Extenuating Circumstances

May 08, 2017:

Red Robin checks on Zatanna Zatara, knowing that things aren't fine with her and John Constantine. He also confronts her about telling Jessica about his deal with Wong.

Red Robin's Penthouse - Berlin - Germany

Red Robin's swanky penthouse in Berlin.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Jessica Jones, John Constantine

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

It's been close to a week since John Constantine left the penthouse, and while Zatanna's explanations regarding that are brief, it's clear to everyone else that all is not well between the two lovers. To the raven-haired magician's infinite credit, however, she has not spent the intervening days since John's departure wallowing - at least, not in the traditional sense of the word, though she did spend endless hours after it happened locked in her room. Whatever Jessica had told the young woman, it did seem to help, as she emerged out of the darkness of it with the fires lit under her rear end, ready to tackle the next set of tasks.

With the more experienced magician gone, the teenaged witch has been left with the inenviable task of examining Armand Steinschneider's journal, and after Bucky and Tim's retrieval of it in the Weir house, the young woman had taken it, shut the door to her room with it and put up the barriers necessary in the event that something explodes at her poking it. Thankfully, that does not happen, and her analysis of it has taken most of the week, broken up now and then by checking in on the rest of the investigation. The Berlin team had also managed to discover that the missing priest, Heinrich Weber, is living under a fake identity and reassigned to a church in Brandenburg. Considering the distance and the fact that there are too many moving parts in Berlin to keep the entire group together, it was decided that Zatanna, who speaks German and can cross the distance easily with her teleportation powers, would be the one to check it out while everyone else pursued the leads here….and take care of two targets of the cult.

The penthouse is getting really crowded.

Zatanna's door is open now; her analysis of the diary is finished, and she is juggling with the tasks with respect to that while packing up a few of her things for her sidetrip to Brandenburg. It is a prospect that fills her with trepidation, not that she expects to run into trouble she can't handle, but the fact that her absence would mean doing something she dreads even more than the prospect of coming face to face with her father's doppleganger, or Steinschneider himself.

She would have to tell John to come back to the penthouse - the group was going to need another magician while she was gone.

Sorrow and apprehension well up inside her chest as she quietly packs a change of clothes in her backpack, as well as a journal and her kit, a case full of magician's accoutrements she might need on the road, handy items that she wouldn't just be able to access or conjure. Realization that she was going to have to find him and tell him to return causes a jumble of volatile emotions, spliced together by an ages old question she was certain anyone in love has asked herself at least once:

How is it possible to miss someone terribly, and yet not want to see him at the same time?

—-

All things considered, it's been something of an awkward week.

Red Robin has had his own tasks to deal with, there being plenty of work to go around… Among other things, he's been putting together new identities for Reiner Steinschneider and Adelaide Weir to step into, should going back to their own lives prove untenable after everything else. He has no illusions that they're going to see the end of the Cult of the Cold Flame in the very immediate future, after all - he's spent a good chunk of his superheroic career dealing with shadowy secret societies, after all, and he knows that the one constant among them is that there always seems to be more to them just when you think they're dealt with - and that they might continue to have an interest in the descendants of the immortal man they're all hunting. There are other contingencies to consider, too, like the possibility that Steinschneider would manage to elude them.

Really, it would seem like the smart play for an immortal would be to go to ground, and wait out the current interest. Perhaps there's some kind of time-sensitive consideration, but without knowing the man's actual motivations…

Beyond working, if truth be told, the vigilante has been avoiding Zatanna. Giving her space, he would prefer to rationalise it as, but that's not wholly the truth. Since his own conversation with Jessica Jones, a spark of discontent has smouldered inside of him, a kind of slow-burn anger that he's worked to keep isolated, compartmentalised. There were other things to worry about, more important things. Even his own concern over the gothic magician's current emotional state is something he's kept walled off. Partially, because it's none of Red Robin's business - Tim Drake is Zatanna's friend, but his costumed identity needs to keep some kind of distance - and partially because his own feelings about a potential rift between Zatanna and Constantine are… Complex.

But, at last, the young man doesn't have any excuses left to give himself.

Gently, his knuckles rap on the open door, the only sound that betrays his presence. Stealth is second nature to him, now. Batman would be proud.

"Hey," he offers, in that voice that is almost but not quite the one she knows, speaking out of that face that is almost but not quite the familiar one of her best friend. "I didn't know if you'd eaten…" He's holding a plate in his free hand. It has some latkes on it, a fork. Applesauce and sour cream.

—-

She looks up from packing, the look of those ice-blue eyes sharp, but seeing who it is softens her expression considerably. Save for the tequila binge that accompanied her misery when she arrived back to the penthouse after the Union Jack attack, the young woman hasn't been eating much either, with nothing but bread and coffee to power her through the day. Whatever enjoyment she has intended to secure for herself while in Berlin had been completely and utterly dashed by current events. Seeing the plate in Tim's hand, though, reminds her of the fact that she hasn't demonstrated her normally healthy appetite since. Still, the gesture is appreciated, despite the fact that she was going to have to force herself to take a few forkfuls.

Privately, she wonders if this is how Tim usually feels when she forces him to eat.

Zatanna moves over to him, a smile, faint but genuine, plastering on the corners of her mouth. "Thanks," she says, relieving him of the plate and the fork. "You're helping me with this, right? I don't think I can eat all of this."

She gestures for him to walk inside as she hitches herself up on her desk. One hand under her plate, her fork pierces at the first latke, cutting a small triangle with the edges and dipping it in sour cream. She takes a small nibble.

"I'm glad you stopped by," she tells him, nodding to the journal on her desk. "So good news and bad news. Good news, the thing definitely has all the signs of it being some sort of arcane journal. Armand Steinschneider might've been just a clairvoyant, but I think he made some friends in low places. There's powerful magic in the journal, of the infernal persuasion, if you know what I mean. Whatever we've got, it's definitely important. Now the bad news. We can't read it."

What.

"We can't even open it, and the backlash could potentially be enormous if I force it open. There's some powerful demonic magic keeping its contents confidential. That's why I've been locked with this stupid thing for a few days, trying to figure out if there's a way around it. There's none. It'll only open for someone who's a direct descendant of the Steinschneider line. Meaning if we want to take a peek at what's inside, we might need Reiner's help. There's also something else."

She spears another piece of latke in her mouth.

"Normally, there's countless of demons out there so it'd be impossible to determine whose fingerprints are all over this. Fortunately, I happen to be very familiar with this one." Considering the fact that just a couple of months ago, she absolutely obliterated half his legion. "It's Mammon. Or at least some crony of Mammon's. Red, I think Armand and Mammon were in league even way back when. I might be rushing ahead of myself, but it would explain why he suddenly got involved when Muller hit Gotham."

—-

Probably, his claim that he didn't know if Zatanna had eaten hadn't been strictly true. Not much escaped Red Robin's notice, especially with the large amount of time the remains of the group had been spending in a fairly confined space… Doubtlessly their eating habits had been something he was aware of, unless the magician was secretly summoning salads with her boundless sorcerous might just so she didn't have to leave her new room.

Besides, he knows how it is. He knows what it's like to get completely immersed in a project and to wind up forgetting to do things like eat, or sleep, or bathe… And he knows what it's like to be hurt, horribly hurt, by someone you love. Stephanie Brown has probably resulted in as many missed meals for him as every super-criminal in Gotham City combined.

But, right now it's not a blonde that concerns him.

"You should, I made them for you," the disguised vigilante says, taking the invitation to move into the room. It was a lucky thing, he supposes, that the penthouse had a surfeit of bedrooms. He hadn't been expecting to have to babysit any local persons of interest, and he'd actively avoided thinking about the sleeping arrangements of the rest of the group. His own room was barely used, of course. He spent most of his time elsewhere, getting by on his habitual three to four hours of sleep a night.

So he watches to make sure that Zatanna does eat, as she tells him that she's glad he'd stopped by. The good news and the bad news are both alike fairly troubling, though it does explain why the Cold Flame was willing to unleash that dragon construct on a busy city block - not that they seemed to care much about collateral damage to begin with. Going after the cultist who'd ransacked the bedroom, instead of just escaping with Weir, turned out to have been the right call. Of course, the bad news is on its own pretty bad.

The mention of Mammon culls a frown from the young man, brings back the memory of the strange encounter in the abandoned tannery that put him on this path. The memory of the twelve young women whose deaths still go unanswered for, though surely they're a drop in the bucket when it comes to the crimes of a Demon Prince. And that nagging thought that bubbles up sometimes, that if he'd been faster, if he'd stopped Kazinsky sooner, a lot of misery would've been avoided.

"Is there a risk to exposing Reiner to the journal?" he wonders. It seems like there would be, if there's infernal magic involved, but those books Zatanna lent him from her father's library aside, he's the lowest of amateurs in these sorts of matters. "Could it let Mammon, or his underling, get some kind of hooks into the guy?"

—-

You should, I made it for you.

Her expression flattens comically. "They're delicious," she tells him. "Though I don't know now if I should love you for them or hate you because on top of everything else you can do, you can also create gourmet meals. I mean latkes?? Really, Red?" She's ribbing him, clearly, with the way that old spark of mischief flares in those eyes, banishing, at least temporarily, the film of regret present there.

Zatanna's pale fingers reach for the diary, and holds it out for Red to talk. The leather-bound journal is kept shut with a single thong, but any tries to unbind it and pull it open would be for naught. It feels heavier than a brick, once the young man has gotten ahold of it. With his question, she purses her lips. "I tried to move past the veil," she tells him. "I'm sure there's always a risk, but I'm honestly not sure without being able to get in there, Red. The spells keeping it secure are layered enough that it's definitely holding something important, but as to whether it would open Reiner up to influence to Mammon, I really can't say. If that was the aim, Mammon would have to ask permission to be let in, though, and Reiner seems like a good guy just caught up in shit that he doesn't know how to deal with. After everything that's happen to him, I'm pretty sure he's not just gonna say yes to a demon."

Now obligated to finish all of it, though she does mean what she says about the plate being delicious, she dutifully puts another piece of latke in her mouth, chewing carefully. "So yeah, when it comes to demons, there's no instant possession. Even when they go after innocents like children, they still need to be convinced in order for the door to be open enough for that possibility. So just keep an eye on him, maybe, when he opens it."

—-

"Seemed like I should keep with German food, considering the surroundings," the vigilante says, a touch defensively in the face of her ribbing and with a faint shrug of his shoulders. "And I'm pretty sure you know full well how few vegetarian options there are around here. These people eat sausages like salted meats killed their parents when they were young, and they've been on a crusade for vengeance ever since."

It's good to joke around, to see that spark of life in the magician's ice blue eyes, if only briefly. Even if he's angry with her, he just wants to make her feel better, see her happy.

More fool him.

He takes the offered journal, though, feels the weight of it. He'd carried it during the fight with the draconic construct, though at the time he'd been too preoccupied to think of it as anything other than 'some book the cultists were interested in, and thus important to keep out of their hands' and knowing now what it is, and what sort of influence is bound into it at a magical level, makes his skin crawl.

"I'll be careful," he says, probably unnecessarily. Zatanna knows better than most just how careful Red Robin is almost without fail. Of course, she also knows of at least one incident of major carelessness on his part… Which is how she learned who was under the cowl he normally wears in the first place.

"Are you going to be all right?" the vigilante asks, avoiding thinking about the book now, or about the potential of demonic influence. "Whatever happened… Is none of my business, but if you're going to be handling this trip to Brandenburg on your own, I just want to make sure that your head's completely in the game. And just… You know, that you're going to be okay generally," he appends, not wanting to seem as callous, as completely focused on the mission above all else as his words might've inadvertently suggested. "Worried about you."

—-

The analogy earns Red a bit of a laugh, Zatanna grinning broadly at the vigilante as she takes another bite of the latke. "I keep getting flak for my metaphors and analogies when you regularly take me to school for those," she tells him. "Maybe you should teach me how to do that, too. But something tells me that's more of a natural talent than anything that can be taught." Now that she's actually eating, she continues doing so, cutting up the delicate potato discs with her fork and nibbling on the pieces once they come free from the whole. For a moment, she does nothing but chew.

His promise to be careful has her nodding once. "Good," she tells him. "I mean, I won't be around for a couple of days, I won't be able to keep an eye on you, you know."

She is finishing the last latke when Red finally brings up the thing that everyone else is keeping a wide berth about; for all that everyone has managed to establish a close degree of friendship with Zatanna, John, or both, everyone seems to have made some unspoken agreement never to get in the middle of the minefields the two of them can build between one another when the situation calls for it. While Zatanna is open, she has a temper, and one look at John would convince anyone that it is probably not the best idea to ask him about his private life.

But she should expect that Red would ask; he was her best friend.

Setting the empty plate aside, she scrubs her face with both her hands, tilting her head back and exhaling a breath.

"Honestly I'm glad I'm going to Brandenburg," she tells him. "It gives me a new place to work, and I'll be coming in unfamiliar territory, so I'll be focused. I'll be moving around and active and not think about what happened. There's a time and place for everything, right? And we're here in Germany for a reason. I'd rather finish what we came here to do so we can all just go home and…" Take care of more things there. "…resolve all other things when we're in less of a time crunch."

That isn't, however, what Tim asked. She glances down on her lap.

"I'll be fine," she tells him, nodding firmly. "I'm not bullshitting you, I promise." Looking him, she flashes him a hint of her old grin. "I'm not exactly a multi-lingual, genius billionaire philanthropist and highly trained ninja hacker engineeer extraordinaire, but I'm tougher than I look."

—-

Daring where others don't is kind of a thing with Red Robin, obviously. He'd avoided it the past few days, for a host of reasons, many of them on the messy side, but eventually he'd simply run out of excuses. Concern for someone he cares about - cares much more than he should, in ways that he definitely should not - methodically continued on through those excuses, through those other things that absolutely needed to be done, patiently stalking him and waiting for the moment where he couldn't distract himself anymore.

At least he got a laugh out of her, though. That was something. Nothing sardonic about it, especially with the grin that came along for the ride.

And she's eating, which is a relief all on its own.

He listens, attentive as always, when she tells him that she's glad she's taking this side trip, and honestly he can't blame her for that. She says all the right things, makes all the right noises about the mission before personal problems. But it wasn't what he asked, not really.

I'll be fine, she tells him at last.

"Okay," he says, with a bit of a wry grin of his own for her jokes about his many attributes. Immediate and unconditional acceptance, absolute trust. Honestly, he'd forgotten what it was like to trust someone like that. It feels like ages since he'd worked with Superboy and the others, and even out of the Family, the only one he could truly trust without reservation was Nightwing.

"You left out superhero, though. If things get hairy in Brandenburg, if you need backup, contact me and I'll be there right away," the vigilante says, raising his left arm demonstratively, as if either of them needed the reminder of her carving that spell into his skin. "And don't worry, I know you're tough. You're one of the strongest people I know."

Not in a physical sense though, obviously.

But that wasn't all that was troubling him. He'd been debating it, knowing that she was already upset, that he could just be adding to the pile unnecessarily. But he'd been trying to be honest with her, since that night on the rooftop opposite the Third Eye, what seemed like a hundred billion years ago. Tried to have one person, at least, he didn't keep so damn many secrets from.

So…

So.

"I know… I know that you told Miss Jones about my bargain," he says, quietly, reaching out to shut the door. If he's going to complain about his secrets not being kept, better to not blather them where anyone else might hear. "I would've really preferred that you hadn't."

—-

His return grin has her smiling back, her leg crossing over her knee and leaning back with her palms flattened behind her desk. But the remark about having backup in Brandenburg has her giving him a nod. "I've got Jane's long-distance bluetooth things," she says, tapping the one in her ear at all times. "They're pretty amazing, yeah? I didn't even think you could do that with something so small until she did that thing with the car. She's pretty incredible, too, when it comes to technology."

But yes, she did forget superhero, though she can't help but think about capes, now, and the time in the steakhouse when she and John met up with Bucky and Jane for dinner. It had been their last time out before things went Germany-bound and the sudden reminder of it can't help but tug at her stomach, and cause her heart to sink. Exhaling a breath, she reaches out for a bottle of water lying on her desk, uncapping it so she could take a swig. Curious brows lift, though, when she watches her friend close the door to her room.

What…?

The reasons why are apparent readily enough. Confusion settles over on Zatanna's features as she looks at him. "I didn't tell her what the deal was," she tells him. "Just that there was one. She flipped out about it, because it's Jess and you know as well as I that she would prefer to take her share of the burden, especially when she was working with you. I told her there was no use worrying about it, because even if she had confronted you then, you would have lied. Anyway, I know you probably would have preferred that I not say anything, but we're mired in dangerous business here, Red. I had to let somebody know to keep an eye out for you in case the worst happens."

She sweeps a hand to the side. "You didn't give us much of a choice when you decided to take on the entire burden on yourself again," she continues. "But that doesn't mean I won't be doing everything I could to make sure that, while you're around us, at least, that someone knows to keep an eye out on you if I'm not there."

—-

You would've lied.

It's true. He would've.

Knowing him as she does, it's probably not too hard for Zatanna to guess that Red Robin wouldn't have said anything at all about it if he'd had any alternative. It was serendipitous that the Princess of Prestidigitation had been the first one to discover it, of course… What if it had been a different magic user? What if someone else had been able to use that knowledge to connect Red Robin and Tim Drake? Razor, the proprietress of the Bleeding Eye, had sensed it, but fortunately there had been no reason for Tim Drake to come calling there.

"We're already keeping an eye out for each other, we're a team," the vigilante says, not seeming particularly admonished by the matter-of-fact statements about him not giving anyone else a choice, or about him taking the entire burden on himself. And of course, he's pretty much always mired in dangerous business of one kind or another. So far, the consequences of his bargain, the payment exacted, haven't been catastrophic.

So far.

"I told you about it in confidence." Because he didn't have any choice. Trying to not keep so many secrets from her, at least, but there's still a lot of secrets that need to be kept. Dangerous secrets. Secrets that aren't his to give away. "But… Done is done, I guess. Just don't tell anybody else, okay?"

—-

"Yeah. We are a team," Zatanna points out, frowning at him. "We all have our secrets, and we've all done a pretty good job at staying away from those with each other when things get thorny. But that's what your deal with Wong is, Red. It's thorny. It could kill you, that's how I found out in the first place. I'm sorry you feel like I broke your confidence, but I thought I had to say something. It's not as if…"

Her expression twists. The teenaged witch's face turns away from him to look at the wall, her fingers tightening over the edge of her desk. Tim, Jess, John…they were ultimately the types who took on insurmountable burdens by themselves if they felt like they had to, without telling anyone. And usually because either the world was at stake, or someone else they're close to was in some sort of dire peril. That probably isn't surprising, they were all loners by nature, but it didn't make it easy for her to stand there and watch them shoulder them all, unable to do anything because by the time she heard about it, it's almost too late.

"It's not as if I don't feel guilty, or partly responsible for that, also. I know you get along with John, Red, but I know you did it for me. To get me back by any means necessary. And I don't know if you know what it's like, to feel so grateful and that it was your fault at the same time, and not being able to do anything about it. So I'm left trying to help mitigate what you put yourself through. If our positions were reversed, wouldn't you? Hell, I bet if it was, you wouldn't have wasted any time going to Wong and asking if you could make a deal to supercede mine."

It's testament to Zatanna's own willpower that she hasn't done that. At least, not yet.

When Red asks her not to tell anyone else, she cringes. With a naturally expressive face such as hers, there's no hope of her hiding it.

"…I told John…" she confesses. "Before I told Jess."

Pause.

"Wong's been his friend since he was a teenager, and he had just finished telling me about Jane's own deal with Papa Midnite," she explains in a rush. "We were trying to figure out a way around both contracts. John assured me that if we could find some adequate replacement, Wong would listen. He's a fair dealer. Midnite, though, not so much. But that's all, I swear."

—-

It might surprise Zatanna if she learned that Red Robin feels a twisting pang of guilt when she admits that she knows he did what he did for her sake. It was a line of thought that had been easy to avoid, but nevertheless uncomfortable whenever it welled up in his mind: He's supposed to put himself on the line, to do everything he can for anyone, no matter what they mean to him personally. But he knows that if it hadn't been Zatanna, he wouldn't have gone as far as he did.

That he knows that if it'd just been Constantine trapped, he wouldn't have needed to do what he did, is little comfort.

It would doubtlessly not surprise Zatanna at all to learn she was right in what she guesses he would've done if their positions had been reversed. He fundamentally views himself as expendable, after all. A world without Red Robin would go on turning.

But a world without Zatanna Zatara doesn't even bear thinking about.

As usual, she gives too much away with her expression, with her reactions. She lived life so openly, hiding things often seemed to be against her very nature - for all that so much of her life depended on secrets. For all that she'd kept the one he'd trusted her with closely. So far as he knows.

A wiggling doubt tries to enter into his thoughts. He crushes it mercilessly.

The confession makes him angry, angrier than it should. Angrier than her telling Jessica made him. He keeps it off of his face, though, his expression a mask as sure as the cowl he's worn for the past few years of his superheroic career. The explanation, delivered almost frantically, doesn't help. He sees the hypocrisy in himself, of course - to be furious at the idea of them trying to figure out how to fix his problem without consulting him. Though in fairness, they hadn't really been available to ask about his own decision, even if he were so inclined.

"You know, he offered more? The reading, the information… That was just the tip of the iceberg. I was trying to play it smart, though. I just needed a lead, I thought, something to get me on the trail… And then I found out where you were. I found out, and every day I had to argue myself out of going back over to Wong's, and offering anything, everything for a solution. Whatever it would've cost me, to him or to whatever other sources he could connect me to, it didn't matter."

He exhales slowly, closing his eyes - a stormy blue-grey, instead of the dark blue Zatanna was familiar with - and shaking his head. Of course, of course she'd tell Constantine. He should've known she would. He knows she did it out of concern for him, out of the hope that the British magus would be able to come up with an out for Red Robin - even Wong had thought about as much, when they'd made the deal - but another part of him can't help but find a sour amusement at where his confidences rate.

"It was none of his business, because you're right… I did it for you. I would've done anything and everything to get you back in the world, whatever it meant for me personally. But… There's no reason for you to feel guilty about the choice I made."

Telling people about that choice, though, might be another matter.

—-

She listens to what Red says about resisting the urge to go back to Wong, Zatanna's brows furrowing faintly from where she sits, and while she tastes that spark of anger in the air, she says nothing about it, though that doesn't mean that she doesn't show any overt signs of sensing it, ever the perceptive and emphatic creature that she is. Her jaw sets stubbornly, tilted at an angle, silently challenging him with those eyes though she refuses to utter a single word to acknowledge it. It isn't as if his confidences are not important; he knows very well that she has kept his most crucial secrets and has safeguarded them away from everyone she knows. But this specific secret nearly killed him and they were embroiled in a dangerous situation - as far as she was concerned, these were extenuating circumstances that necessitated breaching it.

And she isn't sorry. Will probably never will be, even if he confronted her about it. She will do what is necessary to keep him alive until Wong's demands run their toll on his wrist.

She has her reasons and it isn't as if she took them lightly - John knows Wong, so of course she would ask him for guidance and secure his help to try to find a way around it. Out of everyone else, he had the longest working relationship with Jessica, and she had been there when Red brokered the deal in the first place, so of course she was the best contender and probably the most receptive among the rest of them in giving him a little bit more attention than usual in the event that she isn't around.

But since he doesn't address his anger there, neither does she.

"Well I'm glad you didn't," she tells Red. "Because what you gave him already is enough. The work you do in Gotham holds enough danger as it is, and it's not like John or I would be happy if anything terrible happened to you knowing that it only happened in the first place because you made a deal with Wong. I can't even fathom what kind of price that would carry, even if he's a more reasonable businessman than Papa Midnite." Jane and promising the man anything. The thought makes her skin crawl. "It wouldn't have been cheap."

But there's no reason for you to feel guilty about the choice I made.

"Sure there is," she tells him simply. "I'm your friend. And if our situations were reversed, you'd probably feel the same way and like I said, you'd be going out of your way to fix it. Recklessly, no matter how much it cost you." She shakes her head. "But I'm from this world, Red, so lucky for the both of us that I'm not going to do that without really thinking about how to approach it. Because I know you and how easily guilt attaches to you and if I'm going to help you, I'd rather do it in a way that doesn't stress you out, also. Even if it means telling someone who knows more than me about it so I can find a way to do that."

—-

He does, indeed, know that she's kept his most crucial secret.

There's been times where he's feared, irrationally, that she might not; nobody who carries the kinds of secrets Red Robin does, the kinds that could destroy lives, have destroyed lives, could rest entirely easily with the knowledge that he'd placed those secrets in someone else's hands. Maybe it's that bit of Batman in him, the guarded paranoia instilled by his mentor over years of training… Keeping the secret, hiding from people that he cares about, chafes at him; sharing it places his life, and the lives of others, into another set of hands.

Especially when she keeps few and fewer secrets from Constantine, given their relationship and their shared experience. It's difficult to not feel that niggling doubt, the same that he crushed without mercy moments before, that she might tell the British magus.

Difficult, even when he knows it's his own envy talking, at least in part.

It wouldn't have been cheap, she says, rightly.

"It would've been worth it."

He can be stubborn too, after all. Even when he knows that his anger in this is hypocritical.

Zatanna is of course entirely correct when she says that he would've gone out of his way to fix it, if their positions were reversed. Recklessly, yes. Offered to pay the cost in her place.

"There's nothing to fix, anyway. You hid the signs so that nobody can use it to identify me out of costume," among that 'nobody' he of course included Constantine. He's just lucky that the first person he ran into who could have recognised him as Zatanna, otherwise his deal with Wong could've had even more disastrous consequences than expected. "Now I just have to pay the debt. What other choice is there? I'm not just going to pass it to someone else. I'm not going to shirk the consequences of a choice I made."

—-

Secrets are a magician's forte; what they are is also precisely the same reason why John Constantine has not asked about Red - he knows the value of confidentiality and considering how he keeps his own in a tight-fisted grip, unless he has a significant reason to pry, he would not.

It would've been worth it.

"No it wouldn't have," Zatanna tells him firmly; stubborn is as stubborn does - she comes from a world where these kinds of agreements are made carefully for a reason. "Take it from me, Red, there's always a way around something if you think hard enough, especially when you're in a position it is impossible to compromise." And she has learned this just recently because it had been an impossible decision to make - to give up her father's weaknesses, or leave her lover without the arsenal he needs to destroy a dangerous foe, and one that she apparently cannot handle herself. "There's always a way to make a deal like that unnecessary."

But he's right in that, too, that there's nothing to fix. Much like the sigil she carved inside of his left wrist, the magical camouflage she placed over it will last for as long as she's alive.

"Well the only other choice is to find something Wong wants more than however many hours of your potential he's got left," the young woman says. "That's another reason why I told John. Like I said, the two of them have known one another since they were teenagers, Red. If he does want something like that, John will either know, or find out. Plus really, you have enough to worry about, enough to deal with. The last thing you need is for everything about you to fail in a time that matters the most."

He may just be an ordinary human, biologically, or even ephemerally, but he's certainly not just by the sheer number of amazing talents that he possesses. That was probably why Wong had asked for potential when he could have asked for other things; considering the fact that the man is based in New York, the eastern seaboard's capital for capes, he probably already knew precisely what to demand the moment Red Robin showed up in his costume and gadgets. The get-up may be something the Bat-family touts as a shield for hiding their identities, but there are others in her world, especially, who do not give a damn about who a person is…just what they can give up.

And capes can give up a lot. Those costumes are mirrors for a plethora of talents, Wong doesn't even need to know what they are. It is enough to know that he was bound to have them.

"Anyway, you don't have to consider this shirking the consequences of your decisions," she tells him, a small smile curling on her mouth. "This is all part of the game."

—-

There's always a way around something if you think hard enough.

That, at least, culls a wry smile from the disguised young man, because he knows that very well. 'There's always a way out' is one of the axioms he lives by, a necessity in a world like his where you never know when an ingenious lunatic might decide to lock you up in some kind of horrific death trap. Red Robin has faced down the certainty of death, usually a painful and brutal death, more times than he'd care to count, and usually had nothing more than his wits to get him out of it.

Of course, now there's always the possibility that it could desert him when he needs it most. That the hidden mark on his wrist is less a sign of a debt than the representation of a ticking time bomb. Or worse, the possibility that the consequences of his potential being drained at the wrong moment could be visited not on him, but on someone else.

The young man rubs at his face with one hand, the features slightly different than his natural ones, the feel of it subtly off under his fingers and palm. He's still frustrated, still angry… But it wasn't his irritation at finding out Zatanna had told Jessica Jones about his bargain with Wong that had really sent him here in the first place. Part of it, sure, once he'd run out of excuses to himself to keep 'giving her space'.

"Well, it's not like you can un-tell them," Red Robin says, finally. She probably could, but erasing people's memories isn't something that even occurs to him, for all that he knows it would be possible. "Fine, fine. I still would've preferred you hadn't told anyone."

—-

"I know." Despite the acknowledgment, Zatanna smiles faintly at him. "Just remember I'm only doing shit that you'd do, yourself."

Hopping off the desk and picking up her now-empty plate, she taps her finger on it and gives him a look. "Though, really, I know being a crimefighting genius billionaire philanthropist polyglot ninja vigilante is exciting and all, but did you ever think about switching careers as a chef?" she wonders. "You could probably give Bobby Flay a run for his money in the Iron Chef arena. I'm sure his knife skills aren't even remotely on par with yours."

It's a spark of her old humor, and she's clearly not seriously considering how Red would look in a full chef's dress, hat and all. But the latkes were very good, and she reclaims some of her old energy now that she's got something more substantial than coffee and water in her stomach. She wiggles her fork at him playfully.

"Anyway, I should probably take a walk and work off all the carbs," she says. "Wanna come with?"

That question is more rhetorical than anything.

"Ja, you want to come with."

And so Red would find himself dragged out of her bedroom, arm looped around one of his elbows. There is every intent to ditch her plate in the kitchen in passing, but there is a nice day waiting for her outside, and she ought to exert the good college try of not moping in the penthouse all day.

—-

"I know," Red Robin acknowledges in turn, seemingly routed on this topic - at least for the moment. "But I do a lot of shit other people shouldn't do."

Zatanna is a deft social operator, as always, and knows when to let something drop, when to change the subject. She turns to the topic of the food he made for her, and summons up some of her old humour whether or not she's really feeling it at the moment. Brows, currently dyed a dark blond that's nearly brown, a few shades darker than his similarly disguised hair colour, lift and furrow at the suggestion of him becoming a chef of all things.

He tries to imagine how Bruce would react, if he did that. It might finally be one puzzle the World's Greatest Detective couldn't figure out.

"Nah… I only cook for people I care about," the young man says, which is both a stab at a playful response to her behaviour, and the simple truth. "I'd make a terrible chef. But if you play your cards right, Miss Zatara, I might make you something more complicated than potato pancakes sometime."

And then, of course, she offers him a completely false choice, asking if he wants to go for a walk with her. Answering herself, tugging him along with her arm looped around his… What are the odds he would've said no, anyway? He's found himself able to refuse Zatanna Zatara precious little since they've met, especially when her requests are so simple and harmless.

So, he does one of those things he's good at. He takes his discontent and anger, and he pushes them away. Tucks them in a little box in the back of his psyche, where he puts whatever is incovnenient at the moment. He focuses, instead, on the drive to take care of someone else. On the desire to see her smile, maybe even hear her laugh.

The truth of it is, she makes it easy for him to focus on those.

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