Back to the Grind

June 07, 2017:

Zatanna Zatara visits Tim Drake at the Nest, bringing sustenance and news. After catching up on their to-do lists, Zatanna updates him on Bucky's trial and Tim recruits her to join the Titans.

Red Robin's Nest - Gotham City

Red Robin's hideout.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Bucky Barnes, John Constantine, Dr. Jane Foster, Superboy, Wonder Girl, Spider-Man

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

The Nest hums, as though it were alive.

Maybe in a sense it is; not in the way Shadowcrest is, for example, but the place has a pulse to it, electricity flowing through myriad wires like veins through the walls and floors, from the beating heart of the generator built under the sub-basement, to hide the enormous power demands of the facility's various systems from the grid, and to keep it operational regardless of what happens outside.

At the other end of the Nest, the level below the rooftop access, is the brain: The custom-built supercomputer system devised by what might be the smartest person in all of Gotham City, the attached node for accessing the Bat-Computer without being fully slaved to the Dark Knight's own system. A hundred billion thoughts race through the computer's man-made synapses every second, as it processes, as it searches and collates and predicts.

One holographic screen runs through lines of code over and over, incomprehensible to someone without detailed knowledge of how modern applications are put together: Another checks lines of numbers, IP addresses, one at a time. Cross-referencing, searching. Still another is cycling through what seem to be police reports, from the GCPD and NYPD, picking out key words and phrases.

Like its master, the Nest always has more than one iron in the fire, more than one project on the go at any one time. But it only makes sense that when you give someone like Timothy Drake the time and the budget, he's going to build a base designed to keep up with him.

Tim himself is not at the computer, nor down in the motor pool where the Redbird sits mostly reassembled, waiting for new armored front end sections to finish machining. Bluesy hard rock music fills the Nest, the bass and drums lightly resonating the metal flooring, but the young man is at work in the shop; he's not hard to find, the lights there turned up relative to the ones in the rest of the Nest, illumination following him unerringly for maximum utility.

He's hunched over the workbench, soldering wiring into what appears to be a polymer-cloth body suit. A faint curl of acrid smoke is pulled up to the ceiling, the climate control siphoning it away where it can't do any harm. And another holographic projector is nearby, showing a cutaway of a T-shaped building. It's the sort of thing that stands out, especially since there's one just like it on an island in the middle of the East River.

—-

The moment Zatanna Zatara applies her fingerprint to the hidden switch in Tim's aquarium, all of his computers in the Nest give him the expected warning that an authorized user has just entered Red Robin's not-so-humble den of vigilantism.

She arrives dressed for the summer - the beautiful, clear days in New York have given way to the bleak heat of Gotham City's version of brighter days, but today has seen her eschewing her long sleeved embroidered lace tops and ripped jeans in favor of short sundresses and strappy sandals with heels, shoulders bared to the sun and her skin probably treated with layers of sunblock with SPF levels that would find the approval of any vampire anywhere. The click-click-clicks of her footwear heralds her arrival well before he looks up from his work to greet her. And as usual, she is never empty handed when she does visit; two fruit smoothies from the local artisanal juice establishment rest in large, clear plastic containers braced on an egg crate, condensation gleaming from its chilly surfaces.

Her expressive face lends easily to good cheer, though something tempers its typical brilliance. He would probably know the reason why immediately, given his tendency to keep abreast of current events from all over. The Trial of Two Centuries was about to start, making headlines all over the tri-cities area and beyond. The most recent update had been that Bucky Barnes' bail had been posted - all one million dollars of it - by a benefactor whose name has so far been kept away from the press. If Zatanna hadn't done it herself, she probably knows who did.

"Hey," she says, moving over towards where he is, plucking off his cup and handing it to him, complete with straw. "Back to the grind already?" A silly question, but she can't help but ask. "What are you working on?"

A slender limb reaches out to pull up a chair, ice-blue eyes peering at his latest project curiously.

A taste from his cup would reveal that the raven-haired witch has kept up on stuffing him with nothing but healthy things whenever she's within his orbit. His smoothie is packed with antioxidants, fresh fruit, flax seeds and sugar-free yogurt. Hers is less so, a concoction spun from chocolate and banana, but she figures she could use the calories. After Germany, then the ghost ship incident in Tahiti, and then her return to New York and back into the task of tackling a series of different crises all at once, the young woman has actually lost weight. This has to be the first time in her life in which she hasn't obsessed about the state of her scale.

She takes her own cup, red lips curling around her straw as her attention gravitates towards him. "How's things back home?" And by that, she means the family - his family, in particular.

—-

The interior of the Nest is pleasantly cool, of course, as is the townhouse without: There's no point in being rich if you can't have good air conditioning.

Since Tim's home is relatively close to the university, there's definitely all sorts of places designed to cater to the college crowd like that, from healthy juice bars to the probably not healthy at all food available at the Gotham University campus diner. It's another example of how much nicer the City of Yesterday is in the daylight than it is at night, and how much it's improved with the attention of the Batman and his acolytes.

Of course, of course, the Nest quietly alerts Tim when Zatanna enters, informing him as to exactly who is unlocking the entrance from the townhouse. It's not like there's a long list of people it could be anyway, but forewarned is forearmed.

"Zee," Tim says without even looking up, hearing her heels click closer against the metal floor (no doubt another reason why it isn't carpeted: it's harder to sneak up on him) and catching her faint scent on the air, mingled with the fruity notes of the drinks she's carrying. He reaches out with his free hand to take the drink without looking, only turning his dark blue eyes towards Zatanna when she goes for a chair.

He blinks, owlishly.

Then he looks away again quickly.

"The grind never stops," is his answer, though the witch might hear more of his mentor in that than the young man himself. "I'm datamining the hard drives from Auspex International, and cross-referencing the IP information I was able to get earlier with some other databases. I'm also tracking the Odessa Mob's movements and the way they're distributing Blue Belladonna, trying to figure out just how Armstrong is tied to all of that, and…"

He looks down at the workbench. That's probably what she was referring to in the first place.

"New suit, maybe. That flight pack I was using in Germany was a prototype, but I was able to figure out some stuff it needed. One is a full body nerve induction system so it's easier to control, so I'm testing it out with this… The next stage is pairing it up with that weave armor Doctor Foster made, for better protection. My current suit is good, but it's a little heavy. This would be lighter, more flexible. If it works."

Finally, he takes a sip of the smoothie: He knows that Zatanna is maybe even more careful of what he puts in his body than he is, and that attention draws a faint smile from Tim as he identifies the tastes in the drink.

"Thanks," he says, quietly.

The question Zatanna eventually asks him, watching him with her ice blue eyes, is kind of a surprising one. They hadn't really talked much about his family, and he'd avoided the subject out of respect for the fact that she was probably still mad at Bruce.

Truthfully, he was too, but the past several years had given him plenty of reasons to. And plenty of experience with the fact that it usually wasn't worth the bother: Bruce would do what Bruce would do.

"Fine, I guess. I haven't been at the Manor much lately, been busy with all the… Everything."

—-

"Yeah, I hear you," Zatanna tells him, a faint note of exasperation in her features. "I thought I was doing good, too, taking a bit of a break, but trouble finds people like us no matter what we decide to do with our time. I decide to go to a beach for a few days and whoosh." She wiggles her fingers. "Ghost ship off the shore. It's ridiculous, Tim. What are we doing with our lives?" The last said dramatically, with all the pomp and flair that could be expected from a seasoned stage performer. She punctuates the last words with a flourished sip of her smoothie.

Eyes light up with interest at everything else that he recounts. "Any luck on any of those?" she wonders, with respect to the hard drives and the Blue Belladonna case, though lips can't help but tilt downward in a faint frown, remembering the cages she found in that warehouse full of scared women. "He hasn't come back to menace you, has he? Ulysses, I mean." She hasn't heard of Gotham blowing up more than usual since she returned from the all-too brief holiday she had taken with John Constantine, and the fact that Tim is here and not out there is suggestive enough that the General has kept quiet…for now, anyway.

His gratitude has her smiling. "Well, someone has to feed you," she tells him. "Chas left to see his family for a few days, and John is worthless in the kitchen unless it's breakfast, so I've been trying to re-learn some of the good ol' Italian cooking nonna tried to teach me when she was still alive to save him from eating his body weight in takeout. Good thing, too, Bucky hasn't really been able to leave Jane's apartment since….everything. The public backlash has been pretty bad, so he's been cooping himself up to prevent any additional public incidents, so I've just been making extra. I put a few in your freezer, also. Just simple stuff - lasagna, cacio e pepe, some fish. It's homemade pasta, Tim, so you better eat them."

When he points out that he has been busy with 'everything', she smiles; there is an apologetic note to it. "I haven't exactly been helping with that, I'm sorry," she tells him, and she clearly means it. "I keep meaning to drop by also, we should, together, at some point. If anything I think Alfred would be glad to see us. Might be a little awkward between me and Bruce at first but we reached….an understanding, of sorts, last time I talked to him."

There is finally a glance at the suit. "So you'll actually be able to fly?" she wonders. "No more…you know. Jumping off buildings with just a line?" Because he's very aware as to just how much she loves that, and there's a hint of trepidation there as she looks at the instruments on his workbench. "Though I'm not surprised Jane provided you with some of her weave, also. I wouldn't be surprised if she ends up outfitting every single street-level superhero in the tri-cities area in a few months."

Crossing her legs by the knee, she takes another sip of her smoothie. "Have you been following the trial?" she wonders.

—-

There's a faint shake of Tim's head, the longer strands of his midnight black hair swinging subtly.

"No, Armstrong's been laying low. I think you might've spooked him, so he's probably recalibrating, changing his plans. Probably investigating you; it's what I'd do in his position. You weren't an associate of mine the last time he was in Gotham. Spoiler or Nightwing or one of the others he'd probably have plans for, but you're a new variable. Mostly he seems to be working as a kind of information broker for the Odessa Mob. Probably some other outfits, too."

Assuming the man he dangled off of a rooftop the other night wasn't lying, but that information matched what else he'd been able to dig up anyway. The General might've had a growth spurt, but his strength was in his brain, not his brawn.

Tim remains quiet, though whether it's pensiveness or focus on the work he's doing isn't entirely clear - it could easily be both. He listens, though, as he always does. And then he lets out a slow exhalation, a breezy drawn out huff of air, when Zatanna says she's left homemade pasta in his freezer, with the expectation that he eat it or offend her hot-blooded Italian sensibilities.

"Lots of starch and carbohydrates. I'll have to work out extra," he mutters.

Those abs didn't make themselves!

But he shakes his head when Zatanna apologises, straightening up to look at her. You don't owe me anything, he wants to say, but of course he knows that she wouldn't view it that way, not when he's worked so hard for her sake since that disastrous night she was kidnapped by Kazinsky. Besides, she's suggesting they go to the Manor together at some point in the near future, which makes his brow furrow faintly. Perhaps she'd feel better, safer if he was there with her. 'Understanding of sorts' with Bruce or no.

"Uh… Sure, okay, we could do that," he says. "You're right, Alfred would probably be over the moon to have more than just Bruce and Damian around."

But the suit, now…

"I'm not getting rid of the grapple lines. It's subtler than flying, especially with wings, probably more useful in Gotham. Easier to do with another person, too," Tim adds. "Maybe, anyway. I'd have to try it with someone other than Constantine. He got all fussy, like a baby. Or a cat."

It's funny, but of course they also nearly died because of it. Alas that Zatanna didn't get to see Tim bridal carrying the British magus.

"The wings are strips that retract into the pack," Tim explains. "They're a polymer weave threaded with inertrite, it's a meta-material Waynetech created trying to artificially replicate vibranium. It didn't really work, and it's prohibitively expensive anyway, but when you pass a current through it, it gains an enormous tensile strength; the strips take shape into wings, which are controlled through neural impulses… They'd also be useful defensively, able to absorb impacts that would be otherwise lethal. And incredibly sharp, too. As for the weave armor, it's the same one she gave all of us when we went to Germany, I've just… Been tinkering with it."

As he does, pretty much inevitably.

Have you been following the trial?

"Of course," Tim replies. He turns off the soldering iron, letting it start to cool, and turns to face Zatanna directly. "Kinda hard to miss. His lawyer is that guy Miss Jones was interested in. The one you went to see in the hospital." Tim Drake never forgets anything. "Doesn't really seem like the sort of lawyer you'd want working defense in a case like this, so I'm guessing nobody else would take it and Murdock got thrown to the wolves."

—-

"Well, maybe the fact that I'm actually magic will be impetus enough to give you some breathing room as far as he's concerned," Zatanna remarks. "Even within my community, I'm pretty hard to quantify. Like my father, but also not." Not when her other half couldn't be said to be fully human, and the Homo Magi are a cryptic race as it was, holed up in a city somewhere in Turkey. She deliberately avoids thinking about that part of her heritage a little too hard, however, feeling an uneasy twinge at the pit of her stomach; she doesn't know why, but she has learned to trust her instincts when things are especially mysterious.

"Though that would mean the more time he thinks about it, the more thorough he is and the more thorough he is, the more headaches for you, right? Might be better to get the jump on him for a change. That makes sense tactically, right?" There's a glance at Tim at that, to gauge his expression. He is, after all, more experienced dealing with this guy than she is.

"Besides, I can get used to that. Being a wildcard."

His quiet muttering about carbohydrates has her rolling her eyes skyward. "You need some carbohydrates, especially for the engine that works nonstop in your skull," she says, pointing a finger towards his cranium. "And I'll tell you a secret as to why Italian women remain so god damn skinny despite pasta being a daily part of the diet. You ready for this? Portion control. That means not sitting in front of the computer with a tub of lasagna and just shoveling it into your mouth until its gone, and then working out after. You cut out a small square like a civilized person and eat it with salad and a cut of lean meat. Which essentially means I packed about a month's worth of meals in your fridge that you can just pop into your microwave. You're welcome."

There's a grin at that, wiggling her half-empty smoothie cup at him.

His description of Constantine as a baby, or a cat, has her grin turning somewhat wry. "He is kind of like an angry cat," she muses, looking back. "Especially when he feels like getting uppity. Doing the magician's version of looking at you right in the eye before knocking everything off your desk with a paw."

He's not getting rid of the grapple lines though. There's a quiet snap of her fingers, and a muttered 'damn' somewhere.

When he brings up the trial, she nods. "Jess seems to think he's capable, but…you know. Rose colored glasses and everything, as far as that guy's concerned. Not to say that I don't think he's good. I looked him up a while back when I was trying to see whether I ought to retain him for another friend of mine." She really should look Peter Parker up again. "And a case he's involved with. He graduated from a top-tier law school, heard he was snatched up by a huge law firm here in New York before he decided to strike out with his buddy, Mr. Nelson. So I have no doubt he has the brains, but….he's fresh out, and Bucky's…"

She pauses. Setting aside her smoothie, she leans her face into her hands. "Oh, Tim," she sighs. "He's looking at the death penalty, and he already said no to the plea deal. One hundred consecutive life sentences. I don't know what that means for someone like him, maybe whatever they did to him while he was HYDRA's prolonged his life indefinitely, but to him, it wasn't a choice at all. So as much as I like Matt, I don't know. I was thinking maybe we could find him more experienced co-counsel if he thinks he needs the help. I have to see him anyway."

She hesitates.

"…I got subpoena'd," she tells Tim. "By the prosecution, as a witness."

—-

Since their conversation in her father's study, Tim has known that there was something unusual about Zatanna, even where the magically powerful were concerned. That the rules which applied to other wielders of the arcane, like her father and Constantine, didn't seem to apply to her in the same ways.

That she was afraid of it. Of what it might mean. Of herself, in a way.

Tim had no idea what he could do to help her with that, if there was anything he could do to protect her or ease her burden… But if he found something, if it presented itself, he knew that he'd do it without hesitation. Because he was an idiot.

"He likes traps, ambushes. Going on the offensive would have to be done carefully. But it happens I know some people…" Conner had been excited at the possibility of going after the General, busting some heads. Cassie had already helped out, alongside Miss Martian. He's sure Spider-Man would lend a hand, and of course Zatanna already had. The math is easy to do, especially with everything else.

"I know all about portion control," Tim mutters defensively. He wasn't the type to gorge himself, outside of the occasional cheat day indulgence; he might not hold to the Batman Diet as religiously as the Dark Knight himself, but still. "Is this because you're still mad about the latkes?" he wonders. "If you want the recipe, I can show you how I made them. The secret ingredient… Is love," Tim explains, putting all the weight of grim seriousness behind it that he can, purely facetiously.

But jokes fall away quickly enough when the topic turns to Bucky Barnes' trial, and the identity of the lawyer tasked with defending the onetime Winter Soldier. Talented, but young and inexperienced, dealing with a case that's probably seen as a slam dunk for the prosecution. A case that will put him in the headlights of a media circus.

The cold, pragmatic logic of the Detective reminds Tim of how bad that situation looks. There was a time, not too long ago, when he wouldn't have lost a night's sleep over the idea of Barnes going to jail for a very long time: He can't support the death penalty of course, on simple principle, but it was hard to see the man as a victim after what his masters had done to Zatanna. Familiarity, however, breeds sympathy… And he certainly doesn't want to watch Doctor Foster suffer, or any of the other people who care for Barnes. As is happening right in front of him.

Zatanna puts her face in her hands, and as soon as she can't see him, Tim moves. Soundlessly, even on those metal floors that announced the witch so clearly to him, his socked feet betraying him not at all. After only a moment's hesitation, the vigilante strokes Zatanna's hair, trying to offer some kind of comfort.

"I do know a few lawyers," Tim allows. This is probably an understatement. "But they might not want to put their names on this."

And she's going to be a witness for the prosecution, Zatanna reveals.

"Oh," Tim says, quietly. "That's… Shitty…"

—-

"And apparently he likes you," Zatanna replies with a grimace. "Not in the most healthy way either." Then again, this was Gotham - there's a lot in the costumed community that isn't healthy, especially here. "Have I mentioned my theory about the water here giving people genius-level intellect when exposed to it long enough? I used to groan at all the superhero stereotypes but I suppose I have to be reminded now and then that they are what they are for a reason." Like how every one needs to have a nemesis. Still, for all of her words, there is no disguising her worry there. She has seen Tim go toe-to-toe with brutal, savage magic and not just live, but prevail - not because of his plethora of talents, but because of how his mind works. By all accounting, Ulysses is pretty much the same way.

"With a little help from your friends, huh?" she says; relief sinks into her bones there. Because people is plural for person and it lightens the mood, some, to find out that he's already gotten in touch with some of his other friends. People she has yet to meet.

When he brings up the latkes again, she laughs. "You don't have enough wrinkles to make that claim all the more believable, Tim," she points out. Because that sounds exactly like what a grandmother would say. "Anyway, I'm only giving you crap, you know that…I know how hard you push yourself, if I can relieve the burden in some small way, even if it's just cooking stuff you can just pop into the microwave, I'll do it."

The situation on its own wasn't just bad, it was deadly, if Matt doesn't manage to pull a Rainmaker move and make a solid name for himself in the legal profession if he somehow manages to prevail against U.S. District Attorney Archer, who already seems formidable on paper, from what she has managed to read about him from the Department of Justice's website. "Obviously the main defense is going to be his mind control and…I'm not a lawyer, not even close to law-anything, but that means that he can only go so far as Matt's able to prove that his actions weren't his own, right? How hard would that be to believe for a jury, Tim? I mean…you have Superman flying all over Metropolis punching bad guys through buildings, wormholes opening up in the sky to bring in an alien invasion…how hard of a sell would that be, really?"

With her face in her hands, she doesn't see him, but she feels his fingers in her hair well enough. She exhales into her palms, and looks up at him, lips tilting up in a rueful, but grateful smile.

"I know," she tells him. "Probably not - it's a career ender. The balls on Matt though, yeah? How many months out of law school and taking this on." Though she knows why, and given how straightforward her face is most days, Tim's powers of observation and his familiarity with her would be able to catch them - those little nuances that suggest that she knows more than what she is saying.

It hadn't been that long ago when she had accidentally discovered Matt Murdock was the Devil of Hell's Kitchen.

At his quiet remarks, she shkes her head slowly. "It's fine," she says. "…I think. I know Matt will probably prep me, because that's apparently a thing, you know? Witness preparation, I looked it up on the Boogle Machine." She attempts to inject some levity there. "I just….well. You know me, and my temper. If I can't hold back on any of the people I love, I don't know how well I'll be able to keep a lid on it when some stranger actively gets in my face about everything that can possibly discredit Bucky, or me, or anyone I deal with."

After a pause, she smiles. "At least he hasn't tried to subpoena Spider-Man or Red Robin, yeah? Could you imagine sitting on the stand, getting hammered with questions in full costume?"

—-

Tim would be really happy if it was just the one nemesis.

That's not really how it works, though.

"It's a dangerous precedent to set," Tim notes, on the topic of the 'mind control defense'. "After all, how do you prove it? Or disprove it? You could call in an expert witness… A powerful telepath, or say a Mistress of the Mystic Arts, but how do you show that to the jury in a way they can comprehend? It starts getting awfully close to 'the devil made me do it'. Which, yeah, is also a thing, I know. But people might start thinking that it's just a cop-out defense… That he'll say anything to avoid the death penalty."

There's a faint sigh from Tim, because he knows that even if the gentle touch on Zatanna's hair might be offering her some physical comfort, what he's saying is definitely more along the lines of 'having to face harsh truths'. But he won't lie to her if he can help it. He's resolved that, ever since he took off the cowl in front of her. With her, if no one else, he'll be as honest as he can.

"There are criminals in Gotham who use mind control, so it's not completely unknown… But people know that Mad Hatter can control you with headgear. They know about Poison Ivy's effect on men. This might be more of a leap, especially given the different venue. Gotham City case law is pretty crazy, just like everything else in the city."

He doesn't say anything about the things written in Zatanna's expression, that she clearly knows more about Matthew Murdock than she's admitting. It's the same sort of tells that led him to conclude that she knew who Spider-Man was under his webbed mask… And even then, he didn't pry, beyond giving her a little grief about knowing someone else's secret identity, and leaving him feeling less special.

"Boogle Machine," Tim repeats, shaking his head melodramatically. "Well don't forget to iron your nicest dress robes, you've got to look your best in Muggle court."

You know me, and my temper.

Tim Drake looks so incredibly innocent when Zatanna mentions her temper that were he the one on trial, they'd already be stringing him up. But he knows that they will get in her face. They'll do whatever they can to use her to make Bucky look bad in front of the jury. Even if the judge instructs the jury to disregard any outbursts she ends up making, it'll already be too late. That's just human nature: The DA will know that, down to his bones.

"Could you imagine them trying to prove our identities? It could be anyone under those things. And I'm pretty sure Spider-Man would end up in contempt of court in the first five minutes. I was talking to him, last night, actually. I made him an offer he couldn't refuse."

—-

It's a very dangerous precedent to set.

That is the crux of it in the end.

As always, Tim brings his formidable intellect to bear and he doesn't disappoint. She remembers their very first conversation when he had told her that he was torn between becoming a psychologist or a lawyer. "I guess that's why they'll have to choose who sits in the jury very carefully," she says. "I'm holding out hope that since it's in New York, site of most modern day apocalypses, it wouldn't be as far of a stretch as it could have been a couple of decades ago."

She would rather have this than any sugarcoated fantasies about how justice would prevail and Bucky's chances are good, and Tim would know that, at least - he had seen what the consequences were if Zatanna knew someone was being dishonest. The touch of his hand, however, does persist, and after a few moments, she eases her head away, taking his hand instead and giving it a squeeze. Gratitude emanates with the warmth of her palm.

"Gotham might be the craziest and most dangerous city on the planet," Zatanna tells him. "So I suppose the legal system had to evolve with it in order to keep up. But New York's pretty crazy also, yeah? I mean…with what happened a few years ago and everything."

His super-innocent face earns him a flat look, at both his Harry Potter references and the exaggerated, but silent response he makes about her temper. "Look," she exclaims, exasperated. "I can't help what I am."

Understatement of the century.

That remark about Peter Parker's mouthiness draws out a laugh, mirth setting those ice-blue irises on fire. "I keep thinking of looking him up, see how he's doing now that I'm back in the east coast," she says. "He's….doing okay? What offer did you make him?"

—-

Better the difficult truth than the comforting lie; that was a decision Tim Drake had made for himself long ago, even before he'd put on the costume of the Boy Wonder to fight crime alongside Batman. In this, at least, he and Zatanna were very similar. They were both people who needed to look unflinchingly at the reality of the world, because there was no other way to be able to do something about it.

The squeeze of her hand is met with a light one of Tim's own, and as the witch refers to Gotham as possibly the 'craziest and most dangerous city on the planet,' the vigilante can't bring himself to disagree. He himself has called it the worst place on Earth, and given some of the hellholes he's visited in the course of his superheroic career, that is saying something.

"New York has a lot more metahumans than Gotham does," Tim agrees. "Which could leave the jury more likely to accept outlandish possibilities. What about the data I recovered from Hydra, the night you got your soul back?" It's weird that he can say things like that without even a second thought. His life is weird. "I gave SHIELD a copy, did they enter that into evidence at all? If not, Mister Murdock could always receive an anonymous gift. I dunno what the court would really think about it, but it does seem relevant to the facts of the case."

She gives him a flat look for his own attempts at levity, which hardly seems fair at all even if they were at Zatanna's own expense.

I can't help what I am.

"You shouldn't," is Tim's quiet response to her exasperated defense of herself and her eccentricities. "What you are is pretty amazing."

At least he gets a laugh, bringing up Spider-Man's ability to aggravate just about anyone by running his mouth. Zatanna wonders about the wall-crawler and how he's doing, and what 'offer' Tim made him, and that has the vigilante slowly drawing away from her, walking around the workbench to where that holographic display sits silently, the image ghostly and blue. He puts his hands in it, and draws them outwards diagonally, making the image grow: Titans Tower, a four-story building in an improbable T-shape, largely unused in recent years but traditionally the base of operations of a team of young heroes. Once, a different Robin had led them: Maybe there's something poetic about Red Robin bringing them back.

He 'taps' the air above the tower, and a picture appears: Himself, in costume. Again beside it, a young man in sunglasses and a leather jaket, with short dark hair and a confident grin. "Superboy." Again, beside that: A young woman with dark hair - it's clearly a wig - and goggles. "Wonder Girl." Beside that, and an image of Spider-Man's web-pattered mask. "Spider-Man. I've got some other prospects in mind, and I should've talked to you sooner, but we've both been pretty busy." His fingers hover in empty air beside the picture of Spider-Man, the ghostly outline of an image almost appearing.

"Zatanna Zatara," Tim says, looking over at the witch intently. "How would you like to be a superhero?"

—-

"I'm sure everything's being entered in discovery," Zatanna tells Tim, though the way she says it, she's exhausted already. "John had the same question when we saw Bucky yesterday and he assured us that all of it - what we found in Ozone Park, that hospital when we got my soul back, everything, they're all being entered in the playbook. What isn't though is…"

She hesitates. Tilting her head towards him and lowering her voice, she imparts to Tim, in a low whisper: "….Bucky and Jane found the machine. The one they actually used to break him and turn him into the Winter Soldier. We stole it, Tim, from a Siberian HYDRA base. And they…I don't know what they captured but they had a giant snake in a lake and they were extracting venom from it to create….I don't know. Superhuman serum. Whatever they used to create Bucky and they had other test subjects in there."

Her expression twists. The guilt remains, on her face and eyes. They didn't have a choice but to leave those people there.

The things some organizations would do for ultimate power. Nausea returns to her stomach.

"But that's not…I had to hide it. I know, it's wrong, if we get found out, we could all go to prison for obstruction or worse, but…if it gets entered into evidence and this Archer guy calls in his experts to pull it apart just to convince the jury it has no way of creating the kind of mind control used on Bucky, it could set back Jane's re-engineering efforts for years. It could help the case, yeah, but it could hurt it, too and what's more, they could break it and…"

And then there goes the chance to rehabilitate the Winter Soldier. To rid him of the triggers that make him so dangerous. For good.

She braces herself, shores herself up for whatever disapproval he might have about it.

Instead, what he tells her is…

Her expression softens visibly. "Well, I would have to be," she grouses, though she's clearly pleased by the compliment. Warmth suffuses the line of her mouth, the grip of her hand on his. "My best friend is a billionaire philanthropist genius-level polyglot crimefighting detective ninja. I don't know if we would be able to hang out if I couldn't keep up." She gives him a wink at that.

When he starts moving, she lets him go, and her eyes turn to the screen as he introduces her to a few faces she has not come across before, and one familiar one. There's a slight incline of her head - the Titans is another group she's heard of, much of the same as the Avengers and the Justice League. Her father, once upon a time, had been part of the All Star Squadron in the time when a series of wars had wracked the Earth. But the surprise on her face is indicative that she had no idea that Tim himself was interested in joining a group, much less lead it.

And then he asks her if she wants to be a superhero.

"….I'm not wearing a cape," is the first thing she says. "But if you're asking me to join so I can help my friends out, of course I will."

—-

There's no admonishment.

It isn't the call Tim would've made, but it wasn't his call to make; the idea of anyone having access to a machine like that, even Jane Foster, doesn't sit well with him, of course. How could it? Imagine the terrible temptation of having a device in your hands that could simply change someone's mind. But at the same time, giving it to the authorities to analyse, even if it could potentially be used to exonerate Barnes, isn't ideal either. He's long past the point of trusting governments, not that he doubts they have access to similar technology to begin with.

But what if it was just a fact of life, because of its appearance in a case like this? What if it was reverse-engineered, and people simply accepted its existence? Imagine the uses. Imagine how criminals could be rehabilitated using a device like that. All the impulses that drive men to evil, reined in. Rewritten.

No, Tim Drake would've destroyed such a machine, regardless of the consequences.

"It's not what you can do that makes you amazing, Zee," Tim reminds her, a bit bewildered as always that she sees herself as needing to 'keep up' with him. He's the mere mortal after all, if it comes down to things like that. He's the one who needs to keep himself honed to razor sharpness, in mind and body, to not get crushed by the sorts of things that she faces by the simple dint of her magical nature. "I'd think the same even if you didn't have a magical bone in your body."

Although he probably wouldn't be involving her in more incredibly dangerous situations, in that case.

But only probably: You never know when a secret society of super-assassins are going to show up, or something.

So he makes the presentation, he makes the offer, and of course she says she isn't going to wear a cape.

"Don't stage magicians wear capes? You know, sweep it around to help you look mysterious? That's the whole reason we wear 'em. Well, not Superman. I think he just figures it looks cool when he's flying."

But, jokes aside…

"Not just to help your friends, but to be helped, too. I've been thinking about it for a while, you know… There's a lot of people our age and even younger that just kinda fall through the cracks. The Justice League and the Avengers have their own stuff to deal with, and the X-Men or whoever have a particular focus. For a while, me and Superboy and Wonder Girl and some others had our own group but it wasn't really a formal thing, it was just a bunch of friends who wore costumes and occasionally beat up supervillains. This is… Something more than that."

He presses his fingers into that empty spot in the air: A picture of Zatanna forms, which he managed to take at some point while she was wearing the domino mask he'd given her.

"Honestly… You were the inspiration for this," he admits, because he saw that surprise. He know what he seems like, a loner in the vein of his mentor. He was never like Dick, who was so easily part of a group, the center of it. "I know there's only so much I can do to help you against evil wizard cults and demon lords, but the Titans will be more than just the sum of their parts. And some of those parts can bench press a 747. But I realised there's other people who could use our help too. Azalea Kingston, for one. Who knows how many others? How much more good could I do with this than if I just stick to punching ninjas in alleyways every night?"

—-

"I know where you're coming from," Zatanna tells him with a laugh, rubbing her cheek in a self-conscious fashion. "A lot of people say that to me, and I'm flattered every time. Embarrassed, even." Looking up, she affords him an open smile. "Thanks, Tim. I'm a lucky one, you know. That those around me care about me for who I am and not what I am." Especially for a young woman constantly targetted for the latter, laden with abandonment issues, it's an enormous relief she isn't sure she can eloquently quantify with words, in any language.

When he teases her about the capes, she grins. "Daddy's already got the market cornered on that in my family," she tells him. "When he was still performing as the Great Zatara. He had the whole magician's kit - gloves, cape, top hat, bow-tie. If I want to be able to get out of his shadow, one day, I'm going to have to put my own twists into tried and true classics."

She falls quiet when she is regaled with the history of the Titans, her head inclining slightly and homing in on the most important parts of it, namely the part about young enhanced people who fall through the cracks, like homeless, woefully superpowered individuals who don't have anywhere to belong. There's a hint of a frown at that, because she knows. It hadn't been all that long ago when she found herself suddenly left, the only support system she has ever known in her entire life gone. Even the network she used to get by hadn't been hers.

She imagines someone like herself creating such a network of her own, to have the kind of guidance by more experienced peers who are all struggling with the same coming of age problems.

It's when he tells her that she was the inspiration that has her pointing at herself, looking utterly bewildered. "Me?" she wonders, though that is as far as she gets before he explains. "I don't know, Tim, even with the little I've managed to teach you, you're doing pretty well. You're adaptable, you know? And you're…brave." It sounds simplistic, but it is the only word she can use that fully encapsulates what she means. "Not to say you're never scared but…no matter how weird things get, it never really stops you from coming up with solutions only you can come up with because of how your brain works. And most of the time, they work. You're…utterly phenomenal." There's a note of admiration there, from a young woman who doesn't believe she's as smart as everyone else who surrounds her.

Then again, it's an easy position to occupy, when one is so intimately involved with a man who constantly beats gods and demons in their own celestial games and fosters significant friendships with genius-level acrobats and scientists, and legendary super assassins. When one is the daughter of a living legend who has saved the world more times than anyone could count, and with only half the potential she was born with.

"Anyway, I know you. The way you think…with more pieces, the world is your chessboard. After the last few months, I'm pretty sure you can do anything you set your mind to, Tim."

With that, she rises from her chair, moving over to curl an arm around his shoulders and giving him a half-embrace, a warm squeeze.

"Alright, I think you can use a break," she declares. "Let's go watch TV. You remember what that's like, right? You sit on a couch, with a drink, maybe some popcorn…"

—-

There's a faint, wry laugh from Tim, as Zatanna finds amusement in his teasing about magicians and capes.

"As it happens, I know a little something about having somebody's shadow to get out of." Not just the Batman, but the first Robin, as well. That was something that marked them, the core of Young Justice who became his closest friends: Superboy, Wonder Girl, Impulse… Like him, they were all younger, less experienced versions of living legends. Even now, they bear the trappings of the heroes whose paths they follow, to one extent or another. Maybe Zatanna is a better fit for their group than one might expect at first blush.

His assertion that there's only so much he can do about the sorts of problems that she faces is met with, of all things, a counter. Not an agreement that he's well over his head dealing with arcane matters. Her words are powerful, with a kind of magic to them even when she says them the right way around: The power that comes with her admiration, with her faith in him, and she talks to Tim in a way that would convince any man that he could do the impossible.

It's dangerous, dangerous. A snare to trap him, if he weren't thoroughly bound already. Yet, knowing how dangerous it is makes for a weak defense against her. He gestures through the hologram, brings his hands close together and makes the images shrink, until it turns off entirely. Better than fidgeting. Better than saying something stupid.

Anything he set his mind to, she says, but he knows that's not true.

If it were, he wouldn't have fallen in love with her, knowing she'll never look at him that way.

She's close, and it's a kind of pleasant torture after she spoke so highly of him - after he reminded himself of the trap he'd let himself fall into - as she curls her arm around his shoulders from the side, as she squeezes warmly. She'd offered once to ease up with him, to hold back; he turned it down, of course, and he doesn't regret that decision any, but still…

"I take breaks sometimes," Tim says, acting put out over the assertion. "But since you've got such a smart mouth, I'm gonna put on the worst movie I can find." Slowly, a bit hesitantly, he puts his arm around her waist in return, shutting off the music with his other hand while they move like that out of the workshop, towards the steps up to his townhouse. "Something in cheesy '70s sci-fi, all guys in space pajamas and girls in silver go-go boots, and when you're staring in horror at the terrible haircuts, Zatanna Zatara, I want you to remember that you brought this on yourself…"

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