walk off, is nigh-near overwhelming. It isn't all that far from Gotham University's campus, the sprawling grounds visible from where they stand. Past his head, she finds the distant lights of Gotham, but she can't bear to look at them for long either, all the more reminded of what she is lost, how similar they are now to the little pinpricks of illumination that she still manages to keep.

He refers to her formally and she lets herself wonder if she is wrong.

But in the end, does it really matter? Whether she knows the face underneath the hood, he was still helping her, still looking after her. It was more than she deserved and John had been right when he castigated her for showing up in Switzerland, where she could have thrown all of their efforts to the wind because she couldn't help but get involved. Running on borrowed time, no matter the shreds of her usual spirit and optimism that she manages to clutch, puts some things in perspective. As the seconds drain from the hours of life she has left, standing in the cold and watching his back, she realizes…

…that she doesn't want to be angry.

She doesn't have the time to.

She doesn't want to argue with Jessica about what's best for her. And after fighting constantly with John almost since he came swinging back into her life, she doesn't /want to/ anymore, though the friction between their two markedly different personalities often have other ideas. And if she's right, if she /knows/ this person. If she's close to him, then she doesn't want…

"….how do you know Tim?"

Her question is quiet, soft, hopeful, though she doesn't precisely know what she's hopeful /for/. Hope that she was wrong? Hope that if she was right that he'd just tell her the truth? She doesn't know how much more she could bear. All the betrayal. All the lies.

"…did he pay you to look after me?"

Her lips press in a grim line.

"Because if he did, I'll double it," she continues, the words leaving her in a breathless rush. "He's smart. He probably saw your name in the article and thought since you were already involved with me before that he could do something. And I had…we had a talk, before you showed up in New York to help me out. He…things are serious enough around me already, and the last thing I want is for any of this to come back to him, so…whatever he said to you. Whatever he offered. I'll counter it. Just…just leave him out of it. Please."

She grits her teeth and takes a breath. She squares her shoulders and lifts her chin, calling up every facsimile of confidence and determination she doesn't feel.



There is, in the midst of Zatanna's questions, a brief moment in which Red Robin feels a twinge of offense at the very idea that he would be /for hire/.

He could just leave, without saying anything at all. The idea occurs to him, tumbles around in his imagination. She can't know for certain, otherwise she wouldn't be bothering with the pretense of asking him how he knows 'Tim,' and a dramatic departure without giving her the satisfaction of any actual answers to her questions would be in keeping with the general mystique that comes with the cape and the cowl.

He couldn't go to the Third Eye then, though. She would just follow him, and as sure as anything Gerry Craft would stick up for the daughter of Giovanni Zatara over some stranger. A meddler in over his head.

His head tilts, the silence dragging out as Zatanna /asks/ him to keep her friend out of what's happening. He can imagine the scenario she's concocted in his head, of Timothy Drake using the only weapon he has available, his fortune, to hire additional protection for his friend. To recruit someone to try and investigate where he cannot. He should lie. He should say he has nothing to do with her friend, and that he's been keeping an eye on her because of his existing investigation, knowing that there was more to the Kazinsky killings than some run of the mill serial killer. He had the story all worked out, expecting to have to use it on Jessica Jones, or Constantine.

Not on her.

Under his cape, his fists clench tight, before spreading open. She's been hovering close, dangerously close, to a secret that could ruin lives for some time now. Red Robin knows that Bruce's actions against her were to try to preserve that secret, but they were wrong-headed. He'd kept meaning to confront his foster father on it, to persuade him that the only way to set things right, to keep her from thinking that Gotham's favourite son was secretly a serial killer or date rapist, to prevent her from potentially causing investigations that /would/ compromise them, would be to tell her the truth.

But things keep coming up. They aren't on the same crusades anymore, not quite. Intersecting paths, but so often the Batman is doing his work, and the Red Robin is doing his, and never do their paths meet. Dick would know what to do, but he wasn't around. He has no one to ask, no counsel to seek but his own.

And he's so /tired/.

The cape pushes back, gloved hands lifting. One presses against the side of his throat, briefly, with the faintest of clicking sounds, a pit stop on the path to joining his other hand in grasping his black cowl, pulling it back, letting it settle against his shoulders like a hood.

Dark hair, longish, touseled and matted with sweat after a long night under the cowl. Dark blue eyes, bloodshot, with dark rings underneath, turn to look at Zatanna as the caped figure shifts.

Honestly, he looks like shit.

"Sorry," Tim Drake says, his voice his own now, without any alteration. He's too tall by a couple of inches, thanks to the lifts in his heavy boots. "But I can't do that."


Now that her suspicions have been confirmed, for a long moment, Zatanna stands unmoving, her pale, wan face staring at him from where she stands.

She waits for it, the surge of poison delivered by another lie. The sense of betrayal. The anger. Seconds tick past with aching slowness and the world outside of her head ceases to exist, leaving nothing but the two of them standing there on an open rooftop. She drinks in the sleepless eyes, the circles, the stamp of grief, anger and guilt rendered indelible on his face and she waits, and waits, and waits.

She feels none of it, and she wonders if it is because she loses more and more of herself as moments pass.

But that can't be true. Her ribcage expands with a sudden outpour of emotion, once again resuscitating her fading heart and leaving it beating once more. It takes her a few moments to identify what it is, and her addled brain finally recognizes it for what it is.


Relief that it's someone she knows. Relief that she wasn't wrong. Most importantly of all, relief that he elected not to lie when confronted, unlike his foster father, who was forced to hurt her when she dared tread where people feared to. There is pain, but more associated with how tension is finally and abruptly loosed, after being constricted so tightly, bound by shackles she didn't realize she was trapped in until he decided to show his face, and tell her in no uncertain terms that he can't leave this alone.

Tears finally fall, the ones she had been so desperately holding at bay after what just happened to her. How John initially thought this was all his fault, because he believed he was a death sentence, how Jessica came to see her, when she isn't prone to call on anyone just to visit, when she promised her that she would never leave her. Tim, in the library, when she told him the news and how it nearly drove him to tears. And how she had to keep the dam sealed tight so she could comfort him because she couldn't /not/.

…no, she was wrong. There is anger there, somewhere. But the nature of it is not what he thinks, or what she expects herself.

She's crossing the distance quickly, suddenly rejuvenated, spurred into action. Her hands lift, her arms, to throw around his neck, gripping him tight and directing her tear-filled eyes towards the distance.

"You bastard," she whispers, syllables thick with emotion. "You sneaky, fucking jackass." She lowers her head, pressing her nose hard against his shoulder. "Were you just….just never going to tell me if Jessica didn't happen? How was I supposed to thank you for /everything/ if I didn't know? If the worst happens…if the worst happens…was I supposed to just go like that without telling you that much? I'm….I'm /so mad at you right now/."

The last breaks into a sob.


A cynical part of Tim expects an outburst. Expects this to come back and bite him in the ass later. He hasn't just revealed himself here, after all… He'd handed Zatanna the key to the secret lives of other people. Part of the reason he took up the Red Robin mantle was its lack of an overt connection to the Batman, to the Robin identity he used to use when he swung around the city, because it would make it easier to act without compromising the others. But someone with knowledge like Zatanna's, with her insight…

He disturbs the silence after his reveal no more than she does. He watches her, tired dark blue eyes emotionally raw in a way he could never let himself be otherwise fixed on her pale blue, so washed out now that in the dark they looked nearly white. Now she can get angry. Now she can hate him, and push him away forever like he deserves, and know that he was just as big of a liar as all the others.

It would make it harder to help, but he'd find a way. Maybe he'd done enough, finding the information he had, sending it to Constantine. At least she could live hating him.

It beats the alternative, didn't it?

She moves at him, quickly. He expects a slap, or a punch, maybe. He makes no move to defend himself, having every intention of letting her get some kind of cathartic moment of violence out on his person.

Instead she's hugging him, his taller, broader frame rocking back slightly as she collides with him, as her arms curl around his neck, clinging to him. The armor and the utility belts don't exactly make him particularly huggable, but that's at least a small part of the point of the costume.

'You bastard,' she whispers. He deserves that.

Sneaky, a jackass, all true.

'How was I supposed to thank you for /everything/ if I didn't know?'

"…What…?" he says, clearly befuddled. Is the sleep deprivation catching up to him that badly? Has he started hallucinating? Is this some kind of wizard curse trick where he perceives something good happening while he actually turns into a pillar of salt?

Leather and kevlar weave creak as Tim's arms wrap around her in return, as she sobbingly tells him how mad she is at him. Women are extremely confusing creatures, he thinks to himself. But he can feel the heat of her tears against the side of his neck, where she's buried her face, as the combined weight of everything shatters her resolve to hold back her emotions.

"It's not much of a secret identity if I go around telling people," Tim admits, with a certain sardonic cast to his voice, trying to blink back the wetness in his own eyes. He has raged, cursed at whatever forces might be listening at the cruel unfairness of what was happening to Zatanna; he has beaten men to bloody pulps in his laser-focused fury, in a fruitless attempt to gain information; he has worked himself to the bone, seeking something, anything to save one life he can't bear to be without.

But he has not let himself cry.

"But… it's not as though I didn't want to tell you, Zee. There were more important things to worry about thank you thanking me for doing what anyone else would've done in my position. You didn't need Tim Drake, you needed Red Robin."


To her credit, she tries to keep most of it in, the sounds she makes buried under leather and kevlar as he returns her embrace and holds her there. Relief is present there, too - these days she welcomes these forays into intense emotions if not just because they let her feel something again, to fill the punctured cup inside her if not just for a little while. Her shuddering dwindles into sniffles soon enough, punctuated with a hiccup or two. When it ceases entirely, she takes a few precious seconds to breathe, to sink into it. Tim could have chosen to lie, the way Bruce had done - the implications of this revelation has not yet sunk in yet - but he didn't. He chose to show his face to her instead.

But she quiets long enough to hear his last words and against his shoulder, she shakes her head, her fingers re-threading into one another somewhere at the back of his neck.

"That's not true," she tells him quietly. "That's not true, Tim. You know that, I've /told/ you why."

Zatanna would explain, or remind him, or clarify. She is, as always, rather straightforward with her emotions, no matter how uncomfortable it makes the listener. But with Tim, she doesn't feel the need to, considering how well familiar she is with the sharpness of his memory. Squeezing her arms around him once, she slowly lets go, lifting her fingers so she could wipe away the heated tracks left on her cheeks, rolling the heels of her palms against them as she takes another deep breath, to regain the composure she has lost.

Looking up at him, she finds it somewhere within her to smile.

"You look like shit," she says, laughter borne more out of relief and exasperation rather than actual humor hinted at by her tired voice. "C'mon….at least let me take a look at you."

She tugs on his arm lightly, drawing him further into the rooftop, where they could find some shelter inside of the tower. It was cold out, and he was exposed. If he was serious about this secret identity business, she doesn't want to be the cause of outing him to the rest of the world.

The door opens and shuts; she keeps the lights off, and whenever they find the space to sit on cold, hard concrete ground, she lifts her fingers, on her knees next to him. Blue sparks fly off her fingertips. "I'm…this won't be as easy as it normally is, but I think I can still stitch bones back together, and make bruises disappear…"

She looks tired, but she closes her eyes and begins to work. Pale, chapped lips devoid of their usual color remove, to fashion words too low for him to hear. Her breath transforms into mist, but these phantoms are faint and barely there. That, too, is fading. She is determined to bring him some relief, however. It's the least she could do. He'd feel it start, his body repairing itself slowly from the inside out. Calcium knits back into his bones - this is not painless, but the pain will fade eventually once he is whole again.


Tim may yet regret his decision to show Zatanna his face.

Perhaps there's a metaphor there, in choosing to reveal himself like that… In showing her his face, in revealing who was under the Red Robin costume all this time, he was making himself vulnerable to her. She had his secret now, in the palm of her hand. She could destroy him, if she wanted to; she wouldn't even need to lift a finger, sorcerously speaking. Tim had been trained to abhor vulnerability, as a survival mechanism… The more people who knew a secret, after all, the harder it was to /keep/ secret, and he wasn't the only one rendered vulnerable by this knowledge. Keeping the secret had become a reflex to him, almost as natural as breathing.

But then he'd made a foolish mistake, because he was emotionally compromised.

The sensible thing, the practical thing, would've been to lie, to maintain the secret, to seek the distance he needed emotionally and physically to regain perspective. To make more careful, pragmatic decisions. To think with his head, instead of his heart, any or other parts for that matter.

But he's so tired. Tired of lying, at least to her.

Zatanna's nature as an emotional livewire puts cracks in his defenses, in the wall he's built up around himself; it has since they first met, finding himself drawn to her inevitably after she barged into his life. An effect she has on people, he supposes, with her insatiable drive to reach out to others.

She doesn't feel like she's wasting away, in the embrace. It belies the fact that she was dying, fading away as the fires that drove her guttered and dimmed, soon to be nothing but embers, and then… He tries not to think about it, not when she's here and alive and clinging to him like a lifeline, but it makes his grip on her tighten reflexively, as though he could keep her tethered to the world of the living though physical strength.

Against his shoulder, her head shakes, and she chides him lightly, reminding him that she /does/ need Tim Drake… But does she really, now, he wonders to himself. It was his normalcy she'd listed so prominently as what made him an important part of her life, and now she knows his normalcy was a facade. Now she knows what had kept the distance between them, what kept him from opening up to her. A mask and a cape and a neverending war against evil.

When she pulls away from him to rub at her face and wipe away her own tears, Tim resists only a little before letting her go, watching her silently until she looks up at him and, with a smile and a bit of tired laughter, has the gall to say /he/ looks terrible. Fortunately, even if he is tired and emotionally raw, Tim is at least sensible enough to not say anything in response to that, and lets himself be drawn along to get out of the winter weather.

The cold cement of the stairwell is hardly more comfortable than being outside in the winter air, but he's dealt with worse; she kneels beside him as he sits down, the sitting a danger all on its own. He worries he might not be able to force himself to get back up, putting him at real risk of just falling asleep in the stairwell.

But Zatanna holds up her hands, blue sparks flying from her fingertips, talking about using her magic to soothe his honestly fairly mild in the grand scheme of things hurts. His eyes widen, alarmed. Not alarmed at her using magic on him, whatever she might think after he told her the story of what the Obeah Man had done to his parents, but because…

"Zee, don't," he insists, his gloved hands coming up to catch hers, as though he could somehow stop her from doing whatever-the-heck by blocking the sparks. He doesn't know how magic works, but he does know that nothing in the world comes without a price, and that the price for changing reality at a whim must be commensurately steep, so… "You've got so little left. Don't… Don't waste it."

Don't waste it on me.

He can't prevent it, though, he can't stop her from doing what she wants with her power, as her pale chapped lips form quiet words, as her breath mists faintly in the cold air, the barely-there wisps like a physical metaphor for the way her little remaining life bleeds away by the moment.

He can't prevent it, and instead he feels the sting of pain as his body is forced to heal, the cracked rib knitting, bruises on his side, on his arms fading obediently at Zatanna's command.

He breathes raggedly as the pain fades, his hands still gripping hers. He feels frantic, terrified. What if that cost her vital time, just to make him feel a bit better?

"Don't use yourself up," Tim says, perhaps unaware of the irony of that statement, his hands shaking, trembling against hers. He tries to stop that; it doesn't work, any more than trying to stop Zatanna from using her magic. "Please. I need you too, Zee."


She was on the verge of finishing the last of it when his hands reach over and take her own, tremors running over long, gloved fingers. Zatanna keeps her eyes on those digits, hears the words and attempts to resist it. It's been difficult, to look him right in the eye, knowing the pain he has been causing himself because of her, for the sake of her. The last few days have been filled with those instances in which she feels herself losing her nerve, regardless of how easy she makes it when it comes to dealing with difficult emotions and she somehow finds the room within herself to marvel at how she manages to keep going - she had used the excuse of close physicality just so she could prevent herself from seeing the expression in Jessica's eyes when she visited, and she had been walking on eggshells back at the flat, knowing that every glimpse of her has embodied a few of John's worst nightmares in the last few weeks; knowing that he bottles it all up, because that is what he does, ever since they met two years ago. She finds herself perennially unable to show the closest people to her just how terrified she is - not of dying, but of leaving them behind, after all the promises that she has made - simply because she absolutely cannot burden them any further. Because of her father. Because of Paris. The one rainy night that she remembers and hides in the absolute privacy of her mind at the exclusion of all others.

A long silence punctuates his last words and she smiles ruefully, the expression ghosting over her pale lips and all she does is thread her fingers through his and gives them a squeeze, as if she could feed him the strength he needs to stop his shakes by lending him whatever she has left to give. She knows she has to worry about herself. She knows that the people in her life will never begrudge her of that. But she can't help herself - to not push, to not get involved, to not /care/, no matter what happens to her, is asking the impossible of her.

"You have me for a while yet," she tells him at last. How she still manages to find the phantoms of her old spirit after everything is downright miraculous, more to do with that boundless heart than any power afforded by her missing soul. Finally, her pale gaze slips back up to look at him directly and she grins at him faintly, a glimpse of her teeth against parted lips. "Seriously, it's like we didn't have that conversation back in the study room."

If it has sunk in yet - the implications of this revelation, what it means for Tim, Bruce Wayne and everyone else in that family, she doesn't show it, as preoccupied as she is in doing what she does next, to close one hand over his own while she uses the other to cup it underneath, to rub over his gloved knuckles as if she could prevent them from shaking any further. She concentrates on that, the work, and for all of her diminished capacity, her old restlessness remains, and will stay there for as long as she still has some magic inside her. She falls quiet at that, the silence does well to collect her thoughts.

When she finally releases one of his hands, she takes up the other one. This is when she shifts, so she could sit on the stairwell next to him, shrouded in the dark save for a thin shaft of light spilling from the crack of the door several steps above them.

"Do you…do this every night?" she wonders, concern slipping into the low, exhausted syllables. "You go to class all day and then you come home, put the cape on and….get beat up? Get shot at?" As the words escape her, she's suddenly reminded of Peter Parker and the exhausted looks he gives her when they see each other. Now that she is forced to look back and reassess, it's similar to what Tim has. Bone-deep fatigue, down to the marrow, the consequences of long days and even longer nights.

"Is this because of what happened to you?" she asks quietly. "Your parents? I'm not…I'm not judging, or anything. I would never. If I lost Daddy, I'd probably go off the rails, too. And probably not as productively as you."


He knows exactly how difficult it can be to keep working in the face of something horrible, though. He knows exactly the importance of hiding any cracks from the gaze of others, of how dangerous even a moment of letting someone else see could threaten to unravel everything, crushing one's nerve to continue.

Hence the mask. Hence the voice changer. Hence the theatrics, the sudden appearances and disappearances.

It's the only way he could ever have kept going, the only way he ever could've survived, in the face of murderous assassins and killer clowns, armed gangs and eldritch terrors, all the myriad things he's faced since he voluntarily stepped into a world that normally people only enter if they're dragged into.

She smiles ruefully after he pleads with her, after he admits something of her importance to him, and in a way that nearly causes Tim to break then and there. Even now, even under these circumstances, she's trying to take care of him. Assuring him that she'll be around for a while yet. Reminding him a bit chidingly of their conversation in the study room. She cups his hand, rubbing his knuckles through the layers of his glove, trying to soothe him, trying to calm him. Staring the end in the face, the yawning hungry abyss that lusts to devour her, to put an absolute and final conclusion on her young life, and /she/ is trying to comfort /him/.

Part of him wants to get angry at her, to rage at her for putting everyone else ahead of herself, in what could be her final days. The sour guilt of it scourges him, flays him, not the least because of the secret, the lie had hung between them for so long. If that hadn't been there, maybe things would've been different. Maybe he could've done something else, something better, if he wasn't so worried about who knew what.

'Do you…do this every night?'

He hears the fresh concern in her question, as she asks, and asks, and asks. About his trauma. About his pain.

"Yes," Tim answers her, before correcting himself. "No. Not… Every night." Lately, it has been. Lately he's scarcely slept at all, the nightmare of her dead waiting for him whenever he closes his eyes. She wonders if it was because of his parents, because of what happened to them; it's a reasonable enough assumption, all things considered. "No, it wasn't because of what happened to them." He'd started before, but he doesn't tell her that outright. In her current state, who knows what she'd do if she found out he'd been fourteen years old and having to deal with some of the world's deadliest killers - by himself.

"Zee, stop," he adds, quietly. "Just… Stop, okay? You don't need to take care of me to try and ignore how you're feeling."


If he unleashed his anger at her now, that would be par the course; it wasn't as if he hadn't known that Zatanna Zatara tended to provoke volatile emotional responses from even the most caustic and isolated of persons. In one way it was a blessing, in another way, it was a curse.

But she is no mind-reader, so unless he tells her that he wants to, she would never know it. Her efforts cease at his dissuasion, calling it the way he sees it and she pauses, wondering if she ought to tell him that doing this enables her to remember that she is still alive, and she finds this a better use of her time than wallowing in the potential eventuality of her premature demise. She lets him say it without any argument from her, however, if not just because she is /tired/ of arguing with everyone she is close to, the last few days having sapped the drive to maintain the friction she is capable of generating when it was time to confront someone. She has been told that she makes it look easy, when it is anything but - to remain so open and vulnerable is taxing, and yet she keeps at it because…

"I can't," she confesses quietly. "I can't stop. This is me, Tim. This is just the way I am and I…I don't see any reason to pretend otherwise. To be otherwise. It's…it's one of the handful of things I managed to keep when they had me. When I fought." And she did fight; if anything she thought she didn't fight /hard/ enough, and the moment she said so, it pushed John over the brink, his anger sweeping out of him like a sudden tornado, scrambling for something to destroy. If Tim had lost his temper over something similar, chances are that she would have dealt with it the same way, but oh god, she was tired of arguing.

Her fingers lace through his gloves instead. Having managed to huddle next to him, she tilts her head sideways, letting her temple nudge into his shoulder, her hair spilling behind them like a wind-tangled curtain, lacking its characteristic darkness and luster. Her gestures, the way she speaks, even the way she moves - they don't feel real to her, as if she has managed to leave her real body behind, and she is with him in her astral form, drifting along the motions in an attempt at a convincing facsimile of life.

"You know," she says at last, after a long, heavy silence. "I always thought that when I died, it would be while I was doing something pretty badass. Heroic sacrifice, kind of like how Randy Quaid shoved his plane up the spaceship in Independence Day. Just….crashing into a torrent of lights, knowing very well that I'd save so many and being at peace with it. Enough to laugh, because I was about to deliver an epic 'Fuck You' to the thing that dared, with some amazing one-liner that people would remember. I'm Giovanni Zatara's daughter, I couldn't picture anything less. I never imagined the possibility of just…sputtering. Fading away."

Her lashes slip shut. She's so tired.

"I was never afraid of it," she continues quietly. "Dying. When I was living as a transient, save for Daddy, I didn't think anyone would miss me anyway. But it's different now. I don't…I'm still not afraid, of the actual thing, because I know Heaven exists and maybe if I'm lucky, I'll end up there. Drive Saint Peter crazy for all the shenanigans I'll cause beyond the Pearly Gates, because that's me all over. What I'm afraid of is…what I'm leaving behind. Jess told me she was thinking of going to AA, you know? And Shadowcrest probably wouldn't survive if I was gone and I just left it to the Guardians. And…I'm terrified of what John would do, because he believes all he does is this, accidentally or inevitably cause the death and destruction of everyone he meets, every life he's touched, regardless of whether that's true or not and I'm so determined to prove him wrong and that he deserves to be happy just like everyone else. And that I wouldn't see you or Peter graduate, and get your diplomas. That I wouldn't see Pete become an amazing photojournalist and you…I want to see you become the next Bill Gates or, now that I know what you've been up to, the World's Greatest Detective. I want to be there at your wedding, be an amazing aunt for your kids, be in each other's lives until it's /really/ time to go, and we can look back and tell each other that we did good."

Her voice trails off at that, absent, contemplative.

"I want to see all of those things."


It isn't as though Tim would spend time wallowing, if he were in her position either. No, he would throw himself into the Work, as he has already. He would spend every moment he had left making sure, if nothing else, that he took his killers down with him, exposed them to the world… And then he would go, into the nothing that follows life. Unmourned, part of him cynically believes. Forgotten. The world would keep turning, and the war would go on, and other people would take up the fight. Maybe Bruce would miss him, maybe Dick or Conner.

But sooner or later even that would slip away. And Tim Drake, distant and aloof, would vanish without a trace from the memories of his peers.

So the anger doesn't come, he doesn't shout at her or try to start a fight. Instead he nods slowly, reluctantly as she admits to him that she can't stop doing what she's doing, that at the potential end of her life she can't bring herself to be anything other than true to herself. He can't fault her for that, despite his guilt, despite the maelstrom of emotions that make him feel sick inside, that make him bleed internally from a million little bleeding cuts in his soul.

She huddles next to him, seeking his hands and resting her head against his shoulder, and before she claims both of his gloved limbs he pulls the darkness of his cape over them like a blanket, similar to how he'd protected her from the cold the night he'd carried her out of Kazinsky's lair, resting it over her shoulders. A long, heavy silence that he doesn't break before she does, having long become comfortable with silence, with the dark.

She tells him what she'd thought of her vague conception of her own death, tells him that she'd never been afraid of death - a sentiment he can't share. Tim Drake does fear death, but he fears the deaths of others more than he fears his own. It's an inevitability for most everyone, of course, and he knows his is likely to be earlier than the average, but…

He looks down at Zatanna in the dark as she talks, his brow furrowing as she admits her true fears. Her fears of what will happen to the people she cares about when she's gone. To Jessica Jones, to Constantine. Her sense of loss at never getting to see her fellow college-aged friends graduate and grow up. At having wanted to…

His eyes squeeze shut, and Tim lowers his head, resting it against Zatanna's own, his face finding her hair, the dark river that's lost its lustre with so much of her soul gone, and the rest bleeding out. He feels something he hasn't felt in a long time, an emotion he's striven to excise from his very makeup. He hasn't felt it since his father died.

He wants to kill the people who did this.

"I like you, Zee," he says, quietly. The words dragged from himself with great effort. "More than I should. More than just as a friend. I couldn't tell you before, I tried really hard to /not/ feel this way, because of the whole…" He gestures vaguely, indicating the costume, and everything it represents. "But I just… God, this is inappropriate, and dumb, and selfish. Forget I said anything. Let's talk about something else. Your dad, I keep hearing a lot about him, but never from you, let's talk about that."


The fact that she isn't a mind-reader, that she's left stumbling in the dark half the time to reach those close to her, has many benefits. They say ignorance is bliss, and those people aren't wrong. In this instance, it would be difficult to predict how she would react, if Zatanna even catches an inkling that Tim Drake was considering murder. The deaths of others for the sake of her. It would have been the same expressions, or similar, to what she had given John Constantine when he told her that in the end, it didn't matter if she died….because everything would follow, including himself, if Fate decided not to spare its favorite whipping boy anyway. It chilled her then, scared her, because when he means the End of Days, he /means/ the End of Days and she knows there's no way she could allow that. Not that she could /do/ anything about it, because by then she'd be dead.

The additional warmth provided by the cape is a welcome one and she's about to quip the way she usually does, cite a famous scene in a Pixar movie and wonder if it's true that they were glaring liabilities in the field. Or if she would have to worry about him getting pulled in a whirring turbine through it and get ground up, or be unable to escape because something heavy has landed on it. It's morbid, yes, but she isn't above gallows humor herself, because it wouldn't be /her/ if she didn't give him shit for /something/, and now that she knows that he is Red Robin, the new possibilities of their interactions are now /endless/ and…

The weight of his own face pushes into her hair, his breath tickling her scalp, and carries with it the last words she expects coming out of his mouth. Chapped lips part, to reply instinctively, but the words sink in and her preoccupied mind scrambles to catch up with the present moment. The first thing that registers, understandably, is surprise. He's never responded in any significant way towards her flirtations, and there had been a time in their relationship when she got the impression that he would rather run away from her when she was at her most incorrigible than stick around and suffer it. Or the look on his face when she peeled his shirt up to look at what was underneath. But then again, that was him all over, wasn't it? A creature of indomitable will and iron control, much like the near-mythic figure he learned from, and reveres.

And then…

Her teeth tug into her bottom lip. He tells her rightly that it is selfish and it is, but can she begrudge him that? The sands of her hourglass are trickling and despite her best intentions, there are no guarantees, and between the two of them, Tim is the pragmatist, the realist. Could she really hold it against him, the urge to say everything he wants to say, while he still can? While she is still here? If their positions were reversed, she would be telling him similar things, throw her arms around him and cry, promise everything she can under the sun, offer to undertake a perilous journey just to buy him the time to fulfill his destiny, even if apparently destiny 'doesn't give a toss' as to what anyone thinks or does. She will still /try/ and she would make the impossible happen. Because she is /magic/.

And now in the dark, she takes a sip of Tim's own suffering, of isolating himself out of necessity, because the /mission/ is the most important thing he knows. Until today.

She has already had to reject someone else, remembering the way Azalea looked when she told her that she didn't regret kissing her, in the weeks when she was shouldering so much of what was happening around her. Because she wasn't ready. Because she thinks she knows better, but doesn't, how circumstances have made an absolute liar out of her once they've swallowed her up. Because she gave her heart away two years ago and she hasn't managed to get it back, all too aware of the folly and pain and misery and the glorious risks of handing it to someone who may be incapable of truly reciprocating it, who is so emotionally stunted that he would leave her wondering forever, who is so convinced that at the end of the line, there is nothing short of /absolute destruction/ of what existed before.

She is fully, painfully, terribly aware that John Constantine will destroy her. And to be free of her, he would have to.

"Tim…" she begins softly. "I haven't…I haven't moved on."

She can't not be honest with him either.

"…God, though. Your timing /sucks/." She turns her face into his shoulder, her eyes closing again, her fingers tightening their grip in his hand, just in case he decides to leave after saying the words. She won't let him.

The segue to her father has her blinking her eyes open, but it's an out that she gladly takes - to keep herself from dwelling on whatever barbs of heartbreak she has just levied on her best friend, and to prevent herself from thinking about her own inevitable one, the absolute, emotional wreckage that would follow, the inevitable consequence of loving John Constantine. "Daddy's…" She hesitates. "Something else. As much as I love him, I try not to talk about him all too often because he can't be seen as anything other than upstanding, incorruptible, resolute. He has too many enemies, the kinds that could….really, /really/ make a mess of things for everyone. I'd be being arrogant, if I told you that I'm so special in my own way that I could defend him and protect him when he needs it, but the truth is, I fall short. All the time. So that's what I do, for him. But there was a time in his life when….when he lost my mom. And then he lost Bruce's parents. He and Dr. Wayne were really close, and he blamed himself. He hit the bottle for a while and I took the brunt of that, because all we had on the road was each other and that was….that's detrimental, too. That's when I learned that you can't…you can't survive in a vaccuum. One person can't be your everything."

She pauses.

"…I would have endured it for longer than I have if it hadn't been for Bruce. He showed up back again when he was really young and he and Daddy helped each other. Seeing his old friend's boy pulled him out of the brink, put things in perspective. In exchange, Daddy taught him what he wouldn't teach almost anyone else. That's why it hurt so much, what Bruce did to me. I owed him so much and all I wanted to do was return…all of it. Balance out the books. He didn't have to….fear this. Fear me finding out. Even if Mammon came out right now and dragged me by the hair, hollowed out the rest of me then tossed me to…I don't know. The Joker, or whatever. Just to make your lives miserable, he can rip me apart and I wouldn't have said a goddamn thing. I'm not much, especially now, but even after everything, I'd protect him, still. Protect you."


But now she knows another reason why Tim never really responded the way she expected to her flirtatious nature: He couldn't allow himself to.

It was too dangerous, and it only grew more dangerous when he learned she was connected to Bruce through her father. He's never been Bruce Wayne, able to spin the playboy persona in his real life and have fleeting, casual relationships with the beautiful women in the world who are drawn to a handsome, charming and filthy rich man like him; he's never been Nightwing, able to dally with all the women that orbit his life and somehow leave them all remembering him fondly.

The girls he dated in high school almost invariably had their lives ruined, if not directly from the presence of the Boy Wonder in their lives at least from the misery that seemed to follow people like him around like a shadow.

And his 'costumed' relationship, with Spoiler… Was there ever a real relationship between equals there, when for so long he knew all of her secrets and she'd known none of his? Later, she'd learned the truth, but by then…

It's better to be alone, he'd decided, cynically. Not completely alone, not lacking friends and family - he knew the dangers of the near-total isolation Batman pursued, and he worked hard to keep himself from going down that path - but he would never be able to find someone who he could be a true partner to, he was sure. Somebody who could know and accept Tim Drake /and/ Red Robin, without being in deadly peril. Without being a risk to so many others.

She'd barged into his life, sauntering into class after the lesson had started, deliberately late. Made a scene of herself, fascinating him as much as the rest of the class, and to his great surprise had become his friend. She was attractive, and friendly, and so absolutely, unhesitatingly /alive/ that Tim had found himself caught up in it, in the way she could make him laugh no matter how tired he was, and he had felt a sharp cold stab of dread the first time he'd realised how much he was looking forward to seeing her. To studying the way she'd shift on her seat, ever restless. To watching her face as she focused on the notes, on his explanations.

Ruthlessly, viciously he'd squashed that feeling. Again and again.

It hadn't helped.

"I know," Tim says, quietly, his head nodding faintly, hairline cracks in his voice. He knows she hasn't moved on. He knows his timing sucks. Her fingers tighten on him, not wanting to let him go in case he'd had the thought to flee after her rejection, and he would be a liar if the idea hadn't floated through his mind. Instead, though, his hands tighten on hers in turn.

"I'm not going anywhere, Zee," he promises her, fighting to put as much quietly determined ferocity into his voice as he can, to stifle the hurt. She doesn't need that, above all else. He didn't want to give her something to feel guilty about, he just…

"Not ever."

She takes the out he gives her though, though it was a pretty lame one, couched in a bit of babbling. He listens, because he always listens, because he's seen and heard so many things about Giovanni Zatara but of course his daughter would have her own particular perspective on him. She would've seen the man, surely, and not just the legend. He almost asks about what they saw in the stronghold of the Cold Flame, whoever or whatever had stolen her father's appearance and name, but she has enough to deal with as it is. They'll get their answers, sooner or later. Hopefully, Gerry Craft's worst fears will prove to be unfounded.

"I'll try and talk some sense into Bruce, after… After you're better," Tim tells her, although he isn't sure what what would accomplish in the first place, beyond maybe easing the damage done to Zatanna's trust in general. "But you know, I'd like to think that your dad would be proud of you, Zee. For not giving up. For fighting no matter what."


It's strange to feel so terrible and so relieved all at once. It wouldn't have been fair to Tim, not to give him a straight answer. It would not be /her/ not to be absolutely honest with what lies within her heart, or tell him anything else other than the fact that she has relinquished possession of it for a couple of years to a man who is absolutely baffled as to the reasons why she had given it to him. There had been a wild, panicked notion there for a few seconds, to /not/ say anything, to let him wallow in uncertainty out of the ill-advised but all too human desire not to hurt him and impress upon him the idea that happiness for him is impossible (seriously why is it that ninety percent of her acquaintances believes that?), to give into the urge to keep a good man waiting in the wings until she made her decision. But the truth of the matter is, Zatanna knows what that is /like/, to put her heart on the line and not get a straight answer, and while she has learned not to expect anything, if not just to survive, she knows how much it hurts and she can't do that to anyone she knows in passing, much less /her best friend/. It wouldn't be right. It wouldn't be fair.

For one, breathless moment, she waits. Part of her, irrational, overwhelmed, letting the apprehension and fear fill up the growing, gnawing abyss inside her, wonders if the same thing will happen again, this tendency to be so intense with her emotions that it can't help but drive people away. To abandon her for the sake of infinitely safer pastures, because the young magician is absolutely incapable of not dashing across the volatile battlefields of human interactions, downright suicidal in her attempts to get /somewhere/ with someone else. She grips his hand so tightly that she shakes with the effort, choking back the apprehension the thought brings, because she cannot /handle/ that right now. Not after everything. All the suffering. After being left, twice. Being walked out on, because she was so desperate to hurt /John/ for once, instead of the other way around. Being so brutally neutralized and then drugged by someone she trusted, and again after that. She can't. She /can't/.

So the promise he makes her slams into her lungs, relief fountaining out of them like an uncontrollable geyser and it's all she can do not to curl her arms around him again and weep. She's already had to do that once earlier and she doesn't know how much /Tim/ himself could take, knowing full well that she has damaged his calm already with the way his voice cracks at the resigned acceptance that her heart was elsewhere. But he knows, he says. How could he not? He was a genius, and he was a good listener, and he was a Psychology major. He was the most brilliant person she knew. If anyone would know just by looking at her, it would be him.

Which makes it all the more painful, a testament of just how her situation is affecting him, that despite /knowing/, he elects to say something anyway, while he still could. No matter how painful it is for him. The honesty, the choice to reveal his face, the choice to tell her how he feels despite what he has probably realized for a while, is…

It's what she would have done.

It's what she /has/ done and being able to relate just makes it so much harder.

"You better not," she says at last, her contralto low and heavy with emotion. "I can't lose you now. I…I wouldn't blame you, if you wanted to go. If you decided maybe it would be best not to see me for a few days, or weeks, or months. I can't…" She lets out a breathless laugh. "I can't expect anyone to be as emotionally suicidal as I am. But it means a lot to me, for you to stay. I don't think I would've been able to handle it well if you went, even if I would have understood."

His words on Bruce has her shaking her head against his shoulder. "No…if he wants to fix it, he should do that himself. /We're/ fine, and at the moment, that's all that matters to me as far as…what goes on in the Manor is concerned. He's a grown man, Tim. If anything /you're/ being the mature and capable one, so let him clean up his own goddamn mess. I meant what I said though….this secret. It's safe with me, forever."

This wouldn't be the first.

Taking a breath, she lifts her head, angling it up so she could glimpse his profile. "So if you're going to do this, if you need help with anything, /call me/, okay? Even if it's just to heal you up, or put a ward on you, anything to make your life easier out there. Nothing's too great and I know, I /know/ you can probably take care of yourself. You're a much smarter, more careful person than I am." Reckless isn't exactly a word she would use to describe him, unlike herself. "If it makes it easier, consider it doing a favor for /me/, to help me sleep at night while I know you're out there tangling with Gotham-grade lunatics. I'm…I'm not in the habit of asking much of anyone, but /promise me this/. Okay?"


He knew.

Of course, he knew.

Tim didn't really think anything would come of having made the admission that he did, not in any rational sense, but part of him hoped, maybe. Just maybe. Somewhere under there is a boy who managed to keep his psychological balance, who managed to stay optimistic even after such a horrible thing happened to his parents. Who chose the life of a costumed vigilante rather than having it chosen for him, who continued doing it not because he needed to work out his issues over his parents' deaths, but because it was only way he saw he could do the right thing. The only way he could save lives.

But that world had weighed on him. The loss and the hurt had torn him down in many ways, forced him to develop survival strategies, to grow calluses on his heart. Not completely, not like Batman or others who divorced themselves from outside influences as much as possible, who cut themselves off from anything they felt would compromise them.

He's not a pessimist at heart, or a cynic. Tim Drake is a far more unfortunate creature: A disappointed romantic.

He has no intention of leaving Zatanna, neither to abandon her there with the sands of her personal hourglass nearly all fallen through, nor later if they manage to turn back the clock, if they manage to save her from the terrible fate that mysterious organisation had left her to. It would scourge him, it would make him suffer, but that was fine.

It's better this way, Tim Drake tells himself.

Though the voice in his head sounds unnervingly like the Batman's.

"I'll be fine," Tim tells her, with a rueful, boyish smile tugging at his features that she might not be able to see, though he doesn't share in her laugh. In time, what he says might even be the truth, but in the short time he is decidedly not fine, and he may well have scoured away a little bit more of that bright, innocent hope he used to cling to before the current crisis is done.

But he won't abandon her.

He refuses to.

There is a certain sense of relief, though, at Zatanna's promise to keep the secret. He knows that she means it and, as a mistress of the arcane arts, she is presumably pretty good at keeping horrible secrets. As a /stage magician/, she certainly understands the need to keep secrets on an almost visceral level. Another upside, he supposes, is that now he doesn't have to worry about her recognising any of his sleight of hand or escapology techniques as having originally belonged to her father.

She lifts her head, and so does he, his resting back against the cement of the wall behind them, his dark blue eyes fixed on her face, memorising it even in the dim light provided by the cracked door above them, not wanting to forget even what she looks like in her current state, on the brink of a profound and terrifying death. She wants promises, perhaps still fearful that he'll keep his distance from her after this, after her rejection of him. Her concerns aren't unfounded, given that Red Robin does generally seem to work on his lonesome, and she wants him to know that her magical abilities are available to help him when the situation requires.

Tim exhales slowly; his breath, more heated than Zatanna's as her internal fires grow dim and weak, mists more thickly.

"I promise," he says, quietly. "You'd better be careful though, or I might start calling on you for more active help, put you to work out there."


At the promise, the old grin returns. It puts some much needed life back on her face and in the dark, especially against it, it looks brilliant. It's a silver flash, a spark struck from a flint, a determined vow carved in the distance between them. After everything, Zatanna hasn't lost the ability to smile, even if she is slowly losing the ability to stay awake. Her hand reaches out at that, cool to the touch, chill fringing fading embers of warmth to cup his cheek fondly. And she knows that look, knows because she's seen it in the mirror - the expression of a person who wants to remember, no matter how much it hurts.

"I was wrong, Tim," she tells him. "You and I are more alike than I thought."

That hand on his face leaves it, reluctant to keep the wounds open, but unable to help herself from dispensing tender affection anyway. The side of her head drops back against his shoulder, staring blankly at the far wall, the details of it lost in shadows and the ache and realization left by their respective positions. It is a striking difference from a few weeks before, when she has considered Tim Drake so far removed from her in both personality and mannerisms that she finds it a wonder that they've managed to become as close as they did.

But once again, she was wrong. He is inordinately gifted in surprising her.

When she speaks up again, she addresses his last. "I don't care," she tells him, conviction, determination, present in her voice. "How hard it is, how late it is, so long as you need me, I'm there. There's no way I'd do for you less what you do for me, what you've done for me all of this time."

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