Notorious Knack for Trouble

January 27, 2017:

Zatanna Zatara and Peter Parker meet for tacos and catching up. What do two college students talk about on a Friday night? The potential end of the world as they know it, of course.

Mama Sita's - Queens - New York City

A hole-in-the-wall Mexican food joint in Queens.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Tim Drake, John Constantine, Bucky Barnes, Dr. Jane Foster, Bruce Wayne, Cindy Moon, Matthew Murdock, Jessica Jones

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

The text from Zatanna is incredibly upbeat.

It tells Peter two things immediately: one, that his friend is at the very least still alive and that was guaranteed to be, at least, a harrowing story once she tells him the details, and two, she was desperate for good tacos and New York City was probably the only major metropolise in the American eastern seaboard that has any decent Mexican food, given its status as one of the country's top destination for foodies. And so they decide to meet a few blocks away from Flushing Meadows Park, in a hole-in-the-wall-dive called Mama Sita's - small enough that there are only a few booths inside to take in in-restaurant customers, given that it isn't much of one, not when most of its regulars tend to just pick up food and go elsewhere to eat it. And, much like any other Mexican food place worth its weight in amazing, cheap food, it only takes cash.

Peter Parker would find her at the very back, clad in her signature black, though she has managed to add some color in today's ensemble - her long-sleeved overshirt is wrought out of black lace, tugged over a deep violet tanktop. She wears her usual ripped, black jeans, and the fishnets that she wears underneath them for an additional layer of texture, tucked within the long hems of her expensive black boots. But her clothes are nothing compared to the rest of her apperance…whatever had happened since the last time he saw her, she has shifted from appearing like a ghost of her former self, a grayscale imitation of the Zatanna he knew, into something /more/, as if pulling her out of the brink of death has evolved her into exceeding even what came before; pallor flushed with color from the cold, those striking-unsettling eyes downright luminescent. Even her hair now is the color of rich, molten darkness - blacker than black, pulled away from her face by a careless knot leaving the rest of those glossy, wavy streamers to spull down over her shoulders and back.

And her appetite. She is busily packing away her /second/ order of vegetarian tacos, taking occasional sips of her orange soda.

"Oh my god!" she exclaims when he finally shows up, hurriedly wiping her mouth with a napkin before lurching on her feet to give him a hug. "Hi! I'm sorry for the late notice, but I'm so glad you were able to meet me, I have so much to tell you."

She pauses, and lowers her voice, meeting his eyes. "I don't know how much time we have. I'm obviously better now but we might…" She scrubs her face with one hand. "/New York/ might have bigger problems than originally anticipated."

What.

—-

Peter Parker has been in something of a state of limbo with regards to Zatanna Zatara's situation. Ever since he learned of what was going on, the young man has tried to put in the time to find those responsible to try to help make things right again. But — what a poor kid from Queens can do to find and unroot a massive, decades-old conspiracy is somewhat limited, even for someone with abilities as bizarre as his. When pure stroke of luck brought him face to face with the Winter Soldier, he thought he finally had his opportunity.

… and when that slipped out of his fingers, too, well — Peter had no idea what was going to happen next, but history has taught him to prepare for the worst.

Receiving that call, then, comes as both a surprise and, most of all, an enormous relief to the young man. It might also explain why he's here at Mama Sita's in record time. He can study later; as it is, the young man ends up (discreetly) managing to make his way to a rooftop before just springing off and taking the swiftest route to Flushing Meadows: the aerial one.

So it's in no time flat that the door to the small restaurant opens with the slightest of jingles to herald the appearance of one particularly scruffy Peter Parker. Dressed in his blue parka and a long-sleeved shirt of red cotton (ha ha! color references!) with a dark pair of jeans, gloves, and typically overused shoes to finish out the ensemble, the young man runs a hand through that unkempt mop of brown hair as he looks around. When he finally spots Zatanna, well — hazel eyes widen. Just a bit.

So far, he's seen healthy-looking-if-not-run-ragged-Zatanna, plagued-by-death-runes-Zatanna, and looks-paler-than-Winona-Ryder-in-Beetlejuice-Zatanna (soulless edition!). Now, it's something new. Glow-in-the-dark-Zatanna? Arcane-super-magnet-Zatanna? He's not exactly sure. This is far from his forte.

And given how he just rushes over to wrap his friend up a surprisingly strong sort of hug the moment he sees her, odds are high he doesn't particularly care right now, either.

"What the hell happened??" he begins, before looking around, blinking, clearing his throat, and following this up with a more appropriate, "What the hell happened??" because it's -quieter-, see. "You just, like, went from looking like you were about to crumble like a Dracula— " he knows Dracula is a person and not a race, shut up, "— to looking like — like —" He should say something nice. Something flattering, maybe.

"— like you're gonna explode!" … "Y'know, in a, uh, good way, or whatever. Nevermind." There you go.

"Wait. New York? What? Why? Does it have to do with —" He should be subtle about this. "… rhymes with Schmucky Yarns?"

Good work, Peter.

—-

The rushing hug is a surprise, but triggers a wave of both joy and relief in the young woman. Nearly picked up off the floor, up until the tips of her boots lift a centimeter or two off the scuffs and grime, Zatanna clutches onto Peter like a life preserver, fingers tangled into the back of his unruly chocolate mop. Her eyes squeeze shut and she tries to give it as good as she receives it, which she'd have absolutely no prayer to do considering the young man's more superhuman characteristics. "Oh, god, Peter. Oh god…it's so good to see you," she tells him, words thick with emotion - affection, of course, and relief. In his hug, she feels /alive/…more than alive. "So good that I could just finally give you good news for a change!" After what had happened in Albany a few days ago, he could certainly use it.

There's a glance to the rest of the restaurant - save for people picking up food, the door jingling here and there to suggest newcomers whenever they arrive, the main floor is empty. Loosening the band her arms make around his neck, she gestures for him to take a seat and she follows, sliding across from him in the narrow booth and keeping her voice conversationally low. She even pushes some of the basket of nachos she ordered in front of him, along with the homemade salsa and guacamole. She has already ordered him a drink - just a regular cola. Mama Sita's was a strictly no-alcohol joint, considering the rumors that the Kingpin has a stranglehold on the distribution of liquor licenses in this part of the city.

"It was…" How to begin. "Jesus, Peter. It was a mess. Since…Schmucky Yarns was involved, John and Jess managed to grab some SHIELD cooperation in canvassing the city and he was able to figure out that my soul was split into three parts." She reaches into her book bag, digging out a map of the city and sliding it in front of him. Whether he opens it up now or not, he'll find three locations marked with a pen - JFK, Citi Park, and a residential neighborhood. "They were hooked up to these machines. So me, Jess, John and Red Robin split up to figure them out, but the moment I got close to one of them, they just turned on and sucked John and Jess into different worlds. They were using my soul to power some….kind of rift machine and oh god, I really hope you're not gonna think I'm crazy."

After taking a thirsty sip of her soda, she attempts to keep the story short: Red Robin and her teleported quickly to the site John and Jess were investigating and found two viewing portals open, though they so far had no way of getting back their lost companions. Jessica had managed to neutralize two technicians on site and Red woke them up to start interrogating them. They later found out that Zatanna would have to magically 'hook' herself up to the machine and use the conduits present to siphon all of her missing soul into her body and once she had enough power, to re-write the array on the floor in order to get John and Jess back.

"They were transported in worlds that…" She hesitates, and with good reason, considering what she has just learned about Peter's own history. She looks up to meet her friend's eyes. "…imagine a world where nothing ever went wrong in your life. Like…you got great grades in school, everyone knows Spider-Man as a famous hero, you graduated Magna Cum Laude from Columbia. That your…that your parents were still alive and active in your life. They were those kinds of worlds. And for people like Jess and John…" She purses her lips. "People who've only known more tragedy than happiness, it was…"

He would know, without her even going into detail. The kind of devastating allure that could pose to people who suffered too much. The kind of wounds that sort of engineered reality would open.

"…while I was under, I was really fighting for it," she tells Peter quietly. "Someone else had it - someone with willpower just as strong as mine. And old…it was pulling the rest of my soul towards something, but before I was able to tear it free, I felt it…/touch/ something. It was forced to connect with something that /shouldn't be here/. It needed what I had to come alive."

And that is worrisome enough.

"The techs who were there said that they were promised these worlds. No misery, no sadness…" Her lips press together. "I think that might be HYDRA's endgame in New York. It sounds great on paper, but…I mean, that's way too easy, isn't it?"

—-

Good news. That's something he could use. And a chance to just have some food. He could use that, too. He can't remember the last time he even had the time to just sit down and eat an actual meal. Between Albany, and trying to help Ents and raccoons and Rocketeers protect their spaceship from the magitech version of FOXHOUND, and pretty much… -everything-… involving Cindy Moon and her strange situation at the abandoned Sims Tower (not even related to the video game, which is just… -shameful-), Peter…

… Peter could definitely use some normalcy.

And this is about what passes for normalcy for him now, eating Mexican food while discussing how his friend got her soul back, which sounds like a much more literal rendition of 'How Stella Got Her Groove Back.' Looking around him for a few scant handful of seconds, the young man slides into the seat opposite Zatanna's with only a mild grunt. The injuries he's accumulated over the past week or so are largely healed, leaving only a tiny, lingering soreness behind that barely produces a wince as he settles in across from his friend. For right now, he just grabs a handful of nachos, stuffs them into the salsa, and chows down.

He's -hungry-. Supermetabolism. Stop judging him.

Peter at least keeps relatively quiet during Zee's explanation, content to let her figure out the best way to tackle what is no doubt going to be both a convoluted and crazy story. And, lo and behold, it totally is; to his credit, Peter doesn't even so much as blink as she starts to engage in the frankly wonky retelling. He just chows down on his nachos. Ravenously. It's probably a testament to just how adjusted he's gotten to all this nonsense, really. Or a testament to how much of a hankering for nachos he has right now. Which might be why the first thing he says is,

"… could really go for some nacho cheese right now…"

-No judgments-.

Still — it's talk of rifts between worlds that makes him pause in his consumption of cheese-free nachos. Blinking, he looks up, mouth gaping just a little bit — fortunately, he remembers to gulp beforehand. He's surprised, not a savage. "… transported into other worlds…?" he echoes, but though he looks surprised, it's not quite because he thinks it's absurd. "Because of the nature of your soul…? You don't really follow normal rules of causality. If they could harness your power they could probably treat space and time like playdough. Make whole worlds of their own, open up a path to …" The very notion seems to pique the young man's curiosity. He seems lost in thought for a moment, as if trying to think about how all that could work. That it does suggests that Zatanna's soul — Zatanna — is, well…

"I don't think you're crazy," he admits finally, rubbing the back of his head, "… which is probably scarier, really. Could you be crazy? Maybe just a little?? That'd be, like — a -huge- relief."

Seriously.

But he keeps listening. And part of him wishes he wasn't when she says what she has to say next. Some sort of utopian parallel world, where everyone got what they wanted. Where his parents were alive. Where he could just live a normal life. Where he could have friends, a life, a girlfriend — just be nerdy Peter Parker.

… Where he didn't get Uncle Ben killed…

He seems lost in thought for the longest time, his eyes distant, adrift in the very possibility of it. The young man sucks in a breath as his attention returns to him, as reality reasserts itself. It sounds good. It sounds… "… it sounds too good," he murmurs, half to himself. A world where everything went how everyone wanted?

Isn't that impossible?

It's the only thought he can cling to in order to distract himself from the deep pang of guilt he's feeling right now, that doesn't quite leave his hazel eyes when he looks back towards Zatanna. There's more to focus on. "They were promised?" he asks, lips pursing, brows furrowing inward. And Zee contacted something she shouldn't have. Which means…

"A world like that isn't… right," he tries to say, after a long moment. "It's gotta be some kinda trick. If you felt something out there, if someone's promising them something in exchange for -entire worlds-… someone's got to be getting something in exchange, right?" That's how these things work, isn't it? Just like any trades in life. Only now on a cosmic scale. Which means.

"… wow, we're totally boned."

"Again."

—-

Seeing how hungry Peter is, she pushes him the rest of her second helping of her tacos. "Rough week?" she asks, folding her arms over her table. "You can tell me about all of it after." The trip hadn't been just to tell her friend that he doesn't have to fear coming to her funeral. After her new lease on life, she is out to refresh her connections with her closest and dearest. She had already spent time with John in the aftermath, and visited Tim the other day. It was Peter's turn, while she was still going back and forth in New York, though granted, now that she had her magic back, she could easily pop in for day visits.

But she remembered the vastness of it, the breadth of it. In all of her life, Zatanna had not once peered underneath the seal that her father had placed on her, and the entire ordeal had simply forced her to confront everything it had been hiding. Terror, cold and dreadful, crawls up her spine; she shoves it savagely at the back of her mind. She doesn't want to think about that now, there were more important things to talk about, to discuss. One thing at a time, she often tells others. She could stand to follow the same advice.

"Well, I'm sure once all this shakes out, I'll be crazier than you prefer," she grumbles. "But I'm hoping that's not the case. Anyway, yeah, it's too good, plus…" She lifts a hand, rubbing her cheek absently. "It's too easy. John said something about how they could never ever really keep him in a place like that because a person can be proud of surviving whatever it is he suffered, and if he can do something right, what results is something really, really worth keeping. And I agree, I think. Nothing's more worth it than something you had to fight for in order to keep, right? If you take that away…"

What meaning is left?

Ice-blue eyes fix on his hazel irises; the guilt remains, though she doesn't know precisely where it comes from. She sees it more often these days, every time she and Peter are in the same room. Ever since Albany, when he had given her a glimpse of his life. An aunt and uncle he loves, and how he is pursuing his own mysteries for the sake of someone important. Part of her wants to ask, and as she examines the overt signs of his exhaustion, it almost makes her think the better of it.

Almost.

But later. She pushes the cola closer to him, in case he forgets. The observation that she doesn't exactly follow the rules of causality has her lifting her brows, surprise plain in her features. She knows Peter is smart, if he managed to get in an Ivy league university like Columbia, he has to be, and his humble origins makes the idea that he could have been a legacy enrollment almost impossible. But she has not been exposed to the hints of his more scientific mind until today. "Wow, look at you," she says, propping her chin on her hand and giving him a faint grin. "You gonna talk Einstein's Theory of Relativity to me next? You really know how to chat up a girl, Peter Parker."

But he isn't wrong, about the rule of exchange. "That's honestly what I'm worried about," she says, glancing down at the table and her lips twitching faintly into a frown. "The price. I know the Tarnhelm needs to feed, I think I explained it to you the last time we talked, but…" She lifts a finger, tapping on the map that she has marked for Peter. "I followed the…" How to put this in layman's terms. "Signal to this area. When I touched it, it was dark….I can't divine the nature of it, but it's…it's /massive/, Peter. Somewhere cloaked and hidden in Ozone Park. Might need to call the cavalry there, especially since…"

Fingers ball tightly into a fist, on her other hand. "We found other things while we were in the hospital," she says quietly, lashes lowering over her eyes. "The technicians were implanted with suicide devices, at the back of their ears. When we were retrieving more information from the terminal we found there, they…blew up. These people just…they just wanted to escape from the pain, I think. The girl technician just wanted to see her dad again. And we found experimentation logs about…Schmucky Yarns." Oh hell she's just going to stick with it in the entire conversation. "They…oh, Peter. The things they did to him. All the poking, the prodding. They kept calling him 'it' and…after so much of that kind of torture, who wouldn't break? And they took Dr. Foster, also - John's associate, she'd been helping Schmucky all this time and I don't…they could be doing the same to her now."

—-

"Uh… rough? More like… busy," is Peter's very humble summary. "And painful. And weird. And uncomfortable. And rough." And with this, the young vigilante-slash-college-student swipes up a taco and just devours it like he was a human wood chipper. He's not exactly graceful about it. But at least he keeps his mouth closed. He might be famished, but he remembers basic, human manners! … most of the time!

"I'll tell you about it when the world isn't ending, or whatever, but it's… yeah. Confusing."

Peter watches her for a silent moment, head tilting to the right. She looks better, but… -too- better. For a moment, his brows scrunch together as he tries to place it. It's practically like she's glowing — completely different from anything he's seen of her. It's disconcerting, in a way, but he ignores it at least for now because asking Zee why she looks like she's been bathing in radiation and took a brief sojourn to the center of the sun or something. There's more important things to discuss anyway. Like…

"It's just… empty," he says after a moment, chewing his lower lip. "If everyone's life was perfect, it'd mean that everyone would have to think the same, feel the same, be the same. That's not…" Being human? Having life? Free will? "… not something I want."

But how would he know? Really? Presented with a world like that, would he be able to…?

They're troubling thoughts amidst a sea of them, that makes him turn to his next taco with the slight downturn of a frown. He's lost within it for the longest time, until he feels the cold condensation of that glass touch at his forearm with a scrape of chilled moisture. Blinking, he looks down; it takes a second before a bashful sort of grin asserts itself on his lips and he lifts a hand to press against the back of his head, scratching it in embarassment. "Ah — sorry. I was just, um… thinking, I guess." With that, he swipes the cola, lifting it up her way as if in a faux cheers before taking a long sip and peering at that map, considering the locations marked on it. There has to be a reason those were chosen, right? Or is it random? Or…

Hazel eyes shutter in the briefest blink of confusion as Zatanna calls him out on those voiced, meandering thoughts of his. He clears his throat, first — and then unable to help himself, just snorts out a laugh with the rueful little shake of a head. "Right?? I'm a — a totally charming conversationalist, I know," his words wry and humble, he leans back in his chair, flexing his arms as if to showcase his brain muscles. … through his arms. "You ever want to be bored to death, just come to me!" Thumbs up goes right…. here.

Eyes return to that map, fingertips falling to splay across the papery surface. Ozone Park, she says, and even though his eyes track to where she indicates, he already knows where it is. Queens. His brows knot inward against each other in an immediate and unsupressable flash of concern. "So whatever we're looking for is in Queens." And that means if everything goes wrong, it's going to be in his back yard. And Aunt May—

He shakes his head. That won't happen. He won't let it. He just listens for now, to the horrible things HYDRA has done; despite himself, he tenses as they talk about Bucky. He can't help it; those memories are still much too fresh. What the Soldier did to those people, even when ostensibly working with them, to Zatanna. He's still young. Impulsive. And maybe a little naive. But…

"… That's terrible," he utters, faintly. Because he -is- still young, and impulsive, and maybe a little naive. "Poor Schmucky."

That declaration is very heartfelt.

Despite the name.

'Dr. Foster,' meanwhile, is mainly only a name he's been hearing talked about. From these, weird, superhero circles too, but also from scientific circles, because yes, he's -really- that much of a nerd. "So — we're gonna save these people, right? Constantine's friend — assistant — friendsistant, whatever, Dr. Foster— " Who he only vividly knows about because Peter Quill was waving around her underwear the other day — "uhhhhhhhh— and Schmucky. Right? Save them, kick some weirdo evil supervillain ass, save the day from some kinda… I dunno… possible malevolent spacetime menace or something?" Sounds simple enough. Right. Discussing super assassins and reality warping catastrophes with his walking dayglow of a magician friend.

This is his life now.

"Zee — however I can help, y'know, whatever — whatever I'm capable of doing, I'm like. All in. However you guys need me. Ready to die horribly at a moment's notice."

He declares, defiantly, before crunching down on a taco. His life.

—-

'It'd have to mean that everyone would have to think the same, feel the same.'

It's something that she has tried not to think about, but catching Peter's contemplative look, Zatanna now can't help but wonder herself, toying with her bottle of orange soda and wondering what her life would be like in a utopia such as that. A world where her mother was still alive, where her father wouldn't have to vanish in the middle of the night after getting a call. He would always be there with them, doing father-things. Her life would be about school, doing normal things, getting married to a nice young man that Giovanni Zatara approved of, raise a bevy of children because that's what Italians /do/. It would be a simple life, but a happy one, because she wouldn't know any better. Because why would anyone look at a gift like that and then discard it for a more tumultuous existence? But as her brows furrow and as she examines her friend before her, she wonders…

"If bad stuff didn't happen, we wouldn't have met, would we?" she asks. "If that's the way a world like that worked. If no bad stuff happened. If I didn't get into the trouble I did, and if you hadn't been around when that came back to haunt me. Would we have met? Or would we have passed each other by in New York? If bad stuff didn't happen, would you still…" Be Spider-Man? "…now that you know what you could do, with what you have. If you had a chance to give it all back, would you?"

She is the way she is - open, vulnerable, boundless in her regard and affection to those she meets - because she wants to live a life without any or with very little regrets, without any significant connections with other human beings. Now that she is forced to confront the possibility of another life where such things were unnecessary, what would she prefer? To endure what she does now, or be happy and not know about any of what she has experienced.

"I think I'd always choose the option where I can learn to be a better person, in the end," the magician tells him quietly. "And I won't be able to do that without fighting for something."

His quip about being a charming conversationalist does earn him a laugh, her cheek sinking further into the cradle of her fingers. "You /are/," she says, tossing a wadded up napkin at him from her end of the table. "And you're hardly boring, not to me anyway. I'm just ribbing you because…what, are you a genius, too? You totally are, aren't you? You and Tim should definitely hang out more. The two of you have more in common than meets the eye."

She takes a quiet sip of her orange soda at that.

And now Peter sees, splayed out in front of him, why she has decided to tell him, on top of updating him on her condition. Whatever she managed to find is in his backyard, and when he lifts his head, he'd find that confirmed on her face. Even if he hadn't cared about the state of her soul, she would have sought him out to let him know that his neighborhood is in some manner of dire peril. For all she knows, her aunt and uncle live in Queens.

He offers his help, and she gives him a grin. "Why do you think I'm telling you about this? Like I'd cut you out of the action." She nudges her foot lightly against his own under the table. "I mean…I'm not going to lie, having tasted personally what they can do, I'm sure it's tremendously dangerous but…I think if we just pool together everyone. As in /everyone/ we could grab, kind of like what happened in Switzerland, maybe even more because Jess has a hookup with Captain America and SHIELD now…we can perform a rescue and make sure nothing happens to Queens. I mean, you called yourself that yeah? First time we met? The friendly neighborhood…" They're in public. "…photographer."

She links her fingers together. "We're thinking the weekend," she tells him quietly. "So I'll see you there, yeah?"

After a few moments of silence, Zatanna speaks up again.

"Peter, there's another thing. I talked to my friend…the private investigator, Jessica Jones. I asked her about lawyers." Typical of his magician friend, she has still managed to make headway of what they're looking into together in spite of being in a bad way just a few days ago. "She recommended one to me. His name's Matthew Murdock, of Nelson and Murdock LLP. I think they're based out of Hell's Kitchen. I was going to look into him and I thought the two of us could come and see him but…"

She buries her face in her hands and sighs. One thing at a time.

"The Cold Flame guys got him," she tells him in a whisper. "He's in the hospital in critical condition. They haven't let it go."

—-

"We wouldn't," Peter agrees, voice quiet both out of discretion and contemplation. He scratches the side of his head, tearing off a chunk of taco with the crunch of hard shell. He looks up, a little, light grin touching at the corners of his lips. "Because a Zee that doesn't get herself way over her head in trouble is probably a Zee that doesn't even — y'know — exist. You'd probably be something else. Some other goofy alliterative name. Zeus Zatarra!"

But, that teasing eventually fades. In that world, it's a very real possibility they'd never meet. Never be friends. He wouldn't know any of the people he knew — probably Zatanna either, would she? Would…

'If you had a chance to give it all back, would you?'

"…"

It's a question met by stark silence for what seems like an interminable moment in time. Peter slowly sets down what poor remnants linger of the taco he was making short work of, looking down on the table, down at that map. At New York City. At Queens. He knows exactly where to find where he lives. His Aunt May is probably there, alone. And if he never became who he was, if he never got that spider bite, then it wouldn't have to be that way, would it? If none of this had happened, then…

"… I don't know," he answers honestly, after that tense, pensive silence. He looks up, and when he does, the smile he offers up is apologetic, something pained in those hazel eyes. "I just — I really don't know. But… it's what I have now. Y'know? And I have to — have to use it right. And all that?" He gestures vaguely, as if to indicate some invisible otherworld where everything is perfect.

"… it isn't right. Isn't… isn't real. And I'll protect what I've got here, with everything I have."

Part of him knows she's right about the tribulations they've gone through. And part of him knows if he gave this all up, in this world, so many other people would have lost their lives just for his selfishness. And that isn't what his family would want, is it? But even so…

Separating logic from emotion is difficult, even for him. Maybe, especially for him.

It's thoughts that are lost for the moment within the breadth of their teasing. Crumpled napkin rebounds off the side of his face, and young Parker lets out a strangled yelp of "OH NO" and an overdramatic flail of his limbs as if miming tumbling backwards from the lightest of projectile assaults. Genius or not, he's definitely a nerd. Settling down, he clears his throat awkwardly, offering any people staring at him like he's nuts a sheepish wave before his attention redirects to Zee. "Genius? I — dunno about that," he says, humble as ever when he's not wearing that spandex. He scratches the side of his head, staring up at the ceiling. "I mean — if I am, I'm like — the dumbest genius ever. I mean, I willingly hang out with you, so how smart can I be—"

And there goes Peter, preemptively ducking in case of any more highly dangerous flung napkins.

Still — Tim Drake is a name he remembers. "Richie Rich, right? From the gala? … uh, pretend I don't know what Richie Rich is." His cool cred!! He'll have to keep that in mind. Not that he thinks he has much time for normal friends.

Oh, if only he knew.

But his attention is entirely focused on Zatanna and that map when she speaks again. Queens. The weekend. "Got it. I'll be there. Wouldn't miss it for the world. … because… it is for the world, and… … whatever." Eloquent. The young man leans in his seat, stuffing his hands into the pockets of his parka as he considers. "SHIELD, huh?" That makes him a little uneasy, especially with his… innocent mix up… with the DEO before. But. It's not like they have much choice. Talk of 'friendly neighborhood… photographer,' though? That has him smiling, and snorting, despite himself. "Y-yeah, er — ha ha. Exactly. I'll be there, to photo the hell out of everything."

Which is probably the lamest one-liner he could think of. Good job, Peter!

He's already thinking, wheels already turning to try to figure out just what he can do to help fix this — to save everyone, like Schmucky, and John's assistafriend, and Dr. Jane and her underwear. So lost in these deeply serious thoughts is he that he's completely forgotten about the situation in Albany for a brief moment before Zee's words brings it all screaming back to the forefront of his mind. The lawyer. The case. Jessica. His hazel eyes widen.

"They— what?" he asks, dumbfounded, surprise painting his features before something closer to a mix of horror and anger flashes across them instead. "Wh— why? Because he knows Miss Jones?" He's never heard of the man before now. But even so… "We've gotta… do something about them too. This is just too much." And he knows, it's probably only going to get worse the longer they're allowed to have free reign.

They always do.

—-

Her jaw drops at the quip. She throws another wadded napkin at him, which he wards off. "Thanks a /lot/, Pete!" Zatanna says with a laugh. "Jesus. I already have enough of a complex as it is about it, you don't /need/ to bring it up! I just came back from near-dead, /and/ I'm feeding you. You should be nicer to me." She points her soda and straw at him emphatically before she drains the last of it.

Silence falls on the table as the two of them look at the map. The longer she looks at it, the more determined she becomes, her lips pressing together and her thoughts focusing on that direct pinpoint - that Bucky and Jane were somewhere there, under the mess that HYDRA created using her power. Even if they hadn't taken two people she has grown to care about, no matter her conflicted feelings on the issue, the fact that this has come about because of what she had puts it square within her hands to try and stop. Thankfully not without help. Sometimes, even someone as reckless and brazen as the young Zatara knows she's well above her head. That and she has already been yelled at /constantly/ for trying to go and do things alone. She is trying to curb this tendency, now that she knows that people are terribly invested in her survival. Have pulled out all the stops to ensure it.

And one of them is sitting right across from her.

Her hand reaches out at that, and should Peter let her, she'll thread her fingers through his, linking them loosely on the table. The gesture is wordless, for now, but for the time being, none needs to be said. Stuck with you, he said. Stuck with each other, now.

She looks up at him and gives him a small smile.

"We'll work it out," she tells him. "One thing at a time. We'll do this first, fix this problem in Queens. And then…I'll do what I can to see if I can sneak into the hospital and work some magic on the lawyer, and then maybe we can figure out what Dassau Aviation versus Catterly is all about. As for the Cold Flame guys…" She hesitates; those expressive eyes reflect a hint of remembered pain. "…they're old enemies of Daddy. I don't know much about the history but I do know why Daddy takes them so personally. One of his best friends started the Cult, after he got corrupted by magic in a bad way. I think…" There is another pause, but indicative of just how deeply she trusts Peter Parker. Zatanna almost never speaks about what lies behind the doors of Giovanni Zatara's mysteries.

"…I think Daddy feels responsible for them coming to be in the first place. I know, right? He can't do everything but I think magicians are perpetually cursed by not being able to do anything important when it truly matters. I hope that won't be the case with me."

She shakes her head once. "As it stands, whatever the Cold Flame guys are doing, it's still connected to the immortal Nazi sorceror and whatever's going on in Germany. But until after everything else is sorted out here in New York, doesn't seem like such a great idea to be leaving the country. That and…there's you." She furrows her brows. "I'm still wondering why Not-Duchovny wants us to look at a court case, of all things."

There's a brief nibble on her lower lip. She slowly pushes the rest aside.

"So. You said rough week? What happened, anything I can do to help?"

—-

Hazel eyes squeeze in a brief blink when those fingers thread into each other. Peter hesitates — and then smiles a small but sincere smile of his own as his digits lace with Zatanna's, the touch faint enough to be barely felt, but there all the same. He is quiet, but the gesture alone says volumes between shared smiles and shared glances.

Stuck with each other.

Alliterative names and all.

Eventually, the young man glances aside, plucking up that soda to slurp mildly at his straw. He considers, before a wry look touches on his features, finally speaking up once more. "Right — baby steps to avoiding certain doom from multiple angles. Got it," he utters, tapping the straw of his drink to his forehead like some sort of conspiratorial gesture. Talk of the lawyer — of his own situation — makes his gaze downcast. He sucks his right cheek inward, chewing on it like a mild gesture of uncertainty or anxiety before he speaks again.

"My stuff… all of that… it's not going anywhere. It can wait. Right? I just wanna — wanna make sure that Murdock guy comes out of all this okay." Innocent people getting caught in the crossfire of all this madness just makes the young man's blood boil, makes his hand briefly tense in Zatanna's. But he shakes his head, looking back at his friend with a helpless smile. "One step at a time, right? Everything else can go on the back burner 'til we figure out all the bigger batches of craziness."

And the first step, baby or not, is knowledge. The information on the Cult is one that Peter all too happily soaks up, committing every word to memory as Zatanna explains it to him. It doesn't stop the look of sympathy that bleeds into his expression as he sees how she hesitates; his fingers flex just slightly in hers, a slightly awkward gesture meant to just provide her an anchor as she speaks on sensitive subjects.

"… I can… I can understand," he says, after a moment. "Where your dad's coming from. When you've got… this kinda situation? Powers, and stuff? It's… hard." His voice is a murmur, sensitive topics discussed in hushed tones as he considers the magician. "There's so many people I ought to… ought to be able to save, things I ought to be able to prevent, and when I can't, or don't, it's…"

Parker shakes his head. His brows etched in a kind of commiseration, he rubs the back of his neck with his free hand. "… I can't imagine how much worse it might be when you can, like… bend reality by speaking. But… y'know. You've already done a lot, Zee." He offers those words, perhaps, to be consoling — but it doesn't make it any less sincere, either.

"And I'm sure you're gonna do plenty more. You're trouble — it's sorta your thing."

But — his thoughts stray, despite himself, as Not-Duchovny is mentioned, brows furrowed and fingers tapping a rhythmic beat on the table in a thoughtful gesture. "Yeah, I— right? It's weird. I have no idea what he's trying to get at. Or how he knew my parents. Or what my parents were doing. Or…" Or so many other things. So many unknowns. Too many. But they'll cut down on them. One step at a time.

'So. You said rough week?'

"Huh?" Torn from his thoughts, Peter looks back to Zatanna again. He clears his throat after a moment in a small cough. "Yeah, it's been… weird. Real weird. I don't even know how to — how to explain it without making it sound all confusing and crazy. But… you know, my sense thing? My spider-sense thing?" Man it sounds dumb saying that out loud. "It — like, normally, it just calls out for danger and stuff, right? But the other day, it starts tugging at me in a strange way, like… like, some kind of invisible rope pulling at me, or something. I don't even know. I can't even, like… anyway. It brings me to this place, Sims Tower, looks like a business or something, but it's completely abandoned. Creepy ominous old guy of ominous ran it, I dunno. I found…" A frown settles across his lips.

"… I found a -girl- Zee. — N-not like that, like, not weird or — whatever, shut up, nevermind that, I found a girl there, right in the basement of this place, locked away in some sort of, I don't know, doomsday cult bunker. She'd been there for years, Zee. Left all alone because some nutjob named Sims put her there for some reason. And… she does the same things I can do, Zee. Like…" Well… "… almost the exact same things. She was… bit by a spider. The same spider. The same, messed up spider. Like. What the hell?"

He doesn't even know how to say it. He just throws up a hand helplessly into the air. "… but… her family is missing. She's been gone for years, has no idea where they are. She has no home, no job, and… I told her, we'd — go to see Miss Jones, to try to track down her parents, but the other stuff?"

He's not about to try to hide a girl in his room. Imagine trying to explain that. A wallcrawling bunker girl.

He has a hard enough time bullshitting things to his Aunt!!

—-

His anger about Matthew Murdock is understandable. As his fingers tense and curl against hers, Zatanna slowly re-links her digits through his for a more secure hold, squeezing once. Tightly, warmly, as relentlessly solid as she usually is whenever a friend was concerned. Her eyes are serious, when their conversation shifts slowly past the immediate threat to Queens and into other things. Truthfully, the situation with Peter's parents - the mystery left behind - worries her, though she has not yet found the words that she could use to articulately define what she is feeling. He needs to know, of course. Were she in his position, she would want to, but part of her fears for what her friend might find down the rabbit hole.

Secrets were like that. As a magician, she has more than her fair share…along with recent and dangerous discoveries about herself that makes her simply stop wondering as to just why so many impossible forces are after her. The ridiculous amounts of power within her. The inheritance inscribed in her blood, bones and organs by a man who has spent decades playing with mystical secrets. The truth about her mother, and her heritage, and the danger and wonder waiting for her deep in the mountains of Tahtali Dagi, somewhere in Turkey.

She is afraid of what lies at the end of that journey.

But as she is fond of saying, one thing at a time. Her fingers tighten all the more on Peter's as she quietly listens to what he says about his parents, and his determination to see through the other messes first. "I'll do what I can for Mr. Murdock," she promises Peter. "And maybe he'll remember something about whoever did this to him. Whatever he managed to find out could be useful, yeah? Might as well leave no stone unturned. As for the rest…Pete, I know you do plenty." The last is said gently. "You do as much as me, if not more. What I'm embroiled in now is incidental to my own quest to find and save Daddy, it's not…exactly rooted from purely selfless reasons. Not like you. I can't imagine what it's like for you every night while you're out there."

Or Tim, she thinks, reminded of the dark circles in his eyes and the bruises and scars on his body.

And the people who don't appreciate them. There's a stiffening of her jaw there, a flash of directionless anger, spent impotently somewhere in her stomach. It is a familiar emotion, often one associated with her father, who has paid the exorbitant costs of the Work for decades, but now extended to the rest - Jess, John, Tim, and now Peter, too, overshadowed by the brighter lights cast by the likes of Superman, Captain America and the Batman, when the people she loves the most work just as hard, do just as much, and pay, and pay, and pay.

She tries to let it go, to focus instead on the travails /Peter/ has endured in the week, and what he says causes her to stare at him, lips parted in faint surprise. There is a slow tilt of her head past their booth, to make sure that the restaurant is still relatively empty save for the comes and goes of takeout traffic. But she ducks her head soon after, leaning in so she could keep her voice low. Because they /are/ talking about…his Thing.

"/Really?/" she whispers. "Jesus, Peter. That's…that's some serious Oldboy stuff." She doesn't know if he'll get the re— oh who was she kidding, of course he would. "Jess is a good choice, she excels in missing persons cases, but…you really found her in a bunker?" Trapped there for years? Goosebumps crawl down her spine, remembering all the harrowing news articles she's read before, of girls kidnapped and chained in basements. "And she's /like/ you?" What were the odds of two people getting bitten by the /same/ spider? The mathematical probability of it - and she has /no brains/ for that sort of thing - was probably mindboggling.

She falls silent. She wets her lips a little in thought. "Well…she can't stay in a bunker forever, and Jess' apartment is pretty cramped." That and she is very much aware that Azalea is also staying in there. "Look, you know, I'm not a Wayne or anything, but I'm not exactly middle-class either. Being in the biz makes for a lot of cash. Do you want me to put her up somewhere in Queens so you can keep an eye on her?"

And after a quiet, gauging pause, she ventures: "….does she know about the photography?"

—-

He wants to know. There's no doubt about that. It's eating him up inside, and his thoughts now stray towards it all the more that the subject has been brought up; it's only the tightening of fingers on his own that brings him back to the real world, looking to Zatanna at her reassurances about Matt Murdock. "… Yeah, maybe — maybe he will. Either way… we've gotta do something for him." He does want to know. But his own needs, right now, come second. It's a nice excuse. And it's even true.

But it'd be a lie to say that Peter isn't nervous about what he might find if he looks into his parents' past. Parents he barely even remembers. It's a fear of the unknown, something that makes him hesitant at the same time it spurs him on.

It's those contradictory impulses that Peter is all too willing to skirt in favor of other things, other problems — other conversations. When he sees that surge of anger in Zatanna, brief and subtle as a flash in the pan, it is his turn to squeeze fingers around Zatanna's own. Offer a sheepish but assuring smile. "It's okay, Zee," the would-be masked menace says, head tilting. "Really." He isn't completely sure what might be going on inside her head, but he knows well enough to guess. And right now — this is about all he can offer. That simple, little assurance.

One that falls by the wayside, just a bit, at the ever-spiraling madness that has become Peter's life. "Right??" the young man says, because -of course- he knows that reference, because he spends hours a day looking this sort of stuff up to be a more professional hero. That's right.

"… oh, boy. I… I really hope this doesn't end up the same way as that movie."

Peter's face scrunches up slowly like someone had just fed him the most sour of sour candies. Like. A Warhead. On steroids.

"… oofta. No. Veto. Moving on!!"

Waving his free hand through the air to try to dismiss those thoughts out of hand for the love of god, please, he focuses instead on what Zatanna is saying, voice hushed as his hazel gaze glances briefly towards the entrance. "Yeah. Just… like. Stuck there. Behind a door meant to keep out like, a Double Hulk or something. The entire -building- was just abandoned. There was just these prerecorded messages of this old dude, I guess the one who put her in there. Ezekiel Sims, or something. She said it was her choice to go with him, but…"

Peter's eyes narrow. He shakes his head, adamantly.

"… no way. No way, Zee. That guy just… tricked her. I just don't know why. Don't even know where the guy is." He shakes his head, dismissing the thought of that from his mind for now. "Right now I just… wanna help her get her life back on track. Y'know? There's this weird… connection between us, I dunno what it is, but… I feel responsible. It was the same spider. And I got to live a…" 'normal' isn't right, not really, "… better life than her, while she got stuck inside some lunatic's attempt to reenact like, 10 Cloverfield Lane or some crap. And her parents…"

Well. Zatanna should know better than anyone why that'd hit too close to home for someone like him. Someone like either of them.

Hazel eyes blink, though, at that offer. He peers at her with widened eyes, head tilting. His mouth opens, but no words come out. Not immediately. "— Huh?" No. That's not right at all. "— Seriously? Are you sure? Rent here is like — I mean — you know this is New York City, right??"

His bewilderment lingers for a few, scant moments before he rubs the back of his head, and looks aside. "… maybe. Maybe — yeah. Let me talk to her. We can — if she's comfortable with it, we can set up a meeting or something, after we get all this… crap settled. Once we're sure New York isn't gonna implode from the evil magics of Sauron, agent of HYDRA or whatever." Yeah. He went there!! He starts to think about what they can do, before that question gives him pause.

"Ah, uh — no. She — doesn't. I haven't actually… told her who I am yet. I probably should. I know I should. It's just…" Hard, to do. To trust. To risk. For both him, and her. At the very least, Cindy could probably take care of herself. But…

"… Anyway, I… Thanks, Zee. I feel like I'm saying that a lot, but — I — really. You're awesome. Even despite your n…nnnnnotorious knack for trouble."

"… See? I didn't make a jab at your name that time or anything. I deserve a medal."

—-

She knows. Even as Peter quietly contemplates and draws within himself across from her, she waits in silence, ready to address whatever else comes next. While she can't relate to the idea of losing all of her parents - as others in her acquaintance would - she does know what it's like /not knowing/. Her father is an enigma at best, and her mother even moreso. Sindella Zatara died shortly after she was born, forcing Giovanni to raise her by himself. And with her recent discoveries in the last few days, she is very well familiar with the concept that secrets can be dangerous, if not downright deadly.

But she doesn't force it. Her friend already knows that she will be there when he needs it, is fully aware that she intends to see this through to the end with him. And he was right, there are more immediate concerns. Once again, self-discovery will have to wait, secondary to the demands of the greater good. This next issue, however, is a curiosity. She can't help but be somewhat concerned, not just about the girl, but what it means for her friend - her priority, really. The idea of him being connected on an intrinsic level to a young woman who was locked away and who is /like him/, and therefore dangerous, and probably broken after how many years of isolation, sits uneasily with her.

Her face lends quickly to expression. He would be able to see it on her face. She is worried about him, and what this means for him.

"I don't think any person would willingly stay in a basement for god knows how long just at some guy's say-so," Zatanna muses, skepticism writ all over her face. "I mean…I haven't heard the recordings or anything, you clearly got a better read on the situation than I do, but all of that is just /bizarre/. I'm…I'm not a detective or anything." She's clever, certainly, in her own way, but her hot temper often gets in the way of conclusions when cold clarity yields more mileage, and she is a far cry from a seasoned investigator like Jess, or a budding 'World's Greatest Detective' like Tim. "But you have a name, yeah? Maybe ask Jess to look into it also and if she needs a retainer, I can pay that also. I'm loaded, Pete, I've got millions in the personal trust Daddy set up for me. Jess' fees, rent to a possible apartment or anything…it's not a problem."

She furrows her brows. "As for a job, I don't know….how adjusted she is. I mean, buried down there for God-knows how long, right? I don't know what marketable skills she's got but my manager, Arnie, is based in New York and he runs a talent agency. He hires gophers all the time, people who just do errands for him all day because he's constantly busy. If she can do stuff like deliver packages, pick up packages and other stuff like that, I can feasibly hook her up also. If she's interested. If you're serious about this, whatever you need, don't hesitate to ask." Her hand gives his another squeeze. "Stuck with each other, right? Your problems are my problems."

The magician seems amenable to following his lead there, and the suggestion of a meet earns him a nod of her head. "Yeah, once we figure out a way to make sure your neighborhood and the entire city doesn't get swallowed up by what HYDRA is planning, I'd be glad to meet her. Though…"

She pauses, the edges of her teeth pressing on her bottom lip, the flush of a darker red rising to the surface.

"Pete, about the…you know…" She makes a gesture with her free hand. "The photography thing." She's starting to feel like a spy, talking about his mundane identity in code. "If your gut is telling you not to for now, maybe you should follow it. I mean….you just met her. And yeah, I know, you told me like the /same/ day you met me, but it was a really bad emergency and we had to so we could square up what we were dealing with. This girl was…I mean, she was locked up by an obviously crazy person and she's got your skillset. That makes her dangerous, but I don't have to tell you that, yeah? I just…I'm probably worrying needlessly but maybe see what Jess finds out first before you show her your face?"

She lifts her free hand in a warding motion. "I'm…/definitely/ not trying to tell you what to do or anything, it's your decision. But…with all of what's happening, I just…I want you to be safe. And your mask does that, I think. Keep you safe."

The young woman visibly falters there, the rare look of uncertainty on her features. There's already so much to tackle, so much to shoulder. How can she possibly explain to him that there's /more/? The growing unease of something huge and dangerous coming down the wire, all the white noise that brushes over her skin when she steps outside, setting all of her mystical senses on fire. Or that it wasn't just in Gotham, it wasn't just in New York.

It was everywhere.

—-

'I haven't heard the recordings or anything, you clearly got a better read on the situation than I do…'

"Uhhh… yeah."

FLASHBACK TO

Weird old guy with out of control sideburns jabbers on about the importance of his doomsday cult bunker and how you must not read from the book and etc etc—

— and Peter Parker totally tunes it all out because the only people who speak on giant television screens with pre-recorded messages are uuuuuuuuuuusually villains.

"Yeah yeah whatever evil plan my sideburns look goofy on a senior citizen blah blah, sorry to piss in your Cheerios— "

NOW

"Y-yeah, it's pretty bizarre," Peter utters, scratching the side of his head and staring at the ceiling.

Peter Parker: Not the World's Greatest Detective.

"But this guy was telling her he'd help her to keep her powers in control, all this sorta crap. Something's totally up with him. Something fishy, but pretend I used a less lame word than fishy," decides the would-be vigilante, because as smart as he might be, it's hard for him to shake an idea once he gets it in his head. "Once… all this stuff is over, I'll see what I can find out." Because if this guy knows about Cindy, or their powers, what does that mean for him, too? Even so— "… if we're all still, like… 'alive.'"

— there's definitely much bigger things on their plate right now.

With that, the young man sinks back in his seat a bit, free hand toying with the straw of his cola as he watches the lingering, carbonated liquid slosh around it, thought etched in his expression. "She was taken away only a bit after the bite and everything," he utters, half thoughtful. "… she… might not have even finished high school. I bet she'd be happy for whatever she could get. I'll see. She — I, uh, honestly don't know that much about her. I just — the whole thing left me in a sorta, like, daze, or something." Everything about it was just -surreal-. He stares at his straw, lips creasing into a slow frown until that squeeze around his fingers draws his attention back up. He blinks - and that frown disappears into a modest sort of smile.

"… Yeah. Right. Totally stuck with each other."

"I think you totally got the short end of the stick in this whole deal, by the way. No givesies backsies."

Honestly, though — what Zee says next isn't that much of a surprise to him, even if it makes those hazel eyes blink reflexively as he digests what she says. She's right — he honestly doesn't know anything about Cindy. He is, essentially, taking her at her word about all this. About who she is. How she became what she is. Her family is missing, and there's nothing to corroborate she is who she says she is. He looks down again, upper row of teeth pulling at his lower lip. "Right. I… that's good advice," he manages after a moment. He knew all that, objectively — but how much has he let his personal feelings get in the way of that kind of logic? "I'll… I'll wait. At least, 'til I know just…" He hesitates, considers. "… what the hell like, any of this stuff is." He casts a rueful grin Zatanna's way. "If it's not something it's another, right?"

But it's as he looks back at her that he sees it — that hesitation, that uncertainty. As if there was something just on the tip of her tongue that just can't find the voice to express itself. Parker leans forward as she seems to grow lost in that unease. His fingers lightly tug on Zatanna's hand, to get her attention.

Right before he flicks her in the forehead.

Lightly.

… Really lightly. So he doesn't kill her.

"Hey," he says after a moment, squinting at her. "Everything okay up there, Zee? You look like you're bluescreening. A big, glowy bluescreen."

—-

"That all sounds really weird," Zatanna muses when Peter provides her with more details about Cindy. "Though to be honest I'm more worried about what that means for you than what it means for her. I'll definitely help out any way I can, because I can't really say with any confidence that I wouldn't be doing the same thing were I in your shoes, and all. But yeah, let me know - about the place to stay or about an easy job that she can sink her teeth into and start…you know. Getting reintroduced to society. And if there's any other way I can help, call me, okay? I mean it, Pete. Don't hold back."

The short end of the stick comment does earn him a laugh, rolling her eyes skyward. "Yeah, sure. Because I'm the one who went all the way to Switzerland just to destroy a bowl full of blood. Better you than me, I think, Peter Parker. Plus from what I've been told about that entire thing, it was really good that I didn't come up until the end." Words implicit of the fact that she has been fully briefed about what had happened, including the surprise appearance of her Not-Quite-Father, and that the Cult of the Cold Flame was somehow using his image and talents for a nefarious purpose that they've yet to uncover. The idea of it makes her uneasy, and furious, as protective as she is about her vanished paternal unit, but she manages to at the very least set that aside for more immediate concerns.

Like what's in Queens, and Peter's new friend, who might not be a friend. Who could be a trap. After all the betrayals she has endured in the last few weeks, the last thing she wants is another friend to suffer in the same vein.

Still, his reassurance that he'll wait has her relaxing visibly across from him. Lips part to release a breath she wasn't conscious of holding, and his smile is returned warmly from where she sits. "Good, phew. What a relief," she says with another laugh. "I mean, don't get me wrong…as much as I enjoy this monopoly over your secret, this isn't the sort of life you can survive in without people you can trust, you know? I'd love for you to find a few more aside from me. It's just that…yeah I would prefer you to be careful. Especially these days. It's…"

There it is again, that visible hesitation. Those ice-blue mirrors wander away from Peter at that, to look over at the front door. Nobody has gone through for quite some time, and the kitchen is bustling, smatterings of Spanish overheard, chatter between Mama Sita and her daughters. She understands the language, but she barely pays attention to it, warring with indecision. Even if she did try and tell Peter what this was, how could she even articulate it in a way that makes sense— ?

She registers the tug in her hand, and it effectively pulls her out of her troubled reverie, just in time to have him flick her forehead. She blinks at him.

White teeth clip faintly on her bottom lip. Her other hand leaving her orange soda, she reaches across the table to cover his knuckles she is grasping with her own, sandwiching them between her palms.

"I know you're on duty at night," she begins slowly, desperately cobbling the words together. "Could you promise me you'll be more careful than usual? I mean I know you have the…sense. But…" She takes a breath. "I don't know, Pete. It's just…lately there's been…" She pushes the words out of her mouth with effort. "There's something in the air. I've been feeling it for close to a month. It was faint, at first, but it's becoming really difficult to ignore lately. And it's not just me. Other people in the community." As in her community. "They're all uneasy, too. What worries me even more is that…it's not just here in New York, or in Gotham. I felt it in Switzerland, too."

She lets the words hang in the air, letting that and the implications sink in.

"I didn't want to say anything because we have so many problems already but…just…keep an eye out, okay? For yourself. And if you come across anything /super strange/ while you're doing your thing, call me okay?"

—-

"What? I don't know, that wasn't really a like — we kinda took a shortcut — " begins Peter Parker, before remembering that shortcut in a flash of terrifying, scarring PTSD. "— thatwearenevergoingtotalkaboutEVER." Very, very scarring. "-Ever-."

But, appreciation does paint Peter's expression, at least for the moment, for Zatanna's offer. It's one he'll take seriously; lord knows there's no way he's even remotely equipped to put anyone back on their feet. All the well wishes in the world don't exactly equate to dollar signs.

And so it's a great accidental delight that the only people he knows that know his identity happen to be super rich and resourceful. And -one- of them is even helpful about it! Hurray!

(Don't ever try to ask Tony Stark for help with anything.)

His expression softens, just a bit, at the implications behind Zatanna's words. If she knows what happened there, then she knows what they saw — and even if Peter doesn't know Zatanna's father, he knew enough to put it all together. He considers, rubbing at his neck, before he offers, "Y…eah. That would've been… weird," and then, perhaps realizing how that sounds, quickly appends, "but I — we — we got something off of him, y'know? So Constantine can do whatever, like, Imago channeling for his Awakened magics to figure out what that weird dude's whole… deal is, right? We'll figure it out." He's just going to mine whatever nerdy spellcasting references he can at any available opportunity. He's obligated, at this point.

"And then we'll rip off his stupid mustache."

"N-not that I think your dad's mustache is stupid. Just… the guy's… who looks exactly like him…. yeah."

Yeah!!

"Well, like… there's… uh. One other person who — who knows. Not like — you're the first person I actually told. This guy just — " How does he even put that? 'Billionaire barged into his apartment one day and hit on his aunt and gave him a cool suit'? "… it's complicated." And totally cool. And frustrating. And awesome." And TONY STARK NEEDS TO STOP HITTING ON HIS AUNT—

"/Anyway/," he insists suddenly, happy to have a change of subject, he's sure, no matter how dire. At least, he thinks so. But when Zee's hands layer over his, he blinks slowly. He looks down to her grasp that warms his own hand between them, brows furrowed inward at the gesture. Something's wrong. He can tell. What, though…

… that, is something the normally open and unflinching Zatanna Zatara seems to have trouble articulating.

And that fact alone just puts Peter Parker even -more- on edge.

His head tilts to the right, slowly. He tries to parse just what she's saying. Some sort of supernatural unease? That seems to be worldwide. Or at the very least, incredible pervasive. His lips part. He tries to think of something to say.

"Well…crap."

That sums it up, eloquently.

Peter's not much of a magically-inclined individual. His forte is in science, through and through. But if someone like Zatanna of all people is feeling ill at ease about this, whatever it is, well…

"I'll be careful," Peter promises, sincerely. He layers his free hand over Zatanna's top most in a brief, if hesitant pat, in that awkward way of his.

"And if I see, like, holes in space-time start opening up and making it rain blood, or the Stay Puft Marshmallow man going on parade through Manhattan or whatever, you're gonna be the first person I call."

"Probably while screaming my guts out. So, like. Look forward to that."

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