Birthday Wishes and Car Chases

July 19, 2017:

Zatanna Zatara stops by Tim Drake's townhouse to deliver his birthday cake and submit herself as a guinea pig for his new flight suit. A chase through Manhattan ensues when a carjacking happens while in the middle of their experiments.

Gotham City, then New York

In the big cities.

Characters

NPCs: The Boner and his crew (NPC'd by Red Robin)

Mentions: Giovanni Zatara, Stephanie Brown, Bart Allen, Dick Grayson, Batman, John Constantine

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

It's only because Alfred managed to mention it, in one of her prior visits to Wayne Manor, that she knows it is Tim's birthday today.

So when Zatanna Zatara uses her personalized access tools to enter her best friend's (highly modified) condominium, she is carrying a small box, and considering today's planned activities, she has ditched her favored summer dresses in favor of designer jeans, boots and a tanktop. Dipping her hand into the aquarium to apply her thumbprint on the hidden scanner there, the door to the Nest swings open and she descends with the quick strides of someone who has somewhere to be.

It isn't as if Tim was predictable by nature; he makes it a point not to be, but the hours after University classes often means that he is back in the hideout preparing for the evening, or tackle one of his gazillion projects before venturing out to do what Batman has trained him to do. It also helps that he has asked her to help out in this project in particular.

She would have also said no, if it wasn't for the fact that it was his birthday.

Something tells her he did this on purpose. He could be manipulative after all.

So when she arrives in the underbellies of Red Robin's secret lair, and when she spots him, she sets down the box and reaches over to hug him. "Happy Birthday," she tells him, and it almost sounds grudging. "You con artist."

But he at least has cake. This is what is inside the box, though she imagines they won't be having pieces of it until later when they're done with their little experiment.

"And because I'm pretty sure you're conning me to do this, this is your birthday present. Me as your guinea pig. I hope you realize you're going to have to explain this to John and my father if my heart gives out at any point in the middle of this exercise, right?"

—-

Twenty years old.

Honestly, Tim Drake is surprised to have made it to the big two-oh. Sure, Batman's nearly forty and still trucking, but he's Batman. Dick's survived into his mid-twenties doing the same job, but Dick Grayson is possessed of some kind of unnatural luck, letting him bounce through life like it was some kind of circus act. Jason didn't make it. Sure, he didn't stay dead, but that still counts.

Though he'd gone for a 'birthday treat' with Bruce and Stephanie (it was not awkward (it was definitely kind of awkward)) a few days ago, he'd still made the trek to the Manor earlier, because Alfred Pennyworth can wield guilt with surgical precision, and is entirely willing to brandish it against those who don't make an appearance on birthdays and important holidays.

Since Zatanna was coming by, though, he'd returned early. Lots of work to do, had been his excuse for getting away from the Manor, and that was true enough. There was always work to do, always a seemingly endless list of projects and cases. And now, he was going to spend his twentieth birthday testing out the latest version of his suit, one that would hopefully fly properly.

Hopefully.

The Tim Drake that Zatanna finds in the Nest is in his alternative costume, the same one she'd seen him working on a few weeks previously. His typical Red Robin suit is heavy, all leather and kevlar and concealed armor plates… This is more reminiscent of his garb as the Boy Wonder, having shed weight from the costume without losing protection thanks to the fiber weave armor provided by Jane Foster. It's his standard colours, black and red with yellow highlights, particularly the crossing harness straps for the pack itself; where the straps meet, a circle bears the stylised bird's head in profile logo of Red Robin. There's another matching logo on one shoulder, and the other has the Titans T-shaped logo.

That's what the suit is for, after all. One for Gotham, one for the Titans.

"Thanks," Tim says when Zatanna wishes him a happy birthday; he just grins a little when she calls him a con artist, returning the hug. He's gotten a haircut. Not much of one, just enough that he can brush his hair up, not at all like the style Tim Drake, Normal(-ish) College Student wears his in.

"I never expected you to get me anything, Zee," he tells her, sincerely. After all, her birthday had gotten a bit lost in the shuffle. "If you really don't want to do this, it's not like I can force you," the young man adds. "Tell you what though, next year we'll just go out and get drunk."

That's what you're supposed to do on your twenty first birthday after all, isn't it? Celebrate being legal.

Not that he doesn't have a plethora of fake IDs he could use anyway.

—-

I never expected you to get me anything, Zee.

Zatanna laughs at that, giving him an arch look, crossing her arms over her chest. "Yeah, well, birthdays are for surprises, besides those are the good ones. It's about a thousand times better than a surprise ambush, or whatever it is that you deal with constantly with the crazies in Gotham." Ice-blue eyes take in the modified outfit, though she doesn't do anything to touch it. From what she has gathered, it is new, and she is presently doesn't know which of the bells and whistles are particularly sensitive - or where they are in the first place.

"Cool costume," she tells him at last once she's given it a visual inspection, holding a thumbs-up towards him.

But at the idea that she could always say no, she scoffs. "Yeah and then you'll be like 'remember the time when I helped you out in this one thing' and so on, and I'll feel too guilty and that'll be that. It's fine, Tim, really, besides I trust you. And if you do drop me or make my heart stop, I'll come back to life somehow and take that box back."

She points to it, a plain white affair with ribbons done up in his colors.

"And that would be a shame, because what's in it is really good."

The idea of going out and getting drunk with him has her grinning. "Why, are you allowed to actually do that? Won't Batman just drop from the rafters and give you the disapproving dad face?" she wonders. Not that the legal age has ever stopped her; having spent most of her formative years in Europe, the fact that she is a habitual underage drinker doesn't even register. "But fine, next time, we'll go to a bar and you can have a legitimate drink." While she has an illegitimate one.

Taking a step sideways, she takes a glance at his get-up from the side. "So….right. How do we do this?" A look of resignation crosses her features. "I mean, the faster we do this, the faster we'll be able to open the box."

And partake of what's inside.

Look, she really likes cake.

—-

"It's lighter than the other one," Tim says, when she pronounces the costume 'cool'. "Not gonna be very forgiving if I start putting on weight." So of course, Zatanna brought a cake. And his fridge is almost literally full of cupcakes from Stephanie.

Fortunately, fighting gangs of heavily-armed lunatics burns a lot of calories.

When she scoffs, and claims that he'd try and guilt her even obliquely, he makes a sound of theatrical shock and hurt. Honestly, she was the one who talked so glowingly about him having more people to move around like chess pieces, and now here she is complaining that he's hypothetically manipulative! Why, he nearly misses the mention of some kind of revenant witch, a Zombie Zatanna, returning from the grave just to make sure he doesn't get whatever's in the box she brought.

"I'd never drop you," he assures her instead, a genuine sentiment despite the joking that's been going on. "And your heart's going to be fine, unless you have a congenital defect… Which I didn't see in any of your medical records," Tim adds, breezing past that and offering that next year they'll just do something normal young adults would do, and go get hammered. An idea that draws a bright grin out of Zatanna's expressive face.

"No, I'm supposed to be teetotal," the young man answers her, to what is surely her complete lack of surprise. "But in case you haven't noticed, I don't always do what Batman says I'm supposed to do. And you've met my friends, or most of them, anyway. We got up to all sorts of teenaged shenanigans. Young superheroes with minimal supervision, all about the shenanigans. Maybe some monkeyshines."

"An escapade or two," he adds thoughtfully, pressing his jaggedly designed black domino mask into place over his eyes, the system booting up, text scrawling over the heads up display on the inside of his white lenses.

"One time we even got up to antics."

He looks around, seemingly at random, but he's testing the HUD, making sure it's tagging objects correctly, highlighting things for his attention.

"But yeah, a bar," Red Robin agrees offhandedly. "Maybe one of those clubs you like to go to. The, uh, mundane ones not the spooky ones. Probably end up in the gossip pages, though."

How do we do this?

He can tell that Zatanna wants to get it over with, as much because of the contents of the box as because she's probably going to enjoy this as much as she does swinging on a line. Maybe less.

"Ideally, we'd start somewhere higher up than my roof," the vigilante says, privately wondering if they could've managed this in his New York penthouse. "Could you do the honors?"

Fair's fair, he figures. After all, he likes teleporting as little as she like swinging through the city.

—-

I'd never drop you.

Zatanna smiles at him at that, inclining her head. "I know." Said with all the confidence reflective of her utmost trust to the former Boy Wonder, reaching out to touch his cheek lightly with her fingers, before drawing away so he could turn and put the domino mask on his face.

She listens intently to the rest, as always holding that same attentive interest when he deigns to tell her bits and pieces about his life - whether growing up as a Drake or a Wayne, or as a boy genius and crimefighting detective. Now that she's met some of his best friends - Conner and Cassie, at least - she has gotten more than that, as well as some semblance of relief that for how lonely Tim seems sometimes that he isn't completely. He is surrounded by people who know him well. Had this been a few months ago, she would have been jealous of that, most of all.

These days, she has her own circle - a small one, but slowly growing. In a way, the people she has manages to get in touch with regularly have become family; not to replace the hole that her father left behind, as that would never be filled, but an expansion, of a kind.

"We'll have to bring Conner and Cassie, then," she says, when he suggests they go to a mundane bar or nightclub. "Maybe Stephanie and…I don't know, do you have any other friends? Twenty-one's a big deal, and maybe instead of anywhere in the tri-cities area, maybe we can pop on over to Vegas or something. Because you know what's better than just drinking? Drinking and gambling!"

Of course she would say that.

With his experiment underway, she laughs, eyebrows perking upwards as she draws out her obsidian obelisk, tracing the air with it as it starts to emanate the signature white-blue of her pure, potent magic. "Oh, so you do feel a little bad that you're about to instill terror in me. That makes me feel a little better," she jests. A whispered, backwards word causes Reality to split apart before her, opening out into the most familiar place she knows beset with ridiculous skyscrapers.

New York.

Specifically, right at the very flat top of 432 Park Avenue, a residential tower that overlooks Central Park, topping at almost fourteen hundred feet. Winds from the high altitude blow through the opening she has made in the world.

"I learned how to make portals recently," she tells him with a smile. "Maybe this ought to be your birthday present instead."

And with that, she steps through and onto the flat roof beckoning them from beyond the opening.

—-

"Vegas does seem like your kind of town," the vigilante agrees. "I'm surprised there isn't, like, a secret door in Shadowcrest that opens to a place there… I mean, your dad's a big deal stage magician, surely he spent time in Las Vegas." And it certainly seems like Zatanna herself has, so maybe Tim is more right than he knows. "There's Bart, too. Bart Allen. I tried to get him to go to our get-together before, but Max Mercury had him out of town on a training trip. You'll meet him soon enough."

Because, of course, he wasn't going to get the band back together without Impulse. It feels good, to have them around… Because, of course, he was very lonely. Because he tried to bury himself in the Work, to make himself isolated and alone like his mentor, not going out of his way to keep up his contacts with his best friends in the superhero sphere, and all but cutting himself off from his few remaining civilian friends. Ives. Zoanne..

It was working great, honestly, right up until a certain gothic witch with ice blue eyes sauntered into his life.

"Steph's been dating his grandfather," Red Robin adds, on the topic of Bart Allen. "That's weird, right?"

But Zatanna accepts his offering to travel her way first, and soon they're high above the New York City skyline. This high up, it's chilly, no matter how the urban jungle below retains the summer's heat; the wind rustles Red Robin's black hair, and it toys with the 'cape' now stretching down his back, strips of red and black cloth having unspooled from inside of his costume's backpack.

"I'm glad you're getting along with everybody, though," he says. "Not that I was worried, but… You know. It can be tough to maintain friendships with people in our age group when they spent their weekend at frat parties and you spent it banishing the Dread Beast Dhvor'akk, Masticator of Souls, or getting chased around the city by murder clowns."

At a neural impulse, an electrical current runs into the strips of cloth: A reverse piezoelectric effect in the inertrite weave causes them to turn rigid, spreading out to either side of him in a set of wings. With the synaptic circruitry laced through his suit, he can practically feel the wings, letting them act more like extensions of his body than just something he's wearing, something he has to think about.

"Shall we?" he says, offering a hand to Zatanna.

Though just hanging on like when they've been swinging around probably won't cut it. He's going to need to carry her.

—-

"Oh, yeah. Daddy spent a lot of time there, for a while that was the only reason why he would leave Europe when I was a kid, to perform in the biggest stages in Vegas." And New York, and Los Angeles, wherever the truly famous appear live. The new name catches her attention immediately, however, Zatanna looking over at him curiously when he mentions a Bart Allen. "Does he…you know. Know?" An all-encompassing question that doesn't just touch on Tim's secret identity, but also the Titans.

He also passes on a surprising bit of gossip. The young woman stares at Tim. "Wait…what? Really?" She would never judge anyone for going after an older man, considering her current situation, but the way he puts it forces her to imagine beautiful, blonde Stephanie Brown arm in arm with some kind of silver-fox looking dude, or even more disturbingly, someone walking with a cane.

"That is weird, if not just…you know. Steph looks really athletic." A strange segue to make, but her brain is conjuring up images of hip replacements and feeding Bart Allen's grandfather with vitamins. She does not immediately think Time Travel in this instance, because who would? She doesn't know who Bart Allen is!

"But more power to them both, I guess. I mean, do what you gotta do to feel young, right?"

She pauses to take in the view from up above; New York City's skyline never fails to take her breath away, and she has been to many other places. Still, a place looks tremendously different when looking from up above, as if a different world entirely from the view on the street.

"Well, being able to relate to one another and having similar life experiences are important in forming a circle of friends," she says with a laugh, giving Tim a look. "That's how cliques become cliques though if this was back in high school, we definitely wouldn't be sitting at the Mean Girls table. I mean, donning masks and costumes, haring off to fight evil and flinging magic spells or doing ninja moves across the city? We'd be the nerds, Tim. The super nerds. Like…the LARPers."

She stops when something happens to his suit, wings spreading from past his shoulders. In a way, it's a bit of magic on its own, calling back to what Jane used to say to her about the fine line between magic and science. Though when he extends his hand…

There's that look again. She sighs, and lifts her own to rest on his.

"Right," she tells him soberly. "I regret this already."

—-

Does he…you know. Know?

"Oh yeah," Red Robin confirms, nodding. "He knows. He's… Well, you'll understand when you meet him." Explaining Impulse to somebody feels like a cheat anyway: He's someone that really needs to be experienced. "He's kicking around the Tower at least part time, he was there when I showed Cassie her new costume…" Which she desperately needed. Her old look was less 'superhero' and more 'something out of a bad comedy movie where she needs to hide from her parents while interacting with them'.

From behind the blank white lenses of his mask, the vigilante blinks at Zatanna, not entirely comprehending what she's getting at with her strange segue about Stephanie.

"She's quite athletic, yeah," he affirms. "She was a cheerleader in highschool, and…" He trails off, that keen mind of his catching up with just where the Princess of Prestidigitation's has gone. Oh right. There's those things you just kind of take for granted when you know them.

"Oh. Uh. Bart's from the future," Tim explains. "He was sent back in time to… Well, it's a long story. His grandfather is currently about Constantine's age. Maybe a little older?"

Fortunately, it seems that Stephanie's involvement with the Flash hasn't caused ripples in the time-space continuum that erased one of Tim's best friends from existence. Maybe the timestream is just too resilient for that, or maybe it's doomed to be a temporary thing, or…

Wait, what if history just shifted to accomodate the chance, and now Tim's ex is the grandmother of one of his best friends?!

"Mnnh," he grumbles, rubbing at the middle of his forehead with the first two fingers of his right hand.

"I'm a nerd?!" is his response to Zatanna's high school hypothetical for them, all mock bewilderment. Betrayal! "Why did nobody ever tell me?! But yeah, you'd be the weird scary goth girl, I'd be the nerdy guy getting straight As and turning into a nervous wreck whenever a girl walks by, Conner's clearly the wannabe bad boy, Cassie would've almost been cool but she's a little too into certain fandoms…"

"You know what though, we should definitely play some Dungeons and Dragons sometime, like at the Tower, it could be a group bonding exercise…"

That pale hand rests on his gloved one, and he flashes the witch a tight little smile at her admission that she's already regretting this.

"You can't tell 'cause of the mask, but I winked at you reassuringly," he tells her, before moving to scoop her up in a bridal carry - the only way to carry her without interfering with the wings. Or the jets.

And then he jumps off the side of the roof, into the night air.

—-

"Can't be any worse than my costume," Zatanna states. She likes Cassie, and really, she wouldn't be the first to think that streetwear would be appropriate for heroics. The fact that she has a domino mask was already stretching it, for her, and it's only because Tim had taken her tastes and colors into account that she has decided to wear it. Her expression flattens at the remembrance of Spider-Man trying to convince her to wear bright yellow gloves as Madame Magic. She was going to have to get back at Peter for that.

The fact that Bart Allen is from the future, however, clears it all up. "Oh," she says. "You would think that being friends with an accomplished physicist would put that sort of thing easily within the reach of my brain." But as she and even John could attest, oftentimes they can tunnel-vision into the mystical world that they sometimes forget that other possibilities outside of the truly mundane exist. This is one of those times.

She is no mindreader, at least, so when Tim presses his fingers into the bridge of her nose, she tilts her head at him, looking perplexed. But she doesn't address it.

His exclamation about his role in the high school hierarchy has her laughing, shoving him lightly by the side, careful not to touch the spread wings. "I don't know, out of all of us, Conner would probably become instantly popular right away. And yeah, I can see Cassie being nerdy in an entirely different, mainstream sort of way."

And then he mentions Dungeons and Dragons. Zatanna pauses.

She has already spent a week getting crap from Constantine for joining a capes and tights crew. The idea of sitting around playing a roleplaying game would be too much. Because she knows him. She would mention it, and he would sit there, imagining all of them in costume, rolling dice and pretending to slay ogres and dragons with swords and spells, and kill himself laughing before he even said anything.

"…we…couldn't just….do trust falls or something…?" she wonders faintly.

This said just as he picks her up, and throws himself off a ridiculously tall skyscraper.

With the ultimate trust fall staring at her in the face, the loose ribbons of her raven hair spilling around her face, she clings to Red Robin like a frightened koala, and screeches like one too, as they both go down, and down, and down….

"I TRUST YOU!" she cries against the wind. "REMEMBER I TRUST YOU!"

—-

Foolishly, Zatanna mentions her own non-costume to a professional who's been in the game for six years now.

"Yeah, we need to do something about that," Red Robin says, squinting at her from behind his domino mask. The mask he made for her was, at least, a start… But the Titans were going to be more than just car chases with mobsters through the docks district of Gotham. She was going to need something more suitable. But definitely not with big yellow gloves. That would totally clash with the rest of her style.

"I could be popular," he mutters, a bit defensively. He very nearly was at a few point in highschool, only for it to be spoiled by his always having to disappear at weird times and make up excuses for why he looked like he got into so many fights. The whole 'teen superhero with a strict secret identity' thing.

But, Zatanna's misgivings about a potential tabletop game - Tim figures she wouldn't want to play a magic user in the game, since that's her real life job… And he already knows that Cassie would play some sort of Amazon character, because Wonder Girl is predictable in a few very specific ways - lead to her uncomfortably timed suggestion of 'trust falls' which seem like a bad idea when their teammates include women of the stature of Fairchild and Starfire.

Instead, they get their trust fall out of the way in one big go.

"It's fine, don't worry," the costumed vigilante replies more quietly. "I've run a bunch of computer simulations."

The only time he's really used this setup for sustained flight was the incomplete rig he'd used to escape from the site of a battle in Germany with Constantine and, well… They didn't die? So, qualified success.

The jets kick in, low-heat repulsors similar to the Stark design, and the wings tilt, changing profile as Red Robin reorients his body, and what started out as a fall turns into flight, mere feet above the nighttime traffic in Manhattan, a chorus of honks and curses following the duo as they lift up higher, arcing towards Central Park.

Red Robin is, of all things, laughing.

—-

I've run a bunch of computer simulations.

"That doesn't exactly bolster my confidence!" Zatanna cries. "Look, I know you're a genius, but the Wright Brothers didn't get their plane off the ground by— "

But they're falling and the rest of her rant is lost to the wild winds. As Red Robin actually laughs while they drop off the building, she doesn't notice or hear his mirth, because she is screaming her head off and she clings to his costume for dear life. It isn't because she's afraid of heights - nothing could be further from the truth. The issue, however, is control and she's much more comfortable with anything resembling heights or flight if she had her fingers on the reins. To let someone do the falling and flying, however, is…

So she does what she usually does when she's in this position. She squeezes her eyes shut, and grits her teeth.

—-

The experience of it is… Different, for Red Robin.

It's not like he's never flown before, being as he is expertly trained on a variety of aircraft, and his usual costume does have that memory material gliding cape, and of course he has friends who can fly simply by willing it, and he's let them carry him before. But this is different, powered flight propelled by the repulsor jets in his suit's pack, kept aloft by the spreading inertrite-weave wings, and he can feel all of it, the neural induction system and synaptic circuitry in the suit making it feel more like an extension of his own body than something he's wearing.

The fall turns into flight, as they skim over the traffic through Midtown, between the towering buildings and bright lights of one of the world's most alive cities; the thrusters on the suit adjust for Zatanna's weight - fortunately, Red Robin's estimates and napkin math were in the realm of 'close enough' - and they gain more height, and the flight levels off, becomes more of a cruise.

"You should open your eyes," the vigilante tells the magician. "The view from up here is pretty amazing."

With the stretch of summer days, it isn't yet fully dark out, and higher up, out of the valley of glass and steel, the remains of the twilight can be seen, adding some dark burgundy and deep purple to the sky, rays reaching that island in the East River, glittering off the T-shaped structure that sits there. Red Robin shifts position, and for long moments, stretching out into a minute - two minutes, they hover there. It's not what the suit was designed for, really, but it works in a pinch - and it's good data, besides. It's a test, after all.

But then, the masked young man is turning his head, looking around, searching for something; the murmur in his earpiece can't be heard by Zatanna - it wouldn't be very stealthy if it could - but she would surely notice how his manner changes. Focused, intent.

"Hijacked armored car," he says. Of course, he's been listening to the emergency bands this whole time. "Time to go to work."

The wings shift, the thrusters flare, and then the costumed crimefighter and the Princess of Prestidigitation are flying fast, swooping down towards the ongoing, mobile crime.

At least he warned her?

—-

With her eyes closed, it feels like lurching in a rollercoaster, with the unseen world pitching up and down around her, shifts in gravity pulling at her stomach. She remembers doing very much the same thing as a child, how much she loved those carnival rides but is unable to keep her eyes open for most of it.

"That sounds like a bad idea," Zatanna points out, keeping her eyes stubbornly shut. "We're moving really fast and I don't have any goggles, the last thing I want is to have my eyeballs get pelted by summer bugs…"

But they stop and hover, and when she is quite certain that she isn't moving anymore, she cracks her eye open to take a look at the summer sunset falling over New York. As ice-blue eyes eventually do take an appreciative gander of the view he is encouraging her to glimpse, she inclines her head at him with a furrowed brow. It takes her a minute or two to realize what is going on.

And what is coming.

"…wait, what? Right now?" she stutters. "Well, put me down then and I'll— "

But he's already taking off, and double the speed from earlier. She's back to squeezing her eyes shut and screaming again, dark-hair spilling out from its typically loose bind, unfurling like banners of ink - she is never going to get used to this. Somehow, at least, this is a lot better than free-falling with nothing but tethers and cable lines to support their weight as they swing in between buildings. Anything else, she decides, is a leg up from that.

What has come before, though, is far from her mind in favor of the moment.

—-

It would surely be a great comfort to Zatanna to know that Red Robin is carrying grapple guns in his utility belt, in case of emergency.

Besides, depending entirely on the wings would leave him antsy.

Soon enough, they're out of the busiest stretches of Manhattan, and the sounds of police sirens are enough to nearly drown out Zatanna screaming herself hoarse: A few cop cars are chasing the armored truck, which so far seems to have just crashed through whatever obstacles have been put in its way. One of the back doors of the truck is open, and as the flying duo draw closer, the leading police cruiser is suddenly impaled through its engine and front driver's side wheel with what look to be spears made out of bone - like someone had thrown out three elongated ribs, used them as projectiles.

The cop car barely avoids flipping over, the driver wrenching it to one side before it slows to a halt… Blocking the rest of the chase, at least enough to slow them down.

"This city is weird," Red Robin mutters - though really, like he's one to talk - as they slow to match speeds with the truck, descending towards it from above at a careful pace. "How do you feel about car surfing?" the vigilante wonders of the magician. This is possibly rhetorical, as they move closer to the roof of the armored truck… Close enough that Zatanna could easily be lowered down onto it.

—-

This city is weird.

"Well, I mean…" Zatanna begins, the shrug more implied in her voice than an actual gesture, considering that she's clinging onto him for dear life and doesn't open her eyes until they've slowed to match pace with the runaway armored car. "It's New York. Considering how many apocalyptic events have happened here, magical or otherwise, there's gotta be a reason why the universe declared it to be one of its prime punching bags." Sure, Gotham is a mess and it's weird, but New York is older has been a magnet for the strange for far longer than Gotham ever has been.

Not that she was about to say that out loud; Red might consider all of that to be a point of pride regarding his home city.

"Hell, I bet even the NYPD is used to seeing something like this by now," she tells him. "Flying dude in a suit, carrying a girl, chasing after criminals? I'm pretty sure there's a special dispatch code for that already. This city's always been pretty good in adapting to strangeness." Though she is certain that Gotham PD is as well, unwilling to think about how many calls they get about someone escaping from Arkham Asylum every day.

How do you feel about car surfing?

"I've never done it before." That is truthful. "But I learn best by doing."

Whenever he lowers her onto the roof of the armored car, she lands on it, palms flat on the roof and knees astride, bracing herself and keeping low. Now that she was there, though, for a moment she is at a loss what to do. Now what?

Traffic was everywhere - this is New York, it's crowded all the time. People are going to get hurt, cars are already flipping over, and for she knows, the driver just intends to turn the speeding vehicle into a battering ram, tearing through whatever gets in his way. Slowing it would only send the cop cars chasing after it crashing into the back, sending her flying and she is not in any mood to get injured today.

So there's only one thing left to do, at least in her opinion, for whatever heroics she intends to engage in to cause the less harm for the most people.

Whipping her obsidian obelisk out, she points directly in front of the armored car. The single word she utters is lost to the winds; before her, reality splits asunder, opening up a portal where there is nothing but a bare stretch of concrete ahead, leading into a place that she will never forget, for she has been here before, when she and a group of friends hared off into the cold, New York night with every intent to get her soul back.

It's the airstrip in the JFK International Airport set aside for private planes.

—-

It's quite possible that Red Robin, for all that he has referred to Gotham as 'the worst place on Earth', would indeed take some offense for his home city! He's already been disappointed in the quality of criminal that New York has to offer in comparison to the City of Yesterday, with a surety that most of the hardest gangsters in the Big Apple would get eaten alive - quite possibly literally - if they tried to move into Gotham. There's definitely more metahuman criminals in NYC than in Gotham, though.

Once Zatanna is safely - well, 'safely' on the roof of the armored car, Red Robin is about to try and reconnoiter from another angle when it becomes apparent that the gothic witch is about to ply her skills to defuse the possible danger to innocents in a fast and effective manner.

By, of course, ripping open a hole in spacetime.

Quickly, the vigilante produces a grapple gun from his belt, wings tucking in as he fires it, anchoring himself to the back of the truck, and starting to reel himself in, just barely managing to clear the edge of the portal - later, when he has time to process things, he'll be haunted by the possibilities of what might've happened if he'd been slightly more elevated - and then they're…

Well, he's certainly not about to forget this place, either.

Soon, the vigilante is clinging to the back of the armored car, staring right at an enormous, bulked-out man with bony ridges and protrusions sticking out from his tanned flesh. Even without those, he'd be an intimidating figure.

"Hi," Red Robin offers, casually, before a fist nearly the size of his head, hardened with visible bone, slams into his chest with enough force to drive the air from his lungs and send him flying off of the back of the truck.

"W-what the hell, where are we?!" demands the criminal behind the wheel; the steering wheel, his hands, and his eyes all glow with a faint orange light. "We were supposed to head for Brooklyn!"

"Well, this sure ain't Brooklyn," agrees the woman in the passenger seat, wearing the stolen - and bloodied - jacket of one of the armored truck guards. "Hey Boss!" she calls into the back of the truck. "We're at the airport! Did you hire somebody to bend time and space or some shit? You got a plane waiting?"

"WHAT," demands the enormous man in the back; one of those big hands grasps the edge of the roof, and he leans out, and up, his bone-plated dome peeking up so he can see what's in front of the truck - and, as it happens, what's on top of it.

"HEY," he says, to Zatanna. He doesn't seem to be the sort of person to have an 'indoor voice'. "NO HITCHIKERS, GET OFFA MY TRUCK!"

—-

And so she watches as the armored truck careens straight into the private airstrips of the JFK International Airport. Zatanna lowers herself further on the roof, clinging to it for dear life. A look over her shoulder tells her, at least, that Red Robin has managed to slip through the portal with his ninja reflexes, only to vanish on the other side. And while she doesn't see what happens to him, all she finds, in the end, is him flying off after a punch to the chest.

"Red!" she cries, a spike of adrenaline searing hotly through her bloodstream, tightening muscles and ligaments. She can barely see anything, with the way the wind tears at her hair. The rest of the criminals they're trying to stop are hollering somewhere underneath her, but the car is running too fast; there is way too much ambient noise for her to work anything out…

She's unable to let go of the roof, because she is not used to car surfing, and she is certainly not trained in fighting on top of vehicles the way Red Robin, Bucky Barnes, Steve Rogers and nearly everyone else she knows does. So she keeps clutching at the corners of the roof - she has to hope that Red is able to use his new suit to fly, they were testing it after all. She was not expecting to assist him with battle-testing it so soon, however. But as she attempts to turn around so she could see the back of the car better…

…she sees Bone Man. Ice-blue eyes widen.

HEY. NO HITCHHIKERS GET OFFA MY TRUCK!

In her business, words are powerful things. Conversations, pleas, arguments, fights. The spoken word has always been sacred to the human race in general, not just to magicians. She doesn't know what it is, whether it is the stressful situation, her imagination, the way the man proclaims ownership over something that is clearly stolen, or all of the above. But in moments like these, Zatanna often acts while thinking and oftentimes, these two simultaneous courses of action intersect in some very strange and often unorthodox ways.

Because those words give her an idea.

"YEAH WELL," she yells back. "WON KCURT YM S'TI!"

With those backwards words, she claims ownership of the truck itself, and Reality, heeding the call of its favorite child, complies.

"YOU'RE THE ONE WHO'S TRESPASSING!"

And what happens when people trespass in Zatanna's property?

Should Red Robin follow, he would come across a very strange sight. Namely that everyone on the truck who isn't Zatanna is slowly turning into shellfish.

—-

Those black and red wings half-curl around Red Robin as he hits the pavement and rolls, the curious properties of the inertrite weave - another one of those failed attempts to replicate the advantage of vibranium - devouring much of the impact, the rest of what would normally be an extremely dangerous fall mitigated by the armor in the suit itself, until he's able to twist and slap one gloved hand down onto the road, the geckskin in his gloves and boots half-biting into the pavement, slowing him further until he comes to a stop.

And then, he breaks into a dead run, getting enough momentum to fire up the thrusters on his suit, and hurl himself into the air after the speeding truck.

A truck which, thanks to reality's deference to the will of Zatanna Zatara, is now the possession of the gothic witch.

Aside from the effect Zatanna intended, this has some other curious consequences: For one thing, the driver's connection to the truck is immediately snapped, the orange glow around his hands and the wheel popping out of existence as the truck decides it is no longer 'his' but instead belongs to Zatanna, the backlash making his eyes roll back in his head, his unconscious body slumping backwards, and then forwards onto the wheel, his foot on the gas still.

"Oh, fuck me running!" the woman in the passenger seat declares, as the driver of the truck has now lost control - and consciousness - while driving at a fairly high speed, and her solution is to throw open her door and jump out, staring in horror as one of her hands is trying to turn into a crustacean's claw, before she hits the side of the road in a tuck and roll.

With an unconscious body on the wheel, the truck suddenly lurches in a different direction, off of the runway, careening without human influence towards the nearest hangar (a hangar which, thanks to Zatanna using this particular site to open a portal to, would be familiar as the same one in which she and Red Robin had found that device on a cold winter evening) and it becomes evident to the large man that things have gone very, extremely, perhaps irreparably wrong…

But he doesn't look like the type to just give up and go quietly, does he? Even if he's got small antennae starting to poke out from the bone ridges on his otherwise bald head.

"HEY, WHAT DID YOU DO!!" he demands, hopping out of the back while keeping a hold of the truck, his feet hitting the ground… And digging into it, pure strength and overgrown bone - expanding, gouging more deeply into the ground before the very eyes of any onlookers - causing him to actually slow the out of control truck down.

"DID YOU PUT SOME KINDA WEIRDO CURSE ON ME!? DID SENOR MAGICO SEND YOU?? IS THIS 'CAUSE I SOLD HIM THOSE BOGUS TRINKETS?! I'LL TELL YOU WHAT I TOLD HIM!!" he declares, his voice a nearly inhuman roar.

"AIN'T NO MAGIC TRICKS CAN STOP THE BONER!!"

"Oh Jesus Christ," mutters the woman who'd jumped out, where she lays in a ditch. "Not this shit again."

—-

That had been, really, part of the plan - or as well thought out of a plan as Zatanna can cobble while clinging to the roof of a stolen armored car for dear life.

The first had been to wrest control of the truck from the driver and second to turn everyone within into shellfish to prevent further loss of life and injury. Once that had been done, she would have been free to slow down the truck, toss the criminals in an aquarium and hand them over to the authorities - all in the day's work. Except that the best laid plans often go awry when superhuman reflexes and powers are concerned.

So the car careens out of control - she has accounted for this, but she blinks when she spies the woman with a crab-claw for a hand leap from the passenger side, to roll off into safety. The big guy is still clutching the back of the car, screaming epithets at her, demanding answers. She's about to reply, when the following words cause her expression to flatten.

Which suddenly cracks apart when he calls himself The Boner.

She can't do anything but laugh. Laugh while she's clutching at the roof. Laugh while she's letting the bone-riddled man, still on the verge of transforming into shellfish before her very eyes, slow down the truck and effectively do the work for her, because she's presently in stitches, drowning in the mirth brought about by her ridiculous ideas and her ridiculous life. Tim would probably have some choice words for her after this - she was a Titan now, a semi-professional superhero and a card carrying member of the capes-and-tights crew. There is a degree of professionalism expected when embroiled in such situations.

But she can't help it. He called himself the Boner.

As grooves are left behind by those anchoring calcified protrusions, she finally manages to take her obsidian obelisk out to point at the large criminal, choking out a word that she has to repeat a few times in order to anchor him into the cement further, in an attempt to grind the armored car into a halt. She'll deal with the rest later, but her first priority is to stop moving.

—-

"HEY, STOP LAUGHING!!" the Boner demands, his face flushing dark with outrage even as Zatanna's magic is in the process of transforming him. "THE BONER IS A POWERFUL NAME, FOR A POWERFUL MAN! WHO CONTROLS BONES!"

"Why couldn't you call yourself Bonecrusher," comes the woman's voice, more distantly now; the Boner's lack of volume control makes him perfectly audible to her, no matter the distance or racket. "God, we talked about this! It's a terrible codename, Ennis! You know what that word means!" Whatever resistance the bone-controlling metahuman might be offering up, it's clearly beyond the woman, who not is not long to retain a human shape.

"JUST BECAUSE EVERYONE ELSE IS IMMATURE, DOESN'T MEAN I HAVE TO BE!" he insists, as the truck finally, ponderously grinds to a halt, no longer any pressure on the gas pedal. "YOU PEOPLE ARE ALL DIRTY-MINDED, I BET THE SHOCKER NEVER HAS TO PUT UP WITH THIS."

By this point, though, the woman is a shellfish, and can't really respond.

He struggles, of course, and while he manages to do more damage to the truck in the process - armor-plated or not, the roof actually warps and bends underneath Zatanna - the big man with the boney protrusions is quite stuck, glaring at Zatanna as the trespassing curse slowly overwhelms him.

"YOU BETTER REMEMBER THE BONER, GIRL," he insists, in what is to him a menacing whisper, but for most people is basically a shout. "BECAUSE I'LL REMEMBER YOU!"

Meanwhile, Red Robin lands near the front of the truck, frowning faintly.

"I feel like I missed a lot," the vigilante says. "Why is there a mollusc in the front seat?"

—-

He demands that she stop laughing and it only makes her laugh harder, because of course it does. Zatanna nearly collapses on the roof of the armored car, and now that it's ground into a halt, she is free to band her arms around her ribs, pain lancing up her side. Oh god, oh god, she can't breathe. And Ennis' exchange with the woman left behind doesn't help matters either. It only makes her laughing fit worse.

And when the Shocker is mentioned, she loses her shit.

So when Red Robin finally arrives, he'd find his friend on the roof of the stalled armored car, bent beyond repair, cradling her body as she lays sprawled on top of it, still laughing. Her cheeks are flushed, her eyes are bright with tears, and she only continues when he asks about the mollusk in the driver's seat of the car. "Th…there's more…" she breathes. "The other woman….on the side of the road and the B…the B…the Boner is…"

The Boner.

She laughs all over again, waving him over to the direction where the gouges of bone-projectiles have been left on the concrete, and when he looks down on the ground, he would also find an angry clam with large eyes, flashing him an incensed stare from where it lies.

"I think we can…put them in a tank and…turn them over to the police…" she wheezes, finally picking herself up off the armored vehicle and slowly sliding down its side. Her knees are weak from all her laughing, leaning against the side of it as she attempts to take a few deep breaths.

"God, I love New York."

—-

The strips of red and black fabric that make up the 'cape' and wings of Red Robin's suit retract, spooling up into the pack to stay out of his way. He's pretty used to having a cape: Both his costumes as Robin had them, and so does his primary suit as Red Robin, but he has to admit there's something a bit liberating about not having one of fluttering around all the time. Maybe Nightwing has the right idea.

"The Boner?" the masked vigilante repeats, bewildered. "I don't think he thought that one all the way through."

Still, fortunately Zatanna seems to be unharmed, just having laughed herself silly until she can barely stand upright, even once she slides off of the top of the truck. So he focuses on gathering up the magically transformed criminals, while the magician hopefully magics up a tank to put them in. He frowns down at the mollusc that used to be the Boner, itching to figure out just how that transformation worked (beyond just 'well, it's magic') and exactly what it entailed. "He looks kinda like a Pokemon," Red Robin remarks. "This is temporary though, right? I mean… They'll turn back…?"

~*~

Because Red Robin had of course contacted the police, letting them know where the criminals they were chasing had gone, it's not too long before sirens and lights announce the arrival of the NYPD, come to claim the stolen vehicle, as well as the currently shelled Boner and his gang.

"Did they say anything about who they were working for, or why they went after the truck? Wasn't even carrying money, just documents…"

"Sorry, officer," Red Robin replies. Thanks to long years of training with the Dark Knight, he manages to keep a straight face when he elaborates: "They clammed right up."

~*~

Getting away from the police wasn't too much trouble - the cops couldn't have kept them there even if they'd had a mind to - and from there the most sensible thing was to return to the Nest, since that was where they'd left the cake. In Red Robin's lair, his computer systems add collating and processing the data collected during the 'test flight' to the myriad other tasks they're working on, but it was far more comfortable to move back out to the townhouse. Tim took a shower and changed out of his costume and into a closer approximation of normal human clothes - workout pants and a t-shirt that reads 'There's No Place like 127.0.0.1' - before flopping on the couch.

"Definitely my best birthday in a while," he tells Zatanna. "I didn't get tortured by a violent psychopath or end up in the middle of an elaborate mind game by a control freak to test how my abilities have grown over the past year." He pauses, brow furrowing as he thinks about this.

"That's a low bar to clear, come to think of it. Well… The company wasn't so bad, either."

—-

Out of his costume and back in civilian gear, while Tim flops on the couch, Zatanna is carrying the birthday cake. It isn't long until she situates it on the table, before carefully placing candles on it - one 2 and one 0 made out of candlewax. She fumbles around the pockets of her jeans for a lighter.

"I should take this back for the pun you made with the NYPD," she tells him, though this is clearly in jest. Striking the flint, she sets both wicks on fire, the red-gold tongues burning from the tops. The confection itself is made out of dark chocolate and layers of cream - Black Forest cakes are terribly decadent, with maraschino cherries encircling the top. "You're lucky we're friends."

With that done, she leans back on the other side of the couch, gesturing to the cake. "Hey, you're not done yet," she tells him, poking his leg with a finger. "You have to make a wish and blow your candles out, it's tradition."

No going around it. The raven-haired witch is wearing a very expectant face.

—-

"That was a good pun," is Tim's retort to Zatanna's joking threat. "You're just mad because you were too busy laughing over that guy's villain name to mussel in on some quality wordplay."

With the witch poking his leg, the detective slowly sits up properly, instead of lounging there like he had been. It makes sense to him, that Zatanna would see value in this sort of tradition. Just like words, ritual had weight in the world she operated in. He knew this from his own studies, his own attempts to grasp the basics of that world, in the hopes of understanding her and being able to help her.

But then, was the world he operated in really so different? Words, rituals, symbols… These were all enormously important in dealing with any people, but in many ways especially the dangerous sorts of monsters Gotham spat out with alarming regularity.

He looks at her sidelong while she watches him rather expectantly, the corners of his eyes crinkling as he grins at her with wry amusement and affection. She'd put effort into this. He couldn't even begin to think about disappointing her on purpose.

So he turns his attention to the cake, to the candles, to the tiny flames above the 2 and the 0.

"I know you were joking, Zee, but you're right. I'm very lucky that we're friends," he says, without looking back at her. "Thank you, for this. And, you know, all the everything else."

He's never been good at wishing for things. Too practical, some people might say. Maybe too rich: What does he need to wish for, when he can reach out his hand and have nearly anything he wanted?

The truth, of course, was somewhat different: There were always things he wanted, things he didn't, or couldn't have. He just found it difficult to make himself believe that he deserved them.

I wish that the people I care about stay safe and happy, he thinks; it wouldn't do to say the wish out loud. It never comes true, then. I wish that Zatanna could see her father again.

The breath that blows out the candles is controlled, precise. Like a knife of air that snuffs them both out in an instant.

Then Tim looks around, as though waiting for something.

"Still no Gundam," he says. "That's seven years running."

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