Like Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear

January 20, 2017:

Peter Parker and Zatanna Zatara go on a road trip to Albany, NY to track down the man stalking Peter in his photographs taken at the GAC New Year's event, shoving Peter deeper into the mystery of his parents' disappearance and the distressing state of his friend's carved-up soul.

Random Acreage - Albany - New York State

Albany. It is snowy.

Characters

NPCs: Blake

Mentions: Tim Drake, John Constantine, Jessica Jones, Richard Parker, Mary Parker, May Parker, Ben Parker

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

So. A lot of things happened. Some of them good, some of them bad. Most of them bad. Zatanna was saved from long-distance blood sacrifice by crazy dad-cultists? Hurray! Peter had to travel up a butt? Boo! Peter managed to protect Constantine, just like he promised? Hurray! A lot of people still got killed without him being able to prevent it, by people ostensibly on the good guys' side? Boo! Jessica Jones almost dies? Boo! Peter ends up sleeping off a broken rib or two so late he doesn't turn in a project on time? Boo!

Did he also mention he had to travel through a butt? Yes? Well, whatever.

Boo.

It's been a troubling time for him afterwards just trying to parse everything that had happened while simultaneously trying to convince his instructor that he had a life-or-death emergency involving his Aunt May and walnut date loaf and still taking a hit to his project grade. Mostly though, it was the thinking — about those lives lost, no matter how depraved, and just what he could have done to prevent it. Something. Anything.

It's a plagued mindset that's made for long nights fighting crime in spidery-masks and shorter nights sleeping, like he was trying his very best to compensate for something that he could never compensate for, no matter what he did. It's also a mindset that makes him all too eager for a distraction, and when Zatanna contacts him to follow up on the situation in Albany, well — Peter's all too eager to grab hold of it.

It's why he's here now, standing in front of Palace Theatre as the cold winter winds whip his cheeks into a ruddy red. Wearing an old, blue parka, gray snowcap, with boots and woolen gloves of similar color, the young man doesn't truly need -all- of that insulation but it helps to blend in — and right now, he just doesn't want to deal with even a sliver of cold.

Earbuds lodged firmly in his ears fill his world with the music of Twenty One Pilots as he looks around him, waiting as vaporous breath coils around his features. He tries not to look as anxious as he feels. But he can't help it. This, too, has been something weighing on his mind. Someone tracking Peter Parker, and not Spider-Man? It's troubling to think they might know his secret identity… but even moreso if they were just interested in -him-. Why? What could they possibly be stalking him for? Why is David Duchavny after him? Why is his normal life becoming crazy now?

Will Aunt May be safe—?

So, he waits. And tries to ignore the slight, nervous tap of his foot on concrete as he does.

This has just been the -worst- month.

—-

Before too long, a cherry red jeep with a hard-top pulls up next to the curb, a little honk indicative of the fact that Zatanna Zatara has arrived and is about to welcome him in the warm confines of an actual vehicle, away from the cold.

But as soon as he climbs into the passenger seat, he would immediately sense that something is wrong.

Zatanna Zatara has thus far lived her life in a constant state of frenetic activity, the magic in her rendering her restless, exuberant in a way that makes the people she meets wonder why she has so much energy, exuding the brightness and vitality of a blue-white star. Her very nature tends to set people and circumstances on fire, though it is difficult to determine whether this is due to her emotionally provocative nature or the fact that it's in the blood - mystics are well-familiar with the propensity of a Zatara to cause ripples throughout the fabric no matter what he or she does. Even the way she looks attests to it, it could even be argued that dressing in her signature goth-black is some kind of mercy, as any other colors coupled with her vivacity might be too much for other people to handle. She's bad enough, without being Rainbow Brite on top of it.

But there's none of that now.

The healthy underglow of her pallor is gone, replaced by something chalky, as if beset by a sudden illness. The striking-unsettling color of her eyes has faded, like fogged over mirrors, or icicles encased with too much frost that they refuse to glint. Her lips are pale, the added color by her lipgloss in an effort to produce some facsimile of life rendered all the more garish against her complexion and even her /hair/ - more of a charcoal black instead of the glossy midnight that tends to blend in seamlessly in the evenings.

On the driver's seat, she would remind him of an ancient painting, a chiaroscuro in dire need of restoration. She is fading before his eyes.

But she smiles at seeing him, because she can't not, the sight of him a handful of pearls to toss in the growing empty that is slowly, but surely consuming her alive from within. She looks exhausted, but those light fingers are wiggling a cup at him.

"My turn to treat you to coffee," she tells him, the dewy, sugary confection dangling in her grip. "It's good to see you, Pete. You ready to tempt Fate a little?"

—-

A bright red jeep rolls up to the side of the street, and Peter Parker already knows who it must belong to. He looks so very tired, and yet the warmth of the young man's smile offsets the biting cold that rustles at his clothes and freezes at his skin as he pivots to face that open door, lift a hailing hand—

—and immediately pause, mid-wave, as he sees just what has become of Zatanna.

The first time Peter Parker met Zatanna Zatara, she wasn't well. To put it lightly. Even then, there was a spark to her, despite the state that she was in. Maybe a sense of defiance even despite the perilous nature of her state, or maybe something more, but it made him feel assured even despite how worrisome her predicament was.

He was thinking - hoping - that he'd see her in a different state after all was said and done. After the dust had settled, after she'd been saved from that peril. And in a way, he does. But it's not like he expected. That luster is just… gone. Like it's been bled out of her, drained systematically until even the bits she tenaciously clung to even in the worst of circumstances is gone. She isn't better. She's worse. So much worse.

His smile wavers for a fraction of a precious second before he reasserts it for the sake of the young woman dangling that caffeinated confection in front of him.

"… You sure you want to be responsible for me when I'm caffeinated?" The words come only a second too late than they ought to, wry and coupled with the chiding cluck of his tongue as he slides into the jeep's passenger side. A second later, he's swiping that cup with a declaration of, "Well, too late for regrets now," managing the faintest of grins as he sips from that sugary treat. A second passes as he stares down at the floorboard, seeing the white mist spill from his lips in a slow exhale. "Are—" 'you okay,' he begins to ask, before pausing and thinking better of it, for now.

Later. Right now — she probably needs a distraction even more than he does, doesn't she?

"Fate's usually not all that kind to me," he begins instead, offering a little smile. "So things can't get much worse for me if I choose to poke it a little more, right? Let's go meet a hand model."

"God, do you think it's really him— ??"

—-

"Peter Parker," Zatanna declares confidently once he takes the caffeinated drink, once the door shuts and they're on their way. "I /rented a Jeep for you/. I am /driving/ you in the middle of New York City during rush hour. I'm /pretty/ sure being responsible for you today goes without saying. Just so you know, you're assuming the risk also because I'm more used to driving in Europe than here, so be prepared for figure eights on ice." Said with all of the seriousness she could muster, but he would get the impression that in spite of what she says, it's still a jest.

Mostly. Probably.

The Jeep gets on the street, tires eating up the highway and its cramped, brutal congestion out of the city. On a Friday afternoon. What promises to be a long drive promises to be even longer given the traffic, but in spite of her condition, the young woman is all smiles. Whether she is looking for a distraction herself, she doesn't say. If asked, she still manages to hold onto some degree of optimism - that everything would be fine. But just in case, she is not about to leave a friend on a lurch, in the event that she doesn't make it to the end of this week, or the next week.

She made a promise. Despite the urge to hibernate longer and longer as her vitality slowly drains out of her, consumed by the empty space within, she is determined to make this trip, if not just to make sure that Peter Parker gets the answers he needs from his mysterious stalker.

At the truncated question, though, the smile tempers at the corners, glimpsed from her wan profile should Peter look.

"We'll talk about that after we harass David Duchovny together," she tells him, giving him a wink. Reaching over, she wiggles the USB cord attached to the Jeep's stereo system. "So I think you should deejay for us because it's going to be a long drive. Anything you want, and if you prove impossible to wrangle or if you play any country, I swear to God, Pete, I will belt out the cheesiest eighties tunes no matter what you play and as a five-time karaoke /failure/, you really don't want that. You don't."

This is a genuine threat.

It does take them a few hours, and Zatanna is not exaggerating about her driving skills. She is an absolute /monster/ on the road, liable to turn a passenger's hair white, too accustomed to operating vehicles during hunting trips with her father (which often ends with being chased by some kind of horror), or her more strenuous excursions with Constantine where they're forced to drive for their lives without Chas' much more experienced hands. And she sings anyway, despite what she said before, and fills the drive with light chatter, because like him, she is a talker: About the weather, rhetorical questions about pop culture, and whether spandex loses its shine when someone goes /really really fast/ while wearing it.

Finally, they drive past the Albany limits, hitting the suburbs in short order. She slows down as they attempt to find the address she has managed to give Peter and finally stopping at a low bungalow, surrounded by empty acreage inundated by snow.

"…I guess this is it." She squints through the window. "You think anybody's home? I don't see a car…"

—-

'Peter Parker,' Zatanna begins. Peter listens. His lips purse around his straw as he slowly sucks down candy frappe goodness throughout it all.

"… Man I'm glad you don't know my middle name to make that even more 'Mom-Grade Severe,' I don't think I could handle the weirdness of that," is his eloquent response, punctuating an equally eloquent slurp of his straw. He pauses for a moment. Considers, carefully.

"… You're, uh, probably better off driving than I am, anyway. I don't like— travel. … conventionally." Which is his way of saying he's too busy (lazy) to learn to drive when he never leaves New York and can just websling wherever he wants.

"… still, try not to get us killed? That'd like — kinda suck." Maybe, just a bit.

Pulling his earbuds free, Peter turns his hazel gaze towards the outside world as it starts to roll past them with the uneven acceleration of the Jeep. People begin to blur just before they hit traffic; brown brows furrow just a bit. Yeah. This is going to take forever. Part of him feels like suggesting they just web-sling their way out of the city, except they'd never be able to get to Albany that way, and, well…

… just looking at her like that, so fatigued, almost gaunt even through her attempts at smile and good cheer, well… Peter's not entirely confident how well she'd fare through a trip like that.

Her smile truncates, just a bit. Peter chooses not to call attention to it; instead, he looks back to her at her offer, hazel eyes tired but thoughtful. Silent. And then, his answer is as simple as a nod. "After," he agrees. After. He'll hold her to that. But right now, well…

"And — cheesy eighties? C'mon, Zee. I mean — no offense, but, like. You think -way- too small," reprimands the aspiring spider-hero(/menace) with the slight shake of his head as he mans thr controls for their music. "You gotta go… -deeper-." And so, Peter loads up a song, and the Jeep fills with the dramatic, inspirational tunes of…

'Waterloo' by ABBA.

And so it goes like that, one increasingly ecclectic choice of old pop favorites after another (and one very subtle attempt to get through highly appropriate Garth Brooks' 'Shameless,' followed by some Chris Gaines abomination or another), filling those hours with an increasingly surreal soundtrack flavored by panicked cries for mercy every now and then.

Maybe more than every now and then.

Maybe it's more like high-pitched squealing sometimes, too.

It's a great miracle that Peter Parker's hair is NOT Steve Martin-grade premature-white by the time that Jeep comes to its hellacious stop and Peter Parker heaves an, "OH THANK GOD," that's probably meant to tease more than anything else, if his smile is any indication. Or the way he follows it up with,

"Uh. I mean. Thank god we're here. Not… thank god you didn't mercy kill us on the road. Which is not a thing I thought was gonna happen. Nope. Don't worry about it. Oh hey look a bungalow!"

And so, Peter wisely turns his attention immediately on the house, brows furrowing inward thoughtfully as he cants his head to the right.

"Maybe he doesn't have a car? Maybe he travels by scooter. Did you see a scooter at the gala? Maybe we should start looking into whether scooters are a thing secret agents use, or something."

A second passes.

"… or it might be in the garage. Maybe… … maybe we should check."

There's only a bit of trepidation in his voice. Whether it's anxiety, or excitement, it's hard to say. But… if the way he's opening the door to hop out and make a brisk pace towards the house is any indication, he's certainly ready to get to the bottom of all this. For good or for ill.

(probably ill)

—-

At the loud 'OH THANK GOD', Zatanna gives him the flattest look imaginable.

But the smile he flashes at her earns him a grin of her own, enough to banish whatever pall has fallen over her. She unbuckles her seatbelt and opens the door, boots crunching into the leavings of dry snow dusting the ground, ice breaking like glass at the barest amount of pressure. The cold air seems to help as well, slashing color back on her too-pale cheeks, a ruddy red pushing up from underneath dormant blood vessels. But when she takes a breath, the resulting mist is barely there, dissipating instantly once it reaches the wide open space.

"You're really invested in this Zoolander thing, aren't you?" she asks, though it's a question does not beg for an answer. Still, as she gives a considering glance towards the bungalow, she purses her lips. "Yeah we should probably check. You ready to add another felony to your list of accolades?"

She winks at Peter at that, before stuffing her hands in her pockets. Her slim, long-legged strides go around the vehicle after locking it, crossing the distance and hiking one leg over the dilapidated fence. She, understandably, keeps close to her much more physically able companion - her weakened condition does not guarantee her the usual mystical powerhouse workings that Peter is accustomed to seeing from her. As she sort of kind of hides behind the freelance photojournalist, she does not beat herself up too much about it. In fact, she considers it her responsibility to ensure that nothing else happens to her, if not just to prevent John Constantine from unleashing the End of Days.

"You don't mind, do you?" she asks him quietly, though she doesn't quite meet his eyes, feeling the salt fall over the cuts on her pride. "I'm not…." She isn't feeling well, is what she wants to say, but doesn't. Her friend is worried enough.

The garage itself is nondescript and it doesn't even appear like it's automatic, judging by the padlock holding it shut. Perhaps in an effort to ease her crimefighting buddy's conscience, the young woman crouches on one knee, drawing hairpins out of her hair so she can pick the lock. Unsurprisingly, she does this in less than five seconds. Were she the daughter of anyone else, she would probably make an excellent thief, one of those Ocean's Eleven types that rely on plenty of charm and sleight of hand.

When they pry open the door just a touch, and peek inside, they would find the garage devoid of vehicles. And like any other garage, there is a door leading to the interior of the house.

And it is quiet - eerily so.

Maybe nobody /was/ home and they were lucky. Then again, it /was/ in the twilight hours. If the guy worked in New York City, it would take him a while to get back.

"We better hurry," she tells Peter.

But she'll let him go first, though she hangs back to see if he has any better ideas other than going through the front door. Because it's Zatanna, she /always/ goes through the front door.

—-

"Honestly I just don't know what other Duchavny references to make," Peter Parker confides as he slides outside and feels the chill buffet his skin and rustle at his parka. "X-Files is just lazy. And makes me feel uncomfortable." He looks back, holding onto the door as he leans in.

"Like — seriously? If I see an old dude smoking a cigarette in there, we are running. Not politely backing away. Running. Like that guy who's really good at running. The Flasher?" Close enough.

A lopsided smile follows that, hidden behind a puff of air before the vigilante-slash-college-student shuts the door. Hands shoving into his pockets, he looks to the bungaloo again with scrunched brows. It's eerie how quiet it is. He doesn't like eerily quiet things. It's ominous. Like all horror movies, ever. And there's a creepily dilapidated fence. Is he about to enter the Texas Chainsaw Massacre house? It's not even Texas! How—

"Well… JJJ already thinks I'm a train-robbing terrorist from outer space, so what's a little breaking and entering at this point?" he tries to joke. Maybe it doesn't sit easy with him, but at the same time — he's a vigilante. And, more importantly, he needs answers. Before this becomes something bigger than just 'some guy spying on him.'

Shoulders rolling in a helpless shrug, Peter grips that (GOD DAMN CREEPY) fence before hopping over it, waiting next to it for Zatanna to cross over before pressing further. He notices her proximity, her positioning behind him, like she was hiding from the world behind all five foot ten of him. It's not like the Zatanna he knows, who boldly marched into certain danger every single time he's interacted with her. Following now, instead of leaving. He knows why — even if not how.

And so he just presses on, leading this time with an easy if cautious confidence as he marches his way toward the garage. She doesn't meet his eyes when she asks that question, and he doesn't stop moving either, even as he glances over his shoulder. His brows furrow inward, but he's still smiling when he says, "I do. … buuuut I guess that just means I'll have to help you figure out how to fix it so it stops bugging me, right?" A moment passes, as he steps to the side in front of the garage.

"… After," he says, an echo of that sentiment hours ago. "And — y'know — 'til then— " 'it's alright.' He doesn't say it, but his expression picks up the pace for his lack of words.

He promised her he'd keep an eye on Constantine. It's only fair he look out for her, too, when she needs it. Because they're friends.

But then also, she proves herself to be like, a hundred times more competent than him at breaking into homes, a fact that has him kind of looking around a -little- anxiously to make sure no one catches them even as he asides, "Are you sure you're not secretly, like, a cat burglar? Because there's a -lot- of those in the supervillain world. And a -lot- of them take the cat part -really literally-. I mean, like— oh wow are you done already?"

She sure is. Before he can even finish his quip. He'd feel bad about that, but, well… he's too busy letting curiosity get the better of him. He peers inside. No vehicles. Nothing. Just a door. No one's home…?

Even if they're not, it's not a guarantee it'll stay that way for long; and so, Peter just nods quietly, before slipping into that garage. Him? Have better ideas than 'rushing in headfirst'? … Well, maybe. But they all probably involve a lot of climbing walls and he's not quite sure she has the adhesive strength he does. Maybe. And so, he just dips inside, makes his way toward the front door, looks around cautiously.

And then starts up the most laughably innocent whistling as he idly tests the doorknob to see if he can just, like, slide inside like he owns the place.

Smooooooth.

—-

Later. There is plenty of time later.

Zatanna smiles faintly, giving his shoulder a nudge with her own before they proceed to enter the mystery house. She has the presence of mind to slip the garage door back shut, though there's nothing she can do about the disengaged padlock outside. With Peter going through the front door first, she examines her surroundings carefully - the smell of paint is strong in the garage, and there is a right mess, tools and boxes full of papers and other items stuffed in. It's as if whoever owns the house has not bothered unpacking everything he owns and as she passes by the scattered boxes, she sees labels in marker: KICHEN. BEDROOM, BATHROOM…

The door leading into the interior of the house opens, creaky and noisy due to rusty hinges. The smell of aged paper and varnish is strong and the narrow alcove leads them into a dingy kitchen where the barest essentials are kept. The interior of the house appears to be in the middle of some manner of restoration work, though judging by how paint wicks in forgotten rollers, nobody has tried to do any work for some time. The wooden floors are badly scuffed, half of them torn out - yet another abandoned project, of replacing and refurbishing the slats.

The house is laid out flat, all in a single area though for all they know, it has a basement or some lower living space. There are other doors leading to other rooms, there is no open concept here - a sparsely furnished living room, a chair and a tv stand and a high-definition TV, the only thing that appears relatively modern in the house.

And then Peter would feel it. His danger sense acts up, /screaming/ across his mind just as someone from their blindside cocks a shotgun.

"/PETER!/" comes Zatanna's shriek.

The loud /crack/ of the twelve gauge sounds like a cannon inside of the house.

—-

Well, that's a familiar sensation.

Not really an encouraging one, though.

It happens as hazel eyes sweep the room, taking in the spartan, incomplete furnishings. Abandoned? Or maybe someone just stopped moving in. Or… they never intended on living here for long? Just the bare essentials are here. Paint… left behind. Why? What are the owners doing…?

"I wonder if they've got like a file drawer or something labeled 'ALL OF DAVID DUCHOVNY'S CREEPY SECRETS.' I'm going to let you brave that one. I'm not strong enough to risk seeing his weirdo sex pract—"

KHH-CHHK

"— ices aw crap."

'/PETER!/'

Everything slows down for Peter in that moment. Whoever it is is coming in from behind. They're going to fire on them any minute now. No hesitation. He can get out of the way, but Zatanna — especially in her state — he's not betting on her being fast enough. He could go for the ceiling, web te weapon, yank it away — but if they don't know his secret, he can't give that away. He has to deal with this carefully. Quickly. He has to deal with this -quickly- —

A trigger pulls. Peter lunges, even as his hazel eyes look wildly around him. He grabs Zatanna, twisting so that his back is presented to the gunfire and not hers as they go flying. His reflexes are dizzying, his speed almost blinding.

The two of them go flying as a pellet tears through Peter's pantsleg and knicks his thigh.

"Ghh— !" Crimson paints the floor and the wall where the house's owner has fallen behind with neglect. The college student lands on his shoulder, still shielding Zatanna, because if what happens next doesn't work—

— if the long-forgotten can of paint he yanks up and -hurls- in the direction of the deafening thunderblast of weapons fire doesn't hit that weapon with unnerving precision and -just- enough force to jar it from their assailant's grasp—

— he's not letting his friend be in the way of whatever comes next.

—-

She doesn't have time to quip back about David Duchovny's file cabinet of secrets when things happen all at once.

She is launched off her feet by the way Peter grabs her; with his strength he's able to /lift/ her clear off the floor, considering the fact that she has gotten considerably lighter in the last few days. Blindingly fast, the world blurs around her even as her friend protects them both, though between the two of them, /he/ is the one in immediate danger considering the long muzzle of the gun has been pointed straight at him. Pale eyes fly open wide, spots of garish color flying, staining the wooden floors, the yellowed walls.

Blood.

Peter's blood.

The discharge spices the air around them with the unmistakeable traces of hot lead and cordite, mingling with the violent expenditures of crimson life. Both of them crash onto the floor, knocking the wind out of her lungs. Her hand is up, her ivory fingertips sparking blue and white, calling up a ward with a choked, but audible breath. The protective bubble, tattered and frayed on the ends, shuddering from the lack of the rest of her, but holding out of sheer insurmountable will, envelopes the both of them. An arm grips Peter to her tightly, her eyes forward.

Pale, gaunt, a ghostly imitation of her former self, the adrenaline dripping hot and fast through her veins momentarily brings back the Zatanna he knows; the one who charged at the stage to rip the Liber Consecratus out from Gottfried Muller's hands. A flush of vibrant, red anger tortures her cheeks, her lips curled to bare a hint of her teeth. Her fingers shake from the strain, but she holds because she /must/ and Peter has been /shot/.

The shadow falls over them, the shotgun pointed and a few feet away from them, half-illuminated by the dying light of day is the man in Peter's photographs, his gray eyes narrowed and thick fingers keeping the firearm aloft. His grip is practiced, his posture perfect, indicative of a long history of wielding dangerous weapons. Tall, even for a man, he is at least six-foot-four, and while his clothes are baggy and ill-fitting, there is a wiry strength evident in the shoulders that he uses to brace the butt of the rifle against one of them.

His finger tightens on the trigger….but the sudden appearance of the bubble of protection has his eyes going wide, and it is enough of a distraction for the paint can to knock the gun sideways and cause it to blast harmlessly on the far wall. Wood splinters on impact.

He staggers backwards, swinging back to both teenagers angrily….until Peter manages to turn and face forward and…

His face drains of color.

"…Peter Parker…?"

Confirmation enough that he knows the young man, even though the young man does not know him. The gun clatters uselessly on the ground. "Oh, god, I didn't…I…what the /hell/ are you doing here?!"

—-

It's sad to say, but Peter's had much worse than this in his short life as a vigilante. Just a few days ago he had stone slabs pulverized against his ribs. Compared to that, this — the pain of it is ignorable, at least.

Inwardly, he just quietly thanks the spider gods above that he heals so fast. He doesn't know what part of a spider that actually comes from, but when it comes to 'not having to explain why his ribs have been turned into fine powder to Aunt May,' he frankly doesn't care. Godspeed, bamboozling spider-powers.

Gunpowder wafts across his nostrils, bringing him a sort of sense of alertness that the haze of that blitz might not have afforded. It makes him more aware of the twinge of iron in the air — oh good, he's bleeding, that's great, -all over his clothes- — but more importantly…

… it brings into focus that mixture of crackling blue and white doming the air above him like they were being protectively coccooned in a sky in miniature. Hazel eyes snap wide in surprise, not by the act itself, but by the fact that Zatanna is ushering forth that power in her condition. He feels like he ought to say something, to tell her to stop.

He also recognizes he doesn't really have time to do so when there's a guy with a shotgun trained on them. The can buys them time. He tenses himself, prepared to spring through and tackle the other man if he has to. He sees him. Taller than him easily by half a foot, a certain sort of preparation in the way the lean muscles of his body tense that Peter's long-before has had to recognize as a mark of experience. He's going to have to be careful about how he approaches this. Give enough to make it seem like a stroke of luck that he tackles the man to the floor and manages to knock him unconscious. He can do it. He can do this. He has a plan. Clobber him until he forgets they were ever here. Simple and eloquent. His body tenses, the ridges of his fingertips scrape the wood beneath him, he prepares the lunge—

'… Peter Parker…?'

And then slowly pauses.

"— You know my name?"

Peter Parker doesn't lunge. He also doesn't dare try to move from that bubble, either. His muscles don't unwind yet, prepared for the worst. Suspicion rides in his hazel gaze as he glares at the other man, only pausing to spare a brief glance to Zatanna to see if she's alright. He knows him. As Peter Parker.

And Peter has no idea who he is.

"Who the hell are— what am I doing here??" Uhhhhh— "Y'know, I— You don't get to ask me that when you almost blew me in half with a shotgun, guy!! Guy whose -name I don't even know-! Who are you? Why are you stalking me?! Trying to shotgun me to death!? Is this some sort of Fatal Attraction situation?! — wait no, that's weird, pretend that was something more— THAT'S NOT THE POINT WHO THE HELL ARE YOU??"

Peter's pretty good at this interrogation thing.

—-

"You were stalking him in Gotham," Zatanna supplies from somewhere behind and underneath Peter, her protective bubble sparking and crackling at the seams. She sounds breathless, with both fright and fury, and the worry that if the guy does intend to shoot them again she may not have enough juice to repel all of the bullets. "During the Antiquities Commission's New Year's Eve event. We saw the pictures, you were looking /right/ at him." She came to help Peter look for answers, she is not just going to stay there silent while he does all of the talking. They were in this together.

The David Duchovny lookalike, decidedly /not/ a hand model, given the many calluses present on those large, knobby fingers, keeps staring at the two teens from where he stands, his jaw working for the words. Tension strings up and hardens the vein at the side of his throat, visibly ticking - Peter's heightened senses would pick it up easily, the way blood roars in his veins. Underneath his collar, he starts to sweat.

He pauses, struggling for the words, and once he finds them, they leave him slowly, hesitantly, a quick look over his shoulder taken as if he fully expects to see someone behind him….or suddenly interrupt him.

"Call me Blake," he says. He doesn't not clarify whether this is a first or last name. "I was a…" His cheek twitches faintly, a spasmodic tic. "….I knew your parents. Richard and Mary Parker. I thought…"

He falls silent, gauging Peter's wide-eyed expression, and the girl he is protecting, and who is protecting him in turn. The shimmering bubble of magic sets his teeth on edge. God, what the hell was he thinking? They were just kids.

"…it was a mistake," he says, losing his nerve. He reaches out to pluck the shotgun off the floor. "Following you. Trying to look into you. I thought that maybe…" He hesitates. He thinks of the family he lost, and his own boy.

"It was a mistake," he repeats. "I'm sorry."

With that, he retrieves the shotgun and starts to turn.

"Don't try and come looking for me again."

He takes a step away, moving towards the front door of the house.

—-

So, observation one: his hands are way too gnarled to be a hand model.

-Major- disappointment.

If this were any other situation, if Peter was wearing a different, more spidery mask than 'Peter Parker,' he might have extrapolated some gripping tragedy about how his hand model career was ruined the day Zoolander got his glass jars smashed and now he's out for revenge against all people with beautiful hands (like Peter, -obviously-).

But he isn't. So he doesn't.

But it's -so tempting-.

It's overridden by the sheer tension in the room right now, the amount of things that have swiftly spiraled out of control and are dominating his attention. For one, the way Zatanna strains with that barrier. He can see her from his peripheries, and just from how much that barrier sparks like an electrical socket about to give out.

For another, this guy looks stressed. Really stressed. Like he's about to burst a blood vessel stressed. He's surprised, shocked — doubtful? Confused? Peter's not sure, but the unknowns of all this are just making him all the more tense himself. He doesn't trust, like, any of this. And he's also bad at expressing it clearly. Clearly.

"Yeah, what she said!!" -Yeah-. "And I— "

'….I knew your parents. Rich a r d a n d M a r y. . .'

Everything falls into a numb haze of shock for Peter Parker. Blood rushes to his ears and the wild beat of his heart drowns out the words this man who calls himself Blake tries to say. His parents. His parents. His…

To say he's never thought of them after they disappeared, after they… … it would be a lie. Aunt May and Uncle Ben were as good as parents to him as he could ever ask for, and in that he was truly lucky, but even so, he… he…

'. . . m i stake.'

"… what?"

The world rushes back into focus for Peter like a slingshot. The man takes his shotgun. Starts to move. Tries to warn them off. "What? You can't just — no. You /can't/— " He's already pressing a hand on Zatanna's shoulders to ask her to quell her barrier. Maybe in part so she doesn't strain herself, but almost everything else has bled away now, and he's moving before he's even realizing he's moving. He's pressing forward toward the man before he even realizes what he's doing.

Trying to grab at his arm with a surprisingly strong grip before he even realizes his fingers are curling tenaciously.

Desperately.

"You don't get to say you — you — know my -parents- and just— just— wander off! Like you're so— so— " He bites his lower lip, shakes his head. "How did you know my parents?? What's going on here?? Do you know what happened— when they— … they…" His fingers tremble. His will cracks, just a bit, in a rush of old half-recalled memories.

"… why?" is all he can think to ask. What is he asking? Why? Why is Blake here? Why was this a mistake? Why did his parents know a man who looked so experienced with violence?

Why did his parents have to disappear from his life—?

What is he asking? The simple answer is… he isn't even sure. For a brief moment, Peter Parker is just… confused.

And afraid.

—-

At Peter's insistence, Zatanna drops the barrier, and Peter is off like a shot. "W…wait, Peter your leg!" she cries; she knows that the young man is capable of death-defying feats of strength and agility, but the fact that he is still bleeding is /concerning/ to her. She struggles up from the floor and manages to get back on her boots, but before she can do anything, the freelance photographer is already back in the living room and giving chase to the man known as Blake.

She stops, the words finally sinking into her addled brain. His parents…? Why was he…? And the way he was /acting/…

It wasn't so long ago, just a couple of days before, in fact, that Tim Drake had imparted upon her the details of his parents' death. She had already known he was an orphan, though considering his status as part of the Drake, and later the Wayne family, those details of his private life would have been made public. On the same week, she knows a bit of Jessica's history as well - same deal, a car accident taking the lives of her entire family but herself. She has wondered since then who among her other friends has suffered such a devastating lost, as she seems to be surrounded by orphans no matter where she ends up. Peter Parker, open, awkwardly affectionate and friendly Peter Parker, is the /last/ person in her circle that she expects this to come from.

And by the way he takes off after the strange man with the shotgun, she tastes it in the air, and feels her stomach sink. Hesitation and sorrow fall heavily on her features, wrought all the more fragile by her condition. Part of her wonders if she should follow, or if she should leave him alone…

But she can't. She won't. It's not her way.

She follows with decisive, purposeful strides.

Before 'Blake' can open the door, his arm is snagged by a fierce, superhuman grip - one that belies the strength a young man under six foot who doesn't appear to be all that imposing should have. There's a flare of surprise in those gray eyes, locking on the way he is gripping his arm, and then back at Peter's face. He sees Richard's brow, and Mary's eyes, and he can't help but press his lips together, a sudden wave of emotion threatening to flood the cage of his ribs.

Sorrow, and guilt most of all.

"…I was supposed to look after them," he finally says quietly. To his credit, he doesn't look away from him. "Your parents…your dad. His work was important, and dangerous. Dangerous people wanted it. And were it not for him, dangerous people would have gotten their hands on it."

Finally, he looks away to stare at the door. "They say it was an accident. It wasn't."

With that, he tries to shake Peter's hand off and once he does, he opens the door, but before he takes a step out, he looks over his shoulder.

"Dassau Aviation v. Catterly," he cites. "It's a pending class action suit filed in New York. Your uncle was a plaintiff, before his death. If looking into it doesn't scare you off…I'll come find you."

And with that, the door shuts.

—-

It hurts to walk; he's probably agitating the injury with every step. He doesn't seem to notice, or care. Peter Parker is single-minded in those moments, and for all his lack of eloquence in expressing the complicated and confusing gamut of emotions running through him, he is undeterred in making his frustration known. His desperation. Anything.

Peter Parker has… had… lived a very normal life. With very normal parents. They didn't have much, but he was happy.

They weren't his real parents… but he was happy.

But all this opens up old wounds he had thought healed over, and suddenly the young man can't help himself. He's so unaware of himself right now that he isn't even cognizant of the force his grip is exerting — fortunately not enough to shatter bones like they were no more durable than pretzel rods, but enough that it shouldn't be possible for a young man of his height, his weight, his build. He doesn't notice. It's debatable he even cares at this point. He just doesn't want this person to leave. He -can't- let him leave. And so he won't. He can't. He sees the shift in the other man's expression, subtle but there, his own a mask of confusion and agitation that knots that familiar brow and widens those familiar eyes.

And what the man says is… well… difficult for Peter to follow. Not because it confuses him, but because it's so unexpected that it sounds, at first, like gibberish. Words that have no meaning by themselves that his brain refuses to process. His lips twist together, and then part; his head shakes. "Important… dangerous?" he echoes back, as if trying to wrap his mind around the words. As if he could understand the implications just by parroting them back. "What do you— my dad, my mom weren't…"

Just what did his parents do? He tries to insist otherwise, but realization strikes him.

He just doesn't know. He doesn't…

They say it was an accident.

It wasn't.

Anger spikes in him for a moment, but his surprise-laxed grip is easy for 'Blake' to pry free from, to retreat away from. Anger that never quite solidly reaches his expression is soon tempered by guilt at the mention of his uncle; despite himself, Peter's hazel gaze casts askance, his free hands curling into fists at his sides. For once, Peter Parker is rendered truly speechless by confusion. By shock.

By that creeping, nagging sense of fear icing the pit of his gut.

Dassau Aviation v. Catterly. He'll remember that. Parker can only nod once, in silence, as the door shuts and that man who had just bulldozed his entire life disappears. He's quiet, gazing at that empty space as if it could magically make 'Blake' reappear with all the answers he wants — he NEEDS — if he just stared -hard- enough.

It's the dull sting of his thigh that slowly draws him back to reality. His throat is dry. His eyes squeeze shut.

By the time he looks back to Zatanna, his face spells worry for her — but also so many other things that paint a war of sentiments on his features.

"Um. That was awkward, right?" he ventures. His voice is hoarse. He wishes it wasn't. His next words are as much a diversion as they are genuinely concerned: "Are you alright? That spell…"

—-

She watches as the man named Blake seals the door shut, marking his exit from this very strange encounter. Zatanna is still on edge, no matter the fatigue, adrenaline does its work, keeping her upright and her blood boiling at the sight of Peter's bleeding leg. It is only compounded by his very visible agitation at the man's words before he leaves, suddenly reminded of her own father. Giovanni Zatara, mystical powerhouse, savior of the world, was always big on the mystery, and not so much with the details. Every time he leaves, those who encounter him have more questions than answers, and this illustrates some glaring similarities that only drives her frustration upwards. She has always been an emotional mirror, set upon the world to reflect and amplify what the other person is feeling, and as she watches her friend bunch up his fingers into tight fists at his sides, she can't help but feel it too.

When he turns around, she glimpses his worry, and her pale lips set in a tight line. "/Me/?" she blurts out, unable to help herself, because her own needs rank secondary in her list of priorities when there is another person to consider. "Peter, you're the one who got /shot/. Come over here, and let me take a look at it." She is already reaching for him, tugging him lightly by the arm, already looking for a place so she could see to his injuries. It doesn't matter if her magic is weak - bullets are easy. Shrapnel, she can do.

Once she manages to get Peter seated on something - the floor, given the state of this shell of a house, she inspects the blood, her fingers moving to hover lightly above the injury. Like a live cable cut, blue-white sparks manifest from her digits again. It is a far cry from her effortless sorcery and she grits her teeth at the strain. But she /will/ do it. She will not countenance her friend bleeding all over the place. Especially when she knows how precious blood is.

She works in silence, for a while, but that isn't bound to last. She is as always straightforward with her emotions, open and reckless enough to charge through the volatile minefields of human interactions. Those faded eyes look up at Peter's hazel ones.

"You're not fine." This is a statement, not a question. "Pete, whatever it is….you helped me, so let me help with this one. Okay? What just happened…?"

About your parents, is what she wants to ask. It is implied. Concern ripples over her expression, stones cast in a placid lake.

"I've never seen you like this before," she confesses quietly.

—-

In some ways, they are maybe too much alike. Peter only blinks when Zatanna calls out the state of his leg, looking down at the blood staining at the denim of his jeans with a thoughtful frown as if he was just now remembering it was there. It doesn't really change what he says next, though, "Yes, -you-," uttered in an equally flabbergasted way at his friend. "This is nothing, you're the one who looks like they're about to pass out — like — with a stiff breeze, or whatever! I've had way worse than this, and you— "

You look like you're dying. The words seize in his throat. He looks to the floor.

It's without a word that he settles onto the ground a second later, only pausing Zatanna's work with a single poke to her shoulder to catch her attention. "Don't push yourself. I'm serious. None of this putting on a tough front stuff. I don't know what's… what's happening. But…" But he's lost too many people in his life already. His brows knit inward. "… just don't run yourself to empty, okay? I heal fast. Really. Bind it, and this'll be gone by tomorrow."

If she insists, he won't stop her. He doesn't make a peep, trusting that she knows her limits even as he sees that magical energy sputter like a faucet straining to drag water out of its rusted depths. Even as the stress shows in the tension of her body. He just watches, quietly, hazel eyes going distant in to some far off thought. Memories, concerns — doubts. They drag him into a mire—

You're not fine. "Huh?" Those eyes refocus, snapping to Zatanna's faded blue. Unsettling or entirely different reasons now. She offers her help, even now. Even when she's like this.

"I…" he begins slowly, quietly, chewing on his bottom lip in quiet introspection.

"Sorry. I don't usually — y'know. I'm still— still kinda awkward. I just haven't thought about them in a while. I wasn't expecting to — I mean — to ever think about them again. Not like this. Not like…"

He shakes his head. His gaze retrains on Zee, as he offers an apologetic smile in the face of her concern.

"… my parents… there was an accident when I was little." Not an accident. Not a— "My aunt and uncle raised me after, since I was little. It's not, like— my Aunt May has been as good to me as any parent. And my uncle…" He looks aside again. If he feels pain in his leg, he certainly isn't feeling it now. "… I wouldn't be what I am today if it wasn't for him. But…"

But it's his parents. His parents. Someone might know what happened to them. What really happened to them.

But—

"Zee. It's… it's after, now," he quests slowly. "I know you want to help me, but… you're my friend, too. So let me help you, first. So you— " He hesitates, but now's not the time to pull punches, not when her state is so clearly concerning. So purely precarious. "— so you can be there, to help me. Okay— so—

"… what's happening to you, Zee?"

—-

"So unsolved mystery, huh? Okay. We'll figure it out."

Shrapnel dissipates into mist, leaving open wounds. They stitch together, muscles regenerating and skin regrafting until they're clean. The light poke in her shoulder earns Peter a faint smile, though her eyes remain focused on her work, undeterred. She can be just as stubborn as he is, when she feels like she /must/ do something, and in a way this is infinitely preferrable to thinking about what is happening to her now. The seconds are precious, the chasm inside of herself growing by the minute, and she would rather be there for her friends than dwell on the possibility that she will never see them again. It keeps her motivated, centered. It keeps her grasp on her old spirit, her boundless heart; things that she fought to keep even while shadowy organizations bent on world domination (or she assumes so anyway because that's what they do according to the movies) wrested everything else away from her.

"You remember Tim Drake from the party?" she murmurs, apropos of nothing. "He lost his parents also and around the same week, Jess told me the same. It got me thinking that…I was hoping that at the very least you wouldn't have anything painful that you're keeping. But I guess…you don't just fall in what you do without something to influence your decision into going out there and helping people every day." Because that's what Tim and Jessica do. "Peter, I'm sorry….about your parents. I didn't know. And now this guy just…" Just /upended/ everything. He'd see that flash of anger, her old spirit rising to the fore. Diminished, yes, but not gone. Never gone.

"Jess is a private investigator. She's older, a professional," she offers. "I'll ask her tonight if she knows someone who can help us look at…what was it? Dassau versus Catterly? It sounds like a court case, she probably knows a bunch of lawyers we can ask for advice. And— "

'It's after, now.'

She pauses, her eyes drift somewhere to the middle of his shirt and for a while, she says nothing.

Slowly, her bloodied fingers reach to take his own, slowly threading those fingers through his and gripping securely. A chill encroaches in the edges of her warmth, akin to how outside elements seep into the hearts of live coals left to die in the woods.

"I…knew someone who I was trying to help get better," she begins, her pale eyes ticking upward to look at him directly. "He's not all there in the head, you've met him I think, the guy with the metal arm who came with you guys to Switzerland. John knows him also. But the two of us thought…whatever he was going through, he was getting better. He's Captain America's friend after all. His best friend. Whatever was done to him, he was starting to remember. Jess thinks mind control but I honestly don't know much about his situation to know and…"

She sighs. Drawing up her shoulders, she sets her jaw stubbornly.

"He's backed by some….behind-the-scenes organization that pulls strings in world events and for some reason they wanted me so after luring me to a meeting, he took me and brought me to his boss and…" Her free hand lifts, scrubbing the side of her face. "God, Peter. They knew about me. My soul. They took this artifact called the Tarnhelm in the auction and they /fed me/ to it. If it wasn't for John, I'd be…"

She doesn't want to say it.

"I fought hard enough to keep what I have but I don't…without the rest of me I don't know how long I have. I made you a promise so…" Her voice falters. "So I figured before….before anything else happened that I'd come with you to find out what's going on here. Because I didn't want you to do this alone and…" Moisture, damning, traitorous, /unwanted/, fills her eyes.

"…I didn't want you to do this alone," she repeats quietly.

—-

"Tim Drake? —Oh, yeah. Your friend. Isn't he…?" Peter begins to venture, but doesn't need to. Google is a powerful tool. And after Bruce God Damn Wayne himself (he doesn't know if that's his actual, god-given middle name, he just hopes it is) adjusted his tie, Peter felt compelled to use it. To gush. And because he's a nerd.

But he knows enough to know Tim Drake is one of the wards of Gotham's Favorite Son. Which means… exactly what Zatanna confirms. There's a brief pang of sympathy there, as Peter casts his gaze towards the ground. Some sort of camaraderie for a young man he barely knows. But Peter lost his parents when he was so young, too young to truly remember as clearly as he liked. He thought, too young to make the pain truly sting.

Even as he feels the curl of his fingers still dug into his palms, he knows that wasn't even remotely true. But you never know the things you care about until you're truly confronted with them.

But… she offers her apologies. Her sympathies. He shakes his head. "It's okay," he utters after a moment. "… thanks but… it's okay. I just… wanna know the truth, y'know?" It's what he tells himself. It's what he makes himself believe. But even so, the things you care about…

"… It… it wasn't them, that I'm — they're not the reason I do what I do. I miss them. I do. I wish I knew more about them, that they didn't — that they were still— But… this was for someone else." Someone just as important.

But that's not something he can talk about. Not now. So he focuses on other things. On mentions of a 'Jess' who can help. It probably helps he doesn't know that's 'Scary Lady Assblaster.' "Yeah. Dassau — Aviation." He said his Uncle Ben was involved. Because of the accident— ?

"… Thanks, Zee, I really just— thank you." Because it's something he has to find out.

And Zatanna, despite everything, despite looking like she clings to a single red thread of what was once a vibrant tapestry, is still trying to help him. And so — he waits. Waits for her to feel ready to talk. And when he feels those cooling fingers find his own, he hesitates only briefly before he curls his fingers inward against Zatanna's in a comforting and quiet squeeze, even despite the invasive chill of her touch, like embers snuffed out by the unfeeling pall of the winter gust.

And when she speaks, he listens. Quietly, even if his features are too expressive not to provide a silent conversation to her every word, in a gamut that runs from confusion to anger to dismay. The man with the metal arm. The man who killed all those people. Who was with them when they fought the empusa. Who was at the gala.

Among them, all that time. If he only paid more attention, if he only knew, if he only…

His fingers clench more tightly around Zatanna's. Supportive, if not guilty. Steadfast despite his doubts. His brows wind against each other in consternation, his lips pull into a thin line. "They — took your soul— ?" He can barely even wrap his head around how such a thing is possible. He doesn't try. This isn't the time to satisfy scientific curiosity. She's like this — she's -dying- like this— and still, she… she…

It's impulsive, the way his free arm wraps around her, and quietly draws her into a hug. To attempt to comfort that which cannot be comforted. Not really. But what else can he do now? She feels so faint, like she might whisp into so much winter vapor between his fingers just from the touch alone, but it doesn't stop him. It doesn't stop him from managing a smile, warm, if not faint, to offset the way she feels so cool.

"You're a— you're the most stubborn idiot I know," he chides, but the reprimand never reaches his tone, his voice gentle despite everything. "You know that? Stubborn. Idiot. This wasn't — I wouldn't have… we should've…" But all the possible condemnations never reach his throat as anything more than a choked sound. Because she probably knew he never would have come here if he knew. After. "… but I guess I'm a stubborn idiot too, huh?"

Alone? His head tilts in a shake.

"I didn't. And I'm— I'm not. And you won't be, either."

No. He's already lost enough people important to him. Not this time, too.

"I don't care how secret they think they are or how many weirdos with metal arms they have or what mystical crap they load their spooky conspiravaults with. You helped me and — and now it's my turn to help you. I won't stop — won't let myself stop until you're whole again, Zee. I promise."

—-

She promised.

As much as she tries to be optimistic, there are no guarantees in this world and she at the very least wanted to fulfill this one. Quietly listening to what Peter talks about, a rare glimpse of his family life and the affection with which he speaks of his relatives, she can't help but smile, feel warmth drain into the yawning chasm inside her, glimmering faintly and lingering there, to be sacrificed later as the hours of her life continue to dwindle. She says very little, to his thanks, but her expression makes it plain that he is most especially welcome, that foggy stare softening around the corners and the look of her so tender that it eloquently demonstrates whatever words she could say. Zatanna squeezes their interlinked fingers, and she would have been content with that. She is content with the thank you, the look of gratitude she finds there, and warmth, because Peter is quite possibly the only one outside of her circle of close associates who freely demonstrates that aspect of him without fear.

She doesn't resist when he draws her in, soaking up this token affection like a sponge. Zatanna's head drops against his shoulder and her other arm curls back around to return the embrace. Long lashes shutter over her eyes, the slight tilt to angle her face against his shoulder and all she does for several long moments is breathe. Because the last thing she wants to do is cry on Peter and spill /everything/. How tired she is, how terrified she is, feeling herself slip away. Freely given methods such as these tend to loose such sentiments out into the wild and oh god, she doesn't want him to be sad for her. Or worry himself sick.

"Let's just say I'm part of an exclusive club that includes you, me and a handful of others," she says, her voice muffled into his shirt. "Stubborn Idiots Not-So-Anonymous. Because I'm pretty sure you've seen who I hang out with and they're all like that. I wouldn't have it any other way though. I think if we didn't drive one another crazy, we wouldn't recognize each other."

But her arm bands around him tightly. It's all she can do to stem the urge to sob.

"Pete…" she continues quietly. "I'm not all that worried about me, in the end. If it's my time to go, it's my time to go. But they said….they said after taking most of me that I was going to help so many people. This thing they have, it bends reality, and…even I don't know really know the extent of what they took from me. I think…so many people are going to be in trouble, if we don't find that thing and destroy it. That's what I'm worried about more than anything."

She takes a breath, easing back a little so she could look at him directly. She gives him a rueful smile. "Stuck with you, right?" she reminds. "So once I'm whole again, these bastards need a good asskicking and I'm /pretty/ sure if anything else, you can deliver that."

—-

He's bedrock, in those moments. Awkward Peter Parker might as well be a pillar of earth for the steadfast way he supports Zatanna against him. Hands clenched, one arm around her, quiet as he feels the rise and rush of every inhale and exhale. And just lets her… be. Whatever, however she wants. No doubt she's had so many platitudes to be offered, and any words he could offer to her in this moment feel like they would be hollow.

All he can offer is what is real. The companionship of a friend, and a promise.

A promise he'll walk through hell to see through.

"Your friends are scary," he notes to her, when she speaks once more, his voice subdued for all they joke. "You know I saw one of them punch their way through some eldritch-thing's butt? Hand to God!" His brows soften, his smile is a reassuring thing. "… If that's the kind of stubborn idiots you hang out with, I think you're like… totally in good hands. Seriously. They'll punch through monster butthole for you. That's friendship."

She continues, and he quiets. His head leans back against the yellow of the wall as he feels that arm coil around him. His own remains, grip strong but still faintly tremulous — as if afraid she might just sink through him like a phantom if he holds too tight. Might just crumble.

But she's stronger than that. She is. He knows that well enough. Her words don't come as a surprise, then, but even so, it makes a pensive frown forge its path across his lips as she speaks. "… Sure. If it's your time to go. But it's not. You're not going anywhere. Gonna hafta put up with us for years and years to come. Okay?" Saving the world, destroying reality bending relics, that's super important. Definitely. But…

"So we'll go find where these creepazoids are, right, and like — kick Naked Snake's ass so hard he becomes Punished Snake, hopefully not have to punch any asses open, destroy the Ark of the Covenant, save the world, do the hero thing… and y'know, in the meantime — I'll do the worrying for you. Because I am worried about you. We are. So…"

She leans back. Offers up that lamentable smile. Asskicking, he can do. Until then… he can just continue to support a friend who's already done so much for him in such a short amount of time. Rueful smile meets the goofy, lopsided tilt of Peter's own. Unassailably confident.

"Yep. Stuck with me."

Unassailably—

"Like Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear!"

— nerdy.

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